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!

The end is just the beginning

This working thing–it’s not for the faint of heart.

When I accepted the position as the Children’s Ministry Director, I thought 20 hours a week would be a breeze. I’m sure I’ve got 20 hours.

I clearly did not calculate my week properly. Because that’s half of every day, and the kids are out of school by 2 at the latest.

Right.

We are making it work, between extra hours on the weekend and a couple afternoons with the kids in the office and errands condensed, run in the little bits between. It did not help that I had two major school-wide PTA activities to run in the past month.

During this time, one of my very dearest friends suffered a tremendous health scare via her husband. I prayed for her, texted her, tried to be supportive. But how do you offer enough support to someone whose world has been swept from underneath them? I needed to do more.

More. The word sends me into a coma. But I knew this was important.

So I swept together the dregs and jetted over to her house.

“What is this?” she said as she answered the door. And instead of the thoughtful and sentimental reassurances I had swirling in my heart, I offered her a mushy foil-wrapped package of Rice Krispy treats and a burned CD with the simple admission, “This is all I’ve got.”

Did I mention it was the same foil I’d made the treats in? People, I could not even get fresh foil.

Colton Dixon has this amazing song I sing a lot these crazy days. The chorus meets me right where I am:

This is where I end
And this is where You start
And everything I needed
Is everything You are
Love has come for me

We all have an end point; we were never meant to have enough to do the things God would have us do, not on our own. That’s why God sent Love: Love in creation and covenants, with Jesus on the cross, in the Holy Spirit.

I love my friend, and when I offered her the dregs, the foil-wrapped remnants of my week, God took over. She was touched by my thoughtfulness, and we shared a much-needed conversation on her front porch.

It’s okay to admit we’re out. It’s the time when we see God most clearly, when we reach the end of the road and see that He’s there, ready to carry us on. Love has come for us all.

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!

Be the bridge

As I waited with K for her teacher her to lead her class into school, I felt the tug of small hands on my legs. I looked down to find a wee one–two-ish, perhaps–looking just as startled.

The mom called him over and I laughed. “All the legs look the same from that angle.”

“Oh, I wish my legs were like yours,” said the mom.

This struck me as funny for two reasons. First, of all the blessed body parts I’d gift to another woman, my legs wouldn’t be one of them. I’ve come to accept them–their muscular nature, their structure, their cellulite–but I don’t love them like I love my hourglass figure or red hair or delicate wrists. To hear someone else longing for what I discount was strange.

But this led to the second thought: you’ve already got legs like mine.

They’re strong enough to run after small children, to take you up and down play structures. They’re flawed, or rather, they’ve got their own character. They’re unique to you, enough so that it only took a second for that child to realize that he didn’t want these legs. Not because they weren’t perfect, but because they weren’t part of you.

I wish we could see our common bonds more, instead of focusing on our differences. Yes, that mom trains for triathlons and you don’t. But you both have hobbies that you love. That woman is happy without children while you’ve got a carful–but you both enjoy the fullness of lives, however different they may be. No matter what the divide is–homeschool versus public, organic versus processed, all natural versus epidural–we are women making it work.

The next time you’re tempted to start a mommy war, take a look at your enemy. She’s got something in common with you, I can guarantee it. Let it build a bridge instead of a wall, that we may run this race in support instead of competition.

Cookie Monster

Me: I made some chocolate chip cookies.
B: Oh really?
Me: Yeah. It’s a new recipe, so tell me what you think.

I really don’t have to say that last part. It’s a running joke in our house. I’m always on the hunt for a different recipe. For almost everything, but especially chocolate chip cookies.

This quest for perfection spreads across my whole life.

I tie it back to my childhood, when only A’s would do. When it was simply to celebrated to get an A-, or even a B, or God-forbid, something even lower.

I had ulcer issues starting in high school. Obviously.

No one is perfect. I don’t expect myself to be. But that means I expect to fail, in big or little ways, in everything. Even chocolate chip cookies, even though I’m a crazy skilled baker.

As much as I recognize this trend and the ridiculousness of it, in the modern world of Pinterest perfection and blogs and Facebook, we’ve created a culture based not just on overachieving, but on presenting our achievements to everyone we do and do not know. It’s hard NOT to feel inadequate when you have to face these fronts every day, especially when you’re already so hard on yourself.

I may be able to tell enough in my family and my commitments, but when it comes to me, I never feel like I am enough, because I will never settle for the enough that I am.

In this dissatisfaction, I leave no room for God.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

I’m not meant to be enough. Not ever. Because I’m meant to need God to cover the rest, to let me stop at good enough and let Him handle everything else. Adhering to the letter–in this case, the grades, or the perfect recipe, or the Pinterest post that recipe came from in all it’s multi-photographed glory–kills. Life abundant comes from accepting our shortcomings, our imperfection, our need for God.

That’s also easier said than done. Good enough doesn’t feel good at all, not after a lifetime of perfection. But when the soul is downcast, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God” (Psalms 42:11).

So I hope. I hope that I can make more room for God, that I can rest in good enough, that I can teach myself and my children that God is our savior, regardless of how our chocolate chip cookies turn out. In fact, He saves us from having to worry about things like that.

I hope and I hope and I hope.