The Beautiful Ache

“Lord you’re calling me to come and behold the wondrous cross, to explore the depths of grace that came to me at such a cost, where your boundless love conquered my boundless sin, and mercy’s arms were opened wide.

My heart is filled with a thousand songs proclaiming the glories of Calvary. With every breath, Lord, how I long to sing of Jesus who died for me. Lord, take me deeper into the glories of Calvary.

Sinners find eternal joy in the triumph of your wounds. By our Savior’s crimson flow holy wrath has been removed. And your saints below join with your saints above, rejoicing in the Risen Lamb.”

We sang the above song at church this morning. It stopped me in my tracks. There is a sort of rapture when the feelings and thoughts of your heart that are rooted so deeply are able to be articulated.

I’ve been reflecting on the life to come a lot lately. For so long the next life scared me. There’s so much unknown. This life, this earth…it’s all I know. But the more God causes me to know Him better, the more the fear of what’s to come becomes a longing for it, an ache for wholeness and being in the presence of my Lord.

At the end of each service we lift our hands heavenward and sing the doxology. As I looked around me I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the body of believers. Hands raised high, joining our hearts with the saints below and the saints above, worshiping the Risen Lamb. I thought of my grandparents who have gone to be with the Lord, singing in the presence of our Savior. I thought of Paul and David and Peter and Thomas, singing, I imagine, with just as much gusto and awe as they did their first day in glory. The beauty of it is too great to comprehend. In that moment I felt like I was given a brief taste of heaven. My heart truly is filled with a thousand songs proclaiming the glories of Calvary, the love of Christ, the all encompassing grace of God. He has given me these songs. He hasn’t just covered over my sins with His righteousness, He has taken my broken, ugly, sinful heart and given me a heart that longs for more of Him. More of His love, more of His grace, more of His presence. I’m certain that I won’t be fully satisfied until I’m able to see His face and embrace Him. What a sweet embrace it will be. So my heart aches for that day and what a beautiful gift this ache is.

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My Favorite Author

Thank you for your encouragement to me as you read these semi-coherent ramblings of mine. By His grace I love Him and I want to share His work in my life with you for His glory.

For the last few months I have been completely overwhelmed by this season of joy that God has granted me. For the last 2-3 years life has been full of unexpected trials and pain, the kind you never dream of as a wide eyed 18 year old. The kind that take your breath away and make you believe that your heart is, in actuality, breaking. At 26, I’ve learned that suffering is not the exception, but the rule in this life. I don’t mean to be pessimistic. My pastor put it well, “This earth is the only taste of hell we’ll ever experience,” or something to that affect. Point being: God has told us in His Word that Jesus suffered and that we will too. And He told us that this world is not our home, that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for the children of God, for His co-heirs; so even in our suffering we can rejoice that a bright tomorrow awaits us on the other side of this life.

I can say with veracity that finding joy in my Savior through suffering has only made this joyous season of my life that much sweeter, that much more joy filled. My tears of sadness have been turned to tears of joy. As much as I was shocked at the painfulness of suffering I’ve been completely taken aback by the joy of…well, joy. We serve an incredibly loving, merciful, gracious God. And I’ve realized over the last few months that one way that God demonstrates His incredible love, mercy, and grace is by being concerned with the details of our lives. He meets needs that I honestly didn’t even realize I had. Here is my King, condescending to love me in ways that I never anticipated. I can look back on the different chapters of my life and see how skillfully He has written my story; His plot twists, His humor, His tenderness. He is a literary genius. He takes into account every unspoken fear, every insecurity, every hope, everything that makes me, me and in a Father’s love He meets me where I am.

At 26, I know that I don’t know much. I realize that I can’t comprehend half of what this life is going to throw at me, be it good or bad. I know that. But, I also know who holds the future. So regardless of what this life holds, I can trust that He who began a good work in my sin soiled heart will bring that work to completion. He is faithful. He will do it. And it will be beautiful.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite puritan prayers…

“O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.”

Today’s Grace

About three or four weeks ago I had a job interview. I was in this small office with four women staring at me and grilling me, asking me painfully stereotypical interview questions. My least favorite question that I was asked during the course of that interview was “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. Everything inside of me wanted to say “I have no idea” because if the last 26 years have taught me anything it’s that I haven’t a clue what tomorrow looks like, let alone the next 5 years. Our lives can turn upside down, for better or for worse, in the span of a minute. To try and imagine the kind of struggles and joys that the next five years will hold is in a word–overwhelming. Too overwhelming. Too scary.

Because what if none of my hopes and dreams come true? What if I never get married? What if I never get that dream job? What if I never know the joy of having my own babies? What if all my most exciting days are behind me?

So, I’ve been learning to live in today’s grace rather than tomorrow’s heartaches. I’m learning to step outside of myself, outside of my emotions and focus on who God is regardless of what my circumstances look and feel like. So many times the happenings of our lives feel chaotic and arbitrary and that is profoundly painful; but nothing could be further from the truth. God is skillfully orchestrating the happenings of this earth, of each of our lives. God is always and forever actively pursuing two things: the good of His children and His glory. Never doubt that He will have both. And that, dear ones, is a beautiful and transforming truth.

Because Jesus is better. He is better than marriage. He is better than that dream job. He is better than babies. He is better than the greatest adventure our feeble minds could imagine. He is better and more satisfying than my deepest hopes and desires. He is. He is good. He is faithful. No matter what this life brings, He is good to me. And when I taste His goodness I shall not want.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads 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,
for you are with me;
 your rod and your staff,
 they comfort me. You prepare a table before me
 in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
 all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
 forever.

–Psalm 23

Present Suffering and Future Glory

My confidence in God is fleeting at best. I praise Him for His wisdom and question His will in the same breath. It’s not so much that I doubt that His will is good and perfect as much as I am just scared of the pain and suffering that His will for my life may entail. So I ask Him for His will to be done all the while hoping beyond hope that he will give me my desired outcome. In reality, I don’t need to beg God to accomplish His will (His will will be accomplished regardless), I just need to rest in it. I need to quit fearing His will and simply abide in Him. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” –Romans 8:18-22

The truth is, more often than not, I’m more concerned with my personal present happiness than I am about future glory with Christ Jesus in Heaven.

We live in a world of instant gratification. I want what I want and I want it now. And the world tells me that I should have it now. So I become indignant when I can’t have it and I begin to realize how little control I actually have over so many aspects of life on this earth.

But then I think about eternity, I think about the life to come and then, well then, all I want is Jesus. When I look at this life for what it is, a layover on my journey home, I can with all sincerity say, “Have Thine own way, Lord”. Because at the end of the day this life is a vapor. My 26 years have come and gone in the blink of an eye, moments wasted and opportunities seized…gone. When I think about eternity, all the here and now struggles and wants start to seem worth it, because I know, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is preparing me for an eternity spent with Him living in the light of His glory. He’s drawing me closer to Himself. So, seeking out my fleshly desires and my own glory becomes beyond the pale ridiculous when weighed against an eternity spent with the one who spilled His blood for my sins.

God is writing my script for my time here on earth and I don’t always like it, but what I constantly fail to remember is that a second act is coming…the grand finale that has no end. God only knows, truly, God only knows what He will accomplish in His children in the span of forever.

Living in light of eternity changes my perspective on virtually everything. It shapes how I live my life, chiefly because it causes me to remember that this life is transitory and it is not my own. I’ve been called to live for the glory of another and there is no higher purpose that anyone can find in this life, because God gives purpose to everything. He is the reason we live, He is the source of our life.

So, I pray that God would cause me to live in light of an eternity spent with Him and join my heart with psalmist in saying:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
 that will I seek after: 
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
 all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
 and to inquire in his temple.” –Psalm 27:4

Shelby Lee

Dear Shelby,

Yesterday, April 25, 2014, you made your grand entrance into the world. You are 8 pounds and 8 ounces of absolute perfection. Truly, you are an excquisite work of art wrought by the hand of our loving Creator. You have no idea how incredibly loved you already are. Your parents, brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, church family, and more have prayed for you as you grew in your momma’s belly. And now you are here. And we couldn’t be more excited. You, my dear one, are treasured.

God in His infinite wisdom created you to be a girl. When your mom told me that you were a girl I was elated; get ready for slumber parties, shopping trips, long talks, glitter, the color purple, and more nail polish than any one person should have. Take it from your Aunt B, being a girl is completely awesome. And confusing. And laden with a thousand insecurities. So, I have a few words of advice…

Pay no mind to the size of your hips and just be healthy. Don’t compare yourself to all the other girls. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are beautiful. But never believe for one second that your dress size or complexion is the most interesting or important thing about you; you are a covenant daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lords, let that and that alone define who you are and how you live your life.

Don’t chase after boys or be in too big of a hurry to date. And don’t be angry at your parents when they don’t allow you to date at 16. They have your best interest at heart. Trust me, I’ve yet to meet a 16 year old that is remotely prepared to be in a relationship, including myself. And please, please, sweet girl, guard your heart; speak truth to it, dwell in the richness of God’s Word. Seek after Him.

Dress modestly. Just say no to cleavage and exposed mid-drifts. Under no circumstance should you ever wear anything with writing on the butt…there is nothing tackier. I have no doubt that your mom will instill these values in you…but let’s be honest, you’ll listen to your cool Aunt B, right? Right.

When the time comes, let your mom teach you how to properly apply makeup, she’s really good at it. Blending is key.

Be you. Unashamedly, unapologetically you. You will constantly be tempted to blend in with the crowd, to bow to popular opinion. Don’t. Live by your convictions. Hold fast to the Word of God.

Don’t trust your feelings. You’ll experience many of them. All the time. Be slow to act on them. The heart is deceitful above all things. Pray through your feelings, talk to your parents about them (God has given you two truly wonderful parents). Seek wisdom from God’s Word and from your elders.

This list could go on forever and I have no doubt that your parents will teach you and raise you in the ways of the Lord…it’s just that we all wish that we could speak truth into your heart. We wish we could keep you from the heartaches and mistakes that are sure to come. But we can’t. Even so, know this: As unbelievably painful as heartaches and mistakes can be, God will use them to draw you closer to Himself and there is nothing, I mean nothing more important than to be drawn closer to your Savior. Fix your eyes on Jesus, sweet Shelby, fix your eyes on Him and live in His all consuming love and grace that flows into every crevice of our lives.

I love you sweet girl. More than words can say.

Love,
Aunt B

Abide in Me

I turned 26 today. At 11:02 AM to be precise.

In my short 26 years I have known great love.

I’ve experienced adventure.

I’ve wept bitterly and laughed deeply.

I’ve had greater joy and pain than I ever thought possible.

I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes and experienced measures of grace that I am wholly unworthy of.

I’ve said goodbye to loved ones and welcomed beautiful new creatures into the world.

I’ve wandered the streets of Athens and New York.

I’ve walked bare foot through the woods behind my parents house.

I’ve watched the sun set over the ocean and the cornfield.

I’ve said words I wish could take back and I’ve swallowed words I wish I would have said.

I’ve watched my siblings fall in love and get married to godly spouses.

I’ve witnessed my parents’ love for each other grow deeper and more closely mirror Christ and the church.

I’ve watched dear friends move away from home.

I moved away from home…and came back again.

In short, I have lived. Too often for myself. So in this, my 26th year, I’m praying for grace to abide in Him. This is how I love better. This is how I serve better. This is how I bring glory to my Father in heaven. And it all begins with Him. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

True life begins the moment I let it go; the moment that I realize that I was bought with a price. I am a child of the King. This life is not my own.

And with this knowledge comes freedom. Because I can rest in Him, knowing that He will orchestrate the lives of His people in ways that are beyond our puny imaginations. And I can let go of my plan and all of the worrying, manipulating, and frustrations that go into trying to accomplish my plan; I can trust God to use His means to accomplish His purposes. Because all God asks of me is to abide in Him and to do so by His grace, His strength, His mercy, His love.

Life begins in Him.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” –John 15:1-11

All Things

2013 was a hard year for me. Just thinking about all the events that transpired over the course of last year makes my heart ache and my eyes well up. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic–I’m just a wears her heart on her sleeve kinda gal. And I know, do I ever know, that there are those who have suffered and ached and limped up hills far steeper than I; but I’m not in the business of comparing pain. You can’t. There are no olympics of suffering, of aching hearts. Besides, it’s not really a game that you want to win.

I just know what it is to fall asleep on a tear stained pillow. I know how hard and painful it can be to trust God with your heart’s deepest desires. I know what it is to experience loss; to cry out to the Lord. Life can be downright devastating.

And yet…

It’s in the valley, it’s in my darkest moments when I’ve experienced measures of joy that I couldn’t have known outside of despair. It’s in that day to day, moment by moment battle of letting go of your plan, of what you know in your heart will make you happy; it’s relaxing your white knuckled grip and laying down your heart at His feet and crying out “Have thine own way, Lord”; it’s in those moments, thru profound pain that He has enabled me to drink deeply of His love and experience overflowing joy. Not the joy that makes you happy but the joy that gives you comfort; the joy that acts as a balm to your soul; the joy that only our Heavenly Father can bestow to His children. It’s in those moments of joy that I’ve been keenly aware that He is ever faithful; it’s in those moments that I’ve rejoiced that this is not my home, that I was created for so much more than life on this broken, sin riddled earth.

2013 was a hard year for me; but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Because in 2013 God taught me the how and the why of being thankful for the aching heart that beats within my chest because He drew me nearer to His heart; He’s conforming my will to His, He is molding me into His likeness. And it hurts, but is it ever beautiful.

“…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those He called He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified.” –Romans 8:28-30

He works ALL things for our good. Even and especially those suffering hearts.