For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects - bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. Mark 9:24
I’m asking a lot of questions lately. I’ve got a fairly analytical personality as it is and some days, question-asking seems something of a compulsion. Ever since I possessed the abilities of cognition and speaking, I have been asking all sorts of questions starting with words like: Why? What? What if? How? and so on. Usually these questions give rise to even more questions. This is particularly true of my walk these days.
As some have said, this season is very much akin to walking through a thick and impenetrable fog. We put our hands out in front of us, trying to find our way through the thick vapors that surround us, hugging our skins like a heavy shroud. We can’t see the next step and we wonder: is this the one that will send me tumbling over a cliff and land me on jagged rocks a thousand feet below? We’re learning to trust in this place, occasionally pausing to ask God where He is, if we’re moving in the right direction, if we should keep moving at all, and if He could (please? now?) extend His hand to cut through the fog and guide us by the light of a clear day.
Where, God? And when? Do I sit still and wait? Or do I keep walking?
And then the silence. We remember His promises which, though they are not the answers we’re seeking, basically boil down to trust me. I am faithful. Trust me. And though I do not like it, it is a kind of answer.
But the tangle of questions persists: How will I know if I’m supposed to keep walking, or if I’m supposed to sit and wait for God? How can I move forward when my body is so frail and tired and yet, physical frailty has not limited the saints of God from ministering in their areas of giftedness in the past, so is this something I need to learn to push through? If I push through, it seems that I’m not honoring my body’s need for rest and yet, if I honor my body’s need for rest, it seems that nothing at all is happening. What if in my stillness, I’m not being obedient? But then again, does my stillness limit God?
I get frustrated and confounded with this line of reasoning.
Could it be that what I see as a fantastic mess is really a single thread in a larger tapestry? Could it be that one day, this will make sense in an expanded context, as a chapter in a larger story? Could it be that what I think of as a desire to serve God is really my own desire to be relevant, to provide something meaningful?
Truth is, I just don’t know. That’s as honest an answer as I can give. These questions still cling to me like the fine strands of a cobweb. They irritate and irk and annoy me, I want to brush them off but they persist in their clinging. Sometimes I can’t see them, but I can feel them touching my body: covering my eyes, tickling my arms and legs, tight around my belly. Despite my persistent brushing and slapping and clawing, they cling to me. The questions kick and scream with life in spite of being starved for answers. My internal dialogue goes round and round, ending where it started, and starting yet again.
And so I keep doing what I know: asking, waiting, and opening my hands. I keep feeling like the questions are holding me back, keeping me frozen and unable to make any meaningful progress toward that for which I was created, at least not the kind of "progress" as I'm accustomed to thinking of it (how very modern-western-thought of me!). It could be that in God's eyes, I'm exactly where I need to be. I just wish I knew. I just wish I could be sure, or at least more certain than I am.
It's easy to think that my faith is just fine, thank you in a place where there is clarity and certainty. Then I remember: just like a muscle does not get strong without resistance, neither can faith increase without it. Certainty and answers are easy and do nothing for my faith; in fact, certainty and answers are faith's opposite. But it's in places like this where the fog is heavy and thick, where the fine silky strands of the cobwebs are knit around me so tightly that removing myself from them is impossible, that my faith muscle is being tested. And it hurts. It is work: there is sweat and strain and soreness.
Maybe I just need to trust that God is handling this, that watching and waiting is all He's calling me to in this moment. Maybe I just need to remember that God knows His plans for me better than I do, and that He will clear a way when it's time for me to walk in it.
I guess part of what frustrates me is that I feel like a got such a clear glimpse of what that is when I was with you this past week: I see it and I trust it. Finally. And I want it to be now.
But it's not time and the questions thrive and multiply inside me exponentially. I want both: I want to trust God in the midst of my questions, and I want to take each question and tie a scarf over its eyes, string it up, tie a noose around its neck. And then I really want to be the one that kicks out the stool on which the question stands and watch while it flails and finally, dies.
But I don't think that day will ever come. I think I'm learning what it is to live by faith, not by sight or answers or certainty or a clear blueprint laid out in front of me. It's unnerving sometimes. But He is here. And He knows. And while I don't know what or when or how, I know Him.
Gals, I just have to tell you, last night was awful. I almost called one of you or all of you but I couldn't bring myself to it.
I don't even really know how to explain what happened. I felt like wave after wave of hopelessness and discouragement came over me. Everything from, "I'll never see them again," and, "We'll never be able to keep in contact online," to, "I can't possibly start the business I've been thinking about, and even if I do I'll never be able to get any clients," and, "I'll be stuck in this life forever and never get to build what I want to build," to...well, you get the idea. I felt like every insecurity that I'd felt over the last week or so paraded out and they all had a big party in the street. Yeah...it was bad. I don't know if this is true, but it felt then like there'd never been another time when I'd felt like the world and myself in it sucked quite that much.
I didn't know what to do, and it felt so scary, so I prayed, then picked up a book and turned on the television and tried to, temporarily at least, fill the space with something other than that howling wind. Not the world's best solution, but I felt like I just had to make it stop.
And the worst part was, it's all lies. I know that. I knew it then, and it didn't even seem to matter. The feelings and the fear had latched onto my heart and wouldn't let go, even when confronted with truth, and even when cried into my shower.
This is new territory for me and I'm not sure what to make of it. Is it Satan (that jackass!!)? Did our time together open up some places and things in my that I don't even know about yet, but that manifest themselves this way? Is it the fact that I messed slightly with my pills this month?
My best guess is that it was some combination of at least the first two, and maybe the third as well. I do know that our time together touched me in ways I don't know what to do with yet. My tears are so close to the surface this week, you'd think I rubbed my eyes with onion, and that's unusual for me. And when things open for me like that, Satan tends to try to climb right in, too, to poison the growth or at least make me wonder if it's worth it (though it always is).
So I guess I'm walking through the fog with y'all. What does it all mean? Where do I go from here? I don't know, but if last night is any indication (you know, in case anyone was still wondering), our time together was deeply important for me, and where I go with it today and tomorrow is, too.
We've been talking a lot about standing in the crucible, feeling the fires of purification burn over us as we withstand the heat and cling to God's grace to keep us whole and firm in the midst of it. But the past couple days, all I can think about is walking in a fog. Do you remember the post that Sarah wrote about standing in a fog, her hands outstretched and trusting that Jesus was there somehow, even though she couldn't feel Him? That's kinda how I feel these days. I'm at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and any second now I know I could amble right over a thousand-foot cliff . . . and yet I trust that He is there, guiding me, even if He is silent and even if His directives seem slow in the coming. He knows what He is doing, even if I don't.
I think this goes back to what we mentioned a couple times during our time together about each of us having a reason to feel we don't belong to the group. When you asked me what mine was, I told you it was having lived so much more life in the past 10 years than most people in their 20s ever do. I'm the only one of us who got married in college. I'm the only one of us that's been divorced. I'm the only one of us who has been married twice. Not just in our circle, but in most circles: these facts make me feel like an oddball.
But on the plane ride home, I considered this question further. I realized there's a more present way I feel a sense of aloneness inside our supportive friendship. It has to do with the path I've chosen. It's not just my decision to walk away from the security of full-time work, though that plays a part in it. It's not just my decision to complete two grad programs during this time apart, though that's a part of it, too.
Really, it's what these incremental decisions have to say about the larger scope of my life. I'm being called to create something. When I left the working world, I had a sense that this thing I'd be creating would be Storychange. About halfway through my business program, my confidence in this began to falter. I started thinking this thing I'd been called to create would be a ministry of some sorts, instead of a business. Perhaps a private practice for spiritual direction. Perhaps a retreat center of sorts. And as I finished the demands of my business program, which included an actual business plan and investment pitch presentation for Storychange, some of that initial fire I had for this idea crept back in. I still wonder . . . is Storychange the path I'm meant for?
I don't know the answer to that question. What I do know is what it felt like to offer words at graduation that extended a sense of dignity and wholeheartedness to the lives of those who listened. It made me feel alive, an electrifying pulse flooding through me as I braved speaking some vulnerable moments of my own story and locked eyes with individuals in the hopes that my life would connect with their life and somehow make a measure of difference. I know what it felt like to receive the smiles, tears, and stories of those who were brave enough to tell me what it meant for them to hear those words. Those women who approached me on that day were Storychange women. I just knew, deep down in my heart, that Storychange, if it ever came to be, was for them.
I know, too, what it feels like to finger the keychain fob prototype that I carry in my purse, sliding it open to reveal the question cards inside, rubbing my thumb along the "Awake" logo I affixed to the front of it, all of this reminding me about how everything begins in the Storychange process. First, we awaken. I think about all the women out there who are on the cusp of an awakening. I wonder when and how they will begin. I wonder if they have the support they need. I wonder if they even know how to start.
The truth is, it's all pretty fuzzy to me. Am I meant to create Storychange? And if I am, what on earth does that mean? It means walking people through a process of growth, but can a process for that be created?
As I told you girls on the trip, I really do think the process of growth, large or small, always comes down to the three elements I've identified for the Storychange process: Awake, Attend, Embrace. But can you create a process that walks people through the awakening, attending, and embracing phases of their growth? Can it really be nailed down for people, and even small groups of people, to walk through, intentionally, together?
I'm still not sure. This is part of my fog. This is where I'm stretching out my hands in limited visibility conditions, asking Jesus to reveal Himself in this. I pray that indeed He does.
So, my time of getting back home has been strange for me. It mostly feels like the timeframe for everything I expected to experience when I got home has been pushed back in unexpected, vaguely unpleasant ways.
First there was the delay of my flight home. The first leg was delayed seven hours, and then I had to fly four hours only to spend the night in Memphis. I had intended to spend the night in my own bed and getting to reunite with Kirk and Solomon and Diva. I was disappointed to be spending the night alone in a grungy hotel room with a dying cell phone and without a change of clothes, a comb, or even a toothbrush.
As you girls know, we didn't get much sleep during our time together. This is something I am pretty happy about because it means that time was spent talking with you girls, getting to hear the real deal about what's going on in your lives and hearts. Those late-night conversations are what I think God most used to bring us to this point of walking together through this season of ebenezing.
But it also means that limited sleep and two days of travel translates into one very tired girl who has no concept of a sleep schedule. I got home and crashed for several hours. When I woke up, it was 8:30pm and I felt like I was ready to start my day. I discovered my Spring Arbor community had cropped up online and so I began to orient myself to the online interface, the orientation syllabus, and the discussion board forums. Later, I got the idea to create the photo montage of our trip and worked on that for several hours.
All of this was a lot of fun, but it means I didn't go to sleep until 5:30 this morning. When I woke up at 1:00, I felt sluggish and slightly behind. This was compounded by my discovery that there was much more taking place in the Spring Arbor interface than I'd realized last night. I had found the orientation module, but there was also a whole other module for my first official class that had been posted and active for about a week.
I don't know how it happened that I wasn't clued in to this first class module before today, but somehow the announcement for it had never shown up on my school portal homepage. It felt overwhelming to realize that I need to navigate through two class interfaces right now (the orientation module and the first "real" class module), making sense out of both of them, getting to know both professors, and trying to figure out what is expected of me and when for each.
But beyond that, it feels distressing to discover how far behind I am in the discussion board forums with my classmates. Whereas last night I was flying high and totally thrilled to have discovered the orientation forum and get caught up on all the introductions and discussion threads, today I feel totally behind and lost and out of the loop. I'm struggling against a message in my heart that says I'm going to be left behind and that it's too late for me to be part of the group.
None of these things could have been helped. I couldn't control what happened with the flight delays, and I couldn't control the need for sleep. I couldn't control, either, when I found the information online about my classes, because I had contacted the school before the trip and thought I had all the information I needed already.
What this means is that I'm having to learn how to sit in the whirlwind that is now surprisingly swirling around me. I'm having to be gentle with myself and take things one baby step at a time. I'm having to trust that I will not be forgotten and that my classmates will want to know me once I finally get caught up and can enter into the fray. I'm having to trust that everything is just as it should be and there will be grace for me in this place.
Wow...I'm almost scared to post here. It's like this new, pristine space and I don't feel like my words can quite measure up. Yeah, I should get over that.
My soul is sad today. Yesterday it was pissed, but today it's sad. Part of it is the missing of each one of you and all of us together, and the fear that we'll grow apart. I keep reminding myself that God is in this, that distance can be something of an illusion, and that nothing negates last weekend.
Another part of me, though, is sad because, after stepping into my life here again after all of our conversations last week, I've realized just how much my life isn't what I want it to be. Like Christianne talked about in her book (and if you haven't read it yet, you should), my life is not speaking my truth. Right now, it's a jumble. Bits of it are about me. Bits are about Dave and Dave and I. All of those bits seem good. It's the other bits that I'm really struggling against. They're the things that seem necessary even though I don't want them to be. They're realities that I wouldn't have signed up for had I known what I was getting into at the time. They're sturdy and hard, and I feel like mud thrown up against them.
Then again, rivers carve canyons, so maybe there's something to the mud thing.
In the midst of all of this, though, I see new light, and it's light that I've only seen since I returned from Bellingham. What I feel is, finally, a permission to start doing something about my situation. For a while now, I've felt like I need to be here, like there's more for me here than I've seen. And, honestly, I still feel that way. But, for the first time, I feel like it's time to take some real, serious, concrete steps toward making my life look more like me.
This change in me is tiny. I might even have missed it, had I not felt so sad yesterday that I went searching for it. But sometimes it's the tiny changes that push me the farthest. Because, honestly, the difference between "almost" and "ready" can be infinite or it can be so miniscule it's almost non-existent. I needed permission to start realistically looking at things in a new light, and I found it.
I don't know if this new permission comes from God, or if something released inside of me, but it's there, and it's new, and I think it's worth celebrating.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.
12Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, [b] saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us."13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again.
Setting up a place of remembrance. This is a little bit of what this space is about, isn't it?
I'm so sad you girls are gone. And I can already see how the enemy is trying to thwart us, discourage us, turn our attentions away from the outpouring of grace we experienced this last week.
There is so much from our time together that I'll remember. Snippets of conversations, the song lyrics we couldn't get out of our heads. Tears, prayers, laughter. Realizing that our very coming together was nothing short of a miracle. Experiencing the lavish and detail-oriented love of God.
I think I told you how I never listen to the radio. But Kaari turned it on during our long drive home yesterday (that drive was a crucible moment in and of itself; perhaps I'll save that for another post). And it was still on when I went to Starbucks for my second cup of coffee this morning. What song should be on the radio but "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing", the song whose lyrics we were considering closely just a day or two before. And what verse should be sung just as I pulled out of my parking spot, but:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
I hope you have arrived in safety, my friends. There's so much I want to say, but I don't know where to start. It is a good thing that we don't need to say it all now.
Much love to you, my fellow sisters and sojourners.
For different reasons, we're all in the crucible. We're walking through a season of intensive refinement, punctuated with celebrations and miracles. We wonder and ask, what is God doing? Where is He? And when it hurts the most, we beg for His deliverance. We struggle to open our hands and our hearts to Him even as we question His presence and purposes in this place. We cry out for Him to show us what He intends for our lives.
And then we are challenged to ask: What if, instead of pleading His intervention, we acknowledge His presence and thank Him for these crucible moments? What if, instead of asking Him to deliver us from this place, we ask Him to deliver us in this place?
None of us knows the answer, but it is clear He has given us each other to lean in on and walk with. Our tears and prayers and questions spill together. We can each find a reason we don't quite belong, but we know all the same that He brought us together for a purpose that as of now, remains hidden in Him.
This is us, walking through it together. This is us, sojourning through a land where the line between faith and crazy is sometimes imperceptible. Reach out in the dark, and you will find the hand of a friend.
Sometimes we stand and wait, trusting that our seeming stillness somehow amounts to best honoring and serving our King. And sometimes we have the chance to open our windows so everyone can see and to say: Even if He does not show up, I will not bend my knee to another.
Dedicated to the glory of God and for the purposes of His kingdom.
When I consider how my light is spent Ere half my days in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest he returning chide, "Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?" I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts: who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed And post o'er land and ocean without rest: They also serve who only stand and wait."
John Milton, On His Blindness (emphasis ours)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."