El Shaddai, Our Sanctuary

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” – Psalm 91:1-2 (NIV)

 The whir of the landing gear triggered joy. I took a full breath in through my nose, eyes pressed shut, and let the air out slowly through my mouth as if guided by a yoga instructor in cool down exercises. We touched down.

The palms waved to me as I peered out the port-hole sized window at America’s Finest City – San Diego, California. Home. Like riding a bike.

I could not wait to savor a carne asada burrito from Roberto’s taco shop and fall into conversation with my favorite friends like kids jumping into the pool in the summer heat. Magic.

Then to the beach. Take Interstate 5, across the Coronado Bay Bridge to my favorite spot on the planet – feet in the silky sand smack dab in front of the Hotel Del Coronado facing the Pacific.

Deep breath in. Out.

Sanctuary.

My rituals and my habitual visits home meet a need I cannot seem to fill elsewhere. A familiar love that fills in the cracks and patches the wounds of everyday life.

However, the refreshment I experience in the familiar rhythms of home sustain me for a short while. It is good, and it is temporary. Hence, I must return to fill my bucket once again.

As I reflect on my most recent visit back home, I am reminded of the one, true, all-sufficient sanctuary – the presence of God.

She stood at the front of the church, gaze steady on the audience of family and friends all gathered to remember the life of her mom. My dear friend shared a beautiful tribute. I flew home to stand by her as she mourned and celebrated the life of her mom – a strong, funny, sacrificial woman who touched many lives – mine included.

Her mom had been diagnosed with dementia, and there was a rapid decline just a few months ago. I can hold her, Lord, but only You keep record of her tears.

My visit, my hugs, my help for my friend – temporary. Just like the respite I find in traveling back to San Diego.

Sure and sustaining rest, hope, and refreshment is found in the everlasting arms of El Shaddai, Hebrew for almighty, all-sufficient God.  

Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life.Church said it this way in a recent sermon, “God is always ample. His presence is adequate. God is always enough. God is exactly what you need when you need him,” he said, “God is exactly what you need at this moment, in this time, at this place, by His power. El Shaddai.”

 He is our consistent, permanent, all-powerful God. Our rest. Our sanctuary.

Hope in Thee, Not in Me

“But I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.”  – Psalm 71:14

I didn’t wake up expecting God’s provision this morning. I was coughing, my ears plugged up by a cold, and my heart heavy with regret from the night before. I went to bed frazzled by an argument with one of my children. It kept me awake all night like a nightmare waiting to frighten me each time I closed my eyes.

Merriam-Webster defines hope as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.”

My deep soul desire for my children is that they grow up knowing and serving God all their days.

Last night, I wanted to clamp my hands around my child’s future and arm wrestle it to the ground by sheer force of my will. I wanted to stand in the way of the devastation I imagined as a sure outcome of decisions made. I wanted my hope to be enough.

Or was I wishing?

Hope in myself is a birthday-candle bid – full of whimsy and uncertainty.

Hope in myself is like a thirsty traveler running to an imagined oasis in the desert just to scoop up a mouthful of sand.

Hope in myself produces frustration and a gaggle of ungodly words.

Forgive me, Lord.

We all experience moments like this, when we place our hope in things or people or ourselves, when we cease to place our trust in the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.

What a great reminder. We are refreshed by Him, our Living Water, when we choose to make Him our hope. We are blessed when we put our trust in Whom it belongs.

I am believing Him for my children’s paths. He is my hope. He is my confidence.

Lord, I praise You continually for Your grace that allows me to peel my fingers once again off my kids’ futures. I am grateful that You have the whole world in Your capable, loving hands. You are good and You are God – the only hope that is true.

To Be Known

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”  – Acts 2:46

COVID strikes again. My son’s basketball game was cancelled. The one I was so excited to watch. The one I was looking forward to all week. The one I was going to get to watch – in person – with his siblings as a family. The one he was going to get to start as Point Guard and lead the team to victory…of course.

“Why, God?” I pouted.

Some kid on another team he played last week popped positive for COVID-19 and now my night is ruined. My hopes, dashed.
My source of joy, cancelled.

Or, so I thought.

“What are you doing tonight?”

Jeanette’s text interrupted my wallowing.

“Nothing.” I replied.

“You wanna come to my IF table…it’s like salve for your soul,” she said.

“What is that?” I typed back reluctantly.

“Fellowship. Candlelight, linen napkins, and good food.”

I was invited to the table.  

“We talk freely about one God topic, sometimes even how the fire isn’t lit. It’s a safe, open share of mature women who speak life and share love and griefs,” she continued.

A sacred gathering of four women from various backgrounds and ages who met once a month to dine, sip wine, and share life. Real, raw relating.

Why not.

I pushed pause on my disappointment and pulled up a chair to the table.

Since I was a guest, we enjoyed a round of introductions and the cozy conversation warmed me up from the inside out along with our fifteen-bean soup and cornbread.

We laughed and dined and shared our moments.

Family. Frustration. Fatigue.

It’s as IF God knew exactly what I needed and who I needed to be with at this moment.

Friendship.

To be known.

“What’s is God saying this year? What does He want you to focus on?” Shaye, the hostess, asked.

“For me, it is follow through. God has called me to write a book and to share what He has done in my life with others,” I said.

“What COVID taught me is that there is no more time. The time is now, and I need to be faithful to write it, share it, and live it out.”

We can hope in a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need and how to meet our needs at the right time in the most intimate way. We are His and He cares for us in simple, special ways.

For me, it was over candlelight conversation with new friends.

Thank you, Lord for the intimacy of being known. You meet our deepest needs and care for us in ways that demonstrate your devotion to us.

For more information on how to “Gather women around your table once a month, creating a space for them to feel known and providing an environment for conversation about following God and giving Him away,” check out https://www.ifgathering.com/.

Choose Joy

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”- Romans 15:13 (NKJV)

I logged into the Find Joy Virtual Retreat not knowing quite what to expect. Besides my mom and a few close friends whom I had invited to join me, I did not REALLY know the people running the show. I “met” several of the retreat speakers through various virtual courses I have taken in the last year. Online professional development pals who seemed to want to live life the way I do – on purpose.

Finding joy was an inviting idea like a glassy pool on a hot summer day. So why the tingles in my tummy?  I mean, I want more joy. Doesn’t everyone?!

Would I have to open up? Will it be worth my time? Who were they really and what was this Joy Retreat?

I pondered as I clicked through the links and settled into my cozy couch for a morning of…joy.

“Nothing will change in your life unless you take action,” the host declared, and she shared her heart to host events that connect people to the hope they need.

This virtual retreat was Laura’s maiden voyage of alignment with her calling. And it resonated with mine immediately.

The name of this blog is Hope for the Road and the mission is to point people to a strategy that endures – hope in God. Confident expectation that we are saved by grace, not works, through faith in Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer.

We can have joy because we do not have to perform for God’s love. We do not have to earn it. It is ours by faith. Amen!

As I continued to listen through the next three days to the inspired speakers who shared about how to tap into joy in trials and how I could overcome joyless moments, I knew that God was there in our midst.   

“Joy is a birthright,” Joy Evangelist, Jolynn Swafford of Beyond Brave declared.

“Keep joy at the center,” life coach Amber Kierra encouraged.

 “It is my responsibility to let joy shine,” Fit Mom Staci Stills outlined.

God drew me to the well for a drink of His living water. He reminded me that He is my source of hope and joy even when life’s circumstances are hard or overwhelming as this past year has been.

“We have the power to choose. Therefore, we have the power to change,” my friend and pastor, Mark T. Keene shared.

“Refuse to play the victim,” he implored me.

At least I felt like he was talking only to me. Like when you are at church and you are sure God’s message for the day is all yours like you are alone in the pew on a personal date with God Almighty.

“Be honest. Feel it. And choose joy,” he said.

Do I really have the power to have more joy? I do. And so do you. Believe, and it will be yours.

Hope and joy go hand in hand. Belief in God is the source, and it is independent of circumstances.

Thank you to Find Joy Virtual Retreat, my fellow comrades and faithful proclaimers of truth, joy, and hope.

Make Room for Hope

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:4

There were no open tables at the food court the day I met Irene. I joined a group of twenty-somethings hanging at the mall on a sunny San Diego afternoon, and we paused the shopping spree for a bite to eat.  

“Is this seat taken?” she blurted.

“I can’t find anywhere to sit.”

She demanded attention with her loud print shirt and her east coast accent.

“Of course,” one of the guys responded waving his hand for her to join us.

And the conversation was as lively as her blouse.

She had taken the bus to the mall to get out from her small apartment, she had two sons who did not spend much time with her, and she was lonely. We obliged her, and she stayed so long visiting over lunch that she missed her bus back. We squeezed her into our Honda hatchback, along with the four of us, and gave her a lift back home.

A divine appointment. A flicker of hope. A moment of purpose with many to follow.

Irene’s hair was bright white like the light she saw at the end of the tunnel in her near-death experience. She did not take kindly to pastor’s preaching the week I invited her to church.

“God is not a white light at the end of a dark tunnel,” he stated as a matter of fact.

She whipped her head around and I could feel the laser beam stare melting my cheek like wax. Disdain dripped from her countenance.

“You told him my secret!” she yelled at me after the service, shaking her fists in the air.

“God knows all our secrets,” I replied with a smirk.

It took the entire forty-minute drive back to her apartment to calm her down and to explain that it was Jesus showing up in her world, inviting her to get to know him.

And she invited me to get to know her. I visited her often and we swapped stories about life, love, and writing. She was a poet.

I imagined her on stage at open mic night with her attitude, her doctrine, and her colorful shirt on full display like a soap box preacher. Animated. Intentional. Flamboyant.

 She knew the power of words, and it became a force between us.

We had in depth conversations about Jesus, and though she was Jewish and did not understand him to be the Messiah, the Word was there with us.  

Knowing Irene was a treasure to me. And when I spoke at her memorial service, I shared the power of poetry to honor her and I shared the Word of hope to honor Him.

May we notice and respond to the subtle, and flamboyant, invitations to share the hope of Jesus.

Make room at your table.

Hope Actually

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1 (New King James Version)

The theme for this year has got to be Go Virtual. It is how the world has continued to turn in the midst of a global pandemic. Telecommuting used to be hard to negotiate with most employers, and now, it is encouraged. Face-to-face was the preferred method for meetings of the mind. Today it is through your online platform of choice or by video chat on a cell phone. School is my kids’ bedrooms, and their jammies are their uniforms.

Groceries are delivered direct to my trunk and packages arrive on my doorstep without a need to sign or interact. Touch free hand sanitizer stations, soap dispensers, faucets, and light switches.

We were created for connection, and life virtually leaves many of us feeling sad, empty, lonely, and hopeless.

I miss hugs. I miss seeing my family and friends. I miss watching my son hit a three-pointer. I miss having to apologize because I absent-mindedly wasn’t looking where I was going and I wandered in front of someone in a store. I miss meetings…I really do.

There is so much lost in the virtual when we were created to live in the actual.

Yet, there is so much gained when we realize that there is purpose in every season.

Ecclesiastes 3 lists over a dozen seasons in life. We shouldn’t be surprised that God even outlined the one we are in now in verse 5; there is “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”

I identify with King Solomon when I read Ecclesiastes. I can imagine him ranting as he verbally processes his way through the vanity of life apart from God. He figured it out. There is a season and a reason for every purpose under heaven.

Though life may continue to run virtually, let us turn our attention to the meaning of this season.

Christmas is a season of hope, light, love, and wonder. Let’s adjust our attitudes and fix our focus on the One who came into the world to save us. And isn’t that what the world needs now, a Savior.  

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and to earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  – Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV)

We may have to hug virtually, but we can hope actually.

Confident Expectation

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

My phone buzzed in my pocket like a toddler tugging at my pant leg for attention. A text message. I was in the middle of folding towels and encouraging my son to finish up his video game time, so I let it go.

“Mom, five more minutes. Please,” he pleaded.

And simultaneously, the reminder notification that a text message was waiting startled me. Buzzzzzzz.

“Ok, but then you need to wrap it up and brush your teeth for bed,” I called out.

The five-minute trick gets me every time, and I needed the five minutes to get the towels put away, so I was okay with it. I hurried up the stairs to the linen closet.

Buzzzzzz.

“Need some prayer…” she said.

I stopped the scurry and poured over the pool of words.

“Nathan wants to switch schools,” she said. “He and his dad are on a trip and he says he likes it there and wants to stay. I’m here and I don’t want to be away from him, but maybe this is just the fresh start he needs after all the girlfriend drama from last year. We’ve talked about moving there. I don’t know what to do.”

I felt it. Like a tug-of-war. Two sides. Pulling. Two perspectives. Wrestling.

“Trying to find God’s hand in this is challenging,” she said.

I feel that. We all do.

We are living in uncertain times. We are facing unprecedented circumstances.

There’s a global pandemic virus, civil unrest, and outbursts of violence. We cannot move about, shop for essentials, complete everyday transactions, get medical attention, spend time with others, or send our kids to school in the manner we are used to. We are out of sorts. Emotions and routines are out of whack. The struggle is real.

And, we can hope. Not because we always know the right decision to make or because our cultural norms are intact. We can hope, or have confident expectation, during our struggles because God’s love for us is sure.

We can confidently expect Him to carry us, comfort us, and care for us in every circumstance. He is love.

He is our Rock. He is our Guide. He is our Peace.

May we reflect this hope to others when they need it most.

 “I will of course pray. Do you need to talk?” I texted back.

“If you have time,” she replied.

“Son,” I shouted from the top of the stairs, “I need five more minutes. I’ve gotta make a call.”

Dear Lord, thank you that you are a God of hope. Even though we face challenges and uncertainty, we can rely on You. Your love is sure. Please fill us with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And help us share that hope with others when they need to be reminded. 

I Can

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

I rolled the extra basketball across the court to rest in the grass while Sam warmed up. A light breeze cut through the noon heat and it was game on. Time for my ninth grader to get in shape for high school ball. His focus was on his shot. Mine, his mindset.

“You’ve got this,” I called from my rebound position under the basket.

He missed.

“The rim is too big,” he shouted, then dropped and shook his head.

“Do it again,” I encouraged, “remember, you’re comin’ back from three months off.”

Shot. Miss.

“Ugh! My shot is off,” he said.

Shot. Miss. Make. Miss. Miss.

“I’m trash,” he yelled.

“Son, it’s important to start with a confident, positive mindset,” I reminded.

He scoffed at my coaching.

“It’s about skill, mom. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I got my steps in running back and forth after the ball. He got his words in beating himself up for his lack of perfection.

I cranked the pump-up music and passed him the ball again. As he set up his shot, a little blond boy with a huge grin toddled toward our end of the court. He was drawn in by the magic of the moment. A ball bouncing.

Sam paused. Loud sigh.

“Do you wanna play?” I asked the boy.

I sprinted to the grass to retrieve the second ball and made a gentle pass to him.

His eyes lit up and he danced with every bounce. He lost himself in the beauty. Mindset.

Then like slamming on the brakes and screeching to avoid an accident, the sound of the little boy’s father broke through the sweetness.

“Get over here,” he growled with exaggerated finger pointing to where he stood.

“You’re not strong enough for that sport.”

Is this how it starts? Someone speaks “you can’t” into our lives and we believe it.

 The boy dropped the ball and trudged away.

Sam was my little boy. I had a job to do.

“Let’s go, you can do this!” I shouted.

“Once a shooter, always a shooter,” Sam said. Swish.

“That’s right!” I chimed. “Good one!”

Sam seemed to breakthrough. He kept pushing. He kept shooting. He kept going.

“Again!” I cheered.

Make.

“This is my shot,” he said as he sent another from the wing.

Make.

“I wanna sink three from the line,” he said, and he set up to shoot free-throws.

He was on a roll. As he set his words on “I can”, he found the flow.

Hope flows this way too. It flows from the idea that I CAN – with Christ. When I set my mind on what God says and on who He is and on how He works – I CAN.

Good Shepherd

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“I’m never gonna ride a motorcycle,” my son, Sam, declared.

“I’m glad,” I replied softly, mustering a smile.

“Please Lord, let it be true,” I said in silent prayer as I hugged Sam across the Emergency Room bed.

“You’re going to be okay, baby,” I reassured, wiping tears from his cheek, “God was watching out for you.”

He nodded.

 Sam had texted me a few hours before asking if he could stay another day at his best friend, Logan’s house. It wasn’t unusual for Sam to spend more than one day with his second family. He loved the rough and tumble of the crew, Logan, his brothers and sister, and usually several cousins. They had been a source of kindness, comfort, and adventure to Sam since we moved to Colorado eight years ago when I was a single mom.

Summer camp. Winter camp. Awanas Club. Flag football. Before school. After school.

Forever friends.

I agreed and carried on with errands.

When the call came from Logan’s mom, I didn’t answer right away. I was wrapping up another call and I assumed it was simply to confirm that she was okay with Sam staying over another night.

She called again.

And again.

“Sam crashed and I think he needs stitches,” she said, frantic, “I’m so sorry this happened.”

A reality-TV cop show crash scene flashed in my mind. Why hadn’t I done something to stop Sam from riding motorbikes?!

Mom guilt heavy.

“I was just headed up that way to get an emissions test near Castle Rock Adventist, so I will meet you there,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, it will be okay,” I said.

Would it be?

Hot tears. I prayed and pressed down hard on the gas pedal.

When I dropped him off the day before, he and the gang jumped on mini Razor motorbikes. I insisted on a helmet. And Sam insisted I let him grow up a little and have fun with his friends.

This ride, he forgot the helmet.

“I had my ball cap on, mom, so I felt something on my head, and I wasn’t thinking. I thought I had the helmet,” he explained.

Isn’t that how it is for us too? We think we’ve got it all together. We walk out into the adventure of the day and, at times, we aren’t prepared.

And God, our Good Shepherd, protects us, guides us, nudges us.  

I can’t say I expected to find hope in this situation. It was scary. It was unexpected. It was out of my control.  

And I realize, God showed up.   

“All he wanted was his mom,” she told me.

And all we needed was our Heavenly Father. Our Shepherd. The One who is always with us.

Eight stitches in his knee and no broken bones. Lessons learned. Thank you, Lord.

Hold On

“Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word].” – Hebrews 10:23 AMP

I had to get out the door before the heat. Rolled my COVID-19-pounds-heavier body from the sheets and I dressed myself for fitness. It’s what we do when we are feeling fat, but don’t want to look like it walking the streets of our neighborhoods. Periwinkle wavy lines accented my “yoga” pants and I topped it with a solid matching pull over, that covered my butt of course. No one wants to see that right now.

Phone in one thigh pocket, water bottle in the other, I strategized my escape. I had to make it past school-for-three at the dining room table and my husband-saint teacher who manages the lazy learners.

The coast looked clear from the top floor landing. If I could make it to the garage door without a “Are you working today?” or a “Where are you going?” it would be heavenly, like the decadent, red velvet cupcake I’m gonna eat when I get back from getting my steps in.

“Morning, Honey,” I said as I skipped down the steps and grabbed my sunglasses from the counter.

“I’m gonna get a walk in before it gets too hot,” I chimed.

“Ok, have a nice walk,” he said.

Phew. Made it. A moment to myself.

Podcast. Peace. Perspective.

I don’t know about you, but when I am on a walk, I breathe it all in and I can let it all go. I usually put on a sermon or some worship music to sweep away my thoughts. I lean into the message and let down my guard.

Uncertainty. Uncontrollable. Unlovely.

Our world, our society, our homes have been ravaged. And I am not talking about the culprit on the surface – Corona Virus. The enemy is prowling around in the midst of the topsy turvy using tools like fear, division, abuse, despair, and anger to drive us away from our source of hope and peace. And to drive wedges in between our relationships.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “seize” and “hold tightly” to our confession of hope. As I remind myself of the principle of letting go of what is out of my control and learning to hold onto and act on what is in my control, I thought I would invite you to do the same.

Today, the details and circumstances of our lives and our culture have been impacted by a wave of uncertainty. This is outside my control. What can I control? My response.

I have a faithful, reliable Heavenly Father who knows what I am experiencing and who is trustworthy. When I am swallowed up by the fury of blended family or lost in the loneliness of quarantine, He is with me and He promises to care for me.

Let us cling to the One source of hope that is trustworthy.

If you forget, throw on your jazzy jogging suit and a worship playlist. God walks with us.