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I think that I am not alone in this.

I think a good night’s sleep is important, kind of critical, in fact desperately needed. For my sanity. And everyone else’s. Beauty sleep, they call it. Attitude sleep is what I think it really is. And I need it. Especially for Sunday, when I lead worship. When I want have myself together, be at my best, so I can help others to worship their Savior. Sleep is as critical as breathing.

But I think that Satan must love Saturday night.

 

It’s 11:30 pm. Lights off, my head sinks into the pillow, my body gives a  big sigh of relief. I love my bed.

Sadly, Sleep doesn’t come, so I pray a bit, and rest.
It must be just about midnight, when I finally doze off. It is bliss.

Oh no! At 12:10 I am awakened by a mini heart attack as the sound of elephants stampeding through the house quickens my heart to a jolting pace. What’s going on? Is the house falling down? An earth quake? Are there really elephants above me? What?
Oh wait it’s just the cat.

The really old cat who barely, rarely, gets out of bed is running around the house like a stampede of elephants.IMG_4033

Ok, I can go back to sleep.  Just as soon as my heat rate gets back to normal.

12:20 Once, again, dozing off and returning to sleep. Ahhhh, bliss.

12:29. A giant thump in the foyer gives me another mini heart attack. Did someone fall down the steps? Is the house caving in again?

Really cat? That was you? You sleep 92% of your life away, why can’t some of it be now?

12:45 Return to bliss after mini heart attack subsides.

1:10 Jolted awake by the sound of a small child’s coughing fit. It quickly subsides.

1:12 Is that more coughing? Do I need to get up and do something?

No, this time it’s the cat. Hacking up a hair ball

On the bed.
Jump up and move cat to the floor to save the comforter.IMG_4028
Clean up the yuck.
Crawl in bed. Sink into the pillow. Relax. I really really love my bed.

1:17 The baby begins to fuss. She’s hungry. Or maybe needs changed.  Both, probably.
Tap the hubby. It’s your turn.
No response from hubby.
Tap the hubby harder.

Still no response.
Shake hubby. Get up get up I want to sleep. And my attitude clearly reflects it.
Doze, but not quiet sleep, as hubby feeds baby for the next hour.

2:20 Everyone gets settled.
Head sinks into pillow. Eyes closed. Sleep comes quickly. Bliss. Oh, how I love my bed. Maybe someday, I will marry my bed.

3:20. More coughing.  It’s the cat again.
Hacking up a hair ball. In the freaking bed. This cannot possibly be happening.
Move cat to floor to save the comforter. Forget the yuck.
Climb in bed. Head sinks into pillow. Eyes close.

4:07 Eyes pop open. Breath catches. Gulp. Someone’s staring at me. Two someones, actually. Preschoolers. “Mommy. Mommy wake up. We need tucked in.”  Ok. Ok. I’ll tuck you in.

4:12 Bliss is tainted by crazy dreams about Target and shopping and houses and elephants and hairballs.
And then the phone rings and rings. Somebody answer the phone. Please. Please because I love my bed and I want to sleep. I need bliss.
Oh wait.
4:45 am. It isn’t the phone. It’s not someone calling me in the middle of the night.

It’s the alarm and it’s time to get up.
It is Sunday. And I will do my best with what I have to praise our Savior, and create the opportunity for others to do the same.

But first, coffee. I love my coffee. Coffee is bliss.

IMG_7393“Mom, close the curtains. I don’t want the darkness to get in.”

Honey, the darkness cannot hurt you. 

“Mom, turn the light on. I can’t see in the dark.”

It’s in the dark that our light shines brightest. 

“But I can’t see in the dark. I’m afraid.”

God is with you, even in the dark.

 

IMG_7380God does not intend for us to be afraid in the dark. Bad times come, but these seasons of  grief, and despair, or times of hopelessness and discouragement, these are not a cosmic time-out sent from far across the universe to whip wayward children into shape. Crippling, crushing fear that stops us in our tracks – this is not heaven sent, the weight of depression that hampers our steps as we trudge through the molasses of sadness or brokenness, this is not the ruling of a strict Father, imposing, decreeing misery on His little ones. Bad times do come, and they have come, and they will come again, and maybe bad times are right now, but they are not the final word on the goodness of your life and mine. Bad times, sad times, grieving times, despairing times, these are the by-products of a world that is not the way that God designed, but a world that has been tainted and twisted and confused by sin, by missing the mark on what God had planned, or because of bad choices, or bad situations, or bad actions.

Bad times come. And with them, darkness.IMG_7403

God does not want us to fear in the dark. 

Do not be afraid, He whispers. Again and again, His Word, His written Word, His Son, the Word, reminds our breaking, crying, screaming, lonely hearts, Do not fear.

This world will give you trouble, but I, the I AM, the Word, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, I have overcome the world.

Don’t be afraid. 

When bad times come, don’t be afraid.

It didn’t catch me off guard.

When bad times come, don’t be afraid.

I have the very best stuff planned for your life.

When bad times come, don’t be afraid.

There isn’t one single thing in this world that can keep me from you.

When bad times come, don’t be afraid.

I am still working even when you cannot see me through the darkness.

When bad times come, don’t be afraid.

All of this will pale compared to what I have in store for you.

Don’t be afraid. 

The Good Father does not create our fear.

He does not give us despair.

He does not make us broken.IMG_7398

The Good Father gave us His very best – His Son, His Beloved One, His Little Lamb, to walk among us in the darkness, to meet us in our brokenness, to come to us in our despair. He did not fear the dark, but embraced it to be with us. There is no darkness in Him, our darkness cannot dim Him, because He is our Light.

The Good Father is at work in our bad times and our darkness. And the Good Father will create good IMG_7455from the very worst, like an artisan, He crafts something beautiful from the shattered pieces of our bad times.  He smoothes away the rough places, restoring, redeeming, resurrecting what has been broken to bring about beauty, newness, life. He brings light in our darkness.

Do not be afraid, He tells us quivering souls, I will be your Light. There is no darkness that will stop me. There is no brokenness I cannot redeem. There is no sadness I cannot help carry. There is no wrong I cannot forgive. I will be your Light, no matter how deep your darkness.

Do not be afraid.

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You went to church, yesterday, didn’t you?

On that unbelievable day that we get to celebrate Easter, the day of our risen Savior,  you went to church. And you sang glorious Easter IMG_0592songs, perhaps heard the heart-pumping strains of Hallelujah, rejoiced in the alleluias, adored the chiffon and the bows and the satin on the little tiny tots with their chocolaty mustaches and bunny stuffies and and fist-bumped your way through the greeting and the celebrating and the empty tomb and the awesomeness of the day. And you heard an inspiring sermon about the earth quake and the soldiers scared to death and that Jesus breaking out of that tomb and perhaps a lovely solo or two, and the musicians played their very bestest and the pastors preached their hearts completely out of their chests and it was really really an awesome spiritual holy day. And you were thrilled with your delicious Easter dinner and then when you couldn’t possibly eat another bite you snuck a few chocolate bunnies from the Easter baskets when no one was looking and then you later collapsed in your bed, happy, full, and content with the risen Lord and the Easter bunny and the church service and the happy, happy children and it was still an awesome, maybe even perfect day. And it deserves the very best of celebrating, it needs a give it all you got because it is the most amazing day of the year kind  of a celebration, this Easter day that we celebrate our risen Savior.

And then there was Monday.

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And Monday hits like a dump load of broken up bricks because the festivities are done, and everyone is reeling from their chocolate bunny hangovers and crankily seeking out their sugar fix and you can’t hear that glorious music ringing in your ears anymore and the chocolate bunnies are gone and the leftovers are just left over and the Easter grass is strewn around and the foil wrappers are ground into the carpets and the toys are already breaking and you are so exhausted from all of that fun. And the risen Lord was so so yesterday and His death defiance fades into the background and life hits you really hard right there in the here and the now and the gut. And pretty soon it’s back to work and back to school and back to the drudgery of life and back to our budgets and our dirty dishes and wiping runny noses and everything else that drags us down when the Easter high has gone away. And Easter has come and gone and nothing is really any different or better it’s just dull and dingy in the light of all that celebrating.

But Easter living isn’t one day a year.

Easter living is in the heartbreak, those cold hard days when the emptiness of your arms makes your very bones ache and you cry for your IMG_0606dad or your husband or your favorite grandpa but they aren’t there so you find rest in the only place you can, in those stretched wide arms of your risen Lord with the nail holes and the scars. And Easter living is in the tension of your company, so close to breaking apart that it keeps your eyes open throughout the night but you can find your rest deep in the soft kind eyes of the risen Savior.  And Easter living is in the mounds of laundry that overwhelm your laundry room day after day after every single cotton picking day and you feel like you can’t do one spiritually important thing because laundry. Because work. Because kids. Because grief. Because everyone else’s family Facebook pictures are happier, more perfect, and more than you think yours are. Because chocolate bunny hangovers remind you that there are too many days in the year that aren’t really awesome, maybe even perfect fist-pumping Easter Sundays.

But Easter living isn’t one day a year.

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And in the days of the heartbreak, and the cold, and the laundry, and the grief, and the Facebook pictures and the empty Easter baskets we find the real meaning in the Easter celebrating. Because when the rejoicing has passed and there is nothing left but the chocolate bunny hangover we find that the risen Savior is still just as real, and His welcoming arms are still waiting, still stretched wide with those unmistakable nail holes and those holy scars. And instead of high-fiving those reached out hands for accomplishing that act of death defiance we run straight and hard into them because there is no place left to go and that’s ok because we are still just as welcome right there in those open wide arms. And whether it’s the first place we look or the last place we turn there is still the love of a Savior who was willing give up His very own life even for our daily drudgery with the laundry and the Facebook and the chocolate bunny hangover. Easter living is the promise that the God who defied death is very much alive and the God who defied death is within our grasp and the God who defied death wants us to grasp for Him. And Easter living isn’t just in the resounding trumpet but also the tiny whisper of hope He speaks to our weary souls when we start to let the resurrection break forth into our dingy dull places and our laundry and our Facebook and our grief-stricken places and our chocolate bunny  hangovers.

 

“I know right where you are and I’ll come to you,” echoed my new 1147603_10201900890624407_1866935575_ohusband in my ear. The tow truck driver hollered these words to him to pass on to me. I was stranded on the side of the highway, barely out of the path of cars whizzing by in their rush to get home.

It was frigid and my car was dead. Not even a click when I turned the key. It was so dark no one could  see that I was inside the smokey blue Dodge Colt, stranded and alone. I locked my doors and huddled under an old blanket, shivering in the 10 degree weather. The car shook from the passing traffic and I couldn’t see who might be out there in the darkness. Not a soul, not one, stopped to help. Maybe that was better, safer. I climbed into the passenger side, furthest from the wildness of the traffic, praising God for 1 thing – my very first cell phone, purchased the day before, at the insistence of my groom. The phone I didn’t really want.

557048_4218347977465_104829219_nHe’s coming to me, echoed in my head.  He must have broken the laws of man and nature to get to me so quickly, because the tow truck driver, who I had seen only a few times before in my small town, arrived within a half an hour. He saw me shaking, and with compassion in his eyes helped me into the cab of his truck. “I said I’d be here; let’s get you warm.” And he cranked up the heat and loaded my little car onto his big truck.

He knew right where I was, and he came to me. Yes, the tow truck driver.

Yes, Jesus. Jesus knew right where I was, and He came to me.

I find so much comfort in that statement – he knew right where I was. It5311_10200880558236735_1400010509_n was going to be ok.  Nothing would stop him from getting me home safely. He meets us right where we are. Just like the woman at the well (John 4). Just like Mary and Martha (Luke:10-38-42) Just like Lazarus (John 11:43). And just like the women bewildered by the empty tomb (Matthew 28). He came to us, each one of us, right where we are. He didn’t wait until we knew the answer, or had it all together. Jesus knows us right where are – in the cold, in the dark, afraid, alone, He knows. He knows when we are alone in a car or a tomb or even near the tomb; when we are dying or living, working or not working, Jesus knows just where we are and He comes to us to warm us with His love.

23924_1385760284543_4829787_nDo you remember how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? It’s such a well-known Bible story that we don’t think about it too deeply, do we? But Lazarus was dead. And Jesus came to him, and met his greatest need.

Then there were the women near the empty tomb. Jesus, Savior, Messiah, King, the Word, God, defeated sin and death in this most incredible amazing victory – the event that changed the entire course of the world forever and ever – He could have gone anywhere, or done anything. But He met those women in their greatest need, right where they were. He met them by His tomb. What a stark picture of the life giving Jesus meeting us in our places of death and despair, offering us hope, resurrection, life.

There is never a place where we are too far for Jesus to come us, no place too dark, or cold, or alone. There is no death that can prevent Him from coming to us. There is nothing that will stand in Jesu11990476_10207840579712922_8025513724316635598_ns’ way. He knows where you are and He is coming to you.

This week, this Holy Week, where we remember Jesus’ suffering, and His death, and His ultimate resurrection, we remember how Jesus gave everything because He knew right where we would be. He wasn’t afraid to join us in the cold, in the dark, in the fear, or in the pain, or even in death. Jesus knows right where we are because He’s been where we are. And He is coming to us.

imageLife gets a little too heavy sometimes, when the bills roll in faster than the paychecks do, and the babies aren’t sleeping at night because of stuffed up little noses, and I can’t control the hurt that’s haunting my heart over the pain my loved ones bravely face, and then the laundry mounds up high and it’s just the last straw in an overwhelming pile of straws after staying up late drawing puppies for a 2nd grade diorama, and I stop and wonder, where is God in all of this? Where is He when I can’t keep up with the life that I created and the circumstances that I didn’t? Oh, in my head, I definitely, pridefully, know the answer.  He’s right here. He never left. And He never will. But sometimes it takes my soul a little longer to catch on to when my head once learned all the right answers in Sunday School, so I squirm in my spot and whine about life and finally, finally, seek out ways that help me feel closer to Him.

And I start to remember that all of us here in the northern hemisphere are pretty Vitamin D deficient, which leads to fatigue, and fatigue to overeating, and overeating to a bit of depression when the winter gets deep and dark. And it’s no wonder that all we want to do is sit on our sofas eating cookies and dozing off when the heaviness of life gets a little to weighty to bear and makes me feel far away from God.

So instead of reaching for the choimagecolate I reach for a doorknob and step out into the sunshine so I can look for signs of life in the outdoors, signs of hope, signs of lighter and brighter days. And it is there that I relearn my favorite life lesson that God has revealed Himself through His incredible undeniable creation. And I start to see His hand in a freshly budded leaf, and hear His voice in the delicate song of a robin, and He whispers to me softly through the whispering of the woods and my soul starts to catch on that God is with me and I was simply looking in the wrong place.

cropped-IMG_7754.jpgAnd I remember that when God created this earth, He spoke and made it out of nothing. From nothing, not from dirt or mass or matter or even so much as an atom or electron, from nothing His words brought forth life, the life that now tentatively pokes its way up and out of the frozen ground, and flits about snatching worms out of muddy spots, and shows that winter doesn’t last forever. It’s just a season and if God can create everything we have ever known from absolutely nothing, ex nihilo, nothing at all, than surely He can help fresh, new life poke through my frozen heart and refresh the staleness that has been my spirit in the harshness of the winter days.

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And that is what I love the most about my budding homestead, that every inch of every acre reveals a little bit of God’s unfathomable creativity, His mindfulness of every detail, His penchant for variety, His love of life and newness and spring after the winter and most of all, His love and His nearness for me. And every blistered hand from raking and every aching back from sowing, and every tiny squeal of delight from tiny humans gathering eggs or chasing chickens is an opportunity, a possibility, and the unbelievable ability to work alongside of our Creator to bring forth life where there wasn’t life before; it is the means to tend, and nurture, and experience miracles that are tiny and miracles we’ve never seen before, and a way in which we can learn to love and adore and learn to be loved and adored as we hear His whispers in the woods and feel His nearness in the sun and sense His breath breathe new life into our very souls.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the city or the country or in the in between, if you feel like God is far away I can promise you He’s not. I know it in my prideful head from Sunday School but I am daily learning it in my soul that God is close even when I worry that He is not, and we can learn this daily lesson together, one tentative step, one chicken egg, one blooming budding growing stem at a time.

And maybe you don’t have an acre, maybe it’s just a backyard spot, or a sun speckled window with a little room for a bowl or even just a potato where you can plant a seed and call it a homestead of your very own. And as the seed pokes it’s tender stem through the ground of that pot that is your very own homestead you can see and learn and know that the very same God who spoke into life lacey soft petals and stormy weather strong trunks of trees and green and plush blades of grass and singing birds and chicken eggs is the very same God that got down in the dirt of the earth and fashioned you with His very own hand (Genesis 2). And that my friend is hope and joy and love and closeness and may we never forget the holy God who got His hands dirty in the earth- for us.

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, NLT

 

imageA heavy darkness seems to pervade these January days, like a chill that hits the bones of my soul. Only some of that darkness belongs to the early sunset and shortened days, some a dark shadow cast by the brightness of the Christmas season that has just passed. Doesn’t the dimness seem to rise up as the sparkle of the Christmas lights come down? House by house, and yard by yard, the Christmas brightness simply goes dark. My Christmas decorations have been put away, ornaments hidden in their protective crates,  the dying tree sentenced to the compost pile, and the stockings stuffed in boxes instead of stuffed with surprises. The boughs of greens have withered away, leaving a straggling needle or two in their places. The twinkling lights have all gone dark, save one. I wasn’t ready for the darkness. I left the snowflake shining on the porch, a gleading reminder of fun filled days and Christmas joy.

When I awoke in the middle of the night, the house was flooded in the cool blue light of that last holiday decoration, filtering through the bay window and seeping across the floor. A few sparkles glittered in my room and down the hall. The children’s rooms seemed bright in spite of the deep winter dark. It was tranquil in the sweet blue light, the house warmed by the last of the fire’s embers while I checked on little children tucked up dreamily in their beds.

Even the smallest of lights can chase away the deepest dark. Isn’t that what we are called to be? Just a little light, passing peace and warmth in the dark and the chill. It doesn’t take a spotlight to brighten up the dark, but the quiet, gentle embers of a soul warmed by the love of the Messiah. It is the love from Christ that fuels our light and stands guard against the dark, a beacon that is our eternal hope and unquenchable joy.  His love that connects us,  fills us, strengthens us and reflects through us. His love is our light and today I’m plugging in.

Shine bright, little light, shine bright.

 

 

 

 

The marathon has ended and the surreal inverse reality of the holiday season has finally come to a close. I’m not talking sci-fi, I’m talking Christmas. Oh, I love Christmas – I love to celebrate the birth of my Savior, I love to spend time with family and friends, and I love to delight my small children with Christmas goodies wrapped up in pretty paper. I love Christmas music and I love Christmas cookies a little bit too much… But I feel like I spend every Christmas season in a sleep-deprived haze, rushing too much only to accomplish too little. Each year, I aim to cut it down to the basics and simplify the season as much as I possibly can. But even still, it’s a crazy-filled race to the end and by the time the New Year arrives, I basically feel like a fruit cake. A pudgy, tired, maxed-out fruitcake with a head cold. And it is in this state that reality returns on Monday morning.

Every year, it is almost inevitable that I  play a funeral or celebration of life service in between Christmas and New Year’s, often for a family that I don’t know.  As I listen to the family share about their missing loved one’s character, accomplishments, dreams, and goals, I wonder – how much do we really matter outside of our smallest circle of influence? It is the family and very close friends who are broken and grieving, the business associates and other friends who are saddened, and strangers who are mostly reflective. It is a hard time to lose someone you love. It is always a hard time to lose someone you love.

And as 2015 has rolled over into 2016, I don’t want any New Years resolutions, fad diets, or pep talks. I don’t want anything to add to my already lengthy to do list. I don’t want to get up at 4:30 and exercise, either. What do I want is to think about my circle of influence. The 6 small wonders that greet me each morning (and much too early, I might add), my husband,  along with the others that I interact with throughout my day.  During the funeral, the deceased’s daughter shared her favorite memories of her dad – and revealed a poignant truth for this year. The memories she cherished most had no technology, no presents, no personal gain. They weren’t great moments of inspiration, discipline, or idealized events. They were simply regular time spent in the loving presence of her dad, doing life together. And isn’t that the point?

Perhaps it reflects my age that I am so moved by a funeral, but I hope that it reflects that God is still working on my attitude and my personal goals, shaping me into a more Christ-like version of myself. While I am working on some new goals and dreams, I want to keep this in the forefront of it all:

Enjoying this life to the most, and planning for what we will leave behind, means doing life together in the presence of our Heavenly Father.  It means being present in my circle of influence, so that I can reflect the presence of Jesus in my life. So how does this thought reshape my plans for today, tomorrow, this year, and beyond?

Happy New Year and  may you know God’s presence in your life each day.