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.

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.

My Heart is Not as Daring as Your Desire

“My heart is not as daring as your desire.”

When I read these words, penned by Steven James, I’m struck by the truth of them. The things You want for me are so much bigger than the life I would create for myself. It’s not that I don’t desire Your will; it’s that I’m afraid of pursuing it. Afraid of the path it will lead me down.

I know that, ultimately, You want what is best for me, but I know from past experience that the refining process is painful. So very painful.

It’s not Your desire that I’m afraid of, really. Those things You want for me… I want them too. More than anything. Well, almost anything. I guess I don’t want them more than I don’t want to face the mountains in the distance. I guess I don’t want them more than I want to avoid the dragons that lurk along the way.

“My heart is not as daring as your desire.”

It isn’t. I’m not the storybook heroine, charging full-speed ahead toward my great and glorious destiny.

I am Rapunzel, clinging to the comfort of my tower.

I am Sleeping Beauty, hands folded peacefully across my chest.

I am Cinderella, sleeping in a pile of ashes because I’m not brave enough for princes and ballgowns.

I say I want adventure, but I’m lying. I want what is comfortable. Familiar. Safe.

“My heart is not as daring as your desire.”

Most days, I’m perfectly happy in my prison because it means I don’t have to be finding my way in this great, wild world. But deep within my heart, there’s this prick of conviction—sharper than the spindle that put me to sleep.

“My heart is not as daring as your desire.”

But it should be. And it could be, if only I would let it.

God, You know that ultimately I want Your will. It’s just that mine so often gets in the way…

I’m torn between the Life You Offer and the Life I Demand From You.

So please, make me brave enough to dare all that You desire.

And when You call me out of this prison tower, let me spring from the ledge with both feet.

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.

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

You are a Beautiful Woman

distorted reflections“You are a beautiful  woman,” he said.

A sigh wrestled with the smile on my mouth as I told him to play the cards. Just play the cards already.

Three hours later, I stood before my bedroom mirror in my Easter dress with my curls undone and I repeated his words aloud. “You are a beautiful woman.”

It’s funny that those words can have such an impact on me even when they are spoken by a guy who is gloating that my discard just helped him effectively triple my score in gin rummy. But they do. Because they remind me of something I’ve always known, but have a hard time remembering:

God makes beautiful things. I’m a firm believer of that. And yet, I don’t always let that knowledge slip from my head to my heart. I don’t always feel beautiful. But I am.

I am a beautiful woman.

And it’s crazy how simply speaking those words aloud can leave me breathless, reeling with the possibility that maybe, just maybe they’re true. Maybe I am beautiful. Maybe I am desirable. Maybe I’ve got more worth than I ever ascribed to me.

I don’t think of myself as an insecure human being. I’m not one to string lies into titles and lay them upon myself, but I do sometimes struggle with the word beautiful. With my vision of it and God’s vision of it. Because I often see beauty as that illusive image even the most desirable woman in the world can’t hold onto for long.

But that’s not what beautiful is.

Beautiful is any vessel God has crafted for His glory, even though they’ve long forgotten to find beauty in the curves of the clay that gives them form.

Beautiful is the colors cast upon the floors of God’s house by a stained glass window that is comprised of all the broken and flawed pieces of you.

Beautiful is the bride of Christ dancing in her Lover’s arms.

Beautiful is you.

Yes, you.

You are a beautiful woman.

And maybe that thought has been elusive for too long, but today I encourage you to take hold of it. Cradle it close to your heart. Roll it around and around on your tongue until it finds a home there.

Because you are a beautiful  woman. And you’ve been forgetting that far too long.

The Needy Kind

I once informed my family that I was going to spend some time with Jesus.

“Tell Him I said, ‘hi,'” my mom said.

Then my brother (who was not five, but twenty-three) chimed in, “Tell Him I want a pony.”

We all got some laughs out of that one, but when I sit down and really think about it, I find that the confession that slips off my tongue is, “I’m not really the needy kind, except when it comes to You.”

Because I’m pretty independent. I’m not one to ask people for help until I’ve tried it on my own and discovered that I really can’t do it. But that’s not the case when it comes to my prayer journals. And I’m not saying that every page details me asking for a pony. There are days where I write out lists of things I’m thankful for and marvel at how God managed to blow my mind yet again, but when I flip through the pages that reflect my spiritual walk, I find that so many of my prayers include me asking for something.

To be sheltered close to God’s heart.

To learn to see with His eyes.

That God will grant favor to that missionary who is very much a part of my heart.

That I will find joy in His presence and hope in the hard times.

And I think, when’s the last time I shut myself away from the world simply to tell God “hi”?

I can’t remember. I think there was a time, once, when I would wake up in the morning and whisper a greeting to the One who shapes my days, but it has been too long ago. I’ve become needy in all the wrong ways.

Or maybe the problem is that I’m not needy enough.

I want to be the kind of needy that craves time spent in His presence.

I want to be the kind of needy that reaches out to Him the moment I wake up.

I want to be the kind of needy that can’t live without knowing He’s right by my side every, single moment of the day.

I want to be the kind of needy that doesn’t need answers; only Him.

And if I have one request today, it’s that He would be enough.