Sunday, December 29, 2013

The One Word for the New Year - Trust 2014

So I'm sitting there just breathing the silence before those hundred voices and two hundred feet come trampling in and out again for the afternoon.  I'm thinking about stretching at Christmas, the end of comfort and the coming of Emmanuel, and the indwelling of Christ in me.  I'm thinking about him and about us and how our relationship is drawing it all to the surface... that crying out of never enough time.  Never enough space on the calendar.  Never enough room to breathe.  Never enough.  And how do we nurture and cultivate relationship when we're scraping the bottom?

There is this Promise on the horizon, this stirring in my heart for all that Life holds.  I don't know exactly what it looks like, but I can see it, sense it in the distance, this rich Beauty.  There are actual dreams of the future, yes, but it's more than that (and isn't it always?).  It is dreams of Redemption, Restoration, Healing, Abundant Life, Peace, Forgiveness, Mercy, and that ever so amazing Grace.  Yeah, it's dreams of all that a Savior brings and makes possible, and of walking in that consistently.  And it's really more than a dream... It's a need, entering into the broken places and making things right.  And I believe, but as I struggle to come up for air, I find myself asking with Mary, "How will this be?"  Because from where I am standing, from this current season in life, there are some things that just don't quite seem possible.  "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."  Whatever the "it" is, God will accomplish... but, in all of the expectancy and hope of all that is coming, can I just ask you how?

And it comes out in words.  A series of texts full of all I would never say out loud, or a conversation in the waiting room riding a cloud of sheer emotion like ashes on smoke.  The words are out and they can't be taken back and in the reflection I see my own heart and how I've started to -

Grip fear more than I grip Hope...
Grasp for answers to the how more than I grasp the Truth...
Cling to anger more than I cling to the Cross...
Get more wrapped up in fairy tales and ideals (idols!) than in His Everlasting Arms...
Bend the knees in a lunge for control instead of in Surrender...
Care more about the shadows of a vision than I do about being overshadowed by the power of His Presence.

And how have I so lost sight of the beauty of it all?  Of the joy and the gift?  How did I get swept away?  There are dreams.  There are desires.  There are even needs.  But there is also One who knows better and greater and more, who loves deeper and truer and stronger.  And it's like the eyes are opening again.

How appropriate it is that we usher in a new year so close after we celebrate the coming of our Lord!  To continue in the spirit of hope and expectancy into something new. We'll put the tree away today and the nativity back in the box and look to the future.  Some will make a list of resolutions, but me?  I'm choosing a single word for 2014.  One word to reflect on, a lens through which I can view life.

And the word is not how.  The word is not when.  The word is not what if.  The word is not move or forward.  The word is not even hope or peace.

The word is trust.  Trust.

Because trust points to the Word and the wonder of Him, of God come down.  Trust drives me to adoration and adoration is the answer to anxiety.  Trust says "give thanks."  Trust says "exhale."  Trust says "let go... give it over."  Trust releases me and all those around me from expectation and performance, from impatience and worry and the lunge for control.  Trust is the pressing into God, and the pressing into God opens the door wide to adventure, and opens the hands to receive all that a Savior brings. 

So it is - Trust 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Only an Ice Prison - Why the darkness is just not that strong.

It came gradually.  More gentle drizzle than downpour.  Beautiful to watch, really.  Problem was... it was so cold, and before we knew it, that gentle mist had coated our world in sheets of ice.  And suddenly, without us even noticing, those everyday roads we travel and paths we walk?  Danger zones.  Traffic slows to a crawl or goes spinning off into ditches (take your pick).  School is canceled.  We are stuck.  A full weekend stuck in our apartment.  And maybe if Texans knew about proper shoes and salting roads and chains on tires and not using the brakes this wouldn't ring true, but we don't, so the ice imprisons us.

And yeah, it really is like bondage, like pain and brokenness, like hopelessness.  It creeps in slow and coats cold and hard until you are stuck.  Just stuck.  And we find ways to cope.  Curl up on the couch under a blanket.  Crank up the heat.  But there is only so much Netflix you can watch before you really want out.  We long for freedom.  We can try to get comfortable, but at the end of the day it's freedom we want.  It's freedom we need.

And as I'm driving home from work today I can see only glimpses of the ice-bondage that was.  Just a few slippery patches left in the shadows, but for the most part life is back to normal.  And I'm finding the Truth of Advent.  Pain, bondage, danger, these are all too real.  There is an enemy whose aim is to destroy us all.  But it is only an ice prison.  Strong enough to hold and cold enough to sting, yes.  But Light comes down and breaks through and the cold cannot stand and the ice must melt and the darkness must flee before the One who came to save.  

And I know.  I know in the middle of it all it seems trite to say pain and bondage will just melt away.  But listen to the deeper heartbeat of Truth and find rest: the pain is real enough to bind you up and knock you down and wrap its cold hands hard around the throat of Hope leaving you gasping for air.  But God (those two miraculous words) sent the Son and the Light and He's real enough.  Real as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Real enough for you to hold, and to hold you close and pick you up and melt the grip of pain to restore your Hope and heal your heart.  

It is a profound truth that, slowly but surely, pain melts into memory and the Son lives eternally.  The darkness is real, but it's really not that strong.  They are only ice prisons.  Lord, help our unbelief.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Open hands - A prayer for when Thanksgiving and Advent collide

God, thank you that you call us into a life where you do not require of us, where you do not demand of us, but where you invite us and you ask us to just open the hands and receive from you.  That the God of the universe didn't create little minions or little servants or little elves to follow him around and to work for him.  But that the God of the universe created and shaped human beings and bestowed his image upon us and created within us the capacity for love and for joy and for service and creativity and creation.  Thank you that you didn't create us to work for you, but you created us to open hands and receive your love.  And that you are so open handed.

And when we messed up in the brokenness of our humanity, you didn't abandon us.
You didn't destroy us.
You didn't give up on us.
You created and orchestrated a way to bring. us. back. to. you.
A way for you to live within us and overcome the brokenness of our flesh.
And not only did you create a way... you became the way.  

You became the sacrifice.  You became our sin.  You became the propitiation for our sin that we might draw near to you again.  And not only that, but that you could dwell in us.  You not only came and pitched your tent with us.  You pitch your tent within us, that we might live.  That we might breathe.  That we might have love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control.  That we might contain these things within the very fiber of our being and be made new.  That we might breathe grace and mercy.

You not only love us.  You not only make a way for us, but you live in us.  And you do not demand of us.  You do not require that we work or we earn.  You call us children and you ask simply that we open hands and receive.  And when we do work, when we do serve, when we do, it is not out of obligation.  It is not out of duty.  It is not trying to earn something.  It is out of overflow.  Because you come and you fill us with love.

And you fill us joy.
And you fill us with strength.
And you fill us  with mercy.
And you fill us with grace.
And we overflow.  And we can't help but show mercy and grace because we can't contain that which is bubbling over within us, that which we open hands to receive from you.

So here I breathe it in.  And I breathe out thanks.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Fly


"If I cannot fly, teach me to sing."

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was walking out of her office after our last voice lesson before the next round of auditions.  right before I stepped out the door I turned to face her, tears in my eyes, and confessed my deep fear that I would fail again, like I had the year before.  She looked me in the eye and said something that changed my life view forever.

You have a choice to make.  Nerves?  They're like standing at the edge of a cliff and you have a choice.  You can stand there, wondering and fearing.  Or you can take a running leap off and see what happens.  I can tell you... when you take that leap?  That's when you rise on wings like eagles.

Right there, I decided to be a cliff jumper.  For the rest of my days.  I would be a cliff jumper.   And every time I have learned that to wait on the edge of the cliff in fear is like putting yourself in prison and locking the door.  Like a bird caging herself.  It is only when you take that running leap that you can fly.


Read Emily Freeman's own version of cliff jumping on her blog today.  All about deciding to stop letting the fear of this might not work control your life.  Yeah.  From those all-state choir auditions in high school to that switching of career paths in college to hopping on a plane to China to saying yes when she asked me if I wanted to meet this guy (that was seven months ago... he sent me flowers yesterday).  Jumping off the cliff and risking the fact that this might not work is totally worth it.  Because God is good and flying?  It's not as much about rising on wings with eagles as it is about being lifted and held by His hands.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Tree

Five minutes to free write on one word...


So pretty much everyone has these memories of trees.  Christmas trees.  The old tree in the front yard they used to climb as a child.  Some tree memory.  One of mine is reclining in the tire swing under our old oak tree in my parents' yard.  Peaceful winter (we're from South Texas) afternoons enjoying the cool weather.

There's this other picture that comes to mind though.  I remember in elementary school learning about Mt. St. Helens.  The teacher showed us this picture of the destruction and I just remember this aerial shot of downed trees that looked like a few games of pick up sticks spilled all over.

She played it last night in her recital.  That Chopin Scherzo.  And it hit me somewhere between the unsettling introduction and the brooding chords broken up by flowing arpeggios... Scherzo is supposed to mean joke.  But it sure doesn't sound like one.  And isn't that life some days?  Especially in the same week that we hear about thousands dead in a storm in the Philippines?  Doesn't life sometimes feel like some cruel joke?  Doesn't it feel like somebody said we could have joy, we could smile, and then started playing life unsettled and brooding?  But then... oh, but then there are the arpeggios and there is Light and there is the Presence.  And there is being held.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Just Stay - A return to the Sanity Manifesto

After picture day I find the proofs in my box.  Teaching year two and I look none the worse for the wear.  But yeah, you can see it in my smile, the tension all through my jaw line reflecting my clenched fists.  No wonder I'm feeling that old ache from the neck up then down into the shoulders.  I shake my head.

I had been honest with him the night before.  "I am a hot mess.  No one wants to be around me right now."  He had responded with a wink, "I'd be willing to risk it."  So he came over because I asked him to, braved the puffy eyes and just-out-of-the-shower hair.  And on the tail end of one of my standard break-downs, we sat and talked.

It's just that I don't ever tell people how hard it really is sometimes.  I live with this never-let-em-see-ya-sweat mentality.  I don't ever talk about how it's really not like the ideal I had pictured.  I don't ever talk about how I am striving to spend this one life well and really Live and be all here and pour it all out and scatter my gifts and sow seeds and love these kids and live a ministry and be the light of Jesus everywhere I go and make a radical difference and I always feel like I'm failing.  How somewhere I convinced myself it was supposed to be easy and it's not and I put so. much. pressure. on myself.  How it never feels like enough.  How life feels out of control and out of my reach and joy is fading fast with my strength.  And I am just. so. tired!
And the thing is...

Ideals can become idols.  And idolatry can grip like a vise 'til you can't breathe.

Because, let's be honest.  Somewhere between lesson plans and crazy kids and roommates leaving dishes in the sink and trying to squeeze in a little time for coffee I forgot... again.  I stopped chasing after the Presence of God that leads to a radically abundant Life and started lunging for control.  I became less concerned with making a difference than with shaping my own image.  But today... today I am remembering.  I am remembering that I make this Life thing harder than it is.  That I need daily bread, well, daily and I can find it that often if I'll just step out of the tent.  That it is God's job to shape me into His image and my job to yield and surrender to the Holy Spirit.  That Christ lives in me and shines through me.  And no, it's not easy.  No, it's not comfortable.  But I'm remembering that living radical calls us out of our comfort zones and "the one who calls you is faithful and He will do it."  It is rehearsing the refrain.  Being faithful today.  Giving up and giving it over.  Gathering the manna.  Marveling in the mystery.  Believing I am Beloved before the first step.  Counting the gifts.  It's the Sanity Manifesto all over again.  And the words I have been struggling to write on my heart begin to rise up within: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."

And so it's back to this opening the hands each morning, breathing deep, and surrendering all.  Because that sliver of a moon and single star, that choir concert last night that made the breath catch in my throat, that pillow and blanket that keep me warm but make it a little hard to get up in the morning... These are the little gifts that remind me He is always good and I am always loved and Life is not as hard as I make it.  Just stay.  Open hands to receive Holy Spirit.  Open hands to pour out the overflow of grace.  And it is that.  Grace.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Together

Tired today, but writing anyway.  Some days it feels like all you're doing, all you can do, is show up.  That's today.  But there is priceless value in faithfulness.  So here's to another FMF post, and writing free.

I can't seem to put two thoughts together today, so sitting to write is not high on my list.  Still I think I am finding that is what this weekly five minute exercise is all about... Will I still put one foot in front of the other (or in this case put hands to keyboard) even when I can't seem to get it together?

I say it to my students all the time. "Get it together!" has become a common quick correction.  But let's be honest, I have been struggling all week to get it together!  I am tired.  I don't really want to do this.  And yet, here I am.  I don't have any profound thoughts.  At least not yet.  But I think I have like two and a half minutes left.

And maybe it goes back to my Sanity Manifesto.  Faithful today.  Will I be faithful to what is before me today?  Even if I can't put two thoughts together, will I take a step out and do what I am called to do in this moment?  That's probably the hardest lesson in growing up.  We often have to do things we don't feel like doing.  We have to be faithful.  And in being faithful, the feelings sometimes follow.  And sometimes they don't.  But yeah, another way to say it is "show up."  Do it anyway and have a little faith that it still means something.  That God is still at work, even when I am floundering.  So that's all it is today.

Five Minute Friday

Monday, October 21, 2013

For when the Beauty is hard to see...

They spread the blanket out wide by the lake.

Two little girls who have become fast friends laughing free in the cold autumn air.  And the fireworks light up the sky, shake the ground.  And my heart could burst too.  When it's over, the darkness lingers and there is barely enough light to see, but full moon and stars bright and lake shining?  It's enough for rich laughter and a few imaginative rounds of Duck, Duck, Goose.  Sitting in the grass the one sighs in her mother's arms, "This is the life!"  And our only response is, "Yes, sweetheart.  You are so right!"  Then it's climbing rocks and hide and seek and angels descending and ascending and two little-girl voices reading Scripture off the wall and two women watching, praying for moments to be written on melting hearts, for surely God is in this place.  We talk, my precious friend and I, as we watch the girls play.  We talk of challenges and struggles and unending grace and stories written and unfolding.

And my little one, she had looked up at the angels and breathed it slow: "It's so beautiful!"

Yes, my sweet girl.  Yes!  It is all so beautiful.  And sometimes, little one, you'll have to look really hard to see it.  Because sometimes it's so far from perfect and so close to hopeless, and brokenness can be overwhelming and the battle can feel like it's going to overtake you.  But, precious one, remember this: Beauty and Grace will always be greater than the battle.  And God?  He's always bigger than the chaos and He will fight for you.  You need only be still. (Exodus 14:14) And these moments are the ones that echo through eternity.  He is always good, child.  And you are always loved.  I know I said I would, but the truth is, I may not always be able to keep you from falling.  It's hard to admit that.  We'll fail you, my love, and I'm sorry.  But these moments - the running, spinning, dancing, singing, all the Beauty - remember these moments because He is big enough and His arms are wide enough and His love is deep enough to catch you.  You'll always be safe because He is the perfect Savior.  You'll always be loved.  You'll always be wanted.  Life is beautiful, my love.  He is Lord and King, rich in grace.  He is Redeemer, lavish in His affection and generosity, and making all things right.  I would know, because I've seen it.  I would know, because I've seen you.  You've stolen my heart... and His!  Truly, He is good.  And all this?  GRACE.  Remember this, little one, and I will too.

We go home far later than we should, because who can count the minutes here?  And we will never be the same.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Laundry

Five minutes to write.  Throw perfectionism out the window...


So Sunday is always laundry day for me.  I sort and pile in and pull out and fold and hang, but never iron.  I probably should... But I never iron.  And there is something soothing in it.  A million little gifts.  Like the smell of clean clothes.  Or the warmth of sheets coming out of the dryer.  Putting in something messy and coming out with something clean.  Sorting things into piles.  Putting things back in their place.  And don't forget the amazing feel of fresh sheets at the end of the day.  A million little gifts.

Because I need those reminders.  That messes can be made new.  That work is worth the effort, even if it doesn't always seem like it.  That sticking through the mundane is good.  That it won't all fall apart if I break away from it.  It's good to find some semblance of order in a chaotic world.  It's kind of like how I go and scrub the dishes when I'm frustrated over our last phone call, because I just need to be reminded some days that I can make a mess of things but it's not the end.  There is cleansing and redemption of the worst messes.  I believe that.  I really do.  I don't live like it some days but I believe there is always Hope.  So here is my reminder and yours today.  Take your messy and let Him make it new.  Call it trite, call it cliche.  I call it true. We live on the brink of Redemption.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, October 14, 2013

Unfolding before my eyes - The joy of life open-handed

So I have this mental image of a blank piece of parchment and as drops fall on it like rain, colors come alive more vibrant and beautiful than my favorite Monet.  All this coming to light one drop at a time.  And I am watching in sheer delight.  Surprise!  Purples and greens and blues and blacks.  Surprise!  Landscapes of sky and mountains.  Surprise!  Life unfolding before my eyes.

And without a doubt, expectations kill relationships, and I'm tired of acting like this life is my puzzle to put together.  Because all is grace and I am entitled to nothing and the greatest, truest, most joy-FILLED way to live is to open the hands and witness grace falling like rain revealing greater beauty than I can imagine.  

And I know who I am: Beloved and worthy and valued and made perfect in Christ.

But I am not and never will be deserving.

And yet He gives and gives and chooses me and gives.  I read it from her, soaked it in deep, and scrawled it across my Facebook page: Live simply - with great grace, no expectations, and lavish love.

And he and I talk about it between holes on the mini-golf course.  When you live with open hands, you lose your grip on the expectations, and all things become what they already are - pure grace and gift.  It is all joyful surprise.  And I can say, "Thank You for the gift of this moment and let me also be the gift.  Yes!  Be the gift through me!"  And the clenched fists have no place here, in this place of abundant grace and no expectations, of Life open-handed.  We can breathe here.  We can live here.  Where grace falls like rain, and we can watch the Beauty of Life unfold.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Ordinary

"Life is running swift now.  Like a raging river, how it runs out... and this is the best part here in the beat of a Heart."  ~Gungor, The Best Part

Life is running swift these days.  I don't know where the weeks go anymore.  And the best part is taking time to slow down and abide in the heart of God.  So yes.  Five minutes to write again this week.  Five minutes to practice living slow.

We laugh long and hard at the way we are so much like old people.  Same ordinary places for dinner (at 5:00 pm).  Same ordinary late night coffee run (and yes, 8:00 pm is late night).  We sit and talk about the weather and local politics (not my choice) and we talk about work and the things we are learning and why I love community chorus and it's so good to just be here.  And yeah, it's ordinary.  But at the same time, it's so NOT!

Because there's a story being written here.  There is a gracious and BIG God at work right here between us and I wouldn't trade our ordinary times together for all the extraordinary riches of the world.  Because I know you are 100% present when we are together and I try 110% to be 100% present too!  Listening to all the little things and sharing in the details of life?  This is Community and in the ordinary of Community, God makes extraordinary things happen.  He uses us to refine each other.  To reflect His love.  To sanctify and shape and challenge and heal and change and restore and renew and REDEEM this world!

There is nothing ordinary about our lives.  Nothing.  Like there is nothing ordinary in the sunset I saw the other night... even if sunsets happen every night.  God is making all things new and He is writing some remarkable stories.  So yeah, let's do ordinary.
Five Minute Friday

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sacred Rain - Alive to Live

There is something decidedly sacred about rain.  It speaks deep of providence and faithfulness and peace and cleansing.  It calls us to move beyond being alive to actually Living.  Emily Dickinson said it: "And rivers where the houses ran/ The living looked that day."  She echoes my own cries to Look and to See and to be counted among the Living swept away by the Beauty.  So... on a Monday afternoon, a poem written from my stairwell during a steady Saturday morning downpour, a cry to Live and to See... enjoy!

Alive to Live
It runs
In rivers cross the concrete
And dances
Circles as it falls
Somehow puts to shame
The noise of a restless world
Reminds us we are alive
Commands us to Live
Mist swirls with a chill
And I can feel
And I can breathe
My heart like the parched ground
Soaking to overflowing
My soul
A glutton
Rivulets writing love on the heart
To stay?
I hope
As I breathe thanks
To Live now

Stephanie M. Frakes
September 28, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Write

And I feel like I've only barely made it through this week.  So five minutes of free writing helps me to breathe as I finish out.  Here's to one more week of trying to live in Freedom.  Freedom from perfectionism and performance.  Freedom to walk in the presence of God.


Sometimes it all seems so convoluted.  And when the anxiety rises it feels like the blood stops flowing.  And the stress can silence the tongue and stop the heart.  And the clenched fists... they hurt.  So I unwrap the fingers slowly.  Pick up the pen.  And when it feels like the blood has stopped flowing, somehow the flow of ink helps.  

And the words move from heart to hand to page and I am reminded of The Word.  The Word who became flesh and pitched His tent among us.  And the simplicity that He chose?  It makes my life feel a little simpler too.  Because in the wake of His Beauty chaos feels so small.  Things start to make sense and so I write and write and write.  And when I don't?  I feel it.  Because the flow of ink promotes the flow of the Spirit.  And Ann said it... write the gifts.  And my mentor in high school said it... write.  Oh yes.  That journal she gave me for graduation.  That one word.  Write.  Did she know that it would take me back to the One Word?  Martin Luther says you can change the world with a pen.  Maybe she knew that too.

So even when it's hard, I write.  Because it fills the soul and reminds me that He is writing my story and He holds my heart and He is good and gives good gifts.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, September 30, 2013

Worth the Risk - Disarming the Dangers of Silent Lies

So we're sitting across the table at lunch and I confess it... this deep fear that's eating away at me.  The fear that it's eventually going to become exposed that I'm just not good enough.  And from there, the words just keep pouring out.  I feel a little foolish - and yet so free.  "I honestly don't know... why are you still here?  What keeps you here?  And how long before you realize you should have left?"  It's out before I can stop it.  I hadn't even realized how it was weighing on my heart until I heard it coming from my own lips.  How often I ask that question and not just about the person sitting across from me in that moment!  Do I really believe I am that unworthy of love?  It sounds ridiculous out loud.  But...

It's the silent lies we keep locked up and refuse to put words to that slowly tear us apart from the inside out.

And then I regain my sense of self.  "Well, isn't this awkward?  Why am I even telling you all this?" And I hear it from across the table, "It's good to bring it out into the light."  Ah.  Yes.  That's what I'm doing, isn't it?  Pulling back the curtain on my heart.  Groping for the light switch with my words.  And it's not like me.  Not really.  I don't do vulnerability.  Not face to face.  I hide behind pen and ink or pixels on a screen, unless you are one of the few in my inner circle, like the roommate who came out on the stairwell the other night to "make sure I didn't jump."  *smile+head shake* And this is a new wrestling for Freedom.  This is a new reaching.  This is the peeling back of another layer, a moving deeper.  And somehow, it's starting to make sense.

It's the silent lies that keep us from hearing the voice of the Father.  It's little whispers of "no" that turn our hearts to stone.

And there is power here.  And maybe this is why everyone around me seems to be harping on Community.  Because when you can speak your internal struggles out loud, you can bring them to the Light, and the darkness loses its power.  And then God can speak, and His omnipotent words can empower you.  And I know because, yes, I felt vulnerable and a little foolish, but once I pushed past that, it's like the fog lifted and the fear subsided and I could breathe again!  And then more words, "I'm not going to try to prove anything to you."  I almost looked around to see who had said it.  Because this Type-A, perfectionist, performance oriented, over achiever?  She has lived the better part of her years trying to prove something!  And when all my confessions were met with few words instead of a bunch of empty ones that would just tickle the ears?  I found my heart more than okay.  I found my heart thankful, because really He is more than enough.  And those glimpses of transformation and God at work are rich grace.

Because in the silence I think I'm a lost cause.  I feel trapped and stuck and hopeless.  Then the heart hardens and the ears go deaf.  But when we are willing to humble ourselves and break the silence, God exposes and speaks and empowers.  And that's what Community is.  It's not "here I am, fix me!"  It's "I'm broken and you're broken and let's bless each other."  It is the safe place where we face the challenge of being vulnerable and expose it all to the Light.  And sure, maybe we get burned.  Maybe we end up hurt, but I know that at the end of it all, He holds my heart and His heart toward me is nothing but good.  So maybe... just maybe it's worth the risk.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Five Minute Friday - True

Taking five minutes of my lunch break to join in again.  Five minutes to be free, to breathe, to let fingers fly, to write, and to let God speak to my heart through it all.  Enjoy this... or (better yet) join in?


Because most days I don't get it.  I can't really speak it, and I certainly can't live it.  What is true.  I'm pretty aware of certain true things.  I'm weak.  I wear thin.  My kids are crazy.  They lack self-control almost as much as I do.  I feel like life is an uphill battle.

But what of the things that don't seem true because I don't always feel them.  What of the things that God speaks into my life that start to feel cliche at best and false at worst?  The Truth that I am clothed in strength and dignity.  That I am beautiful and deeply loved.  That God is always good and always loves.  That all is grace and there are a thousand things to be thankful for.  That when the Holy Spirit lives in me, 5 hours of sleep is actually enough, and the low energy levels?  They don't actually mean that much.

Am I going to define true by how I feel?  It's a question I need to ask every day, right after I ask for God's name to be praised and for His will and for daily bread.  Am I going to define true by how I feel?

Lord, no!  Do not let me!  Because my feelings lie like no one else.  And You can use lies for good because they drive me back to the throne of grace and my weaknesses don't separate me from You.  They build a bridge to deeper trust in You.  And both can be true!  I'm a weak, broken, messy mess mess.  But I am beautiful and worthy of love because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  And they go together.  And true is true regardless of how I feel.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, September 23, 2013

The one answer when things don't seem to line up...

I stop on a Saturday morning and breathe it deep.  I'm up way earlier than I would like to be.  Nothing can stop the internal clock.  Still it feels good to not wake up to an alarm.  The roommate was up before me and the dishes are clean and the kitchen shines.  Tiny Companion and I head out for an adventure... because I have time!  And the gift list grows.

Dew dampened grass
Clearest blue sky

Golden light that hints of coming autumn

Asia exploring freely

And a perfect cool morning

So I breathe it all deep.  Not preparing and bracing myself for the day.  Just smiling long and breathing deep.  I settle in with pages and am reminded that life is dessert and I've forgotten, but God created life with this gracious rhythm of work and rest so we might remember.  I exhale thanks for all this and life slows beautifully down.  

And then in the same day, there is the moment where you go to zip up your dress and you realize that it doesn't fit, and you have gained so much more weight than you thought (or lost so much less?) and a woman's sense of her own beauty is often so fleeting.  And you wonder if there's even a point to all the working out and watching what you eat and everything in you starts screaming (again) that familiar chorus of "Not Enough!" And you can feel the insecurity rising and the leaning toward the rushing and the noise and you wonder what the answer is and if the battle will ever end.  And the gift list is still sitting on the table and just turn a page back in the journal to find words about thanksgiving and the graciously good heart of Father God.  And it's not that life and God are not good... just maybe I'm not good?  

And I sigh frustrated.  Always the forgetter.  And the battle against that inner monologue is fierce.  I thought I had long conquered the demons of perfectionism, but then they rear their ugly heads again and I am bound tight.  The words escape my lips before I have time to think about it and censor them:  All I want is to be perfect - the perfect teacher, the perfect co-worker, the perfect friend, the perfect woman for him, the perfect Christian - is that really so much to ask?

You have my full permission to laugh.  It's good medicine.  It helps us to see how tightly the fists have been clenched.  Laughing at ourselves forces us to exhale and see the lies for what they are.  So there is this:  I am weak.  I will never be perfect.  But I'm asking this: Can I, like Paul, look at my weakness and call it grace?  Can I boast in weakness and thank God for the thorn in the flesh and these messengers of Satan who speak lies but drive me back to seek Truth?  

In a way I haven't in a long time, I am wrestling with grace and freedom and God's heart toward me.  I love to talk about it.  God's love and goodness and faithfulness.  But to try and line that up with the weakness I feel in my heart and see in the mirror?  So hard!  Can He really look on this mess and see beauty?  Can He really walk with me day by day and not grow weary?  And my heart leaps within and praise dances behind my lips because the answer is - and in Christ ALWAYS is - YES!  He is God.  He can do that!  And it's back to the Sanity Manifesto again - marveling in the mystery of a freedom and love and grace and redemptive work I can't even wrap my mind around. And my response is "amen" to His glory.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Last

So here I am on the last weekday of summer.  Hanging the last poster on the wall.  Putting the last chair in place.  Staring in wonder, imagining the children that will soon fill my classroom with song and laughter and games (and some hair pulling and tongue biting as well to be sure!).  I asked my roommate to meet me for lunch at my favorite little place downtown.  It's best on the weekdays and it will be a long time before we have the time to go again.  We will soon be busy again.  And this is our last chance.

But there's something else to the word "last."  I found out last night that my third grade teacher, my favorite teacher ever, passed away this week.  I'll be part of a choir singing in a different funeral tomorrow.  And I'm thinking about what I would do if I knew something really was my last chance.  Oh how I want to live a life that will last!

I want to be a part of something that will last.  I want to pour my life out for love and kingdom work.  I want to inspire children, go out of my way to make them feel valued and loved the way Elizabeth Jones did.  I want to love like crazy with the love of the Lord the way Ronnie Lorenz did.  This man who had an amazing wife and passed me the communion trays many a week.  Summer fades.  Winter fades too.  Desserts and valleys and mountaintops are all temporary. Love is the greatest of all things that last.

Five Minute Friday 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Waking up with your eyes closed - How to find enough when you only have a little.

Some days I just feel like I woke up with my eyes closed.  It's like I get so absorbed, preoccupied, anxious that I manage to walk through this life and not see a thing.  And there is almost this instant atrophy of the heart.  I "shuffle along, eyes to the ground" (Col. 3:1-2, MSG) and I don't see or feel a thing, and it starves my soul because, from the very depth of my being, I long to See.  There is something about living with eyes closed that goes against the very grain of who we were created to be.

So I'm walking into church one week, and it was one of those days.  I had woken up with my eyes closed.  I would have walked right by one of my favorite families if the friend with me hadn't called out to them.  And there's my precious girl with her standard cry of "Miss Stephanie!" as she scrambles to get around her father to me.  She hands me this as if she knew how much my heart needed a touch of Beauty and color that day:

An oil jar traced over and over and over because Elisha told the widow to gather every jar she could find and take her "Nothing... well a little bit of oil..." and pour it out and the oil just kept coming and coming! (2 Kings 4)  

And I am flashing back to the time I sat next to this little girl's mother (my professor at the time) during a chapel service.  Two sisters trying desperately to learn how to live like all we have really is enough, and suddenly we're listening to this story of a prophet, a widow, and a little bit of oil that just kept coming.  But this time it's Elijah and he's asking the woman for a piece of bread.  She replies that she has just enough flour and oil to make one last meal that she and her son "may eat it - and die."  (1 Kings 17:7-16)  We all know how the story ends.  She bakes some bread for Elijah first and then keeps baking day after day and finds that "the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry." It was enough!  

That was the first and only time a professor ever elbowed me in the ribs, and I'm glad she did because I've never forgotten that.  But here's where I bring all my musings full circle.  In between the widow declaring how little she has and the moment she realizes God can make it enough, Elijah says three words that once again elbow me in the ribs: Don't be afraid.  A prophet echoing the command God gives His people more than any other.  Don't be afraid.  And I can see these two widows who think they have nothing.  They think they have been utterly defeated.  Sure, the one calls out to Elisha, but her words are dripping with fear and defeat and hopelessness.  Both women are convinced that because they only have a little, they have nothing.  Been there?  Yeah, me too.  And in those times I walk the way I picture those women walking, "shuffling along, eyes to the ground" afraid and ashamed because I am convinced I have nothing.  No strength.  No hope.  No patience.  No energy.  I don't have enough, and I am afraid!  It is fear that makes us blind.  It is fear that causes us to live with eyes to the ground and fists clenched.  And that is why God is so serious about us not being afraid.  

So as I, along with so many others, dive headlong into a new school year this is what's spinning on the brain:  Don't be afraid.  Live with your eyes open.  A little bit is a far cry from nothing, and God is all about multiplication.  It really is enough.


Monday, August 12, 2013

When I Choose to Lean - Questions Sustain

It's July and the golden hues outside my window beckon.  "Come," they say, "It's beautiful out here!"  I love the feeling of bare feet on concrete.  It's cool for July and the sticky sweet of the afternoon rain still lingers on the breeze. (I should have my car washed more often.  It always rains right after I have my car washed!)  I stare straight into that golden orb, and I watch it sink - slowly, surely.  I lean against the balcony railing, secure.  Another day draws to a close.  God ties His flaming bow on it, and that midnight blue curtain falls velveteen across the sky - star strewn.

I wonder what tomorrow's light will bring?

Because these long summer days pass too quickly, and there are unknowns - so many unknowns on the horizon.  And the questions rise with my heart rate.

What will this new year be like?  Will I prove good enough?  Will I fit?  Will I be able to give these kids all they deserve?  Will I have enough to pour out?  Will there be enough time?  What do these new horizons hold?  Will I be ready?

I look at the loaves and fishes in my hands and I wonder: Can you - will you - do it again, Jesus?  Will you multiply my loaves and fishes life?  How many times does He have to prove faithful for me to stop asking?  I don't know.

So many questions.  Some I can't even put words to.  So few answers.  And as the last flecks of gold disappear, I lean - beloved disciple against my Savior.  And here is the Bread of Heaven, Manna to my lips.  I embrace the questions, eat the "What is it?" and find myself nourished.  And as I lean here, all the questions lead to one:  How will He not also, along with Jesus, graciously give us all things?  It is its own answer.

And I find that, when I choose to lean, the questions sustain.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Lonely

Setting the timer again this week.  This is a tough one... Lonely.


I wouldn't have noticed it if my fingers hadn't slipped on the keyboard.  There is one letter difference between "lonely" and "lovely."  Which one is more natural for me to type?  Because what it all comes down to really is what I believe in this life.  Am I lonely?  Or am I lovely?

I know what I want to be... but feelings... they are deceptive.  I stand out on the stairwell every night and lean against the railing and I think about my life.  The stars.  I love the stars.  The storms rolling in.  The lightening on the horizon.  The breeze in my hair.  Alone.  Alone with God.

Can I see it for what it is?  Can I reach past the fear and find the truth?  Because I am afraid of spending my life lonely.  I'm not afraid of being alone, I don't think.  I'm just afraid of being lonely.  Of finding that I am not enough, that I am not worthy of love.  I'm afraid of not being lovely.  And I breathe it deep.  There is peace here.  Leaning secure on that railing.  Beauty making me and my worries shrink.  He calls me lovely.  He does!  And feelings.... Well, I know they can't be trusted.  But I trust Him.  I trust Him.  I trust Him.  I want to trust Him, really I do.  And so I breathe the prayer out in a whisper... Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief.  I believe you make me lovely.  Help me to believe.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nothing Wasted - Give Bad Days to the Redeemer

Every so often, you enter a place you've been before and nothing has changed.  The sights, the smells, most of the people, no change.  And every memory is triggered.  ACU Leadership Camps this summer was that place for me.  And so I find myself reflecting.

I remember last summer and how hard it was.  I was so much like an Israelite... refusing to listen because of the broken spirit, because of the bondage.  Oh, and how I wish I could do it over!  Because I have this cry in my heart to spend my one life well.  But some days, I don't. Things aren't clicking and I'm a tired, broken mess.  And on days like that, I tend to cry, "Wasted!"  I made a mistake (or a dozen); I wasted the day (or the whole season!).  

But to spend a life well, does not mean to live a life perfectly, and while that may be painfully obvious to many, I need that reminder to keep me sane.

Bad days happen.  Whether it is our own ineptitude or a series of unfortunate circumstances, we have bad days.  And sometimes it's deeper than that.  We live in a broken world.  We are broken people.  We walk wounded and weary.  We are impaired by the chains that bind us.  And it is bad.    

But then there is this: Jesus redeems.  And to redeem is to do more than make it okay or to forgive.  To redeem is to take something that seems wasted and broken and worthless and make it beautiful.

He makes something not just out of nothing, but out of that which I could call waste!  My mistakes, my bad days.  He declares nothing wasted!  

So I'm learning to stop striving and start trusting.  To show myself a little grace because God shows me grace and who am I to deny what He freely gives?  I choose to trust in His goodness and infinite power and I give bad days to the Redeemer.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Something to It - A Prayer and a Poem for the Weary Beloved

I am weary today.  A chronic fixer who is finding all the things she cannot fix.  A control freak who is facing all the things outside of her control.  And I am committing these words to pixels because it is the only way I can find to embrace you, beloved.  You who, surely, are more weary than I.  And I whisper thanks for you, on your behalf, because thanksgiving precedes the miracle. And, oh, how we need miracles!

Thank you, Father, for sufficient grace, a suffering Savior, an abiding Spirit, and for your words spoken, "So also you will have sorrow, but you will see Me again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!" (John 16:22)  Thank you for being Comforter, and Healer, and Warrior, and all that we need.  Thank you for the cross and for victory.  Thank you that you are faithful, that you, Jesus, taught me in the Eucharist, and in Eucharisteo, to give thanks for brokenness and pain, and for conquering both.  Thank you, Creator, for the stars that teach me to trust you for all I have yet to see.  For making beautiful things out of the dust of broken hearts... THANK YOU.

Something to It
There is something to it
The way the stars shine
And my life shrinks
I would reach
To touch the beauty
To be all eye
And with Isaiah's angels cry,
"Holy, holy, holy are you Lord God Almighty!"
And the darkness cannot overwhelm me
Like Your glory
The way Holy would reach
To touch a sinner like me
And call me Beloved

I would not run away
If you were to take
One of those stars ablaze
Like hot coals
And cleanse these lips
That I might praise
Your goodness
Even in the darkness

If I white-knuckle grip to your grace,
Will you break the grip of fear on my life?
I break the bread.
You broke Your Body.
The cross could not hold you
Any more than the darkness
Can hold back the stars
You conquer death
You conquer fear
And I can breathe
Because Your power and glory
Take my breath away
Breaking every chain
And all things shrink
In Your Beauty

There's something to it
The way the stars shine
That helps me believe.

Stephanie M. Frakes
(August 4, 2013)  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Story

It's another Five Minute Friday.  This week's word is "Story."


I love telling stories.  Like the time I ran into Beth Moore the day before I flew out on a mission trip to China.  Or the time my roommate and I drove six hours round trip in one evening to meet Ann Voskamp.  Or the way I was in a pit of anxiety and depression because I had graduated from college and had no idea what I was doing with my life and one morning woke up to an e-mail inviting me to apply for what would end up being the best job I could have asked for.

We sat for three hours yesterday and shared stories.  And grace was so evident.  And there are things in my life I've always thought I'd like to be different.  Ways that the world may not view me as successful.  Mistakes that I've made. But hindsight 20/20, I realize how I have seen the face of God in those times and I wouldn't change a thing.

So my goal these days is to practice seeing my story as it unfolds NOW.  Practicing Eucharisteo, this discipline of thanksgiving that ties itself so intimately to joy and grace, is teaching me to see what God is doing right this instant.  I pray that it will take me less and less time to see how all of these detail are valuable in a story that brings glory to God.  It's not always a fairy tale.  Sometimes it's not a book I would think to pick up myself, but it is good because God is good and I will white-knuckle grip to that.  God is good.  My story is now.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, July 29, 2013

Even Here, Even Now - One at a Time

So I am packing my bag, preparing for a week of camp.  I'm reading updates on Ann's Uganda trip.  #FarmgirlsinAfrica  I've got China spinning in the brain and beating in the heart.  And these cries to pour out this one life and live selflessly.  And the weight of this next week is not lost on me.  Loaves and fishes for such a time as this.  And yes.  I would like to live big, to write a book, for thousands to know my name, to fly across the globe and have people say I am reshaping culture.  Who doesn't dream of fame? Of being noticed and known?  Who hasn't, at least for a moment, thought that would just be so cool to sign books and speak truth in front of thousands and shape history? (Or maybe it really is just me....)

But as loud as the dreams may call, there is the call to live small.  So I am humbled, deeply humbled tonight as I consider that maybe... maybe God might choose me to be a vessel.  Such an honor!  A vessel for the week to love high school students.  Training me over the next three weeks to become a better teacher to serve children, and by doing that, to glorify Him.  She wrote it in her card to me, soon after I had said my goodbyes at my first school, "By serving students, you glorify God."  Ah.  Yes.

By serving _______, you glorify God! Right where you are.  For such a time as this.

One at a time.  One child.  One person.  One day.  One task.  One moment at a time, I could be an instrument of Grace... Now.

I am blessed.  I can bless.  One at a time.

When I am overwhelmed by dreams I wish I could accomplish and by the reality of all that I must do, I can only live One. At. A. Time.

The delusions of grandeur fade quickly, and my one wild life grows small in His hands.  And it is small things with great love.  Yes, even here, even now, my life can mean something.  If I listen and live one at a time.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Minute Friday - Broken

I'm joining a sort of writing flash mob today.  Apparently it's been going on for over a year and I just heard about it and couldn't resist giving it a try and this is why: "It started because I’d been thinking about writing and how often our perfectionism gets in the way of our words. And I figured, why not take 5 minutes and see what comes out: not a perfect post, not a profound post, just five minutes of focused writing."  Yeah.  Perfectionism gets in the way of a lot.  So here it goes... This weeks prompt is "broken."


The word automatically brings tears to my eyes.  I read it and this solemnity falls over me.  BROKEN.  How do I write about that in five minutes?  It's a word that I use so often.  Broken.  This world is broken.  My heart has been broken.  If it is broken again, will I recover?  Should I spend my one wild life in safety to avoid being broken?  And my mind is flashing back now...

I took the bread.  I was at a new church.  Usually they had the wafers ready for you.  Little bite-sized nuggets of the Body.  At this church, though, they passed the plate and I had to break off a piece of the unleavened bread for myself.  Oh and how that moved me!  "My body, broken for you," He said.  "Broken so that you might be made whole.  Broken so that you never have to fear the brokenness you face.  Broken to save and to redeem and to promise you new Life.  My body, broken so that you might remember that I am all about making broken things whole.  I am all about restoring this world.  I am all about saving and loving and healing and comforting.  Do this in remembrance of Me!  Break this bread and remember that you don't need to protect yourself because I will protect you."

And I take the bread and I remember.  And I don't fear being broken.


Five Minute Friday

Monday, July 22, 2013

Above the Noise - Sing Out Loud

I struggle so much to believe some days.  To believe that all the things I long to hear, God is speaking over me.  That I am loved and desirable and enough and beautiful. That who I am is worthy and I needn't be afraid of losing.  I. Am. The beloved.  And that is enough.

How hard it is to believe and live in that!  To really walk in that security.  And I feel like I need a break through, like I am trapped by my own thoughts and the voices in my head.  The voices that say "It's only a matter of time before you mess this up."  "You'll never be good enough."  "You'll never be wanted."  "Your heart will be broken again... and you will never recover."  SO MANY LIES!

And I know the Truth.  And it's a part of my morning routine.  Coffee in the cup holder, key in the ignition, radio on.  And I sing all my favorite songs on the way to work.  And when I hit that left hand exit that takes me off I20, I turn the radio down and I start quoting those Scriptures one by one by one.  And I have found it to be the best way to prepare for the day.  But it's so easy to forget.  The Sanity Manifesto tends to go out the window when the noise is so insane, and it's so easy to stop rehearsing the refrain when you're struggling to believe... when the route and the routine have changed.  And I have a choice to make.

Will I let the voices drown out the song?  Will I choose fear?  Will I let anxiety sweep me off my feet?

Or will I choose Truth and Life and Joy? I have this Song - will sing it?

YES!  I will sing.  Right here, right now, out loud. Because the enemy is vanquished by a hymn.  And when it is hardest, that is when we sing loudest.  If we are to rise above the noise in victory, we must sing out loud! So I pull out the journal, and I scrawl it in ink right under where I've written about the lies that haunt me... and I read it over and over out loud:

I am complete in Christ.  I have been made whole.  His grace makes my loaves and fishes life enough.  He is in control and redeems even my failures.  He holds my heart, even when it breaks.  He is a comforter and a healer.  I. AM. LOVED!  The Cross screams it across time and history.  He sings it over me as He rejoices.  I will allow this God, so mighty to save, to quiet me with His love, and I will believe that He delights in me.  ALWAYS.  

And I breathe Grace in deep, open the hands to Peace, as I opened the mouth to speak Victory Truth out loud.  Because to rise above the noise, I must sing out loud.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tissues, Tears, and Altar Moments - Given up, Given Over

So I have this package of tissues that I keep in my purse at all times.

They're from China.  Given to me by a friend as a "just in case" as I ran out the door of her flat to explore The Forbidden City.

I never opened them... That is until the day I left and my heart broke.  The day I sat in the back seat of an old car, windows rolled all the way down, and listened to the cries of "Zàijiàn, stef-ah-nyay! Wǒ ài nǐ!" I don't know much Chinese, but those are two phrases I never have forgotten: Goodbye and I love you!  And the tears fell freely, even as I laughed at those precious little bodies stuck half way out the second story windows, arms waving wildly.

Those tissues have lasted me this long because that's the only time I use them: when tears fall and my heart breaks.  I only use them during the "I give up" moments.  The "I'd like to plan my own way, thanks, but I am called to be a follower, not a planner" moments.  The wrestling with God moments.  The "Peniel - I have seen God face-to-face" moments.  They only come out in those moments when I realize in a deep way that the cost of love is grief, but love is always worth the price.

And there are moments - altar moments - when the call of God and the weight of His glory make it all too clear how much of a failure I am.  How weak and deeply human.  How prone to fear and idolatry, especially the idol of control.  And it doesn't get me very far.  And in those altar moments, the grace-filled call to surrender all is so clear, yet so painful to heed because, while I want the Lord to have all of me fully given over, the Lord does give and take away and to bless His name can be hard.  But I need to get to that heart-place daily.  Because "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also graciously give us all things?"  (Romans 8:32)

All.  Things.  Maybe it won't look exactly like I imagine, but He will not withhold the desires of my heart.  This good God who loves me so deeply will hold nothing back.  So moment by moment, I need to practice giving up this trying to make things happen and giving over my heart and my life to Him to refine and reshape my desires and dreams.

And that is so. much. harder. than it sounds.  But I long to live that way... Given up and given over.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When your world is shaking - Breath Prayers

I've felt it all day, that inability to catch my breath.  My life is in transition again, and changes, even the little ones, even the ones we know will be just fine... changes shake up our worlds.  And when my world is shaking, I'd like to sing with JJ Heller that Heaven stands and I stay secure in His hands (because that is Truth).  But the reality is when my world shakes I shake and anxiety kicks in and I can't catch my breath.  So I wind up and run, because effectiveness and efficiency have always been my answer to anxiety in the transitions, but that's not a good answer!

I learned about this spiritual discipline when I was in a prep class for my trip to China in 2011.  It comes from the story Jesus tells about the tax collector who went the temple to pray.  "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’" (Luke 18:13)  Breathe in: Lord Jesus, Son of God.  Breathe out: Have mercy on me, a sinner.  This idea eventually became part of the mass.  In the Latin it is Kyrie Eleison.  In: Kyrie (Lord).  Out: Eleison (Have mercy).  Lord, have mercy.  And yes.  It says so much because I need mercy.  I am so, so human.  I sin.  I try to run my own life.  I grow fearful instead of trusting.  When my world is shaking, I need mercy to steady me.  

And I always find it.  I count gifts I never deserved.  I wake up and hear Him call me Beloved before I do a thing.  

Oh, He shows mercy to this sinner moment by moment, breath by breath.  And that's the discipline of breath prayers.  I inhale Jesus and exhale a plea for mercy, then repeat and find the prayer answered, because only mercy keeps us breathing, and only Christ keeps us steady when our changing worlds are shaking

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stop, Stoop, and Scoop - Gather the Manna

Sometimes I just don't know how to walk this life.  I pretend I do... with my big talk and pretty words.  I try to... by writing gifts and writing Word on the walls of the mind, hoping it will sink into my heart, travel that farthest distance.  Sometimes though, life gets blurry and foggy and I am tired and worn and I'm good at forgetting and getting distracted and bad at the discipline of stopping and giving it over and putting one foot in front of the other.  And it all goes over my head and I can't get it to sink in and anxiety and anger come easier than patience and joy.

And maybe what I need is to step out of my tent, out of this flesh in this everyday life, and gather the manna. I need to get down on my knees and scoop it up, breathe His Spirit deep.  Because I can see it, this mysterious providence I don't deserve, and I can even be thankful for it, marvel at the gift, hear how this "What is it?" speaks of deep, deep love... I can see it and still walk by it, still hunger deep until I stop, fully stop, stoop down in humility and gather the manna.  God can provide, but I will not be sustained until I drop down to my knees, scoop it up and put it to my lips.  God can provide, but I must GATHER and EAT.  God fulfills, but I must drink.  Oh Lord, let me scoop and gather and not walk by!

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Mother's Day Story - Marvel in the Mystery

I never would have expected it.  I just wanted to take the Montana roommate out for some good Mexican food.  I've been to that restaurant dozens of times, ordered the same thing, never even bothered to look at a menu, and I am caught completely by surprise.  I don't even remember how it started, just the poignant joy.  My mother telling stories fifty years old, stories I've never heard before, dripping rich with heritage and history.  Stories of growing up in Mexico, living with her grandparents while her widowed  mother works cleaning houses for those living the American dream, trying to provide, and her siblings go to school.

We laugh at the stories of a frizzy-haired girl, skin sun-darkened, running around the dirt roads of Mexico in nothing but a pair of ruffled underwear, sipping tea and munching on cookies while her grandfather hangs out with his buddies.  We laugh until we cry as she tells us how she and her cousins made mud pies decorated with bottle caps and rocks and actually sold them to neighbors.. until those kind souls began locking them out because they had enough bottle cap pies to last a lifetime.

And when we get to the part where I'm picturing that five year old girl who would one day become my mother standing in line at the mill with her bucket of maiz boiled with cilantro and lime clad, as usual, only in her ruffled underwear and faithfully waiting to take masa home so her grandmother - my great-grandmother - can make the day's tortillas... When we get to that part, I see my mother is really crying as she remembers how happy those days were when all she had was all she needed.  And I have never loved her more, this woman who has loved me and hurt with me and raised me.  Her pictures are still so vivid and I can see her pulling them up in the theater of her mind.  Grandfather, the Spaniard with khaki shirt and pants, straw hat and ankle-high boots.  Grandmother with her mantilla around her head, floor-length skirt encircling her as she sits by the fire cooking tortillas - hand molding them and placing them on the comal one by one.  My mother counting and recounting the gifts.  And I feel the prickling sting of conviction for the number of times I have cried out that it is not enough when it is and it always will be.

And I marvel in the mystery of stories written on hearts.  Generations forming and reforming.  Good always outweighing bad.  Joy transcending.  God always present, even if unknown or unnoticed.  And truly it doesn't make sense.  How the messiness of life can somehow be forgotten in light of the joyful memories.  How, when all we have is all we need, it is enough.  And there is this mystery to it.  A mystery to love transcending.  A mystery to every relationship in our lives.  A mystery to how a life begins and where a life can lead.  And I marvel in it each day.  Ecclesiastes says it this way, "Just as you do not know how the breath enters the bones in a mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything." (11:5)  Ah yes.  A mother's story.  A life's beginning.  A life's living.  God's work.  Every one, every day, a mystery in which to marvel.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Lifeline for the Worn - What the Heart Knows by Heart...

I click on the video and it makes me smile.  Big.  These two sisters whose words have changed lives, laughing as they stumble through this Word that gives Life.  And I am reminded.  It's the joy in their words and faces, the way they can't stop themselves from injecting "Wow!" and "I love this!" and "This is my favorite part!" between every single verse.  The way she punctuates the phrases with her hands and closes her eyes as if savoring each syllable.

She says it in a way this musician can understand: "Your life can't sing unless you play... and you can't really play unless you know how to play through the hard parts... but if you want to make music through the hard parts - play the left hand alone... because when you can really write out the left hand from memory, you can really play!"

These Words I am learning to write out by heart are Life.  They are a Lifeline.  They are rich and sweet, like honey on the lips.  It is the Word of God, and I need it desperately.   I am reminded of how much I long for the Truth of God to abide in me.  I long for it to change and transform me.  And it's not just memorization for religion's sake.  It's not memorization because it's right or expected.  It's like inhaling, learning a new language, a heart language.

And it's this: What the heart knows by heart is what the heart knows, and I want my heart to know God is perfect and worthy of all my trust and thanks in all things.  I want my heart to know this jar of clay holds a treasure, that God loves ALWAYS, that He is my source of peace and joy and... all.  And so I memorize and learn His words by heart so I might know.  So I might LIVE.

Monday, April 15, 2013

When there's no new song - Rehearse the Refrain

Some days it's harder to put on the lenses.  The flame just doesn't want to light.  I listen for the whisper but my ears seem deaf.  And so I put one foot in front of the other, let dog out, brush teeth, make bed, change clothes, then sit before the mirror to do hair and makeup... and sometimes that's the hardest, best moment.  The hair won't lay right and the makeup just won't cover it all and I have to look weakness herself straight in the eye.  And I don't know how to pray or what today holds, and it's hard to remember why I'm getting up and doing it all again.  So I force my lips to form those same ancient words, the ones I've been repeating daily for months, the ones Jesus taught us to pray two thousand and some years ago, because I am a woman in deep need.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...

I say the words slowly, try to savor them, and after that final "forever," I keep going and I feel like a broken record, crying out for eyes to see and for daily bread and I'm begging God to redeem my brokenness and bless those I love and meet their needs and I've been here before... yesterday, last year... and I've said the same words and I'm here again.  And I long for a new song and, without a doubt, there is a place in this Becoming life for just that, but today... today I have nothing new to offer.  Just the same life that I placed on the altar yesterday and keep taking back up and giving back over, hoping I'll leave it there longer this time.

Today, and maybe everyday, I just need to be reminded.

I look in the mirror and I wonder if people see in me something I don't or if I see things in myself they don't, I feel the fear of being exposed rising, I ask the "What's next?" question... I need to be reminded.  So I rehearse the refrain, the part of the song that keeps returning, that we always come back to.  And it's the first part of the song we learn by heart and the last part we forget.  I rehearse the refrain...

God is always good and I am always loved.

Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see!  Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.  Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

This God, His way is perfect! (Psalm 18:30)

And of course, always coming back to that one word - I wear it around my neck now, a counterweight to keep me balanced - Eucharisteo.  Grace. Joy. Thanks. Grace. Joy. Thanks.  And again, and again it rises.  When circumstances change.  When I grieve (and I always will for it is the reverse side of that treasured coin, Love).  When I'm at a loss again, I do this with lips, with heart, with tears, with guttural groans.  I sit, just like I tell my babies to do at the keyboard, and I practice.  I rehearse the refrain.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Seeing IS Believing - Count Gifts

I need to confess something.  I am deeply afraid of being alone.  I am afraid that those I love and am coming to depend on will leave, walk away, grow tired of me.  I'm afraid I'll never find the Adam to my Eve, that help-meet.  I'm afraid I'll prove not good enough to be loved and cared for, not good enough to build lasting relationships and find people who want to walk life with me.  And as I write these things down, I feel almost foolish, because hasn't God proven over and over that He is faithful and never leaves and His timing perfect?

But the fear is real because faith and love, as Luci Shaw says, are intangible and unseen and I can move in that direction but never achieve full certainty.  "God Himself, a Spirit real but invisible calls [me] to live this Adventure guided by a hand and an arm that [I] cannot see or prove in irrefutable terms."  So how then, do I follow?  And perhaps Ann is right.  I feel it deep now, deeper than the beauty of the words on the page: If perfect love casts out fear, let me count the ways He loves!

I can't see this God or the arm that guides, but I can see 1,000 and more gifts.  All around, 1,000 reminders that He loves.  Oh how He loves!  My heart sings.  And so I count the gifts and I whisper thanks and I recite Psalm 18:30, "This God - His way is perfect, the words of the Lord proves true, He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him."  And I believe.

And this is what it all comes down to: Eucharisteo, this trifecta of joy and grace and thanksgiving, is all about love.  Call it what it is! Because it's not enough to keep a list or give thanks or name graces or seek joy.  I must call it what it is!  Because ultimately what we are thankful for, what grace is, why we have joy, the Eucharist itself comes down to love.  Why did Jesus, when facing death and unrelenting suffering, betrayal and rejection, give thanks?  Because of God's deep love for us!  The breaking of the body, the drinking of the vine comes down to love.  And this isn't  new; it's just finally clicking.  And if I am to LIVE, I must live in light of this:  God loves deep and real.

And it is not the trite "God will never leave you" that gets me through.  It is the fact that God loves deep and relentless and shows it 1,000 ways.  And if we who are evil know how to give good gifts, how much better are His?  And I can even suffer broken like Jesus, like Job, and still give thanks, thanks in the brokenness because HE LOVES!

Lord, teach me to live this language of love, to use Eucharisteo to lead me back to your arms, time and again.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Art of Remembering - Light a Candle

What if I could get back to a place where I fully believed that I am taken care of?  What if I once again started living, as Sarah Young suggests in Jesus Calling, as if God had written out in careful detail every aspect of my story, laid out a path of purpose before me.  What if I truly believed - and lived like I believed - that this God, his way is perfect and his word proves true and he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him? What if I lived as if He takes me by the hand step by step and I am eternally loved and secure regardless?  What if I approached each day looking for ways to respond to God at work, instead of thinking the day is a blank page that I need to fill myself?  What if I viewed it as a new piece of music ready to be played one breath, one phrase at a time, or a book to be read one sentence at a time?  What if it's already there before me and I need only to trust?  Can I?  Please?

Yes.  Yes.  Yes!

And here it is: light a candle.  When darkness closes in and fear grips strong and you feel like the next step will lead you off the edge of a cliff, when you forget (like I am so, so good at doing), light a candle.  Light a candle and remember that His word is a light to your path, and you are the light of the world, and his way is perfect and he will light the way one step at a time, just like he always has, and all those things you heart longs to believe and you spirit longs to live... they're all true!  Light a candle and remember this!

Enough light for now, for today.  Enough hope to get through the night without fear.

It. Is. Taken. Care of.

Live like you believe it and when you need to be reminded... Light a candle!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stirrings of the Heart - Faithful Today

There's something stirring in my heart these days. God at work, I know. Sanctifying through and through. And questions rise to the surface. So many questions. They threaten to drown me. I know the feeling too well. Anxiety and panic. It's hard to catch a breath. But maybe it's not what I think it is. Maybe it's not fear reaching to clutch at my throat and strangle. Maybe it's just me trembling at His touch, at the intimacy, the mystery of love, the adventure of a life together, a life I can't fully understand, a life of deep and complete trust. 

How can this small life amount to anything? How do I pour out every ounce of this one life when my heart is so selfish some days? What of the failure days? What of the running on empty days? What of the 20% days? And here it is: faithful today

Here and now, faithful. 

When I am not, He is. 

He never runs out. 

I do. He doesn't. 

And I ask Him to make me faithful. To help me to live dedicated to that which He has placed before me today so that which does not look like much might amount to much in His hands. 

There's something stirring in my heart these days. My breath catches like when the stars catch my eye and stop me in my tracks. It is mysterious and I want to clothe it all in words, but I can't. It is God at work, I know. And I am thankful.