Would it have still been worth it?

Tuesday, September 6: It was a regular day. We were in a friend’s living room, worshiping and praying with our small group community from church, just like we do every week.

Noland and I were getting ready to launch this big fund raising campaign the next day for our adoption, and I was feeling THE MOST vulnerable and exposed. We’d just been singing a song called “Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” the chorus boldly proclaiming:

Nothing shall be impossible for You
Nothing shall be impossible for us
For You made all things right upon the cross
Oh, the love of Jesus Christ

At the end of that song, we all just felt like we needed to stand in faith for one another in impossible places — ours obviously being the $15,000 we were trying to raise over the next 30 days.

As our friends gathered around to lay hands on us and pray over our next 30 days, one friend of ours boldly said, “Guys, tomorrow is September 7. I just feel like that’s significant… seven being the Biblical number of completion, and the day that God rested because His work was already done. I feel like tomorrow, God is completing what He’s already begun in your family. You can rest. It’s done.”

So the next day at noon, we launched this campaign. The goal was $15K in 30 days. Exactly seven hours later, at 7 pm, we’d reached our goal of $15K.

It was exactly as our friends had prayed the night before. It was exactly as God had spoken. Noland and I were undone. Many of you were a part of this sweet miracle, and I wish I could hug every single one of you for fighting for our family the way that you have. We laughed and cried and cheered and celebrated like crazy, that our God is faithful. That nothing shall be impossible for Him.

Yet when the cheers calm down, I hear the whisper of the accuser: “Why should this time be any different?”

We’ve been here before. In February of 2015, when we had put belief for family on the shelf until after our move to Utah, God placed this invitation on the table. A baby boy, growing inside of the womb of an addict, in need of someone to fight for him.

We were so certain that we had heard from God loud and clear. Our friends were having dreams and visions of us adopting this boy. Strangers were walking up to us at church and praying over our growing family. We felt so sure of what God was speaking over his life and his story. And then in an instant, he was gone.

About three years ago, we had just begun trying to get pregnant. It had been a few months, and I was starting to wonder if this was going to be a long and daunting journey for us. We hadn’t told anyone we were trying yet. I felt discouraged and alone, unsure of how to walk out such a tender and uncertain thing.

We were at a worship night at church, and a girl I hardly knew walked up and asked if she could pray for me. She said she didn’t know what kind of impossible thing I was facing, but she felt led to come pray over whatever it was. As she prayed over me, she said, “I just want to submit this to you… I feel like I’m supposed to tell you ‘three years.’”

Immediately I was a little bit mad about that. It had only been like three months, and three years felt like an eternity. For years after that, I held that word really loosely, unsure of what to make of such a specific prophetic word about such a tender thing.

We had started believing God for a family on July 1, 2013. I remember the date because it was the day after our anniversary. On July 2, 2016, I stood in a hotel room in Berlin, staring in shock and disbelief at a positive pregnancy test.

Three years.

It was exactly as God said. We couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forget running down the street to a dear friend’s apartment, laughing and crying and praying together as we praised God for such a sweet miracle gift.

And then a month later, I felt my heart sink and a lump swell in my throat when the doctor couldn’t find a heart beat. Five days after that, I miscarried that little miracle gift.

How do you make sense of that kind of suffering? That kind of confusion? When you had an undeniable encounter with God, knowing He was at work, and then it just ends in death?

And how do you believe that the next one won’t end the same way?

Over Labor Day weekend, we had our discipleship school retreat, and one night as my friend Codi spoke on being ‘Faithful in the Little’ he said something that has been ringing in my ears ever since: “Would it have still been worth it if David never became king?”

He was talking about an area of his own life where he’d been working through disappointment with God, and He kept feeling like God was asking him that question. Over several months, he said he wrestled with that question, wondering what he was supposed to make of it.

Would it have still been worth it if David had never become king? If the anointing happened but the appointing never did — if he had just spent those years as a shepherd, falling deeply in love with his God, understanding and becoming a man after our Shepherd’s heart.

Would it have been worth it?

I started thinking about my life, and about all the promises I know God has spoken over our family, and I asked myself, “Would all of this be worth it, even if we never become parents on this side of Heaven?”

That is a sobering question to reconcile in your heart. But you know what I’ve learned about suffering? My suffering is not a thing that God assigned to me to teach me a lesson. My suffering is a thing God entrusted to me to draw me and others closer to Him.

Authority is a costly thing, and it is forged in the kind of fire that only leaves you with one companion: Jesus.

And yes. Of course He’s worth it.

Does that mean I stop believing for our promise fulfilled on this side of Heaven, though? Absolutely not. I have resolved two things in my heart that I will not allow:

  1. I will not turn my back on the only One who’s walked with me through the fire, regardless of whether or not I ever get “what I want” on this side of eternity.
  2. I will not allow fear to steal my hope and faith in what my God is capable of.

This is important, though: If I miss the fact that Jesus is worth my suffering, then those two “I won’t” statements are just me being a strong-willed middle child who refuses to lose. But if I’m anchored in the reality that my prize on this side of Heaven is the promise of His presence, then those two statements are a declaration of the intimacy with Him that I am unwilling to forfeit because of my pain and disappointment.

So there’s my challenge for all of us, I guess. Are you willing to go there and reconcile in your heart that whatever your “David anointed as king” promise is will still be worth it, even if you never see it fulfilled?

Or put more bluntly: is the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, enough?

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Sacred Storms & Wild Hope

It’s been a quiet few months around here. And by “around here” I mean the blog; my life has been quite the opposite. I’d say sorry for the silence, but I think dormancy is essential to growth, and good grief, I needed the space. Sometimes you need a season of just living stories without thinking about writing them — moments too sacred for words, perhaps.

In some ways, this summer has been that. So sacred that I’ve treasured these days in my heart and kept them there like a secret. In other ways it’s been more like “groanings too deep for words.”

It’s a Wednesday morning in sunny Southern California as I write this, and I’m sitting in a dreamy little garden outside of a coffee shop, trying to wrap my mind around the last three months, and I think I may be here a while.

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Communal Coffee – San Diego, CA

This summer was made of the things of all great stories. Adventure and surprise. Highest highs and lowest lows. Dreams realized and broken hearts. Crazy celebration and empty-hearted grief. Untamed bravery and wild hope.

I watched as spring turned to summer and the last of the snow melted off the Wasatch mountains and rushed to water the valley below — and it seemed to be watering my soul the same way it was bringing the earth back to life.

I moved into a house I shouldn’t be able to afford, just because of people who love us, who want us to grow our family there. It felt like the beginning of a something-out-of-nothing chapter of our story — the kind that only God can write. I could feel it all the way to my core that this summer was going to be a special one.

I looked into the eyes of Syrian refugees in Europe, and I learned about a bravery bigger than I’ve ever known. The kind of bravery that would risk everything to find hope again. The kind of bravery that gets to the other side of the storm and finds itself in the wilderness, yet still chooses to show up and believe that maybe tomorrow could be different.

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I walked the streets of Berlin with a dear friend and mentor, half way around the world and thinking about how sweet it is that people who feel like family can make anywhere feel like home.

I watched 15 of my new friends from Utah take big risks and live big faith in a way that changed them, changed me, and will change what God is doing in our city forever.

I stood in a hotel room in Germany and stared at the crazy surprise of a positive pregnancy test, a thing I’d written off in my heart a long time ago as something I may never experience, and I celebrated like crazy that with our God, nothing shall be impossible.

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I felt the gutting heartbreak of a 2 am miscarriage a month later, alone in my bathroom and in a world of pain, questioning and aching and crying out to God, “why have you forsaken me?”

I sent another round of balloons to Heaven for Judah Rise, still feeling the sting of losing a second baby and wondering what it’ll feel like when I finally get to hold one of ours before God does.

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And all at the same time, I watched our church grow in the middle of summer, a season that churches are supposed to have a lower attendance in, and here we are adding chairs and making more space every Sunday.

I baptized a dear friend, who 8 months ago sat across from me in a coffee shop and told me how burned by the Church she was, and that she wanted me to know that this whole Jesus thing was not something she was going to jump on board with quickly. Now here she is, wholeheartedly following Him and wanting everyone to know.

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And don’t get me wrong, this is not a “let me find the silver lining to cover up my pain” kind of post. The surprise promise fulfilled and almost immediate grief and confusion over a lost pregnancy is a thing I think I’ll be wrestling God over for a while.

I know lamentation well in this season, soaking my pillow case each night and the rug on my living room floor every morning in my tears, as I lay my grief and anger and questions before God. But there is something about the way that it’s happening alongside so many miracles around me that makes it hard to not also think, “Surely God is in this place.”

I don’t want to miss all the ways He is moving around me because of this one place that He seems to be absent — albeit a very deep, very painful place. I just keep thinking, “I don’t want to miss the miracle because of the storm.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Israelites on their way to the Red Sea, and how it says that there was a shorter way, but God led them the long way around, through the wilderness, to the Red Sea (Ex. 13:17). I have pored over the book of Exodus this summer, identifying so deeply with so much of the story.

I think about the Israelites, and how they said things like, “did you bring us out into the wilderness to die here? Were there no graves for us in Egypt?” and I can so relate to those raw, honest, shake-your-fists-in-anger questions.

Lord, what in the world are we doing here? This is even worse than the last place you let me suffer.

I think about Moses, and the moments throughout the story where he says to God, “What am I supposed to say to these people?” I have thought so many times in this season of my life, “Lord, I stand on stage at church all the time and tell people how good and faithful you are, and this kind of feels like you’re trying to make a liar out of me.”

I think about the way God led the Israelites through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and I am reminded that even in this place, He goes before and behind us.

I stand in the middle of yet another desert place, and it makes no sense to me, but somehow, this is grace. So I keep walking. Not without His leadership, but when I sense His presence going before and behind me, I keep going. Even when it hurts. Even when it makes no sense. Because I know no other way than to hope and believe that He knows where my Red Sea moment is.

For me, that looks like continuing down the adoption road that we were already on before the interruption of pregnancy. It looks like being honest with how painful some of this journey is, but continuing to walk forward because I know without a doubt that this is where God’s presence is leading us. I see the cloud by day and the fire by night, and I will not stay here if His presence is going elsewhere.

Brené Brown calls that “badassery” — when we’re honest with the pain in our story but we choose to keep showing up for it anyway. I really like her.

I keep hearing people use this currently trendy phrase of “wild hope,” and I think that’s what it means to hope wildly. To stand in the storm and say “I’m not moving, even though this hurts like hell.” To get up and get back in the game, even when you’re a little bruised and discouraged from your last losing fight.

I think a lot of us are afraid to talk about our pain until we’re on the other side of it and we can put a bow on it and make it look prettier than it ever actually was, but I think our world needs more badasses who are willing to say, “This hurts. I don’t get it. But I’m going back in, because this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m not willing to quit yet.”

We keep going because it matters. It matters that we are willing to embrace our place in the wilderness and believe God for our Red Sea moment. Honest in our pain but holding on to hope.

Wild, unreasonable, walk with a limp for the rest of your life cause you wrestled God for it, HOPE.

Let’s allow it to mark us. Even when it hurts. I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.

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God doesn’t author “second bests”

I need to confess some wrong thinking I’ve recently uncovered in my mind. I’ve had this paradigm-shifting moment in my life this month that I think a lot of us need to hear, because I think a lot of us have good intentions but are totally operating in this slightly off-center theology.

Or, you know, maybe it’s just me. In which case enjoy this next 700 words or so of me making you feel better about yourself. 

If you’ve visited my little corner of the internet much in the last year or so, you know that we fought a pretty brutal losing fight last year. We lost our baby boy in May, and then, like you do, moved across America to plant a church. To say that it’s been a whirlwind would be an enormous understatement.

I can honestly say, for the first time in almost a year, I feel genuinely good. Like, if I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store and they asked me how I was, I could say “I’m good!” without it being that southern hospitable thing that everyone just says no matter what, when actually your whole life is up in flames. Rest assured, dear friends, that this has been a long time coming.

I have wrestled with God this year more than the previous 26 years of my life combined. I’ve brought some hard questions to Him and searched His word through some pretty dark nights in my soul until I could reconcile some really deep stuff — at the end of the day really just wanting to know the answer to two questions: “Are you still good?” and  “Am I OK?”

By the end of the year I really believe I had gone to the deepest depths with God to reconcile that the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “YES.” But more than that, I had this moment of realizing that, sure, I believed God was good. But I hadn’t necessarily believed He was the most good. That He was best and He had my best in mind all the time.

I was looking at Him through the lens of my hard year instead of the lens of eternity, and at the end of the day what was really in my heart was that He was “good enough.” Here’s what I mean:

I realized I was looking at my season as a consolation prize. I’d had good intentions when I said things like, “Although I experienced great loss this year, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to pick up ministry opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I had a family.” The problem was that the posture of my heart underneath those statements was, “This is my consolation prize” instead of “This is God’s best.”

I had to take myself back to a place of stripped down simplicity and ask, “OK, what is the character of God?”

He’s good (John 10:14). He’s loving (Psalm 145:8). He is perfect in all of His ways (Psalm 18:30) — which, by the way, means He literally can’t author second bests. He only does best. He is a good dad who gives good gifts (Luke 11:9-13). It’s His pleasure to give me the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

He does not willingly grieve or afflict His children (Lamentations 3:33). Goodness, I need that written on every wall of my house.

He does not give consolation prizes. Nor does he hand us “second best” because “He simply couldn’t salvage what sin broke before.” (Hello, He already did that. On the cross.)

Of course He didn’t choose for us to lose a baby last year. But He wasn’t surprised by it and Heaven’s purpose for our family did not get derailed by it. He still intends to fulfill every. single. promise. It just won’t look like I had hoped or thought it would. And somehow in my small, limited human mind, I had amounted something looking different to something looking less than.

Meanwhile, He’s weaving things together and handing me all sorts of open doors for opportunities to see dreams realized and promises fulfilled in ministry. He’s entrusted me with His Bride.

Here I am down and out about my own lack of children and He wants me to mother His. Mercy, Lord. Forgive me for not seeing that as the most treasured thing you have ever given me.

He’s assigned me to a race that He made me to be the gold medal carrier of, and I’ve been treating it like a participation ribbon.

“Oh, well at least I can do this ministry thing in the meantime.”

You know, like live inside of one of the most significant moves of God our city has ever seen, witness people giving their lives to Jesus & see a city and state that’s been in bondage since its very conception delivered and set free. But this has to be God’s second best.

OK, does this not sound absurd!? Ugh. Friends. We are so blinded by our circumstances sometimes. PLEASE, learn from my few laps around the track with this wrong thinking, and —

RUN. YOUR. RACE.

No one else can. Just like you can’t run anyone else’s.

Run hard and fast. Trip over a hurdle once in a while and then watch what happens when you’re still able to get up and keep running.

Heaven’s purpose for your life has not been derailed by your failures, your losses or your insecurities. Pick up your baton and RUN. This is your leg of the race to run. No one else will.

I believe in you.

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)