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. 

img_2574

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. 

 

In the Spacious Place

After the decadence of December, I like the simpleness of January and February. The white snow, and blank calendar spaces soothe my soul because those blank spaces signal the arrival of Hope. Hope you’ll change. Hope circumstances will change. Hope that the coming year will be different. The new year is still bright and shiny.

Wide open spaces provide room to move, think and breathe deeply. Busy schedules, phone calls, texts, appointments, to-do lists eventually crowd us, we lose focus. We run like hamsters on a wheel, getting nowhere. There’s no space in our heads, hearts or days to think, reflect or pray. When we don’t make room for those things, it becomes challenging to implement change, and to grow. Hope shrinks.

But in these early days of the new year, hope abounds. Our calendars, our ability to say no, are still in our grasp. Change can happen, right? It’s not too late. 

David writes about wide open spaces in Psalm 18, after God delivered him from the hands King Saul, whom David had served faithfully. I can only imagine the sting of that betrayal. David pens these words:

He brought me out to a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19 CSB

In the New Living Translation (NLT), it reads: He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.

God delivers David to a spacious place or safe place. I don’t know about you but I loathe crowds. Open spaces equal safety. Sometimes God does deliver us to a spacious place. He removes the obstacle, the relationship or sickness. 

Sometimes he does not. That’s when we feel like the world is closing in, don’t we? Breathing becomes hard. But God did not abandon David to his trials. His presence filled those caves David hid in. He ran beside David as he fled Saul’s insanity and wrath.

God doesn’t always remove the circumstances or the people, but God still delivers us. It doesn’t always show up in the form of physical change but rather in a shift in our minds and hearts when we make room for God to live there. 

He rescued David because he delighted in him. He feels the same about you and me. His love for us came in the form of his one and only Son, he’s our proof of how God feels about us. He rescued us for all eternity but he’s still in the business of delivering us to a spacious, safe place, today. Right now. Even if our blank spaces and hope seemed to have fizzled already, he’s still there, in caves, the hospitals, the boardrooms and living rooms, waiting to rescue us. Will we make room for him to deliver us to a spacious place? 

The Christmas Miracle of a Softened Heart

How’s your heart this Christmas? It’s the question that echoes through the “fields by night,” the draughty stable and living rooms filled with lights and decorations this year. I hear it in Christmas readings and songs. What does my heart have to do with Christmas?

IMG_2666

Everything.

Our hearts beat out the rhythm of our lives. Proverbs tells us that we are to guard our heart because it’s from there that all else flows. (Proverbs 4:23) All else. Love, hate, obedience, disobedience, worship, decisions we make and what or who we treasure, all of it stems from our hearts. So what’s the prognosis? 

Maybe over the last year we’ve inched farther away from God. We’ve stopped our quiet time. We only go to church when we feel like it, which isn’t often. We’re distracted by family, our jobs, relationships that all take priority. It’s been a subtle separation. 

Or maybe we ran from God because he disappointed us. We’re not sure he can be trusted. 

Our schedules are full and the days busy. Who has time to meet with God?

The consequence is an unresponsive heart that no longer hears or listens to the whispers of God.  

We’re lured instead, by the lies of the enemy, who knows our weak spots and hits us there repeatedly. We doubt, we question and we believe God has abandoned us. Our hearts turn stone cold. We guard ourselves from the one who has the cure.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Now is a great time to make changes.

Christmas gives us both time and permission to turn our heart around. We get a pass to love more, give more and become a better person. To embrace our Christian heritage. Why not take advantage of that? Christmas is part one of a love story followed by part two at Easter. A narration of a God who loved us so much he gave up his only son so he could have relationship with you and me. It’s a hopeful story of redemption, as well a promise of eternal life. Why not take the time to explore it more? Get to know God more intimately? Let the good news of Christ’s birth be a balm to our wounded, hard hearts.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

IMG_0710

It’s one of my favourite verses. I need this but I can’t do it on my own. Neither can you. Only God can work miracles and turn our hearts around. This is my Christmas wish this year. I want a new heart.  

In asking, I have to be willing to deal with what caused my heart to harden. Like sin, poor attitudes and false beliefs about myself or Him. Whatever he reveals, we have to deal with it or we end back where we started. Again he walks alongside us as we do. 

IMG_1416

I don’t think we ever experience the full measure of Christmas and its life saving message until our hearts beat warm because we know how great our need is of that baby in a manger. He miraculously changes us. Perhaps it’s the Christmas miracle we’re looking for this Christmas season. 

 

This blog is a result of many readings, sermons and a general sacred echo over the last few months and weeks. One book that has been exceptionally good is Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies, A Daily Gospel Devotional. Check it out.  Also the Christmas sermons at Country Hills Church have been wonderful. You can listen to them here

If you liked this, check out my blog about Heart Shaped Perfectionism here.

The Art of Gift Giving

Have you ever received a perfect gift?  One that was uniquely thought of for just you?  That made you feel like you were known?  Seen?  That someone took the time to think about you?

It has nothing to do with money.  It has everything to do with the thought and consideration that went into the gift.

I recently received a gift like that.  The person put a lot of planning and thought into the gift and how the gift was delivered.  She made a “book” with the cover of one of my favourite authors, to house the gift that incorporated reading and dance.  I loved it.   I appreciated her thoughtfulness.  I felt seen and known.  It was a priceless gift at a turbulent time.

fullsizeoutput_f13

I love gifts.  In church speak, it’s one of my love languages.  A long time ago, I  worked in a high end pewter gift store in Ottawa and Toronto.  We had a gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.  I learned a lot about gift giving and gift givers.  

In today’s fast paced world, the art of gift giving is becoming extinct.  We don’t have time to slow down and stop and think about gifts anymore.  For some of us, gift giving is not something we are especially good at.  Things can be complicated.  I get that.  But even if we are more of a gift card person or money person, we can still make the time to buy a gift card from a store the person likes or to buy things they love.  We can take the time to get or make a nice card, add some candy or chocolate to adorn it if that’s what the person likes.  Gift giving is about the other person not us.  The art of gift giving makes the person receiving the gift feel special.  

The bonus?  The gift giver gets the pleasure of seeing the gift enjoyed, which is a special experience all on it’s own.

The art of gift giving mirrors the one who gives us good gifts.  

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.  Matt 7:11 NLT

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.  James 1:17

The ultimate Gift Giver gives us good gifts because He is good and as James says, He never changes.  His goodness remains.  Even in the hard times.  I saw that first hand recently.  In difficult circumstances, God laid out some good gifts to help us through.  Gifts that were uniquely garnered to me (and my family).  He didn’t change the circumstances but He did let me know He saw me, He knows me, and He loves me.  He did it through those gifts.  Even though I doubted Him.  Even though I was mad at Him.  But He is good and He never changes.  Our doubts, our anger, our questions do not affect His character.  Or His love for us.  He offers us grace upon grace. 

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.    John 1:16 NLT

As the Ultimate Gift Giver, God gave us the most perfect gift of all that none of us deserved.  His Son.  Jesus was the ultimate gift to a world that rejected him and still does. But He was given for all of us.  Freely.  Graciously and with deep love.  He is the perfect gift.  All we have to do is receive Him and then enjoy Him as we get to know Him.

As an added note, I realize that sometimes we give good gifts that are not well received for whatever reason.  God certainly understands that.  I want to remind you that the onus of that lies with the person receiving the gift.  As the gift giver, you’ve done all you can.  But don’t let that stop you from continuing to give good gifts to others.  You may never know the blessings that come from them in this lifetime but God does.  And one day you will too.  Keep giving good gifts.

From Ruins to Peace

You know the feeling.  That sinking feeling that comes when something is not where it’s supposed to be.

While writing my book Whole, I lost a completed chapter.  It disappeared into cyber space, never to be seen again.  It was my chapter on Esther, and I must admit I was pretty pleased with it.  It also represented hours of work.  And it was gone.  

At that point I wanted to quit.  I felt defeated.  But my friend and my husband cheered me on and so I got back up and started again.  In the end, it was a better chapter than the one it replaced.  

I tell you this because quite often we get to the point where we are enjoying smooth sailing in our lives and then the unthinkable happens. That sinking feeling rises up from deep within us. Disaster strikes, sickness sets in or the downward spiral just gets out of control.  Whatever it is, instead of enjoying the fruits of our labours, we are looking at ruins.  Instead of a forward momentum, we feel like we are moving backwards.    

I’ve been reading the book of Haggai in the Old Testament and it’s got a good word for those of us who feel like this today.  Who are looking at rebuilding and quite frankly feel like quitting more than anything.

In the book of Haggai, chapter two, God’s temple has been destroyed and has sat in ruins.  His people have been running about making sure their own needs and lives are running smoothly while God’s house sits in disarray.  The dust blowing through the abandoned site.  He wasn’t happy with his people and He tells them to get to work and rebuild.   

ancient-archaeology-architecture-269071

IMG_2561

He exhorts them to not be timid or hold back because He is with them.  “I’m living and breathing among you right now.  Don’t be timid.  Don’t hold back.”  (vs.5 Message)  

He tells them he’ll supply everything they need because “I own the silver, I own the gold.” (v. 8 Message)  

When we are staring at the ruins of what used to be glory, we can tend to forget about God. Maybe that’s the reason we are staring at a pile of rubble.  We’ve removed God from His rightful place and glory.  But He is God and He wants His rightful place in the centre of our lives.  He wants us to remember Him and put Him first.  Why?   Because he is living and breathing amongst us.  We may feel defeated and dead but the God of Angel Armies, as he is identified in this passage, is alive, ready to fight for us.  We need to put down our idols and see Him.   

Not only is He with us but He owns everything so we don’t need to be timid or afraid about getting back up, following wherever he is leading.  Our circumstances may not change, but we can expect great things of our God.  We can expect His glory.  We can count on His faithfulness to see us through whatever ruins we need to navigate, rebuild.

But that’s not all He says to those unruly people of His!  God then promises the Israelites, in verse 9;  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”  Haggai 2:9 NIV

When we come to the place where all we see is ruins in our lives and we need to rebuild, we can remember He is with us.  He will supply what we need because he owns it all.  And he will take those ruins and make it even better than before.  And in that place of rebuilt ruins, He will bring peace.

A Season of Change and Rest

“Did she agree with his actions?  Campbell wasn’t sure.  The old law made her feel safe.  Protected…Yet her mother’s heart wanted her son happy…Given any other circumstances, she’d praise Nathaniel’s choice. So perhaps she should let go of fear and distrust.”   Rachel Hauck,  Once Upon a Prince p.320 Kindle edition

It’s that time of year.  Graduations and weddings fill up our weekends.   Year end banquets and assemblies fill our evenings.  An election is right around the corner here in our province.  The ending of one thing to start something new.  You can’t have a beginning without an end.  I think I read that somewhere.  What it amounts to is change.  

Do you have a love/hate relationship with change?  I do.  I like the thought of something new or different but at the same time, I get very comfortable in the old ruts, even if they aren’t always healthy or in any way good.

Change, however, can become our best friend, but we often treat it like our worst enemy.

Change can breed fear and distrust.  We fear the outcome of said change.  We fear God does not have our best at heart.  We fear disappointment and loss.  We distrust people.  Sometimes it is wise to do so if they have been abusive but many people are good yet we keep them at arms length.  We distrust the process of change.  I mean if it’s not broken, why fix it?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We may think the old ways protect us, like in the quote above, but do they really?  Maybe they need an overhaul too.  Just like us.  Just like me.

Part of me fears change because it means I have to examine the blackness of my heart.  Why resist so ardently?  Why fight so ferociously?  Honestly it’s easier to fight or hide than it is to face the hard truths about ourselves sometimes.  But change is a way God brings these things to our attention, doesn’t He?   

How?  Sometimes when change occurs, there is a stopping.  A rest.  It may be long or short but there is a break in the chaos, the milieu around us. There is a silence. Do we use it to root out the blackness or do we hide?  It’s up to us.

 

Is it going to be a pleasant experience?  I think not.  But it’s got to be better than the fear, the distrust, the anger that courses through our veins as we resist it, right?

It’s a time for healing not fighting.  To let God come near and do what needs to be done as we rest, and have time to reflect.

It’s a time to accept hard truths.  About ourselves. About others.  About circumstances.

It’s also a time to look at the lies and take them apart.  What have we believed that was not true?  About God?  About our circumstances?  About people? About ourselves?

It’s a time to gain strength as we stop and rest.  Because it’s not the end.  It’s the beginning of something new.  It’s a time to grow so we can enter into this new phase prepared for what God has planned not just for us, but for His glory. We forget, I forget, it’s not just about us.  God cares about each detail of our lives but there’s a bigger picture we conveniently forget about.  In the stopping, maybe we can get a new perspective too.

We have a choice as we enter a time of change or just the slower pace of summer.  We can stay in the fear and distrust.  We can remain stunted.  Or we can embrace the change, the stopping, and let go of it.  So we can continue to grow into the person God prepared us to be.  To be ready for the beginning of something new. 

When It’s the Wrong Season!

It’s April 17th and it looks like blizzard out my window. Yesterday was the first snow day of the year for the kids…in April. We spent the weekend huddled inside while snow, rain and freezing rain pelted our house for two full days. Friday and Monday were just starter and finisher days. Four days of foul weather and now today, snowing like it’s January.

IMG_4184
April 17, 2018!!!

I’m not sure about you, but that’s how life feels lately. Like a never-ending winter season. Now I love winter, maybe not as much as I used to I’ll admit, but I still enjoy the winter season. January is my birth month so I’m a snow baby. But sometimes when you are expecting spring and winter shows up again, even the most avid lovers can feel a little discouraged. I’m not only talking about weather here.

How many times have we dreamed about something, only to get something else completely different?

How many times have we assumed this or that, only to find out that our assumptions were wrong?

How many times have we gotten the wrong season, when we expected, no desired, a totally different one?

My first instinct is to resist and complain about the unfairness of it all. I don’t want to make lemonade out of the lemons life hands me. Really I don’t.At.All.

I think I deserve a good pity party and indulge myself in it.

This really accomplishes nothing beneficial. For me or those around me.  All it really does is make me more narcissistic, bitter, and angry to name just a few. I hide more.

Maybe I need to find a different response. I’m not saying be a Polyanna. I think there is something to being authentic about the troubles we face in our lives. We don’t need to be fake or lie to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps instead, we can acknowledge those troubles but not let them define us. Not let them master us or our days. I’ve let that happen too much. You?

I’m learning that if I let my focus stay on Jesus, that this is a good defence against that type of reaction. I used to think Jesus deserted me in the struggles and hardness of life. I didn’t want to admit it but deep down that is what I believed. He’s been telling me otherwise over the last year. That actually in the suffering, he steps closer to us. He may allow the difficulties, the sorrow but he doesn’t abandon us. He walks us down those lonely, rough roads. But if we let the hardness of the situation blind us by keeping us so inward-focused, we lose sight of him and we think we are alone.

But we are not alone. Ever.  Sometimes we just need to lift our heads, open our eyes and take a look around. He’s there beside us, holding us if need be. He breathes hope into us and instead of hiding, we can take a step towards living.  This is beneficial for us and for those around us.

It sounds easy but it’s not. I know. But maybe, just perhaps, today, we can take one step and just look up, away from the snow, the circumstances, the mess we may be in and look for Him.  He’s there waiting for us to see Him.  To breath life back into us, to give us hope.

If your road is a good one right now, still look up and see His goodness. Wherever you are today, look up and out. Sometimes a different perspective makes all the difference.