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.

Extraordinary Transformation in an Ordinary Life

I tend to find joy in really simple things.
Tea.
Park benches.
Saturday Farmer’s Markets.
Watching Hallmark movies with my family.
Sunday morning church in my hometown.
Pretty ordinary things, really.

And somewhere along the line I started feeling guilty about it.

Was I missing out on “life-changing experiences”?
Was I living boldly enough for Christ?
Should I be dreaming bigger?

For a girl who is anxious enough on her own, these thoughts significantly added to my anxiety.
I never felt like I could truly delight in the ordinariness of life because I felt like I should have been doing something bigger, bolder, newer, and more courageous for Christ, in order to be transformed by Him.

But then, I was assigned a book to read in my Theology II class, a book that felt like it was tailored just for me.
Good News for Anxious Christians
I’m anxious. I need good news. I like this book.
Each chapter digs deep to get to the heart of ideas that some Christians tend to adopt as “good” and “healthy,” but they often leave us feeling, well…more anxious.
One of the ideas that the book addresses is how our consumerist culture tells us that we constantly need to be “transformed” through new experiences. The newest. The latest. The greatest. You know, the life-changing, faith-growing, all-emotional, heart-transforming experiences.
But Phillip Cary, author of Good News for Anxious Christians, challenges that idea by reminding us that our faith is not based on experiences.
His words on the subject were like cool waters rushing over the dried up desert of my anxious soul.

“What faith gives us is Jesus Christ….the Christian life is our life in Christ as well as Christ’s life in us…And now, yes, you have a whole life to live with Christ, our Bridegroom, and it will have to be different from the old life. It may not look so different at first. But you’re in this for the long haul-all the way to life eternal- so what you need is not a bunch of great new experiences, but a whole lifetime that grows out of the newness of Christ, like a mighty tree growing from its seed or a house built on a firm foundation. The process of growth and building is long and slow, and it’s hard work: it’s life’s work, not an experience. It’s not anything that can happen in one moment or one meeting or one experience.”

Isn’t it refreshing to be reminded that your growth as a Christian is not based on a continuation of new experiences? That growth comes from being renewed by the newness of Christ throughout your whole life, and that this can happen while you’re daily living what seems to be an ordinary life in the eyes of society?
But, here is the beauty and strength of ordinariness,
It’s lasting.
It’s a long-haul kind of thing.
It’s not a moment, or a fleeting high, but the process of a lifetime.
And it is in the process where Christ renews and transforms us.
And remember, your initial, ultimate transformation in Christ has already happened and it cannot be undone or lost.
Cary says,
“If Christ is in you, the greatest transformation of all has already taken place: you are born again into eternal life and you have become a new creation in Him, a new human being, united with Christ in a kind of spiritual marriage, having become one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17), together with all His people.”

And just like that *snaps fingers* my anxiety fled and peace flooded my soul once again.
I have been transformed. I am a new creation. And I am continually being renewed by the newness of Christ as I pursue Him and His glory in daily, enduring habits. Habits to choose life, to love God with my whole self, heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love His people.
And this doesn’t have to be found in an experience.
But in my ordinary life.

An ordinary life that happens to include
Tea.
Park benches.
Saturday Farmer’s Markets.
Watching Hallmark movies with my family.
And Sunday morning church in my hometown.

Pretty ordinary things, really.

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.