The voice in the storm

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,

15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-14, NLT.

Perhaps I’m a bit paranoid, perhaps a little too loving, perhaps I’m just carrying over that mom instict a bit too far. But my fluffy white chickens were just learning to free-range after being moved into their brand new coop and I couldn’t help but hover. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing even one. For the first couple of days, they stayed close to the house, close to the coop, and close to my watchful eye. Yeah, I’m a little protective of my sweet little chickens like that. I kept checking on them throughout the day, peeking out the back door whenever the opporunity arose. Maybe it’s just that they are fun to watch, exploring the grass, chasing bugs, and jumping up to catch a blackberry here and there. Maybe it’s the threat of hawks. Maybe I enjoy my little flock a little bit too much. The heat of the summer air was heavy, and a storm front quickly approached, the winds whipping and the leaves blowing and the cold darkness quickly approaching. My 6 little chickens were nowhere to be found. Not in the coop, not by the back door, not on the deck. I started to worry when my other flock made a beeline for the bigger coop, but the silkies were all just gone.

Where could those little chickens be? They haven’t gone that far before. Not knowing what else to do, I began to call them by name. “Daisy, Turnip, Lily, Rose, Iris, and Dhalia, where are you? Here, chickens, come on home.” I called and called, until I heard Turnip crowing aways off in the distance. I called some more, and finally, when the thunder was rattling and it seemed like the sky was about to break open, Turnip led his crew, one by one, out from under the catalpa tree with it’s giant leaves blowing wildly. He made sure those chickens followed the sound of my voice, right back to the house and into the safety of their little coop. Those little chickens knew who they were, they knew whose they were, and they knew the sound of my voice.

  Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd; He called His people His sheep. I can’t possibly love my little chickens as much as Jesus loves His sheep. He gave everything for those Sheep, even His very life. Those sheep may have a bad reputation for not being very smart, but those Sheep know their Shepherd’s voice. At the threat of danger, my chickens heard my voice and came back to the safety of my watchful eye and their protective coop. But do we even hear God’s voice? When we’re off following our own way, chasing tempting morsels that delight us, are we listening for God’s protective voice? Do we listen when He calls us away from trouble? Would we hear His voice in the storm? Do even know what His voice sounds like at all? We need to listen to the Good Shepherd’s call.

Everyday is a new day to learn who I am, and whose I am, and how to listen to the sound of His voice. If even the sheep and the chickens can know their shepherd’s voice,  why can’t I know mine?

Dear God,

Please teach me to know the sound of Your Voice, to listen when You call, and trust in Your Goodness, Mercy, and Love. Amen

Back to Basics

“10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

IMG_1364I want the full life. I want all of the abundance that Christ can give. But there is an innate restlessness in me. An appetite that is never filled, a thirst that is never relieved. I can drown it out, for a bit, with blogs and facebooks and my cause of the week, pouring myself into something new and fresh and exciting. But the familiar ache always returns.

It is that ever increasing desire for something greater, something better. I’m always seeker the more, the better, the newer. Never content, never satisfied. At times, it is a good quality, as it propels me forward, always looking to make myself better and to improve the world around me. At times, it is a waste, when I try to fill that hole with something other, something less.

Just a few nights ago, I had a dream. Dare I claim to say it was a vision? Quite possibly. Or perhaps it was just a dream.

In my dream, I heard my Dad’s voice, reminding me of a conversation we once had. He told me, as Christ’s return became near, that Satan would replicate all of God’s miracles, in order to bring confusion, temptation, and to lure us from Truth. My mind conjured up all kinds of crazy things, but what I saw in my dream was totally normal. Or so we think.

I saw people, hoardes of people, staring at their phones. Lost in Facebook, and Hulu, and Netflix. Choosing to live in the virtual world, rather than the beautiful one that God created.

I saw people, eating plate after plate of processed food, chock full of preservatives and things that we can’t pronounce, instead of choosing to eat the fresh, live food that God provided us.

Oh, technology isn’t bad. Preserving food isn’t bad. Both of those things save lives, help others, and offer enjoyment. But what I saw in that dream made me wonder, in my quest for the best – is that what God intended for us? Why would we choose the virtual, the fake, when God wants us to choose His abundance? Why do we want to watch someone else’s life unfold on a screen when we can create life and love in the real world? Jesus said that He came so that we can life to the full – I don’t think He was just talking heaven. I think He meant earth, too. I don’t want to limp along through life, placating myself with fake food and fake relationships. I don’t want to treat myself with medications for diseases that happened because I ate too much food that wasn’t the best for me. I want that life to the full, not the virtual second best.

I’m already contemplating how I can live more fully. As spring draws near, I’m planning on expanding my gardens. Why? So that I can feed the ones I love with real, fresh food. Food that God grew. We are working to implement permaculture strategies, using nature’s abilities to farm our little homestead and live more simply. No, I’m not going off grid. At least not today nor in the immediate future. But I am making small daily choices to live more simply and to be present in the moment. Daily choices to grow closer to God. To cut the clutter. And live a real, abundant life.

I don’t want to just sit by and watch those farmers growing things on YouTube. I want to feel the dirt under my toes, the warmth of the sun on my face. I want to smell the rich, dewey grasses and taste the sun-ripened tomatoes and the earthy green mint. I don’t want to just watch someone else live the life I love, and I want to get out there and build it. One seed at a time, one baby chick at a time, one bleating goat, and one budding leaf in every moment. Moments brought to us by a God that loves us and wants to see us living in His abundance.

Will you join me in living life to the full?

He calls you Loved.

 

 

God doesn’t want to be a stranger.

He doesn’t condescend our failures, He descended to our places.  He walked our dusty paths and traveled well-worn roads to meet us.

He’ll come and meet you, right where you are.

God is not unknowable.

He doesn’t stand aloft, aloof; He waits patiently for invitation.

He wants you to cry out to Him, call on Him, count on Him.

He is not mad and overbearing; You cannot sin more than He can forgive.

You cannot make more mistakes than He can use.

There is no tear He cannot comfort, no trial He will not walk you through.

He doesn’t want you to be afraid.

 

God doesn’t want to stand off at a distance, watching, waiting.

He’ll reward you if you seek.

He has plans for you, he has hope for you, he has a future and you are in it.

He has wisdom for you, if you want it. He gives it freely when you ask.

He has strength for you, when you are weak in the knees, and He has rest when you are weary. He has perfect peace when all you’ve got is turmoil.

He knows your needs before you ask, your heartaches, your sorrows, the little things that delight your heart.

He has meaning for your life, and purpose.

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God doesn’t want to keep you at arms length; He isn’t far away.

God wants to wrap you in His loving arms.

He heals your broken heart, he bandages your wounds.

He takes away your tears, and seals them up in a bottle.

He washes away the dust and stink of your dirty feet.

He wants you to know and hear and heed the whisper of His voice.

He sings for joy because of you.

He calls you friend, He calls you child, He calls you firstborn.
He calls you Loved.

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Romans 5:11, NLT So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Just Watch

imageI know that God is always working, never sleeping, never lazy. He is not loligagging about on Sunday morning with coffee, and paper, and slightly crooked reading glasses while He waits for the Mrs. to make His over-easy eggs. I know that God is ever loving; He is not standing back and pointing fingers, consternation in His eyes, glaring at my paltry attempts of goodness or rightness or simply being honest. I know that God has purpose, and plan, and wisdom for those who seek. He is not willy-nilly sending lightning bolts or sickness or creating obstacles for us to overcome and yet those things come. Somehow, they still come.

I know that God is good and He is mystery and love and light and strength and depth and joy and I cannot comprehend how I can know these things and yet feel the awful dread begin to rise, like a knotted up stomach dawning like the sun, growing hotter, bigger, faster.  It’s as if my head and heart just aren’t on speaking terms when one knows that God is good and one is faced with fear, and weakness, and yes, yes, a faltering, failing, knee-weakening anxiety. And what must have I done to deserve this fear and yes, yes, this faltering, failing, knee-weakening anxiety?

My thoughts toss around like a toy boat in a whirl pool, and I question imageeverything I’ve thought so far. And I wish that God would speak to me, and comfort me, and tell me I am on the right path, the right track, not lagging in the passing lane or stalling in the turn with broken blinker, without brakes. I ask God to show me what He’s up to, what He’s planted, what will grow, and where I’ll go. If I only knew what He was thinking. And speaks to me, He does, with gentle, prodding words that are a healing soothing balm that seals the cracks in my weary little soul. He says in words that only my heart can hear,

“Just watch.”

And peace settles in like the dust, and my heart is calmed like the moonbeam shadows on a cool clear night. God’s voice, softer than a whisper, louder than the ocean, restores my faith, bandages my broken places, sparking deep-rooted joy that only comes riding on the waves of His mercies.

imageHis voice, His words. his Words  created the world, His words  stilled the storm, his words written in His Book, His words spoken in my heart. There is unspoken power in His words. Unending Grace. Indefatigable hope.

“Just watch”

 

I want to be great.

I want to be great.

Is that so wrong? To want to be great if greatness happens for great reasons? I want to great so I can write great blog posts that apply a loving dose of healing balm to the tender, irritated places of your heart. I want to be great so I can write great books that move you to do even greater things in the name of Christ. I want to write great sermons that inspire you to run straight into the open loving arms of Jesus. I want to be a great mom whose kids know that they are loved. I want to be a great mom who teaches her kids to care for others. I want to be a great mom who raises great kids who love Jesus. I want to be a great wife who is best friends with her hubby. I want to be a great homesteader who grows delectable meals and takes care of the environment. I want to be a great investor and do amazing things with the money I am allocated in this life. And I am so busy, so busy just trying to be great.

I want to be great.

And I work hard at so many things so that I can be great and so I can help you be great and so I can help my kids and my husband and my family and my homestead be great. And God knows how badly I want to be great and God knows how desperately I want to make a difference in this world and God knows how passionate I am to help others be nearer to Him even when they seem like they are kind of far away from Him. God knows I want to be great and that kind of sounds like great pride even if it is for great reasons.

But God has not called me to be great.

God has called me to Himself. And God says there is no point in being great, Amanda, if you aren’t close to Me. And God says, there is no point in writing great sermons if writing great sermons keeps you from spending precious time with Me. Stay close to Me and worry less about being great and doing great and looking great because greatness is emptiness in a prettied up package. And so I struggle with greatness because I want to be great and I know if I try so hard to be great I’ll be missing out on something and Someone even better than greatness. And so I struggle and strain to give up my idea of the great because that thing I want even more, that burning desire, is not for greatness itself but for the One who is greater than all. And my greatness is pride all prettied up and a knot in my stomach because I can’t even measure up and I ache to be great even though greatness is less than best.

I want to be great but what my heart needs greatest is Jesus.

And I’ll just let that simmer and work on my heart, on that tender irritated spot on my heart that needs the healing balm of Jesus to wipe away the pride and the need to be great and I’ll let Him speak in the quiet and work on that spot so that my need to be great is quenched by nothing less than His love.

His love is great, greater, and greatest. .

When you don’t feel spiritual

Lest we feel like less of a God-follower. Lest we feel unspiritual. Lest we feel like we aren’t spiritual enough, good enough, holy enough to have visions and dreams and holy moments that are unmistakably from God. Lest we compare our walk with God to the walk of the ancients, the mystics, the monks. Lest we feel less, God loves our efforts made in faith, our moments crafted in hope, our days tagged by belief.

Yet, I love reading about the early Christians and their mystical exIMG_6765periences with God. I find their stories to be amazing and beautiful expressions of the unfathomable mysteries of our God. Some of them seem far-fetched, yet the authors of the stories – Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairveaux, Francis of Assisi – believed in their personal experiences of God.  Visions, dreams, and other special experiences of God are beautiful gifts, sparkling gems in the dark of night! These are gifts to be cherished, yes. Special blessings, yes. Daily occurrences? Not necessarily.

I IMG_6501love my quiet times with Jesus. I need them. I crave them. I miss them when I don’t have one. They are like a healing balm for the chapped places of my soul, a convicting presence in the wayward moments of my thoughts, and an unceasing hope for my weakness and weariness. But not every quiet moment with Jesus is a shining gem of mystery, not every verse is a defining moment for my soul. Some prayers are rife with my own distracting thoughts, some interrupted by the presence of others, some verses lost to the busy of my day. Every day touched by the supernatural God, miraculously blessed, but not every day is rife with visions or dotted with mystical experiences of our Maker.

We don’t have to have the ‘feeling’ of God’s presence to know and trust that He is near.

We don’t have to have the ‘feeling’ of God’s ear to know that He hears the cry of our hearts and the cry of our voices.

IMG_7380We don’t have to see visions or dream dreams to know that God is speaking through His Word and speaking through His world and speaking through His people.

Perhaps we forget that God is in the mundane as much as He is in the mysterious.

Perhaps we forget that God speaks into the daily rhythms of life even as He speaks in the miraculous.

Perhaps we forget that God is always with us and often, it is we who are not present with Him.

Perhaps the spiritual life is not an endless defining moment of overpowering IMG_7443Presence, but a daily cultivating of the knowledge and awareness of His presence. Perhaps the spiritual life is a pressing on, a pressing forward, a growing up into the heart of Christ, the knowledge of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, in spite of the challenges that threaten to hold us back. An intentional effort of belief against all odds, a faith that never gives in despite the world’s pressing in. Perhaps the greatest rewards will come when we believe what God has spoken no matter what we feel. No matter what we’re doing. No matter when.

God is near.

God hears.

God loves.

Do you believe it?

I am Plan B.

They are my Plan A.

I always wanted them. Never for a second did I have to hesitate, to wonder if they were the wrong ones for me.

In that moment, I chose to give them my love and never ever take it back. When I received that call from the social worker requesting a placement, I chose yes. I chose them. In that moment, I had the privilege of choice and I am so glad I could choose to make them my Plan A. In that moment, I would do it all over again.

In that moment, they were never given that choice. They didn’t get to choose the house they live in. They didn’t get to choose who would fill that role as mom and dad. In that moment, they didn’t get to choose what their future would be like. And in that moment, they would never have chosen me. I was their Plan B. And I’m ok with that because they didn’t have the chance to chose, didn’t have the wisdom to choose, didn’t have the years to know if they even needed to choose. They didn’t get to choose at all.

They didn’t get to choose to leave the only home they ever knew.  They didn’t get to choose to leave the only people they ever though of as Mom and Dad. They didn’t get to choose to stay with sights and sounds and smells that were familiar. They didn’t get to keep their bed or their sofa or their favorite chair. They weren’t given choice at all. But they wouldn’t have chosen me, a stranger, unfamiliar, different. They didn’t choose Plan B. They would have chosen their Plan A, but they didn’t get to choose.

And so they grieve. In that moment, their grief is strong and hard and they do not have the words to tell it. They grieve the things they cannot understand, they grieve for missing lovies, and lost dollies, and left-behind toys and they grieve the world they left behind. They grieve for familiarity and family and foods and friends; they grieve their pets and their people, they grieve for things that maybe weren’t so good for them but they were the only things they may have had. Their grief is real and there really is no way to get around it. You cannot placate grief with lollipops or lessen pain with popsicles. You cannot make it ever go away, as each new stage and each new age brings new understanding of loss and gain and grief. And so they grieve on and on, in different ways on different days.

But time goes on, and we practice sharing the light and love and grace of Jesus and we practice giving hope and help and most of all we practice Love. And unfamiliarity gives way to comfortable and comfortable unfolds gently, softly, sweetly, into love. And Plan A and Plan B come together, somehow, someway, sometime, and make something so new and beautiful and shared and I am so grateful for it all. And every bit of laughter, every lasting hug, or late night talk; every meal and moment shared, every booboo kissed and every homework assignment completed together, and every holiday and every bit of help and hope lead to healing and healing leads to joy that is immeasurable. And the heavy weight of grief begins to lighten as we learn how to carry that load, together.

 

The Master Gardener

IMG_0171I love my garden. It is my oasis, my grocery store, my space to be quiet and think, my sanctuary to meditate, an emblem of hope for the fruit and vegetables that are to come. Growth is slow, it is not instant. My little plot is far from finished. I have lots more seeds to plant. Some of them are waiting because I haven’t had time to construct their trellis. Some are waiting because I like to plant in succession, so that I have lettuces and kales all summer long.

Their are spots of ground still waiting to be tilled, spots to be planted, spots to be weeded, and spots to be harvested. The gardener needs to get in there and get to work.

Isn’t that just like life? We have places in life that are bearing good fruit, parts of lives that need to be weeded, parts that aren’t yet ready to grow fruits, and seeds that have yet to be put in the ground. But we cannot get to know the Master Gardener, Jesus Christ, and expect Him not to work the soil of our lives, till the unbroken ground of our hearts, or plant the seeds of new dreams. He will gently, lovingly, kindly transform us into the beautiful, fruit bearing garden He has planned for us to be.

IMG_4212John was a disciple of Jesus, and in his writings, we know him for his thoughts on loving God and loving each other. But John wasn’t always that way – not until he left the Master Gardener in. When John became a disciple of Christ, he wasn’t known for his love. He was known for his rash and impulsive behavior, he was known as a smelly fisherman, a Son of Thunder. But Jesus didn’t kick John out of the disciple club. But somehow, Jesus got into the soil of his heart and began to transform him from the inside out. And then we came to know John as someone we trust, who shows us how to love God and each other. (Think 1 John 4:7-19). The brash, rash, impetuous young man became transformed by the loving, pruning, harvesting hand of Jesus.

What areas of your life are ready to harvest delicious nutritious fruit? What areas haven’t even been tilled? What needs pruned? Planted? Have you turned the whole garden over to the Gardener? Or are you hiding some spots away?

Little blessings, great big grace

IMG_0987It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? Easy to forget just how we have it so good. And it’s hard to remember all the things that we have, and it’s easier to overlook the blessings we didn’t take the time to count up. It’s easy to think about how hard this life is and harder to think about the good this life gives. Because this life is hard and this life is tiring and this life can make you so very very weary and the weight of the world gets heavier each day you and you think you carry it, just you, own your own. And don’t we we cry and complain when things aren’t going straight the way we want them to go, and its heavy and tired and just seems to get worse? And days upon days are ruined, we think, and where on this earth can we find some relief for this hurt and this heavy and this complaint in our hearts that won’t go away?

And then somewhere on our day, we forget how good it is to have fresh clean water every time we turn the handle of the faucet. Some people, some people have no water at all. Some people have water, but it isn’t safe to drink. But we, we have water. What did we do to deserve fresh clean water any time we want it? Nothing, really. We were just born here, where these is fresh clean water for just about anyone, just about anytime. All we have to do is turn it on.

But, we, or was it just me, who forgot to say thanks because I have water, all the water I need?

Sometime this morning, I turned on the light switch to see in my closet at the clothes that I own. I opened my chilly-IMG_0934cold fridge. And fried up a few delicious warm eggs. I turned on the water and let it get hot, and I washed my face and it felt so good to wash off the dirt of sleeping last night. And I must have forgot to be thankful for my lights and my cold fridge and my deliciously fried up eggs and the hot water I used to wash off my face. Until that little text this morning, from a friend a ways away.  “My power is out. And I need to call.” And we don’t realize how much we love our lights until we flip that little switch and those lights don’t go on. And what did we do to live in a place where there is power, so much power, that we only notice it when it’s gone?

Did we forget to say thank you, for lights? And thank you for chilly-cold fridges and thank you for warm, fried up eggs and the hot water to wash off our tired dirty face?

IMG_4025And right there, out that window, some bunnies scatter off into the weeds, and a fox yipping distantly, there – right there, a blue bird perched up high with lazy swings dangling below. And a couple of yellow finches, flitting and bobbing among the dandelion heads, and some too tall grass, and a few toys strewn about, and a robin or two listening hard for their plumpy worms, and that pesky wood pecker who loves all my trees. And right there, out that window, did I look and be thankful for those little blessings I count on so much?

And there, on my porch, some plants in their pots waiting to be snuggled down in the tilled up earth, where the worms get to play and the plants get to grow and give us vegetables, delicious, and filling, and so good for tiny tummies, but did I forget to be thankful for those little plants, just waiting in their pots? And there in the patchy sun, a wise old kitty who dozes away her days.

And I forget to count those tiny little blessings that every day should fill my heart with blessingsoverflowing thankfulness, like great big hugs from tiny tots, and kissing faces dripping with crumbs, and well-fed tummies, and chilly-cold milk, and chickens, so many chickens that give us their eggs, and lovely, loved people reading these words, and leftover pizza from friends that come play, and bananas and coffee, and a place to call home, with a pillow, and a bed, and a sofa, and a Bible to read, and a home that is cozy and plenty warm enough, that keeps out the rain and the snow and the cold, and a van that goes, and see? All these blessings that we just forgot. Real riches are found when our blessings are counted and maybe, just maybe, if I stopped just to count and say thanks for these gifts I’d know just how giving and good our God is.

And today, I will change my life, if just a little bit, and I will change my heart, if ever so slight, and I will give thanks and I will know that we our so blessed and our God is a good, good God.

ISO: New Mercy. Wore out the old one

IMG_1083Some days. There are just some days, some weeks, some months.   You know the ones. Where everything is just hard and even the simple stuff doesn’t come out so easy any more you’re just plain tired of the hardness of it all. When you need a little bit of slack but there isn’t any slack to be had and you thank your lucky stars that you don’t actually believe in karma because you think you must have done something pretty terrible to deserve all of this frustration and all of this hardness and all of this stuff.

And maybe it’s nothing really terrible but lots of little things that add up to one great big thing, like when the cat throws up on your freshly cleaned bed and the crumbs get spilled and stomped and spread in the freshly cleaned carpet. And maybe you step on a Lego and you drop the eggs that were going to be dinner and you’re just too tired to think of something else and now your patience is gone and the kids are in need of quite a bit of it and you just want the day to be done but there’s a long way to go and it’s just hard and you’re just that tired of it all.

And Facebook tells you you’re not good enough and you just don’t have enough andmercies you don’t do enough. You didn’t do the things with your kids or buy them that toy or go to that place that a good parent would and your house isn’t fancy it’s just a home with a roof and the yard isn’t mowed because the mower is old and the garden’s not done and the weeds are growing strong and fast and big where the vegetables should be and you feel like you’re less because you just didn’t and can’t and sometimes, you just won’t. And the worst is the guilt because you snapped at your kids and you snapped over the bills and you just know you’re supposed to be thankful and grateful for this blessed life that you have but none of it feels so blessed in this moment. And you want to crawl in your bed and pull the covers up high but you can’t because of the cat and the throw-up and so you just want to throw in the towel on this day and it’s not even noon and you’re already done.

And it’s ok.

IMG_0926It’s ok if you feel like the mercy ran out and the patience ran out and the peace ran out and the everything else that you’re supposed to do and supposed to be is gone for the moment. It’s just a moment. And you don’t need to feel guilt and you don’t need to feel bad and you don’t need to worry about not being enough. And Facebook is wrong, flat dead wrong because God is enough and His love is enough and everyday there is mercy, new mercy, and it’s all just enough. God’s love is enough and that means you’re enough and you’ve done enough and you will be enough. So just hit the pause for a sec and take one big deep breath and let it all out and remember that mercy, God’s mercy is enough and it never runs out and it’s new every day and you don’t have to fight to get it or have it. He gives it to you with all of His love and that makes you enough for today. He’s enough.

Lamentations 3:22-23 New Living Translation (NLT)

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.

 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.