sabbath and the church of clean bed sheets.

Tonight, church looks like stretching out under freshly washed bed sheets with a lavender candle flickering on the side table. I can barely hear the hum of the dryer over the worship album flooding through my headphones. It is Saturday. Sabbath. These ordained moments, preciously crafted to remind me that rest was never an afterthought. These moments, intricately designed to still my soul and return my attention to Father God.

Tomorrow, things change. I have known this for going on four weeks now, and have forced myself to be cautiously optimistic. Whenever someone asked me if I am excited for what is to come, this is how I have described myself, trying not to let on that change has never been something that I have relished, especially when the plucking from all familiarity is completely beyond my control.

This place is where I come to tell the truth: I am deeply afraid. But you already knew that. Fear has never had to force its way to center stage in my life, simply because I have never really had the courage to stand up to it. Perhaps what I’m realizing tonight, the truth that leaves me lying awake, is that that is beginning to change, too. It is an uncomfortable revelation, because I have learned there is a certain feeling of security that comes with allowing fear to run the show.

That verse about fear and love not being able to coexist? I’ve always known it. But what the mind has filed away doesn’t always find its way to the heart, and trust is a path not quickly or easily worn.

Call me crazy, but I feel like I’m about to go on a date with God. 

I never went on many dates, but on the rare occasion that I was asked, I would always stand in front of the closet for what seemed like hours trying to decide between classic black and something more bold and adventurous. I would fret over the possibility of getting spinach stuck in my teeth or saying the wrong thing, after which the date would consist solely of awkward silence. And I would try to recollect all the small details about my life that seemed impressive and enticing. The possibility would absolutely terrify and excite me.

Something is different about this, though.

He already loves me. Just the way I look tonight. I am unarmed and I am undone. 

Nothing I could boast will impress him. No flaw will deter him. But I try anyway. Like Gideon, crouched in hiding, I whisper through the tears: surely, you have chosen the wrong person for this victory, this wild love affair.

His response is always the same. He simply asks me to trust him through the uncertainty. He asks if he can go before me, and I can tell, he’s hoping this time his pleas will get stuck in the cracks of my worn out heart. His face is tender as he quietly speaks a bigger truth: striving has never been the way to meet love. I breathe deep. We both know that I am exhausted.

A friend told me this years ago, and her words have never left me: everything Jesus is says that it is okay to be weary. Everything about him says that it is okay to be uncertain. We simply have to be willing to bend a little, and it is okay to acknowledge that flexibility doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and discipline and showing up, even when you’re scared, and even when inspiration seems to have stood you up.

For the first time, perhaps in my entire life, my hunger for the love weighs more than my fear of the uncertainty. It outweighs my perceptions of control and safety, which can’t save me, even on my best days. My hunger for this love affair is more intense than any desire for success or popularity or any trivial thing that I have worked to earn.

Because what I can be certain of is that if I let him go before me, I can trust that he will catch me. He will dust me off and sweep me off my feet again. I can feel him beginning to win my heart; fear being crowded out as he patiently woos me.

And I want to keep showing up for this. Because the greatest love stories always grow from uncertainty, closing your eyes, and leaping anyway.

 

thoughts on leaving & fresh starts.

I’ve spent the past few days at home, recuperating from a car accident. Most of that time has been spent sleeping, but during my few waking hours, I have had a lot of time to think about what is to come in the next days and weeks. Naturally, I have tried to drown the thoughts with endless episodes of Law & Order SVU and documentaries on the royal family. I’ve spent time browsing Facebook, trying to catch up on highlights that seem to constantly reel from everyone’s life but mine. It was there that I stumbled across a photograph of a girl sitting in a little cafe in the heart of New York City.

The caption read: I’m twenty-four, and I’m already on my third fresh start.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t shake it. She was beautiful, and her words resonated somewhere deep in my soul, and I am a romantic at heart.

I think back to the beginning of college, and how in those days, I felt every bit like a Pablo Neruda poem. Everything felt transformed, the way you feel when you can finally breathe deep the coming of a new season. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I would sit for hours on the patio of our little cafe and become totally submersed in the beauty and mystery of words. I fell hard for a boy who was rugged and adventurous and passionate and refused to back down from an opportunity to share the Jesus that he knew, even if that Jesus didn’t look quite like the other person’s. In my mind, he broke all the right rules and embodied all the things that I wanted to be. When his car pulled into a space in front of the campus coffee shop, my heart would always skip a beat. I wanted to be the girl who impressed him. A year and a half later, his body would dissolve under the weight of the cancer, which was probably there before we even said our first hello’s. Now, I remember him with fondness and respect, and it has taken me this long to realize that even though he was deeply loved by all who knew him, he was a person with flaws and fears the same as my own.

Then, I fell head over heels for a boy that lived half way across the country. He had wooed me with his smooth compliments and messy hair, and we would instant message until the wee hours of the morning. He was charming and funny, making comments about how he thought of me every time that Bruno Mars song came on the radio. He had all but convinced me to drop my whole life and move to Texas when one day, he asked me if we could have a conversation that didn’t involve God. Needless to say, things quickly devolved after that, and my friends held a legitimate intervention over cold cafeteria lunch.

Eventually, I married one of those friends. And I haven’t looked back. Grace is always inviting us to look forward.

But my pendulum hasn’t stopped swinging. For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction, and when trying to be mysterious and hiding bottles of red wine under my bed in my dorm room stopped working, I put all of my striving towards being the good girl. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, the perfect accountability partner, the perfect church greeter. I wanted the words I wrote to be syrupy sweet, which was a stark contrast to the dark and gritty words I had penned in the years earlier. To be fair, I was never really in danger of being a “bad” girl, but the idea of being someone else was intoxicating. It never really mattered who — I just wanted to be someone, anyone else. The me that I knew on the inside was on the edge.

Maybe that has always been the case. I have lived completely enamored by the idea of being anyone other than myself. I have been willfully cruel to my heart and my body. I have fallen victim to and become addicted to comparing myself to others. Envy is a drug that will cause you to rot from the inside out.

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That has always been me: the girl with no permeable membrane. I absorb everything without any regard for the consequences. I carry headlines and tragedy and grief and responsibility around with me in heavy suitcases, and can’t remember a time when I felt light. As long as I can hide behind the heaviness, I don’t have to deal with the truth of what’s going on inside my soul. Chesterton was right, it is easy to be heavy. Eventually, you completely forget that you can’t breathe. Even on the good days, the whole of your life could be chalked up to simply surviving.

When I chose bloom as my word for the year, I didn’t realize how difficult the lesson would be. But isn’t that just like God? We plan our way, but he determines our steps. I didn’t realize how much work it would take, how much introspection would be required of me. I am an expert at avoiding the ugly places — the places I’m still afraid to admit are barren and parched. The places I’m honest-to-God terrified of surrendering.

Yeah, those places exist. I’m not proud of them. Really, I’d rather keep them hidden for all eternity. But hiding isn’t exactly conducive to any sort of growth.

I figured I would start small. Even though we were in a town that we felt no affection toward, I committed to not have such a bad attitude about it. Or at least try not to have such a bad attitude. Then I worked halfheartedly on my attitude about my job, my marriage, my ministry, my body. I invited other twentysomething women over for dinner. I started tithing and volunteering more at church. I thought if I could perform better, faster, and stronger, blooming would happen naturally. What I didn’t realize, and perhaps avoided realizing, was that blooming had nothing to do with my performance and everything to do with where I was remaining. I was remaining in my own perception of security, my personal ivory tower of Babel, trying to work my way into the good graces of a God that I had invented.

You guys, I can talk such a big talk. It is scary how well I wear these masks. But it is time to get real.

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To remain is to stay, persist, abide, and endure. None of these things has ever come easily to me. I suppose, like any good thing, remaining takes practice. It takes giving everything over to the discipline — to eat it, sleep it, breathe it.

Breathe it. 

His name literally means the sound of breathing. Can I actually force myself to settle down and cope with something so simple? That’s the thing about this faith — it always manages to turn common sense on its head.

To remain is to wrestle — to wrestle with the God of the universe and hand over all of my insecurities and my frustrations on the days where I want to shake my fists and ask what the hell he was thinking when he decided to make someone like me.  To wrestle like Jacob, who refused to let go until he received the blessing.

There’s a longing inside of me, a hunger for the real God — not the one I’ve made up to suit my own personal preferences and agenda. Most of the time, that God would eventually morph into a failure seeking fear monger.  Who would want to give their heart over to that?

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I don’t really know why I’ve written all of this down. I guess it is because my husband and I are getting ready to move and I am nervous. It is a fresh start — another chance to start over and be anyone I want to be. A chance to impress people with my little bit of mystery, my love for documentaries, my dupe for Carrabba’s delicious olive oil bread dip, and a blog that has been read on five continents.

But I’ve been defining myself by those things for too long. I want to leave them behind and make room for my soul to breathe — to unpack the baggage, to learn what it means to cease striving and simply be; to remain solely in Christ, apart from whom I can do nothing. I wonder at what it must be like to walk in that kind of freedom. I’ve decided that more than I want people to be impressed by what I can do, I want them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am seeking the kingdom first. In the curves of my body, the recesses of my mind, and the depths of my soul. But first I have to know that for myself.

It is hard to be light. But I’d like to try.

The atrophy and the harvest.

If I could only make use of one word to describe my feelings and thoughts over the past few months, it would be hungry. Like the kind of hungry you get when you’ve skipped lunch and now can’t decide what you want for dinner because each idea sounds more enticing than the last.

It started back in April, when my husband announced that he wanted to begin looking for a new place to live. In the beginning, I tried to shake the nagging thought that if I just had enough faith, a door would open for us to return to the town where we lived in college — where we still have close friends and faithfully attend church. I knew in my heart of hearts that it was an unlikely scenario, but I hoped for it anyway, in spite of the overwhelming odds. Eventually, I even became frustrated with God, who seemed to hide away in silent ignorance of my longing.

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At the same time as we were searching for a new place to live, I was reading Shauna Niequist’s book Bittersweet. Its the kind of book that you could easily devour in a single lazy afternoon, but it is so good that you would never want to. I made her words last for three whole weeks, carefully counting each one and considering the lesson it wanted to teach me. I turned the words over like stones, feeling their weight in my palms.

I’ve never been good at living in the bittersweet tension of right here and right now. I live in haste — craving God’s plan for tomorrow, and ignoring the plan that he has for today.

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The summer of 2011, I fell and broke my leg while working at a camp at college. I knew the instant it happened that it was bad, and I remember the doctor telling me, with shockingly poor bedside manner, just how bad it was. The bone was broken clean through just above my ankle, which had been dislocated, and I had fractured a bone in my foot.

The group of fellow leaders prayed for healing, softly laying hands on my pitifully casted limb. But there was no instantaneous healing. Instead, there was surgery and physical therapy. As painful as the physical injury was, some instances of vulnerability were even more so. And I remember the day when a friend nervously told me that he questioned whether or not the lack of healing was due to his own lack of faith.

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When I was preparing to graduate from college, I had this fear that the school would find a reason to withhold my diploma. I imagined them combing my academic file with a fine toothed comb, in search of even the smallest setback. I’m sorry, we cannot let you graduate, they would say. You have a seven cent fine in the library. Or worse, we recalculated the points for your statistics final, and you did not pass the course. I was considering all the scenarios, even as my class practiced entering the chapel, rising and being seated on cue. My gut lurched at the thought of the past four years of blood, sweat, and tears being for naught.

And now, looking back, I wonder. Is this really how I view God? Like some distant registrar, combing through a file in search of failure? Waiting until the last possible moment, when all my hopes are up, to let me know I still owe him?

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When I finally took the moon boot off of my newly healed leg, half of my calf muscle had all but disappeared. I think it was Danielle LaPorte who talked about how the desire muscle can atrophy. It was one of those concepts that left me short of breath, realizing that my dreams are chilling out on the back burner, their consistency being morphed into that of day old oatmeal.

I’ve talked a lot about my dreams lately, but I haven’t been terribly specific. I’m also not very explicit about my goals — mostly because accountability makes me squeamish, and the last thing I want to do is disappoint. I’m afraid of what will happen if the engine stalls. So for the most part, I settle for simply wishing things were different.

I do this with God, too. I want him, but at the same time, I’m afraid to want him. I echo Flannery O’Connor’s prayer, dear God, I cannot love thee the way I want. 

Recently, I threw my prayer journal across my bedroom in a fit of frustration. I wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible after coming to the incredibly painful realization that I have been holding back. There were so many things I was unable to scribble out onto the pages that night. But how on earth do I even begin to explain to God just how hungry I am —  and how I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve asked him just to throw me a bone instead of going hard after the whole harvest?

I want to know his wild thoughts, to walk in ways that are higher than my own. I want the green pastures.

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I’ve always been mesmerized by other people’s pastures. The days and weeks have quickly turned into months and years as I have fought to contort myself, make myself look more like them so maybe I could snatch a piece of their harvest. I’m always forgetting the truth: my failed attempts to be other people are of no use; he just wants me: my dreams, my wrecks, my fears of being small, my willfulness, my heart. 

All this time, I’ve feared specificity. I’ve always thought that if I’m too specific, I probably won’t find exactly what I want. But James says that we do not have because we do not ask. The simplicity of grace always leaves me breathless, wanting more.

So I prepare to break up the hardened ground, in hopes that the seeds find good soil.

On Bread Crumb Trails and Being a Disciple.

Last night, we sat with a group of middle and high school students and talked about what it meant to truly be a disciple of Christ, especially in a time when there are so many varying interpretations of the word “Christian.”  So often, Christians are characterized by judgmental, holier than thou attitudes and actions, and I have to say: sometimes that description is entirely fitting.

I’ve claimed the name of Christ for nearly my entire life. I have sat through countless sermons, volunteered to lead Vacation Bible School, fill in for Sunday school teachers, speak or sing for youth events, and just about everything else that a good Christian girl would do. I avoided parties, alcohol, drugs, premarital sex. I obeyed my parents.

I did (or didn’t do, as the case may be) all of these things happily, understanding that whatever rule or guideline I came across was put in place for my benefit. To this day, I don’t regret being the good girl.

Never for a moment have I doubted my salvation or considered renouncing my faith. But as I sat in the church foyer, surrounded by students who were genuinely searching for answers and some semblance of solace in their lives, I found myself speaking words that I’m not sure I have ever taken to heart in my own life. My gut quivers even to write that.

Recently, I purchased a black leather bound journal, with the intention of filling it up with prayers. Sadly, I haven’t gotten very far. The eighth page bears my familiar lines and loops, but there is something different about these words. There is an ocean inside of them.

I realize that as I’ve gotten older and started to form my own ideas about what my life should look like, I’ve been leaving bread crumbs for God, and now I’m afraid of having nothing left. I’ve been leaving bread crumbs, as if to say you follow me now. 

For the past two months, I have driven all over the county, praying and searching for a sign that bore the words “For Rent.” Sometimes, C and I would go together. Sometimes, I went alone. I usually cried regardless. We called every phone number we found in the classifieds, only to find that the houses or apartments listed were either vastly out of our price range, or ought to be condemned.

This season of life is bittersweet. Bitter, because we are not where we want to be, and sweet, because we still find that God is faithful to open up doors where we are. Three Saturdays ago, we stumbled upon the yellow apartment building. Within forty-eight hours of us finding it, we had met the landlord and signed a lease. Apartment #205 will be ours for a year. A year of prolonged waiting, of searching for glimpses of God’s goodness in what often feels like wilderness.

I remember begging God to provide a home in the neighboring town — the town where we met six years ago, the town where we found brothers and sisters that we have come to love dearly. Please God, find us a house there. There is nothing for us here. For the longest time, I felt as though he was on vacation, or worse, screening my calls.

Sometimes my heart is filled with fear. Is it fear that he will not show up, or that he won’t be the gracious, loving Savior I’ve always believed him to be? Perhaps.

For the first time in my life, I found myself at a crossroad. There were two very distinct options laid out in front of me: simply trust God, or don’t. Allow him to overwhelm my fear, or don’t. 

The storm swells within my spirit as I finally hear him. I often find myself becoming frustrated by the fact that sometimes, he whispers. He waits until we finally tire from the endless striving, the wild searching for his presence in the wind and the fire and the quake. He is the God who comes close, the God whose very breath is essential to the continuation of all manner of life. He looks longingly down the dusty path as he waits for us to return, to finally admit that we cannot do it on our own.

Sometimes you wonder if I can truly use your circumstances to expand the kingdom. It seems as though your days are filled with monotony, rather than grandeur. I know you are not where you want to be today, but if you trust me, I will use this time to make my name great in your life right where you’re at. 

I set my prayer journal aside, secretly ashamed by the realization that I’m holding back, and at the same time, desperate to let it go. Desperate just to let him love me.

It must be hard to hold someone who is constantly thrashing.

In scripture, we meet a man whose son has been possessed by an evil spirit. We don’t have the luxury of a backstory with which to fill in the gaps — we don’t know how old his son is or how long he has carried the burden of this evil spirit. We only know that he has been possessed “since childhood.” The father pleads with Jesus, help me if you can.

Perhaps I have adopted this attitude of prayer unconsciously. Please, God, if you’re really powerful enough, and you’re not too busy dealing with other things, could you help me? Could you remind me that you love me? 

I flip through the pages hurriedly, until I reach that old familiar passage in Romans about all things working together, and I consider the names given to Christ in the book of Isaiah. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Can he really be all of those things to me, if he is not truly for me? Could he be bothered to work even one thing out for my good if he were not unequivocally on my side? Surely, he has been more faithful than my imagination could fathom.

My mind wanders back to the church foyer, chairs circled up haphazardly.

“How do you become a disciple?” she asked. She had never been to our church’s youth group before.

The youth pastor explained the importance of the sinner’s prayer — how in order to become a Christian, you have to invite God to change your life. I added that the heart of discipleship was to not stop at praying this prayer one time. We must continually ask Christ to invade our lives and change us from the inside out.

Deep down, I want to delight in him simply because of who he is. So here I am, finally asking again. Whispering that I’ll leave the light on, and hopefully there won’t be any strings attached this time.

Why I Cried in Walmart on Good Friday

I have been thinking long and hard about the significance of this week, and searching for the words to convey the length that Christ went to in order to save me. All week long, the well of words was dry.

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I had only gone to Walmart to pick up some dog food and carpet cleaner. But outside, there was a man asking for donations to support a homeless shelter. I didn’t have cash on hand, but he said they would take anything from laundry detergent to feminine hygiene products.

I have to confess, donating isn’t something I normally do. Neediness makes me uncomfortable, and so I typically look the other way. But I met God today in the Walmart parking lot, and he reminded me that what I have done for the least, I have done for him.

More than that, he reminded me that he has never seen my neediness and looked the other way. In fact, when I didn’t have it in me to meet halfway, he came all the way to find me.

That’s the grace we sing about. I once was lost, but now I’m found. He came all the way to find me and restore the relationship that had been severed. He came and found me and called me daughter. 

Like the hemorrhaging woman,  I want to avoid making a scene. I want to come up from behind to touch him, receiving my dose of grace and slipping away without being noticed.

But he knows my anxious thoughts. From before the first let there be, he was intimately aware of me. Before the stars were spoken, before the first flower budded, he delighted in me.

Before I knew it, I had collected a small basket of deodorant, toothpaste, and soap to give away. I wept up and down the aisles, convicted by the thought of the great lengths Christ went to so I could be clean.

Perhaps it is elementary, but sometimes, God and I need to go back to the basics. I am quick to forget, quick to revert to a life of striving and flailing, trying to fill myself up.

He saw me when I was empty, when I had absolutely nothing to offer, and believed that I could be made beautiful again. He sees my cracked heart and whispers that this is how I can showcase this glory. He is always making me whole.

And he promises to go before me. I will never carry a cross that he did not first carry on my behalf. He went the distance to prove that he was, and is, trustworthy.

He assumed the debt that I owed and could never repay — took my punishment upon himself. If he hadn’t come, I would still be alone, scouring in the dark for something, someone who could save.

He came and he died so that I could come alive.

I don’t ever want to forget.

Grace and peace to me.

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My dad is one of the wisest people I know, and one of the most important things he has taught me is that you have to show up. Throughout my life, I’ve seen him show up to gut houses for pastors, take extra shifts at work for a sick colleague, serve on the church board, and taxi my brother and I to and from rehearsals and workouts. I’ve inherited this legacy of showing up from him, as if it were infused and passed down from within his genes like my dimpled chin.

Of course, as we grow, these basic moral imperatives evolve with us, becoming peppered with other philosophies and pieces we pick up from the various places we’ve been. Sometimes, they can become heavy with our baggage, with all of our fears and imperfections and fight to compare and come out on top. Sometimes, when our hearts break, they can go missing altogether, like a love lost; we spend our days and months retracing our steps and frantically asking strangers have you seen this piece of me, only to be met with blank stares and shaken heads.

For awhile now, I’ve been waiting for her to return. I had all but resigned to call off the search, deciding to take five on the sidelines. 2014 was declared a year of rest, but it turned out to be anything but. I’d much prefer for you to think that as the curtains close on this year, I’m writing out of a place of rejuvenation and a renewed sense of where all my pieces fit — but really, I’m bowing out feeling restless and fragmented, as if that one lonely, lost piece of myself that I can’t survive without has managed to board a train and is now thousands of aching miles away.

Truthfully, much of my year was spent wallowing in those feelings — but the fewer days remain on the calendar, the more fiery haste scalds my feet. My restlessness has begun to far outweigh my fear of walking through the blaze, and I can’t wait another minute. My bones are hurting for alignment and starving for true things.

I’ve begun to take an inventory of the raw materials I have to work with. Admittedly, at times, it doesn’t seem like much at all. But I believe with all my heart in a God who makes it His business to create beauty out of nothing. And what I’ve come to know in the hustle of this crazy year, deep down in my soul, is His nearness. In the midst of my striving, His comfort and affection have been unabashedly close. If that turns out to be all I take away from 2014, I’d consider it more than enough.

And as 2015 glows brighter on the horizon, one truth rings loud and sure above all the rest: I must leave the sidelines behind and dive headfirst into the arena, and shout from every rooftop that there is pure art to be discovered within the messy, the raw, the unrefined. And then, I must take the first step, picking up tender pieces and trusting that God is intimately aware of how they are to come together.

My desire for 2015 is this: to live a better, more aligned story. I want my whole being to infiltrate my whole doing. I want to bask in the pleasure of a tidy home. I want to buy cookbooks, shop local,  try a yoga class, leave the stress of work at work. I want to learn about flowers and when the best time is to plant them. I want to get back into fiction and read a lot of books. I want to get my hair done on a regular basis. I want to wear bright lipstick. I want to go to Allume. I want to have dinner parties. I want to mentor college girls. I want my authenticity to count for more than my efficiency.

I want to figure out exactly what it is that makes me come alive. It might be a messy process. I might scrape my knees and get dirt on my face. I might get my heart broken. I’ll grieve the pieces of myself that fall off along the way, like the trees that watch their leaves wither and fall away every autumn. But I’m reminded, all the time, of Donald Miller’s words: the trees are not worried. They bend low before Creator God, trusting that life will soon be restored. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. My life is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Grace and peace to you. And also to me.

May it be so.


If You’re Running on Empty This Season.

It is December: the season of list making and last minutes, the season of doing and buying and running and trimming. And so often, in our haste to do and buy and run and trim, we trim the margin out of our souls, our resources. We run the risk of running out — cut down to the quick, we bleed.

We’re quick to reach the point where we just want to make it through the season unscathed. We dread the thought of having to see that family member, being asked to direct the children’s play at church, being asked to bring dessert to the office party. We dread the thought of being alone again and being asked when we’re going to bring that special someone home to meet our loved (or, at least tolerated) ones.  But we push through, for appearance’s sake.

Its easy to hang a lot of lights and give no thought to the Light. 

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In one of my Old Testament classes in college, I wrote a paper on prophesies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. What I found to be so remarkable as I was doing my research is that the promise of a Savior is made from the very beginning. As soon as sin entered the world, Father God began whispering a way for us to return to Him. Cover to cover, scripture is the story of a Creator who desires to woo His beloved creation. Centuries before the virgin gave birth, redemption was being proclaimed:

For unto us, a child is born; unto us, a son is given.  And the government will be on his shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {Isaiah 6:9}

For any number of reasons, the holidays can be difficult. We find our Twitter feeds full of gift giving ideas, but also full of the heart cry of a weary world in need of a Savior. Night before last, I found myself sobbing at my own family’s brokenness as I drove home from my dad’s house in North Carolina. The familiar anger and bitterness towards my mother crept up on me once again, seemingly out of nowhere, eight years after she walked out the door of our home and shut the door of her heart to my dad. She has been with many men since then, and he has stayed faithful to his vows, in spite of his struggles to pay the bills and keep the cupboards stocked since she left.

And my siblings, who have run the gamut of poor choices — leaving home to flirt and experiment with the world, sneaking back only to steal money from the change jar so that they can afford to turn on their electricity.

So yeah, Christmas this year is going to be hard. The pain weighs in heavily. But the truth is, the mercy of the Lord is soft — His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

The truth is that our God never changes — He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

He is still the Redeemer who spoke truth to the woman at the well, the Father who never stopped waiting for the return of the prodigal. He still reaches out to calm the crashing waves, the tsunamis that rage through our hurting and hungry souls. He is still the conquering Savior who came to life three days after being crucified and buried. He is still the Provider who multiplies fish and loaves and fills every last jar with oil.

And He sees us. The promise is that when we search for Him, we will find Him. When we remain in Him, anything we ask will be done for us.

He keeps His promises. He is still Emmanuel, God with us. Our hearts must simply make room for Him.

 

When You Need to Know You’re Loved Right Here.

Never in my life have I clung more to Jeremiah 29:11. For most of my life, having grown up in the church, this verse was commonplace to me: as one of the most commonly quoted verses in scripture, I had heard it so often that it began to lose its meaning. It was always the theme verse for camps and youth events and bible studies, and I had managed to file those words away in a drawer at the very back corner of my mind.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI didn’t really struggle with planning until I went away to college, and my time had to be more stringently delegated. Professors told me that college was like a triangle, with a social life, grades, and sleep, and I could only ever have two of the three. No matter what I was doing, I would be sacrificing time that could be put towards something else. And I couldn’t tell you now exactly when it happened, but at some point back there, I morphed from a person who could fairly easily go with the flow, to someone who very nearly needed to plan out every hour of the day. To this day, I am still very much the latter personality.

Between graduation, getting married, and getting a job, I feel as though I got sucked into a vortex of constantly needing to plan and make decisions — not only for whatever is going on in my life at the present moment, but also for the future. And I feel the weight of responsibility for every decision made, even the seemingly arbitrary ones. Things that I ultimately have no power over whatsoever, I somehow end up feeling responsible for.

A script from a television show arrests my attention: “she is a narcissist,” it says. “You can’t believe everything is your fault unless you also believe that you are all powerful.” 

The words leave my lungs feeling strained, and I didn’t want to hear them, and I try to shake off the fact that Jesus is still in the habit of using whatever is in front of us, ordinary things, to bring our attention to him. 

It seems silly. It seems elementary. It seems like I should know better and why am I reading the same page over and over?

Have you ever heard the saying “we plan and God laughs?” Sometimes, I don’t believe He finds it all that humorous in the light of day. I think it breaks His heart, this endless flailing of mine.

He is still inviting me to rest, still wooing me and beckoning me to trust that all things are held together by His infinite grace. He knows the plans He has for me. He knew exactly who and where I would be at this moment, and Spurgeon says “had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there.”

Its a promise that wherever you are right now, there is meaning and purpose. We are being made whole.

The trial is learning to rest in the middle of wherever I am, knowing that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and believing that He gives His children good gifts. He disciplines those that He loves. He teaches those that He loves. He directs those that He loves. And (later on in Jeremiah,) He says He has loved us with an everlasting love. That means no height, no depth, no fear, no plan for the future, no regret from the past, or anything else can keep me from His love.

Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief. In the morning, when I wake up feeling just as tired as when I laid my head down, help my unbelief. In the afternoon, when I want to be somewhere — anywhere — else, help my unbelief. And when I lay down, my body tense from the constant anxiety of bracing myself for the unknown, help my unbelief. When I doubt the nearness of Your presence, give me faith. When I doubt the fullness of Your love, help me to hold onto these truths, that from ashes, You bring forth beauty. Teach and direct this feeble flesh. Keep holding me together.

And help me to slow down, to open my hands to Your grace. Help me to remember that I don’t need to have every answer, but rather, I can trust the One who does. Help me to lean not unto my own understanding. Let joy and rest be the balm to this burnt out heart.

Give me the grace, the unshakable grace, to laugh at the days to come — trusting, unshakably trusting, that You have a plan.

A plan for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. And in those days, when you pray, I will listen. When you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will Find me. I will be found by you, says the LORD.