"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
We are all waiting. Each day we all find ourselves waiting in one way or another. We wait in line at the grocery story. We wait for our flight to arrive. We wait for the stoplight to turn green and we wait for our much anticipated Christmas package to finally be delivered to us. Sometimes we are more patient than others, but through it all we’ve come to understand that these delays are not only to be expected, they’re inevitable. Waiting is just part of life. But when it comes to our relationship with our Heavenly Father, it’s one of the most important parts.
To illustrate this, I want to tell you about a tree called the lodgepole pine. It’s a tree that primarily grows in the Northwest US and like so many other examples in creation it tells a story of the Father’s heart toward us. This particular pine is so interesting because of the way it reproduces itself. Each cone on these trees is covered with a very thick resin, which protects and seals the seeds inside the cone until the proper time. As they fall to the ground they often remain under the tree for years at a time, seemingly unfruitful because there is only one thing that can release them. Heat. HIGH heat. In fact studies have shown that forest fires are one of the only naturally occurring events that are hot enough to melt this resin and release the seeds into the soil. A warm summer day or a heat wave simply won’t cut it it. As are result, there are often incredibly dense forests of lodgepole pines simply because of all the seed-filled cones which were grouped together on the ground; each one waiting for their environment to be just right for them to do what they were created to do. And you know what? After the fire has come and gone these trees absolutely thrive in the midst of what seems like complete devastation. Their seeds love the carbon rich soil left over from a fire and their seedlings pop up almost immediately after the blaze has subsided, revealing a brand new creation. To the lodgepole pine, fires are not only anticipated, they’re essential.
As we enter this Christmas season each of us is likely waiting on something far more important than a much anticipated gift or the thinning of a grocery line. We are waiting on God. Some of us are waiting for a better health report. Some may be praying for restoration of a family member and many still may be waiting for direction on what feels like an impossible decision. No matter what we are looking to Jesus for, he knows our struggle. He went through the fire too. And just like the lodgepole pine, he is carefully crafting us to be used by him and for him at exactly the right time. The heat that we experience in our trials and struggles is certainly uncomfortable, but it is beautifully essential to our growth in Christ. You see it is in the heat of the waiting where we discover what we were made for. It’s a refining process where we move beyond just knowing about our Father and we’re lead into a place of deep intimacy and trust in him. We learn to depend on him in our trial because after all the things we thought defined us are burned away, he’s all we have left. As we intently seek the Lord in our waiting and in our fires, we will always find our purpose and discover his heart. Nothing is wasted.
So if today you find yourself in the fire, be encouraged. What often appears to us as complete devastation, certain death or total loss is at this very moment being carefully re-made by the hands of our loving Father. So whatever it is you find yourself waiting on, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of a brand new miracle.
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
The other morning I woke up, sat down, prayed that God would show me something in His word and then asked that He would tell me what to do with it... here it is.
I’m currently reading the book of John chapter 4, where John recalls Jesus declaring His Messiahship to the woman at the well. He begins describing this metaphor for living water and never thirsting again, but in this passage she just wasn't following Him. Jesus was trying to speak to her spiritual needs and when that didn’t work, He kind of called her out.
Now, I don’t want to make Jesus sound rude or insensitive, but He knows us, right? Sometimes (often times) we need to be told straight up, how things are in our lives. I am a real person and I need to be talked to in the same way. Too much fluff and flowers and you can lose my very direct, straight forward mind.
This woman at the well had been with several men and Jesus brought it up to her. She was at the well at a time when no one else was, due to what I imagine was great shame and shunning by her community. But Jesus met her there AND acknowledged her.
After talking with Jesus, the woman was so moved by her encounter with Him, the one who knew all of her sins and still offered her an eternal “well of life." He showed up and her shame left. Scripture says that she left her waterpot at the well and went straight to the townspeople in the city to tell them of her experience with this man called Jesus!
I have read this story before and I've heard this story told in sermons several times, but when I read it the other morning, it seemed different in some way.
The shameful woman at the well was no longer the focus in my mind.
Her sin was no longer the focus of this story for me.
It was her going immediately to the townspeople and telling them about her encounter with Jesus.
Here is this woman, who wouldn't even collect water at a well when others did, leaving her waterpot, and going to the townspeople to declare boldly about her meeting with this man who "told (her) all things that (she) ever did!"
For a woman with her reputation, bringing up past sin wouldn't normally be an encouraging thing (I mean, who would enjoy that?)...but it wasn't about her sin. It was that this man, Jesus, knew her sin and STILL HE MET WITH HER. Still He acknowledged her. Still He offered her what He knew she needed most.
When we encounter the LOVE of Jesus...the grace filled, forgiving LOVE of Jesus, we are compelled! We run! We share it! WE LOSE OUR SHAME.
Shame that keeps us hidden away, disconnected from loved ones, drowning our feelings of worthlessness or self pity in anything and everything. Sometimes it's substances and sometimes it's other relationships. Sometimes it's actions, things we do, and other times it's things we buy or partake in. But guess what? Typically those things create more shame or only a temporary haze to keep our shame just out of view for a little while. None of those things take it away though.
But here, in just a moment... it was gone. And as a result, she reached out to others who were then so moved by her words, her testimony, that they left the city and went to find Jesus.
How often do we let fear of others or influence of others keep us from sharing what God has done in our lives or better yet, BROUGHT US THROUGH? We've all done things, said things, experienced things that we are not proud of. That's called sin.
My name is Ashley, and I am a sinner. I sin. Every day. Major bummer.
Ok, now that that's out of the way, guess what?....
There is forgiveness for that, BUT....and it's a big one...there is also an undeniable influence in that! When we turn our shame into a testimony of what God has done, that brings Him GLORY! And glory is evidence of Him; it's showing the world that my God is real, and here's how...
"But I don't want to share this horrible thing with others!" ...no one is making you, but if you have come out of it, whatever situation "it" is or was, there is a story to tell. Maybe your ending was better than you could've imagined, or maybe it was worse than anything you've ever experienced...either way, don't let the shame keep you at the well by yourself.
Maybe you're there, at the well, pulling up your bucket and you don't even see Jesus anywhere, so how could you possibly hear from Him?
Ask Him to meet you at the well. Sitting by yourself with nothing but your shame, looking for something, anything, that will fill the longing you have. the thirst. the hunger.
He will meet you. But you've gotta be at the well...that place of humility where you know no one else is gonna show up and sit with you. It's gonna be hard. But if we don't all go there at some point, our shame will keep us so far from the one who takes away our sin. The one who breathes life and love back into us again.
I think that's why God gave me these words. Too many people I know are walking through tough things right now, but not sharing it with anyone because of their shame. Because of their concern with other people's perception of them or their situation.
Maybe you know someone who is walking through something right now. And man, it looks bad. It's covered in filth and what looks like a long road and so you've just checked out. You've left them in the middle of their shame, all for a little less "ick" and a lot more comfort on your end. I get it. I've been there before too. But maybe try and revisit that person or situation. Maybe it's only in prayer, but maybe it's also in person. There's nothing that says "I'm here for you" like a warm, living, breathing, body knocking on your door.
So I want to challenge you. I want you to think about your life, or maybe it's someone else's life that comes to mind, and I want you to pray and ask God to help you. Maybe helping you looks like bringing you to a place of humility, so that you can make your way to the well. Or maybe helping you looks like the Holy Spirit giving you courage and grace to step back into someone's life who could really use a friend...and if you have a box of donuts and a movie, those wouldn't hurt to carry on you either.
Sometimes we need those too.
With love & laughter,
1st Photo by Qang Jaka on Unsplash
2nd Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash
3rd Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash
For those of you who are walking through a difficult season right now this excerpt from A Praying Life by Paul Miller might be exactly what you need.
People of faith live in the desert. Like Abraham, they are aware of the reality of their circumstances but are fixed on hope. Paul describes how “in hope (Abraham) believed against hope” (Romans 4:18).
The hardest part of being in the desert is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.
A desert can be almost anything. It can be a child who has gone astray, a difficult boss, or even your own sin or foolishness. Maybe you married your desert.
God customizes deserts for each of us. Joseph’s desert is being betrayed and forgotten in an Egyptian jail. Moses lives in the Midian desert as an outcast for forty years. The Israelites live in the desert for forty years. David runs from Saul in the desert. All of them hold on to the hope of God’s Word, yet face the reality of their situations.
The theme of the desert is so strong in Scripture that Jesus reenacts the desert journey at the beginning of his ministry by fasting for forty days in a desert while facing Satan’s temptation. His desert is living with the hope of the resurrection yet facing the reality of His Father’s face turned against Him at the cross.
The Father turning His face against you is the heart of the desert experience. Life has ended. It no longer has any point. You might not want to commit suicide, but death would be a relief. It’s very tempting to survive the desert by taking the bread of bitterness offered by Satan – to maintain a wry, cynical detachment from life, finding a perverse enjoyment in mocking those who still hope.
God takes everyone He loves through a desert. It is His cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. Here’s how it works.
The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food.
The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face to face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.
Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic you.
Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. Things that used to be important no longer matter.
After a while you notice your real thirsts.
The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because He’s the only game in town.
You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discovered in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.
The best gift in the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. When you go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” He is right next to you. The protective love of the Shepherd gives you the courage to face the interior journey.
When you don’t receive what you pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t acting on your behalf. Rather, He is weaving His story. Paul tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians). Thanksgiving helps us to be grace-centered, seeing all of life as a gift. It looks at how God’s past blessings impact our lives. Watchfulness alerts us to the unfolding drama in the present. It looks for God’s present working as it unfolds into future grace.
Watch for the story God is weaving in your life. Don’t leave the desert. The best is yet to come.
Excerpts taken from A Praying Life by Paul Miller
In the book of Exodus we read about Moses and his great deliverance of the Israelites. After the Israelites left Egypt they wandered around in the wilderness for forty years waiting on God to lead them to the promised land. While they were in the wilderness, the Israelites started to complain about how Moses saved them. They were slaves back in Egypt but compared to just wandering around in the desert with no food, the slave life in Egypt was looking pretty good! We read in Exodus chapter 16 that the Israelites started grumbling and complained to Moses, “We had meat in Egypt but then you had to go and lead us out so that we could starve out here in the desert!”
Of course, there was no food in the desert. How were they to survive? Why would God lead them out of Egypt only to bring them to a desert? Don’t we feel like we’re in the wilderness sometimes? We feel like God leads us somewhere only to abandon us. I know this feeling quite well.
Media- you’re everywhere. You’re so loud that it’s deafening.
You’re deafening our ears to hear truth,
blinding our eyes to see direction,
yet somehow amplifying our mouths to speak opinion…
to speak our views or judgements we’ve formed from you, Media,
with our deafened ears and our blinded eyes.
We have become like overly pompous horses.
We appear grand, strong, powerful, galavanting the great wild world,
yet with bridle and bit in mouth, our stance is directed by someone else.
By something else.
It’s you, Media.
What is truth anymore?
We’ve taken this guiding light and altered it to fit our perception of reality.
But that’s not truth.
We seem to have lost what truth is.
We no longer seek it earnestly, instead we settle for being led by uncertainty.
What happened to education? Where have all of the books gone?
We no longer thumb through pages of factual information,
rather settle for a comment feed without any rationalization.
Where do our convictions lie? I can’t seem to find them.
What was once an internal voice of logical process
is now a methodical scroll thumbed thoughtless.
Our hearts seem to be led by self-righteousness, no longer led by love.
Our words led by “likes,” as if that were ever enough.
We are affirmed by our “friends” and motivated by a “follow,”
all of which returns void when what we post is hard to swallow.
So we settle in for hate and slander, all done through our words.
So gratified in our voice, finally being heard.
But what have we accomplished? What’s been made better?
We still live in a virtual world, filled with friends who are fair-weathered.
We have to put down our devices and stand up with our back bones.
Get out of this world’s vices and find our way back home.
Because home is where we left it, where we lost all of our hope.
Where we chose our own knowledge, our own truth, when He warned us, “No, don’t!”
Now we’ve let the enemy in, and he’s running all amok.
And we’re all just looking for hope again, with no such luck.
We’re crying out to leaders; we’re giving them the blame.
But they’ll never be able to hear our cries, because our hope has a name.
Jesus is our hope, the way, the truth, the life.
Watch as He’s running after us, His forever, eternal bride.
So Media, I’m using you now, to accomplish some good.
To remind a hopeless people, that their pain is understood.
I’m unplugging the deafened ears and removing bridle and bit.
To no longer be guided by the world and constantly listening to it.
For my hope, He has a name, and His father suffered great loss.
They both know our feelings of pain, for their pain involved a cross.
And right now ours does too, a crossroads of sorts.
Do we buy into this Hope? Or stand idle with abhor.
If we want to go to battle in this never ending strife,
We must make sure we are standing behind lines worthy of our lives.
The fight we choose will be costly, no matter which side.
So we must be sure we choose wisely and set aside our pride.
I have chosen to seek the Truth, while He may still be found.
I want to have eyes that see and ears that hear, when the trumpet sounds.
If curiosity has sparked, a twinkling in your eyes,
ask me all your questions but tell me no more lies.
This Truth for you is free, for the price has far been paid.
So rest assured you weary heart, do not be dismayed.
For what Hope did for me, He’s also done for you.
And where Media, you confuse us, our Hope, you will speak Truth.
Our Savior will come through.
Taking hold of that Hope,
Pain in this life is a given.
It is unavoidable.
It will happen.
It is a foolish endeavor to attempt to avoid it touching our lives. Seasons of pain come and go. Sometimes the season is short but sometimes those seasons seem endless. Sometimes the pain is of our own doing, a consequence of a rebellious spirit. Other times, we are blindsided by life and we find ourselves in the crosshairs of a fallen world.
What do we do when we find ourselves in a season of unrelenting pain and hardship? If pain is inevitable, then there must be some kind of help out there for the afflicted, some Divine provision for a hurting soul.
Maybe we need to change our understanding of pain and it’s purpose in our lives. Sometimes it just helps to know something has purpose.
What would happen if we saw pain as a tool? Then recognizing how that tool is used in our lives would be hugely significant.
Let me explain.
If pain is a tool, then we need to recognize whose hands hold the tool.
If the tool finds its way into the hands of the enemy, we can be sure that it will be used to cripple us, maybe even destroy us. We know the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. John 10:10
But, if the tool finds itself in the hands of a loving Father, then we can be assured that the tool will be used to chisel and shape us into something beautiful. We could then claim Romans 8:28 with absolute certainty. We could know beyond any shadow of a doubt that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Armed with that assurance, we could stand up under the weight of any pain.
We don’t often have a choice as to whether pain enters our lives or not, but when it does, we do get to choose whose hands will hold the tool.
Choose your carpenter wisely.
Have a great week,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Yesterday was a first of an upcoming year of firsts. In January, my mom went home – to her real home. So this was my first Mother’s Day without a mom, without my Mama. I really wanted to just move on past the day and pretend that it wasn’t Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way so I just kinda muddled through the day.
I was so blessed to have precious friends send sweet texts throughout the day. One even made the most amazing cake to let me know that she was thinking about me. I was blessed to have most of my children with me but, and I hate to admit this, I just wasn’t feeling overly grateful for the blessings that were around me.
This morning a sweet friend said, “You made it through your first ‘first’. You did it.” She knows what she’s talking about because she has walked this same road. She knows that there will be many “firsts” this year. As I left her house to head home, I started thinking about how much I don’t want to just make it through the next year of “firsts”.
As I drove, I began to become so aware of my ungrateful heart. God had so lovingly surrounded me with loving friends and family and I had just neglected to recognize it. But then He brought a precious memory to my mind. I want to share it with all of you, especially any of you who, like me, have a year of “firsts” ahead.
Back in January, early on a Monday morning, my Dad called to let me know that he thought Mama had just had a stroke and she was in the ambulance on her way to the hospital. We had made several trips to the hospital over the last few months. Her health had been declining and her body was worn out. I remember that my only prayer on the way to the hospital was just that God would be merciful and that her suffering would not escalate even more.
When we got to the hospital, she was on a respirator and was heavily sedated. We were told that she had had a catastrophic brain bleed. After a few more tests and much prayer, the decision was made to remove the respirator. That night, her family surrounded her as she took her last breath.
One by one, family left the room until the only two left were my son, Dalton, and me. His eyes were swollen and red and I knew his heart was crushed. I didn’t want to leave him in the room by himself so I just stood there, watching him out of the corner of my eye. My own heart was so heavy as the finality of what had happened sank in.
But as we stood there in that dark, cold room the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, Dalton’s eyes grew wide and his whole face lit up. “Mama, just think what she’s seeing right now…can you imagine what she’s seeing right now!” It was as if God had cracked the door to heaven just enough to allow us a tiny glimpse of what the real reality was. The whole room seemed to light up.
His words washed over me like a river of healing water as I was reminded that the empty shell lying in the hospital bed was nothing more than just that, a shell. But my Mama, well, she was face to face with her Savior. No more pain. She was free. And maybe, she was even dancing.
The reality of what death is for those of us who belong to Christ had escaped me for just a moment. But my son’s words reminded me that the truth is, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)
Who was I to want anything else for her?
So, as I drove home today, I realized that I, again, had lost sight of the truth. I confessed my ungratefulness to my Father and asked that He renew a right spirit in me. I told Him that for the rest of my year of “firsts” without my Mama, I was going to celebrate her year of “firsts” with Him. I was going to just imagine what she was seeing and how she looked now that she was fully healed.
I also had to smile because I’m pretty sure she is rearranging all the furniture in the Mansion and telling the angels what to do.
Have a great week!
Yesterday was a big day for the family. Dalton, child number 3, graduated from The University of South Carolina. Three Marlowe children down, one to go. To make things even more special, Robert, whom I claim as one of my own was also graduating.
Because we are so academically oriented, we all headed to Columbia for the momentous occasion. Actually, that’s a lie. We mainly get excited over these kinds of things because it gives us an excuse to get the families together and, well, eat. And, because it wouldn’t be right to celebrate the occasion without actually attending the graduation, we decided that it was only appropriate that we go.
Certainly picture taking is also an important part of such occasions, not as important as food, but important all the same. The problem is that none of us are good at:
A. Actually taking the pictures
B. Posing for pictures.
I think this is because there are so many of us and out of the entire group, there are only a few who know how to focus for longer than 60 seconds. Well actually, that’s probably not true either.
Thank goodness for my daughter in law. If it weren’t for her, there would be very little documentation of family events. Sadly, I think we have started to wear off on her somewhat. She is the one standing on the far right. Obviously, she is struggling with the whole focus thing, too.
Special thank you to my friend Julie, Robert’s mama, for capturing our dysfunction.
So, after the trauma of the picture taking with the Coker family, we all were so worn out that we decided to take one of the shuttles from the Horseshoe to the Colonial Life Arena. That was also an experience, but not one we will delve into right now. Once inside, we had to sit in the nosebleed section because all the good seats were taken. My guess is that either everyone else decided to wait and take pictures after graduation or they are better at taking pictures than we are.
Once in our seats, we all sat politely and waited for the ceremony to begin. Philip fell asleep. Twice. People were asked to behave respectfully and not holler so as to not drown out the name of the graduate following their child; most were courteous, some were obnoxiously not. I, myself, was so distracted by the fabulous artwork on the top of the graduates’ caps (Remember we were in the nosebleed section) that I almost missed my own son’s name being called out.
The soon-to-be graduates were assured that they were ready to take on the world – to change it. We were all told the same thing when we graduated. Do you remember? I remember. So much value was placed on that simple piece of paper I held in my hand. And it is valuable. But it is not in itself able to empower anyone to change the world. What will cause change is found in the heart of the one holding the diploma.
To Dalton and Robert I want to say that I’m so proud of the hard work and dedication that brought the two of you to this moment. But this moment, this degree, is not what you should ever allow to define you. Instead, see it as the catalyst through which God will direct your steps - for His glory. Don’t let your main ambition from this point forward be to earn lots of money and be financially set for life or to attain a high job status or even to be impressive in man’s view. Instead, make it your life’s goal to, “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
One day, all the finances accumulated and all the accolades bestowed by man will be left behind and you will stand before the One who created you to do great things that He has already chosen for you to do. He has given you all the gifts and talents that you will need. Use them selflessly and wisely. Remember that God’s view of greatness is different from that of the world’s. While the world looks at the outward appearance, God is looking at your hearts.
Make Him proud. I have no doubt that you will.
Love you both. You too, Hunter.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
If you never felt pain,
Then how would you know that I’m a Healer?
If you never went through difficulty,
How would you know that I’m a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial,
How could you call yourself an overcomer?
If you never felt sadness,
How would you know that I’m a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake,
How would you know that I’m forgiving?
If you never were in trouble,
How would you know that I will come to your rescue?
If you never were broken,
Then how would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem,
How would you know that I can solve them?
If you never had any suffering,
Then how would you know what I went through?
If you never went through the fire,
Then how would you become pure?
If I gave you all things,
How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you,
How would you know that I love you?
If you had all power,
Then how would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect,
Then what would you need me for?
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