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A regal Orchid, sent by church friends, arrived for my Dad’s memorial service in January 2021 and then somehow wound up in my “care.” If you can call it that. The fact that it didn’t immediately die on my watch has me quite honestly in awe of this creature. I can keep only one type of plant alive—the kind that thrive on abuse and neglect.

Orchid was in bloom when she first arrived, her dainty blossoms crisp and magnificent in contrasting pale pink and veins of bold magenta. It sat by a window my office at the church for a while, then I brought it home with little hope it would survive. It was such an exotic thing for a clod like me. The blooms were so fragile, yet strong. My granddaughter said she learned that orchids live in tropical rainforests and often grow on trees, sort of like a parasite. That is simultaneously weird and cool. I’ve watched how it grows, its aerial roots groping like bony, green fingers. Orchids are difficult to start, but once they germinate and become established, they’re like a beautiful free-loader too lovely to disturb.

A few months after bringing Orchy home, I was horrified to find the blossoms wilting, then they all dropped like dainty little paratroopers. Noooo!!! Surely I’d cursed the exotic flower by bringing it home to my ordinariness. But the leaves remained sleek and sturdy, so at least I knew I hadn’t killed it. I let the thing be, hoping she would live out the rest of her days as a plain spinster, like poor little Anne Elliot, whom Austen wrote had “lost her bloom.” At the ripe old age of 27.

But to my surprise, after being left in a corner to knit and play solitaire, Orchy suddenly sprouted little buds and then exploded in magnificent color once again. Exotic was apparently undaunted by ordinary!

Sadly, the second bloom didn’t last long. The blossoms quickly fell and my exotic little friend went dormant again. And this time, she stayed that way. I eventually moved the old girl to another room where she could wait out her days near a north-facing window, where a little more light could warm her old bones, where she could watch the cars and joggers and dog-walkers pass by.

Months have passed. She sits between the piles of books I’m studying, in spindly silence, her rubbery leaves still spry, valiant, but past her bloom, barren.

Or so I thought.

Today, I turned her pot see if she might like a little sun on her backside . . . and spotted a new bud sprouting on the stalk. Then I looked closer at both stalks and saw a few more tiny nubs.

I cheered! And felt ashamed. I’m not sure why, nor am I sure what to make of this. That I accept disappointment prematurely, maybe? That I write off hope too soon? That we humans are quicker than ever to dismiss/shelve/cancel anything (or anyone) that doesn’t give immediate gratification? That just when we think our season of being fruitful has come to an end a new season begins, or that miraculous things are happening though we don’t see them, before anything is apparent to the naked human eye?

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Or that dormancy is not death, and that a breathtaking eternity is just around the corner.

And that sometimes, El Shaddai delights in showing you that your ordinary is actually extraordinary. Exotic, in fact.

Last week during worship at church, I was confessing to the Lord about my stingy heart (again). You may remember that I’ve been here before.

In fact, I just went back through old blog posts (links below) and found 2 previous posts on this topic. Clearly, I’ve been dealing with this for some time now.

But, oddly, I’m not beating myself up over it. I’ve stopped doing that. In fact, I’m much kinder and more patient with Camille than I was 10 years ago. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still believe I need to surrender daily (er… hourly) and ask God to turn my stony heart to playdough and make me more like Jesus. As always and more than ever, and ever, Amen.

Because there’s a distinct difference these days in the way I view my flawed, sinful nature and God’s desire to see me change and grow and produce more of his Spirit in me. After years of despair about my failure to arrive, to “be a better Christian” (compared to her or him or some perfect figment of my imagination), the truth finally sunk in that I can no more lose my right standing with God than I can earn it. I can not earn or lose my righteousness. This has been entirely done on my behalf by Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection. I can’t undo that by having a bad day or a bad week or even a bad year. I can’t lose God’s saving grace and I can’t earn it. Growing and living for Jesus is always my goal, but somewhere in the back of my little mind, it was somehow attached to keeping my foot in heaven’s door. It was also attached to an age-old fear that some fathers stop loving you and vanish, and others get pleasure from verbally beating you to down.

God doesn’t deserve to be thrown in with deadbeats and bullies.

When he looks at me, he sees holy, which feels weird to say. He sees me fully cloaked in the righteousness Jesus paid for with his life. When he looks at me, he sees his lovely, precious Son.

And because of that, I want to grow up. More than ever. I have a long way to go, but he’s brought me incredibly far. I am no longer driven by fear, but by gratitude, grace, and love. I am encouraged by God’s 40+ year display of inexhaustible love and kindness toward me.

So while I was having a stare-off with my stingy nature, I asked God to help me be more generous when others have need—through gritted teeth. We’re talking muscle cramps from how tightly my jaw was clenched. I also admitted—might as well since there’s no hiding it from God, right?—that this is REALLY HARD for me to ask.

He knows. He gets that I’m wired a bit off the grid.

Now, there are reasons I tend to withhold giving of myself emotionally, and some might seem justifiable. For instance, I still carry scars from emotional wounds at a time in my life when I was extremely vulnerable. And then I spent decades having no clue what “boundaries” are and why you’re allowed to have them, so I’ve been burned and emotionally drained and have therefore grown resistant to giving. But… I’m also a sinner and admit that I’m selfish, sometimes lazy, and have a powerful aversion to discomfort. (Hey–cut me slack, I’m working on it. Plus Aspies have serious discomfort issues—another topic for another time.)

So as I was admitting to God that needing to be more generous was really hard to ask for, he reminded me of the verse in Matthew 11, when Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Let me pause there a sec. You might have expected the answer to my request to come in the form of a challenge, like Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. A solid truth, and a perfectly good verse. But I find that Jesus really is gentle and lowly in heart, as he said, and this is especially evident in the way he deals with the wounded. I am not afraid of challenge. But the Lord knows me well and knows that a challenge to try harder, do better, is NOT going to produce the results I’m humbly asking him for. He knows that shame has never brought about any good thing in me, only damage. He knows full well that I can accept a challenge, but he also knows that I need reminded–again–that he wants to help me.

Effort is needed on our part, to be sure. But our Father, who knows each one of us intimately—and who has, in fact, wired us all uniquely—has fashioned an easy, custom-fitted yoke for each of us. Not to weigh us down, but to share our load. To ease the burden for us. To do the heavy lifting, actually. I believe his end of the yoke bears like 95% of the weight. Okay, maybe more like 99%. He invites us to come to him, come under the safety and abundance of his provision, lean into his strength. Submit to the power of his Spirit living and working in us. Draw from him, learn from him, find peace and rest. Whatever burden he asks us to bear, he promises to share. He promises to carry the heaviest part. In his grace, he promises to lighten our load.

I so often forget that he will provide whatever it takes to do whatever he asks of me.

I also often forget that the “giving up of myself” doesn’t mean I must surrender to every need or request that comes along. I need only to surrender to the Lord. He will direct me about how he wants to meet the needs of others. When I come under his yoke, he can be FULLY and COMPLETELY trusted. When I place myself in his hands, he does not violate my trust and does not hurt me or take anything from me that I can’t part with. If what is being asked of me costs time or energy or resource, and he is directing me to give it up, he will provide. He can make the sun stand still. He can send rain out of the clear blue. He will provide manna. He’ll turn water to wine. He will multiply a couple loaves and fish to such an overabundance as to leave heaps of leftovers.

His yoke is easy.

His load is light.

His provision is ridiculously more than enough.

“If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” -Jesus

“Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.” -C. S. Lewis

Jesus loves me, this I know. He will never leave me on the road with four flats and an empty tank. He will not let me be overwhelmed. He will provide every last drop of what I need, when I need it, always. Whether it be time, energy, mental focus, resources, the ability to pour out love and care, the space to withdraw and process and recharge when all the cares become overwhelming. He is carrying the heavy end. He’s got this.

see also:

https://camilleeide.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/surrender-brings-freedom/ https://camilleeide.wordpress.com/2019/10/02/surrender-brings-freedom-part-2/

Nip It In The Bud

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …

For a long time as a believer, I wondered what “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” meant. Somehow, I had missed the fact that this phrase was tucked in between the exhortations to build up others, to steer clear of bitterness and slander, and to be kind and forgiving.

Fact: Unkindness causes God grief.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

It’s pretty clear that bitterness, anger, slander, criticism, and all such forms of negativity break God’s heart. They don’t belong in the spirit-filled believer. At all. Paul tells us that kindness, compassion, and grace are to be our response to the offenses and imperfections of others.

Before I came to faith in Christ, bitter words spewed easily from me (see THIS post). But even long after I became a believer, I didn’t hesitate to be critical, freely listing others’ faults and flaws to myself and sometimes to others. And then about 15 years ago, I was blessed to work with an exceptional pastor, a man who consistently modeled grace and compassion day after day. Not only did he exemplify positive attributes, he also didn’t engage in negative, critical conversations. I instantly took note. His lack of engagement combined with his unwavering bent toward grace and compassion began to influence my thinking and actions.

After a while, I grew to sense a check in my spirit whenever criticism or negativity spilled out of my mouth. Sometimes the check was heeded. Other times, it was noted and promptly ignored.

Stop. Don’t say it.

Okay, now you’ve let that ugly criticism out of your mouth. You’re slandering someone God loves. Time to stop. Don’t continue.

STOP TALKING NOW.

Paul says we are to get rid of all bitterness. All.

ALL.

Bitterness is a weed with roots that go a lot deeper than the critical, judgy words about to leave my tongue. If I have to slap my hand over my mouth in order to not grieve God’s Holy Spirit, then I have a lot of work to do. Critical words are a product of stinky attitudes which are products of thoughts. Thoughts I am prone to feed and entertain if allowed to sprout and flourish unchecked.

If slanderous words grieve my Lord, then slanderous thoughts are every bit as heartbreaking.

Get rid of all bitterness. Get rid of malice.

Get rid of things that break God’s heart.

Fact: If you are in Christ, then God has forgiven you for all the things other people could be critical about that you’re still working on.

Uh …

Just as God has forgiven you for not having it all together, forgive others the same way.

Be Compassionate. Don’t pick at others’ flaws, faults, weaknesses.

Have Mercy. Show grace.

Remember that we are all a work in progress and all need God’s cleansing, renewing, and empowering. Remember that we all struggle with unseen things, with pains and fears, with quirks and tendencies and bad habits we need God’s help to overcome.

According to Ephesians 4, our words have the power to build others up according to their needs—even when we don’t understand what those needs are. And our words have the power to tear people down. Our words have the power break God’s heart. This is some serious power.

But my negative words are not the real issue—they’re simply evidence of a deeper problem: a bitter attitude in my heart. And what goes on in my heart matters to God.

I pray that the Spirit of God would not only stop me before I speak an unwholesome word about someone, but to stop me even as the negative thought begins to germinate in my mind. I pray he gives me a repulsion for such ugliness. I pray he enables me to immediately recognize seedlings of negativity, pull them by the roots, and hand them over to him. I pray he makes me ultra-sensitive to resentful thoughts and critical attitudes that so deeply pain him. I pray he makes my heart grieve over the things his heart grieves over. I pray Ezekiel 36:26, that he transplant my bitter, stony heart with a heart like his—a heart overflowing with compassion and grace. Soft, not stony. Full of light, not darkness. Full of love, not malice.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. -Hosea 10:12 (NKJV)

Oh, to have a heart like God. Make it so, Lord. Please make it so.

My dad passed away recently, and I was reminded that the Lord truly is near the broken hearted.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on that nearness at first: the warmth I felt as we gathered around Mom at her place a few days later and just leaned on each other, talking and remembering Dad, watching as my sister offered to tackle the tall pile of accumulated random stuff that was years overdue for sorting. Bless her heart and her poor aching back, she sat there for hours, patiently sorting through things one piece at a time, things my grieving Mom didn’t have the energy to deal with.

We had just spent the morning with our pastor planning Dad’s funeral. My sister hadn’t felt well, but came to the meeting anyway, and then decided to stay and attack the monster pile in the corner. So for the next several hours, Mom and I and my brother and his wife and my brother in law all looked on as my sister pulled things out of the teetering pile one by one, laughing about some of the items, crying over others, marveling at photos and artwork from grandchildren who are now grown with kids of their own. As we laughed and cried and marveled, I couldn’t help but feel a distinct warmth, a feeling of peace and softness in the room. It was like a warm, sweet, comfy blanket. I’m not sure if the others felt it, but I just wanted to stay and bask in it.

What could have been a difficult time of planning a memorial turned into a very sweet, simple time of just being together. And not that we don’t usually enjoy one another’s company, but we don’t often spend time together due to distance and other life stuff. When Mom and Dad met and married, we “kids” were pretty much grown. It took time for us to really connect with each other at the heart level, but even then, we are still a crazy quilt of frayed, mismatched pieces. We’ve grown into a real family who truly care about each other, but I wouldn’t say we necessarily feel warm and fuzzy by just being together.

So to feel so much warmth and sweetness that day was definitely unique, and I couldn’t put my finger on that the reason for that feeling for the longest time. I called it a gift of grace, which I believe it was. But then today, when I heard a friend was struggling with a loved one’s scary illness, I began to pray, and was instantly reminded of the verse that says the Lord is near the brokenhearted.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18

I believe without a doubt that this is not a platitude, it’s a promise, it’s true, and even more, it’s palpable.

We don’t like to be reminded that eventually, death is a given for us all. Of course we always pray for people whose lives are threatened by all manner of terrible things, and I’ve heard of many miracles and have seen countless prayers answered. But I am often reminded that a reprieve from death is not the most important thing we need from God. We have an amazing eternal life guaranteed to us if we’ve placed our trust in Jesus, but our earthly life is a breath, our time on earth is limited.

So what I seek first from God, before I ask for a miraculous healing or intervention that I fully trust he is able to bring, is that his perfect peace that passes understanding will be with the person I’m lifting up in prayer. That Christ’s sweet presence will be felt and that he will guard their hearts and minds from fear, that she or he will be able to look to him and trust in him and feel the safety and strength of his loving, capable hands. He is so caring and so full of compassion. I think he would want us to look up when we are in the midst of struggle, to remember his great love and trust his goodness rather than placing all our hope in the resolution of our present difficulty.

Of course, looking up and remembering his love and goodness is not our first impulse when we suffer difficulty, illness, or fear. Our impulse is to cry out for help, hearts pounding, emotions high. He understands. He is near. He cares deeply. Though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept along with the mourners, his heart moved by his own love for his friend and his compassion for the family’s anguish.

He understands our pain, our fear. And he is not bothered by it. Though we are at times faithless, he remains faithful. Whatever we suffer or fear, he doesn’t leave us, but he joins us. He himself suffered and knows all manner of pain and heartache, in order to bring an end to these things once and for all.

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

John 16:33

He is Immanuel, God With Us.

He is so much nearer than we know.

And he promises especially to be near the brokenhearted, and I am reminded that he means it.

May you sense his nearness today. ~Camille

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is rl-montgomery-54-1.jpg

A few days after Christmas 2020, my dad went home to be with Jesus.

Anyone who knew him would agree that even at 86, Robert L. Montgomery was bigger than life. He was no gentle breeze you had to look around for, but more of a gale force. If he was anywhere in the vicinity, you couldn’t miss him.

My first memory of Dad was hearing his voice above the crowd in a noisy pizza parlor. I was 15.  From across the restaurant, Mom and I heard someone up front hollering, “Hey, Joe—how’s your wife doing?” Followed by more boisterous greetings for the rest of the staff. At our table, Mom hid behind her hand and muttered, “Oh no, it’s that R.L. Montgomery.” Because of the crowd and his height (or actually, his lack thereof), I couldn’t see who belonged to the voice, but apparently Mom didn’t need to see him to recognize her co-worker.

I soon found out that EVERYONE knew R.L. He may have been small in stature, but he had a big voice and a big personality and an even bigger heart. In fact, everything about him was bigger than life. And he liked only the best of things: The prettiest girl. The choicest cut of meat. The top of the line cookware. He often drove a Cadillac. He had good taste for high quality, which my sister Tandy inherited, and which he tried, unsuccessfully, to instill in me.

When I was 16, my brother Stephen was in the Army and it was just me and Mom. She was going through a hard time following a rough divorce, and I, punk that I was with problems of my own, had just become a brand new Christian, so I asked her if we could find a church to attend. She said “that R.L. Montgomery” had been “bugging” her (I think was the phrase) to come to his church. They began dating and were married the following year.

Which was great, but for me, dads had been a major disappointment, to say the least, and the term STEPDAD was a foul word on my tongue. By the time I was 17, I was completely self-reliant and had ZERO use for a dad. Any childish wish for a daddy had long been abandoned. So when Robert and Mom married, I told him I was moving out to give them space. I didn’t want to be a third wheel.

His response? He laughed hysterically (a sound I can’t tell you now much I wish I could hear once more…) Then he talked me into staying, but I kept my guard up. He kept telling me I was special and said things like “You’re so NEAT!” and “I sure love you!”

Great, my mom married a nutcase. I did NOT need sweet-talking from some hyper red-head who was absolutely going to let me down. I’d been too hurt and disappointed and I was hard. I didn’t need a dad. I was way over it. So I kept him at arm’s length. Pushed him away.

Or… I tried.

But he wouldn’t let me push him away. He kept up the encouragement and the compliments and the bone-crushing hugs, day after day, week after week after week. He just wouldn’t let me get away with avoiding a relationship with him and eventually, the man wore me down.

What I didn’t know about Dad until many years later was how loss during his childhood had shaped him. He’d lost his mother as a young boy, and his dad wasn’t around. His grandma raised him, but he missed the real nurturing he needed. I think a lot of people respond to loss of this kind by becoming bitter or hard, or falling prey to addiction. Not Dad. His response was to double down and love others with every tool had, which included endless words of affirmation. And of course, chocolate.

Early in our relationship, I don’t think even Dad realized that his refusal to let me push him away was not only changing my heart, but impacting my eternal life. I had come to faith in God with a wary, deeply damaged view of fathers. In my experience, dads were unreliable, abusive, or indifferent. When you needed protection, they vanished. When you needed affirmation, they criticized. When you needed to know you had worth, they demeaned you. This was the baggage of insecurity I’d brought into my relationship with God.

But Dad’s persistent love gave me hope in the possibility of a father who won’t abandon you or stop loving you, even when you make him mad.

Oh, and I’ve made him boiling mad over the years. Many times.

Robert Montgomery was a big personality and he was far from perfect. He was THE most stubborn human I have ever met. Don’t even get me started on his backseat driving and his volatile relationship with traffic. He was a professional driver—and he made sure you knew it—but he had a red-headed temper on and off the road. He and I argued at times, and he’s gotten so mad at me he didn’t talk to me for a week—on more than one occasion. But he ALWAYS got over it and he ALWAYS welcomed me back and he still loved me every bit as much.

He could get frustrated with you, but it never affected the depth of his love for you. Relationships were far too important to hold a grudge.

If I could ask to inherit one thing from Dad, it would be his tenacity to love.

Dad didn’t model perfection, but I didn’t need that. What he modeled for me—of far greater worth—was persistence, both in the way he loved, and the way he followed Christ.

Dad gave me a daily reminder that the Father’s love NEVER fails. If not for Dad, I don’t know if I would have gone on daring to trust that God really wants a forever relationship with me, or that I could approach God again and again for help, strength, and forgiveness.

For me, Dad’s stubborn love and persistent faith was a priceless, life-changing gift.

There’s a lyric in his tribute video that says,

There is no life without its hunger;

Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;

But when you come and I am filled with wonder,

Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

Thank you, Dad. I owe you so much and I’ll love you forever. See you soon. 

-Camille

What usually gives you a sense of real, lasting peace? It is calm seas? Things going smoothly?

For me, lasting peace boils down to one word. HOPE.  Not hope like, Oh, man! I sure hope it works out.  But the real, LIVING hope I have in Christ.

Funny story about the origins of the phrase living hope. It was actually penned by the very guy who had some of the highest highs and lowest lows of anyone in the Bible, and some of his greatest triumphs and worst failures came within minutes of each other.

The Apostle Peter is one of my favorite people of the bible. He was an all or nothing guy, which I can totally relate to. In his early days with Jesus, he could be pretty erratic. For example, he went from walking on water with Jesus (!?!) to sinking only moments later.

“Hey, Jesus! Check this out—I’m walking on the water too! Whoa…. Wait… is that… a tidal wa—HEEEELLLLP! I’m DROWNING!!!!!

It wasn’t the waves that sank Peter, it was his loss of focus. Peter had a lot of passion, but many times, Good Old Pete’s passion did not serve him well. And passion certainly wasn’t what he needed in the middle of a stormy sea. What he needed was steady focus and self-control, which is something an older, wiser Peter teaches later in 1 Peter.

So back to hope—which, in the bible means Confident Assurance. What gives me that confident, assured kind of hope?

My hope comes from 2 things:

  1. WHAT GOD PROMISES to do in his word, and
  2. WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY DONE in my life

I have HOPE because the Bible is full of God’s promises, like the promise of forgiveness and salvation by his grace, the promise of eternal life, the promise of the Holy Spirit, and so much more. God has proven to be faithful and true to his word, so we can believe his promises.

But I also have hope because God has shown himself real to me over the years.  I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers. But I do have 40 years of witnessing God’s love, power, and faithfulness in my life and the in the lives of others. He’s answered more prayers than I could ever count. And he’s been working in my life—changing, challenging, and enabling me. He’s protected, healed, and provided for me. I can’t encapsulate all that he’s done in my life.

So what does this living hope have to do with our need for lasting peace in difficult times?

The Bible says peace is ours when we keep our minds & hearts focused on God. Remember Peter? He was walking on water …. Until he took his eyes off Jesus. He took one look at the waves and BAM, he forgot Jesus. Forgot who had him. His passion to walk with Jesus turned into panic. But Passion is not a bad thing. If properly directed, Passion can also bring Peace.

Isaiah 26:3 says You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.

Psalm 112:7 says He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

Phil 4:7 says And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The Hope I have is not based on how things are going or how I feel—it’s based on Jesus, on knowing him personally. It’s based on the confident assurance that I have in both the promises AND the presence of God in my life. I have confidence in what he’s done and what he says he’ll do.

The Word of God is alive, the Son of God is alive, so the hope we have in him is also alive.

So Instead of focusing on the waves around us, let’s focus on God, and on the living hope we have in him. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and keep our hearts and minds focused on all that he has done AND all he has promised to do for us.

One last verse: Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

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Do either of these statements describe the way you see God’s love for you?

1. God loves me, but (or as long as) _______.

2. God loves me, period.

Is God’s love for us something we control by our actions or behavior? Is his love contingent on what we do or don’t do?

In the biblical parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus tells us the story of a young man who thoroughly insulted his father by asking for his inheritance or “death benefit” early and leaving home to do as he pleased—to go hog wild, so to speak. After he partied all of his inheritance away, he found himself destitute and starving. He came to his senses and realized he’d been a wretched fool and his only hope for survival was to return to his father and beg to be made a slave. But as he neared his father’s estate, his father saw him from a distance and ran to meet him, embraced and kissed him, overjoyed at his son’s return.

Was the father’s love for his son based on the condition that the son return to him? Or did he love him all along?

I wonder if some of us see God’s love as conditional, based our actions, strivings, and obedience to him. I wonder if some of us need to see that God’s love is not like human love; it is not capricious or waning like that of humans. He doesn’t give the silent treatment when insulted or hold an offense over our head. His love does not tire like a discontented mate and send him in search of someone new.

I have often despaired of ever being good or pleasing enough. I struggle with the constant challenge to do better, to be better, to try harder. Yet I fail. I am inherently flawed and prone to mistakes. I can only follow Christ and serve him with his help, and even then I fall short of my aims.

But . . . then I read the story of the prodigal son and am reminded this represents the Father heart of God. Jesus paints a very touching picture of a father’s love, and more importantly, our heavenly Father’s love. I am so moved by this story, straight from the mouth of Jesus himself, which describes the holy, righteous God of the universe as an incredibly loving father.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not moved by the fact that the son got away with reckless sin and was forgiven without question, as though I were looking for a way to justify or excuse sinfulness. I am just awed and touched by picture of the Father’s steadfast love. The father didn’t lift his chin and turn to his friends and say, “Well. At least he’s back where he belongs, that takes a load off my mind. Lucky for him he came to his senses. But he has proven himself a disappointment and won’t soon forget what he did, I can guarantee that.”

No. He celebrated his son’s return to him. Wholeheartedly, with exuberant joy. He was so moved to emotion that he ran, breaking cultural codes of propriety. He not only ran, he embraced his son and kissed him. Couldn’t contain his joy at his son’s return. Unreservedly expressed his love before his son had a chance to speak a word of remorse for his sin. Showed lavish grace and forgiveness without another word about what the son had done.

I wonder if those of us who grew up either fatherless or with dads who were unloving or abusive have a particular need to be reminded of the “Father heart” of God. I am not suggesting that we should ever forget that he is also God of the universe, the absolute holy, righteous judge. But those of us who have lived under the thumb of someone who rules by cruelty and intimidation may have a harder time understanding how so good and loving a father can be at the same time so exacting in his judgment and so thoroughly demanding of holiness. It’s simply who God is (and more than can be addressed in a blog post.)

We must do our best to keep in mind the big picture perspective of all that God is, and not pick and choose our favorite attributes. He is fierce both in his love and his holiness. His love is everlasting—to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:17) Not fear him in the same way I once feared a stepdad’s return home from work every day, but a reverence for him in all his righteousness and holiness. AND his love. Embrace the total truth of who God is and allow Him to embrace you in return.

And don’t forget: he is running to embrace you long before you’ve even arrived.

“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” -Psalm 55:6-8

What do you think of when you read this passage from Psalms? Does the idea of escape tempt you? Have you ever cried out for relief from life’s storms?

In Wings Like a Dove, Anna faces growing difficulties in her life. Psalm 55:6 is brought to her attention and she ponders it more than once, especially as the difficulties in her life steadily increase.

As Polish Jews in the early 1900s, Anna’s family lived in constant upheaval, so fleeing danger is nothing new to her. The problem is that Anna craves connection and community. While she was often uprooted, at least Anna enjoyed the security of family—until now. As the story begins, she is turned out of her home and must journey across the country alone, a heartache that only intensifies the persecution she faces as a Jew, an immigrant, and an unwed woman with child.

But her journey is temporarily delayed out of necessity, and she quickly falls in love with those who have taken her in. The idea of leaving them is as painful a prospect as leaving her own family, but because of the troubles that follow her, it seems she has no choice.

Psalm 55:6 isn’t tempting Anna to leave her surroundings; it tempts her to escape the negativity that robs her joy.

For Anna, and for the rest of us, we can’t flee trouble any more than we can grow wings and fly. The desire for relief is understandable. But what if there is a purpose in the difficult situations we face? What if we are called to more than simply outlast life’s storms? What if our weakest moment is exactly what God wants to use to show his power, love, mercy, and grace?

What if God is waiting for us to stop fluttering our wings and find joy in knowing that we are in the very place we need to be, for a purpose, for such a time as this?

Quote from Anna: “If these past months have taught me nothing else, they have taught me that though I am only a seed blowing in the wind, I must still be fruitful wherever I land. I have learned that wherever we find ourselves, we must have the courage to stretch out roots and produce something useful, even in times of difficulty. We must bloom boldly in whatever field our seed has fallen.”

May you find the sweet spot of joy and purpose in the midst of your storm!

-Camille

Many people have inspired me. One of them, who I’ve mentioned & blogged about several times, was my late father-in-law, Al Eide. (The little cutie on his lap is my husband, Dan, and the other cutie is his brother, Phil. And yes, Al was once a sailor, if you caught the tat. 😉 )

Al was a man who never met a stranger, never said an unkind word, rarely ever complained, prayed and meditated on God’s word daily, always went to church, and never failed to trust in God, even when dementia in his 90s muddled his mind. Even then, he still loved Jesus and asked caregivers if they knew Him. Even then, he displayed kindness, patience, and the living spirit and love of Christ. 

Many who knew him will readily tell you they want to be like Al when they grow up.

In my NEW novel, Wings Like a Dove, sisters Anna and Shayna are not only very close, but inspire each other to be better, each in their own way.

If you have read the book, I wonder if you can spot (and name) the person in the story inspired by my father-in-law.

Question: Who inspires you to be a better person?

And as Al would say, God bless you real good!

~Camille

If Only . . .

“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Psalm 55:6-8

I have heard people say, “If I could just get over this health issue,” or “If only I had more money.” If only I had less stress, more help, less pain, more support, etc, etc.

 

Have you ever been there?

If only . . .

If I could just . . .

 

Between these words, I hear a cry for relief. Not only relief from difficult circumstances, but also from hopelessness. What if I become so sick or anxious or overwhelmed or so deeply in debt that I can’t function? What if my circumstances never change? What if it gets worse?

 

Thanks to our Adamic inheritance, we live in a fallen world, full of sin, disease, dysfunction, injustice, abuse, brokenness—the list is endless. You may be dealing with something that could wreak more damage than a hurricane. Whether from external circumstances or personal struggles within, the weight of constant suffering can be unbearable and make us hopeless for a way out, no end in sight. No hope for relief.

 

I am blown away by my pastor. For too many reasons to list here, but for one in particular: He suffers terrible migraines. These are horribly painful to the point of making him physically sick. He can’t think or do anything but lie still. With a family and a loaded plate of pastoral responsibilities, he doesn’t have time to be sick, and yet he somehow presses on, with the diligence of a faithful, caring shepherd. He asks God for healing and asks others to pray, and yet the headaches continue. When a migraine strikes on a Sunday, we’ve seen God answer prayer many times by giving Pastor enough strength and relief to deliver his sermon. What amazes me is that in spite of this suffering, this man is absolutely unwavering in his faith in Christ. His life is an inspiring example of steadfast confidence in and obedience to God. The fact that God has not yet healed him doesn’t stop him from serving the Lord with his whole heart, with truth and grace, every minute of every day.

 

He continues to ask God for healing. And we should keep asking God to relieve us and others of suffering. I know he can. And many times, he does. But what if immediate relief isn’t part of his plan for us right now? What if God is more interested in how we weather a storm (or an entire hurricane season) than he is in rescuing us from it?

 

The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” I think Paul came to terms with the fact that relief for him would not be coming. I also think he became grateful for the thorn, because it drove him closer Jesus.

 

How does being closer to Jesus help when we face difficult circumstances?

 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

So I’ll never fail to bear fruit. Awesome. But what good is fruit when I’m suffering?

When we turn our lives over to Christ, his Spirit moves in and begins the work of making us more like him. God’s word and presence feed, sustain, and transform us. This transforming work is evident by such “fruit” as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not a pretense pulled down over us like a goody-hoody, but a God-kind of gentleness and peace that springs from the place in our soul where Jesus lives and works on us. This fruit not only lets others see God in us, it reminds and assures us of his sanctifying power and love. This assurance comes from experiencing God in a way that teaches us we can trust in his goodness, his provision, and his constant faithfulness.

 

If storms feel endless and unbearable, maybe we need to stretch our roots deeper in God’s stream. When we make him our Source, nothing can destroy us. No drought, famine, wildfire, (debt, depression, cancer) can steal our love, joy and peace when we are nourished by The Stream. Yes, storms may shred our bark, and our fruit might be knocked off and crushed, but we will never wither. We will sprout new leaves and blossom again. What tremendous hope we have!

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Romans 8:35-39

We might be battered for a season, but God will be our strength and sustenance. If he is allowing us to go through difficulty, he will provide what we need. And he won’t let us weather a storm alone! He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and will stay beside us all the way to the other side, whatever that may be. He will never leave or forsake us!

 

Sometimes, the response we get to “If only” or “If I could just” isn’t the relief we desperately want. I know, not very comforting, I’m sorry. Relief from suffering may come soon, later on, or it may not come at all—in this life. But even if we suffer the sting of some particular thorn for the rest of our lives, we won’t suffer forever. An entire earthly lifetime doesn’t even compare to forever. It may feel like eternity, but no matter how long our suffering lasts, God promises us it will not last forever. He also promises to be with us, strengthening and providing. Let’s set our hope in him, and look forward to a joyful forever yet to come, where all difficulty, sorrow, and suffering will be forgotten.

 

Paul could say this with full assurance, thorn and all.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Are you in a season of suffering? Can you share a time when circumstances felt too unbearable? Have you “reached your roots” into the stream of God’s provision and strength?

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