Tag Archives: surrender

Stop, Seek, Care

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”        Luke: 8 – 12 (NIV)

Working for a major hotel chain after graduation from college, I came to adore the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Right after Turkey Day, holiday decorations transformed the lobby from a normally utilitarian meeting spot to a glowing, sparkling space to celebrate community. Throughout the month, the guests changed from road-weary, often cranky business travelers to happy singles and delighted families visiting loved ones in the area. I’d generally request to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day even after I had the seniority to have them off. A magical shimmer floated in the air those days and I wanted to share it with as many guests as possible.

More than you’ll ever know, I miss that stimulating feeling of expectation. I still enjoy the Christmas season. There are cookies to bake, parties to attend and all those Christmas cards I mail out. But while I decorate the tree, I don’t sing as many Christmas carols. Even though my life goes into overdrive this time of year, most of my activities are solitary – not part of an amazing team and not for such a large group of wonderful people.

My Advent has changed from something boisterous and exhilarating to a calmer, introspective time. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Advent is a time of preparation, remembering His coming and yet longing for His return. It begs us to still, to hush, to quiet our souls so we can focus more deeply on the One whose birthday deeply transforms us and the world.

mangerJesus came quietly, slipping unnoticed into a little town. He arrived in the middle of the night, in the dark, but suddenly there was the Light among us. And this Light brought with Him hope. His newborn cry broke the silence that had lingered over the world for 400 years. And while most inhabitants of the world were asleep, the earth could not contain its joy. Angels appeared, the Christmas star illuminated the dark sky and I imagine even the animals in the stable knew something momentous had just happened.

The following day, most folks went back to the hustling of their lives. They wouldn’t know the beauty and magic of Christmas for many years to come – not until Christ’s death on the cross, if even then. The birth announcement was there that morning, but to catch it, you had to care enough to watch for it. Most didn’t, staying blissfully unaware of the miracle in their midst. The day’s joy was swallowed up instead by mundane activities. I suspect our lack of rejoicing exists to this day for much the same reason. When we hurry and rush, if we’re honest, we fail to rejoice.

Jesus came into the chaos and mess of life. In the midst of it all, He brought hope – the ability to reconcile with God. He wasn’t loud. He never appeared to be in a hurry, but that never stopped Him from entering in and saying, “Here I am. Emmanuel. God with You.”

We can’t pause life, though we’d like to try. But we can purposely pause in this season, to hush, to still, to advent. To take the time to be left breathless by the awe-inspiring work of God all around us – the endless treasures that come to us through Him. This is what the Advent season is all about: looking with anticipation toward the Christmas child. We only need ask our Father in heaven to clear space in our hearts so we stop, seek, care. Advent gives us liberty to implore God to help us reveal in the gift of the Christmas child coming to earth in humble glory and splendor.

The very best thing you can do with your life is build one with hope. So take some time to slow down, open your hands and your heart to the only one who can offer that hope. This God who came to us as a baby in a manger takes broken, hopeless hearts and gives you His. Not just during Christmas, but always.

May the infinite love of Jesus bring you hope, peace and joy during this season and throughout the coming year.

Silence is Loud

I was exhausted. Not the kind that is easily remedied by a quick nap. For several weeks, I’d faced one stress, one disappointment after another. I was pushed to the limits tired. Stressed. Drained. Completely used up.

730So, the timing was perfect. I’d signed up to attend a silence retreat months ago, before the line of dominoes fell creating my personal sense of overwhelming fatigue mixed with hopelessness. As an extrovert, I approached a day of complete silence with its own sensation of apprehension. No talking for hours upon hours? How would I ever survive? Because I like to talk so much, my friends laughed and doubted I’d complete the day, but my heart promised I needed this. (And besides, I reasoned, if I really couldn’t handle the silence, I knew where my car was parked and could beat a hasty departure.)

At first, it wasn’t easy – just sitting alone. I had positioned myself in the warmth of the bright sunlight near a beautiful fountain. As I closed my eyes listening to the water gurgle from one level to the next, I felt lonely and a little angry with myself. A silence retreat isn’t about loneliness, it is about solitude. It wasn’t about remoteness from God; it was about wrapping yourself in the nearness of God. Why didn’t I feel God near?

At the beginning of the retreat, the director gave us some suggestions on activities that would assist us in making the best of our time. One of them was to concentrate on a verse, just one verse. Frustrated with my isolation from God, I picked one of my favorites: Ephesians 3:20 – 21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

My first thought was selfish – “I don’t know; I can imagine and ask for a lot…” But then it struck me. The simple truth was my exhaustion can’t be solved without God. And even though concentrating on one verse was the goal, my mind couldn’t help but wander through a host of people in Scripture who lamented about their tired souls. David, for example, wrote countless Psalms about being weary. Elijah got so exhausted after standing up to Jezebel’s gods, he sank into a deep depression and prayed for death. Even Jesus often went off to a solitary place to pray.

Opening up my eyes to watch the regal palm trees sway in the wind, a thought softly landed in my heart. On my journey of faith, Jesus is the only one who gives unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. The more I ask of Him, the more He gives. Silently I cried out to Him and imagined myself sitting exhausted at His feet. But instead of feeling drained, I felt Him filling me up with His love. Throughout my life, God has taken everything I have brought to Him – the screams, the questions, the tears, the lack of confidence – and handled it. He gave me grace. He brought me strength, He fashioned a way out of torment into His peace. And even though I hadn’t originally felt Him with me that day, He was there. He has always filled my days with His presence for nothing can separate us from His love.

While my exhaustion had deep, physical causes, I also realized a component was a lack of trust in God. When I’ve approached Him with reverence, when I’ve honestly told him the concerns of my heart, God has shown me time and again, He is faithful and true no matter what is happening in my life. During the hardest moments in my life, I’ve felt Him enfolding me. During my emotional letdowns, I’ve learned if I trust Him, He gives me insurmountable peace and joy.

And on that day, the silence wasn’t dreadful, but inviting. For in my solitude with God, He reminded me He will use my story, with both its heartbreaks and victories, to bring glory back to Him. He will use my life as a blessing to others. He will teach me how to live freely and lightly in every challenge by focusing on Him.

The day ended far too soon. The silence had been loud. For I left encouraged knowing God will make my paths straight and use me for His purposes. With my eyes wide open and my heart receptive to Him, I will rest in my Heavenly Father despite what life may bring.

A Walk in the Cornfields

image001The end of the rope was near. Involved in several projects that were zapping my strength instead of replenishing it, I knew a break was necessary despite some very pressing deadlines. I was smack dab in the middle – the uncomfortable in between of roaring pressure and endless tasks. Working inside when I longed to be outdoors was tough, especially when summer fades into autumn. The crispness in the air was lovely, but unfortunately also a reminder these warm, sunny days luring me outside were limited in number.

I needed to pull back to sit down and relax on the inside. So I grabbed my dog, got in the car and headed north to walk in the cornfields of the numerous farms in the area. If you are in northern Illinois, it seemed like an appropriate way of taking a breather without shrinking back.

You can embrace quiet without giving in. You can say no to the hustle of your projects, of your life and still be saying yes in obedience. Choosing relaxation does not mean shutting down or worse, giving up. Chasing a still moment doesn’t mean your work has to suffer or you’ll miss an opportunity. Finding a way of putting up a Do Not Disturb sign is actually a gift to your soul.

Intentionally scheduling a quiet break when your soul has had enough and your body is exhausted is recognizing your limits. Society glorifies busy, but busyness can actually harm your relationship with God and others. Sometimes we just need the quiet to wrestle with our thoughts, to bathe in God’s love telling us we are brave, strong and beautiful. And to silently give control back to the One who always had it, God.

Frustration, anger and loneliness can cause tension when all you see are the piles, projects and programs and not the heart of God. Exodus 14:14 tells us, “The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still.” No matter how squeezed you feel, God can breathe in something new. He can tend to whatever wounds bruise your soul.

In the hushed quiet of cornstalks gently waving in the breeze, I recognized those things in my life that made my life worth living, my story worth telling. In a place of your own choosing, you also can find the same confidence, courage and dignity.

We must work. We must complete our projects. We must finish those daily checklists. But it is not normal to live so hurried. Our doing should never explain our being. When we are so busy doing, we tend to lose sight of all we are.

Yes, I got behind a little during my day on the farm. Yes, I felt the pressure of not pushing myself further. But the hushed cathedral of cornfields stretching as far as the eye could see brought a healing. As I walked among the silence, the pressure inside started to lessen and eventually turned to sweet relief. I didn’t know how much I craved the silence until all the noise disappeared. Then I was happy I had listened to the pull inside my heart to take the day and find a quieter place; a place that was washed with the presence of God.

The day brought radiance to my soul. That alone felt so good. Sometimes we need to savor the silence, to embrace rest and chose the unhurried path. Occasionally running the race He has called us to do means slowing down, embracing the silence and snuggling close to God. Only then can we unwind with relief.