The Sun Rise

“It wasn’t long after that I began to notice the beauty of where I was, and how there were things I was finding in that place that you can’t really find other places in life.”


What a difference 4 years makes! I remember exactly how I felt when I took this photo on the way to work early one morning. I stopped in the middle of a country road, a deer in the field in on the left of me breathing steam out of its nostrils staring at my car after running across the road in front of me.

It was the interruption of the deer that made me actually slow down and notice the sunrise.

The sun rises.

On our best days. On our worst days. Throughout our best seasons. Every day of our worst ones, too.

For me, this was the long season where I fell asleep many nights listening to worship music on my phone because it was the only peace I could find and I was praying God would speak to me about where I was in my life and career.

I knew the end of that hard season was getting close, but I was so focused on just getting through it that I had failed to recognize life was still happening around me and that I could find joy in where I was, even without answers to my prayers.

It wasn’t long after that I began to notice the beauty of where I was, and how there were things I was finding in that place that you can’t really find other places in life. I began to learn more and more about practicing gratitude and thankfulness, and also about counting my gains instead of my losses.

Gains instead of losses…

What I didn’t know is that there were a ton of losses in front of me that would happen the very next year. Hard losses. I lost those I thought were lifelong comrades in the same journey, and we lost part of our family who turned on us–sharply. I lost control of my health and had to later have an important organ removed. I was robbed of earned vacation days by an employer who cheated me out of it, and the same employer robbed me of leaving honorably (along with pay) despite resigning professionally and respectfully from a toxic work environment. We watched our daughter have her heart shredded while feeling helpless in trying to stop the bleeding, I spent many nights awake worrying about her well being or holding her in my lap, and so much more.

But, God…

But then, God showed up. In the night. In the day. In the middle of our pain. Showing us He would never turn on us or forsake us.

That same year of losses turned into the most amazing blessings of our lives. We kept track of them on pieces of paper in a jar, as God showed us how He could redeem anything we gave Him to care for, turning our losses into gain.

My husband launched into his business full-time that year after working endlessly for 9 years, and he did it successfully. God brought him customer after customer and it has never stopped.

Our hearts got healed of deep pain. My daughter got healed of a severe gluten allergy.

Our family of four worked out some serious dysfunctional dynamics and learned to forgive and be there for each other. We all learned to love each other better. Our marriage got stronger. Steven and I learned to be best friends and to hold each other through the pain we were experiencing watching our daughter suffer such great loss.

I got set free of being afraid of authority in business, and a people-pleaser (that one is still in process). I got launched, after incredible disappointment when a new job did not turn out the way I hoped (thank God), into the most amazing space of my career and the best pay and benefits I have ever imagined.

We finally found our church tribe, and we love them.

And, we got the most amazing son in law, who I can’t imagine our lives being without.

This photo was a sign of what was on the horizon that morning, and I wouldn’t have even noticed it without the interruption of the deer running across the road…sometimes it’s the interruptions that remind us to stay alive through the long night of hard things.

If we don’t lose heart, then like every other day we are greeted again by the way the light walks into the darkness.

Because God will always show up and lead us out of our night. Always.

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Carrier of Hope

Hope is alive inside of melittle-girl-at-beach.

A vital part in His story.

I cannot lose, what Victory’s won,

My only need–gaze at the Son.

Every challenge is my gain,

Life potential in every pain.

Nothing escapes His faithful hand,

Regardless of my enemy’s demand.

My heart at rest, confident peace,

As I wait, blessings increase.

No matter what is, or ever could be,

When Hope arises, my enemies flee.

Hope is alive, inside of me,

My life is His, eternally.

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I Will Bring Him My Myrrh – Part 4

…”the Magis’ gift giving was an ostentatious act for individuals who were not followers of God.”

I have always been a pretty healthy person. I was a high school Varsity athlete in two sports, have remained moderately active as an adult and have generally taken my health seriously. But, this year…this year has been the year of facing and overcoming health challenges that were outside of my control. It felt very personal and there was such uncertainty for me, bringing me to a whole new level of trusting God in ways I hadn’t needed to or seen a need for before.

I went into the year knowing I was goinmyrrhg to have to have a Total Thyroidectomy and that it was going to disrupt my whole life, for the rest of my life. I had no other choices available, and there was a lot of grief and loss with the whole process. No sooner had I recovered and finally got levels right with my thyroid medicine, I found myself facing a second major surgery that turned out to be greater than the first surgery.

I went from feeling in control of my health again to suddenly not, and within a few weeks I was scheduled for a partial hysterectomy that had unexpected elements to it that have me still down right now. A routine major surgery turned into the removal of a very large fibroid that was wrapped around my uterus and bladder and left an aftermath I am still healing from. Okay, enough of that. 🙂

My only point in sharing all of that is I have never considered having to surrender my body and health to God on the level I have before this year. Since myrrh is an embalming spice, a perfume, a deodorant, can be ingested with wine, used as a cosmetic, applied as a medicine to medicate pain, used by Queen Esther to beautify herself, and has numbing elements, I am sure you can also see the theme here. Every one of those uses points to the physical human body.

As you might imagine, from my mindset, when I began to read about myrrh and all that was related to it, it felt personal and relevant to my year in learning to trust God to lead me through the physical uncertainties that I walked through. What I learned about myrrh was the last piece in the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and made the depth of the Magis’ gifts very clear to me.

myrrh-treeThe gifts of the Magi—gold representing glory, frankincense reflecting worship, and myrrh representing our bodies, as the living sacrifice discussed in Romans 12, is an acknowledgement that God knows better what to do with our glory, our worship and our lives than we ever could. The truth is, we own all three things, and we can do whatever we want with them spending them any way we like. Giving all three to the Savior is ultimately the greatest act of worship a person could offer.

If you think about it, the Magis’ gift giving was an ostentatious act for individuals who were not followers of God. How bold of them to not even be known as being in the faith, and to actually be astrologists, and then to hunt down the newborn Savior and offer their greatest possessions, possibly symbolizing the things I have pointed out!!

Can you imagine how foolish they must have looked bringing gifts like these to new parents and a baby who were on the move? I wonder if gossip about this spread. I wonder what those who knew of their acts thought or said.

Were the Magi out of their minds?

Yes. Yes, they were. But, in all fairness, there must have been something that made them so sure of their actions that they just went for it. What an act of honor and abandon and willingness to give it all to Someone greater than anything they had ever found before!

So, what will I give? Am I willing to give any less than they did? Will I roll the dice and give up all my rights all over again?

I gave Jesus Christ my life once at 4 years old during a worship service at my childhood Nazarene church, again at 9 years old at our Nazarene Church camp, again in high school at a Brethren youth rally, and I have tried to live that out every day since.

Jesus Christ is worthy of nothing less than my glory, my worship and my life. So, this holiday, I will do it all over again, I will bring the same gifts as the Magi. But, this time I know even better what all that entails, knowing that He knows what to do with glory, worship and life better than I ever could.

What will you give?

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I’ll Bring Him My Frankincense – Part 3

Harvesting frankincense is risky. The trees can grow high on cliff edges, shallow roots gripping bare rock slithering with venomous snakes. Harvesters often slip and tumble down canyon walls.”–Jason Patinkin, AP Press

frankincenseThe Sunday following my return from Florida, we made it to church. I love my church, because it’s filled with a bunch of extraordinarily-ordinary people who are the most incredible worshippers I have ever encountered since attending Bible college at Christ for the Nations in the latter 80’s. I have never seen a group go after total abandonment in worship every time we meet any better than they do.

During worship that morning, I felt tired, but very spiritually alert. As we worshipped, my mind picked up where I had left off in my digging and researching about the Magi’s encounter with the Savior. Out of nowhere, a thought invaded my mind:

“What do you think Magi said to Him when they gave Him their gifts?”

I felt immediately undone by the thought, since I had never considered they would have said anything, and the next thing I knew I grabbed a Kleenex, and was chasing tears from ruining my mascara, to no avail. The question kept churning through my mind as I felt like I could easily see the Magi presenting their treasures as I kept my eyes closed and focused on staying present in the moment. Then I had the thought:

“What would I say to Him?”

I was wrecked from there. I couldn’t stop weeping as I reflected on all that was precious to me and considered what I would say looking into the eyes of the Son of God as I offered Him my gift.

Frankincense is symbolic of a number of things—worship being the one that literally stuck out to me the greatest. Having participated in leading worship in one way or another for the past 30+ years of my life, worship is a central theme to my life and how I live. Frankincense is used by priests, and it’s both expensive and fragrant, often burned as an incense offering. Incense represents the prayers of the saints in scripture and it represents devotion. Devotion is reflective of a person’s deepest longings and adoration. Frankincense is also used as symbolism of offering forgiveness and as a medicine.  frankincense-tree

What is most interesting about frankincense is how it is harvested. The process of extracting the precious resin is done so by cutting the bark to allow the resin to bleed out. A lot times worship in my life has been preceded by wounding. That wounding is what has driven me towards the Savior, in need of comfort, healing, restoration and liberation. Many times it is during the process of choosing to let go of what has hurt me, and choosing to worship instead, I am made whole.

I couldn’t believe it this morning when I stumbled across a Yahoo article that detailed this effort of harvesting frankincense. All I could think about when reading the article was how parallel the harvesting process is to actually living a life of worship, free of guile and unforgiveness, full of sincere devotion and expressive of the true cost of unabandoned worship.

Here is an excerpt below from the article, and here is the link to the full article:

Harvesting frankincense is risky. The trees can grow high on cliff edges, shallow roots gripping bare rock slithering with venomous snakes. Harvesters often slip and tumble down canyon walls.

“Every year people either break both legs or die. Those casualties are so often,” said Hassan, adding that he wished he had proper ropes and climbing gear. “It’s a very dangerous job, but we don’t have any alternative.”

There is no alternative to real worship. It is costly, rare and a gift. It is not uncommon to encounter hardship, wounding, spiritual warfare or other obstacles as we attempt to live a life of true worship in every area of our lives. It can be dangerous because it will require risk, and sometimes that risk brings things we don’t expect.

We all worship something. We all are dedicated to something even if it to be dedicated to nothing, and holding onto our right to choose. Very little deserves our complete devotion. The Magi were searching. I think they were prepared with their gifts because they knew they would know who the Savior was when they found Him. They were ready to offer their devotion.

This season, who will you worship? What will it cost you? What are you willing to abandon to do so? And, what will you say to Him as you offer your gift?

Part 4 will follow this posting.

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I’ll Bring Him My Gold – Part 2

“and when they had opened up their treasures…” Matthew 2:11

Part 1frestol-gold-plated-ganesha-idol-large_d92f5ba905f41dafa5a16704227fb42f

I couldn’t just walk away from what I had encountered that morning. I suddenly had this new curiosity for THE one story I had heard longer and more frequently than any other story throughout my life. I had heard the story so much that I had tuned out any relevance to my present life, and now I couldn’t wait to dig into the details.

As I let my thoughts roam,
so many questions flooded into my mind, especially since I had so recently come from being with someone who had just had a baby. My first question was this:

Why on earth would they bring gold, frankincense and myrrh? New parents have no use for metal and incense on an immediate and practical level. Those kind of gifts would have to be something they transported with them when they migrated back to Nazareth, and perhaps more of a burden than a blessing depending on the circumstances. And what if the news of the gifts got out and they got robbed?

Since I couldn’t even remember whether it was shepherds or wise men or who showed up, I knew I had to go to my Bible and read the story again. I was quickly reminded that there are not one, but two accounts of the birth of Jesus, one found in Matthew 2 and one in Luke 2. I learned there were both shepherds and Magi, (no wonder I was confused), and that the Magi were astrologers who were clearly prophetic and prepared for their encounter. I wondered how many times I am actually prepared to encounter the Savior.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh seem like nice kingly gifts, but what average person, let alone those into astrology at that time, just have those laying around? Why those treasures and not gemstones or perfume or goods that would help new parents? Were they the only valuables on hand?

I spent the next few days researching gold, frankincense and myrrh. I found so many cool things out about them. Every new little discovery expanded the story’s narrative in both my heart and mind, and it started to become very personal as the symbolism came alive.

The first thing the Magi did when they met the baby was to bow before Him in His presence. I thought about how the grace of God runs down from the throne, and even though the baby was in a manger, there was something in them to told them to bow. They weren’t believers or followers of God, they were stargazing astrologists, but that didn’t matter to God because He spoke to and led them with they language they knew—the stars!

Next, no matter where you look it up, gold, frankincense and myrrh is always mentioned in the same order. The phrase right before the list of them said, “and when they had opened up their treasures…” How many times have I ever “opened up” my treasures in worship before the Lord? What treasures was I withholding?

Universally, gold is the most valuable precious metal, and prized for its worth. We use it to recognize royalty, to certify the value of the dollar in the US, and it is used generally to symbolize covenant in marriage in the form of a ring. Gold is a worldwide standard and extensively guarded as such. Carrying it a long way would not be easy because of its weight.

I wonder if the Magi who offered the gold brought it in the form of an unrefined chunk, or perhaps it was an idol he had been worshipping? I wonder if it was the one thing he held onto for his ultimate financial worth, or if it was a crown he once wore? I wonder if it was the entire sum of his worth, or just part of his abundance or fortunate standing in life? Perhaps it was a trophy of some sort representing his merit or strength?

Whether it was all of the Magi’s worth, or part, which is more significant, giving out of abundance or lack? I have given what I have to God out of both dispositions at one time or another, and I think both are treasured by God. Of course, the more you have of something the less costly it is to share it. If the gift is the entirety of what’s in your possession, then it represents complete abandon to another as being more worthy to have it and also to be worshipped.

I tend to take things literally and at face value, and though I am able to see things figuratively or metaphorically, it is not my default. Researching gold, I found gold often represents glory and not necessarily riches, and since he was offering the gold to the Christ child, it was symbolic of Jesus’ infinite glory.

I mentioned in the first post that I have always thought the gifts brought to Jesus were about His kingliness, or that seems to be the general meaning I have heard conveyed. But, I think the gifts were about both Jesus and the Magis on a personal level. Their treasures were those things most important to them. We all have things we deem important, and depending on who you ask, you will get a different response as to what that is.

Why were there only 3 gifts? Is it possible the gold, frankincense and myrrh might represent the 3 most important things to us in life?

I think if the gold represented Christ’s glory, that maybe it represents our personal glory, too. I have always thought of the gold just being riches, but what if it is more about my dreams, my hopes, and my desires to make a name for myself? And in offering it as a gift, it then becomes a recognition of my submission of what glory I want for myself, to His supremacy and ultimate glory of having a family of sons and daughters that live only for the glory of the Father?

Back to the song that started this whole musing. The bridge of the song is what really grabbed me, because it captures this whole glory thing and the treasures we hold onto:

Had I riches, I would bring them
Had I kingdoms, I would lose them
Had I the world, too small a gift would it be
My love for You

Maybe the gold, frankincense and myrrh were the chosen treasures because in mining out their meaning, they capture the categories of things we give our worship to, rather than the One who was born to receive it.

What is your glory or your offering of gold this season, and are you bringing it in whole or in part? All I know is that I am challenged by what I have heard and found, and I am contemplating just how far I will go to find the Savior and offer my treasure to Him.

Read tomorrow for Part 3.



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What Can I Bring? – Part 1

“And so, we often find ourselves staring hungrily at His hand, instead of opening ours and giving whatever we find there.”

A few weeks ago I found myself feeling a little bit in “No Man’s Land” spiritually. I had just gotten back from being with my oldest daughter and son-in-law through the birth of their first child, a son, Dawson. It was a wonderful experience, but it was definitely filled with all the busyness that experience brings!gifts

Out of my normal environment for two weeks (my longest time away ever) and over the Thanksgiving holiday, I found spending time with the Lord to be a challenge and all the days felt like they had run together making me feel also a little behind for Christmas. So, on this particular morning, I was yearning to connect with Him, to focus on the celebration at hand, and to prepare for a number of things that lied ahead for me.

During my quiet time that morning, I was reaching out internally to hear, to receive, and to grab onto whatever the Lord might offer to me. Trying to settle back in to my normal routine, which has worked well for over 30 years, I got nothing.

Sometimes I will find a playlist on Spotify and listen to it in the morning while I read or wait or pray. After hearing nothing really at all that morning, I got up to get on my way to shower taking the music with me. I left it on to play as I placed my coffee mug in the kitchen sink and then gathered a few other items in the kitchen to take with me when I left for work later.

Out of nowhere I heard this warm lyrical voice over Spotify cut through the silence in my house. It stopped me as I strained to hear the words.

What can I bring to you…?” The singing voice rang through the quietness, hanging in the air as I let the confrontation of it penetrate my still mildly tired brain.

I hadn’t even thought of what I could bring that morning. I was only thinking of what I could get.

All of my thoughts were spent on trying to focus on the days ahead as I tried to get caught up at work after being gone, and as I prepared to be out for another couple weeks following a surgery that was scheduled days later. Bringing something to Him was not even on my radar. I was in need, if anything, and I felt like I had nothing but stress and anxiety to offer.

Even so, I had learned a while back that even stress and anxiety can be an offering that is sweet to God, because offerings can be whatever we are holding on to, and yet I hadn’t even done that. It’s easy to get caught in the expectation of wondering what God is going to do for us, say to us, deposit into our heart, show up in an unexpected way, etc., to show us He has heard us.

And so, we often find ourselves staring hungrily at His hand, instead of opening ours and giving whatever we find there.

But here that morning, standing in my dining room thinking about all of this, was this melodic challenge calling out to me. “What will you bring, Gail?”

The truth is, I didn’t know. Even though I didn’t know, I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt called higher to figure it out.

With Christmas time nearing, it was easy for my brain to immediately make the leap to thinking about the wise men, or Magi, and the shepherds bringing their gifts. And so standing there for a moment, I pondered:

What are Magi anyway? Or was it Shepherds who came? Heck, I am not even sure. Were they the same people? I realized maybe I needed to go searching.

When I had gotten home from Florida the day before, my husband and youngest daughter had already decorated for Christmas. I am not a very festive person, and if I were going to be really honest, I would say I am fairly “constipated” in the area of being celebrative during the holidays. :-/

But, the one thing I love is the Nativity set my sister, Robin, handmade for me years ago. The pieces are all hand painted and elegant. We usually display them on our piano, so there in my dining room, in plain sight on the piano that morning, stood the Magi and Shepherds with their gifts.

I had this epiphany that happened in that moment. What if the gifts that they brought weren’t about Jesus, and they were actually about the Magi, or the Shepherds, or whoever?

I mean, whenever I give a gift it is usually based on a perception I have about the person I am giving it to, and the gift reflects something meaningful between my heart and theirs.

Maybe the gifts from the Magi were about BOTH the King and them. And if that’s the case, maybe the story is even bigger than I thought…or ever considered. I knew there was more to what I would find. I just didn’t know how rich it would be.

Stay tuned and read tomorrow for Part 2.

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Stronger and Better

100_1787-001We have this weeping cherry tree, and it is amazingly beautiful all year round. This tree was one of the first landscaping items we bought when we moved onto our property almost 9 years ago. I love this tree for many reasons–it’s beauty, its lovely flowers, its lush greenery, and unique-looking trunk. However, there is one thing this tree represents that I especially have grown to love:

How adversity really does make us stronger and better (even though we dislike the process).

When we moved here, we had no idea how difficult it would be to get things to grow, both literally and figuratively. Our lot used to be farming property, and assumedly crop-farmed for years. While our lot appears to be flat and not difficult to mow, it is actually a virtual jungle where every weed known to the Midwest grows. In addition, the soil is vastly inhabited by every species of ant alive–picnic ants, black ants, wood ants, etc. Both issues have created multiple headaches for us.

We brought a half dozen silver maple saplings with us when we moved here July 2006. The saplings were babies from our large silver maple tree at our former lot, and we let them grow in our flower beds there until they were big enough to transplant when we moved here. Only a couple of them have survived the transplant because drought, ants, poor soil conditions and direct weather distress have killed all of the other trees. We have actually replanted several new trees in each place of the former ones that died, and they too, have had difficulty thriving. Ants have killed so many plants here, even in spite of multiple costly treatments, and we have issues with ants inside our home throughout half the year. We have had them exterminated many times.

But this weeping cherry tree…has a different story than the trees that have not survived. Purchased prior to our oldest daughter’s high school graduation, it was only a few feet high when we brought it home. After losing so many trees, I didn’t have real high hopes for it; but we bought it anyway because I really love weeping cherry trees and we had them at our other house.

Around the same time we bought the tree, my sister bought us a puppy for Alyssa’s graduation, and that summer the puppy deciding that chewing on my weeping cherry tree was a good sport to try. Thankfully, we caught her in time before the tree was completely dead, and the tree recovered.

At the time, we didn’t realize it, but we had planted that tree in a spot that sits in the center of a wind tunnel across our property. Situated between our house and my husband’s Morton barn, every bit of weather we get hits that tree, including all of the storms, wind, snow, ice and rain that come in from the west. It is brutal at times. I have seen that tree almost bent over in the early years from the force of the wind. Other times, the weather has blown all of its blooms off, at peak blossom season, leaving the tree to appear naked. I have often seen the branches of the tree at horizontal position as the wind just attacked it over and over.

There have been some really tough winters here, but none of them have killed that tree; though we have lost multiple bushes and trees elsewhere. There were also six years of drought in a row after we planted that tree. I am sure we didn’t water it as much as it needed, if much at all. Many summers those droughts made it feel like we were simply mowing sticks, and yet the darn weeds would still grow; and so did the tree, though we hardly noticed.

Until one day…I went outside on an early spring morning. Suddenly, the tree seemed so much larger than I remembered. It had buds starting to grow on it, and there were so many buds. Stopping to admire this weeping cherry, I realized that all it had endured had actually caused the trunk of the tree to grow thick and healthy. What had been a trunk I could easily fit inside my thumb and index finger was now so thick that I could not fit both hands around it. The branches were so full and hearty looking, and with the pruning we had done over the years, it had grown into a tree that was so beautiful and healthy.

I think life is a lot like what this weeping cherry tree has experienced. God plants us where it feels like we are getting chewed on or like the weather around us might be beating us up, stealing our glory, and bending us over with stress and pressure at times. Sometimes it feels like we will snap, and yet somehow we are sustained in it. All the while, we are growing stronger and we don’t even know it. Until one day when our resilience and beauty burst forth revealing a stronger and better us, and deeper roots than we ever dreamed…we never realized that would be the incredible outcome.


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