On having a wrenched spirit and saying it is well.

Midway through the month of August, I wrote about walking through the wilderness. I even used distancing language, in a vain attempt to avoid the admission that I am, indeed, in that place. Because its hard to find anything pretty about my here and now, and I wrestle with wanting to look like I have it all together, and August was another messy month. Everything was late and rushed and busy and some was left half done, and here I am completely and totally undone, again. I realize that I have been here for awhile now, stuck in a revolving door that dizzies between so much faith and so much anxiety. I lift my hands in worship and experience the beauty of surrender and the power of shaking the gates of hell for an hour and a half on Sunday morning, but inevitably, Monday morning pounces and the lies creep in again and I fall back into the pattern of too much to do and never enough time or energy. I read blog posts about how precious time is, and how the true key to joy is found in slowing down. For a moment, I lavish in the thought, but eventually, bitterness seeps sour into the crevices of my heart and I gnarl to myself that there is no way that the person who penned those words could know anything about me and my life. Slowing down is always easier said than done, because faster is always made to look more attractive and productive.

The truth is, I'm a mess. Seeking some solace, I picked up my friend Holley's book "You Are Going to be Okay" last night and turned the pages in search of answers. In the first chapter, Holley writes of a conversation she has with Jennifer Dukes Lee in which Jennifer says that we don't have to be citizens of wherever we are right now. I quickly shut the book and replace it on the dresser, singed by conviction. Its a dangerous thing to pray for answers. They almost never show up where I expect them, and almost always reveal some harsh truth about my flesh. I didn't want to come face to face with the realization that the overwhelming majority of my difficulty lately may very well be from browsing the real estate catalog and renting a post office box in a place that was never meant for staying.

Perhaps it is the season of life I am currently in: desperate to put down roots anywhere, seeking meaning and identity and purpose wherever I happen to land. Because I want to be so much, but mostly I just want to stop waking up in the middle of the night with the feeling that I'm drowning. My spirit is wrenched by the current, and fear and doubt make for a horrendous ball and chain.

The mantra that has defined my days has been one of rebellion: one of no, I'm not okay. I meditate angrily on the same page, repeating the words until I can no longer catch my breath for the panic that has invaded my cells. I wonder, could it be that the remedy to this madness, the map to turning the page and healing all this hurt is to say it is well? 

It is well, even when the pain overwhelms and nothing makes sense. It is well, even when I don't know which way is up, because the Savior is always reaching down. His plan, even for this place, is good -- but that doesn't mean that He intends for me to stay here. At some point, that truth became blurred. It might be easy to stay in the wilderness, getting just enough manna mystery for the day, but we were made for more. I was made for more than just getting through the day. It might be easy spin my wheels in the desert, but I was made to move forward, knowing not just in my head but in my heart as well that no matter what, I am going to be okay, and that yesterday is well, today is well, and tomorrow will be well with my soul.

You're Going to be Okay // Amazon / Barnes & Noble DaySpring

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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.

When You Know its Time to Change Your Mantra

ocean

Five of us women piled laughing into her great big sports utility vehicle. We had been in training together for four weeks, the latest of which brought us to the hustle and chaos of the city. We had taken turns driving each day to a different lunch destination, and as we pulled into the narrow space, I jokingly admitted that I would be afraid to drive such a massive car.

And then it happened.

The one in the front seat turned to me and said “you’ve got to stop saying you’re afraid.”

Ouch. Barely a month after meeting me, she speaks these words. And I wonder how many times a week — a day, even — I say that I am afraid. I know that I am an anxious person, but do I really let that anxiety overflow from my heart and through my lips often enough for her to pick up on it so quickly? I sit quiet though lunch, embarrassed and pondering.

Read more over at (in)courage

You, me, and everyone we know.

Somebody tell me where God lives because if God is truth, God doesn't live here. -- Andrea Gibson

I am slowly learning how to live a quiet life. That said, words are truly the only way that I know how to meet with the Good One, and so this is my altar. This is how I reach up, and one of the ways that I know to reach out. Sometimes, I cannot come in peace, so I come in the only other way I know how, which is in pieces. It takes strength to be weak. I write because I believe in the Bride. I write because what I want to do, I cannot muster the courage to do, but what mindsets and behaviors I don’t want, I find myself addicted to. We could all be so much better. Things can be different, if we choose.

I realize that the Truth is divisive. Some have manipulated this mindset to excuse their malice towards others that they deem less. But the table turning Jesus was far more concerned about the people on the outside of the temple than he was about those who thought better of themselves on the inside. He came for the sick. He left the ninety-nine for the one. To use Christ's actions in the temple as justification for our own hatred of others not only displays a gross misunderstanding of the scriptures, but a gross misrepresentation of the gospel.

We have so many lofty theological discussions, and can recite our dogma forwards and backwards, but I wonder if we really understand. I wonder if when we look at the living and active Word we can really say that we know Father God's heart and character well enough to understand that His ways are not our own. Hallelujah, His ways are not my own.

Again and again, we have chosen the lie that leads to our fall. Moreover, we have become the liars. We tell homosexuals, Muslims, people of other political affiliations, that they are not worthy of what Jesus did for them. We have created the culture of "us four and no more," and have clung to it out of fear of what we don't understand. We are prideful and rebellious, labeling our own sin, our lies, our lust, our adultery, our idolatry, as somehow less shameful than others. Christ met with the foreign woman at the well,  he allowed the bloodied woman to touch him, and he reached for the leper. Our lights are off, and we like it better that way. We don’t like seeing ourselves, don’t like others seeing our broken parts. We are both the prodigal, and the older son, who feels as though he has been forgotten and allows himself to become bitter. Yet the Father says “everything I have is yours.” The book of James says that we do not have because we do not ask. Scripture is beautiful that way. It is convicting that way.

From the fall, humanity has had in mind that God is somehow holding out on us. Why then, are we not satisfied with all that we have here on this earth? Why do we not answer the knock on the door and allow the Lord to come in and eat with us? This craving to experience glory has been rooted in our souls since the beginning of time. Knowing this, how could every breath not be worship? We have been called out of the darkness and depravity of the grave, and yet we still wear our grave clothes around like security blankets. We live by a law that emphasizes our shame over his grace, condemning both ourselves and our brothers and sisters. We don’t want to know who we are, because that would mean realizing our responsibility to live in light of his gracious response to our depravity.

We do not act justly, and we do not love mercy. We have become like the pharisees whom Jesus himself rebuked. We know the law, and we debate it down to the punctuation in order to prove ourselves wise and others wrong. There is a vast difference in calling out sin in someone’s life in order to prove that you are right, and bringing something to their attention for the sole purpose of becoming holy. Somewhere along the way, that got blurry. So we end up obsessing over sins that we do not struggle with, pointing them out in others, saying to ourselves “well at least I’m not that person.”  We walk around like we don’t have the answers, as if we are not the best representation of love that people have to go on. We still don’t know what love is.

As we approach Easter, I think of what has become known as the Triumphal Entry. Israel was looking for a king who could defeat Rome and put the nation back on top of the political chain. But Jesus didn't come to agree with anybody's politics. He was a king who came to be a servant. He offered himself, he met people's needs before he ever offered his opinion. As he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, he was met with scores of people who expected him to save them from Caesar, instead of saving them from their sin. He wept over the city, knowing that he would soon be viewing them from the tree that he had been nailed to, beckoning them to come and take up their own crosses as well.

Recently, I read a friend's Facebook post about an aunt who recently passed away from cancer. She wanted the comfort that her aunt was in heaven, as she did know the Lord, but her aunt was a lesbian, and because of this, my friend was unsure. My friend was met with people quoting scripture about how the unrighteous will never inherit the kingdom of God.  My fiance and I are currently looking for a church for our wedding that is geographically favorable for both of our families, who live four hours apart. As we have contacted pastors, many of them have told us point blank that they only allow members of their church to get married there. One even said that "they can't let just anyone in their church."

Nine out of ten young people walk away from their faith in college. It is a staggering statistic, one that I have heard many times in my four years at a Christian college. I finally understand why the number is so high. Why would anyone want to become part of this?

So to you, me, and everyone we know, I am so sorry. I'm sorry for the lies I have believed that have made me less of a person. There have been too many to count, and they sneak into my soul looking for what they may destroy. They never deliver on their promises. They have planted fear in my heart that only Christ has the power to uproot. Lies about my body, lies about the world and love and sex and how to reach the top. Lies about how close I should get to you. I believed them all. I swear I didn't want to, but I drank the poison because it brought the numbness. The poison was easy.

I'm sorry for repeating these lies to you. Perhaps not in words, but in ever more powerful actions.

I am sorry for treating your dreams and hopes and fears and troubles as if they are somehow less than my own. I'm sorry for my graceless inability to rejoice when you rejoice and mourn when you mourn. I'm sorry for my lack of humility, and what things I have said out of my own unstable understanding. I attempted to offer silver and gold, but had none but cheap counterfeits. Lies about holiness and grace and standards, and how close you can get to me.

My friend Andy once told me that everyday is an opportunity to react well to the gospel. If sin is not responding well, not believing the truth, then living according to these lies would certainly more than qualify.

The outrageous thing about grace is that it destroys our economy. I want my walls to be torn down.

I want a fire strong enough to burn down every bricked building, every pew and pulpit, until all that remains is the Church. We could be so much more.

Everything.

I am quietly reminded tonight of the words of the Father (the Hope, the Good One,) who says “everything I have is yours.” What amazing grace, to live in light of this. He who clothes the lilies and feeds every bird of the air and beast of the earth gave of His very essence to make a way for me. As I sit in the dark, joy silently fills my cup beyond the brim. Peace, strength, wisdom, love, dignity, freedom, victory, truth, every providence is mine. The beauty of the altar is that one might come to be emptied and filled. In the presence of God, there is fullness of joy. What can heal this sickness, fill the cracks, mend the wound, mitigate the distance and dissonance. I crave more of Christ and less of me. I feel the quiet coming, and though it creeps slowly, it is certain. This peace that passes a feeble understanding that was never meant to be a foundation. My bones thirst for it, surrounded by the winter, the promise of what is new coming to life. “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” says the Lord. The earth is not worried. The very rocks know His name. Not my will, but Yours. God will be good. He will fulfill His promise.

When I think of the bare nakedness of winter, the notion that I can simply breathe in peace is overwhelming. What must it look like to exist fully within grace, to move with all the authority of heaven, everything that belongs to a King Creator? All the residual anxiety leads me to rush to fill the gaps of silence. But He is not in the emergency of the earthquake. He is not in the consuming rush of the blaze. He is in the still and small whisper, inviting me into the moment, beckoning me to come and lay down all that makes me heavy, leaving it to the light of His grace. How much more does the Father long to be gracious to His children, whom He conceived for the simple pleasure of communion. These are the green pastures and the still waters, even in the dead of winter. Manna in a frozen desert. Every single moment, wrapped up in the quiet fullness of joy. Though there are no leaves on the trees, though our skeletons shake in the wind, not my will, but Yours.

Like the earth, I must begin again, here in the quiet space between what is known and what remains hidden to the moment. Here, where I am called to be still. Here, where there is boundless mercy, relentless grace. Here, where everything is made beautiful in its time. Here, where there is fullness of joy.

Selah.

Heart, beat.

I feel the quiet coming, and though it creeps slowly, it is sure. This peace that passes understanding. I crave it deep inside my bones, the winter and the fire and the promise of what is new coming to life again. The earth is not worried. Not my will, but Yours, Lord. When I think about the bare nakedness of winter, the idea that I could just breathe in peace is overwhelming. I have trouble sitting still, and I tend to rush to fill the gaps of silence, but this is what the Father gives. He is much like the quiet, wandering unobtrusively through the candlelit rooms of my heart, settling at the table. The winter reminds me that things can be made new again. Grace is what lies within the tension of what is taken.

Not my will, but Yours.