Enjoying the Getting to There

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We’ve been driving for more than five hours. The rain is falling in droves around us, and the kids are quietly playing, I am quietly reading, Greg’s mom is quietly doing crossword puzzles, and Greg and his dad are quietly listening to college football on the radio. (Well, as quiet as that can be.)

We’re road-tripping for a week-long trip to Disney World. All is well.

We’ve been to Disney before together – in fact, Paxton is exactly the age Jaana was on her first trip – and as we journey down the interstate going a hair faster than the speed limit says we should, I watch my boy in a deep sleep, mouth agape and breathing deeply. And then I watch him wake up suddenly, wide-eyed and rested. And then I watch him play the shark game (again) on the iPad.

I watch him, knowing where we’re headed – to Disney World! – and he knows that too…he knows where we’re going. But I watch him and realize he has no idea where we’re going. He doesn’t understand the joy he’ll find there, the magic he’ll feel, the overwhelming sense of happiness that’s about to envelop him for four entire days as we laugh and play and experience the wonder of this gift.

I watch him.

He’s happily sucking his fingers all the while holding his ratty, four-year-old Elmo and making a shark attack an innocent swimmer. He’s laughing at the jokes flying between his Daddy and Papa. He’s nodding his head in beat to the music, asking for snacks and another drink.

I watch him enjoying the journey.

He knows where we’re going, and even though he doesn’t fully know where we’re going, he’s enjoying the moment. Enjoying the journey. He’s not asking questions about how we’ll get in to the park or where we’ll eat or will Elmo get to ride Dumbo with him…he’s just being.

I watch him, and I’m completely and absolutely struck by how much I need to be like him.

We all know those times – the ones that are the majority, not the minority – where God doesn’t tell us where we’re headed and we blindly hold His hand, letting Him lead and guide and as He pulls us to the left to avoid the potholes and to the right to avoid the cliffs. We pepper Him with a thousand questions, a barrage of Where are we going? and How long before we get there? and I’m a little bit hungry and tired and bored. He doesn’t usually answer — just quietly gives our hand a reassuring little squeeze, which shuts us up for about half an hour, and we keep walking.

And then…

Then there are the times – the ones that are completely the minority and never, ever the majority – when He does tell us where we’re headed. You’re going to Disneyland! And we know it’s supposedly magical and we’re told it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type trip, and if He’s taking us there, it must be because He loves us so very, very much.

What sacred journeys those should be…the journeys where the blindfold is off and we are able to walk side-by-side Him – not being pulled behind – fingers entwined and knowing smiles exchanged as we stroll in His love, mercy and grace.

Except…

Except that I don’t walk with Him that way during those times. Do you? I don’t walk with Him as a friend, or lover, or daughter. Instead I hang back — I resist, I pull, I shuffle. I ask questions — again with the questions — but now they sound more like accusations: Why is it taking so long? and Why doesn’t anyone else know where I’m going? and What’s it going to be like when I get there? and This is really hard, should we just go back?

And I think God looks at me and is tempted to say,

Just get up here and walk with Me. Hold my hand and let’s enjoy the journey. It’s going to be worth it. SO WORTH IT. Don’t you realize to get anywhere amazing requires a little effort on the journey? Be it through the wilderness or through a tomb or through exile, it’s going to require some fortitude and perseverance. But where I’m taking you is going to be better than Disney Land — it’s the Promised Land. You are going to FREAK OUT when you see what’s waiting for you there…but for now, just enjoy the Getting to There. 

I watch him.

He’s only almost-five and he doesn’t complain that it’s taking so long, or that the car is bumpy, or that we have to stop again for someone to use the bathroom. He’s only almost-five and he just happily be-bops along, completely content because he’s safe and he trusts who’s taking us there and he’s surrounded by people who love him more than life itself.

I watch him, and I’m completely and absolutely struck by how much I need to be like him.

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Beauty in the Brokenness (A Beautiful Life: Week 3)

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WEEK 1 – INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

ALLISON
Say hello to my friend Allison. (Hi, Allison!) I asked her to send me whatever pic she wanted to accompany her introduction, but truth be told, I squealed with delight when she sent this one because it’s my most favorite ever. This picture — this is the picture where there’s hope behind her eyes and a little bit more ease in her smile and if you look closely, it’s almost as if there is a sweet relief of a recent exhale in her expression. I don’t know if taking the picture resembled anything like what I see — but it’s a message, I believe, from God right to her. 
 
Allison & I attended the same church in Atlanta, and while we knew each other, we weren’t close. Then I moved to the mountains and suddenly that changed. I don’t remember how it happened — I just know that it did (thank you Jesus) — and now it feels like I’ve known her forever because I can’t remember what it was like before I called her friend.
 
Allison loves her family and her Jesus and can’t do life without them. She identifies with the weary warriors in life and writes to give others comfort and hope that they are not alone. Her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury over 8 years ago, and she’s chronicled her families’ journey ever since over at www.dannyandallison.com. And she over-shares (her words, not mine) more personally at www.allisonmdiaz.com for her fellow comrades in the battles through life

It is never beautiful to find yourself unexpectedly standing at the end of a hospital bed. Your husband of almost four years lies there comatose and brain injured while his son is kept safely tucked under rib number 3 in your belly.

Yet, this was the beginning of a path, a journey that started with 80 feet and now holds more than eight years of endurance.

Ours is certainly not a path worth choosing, though I imagine the same can be said for many who find themselves living life on the parallel.

Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead. (Proverbs 3:5-6, Voice)

But, Friends, there is everlasting value in the suffering. There is comfort during the grief and there is a stretching of faith in the grasping of hope.

DANNY&ALLI

He wakes me every night for help.

He leans on me to stand strong.

He calls me to be his hands, his mind, and his memory.

He relies on me to guide him.

He hopes in me for strength.

And, it is often too much for one person to bear.

The pulling, the leaning, the calling, being everything to even but one, is an understatement of challenge.

And, I think of Him, of Jesus, who came to be pulled, to serve, to love, to save, to die, to be everything for all and I am greatly humbled.

As I kneel at my husband’s feet each night to remove his shoes, my Savior postured himself a servant to the ones he loved.

Am I not called to do the same?

Am I not called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Am I not to love as He loves me?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (I Peter 2:21)

Oh, but, a bounty of joy can escape your view because of the clouds of loss.

I am not Jesus.

I am flawed and imperfect every moment of my wrestling. Yet, in my full blown weakness, I know that His strength is then revealed.

Sometimes the most terrifying test can bring about the most beautiful masterpiece. (click to tweet that)

Oh, Friends, life can be hard. Life can feel like a box of only black Crayolas, but He is oh so present in the darkest of places. He comes like whisper on the breath of your faith and he draws into you, covering and protecting you under his wing. He is the One whose joy, whose assurance of life abundantly comes storming mightily in to your brokenness.

You may find yourself on a path that is bleak and seemingly hopeless. You may find yourself in a wilderness of monotony, but I promise you, He promises you, that He will uphold you in his right hand. He promises to carry you through it. He promises to love, to cherish, and to keep you.

The God of Universe is the God of your circumstances. The same Father that sacrificed his Son for you, will sacrifice your planned path for His glory, to share in His suffering to make His name known to the masses.

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And, as I care for my husband, serving him and meeting his needs, I wonder are we not also called to serve those, to love those who know not of Him? Oh, Friends, understand that the greatest beauty is found in Jesus, the Way and in Jesus, the Life.

Bend then to the Truth and hold fast to the knowledge that one day this possibly tragic path of life will lead to the face of God.

And, it’s there at His feet, we can stand knowing that in all things we kept the faith, we finished the race and have found beauty everlasting.

I have fought the good fight, I have stayed on course and finished the race, and through it all, I have kept believing. (2 Timothy 4:7)

*    *    *

Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Glorifying God Through the Obstacles in Marriage. This is a 2-part broadcast from Focus on the Family with Mike and Renee Bondi, and how they found beauty in the midst of physical tragedy, celebrating 25 years of marriage.

2. BrainLine.org. Wonderful website dedicating to preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Dancing Amid Disaster (A Beautiful Life: Week 2)

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To read last week’s introduction, click here.

MISSY

I’m so excited to introduce you to Missy! We first became friends through the power of the blogosphere, and when we met in person at Allume this year, it was more than obvious we were sisters from another mister. My goodness, we’re practically the same person — down to realizing we’re even sorority sisters! Laughter is her spiritual gift (one of her many, many gifts) and she blesses me to no end with it. 

Missy writes anonymously at www.missindeedy.com. She longs to get it right, but often gets it wrong (her words, not mine!). The mishaps are a’plenty, but there is grace galore. She’s wife to one, a mama to two, and likes to write words. But above all, she’ll tell you that she’s saved by grace and strives to remember that mishap by mishap. Oh, yes indeedy!

We love to dance in our house. We love to crank up the music really loud and go all dance-crazy! This fun activity has proven to be quite the stress reliever and family bonder. We’ve even discovered that the pace of our dancing has a pattern: the more challenges adventures that our family is experiencing, the slower we like to dance; and the more relaxed our family life is, the wilder our dancing becomes. It’s almost like the calm brings on The Carefree!

Lately, though, we’ve been experiencing a budget crisis in our home. And this stilted our dance parties.

A huge lack was suddenly present when, with little warning, we were forced to work with roughly one-third of the previous monthly budget amounts. I found myself in the middle of a financial disaster as I scrambled to relearn words like “budget” and “delayed gratification”. Readjusting our outgoing to more responsibly match our incoming revealed a lack, alright, but not really in our budget…it was in my heart.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also be.” (Matthew 6:21)

I first realized that my idea of treasure needed some major rethinking while standing right in the milk aisle of the grocery store. Because our cost-cutting measures involved a very tight meal plan with no deviations, we were trying to limit the number of times we visited the grocery store to once a week. The need for a quick stop to pick up what we honestly needed to finish out a week of meals, provided a jolt to my mindset. That few dollars left in my purse for the remainder of the week was a stark reminder that there was no room for frivolous “just because” purchases.  “Is your treasure in the Oreo aisle, Missy? Or is it with the knowledge that I will feed you all you need?”, I heard God whisper to me.

My eyes were opened, yet again, in the middle of the mundane of my typical daily errands. Driving through town became painful, as I passed shop upon store upon restaurant that I used to frequent without thought to “what was in MY wallet”. Once I began sorting through my emotions relating to the “treasure” I missed having the freedom to buy, I realized that my daily routines demonstrated a complete disregard for The One who provided it all. And I began to see that I was counting on what was in those stores to fill an emptiness that was in me.

And then, there were my pants.  Our budget wasn’t the only thing that was tightening! My pants were getting tighter, too. Those pants of mine seemed to be trying to tell me that I’ve been feeding the wrong hunger.  With less money to carelessly throw on a muffin “to go with that coffee”, I miraculously found extra room in the budget and in my pants! They became a literal reminder that being bound up in debt can result in other, physical and mental, kinds of binding, too.

But, the turning point came when I was on the verge of lying. I found myself engaged in a discussion with other parents at the bus stop about the coming school vacation. Everyone was sharing the exotic locales they’d be visiting or the hot-chocolate laden snow-skiing trips they would be on. The conversation left me waffling between trying to make our pending “staycation” sound glamorous and fudging the truth. “Do you treasure the opinion of these people so much that you would lie?” I heard God pointedly asking me.

It was then, that I began to grasp that what I really needed wasn’t another trip to this or that place, a meal from such-and-such restaurant, or even a new pair of pants to match “that shirt” for that special event. My need wasn’t in the threading that covered my heart, but within my very heart, itself.

At that point, I looked into the eyes of The One who gives me All Things tearfully asked His forgiveness.  I laid my head on His shoulder and entered into a slow dance of rediscovering the treasure, from Him, that I desperately needed to begin storing up in my heart again.

Treasure like:

His promise to place a new song in my mouth. (Psalm 40:3)

His reminder that He will provide “pleasures never-ending” if we will but walk (and I’d add, dance) with Him. (Psalm 16:11)

His reassurance that He is aware of my every earthly need. (Matthew 6:31,32)

I wanted my heart to rest, again, in the truth that God will provide all that I need. And that realization brought on a desire to turn that slow dance, with Him, into a jig.

Not only because my heart began to sing for the newfound understanding of what had been missing, but because joy had been restored. The joy that comes from knowing that Jehovah Jireh, who knows everything I need and considers me far more valuable than the sparrows in the sky, will indeed provide.

In fact, as I began to consider this Truth more and more, and desire what was inside one of those stores less and less, I realized that He already has. God truly has uncovered my lack and filled it with His best, just as He promised. (Click to tweet that)

“You did it: You turned my deepest pains into joyful dancing; You stripped off my dark clothing and covered me with joyful light.” (Psalm 30:11)

That calls for some dancing.

Don’t you think?

Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Who is Jehovah Jirah? A deeper look into this name of God meaning “God is my provider.”

2. Tools for Getting Financially Fit. Resources from the infamous Dave Ramsey on getting yourself financially healthy.

3. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. One of the greatest ways to intensely get out of debt!

4. Cheaper, Better, Faster: Over 2,000 Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day by Mary Hunt. Come on, who doesn’t need this??

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

week 7: flying, part 1 (metamorphosis: embracing a life of becoming)

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Welcome! We’re wrapping up our series on embracing a life of becoming. If you’ve new to this series, I invite you to read the previous weeks if you want to catch up!

Introduction
Week 1 – Birthing, Part 1
Week 2 – Birthing, Part 2
Week 3 – Crawling, Part 1
Week 4 – Crawling, Part 2
Week 5 – Cocooning, Part 1
Week 6 – Cocooning, Part 2

We are all too eager to fly, are we not?

We stare at those who are flying with jealousy — wishing we too, could soar freely, letting the wind carry us. And as we watch — jealous and amazed and yearning — we don’t think about the process that brought them to freedom. We don’t think about their birthing and crawling and cocooning phases.

We just assume they’ve always flown — always only known flying — and that we’ll never be as free as them.

And really, we are thisclose to being as free as them. The only difference between us and them is that they chose to fly.

Choosing to emerge from the cocoon is hard. The cocoon felt safe and secure and cozy and warm…and even if it was a cocoon of testing and purifying, there was a sense of safety.

But the cocoon is designed to make us fly. Because that’s when butterflies undergo such a growth that if you surgically remove one wing, the other three will grow larger and it will still. be. able. to. fly.

It’s echoes what Job said — “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15)

And coming out of that cocoon — transformed completely — requires everything different from us. It requires standing when we never stood. It requires stretching with limbs we’ve never known. It requires using all things new that were born out of our process…and that feels foreign and unfamiliar and lunky and awkward, to be honest.

And because it’s different from what we’re used to, we avoid it completely.

And we just. never. fly.

While flying is freedom and anticipation, it’s mostly uncomfortable and daunting. It’s an excitement and renewed hope — but it also requires action.

God cannot make us fly. We have to choose to fly all on our own, and trust that we will. (tweet)

And to fly, we have to be the ones to break out of the cocoon. And then we have flap those new wings back and forth and up and down to stretch them out and strengthen them and pump blood to the new bones.

And then, we fly.

The outcome of flying could be very different from what you expect because The One orchestrating our flight has ways that are higher.

And it’s scary and fun and uncomfortable and exhilarating, because we have not been this way before. 

When we allow God to bring us through a metamorphosis, we are free to fly. And that frees us to be and do everything God has planned in advance for us to do. As ones who now fly, we, like birds, are free to:

  • soar high above the earth in the broad expanse of sky (Genesis 1:20)
  • find our footing after the storm (Genesis 8:12)
  • bring food to those in a valley (I Kings 17:6)
  • be known by God (Psalm 50:11)
  • be freed from the net and the trap (Psalm 124:7)
  • be kept safe by the Lord, like Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:5)
  • soar like eagles (Isaiah 40:31)
  • nest in the beautiful cedars (Ezekiel 17:23)
  • not worry about food and drink for ourselves (Matthew 6:26)
  • fly to our place in the desert (cocoon), and are cared for and kept safe from the devil (Rev 12:14)

So we fly in freedom and in purpose, and more — because we more important than the birds (Matthew 10:31). So we fly assuredly and confidently, knowing The One who painted our wings has also painted the skies we fly in. (tweet)

Embracing a life of becoming is to embrace the ebbs and flows of being in process. It’s to recognize what phase of transformation God you’re in, and to settle into it, allowing God to make you a beautiful, flying creature. It’s to stop striving so hard to move on from phase to phase, and to patiently trust that what God is creating is more important than where you are. It’s to recognize the purpose in your phase, and to realize you are not stuck.

It’s to recognize that while you are flying now, you’ll soon be crawling again, too. And to realize that’s not just okay, it’s normal.

Embracing a life of becoming is to flap your wings and take off into the unending sky — and fly.

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For I Will Yet Praise Him (Beating the Blues #2)

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “Beating the Blues” as a guest writer. Here is the second of three installments:

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She emailed me out of the blue…I had not seen or heard from her once in the three years since we left. But she emailed and told me some difficult news and shared her struggles and questioned God in it. She was tithing and giving extra offerings and fasting and praying, yet He wasn’t changing her circumstances and she couldn’t figure out why.

She was doing everything “right” and God wasn’t responding.

I couldn’t type my reply fast enough and there was smoke coming from the keys as I responded to her. I didn’t want any time to go by that would allow her to continue to think untrue and warped thoughts about her Abba Father. The words came easily and I said to her,

“Tithing is wonderful, and offerings are amazing and fasting shows God how serious you are. But you can never do those things out of a hope to get something from God in return. If that’s the motive of your heart in doing them, you might as well not do it at all. God only cares about your motive in doing it — He doesn’t need it. Give tithes because He asks us to and it’s obedience. Give offerings out of a desire to help others beyond what your tithe can do. Fast to show Him you really want to hear from Him…not to get…never to get. Your obedience to Him will always supersede your sacrifice. Every time. (<= click to tweet this)

 I know you feel disappointed and desperate and need a change in your circumstances. And more importantly, GOD knows that. But He seems to be asking you to follow and trust anyway…even with the possibility that nothing might ever change. Would you still follow Him if nothing ever changed? That’s the root of everything He’s trying to get through to you. He loves you regardless of everything you’ve done in the past or will do in the future. He loves you regardless of a job or no job. He loves you regardless of whether you tithe, offer, pray or fast. HE JUST LOVES YOU BECAUSE HE IS LOVE. He can’t help but love you. He just wants to know — and moreso, wants you to know — that you would follow Him into poverty if that’s what He asked of you. That’s all.”

 And God used my own words to speak and preach to me, as much as I was trying to encourage her. Because it’s so easy to praise Him when everything is great, isn’t it? And when He isn’t fitting into our perfectly outfitted, unbelieving box…well, then we just get mad and shake our fists at a Most Holy God and threaten Him with “just wait and see if I continue to follow you after this!”

We’ve all been where psalmist was in Psalm 42, that place where tears are our food day and night and people say to us all day long, “where is your God?” We’ve all been in the place where we say to Him, “why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” and that place where our bones suffer mortal agony and our foes taunt us saying all day long, “where is your God?”

Those places are hard. Those places are dry. Those places are where we tithe and offer and fast and pray in hopes of getting out of it. And God…watching from above with tears in His eyes because He is so close to the brokenhearted says,

“Remember these things as you pour out your soul…how you used to come to My house under My protection with shouts of praise and joy among the festive throng. Remember these things from the land of Jordan and the heights of Hermon, as deep calls to deep and my waves and breakers swept over you. Remember how I direct my love at night with My song in you, a prayer to Me of your life. Remember ME. Don’t love me to get. Love me because I first loved you.”

My friend replied to me with a simple and pure, yet profound realization,

“The answer is still yes…a simple but truthful yes…because I do love Him and I do trust Him even knowing I will never understand Him.”

His ways are higher, His thoughts are higher, and if we can conceive it, then that can’t be it. Yet we love Him anyway. Because He first loved us. Because He is love.

“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God — soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (Psalm 42:11, The Message)