My Delight, My Song

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Photo by Nicolás Torres – http://www.jnicolastorres.com

My hunger for you is insatiable
Ever before me, like a whisper on my tongue
And you hear it, even before it is given utterance

Though my heart is prone to wander
Easily distracted, struggling to focus
Your thunderous voice breaks through

Sharp as an arrow
Yet tender as the touch of a child
Surrounding me, filling me with rapture

Where can I run from your presence?
Light that pierces my darkness
Joy flooding my parched soul

Your love is better than life itself
My every cell celebrates your goodness
Praise you, Jesus, forever and ever!

Inspired by my awesome God through Psalms 63 and 139, the Bible

 

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

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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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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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

When Fear Comes Knocking

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There’s an intruder who’s been coming around the past couple weeks, knocking insistently at my door. I knew him well in my younger and less experienced days, when I would often open at his bidding. I’d invite him in, entertaining him under the guise of being cautious, concerned or more organized. And truly, those are all noble sentiments and endeavors. Yet more often than not, I’d find myself giving him free run and reign of my mind and heart. And before I knew what had hit me, he would rob me of all peace: heart racing, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d swallowed a brick; tension rising and temples beginning to throb.

Fear. It’s one of the enemy of our soul’s favorite playmates.

As I move on in years (just past the half century mark, as a matter of fact) and have faced many a challenge that has stretched me far beyond my own capacities, I’ve learned a thing or two about fear.

No matter how tenderly or fervently he knocks, I can choose not to open. And I have become cognizant of his many disguises and tactics. While perceiving fear’s presence and desire to bust in and take over isn’t necessarily sufficient in warding him off, it is most certainly the first step. When I recognize what’s going on before I’ve been overwhelmed, I can choose to lean into the One who has my back, the God who knows me intimately – shortcomings and all.

Each time I give heed, as fear opens his mouth and whispers in my ear, I start focusing on all those things that feel out of control… or over which I really have no control. My mind begins to ponder how I can escape them, dominate them or whip them into submission. And, as my breathing becomes labored and suffocation sets in, who is at the center of it all? Me, of course.

My sufficiency.
My ability.
My strength.
My courage.
My reputation.

My failings.
My weaknesses.
My lack.
My brokenness.
My suffering.

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precious
God, persistently patient Father,
this day,
every moment,
I turn my eyes to you.
When my walls feel like they
are crumbling down,
You
are my sufficiency,
my ability.

When my legs feel too weak for me to stand upon, and my strength and courage are sorely fading, you are my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. You are the safe place that I can run into.

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How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
Psalm 119: 103-105

When I’m feeling confused and overtaken by fear, God’s Word is both my nourishment and my weapon. It provides me with the truth that I need to dispel the darkness, while skillfully cutting through it like a honed, carbon steel blade. It not only speaks wisdom to my heart, but it packs a powerful punch: accomplishing its purpose, tearing down lies, shining light in the darkness. His Word is living, and is as life-changing today as it was before it was ever spoken.

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Fear, take your knocking fingers elsewhere. I will not be opening up to you today. I will instead put my trust in the One who gave his Son for my redemption. And with a heart of thanksgiving, I will leave my worries at the feet of my God, exchanging them for his precious peace. The peace that guards my very heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, 
which transcends all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

 

When you Plant and Others Reap the Harvest

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I was back out there weeding our fruit and vegetable garden the other day, and so pleased to see little baseball-sized melons coming in among the vines. They had been planted last Spring, along with the rest of our garden, by our friend Fábio. I watered and nurtured them as they grew, and then the friends who stayed at our house from June through August faithfully continued. They should be ready for harvest around October. I love fresh melon on a hot day and as I tended their delicate vines, I savoured the thought of eating them in just a month or so.

Then I realized we’ll probably be away when they ripen. You see, we’re flying up to Germany on October 11 for Steiger’s annual gathering of its leaders and workers from around the world, and then continuing on to the US for our daughter’s wedding, which will be followed by some visiting and speaking. We’ll only return to Portugal in early November. Other friends, who have so graciously offered to stay here at our house and care for our animals during our absence, will hopefully get to enjoy the melons (though there still may be some around in November)!

When we planted the garden back in March and April, our intention was to be here throughout the summer to enjoy its fruits. The first radishes, lettuce and strawberries were ready to consume in May, while Denny was on tour with No Longer Music. I was here at home alone then, and relished each plant’s yield! I so enjoy eating the fruits of our labor, fresh from the ground!

But summer plans radically changed, as they sometimes do when you live a bit like the wind and are willing to go – or stay – where and when you’re needed. We had intended to be at Steiger’s Missions School for ten days in June and then return to Portugal. But due to an unexpected chain of events, we were asked to remain there and help out on staff until the third week of August… and we accepted. Because of this, the remainder of our lovely garden’s harvest – the abundant tomatoes of many varieties, the carrots and zucchinis, the rest of the lettuce and strawberries, and a couple trees worth of figs – all matured while we were out of the country and were enjoyed by others.

img_20160911_191233As I considered the fact that we would now also miss out on eating the melons (all the while carefully pulling away the weeds winding themselves around their vines), I thought of how often we’ve experienced this in our lives. Over these past thirty-one years in Southern Europe, we have faithfully plowed, sown, planted, watered, weeded and pruned. We’ve tried to be obedient to all we’ve felt God calling us to, always hopeful and expectant of the fruit to be harvested – of seeing young people’s lives impacted by the Gospel of Christ, transformed by His grace and mercy. But we are pioneers. And more often than not, just when things begin to get rolling and the fields become white for harvest, we are called onward to begin to plow some other rocky terrain.

img_1336When I reflect on the great fathers of our faith: those who went before us, risking all, trusting God,
following where He led,
walking in faith – often blindly – towards what He had promised, I’m reminded that they too
did not personally reap
the harvest nor enjoy the fruits of their labor on most occasions. Yet they obeyed and they went where and when God called them, grateful and joyful to have been chosen by the Giver of Life for such a task. Hebrews 11, verse 13 tells of them:

All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 

It may not often be our privilege to reap the harvest and enjoy those tasty, freshly gathered fruits, but I am so thankful for the life we have been given to live. I know I write that here quite often, but it is absolutely the truth. Denny and I gladly prepare the ground wherever we are, digging out the stones and pulling up the weeds, planting, watering and pruning. And without a doubt, there has been many a time when others have come, as our friends did this summer, and tended the garden on our behalf, preventing those tender plants from withering away due to thirst or from being choked by weeds, when we were unable to do so.

Each of us has been gifted and called. And whether we’ve been commissioned to a glorious and very visible task, or simply to mop up a mess or clean up the debris left behind by a storm, we are privileged to serve the one true God and to walk in His footsteps, to obey and to carry out his bidding. What a joy to be co-workers in the service of the Master Farmer, the one who makes things grow!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,
but only God, who makes things grow.

The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,
and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.

For we are co-workers in God’s service;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:7-9