Navigating the unseen with Godly savvy

A year and a half ago I met a girl who was healing from the deep wounds of a broken off engagement in the previous year. As God would have it I was newly engaged at the time, and my excitement met her brokenness in a way that seemed like it should have been abrasive, but ended up being unusually complementary. 

This girl, Calli, was my best friend’s roommate, so we spent five days together sharing stories and growing a friendship that I treasure deeply to this day. I’ll never forget sitting around a dining room table on Crescent Avenue in Charlotte, North Carolina, praying over her with my two friends that lived with her and getting to speak truth and life into her most painful places. There was a bond that formed in that place that still remains.

Since that January evening, I’d been contending for her life and for her healing heart, and there’s something about Kingdom friendship that binds you in a way that puts you right there in the fight with them.

This past Friday, I got on a plane to Charlotte to attend her wedding — just a year and a half later. And there’s something about that city, the community of friends I have there, that stirs expectancy every time I visit, because I’ve never walked away from that place having not been changed.

Even still, I couldn’t have anticipated all that I experienced in those few days.

It started in the airport, actually. Noland and I sat down at our gate at DFW and as we waited to board our plane, I noticed a middle-aged woman approach a young, seemingly single girl, probably in her twenties. Sensing that something unusual was happening, I of course began to eavesdrop.

I heard the older woman start to share the gospel with the younger woman, and I listened as they talked through what it meant to have relationship with Jesus. It was sweet, and it was challenging and encouraging. And in that moment I felt like God was speaking, “Pay close attention this weekend. I’m on the move and I’ll be in your every moment, your every interaction, and in the interactions going on around you.”

He is here.

I knew He had something for me this weekend, and it would be far more than Calli’s wedding. Oh, but the glory of watching her walk down the aisle to “I See Heaven”! It was beautiful, and there weren’t enough seats for all the people, so we stood on the hillsides just to get a glimpse of the Heaven that they were singing about. Angels were released, and Heaven didn’t just rejoice over that wedding ceremony, Heaven came down and rejoiced with us.

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As I watched through tear-filled eyes I thought about how we always use this expression that time heals all things, but Jesus is healer and he lives outside of time, and maybe we are the ones who need the time, not Him. Maybe it’s just that time is the grace between our heartbreak and our eyes being opened to the Healer who was there all along. Time is the buffer for us to receive the healing that is always available. What a gift that He would wait for us to be ready.

So there she was, ready. Dressed in white. Healed. Whole. Restored.

He is for healing, he is for wholeness, and he is for restoration.

His goodness was on display, and it was a beauty I could never quite do it justice in trying to recount it with words.

Meanwhile, the reason I was even able to be there was because my best friend, Sarah, has a new boyfriend who flew us out. Well he’s not actually that new, but he’s new to me because I haven’t been able to visit her in the last several months since they’ve been steadily increasing in seriousness. And while Calli’s wedding was of great importance and it was such a joy and privilege to be there, I knew there was more to the weekend. I knew he had flown me out because he knew it mattered to Sarah that he knew me before they moved towards engagement.

Yikes. Here’s this stranger, and he’s dating my most treasured friend, and he flew me half way across the country just to look me in the face and tell me he loves her and wants to marry her. I wasn’t sure whether to kiss him or kick him. I opted for neither and just grilled him with questions instead.

He passed the test, of course. And the whole time I’m half wondering how much worse this is going to be when I’m a parent one day, and half praying already “Lord have mercy on the men and women who want to marry my future children!” All the while I know I have no right to withhold even my dearest friends from the will of God. I was to relinquish my right to my best friend, and know —

He is sovereign.

Wasn’t the wedding I had just attended the most unbelievable display of this truth? I stopped and laughed at how He always knows how to prepare me.

But if I’m honest there’s a hint of fear that maybe this means she won’t actually up and move and follow us wherever we church plant, and maybe God has more for her in Charlotte than she originally thought, and maybe our friendship will always be long distance. And maybe it’s for the sake of His kingdom come. I’m reminded that this is the thing Jesus said we should pray for.

Oh, yeah. It’s not about me. And when I realize it, I glimpse His goodness and His grace even in these hard places.

Somewhere in there, small of an interaction as it was, I met a girl who asked me where I live and what I do, and when I mentioned Antioch she told me her best friend goes to our Norman, Oklahoma church plant. “God is doing something so powerful through you guys. I’m encouraged that I met you,” she told me. And in less than 5 minutes, comfort and encouragement that He has me in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.

He sees me. He knows.

Well, for the last few years there’s been a dream in Sarah’s heart to see Ebenezer’s Charlotte open. (Go watch the video at that link!) I can’t even begin to count how many hours we’ve spent talking and praying together, believing together to see it happen. Just recently her church, Center City, finally found a building for Eb’s. Of course, in case I hadn’t had enough emotional moments in a 48-hour time span, we happened to be driving by when their pastor was there, so we went inside.

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We walked through the old fire station building, and they cast the vision and mapped out the whole thing for us. We stopped on the second floor and there was this holy moment, as I looked at my most treasured friend and I looked out over the city, and I thought, “I am literally standing in her dream come true. We’ve been contending for this place for years. And standing right next to her is this man that I never knew I was praying for all along also. Her partner. The suitable helper that God made her for.”

In another moment’s snapshot, I felt a similar encouragement for her life. He has her in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.

It was a moment of unbelievable joy and a hint of disappointment I couldn’t really understand. I knew there was a place in me that required letting go of my expectations and my plans to watch God bring His plan fully into fruition. It would happen no matter what my reaction, but I’ll miss out on the fullness of what He has for me if I don’t let go.

I guess I should mention that Sarah and I have never lived in the same place. We met working at Young Life camp together four years ago and have been best friends ever since, dreaming of a day that we could live in the same city and do ministry together. We’ve had about four failed attempts in four years.

And in a fire station about to turn coffeehouse in Uptown Charlotte, I was learning to let go of my expectations all over again. To surrender my dreams and my ideals and say yes to the bigger picture of what God has in mind. Even my most treasured friend-possession is worth sacrificing for the sake of His kingdom come.

Haven’t I know all along that surrender’s fragrance is enough to fill entire households with wonder? I’ve never understood it, but it’s always been worth it, this idea of surrendering the seen in order to gain the unseen.

He is worth it.

So on Sunday morning I went to church with all of this in my mind and heart, and it was a lot to sift through but I kept remembering that moment in the airport. He is everywhere. He’s been in my every interaction this weekend, and He can’t be through because I still have one more day here. And even this thought seems silly, as if God only lives in Charlotte. He is everywhere, all the time. But for some reason sometimes I have to get some new scenery to remember.

But wouldn’t you know it, the sermon that morning was on navigating the different seasons of our lives with what the preacher called “Godly savvy.” Savvy: to know or understand. Navigating the seasons of my life with a Godly understanding, knowing that there is a right time for everything (Ecc. 3), which makes every moment the right time for something. And I’d been witness to different seasons of different lives coming to life and being put to death in different instances of this entire weekend. Life was happening and God was moving and he was inviting me to join.

And the proper thing to do with an invitation is respond. There I stood as the invitation song played, with Sarah to my left — expectations to be let go of, and Noland to my right — a world of dreams we hold together before God, still unfulfilled and full of mystery. I have no answers and I’m learning to let go of expectations and all I could do is go to the front, take the bread and the cup, and drink of the one thing that never changes or disappoints.

A reminder that his sacrifice will always be greater than mine.

And through my weeping I thanked Him… that he would invite me to join Him over and over, even when I have moments of “why did I get the short end of the stick?” along the way. I am always wavering, but not Him.

He is constant.

Hours later we boarded a plane in the rain, and the pilot said we’d be fighting through some weather systems in the first half of the flight. A turbulent take off and ascension was followed by an almost eerie peace once we got above the storms. To be on the other side of those dark clouds was a perspective I don’t think I’d ever seen. And I thought, “This is kind of how these few days have been.”

Unexpected shakiness that couldn’t be avoided, but had to be pressed into and pushed through. I knew it was OK the whole time, but there is still a discomfort about it. And when we got to the other side, it was peaceful but I still didn’t get it. There I was looming above the storms — mystery on the other side. And this is how it is when we choose Jesus. There’s a time to know fully and a time to know in part. Right now, I know in part. And though He may sometimes hide his will and his plan, He never hides his heart.

His heart is always accessible, and it’s always good.

The next night, our life group gathered in our living room and decided we would embrace the seasons He has us in individually. Knowing and choosing to celebrate that He’s good. And in a room full of hungry hearts crying out for this Godly savvy, this understanding of how to navigate the season, I was moved deeply by a song I have heard a hundred times.

Jesus at the center of it all.

The weekend played like a movie in my head and moment by moment I could see His hand in every little part of it. The healing and restoration I saw in Calli on her wedding day. The sovereignty of God to hold the things I would probably ruin if I really got to have the control. The favor of God on my own life, in the places that He reminded me who I was and why I am where I am. The joy of surrender, even when it hurts, because He is worth it. His goodness and mercy that follows me.

His goodness and mercy that follows me. Suddenly I was back in the airport, where he told me in the beginning that He would be moving all around me. And now I’m completely undone, kneeling in my living room as voices roar the same chorus over and over around me. Nothing else matters. Nothing in this world will do. Jesus, you’re the center. Everything revolves around you.

This is Godly savvy. Knowing who He is, and knowing that He knows all. And the surrender fragrance of all the hearts in our living room filled our house. Seven different hearts in seven different seasons, and there is a time for each place that each of us is in, but there is always time to offer ourselves back to him.

So looming above the mystery isn’t so bad when the All-Knower is flying the plane.

I was reminded of what happened when we finally passed the storm on that plane. The clouds finally dispersed and down below us I could see the lights of the city my heart loves most. The place I will always call home. The pilot alerted us that we were passing over Nashville and the weather was behind us. At a glimpse of home a single, silent tear ran down my face.

And this is the reward of pressing into the storms with God.

A glimpse of Home. A home way better than anything on this earth. A home that we can’t get to unless we brave the mystery with Him.

My resolve is this: I don’t know how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together, and I don’t know if I ever will. But He does. And He’s good. How could all the answered prayers and dreams birthed and glory glimpses I experienced in those three days in Charlotte have me believing anything different?

When vulnerability tears walls down

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This story is the back story to my last post… the story of the day I met Monica and Doreen.

We sat in our team meeting on our fourth morning in Gulu, all teaming up in pairs to go out for the day. Joanna needed someone to come with her to do a discipleship lesson with the two women she had led to Jesus the previous day, so I went with her.

Joanna and I walked to the market where they work, talking through the lesson we were going to do and praying that God would somehow take our measly words and speak to our new friends. We sat down in their tiny shop where they both spent most of their days sitting at a sewing machine. The shop was about half the size of the dining room I’m currently sitting in at my house as I write this, and it was just a hop and a skip from the fish market, so the smell coming through the 90 degree heat was as wonderful as you can imagine, I promise.

And you know, when you’re the only white westerner within a two mile radius, there just isn’t a natural sort of feeling going into the situation. You try to act normal but the reality is that it’s uncomfortable and there’s language barriers and cultural chasms standing between you and everyone else. It’s like a wedgie for your emotions.

Somehow, though, hungry hearts bridge the gap and these women hang on every word we say, because they’re desperate for the hope and joy we claim to have in this Jesus they just met. And I felt the fear of God in a new way, knowing that it would have to be Him and not me that came in to change these new friends’ lives.

Well, we kind of stumbled through the lesson for the first half. Joanna and I kept passing it back and forth as one of us would get frustrated with the language barrier, coming to the end of our internal thesaurus capacity, and hoping the other would have some other word to use that they would understand. 

The lesson was on prayer and there’s a place in the middle where someone is supposed to share a story of God answering a prayer in their life. Joanna shared a story about a family member who was far from God, and how years of praying led to that family member finally turning back to Jesus. 

And then something miraculous happened.

All of a sudden, there was a shift. It was more than a shift, actually. It wasn’t just a subtle, “wait a minute, this feels different.” Barriers were breaking and walls were falling, and you could feel it — it was powerful and I could almost swear that I felt the earth shake in that moment. Suddenly we were just four broken women clinging to a God who heals and restores. Masks had come off and barricades had departed.

Joanna’s vulnerability in sharing a story opened a door for breakthrough, and it was like we all joined hands and busted right through the wall together.

Monica and Doreen shared deep things they were believing God for. Things I’d believed for too, like broken relationships and families. And with tears in our eyes we prayed together to see God deliver our friends and families. Four women with the same heart, no longer separated by language or culture, but united for the sake of His kingdom come. 

This is the power of vulnerability. It’s the power of testimony. When God moves, we tell about it, and it stirs faith in others to believe that He could do the same for them. Stories of His faithfulness bind us together, and even weeks later and on the other side of the world, a part of me remains in that tiny shop in Gulu town. 

And I wonder, how unified would we be if sharing deep stories of the healing and restoring power of Jesus became our normal? 

Open the window.

I’ve been doing some freelance writing this year for Waco Today. It’s nothing too spectacular, they’re always pretty straight forward pieces, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s great extra income. Plus it keeps me doing what I love, which is telling stories. Yesterday I was driving home from doing an interview for a story I’m working on, and as I was driving I started having this revelation of why I love what I do.

I love writing for magazines like Waco Today, because most often the stories are less hard news oriented and more feature-esque. And in a feature story, you’re normally highlighting something unique about a person or organization — some accomplishment, or some special skill, talent or gift. So I find that I really enjoy doing interviews for these stories, because most of the time I’m getting to talk to someone about the thing they love the most. That one thing that makes them come alive, that they could spend their entire lives doing and never grow weary of it.

And there’s something about talking to someone who has passion in their voice. It just rubs off on you. I have no desire to own a restaurant or sing in a barbershop quartet. I have never wanted to be a CEO or a governor. I wouldn’t dream of becoming an American Gladiator or the captain of a roller derby team. (Well OK, I might think about trying those two)

I’ve sat across a table from all of these people, though, and I’ve listened to the sounds of their souls pour out into a recorder — the stories from the purest places of hearts that I’ll somehow try to retell just as raw and beautifully as they made it sound the first time. And it doesn’t matter what they’re talking about, if I can feel the passion in the voice of someone who’s living out what they were made for, my heart beats a little faster. Maybe some of that is the fact that I know somehow their purpose is colliding with mine every time I get to tell one of their stories.

When I see people who know who they are operating in their giftings, I see a little glimpse of heaven come out of them. Because even if they don’t realize it, when someone does something out of a God-given place of giftedness, they are unlocking some small piece of heaven that they’ve been given authority over and access to on earth.

This is true of the culinary mastermind, who knows the glory of the wedding feast and can give us enough taste to satisfy our appetites for now.

It’s true of the vocalist who opens his mouth and somehow there’s a choir of angels singing from this one set of vocal chords.

It’s true in the strategic mind of a CEO who knows that heaven is anything but ordinary and every bit of extravagantly, intricately designed. And it’s true of the governor who hates injustice and is for the people, who values education and despises wastefulness because he knows the stewarding of such things will determine the longevity of the people and place he’s been given authority over.

It’s true of the gladiator and the rollergirl, who know the true meaning of running a race with endurance and disciplining yourself for the greater things.

When God makes us he puts some piece of himself inside of us that he intends for us to share with the rest of his children. I’ve heard it said before that our job is to open a window so that people can hear the sound of their true home.

What window do you open? What’s been put in you that gives you authority to access a special part of heaven — the part that only you have the keys to?

I think my window is the window to his goodness. I’m a storyteller. Do you know what happens when we tell stories? We remember what’s already happened. We cherish and we retell of the deeds of God because we need a reminder to propel us forward.

And if I retell of his deeds then it has to equate to revealing his goodness, because he is the author of all that is good. Every good thing comes from him. Every. Good. Thing.

So I keep letting strangers pour out their hearts to me, and I let their passion ignite my passion because this is how we move things in the spirit. And with every story told, the window that unleashes his goodness opens wider, and wider, and wider.

That’s my window. What’s yours?