when light shouts loudest

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In a world darkened mercilessly with tragedy rolling over tragedy…. it’s not what we imagine, when our lives shout light loudest.  That struck me unexpectedly this morning as I was pondering His Word:  You are chosen by name.  Crowned royal.  Filled holy, and belonging to God that your life becomes a living declaration of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light  (1 Peter 2:9, paraphrased… a lot).

Jesus knew I needed a reminder of that this week and crossed my path with a Sister I’d never met — she knew me by a ring I wear.  It was handmade in a remote, impoverished village of the Dominican Republic.  There is an immediate kinship when so many miles away we recognize each other this way.  We know we have each stepped on the dung-laden “soccer” field at Chi Chi, playing with our mission students whose tin shack homes are nestled at stunningly verdant foothills.  There the love and laughter of our play rang out unconstrained joy, the praises of His grace rich with light and life, defying the world’s definition of poverty.  And when back in America we find our Brother or Sister by the stamp of a ring, knowing the storms so recently destructive, our hearts rekindled in prayer and perspective, refreshed in treasuring what our King treasures most, His praise echoes loud.

In the common routine of our days, it’s no less with the daily opportunity during a morning commute, exchanging smiles and mute Jesus filled conversations with a deaf man, homeless yet exuding joy at the stoplight.  We extend blessing to each other in those brief minutes and praise rises with a deafening roar that only heaven hears.  Two lives touching with the smallest kindness, darkness is swallowed in wondrous brilliance, and His glory reverberates over the silence.  

These small moments may not have any impact in this ever-widening heartache of our world.  Yet I trust the everyday littlest things shout Him aloud in whatever moment we intersect compassion with another.   It is His desire this be our whole joy, our hope, as it was for Him whose compassion fed multitudes.  The One who took the time to listen and know the shattered heart while sitting by a well.  Who lovingly embraced what the world cast out.  The One stopping mid-stride to bless the hand that touched His hem.   The One knowing from where He came so easily taking a towel and bowl, taking the lowest place before the meal began.   The One for the joy set before Him, chose forgiveness rather than offense in the midst of agonizing pain.  With each offering darkness transformed.  So…

In the simplest of moments.

When we take time for another.

When we break the stride of our agenda for another.

When we bend, defer, and set aside for another.

When we forgive and choose blessing for another.

Then our lives in Jesus shout loudest with His unveiled glory no matter how black the dark.

May we, wherever and whenever we are, knowing Whose we are, intentionally be His living declaration of Light deafening the darkness.  

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the most romantic moment…

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…came out of the deepest scars.  Before my own scars would ever bear witness to this battled life, His El Qanna sacrifice crossed enemy lines and bled the battlefield red. Even as treacherously uncertain as this world remains, I see in His gaze passionate intensity.  I know this is a love that will fight.  And not let go.

A friend’s son will soon marry, and she bubbled with telling me the happy couple were taking dancing lessons for the wedding day.  A sweet image of romance.  But the only image I saw in my mind was that of Jesus, holding my radiant-white soul in His nail-scarred Promise that sweeps me in divine romance, leading me through this precarious landscape.  I hear Andrew Peterson’s lyrical poetry unfolding what this covenant relationship really looks like.

…we’re dancing in the minefields

we’re sailing in the storms

this is harder than we dreamed

but I believe that’s what the Promise is for*

The world has this light and fluffy notion of romance, like fireworks on a summer night. It’s a very different idea of heat and passion.  Let me tell you how much heat and passion it takes to waltz through a landscape that wants to blow you up.  It means risk. It requires implicit trust.  It is willing to lose everything, believing it will gain eternally more.  And it does.  The passion of a compelling, wooing, undivided-heart Life. Only pressing into that close embrace, learning the rhythm of His heart, will we begin to move as One.  In His Presence, in choosing Him back wholeheartedly, intimacy holds His gaze, hangs on His every Word, and holds fast to His heart.**  His Life becomes our next breath, and every breath into breath. The same breath that with its final exhale whispered, You are worth My sacrifice and scars.  This is how much I love you.  The pattern of our love together.  I know you’ll have to journey through the minefields and storms of this perilous world, but with Me, it will be more like dancing.  

He fought for the Promise.  Our Bridegroom choosing to lose His life for His beloved, His Bride.  His scars prove it’s unbreakable beauty.  To Him, scars seal covenants.  Not until I understood this did I know how fully loved I am.  There began to lay my life in His love, lose my life into His.  Because His laid-down love held nothing back, today I dance.  Embraced in His confidence, I waltz with joy through stormy chaos. In this breathtaking Love I have only to follow His lead through the minefields.  I trust His steps, In His arms, the landscape is no longer mine to navigate.  I simply am His, feeling His heartbeat close, holding my gaze, singing belovedness in my ear.  I have discovered the wildly heart-swept passion of finding Life in every smallest hold-nothing-back moment of loving Him back,  Tracing His scars as His hand clasps mine deepens desiring to live with the zeal of His heart.  I become more perfectly in His Presence with every step.  Even with every misstep (oh so many!).  While sin-triggered choices detonate all around us, we dance with single-hearted devotion.  For those are the moments that move me towards Him.  He pulls me in closer.  I yield.  Follow.  Learn more about His heart and my soul.  Give all that I am as together we swirl through this battered world, sweet surrender exhilarating with awe and wonder, discovering truest life and love in the powerful encircling of His nail-scarred Promise.

 

*Dancing in the Minefields by musician Andrew Peterson (you should check out his music video!)

C.f. **Deuteronomy 30:19b-20 Now choose life…love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life.  

 

 

living without expectation

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A question was posed to a friend recently divorced:  where do you see yourself in five years?  She was reluctant to answer, even to herself.  It requires some honest introspection.  I share that reticence.  Not because I don’t have dreams and hopes and aspirations.  I do.  But the longer life circumstances continually take turns away from them, the more hesitant I am.  It has taught me to live without expectation.  

Sounds depressing.  Dark.  Hopeless.  Joyless.  Purposeless….

Yet, this is not how I would define my life at all.  Just the opposite.  For when most people dream dreams and cast visions for their 5 or 10 or 50 year plan, the focus is on the “what.”  What I shall be doing?  What is the plan for getting there?  What I shall accomplish after arriving?  What I shall possess and what will make me happy?  Or comfortable?  

When life wrecked dream after dream, it finally cornered me.  I asked of myself — of God — what the plan was.  I was seeking the answer to that “what” question.  But God’s ways are not ours.  His purpose is driven by a wildly paradoxical way of thinking.  An incomprehensible zeal for us to be more than this world can dream or achieve.  

His answer moved me out of my comfort zone Christianity, from the Egypt of religion to the wilderness of living in crazy faith.  It is not always comfortable.  Most days it’s uncomfortable.  Unfamiliar.  There have been moments of thinking how much easier it would be to go back to Egypt’s steady and inviting predictability.  Wilderness faith means the God of the impossible must split hard rock so springs will flow, and lay manna sweet to be gathered with each morning’s dew.  Every uncharted step must be taken with Him, for Him to choose if that day or week or even year is spent moving…. Or waiting.  So much more waiting than I would have imagined or preferred.  But I have learned He has deep purpose in both the moving and the waiting.  It becomes a life more truly set on things above, things unseen because it is more deeply hidden in the heart of God.  Hid with Christ in God.  In the heart of God aflame, burning with enthusiastically passionate determination.  A life white hot.  Not lukewarm.

As I wrested this whole thing down with Him several years ago, He literally moved me out of doing life lukewarm.   In America I think this is actually a very hard thing for Him to get after in our lives, no matter how sincere our faith.  It took this wilderness-stripping-down in my life of all expectation.  To live without expectation of the “what” is to entirely yield, surrender, every last fragment of what we think life should look like and be about.  Jesus invites us to it.  To lose our life for Him.  Into His.  Right there, in laying that last shred of my plans and hopes and dreams, even my rights, down — entirely empty —  in the space of uncertainty, something ignited within.  An entirely transformed perspective on “expectation.”  It began in Psalm 62:5 (NKJV):  O my soul, be silent unto God for my expectation is from Him.  

“…my expectation is from Him.”  

In that split second of silence God was pretty loud:  Get quiet.  Undistracted.  Stop planning because you really aren’t the one in control and I have something so much indescribably better for you if you would just let Me give you My expectation for your life.  The wilderness is worth the white hot faith you will gain, aflame with expectancy.

The difference seems subtle, but the power of expectancy versus expectation shifts everything.  Expectancy lives with His expectation for us.  Holy, Christ-centered, God-filled expectancy will burn with His zeal and passionate purpose.  It is a backdraft:  all the oxygen of our controlled life emptied, and then through the smallest opening of faith the breath of God fills explosively.  Fills us with with everything He is and desires to be within us.  His spirit fuels a life of joy and peace and hope and purpose that has very little to do with the “whats” of this world and everything to do with WHO.  Living with transformed expectation in Who ignites glory driven purpose to be be the woman He died to make me.  I have learned that to live white hot is about letting this world go — controlling the details of the plans we imagine — and instead gladly abandoning to the One whose emblazoned purpose will take us places we could not imagine.  Expectancy.

So it does not matter if my 5, 10, 50 year future has me still in my same job or traversing foreign lands as a missionary, single or married, doing great things or ordinary things, I see myself living deeper in His heart, with a faith on fire for His glory.  I see myself growing in radiant beauty — a gentle and quiet and joyously adventurous spirit resting in Him.  I see myself living out His plan that He only unfolds in seemingly 10 foot increments, and being at peace in the uncertainty.  I see myself learning more every day to let that uncertainty fan faith into flame.  Again, paradoxically, uncertainty with expectancy keeps me pressed close to Him.  And the closer I am to His heart, the more I am consumed with His white hot love and purpose.   Yes, I will do this far from perfectly.  But I will do this life of expectant brilliancy with Him.

 

Threads of His voice in these glad abandon faith verses:   Luke 9:23-24; John 12:24-25; Col. 3:1-3; Mt. 6:21,33; John 15:9-11 and 17:13; Eph. 1:3-14,17-18

our battle stance

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The chaos is consuming.  The threat is real.  The battle rages.  It does not matter if this is with our own souls, the world, in the heartache for someone we love, or the enemy who places the target on your back.  I’ll never forget the first moment I was met with a terrifying possibility and felt just like Jehoshaphat:  “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  (2 Chronicles 20:12).  I have no clue how I found those words, but they fit the moment and the Lord showed me exactly what to do next.  He made the battle pattern clear.  A pattern repeated throughout His Word.  A pattern that works because it is ancient and proven.  So for anyone feeling they are in the sniper’s crosshairs today, here is what God’s battle plan for His faithful ones looks like:  worship.  

Worship is our battle stance.  But I’m really not talking about songs in church….

Jehoshaphat finishes praying, with a hint of desperation for God to show up, and through a messenger God answers with the plan.

First, Do not be afraid or discouraged by this vast army.  For this battle is not yours but God’s.  Worship begins with belief.  Worship takes God at His Word.  We feel the heat.  The overwhelming odds.  The grit.  The enemy up in our face.  Telling us we are less than or insignificant or incapable or a mess that cannot ever be worthy.  Telling us we can’t beat the odds.  Definitely that this moment is hopeless.  Worship is that “but God… “ choice we make to believe He really is bigger and stronger than anything we are facing down.  That it really is His battle, not ours.

Take up your position and stand firm.  The KJV says “stand still.”  Take up your fight position; stand still.  Those two instructions just don’t seem compatible in the same sentence; they are incongruous.  There is nothing still about a warrior.  But God’s ways are not our ways.  He said this same thing to Moses as all of Israel was backed into a corner — barely escaped from Egypt and the whole Egyptian army bearing down in fury.  God says, “Stand firm…. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  (Exodus 14:14)  

Worship gets our head and heart still enough to rest in the truth that His fierce love will rise up between you and the enemy cornering you.  That the One who descended into hell for you is still standing between you and the thing that wants to take down your faith.   Stillness does not mean passivity.  Or abdicating.  Or weakness.  

Stillness — the fighting stance of stillness — firmly plants the feet on Who God is.  Stillness is faith unmoved.  Stillness is trust resolved to believe to the very last breath.  Stillness is the soul’s trained and ready posture of letting God do what He has already done:  defeat the enemy.  

Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army… (2 Chr 20:21).  Now the true power of our battle stance rises fearless.  Bold.  Confident.  Worship is praise that precedes our first step into position.   Worship signing out God’s majesty defies the enemy.  I actually think it drives him crazy.  This moment is defining.  It is courageous.  It’s joy on the front lines.  And it is the moment that invites God in.  

Worship — true worship — is about invitation into the Presence of God.  The God who moves ahead of us to be Present always, but especially in the hopeless, impossible moment, and there waits to unleash His power.  In the midnight of our fear, like Paul and Silas locked within the inner cell, prayer and song unleash glory into darkness.  Faith unshaken, signing, resting in the grip of God’s faithfulness.  There God shakes open bolted doors, loosens chains, conquers armies and wins.  He wrecks the enemy to ensure nothing comes between us and His love.  Even if things may seem like the enemy is gaining ground in this sin-wrecked world, or worse the battle means casualties and loss,  for those whose battle stance is worship — who stand in His Presence believing, resting, declaring His faithfulness — that soul can sing, can praise.  That soul is confident He is standing right there.  With us.  Within us.  A victory in realms untouchable yet within His nail-scarred grip.  So we keep choosing.  Trusting.  Proclaiming.  

Worship is the deepest expression of our intimacy with the God of the Angel Armies.  Honestly, it’s in the battle zones I’ve been driven deepest into the heart of God.  The enemy seems to think the opposite will be true.  But this proven pattern becomes Love inflamed, conquering.  It forges gratitude in it’s most passionate and fearless form.  Becoming the weapon in His mighty grip to slay fear, despair, chaos, and death so we can more passionately believe, hope, rest, forgive, sing, and live with wild abandon in the center of His heart.

 

the value of my feminine dignity

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I work now in a world very distant from Jesus, which could and does have a special opportunity for living with a mission mindset.  But recently and increasingly I have been placed in situations that objectify my femininity, that expect me to respond glibly to crass approaches and settings.  For the first time since divorcing marriage to a sex-addict I find myself fighting for my value and worth as a woman.  The longing to be cherished, treasured, protected all triggered from the dark side of lust and debasement.  And because I know I am not the only woman in this battle, without any men to affirm anything beautiful in me, I am sharing with you precious, beautiful ladies facing the same undermining war for our hearts, some long-ago-learned Jesus Truth.   Years ago in the wake of exposure to things I could never have imagined that shattered the core of my feminine dignity, Jesus stepped in with strong, clear, tenderly spoken Truth that pieced me back together and transformed me into a woman whose confidence and vibrancy are now forever rooted in knowing pure belovedness.  Yet words I am needing again.  Truth words maybe you need today.

You are beautiful.  You are chosen.  I have redeemed you and summoned you by name.  You are mine.  Crowned with beauty.  My delight.  My treasured possession — not to dominate but to hold dear and safeguard —  like a precious and flawless gemstone worth everything.  Worth all My Love.  Worth my last breath.  Mine is an El-Qanna love that fiercely fights for the beloved with single-hearted zeal and passion.  With the desire that you will know yourself as I know you.  Arrayed you in robes of righteousness.  Stunning white.  Clean.  Clothed with strength and dignity.  Holy.  Radiant.  Yes.  You are radiant.  Because you fix your eyes on Me.  And for every moment that you do, My light floods your soul and sparkles through eyes that reflect the beauty, worth, value, dignity I see in you.  The strength I see in you.  Stronger for all that you have been through.  Treasure being pressed into a flawless jewel.  Perfect.  In My Covenant Love that can never be shaken, I have and am making your battlements of rubies and your gates of sparkling jewels, your walls of precious stones.  So you are adorned.  Stunning.  Brilliant.  Yet I see within the softness of your soul like a tender shoot, longing to flourish in beauty and grace.   It is longing shared.  Thus, pierced for you,  I grafted you in that you may rest, abide, be still in the center of my heart.  That My strength and life could pour into you and My  joy through you.   In Me you are a planting of the Lord for the display of My splendor.  Glorious.   Whose roots grow down deep into the soil of My marvelous love for you.  Strong.  Established.  Fruit-laden sweet.  You are my joy and My delight.  Remember:  I have better things in mind for you.  Salvation things.  Thus you can laugh at the days to come.  Perhaps there will never be a man who sits at the city gate and declares how precious you are, your worth as far more than rubies.  A woman of excellence.  But I sit upon the Throne and declare you are all this and still becoming far more.  You are My beloved.  

Ladies.  In Christ this is our defining worth and beauty and belovedness.  When anything in this world says otherwise, let only Jesus sing over you the value of your feminine dignity.  Let this drive deep, build up, take root, and all the rest go.  

All these woven words are in His sweet, living, piercing Word:  Isa. 43:2-4; Deut. 14:2; Zech. 8:2 and Ex. 34:14 [jealous is translated in Hebrew as El Qanna];  Ps. 194:4 and James 1:12;  Isa. 54:10-12;  John 15: 1-11; Isa. 61:3;  Eph. 3:17-21; Heb. 6:10 (the Message); Ps. 34:5; Ps. 31

Face to face with God

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The pain wrenched me awake.  Random.  Like a knife in my hip.  I hoped to fall back to sleep, but realized God had someone on His heart and we were going to pray.  So I asked who, then what, and fuzzily let the Spirit lead.  I remember at one point asking a Word for this beloved soul, but not till the first light did one come.  With the pain.  Jacob.  Right.  A wrenched hip and face time with Jesus in the middle of the night.  I went to my Bible, read the familiar story with a listening ear and found some notes from my own Jacob season of wrestling in prayer with God years ago.  One that also came with the same searing pain in the same hip.  

Sometimes God wants to really get after us.  Face to face.  And it may well be a wrestling match before the blessing can be given, but because God is good a blessing always follows.  The getting there lesson I learned is what I want to share.  The story is found in Genesis 32: 22 – 32.

So Jacob was left alone.  (v. 24)  Alone is not a word many of us prefer.  We are meant for relationship and a vibrant life that usually involves being not alone.  But sometimes God wants our undivided attention.  Jacob was at a crossing-over point, in his life even more than his journey.  His family was on the other side of the river.  He also sent over all his possessions.  Everything was out of reach.

No distractions.  No people.  No stuff.  Alone.  In the night.  Because God is after something.  The obstinate attitude.  Unrecognized pride.  Stubborn fear.  Unwillingness to entrust every last square inch of ourselves to Him.  Alone.  So that there will be nothing between us and Jesus.  And there we are meant to realize we are not alone….

And a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  (v. 24)  The Love Jesus has for us will not shrink back from locking His strength with ours.  Our strength has shadows and weaknesses.  Headstrong versus earnest.  Inflexible versus steadfast.  Bullheaded versus tenacious.  These are very fine lines between what disrupts relationship with God and what is a gift for deeper relationship with Him.  So Jesus will meet us where we are at, wrestle with our rebellious strength — even to the point of wrenching a hip to gain the advantage — so He can humble us.  Prepare us for the conversation that will transform and deepen our lives, for the first time or the thousandth.

I won’t let you go until you bless me. (v. 26)  Jacob, humbled and hurting, remains determined, realizing this is no ordinary wrestling match.  Even in intense struggle, he won’t let go of God!  It’s the moment Jesus waits for, when the conversation with the Living God can begin.  This is the moment Jesus wants with us.  He loves our tenacious humility.  He lived out tenacious humility!  It’s in that space that holy purpose grips our humanity.  Jacob was given a new name, a purpose-driven identity, a God-centered perspective he didn’t have before.  This is the blessing.  An identity locked with Jesus.  A life of vision.  Mission.  Purpose.  To never walk away from those dark, lonely nights the same person.  To begin a new day, a new season, radically determined to be even more His man, His woman because that solitary face to face with God will never leave us unchanged for His glory.

Please tell me your name. (v.29)  If you’re like me, like Jacob, you want to be sure that you really experienced what you think you experienced.  Whether in prayer or in circumstances.  Jesus may not answer everything we ask.  He never told Jacob His Name.  He will always answer the request for blessing.  But catch this:  Jacob didn’t outline the blessing.  He let God choose the blessing.  And God in not answering the question circled Jacob back to the blessing.  Don’t miss the gift of this struggle by asking for something smaller.  Not all mysteries need to be known.  Simply accept.  Be blessed.  

Whether we have walked two steps with Him or most of our lives with Him, wanting to live all-in for Him, there is always more.  There are always “crossing over” seasons.  Into a new career.  Or a life without a job that you desperately need.  Into a life with cancer.  Or a life without cancer.  Into a life of fighting for your marriage.  Or a life after your spouse leaves anyway.  Into a life of praying tirelessly for the wandering, even God-despising family member.  Crossing over points begin a call on our lives in which we can be entirely confident God will show up, and faithfully do.  

Whatever the “crossing over” looks like, if life seems to be taking you down or shaking you up, maybe God is after you, wanting to get Face to face so He can bless you.  Let go the distractions, engage through the night, grow in relentless strength to not let go of God even in the intensity of the struggle.   Keep at it till the daybreak moment comes, and be humbled enough to trust for more when He painfully wrenches something in your life.  Hold fast and boldly ask a blessing.  Receive your new purpose.  Press into Him and you will get the thing God desires most for you.

a walk upon promises

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From the first moment, coming over the undulating rise of the lowest foothills interrupting the vast plains to see with fresh awe and wonder through my children’s eyes that had never before beheld the mountains, to the planted steps traversing the still snowy trail up the side of Twin Sisters, these majestic peaks immoveable entirely moved my soul.  Everything in me drank deeply the strength of these amethyst spires lifting up praise upon praise to the heavens they strive to touch with all their breadth and magnificence.  The mountains always teach me something.  Something of myself.  Something of my God who formed and shaped them.  This time they taught me a little more about God’s promises.  Unchanging.  Powerful.  Glorious.  Strung across the horizon far beyond my line of sight.  Some towering.  Some only the stepping stones.  All of them meant to be known, but knowing them requires a sense of adventure, a willingness to risk, and a faith in the Guide who intimately knows every trail to each unique peak.

We are not planners, which gives us the freedom to simply GO and explore and be surprised.  Through new friends we discovered a “small” overlook.   As an afternoon storm passed through, the sun poured gold over the range of snowy caps on the western side.  A short walk to the east side overlooking the valley my son saw it first.  Below us!   A rainbow.  We watched as God drew its arc into color up and over, the top nearly eye level.   Even as it wrapped the valley, I knew His Promises were literally hemming me in.  So many promises, scribed by the very Hand that drew this band of jeweled hues.  His whisper in my soul:  I AM.  And all My promises are Yes in My Son.  Stand upon this and do not be moved.  Steps upon ancient promises rising above the valley mean you get to look down upon rainbows — I love to do crazy cool things!  Day 1:  faith walks upon the promises.

To drive up a mountain is great.  But to climb up its serpentine trail is transforming.  Every sense is awakened.  Surmounting the challenging parts drive a sense of resolve.  The faintly marked parts deepen faith.   Every step fuels exhilarated energy for the next.  Though the deep snow pack the last mile on Twin Sisters was not possible in Chacos, we Texans, already deep into the heat of summer, dove onto the trail, determined to get as far as possible.  To climb is to touch the hem of glory and majesty as you follow the Maker of the mountains who invites you to know great and unsearchable things unknowable from the valley.  His whisper in my soul:  to love is to know and be known.  So I have called you by name, and I will with a fierce devotion stronger and higher and more faithful than these majestic witnesses present you before My glorious Presence with great joy (Jude :24).  I AM worth all the risk.  Day 2:  love ascends the promises.  

But not every day can be about walking on the peaks.  Some days must be spent in the valley.  As we explored another cozy corner of Colorado and then headed back south to Texas, those  white-capped sentinels magnifying the Hands that shaped them journeyed with us.  Mile upon sapphire blue mile.  Praises and promises multiplied.   Sometimes hidden by towns or foothills, but always present and drawing my gaze up.  Truly, to lift eyes upward is to shift perspective, to allow the Creator to shift perspective.  And He knew I needed a bit of a shift, so He carved out space to simply get into His Presence, to hear a final whisper:  life is like this.  Sometimes things may get in the way of seeing what is always, unshakably, faithfully true .  These little mountains are like bunny slopes compared to all I have for you.  I AM the Promiser and My Promises don’t move.  Day 3 and 4:  hope believes the promises are always near.

Praying for you, whether in the valley or upon the peaks, that you will walk upon His promises and know Him with adventurous perspective.