Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight

Six years ago I spent a few weeks of my summer in Costa Rica with my dad and a team of about 15 people. Half of our trip was spent in San Jose and surrounding areas with Young Life, and the other half was spent at a camp in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota, way up in the cloud forest (like the rainforest, but at higher altitude).

We spent our days there helping get camp cleaned up after what had been a rough rainy season, and our nights learning how to salsa and playing “Ticos vs. Gringos” soccer games. It was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever been on.

I had just graduated high school, was getting ready to go to college on a soccer scholarship where I didn’t know a single person, and my parents were moving back to Texas. Everything was changing, and that two weeks in Costa Rica with my dad and our friends was this sweet, time-stopping breath of fresh air.

It was filled with great adventure and great God encounters, and I even met a friend there who is still dear to me today. It was one of those trips where all sorts of unexpected things happen that leave a mark on you forever — things I never could have seen coming, like what happened on our last morning there.

On our last night, my dad got up at dinner and made an announcement that there was a really great hike up to the top of the mountain from camp. He was getting up to hike and watch the sunrise from the peak, and he said if anyone wanted to join, we’d meet and head out at about 5:30 am.

Out of our entire group, the only people that got up to go hiking with my dad were me, one of our girl leaders, and about 6 other girls on the trip. (High school boys aren’t the earliest risers, I suppose.) So we bundled up and with romantic expectations of sunrise chasing in our hearts, we began our climb.

When we first got to the top, it was fantastic. Nothing but mountains of green rainforest everywhere you looked. Truthfully one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

dadmountains

We spent a few minutes taking it all in… and then we heard some rustling behind us. There was what looked like it used to be a fence, and right in front of said “fence” there was a bull. We were a little bit startled, but my dad assured us if we just kept our distance (all 15 yards of it), the bull wouldn’t be bothered or bother us.

Well, a few minutes later, he is literally sharpening his horns on a tree trunk. This was a little bit alarming, so at my dad’s command, we started walking slowly back down the path. The bull, having sharpened his horns to his liking, then hops off the side of the mountain and down onto the path. He was facing us, doing that thing bulls do with their feet when they look like they’re about to take off in a wild rage.


I’ll never forget my dad saying, “OK girls. Keep walking slowly back down the path. When I say go, you need to move as quickly as you can down the path and then get off the path and up onto the side of the mountain.”

At this point I’m thinking, all summer I thought I was training for my first college soccer preseason, but really I was preparing my self for THIS. MOMENT. Life or death. This is what all those sprints and power cleans were for.

Dad gives the signal and we all take off running. Hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, some girls squealing. So I’m running for my life, and as soon as I saw a good spot, I jumped up off the path and held onto a tree branch to keep myself as far out of the bull’s reach as possible.

We’re talking like Simba in the stampede style, hanging from a tree and looking back praying I wasn’t going to have a Simba-esque ending as I watched my dad hang back to protect the rest of us. It sounds morbid now, but these were legitimate thoughts in my head at the time.

Well the bull kind of half chased my dad about 30-40 yards down the path, and once he realized he’d successfully scared the living daylights out of all of us enough to get out of his territory, he stopped. We all pulled ourselves together and then started our descent back down the mountain, but about 200 yards down the path, one of the girls says, “Oh my gosh! I left my camera up there!”

Feeling confident after his first escape, my dad goes back up to the top with our angry bull friend to fetch her camera. I did what every good daughter would do — I got on my face and prayed until he returned. Just kidding. I got out my camera and video’d the whole thing. If nothing else, we were going to go viral on YouTube after dad got bucked. (I’ve always been a journalist, I guess.)

Thankfully, nothing happened. Dad got the camera and returned, and we went back to camp, packed our bags and headed for the airport. The real irony of this story is that when we got to the airport, the Running of the Bulls in Spain was all over the TVs. We resolved that our bull was displaced and jealous of all his pals in Spain, and we were glad we could help make his Running of the Bulls dreams come true in some small way.

I was thinking about this story the other day, about how sometimes life goes a lot like that morning did. People just don’t climb mountains expecting to be charged by a bull at the top. Sometimes crazy, unexpected things just happen, and you roll with it and keep going, and you don’t let it define all the rest of the days that follow it.

I’ve climbed several other mountains since that one, and never have I started one of those journeys thinking, “Man I better prepare myself for the bull at the top.”

I don’t know what the crazy, unexpected curve ball that turned what was supposed to be a beautiful experience into a near-disaster in your life was recently, but I’m sure you’ve had one. And I challenge you to choose to believe that there are still sunrises to be seen on mountaintops, even though one of them got ruined once.

I was on the phone with my dad last night, and he said, “You know, we only get to be on this earth once. Might as well wear ourselves out saying yes to all the crazy things we get invited into.”

I love that about my dad. I hope I always think that way, too. Every day a new opportunity for adventure. Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight.

Cheers to the adventures ahead of you this weekend. May they be equal parts beauty, adventure and ridiculousness.

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Control free and carried everywhere.

Honduras Photo

I love this photo. It’s from a trip I took to Honduras three years ago, to help my grandparents prepare for a new school year with the educational program they founded there. My interaction with this kid marked me forever.

He was by far the smallest one in this preschool we’d visited. I found him standing in the doorway, looking out at all the other kids on the playground. I could tell by the sheepish look on his face that he wanted to go out there, but he was afraid. In my very broken Spanish, we exchanged the few words I knew to ask him if he wanted me to take him.

I got down on my knees next to him and pointed at the playground.

“Vamos aqui?” (We go here?)

He pointed at the swings, and grinning, he responded, “Si! Alli!” (Yes! There!)

I picked him up and we sat down and began to swing together, and for hours, we didn’t move from there. He was having the time of his life. He knew what he wanted, but he was afraid and didn’t know how to get there. All it took was someone who could carry him. And as soon as I offered, with no hesitation, we went running straight for that swing.

This photo is framed in my living room, and lately it’s speaking to me every morning when I sit down to spend time with God. I’m learning that I want to be more like that kid.

Confession: I like to be in control. I don’t like to ask for help. (Isn’t that what Google is for? So we can consult the internet in secret without actually admitting we didn’t know something?) I tend to have a slight case of “I can do it better” syndrome.

An independent spirit plagues me if I’m not careful. 

My husband will probably be the first to tell you that I tend to be a backseat driver. I’m bossy in the kitchen. (That may never change — I’m Italian. It’s fine.) I prefer to have control of the TV remote. I am always DJ in the car. (I also have a mild case of “my music taste is better than yours” syndrome.)

I’m sure you’re catching my drift, so I’ll stop listing all of my flaws now. My point is that one of the most uncomfortable things for me to do is hand over the control of something that I feel entitled to do myself. Ugh… entitled. That word. I really am a millennial.

So as 2013 came to a close, I could sense this challenge from God hovering over every single area of my life: Are you going to give me all the control, or not?

Here’s how it all played out:

Scenario One: I had a part-time job as a nanny, and I was working part-time for a new publication here in Waco.  This publication was growing faster than we had anticipated, and if the business side of things didn’t develop at the same rate, we weren’t going to make it. So I was asked to take a risk in going full time and helping with marketing and ad sales (on top of doing the writing I was already doing), to help see this thing thrive.

Another confession: sales and all things administrative are totally out of my comfort zone! Every day when I go to work I feel like my heart is in my butt and I want to either vomit or cry (I haven’t vomited yet, but believe me, there have been tears). But I believe in this publication, and I felt very clearly like God had opened this door for a reason, so here I am, completely out of control and out of my comfort zone, which is I think exactly where He wants me.

Scenario Two: My most treasured friend is getting married in April. She lives in Charlotte, and actually, we have never lived in the same place. Being so far away, it’s been a lot harder than I anticipated to hand her over to this man I feel like I hardly know. 

All my protective best friend questions echo in my mind: Is he good enough for her? What about that one thing he did or said — should I be concerned about that? Is this a red flag? Why do I want to punch him right now?

And then, whispering through all those thoughts, another reminder from God that I’m not supposed to be in control: “Did you ever think that maybe it’s not so much about you trusting this man you don’t know, but more about you trusting me?” Ouch.

This list of places in my life He’s been asking me to relinquish control of could go on. Last week I told a story on my friend Elizabeth’s blog about how the holidays taught me it was time to let go of my right to my time with my family, and time to trust God that He knows what He’s doing with His plans for my future.

He even gets to hold the control of when, where, and how I’ll raise my own family one day. Not even my own children will be mine.

He will entrust me with what I need and what I can handle when it’s time. So I don’t have to be overwhelmed that I feel ill-equipped for my job, or sad that I feel a loss in leaving my family, or anxious about handing my best friend over to a stranger, or afraid of how and when all the ideals of my future will play out.

If He’s called me into something, there’s grace for me to do it. If something I’ve been believing for hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t time. His timing is always His grace, and His grace is always timely.

And the gift along the way is always His presence. It’s the only thing that matters, really. And I’m brought back to that photo on my living room wall, in the arms of the one who can carry me to the places I fear going alone, but know I deeply desire to go to.

Every morning I wake up and I stand in the doorway of a new day, looking at the place I want to go, but fearing it. And He kneels down, and He points at that thing I fear, and He says, “Do you want to go?”

Yes. There. Will you take me?

I don’t know how to do anything He’s asking me to do in this season without Him. It’s scary. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. And every day He’s carrying me, and every day I’m having the time of my life. Even in my fear and my inadequacy. 

He’s in control, and I am free.

This year, I’m flying stand-by.

I spent the new year doing one of the things I love most: traveling. As I boarded a plane on New Year’s Day, I felt this sense of adventure marking the new year. I’d spent my morning dreaming with God into a new year of my life, and I  couldn’t stop thinking all day long about this idea of being on a never-ending journey with Him.

I found it kind of ironic, as I sat waiting for a plane in Dallas, that I’d been thinking all day about all the destinations I wanted to reach in my life this year. We all do it, we set goals and expectations of how we’ll keep on track with our five-year plan.

And don’t get me wrong — this is so important. We should absolutely be keeping before us the things we desire to accomplish. But I think I’m so quick when I dream to just keep my eyes on the final destination and miss the journey that gets me there. Or, perhaps worse, get completely lost because I’ve never actually looked right in front of me to see the path that’s leading me in the direction of that destination.

So we sit down on January 1 and we look back at the last 365 days of our lives, and we get frustrated that we didn’t magically appear at that place we’d been dreaming of going. But we didn’t submit to the journey and find the stops along the way that would ultimately take us there, so here we are, still daydreaming in terminal D when 50 planes have come and gone that we could have boarded, but we didn’t think that was the route we wanted to take.

Am I the only one who does this?

I’ll be honest, I have dealt with some disappointment with God in my heart this week. Dreams that haven’t quite come to life as much as I’d hoped they would have by now. Dreams I’ve had to completely die to and lay down, not knowing if or when I’ll ever pick them back up again. Relationships that have changed, and I’ve grieved, as new seasons of life and growing up force us to narrow our lives.

All week while I was in Charlotte (which was rife with revelation I’m sure I’ll be sharing in posts to come), I just could feel things shifting, and it made me uncomfortable. So I started asking myself hard questions.

Why am I so afraid of taking the necessary risks to get where I want to go? And not just where I want to go, but where I feel like God has clearly spoken He wants to take me. What am I afraid of having to leave behind in order to get there?

In the decisions I’m making in my life, am I partnering with God to advance the kingdom and His purposes for my life, or am I partnering with the enemy in his schemes of fear and uncertainty to hold me back from those things?

I started thinking about all the stories I love to read in the Bible. I wonder how short God’s word would be if we only were given the starting point and the final destination of all those people. Isn’t the story that develops along the journey the point? I started thinking about how maybe I’m not all that different from all of them.

Adam and Eve, the wanderers first sent out from the garden, because otherwise they’d live forever in misery. A necessary journey for the eventual redemption of God’s people.

Abraham and Sarah, obedient in God’s call and promise to bless their offspring forever, all the way down to the Savior himself. A promise they received well into their older years, still submitted to the journey. Obedient wanderers.

Moses, willingly wandering through the desert for years and years, leading God’s people even when they despised him for it. He never even got to see the promised land himself, but his journey set up generations to come to inherit the promises of God.

Esther, a stranger made Queen, wandering right into royalty and courageously standing up to a king she had no business being in the same room as. The result? A free people.

David, shepherd boy made king. Wanderer of wanderers — his adventures are some of my favorite to read of. Heart set on a pilgrimage, wavering at times but knowing deeply the value of praising and glorifying the King along the way.

Jesus, born in a manger by two kids who had themselves been wandering. Scripture says that even the Son of man did not have a place to lay his head. And I get the feeling he didn’t care. He was on a journey, and His was the greatest of all — the one that will ultimately take us all home.

Paul, traveling as he planted churches, thrown in and out of prison, and facing adversity knowing that his mission was his destination, not any physical place he’d ever settle in.

This list is only the beginning of so many others. Since the beginning of time, we’ve all just been on a journey. Hearts on a pilgrimage, willingly going through the valley of weeping, and in to the places of springs, until the day we kneel before God in Zion. (Psalm 84)

So yesterday, as I sat in the airport all day at the end of a two-day flight cancellation adventure, I thought, “Yep, this seems about right.” There I sat on a stand-by list, hoping they’d finally call my name and take me home.

And this is how I want to live my life this year. Completely out of my control. Boarding to the next destination when He calls my name, and finding rest in the journey when He doesn’t. Responding only to His voice: the passport to a most extraordinary excursion.