Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why the Mourning Matters

Trump won another primary, another caucus.  He is winning even amidst the Bible toters, those that profess Christ.  These voters seem to not care that Trump has declared he has no need of God's forgiveness.  Voters are clamoring to usher in a narcissistic President who has blatantly said he has no need of God.  My head spins, but I'm not shocked.  God continues to give us over to a depraved mind; the proof is in the pudding.  We can no longer think with a sound mind.

My hope rises like cream:  we could repent; God could relent.

But, the downward spiral overtakes my hope.  I turn on the news and see how good is evil and evil is good.  If men feel that they harbor a female's soul, they can enter a woman's restroom.  Who is to stop a pedophile from stating he has a woman's soul and entering a girl's bathroom?  We have called ourselves gods and made our own laws.  We are truly a sick people in desperate need of a truth rescuing Healer.

In the book of Hosea, there was no knowledge of God in the land.  The people were destroyed for their lack of knowledge.  The knowledge fled when they rejected the truth.  God won't have to destroy us, we will destroy ourselves.  Without a vision, the people perish.  Perhaps God's judgment will simply be to let us continue down the spiral. 

Even in severe mercy, intervene, Lord.  We nee You to step down.

Mourning our sin filled land matters.  God is pleased with tears that fall for the loss of a righteous country. 

"We should be weeping.  We should be appalled, disgusted, shocked, and grieved in the depths of our hearts over our sin.  All our sin is treason against God.  Not just the prideful, lying, stealing, and lusting sins but sins of the tongue, sins of anxiousness, sins of bitterness, sins of partiality, sins of complacency, sins of jealously, sins of impatience, and sins of arrogance. We should grieve over them all."  Jared Mulvilhill

In Ezekiel 9, right after God showed the prophet all of the nation's sins, God tells a man to set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that have occurred in their land.  Those that had grieved over the detestable state of their country were marked and set apart.

"These pious few had witnessed against those abominations and had done what they could in their places to suppress them, but, finding all their attempts for the reformation of matters fruitless, they sat down, and sighted, and cried, wept in secret, and complained to God, because of the dishonor done to his name by their wickedness and the ruin it was bringing upon their church and nation."  Matthew Henry

Those that mourned were marked and spared.  The rest were slain.

I know that we as new covenant believers are marked by the blood of Jesus.  It is sufficient, praise God!  Such wondrous comfort we splash in, knowing we are marked and sealed as His.  That said, I wonder if God is still pleased when we mourn our sin and the sin of our land.  The Beatitudes would imply He is.  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  The sorrow we have for our own sin and the sin of our beloved country brings about the promise of comfort, because we know the Holy Spirit sees our mourning and wraps us up in His affectionate arms.  The heart anguish that rises to our good Father declares us as blessed, "makarioi," characterized by the quality of God.

We are like our blessed Savior when we weep over sin.  And there in no higher blessing than being like Christ. 

{A mourner's prayer:  Great and gracious God, beauty emanates from your pores and mercy highlights your eyes.  We have transgressed your ways.  We have called good evil and evil good.  Our tears fall endlessly; we can hardly see while driving.  Our hearts feel like someone threw a million pounds of thick mortar onto them.  We cast our burden for our nation onto Your shoulders.  You are Big enough.  You are Strong enough.  You are Gracious enough.  You are simply Enough for our sin-sick land.  We praise You for marking us and setting us apart.  We are the Remnant and one day, all the sorrow will fade.  Thank you for giving us hearts that break when Your heart breaks. Come quickly, King Jesus. We would love to see Enough manifest before our very eyes.}

Monday, February 15, 2016

Surrender to the Brushstrokes

Asher's eyes were the bluest of blues for a solid year.  The ocean depths called out to my soul; each cascade of rich hue reminding me of God's love for me, God's gift of one final child.  Blue often represents grace in the Bible and when I peered into his happiest of happy eyes, I drank grace in, straight up.

After his first birthday, the light in his eyes started swimming differently.  At first, it was just when Asher wore green, then more and more no matter the shade he donned.

The blue was being encroached by floods of the purest of hazels, the purest of greens.

I won't lie.  I wanted to kick and scream.  Where was my blue eyed baby that I had cuddled and nursed for a solid twelve months?  I liked him just the way God had made him; I wasn't looking for change.

My blue eyed baby was gone.  In that moment, I mourned not just the loss of blue hue, but the loss of mothering a newborn.  It would never come again.  Mothering babies was one of the greatest sources of joys these past decades and with a blink, the days faded into oblivion, only to be recalled with photographs and heart indentations.

Over time, as I continued to watch Asher's eyes metamorphose into what God had intended all along, I became quite smitten with the brush strokes of the Artist.  He had dipped His paintbrush into green, adding dimension and depth to the present blue, only to create the rarest of hazel oceans.  He grabbed a handful of light and splattered it across the irises, stepped back, and called it good.  The Artist changed the canvas, because it brought Him laughter and glory.  Apparently, Asher Tate needed more than one hue in those windows to his soul.

I reflect on this and am reminded of how much I hate change.  When I see that something is good, I want it to remain that way forever.  What I need to remember is that just because something changes, doesn't mean it is no longer good or purposeful.  The newborn turning toddler turning child turning teenager turning adult is all good.  The transitions may slay a mother's heart time and time again, but each change will bring new layers of color and dimension, purpose and grace.  Each transition will announce, "That is what the Artist has been up to!  That is who He has created my child to be!" 

We must surrender to the brushstrokes, sweet mommas.  The Artist can be trusted as a good father.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Remembering Kiley Elisabeth

Remembering Kiley Elisabeth 

Our toes are nestled deep in sand.  We point our faces to the sun, daring it to warm not just our bodies, but our souls as well.  We talk about the latest chick flick, The Family Stone.  Sweat invading, we run off to the waves, the sun taking us up on our dare.  We look for all of God’s tiny and perfect creations and then talk about how we can’t wait to stuff our faces with steamed shrimp and key lime pie. 

 The beach was always a safe haven for us. 

Eight years into this, and Kiley is still wrapped in burial clothes.  Layer by layer, I so badly want to remove each sorrowful piece of clothing until only the memory of her twenty four years of living remains.  It is hard not to be marked forever by the word suicide, and I want to undo that, even if it is only in my own mind.   

When I think of her, my thoughts still go to the day we lost her and the days that followed.  That’s the imprint that suicide leaves.  It not only robs your loved one, but also every single happy memory made until that moment.  It seems that Satan stole more than just her life on that tragic day in February. 

As Jon Bloom says, “Her life was undone in a moment by her own doing” that day.  The rest of us have been left in the aftershocks of the great quake. Even after eight years, the tremors still rock us to our core, always unexpected and always unwelcome.  The seism of our hearts surfaces no matter how much time passes; the repercussions are now a part of our identity. 

The sorrow reminds me of the heart condition called regurgitation where the heart works extra hard because the blood flows backwards.  My mind can’t ever seem to gain ground because I’m always being drowned in the backflow of ache. Trying to pull up the happy times becomes even more difficult as my memory seems to have died a quick death. 

But, today, I choose to remember the lovely, vivacious young lady that God dreamed up. 

These are just snippets, the memories that still rise to the surface like sweet cream in a sea of dying brain cells. 

What comes to mind first is the day she asked Jesus to be her Redeemer.  It is a precious memory, and one that has brought me comfort these past eight years.  I have full confidence that she resides with Jesus now, because of this day and the fruit that she bore in the years afterwards.  It seems fitting after eight years of hard memories that her redemption story would be first.  God’s grace on her was sufficient to wash her clean, even on February 13, 2008.   

I was about thirteen when she was born again.  My family was not the “big church” type, but we occasionally found ourselves at Springdale First Baptist Church, a gigantic place for our country hearts.  The pastor was gifted at dishing out spiritual food, and sometimes, we were just plain hungry. 

We always sat in the balcony, partly because we didn’t want to be noticed and partly because it took a whole wooden pew to seat our family.  At the altar call, with Just as I Am in the background, Mom and Dad suddenly ushered us out of the pew and down the huge staircase.  I remember specifically praying that I would not trip on all those stairs.  Dad didn’t call me Lulu for nothing.  We smiled (and I trembled) in front of hundreds as they led us into a smaller room. 

Someone talked with Kiley and prayed with her and then with our family.  In hindsight, according to Mom, while in the pew, Kiley tugged on her sleeve and said, “I need to go down there.” 

This unabashed and indiscreet way that Kiley begged for her heart to be washed in Christ’s blood was a reflection of the bold character God graced her with.  Her character was always stretching the rest of us and calling us to a life laced with freedom and abundance. 

Even at the tender age of seven or so, she was not afraid like I was.  When she saw an opportunity, she grabbed it, even if it would stretch the faith and nerves of those around her.  I think my parents may have preferred that her “call” come in our smaller church or at home, but God knew that Kiley would always have a flair for the dramatic.  Bigger was always better with her. 


During our cow showing days, Kiley’s fearlessness continued to shine.  

This was clearly shown the day she tied her big fat heifer, Coal Dream, to the rod iron fence.  We had to bathe our show cattle regularly, mainly to try and grow their hair and teach it how to lie correctly.  Kiley drenched one side of Coal Dream with the hose and was trying to get to her other side, but the 1200 pound gentle giant wouldn’t budge. Now Kiley wasn’t afraid of anything and she was determined to get her way.  She found the “hot shot” livestock prod that works well in getting stubborn cattle to move by zapping them with a little shock.  But, Coal Dream was soaking wet tied to a dad gum lightening rod.  I could tell you about the bellering of that poor animal, but you really need to ask my Dad to make the sound.  His vocal chords hold back nothing and you might find yourself in a hot mess of hysterical tears. 

At cow shows, I was terrified to talk to the cute cowboys my age.  But, six years my junior, she had them eating out of her palm.  Pigtails and hot pink wranglers, she walked around like she owned the joint, and since she bought a horse for $2 at the age of 5, I have a sneaking suspicion that she probably had a financial stake in the fairgrounds, as well.  The girl could get anyone to do anything for her, which came in handy when trying to carry heavy equipment. Wherever her feet fell, beams of light radiated in all directions. Sunshine, she was.  


Even though she was fearless, I have deep imprints of longing to protect her.  Kiley was about as independent as a person could be, but there were moments when my big sister instincts kicked into high gear.  There was the time I drove her back from the farm.  On the old country roads, we came up on a large black snake.  In my opinion, all snakes were evil.  I ran over it purposefully but that wasn’t sufficient.  I put my silver Topaz in reverse and ran over it again. Back and forth I drove over the wicked beast, willing it to die so it would never harm her.  It didn’t matter that there were layers of automobile metal separating us from snake venom.  No one was getting bit on my watch. 

There was also the time when we lived a solid year in the outskirts of Shreveport, LA.  Being a 9th grader in a new school was torture, but when I heard that some girls in her class were threatening to beat her up on the playground, I about came undone.  New prayers for her safety went up nightly and God rescued us out of that environment soon enough. 

When her basketball days started, my protective instincts really kicked in.  I wanted to run onto the court and smash whatever girl knocked her down.  Each jammed finger, taped up ankle, or braced knee upset my insides.  She was a talented athlete, but it tore me up to see each injury and each tear. I probably needed to get over myself a little bit.  Good thing she was one tough cookie because basketball provided her with a scholarship her first couple years of college. 


That breeze in her hair, though.  There was this one day that she was free above all others.  She had just bought herself a beautiful white convertible and she double dog dared me to take a spin with her.  I had two young children I needed to come back to, preferably alive, but that didn’t squelch her heavy foot as we sped away from responsibility.  We drove the back roads of small-town-Farmington, AR, the music full in our ears, screaming to hear one another.  She was unconfined and free that day as long curled locks of dark brown sugar flowed behind her.  In that moment, Kiley belonged to no one but her Maker and she was content in being who God had made her to be.  Her liberation seeped into my pores, a moment in time forever etched in my being. 


There is an interval of time I long for, a moment where neither time nor death define our days.  It is our never ending fresh beginning.   I can almost taste it, hints of dark chocolate and the purest of honeys and perfectly ripe pineapples swirling around my taste buds.  Our toes are nestled deep in sand and our eyes are peering at the Son, since no sun is needed.  His light bathes us in warmth and we remember faintly that the sun’s rays were only a hint at the blanket of affection that was to come…that is here now.  His perfect love envelopes us both and we can’t help but to hum, “This is my story.  This is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

Kiley grabs me by the hand and pulls me to my feet.  Hand in hand, we run to the ocean, deep and majestic, pure and comforting.

We catch a ride on a pair of dolphins, her locks of dark brown sugar now clinging to her back.  Her smile is contagious and I start laughing.  We swear we will laugh all the way home.  Then, we gratefully sigh and realize we are already there.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Melody of My Heart {Guest Writer}

Today, I have a special treat for you! A guest post by my friend, Shanna Smith. Hope it blesses you today!
The Melody of My Heart


                The less obnoxious “silk” setting of my alarm gradually shifts my thoughts into partial reality as my wandering hand finds the snooze just “one more time.” My squinted eyes make out the time, confirming the snooze has already been hit more times than I recall this morning. I turn over, my mind reluctantly buzzing through a list of things I should have already done during my snoozing slumber. My mind is telling my body to get up, but my heart is overpowering the firing of those neurons. Resentment sets in like cement on the mattress.

                “Everyone else is still resting, peacefully, sleeping away the morning. I deserve that, too, right?” My mind follows the beat of my heart, set at a selfish, sin-filled tone, steadily gaining strength.

                “Ugh. I NEED more rest. It is in the best interest of everyone involved to allow my mind and heart to be renewed, right?!” That steady beat of lies carries the time even more loudly, blinding me of His truth.

                Silk sets off again, and I finally decide to schlepp myself out of bed, unaware that the song of my heart is actually what is dragging me each step of the way.

                “By now, there is no time to sit and be still,” the beat fabricates its slanderous melody.

                The dissonance resonates through my heart, my mind, my words, my actions, stealing the joy and partaking of the opportunity to fill that slot with darkness.

                The days are filled with scores of melodies driven by the beat of self-importance and undiscerning lyrics. This consumptive, wreckful song plays on repeat.

                UNTIL…one day, when I hear the call of my Savior,

                “Awaken, sleeper! Arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you!”

                God longs to hear a melody in my heart for Him. How did I allow myself to slumber so long, to stay immersed in darkness until it blanketed me with its comfortable familiarity?

                This call to awaken in Ephesians 5:14 addresses Christians who are sleep-walking. Now that I am conscious and cognizant, I can see that the beat of my heart has led me astray. Lord Jesus, guide me to change the tone, to make melody with my heart to You!

                Music is a powerful thing. Studies show that simply listening to music activates the auditory, motor, and limbic portions of our brains, enhancing brain function, increasing psychological arousal, inducing a physiological relaxation response, improving motor coordination, and reducing muscle tension. Music is proven to be more effective in reducing pain and stress than prescription medications. It reduces the production of cortisol, a stress related hormone, and increases antibodies linked to immunities. Music produces a revulsive effect, gives a sense of control, regulates blood pressure and heart rate. The list of benefits of music could go on and on.

                It is no surprise that God, the creator of music, would include this beautiful gift in His Word. Music is referenced throughout Scripture as a means of worship, as part of coronations and events in royal court, to communicate emotions or recall particulars, feasts, and even a tool used by God to do miraculous things. The walls of Jericho fell at the trumpet blasts in Joshua 6. David soothed Saul during demonic attacks in 1 Samuel 16. Psalm 98:7-8 describes music arising from creation in praise to our Sovereign King, “Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy!”

                I am awakened. My eyes are open, and I can see the destruction left in the wake of my slumber. Psalm 139:16 reminds me that my Creator has seen my unformed substance; and in His book were written all the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How many of those days did God see in His book before He formed me that I would waste between wakings, allowing the worldly rhythm to drive the beat of my heart? Psalm 39:5 warns me that “surely every man at his best is a mere breath.” Let me waste not one more moment, not allow one more breath to be driven by melodies lost to myself.
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Shanna Smith loves Jesus, her family, and life, in general. She is wife to super talented Jeremy and mother to three uniquely awesome children. She believes music (and chocolate) make all of life's moments better.