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

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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

In the Palm of His Hand

Last Sunday, after leaving our church’s morning gathering, I found myself driving towards Faro with little desire to go home. The sun shone brightly above me, resisting the scattered clouds’ attempts to squelch its warmth, as occasional gusts of wind orchestrated their pearly procession across the sky. Denny had been away since the Tuesday prior, and the idea of returning to an empty house was unappealing.

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I decided to make my way to a relatively new eatery I’ve been wanting to try called The Woods. Right in the center of the city, across from the marina, it has a rooftop terrace – the perfect place to enjoy a light meal, relax, people watch, and catch some rays on this gorgeous day.

Finding my way to a small table with a fabulous view, I ordered one of their huge salads and a fresh fruit and veggie juice, and gazed out at my surroundings. The wind had picked up a bit, and I had to keep my elbows propped firmly on my recycled paper placemat, to prevent it from being whisked away.

It was then that it caught my eye, as it always does: the stork’s nest in the roundabout.

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I should tell you that the White Stork is quite common in the Algarve region of Portugal, making its home here every Spring, after spending the winter season in Central Africa. A monogamous bird, it returns to the same location year after year, to mate with its lifelong companion.

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Photo credit: Whitney Hurst

 

Together, they build their massive nests, measuring one to three meters in width, in the most precarious of places: from chimneys to church steeples, bell towers and street light poles. Rendering this feat even more amazing is their meter-tall (3.5 foot) height and their wingspan of two meters (nearly 7 feet)! It’s as if they intentionally choose to defy all odds, raising their family, quite literally, “on the edge.”

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As I dug into my salad, the stork in the roundabout, (alone in its nest, clearly awaiting its mate’s return), stood firmly on its long, spindly legs, facing the marina. The wind rose playfully to the challenge, delivering a forceful gust that caused the banner below the nest to swell brusquely. Mr. Stork’s fellow fowl glided gracefully through the air above him, but he chose instead to stand his ground, unfaltering.

I pondered this great mystery: a bird so large, with such long, thin legs, somehow feeling safe nesting atop a street light’s pole, high above the ground, fully exposed to the blasts of wind hurled its way by an unmerciful sea. And as I watched him standing there unfazed by the tempest, I recognized something familiar in the shape of this particular lamppost and the resting place of that nest. It was as if it were being held in the palm of an immense hand.

I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41: 9-10

How often are we called by this God, who created the universe so vast and infinitely amazing, to “build our nest” in the most unlikely of places? And immediately we begin to calculate our likelihood of success or the multiple reasons why this choice would not make sense: we’re too “big” for that, our “wingspan” is too wide, the location’s unduly precarious, the “height” too challenging, our “legs” aren’t sturdy enough to withstand the wind and exposure to the elements. And raising children there? Let’s not even think about it!

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Photo credit: Whitney Hurst

What we fail to see is the most obvious marvel of all. When we obey His voice, He holds us in the palm of His hand. And all those scary bits that we factor in? They will never, ever compare to the beauty of resting in the Father’s embrace.

Can a mother forget the baby
    who is nursing at her breast?
Can she stop having tender love
    for the child who was born to her?
She might forget her child.
    But I will not forget you.
I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Isaiah 29:15-16

So as God lovingly presents us with new challenges, beckons us to greater heights, and chooses us for tasks that threaten to dismay us, let us make an essential choice. Sure, we can focus on all that stands to defeat us. But He has spoken promises over us that no man nor foe can undo.

I have not rejected you.

I am with you.

I am your God.

I will strengthen you, help you, uphold you.

I will not forget you.

I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

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Teach me, Lord, to trust and obey;

to rest securely in the One who breathes life into me;

for where better to build my house, than in the palm of Your mighty hand?

The Path of Surrender

God has led me down the path of surrender this summer. Yet again.

IMG_20170920_133228The beauty of traveling this road is that I never walk it alone.
The Master is always before me to show the way, beside me to encourage, behind me to push a bit,
above me to protect.
His love for me runs so deep
that I cannot fathom it.
It overwhelms me.
His river of life – now running
like a torrent
that threatens
to sweep me away with its power,
now as a babbling brook that whispers, igniting my senses –
is constant,
never leaving
me dry.
I may wander off at times, but my God is a jealous pursuer.

Surrender. Yes.

It’s that place I so often find myself called to these days, as I sit before Him. Just when I think that its well has been sufficiently dredged, I find Him beckoning me once again. “Let’s dig this a little deeper,” He whispers, as He envelopes me in His love.

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And there, in my Lord’s presence, I am undone. How can I say no to the One who breathes new life into my nostrils with each dawning day? The Father who ordered my steps long before I was even a dream in my parents’ heart (or maybe a surprise, already in the womb)?

Over the past years, He has asked me many questions, and each inquiry implores much more than a simple reply.

Would you lay down your life for me? Allow your husband to die for me?
Lose your children for the sake of my Kingdom? 

Would you abandon all that is now your normal life – to go, to do my bidding – whatever that might be?

Each requisition has been met with much meditation on my part.
Quieting of the mind. Searching of the heart. Baring of the soul.
Wrestling with my own desires.

And then surrender. Yes.

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How could I respond with anything less?
His plans for me are good. He desires for me to prosper. His path holds no harm for me.
It brims with hope. It gives me a future.
It is life itself.

A few days ago, Denny and I had an interesting experience. In the mid-afternoon, while folding laundry upstairs, through our back window I noticed heavy, billowing smoke rising in the distance. Behind our house, there are about ten kilometers (just over six miles) of pine forest that run to the ocean, with a few houses scattered in between. The woods were clearly on fire.

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We watched with interest and then concern, as the wind picked up, blowing the blaze in the direction of our house. The sound of sirens filled the air, while fire helicopters began to invade the sky, dumping massive buckets of water from the nearby Atlantic on the angry flames. Our upper balcony gave us the perfect vantage point, and it all felt surreal.

IMG_0547Not being prone to panic, we observed, monitoring the wildfire’s progress carefully. Denny videoed and took photos. We prayed and rallied our praying friends and family through social media, crying out to Jesus to rebuke the wind, as in Mark 4:39:

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
“Quiet! Be still!”
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

 

IMG_0537We implored our God to stop the advance of the fire, as it continued to make its way towards our property.

The wind died down, but the flames were already fairly close to our home. We decided it would be best to make preparations, should we need to evacuate. I moved from room to room of our house, scanning the contents to decide what I wanted to take with me should we have to flee – should all the rest be consumed in the rogue.

In reality, I was pleased to discover that there wasn’t much I felt I needed. A few handmade gifts from our kids or friends, that held special meaning, some photos, the delicious goodies we’d recently brought back from Italy.

I realized that, at the end of the day, I would have been fine with leaving almost all of it behind – to have piled into our motorhome with Denny and our dogs, and those few things we need to survive, firing up our old Fiat Punto to take along, as well.

We loaded a few boxes and some food into our home on wheels, pulled the car out our front gate, and felt we’d be ready to leave, if necessary.

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In my heart, there was a certain excitement, as well. I said, “God, here we are. You gave us this house and land to rent; this motorhome, this car to own. It’s all yours. If you still want us here, as we believe you do, stop this fire now. But if this is your way of showing us that our time in this place is up, then so be it. I’m ready to go where you want us to go; to do what you want us to do, wherever you desire.”

The advance of the wildfire was halted four hours after it began, within a few kilometers  (just a couple miles) of our yard. It took 165 firefighters – to whom we’re very grateful, 45 fire vehicles on the ground, and four fire helicopters, to dominate it. But none could have stopped it, had it not been the desire of our God. He is Lord of all the elements – of the earth and the sky.

Surrender. Yes.

As I reflect on these last days, I know I will continue to choose it. It’s a narrow path, which few care (or dare) to travel – often treacherous, seldom simple. I am well aware that the grooves in the compact dirt that delineate it have been left by those who’ve gone before me – testimonies of how worthy our God is that we should renounce all that we consider our own for the sake of His Kingdom.

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O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up, you are still with me!
– Psalm 139:1-18



Enduring through the Heat

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In mid-November, when we returned from our whirlwind month of travels to Germany and the USA, we found our garden transformed. The bounty of Autumn rains and the somewhat cooler temperatures had caused crunchy, brown grass to give way to gently rolling hills of bright green clover. Our thirty plus citrus trees were heavily laden with wonderfully scented fruit, their branches bowing to the earth under the weight of such a profuse harvest. It was a sight to behold.

What a pleasure it was to come home from weeks of stimulating meetings, wild celebrations with family and friends, intense speaking engagements and visiting, to the quiet of our yard. I could almost hear the Father calling my name: to come and walk with Him, to disconnect from that frenetic pace, and pause to breathe in life, to reflect.

As I strolled around, moving from tree to tree to relish each one’s beauty and inspect its produce, I came upon something quite unexpected. A tree whose branches were so incredibly full, just brimming with tangerines that glistened in the sunlight… and sadly, beneath its outstretched arms, lay an almost equal quantity of fallen fruit. Fading, decaying, teeming with insects.

My first instinct was to save the fallen fruit. I began to pick up tangerines one at a time, inspecting them to see if any were still good, collecting those we might still eat. As I did this, my mind drifted to Luke chapter 10, verse two – one that’s so often associated with harvesting:

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Continuing my gathering, I began to pray: to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers. Not to the fields of our orchard but to those here in Portugal, in Faro. We have been praying for this for so long now, Denny and I. Pleading and waiting for others to come join us in reaching out to this city, beloved of God. I believe the harvest is plentiful in this place. And I won’t stop crying out for workmen and women to come bring it in.

My musings drifted to the possible reason for so much fruit to have fallen to the ground this early in the season. I’ve discovered that the same natural laws and principles that govern our practical life, having themselves been established by God, often mirror significant spiritual principles.

We’d had an extremely hot summer this past year, with temperatures hovering in the mid to upper nineties most days, and generally always above the average highs for this season. And, as always, it had been dry. Looking back further still, our winter had been very mild, even warm at times, and precipitation had been minimal. Season upon season of harsh and unusual conditions… and here was the result in front of me, rotting on the ground.

I felt like God was speaking to me about perseverance… a recurring theme in my meditations these days. Hmmm. Do you ever experience what feels like scorching heat because of circumstances in your life? Day in and day out, the temperature doesn’t seem to let up. The ground beneath your feet feels incredibly dry and hard. And there’s no refreshment to be found, no soothing. Just rock hard reality.

I have experienced this quite often. Yet what is the wisdom that my God has to share about these times in my life, in your life?

Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass;
its flower falls, and its beauty perishes.
So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1: 11-12

When it comes right down to it – to that place where the rubber meets the road – I’m not interested in an earthly crown, nor of the riches this world has to offer. When Jesus bids me to follow him through trials and suffering, I want my eyes to remain on Him alone, and on that crown of life that He has promised to those who love Him. He is my treasure.

So, as I set my gaze on the Father, I will not allow the blistering heat that I feel on my back nor the ardent thirst from my parched throat to cause me to lose heart. I can trust in Him… and as I do, He will not allow the precious fruit that adorns my life to fall to the ground and perish. His promise to me in Jeremiah 17:7-8 is this:

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But blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. 

They will be like a tree
planted by the water
that sends out its roots
by the stream. 

It does not fear
when heat comes;
its leaves are always green. 

It has no worries
in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

 

 

May my confidence always be in you, my God! I have no need to fear when the heat comes, nor to worry in years of drought. By your Spirit, you will keep the leaves of my life green and I will never cease to bear fruit! So be it.

You Alone

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Photo by Whitney Rae Hurst

No matter how deeply
I may be cut
I will still bleed hope

These veins
though weary
are daily refreshed
by the One
who gently courses
along their pathways:

Red with passion
cleansing
releasing
convicting
discerning
restoring
igniting

And though
the turns of this world
drip
drip
drip
like acid
on my heart’s chambers

You speak:
“I am”
“Be still”
“It is finished”
And realms unseen
fall to their knees

I am desperate
for you
for you alone