Table for One.

It was over a year ago now that was getting a run down of sports practices and allergies and curfews and dog protocol as the mom of my students prepared for vacation. I’d be staying with her kids for a few days and it was information overload.

In between the always do this and never do that analysis, she casually asked, “Do you have a boyfriend? He’s welcome to come hang out while you’re with the kids this weekend.”

“No, I don’t. But I’m moving to Florida this summer so…”

I honestly don’t remember what I said next. What I do remember is feeling incredibly curious over why I felt the need to justify and explain my singleness by sharing an upcoming move. Yes, I was indeed moving that summer, but I had surely not rejected a host of suitors because of it. I was single because I was single… moving to Florida was a separate reality altogether.

It seems that the older I get (which I fully recognize isn’t old at all) the more uncomfortable this conversation becomes. And because it’s uncomfortable, I stay away from it.

We tend to do that with most things, don’t we? When discomfort is on the horizon and we have the option, we move toward comfort. I’ve seen this embarrassing reality come to light a lot lately.

I never imagined I would be nearing 27 and single. But nothing in me doubts that the Lord is intricately aware and involved in this aspect of my life as much as He is in any other.

The problem is this:

We have made marriage ultimate.

That is, our American Christian culture has made marriage ultimate. This is why young adult singles in the church feel like they’re roaming, incapable of finding a fit, unable to land. We’re not in college, but we’re also not newlyweds and we don’t have a young family. So the church usually shoves us with the college kids and calls us “young professionals,” secretly hoping we meet & marry someone there so we’ll have a better place to fit.

I get it. It’s a hard season.

But I can’t override the story that Yahweh has thoughtfully and intentionally written for me. If marriage really is supreme, then it’s been a gross oversight of the Lord to withhold it from me. And if it’s really all we tell our young people to look toward (in our actions even more than our words), then we will miss connection with a massive demographic of people who walk in and out of our churches, and our lives.

The truth is my favorite adventures and greatest joys of the last four years would have not happened if I had been married when I thought I would be married. Singleness in my life has been a sweet grace from the Lord.

I know many of my married friends would say the same. Which is why the conclusion should simply be this: Jesus knows. Let Him work as He will individually in our hearts without expecting it to look the same as our neighbors.

To my married friends, we love your love. We learn from it; we are encouraged by it. But we don’t have it. Making marriage ultimate in your life communicates that what the Lord has given us is somehow second best. Idolizing your marriage is just as broken as the single friend obsessed with a desire for it. Model surrender. Model reliance on Christ even as you walk in a fulfilled desire.

For my single friends, you are not a half-life. You have more potential, more freedom, and more opportunity to serve, love, and give to those around you. Your time, resources, and talents can be used toward infinite Kingdom purposes if you would only let them.

For my somewhere-in-between friends, you are not married until you say, “I do.” Don’t rush into the next stage of life and miss the fullness the Lord has for you while you are still unmarried.

Let’s be a community that fosters a fight for contentment in every life stage. Whether you find yourself unmarried, childless, or still looking for the right fit professionally.

Our unmet desires may take different forms, but our Jesus is the same, and He is the giver of good gifts. We can trust Him with the areas that feel “lacking.”

And in the mean time, can we agree to at least try to show grace to one another in the midst of the uncomfortable conversation around singleness? Here are some thoughts on things you should and shouldn’t say to your single friends:

Things you should stop saying to your single friends:

  • “As soon as you stop looking/when you least expect it, your spouse will find you.”
    • The thing is, I have friends who have searched the high heavens for a spouse and found them. I have others who are so focused on the life God has given them, and remain single. Since there isn’t a formula, let’s not promote one.
  • “If you have a desire for it, it will happen.”
    • Sadly, this just isn’t true. Scripture never promises the fulfillment of every desire, it promises Christ. Scores of people have lived their lives with unmet desires. It may be an unmet desire for a spouse, or it could be a desire for a child, for family members to come to Christ. Lean in to Christ, don’t count on the fulfillment of every hope and want.
  • “Maybe he/she is not ready for you yet.” Or “As soon as you’re ready, he/she will show up!”
    • As if marriage is a reward for being “ready”? As if people who never marry missed it because they were just never ready enough? Again, there is no formula, my dearest friends.
  • “Gosh, how are you still single?” or “But you’re so awesome! Why hasn’t anyone realized that?”
    • Just don’t. Ever.

Instead, here are some things you should start saying to your single friends:

  • “Let’s have dinner.”
  • “Come hang out with my family.”
  • “How you are leveraging your time/gifts/resources for the Kingdom?”

The church was designed to be a community that gathered together – in every life stage, in every struggle, in every success – to magnify the name of Jesus, to shout of His glory & goodness, and to bring Heaven to Earth. Let’s focus on that, and trust our good, good Father with the rest.

 






 

Lenny Jump.

Lenny Harris. Lenny. LH. Len. Len-girl.

It’s my favorite variation of nicknames, reserved only for family.

And as most nicknames in my family, it originated out of the blue and somehow found a way of sticking. When we were little, my sister, being just shy of a year older than me, couldn’t say “Jennifer.” Instead, she would try and say, “Jenny,” but her little girl lisp made it sound like “Lenny.”

At the time there was a player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Stoltzfus family’s all-time favorite team, named Lenny Harris. And my family, being anything but stingy with nicknames, somehow caused it to stick.

Fast forward a few years from the origination of Lenny, and you’d find me in the 2nd grade, at Sarasota Christian School. I have many distinct memories from this year, including the dearest teacher named Mrs. Hunt who taught us to count to ten in French, a friend who had diabetes (I remember this mostly because she got extra snacks throughout the day (to maintain her blood sugar), and I was jeeeaaaaaalous), and the Lenny Jump.

The Lenny Jump was a term coined by my parents after the fascination of SCS faculty and staff grew every day my daddy picked me up from school (or on days he would stop by midday to share lunch, or just say hello). I can’t exactly remember if we would wait in the hallway to be picked up, or what, but I remember this: the very moment my eyes saw my daddy, I would SPRINT down the hall and leap fearlessly into his arms. He would call me pretty and tell me he loved me. He would spin me around.

And there is just no way he will ever understand how much his love taught me about Yahweh God.

Through the tenderness of my daddy, I learned to trust my Heavenly Father relentlessly. I learned to sprint full-speed toward all that He is and all that He leads me to, and I learned to jump, without hesitation, knowing I would be caught every time. I learned that I was safe and secure in Daddy’s arms. I learned that I was deeply known and deeply loved.

I grew up believing every daddy was as whimsical and endearing as my own. As I have learned the naivety of this belief, I have grown in thankfulness for who my father is and who he has encouraged me to be.

So, thank you, Daddy.

Thanks for telling me I was beautiful every day I can remember. Thanks for always telling me you loved me. Thanks for coaching my tee-ball team (even though I was the only girl) and for supporting my decision to not play softball (…because it was only girls). Thanks for building us a playhouse and a fire pit in the back yard, and for making sure it was used for fire-cooked dinners and endless summer fun.

Thanks for letting me sit in your lap and “drive” down our 300-foot driveway. Thanks for making tires into rafts when the front yard flooded. Thanks for making everything a game to played. Thanks for finding joy in everything, and for making laughter a daily part of life. Thanks for being the biggest Bucs fan in the world and for raising kids to be your only rivals of that love.

Thanks for always, always, always encouraging me to follow Jesus (no matter how far or how crazy the call), and for praying for me and writing letters every time I was gone. Thanks for trusting Jesus and teaching me to do the same. Most of all, thanks for loving Mama more than anything else on earth.

You will never fully understand how deeply you have shaped my heart and life.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops. I adore you!

 






 

be{Coming Home}

It was just over a year ago that I played Tetris with the sum of my earthly possessions. One year since I carefully packed and repacked and repacked again to ensure each item would fit tightly placed in the back of Yoda, my Toyota RAV4. One year since, through buckets of tears, I said goodbye to the town, friends, students, and families that I completely adored and followed Jesus into the unknown of Orlando, Florida.

I go back and forth between feeling like I’ve always been here and wondering why I ever came in the first place. Feelings of deep friendship battle feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Confidence in what Jesus has brought me to mixed with missing the place He had me.

It makes home a funny thought to me these days. Yes, I live in Orlando now. But I left a big ‘ole piece of my heart in Dallas. West Palm Beach is my favorite place in America. And WinShape Camps in Rome, GA will forever be holy ground to me, a place I feel utterly and entirely home. Even still, my family lives in four different cities, in three different states, way too many miles apart.

It has me thinking a lot about home & “thin places.”

It’s a Celtic idea that is rich with the pursuit of God’s presence here on earth. It’s the idea that there are places on earth (the Celts thought actual, physical places) where Heaven is nearer than others. Now, I’m not quite sure that the coordinates matter, but I’m bent on the idea that we can welcome the already pervasive presence of God and allow it to change our spaces.

I’m giddy at the idea that we could be curators of a love so divine that people sense the presence of Jesus when they’re with us… no matter where it happens to be.

The more I think about living in Orlando, and home, and missing the places I have spent days, and months, and years of my life, the more I think about the gift Yahweh has given us in creating havens for others to find rest. In the smallest sense of the word I want to be home. I don’t want to go home anymore; I want to be it. I want to be a place of refuge, consistency, and joy. I want to remind people who they really are and to Whom they really belong. I want the noble name of Jesus to show up in every conversation. Not out of obligation, but because knowing Him as changed me. It has made me better, and different, and more hopeful. It has made me kinder, more thoughtful, more loving.

I want friends and strangers alike to feel a sense of belonging and value and safety when they are with me. Be it in my living room, across the table from me with a hot cup of coffee, overseas in a Costa Rican high school, or across the globe, connected only through FaceTime.

Home doesn’t have to be an address. It’s people, full of stories and life and laughter. It’s a freedom to invite others into and a reflection of our good Father. It’s a commitment to showing up fully wherever you are. Where have you been given the opportunity to curate home? What can you do to invite and engage the Spirit of God in order to make your current location a thin place? Where can you join Yahweh in a place He is already at work?

Let’s stop coming home, and become home instead.






 

Holy Saturday.

YESTERDAY IT WAS REPEATED WITH JOY, “IT’S FRIDAY… BUT SUNDAY’S COMIN!”

Friday was heavy. It was dark and long and all hope seemed lost. When Jesus breathed his last everything seemed to shatter, and the pieces didn’t come back together nearly as quickly as we pretend they did.

WE FORGET THAT HEAVEN HELD ITS BREATH IN A HOLY PAUSE THAT WE DON’T LIKE OR UNDERSTAND.

It makes us squirm when we think about it, and so we tend to simply not. But as broken and long and hard as we find Friday to be; we simply cannot skip over Saturday in anticipation for Sunday morning. We can’t because Yahweh didn’t. He surely could have designed history to proclaim, prophesize, and anticipate two days instead of three. He could have, and he didn’t.

IT MATTERS THAT WE REMEMBER HOW YAHWEH LET THE SILENCE LINGER.

There is so much purpose to his design. He let the ones closest to Jesus wake up and live a whole day with no answers, no direction. He let them wonder. He let them hurt. He let them long for a different end to the story. He gave them the chance to remember.

And as if one whole day of quiet was not enough, Yahweh took it one step further and designed that day to be the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). The Sabbath was a day of required rest for the Jewish people and it started on Friday night at sundown. The most tragic day in history was followed immediately by a day of quiet rest. Jewish law prohibited the people to do anything unnecessary. It was not a day for work, for leisure, or for adventure. But rather, for reflection, peace and stillness.

AND THERE JUST HAS TO BE A REASON THAT YAHWEH LET THIS DAY BE SILENT. HE WASTES NOTHING, YOU KNOW. HE ASSIGNS PURPOSE AND VALUE TO EVERY SINGLE BREATH YOU BREATHE. HE HAS DESIGNED EVEN THE DARKEST MOMENTS OF YOUR LIFE FOR YOUR GOOD AND HIS GLORY.

Isn’t this very weekend evidence of that?

Though I have it in my head that God’s provision must equal my comfort, Holy Saturday reminds me that following Jesus is anything but comfortable. It is sticky, and messy, and sometimes really, really hard. It reminds me that sometimes I want answers that the Lord isn’t ready to give. It reminds me that sometimes I have to sit in the thickness of unanswered prayer, and wait longingly for things I am unsure I will receive.

On a day of unanswered hope, would you let it be just that? Would you let the cavities of your heart feel the weight of a supposed Savior who seemed lost for good? Would take time today, even if only a moment, to press into the significance of this silent Saturday? Would you press into the prayers of your heart that feel unanswered? The desires that seem looked over?

ULTIMATELY, MAY THE SILENCE OF THIS DAY SHARPEN YOUR SENSITIVITY TO HIS VOICE, KNOWING THAT SOON HEAVEN WILL EXHALE AND THE SILENCE WILL BE BROKEN WITH THE MOST GLORIOUS NEWS IMAGINABLE.






 

Unpack: Round 2

{Disclaimer: I first wrote & published this in February 2014, just months after moving from Florida to Texas. It’s now been 10 months since I moved from Texas back to Florida, and I’m finding my heart in the exact same place. I changed one word in this revision, replacing “Dallas” with “Orlando.” It’s humbling to be reminded that most lessons need to be learned over & over & over & over. Hope this one finds a place in your heart.}

I HATE UNPACKING.

I find it inconvenient, frustrating, and simply a waste of time. Whether the item to unpack is an overnight bag from a weekend adventure, or everything I own in a cross-country move. I simply hate it.

You see, I’m a lover. I want to dive right into life. I want to meet the people, drink the coffee, and see the town. I want to discover how many stars I can see from my backyard on any given night. I want to memorize the skyline. I want to find old bookstores and hidden coffee shops and outdoor markets with sunflowers and fresh blueberries. I want to, for goodness’ sake, get anywhere with using the navigation on my iPhone.

I don’t want to find a new space for every possession I found worthy of a cross-country move. I don’t want to rewash dishes that have sat in cardboard boxes or iron clothes that have been tightly shoved in suitcases. I don’t want to be reminded that I have too many t-shirts, and books, and coffee mugs.

But my recent cross-country move has forced me to face a reality that ran far deeper than the boxes in the bedroom:

I NEED TO UNPACK.

Not just for aesthetics, but for my heart.

I realized that these habits represent far more than my tendencies in moving to a new home, or city, or state. It’s not just the “inconvenience” of unpacking. It’s the refusal to sift through what I carry. And it has nothing to do with the dishes in my cabinet.

No. It’s the fear of failing, the strained friendships, the heartbreaks, and the feeling like I’ve disappointed the people I love. It’s the familiarity I thought I was so ready to leave, but now miss more desperately than I ever thought possible. It’s the insecurities, the fear, and the doubting of everything I once felt sure of.

It’s refusing to unpack a thousand experiences worth of memory, and joy, and hurt. It’s the fear of what I might find hiding behind my deepest longings. The comments that hurt for reasons I don’t want to understand. The comparison I subject myself to when I see the posting of distant friends litter my newsfeed, reminding me of all the things I’m not. It’s the inclination to run at the first sign of vulnerability, and it’s a pitifully dreadful impulse.

WOULD YOU TAKE SOME TIME TO UNPACK?

Would you lean in to the full on, all out, renovation of your worthy-of-wholeness heart? Would you, piece by piece, empty the boxes you’ve shoved in the attic and left unlabeled, hoping to avoid the shame of all you know you put inside? Would you take out every article of clothing with intentionality and care, as if it was best outfit you’ve ever owned? You know, the pink eyelet dress with strappy brown wedges, or the flowy sky blue sweater that makes you feel like you could fly. Treat it all that way. And taking each piece, fingering a myriad of fabrics, decide what can stay and what must go.

HALF THE DREAD OF UNPACKING IS KNOWING THAT WE CARRY TOO MUCH. IT’S KNOWING THAT WE HOARD EXPERIENCES FOR OUR SELF LOATHING AND DESTRUCTION. IT’S KNOWING THAT WE HAVE TO FACE IT IF WE’RE GOING TO LET IT GO.

Here’s the thing: so much of what you’ll find packed away in those boxes should stay. You may need to do a little dusting, but find a place on the shelf you pass every evening and celebrate life every time you steal a glance. Decide why it should stay, and then rejoice that you have it, that it’s yours.

But so much needs to go. Dig deep down and find the strength to say goodbye. Carefully box up your bitterness and mark it for the trash. Take each ounce of fear and throw it away. Look under the bed and in the drawer of your nightstand and find the doubt you talk to on the nights you can’t sleep. Make sure there’s not a hint remaining, and toss it out. Find every piece of “I-wish-it-were-different” hiding in the corners and repurpose it. Our deepest hurt can set the stage for our greatest glimpses of glory, and then (and only then) it can stay.

UNPACK YOUR HEART. LET IT SETTLE IN THIS NEW PLACE OF FREEDOM. FOR JUST AS I’M SLOWLY LEARNING TO CALL ORLANDO HOME, I AM SLOWLY FINDING UNPACKING TO BE WELL WORTH THE PAIN.






 

Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis: Mourn. Act. Pray.

I am by no means the most learned or the wisest. You could find a better-written article with more research, I’m certain.

But I do know this: I cannot say nothing.

Here’s what else I know: Yahweh God has ALWAYS fought for the displaced. He has always taken care of the sojourner and commanded His people to do likewise.

More than the dreamiest sunset or the most breathtaking mountain range, Yahweh put His image in humans. We are the image bearers. Muslim refugees are the image bearers. Let us not forget that.

So what we can do?

Mourn.

It has to start here. Jesus calls us to mourn & be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Paul exhorts us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). There are scores of people weeping tonight. Let us weep with them.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

I will weep with the refugees. I will weep for the Christians whose view of Yahweh has become so distorted. I will mourn that the shadows of humanity’s brokenness are nearly overcoming in these days.

Act.

We CAN do something. No- we MUST do something.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Write to your representative. Use your voice to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Pray.

Pray. Pray. Pray.

It seems like so little, but our best fight and loudest voice is at the Mercy Seat.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the through of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16

In case you’ve forgotten, Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee. He gets it. Pray that He might be near to the refugees right now.

Prayers for the Muslim refugee:

  • Pray that God might intervene on their behalf.
  • Pray that they might not associate the wicked decisions of our President with the merciful heart of Yahweh God.
  • Pray that they might meet Jesus. It is often heard from Muslim converts that they met Isa (the Arabic name corresponding to Jesus) in dreams leading to their conversion. Pray desperately that Muslims might meet Jesus in dreams and come to know His heart and character.

Prayers for the American Christian:

  • Pray fervently that life on this earth will never be our highest aim. May His Kingdom be our greatest prize and His glory our highest desire.
  • Pray that our highest allegiance is to the King, not a nation.

Prayers for our President:

  • Pray that Yahweh God might radically capture the heart of Donald Trump.
  • Pray that President Trump would be sensitive to the voices raised against the Refugee Ban in the coming days.
  • Pray for the people on the various councils that will have a voice in this matter.
  • Pray that the decision is revoked.

I am sick to my stomach and weepy at the reality of our world right now. I am longing for Christ’s return. But until then, we can mourn. We can act. We can pray.

Join me?






Get Your Hopes Up.

“But I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”

It’s a tag line I hear often, assuming one is brave enough to say the wild, crazy thing that maybe, might just happen. It’s a caveat I insert myself, just to level the ground of expectation and potential reality.

Because let’s be honest, worst-case scenario is not not getting what we hope for. We deal with that all the time. Worst-case scenario is people knowing it. People knowing that we wanted something badly, and it didn’t work out.

And so we lie.

We say we aren’t excited about the job. We say we aren’t trying for the baby. We say we aren’t interested in the boy. We say we don’t care what school we get accepted to or what scholarships we are offered. We dilute our desires and muddle down our longings.


I was curling my hair early on a Sunday morning not long ago, my mind wandering to dreams for upcoming adventures and ministry potential. I was letting myself get carried away before quickly chiding myself “not to get my hopes up.”

And ya know, it’s not too often that I hear the voice of God so undeniably. But with half my head still looking much like a lioness, as I slowly curled it piece by piece into something presentable, it came so clearly:

“I want you to get your hopes up, Gwen. It’s one of my favorite things. Have you forgotten? I am the God of Hope.”

The God of Hope.

The God who loves it when our dreams seems unattainable. The God who delights when we desire things that haven’t come to pass. The God who let’s us wait and anticipate because it draws us closer and closer to Him in the process.

There is a cavern of God’s character that you will simply not experience if you refuse to hope. You could stifle deep desires and still see them fulfilled. But you will miss tender, dear moments with the God who loves it when you hope.

Here’s the thing about hope: it stops being hope the moment it becomes tangible.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25

The moment you’re offered the job. The moment the girl says, “Yes.” The moment the word “pregnant” appears as you sit anxiously on the bathroom floor.

And this is what I’m learning: The more honest we are about what exactly we’re hoping for, the more glory our sweet King Jesus will get. The more honest you are about what you hope to see happen the more your tribe can enter into it with you. Whether in mourning or in celebration.

Mourning. It sucks. And it’s hard. It’s painful. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12) But I am convinced that mourning alone for the thing you refused to acknowledge as a genuine desire is exponentially more painful than mourning with your people for the thing you boldly hoped for.

And I’m just as sure that celebrating alone for the thing you were afraid to want is just a fraction of the fun it is when your home team knows what you’ve been hoping for and shows up with champagne and party hats when that thing comes to pass.

Hope is scary. It’s a world of unknowns. It is pages of “maybes” and “if onlys.” And it’s terrifying. But I’m convinced that it leads us to experience the heart of God in an immeasurably precious way.

It is worth the risk. It’s worth the wait. Cause you just can’t out hope the God of Hope. You can’t out dream Him. You can’t out imagine Him.

So, “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

Get your hopes up because it’s the genuine desire of your heart.

Get your hopes up because it honors God.

Get your hopes up knowing some of them will never come to pass.

Just get your hopes up.






 

All Things New.

You know the feeling you get when someone mentions the name of a person who has wronged you? Or talks about a place that represents a season of pain and brokenness?

Maybe it’s an ex. Or a former business partner who cheated you bad. Maybe it’s an old friend, a boss, a church, or a professor.

Your heart starts beating kind of quickly. Your palms get a little sweaty. That strange pit comes into your stomach and you feel nauseous and anxious and angry all at once. Memories are weird, aren’t they?

As I read and heard the Christmas story this year I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what Joseph and Mary felt when the angel appeared to them and told them to go to Egypt.

“Now when they had departed, behold, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, and destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.” Matthew 2:13-15

Egypt. The nation who oppressed the people of God for hundreds of years. Four centuries of ruthless taskmasters and unfair enslavement. Four hundred years of pain and hurt and brokenness.

Mary and Joseph had already been required to trust the Lord a lot. Mary who bravely trusted. Joseph who “resolved to divorce her quietly” until being met by an angel. They who were visited by mysterious messengers of God, bearing little instruction and a weighty promise. Who chose to obey knowing that they would be misunderstood and ostracized. Who travelled to Judea for a census and were denied a proper room. Who gave birth in a beaten down shed and put their brand new baby in an animal’s feeding trough. Who were now asked to go to Egypt.

I wonder if they felt betrayed by God. Scripture doesn’t give us any reason to believe they were visited by angels between the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy and the arrival of the shepherds and wise men. What did they think as they waited? Did they question God’s goodness? Did they regret being chosen for the task? Did they wonder, “When will it end?”

And then Jesus is born on a trip away from home and they are warned in a dream not to go back. Instead, “Go to Egypt.” Rephrase: Go find safety in the nation who deeply oppressed and brutally abused your ancestors. Find refuge in a place of past horror.

Think about that for a moment. They had travelled with nothing more than what fit on the back on their donkey and now they’re asked to go far from home, in the complete opposite direction.

I just can’t stop thinking, “Could that possibly be any worse?”

But the more I wonder and the more I press into the character of a God who fights for what makes us holy above what makes us happy, I think rather, “Could that be any more like Jesus?”

“And He who was seated on the throne said,‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Revelation 21:5

In fact, the very first thing Jesus did on Earth was to be the agent that God used to lead his family back to Egypt where they would find protection instead of abuse. What a stunning picture of grace.

All things new. All things new.

So often He asks us to look back on the things we’ve said “See ya, never” to. He asks us to reflect and to remember. He asks us to grieve and mourn.

He asks us to hope and He offers us healing.

2016 may have knocked you down hard. It may be full of people and places you never want to see again. I get it; I’ve got a list of my own.

As you take your first steps into 2017, might you ask the Lord to help you find the Egypts lingering in your heart? Is there a person, or a place, or a memory you refuse to revisit? Are you clinging tightly to bitterness and hurt? Are you willing to look back and consider that Jesus wants to make all things new… not just the easy things. Not just the comfortable or convenient.

Though we serve a God who beckons us to come as we are, it is the kindest intention of His heart to want to make you new. Don’t let a day more of this new year pass before you’re willing to step into the mess and ask Jesus to bring wholeness and healing.

So what’s the thing? Where’s the place? Who’s the person?

All things new, Beloved. All things.






 

Treasure the Moment

Image

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Luke 2:19 ESV

Thousands of gallons of water plummet incessantly from the heights of the Cascade Waterfall, and we’re swimming deep in the coves that catch it. Can you hear the rush of water? Can you feel the cold chill of the breeze on a wet body? We had traveled to Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, to share the gospel with a precious community of people. With a day off before we began, we adventured to Cascade with hours to simply play. We danced in the water, swam in hidden caves, and climbed the current-carved walls of Yahweh’s majesty. I could barely breathe, let alone speak. So I paused. And I treasured.

LIFE HAPPENS SO QUICKLY. WE’RE PRONE TO FOCUS ON WHAT WAS, OR HOPE FOR WHAT WILL BE. IF WE’RE NOT CAREFUL, WE CAN PASS DAYS & WEEKS & YEARS AND NEVER LIVE IN THE NOW.

Mary knew the art of living in the now. Believing in the promise and surrendering to the King put her in the perfect position to ponder, to take in, to store up.

The art of living in the now is learning to treasure the simplest of conversations and the most meaningful of days. Like climbing in the playground of a waterfall carved by His hand, or treasuring the smell of pumpkin pie in a room full of the ones you love. During this advent season, as we celebrate the coming of the King, take time to treasure the moments. Remember the pitter-patter sound of little feet, and the high-pitched giggles of pig-tailed girls. Savor the bite of every cookie, and indulge in late night conversations over card games. Pause. Treasure. Love. In doing so, you welcome the beauty of now.

 

[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN PALM BEACH ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY’S 2013
ADVENT GUIDE: DECEMBER 20, PAGE 21]

You’re Gonna Have to Hike…

“But you’re gonna have to hike.”

Little did she know that just days before as my team flew into the beautiful mountains of Haiti, I had looked longingly at the stunning mountain range and asked the Lord timidly, “Could I please go for a hike this week?”

I knew it was unlikely. We were traveling with a most efficient organization. Schedules would be unlikely to change, time would be unlikely to spare. An opportunity to leave the protected campus to gallivant in the mountains as my heart so desired would not avail itself, I was quite sure.

But boy, did I want to. I thought back on the opportunities I’ve had to travel this beautiful world, nearly every adventure has included time in the mountains. Coming from Florida, hiking was not a thing I grew up loving. Instead, it’s a love that has steadily grown through adventures abroad (and some stateside, too).

There was sadness in my heart as we flew into Haiti early that Wednesday morning and I gazed on the wonder around us. I thought briefly to the hikes I’ve taken abroad and felt again the tender way the Lord has spoken to me in the mountains. Knowing it was a foolish question, I asked again anyways: “Could I please go for a hike this week?”

I couldn’t help but giggle when Haley, the sponsorship coordinator at Mission of Hope, approached me at breakfast on our second morning to tell me she had arranged for me to visit the darling little girl I sponsor. But she was quick to explain:

“Idene lives at one of our partner schools in the mountains and it’s a little more involved for us to travel there. The whole visit will take several hours and to get there you’re gonna have to hike. The hike itself is an hour and half each way… If you don’t want to go, we understand.”

I’m gonna have to hike?

Oh, how sweet our Jesus is to us.

You hear a lot of things when you choose to go into ministry. It’s well intended, I imagine, but it gives your mind a bent toward pessimism and negativity.

I was told that business or teaching was a better career choice. I could just volunteer at church and achieve the same results. I was told I could use my intelligence for far more than ministry. I was told that people would hurt me. That ministry was messy. People wouldn’t love well. They wouldn’t listen. I would end up wasting much of my time. I was told people would talk about Jesus a lot more than they would act like him. I was told it wouldn’t be worth it.

They were right about the first part. Ministry is messy. People are manipulative and selfish. They say hurtful things – to you and about you. There were days and sometimes weeks that I dreamed of cushy 8-5, a job where I left my work at the office.

But no one tells you that pouring your whole heart into a group of students has the ability to wreck you in the best possible way.

No one tells you ice cream dates with fourth graders will be the highlight of your week. No one tells you that watching your students at “signing day” for a college sport will make you swell with more pride than your own finest day. No one tells you you’ll cry when you watch them share the gospel on a hot summer day in Haiti. No one tells you that you’ll beam as you watch them walk across the stage, and that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night wondering how they’re doing in college.

No one tells you you’ll cry the ugliest cry of your whole life as you drive away, with everything you own packed tightly in your little SUV. No one will tell you that leaving will be the hardest thing the Lord could ever ask you to do.

And no one tells you it will all be worth it.

People tell you it’s messy alright, and surely they aren’t wrong. But no one tells you how much better you will become. How deeply your heart will desire that they know Jesus. How quickly you would be willing to give up everything, if only they might trust Him with the pains & sorrows of their lives.

We’re quick to highlight the bad days and to discourage people from going knee-deep in the mess of another person’s life. We’re quick to tell people when it will be hard; when it won’t be worth it. Can I be the first to tell you?

You’re gonna have to hike.

Anything worth having in life – with the Lord and with others – is worth hiking for. You’re gonna have to hike…

To know Jesus intimately. To serve Him recklessly. To pursue the girl you can’t stop thinking about. To wait for the boy who seems to fumble through every word. To get the job you dream of. To create the family you long for. To be obedient. To be faithful. To grow. It will often be impractical and expensive. It will be easier to say ‘no’ and never think of it again.

That adventure into the Haitian mountains on a hot Monday morning was long, and it was hot, and we were wretchedly sweaty when we got to the top. My neck was purple from a sunburn and I was reminded how out of shape I truly am. Yet it is lodged in my heart as one of the dearest memories of my whole life. It was a hike, alright, but meeting Idene on her 5th birthday from a mountain top overlooking the nation of Haiti with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop? I’d hike it again ten thousand times.

Whether you’re hiking through long days at camp, or volunteering to lead a middle school small group at church, or deciding if someone is worth it, or simply wading through a rough season personally…

Might we be quick to count others worth the mess. Might we be quick to invest, to love, to care deeply. To give all we have for the cause of others knowing and treasuring our precious King.

You’re gonna have to hike. And in case no one has told you yet, it’s going to be tremendously worth it.