Holding on for Balance

You would think by now I would be used to the strange ways in which God reveals Himself, but I really wasn’t expecting Him to use a self-balancing unicycle. Of course, until yesterday, I had never even heard of a self-balancing unicycle, so I guess my surprise is sort of easy to explain.

But there I was at my friend’s house, watching him demonstrate this fascinating contraption that propels itself forward without pedals. He explained it as a segway without handlebars.

Now, I should probably point out that it’s not entirely self-balancing. While it won’t tip forward or backward, sideways is an entirely different matter. The trick to riding it, Dave said, is to swivel your hips. You can probably imagine the amount of entertainment that ensued. Then it came time for me to be the entertainment.

I was off to a rough start, muttering something about the self-balancing joke, when Dave came up beside me and offered his arm for balance. And then, rather shakily, I was off—propelling forward across the yard. Dave walked alongside me, my hand clutching his arm. Then he sort of jogged alongside me and my hand was merely resting on his sleeve, just in case.

Maybe I was distracted by the fact that I was finally moving, or maybe I simply relied too heavily on Dave. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long before the contraption wobbled and my fingers curled around Dave’s arm once more.

I felt like a child again. Learning to walk with my hands wrapped around my mother’s fingers. Learning to ride a bike with my dad holding onto the handlebars.

Then I started to think of trying to navigate life without God at my side.

I imagine it would look a lot like trying to ride that unicycle without holding onto Dave’s arm. Because despite his assurances that I was a natural, I knew he was the only thing keeping me upright most of the time. I knew I never would have gotten to the point of balancing on my own without first having his arm there to rise and fall, counterbalancing my weight and inspiring the confidence I needed to keep pressing on. I’d have been lost without his gentle reminders to shift my hips and lean forward—always lean forward. The simple truth of the matter is this:

The only reason I was able to start going at all was because I knew he was there to catch me at the first hint of trouble.

And it reminds me of all the times my life has gotten a little shaky and I find myself clinging to God’s arm, struggling to stay upright. It reminds me of all the times I’ve been distracted by the world around me, forgetting those crucial truths that have brought me this far. Just like with the self-balancing unicycle, I jolt upright and reach for anything that will keep me from falling.

That’s when I hear His voice in my ear. “It’s all right. You’ve just got to shift your hips and keep leaning forward—always lean forward.”

And I know the only reason I live so freely is because I have Him by my side. His arm is the one I cling to when the world rocks so crazily that I forget how to steer.

I take more risks than I would without Him because I know He’s there to catch me if I fall. And I feel the smile spread across my face when I’m finally moving forward, almost on my own. But I’m not ready to let go, no sir. I pray I’ll never let go.

Because I know my true security comes from the feel of His arm beneath my hand—the knowing that He will be there to catch me if ever I should fall.

And so I navigate life—a little shakily—but ever so certain of the God at my side.

Don’t Even Think About Quitting

Last weekend, I watched a friend attempt to run a 100k. (That’s 62 miles for those of you who are as uneducated as I was before this momentous day.) So there I was at the halfway point with this big sign that read, “Don’t Even Think About Quitting” when I saw him walking in the distance.

That’s right. Not running; walking. And it wasn’t even speed-walking or “just saving my energy until the next stretch” walking. It was a genuine “something went wrong and my friend was well-past-the-point-of-merely-thinking-about-quitting” walking.

So, my sign didn’t work too well because my friend blew his knee and sort of had to quit. Which is really not an encouraging end to what was supposed to be a motivational story. But the thing is… sometimes quitting is the best possible thing you can do. Because sometimes running makes it worse, and then you’re down for weeks with an injury that could have easily been avoided.

But I’m willing to bet that in this race called life, most times—most times—when your lungs are burning and your calves are cramping and you’re thinking you won’t be able to make it over that next hill, you just need to hear someone cheering you on. You simply need to look up and see that sign that reads,
“Don’t Even Think About Quitting.”

That’s what gives you the drive to make it through another mile, another checkpoint, another incline.

So if it’s all right with you, I want to be your fan club today. I want to be the person who stands on the sidelines, jumping up and down while screaming my lungs out that you -yes, you- can do it. You’ve got what it takes. I believe in you.

And I would be willing to jump in the race and run alongside you if that’s what it takes to convince you that you can make it a little farther. Just a little farther. Because you’re almost there, really. At least, you’re much closer than you were a few miles back. You’ve got this. Really, you’ve got it.

So no matter how loudly your lungs scream for air, no matter how greatly your calf muscles are protesting, no matter how daunting that next incline appears…

Don’t You Think—Even Think—About Quitting.

Coming Home to You

You’d think that after three years, I would have finally beaten these feelings of homesickness. But I haven’t. Not entirely. Lately, I’ve been missing my family. A lot. More than the normal, “Hey, that thing I just saw reminds me of Josiah.” No, this is more like, if you showed me a hundred different ink blots right now, I’d probably find a way to associate every single one of them with home.

Home. I don’t know that there has ever been a word so warm and inviting.

As a noun it means: the place where one lives permanently. As a verb, it is: (of an animal) return by instinct to its territory after leaving it.

Many people have made speculations beyond those definitions, as well. Penelope Stokes wrote: “Home wasn’t where they had to take you in; home was where they wanted to take you in. Home was where you always knew you were welcome, where their eyes lit up at the sight of you.”

For most of my life, I saw home as that place I lived for most of my life—that place I return to several times a year. I envisioned it as the place where my family is waiting with open arms and brilliant smiles.

Then I got a reply from a friend whom I had written in this serious case of homesickness, and his concluding statement knocked the breath out of me.

But I think that there will always be some people (maybe only a few) who you have known for a long time—who you shared experiences with—that, even after extended periods apart, it still feels like you never left home.

I read those words. I reread those words. I edited them for grammatical clarity. And then I began to wonder, perhaps for the first time… Maybe home is not so much a place where you come and go, but a place you carry with you. Maybe, in a way, I’ve been home all along.

And this may sound ridiculously, frighteningly weird, but I want to be home for someone—a place of permanent refuge. The kind of place where you return by instinct simply because you somehow know it’s safe there. I want my words to shelter another in the storm. I want my life to harbor other lives—fragile, broken lives that just need a place to rest and heal and discover that there is beauty on the other side of the abyss.

So this is me coming home to you—creating home for you—and praying you’ll find that home only a heartbeat away from where you are.

The Way I Was

About a month ago, my best friend handed me fifteen pages documenting the last year of her life–the year she was diagnosed with primary lymphedema. It was everything I thought a year in the life of Katie should be. I laughed, I cried, and I walked away with a burning to desire to tell the story of a courageous young woman who dared to embrace the life God handed her. She graciously gave me permission to share these words with you…

Strange how I thought I was in control of my life. I thought that I was in control of my dreams. Like when I was ten and knew, in the very depths of me, that I would be married at seventeen. Well, seventeen came and went.

I thought I was in control of my time. But I realized that time is slipping through my fingers. Time reminds me of the sand I would grasp as a child. I tried so hard to hold onto it. But grain by grain it would be stolen away by the wind, the waves, of the desire to let go and build a castle instead.

I thought I was in control of my body. HA! That sneaky little twit proved me wrong with all the grace and quiet of an avalanche.

Most of the time the reality of my situation seems unreal. But there are days when it hits me. When I feel like one more stair to climb is too much to ask. When someone looks at me in disappointment because I have no energy to “come with” or “hang out” or “chill.”

I’m so glad that I haven’t gone off the deep end because trouble came my way. Without God’s grace I would have. I’m so thankful that I turned to Him. So many of my friends aren’t turning to Him in their trouble… no wonder they feel so hopeless.

I hate when people say, “you’re gonna get better.” Are they God? How do they know that? People have this strange idea that you want them to make you FEEL better or FEEL hopeful, when really all you want is for them to stand by you in the suffering. It’s like those parents who make promises to their children when they’re not really sure. They pacify the need while offering no solution to the need. Why? I feel like God is so honest and open. Sure, He is Great and Mysterious but He’s not out to get me by some form of trickery. He is so crystal clear in His love for me. He doesn’t pacify with promises of “I’m going to heal you, Katie.” But He does promise to never leave me or forsake me.

There are times when I get discouraged and start to complain to God saying, “Why God? Why can’t I just feel good? Why can’t I just live like a normal person?” It is in these times that I am hit with the realization that I’m not on this earth so I can live in comfort and be perfectly happy. I am on this earth to bring glory to my God. When contemplating the suffering of the Son of God, I realize I’m not entitled to a life of ease. My Friend laid down His life for me because He loved me. I want to love Him that way.

God brought me to the place where I COULD NOT live without His helping me to live. He brought me so low and took away so much, not because He hated me, but because He wanted my blinded, starry eyes to see the truth. The truth that this, all this that surrounds us, is but a shadow of real living. All this means nothing without Him. I’m thankful for the agony because it brought me to my knees… where I should have been all along. And I don’t want to be healed if it means that I, in my humanness, go back to the way I was. You see, I couldn’t be desperate for Him until I was TRULY desperate for Him. Every day I’m asking for His help. And every day, He is right by my side.

Katie Beth sometimes believes in as many as six impossible things before breakfast, which is perhaps why she is one of Rebekah’s nearest and dearest friends. This past year, God has taken her on a whirlwind of a trip where she is learning to disappear and let Jesus shine through her suffering. The full version of her story includes a dragon, a Brazilian dancer, and Frank Sinatra… but it might also involve a murder if I dared to share those details with all of you.

The End of the Story

He left a steady job, sold his house, and said goodbye to the woman he planned to marry, all because God called him to some country he knew nothing about. In obedience, he pursued this calling halfway across the world trusting, but never truly knowing, that God had something glorious in store.

He was in the country a whole two weeks before the government sent him home. He was angry, confused, and more than a little bitter. Why? he wondered. God, why did You send me here? Why did You make me sacrifice so much for nothing?

But his sacrifice was not for nothing. Because even as he struggled to find answers, someone else was searching too. Someone else was reading the Bible he left her. Someone else was finding herself found in the One True God. But our friend didn’t know this – almost never knew this. In fact, he could have spent the rest of his life thinking his sacrifice was in vain. Except this new believer tracked him down to thank him. She came to his house to tell him the story of how God spoke to her through His Holy Book and how she was called to minister to her people – something this man had not been allowed to do.

Often, our sacrifices seem to be in vain because we don’t know how the story ends. We don’t know the impact of our love and prayers. We don’t know if the words we’ve spoken bounced off a hardened heart or seeped into fertile soil. We just don’t know. And so we get frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, even. We look to the heavens and ask, “Why? God, why did You send me here? Why did You make me sacrifice so much for nothing?” When all along, our sacrifice is making a bigger impact than we know.

So be encouraged, my friend. Your questions are not the end of the story. Something much greater is at work. And while you may not find your answers this side of eternity, one day you’ll know how the story ends. Don’t give up just because the call may not make sense in this moment. God could be using you to bring hope, change lives, and touch nations.

You just never know…

A Few Other Voices

I thought you might get tired of hearing from me, so I decided to give you all a break today, by instead linking you to three other bloggers who really touched my heart this last week.

1) I’ve been following Sarah Moon for quite some time now and love how open she is with her doubts and questions. I especially love that we don’t always have to agree; she’s open to differing opinions. But she had my heart with this post. Check out how honestly she shares that sometimes you don’t find God in church; sometimes you find Him somewhere else.

2) Ironically, on the tale end of that, I found my way over to Julianna Morlet’s blog where she writes about “unchurching” herself for a season. (Really, I’m not against church or anything. You’ll find me there every Sunday morning.)

3) Don’t worry, it’s not about church; you can breathe easy now. Sarah Nutter is relatively new to the blogging world and extremely new to my world, but I love her already. Check out her post about hating sin and loving grace.

Finding God’s Will For Today

Yesterday, someone walked into my office while the staff meeting was still going on. As he sat on the couch and waited for my co-worker, we struck up a conversation about following God. See, my unexpected visitor was a pastor who is constantly being asked, “How do I discover God’s will for my life?” Naturally, he does what Jesus would do and answers with a question: “Are you following God’s will for today?”

That question really got to me. Knowing what God wants us to do with our lives is a big deal. That’s why we strive so hard to discover His will for our futures, but the bigger question really is, “What is God’s will for today?” That’s what life is made of. A whole bunch of todays. If you start walking in obedience today, it will come a little more naturally in the future.

We tend to easily get caught up in the “someday” mentality. Maybe we think we know God’s will for the future, but that future never comes because we don’t start stepping toward it today. We never do anything to make it happen because it’s God’s plan for “someday.” Someday… after we get all our ducks in a row. Someday… after it falls into our laps without us having to expend any energy. Someday… after we’ve exhausted all our excuses.

Today I encourage you to let go of your “somedays,” stop focusing on the future, and simply ask God what His will is for today.

The Miracle Business

I met Mahek on her 17th birthday, but I never would have guessed she was that old; she was so thin and frail. Mahek was an AIDS victim, wasting away in an Indian children’s home. The doctors had given up hope. There was nothing that could be done for her. My eyes stung with tears as I joined the other children in a chorus “Happy Birthday,” for I knew this birthday would probably be her last.

But God… 

Today I received a Christmas letter from the ministry I visited in July. The first thing I saw was a picture of Mahek, face fuller and healthier than it was this summer. And there I read in her own words that God healed her of the disease I was certain would take her life within a year’s time.

Working at a mission’s organization, I hear miracle stories often. But this one was different. This one was personal. Because Mahek is more than a story; she’s I person I physically connected with. I saw her, I spoke to her, I touched her. I met this miracle.

Today Mahek is a reminder that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Today her life bears witness that Jesus is still in the miracle business. Today Mahek serves as an encouragement to those of you who are waiting for your own miracle.

I’ve been in that place of discouragement before. I’ve waited so long for an answer that I’ve forgotten what it is to hope. If you’re in that place today, I pray that Mahek will serve as an inspiration to you. May her story breathe hope into your heart, and may you believe in miracles once more.

Then There Was Hope

The moment I picked it up off the shelf, I knew that Morris Gleitzman’s Then was going to be a hard read. The book is the fictional story of a ten-year-old Jewish boy living in Poland during the Nazi regime. In a matter of hours, I laughed and cried my way through Felix’s story, and by the end of the book, I was as indignant as its youngest character.  “Bad things aren’t supposed to happen to six-year-old girls,” I found myself screaming at the author. “Don’t you know anything?”

But even as I mentally repeated little Zelda’s catchphrase, my heart clenched because I knew… I knew that Morris Gleitzman knows something most of us live in denial of. Bad things do happen to six-year-old girls. They happen everyday. Then is a beautiful read because it details the darkness of our world without forgetting the hope that walks us through it.

This is a timeless message because, although the Holocaust is over, there are a lot of people who live in fear and bitterness… without hope.

My favorite scene in Then is when little Zelda listens to the story of a little boy who has witnessed the most horrible of massacres. Zelda’s parents were Nazis, but they died and Zelda got mixed up with the Jews. She hates Nazis. She hates her parents. But as this young boy sits weeping before her, Zelda gets out her pencil and draws a picture of a man and woman with their arms around a child. “This is my mummy and daddy,” she says. “They’re Nazis. They’re saying sorry.”

I think all of us could afford to be a little more like Zelda. We should all learn to release our bitterness for the betterment of someone else. We should look for the ones who are hurting and do whatever we can to help ease the pain. To help restore hope. Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that make the biggest difference.

Don’t you know anything?

Tell Me a Story…

Tell me a story any day, and I’ll find Jesus in it. Guaranteed.

That’s why I think it’s funny that there are people who consider fiction a waste of time. Fact is all that speaks to them. Even Christian people. People who have read the entire story of the Bible. People who study the STORIES Jesus told.

I think Jesus told more stories than He preached sermons. Or maybe I just remember the stories. Because I’m not one of those people who wants the facts. I want the story. I want to find my own truth through the eyes of a character. There are certain things you could preach to me all day, and I’d turn a deaf ear. But with a story, you’re presenting the truth in a non-threatening way.

Think of King David. After his sin with Bathsheba, God sent Nathan, not to preach a sermon, but to tell a story. (You can check it out in 2 Samuel 12.) Why? Because if Nathan would have barged in there and told David all he had done wrong, David would have gotten defensive. But Nathan didn’t start pointing fingers. He posed a “hypothetically speaking” story that got David’s blood boiling. And that’s when David acknowledges that he has sinned against the Lord.

The story and the sermon have the same message, but only one reaches the heart of the person who hears it. Because only one is capable of disarming the defenses. After all, what threat is there in a story?

I’m reading a story right now that isn’t even a Christian story. It’s mainstream YA fiction, but I see Jesus all over it. It’s a story about taking risks and finding that some things are worth fighting for. It’s about a girl who has lived all of her life in a bubble and is about to break free.

I’m not sure that I’ve lived in a bubble (leastwise, not so much as the heroine in Ally Condie’s Matched), but I’m definitely on the verge of taking a huge risk, so Cassia’s story has been as encouraging and inspirational as it is well-written.

So tell me a story… and it might just be the thing that catapults me into taking that final step and breaking out of the little world I’ve created for myself.

What stories has God used to challenge you lately?