When Things Change and It Changes You

Grief is disorienting.

The rushing waves of it can turn your head a direction your heart knows better than to go. It grabs your face and focuses inward – your perspective; your false sense of control; your empty spaces and broken heart.

It’s suffocating.

I didn’t know what I should say, just beginning this new journey of grief. The unknowns this year presented have bruised and broken my heart, and finding my way forward has proved draining and challenging.

No matter how prepared you think you might be for “whatever comes next,” it still somehow floods in when you aren’t looking – when you aren’t prepared for what will change and how it will change you.

Grief surges forward and brings it all to the surface; especially what you didn’t know was there. Every little lie your heart still held onto. Every flimsy, idolatrous hope you never realized still had a grasp. Every control-seeking bone in your body crying out to make things the way you wanted them to be.

All the different ways your soul asks, “Why?”

It’s a season of transitioning wrestling to learning how to swim – of waking up each morning and choosing to believe Truth in the face of lies that claim false promises of relief. It’s a season of surrendering broken pieces and choosing to believe there’s a way forward, even when it feels as if treading water is the only thing left. It’s a season of choosing to open deep wounds, knowing that is the way for true healing to begin.

It’s a season of letting it all wash away – and seeing still how He is there in the midst of it, cleaning up the mess, gently caring for the wounds, and making new things out of broken things.

That is sure and true. When the waters rise and the heart begins to lose hope, there is always a firm foundation beneath our feet, holding us up when we didn’t even see.

You Are Wanted

There is room for you here.

Sometimes you might feel a little lost – not sure what you’re doing or where you should be. But I hope you’ll always know: you belong.

And, sometimes, we just need to let ourselves belong.

I know that doesn’t always help. It seems like pointless advice when we’re not sure where we fit and uncertain if anything will ever be different in the years still to come. The way we thought life would feel doesn’t exist, slipping farther away with each day that nothing changes. We want to belong, but when it doesn’t happen naturally, quickly — the way we want it to – it seems like it never will.

There will be days that are uncomfortable and difficult. It won’t always feel like we’ve found our place. Why? Because this isn’t Home. It wasn’t meant to be. We’re all on a journey to the eternal Home that God is preparing for us – a place just for you. The place where you belong.

When it feels like you are not wanted here, all of Heaven is rejoicing in the fact that you belong in the family of Christ, and you are wanted.

But you are wanted here, too.

Since you belong to the family of Christ, we belong with each other. We need this community. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s beyond our comfort zone. Even when it means we have to set aside our idea of what belonging looks like to embrace the place we truly belong.

Even when it means we have to let ourselves sit at the table that wasn’t the one we expected, but is exactly where we’re supposed to be.

You belong there, too. Even if just for a season.

And for those seasons when you can’t find the table, and the hurt runs deep and the disappointment is overwhelming, something better is still coming. It may not come in this lifetime. I hope it does. But there is still a place for you. The welcome will be all the sweeter for those who were forgotten – those the world made feel unwanted.

You are wanted.

Things may not look the way we thought they would. But this is where we’re supposed to be. There is a reason, even when we cannot yet see.

The Year of Jubilee – End of the Year 2018

A little over a year ago, a couple of my friends told me they thought 2018 would be a year of jubilee. That’s why it has come up in a lot of what I’ve written lately. I hoped it would be true. My mind filled with thoughts of resolve and things new and different. But those things didn’t happen. In a way, I still feels like I’m standing here watching for that new season I thought would be here a long time ago – even though it seems new seasons may not mean different right now.

Yet, jubilee was so evident.

Not how I expected – not in the way I hoped. But the Lord has provided.

He has given me rest just when it seems like I’m about to run out of any strength I can find.

He has given me moments to grieve when I needed.

He has given me peace in taking the time to prioritize, even as my priorities constantly get reoriented beyond my control.

He has given a clear way forward, if only just a day at a time.

And He has given me the space to dream.

Everything in the world seems to be working against it – like hope is too costly for those who know pain – but the Lord keeps persistently pursuing my heart and shifting my perspective to see what He can do.

But I don’t know what He’s going to do next. It often feels like I’m stuck in a place of surrendering hope and everything I thought I wanted to do. I waited the years He asked me to wait, and I’m not sure what I’m now supposed to see.

So I’m going to do something I probably should have done a long time ago, but didn’t want to because of the vulnerability it required.

I’m going to acknowledge the unknown.

It seems so simple; putting words to what is already there. But for those of us who are big dreamers, relentless hopers, and long-waiting sufferers, unknowns feels like deferred, yet sure, disappointments.

The world is suddenly colored in shades of what probably will never be. After all, that is what we’re told.

Let go of your own ideas. Expect the unexpected. Acknowledge that His plans are better. Your hopes and ideas might as well fade into the background of only what could have been – not what will be.

It’s true life won’t go the way we think it will – we all have the scars and stories as proof.

But that does not mean He won’t provide.

It does not mean He won’t compel us to stop, breathe, and dream.

The unknown is where we’re supposed to dream. We’re supposed to be so grounded in what is – God’s goodness through His sovereignty, the protection of His grace, and the promise of a future secure – that we are enabled and empowered to keep moving and hoping for something better still to come.

It is coming. And I hope that it will be a part of your future here, as temporary as it may be. And I know we need to acknowledge it may not. And I know this eternal future accomplished for us through Christ is the most precious of all – far more than anything we could know to ask.

And yet, I will still stand here with you, calling this brokenness not the way it’s supposed to be, relentlessly hoping, anticipating, all the good things He has for you.

Standing here with you, reminding you this is part of the plan, but it is not all of the plan.

Standing here with you, placing hope on the altar, knowing the future is already unfolding, the Lord guarding it, ready to reverse what seems irreversible so you won’t miss it.

Standing here with you, asking, without guilt or shame.

Standing here with you, dreaming, wide-eyed and joy-filled over what could be next.

Standing here with you, confronting the unknown and digging down deep to grab hold of the trust and faith needed to call it goodeven when we don’t yet know what it is.

Because that is what He has done for me. That is what so many of you have done for me.

That was my year of jubilee.

People around me grabbing hold of that trust and faith, grabbing hold of me, and partnering with the Lord to create the space to dream and hope, even when it felt pointless.

So I know nothing better than to recognize 2019 as the year of the unknown. This is one of the first years I can remember where I literally have no idea what it will entail. I have no idea what’s next and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what all might still change and I don’t know what will still remain the same. It feels fragile and insecure, because it’s completely out of my control.

It’s unknown to me, but not to Him, and that is enough.

Jubilee is the mark of an end – a sigh of freedom at the conclusion of a long season.
It’s also the beginning – a celebration of provision and hope for what will happen in the seasons to come.

To get there, to what’s next, we have to journey through the unknown.

He will guide us along the way, so we don’t have to fear.

We just need to go.

Silence and Wisdom

September was nothing but a blur.

It seemed like time evaporated in a blink, but it only felt that way because I was forced to slow down and be silent. I was sick with some strange thing and mostly disappeared from the outside world for two weeks.

Now that I’m getting my footing again, it’s tempting to jump right back in. Slow and silent feels awkward and uncomfortable, like the whole world is just waiting for me to catch up to its pace.

Sometimes it feels like I can only make a difference if I’m constantly sharing my ideas and opinions. As a communicator, it’s what I’m supposed to do. After all, if we don’t express what we’re thinking, how will we ever encourage change?

But I’m also realizing in the same way there can be either wisdom or weapons delivered with the words we use, there can be wisdom or weapons in how and when we choose to stay silent. Both have their place. And I only want to use both for wisdom. I’m trying to figure out what that looks like.

It’s freeing to know how much we don’t know, and then to offer a listening ear instead of a well-crafted argument.

I don’t ever want to be the person who always has something to say at the expense of being the person who is always available to hear what others have to say. I don’t want to spend so much of the scarce space I’ve been given in time and energy only formulating opinions so that there’s never enough room to spend on relationships.

So, the past week especially, I’ve written and re-written a hundred things I wanted to say about what’s going on in the world. I wanted to share my stories and change minds. But then I didn’t. I sat in silence and processed how my past experiences shape my opinions, and how our wounds will probably always impact the way we interpret facts. I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I picked up my phone and met up with friends. We shared conversations — the kind that do the real work of creating safe places and opens the door to true healing.

And maybe it made a difference. I know it mattered.

When You Walk Through a Valley [Guest Post]

I’m so excited to introduce you to one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Laing Thompson! I love her writing, her heart, and her books, and I know you will too!

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Who doesn’t love Psalm 23? For three verses it’s all smiles and peace, all dancing through flowers.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters, 

   He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

If you’re like me, you read this and think, Woohoo! Christianity means I get to be happy, happy all the time! “Green pastures, quiet waters, restored soul”? Sign me up! “He guides me in paths of righteousness”? Yes, please!

But then we hit verse four, and our happy dance skips a beat: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Wait, what? Valleys and shadows and evil? That doesn’t sound very Psalm 23-ish. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.

We slow down, back up, and read verse four again.

 

             Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

 

Yes, we read it right. So what is Death Valley doing in the middle of Happy Land?

If the Good Shepherd Himself is leading us on paths of righteousness, how can we end up in the valley of the shadow of death—the dark place where evil lives? Did God’s GPS stop working? Did he abandon us mid-journey? It’s tempting to ignore our confusion and hurry past verse four, eager to get to the “my cup overflows” part at the end if the psalm. But let’s pause here for a minute. Let’s take a good hard look at the phrasing, the way verse three leads into verse four (I’m using the NIV, 1984):

 

              He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

             Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

 

So we start out in verse three with God leading us. We’re cavorting down paths of righteousness. Life is good! We’re godly and happy! And then something goes wrong…or does it?

Notice that the psalm writer, David, doesn’t say, “And then we wander off the path and abandon God’s righteous ways, and that’s how we end up in the valley of the shadow of death, being punished for our sins.” No—one minute we’re following our loving Shepherd down paths of righteousness; the next we’re in the valley of the shadow of death.

Do you get what this means? Sometimes God’s righteous paths take us to the dark places. Sometimes God Himself leads us into the valley. We’re still on the path, still being righteous, still in the loving care of the Shepherd, but His righteous path is leading us where we don’t want to go—so close to death we feel its shadow.

It’s big, the valley of the shadow of death. Mile after mile of barren wilderness. The path through stretches long—no shortcuts across. The path of righteousness may wander around dark lands for days, weeks, months—even years.

Perhaps you’ve walked those dim paths before. Perhaps you’re walking them now. It goes something like this:

You’re graduating from college, faithful to God. It should be the best time in your life—the future stretching wide, so many options—but… you can’t find a direction. Everyone else has a Great Life Plan—how they love revealing those plans in Epic Social Media Announcements!—but you just feel lost. Lost and alone.

You’re sad. Endlessly sad. You don’t know why, and you can’t pull out. You pray, you work on yourself, you try to get help, but the sadness remains.

Your biological clock is sending off insistent daily alarms—BABY TIME BABY TIME BABY TIME—but every month, your own body betrays you.

I’ve walked paths like these many times in my life: a season of unrequited love, a season of infertility, a season of career frustration, a season of loneliness after a difficult move. In times like this, fear rises. Confusion reigns. We start doubting God, doubting ourselves: What did I do wrong? Is God mad at me? Does this suffering mean I’m being punished? Did I accidentally wander off the path of righteousness?

Psalm 23 says no. God says no.

There is more to Christianity—and life—than quiet naps by gentle streams. There’s deep comfort for dark times. Living under our Shepherd’s protection and care doesn’t mean we will never wait, never suffer, never experience disappointment, decay, or delay. God doesn’t promise us an escape from hardship; He promises to guide and protect us as we go through hardship, all the way to the other side. No matter how dark the path. No matter how long the journey. That’s the real message of Psalm 23.

The more I think about this truth, the more beautiful this psalm becomes. Because who lives beside quiet waters all the time? Who experiences a life of constant peace and endless blessing? Not me! Sometimes I have, sometimes I do, but not always. Not today.

Psalm 23 doesn’t promise a life of never-ending peace and happiness; it promises strength and help and hope through all life’s ups and downs. We have a Shepherd who loves us and meets all our needs. He knows when we need rest, and He knows how to provide it. And when He leads us down into the valley, He does not leave us alone. His rod and staff—His presence—are there to comfort and guide us all along the way.

We may have times when we’re wandering, but we’re not wandering alone. We may have times when we’re sad, but we’re not sad alone. We may have times when we’re waiting, but we’re not waiting alone.

He is for us, He is with us, and if we will just keep to the righteous path, He will guide us all the way across the valley, however long it takes. Eventually, He will help us find our footing as the path climbs back up the mountainside. We may be out of breath when we reach the top, homesick and road-weary, but He’ll urge us to rest beside a bubbling mountain stream. He’ll ask if we’d like some water, and we’ll hold out our cup and say, “Yes please.”

 

 

Elizabeth Laing Thompson
Elizabeth Laing Thompson writes at LizzyLife.com about clinging to Christ through the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist, she loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. She is the author of When God Says, “Wait, ”and When God Says, “Go.” Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four miracle kids, and they were totally worth the wait.

You can connect with Elizabeth on her author site, Facebook, and Instagram.

Hope Lives

Hope is safe on the altar.

Placing hope on the altar can feel like a contradiction to what we’re supposed to do. I tell myself that if I can hold on, just keep my grasp a little tighter, then hope will lead to realization. But usually it just leads to fear, and disappointment that things did not unfold the way I thought they would.

I’ve been trying so hard to pursue my dreams and I just don’t want to let them go. Letting go seems like a prerequisite to dreams dying, the future dying, never to be resurrected again. And I don’t want to be okay with unfulfilled desires and redirected plans.

I’ve continually come back to Sarah and Abraham’s story over the last few years, asking God not to allow me to see my future with eyes like Sarah; laughing and refusing to believe He would do what I thought He wanted with my life. The solution seemed to be holding dreams so tightly that no one could take them from me.

But life turned upside down, everything felt vulnerable, and I knew He was asking me to place all the pieces of my life on the altar. He promised that when He was done – adding, taking away, rearranging – they would fit back together again. He would give, but only after I first surrendered.

Then I read Hebrews 11 the other morning. It says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice…Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

He knew Isaac was safe, even if he had to die. God’s promise was safe, because He would reverse what is irreversible to fulfill what He said He would do. Abraham believed. He trusted. He obeyed. He let dreams die knowing they could not stay dead if God willed for them to live.

Our God-planted hopes and dreams are safe, too. We can place them on the altar. We can let them fade from our grasp. We can let Him do what He will. When the time is right, He will resurrect them and put the pieces back together. Nothing can keep you from what He will do in your life. The altar is where fear dies; not hope. Idols are crushed. Anxiety is restrained. Satan is thwarted. And hope lives.

Prepare. Fight. Go.

I was just beginning to fall asleep last night when the thought entered my mind: What about Psalm 34?
 
I know I’ve read the passage before, but I couldn’t recall it in that sleepy moment. I made a mental note to remember to look it up in the morning. Still, the words kept pressing on my heart so distinctly it felt like someone was whispering into my ear right beside me.
 
Psalm 34.
 
I don’t remember what I was thinking in that moment which prompted the question. I do know what’s been on my heart the last six months, and that my heart has been constantly searching for an answer — a response to the prayer from the beginning of that season to have new understanding of His goodness.

Psalm 34:7.
 
With squinted eyes and the words still ringing in my ears, I read it and began to understand.
 
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

Delivers.

Verse 4 says God delivered — natsal, tore away — David from his fears.

This morning I looked up the original Hebrew word for “delievers” from verse 7: Chalats – To be equipped; prepared for war; to draw out. To go equipped.
 
Fight. Go.

Two words that have been significant to me throughout the last three years.
 
And I love this passage shows the process of being prepared to fight, to go equipped, goes along with a season of tearing away from what’s holding us back.
 
No wonder it hurts so much. But it’s drawing us out to receive the promise we’ve been given: Seek the Lord and you will lack no good thing. In order to get there, we just have to be willing to be rescued. 

He will tear us away from our fear to equip us for us every good thing He has prepared. We will not miss out. He’ll bring the pieces together.

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| Psalm 34 |

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me [tore me away] from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers [equips] them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.