The Anchor for My Soul

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Sometimes we feel like a boat on dry ground. We know our purpose is to sail, yet the tide has gone out and we’re unable to float. We feel trapped, off kilter, abandoned, alone.

I’m so grateful that my life isn’t based on emotions which, while beautiful, cannot be trusted—leading us to soar over mountaintops one moment, and precipitate down pathways of doom in the next.

With Jesus as my rock, I can see beauty in the midst of desolation; I know He is the Master of the Sea, and the tide will come in again in due time. In His time.

And while I may be momentarily stranded, I still have my landing place in Him. The ground beneath this vessel’s often creaking boards is solid and unmovable.

That sweet, salty aroma in the air reminds me of His presence – ever within my reach, moved by the cry on my lips.

I want to be unshakeable, more like my Father every day.

Teach me, Lord…

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My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress,

I will never be shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19

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Your Secret Garden

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I feel a tender breeze caress my cheek
as you gently whisper in my ear,
“Come away with me to deeper places!”

I sense the still coolness in the sacred well
that you’ve been digging within me as decades pass,
where holy, life-giving waters dwell.

You transform my pain into beauty, collecting every tear,
returning them to me as so many wild flowers
swaying in the wind on that verdant hillside
where you wait for me.

Selah

The Grit of Resurrection

Far from the fluffiness of bunnies and chicks, and the delicate pastel shades of tulips often seen as symbols of Easter, what we celebrate today is the grittiest, most radical event in the history of mankind. Jesus Christ willingly gave His life for each one of us, was brutally battered, carried the weight of all our failings and darkest intentions, allowing Himself to be humiliated and nailed to a cross. And then, so incredibly, he kicked evil and death in the face, returning to life from the depths of hell – for me, for you. And every day, we who know Him, experience the repercussions of that unparalleled victory.

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Today, I’ve been reflecting on the Son of God and the grit He demonstrated. On the loneliness of a death that even His most intimate followers clearly misunderstood. And the rawness of His resurrection. There were no crowds gathered expectantly, cheering Him on when he reappeared on this earth—so similar in its humility to the moment he was born. It was never about a grandiose display of glory, though it rightfully could have been. Christ knew what He had done, and He simply returned to those who had walked with Him, and declared it.

I long for a deeper revelation of what was accomplished on that day, so long ago. I know the depths of it are so much more profound than what I have thus far grasped. If I truly understood it in all its beauty, I’m quite sure I would never question Him again—never doubt His ability to accomplish all that He has promised.

I meditate on that crazy-extravagant verse, that so blows my mind:

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.
And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead,
He will give life to your mortal bodies
by this same Spirit living within you. 
Romans 6:10-11

JUST as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to our bodies! In that same way that the Father tore free death’s cold fingers that gripped His Son, He will restore life to us—even when the grave itself seems to be our most persistent stalker.

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My Lord Jesus, show me the fullness of your resurrection victory!

 

Hoping Against Hope

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Ninety-nine point nine days of the week, I choose hope.

During these past several decades of living by faith in a God who is a good and faithful Father, and has continually proven Himself so, I have come to know I can have full confidence in Him. He is who He says He is, and He will do all that He has promised, no matter how my circumstances may appear.

But today, as I mark thirty days spent mostly in bed, too weak and exhausted to leave our house and land (except for a couple doctor’s visits), I’m having one of those rare days in which despair keeps tugging at my shirt-tails, whispering in my ear.

I’ve had those brief periods of feeling a bit better – yesterday I was able to get out in the sunshine and weed a bit of the garden for half an hour – but it’s been impossible to make any plans that involve going anywhere or exerting sustained energy.

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Still, as strange as it may sound to you, there is an odd beauty in the rawness that overwhelms me. It’s difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced suffering over long periods of time, yet I often return to meditate on this mystery. When we allow ourselves to feel it, right there in the midst of our deepest pain and darkest despair, there is an ache – a yearning for our God and that perfectly intimate relationship with Him – that is so profoundly felt.

That relationship that I was created for. That you were created for.

Yet throughout our days, we frantically fill the yawning void within us with busyness, with human relationships, with “stuff” that briefly gratifies, with white noise. We don’t want to feel the depths of the ache. And how incredibly deep it is!

When I have these days where I am at the end of myself, and no “feeling of hope” rises up within me; when all my fight is spent and my little box of “secrets to coping” is empty, that mystery comes alive. Like a wound whose scab has been picked away, the sheer sting of it exposes my nakedness.

I am nothing without Jesus.

And though many will declare healing and wholeness over me, and I too will not abandon my hope in the One who has promised, there is a beauty in this very raw place.

Have you ever felt it?

I think about Abraham.
“In hope, against hope, he believed…” (Romans 4:18)
“Without becoming weak in faith, he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead…” (Romans 4:19)

When we examine our circumstances – the hopelessness of our situation, the very appearance of death where the Father has proclaimed life – it is there that we discover a hope that defies explanation. A hope that, against all probability, is grounded in confidence in His divine promise.

So today, as I feel the ache in my soul, I am grateful. For when I sink to the depths of my own brokenness, it is there that I encounter Jesus in a way that those whose lives flow along quite smoothly may never experience. To me, it is a wonderful grace – a mysterious gift that continues to transform me.

Awesome are His ways and I will never stop praising Him.

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Goodbye Ole Girl!

Yesterday, after over eight years in a deeply intimate relationship, I said goodbye to our old motorhome.

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If you know me well,
you’ve probably noticed
that I’m not the overly sentimental type
when it comes to

material things.

While I deeply cherish
all the beauty
(and the challenges!)
of what has been
and has contributed
to making me
who I am,
I’m more about living
in the now
and looking forward
with expectation.

I love seeing
all that God is doing
in and through me
and those around me,
hearing His heart,
and stepping
into new adventures
with Him.

But sometimes it is good to stop and reflect.

About ten years ago, Denny first started talking about the idea of us getting a motorhome – having a home base in the south of Portugal, yet also traveling around to encourage, equip, and inspire others in Southern Europe to do what we’ve been doing together these past decades – passionately loving and serving Jesus, using our gifts in the arts and creating community to share Him with others and disciple them.

I was kind of uncertain about this motorhome idea at first, and thought it would surely be something for much further down the road.

But then, through a series of events, conversations, and promptings of God’s Spirit, it became evident that God was calling us to take this step much sooner than anticipated. And in the end of November 2010, we bought this big baby and set out on a course that has forever changed our lives.

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It has been so amazing for me to discover that, although I never grew up going camping nor doing a lot of traveling, never had visited other countries as a child nor spoken another language, this is exactly the life I was created for. I feel so fully alive every time we set out on the road in our motorhome, heading to locations near and far – not because it satisfies my wild and adventurous spirit, but because God GAVE ME that spirit for this very purpose – for HIS purpose! It’s been incredible to realize that all my life, through so many little things, He was preparing me for this.

And it was in this old 1988 Frankia motorhome, at the age of 47, that I first made that beautiful discovery.

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So many trips around Portugal and Spain, and five trans-European journeys as far as Germany or Poland and back, visiting people everywhere in between! Countless meals shared with family and friends at that small table; sleeps in parks, parking areas, and along the side of the road (but only twice in an actual campground)!

We slept as many as eight people in there once (two were children); had birthday parties and dinners with guests sitting on chairs, stools, and beds, laughing and enjoying conversation. And Denny and I have spent almost every night in that ole girl over all these years. I have loved knowing we were always ready to go, and that most of what we needed materially at any given moment was already in that 7-meter-long, 24-foot space.

I’m so grateful for all we’ve lived in this old motorhome… and incredibly thankful for the newer one that Denny is driving down to the Algarve as I write.

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So, let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to always be ready to step into whatever God is leading you in. It may feel scary or foolish, and go totally against the grain, but if the Father is guiding you, you can trust Him. And you will surely discover He’s been preparing you all along for a time like this.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Recognizing God’s Fingerprint

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Have you ever felt like a palm tree in an orange grove?

I spent most of my childhood and adolescence feeling that way. I never quite seemed to fit in and generally felt misunderstood by those around me. And while loneliness was often my companion, I didn’t necessarily want to sacrifice my uniqueness in order to “blend.”

It was only through my relationship with Jesus that I came to understand and even embrace that those qualities and characteristics that differentiate me from everyone else around me are an amazing gift. I may often be that palm tree in the orange grove, but my God enables me to stand strong, to be who He asks me to be; to move in obedience to Him rather than submitting to the steady flow of life’s rushing stream.

I love that our God is so infinitely creative as to have made every person a unique and awesome reflection of Himself. Through everyone I meet, whether they are already walking with Him or not, I can experience a bit more of the Father’s character. So rather than looking for what makes us the same, I am challenged to recognize God’s distinct fingerprint – the beautiful way that He expressed Himself when He created each one of us.

For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book
and ordained for me before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

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Redeemer of All Things

Sometimes, in the wake of life’s circumstances, we find ourselves feeling hollow, empty, or burnt – as if nothing good could possibly come from what we’ve experienced.

Yet our God is a redeemer of ALL things.

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Every time I walk past this tree, it serves to remind me that when we are clinging to the Father and putting our trust in Him, life will always emerge from death and beauty will rise from our ashes.

He alone can take what was meant for our destruction and revive it with His glorious breath of hope and victory.

In our darkest hour, He is the light. And nothing can stop those tender shoots from springing forth.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11

Created with a Purpose

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There is just something about softly rolling fields of clover beneath olive trees, with the sun breaking through, that always makes me happy. So I stop and drink it in… that peace and contentment that the Creator gives, like a soft embrace or a sweet whisper in my ear.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you;
before you were born, I set you apart.”

– Jeremiah 1:5

As all of creation, you too were made with a purpose.
You were set apart. You are precious and He knows you.

When the Heart Is Sick

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Daily
I gaze
from the window of my captivity
at the soft greenness of your treetops.

Longing
for a closer glimpse,
for the pungent scent of pine
that lingers along your rich, red pathways.

These feet still remember
the unevenness of your terrain
the sting of thorns
mercilessly grasping at their flesh.

And I eagerly yearn
to hear your whisper
to sense the crisp crunch
of your carpet beneath my feet.

Wait for me.
Though I know not when, we will meet again.

 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

Promises Like Almond Branches

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I’ve been reflecting on promises quite a bit these days. Not just any promises, but God’s promises. And, well, to be honest it hasn’t been days, nor even weeks. It’s been months… which have gradually added up to a few years.

You see, there is this mystery about the Father’s promises – the ones He makes to us very personally. Not the “I will never leave you nor forsake you” kind (though equally mind-blowing!), but rather the very specific, “I’m going to do this or that in your life” variety.

And whenever I think of sitting down and writing about what I’ve been learning, I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Because there is still so much I have yet to grasp, and it just feels a bit beyond my reach. So I wait. And continue to reflect.

Today I decided that maybe part of the deeper revelation I’m looking for will actually come through documenting my meanderings. You know how sometimes retracing your steps leads to interesting discoveries of things you’d missed along the way?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (and kudos to you if you’re still with me, as I haven’t been the most faithful writer in recent times), you may have noticed that God speaks to me a whole lot through imagery, and in particular, through His creation. All that He spoke into being for our pleasure represents unique aspects of His character and, if we’re attentive, can teach us foundational principles that reflect the very essence of His being. What a gift!

Denny and I have the great privilege of living on a piece of land that hosts eleven different kinds of mature fruit trees: orange, tangerine, lemon, plum, pomegranate, loquat, fig, banana, carob, almond, and olive. As I have been observing them in their various seasons of life, I can’t help but notice how they mirror the process that we often walk through from the moment God speaks a promise to us to the point of its fruition.

The most significant of these is the almond, and it’s the first of the Algarve region’s fruit bearing trees to awaken from its wintry slumber. As early as late January, a mantle of white and pink blossoms begin to adorn its dark branches, a feast for the eyes of a warm weather lover such as myself.

1656204_10152201738161798_2000885261_nThe delicate flowers are a sweet reminder that there is yet hope. They assure me that, although certain promises whispered to me in times long past may appear to have been forgotten, they are merely dormant, at rest, waiting for their moment of glorious awakening.

fullsizeoutput_eccBy March, the almond tree is bursting with green, furry fruit nestled among its array of slender, shiny leaves. But don’t let all that hyper production fool you… those buzzards will take their sweet ole time ripening! Our plum tree flowers in April and yields delicious fruit by July.

IMG_20171003_192831Mr. Almond, however, matures ever so gradually, its hull turning a crispier brown in late August to early September, slowly cracking open and falling away to reveal that precious nut. And only as the last rays of summer light upon our skin, is he ready to be harvested and eaten.

Each year, as I observe the almond tree’s long and tedious process from precocious blossom to mature fruit, I reflect over and over upon that conversation between God and the prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly,
for I am watching  to see that my word is fulfilled.”
Jeremiah 1:11-12

God, the giver of language itself, actually used a curious play on words here, as the Hebrew word for “almond” – shaked – also means “to watch”. In showing Jeremiah the almond branch, the Father assured him that He was watching over His promise to make it happen, no matter how much time might pass, or how deeply Jeremiah might feel as if he’d been forgotten.

What do you see?

This biblical analogy of the almond branch creates such a vivid picture for me. Every January or early February, when I’ve just about had it with cold, dreary, damp weather (both inside and out, as Southern Portuguese homes are not very well insulated nor heated), and I’m struggling to see what God has promised, they begin to make their appearance. Those almond blossoms – a precious reminder.

My God has not forgotten me, nor His words of promise to me! He is watching over them, and He will fulfill them. Though I pass through seasons of apparent darkness, where life feels barren, as if it’s all but come to a halt, it is then that He is perfecting His very word within me. He is giving rest, strengthening my root systems, and storing up nourishment for the season to come – the one that will be rich with pouring out, with bearing tender fruit and patiently enduring as it matures.

fullsizeoutput_f03And although some promises declared long ago continue to hold their vigil, observing the passing of yet another winter season followed by the new birth of spring and summer’s fruitfulness, still longing to be fulfilled – I will not grow weary of trusting, of expecting and hoping in my Father.

He is not only the God of great promises, but also the Lord of the seasons. In His timelessness, all things mature to perfection. I need only to adjust my vision, to behold what He’s envisioning, to see correctly.

So, as I wait, I choose to hope against all hope, strengthened in faith in the One who has the power to do all that He has promised!

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead
—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21