The times held perilous darkness.
People were running for their lives.
A tyrant raged with orders of death,
and hope felt like a distant illusion.
A man called to support her.
A Savior was born.
A dirt floor was the Chosen Stage for the grand entrance of Messiah. Centuries foretold the event, and yet only the unseen realm knew to cheer. Dreams, visions, and supernatural experiences were the catalysts of His coming. They still are. A bright light hung on the canvas of a dark sky. Wise people followed that star. Wise people still choose the journey of hope, abandoning the guides of despair. Underneath life-threatening oppression something magnificent was birthed. History pivoted in the prickles of hay and the scent of cattle.
It smelled – bad.
It felt – bad.
It looked – bad.
But, it was actually goodwill for all.
Through the pain of childbirth, God unwrapped the gift of Peace to mankind. This performance will never be outdone. Gruesome. Painful. Targeted. Glorious. Complete.
God still chooses dirt floors.
We still weep for hope.
But now …the angels’ song is caught into an eternal sound -
That vibrates around your name, your story, your purpose, and your life.
No one is excluded.
The Light has come - One for all!
We are never without hope.
Anyone who wants hope can have it.
Do you need hope?
Follow the star.
My heart is at rest,
when I draw strength from you.
Presence in the pilgrimage
is far more valuable to me
than a golden destination.
The journey is where our friendship is forged.
Even the low points of my story are wells for the water of life.
Like bowls waiting to be filled, mine is the shape for your outpouring.
I no longer fear the strenuous climbs.
Each are invitations to be strengthened, to conquer new dimensions.
You are always there to hold me as my heart expands.
Your voice of affirmation clothes me at the end of each great climb.
As a pilgrim, I am confident that –
Every step matters.
And every step is beautiful –
If I dare to face reality –
And find you present in each step.
Bliss or struggle -
you are not surprised -
But present - whole - and right -
Shifting seasons baptize me with provisions,
as every season is obedient to your leadership in my life.
My frantic search for strength has stopped, at last.
I come to you for strength now.
Your strength is regenerative!
In your strength –
I go from strength –
to strength –
and then arrive with a full heart –
To face you,
In your home.
It is where I belong.
Press into my heart -
the highways to heaven.
So that my pilgrimage leads straight -
Today I want to celebrate the graduation of my baby girl, Aimee Star, from the outpatient care of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was cared for upon birth for 39 days in the NICU, followed by outpatient care for months. We re-visited her doctors there the week before last. All of her tests came back normal and healthy! God be praised! This was a six-month journey of “following the Star.” Only God knows the depth of it for me as her Mom. I had to entrust her to God, to let go, and now I am being handed her back. My heart is expanding for Aimee in a brand-new way, like a balloon at last finding its full form through the pressure of fresh air!
Dr. Dori stepped into the room, “Well … look at her! This child does not need to be in this hospital!” His eyes turned to mine and after mine were caught like a fish on a hook he continued, “Go home! And, enjoy your life!” All of the sudden, I felt the need to leave the building fast. Happiness became a tyrant of grace pulling me, Aimee, and her stroller out of this gigantic nest of medical care for children. I took a beeline for the door without a single sentiment of wanting to farewell it slowly.
And, we went home.
And now, our orders now are to enjoy our life.
When one has orders to “Enjoy your life” after a life threatening journey, it trumps all the other orders that dare to contradict it like those that command fearful existence, uncertainty, anxiety, isolation, and the other stream of orders that threaten to destroy our sense of being alive these days.
From my life to yours – I am extended this order to you.
Whatever it looks like for you, this is an order from Aimee Star …
ENJOY YOUR LIFE!
Grab a Pen: What are 3 things that you enjoy? How can you gain access to them again?
It's the middle of the night. I just put a whole turkey in the oven after swirl of activity over it's defrosting method. It is 21 pounds. My hands smell bad. It's weird that we eat birds. And yet, something about this ball of meat will make my table full of people feel at home today. The power of tradition.
As I think about this day, I desire to express something to you before it begins. I am thankful for you. I believe the Father is also deeply thankful for you. You bring joy to our world. Your spunk and personality color for the rest of us. Your decision to listen well is a gift. Your sacrifices really matter. As you live your life, you are seasoning this planet and we are all better off because you are here.
Keep expressing yourself.
Keep taking up space.
Keep letting your hair down.
Keep choosing that hat.
Keep valuing yourself.
I am thankful for you.
I am sitting in a rocker with a bottle, eyes staring at the darkness outside of my window. It is morning, a dark cold morning. The blackness of the earth speaks of night, the time speaks of day. Sometimes reality tells you one thing, but your heart discerns another. It’s supposed to be morning, but it looks like night. Aimee is hungry. I pulled myself out of bed to feed her. Her eyes are shut as she eats. Mine watch the horizon. The light will come. As the sky enlightens, ever so slowly, I notice first the silhouette of the trees. Their branches are strong and dark against the early morning sky. They speak to me about growth, and my reflection on growth begins …
Growth. If. How. Where. When. Why. How do we actually grow? Not in size or stature, influence or reach, but in depth of spirit. How do we grow in the way that matters?
My eyes follow the biggest tree outside my window from its roots to its to sky-scraping branches. Father, how does that happen? How does one grow to such depth and height, such strength and beauty? Is it about my willingness to stay on the same plot of land? My willingness to extend kindness? To embrace humility? To repent? Is it nurtured by memorization of the Scriptures? Taking risks? Holding unto convictions? Is it about reading? Listening? Discipline? Resting? Is it about my attitude holding this bottle?
Growth is a part of life. Things that are alive grow. Things that are dead no longer grow. The way that growth happens is a bit mysterious from the outside looking in, but that is because it is not an external process. Growth always has to do with something internal working its way out. Growth is about space for what is authentically inside of you to expand. The seeds that now press these trees into the sky did not discover their grandeur through an external opinion, impressive presentation, or recognized influence. They were tiny pockets of life inside that were given the right environment to expand. True growth is about your authentic self getting bigger.
There is a lot of pressure in our culture to grow wide with influence, wider with accolades, wider still with followers. But in the darkness of an early morning, in the face of a few towering trees, holding a bottle, I am caught up in the wonder of what it looks like to grow deep and high. These trees are magnificent. They are loyal to their plot of land. This physical stability gives their seed the best opportunity to reach their potential. They are staying still long enough to grow down deep. Their reach is not wide, it’s high, it’s the sky.
Deeper – in authenticity.
Higher – in nearness to God.
Growing deep begins with honesty about what is inside of you. Then, giving yourself permission to expand. God’s leadership creates the environment that you need to grow. He will draw your authentic self into explosive growth if you are willing to let your roots grow down deep in Him. You are God’s seed. He believes in the “more” of you, and so do I. Permission to throw off the pressure to grow wider. Get into growing deeper. The higher comes as a result.
Father, help me to grow - deeper in love with You.
Reflection: Are you growing? What can you do to position yourself for growth?
This year held unexpected experiences for many people. It is historic both in activity and lack thereof. The challenges of the pandemic, unemployment, fires, distancing, rioting, etc. birthed a tension that wrangled the lives of many people, and left others in a disoriented chaos. To some the tension of this year was physical, to others emotional, to all of us - something significant. Whatever your situation, this year is important. It will long hold history that is ours to live and tell.
In the midst of both the living and telling, we have yet an important decision to make this year, and that is - how are we going to land this year? Are we going to be found in mental distress or in joyful expectation? Despairing disappointment or trust in God? Grasping for security or being held secure by our Father? Depressed or expressed? Burned out or renewed? Shouting or listening? Hoarding or giving? Negative or hopeful?
I am part of a community, ConnectUp, that is setting out for a 21 Day journey leading up to Thanksgiving Day through a daily devotional on the topic of gratitude. I personally want to invite you to join us. We want to encourage a washing of hearts through the power of gratitude this season. It is time to re-discover the beauty of a single focus on Jesus, His goodness, and the ways He is working brilliantly around us - every single day.
Starting on November 6th, we will be posting a daily devotional on gratitude to guide this process. Each devotional is written by someone different in our community, each holds a nugget of hope about how we view our lives, each is an invitation to consider the immensity of the goodness of God.
Come along! Starting November 6, 2020! Follow on the ConnectUp Blog, Facebook, or Instagram.
There is nothing quite as embarrassing as finding out that your suitcase is the largest on your team, the largest on your row at the airport, the largest in the car transporting the group, or worst of all – you can’t lift it. Sitting on your suitcase in an effort to close it with your heels pressing into the floor for more leverage, and then having the thought is this zipper going to die on me!? is a sure sign that you packed too much stuff. I speak from experience.
The more you travel, the more you learn about how to pack effectively. You learn what you need, and what you don’t need. Most of the things that you think you need, you don’t touch. Somehow, the things you need the most still get forgotten. Oh, the terrifying discovery on the road of finding out that you are without your toothpaste, clippers, or a phone charger – yet again. And that all the more exasperated when you are headed straight for a stage, as I often am.
My packing skills grew immensely in recent years through a lot of travel. My suitcases are finally small. I own the most important things for trips in double, they remain packed. It’s a game to me now to only bring what I need, and negative points to carry home things unused. I can race through the airport without baggage now. My bags are light. This is a far stretch from where I started, studying abroad over ten years ago with two enormous suitcases bursting at the seams. Those bags held a queen-sized sentimental quilt and a full-sized keyboard that I simply “could not live without.” The zippers on both of those bags actually did break before I made it to my destination! Duct tape!
Our souls can act like a suitcase at times, carrying things that we need. Our souls also carry things that we don’t need. At times, our souls carry way too much, weighing down our entire being to exhaustion. The soul has a tendency to absorb and preserve more than it needs to, gripping experiences like an administrator who loves filing more than life. It often requires a directive from us to let things go, simplify, forgive - re-pack. Otherwise it becomes the historian we would be better off without, always reminding us of what hurt, when, why, and how.
Some people are carrying oversized soul baggage all the time. Others embrace repeated seasons of cleansing in order to travel light. Can you tell the difference when you look at someone? The heavy-packer has a heavy-heart. They tend to be intensely focused on self-protection, and unable to see passed their own needs. Most of their efforts are self-serving, and they live in fear of not having enough – thus the emotional hoarding. Those who travel light in their souls tend to be more joyful, able to engage in things outside of themselves, found giving to and serving others, largely judgement and negativity free. The light packer has a dependence on God, a firm trust in His provision for their needs. A person’s countenance often reveals the condition of their soul – how much is packed into it, if they have been able to forgive, if their passed is largely behind them or still with them.
I feel God challenging me to re-pack in my soul these days, to clean out and get rid of old baggage. In that process, I am reminded that you and I are unlikely to let baggage go until we know for certain that it matters to someone outside of ourselves. Friend, it matters to Jesus. Our burdens and pains matter so much to Jesus that He absorbed them, carried them, paid for them – with His own life.
This is an invitation to re-pack, to let go of old offenses, fears, anxieties, cycles of questioning, baselines of distrust, shadows of disappointments, and learn how to travel light again. Our souls were not made to carry too much. No one is forcing us to carry insecurity, no one is policing our baggage for heaviness and painful histories. It’s our choice what we are carrying in life. And, it's possible to get a skip back into our steps if can leave some things behind. Let's let go of what we would rather live without.
You and I can go so much further,
And with so much more joy –
if we are carrying less on board.
And, it is a journey.
Grab a Pen: Is there something you are carrying that you need to let go of? Is there someone you need to forgive? What do you need to release to Jesus in order to be traveling light in your soul again?
p.s. Sometimes it is helpful to have someone else assist us in the process of letting things go. We have a prayer ministry that focuses on helping people connect with God, and a wonderful team of people doing sessions for people online weekly. To sign up or for more information visit, www.iconnectup.net.
First written 12/14/15, Revised 10/14/20
Two years ago we lost our daughter to a terminal disease. I’m a Mom. I live with loss. Early in my grief journey a trusted friend looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am so sorry, Katie, but you cannot run from this, you must go through it.” I knew she was right and I have chosen to embrace the grief process. Weird idea. Who wants to embrace pain? No one. But when you discover that the deepest love, most profound comfort, and invaluable teaching happen in the crux of pain … you stop fearing it.
Last week I spent time grieving. I was at a meeting and sat on the floor crying for a long time. Deep expression tumbled out of my broken heart. I let the tears fall and fall hard. I wept and didn’t try to stop it. I held Holy Spirit’s hand and poured out my heart without reservation. I was a mess on the floor in a public space and did not care because I have learned that my heart honestly expressed is of value to the Father. Hear me. Three hours later a series of events occurred that caused me to feel a height of joy that I’ve not known in a long time. It was so encouraging it took me off guard. It wasn’t long before I realized that the joy I was experiencing was connected to my tears that had just hit the floor. It was coming as a response. And then I remembered …
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
To those who grieve in Zion, I will bestow beauty for ashes …
Have you ever noticed that Isaiah 61 (beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for despair) is allocated specifically to those who grieve? What if weeping is a passageway to joy? What if mourning sets the stage for comfort? What if ashes are the prime materials needed to create beauty?
Friends, it is in the tears, the groans, the raw outpouring of our hearts before God that we encounter the God who heals. People get over stuff all the time without healing from it. I believe that healing happens when we courageously face the reality of our pain and encounter who God is for us in it.
There’s something about the freedom to weep, mourn, and grieve that sets the stage for joy, comfort and beauty. God attaches provision to grief, which is why it is not okay to deny each other access to it. Too often we fear what we cannot fix and therefore short-circuit each other’s process through not giving each other permission to grieve. In that resistance, we also resist the God-given provision to those who grieve.
Life events and transitions have a strange way of exposing our losses; big and small. What you feel in this season matters. It matters to God. Talk to Him about it. He’s not tired of hearing from you. You don’t have to shove it down. He cares. You are free to grieve. There’s a love encounter waiting for you in the midst of what you fear to face. How do I know? Two and a half years of steady grief and I’ve learned to dive into Him without fear. He has only ever responded to me with love.
I can’t fix your hurt, but I can tell you that it matters to God. In that validation I hope your hands will be untied to face what you feel and pour your heart out to Him. You are free to grieve, and therein discover the beauty of who God wants to be for you in it. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him; for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8)
Reflection: Is there an area of sorrow in your heart that keeps tugging at you? Can you bring that to Jesus today?
A white plastic clock sits on top of my bookshelf. The casing is cracked. It is balanced on the shelf like a gymnast, unsecured. It wants to roll to the right or to the left. It wants to crack again, apparently. A lamp gives it a boundary so that it does not roll off the edge. It needs assistance to stand still. It is on the go unless I tie it down, box it in, and force it to remain still. Even then, it is never really still. Its hands are always on the move, on their merry way to the next black tick. The hands that appear motionless are deceiving, the one that always moves is the most honest.
Behold, the personality of time.
This week I returned to work part-time after an extended maternity leave. My time management needs are changing, my use of time is changing, my need for time is changing. What even is time? I find myself digging in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8. It is a reflection on time. There is a time. There is a season. For every purpose under heaven …
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Stop. Read it again.
What one phrase stands out to you?
What time is it in your life?
Time is one of life’s greatest gifts. It is the thing that measures life from start to finish. It is a mold for valuable experiences. It makes room for us to sink deep or take flight in love. It stretches for relationships, and narrows for tasks. It is the wind at our back, when sinking would otherwise be inevitable. We chase it, and it chases us. It keeps us playing. Time is mysterious and determined, hard-nosed and quick. It can also be relentlessly slow, a master of the crawl! Time can race. Time can freeze. Time can breathe. Time can take our breath away.
Time cannot be controlled or bossed around. It must be embraced. The moment we begin to hate time, it will begin to hate us, and therein we will find ourselves in an unnecessary internal struggle, every single day. Time has no friends or enemies that do not first befriend or unfriend it. It waits to be utilized by the soul who dares to let it be what it is. Wisdom embraces the gift of time, and knows how to keep it acting as a gift.
Whatever your relationship to time in this season, I believe that the God who is outside of time is inviting you and I to get a washed perspective on what time is for. Some of you have been wasting time, watching it drain. Others are in an oppressive relationship with it, driven to exhaustion every day. No shame. It is not too late in your life for a fresh start with time. Imagine unwrapping the gift of time for the very first time. What do you notice about it? What excites you about it? What uses do you have for it?
To the Designer of Time, teach us how to receive time as a gift.
Write & Reflect: What are two beliefs you have about time? Do you want to keep them? Do you want to exchange them? The God who designed time is doing exchanges today on beliefs about time!
I pull up to an outpatient medical clinic and park my car. My headlights assign themselves to the front door where there are massive signs about COVID, screening, and how certainly you cannot go anywhere if you dare to feel sick for a minute. Meanwhile, I know many people who are sick right now, many more who got sick in the last few days. The pandemic is still screaming, welcome to a life of screening.
I dig for my mask, and then sit inside my car and stare at the windshield. It’s hot. My car air conditioner is broken. I am both sweating and trembling. I am afraid to go inside. It is odd how physical spaces hold old traumas, as if they are somehow doing us a favor by preserving them like jam. I would rather find the jar empty and washed, but alas, I must face it. This clinic hosted my strenuous medical care for the last two years. This team saw me through a tragic miscarriage after years of loss and infertility. That flat-line of a heart beat on the 12-week ultrasound still torments me at times. We named that baby, Eliad Leo. Then, they caught my tender courage over a year later when I showed up pregnant with Aimee, and celebrated each shocking appointment that everything looked good, “no signs of disease.” And then, they watched me exit out of these very doors, in tears, when fluid was identified on her lung. I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon.
That day was the last day that I was here.
The last day I saw these people.
The last day before the epic multi-month labor and delivery of Aimee Star began.
I find myself afraid to go into the building as if it will somehow arrest me and pull me backwards in my story. In reality, I have nothing to be afraid of today. It’s a simple postpartum visit. Someone will look at my C-section incision, tell me to keep drinking water as I breastfeed, and then congratulate me on my baby - with a smile I cannot see because of their mask.
Inside I check in. I step on a scale that tells me I still have baby fat, and then walk through empty halls to an isolated room. I had a baby during COVID, lived in and through multiple hospitalizations during the pandemic. It’s still all – weird. The emptiness. The fear. The masks. The distancing. The tension. The deafening silence. Weird have learned to dodge and validate distance with people. Now we do it with muscle memory, and applaud each other for it, which is its own spreading disease.
My favorite nurse on the team finds me in my patient room, she beats the doctor to me, as she always has. She exceeds every doctor. I want to hug her, but resist. She took care of me through a lot of loss the last two years. Sometimes nurses are our primary caregivers, present in moments of our lives that no one else will ever enter into with us. I find out from her that this team has been wondering for months what happened to me. It did not cross my mind to report back to this office after being thrust into medical care in another city. Oh…, I think to myself as I look into her searching eyes, I have so much good news to share with every one of you! Call them in!
The pictures of a smiley 4-month old Aimee Star Luse cause us all to erupt in joy. My dear friend who took the pictures has no idea how much these pictures are giving and will give, to so many people, for so long. This is a miracle in my story, and these people know it better than anyone. They wore the gloves, they caught the blood, they held my hands, and they let me dream again.
This seed of promise.
This star of hope.
This bright interruption –
Is most welcomed.
I sit quietly and choose not to mention much of anything symptomatically about my postpartum journey. I already know that even the most bizarre symptoms in the world are “normal” when you are pregnant. You can vomit for months, and people look at you with googly-eyed excitement. Or, you can swing violently in moods, lose half your hair, suffer sleeplessness, body adjustments and an overhaul on life postpartum and people grin and congratulate you on your baby. It’s all part of the process.
The womb carries life –
To labor it out –
To deliver it whole –
To nurture it to grow.
Let’s all thank God, despite the very real challenges, that I made it postpartum this time.
And, with a beautiful little girl. Thriving. Is this real?
A happy moment in the back of an outpatient medical clinic ensues. We let our eyes smile where our mouths are hidden, and rejoice. Everyone seems thirsty for a reason to sink into gratitude. I take their hands and we go there, together. I assure them that all of the shaking, the shock, the trauma, the fear, and uncertainties -
All of the laboring over months of unexpected crisis -
Was unto something –
For something –
A birthing -
Of new life.
Later in the week, a friend sends me a poem about our world.
The smokey sun.
The missing gatherings.
The disintegrated jobs.
And, I get to thinking … Will we make it to postpartum? And to those who do, what we will be left holding? What in the world is the world birthing? Labor and delivery is full of pain. Full. You breathe between contractions, and that’s about it. But, the life that emerges is full of beauty. Full. And it’s all brand new.
Our world is birthing something right now through very real waves of loss. We are carrying, we are laboring, and we are delivering – in places we did not ask to be. I’m living it as I’m living it. We are living it. Everything is changing through labor and delivery. Perhaps someday we will return together to our old quarters, as I did this week, and find out that all the suffering brought us into a brand-new life. And for that new life, we will thank God.
There will be a postpartum landing.
If I can land, you can land,
Hold on, friends.
Don’t forget to breathe between contractions.
New life is coming!
It will come.
Reflection Question: What new thing do you think God is birthing in your life right now? Reflect on this statement as it relates to your story, "Behold, I make all things new."
Katie Luse is a speaker and writer who is passionate about navigating life with eyes on a hunt for beauty.