Wilted

The flowers have been dead for weeks.

I’ve been telling my husband that we need to dump the flower pots. The mums died months ago, and the flowers that were there before died even longer ago. The plants are wilted over the side, and it’s like death is sitting on our doorstep.

“We need to dump those pots.”

“I know.”

Yet they’re still sitting there, day in and day out. Dumping the pots means getting up and putting my shoes on and lifting the dirty, heavy pots and carrying them to the trash can near the side of our house. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I won’t.

The brown flowers fill the pots, and they are nothing interesting. No one cares about them. I don’t even care about them. But I do care about how they look to everyone else. Us with our dead flowers by our front door, a disappointing welcome to a house that is so full of life. We’ll dump them soon. Maybe spruce up the front to match what the heart of our family really looks like.

I like to think the pots don’t represent anything. Truthfully, they don’t. They’re just pots with some dead flowers. If they show you anything, it’s that I have a lot on my mind, and the dead flowers by my front door are most likely at the bottom of my list. It’s a good representation of me. I’m tired. I’m spiritually exhausted, and I’ve felt that way for about a year. It feels like there’s a lot of flower pots in my soul, dead flowers wilting over the sides, just waiting to be dumped or revived. But Lord, I am just tired. I’d rather they stick around, dead or alive.

Life isn’t like these dead flowers, at least, not today. It’s been unsettling, a description that makes it sound scary or unnatural, but it makes me think of soil that is upturned and toiled. Unsettled. It’s not firm like it’s been packed down or leveled. It has been dug up and pushed over and around. Unsettling it is necessary for new life.

It’s January 2, and I’d like this post to be here for my own recollection. To remind myself of the days when I decided to grab my own face and look myself in my own eyes and told myself it’s fine. It’s okay. Be tired. Let the soil upturn and be pushed around. But don’t, for the love of everything you care for and believe, let the soil stay that way. Don’t be unsettled by anything so much that you never plant another flower.

The flowers have been dead. They’re just flowers; they aren’t meant to live forever. And I know they aren’t coming back to life, even when spring comes. They’re dead as the pot they are planted in. I’ll dump them eventually. I’ll move forward, eventually.

Don’t be discouraged, dear heart. This isn’t a sign of failing. And even if it were, failing is never the end. The difficulty is not the last stop. Dead flowers on doorsteps don’t mean death on the inside. Beauty will be back, ease may return, new growth will take root.

It always gets me–the idea that God cares more for us than He does for the flowers of the field or the birds of the air. And how beautiful both are. Every need met, every care seen. The same goes for me. Even though we may not have easy lives, He will see to it that we are always loved and seen. Dead flowers or alive.

Loved and seen. I am loved and seen. Unsettle the soil around me, if only that all that is new and for more significant glory may bloom for You.

Shadowfeet

It seems unnatural to go dark when everyone, including me, has a platform.

What a weird time in the world, right?

(And let us all note the irony, considering I am here, right now, standing on a platform talking about something.)

I get overwhelmed by American Christianity pretty easily. Actually, it’s the Christianity of women like me, who have blogs like this, bigger followings than mine, and countless books on bookshelves. I’m willing to bow out before I even attempt to join their ranks.

It’s a lot to take in. There’s an abundance of testimonies out there and advice and “preaching to myself” happening that I can’t ingest all of it. And most of it is worthy and good. I’m not knocking the value of it or the women writing it. I’m just wondering what we’re all doing, really, after we’re done preaching.

I noticed it in myself. I would look for valuable, incredible things to share on Instagram and share it like manna from heaven. But that was often it. That was where I began and ended. I was a Christian woman who preached a whole lot but surely wasn’t interested in walking in it outside of my little squares.

When my classes started this fall, I knew I couldn’t use too much energy there. I have only so much energy before I’m worn out, and I didn’t want to use it in a public place. I knew the privacy of my ministry and my home would suffer. I knew that my soul would suffer, and I would become void of passion. So I went dark. I stopped writing on this blog. I quit posting about how God was working. I wanted to keep it private so I wasn’t performing for anyone.

Can I mention to you how freeing it was?

I was driving recently and talking to God about things, and I mentioned to Him how I was overwhelmed by the phenomenon of being a vulnerable Christian woman who has monumental things to say before an audience. I told Him I wasn’t sure I could do that. I wasn’t confident that I could preach. I asked Him what He wanted from me instead.

It’s really too much of a burden to believe we’re responsible for the inspiration and encouragement of others. Our shoulders weren’t made for it. And we aren’t equipped to sustain it on our own.

I told Him I wanted to be faithful, and He told me to get in His shadow.

It made sense. Like a lightbulb illuminated above my head. He said, “You want to make a difference in the world? Draw so close to me that they can’t even see you. Get in my shadow. Disappear so it’s not about you. All they’ll see is Me.”

Manna.

Everything can fall into place when we aren’t the point, you know what I mean? Like I said, it’s too great a burden to bear. It’s too much to be everything and more to a people who don’t really want me anyways. They want God, even if they don’t know it yet.

I have this week off from writing three papers a week, so I might show up here more than normal. But it’s only because I have a little more brain space and energy to spend here. I’m sure I’ll disappear again once things pick back up, and life returns to a busier pace.

Hopefully you won’t see me anyways. Hopefully you’ll see Him instead.

The Gracious Word

Given the right space and time, I’d like to think that I am capable of just about anything. But often, there isn’t enough space, nor enough time to do what I would like to. It’s like the house I live in now–every inch used up, with no excess.

It’s how my mind feels these days, too. Filled to the brim with possibilities and anxieties, a concoction of my plans, dreams, and fears. And it’s in that realization that I step back, take a deep breath and move outward to look at it all from His perspective.

It reminds me of the view from a camera lens that sees the whole expanse of a wilderness. Where the trees part, the path is illuminated with sunlight and the shadows of the leaves dance across rocks and dirt. And where the trees are thick and full, there’s nearly nothing to see beneath it. It’s blocked by the giants of the forest, and I imagine the earth beneath it is a little darker, a little unknown. All I see are treetops. They look nice from above, for I know how foreboding it looks below.

Faith is like this and not like this at all. It’s like a wilderness within a wilderness, and beyond that I can’t fully understand. The mysteries of God are such that I will never comprehend, and being content with my inability to see it all like He does is another wilderness on its own.

Today it is not easy to see ahead. Faith feels like work, and the Bible reads like a foreign, backwards tapestry. God is not easy to understand, because He is mysterious and all-knowing, and I am often wondering where in the world the wilderness leads, and if where I’m going He has already been.

The other night, we gathered around the TV to watch videos from the past four years. Bits of our life and our kids and the wonders of how children grow and change. It’s true when they tell you that these people you bring into the world are like your heart outside your chest. It made me ache and long for more memories and more reminders of everything we’ve ever endured.

And as we watched, and my boys laughed at the things they did as babies, toddlers, and just yesterday, I found myself praying that God would be kind to me when I got to heaven. I can never remember every detail of my life this side of eternity, but Lord, I hope you have a way to show me every moment that falls through the cracks that I have forgotten. Just so I can remember for a moment who they were, who I was, and how our life became whatever it became.

The wilderness is so heavy some days, and some days it is so light and easy. At times, the path is illuminated with the sparkling sun and the shadows of the flowers and leaves dance across my path like a triumphant display of His faithfulness. Other times, the path is covered, dark, as though the last person who walked through it has long since passed.

The faithfulness of God and the reminders of His provision for us has not been lost in these days. Going back and remembering is like balm on thirsty skin, and I feel healed and more whole as I gather myself again to start moving forward.

He is good. My Jesus, You are good. You are ever faithful and true, and I’ve never regretted You. I don’t think I ever will. Like dancing shadows and sparkling light, You are joy in wilderness and growth in the dark.

Behind & Before

Starting is the hardest part. The unknown frustrates me. The fear is tempted to spread like wildfire. I’m tempted to run.

If we’ve ever had a lengthy conversation, you’ll know that I am a processor. I never respond without thought. I almost always keep my opinion to myself unless it’s warranted, and I feel safe enough to share it. Writing everything out feels like the safest, most measured way to spill my guts.

I’m nine days out from my first day of classes. I’m not really nervous, but I am anxious. I am excited, but I am also battling doubt. Something so normal as getting a college degree feels like a mountain of epic proportions when you are a full-fledged adult with a mortgage and kids. Like a mountain with a trail I’ve never seen, also one that I’ve admittedly thought to myself in times past, “Why would you do that?”

Yet here we are.

I remember four years ago when we were standing at the foot of a different mountain. The trail was one that I didn’t know at all. It looked like an uphill, difficult climb as we looked up, wondering how we would make it. But we knew it was the way. So we went slowly, one step at a time, fear at our backs, threatening to snake its way between us.

For a long time, I thought that mountain was simply one large climb to the top. My husband became self-employed, and he began building business from the ground up. I would pray often, asking God for the success and relief I longed for so I wouldn’t have to worry. But He wasn’t going to just hand it to us. And He certainly wasn’t going to neglect to teach me.

Eventually I learned more lessons that I was looking for. (Doesn’t God always work that way?) I learned that the mountain was not a singular uphill climb to the peak. We were entering a mountain range. We would scale one, only to find another on the other side. It would be difficult one moment and easier the next. And the more we walked next to Him, the stronger we became. It wasn’t that it got easier or that we had more money or success. It was that we became better equipped with each step, shoulders strong enough to bear the weight of our calling, hands calloused from holding on, able to withstand more and more as time went on.

I’ll admit: I’m tempted to run and quit this before I begin. I want to withdraw from the people who challenge me so I can focus on myself and how hard this might be. I want to put my head down and do this well, and I feel incredibly alone at the thought of it.

He’s always been honest with me, though. And as tempted as I am to go at this alone, put my head down, focus, and even run altogether, He reminds me of who I was four years ago. How she felt alone and didn’t have the right people around to challenge her. How she struggled. How she put her head down and forgot to look up.

Things are different than they used to be. I like to think of this moment in time, as I stand at the base of this ridiculous mountain (I’m going with ridiculous because it feels that way), I don’t feel like I’m going alone. He’s gone before me, and He’s coming up behind. And there’s a crowd of people with me with smiles on their faces that make me feel brave.

This is my measured way to spill my guts.

She Is Me & I Am Her

Before I knew her, I wasn’t sure of her. She was brave and free, and I was not. I was uncertain, cautious, and questioning. No, I am those things, still. And yet, she is me, too–the version of myself that walks down a path that not many trek with the wind at her back and the horizon in sight.

At the beginning of this summer, I was grateful for a break from the routine of school and places to be and things to do. A much-needed rest from reality I was desperate for. The thought that this was the first official summer for my oldest son, and I only have 12 more with him until he’s an adult…well, it’s not lost on me that time flies. Have you heard that recently? (I’m joking, of course you have. If you’re a parent, you know. Everyone tells you. No one shuts up about it.)

I wish I could remember the exact day that this summer changed, though. I wish I could remember all the details, but they probably don’t matter. I do remember hearing and feeling the persistence of God. I was asked recently how I heard God, how He speaks to me, and how I know it’s Him. I don’t always know it’s Him. But the more I let go of myself and embrace Him, the easier it is to decipher when He’s speaking.

He gave me a nudge, like He was standing next to me, shoulder to shoulder. We were standing at a crossroads. I was ready to continue the way I was going, still looking in that direction, in fact. That was my plan. It wasn’t always my plan, but for the past year, it was the plan. And God sauntered up to me right when I was about to move forward and said, “Well look. If you’re going to do this, now is the moment I want you to do it. Today.”

I had been thinking about going back to college for a long time. But I also really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to add something else to my life that just sounded exhausting and stretching. The thought of it, however, would come up almost every week. And every time, I pushed it out of my mind with a, “That’s stupid.”

But one day, He wouldn’t let me let it go. And for some reason, I decided to be the most obedient I had ever been. In the same day He said to go back to college, I got on my computer and started my application and never told anyone. Eventually I widened my circle to four people, and I waited to hear back about going to college, which I never wanted to do, but for some reason decided if I wanted to hate something enough, I might as well make sure I really hated it for sure.

August 14 I start my first day of classes at Moody Bible Institute Distance Learning in a Ministry Leadership program, the same day that my oldest son starts his first day of first grade.

In the moment that I heard God say it, I knew I needed to act immediately or I never would. And my inaction? I would’ve regretted it forever. When I told Evan, he was wonderful and supportive and all, “Okay, do it.” The part of me that wanted him to question it got smaller, and the part of me that was ready and willing grew bigger.

And let me tell you–I am excited out of my dang mind to start classes. I don’t even know what’s wrong with me. My only bargain with God was that He would make me love it. Look at me now.

I told a friend this week that this is the craziest and dumbest thing I’ve ever done. She told me, “No, I think it’s brave.” I’m taking that and running with it.

In the Flames

I realized in middle school that I really loved giving speeches. So imagine how tickled I was when I found out my freshman year, I was required to take a speech class.

Don’t get me wrong–part of me actually hated having to get in front of my peers and talk about things I only sort of cared about. The pre-speech jitters were unavoidable. But I had to admit, it came naturally to me to speak in front of people.

I want to be honest with you and say that the past couple of years have not been easy. They have been trying and confusing, and I don’t really like using those terms because I look around, and no one else is saying those things about their life. But sure, I’ll be the first one: my life is trying and confusing right now.

When I was in seventh grade, I had to write a persuasive essay about a controversial topic and give a speech supporting my side of the debate. Back in those days, we used encyclopedias and books and a smidge of the Internet to find resources to back our case. My speech was chosen as a contender in the year’s speech contest, and I ended up winning third place overall. Me, with my braces full of rubber bands (which I removed for my speech, obviously), my pointed-toe pink heels (you know I was dressed to impress for this speech), and passion for speaking. I remember wanting to win but not believing I would. So I didn’t.

When I started believing in Jesus, His grace, and His forgiveness, I was 12. The memories of growing up and learning about Him, about loving Him, and living for Him are lined with joy and confidence. I wish I could go back and watch that girl just for the sake of seeing how Jesus changed her at such a pivotal moment in life.

It’s been 15 years of knowing Him, and I haven’t doubted Him much. He was all I had sometimes. I’ll be 28 this year, and for the first time in a long time, I’m unsure of Him.

No one wants to say that, right? Surely you don’t. I don’t. I’d rather tell the stories of His triumph and glory, but this side of heaven is not all triumphs and glory. Sometimes it’s more like hell, and this is the devil’s playground. At least I feel that way.

More often than not, I’m waiting for someone else to say what I’m thinking because I don’t want to be the one. I don’t want to be the voice that gets a little loud because I don’t want to get even close enough to touch your feathers, let alone ruffle them. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that little me has a love for public speaking and has no desire to make anyone uncomfortable.

It’s been 15 years of knowing Him, and this year feels like one of the hardest. I want to believe Him, but I also don’t. I want to trust Him, but I also would rather not. I want to have faith that is working and active, but that takes work.

Hey, here’s the secret to faith that lasts: endurance. Enduring when you want to quit. Persevering when you’d rather give up. Pushing through when it’s like you’re hitting wall after wall, and the faith that could move so-called mountains has done nothing but moved it an inch.

Now you know the honest part. Here’s the better part.

I started asking God. I started saying what I really wanted to say, not just what was the “Christian” thing to say. Things like, “Hey. I don’t get this. Why? Why am I doubting you? Why does the Bible feel heavy and thick like mud, my mind unable to filter it and process it? Why do you seem more complex than ever?” And I said to Him again and again, “Show up. Help me. Reveal Yourself. Remind me.”

The story of Moses came to mind. He killed a man and fled Egypt. And yet God appeared to Him as a consuming fire, telling Moses what He would do, even if Moses didn’t believe it.

I closed my eyes. He wasn’t going to burn me alive to make a point or condemn me for struggling. The words came to mind, “In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me.” Me. Woman with the dreams real big, woman with the fears real wide. Woman who is doubting big time, but knows. She knows. If she’s learned anything in these 15 years, it’s that He’s never finished, even if I am.

This is a story of His triumph and glory, even though it feels like a story of failure. This is a story of His work in my work, His call on the girl with the rubber bands in her braces and pink pointed-toe high heels, His redemption on a woman’s life who is going to be meaningful.

Show up. Help me. Remind me. Reveal Yourself to me.

You’ve never failed me yet.

Running Races You Weren’t Meant to Run

There was once a time in my life where I fretted incessantly about being someone I am not. It was yesterday.

Truth be told, this time of fretting comes almost everyday until I mute it within my own mind or beat it out of my thoughts with the nuggets of truth I try hard to cling to. It is fed by the pictures my friends post, the wonderings of how my life appears, as I’m putting BB Cream on in the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror.

It’s hot in Indiana this week, and this feels like the first summer in many summers that I want to jump headfirst into it and not tell a single soul. My first instinct in this world, in this information-overload-here-look-at-my-life-on-social-media world, is to tell you all about it. To blog about it. To write a post about it. To put on a filter on a picture of my kids looking cute and perfect and post it. Summer is good because I told you it was! And it’s a race I simply don’t want to run.

You with me here? You know how it feels to run lots of races simultaneously and then wondering why you’re so dang tired, or is that just me?

Running used to be one of my favorite things in the world. I would run until my legs felt like jello. I would listen to the music in my headphones so loud it would feel like I was running in my own concert of a world. But this me right now is not quite built for running like she used to be. I probably could be if I wanted to, but that’s not my race. At least not for today. I’m considering it a kindness to myself to not run when I know I’m not meant for it. Maybe one day.

My figurative running and where I go and the races I decides to race are highly important. I cannot do it all. I cannot live a life that caters to the people on the internet. I cannot try for some sort of perfection that means absolutely nothing in terms of eternity. I cannot run races I was never meant to run, or start races that I’m not ready for just yet. I have to know me. And this me is trying desperately to listen to the whispers and calls of Christ Almighty, not what appears to feel good, look good, or sound good.

And by God, may He let me know when I’m running when I don’t need to. May He stop me in my tracks when I’m over-exerting the strength that is mine and not His. May He be loud in my ears and my heart telling me when I’m a woman who is falling apart because she’s trying too gosh-dang hard to keep it together.

Everyday I’ll fret, wonder if I am who I am meant to be, or if I’ll ever become who I thought I wanted to become. And everyday, I’ll have to step out of that race, remind myself that I surely am who He knew I would be, and He’s got specific races, runnings, doings, and callings that were meant just for me. They’ve got my name written all over them, like He graffitied His lovingkindness and identity on my soul.

Know your race. Know your running.

Or else we’re all fighting for a spot in a race we weren’t all meant for. Or we’re getting out of our lanes, invading someone else’s space, making each other feel like we just aren’t enough for a Kingdom that’s got a place for everybody.

There’s room. So much room that we’ll never see the end of it.