For my black brothers and sisters

 

I can only relay what I hear from black members and their loved ones in our fractured society – from those most publicized and from those most known and dear:

Fear, so much fear. For yourself, for your family, for especially your beautiful black sons, for your future, for your increasingly bitter heart…

Anger, sadness, profound disappointment, numbness, hopelessness… I am unable to encapsulate all you feel or know to be true. My words are too meager, too removed. However, I was reminded last night at a prayer vigil and this morning in reading the Word that God has much to say, Himself and through his people, and those words are strong and true and will come to pass.

In Psalm 6, while being pursued by enemies, David cries out in prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

He hears your pleas, too.

If it is of any encouragement, I have been praying Psalm 9 over you this morning, my dear brothers and sisters. May you be strengthened and your heart reoriented:

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d]Selah

17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Take heart that the Lord hears you. He sees you. He knows your heart. You are not forgotten. Our God is one of equity, of justice, of caring for the afflicted and oppressed. I will seek justice and reconciliation with you now, here on this earth that I am called to help renew, and I know while we struggle for that realization, ultimately full justice, full equity, full judgment will be realized, without the mar of sin or error. That is the character of our God.

For now, while you respond with your family or publicly through prayer, protest, or other activism, hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Standing with you,

Lauren

 

For When You’re Sick and Weary

What do you do when you’re sick? Of yourself? Your circumstances?

All of these feelings, these words, these thoughts, these repetitious tendencies and cycles of events?

What happens when it feels really old and stale and oppressively recycled? Like a moldy shower curtain that won’t seem to come clean no matter how much bleach you scrub it with. Like a taste you can’t get out of your mouth. Like a bad penny that just keeps showing up.

What then? How do you move forward? How do you keep from throwing your hands up?

The past two years, I’ve heard a similar sermon on rest this time of year, preached by local St. Louis pastor Zak Eswine. This year, I wasn’t afforded the privilege. This year, I just have to remember. And what I remember is that he says that there are different kinds of pains and different kinds of rest. Often times, we try to treat one kind of pain and weariness with the same kind of rest that we would another. For example, you are behind on sleep, physically exhausted. So you sleep. You are emotionally exhausted. So you sleep. You are mentally or spiritually tired. So you sleep. However, not every kind of weariness will be solved with sleep. Not every kind of weariness will be solved by time. Or reflecting. Or working harder. Or resting with our eyes open. Or escaping.

Some kinds of weariness require other solutions.

What is your go-to salve, your way of dealing? Music? Eating? Running? Hiding? Perhaps you need to vent, to clean, to purchase. None of these things, inherently, are bad, but perhaps your go-to fix just isn’t cutting it anymore. Perhaps the problem persists, the hurt still bruises, the fog won’t clear. Because diagnosing an emotional problem with a physical treatment is like slathering Bactine on a broken heart. Sure, it might help if there are some accompanying scrapes and cuts, but what’s really going to heal that break? Resetting and a cast just won’t do.

Are you physically exhausted? Sick? Perhaps you need sleep, or medicine, or other rest.

Are you emotionally exhausted? Perhaps you need time, or a friend, an outlet, or a [brief] escape.

Are you spiritually exhausted? Perhaps you need prayer, truth, a reminder.

Perhaps you need all of it.

Tonight, I’m wishing that it wasn’t just hindsight that was 20/20. I’m praying for new eyes, for insight into the heart and mind, for clarity and sight into what will heal and renew, for what kind of “funk” causes this sickness-  the stem, the root, the system that planted it. I don’t just want to slap a Band-aid on my exhaustion; I’d rather get a second opinion. I’m all in for full healing, for homeopathic remedies that really reach home. Into the depths. Inside, out. I’m all in for rewriting the story, for making the sad things untrue.

Perhaps you’re looking for that too. What’s the diagnosis, the issue? Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right?

It just might be time for another check-up. And after that, well, not just any treatment will do.

St. Louis: A City on a Hill? I Pray.

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I should be working. Grading papers. Or walking my dog. Or making dinner, hydrating myself, making a watering plan for my church’s new fall landscaping, or… a lot of other things.

Instead, I’m preparing myself for tomorrow.

I’ve been largely absent from media this week, especially mainstream media. I had decided to delete Facebook from my phone, post either seldom or more carefully on Instagram, and turn off the TV, for really no other reason than I had little to no time for it, and I seemed not to be using my time efficiently when I had very obviously too much to do.

Then, yesterday, the head of my school made mention of an impending verdict in his address to the student body, all 1,100 of them and the faculty surrounding them. Then my friends started talking about whisperings and questions. And, this morning, Ferguson was mentioned in a letter read to us from the Director of Diversity, a letter that he has prepared to send when the verdict is announced – the grand jury verdict that decides the fate of Darren Wilson and has the power to ignite the passions of millions of people all over our country.

So, afterward, as a small group of four who were processing those ideas, we listened, and we discussed, and we prayed.

We prayed for awareness and sensitivity to others, for deep understanding, for calming of fears, for peace… Most importantly, we prayed for the Lord to be with us. Be WITH us, God… Be before us and behind us and among us. Be at work, and in our midst, and allow us to SEE you and FEEL you with us as we open our eyes to a new day… a new day in which everything and nothing may change all at one time.

Tomorrow, we will open our eyes to a new day, and the verdict may be announced. Maybe. Some reports say 7pm. At that time, I will be home or possibly at a friend’s house enjoying fall drinks and spending time with wonderful women. I will have just finished teaching all day, oddly discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my students on the heels of a really hard lesson about the Jim Crow Era and the systematic, racial caste system that our country experienced (and to some degree, still experiences) for so long… We will have talked about white guilt, about racial stereotypes, about the sad and incredibly wrong things that have been going on in our country for a long time, about the way the media is such a powerful force to be used for great good or great pain, about the power of our words and our actions and our very loud silence, about our responsibility to stand up and be advocates and leaders for change, about the beauty and fragility of the human heart. And I will send those intricate, wonderful souls out into the streets, to their homes, to their friend’s houses, to their Instagram accounts and Snapchats and Twitter feeds and coffee houses and theaters and living rooms and beds, and these ideas will be swimming in their heads while they receive the news in the coming hours or days… the news that may divide an already divided city.

I am full of fear and hope for this city, for these students, for myself…

I fear what we will do to one another, how we will wound one another in the wake of this verdict. I fear the words and actions and silences that will speak so loudly about the state of our hearts and our understanding and also lack of understanding. I fear for physical pain and vandalism and destruction that may occur to people in this city and in others, all of whom were made in the image of a peaceful and ultimately just God. I fear for friends in my city who are nervous – White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike – about how people will respond, about who or what is about to descend on this city, and when we will hear and see with our own ears and eyes.  I fear for the future… and yet I have so much hope. I see my city filled with so much beauty, so much grace, so much peace. I see adults and students everywhere who are peacemakers, who long to see our city united, who are pining for the day when we embrace each other even more than we already do, who are making real and concrete preparations for that. I see students who have wide eyes and open ears and soft words who speak confidently about what confuses them, angers them, fills them with sadness, as well as what brings them needed laughter and joy. I see teachers who love their students well and provide space for those conversations. I see adults who have deliberately placed themselves in situations and conversations and environments that would open their eyes and extend hands across deep lines and divides. I am so encouraged by these things, these stories, these lives, these words and hearts.

I am full of fear, and I am full of hope for my city.

So instead of working, or walking my dog, or making dinner or any of those very important things I could be doing, I am writing. And I am asking.

Will you be aware? Will you be sensitive?

When the verdict is released, will you process in whatever healthy way you can in a safe environment? Will you be aware that others will process this news very differently than you will? Will you be aware that some won’t care as deeply as you? Will you be aware that some will be hurt or sad or angry or confused or all of the above? Will you be sensitive to those reactions, and will you listen, truly listen, with the intent to understand? Will you protect each other? Love each other well? Be a body of people who supports and defends and unites, a city on a hill?

I pray that you will, and I pray that I will…

I will make every effort to do so, and I am already preparing myself to ask for forgiveness when I fall short. Because I’m a woman of good intentions, but boy, do I learn every single day, over and over, what a flawed person I am and how much I have yet to figure out. I will need to process, to listen, to discuss, to pray.

Bear with me. Bear with each other, and love one another well. Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Our city is crying out for it. The structures and surroundings, both manmade and Godmade are ready for it. The city is being prepped and prayed over. The verdict is descending. Will we be ready? Will we be aware? Will we be sensitive? Will we seek peace?

St. Louis, may it be so, I pray.

Context is King, and when Life is Bad to the Bone

So, you might think I’m crazy.

That’s fine.

I’ve been posting up a storm lately on Instagram and Facebook and my blog, proclaiming God’s power in my life and the fact that I’m going to stomp all over that coward, Satan, with the gift of words that Christ gave me. You can think I’m crazy if you want to, but if you do, you’re blind.

Satan loves shame. He loves darkness. He loves to hide, and one of his favorite tricks is for us to turn on each other because we can’t see what others can.

Satan is REAL. God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons at our disposal in the Word and in the Holy Spirit and the body of believers. Yes? Can I get an amen?

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Yesterday, the sky on Delmar at night.

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Yesterday, my story played in chapel at Westminster Christian Academy, to about 1,000 kids and staff. I was nervous, and yet I saw how God put that together and how holy hands had formed that video from 40 minutes of my verbose speech wittled down to 5 minutes of clear, concise good words. He is faithful.

The mantra, the drumbeat, the anthem of that video was this: What Satan means for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS. Genesis 50:20. (See my video here.)

While that video played, my husband was T-boned on Delmar Street. [side note – what is going on on Delmar lately? Injured deer running the streets? Crazy?!]

My husband is perfectly great. He is safe. The other car smashed in his passenger side (praise the LORD!), and he is safe. My husband even used his gift of wisdom and words to encourage me on the phone when he called me during my planning period, and for ONCE, I had my phone with me all day… I answered right away. Praise the LORD! Brian encouraged me and then continued to care for me all day with his words and actions. Wait… weren’t you the one that was hit today, hard? It’s like the one time when we were dating, and I smacked him in the face with the Wii remote because I wanted SO badly to get that backhand tennis shot, and even though I gave him a black eye, when I started crying because I felt so badly, he ended up comforting me! What the heck?!? Life is crazy.

You might think I’m crazy, and again, that’s FINE. Think all you want. But while you’re thinking over there, I’m going to be face down praying, y’all. Because Satan is REAL, and God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons to wield against a cowardly fallen angel who continues to strike out at me and my family.

Would you pray for a hedge of protection over the Rieckman and Simpson family today? Would you cover us in prayer?

I had the image today as I was praying, face down in couch, of a forcefield around my family. I prayed for each individual person, one by one, adults and babies alike. Pets alike! I prayed for protection to cover them. I prayed for Satan to FLEE, and I commanded it in the Lord’s name. I prayed for God to help me because I feel so bold and yet I am so, so scared. Because when you fight for God’s promises and you speak words of truth that the God of the universe gave you, crazy things happen. And Satan loves to fight back.

But here’s the thing. I have weapons. I have YOU. I have prayer warriors, and the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:17-18

Prayer is powerful. Let’s harness it.

Pray for:

– a hedge of protection
– eyes to see the very clear spiritual battle going on
– binding us together
– staying alert
– getting in the WORD and being in constant prayer
– telling Satan to FLEE
Here’s the other thing: I know I’m not the only one. I’m hearing so many stories right now of other people’s storms. I mean, geez, just look out the window this morning in St. Louis. Today woke us up with a crack of lightning and deep rumbling in the earth. Big things are happening. And God is sovereign over every bit of it. Praise the King!
Life might be striking out at you, bad to the bone, but Our King is good through and through. He might not be safe, but LORD, He is GOOD! Can I get an amen?
PREACH. PRAISE. PRAY. What Satan meant for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS.
May that be our anthem, our drumbeat, our place of praise, always.
Time to kick start this day and kick Satan in the [err… pants.].

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On Fight and Flight [or Beauty in the Breakdown]

I’ll cut right to the chase. This morning, I burst into tears in my classroom. In front of my kids. At 7:56am. One minute after class started.

Allow me to give some context and explain.  

Last weekend – beautiful, redemptive conversations and hugs, LOVE abounding and refreshing, best friends

Monday – unpreparedness, OVERexposure, emotional wreckage (in private)

Tuesday – good and busy

Wednesday – fine and fun and fast

Thursday – The phrase “The day got away from me” is not accurate enough. The day flew by me and around me. It FLEW, and I was building the plane while flying it. Work from 7am-11:30pm without ceasing.

Friday – Wake up. GO. GO. Go. go. gooo… CRASH. Insert Gina, amazing teacher partner, who gave me a breather and took over my class while I cried in the empty hallway and in her room, and I prayed.

It’s wild to me to think about how we fight and flee. When we do. If we do. It’s also amazing to me to see how God REDEEMS, because boy, does he ever… ALWAYS. Here are five things I noticed after my 3rd hour when I got a breather.

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Fable & Lore necklace, made here in St Louis. The pattern speaks to me – partnership, gold, shining, waves, dips, doves, peace.

Camo “battle” shoes – I seem to always wear these when I have a spiritual battle ahead. I wore them to the store two summers ago when we heard that Grandpa Alex was in the hospital. I wore them to Chick-Fil-A that same week when I mightily ate some chicken and made my father-in-law belly laugh to lift some grief.

“Hunger Games” arrow rings with chain from Standard Style in KC. I feel powerful, alive, and GUIDED when I wear this. I could stab the devil with this and inflict some damage as well.

Ring wrapped in thread from local store in LA. Handmade. It speaks to me of binding, protecting, adorning, and unraveling over time, the need for redemption.

Ebony heart earrings from the annual family Hen Party. I wore my heart on the outside today; edged in gold and passed down to me from family, it was.

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I’m a lover of jewelry. I love to make a statement and decorate myself in things that make me feel bold and strong and unique.

After my 3rd hour when I got a breather and walked down that same empty hallway to get some tea, I saw adornment. I saw adornment and purpose and reasons to praise.

God loves to adorn me as well… and how odd it is (and INCREDIBLE) that it seems subconsciously (or miraculously) God guides me to dress myself in things that give me power and strength on days that I REALLY will need it.

Before first hour, I felt the stress building. I rushed. I tried to help kids who desperately wanted my attention. I did not get my plans cemented. I did not get the objectives or agenda written on the board. I did not play music as they entered like I normally do. I was not relaxed and full of peace, and I know (because God spoke to me yesterday and this morning about it, that peacemakers who sow in peace build fields of righteousness (James 3:18). Yet, I was not full of peace. I was full of exhaustion and anxiety and the need for control, and yet I was spinning out of it. I was full of selfish ambition (James 3). I would strive and strive, do and do, work and work, and I (key word: I) would get it all done and do it all well. Friends who know me, do you see a pattern?! Oh my good GOD, what you must be thinking when you look at me and see me repeating my same sins over and and over again, stubbornly fleeing from you and relying on my own flawed ability to perform. God, what must you think…?

I know what you must think, because when I returned from getting tea, I opened my Bible and flipped to the next passage in James and read this:

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And l listened to this: “Healing” by Ben and Noelle

And suddenly, it all fell together. I nodded and laughed and smiled and prayed, and then I blogged. Because God knows what he’s doing. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown. Because when I felt the emotion rising, I asked a kid to pray for me, smack-dab at the start of the class, and he did. And when I turned around to turn on the projector RIGHT after that, I was locked out of the system because of the storms and power loss yesterday, and that’s when I lost it. The tears started flowing, and I squeaked out, “It’s been a really hard day already, and someone needs to go get Mrs. Bush.” And they did. And she did what she did, and I did what I did.

And the kids were gracious, and they all said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Simpson. We’ve all felt that way. And we get it, and you’re not the first teacher who we’ve seen cry.” And class was better.

And 2nd hour, class was better. And by third hour, when the technology was breaking down again, the video projects the kids had prepared were not uploading and were not playing and were not using sound, and the computer kicked me out of Power Point and kids were getting flustered, I stopped class and said, “Listen.”

“Listen, Satan is the worst. And you might think it’s funny, and it kind of is, but there is some REAL, supernatural, technological difficulty going on here. There is some real spiritual battle happening in my heart and in this classroom today, and Satan’s not going to win. God is bigger and stronger and better. Amen?” The kids laughed and clapped, and I said, “Let’s be honest. That might sound weird to you, but there is a reality to the fact that Satan doesn’t want us to flourish. And he’s a butt-hole. I HATE him. Don’t you?!” [insert shocked student laughter] “I absolutely hate him, and I believe that when you call upon the name of the Lord and you tell Satan to flee, he has to. He has to flee, because God is greater, and Satan sucks. Yes?” And they all echoed yes. And we went on with our class, and we played some of the videos and solved some of the technical difficulties, and we ended class in prayer, going on with our day.

Guys, Satan is real. God is REAL. And we have POWER and ACCESS and PEACE in the Holy Spirit. God is willing and able to redeem situations and overcome evil when we ask and even sometimes when we don’t. But He wants us to ask and ask boldly. And he will fight with us as we tell Satan to flee. And he will. And now, here I am, using TECHNOLOGY that has failed me all day to share this message with you. God is a restorer and a redeemer. God is a warrior and a comforter. God is a HEALER.

I am fighting against Satan’s temptation to despair today, and I’m telling Satan to flee. Will you join me in the fight? Will you allow God to speak to you and heal you and do powerful things in your life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to enter and move in power?

Amen. May it be so.

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From Stodgy to Saved

Recently at work, I was asked, “When did you encounter Jesus?” Along with our theme for this year’s chapel at WCA, I will apparently be one of many teachers and students who will be interviewed on camera in order to play a short clip of our story at chapel for the kids. And if you know me at all, you know I’ve got some reflecting and word-smithing to do on my own before I’m ready to speak in front of a crowd, or in this case on camera (eek!). Attempting to alleviate some awkwardness, I’ll lay my thoughts down here as part one of three. Apologies to friends whom I am about to embarrass.

The first time I recall encountering Jesus was the summer before sixth grade. My incredible friend Caroline (over at In Due Time) invited me to her youth group. I had most likely been complaining to her about my church, which I now realize was fairly spiritually dead. We said words, we sang hymns, and we went through the motions, but there was little to no faith-life there, at least for me. My brother and I had both been falling asleep in church, and our wonderful mother began to fear that we would lose our interest in faith altogether. So, she said hesitantly said yes. I don’t remember much, but I do remember a flurry of activity – the painted walls of KYF, the hum of energy, the uproarious laughs, and the seeming lack of adults. We were in a room filled with kids, and there seemed only to be a few adults in the room, and they weren’t signaling for anyone to sit down or shut up; the adults were mingling with and among the kids, laughing, talking, snacking… What? This was not my definition of youth gatherings at church. Where were the dingy tables, dull lights, worksheets, dusty books, empty hallways? And goodness, the boys in the room were reallllly cute. I liked this place.

IMG_0809 IMG_0826 After an absurd game of lining up and passing bananas over our heads with our feet (our pre-pubescent posteriors arching over our heads), some type of talk began to which I didn’t pay much attention, and then eventually, more talking, laughing, flirting, goofing off… I came home and said that I loved it.

Caroline continued to invite me to church, and as we spent increasing frequency of time together, that relationship and others deepened into great friendships. Erika, Jenny, Raelyn… I was surrounded by beautiful, silly, and yearning souls like mine who were already growing into incredible Godly women. We talked, and laughed, flirted and goofed off, decorated Bible covers, taped in book tabs (probably from Mardel’s), and learned to pray. Still, I came for the fun, the games, the boys. I came for Caroline and Erika and Jenny and Raelyn and Ashley. I came for myself.

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IMG_0824Then, one day, I sat on the KYF carpet in the back of the youth room, cross-legged and eyes wandering, observing and taking in the room, and I heard a woman’s voice grow ever stronger in my ears. Susan Grapegater, who happened to live across the street from Caroline with Mr. Grapengater and their two kids, from whose yard we had retrieved many a poorly aimed soccer ball, in whose house we had youth meals and Superbowls, whose incredibly creepy Halloween haunted house drew in neighbor kid after neighbor kid every year, spoke. She spoke with love and fervor and kindness. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the feeling. I remember her smile, her knowing glance that seemed to focus on me out of all sixty-some kids in the room. I remember a click, a shift in my heart, an openness, a willingness to lend an ear. I stared at the rough carpet speckled in color, and I felt a nudge, a fearful and wonderful call. She asked us to bow our heads and pray with her. I didn’t know how to respond, but I bowed my head, and I listened. And that evening, after going home in bewilderment, I realized what that call was, and stumbling over the words I had heard again and again and again at KYF that summer, I bowed my head in my bedroom and I asked the Lord to come into my heart and save me. And he did. I encountered Jesus. And when I opened my eyes, it seemed as if everything and nothing had changed all at the same time. I resolved to tell Caroline, but beyond that, I looked around my room at my walls and the life that had been built around me and felt a sense of awe and uncertainty. I realized suddenly that someone else was in control, a partnership of sorts. It was God and me now… and I thought, “What now?”

When the Flames Consume Us

I’ve always loved a good fire. There’s something mesmerizing about the flames, white-hot spark igniting yellow-orange upward waves of heat… black char glowing red as the embers smolder. It’s captivating, warm, inviting… hypnotic… dangerous.

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When I was just a little Taz, I sat at this campfire with my family and tried to judge the right distance from the fire. Naturally, my feet propped onto the stones’ edge. After the fire and cacophony of voices died and the Hershey’s wrappers lay sticky and discarded on the ground, I rose, and stumbled over my feet. No matter how I tried to walk, my feet were not cooperating, and I kept lurching forward as if I were walking on small forest moguls placed by some fiend (my brother?!). Instead, I discovered, when I sat and lifted my feet, that the soles of my shoes had melted and re-formed in lumps and mountainous hills, cavernous valleys, and oddly misshapen curvatures. I had gotten a little too close to the heat.

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I always seem to do this, to reach too close to the flame or the boundaries, and it often takes a burn or a slow meltdown to realize what I needed to learn… approach cautiously, judge from a distance… listen to the wise speaker and heed their warnings. The last picture was taken at our last City Church fall retreat. It was a beautiful moment in a sun-filled field on a walk of escape that was so dearly needed. My dear husband came with me into this open field that reminded me of the West 40, and we stared at the golden grass waving in the sunshine as I melted down. I sobbed and told him of my fears, my anxieties, that were rising in my chest like a wave that I could not stop. They reached my shoulders, seized my heart, fogged my brain, and left me burnt and ashy, remnants of what I used to be. I was being consumed, and I didn’t know what to do to stop it. I remember him holding me and rubbing my back. I remember him speaking tender words to me. I remember prayer. And I remember opening my eyes to beauty and a few minutes of serenity and clarity. I remember saying I never wanted to leave that place, and then wiping my eyes before taking this picture, full of joy.

Then, I remember coming down from that place again, that high ascent, grasping his hand, and returning again to the fog and the mire, to the slow burn… It lasted for five more months, the fog and the flame, eating away at me. In March, I felt much like this – remnants of what I used to be.

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There was good all around me, but it was hard to see. I had burned down and left a chasm that needed to be filled, and at the right time, God showed me restoration. This field above is in my parents’ backyard. My father, who knows of my pyrotechnic tendencies, said last spring, “Marie, I have some burning that we can do. I saved you a huge pile.” We lit it on a quite windy day, and it caught and spread, quickly. No matter the hoses we dragged out to spray, no matter the hands on deck, the fire spread, and we couldn’t stop it. The fire department came twice, not once. It even reignited three hours later after we all thought it was put out. But what has come of that space is now beautiful, lush, filled with green grass healthier than it was before, and it only took a few weeks to start showing the beauty out of the ashes. Sure, there was embarrassment at what had happened; we didn’t mean to start the fire. There was anger from others, unintentional casualty; a neighbor didn’t understand our intentions; she even thought that we wanted this. Though, mostly there was understanding, a few laughs when the fear had died, a few slaps on the backs and, “It’s okay”s. A few voices reassuring that even people who always seem to make smart decisions have a goof-up now and then that they can’t fully control. We’ve all been there. There was grace.

And, I’m realizing new truths now. That God is an all-consuming fire, and we should be thankful for that. Grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, grateful that he is no longer to us the burning bush that cannot be approached, but a fire that burns within, a spirit that is indwelling, and his fire burns pure and perfectly. His fire consumes even those smaller fires we set in our own lives… His fire is our salvation; we must step closer and hurl ourselves in or be swept into something else. We must submit to Him, reverently and with awe and worship.

So, this morning, I leave for school with that. That we have not the scary, untouchable, awesome God from the Old Testament, but instead we have mount Zion and the city of the living God. We have innumerable angels in festal gathering, an assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, we have God, the judge of all, the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant whose sprinkled blood speaks a better word for us. He is removing things that are made which are so easily shaken and replacing them with what cannot be shaken. He is burning us down and growing us up. For that, I am grateful. For relief from anxiety, I am thankful.

May you meet this all-consuming fire that I speak of today, and may you be swept up in its glow and glory. That is my prayer for you, and for me, continually. Amen.

[Hebrews 12:18-29]

There’s a Hole in my Soul, I Can Feel It, I Can Feel It…

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

Bastille in their song “Flaws” sings, “You always wore your flaws along your sleeves. And I buried them deep beneath the ground. Dig them out. Let’s finish what we started. Dig them out, let nothing be undone.” I played this song for my students yesterday and we talked about flaws, about vulnerability and being gentle with ourselves and others. It’s fitting that my own devotion would apply to me this morning, and perhaps to you. Do you wear your flaws or your sleeve? Or do you bury them deep? Are you weary this morning? Or are you relying on the Lord’s strength? Your own? Perhaps you’re like me and you think you’re good to go, but you just haven’t crashed and burned yet. I’m trying to coast to a stop more easily than I used to, to settle into a slow jog, a trot, then a walk, rather than having an epic crash with skinned knees, concussions, and other various hazardous injuries that occur when you just. won’t. stop. Because that’s me. I just won’t stop, much of the time.

That persistent voice keeps telling me to slow down, you know… that “pesky” ever-so-wise Holy Spirit. He keeps saying, “Be gentle with yourself.” He keeps saying, “Rely on me, not yourself.” He keeps saying, “Whoa girl… you know you can’t run on your own steam forever. Or even for a second… You have to come refill. You have to come to me. To the Lord. Only my Word has life.”

And yet, I often don’t listen. Often it’s the last thing that I do. I’m getting better at it, but boy, am I a stubborn, hard-headed one, and I know I’m not alone. We’re a hard-headed people… often a hard-hearted people.

There’s a hole in my soul. Can you feel it? Can you feel it? There’s nothing else that can fill that hole in my soul other than the Lord. Only the Lord. Only Christ. And yet, I try to fill it or ignore with so many other things, mainly myself, my work, my efforts, my, my, MY. So selfish am I in my pursuits to care for others or to do my job. The devil is a sneaky one, prowling like a lion, clever like a snake. But I will crush his head. I will turn his plans to ashes. I will cry out to the Lord, and I will tell Satan to flee, and he will flee from me. For what Satan plans for evil, what we do to ourselves is turned to evil, but God works it for good. ALWAYS. (Genesis 50:20)

So let’s wear our flaws on our sleeves. Let’s finish what we started. Let’s let nothing be undone.

Lord, Finish this work that you started. Forgive me for trying to do it all on my own. Thank you for making me learn this lesson over and over and over again so that I have to keep coming back to you, so that my efforts are in vain, and you are glorified. Thank you that you are strong and powerful and the source of my strength. Strengthen my weak knees, lift my weary hands to you, and make straight paths for my feet, Lord, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Heal me, Father. Amen.

(Hebrews 12: 12-13)

Delivery

I took a break the other day, and it was very, very needed. Suffice to say that I brought myself to a new low, one that I did not realize I was capable of spiraling into, a new level of exhaustion that I had previously left untapped… It makes me wonder about even lower levels, but that would be another exploration into anxiety, and I need no more of that.

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So I took a day… I was given a day. And, it was so, so needed.

And, I suppose that I should clarify and say that it wasn’t a whole day. It was really just a morning because after that I worked eight hours on my schoolwork to prepare for the following day because I felt that that might also help me to calm my brain, if I finished a few tasks.

So I took the morning. And I ran. (I HATE running…) I slept in, I cuddled up to my husband a little, and then I laced up my tennis shoes, and I RAN, and I breathed, and I RAN… And before I had left on this run, my head was feeling still pretty cloudy, but I had learned that it was my dear friend’s induction day, and she was in a lot of pain too, of a very different sort.

So, I took my phone with me, and I RAN.

And what I felt almost immediately was relief. Warmth on my skin, energy in my legs, calm in my head, and focus because all that I had to do was let the music flow into my ears, keep my eyes mostly open, and just keep running forward. That was it. Keep pressing on toward the goal… and that day my only goal was to GET OUT of my mind and RUN.

I didn’t run the whole time. Let’s not pretend that I’m some sort of athletic prodigy (that’s almost laughable!). But it felt good, and at times, I closed my eyes, and I sang out loud, and I pressed on and challenged myself to keep going. And I prayed for myself and for my friend.

“God, help us in this. Help us to get through this. Help me to get through this. Lord, I’m so tired and so confused, and I just want to be able to focus, to get through this day with clarity. I just want peace, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” And I cried out in my mind to Him as the music pounded in my ears and my tennis shoes pounded on the asphalt. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh! […] And He will reign forever, He will reign forever, HE WILL REIGN for-EVER and EVER!”

God spoke through my headphones via his people in Hillsong. Keep going. He’s with you. He’s yours. You are HIS. Your brokenness does not define you. You can emerge from this darkness. He is with you. He is WITH YOU! He is WITH you!

My feet kept going and my heart kept pounding and my ears kept singing and soon my mouth was singing his praises, out loud in my neighborhood, past the tennis courts and around the bends and up the hills and on the sidewalks past the streets and into a field. I watched the leaves fall, yellow and dying, onto the ground, and I prayed in my head, “Not yet, Lord. No, not yet. While I still have breath, I will praise you.” And I thought of Erika and Justin and baby Shepherd Alexander, and I prayed for them too. “She is yours, God. He is yours. That baby is yours, God. Help her through it. Bring life. While we still have breath, let us praise you. All of our energy and our might and and our breath is for you, God.”

And soon I came to a field, and I felt I should slow. Or dance.

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So, I jogged in a few funny circles, and I tried to decide whether to keep singing aloud or twirl in circles, to make myself even more undignified than this… to revel in this freedom.

I looked around to see if anyone was around, but the trees were high and shielding this place, so I just sat down. And Hillsong sang on, “My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure, Lord, you are. My friend and King, Anointed One, Most Holy.”

The words subsided and the music lingered in my ears, lulling me… so I texted Erika some words from the Lord that I was receiving too, and I lied down on the asphalt with my eyes turned up toward the blue sky, and I closed them too. I let the heat and exhaustion of my body fade as my chest rose and fell, and I let the sweat pour down my face and the world swirl around me, and I allowed the words to sink in. “I will exalt you… I will exalt you… I will exalt you. You are my God.” And after a few minutes, my eyes opened and adjusted again to the day I was given, and I stood up stronger. I breathed in, I breathed out. I breathed in, I breathed out. I looked around. And someone else was coming, now, after my respite. So, I turned and walked up a VERY steep hill (that didn’t feel quite as difficult as it usually does), and I walked home.

I showered, got some grub, and I got to work. And I wasn’t perfectly healed, but I was IMMENSELY better than I had been. And each day since has been a little better as I have learned to rest and to start my days with grace and a good Word.

Each day has been a struggle lately. Some worse than others. Fear and anxiety and confusion has overtaken me. It almost felt like it took my under. But, I’m emerging, delivered, just like beautiful Shepherd Alexander did that day, at 1:50pm (just shortly after I finished nourishing my body with a good meal), and he was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 20.5 inches long.

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He is gentle as a shepherd and strong through his King, just like me. He has weaknesses and fears and need of care, just like me. But he has a Redeemer like me, a God who does not hear his people cry out continually, over and over in anguish and despair, and not answer. Our God is a restorer, a hiding place, a safe refuge, and we will exalt Him, Shep and I. And his parents and their families too. We will cry out into the world and find the Lord drawing near, and we will find peace and deliverance, again and again. We will emerge into the world stronger and braver because of our strong, strong God. We will fight, and He will redeem us. We will be brought to places of peace of respite. We will carry on. I’m trusting that today.

971791_10103708366006674_616554872_n“I will exalt you. I will exalt you. I will exalt you. You are my God.” It’s been ringing in my ears for days.

I will exalt you, God. You are my God, indeed. I will try to get my mind out of the stubborn place where it lies and the overworked, perfection-laden spiral it shatters into, and I will try to trust you, to exercise my faith in you, to believe you when you say, REST, before I am brought low. To believe your commands and follow them. I’m trying God. I know you’ll stay with me. You are near, God. You are mine. I am yours. I am your joy and your crown, whom you love and long for. And I will try not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests before you, and your peace, which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and my MIND in Christ Jesus.

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Amen.

Thank you.

Now, I’m ready to take on this day.

And then I Hit a Wall…

This is the part that they don’t describe in fairy tales. You know, after the “happily ever after” and the one year party for your business, and after the lights dim and the cameras stop rolling, and all of the sudden you feel completely exhausted and overwhelmed, and you find yourself sinking onto the kitchen floor with your back against a cabinet crying to your husband on the phone because you can’t think straight…

Not like I’m using a personal example or anything.

Don’t feel sorry for me. I mean, do, but don’t. We’ve all been there. You have really difficult things going on in your life too. It’s not just me… It’s just one of those nights. The deep breaths and the hour nap I took and the just-pushing-through-it didn’t work, and so here I am, feeling drained and scattered and like my synapses are firing so fast that I can’t keep up.

I have so much to do that I’m completely halted. It’s like my brain is in fog, and I can’t reach out to see what’s in front of me. I can’t organize anything. I start doing something, and I stop short because I can’t even remember what I was wanting to do 10 seconds ago. “What was it again? Wait… that thing, no that thing… no, I don’t think it was…” and finally 30 seconds later, I’ve realized what it was, but then I’m thinking of 10 more things.

I’m tired. My brain is tired. And here I am, not checking things off of my list right now, but writing. Because something about writing calms me. It helps me to … breathe… in, out, in, out… write, reread, edit, reflect, revise… in, out, in, out…

Crying helps too. When I was a little girl (because I’ve always worked myself into a frenzy and burned the candle at both ends), I used to cry and cry and work myself into a sweaty mess in my parents’ arms, and then they said that I’d just pass out. In college, I would cry and cry and then run laps around the Stankowski track, and that’s saying something, because I HATE running. Sweaty mess again… But something about exhausting yourself is helpful. And restarting in the morning is helpful. Making your brain focus on ONE thing and one thing only and quieting the voices that keep telling you that life is too much… it helps.  Thank goodness for sleep and new mornings.

But for now, I’m just coping with a to-do list. And, I don’t expect you to call me or email me. That might actually stress me out more because then I feel like I need to call or email back, and I’ll guilt-trip myself more about what I haven’t been doing enough of. But, if you’re a praying person, that helps.

I read an excerpt from Jesus Calling just a bit ago, and today’s message said basically, “Hey, I’m here. I can heal you. All you have to do is ask.”

And I felt like, “Duh…” and also, “THANK YOU!” and I sent out a quick, “Help me, help me, heal me” prayer. And I feel a little better.

I have a lot to do, and I’m sure at some point I’ll have more eloquent things to say about this feeling and about how fairy tales are incredible and can really happen, but that the fairy isn’t a fairy, He’s God, and he doesn’t just give you bliss and then leave you there in blissfulness unending (at least until heaven). We’ve got work to do and lessons to learn and people to encourage, and there’s real evil in the world. But for now, I’ll just leave it at this…

I am living a fairy tale, because I know whose I am, and I’m given abundant blessings, but this fairy tale isn’t for the perfect person. It’s for the faint of heart, for the downtrodden, for the achiever and the hopeless and the one who can’t do it right. It’s for me, the overworking “I wish I could do everything” and well-intentioned person who just keeps hitting her head against the wall sometimes. My fairy tale includes brokenness and healing, and it’s supposed to be that way, this side of heaven, but some nights are really hard. And some nights are really exhausting.

So, that’s that. And now, I need to go get a heck of a lot of work done, and finish eating my now-cold noodle soup, because I needed some comfort food tonight, and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to cut up vegetables. (Don’t judge me. I know it’s hot in St. Louis.)

I hope that you’re experiencing some refreshing and blessing tonight. And if you don’t feel like you are, at least take comfort in the fact that it’s not just you. And that all you have to do is remember that God’s there, and He can heal you, and all that you have to do is ask.

Amen. Good night.