Sunday, December 7, 2014

Where the Waiting meets the Now - The Miracle of Advent

Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  The problem of a promise, the hardest part of hope, the deep ache of a dream is in the waiting.

And yet.  There is the beauty of the bare and barren, the sparse and spacious, the echoing and empty.  There is room here.  There is room here for You to come, for me to meet You.  There is a place here for grace to flood.  

Abraham and Sarah, old and gray, laughing for joy because their son was a miracle because they had waited... and waited.

Joseph and Mary, representatives of a nation, kneeling on the earth from which we were formed, holding the Child who broke the silence.  All of time and space bursting forth with starlight and angel song, because we'd been waiting for so long.  

This man, blind from birth, he knows who the Messiah is because when the messy mud of spit and earth comes from the hand of God and touches him in the face, he can finally see.  He knows because he lived waiting blind for so long, and NOW HE CAN SEE.  

And this twenty-something single sitting in a pew holding dreams of a future and a home just like every young woman her age?  She stands and she walks to the Compassion table and suddenly she's holding someone else's dream in her hand.  One little girl dressed in red and one in yellow. She draws the cards to her heart and the tears come, like a melting heart can do nothing else but stream down her face.  Because in her waiting, she can still find peace.  Because here is the least of these, and here is Jesus. 

And here is the answer for all the waiting.  When you believe that God has arrived, that He sees and that He provides nothing less than Himself for your every need, you can breathe in peace and exhale praise like you've never known before.  You can laugh joy.  You can sing worship.  You can see beauty.  And ultimately, you can provide too.

Because Advent is where the waiting meets the now.  Where the greatest gift of His Presence meets the greatest need of our present, and God With Us sees us and chooses to make our hearts like some earthy, messy manger, His home.  And even in the waiting and the broken dreams and our weakness He uses us, to burst forth into the world.  He plants the seed of love and in piercing pain it spreads roots deep and stretches our hearts wide to make room for the least of these, to make room for Him.

So in my waiting I remember that God always provides by giving Himself.  And that, in the least of these, I meet Jesus face to face.  So I will sit in His presence until I am overwhelmed by His goodness and then, I will give my resounding YES to the opportunity to overflow with His goodness to others.  Because my waiting for dreams to come true meets the now of His arrival and their need.  So I will wait and I will give because He always sees and He always provides.  And there is Peace here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Beauty in the Branches - The Beginning of Advent

I come home from Thanksgiving and step out on the back porch.  It's supposed to drop into the 20s tonight, so I need to bring the hibiscus in.  It may not make any difference.  They haven't gotten water in at least a week.  My breath catches a little when I look.  Not one, but two yellow blooms opening their red hearts to the sun like some defiant glory.  I look up as I smile.  Jot it on my mental list.  Whisper thanks.

The last leaf trembles on the branches above me.  I look up at the bare limbs and down at the piles on the ground.  I sigh, thinking about how strange it is for the trees to disrobe just before the cold sinks in, before winter.  I hear it like some whisper in the breeze - Not succumbing to winter, but opening to Advent.  Ah yes. The bare branches piercing the sky, they can look like death....

Or they can look like eager anticipation.  

Because when you peel it all away and reveal the very center of it, there is this waiting for something new and wonderful to be born.  And in a world of breaking hearts and broken glass and fires raging, we all cry Maranatha - Lord come quickly.  And He is coming.  He has come.  And we remember.  We remember the words of Isaiah.  "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit."  That when all looks lost and dead and dry, He breaks forth in humility and light.  And every year, the trees disrobe to remind us of just that.  Out of the silence and the darkness, when all hope seemed lost and the waiting appeared to be just too much, a baby's cry broke through and the coming Victory echoed long.  

So I'll peel the layers back one by one in the coming days.  I'll open my heart up to the glory of the sun.  I'll bundle warm, and I'll remember that the waiting will end.  Brokenness will be made whole.  The fires will bring only comfort and never destruction.  Vulnerability will be covered.  The silence will be broken with a cry and a song.  All will be made new.  And a star will shine in the darkness forever.  I'll breathe the gift of Advent deep.

Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 31 - FMF: Leave


It's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.  The things that you can't quite put words to.  It's the laughter and the light through the leave and the sound of children's voices.  It's the memories you can never quite leave behind, and would never want to.  It's the realization that you can feel like you and nothing left to give or do or say and yet whenever you choose faithfulness instead of walking away, He never leaves you empty.  It's they way He'll swoop in with His grace and will never leave you the same.  It's the way the stars can leave you breathless or the Spirit and hold your angry tongue.  It's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.  It's falling into bed at the end of the day and waking up to something new.  It's feeling mercy you don't deserve and learning lessons that will change you forever.  It's learning to walk like Him and talk like Him and see Him make a difference through you.  Of all the words I've written this month some of them may have been good.  There are some great truths and beautiful thoughts... but it's the things that leave you speechless that matter the most.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 30 - When It Doesn't Get Any Easier

So.  Day 30.  Where has this month gone?  You know it's funny.  When I decided to take this on, I knew it would be a challenge.  I knew that I would have to be intentional about carving out time to sit and write.  But I thought it would get easier over time.  It hasn't.  And maybe some things aren't meant to get easier.  Maybe some things are meant to be a daily commitment.  Maybe some things are decisions we need to make over and over again.  Maybe there is some way that God is glorified when we are intentional, when we make sacrifices.  And maybe that's why some things don't get any easier.

On my second day of writing I posted a poem about sunrises, so I thought it might be appropriate on my second to last day of writing to post a poem about sunsets.  Enjoy.

Chasing Sunsets

It's the whole sky
Sending chills up and down the spine
The sun is hidden there somewhere behind
And I can't find
My breath
It's all I can do
To not take off running for You
Chasing sunsets

Shadows of clouds ablaze
And it fades
All too quickly
My eyes aren't wide enough to see
My hands aren't big enough to reach
But the soul
And the heart
They Know

And doesn't my heart burn
Within my chest?
Don't my lips form
This mysterious "yes"?
I'll drop it all for You
I'll stay here with You
I cannot see You
But all this artistry!
How can I miss you?
Why would I miss you?

Feet of my soul fly
Chasing sunsets
Blazing sky
And all I find
Is all I need
Is You.

Stephanie M.  Frakes

October 8, 2013

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 29 - Why Every Mary Needs an Elizabeth

We're walking around the track, me and this woman who's been around just a little more than I.  We laugh.  We do some scheming.  She teaches me the secrets of finding a man (I'm saving those to put in my NYT Bestseller, so sit tight, y'all.) and the secrets of teaching.  And I think about how many women like her God has brought into my life.  And I am thankful.  I think about the women who have taken me under their wings and loved me and spoken blessing over me and called out my gifts.  I think of how many times, in how many lives, I've gotten to see that no matter what kind of crazy things get thrown our way, HE OVERCOMES IT ALL.  Every season, every time, in grief, in insecurity, in our running and our doubting and our questioning, HE NEVER LETS GO.  I'm too young to really see that in my own life.  There's always this little question of, "Will this be the one time I push too far?  Will this be the one time He doesn't step in and save?  Will this be the place where grace finally runs out?"  I know the truth and I sing the songs, but I wonder sometimes... How far does His Love really go?  Will He really "never fail, never give up, and never run out on me"?  But He places these women in my life so I can see it.  One thing remains.  Always....

And that's how we learn to live like Proverbs 31 is true, like we really are clothed with strength and dignity and we can just laugh at the days to come.  Because these precious lives are the proof that no matter what we face, we'll come out the other side.  And I'll say it to all the twenty-somethings out there: If we are going to stand firm in faith, we need to walk with these women!  

So the angel comes to Mary and He tells her about this insane, amazing thing that God is going to do through her (and don't we all have some inkling of the great things God wants to do in and through us?).  And she gives God her yes and praises His name.  But then He tells her how her cousin Elizabeth, this older woman, is facing her own miracles, like God knows her faith will waver and she's too young to really understand and she'll need an extra boost, and Mary goes to her.  And it's Elizabeth who speaks some of my favorite words in Scripture:
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished. (Luke 1:45)
 And that's the thing.  We need those women in our lives who will come up beside us and - with their lives if not with their words - whisper to us, "Blessed is she who has believed... Blessed is she..." Every Mary needs an Elizabeth if we're going to see His Kingdom come.

So, ladies, who are you going walking with today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 28 - Don't be Surprised

Why is it that when there is so much good all around me, I still come home some nights and cry?  I mean, my life is full.  Yes, it's full of responsibilities and rehearsals and lesson plans and papers to grade (I give like one test a year... how do core teachers do it?!) and meetings, but it's also full of loud laughter with friends, and black lights and white gloves and more little hugs than I can count and cries of "Ms. Fwakes!" and little voices singing and Tiny Companion jumping off the couch to greet me when I walk in the door.  So why, then, do I sometimes feel empty?  Why does my heart often feel so heavy?  Why is finding joy and peace such a constant battle?

Why am I surprised?

At what point did anyone say that all this fullness would mean deepest satisfaction?  At what point did anyone say that walking in the Spirit was a walk in the park and not an uphill trek with a cross strapped to my back?  When did anyone say that all the good things would keep my heart from longing for the best things that are yet to come?  When did anyone say this is all there is?  When did anyone say it wouldn't be a battle?

Don't be surprised.  When you make your life all about seeing an eternal kingdom brought down to earth through your frail and weak body, it's going to be hard.  You're going to feel small.  When you say yes to a role in a redemption story that will not be completed this side of heaven, you're going to ache.  You're going to feel the groaning.  When there is an enemy out there who knows he's been defeated but still has power, he's going to attack with a pitiful kind of vengeance and it will sting.  You're going to have to suit up in that armor.  And armor?  It's heavy.  Yeah.  His burden, it's light, just like He promised.  But there is a weight to armor and a weight to glory.  There is a heaviness to the holy.

And the tears, they lighten the load, because they remind you of a God that cares enough to catch every drop in a bottle and who is powerful enough to turn water to wine.  So don't be surprised when you are bending under the weight.  He is the lifter of your head.  Go on, Beloved.  It's okay to cry.

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Trusting Grace - Day 27 - Singular Living

I heard something interesting on a Timothy Keller podcast yesterday (It was the one called "Peace - Overcoming Anxiety").  Amid some really great points about our souls becoming downcast because we don't expect to have to fight for joy and peace (that's a whole other blog post) he says that in Galatians the Fruit of the Spirit is singular.  "For the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control..."  Is.  Not are.  So if we are truly walking in the Spirit, we are exhibiting love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control.  We can't have just a few, or we are not truly living in the Spirit.  

And yes, it does sound impossible, doesn't it?

Which has me thinking about how self-reliant I actually am.  "I am the vine, and you are the branches," Jesus said.  "Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."  To abide means to live in, to remain in, to enter into and stay.  How much abiding in Jesus do I actually do?

So Mr. Keller, he says that the Greek word often used for anxious in the Bible is mérimna, which quite literally means dividing and fracturing a person's being into parts.  Anxiety tears us apart.  We're not living in Jesus.  We're torn.  We're not staying at Jesus' feet.  We've got a million things on our minds and He's just one of them.  

And here's what is really weighing on my heart these days: What does it look like to actually abide in Jesus and to walk in the Spirit every day?  Because I get it.  I see it.  Apart from Him I can do nothing.  But that doesn't stop me from trying.  So what needs to change?  How do I turn my merimna, my divided and fractured life, into singular Fruit of the Spirit?  I'm not sure I have any real answers, except to make the choice for this moment to sit at His feet.  To choose, just for right now, to suffer the discomfort of single-minded focus on the only One that really matters.  And it is uncomfortable, because it's not the way I normally live.  But it is worth it.  Living in pieces is so exhausting.  I'm ready to live as one with Him and bear much fruit.  I'm ready for the singular life.  So I'll choose today, and I'll choose again tomorrow.  And I will trust the unfolding as I learn to live.