Tag Archives: blessings

Return to Me

I was ten or eleven years old the first time I had what I would consider a prophetic dream. Not that I am a prophet or in anyway make claims to that, but this particular dream was recurring. I lost count of the number of times I would wake up in a cold sweat and silent tears running down my face throughout my teen years. I can’t remember sharing it with anyone at the time, but I may have and just don’t recall it. What I do remember is the feeling of being trapped in this endless cycle of dreaming and feeling like I had no control over it when I closed my eyes. It was so vivid and I dreamed it so many times I still remember it 20 some odd years later.

I hear yelling. Not screaming exactly, but yelling and chaos. Suddenly I’m gripping the side of this sloping hill. My hands held tight to a clump of grass and my knuckles are turning white from exertion. The yelling hasn’t stopped, but all around me I see people tumbling down this hill into a pit below. The pit is engulfed with flames, sometimes they look like a campfire, and sometimes they glow blue. I can’t feel the heat and I’m too afraid to look down, but I know it’s yawning beneath me and waiting for me to let go. Next to me, someone else falls. It’s someone I know; I can’t see their face, but I somehow know that I know them. I reach out to try to catch them, but our fingertips barely touch and they fall away. This happens again and again, person after person falling into the pit. My fingers ache and I feel like I’m slipping. But I never fall. I always wake up, scrambling away from the pit and watching everyone I love slip away.

I type the dream now and my palms are sweating. Just reading it probably makes you wonder what about that dream was so traumatizing to me as a kid. It’s not really graphic and there are more unknowns than knowns within it, but the palpable, choking fear I couldn’t shake at the time, still feels tangible somehow.

I blame the Left Behind series. They were super popular at the time, and a kid version even released when I was about 13. Fiction? Sure, but for some reason I really internalized this fear of being one of the ones left behind. I feel pretty certain this is where the fear began, but where it ended, I didn’t quite expect.

The Prophet

Not a lot is known about Joel, but this short book (only 3 chapters) reveals a lot about the Lord and our relationship with Him. During Joel’s time, the people of Isreal experienced a literal invasion of locusts that ate up their food supply and threatened to wipe them out entirely. It was devastating for the land and the people. And it wasn’t just one instance; it was recurring. Joel lays it out for them in chapter 1 verse 4 when he addresses the cutting locust, the swarming locust, the hopping locust, and the destroying locust. Some scholars even believe it was multiple years, as it may be addressing the life cycle of the locust. Others say it’s just multiple swarms back to back to back. Either way it’s not just 1 devastation, but 4. FOUR.

Utter destruction of everything.

Loss. Heartache. Tragedy.

The people want to know why. They are begging for an explanation.

And God heard them.

God chose Joel to speak to the nation in their time of crisis and give them a deeper understanding. He didn’t explain why the locust destroyed everything and left them with a lack of food or provision. I mean, we already know why the world experiences such devastation and loss, don’t we? Natural disasters such as these are a direct result of sin and death being introduced by humanity for humanity, and because we live in this broken world we will sometimes experience tragedy and loss that are inexplicably hard.

No, asking God “Why are you doing this?” in the midst of tragedy is not our best question. That gets complicated, and messy and because we don’t know the bigger picture and we aren’t God. Even if He answered us and broke it down into cause/effect, we would likely not understand. The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

As it turns out, this book really isn’t about the tragedy at all. Joel addresses it, but it is less about that and more about the people and their heart postures toward God.

The better question is, “What is God teaching me through this”? Because no matter what we experience in this life, God always has something to say to us if we just shut up and listen.

You see, the people had gotten distracted. They were sinning and disobedient. They were ignoring God and doing whatever they wanted. Whatever felt good.

Then, when tragedy struck, they wondered why God wasn’t there? They kicked him out of their lives…and then wondered where He was.

God didn’t send Joel to give an explanation. He sent them to offer the people restoration.

Despite their attitude and sin, God still claimed them as his own. One of the great things about our God is that no matter what, God over and over again proves how He loves and cares for His people even when they repeatedly screw up.

Even when they don’t love Him.

Through Joel, God uses the locust tragedy as a symbol for what awaits the people if they do not turn from sin and return to Him. It encompasses the bigger picture, and as such applies beyond this one tragedy. As humans we sometimes let our pride blind us from the truth: Life is fragile and we cannot control it.

And the real message is this: Return to me.

The Promise

Joel 2: 12-13 is worth your time to memorize. I’m still working on it, but it is a direct promise from the Lord to His people:

Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

Joel used the locust tragedy for his message, but doesn’t it also apply to financial ruin? Lost jobs? Global pandemics? Chronic illness? And a myriad of other tragedies that exist in this world. The things we use as excuses to separate ourselves from God’s love and care? The things we blame on God?

This isn’t to say that their specific sin caused this to happen. Please hear me when I say I don’t believe that sinning will give you cancer etc. I’m speaking overall, sin in general, the introduction of this into our world broke it and even the best of humanity suffers as a result.

It also doesn’t promise that if they stop sinning and return to God that they will never experience tragedy again.

No, it’s not saying that at all; really returning to God isn’t about us or what we get out of it. It’s more about the character of God and acknowledging that he is worthy of our devotion.

The flip side of that rings true too. Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world. Ultimately, returning to God will redeem us and, though not always in this life, will reward us beyond our wildest dreams.

Because God is good and worthy of our devotion, He chooses to bless us and give us new and abundant life in spite of the tragedies we face (and sometimes cause through our sin) in the world.

Joel even gives us a road map, a process by which we can return to God:

  1. Acknowledge sin
  2. Be sorry about it
  3. Confess and pray/fast
  4. Bring in accountability to avoid sinning again
  5. Cry out to the Lord

By doing this we can be prepared to fight our real enemy. Spiritual warfare rages all around us all the time, and our weapons are fasting and praying — together in a holy assembly— everyone calling out to the Lord and placing God at the head of the army. We need to be prepared so the Enemy can’t turn us away from what is right and important to God. The Enemy strikes when we are the most vulnerable, when these tragedies threaten our very souls. BUT if we are prepared we can stand up and stand strong behind the Lord no matter what the Enemy throws at us. When we are operating outside of his protection, when we are caught off guard, that’s when we are rendered powerless and we fail. That’s when the real tragedy happens.

Separation from God.

Sometimes…and most tragic of all…Forever.

My dream seems pretty straight forward, right? A lot of people I know falling into a pit of fire? Come on, that’s straight out of symbolism 101.

Except, things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t remember how old I was the last time I had the dream. I’m not sure, but it ended differently. Do you want to guess?

This time…I let go.

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

That’s right, I let go and fell right into the fire.

I didn’t wake up in fear, though. I wasn’t burning up or in hell as you might have suspected (as I might have suspected). Instead, I woke up feeling calm and reassured.

And that taught me something important.

That dream taught me that sometimes holding on is a mistake. We think we know what is right and true. We think we see the bigger picture. We think we have to save everyone around us, when all along we just need to let go.

Let go of our anger.

Let go of our pride.

Let go of our hurt.

Let go of our need to know why.

Let go and let God consume us. Let him refine us. Let him redeem us so no matter what we can rest assured that He is good. He is worthy. He is in control.

Let go and let God consume us.

Consider your Ways

The other day I was talking to my co-workers about the way my brain works. It came up because we were all in the same meeting, but our takeaways were actually quite different. What it came down to was this: we talked about several ideas as part of the conversation in clarifying our next move. When the conversation ended, I discarded all previous ideas and focused in on what was said last. To me, those previous things were no longer needed, so why even think about them? As the conversation later unfolded, it seemed that others were still lining up all parts of the conversation rather than just focusing on the end goal. I couldn’t quite understand why at the time, but in looking back now I see how each of our perspectives beautifully rolled into a full on team effort to create something pretty great.

That said, reflection does not come easy to me. I tend to be very task oriented. I set a goal, meet it and then set another goal. I’ll do a little reflecting on what I could have done better to achieve that goal, but as far as self-reflection where I have to analyze all the pieces — and especially emotions — that go into it…thank you, I’d rather not.

This is not particularly healthy. All it does is lead to a spiraling surge of emotions that eventually spill over into a chaotic version of myself and the fallout isn’t pretty.

I know this to be true, and I am working on it (I promise!).

Maybe that’s why the messages in Haggai tap into a real part of my soul and help me want to do better.

The Prophet

Haggai is another prophet that I truthfully haven’t paid a whole of attention to over the years. This book is buried deep in a list of names/titles that are hard to pronounce and intimidating especially if you have already struggled wrestled with Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Haggai’s message pairs with Ezra and Zechariah, encouraging a returned people to rebuild the temple that was destroyed when the Israelites were carted off to Babylon 60 years earlier. For those of us who don’t know the history, or simply get bogged down by it, this may seem outdated and overwhelming, but the messages of Haggai are every bit as relevant today as they were when he first preached them.

What it comes down to is 4 main ideas:

  • Consider your ways.
    • Look up.
    • Look within.
    • Look ahead.

Consider your ways

Twice in the first few verses of Haggai chapter 1 we are told to consider our ways. I can understand why. We often go through the motions of living without ever taking time to really consider why we do things we do. As Tevye would answer, we do it because “it’s tradition!” or at least the way we’ve always done it. Why, you may ask? Well, Tevye has the same answer we all often do… “I don’t know, but it’s tradition!” Now there is nothing wrong with a good tradition. I’m down with that as much as the next person. However, Haggai’s main message is that no matter how hard we try at something or how much work we put into it, we will (like Hamilton) never be satisfied unless our heart posture is in the right place with God front and center.

Side note: I firmly believe that musicals can pretty much teach you any life lesson. Best teaching tool besides the Bible. Prove me wrong.

Which is why God asks us to consider our ways.

He doesn’t want us to just think about them, mediate on them or even study them. He wants us to consider them.

Consider is a heavy word, really. It includes thinking AND action.

One way to follow this command is through regular self-reflection.

Self-reflection is a great practice, often neglected in our go-go-go world, but if we practice it daily, we can learn to shift our priorities to what matters and stop wasting time on what doesn’t. So, what exactly are we to consider about our ways?

Good news. Haggai breaks that down for us, too.

Look up

Often when we consider our ways, we are looking to the wrong things to guide and fulfill us. The Israelites were looking to their material wealth and social standing to complete their lives and had stopped looking to God. They spent gobs of time rebuilding their own homes, perfecting them and making them shiny and new, but they completely neglected rebuilding God’s temple.

This was a direct indicator of what they believed about their lives: Me first, God second.

We still see this mentality today with the ever popular self-care movement. And yes, we need to be careful with our own mental health, but not in the way the world would have us do by putting our needs above all else. Christians are not called to put ourselves first, or to love ourselves first. We are called to love God first and foremost. To put him above all else, including ourselves. In fact, we are called to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), renounce all that we have (Luke 14:33), and even crucify our passions and desires (Galatians 5:24-25).

So as part of our self-reflection, when we consider our ways, are we looking up to God, or looking out for ourselves?

Look Within

When things don’t go as planned or seem to be spiraling out of control, I’ve noticed that we are quick to complain and ask God, why me? Rarely do we look to ourselves and consider what we can change to change our circumstances. I’m not saying that we can always change something, because let’s face it: we live in a sinful and broken world, and sometimes life likes to kick us in the shins without warning. BUT, often we can at the very least, change our approach and reaction to these (often quite painful) circumstances. When reading Haggai, we can extract the following plan of action:

  1. Look up to God who promises to be with us and to enable us with his spirit.
  2. Choose to face the problem(s) head on, with our eyes wide open and our hands spread out to Jesus.
  3. Make confessions, not excuses. Sometimes circumstances result from our own sin and we have to get right with Jesus before anything else can move forward.
  4. Declare your strength and courage is in God (Joshua 1:9).
  5. Lean on the promise of God’s presence rather than on the false hope that you can do it all yourself.
  6. Claim your peace, given to you by Jesus (John 14:27) and rest in it.

Again, we can ask ourselves, are we looking within to the choices we can make to live out God’s purpose and plan for our lives? Or are we complaining and excusing our own behavior because the hand we’ve been dealt is just ‘not fair’?

Look Ahead

We aren’t asked to consider our ways so that we will feel bad about the choices and decisions we are making, but to look ahead to the promises God has made for those who are actively pursuing his purpose, plan and holiness. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given a purpose and you already know what it is: Spread the good news to all nations, and do everything to bring glory and honor to him.

And here’s the deal: God always provides for the needs of what he has called you to do.

The Israelites returned to their homeland, provided with all materials they needed to do God’s work and rebuild the temple, but somehow by the time Haggai comes on the scene, the supplies had either disappeared, been misappropriated, or run dry. When we rely on earthly powers to supply our needs, there is never a guarantee, but we can trust that God’s promises will never run dry. Sometimes it may feel like God is not moving, but his promises come in His time and not ours. We can look ahead and trust God to provide for our needs every day.

I’ll confess that I’ve been hanging out too much with my nephew lately, so I’ve got Mario on the brain, but the game truly does work as a metaphor for the next part of our plan of action. Check it:

  1. Always read the instructions first. We’re tempted to skip through the rules or explanations, but there is more than just a plot line hidden in those words. The instructions help us succeed where our own intuition would lead to failure. The word of God will always be our instructions, giving us a good start, sustaining us through the challenges, and leading us to success.
  2. Choose your companions wisely. Mario and Luigi are talked about in tandem for a reason. They trust one another and help one another, lifting each other over goals and obstacles in ways they could not do on their own. We can’t do the work of God alone. Community matters. Find your tribe and hold on tight.
  3. Sometimes the challenges seem too hard and we “die” 76 times in a row looking for the way out. However, when things seem impossible, there is always a way if we keep trucking. Often it’s in what we overlooked the first time: a hidden block to jump on, a cave, a passageway… Haggai gave us the best instructions: we consider our ways by looking up, looking within, and looking ahead and we count on God to provide what we need.
  4. Mario’s motivation is never for himself. Sure, he gets to collect coins and have great adventures, but the only reason he goes in the first place is to save the princess. Our goal, to bring glory and honor to God, should always be our motivation in all that we do. And let’s face it, putting God first will guarantee us the best blessings. Does it mean it will be easy? It wasn’t for Mario, so we shouldn’t expect that either. But is it worth it in the end? You bet.
  5. The journey to save the princess would be impossible if Mario didn’t have ways to power up. He uses all the resources available to give him power and strength to complete the goal. We have similar powers (no, not magic fire flowers, though I admit that would be cool). We have the Holy Spirit and without tapping into his power and strength, none of this would be possible.

Ultimately, Haggai’s point is that we need to stop making excuses for why we can’t do what God asks us to do and start serving the Lord with selflessness and dedication. Once that becomes our priority, our actions become intentionally focused on God’s purpose and plan rather than mindlessly following a tradition.

The promise

In Haggai 2:9, the Lord promises to give greater glory in the future than they have ever seen in the past and that he will give us his peace. And he for sure fulfilled that promise through Jesus; not only did Jesus bring ultimate glory to God, but he left us with his promise of peace too. John 14:27 reads:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

In a world where everything seems to be more chaotic and out of control with each passing day, knowing that God promises us peace should bring great comfort and joy. This peace doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect or even calm by any means, and anyone who says it does is lying. No, this peace means that in spite of the tumults and tempests of life, we are able to respond with the assurance and calmness of Jesus who promises to be with us, which is the greatest promise of all.

Yet now be strong...declares the Lord. Be strong...Be strong all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts....My spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2: 4-5)


Thankful: My Journey Through Psalm (100)

How appropriate that I would land on Psalm 100 for this week of Thanksgiving. The more years I spend on this Earth the more I realize just how blessed I am to be the person I am in the house I own in the city I chose at the church I freely worship in the body God gave me.

That was a lot of prepositional phrases. Sheesh.

All true.

A few years ago I started a gratitude journal. In theory, this journal should be filled 10x by now with all the things I am grateful for, but I have a really bad habit of not recording things about me. I know, stupid, right? A writer who struggles to write about herself? Is that irony? Not sure, but it is true. I have had the hardest time journaling in my life. I’ve tried. Usually, I do well for…3 days. Then I don’t pick up the journal again for, oh…a year? Then I start all over again. I think that’s why I only blog once a week at maximum too. Writing about myself is just…hard. I’ve hidden behind fiction nearly my entire life, so focusing on my reality, well it’s just not as easy for me as it is for other people. Anyway, back to the point. I have this gratitude journal where I have systematically been recording things I am grateful for. Lists help. Boy do I LOVE LISTS. Here are some of my favorites:

6. Nieces’ giggles through the phone line

10. The smell of freshly baked bread

12. Keyboard clicks breaking the silence of a room


182. A good pair of jeans

257. A dead phone

261. Light in the dark places


292. Unexpected sources of income when you need it the most


343. A well-lit room

348. Daffodils outside my house and window

360. The words “Answer to a prayer”

361. Gut feelings that turn out to be God-feelings

375. The swishing sounds of a washing machine at work

381. Reading letters from old friends

400. Answers

And trust me, there are a lot more. This is just a sampling, but as I read back through it I realize just how telling it is about my life over the past few years. And very Psalm-esque. My gratitude journal has become the echoing poem of my life. And I think that is a lot more beautiful than three days here and there telling about what happened to me that day. And it makes me want to “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, and worship with gladness (V.1)” because I have so many things to be grateful for. My life is good. My life is beautiful. My life belongs to the Lord.

So here is my challenge to you. Start a gratitude journal…or if you’re like me and journals are hard, just start a list. Keep going. I was inspired by a book, 1000 Gifts (find it here on Amazon), and it’s a beautiful step forward to “Entering his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (v.4)”. Because Thanksgiving is not the only day we should count our blessings.

Waiting…SUCKS! (My journey through Psalms: 40-41)

Let’s be real. Waiting just sucks sometimes. But that doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes not only do we HAVE to wait, but it’s actually for the best that we do.

When I was a kid I wanted SO BADLY to go to the Backstreet Boys concert (yes, I will always have a special place in my heart for BB. 90s boy bands. Yes.) I thought that if I didn’t get to go, my life would be o-v-e-r. One by one I watched all my friends go to a concert–it wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t I be one of the lucky ones? So I did the only thing I could. I…waited.

Until one day, one magical day, I got THE phone call.

We got the tickets! My aunt and Uncle had waited forever, called in favors, begged, pleaded and filly they landed tickets for my special birthday surprise. And you know what? The concert was special for a number of reasons. It was a surprise. It was a gift from special people (my aunt, uncle, mom and dad). And because I waited.

I know what my parents had to sacrifice to get me there and to make my little teeny bopper dream come true. I wasn’t disappointed, but more importantly I was even more grateful because of the waiting.

If my aunt, uncle, mom and dad will do something that special just to make my little heart shine, how much more will my Heavenly Father turn is omniscient eyes to my longings? My desires mean more to him than they do to my parents. I know that calling out to Him sometimes feels like it takes too much energy, that maybe even He’s stopped listening. But I remind myself that just because I asked my parents over and over and over for the same thing, it doesn’t mean they stopped listening to me. Or even that they don’t care. Sometimes as much as they want to give me everything my heart desires…they can’t.

God has power to grant my wishes, but he’s not a genie. Sometimes he doesn’t answer because it is what is best for me in the end. He knows more than I do. He sees more than I do. He wants to give me the desires of my heart, but sometimes He can’t because what I want isn’t in my best interest, or even the best interest of those around me.

My parents did a pretty good job raising me. They didn’t give me everything I ever asked for, but when they did say no–I learned a valuable lesson: you are not the center of the universe. No sometimes is better than yes. And waiting…waiting will teach you to value and honor a gift in more ways than being granted that desire really ever can.

Which is why I can see the parallels and understand how waiting can be a good thing.

Even when it sucks.

Because “Blessed is the [wo]man who makes the Lord his [or her] trust and many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done” 40: 4a; 5a)

Battling Each Day: Psalm 35-36


Every day is battle of some kind and every day we must make a conscience choice about who is going to fight our battles. I have an independent streak that is a mile high and a country mile long. I hate, hate, hate asking people for help because my pride says that I should be able to do it all on my own.

That’s stupid.

Most of the time when I am pulling inward saying, “No, I got this,” there are several people pushing from the outside and begging me to let them in and let them help.

Because people rarely feel put out when you are genuine about needing help. They are actually begging to help because they love use. They love me and they want to do whatever they can to make my journey an easier one.

So David, a great and mighty warrior, calls out to God for help and vengeance. It’s not a sign of weakness, but one of honor and humility. If people genuinely want to help us succeed, then how much more does God desire that we call out to him?

I find a lot of hope in the idea of an equal opportunity God who listens to ALL who call to him–not just great an mighty warriors. Our world is so full of Inequality and hatred and scorn that pure, simple acceptance is a concept many of us cannot even fathom let alone accept.

Categories are only useful when organization is meant to be efficient, but when it is used to degrade and inform people they are not worthy to be accepted or MUST be in a certain place because of certain pre-conceived ideas, that’s when we move into a flawed system. I have been privileged most of my life and as such have not experienced unadulterated hate, racism or discrimination as some people in this world have. That is not to say that my life is perfect, because I have experience my fair share of unkindness solely based on my family (or lack thereof), status, accent, or gender. And each of these incidents resulted in a deep soul wound, emotional scarring that over the years I’ve taken and laid at the fee t of the only person who is truly all accepting.

But I fought against a lot of things to get to that point. Pride, hatred, self-doubt, etc.

“Both high and low among me find refuge in the shadow of your wings” the Psalms declare and I rest there–healing as the Lord protects, guides, and fights for me. Preparing me for the world and whatever blessings or trials may come next because the Lord is good and his love truly endures forever.