God, My Questions, and a Stranger

I stared at the foam of my cappuccino as her words broke through the thick fog I’d been walking through since we first landed in Israel. This woman, who just an hour before had been a total stranger to me, was telling me her story and showing me some pretty raw places of her past.

She sighed, but sat with such peace. “I was struggling so much. I was believing so many lies… but God still used me, you know?”

I leaned in and watched the corners of her mouth turn upwards in a smile,

“God is so big, He doesn’t mind.”

As soon as they hit my heart, I knew those were the words I’ve been waiting years to hear.

It took me back to a few years ago, to a day that I’ve heavily carried. My face was soaking wet, my eyes were bloodshot; I was angry, I was afraid, I was barely breathing. I was five bodies deep in grief, and the sixth was being prepared to be put in the ground. I remember standing in that church building with clenched fists and shouting to the top of my lungs, “If God is so big, He can handle my questions!”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I broke. I fell straight to my knees and sobbed on the floor. Countless people passed by me, but I didn’t care how it looked. This was me and God on the battlefield and this was me slinging every last shot I had. I was firing all of my ammunition, this was my win or lose moment. This was the moment when God would either walk off and leave me or lean in and grab me tighter. I was giving Him every reason to finally turn around and walk away, I was pushing Him with every bit of force my tiny fists could muster. I thought for sure that He’d leave, if He hadn’t already.

So flash forward, years later, sitting in Israel across from this stranger. She whispered those words with such peace, such certainty: God is so big, He doesn’t mind.

It felt like I was finally hearing Him respond to that moment, “You were right, I could handle it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that you were weak. It didn’t change anything.”

He’s that big. He isn’t the least bit altered by my anger, weakness, frustration or questions. I’m not a big enough bully that I could make Him walk away.

I think that was Israel for me. All throughout the Bible we see that Israel rejected God, gave Him a million reasons to leave. They hated Him, they pushed Him away, but He stayed and He still stays. He’s there and He has such mercy, even in the war and chaos, even in the grief and in the misunderstanding.

Everywhere I stepped it was a reminder of Him saying, I don’t leave my people. 

I think most people were expecting some kind of post about adventure, climbing mountains, walking on water, exploring ruins of an ancient city. Maybe you thought I’d have some kind of life lesson about enjoying every moment, about living an exciting and free life.

What this post is about is God pressing the play button, after feeling like I’ve been on pause for a really long time. It was His reply to the banging of my fists all those years ago. It was the moment of me finally looking up from weeping on the floor and seeing that even though so many people left, He stayed.

I walked down the Via Dolorosa last week (the road Jesus walked to the cross). I thought a lot about the men who were beating Him, swinging over and over again while watching His body crack and tear. Later I realized that some of the swings they made were for the day I fell screaming in that church floor.

He handled my questions, then. It was finished on that day. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t yet rammed my fists into the floor or shouted furiously, He handled my questions long before that day. God is big enough, that He didn’t mind. He didn’t mind my questions, because He died to give me the answer.

He doesn’t leave, that’s really what Israel gave to me. The reminder that we all have years spent in the desert, years of giving Him a million reasons to go. No matter how long we spend wandering around and walking in circles, He’s big enough, He can handle it, He stays.

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When My Neck Is Sore and My Feet Are Tired

The whole thing started on a blue piece of construction paper. I was sitting in the lobby of one of my favorite places and furiously scribbling for my next blog post.

I kept getting distracted. Something that has been grabbing at my heart lately kept pulling on me. I would write a sentence, pause and let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was playing a long and tiring round of “what if?”

Suddenly, I would remember that I was supposed to be focusing.

I leaned my head back against the wall, “Did they look down, God?”

I was thinking about The Wise Men. The ones who had direction, but no details. They knew what they were headed toward, but they didn’t know what it would take to get there. Follow the star and you’ll find the one who will save your life, that’s all they’d really been given.

Did they look down? I wondered if they ever got tired of holding their heads up and looking at that star.

“Did you use it, God?” That was my next question to Him.

“When their heads got tired of looking up and they felt the need to make a plan, to figure out places to rest, to find food. When they stopped trusting and tried to figure it out, did you use it?” 

When trying to figure out the timing of their journey and when they would arrive, did God factor in all the stops along the way? Did he plan for all the moments they’d get in an argument about whose turn it was to feed the camels?

My mind was all over the place and and I was feeling really guilty because I knew that if I had been on that journey, I would have tried to make maps and schedules. 

I would have tried to make sure all our needs were met, the camels were rested and fed, the path was safe, the other guys did their share of helping out.

I wouldn’t have always believed the star was enough. I would have looked away to draw my maps and make my plans. I get so easily distracted because I so desperately want details.

“Do you use it, God?”

Do you use the moments that I think your guidance seems vague and distant? The moments where I’m just stumbling around out in the desert and trying to figure out if I’m actually any closer than I was yesterday?

“I knew the men I had chosen.”

Suddenly, I felt really free. I didn’t feel Him scold me to rip up all my plans and maps. I just felt Him smile and let me in on an ancient little secret. Yes, He uses it. He uses even my distractions, my moments of distrust, the days that I get tired of looking up at the star and complain that my neck is sore and my feet are tired.

Though wise, those men were not perfect and God had always known that. He didn’t choose the The Perfect Men. He chose the worshippers, the ones who were willing to seek Him out, those willing to offer Him something they valued.

And when they left, God made sure He told them which way to go. He gave them a dream, He made sure they heard Him.

He knew the men He had chosen.

The Wise Men weren’t just wise because of their title, or even because they perfectly followed the star. They were ultimately wise because when God needed them to change the path, they were flexible to change their plans, they were ready and listening. They didn’t just trust the star, they trusted the One who put it up there in the first place.

He chose you and He knows you.

Just come, exactly as you are.

With your arms full of maps, schedules, poorly wrapped gifts. Just come. With your holiday frustration, your to-do list, the feelings that the star isn’t enough and that you’d like a few more details. Come, just as you are and bringing whatever you have.

Just come looking for Him. Keep coming, even if you yelled at Balthazar this morning for not brushing the camels.

Keep walking even without all the answers, and know that the proof of your trust is not in your perfection, but in the way you keep coming.

Sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell…

I’ve been replaying this memory in my head.

A while back, someone walked up to me weeks after we’d met and said “You may not remember me…”

I was stunned, absolutely speechless. I just kept quiet and went along with it. The whole time this person was talking and reminding me of that first introduction (one that was relatively significant), all that kept rolling through my mind was, Do you… do you actually think you could be so easily forgotten?

Looking back, I wish I had grabbed their shoulders, stared straight in their eyes and said, “You are better than multiple introductions given with a shaky voice, and thinking someone wouldn’t remember your golden smile.”

But those aren’t things we say to people, especially not on our second interaction. We smile politely and ask about their hometown, career, or where they went to college. We don’t drown them in words of value from the first second. We just go through the motions and keep to ourselves all the things we immediately love about them.

We restrain ourselves. We’re always holding back. We’re always trying to do what’s proper, because reservation has become synonymous with dignity. But when did hesitancy and suppression become virtues? Who decided that it was unbecoming to exuberantly and extravagantly tell someone how wonderful they are as soon as you meet them?

I met some amazing people over the weekend and it shook me.

It happened after I was thrown into a room of middle-aged parents, people who are in entirely different stages of life than I am. And there I was, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t want to speak too loudly, express myself too extravagantly. I wanted to appear poised and collected.

And then suddenly, sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell, “Where did you come from? You are my people! You’re amazing! I love you!”

For a second, I felt exposed and childlike. I felt like I had just belched at a banquet table in The White House.

Until their faces spread into the widest grins. They laughed and both gave me strong, lengthy hugs and words of equal affirmation.

It was then that I realized that no other words could have been more valuable, more remarkable. I had in one swift outburst, burned the bridge of detachment that I had always been told was mature and professional upon meeting someone.

I immediately went back to that memory I’d been mulling over and whole-heartedly wished I had handled it in that same manner. I wished that I would have grabbed that person, the one who had put on a name-tag that said Stranger. Oh, that I would have excitedly pulled them in and called them Known.

We keep letting people in our lives label themselves Stranger. We wait…sometimes months, sometimes years. After numerous surface-level interactions, we might then graduate to a casual compliment or vocally acknowledge their value. We give nods and half smiles, feeling uncomfortable to go beyond that. We don’t know them, after all. It would be weird to say something of actual consequence.

But how odd it is that we have to give ourselves pep-talks to interact with people we see daily, weekly, monthly. Isn’t it disheartening that using terms of endearment for other humans takes years, when using them for pets is an instant reaction.

We generously use our most meaningful and affirming words on puppies or kittens, but hold them back for years from the people across the street or down the hall.

Our craving to appear impressive and eloquent leads us to being neither. I’m learning that there’s nothing impressive about my holding back from others my pure and joyful adoration for them, the delight I feel when they are simply themselves. Even if I’ve only known them a few short moments.

The world has enough dignified people who paint inside the lines, fold their hands, and craft their words. What the world really needs are the finger-painters who might make a mess, but whose words are ones of love unrehearsed and love unreserved.

I Heard Him Whisper

I’m still a little surprised I heard Him.

Over the sound of buzzing lights and a thunderstorm brewing outside, I heard Him whisper.

I slipped off my socks and shoes. My bare feet standing on a dirt covered floor, I tried to follow His lead.

It’s a little bit of an awkward thing, if I’m being honest, to be invited to dance with one who is bigger than the room you’re in. You can’t exactly wrap your arms around Him.

But I think that’s what I’ve always liked about God: I can’t take over, take control. I’m far too small to take the lead.

I keep thinking about this time that my sister and I tucked ourselves away in this barren cabin in the mountains of Tennessee. We spent hours in silence, waiting for God to show up.

He showed up when we were hiking and face to face with a black bear. And while there were others standing by in awe, I was trying to figure out the best way to get off of the mountain. I was drawing maps and making exit plans, all the while yelling at those who thought this terrifying being was something remarkable.

While I was angry, (and thought everyone had seemingly lost their minds) I envied them. I craved the ability to trustingly stand shoulder to shoulder with something that had the power to crush me.

When a thunderstorm comes, my Dad loves to go out on the porch and watch God do his work.

I always tell him to come inside, it isn’t safe to stand so close.

But barefoot and whirling around that room as thunder echoed, I told God that I didn’t want to run from Him any longer. Though my knees might always knock, I wanted the risk of loving a God that could flatten me.

To love something that’s big enough and mysterious enough to prove me and all of my ideas wrong. Someone who, just by showing up, shows me that my grandest plans are weak, at best.

I think that’s the kind of faith I’ve always wanted. To love something that just might cost me everything. I want to stand as close as possible to something I can’t control and resist my instinct to run away.

There will always be moments we never saw coming.

When our feet are taken out from under us. It’s that moment when you’ll wonder if God is going to break you. He could, you know. He could choose to break your heart. He could make a whole big lesson out of something precious to you. He could deny you all the things you keep telling him are the best thing for you.

But what we choose to do with Him will define the season.

Sometimes you go on a long walk and rain starts pouring before you make it home. You can always duck in somewhere, take cover, hope it passes, and try to make it home later.

Or you can just keep going. You will get soaked, but you will make it home.

I want to get where God’s taking me, even if it doesn’t always go exactly the way I planned. I want to keep believing it’s all because He loves me. I want to stand next to Him, to be close enough to hear Him breathe, to whisper.

I want to accept that whispered invitation, even if I’m left with dirty feet and stumbling around when He seems too big to follow.

Love Is Graham Crackers and Hospital Rooms

I never really understood love until Sunday when I was sitting in the emergency room.

He was screaming, tears running down his tired, red face. Pressed close to me, it was like holding fire, he was so hot and in such pain. I’ve never felt more helpless. I’ve never felt more afraid.

It was a few hours before they finally got his fever down.  As he sat up, still leaning on my chest, he began to eat his graham crackers and drink his juice. I felt oxygen fill my lungs again, I’d been holding my breath for so long.

There we were, covered in crumbs and my shirt soaked with sweat, tears, snot, and juice—I’ve never looked worse and I could not have cared less. And it clicked, there in that uncomfortable chair in the darkness of that hospital room.  Love is graham crackers and hospital rooms–all your prayers being for someone else, forgetting yourself. It’s about not caring that you look like a train-wreck, or haven’t had more than four hours of sleep. It’s about them, what they need, the pain that’s wrapped around them.  Not for a second is it about you—for however long necessary, you’re the last thing on your mind.

I never really got that until I was holding that baby boy who needed someone to put him first and that person was me; for some crazy and unknown reason, it was me.

I’ve never been forced to be so selfless.

I’ve never had to daily run out the door without checking a mirror, to give up on changing shirts because even when you do, crushed blueberries will still end up staining the front. To skip meals, to crawl out of bed before the sun comes up to change a diaper, to listen to pirate stories on repeat, to dance to the same annoying music (over and over again).

I’ve been put in a world where my hair, my skin, my work-outs, my clothes, my sleep, my hunger, my feelings are not the most important thing. I don’t come first. There are moments when I think that I’m going to lose my mind. There are days when I nearly weep in the middle of the grocery store because they put Goldfish in the most ridiculously hidden section of the store. But even so, I’m so content and blissfully happy, relieved to be living (even for a little while) a life that can’t be about me.

Life is harder (ridiculously harder), but so much sweeter when I’m not my first priority.

Their parents will come home tomorrow night and I will rejoice. I will sigh at the reality that I can go back to a full night’s sleep, three meals a day and nights out with friends. But I hope I’ll still have some residue of this week, some juice stains that don’t wash out, some graham cracker crumbs that keep falling out of my pockets. A realization that there’s this incomparable joy when we forget ourselves in pursuit of loving someone else. That there are more important things than which show I’ll watch next on Netflix, or which coffee shop has a better latte. Those things will always matter (especially my lattes) but they’re not the priority, they’re not even close to being the purpose of why we’re really here.

There’s something so much deeper, so much greater to life when we look past ourselves.  It’s sticky and loud, it gets in the way, it is scary, messy, and exhausting, but it’s beautiful–it’s love. And it turns out that it is worth a lot more to me than myself.

You Will Learn to Dream Again

I got it all.

I had written my dreams on a white piece of poster board. I laid it all out there and decided to believe it was possible.

In just a few short days, I got it all.

It happened exactly like one of those end-of-the-movie moments. My dreams all started coming true and I felt alive in every limb and ligament. Finally, so much of my life made sense. All the years of pain, preparation, prayer. It had all brought me to that perfect moment. 

My time had finally come.

To be honest with you, it was just as glorious as I had always imagined, maybe even more so.  It was like everyone had gotten a copy of the script I had spent years writing in my wildest dreams; all were playing their role so perfectly. Never before or after have I experienced such an incredibly unblemished season.

Still, I tiptoed carefully. I could never shake wondering if it could really last forever? 

It didn’t.

Sitting there with a table full of everything I could want in front of me, the tablecloth was ripped off and I watched everything crash to the floor in slow motion. I wasn’t prepared. (But you can’t ever really prepare yourself for that moment, that instant second when all oxygen is barricaded from your lungs and your heart is drained of every last drop of hope it ever held.)

There are many days when I’m still sweeping up those crumbs. It has been a lot to clean up. There had been nearly nothing left on that table. And every single dream that had survived the pulling of that tablecloth was eventually stolen while I was down on my knees scraping up the remnants of those messy conversations.

It’s hard to dream again after that. It’s hard to get back up in that chair, pick up that menu and try again.

For a while, I tried. I decided to stay at the same table. I kept trying to order those same dishes. Maybe if I just kept trying, I could get it all back. But eventually, those things I always wanted stopped being an option; they were taken off the menu.

So, I moved on. I changed restaurants, outfits and opened up an entirely different menu. Soon I realized that I still couldn’t order. I couldn’t just decide to get a new dream, not after knowing that it could all so quickly be taken away.

Having your dreams become reality, getting everything you want, having your every desire fulfilled isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Because no one can promise you that those things will stick around. They aren’t guaranteed and they don’t come with a warranty. Believe me when I tell you that you can’t just get a new one. You can’t just “pick something else”. 

I thought I could, I thought for a while that it would be that easy. But it’s never going to be that simple.

You’ll get your heart set on something and when it’s suddenly removed from the menu, you won’t know how to be content with anything else. You won’t know how to settle for just picking something else. 

You’ll get that job, or that degree. You’ll find that person. You’ll move to that country. And for as long as life allows, you’ll be over the moon and you’ll sip thousands of cups of peppermint tea and be so incredibly thankful. 

Because this isn’t a Charles Dickens’ novel, or a trick, or a Hallmark movie. Things aren’t taken away from you only when you aren’t grateful or because you took them for granted.

Sometimes you love something with every cell of your being, sometimes you work hard and with unwavering loyalty. Sometimes you say thank you a thousand times a day for just a few seconds of having something so incredibly wonderful at your fingertips.

Sometimes you lose it anyway.

Just know that I don’t have answers about such questions and I finally gave up checking the back of the textbook for them. I don’t know how to solve for X on that equation. 

But believe me when I tell you that you will get hungry again. You’ll start wanting new things, but sometimes it takes a while. It might be years of perusing thousands of menus, only to find yourself disappointed that nothing seems to appeal the way the former things did.

Even so, there will be something that eventually plants itself under your nose. One day, you’ll look down and you’ll realize that right there in your line of sight is something that sounds incredibly inviting and it will be worth ordering, worth trying, worth wanting. You’ll smooth the napkin in your lap, ask for what you want and you’ll risk the tablecloth being ripped off all over again.

You will learn to dream again, I promise you that.

But there’s a lesson in the losing. There’s something to be gained from your months or years of scraping things up off the floor. Those things aren’t and could never be permanent. That may turn out to be one of life’s harshest realities, but it is true nonetheless. Nothing is permanent. But we can’t let that keep us down with our knees in the carpet, cleaning up yesterday’s messes. Eventually, you’ve got to get back up.

That’s life: dreaming, winning, losing, fighting, forgiving and starting all over again.

So forgive the ones who ripped off the tablecloths, the waiters who told you that they no longer serve that dish and decide to try something new. Wipe off what you’ve been trying to scrape back onto plates, long after the five-second-rule expired. You are free to dream and try new things. When you are once again hit with the reality that dreams are temporary, you’ll learn to also see it as a chance to do more and see more than you first could have imagined.

Maybe you were never meant for just one dream. Maybe sometimes losing one simply leads to gaining so many more.

Unplugging and Reinventing

I’ve forgotten how to be enchanted.

We live in a world where text messages are considered pursuit, apps can act as a crystal ball for choosing your future spouse, phone calls are for old people and face to face dinners where phones stay tucked in our pockets are almost extinct.

I used to spend weekends watching movie after movie. My sister and I would curl up with cups of tea, bags of snacks and sit under piles of blankets. I never once watched a movie where people stared at their phones during dinner or sat in rooms silently scrolling through Facebook for three hours. If I had watched a movie where people paused at every meal, street corner, or flower to take a picture and Instagram it, I would have never made it to the ending.

I’ve been consumed by the wrong kind of light. The glow of my computer and phone have dulled my eyes to what’s truly beautiful.

I miss being inspired by grand gestures. I miss believing that people care enough to run through airports, that we live in a world where it’s possible for people show up on your porch. I miss being the person who is willing to go to great lengths to let people know they really matter. I miss believing that other people are willing to do that for me.

I want to live in a world where girls know they’re beautiful because someone looks them right in the face and says it, not because they got 174 likes on their selfie.

I want to live in a moment and not feel the need to have 844 people approve it or admire it. I want to live in a world where it’s still fun to have sweet secrets. I want to dance alone in my room like a fool if flowers are delivered to my door. I want to treasure and cherish surprises and not spoil the intimacy and thrill of a gesture that whispers, “I thought of you today.

We forget to live. It’s really that simple. We forget to spend our last moments before we fall asleep thinking about the way someone made us laugh that day. Our phones are the first thing we grab in the morning, so we forget to take a second to even be thankful that we’ve got another day, another chance to show up.

The things we love in movies are the things we wish we could do, but have completely closed ourselves off to. We love the extravagant speeches, when the plain-jane girl finally gets asked to dance, and when the guy stands outside with a boombox over his head. You actually have to show up to do those things. You’ve got to get in your car and go to them for that to happen.

You know, I’d weep buckets of tears if we started swooning in movie theaters as we watched George Clooney send a text that said, “What are you up to?”

All of this to say: I’m unplugging for a little while. 

Because I want to enjoy a sunset without grabbing my phone. I want to be forced to do something more than run my fingers over a keyboard to tell someone I really miss you.

I can’t expect this from others, without requiring it of myself. It starts with me. I have to learn how to look away from my phone, Facebook and anything else that gives me a false sense of relationship. I want people to know what’s happening in my life because we sat down and had lunch. I want to be forced to remember my closest friends’ birthdays without having to be told by a screen. I want to stand in front of someone and say “Hey! You’re pretty awesome” with a hug and a bag of their favorite chocolate.

So, I’m unplugging from social media for the next little bit. I don’t have a set time, I guess it will be however long it takes for me to feel excitement rebuilding in my bones; however long it takes for me to have made a dent in reinventing the way I see the world.

But not to worry, things will be written and the blog will go on! I’m excited to see how it will refuel my passion for life and help me create new content. I’ve got a feeling that good things are on the way.