Arise

Over the last few years there has been one message that has rung in my ears like church bells echoing on a Sunday morning across the city.

Get up. Arise.

Like get up out of bed? Off the couch?

photo of woman in gray tank top while sitting on bed
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Yes..and no. If sitting on the comfy leather couch has been your posture since – well you can’t remember when – then yes it’s time to get up and at least go for a walk. What I’m talking about is more spiritual than physical but can be both. 

I’ve been laying low spiritually for some time which I don’t think is a sin. There are seasons for everything and sometimes an Off season is exactly what the doctor ordered.

This was different. I felt like a dog who’d been kicked one too many times and was staying in the corner, licking his wounds. Then I stayed there in defeat, in disbelief and in doubt. 

I believe God allowed me to sit there. He knew I needed to rest physically, emotionally and spiritually. He knew I needed time to wrestle through a few things – and accept that I might not get any answers. 

But the longer I ruminated, the more the fear, the hate, and the resentment took hold and instead of working through my issues, I quit. I isolated myself because I didn’t really trust anyone anymore. I’m not lying when I say I’ve been practicing social distancing for many years now. Way before the edict came to stay six feet apart, I would cross the road to avoid contact with other pedestrians. I’m not kidding.

I was done – with everything and everyone. If I didn’t engage then I couldn’t be hurt. If I didn’t try – I couldn’t fail. So I stayed down because it was far easier than standing and fighting.

Ironically I’d read a novel about five years ago that had this epic scene where the heroine was down for the count but she was the only one who could save her kingdom. As she lay on the ground, the people who cared for her came to her in a sort of dream, calling her to get up and fight. That scene has stayed with me all these years. I researched similar callings in the bible because as I’d read this novel by Sarah J. Maas, I knew God was using it to speak to me.

It would be great to say I obeyed and got up. But this is real life and it’s been a challenge because it’s so much easier to stay down. Satan is purposeful about making it that way.  He’s thrown every excuse at me to justify why I don’t have to arise.

But the call of God is louder than Satan’s. Over the last few months and now as we shelter in place, His call is like those church bells – ringing across the miles from heaven to earth. 

It’s time to get up.

What does God want me to learn in all this? What does he want the church to learn? What does he want communities to learn? The world? The planet? 

I don’t know but if I stay sitting in that corner in defeat then I’ll never find out. Its time to get off the couch, out of the corner, and show up. 

I don’t know what getting up means for you because it’s different for all of us. Our stories are unique and God deals with each of us in an individual way.

Some of you are already up and at it so keep going! Bravo!

For some of us it might mean using this time to reconnect with our spouse, our kids or other friends and family. Those relationships are worth fighting for.

It might mean reconnecting with God or investigating who he is. Establishing a real friendship with Him – He created us for a relationship with Him first and foremost.

Maybe it’s joining some of the awesome services on Sundays or getting outside if you can at this time and soak in His creation. Capture nature’s beauty with our cameras instead of selfies.

It might mean letting your soul breathe after a busy season. Which seems contrary but you can’t get up if you’re burned out. 

Perhaps it means getting on your knees and praying for this world, for our health care workers, our government, the sick, and the church. All these people have families that stand behind them so pray for them too.

This time is a gift and God is calling us to use it – however that looks in your life.

It’s spring which I don’t think is a coincidence. Spring represents a time of renewal and rebirth. It’s a great time to arise.

Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the LORD rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you.  Isaiah 60:1-2

Doubting Trust

Today’s headlines read from some action movie or sci-fi novel don’t they? Pandemic. That word used to cause the blood running through my veins to turn to ice and just the thought rendered me anxious. Dread and fear paralyzed me. There wasn’t enough money to pay me to watch a movie about it. But today in 2020 when the WHO has announced one, I am not panicked; there is fear but it’s not overwhelming. I’m amazed by this!

Am I concerned and taking precautions? Yes. As a person with an underlying medical condition (diabetes) I need to be careful. A decade ago I would have spiralled down a tunnel of fear. What’s changed?

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I know the work I’ve done to become more emotionally healthy plays a part. Combine it with the challenges of the last five or six years and my anxious edges have been smoothed out. Not gone but not as rough as they once were. The past year and a half my husband has been unemployed. Only recently did he accept a part-time contract position until June and after that the future remains one big question mark. 

Many doubts and questions have rolled around in my head the last few years. Why? Where did we/I go wrong? There are no answers and that made me feel abandoned by the God that we have spent a lifetime serving. Perhaps you’re feeling that way in these challenging and frightening times. Where is God in times of trouble? 

Sometimes He reveals Himself and other times He chooses to remain unseen. It doesn’t mean He’s not here. Its taken me too long to figure this out. The lesson was emphasized again last night when we were reading about Job and my son asked some hard questions. 

I stepped back and let my husband take the wheel on that one, being the pastor and all.  Panic flared in my chest because I didn’t have any answers for my son. Instead I was asking the same questions. Mark reminded us about trust. It’s not that we can’t question God – He can handle our questions and anger – but at some point we have to trust Him. It reminded me of Barnabas Piper’s book, Help My Unbelief, that I read a few years ago. Piper writes about mysteries and how some of those are going to remain unsolved this side of heaven. As Jesus Followers we have to learn how to accept that. To trust that God is bigger and knows better than any of us. Isaiah 55:9 says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are times when those verses are comforting and other times when I don’t want to hear that. 

Piper writes, “Scripture doesn’t offer the answers to most mysteries that we want. It offers the ones God wants us to have…This is not an easy truth because it does not feel satisfying.” p. 75-76

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It’s true right? We have no idea why this sickness is spreading like wildfire across the globe. There are no answers for why one person gets cancer and another does not. We don’t always understand why a loved one walks away or no matter how hard we try, debt hangs over our heads like an anvil about to fall. Why do natural disasters affect some cities and not others? Why does it seem that some people just continue to get kicked when they are already down and out? 

I don’t know. And God isn’t saying much either.

In these years of uncertainty, I’ve learned that God is in control. Even when I try to yank it away from Him, turn my back on Him and scream at Him. He is in control of every second, every minute, of every day. Even if I don’t like what He’s doing. Even when I doubt what He’s doing. Maybe it’s taken a pandemic for me to realize that amidst all the questions, I still trust Him. I trust Him to carry us through these challenging and extreme times. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? 

Piper writes;

His steadfast love endures through all mystery; no matter how much the questions eat at us, His steadfast love endures forever. It endures through all pain…” p.77

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I don’t understand but I know that God’s love and care have been steadfast. I got part-time work just before Mark became unemployed after years of fruitless attempts. Did it solve all the problems? No but its evidence of God working in our lives and that He wasn’t surprised by a job loss. His kindness has been evident as I’ve struggled with my many questions, anger and doubt. He has patiently waited at the end of the driveway for me to return home. Our needs are met. He has not left the premises although many times I have accused him of doing so. His love has been enduring and everlasting. In the good and the bad. 

Why is God letting this happen? I don’t know. We may never know but the one thing I believe is He is with us and He is in control. He love is enduring and steadfast. That’s why I am not freaking out in 2020. I hope you find comfort in His Word and presence in these days ahead.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.     Psalm 20:7-8 (emphasis mine)

Author’s note: God also gave us sound minds; so use the one He gave you and make wise decisions. This is not a blog about being reckless or disobeying what those in authority are telling us is the best thing to do.

My Top Ten Reads of 2019

I’m a little late posting this because work, Christmas, a birthday, sickness, and New Year’s Eve get-together, all conspired to keep me busy but it was all good except the sickness part. But it’s only January 2nd, right? I’m right on time.

I’m often asked about what I read and can I recommend books or authors so I thought I’d put out a list this year. There were so many good books it was hard to choose so I’ve included some runners-up too because really I can’t contain it to ten. Here are my top reads from 2019, in no particular order. 

  1. There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones 

       Genre: YA  Format: Audiobook 

This book is deceiving in the fact you think you’re getting a book about a girl spending a year in Ireland who meets a Hollywood bad boy and they fall in love. But it is so much more – this story has so many layers and I was pleasantly surprised by how deep the story went. Jenny B. Jones has long been one of my favourite YA Christian authors and I would read just about anything she writes.

2. The Reckoning of Gossamer Pond by Jamie Jo Wright

Genre: Christian Fiction/Mystery/Historical  Format: Print

I love how this author weaves the past and present together and isn’t afraid to touch onto the hard topics. This is the second book I’ve read by her and I am looking forward to reading more.

3. Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Genre: Christian Romance  Format: Audiobook

Again a romance with so much more to the story beyond the swoon – broken families, broken people and hope for them to become whole. I liked this so much, I read more by this author this year. 

4. How to Catch a Prince and Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

Genre: Christian Romance  Format: Audiobook

I love any story involving a royal lineage and this whole series, Royal Wedding, does not disappoint. 

5. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Genre: Adult Fiction  Format: Print

This is the third or fourth book I’ve read by this author and she never disappoints. 

6. Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

Genre:YA  Format: Print

This story had such a twist that it was like WOW! Changed the whole course of the what I thought I was getting. A great example of why I love YA lit.

7. Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A story of love in it’s most unselfish form. Read the book, watch the movie.

8. 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A fun holiday (Christmas) read.

9. Maybe This Time by Kasie West

Genre: YA  Format: Print

Love Kasie West and particularly this story where the timing is never right, until it is.

10. Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Genre: YA  Format: Print

A little romance and a whole lot of family dynamics in this story. 

Runners-up:  Vigilant by Sara Davison

Genre: Romantic Suspense Format: e-book

Love Sara because she always writes outside the box and this book is no exception.

The Valiant Series by Lesley Livingston

Genre: YA  Format: Print

This series is about female Gladiators in the era of Caesar and Cleopatra. Really entertaining and fascinating to read about that time period. Warning: these books contained some mature content and would probably not fall under the clean genre.

As I look over my list, these books are about imperfect people who are striving to become better and imperfect families that read very true-to-lfe because they are messy, loud, and sometimes painful. It wasn’t intentional on my part but I guess that’s where my head is right now.

I did read a few non-fiction books as well. My favourite was Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance.  Runner-up Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Happy Reading in 2020! What books are you going to read in this new decade?

When We Feel Like Something’s Missing from Christmas

Christmas is almost here and it’s causing my heart to palpitate. I’m not even close to being ready! How did it get to be December 10 already?

Our tree is still in its box, huddled in the corner of the basement with all the decorations. It’s going to stay there a few more days because there’s work, basketball games and Christmas music concerts.  

Did I want to write a few cards for friends in far flung places? Maybe.

Baking? Haha – don’t make me laugh. My arm has to be twisted at the best of times to pull out the mixing bowls and cookie sheets. With little time left and lots to do? Not happening.

I did get the advent calendars filled with chocolate in time for December 1- so there’s that. 

Life has been busy, as it always is this time of year. Launching a book added a bit more to my To Do list but it was fun stuff. Okay the weather hassle wasn’t fun (we had to cancel it due to freezing rain and rescheduled it the following week) but everything else was exciting.

Watching something you created come to life is a thrill. It’s also scary and vulnerable. People will love it, like it or hate it. Or have no opinion at all. It’s just the way it is. Free choice. I can’t make you read it or like it. I can only put it out there.

Exit Stage Right is a loose retelling of the prodigal. The father in the parable Jesus told, loved his son but he couldn’t make his son love him back. He couldn’t force his son to stay home. He could only put his love out there. It’s a story every parent can identify with. 

It’s also the story we live out every day. The more I learn about the parable of the prodigal the more I see how it intertwines with the Christmas story. God, the father, sent his son, Jesus, as a gift. He gave him to us but he doesn’t force us to love him or follow him. It’s our choice, just like the prodigal had the choice to stay with his father or leave. Free will. We may love Jesus, we may not, but either way God waits for us to decide. 

The one thing I don’t want to do is have no opinion at all. It’s easy to cruise through the holidays and really not engage Jesus. Too much to do, too many distractions. Jesus gets shoved to the end of the line, multiple times a day. I’ve already done it this season. By the end of Christmas, I’m left with the feeling that something slipped through my fingers. I think to myself, “There’s got to be more.” As a follower of Jesus, I know the answer to that question but I’m still left feeling like I missed something. 

My only answer is this – stop and make room for Jesus. The inn was too full but that didn’t stop Jesus from coming to earth. He came to a lowly stable amidst the lowing and snuffling of animals that were housed there. The shepherd that came to the stable that night, made room in their busy lives – they left their flocks (their work) to find him and spend time with him. Are we willing to leave our work, whatever that may be, to search him out and spend time with him? 

Stop. Be still. In doing so, I make room for Jesus in my hectic life. A space where I invite him in. Where I can listen and talk. Where my soul is filled up. Maybe it’s in that quiet space that Christmas comes alive because I have to time to unwrap and get to know the greatest gift of all. 

You can read the Christmas story in Luke 2 and the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-31.

The Prodigal

The mood is festive, people laughing and singing. The table is laden down with the best meats, cheeses and side dishes. There’s a chocolate fountain in the corner with fruit to dip. A family celebration – not a wedding but a prodigal returned home. 

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The term prodigal has many connotations, some are negative but not all. In the case of a prodigal returned home, there’s positive mixed in with the negative, creating a bittersweetness about the word. 

We’ve retold Jesus’ parable many times over in many different mediums. It’s a powerful story that we all can relate to in some way or another. We are the parent waiting for our son or daughter to come home. We are the elder son, angry at the grace our father has extended and is, in our opinion, totally unfair. Or we are the prodigal. 

I think prodigals come in all forms because we are all separated from God due to sin. We often think of prodigals as unbelievers or kids who are on a journey of self-discovery. They may be children raised in church but turn away as they become adults. They are all prodigals but they’re not the only ones Jesus is referencing. In the parable, we read that the boy is a beloved son. He is a full-fledge member of the clan but he leaves his Father and family by choice. For me, this is a story of a believer stepping away from their faith. 

Why would someone do that? There are many reasons and seasons in our lives where we get lost; our circumstances are not ideal, busyness keeps us distracted and exhausted or a diagnosis turns our world off-kilter. God seems far off. We feel abandoned. Is He trustworthy? We may believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence with that job or that person. We willingly step away from our Father because life outside our Father’s household looks so inviting. It’s shinier and prettier and it beckons us with lies. We chase it, leaving behind what’s really important with barely a backward glance.

And God in his grace and mercy let’s us go – free will and all that. Some of us need to learn lessons the hard way to get it through our thick skulls. Sometimes it’s a journey we need to go on in order to discover who God is, what our wounds are and why they matter. We need to figure out who we are in relation to God, the Father.

The Father in the parable, lets the son go but he doesn’t give up on him and neither does God. Others get impatient with us and want us to hurry up and figure it out already. Or they write us off. But God is patient, letting us find the way Home, experiencing the construction and pot holes along the way. He gives us travelling companions who help guide us and He walks along beside us, waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. To come Home. This has been my experience.

Whatever kind of prodigal we are, it’s never too late to go Home, no matter what we’ve done. God is there waiting for us, at the end of the driveway.

I’ve written about the prodigal in my book, Exit Stage Right. As I said this story has fascinated me for a long time and I thought it would be interesting to loosely retell it in a modern setting. It’s my hope that the message of hope and love in the prodigal’s story will find a new audience and maybe some that need the reminder that it’s never to late to return Home. 

 

Finding Our Way

As a child, getting lost in Woolco (not a typo, and yes it dates me horribly) or Sears was my worst nightmare. As a mom, the thought of a child lost, could keep me awake most of the night. Feeling lost is scary. The unfamiliar feels threatening and the cold fingers clenched around our hearts makes it hard to breathe. Being lost isn’t just a physical condition; we can be lost but in the line of vision of a loved one, a friend, a family member. How many of us feel lost on a daily basis but we are within reach of someone we know?

Our world no longer looks like it did. We haven’t got a clue what the next step is let alone a five year plan. 

Or every day is the exact same as the one before it and we feel invisible in the mundane chores of making meals, cleaning up after kids, soothing hurt feelings or scraped knees. We are lost in the ordinary.

Perhaps, decades after walking down the aisle, the bright shiny newness of a marriage is long gone and we have retreated to our own lives and worlds. Is there a way out of invisibleness?

Hitting mid-life but feeling like we haven’t even begun to make our mark. But we’re “old” now and doesn’t the world belong to the young? Where do we go from here?

We just want someone to notice us. To invoke sense in this crazy place, called earth. So we turn to social media and post, hoping to get a bite. We try new mediations, new diets, new anything, just as long as it changes up the old. We look for direction everywhere but come up empty.  

In this quest of being found, are there answers? Or a map? A map would be really good right about now. The answer is yes.

The first part involves a belief. I found this quote one day reading. I see myself in Susan May Warren’s words. Do you see yourself?

“Because she’d refused to believe she was important to Him. She’d been trying to get his attention, but already-always-had it…She had it whether she had logged miles for the gospel and saved hundred of lives, or if she simply wiped toddlers’ noses and did mounds of laundry. She had God’s attention because she was His child.”  (P. 300, The Perfect Match, by Susan May Warren.) 

Believing we are his child and that he pays attention to us, is perhaps the first step to finding our way. For some of us, this may be the hardest step because it means dealing with a lot of lies we have believed up to now. It’s going to take some work but it’s crucial if we really want to find our way.

Jeremiah gives us the next step. 

This is what the Lord says: 

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

We stand at a crossroads trying to figure out which way to take. We ask everyone who passes by or maybe we keep quiet, trying to figure it out on our own. The thing is, there is only one person who knows the way, who has the map but too often, he is the last one we seek. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t trusted we’re his child to begin with. Perhaps  we’re mad at him or we want control of our lives. There are so many reasons and distractions that steer us away from him but He is our Way.

Ask for the ancient paths, which according to my NIV study bible, means the “tried and true ways of Judah’s godly ancestors.” This has worked before.

Ask where the good way is. Then walk in it. Ask, ask, walk; to find our way out of the dark, the confusion, the bitterness, or whatever else is making us feel lost or invisible. The result? Peace for our souls. And a map Home.

When You’re Relegated to Riding the Bench

I spent my youth at the ball diamond. The sharp crack of a bat, the clang of the chainlink fence, and the smell of the softball diamond dust floating in the air, remind me of many good times. With the exception of the year I warmed the bench. It was my first year playing softball and I was about nine years old. After try-outs, I was told I could be on the team but I wouldn’t be playing much. This was partly because my twin had successfully procured her position and I don’t think the coaches wanted to say yes to her and no to me. In my enthusiasm. I agreed to the deal. 

To say it was my most challenging sporting year would be an understatement. Riding the bench is hard. With the exception of a couple of innings of play, I sat, the dust from the diamond, coating my skin and lips. I tried to be upbeat, cheering on my friends but all I really wanted was to be put in the game. I knew I could do it if I was just given the chance. 

Isn’t that what we all want? The chance to prove we can do it.

It’s why riding the bench is the pits. We sit around waiting; in our jobs, in relationships, in our dreams, maybe our health, when all we really want to do is show everyone what we’ve got. No one wants to ride the bench in sports or in life.

But it’s on the bench where some valuable lessons are learned if you can get beyond the longing and resentment.

Sitting on the bench teaches you:

Humility. Your ego and pride have got to go, as you sit there on that hard bench, your very clean jersey announcing to everyone around, that you haven’t played. At. All.

Your job as a benchwarmer is to encourage your teammates, even though you really want to be the one out there, making plays. You’re learning that it isn’t all about you.

Patience. You have to wait your turn. It may be a really long wait. My father-in-law pointed out that as a “bench player” you still have to be prepared, in case you’re called into the game. You have to pay attention to what’s going on. The reward of actually getting into the game may be a long way off.

Perseverance. Any of us who have warmed a bench, knows it takes a lot of grit to stay with it. You want to quit. You want to have a hissy fit. But you still show up to every practice and give it your 100%. You work hard to be ready. Quitting is not an option. It tests you. Is this what you really want? Is it worth all the pain and waiting? Because if it is, you’re not going to give up. You’re going to keep going and keep training. You are going to endure the wait and be ready when your name comes up.

Riding the bench forges character in a way other circumstances can’t. I’m not going to lie, it’s not pleasant. It’s a season that will challenge you like no other. 

If you’re in a place right now where you’re riding the bench, I feel your pain. It hurts and it’s frustrating but if you stick with it, you’ll come out the other side, refined. And eventually you’ll get the nod from the coach. I did.

I tried out the next season and made the team. As a full fledged member. I played competitive softball for the next decade. I did some bench warming but never like that first year. I never took for granted that I would play either. But the patience and perseverance paid off and I enjoyed many summers with my friends playing some great softball.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  Romans 5: 3-5 NLV

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