A Month of Ebenezers

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The cool, salty spray was fresh with hope. Freedom danced in the air and adventure whipped in the wind. The ferry plowed confidently through the rolling waves, moving steadily closer toward to the small island- my new home. Things had happened very quickly in the last few days. It felt like a dream but this was very real.  I looked back at the mainland, straining to see the only life I had ever known. A life of safety and security in family and home; and more recently a life marked with deep regret, painful shame, and shattered dreams. My heart was broken in so many ways. I was lost wanting to be found.

This was the beginning of a season in my life etched by indescribable grace, raw and challenging growth, and sincere gratitude. The slow tempo of the Island offered me a sanctuary for reflection. It was a place where freedom bore new dreams upon windy, high bluffs. Grains of inspiration were discovered on long stretches of sandy beaches. Revelation was abundant and overflowing in every bit of natural beauty.

I spent hours and hours walking. Every step seemed to beat out the pain of the past and moved me forward in a journey of healing. Jesus was undeniably close, patiently waiting for me to acknowledge Him again. And when I did, He met me right where I was- no judgment or condemnation. He quietly listened to my questions, stood by me as I let loose my anger and grief, and didn’t turn away when I bared my shame and surrendered my guilt. He comforted me with love and made me feel like I was the only one who had His attention. From the deepest places of my clouded heart came drops of appreciation that turned into storms of praise.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice over the clanging lies, taunts, and distractions that I had given my attention to for so long. The Holy Spirit burned away unwanted things and brightened a flicker back into a flame. He gently guided me through acceptance, helped me turn back to God in repentance, and gave me help, power and protection in the process. I was wanted. I was found. And my response was gratitude and praise! The more I praised, the more I moved forward. The more I moved forward, the more my heart healed. The more I healed, the more I realized who I was and what that meant.

There is a story in the Bible about a battle in which the Lord helped the Israelites to win. In the place where their enemy had been routed, the prophet Samuel set up a “stone of help,” an Ebenezer, saying “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12) The “stone of help” would be a reminder of God’s promise, power and protection, always serving as a prompt to praise.

Sometimes through the battles, discouragement, and troubled times it can be hard to be grateful, yet I believe, it’s during these times that our practice of praise and gratitude brings about the richest, most genuine, most powerful praise. Powerful praise that God turns into hope, freedom, and renewal.

Gratitude doesn’t need to be perfect- it’s a process. It doesn’t have to be elegant words- messy emotions from a sincere heart work too. With each step of the journey, wherever God may take you- to windswept islands or a third-floor apartment in an inner city- set up your “stones of help” and use them as a prompts of praise. For the more we praise, the more we realize what we have and the more we have we realize what that truly means.

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Although, every day, in every season, in all circumstances, is a time to be thankful, November is a special month of reflecting on what it means to thankful. I like to take this month to think about how I can better cultivate a heart of gratitude, not only in my life but in our family’s life as well. This month, I am looking back at the Ebenezers I’ve set up in my life. I’m using them as prompts of praise, to tell my story of where the Lord’s help and protection have covered me and where His power is taking me next. Join me!

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Fear and Joy

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There is a difficult situation that I have been dealing with. It has caused many unsettling feelings and unwanted fear. No matter how much I have prayed about it, talked about it, thought through it, tried to release it, the fear has remained. Like a thick, heavy chain, fear has held me back and kept me where I do not want to be.  It has stolen my time and littered my mood. When I have tried to break free and I can’t, guilt brings another chain. Guilt over the fact that I shouldn’t be fearful, only joyful in all my circumstances. An either/or response. What a tangled, emotional mess!

Can joy and fear reside in the same situation?

In my devotions this morning, I read a passage that I have read many times before but today it spoke to what my heart has been needing to hear.

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, Greetings! And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”  Matthew 28:1-15

The guards and the Marys were both afraid by the events they were witnessing. Can you blame them? A great earthquake, an angel that looked like lightening sitting in front of them on an empty tomb. Their responses to the fear is what sets them apart.  The guards “trembled and became like dead men.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were afraid yet filled with joy .(verse 8) Their fear did not hold them back or chained them to the ground, they were able to move forward in joy to the mission they were tasked to do.

I realize that I have been acting more like the guards. Stumbling, falling to the ground, acting like dead man woman. Fear and guilt have been lying to me. Telling me that I cannot move forward.  This passage shows me that it is not an either/or response. Being fearful does not disqualify you from doing God’s work but it can paralyzed and rob you from the freedom and complete joy that the Lord so freely wants to give.

“Our fear lives side by side with our joy” – SHE READS TRUTH

Our joy comes from the Lord.

Move forward and break the chains of fear with joy and the strength from the Lord.