Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

On Choosing Therapy and Choosing Faith

I didn’t want to go. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to blame the medicine my doctor gave me, and turn off my alarm, and pull my covers up over my head, and go back to sleep.

I laid there, blinking heavy eyelids, weighing the pros and cons with my groggy mind.

Arlow moved closer. Rested his head on my leg.

I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to go.

Forty-five minutes later, my energy drink and I were settling down in a leather chair across from yet another therapist.

My hair was barely brushed and my eyes red-rimmed from a tiredness that extends way beyond a need for sleep, but I was there- with teeth brushed and face washed and wearing something that wasn’t pajamas.

And I leaned forward, and I talked, and I forced myself to be engaged in the process. I didn’t abandon my bed and my dog just to sit there and nurse a sense of hopelessness after all.

But even while I sit there week after week, barring the door of my mind against hopelessness, I still feel sort of numb to the whole experience of therapy, like I’m just going through the motions.

And I never leave feeling any better. I never leave feeling like I’ve gained clarity and perspective where once things were dark. But I leave, with my next appointment reminder in my hand, and I know that I’ll continue to show up, even if I don’t want to. Even if I don’t know that it’s going to help.

And I wonder what “help” would even look like, and if I’d even recognize it as help right away or if it would come to me disguised.

For instance, maybe help will come disguised as early mornings with tired eyes and a therapist who is watching the clock to make sure we don’t go over our fifty minutes.

And so I show up. I show up with tentative hope, and I participate, and then I climb in my car and I don’t feel any better, but I choose to lift that hour up to the Lord.

I think therapy, like so much in life, is an exercise in faith.

Therapy is choosing to bury the seed in the dirt and wait.

And you don’t dig it back up to see if it’s starting to grow. And you don’t despair over the still-bare dirt. And you maybe don’t even watch the dirt at all because whether or not the seed ever grows is not up to you anyway.

And you tell yourself that if it grows, it’s because God is good. And if it doesn’t, it’s because God is good. And so you don’t put your hope in the seed, but in the God who can be trusted with it.

And so maybe that’s what help looks like. Maybe it comes disguised as dirt.

And maybe it isn’t one thing. Maybe it’s a series of things- continually choosing to do “the next right thing”.

Maybe help is getting out of bed. Maybe it’s going to therapy. Maybe it’s even going to work.

Maybe help is calling someone to ask for prayer, or showing up at church when you’d rather stay home, or breathing deep and reminding yourself that it is a gift to be alive.

Maybe help is going for a walk and forcing yourself to smell the air and feel the breeze and smile at the people you pass.

Maybe it’s running the vacuum because, even though you don’t want to, you know you’ll feel better when the bunny fur and chewed up dog toy are no longer on the carpet.

Maybe help is saying, “I love you,” and shamelessly waiting to hear an, “I love you too.”

Maybe it’s getting ten hours of sleep because that’s just what your body needs right now. And maybe it’s ordering a large pizza for just you.

Maybe help is just not giving up. Maybe it’s continuing to row the boat across the vast Pacific and not stop looking for land on the horizon. Because you KNOW there’s land. You know it.

And whether it’s the horizon or the dirt you’re waiting on, ultimately all you can do is lay aside your “How much longer?!” And so you look around at the blue sky and the warm sun and you choose to believe that there’s good in the waiting. And maybe that’s what help looks like- choosing to believe in good.

And so you do. You choose to believe. You choose faith.

You choose to trust in the One who bends low and whispers in your ear, “HOPE.”

29

“Look at yourself, child.”

That was what I heard as I looked at my reflection in the mirror. It was said with love and compassion, but also with finality.

My eyes were almost swollen shut from crying. My nose was running. I looked scared and overwhelmed and exhausted and sorrowful. I hardly recognized my own reflection.

And He, my loving Father, was calling it quits. “That’s enough, beloved,” He said. And then, as gentle and tender as anything I’ve ever heard, “It’s time for bed.”

He stood by, watching with vigilance and love while I sobbed, gasping for breath. He stood by and He felt my pain. And now He was calling me to be done. To rest. To let Him be God over the nighttime, and God over my heart when I awoke again in the morning.

And so I took a deep, hiccup-y breath and went to bed. And everything in me was so heavy and swirly and confused and grief-ridden that I couldn’t even give words to it.

But it was okay because He was taking control of the situation. He was reminding me, in words as loving as a kiss, that I am His child. Precious and beloved, but human. Small and young and needy. And He is God.

How quick we are to forget that we never stop being children. We never stop needing to be parented.

And this Father of mine, in His infinite wisdom and love, was calling it bedtime.

This has been the most painful birthday of my life. It has been excruciating. And even though it hasn’t been void of love, it has also been full of aloneness and sorrow and grieving all that was lost in my 28th year of life.

It has been full of tough love. Of learning and feeling misunderstood and having to humble myself and listen even when everything in me is screaming THIS IS NOT FAIR!

Tears and hugs and disagreements and embarrassment and vulnerability and words–both comforting and painful–spoken in love.

No rose-tinted glasses here. It’s been real and raw.

And important.

A stripping away of so many things.

A necessary acceptance.

Peace where there once was only screaming grief.

And gratitude–a breath-taking reason to say Thank You–for all this last year that wasn’t lost.

My life.

My faith.

The family God is grafting me into.

It’s been a hurricane- a wild swirling of emotions and hard truths and questions and longings. My eyes haven’t known where to focus.

But of course, the only way to survive, is to look up. To focus our eyes on Him.

Oh, God. There’s so much I don’t understand.

But at least I know where to focus my eyes.

And as I was talking to Him last night about my birthday, as I was telling Him how painful it was, I heard:

“I know, daughter. I know. But it has been important.”

I’m starting my 29th year of life off with some really, really hard things laid out before me.

But in all the pain and swirling, God is building a foundation. Stripping away lies and things I have been blind to. Planting my feet firmly on Truth. Forcing me to ask myself, “Do I trust Him?” even when I’m in intense pain. And, in exchange for my unconditional “yes”, giving me a peace that is greater than any of the sorrow.

And I wouldn’t trade this birthday for one that was more full of smiles and warm feelings. I don’t want to live a birthday like this ever again, but I trust the importance of it.

The pain of God undoing what never should’ve been.

The pain of responding to the call to grow.

The pain of a new beginning- a beginning that “just so happens” (I’m looking at you, God 😉 ) to coincide with the beginning of my 29th year of life.

And I believe, with my whole heart, that is it going to be good, this year.

Because I’m leaving it up to Him. And He loves me fiercely. Protectively. He looks at me and smiles. He sees potential. He whispers over me promises. He calls me dear and beloved.

And He looks at me, with my swollen, red eyes and nose chapped from blowing it so much, and breathes peace into all the wild within me.

And He says, “It’s time for bed, child.”

And I take a deep breath and nod my head. And I surrender.

It’s all going to be okay.

Only The Best

Today I read about how Jesus says many will be turned away, thinking that heaven is their fate, but instead He will say, “Away from me. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

That scares the crap out of me. Not as much for myself as for the people I love who I’ve lost touch with- those whose relationship with the Lord is kind of a question mark.

And I wish I could soften the edges of that truth and make it feel less jagged and painful as I hold it in my hand. But sure enough, that portion of scripture seems pretty clear.

And yet, I HAVE to believe in a God that will woo us relentlessly. I have to believe in the earth-shaking power of prayer and that my prayers, even the most poorly worded ones, terrify Satan. I have to believe it isn’t as bleak as that passage of scripture makes it sound.

I believe that because I have to. Otherwise I will be all panic and anxiety and desperately begging people to make changes that only God can really bring about in them. And so I believe that, but I don’t KNOW that.

And that scares me.

But what can I do?

And so I tuck myself under His arm and close my eyes and let Him be God.

*

The baby in the stroller in front of me craned her neck to stare at me as I walked through the parking lot. And I waved. She didn’t wave back or smile, and her mom remained unaware of the conversation taking place between her child and myself, but I smiled and waved anyway.

I smiled and waved almost reflexively. And I realized afterwards, while I continued to smile at the baby, that Jesus would’ve done that too. He would’ve smiled and waved. And that reflex in me is evidence that He is making me to be like Him.

And then I smiled again because how beautiful to see who I am becoming more like Him- sometimes in effortless ways, ways I could almost overlook, and sometimes through extreme, deliberate effort- knees to the ground, tears, prayers, pleading.

*

When someone compliments my ability to write or says I’m smart, there is no part of me that feels proud of that because I didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s how I was made.

Likewise, I have no control over the fact that my hair isn’t thick or that my feet are big or that I can’t sing like Lauren Daigle. As with not taking pride in the things I can do, there doesn’t have to be any shame in what I can’t do, or what I can’t be, because I had nothing to do with it; it’s just how I was made.

Similarly, when I see Him in myself, it doesn’t feel like a thing to be proud of- it feels like confirmation that He is here, working all things together, doing a good thing in me. It is comfort. Promise. Hope. It is all Him in me and growing me and sustaining me.

I can take no credit for the delight I find in the stars or foggy mornings. I can’t be blamed for my love for animals, even when it does border on the slightly ridiculous. I can’t take credit for the fact that I am generally a kind, friendly person. I can’t be blamed because I am unmarried. I cannot take credit for the fact that my hunger for the Lord is as real as fire within me.

Who am I aside from clay- His creation, being shaped and molded?

Additionally, in light of the above, how does it make sense to feel envious of someone else or judge myself as better than them?

So much of it has nothing to do with our own abilities, but His merciful gift-giving and all-knowing, perfect design. We are all His creations. Beautiful and astounding and flawed and fallible and worthy of love, but NOT worthy of a place on a throne or fame or worship, nor deserving of a critical eye or being the subject judgment.

Oh, how twisted this world has gotten it.

In the matter of who we are as people, the playing field is level.

I have control over my decisions. I have control over whether or not I choose to live a godly life. But who I am at my core? That’s all Him. A product of His all-knowing, miracle-orchestrating goodness. A product of my life experiences. A product of genetics. But all of it in His hands.

It’s not to my credit that I am good with children or that my eyes are hazel or that I can write. I don’t know any other way of being. It isn’t something I worked for, it’s just how I was made.

It’s not my fault I am not a brilliant singer.
But I can choose to sing anyway. That I have control over. To hide beneath my inabilities rather than make a joyful noise, that would be a shame. I can embrace who I am–flaws and all–and still choose to live life fully rather than hiding behind “I can’t” and “what will they think of me?”

And it’s not my fault I am terrified of doctors.
But I can choose to go anyway. …Even if I need someone there to hold my hand and drive me because Xanax is required. 😉

There are things we can choose, and there are things we can’t. And how often do we shoulder the weight of things we were never meant to carry- like inferiority or needing to prove ourselves or shame or having to be “better than” someone else?

*

He is all-knowing. The giver of good gifts. This is the life He chose for me. The body. The heart. The personality. There is no other life or personality or appearance that would be better.

And I was thinking about that on my drive to work today, how, essentially, jealously is saying, “God, You made a mistake. I don’t trust You.”

There’s a place for grief and sorrow and laying our dreams down at the foot of the cross, submitting them to Him with tear-filled eyes because we are going to trust Him even if it breaks our hearts. There’s a place for being sad about what we don’t have, but ultimately we have to be able to say that we surrender all to Him, come what may.

We have to live our lives with hearts and hands and minds open to receiving the fulfillment of our prayers, or pleasant and unexpected surprises, or even a “no” in response to our prayers. And when a “no” is the response, we have to be able to hear that and believe that God has better for us, whatever that “better” may be.

And we have to be okay with it not feeling like “better”, and we can grieve that, because what we feel is real and deserves compassion and acknowledgment. But, while our feelings are real, they aren’t reliable at determining what’s true. So we have to be able to cry and grieve and still stubbornly hold firm and unwavering to the belief that He is good and He can be trusted and He never gives us less than the best.

And at the end of the day, whether I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones, I can lay my head down on my pillow and tuck myself there under His arm. And I can close my eyes and breathe in peace and comfort because He is God and I am His. And I trust Him.

Believe

When people talk on the phone near me, I listen to see if they’ll end their conversation with an “I love you.”

I wait to hear the smile in their voice as they say, “I love you too.”

And it makes me glad for them.

Having someone to say ‘I love you’ to is one of this life’s greatest gifts.

*

Occasionally, you’ll hear someone talk about something good that happened in their life and they’ll say, “That changed me forever.”

They’ll assert that what happened–the event or circumstance of their past–has made who they are in the present richer and more alive and entirely different.

Which makes me think- Okay, so it’s possible not just to have something bad change you, but to have something so miraculous or good happen to you that you are no longer the same person.

That gives me hope- knowing there is the potential to be so undone and transformed by something (or Someone) that it warrants the statement “that changed me forever.”

 

“Miracles can happen in a heartbeat.”

*

I was thinking this morning about home-

The chaos of a bunny and a cat chasing each other through the house.
Something spilled in the bottom of the oven setting off the smoke detector.
Christmas music playing on the TV.
Candles lit.
Blowing a fuse because I forgot to turn the heat off before running the microwave.
Another cat meowing to be fed.
Laundry to do.
Cookies to bake.
Flour spilled on the floor.

And I smiled.

Chaos feels like love.

When you have to open the windows because the house is too hot from movement and conversation and baking- that’s love.

When Madison and the kids come over and one wipes their hands on the carpet and another runs off with my cell phone, and Madison is talking and we are laughing and there’s a movie to watch and kids to put pajamas on…

and I have to open the windows…

That’s love.

And when it’s quiet,
and the kids are softly snoring,
and I say goodnight to Madison and go to bed,
and I curl up beneath my blankets and listen to the bunny scratching at her cage,
and the cats jump on the bed and lay at my feet,
and the soft glow of the twinkle lights are coming from the room Madison and her kids are sleeping in…

That’s love too.

*

Today at Starbucks the barista complimented my freckles.

It always takes me off guard when someone compliments my freckles because I forget I have them. I don’t see them when I look in the mirror. So when someone says, “I love your freckles!” my first thought is: “You can see them!?”

But I love that compliment. Not because it makes me feel beautiful, because I know freckles are not traditionally considered beautiful, but I love it because it reminds me that God put me together special. He placed each one of my freckles.

And when the barista said that today, I felt Him smile at me. I felt Him near- bending down to kiss my forehead. The same freckled forehead He created almost 29 years ago.

I wonder if maybe there’s a reason I look the way I do. Young. Innocent. Not intimidating.

Emily and Kim and I were talking about Batman and who would be cast as who. She said I could be Cat Woman. And I laughed and told her I have zero sex appeal. I said it would make more sense to cast me as a kindergarten teacher or Little Orphan Annie.

Would I like to be beautiful? Sure. But I’m not. I’m “cute”. And that wasn’t a mistake any more than my heart or personality were mistakes. God doesn’t make mistakes.

So maybe my feeling young on the inside isn’t a problem to be solved. Maybe God gave me a face to match my insides.

I’m done calling myself and how I feel “wrong”.

God built me. I am His project. And if there’s anything in me that He wants to change, I trust Him to do it. Otherwise I am going to trust that He looks at me with love and calls me “good”. His creation. His beloved daughter. No less good than the sunrise or stars or birds.

It’s not up to me to call things wrong.

It’s up to me to love-

Him,
others,
and myself.

*

This is beautiful.

So is this.

*

“Liminal space is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the ‘tried and true’ but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.

It is no fun.

Think of Israel in the desert, Joseph in the pit, Jonah in the belly, the three Marys tending the tomb.

If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait—you will run—or more likely you will explain. Not necessarily a true explanation, but any explanation is better than scary liminal space. Anything to flee from this terrible cloud of unknowing.’

Maybe the way forward is not finding THE answer right now but learning to live without an answer, or rather, living towards one.

We need to find our way back to the true meanings of trust, wait and patience; a life of hope.”

*

I wonder if all this pain of feeling like I don’t belong anywhere… I wonder how God will use it.

I wonder if someday I’ll be in a position where I can mother those who feel the way I do.

I’d like that.

I’d like to have an open door, to welcome people in- whether or not I have children of my own. I want all to feel included. Wanted. I want them to come into my home and I want to greet them a warm embrace. Because I’m a hugger…

which, ironically, is something I got from neither parent.

Maybe I got it from my Father.

I close my eyes and smile and picture the Thanksgivings and Christmasses and Friday nights of my future. Sleeping people scattered all throughout house- beds, couch, living room floor on blanket beds. And not because they don’t have a home, but because my home is just as much their home as the one where they have their mail delivered.

What if.

What if I let this make me tender?

What if I let Him empty me out. All of me. My sorrows and grief and longings and hopes and joys and every single corner and facet and moment of my life- committed to Him. In His hands.

What if.

What would He do?

It would be good. I have that promise. And maybe it wouldn’t be what I’d expect- maybe I’ll never be a daughter to anyone. Or a sister. Or carry a baby within my belly. Or be the one someone chooses to spend their life with.

And that? The thought of not ever being anyone’s ever again? That breaks my heart. It’s almost intolerable.

Almost.

But He says not to fear. He says to trust Him. He says He IS Love. He says it’s safe to hope.

He says we won’t understand right now. His ways aren’t our ways.

So I have to tell my heart that. I’m not seeing the whole picture right now.

God doesn’t desire for me to live my entire life gripped with sorrow.

This isn’t where I’m meant to stay.

When I worry I’ll hurt forever, He extends His hand.

Because we’re on a journey.

And I can’t see what’s up ahead.

But He can.

And He says it’s good.

*

I was skimming Netflix the other day when I came across a movie that seemed vaguely familiar. It was old- made before I was even born, and yet I had the distinct impression that I had seen it before.

And so I hit play on the movie and watched and suddenly I remembered that yes- I HAD seen it! I remembered being in the living room. I remembered sitting on my mom’s lap. I remembered the scene where the kids are in the car.

And I remembered that was the day of The Penny.

When I was a child, I spent an abnormal amount of time praying. Although my prayer looked more like games of cards and reading library books aloud to God – who, looking back now, I have no doubt delighted in every second of listening to me read or watching me play with Him in mind.

And one Christmas I decided to leave Jesus a birthday present. And so I tucked a penny, a brown penny, between the brown carpet of the stairs and the brown wall. (Lots of brown. It was the early 90’s, folks.)

And I was watching that movie with Mom the next morning when I remembered the penny, so I jumped off her lap to see if Jesus had taken His present.

And it wasn’t there.

And I couldn’t believe it. I looked everywhere. I checked every step because maybe I had just forgotten where I had left it, even though I knew I hadn’t.

And it wasn’t there.

So I ran back upstairs to Mom and told her. And I don’t remember her reacting or seeming nearly as amazed as I did. But neither did she say she had found the penny or maybe vacuumed it up or anything. Rather, she seemed more focused on the movie.

And I crawled back up on her lap and kept watching the movie with her, but I held wonder and love within my chest.

And I remember that still.

When I was a child, God seemed SO near. So real. Alive. No less real or alive than my parents or siblings or next-door neighbor.

And sure, maybe someone found the penny, or maybe my parents vacuumed. But however it disappeared, it was God’s message to a child: “Thank you for thinking of Me. I’m here. And I love you.”

And I don’t know that I’m so far removed from being that child- the one who believes in crazy miracles.

I believe in a God who’d take a penny.

I believe in a God who will tuck me in to bed at night and sit with me until I fall asleep if I ask Him to.

I believe in a God who would sit with a child and listen to her read a Berenstain Bears book.

When I watch movies, movies that would seem impossible, where angels visits or hearts are transformed or someone gets the father or mother or child they’ve always wanted… I believe, in some small corner of my heart, that the movies aren’t just works of fiction and that it’s not naive for me to believe that because our God is our Abba Father and He loves us and NOTHING is impossible for Him.

Nothing we think up even comes close to how big our God is. We can’t dream or hope too big. We can’t out-imagine Him.

*

When I lie in bed at night and sob and tell Him that I need Him or want Him, sometimes it feels as pointless as telling my mom I need or want her. Which can leave me there, wracked with sorrow…

and with something else to grieve.

It HURTS to wanting and needing a God who you think won’t actually show up and be the living and present God He says He is.

And that’s why I am standing firm that there’s more for us.

I’m claiming that nothing is impossible.

I’m going to hope and believe, wildly and irrationally, like a child.

Because God made me.

And I’m done calling who I am wrong.

Maybe all those hours of cards and reading and conversation with God as a child weren’t one-sided. Maybe He used that time to breathe hope in me- the belief in the possibility of the impossible.

*

This year, I won’t be leaving God a penny. But I’ll be loving those who have no one to love them. I’ll donate money and time to people in need.

And I think about how maybe that’s the greatest gift we could give Jesus on His birthday- loving each other. Being together. What could bring Him more joy, after all? Whether we’re loving those we’ve known all our lives or a year or just met in line at the grocery store, we are fulfilling His deepest desire for us, aren’t we? We’re coming together.

He created us individually.

And placed us here lovingly.

And what could bring Him more joy than watching us come together and love each other?

Especially when we’re coming together because of Him.

Oh, happy, happy birthday, sweet Jesus.

*

Someday maybe Christmas will look like hot chocolate going cold on the coffee table and people curled up together on the couch, trying to keep their eyes open as the night comes to a close.

Or maybe it will look like being called someone’s sister. A miracle, undoubtedly, to be grafted into an already established family. But God can do anything.

Maybe I’ll have a husband.

Or a dog.

Maybe I’ll eat dinner alone or serve at a food bank or maybe I’ll be surrounded by people I love.

I don’t know. But I know He loves me.

And He loves them. You.

And He put us together on this big, scary, wonderful, lonely, beautiful planet.

And He whispers in my ear, “Hope wild, child. Nothing is impossible.”

The Value Of $10

At Fred Meyer the other night, a woman came up to me as I was getting out of my car, asking for money for gas.

Do I think she really wanted it for gas? I don’t know. But that’s not really my job to determine, is it? We aren’t called to be suspicious and skeptical of people. Wise and discerning, yes, but she claimed to have a need, and I had no way of knowing for sure that her need wasn’t real.

Normally I don’t have any cash on me, so I apologize to people when they ask for money and I continue on with my day, just briefly mentioning them in prayer. But this night, I had money. I had a $10, a $5, and two $1’s.

And I gave her the $10.

I chose to give her the $10 and skip buying myself cold medicine- not because I’m a martyr, but because I saw her as Jesus’ child. I looked at her with compassion and some sadness and I thought, “You need Jesus.” And as that thought hit me, I knew what I needed to do. She needed Jesus, and I had the opportunity to be Jesus to her.

After I handed the money over, she practically ran away from me with barely a “thank you”. I felt pretty confident in that moment that she didn’t need gas. She acted like she was getting away with something, and she wanted to get as far from me as possible before I learned the truth and changed my mind.

And so I called after her, “God bless you!” Because I wanted her to know I gave to her not as me, but as Jesus’ hands and feet here on Earth. I gave to her from the love He has for her. It wasn’t about the $10.

And wouldn’t you know, she stopped mid-run. She couldn’t be slowed down to say “thank you” properly, but she stopped when I said that and she turned to look at me. She studied my face for a second. “God bless you, too,” she said.

I pray she didn’t use the money for drugs. I pray she used it for gas.

But either way, I pray she felt the love of Jesus that night. I pray He will take my $10 and use it for much more than I ever could’ve.

And I smile with the ease at which I handed that money over. And it’s not because I’m some saint, but because giving $10 to a stranger was the easiest thing God’s asked me to do in a long time.

There’s growth and blessing in sorrow and struggle.

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing, like it’s just me moving through this world, emptied out on the inside. I feel like I’m having to consciously remind my heart to beat, and not just beat, but beat for one thing alone- God.

And I believe He’ll bring me out of this valley.

But while I’m here, He is teaching me to breathe.

He is teaching me what truly gives life.

He is presenting me with situations I can’t control, and situations I can. And the funny thing is, I can’t control what comes into my life- all I can control is what I give out.

And as I mourn and grieve and tearfully choose surrender and acceptance over and over again all day long, He is reminding me that laying down my life feels like a death, yes, and it is, but it’s not the end.

Things are laid down, but not buried. Not beyond resurrection.

As I leave everything at the foot of the cross, He’ll sift through it. He’ll take each thing, one by one, and hold them. He’ll examine them for their life-giving (or life-stealing) qualities, He’ll search them for signs of heaven, and He’ll weigh whether or not they have the ability to support rather than detract from my higher calling as His beloved child. And some things He’ll toss out because He won’t give me anything less than the best. But some things He’ll bring new life to and hand back to me.

He’ll take my worldly wants and desires and sorrows and fears and trauma, and He’ll breathe holy breath and life and redemption and healing into them. And I’ll appreciate them differently when they come into my life as a gift, or healing, or freedom- all marked with His fingerprints.

And when I can’t see the gift without seeing His fingerprints, I won’t be tempted to worship the gift- I’ll worship the gift-giver.

I can trust Him with my heart. I can trust Him with my pain, my life, with the things I can’t control.

And so I’ll pursue Him. I will invest my energy in the things I can control instead of fighting against what I can’t.

He’s teaching me that when I sink below the surface of the water, like Peter, the only hand reaching out for me will be His. Because only He can walk on water. Everyone else? They’ll be in the boat. Not heartlessly, not without care or concern or love, but the most they can do is row over and toss me a buoy. They can’t walk on water.

He’s the Gift-Giver. The Healer. The Redeemer. The Savior. The true source of the life I so desperately long for.

He’s teaching me that.

And He’s teaching me the value of $10.

$10 isn’t going to keep me from drowning, but grasping tight to His hand will.

*

“Where You go, I’ll go
Where You stay, I’ll stay
When You move, I’ll move
I will follow You
Who You love, I’ll love
How You serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow You.