Marching Orders

In less than two weeks, I’ll close the door of the U-haul and make my way to my new state of Kentucky.

I am ready and excited! Amazingly, I don’t feel anxious.  But it wasn’t until last week that could honestly say that.

 

A few weeks ago, when friends would ask me how I was feeling about the move, I would feel myself take a long, slow, deep breath and say, “Mixed emotions: excited and anxious.” I’m sure no one would fault me for having mixed emotions, but I could tell there was more anxiety in my heart than peace…I figured it was normal, but I didn’t like it.  Still, I wasn’t sure how to fix it.

 

Feeling anxiety makes us question if we’re doing the right thing. I heard questions in my head like, “What if I make this huge move and then I hate it there?  What if I don’t make friends?  What if I miss my Indiana life even more than I can imagine?  What if one day I wake up and feel stuck?  Lord, is this really what I’m supposed to do?  Please stop me now if it’s not!”

There’s nothing quite so refreshing as being honest with God. Whenever I tell Him how I really feel, the load gets a little lighter, and then I know He’s “on it.”  If I have an issue or a feeling that only He can fix, I know He will.  I just have to be on the lookout for Him to fix it.

 

Recently, I have felt a bit like Abraham as I’ve prepared to uproot and replant my life.  I remember what the Lord told him:

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

It makes me want to say, Uhh…That’s not a whole lot of detail there, Lord.  You’re asking a lot of ol’ Abe to leave out the specifics, don’t you think?

But the Lord has His good reasons for not revealing the future.

I think the Lord has been telling me something similar. “Molly, go from your city of Carmel, Indiana, your life-long friends and your family to the land of Morehead, Kentucky.  I will show you more when you get there.”

For now, that’s all I get to know.

 

So for now, I will move into the upstairs of Guy’s mom and step-dad’s house. For now, I will teach 4th graders at the elementary school there.  For now, I will work on building relationships.

No matter what happens, our God always has a good plan.  Sometimes we just need to catch the vision.

For me, that first glimpse of vision came from my friend, Leslie.  She’s the one who set me up with Guy in the first place.  She grew up in Morehead and now lives in Indy.  As I shared my concerns with her one day, she responded, “Molly, I am so excited for you to move to my town.  I think you have something to offer.  God is going to use you there, just as He’s used you here, and I can’t wait to see what He does.”

Hmm. Well.  I hadn’t ever thought of that perspective before.  All I could think about was what I was giving up.  I had never thought that maybe God wanted to do something in and through me there.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2:10

When I question the purpose of my life, I come back to this verse.  Not only was I created to be loved by God and to love Him back, but there are things He has planned for me to do, and things He’s planned for you to do.  The only way to find out what they are is to keep going in the direction He’s pointing.  Today, He’s pointing me to Morehead.

 

I recently read a quote from Elisabeth Elliot in The Path of Loneliness that said, “…a new set of marching orders.  That is what always follows loss of any kind—a mother’s loss of her child, a wife’s of her husband, a lover’s of his beloved, a man’s loss of his job, his health, his self-esteem, his home—if only we have ears to hear those orders, eyes to see the gain God intends to bring out of our loss.  Even when trouble stops our ears and clouds our vision, He goes on working in secret and perhaps years later reveals what we had not faith to lay hold of.”

The phrase “marching orders” is defined as instructions from a superior officer for troops to depart; a dismissal or sending off; orders to begin a march or movement; orders to start out, move on, proceed, etc.

That’s exactly what this new beginning is.  I am about to depart, to start out, to move on and proceed in a new direction.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a bit nerve-wracking at times.  I suppose marching orders always are.  Unsettled lands and uncharted waters are not predictable, and they’re certainly not comfortable.  But I am relieved that there’s always something for us to do, a purpose in every season of change.  I find no purpose sitting around twiddling my thumbs, and I’m glad the Lord doesn’t either.

 

Is this not the way He has constantly been working in my life?  With each loss, there have been new marching orders with gains and growth that I wouldn’t trade. There have been new roles and experiences that have changed me completely for the better.

For example, when I lost my mom, I began to work with a caring ministry at church that taught me listening and empathy skills I’ve used often over the past decade; losing my sisters when they moved out of state gave me time to invest in other people; losing my son pushed me deeper into Scripture and into writing and speaking.  Those are just a few of the many!

Every single loss brought some type of new marching order.  And as scary as they were, they never harmed me.

In fact, I can honestly say that the worst things that have happened to me have become the best things!

I know the Lord now in new ways and trust Him as I never had before, I have a greater understanding and love of His Word, I have more empathy and compassion than I used to, I can stare death in the face as it no longer scares me, I have an appreciation for how fragile life is, I am less judgmental of others, I have grown in my understanding and excitement for Heaven, and I live more purposefully and passionately now than I did when life was going as planned!

 

But even with all of that, there have still been moments of uncertainty.

My sister Marylou, who relocated to Minnesota some years ago, gave me great advice when I shared my concerns.  She said, “Molly, plant roots right away.  Get to know people. Get involved.  Don’t put that off, thinking you’ll move back to Indy in a few years. It took me three years to embrace life in Minnesota, and the first three years here were hard.  Once I started digging in, it became home.  Now, I love it!”

“I know,” I said. “I just don’t feel that way at all yet.”

“Yeah, sometimes I have to start by just praying for the willingness to be wiling,” she laughed.

 

Sometimes praying for a willingness to be willing is the hardest, most powerful prayer we can pray.  But as I’ve prayed that prayer, the Lord has changed my anxious heart completely.

Author Mike Mason says  “To embrace God’s point of view, however briefly, is to be joyful.”  And God’s point of view is always completely calm.  He sees what He’s doing, He knows why He’s calling us to each new place, and He knows He is going to go with us, so we have nothing to fear.  He has the plan, and we have marching orders.

Wherever we are, it’s about showing the glory of who God is.

This confidence has given me joy and a new perspective and purpose in Kentucky.

 

I will get to love Guy.

I will get to encourage and support his two daughters.

I will get to learn more patience with their very sweet albeit hyperactive, cross-eyed bird dog.

I will get to bring joy and an extra set of hands to the home in which I’ll stay.

I will get to build relationships with my new friends.

I will get to bond with the women in a book study that starts in July.

I will get to serve the community as a 4th grade language arts teacher.

I will get to help build a successful team with my new coworkers.

I will get to grow and support the church where we attend.

I will get to bring a little Light wherever I go.

 

And I think they all will do the same for me.

 

If nothing else, being a Christ-follower is not boring.  It is a calling to be brave, to serve, to share, to sacrifice, to demonstrate the ways of Heaven on Earth.  This is not just for me.  It’s for you, too, friend.

So, I wonder which of your marching orders are changing right now?  Perhaps you’ve recently experienced a death, or your youngest child moved out on their own, or a good friend moved away, a marriage ended, the fertility struggle is lasting much longer than you ever imagined, you are stuck in a job you don’t like, or that thing you’d been wanting so badly is just not going to happen.

All Hope is not lost.  God is working even in the midst of that, and He has good things in mind that He wants you to do with your current location, role, or time.

As we look at the long list of Heroes of our Faith in Hebrews 11, we read this excerpt:

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.”

All these people followed their new marching orders, not knowing the outcome, or how long it would last, or if they would even live.  But, in faith, they stepped out anyway and will receive “much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).

Author Beth Moore once commented that we are blown away by the faith of these people.  But that’s just what they are — mere people, average humans.  They are not any better than you or I.  They just obeyed what God was asking them to do.

Which makes us ponder: what if our name was added to the list of Heroes of the Faith: “It was by faith that Molly moved away from everything she’d known for almost 33 years…”  I wonder how that sentence might end years from now.  I get excited at the thought!

Now imagine if your life and name made the list!  Your turn: insert your name, “It was by faith that ______ did…”

What is it God is inviting you to do? What amazing things does He have planned for you if you would trust Him with what He’s doing?  What if His glory is going to shine so brightly though your life, and you don’t even have a clue yet?

With God, there is no need to panic.

Because sometimes, new marching orders are just the beginning of the best thing that has ever happened to you.

There are More Important Things than Target and Omelets

I am not brave.

Nor am I particularly adventurous or daring or thrill-seeking.

No, I prefer the predictable. I relish in routine.

 

I have lived in Indiana all my life.  More specifically, I’ve lived in Carmel, Indiana all my life.  Today, I went shopping in the same Meijer my mom did when I was a kid.  I got my oil changed at the same Jiffy Lube where I purchased my first oil change when I was sixteen.  Sunday, I’ll go to church within the same walls I’ve been worshipping since I was five, and dozens of wide smiles and “Good Morning, Molly”s will greet me as I walk through the door.  I love it.

I’ve had the same friends, taught the same grade at the same school, and taken the same summer vacation every year.  I love that my Target is right down the road and that I can order the most delicious omelet at Patachou every Saturday morning, complete with cinnamon toast.

 

Many would cringe at the lack of adventure in my life, but for me, the safety of The Known is bliss.  I find great comfort in my seemingly predictable life.

This part of my personality is nothing new. After all, I was the 6th grade girl who bawled her way through the first few weeks of middle school in the counselor’s office because she just wanted to go back to her house (where it was safe and predictable).  I am also a girl who sat on the kitchen counter a month before high school graduation and bawled to her mom about not wanting to move away and go to college.  She listened as I cried and calmly said, “Molly, don’t worry about it now.  Enjoy today.  When the day comes, you’ll be ready.”

And I was.  But, ugh.  I hate change.

 

I thought I would be used to it by now.  There have been so many significant changes in the past few years: loss of people, of roles, of places.  A few called me “brave” as my son Tage was dying, and I marveled at that word.  I didn’t feel brave.  I had no choice in the outcome, and therefore, no choice to go along with it or not. I couldn’t stop death.

When I think of brave, I think of people making a choice.  Of choosing to go.  Of choosing to stay.  Of choosing to say it or not say it.  Of doing it or not doing it, without knowing the outcome.

 That’s bravery, because it’s risk.

Faith is a risk, too.  As much as I believe 100% most days that Jesus is God and He is returning for me one day, I don’t know it.  We can gather all the facts we want about the historicity of the Gospel and of His life and whether or not He really died then rose from the dead, but ultimately, we will have to take a leap of faith if we want to be on His side.  We will have to be brave.

We have to decide that being a Christian isn’t just about checking the box that we believe in Jesus and then doing our best to follow all the rules.  Being a Christ-Follower means that the final step is surrendering our lives to this Christ and trusting Him with what He’s doing, without knowing the outcome.  Surrendering — arms wide open with no expectations — is very, very brave.  That’s why it’s so hard.

 

In the midst of all the change in the past couple years, I remember thinking, I’ve lost this and this and this…but at least I am still in Indiana with my people.  That was the one thing that hadn’t changed, the one thing I still held after the whirlwind.  The one thing I hadn’t had to surrender.

So the following words are still a shock even to me:  At the end of June, I am moving to Kentucky.

 

Yep.  Kentucky. The one state we Hoosiers make fun of. (Sorry Kentucky friends. I didn’t know!)

As I’ve pondered this idea in recent months, I’ve felt my heart race at the thought.  I’ve thought about my Meijer, and my Jiffy Lube, my Target and my omelet, my friends and family and was certain, no, I could not possibly leave.  It wouldn’t be safe.

I’d tear up at the image of me driving down Keystone with  U-Haul on my way to a brand new state with a new home, new friends, a new church, a new job, a new grocery store, and many, many other new things.  Then, I get overwhelmed and ask the Lord, “Does a girl really need more change after all of this?  Are you really going to take away the one good thing she thinks she still has after all the pain?”  And He smiles as He radiates an I know what I am doing look.  And eventually, I nod back and think, yes, a fresh start in a new place could be really good.

I am so excited to get to be near Guy and his girls and see what a “typical Tuesday evening” looks like.  Because this long-distance relationship stuff is HARD.  They weren’t kidding.  I am not a phone-talker, I’m a face-talker – that’s why I’m always hanging out with my people. But the hundreds of miles I’ve put on my car, the ten pounds I’ve gained from fast food during said miles, and the constant feeling like I’m living a double life has definitely been worth it.  The one thing I know is that I want Guy in my life.

 

I just wish I didn’t have to leave my friends, my job, and my town.  I love them.  They’re comfortable and predictable, and I want to be near them.  But I am certain I want Guy to be near his daughters.  Girls need their daddy (and daddies need their girls).

 

But as I’ve processed this possibility over the past months, there are three things I still know:

  1. God loves me.
  2. God is trustworthy and so are His plans.
  3. God will give me what I need.

It is the treasure I discovered in the midst of my lowest moments, and now these beliefs go down to the marrow of my bones.

“Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.”   Psalm 25:4-5

More than anything, I want to go where He wants me to go. I want to follow His road for me, because I can see now that His plans are always good, even in the midst of the pain.  I can go anywhere and do anything He asks because He always goes right beside me as a friend, before me to clear the way, and behind me to protect me.  If He is there, I know I am safe.

“I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.

You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence…”  Psalm 16: 7-9, 11

The joy of His presence, not of my surroundings.

 

This morning, I saw my current life verse hanging there on the bathroom mirror:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8

I want to trust in the Lord in all things.  I want my confidence to be in Him, not in my city, or in being near friends, or in my predictable life.  In Him, I can be brave!  He is where I’m planted, not a city.  So, I don’t have to worry about what may come, or if I will feel lonely in Kentucky, or if I’ll find a job, or that Target is 50 minutes away and the best omelet in town is at the local version of Waffle House (though the truck stop also has a good breakfast, too, I’m told).

No, my leaves will stay green, because I know life is not about Target and fancy omelets.  It’s about God and people.  I already know God will be with me, and the people I’ve met so far are absolutely lovely and kind and even more welcoming than we Hoosiers!

And so, I can go right on producing delicious fruit.  The Lord is always ready to use us when we surrender.  He will use me to impact people in my new town, and He will use them to impact me.  That’s what I know.

 

Today marks nine years since my beautiful, joyful mom went to be with Jesus.  My sisters and I texted today about how grief has changed over the years – it’s less of a surface sting and more of a deep, constant, dull ache.  We wonder what she would say to us in different joys and sorrows of our lives.

I wish I could call her in Heaven.  There is so much I want to share with her and ask her.  As I think about the next two months of preparing to move and all the change that will come with that, there are moments where I want to sit on the counter and talk to her.  But I think I know what she’d say.  As she stands there next to Jesus, she’d say, “Molly, don’t worry about it now.  Enjoy today.  When the day comes, you’ll be ready.”

And Jesus would nod and smile in gentle agreement with a little sparkle in His eye, because He knows exactly what He’s got up His sleeve.

And it’s way more important than Target and omelets.

FullSizeRender

 

A Promise in the Pain

 

I’ll just say it: yesterday was rough.

Like, really, really rough.

It was the day that should have marked my sweet Tage’s third birthday, but he lives in Heaven now.

 

 

The Lord has bolstered my faith in recent years – building supports and adding more layers, making it harder and harder to knock down – and for that, I am in awe.  Most days, I stand on that wall of faith with the determination to trust I’m safe no matter what comes and the peace of knowing what, or Who, gives me hope.

But yesterday was hard.

It didn’t help that the mid-March Indiana clouds are currently thick and low and smothering, and my skin and spirit yearn for sunshine.  My emotional pump was already primed to feel the darkness.

Then, I had had the privilege of getting to share Tage’s story with a group of women that morning, the morning of his birthday, and I was reminded that God continues to work in my story and in the aftermath of Tage’s death.  But with every sharing of my story comes the reminder of the pain.

At the event, I got to talk with one of my mom’s dear friends, who looked me in the eyes and told me as tears fell from hers how much she misses my mom.  Me, too.  Me. Too.

After speaking, I got to hear from women who told me their stories of miscarriage, child loss, divorce, and questioning God.  Their tears proved their raw pain.

Later, I had a hard conversation across a restaurant booth.  More memories of pain.

As I drove downtown to a birthday party that evening, my car hitting every pothole on the crudely patched and crumbling pavement.  I passed the home of another friend who had also lost an infant.  Then, my route took me through a rough part of town.  Windows were boarded up.  Toys and trash were strewn across tiny yards behind broken chain link fences.  I stopped at a red light and glanced to my left.  A man walked down the cracked sidewalk, his gate greatly altered by a physical condition.  I thought of all the harsh stares he must receive in a day as he simply struggled to walk.  He was clearly in pain.

 

That’s when I finally lost it.

 

The knot cramped up in my throat, and the tears poured from my eyes.

“When, Lord?”  I begged.  “There is so much brokenness.  It’s everywhere.  When are You going to come?  How long do we have to live in this mess?”

Sometimes I can’t hold back the brokenness anymore.  Sometimes I can’t handle seeing one more sad thing, one more broken family, one more child in a wheelchair, one more girl who thinks her beauty is proved when she bares her body on Instagram, one more elementary student of mine who needs to prove his toughness because no one tells him they love him, one more tear stained face telling me of their deep pain.

“When Lord?  When are you going to come fix this?  I can’t handle it today.”

I just left that those questions hanging in the air of my car.  I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and went into the party.

 

 

The next morning, I stepped out to take Marty for a walk, grinning at the early light just above the horizon. A pink glow crept down the tall, barren trees of the park as the sun slowly rose higher in the clear sky.  Birds sang their joyful tunes, a chorus of life awakening from the long, winter slumber.

I inhaled the fresh air.  I had paused my conversation with God, and I knew He was right there when I was ready to start again.

“Thank you for this sunshine…and for the birds.”  I took another deep, soothing breath, hoping the light would get to the deepest places.  “Sometimes I just don’t know how to live among all the mess, Lord?  We are so broken.  This life, it’s like we’re swimming in a pool of bitter vinegar, but sometimes we don’t even realize it because we have just gotten used to it.  But today, I taste it.  It is so bitter sometimes.  What are we supposed to do?  How do we keep living like this?”

Then, He whispered a reminder to me of when He looked around and grieved for what He saw, too.   He was entering Jerusalem, just before His crucifixion.  As He got to town, He looked around and saw all of their brokenness and the mess.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”  Matthew 23:37

Jesus looks at the town and the people around Him who He loves, and He grieves for them.  It breaks His heart to see them so lost and broken.  He expresses His longing to protect them.

He says, “I see the brokenness and it breaks my heart, too.  It was not meant to be this way.”     I think maybe He understands the mess we live in.  I think He’s seen it and lived in it, too.  He understands when we grieve for the brokenness around us.  He did, too.

He says He wished to gather the broken people, to protect them and comfort them.

 

 

My friend Katie has taught me how to hug by example.  Since the day I’ve known her, I have loved her hugs.  She spreads both of her arms out wide, wraps them around you, and pulls you into her with gusto.  She gathers you in and holds you in her embrace for many seconds, long enough to make you take notice.  You can’t help but take a deep breath and let your shoulders go down.  She doesn’t let go quickly.  It’s the best feeling in the world.

I’m pretty sure Katie hugs how Jesus hugs.  I see Jesus longing to do the same thing here, to bring us into a place of protection and safety and warmth when He said, “How often I have wanted to gather (you) together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

It does beg the question: Am I letting the Lord protect me? Am I letting Him comfort me?  Or am I running to other things?

 

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

 

“ And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.  For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”  Matthew 23:38-39

He sees that their house is abandon and desolate, just like the boarded-up homes I saw on my drive.  And He knows He is leaving them that way for a time.  He offered the people Himself, and in just a few chapters He will die for these people.  He knows He will be leaving them soon in this desolate, abandoned condition.  Yet, that’s not the end of story.  Because then He says that He will be coming back, and when He does, everyone will know He is who He said He is.

That’s the thing I have to always remind myself:  This is not the end of the story.

 

Sometimes it is really hard to see the light through the clouds.  Some days, or seasons, we wonder if Jesus really sees us.  Sometimes I wonder and doubt.  Sometimes I question whether this whole thing is made up and that I will look like a fool at the end if Jesus never comes.

But…what if I’m wrong?

What if there’s more and this life is not the end?

What if there’s a Hope we never even dreamed we could hope for?

What if Jesus really will come back and make everything right and new and beautiful?

What if He can even take the darkest parts of our lives and make them radiant?

 

And then I remember: He’s doing that in me.  He’s been doing that this whole season of suffering.

And I’m not special – He will do that in all of us if we ask Him.

 

 

As I rounded the back of the park, the birds chirped so loudly I had to raise my voice as I chatted to my dog.  Their song filled the acres of trees around me, all different tunes and rhythms.  It was glorious, and I couldn’t help but smile.

Then, suddenly I was aware of another sound in my ears.  It was the buzz and hum of the highway just on the other side of the trees.  It was as loud as the birds when I stopped to listen to it.

But I had been so taken with the chirping birds, that I wasn’t depressed by the sound of the highway.  I was focused on their songs.

I must remember and hold tightly to Jesus’ own words that remind me He is not leaving us alone in this condition forever.  He is making everything new:

“Then I (John) saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne (Jesus) said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.  All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”

Revelation 21:1-7 (parenthesis mine)

 

Perhaps that’s what the birds chirp about.

 

There is beauty amid the pain.  There is hope amid the mess.  Because as every Hoosier knows, an Indiana March never lasts forever.

And in our pain there’s a promise: the brokenness won’t last forever.

Spring is coming!

 

Bird

Hearing God

kidlistening

There was a moment in my fifth grade classroom today when I gave up.  It happens most days around 2:00pm, just thirty short minutes before all twenty-four of them will go home and the room will be blissfully silent again.  By 2:00, they’re tried and watching the clock, and therefore, so am I.

Then this afternoon, in the midst of a review game on the Declaration of Independence, I turned into King George.  With my arms across my chest, I heard myself bellow like the tyrant himself, “Well, I am just going to stand here until you are ready to listen.”

What is it with the whole human race and listening?  (It’s no better in our staff meetings.)

 

Recently, I wrote about seeking God’s direction for 2017.  A friend of mine bravely responded by saying, “Oh, but the LISTENING. And discerning. And searching for clarity. THAT’S the hard part (for me)!”

Isn’t she exactly right?  Very often the listening and hearing is the hardest part.  What does it look like to listen for His answers?  What does it sound like when He does answer us?

It seems like such a BIG thing to try to listen for the God of the Universe to answer our little cries for help and direction.  There must be a cosmic formula that makes sense in our human brains.  Something like 1) ask Him and 2) He will answer in some mysterious and difficult-to-decipher way and 3) we scrunch our noses and scratch our foreheads as we try to hear His spiritual code words.

And we are left stuck. Still.

 

I went to my favorite source for taking big Biblical concepts and making them understandable:  The Jesus Storybook Bible.  Faith like a child, they say.  His ways are not meant to be understood by only the most theologically-minded, but rather by the simple-minded, like little kids, for instance.  I love how the author put it:

“So one day, Jesus taught the people how to pray.  He said, ‘When you pray, don’t pray like those Extra-Super-Holy People.  They think if they say lots of words, God will hear them.  But it’s not because you’re so clever, or good, or so important, that God will listen to you.  God listens to you because He loves you. 

‘Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it?  Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him,’ Jesus told them.”

[Jesus continued] “‘You see, God just can’t wait to give you all that you need.  So you don’t need to use long words or special words.  You don’t have to use a special voice. You just have to talk.  So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.’”

“You see, Jesus was showing people that God would always love them – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.  So they didn’t need to hide anymore, or be afraid, or ashamed.  They could stop running away from God and they could run to Him instead.  As a little child runs into her daddy’s arms.   (p. 225,227)

With a loving God like that, how could we not run to Him with our concerns?

 

“[The Lord Himself says] Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”  Jeremiah 33:3

The first part to hearing God is to call out to Him.

I must confess that sometimes I want to hear what a Genie-God says regarding my concern, but I’m not willing to take the time to slow down and actually talk to my Relational-God about it.  He wants so much more than simply our requests.  He wants US.  He wants a relationship with us.  It’s when we call out to Him in trouble that we get to see this characteristic of Him.

David poetically captures this answering characteristic of God well:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honor him.”              Psalm 91:14-15

 

So, there we are.  We’ve expressed our concerns to our relational God, and now what?

In my experience, God seems to respond with one of three answers: “Yes, now,” “Yes, in a little bit,” or “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation.”

 

The last six weeks of my son, Tage’s, life were the absolute hardest.  We had just been sent home from the hospital and toward hospice care, and he was suddenly eating through a g-tube, something that caused me a lot of anxiety at first. Many visitors came by the house in those weeks so I was rarely alone, but when I was alone, the anxiety sank its teeth into my neck and shook me like a dog’s chew toy.  I could not escape its grip.

At first, fear entangled me. I forgot that “the Spirit of God, who raised Christ from the (freaking) dead, lives in (me)” (Romans 8:11).  My friend, Kathryn, reminded me of this, and sent me the song A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Christy Nockels.  She told me, “Play this song in your house, and sing it out loud when you need to be reminded who your powerful God is.”

Later that day, my heart rate started to rise again, and I could feel the anxious pounding in my chest, hot blood racing through my body, my breathing tight, tears forming in my eyes.  I started singing the first words to that song, and felt my neck tighten even more at first as the words struggled to escape my lips.  I was trapped, held down against the ground by an invisible, strangling grasp. I was overtaken.

I knew it was my enemy. I had never been so scared.

Pressing past the fear, I struggled to break the surface, to take a breath in the midst of my drowning. “Jesus….help…me,” I barely whispered.

His powerful voice resounded like roaring water in the heavens. “Yes, now!”  Even still, tears come to my eyes while I type this, because suddenly peace seeped into my soul as I continued to try to sing.  My heartrate slowed, and I cried gratefully as I felt the grip let go.  I had defeated my enemy!  I can only imagine what unseen battle was happening in my kitchen in that moment.  But our God reigns!  When we call on Him in trouble, His presence is immediate.

 

But sometimes, His answer is not always, “Yes, now.”  A few years prior to that day in my kitchen, after experiencing the pain of miscarriage, I had prayed that God would give me another baby.  I wanted to be a mom so desperately.  I prayed that prayer many times, and now, only in looking back, do I know that each time, His answer was, “Yes, in a little bit.”  Almost two years later, baby Tage was born.  I held him with even more gratitude than I could imagine.

 

When Tage was six months old, we received the terminal diagnosis.  I remember standing in the hospital shower that night, water and tears running down my face, hands pressed against the shower walls as I begged God to miraculously heal my son.  I begged Him every day after that.  Yet our loving God, who hears each prayer and sees each tear, looked at me tenderly.  His gentle answer was, “No, but I’m going to do something else good with this situation, Molly.”  And He wrapped His arms around me as we both cried.

And He HAS done something else good.  He’s done many good things because Tage went to Heaven much earlier than I had expected.  Most importantly, He’s given me the opportunity to share this unshakable peace, hope, and joy of Jesus with thousands of people.

I desperately miss Tage most days, but I know where he is, and that he is safe.  And I know I will see him again, and when I do, it will be for eternity.  And not only will I hug Tage, but as I stand next to Tage, we’ll hug all the other people that are in Heaven for eternity because Tage left Earth when he did.

Now, tell me that’s not good.

 

We know He will always answer us.  But what about when it’s hard to hear His voice?

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  –Jesus in John 10:27

A speaker I heard once said that when she traveled to the Middle east, she passed a large hill where dozens of shepherds were bringing their sheep to a barn.  Hundreds of sheep walked freely down a rugged cliff toward a barn, following only the sound of their single shepherd’s voice.

They know his voice, and they trust him completely.  So they follow Him.

Can the same be said about us?

 

It was easy to see that the “Yes, now” answers were immediate.  But only hindsight allows me to see when He answered with “yes, in a little bit” or “no, but…”

In the moment, He just seemed silent.

Perhaps he feels silent to you right now, too.

 

Patience might be the hardest virtue.  Nowhere in the Bible are we promised immediate answers.  We’re not even promised a timetable.  We are just promised that His answer is always the best answer, and He is never too late.  We are directed to seek Him and then trust Him.  That’s all.  And yes, many times that is very hard to do.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘They are plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.’”  Jeremiah 29:11

 

If it’s obvious His answer to our prayer is not “yes, now,” then it must be “in a little bit” or “no, but…”  As we wait to for the answer to be revealed, the time is not wasted if we use it to get to know our Shepherd’s voice even more.

Then, perhaps it’s in His words, or in song lyrics, or in a friend’s note, or when the house gets sold to another buyer, or in a sudden thought that hits you in the middle of the bread aisle when it comes – the whisper in our soul, His voice, the answer which allows us to trust Him a little easier next time.

Never according to our timetable, and rarely in the way we pictured it, but He is alway answering us.  So keep praying, keep seeking, keep listening.

We don’t have to search desperately and figure out some cosmic code.  Our loving God longs to answer our prayers.  As we seek Him, we can know that the answers will come in His perfect timing.

I know this to be true: God is not a tyrant. He’s not holding out on you.  He’s just working something good.  Every. Single. Time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask This in 2017

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I’ve sat down to type so many times lately. I stare at a blank screen, cursor flashing, trying to think thoughts….but nothing.

It’s a new year. What should I proclaim as the first post of 2017?

Can you hear and feel all that pressure? Ugh.

 
Then, on a run today, I told Him that I was stuck. I was drowning.  I needed His help. “What do YOU want me to do, God?”

Yes, He smiled. Exactly.

 
Each year brings new joys and new sorrows, new experiences and the end of experiences. We are turning new directions this year. We are going to be doing new things this year,

meeting new people,

starting new jobs,

and wearing new hats

as we play new roles.

 

God does not lead our lives the way I like to decorate: set it all up and leave it that way for years.

No, He creates new scenes for us, scenes of beauty and laughter, tears and growth — just like a good movie.

For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?   ( Isaiah 43:19)

 

New things scare the heck out of me. Even new paint colors sometimes. What if what’s coming is not something I will like? What if I will absolutely hate this new thing?

I’ve already begun it, He said.

But if I’ve learned anything in 2016 – through an unwanted divorce, an unwanted move, more unwanted loss – it’s that I don’t have to be scared. In the joys and the sorrows, the unknowns and the expectations, our God is so good.  I see now that in the midst of the painful, shredding experiences of my heart in recent years, He was simultaneously weaving parts of even those pieces together for what I’m doing now in my joy.

He says:

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
there never has been, and there never will be.

I, yes I, am the Lord,
and there is no other Savior.

First I predicted your rescue,
then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
says the Lord.

“From eternity to eternity I am God.
No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
No one can undo what I have done.”    (Isaiah 43:10-13)

Do you hear how safe you are with Him? How unlike any other He is? How nothing surprises Him? Do you hear the love in His voice when He talks about rescuing us and saving us and how He chooses us?

Completely loving. All-powerful. There is no safer combination.

 

So despite the unknowns in our lives — where will I be this year, what will I do, who will come in or out of my life — we can rest. He’s good, and He’s got 2017 in His pocket.

New is not scary if He’s in it.

I can securely unclench my fist and simply ask, “God, what do YOU want me to do in 2017?”

And when you ask that question, you know it will be a good year.

Carriers of the Light

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She showed up Christmas morning, alone.  Her eyes were heavy, carrying the weight of a thousand burdens unspoken.  She wasn’t dressed in her usual, festive way, and she hadn’t brought anything to contribute to the meal.  She hadn’t even bothered to put on a dab of makeup.

As the crowd began to gather around the sizzling bacon and the gooey cinnamon rolls, she stayed in the other room until everyone was called to eat.  She slowly walked into the kitchen and did her best to plaster a smile on her face, but no one was fooled.

Her dad looked up and said to the family, “Could we actually gather in the living room for a second?”

Once everyone had found a spot, he said, “Molly, before we begin our Christmas breakfast, I want to take a minute to let you know that we are so glad you are here.  It breaks our heart that __ is not here with you this morning.  I’m sure this Christmas must feel so awkward and sad.  We are so sad with you, Honey.”

As I looked around with immediate tear-filled eyes, I saw all the heads of my family members nodding in agreement, some wiping their own eyes.  I took a deep breath and slowly relaxed my shoulders. One sister, scooted over and tucked her arm around my back.  “I’m really glad you’re here, Molly,” she said.

Then, Dad asked if he could pray for me and for my estranged marriage.  We all closed our eyes and bowed our heads, and enormous drops poured down my face while he spoke, my heart emptying of the grief and filling up with the Hope of what Jesus came to Earth to do in the first place: save us, heal us.

 

 

There may be some grieving family members under a roof with you this season. Yes, they will be there in body, but perhaps not in spirit, or emotion, or thought. Their mind will race with all the emotions of who is not there and why, of the cancer that has returned, or of That Thing that awaits when they fly home. They won’t be able to think about anything else.

Until you take the time to name it.

There’s healing in saying The Thing out loud. We can take power away from their unraveling thoughts, which loom larger in their mind the more they think. You, my friend, have the ability to flip on the light of truth and make the darkness flee.

 

 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   John 8:32

Even as hard as it is sometimes, speaking the truth sets us free. Once my dad took time to acknowledge my grief, I was able to enjoy the cinnamon rolls and the silly party games — but I couldn’t have until he said the words out loud.

This is an action of sacrifice. It is stepping down into someone’s pain rather than remaining only where the Christmas lights twinkle, the mistletoe winks at you from the doorway, and everyone has lip-glossy smiles across their face.

It means not making our feelings the most important thing. Grief doesn’t feel good, so it is an act of love to willingly have a conversation that doesn’t feel good.

But I am so grateful Christ didn’t do only what felt good to Him, and if I want to be like Him, I want to step into the hurt of the people around my Christmas table.

Here’s one route you can choose to love the grieving at your table this year:

1. Take time to SAY you’re thinking of the grief, too. Say the specific name of the person who is missing. Say the word Cancer. Say what makes you sad for them, and how this isn’t what you wanted for them, too.

2. Give them a gift: LISTEN to them talk about it for a little bit. Ask questions like, What do you miss the most? What has been the hardest part of this Christmas season for you? What are you afraid of moving forward?  Do not try to top their story with your own. Just listen. Nod your head. Cry. Put a hand on their leg or an arm around their shoulder. Bring them in close to you.

3. Offer simple ENCOURAGEMENT. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s okay to say that you don’t have the answers. But what DO you know? Perhaps you know that God is doing something in their life in the midst of this pain, perhaps you can attest to that in your own life, or perhaps you know that you will be texting them to check-in over the next few months, and you are so glad they are here with you. Perhaps you offer to pray for them. And when you hug them, squeeze them tight and for longer than one second.

4. Then, you can ENJOY the rest of the day!  Once intentional time is given to the grief, you don’t have to wallow in it. This is the surprising part. We may think that if we open the lid on The Thing, it will never close. So we just don’t open it. But instead, once you address The Thing, it quits pounding on the lid and will simmer down for a while. You turned the light on, so darkness has to flee.

 

“And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”   Matthew 4:16b

That line sounds like a final line in a Christmas movie to me — can’t you just hear the narrator’s deep, soothing voice saying it at the end of the movie?

Because Jesus came, those of us who live in the land of darkness, surrounded by shadows, and death, and divorce, and disease, we have Hope.

One year ago, I was in the shadowed valley of the death of my marriage. One year ago, my family members bravely and lovingly took time to take the lid off The Thing in my life for twenty minutes and shine some light into it. One year ago, even with The Thing not resolved in any fashion yet, I felt loved. I felt hope.

I felt the Light.

“You are the light of the world — like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light…” —Jesus to us (Mathew 5:14)

This year, I get to shine the Light for others.

Yes, we are in the land where death casts its shadow, but let us not forget – especially at Christmas – that the Light of the World has come!

And we are the carriers of The Light.

Get Ready

Perhaps you need to hear this: a lot can happen in a year.

Like, a whole, whole lot.

 

A year ago last month, my ex-husband stood in our bedroom doorway with a duffel bag slung across his shoulder as he told me he was going to sleep somewhere else that night.

I remember the anxiety, the fear of what this meant for my future, the wracking of my brain to think whether there was just one more thing I could do that might make him stay.

After a few very difficult years with too many tragedies, I was sure this final blow would be my collapse.

I wrote a post a year ago titled “A Weary World Rejoices.” That line in O Holy Night was my anthem. Gosh, I was so weary.

 

Shortly after he left, I started making a plan. Planning is my (false) security. I started going to a counselor, I read whatever she told me to read, I took care of myself, I made time for friends and made time to be alone. Then, when it was clear the divorce was happening, I met with a lawyer, met with a realtor, met with a financial planner.

All the plans.

Tucked in the back of my mind was that I might, someday, plan to go on a date, with someone, somewhere, just for fun. But I was certain that that wouldn’t be until at least a year after the divorce.

That was the plan, anyway.

 

During the early part of summer, I can remember exactly where I was sitting on my couch when I began to hear God so clearly as I was reading and praying. “I know this isn’t part of your plan, Molly, but could you trust Me even if I moved you out of state?” (He and I both knew this meant away from my friends and family which seemed like quite a bold move on His part considering all He had put me through.)

A few days later, I wrote a post about the redemption of my relationship with my step-mom, Jackie, and to my shock, He said, “What about you as a step-mom? Could you trust Me with that?”

Two enormous seeds He planted in my mind and heart that week. I wrote about those two seeds in my journal. I resolved that as long as the Lord would go with me — and I knew He would — I could do whatever He asked me to do. It was a big day.

 
Then, in July, a friend of mine asked if I was ready to date yet. This came as a shock, because I assumed I wouldn’t be crossing that bridge for a while still. “He lives out of state, is divorced, and has two kids,” she said.

Umm, nope, no thank you, and no, I thought.

But then she started to tell me about him. He didn’t sound like the average guy, and he wasn’t. We started slowly, chatting via Facebook Messenger. I delayed giving him my number at first, because I still wasn’t sure I was ready for this. But then he told me about making ballet buns on the heads of his two little ballerinas, and I was a goner!

Over many hours of phone conversation and eventually face-to-face adventures, I quickly became captivated by and grateful for the intentional, wise, lavishingly thoughtful, and ridiculously funny man God brought into my life.

And I just have to share this crazy thing with you: in a hilarious twist that only God could spin, my sweet dog’s name is Marty. His real name is Marten (after the trucking company because I was obsessed with those trucks when I was little) but everyone calls him Marty. Then, because I think everything has to have a middle name, I’ve ended up calling him Marty Guy. All the people closest to me call him that: Marty Guy.

Well, this guy I’ve been dating, his first name actually is Guy! And his middle name is Martin! Marty (Marten) Guy and Guy Martin…are you kidding me?! Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

And so, we’ve been doing this thing, carefully and intentionally, ever since.

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He is a gift to me. I am in awe of the way he treats people, the depth of his friendships, and the thoughtful ways he’s cared for me. I love hearing him talk (with a hint of a Southern accent) about the day’s crop from his garden, sitting next to him in church, and raising my eye brows at him when he feeds Marty people-food to which he replies, “I guess I just like to feed a dawg.” It feels SO good to smile and giggle again! Truly, I have never felt this loved.

A whole, whole lot has changed in a year.
Last Christmas, I remember sitting alone in front of my fireplace and reading this verse:

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Psalm 27:7-12

There was a lot going on last year. So much fear, anxiety, grief, and loneliness. At times, I could barely function. Yet, I resonated with those verses. I felt like I was not alone, because I could relate to those feelings. I wondered if I would feel this despair forever.

And right after those words, I found this promise:

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Psalm 27:7:13-14

In the midst of darkness, we need to remember this hope! I needed to know that GOOD would come here in the land of the living and not only when I got to Heaven. I needed to cling to the hope that it would not always be this unbearable, that there would be some goodness eventually.

And right there, I found it. The goodness will come. All it said I had to do was wait: be brave and courageous and wait.

Or I like how my friend, Star, puts it. Star has beautiful, white hair on her head, so she knows a thing to two. This summer, only a couple weeks before Guy entered the scene, I was having breakfast with her and two other friends. Star told me about her own love story — a second marriage which has brought her love, joy, and a redemption that she never expected, and it came in the form of Gordon, one of the most tender and funny men I know. She said, “Molly, I know God is not done with you yet. I don’t know what He’s doing, but right now as you wait, you just need to get ready for it. Work on yourself, have some fun, seek Jesus. Something’s coming, Honey, so get ready!”

And I say the same thing to you, weary friend: get ready!

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we keep praying and waiting for the teenager to return, for the money to arrive, for the weight of grief to be lifted just a little. We have no idea what it will look like, but we wait with expectation. We bravely continue to do each day — set a morning alarm, go to work, buy groceries, fold laundry and pay bills — because we are clinging to the hope that we will see His goodness.

When we bring our negative conditions to the Lord, He will do something in His timing. So, we wait.

“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I love this picture of a watchman. I picture a man in a lighthouse in the midst of a terrible night storm. This is not a passive waiting. It’s a waiting up on our tiptoes with our face pressed against the window looking as far out onto the horizon as we can. It’s a Hope, bubbling with expectation and daring to believe that even in darkness, we still have a reason to sing because we know the night won’t last forever: the morning always comes.

Isaiah 61:3 tells us the Lord desires to reverse the grief in our lives:

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Our God is the master of reversals. Total and complete one-eighties. He wants to show you what He can do with that thing in your life, and He wants you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was HIS doing. Please don’t call it a coincidence when it happens!

And when the goodness comes, celebrate it! Because God is not only glorified in our suffering, but He’s also glorified in our celebrating. Circumstances worth celebrating are meant to be celebrated! Let’s not short ourselves in the celebrating. On Monday morning at the copy machine, my dear friend and co-worker, Liz, asked, “So how was the weekend with Guy?” The enormity of my smile was almost embarrassing — but I’m not going to stop celebrating the goodness.

 
I don’t know where you are today. Perhaps you are feeling the weight of a weary world as I was last year. But even still, in my moments of despair, He knew the good that was coming. Every so often, I could hear Him whisper to me, “Just hang on, Molly. The morning is coming, and it’s going to be beautiful. I’ve got something up My sleeve.”

And boy, did He. The anxiety, fear, loneliness, and grief of last year, He has turned to peace, hope, love, and joy. And I know He’s not done.

He can do the same in your life. Wait. Be brave and courageous. And get ready!

Last year, my shattered soul shouted “a weary world rejoices,” but this year my heart proclaims the joy felt through “a thrill of hope.”

A lot can happen in a year.

Get ready.