The Journey is the Destination…Sort Of


I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty good with directions.  I know…I know…most guys think that, but ask my wife, she’ll tell you it’s true.  Even in a new city I can usually find my way around pretty quickly.  I can always figure out north, south, east and west and get my bearings.  And before you ask, I was like this before we had GPS and smartphones.

The trick, you see, is keeping my eyes and mind on the destination, the place we’re heading, and not letting other things get in between me and that goal.   Keep the main thing the main thing, if you will.  And that works, most of the time.

For most of my life, and all of my kid’s life, we have made a periodic journey to visit family in Oklahoma.  I’ve made that trip more times than I can count, but one thing I know:  I have never just taken my time and enjoyed the journey.  For the most part, my mind was set on the unspoken gauntlet that all of my family has  thrown down, the gauntlet of “who can make it the quickest.”  For what it’s worth, I had the record in hand during college…only to have my alternator go out 2 hours from Oklahoma City.  That’s a technicality.  But I digress.

The trip along I-40 is 1200 miles through some of the most beautiful country in the world.   We pass through western NC and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It goes across the entire length of Tennessee, from the beauty of the Smokies, the glam of Nashville, until crossing the mighty Mississippi.  Then there’s Arkansas.  I’ll leave that there, although they have finally finished most of their road projects, and there is a Taco Bueno in Conway, which is definitely a redeeming factor.  Finally, you cross into Oklahoma and through the Ozark mountains (hills, really) and onto the majesty of the Great Plains.

Most of this I experienced only through the windshield or in brief pit stops over the years.  I saw it, but I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t take it in.  I would usually make the trip straight through (18 plus hours of it) only stopping as needed.  If we had 7  days to spend, then 2 of them would be spent driving out and back, two of them would be spent recovering from the drive, and 3 would be spent with family.  I jest…but only sort of.

Until this last trip.  For the first time in my life, I had no timetable, no urgent occasion to arrive for, and nothing we had to get back in a hurry to.  It was literally open- ended (I have never, ever traveled like that before).  We decided to take our time, to see the sights, to “stop and smell the roses”, only it was late January, so there were no roses…speaking figuratively, you see.  We took our kids to see Chimney Rock in NC.  It was closed, but we skipped rocks in the river and sipped coffee in pretty much the most beautiful surroundings you can imagine.

We took in the lights of Nashville and showed my boy the home of the Nashville Predators (his new favorite hockey team…sorry Hurricanes).  We walked around historic Franklin, TN on an insanely cold and blustery day, showing our kids the places their folks had visited a month before.  We had a good portion of the Natchez Trace parkway to ourselves, and as we drove along it I marveled at the size of this wilderness so close to Nash-Vegas.  We stopped at the largest Bass Pro Shop in the world, housed inside the Pyramid in Memphis, and Si and I rode the elevator to the top (see pic above), and gazed out on the wonder of the Mississippi.  Even Arkansas looked pretty from there.

The whole trip only took 2 days, but it was so much more fun, more relaxed, and more enjoyable than any we had made before.  All because we decided to make the most of the journey and not get so hung up on “getting there.”

Hmmmmm….application?  A big smack upside the head.

On the bigger journey we’re on, it was a reminder not to get so hung up on the place we end up that we forget to take in all the amazing things happening along the way.  It’s incredible easy for me to elevate our destination to the ultimate goal, but when I do that, I miss what Jesus is doing in and for us today.  The big picture can make me forget  the little things that are happening along the way.  It’s easy to forget that all those things we go through in our lives, every little leg of our journeys, is designed to drive us to Jesus, to show us His glory, to show us His wonder, His power, His goodness…His love.  In the big and the small, the routine and the extraordinary, the triumphs and the trials, we are being shaped and formed, molded into the image of Jesus.  Paul, wrote to the church throughout Galatia:

“Oh, my dear children!  I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”  (Galatians 4:19, NLT)

And that’s what I meant when I said the journey is the destination…sort of.  Christ fully formed in us…that’s the real destination, the one I’m looking for, but it happens one day, one hour, one moment at a time.  When I get in a hurry, I’m liable to miss Him, just like I missed all those sights along I-40 for years.

Now, let me be honest:  We cannot WAIT to find out where we are going.  It would not be a stretch to say there is not one hour of any day that goes by in which we are not thinking of where we’ll end up, talking about it with our kids, day-dreaming of it, or praying about it.  With each passing day, the tendency to dwell on it increases, the longing for a home grows, the intense desire to finally be there, wherever there is.

The waiting, however hard it is, is not the worst thing.  Even if we have to continue on waiting (Lord, please don’t let that be, though!), the worst thing that could happen to us would be to find out where we’re going, to get, and to think “this is it!  We have arrived!” For us to get to that point and miss Jesus…that would be the worst thing.

So we’re learning to take each day, each moment as the Lord brings it (thanks Ms. Deb for that reminder!), trying our best not look too far ahead, but at the same time keeping the end goal in sight.  And just like that trip to OKC, it’s so much better this way.

 

 

Even in the Storm


When I was 12, my family went on vacation to California. It was the only time I’ve been to the Left Coast in my life.  One evening we all trekked down to the beach for a swim. At the time, I was only familiar with the “waves” of the Gulf of Mexico which, it turns out, are mere ripples in comparison to the stuff the Pacific was churning up.

I remember going in to body surf, all 100 pounds of my scrawny self. The first wave caught me, flung me forward and slammed me down into the sand. At that point, for the first time in my life, I understood undertow. It began dragging me back out, then I’d get flung forward again and slammed into the ocean floor.

I don’t know how long this lasted, but I remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” At what seemed like the last possible moment, a pair of strong hands reached down, grabbed my arm and leg, and flung me back towards the shoreline. It was one of my brother’s friends who somehow got ahold of me and pulled me out.

And though I escaped with only a few cuts and scrapes, I’ve never forgotten the feeling of helplessness as those waves broke over me again and again. There was nothing I could do to get out, nothing I could do to stop the relentless crush as they pounded on me. All I could do was get drug along.

When you step out like we have, there is an accompanying pressure that travels along with you. Whether it’s from without or within, I feel it.  Like those waves pressing down on me in the cold pacific long ago, I feel the crushing pressure to make something happen, to do something, to get results, to prove that I’m not really crazy and I really am following the Lord’s leading.

There’s the pressure to read something into every situation, every verse of Scripture, every song during worship and every line of every sermon.

There’s the pressure to go just pick a state, find a house and hunt for a job when you know He’s telling you to wait.

The pressure to give up and go back. I can’t begin to tell you how huge that wave is. That one comes in pretty frequently.

“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7)

That verse is in the middle of a famous song.  It begins with “As the deer pants for the water books, so pants my soul for You, O God.”  If you’re like me and grew up in church the 80’s, your mind probably goes right to the old chorus we used to sing.  My mind always went to some nice and peaceful scene, of a meadow and a deer bending down to take a drink from a cool mountain-fed stream.

In reality, the psalmist is crying out to God, begging for the Lord to show up, to save, to quench his thirst.  He’s in a dry and thirsty land devoid of water.  It’s not the tranquil mountain scene I used to think of.  It’s a very real place where so many of us find ourselves:  when the rug gets pulled out from under us, when the diagnosis comes back, when the job ends, when the child goes prodigal.  It’s the place when the waves just keep pounding and pounding and pounding, and you don’t know what else to do.

“I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?’ ” (v. 9)

Last week, the waves came in so quick and so heavy I was literally overwhelmed.  I did the only thing I knew to do:  I got in the car and went and found a quiet place where I could just cry out to God. And though my words weren’t as eloquent as the psalms, they came from the same place.  It’s a place of complete and total helplessness, like when I was caught in those waves as a kid, just being pulled along and hoping that someone would get to me.  I poured out my soul to the Lord, my fears, my anger, my anxieties, my complete inability to “fix” this situation, and my absolute and total dependence on Him to rescue.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?”

Why?  Well, see the previous 4 months of blogs, but that’s not the point. In my desperation, in my need, the Lord was right there with me.  Psalm 42 ends with this reminder:  “Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” 

You see, in that storm, in that moment of complete desperation, Jesus reminded me that He was right there with me.  He had never left, in fact, I just took my eyes off Him and focused them on the waves.

It’s easy to do.  Peter did it (famously).  I’ve done it more times than I care to admit.  And Jesus knows.  Every time.  He knows.  And He’s there.  And like Peter crying out when the wind and the waves grew “boisterous”, when I cried out “Lord, save me!”  He did.

There’s another story about Jesus and waves, found in Luke 8.  Jesus is with the disciples out on a boat in the Sea of Galilee.  After a long day of ministry, He’s worn out and He falls asleep.  Well, a great storm blows in, and the disciples are freaking out as the waves grew and the ship took on water, so they ran to Jesus and exclaimed “Lord, we’re dying!!!”

And Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and waves…and they stopped. And then the Lord looks at His friends, the guys He chose to do ministry with, the guys He was going to use to change the world forever, and says “Where is your faith?”

I used to hear that in a condescending tone.  That’s because I didn’t know Jesus.  I now hear that in the voice of my Lord, the One Who loved me so much He gave His life for me.  I hear in those words nothing but Love, and a reminder of where my faith lies.

Jesus is with us in this boat.  He’s the One that told us to get into it.  He’s well aware of the waves, of the wind, of the uncertainty, of the storm.  He’s with me, and He just wants me to trust Him, to keep my eyes fixed on Him and not on the waves, and to walk out on the water He’s led us to.

 

 

 

 

 

From Generation to Generation

(This is another post by my beautiful bride as she helps chronicle this journey the Lord has us on.  I am so thankful for her willingness to share her thoughts here, as I know this isn’t easy for her to do.  I couldn’t be more proud of her, and more thankful for how God is using her.)

My kids LOVE a good story.  Especially if it’s one that we tell over and over again.  I think I first realized this when my oldest was three or four, she had a slight obsession with The Three Little Pigs.  Every day, she and I would make up silly stories based loosely off of the timeless tale. (In fact, that might be why she’s so terrified of wolves to this day, ha!).  I’d always start off with “Once upon a time, there were three little pigs”…  and from there the possibilities were endless.  We’d name the pigs and send them off on wild, grand adventures.  Each day came a new adventure but she never seem to tire of our storytelling sessions.

Fast forward six years and while the story itself has changed, the love for details, characters, and verbal story telling has not.  Made up, imaginary fantasies or real life occurrences, it makes no difference.  And now, all three kids seem to perk up when there’s a story to be told.   But the ones they really enjoy hearing are the ones usually involving something from our past or a story of when they were babies.  And no matter how many times they hear it, somehow it never seems to get old.

Whether you realize it or not, each one of us is smack in the middle of our own story.  And as Christians we have the most amazing, beautiful tale of redemption and love.  A story to be told and proclaimed!  The Creator of the Universe left the splendor of heaven for a wretch like me!  For all of us!  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that all come to repentance.  If we turn to Him, asking for forgiveness, He takes our sins and washes us clean, making us whole and new!  And all who receive Him as Lord and Savior will one day be in His presence, face to face, for all eternity!  What a glorious thought!  When I think of this beautiful story that I’m a part of I’m reminded of that old wonderful hymn by Fanny Crosby…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long; 

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

As marvelous as that is, our stories just don’t end there!  Until we are in the presence of The Lord, He continues to write the pages, record and number our days.  A dear pastor friend reminded Matt and me a while back that God doesn’t write boring stories.  It’s impossible!  Isn’t that the truth?!  We needed that reminder.  We needed to remember that the last ten months are just another chapter in our story.  The twists, turns, suspense, heartache and waiting are all part of the story He’s writing and crafting for us until He calls us home.

From early on, we believed that God was not only stirring things up for our lives but also for the lives of our children.  I’ve often prayed the prayer, “Be real to my kids, God.  I don’t want them to think of You as some character in a far off, fantasy-like story but give them opportunities to have a real deal personal encounter with You.  Let them see You.  Let them hear You”.  Be careful what you ask for, right?

Now we knew, it wouldn’t be in our kids best interest to know every single detail of our predicament but sharing the highlights of the ups and downs would work.  As parents, that’s when it’s crucial to seek The Lord and know your own kid(s).

So with this opportunity right here in front of us, we’ve tried to be very honest and open with them regarding this season we are currently in.  I pray that one day, they will think back to this time and have their own stories to share.  I pray that just like the Israelite children after the Exodus they will remember Matt & I telling them about God’s love and the evidence of His goodness.

I pray they will say:

“Hey, remember when God told Mom & Dad to “take your family & move“?”

“Remember during that time, God so faithfully provided and blessed us as a family?”

“Remember when we prayed and prayed and at just the right time, God answered our prayers?”

I pray they understand that God had a purpose for it all.  Yes, I pray that this will be an opportunity for them to KNOW Him!  The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, The Great I AM.

Christians, we have a story to tell!  And each one is beautiful and unique to only you.  Never, has our world been so desperate to hear our stories which in reality all point back to The Greatest Story, the story of Jesus!  Far too often we go about our lives (I’m speaking to myself here, too) without a desire to make Jesus known to those around us.  It’s time our generation praises His works and declares His mighty acts to the next generation. (Psalm 145:4)

Mamas and daddies, tell your stories to those babies at home!  They need opportunities to see God up close and personal and to know Him like never before.  Begin a dialogue with your kids.  Let them see and hear you calling out in times of trouble and rejoicing and praising The God who saves our souls.  Live out your faith in front of their little eyes!

You know, I love how each of our stories are different and set apart from the next but yet they have one thing in common.  The hero and main character in each is all the same.  His name is Jesus.  He makes them all epic, timeless and never boring!  They’re not some fictional tale of something unobtainable.  And no matter how many times they are told, somehow the stories never seem to grow old.  The next generation needs to hear our stories – go tell yours!

“How, then, shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?”   

Romans 10:14

Back to Bethel


Since my bride was honest in her last post, I figured I might as well be honest, too:  this has not been easy on me.  It’s been 3 months now since I’ve gotten up and gone to work in the morning, 3 months since I’ve had the privilege of standing before our church and leading them in worship, 3 months since I’ve had to do anything.  Now, let me tell you, that sounds great when you’re in the midst of the craziness of everyday life, family and ministry.  And, again to be honest, it has been great in so many ways:  I’ve had a ton of time with my family, some time to just rest, room to breathe, time to think.

One of the things people have said to us as we’ve walked out the path before us is “Man, you guys have such faith!”  I often wonder if what’s being said out loud hides what they’re really thinking: “You guys are absolutely nuts!” Either way, when I hear that, I cringe. Faith?  Us?  My faith is so small!  I doubt constantly. I wonder if I heard wrong, if all this was just bad pizza. I get scared. I feel like a loser. I feel like a failure.

All.

The.

Time.

It’s hard.  And when, over and over and over, we keep hearing God say “wait”, well, it’s enough to make you lose your mind.  To me, waiting is an action that’s really the absence of action; it’s the complete opposite of action!  What, Lord?  Do nothing?  Just sit here?  Just wait?  We’ve had every tie that bound us to our community severed:  our home, our church, my job, daily contact with friends….and we’re just supposed to wait???   

Yes.  Wait.

And as we’ve waited, trying to keep an ever shrinking ember of hope alive, one word has kept popping up:  Bethel.  House of God.  Bethel in our devotions.  Bethel in our kid’s school work.  Bethel on road signs.  Bethel on church signs.  Now, I’m not usually given to seeking meaning in every little thing, but Bethel was coming up so frequently, we’d have been crazy to ignore it.

One of the few constants on our journey, actually the only constant, has been the Holy Spirit’s use of the Word of God to guide, direct, and confirm.  As we’ve navigated the waters He’s placed us in, we’ve gotten directions to stay, directions to wait , and at times, the push to go.

So when Bethel kept coming up in the most unlikely of ways, we did what anyone in our situation would do:  we Googled it.  If you’ve never done that, let me assure you, there are a lot of places named Bethel.

A LOT.

Yet I knew a Google search wasn’t where we were going to find the answer.  Like always, it was in prayer and going back to the Scriptures that we’d find the next step.

Bethel was the first place that the Lord God met Jacob and spoke to him.  It was at Bethel that Jacob slept on a rock pillow and dreamed a little dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth.  At Bethel, God promised Jake the land of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.  It was during this first encounter at Bethel that Jacob set his heart to follow the Lord.

Then sometime later, Jacob goes back to Bethel (Genesis 35). This time, the Lord told him to go.  He told him to go there, to dwell there (that means to abide, to remain), and to build an altar there (to worship).  And Jacob went, and the Lord appeared to him again (Gen 35:9-12), changed his name from Jacob to Israel, and reaffirmed the promise He made to give the land to Jake’s descendants.

You know, sometimes, in order to go forward, you have to go back.

Sometimes in order to find the thing we’ve lost, we have to return to where we last remembered having it.  After praying about it, talking about it, thinking about it, we realized we were to go “back to Bethel”, back to where all the stirrings and unsettledness kicked into high gear, back to where the Lord really started preparing our hearts for this move.  We were going back to Oklahoma.

So we packed up the car and we headed west on I-40.  We took our time, wanting to enjoy the trip across the country with our kids, to take in the sights.  We climbed on boulders in the river below Chimney Rock.  We gawked at the neon lights of Nashvegas.  We drove along the breathtaking beauty of the Natchez Trace parkway.  We rode and elevator to the top of the Pyramid and gazed on the Mighty Mississippi in Memphis.  And finally, after 1200 miles and two full days, we arrived back where it all began:  Oklahoma City.

Thanks to the kindness of my sister and brother-in-law, we’ve had a place to unpack our bags and rest for a bit.  They have made us feel completely at home, and have given us the unrepayable blessing of time to pray and seek the Lord.  For the first time since October, we have worshipped at the same church for 3 consecutive Sundays.  If that sounds insignificant to you, I’ll pray for you.  I can’t explain how HUGE that is for me, for us.  I’ve been able to show my kids around the land I grew up in, the land I left 3 decades ago.

It’s been great, but it hasn’t been easy.  We had hoped for a quick word once we got here, something that would give us clarity about the next step.  Is it here?  Is this where we’re supposed to be long-term?  This was not what we had planned.  And each time we seek an answer we get the one we’ve gotten for so long now:  wait.

So…again…we wait.

Funny thing to close this chapter:  on the way out west, as we were driving in Western North Carolina, I texted a close friend and pastor that I served with at our church.  I let him know we were heading west to seek the Lord.  Immediately, he called me back and said we had been on his heart a lot lately.  That very morning, the Lord had spoken to him in prayer that we needed to go, to get out of NC, to take the next step.  He said he was going to call and talk to me but got into the office and got busy.  It was so awesome to hear that, to receive that confirmation that we were on the right path.  I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes.

Then we passed an exit sign that caused me to throw on my hazards, pull off the side of the highway, and slam the car in reverse to read it again:

Bethel Road.

Ok Lord…we’re listening…while we wait.

Let’s Be Honest

(This is the latest post by my  wife as we chronicle the journey the Lord has us on right now.  I’m so thankful she has been willing to share her thoughts here at the Wading Pool.  I couldn’t be more proud of my bride!)

I’ve likened the last few months to being stuck inside one of those snowglobes my kids always want to play with at Christmas.  On numerous occasions lately, I’ve felt paralyzed by the weight of our current situation.  It’s like I’m standing frozen inside, all the while, watching someone lift the globe then violently shake it.  It’s as if every area of our life has been turned upside down and is now twisting and swirling around me.  Numb, I just stand and watch.  Chaos.  Total chaos.  And to be completely honest, I’m exhausted and weary.

In basically three months time, we’ve found ourselves jobless, church-less, and homeless.  There’s no job or final location in sight and bouncing from church to church each week is getting old.  Throw in the stress of prepping and selling a house, packing and moving, having our belongings in storage while we keep the roads hot between Burlington and Benson, toss in the busyness of a few holidays and raising and homeschooling three kids …. I’ve just about reached my limit.

Now I know, I know.   This is something we chose to do, our own doing, a decision we made. And believe me, we feel the pressure when people ask, “you did what?  You have no idea where you’re going?  You mean, you haven’t sent out any resumes?!”  People look at us like we are out of our minds, but for us NOT to have done this would have been in direct disobedience to what we know God is calling us to do.  When He confirms over and over in the ways that He did…we have to obey!  Although we took that step of faith, the pieces haven’t immediately fallen into place.  In fact, for the majority of that time we’ve been bombarded with a message of “wait”.  So, what do we do?  We wait.  But y’all, the waiting is hard!  So, so hard!  And I know we don’t have a monopoly on waiting and hard times.  Tons of people are going thru or have gone thru much more difficult trials than we are.    We all go through testings of our faith and right now, for us, this in one of those times.   But y’all, I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally spent.  I’m all tapped out.  I have nothing else to give.

Amazingly enough, praise God, I’m still in The Word, but even that time has morphed into something very different.  As silly as it sounds, I miss my big “Ebenezer” chair (1 Sam. 7:12).  I miss sitting in that comfy spot, sipping my coffee, reading my Bible, & spending time with The Lord.  Currently, it’s read a few verses here, read some there, get it in whenever and however just because it’s so crazy right now.  It’s times like these though that I’m so thankful for the psalms.  Have you read some of those gut wrenching prayers & cries?  Honest, brutally honest prayers.  Thank you, Lord!  It lets me know that I’m not alone!!!  Verses like:

Psalms 6:6 “I am worn out from sobbing.  All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears.”

Psalms 13:1-2 “O Lord, how long will you forget me?  Forever?  How long will you look the other way?  How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart everyday?”

Psalms 119:81-84 “I am worn out waiting for your (the Lord’s) rescue, but I have put my hope in your word.  My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.  When will you comfort me?  I am shriveled like a wine skin in the smoke, but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees.  How long must I wait?”

Yep.  I can relate.  I can soooo relate!  But it’s also in the psalms that I read and remember the hope I have in Christ.  The hope that carries us through the storms of life.  Hope that rings out in verses like:

Psalm 18:16, 19-20  “He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters…He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.  The Lord rewarded me for doing right.”

Psalm 139:5-10 “You go before me and follow me.  You place your hand of blessing on my head.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!  I can never escape from your Spirit!  I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.  If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” 

Psalm 13:5 “But I trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.”

Oh man!  Has He been good to me!!!  A sinner covered by His grace and mercy!  Thank you, Lord!!!  Passages like these remind me of His faithfulness and the times He has already rescued me and heard my honest cries.  He was faithful then.  He will be faithful now.  He’s “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  Remembering what He has done in times past gives me the hope and courage to stay the course.  I do rejoice & sing because He is good to me!  And I know that He who began a good work in us will complete it.

A New Thing for a New Year

I can’t say that I’m too sad to see 2016 to go. Whew, what a whirlwind of a year! The first few months of 2016 seemed to be a never ending wilderness, followed by months of stirrings & confirmations, and finally months of waiting and limbo living.  As crazy as the year was, there were many “stand out” moments, and among the top was one Matt blogged about a couple weeks back….

It was a day back in September when The Lord gave us both an unexpected little push at the home-going service of a dear brother-in-Christ. It was certainly not the message we were expecting to hear that day, but a perfect way to honor a faithful servant like Pastor Jeff and challenge those of us in attendance to go deeper still.

Since Matt had the privilege of helping with the worship portion of the service we were sitting apart, which meant I was on kid duty. We agreed from the start we wanted our three kids to be there with us. In the months and weeks prior, our family, as so many others, had prayed for Pastor Jeff and his precious family. We felt it was important for our kids to be able to witness first hand the celebration over a saint going home and the hope we have in Jesus, but also the harsh reality of the sinful world in which we live. Going into anything like this we try to give the kids a very clear picture of what’s expected from them, but even still, as the pastor began to speak, I found myself praying extra hard that my kids would be on their very best behavior! I knew this was something I didn’t want to miss.

As I sat there stunned over the words I was hearing, the tears began to pour and pour (Yes, this is a recurring theme in my life. My tears tend to flow very freely).  And yes, this time my tears were over the loss and sadness I felt for this dear family but also over the fact that I knew God was speaking to us…..deeper waters, surrender, letting go. This was the exact same issue He was dealing with me over three days before. He was reminding me (us) to give up control, to surrender the farmhouse sink.

The Creator of the universe, The Maker of the waters, seas, and oceans deep was calling us out. After the beach trip and now the home going message, the lyrics of the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United seemed to be on repeat in my brain:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Pretty awesome, huh? And that’s just a small snippet! We had sung this one several times at church and each time I really tried to make it my prayer, “Yes Lord, lead me where my trust is without borders,” only now I realized it was actually becoming my reality. I could feel the waters rising.

After the service I made my way to Matt and with one look I knew he was feeling the same way I was ….holy cow! We were both trying to convey thoughts and emotions through a single look, desperately wanting to talk but knew it wasn’t the right time….. You know, that’s a really difficult spot to be in, wanting to talk but you can’t! It’s times like those that you realize really quick the only person you truly have is Christ Himself.

But even at 40 years old, no matter how hard you try to keep things secret, somehow, someway our parents always seem to know when something is brewing. This time was no different. Our parents had sensed during all the stirrings that something was up. It is truly a blessing to have been raised in a home by Christian parents! Even after we’ve left their nests, they continue to be our biggest cheerleaders and frontline prayer warriors. Since my parents were there for the memorial service that day too they heard first hand the challenge and charge.

On the way back home that evening, we were able to share with my parents some more about how we felt like The Lord was calling us out. To what? We didn’t know! But we felt like it would be something “new”. As I shared how God had lead me to the “new verses” (specially Isa. 43:18-19) during our time at the beach I heard my mom crying from the back seat.

She began to tell me about a time when I was six years old. One day during her devotion & prayer time The Lord took her to Isa. 43:18-19. It made such an impact that she wrote the verses down on an index card and tucked it away. Later that same week, their church was having a nightly revival that they attended. The minister asked my parents if he could pray for me, and after a sweet time of prayer he proceeded to quote Isaiah 43:18-19 to my mom!!!

Y’all!!! And now here we are 34 years later! I don’t remember or ever recall hearing that story before. She hadn’t told anybody about her scripture index card all those years ago. The revival minister didn’t have some magic way of knowing he was quoting the same verse she had written down OR it would be the same verse God would lead that six year old girl to many years later! Only God!!! All those years ago, even then, God was orchestrating the puzzle pieces that would ultimately impact today’s big picture.

God’s ways are so much different than our own. Just when we think we have it all figured out He surprises us with something completely different! Just as CS Lewis wrote in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” For now that’s what we’re clinging on to. He’s King, He’s in control, and He has a plan for our good. So, bring on 2017, I’m ready for God’s “new things”!

“But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

 

Dealing with Doubts

Luke’s account of the Christmas story begins not with Mary and Joseph, but with Zacharias and Elizabeth, another unlikely couple to take part in the coming of the Messiah and the rescue of humanity from darkness and the shadow of death.  Unlikely, in the world’s view, but not in the eyes of the Lord.  He specializes in doing things contrary to our way of thinking.

Luke 1 tells us their story.  It recounts how they longed for a child for years, but like Abraham and Sarah so long ago, it appeared their line would stop with them.  How many years had they prayed for a son, only to see, year after year, their prayers go unanswered, or perhaps unheard?  But one day (all it takes is one day, y’all), one day Zacharias’ turn to burn incense in the Temple came up, so he went into that holy place…alone.

He stood before the altar prepared to do his priestly service.  How many times had this privilege fallen to him?  How often had he stood here and offered up the sweet smelling aroma that symbolized the prayers of the people going up to the Lord…the prayers of Zacharias and Sarah, too.  All those years of praying.  All those dreams and hopes unfulfilled.  Zechariah’s heart longed for a son, an heir, but the length of his days made any flickering hope of this being fulfilled go up like the smoke upon the altar.  His heart broke not just for himself, but for his wife, too.  He had seen the pain in her eyes grow as the years passed, and he had seen her hope dwindle alongside his, hope that, against all odds, against nature even, God would intervene and do a miracle.

Perhaps as he stood in the dim light of the Holy Place he offered up yet one more prayer, the tiniest spark of his faith trying to start fire, in spite of all his head told him about how hope-less and crazy it was.  At his age, this could be his last chance to stand in this place, standing in for the people, and for his wife, offering up their hopes and fears.  Perhaps, for Elizabeth as much as any one, he asked once more, “Lord, please…”

And suddenly, he wasn’t alone any longer.  Just to the right side of the altar stood one of the angels of God Most High, in all his glory;  a truly terrifying sight for a mortal to behold.  And while Zacharias was filled with fear, Gabriel spoke not judgment but words that sounded too good to be true: “Do not be afraid, Zecharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13)

His mind reeled.  Could this be happening?  HOW could this be happening?  All the years of doubting God would hear his prayer now transitioned to “how in the world could this thing take place?” He was old.  Elizabeth was old!  Surely this was all just the wishful imagination of an old man’s mind, clouded the years and the incense before him.  Could God…would God really do such a miraculous thing as this?

Zacharias was a priest.  He knew the stories.  He knew all about Abraham and Sarah, how the Lord showed up in their old age and miraculously gave them a child, the child of promise, the long hoped-for son who would be the first of a people as numerous as the sand on the shore and the stars in the sky. He knew this story well, and he should have known better.  But knowing something is true and having to walk that truth out in your own life are very different things.

Zacharias doubted God’s word to him, but God’s word was bigger than his doubts.  God’s word was sure:  Zacharaias would have a son.  Not just any son; this boy would be special. His son was also a child of promise, spoken of years before by the prophets.  His son would go before the Lord, the Messiah Himself, to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of the salvation that was coming.   And to give ample time to prepare for this arrival, to ponder all that God had said and done, Gabriel decreed that Zacharias would be unable to speak until the child was born.  He would watch in silence as God worked to bring it all to pass, just as He said.

As I read this story again, I realized I could relate to Zach a bit better this year.  Where I used to scoff at his doubt, this year I find myself nodding in understanding.  Where I used to shake my finger at a priest who could doubt what God had clearly and wonderfully said, I hang my head in silent shame, knowing this pastor is capable of the very same thing.

In spite of the clear Word God has given us, I have found myself doubting God’s  call for us to get up and go.  I often wondered how Zach dealt with being unable to speak, unable to declare the great things God had done and was doing, unable to lift his voice in song; this year, he reminds me of Psalm 42:

“When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me.  For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. “

I miss our church family that we are leaving behind.  I miss serving them, lifting my voice along with their’s to proclaim the goodness of the Lord, to sing of His grace and mercy.  This journey has been hard.  As the time has gone on, as we’ve waited and waited, it has gotten easier to doubt what God has clearly shown us, to doubt His word to us.  I’m not equating this journey we are on with the gravity of Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s, but I have definitely gotten comfort and a new understanding through considering it.  God’s Word is sure and true, no matter our level of faith.  Even those of us who shouldn’t doubt, do. God’s Word is bigger than our doubts and fears.   God is loving and compassionate to His children when we doubt.  God is bigger than circumstances that look hopeless and crazy in the world’s eyes.

I know God will bring His Word to pass…in His time.  Waiting for that time has become the hardest part.  Our pastor used to say that it’s not the intensity of the trial so much as the length of the trial that gets to you; I’m learning that’s true.  The longer we get from the initial “going” to the “where” has taken a toll on us both.

I wait in a different sort of silence than Zacharaias.  Like Abraham, I feel a stranger and a sojourner in a city that’s been home for nearly two decades.  I wait in hope that God will show us the path soon.  I wait in hope that He will bring us to the place He wants us to be.  And I wait in hope that,  along the way, He will bear with me in my doubts and fears.  And one day, like Zacharias, I will open my mouth and praise Him for all He has done.

So on this Christmas Eve, here at the end of a long and trying year, if you find yourself doubting how your hurt, your problem, your hopeless situation can change, go read the first chapter of Luke. Go realize that these were real people going through real problems that seemed hopeless, too. And realize that God’s Word is true…He will bring it to pass.  God has hands big enough to handle it all. Don’t doubt Him any longer…put your doubt in His hands.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Merry Christmas, y’all.