When You Can’t See God

Magic Springs wore me out last week.

Correction. The heat, combined with my children’s nonstop energy, wore me out.

The amusement park nestled in the outskirts of Hot Springs, Arkansas is a popular place to take families for summer fun where they can zoom down water slides, swim, splash in freeze zones, play games like bumper cars or catch a ride on numerous pulse-stopping roller coasters.

After hours swimming in the hot sun, the older kids wanted to ride a coaster. My friend offered to watch my son play in the kiddie pool while I took one teenager, one preteen, and three giggling seven-year olds to ride the Arkansas Twister. arkansas twisterThere was virtually no line that day so we rode the wooden roller coaster several times. Five, six, seven…they didn’t want to stop.

After the third trip through, I got off and told them I would stay by the entrance and snap their pictures as they zoomed by. No problem. I got some great shots of the laughing troop of estrogen. The longer I stood, the warmer I became. Ninety-five degrees with eighty-nine percent humidity feels like you’re standing in a furnace while a llama licks your face. Soon I was sweating through my clothes and decided to find a bit of shade until the girls had ridden themselves empty.

I found the perfect spot right beside the exit stairs where passengers left the Twister. It put me as close as possible to the girls without actually sitting on the coaster with them. A bit of shade. Blessed relief. steps in shade

Another ten minutes passed when I heard a heartbroken wail. My oldest daughter descended the stairs with her arms around my youngest daughter who was sobbing.

“You see? Mom’s right there. There’s no reason to be upset.”

My heart sank. Poor Callie. My youngest daughter has battled anxiety for years. She carries a heavy burden on her small shoulders and though we’ve made tremendous strides, the old enemy of fear still rises up from time to time.

I patted the bench next to me. “Come here, sweetheart. Why are you crying?”

“Because…I…couldn’t…see you! I…saw you…before…and then…you…were gone.”

I tugged her close and kissed her hair. “That’s true but do you know why I changed spots? The heat was making me feel bad. I needed shade so I moved. But I didn’t just move any old place. I moved somewhere I would be closer to you if you needed me.”

Callie sniffed and looked around. “You are closer to us here, aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yep. Let me ask you something. When you didn’t see me, what was the first thing you did? Pray or panic?”

She blinked. “I freaked out.”

“Yeah. And why did you freak out?”

She shrugged and scuffed the concrete with the toe of her shoe. “I guess because I assumed if I didn’t see you that you had left me.”

I squeezed her close. “Have I ever left you before?”

She shook her head. “No. Never.”

“And I never will. Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’ve left. In this case, not being able to see me was a very good thing because I was actually closer to you than I was before.”

With a long pause, I realized God was capturing my attention at the same time I spoke truth and comfort to my child.

How many times have I wondered if God saw me, especially when I couldn’t feel His presence? How many times have I believed the lie that said it was up to me—my effort, my work and my eyes on Him—to keep our relationship close? And while a relationship, any relationship, is a two-way street, deep in my heart I know that anything left up to my own efforts is doomed to fail. That is where Grace moves in.

He draws me to Him. He comes after me when I stray. He sees my need and moves to fill the gaps in my crumbled, broken weakness. When fear rattles the doorknob, He is close…closer than eyes can see. deuteronomy 31 6

Sometimes we have to ignore what our fickle emotions scream at us, silence the lies of what we think we know and stand firm on the promises of God’s Word. He said He will never leave us. He says His love for us is incomprehensible. It is not dependent on anything we do or are unable to do. We need only let His grace move in and hold us.

I don’t have to see Him to know He’s there.

I startled back to the present when Callie offered a shaky smile and wiped the tears from her blotchy face. “I think I’m ready to ride it again. My friends are waiting for me.”

“Okay, sweetie. Only if you’re sure.”

She looked over her shoulder as she climbed the stairs.

“It’s okay, Mom. Now I know. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there.”

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

Rods and Staffs

God’s presence. How I long for it. There are days when I feel nearly desperate for it. For Him. In some ways, it’s an odd longing. Didn’t Jesus already promise He’s with me until the end of the age? (Matt. 28:20) Absolutely. He said His Spirit is living inside me as a deposit of the promises yet to come. (2 Cor. 1:22) Yet, there are days when I don’t always feel Him with me.

I’m not alone. When I googled “God’s presence” I racked up a whopping 37 million plus hits. If Jesus is with me and living inside me, why do I still struggle to find that heightened state of an awareness of His presence?

thaddaeus-lim-40018The chaos of living in a media-crazed culture certainly plays a part. The rush of schedules crammed too full of go-go-go make it worse. But digging deeper, I think these things are band-aids slapped on to hide a deeper problem. We keep ourselves drowning in noise because silence is too condemning. We let our busyness anesthetize us from the wounds and pain we have no desire to confront. We long for quiet. Every fiber of our soul screams for it, but we are, in equal parts, terrified of it. Why?

 Because sitting at the feet of Jesus requires change.

Since “presence” is my word for 2017, I’ve been giving it some study. In the Scriptures, God’s presence is mentioned as He led Israel from Egypt into the promised land.

13 Now therefore, I [Moses] pray you, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways so that I may know You [becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, recognizing and understanding Your ways more clearly] and that I may find grace and favor in Your sight. And consider also, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And the Lord said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest [by bringing you and the people into the promised land].” 15 And Moses said to Him, “If Your presence does not go [with me], do not lead us up from here.” ~Exodus 33 (AMP)

 God’s presence is also mentioned numerous other places, like Psalm 139:7-10.

rod and staffWhere can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will take hold of me. 


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful words of Psalm 23:4.

“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Here’s what I’ve noticed about these verses in regard to God’s presence. The majority of them revolve around adversity. Pain. Lengthening shadows and the mysterious unknown. Rejection. Abuse. Wounds. Betrayal. Grief and loss. But where pain abounds, His love abounds in greater measure. his love abounds

We tend to think of God’s presence as our quiet time when everything is picture perfect and quiet. The kids are behaving, things are going right for a change and we can have a little jam session with God. But it rarely works out that way. (At least, in my house.) broken piecesSitting, loving and living in the presence of God is much deeper. It’s coming to Him with all your messiness and broken pieces and laying them bare before Him. It’s giving Him full access to the shadowed places of your heart you’re ashamed for anyone else to see, and then gratefully basking in the knowledge that He loves you wildly, despite the mess.

Suffering requires us to relinquish something. A dream. A plan. A person. A place. Whatever it is, grief is involved. But there is beauty in our suffering when we learn to worship at the feet of Jesus, and say, “Not my will but Yours.”

Then His love moves in to fill the cracks where our hearts bleed.

Seeking a deeper walk with God is kind of like seeking humility. All of us want to be humble, but most of us don’t want to endure what it takes to get there.

Walking close to God may require a walk through the valley. “I will not fear. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…” 3 nails

Keep your eyes fixed on the Shepherd. Trust Him with your messy, broken places. In His presence is healing. In His hands are love.

Living Like Sugar

Our house was hopping this weekend.

Teenage girls and giggling preteens were everywhere. Nate zoomed through the chaos in his normal Hulk-ish style. Movies, candy, tasting challenges, raucous laughter, Youtube videos, card games…there was noise coming from every direction.

Most in the house had a blast…with the exception of our dog Sugar.

Poor thing. She’s ten years old. Far too elderly for whooping and hollering, high-pitched squeals and pounding feet. She’s suffered enough living with Nate.

In the middle of the bedlam, I moved to the kitchen sink to wash the dishes. Another shriek. A crash. A burst of giggles. And then I felt it. A warm, wriggly body pressed itself between my Nikes, shivering and shaking. sugar-at-my-feet

I looked down to see Sugar seeking refuge at her Momma’s feet.

It’s not the first time she’s done it of late. It’s getting to be the norm. Odd though that she never sought protection or solace from me when she was a puppy, or even in the first half of her life. No, she was too busy defending the world from evil. Too busy yapping and charging forward to solve things her own way.

But as she’s gotten older, she runs straight to me when trouble, or even perceived trouble, heads her way.

Maybe she’s finally figured out doing things her own way doesn’t work. Or maybe she finally realized Momma is bigger and stronger than she is so why should she do the fighting? Momma can do it for her.

Or maybe it’s simply the fact that Momma makes her feel safe. Sheltered. Loved when the screams of chaos erupt.

boy-hiding

Whatever the reason, she no longer fights her own battles. She lets me fight them for her. And when I reach down and gently rub her ears, she leans into my fingers with a sigh and her trembling ceases.

I want my relationship with God to be like that. No striving. No need to put on a brave face or make feeble attempts to fight battles in my own limited strength I can never win. I just want to run to my Savior and rest in the shadow of His love.

I’ll never forget what my mentor Marie once told me. This courageous, faith-filled woman, who handled every storm with such beauty and grace said, “Tara, trusting Jesus gets easier the older you get. As He weathers storm after storm with you, you don’t need Him to prove Himself to you anymore. You just…know. You trust. You don’t even question Him after awhile. You face each moment and reach for His hand, knowing He’s there.” hand

That thought was never more real to me than this week when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Instead of fear or anxiety or a dozen other knee-rattling emotions, Jesus swept a peace through me unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s gentle and whole. Kind and deep. He whispered to my spirit, “I’ve got her. I’m with her. I’m with you. All is well. No need to fear.

Oh, there have been some tears, a hundred questions, but more than anything, there is peace. God’s peace buoying my spirit into a place of sacred rest. He loves her. He is for her and His perfect plan is being stitched into the beautiful tapestry of her life for His glory. All will be well.

trina-christian-19571Most of us know the verse reminding us to “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6-7), but sometimes, despite our best intentions, fear grabs us by the throat and refuses to let go. Even with a string of good, peaceful days, there may be moments of panic and with them the self-condemnation, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Yet the cold dread curls through our stomachs anyway.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. What matters is Who we run to.   

We can join the chaos, try to fight the battles in our own strength or take shelter in the shadow of the One Who has already promised the victory.

Living like Sugar is the way to go.

john-16_33

Sippy Cups: When It Seems God Doesn’t Care

hope (1)

Have you ever felt God has forgotten you?

Perhaps He showed you something phenomenal He’s about do in and through your life. The arrival of a long awaited child, a gift or talent maybe. Perhaps it was a vocational change or ministry calling of some sort. Perhaps it’s a long-held dream right on the cusp of fruition. God revealed that glimpse to you, confirmed it and reminded you again for good measure. Your excitement mounted and it seemed like a million dreams were about to be fulfilled. You lived each day in breathless anticipation. When would it happen? When would He move? You’re there. You’re ready, and then…

Nothing happens. waiting

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. In the waiting, the rosy bloom of promise seems to fade. Excitement turns into confusion. Restlessness. Fear. Perhaps, even anger.

You begin to wonder if you heard Him correctly. Maybe He hadn’t revealed what you thought He had. Did you misunderstand? Did you do something wrong? Was He even listening to you anymore? He seems so silent. In your weakest moments, you might even wonder if He loves you at all.

Yes, God’s ways can sometimes feel confusing. Agonizingly slow. Even counter-productive or cruel.

Notice I said they sometimes feel that way. But they really aren’t. This concept never became more clear to me than during a recent incident with a sippy cup. sippy-cup

I was working to prepare dinner one evening, when my two-year old boy toddled into the kitchen, his lips puckered into a pout. Pointing his chubby finger at the refrigerator, his wish became clear.

“Juice.”

I smiled. “You want some juice?”

He grinned and reached up his dimpled arms for me. I scooped him up, knowing he was thinking our juice-fetching routine would remain the same as every other day. Normally, I pick him up, open the frig, we peruse the already juice-filled sippy cup selections together and he picks the one he’s craving. However, this day, things were not the norm.

I had already washed his sippy cups and placed them in the cupboard…the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. Propping him on my hip, I moved away from the refrigerator to pull a sippy cup from the cabinet. Nate didn’t understand what I was doing. In his little mind, he wanted juice and I had just shut the refrigerator door in his face and pulled him away from his prize.

He screamed. He wailed. He wanted his juice and he wanted it now! All he knew was that I had walked completely in the opposite direction. He panicked and flailed in abject terror that he would surely die of dehydration. Poor guy. The strung-out little dude truly thought I was heartless, abandoning him in the middle of his need. Didn’t I understand that he was thirsty? Possibly on the verge of death?

What he failed to realize is that there could be no juice without the cup. Though it seemed like I was pulling him farther away from what he craved, I was actually positioning him to enjoy the gift. I was making him ready. I was giving him what he needed. Though I stepped away from the refrigerator, I was actually moving him closer to his cup and ultimately, his goal.

It’s the same with God. Though at times His ways seem confusing, even counter-productive, He is positioning you, preparing you and making you ready for the good work He’s had in mind all along. Thrashing, wailing and screaming only slows down the process…and makes it much more painful.

Isaiah 55_8-9 - Iceberg

Consider Joseph. (Genesis 37-45) Even from a young age, God gave this fellow an inkling what purpose his life would serve in God’s plans. When Joseph dreamed his brothers bowed down to him, it must have made him a tad excited. After all, what you’re passionate about is what you talk about and Joseph was blabbing that choice piece of news all over the place…so much so, that his brothers hated him for it.

Was Joseph eventually in a position of power and authority over his brothers? Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. Actually, the journey looked nothing like what Joseph could have ever imagined. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. This wasn’t a couple of days in the slammer either. No. For two long years, Joseph sat in prison, no doubt wondering if God had abandoned him. Had he only imagined the crazy dreams of yester year? Why didn’t God free him? Fight for him? What purpose could he possibly serve sitting day after day inside a lonely, filthy cell?

Joseph’s story is filled with breathless twists and shocking turns but what God promised is exactly what came to pass. It always does. When God speaks, it’s as good as done.

Abraham and Sarah had their own sippy cup experience. God promised them a son and so they waited and waited and waited. Sarah feared God was moving her farther and farther away from her dream and thus decided to help the process come about in a speedier manner. The results were disastrous. (And still are.)

She had her own moment of confused-cup-meltdown but in her hurry, all she did was make the situation harder to bear. And, just like always, God delivered that much anticipated son twenty-five years later on His own time table, in His own manner, for His glory.

Why do we ever doubt Him?

Child of God, don’t fret if His promise seems to be taking longer than you imagined, or via a manner you never dreamed possible. He’s working all things together for your good and His glory. He’s positioning you, getting you ready for amazing things. Hold out your hands, praise His Name and wait.

When He places that long-awaited cup in your hands, it won’t just be full. It will be overflowing with good things.

overflowing cup

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Jeremiah 31:25

Have you ever waited for something so long you feared God had left you? What have you learned during the process of waiting? 

The Window Washer: Fear-Defying Faith

The past week was a taste of paradise. I was overjoyed to attend a writers retreat for the authors who are signed with the fabulous agents of Books & Such Literary Agency. Boy, did they spoil us! We met in Monterey, California to enjoy a time of learning, fellowship, planning and fun. My brain is overwhelmed with everything they taught us, the creativity and joy were contagious and the view couldn’t be beat. But best of all were the friendships forged. As you can see, the love between the authors of Books & Such are a rare gift.

me-and-lauraine-snellingme-and-sherry-kyleme-and-anita-draper

With my hilarious author friends (left to right) Lauraine Snelling, Sherry Kyle, and Anita Draper.

Something interesting happened during the last afternoon, however. Several of us had walked outside for a fresh breath of ocean air during our break time. As we leaned over the hotel’s third floor balcony, I just happened to look down and my heart slammed against my ribs. Directly below us was a window washer, standing atop a six foot ladder perched on the edge of a narrow walkway on the second floor, calming whistling as he attended to his tasks. Although it’s hard to tell in these pictures, there is absolutely no ledge to keep his ladder from sliding to the rocks below. None.

window-washer-monterey

I watched him in fascination for several long minutes. Every time he moved farther down the walkway and he swung that ladder wide over the air, dangling the metal contraption into space, my stomach clenched all over again. But the man’s step never wavered. His whistle never stopped. If anything it was like the task was second nature to him, no different than breathing or eating.

If it was me wobbling on that ledge, the scene wouldn’t have been nearly so tranquil, I assure you. The whistle would have sounded more like the screeches of a dying cow rolling down a cliff.

And that’s just me getting to the top of a ladder, the second story ledge not included.

The window washer was comfortable because he had done his task so many times, fear was no longer a factor. He knew the ledge. He knew its strength and its width. He’d tested it over and over again. He could move in freedom, without thought and with a song on his lips while an ocean raged behind him and sharp rocks sat like teeth underneath because he had faith the ledge would hold him up. And it did.

cliff

It’s the same with God. The older I get, the easier it is to trust Him. Why? Because He’s proved Himself faithful over and over again. The storms are just as strong, the fire just as hot, the enemy just as diligent, but the fear doesn’t rattle me as it once did. Oh, there’s still some fear. I’m far from what I should be. But the goal is imperfect progress as the Father molds and shapes us into the image of His Son.

Perfect love casts out fear. The deeper we move and live in the knowledge of God’s love for us, the more the fear shrinks.

Maybe someday, I’ll even be able to whistle atop a ladder perched on a second story ledge.

I would love to hear from you. Do you struggle with fear? Have you found it easier or harder to trust God as time goes by? Why or why not?

A Father’s Love: Monster Chasers and Hallway Protectors

Our little family was recently reminiscing over funny memories from way back when. You know, when the girls were three and six, instead of the mature ten and thirteen year olds they are now. Especially in light of this coming Father’s Day weekend, my oldest daughter remembered something very sweet about her daddy. scared

“Dad, remember how I was never scared of monsters in my closet, but I was always terrified of monsters coming down the hall?”

He laughed. “I remember.”

She grinned. “But instead of getting mad at me for worrying about monsters coming through my bedroom door, you would grab a toy rifle and march up and down the hallway every night before I fell asleep. Remember that? And you would chant silly soldier rhymes like, ‘Hut, two, three, four, no monsters gettin’ past my girl’s front door!’

super dad

My heart melted hearing the treasured memory she had stored away. Why had that particular remnant from her childhood held fast when so many others had siphoned away? Because protection is powerful. It shows the measure of true love and the lengths it will go to save the one it loves.

Real men, real fathers protect. Whether the fear is real or imagined, good fathers fight away the dragons while their princesses clutch their battered teddy bears until those quivering shadows melt into sweet slumber. And even now as a thirteen year old, I frequently have to remind my daughter that Dad’s rules about modesty that seem so outdated to her, or the rules about technology that seem so rigid, are born from the same protective heart that marched up and down the hallway for hours chasing away the monsters…his goal is ever and always to protect her.

dad daughter

Maybe you’ve never known the love of a father like this, a man who would give his very life to save yours. Earthly fathers and husbands, even the good ones, will fail us but there is One who is desperately yearning to call you His daughter. He’s waiting with open arms. Best of all? He will never fail you. Ever. His specialty is unconditional love and it’s best seen in the way He protects His children.

“To You, O [God] my strength, I will sing praises; For God is my stronghold [my refuge, my protector, my high tower], the God who shows me [steadfast] loving kindness.” ~Psalm 59:17 AMP

“A father of the fatherless and a judge and protector of the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.” ~Psalm 68:5

If you’ve spent your lifetime searching for the love of a man, whether that be a father, a husband or a boyfriend, and you’ve been hurt over and over again, broken and left more empty than before, run to the One who wants to be the Father you’ve dreamed of. He’ll be your comfort, Protector, Friend and Savior. He’ll be the Daddy willing to march up and down the hallway chasing away the monsters that leave you trembling in fear…whether they are real or not. What is important to you is important to Him. He sees you. He loves you. He’s waiting. daddy daughter

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From where shall my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber [briefly] nor sleep [soundly]
.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun will not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your life.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in [everything that you do]
From this time forth and forever.” ~Psalm 121

I would love to hear from you. Do you have fond memories of ways your father made you feel loved? In what ways has God been the Father you’ve always longed for? How often do you think of God as your Protector?

 

The Heart Beat

The scream jerked me out of a dead sleep.

I groaned as my feet slapped against the cold floor. Not again.

I padded to Nathan’s room, grunting as my shin collided against the sharp edge of an unknown object in the dark house. More nightmares. The interruption of sleep was wearing thin.

I opened the door to my son’s room with a soft creak. My weariness melted away when he reached out his pudgy arms for me, sniffing and crying out in relief, “Mama.” nightmares

“Oh, baby. Did you have a bad dream?”

I scooped him up in my arms as he wiped his tears away with chubby fists. Kissing his forehead, I snuggled down with him in his bed and hummed a lullaby, alternating between wordless melodies and prayer. “Dear Jesus, please help Nate sleep without fear…”

He patted my face as we kept our vigil for a few minutes longer. His breath grew even and calm. I lifted up my head, thinking he was asleep. I was wrong. Nate sat up and frowned.

“No, Mama.”

I chuckled and laid back down beside him. But this time, instead of patting my face like he usually wants to do, Nate pressed my head to his chest. I heard every thrum of his little heart.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Each time that beat grew slow and easy, I gently raised my head up only to find a chubby fist push my head back down again.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. heart beat

As I lay there listening to his heart beat, I thanked God for my stubborn, wild little boy. He’s exhausting, but a joy nonetheless. Then my thoughts drifted to another little boy and a mother who might have had nights similar to this one. Oh, I know there are few similarities between Jesus and Nate. Jesus is the Savior and well, my son needs the Savior. But relationships bond people together the world over in experiences so we can feel another’s pain, sense another’s sorrow, see life through another’s eyes. jesus as little boy

What was Jesus like at the age of three? Was he ever awakened with nightmares? It’s an odd thought, I know. The King of creation, afraid? Still, Jesus was just as much little boy as much as he was God. Did He call out for His mother to soothe His fears? Did she run and gather Him in her arms? I wonder if He ever pressed her head to His chest in an effort to draw her close.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

I am no hero. I can’t breathe life out of nothing or fight dragons or calm storms. Yet, I have a Father who can do all of those things. Indeed, He has done them already and will to do them again.

“I will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

When the enemy hisses his lies in my ear, when giants loom over me causing my knees to buckle in fear, when I can’t breathe for the pain squeezing around my chest, I have a Father I can cry out to. Before I even finish His name, He is cradling me in His arms and pressing my head to His chest. god's heart beat

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Always strong. Always steady. Always the same.

Maybe the little boy Jesus was never scared. If He called out for his mother in the night, perhaps it was so he could calm her fears. And isn’t that a mind bender?

The heart beat of God is a powerful thing. It reminds us of His presence. Of His protection. Of His love. The same heart beat that thrums with a steady cadence calling the weary to find rest is the same pulse He poured out and emptied at the cross.

I pray Nate’s nightmares cease for his sake, but I don’t mind being awakened by them so much anymore. Every time I hear his heart thumping, it reminds of my heavenly Father’s. A Father Who never slumbers or sleeps.

And that makes for some very sweet dreams.

 

 

 

 

False Evidence Appearing Real: When the Lawnmower Stole My Mother

My super hero son didn’t understand.

Mowing the grass

I climbed on the lawn tractor to chop down the rapidly growing grass surrounding our home. Nate watched. He blinked. Frowned. I thought he didn’t like the noise the large piece of machinery churned up. Oh, but his frown sprouted from so much more.

Over the clatter of the tractor, I heard high-pitched squeals of laughter. My two girls were doubled over with giggles. What was so funny? I glanced behind me to see my three year old son running towards the moving tractor as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him. His face was puckered into a scowl. He held a broom in his hand and was charging towards the metal monster, a look of death and determination in his eyes.

Think Braveheart, if you will. braveheart

The little stinker was preparing to attack the mower with a broom. I had to gas it all over the yard to escape his blood-thirsty tirade. It suddenly hit me what the problem was…he thought the big metal monster was trying to take away his mom.

I burst out laughing until rocks started raining down on me. My little hero was chunking stones as fast as he could, desperate to defend his poor mother.

Needless to say, that was the most adventurous mowing experience to date.

It must have been confusing to see a noisy, thundering metal monster whisk his mother away. Even more baffling was the way the vibrating beast kept circling the yard, refusing to spit his mommy out. So little Nate had done what any valiant soldier would do—attack.superhero nate

I thought the whole thing was pretty cute until those rocks started pelting me.

It’s endearing to watch a scenario like this play out from an adult’s viewpoint. Not so much from a child’s perspective. Nate reacted on a gut level out of fear. The assumption he made was the same one each of us make, often on a daily basis. We lash out with knee-jerk reactions based on partial information and false assumptions.

Put another way…we live and make our choices based on false evidence that appears real.

fear false evidence appearing real

Poor fellow. From his knowledge of the world and his childish experience, the tractor was loud, noisy and scary. Even worse, this metal beast stole his mommy away. Surely she was in danger. Surely something terrible was going to happen. Anything that loud must be dangerous.

But he was wrong.

He didn’t know what I knew. What he saw as a disaster, I knew was a necessity. What he thought was dangerous was actually much safer than letting the grass grow and snakes infest the yard. I could see the big picture. He only understood a tiny portion of it.

When our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, when are shaking in fear, when we let our emotions spiral into negativity and ‘what ifs’, we need to remember that we only see a tiny splinter of God’s plan. He is writing our stories. We shouldn’t assume we know the ending based on the problems of page one.

My crime-fighting son nearly hurt himself running at the mower with that broom. If I hadn’t zoomed out of his reach, he would have thrust his weapon into that running mower, and, well…I shudder to think of the outcome. When we live in fear, when we make knee jerk reactions based on partial information, over-active imaginations or our ricocheting emotions, we end up doing a lot of damage. To ourselves, to others and especially to our walk with God. The peace of God cannot dwell with negativity or fear. The two are polar opposites.
pug in blanket

Fear is normal. It’s real, but don’t wallow in it. Don’t allow your thoughts to set up residence inside its cold grip. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than false evidence that appears real.

Sometimes, it even resembles a metal mowing monster.

Do you struggle with fear? What do you fear the most? Have you developed techniques to fight those metal mowing monsters away? I would love to hear!