Thursday, December 27, 2018

Five Years (12-24-18)

(Written on the fifth anniversary of my husband's passing--Christmas Eve 2018)

Five years. I redo the math every time I think about it or say it because it doesn't seem possible. How can it have really been five years? Grief is strange, and words feel so inadequate, but I feel compelled to write them anyway.

Love endures, but it's hard to miss the physical expressions of it-- the light in the eyes of a smile and laugh like no one else's, the comfort of a hug, a strong hand that could envelop mine with security and love, a shoulder to lean on at the end of the day to let everything else fade away-- all are so difficult to live without. But I'm grateful we were able to share all those and more for over 18 and a half years.

As much as the timing often seems to make the grief more difficult for me, too, really the story of Christmas has always had the juxtaposition of darkness and Light, struggle and Hope, sorrow and Joy. So every year I lean into Advent as well. When we avoid or gloss over the difficulty, we miss some of the relatability of a God who has never been afraid to come to His people in the middle of a mess. From the perfection of heaven to take the human flesh and frailty of a helpless Babe, the Savior of the world was born and placed in the bed of a manger. He became a man of sorrows and was well-acquainted with grief and suffering. All for you and me.

"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress...
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
(Isaiah 9:1a, 2a, 6 NIV84)

Grateful for peace and hope in the midst of every grief ❤️

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around (6-30-18)

I definitely have felt the "overflowing" of grace and goodness from so many encouraging podcasts and songs lately but somehow haven't been able to get myself to sit down and write about them. (Could it be that I enjoy too many other things about summer??) So I'm going to limit the intro and just get to the goodies! I hope you can find a little encouragement in some of these today as well...


** The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman, Episode 40: Keep Your Rest-- I have loved every single episode of Emily's podcast and how she helps "create space for your soul to breathe," but this one on rest hit a special place in my heart. Themes of Sabbath keep coming back to me over and over, and I appreciate how Emily reminds us that rest is something we need to keep and protect rather than feel as if we have to carve out and create. (P.S. I hope you'll listen to the podcast, but if you prefer to read instead, you can scroll through the post in the link above and then click on "download transcript" to read it rather than listen. She provides full transcripts for all of her episodes, which I love having to look back on as well.)

Others who have been speaking into my life on rhythms of rest and Sabbath lately include Shelly Miller with her blog, her Sabbath Society emails (it's not weird like it might sound, I promise!), and her book Rhythms of Rest.

I've also been following the Unhurried Living blog and podcast with Alan and Gem Fadling with their encouragement to "Rest deeper. Live fuller. Lead better."

And I'm currently reading Subversive Sabbath by A. J. Swoboda. I haven't finished it yet, so I can't speak for the entire book, but there have been several great insights so far.

** The Roundabout Way: Sermon by John Ortberg from Menlo Church-- I often can find myself asking God, "Are we there yet?" or "How much longer?" But John reminds us in this sermon from a series on "Made Perfect in Weakness" that God continues to give us grace even in the desert and along the roundabout way. (The link I shared goes to the sermon video, but you can also listen to the audio from Menlo.Church's podcast (go to the date of 6-10-18) if you prefer to multi-task and listen while driving, walking, cleaning, etc.)

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs, Episode 82: Christine Caine-- If you know anything about Christine Caine, you can imagine that this interview with Annie Downs is high-energy and power-packed with spiritual depth and truth. She shares about unexpected challenges in her personal life and in today's society but encourages us to move forward in faith and embrace the adventures God has for us.

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs, Episode 83: Andrew Peterson-- This was such a wonderful and deep interview, I think I might have to listen to it again. I love Andrew Peterson's heart and how it overflows in all he says and does. And it was so neat to hear his personal stories on the influence of Rich Mullins in his life and art, too.

Annie also talked with Andrew especially about The Sower's Song, which has been so powerfully meaningful to her. I've been listening to it on repeat now, too, encouraged by reminders that in order for something beautiful and healthy to grow, the ground must be broken open, the seed has to die to sprout into a plant, and branches must be pruned to bear good fruit. All of these are painful but necessary. And God's word never returns void.

More Music...

I've been enjoying worship music from United Pursuit for quite a while now thanks to a friend's recommendation, but I just ran across one of their older songs and have had it on repeat for the past couple of weeks.

Running in Circles by United Pursuit (featuring Will Raegan)

These lyrics definitely resonate with my heart--
I'm so forgetful,
but You always remind me
You're the only One who brings me peace.
Ah, yes. I'm grateful for how God keeps drawing me back to this truth.

Looking Back...

** Time is one of the most surreal things in grief, and it's hard to believe it's been four and a half years since my husband passed away. I've been thinking back to this post I wrote four years ago (at the six-month mark) for a couple of different reasons, and thought I'd share here as well:

In the Middle of the Mess (All This Glory)

I'm thankful for how God can work even in the most difficult circumstances to keep showing Himself to and through us.

** Another old post that has been on my mind lately for different reasons is one I wrote a couple of years ago called Something's Coming. It has been a good reminder that God often allows us to feel the lack of what's missing so we can better appreciate the provision He has in store for us that's coming. Re-reading it along with the scripture reference included from Revelation also has me looking forward to our sermon series on that book of the Bible starting this week, too!

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've been able to find a treasure to uplift your heart today. And remember to pause and give thanks to God, who is continually overflowing with grace upon grace out of His fullness. Enjoy the long summer nights while they last! And I'd love for you to share something that's been encouraging to you lately in the comments as well!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around (3-31-18)

The calendar says it's time for Easter and spring, but the weather has had us a little unsure lately. (There's even a chance of snow predicted for Easter Sunday evening!) But Good Friday provided a little respite from the rain, clouds, and more rain with a beautiful day of sunshine, so I couldn't resist a praise walk and a little extra time at the lake after a morning of prayer and communion at church... Thanking God for many blessings!

Here are a few encouragements that have been speaking into my life lately-- I hope you can find some that are touching to you as well.

For reading...

The Silence of Saturday by Max Lucado-- This post is a few years old, but I come back to it every Easter weekend. Because it seems there's always a quiet waiting we wish we could skip between death and resurrection...

For listening...

So many podcasts are feeding my soul right now, it's hard to narrow them down. I'm providing links below, but if you're new to podcasts, you might want to note that you can also use the podcast app on your phone to search for the podcast name and play it directly from there instead. That makes it easy to listen while driving, going for a walk, doing chores around the house, or whatever else you might find fitting. These episodes are definitely well worth the listen:

** That Sounds Fun Podcast (Annie F. Downs) with Tauren Wells-- Oh my goodness. Even if you aren't into music or don't know who Tauren Wells is, this podcast is filled with so much great conversation about a life of walking with God, navigating transitions, seeking His will, and more. I listened to it while driving but had to go back through part of it again later so I could take notes. Here are a few highlights:
  • Faith is doing what God has asked me to do before I see why He's asking me to do it.
  • Obedience in the process is more important than the destination.
  • Trust God with the pace... Rush always leads to ruin.
  • If I trust God with the pace, then I can actually live from rest, and I can get to the reward that God has promised me, which by the way is always Jesus.
Wow, so much timely truth for me to remember. But it's even better in context, and Annie is great at making conversational-style interviews so fun even as they're packed with deep insight, so I hope you can listen to the whole thing as well.

** That Sounds Fun Podcast (Annie F. Downs) with Cory Asbury-- Ok, another one from Annie Downs, but I can't leave it out, as this conversation is amazing, too! First of all, if you haven't heard Cory's song Reckless Love, be sure to click this link to check it out as well.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found. leaves the ninety-nine.
I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it,
Still You give Yourself away.
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.
Then you can listen to his interview with Annie Downs as he shares about his heart in worship, songwriting, parenthood, and so much more. (And messages about God's timing appear to be a theme for me lately...)

** The Glorious in the Mundane Podcast (Christy Nockels): An Easter Invitation-- Christy is one of my favorite worship leaders, as her heart for worship and relationship with God shines through everything she does. So I also love her podcast, where she shares stories from her life and devotional thoughts to help us see the glorious of the kingdom of God in the midst of the mundane in our everyday lives.

Her episode this week in preparation for Easter was especially touching to me in several ways. I loved her reminder as the seasons are changing that winter, while feeling void of life, can really be like a "cocoon of hope," preserving something valuable and waiting to reveal its beauty until just the right time. And her exhortation that "spring beckons, but winter says don't forget," resonates deeply with me as well. I'm almost afraid to say it "out loud," but in the depths of my heart, I'm sensing signs of spring in certain areas of my life after what has felt like such a long winter. I am so grateful and so prayerful, but I also want to never forget the lessons and grace God has shown me in the depths of winter. I kept pausing the podcast as I listened to Christy's sweet encouragement to relate it to my own life, thank God for His kindness and faithfulness, and seek Him in the season ahead.

Christy also shares much about the picture of abiding in Christ day to day. So often it seems for those of us who have come to Christ and received His grace for salvation, we then turn and try to live for Him by our own efforts as if it's something we can accomplish in our own strength. But she exhorts from Andrew Murray in Abide in Christ, "No, wandering one. As it was with Jesus who drew you when He said, 'Come,' so it is Jesus who keeps you when He says, 'Abide.' The grace to come and the grace to abide are both from Him alone."

I want to keep that reminder close to my heart, grateful for His grace to keep me in Him.

A little something fun...

I'm on the launch team for Bob Goff's new book, Everybody Always, so I'm getting a sneak peek at the first five chapters and am definitely loving it. If you've never read his first book, Love Does, I highly recommend it-- you'll wonder if anyone can really live like he does, but you also just might be inspired to live a "secretly incredible" life yourself in some way, too. (And if you've never read my post from his conference I attended, you can check it out here.)

If you'd like to preorder Everybody Always and get some extra goodies, here's the link for that as well.

I was definitely convicted by Bob's social media post on Maundy Thursday-- "If I had just one last meal, I wouldn't spend it with a person I knew would betray me."

Wow. And Jesus washed his feet, too. I think I have a long way to go in that "everybody always" pursuit... but I'm so thankful for the love of Jesus. If He can love me, He can love you as well. Let's receive His grace and live from His love a little more every day.

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've found at least one bit of encouragement to uplift your heart today. And remember to thank God, who from the fullness of His grace keeps pouring out one blessing after another. As we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ this weekend, my heart has been pondering this verse, too:

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" -Romans 8:32 (NIV84)

His love is truly overwhelming and more than I can fathom. I'd love to hear from you in the comments how God has blessed and encouraged you recently as well!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Fullness Overflowing from All Around

I hope this weekend finds you taking in the goodness all around you, wherever you are. I'm hoping to make this a frequent type of post where I share links and encouragements I have come across or been reminded of recently, praying they can be blessings to you as well. Here are a few that have been meaningful to me this past week...

Favorite picture:

* Photo by Laura Morris

We've had a crazy weather week with lots of temperature swings (and even snow yesterday morning!), but one day splendidly got up to the 70s. A friend of mine posted this picture on social media with the caption: "We've had one warm day and our daffodils are all, 'let's do this!' 💛"

I'm with them! And I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm counting down until March 11 for Daylight Savings Time.

Blog posts:

When Cancer, Gunfire, Grief, Lent & the Unfairness of God Wreck Us [& Free Lent Devotional Calendar] by Ann Voskamp

Ann has such a way with words that can take heartache, grief, and tragedy together, somehow holding them tenderly in her hands and heart, yet simultaneously releasing them into the hands of our loving Father, knowing that He will bring beauty for ashes in His own way and time.  

She writes of the devastating school shooting this past week as well as personal stories of trauma, all screaming life is so unfair. Yet she continues with these words...
But Lent begs: 
Was Calvary fair? Was the Cross fair? Was the Crucifixion fair? 
God endured the greatest injustice in history--to justify unmerited grace for you for forever. 
Grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, by their very nature--aren't fair--but they are the fully abundant life. 
The unfairness of God--is the graciousness and forgiveness of God that actually saves us, that gives us abundant life. God being unfair--is what has actually given us life. 
Can we accept what seems very unfair in life--because we have accepted the unfairness of God that has saved our very lives? Because we accept what is His goodness--can we accept what feels like His unfairness? 
I wash my face from a morning of grief stains. But my heart won't stop leaking. Breathe. 
God isn't obsessed with creating fairness now--God is obsessed with creating closeness now--and fairness for all eternity. Seek His closeness now--trust His fairness for all eternity. 

A Letter to the Girl Who Feels Forgotten by Kaitlyn Bouchillon

Kaitlyn timed this post to be released for Valentine's Day, but its applications go well beyond relating to someone who is single (or widowed)... very encouraging for anyone waiting on God in a season filled with unknowns and heartache.

She so gently and compassionately reminds us, "The work God does within us while we wait is just as important as whatever it is we're waiting for."


The Next Right Thing Podcast, Episode 24: Look for Arrows (Not Answers) by Emily P. Freeman

I cannot recommend Emily's podcast highly enough. Each of her episodes is about 20 minutes or less in length, so it is easy to take in while still being so packed with wisdom. Her episode from this past week about looking for arrows instead of answers in a season of unknowns and transition was especially encouraging to me. The link above will get you to the podcast audio or a downloadable transcript to read, whichever you'd prefer.


Defender (written by Rita Springer)

Last weekend, I was blessed to attend a livestream of the If: Gathering event, and this worship song led by Christy Nockels completely captivated me. This link is a version by Upper Room leading in worship.

Build My Life by Housfires

I keep coming back to this song so often, and it flooded my mind and heart again this past week with a Bible study I'm doing. Our "chicks" are going through the updated No Other Gods study by Kelly Minter, and one of the lessons talked about how Sarai (Sarah) was trying to build a life through her servant Hagar. Then of course the question came to us-- through whom or what am I trying to build a life? Oh how I long for my answer to be only this, from the song's bridge:
I will build my life upon Your love,
It is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in You alone,
And I will not be shaken.

And a post from the past...

With the beginning of Lent this week, I've also been thinking about the blog post I wrote a year ago around that time, especially as author Shelly Miller posted about offering her free Lenten devotional ebook again this year as well. (You can check out her blog post here with directions at the bottom to get her free devotional.) Her post last year was one of the promptings for me to write this one:

When You Don't Want to Be in Need... (Be Blessed)

Since writing that post, I also read Shelly's book, Rhythms of Rest, this past year, and it was excellent for encouraging me to develop a Sabbath rhythm in my life. I definitely find myself coming back to many of its concepts in this season as well. If the idea of rest sounds wonderful but far-fetched to you, or if the notion is even a little intriguing, I think this book could be a great blessing for you as well.

Thanks for reading, friends! I hope you've found at least one bit of encouragement to uplift your day. And remember to thank God, who from the fullness of His grace keeps pouring out one blessing after another. Feel free to share in the comments how He has blessed and encouraged you recently as well!

Friday, January 12, 2018

A New Season and a Church Family Letter

Sharing what feels like a deeply personal "big announcement" in an age of social media can be a difficult challenge for me to navigate sometimes. So I'm sure those of you who know me won't be surprised that it's taking me a lot of words to share about what feels like the most difficult decision I've ever made. While many have known for several months, I've not mentioned anything about it online, so here goes... 

I've had the sense for quite a while that God has been leading me to step away from Fouts as far as church and ministry are concerned in the season ahead. After much prayer, seeking, and wrestling with God, I met with the elders in September to turn in my resignation, with my last Sunday set for January 21. Now that the actual day is drawing so close, the sadness and difficulty of it all are ramping up again, but I am still trusting that God is near and will keep showing the way. The calling to go has been insistent even though I have no idea where the next steps will lead. 

Fouts Christian Church and all the people there who have touched my life over the past 22+ years will always have such a special place in my heart, so I wanted to share this letter for all...
Dear Fouts family,  
I don’t even know how to start this letter that I’ve never wanted to write. It feels like it’s the only way I can begin to express my heart to all of you even though I know it will be completely inadequate. How could I possibly share how much you’ve meant to me for over 22 years and how deeply you will always be treasured?  
The first time Verlin and I came to Fouts at Louis’ invitation (our minister at the time), we never could have dreamed how dear you would become to both of us. We thought it would be just for a few weeks until some things settled down, but instead you became a home and a safe haven for us. What a precious gift for our new marriage to be lovingly embraced by people who never knew us before and only got to know us as a couple. I am certain that your love and acceptance for us greatly influenced the blessings of the wonderful 18 and a half years we were graced to be joined together as husband and wife. And all your comfort, encouragement, and support through his illness and after his passing were true lifelines for me, and I will forever be grateful. Over and over, you have shown what it means to carry one another’s burdens, and in doing so, you continually fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). I cannot begin to thank you enough, but I pray you will know my heart.  
I have loved every single way God has allowed me to serve here over the last two decades. Whether helping with the children, leading a Bible study, serving in clerical roles or in behind-the-scenes ways, I have counted it a true privilege to be involved in ministering in any way. But I have to say this most recent season has touched my heart even more deeply than I ever thought possible. Thank you for allowing me to grow into the role of leading with the worship ministry. It has so long been such a passion of my heart, even as my skills have been lacking or developing. Thank you for your patience, grace, encouragement, and hearts for worship. And a huge thank-you to the worship team for making it such a special joy… I love all of you!  
And to my junior high and Rooted students-- you have stolen my heart forever. I never knew I could love student ministry so much, too. But maybe I shouldn’t word it as loving student ministry, because truly I just love all of YOU! The ways you can laugh, have fun, goof off, and still be respectful to take in the purpose of why we’re here keep me inspired and on my toes while at the same time keeping me from taking myself too seriously, which you know I can be prone to do. And hey, some of you made it through AN ENTIRE YEAR AND A HALF of going through the whole Old Testament, so you should definitely be proud of yourselves! But I continue to pray and will write here as well (in case you haven’t heard it enough times) that you will see the story of Jesus in every book from beginning to end, and that you will know without a doubt that the God of the universe is ALWAYS making a way to be with His people. So as we take great delight in seeing you grow and mature, remember that you will always be His child, and at every moment are so dearly loved.  
So after writing all this and sharing how much I love this church and all of you and every way I’ve been graced to serve, why do I feel led to step down? The short answer is I really have no idea. Yet somehow I know it is God’s leading. (Or I guess if it’s not, He will find a way to lead me back!!)  
The long answer would include that there have been many stirrings in my spirit nudging me toward this direction for quite a long while, and though I could list several “reasons” in different directions, none of them are really adequate or actually explain the decision. I’ve thought to myself more than a few times, “It takes a whole lot of faith or a whole lot of crazy to leave when you don’t know where you’re going.” That’s pretty much how it feels right now. Or as a friend told me, maybe it’s a little of both!
Truthfully I still have more questions than answers even now. But over and over in many past seasons and now this one, I’ve kept coming back to the exhortation that when you have much you don’t know, pause to rehearse what you do. So this much I know: God is good. He will be good to me, to you, and to us. And He is faithful--oh, so faithful. He will never fail. And He will never forsake His own.  
So I look forward to what God will do even though I don’t know what it will look like. He always leads us in triumphal procession, so I will be excited to see glimpses of how He does that for you as well as for me. You will always, always be family to me. I hope you can feel that way toward me, too.  
I’ll love you forever.  
With lots of prayers and hugs in Christ, who loved us first,  
~ Ruth