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.

run

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)

There’s a lot of life out there.

ImageMy Ugandan Sunday morning started with this word from a friend. I wrote it down in my journal, not thinking much of it, but taking it as encouragement nonetheless. 

I met Joanna in the lobby an hour early and we headed out to Monica’s village. She wanted to come to church with us. We walked a lot of miles that day looking for her. After the first thirty minutes, I became more and more irritated with every step I took. Every winding dirt path that led to another grass roof hut that looked exactly like the last one we thought might have been hers … I felt like I was running up the down escalator, never quite reaching the place I actually needed to go.

And I thought it was peculiar how I kept seeing this strange pattern. A hen with baby chicks. A momma duck with ducklings. A dog with puppies. In retrospect I realized that all along that seemingly pointless wandering to find Monica, God was heralding the coming of new life. 

“Press on, child. What you see in these living parables along your path now, you’ll see in the Spirit next.”

But of course in the moment this isn’t what I’m hearing. Because I was hot and tired, and we were missing worship. I was ready to give up. We couldn’t get a hold of Monica on her phone, and we were lost in her village. 

Joanna, though, steadfast as she is — she wasn’t giving up.

“We have to get her to church. We’re not leaving without her.” She was preaching perseverance and my flesh was too thick between my ears and my heart to really receive it…

…but, well, I wasn’t going to cross her. So we waited some more. Minutes that felt like hours later, a phone call finally went through. Monica was on her way. She finally made it to where we were, and we walked about 20 minutes in the wrong direction plus 20 more minutes back before finally catching a bota to church. I was certain we’d missed it all by now. 

Wrong again. It was kind of starting to hurt.

Of course we made it just at the right time. We found Monica’s friend Doreen, who we’d also met in the market that week. Somehow (or not-so-somehow but by the grace of God) she made it, too. Despite us not being able to reach her all week.

And these two women, whom Joanna had led to Jesus earlier that week, both raised their hands to be baptized the following week. 

The chicks, ducklings and puppies suddenly fled back into my mind. Newness of life. Of course God knew.

Later that afternoon, as I sat down to write all this down, the clouds were rolling in. And I thought, “How timely. Of course the rain is coming.”

Because God always brings the rain to the sun-scorched land when we ask, and when it rains, it pours. Grace, grace, grace … and I was reminded of a word from a friend earlier that week: this trip will be marked by an ocean of grace. And let’s be honest, my heart needed cleansing that day.

So I stopped, and I looked out over the plains and watched the clouds, awaiting the rain. 

And I take a deep breath. There really is a lot of life out there today.