I grumbled when I saw the patches of ice on my windshield. I was already running late for work, and I didn’t want to make the time to go back inside for warm water to throw on my windshield. I reached out and touched the ice and felt its thin fragility beneath my fingers. I nodded triumphantly, hopped in the car, started the engine, turned on the defrost, and flicked on my windshield wipers to their highest speed.
Spring is peeking around the corner. Every time I step outside, I see signs of new life around me. The grass is greener. The trees are blooming. Everything around me is awakening. Maybe I’m awakening, too.
I’ve been taking daily walks around the yard with eyes wide open to the changing season, searching for the new life unfolding all around me. And every time I find it, I wonder at its beauty. And then my heart wrenches a little, and I ask for the same open eyes to help me see the life that’s coming to the dormant places inside of me. And for the first time in a while, I find myself full of hope—so full of hope that it’s literally overflowing, sloshing over the top of a bucket that’s been empty for so long.
I’ve had this prayer plant since July, and it truly is the happiest, healthiest plant I own. It raises and lowers its leaves based on its circadian rhythm, which is believed to be its natural design to catch as much sunlight as possible. It serves as a reminder to keep my face turned expectantly to God, waiting for him to show up in my everyday life and do the miraculous. Watching it raise its little arms up at night to ready itself to meet the sun in the morning encourages me to not only start my day with the Lord but also to end my day with arms outstretched to him.
This past weekend I felt a strange impression that it needed repotting—that it needed room to grow. I know that you usually repot in the spring and not in the dead of winter, but I ignored what I knew and followed my gut. I tried one planter and it was too small. Then I tried another and it was too large. I finally found one that was just the right size, but it didn’t have a drainage hole. So back into its nursery pot my little plant went, and I placed it directly inside the just-right planter.
I’ve found myself dealing with a lot of hurt over the past few months. And while the hurt is very real and very layered and very twisty, it’s not the main thing. The main thing is the sin pattern I’ve developed while walking out the hurt I’m wrestling down.
I wrote in my journal last week: “I need your eyes today, Lord. I repent for wearing lenses of suspicion and doubt and judgment. Help me see like you, Father—eyes of love and hope. Eyes that see the big picture and know our worth despite our flaws.”
The few days between Christmas and the New Year are such a gift to my contemplative heart. It’s a liminal space, hazy with the beautiful swirl of the nostalgia of the past and the promise of the future. I spend those in-between days pouring over my journals from the year, remembering the joys and the heartaches and looking for the golden threads woven by the Lord throughout my year. Then I start pressing in and asking for a word to carry as a banner over the upcoming year.
This past Christmas night, I told the Lord I wanted 2019 to be marked with joy. As quickly as those words escaped my heart and lips, I heard a whisper: “Where your HOPE is, there your JOY shall be, too.” I knew right then the Lord was illuminating HOPE. I went home that night and started looking up and writing down as many “hope” scriptures as I could find, and the more I read and the more I wrote, the more I knew HOPE would be the marker of the coming year.
This week I’ve heard a section from Psalm 23 repeat over and over in my head:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
When I first heard that scripture roll through my mind, I immediately felt the Holy Spirit highlight the word enemies. I flinched a little at first because I knew where he was putting his finger, and it made me uncomfortable. But true to his nature, he was really gentle as he pointed out people I’d been unconsciously labeling as enemies. He reminded me that they were not my enemy, and then he started softening my heart to ask the hard question: What enemies actually surround me?
I found myself down at the altar Sunday night near a couple of youth that are dear to my heart. I felt the Lord nudge me to pray over them and place my hands on their feet. I did as He asked, but it really caught me off guard. Physically praying over them was not my original intent. I had only walked down near the altar to intercede for them and the other youth that were there.
As I knelt and grasped their feet, I asked Him what He'd have me pray. I knew there was something specific on His heart for these girls, and I wanted to know what it was. I finally realized why He led me to touch their feet – He wanted me to pray that they would walk in His truth. I only prayed for a couple of minutes, but I prayed with everything in me that they would walk in truth.
The Lord really rocked me during my time with Him this morning. He showed me this picture of Him in Heaven. I couldn't see His face because my gaze was locked on the hem of His white robe. It was swishing back and forth in constant movement. It was so bright and light and white and there was so much movement that it was almost dizzying. He was moving, the angels were moving. Heaven was actively moving - on my behalf. He then told me that my idea of His characteristic of "constant" was not full. We often call God "constant." He's unchanging, steadfast, dependable, and faithful. We know these things to be true, but then sometimes we can't see Him moving in situations in our lives and we start to lose hope.
Last night I finished writing and editing a blog post about war and surprise attacks in areas where I thought I'd seen victory. No more than two hours after I posted it, I was under attack again.
One of my dearest friends and I were talking about a specific situation in my life, and she was sharing her heart with me. What she had discerned from the Lord and what I had heard from Him myself were conflicting and tension was mounting. I suddenly found myself angry and questioning her intentions. Our interpretations of what we were hearing about this specific area were not lining up, so I immediately threw up a wall. I started backing away from one of my best friends – one of the sweetest gifts from God in my life.
As soon as I sensed the wall go up, I started praying and the Lord started unveiling my eyes. It was like a switch flipped, and I saw it for what it was – a very crafty attack of the enemy. The more I prayed, the more He revealed about the attack that had been set out against me that night.
Wars are being waged around me. Everywhere I look, I see the darkness and carnage that only war can bring. As I’ve navigated the treacherous landmines of my own battlefield, I’ve found myself glancing to my right and to my left and seeing the battlefields of my friends and family. War is everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong – there are times in your life when you have to go to war with your own flesh. One of my friends says that sometimes looks like the Lord squeezing everything out of us that doesn’t look like Jesus. And sometimes? Sometimes that just looks like war. As hard as some of these times have been, I’m thankful for the pieces of my own dying flesh I see littering the ground. Each piece of dead flesh represents a specific area in my life that didn’t look anything like Jesus. My Papa, the Great Physician, skillfully and carefully wielded his scalpel, surgically removing those decaying places out of me. He tossed those pieces by the wayside so they would no longer encumber me. He got rid of them so I’m able to look a little more like Jesus. And for that I’m thankful. But just because He’s a skilled surgeon doesn’t mean there was no blood shed in the process.
This past week during worship, I felt like I was hitting a brick wall over and over again. I kept trying to push through it, but I was making no headway. I started praying and seeking the Lord, asking Him why I was having such a hard time entering into His presence and giving myself over fully to Him in worship.
The Holy Spirit gently nudged me to recall the moment we started singing the first song of the set. Even though the song was personally significant to me, I wasn’t singing it with my usual joyful exuberance. Instead, I found myself feeling a little sad as we sang. What a juxtaposition – feeling intense sadness during a song about God’s miracle-working presence.
The song brought up some really sweet memories, but they felt as distant as His presence that day. With those memories came the harsh onslaught of comparison. But this comparison was different than anything I had ever experienced before. For one of the first times I can remember, I wasn’t comparing myself to other people. I was comparing myself to… myself. I was comparing my current situation to the places and seasons in which I had walked in the past.
Over the past few months, the Lord has taken me on a journey unlike any I’ve ever traveled before. As I’ve walked the path He’s set before me, I’ve been blown away by how gracious He’s been to me. He has dreamed the biggest of dreams with me. He has spoken the most beautiful promises over my life. He has answered some of my greatest prayers and fulfilled some of my deepest longings. He has healed places in me that were in desperate need of healing. He has injected me with hope.
Along the way, He did something I wasn’t expecting. He showed me my Promised Land, and then He showed me the steps it would take to get there. I started walking in faith toward what I knew He was calling me to.
Not long after He confirmed in my spirit what direction I was to head, I started running into walls of opposition. The enemy started coming at me with some of the strongest spiritual attacks I have ever experienced. My mind was attacked by whispers of lies from the enemy. My finances were hit from all sides. My closest relationships were in turmoil. Confusion and chaos abounded in every area of my life.
If you know me even in the slightest, you probably know I’m not much of a morning person. I usually sprint out of my car and into the school building in an attempt to beat the clock. And if I’m early, I’m usually walking and thinking and not paying much attention to my surroundings. Today was different.
This morning as I was walking into school, the Lord drew my eyes UP. I looked up and saw this heart on the outside wall of the school, and I stopped dead in my tracks. Over and over I kept hearing Him say “My love is written on these walls.” I fumbled for my phone so I could snap a picture. I stood there for several minutes just staring at the wall. Our school was literally marked by God’s love this morning.
I’m fairly certain He didn’t draw my gaze up this morning just so He could give me a warm fuzzy. He wanted to remind me that just as His love was written on the walls of my school today, it’s also written in and on me. His love marks us – changing our DNA and leaving us with an indelible reminder of who we are in Him and what we’re called to do.
My whole life I've been slightly obsessed with names. You can ask my Mom. She will amen everything I'm about to say. When I was a kid, I would check out baby name books from the public library. To read. For fun. When I was like EIGHT. And then there was that whole two or three year period in my younger years when I lamented my own name. I could not for the life of me figure out why my parents would name me Carrie Beth when Carrie Elizabeth was the better, prettier, more sparkly choice. Obviously. I remember crying and asking my parents between sobs "Why... couldn't... you... just... name me... Carrie ELIZABEEEETH?"
My obsession even carried over into my adult life. Any time one of our friends or acquaintances announces a new pregnancy or birth on Facebook, my best girl friends and I immediately text our group thread and discuss the new baby's name. I also may or may not have a running list of names for my future kids tucked away in the notes app on my phone. And then there's the fact that I have my very own personal copy of 100,001 Baby Names. In fact, one of my teacher friends knew I had said baby name book and asked to borrow it when she was looking for a name for her sweet new baby boy. That's right. My married friend borrowed a baby name book from me, the single girl. The irony's not lost on me. So there you have it. I'm secretly obsessed with names. (I guess it's not so secret anymore, huh?)
I'm a creature of comfort. I like cozy. I like warm. I like inviting. I really like familiar. I don't completely balk at change, but it's generally best if I can have some time to process that change is happening. I have to warm up to the idea.
I've lived in the same apartment for four years, and I have never rearranged furniture. Not even once. I've added a few odds and ends here and there, but all the rooms are basically the same as they were four years ago when I moved in. Once I get a room how I like it, I keep it that way. I've never been one to just randomly rearrange furniture. Goes back to that whole loving-the-familiar thing, I guess.
During a visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom this past weekend, we went on a jungle trek through the park's version of "Asia." About halfway through the walking tour, I turned a corner and saw these flags waving gently in the breeze over one part of the trail. The whole area was so peaceful and serene and beautiful that I just had to stop to take a few pictures. At the time I didn’t even realize what the flags were - I just thought they were pretty! As I started walking off to rejoin my group, I heard a tour guide telling a family that they were Tibetan prayer flags. She explained that one of the ancient Buddhist beliefs is that the more tattered and frayed and faded the flags are, the closer the prayer is to being answered.
My mind keeps wandering back to those prayer flags. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. So many times I pray about something and then just leave it alone - whatever “it” is. I leave the fear or the doubt or the question or the desire or the need there. I think “Well, I’ve done my part. I've prayed. I don’t know the outcome or how God is gonna do this, so I’ll just leave it here.” I really think that in some crazy messed up way, I’ve trained myself to think that I’m annoying God by praying about the same things over and over. I'm lying to myself even though I know the truth: prayer changes things.
By the time December arrives, I'm usually trudging through the year like a road-weary traveler. When December 31st finally gets here, I'm just plain over it - I'm limping toward the finish line. I'm lethargic and bleary-eyed and tired of being confined in what feels like the smallest of spaces. I'm straining my eyes to look for any kind of oasis I can spot ahead - a beacon of hope that promises me a chance for something better than where I am currently.
The past few years have been good... but good doesn't necessarily remove the hard. Every December 31st for the past four years, I've practically catapulted myself into January, breathing a deep sigh of relief when the clock struck 12:01 a.m. I've looked to the new year as the only hope for redemption for the less than stellar year before - a year full of unmet expectations and unanswered prayers. I'd hope for a year of better and newer and brighter and deeper. An unparalleled year of peace and joy and happiness. I'd say to myself "Maybe this will be the year my prayers are finally answered."
I love the reflection and readying that comes with each new year - reflection on the past year and readying yourself for the year to come. I've spent a lot of time the past few days reflecting on all the things 2015 has taught me. (More on that soon!) I've learned more about myself than ever before. I've grown more spiritually in the past few months than all of my years combined. I've made new friends and let other friendships be put to rest. I've walked through times of deep sorrow and times of buoyant joy. 2015 was good to me. As I think ahead to 2016, a common theme keeps popping up: purpose. I see a connection between the noun form of the word and the verb form of the word. Both have been on my heart the past couple of days. I want to live a life of purpose (n.), but to do that, I must purpose (v.) my heart and my mind and my soul and my body to do those things.
There's a rose bush growing outside my apartment. A tangle of skinny little branches that grows wild and free in the midst of several shrubs. I can only assume that the last tenant planted it there sometime before I moved in. I walked past that bush twice a day for close to two years before I finally noticed it. There were no bright pink or red blooms to draw my attention, so it just blended in to its surroundings. Once I finally noticed the wayward plant, I couldn't un-notice it. For the past year, pretty much every time I've walked past it, I've said to myself "You know, I really need to get my Daddy to come help me yank that thing out of the ground." I honestly don't think there's ever been a bloom on that rose bush in the three years I've lived in this apartment. No blooms - just prickly stems and branches growing unhindered. It's so tall now that several of the branches have bent under the pressure of their own weight - a miniature, thorny weeping willow. This bush is growing like mad, but it's producing no fruit.
I don't know much about gardening, but one thing I do know is that most plants require some sort of pruning in order to produce good, new growth. Pruning isn't just about cutting off weak or dead places. Pruning is also about cutting back places that are thriving but need to be subdued.
Cutting back growing, living places can help grow a stronger, more resilient plant so it can live up to its original purpose. That rose bush outside my front door? It's never going to produce the beautiful, sweet flowers it was intended to create if those wild offshoots continue to grow unchecked. It needs to be trimmed, pruned. The act of pruning allows for prosperous growth as intended by the Creator.
Last night I woke up in the dead of night. I had a playlist of worship music playing while I slept, and I woke up right as one song ended and another began. I was in that dreamy stage between asleep and awake, but I clearly remember thinking that it seemed as if the Lord woke me up on purpose to spend time with me. As the sleep cleared from my head, I began thinking through the lyrics of the song I was hearing. It was a song reminding me that Christ is enough for me - that his love is sufficient for me. While I was listening to the song, I heard the Holy Spirit say "You are loved."
My immediate response? "But God..."
And then clearly once again He spoke: "There are no buts in my love."