Lift Up Your Head

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The deep darkness in this world can sometimes weigh our heads down. Our eyes remain fixed on our next step, our minds focused on not stumbling, not falling flat on our faces.
It is easy to become mired in the muck of a broken world. We struggle and strive, our backs bent under the bulk of all that is upon us.
Yet God is here.
Right here.
Closer than your breath.
The evidence is all around you. So lift up your head just for a moment.
Beauty 1


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You who are bowed down with physical pain, lift up your head.
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Beauty 9
You who dwell under the weight of loneliness or depression, lift up your head.
Beauty 10


Beauty 11


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Beauty 13


Beauty 14
You who are crushed by a grief that prevents you from even getting out of bed in the morning, lift up your head.
Beauty 15


Beauty 16


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Beauty 18
You who are burdened by the venom between fellow countrymen and fellow Christ followers, lift up your head.
Beauty 19


Beauty 20


Beauty 21


Beauty 22


Beauty 23
You who plead with God to do something, to rescue you, to save you, for God’s sake doesn’t He even care,
lift up your head.
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Beauty 25


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Beauty 28


Beauty 29
Lift up your head and take a breath of wonder. He is all around you. This beauty is for you.
It doesn’t fully dispel the darkness, at least not yet, but it will give you the strength to keep shining your own light for another day.
And that’s all you need. Just one more day.
Lift up your head.

Art credits: Mountain photos and tulip photo by Kirk Sewell; Space photos by NASAElk photo by Kevin Tuck; Elephant photo by Stella Bogdanic; all other photos are mine

God In the Personal

Such an ugly word.  A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss.  A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family.  Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight.  Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had.  Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.



Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me.   We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears.  Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can.  I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can.  God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing.  It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed.  If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle  in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action.  Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me.  One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see.  Sometimes there is hope.  That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?


Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church.  He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home.  His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.

Mark's Family

A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant.  He has not yet found a suitable donor.  Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December.  The cancer returned.  Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline.  He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town.  He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night.  In Houston.  In the summertime.  He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are.  Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life.  Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work.  Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much.  We can’t take away the cancer.  We can’t take away the fear.  We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though.  We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances.  They are not big spenders.  They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks.  And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog.  I may never do it again.  But I know these people.  I have served with them.  And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives.  Will you join me in helping them?  You can give online at GiveForward.  (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address:
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain.  This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either.  He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth.  He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.


Imagine that you are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and you stroll down a street that is a little unfamiliar.  The road is lined with sidewalks and trees, the houses are evenly spaced with a bit of yard for each.  The houses are nothing fancy, just small, American Dream with a white picket fence sorts of houses.  As you stroll along, just as the shadows begin to lengthen and the creeping dusk begins to carry with it the scent of a coming rain, one lighted window catches your eye.  You pause and find yourself caught by an image.  Young adults, seated around a table with a card game on it, joined by an older couple.  Children playing together on the floor.  A gray-haired elderly man walks in using a cane.  You are not sure why the scene has so captivated you, you really must be getting home before the rain begins to fall, but something about the sight of extended family enjoying each other’s company keeps you rooted for longer than you should have stayed.
What are your thoughts as you stand there, feeling chilled by the damp in the air yet unwilling to walk away just yet?  Are you filled with a longing you can’t quite explain?  Does it remind you of your own family and the time you had with them just the other week?  Do you wonder what bitter fights and disappointments lurk in a room more removed from the street views?
What is it about a family?
New Family
We all want one.  Even those who say they don’t need anyone around would, I dare say, wish deep inside for a perfect family to love them.
Even the word itself brings a picture of love and peace, acceptance and light.  The idea of multiple generations caring for one another is enough to set our hearts yearning for an ideal.
Four Generations
Does family really matter?  In this world that would tell us that career is more important than children, that independence is better than living intertwined, is family truly that important?
Yes.  Emphatically yes.
Families were designed to bring us back to God.  There is much about the workings of a family that draws us in, that points our hearts toward God.
The miracle of the birth of a baby, for instance, turns your mind toward thoughts of God, especially God as Father.  When you hold your own baby for the first time, your heart is drawn to mystery, drawn to contemplate the miracle of creation.  I just read this in WORLD magazine:
The baby daughter of writer Whittaker Chambers helped to move him from Communism to Christ. Chambers wrote inWitness (1952), “My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”
These children are gifts from God sent to turn us back to Him.
Other purposes of family?  Those who have been raised in godly families are more able to see the goodness of submitting to God’s authority because they have seen how good life is when we submit to the authority of our parents.  Birth and death connect us to God far beyond most other events in our lives, and we can truly experience this connection best if we are surrounded not by institution alone but by those who know and love us best.
Family after a birth
Our families are shrinking in size.  We think nothing of moving far away from our parents and grandparents.  We fill our lives with so many activities that we lose sight of the hearts of those who are most precious to us.
Sometimes these things are unavoidable.  Yet if we do not at least deliberate and ponder this mystery of what was intended by the One who created the very idea of family, I fear that we will lose something sacred, some thing that keeps us close to the heart of God.
And anything that keeps us close to the heart of God is too rare and precious to be tossed away careless.

To You Who Doubt

To you who doubt, I say
We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why? ~Madeleine L’Engle
And have mercy on those who doubt…Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
IMG_5628To you who question God’s nature or even very His existence, I say
You are courageous.
If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty. ~ Francis Bacon
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
To you who voice concerns over why the ugly exists and why life is unfair, I say
Thank you for speaking aloud the fears we all harbor deep in our hearts.
Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud, that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful. ~L’Engle
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
To you who doubt the things you have been taught, who question traditional religious beliefs, I say
Search on.
To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire. ~ John Donne
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
When people shrink back in horror from your questions, when fellow Christ-followers load shame onto your heart, remind them of the faithfulness of doubt.
This (the faithfulness of doubt) is often assumed by the judgmental to be faithlessness, but it is not; it is a prerequisite for a living faith. ~ L’Engle
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
To you who continue to seek through the fear of what the answers will be, I say
Take heart. God is and He will be found.
If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God…, then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. ~ L’Engle
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy
road to emmaus zund
To you who you are brave enough to doubt, brave enough to ask questions, brave enough to keep on searching for God Himself rather than what man says about God, I say
You deserve our deep respect for your courage.
You deserve our cheers and our thanks for refusing to settle for a shallow faith that only is manifested in appearances.
To you who doubt, I say
Well done, hero.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

art credit: Road to Emmaus by Zund; Christ with Martha and Maria by Siemiradzki

This essay is, in part, for my brothers who kept searching for God at different times, in very different ways, and under very different circumstances, yet both found and were found by Him.

For My Friend

I lost a friend this week.
Showers.Nursery 105
She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.
She has suffered for too many years, enduring pain and sorrow, kidney transplants and countless hours of dialysis. Ever since her second transplant failed, her agonies had seemed even worse.
Yet through it all, her heart remained fully God’s. She was selfless, compassionate towards others while she was the one in pain. Even when the limitations of her body sent her emotions spiraling, she still knew and would declare unequivocally that emotions can play you false and that Love was true regardless of how you feel.
When I got the word that God had taken her home, my first emotion was relief. Relief on her behalf that she is finally free at last. Free from her physical body that so limited her spirit.
Yet as I think about this initial reaction of mine, I wonder why I don’t feel this way with everyone.  Surely, as Paul said, to depart and be with Christ is better by far, so why did I feel such sadness when Kristina died, when my Papa died?
Analise, Natalie and Papa
Surely I don’t want to bring anyone back here to this earth, to this broken world. Surely I don’t want to carry them away from God, away from being free from pain and sorrow.
I search my own heart and finally realize that what I really want is to join them.
I am not sad that they are not here, rather I am jealous that I am not there.
It is not a desire for everyone to stay here with me but a longing for everyone here to be there. With God.
What I really want is for God to come back now. I want Him to make everything right again. Perfect. New.
The Church often gives confusing messages when it comes to death.
We seem to bounce back and forth between the medical view that death is an enemy to be conquered by medical technology and the Ars moriendi view that death is a friend to be embraced because it moves us from the hated physical into the desired spiritual.
It seems to me, rather, that the Christian view, the view that comes from watching how Jesus Himself died, is that death is an enemy, but one that has already been defeated.
This allows for the reality of the sadness that we all feel when someone we love dies and at the same time acknowledges our hope for the future, our hope in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and in His grace that will let us share in that resurrection…that physical resurrection.
I am saddened by death. I hate death’s power to destroy and bring loss.
And I long for the day when God will make our world and our bodies new again, perfect and free from pain, sorrow, and death.
And so, as I mourn the loss of my friend, I embrace my weeping.
I weep for myself, for my brokenness and for the years in which she will not play a part in my story, and I weep with a profound yearning for Someday when all of our stories will finally reach
Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Last Battle

Art credits: The Resurrection painting by Luca Giordano; final quote and illustration from The Last Battle written by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

When My Heart Is Revealed

I am flying to Dallas this week.

No kids, no husband, only myself.

I am traveling to visit my Papa and my Gram one last time before this baby inside me places limits on how far I may travel.

This is very possibly the last time I will see my Papa this side of death and Jesus’ return.

This is a difficult journey. One that I wish I did not have to take.

I heard it said on Sunday that storms rip away the surface and the shallow and expose what is truly there.

In both the storm of Kristina and the storm of Papa, I find that I do not like what is revealed.

I desire comfort above character; I want my own plans to be fulfilled even though I know that God’s plan is so much better; I want to avoid pain, for myself and for those that I love, at almost any cost.

Only God can change me, can fix my broken heart so that I am able to desire what He desires. 

I am brought back once again to the realization that God does not promise that we will have pain-free lives. He, in fact, promises the opposite.

(Jesus speaking to His disciples) In this world you will have trouble. ~ John 16.33

Yet I read the entire verse and I cling to the last of His words. I cling to what God does truly promise.

I have told you these things so that in Me, you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world! 

Take heart!

Part of me is able to recognize that those are much greater promises. 

A large part of me, however, still seeks that life without heartache and pain. 

All I can do for now is to cling to Jesus’ words, to the things that He has promised, as I wait for the day when my heart will be whole and undivided, the day when I truly will understand and know that it has all been worth it.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~ John 14.27 

One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again… And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun. ~ The Jesus Storybook Bible

art credit: painting is Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

Craving Connection

Fairly regularly, my eldest will call to me after I have put her to bed for the night.

When I ask her what she needs, she will say, “I just need you, Mommy. I just need you for a moment.”

I will crawl into bed with her, she will wrap a strand of my hair around her finger, and we will snuggle for just a moment.

My little ones need my touch. They need me to look into their eyes, they need to feel my skin touching theirs.

Why is this so necessary for them? Not just desired but truly needed.

Every mother knows this instinctively, that their babies need their touch, but it is also a documented subject of research studies. A 2009 Cochrane Reviewof studies found that infants who have their skin stroked regularly cry and fuss less than those who don’t. Science also has shown that skin-to-skin contact lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Funny how we need science to prove to us what we already know: that we need connection.

Why do we need this connection, both with others and with God?

One clue is in how we were created.

As God created everything in our world – light, sky, islands, dolphins, lions, sparrows – He spoke. Powerful, yet a bit impersonal.

When God created man? He breathed.

His face leaned in close to the dirt and His breath brought us into being.

That closeness is what we need, what we crave. That connection is what we were created to need.

God’s intention, though, was for us to always have what we needed, to always have a perfect connection to Him. In a garden, long ago, we threw it away.

So He once again gently leaned in close to us and became a soft, touchable baby. A baby that we could touch and hold and kiss.

A baby that would once again breathe on us and in that final breath on the cross, reconnect us to our Abba.

What will we do now that we once again have that perfect connection with God? Will we again throw it away, or will we cherish and nourish it?

Will we continue to seek to know God as intimately as He knows us so that our connection with Him can flourish? Will we lean in close to those we meet and breath grace on them so that they, too, can be connected?

What will you do?

Can I Really Know God?

“This is one of the most beautiful things to me.”

I look at her, my mommy-shepherd, wanting her to continue.

“A mother who knows her baby, who knows what her baby needs by being completely attuned to the cues her baby gives her.”

Yes. This is beautiful.

Our conversation drifts to the back of my mind until I am reading Psalm 139, which begins like this: 

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

My mind leaps back to the beauty of a mother knowing her baby as I read more of the psalm: 

…you perceive my thoughts from afar…you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God knows me.

God, the One Who weighs the clouds heavy with snow, knows me even more deeply than a mommy can know her baby.

This is beautiful.

And then I read something that I have read many times. This time, with the beauty of God’s knowledge of me fresh in my mind, I am stunned.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

The wonder of this takes my breath away and I want to check, to be sure this is true.

I know that the Old and New Testaments were written in different languages, but I check my Strong’s for the meanings of “know” in both chapters and they are remarkably similar. It is the same kind of knowing.

We will know God as deeply as He knows us.

Stop for just a moment and let that fill up your heart.

Lately my heart has been too full of the mystery of God. I often struggle to see Him in the midst of the busyness, the hurts and disappointments of life. 

My heart needs to hear this, to savor it: God wants me to know Him.

I search for more of this truth. If you, too, need this, go slowly. Let God breathe these words into your distant heart and draw you close to Him.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom…but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD.’

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD.

I am filled with this beauty.

God knows all of the deepest pieces of me and in all of His knowledge of my dark places, He desires that I know Him just as deeply.


Scriptures in order: I Corinthians 13.12; John 10.14-15; Ephesians 1.17; Hosea 6.6; Jeremiah 9.23-24; Jeremiah 24.7 
Painting is Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

A Psalm of Love

Holy. Beautiful. Glory.

Creator. Author. Majesty.

King and Lord. Humility and Servant.


Wise beyond my wisdom.

Knowing beyond my knowledge.

Perfect plan beyond what I can comprehend.


Giver of all that I grasp too tightly.

Sacrificer of all, that I may see Your face.

Abundant mercy and grace, I rest in your delight in me.


For all that comes before,

When I cannot understand,

Still I will cling to Your power, Your goodness and

Your Love.

What You Should Do Next

What should we do now?

How should we respond?

When life seems to be running rapidly into a dead end

When we feel carved out and emptied by the rivers of this world’s realities

When the weight of our pain threatens to crush

When our hearts are pitted and scarred by pain, anguish, shame

What should we do?

Yes, we continue to obey, to follow the signs.

To what purpose? To what end?

The men who walked in the fire told a king that even if God refused to rescue, they would continue to obey.

The man who lost all but his life declared that even if God took the last thing remaining to him, he would continue to trust.

Why do we obey, why do we trust even when we cannot seem to find the light?


Listen to the Word speak.

Listen to what the Word says as He is drawing very near to His own darkness.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

The Glory of God our Father.

Out of the rocks, His glory bursts forth.

Out of the dead and the dying, His beauty shines out.

All praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Father, glorify Your name!

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