A Sweet Summer


This summer has been one of miracles and joy.

****Our daughter graduated from high school with honors, marking the end of an era.

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Doug and I did it. Just like that (so it seems), our formal parenting journey is over. Both kids have graduated. Josh is now a sophomore in college and Julia will begin her freshman year in August.

Time races on like a raging river. I am so grateful that He has taught me how to slow down and savor each day, quietly counting all the gifts I have been given, an overabundance of riches spilled into my life on a daily basis by my very good God.

*****In one wonderful day, Doug and I experienced an outrageous, amazing, and totally unexpected outpouring of His grace. It was a sheer miracle, one that we will never forget as long as we live. It was yet another reminder that He does all things well, that He has resources we know nothing about, that He is faithful and trustworthy no matter what, and that He always honors faith.

We still  have more questions than answers, but our future is not a mystery to Him and we rest in that.We have been on a wild journey where we are walking only by faith and not by sight and it has been the adventure of our lives.

He’s got this.

****We were able to go to Washington DC for Julia’s college orientation. It may have been one of our last road trips as a family and I treasured every moment of it. (Well, I suppose I didn’t treasure the extreme humidity on the first day we were there when it was 105 degrees!).

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The entire time we were in DC, I found it surreal that we were there to prepare for Julia’s freshman year of college. It was exciting and a bit sad all at once. But mostly exciting.

****Due to the generosity of sweet friends offering us the use of their cabin, we were able to visit Acadia National Park in Maine, which is absolutely one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen!

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It was the desire of my heart to be able to go on one last family vacation this summer, but it just did not seem possible. However, two of the sweetest words in the world are, “But God….” Not only did He grant me my heart’s desire of having one trip, he gave us two. Incredible, lavish GRACE!

Next summer, both kids could conceivably be taking summer classes or working in the cities where they go to school.

I thought about these things as we drove home from Maine. At the cabin, there was no Wi-Fi, so we were gloriously unplugged. We talked, read a lot, played a game or two, slept in, explored. It felt like a magical time.

And as we sped toward home, tears filled my eyes because I wanted time to slow down. I knew that once we hit our driveway, the rest of the summer would travel at warp speed. Josh will be 700 miles away, Julia 600 miles away.

From the recesses of my mind, a William Blake poem that I had studied as an undergraduate came to my mind:

He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Kiss the joy as it flies is excellent advice for this time in my life.

****I have had the great joy of having my son work for me this summer as my second shooter at all my photography events. Before he came home from his first year of college, he texted me and told me he wanted to spend the summer learning photography from me. Music to a mom’s ears!

We have worked together at the prom, weddings, anniversary parties, senior portrait sessions, headshots, etc and I have had the privilege of helping him make some fine art pictures.  He has a razor sharp artistic eye and wild creativity and I have loved having him by my side. To know that he has my back and will consistently produce quality work has been invaluable.

Seeing him with his lovely red Nikon makes me all kinds of happy.

Acadia-90*****I decided to do a Golden Hour series of photographs, since it is my favorite time of day, as well as the most magical. I started in my own backyard.

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Golden Hour-46For the rest of the summer, I will roam all over my small  town during the golden hour and be “a hunter of beauty” with my camera (as Ann Voskamp says in her book 1000 Gifts).

Summer is the most enchanting season. There is so much beauty everywhere. I hope you are searching for it in your neck of the woods.

Then followed that beautiful season…Summer
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
—-Longfellow

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Walking In The Rain


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Yesterday afternoon, my son Josh and I decided to take a walk into town, even though it had rained on and off all day.

The sky was unsettled, bright in some spots, dark and gray in others. The air was thick with humidity and steam rose up from the pavement.

We decided to chance it.

The scents, sounds, and sights of summer were all around us. Huge water drops clung to brightly colored flowers and shimmered like diamonds. An owl flew over our heads, causing Josh to wonder aloud why an owl was up and about in the afternoon. Birds sang to each other and we could hear crickets deep in the woods. The smell of clover wafted through the air as we passed a neighbor’s freshly cut lawn and the wind rustled the bright green leaves of the trees. Old pine needles carpeted the sidewalk as we headed toward the lake. Every once in awhile, I would catch the scent of pine, which reminded me of Christmastime.

A soft rain started. Still, we continued our walk.

The thunder had chased away all swimmers, except for two middle aged lovers who had the swimming area to themselves. They were completely oblivious to the fact that we were walking on the road above them, so wrapped up were they in each other. They kissed and splashed and laughed and swam with utter abandon and joy. I marveled that a woman who had, shall we say extremely generous curves, could be so completely comfortable out in  public wearing a bikini.  I have never known that kind of security in my own skin.

But maybe I am beginning to.

Years ago, I would never have taken a walk in the rain. I would have considered it impractical, uncomfortable and possibly unsafe, especially if there was a rumble of thunder.

Yet here I was, steadily getting soaked. I was not wearing a stitch of makeup. An old baseball cap covered my hair and I wore workout pants and an old T-shirt. I didn’t even have my cell phone with me.

And I loved it.

As the rain intensified, Josh pushed away the hood of his raincoat and lifted his face up to the weeping sky with a big smile on his face.

Then he looked over at me, not quite believing that his mom had agreed to do this with him.

We both laughed.

Even as a little boy, he was fascinated by storms and loved to play in the rain.  This has never changed.

The second year that we had moved up here to our little town in the mountains, the Fourth of July fireworks were rained out. We ran for the car to head home and as we pulled into our driveway, the first thing Josh noticed were the enormous puddles that had formed right in front of our garage.

“Can we play in the puddles?” our 11 year old son asked excitedly.

“Yeah! Can we?” asked his 10 year old sister, always anxious to follow her big brother’s lead.

Why not?

Once we gave permission, they scrambled out of the car and for the next thirty minutes their screams of laughter and squeals of joy reverberated through our little cul-de-sac as they jumped with all their might into puddle after puddle. Doug and I just sat in the car and watched them through the rain-spattered windshield, smiling wide and soaking it all up.

In the summer of his junior year, Josh asked me to take some photos of him jumping in puddles while it was raining, which I did from the safety of the inside of our garage.

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And here we were again today, walking together in another rain storm.

There was a certain freedom in not rushing for shelter, not trying in the least to stay dry, not hurrying our pace. or worrying over the fact that we were by this time completely water-logged.

We were living fully in the moment, and making a memory and I was filled with joy to be in this place, spending this time with my son.

By the time we turned around and headed for home, the rain had picked up considerably and the thunder rumbled more ominously. We continued to talk about dreams and plans and the importance of art, interspersed with much delighted laughter. The amorous couple had left the water and there were certainly no other pedestrians. Only a few cars drove along the lake, their headlights reflecting on the shiny wet road, the drivers no doubt shaking their heads at the two loons who were taking a stroll in such weather.

As our home came into view, I looked over at Josh, who had not stopped grinning. His red hair was darkened to a rich auburn by the rain and big droplets clung to his impossibly thick eyelashes. I tried to take a mental snapshot of him that I would always remember: my beautiful boy soon to leave his teen years forever behind, smiling wide, full of life and dreams and brimming with creativity.

I thanked God for this moment and for granting me the precious gift of time with my son.

Later as I took a hot shower, I shuddered to think of what I would have missed if I had decided to do the practical thing and stay warm and dry inside.

So much of real life is lived outside of the box and very often, that is the place where the deepest joy is found and experienced.

By the time I had showered and changed clothes, the sun was pouring through the windows, the rain over and gone. My husband called my attention to the amazing sky that the storm left in its wake and I grabbed my camera and ran outside to capture the image at the top of this post.

A benediction to a magical walk in the rain.

My heart was full.

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He Is Still God


Photo credit: New York Daily News

As everyone in our nation now knows, a troubled, hate-filled person opened fire on a group of unsuspecting Christians who had gathered for prayer and Bible study in their South Carolina church last week.

I am sure that those nine souls who entered eternity that evening never imagined that in the span of an hour, they would leave this world and be gazing into the face of the very One they had come to worship.

The bullets that stopped their hearts ended their earthly lives but ushered them into a world more beautiful and glorious than their deepest imaginings. They are Home and they are forever free of this broken world.

As C.S. Lewis has said, “All their adventures in this world…had only been the cover story and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”—The Last Battle.

How much would it change things if when we walked into church on Sunday mornings, we behaved as if we might see the face of our Savior before we left that place? If when we showed up for Bible study, we faced the very real possibility that the Author of those precious pages could usher us into His Presence at any time?

We should live all of life that way because we are incredibly fragile and the number of our days on this planet are known only to the One who created us. We dare not take our hours and minutes and seconds for granted. This life is not a game. Our choices in this life have eternal and fixed consequences in the next world.

It has been said that the gunman had hoped to start a race war with his heinous actions. I imagine that we are all very glad that his demented hopes were a pipe dream and a miserable failure.

This Sunday morning, the doors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were thrown open wide and the Rev. Dr. Norveel Goff Sr. gave a hope-filled, joy filled sermon that rang out loud and clear and gave notice to heaven and earth, angels and demons and every person within the sound of his voice that our joy in our risen Savior is defiant and blazing, triumphant in even in the face of the greatest acts of evil.

Our joy is not dependent on circumstances.

Our joy cannot be contained, no matter how fierce the opposition.

Our joy cannot be silenced.

Our joy is not wispy but solid as a Rock.

Nothing that happens on this broken, fallen earth can touch our joy because our Joy IS the Person of the risen Christ. He is the very eternal personification of joy and He offers it to us freely.

And we can never lose Him.

Rev. Dr. Goff shared that this morning (and indeed, every morning), he praised God for the fact that he woke up to live another day and that he spent his life in praise and joy, daily thanking God for the gift of his salvation.

When we choose to live that way, we, too, are living in such a way that we are ready to come face to face with the risen Christ at any moment.

He reminded his congregation that this world is ever-changing and our hope must be in God alone.

Thunderous applause greeted his declaration that “The open doors of this church say, “NO weapon formed against us will prosper!”

Then he ended his sermon with these jubilant words: “We are serving notice on evil-doers who  think they have the victory: HE IS STILL GOD!”

Amen and amen.

This is what true Christian joy looks like.

Yes, there is weeping and there will always be questions that cannot be answered when such evil is unleashed.

But because of the cross, evil does not triumph. Hope and joy blaze brilliantly in the face of the darkness.

Love wins.

The Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it.—John 1:5

No matter what is happening in your life right now, no matter what headlines you read, remember this: His Light shines on.

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Mercy Reigns


Message to my subscribers: I hit “publish” too soon on my draft of Mercy Reigns. I did erase it from the site but it still was delivered to your inbox. Please ignore that one. Here is the full post. :) 

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Things have been very quiet on this blog recently.

Major life events were happening and things just felt too overwhelming.

Here is the short version: A couple of weeks ago, we had to close the doors to our business.

Over three years ago, we had entered into a partnership with a family member.  It turned out that our trust was horribly misplaced and we were betrayed.

We have lost our life savings, our investment, the college fund for our kids, the vast majority of our income, and we may lose our home. I can honestly say that we have experienced an unprecedented attack from the enemy as he has tried to destroy every aspect of our lives.

It has been heartbreaking.

It has been devastating.

It has been extremely scary.

The process of forgiveness was very  ugly and it has taken me the better part of a year. (And it is still a battle some days).

This journey has called us to walk by faith in a way that we have never had to do before.

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Here are a few things I have learned along the way:

1 ) I can trust my very good God. 

As speaker and writer Lysa Terkuerst said this past weekend when I saw her at a local women’s conference: “God is good and God is very good at being God.”

Amen to that. He is in full control and nothing takes Him by surprise.

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that He never pulls any punches. He made it very clear to all who would follow Him that “…In Me, you may have perfect peace and confidence. In the world, you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer! Take courage, be confident, certain, undaunted! For I have overcome the world! I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you!” (John 16;33, Amplified). 

The older I get, the less surprised I am when trials hit.  Jesus told me to expect them.

It wasn’t until this brutal season that I realized how much of my life I have spent expecting things to be easy and smooth in this world.

They won’t be. This isn’t Heaven yet.

I no longer hold such illusions. I may have meltdowns from time to time, but I am tough. I have chosen to live through this as Jesus told me to.

I choose joy.
I offer my weakness for His strength.
I accept His gift of peace.
I ask Him everyday for a fresh infusion of His courage.
I am confident that I will see His goodness both in the midst of and at the end of this trial.
I have become the enemy’s worst nightmare. I will not stay down. Each time he hits, I may get knocked down and be black and blue, but I WILL get back up. Every. Single. Time.

I have heard it said that the enemy doesn’t mess with those he doesn’t consider to be a threat to his kingdom of darkness, so I am taking this present season as a badge of honor.

If he thinks I was a threat before, he hasn’t seen anything yet.

2) I MUST preach the gospel to myself every single day. 

This is the only way that I have been able to forgive.

It is crucial that I remember the enormous debt that I owed a holy God and without Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf, I would be utterly without hope. He loved me when I was His enemy and hated Him.  Every one of my sins drove those nails into His flesh and without His grace and mercy, I would be forever cursed.

How can I then turn around and refuse to forgive the one who has sinned against me?

I  can’t.

Jesus doesn’t give any of His followers that option. …even as the Lord has freely forgiven you, so must you also forgive.”—(Colossians 3:13).

Forgiveness does NOT mean that everything is okay.
Forgiveness does NOT mean forgetting.
Forgiveness does NOT mean that things will go back to the way they used to be.
Forgiveness on my part does not necessarily mean that the offending party will realize error of their ways.
Forgiveness does NOT mean that you won’t still have ugly feelings.
Forgiveness is NOT something you can do on your own. It is supernatural.
Forgiveness DEMANDS that you cooperate with your powerful Savior and allow Him to forgive through you.
The process of forgiveness may feel like it will be the death of you. It isn’t. He will carry your through it.
Forgiveness is ultimately the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Because it will kill you otherwise.
Forgiveness is the way of peace.

3) His Word is my lifeline.

I have had to cling to the TRUTH of God’s Word with all of my strength.

As Charles Stanley once said, “I don’t care what I see, feel, hear, or think. THIS is what God’s Word says.”

When my world felt like it was collapsing all around me and spinning out of control, His Word was my anchor.

He has given me promises to hold onto during this time and I have allowed Him to write those promises deep into my heart. They are and always will be a part of me.

So rather than face each day with dread, I look forward with a sense of expectation to see what He will do. When fear threatens to overwhelm me, I review those promises and His peace floods my soul.

I have several devotionals that I read every morning and without fail, He speaks to me through them and I have fresh hope to face another uncertain day.

4) He truly is Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider.

We have seen Him provide in miraculous ways for our needs time and time again.

I did a fantastic Bible study by Dr. Tony Evans last fall called The Names Of God.  He said something that I will never forget: “God Himself is your Source. Everything else is just a resource. “

Our store was simply a resource. We were not ultimately dependent on it because Jesus is our Source and He has promised to provide for our every need. His resources are infinite so we need never worry that He won’t come through. He will. Every time.

At this particular moment, things look quite scary but we are choosing to rest and rehearse. We are resting in His promises and in His character and we are actively rehearsing the myriad of ways that He has been faithful to respond to our fervent prayers in the past.

5) Prayer is a powerful weapon.

We are incredibly blessed to have amazing friends who faithfully pray for us. (You know who you are and we love you dearly!).

We simply flat out cannot make it without prayer.

Sometimes, when things are dark and you are exhausted and feel like you can’t even pray anymore, just knowing that there are others who are willing to stand in the gap for you is an amazing gift.

Prayer moves the heart of our God. He is not unaffected by our pain. His Word tells us that He is deeply touched by our cries and moved by our prayers. He sees every tear that falls and He responds. 

I remember a Bible teacher once saying that when we combine our prayers with God’s Word, it is like dynamite. I have found that to be true. It has been the  adventure of my life to watch and experience how He answers prayer.

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Those are just a few of the lessons I have learned so far. I will be writing about many more in posts to come.

This morning at church, we sang “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” One line in that song really touched my heart. It says this: ” And like a flood, His mercy reigns/ unending love, amazing. grace.”

I had tears in my eyes as I sang those words because I realized that even through all the pain of the past year, it has been true:

His mercy reigns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Singing Of The Birds


Photo credit: stevecreek.com

It has been a long, dark, brutal winter in my part of the world this year.

The view out any window in New England is a world of  endless white, the promise of spring seemingly buried forever.

Last week, I met a dear friend for lunch. She asked about the latest on the ongoing trial that my family has been enduring for quite awhile now.

After I filled her in, she smiled wide and said, “Remember, spring is coming!” She reminded me of one of my favorite Scriptures, Song of Solomon 2:10-12, which speaks of the coming of spring and a time of great hope.

That Scripture stayed with me over the next couple of days, so it sprang immediately to my mind like the sun bursting through a cloudy day the moment that I encountered the singing birds.

It was well below zero that morning. The night before, the wind had blown and howled with hurricane- force velocity but the dawn had ushered in a blessed calm and the winds were mercifully stilled.

The instant I opened my eyes, I could hear the birds.

I immediately got up and followed their sweet sound, marveling that even though the earth was locked into sub-zero temperatures, there could be birds singing!

And there they were: two small fluffy birds perched on the bare branches right outside our window. I walked right up to the pane and could see them in great detail. Their little black eyes burned brightly and their brown and black feathers looked they they would be soft to the touch. But it was their singing that completely captivated me. They sat on those branches for probably a solid minute, their voices mingling in what was to me a beautiful symphony. I smiled with delight and wished they would stay all day. I had never before seen birds in that particular location.

All too soon, they flew away and took their lovely music with them.

But in their place, the Scripture my friend had shared with me rang out loud can clear: “Arise My love, My beautiful one, and come away! For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of the birds has come.” 

The great Creator God who controls all things had sent my winter-weary soul a message that morning through those two dark-eyed juncos: Winter will soon be over. Spring is on its way. Hope lives. There is always still a song.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops — at all….
~Emily Dickinson, c.1861

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And Now For Something Completely Different…


Earlier today, I came across a pile of old photos and spent an absolutely delightful time walking down memory lane.

This photo in particular stood out to me and caused me to laugh out loud:

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That is me on the right and my best friend Tracy on the left.

The year was 1987 and the event was my brother’s high school graduation party.

As always, I am documenting everything. From the moment I received my first Fisher Price camera as a kid (does anyone else remember these?!)

to a Polaroid I received as a young teenager, to the GIANT video camera my parents gave me when I was in my 20s, I was forever capturing moments with a camera. (still am).

Let’s note a few things about this photo, shall we?

* I was so skinny! Although at that point in time, I probably thought I was fat, as girls are prone to do. Totally insane. I don’t imagine that I will ever see the number 110 on a scale again in my life.

*Can we take a minute to appreciate the fabulous 80’s hair? A mullet at its finest, I tell you!

Speaking of mullets, I simply must digress for a moment to present you with a visual tour of the fact that in my youth, I apparently loved mullets. Observe:

Nevermind the mullet: what in the world am I wearing?!

Nevermind the mullet: what in the world am I wearing?!

Here I am in all my mullet glory with some younger cousins.

Here I am in all my mullet glory with some younger cousins.

Can you imagine that I must have thought that that looked good?!

Can you imagine that I must have thought that that looked good?!

Tragic, isn’t it? I think we can all agree that the mullet should never, ever return.

*Notice the boom box. That was the newest thing because it was so small! When I showed this to my daughter, she laughed out loud while holding her tiny iPod in her hand. And it was playing a cassette tape. I had spent many an hour hunched over Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 to make the perfect graduation party mix tape. That tape was filled with the vocal stylings of The Bangles, Heart, Bob Seger,  Bon Jovi, Huey Lewis and the News, Michael Jackson, Springsteen, etc. The soundtrack of my youth that fills me with happiness for a time when life was easy  carefree, bright and fun. (Those same songs are all on my iPod today. 80’s music makes me all kinds of happy).

*Tracy was content to follow me around all day holding that boom box so that my video would have the perfect soundtrack. I can be heard several times telling her to do this or that.

I was so bossy.

(Some who know me and are reading this are no doubt saying, “Was?”) 

Moving on…

Tracy was an incredibly sweet person. She was my best friend since we were five years old all the way until her death in 1990. I still think of her all the time and sometimes she appears in my dreams. In those few seconds that we all have between first awakening from a dream and coming to full consciousness, I am smiling and ready to reach for the phone to call her.

And then I remember that she is gone and the familiar sadness settles over my heart.

This year, I will turn 50 in March and she would have been 50 in July.

I have gray hairs and crows feet. I will celebrate my 23rd wedding anniversary this year.

She is forever 25 and blonde, a bride of only 8 months.

I miss her so much.

*That sun-drenched, laughter-filled  day turned out to be one of my happiest and that very video is one of my absolute treasures. My videocamera caught many moments of fun and silliness, (including my brother getting a cream pie smashed in his face), and when I watch, I can still see those who have left us laughing, talking, celebrating. A day that is long  gone, but forever captured.

I only had a few still photos from the day:

My late cousin David and me

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Tracy and me

Tracy and me

The last scene of the video is everyone at the entire party dancing to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll. Every single time I watch it, it brings both laughter and tears. If only life could be so carefree and full of joy all the time.

Pick up your camera or your phone and capture some photos and video of your loved ones today.

“We only have this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it’s too late.”—Marie Ray

 

 

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Dealing With The Switchbacks


Photo credit: indulgy.com

“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to Heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just in our heads) that God is FOR us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.”—John Piper

The truth is, I want the straight line.

I want to go from one blessing to the next until I get to Heaven.

For many years, I skipped along that beloved straight line, believing that life was good and pretty and sunny and fun and kind and orderly.

And then the roof caved in leaving brokenness, darkness, confusion, tears, bewilderment, shock, loss, sadness, fear, and weariness in its wake.

Against my will, I was jarred awake to the brutal reality that this world is not heaven. It is enemy territory and the pain is searing and relentless.

I had so much head knowledge.

But suddenly, that wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough to cope with a life that was no longer safe.

I found that I craved safety. Yet there was no sense of safety in my circumstances. It was as if I was straining to balance on a tightrope and when I got up the nerve to finally look down, I was horrified to discover that the safety net was missing. And the winds were picking up, the sky was darkened by gathering clouds, and the only thing that was below me was sharp, jagged rocks.

I have never felt so vulnerable, terrified and small.

What to do?

I am a firstborn. I am a go-getter. I am driven. I am results-oriented.

So, my first choice was to look past the pain and begin to search for the silver lining. Surely this would help me become a better person. I will know why this happened in hindsight. I will be wiser. I can help others. I have lessons that I need to learn and this experience will help me.

I was on a quest to have two questions answered: Why is this happening? and How do I get out of this?

I asked for prayer, but I was very careful to lace my language with very cheerful terms.

He is at work even when I can’t see it!” I would say brightly after sharing my pain. “I know He will work all of this for my good!” Heads would nod in agreement and assurances would be plentiful.

So why did those words sound empty to my own ears and why did I leave that place feeling like I hadn’t been truly honest, that my pain had been minimized, and that I hadn’t been heard at all?

(This is NOT an indictment against very dear and well-meaning people. They are simply doing what I am doing, which is trying to make sense of a God that we know is good but who allows awful things that we simply cannot understand).

I assured myself that this, too, shall pass.

Except…that it didn’t.

The pain continued.

I would often feel like I was swimming in a rough ocean, trying to make some progress. I would get swallowed by a huge wave, tossed around like  a rag doll, fight my way to the surface, struggle to get on solid ground (as solid as shifting sand can be), take few gulps of air…only to get knocked down again and this time be pulled further out to sea by the relentless undertow.

Looking through the pain for the silver lining wasn’t working anymore.

So, I sought to escape the pain.

Trips, shopping, eating out, getting together with friends. Fun, fun, fun.

Then the money dried up when the economy crashed and my husband’s job was eliminated. Things have been challenging ever since.

No more disposable income meant no more easy avenues for escape. And things just got tougher. There was illness, betrayal, job loss, death, setback after setback.

Lines began to appear on my face. Gray hairs began to overtake the blonde. The dark circles under my eyes could no longer be hidden with the most industrial strength concealer.

My prayer requests were no longer couched in cheerful language.

“I have no idea what Jesus is doing,” I would say.

Tears, which I once refused to show in public by sheer force of my will, fell freely now.

The varying responses would be an uneasy silence, platitudes, a hug, a listening ear, much-needed and appreciated practical help, or an offer to pray, all depending on where those people were in their spiritual lives.

I felt helpless. My feelings were hurt by the One who said He loved me and had a good plan for my life. There were just no easy answers anymore.

hated living with mystery. I wanted answers. I wanted my old life back.

Haven’t I been faithful? Haven’t I led Bible study for years? Haven’t I raised my kids to love Jesus and live for Him? Haven’t I been a good wife, mom, sister, daughter, and friend? Haven’t I been a mentor to the younger moms in my church and community? Haven’t I done a lot of volunteer work? Haven’t I given generously to those in need?

Haven’t I done it right?!

And there it was.

Do you see the common denominator in those questions?

I.

Do you see the sense of entitlement? I did this, so You must do that. You owe me a happy life! (cringe).

Except He wasn’t playing that game. He never was.

My life was so crowded with knowledge and stuff and activity and self-will that I refused to truly see the one thing I needed to see the most.

All along, I had been asking the wrong questions, which were why and how?

I had completely missed the WHO.

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you do not know and recognize Me yet, Susan?” —Jesus (John 14:9).

The question that Jesus had asked Peter on the Passover night over 2000 years ago, He now asked me.

There, in the midst of all the loss and broken dreams, was Jesus.

Not as I wanted Him to be, not as I wished Him to be, not as I assumed Him to be…but as He IS: holy, righteous, perfect, Love incarnate.

The time had come for what I needed most: an encounter with the God who had died for me.

The very worst thing that has ever happened to anyone happened to Him.

Pain has a way of crystallizing what is most important in life with laser-like focus.

The single most important event in this world is the Cross.

It was time for me “to see the crucifixion for what it is, not looking away, through, or past it.” (Tullian Tchvidjian, Glorious Ruin, p. 69),

“The cross is the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world this side of Heaven.” (Ibid).

The cross is my reminder that life on earth is not a picnic and my God has higher dreams for me than a pleasant life.

The cross is bloody, brutal, violent, horrific…and  as much as I would like to sanitize it, give it lip service and only glance at it… the truth is that meditating on what it means is the only sure-fire way to put suffering on this earth in its proper perspective. The cross is a symbol of a holy God’s hatred of sin and His willingness to deal with it once and for all at the cost of His own life.

The willingness to look at the cross head on without flinching is what enables me to do the same with the suffering in my own life.

And to realize that the same God who has permitted the trials is the same One who allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross to take my place, to die the death that I deserved.

It was the only remedy for my sin-sick soul, the only thing that would save this rebel from hell.

When I lose sight of this most crucial truth,  it is then that I lose my way and my demand for a pain-free life takes center stage. When that happens, I am blind, ungrateful, small.

What I couldn’t see when my pain loomed larger than my God is that ultimately, the pain was a kindness.

kindness? 

Yes.

Because my greatest need is not a happy life.

My greatest need is an encounter with the living, resurrected Christ, who has delivered me from the domain of darkness and transferred me into His kingdom granting me redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1: 13-14). My life is hidden in Him, which makes me forever safe. He can only do good to me. He does not promise me an easy life, but He does promise to never leave me. He gives me beauty for ashes and is willing to fill me with His indestructible joy. He hears every prayer and sees every tear.

And when this short life with all its sorrows and joys is over, He promises that I will see His face and be with Him forever in a beautiful place where there is only joy and light and wonder for all eternity.

All the pain, the heartache, the trials served one grand purpose: they stripped me of everything but what is most essential: Jesus and me. Because that is exactly how this life ends, the only thing that ultimately matters.

I have learned to live with mystery. Life is still hard and there is no end to troubles in sight. I still battle fear sometimes. I definitely get weary. I have questions and granting forgiveness is still the hardest thing I have ever had to do. There are still tears and grief.

But I am free from the demand to have a problem free life. I am no longer looking for this world to be Heaven. I am not blindsided when pain hits. I have His hope, His joy, His light in the midst of this fallen world and I know I am being guided by His hand. My sense of entitlement is gone.

My greatest calling is to bring glory to Jesus and I can do that regardless of what is happening in my life.

I will close with these wise words from author Larry Crabb from his most excellent book, Shattered Dreams:

“When arrogant people who know they deserve eternal misery tremble before a holy God of passionate wrath, they discover grace. They encounter the depths of God’s kindness and love, a kindness and love they find nowhere else. They fall to their knees and worship Christ as their Lord and Savior and as their truest friend, really their only true friend. They know they don’t deserve a hug, no matter how badly they’re hurting but they get an eternal one anyway. That’s the grace that takes their breath away.

They enter into the community of broken, forgiven people who are hungry for all of God they can get. Nothing stands in their way—not shame, not the fear of revealing too much, not a desire to be well thought of. With abandon, they seek God.

And they welcome shattered dreams as friends. They enter their pain and discover an arrogant spirit that says, “I don’t deserve this.” They tremble in their unholiness before a holy God and discover how passionately they want to have a good relationship with Him. Then He reveals the new way of grace, the gospel that lets them draw near to God and discover how wonderful He is…the journey continues, a journey through shattered dreams to the exquisite joy of encountering Christ.” (pp. 196-197)

I wish for you that same exquisite joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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