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.

For the days when you want to be anywhere but here.

Mama said there would be days like this. But sometimes days turn into weeks and weeks into months and one day his or her comment will all but push you over the edge, and you'll walk in the front door a crying mess. You'll wonder what in the world you were thinking saying yes to something like this, and if you had only known, you would have politely said thank you, but no thank you. You dread the emails, the phone calls, the well meant inquiries from people who know you've struggled just to make it through the day, because let's be honest, you're still struggling just to make it through the day, and to even think about what tomorrow may hold is enough to make you want to walk out the door without so much as a goodbye or it was nice knowing you.

There will be days like this, my mama said, when it seems like nothing you do is good enough, but the world keeps tacking things onto your to do list like it's no big thing; like your whole life revolves around making them happy, no matter how thinly you've spread yourself. Never mind that you have a home and a family and its everything that you can do just to keep it together under the weight of all the responsibility.

Hot liquid salt will roll like tiny raging grief tsunamis, and the truth is, all you want is to just be better: a better wife, a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better homemaker. Some days the should be's and the have to be's and the need to be's choke the life from the truth of who you were created to be.

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You were never meant to carry the weight of the world. The stanzas of a familiar old tune recall that He's got the whole world in His hand. And if He's got the whole world, He's got you, because last time I checked, no one has ever survived floating around in space without oxygen or food or warmth. You are not a martian.

You might be in the wilderness. 

There's an old adage -- something about whatever God leads you to, He will bring you through. He never leaves you where He found you. The wilderness is God's slow cooker, and perhaps the only way to reach the finish line is to come to the altar with our rawness, our readiness to be seasoned with what He is preparing to teach us on the journey.

The people who tell you that this life with Jesus is easy are lying. They're the ones who could never expose their broken parts. With or without Jesus, this life will break you. With or without Jesus, you will spend a night writhing in tears on the kitchen floor because everything has fallen apart and you don't know how you got here or how to put your life back together again. With or without Jesus, you will be broken, but when you're walking through the wilderness with Christ, love and grace and joy and peace and hope are what shine through the cracks. When you walk through the wilderness with Christ, the pain is never wasted.

It isn't ever that He has caused the pain, no, our brokenness breaks the very heart of God. And so the Word became flesh and came down into all of our wildernesses and said I am the Way. I have given you purpose, I have gone before you, I know what you were created for...

a life of abundance.

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This wilderness? It only lasts for a moment. The wilderness is where we learn to live radical trust, the wilderness is where we learn surrender. The wilderness reminds us that comfort doesn't come from temporal things, but an eternal Person. This place only exists as a reminder that the world is not our home.

 

A Prayer to Say Yes.

Oh Lord, you have orchestrated all of my beginnings. You've taken account of all my wandering. My hands have wildly flapped open and shut to the mystery you sustain us on. I believe, but help my unbelief. Has there been a more honest prayer? God, meet me in my dark places. Help me put these pieces together to see the masterpiece you designed before the foundation of the world.

Give me grace to take one step at a time, even when I don't yet see where you are leading. Be the lamp unto my feet when the world seems dark and my heart lacks direction. Help me to remember that even when you call me out of my comfort zone, that I am always with the Comforter.

Help me to open my arms and my heart wide to say yes. Help me to run the course of your commandments, knowing that no matter what comes in this life, that you are truly working all things together for my good and for your glory, and may there be no room in my life for fear and anxiety.

Teach me to number my days, and to count all things joy, even when I'm tired and the last thing that I want to do is take on what feels like another burden. Help me to remember that your burden is light. Give me the strength to honor you, even in the hard times. Give me wisdom, give me peace.

Help me to not seek to win the affections of others, but to live each moment in fierce pursuit of your glory, knowing that nothing can separate me from the love that you created me for. You went to the ends of the earth to win my heart and to prove that you are for me. I want to be passionately, desperately seeking your heart.

Help me to go in the strength that I have into a world that is dark and proclaim that you are the hope.

Give me grace to be the light of Christ, and to wash the feet of those who are in pain. Consecrate my life as one of service to your kingdom.

Help me to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and help my thoughts to center around what is true and honorable and pure and lovely and of good repute.

In all things, search me, Lord. Know my ever anxious thoughts, and if there be any offensive way in me, break me and create me clean.

I'm saying yes,  inviting you to change my life all over again.

In Jesus' name, so be it.

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.

On Grieving and New Chapters.

Dearest Hannah, You have graduated from college, and are now in the in between. And let's be honest -- while you have accomplished much, the in between hurts like hell. It feels like all your limbs are being pulled in opposite directions, and you are young and the world is so very big.

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The idea of the quarter-life crisis would never have caught on without people like us. We feel every ounce of the weight of our decisions, and we are young, the world is big, and we can do literally anything we want, but we want to live our one life well.

Blessedly, I had a wedding a month after my college graduation. I emptied myself of energy in preparation, not even allowing my mind to consider what had just happened. It was a cushion for the shock that came in the days after I walked across the stage. A putting off of the inevitable.  After the honeymoon was over and the dust settled on what had become my life, I grieved and grieved hard. If you hear nothing else, hear this: it is okay to grieve.

I spent five months at home before I found a job. Those five months were some of the most difficult, because much of my time was spent alone. My husband had a full time job, and we were in a town where we didn't know anyone.

And then I met you. As much as two people can bump into each other via the internet nowadays, we did. I will always count our meeting among the gifts -- tangible proof that the Lord knew just what I needed.

I had the pleasure of watching you transition to your final year of college, a year that I know has left its mark. You decided, as if out of the clear blue sky, to change your major. Senior year of college, and I know you must have been feeling like your life had been hijacked.

When we're introduced to Abra(ha)m, scripture says "the LORD had said to Abram, 'Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.'" I think God is still in the business of calling us out of our comfort zones, plucking us from all familiarity and planting us smack dab in the middle of the unknown. 

There's an old proverb that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I've learned that great leaps of faith are often disguised by these steps.

And I've learned that at the end of the day, God pulls us out of our comfort zones so we can experience the true meaning of comfort: that the Lord provides all things. I've learned that in the seasons of loneliness, His presence is near, and when we feel empty, He is only preparing to fill us.

I've learned that there are questions. Should I get married? Should I apply for a masters degree? Where should I live? Who am I? And I've learned that He holds the answers.

I've learned that He goes before us, and that everything is held together by His grace. When it seems like our comfort zone is so far out of sight, the Comforter is drawing us closer. When it seems like we're faced with all the questions and none of the answers, we have unadulterated access to the Giver of all wisdom.

We simply have to take the first step. And the real secret? God told Gideon to go in the strength that he had. There's no formula, no code, and blessedly, no scantron. We just move. We put one foot in front of the other, open our hands a little bit more, and a little bit more...

to grace.