Repost: Relentless

(Originally posted May 2016)

Last week Tim and I spent a few days in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate our 15th anniversary (how are we this old?). After an unseasonably cold and wet Pennsylvania spring, my only stipulations on the destination of our trip were: WARM and SUNNY. Since “15” is a pretty big deal and we haven’t gone anywhere together in many years, we splurged… and it was worth every penny!

My favorite thing about Cancun, as I expected, was the ocean. I still can’t get over how blue the water was – it seemed unreal, like someone dumped boatloads of various shades of blue dye in it. No matter how much I hate that salty, sticky feeling, I couldn’t wait to go for a swim!

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Unfortunately, the perfect swim I pictured in my head did not happen because the crashing waves were relentless! At the Jersey shore, where we do most of our beach swimming, after every group of three or four waves, there is usually a period of calm where you can make some forward progress.

But on this day in Cancun there were no such periods of calm. The waves were constant and strong! It seemed like every time I got a little deeper, I would just get knocked over and dragged back to shore. And then, before I could even stand up and wipe my eyes, I would get pummeled yet again! I just couldn’t win! My favorite sunglasses even found a new home at the bottom of the sea 😕

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One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Jacob. A struggler from birth, Jacob wrestled with his brother, his father, his children, his circumstances, and his God. Though he was the beneficiary of the blessing and the heir to the leadership of his family, things rarely seemed to go his way.

After being born the second of a set of twins, Jacob fought and deceived his way to the top of his family. Unfortunately, his trickery came back to haunt him as his father-in-law then tricked him into 14 years of hard labor. Some time later, his beloved wife, Rachel, died and then his most beloved son, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his older brothers. Jacob (believing Joseph to be dead) “refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.'” (Genesis 37:35)

As if this wasn’t enough, a famine then overtook the land Jacob had settled his family in, the land God had promised this family for generations. Upon hearing that there was food in Egypt, though, Jacob sent his sons (except the youngest – Benjamin, the only remaining son of Rachel) to purchase food from there. His worst fears were confirmed when his sons returned with a report that they had been dealt harshly with by the “lord of the land” – that one son was being held prisoner and the only way to free him was to send Benjamin as proof that they were not spies.

“Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!'” (Genesis 42:36)

But what Jacob couldn’t see was that everything was actually going for him! The “lord of the land” was none other than Joseph himself and, not only was he soon to be reunited with his son, but his family was about to be spared certain death – for five more years of famine remained. These things that at first seemed to be knocking him over again and again were not against him at all.

As Joseph told his brothers, “For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:6-7)

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In speaking of Joseph’s treatment of his brothers when they first came to Egypt to buy food, commentator Matthew Henry says, “God in His providence sometimes seems harsh with those He loves, and speaks roughly to those for whom yet He has great mercy in store.”*

Like you, I’ve had many days and even seasons of life where I felt like everything was going against me – days where I’ve questioned the “love” of this God I put my faith in. So many of the things we go through aren’t what we would see as the results of “love”, and, if He really is “in control”, then why does it feel like the waves of His ways are going against us?

Psalm 103:2-4 says:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy”

When we confess our belief in Christ and receive Him into our lives, it’s like stepping into the ocean of God’s benefits. The problem is that at first, all this healing, redemption, and mercy, doesn’t seem “beneficial” at all! It may even feel like it’s just one thing after another and that you barely have time to recover before something else hits. We often think, “If God really loves me, then why are these things happening to me?” – but it’s those things that seem to be against us that are actually the waves of His steadfast love and His constant work in our lives.

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After losing my sunglasses on my first Cancun swimming adventure, I wasn’t too sure about venturing into the ocean again – the serene hotel pools seemed much safer. But I’m not one to back down from a challenge and I felt the need for redemption, so I gave it another try… and had a blast! Because I knew what I was getting myself into, frustration turned into joy, and I couldn’t stop laughing every time I got lambasted by a wave! It was probably my favorite memory from our trip.

When you step into a true relationship with God through Christ, you’re willingly walking into the waves of His steadfast love. This love is unlike the passive, emotion-based tolerance we’ve grown accustomed to in our society. This love is the “chesed” – the active, truth-based, lovingkindness and goodness – of a God who is above all things and really does know what is best for us and for His glory.**

I believe, in the end, or at least after some time, we’ll look back at the times we got knocked over and instead of pain, we’ll see healing. Instead of judgment, we’ll see mercy. Instead of frustration, we’ll see joy. We’ll see that the very things we thought were relentlessly against us were actually relentlessly for us.

“But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness…
Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me…
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving…
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.”
(Psalm 69:13, 16, 30 & 34)

*Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, Genesis 42. blueletterbible.org

**https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2617&t=ESV

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Repost: Mess

(Originally posted April 2016)

As a mom of young children, my life could be defined by the word “mess”. Partly because cleaning is not really my thing, partly because I have three girls who like to change their clothes multiple times a day – but mostly because my children refuse to stop being creative! Yes, most of our mess concentrates in one area of our house: the craft cabinet.

As much as I love having creative children, creativity always seems to lead to a mess. Even if we get things all cleaned up and organized one day – the next day it looks like we never even tried!

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One of the things that happens often as I make attempts to clean things up is that I will grab something that, to me, looks like scrap paper or leftovers from some project. But as I get ready to throw it away – I get caught: “No! Don’t throw that away! That’s my spy girls super decoder telescope!” A lot of times things that look like a mess to me are actually my children’s beautiful and wonderful creations.

A couple weeks ago, our youngest daughter, Anna, drew this picture. I noticed that she had worked especially hard on it, so instead of just throwing it in the overflowing box of miscellaneous projects and papers I’ll deal with someday (or sneaking it into the recycle bin) I decided to stop and ask her what it was.

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On the bottom left is a cave, which is next to a parking lot with a flag. To the right of that are mountains – each color being a specific section of the mountains we had hiked a few days before. And of course, there are the clouds and sky. It may not look like much to anyone else – it may just look like some lines and scribbles – but to Anna, this was her creative way of capturing a beautiful and special family memory.

In Genesis 1 we are introduced to the most creative Artist that ever existed as He simply spoke and brought everything we know of into being. Then, as author Jennie Allen states, He “puts His hands in the dirt to craft a final masterpiece. This time, He didn’t use words. He lovingly fashioned man from the dust and woman from a rib.”*

We were not just spoken into being – we were formed. David reminds us of this in Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The amazing thing, though, is that His creative work in our lives did not end there – He is constantly forming us.

The Grand Artist of all creation has chosen us to be His canvases. And although our lives may look like a mess of lines and scribbles and mistakes, He is creating a masterpiece. Every single mark is made with intention and out of the mess comes beauty – beauty that goes beyond anything we could ever dream up if we were the artist ourselves!

When I look at my children’s artwork sometimes, the ‘realist’ adult in me wants to say things like, “Oh – but mountains aren’t pink – they should be green or brown. And the sky? It’s not really just on top there, you should fill it in all the way down.” Because that’s what I see – and that’s what I think mountains and sky should look like.

The same runs true with life in general. When there’s a mess in my relationships or my work or my health or even just in my head – I just want to fix it. I want to make my life what I think my life should look like!

The other day my friend Tassie told a story about a mentor she once had. Every time the two of them would get together and Tassie would share a concern or problem she was facing, Sally would respond with, “Okay, let’s pray.” She would then open the prayer by thanking God for the situation and expressing how much she was looking forward to seeing what amazing things He was going to do through it!

The other day, I challenged myself to stand in the middle of my kids creative mess and just be. To pause and see the beauty in the mess. To just be the mom of these amazingly creative children.

God sees you in your mess. He sees you in your stress. He loves you in your mess and He cares for you in your stress. And even though you may not be able to see it now, He’s making beautiful things out of all of it.

So stop trying to be your own artist! Stop trying to clean it up, fix it all, or run away from it – and just BE. Be His canvas. Be His creation. Your Creator knows exactly what He’s doing.

*”IF: I Believe” (http://ifequip.com/content/i-believe-god-maker-earth-and-all-seen)

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Repost: Drift

(Originally posted April 2016)

I’ve been pulled over a total of four times in my driving career – three of those times in the state of Vermont.

A year after getting points off of my driver’s test for stopping at a yellow light in Springfield, VT, I went through that same yellow light and got pulled over for it. Thankfully, I only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful!

15 years later, after living in Pennsylvania for over a decade, I was back in Vermont, ending an incredible two weeks of student missions. Instead of going back to PA with the group, we were going on vacation in northern VT. But first, we were headed out to breakfast with the fam.

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The speed limit on most roads in rural Vermont is 50 mph. In suburban Philadelphia, though, we have approximately zero roads where the speed limit is 50. Where we live, the ‘slow’ roads are between 25 and 45 mph and the only faster roads are multi-lane highways, which are at least 55 mph. So, when we suburbanites end up on a 50 mph road, we tend to drift in one of those two directions.

On this day, I apparently thought I was on the expressway and was in total shock when I got pulled over for speeding. I had drifted right up to 65 without even noticing it! Thankfully, I again only received a warning and a reminder to be more careful…

Which was apparently not effective as less than 12 hours later, I got pulled over AGAIN! We just happened to be driving through the same town where I took my driver’s test and got my first warning all those years ago. But this time, instead of the light, I missed the sign showing the speed limit drop from 50 to 40. By some strange miracle (even after telling the officer I had already been pulled over that day) I again received a warning and a reminder to PAY ATTENTION!

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Hebrews 2:1 says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” As drivers we know that it’s all too easy to drift – to allow our speed to gradually increase to unsafe levels or miss the clear signs and lights that are guiding us. And according to the writer of Hebrews, it’s just as easy to drift in our beliefs. In this passage, the writer warns readers that the even the small twists and tiny wavers of false teaching can end up causing big problems.

After over 15 years of ministry, Tim and I have experienced this sobering reality, not only in the lives of students, but adults as well.

The initial excitement of coming to know Christ or the ‘high’ of an intense spiritual experience may last for a few months or even years. During that time, everything is new – or at least comes with a new perspective. The Bible comes to life, worship songs are powerful, and your new found community of believers become your best friends. You’ve experienced God’s forgiveness, unconditional love, and now have a personal relationship with Him – it’s pretty much the best thing ever!

But, like all things, the newness wears off and the things that seemed to be so exciting and seemed to be working soon fade to ‘normal’. The overwhelming thought that you have so much to learn about God fades to ‘comfortable’. Those ‘high’ moments come fewer and farther between. The Bible – you kind of get the basic message of it all and there doesn’t really seem to be anything you haven’t heard yet. Worship used to bring you to your knees because you felt God’s nearness – but lately the songs haven’t been doing much for you. And the people you thought were the most amazing and welcoming and loving people ever? Well, they turned out to be not so amazing after all.

This is where the drift begins. Most people don’t just up and walk away – they simply start believing the small twists and tiny wavers on the truth that have slowly been creeping in. Twists like “the Bible is just a source of information,” wavers like “worship is about my personal experience,” or subtle turns like “the church exists to serve me”. It’s a gradual drift – and eventually that ‘faith’ they thought they had becomes a ‘phase’ they look back on.

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Ten years ago, I took a two-year back-to-the-basics discipleship class at my church. After growing up in the church, spending my summers at a Christian camp, attending a Christian college, and working as a youth ministry director, it was easy to think I already knew it all or that there was no way I would ever drift. But taking that class revealed to me how little I actually knew about what I believed – and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

Yeah, it was intense. Yes, it was time consuming. Yep, there was homework. But it was in that class that I learned that the Bible, as God’s word, is “to be read as personal communication from Him” and seen as the place where I can constantly “discover new truths about living for Him.”* It’s where I learned that worship has very little to do with my feelings and everything to do with the fact that God desires and deserves all of my praise. It’s where I learned that “biblical community is based on the concept of giving to and receiving from other followers of Jesus.”**

Rather than just drifting through my relationship with God, I was forced to “pay much closer attention” to what I really believed, rather than being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)

I’m sure you’re curious about that one time I got pulled over somewhere other than Vermont. It happened less than a mile from my house – on a road I drove almost every day. I was on my way to church in my ‘new mom’ days and blew right through a stop sign. I didn’t even know I had done it until I saw the flashing lights behind me!

If you’re feeling comfortable in your faith, this is your warning ticket. If it’s all starting to feel ‘normal’ and ‘everyday’, here’s your pink slip. The temptation to drift – to start believing those minor deceptions that eventually become major – is greatest when we’re close to home. So get uncomfortable – sign up for a class, find a more mature believer who will disciple you, or if you’ve already done that, find someone that you can disciple. You may think this is unnecessary, but until you start paying “much more attention,” you’ll never know what you’ve been missing!

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*Design for Discipleship 2: “The Spirit-Filled Follower of Jesus” p. 48
**p. 89
(Check out the whole Design for Discipleship series at http://www.navigatorstores.com/)

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Repost: Reflection

(Originally posted April 2016)

“Mommy, you’re fat!”

Although this was not a totally shocking comment from my not-afraid-to-be-brutally-honest four-and-a-half-year-old, I turned around and quickly retorted:

“Excuse me! We do NOT say things like that in our family!”

As I was saying this, I realized both of my girls were pointing and laughing hysterically – not at me, but at my reflection in the convenience store restroom hand dryer. The curves in the shiny metal surface of the dryer showed a distorted, squished and, therefore, widened version of myself that was, of course, totally worthy of laughter!

Mirrors. What would we do without them? Having the ability to see a clear reflection of our appearance is something we take for granted in our modern world. We don’t have to depend on still water or polished metal to know what we look like – we can get an accurate view whenever we want!

A warped mirror, however, like the distorted image in the hand dryer or those playground fun mirrors, does not give an accurate reflection. You would never put a mirror like that in your house – well, maybe for fun, but not because you were depending on it to know what you look like!

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This week I pulled out my 8th grade yearbook page (yes, in my small town Vermont class of 25 students we all got our own page!). Each student was assigned the task of finding and filling their page with photos, words, symbols, or quotes (remember there was no internet and no fancy printers in those days…) that gave others a picture of who we were and what we were all about.

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Looking back at my page cracks me up now because, of course, I was in 8th grade and had no clue who I really was! I thought I was all about recycling and world peace, art and music, and “dreaming a better world”. I may have cared about those things some – but really, all I was doing was looking at the world around me and trying to become what I thought they wanted me to be.

I was looking in the wrong mirrors.

When we look to the world around us, expecting to see who we are, how we’re doing, or who we’re supposed to be – all we get are warped reflections. Because every one of those mirrors has an angle – especially the world of social media (which I’m so glad didn’t exist when I was in 8th grade – can I get an “amen”?!)

Even though all these years later I know who I really am, I still find it tempting to just take a quick glance at what’s out there every once in a while.

Some days I see a reflection of “not active or healthy enough”. Often I see a reflection of “not enough of an activist“. I see a reflections of “not hip enough,” “not funny enough,” and “not creative enough”. And, of course, you can’t scroll through your news feed lately without being told that 17 reasons everything you’ve ever thought was incorrect or 18 ways everything you’ve ever done could have been done better.

It’s exhausting! Looking for your reflection among these mirrors only leaves you feeling stressed and depressed. Whatever reflections of yourself you’re seeing out there in our world of comparison, remember that they’re distorted. Squished. Widened. Angled. They’re not accurate.

The only way to get a clear view is to turn your eyes to the One who formed you and knows you better than you’ll ever know yourself. It’s in knowing Him that we “find” ourselves – because it’s in knowing Him that we begin to understand His work.

The more you look at God, the more you’ll understand that He does everything with purpose – and that He never makes mistakes. The more you look at God, the more you’ll be in awe of His ways – and the more you’ll learn to trust that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). The more you look at God, the more you’ll see that He works more in the unseen than the seen, and that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) And the more you look at Him, the more you’ll be aware of the fact that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Philippians 2:13) Because of Christ, you are enough.

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“O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.” (Psalm 139:1) God, thank you for forming me so well, knowing me so well, and working in me so well. Help me to keep my eyes on you and trust that it’s only Your reflection of me that counts. Amen.

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Repost: Hand

(Originally posted March 2016)

An elementary school noon dismissal plus a sunny day over 60 degrees means one thing – time for a Desilets Family Adventure! Last Friday was a perfect day to kick off the spring season with a hike, and we took full advantage of the opportunity. We packed some water and snacks, picked up the kids, and traded suburbia for this:

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We all marched with excitement a mile straight up the rocky Appalachian trail, and were treated at the end to some sweet boulder climbing and an awesome view of the valley below.

And a mile straight up a rocky trail makes for an even more fun trip down! The older girls and I took the lead, and, since the potential for falls is much greater in this direction, Tim grabbed our less-experienced (and somewhat reckless) 4-year-old’s hand to help her navigate the path down. After a full day of activity, we were nearing serious preschooler meltdown zone and I decided this would be a great job for “Daddy” – because even a tiny stumble could mean “Carry me!” the rest of the way down.

But as we neared the bottom, instead of hearing whining or crying, all I heard from the back of the line was giggling. I turned around to see Anna running, skipping, and courageously leaping off of rocks – completely free and secure in the confidence that her Daddy had her hand and would not let her fall.

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There’s been a lot of talk in the Christian world lately about being “brave” – about facing our fears and taking those next steps God is asking us to take with courage – rather than cowering under the excuses of our weaknesses, the guilt of our failures, and the ease of comfort zones.

As a frequent cower-er myself, I want so badly to face life with the courage of those great heroes I read about in the Bible and in the history of God’s people. I wonder if I would have had the boldness of David, the resolution of Daniel, or the fearlessness of Joshua if I had been in their shoes. It’s hard to imagine, though, when I can barely muster up the guts to take those ‘next steps’ of obedience in my daily life!

It makes total sense that “fear not” is the most frequently spoken command from God in His word, because one of our most basic instincts is self-protection. It’s just plain natural for us to cower and hide. The potential for falls, failure, and even simple discomfort are enough to make us take it slow – or even stand still. Most of us probably don’t even realize how many of our daily choices (or lack thereof) are rooted in fear!

Some of the most familiar verses referred to when we talk about courage are found in God’s promises to Joshua and the people of Israel. In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses says: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” The reason they were not to fear was not because there was nothing to fear – but rather because their God would be with them.

The Hebrew term for God being with (and therefore not leaving) them has to do with a letting go or throwing down, specifically from the hand*. For example, the same word is used in Joshua 10:6, “And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, ‘Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us.'”

Being brave does not come from strength we find within ourselves, from circumstances that we predict will lean in our favor, or from guarantees of success. Instead, like Anna’s downhill joy-run, being brave means trusting that the hand that is holding you will never relax, never take a break, and never let you go.

You might think this happy sight lasted all the way down the hill, but, of course, as soon as I pulled out my camera, this happened:

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Yes, she fell. Yes, there was pain. Yes, there were tears. But, no, her Daddy did not relax his grasp or let go of her hand for even a second – in fact his grip may have actually tightened.

We all have a next step of obedience that God is leading us to take. Maybe it’s to put your faith in Him for the first time or to turn your entire life over to Him – not just part of it. Maybe it’s going public and getting baptized or sharing your faith with a friend. Maybe it’s joining a small group, reading the Bible, praying out loud, finding a ministry to serve in, or tithing. Maybe it’s forgiving someone who hurt you, showing love to someone in your neighborhood, or opening your home to a child in need. Most of us already know what this step is, but something is preventing us from taking it – the root of it likely being some sort of fear.

But what do we have to fear when God is with us? Why do we hold back when we know that His strong hand is so firmly gripped to ours? You and I can take our next steps with confidence and joy, not because we can’t fall (we very well might!) but because we know He’ll be holding on tight the whole time.

When Anna fell on the trail, I doubted there would be any recovery from this turn of events. I was sure that Tim would be carrying her the rest of the way and we could say goodbye to the laughter and hello to a constant stream of tears.

But, believe it or not, a less than two minutes later she was right back at it again. Her Daddy had not only held her hand the whole time, but he was also the one who picked her up, the one who wiped her tears, and the one who encouraged her to get down and try again.

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“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 41:10

Be brave! Grand adventures await…

*http://www.blueletterbible.org

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