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no more gloom – advent

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2020 can be summed up in one word: weary.

We are tired. Global economies are struggling, COVID cases are spiking, rumors of a “second wave” and more lockdowns loom overhead, and there doesn’t seem to be a finish line in sight for this marathon we’ve been running.

Besides COVID, lives have been marked with cancer, illness, death, major moves and transition, the day-to-day challenges of balancing work, family, and uncertainty.

It’s been so hard.

Worry and fear have caused weariness.

We are losing hope and faith.

“A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices.” O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, 1847

A timely reminder. It was hope that caused the world to rejoice.

When the Israelites found themselves, once again, under duress and hardship, the word of the Lord came to them through the prophet Isaiah. It was a promise. Something they could hold onto. A reminder that they were not forgotten.

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” Isaiah 9:1

No more gloom.

A thrill of hope.

“You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Isaiah 9:3

Their joy increased.

The weary world rejoices.

Christmas looks very different for my family this year. 2020 marked quite a journey for us in every crevice of our lives. There were many moments of grief, loss, letting go, humility, the “hard to understand”, worry and fear. It is a year that pushed us way beyond our comfort zone and caused us to cling hard and fast to Jesus. Most recently we find ourselves in the throws of transition once again. Transition that was not a part of the “master plan” but, as we are discovering, part of God’s greater plan. We left our home in Malawi, all of our “stuff”, and moved to South Africa. We left behind our Christmas tree, stockings, decorations, and all of those very significant things that make the season feel like Christmas. All the things that typically bring us joy.

And yet…

In spite of all the lack, we feel tremendous joy.

Why?

How?

Because Christmas has become very real and tangible to us this year. As we have watched the world turn upside down, as we have stepped out into a new season and new personal journey, the One who is the joy of our hearts and the joy of the world has filled each of us with hope and faith.

No more gloom.

Joy has come.

A tiny babe…a small and, seemingly, insignificant beginning, was the beginning of hope…faith…and joy.

There really was something to sing about, rejoice about.

“For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, 1847

We may not see the grand finale of God’s plan just yet…but the beginning is unfolding.

He has made us a promise.

A deliverer is coming.

A light in the darkness.

Salvation for our souls.

I’ll be honest with you…I had a moment this past week when the weight of the world felt heavy. I felt spent. I was weary. The state of the world seemed hopeless to me.

And then I reminded myself about the promise of God.

The very words I’m typing right now are the very words I began to speak to my heart.

There are a lot of reasons to be weary, but there is One very great reason to rejoice.

Jesus. He came…the prophecy fulfilled.

Jesus. He is coming again…a promise we can hold on to.

During this Advent season, as we contemplate the joy of world, may you – in your weariness – find a thrill of hope.

May your heart be filled with the joy of God’s promise.

May you find rest today.

When all is stripped away…may you still rejoice.

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When I consider Christmas – when I think about all of the traditions, decorations and planning that goes into this highly anticipated day – I realize that deep at the heart of it all is faith. The kind of faith that believes a child came, a Savior died and resurrected, and a King is returning to make all things right – to bring peace on earth.

Christmas isn’t just about remembering and celebrating an event that took place over two thousand years ago, but it is a statement of faith looking forward and believing in something even greater to come.

Deep in the heart of every man and woman on earth is a longing for God. Many would never recognise or acknowledge this hunger in their lives, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to see the various created gods in all the desperate efforts to find peace. Some seek for peace in the size of their homes or the stuff they accumulate. Others seek for peace in religions that promise self-actualisation, power, or false security. And there are those that look for peace in substances that alter their realities and give them that “feel good” feeling, even if it is brief, and in the end, tragic.

We want peace. We are looking for God.

But if we could just have a little faith.

Hold on to hope.

Be willing to relinquish our self-sufficiency and control, and trust that the promise of Jesus, who came to the world as a tiny baby – God in the flesh – is the same Jesus who has promised to return. Can we have a little faith?

Abraham believed even though he did not see. Even though the culmination of God’s promise was only seen in part before his life was completed. He believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3).

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Have you ever watched small children as they wait and wonder, write their wish lists to Santa, and try to stay up all night on Christmas Eve? They believe. There is no doubt in their young minds that something…someone…is coming. They have faith in the unseen. Santa – Christmas – doesn’t have to be logically explained to them. They trust completely in the magic of the season.

As adults we know that behind the leftover Santa cookies and the surprise packages under the tree is a parent, or grandparent, who has worked feverishly to create joy on Christmas morning. We sometimes lose the meaning of Christmas in the midst of the busyness. We lose our faith. Every time I pull out our Christmas decorations, trim the tree, light a candle, and plug in the lights, it is like a small act of faith. Remembering and looking ahead. Celebrating the event the changed history and the trajectory of my life, and being certain of a future I have yet to see.

Hope is here.

Joy to the world is with us.

And Peace on earth is coming.

Especially this year…don’t lose hope. Don’t hide away in discouragement and distress. Don’t dismiss the Divine because life has made you weary.

Welcome the Savior with all the tinsel and lights.

Anticipate and believe.

Have a little faith.

Come Immanuel – advent

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Today is the first day of Advent.

We are waiting.

We are hopeful.

We are expectant.

Our world is in chaos.

We know there is a promise…we are living for that hope.

But sometimes the darkness seems too dark, and our hope dwindles.

But…

God is with us.

It was a really long time ago…the world was also in chaos.

A prophecy came.

The Lord spoke through Isaiah: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14.

Later on Isaiah prophesied again:

“In that day…

I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:1

Immanuel came.

And we are awaiting the second coming.

“In that day…”

We are hopeful and expectant. The Messiah will come. He will make all things new. We will rejoice…we will praise.

Our hope holds firm to the promise.

And yet…we don’t have to wait. While Isaiah’s prophesy spoke of a day to come that has yet to come, he was also declaring what has already passed.

Jesus came. Jesus brought salvation. Jesus gave us a greater hope.

O come, O come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’re the grave.

O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night, and turn our darkness into light.

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

REJOICE! REJOICE! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

“Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” – Translated by John Mason Neale, 1851

We have been hoping for a long time. And we will continue to hope, because…what great hope we have!

In the meantime, we can still rejoice. We can still praise. Even as we wait, even as we long for a world where there is no strife, no division, no hostility, no anger and no pain, we can sing and dance and rejoice.

Because Immanuel came…He is God with us.

He is with us in the middle of the mess.

On this first day of Advent, my heart is full. Hope is here. Our Comforter surrounds us and brings peace.  As I wait – as I cry “O come Immanuel” – I praise, because God is here.

Christ has come.

Immanuel.


hold on

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“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Hold on.

When I think of what it takes to hold on – to endure, to press on, to persevere – the word tenacious comes to mind.

Tenacity is defined by Merriam-Webster as: the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly.

In spite of my easy-going, compliant nature, I have been known to be quite stubborn and tenacious (just ask my husband and parents). Do not let the calm exterior fool you. Deep down inside there is a stubborn streak that hangs on hard and long, gripping firmly to the conviction I hold in my heart. Sometimes that has worked for my good, and sometimes not. It is both a strength and a weakness. When I apply it in the right direction – when I hold on tight to the path that God has laid out for me – it serves me well. But when I cling to the “my way or the highway” on something as insignificant as where to place the throw pillows on the couch (yes, this is a real issue for me), one might suggest that this tenacious spirit is being channeled in the wrong direction.

Gripping firmly. Holding tightly. Tenacity.

If we are going to remain, stay, continue and fulfill God’s plan and purpose for our lives, there is no doubt in my mind we are going to need tenacity.

One of my favorite books of the Bible (one of many, actually) contains one of my favorite verses: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

This verse exhorts us to hold on steadily…resolutely. No matter what…hold on.

This past year, with all of the transitions – highs, lows, Covid-19 drama, uncertainty, worldwide instability, grief and disappointments – never has my proclivity towards tenaciousness been more necessary for holding on. Today, with the sun beating down and the air feeling right and sweet, I find myself coming out on the other side with joy…peace…gratitude…and a firm grip on all God’s faithfulness.

Covid-19 is still here and uncertainty and worldwide instability continue to abound, but…He never fails. And his faithfulness gives me peace. Clinging tenaciously to God – His Word, His truth – is the only way we can endure, persevere, and press on towards God’s promises.

If our faith is so weak that we cower and recoil when life gets messy and hard, ugly and painful, we will quickly lose our grip…we will not overcome. We really do need to shed the unnecessary and frivolous in order to give ourselves capacity to hold on. We also need to be willing to work those faith muscles and allow God to stretch us so that we can keep moving forward.

Jackson, my thirteen-year-old son, has a goal for this year. He wants to increase his muscle tone and strength. Through no fault of his own – we can blame it on genetics – Jackson is not naturally athletic. He is long, lean, and prefers building with Legos over building up his muscles. However, he made the decision that this is the year that he is going to “buff up”. While I am not a work-out aficionado, I do know one thing for sure: building strength and muscle takes time, commitment, and tenacity. Jackson will need all three of those characteristics in order to achieve his goal. Rather than hold on to an idea and a dream, he’s going to have to wrap his real hands around real weights, hold on tightly, and press on no matter how tired and uncomfortable his body may get. He’s going to need a lot of tenacity to achieve this goal.

Likewise, it takes a type of fearless tenacity to pursue obedience in the face of trial, disappointment, and adversity. It is not self-reliant fearlessness that says, “I can do all things through the strength I can muster up inside of me because I’m a strong and capable person.” This kind of fearlessness will eventually lead to exhaustion and defeat. The kind of fearlessness that carries us through every challenge and every wearying moment is the kind that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It is completely and utterly dependent upon Christ working inside of us and through us.

It gives us the capacity to hold on. To cling and to stand our ground. Christ’s strength within us makes us tenacious and fearless. When the blitz from the enemy comes, we set our gaze heavenward and carry on.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess…Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 14:4

If I could give one word of encouragement today – to anyone feeling the weight of struggle, doubt, weariness or uncertainty – it would be this: hold on tenaciously to hope, to the faith that we profess, to the One who gives us the grace we need at the exact moment we need it.

Hold on.

Remain faithful…he is faithful.

Stay steady…his hands will steady you.

Continue forward…he is leading the way.

Fulfill the purpose…his plans are good and trustworthy.

“He who promised is faithful.”

Hold on.

blessed with peace

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“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

Last month I wrote about endurance: staying in the race even when our bodies feel like they are going to give way and give out. Running all the way to the end…to the joy…fixing our eyes on Jesus…and crossing the glorious finish line at the end.

We are five months into an incredibly strange and uncertain season as we navigate the hard-to-understand, ambivalent nature of Covid-19 and its impact globally. The world is trudging through unchartered waters, and there are places that are currently falling apart as the threads of stability unravel right before their eyes.

These…they are hard times.

If you feel overwhelmed or heavy-hearted, it is for good reason. Circumstances here and abroad are disappointing and crushing. You are not weak…you are just feeling the immense weight of these arduous events and an uncertain future.

So, today, as I am sitting here contemplating intensely on the next words to write, my mind and heart move from the call to endure to the promise of peace.

Remain in his peace.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters.” Psalm 29:3

When life feels out of control, and that all-too-familiar knot begins to clench in the pit of my stomach, I catch myself (before I topple over into despair) and take a deep breath. That momentary pause gives me just enough of those precious seconds to invite peace back into my worrisome head. That simple act of breathing redirects my attention to the Scriptures and to the God who covers every storm, challenge, uncertainty, and disappointment that I may be facing.

Psalm 29 is one of my favorite anchor passages. It is a declaration of God’s power, authority, and sovereignty over creation, and over every detail of our lives that threatens to undo us.

“The voice of the Lord is powerful;

The voice of the Lord is majestic.” Vs. 4

Greater than the disappointments, pain, struggles, and despair is the voice of the Lord. His voice is the authority over creation. His voice is the authority over our very lives. His sovereignty is the hope we hang on to during these hard times.

“The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightening.

The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;

The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forest bare.” Vs. 7-9

When I call my son, Jasper, to come inside for his bath in the evening, it doesn’t take me very long to realize that he is far too out of reach to hear my voice. Noticing the silent response, and the lack of his hasty homecoming, I end up sending one of my older kids to search our compound, find him, and reel him in. I’m pretty sure the voice of the Lord that David was writing about was not a feeble one like mine. Even at full volume, my voice will never reach the other side of our compound. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) But the voice of the Lord, without strain and without effort, without worry and without fear, calls out the lightening and shakes the desert.

With one word, God’s voice spoke creation into existence, and with one word his voice can strip a forest bare.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood…” Vs. 10

Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters before the earth took form and light broke through the darkness, the Lord sits enthroned over every storm, flood, disappointment, and insurmountable circumstance we face. We are not on this journey alone.

“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Genesis 1:2

It is this very image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters – the Lord sitting, enthroned, over the flood – that gives me unwavering peace. He is over everything. When I look at my circumstances – even now, as I sit here contemplating this current reality – knowing that a sovereign God, a loving and compassionate God, a God who is powerful and tender, wise and understanding is keenly aware of every detail of my life – past, present and future – gives my soul rest.

I can breathe.

I can stay and continue.

I can fulfill the mission and the race.

I can remain.

He blesses his people with peace.

If you are a Christ-follower, then you are his people. WE are his people. The world may be falling apart, losing faith, relinquishing hope, but we don’t have to.

I want to challenge you to do something today. When the waves of the storm begin to overwhelm you, when you turn on the news or scroll through the sound-bytes on Twitter – when the world outside begins to converge on your world inside – take a minute to pause, take a deep breath, and read Psalm 29 out loud. Read it slowly. Let the truth of each statement roll off of your tongue. Make it a declaration.

And then…exhale.

His peace is our blessing.

Remain in his peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

stay in the race

Amy Sports Day 1985

Stay in the race.

You do not want to watch me run a mile. I promise. It’s painful for me to run a full mile, and I am confident that it would be equally painful for you to watch. My dad is a runner, my sister is a runner, and I am a wannabe runner. I try, but this body is geared more towards walking and sitting…not running. Sometimes, when I’m running, and pretending to be the runner I wish I could be, I visualize myself running the Marine Corps Marathon. (I know…it’s actually a little embarrassing to admit.)

Almost eleven years ago I visited my sister in Washington DC and was able to watch, follow, and cheer her on as she ran the Marine Corps Marathon. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. The energy and electricity of the crowd, and the excruciating looks on the faces of the runners as they pressed on towards the finish line, almost – almost – made me want to join the race. It was incredible.

All that to say…when I run, I sometimes imagine myself running in the Marine Corps Marathon. And it is this silly brain-game that helps me push through the discomfort and complete my one-mile “marathon”.

As painful as it can be – as hard, challenging, frustrating and messy as it can be – the race we are running in our spiritual lives, in the ministry and the appointments, the circumstances and seasons that God has placed before us, is a race we must run to completion. We cannot give up. We cannot forfeit this race. We need to stay and run with endurance and perseverance.

The race will wear out our legs – our muscles get taxed from the constant beating against the pavement – we must resist the urge to quit and keep moving forward.

The race will mess with our minds- we can think of a myriad of reasons to quit- so we must continue to dwell daily in the Word in order to guard our minds from distraction and lies.

The race will make us tired – the race pulls every ounce of our energy and focus – so we must find rest and refreshing in God’s presence.

The race will cause our hearts to work extra hard – the cardio impact of pushing our bodies beyond capacity can tempt us to stop in frustration and exhaustion – so we must ensure that our hearts are kept in check with the heart of God.

The race will sometimes bring pain – skinned knees and body aches – we must lean into the One who heals our hurts and bandages our wounds.

The race will be sweaty and dehydrating – the pace and the exertion are depleting – so we must drink regularly the Living Water that will restore our strength.

The race will look endless – with miles behind us, and still miles to go – we must set our focus on the prize…the purpose for which we run.

The race will sometimes feel lonely – our singular focus can leave us blind to reality – so we must open up our ears to hear the cheers from the crowd.

The race will be long and oftentimes challenging – hills and rocks, uneven pavement and tough terrain can cause us to lose our footing – so we must tenaciously set our minds to the finish line.

The race will stretch us beyond capacity – so we must endure…resolve ourselves to keep running.

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right had of the throne of God.

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

What race are you running right now?

Has God placed you in a circumstance that feels far beyond your capacity?

Has God called you to surrender and you just want to hold on so tightly?

Has God brought you into a season where there seems to be no clear answer or direction, and quitting is not the answer?

Has the race become arduous and painful?

Stay in the race.

Every point of pain has an eventual ending, just as every point of victory has a beginning.

The race may be wearing you out right now. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Run to him. Find your strength and rest and joy in him. Do not waver. Set your feet to the pavement and keep pressing forward. “We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” We have a cheering section. We do not run this race alone.

It has been a challenging season for me, personally, and I will be honest, I am preaching to myself today. The race is hard. Running is hard. The last few days my legs have felt like spaghetti and my lungs are feeling spent, but the race is not over. As I imagine myself running in the Marine Corps Marathon to get me to the finish line, I want to encourage you, as well, to keep on running your race.

Finish it well.

Finish it strong.

Every victory has a beginning.

Do not quit.

Stay in the race.

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

remaining in my weakness

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My natural instinct is to boast about my strengths. Show you the best of me. Be strong. Be independent. Impressive. Controlled.

But…there are days when my weaknesses get the best of me: insecurities resurface and create fear, a sleepless night with a sick child leaves me weary for the day, challenges before me look bigger than I can handle, and my mouth needs a muzzle because self-control has gone by the wayside.

And so I lean into truth. I lean into God. I lean into the memory of his faithfulness and the promise of his presence. I trust that his grace is sufficient to cover all my insecurities. I fall into his rest throughout the tiredness of my day. I surrender my need for self-sufficiency and remember it is God who divided the Red Sea, calmed the storm and conquered death. I run to his Word; I trust his guidance to shine a light on my pride and empower me with grace and peace.

In our weakness, he is strong.

There is no room for self-sufficiency.

If I am to boast, I will boast in my weaknesses.

I am flawed.

I have bad days.

I run on coffee…often.

I can’t do anything on my own.

I am predisposed to perfectionism, which leaves me prone to withhold grace.

Christian character does not come naturally to me.

I need Jesus.

I need a daily dose of his presence otherwise I am an absolute mess.

It is not about living a good life or simply doing the good and the right things.

It is about surrendering, submitting, abiding and trusting.

It is not even about setting weaknesses up on a platform and turning them into a trophy.

It is about boasting in Jesus, whose strength enables us to rise above our weaknesses.

We decrease. He increases. (John 3:30)

It is humility, grace, dependence and trust.

Our Malawian pastors will often lead their congregations in a declaration:

Pa m’mwamba pa m’mwamba Yesu! (Up, up Jesus! – The highest Jesus!)

True power comes from total dependence on the highest Jesus.

The ability to overcome and live above our natural selves and move beyond our natural limitations comes from recognizing our weaknesses and declaring that Jesus is the One who makes us strong.

“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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

His grace is sufficient.

Let us boast in Jesus.

Let us remain, stay, continue and fulfill God’s purposes through God’s strength…not our own.

where he leads

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“Where he leads me, I will follow.” – E.W. Blandly

Only a few weeks ago, messages from the American Embassy had become a regular and consistent presence in my inbox. Updates from the Malawi government were an ongoing alert in every social networking group I am a part of, and most of those messages appeared to contradict each other, making it impossible to truly know exactly what was going on in our country. What we did – and still do – know is that we are living through a historical event, a worldwide pandemic, a life-altering, priority-shifting moment that is changing everything.

Today, all is quiet. In fact, this past week it would appear as though not a trace of COVID-19 has touched Malawi soil. And while we know this is not true, life in the “warm heart of Africa” keeps rolling along, moving to the beat of its own unique drum.

I find myself wondering, often, how it is possible to feel complete peace and disorientation simultaneously. One minute I breathe in the sweet African air, sensing a little bit of joy, and the next minute I feel an incredible loss of equilibrium. I feel unsettled and stable, lonely and hopeful, disappointed and peaceful, confused and contented. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I see God’s providence in bringing us here for such a time as this, while also scratching my head because this is not what we had planned for or what we had expected.

“We can be on the right path, but it may feel wrong.” – Jennifer Rothschild

I’m just wondering, can you relate to that?

Do you ever feel that where God has you is not where you should be, or where you think you should be? Even when we know we are right where God wants us to be, there is no guarantee that everything we experience in the season, or along the path, is going to make sense or feel right. In fact, there may be times when everything feels wrong.

I find that when I am following the Shepherd down a path that is suddenly starting to look dark and daunting, I want to bargain with Him to put me on another path. I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I don’t like the crushing and the disorientation of challenging times. I tend to prefer obedience that equals smooth sailing and smooth roads ahead.

But the path where God leads us doesn’t always promise us that, and while it may appear to be all wrong, completely not what we thought we were signing up for, it is still the path God has called us to journey.

I think that is why, in the midst of walking a path that feels wrong, we can, simultaneously, feel incredible peace. Where God leads us is not always going to be easy, nor will it fit into our standards of comfort and preference, but we can trust that God will give us stability, hope, peace and contentedness. When we fear what we cannot see, we can lean into the One who is leading us along. And this is where we find this paradox of emotions. God settles us, in spite of the instability. God fills our hearts with hope when there seems to be very little to hope in, or for. God speaks peace to our anxiety and brings contentment in the confusion.

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19

When we are led to places that contradict our heart’s preferences, we can trust that God will give us everything we need (from internal fortitude to joy and peace) to continue on the path and enable us to climb the heights.  Our feet will be made swift to carry on and journey through.

As God remains on this path, so we, too, remain.

We continue following the Shepherd.

And somewhere down the road we will see the fulfillment of God’s plan in all of this.

Keep pressing on. Don’t fear the path, even when it seems all wrong.

Trust the Shepherd as “he leads you in paths of righteousness.”

“And Paul. His life recklessly caromed from adversity to persecution and back to adversity. In one passage he looks back and summarizes:

‘I have been beaten times without number. I have faced death again and again. I have been beaten regularly thirty-nine stripes by the Jews five times. I have been beaten with rods three times. I have been stoned once. I have been shipwrecked three times. I have been twenty-four hours in the open sea. In my travels I have been in constant danger from rivers, from bandits, from my own countrymen, and from pagans. I have faced danger in city streets, danger in the desert, danger on the high seas, danger among false Christians. I have known drudgery, exhaustion, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, fasting, cold and exposure. Apart from all external trials I have the daily burden of responsibility for all the churches. Do you think anyone is weak without my feeling his weakness? Does anyone have his faith upset without my burning with indignation?’ (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 Phillips)

None of that had the power to push Paul off his path. None of it convinced him that he was on the wrong way. None of it persuaded him that he had made the wrong choice years earlier on the Damascus Road. At the end of his life, among the last words he wrote is this sentence: ‘I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back’ (Philippians 3:13-14).’” – Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

with hands lifted high

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We just finished eating dinner. The kids are washing dishes and doing kitchen clean- up while Joel gives Jasper a much-needed bath.  I’m sitting here in our living room taking a minute to collect my thoughts. It’s been a full day, even while quarantined on our compound. In between all the activities of the day, my mind has been processing the drastic turn of events in our world.

Sometimes Malawi feels very far away from the sobering reality of this unprecedented worldwide pandemic. Life keeps rolling along here: street vendors selling their fruits and vegetables, children running barefoot along the side of the road, car horns honking and bicycles weaving in and out of traffic. The only noticeable differences are the school closures and the shutting down of government offices. It is difficult to believe that ordinary, everyday life back home has been completely altered. And even more difficult is contemplating the helplessness I feel living an ocean away.

Several weeks ago, I sensed that God was calling me to a more intentional season of prayer. I began reflecting on the word remain once again, and recognizing the increasing desire inside of me to run away, pull out, distance my emotions and my heart from the place where God had called me.

Remain – to stay; to continue; to fulfill.

Thinking about the word remain, various interpretations of this word started coming to my mind:

Physically staying where I am – not moving.

Feet planted and not wavering.

Continuing forward in an intentional direction.

Most of the time this word expresses the choice of being present in mind and body. But as I was thinking intently on the word remain, I found myself challenged to not just remain physically where I am, but to remain in prayer and intercession.

In the New Year, I started reading through the Old Testament again. Recently, there was a story that caught my attention. It’s a story that I’ve read a million times. I’ve grown very familiar with it; I could tell the story in my sleep. Somehow, though, this time I found myself reading it with a fresh perspective.

It is the story of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16). Moses called Joshua and instructed him to choose some of the men to go out and fight the Amalekites. Joshua did, and Moses climbed a hill with Aaron and Hur to pray over the battle. As Moses lifted his hands to the sky and prayed, Joshua and his men overpowered enemy. As soon as Moses lowered his arms, the battle would turn in favor of the Amalekites. Realizing this, Moses kept his arms stretched up to the sky. When he grew tired, Aaron and Hur stood on each side of Moses and lifted his arms up once again.

In the end, the Israelites won the battle.

Joshua was strong and mighty. He was born to conquer. This story is the first time we are introduced to Joshua, who would one day lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

But the battle could not be won through Joshua’s fierce strength. The battle was won through prayer and intercession. Joshua’s strength, that allowed him and his men to conquer the enemy, came from the persistent and unwavering prayers of Moses.

While Moses’ hands remained lifted in prayer, Joshua was enabled to fight and win the battle.

Moses’ hands stayed lifted.

Moses continued to pray.

Through Moses’ obedience in lifting his hands and interceding for the Israelites, Joshua was able to fulfill his commission and defeat the enemy.

Little did I know when I sensed God calling me into a deeper and more intentional prayer life a few weeks ago that COVID-19 would upend the world, that our friends, family and church would be faced with so much uncertainty, that my sister would be fighting this battle on the front lines as a nurse in one of the largest hospitals in Portland, Oregon, that my parents would be sequestered in Rwanda alone, that friends and teachers here in Malawi would hasten their exit to the United States, and our children would be face-to-face with transition on top of transition. God knew. And God was preparing me.

A few things that I have been learning through all of this:

God reigns.

God’s love overrides fear.

God fights our battles, and we don’t have to lift a weapon to win.

God hears the spoken and unspoken prayers and desires of our hearts.

God provides.

God sustains.

God gives us the grace we need each and every day- His mercies are new and fresh each morning.

God’s peace is a precious gift.

God wins.

With hands lifted high, I will remain. The battle that we face will not be won through the economy, through job security, or through the healthcare system. The battle will be won through the constant and ongoing prayers and intercession offered by you and me.

Will you join me in staying and continuing in prayer to see the fulfillment of God’s purposes in all of this?

Jasper’s bath time is over. It is time to transition to jammies, stories, prayers, and bedtime songs. The older kids have shut down the kitchen and are preparing for some quiet family time. The pace is slow but deeply enriching. As we remain in this quarantine, we also remain in prayer. God is faithful.

Our hands are lifted high.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16

but God remains

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“In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Psalm 102:25-27

The unchanging God. The constant and faithful. Though this world, this earth – our very lives - will one day perish and fall away, God will remain.

God will stay.

God will continue.

God will fulfill.

Life in Africa, while predictable in many ways, holds a great amount of uncertainty. The people here are far more attune to the realities that tomorrow and the day after that are not a guarantee. Nothing is guaranteed. Our days pass here with the constant reminder of the fragility of life.

At times that uncertainty- this fragility- weighs heavy.

We had one of the worst storms sweep through our city this past week. The pounding rainfall, the nearness of the thunder, lightening stretching out across the vast blackened sky, the wind fiercely rushing and uprooting walls and trees in its howling path, were all reminders that the very foundations of this earth are completely out of our hands. It really wasn’t until the following day that the damage in various areas of town was evident. Walls crumbled under the weight of the rain. Paths were strewn with branches and leaves and remnants from the previous night’s activity.

Sitting here this morning, taking in the beautiful yellow glow of the Malawi sunshine as it pours into this little corner of my world, it is hard to fathom that such a fierce storm whipped its way through our city only a few days ago. Still,  if I look a little more intently, I can see areas that will take some time to recover from the storm, and I find myself meditating on this one statement from Psalm 102: “But you remain.”

From the red dirt that stains our shoes and clothing to the termites that have eaten the insides out of one of our cane chairs to the basic fundamental fight for life, I find this statement incredibly comforting.

Nothing – not even the foundations of this earth – will last forever. But…God will remain.

This promise is so encouraging to me. You see, even though this life is but a breath, and the possessions we own and the things we accumulate will pass away as quickly as a pair of jeans in Africa, God remains.

And as God remains, so do his plans and his promises. The work he begins, he completes. God is constant and his plans are certain. We can have confidence that, while the world may seem to be struggling and striving, hurting and broken, God remains. He is faithful. And he will complete what he has begun.

This means that God stays: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Joshua 1:5

This means that God will continue: “Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.” Psalm 119:90

This means that God will fulfill: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

I find great comfort in the promise that my life remains in the hands of the One who laid the foundations of the earth. In a place where life is fragile and tomorrow is uncertain, I take hold tightly to the assurance that God remains – his presence never waivers; his hands always holding, arms embracing, keeping me in perfect peace.

But God remains.

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