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.

What It Isn’t

Sometimes I wonder what people would say about us if they lived like a fly on the wall in our house, watching our everyday.

I quickly realize I’m better off not knowing.

Our home is my safest place, which means, it’s where I can be my ugliest. Sure, the no make-up, hair a mess, wearing-baby-puke-as-an-accessory kind of yuck. But also the ugly that an come out of my mouth, my attitude, the way I treat the people I love the most.

I realized something the other night, as I was sitting on the couch with my husband, and we were reminiscing about the past seven years of our marriage. I’ve never lived a day in my adult life without being married to this man. We’ve grown up together while also growing our family, and that small detail is really important.

When January came rolling around earlier this year, I was so excited about the prospect of what 2018 could be. I went ahead and dreamt up these goals for the year that were high-in-the-sky in my mind. Unattainable, for the most part. And you know what? I have almost no intention of reaching the goals.

I was two months out from having my fourth baby, which by the way, left me sore for nearly three months. I was wrangling kids all day everyday, doing some writing here and there, and had zero time for anything besides surviving. Exhausted, strung out, joyful, but just done by 9 PM. I knew when I made this list of goals that they were not happening anytime soon.

But that’s not the point.

You and I are pretty obsessed with making “it all” look good, aren’t we? We snap photos of our best and share them. We type up the stories from our days and post them. We tweet our feels and wait for favorites, create lengthy instastories about God’s revelation in our life, give our opinions a stage, and we just want it all to look the part. I spend too much of my time living there. Don’t you? Obsessively giving our platforms the time of day to appear as if our life is something it just might not be.

But what my life is, honestly, most of you never will see. It’s in hidden moments, behind closed doors, surrounded by walls, and lived out while the people I hold closest are watching. And these goals that I created? I don’t really care if they ever are achieved this year. It is what it is. I have a book list with nearly 20-30 books, and I have read none. Are you with me?

My life and what it isn’t could nearly destroy so much of me. It isn’t all good. It doesn’t even all look that great. And instead of living in this influence culture where we use our voices on the Internet to foster change, I just want to go be that woman. I want to just be the woman that I talk about all the time, the one that struggles hard to just be a decent human and knows it, the one whose kindness isn’t seen by anyone but God, the one who just isn’t concerned with what this all could be. What it isn’t isn’t the point.

Here’s what’s making me say amen:

If He doesn’t matter most, then what matters at all?
I get to be here, all here, wherever “here” is. The whole world can wait while what’s right in front of me has all my attention.
He’s everything.
I don’t need more. If I think for a moment that I don’t have enough of anything, I cheapen the cost of God’s love for me.

It is what it is: He is enough, truly, in all things.

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.