The Cutting Edge

I've been struck very much lately by the power of words. Written, spoken, heard, passed on- words have such weight in our lives. Parenting foster children has shown me a whole new level of the cutting action of our words. Many of my 'kids' over the years have come from homes where they heard a lot of words- many angry, many condemning, arguing and full of complaining. Many many without love or wisdom. Often even years later, these children will have moments of reflection, terror at times, sadness at others, remembering words that were spoken to them. Some haunt them in their sleep and waking hours, other are a balm to their little souls.

But all have weight.

All cut deeply.

Whether by cutting apart frail self-images or skillfully cutting away unneeded lies from a soul- the ability to separate things within a person is a powerful thing.

Words matter.

My kids are no different than anyone else though. All of us can remember harsh words spoken to us, or high praise from a loved one. Each make their own mark do they not?

Our tongues have the power to uplift and encourage, to correct and refine, to promote and enhance ourselves and others. Our words can shed light, give freedom, and even give life (Proverbs 18:21).

Alas, they also have the power to do just the opposite. Words on a sharp tongue can cut down, discourage, hurt, abuse, condemn, belittle, and destroy. Words can lie, hide, ridicule, and inflict life-long wounds.

What power we wield when we open our mouths!

And yet, I would guess that many of us don't particularly have any major issues with evil tongues. I'm not sure many of us (myself included) give enough forethought each time we utilize our voice boxes. I myself am not known to cuss, or to verbally abuse people. I work hard on not being a gossip or slander anyone. I imagine many of you are similar. We've worked hard to keep clean mouths. And yet, there is so much scripture given to minding our mouths that I am continually amazed at the instruction for using these voices of ours.

Look at just a few of the things the Word would say for when we open our mouths (or in other cases, keep them closed.)

1 Peter 3:10 (NIV) For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.

Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be ALWAYS full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Anyone else get hit right between the eyeballs on this one?)

Ephesians 4:29 Do not let ANY unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Proverbs 15:4 The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

Matthew 15:11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes OUT of their mouth, that is what defiles them.

Proverbs 21:23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.

Psalm 34:13 ...keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

Proverbs 12:13-14 Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble. From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward.

Proverbs 12:18-19 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

Proverbs 15:1-2 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

Proverbs 18:1-8 An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach. The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream. It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice. The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating. The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.

Oh dear friends, so much of this is convicting to me. I may not be erring on the side of 'bad' but am I intentionally pushing towards the honeyed wisdom, discernment, and knowledge that is spoken of? We can do more! May we of gentle tongues and wise words! This is so much more than not cussing or using the Lord's name in vain. It is not simply not being mean to people, gossiping about them, or spreading rumors. It is the chance to be totally set apart from all the noise that the world hears day in and day out. It is the opportunity to be radically different in our communication. It is the ability to speak LIFE into others! It is the chance to change someone's moment, hour, day, season, job, stress-level, outlook...for good. Better, yet, for GOD! Our mouths are swords, and yielding in the right way, with the the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be a force for change in people. We can use His words to cut out sin, to help separate lies, to excise bad thinking and the speech of others that may have taken root in someone's soul. We have a cutting edge! But we must use it with One who can wield such a mighty thing- our Great Physician. As the Psalmist (141:3) writes, "Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." May it be to us too!

Proverbs 31:26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Lemonade or Lemons? - Depends on What You Actually Need...

It’s been almost 3 years since I started this whole author-blog-writer-thing and I’m astounded at the words God has put on my heart to share with you all. Looking through some of my first posts I can see the threads God began weaving in my life through this ministry in so many of the posts. I thought it might be a fun thing to update some of the more popular ones and give my new subscribers an opportunity to read the roots of how this blog started.

Today I’m starting with my very very very first blog ever written. It’s so cool to see how what I learned is still so true for me today (read the original post too if you like!)

2016- It was opening day for Term 2 at Camp Barnabas and I’d been the medical director for this camp for special needs for a hot-second. Intake at the WellHouse for the nurses was in full force and I had just been called over by one of my nurses asking if camp had lemon juice. A camper apparently needed some so therefore the medical center needed some available. We needed... no let me rephrase, a very <thorough> camper mom was telling us that we medically required lemon juice. It was literally a medical necessity. Ummm, okay, that's a new one I thought to myself (#helicoptermom much?).... lemon juice....

Let me give you a bit of background, Camp Barnabas is a Christian camp for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. As you can imagine the types and kind of campers we serve can run the gamut of medical needs. From MACE procedures, a bazillion medications, G-tubes, bowel programs, and ventilators- I see all sorts of medical equipment and we serve a huge array of medical 'stuff'. So at first, the request for lemon juice was not <totally> weird... sure... absolutely we have lemon juice. I'd check with our cook and see but it'd be no biggie to steal some from the kitchen; and worst case scenario, we'd grab the lemonade available and use that. But then this particular request got strange... mom was informing us that her child couldn't use just any kind of lemon juice, she needed freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Not lemonade, not fake lemon juice... As in, out of a real lemon, freshly squeezed lemon juice. Unsweetened, undiluted- straight up out of the lemon.

Pause.

Gross.

The little-squirters in the back of my mouth (total medical term there...) were working overdrive just thinking about the tart-factor of that swig. I'd definitely had some bizarre requests, especially dietary... but this one was rapidly accelerating (not unlike my saliva volume) up to the top of my "Most unusual medical needs" list. My medical incredulity alarm went off and internally I was thinking this lady is cray-cray.  Never in my medical career (which is not a particularly short or sheltered one I might add) could I think of a time or an instance that I could even fathom the absolute medical necessity of straight-up lemon juice for anything. Let alone making this poor camper suffer through drinking such a nasty thing! I mean, seriously... who does that? I was just about ready to very politely but firmly tell above mother that this was a summer camp, in the middle of nowhere, and the chances of us having fresh lemons was less than nill, when she told us that the reason for the fresh lemon juice had everything to do with the undiluted acid content in the juice, and nothing to do with the taste.

Okay, now I'm a bit more intrigued. Maybe she's not totally 'that mom'...

So long story, short, according to this kiddo's doctor, the fresh lemon juice was a necessity to help break down the medications properly, and for her stomach to digest more easily all her food. Which, as noted before, was fine... I now got it- but still didn't actually fix our immediate issue. I was on board with the why, now to address the how. Because, again, think summer camp in the middle of Nowheresville, Missouri; freshly squeezed lemon juice was not exactly readily accessible. Okay mom, okay... I'll just have to check.

We had lemonade but we really needed lemons. Not fake lemon juice, good old off the tree lemons to squeeze good old lemon juice out of. We need real deal, tart, unsweeted, undiluted, acidic, make-your-salivary-glands-go-crazy lemons.

Has life ever given you lemonade but you really just needed a lemon?

It occurred to me throughout that week, with every med pass that nurse made to her camper, that there must be times when God gives us lemons and He expects and needs us to just deal with the juice. The tart, unsweetened, undiluted lemon juice. He doesn't want us to make lemonade out of it. He doesn't want us to sweeten it up. He doesn't want us to dilute it. He wants us to swig it down and let it do it's work. His work. The acidic, often uncomfortable, make-your-spirit-squirm Spirit work that needs to be done within us.

The properties of acid, especially in this case, work to wear away and break down chemical structures in order to either completely do away with a substance or make it more malleable to change.

Anyone picking up where I'm going with this yet?

God uses His own lemon juice in our lives daily. Yet too often we shy away from the bitterness of the taste and miss the spiritual acid He's using to do His work in us. We avoid taking it, like little children squirming to avoid their brussel sprouts. We spit it out. We try to sweeten it up- "making lemonade out of lemons."

I think there is something to be said for the amazing lemonade that God allows by His grace in our lives. Those sweet times with family, the seasons of tremendous fruit spiritually, the happy days of our lives that we yearn for and reminisce about for years. These are good times. These are those deep, refreshing drinks of iced cold lemonade. They are wonderful and needed.

There are also needs for just plain old generic lemon juice. After all, juice out of a bottle is still juice. It still is acidic, and for many things it can serve the same purpose as the real deal. But it will always be diluted, it will always be pasteurized and ever-so-slightly chemically altered. Self-help books, spiritual books, blogs (uh huh, even this one... but keep reading!), counseling, meditation, etc. You get the idea. These are not bad things. they can be immensely beneficial to us... but dear ones, don't be deceived or lazy. The real work of our souls is GodStuff. It is His spiritual acid, His lemon juice in our lives that refine and make us more into His servants. Bottled stuff will never perfectly match the composition of the real stuff.

For the word of the Lord is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

Hebrew 4:12 ESV

Sound a bit acidic? Hard to squirm away from that... though we may try! God's Word is the real deal. It will always be undiluted, sometimes hard to swallow, and refining to our souls. Always. So don't avoid it.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it's full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (emphasis mine)

Trials, tribulations, testing.... all lemons. God allows and sometimes even causes such things- for the good and perfection of His people. We must see the bigger picture, so let those lemons do their thing. Let that juice work it's way around and in and throughout. It's uncomfortable, it tastes bad and can be seemingly so very hard to digest.  But it's cleansing, detoxing and refining to us. He will cleanse, detox, and refine. So let Him.

So the question remains- I imagine we all have a few lemons in our life right now. Take a moment to refect on what they are. Does God want you to let His Spirit do some much needed acid-work? Or perhaps He needs you to make some lemonade? What or where are the lemons in your life right now? Are you struggling to sweeten the situation? Post below and share your lemon juice experiences- I ‘d love to hear about them!

The Joshua Series- SCARLET CORDS

Hebrews 11, the enviable “Hall of Faith” in the New Testament is chalk-full of formidable giants of the Bible. Abel, Moses, Abraham, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Rahab, Jacob, Gideon, Samson, Sarah, David, Joseph, Barak, Jephthah, Samuel - the list is impressive to say the least. Most are well-known heroes of old who’s stories echo on the pages of history even to this day. All gifted by Yahweh to save His people, propel His Name, and glorify Him to the ends of the earth. All genetically part of His chosen people.

Except one.

Take a look back at that list again. Who stands out- glaring in red letters across the page amongst her fellow hero’s of faith? You may note that there’s only 2 women mentioned at all- one the mother of the chosen people of God, the other a prostitute from a pagan city.

Striking is it not?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen....
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1, 31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The natural question begs to be asked. What on earth is Rahab, an unmarried whore from a city-nation at war with the Israelites, doing smack-dab in the middle of the hall of faith? She wasn’t a Jew, she wasn’t a worshipper of Jehovah, she was a woman, a prostitute, an outcast. A seemingly strange choice to be added by the author of Hebrews to say the least.

I would bet there’s no few sisters out there, who, like me, sometimes feel like the outcast. We feel caught in the middle of some great war, surrounded by spies and enemies, morally broken, socially disabled, or spiritually dry. We see and hear of the Enemy coming for our families, our jobs, spouses, health, friends, our very lives- and we fear greatly the wrath and destruction upon our doorstep.

And yet, like Rahab, like all the great heroes of faith- we also feel the pull of God’s divine hand on our lives. So we take in the spies, we protect the needy, we help save God’s chosen people, we push past what the authorities in our lives say is right and proper- and we do the right thing. We obey. Plain and simple. We do the God-thing. We seek the face of Him who’s Hand guides our lives- despite our name, our culture, our past, or our present. Like Rahab we see past our circumstances and seek a better life. A life full to the brim with Yahweh at the head. We seek adoption into a different nation, a royal priesthood, and a cherished royalty.

Rahab had guts. She had foresight. She had unwavering faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob without even knowing Him personally. She was obedient to the instruction He placed on her going off of rumor-only. Her faith was put in the hope of things and situations she had only heard about. This woman protected God’s people, then when the time came, she put out her scarlet thread for all to see- and awaited her fate... wholly in God’s hands.

Today sisters, regardless of what situation you find yourself in, take heart from our Joshua outcast. If you find yourself staring down an army of the Enemy surrounding your home, a social outcast, morally struggling, or spiritually lost please know that God still has a hand of purpose on your life. If He chose a woman such as Rahab to fulfill His plans and protect His people, how much more will He have for you!

Obey the calling He has for you. Protect and serve His servants- in whatever way that looks in your life. And then throw your scarlet cord out the window dear one. Fall on the mercy of almighty Jehovah for safety and salvation.

“But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, ‘Go into the prostitute's house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.’ So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” Joshua 6:22-25 ESV

God did not forget Rahab and He will not forget you!

Or perhaps you are in a blissful season of rest and quiet. I encourage you to look back at the annuals of your walk with the Father and note all the scarlet cords hanging down. All the times and instances you placed your faith in Him and stepped out with foresight to come alongside what God was doing. Scared but hopeful, resigned but also resolved to follow Him. These scarlet cords are worth noticing, they weave a tapestry of faith that intertwines with the greatest of the Bible- just as Rahab‘s did.

To end, let me have you look at another list of names, take a quick peek at Matthew 1 and the geneology of Jesus…

“The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.”

Matthew 1:1-6 NIV

It would seem our harlot, through her obedience and faith was only the great-great grandmother of King David, but got pulled into the line of Christ Himself! Nothing and nobody is impossible for God!

Mind Your Soil

Reading through Luke 8 today and the parable of the Sower I was struck anew by the visual of all the different kinds of ground that the seeds were scattered on.

“A farmer went out to sow seeds for a harvest. As he scattered his seed, some of it fell on the hard pathway and was quickly trampled down and unable to grow and became nothing but bird seed. Some fell on the gravel, and though it sprouted it couldn’t take root; it withered for lack of moisture. Other seed fell where there was nothing but weeds. It too was unable to grow to full maturity, for it was choked out by the weeds. Yet some of the seed fell into good, fertile soil, and it grew and flourished until it produced more than a hundredfold harvest, a bumper crop.” Then Jesus added, shouting out to all who would hear, “Listen with your heart and you will understand!”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:5-8‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Notice here that the seeds are good- always. They’re healthy, fruitful, and ready to multiply. It’s the soil conditions that vary and thereby dictate if and what quality of fruit is produced.

As a <very> amateur gardener I know that the kind of soil I plant in greatly affects the kind of crop I produce and the overall health of the plants over time. Gravel, rocks, weeds, the wrong pH, the incorrect pesticide, not enough or too much sun, not enough or too much water- all these things determine whether or not the plants not only grow... but thrive.

This passage today reminded me that the maintenance of our own spiritual soil is no less important. Though Christ was speaking specifically to the spread of the Gospel here, I think the metaphor can be carried well into our spiritual lives.

We need to intentionally and diligently keep our soul-soil healthy. The Word of God will always be sowed with healthy seeds, but we need to be making the proper adjustments in our soul-soil to ensure that as far as it is with us, the conditions for the Seed to thrive are present.

Is there enough sun (Son) in your life? Or is the shade of darkness hindering full exposure? Are there spots in your life that the Light doesn’t have access to? Those places will eventually die from lack of Sonlight. There are very few plants that thrive in darkness. So also there are NO souls that can.

What about making sure those seeds are getting regular and untainted (Living) water to drink? Without adequate watering, all plants eventually die. Watering them once a month doesn’t cut it. So also our souls need regular and filling drinks from the the Word of God, communication with the Holy One.

What about rock that needs removed? Unconfessed sin or addiction, idolatry and unrepentant hearts can lay like rocks in our gardens. Some are huge- too big to move ourselves. Others are small, tiny even- like gravel- but have worked their way into every corner of our soul-soil. Even small, the sheer amount of rocks to clear out can have the same effect as a huge boulder. Both kinds we need God to help remove. Seeds cannot grow and thrive when they’re competing for nutrients, sun, water, soil with other stuff. Our walk with the Lord can certainly grow to a certain extant with these rocks in our soil, but God demands more. He deserves more. He requires an undivided heart and a garden that testifies to allegiance to Him only.

And then there’s the weeding that all gardeners know is a necessary chore. Dear ones, daily spiritual weeding needs to become a habit for us. For just as the seeds of truth and Christ are being scattered over our soil, the evil one is scattering his own on the same land. In us. We need to be daily walking through the paths of our soul-soil and pulling out roots of bitterness, vines of envy and jealousy, ivy of laziness, weeds of discord, disunity, anxiety, worry... you name it. As we all know, certain weeds thrive in certain soil conditions. Likewise certain sins thrive in certain people. We all know what temptations we are prone to- and we should be especially on the lookout to uproot their beginnings within our soul-soil.

Daily, diligent upkeep results in bountiful and beautiful gardens. The same is true of our spiritual gardens. With regular maintenance, Sonshine, Living water, and help from the Master Gardener we too will thrive; overflowing our boundaries, feeding multitudes, showing beauty to anyone who walks by.

Dear ones I challenge you all today to mind your soil- today, tomorrow, and always. Be intentional in keeping your ground healthy and ready to receive His word. Start habits that promote healthy and abundant growth. May your garden testify to the Master gardener in your life. Amen and amen.

For Those Who Ache

For Those Who Ache

I imagine you feel like damaged goods. Like what little was there to start with is now irrevocably tarnished. So much so that you're not worthy of love or any goodness in life. People have started treating you differently- like your pain and wounds are just too much... too ugly... to big for them to handle. Right?
The pain goes too deep to root out the cause, the treatment to heal too scary to consider seriously. The worry and anxiety of such a burden that you carry is overwhelming and yet you are unwilling to put it down or even share the load.

You run. You hide. You numb. Picking your poison to flee from the pain and ache of all that has gone wrong.

And by now you’re convinced none of it matters anymore. You’re beyond help. Beyond attention. Beyond redemption.

Dear one- you need to hear that you are loved, treasured, precious, and accepted by so so many people. Your life, your sins, your wounds, all are worthy of notice, love, and healing. You are worthy of redemption. You are worth it. Even minute of struggle, every moment of regret, every bad memory, every hurt whether visible or invisible- is known by your Father in heaven and He longs to heal you.

You need to stop running from the pain and listening to the lies. You need to know that you have plans and a purpose in this life and this season of tremendous hurting will be redeemed by your Savior. The crazy thing is that He has already done it... but you need to accept the gift.

No longer numb- take your pain and agony, worries and anxieties to God. He is trustworthy and a safe shelter.

I am reminded as I write of a lyric from Oh Holy Night.

'The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.'

Sister, dear sister- hear me clearly- your night need not go on forever. Today is a new day, another morning to start anew. Take time now to make some choices- you need to put down the drugs, the drinks, the anger, whatever you're numbing the pain with- they're doing you no good and not stopping any pain in the end. You know this. They are the easy way out... until they're not. Rather take a step towards your Father and onto a road of supernatural and TOTAL healing. Healing that is complete and eternal. Healing that cannot be mimicked by anything or anyone this world will ever offer you.

“When you sit enthroned under the shadow of Shaddai, you are hidden in the strength of God Most High. He’s the hope that holds me and the Stronghold to shelter me, the only God for me, and my great confidence. He will rescue you from every hidden trap of the enemy, and he will protect you from false accusation and any deadly curse. His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you. You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm. You will never worry about an attack of demonic forces at night nor have to fear a spirit of darkness coming against you. Don’t fear a thing! Whether by night or by day, demonic danger will not trouble you, nor will the powers of evil launched against you. Even in a time of disaster, with thousands and thousands being killed, you will remain unscathed and unharmed. you will be a spectator as the wicked perish in judgment, for they will be paid back for what they have done! When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High, our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm. How then could evil prevail against us or disease infect us?
God sends angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go, defending you from all harm. If you walk into a trap, they’ll be there for you and keep you from stumbling. You’ll even walk unharmed among the fiercest powers of darkness, trampling every one of them beneath your feet! For here is what the Lord has spoken to me: “Because you have delighted in me as my great lover, I will greatly protect you. I will set you in a high place, safe and secure before my face. I will answer your cry for help every time you pray, and you will find and feel my presence even in your time of pressure and trouble. I will be your glorious hero and give you a feast. You will be satisfied with a full life and with all that I do for you. For you will enjoy the fullness of my salvation!””
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭91 TPT

Find those God has placed in your life who know these dark paths well and who don't fear the monsters in the shadows. There are multitudes who have fought these fights and won glorious victories in Christ. Our testimonies should be a map of the roads we’ve walked. We will walk alongside you. You have many ready to fight with you. You are worth it!


Pause and Ponder

I wanted to catch a moment with just you, me, and a newborn baby this day. Just us. Together in a moment of time.

There are probably children playing in the background, wrapping paper bits scattered about, smells of Christmas dinner wafting here and there.

Or perhaps none of those- perhaps today is quiet or full of worry or sadness. Maybe an empty chair whispers of a loved one missing from it, maybe food is scarce, money short, or relationships strained.

It’s okay. We three can still be together for a bit.

Dear one, take a moment with me, whether happy or sad, whole or hurting- and let us pause life for just a minute or two. Like Clarence in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, I want to look back with you and ponder this day we call Christmas.

In this movie our somewhat hapless guardian angel is trying to earn his wings by helping a suicidal, broken, and stressed out man to see the good in his life- the impact his presence has made for others. Clarence does this by walking him back through a time that doesn’t include him- a time that has no knowledge or imprint of his existence.

Today I would ask you to meditate on something similar with me- but instead of yourself being the center of life, let us put the newborn babe there instead.

Can we for even a moment comprehend a life without the existence or imprint of this baby King?

Imagine a world without the Christ child- it surely looks different does it not? Suddenly all those lovely Christmas carols hold meaningless words, unmet promises, and heavenly lies hanging over an empty manger. A darkened world lays under a silent night that is just like any other. The thrill of hope remains a void in the world’s heart. The new and glorious morn harkens nothing of renewal or glory at all. In fact the morning after testifies to the same sin, death, destruction of it’s sister the day before. The world lays in sin and error pining... still. Forever.

Yes, surely without this tiny baby the world would be eternally lost. Pain and suffering would have no purpose. Loss and grief would find foothold in our hearts without any hope of the bitterness being healed. Sin running rampant and without answer. The hope of peace, the promise of heaven, Emmanuel incarnate... just... not there.

Ponder with me the impact the void of this Child would have in your own life. What paths of destruction might you still be on? What relationships still broken? What losses still deeply unhealed? What brokenness still manifest? What hopelessness for an eternity separated from our Creator!

Yes, truly without this baby we would have pasts with no redemption, presents without purpose, futures with no hope. Dear one, the significance of this occasion we celebrate and cherish cannot be overstated. Mary’s screams in childbirth still echo in eternity. The chasm that was bridged between heaven and earth as his little head breeched between her legs, in one instant, mended both time and space between God and man. The great fall now had a great Savior to soften the blow and ultimately catch the fallen.

So today, as our moment together draws to a close, let the words of Isaiah wash over you and bring you unabashed joy in the birth of our Savior.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:2-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Unlike the movie, this Christmas story is not a fairy-tale, it’s not a fantastic novel, it’s not a fable passed down through the centuries. This is Jehovah deigning to be Emmanuel. This is a new chapter in the history of creation that started the beginning of the end of the story... a story that we are characters in so many years later. A story that we are both saved in and get to aid in. A story of a world that was completely lost that found it’s Savior in the form of a tiny baby boy. And in that moment, the cosmos past, present, and future shifted forever. What a marvelous thing!

Living Intentionally Fearlessly Truthfully
Merry Christmas my friends!
~Bethany

#HolyBeautiful #BeHolyBeautiful #HolyBeautifulLife

Unwanted Silver Linings

Recently I was trying to encourage a dear co-worker of mine who had recently lost his younger brother to cancer. It was the first time I’d seen him since the funeral and I was doing my best to delicately love on him during the oh-so-awkward-after-the-funeral-but-before-reality-really-sets-in time. It’s a hard season right? Hard for the family, hard for those who come alongside them-

In this case, this young boy knew Jesus well, so there was more joy that sorrow to be had… and his family remaining on this side of heaven knew it. But even with the joy of hope for a reunion, the immediate grief and life-change of losing a loved one isn’t necessarily dampened. It’s still hard-

I found myself switching into my ‘nurse-mode’ midway through the conversation. Having been an ICU trauma nurse for many years, I’ve been at the death bed of more people than I care to count… it was, by far, the hardest part of my job. Yet the experiences have been invaluable to me in helping people see Jesus through even the very darkest of times. Losing a child, a spouse, a dad, a grandmother… none of these losses ever get easier. Loss is supposed to hurt. It’s an unfortunate by-product of Eve’s wayward decision way back in the Garden of Eden…. separation… loss… death. All these things are so very hard.

They’re hard because we aren’t designed for such things- not originally at least. Our hearts and souls were made for unity and union with one another (with God in particular). Originally our lives came with complete relationship and fellowship with God and each other. There was time. There was no end in sight. The horizons of humanity’s perspective were clear… pure sunshine all the way to the ends of the earth. But then came the fall of man and death, decay, separation. Storm clouds quickly blocked the endless view… and just like that- time now was tethered to the finite.

Talking through some of this with my friend, I did my best to give him permission to rest and even take some joy in the end that had come. For so many families who’s loved ones spend days, months, even years deteriorating into death, often the sense of relief when ‘it’s finally over’ can be palpable. Health workers see this all the time- the unexpected and seemingly ironic relief at the end can be almost as overwhelming as the grief that accompanies the loss. And that is okay. The confusing mix of emotions often turn into guilt for many though; the sigh of relief, the letting down of the defenses, the whole night of uninterrupted sleep, returning to ‘normal’ life and maybe even taking a vacation… in short, unwanted silver linings within the clouds appear. Strange as they are to behold, these kind of silver linings are okay to look at. I needed to tell my friend this… he needed to hear it. He needed someone to give him permission and know it wasn’t dishonoring or moving too fast.

God puts silver linings in our lives, often during the darkest of storms, to remind us that He’s still in control. That His sovereignty will still win the day. Even in death… especially in death.

Because what we need to know, what you who may be reading this needs to know… is that God has placed the ultimate silver lining in our lives.

Christ’s death was no less traumatic for his family and friends- the agonizing hours, the torture, the watching and waiting for Him to breathe His last. I imagine there was a collective sigh of relief when He did finally give up His spirit… if only in thanks that His suffering was over. I cannot imagine how hard those hours would have been. For those who truly thought Him the Messiah, I assume this Man’s death was unbearable… without hope, without peace, without purpose, without meaning. For those moments which turned into days after Jesus’s death, I imagine the darkness of the clouds that surrounded all of humanity were impenetrable.

But then…. LIGHT! Literally, physically, spiritually! Christ rose from the dead! By His death and resurrection we now have the ultimate silver lining. The silver lining that bridges the brokenness of our separation from God. The silver lining that restores our union with the Creator and cuts the tethers of time, releasing us back into the infinite.

We may not want Him. He’s okay to want though.

We may not see Him. He’s okay to look at.

We often refuse to acknowledge the silver lining in our lives. But dear one, He. is. there. A silver lining piercing over the darkest of clouds, the deepest of despair, into the depths of depression, shame, or guilt.

By His death… we can live.

And that, my friends, is a silver lining worth embracing!

Dear one, if you need to take hold of this silver lining, please do so! Jesus is waiting to show you life- better, abundant, full. Please go here to find out more!

Restless

What costly grace
That my life should be so transformed
Beyond that which is called comfortable!
My heart is so charged 
With a restlessness to serve You
And feel that rest
Which only laboring with You can give.
What consternation
That my life should be so full
And pressed about with demanding crowds!
My head is so challenged
With a restlessness to serve people
But not yet feeling that peace
Which comes from serving God and not man.
What confusion
That my life should be so harried
By priorities claiming my attention!
My heart is so consumed
By a restless passion for the needy
In conflict with the rest
That only the familiar bed can bring. What conflicting calls
That my life should be so circumscribed
By expectations exceeding any carnal capacities!
My compassion is so conscripted
By a multitude of hurting hearts
That restless distress wars with my weariness
Until I hear Your call to come away and rest.
What confounded chaos
That my life should so cease to be my own
In the household hubbub of castle values.
My heat of passion becomes constrained
By identifying with daily demands
Of restless childish things,
Until arrested by Your love.
What cacophony
That my puny life should be placed
So near the site of so much spiritual carnage!
My helmet still rings
From resistance to Darkness,
The Enemy of men's souls, When leading the weary to Your rest.
What cursed conformity
That my life should be so weak-willed
As to concede to the cowardly crowd!
My heart is so convoluted
In its denial and deceit, 
That restless pursuit of popular praise
Leaves me restless still.
What confident conquest
That my life should be so covenanted
As to be recaptured by Your power!
My holy hands become wholly Yours
As Sabbath rest and sacred yoke
Return me to the less traveled road,
The path of the Shepherd's rest.
What disquieting concentration
That my life should be suborned
By tortuous nostalgic caverns! My mind and heart restlessly cavort
In forests and fields of illusion
Until breathless they become captive
To the jealous Spirit of Truth.
What consummate conformity
That my life should be confronted
With "Babbler, Blasphemer, Beelzebub."
Such honor so fully Christ-like
Strikes me with mixed pleasure and peril
Until fruitful, flowing spiritual words
Attest to the Truth and rest His case.
What quiet counsel 
That my life should be thus counted
As discarded dung yet precious pearl!
My heavy heart is hardly cracked
From deep-set seeds of chapter and verse,
But, still, from it thrives the restless role
Of the servant, sinner, and saint.

Poem by my spiritual dad and mentor, David Heikkila ca. 1986

Ritual or Relational

Ugh, ugh, UGH! People can I just say that after what feels like a bazillion years of being a Christian and I still cannot seem to get this ‘daily devotional’ thing down. It’s not you, Lord… it’s me. There… I said it. I’m terrible at doing this particular part of the Christian walk well.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I do have my devo time, but I also have 4 littles (all under 6!). I do read my Word, but I also have <several> part-time jobs. It gets done, but geez! it never looks like I want it to.

I want my daily devotions to be different. I imagine everyone else on the planet has this lovely picturesque spot on a back porch, by a serene lake, watching the sun rise over the mountains in the background, sipping their perfectly temp’ed coffee, reading a well-worn Bible and journaling endlessly to God. Pinterest and Instagram make this seem attainable right? I long for those quiet moments… I want them so badly.

But reality is different from pictures- and while everyone else on the planet is sipping their lattes'- I’m getting in a chapter here and a paragraph there (dictated wholly by feeding and napping times), coffee (if I have time to brew any at all!) is cold (with no milk because I probably forgot to get some), I’m still in my pajamas (so maybe I have that in common with the above scenario), and there is no less that at least two children who need my attention. Later that night as I tumble into bed at God-knows-what-time I try to finish up my devos, do a bit of journaling (if I’m really lucky!). My Bible is well-worn… but mostly from crayon pictures and coffee stains, its taped on three sides with medical tape… filled between the pages with an inordinate amount of my kids’s church drawings and doodles. My scenery consists of my bed usually, exhausted (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not), and I may or may not be still in my pajamas (the truth hurts people.) Though I try for better, more often than not, this is what my Jesus-time looks like.

I want more. I want better. I want to spend better time with Him- better interaction, better conversation. But more often than not, it just isn’t there.

Later in the night, it’s a guarantee that one or more of the kids comes upstairs and nestles in next to me. I asked my oldest one night why he was coming up and in his sleepy voice he said, “Because I just want to be with you Mommy.”

And just like that… I got it.

I don’t care that he’s sweaty and (usually) stinky (as boy’s tend to perpetually be!), I don’t care that he’s sleepy, I don’t care that it’s the middle of the night, I don’t care that we aren’t talking.

I just love that he’s come to be with me. The time doesn’t matter, nor does the place, or even how long he stays (often he’ll make his little way back down to his own bed). No, it only matters that we were together for a bit, that he chose and wanted to be with me for awhile.

Ugh. I just love that.

I guess God’s the same. He doesn’t care when I spend time with Him- only that I do. He doesn’t care what I’m wearing or if I’ve showered. He won’t notice if my coffee is cold (or even if I have coffee). He’s not looking at the scenery that I am- He’s too busy looking at me. Just like I will take any time alone with my kids that I can get, He craves whatever time I can give Him. No questions asked. He’s just happy to be with me.

I’m not a hassle to God, my presence is heartwarming to Him. Conversely He is never a hassle to me, and I need to stop looking at it like that. He’s no more hassle to me than I am to Him.

And that, my friends, is a very heartwarming thing. Maybe I’m doing this daily-devo thing just right. It may not be what the pictures look like, but it certainly is mine and I’m offering what I can. Thank you Lord for meeting me where I am, how I am, and loving me for who I am.

Counting Joy

Joy is an odd thing. It’s hard to get my head around this feeling at times because, as we all know, feelings are fickle. As humans are feelings are almost wholly dictated by circumstances- by what is happening to or around us. We are happy when things go well, proud of accomplishments, sad with loss, frustrated with adversity, angry with injustice. Our feelings, for better or worse, usually depend on our surroundings.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And yet, in this passage, Janes tells us to take joy in trials. It’s an odd encouragement, and not a little contrary to our natural instincts.

“Count it joy”.... choose joy, find joy; our brother is telling us to determine our feelings through resolution in our minds.... not BECAUSE of our circumstances but in SPITE of them. We have to look around, take in the atmosphere and decide how we’re going to feel about it. We can stop feeling recklessly and start choosing how we feel. We don’t need to be victims of uncontrolled emotions.

Yes, we can count hard trials as unfair, be offended, angry, frustrated- that’s certainly the natural tendency of our flesh. God has set us apart for something better however; we can count it joy that God has chosen to place us within a situation where He has plans to grow us.

Dear ones, every situation that is less than ideal is an opportunity to choose joy. To determine in our minds, intentionally, to FEEL joyful- regardless of what is happening. Better yet... BECAUSE of the trial. If we are to believe in the truth that in our weakness He is made strong, then we must also acknowledge that during these hardships His purposes are to magnify Himself through us.

We can’t do that mad. We can’t do that upset. We can’t do that bitter or resentful. We can’t do that with unforgiveness.

We can’t do that if we’re not counting these trials as joy.

The best part about this is that our Heavenly Father meets us within the storm. “...do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah‬ ‭8:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And just like that, we have supernatural strength in the midst of the mess. Joy of our Lord glorifies Him and strengthens us as well. We only need to determine in our hearts to feel it- to know it. And by knowing Him, we can always know joy... no matter what.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans‬ ‭15:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Dear ones may I leave you today with the dictionary’s definition of joy. Meditate on its wonderful implications when viewed through the lens of the Joy of the Lord.

1a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight. b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety. 
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss. 
3 : a source or cause of delight. joy.