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)

Making Room for Christmas

I can’t think of very many things I love more than Christmas time. I love the wonder and the cheer and the twinkle lights & evergreen. I love the family time and the sweets in excess and the exchanging of gifts. I love the story of the birth of Jesus. I love that it’s the beginning of the fulfillment of every promise God made and prophecy spoken in scripture.

I love the hope it always brings. I love that from Thanksgiving to December 25, we wait in hopeful expectation of Christmas day. I love that it reminds me every year of how wonderful it must have been to witness the magic of that night… the coming of our long awaited Savior. Our Rescuer. Our Prince of Wholeness. Here to mend all things broken and pay our every debt for all of eternity.

Last weekend, just like we always do right after Thanksgiving, Noland and I went to pick out our Christmas tree. In the spirit of building new family traditions in Utah, we went to the cutest Christmas tree farm right at the foot of the mountains. They played Christmas music and served us hot chocolate as we walked around in the snow in search for the perfect tree.

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We picked out a 9-footer and they strapped it to the top of Noland’s Scion XB that we lovingly refer to as “the toaster.” It was kind of hilarious. Since my ever-so-careful husband wouldn’t drive over 45 mph on the interstate on our way home that afternoon, I had a lot of time to think.

I laughed to myself at how hilarious we must have looked in that moment, with our very Griswold-esque tree hanging over every edge of our tiny car. I thought about how, for now our fourth married holiday season, we have had to completely rearrange our itty bitty living space to make room for a Christmas tree every year.

This year, rearranging looked like moving our dining room table for the next month to the back room that pretty much just acts as a storage space. It didn’t matter to me, though. We hardly sit at it anyway. I wanted my big tree in my front window, right next to the chair I sit in every morning by the fire with my coffee in hand.

With this vision in my mind, I went ahead and rearranged the furniture the night before, so the room would be ready for our tree when we got home the next day. We pulled the monster of a tree inside, just the two of us, and we died laughing at how we *might* have overestimated how much space we were working with in this room.

The top of the tree touched the ceiling and the bottom was first of all way too wide, and second, hanging way too low. We realized the ole’ tree farm didn’t quite do the trimming that Home Depot had on our trees of Christmas past. We pulled the tree back out to the front yard, sort of  chuckling at the hilarity of the situation — although I could tell Noland was a bit irritated, seeing as how I’d been the one to fight for the taller tree back at the tree farm.

Praise the Lord for neighbors who have all the things. Our neighbor, Gabe, let us borrow his chain saw to trim our beloved tree down to living room size (another Griswold moment).

Noland trimmed the tree and immediately shed every feeling of frustration due to the surge of manliness he was feeling with a chain saw in his hands. Don’t worry, though. He had his skinny jeans on for the whole thing. Look good, do good — right?

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So, back in the house we go with our trimmed tree. And, 10 minutes later, back out we go. Rookie mistake: didn’t trim enough of the bottom branches off, so she was still hanging a little low. I had to lovingly explain to Noland that the gifts were supposed to be able to fit under the tree — and right now, we weren’t even fitting an envelope under there.

Sweet man that he is, he trimmed a little more. Alas, third time’s a charm. The tree came inside and stayed inside after round two of trimming. Of course, then I had to go around with scissors to give her a little liposuction. Another half hour or so later, we were finally ready to decorate.

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We laughed about how most normal people who live in 1200 square feet probably just get one of those really skinny fake trees that can fit in any corner. I’m a bit of a purist, though, and I need the experience of picking out a real tree, and smelling that fresh evergreen scent every time you walk into the house. Oh, it’s one of my most favorite things!

We’ve been laughing at how, since Friday when we got our tree, every friend of ours who’s walked into our house has said, “Wow! That’s a big tree.” And has followed with something along the lines of, “Wait… where did the table go?”

And you know what? I love that we make room. I love that we rearrange things and make sacrifices to make space in our home for Christmas. I love that it reminds me to make space in my heart for Christmas.

It reminds me to do away with the things that aren’t necessary, and to quiet my heart and my spirit in remembrance of Him. To draw near and take in that old, old story that I love so much. To remember that when He came, it meant our wait was over. God wrapped in flesh, Immanuel,  was with us. Forever.

Here’s to making room in our homes and our hearts for Him this season. I can’t really think of anything better.