Doubting My Way Back to God

“I haven’t really been close to God lately,” she said. “And I don’t want to be.”

Her confession sent me back twelve years. Back to the day I lost my first loved one and started questioning everything I had ever believed to be true. Back to the time when the same words would have sounded perfectly natural coming from my own mouth.

I haven’t really been close to God lately.
And I don’t want to be.

Is it bad that I told her that was okay? That her doubts are perfectly natural and she’s allowed to question the existence, the goodness, the faithfulness of God?

Sacrilege.
Blasphemy.
And I call myself a youth leader.

What should I have done instead? I could have offered her a dozen platitudes:

“There’s a reason for this tragedy.”
“God brings forth beauty from ashes.”
“The Lord makes all things work together for our good.”

My ten-year-old self would assure you that those are not the words a girl needs to hear when she stands in the midst of tragedy. When everything hurts. When she hasn’t been close to God and she doesn’t want to be.

I didn’t need to tell her those foundational truths of Christianity because she already knows them. She’s spent her whole life hearing them, but this is the moment when she decides for herself whether or not they are true.

So I told her what I would have liked to hear myself when the doubts came rushing in. That what she’s feeling is all right. That the questions are good. The questions will cement her faith and make her stronger in the end.

We demand perfection of ourselves—of our faith; but God never does.

Jesus didn’t scoff at Nicodemus’ many questions or ridicule Thomas’ need to see the resurrected Messiah with his own eyes. And when a faithless Peter sank beneath the waves, I don’t think the words, “O ye of little faith” were a reprimand, but an invitation to reclaim the belief he had fumbled.

It’s okay to fumble your faith every once in awhile.
It’s okay to question and doubt the things you once believed.
It’s okay to feel a little distant from God at times. (And to not want to be closer.)

It’s okay because God really wants to answer our questions. God really wants us to learn to trust Him more. And God truly is big enough to draw us back into His arms, whether or not we were looking to find our way there.

And I think my young friend is going to turn out just fine, because deep within her hurting heart, she searches for truth. And I believe it’s possible to doubt our way back to God, because I did it myself many years ago.

So let the questions come as they will, and may they always lead you back to the heart of the Father.

beyond waiting running

 

 

Heart Cracked Open

I’ve been emotionally wrecked. From the seemingly trivial losing one of my favorite students to another school, to the deeply personal things God is working out inside of me, to being powerless to keep my friends from making decisions that are wrecking their lives, there’s been a lot going on in this heart of mine.

While preparing to start my day the other morning, I boldly (and foolishly) challenged Life, “What else have you got for me?”

Moments later I came across a message informing me that a missionary friend’s 16-year-old son was killed in a motorbike accident.

Dear God, will it never end?

Tragedy and I communicate on a first name basis. Oh, I wouldn’t say we’re friends. She’s more like that person who makes me cringe when I see her coming down the hall because I know we’re going to have a long conversation that I don’t want any part in.

“Hey, Tragedy, how’s it going?”

“Oh, you know. Just wrecking lives and stuff.”

And by the end of our conversation, I feel tired all over. But I think the thing I hate most about Tragedy is that she makes me feel so insufficient. Because, as I’ve said before, my arms aren’t big enough to cradle the whole world all at once. And this world has wounds that are bigger than I am. And superglue may work just fine for busted heads, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good when it comes to broken hearts.

I don’t know what to do with broken hearts. I may be able to sweep up all the pieces, but I guess I’m not good enough at puzzles to figure out how to put them back together. And I wish with every fiber of my being that I could put them back together. But all I have to offer a broken heart is my own heart breaking in response.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few days falling on my knees and saying, “Okay, God, here’s my heart cracked open. Do with it what You will.”

And I know that He will.

I know that God is big enough to restore even the most broken of hearts.

So I think I’ll tell myself the same thing I told myself when I lost Maggie five months ago:

There’s still Someone who can make sense of the pieces where others have failed.

There is a God who makes beautiful things from broken things.

And that is the knowledge I cling to when the world rocks crazy and my heart lies in fragments on the floor.

Yes, I still believe in a God who redeems the messes we’ve made of our lives. I still believe in a God who accepts the sacrifice of a broken heart. And I still believe that these paths paved with heartache are ultimately the best thing for me.

So here I stand with heart cracked open, fully and finally alive.

 

The Tragic Life of Disobedient Sheep

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” ~John 10:27

Sometimes I think that verse should read a little more like this:

“My sheep hear my voice, and they know it, but still they choose to ignore me and go their own way.”

Because the actual version makes it sound too easy. Like maybe the sheep didn’t hesitate to follow the Shepherd’s voice. I wonder how many people can actually say, “I listened, I followed, The End.” Because I’m ashamed to say that it doesn’t always look that way for me. In fact, most times there’s a struggle before I finally give in. Generally the way this works for me is: I hear Him, I argue, I prolong the inevitable, I make myself miserable, then I finally say, “Okay, God, You win.”

But that’s not the way Jesus tells it.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

It’s that simple. Or, it should be.

You know, I often resent sheep analogies, because if there is one thing I’ve learned from befriending a family of farmers, it’s this: sheep are stupid. Whenever Jesus starts comparing His followers to a bunch of sheep, the only thing that comes to my mind is the story my friends told of a whole herd of sheep walking single file down a train track until they all got wiped out. Every. Single. One of them.

Come on, God, I’m not that bad… Am I?

Can I make a confession here? Sometimes I’d rather not follow the Shepherd. Sometimes I’d rather do my own thing. Because sometimes what God asks of me is not what I would choose for myself. And sometimes His instructions don’t seem to make sense. And sometimes the path He leads me down is dark and scary and painful and no-really-you-would-not-believe-how-much-this-hurts hard.

And so I hesitate, like the silly sheep that I am, lingering a little longer in this place because I prefer it to the unknown journey that lies ahead. And I choose my own path. And I stay right between the lines, not even bothering to wonder what is making that strange whistling noise up ahead.

And you’d think I’d come to my senses when those before me start getting thrown from the tracks. You’d think the train barreling toward me might be enough to make me flee from my path. And sometimes it is. Sometimes that’s what it takes to send me running back to the Shepherd’s arms. But sometimes I’m prone to travel the path of destruction because that’s what happens to stupid sheep that wander off on their own.

But the sheep that follow even when they’d rather not…

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” ~John 10:27-28

I think those sheep have a much better ending, and I think it’s the ending I want for myself. So I’ll choose to follow. Even when I think I know better. Even when I’d rather stay behind or make my own way.

Because when I hear that voice, I know it is ultimately leading me into the place that is best for me. And why should I argue with that?

walking on train tracks

A Walk in My Character’s Shoes

I spent Wednesday morning catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. When talking about the pains and trials we’ve faced during our time apart, my friend said that we’re a lot like the characters in my books—facing difficult struggles without being able to see the big picture.

It’s okay, we decided, to not see the big picture as long as you can trust the Author writing your story. I can trust the Author. At least, that’s what I tell myself again and again. It’s just that sometimes I wish the Author would trust me with some of the details. Like the “why is this happening to me?” details.

But I get the Author analogy. I understand that when I finally reach the end of my story, I’ll be able to look back and say, “Oh, now that makes sense.” But I’m not anywhere near the end of that story and nothing about this makes sense right now. All that feels certain is this sudden urge to write a letter of apology to every fictional character I’ve ever crafted.

Dear Callum, I’m sorry I ruined your life. But there’s a reason this tragedy has befallen you and that is…

Then I would tell him everything his limited point of view can’t possibly understand. But that’s just the thing. He can’t understand. If I tried explaining, he wouldn’t believe me. Or worse yet, he would believe me and he would stop taking the steps necessary to becoming the hero I intend for him to be.

So I think if I were to write him, it would look a little something more like this:

Dear Callum, I’m sorry I ruined your life. I know this is difficult to understand, but you simply have to trust me. There are things you are not yet ready to know, but I’ll tell you everything in time. I love you, honest. That’s all I can tell you right now.

He’d be angry, of course, that I’m withholding information from him. He’d probably yell and shake his fist and tell me how unfair I’m being, and that’s okay. He has a right to be angry. Yes, yes, fume all you want, my fictional friend, but I will only ever do what is best for you. (But of course all hell breaking loose is best for you. Why do you ask?)

And I realize this conversation Callum and I are having looks suspiciously familiar, which is perhaps the point my friend was trying to make when I unloaded my burdens on her capable shoulders the other morning.

Because I’m good at yelling and shaking my fist and telling God how unfair He’s being.

But, you know, maybe God isn’t being so unreasonable after all. Because, yes, the path may be hard and the challenges great, but this all leads to a beautiful ending. So I guess I’m all right. And I guess I can keep on trusting the Author… even when I can’t see the big picture.

Give Me Some Time to Kick That Door Down

“It’s okay. I’m going to get you out of there,” I promised. “Just stand back against the wall so you don’t get hurt in the process.”

(BOOM) My foot connected with the solid wood of the door as several, small bystanders stood back and cheered, “You can do it, Miss Rebekah!”

(BOOM) Jared picked a… (BOOM) bad day to… (BOOM) be sick. (BOOM)

But I did it.

Even though my co-worker wasn’t there to help.
Even though it took me the better part of ten minutes.
Even though the door didn’t actually shatter beneath the weight of my blows.

Somehow I managed to jar that door just enough that the doorknob decided to become unstuck, and my student emerged from the bathroom of no return and into the arms of her sympathetic friends.

And just like that, I was a superhero, congratulated with high-fives and “I knew you could do its.”

I don’t typically feel like a superhero for trying to kick down doors.

In fact, it’s one of those habits that make me feel a little guilty. Sometimes a lot guilty.

So what’s the big difference between literal and figurative doors? Why is it not okay to kick the figurative ones down while it’s just fine and dandy to go all kung-fu on the real ones? Why, when they both lead to something I fully want to free?

I think it all comes down to permission from the boss.

When my student got locked in the bathroom, the first thing I did (after trying the lock on my own, of course) was call my boss. “Dave, what do I do?”

“Kick it in,” he said. “We need to replace that door anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you break it.”

Why does God never give me that permission?

Seriously. I’ll be standing at this door, jiggling the knob like, “Hello. I need to get in here. Hey God, do You mind?”

But He never tells me to kick it in. He just stands back and watches as I try to break it down and finally says, “Rebekah, what are you doing? Don’t you think I’d leave that door open if I meant for you to pass through?”

Oh. Um… I thought maybe You needed the reminder. This door was supposed to be open.

But it’s not.

It’s not because God knows better than you. It’s not because there are other doors a little ways down the hall that are just begging to be opened. Better doors that lead to greater opportunities.

And you miss them. You miss them when you’re kicking at doors that won’t budge beneath your weight. You miss them because you’re spending too much time jiggling a door handle that doesn’t twist when you flick your wrist.

You were never meant for walking through that door.

As much as it hurts to confess, that door wasn’t made for you.

And I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now, but there is something better waiting.

There’s a door you won’t have to force because it was made for swinging open at the faintest touch. But you can’t open a door that God has purposed to close. It’s simply not possible, no matter how long and how hard you kick at it.

So maybe it’s time to stop fighting. Maybe it’s time to pack up and move on. Maybe it’s time to find the door that has always been waiting, ready to be opened by the one who would surrender to the call of her God.

through that door

 

The Art of Surrender

If there’s a stubbornness gene, I got it bad from both sides. This isn’t always a bad thing, but more often than not I find myself fighting things that were maybe never worth the fight… Like Beyond Waiting.

It took me forever to surrender to this book/blog thing. And maybe I could justify my hesitations by pointing out that Beyond Waiting was what we like to call a “major life decision,” but the problem with that argument is that I never had a single doubt that it was God’s will; it was simply not something my storytelling self wanted to get into.

This last weekend I heard not one, but two messages on asking God to make His will your priority. Stubborn or not, I did get the message the first time; the second time was merely driving it home.

Because I’m doing it again. The stubbornness thing. I’ve been so caught up in what I want to write that I’ve been resisting the story I’ve known I was meant to write all along. And until Weyman Howard offered me the invitation to make a choice, I thought I had already made it.

Turns out, I wasn’t surrendered to the story after all; I was merely resigned to it. And there’s a bit of a difference in the words resign and surrender.

re·sign 
1. To submit (oneself) passively; accept as inevitable

sur·ren·der 
1. To relinquish possession or control of to another because of demand or compulsion
2. To give up in favor of another
3. To give up or give back (something that has been granted)

I’ve been complaining about all levels of stuck-ness and it all finally makes sense. Because it’s hard to find inspiration in something you view as inevitable. There is no passion in passivity.

What I need is to walk away from resignation and fall headlong into surrender.

Because once upon a time, I was compelled to relinquish possession of my words.
Once upon a time, I gave up the story I yearned to write in favor of the one I was called to write.
Once upon a time, I placed my God-given gift back in my Father’s hands.

And the words flooded from my fingertips and came to life on the page. And I started receiving messages from young women I have never met saying, “Thank you for your words. I’ve needed them for so long.” And it was miraculous. The surrender was nothing short of miraculous.

Because it is only in the surrender that I find His power flowing through me.
Only in the surrender do I find that the words come easily as if they are being dictated as I merely write them down.
Only in the surrender do I finally capture that elusive ninth chapter that has haunted me for so long.

So, yes, I think it’s time we relearn the art of surrender.

 

It’s a Timing Thing

Maybe it’s because God is timeless, so the restrictions of days and months and years don’t really apply to Him, but I’ve always felt like God can be slow in His answers. Really slow. Like, I asked Him a question four months ago and He just now decided to grace me with an answer.

I’m not complaining, because the answer was actually quite timely and maybe I didn’t need to know four months ago. Maybe I only needed the answer when it finally came to me. Maybe God has better timing than I ever gave Him credit for. And maybe He’s sitting up there in heaven saying, “You mean you only figured that out just now?” (Because, as it turns out, God is not the only slow one in this relationship.)

I find it amazing that, while God is not bound by time, timing is such an important part of His work in our lives. God doesn’t always give answers on the day we ask questions because we may not need the answers until a little more time has passed—be it four days, four months, or four years.

And it’s like I’ll never learn that God has the answers all wrapped up for me as He awaits the perfect timing to hand me the gift of knowing. It’s like I’ll never be content to wait for His timing even though I’ve learned His timing is always perfect.

Because sometimes I just want an answer.

Whether or not I truly need the answer in that moment, I’d prefer not to endure four months of silence. And wouldn’t it make sense for me to simply store the answer in the back of my mind until the day I really need it? Why am I left with the questions and never the answers?

I think sometimes God must laugh at my ignorance, and not in a mocking way. Not in a way that makes Him roll His eyes and sigh in frustration because I still don’t understand. No, I think God must look at me the way I look at my preschoolers when they try to explain the mysteries of life. When they come up with a story that is so outrageous to those who know the truth, yet makes perfect sense in the naive logic of their minds. Yes, I think God smiles at me like I smile at them, knowing that one day I’ll know the truth and my childish imaginings will seem so silly even to me.

And though I know this, I keep coming up with my own explanations to questions that are yet to be answered.

I forget that it’s a timing thing.

I forget that the answers are on a need-to-know basis and I do not yet need to know.

And sometimes I get discouraged. And sometimes I forget…

God’s timing is so much better than mine. God’s timing is, in fact, perfect.

And maybe it’s okay that my questions remain unanswered for now, because the answers will be there when I need them most.

It's a Timing Thing

Dating Isn’t the Issue; Waiting Is.

I knew when I wrote Beyond Waiting that it was going to brand me. Still I can’t help but sigh when I get certain feedback from people who hear I’ve written a book.

First, there are the people who get it all wrong and congratulate me on my commitment to celibacy. (Um, no.)

Then there are the people who think I should check out this story about some girls who are “living out my message,” and the next thing I know, I’m looking at the pictures of this t-shirt boasting the hashtag: #IWillWait. (If you know anything about Beyond Waiting,  you should understand why that slogan is a problem. Hello, we’re beyond waiting here.)

Then there are the people who tell me I should connect with so-and-so because we have “the same heartbeat.”

And that’s about the time I just want to shout, “You have no idea what my heartbeat is!”

Because most people don’t assume I had no desire to write Beyond Waiting.  Most people don’t understand that I never wanted to brand myself as the singleness guru.

So let’s get something straight, please, so I don’t have to smile and nod through all the singleness talks that everyone assumes I’m oh so interested in.

I don’t agree with all the relationship-rambling, purity-pushing, singleness storytellers out there. I didn’t write Beyond Waiting  because I wanted to join the bandwagon; I wrote it because I thought a vital piece of the story wasn’t being told. It felt to me like so many people were getting caught up in the so-called “rules” of dating that they were overlooking the problem altogether.

Dating isn’t the issue; waiting is.

The problem is that we’ve got our girls so wrapped up in the “Your Prince Will Come” mentality that they can’t see that there is more to life than happily ever after. The problem is that we’ve become so wrapped up in daydreams that we’ve forgotten to live the adventure that is waiting for us here and now—Prince Charming-less.

I don’t consider myself an expert on relationships. In fact, if you’re looking for someone who can speak from personal experience, I’m the last person you want to consult on that subject. That’s why I didn’t write Beyond Waiting  from the perspective that focuses on the someday guy.

Beyond Waiting  isn’t about relationships at all. It’s about you. And living your life now. And not waiting for someone to “complete you.”

And yeah, I’ve got opinions about dating and relationships, but they’re not the ones you’ll hear at those Christian conferences that talk about how true love waits. Mostly because they’re my own. Because I don’t believe there’s a formula to relationships so I’m not going to be the one to say you’re doing it wrong.

It’s not my job to convict you. It’s not my job to believe I know better than you.

But it is my job to encourage you to live each and every moment of your life. Because that’s how I would want you to encourage me.

Life is short. Each moment is a gift. The seconds are ticking away…
And no matter what our relationship status is, we’ve got to embrace them.

Fragile Lives

Last week, I got to meet a friend’s baby for the first time. As I stood there holding all six pounds and nine ounces of this newborn miracle, I couldn’t get over how tiny she was. They grow so fast that I forget how small they start out. How fragile. How dependent.

The truth is, this infant is in desperate need of her mother. But in the not-too-distant future, she’ll forget that. She’ll start sitting up on her own. Before you know it, she’ll start crawling and walking and speaking and doing more and more things all on her own.

And because she’s using the big girl potty, because she doesn’t need anyone to help her button her pants anymore, because she has finally learned to tie her own shoes, she’ll think she’s invincible. She’ll start rebelling against the rules her parents have set for her because she’ll start to imagine she could create a better life for herself. And she’ll forget that her parents do more for her than her little brain can comprehend.

And when I picture the child this infant will become, I see myself in a whole new light. Because I’ve just described my relationship with God in a nutshell.

I forget how fragile, how desperate, how small and dependent I truly am.

According to the world, I’m an adult. I’m legally responsible for myself. And sometimes that makes me forget that I’m not technically doing life on my own. Sometimes I forget I’m not the one calling all the shots and carrying the entirety of the burden.

Last week at Bible study, one of the girls I’m beginning to do life with pointed out how we’re hesitant to follow God’s call on our lives because we’re afraid to take that risk. Or what we think is a risk.

What we think is a risk.

I was so glad she amended that statement. Because it’s true that following God isn’t risky at all. After all, He’s the one who sees the whole path—the big picture. He knows where He’s leading us.

So why am I always convinced that my way is right? Why can I not see that my arguments with the almighty God are about as valid as a four-year-old trying to explain to her mother why it’s a good idea to have candy for dinner? Why can’t I understand that my search for comfort in the moment only leads to ultimate destruction? That God has much greater designs for my fragile life?

I want to be trusting again. As needy and dependent and perfectly at peace as my friend’s newborn daughter.

I need to be reminded of how helpless I truly am, and cradled close to God’s heart today.
Fragile Creatures

Bleeding Hearts and Useless Words

There’s a word that keeps resurfacing in my prayer journal—an adjective I keep using to describe my heart.

Bleeding.

My heart is bleeding. Cracked. Broken. Rubbed raw and aching with the harsh realities of life.

Some of it is my fault—decisions I have made, bitterness I have harbored. But some of it… Some of it is completely out of my control. The only contribution I made to that pain was deciding to love too deeply, but I promised myself long ago that I’d never apologize for that.

So here I stand.

Bleeding.

Which is why I’ve been silent here of late. The words have slipped right through the cracks in my spirit. And I’m laughing to think that I had all the answers right up until it came time to use them, which makes me wonder if perhaps they weren’t the right answers after all.

Because when your heart rumbles and shudders with the force of an earthquake and your soul rips apart at the seams, you find that answers aren’t a strong enough foundation for the process of rebuilding your life.

So what is? What remains when everything else lies in ruins?

It’s simple, really. Simple and short and perhaps a bit cliche:

When answers fail—when words are rendered worthless—love remains.

…Which is a difficult concept for a writer to wrap her mind around. You see, words are pretty much my life. I live off them and in them and for them. I’ve read as many as fourteen novels in a single month and still didn’t get my fill of them. Words. Piles and piles of words.

I’ve never believed in letters that don’t wrap around from front to back. I’ve never learned to stay within the margins of my pages. And when I’m broken, I resort to poetry and prose.

But I realized just the other day that I often fill the silences with fluff as if I’m afraid of fresh, white pages. I realized just now that I craft entire paragraphs when only one sentence is needed. And maybe the message I’m trying to get across is found somewhere in that 500-word-essay, but there’s a chance it got lost amidst all the scribbles in the margins. And after all my assurances, condolences, and cliches, you still stand there. Bleeding.

Because I gave you pages of poetry when all you needed was a simple confession.

“I know that you’re broken. I’m broken, too. But I’m okay to be broken for you.”

Maybe all I needed to say was, “I love you.”
As cliche as that sounds, I love you.
Forever.
For always.
Yes, even in this.

Or maybe I don’t need to say anything at all.

Yes, I think for now I’ll just remain silent and bleed right along with you.

ruins-001