In Over My Head


She was quoting to me the exact same chapter from the exact same book I so often use to help people understand boundaries. In the hour we spent together, my counselor said nothing new to me, nothing I myself don’t regularly say to others. And yet it was hugely helpful.

Sometimes familiarity with principles and processes weakens their effectiveness. Not because they no longer hold power; like gravity, the laws don’t change. Truth will always set free and God will always be good. But like the people we are prone to taking for granted, good habits and gospel truth can slip into the grey zone of oblivion, even while we look right at them.

My descent down the slippery slope into stress began when necessity required I step into new roles and responsibilities. Unfamiliar territory with new giants. Or rather, old giants in new disguises: Worry, Anxiety, and Control, all from the tribe of What-If.

What if provision doesn’t come? Worry.
What if I make a mistake? Anxiety
What if my husband makes a mistake? Control.

In the nights, thundering heartbeat, dry throat, and exploding headaches woke me up.
In the days, my capacity for compassion was drained and my ability to listen compromised by the loud chaos inside. Temporarily, I could shoo the imposters away with “It’ll be fine,” but they always returned with a vengeance. I got so used to them that I forgot they weren’t welcome.

Until they reared their voice in a conversation with Heather. Fighting for her daughter, Heather has been to hell and back. In the process, she faced some scary giants of her own, and through some very, very fierce battles, she stared them down and won back her freedom. So now, she doesn’t mess around. When she spots evidence of the enemy at work, she calls it out. As she did for me.

Which led to me booking an appointment with a counselor to get help sifting through the stress and the stressors. So there I was, hearing such familiar words and concepts, and because of their familiarity, I was tempted to dismiss them.

“Only God can provide for people; you cannot”
“We don’t have grace for “what-if,” only for what is.”
“Your are not your husband’s Holy Spirit; second-guessing his every move doesn’t help him.”

I know, but….

I know. No but.
Exhale. Ahhhh.
Quiet acceptance.
He is God, and I am not.
Relief.

For the first time in months, I feel the relaxing warmth of peace spread from my mind to my body, deeper than I could will it. This isn’t mind over matter – it is stronger. Places I didn’t know were tense, let go.

Truth always sets free and lies always entangle.

Somewhere in the swirling newness of this season, I swallowed the lie that the weight of my life and those I so love, rests on my scrawny shoulders. Had you asked me, I might have denied it, because I know better. But I still swallowed the poison.

My counselor prayed that I would see the boundaries between my responsibilities and God’s – and because He gives sight to the blind , I did. It was like seeing through the right prescription glasses again, and my soul found and finds rest in the quiet wisdom of His Word.

“Be still, and know that I am God;”
(Psalms 46:10a)

Yes.
And still, it’s a process.

That one counseling session didn’t neatly tie a bow on the complexities of living by faith in a world where nothing adds up, as far as human eye can see. More than a ready-made solution, it was a seismic shift underground whose shockwaves still are radiating, closer and louder, a continual shaking to sift the human from the divine.

Weeks later in my car one night, my friend asks a question that triggers the ingrained guilt over my insufficiency. Tears burn in my throat as I list to her the balls I’ve dropped: unanswered emails, phone calls, the usual suspects, but each representing a life I care deeply about.

With sweet simplicity, the most healing salve, she just says, “I guess that’s where faith comes in, right? That He is God and you are not. I guess that’s where trust comes in: that He can handle what you can’t.”

As she states the obvious, I see His concern laced with humor in her eyes.

Well, is it true, or isn’t it?

“No guilt competes
With innocence crucified.
No grave can hold what your grace has justified.
With breath that brings the dead to life,
With words that pierce the dark with light
Only by the blood are we set free.
With mercy strong to carry shame
And nail it to a tree You alone
Hold the power to redeem.”
~ Lauren Daigle

http://youtu.be/r47ux0RhLMQ

Since then, the underground rumblings have become continual tidal waves rushing me further and further from the shore of my control into the ocean of grace. I fear drowning less and enjoy the splashes more.

His way is fun and free.
I’m not looking back anymore.

“Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free
I’m going under, I’m in over my head
Whether I sink, whether I swim
It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.” Bethel Music

https://youtu.be/qv3-TDdD1pM

What May It Cost You?


Materially, I am among the most privileged in the world, but by American standards, I live in a shack. Two bedrooms with one bath, our 1,000 square foot home is old and in need of continuous repair, which we are slowly and methodically undertaking, as time and finances allow.

But it feels like the mythical curse of Sisyphus, who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again.

The bathroom walls are currently held together by duct tape, the ceiling is drizzling plaster dust, and the tile on the front steps are a lawsuit waiting to happen. You get the picture.

In one of my sleepless nights, I stumble into the bathroom and look at that black duct tape (yes, that could have been done with more finesse, but that’s another story…) – I groan at the sheer ugliness and pray one of those sleepy frustrations “Lord, help me to understand this.”

Decades of priorities, such a homeschooling and traveling to see family at the expense of maintaining the house, explain a lot. The circumstances that led to here are complex, and most of them, we don’t regret. Still, there’s a nagging awareness that in this one arena, no matter what we do, this thorn in the flesh remains.

“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees”
(Simon and Garfunkel)

For us, the thorn has been financial. For others, it’s been one health threat after another, or relational upheaval, or family deaths. You name it.

So in the wee hours of the night, looking at the black tape on my yellow walls, I see the collage of our hardships, of which mine is by far the most superficial. “Lord, help me understand.”

I must have drifted off to sleep, but when the alarm shakes me out of it shortly after, I remember the prayer. Like a dull ache, it’s just there, lingering in my groggy soul.

Coffee.

After decades with this habit, my morning routine is on autopilot: light a candle, open my Daily Bible, exhale.

More coffee.

And it happens again: He meets me right here in my messy nest, right here in my messier flesh. Cutting through the worries and expectations that hover like black matter around my spirit, He speaks:

“Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” (Mark 12:41-44, The Message)

Suddenly, I’m aware of the air conditioned comfort from where I complain. Aware of how much I have not given.

As is typical, I sense His questions, rather than an answer: “What may it cost you, Elisabet?”
“Will you draw a line for Me that says, “This far and no further?” “Is that really what you want?”

My gaze falls on the title of the book next to my bed , “i am n”

This single Arabic letter n conveys the life-altering accusation that the bearers, or the occupants on the house where it’s painted, are “Nazarenes,” people who follow Jesus of Nazareth.

“Any person who takes a stand for Jesus in the occupied Iraq, any person who chooses to be “n,” pays a high cost. Without warning, some Christians are dragged from their homes and
businesses by armed militants – and they are never seen again. Pastor’s who share the message of Jesus in their communities are beheaded in front of their families. Children who don’t renounce Jesus are shot. Teenagers may be taken from their homes and families and forced into service of ISIS or beaten, mutilated, and left for dead.” (Pages 15-16)

“What may it cost you, Elisabet?”

My Iraqi siblings don’t love their children any less than I love mine. They feel the un-anesthetized pain of these horrors, and those too unbearable to describe, exactly as I would. Knowing that one word of compromise can spare them, they face their persecution steadfastly. Not because they are super-human, but because they have counted the cost.

Somehow, they’ve embraced the greatest treasure that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

This dilapidated, mortgaged house would be a palace for them, but that’s not the point. Not anymore.

Jesus follows the story of the poor widow who gave it all, with His disciples marveling at the grand structure of the temple, and grand it was. And He answered them, as He now answers my plea to understand, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2)

My black tape on the wall is a visual reminder that all of this will be shaken, so that only the eternal remains. In the waves of refugees rolling in over Europe, I see the transience of life itself. The martyrs are living stones in a temple that will never be destroyed, and everything inside me just yearns to be among them. Not to die, but to live.

Everything, Lord, it may cost me everything. Forgive my spoiled perspective and replace my expectations with Yours.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

“Through the eyes of men it seems
There’s so much we have lost
As we look down the road
Where all the prodigals have walked
One by one
The enemy has whispered lies
And led them off as slaves

But we know that you are God
Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come
That we may not yet see
So with the faith you’ve given us
We’ll step into the valley unafraid”
(Lauren Daigle)

http://youtu.be/7XAeyFagceQ

No Longer Slaves


Rays of sunshine finds you pressed into the shadows of familiar fears. The unexpected light makes you close your eyes, the warmth relaxes your tense face. I watch the tight armor loosen its grip on your vigilant muscles.

A thousand dashes hopes, a thousand miles of pain, caught somewhere between nightmare and dream, life and death – is anything real?

Back in the chains of slavery, at least Babylon’s opium soothed your raw nerves for a while. A least in the beginning. At least you hadn’t tasted freedom enough to let your mind reach for it, stretch for it, move towards it.

In rare moments of clarity, you know better than to nurse nostalgia for a captivity, that even when airbrushed through filters adding fake colors and vibrancy, was never home and never safe. Though its sirens aim their song straight at your soul to lure you back, you know deep down, it would lead to shipwreck.

You left in the first place, because someone described the Promised Land in a way that sparked hope to the dying embers inside.

“God is for you, not against you,” they said.
“You don’t have to stay a slave, because He has the power to deliver you,” they said. And you saw in their eyes a freedom that eventually subdued your survival-mode cynicism that “Life’s too hard for pipe-dreams.”

And you began to see undeniable signs that perhaps God was paying attention after all.

And you made the leap of faith – you decided to trust God.

And your life changed – you tasted the salty winds of freedom for the first time in your life when you left your old life behind and began the journey toward the Promised Land.

But the unpaved road went through the wilderness, and it got hard. Much harder than you expected – it almost seemed harder than what you left behind.

Sure, God did come though and somehow created the bread and water you were dying for.

Sure, it was great while it lasted, but you got hungry and thirsty again. It just seems that while you are following God through this desert, the Promised Land is a moving target.

You’re tired of the unknown. The stress.

Even though your old life was hard, at least it was familiar. At least you knew what to expect.

The whole time you are pondering this, God is right there with you. You get so used to Him that you no longer notice the many ways He shields you and caresses you with the tenderness of a parent who just can’t keep from stroking a sleeping child. But the child is asleep and doesn’t know… So you tune Him out and allow yourself to fantasize about the life you wished you had.

You’re confused.

Wasn’t it supposed to get better, not worse, following God?

Some people tell you it really doesn’t have to be this hard. They say God wants you happy – and you are not.
Who is Jesus anyway, and what does He want from you?

What you can’t see is the dark presence of your old master hovering over you, a toxic cloud of confusion and accusation and memories of failures and rejections, relentlessly buzzing over you, scanning for any opening to penetrate with hellish precision, the soul Jesus died to liberate.

As exhausting as that oppression is, it cannot enter without your permission. A rape victim myself, I know how violation incapacitates our defenses and cripples our perception of personal space.

Having been discarded as worthless, it’s a gradual process to realize our immeasurable worth. Because sweet words were misused to manipulate and control you then, it’s hard to trust them now.

Because life is still hard. So your old training kicks in and presses you against the walls in hyper vigilance, and cold as death, cynicism’s venom sneaks back into your thoughts.

That’s the opening your enemy has patiently waited for.

But he is not the only one fighting for you. Actually, where he comes only to kill, steal, and destroy, God is tirelessly wooing you back to truth, to hope, to love.

But the choice is yours.
The enemy cannot – and God will not – violate your free will.

So you are free.

And that’s where this ray of life dances over your face, teasing you like a melody to awaken your sense of adventure again.

In this shadowland, life will be hard. Whoever tells you differently is selling you a lie, and it will come at a cost.

But as light tickles your faith, can you begin to hear the songs from the Promised Land again? Deep in your spirit, you awaken to songs from your Homeland in your heart-language, singing in your blood.

And it stirs resilient strength inside you, a primal sense of purpose rising, a stubborn determination to stand fully erect, unashamed and un-intimidated, come what may.

You were made for this. You look around and realize that shadows are populated by so many just like you.

Some have fought back the paralyzingly darkness a bit further than you, and you see in them that each step towards the light strengthens their resolve and sweetens their fragrance.

Others have yet to even realize that they are succumbing to unnecessary deception.

Inspired by the first and infuriated on behalf of the second group, you suddenly hear your own voice and the words of William Wallace, aka Braveheart, thunder through your chest and cut through the fog:

“I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?

Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!”

http://youtu.be/uBAW_YTjWUo

“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God”
~ Bethel Music

“Should this life I live
Hold nothing but the cross where Jesus took my shame
Then with arms stretched wide
And my head held high
My every breath will sing again”
~ Hillsong

The spirit and the Bride cry “Come!”
Beloved, you are nearly Home,
At last ONE in unbroken Hallelujah.

http://youtu.be/XxkNj5hcy5E

Soundtrack of Faith


We’re here to study and write, leaning into the sounds of silence together, my man and I. Books and iPads, hot tea and coffee ready, we hope to hear from God. Like Moses outside the camp, but with Sonny’s BBQ instead of manna. The flame in the propane heater is no burning bush, though. We need to hear from God.

As always, our processes are polar opposites: While I immediately dive into research and outlines, he breathes calmly and stares into realms known only to him. Like a swimmer with goggles, I tune out the world to focus, while he splashes outside any lanes I can see, to the rhythms from his ever-present Bluetooth speakers.

I squint my eyes and cover my ears, trying to redirect my thoughts from his music to the messages waiting to be mined here. Dictionaries and commentaries call for quiet immersion, but splashes of melodies and poetries keep teasing me up to the surface.

I see sunshine dancing in my man’s rugged face. His thoughts seem freed in this breezy place of quiet solitude, his eyes alive. He doesn’t know I’m looking. I open my clenched hands and allow my own disciplined plan to sink….

Somehow, that opens my soul to the intimate memories tucked into these melodies that have become our soundtrack.

“All to Jesus I, I surrender all
Humbly at His feet I bow
Pleasures of this world, I would gladly trade
Take it all Lord, take me now”

Fresh enough still to be raw, I remember shouting my despair from hormone hallucinations into the rising drums of Jesus Culture’s I Surrender All. My voice broke. Feverish fears screamed through me. But somehow that song became a prayer that carried me through the surge to saner shores.

http://youtu.be/NDP5GgBTRE4

“Mercy roars like hurricane winds
Furious love laid waste to my sin”

http://youtu.be/KQwHhFZzuDc

Her angelic voice carries me back to December’s windblown fields in Denmark, where we drove endlessly though idyllic villages with candlelit farmhouses, my old regrets nowhere to be found. Decades of mercy roaring through my life shattered the straw structures of false identities and counterfeit relationships and established something solid, eternal instead, “so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”

“The constellations are swimming inside
The breadth of Your desire
Where could I run, where could I hide
From Your heart’s jealous fire

All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be Your friend”

http://youtu.be/Q8unoeiaYoI

Such understatement in the masculine words of John Mark MacMillan! This “fortunate turn of events” is the miracle of my life! And even that is a microscopic expression of the thunderous, sacrificial Love that created this Paradise, corrupted though it may now be.

Through the screens of the back porch, I see the sun setting on another Sunday. The ordinary, wrapped in golden light.

As song after song washes over me, I hear the ancient duet between the Lover and the Beloved. Wave after wave of human prayers and experiences rising in crescendo and then crashing against the unwavering shore of His reality.

I can’t say that I heard from God. I don’t even know that I feel Him. Extended somewhere between faith and sight, riding these melodic memories, a peaceful awareness that He is here.

“In the process
In the waiting
You’re making melodies over me
And your presence
is the promise
For I am a pilgrim on a journey

You will lift my head above the mighty waves
You are able to keep me from stumbling
And in my weakness
You are the strength that comes from within
Good shepherd of my soul
Take my hand and lead me on”

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

http://youtu.be/xMW-O9GB-UY

Glorious Daily Life


I write the date in my journal. January 21, ’16. I stare at the apostrophe before 16 and rub my eyes. 16 years in this millennia already, and life goes on as always. I remember when Y2K seemed the abyss of the unknown in front of us, and we expected computers to crash and and therefore bank systems to implode; we expected the domino effect of the apocalypse to begin then. And maybe it did.

But staring at the previous pages in my journal, scribbled in all colors and moods and places I’ve been, what I see is just the mosaic of daily life as its been lived throughout the pages of history.

Mine is a voice in the chorus of countless mothers praying for their children and grandchildren, shepherds for their sheep, friends for their friends.

Wars have trampled over us with iron boots, historic battles lost and won by the blood of our sons. Inventions promised our mothers easier lives, but we are as stressed as ever. But under the umbrella of mega events, life is just – daily.

Im turning fifty this year.

Like rings on a tree, the face looking back at me in the mirror is lined by winters I thought would kill me and summers of celebration. But mostly, the seasons in between have pulled age like a film over the face I remember from photos before Facebook.

Unlike the culture obsessed with youth, I’m grateful to be at this stage in life. Those wrinkles testify of sleepless nights from babies and worries and belly-hurting laughter from unexpected joys and mind boggling absurdities and memories I can’t remember. I don’t want to airbrush away the hard-earned scars of life.

As much as it cost me, it cost Him more.

In my visible age I see with increasing clarity the mercy of my invisible Hero. The more my kids insist that my hearing is deteriorating, the more clearly I hear the songs He sang over me.

Those trembling nights when my man and I held each other awhile our business collapsed or our son was desperately sick or my mother died, the roaring fires of fear and grief and regret surging through us, I did feel His cooling breath whispering lullabies to my soul, until my body relaxed under His watchful eye.

When my legs buckled under me, and they did, and they do, He didn’t allow me yield to my weakness, but coached me with appropriate volume, “Just one more step.” “You promised me your best.” “Just keep going, keep going.”

http://youtu.be/-sUKoKQlEC4

My phone is lighting up with agonized pleas for prayer and sweet shared victories from those, with whom I’m so privileged to huddle up closely while a storm is tearing through all of our lives.

I’m not naive. I know the cost of the path we’ve chosen.

I know we are burning our candles from both ends. “Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Back to back with my people, facing the giants together, I know this, and we are still standing.

The next page in my journal is blank.

If I could write my life ahead, it would be in blood-red fiery letters:
Remember whom you have believed, who has carried you through fires and floods already. His Spirit is coursing through your veins and His love through your longings and dreams.

Cast off the worry and doubt that shackle your soul and run free. You don’t have to wonder what the blueprint for your life is; He already told you: Love. Love! LOVE!!!

Yes, the details will overwhelm you and torrential obstacles engulf you. Yes, your lungs will burn and your heart will rip and pain will be your faithful companion. But so will grace.

This is the only life you were made for: the whole-hearted, full-blooded, no filter adventure that moves heaven and earth for the glorious cause, right here, on the pages of daily life.

“It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.”
(Psalms 18:32-36)

http://youtu.be/7XAeyFagceQ

22 January, 2016 09:34


I write the date in my journal. January 21, ’16. I stare at the apostrophe before 16 and rub my eyes. 16 years in this millennia already, and life goes on as always. I remember when Y2K seemed the abyss of the unknown in front of us, and we expected computers to crash and and therefore bank systems to implode; we expected the domino effect of the apocalypse to begin then. And maybe it did.

But staring at the previous pages in my journal, scribbled in all colors and moods and places I’ve been, what I see is just the mosaic of daily life as its been lived throughout the pages of history.

Mine is a voice in the chorus of countless mothers praying for their children and grandchildren, shepherds for their sheep, friends for their friends.

Wars have trampled over us with iron boots, historic battles lost and won by the blood of our sons. Inventions promised our mothers easier lives, but we are as stressed as ever. But under the umbrella of mega events, life is just – daily.

Im turning fifty this year.

Like rings on a tree, the face looking back at me in the mirror is lined by winters I thought would kill me and summers of celebration. But mostly, the seasons in between have pulled age like a film over the face I remember from photos before Facebook.

Unlike the culture obsessed with youth, I’m grateful to be at this stage in life. Those wrinkles testify of sleepless nights from babies and worries and belly-hurting laughter from unexpected joys and mind boggling absurdities and memories I can’t remember. I don’t want to airbrush away the hard-earned scars of life.

As much as it cost me, it cost Him more.

In my visible age I see with increasing clarity the mercy of my invisible Hero. The more my kids insist that my hearing is deteriorating, the more clearly I hear the songs He sang over me.

Those trembling nights when my man and I held each other awhile our business collapsed or our son was desperately sick or my mother died, the roaring fires of fear and grief and regret surging through us, I did feel His cooling breath whispering lullabies to my soul, until my body relaxed under His watchful eye.

When my legs buckled under me, and they did, and they do, He didn’t allow me yield to my weakness, but coached me with appropriate volume, “Just one more step.” “You promised me your best.” “Just keep going, keep going.”

http://youtu.be/-sUKoKQlEC4

My phone is lighting up with agonized pleas for prayer and sweet shared victories from those, with whom I’m so privileged to huddle up closely while a storm is tearing through all of our lives.

I’m not naive. I know the cost of the path we’ve chosen.

I know we are burning our candles from both ends. “Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Back to back with my people, facing the giants together, I know this, and we are still standing.

The next page in my journal is blank.

If I could write my life ahead, it would be in blood-red fiery letters:
Remember whom you have believed, who has carried you through fires and floods already. His Spirit is coursing through your veins and His love through your longings and dreams.

Cast off the worry and doubt that shackle your soul and run free. You don’t have to wonder what the blueprint for your life is; He already told you: Love. Love! LOVE!!!

Yes, the details will overwhelm you and torrential obstacles engulf you. Yes, your lungs will burn and your heart will rip and pain will be your faithful companion. But so will grace.

This is the only life you were made for: the whole-hearted, full-blooded, no filter adventure that moves heaven and earth for the glorious cause, right here, on the pages of daily life.

“It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.”
(Psalms 18:32-36)

http://youtu.be/7XAeyFagceQ

[Glorious Daily Life]

A Prayer for Your Year


A week ago, we greeted everyone from our dearest to strangers, “Happy New Year!” Sometimes sincerely intended as a blessing for their year, other times more in the thoughtless vernacular of “How are you?” that doesn’t expect a real reply. In those days surrounding January 1st, most of us took some kind of inventory, trying…hoping… to nurture a happier new year.

I heard the greeting roll of my tongue, as I hugged a young professional woman who found her best friend dead this year. I whispered it into the ear of a boy, whose family was repeatedly slammed by severe emergencies last year, mom and dad, brother and sister, and his own three-year-old body rushed to the hospital at different times. “I love you up to the sky,” he whispered back. And I wiped my eyes in his hair.

I know clouds are rolling towards all of us. In spite of all our best efforts, pain will find us and and try to convince us that it’s too much. Unfair. Pointless.

Already feeling the chill of those approaching clouds, my heart cradles the many I wished Happy New Year, the many I hold so dear. Several of them are battling cancer or watching their loved ones devoured by it. The greeting sounds hollow now, almost cruel, and I wonder what might have been a stronger blessing?

Peaceful New Year.
Victorious New Year.
Wise New Year.
Brave New Year.

May you look into the year ahead with your head held high, no matter what winds will whip your hair and burn your eyes. Not in pride, but “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

May you stand erect on the solid ground, not of your own strength, but of the unshakable work of Jesus. When He redeemed you from death and darkness, He promised you that you would and could take every step forward in His strength. When panic thunders in your ears, as it will, may you hear His breath close to your soul whisper,

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

May you walk into the cloud of the unknown, knowing He will meet you there. When others urge you to hold back, but you sense Him calling you forward, may you go anyway. There are places with Him not everyone goes – – – like close to a bloody, excruciating Cross. Of the many who proclaimed loud bravery, only one male disciple followed Him there. May that be you.

When uncertainty pulls the rug from under you, may you know that He carries you close to His heart. When questions seem to undermine your faith, may you stand on what you know, not what you don’t.

Corrie Ten Boom describes walking with her dad, asking him questions too heavy for her age. Instead of answering her, he places his heavy briefcase on the ground and asks her to carry it for him. “Daddy, I want to, but I can’t. It’s too heavy for me; I’m too small.” “And so it is with the answers you seek. When you can carry my briefcase, I will answer them.”

“Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
(Psalms 131:1-2)

Oswald Chambers suggests,”Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something. His purpose in using the cloud is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is exactly like that of a child— a relationship simply between God and our own souls, and where other people are but shadows…

Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.” (My Utmost for His Highest, July 29)

May we know deeper Him this year.

“From the cloud You speak
What was veiled now is seen
Jesus the image of
The invisible God
Divinity confirmed
In the transfigured Word
A kingdom once concealed
On the earth now revealed”
(Hillsong Worship)

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you,
And in His excellency on the clouds.
The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;”
(Deuteronomy 33:26-27a)

http://youtu.be/HLMtfq5epbw

17 December, 2015 12:31


We embark on the journey exhausted. Increasingly, a gazillion details interrupt our sleep, and we need this vacation the way an overstimulated toddler needs sleep after a day with too many birthday parties.

Unbeknownst to us, the Uber ride from our home to the MIA airport, sets the unusual tone for the whole trip: “You’re a pastor? I need a pastor,” our driver comments, as he initiates conversation and then entrusts us with the fractured pieces of his broken life and his longing for faith, for God.

As does our taxi driver in Paris, as does a store owner in Helsingør, and eventually a waitress in a castle we visit. Foggy and fatigued though our heads may be, we see a theme unfold:

There’s a tangible thirst for God.

It’s unexpected light breaking through to our weary souls on this journey back to my roots.

Descending upon the country that boasts the happiest people on earth is a shocking encounter with comfort and ease. Renewing my Danish passport is as simple as stepping into an old friend’s living room, complete with candles and free coffee, and they even rushed it at no additional charge.

But somehow the gentle efficiency everywhere discombobulates me. After 24 years, vivacious Miami chaos has become my norm, and this orderly, well-oiled machine feels almost suffocating. A too-warm comforter caressing weary travelers, but also offering lullabies when one needs to stay awake…

I feel my spirit slightly out of focus.
Though I gratefully drink deeply of the generous, nourishing love of my family and friends, thoroughly soaking in the kind of intimacy that only grows after decades of honest life together, I feel slightly off balance.

My cherished Copenhagen has moved on without me. I have to stare intently at the currency to distinguish the different coins from each other, and I realize that many of the young people in the street weren’t even born when I left.

Still, in the cobble stones, I hear the sounds that so enticed me as a little girl. In the red roofs and centuries-old green church spires, I sense the history that drew from me the vow to one day live here. It looked so different through my childhood eyes, and I don’t know how to process the schism between then and now.

Suddenly this ancient city seems so fragile. As do I. Suddenly this charming world seems so small, so temporary. I feel like a falling leaf that doesn’t know where to land.

Into this internal swirl, the many encounters of strangers seeking us out without even knowing why, penetrate like rays of early morning sunshine. There’s a greater world calling, our Creator stirring in many an awakening to His unseen presence. The invisible arousing dormant echoes in hearts of those, for whom visible comfort is not enough.

I keep shaking my head to align those realms.

The last day, we return to Jensens Bøfhus, a little Steakhouse in Hillerød, overlooking another magnificent castle, drawing my heart to my King.

That night, my father tells us more memories from escaping Nazi Germany, and I watch him reliving that terrible hunger, which cigarettes only superficially eased. Though it’s been more than ten years since we buried her together, I feel my mother’s smile, as we listen. I hear her soft laugh….

The way Danish voices caressed my vagabond soul when we first boarded the Copenhagen-bound plane in Paris, American twang now touches me the exact same sweet way in the same airport.

Neither and both are home for me.

On this opposite route across the Atlantic, something inside me returns into focus, as I watch Helen Mirren’s character return to Vienna in “Woman in Gold.” The way past and present blend together to the voice of an old cello, but still don’t satisfy the aching for Home – in the scene of a Jewish wedding dance, I glimpse and feel the tug from the eternal again. The ache is sweet.

When Your Soul Feels Squeezed


Pain pours though her eyes. From the well of countless disappointments, where confusion and dying dreams decay, words, like polluted fish, escape towards the light.

Hoping to be caught, to be understood.
Hoping that if someone would understand what it’s truly like to live inside her soul, her life, that would fix something.

With all the attention I can muster, I listen. I want to see what she sees, hear what she hears, feel what she feels. Walking into the home of her heart, my questions seek to turn on the light. Room by room, I try to discover with her the colors, scents, and sounds that populate her world. Gradually, her isolated emotions merge into a fuller picture, and I begin to understand.

Touring her thoughts and relationships with her, I recognize the reactions I, too, so often clung to like an infant’s security blanket, rocking myself back and forth in their rhythmic repetition:

“No one understands”
“I am all alone in this”
“I am stuck and can’t get free”

Though friends might agree and family support us in the misery, their comfort often unintentionally enforces the bars of our emotional jail.

What keeps us bound inside our own souls is the lie that we are victims of someone else’s choices.

Powerlessness, Passivity, and Pessimism.

Until the day my mentor on the phone took a deep breath, sighed deeply, and asked with the sober sternness I needed right then,

“Why?
Why, Elisabet, are you bound to a mood that isn’t even yours?
Jesus died for your soul, so you would LIVE. Not so you could wither away in someone else’s shadows. Go find the sunshine He has for you.”

“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

It was like someone opened the door to a musty dungeon, and fresh air flood into my spirit. I am not bound to live in a constant boomerang of reaction and counter-reaction with anyone.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Yes, I still have to remind myself of His freedom when hurt tries smother me under the blanket of self-pity. There is plenty of complacent company in the cave that nurses offenses, but like dogs gnawing on their own wounds for attention, the benefits are nowhere near worth the cost.

I grab the hands of my young friend and try to impress on her the incomparable freedom of living for the smile of Jesus, rather than for the hope that her man changes. As she lifts her hopes upward instead, he probably will. But if her motivation were linked to his behavior, she would still be bound.

Cut him loose from the apology you never got, and the times he was lost in his phone when you were vying for his attention, and the way he still doesn’t get the signals you send… – and you will BOTH be free from the tyranny of insatiable expectations.

Then look up at your Creator and receive fresh vision of what you were designed for. Who were you meant to be? Who do you want to be? When do you feel most alive?

He understands why you flinch by certain words and actions. He, who shaped the deepest trenches in the ocean, is intimately familiar with the caverns of your heart. As He is with theirs – with whomever you share this entangled tango.

No human affection will ever caress you the way His Spirit balms our bruises, just by being there. Once you accept that, it’s much easier to appreciate their well-intended kindness, however clumsy or inadequate it may be. As is yours. As is mine. We are all broken creatures who try our best in the divine art of love.

And just as He promised, it’s when we lose our life in His that we begin to live. It’s when we crucify our demands of others that we are free to receive what they willingly offer. It’s when we give ourselves away that we are most deeply satisfied.

It tastes like Jesus.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and envision the freedom, that no one but your Maker can define who you are and who you become. Without your permission, no one can steel the seeds He plants in you, and no one can overshadow you when you stretch toward the sun.

Lean your head back and fill your lungs with His breath – can you taste it – His freedom inside you?

If not, take another, deeper breath and let your spirit soar high over all the smog of your life, till you see the whole globe in beautiful, birds-eye perspective, its blues and greens wrapped in white breezes, after millennia of pollution still reflecting the Creator, who holds your heartbeat and intently watches the shadows and lights in your soul.

Exhale…

Open the fist of resentment and let it all float away…..

Enough.

Let there be light…

http://youtu.be/rRiIWL04po8

Letting Go


I open my hand. Etched into my nerves there are all those I love. No, love is too generic a word – more precisely, those I carry under my skin, inside my soul. When they hurt, my stomach knots into a fist. When they laugh, sunshine floods through me.

If I could design my own world, we would all freely flourish in our callings and passions in wide open spaces – and then meet over candlelit kinfolk dinner every night. Unrushed. Unstressed. In unbroken oneness.

My daughter’s room is empty now. Her vinyls are all back on the wall in her typical whimsical way. Because my chaos-gene lives strongly in her, order was never an achievable ambition for us – till now. Approaching fifty, I’m gradually arriving at some sense of influencing our home environment, and with her gone, the newfound neatness carries over from one day to another.

I miss her.

In the foothills of Southern California, I kissed her goodbye. Both of us composed. None of us knows where the next six months will take her. Vaya con Dios, mi amorsita.

Pastor Saeed hasn’t seen his children for over three years. Unjustly detained and tortured in an Iranian prison, for “crimes against the national security of Iran” (for prior involvement with Christian house churches), still his soul is free. Unconquerable. He wrote to his daughter for her eighth birthday:

“I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home yet. Now there is a big WHY In your mind; you are asking: WHY Jesus isn’t answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family.

Jesus allows me to be kept here for His glory. He is doing something inside each of us and also outside in the world. People die and suffer for their Christian faith all over the world and some may wonder why? But you should know the answer of WHY is WHO. It is for Jesus. He is worth the price. And He has a plan to be glorified through our lives.” (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/pastor-saeeds-letter-to-his-daughter-rebekka/)

I can’t imagine their anguish of their separation.

My man and I sleep in air-conditioned comfort, and what we give, we give from a base of first-world luxury. This crazy, busy, too-many-balls-in-the-air, too-many-people-to-be-as-faithful-as-we-wish life, this is what we were made for. Still, the toll of the pressures he bears is increasingly visible to me: the deepening bags around his eyes, the heavy sighs, the restless sleep. Though hard seasons have forged more spiritual steel into us, these physical marks on him hint nonetheless at his mortality.

So I savor every moment. Watching him make coffee and putter about in his quiet morning routine, I drink him in. Tomorrow together is not guaranteed.

He cannot not slow down. He’s a man on a mission, and he answers to a higher authority than a worried wife. He is only as free as his conscience is clear, and our hopes are anchored in eternity, not here.

Even in queasiness, her glow announced my darling daughter-in-law’s pregnancy way before their Facebook announcement. My grandchild. Actually, two “grandchildren” will be among the many babies entering this confusing world next year, and I ache to protect them.

I want them free and I want them safe; unpolluted, yet savvy. But underneath these natural desires, drawing from a well much deeper than my mother-heart, splashes from the River of Life awaken a truer prayer for them:

May their WHYs be satisfied in the WHO.

Like sunflowers, may they live erect, stretching in His golden purpose towards their Sun, no matter the cost. Pressing down on us us with intensifying madness, the descending darkness is only
temporary. May their vision soar above these shadowlands, to where the sky is free, and may their freedom liberate others. “He is worth the price. And He has a plan to be glorified through our lives.”

This ancient monastic prayer breathing through me, I open my hand and release them:

“Lord, have mercy
You I adore
Into Your hand”

http://youtu.be/NDP5GgBTRE4

“As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21)