Monthly Archives: November 2018

Need to Breathe

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This past season felt like an eternity.  Not the season of summer, which passes all too quickly in northern climes, but rather this past season of life.  Too often my cry, both to God and to the people around me, was, “I feel like I can’t breathe, like I’m drowning and there isn’t enough air.”  Can’t breathe.  Stuck, trapped, suffocating.  It was one of those times in which everything – literally, everything – seemed to fall apart in every area of my life.  Nothing felt secure.  Truly, I think everyone has those moments or feelings or circumstances, yet the deepest lie is always that we are alone in our suffering.  This is not the place for details, because those are no longer my focus, but you likely understand the niggling feelings of isolation and “drowning” from your own experiences.  In my desperation all I could whisper to God was, “Hold me; I can’t breathe.”

In our thirst for adventure, our longing to fill the empty places inside ourselves, sometimes we turn to thrill for coping with what we cannot understand.  We become thrill-seekers on the hunt for the next breath-stealing wonder.  We actually seek out things that “take our breath away” because it gives a rush of pleasure, or adrenaline, or even a fleeting sense of hope.  The truth of this thrill, though, is that after it steals our breath, it tends to leave us hollow, waiting for the next rush of a breathless moment.

Circumstances, situations, people, our own feelings – these can all steal our breath, be it for a moment that seems to hold awe or for a too-long stretch that leaves us suffocating.  As I walked through my own season of breath-crushing moments – pain squeezing too tightly, panic weighing too heavily, and hopelessness too ready to take up residence – I began to recognize something utterly precious:

We are created for life, and life requires breath.

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When did you last stop to simply breathe in the sweetness around you?

I was not made for breathless moments or having my “breath” stolen by fear or pain; I was made to breathe, freely and fully.  Genesis 1 describes how God put His breath into mankind at the beginning of creation.  Before God breathed His life into Adam, Adam was nothing more than dust, hollow and ready to be filled with what only God could give.  Adam’s frame needed the breath of God in order to truly be alive.  To be flesh and bones is not enough; we need the breath of life – physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  You and I are designed for breath, dear hearts.  It is part of who we are, yet too often we don’t notice this life-breath until we suddenly realize it is absent.

I couldn’t breathe emotionally or spiritually, and it’s terrifyingly amazing how that panicked desperation can trigger similar feelings in a physical body.  I was looking for breath in all the wrong places, and in doing so tied my heart and mind to relationships, situations, and even roles that stole my breath.  These ties seemed to steal my zeal to rise each new day to live and love well – to steal my very life.  Suffocating.

Allow me to explain my three breath-stealers.  Relationships can be the most agonizing and most subtle of these thieves.  Please understand that a relationship (be it familial, romantic, friendly, or any other) need not be abusive in order to “steal” your breath.  I say that relationships can be subtle in this way because you, like me, may have perfectly nice, well-meaning people in your life who are leeching slowly at the life-breath and passion you carry within you as the gift of the God who created you.  These gifts are stolen through little compromises, through fear that says there may never be another relationship of this sort again, that you are not valuable or special enough to love or live any better.  Relationships are glorious in that they allow for the intimacy of knowing and connecting, yet especially in romance it is critical to recognize where we might be stealing our own breath by remaining in unhealthy be-my-everything roles or by not allowing ourselves to be cared for.  “Well, I can’t choose my family,” you may protest.  Certainly, you do not choose the bloodline from which you come, but when you accept the overwhelming grace of Jesus Christ, you are given a new bloodline – a spiritual one – that is flawless and breath-giving.  Marriage is sacred covenant between husband and wife, which is too easily put aside in the world today because people feel that their spouses are not fulfilling their needs – not giving them “breath,” so to speak.  When we rely on any relationship to be a source of breath – or allow it to steal from the way God is calling us to live – we find ourselves in danger of either playing God or replacing God.

Situations that steal our breath – ah, why do we embrace the same options repeatedly and expect different results?  That is the definition of insanity, yet we persist.  Perhaps your breath-stealing situations were not your choice, being forced on you by the cruel, selfish choices of others (that is, by sin).  Our breath is stolen when disappointment or pain creeps in: money once again not lasting until month’s end, the friend’s house in which you wish you never set foot, the same old story of being taken advantage of by those who know you’re too “kind” to deny them.  Just one more problem, one more struggle to manage until it feels like dark water sucking us into the void.  One of my greatest breath-stealers was my final example (examples become authentic when we’ve lived them!), in feeling intruded upon or taken advantage of by everyone from my closest loved ones to all the other random people who crossed my path.  And this fits closely with the roles that I was permitting to steal my breath.  Suffocating.

I like to care for everything and everyone – I am zealous about making certain all is well.  When I fail to recognize my own desire to be needed, I easily find myself in roles where I am being exhausted in “do-gooding,” stealing my own breath in my quest to be the rescuer and meet every need.  More, more, more; do, do, do.  Yet for all my striving, my roles as rescuer or provider or daughter or anything else – these roles will steal my breath if I allow them to drag me away from the healthy parameters of grace that God sets.  In the moments when my adopted notions of responsibility are crushing me, I remind myself of who God is: ‘“I, even I am the Lord, and beside me there is no savior”’ (Isaiah 43:11).  This not only tells me who God IS but also who I am NOT.  I am not the savior, the provider, the life-giver; those roles (and their responsibilities) belong to God alone.  I am not the breath-giver.

There have been relationships that I needed to release because I was holding on, letting those relationships steal from my breath, crushing my zealous passion and the way God created me.  These are not people I have stopped loving, but rather people whom I have allowed God to teach me to love differently, to love in such a way that I no longer seek them to fill all my needing for breath.  Why would I deliberately choose any relationship that steals from my life breath, whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally?  Or, perhaps better stated, why would I deliberately choose any relationship that does not give me breath?  Why would I not choose to fill my life with people who are breath-giving to me, speaking truth and hope?

Relationships, circumstances, roles – in each of these areas we must guard against the temptation to either play God or replace God.  Dear hearts, do not let others steal the breath God has given you.  Guard your heart from small hope that would lead you to submit to circumstances.  No matter how fortuitous – or disastrous – your current circumstances maybe be, they have no authority to steal your breath.  Don’t give in to the lie that urges you to live one breathless moment to the next, that says panic or mania are the only options.  Embrace the heights and depths and simply breathe.  It is not your responsibility to be the breath for others.  You may live well and love well, but know that ultimately only God is the Breath-Giver.  Let Him do what only He can do.  Breathe freely and fully, dear ones, and take courage.

Dust

“I’m just dust without Your breath; I’m just clay without Your kiss. I’m just skin and bone without Your wind in my lungs.” ~ “Love Song” by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser

Perhaps your heart is wailing, as mine was, “But I cannot breathe!  My breath is gone.”  Perhaps you don’t even have the breath left for such a wail.  SuffocatedDry.  LifelessThe question is, how do we recapture the breath?  Perhaps you are like me.  I didn’t know, after this long season, if I could breathe again.  I felt hollow, void of life, void of breath.  I couldn’t hide my numbness, my hollow nothingness.  Could I breathe again?

“Prophesy to the breath, son of man.”

These are the words that flooded my mind.  “Prophesy to the breath.”  Those words – I knew those words.  Ezekiel, chapter 37:1-14, in which God takes the prophet Ezekiel in a vision-dream to look upon a valley full of dry bones:

“Then He caused me to pass by them all around,
and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.”

So very dry – oh, Lord, we are so very, very dry.  I am just dust; I am undone.

‘And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O God, You know.”’

Can they?  Can these bones live?  Because I don’t know.  But You do.

‘Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  Thus says the Lord God to these bones:
“Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.
I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” 

Is it so?  Can there be life from this death, breath into the void?

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I did, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone-to-bone.  Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.”

Without breath, there is no life.  All the proper components are there, but there remains only one Breath-Giver.

‘Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’ So I prophesied as He commanded me.  And breath came into them, and they lived, and they stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”’

Lord, breathe on us, for indeed, we are dry bones without the Breath of your Spirit.  Sons of man – children of dust, yet chosen by You.  Are we forgotten?  Are we too dry, drier than these?  Is there hope for us?

Such sentiments as these were what God’s people were wailing: dry bones, lost hope, cut off, abandoned (v. 12) – utterly breathless.  But God was not finished; their story was not over – this was the message given through Ezekiel:

‘“I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’

So I, too, will prophesy to the breath.  I can be no one’s breath, not even my own, but I shall prophesy to it.  I will speak to the breath in those around me, for I know the One who alone gives Breath.  I will speak life to the dry places, because I know Jesus is Life (John 10:10, 11:25, 14:6).  How will you prophesy to the breath today, sons and daughters?  What places in and around you are dry and lifeless?  Where do you need breath?  Whatever may have stolen your breath – be it relationship, circumstance, or role – you have the power to speak life.  Prophesy to the breath, brave ones, prophesy, for you know the Giver of Breath.

You are created for life.  Don’t go another day breathless.

 

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I Knew You’d Be Here!

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Earlier this year, while still in Michigan, I had an afternoon off and visited my former students at the previous school where I’d worked.  For one of the classrooms I served, I made each child a special birthday treat of his or her choice – the only condition being that it had to be a treat I could bake (no Skittles!).  Knowing that his birthday was not until after I moved schools, one intrepid lad made his request early, and I promised to bring this delectable treat on one of my visits.  Though I had visited my students several times, I knew this occasion was the perfect opportunity to bake for Daniel.  I had him called to the office to meet me, and I presented the treat – much to his delight.

While Daniel skip-hopped down the hallway clutching what I thought had been a surprise, I asked whether he thought

I had forgotten.  “No,” he replied with a cheeky grin, as full of confidence as ever.  “I knew you’d come eventually; I just didn’t know when.”  Daniel knew that when I made a promise, I would keep it.  He knew my heart for him and knew that I wouldn’t forget him.  He wasn’t sure when the promise was going to be filled – but, oh, he had been anticipating its fulfillment!

Smiling down into Daniel’s face, a face shining with such pure confidence and excitement, I wondered where my own cheeky grin had been lost.  Deep in my heart I heard the love-whisper of my heavenly Father: “Where is your cheeky grin that tells the world you are confident in my promises?  Do you trust Me?

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Where are your eyes looking, dear heart?

Do I trust Him?  I know Him.  I know He is truly as good as He says.  God, I know you – but do I trust you?  I’m looking ahead and I’m feeling afraid because I can’t see where we’re going yet.  Twenty-one years we have been dreaming together, He and I, since I was just a tiny girl.  Oh, the places we’ve gone and the adventures we’ve had!  I wouldn’t change a single aspect of this story, not even the heart-wrenching, teeth-clenching moments.  All this time we’ve been walking together, and twelve years ago I let Him fully capture my heart.  (Isn’t it beautiful that He woos us before we even know what love is because He alone is Love (1 John 4:8)?  Romans 5:8 encapsulates the greatest Love Story of all time: “And God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”)  After twenty-one years of dreaming with Him, do I trust His faithfulness?  I humbly must confess that I don’t – not always.  Help my unbelief.

When I am afraid, I want to have control because it makes me less fearful – if I have control, I can manage my expectations and even the outcomes.  And I like to manage both those things.  I then content myself with small hope instead of Jesus Christ, my Living Hope, because it seems less terrifying.  Help my unbelief.

Somehow I trust that the sun will rise each morning, that I will have air to breathe, that the warmth will come again even though the winter may be bitter-cold – yet I struggle to trust that the Creator of all those steady processes will keep His promises to me.  I honestly thought it would be easier after so many years together, but it’s true what they say (whoever “they” are): the older you get, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

While my parents were traveling, I stayed home with my then-five-year-old sister, who is the joy of my heart.  In the stillness of one early morning, I heard the sound of a pair of small feet finding the floor as my sister jumped out of bed.  I sleep in the room directly below her, so I hear and know every noise – even the little snuffling sounds she makes while she sleeps.  Often when she wakes up, she calls down the vent (which doubles as our handy home intercom system), but this morning it was very quiet.  I considered going upstairs or calling to her.  Suddenly, the bedroom door burst open, and a tangle of blond curls appeared.  Beaming her sweet smile at me, my sister declared, “I knew you’d be here, Honey.  I knew you’d never leave me alone.”  The reason it had been so quiet in the house was that she had tiptoed about, looking for everyone else.  As she explained, she didn’t feel afraid when she couldn’t find anyone because she knew we would never leave her alone.

As she pressed her face to mine and I snuggled her close, my eyes filled with tears of wonder.  This precious blessing is so confident, so secure in her trust of our family’s love for her.  In that moment, my mind imagined me climbing up onto Father God’s lap and declaring, “I knew you’d be here!”  That is what He wants for us, His children: to burst in shouting, “I knew it!  I knew you wouldn’t leave me alone!”

I want to trust like that, like cheeky Daniel, like my joy-filled sister; I want to trust my Father’s faithfulness toward me, to trust His relentless kindness as both Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.  I want to live my life not merely knowing my God is good; instead I want to embrace the freedom and delight of trusting that pure Goodness.  I have promises that I have carried for all the years of my life, entwined so thoroughly into my being that I cannot separate them from my dreaming.  Many of them have seen no fulfillment yet.  But as I wait, I want my cheeky grin to be ever-handy, because I don’t know when but I know He always comes – because He’s just that faithful.

IMG_1106“Sing, O heavens; be joyful, O earth!  And break out in singing, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people and will have mercy on His afflicted.
But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.
Your sons  shall make haste; your destroyers and those who have laid you waste shall go away from you.  Lift up your eyes, look around and see….”
~ Isaiah 49:13-18

Beloved, our Father doesn’t hide from us; He never tricks or teases because He is never cruel.  Do you know that He has never left, has never let go of you?  Can you believe He is really that good?  Though even those we love best may fail us, He never will.  Trust that He always loves and never forsakes.  He will be found by you when you seek Him, and you lack nothing in His goodness.  He always comes.  You are not forgotten.  So prepare your cheeky grin, run with your bare feet – because He’s here.  Oh, dear hearts, do you know?

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Look up, child, because He never forgets.

Elli’s First Post/My New Autumn Look

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I was thinking it over and when better to start posting then to do it towards the end of Autumn! I love fall not only because that’s the season of my birthday but also because of the way you get to go on walks through the park and see all of the beautiful trees that have changed color and can hear the crunching of leaves beneath your feet.

I am sometimes reluctant to wear a very uncomfortable outfit that takes a lot of work to pull off; But even though I prefer layers and big comfy things around this time, I still like to look cute and presentable in case I were to have a get-together with family (we usually have one or two of those this time of year) or some sort of party to go to. I like fall colors like jewel and earth tones but I personally like to incorporate brighter colors or stick with one of my favorite tricks that pretty much works with all seasons: Black and white! If you pair the two colors together and add just a little bit of color it makes the look really unique and fun! For example: A black top can be paired with a black and white polka-dot skirt and then add some bright colored heels and it makes for a super cute look for any season depending on how you layer it! Here is one of my recent Autumn favorites…

Because it is no longer spring and summer, it’s best to put on tights or leggings on under this look (which I did). I had so much fun taking pictures of this look and putting it together. I love this season and enjoy the fashion that comes with it including all the big sweaters and tall boots. I hope you all had fun reading and have a very blessed day!

 

My fun Autumn outfit! 

A Better Word

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Alaskan blooms — life can only happen where it is nourished.

 

As I made my first site visit to a new school this year, I found – as I would term it – a “bad word” scribbled broadly onto the back of a stall door in the bathroom.  Not having an eraser handy that particular moment, I left it and determined to inform the janitor later.  I forgot this seemingly small detail in the hubbub of another busy day working with my students.  When I returned to the site several weeks later, I was aghast to find this scribbling still present for all to read.  Not only that, but a packing box, tucked into a lonely corner, was adorned with equally inappropriate phrases.  I resolutely snatched a brand-new eraser from my supplies.  With half a dozen students watching curiously, I thoroughly erased the ugliness from the door.  Next I fished a permanent marker out of a closet and squatted to cover those carelessly written phrases on the box.  In that moment I decided: it was not enough to simply remove those graceless words; they needed to be replaced with words of life.  “Be nice” – be kind, I wrote onto the box.  These new words declared the former ugliness exposed but put in place a new set of words for my students to see.

As I made my renovations, I realized that so often we simply let words be – they come out, they are shared – but they take on an existence of their own.  Words are powerful in their ability to destroy or to create, to cultivate death or offer life.  By His word God spoke all creation into being, hanging the stars and fashioning a physical realm to display His handiwork (Genesis 1).  It is with good reason that Proverbs declares, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (18:21).  My act of blotting and rewriting was about much more than maintaining school property or protecting the youngest students from words I hope they never learn.  It was about removing what had no right to a place in either their lives or their environment.

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Who needs your life-giving words today?

It was not enough to simply remove those “bad words” that act as poison.  To not cause death is not the same as offering life.  And so in each moment I begin to ask, “Lord, how can I speak life?”  That is the whisper-cry of my heart: “Speak life!”  So I speak, I write – I simply offer whatever words of life well up within me.  I speak to the dreams and the strengths, to the destinies and passions – all the glory of how people are created, as I behold them through the eyes of Jesus.  Never have I looked upon anyone whom my Jesus has not already loved first and best, so I, too, seek to look with love.  On a weekly basis I get messages or responses from friends, coworkers, students, and random people I’ve met – so many of these interactions have a similar phrase: “That is the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me.” “No one has ever told me anything so nice in my whole life.”  “I’ve never shared that with anyone” or “We just met – how did you know?”  Then I have the delight of watching LIFE happen, like the peaceful warmth of the sun shining down after a dark night, like birds joining sweet songs to the newness of spring.  This is the kindness that we all crave – the kindness that sparks hope, that saves lives.  A young writer shared a poem with me this week, and these lines captured my thoughts:

“So many people want to stay and survive
But the voices you give them want to make them die.
But they don’t want to leave their loved ones, so they stay alive;
Once the voices get louder all they can do is cry.”
~ Miisaaq

Dear hearts, what have these voices been for you, these poisonous voices with their death-words?  I know which ones they are for me – and I can think of moments where my voice was the pain of someone else’s heart.  God forgive me for moments when my words carried the whispers or shouts of death; forgive the moments when my words were not meant to bring life-light to others.  May my heart always be tender to offer life through word and deed.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32

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Life-giving encouragement in action among one of my volleyball teams and their coaches — and a cheesy grin just for me!

To not speak death is not my goal.  Rather, I want every word to hold the echo of life, of hope and grace.  Where I look, I begin to see; and where I listen, I begin to hear – what voices of life need yet to speak?  There is a life that was saved this week because of this kindness; there is a life that was saved two months ago by this kindness.  There is a life that was saved in October last year and another many years ago in 2010.  When Scripture declares that our words, our voices, can be either life or death, it is not purely figurative.  There are physical, in-the-moment cries that this kindness answers in a way nothing else can.  It is the right words, in the right moment, given in pure kindness.  Your words can literally save lives – not because you are the savior of any but because you carry the love of the Savior of all: Jesus Christ, the Living Hope.  And He is the best Word of all.  There are other moments that this kindness touches and has touched that I may never see fully in this life, so I continue to speak life.

We are created for life, dear ones.  What life are you speaking over yourself and others today?  What words need to be erased?  What new words need to take their place?  Where is your voice meant to save lives, pulling others back from despair?  I bless your voice to be one that carries words of life in every way, declaring Truth for every need.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” – Colossians 4:6