Between the Waves

I knew the week would go fast.
Vacations always do.
But it honestly felt like I stepped off a moving sidewalk and life went into slow motion. Our living room looked out over the waves and dunes with their wild grasses nodding in the perpetual breeze, and I caught my breath.

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Foaming and dancing toward shore, and then the skittering back to the deep,
the waves left behind the shimmery, wet sand, mirroring the sky above.
There is this moment between waves when the last wave has slipped back to sea,
and the next hasn’t arrived yet.
The air of expectancy, the pause, the quiet.

I found myself drinking in the quiet of that moment.
Life is full of noise and demands and needs.
But this delicious moment in time, when the sand under your feet glitters with the sky above, the pinks and purples of sunset were a healing salve to my soul.
Sometimes God’s presence is powerful and mind-blowing.
But this last week I marveled at His presence in the quiet ones,
the whisper over my shoulder,
the hushed promise of His always presence.

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains
and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.
And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

He is there, in the quiet whisper.

Sand scrubs away at the rough edges of shells and rocks, flipping them over and over in the waves. I fingered a piece of green sea glass my son found for me, worn smooth and perfect from the countless trips back and forth against the abrasive sand.
I wondered what it might have been, a glass bottle perhaps, broken beyond use.
But here it was, in an entirely new form, more beautiful and stunning than ever,
but only because of the brutal shattering and endless sanding.

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My broken edges and sharpness have left me gasping this year, my need more often obvious than my abilities. I’ve never felt as inadequate as this last year.
But my heart is at rest this morning as the wave goes out again and the perpetual sanding continues. It is because He loves me that He keeps refining.

In the waves that tear my feet out from under me and leave me gasping for air, and in the gentle laughing of the waves as they trip back to sea, and in the pause in between, God IS.

His presence, even the whisper above the noise, is healing.

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I face real life after the dreamy vacation with a heart that is restored.
I’m not any stronger than before, but my soul leans harder into the beautiful reality of His never-ending presence.

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Photo credits to Gretta, as always,
who manages to capture those moments that I cannot…

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The best stories are the real ones

The best stories are the real ones.

We all pause in front of the catching covers and gripping titles, but the moment we flip to the first page only to discover it begins like thousands of others, our interest fades.

The best story is the one you’ve lived.
The retelling of your hardest moments,
followed by the stunning view when you at last reached the mountain’s peak,
or the crushing realization that you were still days from the summit:
here is where your unique story lies.

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Our lives aren’t all about arrival and having finally conquered our fears.
Perhaps the greatest quality of our stories is in the mundane.
Yes, we do eventually reach the top and feel the icy cold wind whip up the side of the mountain and steal our breath away.
But without the panting and grappling with the elements,
the struggling against the rugged stone,
those hours and days of climbing leading up to the summit would be worthless.

God knew we needed people ahead of us on the trail to shout over their shoulder,
“You can do this!”
And he also knew that we would be made stronger by offering a helping hand to someone beside us who is panting hard and feeling that they aren’y made of tough enough stuff to keep going.

We are given experiences with a purpose in mind.

“…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Wounded people tell better stories.
Not because you were wounded,
but because you lived to tell the story.
Because you can offer more than words, you have experience to back it up.

Your story matters, your experiences are valuable.
Your losses and your gains,
your deep gut laughter and salty tears are important.

When we share our stories, perfect lives give way to real struggles and experiences.
And oddly enough, we find that we are safer in this crowd, not because we are a good story teller or can post a pretty picture, but because we each have a story.
And in choosing to be vulnerable and courageous enough to share it,
we are reminded of God’s faithfulness.

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Let’s keep our stories going.
Tell them here. Tell your children.
Take a moment at the grocery store and look into the cashier’s eyes,
and ask her about her life.

Reach out and connect with people.

The online world is a massive opportunity,
but don’t overlook the physical people you come into contact with each day.
Take time and ask questions.
They have a story too, that needs to be told.
Some days we do the telling, other days we listen.
Each story is worth hearing.

The best stories are the real ones.

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(Photo credits to Gretta Coates and her time in a refugee camp in Greece this last year. Follow her blog and wait for the incredible stories of the incredible souls who braved the icy waters hoping for a future).

It was perfect.

I pushed my chair back and surveyed the damages.
Supper was over, but the table was heavy with smeared dishes and food the needed to be put away. Daniel has multiple tests and chapters to read before the weekend.
“There is no way I’ll have time to get them all done,” he had told me earlier.

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“Can we go outside and …?” The nine year old made a throwing motion.
Somehow the tossing sign must be more powerful than just straight out asking.

He didn’t have time. We both knew it.
But Daniel nodded, “Yeah! You coming?” he asked, looking my way.
The dishes screamed at me. But he knew I needed to pause and grab the moment.
I nodded.

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All day long the tractor had gone around and around the field, the cut hay tossed into neat rows and then bundled into round bales. The sweet smell mingled with the golden evening light lured us into the clean goodness. The guys threw the frisbee back and forth, and I marveled at the fluid motions of both throwing and catching.
When did that nine year old learn to throw like that?

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The girls raced around the bales and threw left over bits into the air.
Hair and hay were everywhere, faces dirty but happy.
Daniel looked over at me. “It’s perfect.
The evening could not be more perfect.”

I looked around. The golden light illuminating crazy hair, the squeals of laughter from carefree children, the busy daddy taking time for his children.
I was the only mess here.
My mind still saw the messy table and sink of dishes.
My heart still felt bruised from a less than seamless school day.

My to do lists never end, and I grapple with doing all things well and yet never getting done. Mommy guilt over not menu planning, bathroom cleaning, laundry doing or lesson planning a week ahead of time looms over my head.
There are just so many things I SHOULD be doing, and don’t reach around.

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(Chicken pox are over now, and thankfully the marks are fading)

When God created the world, He did a perfect job.
He sat back at the end of each day and surveyed his perfect handiwork.
At the end of the week, he looked over the brand new earth, teaming with life and breath and color.
And He said, “It is good.”
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Good. Everything was perfect.
Can you imagine?

Today this is part of the curse, the living in an imperfect world. Being in this world, but intended for another one. Mortality groaning for immortality. I gasp deep for air, and reach for God’s hand to guide me through the challenges of the day.

God looks down at me and loves me. He sees past the grime smeared on my face and hears the laughter. He sees me as His child, and loves me.

So hand your camera to your 7 year old, and let them capture today in its rawness. See what they see, and treasure it.

Today, in all our messes, are things to embrace. To treasure.

It WAS a perfect evening.

Free to taste the beauty of today…

“Mommy, come play with us!”
His eyes pleaded with mine and I set my project down. The skies couldn’t be bluer. The leaves more golden.
The air was warm and perfect for running barefoot through the thick carpet of leaves.
At our old house, the pin oaks dropped dump truck loads of these fine little slivers, impossible to really get up even after days of raking. But here at our new place, maple leaves look festive and inviting as they dance their way to the ground.
They are big and fluffy, and rake up beautifully.

He grabbed one rake and I the other. We pulled and piled till the heap was as high as my waist.
Then we dropped the rakes, stepped back and let her rip.
Pell mell we tumbled squealing into the leaves.
I squeezed my eyes tight and lay quiet under that mount of crunchy goodness and felt five years old again.
Funny, cause just ten minutes before the pressures of life were heavy on my shoulders.
This thing of life is hard sometimes. Heavy. I forget to notice the golden sunlight splashed on the dying leaves.

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I sat up, and he did too, this little boy of mine suddenly so grown up.
Leaves clung to our hair and we shrieked with laughter.
We stood up and danced and shrugged to get leaves from under our shirts.
Delightful in the trees, delightful in a pile, but no fun down your clothes.
Then we raked the pile high and ran again. And again.

Alannah stood a few feet away, and as I came up laughing again, her face was pure heaven.
She laughed and glowed. As far as she knew, she WAS in heaven.
Mommy was carefree. And she was too.

It’s hard sometimes to choose to let go of the grief, and allow your heart to shriek in childlike laughter.
But they need this, these delightful children of mine.
They need to see a mommy who values the joy of the moment.
Again and again I look into their faces and want to be what they need.
And I find, there in that place of becoming what they need, that I actually needed it too.

Memories of last year, and our long hard, cold winter. Of weeks in the hospital and a cold grave and long weeks of quiet asking God why. Of tears and a move and life marching onward when we weren’t ready. And now, fall is here again and it is stunningly beautiful. The colors of the fiery trees up against the green fields. The smell of woodsmoke in the air and warm mugs of coffee in our hands. Flames dancing in the fireplace, soft blankets for story time.
Must I let the cold of last winter steal the beauty of this one fall moment?

“Come to me,” He whispers, “yes, you, when you are so heavy. I will give you rest.”
Rest – freedom to see the beauty around us for what it really is. He is an artist, this God of ours.
And the night is dark, but even then the stars shine bright, if we will just take the time to notice them.
So let last year go.
The leaf shudders one last time and releases its grip on the branch and falls.
It joins the sea of others and gets lost on the confetti sprinkled ground. Today is beautiful. Breathtaking.
It is FREE.

Just like I was created to be. I look at the pile of leaves again.
And I let God carry all the sighs and tears, and I glance at my little boy again.

“On your mark, get set, GO!”
We run, the wind in our hair, and our bare feet pounding toward the pile. We jump. It is delightful.

Leaning into mercy

It is a lovely quiet kind of day.
Outside the light is subdued, and wet leaves cling to the sidewalk.
I want nothing more than to curl up on the couch with a latte and just close my eyes and read a good book…

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(Photo credit to my brother Isaac, shot with his iPhone)

But really, this morning has been a salty one.
Not in a bad way, but in the stretching kind of way,
where you feel pulled into places you don’t want to go.
Where ugly attitudes start curling out of your heart and want to strangle out every little joy.
This particular situation is not a new one to me. But it is still a hard one.
Daniel, my ever-present counselor wisely said, “Just give like you are giving to Jesus.”

‘Cause in essence, that what we are each doing. Every day.

Then I stumbled across this article and there I lay, with Kara’s finger directly on this raw subject.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I wanted to squirm away. Play dodgeball.
I didn’t want to look in the mirror and see it quite that plain.
Sometimes, it just hurts to be honest.

We all know that “…whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water
because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
We’ve heard it in Sunday school. We’ve heard it from our mothers. We teach it to our children.

I feed my daughter because she is mine, and it is the right thing to do.
I am her mother, and I know that all the late nights feedings aren’t meaningless.
She slides her soft hand over my face and looks up at me with those deep, rich eyes.
She can’t even say “thank you” yet, but already she is giving back to me. Loving me. So, it’s easy.
I know she is committed to me, and will smile at me, and reach for me to hold her.
She makes me feel good.
So of course I’ll keep giving. ‘Cause she gives right back.

But what about these moments when someone thoughtlessly takes, and takes, and takes?
What about when they assume that you will always help them, even if you did it last week, month, year?
You knew it would be just like last time,
when it left that sour taste in your mouth and your heart feeling tired. Used. Unappreciated.
When they expect you to give and offer nothing in return. Again.

It’s salty, and not salted carmel salty. It’s just the course salt that leaves your teeth gritted.

I’ll be ugly blunt. I want justification. I want to be treated fairly.
I want her to pause and think about how it really makes me feel.
I’m tired of getting the predictable short end of the stick.
Every time.

But a quiet whisper says, “Justification. Is that really what you want?
To be treated and judged the way you do others?
In all honesty, you want justice?”

Now the salt pours around me, no longer just between my teeth but enveloping me wholly.
When the tinted glass of my perception fades and I stand bare and plain before God,
will “justice” be my cry? Far from it. What I really need is {MERCY}.
And lots of it.

God took that layer of my heart and peeled back one more than I expected.
“What about your motives?”
Relationships all around me, with strings weaving back and forth, touching here and there.
My husband, my children, sisters, mother, friends. Am I in it all for what I can get out of it?

Jesus came to give. He had no rights. Not even the same place to lay his head each night.
He came and gave, knowing the end of the chapter.
He knew this disciple so loyal today would tomorrow swear he didn’t know Him.
He willingly gave bread to the one who would value silver more than His life,
and turn Him into the hands of those so eager to murder Him.
Jesus saw the poor widow give her two tiny mites and loved her for her lavishness,
yet laid the judging religious ones bare and exposed for their covetousness.
Jesus operated on a completely different plane than what “makes sense” to my carnal mind.

I am humbled.
I read, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”
(John 1:16-17)

I have to remember that I am the one in debt.
I am the one that wronged. That sinned. That received what I didn’t deserve.

The salt stings my eyes now, and I cling to mercy.
Mercy that washes me clean, and gives me hope.
Mercy that is new every morning.

I lean on this, and not justice.
It is safer here.

In the giving and the taking…

It was a perfect day.
All together as a family, we loaded the three kids into their carseats and Daniel pulled the truck and trailer out onto the road. Behind us, our house gleamed under its new roof. The old, tired shingles piled into the dump trailer were at last on their way to the dump.

We had just finished a lovely weekend with the youth from our church, hearing about faith, and learning more of the beauty of this God of ours. I was struck with the security that my relationship with God is not dependent on MY faith, but the GIVER of faith. Everything comes back to God.
Such a safe place…

Just three miles from home we started down the hill, and the trailer started wobbling.
My very capable driver husband just said, “Oh no…” and reached for the trailer brakes.
In a few eternally long, silent moments except for screeching of the tires,
the trailer swung us completely out of control.

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As it pushed us across the left lane, Daniel I both prayed, “Jesus! Help us!”
We flew down the steep embankment, into a tree,
and came to rest the ditch facing the direction we had come.
Daniel and I instantly looked back at the children.
They were ashen faced, but perfectly fine.

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I could see the hood was entirely crumpled, but the truck still drove, so Daniel pulled forward about 30 feet where it was almost level, and then we got out to see the damages.
We knew we had just witnessed a series of miracles.
There had been three oncoming vehicles, and if the first one wouldn’t have seen our trailer starting to fishtail and slowed to a stop, we would have creamed them on our way across the road.
The speed that we left the road at should have done much, much more damage
than what the truck, or our little family actually experienced at impact.
The trooper and EMS all shook their heads, “Don’t know what kept that truck from rolling.”

We all could have died.

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But as Daniel picked up the shingles strewn across the roadside, he found himself singing,
(yes, SINGING!)

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,
Let me walk upon the waters,
Wherever you would call me,
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.”
(Hillsong United)

Last night we were looking online at other wrecked trucks that could have the parts we need.
Suddenly I was struck with the realization we could be looking at coffins instead.
Metal and rubber can be replaced.
People cannot.

The skid marks are long. The trailer flipped upside down and dug long deep gouges into the pavement.
And yet, here we were, all completely fine, except for a few sore muscles.
What could have been a grand entrance to heaven for our little family instead
became a moment of seeing God’s hand.
A blatant miracle.
What we believe satan meant to be a horrible accident,
has become a platform of praise.

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In the recent weeks, the news has been so troubling to me.
The killings, the brutality, the innocent lives snuffed out in the face of cold heartlessness.
One picture I saw that haunted me, endlessly. A beheaded child.
I felt sick for the rest of the day.
I kept pulling my littles closer to me, and feeling this fear wrap its vice-like fingers around my heart.

Would I be faithful in the face of such horror?
Would I still trust if I had to see such gruesome acts?
My husband reminded me that fear is the enemy’s tool.
But I couldn’t shake it. This cold knot in my stomach. I’d try to forget, but it was always there,
lurking in the corner.
Would I, would you, still cling to God if He allowed those nearest and dearest to us
to be butchered before our very eyes?

I remember Job, sitting in the ashes, his wife and friends mocking the very character of God.
I know his heart must have been shattered in a million pieces around him,
just like the broken pottery he used to scrape his rotting flesh.
The pain. The loss. The horror. It just blows my mind.
But there in that place of absolute devastation, he uttered,
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

I think of the story in John 6, where many turned away from following Jesus.
He asked one of the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
and Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know,
that you are the Holy One of God.”
He is the very essence of life.

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But God knows the number of our days.
He knows the end of our story.
As we spun across the road, and as that mother in Iraq wails over her child, God was there.
Holding. Carrying. Sometimes sparing, sometimes not.

He gives and and He takes away.

And here in this place of leaning on Him, we find security beyond reason and peace in all moments.
It is here that we say,
“Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

When He says to beg…

“But Mommy, pleeeeeeeeeease?!”

I looked down into his eyes, feeling the frustration rise. We had already talked about this.
He already knew the answer. I could see the pleading mixed with a touch of defiance in his eyes.

“Don’t beg,” I told him. “You know it doesn’t change my answer.”
Age old scenario. You beg, I say no. Period.

But then he landed the big one.
“But the widow in the Bible begged. God says keep asking!”

How to throw Mommy back to square one.
We sort of think that we are here to teach our kids basic things, like don’t take “no” for a “maybe.”
When I say no, that is supposed to mean no.
We think we have the right for our authority to never be threatened.
But here he is, bouncing the ball back into my court.
It is a good throw, and smacks me between the eyes.
This kid has a head on his shoulders.

God DOES say to keep begging. Pestering. To never let up.

Buddy, if you thought of this at six, what will you be saying at sixteen?
I’d better learn how to play ball.

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So this morning, I opened my Bible to this passage.
It’s always been a bit baffling to me, this hard and unjust judge coldly ignoring the poor widow.
Why would God depict Himself as cold? Hard? Distant?
And why does He portray Himself as a Father, when so many dads are poor examples?
Some are abusive verbally, emotionally, or even physically. Some walk away.
And some, as in my case, are simply gone through circumstance beyond their control.
My dad didn’t choose to die.
When I think of a dad figure in my life, I have these foggy, smudged memories of my kind father.
Good memories, but they are ever so far away.
Why would God allow circumstances that make Him feel far away from me?

He dares to do this, because He can see the big picture.

I smooth the cream page in front of me.

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Luke 18:2-8

How does God dare to threaten His own reputation, or our understanding of it,
by seeming to be hard of hearing?

Or indifferent? It comes back to my human tendency to think,
“If you love me, you will give me what I want.”
It’s life on my terms.

Life isn’t on my terms. And I am called to believe more than what I see.

There are times when God seems to not hear.
Like when we asked God to heal my Dad from cancer.
Or rescue Isaac from the swirling waters of the Lempa. Or to spare Marco’s life.
Why does God say “Ask” if He already knows He will say no?

But today God says beg.
Beg for more of Him.
Beg for the impossible.
Believe that He can do it, even if He chooses to say no.

Today, I am grateful for a six year old that asks questions that makes me uncomfortable.
That makes me dig for answers.

I am grateful for a God that can withstand hard questions and has the answers even when I don’t understand. I
am grateful that I can trust Him, when I don’t see.

So today I’m gonna beg.