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Longing for Lion Eyes

Carissa A —  September 10, 2016 — 1 Comment

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You have lion eyes,” my dad said. “Like mine.”

I inherited his eyes – brown and molten gold in the sunlight, and I long for the heart behind those eyes – reflecting both warm tenderness and fierce flashes of fortitude. Instead, I wake from care-ridden nights of fear, tossing and turning the tables on myself.

As much as I long to have lion-hearted valiance, my eyes too often dim with hesitation and weariness. I turn my gaze downward, rather than setting my mind’s eye on eternal things.

I can only be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Only then can I “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6). This is a faith-driven fearlessness in the face of the most menacing foes – even death itself.

We must have a reverent fear of God, awestruck and speechless in light of His infinite holiness. Through this worshipful fear, we move forward with a bravery provided through our Great High Priest, the Lion of Judah Himself. His atonement guarantees that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

This mercy and grace will carry us to a place of fearless determination, where our lives are spent for the gospel. It fuels a willingness to “run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

Eyes that blaze with lion-hearted courage are only possible as we gaze on Him who redeemed us. Filling our eyes with the Lord’s splendor and majesty, we behold His glory and reflect that glory with the brilliance of unshakable hope in our “sure and steadfast anchor” (Heb. 6:19).

May we run in His strength alone, pursuing lion-like boldness, confident joy, and courageous devotion.

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Here is a sampling of the books I read this summer! With the exception of Bible reading and various ongoing devotional readings, this represents a substantial amount of what I read over the course of the past few months. I am a firm believer in one’s reading list reflecting a lot of who they are, so welcome to a bit of who I am, embodied in my summer reading list.

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy (fiction): Ivan Ilyich is a haunting exploration of one man’s foray into the heights of worldly success and his ultimate downfall – a dire diagnosis leading to a rapidly dark confrontation with death.

Why you should read it: At some point, every person must come face-to-face with the sure reality of death in their own life and the lives of others. This book excellently chronicles the struggle of a man devoid of hope, echoing the turmoil of millions even today. For Christians, this should drive an increased urgency in sharing the gospel with those around us. Thanks be to God, through whom “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:55)!

  • Into All the World: Four Stories of Pioneer Missionaries, Vance Christie (biography): One of several missionary biographies I delved into this summer, Into All the World succinctly chronicles the lives and ministries of four pioneer missionaries into previously unreached areas: David Brainerd to Native Americans in colonial America, Adoniram Judson in Burma, Robert Moffat in South Africa, and John Paton in the South Pacific.

Why you should read it: Stories of the Lord’s faithfulness throughout the history of His church are manifold, and I often found myself in chills reading about the tenacity and courage of these pioneer missionaries as well as others, such as Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. Missionary biographies provide a wonderful opportunity to worship the Lord for His great power worked through the lives of redeemed sinners for His glory!

  • The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer (Christian living): Tozer’s book is a brief exploration of the attributes of God, approached in reverence and awe. His passion and love for the character of God and focus on increased praise given to the Godhead is stirring and thought-provoking.

Why you should read it: In his Institutes, Calvin said, “Though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, due arrangement requires that we treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.” Therefore, we must be dedicated to a pursuit of the knowledge of the Most High. It is only in light of His character and truth that all else falls into place.

  • The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak (fiction): The Book Thief, to this day, is one of the most phenomenally written novels I have ever read. A monumental work of human experience set in 1940s Germany, this book combines rich imagery and grand themes, all woven into a deeply immersive story.

Why you should read it: If a well-executed, personified Death as narrator is not enough to convince you, let me just say that the utter vastness of content in this 550 page book goes far beyond its pages. The gripping nature of Zusak’s exploration of the human heart will leave you reeling for days, as it certainly still does every time I reread it.

  • North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell (fiction): Margaret Hale, the main character of North and South, is described as a “renegade clergyman’s daughter.” Though meant as an insult, this descriptor is actually the one that best embodies Hale’s spirit. Driven by the strength of her faith and compassion for others, Hale embarks on a journey into the suffering world of the impoverished and downtrodden.

Why you should read it: Hale’s unflinching fearlessness in the midst of rioting, class tension, and all sorts of other obstacles is mesmerizing. This heroine is also described as having a “straight, fearless, dignified presence” and “stately simplicity,” making her one to admire as a “framework of elegance.”

  • Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot (Christian living): Elliot’s firm motivation for a well-ordered life is a love and devotion to her Lord, in discipline of everything from feelings to time. She is open and honest, correcting wrong thinking in her writing with much needed truth from Scripture.

Why you should read it: Well, it’s written by Elisabeth Elliot. Enough said. Really though, her prose is straightforward and piercing, full of both conviction and encouragement. A crucial read for any person in any stage of life!

  • The Savage My Kinsman, Elisabeth Elliot (autobiography): The Savage My Kinsman is a chronicle of Elisabeth Elliot’s time spent living with the Indian tribe that killed her husband. Hers is a story of remarkable working of the Lord in the life of a young widow willing to commit herself to the gospel, no matter the cost.

Why you should read it: In spite of hostility and a real threat to her very life, Elisabeth Elliot was determined to be committed in proclaiming the gospel of her God in some of the most grueling life circumstances imaginable. Within the Auca tribe’s village, she truly lived 2 Corinthians 12:15: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.”

  • Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot, (Christian living): Elliot’s book is a challenge for women of the Word to stand strong with backbones of steel in conviction, integrity, dignity, and an unwavering devotion to their God.

Why you should read it: What it means to be a woman is clearly defined in Scripture, and Elliot writes bite-sized chapters based on those truths with examples and anecdotes. Moving on from this book, I was abundantly encouraged to walk in closer communion to the Lord through His word.

  • Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot, (biography): A thorough and at times chilling recounting of the lives of five young missionary men who poured out their lives to reach a tribe that mercilessly killed them, this is a tale of ordinary men called by an extraordinary God for an extraordinary mission.

Why you should read it: Radical Christian sacrifice is a reality we are all called to. Though it may not directly result in the loss of our lives on the mission field, we know that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). We must be willing to sacrifice all for the sake of Him who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Is. 53), devoting all we have to His service.

  • Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss (Christian living/biographical fiction): Prentiss describes one woman’s journey from being a 16-year-old girl to mature womanhood, all through biographically based journal entries in this 19th century classic.

Why you should read it: If anything, read Stepping Heavenward for stunning quotes like this one: “Cheerfully and gratefully I lay myself and all I am or own at the feet of Him who redeemed me with His precious blood, determining to follow Him, bearing the cross He lays upon me.”

May that be my heartcry now and always.

What books did you read this summer? Which books would you like to read?

Traveling Home

Carissa A —  August 8, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I am at home among the trees. In the forest, the air is full of brimming life, and towering pine branches rustle whisperings of majesty. Nature draws me to awe-filled worship of the King, and I often ache to make my home in the woodlands.

I blissfully drive Guinevere, my trusty black Honda Accord, through winding, tree-lined roads, euphoric in the exploration of nature. Yet I must remember even the most scenic views are temporal and mere shadows of the splendor to come – when we arrive home.

Home. 

Where is that elusive idea? I have found homes in treasured people and places alike, but they cannot be the stabilizing anchors of my heart, for they will pass away. But His Word and His truth and His city never pass away.

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

I am an earthly nomad – a sojourner and pilgrim in this world, waiting for the heavenly home where I truly belong. I long for that eternal, heavenly city along with a chorus of blood-bought sinners who have all received undeserved grace upon grace.

Still within the firm grip of time and not yet caught in the unending stream of eternity, we strive and toil in this life. We pursue holiness and faithfulness and yearn for the day when we weary pilgrims reach the Celestial City.

Until the sovereignly ordained moment when I reach my final destination, I will journey through woods and waves. I will seek the One who is worthy to be praised and honored all my days on this earth. I will serve Him with what meager gifts I have, resigned to the perfection of His providence.

I catch glimpses of that kind of tenacious devotion – like a child peeking through her fingers, temporarily blinded at the brilliance of God’s glory. If I’m not rooted in Christ, I’ll wander all over the earth, chased by incessant restlessness, which is why I must be anchored in His word.

I will continue to travel through this swift earthly existence, driving Guinevere beneath star-emblazoned skies, along endless coastal highways and windy, mountainous roads. But my real destination is farther and unseen.

Until. 

The day when I experience sweetest and fullest communion with my Lord and His saints is coming. In that great and final day, I imagine that the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” will sound quite a bit like “Welcome home.”


For more breathtaking shots of Yosemite, watch “Euphoria,” a stunning supercut video from Caleb Arend Films.

The Fragility of Life

Carissa A —  July 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“I was hit by a car.”

There, the answer to my strangulated “Dad?” after muffled voices, road clamor, and the ominous absence of that all-too-familiar voice.

My stomach plunged to the depths of my worst fears. He was alive – that was all I knew. I floated in an eerie numbness from office chair to bedroom door to kitchen.

My mom flew out of the house and into the car, hurtling towards her husband and a mangled road bike. I continued cutting the cantaloupe she left in her wake, because when tragedy strikes, someone must continue the cutting of abandoned cantaloupe and ponder the fragility of life.

I surrender all.

Those words have new meaning when you prepare to bid farewell to the dearest objects of your heart. Am I willing to utterly and irrevocably surrender all to my King, whose reign encompasses my temporal and feeble existence?

When my heart becomes dulled to the life-giving gospel, I forfeit my ability to truly live as I am called to live. There is far too much at stake to waste this fragile life — this frail existence swinging over the brink of eternity, destined to drop away into the depths of infinity at any time.

Can I take the fall?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

All is from His hand – a full heart, broken heart, even a halted heart. These are multiplicities and prismatic variations, but in Him there is not even a hint of variation or change. In a vortex of changes, He remains the immovable epicenter. 

Even when life seems to be at its flourishing zenith, it is fleeting. Though awash in golden, ambrosial light, every morning comes to an end, speeding to the next stage of time. The morning of one’s life quickly diminishes as the brilliant light of dawn melds into vibrant tones and shades and flavors throughout the lovely yet fleeting cycle. All too soon, night approaches. 

To whose light will you run to in the eventide of life? Whose light will illumine the dark trenches of dimming day? 

The Lord of light Himself is and must be your answer. He is the only one who can irradiate and eradicate the dungeon of death – both natural, inborn spiritual death and natural, inevitable physical death.

Life is more than gazing upon the sight of green-draped mountainous heights and stunning sea depths. A pursuit of the height and depth of Christ’s magnificence is the only secure light, upon which we may be anchored in the everlasting morning of His love – stronger than death itself.

Abounding Grace

Carissa A —  July 8, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Cor. 9:8

Grace is remarkable to me. It is the rushing power of God’s grace that drives the past, present, and glorious future. His grace sustains every moment of my existence. As the years progress, I view in greater measure the depth of meaning behind my name – Carissa from charis, “grace” in Greek.

He is able to make all grace abound; therefore, He is far above all itself, attesting to God’s infinitude and omnipotence. When we correctly align our doctrine of God with Scripture, we can affirm that yes, it is indeed in His character to make all the possible streams of grace accessible to us in Christ.

This grace is not merely accessible, but abounding, overflowing, and ever-increasing. Our God is outside the limits of confinement and constraint. He obliterates the floodgates of restraint with the truth of His boundless character. As a result, He is more than capable of granting to us all we need “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)

In Christ, we not only have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), but we have all sufficiency. The ultimate filling of our cavernous and thirsty hearts is possible through the atoning work of Christ alone, and it is complete for “all things at all times”. Since the rich plenitude of this grace has been lavished on us (Eph. 1:7-8), we are able to abound in every good work as God causes all grace to abound to us. We are conduits of His grace to a lost and dying world.

We can trust that God is magnificently almighty in His lovingkindness and accordingly, we are enabled to joyously abound in the work He has called us to. He has provided an abundant reservoir of His mercy stored up for us in the place of well-deserved wrath, even when our circumstances seem to indicate spiritual scarcity. We can find joy in obedience, an overflow from jubilees of praise, and find fullness of satisfaction in Him alone.

He is more than able to meet every need in Himself, for His grace is far greater than the powerful cascades of any and every waterfall on Earth.

Facing the Past

Carissa A —  July 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“No.”

I turn, look straight at my nostalgia, and I say it again.

“No.”

Shaking my head like an exasperated parent (“Not again…”), I sigh and take the hand of my nostalgia, pulling it away from a painted mirage of the past overlaid on the present. We’re here again – “here” being near a place or person undeniably laced with memory. Haunted.

“No,” I sternly warn that desperate, hungry nostalgia. “You will not take this place and warp it through a fisheye lens of sadness.” A deep, melancholy breath.


Nostalgia and I no longer square off like old arch-rivals. Now we meet up for coffee every so often. Like a distanced friend, I immerse myself in nostalgia’s presence only once in a great while. There are far too many circumstances flooding my senses in the present moment to lurk amidst shadows of past memories and miss them all.

Looking back can be dangerous. It’s impossible to grow when you’re fixated on fighting against the road you’re predestined to travel.

Nostalgia again: sinister, insisting, “Remember how wonderful this was?”

Yes, I remember. But then I remember this is not all there is, that this world is not my home. My joy and my life are grounded in redemptive truth that exists outside of time – outside of me. At the end of the day, it is not my own past that defines me. In fact, it is neither my own present nor my future that defines me, either. There is only one past event truly defining who I am.

The cross.

When the second person of the Trinity bore my sin and shame upon the cross, dying the death I deserve after living the life I could not, that, yes that is the past that defines me. I am not my own (1 Cor. 6:19-20), for I have been bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ. Upon His death and victorious resurrection lies the crucial hinge-pin of my life’s very purpose.

I don’t serve the god of the past, my nostalgia, or lingering, leech-like pain. I serve the only true God, whose immeasurable worth is beyond compare; an infinitude of words could never do His character justice. 

I know I’m safe in His sovereign and omnipotent care. If anything, the past should have taught me that. Evidences of His work in my life are as numerous as the galaxies of stars He knows by name.

This life is pretty breathtaking. The fact that we are living, feeling beings suspended in space surrounded by a universe of fathomless infinitude only surpassed by the living God is astonishing.

The past, the future, and the moments you graciously spent reading these tear-stained words are all ordained by the Creator and Upholder of time itself. In light of His all-sufficient grace, a battle with nostalgia is infinitesimal since each memory is absolutely necessary to guide you to where you need to be. Press on.

The Weight of Joy

Carissa A —  June 11, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” –Psalm 103:11

I like cloudy days. Deep cloud banks hold more weight than airy blue skies, and I feel that weight acutely. I empathize with the sky. The weight of both sorrow and joy.

Did you know joy has weight? I certainly didn’t, until I felt the seemingly insurmountable weight of all else. Trapped beneath a collapsing sky. The clouds that appeared so friendly now threaten to close in, suffocating all thoughts of His steadfast love. But regardless of how I feel, the sky remains intact, and His love is from everlasting to everlasting.

True joy is weighty. It’s not all airy, giddy, and light. Joy is weighty because it cannot – must not – rely on trivial things. These things are fleeting, but true joy is unwavering and rooted in eternity.

“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” –Lamentations 3:41

I attempt to lift my heart to heaven, but I’m left gasping for air with the weight of fear and heartache and lamentations. Tears rise unbidden when anxieties fall heavy. I tremble at the thought of change. Blanketed in melancholy, I experience immense weight, but I know a greater, steadying weight that undergirds and supersedes all.

The thundering of the storm brings to mind the thundering power of my Savior. I am safe and sheltered, guarded in the shadow of His wingsthe sovereignty of His reign. The beauty of a life lived in submission to a loving Heavenly Father is that He holds the future in His hands. He has lavished His torrential grace upon me; He is the God of all renown, and He can be trusted.

Lifting my weary eyes to the sky, I watch radiant rays slanting through slits in ominously thick fog banks. I catch glimpses of glowing heavenlight slipping through the darkness. The heights of hope are undaunted by the density of the dark.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” –Psalm 27:1

This is the weight of joy.

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I trace the zigzag of sorrowful eyes, darting from ground to eyes to hands, sustaining eye contact and then dropping low to the sidewalk, like the worn-out rhythm of a melancholy jazz tune, sustained notes of sadness melding into hope, because we are called to the greatest hope.

“There are some who would have Christ cheap. They would have Him without the cross. But the price will not come down.” – Samuel Rutherford

We are only whole with the restorative power of the gospel. We must lay aside every distraction and snare in our pursuit of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Eph 3:8) In following Christ and enduring the intense suffering of this life, there is a long, narrow, and difficult road ahead. 

The gospel is worth suffering for and fighting for. Truth is valuable, and truth is costly.

Are you willing to surrender all? Will you live a crucified life for the sake of that truth? Surrendering all is not futile. It is leaving all behind for something greater, something infinitely worthy of wholehearted pursuit. It means fulfillment and purpose found in denying self and focusing on increasing glory given to Christ.

How can Paul say he is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities (2 Cor. 12:10), all for the sake of Christ?

When the Almighty Creator of the universe calls you by name, redeems you, and seals you for all eternity, it gives pain great purpose. He calls us to a living hope that will not put us to shame, and we can have unwavering confidence in His promises. We glory in weakness, because He is our strength.

We rely on our sure foundation and proclaim Him as the only one worthy of praise – Christ Jesus our Savior. It is in the fiery tempest when we truly see that He is faithful from everlasting to everlasting. We are undeserving recipients of His grace, and we magnify Him in uniquely kaleidoscopic ways through our pain.

We are struck down, but not destroyed. We are never defeated by the darkest forces of sorrow, because Christ is victorious.

We rise. And we fall. But we will indeed rise, just as He rose victoriously from the grave, and we too will rise to be with Him. Now we rise continually, with the cadence of a meaningful life focused on eternity, pressing on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Our hope is sure. When we totter on the edge of sorrow and anxiety, we can be steadied, knowing “in every change, He faithful will remain.”

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair (2 Cor. 4:8). Despair has no hold on those for whom Christ died.

We rise in His strength alone. We take our stand beneath the cross, knowing we will rise to eternity, to dwell with Him forever.

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August meant the loss of summertime’s ethereal haze. The barren landscape of RVs on the crest of Silver Strand State Beach was laid on a backdrop of breathtaking blue. In defiance of fleeting summer days, my brothers and I spent those days with salt water hitting our mouths and waves crashing on our heads, tugging our hair with the tide toward shore. The ocean remained unchanging, though the tide ever rolled in and retreated, in the early, squinty mornings of that endless summer to the cloudless nights where the star-dusted sky flowed through the horizon and into moonlit waves.

My idealism reached an all time high during that euphoric season. I was bound only by the limit of my imagination and as a result, I was limitless. One such limit to test, as it turned out, was the boating buoy a mile offshore. If I conquered that estranged red sphere, I theorized, I could conquer the looming months of high school ahead.

My brother and I ate lunch on the scorching white sand before kayaking out to the buoy. I was filled with a well-prepared turkey sandwich and confident exhilaration. My revel in the endlessness of that saltwater afternoon was merely a brief love affair I knew would come to an end all too soon. I could paddle out to that buoy, I thought. I could paddle out and around and away, off into open sea, to romantically perish at the hands (or teeth) of a shark.

God has a sense of humor. I am sure of it.

We were a mile offshore, just having circled the altogether unimpressive boating buoy. The up-and-down rhythm of the tide was lulling, and if our parched throats hadn’t driven us to paddle back, we might have been allured to explore further. The buoy certainly didn’t mind the company – he rarely had visitors. The beach stretched out far into the distance in front of us. We began to travel back.

When I saw the fin, I thought it was a dolphin. I saw and I thought and I idealized, as only I can do. My lens of crystalline serenity was shattered by my brother informing me that this was, in fact, a brown fin, not grey. Slightly miffed at the skewed reality that intruded on my romanticism, it took a moment to register that this fin was zigzagging directly toward the bow of our sturdy sea vessel, which was beginning to look a lot more like an endangered inflatable kayak. We froze. The fin slipped underwater right before reaching the front of the kayak. My arm muscles strained to keep the oar perfectly still across my lap and for an agonizing moment, all I could hear was the labored breathing of my brother and the gentle lapping of the water against the boat.

And then she was right there.

She passed under the kayak, and it was just my luck that she reappeared not two feet from my trembling hands. Just barely below me, and as large, if not larger than our ten-foot kayak, she was close enough to touch. I watched in breathless awe as she passed. Her monstrous back was speckled with a vividly unique design, and her jagged tail lazily propelled her out into the open sea behind us. While I was terrified out of my mind, I also envied her. In the midst of my fear, I felt fascination and a desire to share in her freedom, to glide through the vast ocean, unhindered by worries and cares.

That August and every August since, I envy the shark.