He Who Promised is Faithful (the Story of Ethan David)

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“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

This story has been a long time coming. Some of its chapters were written years ago, tucked away in my heart (and my journals) as I waited to see how it might end. It’s the story of our son, Ethan David, and my journey to motherhood. More than that, though, it’s a story the One who inspires our hope and of His faithfulness, more enduring than the mountains.

“You will be a mother”

The first prophetic word I ever received was about being a mother. I was nineteen years old and gathered with a group of young people at the Boiler Room in Kansas City to debrief the Onething and Urbana conferences. I was still reeling from the emotions of the Onething conference, my heart churning with the changes I was about to make in my life. At one point, I gathered with our campus ministry group for a prayer time with a couple from the Boiler Room. As we huddled close in a circle in one of the offices there, the couple prayed specifically over each one of us. When my turn came, they spoke over me: “You will be a mother to many, both your own children and others.” At the time, children and family were far from my thoughts and plans, but I jotted their words down in my journal and then promptly forgot about them.

Like a seed, though, those words tucked away in my heart began to grow. Over the years I revisited them over and over and that idea that I was made to be a mother began to shape my identity in significant ways. After Derek and I got married, I began to receive more words about being a mother, so many, in fact, that I came to almost expect it whenever a stranger prayed over me, because it happened so often.

But while my longing for children increased, marriage was hard and having children felt like an impossibility for years. We struggled financially, cycling through low-paying job after low-paying job, barely scraping by most months. And we struggled relationally, our individual hurts grating against one another and pushing us further apart. Eventually the hurt and disappointment was too much and I shut away that desire for children and motherhood. For a while I wasn’t even sure I wanted children.

Eventually, though, we both graduated from college and found decent jobs. Thanks to Derek’s job, we finally had health insurance. And gradually we began to work through our relational issues as well, helped along by a counselor, inner healing classes, several older couples, and a whole lot of grace.

In January of last year (2014), I felt a subtle but persistent invitation from the Lord to let myself hope and dream about children again, to reopen my heart to that longing that had been dormant for so long. That February and March I had a series of dreams about being pregnant and expanding our house. At the Boiler Room retreat at the end of March, a stranger came up and asked me if she could pray for me about being a mother. Not five minutes after she finished her prayer, Katie Egli came to the microphone and began praying for those who felt barren. She declared that what felt like barrenness was just God’s timing and that life was going to come out of the river of worship there. I didn’t share these dreams and words (so many in just a few months) with anyone yet, but as I mulled over them in my heart, I felt a sense of expectancy building in my heart. I wondered if perhaps the season was shifting and changing. If perhaps the time was finally coming for me to bear life.

“He who promised is faithful”

By May, Derek and I had finally reached a place where we both felt at peace about getting pregnant. We talked and dreamed together about it, even discussing names and making plans to move into our own space to have room to grow our family. We felt together that it was finally time.

But as spring turned into summer and the months passed, we still didn’t get pregnant. There were a few times that we thought we might be, only to be met by the disappointment of another cycle flowing away without life. We hadn’t exactly been trying for long, but each month felt plenty long enough to bring the sting of grief and disappointment.
Somewhere near the middle of the summer, I began noticing 11:11 fairly often. I would randomly look at the clock and notice it or would find it in the timestamp of e-mails and texts. When I shared it with our housemate Lebeka, she said that, for her, 11:11 always indicated a transition coming.

One morning (August 14), I finally asked the Lord about it, about what it might mean for me. I felt like He said, “Hebrews 11:11,” so I looked it up. This is what it said:

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” (Hebrews 11:11)

That verse immediately felt like a promise, a reminder that God would be faithful to all those words spoken to me over the years about being a mother. Though I wasn’t past the age of bearing children, I had keenly felt that barrenness, both in the years when having a child seemed impossible because of financial and relational reasons and later, in the months of wanting to get pregnant but not succeeding. But when I read that verse, it pushed deeper the assurance that I would be a mother.

In the following months, I continued to see 11:11 regularly (eventually almost every day) and each time, I would remember and declare, “He who promised is faithful.”

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”

But despite that word and the hope it brought me, we still didn’t get pregnant. For a variety of reasons, I began to believe that it might be a long journey for us, significantly harder than I expected. In August and into September, I felt myself sinking into a place of deep discouragement, struggling to cope with the thought of months (or even years) of waiting in the pain of unmet expectations.

One Sunday morning (September 7), I was at the Boiler Room, tears running down my face during worship as I felt particularly discouraged about not being pregnant yet and discouraged about life and community in general. Julie Prestige came over to me during a prayer time and told me that when she looked across the room, she had seen me as a star shining clear and heard the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over me:

“Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.”

I shared with her a little bit about my deep longing to be pregnant and my disappointment at how hard it seemed to be for us and she prayed for me.

“When God says it, it’s as good as done”

The very next week (September 14 – exactly a month after God spoke Hebrews 11:11 to me), I was scheduled to be with the preschool kids at the Boiler Room. It had been an intensely busy week and I was still feeling emotionally raw on top of that, so I was dreading having to be with the kids, having to lead them in anything. Quite honestly, I headed into the morning with a terrible attitude about it all.

But then I opened up the lesson for the day and it was all about God promising Abraham a family as numerous as the stars. We were supposed to speak over each child, “You are a star in God’s family”. As soon as I read the lesson, I felt overwhelmed by a sense that this was for me, confirmation of Julie’s word the previous week.

I arrived in the prayer room that morning, surrounded by my class of wiggling preschoolers, and Carrie Halim started telling the story of Abraham and Sarah and of God’s promise to them about a baby. She then told her own story of how, ten years before that, God had promised her that she would have another baby in ten years. Her growing belly as she sat in front of us was a visible testament of His faithfulness to that promise. As she rested her hand on her belly, Carrie declared, “When God says it, it’s as good as done.” She invited all the kids to stretch out their hands and pray for anyone in the Boiler Room who was longing for a baby.

And there I sat in the midst of them, struggling to hold my emotions together (after all, I was supposed to be the teacher there), as Champy softly played “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the piano in the background (though I didn’t notice it at the time). A sense of awe washed over me as I felt like those words and promises – the Hebrews 11:11 word, Julie’s word, and all the words about me being a mother – were coming together in that moment. More than ever before, I felt the nearness of God in that journey and understood that He is faithful, not just to His promises but to us in the waiting.

“11:11”

After that, I began to share my journey with a few close friends, sharing the longings and the words and the disappointment and the hope. They joined me in believing that He who promised was faithful and that I would be pregnant.

Kate Bryan was one of those friends and when the Boiler Room scheduled a prayer week to start on November 11 (11-11), she invited me to help her set up for and pray into it. Together we created a prayer space focused on the themes of light and hope. That theme of hope often popped up in my own quiet times as well and even in Sunday mornings at the Boiler Room.

With all those words and the promise of 11:11 everywhere, I had this idea that perhaps I would find out that I was pregnant on November 11, at the start of the prayer week. It seemed like the perfect fulfillment of those words, the perfect timing. My sense of anticipation was palpable as I approached that day.

But when 11-11 arrived, I was most definitely, without a doubt, NOT pregnant. Even in the midst of my disappointment, though, I felt a deep conviction that it was all the more important to declare on that day that “He who promised is faithful”. After all, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). I was also reminded of Isaiah 54 (a passage that had been significant to me for years, since the season when we thought we might be adopting two children and then lost them). It begins with a call for the barren woman to sing and to expand her home, even before she sees her promised children:

“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children
of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,
says the Lord.
Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
Your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:1-3)

So in the prayer room that day, I wrote out this declaration:

“Your name is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11). You are the King of Justice. You are faithful to your covenant of love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). You are faithful in all you do (Psalm 33:4). You are faithful to all Your promises (Psalm 145:13). You are faithful forever (Psalm 146:6). You are true to your word, your promises, your vows. You are steady in allegiance and affection, loyal and constant. You are reliable. You can be trusted and believed.”

I felt a tug in my heart to renew my hope, to open up my heart again and to dream of the possibilities (even though it had led to heartache in the past). I felt the gentle invitation from the Lord to see each month as a chance to hope again instead of just a fresh wave of grief, and to act on that hope. For us, that meant not only actively trying again to get pregnant but allowing ourselves to talk and dream about how we might announce to our families that we were pregnant.

“A hope fulfilled”

And then on December 6, I woke up in the early hours of the morning and took a pregnancy test, with Derek watching anxiously by my side. Within seconds that second line appeared, loud and clear, confirming the subtle signs that I was already feeling.

We were pregnant!

He who promised is faithful.

And now he’s here, Ethan David, our promised one. Not just a promise anymore, not just an idea or a hope, but a real, live child, full of energy and personality. He delights us with his smiles (and expressive eyebrows!) and fills me with anticipation for the years to come, when I will watch him grow into who he was created to be.

Ethan’s name, which means “constant”, is a declaration of who God is and His nearness to us in that long process of waiting.

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Faith and Politics (or More Questions Than Answers)

On Tuesday Derek and I drove to a small church in a nearby neighborhood to cast our votes, along with millions of other Americans across the country. This was only my third time voting and my first time ever voting for president. On Saturday I spent most of the afternoon and evening and even late into the night researching issues and candidates, wanting to be an informed voter when I put my pen to the ballot. I felt a responsibility to vote this year but agonized over nearly every choice, feeling like neither side really stood for my values.

In the end, when I left the polls with my “I Voted” sticker in hand, I still felt more dissatisfied than anything else. I felt dissatisfied with my political choices. More than that, though, I felt dissatisfied with my own understanding of the issues and of how to mingle my faith with politics.

I hunger for a justice that our political system (and our world) sorely lacks in so many areas. And with justice, there are several things I am sure of:
• That God cares deeply for the poor and expects us to care for them as well (He has some strong words for those who oppress the poor or stand by while they are oppressed).
• That God desired to free all those who are oppressed and invites us to join Him in this
• That God calls us to shelter the alien (read: immigrant) among us and gives pretty explicit commands to do so (seriously, you might be surprised at how much he has to say about this issue…).
• That God is the protector of the vulnerable (of all ages) and calls us to be protectors of the vulnerable as well.
• That we are called to do what is in our power to live at peace with those around us.

These are beliefs that inevitably intertwine with my political position. They have to. But they also bring up complex issues without easy answers. Honestly, I am not sure how to stand for these in our current political system, or even outside of politics oftentimes. No political candidate champions all (or even most) of these ideals. Even if one did, I doubt that our current political system, driven largely by money and a hunger for power, would support such a politician. Voting, then, (no matter who we vote for) cannot absolve us from the need to wrestle through these issues, to seek God’s perspective and plans for justice, life, poverty, freedom, and the world around us. Our responsibility to justice did not end when the polls closed on November 6th.

Wednesday morning, as the country either rejoiced or lamented the newly elected president, I felt surer than ever of one thing: I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to fight for justice in politics. But I want to find out. In fact, I intend to find out.

(Do you have books or resources that have helped you answer some of these questions and clarify your own political position as a Christian? If so, feel free to share them.)

That the Guilty May Live

Tomorrow a large portion of the Christian world celebrates Good Friday, remembering the day that an innocent man died so that the guilty could live and live abundantly.

It seems appropriate, then, that today my attention is glued to the news story of Anthony Belton’s trial, a guilty man who murdered a gas station clerk. That clerk happened to be my friend Matt. Back in 2008, early in the morning on August 13, Belton robbed the gas station convenience store where Matt was finishing up a third shift. After Matt handed over all the money in the cash register, Belton shot him in the back of the head.

The following week, hundreds of people flocked to his funeral, so many that the building could not contain them all. I heard story after story from people who described Matt’s generosity, his gentleness, the way he always had time for people, the way he reached out to people. In a quiet, unassuming way, he had impacted so many lives.

Now, nearly four years later, Belton is finally on trial. Yesterday he was (not surprisingly) found guilty of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. The trial has moved into the sentencing phase and Belton very likely faces the death penalty.

This grieves me deeply. For the past three and a half years, every time I think of this case, this trial, this man, something in my spirit groans for mercy. Even in those first few days after Matt was shot, as we tried to process through what happened, I felt deeply compelled to show grace to Belton. I had recently finished reading What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancy and felt that, in some way, this was the final exam of what God had been teaching me about His amazing, radical grace.

I have found, though, that suggesting mercy for a murderer unleashes some vicious opposition. The comments on news stories about the trial are filled with statements like:

“Excellent News. Another POS off the streets.”
“Show him the kindness he showed Mr. Dugan.”
“He is a waste of taxpayer money.”
“Juice em’.”
“There’s nothing to debate…….lights OUT.”
“Lights out punk.”

Oh Jesus. Mercy.

What grieves me even more, is that this “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” attitude is so prevalent, even within the church. The same people who gushed about Matt’s generosity, compassion, and love for Jesus, staunchly demand justice and death for Belton and react in disbelief that I could suggest anything different.

Why is mercy so hard to fathom?

To offer mercy to a murderer…that’s radical, I know. But do we realize how radical the grace that we received is? Do we believe that it is somehow less radical because we have not robbed a store or shot a man to death? Have we deluded ourselves into believing that there is a hierarchy to transgression, that we are basically good as long as we have not climbed to a certain rung on that ladder?

Jesus tells us otherwise. In the same chapter that He overturns that justification of “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” with the call to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, He tells us that anyone who has been angry with their brother is as guilty as a murderer:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [a term of contempt, which means something along the lines of “You idiot!”] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

I have been angry. I have been hateful. I have been desperate. I have been guilty, deserving of judgment, even of death. I would be deluded to pretend otherwise.

But yet, I have received mercy. I have been showered with love, life, and good gifts, even beyond what I need or ask for. Do I deserve this, simply because I have managed to make it twenty-four years into my life without killing someone?

Life is my right, yes. But not because of my innocence, in myself. Not because I am basically a good person.

No, life is my right because of an innocent Man who died so that I might live, who shed innocent blood to cover my guilt, who took the judgment and death I deserve upon Himself so that I am washed clean and set free. There is nothing about this that trivializes my guilt. Likewise, advocating for mercy for Belton does not trivialize what he did. What it does is speak of the great love and mercy I have been shown that compels me to go and do the same.

And so I am praying fervently, with tears running down my face, for the courts to spare the life of guilty man. Please, join me.

Update: This afternoon (April 6) Belton was sentenced to death. He is scheduled to be executed on August 1. Though I am obviously grieved by that sentence, I am believe his life is in God’s hands as much as ever and am still praying that he encounters the Lord deeply before that time. 

What Does Love Look Like?

“What does love look like?”
is the question I’ve been pondering
“What does love look like?”
“What does love look like?”
is the question I’ve been asking of You

            – Misty Edwards (“Arms Wide Open”)

Over Christmas break my heart has been awakening to the call to love again. It began over my visit home, stirring in the few quiet moments amidst the flurry of activity as we made the rounds of families and friends. On our return to Kansas City, it intensified as I began reading The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, one of my gifts this Christmas (I’ve wanted to read it for several years now). And as Derek and I joined over twenty thousand people at the Onething conference, I heard that same call to love fully echoed over and over, in the times of worship, in the messages, and in the cry of my own soul in response to it all.

When I began to read The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence’s simple descriptions of how he formed a habit of conversing with God continually and doing everything out of love for Him stirred me to the high and simple invitation to desire God above everything else. It sounded so simple. He didn’t share a three-step plan or five essential practices or a formula of any kind. He merely described his experience of loving God and falling back on His grace over and over. It sounded so simple. And yet, it also brought the painful realization of how far I am from that reality in my life. More often than not, I try to slap a half-hearted pursuit of God on top of everything in my life and pretend it’s all for Him. In reality, my motivation comes from so many other places but rarely from genuine love for God. I want genuine love for God to be the root of all that I do, but as I recognized the absence of that in my life I also begin to realize how little I truly understood about what it means to love God well. Or what it means to love Derek well, for that matter. This past semester produced a stellar report card and a new job, but what of my relationship with God? What of my marriage? Did I love well?

During the Onething conference, focused this year on “Jesus, Our Magnificent Obsession”, that invitation to return to my first love for God surfaced over and over, not just in the worship and the talks but in my own heart as I responded to what I heard. Over and over I was reminded that nothing was as crucial as loving God fully.

One of the most profound parts of the conference for me was Dwayne Robert’s talk that Friday morning. He spoke about how Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we go through seasons of our life, yet eternity has been put in the heart of man. We were designed to connect with the Eternal One and nothing will fully satisfy us until we are dwelling with God. He cautioned that our careers and even our ministry cannot be our focus. These are our calling, not our reward, not the place in which we find our satisfaction. We will never be satisfied even by miracles or power going forth from our bodies. Instead, we must be compelled by the love and revelation of Jesus. He said that the cry in the inner room of those who walk in signs and wonders is, “Jesus, my magnificent obsession, I love you!” “I am not going to let this eternal cry be met by anything else but a Man with eyes aflame with love for me,” Dwayne declared. “My life is a failure if I enter eternity with my life dull to Him.”

At the end, he issued a call to be diligent in our calling, but to shift the goals and focus of our lives, to enlarge our hearts, to detach from everything that is contaminating our hearts and to do whatever it takes to break our addiction to the American dream. His words were cutting and powerful, but it was the passion behind them that spoke most deeply to me. As he spoke, I saw a man desperate to love God fully, to turn away from every other passion but Jesus, and to see others engulfed in that same passion for God. I recognized the puniness of my own passion for God lately, how little I truly loved this Man Jesus, how little I even know Him. But it stirred the coals of that fire a little more. I want to know Him. I want to love Him more fully. I want to see my life radiating passion for the Eternal One. I want to see that passion engulf every other passion and desire in my life until it compels everything I do.

So in this new year and new season for me and Derek, I have resolved to pursue God again, to open my life to a deeper knowledge of Jesus and invite Him to feed the flames of love for Him in my heart. Even as I turn my heart back to God again, though, I can feel the tug of my flesh in the other direction. There’s the constant temptation to draw away again, to feed myself with the world, to let my mind and spirit simply coast, to take the easy way. More and more I recognize my incredible need for God’s grace to seek Him and know Him. I am encouraged by a prayer that Brother Lawrence was in the habit of praying whenever he found that he’d failed in his pursuit of loving God fully: “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself” (The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 13). In the past couple weeks I’ve often found myself echoing that prayer in my own words, pouring out confession after confession of my own inability to relate rightly to God, and inviting Him to pour out His grace in the places of my weakness. Because weakness and all, that invitation is still there to love Him more.

Made for Community

Sunday marked the beginning of a new year, which means flipping calendars and, if you’re like me, the beginning of a season of scribbling out dates until I finally remember to write the correct year.

Sunday also marked my last shift at the breakfast restaurant. Several weeks prior I was offered a job as a support teacher at an early childhood education center, mostly working with infants and toddlers. I jumped into the classroom the day after I was hired, soaking up as many hours of experience as I could fit in before I took responsibility for my own extended day classroom this Tuesday. It marked the end of working every Saturday and Sunday, opening up my weekends again.

Despite how much I hated working every Sunday morning, I found myself reluctant to leave the job. Part of it was a reluctance to make yet another transition (we’ve had so many in the past couple years). When Sunday afternoon came, I lingered a bit, trying to figure out how to say goodbye to coworkers who I spent hours with every week but who were not necessarily friends in the sense that they had no place in the rest of my life (am I the only one who finds this a bit awkward?).

That afternoon, as I enjoyed my rest at home, I pondered why I found it hard to leave that job. It wasn’t that I was particularly attached to the restaurant business (though I do love hospitality). Then that still, small voice said simply:

“Because you were made for community.”

I was made for community. Indeed. That simple phrase opened up my perspective. Looking back, I recognized that I have spent a lot of my life feeling alone, so when I find pockets of community, I cling tightly to them. Even surface communities, where the closest ties are merely proximity and we share little of our lives, feed that desire for community. For the past five months I spent more time at the restaurant than anywhere else and I did develop a sense of community there that I sorely missed elsewhere in that busy season of school and work that left little time for anything else.

In a small way, it reminded me of the power of meal-sharing in building a sense of community and acceptance. Though we did not share full meals, there were early morning breakfasts before the customers arrived, sampling the chef’s daily specials, and gathering with the other servers to eat miscooked meals that couldn’t be served to the customers. Even in these brief moments of chatting between bites, I saw how sharing food brought people together, even people who were very different from one another with a wide variety of backgrounds and lifestyles. It reminds me of Brennan Manning’s insights on the power of meal-sharing in A Glimpse of Jesus, in the chapter titled “Healing Through Meal-Sharing”: “In the East, to share a meal with someone is a symbol of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; the shared table is a shared life. To say to an Orthodox Jew, ‘I would like to have dinner with you,’ is understood as ‘I would like to enter into friendship with you’” (Manning, A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred, p. 54).

But I also recognize that a surface sense of community like I experienced at work will never satisfy my desire for true, Christ-centered community. It remains only a shadow of the depth of relationship that God desired among His people and – even more importantly – the communion we were made for with Him. We are made for deep relationships that push deep beyond the surface, that open up our lives to be vulnerable with one another, that carry one another’s sorrows and joys, and that sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron. A surface sense of joint activity will never satisfy the ache for community like that.

I was made for community. Not surface community, not just shared activity, certainly not the facebook version, but true, deep community. This year, as I transition into a new season, I want to intentionally pursue relationship, giving it greater space in my life again.

(P.S. I don’t really do New Year’s resolution, but if I did, I would probably also resolve to blog more this year, so you may be hearing from me more regularly again. Maybe.)

When I Was Sick You Visited Me

This afternoon I went to the hospital to visit a friend who was shot in a drive-by shooting this weekend. She’s alive (thank God) but the bullet went through her side and her bladder. The doctors don’t think there should be any long-term damage, but she had surgery and will be in the hospital for a while.

I grieved a lot for her when I heard, for the pain that she’s in and the violence in her life. It mixed in with grief for another dear friend who, along with her young kids, is currently homeless and living in a hotel because of the spiraling cycle of self-destruction she has been careening down for a while, and grief for a family member who just announced, mere days after her daughter’s birth, that her husband no longer wants to live with her as her husband.

These are heavy things. They make me want to cry. To kick something. To shake my fist at the devil. Most of all, they make me want to do something, to fix everything. But I am powerless to fix any of this.

As I was talking to the Lord about all this yesterday morning, He reminded me of Matthew 25, specifically verse 36 where the King says to the blessed ones, “When I was sick you visited me.” With that reminder came the tender invitation to come and be with Him in this place, to visit Him in this place of suffering, to be His friend in these places where He grieves, too. I don’t even know what that looks like, really, but I was overwhelmed with the reality of His nearness to me and to them in these places.

And I realized that the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 has nothing to do with a list of religious “do’s” to gain God’s favor; it’s a sweet invitation to be with Jesus in those places, with “the least of these”, because we are blessed by the nearness of God in those places.

Abba, bring me face to face with You in all this!

"You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust...You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us..."

So, It’s Been A While….

I know I’ve been pretty silent her in the blog world for quite a while (for almost two months, actually, if anyone has been keeping track….oops). My life, on the other hand, has been anything but silent. I don’t have adequate words yet for some of what has happened in those two months (and some can’t be shared in a public forum like this anyhow), but I can give you a brief list of some of the major life events since I last wrote:

  • We did a lot of wondering and praying about how we were going to pay rent and bills at the end of July.
  • I found a job (quite shortly after I wrote that last post about being discouraged by the fruitless job search, actually). Now I work as a server/cashier/dishwasher at a breakfast café in Westport. I really love it (except for working every weekend…). And it has been a reminder of God’s attentiveness to my heart and desires. During my final week of work with the after school program, I was praying and asking God to provide work for me and Derek. I felt God ask, “Well, what kind of work would you like?” The first thing that came to mind was a little breakfast and lunch café, full of bright colors, where I could serve cheerfully. That picture opened the door to a lot of lies in my heart about how I would never be good at the things that I wanted to do (some yucky heart residue from the after school job). About a month later, when I received the call for an interview at this breakfast place, God reminded me of that conversation with Him. Sure enough, the job opened up.
  • We contemplated a major, life-changing decision, ultimately deciding to say yes to what we felt was an invitation from God. That following month was an emotional roller coaster, careening though drama, phone calls, urgent meetings, a good deal of heartache, and then eventually ending with all our options exhausted and all the doors closed. God spoke to us deeply in that process, though, and assured us that He always brings forth life. Though we don’t know or understand what that might look like in this and we still carry a fair amount of grief over how things turned out, we’re still believing His word in that. (One of these days I may write a password-protected post sharing some more details of what happened and the ways God spoke in it).
  • Derek found a job (just in time to confirm the aforementioned life-changing decision). Now he works three days a week doing apartment maintenance and grounds keeping at an apartment complex near the Plaza (which fits perfectly with his school schedule).
  • Derek and I celebrated our second year of marriage by going out to our friend Autumn’s farm out in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. It was so peaceful and perfect. (I came home to discover that my engagement ring was stolen from the house while we were gone, though we got it back later that night, but that’s a whole different story….)
  • Derek returned to school for his second semester in CISCO networking. Don’t ask me what that is exactly. I just know it has to do with computers (and nothing to do with facebook) and that now he knows enough about routers to set up a home wireless network for us (pretty handy!).
  • I started school full-time. After almost five years out of school (which I still don’t regret, by the way), I’m a student again, this time working towards my associates in child growth and development. The classes are proving to be pretty intensive so far (more so than I expected for me first semester). I’m learning a lot already, though, and growing more and more excited about learning to teach young children well.
  • We moved out of the Tracy House and into our own apartment. We had been looking towards this move since the beginning of the summer (we were finding it increasingly difficult to live in community as a married couple, especially in a community with such a diversity of ages, life stages, and values). We felt like God was inviting us into a season of more intentionally establishing the foundations of our family. Somewhat unexpectedly, Lindsay decided that the season of the Tracy House was coming to a close and we all moved out at the end of August. So now, for the first time since we moved to Kansas City, Derek and I have our own space, a huge (and cheap!) third floor apartment, complete with a sunroom and its share of old building quirks. The building is named Isabel, which means, “God’s promise” or “Our God is a vow.” It feels like a significant name for our new home. We are mostly unpacked now (except for the second bedroom, which has become a temporary storage space for everything that doesn’t have a more permanent spot yet). Now I often find myself distracted, dreaming about ways to make the space lovely and home.

So there you have it: the reasons behind my silence over the past couple month. And now, I have some homework to do (or procrastinate on…) and some beautiful weather to enjoy….

When a Fish Sandwhich Girl Meets the Abundance of the Father

For a while now I’ve felt God pressing into the places of my unbelief that He is faithful and will provide for us in all circumstances (you may remember this post from this past winter).

About a month ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I looked into the life of George Mueller. I began with a small book of excerpts from his diary. I tucked it into my purse to read on the bus, but was soon gripped by account after account of God’s provision. Sometimes the provision came just in time (money the day rent was due, bread as the family prepared to sit down for dinner) and sometimes it came as soon as he prayed. God provided money, food, material items, workers and supplies for the orphan home he founded, physical strength, and even a vacation. All without Mueller expressing his needs or desires to anyone but God. Now I’m working my way through a biography of George Mueller by Roger Steer. Every time I open it, I’m challenged by the account of this man who was so enthralled by the sweet mercies and graciousness of God that he trusted Him to provide for every need, large or small. I can feel it shifting the paradigms of my heart.

This shifting kicked into high gear a couple weeks ago when Dave Blackwell spoke at the Boiler Room about the abundance of Jesus (you can listen to his talk here – do it). He began by sharing a story about when an uncle of theirs came to visit and took them out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant on the plaza. When Dave opened the menu, he immediately went to the cheapest item on the menu – the fish sandwich. He was all set to order it when the uncle asked if they liked crab legs. When they answered that, sure, they liked them, he proceeded to order several pounds of crab legs. And from then on, if they even so much as mentioned that something sounded good, the uncle would call a waiter over and order it. This uncle’s generosity was so extravagant, far beyond the fish sandwich that Dave would have chosen for himself.

Then Dave retold the story of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:5-13), a situation where it would have been impossible for the disciples to give even the barest minimum, even just a mouthful, to the multitudes. Yet Jesus supplied as much as they wanted and then some – twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill. Then came the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), where Jesus provided the equivalent to about six hundred bottles of wine, because He cares about the celebration and the details. He wanted to show His glory, to  challenge the disciples with the reality of His overflowing bounty. He wanted to reveal the character of the Father, the extravagant giver.

I recognized myself in Dave’s description of “the fish sandwich kind of people,” the ones who settle for the cheapest thing they can get, the bare minimum of what they need. Not only do I literally order the cheapest item on the menu when I go to a restaurant, but I’ve locked the highest bar of my expectation of God’s provision on just getting by with the basics. I even remember a time, shortly after I graduated from high school, when I classified myself as “working class poor…those people who work and work and work but only barely make ends meet. They are the people who drive junkers or walk because they don’t have a car at all. They aren’t homeless or starving; they just never get beyond the basics of getting by.” (from my journal, October 4, 2005). Even more recently I’ve often felt a nagging weight of fear that it’s all up to me to work hard, to earn my way, to make sure we get by. This leaves no space, no expectation, for the abundant, extravagant generosity of the Father.

So that afternoon I began confessing this wrong mindset towards God and asking Him to reveal more of who He is, more of His goodness, faithfulness, and provision. Over and over the prayer broke out of me: show me. Show me. Please, Abba, show me.

And He has.

First it was through boxes and bags of things sent home with me from work as we cleaned and packed up our classrooms: a whole pack of computer paper, several jars of peanut butter, ice cream (the same day that Derek had mentioned a little wistfully how good ice cream sounded), apples….and hundreds – yes, hundreds – of mozzarella cheese sticks. I brought home four gallon-sized Ziploc bags full of them and we threw away more besides that. I gave them away to the interns, to friends, to neighbors, to the kids, and still there were more than we could eat ourselves. (Derek joked that it was kind of like in Exodus when the Israelites were set free from slavery and left carrying the riches of the land with them).

The next day we finished packing the last of the classrooms. As we gathered up our things to leave, I noticed the schoolyard garden, still full of vegetables, and asked if we needed to do something with it. My boss, flustered with the final details of packing everything, said that she’d pay me a little extra time if I stayed to clear it out. So I recruited a friend from the Boiler Room and we spent a couple hours chatting as we cut vegetables and tugged out weeds. In the end, we brought home four large grocery bags full of fresh, homegrown vegetables: kale, collards, red potatoes, beets, onions, and cilantro. I gave some to the teachers and staff at the school, sent some home with the friend who helped, passed some on to the interns, and still had more than we could eat (we’re still working our way through the collards in particular). That evening I made a meal almost entirely out of vegetables from the school. As I washed the dishes afterwards I suddenly realized that I was experiencing the abundance of Jesus that Dave had talked about that Sunday, the abundance that I’d asked God to show me.

Since then my awareness of God’s provision has only heightened, even in the little things. I had an interview at the library (the day my job at the after school program ended, I came home to find the e-mail asking me to come in for an interview). The day after my job ended, I began to nanny once a week for the Blackwell boys (they even offered me an extra day this week, just in time to pay next month’s rent).

And on Thursday I had been thinking about how we’d need to look for another bookshelf when we move because two out of the three that we’re using right now belong with the house. That evening we took the kids down to the park and there across the street, half buried in a pile of junk that someone had cleaned out of a house, sat a gorgeous solid wood bookshelf, with inlaid wood designs, a row of little drawers, and a deep, rich finish. Immediately God reminded me of how I had been wishing (not even praying, just wishing) for another bookshelf that morning. And there He had provided it, not with a bare minimum plywood shelf but with a solid, beautiful piece of furniture. Now it sits in the living room, waiting for the day when we have our own place. Periodically I go over to it and run my hands over the wood, maybe tug open one of the little drawers, and am struck again by the goodness of my Abba in the way He cares for us.

As I learn to recognize God’s provision in these things, gratitude spills out more and more freely. And with that recognition and gratitude come a gentle swelling of faith to ask and trust in the good plans of God for our lives. I’m reminded of something that Dave said, that God is not adverse to giving physical things because we can see and touch them and they act like a switch, turning on revelation of what God is like. This is still a work in progress, but as we walk into summer, I feel like the switch is turning on and the waves of God’s goodness are washing over old fears and mindsets more powerfully than ever before.

“As for me I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me. You are my Help and my Deliverer. Oh my God, do not tarry!” – Psalm 40:17

Keep Us From Sitting in the Seat of the Scornful

I’ve been slowly working my way through old journals and blogs as I put together a timeline of my life (no small task :-P). In that process, I came across this excerpt from The Savage My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot. She wrote this final chapter years after her initial two years with the Auca’s, after she had ample time to see and reflect on the fruit of her time with them — the good and the bad. Her perspective is so good and so timely for me right now, so I want to share it again:

“How we long to point to something – anything – and say, ‘This works! This is sure!” But if it is something other than God Himself we are destined for disappointment. There is only one ultimate guarantee. It is the love of Christ. The love of Christ. Nothing in heaven or earth or hell can separate us from that, and because God is God and loves us He will not allow us to rest anywhere but in that Love. We run straight to Him when other refuges fail. Our misconceptions are corrected in Him, our failures redeemed, our sins cleansed, our griefs turned to joy. But first ‘The life also of Jesus must be manifest in our mortal bodies.’ First the drama must be played out – through suffering, weakness, failure, death, and resurrection” (p. 146).

“God keep us from sitting in the seat of the scornful, concentrating solely on the mistakes the paltriness of our efforts, the width of the gap between what we hoped for and what we got. How shall we call this ‘Christian’ work? What are we to make of it?

We must not proceed from our own notions of God’s action (it will appear He has not acted) but must look clearly and unflinchingly at what happens and seek to understand it through the revelation of God in Christ. His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning. There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds. A baby was born – a Savior and King – but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him. His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion. Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled. Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory. For the will of God is not a quantitative thing, static and measurable. The Sovereign God moves in mysterious relation to the freedom of man’s will. We can demand no instant reversals. Things must be worked out according to a divine design and timetable. Sometimes the light rises excruciatingly slowly. The Kingdom of God is like leaven and seed, things which work silently, secretly, slowly, but there is in them and incalculable transforming power. Even in the plain soil, even in the dull dough, lies the possibility of transformation for, as the psalmist wrote, ‘All things serve Thee.’

The missionary, with all his sin and worldliness, stands nevertheless with Christ for the salvation of the world. As I learned when I was with the ‘savages,’ they do not need Christ more than I do, for we are all of us sheep who have turned every one to his own way. If I know who the Shepherd is and how to find Him, it is surely my duty to do what I can to point other sheep to Him. The effort to do this must not be seen in ‘either/or’ terms – either it is flawless and therefore a success or it is flawed, and therefore a miserable failure.

Every time my hopes are dashed I am asked to exchange my small view of ‘good’ (when things work my way) for God’s view of it expressed in Romans 8: ‘God who searches our inmost being knows what the Spirit means, because he pleads for God’s people in God’s own way; and in everything, as we know, he cooperates for good with those how love God and are called according to his purpose…..that they should be shaped to the likeness of his Son.’ That, in the last analysis, is for us the only good – that shaping, no matter what it takes” (p. 147-148).

May Your Voice Be Louder

The past week or so has been intense on so many levels, from work to personal relationship to random acts of violence in close proximity to me, so rather than trying to pull together my own words right now I’m going to default to song lyrics:

Full Attention – Jeremy Riddle

May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others

May Your face be dearer
May Your words be sweeter
Than all the others in my life

Please keep my eyes fixed on You
Please wound my heart so deep in You
Keep me abiding, keep me abiding
Keep me abiding that I may be a fruit

May Your your presence be truer
May Your presence be nearer
Than all the others

And may Your light shine brighter
And may Your love move deeper
Than all the other my God
Than all the others in my life

Please keep my eyes fixed on You
Please wound my heart so deep in You
Keep me abiding, keep me abiding
Keep me abiding that I may be a fruit

Please keep my eyes fixed on You
Please wound my heart so deep in You
Keep me asking, keep me near
Keep me abding that I may be a fruit
Keep me close to You
Oh, right next to Your heart
Close to You