Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

Month: January 2016

Light Up the Dark

Hello readers, and happy Friday! If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling excited that January is nearly over. I don’t even live in a very cold climate, yet I find myself daydreaming about the sun and warmth we’ve been missing for a while now.

I recently saw a saying on Facebook that went something like my favorite thing about winter is when it’s over.

Yup, that about sums it up!

My apologies for the random weather commentary, but the dreariness of these desperately needed wet, wintery days have me dwelling on the importance of light. Indeed, studies show that light is critical to our very health and wellbeing, contributing to things like our alertness, mood, productivity, and even sleep patterns.

The former scientist in me loves reading about the physiological impacts of light, but I can’t help but be drawn into the spiritual implications of light. And as it so often happens, my children provide many well-timed lessons that God uses to hit home a concept He’s pressing into me.

One such illustration occurred earlier this week. My husband and son have taken to holding WWE-like wrestling matches every evening. I know, not exactly pediatrician-approved for winding down for bed! But, they both enjoy it enormously, and there’s nothing I love more than seeing Isaiah’s red, sweaty face light up with anticipation and hearing his most perfect of belly laughs. It’s soul-soothing music to this mama’s ear.

Isaiah has, however, inherited his mama’s tendency to overheat, and his precious flushed cheeks certainly give him away as mine. So to cool off, he and Aaron will run out the front door into the dark night—barefoot feet taking in frigid pavement beneath them—and make a little lap around the driveway. The wintry California air meets their damp, warm skin, producing chill bumps and sending them back inside with a hearty “brrrr!!!”

My son loves this little nightly tradition, yet for some reason, this week he balked at going out into the dark—he was afraid and refused to follow Aaron outside, proclaiming his fear with the vehement shaking of his head and a stern no.

In an effort to coax him out, Aaron grabbed a small but powerful flashlight he received as a little Christmas gift and began showing Isaiah how it worked and how it would light the way for them. In sweet, simple childlike language, I heard my husband say to him, the dark can be scary, but all we need to do is shine a little light into it.

At these words, I put down my book and mentally repeated what I’d just heard, struck by the parallels for us as Christians walking in a dark world. This world is dark and it certainly is scary—but in a similar way, all we need is to shine some light into the darkness.

What the flashlight does for our physical darkness, God’s glorious truth does for the deeper, thicker darkness surrounding us:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105 NIV).

During His ministry on earth, Jesus spoke of Himself, saying:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12 NIV).

Wow—what a promise, that we will never walk in darkness … no matter how dark some days may feel, we can hold fast to the promise that His light is always within us, no matter how small the flicker.

Even more amazing—and challenging!—is how God calls us as His children to be light while we walk the earth. God didn’t imbue us with light simply that we may enjoy that light ourselves: it is a gift, one He intends us to share with others.

In Matthew 5, Jesus explains:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (vv. 14-16 NIV).

So, I have to ask you the same hard question I have to ask myself: where are you bringing light into the world? Into your family, your kids, your neighbors, your work, your church, your friends, even the grocery store clerk where you shop?

Are you lighting up the dark corners with which you come into contact? Or are you hiding your light under a pile of busyness, fear, self-focus, or apathy?

Believe me, this is not an easy question to ask of oneself. Just this week, the Lord convicted me of my self-focused attitude regarding Isaiah and his speech. Currently, we’re in some form of speech therapy 3 days a week, and at times I find it exhausting. In the midst of a full-on whiny, “airing of grievances” session with the Lord, He gently but firmly told me to stop and think about other people—namely, all the people with whom I’m coming into contact on account of all this therapy.

God has brought therapists and other moms and kids and all kinds of people into our life through Isaiah’s speech disability. I was reminded that perhaps one of these beautiful people, with whom my life is now weekly intertwined, might be in need of some light . . . and vice versa.

It was a sobering reminder that God’s plans for His people and this world are far more important than my immediate happiness and ease. I would never have chosen to be on this path of intensive speech therapy—but I rest in knowing that He is working out greater things behind the scenes, things that may never be made fully known to me!

So as we head into another month of wintery cold and early sunsets, I encourage you to remember the light glowing within you. Those in your sphere of influence need it! And who knows what impact you may have on another person’s life—you just might be the flicker of warmth and hope someone needs to keep going today.

Shine on, sweet friend.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2 NIV).

When Chaos Reigns

Hello there, dear reader. Today, I’m writing with a heavy heart—one weighed down by a hefty dose of disappointment and uncertainty.

This week, we received some icky news—our church’s beloved senior pastor resigned, our staff has essentially been gutted, and the future of our church body doesn’t look so hot from this vantage point. It’s one of those unfortunate situations where you do the math, but all it adds up to is loss, confusion, and a plethora of unpleasant emotions all around.

And, when such powerful changes and emotions take place within the church body? Well, you can practically hear the enemy dancing for joy. This is just the type of chaos in which he thrives.

And chaos it is, indeed. My heart aches for our pastor, our church body, and the difficult days to come as we sort through the upheaval and look for solid ground once again.

The whole situation set me to thinking about those things in our lives that seemingly come out of the blue: disappointments, changes in plans, heartache, pain, betrayal, the list could go on and on. When turmoil comes crashing into our lives, we have the distinct disadvantage of having zero notice.

And sometimes, it’s enough to make me a little jaded, a little pity-party prone … that is, of course, until I turn my focus to the fact that our God sees it all. Nothing is a surprise to Him. Nothing takes Him by storm.

Those things that rock us to our core?

He knew they were coming. And He still has a plan, no matter how unplanned and chaotic the circumstances may appear to us.

In seasons where chaos reigns, it’s critical to remember the omniscient nature of God. At all times, He is all knowing:

“Omniscient” is defined as having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things (source: dictionary.com).

When something or someone throws us off our axis and life feels out of control, we must rest in the truth that God is still very much in control.

In times of pandemonium, we must cling to the hope of His promises and His beautiful words of truth. Psalm 121 reminds us of our Father’s “I’ve got this” position:

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 … the Lord watches over you … The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life;

The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore (Psalm 121:1-2, 3, 5, & 7-8 NIV).

I love the overriding message of this passage—that no matter what’s going on, no matter how crazy or uncertain or unexpected, God is watching you. And He’s watching me. He is sovereign in the chaos and the calm.

Psalm 34:18 tells us that The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (NIV).

Is your heart broken today? Are you feeling crushed under the weight of your circumstances? Take heart, dear reader—the Lord is closer to you than ever!

And the following verse says that A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all (Psalm 34:19 NIV).

In this season of uncertainty surrounding my church family, I’m counting on the Lord’s deliverance and provision for the future. I will rest in knowing that this change hasn’t taken Him by surprise and somehow, someway, He will weave the story together into a beautiful, redemptive narrative as only He can.

And the same is true for you and your chaos.

So let’s agree to band together against the schemes of the enemy. Let’s refuse to allow a root of bitterness to emerge in the fertile soil of disorder and disarray. Let’s take captive every angry, frustrated thought and scatter it to the four winds.

And let’s agree instead to hold fast to His Hand and allow ourselves to be carried until we can once again find our sea legs. I am confident it will be worth the wait!

Stones & Snakes

Hello, dear reader!

Today, I want to write about a tough subject: what do you do when you feel like God has abandoned or forgotten about you? I would venture to guess that if you’ve been a believer for any amount of time, you’ve run up against this awful, nagging doubt.

I know I have.

Some of the most “ick” feelings I’ve ever experienced have resulted from either believing or being tempted to believe the hideous lie that God has abandoned me. It’s a pain more intense than anything another human could bring about—we’re all fallen and imperfect, we know we’re inevitably going to hurt one another along the way.

But to feel that God has forgotten about us, His very own creation? That, my friend, is an ache too deep for the soul to bear.

It’s easy to find articles and posts about trusting God with all the little, annoying things in life—but what about when you’re truly struggling to believe and hang on in faith? In my experience, when those times come, it takes a lot more than a syrupy anecdote or flowery saying to lift my heart up and out of the pit. If you’re in that place today, I hope I’m able to imbue you with a little bit of encouragement.

Good Gifts?

As I’ve been marinating on and praying through some of my own difficult circumstances lately, I came across the following passage:

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11 NIV).

Though I’m familiar with this passage, two words jumped off the page at me: stones and snakes.

They punched me in the gut and left a lingering sinking feeling, because I had to admit that sometimes, it feels like I’ve been given stones and snakes instead of the good gifts for which I’d hoped and prayed. And I look at the circumstances of various dear friends and think, stones and snakes

That illness?

That marriage?

That infertility?

That loneliness?

That poverty?

When we find ourselves in these circumstances, it’s all too easy to sit down at the table and see a feast of anything and everything we never wanted. And as always, our enemy is all-too-eager to aid in encouraging that point of view, smoothly persuading us to believe that God has indeed left us with such empty fare, because—well, fill in the blank:

Because we’re not loved enough.

Because we’re not good enough.

Because we’re not significant enough.

Because we’re believing whatever heinous lie we’ve been told.

It all adds up and leads to that most dreaded of questions … Lord, why?

When you’re a toddler exploring your world, “why” is a perfectly reasonable and innocuous question. But when you’re an adult and you’re asking it of God? Well, that’s a different ballgame and one that carries unwelcomed implications.

Finding Light in the Darkness

I realize I’ve painted a bit of a bleak picture above, but—if we’re honest—this is our reality sometimes, right? The walls feel as though they’re caving in, the lights have gone out, and God seems as distant as some far off planet.

Thankfully, all is most certainly not lost, no matter what our hearts try to tell us. You want to know the beautiful truth about these times, these circumstances?

This is where faith is poised to soar.

This is where we can dig deep, lean heavy into Him. This is where we can uncover those “treasures of darkness” (see Isaiah 45:3). Indeed, those treasures that will only be found in darkness.

And in the dark, their beauty shines all the brighter, all the more remarkable.

As hard and as scary as it is—believe me, I know, I’ve been there—these are the places where you have the privilege of discovering the Father on a whole new level. You are presented with the opportunity to know Him at a depth few people ever reach.

So in the words of Journey, don’t stop believin’.

Better yet, in the words of Hebrews 10:35-36:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised (NIV).

When your banquet table is scattered with items you’d do anything to send back, don’t buy the lie that it’s Your Heavenly Father trading out good gifts for stones and snakes.

Trust His timing. Trust His plan. Know that He is working all things together for your ultimate good and His ultimate glory (see Romans 8:28).

I adore these poetic words from Habakkuk, and they have been a life raft during seasons of doubt:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NIV, emphasis mine).

Today, you and I have the choice to see our circumstances with either spiritual eyes or with our own faulty human eyes. And if it looks like you’ve been left holding a stone today, take heart, dear one: God has you right where He wants you—ready to take your faith to the next level.

May we, like Habakkuk, cling to the truth of who we know Him to be, holding on in faith until we see what great things He has in store!

All These Things

Well, I may be a little late here, but allow me to wish you a very Happy New Year!

I imagine your new year is well underway by now, with school back in session and work back to the grind and that new diet or exercise plan driving you crazy already. I imagine you’re full of hope and refreshment and the ecstasy-like high that comes from dreaming about the future …

… perhaps, however, you find yourself in my shoes: tired, disorganized, and feeling a little bowled over by the new year already. Maybe your resolutions have lost their luster—or you haven’t even found the time to make them yet—and this new year is simply feeling like a continuation of the holiday chaos and exhaustion.

My year has not begun in quite the fashion I’d hoped: like dominoes, the adults in my house fell one by one, succumbing to some hideous stomach flu (hey, we got a jumpstart on that whole “new year’s cleanse” thing). My children have seemingly embraced the dark side of their toddlerhood, and I’m feeling the full force of the so-called “terrible twos” (the force is strong with those ones). And after two wonderful weeks, my mom flew back to Georgia yesterday, taking with her a huge part of my heart.

No, 2016 isn’t beginning as neatly and cleanly as I’d once hoped. There are still Christmas tree needles dotting the floor, the laundry is piled up again, and I have no idea what I’m feeding my family for dinner tonight. I have lists of the lists I need to make, and all the while, I can feel my as-yet-materialized grand resolutions slipping through my fingers.

But you know what?

Maybe that’s OK.

Ghosts of Resolutions Past

I’m one of those people who love to make resolutions. Every year since middle school, I’ve sketched out glorious, far-reaching plans to achieve all the things that would make the coming months fabulous.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I craft a colossal “to do” list at the start of each year, but I know I’m not alone in my striving. I believe we’re all aware, at least on a subconscious level, of the chaotic, relentless spinning of the earth … of the uncertainty presented by each day, week, and month.

That’s why resolutions are so appealing, in part: they conjure up for us the illusion of control. If I make my list, bolding and underlining my bullet points, then somehow that chaotic spinning feels slightly less frightening.

That is, until the wheels come flying off about mid to late January.

It’s perfectly normal and inherently human to grasp at something to help calm our fears of what the coming year holds. But I don’t believe our soothing can be found in weight loss goals, financial goals, clutter-free goals, or even personal improvement goals.

In all these years, my staunch resolutions have never served me well, nor have they accomplished their stated purpose. And as I stand facing a new year, no resolutions in hand, I’m seeing that God has me right where He wants me.

A New Focus

This morning, my reading came from Matthew 6, and in verses 25-34, Jesus delivers beautiful, soul-refreshing words regarding our tendency to worry—and the utter fruitlessness of doing so.

After detailing the futility of our human bent toward worry, He ends with these words:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV, emphasis mine).

And herein lies the guide to the New Year for all of us: with Jesus as our focal point, we are bound to have a good year. With our hearts and minds fixed on Him, we are better equipped to make sense of the coming months and to maintain a steady constitution rather than being ruled by chaos or fear.

I love how Jesus lumps together “all these things” about which we fret. All these things we find important, all these things we prioritize, all these things we pursue … all these things that feel impossible and unreachable to us are nothing for Him.

All our needs.

All our desires.

All our hopes.

All our fears.

Our loving Heavenly Father knows what we need and graciously stands ready to meet those needs—provided we don’t elevate the gifts above the giver.

Seek Him first … it’s really the only resolution we need.

Your Best Year Yet

I don’t know about you, but this resolution causes that hope and joy I’m so desperately seeking to bubble up within me. I don’t have to be good enough, motivated enough, or organized enough, and neither do you. We just need to seek Jesus with all our hearts, souls, and strength and let Him take care of the rest.

As we face this coming year, I don’t know what burdens you’re carrying into 2016 or what new burdens might find you and me. I don’t know what your “all these things” are. I don’t know what breaks your heart, keeps you up at night, or sends your soul soaring. But I do know that the God who created you and created me has a purpose and plan for each day of this coming year. And even when your world feels as though it’s spinning out of control, He holds you safely, securely in His palm. I daily need to be reminded of this truth, and maybe you do, too.

There’s nothing wrong with goal setting and trying to better ourselves, so go ahead and make that list, follow that exercise routine, and clear out your clutter. But as we enter this year, let us not sacrifice the most important thing for a myriad of lesser goals.

In the grand scheme of eternity, there is nothing better we could ever do with our time than to seek Him first. May this be a resolution that we keep all year long—and here’s to your best year yet!

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