Spring Always Follows Winter

It’s been a while since I’ve lived through a real winter. Here in Southern California, winter is not quite the same as it is in other parts of the country. Yesterday, it was 75 degrees and sunny. So we don’t really experience the dying away and rebirth of winter into spring. And as much as I love soaking up the sun in early February, I miss the transition from winter to spring.

When I lived in the Midwest, spring was always my favorite time of year. It was a time when everything came back to life. No matter how cold or bleak the winter had been, just like magic, every spring, the flowers bloomed and the leaves budded and all was right with the world again.

Winter comes with its wind and snow and freezing temperatures. Everything that was once in full bloom is suddenly dead and gone. While you’re in winter, it can feel like nothing will ever come to life again. I remember enduring dark winters during college in Iowa. I would walk through my once lush, beautiful campus as it lay in waste as the winter months languished. But toward the end of March, into early April, a thaw would start. And slowly, the campus would start to come to life again. I would see little flowers starting to push through dirt that still had patches of snow on it. Signs of the beauty this campus held began to be seen again.

But inevitably, there would always be a late winter snow storm that would blow through. In that moment, as I watched the snow falling in April, it was be easy to wonder if those early signs of spring, those early signs of a season in transition were only a cruel tease. Would we be stuck in winter forever? But fact is, spring always follows winter and seasons change. Just as God promised Noah after the Flood, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22 ESV).

Lately, my life has felt like those early days of spring in Iowa. I’ve started to see the beauty underneath the snow and ice. But as it often happens, a freak winter storm blows through. In those moments, it feels like I’m back in the dead of winter, with no hope of seeing the sun shine again. But I have to remember the promises of God. I have to remember spring always follows winter and seasons change. No matter how many late-winter-into-early-spring snow storms I endured in Iowa, true spring always came. The flowers eventually bloomed and the trees came back to life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (ESV).

Whether in life or nature, the seasons eventually change. It has been a hard, dark winter season in my life. But spring is coming and new life is blooming. Even if I have to endure a storm or two, that won’t change the fact that a new season is on the way, bringing with it new hope. Praise the Lord for that.

Day 6 of Jericho

Growing up in Sunday school, I was very familiar with the story of Joshua and wall of Jericho. We’d sing the song, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the wall came tumbling down.” And we’d march around the room, like the people of Israel. (If you’re not familiar with the story, it can be found in Joshua 6.)

I’ve been trying to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel to march around the wall of Jericho. My first thought was that they would have been skeptical as they marched that first day or so. But after days of marching, their faith was built. But as I thought about it a little more, and thought about my own life, I can imagine that on those first couple of days, they were probably fired up. They imagined that wall crumbling at their feet with a big crash. But as the marching continued, day-after-day, I wonder if their enthusiasm began to falter. By day six, were they completely demoralized?

They knew the instructions they were given. They knew God said seven days. But like most people, I’m sure they had hoped they would start to see something that indicated their hard work of marching day-after-day was paying off. They probably expected to see cracks forming in the wall. But all they saw was the wall, unchanged and probably looking more daunting than ever.

I wonder how hard it was for them to get up on that seventh day. How hard was it for them to march again? Their feet and hearts probably heavy with fear and doubt. But they kept going. Was it out of obedience or curiosity to see if God was going to come through?

When God has given me a promise, in the beginning, there’s always excitement, expectation coursing through my veins. I can’t wait to see God come through. I stay faithful and encouraged for a while, keeping to the instructions He’s given. But as time waxes on and the wall hasn’t come crashing down at my feet, it’s easy to get discouraged or doubt the promise. Not only does it feel like the wall has not weakened, I’m pretty sure it’s somehow been fortified.

But I’m reminded of 2 Peter 3:8-9, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV). The Lord always has a bigger picture in mind. We see how the wall is standing in the way of our promises. But God sees beyond the wall to the greater impact for His Kingdom. Our task is to not lose heart in the waiting, in the marching. As Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV, emphasis added).

So whether you’re on Day 1 of the march to your promise or Day 6, keep marching, keep moving, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

We’ve all heard the Heraclitus quote: “The only constant in life is change.” It’s the kind of thing you say to a child who is upset because something they’d come to rely on has changed. Most of the time I’m that child digging my heels in when confronted with change, especially change that I can’t control or don’t understand. I like routine and consistency. And as much as I try to plan, life still has a way of throwing curve balls and being as changeable as the shifting wind.

As I was thinking about the changeability of life, and mostly thinking about much I hate it, I was reminded of the one thing, or rather person, that never changes–Jesus.

Every Sunday (before COVID-19 limitations), I read Hebrews 13:8. It’s displayed above the platform at my church. During worship or the pastor’s message, my eyes would inevitably wander up and read these words: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” What a comforting thought to know that no matter how much life changes or is unpredictable, God will never change. Just meditating on that thought brings an overwhelming sense of peace to me. Deep breath in, cleansing breath out!

But this truth has to be more than a comforting thought, more than a mantra I recite when feeling anxious. It has to be the reality by which I judge all other realities in my life.

When life changes or people change or the weather changes (Who am I kidding. I live is Southern California. The weather never changes.), it can feel like the ground underneath me is shifting. That’s why it’s important for me to anchor myself in the truth that God never changes. It doesn’t matter what happens, I know I’m secure in my Father’s care. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (ESV, emphasis added).

As the old hymn says:
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
(“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” by Edward Mote, 1834)

Doing What Only I Can and Watching God Do More

Being a single mom is not an easy task. There are so many challenges that come with it. And so many different messages that are given about how to be a single mom.

I am blessed that my kids’ dad and I have chosen to co-parent. But on days when I’m solely responsible for the kids and I don’t have their father here to do the dad thing, it can be easy to buy into the idea that I need to be Dad too. I don’t want the kids to feel any lack when it comes to parental input. But the reality is, try as I might, I will never be able to fill the role of Dad. It’s not how I was created. And frankly, it’s exhausting to even try.

I am Mom (or Mommy or Mama, depending on the day or the mood)! That’s who I am. From the moment life was given to my babies, I became a mom, their mom. There are things that only I can impart to them. There are lessons that only I can teach. And there are conversations that only I can have.

But I’m often burdened with the idea that the kids are somehow lacking something in me–that I’m simply not enough. The fact of the matter is, I’m not enough and never have been.

When my kids were born and their dad and I were still together, it was easy to believe that between the two of us, we had everything covered. But the reality is, even then, there were gaps in our parenting. And back then, whether we realized it or not, it was just as essential to rely on the Holy Spirit to fill those gaps as it is now. Our shortcomings are highlighted by single parenting, not created by it.

And I guess that’s where I find myself–with more deficiencies than adequacies. The good news is God doesn’t want my self sufficiency. He wants my dependency. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (ESV).

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus feeding five thousand with loaves and fish from a little boy (John 6:1-15). Andrew, the disciple who found the boy, said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? (v. 9, ESV, emphasis added). That’s often how I feel. Lord, what can you do with the little that I have to offer? But most of us would remember what happens next in the story. Jesus takes the boy’s meager offering and multiplies it to feed five thousand. And at the end of the meal, where everyone ate “…as much as they wanted” (v. 11), the disciples filled twelve baskets with what was leftover.

God isn’t looking for me to be able to do it all. He just wants me to do what only I can do, be the mom He created me to be. Then He will take my paltry contribution and do what only He can do–multiply it and make it more than enough.

There’s a line in an old song my mom used to sing, called “Ordinary People” (originally recorded by Danniebelle Hall) that captures this perfectly:
God uses people who will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Master’s hand

Best Laid Plans

Most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It’s printed on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and inspirational journals. I’ve even written on it in this blog. Isn’t it such a comforting verse? But sometimes, I think we miss the point.

As I’ve shared before, this verse is part of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles. The exiles had been carted off to Babylon, all the while thinking they would be returning home soon. They were making their plans, much like we all did when 2020 began. Like many of you, I made goals and plans for this year. And also like many of you, a global pandemic, violent protests, earthquakes and fires were not part of that plan.

The exiles felt as I’m sure we’ve all felt: “This isn’t going to last. We’ll be back to our lives in no time.” But this letter from Jeremiah arrests them of the idea of a quick return to normal. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to give up on the idea of “normal.”

It’s hard to give up the plans we’ve made. I’ve seen many of my dreams, plans, and expectations go unfulfilled. It’s really disappointing. I’m sure the exiles felt that same disappointment in learning they weren’t returning home for 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).

Isn’t it funny how when we normally hear Jeremiah 29:11, it’s rarely in the context of disappointed expectations? But that’s exactly where it fits. You see, the comfort in this verse is not in the promise of good things, even though that is very comforting. The comfort is in the promise that even when our lives aren’t going according to plan, God has plans for us that are even better than anything we can imagine.

Letting go of our plans and expectations is never easy. But we can take comfort knowing that even when our plans go awry, God’s plans for us are right on schedule, no matter how it looks.

Broken Pieces or a Masterpiece

When I was in the fourth grade, my class created a large mosaic mural of the Nativity. We used scraps of colorful paper that my teacher, Ms. Peterson, had painstakingly cut up. I remember, while working on it, not knowing what we were creating. We were just instructed to paste our scraps here or there. But as the project progressed over the weeks, we began to see the picture that was being formed. Suddenly those bits of paper became a masterful work of art. It wasn’t until we took a few steps back to see the whole thing that we could see what was happening.

Traditionally, mosaics are made from bits of regular and irregular pieces of glass, stone, tile, etc. Individually, these pieces don’t create much beauty. But in an expert’s hands, a magnificent masterpiece can be created.

Looking at the broken and misshapen pieces of my own life, and I’m sure yours too, it can be difficult to envision anything beautiful coming out of it. Just like the pieces used in a mosaic, in the wrong hands, these pieces can be, at best, discarded trash, and at worst, jagged shards that can cause harm. But in the right hands, they can be fitted together into something beautiful.

These broken pieces are being expertly and lovingly placed into the beautiful mosaic God is creating in my life. But I have to remember that I’m not the center of the artwork, Jesus is. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV, emphasis added).

Forgetting whose image I am being conformed into (Romans 8:29) makes it easy to become disappointed with what I see being created. Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (ESV).

Like my fourth-grade self, I can’t always see the full picture of what God is accomplishing in my life. I can become so focused on the one little section that looks like a mess of mismatched pieces. But I’m so thankful that the Master Artist knows the vision and sees where each piece fits.

When fear is the loudest voice you hear

I set out to write a very different post today. I had a plan and a schedule. And then life happened. I had hoped to tell this story on the other side of victory, but I’m struggling to get there.

You see, we had a minor mouse problem. For some, this may be a small thing. But for me, it’s been paralyzing. I always knew I wasn’t a fan of furry little critters that belong outdoors. But it wasn’t until I had to deal with one in my own home that I realized how incredibly afraid I am. I know it’s irrational. But here we are.

Can I be honest? I have had to fight against feeling let down by God. I’ve found myself questioning Him, “Why this? Why now? With everything else that I’ve been through, can’t I just get a break?” I even told a friend, “This feels more stressful to me than my divorce.”

I find myself easily believing the lie of the enemy that says God is either impotent or indifferent. I should know better. I’ve seen God’s faithfulness in more ways than I can count. But yet here I am trying to combat these age-old lies.

I wish I had a magic bullet for these moments of doubt. But the only way I know to silence fear is to actively oppose the lies of the enemy. And the only way I know how to do that is with the Word of God. So for my sake and yours, I’m going to share the truth of who God is.

  1. He’s a promise keeper. Joshua 21: 44-45 says, “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (ESV, emphasis added). God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you read the book of Joshua, you can see the fulfillment of that promise. But I don’t need to look much further than my own life to see that God is a promise keeper. He promised, “I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). That’s a promise I have walked out. I remember when I was meeting with a lawyer regarding my divorce. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing by meeting with someone. I was afraid and confused. But it was as if God sat with me and took my hand and guided me through the choices I had to make. His promise to never leave me was so palpable in that moment.
  2. He loves me. All I need to do is remind myself of the cross to remember that I am loved more than I deserve to be. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believers in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV). Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV). Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). Not only does God love me, He sent His Son to this broken world so that He could understand and empathize with me. If I can hold on to this truth, I won’t ever believe the lie that God is indifferent to me or my pain.
  3. He’s in control. God is sovereign, which means He’s in control of everything that happens to me. I’ve heard it said like this: “Anything good or bad, must pass through His fingers first. There are no accidents with God” (Dr. Tony Evans). Jesus said it this way in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (ESV). Lamentations 3:37-38 says, “Who do you think spoke it and it happened? It’s the Master who gives such orders. Doesn’t the High God speak everything, good things and hard things alike, into being?” (MSG). He uses all of it, good and bad, for our good and His glory. Which leads to my next fact about God.
  4. He is working all things for my good. The Bible is full of examples where things looked pretty bleak and as if somehow God wasn’t working. One of my favorites is the story of Joseph. It seemed that everything in his life was working against him. But I love what he says at the end of his story, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). The Resurrection is another example. I can only imagine how hopeless the disciples felt after Jesus had died on the cross. I’m sure those three days felt like an eternity. But just as He promised, Jesus rose again. Once again, a dark and seemingly hopeless situation was miraculously turned around for the blessing of those involved and the glory of God. An often quoted verse is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). In my younger days, I always thought this meant, “God will make your life good.” But that’s not what this verse is saying. It’s not saying that everything I encounter will be something good. But it does promise that it will bring good out of my life. Verse 29 goes on to say, “For those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed into the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (ESV). I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a greater good than for everything I walk through in life, good and bad, to conform me into the likeness of Christ.

I wish I could write and tell you I’m not afraid anymore. But what I can say is that I know God is working on my behalf. I feel less afraid now than I did a few hours ago. And I know I will be okay as I continue to rehearse for myself the truth about who God is and who I am to Him.

Higher Ground

You know the old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? It’s a phrase that is often used to describe a myopic point of view. Sometimes, we are too close to a situation to be able to see clearly.

In a recent battle with anxiety, which makes everything feel too close and overwhelming, I was reminded of Psalm 61:2, “From the end of the earth I will cry to you, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (NKJV). I’ve heard this verse many times. And it’s always given me comfort. But it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood it.

In a spiritual battle, we need to gain perspective. We need to see things from God’s point of view. From our vantage, we may not be able to see a way forward. We may only see the “trees of the forest.” That’s a common ploy of our enemy. He likes to bombard us with things that distract us from seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing. His tactics are designed to cause us to lose focus on God’s promises. But if we just let God lead us to “the rock that is higher” than we are–Jesus–we will gain a whole new outlook.

aerial photo of winding road
Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com

I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of Elisha’s servant. “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15 ESV). Seeing with his natural eyes, Elisha’s servant couldn’t see any way of escape. But Elisha had a different view of the situation: “He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17).

We must always remember, “… If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b ESV). When we are facing a battle and it seems like the enemy will overwhelm us, let’s ask God to lead us to higher ground, to get a clearer viewpoint. Then we can see that what looked impossible for us, is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).

 

Father Knows Best

The other day, I found my sweet little girl huddled in a corner with tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “It feels like everyone is against me!” She had come to me earlier, expecting me to mediate between her and her brother. But when I didn’t agree with her on the matter, she believed that not only was her brother against her, I was too.

As I stooped down to look in her tear-filled eyes, I told her, “I am not against you! I will never be against you. There may be times when you don’t like what I choose, but know that I am always working for your good.” As I spoke, my own words began to echo in my ears: Where have I heard that before? Just as I spoke tenderly to my hurting daughter, reassuring her that I would never do anything that would not be for her good, my Heavenly Father says the same to me.

The reality is, as much as I would like to always have Faith’s best interest in mind, I’m imperfect and even selfish at times. But God is the perfect parent. If He says He’s working for my good, I know I can trust Him. I was reminded of Matthew 7:11: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (ESV)

Circumstances and situations may not always feel like they are working for my good. But just as I can see the bigger picture that my daughter can’t, God can see the biggest picture of all–how my current trial fits in His eternal plan.

His Eye Is on the Sparrow

It’s been a tough couple of days. I’ve disappointed myself and been disappointed by others. I’ve felt overlooked and underappreciated by people. And I’ve found myself believing that God too had forgotten to notice me.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that God sees me. It’s easy to feel invisible to the Creator of the Universe, especially when I perceive some injustice or unfair treatment by others. But the truth is, God sees me. He sees my struggles, my pain, my good days and bad days. He sees it all! I received a beautiful reminder of this today.

I  had taken a break at work and gone outside to warm my bones and clear my head. I sat in my normal spot, enjoying the view and soaking up the sun. As I was sitting, I noticed quite a few little birds flitting from tree to tree, singing their happy, carefree tune. I have sat in this spot a half dozen times, but I’ve never seen so many little birds. I’ve seen butterflies and crows, even a colony of ants. But never these birds and certainly not as many as I saw today. So I decided to enjoy the scene and their sweet song. As I was watching them, the Lord reminded me of two verses:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 ESV, emphasis added).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV, emphasis added).

In both of these verses, Jesus makes it clear that we, you and I, are more valuable to our Heavenly Father than the birds. And yet He sees each one of them, provides for them and even notices if one falls to the ground. How much more does He see me, care for me and provide?

The rest of the world may not take notice of me. I may be easily forgotten by those around me. But God has never ignored me and He never will. Even when He seems quiet, I can be assured that I have His attention.

As the old song says:
Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant Friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me
(His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Civilla D. Martin)

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