Category Archives: surrender

The Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 2017

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Those are the words chiseled into the marble sarcophagus that holds the body of an unidentified military veteran from WWI. In addition, two other unidentified soldiers from WWII and the Korean War are memorialized at the same site in separate crypts. A fourth, previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War (later identified through DNA testing at Michael Blassie) rested there until 1998 when his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24/7-365 by a select group of soldiers known as Tomb Guard sentinels, an elite group of soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard.” The soldiers rotate throughout the day, ceremoniously and meticulously marking their steps, following a prescribed protocol of duty. It’s fascinating, sobering and sacred, to sit as a ringside witness to such tribute and honor. For these soldiers, their service isn’t played out on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.  Instead they surrender their duty, give their time and their best, on the battlefield known as Arlington National Cemetery, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – an American soldier known but to God.

And tonight, in the quieting moments after a week that has forced my faith to new heights and my knees to deeper prayer, I am thinking about those unknown soldiers, their stories and the secrets they keep encased within those crypts. Most tenderly, I’m thinking about the soldiers who, for the past eighty years, have given up their days and their nights for the sole purpose of guarding and protecting this mystery.

Sometime in the distant past, on a landscape not my own, three soldiers died on different battlefields while defending the rights of liberty. And while their identities currently remain a mystery, their earthly remains are heavily defended by The Old Guard.

As it is with the Tomb of the Unknowns, so it is with my life. So it is with yours.

a sentinel from The Old Guard – Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017

There are many mysteries, countless unknowns attached to our stories. The previously written chapters of our lives are safely scripted and bound within the annals that bear our names. But there are other pages, other secrets, chapters to come, and chapters writing themselves in this very moment, that are unidentified to us. And this can be scary at times because we have very little control over the unknowns; instead, we can only bear witness to them as they arrive and pray for God’s grace to hold them as our own. And when we’re shaken by newly discovered realities – when the unknown is finally identified and brings us fear rather than peace – as Christians, we have a deeper reality that we can cling to, a known truth that will cover our hearts and our minds like a warm blanket on a bitter winter’s night…

The Old Guard is standing near.

Marking his paces. Guarding his own. Rain or shine. 24/7-365. Back and forth before the crypts that carry the fullness of our lives – the mysteries, things known to us, and things known but to him. For this Soldier, his service is no longer played out on the battlefield known as Calvary; instead, he surrenders his duty, his time and his best, on the battlefield known as our lives, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – a soldier’s story, our stories, known but to Him.

See him there, friends. Oh how carefully Jesus Christ is guarding your tomb. Your surrender is precious to him, and in his great love for you, he has promised you his protection. What you cannot see, what you cannot know, is already seen and known to him. Your unfolding mysteries are not a mystery to him. He knows your story. He knows what’s at stake. He’s laid down his life for yours, and you can be sure that he’s not going to let the enemy rob your surrender of one single glory.

The gates of hell may rattle and shake its cage against you today, threatening your capture. But take heart. The Old Guard is standing near, and the gates of hell are no match for the protective, loving reach of this Sentinel. He has given his life and his pledge to bring you safely home. He will keep his word. It is his highest honor to do so 

So rest in honored glory today, Christian soldier. You and your unknowns are known to God. He can be trusted with the rest of your story. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Psalm 91 has been a balm to my soul in this season. You may read it by clicking here.

Spring Fever

 

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” -John 12:6

Spring fever has hit these parts. I don’t know about where you live, but for those of us living in eastern NC, spring arrived early, somewhere along January. Warm weather has been our companion throughout the winter, and it’s been a seasonal nightmare for the wildlife as well as the flora. The Canada geese arrived early (although I’m not sure they ever really left) and the finches, bluebirds, cardinals, and robins have been dining dutifully and daily at my bird-feeder. The poor azalea bushes bloomed a few weeks ago, only to be prematurely side-swiped by a drop in temperature, leaving them limp and colorless (as if they needed any less time to be lovely). The dogwoods are blooming, the pollen is thick, and the playgrounds are filled with students who’ve been celebrating the arrival of spring … well, since January.

It’s been a long, not-so-much winter around here. Which brings me (albeit slowly) to a spring scene, a spring thought I’d like to share with you. It’s been gnawing on my brain and in my heart since I witnessed it a few days ago while out on my afternoon walk. As afternoon walks go, mine are fairly routine. The 1.5 mile loop around my neighborhood is filled with established yards, driveways and basketball hoops, mailboxes, pine trees, and a few ponds tucked in and around for aesthetic purposes. And where there are ponds, folks, there are fishermen, all of them currently eager to see the catch that has emerged after our long, not-so-much winter.

One of them parked his car precariously close to the water this past week. I didn’t recognize it, nor did I recognize him. He was in his early twenties, and his uniform indicated his vocation as a Pepsi employee. Instead of holding a fishing pole in his hand and patiently waiting for a bite, he was scanning the pond, running back and forth along the water’s edge in sporadic, frantic fashion. Realizing that spring fever can do strange things to a person (remember, I am a fourth grade teacher), I gave him a wide berth before initiating a conversation.

“Did you lose something, Sir? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no Ma’am. I just like to come out here after work and watch the fish swimming. There sure are some big ones in here this spring … bass. Have you seen ‘em? Seeing ‘em just makes me so happy.”

“Well, I sure hope you catch some today. Enjoy.”

“Oh, I’m not catching today. I’m just taking a look.”

True to his word, within moments he got in his car and left … a happy man. It didn’t seem to matter to him that his catch would be delayed. Instead, just seeing the fish, just knowing the fish were there, was enough to fuel his passion for a catch yet-to-be.

Spring fever indeed, and I am both thunderstruck and elated by his pure and unadulterated joy.

When was the last time you saw a fisherman running up and down the riverbank getting excited about the potential catch of fish rather than the actual catching therein, about sensing the possibility before it actually happens? It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy about a catch yet-to-be. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve scanned the riverbank for any signs of fish.

Spring may have come early to eastern NC, but spring has yet to arrive in my heart. Instead, I’ve been stuck in my long, not-so-much winter. Rather than looking for fish … anticipating fish … I’ve been content to look elsewhere, to keep a downward gaze instead of casting my eyes forward to the horizon of possibility. In doing so, I’ve missed out on something significant. I’ve missed the joy that comes from running alongside the Fisherman and seeing what he sees—a school of prospects swimming close to the riverbank and hovering even closer to the surface.

I’ve missed the opportunity to do a little early, spring fishing with the Master Fisherman.

And that, friends, has been gnawing terribly on my heart and in my spirit. It’s left a hole of sorts, a spring-shaped one that can only be filled with the letting go of winter. So, instead of lingering in what might have been, I’m going to do a little scouting with Jesus this week, take some time to walk the riverbank with him and to see, instead, what’s yet-to-be. Unlike the Pepsi man, I’ll bring my reel and rod. If the fish are biting, I don’t want to wait another moment to snatch them up and bring them home.

There’s a holy catch readying itself to be caught, maybe even a big bass. Keep your nets in hand, friends. Keep fishing next to Jesus. I’ll meet you at the pond. As always…

Peace for the journey,

stretched, wrecked, and waiting …

 

It’s the heart stuff that concerns me most … both theirs and mine.

Growing pains.

A soul stretch.

A sacred wrecking … reckoning.

We’re in this together, and (at this point in the journey) we’re standing at a crossroads. Either we’re going deeper into this holy cleansing or we’re going to settle for a duct tape finish—a patching and pasting to hold us together for a good enough ending that will send us on our separate ways at the end of May … unaffected and unchanged … hearts hardened by the process instead of hearts beautifully shaped because of it.

I know what I want, but I cannot make that choice for them. They will have to decide if our temporary union is worth it … worth the pain, the stretching, the wrecking, and the reckoning.

And there’s the rub.

Nine weeks in, and we’re standing at a crossroads. I can feel it in my spirit, and I suppose that’s why I’ve spent the last hour gathering my tears into my lap. I think a couple of my students have already made up their minds about “us” – choosing less instead of best.

So I beat my heart up a little tonight, wondering how I can change their minds … how I can persuade them to stay with me on the path a while longer until the stretching and the wrecking reckons into beauty—a touchable, tangible splendor that affirms and validates the hard work of relationship.

Isn’t that what we all need? Want? Affirmation that our hearts are growing rather than shrinking? Don’t we want to get past duct tape and good enough so that we might take hold of healing and holiness?

To be fair, when I was their age, I didn’t know I wanted to be holy. I suppose I spent the first three decades of my life settling for duct tape finishes. But then God offered me something better, something lasting—a relationship that went beyond holding me together to a relationship that grew me up on the inside … that made me a better me … that changed my way of thinking and my way of doing. And this was and is the beautiful splendor that speaks strength to my soul each day. It keeps me coming to the table of grace and offering my fifteen students a choice for a similar portion.

If only they could understand what’s at stake—what’s to be loss and all that’s to be gained from their being genuinely loved by this grace-veteran who boasts enough battle scars to give me some street-cred. If only they would take my word on it … that we’re worth it and that, by the end of May, we’re going to be better versions of ourselves because of the time we’ve given to one another.

But they might not see things my way. They may choose a lesser path.

And so, on this night when I have more questions than answers, less control rather than more, I will allow my tears to soften the hardness that’s creeping in to my heart, and I will pray for my fifteen and their deliberations as they stand with me at this crossroads. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll lean in a little closer to the wrecking that’s taking place near our hearts, and I’ll offer them the choice to join me on the holiness road.

God will be with us, and he will be faithful to complete in us that which we cannot yet see in us.

A glorious reckoning. A splendor of his making.

This I believe in.

This I will fight for.

All the way through ‘til May.

PS: Sarah is the winner of Laura’s book, Playdates with God. Congrats! It will be coming to you via Amazon.

on following dad . . .

Through the front windshield, I could see that they were talking – daddy telling a story to my thirteen-year-old son, sharing a ride together in that ’93 Chevy truck that’s been in the family for over two decades. I followed closely behind, staying in the lanes where he stayed and making the turns when he turned. He was leading me down an unfamiliar path, but I didn’t mind. I trust my daddy, and I knew that at the end of our ten-mile trek, we would arrive at our intended destination—my son’s apartment.

On our agenda? Moving my eldest child out of his current apartment into my parents’ home, where he will temporarily reside until he takes the hand of his bride in July. My husband did his due diligence last weekend in moving our second-born son out of the same apartment into his new living quarters. Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks for both of us.

Moves do that. They deplete us of our reserves. There are multiple, moving parts to every relocation. Whenever we rearrange our living situation, we can expect some rearrangement in a few other areas of our lives.

The heart.

The mind.

The soul.

A physical move is so much more than a change of address. A physical move shapes our interiors as well. Maybe not so much in a way that others notice but certainly at a level where we feel the shift within.

I’ve moved a lot over the years, lived in five states and changed my address at least twenty times. Moving is a tenet, perhaps, of the journey I’ve chosen, albeit not always an easy acceptance within. I’ve wrestled with a few changes of address and heartily welcomed some others. All twenty of them have shaped me, left their mark on me, and added their witness to my story.

By faith, I’m still standing. By faith, I’m still willing … to move as God directs, whether a move involving myself or in helping my children with their own moves. Why? Because there is something built in that place of relocation, a brick-upon-brick, cementing together of my interior because of my unyielding belief that God is up to something. That faith is stretched and strengthened with each move. That with every box packed in an old place and unpacked in a new location, a soul is asked to go deeper with God.

And really, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of soul-matters, shouldn’t we all want to go deeper with God?

I want to go deeper with God, even when it’s hard. And so, I followed my daddy’s pick-up truck this weekend and helped my son with his relocation. In doing so, I allowed my soul to move to that place of surrender … again. To saying “yes” to the change that is coming. I cannot stop the packing on this one. I can only unpack my heart before the Father and allow him to keep building up these surrenders into a strong tower of personal faith.

How grateful I am for a windshield that allows me to look through and beyond my front bumper and to see my daddy in front of me, leading the way to our intended destination. He has taught me so very much about embracing new chapters in the journey and about putting a foot to the pedal of faith, even when it’s hard. No doubt, his ability to press forward has better enabled me to do the same.

For as long as time allows (and as long as the engine holds out), I’ll keep following closely behind my daddy, with or without his Chevy tail-lights to guide me. I trust him, and the guiding Light that has guided him for seventy-six years will lead us both safely to our final destination where we will unpack our belongings for the last time and where we will share the same address for all of eternity.

Lead on, daddy. I’m right behind you.

Happy Father’s Day.

Begin

“The Lord said to me, ‘See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.’” –Deuteronomy 2:31

Now begin, so says the Lord.

But I don’t know how. Not tonight. Perhaps these words are a place to start. Let me explain.

These are real tears falling down onto my computer keyboard tonight, real pain welling up inside of me. If I’m being honest, really digging deep to understand this potency that’s picking away at my heart, at the root of it all is my sense of failure. I could list a dozen “if onlys”, spend a lot of time digging around for a place to put the blame, but the torment that keeps hammering cruelly into my mind is this one:

If only I was a better writer I wouldn’t be in this mess. I would have been signed by a reputable agent/publishing house, thereby saving me this incredible heartache.

It’s been a few weeks now since I learned about my publishing company’s “going out of business.” That’s a bit too tidy for what has really happened. I’ll spare you the details. Safe to say, there’s nothing pretty about it, nothing remotely above board in this unfolding of events. Thousands of authors are now caught in the wake of this betrayal. It’s only now in these moments of surrendered grief that I’m able to put a few words to this loss.

If I’m not careful, I’ll nurse this pain far longer than it deserves, and so I step gently into these words this evening because I desperately want them to mean more than simply as a way of securing your sympathy. A good dose of sympathy is required on occasion, but sympathy never really moves us past our pain, does it? Accordingly, that’s not what I’m after. What I am after is a way to begin again, and writing (for me) has always been that place of renewal.

Honestly, beginning again feels impossible, and yet this is the choice before me. It is a choice … to begin again. I can choose to stay clothed in these ashes, or I can choose to walk them forward, to wake up tomorrow with the smell of fire on my skin and know that what has been burned in me is not final. Painful? Yes. Formative? Yes. But not final.

My writing days are not over. Man cannot take from me what God has placed inside of me. The corruptions in this world are no match for the Creator of this world. God’s world was built with words. “Let there be … “ and then there was. So there still is. All created things, whether books or recipes or sewing (whatever your artistic bent) begin with words. Maybe not with audible ones, but even a thought has its origin in words.

And so, I shall not fear them not coming around for me anymore. Words will find me wherever I go. Perhaps some of them will make it to print; perhaps some more aptly suited for prayer. Regardless of their entrance into and exit from my world, words will always be my friends. I cannot imagine my life without them.

Now begin, so says the Lord.

And now I have, in this safe place. With words, with God, and with renewed expectation for the lines yet to be written on the blank pages of my tomorrows. He who has begun this good work in me … in all of us … will bring it to completion. Of this I am certain.

Rest easy in the arms of Jesus, friends, kept in perfect peace all the night through. The best is yet to be.

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