Can we stop talking about singleness?

when-youre-dating-yourselfThere’s one topic in particular that I often stay away from. I usually skip articles about it or books on it. I don’t often engage in conversations about it unless with certain people. I don’t even like to refer to myself in reference to it.

What is it?

Singleness.

I don’t even like the word. Single. As if I must be defined by my relationship status. Except that I am, whether I like it or not. And that’s why I tend to stay away from the topic. The idea of being defined by a relationship status churns my stomach. To even write this makes me hesitate with the most extreme caution. But I know I’m not alone, and sometimes there needs to be a voice.

Trust me, I’m not about to go on some relationship-hating, secular feminist rampage. I just don’t like how we perceive each other based on whether we are in a relationship or not, as if one is superior than the other.

Someone once told me that I handle the single life with such grace. I chuckled to myself. They had no idea.

I know, I sound bitter. I’m really not. Frustrated, maybe. Tired, definitely. Tired of fighting to be included, tired of the misperceptions, tired of thinking that I’m missing something.

I work in a university, so being around young, single people brings along its wonderful tensions of college students looking toward the future and yearning for the next steps. I love it. I love them. Their searching, their asking, their learning to trust. But the downside comes when I’m lumped into their stage of life because I’m termed “single.” Of course, I must be in their shoes, still waiting for that next thing. Clearly I haven’t “arrived” yet because I’m not married and have a family. I’m still “waiting for the will of God.”

Except, I’m not.

I am in the “next step.” I have “arrived,” because I am exactly where God wants me to be, no matter what my relationship status is. I’m in the will of God, not waiting for it, and I have been the whole time. So have you.

I have to daily take on the battle of misperceptions that I must not have experienced life yet, as if my life has been on hold. I must not be able to relate to people because I haven’t had certain life experiences. It’s true that I haven’t experienced some things like a marriage or childbirth, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced life. I would love to sit down with anyone over a cup of coffee and tell of the good, bad, and ugly of the journey God has brought me through. So what if I did that “alone.” Surely wasn’t alone. And God’s grace was just as evident as it is in your life. We’re on the same journey so we can all relate to being human. Though our circumstances be different, we as humans are not that different at all.

The hardest fight is that of being included. I’ve always kind of been the outsider. Never been one of the “cool kids.” I’m ok with that. But the fight comes from within the place I should be the safest. The church. I will say that for the most part I have had some wonderful pastors who have not devalued my personhood for being a single woman, but have actually supported me in that. Most of my struggle has come from others in the church. As if I’m not complete. As if I must not be happy. You know, those wonderful cliche questions and trite encouragements that are supposed to make us happy in the “waiting,” but instead breed discontent and make us question our personhood. That make us question if God is skimping out on us.

That make us feel utterly alone and incomplete.

That’s the fight I’m tired of.

And I know the husbands and wives out there who feel the same way. Moms and dads that feel the same way. Other singles. Widows.

Because in all reality, it isn’t ultimately about our relationship status. It’s really about our own personal misplaced identity, as well as the misplaced identity we place on other people.

When I wrap up my identity in something or someone else, I lose. I will be discontent. I will be waiting and left wanting.

And honestly, we don’t help each other in this. We identify people based on their relationships with other people. Sometimes that’s ok. Oftentimes it’s not. We create divides between each other. We downplay people’s value. We tell people they aren’t enough. We miss the opportunity of God’s grace in the life of another human. And we’re left lonely and leave others’ lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against relationships. We are made for relationships. It is through relationships we experience God.

But instead of identifying people by their relationship status or by their identity to another person, can we instead identify them by who they really are?

Children of God, being sanctified, worked on, worked through, image bearers, and those whose life and experience can minister grace to us and others, no matter what it is.

God has worked in my heart through many rough roads with this, but you know something? This I have learned: I am complete. I can be content, and honestly, I AM content. Right now, right here. Not because of what I have or don’t have. But because of Whose I am. My identity is a child of God and I get to do the greatest mission in life and that is to love God and love others. We can do that no matter what our relationship status is or what our circumstances are.

So, you and I? We’re really not that different at all. We’re not defined by all the superfluous stuff. It’s just icing on the cake :). Let’s rejoice in that.

And I was serious about the cup of coffee.

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The 30 year mark

30 years. 3 decades. 

I finally reached it. Actually, reached it about 2 months ago. It’s still sinking in, I think. Or perhaps I just haven’t stopped to let it sink in.

Birthdays are like my New Years. They are the days I stop and reflect and look back and figure out what I’d like a new year for me to look like.

I haven’t really done that yet. Not for year 30. 

Since the day I turned 30, it has literally been a nonstop roller coaster of events. I can count on one hand, maybe both, the evenings I’ve had free in the last couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, I like being busy, and I chose what I allowed to go on. Work, second work, Whole30, 5k training, 2 Shakespeare plays, some semblance of a social life, and hitting up NYC in there somewhere…..I haven’t really stopped.

I need to just….

Stop.

Take a breath.

30 years.

That’s a long time. Yet, it’s not. 

It’s gone by in a vapor. Yet to relay all of the paths God has led me down makes my head spin and seems like lifetimes crammed into those years. 

I’m reminded how things just happen in the suddenness of a breath. Life can turn on a dime. Plans interrupted. Doors you never saw opening. You’re one place and you marvel how you even got there.

I look back and see the intricate fingerprints of a God Who not only guided me but created the paths that have brought me to where I am. My mind is too small to comprehend. His ways are certainly higher than mine.

The 30 short years I’ve been here haven’t been easy, obviously. You can look at all my previous posts and seen a glimpse of that. I can still recall some really vivid arguments and shouting matches I’ve had with God. But if I’ve learned one thing in the 30 years, it’s this:

God is sovereign and God is good.

How those two qualities work out, I can’t always give you a solid answer. But I can tell you my story. I can tell you about the times I was grasping and gasping in the darkness when a pinprick of Light gave me the tiniest of hope that so filled my heart I couldn’t escape it. I can tell you how in despairing times when I wanted to walk away so badly He was holding so tightly onto me and never let go. I can tell you there’s no deeper joy than when you fully realize just how much you are loved.

I’m only just 30 and feel like I’ve only scratched the glaze of the surface, but I do know that: I am loved. Really, truly loved. Nothing in this world can separate me from that. 

When I do actually stop, breathe, reflect, it’s scary. Fear wants to break in. To show me the failures, the doubts, the dark, the wanderings. To show me where I could or should be right now but am not.

But looking back, I can stop, breathe, reflect, and know for certain that God is sovereign, God is good, and I am loved. God hasn’t failed me, but placed me exactly where I’m supposed to be.

These truths have stuck closer than my skin, even during the times I couldn’t see or feel them. Jesus has stuck closer than my own heart, even when He seemed elusive. 

Because really, in the end, it was never about me anyway. It’s not the amount of my faith, but the Object. 

That is what the last 30 years has shown me, and I will never escape that.

And as I look and move forward, I know I’ll need those exact truths in the next 30 years.

a day in the life of a fearer

Fear is a nasty enemy.

Fear can keep someone from doing something really brave. It can also keep someone from doing something really stupid. Sometimes it is a friend (e.g. common sense) or sometimes it can be vicious cat.

Those of us who live with the vicious cat every day live with scratches and scars. But it’s not the kind of cat you just chase away with a large, heavy object. It’s the kind that fools you into thinking it is cuddly and cute until it turns on you, making you afraid of anything good.

I think most of us live with some type of fear, just in different shapes and forms. Some people fear heights. Some people fear spiders (justifiably). Some people fear clowns.

Most of us also have some sort of fear of man embedded into our souls that we are born with. It’s a strong lens that we see the world through and operate under. It helps us know what is appropriate and what is not. Some people’s fear of man seems almost nonexistent, but that’s not always a good thing.

For some of us, that fear of man is the vicious and deceptive cat (or if you don’t like cats, pick another animal for this metaphor).

So, what is like to live with this kind of fear? Some days it’s utterly crippling. Some days you don’t even know it’s there. It pops up in the most unexpected ways and often without any kind of warning. Some days you sense it infused into every action, interaction, thought, and emotion. It keeps you back from fully giving yourself to God and to others. It keeps you from taking risks, being uncomfortable, loving without reserve, talking, giving, praying.

It lies. The vicious cat tells you “good” things like, “You don’t deserve pain but the comfortable life,” or “That’s not worth it so save your energy,” or “You would be happier not to do that but by doing this.”

It also tells you the bad: “You’re not strong enough, good enough, worthy enough,” or “Why even try when you know you will fail,” or “You’re terrible at all of those things…people will think you’re an idiot for trying,” or “You will be rejected, give up all hope,” or “See? I told you weren’t worthy enough to love. You never will be,” or “You will always be alone.”

Fear lies.

But the fearer hears the lies. The fearer hears them and oftentimes believes them. In contradiction, we know they aren’t true, but we believe them anyway.

It is a fierce battle, endlessly raging in the dark corners of our minds and hearts. We’re wrestling with the lies and the truth, afraid of who will win. If the lies win, we are destroyed. If the truth wins, we have to face the fear which we know is a strong enemy.

Fear has a way of using its claws to dig deep and hang on for dear life. It uses circumstances that have left us hurting as evidence of its “truth.” It says, “See what happened in the past? It will happen again.” It takes trauma and trials and failed relationships into its corner, making it loom larger than life.

Fear digs deeper and embeds lies about God. It screams “God is not good,” and “God is not in control,” or even worse, “He cannot be both, so choose one.”

How can one fight against what was once a vicious cat and now is hideous leviathan?

Is it even possible to fully overcome the monster and the shadow that will never leave?

No. It’s not. I can’t overcome it. I thought at one point I had, but it was just another deceptive measure of the cat. It would lie dormant until I least expected, and that is the worst kind.

Fear will never leave me. It is my weakness. It is my thorn in the flesh. Fear is the lifelong enemy many of us will face.

But it doesn’t have to stop there.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Where there is fear, there can also be courage.

Though fear be my weakness, there is a Lion greater than the cat. The choice to believe the truth about God even in the face of doubt and fear is courage.

When I am afraid,

    I put my trust in You.

Psalm 56:3

Where there is fear, there is trust.

God knows this fear we face. He knows our hearts better than we do. He knows we will struggle with it. I can trust His heart to be patient with me when the fear strikes.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Where there is fear, there is rest.

God doesn’t leave us without His grace and His rest.

Where there is fear, there is God.

We may live with this fear our whole lives, but never does fear negate the grace, love, rest, and courage of God. Fear never negates the power of God.

God has called us to do risky things. He’s called us to love unconditionally, serve greatly, give generously, pray boldly…all even in the face of tremendous fear. And since I know I will always face this weakness of fear, I know whenever courage comes, it comes from God.

Fear is a fierce enemy I will with battle daily. Fear is a liar that speaks lies disguised as truth.

But God is a Lion. In Him I can rest.

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Discipline: Months 1 & 2

As most of you know, the last few years I have chosen a word at the beginning of the year to describe either how I see the year going or what I want to strive for. In the past I’ve chosen words like “hope,” “love and suffering,” and “healing.” This year I decided on a word that, frankly, scared/scares me:

Discipline.

Obviously not the punishing side of discipline because I’ve done something wrong, but the idea of making a commitment to something and sticking with it. Naturally, I can be quite the lazy person, but in years past I’ve seen how things have gotten a bit complicated because I lost focus or got lazy or…..just wasn’t disciplined.

I had a few areas in mind that I wanted to work on. Time in the Word, my health, prayer, money.

I decided at the very beginning of the year I would tackle three things on my list: time in the Word, my health, and money. I also made sure I had accountability with these, because if someone isn’t checking on me, I will fail.

And honestly, I still failed even with accountability. Several times. But what the last two months have made me learn was that even though I failed, or felt like I was failing, it wasn’t about the failure at all….it was about getting back up again. It was the difference between “I messed up” and “I quit.”

The hardest for me by far has been the health and fitness.

Like most people, I wanted to get fit and lose some weight. But I really wanted to develop endurance and be able to keep up with the people around me. I wanted to feel better and more energized during the day. I wanted to be stronger. I knew developing discipline would do that.

As I started that journey, I really wanted to give it to the Lord. I wanted Him to develop in me a mindset that only He could make me stronger, and any ounce of strength I gained was His grace in me. My initial mindset was that I would work hard for His glory, and He would give me whatever results He wanted to give me.

So many times I failed. So. Many. Times.

After the first month I was so discouraged because I didn’t see the “results” I wanted to see. I thought after working so hard that I would be leaner and have dropped a couple sizes and would be running around people.

False. Didn’t happen.

I kept wondering, “what’s the point? You’re the failure. You always fail at everything. Just give up. It really isn’t worth it and you’re wasting your time and money.” I had some low days.

But then something someone said hit me like a ton of bricks. “This isn’t about the scale. It’s about getting stronger.”

Ouch. Perspective changed.

So I took a step back and realized, I had gotten stronger. Wasn’t that what I wanted anyways? The ability to keep going, even though I felt like I failed or it was hard? The ability to say no to food and things that would make me miserable or were fleeting? The ability to make time for things that did matter like my relationship with God?

I’ve seen this not only in my fitness, but also in my time in the Word and with my money. Developing that discipline to stay on track, even if I stumbled a few times.

But ultimately developing the discipline to see what really matters in life.

It takes discipline for me to not strive for the vain reasons behind my fitness. It takes discipline to keep going and serving and loving, even when it’s inconvenient. It takes discipline to see people as more important than “my time.”

I’ve seen God make me stronger. Not for me. For Him.

 It is for discipline that you have to endure….

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

He’s making me new, and that can’t fully happen without discipline.

I no longer see it as something scary, but something rewarding. Not for the external rewards, but for the grace God gives through it to make us really live life.

Here’s the month 3.

The Struggle of the Holidays

The struggle is real.

The struggle: unending tension in the mind, in the heart, in the attitude toward those around me. The tension of ambivalence. The tension of going through the motions.

The tension of being misunderstood and trying to explain yourself but coming up empty.

The holidays are a struggle bus for me. Well, let’s be honest, most of life is a struggle bus for me, but the holidays more so. I am a self-proclaimed “Scrooge,” though that perhaps is not totally accurate. I am more of what we call ‘ambivalent’ (thanks, Michael). I don’t necessarily hate the holidays, but I can’t say I experience much excitement over them either. And I honestly don’t mind others being excited about it either. I hope people do. It’s filled with pretty lights, gift exchanges, sugar-filled parties, and excuses to be with people (which I’m always for).

But is that really what it all is?

What happens on December 26? or even January 2?

The sense of…..disappointment, maybe?

Why do I always feel disappointed when it’s all over? When I have to spend more time taking down all of the stuff I put up, I toss another gift in the pile of stuff that I have great intentions of using but don’t, everything goes back to normal.

Surely, just surely, there has to be more than this. My expectations can’t handle it anymore. The heart longing for something of significance.

The heart longing for the God in flesh.

A few years ago, when I really was a Scrooge, a friend mentioned that instead of focusing on the unfulfilled expectations, focus on redeeming Christmas. I wasn’t really sure what he meant at the time, but I liked the idea so I went for it and kind of figured it out as I went. I searched for real meaning of the season (as cliche as that sounds). I searched for meaningful songs, experiences, truth in Scripture. I did come to see so much beauty in a season that held such petty ugliness to me. I came to see how people in darkness had seen such a great Light, how the weary world rejoices, the dawn of redeeming grace.

It wasn’t really about the holidays at all. It was about how God had broken through this incredibly dark world through humble means to fulfill His promise to save the world. It was about how God had broken though my own personal darkness with His brilliant and longed for Light. It’s left me breathless like downing a cool drink of water in a desert.

But yet, at the same time, I was still frustrated and I couldn’t figure out why until just recently when fruitlessly trying to explain to someone my frustration and ambivalence.

That was it. I felt like it was fruitless. I felt as if I was trying to explain quantum physics to a 3 year old, expecting them to understand. Not that the person I was explaining it to didn’t understand, but to a degree they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand my own journey. They didn’t know the darkness I carried, the one that longs for the Light, and the Light of Christ that not only came into the world, but came into the deepest parts of my heart because of what that Light did when He came into the world.

I’ve been getting so frustrated because I want others to see what I’ve seen. I want them to see deeper than just the Christmas trees and the shopping lists. I want them to stop and really marvel at what the Incarnation really meant for Israel, for the world, and for us. How come we just sing Christmas carols like they mean nothing when they should ignite our souls with excitement and worship? How come we spend so much time discovering how to get the best deals and spend no time understanding what Advent is?

Perhaps that is the real source of my ambivalence. Not a hatred for all things holiday related. Just a frustration I realize comes from more wrong expectations.

My own  heart has seen so much darkness, brokenness, inside and out. I see the brokenness around me, in the news, in the eyes of people I pass.

But that darkness and that brokenness doesn’t stay that way in the way of the Light. When I stop to dwell on that, I do get excited about Christmas, and I know I have to be ok if only I understand that. That is the journey God has brought and is bringing me through.

And all I know is that I will keep redeeming Christmas and I’ll keep sharing what it truly means for me. If someone understands, wonderful. If not, there’s Light and grace for that too.

The only frustration I should really have is how what to substitute for butter in the cookies I’m making because I forgot to get butter at the store.

There and back again: a sparrow’s journey to Southeast Asia

This update is long over due, but better late than never, right? I knew I needed an update and summary of the trip God led me on especially for those who gave of themselves so I could give of myself.

So, first off, thank you. Thank you to those who gave financially. I have some names, but I know others gave anonymously. God knows your name, and even more, He knows your heart. Thank you from my heart.

I’ll summarize a bit of the trip, include some pictures, but also share how God used this trip in my heart and life, because God uses everything, right?

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Brief summary of the trip so you’re up to speed:

God opened up my summer and opened up an opportunity to help a missionary family my church supports get ready to come back on furlough after almost 4 years on the field. This may not sound like a big deal, but in reality, it is. I’ll share more on that later. But first, here are the Seawrights, my wonderful hosts:

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There’s Heidi and Chris in the back, then Titus, Seth, Suzanna, Isaac, and Rachel (left to right).

I had actually never met them in person until they picked me up from the Bangkok airport, but they were so welcoming and patient as I adjusted to jetlag, the heat, and their crazy and delightful kids.

I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, where we spent a few days while the two oldest kids, Rachel and Isaac, were at camp in Thailand. Bangkok was a typical large Asian city, very similar to the city in China I spent a couple summers ago at, so the adjustment wasn’t too bad. After a few days there and after picking up Rachel and Isaac, we made the trip over to Cambodia by car. As we drove, my eyes started to open, figuratively and literally.

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It’s one of those moments when even though you may look at a thousand pictures, think you have a slightest idea of what to expect, but then nothing really can prepare you for what you see. I didn’t even know what to see. There was the countryside with it’s own farmland beauty, the random houses made of wood on stilts with hammocks underneath, the crowded little shops with piles of trash nearby, the people in long sleeves and pants in oppressive heat, the mountains and temples in the distance, the recently paved roads that the missionaries were in awe of. It really is a whole new world that doesn’t quite hit you until you come back to what is familiar and you realize, “wow, did I really just experience that? Was that even real?” And you realize, people live like this, and it’s their home. It’s their livelihood, it’s familiar, and it’s beautiful.

Then, you stop, and you realize, these missionaries, people who grew up in a culture just like yours, with it’s constant AC, access to clean tap water, comfy cozy homes with their matching pillows and bedspreads, pet dogs, clean food, grass and a yard…..

And the most amazing realization: they gladly gave/give up all of those things in order to follow God and love the Cambodian people. And I saw that love through them daily.

On the way to Battambang, Cambodia, during our 9 hour drive, I was able to hear much of their ministry over their years in Cambodia, from philosophy to history. This was a highlight to just hear the ins and outs and their heart behind what they do, and be able to ask questions.

During the next few weeks, I was a helping hand for the Seawrights, from hanging out with the kids to keep them busy so Chris and Heidi could pack/organize, taking random trips to get bubble tea, pack, sit in front of a fan, pack, more fan, more packing…..oh, and watched the kids on my own for a few days so Chris and Heidi could have an incredibly needed mini-vacation. As tiring, and as hot, as it was, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I didn’t get to explore much of the city, but again, I wouldn’t trade it. I was their for them, not for me.

But, God did open an opportunity for a couple of days away to see Angkor Wat and my dear dear friend, Emily.

So, I guess I played the tourist a bit 😉

One of the top highlights of this trip was the privilege I had to join the Seawrights in Pursat to worship with Cambodian believers at Inheritance of Christ Church. On the way there, Chris and Heidi shared stories of many of the believers in the church and how those believers came to Christ. It was incredible to hear how God had worked in each heart, and then to meet many of them! It was like God putting a tangible grace in front me, not just for my head to learn, but for my heart. My whole time there I understood very little of what was going on, but God allowed me to see Him at work. I wasn’t there to minister to them, but to learn from them. Learn from their beautiful worship of a beautiful Savior who walks with them each and every day through so many trials that they face. And each have come to Christ with much to risk….reputation, family, etc. My head can’t fathom it, but my heart wants that same Light. I begin to understand why the Seawrights love these people so much.

After the service, I was served the most amazing meal ever: sticky rice and mango! And because I kept eating the mango, they kept serving it to me. I didn’t complain at all, though I don’t think my stomach was super pleased later ;). The hospitality shown to me was so incredible.

And speaking of hospitality, one of the women of the church, Ong, opened her home to us for a wonderful dessert (she’s a fantastic baker!), talking, and praying. Of course, I didn’t understand a word anyone was saying, but the presence was sweet.

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After packing up the Seawrights entire house, we breathed quite the sigh of relief. Honestly, and they would be first to admit this too, it was entirely by the grace of God. Everything about this whole thing was. I saw in numerous ways how God provided for them, even in small ways. There was absolutely no doubt that God’s hand was in this. Personally, I was blown away.

Despite having sold their van, we found rides to the border and then on to Bangkok with no trouble. While in Bangkok, we played tourists a bit and I was able to see more the city.

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Then after a few days, we hopped on a plane back to the states.

There is still so much I could say about Cambodia and my time there. From experiencing the food, seeing the idol worship, playing games, laughing til it hurts, never being so thankful for AC…but you’ll just have to go yourself :).
Something Chris and Heidi said about halfway through my time there really stuck with me and gave me a whole new perspective on missionaries coming back from the field….

You know those last few scenes in Lord of the Rings, when the hobbits have come back after all of their adventures, after all they had seen, after all they had suffered, fought through, survived, lost, felt? When the hobbits are in the tavern, everyone around them reveling, going on with their lives? And the hobbits just look at each with those understanding eyes? That. That is how they feel each time they come back. I’m reminded of Frodo’s lines:

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand . . . there is no going back?”

Ah. I start to get it now. I start to understand. At least, for my part.

Lately, I’ve wondered at the experiences God has given me. The open doors He’s given to see the global church but also the closed ones and where He has led me currently. A few people have asked me, “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years? What is your goal? Missions?”

Maybe. But maybe not.

To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know where I will be, what I’m necessarily working towards. I don’t even know why God has allowed me to experience the things I have or go to the places I have and see the things I have. I could say, yeah, maybe one day I’ll end up overseas, but that’s not today. Today I am called to today. And I’m learning it’s ok to not know those things.

I know these things though:

  • I know my eyes have been open to the work of God around the world.
  • I know my perspective has changed on my own culture of comfort and the different cultures around the world.
  • I know I have a little taste of what missionaries have to go through on a daily basis, even as uncomfortable as it is.
  • I know how to better pray for missionaries and the trials and discouragements and victories they face.
  • I know I have loved meeting brothers and sisters, though our lives are completely different, and putting faces to names.
  • I know that there is still so much darkness in this world, but there is also Light.
  • I know it’s not so scary to take steps outside of my comfort zone, I just have to take them.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “So, are you going to move there? Was this a life-changing trip?!”

Maybe, but maybe not in the way you or I think of.

It is an exotic land that is also a dark spiritual place with idols everywhere, including the center of town….you would expect this life-changing experience of a trip, but it wasn’t what you think or even what I expected. Or even what I thought. I went, I helped a family pack to come back, I played with kids, saw some sights, came back. Nothing spectacular, nothing extraordinary.

It was really just giving of myself, my resources, my time, my strength, if only to encourage one person. Or maybe a whole family. Isn’t this what the body of Christ is supposed to do?

But it also was really a time to learn and listen. I needed this and the people more than anyone needed me.

Thanks again for all your support, financially, spiritually, and otherwise….and if you read all of that, high five! You deserve it! 😉

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There’s grace for that

What do you do when you get stuck in your head?
When all you hear are the voices spewing lies?

“You just said the wrong thing.”

“You just did the wrong thing.”

“How annoying you are.”

“You aren’t enough. Stop trying. Go home.”

“Way to mess that up.”

“Failure.”

“You aren’t doing enough. No wonder you’re alone.”

“You’re such an idiot.”

“You’ll just mess that up too. Why bother.”

“There’s so much better than you.”

“They’ll leave too. Put your guard up and hope it doesn’t hurt too much.”

“Oh look! You screwed up. Why are you surprise.”

The voices are so loud that you’re sitting on your kitchen floor, hands over your ears, trying to get them to stop. You know truth. It’s deep in your heart. But you can’t get to it. The mire of lies is so thick, it chokes out the Light.

The loneliness of it all crushes the breath out of you. Not only can you not hear the truth, but you can’t feel it or even can cry for help. You don’t even know how to. You feel silly for listening to the voices, for giving in and letting them choke out the light.

But there you are. Stuck.

But….

There’s Grace for that.

When you’re stuck in your head, there’s grace for that. 

When you feel like the voices won’t die, there’s grace for that.

When the failures, the insecurities, the inadequacies, the imperfections, the struggles are all staring you in the face with a huge distorted mirror…..

There’s grace for that.

You may not feel it, but it’s there. 

You may not see it, but it’s there.

But ultimately, your Father is there.

Light is there. 

Like the immovable stars piercing the darkest night, Light is there.

When the mire is thick, hold on. There’s grace for that.

Grace, mercy, love. Light. 

mile markers and baggage

iStock_000014301337Small1Our lives are filled with mile markers.

We walk on this journey, one step in front of the other, hoping to make to a certain destination. Along the way we hit mile markers, marking the path, showing us how far we’ve walked.

This week I hit a mile marker. A ten-year mile marker.

If you know me well at all, you know I tend to put up certain walls. I only let people see certain things. Mainly things I can control. I’m getting better at letting those walls down, but ruins of some still stand.

Some things though I keep behind those ruins because I’m actually just not sure how people will react or even know what to do with the baggage I picked up on my journey.

I’ve decided recently that that baggage can air out a bit. It isn’t lovely. It’s even kind of awkward. But it’s mine.

This week will be the ten-year mile marker since I picked up a pretty big piece of baggage, and today I rummaged through it with a friend who helped me look at the pieces with more mature vision.

Ten years ago, on a foggy Wednesday morning, I was driving to school during my freshman year of college. I lived with my grandma at the time, you know, to save some money on college. The drive was very routine. I had done it for several months by now. I always had two choices of routes–either the main road which included too many traffic lights or the back roads which included less lights and more scenery. This particular morning I chose the back roads. I knew as soon as I turned down the first back road that perhaps I didn’t make the best decision since that morning the fog was pretty heavy. “No big deal,” I thought, “people will have their lights on  and I’ll go slow anyway.”

I take the routine turns down the routine streets. I come to an intersection, stop at the stop sign, and await to turn left. I look both ways, don’t see a single car, and make my turn.

Bam.

I hit something. A tree? No, that’s not right, unless the tree jumped into the road. What then? This doesn’t make any sense.

I sit in my car, shocked. Airbag deployed, feeling the sting of it on my arm, but otherwise unscathed. It takes me a few minutes to clear my mind enough to dial 911. I make the call. I tell them where I am. I try to explain what happened, but still so unsure. “I’ve hit something,” is all I can described.

I finally decide to get out. I see people. Someone comes to me. Asks me if I’m ok.

Then I see it.

Another car. A Ford Explorer from the looks of it, but I just see the underside of it. I walk towards it. Clearly it flipped onto it’s side. I walk closer. Someone is walking with me I think. Leading me away from the scene and out of the road.

Another sight I’ll never forget.

A lady pinned under the car. She’s not moving. She is silent.

I look away. Just one glance and it’s seared into my mind. I still see it so clearly.

The next few hours are a blur. Maybe only an hour. Time lost all effect on me. Only a few moments stand out. Calling my grandma. Calling my mom. “Hey. First, I’m ok, but….”

A police officer comes to me to ask questions. He’s kind and gentle. I look at him with one question in my eyes. He shakes his head.

That can only mean one thing.

It’s still hard to verbalize it, so I’ll leave it there.

There’s more that happens afterward, but this is the part where most people really don’t know what to say. I don’t even know what to say. For years I’ve never really quite known what to say.

After some time people ask questions about it. I answer them. I honestly don’t mind. I just hate making others feel awkward with looking at my baggage.

I’ve often thought, “Why God?” But not the “why God, if you’re so good, did THIS happen?” Or all of the myriad of ways to blame God but deep down you know the reason. I still honestly don’t know why. I’ve often tried to spiritualize it. Maybe I was walking away from God and this was a wake up call? No, that’s not right. I’ve made something an idol? No, that’s not it either. I’m not even sure I can stand up and make this big speech out of how God has used this to impact person A or person B or make some huge spiritual application. But maybe that wasn’t even the point. Maybe I just have this baggage to learn and hold onto the simpliest, yet hardest, of truths:

God is in control and God is good.

And isn’t that purpose of mile markers?

The mile markers, that when we pass them and look at them, show us that, yes, even here, God is still in control and God is still good? Nothing has changed that.

This baggage? It is awkward. I like to hide it behind the walls, even the ruins of the walls. I don’t want others to feel awkward. What will they think? What will they say? Will they know what to say?

But maybe, just maybe, I’ve been looking at baggage all wrong. It is awkward, yes, but it also is good. It reminds me of God and His grace. It reminds me I’m not alone in this struggle of life, because I can guess that you carry baggage too, and I’m sure you think it’s awkward too. It reminds me God is in control, though questions still abound.

This baggage also reminds me that I don’t have to carry it alone, but can lay it at the feet of Jesus. I may not know what to do with it, but He sure does.

Another grace of this baggage? I found out today, that the friend who helped me sort through it had prayed for the baggage carrier for years, though she never knew the carrier was.

Until today, when I opened it up.

“Just because you feel lost doesn’t mean you weren’t led.”

Have you ever stopped and had a lightbulb moment that, whoa, you’re a different person? You see how your thinking has changed, how you interact with the world differently, how things that used to matter don’t and vice versa?
Just recently I had to say goodbye to some very dear people. My pastor of the last ten years and his wife are loving on to the next step God has for them. 

As we sat around and thought back on the last ten years of their time here, they recounted many of the faith journeys God put them through. God has been faithful through those journeys and will continue to be on their next journey.

It stirred my thinking over the last ten years of my own journey. It also made me stop in my tracks and realize what a different person I am.

I mean, who the heck even am I?? I honestly didn’t recognize this person staring me in the face wearing my clothes.

 I didn’t recognize the person who can stand in front of a classroom when she used to be terrified to speak to one person. I didn’t recognize the person who had survived not just college but graduate school who used to never finish projects she started. I didn’t recognize the person who lives in constant fear take small steps of faith and experience opportunities she never dreamed of.

I didn’t recognize the shy girl who now actually enjoys interacting with people.

I didn’t recognize the fearful girl who is learning to finally embrace the love of God. 

Talk about grace.

The last ten years have made me a completely different person. High school graduation, college graduation, grad school graduation, 2 nanny jobs, teaching speech/theatre, school shut down, back to the south. UK, China, Canada, California, Salt Lake City, New York, summer camps. Broken hearts, car crashes, runaway deer, twisted ankles, bitter cold winters. New adventures, new friends, new positions, new places. Becoming an aunt, becoming a teacher, becoming a discipler, becoming a follower, becoming an adult. Breaking, healing, humbling, losing, gaining. Fear, loss, joy, pain, heart bursting happiness, peace, trust.

The journeys that stand out were the times when all fell apart and were uncertain and fear threatened to completely undo me. 

When I simply just felt…..lost.

Looking out and the darkness threatened to absorb me into its abyss and choke the breath out. 

To step forward took all the strength I could muster. I take that back….it took more than that. It took grace. 

When I was crying my soul out, desperate for something….for Someone….to hold out a hand and just show me what He was up to…what He IS up to, He gently whispered each time: “just look at Me.” 

And as I look back, I see some sort of semblance of a thread. I see the guiding Hand. The One that was always held out, leading me where I was supposed to go, even when I didn’t see it at first, or even still. 

And all the while, when I felt lost, I was still being led. Led to what is best. Led to my God. Led to where Happiness Himself was inviting me into His presence.

“Just because you feel lost, doesn’t mean you weren’t led.” – Stewart

I’m sure the next ten years will hold its own journeys. And I choose to look up. Look up to the Hand who always leads.