My Favorite Planner in the History of Ever

For about the past month I have been on a new journey spiritually.  Raised in the Church of Christ, I surrendered to Jesus at the age of 21 after attending a Baptist church for just a couple of months with my boyfriend…who eventually became my husband.  Over the course of our marriage we have attended various non-denominational churches and one precious Presbyterian church.

Of all the churches we have attended, some of my sweetest memories have been of my first experience with Liturgy in the Presbyterian church which we attended in Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Striving.

We are a people who avoid quiet.  Surrounded by distraction, we refuse to put away the noisemakers.  At least, I do.  Every device I could want is at my fingertips, offering information and entertainment along with education and spiritual encouragement.  I wander aimlessly between them all without an end goal in mind.  The screens glow invitingly as little red drops of blood appear, the tiny numbers reminding me of unread messages, unchecked notifications and, more often than not, unwasted time.

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I remember the year before my first child was born.  I remember the house being so quiet, feeling so sad and empty in my longing to be a mother.  We didn’t have cable TV or cell phones, yet, and the house was usually clean: laundry put away, dishes done, bed made.  I wasn’t a neat freak but I didn’t panic if someone showed up at my door unexpectedly.  I cooked and visited face-to-face with friends and enjoyed deep, unhurried conversations.   I remember feeling so close, yet so far, from being a mother as we waited to be chosen by a brave and selfless young woman and confiding to my husband, through tears, that I was just so tired of our house being quiet.

I can’t help but wonder, if my impending motherhood were happening today, would I have that same problem?

The recent years have found me longing again, but this time it is different.  Now, I long for quiet.  Not in the absence of children but in the absence of haste.  Hundreds of emails to be deleted, most of which will remain unread.  Invitations to this or that online group/party/sale that demand a reply.  Reminders that I have not responded, paid that bill, or kept up with the latest information or update being emailed about the upcoming events to which I am committed and, darn, I missed the attachment because I didn’t scroll all the way down. I was in a hurry and just trying to make that drop of blood on my screen disappear.  Too many televisions allow us to be in too many different rooms, board games are left untouched. Netflix binges suck hours of our lives away and I am sad.  There is noise everywhere…from speakers and screens and headphones and my own weak mind being too easily distracted and then frustrated by the feeling of just not having enough time to get it all done.

I struggle to have what I long for.  Quiet.

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But the book of Isaiah says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  (Chapter 30, verse 15)  This was spoken to a people who had been gifted the Sabbath, a gift that we as followers of Christ are offered each and every day.  (Hebrews 4:9-10)  A Sabbath rest for the people of God.  Doesn’t that sound lovely? Freeing?  What does that look like today, in a world screaming, “Check me, read me now, watch me all weekend?”

“Quick, take a picture and post it!  See how many likes you get!”

“Oh, yes, that one needs to be shared.  What a great idea!  It would be a shame to keep that word of wisdom, political opinion, recipe or parenting tip to yourself.”

Is there anything wrong with any of these things in and of themselves?  No, of course not. But when I struggle to find five minutes with Jesus, when I groan as my alarm sounds because I wasted an hour of sleep to read just one more post, then something is very wrong.  In my self-created haste I become weak.  Weak-minded, weak-bodied, weak-willed.  I set my alarm later and later and hit snooze one more time.  I fail to plan meals, leaving us in the unhealthy habit of eating out too many nights each week because of the busyness of sports and dance.  My Bible lays unread on the table next to the sofa because I flipped on Fox News before opening it last night and never actually read the words right in front of me.

Words of life drowned out by reports of death.  How ironic.

In quietness in trust shall be my strength?  What is God trying to teach me?   Here I sit, on my beloved front porch so aware of the singing birds and the bright sunlight filtered down through the tall trees after a solid week of torrential rain and dark clouds.  The Knockout Roses that I planted by the road last summer are blooming.
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The air is so clean and my daughter sits next to me, in her pajamas at 3:30 in the afternoon, excitedly planning our beach trip for her sixteenth birthday.  Earlier I gently removed the now-empty bird’s nest that had been built to raise three chicks to adulthood this spring, marveling along with my children at the perfect, intricate design with which the mama bird built it. 

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It was sturdy yet soft and placed in the top of the Easter wreath on my front door, away from the winds and rain.  The babies have flown off and the nest stood empty except for one, tiny unhatched egg.  (And my front door was filthy!)  As I worked and cleaned and my kids chattered about me God spoke truth to my heart.  Little proverbs gifted to me in those quiet and long moments of wonder.  God has given us such beauty and grace in the everyday gifts of nature and family, yet I frequently allow the noise to throw a wet blanket over them and become numb.

I am weak.

How do I deal with the noise?  How do I find strength and practice this faith God has given me?  It is not going to be in throwing every device into the swimming pool and “going Amish” as I have often threatened to do.  No, it is going to be in seeking Him first.  FIRST.  It is in the discipline of rising early and putting boundaries on the noise.  It is not about self-imposed rules, but seeking relationship.  It is in forcing myself to be quiet and listen when everything in my head screams, “The laundry! The dishes!  Have you not seen the emails piling up?  Don’t you just want a little background noise?”

My goodness, no.  The constant hum of noise has numbed me. It has sucked time away that I will never be able to get back.  I need quiet, even when my flesh seeks to avoid it…especially then.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

Such power in those words, such conviction to my heart.  But read on…

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  (Heb 4:11-13)

Resisting rest leads to disobedience.  Refusing to be still and soak in the words of our Father in Heaven leaves us weak because we fail to allow God to do Holy Spirit Surgery, convicting us of sin and revealing our weaknesses.  A life of haste and busyness results in my inability to be teachable and my tendency to fall prey to the subtle lies of the enemy.

Strive to enter that rest?  I never really understood why resting would be something we had to strive for, but now I do.  I strive for many things…knowledge, peace in my home, to teach my children well, to keep the house somewhat sanitary.  But rest?  Entering Sabbath rest requires true strength.  It is, in fact, where strength is found.

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  

Lord, make me strong.

 

 

 

Of Knots and Grace

Last weekend my husband and I flew out to Denver and spent two days loving on Jay and Ashley.  I don’t know what I expected, but what I experienced was more.  More love, more laughter, more tears, more glimpses of God and grace.  We landed on a sunny day and took a rental car across the flat roads leading to Denver where we found the Craig Hospital.  We met precious new friends who have been the hands and feet of Jesus for our dear old friends and walked through the hospital doors.

To holy ground.

They were making cupcakes.  Jay, seated in his wheelchair, surrounded by his four daughters and all the excitement over measuring cups and sprinkles.  Ashley, turning from a conversation and catching my eye and me fighting tears as I finally got to hug my young friend who I have just longed to mommy for the past nine weeks.

Wheelchairs of many shapes and sizes lined the far wall.  An air hockey table was in the corner.  Lots of open space, plenty of room to navigate and play around whether you walk or roll.  And laughter.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of any of the Craig staff, but I can tell you that the Lord is very present in that place.  Everything is so intentional, the goal being independence and life and finding joy again.

But boy, is that journey hard and painful.  Without going in to details, (You can read their words here if you want to know more) Jay fights for every milestone.  Nothing is easy.  Nothing is not accompanied by pain.  Yet he perseveres and fights and gains ground every single day. He laughs and cries and parents and loves and God is honored in it all.  To know the Rapleys is to see Jesus at work and realize that God is good even when we cannot make sense of our circumstances.  His love for us is fierce and He fights for us even when we fight against Him.

We all suffer.  If you have not, brace yourself because it will come.  Some of our suffering is private.  It may be within the walls of our home or in the battlefield of our minds.  It may be from outside sources, people who have determined to pick at you until you fold in defeat or from the vice-grip of trying to survive the bills coming in faster than the money.  It may be self-inflicted because of poor choices or it may be the result of what appears to be a random accident, like in Jay’s case.

He did nothing wrong.  He was just walking his dog.  Yet here he is, navigating this sudden suffering.  But in the midst of suffering the beauty emerges.

It is in the friends back home, happily packing up Jay and Ashley’s belongings to they can move into their new, wheelchair-accessible, house when Jay is discharged.  It is in the community of faith, Kristin and Mark taking on a huge supportive role and thousands of believers backing them in prayer, gifts, texts and love.  It is in Jay’s brother, Eric, who consistently encourages him and faithfully makes the drive to visit and be a support to Jay and their parents.

Their parents….There are no words to describe these precious people.  They have dropped everything for their son and his family.  They have walked away from retirement, taking on the role of parent and teacher for their four little granddaughters in order for Ashley to be by her husband’s side and for their girls’ lives to be as normal as humanly possible.  They have done this so beautifully and fight through the fatigue and grief in order to serve their family.  I can only imagine the treasure being laid up for them in Heaven at this very moment.

As I process what I saw over the weekend, I remember a conversation we had about how God is weaving a beautiful tapestry out of Jay’s story and right now we are all on the back side.  We can’t see the picture.  All we see right now is a tangled mess of knots.  It makes no sense.  But the Weaver is at work.  He is carefully and lovingly creating a picture, a huge and intricate work of art, that will be fully revealed in eternity.  He is using His people as instruments, needles and thread and the stretching loom, to construct a garment fit for a King.

Our King.

Jesus, who suffered for us and identifies with Jay’s suffering.  He walks with Jay now, today, giving him strength moment by moment and reminding him of who he is and whose he is.  He is not surprised nor shaken by Jay’s accident because He has shown over and over again that He had everything lined up, positioned perfectly, to provide for the needs of Jay and Ashley and their family.  He surrounds them with grace in the midst of the knots, promising that when He returns and makes all things new,  it will be worth it.  Nothing is wasted.   He will, one day soon, flip over the finished tapestry and, in the center, will be His masterpiece…Jesus holding Jay by the hand as they walk together into Glory.

Pray for Jay.  Pray for a miracle.  Pray for strength and joy and protection over their minds and bodies as they all work so hard to learn this new way of living.  For more specific prayer needs, you can visit their Caring Bridge site.

 

Phillippians 3:8-11  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

 

 

Unspeakable

The phone call came as I drove through town, shuffling kids to various appointments and running errands.  I struggled to focus as the words, punctuated by the quiet sobs and broken sentences of my mother-in-law, assaulted my ears and broke my heart.

It was a moment that made me long for Heaven.

How do I make sense of the news that one of the most loving, Christian men I have ever known lies in a hospital bed unable to move?  That his body is broken and he is in need of healing that can only come from God?  That his wife and girls who absolutely adore him now face weeks and months without his smile at the dinner table?  Why did God allow this?  To him, of all people?

Then the days unfold.  Updates trickle in, texts from my sweet friend giving me the privilege of knowing how to pray for her, the realization that in the midst of the unspeakable tragedy God is working, unshakable.  I remember the days before Jay had Ashley, how he was so impressed with Sam’s Lasagna and my homemade stuffing that he ate it cold, right out of the fridge…announcing that I had “outdone myself.”  The days before he was a daddy and he would come over, revving up my toddlers and ensuring bedtime would be far, far away and my kids loving every minute of their time with “Uncle Jay.”  How he stood for Jesus in every operating room, refusing to cave and lower his standards and getting the “preacher boy” award at the end of Residency.  Jay loves Jesus unashamedly, showers his family with that love, and  is now being given a new voice, a new platform, and new way to shine the light of Christ in this dark and desperate world.

Yes, we serve and unshakable God.   Because of this, the suffering my friends endure begins to make sense.  When a hospital room becomes a mission field, when the name of Jesus is lifted and spoken and prayer warriors are mobilized from all over the country and husbands are challenged to love better and daddies are moved to be more intentional because this man, from his hospital bed and in constant pain, continues to love well it makes sense.  That he can be faithful and allow God to use him in this, the darkest season of life is why he has been chosen to suffer.  The truck did not see Jay in the fog, but God did and my goodness, how He protected his life.  His body is broken, yes, but the Holy Spirit in him is alive and well and fully at work.

It has been a week today.  Today I cannot seem to stop the flow of tears as I wish with all of my heart I lived close enough to be hands and feet for Ashley, and the rest of Jay’s family.  But God has me here, on my knees, begging for healing and praising Him for what He has done so far this week.  And as I pray and trust I know that I am one of hundreds if not thousands who are doing the same.  God is an incredible mobilizer of His army and we are rising up together, carefully lowering our friend through the roof and placing him at the feet of Jesus, his savior and healer.

If you will join us in praying for Jay, go to caringbridge.org/visit/jayrapley.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”  Isaiah 41:13

A Better Word

I don’t know about you, but 2016 nearly did me in.  As much as I wanted to write a perky “Happy New Year” post I just couldn’t.  I just didn’t.  In fact, as the old year died and the new was born I was tempted to tell 2016, “Don’t let the door hit ya’ on the way out.”

It was one of the most difficult years I have ever endured for several reasons, none of which I need to go into here because I know you have had your share of hard as well. Whether my hard looks like your hard doesn’t matter.  Hard is hard.

2016 was hard.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the year, I prayed for the Lord to give me a word for 2017.  This is my fourth year to do so.  The same word kept surfacing in scripture, in song, and in conversation.  So much so that it was pretty easy to single out what the Lord was showing me.  It was a good word, one that made me think that maybe 2017 wouldn’t suck as much as 2016.  So I opened up my Bible to write the word inside the front cover, just below last year’s word.

I had forgotten last year’s word.  In fact, in the fog that had overtaken my brain, I had come to believe that last year’s word was the word given to me in 2015.  Worth.  As in, it will be worth it.  Jesus is worth it.  God is worthy of whatever I have to give in order to follow Him.  It was a good word, but it was not 2016’s word.

Imagine my shock when I opened my Bible and there, written in black ink in my own hand, was the word that I had forgotten…HARD.

A lump leapt into my throat and I wiped away tears.  God had known.  He had seen what was coming and had tried to let me know that He was not surprised or shaken by the difficulties that would plague our year.  But I forgot.  I stumbled and doubted and failed to walk in confident belief in who He is and what He said He will do.  Yet here, in front of me, was His gentle reminder…

“It will be hard, but I am here.  It will be hard, but not forever.  It will be hard, but I have seen this coming and nothing is beyond my control or outside the reach of my sovereignty.”

How I wished I had remembered that word throughout the year.  Then again, maybe He intended for me to forget so that the impact of the word He gave me this year would be more deeply felt. Because, let me tell you, seeing this year’s word written just below the HARD word of one of the most difficult years of my life was balm to my weary soul.

You are probably wondering what this year’s word is.

It is Hope.

HOPE.

And hope?  It colors everything I see now.  It changes the way I see hard (because the turning of the year didn’t make it magically go away) and causes me to look at my circumstances through a much different filter.  Hope.  It gives strength when I am weary and drives me into the arms of my Father, giving me a hunger for Truth and a longing for revelation.  It pulls me up out of the pit and allows me to believe in a happy ending, in a story whose hero is on his way to bring resolution.

Hope changes everything.  In God’s mercy He has promised a turnaround and, though He has not guaranteed the hard will end He gives me Hope as an anchor, firm and secure.  So I’m holding on and determined to thank Him for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do!  I’m praying I won’t be blissfully relieved when 2017 draws to a close, but maybe I’ll be a little misty eyed and sentimental.

Yes, that would be a nice change!

Did you ask God for a word this year?  If so, I’d love to hear what He revealed to you.  I am always amazed at how He honors our requests when we seek Him and lean in to hear His voice.

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