Hello, Old Friend

Welcome, friend.

I’ve been away on business for quite some time, but I am pleased to return to this home of mine.

Come inside. Sit down in that chair by the window, would you? The kettle is on. Tea?

This is exactly how I hope you to feel { at home } when you find yourself here.

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For a long time, I simply had words. Often too many of them and usually coming in at speeds my lips could not keep up with. If you listen closely, you can still catch me stuttering like a little girl.  And every now and then, I hear someone calling me by the name of my childhood, “Chatty Cathy.”

The Lord in His kindess, rather than silencing me, gave me a pen.
And with that pen, He gave me stories.
Stories of grace upon grace upon so much grace.

“The free and unmerrited favor of God.”

//

And so, despite changes and seemingly unfruitful seasons, this online abode continues to house such stories of free and umerrited favor from the Lord.
Sometimes big. Oftentimes small. Always treasured.

This is a place that seeks to capture God’s daily graces like a butterly, only to release it, spreading its color and joy wherever and to whomever it flutters.
I pray it lands right on the tip your nose and kisses the side of your cheek.

With that, I invite you to join me, and all my words, as I walk { still } through the seasons of life to the rhythms of grace.

 

Lesser Lights

My bare feet swayed across the cool kitchen floor as I wept over the cold pizza I took out of the fridge for lunch.

Yet, never has a moment been more abundantly full of blessed and restful happiness.
The tune of Hillsong’s “So Will I” filled my stuffy apartment, alongside the gentle humming of the fan, mimicking a breeze I’d like to imagine the ocean was bringing in.

With teary eyes closed and an abandoned heart wide open, who’s to say the kitchen tile was not actually a sandy shore?

I twirl, hum, and cry, in between each savory bite of leftover lunch, and I ponder today’s word on Psalm 27.

“The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory. There I’ll be when troubles come.”

One thing.
We were made for a One Thing.
But only One Thing is secure.

The psalmist, David, holds fast to this One Thing.
The truth that only the Lord is His light.

All else, all other lights, will dim. Flicker. Fade.
And yet, when we hold the candle of another, however good and fragrant it is, we doom ourselves to a life of anxious toil, protecting the vulnerable flame at all cost.
For where will we be if that flame is snuffed out?
What darkness is sure to consume us if that light no longer shines?

If we seek another glow,
If we raise up the candle of some thing that was not meant to be our One Thing,
We will only know the fight. The tight-grip of fear. The ceaseless striving.
Because our mere candles, our some things, are not certain.
Not secure.
Not able to weather the winds of change and sorrow and sin.

But God invites us to trade our flickering flame for a torch that will never burn out.
What a beautiful exchange.
To release the fleeting that keeps you fighting to receive the infinite that keeps you indwelling.

I bowed my head before the Great Feast, the Lord’s Supper, repenting of lesser lights I’ve clung to, however splendent they may be.

I pondered over the night before, windows down and singing along to a sweet song of slow dancing and bright and pretty things.
I felt blissfully happy to be dreaming of such a love, one day, coming soon, maybe, perhaps.
The dream is good, one my Father cares for, but it is a lesser light.

I thought back to coffee with a dear friend, opening wrapped boxes and reading the words beautifully written on a just as beautiful card.
I hugged the warm mug of my most favorite drink as I laughed, listened, and shared thoughts with this gift of a Jesus sister.
The fellowship is good, one my Father blessed me with, but it, too, is a lesser light.

Oh, how we miss the brilliance of the torch when we put it down to pick up a mere candle.

Those good things are better seen and appreciated for all they are in the light of the torch, rather than the flicker of a small flame.

And so, I repented and came to the table.
I was satisfied with the fullness of Christ and all the promises He secured for me on the cross.
Promises to be known.
To be ever-loved.
To be saved from and for.
To be made new.
To be made an heir.
To see glory.
To be Home.
All my heart could crave was found in these covenants.

This brings me back home, eating a lesser but necessary meal, in my kitchen, bare footed in front of a breezy fan.

My feet danced upon the tiles to this song of praise.

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

Oh, and my heart couldn’t take it.
My little easy bake kitchen could barely contain the love swelling up inside of me.
My big blue eyes couldn’t hold back the flood of tears, beginning to rain down from my cheeks.
What else could my feet do but spin and sway and dance before this King?
What else could my hands do but fling wide open and high and ever reach toward the Lover of my soul?

The Creator of the stars in all their radiance, burning bright for Him and all His people to behold, shines a brighter light still.
A light that we are freely given to cherish and share.
A light that never runs out.
A light that burns brighter than the galaxies.
A light breaks through the engulfing bleak and black darkness.

And He came down to us, like one of us, as this very light.
The Light of the world.
The One Thing our hearts were made for.
The Only Thing that satisfies and causes our soul to find rest.

And I realized, sobbing over my pizza, that there is no other love, no other light, no other thing that can bring me this much overwhelming, all consuming, all around me, kind of joy and delight.

No other love makes me dance, foolish and undignified, barefooted, pizza in hand, weeping and singing and praising.
No other friendship turns my stuffy kitchen into a throne room of brilliant color and glowing grace.
No other thing brings me this much unwavering and steadying peace, the kind that opens my fighting hands to be held and stills my striving body to be enveloped by the arms of a Father.

So, I set down my candles, beautiful but flickering.
I pick up the torch, brilliant and steadfast.

And I let the light illuminate my heart, setting it ablaze, and ruining it for the lesser glow of any other thing.

Oh Lord, we repent of lesser things and lesser lights.
Come.
Be our One Thing and our One Light.
May we want for nothing but You.

Genesis

Here’s to beginnings.

My feet, still shaky from the unknown terrain of a wood I never imagined I’d drift far, far into, are walking out. Onto new ground.
Ground that is lush, instead of a murky mess.
Ground that is steady and beckons onward, rather than shifts and confuses.
Ground from where new life is born.
New springs well up.
New fruit blossoms.

How timely this spring equinox has been.
Praise the God of seasons, both of the heart and of the earth.

I recall a memory from a little over a year ago. A friend and I put on Disney’s Fantasia 2000, letting our nostalgia run wild with color and sound. And the best was saved for last, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Not only is the music breathtaking, but the story that accompanies it will forever be etched into my mind.

From the breath of the mighty stag, a beautiful nymph is born. The heartbeat of Genesis is present from the very beginning of the piece. He leads her out into the barren land, and she awakens as her very life is creating the masterpiece of spring all around her. Flourish. Abundance. Glory. Words that come to mind as the picture is painted to the sound of the composer’s handiwork. But, a fiery being, the “firebird,” stoops down to spread his wings of destruction over the creation of her new life. What is left is ashes and dust. The heart of Genesis beats on.

Tears begin to build behind the dam of my eyes. The film swirls together picture and symphony to ultimately point to the ancient story. A true story. The one of a mighty God. Of His creation, breathed into life. One of a garden. Of a snake. And the darkness that followed him. That followed us. Tragedy.

But, just as Stravinsky’s piece is unfinished, so is the story it shadows.

The stag searches through the rubble to find the nymph lying amidst the ruins. He breaths his life back into her fragile body. But she is weak. Stricken by grief. And unsure of what to do. Where to go. How to begin.

From there, he gently lifts her from the ground with his antlers, onto his back. As he carries her through what is left of the forest, her canvas of spring now devastated, she begins to cry over what has been lost. But her tears are soaking the scorched ground, and where they fall, life begins to sprout. What follows is the most beautiful and glorious unfolding. Regaining her strength, her hope, she soars over the land, her canvas. What was dead is now exploding with the color and fragrance of flowers and lush, green trees.

The dam holding back the flood of my tears gives way. And rightly so.

What the enemy left ravaged in my heart, my Heavenly Father is restoring. Is redeeming. Is making new.

Like the nymph, my tears are not wasted. They are kept. And not just to be remembered, but to be poured out over the dry places, so new life can spring up. I’m beginning to see the green emerge from ashes.

And as I do, I begin.
I dream again. I create again. I write again.

And if this is you, too, if you find yourself in the ruins, and you see the face of your Heavenly Father bending low to lift you from the shambles, take hold and begin again.

This is spring. This is genesis.

He Will Do It

I’ve thought quite often about writing again, curling up on my bed and letting my heart spill over with stories of the weathered seasons.
But the seasons felt dreary, and I had yet to walk through them entirely.
I hadn’t reached the other side of them, with beautiful truths wrapped neatly together to offer others. With triumphs to tell. With prayers heard and answered.
No, it was still grey and murky, so my heart kept to itself.

But, now, I’d like to share, still a little lost, still a little tattered and worn.

I was looking over a journal entry from early September of 2015, and it began with,

“I have good things for Mary, but the Enemy is going after her heart.”

My mother had called me, impressed by the Lord to share these words, feeling and knowing them in her soul, meant for me to hear.
And so has been the words over the past year and half of my life.

Good things are on their way, coming like clouds over scorched and barren lands, but not without a fight. And, friends, the fight has felt long.

I had battles in my heart to be waged, and ultimately won by my King, Jesus. I had branches that were beyond pruning, needing to be entirely cut off, if there was to be hope of future fruit.
And the battles, the barren branches, the empty, dark caverns of my heart were the Enemy’s finest work. He probably had them framed and mounted on his wall, each one named.
Disobedience. Faithless. Discouraged. Failure. Hopeless. Coward. Shiftless.

While the Lord in His kindness had allowed my feet to tread barefoot through green pastures along the way, seasons of refreshment and renewal to strengthen my weary spirit, I found myself back in the valley, in the dark, again. And again. And again.

Over the months turned years, my heart has wrestled with the Enemy, throwing weak punches, only to cut through thin air, leaving me stumbling and open to every blow.
I fought disbelief that the Lord would provide in my immense need.  Encountered failure to stand against the Enemy’s scheming and lies toward me. Fell prey to apathy that left me spineless and tossed by waves. And was paralyzed by crippling insecurity that questioned every truth until certainty in anything was entirely lost.

When your mind becomes a warzone and your heart a battlefield, life loses its zest. Joy gives way to survival. Rest turns into striving. Grace isn’t enough. And works are your stepping stones to the Throne.

This wasn’t me. This had never been me. Distressed and striving to fix what my weak soul never could.

My friends knew me as the biggest advocate of Jesus’ grace. It was the song in my heart and my lips spoke of it often. But the Enemy sold me a lie and convinced me to trade the grace of my Savior for the burden of works. And like Eve, I ate and was deceived.

But, here’s the thing, I was never good at working. It was like I had a devil on either of my shoulders. One telling me to work my way out of the pit and the other telling me I never could. At least one was honest.

So, I looked at the canyon between my sin and God. I’d stack a few stones and give up, weeping. I could never reach Him. Not with these pebbles. And I’d forgotten about grace at this point, so my only option was to sit, stuck in the mud and mire. Pathetic. The Enemy is good at what He does.

The Bible compares us to sheep. And I experienced why, here. Like those little lambs, we’re helpless without a Shepherd. Unable to turn ourselves around when we’re lost. Incapable of getting up when we’ve fallen. Powerless against ravenous wolves.

Over the past several years, throughout college, I’d really come to terms with this sense of weakness, learning to boast of Christ’s power in it, and allowing it to press me firm into His arms. I was asked a while back what I was grateful for, and I answered, “My weakness.”

My words were heard by the Lord, and He wanted to test that answer. The past year and half has been that test.

Now, good news.
The Enemy is crafty, but God is the ultimate Craftsman. The Enemy is alluring, but the Father’s pull is stronger still. The Enemy can wreak havoc, but cannot ever wreck the secure plans of the Almighty.

When Psalms 73:26 is the banner waving over me, claiming, “my flesh and my heart may fail,” my Heavenly Father sings, “But I am the Strength of your heart forever.”

And I’m learning this.

The Lord is allowing me to come to end of myself and discover just how reckless, foolish, and inadequate I am apart from Him. To see sin for what it is, how it destroys us, and how much God hates it. To weep over stacked pebbles trying to fill the spaces between Him and I. And it is there that the Lord draws near, very near, revealing the relentless devotion He has to His people, covered by the blood of His Son.

God was, is, and always will be more fiercely committed to my holiness and to my wholeness than I ever could dare be. Even when I give up, caving into the lie that I never could come close, God remains ruthlessly faithful, proclaiming,

“I will sanctify you completely, keeping your entire spirit, soul, and body blameless until my Son returns. I, who call you, am faithful, and I will do it.”

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Friends, I’m still in the mess of it all, but the gaping canyon is filling with waters of His grace, sailing me back into His arms. The Lord is training my eyes to see the severity of my need, and rather than pull away in despair, to look up and draw near in hope.

In hope that He alone will hold me fast.

He who calls us to this life of holiness is faithful to fashion us and sustain us in that calling. And because of Jesus, who covers our rags with His robe, we can hold God to that promise.

Those who are fighting, failing, falling, hold Him to that promise.

When you need an answer to the cry of your heart, whispering, “How can I ever be made right?” Remember.

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

When God Throws You a Surprise Party

There I was, sitting in the car, crying over my Chicken Soft Taco from Taco Time, unable to finish it. Yes, I was that upset.
Worry hung over me like a little large black rain cloud, its rain flooding me with doubt and discouragement. I had taken a quick peek at my bank account after a rather impulsive purchase, something I hate doing….Looking at my bank account, that is. I love impulsive purchases. The number was small.  And the enemy decided to use that small number to pick me apart piece by piece.
This is what I began to hear.

“Undisciplined.”
“You won’t ever be able to flourish with such irresponsibility.”
“How can you expect God to work in you and for you when you’re lacking self-control?”

“You’re failing. Falling behind. Look at how hard everyone else is working?”
“Any efforts you make amount to nothing.”

 As I grow, both in years and in faith, I become increasingly more aware of my problem with discipline, or lack thereof. It is this awareness, however, that I have seen God use to humble me, gently convict me, and tenderly shape me more into His very likeness. Most days, I marvel and rest in this truth, thanking God for weaknesses that fasten my dependency on Him, but also for His strength to fight the urge to let those weaknesses define me. Other days, days like yesterday, the enemy rolls in like thick fog, clouding over any light of this truth.
And, for a time, the enemy “wins.” I feel defeated.
In my defeat, I weep at the feet of my Savior, praying that He would wash over my sin, make me new with His mercy, and help me begin again. Help me keep walking forward. Even though I know Christ died for this grace to be freely mine, I doubt, feeling like there will be consequences for such foolishness.
I’ll have to pay. God’s blessings simply can’t be for me anymore.

But then I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
I get off work today to receive a text from one of my best friends and future roommates that we had found an apartment. This has been an unexpected burden to bear the past several weeks after our original housing arrangements fell through.
After weeks of searching and no openings, God opened a literal door. The door to our new home. The door to a place that meets our unique needs in specific ways.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
After sending in applications and payments, I spend the afternoon with my best friend from Whidbey. She surprised me with a date, very much like The Bachelor, she added. We went to the beach and flew $1.50 Barbie and Cinderella kites till the wind turned our faces red and our hair into a mess.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”
We then drove to a little cafe to warm up over hot chocolate. Not only did our friend who worked there give us a discount on our drinks, but she brought us out a scone. For free. I’m telling you, God knew I didn’t have money to spend. He peeked at my bank account with me.
I hear Him whisper, “My grace.”

God’s grace is like the most perfect surprise party you could ever dream to receive.
After what feels like the billionth time I’ve failed Him, He reminds me,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
Grace is the very gift of God. Unable to be earned and impossible to drive away.
My sin, my foolishness, my unfaithfulness, my lack of discipline, cannot stop God’s grace. Which means my works, though works and growth is to be praised and is God’s mercy through sanctification, cannot earn God’s grace.
It is His gift to give and ours to receive. With humbleness, thankfulness, and an outpour of praise.

So, humble yourself. Repent. Walk in the forgiveness and freedom of God’s grace. And be surprised with what He will do in you and for you.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your mercy, which is new with every sunrise. You are God above the failings of my life, and You choose to not only work in spite of them, but also in light of them. Thank You for singing over me with Your unfailing love, reminding me of the joy and freedom that is to be found when I walk humbly in Your grace.

And thank You for surprise parties like the one You threw me today.
I was, indeed, surprised.

Finding Grace in a Clean Room

 

Yesterday, my sister showed me what it looks like to love like Jesus loved.

I pray that the Lord will continually keep my heart soft toward my sister. Some days it shows. Some days…not so much. And even after the “not so much” days, my sister gives me glimpses of what it means to have a child-like heart. One that forgets mistakes and still pursues love.
This is one of the many examples of that heart.

“Dear Mary, I want you to know what a blessing you are! You have such a soft, tender spirit, always thinking of how you can bless others, so I wanted to bless you! Faith”

As I read the words colorfully printed on the dry erase board, I was amazed. Stunned. This girl, after all she’s seen of me, is able to say that I have a “soft, tender spirit, always thinking of how (I) can bless others.”
Conviction hits me, but it feels good. It cuts deep, but it is seasoned with grace and inspiration.
She calls out from her room,
“Open your door!”
I open my door and find that my room is clean. Bed made. Blanket folded. Clothes hung up. Counter organized.
This kind of act reveals Christ’s love at work in my sister’s heart, and reveals how I need that same love to work in my heart like it is working in hers.
I’m instantly reminded of 1 Corinthians 13. The love chapter. Among the list of attributes that love is clothed in, I’m drawn to one in particular
Love “keeps no record of wrongs.”
My sister showed me that.

I have a record of wrongs. It’s a long list, my friends. It’s a list I try to keep neatly tucked away where no one can see. But my sister has seen it. I wish she hadn’t. I wish that I could have prevented so many of those wrongs from ever happening.
But, my sister reminded me that love, even upon seeing the endless list of my wrongs, keeps no record of it. Chooses to forget it. Just like God.

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

I am thankful that the Lord reveals Himself to me in my sister. His unconditional grace can be seen in the tasks that seem small, but unveil a much greater picture.
God has seen my list of wrongs. Not one of them is hidden from Him. And yet, He chooses to forget them. Forgive them.
My heart is a messy room. Clothes lying on the floor, bed unmade, dust gathering on the shelves. But God, rich in grace, surprises me. I open the door to see that my room, my heart, is clean.

Now, we’re still sisters. Our rooms get a little messy sometimes.
But I’m thankful that God’s grace is the perfect cleaner-upper.
And I’m thankful that He’s taught my sister to be a cleaner-upper, not only around the house, but around our hearts.

When God Meets You In a Lavender Field

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“And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t He more surely care for you?” Matthew 6:30

My best friend decided to take me on a “filed trip” today.
Little did she know that God had divinely appointed that “field trip” to speak comfort to my soul.
We hopped in the car and began driving. She drove us along West Beach, up the hill, past the strawberry fields where I used to spend my summers, until we finally reached our destination. My heart leaped with joy as I saw the sign up ahead that read, “Lavender Wind Farm.”
This girl, she knows me.

We spent the afternoon with our friend strolling through the lavender farm, soaking it all in. Breathing in the heavenly fragrance. Delighting our eyes with spectacular color and beauty.
And the Lord met me there today.
I have been drawn to the wonder of creation, more so than ever this summer. And I believe this shift in thought, this unexpected awe, has been the Lord’s faithful answer to my prayer.
I left school with uneasiness weighing heavily upon my heart, leaving me anxious about returning home. It felt difficult to uproot myself from a place I had spent the last two years in. It was where the most significant growth in my life had occurred. It was where the joy of deep friendships were rooted. It was where the support of my church family was established. My life felt rich in meaning there, full of purpose and spirit.
Leaving that behind felt a little hard.
Going back felt like returning to the old me, the worst of me, the me that disappointed. Struggles that found themselves far behind me in California always seemed to reemerge when I found myself at home.
Impatience.
Selfishness.
Lack of discipline.
Absence of faith.
I have been praying that the Lord would change my heart and attitude. And slowly, He has begun to.
Now, I’m not a finished canvas. I can still count plenty of moments where the qualities mentioned in that list get the best of me. However, the Lord is faithful to work in us when we simply come to Him with the desire to be changed by His grace. That’s all He asks. If we come to Him with willing hearts, open and ready for transformation, He is sure to bring it about.

 “May the God of peace Himself make you entirely pure and devoted to God; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept strong and blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes back again. God, who called you to become His child, will do all this for you, just as He promised.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

You may ask, what does this have to do with lavender? I’m brought back to Matthew 6. When we gaze upon the elegance of these flowers, do they not magnify God’s providence? The Lord is faithful to nurture the blossoming beauties of this earth, clothing them in splendor and glory. He provides the rain to make them sprout and the sun to sustain them as they grow.
How much more does our Heavenly Father love His children?
If He is faithful to do all this for flowers, which are here in summer’s season and gone by the chill of winter, how much more faithful is He to us?
As I beheld the treasure that stood tall and marvelous before me, I was filled with hope.
I am even more cared for by my Maker than some of His finest masterpieces. When life presents challenges, hope can be found in His faithfulness.
Faithful to be present in all things.
To bring peace in the midst of uncertainty.
To breathe life into the tired soul.
To transform even what seems to be the most calloused heart.
To make me look more like Him, which is far more splendid than even the loveliest of flowers.

And that, my friends, is true joy.
Unwavering joy among every season of life.