A Series of Small Things

Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”

Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Luke 13:18-21)

“It’s a small thing,” Jesus says. “The work I wish to complete through you today is a series of small things. Plant the seed and it will grow. Knead the bread and it will rise.”

I don’t know if this revelation is encouraging or disheartening. While it gives meaning to the series of small things my life has been here of late, it also means I may need to stop striving for the big things.

Fact: I like quantifiable goals. I like finished products. I like finishing products. I can’t do something as simple as read multiple books at a time (and much to the dismay of my characters, I’m not good at writing them that way either), because there is something so satisfactory about finishing one thing before moving on to another. I live for word count—watching the sum of my efforts rise until the small things become monumental.

Let’s face it: the small things don’t feel very monumental. Not when you can’t step back and look at the amassed word count. After all, a thousand words is just a thousand words until you’ve written them forty-two days in a row. And, yeah, deep down I know I’m still writing the same amount of words in a day, but it’s different when you see them add up. A thousand words is just a thousand words. Forty-two thousand words is monumental.

But here’s Jesus, asking me to play the role of editor in my own life (a task I like decidedly less than the actual creative writing process). He hands me a red pen and makes me watch the numbers drop as I kill my darlings. One by one by one.

Yes, this past year has been a most frustrating journey, and I have yet to make sense of it. Oh, I have tried. I kept track of my every move throughout the month of January simply because I wanted to see what I was doing with my life.

What stares me in the face now that February has dawned is just a series of small stuff: a lot of time spent with a toddler, a few blog posts, seven novels read along with half the book of Ezekiel, and too many trips to Chipotle. That is basically the sum of my January, as I see it.

“Does any of this matter?” I wonder. And when God doesn’t answer directly, I ask again. “Does it?”

And God shakes His head because, silly Rebekah, she doesn’t get it at all. “That toddler? He is my child, and you are shaping him. Those blog posts you write? You have seen them turn readers into friends. Those novels that were recommended by your co-worker? They are drawing you closer to her. The time you’ve spent with My prophet Ezekiel? That’s drawing you closer to Me. And your insatiable love of burritos? Yes, even the stranger you ate dinner with that one afternoon crossed paths with you for a reason.”

But these are all small things. Things I cannot count, cannot quantify, and therefore cannot check off the list of All the Things I Hope to Accomplish Today.

Yet God whispers into the chaos of my heart, “Do not disdain the small things.”

And I realize you can’t attach numbers to little acts of love.

“What is the kingdom of God like?” Jesus asked. And I imagine His disciples must have been as confused as I am when He started going on about yeast and mustard seeds. Because this is Jesus—the long-awaited Messiah. Shouldn’t He be saving the world or something?

But He was. And He is. Through a series of small things—a compilation of little acts of love that turn into a collage so big and so brilliant that no art museum could ever contain it—the kingdom of God is advancing.

While we are all focused on big achievements and building a name for ourselves, God is focused on things of His kingdom. Yeast and mustard seeds. The lilies of the field. The birds of the air. The number of hairs on your head.

Small things that are big things in the eyes of the Artist who created it all.

And I am reminded that I serve a God who fed thousands of people by multiplying a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Someone’s lunch—a small thing—fed the masses.

When I stand with the disciples, wondering where we are going to come up with the kind of cash it takes to feed all these people, I am missing the simplicity of the miracle.

What is the kingdom of God like? It’s a mustard seed. It’s a sprinkle of yeast. It’s a small thing that becomes a big thing once it has time to take root in a person’s heart.

And the problem with wanting to do big things is that I forget.

I forget that I am just a small thing all along. Just a very, very small thing using her infinitely small gifts to make a kingdom-sized imprint on the world.

It’s Raining Gumballs, Hallelujah

My friend asked me if I had ever read anything by Jen Hatmaker the day before her book, Interrupted, arrived on my doorstep.

Coincidence? I think not!

Anyway, I had only made it halfway through Chapter One when I was slapped in the face with this glorious piece of honesty:

“I am still stunned by my capacity to spin Scripture, see what I wanted, ignore what I didn’t, and use the Word to defend my life rather than define it.”

So much conviction packed into that one sentence. We humans are astounding in our treachery, no? We read the Bible with our blinders on, seeing only what we are looking to find instead of opening our hearts to what God might want to say to us.

It reminds me of the movie Bedtime Stories, where the stories Adam Sandler tells his niece and nephew become his reality for the following day. After surviving a hailstorm of gumballs, Uncle Skeeter gets a bright idea: He is going to tell stories that have the potential to make his life considerably better.

But there’s a twist Skeeter hasn’t caught onto despite the raining gumballs. Only the details the children add to the story come true. And the kids unknowingly create some pretty interesting scenarios for their poor Uncle Skeeter.

I never thought I would find myself saying I relate with Adam Sandler, but in this case, I do. Here I am, weaving a story for myself, trying to spin life to my own favor, when God shakes things up with a few added details. Next thing I know, I’m just going about my day, trying to catch a break… when suddenly I get kicked by an angry dwarf.

Oh, come on, God! Are you serious? What was that?

The irony of Bedtime Stories is that the kids ultimately create an even better ending than Skeeter had in mind for himself. I guess I can only trust that God has a better ending for me than the one I would create with my two, flawed hands.

Because I’ve searched the Bible regarding certain situations before, looking for loopholes and hoping to spin the Word in my favor. (The Bible can be pretty vague at times.)

Then I realized I was doing exactly what Jen Hatmaker explained in Interrupted.

I was using the Word to defend my life rather than define it.

But God was still winning because, try as I may to write my own ending, God had other plans. Better plans. And I never had as much control as I let myself believe I did.

Yes, I’ve been spinning my stories, but only the details God approved came to pass. And those details have made for some pretty interesting adventures.

I wouldn’t trade this journey for the life I thought I wanted. I have been wrong too many times about the things I thought would bring me joy. No, sir, God is doing just fine as director of this little mess called life.

So instead of trying to defend the story I’ve crafted in my own imagination, I’m going to let my life be redefined by the Master Storyteller—the One who believes in magical things like raining gumballs.

gumballs

Cake in God’s Kitchen

Honestly, I’ve never really understood prayer. Never been very good at it. While I know those saints who seem to excel at prayer probably say the same thing, I’m not one of those so-called-saints. I may legitimately be the worst “pray-er” on the planet.

But I digress…

When I was in my teens, I used to pray pretty consistently every morning. “Heal her. Fix this. Help me.” Then I started to wonder what God thought of those prayers.

Have you ever had that one friend who gets really into something like, say, fitness and it consumes her every conversation? You used to be able to relate when she talked and maybe even contribute something relevant in return, but now you just listen as she informs you of how much weight she has lost, and how her daily running routine is the best thing that ever happened to her, and how you really shouldn’t eat doughnuts because, seriously, they are sooo bad for you.

Once you have a handful of those conversations, you start to question your friendship. “Why am I still talking to this person? We have nothing in common anymore. Do I really want to hang out with someone who doesn’t believe in the goodness of doughnuts? Uh uh. No way. Gotta cut that toxic right out of my life.”

But seriously. I started to wonder if I ever become “that friend” to God. I pictured myself going through my daily routine of praying for this person and that person and, oh, don’t forget this situation, when God rolled His eyes like, “Here she goes again with that conversation we’ve had fifty times.”

That’s when I started praying less and trusting more. Because God knows. He heard me the first time. And the fifth. and the fiftieth. He knows my heart hasn’t changed. So really, what is the purpose of prayer?

I’ve struggled with this for years, and finally found a satisfactory answer within the pages of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s Praying Upside Down.

Kelly compares prayer to baking a cake with her kids. While she admits she could work faster without them cluttering up her kitchen, she invites them to be part of the process because they find joy in it. They want to be part of it all—dumping and stirring and brushing flour from their hands—so that when the finished product finally comes out of the oven, they can feel like they were part of the miracle.

Likewise, prayer is for us. God invites us into His kitchen, not because He needs us there, but because He wants us there. He wants us to be part of the miracle. To have our cake and bake it, too. Because it grows our faith. It reveals to us the goodness of God.

We get a glimpse of His character when we ask for something and He delivers. And we get a glimpse of His character when we ask for something and He answers differently than we perhaps hoped or expected.

You know, maybe I’m not as bad at prayer as I imagined. Maybe I simply pray in unconventional ways.

In any case, I am thankful for a God who invites me into His kitchen, handles my presence with patience, and cleans up the messes these clumsy hands make.

Breaking Up with Social Media

It is really hard to cut a person out of your life. Even when it’s the right thing to do. Even when it’s necessary. Even when you believe with all of your heart that it’s the best thing for that person in that moment.

And especially when that action of walking away from a single human being severs your connection with others.

Once I went through a breakup and watched his family unfriend me on social media sites one by one by one. Something about that still stings although nearly a year has passed—being so intentionally unloved by people I love to this day.

But I think that’s the problem. The way I keep people. The way I want to cradle the whole world close to my heart. It’s a question I’ve been asking for years. Long after I was too old for the asking. With every stranger I make the briefest connection with: “Mommy, can I keep him?”

Sometimes I can’t. In fact, more often than not, I cannot hold people the way I want to hold them. So I love the whole world from a distance, all the while wishing for a deeper connection than the tenuous thread reality has to offer.

More, I think. We were made for more than these meaningless motions we go through. We were made to keep people for real.

So I tried. And I failed in the most monumental of ways.

I’m going through somewhat of a breakup. It feels strange to call it that when there has truly been nothing there, at least in my mind. Working in a restaurant, especially one that has a bar, puts you in a position to invest in the lives of people who frequent that place on a daily basis. Apparently it also puts you in a position to become something toxic to a marriage that has been struggling for years.

I didn’t think it would be this hard. To step back. To create some much needed distance between myself and the man I’ve been casually chatting with at least three days a week for the last couple of months.

It’s hard when habit leads my feet in the direction of his table. When he comes in with his friend I haven’t seen in sometime and it hits me like a sucker punch to the gut when I realize I can’t stop by to say hello. It’s amazing how the disappointment crumples me.

Yes, it is hard to cut people out of your life, but sometimes it’s all too easy to let them go.

That’s what I think about as I attempt to distract myself with another dirty table, another stack of dishes, another drink that may not actually need refilled.

It is all too easy to drift in and out of someone’s life without actually taking the time to make a connection. Oh, we fool ourselves into thinking we are connected. What with Facebook and Instragram and Twitter. We push “friend” and “follow” and convince ourselves that, through these shallow glimpses into another person’s life, we somehow know them. As if we don’t realize how misleading social media can be.

Last night, a complete stranger said to me, “Do you dance? You have the body of a dancer.”

And I laughed because this lady does not know how truly uncoordinated this body can be. While I may be slender as a ballerina, you will never find me in a pair of Pointe shoes. Because my body lies.

And so does my newsfeed.

Nowhere amidst the Fearless quotes and the pictures of babies and the endless raving about extraordinary books does social media say, “I’m struggling here. I’m fighting an uphill battle and I’m losing so hard.”

Social media never provided anyone with the opportunity to say, “But how are you really doing?”

I find myself missing those days in which I sat in my co-worker’s office as he asked me what I was doing there and how long I was planning to stay and what did I actually want out of life. I always found myself unmasked in that office. There is something so freeing about letting the pretenses fall away.

These days I find myself believing the lies social media offers. It’s easier that way.

Sometimes I comfort myself with the knowledge that the nearest person is only a phone call, a text message, an email away, but I can’t remember the last time I capitalized on the opportunity to actually grab the phone and pull them a little closer for the day.

I have the phone number of an old friend. It has been sitting on my bookshelf for three months. I’d say she is waiting for me to call her, but she has probably forgotten she gave it to me by now. Life probably keeps her so distracted she hardly cares either way.

I entitled this post “Breaking Up with Social Media,” but I’m not declaring an internet fast. I’ll still be on there just as much, sharing the pretty pieces of my life. But I hope to be more intentional outside of the internet. I hope to ask the hard questions. I hope to finally make that phone call. I hope to be strong and keep avoiding that table, but never stop trying to keep people. Just keep them.

Close to my heart. Close to my mind. Closer than the internet allows them.

Yes, I’m breaking up with social media, looking past the lies, and scavenging for something real today.

Audience of Me

“Sometimes I find myself using all the tools of prayer—Bible, journal, worship music—as distractions, protection against being real and true and open and vulnerable.”

These words, penned by Kelly O’Dell Stanley in her book Praying Upside Down, sting me with their truth. How many times have I used these tools without thinking of their true purpose? How often do I look at these things like they are just one more accomplishment to mark off my checklist?

Read a chapter of Lamentations. Check. Meditation? Well, I had to read that one verse a second time since I didn’t understand it at first glance. That counts, right? (Insert nervous laughter.)

Seriously, I have a habit—a routine, if you will. I read a chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of an inspirational book. If I’m really on a role (i.e. when I decide I have time to spare), I’ll read another chapter of the Bible followed by a chapter of a different inspirational book. Sometimes I’ll find a cool quote to scribble down in my journal. Sometimes not. Sometimes I take my time, but other times I’m in a rush to flip through the pages and get on with my day. Then I pack all my books away and call it time spent with God.

Really? Did I really spend time with God? Kelly Stanley disagrees (and I think God might take her side on this one).

“It’s a legitimate fear,” Kelly writes. “When we spend time alone in prayer, God blows off the chaff. Shines His light on our darkness, exposing it all. He separates what is valuable from what is worthless. If you recall, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for their public displays of faith, not because they were public but because they were shows.

Confession time: Sometimes my own faith becomes more of a show, even if I’m only performing for myself. Because it makes me feel good to think I made room for God today… even on those days when God feels that He missed the invite to my little party of spirituality.

If you’re like me, you’re probably struggling a little bit with this whole idea of the Bible being a distraction from God. After all, it’s the God-Breathed Word of God. How can it do anything but draw us closer to the One who wrote it?

This morning, I buried my face in a chapter of Lamentations and learned absolutely nothing relevant to my life today. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t really looking, but perhaps (dare I say it?) it’s because the answers aren’t there.

Seriously, though. There is a lot to be learned from the words God ordained to be recorded in that holy book, but nowhere in the Bible am I going to find the words in red that say, “Thou shalt wait tables while waiting for your writing prowess to be acknowledged by agents and publishing houses alike.” The Bible gives me the generic, but not the specific. Only a lifetime spent seeking God’s voice through other mediums, such as prayer, is going to lead me down the path He specifically intended for my life.

“I have the answers,” God says, waiting for the moment we tear our eyes from the book on our laps to notice He has been sitting across from us all along. “I’ll give them to you if you stop trying to be so spiritual and simply seek Me instead.”

But I, like Kelly, am afraid. Afraid of the way He shines light on my darkness, exposing it all. I’m afraid to get honest and open and vulnerable even with the God who knows it all anyway. Because the person I’m really afraid of being honest with is myself. Because if I were really to acknowledge the darkness, I would have to work at transforming it into light.

Sure, people will tell you God takes the darkness away, but you have to let Him. And if you’re going to practice true, Godly living, you can’t just keep coming back like, “Oops. I messed up again,” just because you know forgiveness will be extended; You have to intentionally work to keep the darkness at bay so as not to take advantage of God’s endless grace.

That’s a huge commitment–dying to self day after day after day. So sometimes I take the easy route and let the Bible serve as a distraction, turning my daily Jesus routine into a big performance for my audience of me.

1452128757801.jpg

Stay Fearless.

I received an end-of-the-year update from WordPress informing me that I wrote a mere fifteen posts in 2015. But, in spite of my record low numbers, the readership remained steady. Dear Readers, I am amazed by your faithfulness. I would have given up on me by now.

While I am not one for new year’s resolutions, now seemed as good a time to start fresh as any. In fact, it feels long overdue. This year has been one of the darkest of my life. And I thought 2013 would be hard to beat. In 2013, I hit the rapids, but I still had God in my boat. In 2015, I kept trying to throw Him out because I didn’t like what He was saying. And, friends, let me tell you, it is really, really hard to brave the rapids without a guide.

But God, ever faithful, ever persistent, finds His way back into my heart in the most mysterious of ways. This time it was through the reading of Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters. In this fantastical work of fiction, an angel and a devil fall in love. It does not end well. These two races have been at war for centuries, but when Karou and Akiva dare to dream of a different way, the angels and beasts must unite against a greater enemy. It’s basically epic, and you would have to read the entire series to fully understand, but there’s this scene in Dreams of Gods and Monsters:

Liraz—most formidable of the angels—follows her brother’s lead and sides with the enemy. Liraz, whose arms are stained black with the tattooed tally of her victories. Liraz, who is feared by seraphs and chimaera alike. Liraz, who appears, in my mind, the very definition of Fearless.

She stares at Karou’s two human friends who have stumbled into her world. Petite Zuzana and her violin-wielding boyfriend Mik have no wings, no fangs or claws, no place in a world at war.

Weak, she thought, still watching the human pair. But there was another word lurking, defying it. Fearless.

They slept with their faces touching.

I read those words. Read them again and again, stumbling over this groundbreaking definition of Fearless every time.

Fearless quite literally means lacking fear. I suppose that could be a lot of things. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Fearless can define both the warrior who strives against insurmountable odds and the teenage girl who sleeps peacefully in the arms of her beloved.

It’s no secret that I have long been the girl who would stand alone on the battlefield. “Lord, send me,” has been the cry of my heart since I read the story of Amy Carmichael when I was eight years old. I would be perfectly content to wake up in a different country every month for the next year. In fact, I can think of little that would thrill me more than to have such an experience.

I think that’s what I’ve been waiting for as I remain tucked away in this tiny corner of the world. For God to say, “All right. Okay. Today is the day. Pack your little, fearless self up and let’s go.”

But He hasn’t done that. And every time I’ve tried to force His hand on the issue, He closes yet another door in my face.

“Can I please just go now?” I whine.

And He whispers in response, “What would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I haven’t answered His question, mostly because I’m afraid to give it credibility. Like, if I answer this question, I have to acknowledge that He might actually be serious.

Some people were made for staying, but not this girl. The world is too small in rural Ohio. I’ve felt it closing in, suffocating me. I miss the nations. I thought God and I had agreed this move was going to be temporary, but when I give it further thought, I realize God asked me to move and I consoled myself with the idea that it would be short-term. Just until I caught the travel bug and floated off to some other corner of the world.

I, like Liraz, had my swords in hand and my wings unfurled for flight when God confronted me with this scene—this new definition of Fearless.

They slept with their faces touching.

That’s the kind of vulnerability that has the potential to undo you.

“I want you to be Fearless,” God says.

And though I’ve been toting that word like a mantra since Taylor Swift first put it to lyrics and God took my hand and dragged me headfirst—Fearless, I get the feeling He is asking something much different from me this time. Instead of dragging me headfirst into the storm, He is pushing me back down into my chair.

“Sit down. Take a load off. Stay awhile.”

But my feet are already twitching in time with the music and the rain outside looks like the dancing kind.

“China. Venezuela. Mozambique. I know you would be there in a heartbeat if I asked it of you. But honestly—honestly—what would you do if I asked you to stay?”

I twitch. I squirm. I slink down in my seat. It’s the closest thing to an answer I can give Him right now.

“Occupy this space. Be where you are. Invest in the lives of the people around you. Fall in love with as many strangers as you like, but keep them this time. Touch their faces. Let their faces touch yours.

“By all means, be Fearless. Just make sure it’s the staying kind.”

image

The Weight of Worthy

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear the words, “You are worthy,” until I found them in my inbox on a Thursday afternoon. Just a random Thursday afternoon, in the midst of chaos and confusion and stumbling to figure out how exactly I was going to make it through this valley of death’s shadow.

This wasn’t the first email I had received from this reader. It was, in fact, the second—her response to my response to the email where she said she was so grateful that my words had traveled across the internet to find her.

Apparently, without my knowledge, a guest post I had written three years earlier had been recycled into an e-devotional that made its way into this girl’s inbox. And then, carrying with it the sting of conviction, it found its way into mine. Because of course I had to look it up to figure out what exactly this girl was thanking me for. In a way, I wished I had simply accepted her thanks and let it go, because the post I found when I went digging sang the bittersweet tune of loss.

I had lost the girl who wrote Beyond Waiting. The girl who determined to redefine the purpose of singleness and live the journey of once upon a time was long gone and I did not know how to recover her.

I don’t know why it is easy for me to be honest in the inboxes of strangers—I can’t say what it is about a screen with a cursor blinking against a backdrop of white that feels so safe—but I wrote this girl a most truthful reflection of who I was then versus who I am now. I wrote her of lostness. Of the valley of the shadow. Of how far I had fallen from the pedestal I once fancied myself to stand upon.

And she responded—like an angel in my inbox—to tell me I was worthy.

“God’s grace is sufficient for us,” she quoted, in the joyful exuberance of one who has been redeemed. “Not just some of us, not just sometimes. For every person in everything!”

And then she hit me with this truth-bomb: “I can sense you don’t feel worthy of the message you once wrote. I want you to know that that is not true. God makes us worthy. In his eyes every one of his children is worthy. You are worthy.”

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

It’s not a word I would choose to ascribe to myself. Not because I struggled with a low self-esteem or self-loathing, but because it seemed such a lofty title. Though I’ve long said I have the gift of vanity, calling myself worthy seemed a bit too much, even by my standards.

And yet, here the words settled like a cloak upon my shoulders.

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

I am undeserving; God chose me anyway. I guess that makes me worthy.

Because if that is all it takes for something to have worth—just for someone to scoop it up and deem it valuable—then I am worthy indeed.

There’s me in the mud, thick in the grime of unrepentance and God still chooses to say, “That one. Yes, that little mess right there has immeasurable worth. More than the sparrows. More than the lilies. I choose that one to wrap in the weight of My love. She’s worthy. Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.”

That thought clung to me so tightly—moved me so deeply—I cried real tears to the tune of “Would You Still Love Me the Same” on my way home from work that night:

“If I showed You my flaws, if I couldn’t be strong, tell me honestly, would You still love me the same?”

“Yes,” God replied. “A thousand times, yes. I choose you again and again. Every minute. Every day. You are worthy. Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.”

Though I don’t always feel it—though I certainly do not understand how such depths of grace could exist—I wrap the weight of that word around me like a blanket, like a shield.

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

I am undeserving; God chose me anyway.

I guess that makes me worthy.