the clarity that winter brings

Two of my favorite worship leaders, Jonathan and Melissa Helser, have a song called “Sing Winter” and in this video Melissa explains the heart behind that song:

“The [trees] get the necessity of seasons, of rest and barrenness, to the fruitfulness of the spring and their harvest.”

This story consumed my heart as I took a walk through the snowy woods today. I had gone out to find a place to sled, and was drawn into the woods by a curiosity for adventure. I was struck by how quiet it was. I could hear every sound. The crunch of my footsteps in the snow, birds landing on a branch, the wind blowing through the barren trees. I walked through the trees for probably close to 45 minutes, but it seemed as though time had stopped.

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I found myself pausing every few steps, looking up, and all around. Every tree was unique, there were lots of fallen trees and branches, twisted trunks and thorny bushes. Everything looked beautiful covered in snow. Normally I would not have gone just trudging through the woods, but the snow was so clean and bright, and the trees so bare – I was captivated. This is the clarity that winter brings.

Everything might look dead, or asleep. But it’s quietly waiting. And there is such peace. I felt safe to explore, caught in the wonder of it all. As I walked, I noticed some deer tracks in the snow. Just for fun I decided to follow them. For all I know I was following them backwards…the deer was probably tracking me. But the possibility of seeing one out there, and being quiet enough to catch her off guard – I just kept going. There were many different sets of tracks; they are probably the only ones who walk through those woods.  There was some barbed wire that stopped me at one point, but I slipped through a break in the fence and kept going.

Only a few steps in, I realized I was surrounded by thorned branches. And I mean surrounded. They were stuck to my pants, and I was quickly becoming entangled. Thankfully I was able to step backwards and go back the way I came. I don’t know how the deer managed to get through there, but I sure as heck wasn’t going any further. This made me stop to think – when we run into thorns in our path, sometimes we don’t see them right away. Sometimes we get entangled in sin, or doubt, or confusion – before we realize there was a way out before we ever got stuck.

I kept going, following the tracks as I found them (I would be the worst tracker ever…I probably followed the same sets of tracks in every direction), and stopped to breathe in the crisp, cold air every once in a while. I imagined what kinds of creatures lived out there, every time I saw a tree stump or nest. This is their haven; away from people and cars and noise. For me today, it was my haven too.

I kept having to stop and go a different way, whenever I worked myself into a group of trees and branches that was too difficult to walk through. It was interesting to me how there were clear paths almost, where it was easy to walk and free of thorns, yet venture a few feet off and you’re stuck. Much like walking with God – sometimes our curiosity gets the best of us, and we wind up someplace we never intended to be…

All of a sudden I realized I no longer had any idea which direction I had come from. I was doing really well following the same path, but I had turned too many times, just haphazardly exploring, and I realized I was actually lost. I didn’t think this was possible at first, because there was a major road at one border of these woods, and some apartments along another side. I couldn’t hear traffic anymore, so I knew I wasn’t close to that end, but nothing looked familiar from where I had started. Yikes.

I tried to find my own footprints to follow back, but I had walked in a circle and crossed back over the tracks (again, I would be the worst tracker), so it wasn’t clear which direction I had come from. I just picked one direction to follow and went for it. Within a minute or two, I realized I was almost right back where I had originally entered the woods. I literally laughed out loud. What are the chances?

I had entered the woods with no plan, just wanting to explore a little. I was tentative at first, and didn’t go very far, but then I decided to walk and see how far it took me. I got distracted by deer tracks and thorns (I may or may not have pretended I was in the Hunger Games for a second…) and ended up very lost and confused. Thankfully I didn’t get to full on panic mode before I figured out where I was.

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This is much like my walk with the Lord to me. We enter every new season of life with no plan (or I might think I have a plan, but let’s be honest, I have no clue). Sometimes that is exciting, but most of the time it is scary. I am going to be seeing my first clients in the next week or so. This is uncharted territory. Just like the barren winter trees, I wonder, will I bloom again? Will I succeed? Just when I get close to panicking, He reminds me I am safe. I choose to trust in the season, and stay rooted in what I know for sure. The necessity of winter is that it provides preparation for new life in the spring. I am safe when I follow my guide, my Helper – the Holy Spirit. I may have the freedom to explore, but when I get stuck, I know to go a different way. When I can’t hear His voice, and I have gone too far, He helps me back to the path I was on. This may lead me back to where I started, but this time I have footsteps to follow.

I am thankful for His grace, and for the healing clarity that winter brings.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow” Isaiah 1:18

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lessons from a spider

It is funny to me how God tends to use the smallest, seemingly insignificant things to teach me lessons. I have a serious spider problem in my apartment. To say I am very excited to move is kind of an understatement. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I clean – the next day there are webs everywhere again. They are relentless. No matter how many times I tell them this is not their house…they don’t seem to get it.

Last night I noticed a huge web on my front porch, in the top corner of the porch roof. It was actually quite beautiful and impressive…one of those iconic spider webs that you picture when you think of a web. Symmetrical, intricate detail and very well constructed. I think I actually complimented the spider out loud. (Don’t judge.) My brief moment of awe towards this spider web ended quickly though, when I thought about the fact that if it got any bigger, I would have to walk through it to get to my front door. No thank you. So this afternoon I took a broom and swept it down. All taken care of, right?

Not so much. Less than 4 hours later, I come home, and the web is back. And, if possible, it’s actually more impressive than the night before. This spider had worked tirelessly to rebuild it’s web in its entirety. I was actually pretty impressed.

There were two things I felt the Lord teach me in this moment. 1: Sometimes the things we find gross and undesirable, the Lord actually sees as beautiful. And 2: No matter how many times we get knocked down, persecuted, rejected, or despised, we must get up and re-build. The spider didn’t have a choice; it is his innate nature to build a web. For safety, for shelter, and for food. It doesn’t matter how many times I knock that thing down. The spider will build it again. I hope I can learn to live the same way. No matter what gets thrown at me – new job, new apartment, new school year, new friends – I may stumble, but I won’t fall. I may get overwhelmed, but I will not drown. The Lord has given each of us the task to build His Kingdom here, and despite the plans of the enemy to knock us down, we will be victorious!

I realize this is a daily choice. I have to choose to see the process as beautiful. To see the hard work, the toil, and the pressing on – as the most beautiful work there is. The Lord promises to make beauty out of ashes. Only God can build something beautiful out of this broken mess. I have to remember that He created the spider, and even though I do NOT like spiders…they are worshiping God by doing what they were created to do. I think I can learn a lot from them!

fear no evil

Last night, I went to a worship concert with several friends. It was an amazing time, worshiping with friends and singing some of my favorite worship songs. One of these songs was Oceans, by Hillsong United. While this song has been a bit overplayed in the last year, its words were just as meaningful last night as the first time I heard them.

Until last night, the last time I had seen Hillsong live was in Cape Town. They came to South Africa as part of their Zion tour and that was the first time I heard “Oceans.” It had incredible meaning for me then, because I had been in this foreign country less than a month, and there were still a lot of unknown things. I had to trust God a whole lot more than usual because I was way out of my comfort zone. I wrote another post about this last year (you can read it here), so clearly it was a significant memory for me.

Hearing the song last night was a bit surreal…which may seem strange because I’ve heard it countless times in between. But the presence of God was so heavy, and when I closed my eyes it was as if the thousands of people disappeared and I was alone with Jesus.

I was reminded of a moment last month at the beach with my family. Anyone who knows me knows that the beach is my absolute favorite place to be. One of the days I was out in the water with my sister and cousin. The water was perfect; fairly calm spells followed by HUGE waves which were perfect for riding. We were floating along enjoying the swells, when I tried to stand up and check to make sure we hadn’t floated too far down the beach. But I couldn’t touch the bottom. A mild wave of panic briefly fluttered through my head as I calmly told the girls to swim inland a little bit. We had simply allowed the swells to carry us out past where we could touch. This wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but with all the shark attacks happening this year it was a little scary being out that far.

As we got to the bridge of the song, I understood why God had brought this memory to my mind:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,
let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

Deeper than my feet could ever wander. Hmm. Do I tend to panic when I get too far out and forget to trust in God’s sovereignty? Do I really believe those words, asking Him to take me deeper? I am much more comfortable where I can touch the bottom. That’s where I am in control. I can direct my movements, I can stand on solid ground. I feel safe. But these words I was singing…I was asking Him to take me deeper than my feet can go – that requires trust. And surrender.

If I am afraid, I will never get to the place where I fully trust Him, where I can most be used by Him. If I am in control, that means He is not. It’s time to pick up my feet and let Him move me.

This is not an easy thing to do – there are so many unknowns. Which way will the current flow? What if there is a storm? But I hear Him say, “Trust, my love. I will never let you drown.” He owns the ocean, He formed it’s every wave. Who better to trust with my life than the One who gave me breath? Fear may try to creep in, but His love is stronger.

I will admit, the crazy amount of shark attacks in North Carolina this summer has been quite unnerving, but that still didn’t keep me out of the water. My love for the ocean is stronger than the fear of something bad happening. The same is true for any risk I take for the Kingdom. Of course there is fear that I will fail. But His love covers me. I am accepted, loved, and chosen by the King of Kings. Yes, there is evil in the world. There are sharks in the water. There always will be. But that shouldn’t keep us from diving in. I don’t want to be afraid to go where He asks me to go, and do what He asks me to do. I think a lot of times I keep my feet planted firmly on the ground so long that I forget what it feels like to float freely along. I can no longer hear Him calling me out into the waves. Fear is faith’s greatest enemy. And often the things that take the most faith result in the greatest reward.

If Jesus can walk on water and calm the storm, He can surely keep my head above the waves. With a new season ahead of me, where I will most likely feel as though I am drowning in reading and homework – I will fix my eyes on my life preserver, the One who saved my soul and continues to do so. He alone is worthy of my trust, my love, and my life. It is in His presence where I am safest – even if my feet cannot touch the ground.

I am a seed.

I am a seed. 

I grow towards the light, the best that I can. Sometimes there are things that cast shadows and block my way, and it is hard to see. But I stretch upwards, and blindly trust that I will once again see the sun.

The nights can be dark, and sometimes cold. But the day always comes. The sun warms me with it’s morning embrace. I feel joy and hope is restored.

I am a seed.

The rain comes to quench my thirst. Sometimes there are seasons with very little rain. It is dry, and I am thirsty. But I know the rain will come again.

Sometimes there is a lot of rain, for days and days. It can be dark and stormy, but I know the rain is good for me. Occasionally there is rain and sun at the same time, and colors streak across the sky to remind me of my Father’s love for me. It is a spectacular sight.

I am a seed.

When I was little, I couldn’t see very much. Only things low to the ground, close to me. Now that I am taller, I can see much further. There are things out there I never knew of before. Many other plants, some that are like me, and some that are not. Some have beautiful flowers, and some are so tall they seem to touch the sky.

Sometimes I am jealous of the other plants. I wish I had beautiful flowers like them, or that I could grow as tall as the tallest tree. But then I remember that I am special, there is no other plant exactly like me.

Sometimes I get tired of standing tall and looking pretty. Thankfully, there are some trees near by that I can lean on when I’m tired. Then, I am able to stretch up taller and brighter for all the world to see.

I am a seed.

Sometimes I get dirty, and at times I have been stepped on. I have been passed by, forgotten, and overlooked. But I have never been neglected by my Heavenly Father. He always nourishes me and feeds my roots. I always have enough to grow.

Sometimes parts of me are withered and dying. Those things fall away, and new growth comes forth. I am stronger, taller, and sturdier. Even though it hurts, I can withstand heavier rain and stronger wind.

I am a seed.

I started as a tiny seed, unable to see above the earth. Now I can look around and see how far I have come. I am thankful for the friends I have made and the things I have learned. I still don’t know everything that is out there, and I have much more growing to do!

I am now big enough to produce more seeds – I wonder what they will look like or where they will take root. Will they travel on the wind to far away places? Or will they fall to the soil right next to me? Either way, I know my Father will take care of them, just like He takes care of me.

May I trust in You, Lord, as sure as my faith that the sun will rise every morning.

“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:8-11

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:3-8

the good fight of faith

I haven’t written anything in almost 2 months – I’ve started several posts, and never finished. I’ve been struggling with some pretty tough truth lately, and I guess it’s been hard to find words to explain what my heart doesn’t yet fully understand. Bear with me, this might get intense.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but things are getting a little bit crazy. I try not to watch the news too much because it’s so biased, jaded, and quite honestly depressing. But with social media blaring literally everywhere we go, it’s pretty easy to find out what’s going on literally seconds after it happens. The world has been buzzing about ISIS for a while, but with the recent news of the death of Kayla Mueller, and the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded, things are continuing to get worse. The scariest part is thinking about how many hundreds, thousands, of Christians in the Middle East have already been killed, and absolutely no one knows about it, because news crews won’t go there. The most important thing to watch during this chaos in our world, is how the Church responds.

The Church gets a bad rep sometimes for either being irrelevant to culture, or for being too relevant. The Church has to remain relevant to what is going on in the world because as believers, we have to learn to function in society as the hands and feet of Jesus – that is the job He gave us. To go and make disciples in all the earth. Did He say it would be easy? No. Did He say we would never be persecuted? No. The problem is, the love of God is offensive. The cross is offensive. Because it makes people uncomfortable. It is a furious, powerful, supernatural love. It’s a love that turns heads. Gets people’s attention. You can’t learn about the love of God and not do anything about it. It requires a response.

And that is why the job of the Church is so difficult. We are called to be in the world, and not of the world. So the tricky part is to follow Jesus without changing who Jesus is. Our job is not to make Jesus “cool.”  Matt Chandler puts it this way, “You’re never going to make Jesus so cool that everybody thinks He’s cool. Once you do that, He’s not Christ anymore, He is some figment of your imagination.”

See, it’s easy to win the world with the message of faith, hope, and love. Do good things, strive for peace with everyone! Most religions teach some version of this. That sounds great to most people. But Jesus is about much more than that. He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. To leave behind our past life, which sometimes means giving up some pretty significant things, even relationships with people we care about. To literally die to ourselves, and live completely for Him. That is the only way to live like Jesus – we can’t just try to be good people – we will fail time and time again. The only way to experience true peace, and freedom from sin is to allow Jesus to take over our lives completely. It is all or nothing!

I am reading a book right now called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. In the chapter I just finished, Pastor Cymbala talks about the church in America:

“…since the 1960s, fads have come and gone in the North American church, only to be replaced by newer fads. Leonard Ravenhill, the revival minded preacher and author from Britain, told me…”People say the church today is ‘growing and expanding.’ Yes, it’s ten miles wide now–and about a quarter-inch deep.”

We are not here to start fads just so people will think church is cool!! What are we doing?? People around the world associate being American with being a Christian. Many people who call themselves “Christians” have never even opened a Bible. What if instead when people heard the word “Christian,” they thought of Jesus? We have to look to the believers of the early church in Acts – they were so connected to the power of God that they had thousands coming to Him every day. What are we missing? We have missionaries in practically every country of the world, and in some places where Christianity is illegal, there are thousands coming to Christ at a time, despite the fact that many are losing their lives because of their faith. Why is the American church asleep? These are our brothers and sisters!

It is scary to think about a day where persecution comes to America like what is happening in the Middle East. Is it possible? Could we really see a day where Christians are more than slandered for their faith in the land of the free? Are we even really truly free? What if we had to hide our faith? How many people would cave and change their beliefs if their life was on the line? I have begun to think about this question, because it may become reality for us. Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to come to a cute little bible study and then just go on with their lives. He asked them to leave their nets and follow Him. He asked them to abandon their occupation, and walk with Him. To stop fishing for fish, and to start fishing for men. If we knew that Jesus was coming back in the next 10 years, (there is no way to know that, but it’s just something to think about) how would you spend it? Would you travel the world and check off your bucket list before it’s too late? Or would you spend every minute winning as many people to Christ as you can? To take as many people with you into the Kingdom as possible. Which is more important?

What are we living for? If you’re not willing to die for Him, then maybe you aren’t living for Him either.