Savor, in Pictures

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lonely or defeated or ready to say, “Send me home, Jesus!”, I pull out photo albums. Before I left for Asia, my siblings put together a book of sweet notes and pictures of my Nebraska home, us kids through the years, the precious people in my life. I turn on a little music and lose myself in Facebook albums of college friends, visits to America, and Cambodian adventures.

These moments of feasting on pictures remind me of God’s sweet gifts. I start to think less of the problems or just how overwhelming life is at the moment and instead focus on His kindness, His grace and His provision. When I see the faces and places, when a photograph sparks a memory, it reminds me not only to savor God’s gifts from the past but the gifts in the here and now too. Yes, maybe things are hard right now. Maybe the ants seem to be on a rampage in our house lately, that conversation didn’t go quite like I wanted it too, and doors shut in my face when I was just starting to hope again. These hard things don’t have to cancel out the good. When I allow my heart to pause throughout the day, when I keep up a rhythm of thankfulness, I can savor the gifts and cling to Hope in the hard things.

So, I’m sharing a few of the reminders of God’s sweetness to me, through pictures.

Europe

Last fall, my sister Emily and I fulfilled a long-time dream with a trip to Europe! Our goal wasn’t to fit in as many tourist sites as we could. Instead, we wanted to go slow and be fully present in each and every day. I loved sipping coffee together and watching everyday life happen outside the window. I loved soaking up the beauty of history and architecture altogether different from what I normally see. I loved long sister conversations about our family lineage and sweet memories made.

Caleb and Grace

My niece and nephew bring so much joy to my life! Sometimes playing trucks and reading books over and over again might feel tedious but I love savoring these moments when they are little.

Home

A home, in Nebraska and Texas and Cambodia. Places where I’m loved and cared for, where I am known and know others.

Hong Kong

Beautiful places I’ve had the privilege of visiting in so many parts of the world. Our Father is so creative and I’m grateful for opportunities to see the displays of His glory!

What helps you to savor God’s gifts to you?

Found in the Wilderness

Last night I had a moment.

I’m not sure what your “moments” look like, but mine normally go something like this: one negative thought leads to remembering every other time I have had said negative thought, then hopping on that thought train straight to despair and needing tissues because the world is ending and I’m the worst person ever. Only slightly dramatic.

One of the things I fear most is rejection. I’ve had lots of eye-opening conversations over the last year as to why that might be, the childhood experiences and perceptions of events that lead my heart back to that place of fear. Some I’ve worked through (with the help of a gifted counselor) and others still pop up and I ask the Father for help as I process.

In the darkest moments of this fear of rejection last night, I got a message from a friend with a question and an offer for prayer. She had no idea that I was wiping away tears and feeling isolated and unseen, but she offered encouragement and friendship and care.

I thought of Hagar, and her story found in Genesis. Hagar knew rejection. She obeyed her mistress Sarah to give Abraham a child, but then found herself sitting in the wilderness alone and forsaken by her master. It was there in the midst of the rejection that God found her. He provided for her, speaking lovingly to her through His angel and sparking hope in her heart again. This happened not once, but twice as she had to flee the wrath of Sarah after the birth of her son.

It was in the darkness of rejection that Hagar learned the heart of the God who Sees. She used another name for the Lord after that precious encounter: El-roi (The God who sees me).

El-roi sees us too, in our glorious and messy moments when it feels like the world is falling apart. He sees us in our fears and our joys, the hurts and frustrations and victories. He is not a God far away but One who draws close and in the very midst of that brokenness He offers His presence and comfort. Sometimes He sends a friend to message us exactly when we need it, or brings a verse or song to mind to minister to our hearts. Thankfully He doesn’t give up when I hop on the negative thought train once again. He pursues me with His undying love.

Genesis 16:13 Thereafter Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”

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Gateway of Hope

Hope (noun): confident trust with the expectation of fulfillment

I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out from under me, that thing I’ve been worrying about to happen or the very circumstance I dread coming true. I have a vivid imagination when it comes to worst case scenarios and the planner in me wants to prepare for every possible twist and turn. It’s hard to turn off the anxious thoughts, to trust someone else rather than striving for command of every situation myself.

I hold that tension in my body; the desperate clutching for a thread of control finds a home in my shoulders, my neck, my temples. My emotions spin in circles and the pressure in my soul builds and builds until I’m certain there will be an explosion and it will be messy.

Hope comes in to all of this craziness with a call to let go. It’s like stretching those aching muscles, releasing the tension with deep, calming breaths. Hope comes in with a reminder to look up rather than madly looking around for the next disaster that must be averted. It’s all about where I’m placing my trust, which points to the source of my confidence.

Hope says that when the bottom does drop out from under me, when the disaster happens (it might or it might not), the Father’s arms will be right there to catch me and pull me to safety. He won’t leave me stranded or abandon me like I fear others will. He doesn’t want me trying to act like the Lone Ranger, trusting only in my own abilities because letting others in is too scary. No, He longs for my heart open and free, allowing His peace to flow through the places full of fear and doubt. He puts people in my life on whom I can lean because we aren’t meant to go through this life alone.

Those broken places where the darkness seems to be winning can become the very places where Hope gets in. The valleys and struggles and heartbreaks can usher in a deeper understanding of our Savior, of the ways that He created us uniquely and the ways He wants us to share Hope with others. The valleys of trouble and trial don’t last forever, when our trust is firmly in the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

Gateway of Hope

More Than a Game of Chess

The first chapter of the book of Esther irritates my former slightly feminist heart with frustration and defensiveness.

The leader of Persia, King Xerxes, throws an extravagant party for all his nobles and officials. The festivities lasted 180 days (that’s quite the party!), and finished off with a week-long banquet for all the people who were in the fortress of Susa where he ruled. He pulled out all the stops for this banquet, complete with gorgeous and opulent decorations, amazing food and a never-ending supply of wine for the people to enjoy.

The Bible tells us in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 1 that “on the 7th day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the eunuchs who attended him… to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman.”

For whatever reason, Queen Vashti refuses. Maybe she didn’t feel like being the subject of the hungry gazes of the nobles and other guests at the party. Maybe she was tired of doing whatever the king asked of her, whenever he wanted. She says no. And honestly, I don’t blame her.

But the king isn’t happy, not one bit. He gets his trusted advisors together and they realize that the queen could set a bad precedent for the respect of husbands everywhere, so she must go. And just like that, Vashti is no longer the queen.

As I was studying this chapter and trying not to curse authoritarian men everywhere, I realized some things about this passage. Even though God isn’t mentioned, we know He is at work in this story. And in case you don’t know the ending, God brings a lowly Jewish girl named Esther into the palace to be the next queen, putting her in a position to save her people from annihilation.

Sometimes, God has to get us out of the way. While I feel sorry for Queen Vashti, she wasn’t the one who could save the Jewish people. In His sovereignty, God took her out of the story and put Esther in.

I like to see myself more like Esther. I want to believe that God has put me in this place, in the position I have and the culture I am in for a purpose. Do I trust Him though when His purposes might include taking me out the story? Or when someone I care about or respect leaves in order to fulfill God’s plan? It is not something I like to think about, and yet God has a purpose. He desires for His glory to spread throughout the earth, for His name to be proclaimed and His message of hope and grace to be shared among all peoples. He doesn’t move us around like chess pieces in a cosmic game. He loves us, desires good things for us, but above all desires to fulfill His sovereign plan. This stretches my faith in Him, my trust in Him. Yet, it also increases my desire to be obedient, even if it means getting out of the way for whatever He might want to accomplish.

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