The Best is Yet to Come

As of this week, I have officially been out of college for as long as I was in college.

That reality is enough to make me want to vomit everywhere. Or cry the ugliest cry there ever was. It makes me sad. It really just makes me feel weird. It seems as though the sun should have asked for my permission to rise and set so many times.

Time is weird and thinking of how it passes so unapologetically is enough to send me spinning. I’m not the kind of person that needs a reason to get emotional. My Myers-Briggs personality type reveals an undeniable “F” – I am a feeler to.the.max.

So naturally, I’m a mess. As I wrap up a beautifully hard season in Texas, as I find a decade full of prayers and hopes and dreams, and as I consider that I have been post-grad for four dang years.

I remember a friend asking just weeks before my college graduation, “Everyone says that college is the best time of their life – how does it feel knowing your time is ending?”

I tried to not be offended at the senseless phrasing of the question and really probed my heart for an answer. I liked what came to mind and I’m standing by my initial thought that night:

The best is yet to come.

If life is truly as sweet as I think it could be, and if my Jesus is really the good King I believe him to be, then simply put: the best can’t be in the past.

I’m not always so confident. I’m tempted to wallow at the years that have passed. I’m tempted to wish I were a reckless twenty-year-old averaging 5 hours of sleep a night and skipping class to play in the ocean. I’m tempted to criticize the last four years as a waste, not good enough, second-best. But something in me just can’t do those things.

I just can’t get over the belief that Yahweh cares so deeply that we make the most of this life. I can’t get over thinking that if my best days were behind me, he would call me home. I can’t help but think that this life has the potential to be better tonight than it was this morning, and better tomorrow than it was today. He came to give us life, and life abundantly… didn’t he?

I surely don’t mean that trials won’t come or that life is always neat and tidy. I’ve had my share of winters and I’m sure there will be many more to come. But even in the midst, Jesus has allowed me to experience some really sweet moments in my nearly 26 years. And the last four, though post-grad, have brought some of my favorite adventures, some of my dearest friendships, and some of my biggest dreams.

I’m thankful for TimeHop to remind me that I was crossing the stage and moving my tassel on this day four years ago. I’m glad to remember the ending of one of my favorite seasons because it reminds me yet again that sweet seasons come and go, but they don’t have to claim superlatives as they leave us.

We’re nearly always ending a season of sorts. You may just now be ending a season of middle school or high school. You may be finishing college, or grad school and about to make your first big move, taking your first “real” position. You may be closing in on a season of singleness, or engagement. It could be a season of having your littles at home before kindergarten starts stealing their days. Maybe your youngest is graduating and you are (at long last) empty nesters. Maybe, like me, it’s an unexpected ending and a pending move, or position change is looming on the calendar, just a few weeks away.

Whatever this ending looks like, believe the best is yet to come. You need the lessons of this closing chapter to carry you further into the wild adventure of your glorious heart. You need to lean in; you need to draw close. You need to press in to the ugly, painful, torn up places of the season you are saying goodbye to. You need to write down your favorite moments, the stories you want to always remember. You need to bravely ask your King, “What do you want me to hold on to? What do you want me to let go of?”

Bitterness and anger and fear are heavy rocks to carry, and you’re just not supposed to take them with you. The lessons from the hardship? Keep ‘em. But the pain and hurt? Let it go, let it go.

Joy and freedom don’t weigh a thing and your boundless heart is made to hold it in abundance. Whatever season you are nearing the end of, would you believe this to be true?

So remember the nights you didn’t sleep because of your procrastination. Remember the boy that broke your heart. Remember the professors that spoke life and pushed you further into your calling. Remember the road trips. And as you remember, look with hope and all the heart eyes at the season to which our King is calling you next. He gives good gifts to his kids and I’m hoping this next chapter is sweeter than you could have ever hoped.

Surely, dear – the best is yet to come.






 

Ten Years.

It was just a few weeks ago that I spent an entire afternoon sorting the books on my shelves. I reached my breaking point when I went searching for the zillionth book “I knew I had” …but somehow couldn’t find.

As I sorted & sorted & sorted, I discovered a full shelf worth was simply journals. Thin floral Rifle Paper Co. sets, a fabric-covered notebook I made before traveling on one of my favorite international adventures, one boasting an antique map of the world (though somehow missing Australia…), and a host of simple brown, leather bound pages.

I watched the stack of journals grow in the sorting process, and I finally gave in to the inviting distraction. As I took a seat on my shaggy, grayish brown Ikea rug, I grabbed a random journal and flipped right to the middle, pulled immediately into the joys and woes of my college freshman heart.

One of my favorite practices has long been rereading through old journals to recall the prayers and petitions that have filled my heart and mind throughout the years. It is both humbling and humorous to recount the boys that caught my eye, the internships I hoped for, and the conflict that led to restlessness and late night prayers.

I opened one after another, only to find an earlier date than the one before it. “When did I start doing this?” I probed my mind. It really hasn’t seemed like long, but as I opened the two-toned brown journal with the imprint of a cross, I found the answer when a date jumped off the page:

April 2006.

Ten years.

Ten years of dreaming. Ten years of joy & hurt & celebration & sorrow.

I flipped and flipped through the pages of that first journal, and of the ones that followed. They carry so much. The loss of loved ones and the growth of treasured friendships. Stories of serving overseas, graduations, and moving across the country. It holds desperate cries, remnants of a broken heart, and lots & lots of hope.

Ten years of a faithful God listening to my fickle heart. Ten years of forgetful wanderings that always, somehow, eventually led me back to him.

There are prayers for which I remember every detail – where I was sitting and what I was feeling when the words first flowed onto the pages. There are others full of emotion for which I have zero recollection, causing me to giggle at how such a trial could simply not be remembered.

There are prayers I thank the good Lord for not answering and things I wanted that God so graciously denied (like that boy my 17 year old heart desired). There are others about which I still wonder why they’ve gone unanswered, prayers that have remained consistent now for a decade. And there are prayers I have long forgotten I once prayed as a teenager that my sweet Jesus has poured out in abundance.

There are prayers for people that I love with a fierceness words on a page could never express and there I names I struggle to remember, reciting the month and year of the prayer aloud, as if timing will help recall the names of people once significant to me.

There are pages with words smeared from the overflow of tears. There are some smeared with water I spit out, laughing unexpectedly at how this little life of mine has turned out. There are even more with coffee stains; each flaw I find simply delightful.

In all the memories and stirrings of my heart, perhaps the sweetest thing of all is the promise that my King has been listening with intention and waiting in anticipation for me to come before his throne and simply ask, seek, & knock.

I forget so easily.

Recounting old hopes and requests is a good practice for this heart of mine. I’m sadly no stranger to doubt and questioning, and I can’t but thank God for his abundant grace when these pages were filled only with why’s and when’s and how’s.

Our hearts need reminders and sometimes the faithfulness of God in the lives of the people around us just isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to remember a time in our own life, a time where we saw him fight for us. A time when we saw him lead and heard him speak just to us.

May I remind you of something? He loves to hear from you. He loves when you come full of messy desire. He loves when you come with a bold petition. He loves when you come just to say “thanks.” And whether those words are ever recorded on a page, I really believe he just delights when you come.

And I really think he loves to remind you in seasons of silence that he has not forgotten. You have not been overlooked. You’ll be fought for, even still. You’ll be taken care of and protected.

It is both terrifying and thrilling to imagine the prayers that I will pray over the next ten years. The nations I will visit, the trials I will face, and the people I will love. Standing on the brink of a new decade full of empty pages, I hope I’m always stirred by the significance of words and all they represent.

Do you have pages to look back on? Are there prayers you’ve forgotten you prayed or answers you’ve forgotten to thank Jesus for? The more you record the more you can remember.. so take a minute today to process on paper whatever season Jesus sovereignly has you in. The decade older version of yourself will be super thankful.

May we fight to be people that speak to our King. People that record the woes and the glories. And maybe most importantly, may we be people committed to looking back and remembering. It’s a sweet practice and so worthy of our time.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” Psalm 143:5






 

Sit in the Silence.

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.






How Much More?

“Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Luke 12:24-25

“How much more” is about as quantitative of a question as you can get. When we ask it, we’re asking for a measurable answer. We want to know estimated time, dollar amounts, or distance. We want to ensure that we made the right decisions, purchased the right items, and turned the right way. And for some reason we have it in our minds that comparison is the best way for that to be done.

It’s everywhere, really. We compare beauty, success, sizes of homes and types of cars. We make a decision about ourselves based upon the side-by-side evaluation of another. It’s really rather twisted, but that’s not what my heart is after today. I’m after how we reconcile the unknown things we try to grasp with a good God who promises more.

There is something thrilling about the unknown in a mystical, fairytale way. There is something enticing about far away days filled with adventure that we’ve yet to discover. There is something beautifully stunning about a heart full of desire and void of expectation that could alter your life for better. The unknown can be beautiful.

But there is something equally terrifying about not knowing where you could be in a year. Or what you’ll be doing or who you’ll be with. It’s the dark tunnel you must travel through to reach the light at the other end. Your journey through the tunnel will impact your attitude when you reach the light. And our King has promised to be the same all the way through.

I’m certain it’s because he knows how quickly we get caught up in the unknowns of our future that he told us to look around at the birds in the air and the flowers in the field. “If I take care of them, how much more do I know what’s best for you?”

The question is rhetorical. He’s not expecting nor asking for a calculated answer with hands held four feet apart saying, “This much more, Jesus. Thanks for the equation.”

The point of the question is that there is no answer. There is simply no measure to how much more He cares for you.

And the “how much more” ought to cover everything. It is provision and protection. For the tangible and intangible. It is for the things you know you need, and the things you’ve yet to discover. And in trying to communicate this eternal truth to the people, he calls them not to look at their own lives, but at those around them.

I’m the pot calling the kettle black over here because just this week I sat on my dirty kitchen floor crying because I want answers that Jesus hasn’t given me yet. I picked my sniffling self up and headed to the couch in my living room next to a coffee table holding my leather bound journal. As I reached for it, hoping word vomit would somehow help me make sense of the unwanted fountain flowing from my eyes, I looked right a vase of lovely purple flowers.

“How much more?” my heart echoed. “I love these flowers a whole lot. But how much more, Gwen? How much more do I love you? How much more will I take care of you?”

I don’t often have fresh flowers in my living room. I bought them for a dear friend’s grandmother who was in the hospital in Dallas, but made it all the way up to her room before learning she had been discharged just hours earlier. With no time that day to drive an hour outside town to their home, I concluded I would need to babysit the flowers until I could make the trek.

Some may call it silly, but I call it Jesus’ sweetness to force me to place a bouquet of flowers on my coffee table, knowing I would need them that night. Knowing that I would need to see flowers to remember the way he takes care of me.

It’s a funny emotion to feel sought after by Jesus and if I’m honest it often causes me to buck up my pride. It’s almost as if his closeness gives me the courage to lash out with doubt-soaked inquiries regarding my future. “Why? When? Where? Who?” These unanswered questions have the ability to spin my heart into an anxious heap of wondering, and I’m hoping that maybe you need a little recentering, too.

Not only does anxiety fail to add hours to your life, it takes away the hours that you do have. The more time you spend spinning webs of “what ifs”, the less time you have to trust. Maybe we need to be reminded that trust and anxiety are the antithesis of one another and they can’t occupy the same heart.

No matter where you’ll be one year from now, you are somewhere today for a reason. Dig your heels deep in the place you are and lay your wonderings about the future before the One who does know. He doesn’t withhold good things (Psalm 84:11) and works even the messy things for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28). Live fully and love deeply right here, right now. Seek his kingdom – pursue holiness. Fight sin. Invest in others. Love people when they’re messy. Let people in when the messy one is you.

I’m in the process of reoccupying a heart filled of fear with confident trust in the promise of who God is and what He has spoken over me. And what he has spoken is a simple, “how much more?”

What things are occupying your mind to the point of a breakdown? What is ruling your thoughts in a way that cripples your delight and trust in Yahweh? most importantly, Will you believe him when softly speaks, “how much more?”






 

Pigeons.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Matthew 6:26

I first took notice of the pigeons as I sat on a hard wooden bench, waiting at a bus stop in Fiji. The day was hot, a breeze not yet noticeable. The sun was shining lustrously and the sky was filled with cotton candy clouds. The gravel of the road was broken and dusty and I found my eyes mindlessly drift to the pigeons that had gathered there. Since that afternoon, I find myself noticing the pesky birds nearly everywhere I go. What’s worse, I’m finding how embarrassingly similar I am to them.

Think of the pigeons. They abandon the trees and sky and resort to searching under tables for leftovers. They peck at the pavement as if they might find something there that will satisfy. Although the vastness above is waiting, they are preoccupied with scraps. Thinking this is their only chance to be fed. With the full expanse of the sky as their playground, why are they here? The gravel doesn’t nourish. It never will. It couldn’t, even if it tried. But still, they gather, pecking at the crumbs dropped carelessly as people pass by without notice.

Could it be any different than this? Could there be more? Don’t they know that their Maker will feed them? Don’t they know that they were meant to fly? This life in the gravel is a shallow excuse for freedom.

I used to think that the birds must have it all together. What could they possibly worry about? They can go anywhere at anytime, answering to no one. They need not worry about where they work or what they earn. They haven’t a concern for education and never fear if their degree will be high enough to earn their dream job. Instead, they sing. They celebrate in worship as they soar from one tree to another, across open fields of lilies and sunflowers, around mountains and up waterfalls.

But it’s to the pigeons, gathered on the dusty streets, that I feel I can relate. Because maybe, just maybe, they doubt sometimes, too. Maybe they find themselves here because they question whether or not their Maker will feed them in the sky. As I watch them, I’m made painfully aware of my own lack of trust.

THEY MISS THE FREEDOM THAT THEY WERE CREATED FOR IN FEARING THAT THEY WON’T HAVE WHAT THEY NEED.

So I try with all my might to make them fly away and enjoy what is waiting for them in the expanse above. I want to shout, “Go! You’ll find what you need, I promise. Don’t waste your time down here!”

But truly, those words are more for us than for the birds.

Sweet child, He sees you. And He loves you more than the birds that fly high above. He has promised to provide all you need. You’re missing what you’re made for as you peddle on the broken road.

Stop scrounging in the gravel looking for someone else’s leftovers. Abandon the thought that you won’t have what you need unless you find it yourself. A feast awaits you when you, as you were made to do, soar.






 

The Long Way

While I consider myself a joyful person, and while I tend to be considerably even-keel, there is one giant thing that has a 98% chance at throwing me into a tizzy (to put it quite lightly).

traffic.

Be it rush hour, an accident on the highway, or roadwork clogging up the coveted left lanes, I hate it all. It also includes the moments of me getting lost, missing a turn, or not being able to figure out the 37 freeways in downtown Dallas that are far too reminiscent of Rainbow Road (the trippy course on Mario Kart that everyone loves to hate).

You can imagine, then, my concern for the morale of the Israelites when I read Exodus 13:17:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.

I stopped reading and the questions came. HE TOOK THEM THE LONG WAY? I was horrified. Why? Why would Yahweh do that? Isn’t He supposed to be good? It was already a stressful situation for the Israelites. They were being uprooted from their land (albeit slavery, it was home). They had gone out in a rush, and they were unclear on what their destination would be. And Yahweh intentionally leads them on the path that He knew would take longer than it needed to take.

For my fastest-route heart, it was instant cause to doubt if God is trustworthy. What if there was a faster way to the desires of my heart? What if God was keeping me from getting where I hope to go? What if He knows a faster route and still chooses to take me the long way? Doubts and questions and uncertainties swirled rebelliously in my weakly devoted heart.

But as I continued the story, the doubt was replaced with mourning. Mourning that my heart is so set on the fast track, even a fast track of doubt.

For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle… And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:18, 21-22

The Israelite’s detour surely did not come because the Lord was punishing or teasing them, nor is the Lord withholding blessing from you by taking you on a longer route.

For those who feel trapped in a waiting season, or wondering if Yahweh has forgotten, here are three lessons we can learn when Yahweh takes us the long way:

1. Yahweh protects His people.

“Lest the people change their minds…” (verse 18) Yahweh knew things the Israelites simply did not know. He knew they would see war and more importantly, He knew it would cause them to doubt. I’m sure the Israelites would have claimed faith in the moments of their leaving Egypt. They likely felt invincible, never believing they would run in fear. But Yahweh knew they were as fickle as a middle school girl on Valentine’s Day. Certain of her love one morning, and reeling with uncertainty the next.

He didn’t take them the long way to punish them, but rather to protect them. It was because He knew what they would face on the fast track and He didn’t want their hearts to doubt. So then, the very thing that caused my own heart to doubt was Yahweh’s effort to protect His people from that sickly feeling of apprehension.

2. Yahweh prepares His people.

“And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” (verse 18) Because He took them the long way, the Israelites left prepared for battle. The Lord allowed their confidence to grow on the little-bit-longer journey and it was for this reason they were prepared for the battles they would soon face. Had He allowed them to go the shorter route, they would have seen war and been instantly disoriented. Instead, they grew courageous and though they bickered in the days and weeks to come, Yahweh was forming their warrior spirits and preparing them for the battles ahead.

3. Yahweh’s presence goes with His people.

“And the Lord went with them…” (verse 21) Perhaps the sweetest promise of them all is that the Lord traveled with them. In a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, He journeyed with them in order that they might not lose heart.

Not only did Yahweh protect and prepare the people of Israel as He led them out of Egypt, but He is protecting and preparing you right now. And just as His presence remained with them in the pillar of cloud and fire, so His presence dwells with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

You have not been left alone, dear heart.

My plans fail. A lot. And though my heart will always choose the fast track, I’m learning to trust the heart of my Creator. I’m learning to trust that He really does know things I cannot and will not ever know. I’m learning that acknowledging my brokenness before Him quickens my heart to remembrance. And while I think I want the shortest route, what I really want is just to be with Jesus.

His presence is worth the longer journey.

Are you feeling forgotten on the long way? Are you wishing for a faster route or even checking other maps for a quicker arrival time? Turn your eyes back to Yahweh. Know that the days you spend on the longer route are protecting you from doubt and preparing you for battles you have yet to fight.

You can know with confidence that Yahweh God is good. He hasn’t forgotten you, He isn’t teasing you, and He hasn’t left you.

He’s protecting. He’s preparing. His presence is with us still.

May these truths sing over us like a broken record of remembrance.






 

Just Be Still.

The MRI technician was painfully unclear.

With one ear pierced and scrubs that barely covered his midriff, he was the last person from whom I expected to receive a lesson in truth that afternoon.

But then again, doesn’t that seem to be Yahweh’s favorite way to meet us? When we least expect it, from folks we may not believe are even ready or capable to speak it.

Uncomfortable in a hospital gown, he directed me to lie down on the small, narrow table next to the seemingly massive machine. The table became a glorified conveyer belt and it was already moving before he asked his last-second question of, “Are you ready?”

As I rolled into the machine, heart beating double and anxious for the half hour I would be lying immovable, he sent me off with some last minute advice:

“Jennifer, you’re perfectly safe… just be still.”

Just be still.

I’ve been finding it quite hard these days to just be still. I find it easier to let my mind run wild with frustrations from the past and fears of the future. I want to know who and where and when and why. I don’t want to be still, I don’t want to wait – I just want answers.

And that’s where my plan to follow Jesus and remain in control begins to unravel. I learned that the MRI would only be successful if I listened to his last minute advice. The images could only be captured if I gave heed to the instruction of the odd technician and indeed laid still.

Knowing that my physical restlessness would directly affect the doctor’s ability to identify and diagnose the issue in my shoulder, I was motivated to get over the nerves and just be still.

As I slid into the massive machine, unable to do anything but lay and wait, I heard the same advice echo over the wonderings swirling in my mind: just be still. My restlessness directly affects my ability to hear my Shepherd’s voice and follow His lead.

And I’m as dumb as the dumbest sheep to ever be cared for by a faithful shepherd. I am quick to doubt, I am critical, and I am hesitant to believe truth. I am restless, feisty, and prideful. I choose myself over Jesus a lot.

But oh, to be still. To be led by still waters. To lie down in green pastures. To know my Shepherd’s voice so well that when He beckons me to uncharted territories, I follow without question. To be so confident in His heart that I don’t need answers, or details, or everything all at once. To know that I can trust Him. Oh, to be still.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”

Exodus 14:14

Standing before the Red Sea. Fleeing their captors. Entirely unsure of where they were going, only a hint at Who was leading them. And in the grandest moment of their exit from Egypt, at the height of their fear, Moses speaks with bold humility and proclaims a promise flowing straight from Yahweh’s heart:

The battle is mine. You are mine. Just be still.

Be still, be still, be still. You have a King who cares so delicately for your heart. He knows what is to come. He’s seen it, He’s preparing it, and He cares about it.

Stillness is antithesis of anxiety and the embodiment of confidence in God’s goodness. (It’s also the antithesis of my tendencies, which constantly shout “make yourself busy with “good” things and you won’t notice how much you forget Yahweh.”)

My only prayer for the MRI itself was clarity. I simply wanted to know whether or not there was a tear and what I would need to do to fix it.

Ironically, the MRI was as unclear as scientifically possible. They could see that there was no major tear, but further testing would be necessary to determine if there was a minor tear causing me trouble. The former is good news, no doubt. But the lack of certainty, potential need for further testing, and ultimately the inability to know for certain what action steps were necessary was exactly the point.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office that morning I heard Yahweh’s gentle voice:

“You can’t control this either, Gwen. You’ve just got to be still.”

Be still and know or be restless and forget.

Knowing that Yahweh is a good God can set you free from your need to control, to have it all together, and to make calculated decisions based on the things you can and cannot see. Remember, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”






 

Do It Afraid.

In Matthew 14 we read the well-known story of Peter walking on water. Jesus had just miraculously fed 5,000+ and had retreated for a time of prayer alone. The disciples head out to sea without Jesus and along the way encounter a storm…

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’

Peter has a burst of courage and whether it was covered with confidence that it was really Jesus, or if he thought he was being brave in challenging the ‘ghost,’ we do not know. But Jesus speaks and beckons him into the storm. And Peter steps out of the boat.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’

Someone asked me this week if I was a risk taker. I said yes, a little bit believing that it’s true and a lot a bit wanting it to be true. In my defense, I started thinking of some of my crazier moments – I went skydiving on my 18th birthday. I got a tattoo in a third world country. I ate a butterfly cocoon in China. I went cliff-jumping in the Mediterranean. Those are risks, aren’t they?

But the true thing is that daily, I let fear win. I let fear convince me that re-watching every episode of The Office for the twelfth time is more valuable than reading and writing. I let fear keep me from studying, memorizing Scripture, and dedicating significant time to prayer. I let fear put a hold on relationships, on freedom, and on my wildest dreams. I let fear speak lies to my weakened mind. I even believe them.

The very worst part is that I’m fully aware of the presence of fear in my life. And I’m finally identifying that as the problem. It’s not about whether there is or isn’t fear.

There will always be fear.

The real test in my discipline, my believing Jesus, and my faith in living a life of overcoming fear is not whether the fear exists. It’s whether or not I let it have a voice.

Fear isn’t going to dissipate like dew on morning grass. And I’m coming to believe that Jesus doesn’t always want it to.

He could have calmed the storm before calling Peter to walk on the waves. He could have climbed right in the boat and immediately set their hearts at ease. He could have met them on the other side, leaving them only to wonder how He got there. But He didn’t do any of those things. He came in the dark, in the storm, in the midst of their fear and He invited Peter deeper into it.

And I think it’s because He wanted Peter to do it afraid.

Look at how Jesus answers Peter’s fear with a question of faith:

Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’

Fear and doubt are a lot more closely tied than we would like to think, and the opposite of both is faith.

You don’t need to just get rid of the fear. You need the faith to do it afraid.

Faith to believe that God is who He says He is. Faith to believe that He will do the things He has promised to do. Faith to believe that He is stronger than the storms. Faith to believe that fear doesn’t have to win. Faith to believe that He’s a good, good Father and that His plans for you far exceed the plans that you have for yourself.

I’ve spent a lot of days ruled by fear and begging Jesus to take it away. I’ve prayed for the things I fear to slip out entirely “so that I could finally walk in faith.” I’ve waited for the storm to cease before stepping out of the boat, and I’ve decided that 2016 is going to have a different theme song.

My resolution this year isn’t to get fit, or stop drinking Dr. Pepper, or run a marathon. My resolution is to do it afraid. To stop letting fear have a louder voice than my faith. To stop believing my words don’t matter.

2016 is gonna be brave, ya’ll. And I’m gonna do it afraid.

What’s your thing?

When does fear have a louder voice than faith?

Will you join me this year in doing it afraid?

 






 

Wait.

Wait.

Hold on. Sit tight. Don’t move.

Wait.

[weyt, verb] – to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” It’s a question I wish I always had an answer to. Truthfully, it’s a question I wish I didn’t have to ask myself so often. No one likes to wait, and few people know how to truly wait well (I am historically not one of those people). It makes us feel stagnant, purposeless, and empty. It makes it seem like you can’t quite do anything until you get an answer from the boy, or the job, or the school.

Underneath the waiting is the reality that there is something we want, but don’t have. There is a thing, or a place, or a person that we long for, yet find ourselves without. It’s the perfect opportunity for ungratefulness, lack of trust in God’s goodness, and intensified focus on self. It gives us chance to wave our arms and shake our fists, asking God why He’s forgotten.

But what if it’s not about what we wait for or how long we wait, but rather what we do in the waiting? If Jesus is really after your heart (and boy, do I believe He is), then it’s not just about enduring the time between “please” and “thank you.” It’s about being formed to His likeness in between.

The season of advent recently reminded us that we wait for the promises of a sovereign God to come to pass in our lives.

Sometimes it’s tangible:

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” {Luke 1:31}

Sometimes it’s not:

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” {Philippians 4:7}

If we believe that God is good and for us and intricately involved in both our desiring and our receiving, then our waiting must be seen through the lens hope.

Like the little ones on Christmas Eve, struggling to sleep but finding it impossible because they know what they will find when morning comes. They wait with unshaking expectation. There is no question of if there will be gifts and giggles – it is simply a matter of when the night will end.

Could we wait with such expectation? Submission laced with certainty to lead us to a place of confidence in the One we trust.

Now Yahweh surely isn’t Santa Clause and I have no intention of hoping you believe so. But the waiting modeled for us in Scripture is wrecking me a bit this holiday. It was full of expectation, hope, and anticipation.

The word waiting is often translated as looking for and even receiving. There was a confidence in their expectation that demanded something would be done, and though they surely didn’t know all the details, they knew their God would come through.

“If the Lord makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes.”

-Charles Spurgeon

We wait because it strengthens our trust in Yahweh’s promises. We wait because it heightens our sensitivity to His voice. We wait because it reminds us that He is God and we are not.

As you enter the new year waiting for that thing, press in to the longing that lies beneath the want. Wherever you find yourself and whatever you are waiting on, do so with your whole heart. Make a list of things you’re waiting for and match each with a lesson to be learned in the waiting. Ask Jesus to make Himself known in your waiting and trust with confidence that He will speak and lead you along the way.

Here’s the thing: you will always be waiting for something. And a life fully lived is a life that is all-in to each & every moment of each & every day. Learning to wait well allows us to fully indulge in the joy that today brings, trusting that the unwritten days & decisions will unfold exactly as our King sees fit.

You can wait well because you follow the unchanging Giver of good gifts (James 1:17). You can anticipate because He is able to provide exceedingly beyond your wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:21). You can be the example-setter of patience and endurance because you have everything you need right now to be holy (2 Peter1:3).






 

Those Who Mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

The beatitudes have long been prized as humbling promises that we are taught to desire. The reality is that although they are beautiful to hear, they are quite hard to live. The funny thing about them is that we want the effect without the cause. We want the kingdom of heaven, but we don’t want to be poor in spirit. We want to inherit the earth, to be satisfied, and definitely to receive mercy. But we don’t always want to be meek, to hunger and thirst, or to… (gasp) show mercy.

I think that most of all, we want to be comforted. We want shoulders to lean on. We want trusted arms wrapped tightly around us. We want kind words, and we want friends to catch the tears. We want to be comforted.

And the fervor with which we want to be comforted is usually matched by a refusal to mourn. We refuse to admit hurt, and brokenness, and pain. We run from memories and fight when sudden instances take us unexpectedly to those moments.

But these beatitude promises are conditional. They are dependent on our willingness to do the hard things. And I’m coming to believe that that is what makes them so beautiful, so desirable to our fickle hearts.

I think somewhere deep inside we know that we were created for more than mundane surviving. We are not designed to just scrape by in life. We were created for abundance, for deep, deep joy.

Could it be possible that this richness, this deep, unshakeable joy, hinges on our willingness to do the hard things?

When I traveled to a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea after my college graduation, I lived with the loveliest family. The Passmore’s taught me about hospitality, prayer, joy, and pressing in to really listen to Jesus. They modeled for our team what it looks like to do family well. They are also fierce competitors, and anyone that prizes ice cream and loud laughs, and can get feisty over a card game will instantly earn my trust.

A couple weekends ago I traveled to Middle of Nowhere, Iowa to celebrate the life of their littlest love. Lilliana Joy passed away in her sleep at the end of October and we gathered with shattered hearts to remember her sweet cooing and gentle heart.

The Passmore’s aren’t perfect. (I’m sure Eve would want you to know that.) But I think that’s why I’ve grown to adore them so much. They do mess just as well as they do glory. And I think it’s their ability to embrace the fullness of each moment that causes them to leak freedom the way they do. They are honest about hard things. They model vulnerability and invite others into the freedom they find. They welcomed their community of family and friends into their mourning that weekend and though it hurt and was really, really hard, there was an immense comfort that radiated from the Passmore family.

I know that mourning is hard. I know it’s messy and invasive and makes you vulnerable more than you’d like to be. But maybe it’s hard because the glory of being comforted is too sweet to be easily gained. Maybe there is a greater discipline that comes through mourning that allows us to love more deeply. Maybe our hearts need to mourn to be whole again.


Is there something you haven’t been willing to mourn? Is there pain of depression and anxiety that you never wanted in the first place? Mourn that. Is there a broken heart, a boy who left when he promised he wouldn’t? Mourn that. Has graduation left you lonely and missing the community you used to have? Mourn that, too. Is there a miscarriage? A lost job? A life you thought you would have by now, but don’t? Mourn, mourn, mourn.

Grieve for all you hoped would be that isn’t. Let the tears you’ve fought tumble from your eyes like a sudden thunderstorm. Know that it’s okay. Grieve expectantly because there is a surefire promise to those who mourn:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Do the hard things so you can marvel in the sweet things. It’s not really life any other way.