In the Midst of it All

I so often find myself sinking into what I like to call the “now what” trap. I sit down and think about my life (what’s happened, where I’m at now, etc.)  and then I turn around to God and say “ok buddy (we’re tight) – I see all this stuff we’ve done but….now what are we doing? Where are we going? I’ve done all these things and come this far – what do I do NOW?”

I keep expecting that because I follow God I will be led onto new things or have new opportunities on a regular basis or that my life in general will have this divine direction given to it (which, I know, sounds pretty silly as I type it). I find myself constantly shocked that I’m still in the exact same place as I was a few months ago (talk about a short time frame). I know that part of why I feel like this is because I am a goal oriented person – I really like to know where I’m going and why I’m doing what I’m doing. I can do pretty much any menial task over and over again as long as I can see where it’s getting me. (In fact, I LOVE “chipper” workouts – the obscenely long ones where you just “chip away” at it until you’re done).

However, I’ve come to realize that when I’m impatiently asking the “now what?” question, I’m really saying “Hey God, I don’t think you’re doing anything in my life and I’m kinda feeling like you forgot about me so….if you could like, do something cool that would be great. Even better, if you could do this thing that I think should be the next thing to work out in my life that would be super great.” I am constantly wanting another new thing, another sign, another step. I don’t believe that he could possibly want me to stay here longer – haven’t I done enough, yet? Haven’t I given enough yet? Don’t I deserve a new vision yet?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
– Psalm 13:1-2a

Fortunately, God doesn’t get swayed by my (probably super annoying) questions because he doesn’t really work that way. In fact, he did a complete 180 last time I was asking these questions (more on that later). I think that instead of being focussed on what we think of as the “next steps” or what we think qualifies as the “next thing” we are supposed to be doing (i.e. all those big things we expect from people’s lives – getting engaged/married, buying a house, having a kid, getting your masters, buying another house, moving, having another kid, renovating, going on a big trip, retiring, etc.), God is focussed on the next piece of us that needs transforming. That could be through one of those things I mentioned, but that can also be through sleepless nights, a stressful job, living at home, staying single, not having a kid yet, etc. He waits for the perfect timing for these things because his end goal isn’t that we have huge things-oriented monumental lives – he wants us to be further shaped into Christ-likeness.

If we could only see what we’re becoming
To the Dreamers, For King & Country

In the summer I consistently expressed to people (and I even wrote about it on my church’s blog) that I felt like I was just sitting around waiting – as if I was dangling on the precipice of my life’s next step but something was holding me back from moving on. It felt like there were loose ends in my life everywhere I looked, but none of them seemed to be being tied up or even wiggled around a bit. I was desperately asking God what was next – and could he just hurry up about it? I would have accepted pretty much ANYTHING other than “wait” (which was all I kept getting, ironically).

The tail end of 2017 was not the best time of my life. I ended up overcommitted, stressed out in my personal life, and overwhelmed on so many levels – I felt (and still do feel, in a way) broken and incomplete and confused and less than – and for so much of the time I felt like God had just abandoned me because I failed some sort of test. That my failure to do what he wanted/be who he wanted meant that I was suddenly unworthy of his presence and the fact that I was having difficulty understanding and grasping the Bible passages I was reading in my personal studying

I’m a huge journal-er, and one of the things I really like to do (when I’m not so overcommitted that I have time to actually do it properly) is bullet journal. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, it’s basically a journal/planner hybrid system. One of the key things you do, number all the pages to create an index – something I carried over into my actual journal. (Yes, I have multiple journals I carry around on a regular basis. I don’t I have a problem…) While I love the index system, sometimes I forgot to fill in the index after I write. And then I put off filling it in for 2 weeks (or um….3 months) and then I have to go back and fill in the index so my future self can find what I’m looking for later.

As I read back through the last four months (oops) of entries to fill in my index, do you know what I found? I found a woman who was falling apart in many ways. I found a skeptic. I found tears. I found confusion. I found frustration. I found some really hard questions. But through every entry and the Bible passages I was struggling through I started to see a story. My prayer for so long had been that as I wandered and drifted and tried to figure things out that God would never let me go – literally had written the words “hold on to me”.

And in the midst of turmoil and heartbreak and feelings of worthlessness and being overwhelmed and a lot more heartbreak…I saw in the pages of my journal the continual presence of God. In a song lyric I jotted down or a story I reflected on or in poetry as I processed my feelings, there were glimmers of a God guiding me and holding my hand, trying to show me something. And he did. Not only did he remind me that he has never once let me go, he reminded me of who I am.

Part of me wonders if all of this was for a reason – if I had to go through all of this to become the person he wanted me to be. I had been so focussed on the what and the why that I had forgotten the who. As in the “Who does God want me to be?” question – in fact I think I lost myself being so wrapped up in everything else!

I don’t know who I will end up being, but I do know that the person I am now is different than the person I was a year ago, or even 4 months ago. And I am filled with hope that even though the what and the why and the where aren’t being answered quite as timely as I would like, in the midst of it all God is still working and shaping me into who he wants me to be. Trusting that as I am formed he will put me where he wants me to be.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
– Ephesians 2:10

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Where you stay I’ll stay

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a mover and a shaker. I am definitely not the person in a group who gets everyone else jazzed about what we’re going to do, I’m not the person who has the great ideas, and I don’t always see where we want to go. I like repetition and comfort, and I am totally ok with a long haul of living in a space God has called me to.

I just didn’t think that place would be here.

I grew up hearing that joke on mission Sundays that “God would call me to where I least wanted to go.” (you know, if you’re terrified of snakes he calls you to the Amazon, etc). So, naturally, my young, overachiever self decided that the best way to ensure I would be ok wherever God called me was to say I would go anywhere. Even if it had snakes (maybe he would see my willingness and let me go somewhere without them…?). I wanted to be able to go wherever he wanted and move however he was moving. When he said “jump” I would say “how high?” – it was all planned out.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.
– Ruth 1:16-17

I read a lot as a kid, and we ran out of kids books in my house to read at one point so I read a lot of my parent’s Biblical fiction for a while … and I loved the tellings of Ruth. She was this amazing woman who just left everything she knew and loved to follow Naomi back to Israel (ok so the fictionalized versions might have made her a little cooler than the Biblical version says but I mean, the woman’s husband died and she followed her also widowed mother in law through the desert when she could have just gone home and remarried another nice guy in town so….). I thought following God would be like that – involving physically leaving a place to serve him elsewhere.

We used to sing this Chris Tomlin song pretty often at my old church that uses the words of what Ruth said for the chorus. I always sang the song thinking I would give up where I was. I never, ever thought he would say “stay”…until I sang it yesterday and that line hit me like a brick wall. It’s like I was standing at the starting line for a marathon and my coach walked over and said “Yea, I know you thought we were training for this race but I don’t know, you must have missed my emails because this isn’t your race…or really even your event. You’re actually competing in standing long jump………” #awkward

I’m not even that even picky at this point. I don’t need to hear Sao Paulo, Cape Town, or Dublin. I don’t need to hear Miami or even Chicago (not that I would say no either….?). Pretty much anything – even just “Hamilton” would be enough for me right now.

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you
Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you.
– I will Follow, Chris Tomlin 

I know for a lot of people staying would be the best scenario – the easiest. But it’s one of the hardest things God has made me do (and it’s not like this is new, either. I had to stay for school, stay for a job, etc. I’ve been wanting to go run that race for 6 years now and I’m still being told to stay.) Beyond that, I don’t always feel like I have a ton of roots built up where I am (perfect for moving, right God?) I’m not close friends with anyone I’ve known my whole life (moving halfway across a country at the age of 8 does that to a person), but even beyond that, I’ve been in multiple churches since then, switched school zones, worked at a camp in the US … and instead of “deep roots” in one spot, I feel as though have lots of tiny, shallow ones spread over a huge area (and if you have lots of friends spread all over the place, you know how over time the depth of those collective friendships tends to weaken through no fault of your own, just distance).

All that to say it doesn’t feel like there’s much holding me back…and my desire to go makes me hesitant to begin to put down the roots that will make me want to stay. But I keep hearing stay.

Stay? Stay. Just stay. The one place you don’t want to go – I want you to stay.

He probably thinks he’s funny…and I’ll probably agree in 10 years (or, like, 20). But right now I don’t find it funny. I find it hard. Maybe you have a similar struggle – is he asking you to move? Near or far, moves can be hard when you have things you love that make you want to stay. Maybe you’re like me and all you want is a “GO” and you’ll go. The shoes are on, bags are packed…but the call just doesn’t seem to be coming.

I am trying so hard to be ok with staying. To embrace where I am. To let him work changes in my heart to be ok with being here. To find places to invest in and find fulfillment and a lot of the time I’m fine … and some days (and weeks) I’m not. And in those moments all I ask is that he holds onto me. That he would strengthen my faith and give me hope to rise and trust that this, right here, is the best place I can be. To stop looking at the grass on the other side, and realize that the grass here under my feet is pretty green and luscious too…

On His Love for Me (1 Year sans Purity Ring)

Fourteen year old me went through a pure freedom class (like oh so many others) and at the end did what everyone else did and chose to get a purity ring and make the commitment to go along with it. Sixteen year old me recommitted to the promise and bought a new prettier ring.

Eight years of wearing a ring later, 22 year old me decided to take it off.

I don’t hate my purity ring. In fact, I really don’t hold much resentment towards anything I was taught about it all when I was younger – I don’t feel as though I’ve been hurt because of the popular teachings of the day (though I recognize many were). I’m also not going back on the commitment I made, nor am I necessarily saying other people should stop wearing theirs. The literal only reason I took it off is because I was tired of waiting. Tired of the physical reminder of my single-ness, tired of weighing life decisions by “what if I meet someone?”, and tired of feeling like I was watching my life go by as I sat around.

So I’m still waiting but I’m not waiting. Which has got me to thinking – if I go through my whole life single (which we know can’t be a BAD thing because Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 7), am I missing out? Is God depriving me of something that would make me more complete?

No, I can’t believe that. First, because God is good and has set good plans for me to walk in that will bring him glory (Ephesian 2) – if me being married will bring him more glory, then that’s what will happen. Second, because marriage doesn’t make us more complete as humans – we are still the same messy incomplete humans who are unfulfilled and incomplete without God. So if that is true, then I can I not experience all the fullness and love I need to from God? God IS love after all, so don’t all forms of it come from him?

And so I come to this fall, ruminating on a year without a purity ring, and I find myself pondering the love God has for me. All my married friends tell me about how God uses their marriages to draw them closer to him and experience his love in new ways, So I’ve found myself listening to love songs (because lets be honest, like 95% of all songs ever are about this, and somehow they all ended up on my fall playlist…), and instead of lamenting my life (don’t lie, you know what I’m talking about), I’m trying to see if and how they relate to God and my relationship with him.

It’s been wildly different than doing this with worship songs because I find the secular songs sing about slightly more tangible aspects while worship ones stay really abstract. It’s odd – you would think it makes it easier to put God in a box with the tangible, but singing so abstract-ly sometimes makes him seem so much farther off, rather than close.

It sounds a little unorthodox until you realize that generally what people are singing about and looking for is a missing part of them, a person who understands them, a person who loves all of them, someone who encourages them to be a better person…and last I checked God fills all of those boxes. In fact, he does more. He loves with a passionate love, an endless love, a perfect love, he casts out fear, he is a rock when storms come. His love is fierce and it is tender.

I read a book by Greg Paul called Close Enough to Hear God Breath when I was university (he also wrote God in the Alley, both of which I would recommend). In it, he explores the aspects of “divine intimacy”, and one of the pictures I still remember him describing is God holding us close to him as a father holds his child to his chest and we can hear the softness of his breathing and his whispers to us over the noise of the world. (I would quote him here but my friend has had the book for over 3 years and “doesn’t know where it is”).

One of my standout songs from the last month has been Everywhere by Michelle Branch. It challenges me to think about how God is everywhere around me and in everything I see, but it’s the bridge brings it together for me:

And when I touch your hand
It’s then I understand the beauty that’s within
It’s now that we begin
You always light my way
I hope there never comes a day
No matter where I go
I always feel you so

Is there anything more beautiful than the love God has for us? I am thankful to see the reflection of it in relationships here on earth, but everything is only that – a reflection. A still from picture that lacks the vibrancy, nuances, and life that the real thing has. Seeing the glimpses reminds me that there is more to come. That his love is deeper still. It reminds me that the most important thing to do is to live for him and with him beside me everywhere I go.