Worked Out

I don’t always cry at weddings. In fact, if the tears don’t come when the groom is watching his bride come down the aisle, it’s safe to assume my eyes will be dry the whole day through.

This last wedding, though, hit me at the most unexpected of times.

As I slipped into the reception hall, I saw a friend I had not seen in many years. Sue is a saint of the grandmotherly variety. Her face lit up upon seeing me and she quickly offered me the seat next to her. I, of course, could not refuse.

When she started inquiring about my life, I told her nothing I would not tell another acquaintance. The conversation merely brushed across the surface of my life and spoke nothing of the struggle within my soul. Perhaps that is why I was so surprised when, after I had returned from a much-needed moment of baby snuggling time, Sue picked the conversation back up in the most curious of places.

“I know you already know this,” she said, “but I feel impressed to tell you that God has your life worked out.”

That’s when the tears came, burning beneath the surface of my eyes. I blinked them back (so technically I still did not cry at that wedding), but they slipped into my heart alongside the conviction Sue’s words brought.

God may have my life worked out, but I’m not sure that I knew that. Or, at the very least, I’m not sure that I believed that. Because a quick look back on the last three years certainly suggested otherwise.

I have felt lost. I have felt abandoned. I have felt the furthest thing from worked out.

And yet… I felt the sting of truth in those words.

“God has your life worked out.”

I realize that I have been working in my own strength to pick up the pieces and sort this puzzle out. I’ve grown tired of waiting and elected to take matters into my own hands. And oh what a mess I have managed to make.

But here is the truth I have long forgotten how to claim: God has my life worked out.

He has not given up somewhere in the middle (as I often have). He is not sitting up in heaven debating hitting the backspace key on the last few chapters of my life (as I often wish that I could). He knows how this ends. He has it worked out. I am not floundering all alone in the dark.

Tomorrow I leave for Africa. The story of my getting there is quite the soap opera. It was not my first attempt to visit this continent. Every single mishap along the way has seemingly been in direct opposition of my going. I had my doubts right up until the visa actually arrived on my doorstep (and that hasn’t even been the end of my struggles). To be honest, I have my doubts about traveling tomorrow because when I fly everything seems to go wrong.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that God has my life worked out because I’m afraid it doesn’t look like the life I would choose for myself. Because sometimes He closes doors on opportunities I thought were perfect. Because sometimes He strands me in Ohio when I wanted the world.

But when it’s time, He throws those doors wide open so that I can walk through. And He tells me He had it worked out a year and a half ago when my plans fell through. Because this—chaotic and unnerving as it has been—is better than the trip I tried to line up for myself.

I’ve had my doubts… So many doubts…

But all along God had my life worked out.

Farewell for a couple of weeks, my friends. I’ll see you in April!

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Even in This

Three years ago, I got a phone call. I knew little of the details (no one did at that point), but there had been an accident and the outcome was uncertain. The request was simply to pray.

And pray I did.

My faith was not small that day. As I told God what I knew of His character—as I reminded Him of another time He gave a little girl back her life—I truly believed my request to be simple.

I weaved a prayer of hope and trust, but, within an hour, I was picking up a pen to make an amendment to my prayer journal. Written there in red ink, like an editorial note to my future self, are the words:

You are good. All the time. Even in this.
That’s what I choose to believe.

The death of a ten-year-old girl seems a terrible segue into the current state of my life. In fact, I felt kind of guilty about recycling those words.

Those words are sacred. A memorial to Maggie.

And yet I find myself whispering “even in this” as if this could compare to the original moment in question.

It can’t. It really can’t.

The final words I exchanged with that child still haunt me, folks.

But the truth remains that God is good. All the time. Even in this.

Even in this. When my dreams have been derailed and forced to take the scenic route. When I’m twenty-five and, only now, finally moving out on my own. When I pick up a pen and the words won’t come and, when they do, I question their worth. When every ounce of me wants to go back to the girl I was at twenty because she was better than the person I am today.

I think that is the most frustrating thing. Because even if my dreams have not turned out according to plan, I should still be a better, stronger person than I was five years ago.

But I’m not. I’m really not.

My journals bear the proof.

I feel like I should read all of my journals like I read the ones from middle school. With a cringe followed by a wave of relief because I have grown up and overcome that stage of life. I should be able to look at my past and thank God I’m not that girl anymore.

But that’s not how I feel when I encounter the girl at twenty. The girl at twenty makes me want to weep for the things I have lost. I want it back. I want it all back.

Make the girl of twenty-five disappear and just give me twenty, please.

I am going to blame Grace Thornton for this sudden wave of melancholy. Because I was fine. I was fine until I started to read her book and she spoke of her quest for God, and her hunger for God, and her realizing that she had made her life all about God without ever really knowing Him. (There will be a full review of I Don’t Wait Anymore to follow because, seriously, all of the feels. But I digress…)

I was confused. Puzzled to think that I could have endured that same, glorious journey of a life fully abandoned to God only to end up back where I started from. Stuck in a pattern of serving Him simply because I do. And I should have recognized it earlier. Long before Grace. I should have known when friends started asking questions and I didn’t have the answers, or I was ashamed of the answers, or I just wanted to brush the entire conversation off because I was so very tired of fitting the stereotype—so very desperate to escape the pedestal.

I have felt like God has abandoned me, but perhaps I have abandoned Him.

I am reminded of the day Hannah Brencher answered the question, “How do you remind yourself God is with you, even on the hardest and darkest days?”

Her answer was as powerful as it was poetic.

“I hurl myself into the word of God,” she said. “On the days when I don’t feel God, and I assume he has packed a suitcase and left for Rio, I go and hunt him down. I look for him. I ask for him. I knock at his door. I make him answer.”

When I posted those words on Facebook a few months back, I received some critical feedback on the idea of “making” God answer. My friend’s opinion was that God was always right there, ready and waiting to respond to us when we call.

All right, so maybe I was the one who left for Rio and I’ve simply had to make a long trek back, but I couldn’t help being a little jealous of this person who has seemingly never had to knock on God’s door the way the widow from Jesus’ parable did (Luke 18). Night after night after night until he finally acknowledged her request.

Some people really do have a faith like that. A coworker once told me of a conversation she had with God. “As you know, the Holy Spirit is such a gentleman…”

She really said it like that. “As you know.” As if God quite obviously spoke to everyone so sweetly and gently.

I think God knows I don’t like things sugarcoated. Our conversations are a little more direct and, some might say, disrespectful. My holy spirit theology could be more accurately identified by my pastor friend who said the following words:

“Some people say the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. I beg to differ. He slapped Paul right off a horse. That’s not very gentlemanly.”

I have been slapped off my high-horse more times than I can count.

But God is good. All the time. Even in this.

Even in this, as I’m lying on the ground, world spinning around me. As I try to figure out what this means and where I’m meant to go from here. As I pound on God’s door and beg Him not to move to Rio—don’t You dare move to Rio—when I need Him so much right here, right now.

And He is here.

He is good, He is faithful, He is here.

That is what I choose to believe.

Yes, even in this.

Burning Dreams to Ashes

When I was eight years old, I had my life all figured out. I was going to be the next Amy Carmichael, never mind my green eyes. I figured after a stint in missions, I would settle down and start a family. I’d stay home with my six kids, of course.

Well, life doesn’t exactly play out like it did in our eight-year-old minds. In a strange turn of events, my brother was the one who moved to India. I went there once and decided it wasn’t for me. And after two years of working with Advancing Native Missions, I realized there was another dream overtaking the one I had crafted and cradled from childhood.

It was terrifying to say goodbye to all I’d ever thought I wanted. Terrifying to place my life in God’s hands as I chased an impossible dream. Even more terrifying to realize that I’ve just been in transition all along. That maybe I’ll just be in transition all my life.

That’s what life is, isn’t it? A transition from this world into the next. God putting us on this earth for a purpose that is never clearly defined.

What am I to do? Where am I to go? Who am I to be?

A few days ago, I set fire to the remnants of my life in Virginia. That’s how it felt watching all my blank checks go up in flames—that a dream was burning to ashes. Because I never dreamed that I’d be moving back in with my parents a few days shy of my 23rd birthday, uncertain of what the future holds from here.

My missions stint didn’t end in marriage, six kids sounds like a crazy lot of work right now, and that’s not all I want out of life anymore. I want something a little crazier than that, even if I’m not 100% certain what that crazy thing is.

I’m learning it’s okay to burn our dreams to ashes if it means that a new one will rise in its place. And I think it’s all right to stand in those places where you have no idea what’s coming just around the river bend. After all, if God wanted us to live a predictable life, He would have given us a manual with step by step instructions. But He didn’t, so I guess He must just like holding our hands as He walks us through the ups and downs.

The honest truth (and perhaps the reason this blog has been so silent here of late) is that I don’t know where I’m going to be six months from now. I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing six weeks from now. And Control Freak Rebekah doesn’t like that, but Rebekah Who Lives By Faith is coming to terms with it.

The remains of my goals and plans my be resting in the corner of a fire pit in Afton, Virginia, but that’s okay. Because God led me here for this time and season. And God is leading me into a much greater future than I could ever dream for myself.

And though I am not certain of many things, I have absolute confidence that He will call forth beauty from the ashes of my dreams.

ashes

Learning to Fall

I felt him falling, arching his back against my wrist as his head swung down between my knees. My heart fell with him even as my left hand shot out to wrap my fingers around his shirt and pull him back upright. I was greeted by a smile so big it crinkled his nose and squished his eyes into slits.

“You,” I said, my voice shaking, “have a lot of faith in me.”

Of course he did. Because I’ve been throwing that child around for half his life and I haven’t dropped him yet, but I think it’s time to tell sweet Oliver that he needs to at least warn me before he pulls a stunt like that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Prayer:

God, I wish I had half the faith in You that Oliver has in me, but I’ve never been a fan of falling. I’ve never been good at letting go of my illusion of control long enough to trust You will catch me.

I’m not at all like Oliver, smirking as you extend Your arms over the fence because I know You’re not going to put me down. I’m more like his little schoolmate Brooke, crying out and grabbing at Your face, Your neck, Your hair like You might actually leave me alone in the wilderness. But unlike Brooke, when You call off Your playful scare, I’m not smiling. I’m still shaken. I guess I’m not as forgiving as children tend to be.

But I want to trust You that much. I want to be able to smile in Your face in that moment before I arch my back and fall, knowing You won’t let me hit the ground.

I’ve done an awful lot of falling, but not enough trusting in my lifetime. I never was that kid You could swing through the air.

Because sometimes I don’t believe You would never let me fall. Sometimes I’m afraid You won’t be ready. Sometimes I doubt the strength in Your arms. So I hold on, clinging tightly to the collar of Your t-shirt and I miss the exhilarating joy of flying through the air.

But I don’t want to be that kid with the fearful eyes and clenched fists; I want to be the one whose arms hang loose and smile comes freely. The one laughing instead of whimpering. The one who is fully abandoned to the thrill of the fall and completely confident in the arms that hold me.

Help me, like Oliver, to never hold on, but trust You will never let go.

over the shoulder

I’m working on it, all right?

Calling Forth the Artist in Me

I never would have called myself an artist. My drawing skills are limited, and I never could figure out how to get the eyes right. Paints and brushes scared me because I never understood what to do with them. The first time I walked into a Michael’s I felt lost.

So naturally this art journaling thing has been a bit intimidating to me. But mostly it’s been amazing—calling forth the artist in me. And I wonder how long I’ve been stifling my abilities by denying myself the courage to try.

Throughout my childhood, I bounced through a lot of activities trying to find my place in this world. I couldn’t do a somersault, so gymnastics was out. I had a stint of being the worst (but friendliest) person on the baseball team, then I became a ballet school dropout. The only reason I stuck with piano lessons for so long is because I adored the time spent with my teacher.

Basically, I was bad at a lot of things. So when my knack for storytelling was discovered I latched onto it like a parasite, sucking life from the creative venue of writing. I filled stacks of journals with various thoughts, wrote letters to loved ones and virtual strangers alike, and started collecting fragments of story ideas.

Writing was my gift, my passion, my purpose. And somehow I managed to convince myself that writing was all I did well.

I stopped dancing anywhere but behind closed doors even though I loved moving to the music. I stopped using my pen to create anything other than words. I never touched a piano if anyone else was in the house.

And I sold myself short.

Because, while writing may be the thing I do best, it is not all I can do.

I was made for more.

You were made for more.

It took me many years to discover that we are all artists, designed to create beauty in the world around us through whatever medium we choose. But we don’t have to use only one.

I want to encourage you to branch out, test your limits, and challenge yourself to do more than you ever dreamed possible. Because you deserve more than the limited life you’ve safely created for yourself. You’re missing so much if you’re clinging to just one gift.

While nothing has opened entire worlds for me in the way writing does, painting stirs a part of my soul that writing has never touched. Dancing frees my heart to worship, and singing brings joy to the surface of my life in a way the written word never has.

And my life is so much richer for having multiple ways to express myself.

My friend, there’s more. There is more out there to be experienced if you’re brave enough to try. Brave enough to throw your arms wide open and embrace these different ways of expressing yourself. So please don’t sell yourself short. Please don’t limit your potential.

Pick up your paintbrush and point your toes. Paint, dance, sing. This world is a symphony. Life is your canvas. Don’t close your ears to the music. Don’t leave the pages blank.

Stretch yourself by sinking into the wonder of life in more than the typical way.

dreaming in color