Not My Will

If I were ever to introduce myself at any kind of Anonymous meeting, it would look something like this: “My name is Rebekah and I’m a control freak.” Although, I’m not sure they have support groups for people like me because it’s awfully hard to have a meeting where everyone is in charge.

My support group consists of individuals who speak truth into my life whether I welcome it or not. Take for instance my manager Kathy. She’s my sounding board for a lot of things because, while she loves me and is invested in my life, she’s also far enough removed from my personal situations to provide the completely objective third party opinion I so desperately need.

Our most recent dump-fest involved me pouring out my little heart and confessing that I didn’t know what to do with the mess I had created of things.

“Maybe that’s the point,” Kathy said.

I stood there quietly, waiting for the real advice, because that obscure statement was not about to cut it.

“You know, sometimes you just have to step back and say, ‘Not my will.’ Not Rebekah’s will. Rebekah wants to be the ******* dictator.”

(You know, for a completely objective third party observer, this just got profoundly personal.)

Ahem.

Not my will.

The words, as you may well know, were made famous by Jesus when He asked God for a different path to redemption. In that light, it makes me feel pretty pathetic for even complaining because my cup of suffering has nothing on what Jesus was walking through.

And yet, even before the cross, Jesus humbled Himself enough to surrender all control, confining Himself to a human body with all of its human limitations. (Okay, so maybe not ALL of the human limitations. Most of us can’t exactly walk on water.) The God who shaped the stars revealed Himself to the world in the form of a helpless newborn babe.

The ******* dictator in my cringes.

I’m still learning to surrender myself to the mercy of others. I’ve spent the last three years in Ohio learning how to be the staying kind of fearless. Striving to make the word Together sound like a desirable thing. I am on my way to becoming less independent, but moments like these remind me that I am not there yet.

I’m not the kind of fearless a small child can be. There aren’t many people I trust to keep me from falling when I throw myself into their arms.

I’d rather hold the whole world together on my own, thank you very much.

But I’m learning—-ever so slowly and stubbornly and all of that stuff—-that I can’t dictate every single detail of my life and that my will fails me more often than not because, no matter how desperately I try, I don’t actually control the cosmos.

But here I am, still standing even as everything crumbles around me. And I realize that I don’t have to hold the whole world together in the palms of my hands. I don’t have to be the ******* dictator.

And for the first time in a long time, I’m okay with that. For the first time in a long time, I can say, “Not my will” without fearing what the future holds.

And maybe that’s the point.

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!

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.

Braving the Waters

Oswald Chambers said that faith is deliberate confidence in the character of a God whose ways you may not understand at the time.

I like that. I like that faith is not just a shot in the dark—a frantic grasping at something unknown. While the circumstances may be uncertain, our God is not. We can be confident in His character. We can trust our Father’s heart.

That’s what faith is, isn’t it? It’s being that child who launches himself into his father’s arms, never doubting that his daddy will be faithful to catch him.

I’ve watched a lot of children interact with their fathers. I’ve had a lot of children place their unwavering trust in me. Believe me when I say that kids don’t hesitate, not once you’ve earned their implicit trust. They don’t stand at the drop-off and wonder if this will be the one time you fail to catch them. They just jump.

I remember so clearly that day at the beach. I was maybe eight or nine at the time—old enough  that I should have been confident enough to play in the ocean waves, but I wasn’t. I never did like water. I always did fear the unknown.

So I sat on the shore and watched my family splash in the surf until my dad decided he wanted me to be more than an observer in our family vacation. I was hesitant, but he promised he wouldn’t let anything happen to me. He promised he wouldn’t let go of my hand.

When that wave washed over my head and ripped me from his grasp, I was angry. There I was, somersaulting through the surf, wondering when I would finally get the opportunity to breathe again, and thinking of how my father had betrayed me. He promised nothing would happen. He promised he wouldn’t let go.

I think we have it on video… that moment where I stormed back to shore and buried my face in my knees because I didn’t want to look at my dad after that. But when I think back to that day at the ocean, I realize that maybe Dad wasn’t the one who let go. Maybe in that moment the water crested above my head and my mind started screaming at me to retreat, I did exactly that. Instead of bracing myself for impact, I let go of my father’s hand.

And my feet came up, and my head went down, and the sky and the sand and the sky came to meet me over and over again. And when I finally came up, sputtering for breath, I was too disoriented to realize that he had been right there all along, reaching to pull me back to my feet, keeping his promise that he wouldn’t leave me alone in the ocean.

This happened with my earthly father only once, but I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve braved the waves with my Heavenly Father only to find myself running scared when the waters rise above my head.

I think I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve stopped accusing Him of being the one to let me go under, but I don’t know if I’ve quite reached the point where I fully trust Him to hold me steady when the waves come crashing down.

But I want to.

Because I don’t want to be afraid of life. I don’t want to be beaten by the waves. I want to live with deliberate confidence in my Father’s character. I want to face the ocean with Him. I want to say to the entirety of the sea, “You cannot defeat me.” Not because I am stronger than the tides, but because my Father commands them.

I wonder what it would have looked like that day at the beach had I not turned back toward shore when that wave began to swallow me. I wonder what would have happened if I had clung to my father’s arm instead. I wonder if I would have opened my eyes to find us standing safely on the other side.

It’s too late for my childhood self, but not too late for the Rebekah who wades the oceans of life with the God who spoke them into being.

So as this next wave rises above my head, I don’t think of retreat.

My Father has my hand. My Father has my heart. My Father has my faith.

We go under.

braving the waters

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?

Little Faith; Big God

I don’t know why I ask such big things of God while expecting so little. I don’t know why I can’t manage to muster that mustard-seed faith that moves mountains. And I really don’t know why God is willing to overlook my doubts and hesitations and move the mountains anyway.

I wore holes in the knees of my jeans on Thursday morning, only to be surprised the following afternoon when God showed up and said, “I got this,” by proving that He does.

In my heart, I know that He does. But somewhere in that culture-tainted, life-stormed, tragically-logical part of my mind, I’ve stopped looking for miracles. Stopped hoping that God will redeem that which has been torn apart by the world.

Why is it that I can dissolve into puddles of tears, begging for redemption, and then be surprised when God proves to me again that such redemption exists?

God looks at me and shakes His head. “O ye of little faith…”

That gentle reprimand sticks to my heart, convicting me as it has a thousand times before. And I find myself repeating the words of the man whose son was demon-possessed. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I’m thankful for a God who is bigger than my faith. A God who doesn’t need my unerring belief to make beautiful things of the messes. I’m thankful that, regardless of my unworthiness, God still works miracles in my life. He still allows me to be part of them—to observe from a distance or stand in the midst of it all.

I may have little faith, but I have a big God.

I stand in awe again.