Seeing through the storm

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29-30)

I have been in a storm.

This is my busiest season in a life that is almost consistently busy. I know that our culture bristles at that word, and I agree that busy should never be for busy’s sake, but also–life is busy. It is full and abundant and I struggle sometimes to understand how I am called to be at rest when I’m also called to so many ministries.

I believe it is, in part, a matter of perspective.

We read the story of Peter and see his faltering faith, but I think of the storm. I imagine the biting coldness of the rain, the bowl-me-over buffeting of the wind. Throw in some hail piercing my skin and thunder rolling above. In that howling darkness, the water quaking under my feet, I feel myself drawing inward, curling against the tempest.

Then I feel myself sink.

Peter’s problem was not the storm, though our earthly bodies tell us opposite. The problem is that we believe our bodies, and our gaze follows.

Yes, if your life is less busy, the storm will be less distracting. But I’m tired of feeling stuck because “less busy” is not an option. Trust me–I’ve asked. So there must be another answer, because God would not lay out the storm-focus-faith scenario if the answer to Peter was “You should have stayed in the boat.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Outward, there are storms; inward, God renews us “day by day.” Little bits, long term. We get there by looking upward, lifting our eyes even as the storm rages harder on our upturned faces, and looking past the storm to the Father with His outstretched hands, the Son with His warm embrace, the Holy Spirit with His inward renewal.

Every day.

I know that seems relentless, tiresome, or impossible–day by day, forever?  But you know that phrase, “no pain no gain.” What exactly do you think gains eternal glory? It’s certainly not sitting in a boat.

So my question is, what do you need to look past, and how can you look to the eternal instead? It may not change the storm, but by God’s blessing it will change this day.

The Journey Begins

When I was sixteen years old, my sister and I went skydiving. I’m not sure what would possibly possess my parents to let their only chldren jump out of an airplane at the only facility in California willing to break the law (I was underage), but I’m tremndousy grateful for their awesomness. It was a dream for both my sister and I.

And yet, as we reached our jump altitude, a sudden and understandable certainty arose: I will not be jumping out of this plane. I analyzed my options with surprising calmness. I will tell them I cannot jump. I will unstrap myself. They will fly me back down. That’s all there is to it. Despite my dream, my desparation to dive, when faced with an open door and the ground SO FAR BELOW, I was satisfied right where I was.

There was, however, that dream still stirring inside. Before I could say anything, my instructor, strapped to my back, began issuing simple and clear directions in my ear. They seemed so straightforward that even in my deer-in-the-headlights fear, I could follow them. That dream wanted to follow them. Move this way. Now that way. One foot on the ledge. Lean forward. And then:

WHOOSH.

I burst out into the open space below the plane with stomach dropping gravitational pull. We were in freefall for a solid minute before he pulled the cord, after which time we drifted in absolute silence to a rough but solid landing. There are no words to express what those five minutes were like, but the fact that twenty years later I can still see the vast landscape spread before me, hear the wind roaring in my ears, feel the force of my descent whipping around me should say something about how profound the experience was.

I’ve restarted this post so many times that I’ve lost count. I’m not really sure what to say. For a year and a half I have set all personal writing aside. Truth be told, most of my personal projects have moved to the back burner. Instead, I’ve poured myself into my famiily and my job, with really positive results. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and even if that’s a really challenging place, it feels good to be there. 

But there’s also been a stirring in my heart to return to writing. It was truly one of the great loves of my life, and while there were some really valid reasons I set it aside, but I am realizing that the two biggest may have been weakness and fear.

Weakness and fear are not of God. They are keeping me from what God has for me.

The thing is, I’m satisfied with what God has given me. I love my family, my job, my life. I love my friends and my chuch and my community. So when God has whispered,”There is more,” I have honestly not been tempted, and He, to His infinite credit, is not going to make me. But I’m coming to see this not as a polite no-thank-you but a trade. I am trading a God-sized gift/dream for satisfaction.

That’s not actually satisfying.

I think about what I would have missed if I had been satisfied inside that plane, if I had let my weakness and fear convince me to trade that satisfaction for those five amazing minutes. 

What am I missing out on now? And for what? Is it really worth it?

I don’t know what to do, but I know I don’t want to waste any more time being satisfied. I have an instructor more powerful than anyone else ever, a conviction that He has something waiting for me, and the willingness to take one step at a time.

The journey begins.

Happy 2014!

I hope that you and yours have been enjoying the holiday season as much as we have. There’s been much lego building, bracelet making, and nap taking. B and I have actually slept in until almost seven on multiple days. We’ve played at Get Air and Legoland, cleaned out the backyard, and consumed our fair share of cookies, chocolate, bacon, and sangria (though thankfully not all at once). I feel so blessed to have wrapped up the year in such a wonderful way.

It truly was a wonderful year. I looked back at my old resolutions and was thrilled to find only one: to live light. And I did! I lived the lightest light: I lived by FAITH.My mantra has been TRUST, and I’ve had to repeat it to myself almost daily. But it’s also led me into new friendships, new responsibilities, and a new career that I absolutely love. If I had one testimony to give from 2013, it’s that trusting in God and living my faith leaves you doubly blessed: first because you leave the worrying up to the One in charge, and second because you experience exactly what He designed you for.

This year, I have a few smaller goals I hope to meet, like purging the closet and garage, appreciating my volunteers, and running a strong VBS (the biggest adventure, since no one in our family has experienced a VBS. No one. Ahem.). But my biggest prayer and goal for this coming year is FOCUS. Focus on God’s will, focus on the tasks required to accomplish it, focus on what matters. As I look at those smaller goals I’ve been tossing around, they really lead back to this one big commitment. I hope I return here in no year feeling like I really know and understand what I’m doing for the Lord, as much as that’s ever possible, and am doing it with intentionality and purpose.

All that to say, this will be my first and last post for 2014. Of course, God always reserves the right to require something different, but for now, I feel like this is the right step. Thank you to all those who have faithfully followed my journey–I wish you all a blessed 2014!

A life surprised

For my 30th birthday, B threw me a surprise party. In the weeks leading up to it, there were countless odd conversations (if you were going to order food from somewhere, or do you still like Costco cake conversations, etc). Friends were strangely distant, flexible plans seemed set in stone. The weekend of my birthday, I was terribly sick and asked to postpone my parents’ visit, but B insisted I’d be fine (I was not fine, I was beginning our swine flu ordeal, but I’m glad I didn’t protest).

B sent me out with my mom to get my nails done. When I returned home, B called me into the kitchen, and when I walked in, everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

I turned around and walked out of the room. Yep. My friends and family had gone to great lengths to surprise me, and I walked right out.

Surprise is hard to process.

Seconds later, I walked back in and started taking the most wonderful hugs you could imagine. Hugs not just of appreciation and joy, but also of relief. All the strange distance and confusion of the previous weeks melted away in the warmth of such love, love that would plan and prepare and work so hard to make my birthday really and truly special.

I feel as though God has thrown a surprise party for my life.

For what seems like ever, I’ve struggled to understand God’s plan for my life. I do not recommend this. God’s plan and his timing work just fine on their own, thank you very much. But I like to know. So I’ve struggled, prayed, tried and let go. I’m decently good at being obedient, so we’ve walked a path, God and I, but I was always trying to figure it out. Why would you lead me into writing when I don’t like publishing? Why would you take away these friends, the cakes, my ministries?

God never left me. But he didn’t fill me in, either. Your adventure is still to come, he told me. So I waited, patient but aching.

God wasn’t kidding.

A few months ago, eager to find my place in our church, I offered to help in the children’s ministry. In the following weeks, the director and I tried to find the right niche for me. I enjoyed everything I tried, but didn’t have a heart for anything specific. The fear set in again–another disappointment.

Then the director asked me to cover for her one Sunday, even though I was barely qualified to cover for anyone in the ministry, least of all the director. But I agreed to anyway. That morning was amazing! I loved welcoming parents, encouraging the staff, and organizing the materials. I was so shocked by how satisfying the ministry was, and what a good fit it was for my skills.

Lord, I’ve never even thought about a position in ministry, and I know I’m not qualified, but I love this work. If you want this for me someday, I trust that you will open the doors.

And that was it. I lifted up my prayer and left it go.

The next Sunday, the children’s director told me she was leaving and that the pastors wanted me to interview for her position.

Surprise!

I could not believe it. Even though I had asked for such an opening, I didn’t actually expect it would happen, and especially not in a single week. I told her about my prayer, and three days and two interviews later, I accepted the position. Scared to death of the responsibility, the permanency, the change in lifestyle to two working parents, but all in, because God asks nothing less.

It’s a dream job–part-time with full-time potential, flexibility on working at home or bringing the kids with me, and full of opportunities to use all of my different talents. Suddenly the decisions God had directed made sense, the things he took away and the doors he chose to close. Since then, I’ve been filled not just with joy for the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given, but also with relief. There was a purpose for it all, just as God promises:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

I always trusted God, but I’d be lying if I said I always believed that verse. Sometimes, like when B planned that surprise party, you have to trust that the people around you love you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. God is no different. He’s got big plans for each of us, and sometimes those are clear, and sometimes those are surprises.

I have a feeling I needed the surprise. I needed to be kept in the dark a little, because I learned both trust and patience. Plus I know me–I would have planned the dickens out of this career, had I known where I was heading, and probably would have missed out on building the skills he really needed me to have. Then there’s the reward, the giant payoff, which creates a whole new level of trust and respect–two things I will definitely need on a career in ministry.

Still, surprise is hard to process. I had no intention of getting a job, and when I pictured the job I might someday have, this never came to mind. I stand in awe of God’s planning, and I bow to his supreme authority. I hope I will never forget this feeling, that it may keep me forever mindful that I am second, and privileged to be so.

Suffice to say, as I start working, things like this blog will have to play second fiddle. I’m not sure what God has planned for my writing, whether it will be used within or outside of my position, but I now trust him with abiding humility. Right now, I’m focused on honoring his plan for me, and that includes clearing some mental space to get that done.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Wasting away

Jelly fish have derailed our beach-going this summer, but on one of the few times we went, K was blessed to find a sand dollar. A perfect, perfect sand dollar. Even though I have lived near a beach for my entire life, I have never even found a broken sand dollar. She brought it home, a treasured possession. She took it for sharing. She left it on a side table afterward. I found it the other day under some books. Crushed.

Too bad I don't have a before picture

Too bad I don’t have a before picture

K took it in stride, vacantly staring at the sanddollar, but I pressed at her because I was crushed. That perfect sand dollar, broken apart. It was such a waste. Such a heartbreaking, ridiculous waste of something which might come along once in a lifetime. I hate waste. No: I fear waste.

This fear runs through my entire life. I’m chronically late because I can stand the idea of wasting those extra few minutes waiting (apparently it bothers me less to waste someone else’s minutes). My freezer is stuffed full because I will not waste a single morsel of food. Not that anyone wants to eat stale cake from K’s birthday or the last remaining triangle of quesadilla. Never mind that these foods aren’t even good for us to begin with. The thought of wasting them comes with a tightening panic in my chest.

This isn’t a thing. I googled it. No registered phobia of waste. But when thoroughly examined, a lot of my anxiety goes back to this fear. Even if I’m not going to eat the cake, it will lurk in the back of my mind, taunting me. I could use that bit of ribbon or coupon or cake. I’d better use it.

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a user-upper. I’m a maximizer. Even opportunities are loathed to be wasted. This is my chance to have a cinnamon roll–even if it doesn’t sound good. This is a great outfit–which is always saved instead of worn. On the surface this is smart, but I’m tired of feeling the pressure to make the most of every thing. This hardly seems to fit into living light or life abundant.

In fact, it seems more like I’ve made an idol out of my resourcefulness.

I realize that might sound like a dramatization, but anything that gets in the way of “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” is at best a stumbling block and at worst a brick wall.

Christ did not die on the cross so that we would continue to be trapped by walls, especially those of our own making. Christ died to set us free–free from our own crazy phobias, free from the world’s values, free from ourselves. Life abundant–a free life in Christ–begins not by looking back, not with regret or fear, but with joyful eyes finding Christ in each moment.

Yes, it’s dumping bits of cake and quesadilla from the freezer, but it’s also appreciating the blessings that were those meals, the blessings of letting go, the blessings of a clean freezer and fresh food. It’s the blessing of being on time and not stressed, of saying to my friend, you are important to me. I see Christ in these choices. I see myself in the former.

If you look closely at this broken bit of sand dollar, you can see the space where the creature once lived, the thin and fragile shell that protects it from the raging sea, the five tiny crests to which it clung. I pointed these out to K and her vacant expression melting into fascination. What was once a waste became a teaching opportunity, not only about the inner workings of a sand dollar, but also about seeing the opportunity for understanding Christ and His creations, for appreciating what each moment in life can teach us. That nothing is wasted when experienced with God’s joy.

My fear is far from cured. But I fear and trust God far more than anything else, even broken sand dollars and wasted quesadillas. I pray I have His eyes, that I may have His freedom as well.

Awesome imperfection

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately by some perfection messages. One of my dear friends wrote recently about her struggles regarding the messiness of her faith. Somehow she–and let’s face it, many of us–feels like it should have some shiny glow. That there should be constant communion with God, memorized scripture, extended times of prayer, and enriching quiet times alongside corporate study.

Where did we get the impression that’s what faith should look like?

When I hit the scriptures, faith looks messy. It’s believing in something unseen and often unfelt. It’s standing out against the backdrop of our culture. It’s being aware of our shortcomings, of what we lack, of what a terrible price Christ paid for us. It’s sounding crazy sometimes, defending miracles and resurrections and archaic biblical messages, not to mention the conversations we–by most reasonable assessment–should not be having.

Nothing about true faith sounds shiny to me.

Motherhood neither. As Mother’s Day rolls past, we’re crying at our kindergarteners singing about us seeing them as beautiful, those little voices rising with semi-synchronized hand gestures, our minds full of times we’ve made them feel otherwise (like this very morning when I suggested to K that she might want different leggings that matched her dress and suddenly I’ve crushed her into thinking her idea isn’t okay. Way to blow it, mom). I read yet another post about how much I’m missing when I check my iPhone or run to Walmart during M’s karate, how many moments are slipping through my fingers, how much more I should be present, how much more I should enjoy.

Where did we get that message either?

I can point a few fingers: those blog posts, magazines, Pinterest. What’s worse, often the alternative messages are denigrating. Moms “confess” they’ve resorted to McDonald’s and/or locking themselves in the closet so that we can bond over the okay-ness of our failure. Even there we have this notion that there is a perfect ideal that we’re somehow all missing. The other message that stings is the “anyone can do this!” cheerfulness. I know we are trying to encouraging when we say “anyone can make this craft!” or “anyone can throw this recipe together!” But when we can’t, we feel like a failure.

Motherhood is messy, too. It’s hit the ground running in a rush of hormones and exhaustion. It’s everything changing. It’s diapers and sleepless nights, arguments, discipline. It’s teaching and standing back (and sometimes guessing when to do which one). It’s a huge thing, raising a little person. There’s so much for them to soak in–and do we ever expect them to take it all in? Or more than that: to stand back and recognize that the are taking it all in, while taking it all in?

In faith, motherhood, and life in general, there are so many different things we could do, and always something left unchosen. Life is messy, especially when you live it abundantly. So instead of the expectations, the self-deprecation, the shiny Pinterest perfection of which we fall woefully short, I would like to push this message:

You. Are. Awesome.

Try saying it to yourself. Try saying it again out loud. Try really meaning it. Because you are. Period. Even without memorized scripture or handmade felt decor. Even with McDonald’s and an empty prayer journal. None of these things will make you any more or less awesome. You are awesome because the maker of the universe knit you together, one molecule at a time.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t work at our faith, our mothering, our lives. But don’t work to be awesome. Work because you’re awesome, and God means for you to enjoy that, in action and in rest. And trying to balance that in a broken world is messy. An awesome mess, but messy nonetheless. Being frustrated with that just shows that we are meant for someplace perfect. Perfect sounds great, but for now, I’ll settle for awesome imperfection.

Faith for all

It was nothing, and it was everything.

It was a goofy voice that grated on me in the pre-school rush. It was a sock that wouldn’t fit quite right, and the tears that followed. It was a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls that no one ate because anything else is better than my cinnamon rolls. It was Legos on the floor and books on the table and ponies on the hall.

I know it’s nothing. I know it’s life, a life lived full and abundant. But telling myself that feels like telling a pot of heating water not to boil. Get it hot enough and it will boil no matter how you shout at it that everything is going to be fine.

Then everything’s not fine. I’m snapping and K cries harder as I throw the offending sock in the trash. M looks crestfallen as I remind him for the umpteenth time that I will boil over (too late) upon whiny voice. I’ve scalded everyone in a few seconds time, including myself. How could I hurt them, these sweet precious gifts of God? When I knew it was coming, when I love them and Jesus so much, when I want nothing more to be the very best mother/person I can be?

In the midst of my self-flagellation, the verse comes to me: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6). Only I don’t feel like a good work. I feel like pieces of crap cobbled together to the burden of my family and the disappointment of my Lord.

I realize that’s not true. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel like that anyway. I repeat the verse in my head, trying to force myself into confidence because I don’t want to add “ignores scriptural truths” to my list of charges. And when it I shove it back at God, angry, He’s so very gentle.

Have a little faith.

And before I can protest–before I can begin the ardent defense of my faith, He continues:

Have a little faith in yourself.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

I don’t see it, not right now. But I am a good work, and God is continuing to do good work in and through me. Believing that’s true, that’s part of my faith.

See, we mostly quantify faith as “believing in God,” in His truths, promises, sacrifice and resurrection. But faith, biblically defined, is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In God, in others, in ourselves. It is believing, in the face of a most messed up morning, that we are indeed good works, pressing on toward completion. That we are capable of something different, something more. That through God all things are possible.

I have immense faith in God. But in myself? Not so much. Maybe it’s time I spread that faith around.