Author: Shelley

Our Story

Our Story

I guess you could say it all started with a photo.

The location was Estes Park, CO, at a campus ministry retreat called “Rocky Mountain Getaway.” I was beginning my first full year of ministry at CU in Boulder. Chris was a second-year law student, who had recently become a Christian. We didn’t know each other. But when I snapped a random picture of a group of our students, I unintentionally focused on Chris, centering him in the photo.

Unbeknownst to me, I had just taken a picture of my future husband.

Fast forward five years. Chris was now an attorney at a local law firm, and an active volunteer in the campus ministry where I still served on the staff. We had each dated other people during that time period, but were acquainted with each other. That fall, I accepted his invitation to go out on a double dinner date. I wasn’t really interested in being more than friends, so after the date, I gave him the (nice Christian) cold shoulder. He got the hint.

Fast forward one year. I had just returned from a somewhat stressful summer in the former Soviet Union. At an August wedding reception, a guy I had previously liked asked me: “How was the ministry?” I felt pressure to impress. Then Chris approached, asking a slightly different question: “How are you?” I felt something in me shift. He cared about me, my heart, not just my ministry performance.

I guess you could say he had me at: “How are you?”

I waited two agonizing months before he finally asked me out again. After being “friend-zoned” the previous year, I really couldn’t blame him for being hesitant. Our (second) first date was to a campus-wide 50’s party. Chris had two left feet, but one reassuring smile.

In a journal entry around that time, I expressed my core desires for a future relationship. I wrote: “I just want to be pursued.” Along with: “I just want to feel secure.”

On our (first) second date, Chris surprised me when he said two things that I knew were more than mere coincidence. First: “In case you can’t tell, I’m pursuing you.” Followed by: “I just want you to feel secure.”

One of my fellow staff members suggested Chris had been peeking at my journal. I sensed it was the Holy Spirit’s doing.

Despite the obvious God-incidences, I still had some doubts. I told my roommate one night that I thought Chris was “too nice.” She laughed so hard she nearly fell off her bed.

The real turning point came over Thanksgiving weekend. Chris and I were invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a staff couple’s house. I volunteered to make an apple pie, and was elbow-deep in flour when I realized I didn’t own a rolling pin. Chris came to the rescue, picking one up at the grocery store and delivering it just in time. I still use that rolling pin.

That weekend, he also invited me to my first Denver Broncos game. I wasn’t dressed for the chilly November evening, and was soon shivering in my light sweater, stirrup pants, and Ked’s. Chris gallantly put his arm around me during the game to keep me warm, and then held my gloved hand for the first time as we made our way from Mile High stadium back to his car.

I could feel my heart warming, too.

When we were apart for a week and a half over the Christmas break, he called me every day but one. He made me feel secure–and pursued. I joked with my friends that “Merry Christmas” sounded a lot like “Marry Chris Smith!”

That’s not to say I never panicked. One January evening, I was considering breaking things off with him, although I can’t remember why. I went over to his apartment that night to “talk.” As we sat on the couch, Chris’ two cats rubbed up against him, purring as he petted them. Watching his gentleness with them and their affection for him, my heart melted. The break-up was averted. We still call this: “How the cats saved our relationship.”

On Valentine’s Day, he gave me a vase which held three red roses: one for the past, one for the present, and one for the future. I made him a heart-shaped chocolate cake and a handmade card which began, “You are my Boaz.”* It felt gutty to say that, but I had a growing conviction that he was “The One.”

A month later, we sat side-by-side in a wooden pew at the church where he had accepted Jesus as his Savior, six and a half years earlier. (Flashback to the year I took that “random” photo.) He handed me a hand-written letter. This was the place where he had made “the most important decision of my life,” the letter read. He also wanted this to be the place where he made “the second most important decision of my life.”

There was no string quartet playing our favorite song. No trail of rose petals leading to a hidden ring box. Just another simple question, sweet, and from the heart. He knelt in the cramped space between the church pews and asked, “Will you marry me?”

I answered, “Yeah.” We still laugh about that, too.

Fast forward five and a half months. On an unusually humid Boulder afternoon, Chris and I stood at the front of a rustic country church, surrounded by family and friends, and exchanged wedding vows. We sang a hymn, and I smiled at the lyric: “Hast thou not seen how all thy longings have been granted in what He ordaineth?”**

I had seen. God had fulfilled my deepest desires. I was pursued. I was secure.

The same way Jesus loves His bride.

That’s our story. I love it, not just because it’s ours, but because God was the Author of it.

He writes the best love stories.

*From the Old Testament book of Ruth, which tells the sweet love story of a widowed Ruth and her future husband, Boaz.

**Lyrics are from “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” by Joachim Neander.

Close Encounters of the God Kind

Close Encounters of the God Kind

I didn’t plan to have an encounter with God the other night.

As if one could plan that kind of thing anyway. I doubt Moses’ To-do list on The Day of the Burning Bush read:

  1. Tend sheep.
  2. Encounter God.

God-encounters can’t be predicted. Neither can they be denied.

Wyoming thunderstorms are also difficult to predict. This one rolled through town unannounced, accompanied by torrential rain and quarter-size hail. My husband Chris and I scrambled to cover our flowers before the worst of the hail hit, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. Then we safely enjoyed the rest of the show through rain-streaked windows. (Except for the dog, who hid shamelessly in the basement.)

The storm eventually passed, as storms eventually do. I decided there was still time to squeeze in my daily walk, despite the unexpected weather delay. So I laced up my tennies, donned a warmer shirt, and headed down our hail-lined gravel driveway. My eyes focused only on my feet, as I tried to avoid stepping in muddy rivulets or slipping on icy marbles. After successfully navigating a path to the paved street below, I planned to turn right, but felt prompted to look left.

Above me hung the most amazing cloud formation I have ever seen! A massive macaron, suspended in the eastern sky, spotlighted by beams of setting sun. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The glory of God perched right at the end of my driveway.

I stood there in stunned silence. Chin raised, jaw dropped. I suddenly felt very small. Yet, at the same time, blessed to behold such magnificence.

What does one do in the presence of Glory? Shake off one’s shoes, like Moses? Fall on one’s face, like Isaiah?

I pulled out my iPhone.

Not very spiritual, I know, but very “on brand” for me. I always keep my camera close, ready to capture the moment. But my amateur panoramic shot just couldn’t do this momentous moment justice.

I lingered beneath that cloud, feeling almost as if I was peering through a portal into Heaven itself. If a flash mob of angels had appeared and broken out into the Hallelujah Chorus, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. All too soon, however, the brilliance dimmed, and the enormous cloud disappeared into the twilight. I turned westward, resuming my walk and pondering what I had just experienced.

Back home, I eagerly showed the photo to my hubby. He thought it looked more like an alien invasion than an angelic visitation. (Apparently, aliens like to hide their spaceships in these types of clouds. Apparently, Chris likes to read too many sci-fi novels.) We’re still here. So I’ll assume he was mistaken, at least about this particular cloud.

As for me, I’m still processing my Close Encounter of the God Kind. Glimpses of glory require reflection. (Alien invasions probably do too.)

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • God is more majestic than we can ever imagine. The Bible says that He “…(lays) the beams of His palace on the waters above, making the clouds His chariot, walking on the wings of the wind.” (Psalms 104:3, HCSB) If creation is so awe-inspiring, then how much more its Creator?
  • God reveals His glory in the world around us and the skies above us. The Night of the Incredible Cloud, this verse was on repeat in my mind: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1, NIV) Evidence of His existence abounds. His glory is everywhere, on display.
  • All we have to do is look up. I was so fixated on my feet that evening that I almost missed the majesty. I walked the entire length of my driveway unaware that Heaven was right at hand. Luke 21:28 compels us to “…look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (KJV) What is this redemption? It’s Jesus, returning for His bride! And guess how He will appear?

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27, NKJV, italics mine)

Did you catch that cloud reference? (I’ve got chills.) I can’t help but wonder if the sky on The Day of His Return will look something like it did the other night. Actually, I bet it will be So. Much. More. Glorious. One thing is certain: it will be impossible to miss!

On that Day, the Bible states that “…every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11, NASB) There won’t be time to upload a pic. You’ll be down on your knees, singing His praise.

Until then, let’s keep our chins up. Literally.

Lift your eyes to the heavens.

Watch the clouds for His return.

He’s coming soon, and the whole earth will be full of His Glory.

12 Months, 4 Takeaways

12 Months, 4 Takeaways

March 16, 2020. The day I started counting. The week our world shut down.

It’s been a year.

And what a year it’s been.

I paused to reflect on this auspicious anniversary. I’ve incurred losses and acquired lessons. I’m sure you have, too. Trials have a way of reshaping the landscape of our souls.

Four phrases surfaced as I sifted through the events and experiences of the past twelve months. My top takeaways. My most repeated prayers.

I thought I’d share…

  1. “Thank You.”

I started a Gratitude Journal on March 16, 2020. I’m now halfway through a third! Counting my blessings each morning has become a holy habit. I also include prayer requests and record their answers, which sparks even more gratitude. In the front of each journal I copied this verse:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

It’s been a year rife with uncertainty. My journal entries contain many concerns, but also attest to the power of prayer and thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude is the antidote to anxiety.

  1. “Have Your way.”

Now, this one’s a bit harder to pray. The past year brought plenty of opportunities to practice the delicate art of surrender. The cancellation of a long-anticipated Alaskan cruise. The rescheduling of a retirement ceremony. The disruption of a dozen other plans. Each time, I had to learn to say, “Lord, have Your way.”

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

This year, more than any other, has taught me to make my plans, but hold them loosely. God gets the final edit. (Besides, haven’t you heard the saying, “If you want to hear the Lord laugh, tell Him your plans.”?)

  1. “I have this day.”

About that retirement ceremony. The first week of November found us staring in dismay at a graph of our county’s rising Covid numbers. The steep incline refused to plateau, prompting the difficult decision to postpone our celebration. Out-of-state family hurriedly canceled their flights. All except our oldest daughter and her husband, who had flown in earlier. Our college girl decided to keep her flights and join us a few days later.

Reeling from the sudden change of plans, I caught myself repeating the phrase, “I have this day.” It served as a much-needed reminder to embrace what was instead of lamenting what might have been. With God’s help, I was able to enter into, and even enjoy some unexpected, unstructured time with my family. We played cards. We sang karaoke. We cooked an impromptu early Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the fixings.

This is the day which the LORD has made; Let’s rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24, NASB)

I’m learning to live more joyfully in the present, fully present. What a gift! (Isn’t that why they call it “the present”?)

  1. “Inspire me.”

As I unpacked the Christmas decorations, my Christmas spirit dissipated. This year, there would be no parties, no gatherings, no teas. I walked around in a funk for a couple of days, before it finally occurred to me to ask the Lord for some creative ways to celebrate. (Be careful what you ask for.)

The divinely-inspired ideas just kept coming! A nearby nursing home had been hit hard by Covid, so my friends and I filled gift baskets with snacks and beverages for the weary staff. We organized a mail-in gift card “shower” for some dear friends in financial need. Our Bible study group drew names, then had a blast sneaking around, depositing anonymous gifts on each other’s front porches. I suspect the “Advent Angels” will wing their way back next Christmas.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

If necessity is the mother of invention, then prayer must be the father of inspiration. When we ask, God answers! He has a creative solution for every stubborn problem.

So there you have it. My nuggets in a nutshell. Daily gratitude. Gracious surrender. Joyful presence. Divine inspiration.

What about you?

Most likely, the person who entered this unprecedented year isn’t the same one who exited. Take a few moments to identify your own takeaways. Process the losses. Lay hold of the lessons. Celebrate the changes.

I’d love to hear your stories, if you’d like to share.

Unexpected Treasure

Unexpected Treasure

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

I often think of this quote when I go thrifting. Amongst the “trash,” treasures await. My bounty might consist of a gold-rimmed teacup, tiny silver spoons, or an elegant serving dish. These are then rehomed, restored, and reentered into service at my tea parties.

On a recent Goodwill run, however, I returned home with a different kind of treasure. The Bible places the value of this treasure above the gold and silver articles that might adorn a fancy tea table. (See Proverbs 3:13-15.) I didn’t pluck this treasure off a shelf, but received it from the “mouth of babes.” (See Matthew 21:16.)

I was conducting my usual rounds, scanning the shelves in search of that special something, when a breathless, brown-haired girl of preschool age nearly bumped into me. Wide-eyed, she reversed course and scampered down a nearby aisle.

“Emily? EMILY?” she called frantically, her anxiety rising with each repeated question. Just as I was about to offer my assistance, an older version of the young girl popped out from behind a rack of clothes. Emily. The frightened girl was visibly relieved to be reunited with (what I assumed to be) her big sister.

As I resumed my rounds, I overheard the following exchange.

Emily: “Are you scared?”

Emily’s voice was comforting, kind. I pictured her mini-me nodding silently in response. Emily continued in a sweet, soothing tone.

“Don’t be afraid. Because Jesus…”

Her words trailed off as my steps placed her out of earshot. I mentally completed her sentence.

“Because Jesus…is always with you.”

Yes. That’s what she would have said.

But the more I thought about it, I decided I preferred to leave the phrase open-ended.

“Don’t be afraid. Because Jesus…”

It could now be finished in a number of different, and equally meaningful ways.

“Because Jesus…loves you.”

“Because Jesus…will help you.”

“Because Jesus…understands.”

I left Goodwill empty-handed, yet carrying an unexpected treasure. I carefully turned it over and over in my mind, examining the profound wisdom cradled in five simple words. My newly acquired treasure even traveled with me the next morning to the dentist’s office, where I faced a dreaded filling. Nervously reclining in the vinyl chair, I recited Emily’s wise-beyond-her-years words to myself, tapping out the eight syllables with my sweaty fingertips.

“Don’t be afraid. Because Jesus…”

“Don’t be afraid. Because Jesus…”

Her encouraging words comforted me. Jesus’ encircling presence calmed me.

“Because Jesus.” Because if you have Jesus, you have everything. He is always enough.

How about you? Are you anxious? Scared? Feeling a bit lost? Might I encourage you to take hold of dear Emily’s wisdom and treasure it as your own?

“Don’t be afraid. Because Jesus…”

Let Him fill in the blank for you. He knows exactly what you need in this very moment. Or perhaps He’ll leave it open, and instead fill your heart with the comforting and calming assurance that He truly is enough.

I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
(Psalm 16:8, NASB)

Underwhelmed

Underwhelmed

“Did you see it?”

I texted my friend Ruth Ann about the “Christmas Star,” the greatly anticipated alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in the winter solstice sky. Some called it the “Bethlehem Star,” speculating that a similar planetary conjunction formed the famous star that led three kings on a quest to worship a newborn King. I grew up singing the praises of that spectacular star: “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright…”

Ruth Ann’s response reflected my own.

“I guess! I’m sorry to say I was underwhelmed by what I saw. From what I had seen & read they built it up to something more grandiose…”

We expected this star to look more like the ones on the front of our Christmas cards.

Instead, we were left unimpressed and underwhelmed.

I wondered what else about the Christmas story I had inflated in my childhood imagination. Other than an angelic chorus which disrupted the shepherds’ silent night, there was really nothing else that remarkable about the birth of Jesus. No special effects. Nothing supernatural.

In fact, what was most extraordinary about His advent was its ordinariness.

Nothing to see here, but an inconspicuous teen mom, weary from travel and teary from travail. A blotchy newborn face, a misshapen crown. Nothing to hear but stable animals, agitated by an infant’s incessant wails.

(“The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes…”? Maybe we need to rethink those lyrics, too.)

The scene was understatedly earthy. Overwhelmingly ordinary.

And yet.

Something magnificent and other-worldly had just occurred.

A Heavenly Invasion.

A Heroic Intervention.

A Hopeful Incarnation.

All held in the awkward arms of a first-time father who probably still had acne.

(I mean no disrespect. I’m just trying to bring a little grit to the Christmas carol glam.)

Still He comes.

Humbly. Quietly. Nothing grandiose or self-promoting.

Just very real, and very present.

How often do we miss His glory, as we chase shinier objects? Seeking Spielberg-like effects, we stroll right past the wonder of a God who is content to simply be “with us.”

Immanuel. The Miracle, lying in a manger.

Expectation usually leads to dissatisfaction. Don’t let your imagination cause you to miss His invitation.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NIV)

Your King calls. Beckoning, like a glinting star on the southern horizon.

Whispering, “Come.”

A Little More Like Heaven

A Little More Like Heaven

I spent the summer of 1983 on a mission project in the inner city of Chicago.

On Sundays, I was privileged to attend a lovely black church.

They talked a lot about Heaven there.

They sang about Heaven.

They prayed about…Heaven.

I wondered if this was because Earth hadn’t felt very much like Home.

I wanted to be like them, more Heavenly-minded.

But that didn’t come naturally to me.

Because Earth, for the most part, had been a very comfortable Home for me.

With recent events, I’ve felt great sadness over this contrast in our earthly experiences.

My black brothers and sisters, I’m grieved that this planet has too often felt inhospitable at best, and inhumane at worst.

That this should be your experience is so very, very wrong.

You deserve better.

I know one day we’ll all be together in Heaven.

Every race, tribe, and tongue, worshiping the One who suffered every wrong in order to make everything right.

Thank you for teaching me to long for that Glorious Day.

But until then, I vow to do my part to make Earth feel a little more like Heaven, and a lot less like Hell, for you.

You deserve nothing less.

Clean

Clean

I’ve never been an immaculate housekeeper. Okay, let’s be real. My housecleaning skills are definitely subpar. I’m quite comfortable with dirty dishes in the sink and dust bunnies in the corner. I only clean for company.

But lately, I’ve become a bit of a clean freak. My daily chores now include disinfecting cabinet knobs and door handles, wiping down countertops, and sanitizing sink faucets. My house has never been this clean.

Thank you, COVID-19.

My cleaning frenzy began the last week of March. Our youngest daughter had spent the previous week on spring break in Florida, before hastily flying home to finish her college semester online. Our middle daughter and her husband’s family were enjoying their spring break in Mexico. That is, until an impending border closure led to a sudden change of plans, subjecting them to a sleepless night in the JFK airport as they awaited their connecting flight home. Concerned that some corona viruses might have hitched a ride back with them, we all socially-distanced and self-quarantined.

And I cleaned.

Even though I don’t love cleaning, I’ve come to love the feeling of being clean. At the end of the day, I can sleep peacefully, knowing my house, and my hands, are clean.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be clean, not just from viruses and germs, but spiritually. I’ve been reading through the book of John, where the word “clean” has been calling out to me like a prized package of Lysol wipes. Let’s take a look at one of those passages, a familiar one, found in John 13.

Jesus and His disciples are sharing a final meal before His final sacrifice. During supper, He suddenly gets up, gathers towels, and fills a basin with water. The Master then kneels as the Servant, cupping dusty feet in His almighty hands. The disciples are speechless, but submissive. All except for one. In characteristic fashion, Peter is outspoken in his objection.

Allow me to paraphrase John 13:6-9:

Peter: “You’re not washing my feet!”

Jesus: “Peter, it’s important that I do this for you.”

Peter: “Ok, then don’t just wash my feet; give my whole body a bath!”

Peter is a black-and-white kind of guy. With him, it’s all, or nothing. Jesus pauses to give Peter a brief lesson in personal hygiene.

“He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (John 13:10a, NASB)

Completely clean. I liked the sound of that. Especially now, with my newfound appreciation for sanitization.

But Jesus is speaking of a spiritual cleansing. The kind that occurs the instant a repentant soul appeals to a righteous Savior to remove all the stains. The kind that results from standing naked under the blood-red flow of forgiveness.

It’s a deep clean. Permanent and pristine.

Jesus also offers His followers a second cleaning service. This one is to be received regularly, as we brush up against a contaminated world. Because our feet will get dirty. Our fingers will get germy.

“It is the daily cleansing which we are taught to seek…is it not a relief to be permitted thus to wash our feet after a day’s contact with the earth?” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

It is a relief, indeed, to slip freshly scrubbed feet between the sheets at night.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9, NASB)

This is a season for cleansing. For washing, not just our hands, but our hearts. For sanitizing, not just our surfaces, but our very souls.

Whether it’s a sin-weary body, or just two tired feet…won’t you let the Servant-Savior do this for you today?

It feels so good to be clean.

Baack to the Sheepfold – Again

Baack to the Sheepfold – Again

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written a blog post. A lot has changed in a year. I quit a job. I wrote a book. I discovered Holy Yoga. I rediscovered myself.

A lot has also changed in a month. For everyone. All because of a tiny virus spreading across the globe like a tidal wave, leaving death and disruption in its wake. Each of us is adjusting to a “new normal.”

When I dusted off my blog today, I was surprised to see the title of my last post, dated April 7, 2019: “Baack to the Sheepfold.” I was already planning to share what I hope is some timely encouragement from John 10. About–you guessed it–the sheepfold. So, I guess I’ll just pick up right where we left off!

To recap, sheep are my favorite. John 10 is also my favorite. Today we’ll focus on the first verse in that sheep-filled chapter, as Jesus introduces us to the metaphorical sheepfold:

Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. (John 10:1, NASB)

The imagery of the sheepfold is a familiar one. But when I read this verse a couple of weeks ago, it took on new significance in a world now revolving at a safe social distance. I found myself identifying with those poor, penned-up sheep, hemmed in by confining walls. And this was only Day Four of “sheltering at home.”

I glanced down at the study note on John 10:1 at the bottom of my Bible page:

“Fold of the sheep: A court surrounded by walls but open to the sky, and with only one entrance. The walls kept the sheep from wandering and protected them from wild animals.”

NASB Study Bible

I prefer the wide-open spaces. I live in Wyoming, after all. Yet, like it or not, new “walls” have been erected around all of our lives, graffitied with names like Social Distance, Self-Quarantine, and Shelter at Home.

But the walls of the sheepfold exist for a reason. They keep the sheep from wandering, something sheep are quite prone to do. People are prone to wander, too. How many medical professionals have recently pleaded with us to just “Stay Home”? We’re a bunch of wayward sheep in need of some social boundaries.

The walls also protect the sheep from wild animals–and shield us from vicious viruses. A good shepherd pens his sheep for their own good. These walls are for our welfare.

But what I loved most about the description of the sheepfold was that it is “open to the sky.” The sheep pen has no roof. One can feel the gentle breezes or look up and see the stars at night. There is freedom, even in the midst of restriction.

Our bodies may be enduring what feels like endless days within the four walls of our homes. But our spirits remain gloriously free. Our souls are “open to the sky.” We have unrestricted access to our loving, heavenly Father. Our prayers can never be quarantined.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV)

Are your walls closing in? Are you feeling a bit stir crazy? Tired already of being cooped up?

Look up. Lift your eyes heavenward. Feel the Son’s warmth on your face and breathe in the fresh air of His Spirit.

If the door to the sheepfold is temporarily barricaded, it’s only because the Shepherd is protecting His valued sheep from unseen predators. Trust Him. When the time is right, He’ll release you from the fold and lead you out into the green pastures He is preparing for you.

Baack to the Sheepfold

Baack to the Sheepfold

If you know me at all, you know I have a thing for sheep. What you may not know is that my sheep obsession started almost 30 years ago, in the summer of 1989. My sister, who has a thing for animals of any kind, was fostering endangered desert tortoises in her Arizona backyard at the time. My mom thought it’d be fun to start a turtle figurine collection for her. Not wanting to ignore her favorite (oldest) daughter, she asked me if I’d also like to collect something.

I thought for a moment before answering, “Sheep.” I’d never even been around actual sheep. But I’d rubbed shoulders with them on the pages of the Bible, and read a few books about the spiritual parallels between humans and sheep. (The most notable being A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It’s a classic; I highly recommend.) I’d grown rather fond of these wooly wanderers.

And so, I became known as a lover and collector of all things Sheep.

This spring, I revisited Psalm 23 with my Thursday night Bible study group, along with author Jennifer Rothschild as our insightful teacher. (I also highly recommend.) In preparation, I dusted off my sheep collection and enjoyed the memories they evoked as they decorated our gracious Bible study host’s home. I was excited to share my passion for sheep with the group.

Turns out I was the one most in need of a reminder that I was still just a humble sheep.

If you know sheep at all, you know that despite their thick wool coats, they are a few threads short of a sweater, if you know what I mean. They need a lot of help. They’re extremely high maintenance. (“Bless,” my British BFF Caroline would say about folks like these.)

Here are just a few reasons why sheep are so needy:

  • They are quickly disoriented. Unlike birds, dogs, and many other animals, sheep lack a homing device. No GPS included!
  • They are easily spooked. Once, on a field trip with my “Mums and Tots” group in England, I witnessed a flock of sheep panic when some harmless preschoolers tossed a few bits of hay their way!
  • They are almost completely defenseless. No claws, no fangs in those jaws. No wonder they run!

That they need a shepherd is no surprise. But not just any shepherd. They need a good shepherd. One who will tirelessly devote himself to their intensive care.

I don’t really like being compared to a sheep. But (sheepishly) I must confess: this threadbare sweater fits.

  • I can lose my spiritual bearings and forget my way “home.”
  • I am prone to panic, the smallest of worries triggering an emotional stampede.
  • I often feel defenseless and vulnerable when under spiritual attack.

Thankfully, I am not a sheep without a shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1, NASB)

And my shepherd is a Good One. An expert in His field! (Pun intended.)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, NIV)

A good shepherd is, well, good at what he does. He genuinely cares for his sheep. He has a vested interest in the well-being of His flock, because his reputation is on the line. A thriving flock testifies to His watchful, faithful care. He’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe and sound.

In a recent blog post I shared that I am in need of some “soul care,” some restoration and repair. The starting point for this journey was admitting who I am: a sheep in need of a shepherd, and acknowledging who He is: the Good Shepherd, who will stop at nothing to provide for His sheep. My job? To not resist, but instead rest in His capable care.

I needed this reminder. Do you? Then repeat after me:

I am a sheep.

I have a Good Shepherd.

He is more than able, and willing, to take care of me.

I will rest in His loving care.

The Shack

The Shack

Not far from my home, in the center of an open field, sits a dilapidated shack. The roof is caving in. The doors have fallen off. Each passing prairie storm beats it down a little more.

I drive by it often. It always reminds me of the best-selling book “The Shack” and its gripping story of a bereaved father. The “shack” is both literal: the scene of his beloved young daughter’s murder; and figurative: the metaphor of a wounded human soul. God meets him in that place of devastation, then leads him on a soul-searching journey through the heartache to the healing.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been in the shack with God. My job as a Client Advocate at our local pregnancy center has been tough this past year. The cumulative effects of stressors in my personal life, changes at the center, and clients in crisis eventually took their toll. My roof began to leak and my doors became unhinged. Each pounding storm beat me down a bit more, until I found myself broken down.

Emotionally exhausted. Weary of the work. Numb.

“I’m tired,” I heard myself say on more than one occasion on the job. I was getting plenty of sleep. This was a different kind of weary. A bone-weariness.*

There’s a name for this condition: Compassion Fatigue. I’m familiar with this term. I even taught our new staff about it. But I missed its warning signs in my own life.

Compassion Fatigue is a threat to first responders, medical personnel and caregivers alike. Anyone in close contact with suffering is vulnerable. Even cold-hearted attorneys can fall victim to it! (Sorry, Chris.)

The point is, the Helpers are now in need of Help.

“Self care = Client care,” I taught our trainees. It’s not selfish to take care of one’s self. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” flight attendants instruct their passengers. Then you can assist others.

Because what aid can we render if our own roofs are sagging and in need of repair? Not much. How can we nurture others if our own cells are depleted and oxygen-deprived? Not well.

I now have a new mantra. I prefer this one to “self care.”

Soul care.

The shack is a symbol of our soul. If we’re not careful, the stresses and storms of life can take a toll on our soul. Weighed down, beaten down, we can no longer echo the hymn writer’s refrain: “It is well with my soul.”

But into the ruins, the Triune God comes. He pulls us out of the rubble, soothes our damaged emotions and bandages our wounds. He helps us confront our fears and confess our failures. He teaches us valuable lessons.

It’s not always pleasant, this soul-revealing, soul-healing journey. But it is necessary. And it is good.

He is a Good Shepherd.

He is restoring my soul.

He will restore yours too.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul… Psalm 23:2-3a, NASB

 

*I recently learned that “bones” in the Bible are symbols of our inner being. Cool, huh? (Source: The Passion Translation note on Psalm 31:10.)

Note:  I hope to share more of my story of restoration in future posts. So stay tuned…

 

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