Night driving

When Noland and I were dating, we made a lot of late night trips to and from Memphis and Little Rock from the tiny town in Arkansas where we lived, because those two cities were the closest places where there were actual “things to do.” That was a few years ago, and still those late night drives together are some of my favorite moments in our story.

Truthfully, I think the place I really fell in love with Noland was in his car on those trips. We would tell stories for hours, and talk about all of our crazy dreams for our life. Everything felt so full of promise, hope and adventure.

And there’s something about driving in the middle of nowhere at night, where the sky seems more vast and brilliant — it makes the world feel big enough to hold all the endless possibilities of the morning that lies ahead. Stars shine like tiny windows peeking into a new day, each one holding a little bit of light that invites you in for more.

There was something in the mystery of that time that drew my heart out in the best kind of way. There was mystery in my story with Noland, wondering how or when or where we’d end up getting married and starting our life together. There was mystery in all the dreams we were dreaming, the places we wanted to go and things we wanted to experience.

But it wasn’t the kind of mystery that was frustrating or exhausting — it felt exciting and thrilling and just full. I always felt so full in those moments.

I was thinking about all of this recently, and I realized that those early days of dating were marking what the rest of our life would look like. I realized that what God has been doing for three years since then is invite us on late night drives into the mystery of whatever is next.

And the thing about driving at night is that you can’t really ever see too far ahead of you, but it’s always enough. There’s always enough light in front of you to keep moving forward.

This season of my life has been a challenge to keep moving forward, if I’m completely honest. It feels scary to go places I’ve never gone and do things I’ve never done. It feels risky to believe for outcomes I can’t control.

But it feels right.

The farther I get into this journey with God, the more I understand that maybe the bravest thing any of us can do is just stay the course we’re on, trusting that it’s good and believing that it’s worth the risk.

I guess I won’t know until I get to wherever I’m going — but then again I’m not convinced that arriving at a destination has ever been the point.

So we stay the course. We dream our dreams and we embrace the mystery and we fall in love under a night sky with the endless possibility of a story unfinished.

It has to be good.

Shepherding flocks, throwing stones at giants, and fighting in the wilderness.

Beauty is pain: this is what they tell girls when they have to endure things like high heels and eyebrow plucking. It’s funny, though, because this is just a worldly version of something God actually made for a purpose.

Beauty is pain. That’s why we go through refining fires in our lives — because our lives are a constant process of sanctification, always being purified more and more, so that the day we leave this earth, we look more like Jesus than we ever did before. This sounds like a perfectly logical analogy to draw and believe as truth, but truthfully, I am not good at loving the fire when I’m in it. I’m actually kind of terrible at it.

I feel like I’ve had the same conversation with so many of my peers over and over lately, about how being in your twenties is just kind of hard. All of us know where we want to go, but none of us are there yet. I heard Christine Caine speak on this a few months back, and she called it the space between the anointing and the appointing.

So here we are, a bunch of not-yet-King-Davids, tending sheep and throwing stones at giants; making music and writing poetry. Learning how to slay the bad guys, and fight ferocious lions in the wilderness, and shepherd flocks day and night.

It’s kind of a rollercoaster, this season of life. Some days are the “I just killed Goliath” victorious, exciting, celebration-worthy days. But most days, if we’re honest, are the “what the hell am I doing in this field with all these sheep when God said I was supposed to be king” sort of days. Right? Or is that just me?

The more I live in this season, though, the more I’m realizing that there is purpose in this place. A couple of months ago, Noland and I did a 10-day media fast, to just sort of quiet our lives and hear God on some decisions we were making. During that time I was doing a lot of reading through old journals and boxes of letters, and one of the letters I revisited was one my dad wrote me when I went off to college.

He was releasing me to take risks, because they yield high reward. He encouraged me to embrace the conflict and drama that come with living a great story now that I was on my own. And at the end of the letter, he left a really cheesy list of “Dad Proverbs” to guide me. I was playing college soccer at the time, so one of the things he said was, “Practice so hard that games feel like a vacation.”

Those words jumped off the page as I read them in this season. Isn’t that what your twenties feel like? Preparation for something? Surely this isn’t the real deal yet … but it sure does hurt.

Maybe it hurts now so it feels more natural later. Maybe this is the pre-season of my life’s fight. My endurance is stretching, my toughness is growing and my muscles are developing. Game day is coming, and it will certainly be a fight — it’s the fight — but what I’m working for now will pay off when the real fight comes.

Maybe life never gets easier, but the hard processes we go through prepare us for the real opposition. Suddenly the wilderness feels like a place I’m OK with going.

But I am an Israelite, wandering through the desert somewhere between Egypt and the Promised Land, complaining about the journey instead of celebrating my deliverance.

I’m impatient and insecure, with a tendency to take my eyes off Jesus when it gets hard, and searching for worth and purpose in people and things, or, the true plague of our generation, a news feed of two-by-two inch photos on the screen of a hand-held ashera pole: the idol we’re all easily bound to if we aren’t careful.

So if I go back to the way He led the Israelites, when He told Moses that He would cause His goodness to go before them, I can rest in the fact that this is my destiny. It’s all of our destiny — for His goodness and mercy to follow us. And pass by us, and go before us, and lead us into whatever is next.

And that’s enough! The uncertainty, the wondering, the wandering — it will always be the way following Him goes. He’s consistent in nature, but unpredictable in the ways He moves. I’m reminded that this is the adventure I’ve always loved.

We have to love the mystery because He has called us to see the invisible and do the impossible. We are made to call forth the not-yet, and walk into the not-seen.

I don’t think this ever changes on this side of Heaven, but maybe as we grow we just start to explore deeper into the unseen until the world isn’t our default anymore. Maybe our twenties are just hard because it’s the first time we’re really learning that it’s not about us, and there’s more than what we think we see or want.

You know what’s interesting to me? That 70 percent of the earth’s surface is under water. A majority of the surface area of creation, in the unseen. He put us on a planet with mystery all around us, and still we want to fight it instead of embrace it!

And yet the invitation is to walk on it. Oh Lord, let me be the disciple that jumps out of the boat, walking on an element I have no business walking on except that you’ve invited me to join you there.

Let me not write off the hard seasons of my life, wishing them away instead of learning every little thing you’ve placed me here to learn. Thank you that you train my hands for war and equip me with strength for the battle. (Psalm 18)

Today I will shepherd the flock in front of me, throw my measly little stones at scary giants, and learn to fight in the wilderness. For tomorrow, I will lead nations. You said so, and I trust you. Because you call me out to walk with you on the water, and you said I would do even greater things than that.

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?