Smooth Paths

July of 2012 I was coming to a close of the season of living alone in The Southern Lady’s house, looking for new housing, new employment to provide for my continuing in the House of Prayer in Fredericksburg & in general, desperate for some MAJOR encouragement from the Lord.

The week of my birthday has ALWAYS been hard, and that year was no exception. The day before I found myself alone, siting outside a local coffee shop sipping a latte & reading Isaiah. For some years now I’ve followed the example of some wise teachers & starting birthday week will for a year pray the chapter in Isaiah & the Psalms that corresponds with that years birthday.

As I came to chapter 26, my heart leapt to grab onto hope that God would come through for me in all of my needs.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts you. Trust in the Lord forever for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.

I closed my eyes & breathed it. Read again, whispered it, held the words inside till tears sprang to my eyes & I gave them back with a desperate plea of “be my Rock”.
Read on,

The path of the righteous is level; O Upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth….

Lord, you establish peace for us

Stop, read again. Sit. Open to Psalm 26,

I have trusted in the Lord without wavering

My feet stand on level ground

These two chapters, whispered in desperation as prayer back to the Lord, to be what He says, to make level paths for my feet. As I stood up to leave I noticed a sign in the window of the vintage boutique next door, stating that they would only be open upon appointment due to the owners busy schedule. I had always loved the store. Without second thought & I whispered another “Lord, make my path smooth” & dialed the number leaving a message asking the owner if she would hire me to run her store.

This began a series of funny phone calls & my brief, yet wonderful employment for Joni Ulman Lewis at Visual Treats. She loved my tiny dog and let me bring her to the shop with me when I worked. Joni would come in and Honey would run to greet her at the door, then happily follow her upstairs to joyfully receive scraps from Joni’s lunch. I will always look back at that tiny store with its unfaithful heater, squeaky wooden stairs & musty smell with a deep sense of gratitude. It was my down payment, a continual undeniable sign that the Lord was going before me, smoothing out the road, preparing my steps, resolving the problems.

Looking back over the past two years I can’t deny it. Even with the whirlwind of events, 26 was a year of seeing the path being smoothed, coming into greater levels of heart healing, walking into deeper places of knowing peace & being still. It’s funny how the Lord will answer the prayers we pray faithfully, forever marking them in our hearts.  Smooth paths, O Lord, place smooth paths beneath our feet. Places where our feet may land firmly and without doubt as we follow You. Places we can’t forget, like stones of remembrances set up as stories to tell those who come after us so that all may declare Your faithfulness.

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Flashes of Light

The first one came in November of last year. I wasn’t expecting it and the sudden raw pain left me breathless.

It was nearing the end of yet another long work day. I was driving to the prayer room through rush hour traffic on Rt.1 alternately muttering at the lousy Virginia drivers and marveling at the glory of the Fredericksburg sunset. I was stopped at a red light, craning my neck to peer as far up and out of the windshield as I could, so so tired and desperately trying to drink in the wild beauty when the first memory came.

It had taken place about a week before she passed away. The morning had been painful, I’d pleaded through the tasks involved in getting her ready as the minutes swept passed and each detail seemed to take an eternity longer than normal. The family had arranged for a medical pickup to transport her to the dialysis clinic that morning due to her increasing weakness, and as the departure time approached I was weary from the battles that had already taken place.

But there was the knock on the door, I drew her wheelchair to meet him, let him maneuver her over the step and towards the vehicle as I ran back inside to get her bag. Coming around the side of the van I saw him finish securing the chair. I handed him the bag with one last instruction about the appointment and with a deep sigh turned to go when her voice stopped me.

‘Christina’.

It was tired and rough from having not been used much since waking. I turned to find her tired eyes locked on my face, searching my heart, freezing my breath in my lungs. She hadn’t looked at me once since I’d woken her, and as she was somewhat hard of hearing that had made it much harder to communicate with her throughout the difficult morning. Now she peered deep and long.

‘Thank you.’

I whispered a ‘You’re welcome Ms.Margaret’, tripped up the driveway, shut the door and sank against it to weep.

All this in the time it took for the light to turn from red to green. The car behind me was honking because I had not turned, the traffic pounded past, the world flying by as my mind and my heart began to take timid steps toward remembering and unwinding my time with her.

I’d been so blinded by the painful fall of 2011 that I couldn’t have begun to foresee the journey the Lord had prepared for the beginning of 2012; learning how to love in the light of death. “Everywhere, everywhere Eucharisteo. The invitation. Give thanks, take the bread, swallow down the death, receive the very miracle; life in my bones” I’d written in my journal. Life with the Southern Lady, it was everywhere, everyday – Eucharisteo. The Invitation to give thanks and to surrender.

It happened again tonight. Feeling the edges of sick I’d avoided the large gatherings, aka, the Superbowl parties. Settling in to read I picked up Kisses from Katie when –

She was sitting in her red chair, reading the back of the book I’d just received in the mail as I waited excitedly to hear what she would think. She read the cover aloud, finishing with a dramatic, southern “WOW!” and gazed wondrously at me. “Why Christina, this sounds like something you would do, this girls sounds a lot like you!”

My heart had burned at her words, marveled that she thought so highly of me and I replied tearfully that I hoped someday to live as boldly as Katie Davis.

I sat in the silent kitchen, vision just as blurred, heart just as burned.

You can’t stop the heart from remembering. Can’t stop the flashes; they come like lighting with little warning and the moments, the memories sear themselves into my vision with such brilliance that it takes some time, lots of blinking and gulping for air before I can see again. I can’t change them. I can’t change a single moment, I just have to live with the flash as it was, and breath through the aftermath. Feel now what hurt too much to think or feel about at the end of last April. Cry when it requires tears, laugh at the joy, rejoice at the victories that we celebrated together, mourn for what I wish that I had done better.

And I’m realizing that life is those searing memories that I can’t seem to escape. It flashes with brilliance and is gone in a moment. I have to let myself feel the things that are bringing healing from living with Ms.Margaret’s dying. To hold onto the memory as it comes, learn from it, then let go. It stirs a wonder inside of me. What is it all unto? Those painful lessons, what were they preparing me for?

The Lord waits quietly to unveil the answers, which will flash with brilliance and be gone, searing memories into the vision that one day He will take time to explain. Life is pounding past us, urging, driving us to be swept away in it’s urgency while the Lord waits for us to stop and listen. To breathe with Him, to learn with Him. I’m becoming more aware that nothing is happenstance, nothing without meaning. All of the pieces that make up our days our weeks our years, fitting together and becoming a picture, leading us deeper into his plan that is far bigger than the puzzle we were staring at, thinking that the portrait of our individual lives was the goal.

Lord that I would see this moment, this evening, tomorrow morning with the eyes of the Spirit. To wonder and gaze and love Him with the moments, to take nothing for granted. That I would be drawn closer to the image of Your Son, Jesus. That I would be drawn deeper into Your story.

Unscripted.

I have a tendency to day dream. Meaning that I think about things to much, plan out events, conversations, flesh out goals, shade in relationships, internally organize, and attempt to administrate the details of my life into tangible moments that I can order and control. And after all of that internal effort those carefully constructed day dreams have a devastating way of crumbling around me without a single piece of the debris falling into the place that I intended.

So I eat a lot of icecream. When the dust settles and there is just not a thing you can do about it, my best response is icecream. This week has been completely outside of my control, ending with a day that I can’t even begin to describe, and at the end, leaving 3 hours after I’d planned due to a situation that I never could have forseen I decided that the only appropriate response was to stop by McDonalds for a dipped icecream cone. Sitting in silence in a borrowed car in the drive-thru and trying not to think about the day, I pulled up to the sign to order only to hear that the ice cream machine was broken.

It’s amazing, just how unscripted this life is.

Joshua has been checking in on me quite a bit during the hurricane of the last few weeks. Yesterday evening I receive a message from him asking why I’ve not been blogging. I thought for a moment before telling him that things have been too personal to write about, to which he replied “I think those may be the best kind of things to write about.”

This Tuesday it will have been 4 months since the Southern Lady passed away.

In an incredible act of love her family offered for me to stay in the house until it is sold.  An estate sale was held at the beginning of July while I was home visiting my family and as expected, I returned to a house with out furniture, decorations, or any evidence of being lived in save for my bedroom. The week of my birthday I acquired two amazing vintage rockers from Craigslist, followed by a small table as a present from my brothers family, the three of which barely scratch the surface of filling the empty space.

The emptiness of the house serves as a very practical means of magnifying the turmoil in my heart;

I am a very communal individual, loving life with MANY housemates, and for four months my little dog and I have lived alone in the empty house.

I have yet to find a replacement  “job” to supplement my missionary income.

Two weeks ago my dearly beloved rust-bucket car actually died. This happened the week of the anniversary of Miah’s death, and the week that we were hosting a regional teen conference, in which I had a large role to play.

Some days later the hard-drive on my iphone crashed leaving it in a state of being completely incapable of connecting to the wireless signal aka, rendering the phone useless. I’ve never even HEARD of that before.

The last four week I’ve been under a constant barrage of irrational, in-explainable personal/ financial/ spiritual/ relational and ministerial events that I can only describe as the craziest spiritual attack I’ve ever experienced….which culminated in the drive-thru lane at McDonalds tonight as I heard that the ice cream machine was broken.

Completely and utterly…..not what I had planned.

Depressing as this story sounds….there has been incredible breakthrough over the last seven days. My physical and spiritual family both in the mid-west and on the east coast have banded around me in prayer and support and the fruit is being manifest in my heart and life daily. And there is light ahead 🙂

A friend has indefinitely given me use of her vehicle. Someone gave me an old at&t phone to use. And just so that you can believe that God does in fact give to us ‘everything that we need for life and godliness…..’  there was half a tub of Strawberry Haagen Das icecream in my freezer when I got in tonight.

When Miah died  Bob Falkner told me to buy Ann Voskamps book ‘One Thousand Gifts’. I had no idea how the next year of my life would be ordered around the Lord’s deep commitment to teaching me about the receiving of His grace.

Tonight I shared with a friend the emotional story of the last twenty four hours.  After some long moments of quiet reflection she said ” I love you Christina, you’re just so…….raw. Do you know what I mean by that? You’re just …..raw.”

Unscripted.

Sara Groves would call it “Wide open, like a lake”

Derek Loux called it “Green and Tender”

It’s learning how to force the fist to unclench, relinquishing the death grip on what I couldn’t control anyway, opening the fingers, smoothing down the palm. You open Your hands and You satisfy (Ps. 145.16), I open my hands and receive. It’s ghastly simple, and the most un-natural position for an anxiety ridden heart like mine; to take whatever You give, to call it grace, and offer it back to You in thanks.

I cry and I pray and I stumble. I think to hard, circle round the options, fight to come up with a plan, stay up too late strumming those same guitar chords trying to soothe the same old ache in my eternal soul. I accuse God, accuse His bride, break, repent, and while aching for answers fight to keep my hands off the details, stop trying to organize, lift up my eyes to the hills and lean into His strength. I am still keeping lists, because Bob say’s that if we’re not operating in Thanksgiving than we’re operating in atheism.

And I choose to live, raw. Vulnerable. To stop fighting tooth & nail to hide the frailty of my human heart, to give God the room to come in and bring healing to the broken, weak places. I bawl in the prayer room, in the weekly meetings when suddenly the room surrounds me in prayer and cry out for break through in my life, at stop lights, and alone in the quiet house that the Lord provided for me when there were no answers to an un-solvable situation.

And as my foundations are exposed and greatly shaken, I choose to cling to the Rock that is higher than I.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter)

Loving long

Today is February 8th, 2012. Today I leaned hard into grace & you know know what? There was enough for me today. God’s good like that, always giving more than I need though maybe not in the ways I expect for that “more than enough” to look like.

Tomorrow is February 9th & my Papa’s 57th birthday. I love him with all my heart & this year more than others I am pained to not spend the day celebrating with him. On his birthday last year his dad, my Grandpa Carroll went into a hospice home to live out his last week of life. A life stuffed full of stories,  full of adventure and cut too short.

My dad’s been dreading tomorrow, dreading his first birthday without his father, dreading the memories. I’ve been calling him everyday for about two weeks, sent him a card & a present, even mailed him a box of homemade cookies but none of those things can ease the pain of  living without one whom you so love.

He told me over a tearful skype date tonight that so much of the pain he is feeling today  is due to regret & guilt of things undone, unsaid, & too little time spent.

Oh the deep wound of regret.

We ended our call with no ending. No solution to the pain, no medication. And as I went through the motions of helping my Southern Lady prepare for the night, all I could see was my Grandfather in her face, behind the oxygen tubes & in the tired & sometimes fearful eyes. And my heart yearned to give more to ease her pain, longing for more time to ease his. To sit by his chair, stroke the thin skin on his hand & just be with him again.

There’s not enough time on this side of eternity, not enough time to LOVE. To love as long, as hard & as deeply as people deserve. And as I pondered that painfully tonight I heard a whisper in my soul,  “there’s only ‘not enough time’ for now. ”

So I called my dad back to remind him to lift up his eyes to the Lamb that was slain. My Grandfather loved the Lord & though now we do not see him & now we wait long to be reunited, my daddy doesn’t have to live in pain that his time to love his father is over forever.  Though now we wait. Now we ache. But only for now, only for a moment. We as the living, those who were dead & have been brought to life, we never ever have to stop loving & being loved. We get to love for forever & be loved for forever.

We get to love long & never stop. Life abundantly, overflowing for forever. Thank you Jesus for all of your love, for all that you bought us. We love you Forever.

 

Kisses from Katie

I’ve you’ve read this blog for long you’ve heard me reference one of my heros, Katie Davis & the blog http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/.

In short, Katie is living the life I thought I dreamed to live all through my childhood. *sigh* I pray to someday carry the bold faith of her young heart. But I digress……..

Last year she wrote a book about her journey & it carries the name of her blog, you can get your own copy of that here. I ordered it last week & it arrived today. I breathlessly opened the package & showed it to the Southern Lady, excitedly telling her of Katie’s journey. She took the book in her wrinkled, aged hands & gently turned the cover, looking long at the beautiful smiles of Katie’s 13 Ugandan children. After some minutes of drinking the image she smiled & said, “sounds like something you would do. This girl sounds a lot like you” then holding the book out in front of her & squeezing her eyes tight she prayed for several minutes for God to strengthen & bless Katie.

My heart took a couple of deep breathes. Sounds like me alright, sounds like the dreams of my heart. But God has different dreams & I want to dream with Him.

The Southern Lady is a night-watcher, but that schedule is not good for her. So! I have the joy of trying to keep her from sleeping during the day so that she can actually sleep during the night…..when I am also sleeping. Tonight in an attempt to keep her awake until my bedtime I read to her the entirety of the Sermon “Christ Crucified” by Charles Spurgeon. If you haven’t read it, go here now & do so. It’s my second read through this week, but my heart was wrung like the first, maybe more so as I watched the expressions that tore across her face through the reading. At the end she cried, lamenting America’s great need for preachers like Spurgeon.

And I cried as I told her that God is raising them up now, in the young & immature hearts of many that I am blessed to call comrade. There are great men & women of God being raised in the dessert of the House of Prayer, being made joyful in His presence, daily delighting in His word.

And we spoke of the crazy young generation He is trainging to take His kingdom with violence. Crazy young warriors like the fishermen He called friends, like Katie Davis 🙂

Even so Lord, come.

 

In the Whirlwind, He still wants everything.

Last year was a whirlwind, start to finish. Each month seemed to bring it’s own fresh version of crazy, & December was no different. In fact, by the 1st of December I was suddenly facing two weeks to find new housing & either a new job or another cross-country move.  I’ll spare you the details & just say that in the beginning I threw up my hands in the air making a declaration in my heart to let the Lord lead my steps. And He did. He’s faithful like that.

The not so slow but dramatic demise of my beloved 97 Geo Metro, increased monthly bills & seriously needing of dental work forced my sudden need to stop working for Bound4Life International, a ministry that I have been honored to serve since my move to Virginia in January of 2010.  This decision was forced by unexpected changes & came with a flurry of job applications, long late-night conversations with my brother Jeremy about direction, & deep painful conversations with the Lord. Ultimately, it was good. Ultimately, it forged clarity in my soul. Ultimately, I am thankful. Oh but it was a rough, bumpy and painful transition.

One of those rough bumpy painful days found me sitting with a Pastor from Florida who had recently moved with his family to DC to help fuel JHOP-DC & serve with B4L.  His father has been battling against cancer  & he told me that his sister had made a large sacrifice to help lift the burden of the medical bills.

After this great act of love she was left with a small sum that she intended to put into savings. However, during a morning devotional time she heard the Lord say simply “Give it to me”. She responded with surprise, since she had freely given so much & replied “But……Lord, that is mine” to which He simply responded, “I know, & I want it.”

He told me, “Christina it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes God asks us for that tiny little bit that we’re holding onto for ourselves, just to see if we’re willing to give it to Him”. Oh how I cried when I heard those words. He’s right, it doesn’t make sense……. but do we trust Him? Do we love Him enough to give Him that last little bit that we’re reserving? That thing we think we HAVE to hold onto in order to make it?

And I felt that pull all through December, the Lord asking for my control, my self-preservation & the question lingered “Do you trust Me?” Even in the whirlwind, He still wants everything.

In a swirl out of my control, completely apart from anything I could have possibly tried to manage to pull together, He provided for me. Housing & a job. I would be moving into the home of an elderly Southern Lady in order to drive her to doctor’s appointments & serve part-time as her companion. Housing, & a job that enabled me to stay in the House of Prayer. This literally landed the day before I flew out of Virginia to spend 3 weeks with my family.

It was a glorious, restorative, joyful, healing three weeks. And getting on the plane to head back to the East coast was hard. It always is. Standing in line & swallowing the lump in my throat, refusing to look behind me at my mother watching until she can no longer see me with tears streaming down her face, tightly clinging to my little dog as if that will keep me there. It literally never gets easier. But I knew, I KNEW that He was worth it, that He had a plan & that I was walking in it.

I flew back to Virginia on January 8th. Exactly one year to the very date that I flew to Virginia in my original move. Tell me that’s not God! Only He would do that, just to catch my attention because He likes to talk to me in dates. I flew back to Virginia on January 8th, & as my plane hit the ground, the Southern Lady was being loaded up into an ambulance. I moved into her home on the very day that everything changed in her life, the day she began a rapid decline in health.

Two weeks in it was apparent to the family & myself that she was not going to pull up, & today, less than a month after my move-in, she began receiving Hospice services in her home.

I knew that the Lord was sending me back to Virginia to learn about Intercession. I thought that it had to do with America & the Presidential race, and somewhere along the line it probably does. I’m learning it’s much deeper than that though. Moses, Daniel, Jeremiah, John the Baptists, even Jesus. They made intercession on others behalf. They were in understanding, a level of compassion that moved them to feel the way that other’s felt in order for them to stand alongside & speak on behalf of. And I’ve realized, I’ve a thing or two learn of compassion.

It’s been almost a year since my dear grandfather Carroll stepped into wholeness & glory & the nearness of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wasn’t a part of his last days since I’d just moved to VA but here I am one year later, daily, intimately walking out this woman’s last days. I’m not a nurse or doctor, & even if I were there would be nothing to fix the problems. But I do other things. Rub her shoulders, wash her feet, clip her toenails, rearrange cushions, read the Psalms, sing Hymns. And sometimes I’m tired, & sometimes I’m frustrated, & sometimes I just don’t want to rub lotion on her itchy skin. But I’m learning to bend the knee, learning to cry out for grace & find it pouring on the inside of me. Learning to hold her hand & sometimes, like today, just cry with her because I can’t help her breathe, & I can’t make the itching stop, & I can’t make her kidney’s work. In the back of my mind all throughout the long days I am thinking of how I will stand before my Saviour & He will ask “Did you learn to love?” and my heart cries “Teach me!”

I’m learning that it’s easy to have compassion for the orphan baby. But what does the Lord feel for the elderly woman who kept me up late with her needs & woke me up early with her needs. Does my Lord bend the knee, receive the grace to do so, & gladly serve her? Can I enter into that kind of intercession? There are nights I step into my room & hit the floor in prayer, crying out for the sake of peace in her heart, opening the Psalms & with tears speaking loudly words of truth & life & comfort into the atmosphere of the home.

It carries over to my service in the House of Prayer. My tired tender heart is moved to feel, moved to enter in, moved to pray, moved to worship because there’s no other relief for the turmoil on the inside. Not when I’ve been convinced every step of the way that it was His will for me to walk through it with Him.

Psalm 84:11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.

We’ve been talking a lot of Grace & Glory, & I tell her that wherever we have to lean in & reach out hard to receive His grace He will make that very spot a place to reveal His glory. If we cry out for Grace, we’ll receive it & He will glorify it. We ask God to give her peace, & I’m learning to live out of un-moveable heart peace. We ask God to give her a vision of eternity so that she will have the grace to let go when the time comes, & I’m learning to reach for it in my own heart. We thank the Lord when the night is over, thanking Him for the mercies to live out the new day. And as I pray with her my heart receives, probably more than I will ever know on this side.

And in the whirlwind, He still wants everything. Each whirlwind, He’ll never stop asking if we trust Him but that’s not an angry question. It’s gentle, said with a smile. It’s promising. And it’s safe, because He gave & He gives, everything.

My story will never stop being just stupid crazy. And that’s part of how I know I can trust, because He’s never stopped being FAITHFUL in every step of every crazy whirlwind. And every-time I think He’s asked me to do something I’m fully not capable of doing, He places the ability inside of me through His spirit. The more I lean, cry out for help, the more I find the help inside. The more His word becomes meat & bread & water & wine.

I listen to “Measure of a Man” on repeat. And Johnny Cash’s album “My mother’s Hymnbook”. I listen to Leonard Ravenhill speak with zeal & tears of the worth of Christ. I rise early to jog & pray. And I’m eating a lot of chocolate these days 🙂 I’ve filled up her room with primroses & when all attempts to relieve & comfort & bring joy fail, I just sing until peace comes to her. It reminds me of mid-morning nap time at the Bohlender’s. Singing a nursery of little girls to sleep & the crazy thing is that Amazing Grace never fails to bring the presence of God, to those little girls, to this dying woman, to my own weary soul.

Bob Falkner text me the other morning saying “You were made for hard things. You can do this.” And I’ll say to you friends, God made you to do hard things, & He will enable you to do them. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. One bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away. And tis so sweet to Trust in Jesus.