Rest in Jesus…Despite the Rapids

It was a gorgeously sunny day as my cousin and I drifted down the creek in our canoe. I was the lookout in front, and despite the fact that this was only my second-ever canoe trip, I was enjoying the blue sky powdered with puffs of clouds, birds trilling along the banks, and the lush green of the leafed-out summer trees. Compared to the last time I had sat in the front of a canoe, on my first-ever canoe trip, water rushing beneath me, this was blissfully relaxing. The last time?—not so much, as, unbeknownst to us before we started, the river was in flood stage.

This time, though, as I breathed in the clean scents and reveled in the day, I really enjoyed it—and tried to push away the fear that this time would end up like last time, with several of us clinging to a drowned log for dear life. The creek we were on had been in flood two days before, following a violent storm that dumped sheets of rain on the land. But today, with the creek down to manageable proportions and actually more perfect conditions than normal since the water level was still on the higher side, we glided through with ease. There were a few rapids to pass through—short stretches of tumbling, sometimes white-capped water—but thankfully even the one semi-trouble spot wasn’t too bad.

Rest in Jesus 01

First canoe trip. Notice our relaxed positions, as this was before we were tipped into the river!

“You know,” I mused to Beth as I shipped paddle for a bit on a particularly straight, gentle stretch in order to enjoy the experience more, “it’s interesting that these flat, smooth spots come right before some more rapids.”

We were silent for a little, as we glided past small cliffs for banks with tree roots embedded in them. “That’s true,” she said at last. “It’s a little like life, isn’t it? Things seem to be going along so well when—bam!—something happens, and we’re in the midst of trials again.”

We laughed, as we realized our thoughts had both been following the same direction. But as we paddled on—and yes, did have another short piece of rapids to go through—I was thankful for the time to spend with her, for the gorgeous day, and even more for the beautiful memories we were making together.

No matter what happens in the intervening time between when we said goodbye not long after that canoe trip, and when we say hello again, we know the One in control of the creeks of our lives…of our flimsy canoes, of our paddles, and, ultimately, of how we will respond to the rapids. And despite the uncertainty of the terrain, of what might be around the next bend, we can rest assured that in knowing Him, we know all we need to know for today. Isn’t that precious?

Have you gone on a canoe trip before? Did you enjoy it?

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

There were maybe twenty of us youth together that December evening eight months ago—perhaps a few less; I’m not certain. Together, we had just come through a week-full of meetings at a youth conference, each day, on average, infusing us and the many other attendees with four Biblically-rich, challenging sermons. I don’t know if my sentiments then could express what the others were feeling or not, but I felt full. Spiritually fed, my soul enriched far beyond what I normally encountered in my everyday life. The Lord had shown Himself faithful in the days leading up to that chilly Saturday evening, showing me areas where I wasn’t serving Him to my fullest extent, and overall just drawing me closer to Him.

I felt full. And as I looked around the room at all the other youth—spread across the assortment of couches in the spacious, yet cozy-feeling living room, I felt so blessed to be there. To be able to spend a bit of time with these special people, some of whom were very close friends, some friends from years past, or relatives—and grateful to have shared the enriching week with them.

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude 01

Someone—our evening’s host, perhaps, who happened to be one of the speakers at the conference—suggested we all write down one thing we really appreciated or were challenged by in the previous week. As we each took time to look back, I know many of us remembered fondly different scenes from the week, and the room grew silent apart from the occasional humming as someone tried to put their thoughts onto paper.

Soon all the papers were gathered up into a plate, mixed together, then passed out randomly, and we each took turns reading what was on our particular note, then tried to guess who had written it. Some of the notes were quite in-depth, with several sentences dedicated to whatever the person was thankful for. One, I remember, simply said “Food!”—it was submitted by a younger guy in the group! While that provided humor for some of us, the thing that really struck me was how many people said they were thankful for the encouragement to be grateful. That was a theme that had been running throughout the different sermons that week, unintentionally (or intentionally by the Lord?) tying together each of the four different speaker’s messages. Although by far that wasn’t the only thing we learned it was one of the most memorable thoughts. And I’d hazard to guess that at least half of us there that night mentioned something to that effect.

Fast forward to last Friday, when I was trialing a new pattern on a jumper (online dictionary says this should properly be called a pinafore—new word usage on me!). The first attempt failed, and it was late that evening when I finished a second top, only to find out that it was way too small as well. To say the least, I wasn’t in the best of moods. Twice, the solution had eluded me, and frankly, I was quite disgusted.

The worst part about it? I had posted on Instagram earlier that afternoon—before, you can be sure, I found out that both attempts weren’t right—saying something about being thankful I could sew. That evening, I wasn’t feeling very thankful.

A latte and time for sewing this afternoon. #Thankful #littleblessings

A post shared by Esther Filbrun (@estherfilbrun) on

So yesterday, as I was happily sewing along, making my third try at getting this pinafore top done, I started thinking over what I’d learned at youth conference about being grateful. Then I thought about the gratitude list I had started right about the same time as the two failed attempts…and how, for some inexplicable reason, those two pinafore tops were not included in said list.

Any coincidence? I think not. After all, why would I be thankful for something I was decidedly not grateful for at the moment? Yes, I had appreciated the moment earlier—back when it was (ahem) social media-worthy.

But I knew it was a double standard.

So while, yes, I did write down gratitude for the completed one, I’m going to make sure to add the two failed attempts to the list, too—I learned something from them as well.

Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude 02

Because if there’s one thing I learned from the youth conference, we as God’s temple* have something priceless at our disposal. Back in the Old Testament, under the old law, the tabernacle held something precious: The altar of incense. Today, under the New Covenant, we as God’s priests (see the 1 Peter reference below) are in charge of our individual altars of incense—praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. This is a task that should be attended as our highest joy, an outflowing from our hearts because of the inflowing of the Spirit as He does His work in us.

It’s a precious thing, one I want to keep practicing. So next time my side seams don’t match up, or the garment ends up fitting much differently than I had intended, perhaps I should post a picture of that and start a trend with the hashtag #ThankfulForFailure …and a chance to try again.

Have you been practicing being thankful for things lately…even if it’s things that really didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to? What has the Lord been teaching you through failure recently?

*See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:19-22, and 1 Peter 2:4-10

Home, Sweet Home

One thing I love about being away is that I can thoroughly enjoy being home again. In saying that, though, I thoroughly enjoyed my time away…the sweet, albeit brief, reunions and all the precious memories made with our friends and family. It was so good.

Home Sweet Home 01

Little sister enjoyed petting the donkeys at the Creation Museum when we visited!

But near the end, especially those last few days as we were packing up, saying our last goodbyes, and realizing that our time had already past—like that!—it was bittersweet to realize we’d soon be home. Back to “normal” life, to a normal routine again, to just being us again. I looked forward to that. But as I looked back over the seven weeks, I knew that my heart would always be partly there—with those dear family members. Those that though I only see them once every few years, they’re still some of the nearest, dearest friends I have on this earth.

When I think of that, I know I’m so blessed.

We’ve been home just over a week now, and it’s been so, so good to be back. So good to say hello to the dear friends here, to have the comfort of my own bed (even on the nights when it gets quite frosty out!), to have my own space and just be able to be with my own family.

And as I think of all I enjoy about this temporal home, I can’t help but think of the heavenly—if I enjoy this so much, how much more should I look forward to Heaven, where we’ll forever be with Jesus? If I looked forward to being back in New Zealand, how much more should I long and yearn for the better Home? It’s then that I see how shallow I can be in my Christian walk…and how much growing I still have left to do.

In our family devotions recently, we’ve been studying Jesus’ crucifixion. And despite how horrific that ended up being, it was really interesting to discuss some of the different traits Jesus displayed during His trial and death. Love, peace, patience, and courage, just to name a few. Dad pointed out that Jesus wasn’t focusing on the next whiplash, though—He knew it was coming, but instead of looking at the “now”, Jesus was looking far ahead to the “joy that was set before Him”. In part, that’s us—and all the other courageous saints through the past ages. That’s how He could endure. How He DID endure. Partly because He knew He had to, as there was no other way to redeem us, but also partly because He knew the reward at the end would be so sweet it would be more than worth the pain.

Home Sweet Home 02

A version of The Great Bible, printed in 1566, as seen in the Ark Encounter.

As my mind raced ahead, following that “joy that was set before Him” path, a thought clicked in place that I hadn’t quite considered before. That’s how God’s saints endured, all through the ages. That’s how they stayed strong, even when they knew they were going to the stake.

It was the joy set before them. They knew about and reveled in the Home that was waiting for them on the other side, so no matter what temporal struggles they had to face on this side, they knew it was worth it all…and more. Our Lord had gone through it already, setting an example for us, and they were just treading in His footsteps. They knew, without a doubt, where they were going, and what they’d get when they got there.

Oh, that I might have faith like that when my day of testing comes! And may we all follow the Lord ever more closely, so we can spend our eternity with Him, and with all our precious brothers and sisters that have gone before us. What a reunion that will be!

When Real Life Hurts

I never thought, that morning in early October 2016, how quickly my life could be tossed into a tailspin. I had no clue then how much pain and loss can be crammed into a few minutes—a few seconds—in a day. I also had no clue as to how much the Lord’s presence could be felt even when you’re facing your worst nightmare.

Raindrops on flowers

I had no idea. And in many, many ways, I’m glad I didn’t. But as I’ve thought back on the day my oldest brother committed suicide, I’m often struck not with the ugliness and agony of that day (although that was most definitely there), but more with the love—the love that can only come from Jesus—that flowed to, over, and around us in that time.

It still makes me want to cry when I think about it. His love is beyond explanation.

I didn’t—don’t—want to write about this detail in our family’s history. It’s ugly. It’s awful. But at the same time, as month after month slides by, I’m coming to realize that not talking about a thing (surprise!) doesn’t make it just disappear. This is what happened. And as I’ve been pondering and praying about what to blog about, this is the detail that I keep coming back to:

God is good, even when life is a horrific mess.

Just recently, I was reminded of those beautiful verses in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 that go like this:

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”

God’s comfort toward us was shown in a very mighty way over the months following my brother’s death. While I don’t want to “glorify” his death in any way, or “rub it in your face”, so to speak, I do think I’m going to talk about it sometimes from here on out. Because I know this is something—as ugly as it is—that I have learned a lot from, and if my experiences can be helpful to just one person, if these painful moments can help to comfort you in what you’re going through, I’ll count my time more than worthwhile.

I don’t know a lot. But I do know one thing: God is good. And I’d like to share just a little of that with you over the next while.

Have you been through some tough stuff in your life? Did you experience the Lord’s nearness in that? What did He teach you in that time?

Fog

This morning was one of those gorgeous mornings where the fog laid thin skeins of white around the tops of trees and houses, softening tones and exuding an aura of tranquility. I remember about a year ago, two years into the drought, how I stepped outside early one chilly morning and was surprised to feel moisture on my face. It was fog! It caught me by surprise, because we rarely got moisture of any kind in the air, but feeling the slight dampness was quite refreshing.

Now, three years after the drought began, I’m thankful to say that we’ve had rain this past month—several inches, quite a bit more than what we’ve gotten the last years combined! I’m optimistically hopeful that the drought has broken, but we’ll see. For now, I’m thankful for every drop of either rain or sunshine that we receive.

Fog

Have you ever noticed on foggy mornings that you can see things you don’t normally see? It seems strange—because, after all, the fog is hiding a lot of things from view, but it’s true. One thing I’ve noticed lately are spider webs. I run into them on a very frequent basis, but often can’t see them. When they’re studded with thousands of little gems, though, sparkling beautifully especially when the sun is just peeking through the clouds, they’re absolutely gorgeous. Spiders are living out a beautiful example of following our Creator’s plan and using the gifts they have. In doing so they not only bring glory to Him by following the guidelines He gave them in making intricate works of “art”, if you will (something that even man has to marvel at!), but also create very useful food-catching homes.

Amazing, isn’t it, how complex the Lord has made our world?

Rose

This morning as I was taking off for work, I noticed the flowers on the faithful old rose bush out by our gate. They wore a few dew-drops too, and served to be another pretty reminder to me to bloom right where I’m planted. I might not be big, or important, or have a whole lot of knowledge—but I can be the best me possible and serve the Lord with everything I’ve got right here and now, and in that way glorify Him. Just like the spider. Or the rose.

And speaking of which—I need to go help my brothers shuck corn. Guess “blooming where I’m planted” involves being faithful in the needed everyday work too! 🙂

What has your daily life taught you lately?

Snippets of My Life

“It needs to be something profound,” my brain argued. “If I can’t make a good contribution to someone’s life, then it isn’t worthwhile.”

“But you haven’t posted in weeks,” my more logical side contended. “Not posting at all is just as bad—if not worse—than posting something that may or may not be encouraging.”

Chocolate
I made some dark chocolate yesterday from cocao butter, cocoa powder, a bit of salt, stevia, and vanilla essence. It’s turned out delicious!

Sigh. The struggle is real, folks. But today, I thought I’d drop in and say hello and give a quick update on life. Outside, one of my brothers along with a few other helpers are currently scraping paint off the side of my sleep out in preparation for painting. This guy…he’s dedicated. I’m thankful. That job is one that I’ve wanted to do for years, but never taken the time for (partly because I knew it was going to be a huge job, and partly because I can’t stand painting). But he’s getting it done! Two walls are already completed, so there’s only two left to do. Definitely a blessing there!

We’ve had a family living with us for over a month now. That’s been an incredible blessing, giving us a lot more fellowship than we’ve had in a good long while. They’re currently waiting for their visas to come through so they can find a job and live here on more of a permanent basis, but for now we’re just appreciating the fact that God has brought them into our lives.

This morning I worked on uploading more books. I always try to stay at least a little ahead, but this week caught up with me and Tuesday didn’t have a review. I made up for that yesterday, and have now completed the project.

Uploading Reviews

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m planning to do a bit more promotion work for a book that launched last Saturday—the first in a collection of Jane Austen re-writes! This one was a retelling of Emma. That’s one of the books that I haven’t read, but would love to sometime. Jane Eyre is at the top of my classics list right now, though—I loved that story, and am hoping to reread it since it was so good. Maybe Emma can be next? Here’s a quote from the book, Emmeline, that I really loved:

Emmeline Quote

Such encouraging words. Yes, as I’ve discovered and rediscovered lately, prayer can be the most essential thing a person can have in their life.

I’ve been working on making Bible memory work a more consistent thing in my life lately. I’ve always done some, but I’d really like to make it an everyday occurrence. Lately, I’ve just been finishing up Luke 12:22–31. What a convicting passage! Usually, I don’t worry too much about clothing or food (another way I count myself incredibly blessed—or else cursed, if the comfort of that materialism has taken my focus away from the Lord), but I do tend to worry about other things. Reading through this passage lately has reminded me again of how much my worries are no big deal to the Lord. Simple or hard, ALL things are possible through Him, and I can trust that He has and will accomplish His bigger plan in my life. I just need to take it to Him.

“And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” —Luke 12:25–28, emphasis mine

I especially find the part about “doing that thing which is least” annoying—of course I can’t grow a foot taller just by thinking about it! Jesus calls this a “least” thing, though, so only imagine what could be done with our Father watching out for us. Wow. My faith appears pretty small when I think of things that way.

What’s kept you busy these last few weeks? What has the Lord been teaching you lately?

Handed Over

Just recently, I’ve been pondering on a line from a movie about Brother Sheffey. It has come to me several times and been quite a challenge to my spiritual walk, so I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Blooming oregano

Near the end of Sheffey’s life, a young man came to him asking for forgiveness for a wrong he had committed earlier which effectively stopped Sheffey’s ministry. Following this request, Sheffey shared a profound thought.

“God never forces His will on men. He calls them unto Himself, but if they will not follow Him, then they have to go their own way. The campground is gone—not because you burned it, but because God’s people didn’t want it. And God let them have their own way.

“Every time we give up a part of our faith to try to fit into the ways of the world, we lose it forever. We lose a precious part of God’s promise. Sacrifice to the world, and the world will never give it back. And some day, when the world tells us we can no longer have our religion, except where they say, and God is driven from our schools, our government, and our homes, then God’s people can look back and know that our religion was not taken from us. It was given up. Handed over, bit by bit, until there was nothing left.”

Are you keeping the faith? Are you pushing on, against the tides of evil that are pressing in at all sides? Are you actively working against the roots of Satan that are trying to overcome your faith?

This is a sobering question for all of us, myself especially. It’s too easy to let things slip. But we must never, never do that.

Hebrews 10:22, 23—“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

2 Timothy 1:13, 14—“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.

Hold on!

Hope // My Word for 2017

The word burst upon me with a riot of color this evening, the sunset turning the leaves on the trees next to my sleepout into a beautiful green sheen. Like stagelights, except better—much, much better, because the Master Stage Director (or whatever they call them) is in control of those lights.

Hope.

I’d been working on next year’s calendar, getting it ready for use (and to share with all of you; stay tuned for that!), enjoying being able have room for inspiring quotes—a first in my calendar-making experience. And as I worked on including another quote, the words jumped out at me.

“Hope itself is like a star—not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Hope 01

Hope.

It’s a beautiful word, one that can convey so many different meanings. It’s one that often surfaces this time of year—the hope that Jesus has brought to the world through His birth, death, and resurrection. Hope for humanity beginning at the cradle and continuing through past the cross.

We say words so often that they become trite. Common. But this word—it’s alive. It can mean the difference between life and death. If you have hope, you can see beyond the pain of the present and believe through faith that your future will be better. If you have hope, you have something to cling to. A solid anchor. If you have hope, you can recognize the true beauty of the gift you’ve been given in Christ.

My mind drifted to a scene I saw as I flew home a few weeks ago after a two-week trip to the States. As we rose above the clouds over Auckland, I looked down to see the shadow of our plane floating below us. Around that shadow was a perfectly round rainbow. I’ve heard of seeing rainbows from airplanes before, but had never personally experienced it. And as I looked down, I couldn’t help but think how much the Lord is like that rainbow—surrounding us with His love, especially in the middle of storms.

Hope 02

I tried to get a picture of the rainbow. It didn’t turn out that well, but you should be able to get the idea! 🙂

Hope is like that—the life preserver, if you will, that surrounds us. A shield during the “night of adversity”.

Hope—for change, for a better future, in Jesus—is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I don’t often get into “words for the year” or things like that, but this year I’m choosing hope. As daylight fades into golden droplets on the leaves—one last fling of color before another day is gone forever—I’m thankful for hope. Thankful that it is given to us, thankful that in Christ we have more than hope for a better tomorrow. We can have hope for eternity! Praise the Lord!

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God[!]” Psalm 146:5.

Every Christian’s Nightmare

Every Christian's Nightmare

One night recently as I was getting ready for bed, I was suddenly struck with a thought. It might be worth something, it might not, but it did provide some interesting fodder to mull over as I went to sleep.

It’s every Christian’s nightmare that Jesus will go to sleep on us.

That isn’t going to happen, but have we gone to sleep on Him? Have we become so caught up in our day-to-day lives and our pet little routines that in effect we’ve squished any form of our Christian lives into one nice little bow-tied box called “I’m a Christian”? Have we begun turning to encouraging worship music instead of turning to Him? Have we slipped a little “devotional time” in our mornings or just before bed just so we can feel good about ourselves and know that we’re doing this Christian thing right? Have we so minimalized our Christianity that in effect we really aren’t any different from anyone else—we’ve just got a few slightly different daily rhythms?

Humor me for a second, and think about it. Are we really that pitiful?

Wait

Wait on the Lord

In my single-digit days, one of the things I most despised hearing from Mom were the words “hold your horses!” And, sadly, as I’ve gotten a little older that hasn’t changed much. She still reminds me, when I start heading down multiple what if? rabbit trails at once, to stop, be patient, and well…just wait.

Funny thing is, the Bible has some things to say about this too. Psalm 27:14, for example, has this to say about it:

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

And, of course, one of my favorite verses lately has a similar theme to it:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The thing is, God doesn’t always show us His “understanding” right away. He doesn’t even “strengthen our hearts” right away. He doesn’t always “direct our paths” just as soon as we pray, “direct me, please!”

It’s hard to wait when you’re afraid. Hard to believe that God really is going to come through and be with you, is going to follow through on His promises. I think of all those people listed in Hebrews 11, and wonder how many of them battled fear even while clinging to the faith that earned them a place among the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)? Many, I’d expect.

So today, as I go about my daily life, trying to commit my cares to the Lord and asking Him to help me trust Him more, I’m asking for patience to wait. For patience to just rest, see that the Lord is good, and follow His plan.

Not trusting is wearing—physically, emotionally, spiritually. But trusting Him? While it may be hard, we can be sure we have a firm foundation—because Christ has risen! (See 1 Corinthians 15:13-22.)