Hope for the Heart

This Long Road – A Path of Reflection For Your Walk of Faith

October 15, 2017
I often cross a long,well traveled bridge during the course of a normal work week. It stretches over a wide span of the St. Johns River, connecting two sides of my hometown with panoramic views of open sky and strong, flowing currents.
On a clear morning, as fading shadows of dawn give way to the bright light of day, early sunshine usually steals the show, rising in spectacular fashion, casting brilliant rays that transform the water into a sea of diamonds.
And I absolutely love it. I love witnessing this extraordinary beauty on an ordinary morning. I love grasping the hope it represents above the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Hope that carries a promise of calm, steady assurance, reminding travelers of an essential truth to moving forward in faith.
Simply put, it’s a reminder that no matter what happens along our journey, the sun will always shine again.
After living in the same city for nearly four decades, I recently thought about how many seasons I’ve watched come and go from this large concrete platform, and the adjacent highway that loops around the place I call home.
Seasons that slowly spin from nature as winds blow and the earth tilts, and seasons that  slowly, quietly move through the heart with subtle, unexpected shifts of life.
I’ve experienced them all from this long road. The ones I never wanted to change, and also, the ones I wished to change, but thought they would never end. Because, you see, not every day brings a sea of diamonds on the river, or the sweet lilt of joy in my heart.
You know?
Sometimes, I travel in a tangled web of tension, deep breaths of anguished prayer filtering through a rain spattered windshield, all hopes of seeing brilliant sunshine dashed by dark, brooding clouds.
But even on the hard days, here’s what I know. I’m still on the journey.
And if the lines and spaces of well worn asphalt could speak, I imagine this is what they might say:
You’ve been here before, on this long road, overwhelmed, disappointed and confused
I carried you then, and I carry you now, knowing the sun will shine again
Yes, this problem is different, but so was the one before
But I know from experience –  Your God will come through and surprise you once more
Cue the tears. Because I’m a crier. When I’m happy, and when I’m sad. But especially when pausing to reflect on God’s faithfulness, and the surprising ways He comes through for His own.
I don’t share this today because I’m full of answers. Quite the contrary. I’m an unsettled soul, full of questions about today, tomorrow, and the unknown future beyond.
But I share these words because maybe you’re on your own stretch of highway where the path is bumpy and uncertain. Where clouds hang low, and the mood is unpredictable. Where detours flash unfamiliar signals, and the tolls require more than you can give.
Not the easiest places to navigate, right?
But if I’ve learned anything from this journey, I’ve learned these are places where we can remember three very important things:
The road is long.
The problems change.
But God remains the same.
And as Psalm 30, verse 5 tells us: Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Yes. Beautiful, blessed joy comes in the morning. And sometimes, it brings a sparkling sea of brilliant diamonds shining on the river.

When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Want Him To – 3 Questions For Finding Hope

December 27, 2016
Dark unfamiliar roads stretched through the town of Durham, North Carolina on the morning of December 21st, 2015. In the predawn stillness, two of my siblings and I navigated a route toward Duke University Hospital over nearly empty streets.
We spoke softly, not knowing exactly what the day would bring, and tried to ward off the chill in our hands and hearts.
Just a few short miles away, our youngest brother was being prepared for an intense, high risk brain surgery none of us wanted him to face, and we were determined to wake before the sun to show up with love, prayers and support.
A cloud of questions and uncertainty hung in the air. One we carried together, but knew the strength would ultimately have to come from a much higher power.
Thinking back on that day, now more than a year later, I vividly remember how hard I prayed (and still do pray) for a miracle. I wanted God to unleash an abundance of healing and make everything better again.
Maybe you can relate?
When facing difficulty, it’s normal to desire that God swoop down and fix the problem on our terms or deliver a solution we believe to be the right one. And it’s not always easy when He doesn’t show up the way we asked Him to.
But could it be that He’s calling us to slow down and recognize the detailed way His hand touches our lives, even when it’s not the hoped for answer?
Upon reflection of that cold winter day in North Carolina, I can say without a doubt, God showed up. Not the way I asked Him to, but in beautiful ways I did not anticipate.
Like the time a stranger, who knew nothing of what I was facing, sent these words hours before news of the surgery came:
“If God is on our side, who can be against us?”
Or the unexpected artwork and voice of encouragement from a beautiful six year old girl that brought my siblings and I to tears in the spacious hospital hallway.
And the sure, steady way God’s hand gently guided the surgeon’s, bringing an expected four hour operation down to just over two.
And the precious friends and family who drove hundreds of miles to be with us, putting their own needs aside to offer love and support.
Each experience carried God’s signature, allowing me to know, that even in the darkest night, we are surrounded by expressions of His love.
With time comes light and perspective, and God alone knows what each of us needs to change from what we are to who He wants us to be.
Sometimes, we may pray for victory – and God calls us to surrender.
We may ask for healing – and He offers hope instead.
We pray for the pain to lift – and He supplies fresh strength to carry the burden.
We may ask for an end to suffering – yet He sends down comfort for the battles we must face.
It’s not always easy to understand, but perhaps God is calling us to press beyond the veil of our own desires, and truly know He is near, in the good times and in the bad.
And I dare say there is nothing more beautiful than the kiss of Heaven woven intimately through our earthly struggles.

I don’t know the hardships you face, but I encourage you to consider three questions when clouds hover on the horizon, and I will try to do the same.
  1. Even in seasons of darkness, what unexpected blessing can I embrace with gratitude, knowing it is an expression of His love?
  2. While in search of God’s miraculous power, may I pause to recognize the whisper of His abundant presence?
  3. And though His answer doesn’t align with my desire, can I still find Him close through the provision of His sufficient grace?
These answers may not come easy, and on earth, I believe difficult journeys will always be par for the course.
But the good news is, we don’t have to walk alone. And if we move forward with open hearts, God may show up in beautiful ways we never could have expected.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Essential Ingredient In The Aftermath of Life’s Storms

October 11, 2016
After Hurricane Matthew pummeled the Atlantic coast near my home recently, I moved slowly through the stillness, surveying the damage. Debris streaked the yard and patio, tree limbs scattered over soft, muddy ground.  And across the property, a glint of silver tin against weathered red walls showcased damage to the barn roof.
All a reminder of impatient winds howling through the darkness as the storm moved north, leaving beach dwellers and those of us further inland without power.
In the absence of electricity, I recalled sounds of nature colliding with the silence of modern convenience the night before. No hum of an air conditioner to filter the rhythm of torrential rain. No whir of a ceiling fan or buzz of technology covering unfamiliar scrapes and bumps in the blustery night air while persistent wind and water took a toll on part of the Eastern Seaboard.
That morning, beneath low, gray clouds, I pondered the parallel between whirlwinds of nature and those of the heart.
With subtle shifts in pressure and temperature, the storms themselves come and go, but it is often the devastation left in their wake that can cause my faith to shake.
And maybe yours too.
Do you ever consider what compels us to take the next step when the aftermath of a storm hovers on the horizon?
In our small community, the dome of a nearby silo was ripped away with unpredictable gusts, carried by the wind and changing the landscape of a rural neighborhood I have loved for many years.
Though no longer functional, the broken silo particularly saddened me because it has served as a landmark for many sunset walks and the backdrop of countless photographs, blending palm tree fronds and evening sky. The special setting portrays a lifestyle I hold dear, the rare combination of country living and coastal charm.
In reality, the loss of something material pales in comparison to the storms that carve deep, hollow places in our souls. But to me, it illustrates the events of life that leave a trail of tears or lingering emotional devastation, those that change the landscape of life as we know it.
Winds of grief have an unsettling way about them, tilting our world in the face of loss, heartache or unpleasant news. We pick through the rubble, wondering if things will ever be the same again.
And maybe they won’t.
But as I ponder what it takes to move forward when the foundation of life is shaken, one word rises above all others, the essential ingredient you and I need in the aftermath of life’s storms. Not a sprinkle of fairy dust floating over the ragged edges of devastation, but a hard fought choice.
It is HOPE.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Psalms 46:1-3
Hope is the life giving force that propels us beyond what we see in the moment by absorbing the reality of God’s presence in slow, deliberate measures.
 Finding light on a troubled horizon will require us to cling to the truth of Psalms 46:10
Be still, and know that I am God.
The most important paradigm shift of all is to know that God is. And because He is, there is always hope.
Hope to rebuild broken dreams or a broken life.  Hope to believe a new landscape will rise when our current view is battered and torn, and that His light will bring forth beauty we can’t see right now.
Many years ago, during one of my own hard times, a friend gave me a framed quote with these words:
“Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.”
Even now, displayed on a shelf in my bedroom, it serves as a gentle reminder. The process of recovery is often slow, but with just a small seed of faith, new beginnings are possible.
Even when life is hard, what do you say we hold tight to hope? Let’s believe that God is and seek Him for answers and strength to move forward, step by step.
In His time, the dawn of a new day will come. Because He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
Though winds roar and seas rage, leaving destruction in their wake, the light of His presence endures ~ with power to pierce the shadows and cause the sun to shine again.

 

 

 

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A Cup of Hope With My McDonald’s Breakfast

September 27, 2016
Our eyes met across the room, two strangers in a crowded McDonald’s lobby, rays of golden sun filling the space between us. I was traveling solo, but I wasn’t alone. Beneath a pale blue summer hat, she smiled shyly and soon we were side by side, inching forward in the breakfast line.
For me, this was a brief stop on the journey north to visit family near the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia, but many in the bustling restaurant appeared to be taking advantage of perfect weather, starting the weekend on Georgia’s Golden Isles, popular barrier islands along the Atlantic Coast.
The woman beside me seemed no exception. As her companions moved forward to place an order, she paused, speaking softly, initiating the slightest spark of conversation.
Just small talk at first. She didn’t care much for breakfast foods, but her husband and daughter chose the McDonald’s stop. We spoke for a few moments, chatting about nothing in particular, until a soft glow blurred the lines of her aging face, the conversation shifting to a topic close at heart.
Gaze softening, she motioned toward the twenty-something blonde at the counter.
“That’s my miracle baby.”
I smiled, glancing from mother to daughter, waiting for the story to unfold. And in tones still filled with wonder after so many years, she told me.
After years of infertility, doctors gave no hope of a child being born to the couple, dreams of the family they once imagined dissolving with the heart wrenching news, their desire buried with a stark reality.
Until the couple’s twenty first year of marriage. At age 41, long after the light of hope faded, her unexpected miracle baby arrived.
And there was more.
“She’s expecting my first grand baby,” this last bit of news came with an excited smile. Then, with a few more words, the woman was gone, moving through the crowd to a nearby table.
I stepped forward, finally placing my to-go order for a breakfast sandwich, still preoccupied by the unexpected conversation.
While many women her age were attending graduation ceremonies and weddings of adult grandchildren, this soft spoken woman delighted in the miracle of her first.
How could she know I needed her story?
Of course. She couldn’t have known, but a much higher power did. The very word miracle touched a tender place in my own soul, stirring hope for loved ones facing serious, uncertain health crises. Though our needs were not the same, the unexpected beauty shared on an ordinary Saturday morning formed a common bond, settling deep inside my heart.
I hope it resonates with you too.
Anything is possible when God is writing our story. What we view as the end of a chapter may only be the slightest pause of intermission for Him.
Can I promise you a miracle? No. But I can carry on the message of a soft spoken woman in a pale blue hat.
Expect the beauty of the unexpected when life is in His care.
Even long after the embers of hope have cooled, He may ignite a flame of desire and accomplish the impossible. And in His mysterious way, while you and I are in search of an Egg McMuffin, or the breakfast of choice, we might be surprised with a cup of hope instead.
Hebrews 11:1
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

What I Learned From Not Getting The Job

July 19, 2016
 I lowered my head as hot tears flowed down flushed cheeks, thankful for the cover of dark windows in my small sedan.
It had happened once again.
Despite hours of research, interview preparation and years of hard work, I was passed over for a job promotion, my hopes dashed with news of not being chosen.
As a young woman learning to navigate the workforce, the sting of rejection hurt, but something inside stirred a pain greater than just the disappointment of missed opportunity.
It was the ache of feeling left behind, colliding with all my insecurities at once to create an emotional avalanche.
Maybe you can relate?
Sometimes it can seem as though everyone around us is moving forward in natural progression while we’re stuck in time, marching to a slow beat in the rhythm of life.
Perhaps I took it too hard in the heat of the moment, but have you ever noticed that elusive dreams and seasons of waiting are rarely easy struggles to face, no matter where we are in life?
This experience of missing out can be painful, especially when wrapped in the raw emotion of feeling suspended in time, while the world advances around us.
Maybe you’ve experienced the pain of prolonged hardship or a tender wound of past defeat weighing on your heart.
Or maybe the struggle stirs from a series of disappointments that are finally taking their toll.
However it comes packaged, though, sitting in the pain of  a delayed dream is hard. You and I see the ship of opportunity sailing away, with little promise of ever returning again.
But when it seems hope is floating on the wind, could the exact opposite be true instead?
Is there perhaps a greater purpose found in the waiting?
As a young person, the year after my disappointment at work proved to be one of slow, subtle growth. A period of learning rather than the strong forward momentum for which I had hoped.
 So imagine my surprise when an unexpected offer dotted the horizon, filled with the potential of a better opportunity than before.  One I could not have anticipated, and best of all, a role for which I was finally chosen.
As simple as it may sound, not getting the original job promotion became a life lesson, impacting my thought process with a lens to filter future experiences.
Experiences that bring heartache and uncertainty. Those that remind us that life is often lived in the waiting. It’s part of who we are and the forming of who we will become.
We wait for jobs and financial security. We wait for fulfilled needs of the heart and relational hope. We wait for test results and good news. We wait for direction and answered prayers.
 But through it all, do we grow? Is the end result perhaps not as important as the journey in between?
Over the years, I have come to realize God is not bound by the time clock you and I set. I’m also learning that periods of uncertainty aren’t characterized by the absence of His presence, but are an invitation for sweet communion with Him that may not otherwise be possible.
An invitation to trust that He knows best.
God moves in ways we can’t always understand to foster growth and maturity in our lives.  And a closed door today does not dim the light of opportunity for tomorrow when our future rests in His hands.
Each season of life brings unique needs and challenges in a rhythmic ebb and flow. Through it all, it’s my desire to hold steady and trust Him. May I encourage you to do the same?
 Let’s remember, that even when winter seems long, spring is still coming.
The dark, hard road of testing may leave us wondering, hoping and waiting. But don’t lose faith. It may just be the bridge to a greater blessing ahead.
Proverbs 13:12
“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; But when desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”