Month: July 2017

  • Every scrape upon my heart

    “…Every scrape upon my heart, tells the story of your grace.”– Ryan Kennedy from Letting Go

    I first heard this lyric at the Gospel Music Associations’ Immerse Conference last year. Ryan was performing it live and it moved me then as it does even now.

    When I was eight, I slipped and fell on the sidewalk while running through the sprinklers. I scraped up my knee and it was the first time I would need stitches in my life. It took only two stitches, and a place for my poor mother to lie down before she fainted, to repair the wound. It left a pretty good scar, one I still have and when I see it, I remember the story vividly. The same way the scar on my knee tells a story, the scrapes on my heart tell one too.

    They tell of unrequited love, misguided efforts, disappointed hopes, loss and grief. My little heart has been put back together again and again, by the One who created it. I couldn’t ask for a better physician and friend. And while the scrapes on my heart hurt for a little while (some longer than others), they tell a story of God’s grace. Of His tender hand guiding me, healing me and setting me on my feet again. They tell a story of victory.

    I hope you enjoy my friend Ryan’s song. Catch him on iTunes and YouTube for the latest tracks.

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  • To the heart that is hurting

    The first year my husband and I were married brought all sorts of growing experiences. We laughed harder than ever, and argued more than I imagined (I actually threw a package of Tums antacids at him!) We also grew closer together through one of the most painful and difficult experiences we’ve endured to date, the loss of our first child during pregnancy.  I firmly believe God redeems pain for purpose by allowing us to walk alongside others in their heartache and grief. In this way God reminds us all that we are not alone, and we are able to point one another back to Him, the source of hope, healing, peace and joy. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, I pray my story could be an encouragement and beacon of hope.  

    I am sharing with you because I have walked where you now stand, feeling alone, like you are drowning in a sea of overwhelming grief.  I have been acquainted with the kind of hurt that keeps you awake at night and makes your heart pound in your chest. I learned the dull ache of my loss being the last thing I thought about at night, and the first thing I thought about in the morning. I experienced the frustration of having my emotions rule me and feeling powerless to bend them to my will. I remember watching myself from the outside thinking “Summer, you have to pull yourself together!” Then, lamenting in the same breath, “But, I can’t!”

    I remember friends saying that things would be ok and God was with me in my grief. While I could acknowledge that truth in my mind, my heart still couldn’t feel it. I found it difficult to even pray since tragedy had struck our family. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to say to God.

    One evening I had curled up on my bed after a long cry; out of obedience, I picked up my Bible. My eyes roved over the delicate pages in earnest hope that God would show himself. And there, wrapped in my bathrobe and surrounded by kleenex, my tired eyes fixed upon these words:

    “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:8-10 (NIV)

    I was especially moved by how the Message summed it up. Something about the phrasing grabbed my attention and soothed my tender heart:

    “You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendants of my good friend Abraham. I pulled you in from all over the world, called you in from every dark corner of the earth, telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’ Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:8-10 (MSG)

    These are some of my most treasured words from God. They broke through my darkness when I doubted His goodness and had questioned His sovereignty and His power in our world.

    “I pulled you in…called you in from every dark corner of the earth…” Boy was my corner dark. Initially, I couldn’t see anything beyond my own grief and pain. I wasn’t being intentionally selfish, everything else just seemed so small compared to the magnitude of my grief. God reached down and scooped me up like a loving dad carrying his daughter to tuck her safely into bed. He reminded me who I am. “You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you.” Even when my heart pushed Him away, I was not his enemy.  

    “I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic. I’m with you.” I needed this reassurance most. I couldn’t see how God was working in my situation. My world felt like it had been turned upside down and I was hanging precariously on the edge of it. My ears strained to hear His voice. I longed for Him to anchor me in my chaos.

    “There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”  The Lord bade me to stop running, be still and let the wave of grief wash over me. He would not leave me to tumble about in the wake. He would keep a firm grip on me. As I continued to read these promises, they began to stir in my heart with little flutters of hope. As each wave of grief washed over me, I emerged, sputtering, but standing, His hand tightly on mine. With each passing day, I saw God’s hand holding on to me. I began to accept the loss I had suffered and started to feel peace. God cared for me through family and friends that brought me meals, listened to me and encouraged me. I could whisper faintly in faith that God was still God, and He was still good. That whisper grew as my heart healed and I can now boldly proclaim in full assurance that God is present in your circumstances and will see you through.

    My prayer is that if you are in the middle of a storm right now, that you will not despair, but hold on to a glimpse of hope. You are not alone. This season does not stretch on indefinitely. Do not give up. Even in your dark corner, God is there. You are His and He loves you more than you can see. And when you get to the other side of this, you will know victory. You will know strength. You will know peace. You will see God redeem your pain for purpose as you walk alongside someone else in their storm. And you look back and see God’s hand at work, more than you ever thought you could.

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  • Catch me if you can

    “The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” 3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.”

    Jonah 1:1-3

    There are times in ministry that I relate with Jonah. He definitely does not start out as the hero in this story, running toward the front lines, ready to do the Lord’s will without flinching. I would love to say that I am always strong and ready to dive right in, no matter what. But that is not me. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. When I think that what the Lord is calling me to might be painful. And I think that God is ok with that.

    Consider Jonah for a moment. Jonah got a clear message from God. I don’t know how he received that message, but the Lord gave it and Jonah got it. He had a clear understanding of what God was asking him to do. Often, I pray for that kind of clarity and direction. I’d pray, “Lord if you could just make it CLEAR to me what I should do, I would do it.” But when it is clear, when God does grant a peek at where He is leading, I freeze in a moment of fight or flight. “But Lord, that looks so difficult, so painful, so heartbreaking”. I perseverate on the difficulties of the task ahead, forgetting that the reward of touching hearts and lives will be more payoff than anything actually required of me. I’m not just talking about the heavenly reward of being a servant-I’m talking about the absolute rush of joy at seeing lives transformed for God. The earthly thrill of recognizing where God is at work and joining Him. But it’s not incentive that I think of, it’s the difficulty. Jonah experienced that too. So much so, that he didn’t just abandon the call, but he literally RAN away from the Lord. He got on a boat and set out to sea, hoping to escape.

    And don’t we just do that? We think we can hide from God, run away or stand our ground in defiance. But there is no where we can hide that our loving God cannot see us. No place we can run to escape His gentle guidance. As my friend Gregg puts it, our arms are simply too short to box with God.

    While Jonah is on the boat, sailing away from God, a horrible storm begins. It doesn’t take long for Jonah to realize that the storm is a direct result of His disobedience. He convinces the men aboard to throw him off the boat and into the sea.

    Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

    This part of the story will never cease to simultaneously amaze and amuse me. The Lord arranged to a fish to swallow Jonah. It was an unusual act of mercy. I dare you to say God doesn’t have a sense of humor. Jonah spends a long weekend in that fish, and then the Lord commands the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach. Jonah’s prayer while he is simmering in that fish-belly, is a profound commentary on life when we are running away from God. It is hints powerfully at the waters of baptism as our old self “dies”, we are “buried” and then “rise” again to new life. As one with some experience running from God, the verse that stands out most to me is “as my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord”

    I have run from God before. It’s dark, lonely and confusing. It’s hard to tell which was is up, like being tumbled in a mighty wave. Then I remember the Lord. God is faithful. His is for us. He never drops us and will redeem our lives, our experiences and our pain for purpose: to help others and enrich our own lives.

    Eventually, Jonah comes around and follows the Lord’s commission to go to Ninevah. There he shares his experience and the good news about God’s boundless love. Many people hear Jonah’s words and turn toward God in the end. When you find yourself running, avoiding God’s call, wavering to make the decision you know to be right, remember the Lord and run toward God.

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  • Afraid of the dark?

    “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
    See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
    but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
    Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
    Isaiah 60-1-3

    We have all experienced dark times in our lives. Darkness covers the earth… Seems an appropriate way to describe the times we live in today. Thick darkness is over the peoples…. We certainly seem surrounded by darkness, death, despair. Even as a Christian, I long for the light, for the sun’s rays to pierce through the clouds and warm my face. Because in the light darkness cannot prevail. It only takes one tiny flame to break the darkness. In Exodus 20:18-21 Moses is tasked by the people of Israel with speaking with God on their behalf. God had appeared on a mountain and the sight was petrifying.

    18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
    20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
    21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:18-21

    Read Verse 21 again. “The people remained at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

    God was in the thick darkness. I’ll admit that is the last place I would expect to find God. In the dark, in the thunder, in the scary unknown. I guess I always pictured that God would swoop in and take me out of the darkness, not that He would be there, waiting to meet me when I go through it.

    I have heard Moses going to meet with God described as though he were walking toward an erupting volcano. The thunder and lightening were so ferocious that everything shook. Terrifying to behold, let alone walk toward.

    The people witnessing this frightening scene pleaded with Moses like a successful execution of good cop/bad cop were playing out. “You talk to us Moses! You’re reasonable! If God talks directly to us we will surely die!”

    So Moses approaches the thick darkness where God was.  

    Where God was waiting, in the midst of the danger. He was the danger, a fearsome thing to behold. Yet He is good, and He is God and He is gentle. He even warned the people to stay back at a distance so they would be safe. Moses approached with boldness and confidence that he would meet God there.

    Herein lies the challenge of the first passage in Isaiah 60. There’s darkness all around. As a Christ-follower, am I willing to arise, walk into the thick darkness that covers the people, and shine so that the glory of God can be revealed? Am I willing to come alongside someone who is hurting, surrounded by pain so thick they cannot see, and stand next to God in that darkness? Am I willing to see that terrifying scene and walk right in trusting that God will be there waiting for me to join him? Waiting for me to bind the wounds of the helpless and care for the sick and weary? Even the ones I don’t understand or like?

    “thick darkness covers the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you”

    My heart is heavy at the events of the world. It trembles at the thought of heading toward the darkness when others retreat. But in that darkness God waits for us to join Him and shine His light and glory. It may be the last place I’d look for Him, but exactly where a Savior and his people are needed most.

    Moses did not stay in the darkness forever. He came back with a purpose and a message from God. He also came back with the confidence that comes only from experiencing God and stepping out in faith to meet him where the need is greatest.

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