Category Archives: Presence

Pausing for Gratitude

The final days of January are dwindling down—a month I went into with a lot of question marks and a strange cocktail of dread, anxiety and hope. But here I am on the other side, happy to report that I survived. We all survived. (I know most of you never doubted we would, but I did.)

In marked contrast to the swirl of emotions I carried into the month, I find myself with only one overpowering everything else now: overwhelming gratitude. Deep, deep wells of thanks.

IMG1565My daughter had surgery the very first week of the year. Of course, there are so many emotions that come with something like this, but there was one I didn’t allow myself to voice in all the weeks leading up to it. I was really afraid of being alone. We were expecting to be in the hospital 2-3 days, but my husband was only going to be able to be off work one day. And every time I thought about sitting there alone, I cried. But I didn’t want to say anything because I knew we couldn’t afford for him to take any more days off work, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone else I could ask to come be with me.

On New Year’s Day, my dad mentioned to me that he was planning to be at the hospital the day of the surgery, to be there for his grand baby and in case we needed anything. And I finally had the courage to ask, to say that I was more worried about being alone the day after her surgery and if he could only come one day, could he come then? He didn’t hesitate, just said, “I’ll be there.” I could have sobbed with relief.

Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. Would he come for just a little bit? Would he only come one day? I didn’t know, but it was enough knowing he would come.

We ended up in the hospital a total of 3 days, and my dad was there for each one. He came in the morning, and he stayed until my husband came in the evening. One night, he stayed even longer because his granddaughter asked him to stay and watch a movie, and of course, his abuelo-heart couldn’t resist! He made sure I had coffee, and he made sure I ate. His mere presence was so indescribably calming to me. There were so many little things, little moments that might not have meant anything to anyone else, but they meant everything to me.

IMG1571He was the first one to coax a smile out of my baby girl post-surgery when he showed up with this balloon whose picture bore an uncanny resemblance to our dog.

When she wouldn’t eat, he’s the one who thought to buy some strawberries from the frozen yogurt place, and she devoured them—practically the only solid food she ate for 3 days. He helped me get her to move and get around so we could actually be released from the hospital.IMG1568

But more than anything else, he was the presence and nearness of God to me in a situation when I desperately needed my own heart to be seen. And because my Papa saw me, I knew God saw me. The intense comfort of this has lingered with me even to this moment when my eyes are blurring with tears yet again over the wonder and unconditional love of it all.

When we finally got home, I started to get overwhelmed with the thought of needing to not only take care of my recovering child, but also my son who would still be full of energy. And everyone would need to be fed. But when my mom showed up to bring my little man home, she came with bags of groceries—things to put together easy, healthy meals for a few days. She had already sent a container of soup with my dad one day, thinking ahead and making a double batch one night as she’d fixed dinner. And just like that, another burden was lifted off my shoulders.

My son can still be quite clingy to his mommy, and I was worried how the separation would affect him while we were in the hospital. But my mom and brother loved him on so much, so extravagantly, that he was more than fine—he was so secure and so seen. He came home bubbling over and amazingly prepared to be patient and gracious to his sister.

I am still in awe of the way my parents wrapped my little family in so much love. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise; they’ve always been pretty wonderful, and my own mama-bear heart would do anything for my own kids. But still it humbled me and touched me in a way I don’t even really have words for.

I am reminded all over again of the sustaining power of love. My parents didn’t have any power to change what we had to walk through, but they loved us through it. They saw the needs, and they did what they could do. And it did more than keep me surviving; it challenged and inspired my heart to new depths of loving people.

IMG1575If that wasn’t enough, women from my writing community—some of whom I’d never even met or interacted with much before—showered my daughter with art supplies so she could do what she loved while she went through her recovery. Daily, when she pulls these things out, she marvels that people who don’t even know her loved her enough to do this; she is also getting a glimpse of how far love can reach.

So here we are, on the other side of it all. And I am grateful that we were not alone, that love appeared in extravagant and unexpected ways. I thought I’d be trying to mostly block this month from my memory, but instead, I am tucking it away to treasure.

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Filed under Love, Motherhood, Presence

On Being and Breathing

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Another Monday morning has arrived.

I sit with my coffee, savoring the last remaining moments of silence, mindful of the distant sounds of little ones stirring.

I have filled my morning pages–dumped all the thoughts spinning through my head onto paper. I have updated my planner, reviewed my to do list for the day.

And I become aware of the beast lurking in the shadows, the Anxiety that wants to sink his claws into my day before it really begins. This week is too full already, an abnormally demanding and irregular schedule, thrown off course by the unwanted presence of medical tests and doctor appointments that I wish I could forget or erase from the calendar. But they are there, and they need to be if we are to find answers as to what has been troubling my little girl’s health this summer.

I breathe.

There is a deliberate choice in this moment–to become overwhelmed or to simply be. This choice will face me many more times today, many more times this week. I hope I choose well.

To simply be: to acknowledge what is beyond my control and then release it, to be as faithful as I know how with what I can control, to set my gaze on the Beauty and not on the Anxiety, to remember to breathe and pause for moments of silence in order to discern the voice of Hope from among all the others.

This quote was shared with me by someone, somewhere, many months ago, and it has become a constant reminder to still my heart and refocus my gaze:

The whole world roars with subtle whispers of [you could be great if you would just hustle a little more.] And God simply breathes: [Let Me be great. You just go and be.]  -Lori Harris

This is my choice today, to pull back from the hustle and lean into the Being–His Being where in turn I find my own.

I do not know what your Monday holds, if you are refreshed or if you are weary, if you are hopeful or if you are heavy. But may I offer this suggestion? Pause and breathe. Not merely the mindless breaths you will take as you do every day to ensure your survival. A deliberate moment of silencing all the other voices. A choice to breathe in grace and exhale the burdens. Do it as many times throughout your day as it takes. The nagging voices telling you that you are not enough unless you strive and do better and perform? Those are not the voices of One who loves you. When He calls you higher, He does it with an affirmation of your worth and a reminder of His greatness.

Breathe. Be. And may your week be filled with the beauty of grace.

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Filed under Beauty, Hope, Presence

Coffee with God & Being Enough

1545558_715060141871468_1705256076_nIt has taken me too many years to realize what a sacred place this is.

It was my ritual for so long.  Wake up. Pour the coffee. Turn on music. Open my journal and Bible.  And there was God.

Every. Single. Time.

Even in seasons when He felt far or silent.  I could still find Him here.  Sometimes it was intense – tears, intercession, loving correction.  Sometimes it was silly – laughing and jokes (really, God told me jokes).  Sometimes I did all the talking.  Sometimes He did all the talking.  Sometimes there was a lot of quiet, simply sitting.

If the morning was crazy and somehow this didn’t happen, it was ok.  He was there in the afternoon or ready to keep me up way too late.  It was ok.

And then it all changed.  I was sitting in a class at church, taught by someone I deeply loved and respected and wanted to be like.  The topic had something to do with not being content to merely coast through our spiritual existence without engaging more deeply.  The teacher was encouraging things like more in-depth Bible study, doing more in prayer than just focus on our own wants, developing the discipline of fasting, etc.  All good things, healthy things.  But then these words were uttered:

“Just sitting there in the mornings with your coffee and your Bible isn’t good enough.”

I couldn’t tell you anything else that was said after that.  My heart shattered.  Years of building intimacy with God, and I had just been told what I thought I had with Him wasn’t good enough.

So I stopped.  And I began to try and find different ways of connecting with God, different ways of growing spiritually.  There was no shortage of spiritual leaders with their recipe: it needs to be in the morning, it needs to be the same time every day, it needs to be in the same place, it needs to be an hour, on and on.  I wouldn’t say none of the approaches worked, but most of them didn’t and no matter what, they never felt natural.  I couldn’t maintain any of them with any consistency.  Finally, I didn’t try at all.  I was so lost and confused – wanting to be close, always feeling far, trying to recapture an intimacy I had once known.

A few months ago, I heard His voice in the deep recesses of my heart say, “I miss you.  I never said your way of seeking Me was not good enough.”

Talk about tears.  Lots of them.  And even better – hope.  I decided to believe Him.  To sit with Him again.  Of course, there are things that are different.  I have two children now, for starters.  The early morning hours aren’t always an option.  But He’s there whenever I come, and we sit together, friends meeting in the morning over coffee or in the afternoon over tea or in the late evening over wine.  We talk, we laugh, we cry, (sometimes I yell), we are still.

And I share all this because someone needs to know – when you take a step towards God, He is not standing there telling you it wasn’t a good enough step.  Your journey into His heart will not look exactly like anyone else’s.  We share our stories with each other, not so we can duplicate each other’s experiences, but so we can marvel at the way He uniquely meets each of us exactly where we need to be met.

I don’t know what it is about us that wants magic formulas and precise explanations and specific checklists.  But any time spent in Scripture will show you there is no formula for how God encounters our hearts.  There are so many stories, and none of them are the same.

So take a deep breath and take a step towards Him again.  He will be thrilled and He will be there.  You’re His.  Your heart is enough.

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Filed under Faith, Hope, Prayer, Presence, Uncategorized

Strengthen What Remains

Image Source: Jennifer Upton

Image Source: Jennifer Upton

For the last week, I have found myself glancing at the calendar impatiently, as if somehow I can coax the last few days of this month to move a little faster.  February has not been kind to me.  I am ready to shout some version of “Good riddance!” and “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

It’s frustrating.  I had a lot of hopes for this month, plans, intentions.  But it seems like all my hopes were met with disappointment or hurt or failure or a dismal combination of all of the above.  Throw in a very unexpected, expensive vehicle repair and a very sick child, and I’m telling you, this is not the recipe for a good time.  So here I am – glaring at the remaining days and trying to stay low key, avoid anymore upsets.

Until it dawned on me.  This is not how God works.  Not one bit.  He never stares us down and sighs with exasperation, “Well, you screwed that up, so let’s just bide your time and get past this.”  He never looks at a person or circumstance only to toss them into the “lost cause” pile.  His mercies are new every morning.  No – wait.  Don’t glaze over that as a cliche or overused Bible verse.  Drink it in – Mercy. Fresh. Today. Now.

God never stops believing in redemption.  It is the story He has been writing since the beginning of time, and He will not stop until all things are reconciled to Him.  And all He is asking is for us to believe in this too: nothing is beyond the reach of His redemption. Nothing.

Why?

Because everything else fades away – things spoken to us and over us, things we think we know, seasons we are in, the limited picture we can see now.  It will all cease and be stilled and pass away.  And then these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these?

Love.

Which brings me full circle to my hopes for February.  I wanted to spend the month pondering and probing the depths of this love – His love and the glimpses of love He offers us through others on this earth.  So maybe it hasn’t gone according to plan, but there are three more days in this month, today included.  And today is as good as any to stare full on into the wonders of His love.

In all my interactions with people, most especially with my children, I find myself considering more and more – what is the most important truth I can leave on this heart today?

And it is this – His love does not fail.  It is relentless.  It is powerful enough to redeem anything and everything.  Where we feel there is nothing left – no hope, no goodness – His love is the breath that strengthens what remains and infuses us with new life.

You do not have to give up today.  His love most certainly will not let you go.

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Filed under Faith, Hope, Love, Presence

When the Safe Places are Shaken

Photo by Austin Upton

Photo by Austin Upton

I think I have been in hiding for the past few weeks.

There are places I have come to rely on as havens in my life, but recently, almost every one of those safe places has suddenly become a little less safe.  There is a shaking happening.  And it’s not fun.

But it is revealing.  I find myself approaching God’s heart with new eyes, new ears.  As I am forced to look at my world differently, He also prompts me to look at my own heart differently.  And I am discovering that for all my independence and strong will, much of what I have become has been defined by others, not Him.  Not the One who most truly sees me.  So I lean in closer, teach my soul to be still and know.

I am not unique in this experience.  Snippets of stories waft my way in spite of the arms’ length I have been holding the world at, and I know there are many others feeling the tremors too.  I whisper to you the comfort I whisper to myself: He is shaking everything that can be shaken, so that only what cannot be shaken will remain.

I think of my children when they are faced with a new circumstance or experience, how their little bodies draw close, arms wrapped around my leg or holding to my hand.  I cannot take away the uncertainty or the apprehension, but I can infuse them with courage through the assurance of my nearness.

And so we draw close, wrap our weary arms around the everlasting arms.  It may not stop the shaking, but it will remind us of our refuge and release the strength we need to stand firm, even as the ground around us sways and shifts.  But once the stillness comes and the dust settles, we will know with heightened clarity the things within us that are unshakeable.

Consider things around you that are shaking.  Is there perhaps something new He wants you to see in your own heart?

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Filed under Hope, Presence, Waiting

Rooftops

(Over the next 10 weeks, as I work my way through Story 101, a lot of my posts will come from prompts and subjects we’re discussing.)

Consider this :: what is it that keeps you up at night? What could you talk about every single day for the rest of your life? What do you want to shout from the rooftops so everyone will know?

What runs electric through your veins?

I have to admit – I stared at these words for a long time, slow panic rising in me.  Lots of things keep me up at night right now – and all the uncertainties and struggles began dancing around my head in broad daylight.

But out of the chaotic thoughts came countless moments from my memories – me, a heap on the floor and tears in my eyes and heart laid bare.  And I knew.

I shout from the rooftops that I love Him – shamelessly, fiercely, desperately – because He is all together perfect.

I don’t understand so much, but I love Him.

Some days it scares me because I live in a world that wants to make it seem foolish and pathetic and ignorant to love Him.  Sometimes the Church has earned those criticisms; often she hasn’t.  And it is hard to live in a world that seems hostile to what you love.  But still I love Him.

And I shout from the rooftops that He loves you, me, all of us, and if you do not love Him, perhaps you have not really seen Him?  And I suggest this with not a shred of condemnation or shame, but rather to stir up hope, to urge you to keep looking.

Electric through my veins is the desire for people to encounter His presence, to catch one glimpse of His eyes gazing into them – seeing all and loving all.  If we do not have Him, we have nothing.

And I shout from the rooftops that He is holy, and it is ok that we are not because He is committed to making us holy, even while we are broken.  When He corrects, it may be uncomfortable, but it still feels like grace.  And if it feels more like shame, then maybe just wait a little longer before making any changes?  Shame produces some nasty fruit, nothing like what He offers.

For the rest of my life, it comes back to Him, again and again.  And I know sometimes He seems far and sometimes He seems unreasonable and sometimes He simply makes no sense.  But don’t give up.  He is never truly far.  And I know some days this journey is just so, SO hard.  But don’t give up.

I shout from the rooftops that He is worth it.  I believe it with every fiber of my being.  I love Him.

And He loves us – this is my loudest shout of all.

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Filed under Faith, Passion, Presence, Worship

Lifeline

I am weary in every sense of the word.

My heart feels like it has been squeezed and squeezed, and stretched and squeezed.

The last few weeks have brought a barrage of questions, emotions, conflicts, decisions, opportunities, revelations.  It is like the tiniest glimpse into what it must have been like to wrestle with God all through the night.

But tonight, I dragged my weary soul into His presence alongside beloved friends, covenant family.  And it never ceases to amaze me that no matter where you’ve been and I’ve been, we get together and cry out and He comes.

I have spent a lifetime trying to do enough, be enough.  But I get in His presence and am reminded that I am already enough because I am His.  Because I love Him and He cannot resist a heart that adores Him.  I may not be good enough to deserve it, but I am precious enough.

Every burden, fear, worry, hope, expectation, conflict, question – everything melts away when He wraps around me.  His presence is what sustains me through everything else that makes absolutely no sense.  And I know there is always someone who reads words like these and says, “But I can’t feel Him.  Why can’t I feel Him?”

And I can only say, dear heart, I have been there.  I have been in the moments where it seemed everyone was experiencing God but me.  I have been in the seasons where it seemed the only amazing, life-changing service was the one I missed.  I have walked through the times where the wounds were so great it seemed I would never be able to find Him in that place again.  I have known the heavens as brass and His voice as silent and His heart seemingly distant.

But I have learned to never stop chasing.  He is never far.  It does not always makes sense to me, but I know now I will find Him, how my heart will touch Him.  And you will too.  Be relentless.

Because His presence is our lifeline, our everything.  When we touch Him, we are whole.

Tonight I did the one thing that sets my heart on fire like no other – I sang to my Beloved.  He enfolded me with His gentleness and His grace.  He is here with me in my weariness, my wandering.  And I am left with this assurance in the midst of all my imperfections – He loves me.

 

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Filed under Faith, Music, Presence, Worship