His hand beneath my chin

My twenty month old is my most timid of my children. Though a relatively peaceful and happy-go-lucky guy, he is easily startled and is the most likely of my kids to become frightened in a situation that feels out of control or uncertain. I’ve learned to warn his siblings that he’s going to need someone to hold him when I use the blender.

“It’s going to be loud, okay buddy?” I say in my most cheerful voice, smiling with my eyes to reassure him; but even still, he is afraid. There is little I can do aside from making sure he is held.

Last week it was the same thing when my husband was using a power saw in the backyard. The second the machine roared to life, he came running, terror in his face. I tell him: “It’s okay buddy. Daddy’s just using a tool. Daddy’s in control of it, he won’t let it hurt you.”

It dawned on me that this is how God parents us; he uses his tools to make good and beautiful things, but the tools are often loud and scary sounding. But he never chides us for being afraid—he understands that we are, one of the reasons that the encouragement “do not be afraid” is one of the most common in scripture. He tells us that there is nothing to fear, that he is in control, yet he also holds us securely until we actually believe that it’s true.

Someday my son will no longer fear the buzz of the saw, or the hum of the blender, or the thrum of the lawnmower. Someday he will go to my leg for comfort for a moment, and then turn right back around to appreciate the beautiful thing that his father is making from the pile of wood, from an overgrown lawn, or the smoothie that he will shortly be sipping courtesy of the loud appliance on the counter.

We hadn’t left the house all together since the day my grandma died in mid March: the week the pandemic really set in. It had been six weeks since my 20 month old had ridden in the car, but even with his fears of loud machines and unpredictable things, I didn’t see this fear coming. No sooner did I begin backing out of the driveway, then my son began screaming in terror at the top of his lungs. I pulled over to see if anything was wrong: a seatbelt pinching him somewhere? A toy lost over the edge of the carseat? Nothing.

I began driving again and he began screaming again. It had been a long day, and in my fragile, frenzied and finite mind I only felt the inconvenience of it. I had been looking forward to this drive as my first “outing” in almost a month, and now it was being ruined. I couldn’t comprehend why—why was he screaming? We pulled up to a stop light and the screaming slowed, but it began again the moment we resumed our trek. It finally dawned on me; perhaps he was afraid of the unpredictable movement of the car.

I reached my hand back to rest on his cheek, stroking his soft skin with my thumb until the crying stopped. That was how we pulled up to the office a few minutes later, and that was how I would drive in the relative peace I had been craving the 20 minutes back home.

Pulling into our neighborhood half an hour later it dawned on me how sharp the difference between my parenting and the parenting of God are. I was so frustrated at the child who would not stop screaming. I was angry at his irrational fear. I didn’t understand and I wanted it to stop. But what a grace that God never deals with my fears that way! He always and forever simply drives the car, craning his arm back so that he can cup my chin in his hand and tell me that everything will be okay. He tells me this on the days I believe him, and on the days that I do not.

I need that now just as much as my son did. I need that touch of comfort; that assurance that even when my circumstances are constantly shifting, uncomfortable, and totally outside of my control—that I am okay. God is still in control. He is still working for my good. All shall be well.

The One who knows all things; who knows where this car is heading, is also a God of infinite and kind compassion. He does not chide you for being afraid, though he invites your loving trust. He does not yell at you from the front seat to hush and be quiet, he meets you in the rearview mirror with his tender gaze. He cares for your fears, even as he does not promise to remove the scary situations from you. He will take you where you need to go, even if the way is frightening and you would just rather not go that way at all.

Trusting God, like my son in the car finally trusted me with my hand secure beneath his quivering chin, may just be the bravest and most beautiful thing you ever do. By this child-like trust, the world will know that there is something different about us; we are a people who despite every chaos and calamity, can still rest secure. We are a people who remember who they are in the context of whose they are. We are a people who will one day see this fearful journey for what it was all along; the sweetest most intimate journey of faith.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Colossians 3:15 ESV

{Photo c/o Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.}

This One is for the Weary

It’s been a season of recovery. The weight of the world had been crushing me for so long, and I, ever the stubborn child, kept taking the load from God’s shoulders and putting it back on my own. A human heart was never meant to carry all that weight—all that grief.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fool ourselves. I thought for sure that I was trusting God. That I was living by His power and strength; but then the strength ran out. And I realized that all along this year it was my strength and not His.

My high capacity—my ability to “do” so much, is also one of my greatest weaknesses. I think I am working by God’s power, until I have no power left, and finally then realize that I have been leaning on my own paltry resources.

My own well has run dry; if you could call it a “well” . It’s easy enough to see now that my own source of water in the wilderness is a muddy hole compared to the sweet stream of the Holy Spirit’s power in the land. And now I am turning again from my own power, and drinking deeply again of His. I think this is what they call repentance.

I am being refreshed; slowly but surely. Maybe this is something you need too.

I think during seasons of intensity, hardship, and struggle it can be really easy to just keep plowing through. It can be easy to think that there is no other way—and of course, to some extent, you do have to keep going. There are people depending on you. Work has to be done.

All that is well and good. But I have found that sometimes I use these “have to’s” as an excuse to never sit still. It’s the control freak in me. It’s the pride to again accomplish all that needs doing by my own will power. And it’s also the fear: because I knew if I sit still long enough I’m going to have to wrestle with the emotional level of what is going on around me, and I don’t want to.

Sometimes the first step to finding God’s provision and refreshment in a dry and desert season, is to stop looking.

Huh?

Sometimes it’s just time to sit down, cry out to God, and wait. Sometimes we are missing the blessing of the refreshment He wants to offer us right here and right now because we are so busy running around doing ALL-THE-THINGS trying to manufacture a life that feels more manageable and under control.

For our family in this season, a rhythm that has served us with consistency has been the rhythm of taking a day of rest: of accepting from the good hand of God our Father, the gift of Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest

I know you might come to this phrase with a whole cart load of pre-conceived notions. Whether you grew up in a faith tradition that practiced Sabbath religiously, or whether you see that word here and think, “hey, we don’t have to follow the law anymore remember?” I hope you can set all those pre-conceptions aside for a moment and listen to the heartbeat of God in this passage of scripture.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV

This is what I hear God saying:

Remember—you were a slave. You were bound to work as long as there was a master standing over you. But now, you have been set free, and I am not that kind of master. I will uphold you the six days that you work, and on the seventh I will give you rest as a part of my provision for you, because I love you, and I want what is best for you.

For me, practicing Sabbath goes in direct contrast with so many of my sinful tendencies. My tendency to control, to be self-sufficient, to earn the favor of God and men by my work, to feel justified in my own over-inflated opinion of myself.

But it also stops me in my tracks when I want to just keep busy so I don’t have time to think: Sabbath is my invitation from God to stop, sit, and be with Him in the middle of whatever I am going through, and in the middle of all the big feelings I may be having about it.

Maybe this is something God wants to bless you with too: with time and space to just be still—to bring Him your cares and your struggles—to allow yourself to grieve all that needs grieving right now, in His compassionate presence.

Maybe this is a gift you are longing to unwrap, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

If so, then I have something that may help. I have created what I’m calling a Sabbath quick start guide for anyone who is interested in pursuing a more consistent rhythm of rest, and it can be yours for absolutely free. Just click the link and give me your email so I can send it your way.

There are so many more words I could write about the way this practice of Sabbath has blessed me: but the main thing I want to tell you is that the more I study what the scriptures have to say about Sabbath, the more convinced I am that it isn’t at all about doing one more religious activity—instead it is our written invitation to come to the Father, weary and broken as we are, to rest.

Sabbath is about accepting the rest that God wants to give to you as provision: even though it might not look the way you hoped or expected.

(But more on that in another post.)

For today, I hope you can ask yourself, what might my life look like if I took intentional time to rest and connect with the heart of my Father God, even and especially in this season of hardship I am going through?

And if you need another resource? Earlier this year I was delighted to partner with my friend Sarah Westfall, as she compiled the voices of so many women who are passionate about clinging to God in the midst of seasons of incredible heartache and loss. She brought us all together for a sweet little 30 day Devo called Be Still: Leaning into God when everything falls apart and you can get either your Kindle or paperback copy by clicking here.

If you have been following me on Social media, especially Instagram for any length of time, you know that I tend to share more about our Sabbath practices there than anywhere else. Starting the first Saturday of the New Year, I began a 12 week series of posts with practical tips on preparing for Sabbath and I’d love for you to follow along. You can find me there and on Facebook @gracekelleywrites.

Blessings on you Dear Reader. May the REST of God bless you today with the refreshment your soul needs.

Gracie

For when you feel confused

“Make a U-Turn at Roller Coaster Road.” The computer voice from google maps instructed. But to us in that moment, it might as well have been the voice of God.

“Are you SERIOUS?!?” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; but somehow this instruction from the google map seemed to perfectly sum up that had been going on in our lives of late.

We started down a path; prayed and sought and confirmed it. The change was coming; it was a big change and it was going to be hard, but we submitted to God’s leading. Then this: all the plans seeming to fall around our ears. We were left confused and more than a little annoyed at the little mechanical voice telling us to make a u-turn, but we were even more annoyed at God.

Why would he take us this direction, only to have us turn around this far down the road?

It didn’t make sense. It was confusing. We felt lost and wondered if he had forgotten about us for a moment; maybe holding the world in his hands really was as distracting as one would think. But no.

We knew there was purpose in this. Even in this. That this was the test of faith: would we follow him, even when it seemed like he didn’t know where he was going?

The thing to remember is that God has never been about the destination only; he’s always and forever interested in the journey. The in-between. The promised land, and the wilderness. Heaven, and the earth. The green pastures and the valley of the shadow of death. Yet he is our shepherd in both places.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Even 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 23:1-4

Restoration and rest by the green pastures and still waters; comfort and confidence in the valley of the shadow of death. The promises of God’s nearness and provision are in both places, yet the promise for the ultimate destination is not what is focused on here. Of course it is wonderful when we think of the latter half of the psalm; of the table spread in the presence of enemies, and then, the dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. But hear what God isn’t saying: “Just hang on! Just hang in there!”

More and more I realize my own inability to white-knuckle it to the finish line. I do not have the wear-with-all or will power to “hang on” and “hang in” indefinitely; though perhaps I have deceived myself into thinking I do at times. When Paul and Peter speak of “keeping the faith”, maybe they really mean, that by God’s power and his presence, we keep it. You don’t have to look further than the Israelites, God’s own chosen people, to see that we are faithless creatures. I am no different. Faithless on my own, but faithful by his empowering spirit. His spirit that whispers to my soul, “Come near. Rest awhile. Look around for signs of my provision; here in the valley it’s my staff and my rod—in the verdant valley it’s the pastures and the water. But always, and forever, it’s me.

How tempted I am to trust in the provisions, more than the provider! How often I rest in seemingly secure circumstances, instead of in my always secure place in my father’s hands and heart. Do I look around the greenest valley and fear it’s removal? Do I stand in the shadow of death and forget the one standing next to me, who has already beaten death on my behalf?

Maybe that is what you and I need most, on days where we feel lost in confusion. Maybe we need to just look up and around enough, to remember that no matter where we go, we never go alone. Though the path may seem treacherous and we are frightened out of our wits, our good Shepherd goes with us. He goes before us. He stands beside us. He takes up the rear guard. And because of the indwelling power of his spirit, he also makes his home within us.

Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.*

Even when I don’t know what is going on, and it feels like every other day is another u-turn onto roller coaster road; even when I don’t know exactly where I am going, or how I am going to get there, I can rest in the knowledge that I belong. I am safe. I am held. I am irrevocably loved.

(*Hillsong United Worship)

On Smallness and being out of control

This morning I was walking and talking with God, as I’ve come to do these days. I have been terrible at praying and abiding lately, and getting up early enough to drink my coffee on a fifteen minute walk has been a recent sanity saver for me.

But this morning I was tired; I have been so soul weary of late. I didn’t have much to say. So I asked God to keep up his end of the conversation. And this is what He said.

Look up! Look around! Do you see all of this? I made all these things. That bush and that grass. That tree and that flower. That moon, and that mist hanging over the stream. Look up! Look around! Do you see it?

He spoke joyfully; His voice exultant in my ears. And I know that my smallness before Him is my comfort; it’s a comfort I can always come back to, no matter how grand and lofty I am tempted to think I am becoming.

Yes. Yes I see it. Quiet me in my smallness, O Lord.

It was Emily P. Freeman who first inspired this thought in me, that smallness is a gift. That we can be small like the child; held by the One who loves us, who will never let us go.

It easy to see the beauty of this when I look at my baby boy, finally asleep in his crib. His newly emerging teeth have been keeping him up at night of late, but I can’t stop thinking about how sweet it is that now he holds onto my neck, and squeezes me tight. At the same time, it’s beautiful to think that just because he wasn’t holding on to me before, doesn’t mean he wasn’t held.

I held him and grew him for nine months in my womb, and then the day he emerged, I held him in my arms like the gift that he is and thanked God. THANK YOU GOD.

Did he know he was held? Could he understand? Or is it only now that he can crawl to the back of my legs, fussing along the way, pulling himself up by fists full of fabric and looking at me with those furrowed brows. I need you. Hold me. But I am always holding him. And I have held onto him long before he even knew it was me that he wanted.

Isn’t God the same way?

Holding us always, whether we acknowledge him or not. Carrying us where we need to go, meeting our daily needs like a Father—and a Mother—both.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

My lack of abiding has nothing to do with my actual state of being held by God. My refusal to acknowledge who is actually in control, does not change who is in charge. The only thing that changes is my peace, as I tune into the underlying sustaining presence of the One who can ultimately meet each and every one of my needs, and has the sovereign ability to truly do so.

He holds me. He nurtures me. He hears my cry, and carries me. Sometimes I like where we are headed; and sometimes I am screaming from the top of my lungs because I don’t understand. But as a Mother I know what He is longing for; He longs for me to wrap my tiny arms around His neck. To hold on to Him, even as He is holding on to me. Because that sign right there; that shows us both that we belong together. That we always have, and we always will.

Being a grown-up is overrated. Being “big” is overrated. To the child, perhaps being a grown-up looks like the closest thing to being like God—to that control that we all inherently crave. But then come the taxes and the bills and the clock-in-and-out job, and our clothes only agree to keep fitting us properly if we give up on that whole ice cream for breakfast idea. Our desperate grasps for control are so often fruitless and tempt us to despair. In short, being a grown-up almost always feels like a let down.

Now for the good news: for those of us who are in Christ, we can, and should be the child. Always and forever, we can revel in our smallness, in our lack of control. We don’t have to be afraid. Because we worship a God who was holding onto us with His mighty and sovereign hand long before we even knew to try and wrestle that control away from him.

Whatever your current season, Dear Reader, I ask you to remember this today: that the God of all grace has been holding onto you longer than you can imagine, and He will never let you go. Yet, in our faith, we have the privilege of wrapping our arms around His strong neck, and the comfort we receive there is not in our perceived control of situations and circumstances. No. The comfort we receive as we bury our faces in His neck, is the child’s comfort of knowing that he is held, and abiding in the loving plan of the one holding him.


Are you walking through a season of hardship or suffering? If so, I made this for you. CLICK HERE to get your FREE DOWNLOAD Scattered: a seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering.

This free resource is fueled by my desire to see lives changed by the hope that comes through faith in the God of the Bible. Nothing is too broken for Him; though the damage may be irreparable, it is not irredeemable. My prayer is that the stories, scriptures, and questions in this resource help you to see that for yourself in the midst of your own story and journey.

Cultivating Margin in the Midst of Hardship

I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.

“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.

I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.

When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.

“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.

“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”

We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.

For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?

I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.

This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.

It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.

If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?

Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.