Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Squirrel Watching

This morning I got to sit in my favorite spot and have devotion time. The spot that took awhile to find. The spot where I feel relaxed and open and cozy (but not too cozy). There are a few reasons why it's my favorite place in our house to spend time with God.

It's the holiest room in our house.

Sound strange? Let me explain. We were encouraged in our pre-marital counseling to make our bedroom the holiest place in the house. A protected space. A technology free space (goodbye treadmill and TV). Aside from a few lamps for practicality, it is candles and clean lines and clutter-free. It is a sanctuary. With soft grays and creams and yellows, a few accents of lively green. And don't forget the blackout curtains (if you ask me, they're a must).

But those blackout curtains cover a glorious window that overlooks a wooded area behind our house.

Reason number two why this cozy spot is my favorite: a view of nature.

If I prop a few pillows up at the end of the bed, it's the perfect place to sit and gaze out the window while I read, journal, think, chat with God. In the morning the sun streams in and it almost feels like God is washing me clean, warming me with His presence, filling me with peace before sending me out into this world.

This morning there was no sun. I awoke to an overcast and rather gloomy day. But you know what? These days are some of my favorite. There is something energizing about them for me. For some reason I feel the space and capacity to be in my own thoughts. I don't feel guilty about not going outside. I can stay in and be and do and think. Oh man, am I ever an introvert!

As I sat in my spot this morning, my gaze drifted out to the woods. On days like these, it's easy to pick up any movement, any little critter that might be scurrying along or fluttering by. You don't have the rays of sun to shield your view.

I was reading Psalm 139 (one of my all-time favorite chapters of the Bible). It about how God formed me, created me, knows me. (If you haven't read it, go do it...right now.) As I let God's reminder of these words sow into my soul, I looked out to watch a squirrel on our fence.

I love watching the movements of animals. They can be so graceful, confident, unsure, powerful. In the case of the squirrel: funny and quirky. His movements were jumpy and skittish. But I watched in delight from my cozy spot. Knowing he had no idea anyone was interrupting his morning scavenging.

I was just admiring God's creation, His handiwork. His creativity. His beauty.

In a squirrel.

And then it hit me: this creature was most certainly created by God and deemed by Him "good."

But what about us? Humans? Man and woman? We were created in His image. And deemed by Him "very good." (Check out Genesis 1.)

Do I look at humans and see "very good?" Do I admire the way we were created, our unique personalities, our character traits, our genes?

The way we were ALL created in His image.

It reminds me of a time with my mom and sister. We were on a family vacation in Maine (which also happens to be my favorite spot in the US). We had a little time to kill as we waited for my dad and brother to join us for dinner - at Rosalie's, I'm sure. It is after all my favorite pizza place on the planet. (This was back in the days before cell phones were widespread and you had to just set a time and place to meet up later in the day and whether or not you were ready or had ample time to kill, you met at that pre-determined time and place...crazy, right?!)

The three of us were sitting on a park bench on the side of a street filled with shops in the quaint town of Bar Harbor. It was a busy summer evening with many passersby. We were chatting and people-watching which led to chatting about the people we were watching...in not the most positive way.

And then my mom challenged us: what if we came up with one positive thing to say about every person that walked by. What if we left the negativity and judgment out of it and focused on a beautiful feature.

It was so. much. fun.

Older retired couples, younger couples, families on vacation, dread-donning hippie college students, townspeople, workers.

Something positive about them all.

That memory has stuck with me all these years. And I was reminded of it again this morning while watching the squirrel.

We are all created in God's image, the most beautiful, holy, perfect being of all.

Do I see that?

Do I love people for how God created them?

Do I look at them and really see God's beauty?

Do you?


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The List

This whole idea of goals for 2017 has me all tangled. I love making goals. I love lists. And crossing things off lists.

But I sit down to write goals for 2017 and I'm stuck. I've made lists of goals for the year before. I even crossed a few things off the list. But this year is different. I find myself waffling. Feeling directionless. Undefined.

Maybe it's because I know myself well and how I leave lists unfinished. And this one matters. It's significant. I want to be better. I want to actually complete the list. But...it's me. The one who doesn't have her mess together. The one who doesn't always live with consistency. I can manage to brush my teeth twice a day and floss every day. EVERY DAY. And yet I can't seem to manage other small tasks that would bring great change in my life. Consistently.

Or maybe it's because of so much change last year. I took on a new last name, on one of the most joyous days of my entire life! I said goodbye to life as a Cooper and became Mrs. Perry. Stephen and I celebrated 6 months of marriage on January 1st - and what an incredible 6 months they have been! So many joys, a lot of focus as we've learned to be students of each other, a lot of growth, surrender, prayer, the list goes on an on. And somehow, in the changes of a new name, a new home, a new role and title, I'm finding myself the same.

The same sin. The same disappointments. The same failures (and gratefully, I know failure is not final). There was mess and grossness that covered me as a Cooper. And wouldn't you know it, it's there as a Perry too.

Dang.

I became acutely aware of this when my introverted self needed to be extroverted for a very extended period of time.

I became emotional, weary, needy, selfish, grumpy, short. A whole list of things I'd like to never see in myself again.

I had that moment where the realization hit: I don't really like me.

I don't say that to be overdramatic. Or negative.

But the reality is, in my sin and brokenness...I am gross.

Sitting with God in my sin is something I'd rather not do. It's not a comfortable place to be. It's painful and messy and it sucks. To be honest, I don't do it very often. Not near often enough. But repentance is a necessity. Something I'd like to do more of in 2017 (goal #1?).

And the unbelievable part is that God doesn't leave me to sit in my sin. (Hallelujah!!!)

He covers my naked, vulnerable, prostrate, helpless, broken self with His righteousness. (Thank you to my incredible accountability partner for this gentle reminder last night.)

His grace.

He makes me to walk with strength and dignity.

That is only possible through the hope of His Son, Jesus Christ, because there is nothing strong or of dignity in me...on my own. (I am reminded of this at 5:30 am when I roll out of bed to start a 12 hour shift...no matter how I might try to perform...the strength just isn't there.)

But with Him I am made new.

And that's really what I'd like to be.

Made new. Consistently.

I went back to my still empty list of "2017 Goals" and thought, what would it look like to be the person I want to be, the person God wants me to be? Who is that? What does she look like? 

She looks like a whole lot more discipline.

And she walks with a whole lot more patience...for herself and others.

And she'd have to live in grace.

That word. Grace. It is probably the most complex word I know. It is a word where you can read the meaning and think you understand, but you really have no idea what it means. Until you need it. Heaps of it. Again and again and again.

And then you think you've got it. Grace. I am covered in grace. I walk in grace.

And then you realize an even deeper need for it and you wonder if you ever really understood it to begin with!

Enter: my word of the year.

Sow.

Oh, sweet Jesus, would you sow grace into me? Would you make me a garden where grace is sown. Make my life graceful.

Grace. Full.

I am reminded of a year ago when we attended Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker. Watching the ballerinas? Talk about grace! I wrote about it here.

That is a new version of me. A me where grace is sown.

So my goals are still being written. I struggle to release my vision and embrace God's. Sometimes our goals don't always align.

wake up early every day.
be productive.
get things done.
finish lists.
blog more.
read more.
exercise more.
eat healthier.
budget better.
think with more focus.
journal more.
love your job.
be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend.
have a consistent morning routine.
have a consistent nightly routine.
disciple more.
protect simplicity.
more Jesus.
more grace.

That's my list of unmeasurable goals. Basically every area of my life could use change. That's encouraging. But it's a start. Now I take that list and let God have His way with it.

He can cross things off. Add to it.

Heck, He might even crumple the whole thing up and start fresh.

A fresh start? That sounds nice. Thank you, Lord, for mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

I will surrender and sit in His grace and ask Him to write my "2017 Goals" list. Maybe then, by His grace and the power of His Spirit, I might actually complete it.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Love of A Father

Lately I have been completely enraptured by a song.

It's Elevation Worship's "Call Upon The Lord." We sang it at 12Stone several weeks ago. Then again at Night of Worship. Something about the song is just so powerful to me.

I have been trying to figure out why, I mean, for obvious reasons it's a powerful song. But why for me in this time is it so gripping? I downloaded it the other day. I put it on repeat this morning on my way to small group. 

And it hit me.

There is power in singing a song that speaks faith into an area of struggle, an area where you feel like you're sinking. It's almost like the song is pulling you up into the faith you want to have.

There is another power altogether in singing a song that claims victory of what you know to be true about God's faith in that struggle, looking back in freedom as your head is once again above water. (Not on dry land, mind you...in many ways I'm in deeper water than before, but no longer drowning.)

It's powerful because you've been there. In the undercurrent.

And by the grace of God, your faith has lived to tell about it. 

There was a time, not so many years ago, that proved to be the hardest and honestly just plain most confusing years of my life. 

I won't go back into it all, it is a blog for another post. (One that has already been written...or rather 12.  See the first of them here.) But it was this time of Singlehood that brought me lower than my knees, it sometimes brought me to fetal position on the floor. And in this posture, God taught me how to own this struggle, to name it (singlehood), claim the truth of who I was in it (understanding my identity as His daughter), and learn to walk in the freedom He had for me.

It's the thought of that freedom that grips me right now. I don't know why walking into that was so hard. Maybe it was the letting go of expectation, hopes, and dreams. Letting go of my will. Embracing His. 

But the reality is that my will was actually keeping me in shackles. 

The song says "Rise, your shackles are no more, for Jesus Christ has broken every chain." The process of God removing those shackles was painful. It felt safe to just remain chained. 

Chained to my expectations, to my idea of what my life should look like (married out of college with x amount of kids, a house, the minivan, yada yada). I was living in a way that kept the chains on. My freedom was purchased but because of my pain and fear, I chose to remain shackled. 

Letting Him remove the shackles, one by one, was scary. 

It was release of control. 

It was fear of not knowing how to walk, where to go. 

And once those chains are gone, the bruises left behind are completely visible. That is a level of vulnerability I'd just as soon not embrace. But that isn't what this life of Christianity has called me to.

As the song says, "Jesus' name will break every stronghold/ Freedom is ours when we call His name."

That freedom...oh, that sweet freedom. To retrace the steps of that freedom since 2012 is overwhelming...

*A seemingly long (at the time) journey of discipline to debt-free living... 
*Having to leave student ministry for a career I never wanted to have...
*A trip to Guatemala to teach me some powerful lessons in partnership, a trip to Colombia where God stirred the already-brewing confusion pot...and three trips to Africa with countless memories, faces, emotions, souls...
*The last of those trips, opening my eyes to the gift God was giving me - that career I was ungrateful for turned out to be a treasure from Him I squandered all this time...
*Knowing the grace that comes in repentance as I learned to choose to love that career for what God has always intended it to be, floored by the mercy He gave in allowing me to see that while there was still time...
*And being led back into student ministry, my heart's love...and right into the arms of a man who wants to spend the rest of his life with me as we learn together what a holy covenant union of marriage really is.

THAT is sweet freedom. And to think, all that time, that man was right there as I learned I had to let go of my acorn dreams (literally, Stephen was there the weekend of that retreat). Those dreams would never grow unless I gave them to God. From he Acorn Dreams blogpost: "[T]hey are His to have. He plants them in due time. He waters them with his eternal water. He grows them. And then He brings them into our lives again at some point. But only if we give them to Him...completely."

Reading those words is almost eerie now, looking back and seeing how close he was when I didn't even know it. When I literally had no idea he would be a part of the harvest God would grow from that acorn. 

It is sometimes too much to think about. The goodness of the love of our Father. 

I was having a conversation with a coworker yesterday about this time of engagement. It is almost more goodness than I can bear, walk in the outpouring of God's love. It's like a fully-saturated sponge that keeps getting soaked with goodness!

I don't deserve it.

And well-meaning people say that I do. But the reality is I don't. I don't deserve any of it.

Sure, I try to be a good person. But any act of goodness on my part could never spare me from what my sinful self really deserves. Nothing I do could ever earn freedom. Jesus Christ is my only salvation. 

He gives me freedom through the cost of His life. 

And a Father that goes to those extremes to save me must really love me. It took me awhile to figure this out. I hashed it out in this post and this post as I wondered why God wasn't giving me the pony (a husband, a man to love and to love me) I so longed for.

Carolyn Custis James puts it this way in her book The Gospel of Ruth,"There is mystery to God's ways, and we will never know why he doesn't answer our prayers, stop the blizzards, change the hardened heart, or stop the endless suffering in this world. But from time to time, we do have flashes of clarity, and we have a bit of clarity in Naomi's story. Naomi would be poorly equipped to do the job of raising the king's grandfather with an untested faith and a shallow knowledge of God that was derived from hearing the Scriptures read in corporate worship and picking up secondhand information about him from other believers. She can't coast on...the teachings of her parents. Vital as all these other resources and influences are, Naomi's participation in kingdom building is seriously impaired if she doesn't know God for herself. She has to experience him, not just learn about him...She had to find God's hesed [lovingkindness] in the middle of the mess. The dark night of the soul is an awful place to be, but that's where God trains His best warriors."

In that mess, I grew to learn God still loved my pony-less self. More than I could ever know. And I ultimately determined in my closing statement in that series of 12 (very vulnerable) blogposts to "just seek him." 

That is what my heart proclaims as I sing the words "I will call upon the Lord, for He alone is strong enough to save."

Just seek Him. Him alone. 

And then when He decides to give you that acorn dream you let go of 5 years ago, that pony you've wanted for so long, you can only walk in gratitude, soaking up the gift of a relationship that is so much healthier than deserved (oh sweet grace). 

So much deeper than expected. 

And so much sweeter than I could have ever made it on my own.

That is the love of a Father.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Grace Before My Very Eyes

This past Friday night, I had the opportunity to see the Nutcracker Ballet for the first time in over 20 years. It was at the lovely Fox Theater in Atlanta…a beautiful historic theater that beckons your eyes to soak in every nook and cranny of elegance, detail, and well-placed decor.

It was a lovely night, from beginning to end. The weather cooperated and cooled off with a chilly breeze just so it would feel more like Christmas. There were lights hung everywhere as we walked down the street, a saxophonist playing festive tunes on the street corner.

I felt a little bit like royalty all dressed up accompanied by my handsome boyfriend, my brother, and his wife.

We settled in our seats and a marvelous feast for the eyes and ears began! I loved the beginning of the ballet - the house party with hustle and bustle, a gorgeous Christmas tree in the backdrop. It evoked a feeling of nostalgia, of warmth, kindness, energy. There was family, friends, food, music, dancing, merriment. The stage was full of scenes to watch everywhere you looked.

The First Act was fun and entertaining to be sure, but the Second Act had me enraptured.

There were multiple dances between the lady ballerina and the man. A magical interplay of dancing with fluid movements of elegance, displaying incredible skill on both parts.

I began to think how I would even begin to describe such a dance.

Graceful. 

That was it. Full of grace.

I thought, what else could be full of this kind of grace?

How do I know grace?

God.

I was reminded of the Scripture from Psalm 103:8

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

He is gracious. Full of grace.

The free and unmerited favor of God.

Lavished on us.

And I began to look at the dance through a different light.

The gentleness. The strength. The knowing of each movement as it came next. It was familiar to them.

Known.

The man was bold and kind and sturdy, anticipating the movements of the woman, showing off her elegance and beauty as he lifted and twirled her. And she moved with such ease, such…well, grace.

And right there, before my very eyes, the grace in the dancers' movements were helping me see the characteristics of the grace God has towards us.

His kindness. His strength. His patience and knowing. His love.

It was simply beautiful.

I don't know if there's anything else in the world that better displays that much grace.

As you enter this week of Christmas, may you be aware of the presence of God. Enraptured by the knowledge that a holy and perfect God, who loves you with such love, would send His very own Son to earth as an infant child to live a perfect life that we could not live and die a death we deserved to die…so that we may have life…with Him.

A God who is compassionate. And full of grace. Slow to anger. Abounding in love.

Abounding. That means it's plentiful, abundant. Never ending.

That is the Love we are all gifted with and get to celebrate this Friday.

Maybe thank Him for the grace in your life. The grace that lifts you, twirls you.

The grace that is sturdy under your shakiness, strong under your weakness.

The grace that makes you beautiful and elegant. 

He's right there, waiting for you to enter the dance.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Moment That Wasn't Captured on Film

I wish you could have seen what I saw today. I was on my favorite trail at one of my favorite parks for the first time in weeks, and I saw Beauty.

It was in the form of a butterfly. I'd been walking along a scene of browns and grays and greens, maybe a little yellow as the leaves start to turn. And then I saw it. Flitting along the red dirt path, going every which way. He caught my eye immediately, with his bright orange and deep purple wings. They were complete with flecks of black and white on the tips. He landed a few feet away on a leaf, gently moving his wings up and down as he sat.

There was such grace in that motion. Oh, to move with such grace.

I stood there for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes. Just taking in the moment.

The one I couldn't capture because my iPhone was securely locked in my car, not on my person, nowhere near my being. Freedom! An hour away from the wonderfully and tragically addicting thing that it is.

But you know what? I think it's better that I didn't get a picture anyway.

You had to be there.

You had to hear the crickets chirp. The birds call out to each other. You had to feel the sun on your face. Hear the rustle of the leaves as the wind gently blew. Feel the dirt under your feet, leaves crunching. See the bright blue sky above your head.

And know that in that wide expanse of creation, God ordained that moment, that mingling of paths.

The butterfly's and mine.

Because God wanted to remind me that He's that grand. That awesome to create and mix together all those things. He wanted to remind me that somehow, that butterfly in its delicacy and beauty, is fully protected in a storm.

Have you ever wondered where the butterflies go when the wind howls and the rains pound? I haven't.

But I did in that moment.

Standing out in the middle of nowhere witnessing such a tiny detailed wisp of creation that paused long enough for me to soak in every bit of his glory, I thought about the strong winds, the thunder, the lightening, the heavy rain.

That little guy is out there all the time. Somewhere. Protected. I stood there knowing that He cares for that very butterfly in the midst of a storm.

That is our God - a mighty Protector. Our banner, our Jehovah-nissi. There is victory under His covering, for the butterfly…and for us. He says in His word, "I will save those who love me and will protect those who acknowledge me as Lord" (Psalm 91:14).

In the storms. In the quiet.

Loving and protecting His creation that loves Him.

He can't not. It's in His perfect character to do so. And it's His promise to those who acknowledge Him as Lord.

And boy He is ever faithful.

He will show you that, too. It might take leaving your phone for awhile. Stepping out into the greatness of His creation. Some time away, in the quiet.

And He will speak to you, too. He's longing to meet with you. Just the two of you.

He has Beauty to reveal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Intentional

Strangely enough that’s the word that keeps rolling around my brain after my return from Kenya. It’s strange to me because I think one would come back from two months in a foreign country on mission with words like humility, inspiration, perspective, joy, and heartbreak. 

Everyone I’ve talked with about Kenya since my return can vouch for me using those words. All of them, in some way or another, have been a part of the story-telling process, a part of my experience there.

But I haven’t written about them. And even now, writing at this point of my debriefing journey seems an injustice to what really took place there. 

The faces, the fellowship, the conversations, the tears of joy and pain. 

I’m tempted to reply to the daily question, “How was your trip?” with “You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.” But I’m afraid that response is not entirely glorifying to God. Although...Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” He didn’t say, “then come home and tell everyone else about it.” (Or did he? If someone knows where He said this, please tell me...!)

Truth of it is, it’s just not possible to put words to it all. I would fail miserably. And since I don’t like failing, I loathe it in fact, I am just now attempting to publicly tackle my thoughts in writing. 

But what keeps rising to the top of the heart and head jumble of thoughts is this word: intentional.

Dave Ramsey always says, “If you don’t tell your money where to go, you will wonder where it went.” I’m beginning to see how that is true of time and relationships too. 

(Note: this is not an invitation to tell the people in your life where to go haha...that could get you into trouble, but I think you know what I mean.)

Leading up to my departure in June, I struggled to not question God’s timing in the trip. There were sleepless nights and dreams and deep fears rising to the surface. Yes, I knew His timing was perfect...but I also knew how infrequently His and my timing seemed to line up. For example, every day of my adult life since college has been His timing, not mine. (And gratefully so, even if I don’t always admit it.) But shortly after arriving in country and literally every single day I was there, He showed me how His timing really is quite perfect. His ways are truly sovereign. 

He accomplished things I never would have dreamt in ways I never could have seen. 

It was apprehensively out of my control. And I began to see that days and hours and opportunities could be easily wasted if not seized or sought. 

Things like weariness, apathy, insecurity, selfishness, sickness, or just plain feeling overwhelmed were huge obstacles to remaining connected to the work God had for me there. Now that I’m back home, I’m seeing how there are similar obstacles here, just add in busyness and maybe complacency. 

It can be so easy to disconnect. Let life slip by. Passively avoid embracing what’s before you for myriad reasons. Maybe even some valid ones. 

That’s not to say we always have to be busy. Goodness knows, our lives are cluttered enough with social media, job stress, finances, etc. But we have to remain engaged. Even when Jesus pulled away for solitude with God, he wasn’t disconnected...He was intimately connecting with His Father...SO THAT when He was with his disciples...the least...the lost...He could be connected there too. 

We don’t have to let those possibly valid reasons (excuses?) make choices for us. We can choose to be...

Intentional. 

It means “on purpose.”

Those are the kind of days I want to live. On purpose ones. 

Those are the kinds of relationships I want to have. On purpose ones. 

The kinds of smiles I want to give. On purpose. 

The kind of love I want to have. On purpose. 

Choosing to live, relation, smile, love...intentionally. 

And so my life is currently under a microscope. There is purging and listing and praying and seeking and more listing and circling and thinking and more listing. 

Not to be a slave to it all. But to seize the opportunities that God kindly puts before me each day. Because if I don’t choose to pay attention to them, I will wonder where they went.


And I would rather embrace them intentionally.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Prancer and Scurry

I can't believe I'm back in Kenya. This time for 7 weeks! What was a stirring in my heart over a year ago is now coming to fruition. I am so grateful for God's guidance and direction in this. I hope and pray every bit of this journey is honoring and glorifying to Him. He's the reason I'm here, after all. 

I left the U.S. on Monday and here it is Friday already. Almost a week of this 7 week trip gone. But rest assured, God is already speaking and teaching. And, as usual with me it seems, He's using some rather unlikely objects to get the message across. 

Oh the lessons to be learned from bats. Wednesday afternoon we arrived at an insect research center in Mbita. After checking in, watching a beautiful sunset over Lake Voctoria, sorting and organizing heaps (literally) of medicine, a warm dinner and a hot shower, I settled into bed for a much needed night's sleep. The balcony door was open, so we could hear the softly crashing waves from the lake. We were surrounded by mosquito netting and ever-so-grateful for a place to lay our heads and stretch our legs. Before the lights were even out, my roommate and I heard a rustling noise above us. Seeing nothing in the room, we decided it was of no concern and shut our eyes for some sleep.

After three hours of solid sleep, I awoke to this same rustling sound. And when I say rustling sound, I mean it was like Santa's team of varmint reindeer had landed on the roof. There was flapping and scurrying and squeaking galore. For some reason, I wasn't the least bit sleepy anymore! I lay awake here for hours, trying to drown out the sound of our "friendly" creatures. 

After hour number two, I decided to name the stinkin' bats in the hopes of making them seem a little less creepy. Prancer and Scurry seemed appropriate. I really have no idea how any there are, but there was definitely more than one and...well, three seemed like a crowd. Two it is. 

If you're wondering, there really is a lesson in all this. As I lay there wide awake in the middle of the night, my heart would race every so often as the scurry/flutter/squeak would intensify. It was easy to hear. In fact, it was ridiculously loud. But in the background of the rustle there was a quieter softer gentler sound. The calm crash of the waves on the shore. It was there all along. But I found myself having a hard time hearing it. I felt like God was saying, this is like Truth and lies. Sometimes the lies are so in my face, so easy to hear, that I can lose focus of the truth. I had to work harder to hear the waves. I would find my heart racing as I couldn't help but hear Prancer and Scurry having a grand old time above me, and then, taking a deep breath, I'd tune into the peaceful waves. What a timely reminder as this Kenya journey begins. I have a feeling there will be many occasions where I might need to search for the sound of truth to drown out the lies. 

Where are you letting lies run around in your head and steal your peace? Where do you need to settle in and listen to the steady, gentle waves of truth?