On How Pain Doesn’t Define {Except for When it Should}

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this a couple of months back (hence the mention of snow) but felt God asking me to wait to share it. I now know why and will continue to write out the rest of this story in posts to come…

one-set-of-tracks-M

Newly fallen snow blankets the barren earth, allowing sun’s reflection to permeate my back room. Its warmth floods the floor as I labor over the laundry basket. And I close my eyes — just for a second, inviting its radiance to find me.

My lips curl as I notice the fresh bunny tracks below the picture window and realize she’s had her babies. I wonder aloud if rabbits typically have babies in the dead of winter because it doesn’t seem like those tracks belong in this frigid season… His 5 year-old wisdom shines as he tells me outright: “Mom, why can’t she have her babies in the snow? You did. God gives babies in every Season.”

The rhythmic ticking of the swing draws my gaze sideways as I dwell on his sleeping baby brother. He’s right, you know. It did snow the eve this miracle was born. And I can barely breathe as I reflect on what my God has done for me…for thousands of years, He just keeps giving…

I feel like you all know me. The one simply striving to see Jesus in my everyday while becoming all He has made me to be. Despite what this world throws my way. So I feel like I should tell you…

Friends, losing a child of any age, it can define you. For good or bad I imagine. During the pain of labor, you need reminders to simply breathe in and out. The same applies as you labor them down into the ground. Only then, while the intense pain may come and go in spurts, it never goes away fully.

What I’ve discovered is the ache of loss can squeeze the life right out of you only to realize it has freshly pressed the goodness within to the surface. And He’s been at work, pressing hard in me the last couple years — with more than one loss — and I’ll admit…I’d gotten used to the pain.

Almost to the point of it defining me…

Whispers-M

I’m very fond of the book of Job. (And no, I’m nothing like him.) He’s a man I admire greatly. For I don’t know many who could lose every love they’ve tangibly held in their hands and still keep clinging to The One Love they’ve never physically gazed upon. Often I’ve wondered if I had went through that kind of pressure, would the life found within me be bitter or sweet? How many times have I prayed for my rinds to ripen…

Oh dear God, please make my soul sweet enough to savor…
I owe that much and more to my Savior…

Reflecting back, I’m not quite sure when it happened. When I decided the road we travel is mostly rocky. uphill. barren yet full of thorns. And when I think of the optimistic nature God gifted me with, I gasp at the thought of what I’ve done to it.

For I have seen the hurt more than the healings.
I have focused more on the sorrow
than I have my own salvation.
And just look at how He still lavishes His love upon me…

My 1st grader notices the bunny tracks go deep into our evergreen and I say to him–isn’t that just the way God is… Even in the barren seasons, He provides and cares for us. His hazel eyes look up at me as if he’s searching for whom I’m talking to, then he promptly leaves to go watch his new baby brother sway in peaceful slumber.

While pressing hard on the folds of a handmade burp cloth, I sense Him moving in me. My heart warms softly as I thank Him for the contents of this laundry basket. And for just a moment, I realize…it doesn’t hurt to breathe…

I decide right then that the only death I’ll allow to define me will belong to The One who conquered it.

Friends, this is only the beginning of the journey I’ve been on. Next up, I plan on sharing how I was guarding my heart in all the wrong places. I hope you’ll join me (and I’ll try to have that post up soon!).

How about you? How do you keep yourself from focusing more on the sorrow than on our Savior? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

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The One Question You Need to Answer {When Trials Come}

Whispers-M

I write it in bold, though I don’t need the reminder. I circle in color to proclaim it deserves a place here on my wall. This space where I display the importance of my everyday.

Calendars share events like no other, yet they are not a place to tell a story…

And I leave words off intentionally. They may be part of the event, even part of the story, but they don’t paint the picture I see.

My pen slows as I write his name in full. I print it out neatly as if I’m teaching it to him for the first time — the name his father and I painstakingly chose for him. The one I hold tightly to my chest and often exhale in stolen breaths.

In my best handwriting, I write the year below. Not to remind me of his stillborn birthday, but to remember the first time I heard “It’s a boy.” I don’t see it as an end date, but rather a beginning. And pronouncing it here helps me cling to the promise that this date of when I first held him won’t be the last.

I step back and look at the statement I’ve made. It’s not enough. These square days are too confined. But a journal… Not only can you share a story in those empty lines, but you can paint a picture. The very one you see imprinted on your heart…

It’s taken many pages, but I now see it. This masterpiece He’s been brushing on in strokes. Some heavy and hard. Others light and quick. Yet they all flow together to form the very pattern of my soul. It’s starting to take shape…the story this day has brought to my picture.

Friends, through every trial I have faced in my “short” life, one lesson has proven to be true:

Answering how, why, when, or where aren’t nearly as pertinent as answering “WHO.”
That’s really the only answer you need to know with certainty.

  • Who will walk through this with you?
  • Who will pick you up and remind you to breathe?
  • Who is still good even when all you see is bad?

And today, as I remember a day where I asked every question. As I look back and see where this pain of loss and longing has brought me. Today, as I proclaim this part of my story, I will celebrate the one answer I received.

For I discovered the answer of “WHO”. And it never changes. I can always rely on its predictability and have found comfort in it since.

Friends, I know Who holds my hand.

I know Who has never let go.

I know Who’s good. All the time. Even still…

And when I remember Who holds tomorrow. Who has overcome. Who has conquered the unbelievable this world can throw our way, I realize:

James was right.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

I write it in bold for the world to see: JOY. Because that’s what my son has taught me. That no matter why, how, when, where — none of that matters in the end. It can’t steal my joy, because I will always know the answer of Who.

And that answer promises joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5) along with new mercies every day (Lamentations 3:21-24).

He brings hope to days like today.

He is whom I will cling to when the mama inside me longs for more.

He is the answer. Every time. Even still…

How about you, friend? Do you know the answer of who? What have trials taught you? How do you answer those questions when all you see is defeat? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

When Pain’s Worth It {Beyond the Cross}

FOG09- Courtesey of Greg Abel Photography

“A great many times in our Christian life we will endure hard times.
Those times are always a preparation for the next thing. The unseen.”
~Kris Camealy, Holey, Wholly, Holy

She slides the charm on her necklace just like I do…when I’m tugging for more room to breathe. Her eyes focus on my left shoulder and I want to hug her for making it that far. After one last gulp she releases the confession weighing heavy on her chest and she was right…it’s a big one.

One might think it’s not a big deal and a part of me wonders if she’s hoping I will slather on the salve of complacency. But she deserves more than that. For I know one gust of life will remove it all and leave her skin cracked underneath. What I long for most is to hold her and have a good cry. Simply because I know she’ll need it later.

After asking the obvious “Are you sure you never have?” I lovingly ask her the hard question I know has been keeping her up at night.

“Are you ready for refinement–to go through something hard? Is your heart prepared enough to ask for it? Because you could, friend…you could ask Him for those growing pains…”

That’s the thing. In this upside down Kingdom of Grace, the growing love affair often hurts. Cupid’s arrow does not make your heart flutter–it penetrates leaving you forever changed. And you soon realize this lover’s road is not paved in gold. No.

You have to
cross many
lashes, thorns,
nails and hammers,
vinegar stained lips and downright bloodshed…
You have to stare death down and face the very
murder in your heart
to get wrapped
in His warm,
eternal embrace.

“This journey through Lent is a journey that doesn’t end at the cross. No!
This journey ends at the empty tomb…in the victory of grace for sinners and
redemption for those who believe.”
~Kris Camealy, Holey, Wholly, Holy

And she mentions the what ifs we all fear. The ones that affect more than ourselves and possibly include an unbearable trial–even a death. As if dealing with one death isn’t enough. Surely she can’t ask for that kind of hard journey. Can’t she just ask for your everyday, basic trial? For even those are hard to come by in her near 3 decades…

“How can we serve and love and reflect Christ
when we begin and end with ourselves?”
~Kris Camealy, Holey, Wholly, Holy

I search her green eyes and wait for the light within to calm before I whisper what she already knows. For only He does…only He…only. And I remind her what waits on the other side. How glory holds no constriction of time and what we see as important now is confined to the present…these temporal joys–they seem to pull us away from eternal glory.

Holey Wholly Holy -- Glory

We read the words of Jesus’ brother. For surely he knows what he’s talking about. And she makes note right then that it’s the most important thing he wanted his loved ones to know…for it’s the first thing he wrote in his Letter…

Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4

I then confess how, last Lent, I had to ask for the hard. I had to pray that prayer. And there were brief moments when I regretted it. Because. It. Hurt. This year, I didn’t ask. I was expecting a road worn down smooth from the scars only to realize those had merely scratched the surface…

“The call to refinement for the Christian is not about making us look better,
it’s about us reflecting Christ better.”
~Kris Camealy, Holey, Wholly, Holy

She starts naming the scars of trial she’s seen on me. And as she’s listing, I see it…what James was trying to share. I grab both of her hands as I proclaim it for me more than her:

It’s true! Joy can be found during faith-building. I’m living proof.

In this upside down Kingdom of Grace, the love affair often hurts. Cupid’s arrow pierces through Christ, then you, leaving you forever changed. And you soon realize this lover’s road is paved in hard-won glory.

And when you
get there,
He wraps you
in His warm,
loving embrace
adorning your garments of salvation with
an eternal robe of holy righteousness…
For beyond shame
and pride,
beyond death,
humbleness
is found
Grace
is accepted
Joy
is obtained
Glory
is revealed.

We let it sink in, praying it takes root as we stand there in the comfort of silence. Our eyes meet and we hug tight, knowing it’s only the beginning. And as I work my way home, walking around the puddles of thawing snow, I can’t help but smile as the street light’s reflection glitters my path…

Father, I’m but a shadow…but thank You…Thank You for letting me dance in Your Light…

This is a part of my Lenten series using Holey, Wholly, Holy by Kris Camealy as a guide. You may check out the entire series HERE. I’ll be back next Wednesday to finish up the series.

If you do not have this book yet, Kris is giving away FREE PDF COPIES HERE for just a few more days! Or you may purchase a kindle or hard copy (highly recommend) HERE.

How about you, friend? Have you discovered the joy found in refinement? How has your faith grown this Lenten season? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

NOTE: This story was told with permission. Her name was withheld out of love. But if you think of it, please pray for her…for her painful, refining journey has begun…

Guard Your Heart {The Best Armor Around}

The Word _ Simplystriving

I’m expecting Lent to be brutal. It may not be and that would be okay, but I’m preparing for the worst because I’m giving the most: Myself.

Friends, I’m laying my life down this Lenten season.
And I’m inviting you to join me. Every Wednesday.

You may follow this series by CLICKING HERE.

With it fast approaching, I took inventory this last week at how I’ve been getting ready. Friends, I don’t know how I’ve missed it. Not that I haven’t noticed, but it floored me to see how God has been priming my heart these last few weeks.

We’ve talked about it some here. You might even know what I’m referring to. But I’m over at Must Love God today sharing another personal example of it.

It would bless me so if you’d stop by and read my heart spilled. I share an experience I had recently that God loved me through. And I even let you know how He loved me through it. You may read that post by CLICKING HERE.

Also, just so you know, friends, it’s a big week for me.

  • First, I’m over at Must Love God sharing a very personal story (I’m nervous!).
  • Tuesday, I’m showing you where (in)courage will be bringing me and my homeschooling hat. (Eek! I’m so excited to share this one with you and I hope you’ll come along!!)
  • Wednesday, I’m starting a series on Lent. Where we will go through my dear friend Kris‘ book “Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement“. If you haven’t picked up your free pdf copy, please do HERE. If you’re wanting to prepare for Wednesday with me, please read through the section titled “There’s No Shortcut to Holiness” (should only take you 15 minutes).
  • Thursday, I might take a breath and exhale with my 5 minute write with Lisa-Jo’s prompt on Friday.

So will you join me? Will you give me a hug by stopping by Must Love God to read my very vulnerable heart? I’d love to have you — Simply click the image below!

And because it’s Monday and I’d miss it too much if I didn’t, do you mind if I share the song that has not left me this last week? Subscribers, CLICK HERE to press play on the image below.

Friends, This IS Amazing Grace.
Not WAS.
It is…today…amazing.

This is amazing grace. This is unfailing love. That He would take my place and bear my cross…Oh friends, please listen to the song so you can get as excited as I am about His living, breathing, current, amazing grace!

How about you, friend? What does your week look like? How is God helping you prepare for Lent? How can I pray for you this week? I’d love to hear.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

Prepared for the Journey {Jehovah Raah}

She asked me how I’ve been and waited for an honest answer. Right then and there I knew I had been given a gift:

An open invitation to spill my heart.

There was a time I would have shrugged this gift aside, but not today. Not after all He has done for me. Not with her and all she means to me. No. This I must do.

I must crack open my heart and invite her in.

I dug deep into my sack of emotions and looked for the common thread. There I saw anguish, mourning, worry, stress, even fear. But none of them were repeat offenders and the realization of that made me stop in my pacing tracks. I was stunned to see what was most common.

There, laced throughout the hurt, was peace. Joy. The realization of redemption.

“I’m honestly doing well. Sure it hurts and it’s not what I would have wanted, but nothing’s changed: I’m His. He’s overcome. I’m well on my way Home. And I get to be a part of His glory. Friend, I’m beyond fine  — I’m blessed. For I’ve found the peace that passes understanding.

The receiver turns silent and how I wished we had skyped instead. Then I hear her exhale of relief and reply:

“So you’re under The Shepherd’s arm…I’m so relieved to hear!”

Later that night as I dwelled on this discovery, I thought of her words…I’m under the Shepherd’s arm…and quoted out loud, slowly, the chapter in Psalm we all associate with our Jehovah Raah — Our Shepherd.

Friends, I’ve had it memorized for decades and have missed it all these years. And now that I know, I can’t get over it.

Oh how He loves me.


I couldn’t go on. My heart was stuck on

He makes me lie down…He restores my soul. 

And I saw it. Again and again.

Oh how He loves me.

You see, this last month has found me fearing, worrying, grieving, losing, aching, and just down right begging for Him to call us all Home.

It was more than I could handle alone. But I didn’t have to. For He knew this was coming for me. He knew every obstacle I’d have to climb over to get to where I am today. Friends, He knew and took action.

He saw my road ahead
and prepared my heart for it.

He made me ready for the journey.

That’s My Jehovah Raah…My Shepherd.

When I think of the month previous, I see all the moments He let me rest and soak Him in. He truly did restore my soul before it was tried once again…

Oh how He loves me. 

He knows what I need and how to deliver it. He sees my path ahead and determines the best way to conquer it. What’s more — He walks along side me and encourages me. Pushing me along when I’m being stretched. Picking me up when I’m too hurt to continue. Holding my hand when I need to linger long in the moment…

Thank You, Jehovah Raah. I’d be a fool not to join Your flock and follow. For I was once lost…and now I’m found. Rescued. Redeemed…Never alone. David was right. I don’t need a thing when I have You…

I pull open The Message to read this Psalm with a new voice…and I pray:

God, my Shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
You find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to Your word,
You let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when You walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23

How about you, friend? How has Jehovah Raah shepherded you lately? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,,

Nikki

Note: This is a part of my Names of God Series. You may find others HERE.

Steady My Heart

I had another post lined up for today. By that I mean written out in my head waiting for me to sprawl on the keyboard…

It included a song that makes my soul sing. Every time I sing it, tears well.

Then “life” happened. And it never got out in time. I’m hoping it comes around again soon.

You see, I have this thing…an agreement with Him that I will share my heart in real-time here for His glory. This life I live? It’s His story in me. It’s not mine. And I’m learning that story doesn’t always entail an easy post laced with pearls. No.

Because Life as we know it is often messy. Painful. Scary. Dark.

I’m no exception. Why should I be.

Does it mean I don’t have enough faith? Does it mean He doesn’t love me like I think He does? Does it mean I’m failing at this thing we call life?

Nah.

It means just what He said it means:

  • This world is not my home. I’m on foreign land; it’s bound to be uncomfortable. Philippians 3:20
  • This world is filled with trials and sorrow. BUT TAKE HEART — He has overcome it. John 16:33

Friends, we live on a battle ground. And we’re at war with the worst kind of enemy.

One of his greatest defenses is trying to make us forget that. This enemy takes invisible to a whole new level.

So some days I don’t smell the roses. I sense fear and taste hurt instead which helps me see I’m back on the front lines. And that’s where I remind myself the promise He gave us long before I put on the armor:

Take heart…He’s overcome.

And this thing I’m going through that tries to steal every subconscious breath — it’s fleeting.

I’ve been on the front lines for more than a month now. And friends, can I be honest? I’m tired. I’m hoping I get the call to fall back soon.

But if I don’t, that’s okay. He’ll hold me up. I may get pressed but I won’t be crushed. I may get struck down, but I won’t be destroyed. He’s got me.

And I’ll believe that even when all hope feels lost. I’ll cling to that promise even if I feel alone.

He’s got me.

Father, I’m so honored to wear Your colors. I’m humbled You’ve allowed me to be on the front lines for Your glory and will do my best to keep my eyes on You. The One who’s already overcome. For I know You’ll show me the way Home. Lord, as I walk this battlefield now wounded and weary, may I ask for one thing? My Jehovah, please steady my heart…

This has become my battle cry as of late: Father, steady my heart. And I wanted to share a song that expresses it better than I ever could. You may have heard this on the radio, but have you ever stopped to read the lyrics?

May they provide you a bit of relief as they have me.

(Subscribers, CLICK HERE to press play and listen in to the song below.)

Steady My Heart ~ Kari Jobe

Wish it could be easy
Why is life so messy
Why is pain a part of us
There are days I feel like
Nothing ever goes right
Sometimes it just hurts so much

But You’re here
You’re real
I know I can trust You
Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart

I will run to You
Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul
Healer of my scars
You steady my heart

I’m not gonna worry
I know that You got me
Right inside the palm of your hand
Each and every moment
What’s good and what gets broken
Happens just the way that You plan

And I will run to You
You’re my refuge in Your arms
And I will sing to You
Cause of everything You are

You steady my heart

How about you, friend? Has He steadied your heart lately? How has He healed your scars? I’d love to hear.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

He’s Here…And He’s Got This {Jehovah Shammah}

The mighty maple sways valiantly as it dances with sun’s rays. It’s branches give way to chorus as remaining leaves join the sparrow’s serenade. With each crescendo, a vibrant leaf descends and finds rest among its fallen comrades.

We’ve met countless times, this tree and I. With each visit, my vision is drawn upwards, looking for the story this maple brings. And no matter how many times I see it’s tale, it always feels new. There’s no other way to describe it — this tree embraces each day. With each season, stretches tall, pointing towards the One who never changes.

It’s as if the maple understands. Knows his Creator is right here. Always here…delighting in its performance.

The tree praises no matter what comes its way.

And as I walk among the vibrant aftermath of autumn, I feel His presence and know. Life has many seasons but one thing will always be present. One thing will always remain the same:

Jehovah Shammah…The LORD is HERE.

I’ve researched the origin of this Name of God and discovered it first rolled off of Ezekiel’s lips. He was naming the new city, their Jerusalem, and named it after Jehovah Shammah (reference HERE). Zechariah prophecies the transition this Name would take as he uses it to describe Jesus’ coming (HERE). And it is used a few times in the New Testament to remind believers that Jesus’ death extended God’s presence to live among us today through the body of Christ.

My mind’s eye sees the circle of life this Name of God took. First naming what would have been the church for Ezekiel all the way around to Jesus extending this promise to me. By His death ensuring this same God will be here for me as I claim my presence as one of His children.

Yes, Jehovah Shammah permeates the body of Christ.

God permeates me. To think:

Friends, He’s got me covered. This Season I’m in? He’s got this.

And as I stand in the shade this mighty maple brings, my hands instinctively mimic its branches. Both heels raise as I emulate its posture of praise. And I join the church I find myself in today and worship. Thank You, Father…for never leaving me. You’re always here…Jehovah Shammah.

Branches part, allowing the sun to touch my face.
And I am warmed by the very thought of Him.

It’s no secret the season I’m in now has left me aching. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve pleaded for Jesus to come quickly. But as I’ve shared before, I still can’t deny it: He’s never left my side.

That’s my Jehovah Shammah.

I curl into my favorite resting place, a cup of hot nutella chocolate in hand, and open up my studies of this very Name. A reference in Psalm catches my eye and I scurry to read what it has to say.

Friends, if I didn’t have proof before, I do now as He extends Himself to me through His Word. Reminding me once again:
He’s got this. He’s got me. He’s here.

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Father, I see You here. And I can’t think of a greater gift than to be surrounded with Your grace every day. Thank You doesn’t seem enough, but here I stand, offering what I have to You. My Jehovah Shammah. May this humble life I lead point others to You in whatever season I find myself in. And no matter what comes my way, may I dig my heels into Your promises clinging to You with every breath. For then I’ll know…You’re not going anywhere without me. And this thing I can’t see beyond? You’ve got it covered. To You be all glory and honor. Forever and ever…my Jehovah Shammah.

How about you, friend? How have you seen Jehovah Shammah lately? I’d love to hear. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Simply striving,

Nikki

NOTE: This post is a part of my Names of God Series. You may read others by CLICKING HERE.

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