The Best We Have

“Start where you’re at, be all the way where you are. Sink into where God has you…accept the lessons and the gifts.”

These warm words came from a blogger in my Instagram feed yesterday morning. And on that particular Monday – with a negative wind chill and a dog as my all-day company – those words felt important.

We’re in the throes of a fresh start. The year, naturally, but also the beginning of a new job for Thomas and a new, though undetermined, course for me. We’re one week moved into a rental house a few hours from home. The adjustment’s been slightly achey, but our eyes are wide open to how God’s provision spans wider than our apprehensions.

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Back in July, Thomas started a 5-month police academy that required us to spend weekdays apart. We’re still celebrating with the wine friends keep bringing over and repeat trips to Target – a small luxury, much like the half tiramisu/half biscotti gelato we split the other night.

We talked a lot about how we changed in 2014. How he learned resiliency and grew to lead others. He’s paying attention to his purpose (even if that purpose puts me on edge when I watch the news). And I’m different, too.

A few years ago when we traveled to Cape Town, a staff worker gave me a compliment I didn’t even know I craved when she said, “I think you’re brave.” I like to think that 2014 forced me to lean into courage. In the big things, but also in the small things. You know, like waking up on a Tuesday. The truth that God is the source of hope – I believe that’s the truth that enables our bravery.

One of the most daunting parts of this new start is that I’m not sure what’s next in our story. Sustaining our marriage on 15-minute phone calls and recounting the training to our family and friends gave us something to say. We had a goal to work toward, a barrier to overcome, and it molded, strengthened, sensitized and built us up.

Now that things are “normal,” what is our story? What are we working toward that will keep us from apathy and stagnation? Not just in our marriage, but in our lives as a whole?

My first step is admitting that I don’t know, but I want to find out. And today I have a little peace that even the smallest movement despite fear, on any level, is one of the best gifts we can offer God, and ourselves.

Idols

We experience God in different ways.

Obviously.

This past fall, I watched a simulcast conference thing with a couple of hugely popular Christian teachers. They had to decide whether or not the conference would feature a music set. Ultimately, they decided against it, saying that it’s easy to let worship be a result of a specific mood or environment that music often sets. They wanted people to praise God because he’s God. No fancy stuff attached.

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Photo Credit: Wai Shaw of Flickr Creative Commons

So yeah, I sometimes fall into that camp. I like my music, and it definitely draws me near to God when I let myself really listen to the lyrics, the movement.

Books do the same for me. I have a growing list of books I want to read, categorized as Christian non-fiction because I gain a ton from other people’s words and experiences. I love being poured into that way.

I also experience God in hearing how he works in other’s lives. Recently, I’ve felt a lot of joy over Thomas being able to pray with kids at work and give the gospel to them straight. That is so cool.

The heart problem, though, is that all these things have not been God himself. They’ve been substitutes, rather than complements.

I’ve taken my favorite books and made them the bible.

I’ve taken powerful songs and made them prerequisites for drawing near.

In the beginning, there was God. At the end, there will be God. And I think to myself, “Isn’t that enough?”

I’m working on it. Maybe it’s just the human way of seeking something tangible related to faith. I may not see God face to face, but I can read about how he’s moving, regardless. I can listen to something beautiful and be reminded of beauty.

But he alone is enough.

So I’ll repeatedly need to get back to the basics. Just God, and without the fancy stuff.

If any of this relates to you (particularly those of you in modern or contemporary churches), I’d encourage you to read this article. It’s a good one. 

When You Don’t Know The Timing

Lately, the husband and I have been tossed around by plans. Together we’ve encountered a number of job prospects, rejection emails, injuries, delays and flat out times of waiting. Much is unknown.

I think often about what I want to be true of our lives, for certain. Like traveling on big trips, pursuing our dream jobs, creating a family, teaching that family what it means to live life for God, taking risks and genuinely enjoying where we are at each stage.

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Photo Credit: Maco of Flickr Creative Commons

But I’ve noticed, when I think about these things, that there’s one particular barrier that gets in the way of having confidence to move on decisions, or taking steps in a definitive direction: the idea of “correct” timing. 

Like wondering when the right time is to sponsor a child. Or have our own kids. Or go on an extended trip. Or get my hair cut.

I tend to exaggerate the importance of “perfect” timing because I believe, far too frequently, that my plans are my own. That everything is on my (and the husband’s) shoulders.

Sometimes I talk myself out of whimsical ideas or doubt a decision not because I fear whatever it is I want to pursue, but because I’m more afraid of screwing up the timing of the decision. Or missing out on something because my timing was selfish or too rushed. Can you relate?

Interestingly enough, I just started reading a book by Sarah Cunningham called The Well-Balanced World Changer. In the very first chapter, she talks about how we maintain this fear that if we miss God’s promptings, our life no longer has a chance at being completely meaningful. She writes, so lovely:

Even if we miss some sort of cue along the way, I firmly believe God maintains an uninterrupted desire to bless us just as much as he would’ve had we been more attentive or responsive.

In our human economy, if we don’t execute the ideal, the backup plan is usually lesser. It’s the best and least taxing secondhand way to get something accomplished, given that we already missed the absolute best path. It’s more work, less rewarding, and may not produce an equally good outcome. But it’s the best we’ve got.

Not God though. God can insert the backup plan right over the original and weld them together. He can make this draft of the plan – forged from your successes and failures – so productive, so enriching, that it’s as if the first plan never existed.

My eyes were a little glossed over from staring at my Nook so intently. I read and re-read this, staying on that page and letting these words sink in.

Our plans B, C, and Z (or lack of plans altogether) could turn out to be just what He intended all along.

So take heart. God can redeem anything that we happen to mess up.

Or maybe we just need to get out of our own way in the first place.

Living Outside of Me Update — For those of you following my Living Outside of Me series, bless you. I haven’t written in a while. But I did want to let you know that as of this week, we have sponsored a young girl from South Africa named Mbasa through World Vision after much consideration. She’s beautiful and we can’t wait to hear from her in a few months. Click here to learn more about World Vision’s child sponsorship program. 

A Quiet Moment

I haven’t been here in a little while.

I could tell you that school has me zapped. Or that we tend to be busy 4+ evenings a week and I haven’t had the time to sit down and write.

Those things are true, only to an extent. But there’s been an overarching theme of my life recently and I think Hayley over at The Tiny Twig says it best on her blog. She writes:

I can’t do everything well, not at the same time anyway…When faced with many good things…choose to do the one thing only you can do. If there is something someone else can do, then be willing to let it go for the things made just for you…I need to love the people right in front of me well, because that’s the thing only I can do.

I have been pulled to focus on what is in front of me. School and work, absolutely, but also giving due attention as I go into my fifth month of being a wife. Lately we’ve been tossed around by job prospects and the reality that marriage is actually work and grace is a necessity.

So that’s where we are. Sometimes living our everyday, ordinary moments isn’t always as exciting as the prospect of what “could” be, but that’s ok. We’re finding meaning in the small things.

We’ve been trusting God the best we can when we don’t know what the heck we’re doing half the time. It’s caused me to be more present where I am, both physically and mentally. I’ve been concentrating on that.

That’s the thing only I can do.

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Questions

Husband and I took the youth group retreating a couple weekends ago.

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Though the rambunctious-ness of twelve middle school girls was inevitable (and, really, quite fun), the purpose of the overnight was for them to find a little quiet.

Rest in the busy-ness.

Stillness in the distraction.

They forged relationships with each other at two in the morning while I was sound asleep. And in our free time the next morning, with my warm cup of tea, I witnessed them asking questions. Big questions. Like the kind you ask in passing, only to yourself, because if you think about it too long, the confusion gets to you.

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Four girls sat in a circle and discussed the meaning of the “don’t throw your pearls before swine” text.

One of them admitted that the idea that God has existed forever absolutely befuddled her.

Another talked about why it was so hard to be a Christian outside of church.

And another asked me if it was wrong, as a Christian, to doubt and have questions.

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What joy I felt in being able to tell her that those questions make us stronger. Because I truly believe it, and that continues to make a difference for me.

For me, it’s in the seeking, the moments of pure curiosity and a thirst to understand and articulate my belief to others, that I am the most in tune with my faith. It does me no good to be lazy, but it’s easy for belief to become passive. I must find ways to keep it active.

I think questions do this, to an extent. I’ll never understand everything there is to know about God’s workings; if I did, he wouldn’t be God.

But the hunger to know keeps me searching. And it’s not that I should have faith once all of them are answered. It’s that the Lord will show himself through the process – a refining, of sorts.

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I think this is one of the misconceptions of the church at large.

It’s likely that many people have the perception that church is for the rock-solid believer who is devoted to Christ and wants that community with other Christians. But I think it should also be for the people with big questions who just want to talk through some stuff. To speculate a bit and have a safe space to do so.

Do we make church that kind of environment? One that sees questions not as a threat or hindrance, but as a faith-enhancer?

Something to ponder for your rainy Sunday.

To My Youth Group

Because my youth group’s first meeting is this weekend, it has prompted me to think about the upcoming year and what I wish for them. For us.

I want them to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. The pragmatism of my upperclassmen boys and frilliness of my middle school girls. That there will be harmony among each other, and much laughter.

I wish them strength as they start another school year. To overcome stress caused by too much note-taking, too much comparing or too little rest.

And that they would come to realize that Christ defines them. That no matter what jeans they wear, sports they play or grades they receive, they are enough.

As for myself, I don’t want to care for them from a safe distance.

I want to work to understand them better as individuals and let them know that I, too, have giggled about what boy likes what girl. I, too, have held myself to an unreasonable standard in school.

And fortunately, there is a God so much bigger than what we try to become on our own. Don’t we all need that reminder sometimes?

To my youth group, I love who you are. I really hope you know that.

I can’t wait for another wacky year with you.

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When To Just “Do”

I imagine He sees who we’ll all become, too, if we start RSVPing yes to His invitations and go after those things He’s made us to love. It’s not all planned out for us either, and that’s where most people get too nervous to take the next step. But know this: when Jesus invites us on an adventure, He shapes who we become with what happens along the way.

This is an excerpt from “Love Does” by Bob Goff. It struck me in the early morning hours of today as my eyes were still waking up. In this season of life, I’m learning how to identify what it is that I love, and then what to do about it. I still have so much to learn. At what point do we slow down to accumulate the resources, the head knowledge, the experience before diving into something new? At what point do we jump in anyway and decide to learn on the fly? I don’t want to miss out.

But for now, I’m patient. Eager to see what’s next. That’s enough for now.

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By the way, a narrative piece of mine inspired by a recent post was featured on Prodigal Magazine last Friday. View the piece here. I was both excited and nervous to share my words on such a public platform, but the response has been so encouraging. Makes me value the power of story.

Things I Learned in June

One of my newfound joys in blogging is exploring other people’s blogs. I enjoy finding authors who topically speak and write to my interests, and who I can learn something from. Emily Freeman writes over at Chatting At The Sky. She’s funny, true and at the end of each month writes a post about all the things she learned in those 30 some days. She encouraged her readers to do the same for this month.

Thus, here are some of the many things I learned in June:

1. Cooking is a form of creativity. And I like it. I’ve found satisfaction in creating a full meal from lots of different ingredients and making it look pretty on the table.

2. Walkie-talkies are still fun as adults. We brought them on the youth group’s mission trip to communicate among vans, and the conversations induced so much laughter. Over and out.

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3. Speaking of the mission trip, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the people of Appalachia.

4. It is possible to roast asparagus in a toaster oven. The countertop appliance isn’t just for toast anymore, people.

5. Even children work to overcome fear. My precious five-year-old nephew wanted to run and jump off the diving board so bad, but he was terrified of not knowing what the result would be. Eventually, right before having to leave the pool, his little legs sprinted off that board and into the water. He was so brave! Even if it did take a little monetary bribing.

6. Friendships change as people change. And the result is often life-giving.

7. I don’t totally appreciate when it’s sunny and rainy at the same time. The possibility, yes. The contradiction, no.

8. Articulating why I believe what I do is more crucial than ever. I don’t want to be a blind follower, but instead dig into defenses for Christianity. My current bible study, ‘Why Do You Believe That?’ will continue to help me in this.

9. I don’t get tired of the music from Pitch Perfect. I really don’t.

10. Transitioning into marriage was rougher than I thought. For a short period of time, anyway. I learned it’s ok to be sad for what’s behind you, but in no way should that overpower the excitement of a new adventure.

What are some things that you learned in June?

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On Authenticity

I’m just beginning this book called Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor by Margot Starbuck (is that an author-y name or what?). While I’m only about 50 pages in, much of her commentary has resonated with me as relevant and true of my own life. Just as the title implies, she urges readers to use our current circumstances to reach out to those who we normally wouldn’t. To use small interactions to show love to those pushed to the outer rim of society, whether they live down the block or in another nation. In speaking about how to reconcile two seemingly different worlds, she writes this searingly honest paragraph:

Even my impulse to “serve” is tainted with my own twisty radicalized motives. Despite the fact that I’m quick to invoke Jesus’ name, there can be a wily dynamic at work by which my “service” to “the poor” still allows me to feel superior to those I’m serving. It’s a mess, right? In my own heart, this devilish bind can precipitate one of two things. It can paralyze me so that, stuck, I stay trapped in my privilege-ghetto, segregated from so many that God loves. But acknowledging the mess can also drive me to prayer when I recognize that the tainted kind of power I do have – by virtue of race and education and affluence – only interferes with, rather than lubricates, authentic kingdom relationships. Then, to get unstuck, I cry out “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). This is pretty much how it goes.

We are, undoubtedly, a complicated people. I especially appreciate how she references the privileged power as being a hindrance in developing relationships with people considered to be on the fringe. Because let’s face it; sadly, the woman speaks truth.

How do we begin to create these new, authentic relationships? How do we stay genuine when we know that some will look upon us weirdly, while others will view us with admiration? Where, then, does that put our motivation?

Lord, help us. 

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When You’d Rather Just Eat the Cookies

Sometimes it’s as if the work stares back at you.

Writing every minuscule event you can possibly think of down on your to-do list, then feeling paralyzed because you’re not sure where to begin. Or perhaps, like me, you try to mark out those little things just because you don’t want to do the bigger thing. Not yet, anyway.

Sometimes, I acknowledge my tiredness and admit that I’d perform the work better in the morning.

Sometimes, I’d rather just sit. Or enjoy a sweet treat from Byrd’s cookies, a souvenir-t0-self from our spring break trip to Savannah this past week (more on that later). I’d rather block out the annoyances.

We have moments where we get so wrapped up in the seemingly significant now – for me, appointments to schedule, invitations to design and papers to write – that we forget God is bigger. That our purpose is wider. We tend to think that the lists will endure forever, and our calling is to be productive, efficient people. We can’t let the work consume us.

Our strength comes from Him. Our purpose is to point to Him.

Even when we’re in a funky mood.

This post is for those of you in funky moods. For those of you who would rather drink hot tea and go to sleep.

For those of you who would rather just eat a cookie. Maybe two.

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