Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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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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Be a Grace Giver…

graceWhat if we turned things upside down today? What if we gave people what they didn’t deserve and didn’t give them what they did deserve? What if our words and actions were so infused with grace, they were able to disarm negativity, counteract conflict, and give courage and boldness to others when received?

Grace is unmerited love and mercy. It’s an undeserving gift and it’s not easy to give. It’s difficult to bite your tongue in response to a bitter comment or biting criticism. It’s hard to think beyond hurt feelings and bruised emotions and offer forgiveness. It’s tough to be a presence of grace with an offensive person. The message of the world says, “Give ’em what they deserve!” ”You deserve better than that!”

I am not promoting we go around acting like feeble, push-overs, or passive, fake happy people throwing grace around like magical, rainbow fairy dust. Giving grace is a bold, brave, intentional choice. It means choosing to respond instead of react. It means pausing, getting our thoughts together, and then speaking truth in a loving, respectful way. There are many situations that need to be further addressed, processed through, and worked on; but grace is the invitation to a pathway of respectful discussions. Grace can be a gateway to a journey of healing and restoration.

As a follow of Christ, we do not have to rely on our power to be a grace-giver. We shouldn’t. We have access to power, life-supporting love and strength through the Holy Spirit. By excepting and receiving God’s grace, we in turn can extend grace to others with God’s help.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. -1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

So today, join with me in the practice of grace giving– and keep in mind, there will be a time when we are in need of grace too. ❤


Rain Clouds and Rainbows

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I had the most beautiful, most vivid experience this week. Every month, my church joins with other churches in our area to pray for families, churches, and our community in strategic and relevant ways. Each church takes one day to pray for twenty-four hours in what we call One Church-One Day. ¹

On Wednesday morning, at 6:00 AM, my church’s prayer chain ended. Morning time is my favorite time with its quiet, peaceful sounds and the songs the birds and insects make. I walked out onto my deck to sit down to enjoy the morning with my coffee and my thoughts. About fifty people from my church family had been praying, one hour each, over the twenty-four hour period, and I love to think about all those people united in prayer.

The morning was dark gray with threatening storm clouds hung overhead. The air was still and there was no sound. No birds tweeting, no crickets chirping, no crows cawing. Just stillness and silence. I thought it strangely wonderful to have such silence after  twenty-hours of offering up words and petitions to God.

At almost exactly 6:30 AM, the silent morning was abruptly transformed into a rushing, loud crescendo as the heavens let loose and rain poured from the sky. It was almost as if all of our prayers, every single word uttered, had saturated the atmosphere, collecting in a great cloud, and God replied in the music of the rain- as if saying I hear you, every word I heard, and now I will hold your prayers safe in my hands and will respond in my timing for my perfect plan.

What a comforting thought! God the Provider- Yahweh Yireh- sending the rain to refresh the earth, support new growth, and wash things clean. I enjoyed the rhythmic raindrops on the roof and side of my house. And peace washed over me.

Fast forward through a busy day of homeschool preparations, housecleaning, kid-caring, errands, and cooking. The rain had stopped sometime during the day and the kids had been outside playing, enjoying the sun. I was in the middle of making dinner when I stopped to glance out the window. Misty, quiet rain was coming down but only one side of our yard. It was an odd sight, and I wondered how a rain cloud could be so precise.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my name, “Mom, Mom, come quick!!!” It’s a rainbow!!! Mom, Mom!!” I ran out of the house to join them and looked up…across the sky, right over our house was a bright, beautiful, complete rainbow!! If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have completely missed it. Its sight was an extravagant gift, one more reminder of God’s promises and His faithfulness. God sees, God hears, He responds, and He is faithful.

I wanted to share this story as an encouragement. The Bible tells us:

1.) God hears our prayers. He listens to our concerns, our petitions for loved ones and He wants us to tell Him our desires. God cares.  

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

2.) God responds… sometimes not in the way we want, sometimes not in the way we think, but He always answers. And when it seems silent, keep praying, because He is still listening. In His timing, He will break through the silence.

“He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15;

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9–10

3.) God uses others to remind us of His faithfulness and promises…and we all need reminders now and then. If you are reading this and do not have anyone who can remind you of such things or do not even know where to begin looking for God, find a local church. There are beautiful communities of Jesus-loving people who would love to tell you their stories of God’s faithfulness, pray with you and help you find Him right in your own neighborhood.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25

“They all joined together constantly in prayer,” Acts 1:14

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¹ Here is a helpful information and an amazing model of One-Church, One Day that we used. http://onehopenetwork.org/about/


Part 1: Unprepared (and a little thing called jet lag) HTW-2018

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Seven years in the Girls Scouts gave me two takeaways. Two things that have rung true in my heart and as clear in my mind since the first day I heard them:

1.) Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.

And 2.) ALWAYS BE PREPARED.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the sweet tune of friendship with many sliver and gold friends. And I strive to be prepared- as much as possible- for whatever situation I may find myself. My husband often shakes his head when I come out the door, ready for a day trip, with numerous bags filled sweatshirts, raincoats, towels, snacks and water, and a very large first aid kit. My answer to his playful mocking is always the same, “ALWAYS BE PREPARED.”

But “always be prepared” goes beyond physical plans and material items. It’s a combination of a prepared heart, mind and body that makes a person as prepared as they can be. And even then, no person is ever 100% prepared for anything. Because stuff happens. Needs come up. Priorities shift. Unexpected opportunities are offered. Energy levels fluctuate. Uncontrollable events occur and unforeseen situations happen. Little annoyances can turn into hefty distractions. That’s life!

You do your best, and let God take the rest.

This is where my hike begins. Unprepared in many ways.

After a wonderful two-week vacation in California, our family returned home late Tuesday night. I had exactly ONE and 1/2 days to prepare and pack for the hike.

Laid-back, Californian-thinking must have taken over my mind, because I wasn’t one tiny bit worried about the little amount time I had or how unprepared I was to do the laundry (at the laundromat since our washer had conked out the week before), go grocery shopping, run errands, and pack my pack.

And I forgot to account for a little phenomenon called jet lag. We ended up sleeping in Wednesday, taking up 1/2 day of prep time. Still.. I was excited for the trip, not worried about anything, and the kids and I took off to conquer the to-do list. I am sure a little adrenaline and a lot of caffeine helped compensate for the loss of energy I was starting to feel.

Oh, how quickly reality rips through vacation’s rosy veil. And the veil was completely gone by Wednesday night after something occurred that left my heart turned upside down and inside out. Ugly roots of things that I thought had been weeded out of my heart, started to sprout, twist around my joy, and took on an exhausting presence. A cloud of fear settled over me. Lies taunted me. My confidence was questioned. My spirit was in fight mode. I believe it was a spiritual attack and my heart felt less and less prepared to leave the next day. BUT… I knew from experience that the hike was exactly where I needed to be. The mountains give you and God an amazing arena to fight together and work through these types of heart issues.

That night, jet leg destroyed my sleep. I tossed and turned, dwelled and worried. The very little sleep I got was interrupted by bad dreams. No amount of caffeine or bursts of adrenaline was going to make up for severe loss of rest. By Thursday morning, my energy was drained and my pack was still empty.

If you have followed my hiking stories in the past, you know that I usually prepare months in advance, checking off items on a thorough list, and on the morning of the hike I’m thoroughly packed, and often I’ve already packed and unpacked several times. This was different.

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With caffeine-induced energy and a lot of prayer, I started going through the list and throwing things in gallon-sized bags for waterproofing. There would be just two of us this year and we were planning on staying at the Joe Dodge Lodge the first night, camping trailside the next, and spending our final night at Carter Notch Hut. The camping component required a few new items in my pack for cooking and sleeping outside.

Knowing I would have a night in the lodge to reorganize helped as I struggled to decide what to bring. In the end, with an hour to go, my pack was finally packed (as best as I could) and I threw a bunch of other stuff in three shopping bags, just in case I needed or wanted them. Then I put all of it in the truck to deal with later. It was a jumbled mess. I was a jumbled mess of emotions- excited, exhausted, worried, full of anticipation- and I felt extremely unprepared. The good ole’ Girl Scout motto offering me guilt this time instead of comfort.

My husband. My kids. I love them!! They saw my weariness and my increased anxiety. They cheered me on, reminded me how much I loved hiking and how fun this trip was going to be. In our kitchen, they circled me in love and in prayer. Their sweet little hands laid on my knees as they prayed protection over every part of my body. I took in the scene. It was the first beautiful view of my trip. I breathed in the sweet air of the Holy Spirit.

Everything was going to be okay. It was going to be better than okay. It was going to be great because I was heading to the mountains. Three whole days on the trail with one of my best friends, challenging myself, seeing new things, exploring new peaks. And I knew most of all that God was going to bring something new out of this. In my weakness, He’s made strong. I took renewed strength and comfort in this fact. I was going to return from this hike stronger, more confident, and reenergized than how I was leaving. Nothing- no matter how much more I could have prepared, no matter what attacks against my heart and mind, or the crazy shiftiness of jet lag- could ever take that from me.

 

 

 


Quiet Reflections

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The quieter you become, the more you can hear. –Ram Dass

It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the day. The light breeze rippled over the surface of the lake creating a watercolor reflection of the peachy-blue, dusk lit skies. Gentle waves lapped up against the shore in a relaxing rhythm inviting me to slow my breath to its beat.  My family’s silhouettes bobbed up and down in a canoe as they paddled out toward the sunset. Echoes of their laughter bounced back to me with joy. I stood at the water’s edge to take it all in. The scene before me seemed like it was painted just for me. Painted with attention to detail and brushed with peace and love.

The rush to get to camp and the busyness of the day melted off every tense and tired muscle leaving puddles of unwanted, unnecessary stress on the shore. I felt lighter, freer. Peace quieted my mind and made space in my heart to hear. To hear is so much more difficult to do than to listen. At home, I listen to the noise of the world and responsibilities at high volume. But here, at camp, God had cleared my schedule and removed distractions. He quieted the noise and had my full attention. I was ready to receive and hear. And here are a few things I heard…

“Be still, know I am God.” Psalm 46:10

“Let me teach you and give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-29

“You are mine.”  1 John 3:1, 1 Peter 2:9

“I made you in my image, wonderfully and fearfully made, with a purpose.”  Psalm 139:14, Ephesians 2:10

“I delight in you.” Zephaniah 3:17

“I have great things planned for you and your family. “ Jeremiah 29:11

“Let me go first. You are not alone.” Deuteronomy 31:8

“Rest in the confidence of my faithfulness.”  Psalm 91:4

“Enjoy life and all I have given you.” John 10:10

And, “I love you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9, Jeremiah 31:3

God wants to paint a scene of peace and love just for you too. It might not be a lakeside sunset, but He KNOWS how best to get our individual attention with a pursuit of love, grace and mercy. God wants to help quiet our noisy hearts to embrace a quiet one, to move from half listening to wholeheartedly hearing.  So, be ready to be caught off guard (in a good way) and be ready to receive what He wants to you to hear.


“Don’t Weep”

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He was all she had left. Death had stolen her husband and now had taken her only son. It had robbed her of her family and her future, and left her in this hopeless, desperate position. What would she do? What could she do? A woman of her time had no ownership of anything, no control over decisions, and now she was alone. With a deeply troubled heart, she took a deep breath and continued walking along the dusty, crowded funeral procession, her cheeks stained by streams of tears.

At the city gates, the funeral procession was met by another large crowd. This crowd following and traveling with a great teacher and healer called Jesus. The crowd yielded to let the procession go by and one among the crowd waited and watched with loving eyes. He saw the grieving widow and knew. He knew every detail of her situation. Jesus always sees what others can’t and always knows what others don’t.

Deeply moved by compassion, Jesus went to the woman. Gracious and compassionate eyes met sorrowful and distressed ones. With care and gentleness, he spoke to her, “Don’t weep,” he said. Then he went to the open coffin, gently touched the side, and with the power and authority in all of heaven and earth, Jesus commanded the dead men to “Arise!” At the command of his words, the dead man sat up and began to speak. The crowd was stunned by awe and wonder, they glorified God as Jesus reunited the boy and his mother. Jesus miraculously restored a life, a family and futures at those city gates.

This is the Jesus I love and serve. My Jesus is full of compassion and power. He is watching, willing and wanting to bring restoration to our lives, relationships, and our futures too. His heart breaks for the hopeless, the mistreated, and the sorrowful. Jesus meets us right where we are, in the messiness of our situations, our pain, and our despair. Nothing surprises Him and no situation is too big or too hopeless for His touch. He has the power to turn weeping into wonder. Turn pain into praise. And turn fear into a faith. But we need to meet him and His gaze. Though it may be difficult and situations challenging, we need to keep stepping forward in faith, keep trusting Him as a Great Teacher, Great Healer, and Powerful Savior. A Savior that has the compassion to say “Don’t Weep” and the authority to say “Arise!” to bring life back to our most desperate and dead circumstances. So be encouraged, for nothing is impossible with God.

A Widow’s Son Raised to Life found in The Gospel of Luke 7:11-17