Changing Tides

I haven’t known an adult life where Jesus wasn’t everything. Yet truthfully, He hasn’t always been. He’s always been more of an afterthought, with moments of pure devotion mixed in. I have not been the Christian woman I thought I would be, but it gets better.

When you’re young, it’s much easier to “be on fire for Jesus”. The more life hits you in the face, though, the less courageous you become in your faith.

Or, you become more courageous in other ways. You courageously decide to leave the faith, because for years, Christianity has been suffocating. You walk away because you don’t feel free. You want to be the person you want to be, without the strings of faith, church, and her messy past.

I get it.

I have admittedly had my moments of doubt. You know when they hit me the hardest? When the Gospel is preached to me loudest. The minute I start hearing the Gospel laid out before me in the language I’ve always heard it: Jesus died because He loved you. He loves you. He came back to life three days later because He wanted you forever. He promises us eternal life with Him. And the crowd says, “That’ll preach!” And it’s like snakes in my stomach. But…what if this isn’t true? Is it really possible for someone–let alone God–to love me that much? How could someone die for me knowing I would screw up on the daily?

And then I see the people I know or knew or knew from afar choose to leave the faith. People I admired. People I went to church with. People I cared about. And the snakes, like vipers, return to my stomach and my mind, and doubt makes a home within me where it was never welcome before.

When I first learned about this Jesus who loves me, I remember stealing the Bible out of my brother’s room (ironic) and flipping through the pages. I wanted the Bible to come alive, but I was staring at sentences I just couldn’t understand. So I picked out verses that sounded encouraging, peeled them away from whatever context they were in, and wrote them on post it notes. Doodled them on my journal. I picked out words from the book of life and invited them to breathe something anew within me.

But you know, Jesus never really came alive for me until I had reached a point of no return. For years I lived a life with no risk, and yet, I thought I was risking everything committing my life to love Jesus. It was more like in the quiet, I was loud in my faith, and in the public, I was just another face in the crowd.

The day came when we had hundreds of dollars in our bank account. It was when my husband had no income. It was when we had two kids and one on the way. It was when we were looking ahead and saw absolutely nothing. It was when we reached a point of no return, no backing down, and literally living the faith we so professed in our quiet spaces.

He came alive.

And you know, I disliked God greatly when He wasn’t letting me have the things I wanted. I wanted a baby in 2015, and that baby didn’t live past five weeks. I wanted comfort and financial security, and all I had was handfuls of prayers that a check would come in the mail and the torment of not knowing what we could afford that month. I wanted to feel free, and I only felt bound by what I couldn’t have.

It gets better.

He is faithful until the end. I haven’t reached it, but I know He won’t leave my side. He isn’t taking. He isn’t binding me to chains. He isn’t holding me back from being who I want to be. He isn’t worried that I’m going to run away.

And if I do run, He’ll come after me. He’ll free me. He wants freedom for me like He wants it for the birds, and He wants me to be the woman He knows I am capable of becoming, not who I think I need to be. You see the difference? His ideas surpass mine, and He sends me off to do things I’m scared to do. He does, I get to.

It gets better as time goes on. It gets easier to fall at His feet, to hear His voice, to want to obey, to long for His name to get the glory my flesh aches for.

The Gospel doesn’t quit. Jesus hasn’t stopped being everything. And in my humanity, may doubt keep me on my toes and keep me on the pursuit of His glory.

Above the Grave

When I walked out of that grave, it was like the world tilted, and I felt my heart beat for the first time. I knew nothing of what would come of me, but I knew Jesus. It didn’t matter if anything else made sense.

But time ain’t so sweet. Where my world once tilted and turned at the sound of His voice, it now only slightly glitches when I remember what He did for me.

The magnitude of Jesus’ love hit me like thunder when I was young. Some days it just doesn’t feel like it used to. It feels like the “last thing” or the “badge I wear proudly” or “just something else”. It stops being the lifeblood and only becomes the side note to my Christian life.

But Jesus! He is everything, isn’t He?

This past weekend, we skipped Good Friday service because I had spent the last 48 hours keeping nothing in my stomach. I was sicker than a dog. It felt like no Good Friday to me. And then Saturday came, and I felt a bit huffy with the Lord. There’s a lot of things I don’t understand, and one thing that I can’t shake recently is how Christianity looks. How it interacts with those who don’t care to believe in a risen King.

The world feels like it’s in knots around me. I don’t know how to navigate the “Jesus is everything” life when the world aches and groans. The crowds around me don’t need me and my voice. Lord knows they don’t need another opinion slithering into their ears. But that’s not news a writer loves. “Don’t add to the noise” is just a real bummer when you know you’re created to make noise in this “Jesus is everything” life.

And Sunday arrived. Resurrection Sunday. The day my whole world and hope revolves around. And my kids didn’t care much about the truth of it. My heart felt like lead when I realized sleeping in almost always makes me late. I missed breakfast. Getting out the door felt a little like squeezing an inflated balloon through a pinhole, with kids throwing fits, carrying all our junk–both seen and unseen.

So I said His name, and I let His name rest on my lips as I closed my eyes, because He really is everything.

And just when I thought the lead in my heart would settle to the bottom and resonate in a little cavity. Just when I thought I would lose my mind trying to be a mother for one more minute. Just when I wasn’t so sure if I could get over the hurdle of being a grumpy, huffy human. Just when I felt like there were chains.

He freed me again.

Praises came like the breath in my lungs, and it was like joy and rain and a cascading mountain of holy gratitude. This is the life. It’s hard and inconsistent, and I don’t know how I’ll make it all the time. And then I remember how good He’s always been. How He saved me. How He wrapped me up and gave me a place at the table and said my voice was a good one, an important one, and one that wouldn’t go to waste.

My Jesus. He came back. And I’m dancing on that grave.

And Yet

I am tired. Physically, spiritually, emotionally.

Do you ever feel like there is too much to do, and you have no idea where to begin? I feel that. Heavy and annoying on my heart. So many things, ideas, dreams, and goals that I can not seem to accomplish simply because I don’t want to start. I don’t know where to begin.

Since Rosie was born, I feel stuck here. This happens to me after pregnancy, so I am not surprised. But the exhaustion from being all and doing all feels like the final hurdle in the fourth trimester of this pregnancy. If the pregnancy itself doesn’t cause me pain, this last part of having a baby surely will.

Can you tell I’m tired? I can hear it in my own written voice: the cynicism, the already-given-up-before-beginning. I get catty when I’m tired. In fact, I relish in the quick attitude I get in my exhaustion. It’s easier to get mad, to be frustrated, and be tired. I like easy. I like the comfort of not having to move forward and sinking deeper into a spot that feels familiar.

And while I sit, I don’t begin. I reluctantly look at the things I want to accomplish and think, “Nah, not today. I can’t.” And like each and every one of my kids thus far, I feel the frustration rise as I claim the “can’ts” in my life. How could I, when every odd seems to be against me?

And yet.

I may be exhausted, but I am alive. I may want to give up before I’ve even begun, but Lord! He hasn’t given up on me yet, and I’m sure He would have if He wasn’t such a kind and gracious Father. God has never washed His hands of me. He is a constant, an extended hand to lift me from miry clay.

I don’t always know where to start. Starting feels like the hardest part of anything, and today it feels like I’m pulling my feet from molasses. I can’t always get out. I can’t always move forward. I can’t always do and be what I think I need to, and I think that’s where the catch is. I cannot. However, He can.

Of one thing I am certain on this day and throughout the past few months: God has called me to pray like I’m in a war. I have started nothing else but this. I can’t do much else in these days of exhaustion and fourth trimester, but getting on my knees with the Lord is easy. It feels like work that gives me direction, and today, I need that.

And yet He can. And yet.

Praise be.

Pep Talks: Speak Up or Shut Up

Quiet, girl. No one is waiting to hear from you.

I look down to welcome the comfort of stress-related nail biting. You’re right. I should keep quiet. Quiet is good.

I am a contemplative person. When the weight of a conversation rests upon a room, I willingly stay quiet so I can process. I don’t like speaking out of turn. I don’t even like speaking without letting my thoughts go for a bit. I want the words that come out of my mouth to have more poise than I might feel.

But ask my husband, Evan, how quiet I am. Heck, ask my kids. When I’m frustrated, I yell. When I get angry, I let the words spill like a cup tipped over. I’m sure not contemplative with my family, a blessing and a curse.

You aren’t asking for my honesty, but I’m begging to get it out. Because honestly, I feel silenced. I feel like my voice doesn’t always matter. I feel like I have a bucket of good words that most often go unused because I am scared to speak them, for fear of what you might think. I have willingly set myself aside for six months because I wanted to be contemplative about this time we’re in. It didn’t seem right to go crazy with my words, spewing them here or elsewhere, and hoping for a boost to my ego (because that’s what it would ultimately be).

But it’s been a minute. And I’m praying for God to do with these words what they were meant for.

As a young Christian teenager, I held my mentors and adult leaders to a very high standard. I thought of them as the role models I needed in order to become the woman I wanted to be. My ultimate goal was to be a woman of character and integrity, someone who stood on truth and compassion, a person who stood with arms open and eyes fixed on a God who loves immeasurably.

Those people did me well. I entered adulthood with their encouragement in my ears, as well as the long-instilled wisdom from my parents to be a human who changed the world. The possibilities were endless. I wasn’t aiming for the moon. I wanted the galaxies beyond and all the stars surrounding them.

But, things don’t always happen how we think or plan. I got married, had lots of kids, and here I sit, surrounded by toys, diapers, a cup of cold coffee, and the ever-burning fire in my bones with no place to spread it but here. I love this place I’m in so much that the fire doesn’t mind the containment.

However, as I am not so much out changing things, I am here sitting and watching. Contemplating. Wondering how this all must look.

We don’t watch the news around here anymore. If I turned it on, I’d have to turn it back off because of what my children might hear about our president. It’s horrifying and embarrassing, and I’m not okay with it. So I protect my children.

And I have remained silent on this. I will probably remain silent on the internet after this. But I sit here and realize, day after day, that I am not capable of being a woman who believes in Christ Almighty and keep silent about politics these days. You want to know why? Because I am appalled by the Christianity on display these days. It’s not of Christ. It’s just a bunch of opinions and fear.

Quiet, girl.

That’s what I hear from the looks of the people who are older than me. Whenever I feel the need to speak against anything that is of the “Christian” values, I see it in the eyes of many: shut up. But why? Why should I? We’re all in love with Jesus, aren’t we? Or are you in love with policies, being against/for something, and being right?

It is to no one’s fault of my own that I realize: I can hold no one up on a pedestal. Not even the ones I admired so greatly. We’re all so messed up, sin-laden, and imperfect that it is bound to backfire every time. The only one I uphold and look up to these days is a perfect God. Besides, if I’m going to claim His name on my life, I have to meet His standards above all else, don’t I?

And then I see how equal the ground is. How at the foot of the cross, the ground is level, and we’re all down here looking up at a slain Savior with no pedestals bringing anyone closer than another. It shuts my mouth. It makes me put my opinions to rest, reeling in the flame, and reminding me of His words to us hundreds of years ago: love.

Quiet is good. My contemplative nature has shown itself valuable in these days. But some days, God is not interested in quiet women who succumb to the looks of “Shut up, girl. Quiet, girl.” He wants me, loudmouth and all, as long as the words spilling over are from Him. Never from me.

Who are you talking to? And what are you saying? Often, our words are of our own creation, out of our own minds, echoing our confining opinions. Sometimes He wants us to shut up. Listening isn’t possible when we’re shouting. And sometimes He wants us to speak up, because sometimes people are too busy shouting and reposting and demeaning that they can’t hear anything but their own high and mighty voice.

May you be quiet. May you be loud. May you know the difference. May I know the difference.

Swaying in the Dark

I realized the other night that it’s been nearly 15 years. I remember the night like it was yesterday. The memory of it is sweet and breathtaking. I thought of it again this evening while I swayed back and forth with my baby girl in my arms. Will a day like that come upon you, dear girl? Will the earth shake and shift like it did for me?

I was twelve years old when I saw God for who He was. I struggled for years to fully understand what it meant to be a Christian, and I still struggle now, sometimes in the same ways. Sometimes in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Here’s the thing: the faithfulness of God has nothing to do with my life. It has nothing to do with my mistakes. It has nothing to do with me at all.

As I swayed back and forth in the shadows of my room, waiting for Rosie to fall into deeper sleep, I prayed for her. My arms and hands upon her, pouring out whatever faith God has built in me over this little girl’s life. It feels like a natural step when my hands are resting on my children. Whether it’s on their shoulder, scooped in my arms, riding on my back, or holding my hand, whenever my hands graze their warm souls, the prayers pour like water.

This most recent evening while I held my girl, the thought of discipleship occurred to me. I want to disciple her well. I want to teach her what I’m learning, and I want to walk with her. Even more, I realized how much I wanted her to have other women, women who know better than me, to disciple my girl. I want her soul to be wrapped in prayerful hands, as though she’s still my baby girl swaying with me in the dark, except there’s a whole village of us reaching out to push her onward.

I think this of my kids. And yet I think this of my people. My women. My husband. My family. My church. The strangers and the familiar. I’ve always wondered if maybe I am just a little quirky, but maybe it isn’t so crazy to be the one placing a hand on a shoulder, praying for more than I can do, and sending onward with love and strength.

Sometimes we forget, don’t we, the great deed we’ve been given. We give up our honorary duties as saints of a holy King because we’ve…got opinions to defend? People to correct? Work to do? Money to make? A legacy to leave?

“Go and make disciples.”

Your only legacy is His legacy. Your work is His work. Those people are His people. Your opinions are welcome, but remember to Whom you belong. Someone discipled me when I was young and changed my life forever. Don’t underestimate whoever you’re underestimating. Walk with them for a minute. Hands on shoulders, wrapping souls in prayers that push them onwards.

Two Statements for 2018

Friends, I am really excited for this year. You are too? Yeah? No? I’m excited for reasons you might not expect.

Last year, I tried serious goal setting for the first time. I was ready to make things happen in my life that I had pushed to the wayside for too long. And I totally. bombed.

To be fair, I got pregnant early in the year. So giving up was, frankly, easy. My ultimate goal for 2017? Give birth and sleep when possible. Good news: smashed it. All the other goals I had set didn’t matter, and I was happy with that.

I’m excited for this year because for the first time in a long time, I really feel happy with the idea of simply taking first steps. Not achieving perfection or better-anything. Just small steps to a life better lived with eyes on the Kingdom.

Changes don’t matter if God isn’t getting glory, know what I’m saying?

Here are the phrases I’m using to take small steps, keep my focus, and remind me of why we change in the first place:

1. “This is God’s kindness to me.”

A slow start to 2018? That’s God’s kindness to me. A two-hour-delay on my son’s first day back at school after two weeks off? (Even though I could not WAIT for him to get on that bus.) God’s kindness. A baby who wants to be in my arms while she naps as I stare at the dirty dishes? His kindness.

There’s a whole lot of times in my life when I am ticked about something. Or things don’t go as planned. Or I’m angry because of whatever.

God is a kind God, even when things seem to be against me. So this, viewing the moment as His kindness to me rather than a hindrance to my plan, gives me a chance to align my mind with His vision.

2. “Do you hear yourself?”

My four-year-old often gets dramatic when things are difficult. He melts into tears and whining, and I ask him, “Do you hear yourself?” because he doesn’t always understand that his behavior is too much for the situation.

He is too much like me.

Sometimes I just have to step back. Hear my own thoughts and self-doubt, and ask if it’s really what I want to hear. Or if it’s even true.

I tend to bring myself and all my frustrations, fears, and doubts with me to the table. That’s not bad. What’s bad is letting them do all the talking.

So I have to hear myself, quit the self-talk that isn’t from God, and let what is true be true.

Having goals is fun and challenging, but they don’t make a hair of difference if God isn’t getting glory. And that feels like the ultimate goal for this year: God just getting the best-I-can-offer glory. In the small steps, in the big leaps, in a life with eyes fixed on the prize.

What are you saying to yourself this year? What keeps you moving in the right direction?

The Welcome Spaces of My Life

“Oh Lord Jesus.”

I rubbed my forehead as the words came out. How many times have I raised my voice today? How often do I have to correct them before they finally get it?

Sometimes the best I can do is saying those three words. Sometimes prayer doesn’t come naturally, and all I really want is to feel less alone. So I say His name, and I welcome His presence in the ugly, frustrating parts of my life.

He’s here. He’s here like the air I gulp in, and He doesn’t take a break from me. It feels that way, doesn’t it? We get sucked into trying on our own, forsaking our needs, ignoring our constant Companion, and we assume He’s rolling His eyes at our stupidity. Oh, Lord Jesus. Are You ever embarrassed of me?

Sometimes His name is the best I can do. I imagine He hears it and simply scoots closer, like a Daddy sitting next to His kid on a bench. His little girl is working ever-unsuccessfully on a puzzle she can’t get right. He’s been watching the whole time, always available. The quiet calm of His instructions become like background noise as she hears her own voice, narrating her every step and the steps to come. Her voice only gets louder as the puzzle gets harder, more complex, drowning Him out.

I am her. I get so loud. I get so frustrated. And finally, when I can’t listen to myself anymore, or my voice dries up from the rage, I hear Him again. And it’s all I can do to say His name, as He’s sitting next to me, telling me again and again the next step in this puzzle. “Come on, baby girl. Try again. We can do this together.” He’s smiling at me. Always kindness in His eyes.

It is not easy welcoming God in. I want to do it all, and I want to do it all well, and I want someone to tell me what a good job I have done. Come on, I want to be impressive. I want the world to remember me for being a ground shaker.

But the ground I walk was made by Him. It was crafted in His creativity, made to fulfill His purposes. And if I forsake this call, He will surely find a way to complete it whether I partake or whether I do not.

He is not a God who neglects; He is a God who coaches and instructs and has an eternal amount of time for me. He isn’t rolling His eyes. So I say His name. I say it again and again, and I stop toiling. I quit worrying. I ignore the desire for perfection and adoration, and I see Him, next to me on this bench, with kindness in His eyes.

Oh, Lord Jesus. You are here for my best, for my worst. You are here for my loud voice talking over Your own; You are here for when I remember I don’t have the next steps. You do. And with kindness in Your eyes, You scoot closer when I call, saying what is true: “Come on, baby girl. Try again. We can do this together.”