New

New

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWhile walking back to the front door with the mail yesterday, I looked down and saw thin green blades poking through. My toes did a little dance, and a smile covered my face. Finally, after a brutal winter–at least by my Southern standards–signs of life and sounds of newness are bursting forth. We spent the weekend in Mississippi where everything is already green, and my parents’ wisteria is starting to bloom and will soon coat their pergola in a lavender canopy. My brother and sister-in-law were in town with my precious five-week-old niece, Abigail Grace. So beautiful, so new.

During our devotional from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing this morning, the girls and I read these words…

Just before he died, Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished!” What was finished? Jesus was saying: everything you need to come back home to God, everything you need to be free and happy in God, everything you need to live forever, I’ve done it all! It wasn’t a cry of defeat. It was a shout of victory. The great work of rescuing us was finished! There is now nothing you can do to make God love you more–and nothing you can do to make him love you less. It is finished!

I immediately thought of a conversation with a friend last week as we talked about things we’re holding on to, pain from past sin that we’ve already been forgiven of but can’t quite let go of. And those words our Savior uttered as He hung on a cross spoke deep into my soul, “It is finished!” We can let go because He said, “It is finished!” Because He gave up His life. Because He humbled Himself. Because of Jesus.

I’ve shared before that I struggle with fear on a daily basis. Occasionally, I will wake up in the middle of the night after a horrible nightmare with my heart racing. Last week I was dealing with a specific fear and my dear friend Kimmie shared with me words that have kept her heart at peace during seasons of great fear, “God is doing something new.” Her words came from Isaiah 43:18-19, and she sent me the Message version, “Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” And when I looked up the same verses in the ESV, I smiled because verse 19 starts out, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Behold is leaving its mark on my heart and soul. Behold is changing me, helping me learn to be still and hold on even in the midst of my greatest struggle–fear.

It’s time to let go, time to surrender that thing we’ve been holding on to. Mine is fear, specifically this week, fear from past pain. What is yours? The sin you’ve struggled to release? The stronghold you’ve wrapped yourself in, convinced you’ll never escape? The shame you’ve carried for way too long? When Jesus declared, “It is finished!” it was a shout of victory. We can cling to His promise that He “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Behold, I am doing a new thing.

 

Quietness

Quietness

I didn’t grow up observing Lent. I remember the first time I saw a friend with ashes across her forehead, and I remember a few people who opted for the cheese rectangular pizza when they went through the cafeteria line instead of the kind with little cubed pepperonis. But I never really knew what Lent was about. The thought of giving up something didn’t sound appealing, so I never thought much about it. But a couple years ago when I was on staff at our church, my pastor encouraged the staff to fast from something during the forty days leading up to Easter. Those weeks were hard for me, but as we celebrated Holy Week that year my heart felt less encumbered, my soul more free. Last week when I realized the start of Lent was only days away, I began to pray that God would show me what I needed to surrender this year during Lent.

I don’t know about you, but those are always scary prayers to pray because I’m afraid of His answer. Yesterday, while studying another passage I wound up coming across this passage.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill. Isaiah 30:15-16

Snow was falling hard outside and ice was glazing the sidewalks and trees. In a literal way God was painting a picture of rest and quietness, and I wanted to flee. I’ve shared with you before that I struggle with wanting to please people. But over the last few weeks it has become paralyzing. The voices of public opinion scream within my head. I find myself caring more about likes and shares and comments than I do obeying the One who gave me a message to write. Last week I wrote a blog, and I almost didn’t publish it because I was afraid of what people would think. And suddenly the reality of how dependent I had become on everyone else’s opinion of me was alarmingly clear.

I don’t like to just be. I want to fill every moment with a picture, every silence with a word, every hunger with a forkful, every goal with a list. I want anything to fill the quietness. For the last month or so, I’ve been taking a Sabbath from social media every Sunday. That quietness has been hard but liberating. There’s nothing wrong with social media. For an extrovert like me, it’s a social playground. People, people everywhere. One never ending conversation that winds and weaves its way throughout my life. But the reality I’m facing is that I’ve let those voices mute the voice of the One I most desire.

The forty days of Lent comes from the forty days Jesus spent in the desert when Satan was tempting Him. With every temptation, Jesus responded with the truth of God’s Word. For me, the voices of everyone I want to please are drowning out the voice of my Savior. Pride and insecurity are running like swift steeds. During these six weeks of Lent, I will put down the status updates, let go of the 140 characters and surrender my instant images to the message my Creator is writing on my heart. A message of rest. An invitation to return to quietness.

I’m also taking up a challenge from Margaret Feinberg to read through the New Testament during Lent. The Lent Challenge has a reading plan where you cover about seven chapters a day in roughly thirty minutes. Giving up FB, Twitter and IG for the next forty days should leave me with some extra time for this challenge. This weekend at the Downline Women’s Summit I noticed a common theme among all the women who taught. They were filled with God’s Word and in love with the Story He wrote for us. It was special and beautiful and inspiring.

I will still be here writing–hopefully with more honesty and courage–the messages God impresses on my heart. WordPress automatically links posts to my Twitter and Facebook accounts so you’ll still see notifications there when I publish a blog. But instead of my heart chasing likes or comments or shares, my heart will be choosing quietness. The Message translates Isaiah 30:15 this way, “Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me–the very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.”

I anticipate it will be painful–confronting my pride and insecurity always is–but I’m willing. Willing to rest instead of rush. Willing to return instead of flee. Willing to enter the quietness and hear from the only Voice who truly matters.

Careful

Careful

matt with polar bear I’ve always been a careful person. In college when I lived off-campus my last two years, I always left twenty minutes before a class even though I lived less than five miles away. Just in case a train blocked traffic or a parking spot proved elusive or the vending machine needed a visit (I’m a sucker for Peanut M&M’s. Don’t judge.) I carry the scissors with the point downward and safely within my grasp. And I always use my blinkers.

Since writing my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be brave, to be dangerous for God. Certainly, I’m not handing my three-year-old my Wüsthof knife and letting her start to chop anytime soon, but I also don’t want to pack her away in bubble wrap.  How do parents walk that tight-rope? How do we teach our kids to be wise and vigilant, knowing the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy? But at the same time, how do we empower them with boldness and courage?

I’ve been studying Isaiah in my priority time, a favorite for me because the words soar off the page, powerful yet full of grace. This morning I came to focus on Isaiah 7:4. In this chapter, Ahaz is the king of Judah and he and the house of David have just been told that their enemies are now forming alliances. These enemies had already defeated Ahaz individually and now they were collaborating. When they heard the news, Ahaz and his people were afraid. Isaiah says they were “shaken as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (And maybe a little like my man with this polar bear.) But the Lord had a message for Ahaz, and in verse four, the Lord told Isaiah and his son to go to Ahaz and tell him, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.”

Be careful. Keep calm. And don’t be afraid. In the same command God told them to be careful and don’t be afraid. This leads me to believe that the two qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. We can be brave and careful. We can be brave without being careless. We can be suited up in armor but not timid. We can be wise but not lazy. We can be prudent but not selfish.

In our kitchen hangs a shadow box with two medals given to Matt’s late grandfather for his service in WWII. When Papaw went to battle, he went with training and equipment. He was brave certainly, but he was also careful.

I have to teach my girls to be both brave and careful. To clothe themselves in God’s armor but to always remember that armor is useless on its own. It is the courage of the heart inside that gives the armor a purpose.

Be careful. Keep calm. And don’t be afraid. But maybe watch out for polar bears.