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Not Always Merry and Bright

I so wish for life to be like a Hallmark movie. Love and contentment always win. The ending is tidy, happy and sealed in a pretty package accentuated with a red bow on top. But it is television, and so far from the reality, we inhabit.

I think that is one of the allures of Hallmark movies. They provide a magical escape from the tender truths that are indigenous to what we have always falsely believed is the happiest time of the year.

Pain wears many faces and holds no prejudices. It does not adhere to our calendars or circumstances. Maybe the agony shows up in the loss of a job, marriage, a parent, a spouse or the incredible heartache that settles in when we hear someone has to bury their child.

Broken people, broken families, broken worlds; they may all present differently, but fractured hearts are inherent to us all. The holidays as merry and bright as they are for many, are equally melancholy and bleak for others.

Life is incongruent to my desire for everyone to be happy, but I have learned this piercing lesson: happiness is a circumstantial frailty, not a gospel actuality. Without the assurance of our eternal inheritance, we stand here today poor, hopeless and lost. But it does not have to be that way.

A 1700s French writer captured something very tragic, yet I think significant in his last words. “And so I leave this world, where the heart must either break or turn to lead.” ~ Nicolas Chamfort

Sometimes our greatest challenge as we go about living in this world that is remarkable one moment and ruthless the next is continuing to engage. It is so easy to check out, but we are called to check in. It is so simple to let our hearts turn to lead, but we are called to be light instead. Is any of this straightforward in our climate of death, destruction, hatred, and hostility of unparalleled proportions? No, it is not effortless, but it is essential.

Dear friends, I know many of you are facing unspeakable burdens. My heart aches for you and throbs with you. Right now pressing in may be asking too much. That is ok.

We, unfortunately, have to drink from the cup of hurt before we can be quenched by the hand of The Healer.

God never forsakes us, though. One way He manifests himself is through our community. I pray wherever you find yourself today, the love of those around you warms, even if just slightly, the weeping heart inside you. Your internal song may never be the same, but this I know, someday your soul will sing again.

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Poverty, My Greatest Blessing

I love old, beautiful churches, so it is no surprise I was drawn off the busy streets of downtown Chicago and through the front doors of Fourth Presbyterian Church this past Thursday morning. Inside I sat down to enjoy sacred shelter from the cold and the hustle and bustle of what was going on outside the majestic doors, although that was not my motive for going in. I walked into the church wanting to experience Jesus and expecting I would. I had no pre-conceived notions what that would look like, but imagine my surprise when I found what I was unknowingly seeking in the eyes and embodiment of a homeless person.

After a couple of minutes inside, I broke through my fascination with the beauty around me, and I noticed near the front of the church a handful of people sitting on both sides of the middle aisle. I quickly realized they were homeless. They had come in off the streets to warm up and rest. I sat silently in the back just observing. God began to make something evident to me. I wasn’t there to watch homeless people in a beautiful church. I was there to remember one of life’s wealthiest truths.

There in that reverent church, I felt drawn to engage, so I walked forward and sat down next to one of the men. I said, “hello.” His disposition was gentle and relaxed. He was soft-spoken. It was apparent that he and his friends were broken, impoverished, homeless, needy, unclean and dependent for every need.

His eyes. I will never forget them. They looked sad but settled. They were sunken yet soft, wrinkled while welcoming. The story they expressed was foreign yet familiar.

This man and his friends bore no weight of expectations beyond shelter and rest. No schedules were taunting them, and no plans or unmet duties were daunting them. They just came as they were, destitute, weary and worn.

I sat there in clean, warm clothes seemingly not lacking, yet oddly I knew that even though it looked like the homeless people had nothing, in a different way they had everything, the most important thing, I need every day. A fresh awareness of the poverty of my heart is my greatest blessing.

As I sat with this man, I asked God to make me more like him. That sounds crazy, right? Not at all. I want to enter into The Lord’s presence fully aware that I am poor, needy, lost and unclean without a Savior outside of myself. I want to come free of distracting thoughts about schedules, deadlines, and duties, and for the love, thinking about what I will eat next! I want to come as I am, not as I feel I should be. I want to come aware of what is but more focused on the hope of what will be. I want to come empty of myself because it is only then I can be filled by my Savior.

These people were an exposed and unfiltered expression of me. I can dress up in my best smile, clothing, and accessories, surround myself with desirable things and people, but underneath it, and right in the middle is an impoverished heart that cannot be dressed up. It is destitute, broken, frail and in desperate need of a Shepherd every day.

Just like the people I encountered, I am a homeless heart wandering around grasping for places of shelter and rest because this world is not my home and everyday-everyday-I feel the ramifications of my exile.

The good news is this, though, I do not wander without hope or direction when I remember it is my poverty, not my perfection, popularity or “power” that yokes me to the love of my Provider. Neither do you, friend. Neither do you.♥️

And, this was the hymnal song that was on the board.

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Maybe

Maybe it is the pervasiveness of pain and suffering.

Maybe it is the outflow of a heart overwhelmed by the burdens before me.

Or maybe it is the fresh awakening of the sacred charge branded in the depths where the Holy hides His instructions.

Whatever the explanation, I feel an urgency today for wandering hearts that are beating in the shadows of uncertainty.

If that is you, friend, I would love the privilege to pray for you. We are all on a journey heading somewhere.

I want you to be certain of your destination.

Feel free to private message me anytime.

You are loved.❤️

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The Hunger of My Heart

With every week that rises and then retires, I realize that the one before was too short. Time evades my craving for every place I want to go, people I long to visit, books I want to read, quiet time I crave, laughs I want to enjoy, tears I thirst to taste, and memories I wish to create. In a flash, the week resigns, and I remember that time is a precious luxury. I yearn to minimize distractions. I want to live each day looking into the eyes of people, the word of God and the wisdom of books. Genuine intimacy and connection with people and eternal things are where the breath of life lives. Authenticity is both magnificent and messy, yet it is the hunger of my heart.

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Idols of the Heart

I grew up in a small peach colored house in Southeast Texas. We had a huge yard, roughly 1.5 acres I think. I spent most of my days as a younger child outside exploring the woods around my house, catching crawfish in the ditch that spiraled the side of our home and just enjoying the many possibilities that a big yard and an ambitious imagination afforded me.

In two particular areas of our yard where the landscape was lower and prone to hold water, you could hardly take more than a couple of steps without stepping on a “crawdad” mound. They were prolific! If you have never seen a crawdad mound, they are ugly. I would equate them to a tiny black or brown cone shaped igloo made of mud.

As a kid wanting to run, turn cartwheels, jump and roll in the green grass, particularly fresh cut, in wide open spaces, the crawdads and their homes were unwelcomed intruders. I can vividly remember ever day in the summer time I would kick those suckers over thinking I was reclaiming my territory. One by one, I would go through and clear my space for play. The frustrating thing about destroying the crawdad’s homes, however, was that it seemed that no sooner than I flattened them, I would return the next day to find them there again.

My attempts at creating a clean, green, grassy playground were endless. Day after day I would have to return to knock down the unsightly invaders to start with a clean slate for play.

This past week I was thinking about idols that set up home in my heart. Those thoughts are what rekindled my childhood memories of the crawdad mounds. I will think I have excavated an idol, feeling like I am ready to start anew, much like my play yard growing up. But the reality is, as soon as I rid myself of one, ten more crop up. Also, it is usually not very long before the “kicked out” idol resurfaces, and I have to deal with it yet again.

John Calvin said the human heart is a factory of idols. I will add to his observation that mine is no exception. Idols are the thieves of souls and confiscators of peace and joy. They are dressed up impostures that promise pleasure but ultimately never deliver the pacification they purport. They have an inferior half-life that leaves all partakers thirsty and still longing for more.

Tim Keller defines idols this way, “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

Idols are insidious. They can be occupying my heart and monopolizing my mind long before I realize it if I am not guarded. My heart and mind are permeable, and I have to be a good steward of them because our world is in pursuance of them on all fronts.

If you, like me, regularly find yourself having to expunge the idols that wedge themselves into your heart, do not be discouraged, friend. A wise person once told me that seeing more gaps in my life, is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Only what is acknowledged can be abolished. There is freedom in recognizing our sins because only what is seen can be surrendered. You are loved!

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ONE

For life travelers longing for an analgesic to satiate the ache that feels as if it were born and branded into every beating heart, we search and scurry for a cure as if that longing is something to be erased and replaced with happiness when all along it is an immutable hunger for Home.
Friend, I know it is tempting to numb. The food, the television, the drink, the romance novel, the internet, the busy schedule, they all eventually fail us. There is not one possession or person under the sun that will complete us.

John Calvin said the human heart is a factory of idols. I will add to his observation that mine is no exception. Idols are the thieves of my soul, robbing me of peace and joy. They are dressed up impostures that pursue me, promising pleasure but ultimately never delivering the pacification they purport. They have an inferior half-life that leaves all partakers thirsty and longing for more.

I was sitting on my counselor’s couch Tuesday and as I was talking to her, staring out her big window in the sky, my words were interrupted. As it sometimes happens a memo from semmingly no where comes as if it is being spoken in my head. That day the message was, when you are only concerned with One none of the other stuff matters.

Too often that one I am concerned about is me instead of Jesus. When my eyes, ears, and mind are fixed on Him, I do not need to numb. I do not need to find satisfaction in secular things. But surrounded by my desirous heart for God is a deceptive flesh for gratification; and this is why I need Jesus every moment of every day.

Jesus secures me when I am splintered. He welcomes me when I am weak. He “feeds” me when I am famished. He lifts me when I am low; and Jesus desires me when I am disappointing.
If you have received the gift of God’s only son, you can replace every me in the sentences above with your name. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air! If you have not received His gift, right now is always the right time to make the right decision.

You are loved, friend!

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I Will Try Again Tomorrow

Yea, it is the end of one of those hard days when you feel beaten, battered and bruised, sometimes literally. Your heart has been spun up and wrung out.  Emotions have swirled through your body like a tidal wave leaving you feeling washed out, weak and worn.  You have been fighting all day for this person, praying like the persistent widow for that situation, enduring physical pain necessary for healing, and filtering waves of grief and gratitude that amidst it all, curiously still co-mingle.

There is finally a lull of silence with the parting of the sun; your soul settles slightly, and you know you must choose to either concede or conquer the day’s chaos.  Then comes a gentle reminder that you aren’t in this alone.  He’s in the midst of your pain.  He is present with your people, and he is bigger than that situation.

At the end of days like this, I am so grateful that the Psalms are in the Bible.  Many days I am living them as sure as I am breathing; crying out for relief, reassurance, direction, strength and forgiveness.  Then, when the commotion begins to settle slightly I reach deep within to find despite it all gratitude, thanksgiving, worship, and redemption slowly start marching along to the beat of my broken heart.  I take a breath, and each one becomes a little deeper, a little deeper, and finally I enter a state of ailing rest, remembering that tomorrow, should she come, holds new mercies, strength, grace and fuel for the road ahead.

Today must be released to the past, and it is then when I hear the soft but resolute roar;

I will try again tomorrow!

And you friend must courageously commit also to engage again tomorrow with a fresh mind and hopeful heart!  You are loved.

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The Secret Is Christ In Me

fullsizeoutput_57e7Good morning weary friend.  I know the road you are traveling feels lonely, exhausting and at times unbearable.  Sometimes you are so ready for peace and it feels like God is not answering your plea for help.  This week The Lord has been reminding me that often I am more disappointed and disillusioned by the failure of my arrangements than His answers. He is answering, but probably not within the parameters of the controlled, nice, tidy box I frame those answers in.  His plans are so much higher than we can imagine, and silence does not mean absence, but very often action. It is in the reticence of our trials that the resurrection is awakening.  Just remember, not to put that outcome in a box; God does not fit there.  Keep looking up.  Take the next right step and remain faithful.  I love this quote and hope it encourages you this morning:
The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.
Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart
You are loved!

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Morning is Breaking

Morning is breaking the day open full and rich with possibilities. Lord, I pray that I may think more about You today and less about myself. May the concern of my heart be to please You and not people. Fill my heart with a desire for righteousness not being right. Thank you for loving me when I am unlovely. I fail you every day, but You still call me your choice pearl. Thank you for your mercy and grace. Amen.

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When You Are Ready, Run Friend

c906e19c5f3fa56976c39a937f60729dTime heals all wounds; so it has been said, but whoever coined this was possibly confused by the challenge of wounds of the heart and soul. I am certain this is not true, but will submit that maybe it lessens their sting.

Healing is not just a passage of time but a process of purposed pain.

We cannot wait out deep wounds; rather we have to press into them when we are ready for renewal to begin. The mending of mangled hearts is hard work. It takes courage and the perseverance of a marathon, not a sprint. There are no short cuts. It is facing the fire and walking straight through.

As children of King Jesus, we can do this, though. We can enter the furnace with the confident assurance and walk into the affliction that has seared our souls. We are going to get burned up a little, but not consumed because we have a Father who is walking beside us and buffering our burns. Isaiah 43:2 ~When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

I often got splinters as a child. I dreaded them with a heart-pounding fear because I knew those intruders would have to be removed to stop my pain. My parents would burn the end of a needle to sterilize it before dislodging the splinter. The process of removing the splinter was painful and often involved digging, twisting and pushing of the needle into tender parts of my flesh, but my parents had carefully prepared the process, not because it would prevent present pain but because it would preclude future infection.

The healing of our hearts is like this process. Jesus is removing our splinters to prepare us for His purpose. He carefully prepares the way, and it burns. He knows it is presently going to hurt, but more importantly He knows it is eternally going to heal.

No one can tell you how to mend the heaviness of your heart, nor can anyone give you a timetable. There is no instruction manual or twelve step program for personal pain. No one should tell you to disown your feelings through the process. It is important to remember, however, that feelings ARE indicators, but they are NOT inditers. The enemy will use them that way; to discourage, distract and derail your progress. When he begins charging you with weakness, insufficiency, or whatever his poison is, remember the importance of removing and replacing. It is not enough to eliminate incorrect thoughts; we also have to replace them with infallible truths from God’s word.

God bless you on your journey to heal, friend. It will be a bumpy road, but not bare of hope and hidden treasures that will encourage your heart. Isaiah 45:3 ~And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.

When you are ready friend, run to your pain, not away. It is when we face our giants that we win the war. You are loved!