All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

Awe

Where do you stand on the concept of coincidence?

Because I’m starting to think there is no such thing. Maybe it’s a myth- like unicorns.

Because if God is holding it all together, if nothing happens without His knowing, then things don’t simply happen “by chance”. Right?

For instance, it’s not “happenstance” that I stumbled across a job posting, applied even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was even applying for, and miraculously got hired to do a job I love.

It’s not a roll of the dice that I go to a church that feels like home.

And the people in my life? It’s not coincidence that our lives intersected. There’s a purpose for it. A reason. God knew what I’d need, and what they’d need, and He orchestrated our meeting. It’s beautiful and incredible and takes some of the fear out of rejection and vulnerability and abandonment, doesn’t it? Because He holds it all together.

“God places the solitary in families…” -Ps. 68:6

If we do life that way, believing there’s something to give or receive in every encounter and situation, it puts the magic back in life, doesn’t it?

There are no “routine” days. Not from heaven’s perspective.

Maybe God is always speaking to us. And maybe we don’t hear because we’ve grown accustomed to labeling things “coincidence”.

We’ve grown numb to the magic of the sunrise. And the way the leaves turn brilliantly orange in the fall. And the wonder of our lives- the intricacies of the human body, all that has to function properly within us–organs and cells and whatever else makes us up on the inside–in order to make it from moment to moment.

The fact that God bent down and breathed His breath into us. Formed us with His hands. Delighted in creating the whole package of who we are- personality and what makes us cry and our heart and brain and fingernails and how our laugh sounds.

The whole earth, all of life, screams “I AM!” and we don’t hear anymore because it’s all we’ve ever known. We can’t see His hand in it or appreciate the creativity and majesty of who our Lord is and how much detail he put into all of creation, because we don’t know anything else. The trees and grass and clouds and birds and ability to sing (not necessarily in tune ;-)) and snow. My gosh, snow. It’s magical. Wondrous! Awe-inspiring!

“I’m here,” He whispers in the rushing wind.

“I am your Protector,” He says as candles flicker above my fireplace and rain pours down outside.

“I will never stop taking care of you. I am your Provider,” He says as I eat breakfast Sunday morning in my warm house while wearing pajamas and watching my cat play with a toy.

“You’re My child,” He says soothingly to my aching soul when someone I love hugs me or rubs my back or looks at me with love.

He breathed life into us. HIS BREATH, His holy breath, IN US. Sustaining us. He is nearer to us than we know. Within us. Telling our hearts to beat. Giving us air to breathe.

He breathed breath into us to give us life, and when we come to Him, when we sit in His presence or fall to our knees before Him, His breath fills us up again and again. It sustains us- reawakens us to life- to LIVING. To the wonder of being His and being held and existing in a world in which nothing happens without His knowledge. Nothing happens that He cannot use for good.

There’s never a single second we’re not loved, adored, delighted in, and thought about.

He spoke life to the rest of creation. With us, He formed us with His hands and breath and dirt, but with the rest of life, He spoke it into existence.

Which teaches us, there’s so much power in the spoken word.

“I love You.”

“I am Yours.”

“I trust You.”

“I choose hope.”

“You are good.”

“Thank You that You love me.”

“Thank You, thank You, thank You.”

We can know that everything that happens to us is out of love. Holy, perfect love.

The fiery furnace of trials. Softening us. Purifying us like gold. Making us tender and pliable and more wholly His. It’s still love.

And our tears matter to Him.

Even when He knows the outcome is good beyond what we can imagine, even though He knows we have more reason to rejoice than to weep… He hurts with us.

Lord, help me to trust You more. Help me to know I am Yours. I am safely held in Your hands and nothing that happens to me or in my life will be more than I can handle. Nothing is beyond repair. Nothing is cause for despair.

And Lord, thank You for the miracle of what You’ve done in my life. It wasn’t long ago that things looked really, really bleak. You are a mighty Redeemer and Restorer. You are merciful and forgiving and gracious and kind. And I am so in love with You.

Wildly in love. Amazed. Grateful.

Oh, the wonder of it all…

Neediness and Owls

I was thinking today about neediness and what characteristics make someone refer to someone else as needy. And then it occurred to me that “needy” isn’t a word that God uses to describe anyone. We cannot need Him too much.

Maybe needy people are only those who try to make others their God. Maybe it is dependence and hope misplaced. We are meant to depend on God and hope in God alone, and when we put that on others, it’s unfair to them, and it’s unfair to us. No one but God can live up to our expectations.

The Lord never tires of me.

That truth is sort of amazing to me, honestly. I have constant access to Him, and never does He roll His eyes or plug His ears or hit ‘ignore’ when He sees my name show up on His metaphorical cell phone.

And when I’m needy, when half of my prayers fall somewhere along the lines of: “Tell me some more about how You love me?” Even then, He doesn’t tire of me.

Rather, He invites me to crawl up onto His lap. He invites me to sit with Him for a while and be held.

He looks at me with love and tenderness. He calls me beautiful. He knows my heart. He knows what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. He knows where I’m broken and where I’m blessed. He knows by memory the curve of my nose and the color of my eyes and smiles with love and affection about all the things about my appearance that make me roll my eyes with frustration. My unruly hair? He loves my unruly hair. In His eyes, fly-away hair isn’t a problem to be solved, but just another aspect of the beauty that is His precious child. He calls me special. He sees me. I matter.

God knows that love has to be engrained in us. I think that’s where it all has to begin- any good thing, any peace or joy or good we hope to do has to begin with the firm, unshakeable assurance that Jesus loves us. When that isn’t the source of what fuels us, we run dry. We cannot sustain a loving, godly lifestyle if we are relying on ourselves- our own willpower and abilities. Rather, they have to flow from the part of us that God is transforming, the part of us that cannot help but love others because God’s love is overflowing within us.

A child who knows themselves to be loved can do mighty things. Loving things. Holy, helpful, beautiful things in Jesus’ name.

One of the things I struggle most with is wanting people to love me. Sometimes gaining love and acceptance and approval is my primary focus. But, as I’ve learned the hard way, you cannot go through life wanting people to fill you up- to provide the love you’re so longing for. Desiring love in itself isn’t wrong—we are meant to love each other and do life together—but when you go through life expecting people to step in and fill gaps and mend hurts, that’s when you are liable to cross the line into the territory of neediness.

We are wired to need love and to only be able to find the fulfillment of that need in God. It’s a holy and good thing that we’re unable to be satisfied with the things of the world; it keeps our eyes where they should be- on our Creator.

Lord, help me rely and depend on You alone for all the things I need that only You can satisfy. Help me not get confused and make other people or things my God.

When I let go of expectations–the expectation of love to be reciprocated, or the expectation of someone’s love to swoop in and break down the walls I’ve unintentionally built–I can love freely and without fear because I no longer have anything to lose. I love others because God’s love within me makes it impossible not to love others.

And the walls I referred to? The more I step out and love people, the more I love just for the sake of loving and not for the hope of being loved in return, the less I feel myself needing to self-protect. And as God’s love for me becomes the reality in which I live and breathe, I realize I am safe. I am loved and lovable already- I don’t need to earn it and it isn’t something that can be taken from me.

We do need each other as well, though. We need a community and network of people in our corner. And He knows that. And so, rather than trying to force those people into my life, I try to be the kind of person that other people need- the support and help and safe place for them to go. I don’t try to will and coerce people to love me back, I just love them and trust God with the rest.

We aren’t meant to go it alone. We need family.

Sometimes I feel pouty and I tell God, “You don’t understand! I need love and I need it now!”

And His response, always gentle and loving, is, “You’re right, you do need love. But I don’t want you to get confused. I don’t want you to think you need the love of others more than My love. So come here. Crawl up onto My lap. Stay a while. Let Me call you baby. Beloved. Child. Run to Me. Let Me be the source of the love your soul craves. And trust Me. Trust My timing and My ability to meet your needs. You are lovely and lovable and all that you seek can be found in Me, My child. I’ve got it all under control. It makes Me smile so brightly when I think about all that is to come in your life. It is going to be such a beautiful story. You are going to be just fine. I promise.”

The other night, Brittany came into my room and sat down on my bed just as I was falling asleep. “Do you hear that?” she asked. I didn’t hear anything and told her so.

“Owls,” she said. “Listen.”

And then I heard them. We sat there for a long time, just listening to them.

“Mom would’ve loved this,” Brittany said softly.

“She always used to wake me up for things like this- thunderstorm or the birds singing at dawn or beautiful sunrises or especially powerful dreams that woke her and left her needing to talk about them. She loved moments like these, middle of the night moments in bed with me, talking or listening. She loved them so much,” I replied.

I thought I lost that. I thought I lost the only person who ever made my life feel magical. I thought I lost the only person in my life who cared to share special moments with me.

Our relationship was far from perfect, but Mom brought magic with her wherever she went. Maybe all mothers do. Maybe perceived magic on the part of the child is just a characteristic of the mother/child relationship. The child always wants to know what their mom is thinking or going to do next or what they have planned or what they are hoping for. Magic and mothers just go hand-in-hand.

The other night, though, in bed with Brittany, it occurred to me that I hadn’t lost that at all. And no, I am not referring to my sister as my replacement for magic. Again, that would be an expectation she could never fulfill. I only had one mom, and my mom is gone. I cannot expect anyone else to step in and fill that hole.

At least, I cannot expect anyone other than God to step in and fill that hole.

I didn’t lose the magic. I didn’t lose the only person in my life who wanted to share special moments with me and confide the secrets of their heart to me in the middle of the night. God loves me like that. All that I’ve lost I can find in Jesus.

It is such an incredible gift.

That night, Brittany researched why two owls might spend so much time hooting back and forth to each other, and one of the reasons she found made my heart swoony: sometimes owls hoot back and forth to signify the permanent bond they hold.

Magic.

That owls would love each other with something permanent and powerful enough to cause them to need to express it? That is something only a beautiful, magical God could think up. He created them like that that on purpose. He designed all living things, with all their intricacies, and in them I see Him reflected. God knows knows all about permanent bonds and love that makes you sing. He sings over us, after all. Praise Him.

After Brittany left my room that night, I laid in bed a while longer and listened to the owls. “Sleep well, beloved. Let the owl cry lullaby you,” I felt God whisper to some empty, hollow place within my soul.

There is so much detail in this world in which we live, so much affirmation that He exists and that He loves us fiercely. The owls in my backyard the other night weren’t an accident. They were God’s voice to me- His call to me, reminding me that it is safe to believe in magic and a love that endures.

God will give me a family someday. I know He will. But until then, He is giving me owls. And my cats. And clients who call me crying, and tell me about the things in their lives that make them happy, and send me proud pictures of their pink-faced, doll-lipped, clenched-fist newborns. And I have my church. Thank You, Jesus, for my church.

This time in my life isn’t just a waiting period. It isn’t empty and devoid of meaning. Lord, help me get from today what You have for me. Help me learn to make You my primary family, above anyone else. Be Lord of my heart, no matter what my life looks like. No matter how blessed or how seemingly empty my life is, help me rejoice in knowing that You are mine. Forever.

It’s enough, Lord. You are enough. I proclaim that in faith. Thank You that I have all that I need in You.

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