The wounds cut deep; both physically and figuratively.
Fourteen Decembers ago, I fell down the stairs. People sometimes talk about traumatic events as experienced through a surreal slow motion reality at the time. That would perfectly describe how it played out for me.
Having come back late from a church meeting, I longed for rest. Having just snuggled into my cozy layers of protection for my body , I was awakened by the high pitched voice of my toddler from the top of the stairs son beckoning me. Our bedroom was in the basement in the not completely renovated lower level (read that as concrete stairs), I was concerned about his possible fall. In my half asleep state, I climbed up to grab him and bring him down.
However, as I held him in my arms and attempted to take the trek back down, I realized quickly that something went wrong. Fear erupted as I felt my foot hit air when it should have made an immediate connection with cold cement. In what seemed like a few minutes (but was likely a few seconds), I scrambled to make sense of what was happening and how to resolve it. Fearing that my son would hit the cement floor, I turned my body to soften the hit.
Fortunately, he did not sustain injury. I did.
My broken shoulder commenced a nine month journey into waiting-for physical and emotional restoration. Truthfully, it was painful at times. Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard.
It turns out, I also realized that my spirit was in need of attention. I’m not good at waiting. Trusting in God’s character rather than grabbing toward my tendency to a always be in control challenged me.
As I reflected on my experience that happened during Advent, the connections were not lost on me.
Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.
The Israelites knew a bit about these things. The hope of a Messiah. A King. A Deliverer, A Restorer was held up generations deep. God’s promises were embraced as the prophecies were repeated. Hope dangled in front of them as they witnessed God’s presence reminding them that they were never forgotten; through word and action.
But lifetimes went by. Unexpected twists and turns to the vision they held in their minds threatened to detour them toward discouragement.
When will fulfillment take place?
Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard. It reminds us of our humanity; broken in body, mind, and spirit. True restoration can only originate from Heaven.
So we hold on to hope-one that is generational deep.
Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.
My shoulder is not completely healed. I lost cartilage that can never be replaced. The amount of movement is limited. I can’t do a backstroke very well but I can live with that. Jesus meets me in my brokenness yet I know that these moments are blips on the journey. Experiencing the fulfillment promised in Jesus will take a lifetime. Actually more than that.
“Know this with all your heart, with everything in you, that not one detail has failed of all the good things God, your God, promised you. It has all happened. Nothing’s left undone—not so much as a word.” Joshua 23:14
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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
“You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 1:18-19)
First Ask Why by Shelly Wildman.
Though not an actual “devotional,” this book pushes parents to create a framework for how they can engage in faith growing experiences with their children. In the first pages, she describes her own beginning attempts to nurture her daughters’ faith. Some of those attempts went according to plan. Others ended in the frustration familiar to many parents who encounter the reality of intentional teaching among restless bodies. The story drew me in as I resonated deeply with her desire to reconcile God’s commands for parents and the reality of trying to implement a plan. Wildman proposes that asking “Why” we do what we do as families will lead to organic opportunities to for discipleship. It does not mean intentionality is forgotten but asking “why” pushes us to prioritize the ways a family uses their time, energy, and resources. There are a lot of “how to books” but families have different shapes and no one model can adequately help. As a parent myself, I found the information, grounded in scripture, practical. It felt as if a friend was sharing wisdom gained from experience. The questions at the end of each chapter challenge reflection and implementation.
Pray A to Z by Amelia Rhodes
This book transforms the way you see others in your community. If you are familiar with a prayer walk, this book takes that concept to the next level. Arranged in alphabetical order, each page offer a brief introduction to a topic of prayer including: alcoholism, cancer, divorce, depression, estranged relationships, law enforcement, Jehovah-Jireh, Truth, and Wisdom. Our family uses each topic as our weekly them of prayer. Something holy happens when you pray for those you randomly see in your daily interactions. God opens up our eyes and the Holy Spirit puts a nudge in our hearts as we encounter those for whom we pray.
No More Fear for Kids by Johanna Reardon
Finding a family devotional book that speaks in a language that draws kids in is challenging. “Fear” is a common issues children face. The stories that introduce each lesson contain elements of situations that children will most likely have experienced. Bullying, staying overnight away from home, and fears of earthly disasters are common sources of children’s fears. Rather than dismissing them with a scriptural platitude, the author confronts them head on. Questions are offered at the end of each lesson which help the family members engage with one another and gives them a chance to listen to one another. In addition, the scriptural support and prayer places hope in their hearts. In addition, a characteristic of God becomes the theme woven through the whole lesson. I wish I would have had this book when my children were younger. It’s aimed towards the 8-12 year age group.
The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook by Miranda abd Noah Threlfall-Holmes.
I picked up this little gem at a writing conference. The book stands out from traditional devotional books for kids/teens for two reasons: 1) It is written by a mom and her teen son. 2) Hands on application involves some really creative and culturally relevant methods of prayer. The introduction sets the premise: “This is not a book to teach teenagers about prayer. It is a book to encourage teenagers to try out prayer for themselves.” Each experiment includes an introduction (including its, the experiment itself, space for notes, and comments from other experimenters (including Noah). Ideas include creating a prayer space in a virtual world, bedroom door prayers, coloring the Bible, modelling a Bible passage using legos, and Nerf gun confession. Although this book is intended as an individual devotional book,it can easily be used as a family or youth group resource. http://teenageprayerexperiment.blogspot.com/p/running-prayer-experiment-workshop.html
The Bible Project https://thebibleproject.com/
The digital age is reality so it makes sense to incorporate Bible teaching venues into it. Founded in 2014 by friends Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins, “The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. ” The videos fall under five categories: series, themes, word study, old testament and new testament. Compelling story telling and creative animation draws the audience to watch these short clips (most are under five minutes). My family has found this resource to provide a springboard for discussions that normally are challenging to initiate with your kids. (ie: hey, what do you think about praying the Shema? How about those Covenants?). You can watch these videos on the site as well as youtube. I guarantee your kids won’t be the only ones gaining Biblical knowledge.
The dream lied buried deep in their hearts. For they held onto it…year after year.
Praying. Hoping. Believing.
Surely, the gift of life does not seem too much to ask. Does it?
And then it happens. God announces that the dream has been freed from it’s deeply burrowed place.
“The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.” Then he said to him, “That’s how many children will be born into your family.”
Abram believed the Lord. The Lord was pleased with Abram because he believed. So Abram’s faith made him right with the Lord. “ (Genesis 15:5-6)
The vision emerges. Expectation is birthed.
Waiting ensues. Frustration takes root in the place the dreams had burrowed.
God promised to provide.
How long do you wait?
The longing for fulfillment of a dream lingers. The vision was cast. The lips tasted the words of thanksgiving. The seduction for immediate gratification lures. Earthly wisdom speaks into the heart.
The dream becomes idolotry-worthy of attaining at any cost.
And the consequences commence.
Jealousy. Abuse of power. Confusion. Broken Relationship.
God promised to provide. In His timing and in His way.
If only they could have waited.
If only we learn to wait.
“When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him. He said, “I am the Mighty God. Walk faithfully with me. Live in a way that pleases me. 2 I will now act on my covenant between me and you. I will greatly increase the number of your children after you.” (Genesis 17:1-2)
Human nature hasn’t changed. We see ourselves in the lives of those who have came before us.
God hasn’t changed. We see God’s character through the lives of those who came before us.
Though God blessed Ishmael, we are reminded of the consequences when we don’t surrender our dreams to the One who gave them to us.
God’s question wasn’t directed only to Abraham and Sarah :
Why would anyone be upset with God when their prayers were answered as they had hoped?
For years, the Israelites served the Egyptians under oppressive conditions . But God was aware of their suffering and the deliverance they longed for was about to take place.
“The Lord said, “I have seen how my people are suffering in Egypt. I have heard them cry out because of their slave drivers. I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to save them from the Egyptians. I will bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3:7-8)
Getting what we wish for can be a dangerous thing.
Lately, I find myself resonating with the Israelites’ frustration and perspective. Recently, our family received deliverance. For over a decade, we sought release from financial, work, and medical burdens. It seemed that every time that an impending release appeared possible, another problem arose to counter the feeling of freedom.
Finally, we entered into a new place. After years of praying for respite from a continuous string of unexpected stresses, we felt rescued and embraced the peace found within it.
For the first few months, we rejoiced. We knew it was God’s hand that brought this blessing. It’s not that we didn’t thank God for anything during the previous years, but this dramatic transition brought physical awareness for where we had come. Truthfully, some of the sources of worry had disappeared. Health had stabilized. Financial issues were resolved. My husband was released from a long difficult job experience. Celebration commenced.
When the Israelites were finally released from captivity, they too praised God. There had been many close calls that seemed to threaten the fulfillment of God’s promise to them.
“They said to Moses,’Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 14:11-12)
When it happened, they celebrated. They sang, danced, and relished in the gift of a respite.
““I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,[a]
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him…”(Exodus 15:1-2)
But, unbeknownst to them, the release was not without it’s own set of challenges. They were not done moving.
Our expectations of how God will work and preconceived notions of God’s character can result in disappointment. We look at our narrative unfolding through human eyes.
“ The Israelites said to them, “We wish the Lord had put us to death in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat. We ate all the food we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert. You must want this entire community to die of hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)
God was moving them to a better place. But the in-between space did not match what they envisioned.
Couldn’t the comfort have lasted a little longer?
Currently, we are moving toward a new place again. Not a new home but new jobs. Our transition doesn’t feel as euphoric as it did in the beginning. God’s hand doesn’t seem to be moving as quickly as we wished. The feast has ended. The provision is appearing in forms different than what we planned. Our bodies are growing weary.
The journey seems long and, at times, discouraging. But we know that God never forgot the Israelites. And we are not forgotten either.
We are aware that the vision we hold is not complete. And we will keep trusting (clinging at times) to the promises given to the Israelites along their way.
Because God always wants to lead us to a better place than we were in before. Even if we don’t understand the stops along the way.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
When we find ourselves in the midst of trials, it becomes easy to focus on ourselves. And for good reason.
Life, as we know it, has changed. The anxiety surrounding that moment builds as we feel a loss of control.
- unexpected illness
- death of a loved one
- car repair
- job loss
- lack of improvement in chronic illness
- broken/strained relationship
- consequences of fighting for justice
- financial stress
The rhythm was altered without our knowledge. The implications may involve physical/emotional hardship.
The discomfort is unsettling. We seek restoration. But as we seek it, we may develop “tunnel vision.” We look for God’s redemption within the scope of our own lives.
Yet, God’s movement in our trials speaks to those outside our scope as well.
Paul and Silas were no strangers to trials. Because of their passion for bringing Jesus’ message to a secular society, persecution was a regular experience for them. But when God acted to deliver them, others took notice.
Others witnessed them calling out to God through song as they lay in pain from their beating. Their response was counter cultural. But “the other prisoners were listening to them.”
As if that wasn’t enough, God’s power came through with a mighty force and blew open the prison doors and loosened the chains! As a result of this experience, the jailer’s eyes were opened. He recognized God’s hand in Paul and Silas’ moment of trial and sought to be baptized.
Our trials aren’t just about us
Throughout scripture, God is about drawing others to Himself. Whether it be directly (public manifestation) or indirectly (testimony). Our trials are one venue through which that happens.
How are others seeing God’s hand at work in your trial?
No part of our lives is outside your view. We are reminded of your power to break through those situations which come our way and cause distress. Please hear our cries as you have heard the pleas of those who have come before us. We seek deliverance from the hardships we are experiencing (name them). As you restore us, may others see you at work. Amen
Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever go. Joshua 1:9
How do you feel when you are driving along certain of your location and suddenly, without warning, you find yourself forced to take a detour? Many times the detour takes you to your destination through a series of streets with which you are unfamiliar. The confidence you felt in pursuing your destination has changed to anxiety. “I don’t know where I’m going!” is the thought that takes over your mind.
The daily life for a family facing the realities of a mental illness illness or other chronic medical condition can; at times, be filled with moments of unpredictability-a loved one makes and impulsive decision with life altering consequences, a sick child takes a sudden turn for the worse, a new medication is introduced. Any pursuit of stability in your life seems to be thrown off with a detour into the unknown. Our human desire for control seems to have slipped out of our hands. Traveling into the unknown brings a sense of fear.
The Israelites were no strangers to traveling into unknown territory. The physical terrain was not always familiar. Sure, they knew they were headed to the Promised Land but how exactly do you get there? Along the journey, they made poor decisions and struggled with trusting in the promises God made to them in the beginning.
Here, the Israelites are to go forth into unfamiliar territory. The fears are real-life and death is at stake. Yet Joshua proclaims to his brood this promise.
How does this promise encourage you as you face the unknown?
Sovereign God, you have shown us through your actions in your people before us that we have nothing to fear. You are greater than any challenges we face here on earth. Please fill us with your peace as we claim your words through Joshua as our own. Amen
Without warning, I found my mental state rapidly shifting. For one week in late March, it seemed to spin out of my control. Increasing anxiety gripped my soul, its force building stronger each day. Suddenly, the anxiety transformed into a deep depression. Never had I felt such a heaviness pressing upon me. After a few days, the weight lifted.
Making sense of it left me pondering: Why now? I had been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15 years. For most of that period, my moods remained stable. Any shifts lasted only a few days. Through medication and therapy, I learned to manage my illnesses. However, this time, I felt blindsided; the symptoms appeared unexpectedly. Even though I was exhausted, the experience left me puzzled.
Read the whole post at http://mudroomblog.com/soul-care-unexpected-descent-depression/
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all these things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Satan is well aware of those windows of opportunity by which we are most vulnerable to the reaching of his grip.
A few months ago, in what appeared to be a stable season of my life, I found myself in battle. For one day, I felt a force threatening to keep my mind, body, and soul from grasping onto hope. It was the peak of a descent into a darkness of which I had never before experienced. I literally felt a heaviness that kept pressing down on me; making the transition from laying in my bed to standing up nearly impossible. Yet, in the midst, I pulled out my armor and fought.
The point of evil’s intrusion occurred as I was struggling with an unexpected mood change. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a several years. Not surprisingly, the seasons of stability have given way here and there to brief phases of losing my footing. Those moments challenged me but I always found the ability to arise and keep walking forward.
I refused to let Satan draw me back from finding the place where God was leading me. I recognized the tactics of discouragement, unrestrained anger and hopelessness. (Read about another battle here: http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/08/31/if-god-can-raise-a-man-from-the-dead-why-cant-he-keep-my-crockpot-from-falling-2/)
When I found my spirit listening to voices which beckoned to surrender hope, I cried out to Jesus to help me claim victory over them.
Struggles of the mind and body are not indications of a weak faith or losing “favor” with God. They are consequences of the broken realities of the world in which we reside. This place points to the complete restoration which is possible in our Heavenly home but may not be experienced in it’s complete form here.
However, we are offered wholeness in our spirit through the grace of Jesus. He not only triumphed over the power but wrestled with it himself. Until the end of his life.
“…yet without sin.”
What is the significance of these three small words in reference to the act of being a high priest?
Being a high priest brought with it a significant amount of responsibility. He acted as God’s representative to proclaim that the offering for sin had been redeemed. Reconciliation to God had been achieved.
These individuals were specifically chosen based on character and knowledge of the Jewish law. But, their humanity still existed. Very possibly, they had committed the same sins as those who came to them seeking forgiveness.
Only Jesus could wear the title of “high priest” and yet also become the offering at the same time. By doing so, he removed the “curtain” that separated the humanly appointed righteous from the humanly designated unrighteous.
In addition, his humanity left him vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh.
But did he really experience the same temptations as we do? We could spend hours analyzing his life; searching for specific examples of weaknesses of the flesh.
Does it matter?
Jesus experienced the suffering that accompanies our spirit and possibly our minds and bodies when evil powers try to lure us away from where God has placed us.
For each of us, those temptations make look different. The consequences of refusing to follow those voices may result in remaining in a place of discomfort. Or they may not.
Regardless, we look to Jesus’ strategy in keeping his feet planted: calling out to his Father.
We share the same one.
He relied on God’s word to root him when his feet were tempted to move. And it’s no different for us.
Fortunately, our high priest will always be advocating for us. He liberated us from evil and knows of its force firsthand. Furthermore, he has assumed his position as king.
“Therefore, LET US draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Charles Spurgeon writes, “It is a throne of grace where no ordinary monarch presides, but where one is sitting who is infinite and
all sufficient, one who can bestow upon us more than we ask, or ever think of asking, and yet not
impoverish Himself in the slightest degree! Always remember, beloved, in coming to the mercy seat,
that you are coming to a King and to one who gives like a King! Always open your mouth wide and ask
great things of the King who is so ready to bestow them upon you!”
I lift up my eyes to the hills–
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip–
he who watches over you will not slumber; (Psalm 121:1-3)
As we move about this world, it becomes all too easy to let our gaze be set on what we see out in front or down below. The mind interprets our interactions with our surrounding territory. Most of the time, we walk on level ground. Therefore, our perspective is shaped by what we feel, hear, see, and touch within that area.
However, as followers of Christ, we must remember that there is another Kingdom being built upon the one which we see only at eye level. The new one is infinite and transforms what our mind and body senses. It is ruled by Jesus, who, came down from the “hills” to point us to it.
It’s easy to allow fear to dictate our perceptions of circumstances here. Changes in health, job status, loss, and looming life-changing decisions tempt us to gravitate to Earthly self-satisfying answers. When we do that, we see ourselves through the eyes of the Israelites. Despite the marvels of God’s hand displayed in front of them, they longed for security in what the Earth can offer.
But we are called to lift our heads and change our view. The answer we need may not be found from the perspective from which we are looking. We don’t need to fear. Our God is aware of the struggles we face. The answer we need will come. We just need to look up.
Dear God: Thank you for extending yourself down from the Heavenly realms to this Earth where you have placed us. We acknowledge that seeking answers purely from our eye-level becomes very tempting. Waiting is hard. Suffering is hard. Please grant us peace as we fix our gaze on the hills and look into your face, and wait.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, but at some mile marker along the road, I realized life is hard.
It did not resonate with my childhood expectations. I had not yet developed a full vision of the life that lay before me or an expanded worldview of the lives of others beyond my neighborhood. Despite the painful experiences that led me to my epiphany, I find blessings peeking through them.
My story is part of a bigger road map. God’s hand in my life really began long ago. Understanding that my life connects to those who came before me, those with whom I breathe the same air now and those who will come after me when I have exhaled for the last time shapes my identity.
Though we are individually created (Psalm 139:13-14), we are bound to one another. Our lives connect us. Literally.
Author Ann VosKamp refers to this joining together as “breaking into” each other. In her book, The Broken Way, she writes, “Koinonia is the breaking in, the willing participation, the fellowship of all things-and indwelling can’t help but weave its way through all the atoms of the world. The whole Earth is full of His indwelling. The broken way illumniates the whole material world, everything breaking into everything else. This is what love means: we live within each other, we inhabit each other…”
Life is hard-for everyone. Through all, times and all places. That reality doesn’t give me a free pass to shirk “breaking into” another. Actually, our own identities in this world are shaped as we live into other’s stories.The breadth of God’s character is revealed as we are illuminated by His work in each other.
We can even be broken into by those who came before us. It happens because we are all broken and we share the same Creator. Life has always been hard but hope has always been peeking through.
As I’ve navigated through various seasons, I am amazed at the different walking partners from scripture who have joined my side.
Hannah encouraged me as I waited on God for a child. Every month of a negative pregnancy test brought grief. Does God hear my prayers? Jealousy enveloped my heart as friends announced their happy news. Don’t they understand my longing to join their “club?” I pondered why my God and my body had betrayed me.
Hannah understood me. She longed for a child; enduring public judgement along the way. Privately, she mourned. Yet, hope poked through those clouds overhead. She recognized God held her hope and her identity .
Who would have thought Esther could relate to my circumstances? Besides the fact that she may not have actually lived, the pinnacle of her story takes place in a castle? (That alone would appear to separates us). How could being thrust into the position of a Queen compare to a calling as a stocker at Target? We were both placed by God for “such a time as this.”
There are many others who came alongside and whose steps broke into mine…Mary, Sarah, Ruth…Currently, Peter is my companion. My gaze lifts. I no longer focus on the steps left until my own designated finish line. Instead, my eyes focus on Jesus whose presence leads me to where I need to be.
The author of Hebrews exhorts us with these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, LET US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and LET US run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Feel alone? Ashamed? Imperfect? Find comfort in the legacies of those with whom we are connected. Plunge yourself into the narratives of Hebrews 11.
Because of their faith, we find hope peeking through in the hard. Hope that propels us forward in such a way that we can run (not walk). Hope that motivates us to cast aside anything keeping us from reaching our destinations.
LET US run with endurance the race set before us.
With whom are you running?