Lately, I have been so surprised as to how each book I've read has been the book I needed to read. There isn't usually a reason for the next book that I pick up, but I do try and have three current reads at a time, especially if I have a goal to read a certain amount each year. For instance, this year I want to read 24 books and I have my books separated into genres/themes and I try to have one from each grouping going at a time. Besides this, I normally just pick one randomly when it's time to begin a new one. But so far this year, when I've finished a book, I have realized that it was the book I needed for that moment. I wish I could recap all of them so far this year, maybe one day I will, but today I'll talk about "The Secret Garden" and how it met me right where I am in learning how to simply choose truths over lies.
There is a neighborhood that I pass on the way to my favorite ice cream place. It's probably one of the cutest spots and I think I would like to live there one day. It's probably not true, but I feel like the houses have been passed down through families, like you have to inherit a house on that street. Old, amazing trees fill Mobile and on this street, almost every house has lights strung among their branches. A soft glow of lights, filling the street, down as far as you can see. A few weeks ago, while on the way to the ice cream place (can you tell where we hang?), I passed the street again, but this time it was blocked off. The curbs were free from cars and under the canopy of lights, tables filled the street. There were people everywhere! Block party, birthday party, wedding, whatever it was, it's what I dream about. Community.
I’m an emotional person. It’s not hard for me to write that (except for my fingers fumbling over my phone, at my work desk, where I’m writing this). I can easily wear my heart on my sleeve, but of all the emotions, anger is usually the first one people see. All the others I keep bottled up inside. Which makes me feel heavy and constantly searching for a breath.
Three words are always on my mind as I walk through Holy Week.
Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate and remember when Jesus the King had His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is a moment of celebration, filled with shouting and praise. I think a lot about the people who were there to greet Him as He came into town. I try to put myself there among them, excited for the arrival of the one true King. I think I would push and fight my way through the crowd for a good spot along the road. Clinging tight to my palm branch, as I anxiously await the first views of the young donkey that carries Jesus.
My palm branch, when waved, declares Jesus as King. A symbol of hope, but also a symbol of what I lay down before my King and a symbol of praise. Excited to see Him, I wave it shouting, "Hosanna!" But before He reaches my spot along the road, I lay it down. Along with it, I lay down my sin, my sorrow, my shame, my worry, my doubts. I lay it all down. He will lay down His life. My palm branch now on the ground, with the King only steps away. He rides by, my palm branch crushed by the hooves of the donkey. Just as my sin would be crushed a few days later.
Jesus the King came to restore. He saw a tree with no fruit and a temple of prayer turned into a den of robbers. Worship and prayer and righteousness were replaced with business transactions and money exchanges and no faith at all. A tree with no fruit then cursed and withered. Yet, a hint of faith still to be found there, to trust that God will remove whatever hinders us from coming to Him. Christ the Son found Himself soon going to a tree. Where the work of dying on the cross would fill the chasm that separated. And the veil that once hung to separate, would be torn.
Jesus urged the disciples to stay awake. And that plea to stay awake echoes to us still today. To focus on the reason of His coming. To take part in the proclamation of the gospel. We remember a woman's sacrifice of love, as she anointed Jesus for His impending burial. An action of love, not a waste, but a beautiful thing.
Then, an upper room prepared with a feast. A meal partaken and a covenant established. Followed by a prayer cried out for a cup to be removed, as reality is accepted by Jesus the King.
Darkness grew as light continued to slip away.
Jesus the King was led to Pilate. Silently He stood in front of crowds, as they yelled for Him to be crucified. Delivered to the people, He was beaten, mocked, and placed on a cross. Hanging on a tree with people yelling for Him to save Himself and to come down. But Jesus, the beautiful King, He stayed there. As the sin of the world fell upon Him and as darkness covered the land. His final cry came. And with His death, the veil was torn. The earth shook. Rocks split. Finished. Tetelestai.
Christ a propitiation for our sanctification.
He was put in a tomb where He wouldn't stay. He couldn't be held there. Three days He would rise. Resurrected and fully alive. Death absolutely defeated. And what I would have laid down before Jesus the King when He came into the city on a donkey, is replaced with new life. Joy. Courage. Freedom. Peace. Comfort. Assurance.
Hallelujah to Jesus the King who has come and is coming again!
There is a quote, that I can't for the life of me remember right now. Something about holiness and something about hard places. But those two words have been repeating themselves over and over in my head this past week. Since the start of the year, I've been wanting to find my one word for the year. A word that could encapsulate the year and help me keep my focus throughout the year. I went over word after word, never feeling like it was quite the one.
About a week ago, I finished reading a book that is coming out in March, "Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot" by Mo Isom. I was on Mo's launch team for her first book, and while this one is quite different in content, I felt like I needed to apply to be on her team again. So, I did. And when I learned I was on the team, I thought to myself, "Now you actually have to read this book." I wasn't sure what to expect in between it's pages, but I was intrigued.
If anything, I thought it would be a great resource for later, when or if, I got married. But now, after finishing, my kindle version is highlighted up and down of truth that speaks so much new life into my singleness. That is one thing that I wasn't expecting. But it was something that I've been unknowingly praying for. Another prayer that I had forgotten I was praying. When all the chapters were read, a renewed singleness is what I found.
Honestly, I've been over it. Completely over being single and all that it offers...and doesn't offer. I've struggled through my singleness more times than surrendering it to God. But why? Why would I constantly want to tie myself to bitterness, anger, loneliness, and jealousy? Those things only inflict more of themselves. They lead me nowhere towards light and only deeper into darkness.
The crawl towards light seems to be a never-ending, all out fight most days. There is lots of kicking and screaming, much like a child. And while a lot of that has been directed to God in my anger, I also throw a lot back to myself. Because when you're the only one in the room, it's easy to make yourself the target. And words thrown at myself are easier to fix than holes in the wall. Or so I tell myself.
Words are powerful. They speak life and death. No matter if you are speaking them to others or yourself. And before reading Mo's book, one that I didn't know how much I would relate to or needed, I wasn't expecting to read words that gave me a new hope in my singleness. But that is what came.
And while I highlighted up and down, there are some thoughts that I wrote down from Mo that I have been clinging to in the week since I finished her book. Each day, I pray through one of them. Expectant that God will answer. That my daily surrender of my singleness will pull me closer to light than the darkness. That each day, my focus would not be my singleness, but of what God has for me that day. That each day would drive me closer and closer to His holiness. I've prayed that God would use every second of this time and for Him to encounter me. To equip me with strength. To teach me daily how to walk. And for His love to compel me.
I've realized over my prayer journey, that oftentimes I pray for the wrong things. Always masking my true agenda in words that seem right. Never quite praying in God's will or for the things He would have for me. But, the past week I have watched as He has answered my prayers, in ways that may seem small, but speak in such loud volumes, that I cannot ignore it. When I prayed for Him to encounter me, He met me in a quiet, morning moment of bright stars shining down into my backyard. When I prayed to be equipped with strength, He met me at a hard day at work. He is daily teaching me how to walk, how to give Him moments that matter. And when I asked for His love to compel me? He brought a college friend to my mind as I sat in church this morning and then again as I sat on my bed weeping, as that same friend posted that she had lost her earthly father.
I almost wanted to take back my morning prayer today. As sitting on my unmade bed crying wasn't what I expected when I asked for His love to compel me. But His love compelled me to call out to Him on my friend's behalf. To offer words, then tears when the words wouldn't come. Sometimes, my tears are the only offering I have to give to God.
And while I can't remember whatever that quote is, I'm learning that holiness is found in the hard places. That there in those moments, where the stars shine bright and where I'm left crying on my bed, in those hard moments, He is revealing Himself to me, showing Himself holy. When the prayer has left my lips, I then anticipate His answer. I wait with great expectation.
That word for the year? Expectant.
Expectant of what His answers will be. Expectant of what He will show me. Expectant of what hard times will inevitably come, but expectant that His holiness is always to be found if I ask Him to show it to me.
This year, Lord, with my heart renewed, I wait, expectant of all that You will do.
More Things From Mo
Click here to pre-order Mo Isom's new book, "Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot", available March 6th!
Click here to order Mo's first book, "Wreck My Life."
Follow Mo on Social Media (for words of wisdom and lots of laughter): @MoIsom
Click here to check out her website.
Affiliate links are present on this post. Meaning if you purchase, I also get a little something.
The older I've gotten, the more I've gotten excited about the idea of settling into one area. My college summers and the year after graduation were all spent in different places. I know I was meant to be in each of them. And when memories come flooding in from all of those places, when the faces I remember come back to mind, a smile comes on my face, followed by a sweet sadness.
When the memories flood in, I realize how fast time truly went. I immediately want to go back, to remember.
I want to snap my fingers and be back in the ice cream shop in New Orleans, that one night when camp was over, and we would all be leaving soon. I want to stay in that space, laughing forever. I want to hop a plane and be back on the shores of Lake Tahoe and I want to walk the Rim Trail knee deep in snow for just a mile longer. I want to always be among the snow covered pine trees when the wind blows and snow falls gently to the ground. I want to go back and sit with all the kids I've met for a little while longer. Read one more story as they sound out words, color one more picture. I want to go back to that one hill in Arizona, and sit there every night as the sun sets in the desert. I want to go back to the first time I saw the Grand Canyon and sit on the edge for just a little longer.
I want to go back. I'll trade my days of being settled and in routine, to go back to the days that I want to last just a little bit longer.
Like the college nights spent sleeping over at a friend's house when we watched nothing but The Office and made pallets in her living room. Or the nights spent cheering on our favorite football team. The nights we would fill up our favorite restaurants and stay until they turned out the lights. Those nights we made blanket forts and ordered way too much pizza. When we would push together the tables in the dining hall, so we could eat as one big family, going back for countless bowls of ice cream. The time we crammed more than enough people into a beach house. The night we went looking for a meteor shower and never found it, so we turned on music and just danced beneath the clouds.
I want to go back. I want to make myself stand back for just a minute longer and take it all in a little deeper and longer. To remember the smells of the summer night, how the water felt when I ran through it, the excitement of family all around, the breeze as it gently went by, the smiles and laughs of friends who wouldn't be friends always...
I've become used to the idea of being settled. But one thing I will never be completely settled in doing? Saying goodbye.
Saying goodbye to family, to places, to friends. I never want my best memories to become hazy, or worse, lost.
It's true that each day there are new memories to be made. God has written this incredible story that only He could write. The only thing I can do is walk into the new page each morning and see what He has written. I've walked quickly through some of those chapters in the past, barely stopping to see what He wrote on the pages beneath my feet. And that's why I want to go back, that's why I want to trade my settled routine. I want to go back and see those pages again. I want to go back and read them a little slower, as my feet move from one word to the other, syllable by syllable. With each step I want it to be stamped into my memory bright and full, like I'm living it again.
But, with the turn of each page, it becomes just another memory. Another goodbye. Another part of a chapter, filling a book, with a story where I vaguely remember the beginning and don't know the ending. Memories don't keep the goodbyes from happening. But, I have to look for the greetings of each new day.
I have to look down at the words on the next page. Because new memories are unfolding and, for today, I can be settled. Today I can walk the pages a little slower, take in the words a little slower. Because in another five years, ten years, twenty years, I'll look back and want to come back to this chapter. I'll want to come back to lazy rainy days, to the nights spent on roofs, to the sound of waves rolling in from the Gulf. Back to the moment your best friend finds out she's having a baby boy, when you watch a friend graduate, when families invite you into their homes.
I need to read these words slowly, Lord. Don't let them pass until I've taken all of their meaning in. Keep the memory bright and full. Keep me settled in today, so I'm always looking at the pages that You've put under my feet.
I remember going on my first mission trip ever when I was in high school. It was the first time I had ever really been away from my parents, my first time really out West, and my first time on an airplane. I was so excited, but also nervous. Stepping into Arizona was a new world to me, even though I was still in the United States. It brought me new friends, new realizations about people and life, and challenged me greatly in my walk with Christ.
One of the most memorable moments is when I was standing on a plateaued hill, in the desert of Arizona, watching the sunset. The sky literally seemed to be painted, as it turned so many different colors. God as Creator became real to me then and He's never let me forget that moment. Since then, I've tried to serve Him locally and domestically as best as I've can and go wherever He has led.
He really does work in mysterious and sometimes funny ways. Like when as a freshman in college, I sat with a friend at a cafe in New Orleans and told her that I felt like God was leading me there. And He did in the summer of 2011. Or the summer I served in Mobile, many years before I would eventually call that city home, as I do now. Then, He somehow got me to California, the absolute farthest I had ever been from home or anyone I knew. I went fresh out of college and knowing no one. Simply ready for adventure. And that it was.
Because when following the Lord, it is certainly an adventure. A beautiful, fun, crazy, most times scary, adventure. I've visited places I've only dreamed about and somehow, I'm not sure how, but I love them all so much. I smile when I think of them and I love when they come up in conversation (or let's be honest, when I bring it up because I want to talk about it). I smile because of the places I've been, the people I've met, the pictures I've taken, or simply just my memories. I smile, because I often can't believe that the Lord would give me such great chances. And I smile because His love is just that great, that He did, and still does, give me those chances.
It was way easier to say yes to those chances when I was in high school and college. Now, I feel like there are so many other things I have to think about, or work out, before I can say yes. And because of thinking that way, I wonder what I've passed up, because I didn't say yes...
Missions is in my heart. The people, the places, the food, the smells. They get in my heart and they never let go. I don't want them to. I want to hold on to them forever. I want the memories to grow stronger, but also make room for new ones to form. With new places, new faces, new smells, and new sunsets.
Every place has its sunset moment. Lord, I pray I don't miss it...
A few weeks ago, the tree in my front yard was full of bright, pink blossoms. A hint of spring in the middle of winter. Today, the leaves are green, bright and colorful in the midst of other trees still bare. Yet, nearby, pink azaleas, both light and vibrant, are already blooming as well. Petals and green leaves hold on tight under a sky mixed with grey and white clouds with a hint of blue sky, as the wind blows dead, brown leaves across pavement.
I love watching the wind blow. You can see it travel, first hitting a tree way off and then others following suit as their branches and leaves begin to sway side to side. Petals and green leaves seem to dance, while the dead leaves tumble across the driveways. I want to be like the petals and green leaves. Holding tight to their branches, dancing as the wind blows by. Blooming. But, I find myself more like the dead, brown leaves. Tumbling, head over heel, as the wind blows. Thrown from driveway to driveway, trampled by feet and car tires. Nothing to hold on to.
My mind doesn't dance with the wind, it tumbles with constant worry. Worry about all the things that can go wrong. Worry about what I will do next. My mind doesn't dance with the wind, it tumbles with constant sadness. Sadness over things I do not have. Sadness over how lonely my heart often feels. My mind doesn't dance with the wind, it tumbles with being angry. Angry about all the things I can't do. Angry about how things always seem to be just out of reach.
My mind tumbles, but what does it take to dance? What does it take to bloom? The petals, green leaves and dead leaves all feel the wind. The wind moves them all in some way. Attached to their branches, the petals dance as the green leaves follow. The dead leaves tumble by, no longer is their place on the branch. They all feel the wind, but whether they are attached to the branch or not, determines how the wind moves them.
Apart from Christ, my Branch, I can do nothing. My mind will tumble all day long, as the wind blows, and as long as I'm not connected to Him I'll keep tumbling. But, how is it, why is it, that even when I find myself attached to the Branch, I don't always see myself blooming? Or dancing? Only tumbling? I know the source of everything I need, but I'm not letting Him nourish me. Instead of letting Him grow me, I'd rather fall off the Branch. Yet, I know that the moment I leave the Branch, nothing will be the same. And all chances to bloom will be gone, tumbling down the pavement with me. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.
The wind is coming, it's inevitable. Worries, sadness, anger. If I'm the dead leaf, I'll only continue to tumble when the wind reaches me. But when attached to the Branch? I'll have life, vibrant and bright. And when the wind comes, I'll be able to dance. And one day, if I keep hanging on, I might even bloom.
"I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest -- and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man."
Proverbs 24: 30-34
I bounce between hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure or self-indulgence) and sloth (laziness), particularly when it comes to following Christ. One moment I am in pursuit of something wonderful, blissfully and full of glee I run towards things that I mistakenly think will bring me pleasure or happiness. Then, after what seems like days and lifetimes of running, I collapse. No sign of a finish line anywhere in sight it seems. And quickly into acedia, sloth, I fall. And just as quickly, I start wondering what the point of it all is. I was running and running -- and never found anything. I start to wonder what the purpose of my wandering is.
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
Psalm 51 is the cry of my heart. I pray for mercy, forgiveness, cleansing, restoration, and a sustaining spirit. All along the running way I've been staring at my sin that surrounds me on every side. Yet, with every stride, I've been crying out, "Give me a new heart, God. Renew my spirit. Don't leave me in the dust! Come and sustain me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation!"
The joy of salvation. The joy! I keep repeating it with every step. The joy! Run. The joy! Run. The joy! I keep repeating it, hoping to understand it more. To take hold of it better. To better understand the joy of knowing my Savior. To experience His graciousness, forgiveness, and redeeming of my soul in new ways. I keep crying out as He listens and renews, restores, and sustains me. And as He does, the joy of salvation comes closer into view. All I want is to get closer, even if just to touch a corner of it. Like the bleeding woman who pushes her way through the crowd, straining with all she has, to just touch the edge of The Healer's cloak, I push on, hands outstretched, to take hold of the joy that replaces and repairs my brokenness.
"As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 'Who touched me?' Jesus asked...'Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.' Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.'"
What else am I to do with this brokenness? These pieces are all I have to offer Him. The stone wall is ruined, what hand could rebuild it? Only the mighty hand of God. And to my amazement, He accepts my sacrifice of broken pieces, the only thing I have. And it pleases Him, because He is able to shine through the brokenness. His Light shines through the cracks!
Even a little sleep, a little slumber, a slight pause in the run, will make me stop for longer than I want. If I stop, I'll completely stop running before I even reach the reason I started running in the first place. And because I couldn't see it then, I may never start running again.
But, I must. Because the pursuit of something beautiful ends when I find Him. Finding joy in Him is the purpose of running in the first place. I must simply choose to start running. Sluggard and broken no more, but strong, firm, steadfast.
"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."
1 Peter 5:10-11
I've followed with the trend of picking a word for the past couple of years now. Wait. Better. Fear. Those have all been some of my past chosen words. And here we are, time for another picking. I've been slowly making a list of goals and things that I would like to accomplish in 2017. After looking back on my goals for 2016, I realized that...well, I didn't do nearly half of what I wanted to. That bums me out, but also makes me want to worker harder in the new year.
2016 was the year of fear. The year of fearing the Lord and striving to know Him more. Some dreams fell away and some old dreams returned, ones that I had forgotten about or chose to ignore in the past. So, I re-circled those dreams. The Lord has put them on my heart for a reason and I believe, in one way or another, He will bring them to fruition. I'm excited to see that happen and it makes my heart flutter just thinking about it. And I know that I'm still not close to some of those dreams becoming reality, that the season of waiting continues. However, I'm more content in the Lord than I've been in years, and that I realize, is what makes the waiting easier.
The later half of 2016 sent me on a search to find rest. I started a new job in 2016, one that I never thought I would be in, but love. With that comes new routine and changes. I found myself mentally tired, more than physically tired. For a couple of months, it seemed that things just came one right after another. There was no slowing down, no moment of calm, before something else popped up that needed to be taken care of. I needed rest. I needed renewal. And the Lord gave it to me. He showed me that He is my rest and where I find all rest. In that place, in Him, is everything I need. As long as I look to Him, as long as I put Him first and allow Him to be all that I need Him to be, there will be nothing more I need.
I began that in 2016 and I want to continue it in 2017. There are things I would love to do this year, dreams I would love to keep circling and prayerfully see Him answer, but most importantly, I want to choose Him. I want to be about the things He is about. I want to daily look to Him, I want to find my rest in Him, I want to follow Him to wherever He has me to go.
Spiritually, emotionally, financially, physically, missionally, daily, big things, little things, in friendships, relationships, in my writing, at my job, in everything! He needs to be a part, because all these things are for His glory, and I want to do the best I can with what He has given me. So, I will choose Him. In every step of the way, I choose Him. Simple.
You know, when I was thinking about what word to pick for this coming year, I was struggling with it. I wanted it to be some amazing thing, because I felt like it had to be perfect. I thought about flourish or cultivate. And while those are great words, they just seemed too fancy for me. I'm simple. And I like that. I don't need eloborate things, the smallest things make me happy, and I don't need grand gestures. I need simple and easy. As I was doing the Advent study with Sacred Holidays in December, something that Becky Kiser wrote stuck out to me. She said, "There isn't a magical formula to following Jesus. Following Jesus is simply choosing to actually follow Him. This following looks different for each person because we are all different." I love this, because it is simple and true, yet I often forget it! I get caught up, thinking that my time with the Lord, or my life even, has to look a certain way because that is what other 28 year olds are doing or what it looks like on Instagram. My call is simple, choose to follow Him. So, simply choose Him I will.
The word for this year and the word that I pray is for every year? Choose.
Have you chosen a word for the year?
What is something you want to do in 2017 that you didn't do in 2016?
Get the Guide!
Sign up below to join the community and get your FREE devotional guide!