Welcome to the "Journal Of Our Journey". My husband and I married in May 2000. We are the proud parents of a handsome 11 year-old son, our li'l Razorback, and a beautiful 7 year-old girl, our li'l Tarheel! Once an RN, right now my full-time job is being an Army wife and homeschool mom. My husband surrendered to the Lord's ministry and is a Chaplain in the US Army.
The soil beneath my gloved hands felt loose, tender, and cool. It felt good to turn over the dirt in that clay pot. I churned and aerated its contents. The smell was earthy, its color black. It held moisture and promise. I dug my hands in, filled my palms, lifted them up, and let the dark particles fall back into their container. And instantly I remembered how much I look forward to this springtime ritual of sewing in soil. There is nothing quite like the comfort and thrill of gardening.
This spring season, my gardening efforts were small. They consisted of 2 small pots near our back door which I filled with flowers of varying and beautiful colors - not expensive but lovely still. Nothing like the raised bed gardens filled with herbs and vegetables I’ve had in the past. Or the rose bushes I’ve tenderly nurtured. Or the porches I’ve adorned with ferns and foliage. Where we live now has no yard or porches. We have a stoop out back that holds my only hope for gardening of any sort.
This place where I am is not what I wished for. Not where I want to be. But I am where I am. Better said, I am where God has me. This is not a place I would’ve chosen for myself. I don’t want to be here, much less be here long. But I am here. And I don’t know for how long. I am waiting on God, trusting in His timing, listening for his voice, and seeking His wisdom and guidance. And while I am here, I want to find the joy God has for me - even in this season of being where I don’t want to be. God gives us joy for our journey, no matter where that journey takes us. Jesus gives abundant life and because of Him I am never alone. I may not be where I long to be in life, but I can still celebrate in the place I am. Count the joys. Mark the seasons. Enjoy life. Plant the flowers.
Next to my clay pot of promise were three beautiful plantlings purchased that day from a local nursery - one vibrant in color, one a neutral white with trailing blooms, and one a deep, rich color that would vine and sprawl. I dug dirt wells with my gloved hands and nestled each plantling into the rich soil. My teenage son (talk about watching something grow!) came out to help me water - giving each plant an ample drink. I tidied up a bit and took a step back to admire. To celebrate the beauty, color, life, and seasons. And I smiled. I’m not where I want to be but He is here with me. And there is life and beauty even here.
Come thou Fount of every blessing- Tune my heart to sing Thy grace...
Come, Lord - the one who is the source and creator of all the blessings we see and seek - come tune the off-key strings of my heart so they make a joyful song as they are played. A song that sings beautifully of the riches you've given us at Christ's expense. Repair those strings which have been overstretched beyond their tuning. Relax those that have been wound up tight by misuse.
Hearts were made to sing and worship. My heart will sing a song - whether one of beauty, harmony, and joy or a dismal tune, focused on self and disappointment. Father, I give you permission to enter my heart and tune the rusty, dusty strings so that what outpours rings out loud and clear of your melody of love. Only you can change the tune. Your love can change my song.
Stir the slumbering chords again.
In my heart there rings a melody.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it- Prone to leave the God I love...
Like a once tuned piano whose notes are now dissonant, the strings of my heart will lose their pitch. It happens over time, as my gaze slips, as other things fill my heart - a drift occurs and those strings loosen. I am prone to this, Lord. You know it well. Take my heart and seal it - preserve this tuning and pruning that you've brought about. Come in again and tune my heart to sing your praise alone.
Where this quote originated I’m not entirely sure. And the internet was not much help in assigning it an author. Various versions of it seem to have flourished throughout the last several centuries. But I know where it comes from in my life. My Papa. These words could be heard rolling off the eloquent tongue of my grandfather quite often. It was his “go to” phrase. He was fond of it and had a keen awareness of exactly when to insert it where it would be most beneficial. At a crucial time of stress and sorrow in my own life, he called all those in our proximity to prayer and he uttered these words: Let us practice the presence of Jesus. I’m telling you, instant peace; instant calm.
Practice the presence of Jesus.
In other words (as if it needs an explanation), if Jesus were here with you now, how would that change the challenge that you’re facing? How would that alter your perspective and therefore alter your thoughts and actions? This results in a major paradigm shift.
The truth is if Jesus were here, all hope would never be lost. If Jesus were present, his strength wouldn’t be in short supply. With Jesus here, his wisdom would abound as we ask. In Jesus’ presence, there is no brokenness that cannot be healed. Even death doesn’t get the final word with Jesus here.
We celebrate it each Easter and the Christian knows it to be true: we can always practice the presence of Jesus because he is always here. Omniscience is an attribute belonging to him alone. It sets him apart from all other things we can worship. Jesus spoke it to us like this: I will never leave you nor forsake you. He didn’t just incarnate himself and come as Emmanual (God with us) to us (though that is miraculous beyond comprehension!) — he came, yes, and he remains with us still. His Spirit abides with us and in us.
So when the ground beneath you begins to quake, you can practice the presence of Jesus. When we feel the hurricane swirl of chaos gaining strength in our lives, we must practice the presence of Jesus. When greater pain than I can bear hits me like a bat, I will practice the presence of Jesus. When we hear about the diagnosis, we will practice the presence of Jesus. When loneliness is your only companion, you must practice the presence of Jesus. When hope seems lost for good, let us practice the presence of Jesus.
R. E. S. T. It is 4:30 PM and my family is home with me from all the day’s activities. Each of us is in his or her own quiet corner of this apartment. The day is winding down and I am sitting down in my chair. My reading, thinking, “taking it easy” chair. This is new for me. A far cry from where I was a year ago, or in years’ past. The summer heat is still stifling outside this window, brightly blazing with the sun’s light and energy. But inside me, a new season has arrived. A season of rest which I know not how long it will last but that it is definitely here.
My feet are up on the beige ottoman I purchased at a discount price from Target - no doubt on one of those busy days from time past. My feet are up! I am winding down. This is new for me. I feel anxious for nothing at this moment. I find myself mindfully aware of the golden setting sunlight streaming in this room through my blinds - in the shape of long bars. The air circulating here is cool and the white noise is pleasant.
In the stillness of my soul, I feel the Great Comforter urging me to rest in this moment. He is telling me that this resting moment is me at his feet, indulging in the rest he has brought me in this new season. Instead of the spinning tilt-a-whirl that life can be (and has been for me) at 4:30pm, he beckons me to green pastures and still waters.
He knew I needed this. After the last 14 months, I need this. Heck, after the last 14 years, I need this. After the last nearly 40 years, I need this. I will always need the rest he provides. It will not always be at 4:30pm in my favorite chair with feet propped. But it will come. He will provide. Just as I plan diligently for my own children’s naps and bedtimes, so the Good Father plans seasons of rest for me. And I must take them. I will take this one. For I know that soon enough, yea, I may walk through a shadowy valley; I may feast with my enemies; I may be anointed for his sacred service.
And, too, I know that his goodness and mercy - including seasons of rest - will follow me all my days.
Our family is leaving the ministry. At least for a season. The reasons that have led us to this place are both deeply personal and painful. I definitely feel it is what’s best for us for now but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m still having to wrestle with this at a soul level.
I’m struggling as I grapple for a new identity outside one where we are formally laboring for Christ as a way of life - and a paying job. As I searched for metaphors and reached for things of comparison to help me process and understand, this analogy came to mind. It’s as if there’s this huge venue where God is on stage and the feature presentation is His Kingdom and its advancement. As those who labor for him in full-time vocational ministry, it feels like we get a front row seat to what God is doing. Like the first 3 rows at a concert that are reserved for certain individuals, we are front and center to Kingdom work.
Stepping out of ministry feels like being asked to move from Row 2 Seat 8 to Row 84 Seat 14. No longer down in front, there’s a feeling of being relegated to ordinary regularity in the Kingdom. Once you’ve been down front, you like being there - like it’s vantage point, like having your finger on the pulse of ministering to people, and like the proximity of the platform and microphone for declaring the gospel to a world who desperately needs it.
Having been a military family for quite some time now, allow me to use an Army analogy inside this venue analogy to further explain. In the Army, a special tab (or patch) is reserved for those individuals who have persevered through and answered the calling of Ranger School. It can proudly be worn on the individuals uniform for the remainder of his/her career. This patch is a distinguished one and simply says “Ranger”. There is another patch, although not worn on uniforms, that I’ve seen floating around which is similar in shape and size but its wording is a humorous way of describing everyone else who couldn’t (or wouldn’t even try to) cut it in Ranger School. It says “Regular Guy”.
Going from Ranger to Regular Guy, so to speak, is proving to be a tough transition for me. But when I think deeply about what it means to be a gospel-centered person, I realize that my position in Christ is unaffected by which row or seat I’m in. My place as his daughter in the family of God is still secure. I am no more nor no less loved by moving a few rows back. My ability to obey, glorify, and please him through the work of my hands won’t change either - because, whether sacred or secular, I’ll be doing all that my hands find to do as if I’m working for the Lord. My seat may have changed but my position in Christ hasn’t.
If I can be permitted to carry out my large venue analogy a little further, here’s one additional observation. When it comes to serving in the upside down Kingdom of Christ, maybe I’ve had it all wrong to begin with. Who God has really called us to be as servants of his Kingdom probably looks less like a VIP and a lot more like those ushers who met us at the door and guided us to our seat. They labor in various ways, at various spots throughout the arena, doing various tasks - none greater than the other. But all serve with one task in mind - to usher in as many people into their seats as they can before the lights go down.
We’re getting ready to sign a lease on an apartment. I realize that to some that might seem like an amazingly exciting thing. And at previous points in my life I would have agreed with elated anticipation. But deciding on this apartment has felt like deciding between something I don’t want and something else I don’t want.
Backstory: I’m preparing for the 14th move in my life. I am almost 40, but still - that’s a lot of moving around! This move has a deeper sting to it and I feel myself growing even more resistant to its coming. It is a product of the circumstances that result from poor choices plus the challenge of a major life transition, all rolled up and tied with the bow of unemployment. Sounds less than desirable, eh?
But even in the midst of this chaos and disappointment, I am being reminded and shown how the steadfast love of the Lord endures. His mercies remain new each morning. I am still being fed manna and quail daily by my heavenly Father. And I feel much like the Israelites must have when they wandered in what probably seemed like an aimless pattern for what must have seemed like an endless period of time.
I can’t see the future more than a half-step in front of me, but I know who is planning the longer path ahead. And I know ultimately where the path will take me at my journey’s end. He then is all my hope and stay - and I can trust him now.
At the moment, He is giving us shelter, warmth and cool, running water, and privacy in the form of a 3 bedroom apartment. I can’t establish the garden my green thumb is longing for, but He is tending to the tender soil of my heart. There is a quiet wooded space behind our unit - perfect for hanging a hammock - along with a view of a wooded mountain close by. And our children are giddy over the beautiful pool a stone’s throw away.
God knows me and made me inside and out. My frame (how I am made up from the inside) has not been hidden from him. He knows how my heart longs for a beautiful home I can nest and design and make my very own as we love and raise our family within its walls. He has been there for each of the long days and lonely nights we’ve lived the nomadic life of a military family and he’s familiar with my longings for a forever home - a space that I don’t have to leave behind in a couple of years when duty calls. He sees my displeasure at the thought of another transition - yet another place to try to see if I can make one of the curtains from my extensive collection do the trick yet again.
But he also knows what’s coming. He can see around that next bend (and the next one and so on), and so He knows what I need today and tomorrow. Each day it seems I find myself working through a new or different emotion - not knowing whether I should push, pull, run, sit, jump, or scream. I know this to be normal as I work on accepting what is (my reality) and at the same time acknowledging what’s happened (my past).
A constant for me through the daily onslaught of emotions is this: I MUST TRUST GOD. I must. In quietness and trust is my strength.1 That’s not to say I don’t have a lot TO say. Boy, do I. Probably too much, if you ask those closest to me. But My strength isn’t found in those many words.
In quietness and trust is my strength.
My strength is found in the soul-stilling quietness that the Shepherd of Psalm 23 affords me. It’s the confidence that being the daughter of a proven Victor brings. It’s in the unfailing love of the Lord, parceled out to me each day in small and sizable ways.
In the community of believers we chose to worship amongst today we were challenged by the worship leader to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” And my soul responded with both “Amen” and “Hallelujah”.
For us, there are no other hedges around our bets, no other back-up plans, no contingency strategies to fall on. We are solely and completely dependent upon the gracious right hand of the Lord.
I can honestly say: The Lord is the Refuge and Stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?2
Thank goodness: Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”3