Breaking All The Rules – Living Like Grandma

This past week was John and I’s first week back from a two week holiday break. The amount of grumbling and whining opportunities we had were tenfold. No more sleeping in ’til we felt like waking up! No more mid-day naps or spontaneous walks on the beach or hours spent reading whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Now it was back to the daily grind. With all of it’s waking-upness and schedules and deadlines. John didn’t technically go “back to work” this week but there are about a thousand projects to do around the house that had him plenty occupied all week.

I’ll admit that at times I was pretty worn out and pining for some time to relax and unplug. Yet I also admit, the path paved with bitterness and discontentment, though comfortably wide and welcoming, always left me feeling more exhausted than I was before. So I decided to break all the rules of a post-vacation experience and actually enjoy myself. I began almost every day reading the Bible while munching on my Eggo waffles. I kissed my husband goodbye on the days I went into the office and harassed him mercilessly enjoyed his company when I worked from home.

Sometimes I would take a brief break from work just to pet the cat or look out the window and thank God for a beautiful new home. I even tried a new recipe this week and for those of you who know how I am in the kitchen, that’s basically the equivalent of skydiving for me. I am unstoppable.

This week I lived out what millions of other people before me have already discovered — the healing phenomenon of gratitude. Gratitude for your ordinary life takes work, until it stops being work and simply becomes a life you’re thankful for. Contentment isn’t found in the entitlements of the world. In the predictable patterns of comfort, self-centeredness, control, never-ending vacations, and apathy. Contentment is refined in the grind. It turns heads and raises eyebrows when it’s found in an ordinary someone living a life on purpose, with no bells or whistles attached.

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. :)

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. 🙂

My grandma has it. She lost her best friend  and life partner over 40 years ago, yet faithfully shows up to play organ at her church, visit friends and have Bible study. She has watched loved ones die year after year and has told me that it doesn’t get easier “just because you’re old.” But my grandma is close to the heart of God. She spends her time in prayer and asleep in front of the 5 o’clock news. 😉 She is ruthless and unwavering in her convictions about the grace of God and I will never fully know how much her prayers have shaped and protected and held me during difficult times.

I talked to grandma on Christmas Day and when asking her for advice about life she told me “be on your knees, Rachel. Every season of life you will always find help from Your Maker.” I cried because she made it seem so simple because for her it IS that simple. That’s exactly what I want. Whatever happens in my life, in whatever season, I know that contentment is most easily found in surrender to a good and perfect God. 

I am not perfect at this and I have had my fair share of grumblings and mumblings. Nobody does this flawlessly but I believe that it’s possible to be content where you are when you stop trying to control all the things you don’t like or understand about your life. This is easier said than done on every level, I get that. But this past week I learned it’s worth it. It’s worth waking up and making the most of the day as you can.

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My Song of the Sea

IMG_7559My women’s small group is currently going through the book of Exodus. Last week we talked about Exodus 15 – The Israelites sang their “Song of the Sea” after watching God destroy the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea. It’s a beautiful, poignant picture of a people who are so ready to worship and revere their God. As a takeaway idea, I suggested we try and write our own “Song of the Sea” to declare God’s goodness and faithfulness to us during our own lives. Since I’m a leader of the group I figured maybe I should follow through on my own idea (which happens probably about 30% of the time), and I’m really glad I did! This was a great exercise in worship and reflection.

Rachel’s Song of the Sea

Lord, Your ways are unsearchable to me. Your grace is unavoidable.
You stand on my behalf in the presence of the Father.
You have claimed me for Yourself and I am irreversibly Yours.

Your hands have formed galaxies even as Your mind imagined the human race.
You are altogether good and trustworthy in Your design. You do not make mistakes or have second thoughts.

With You, there is no plan B.
In You there is no condemnation for all who worship You.

You patiently deliberate with me in my doubt.
In truth You respond to my anger and uncertainty.
In love You rebuke my arrogance and conceit.

When I hated Your plan for me, You heard and knew and felt that pain.
And You comforted me.
You lifted my chin and turned my eyes to a tomorrow that I can only dimly comprehend.

Great is Your faithfulness!

When I shake my fist in Your face, You put me in my place.
You destroy my wobbly attempts at being someone I’m not, simply by reminding me that I am Yours.

You free me to risk and to try because everyday I wake up in Your mercies.
Where can I go from You?

I chase after the wind as You chase my wayward heart.
You sing over me even as I reach for other gods.

I don’t understand You, God. You don’t fit into my boxes.

At times I’m silent before You, seething and lonely and scared.
At times You are silent before me, present and listening and leading.

Your Spirit is an anchor in the fickle seas of my flesh.
I am caught and pulled and tempted and fail.
You are steadfast, available, and ready to redeem.

The Enemy sits in my comfort zone, I have made him a friend as I seek and search for how to be god.
He prompts me and urges me towards forbidden fruit, towards the empty, glittery promises of lust, pride, greed, and hate.

When I do not trust You, I am trusting him instead.
Forgive me, Lord. Teach me to trust Truth.

You overturn his lies in righteous anger. You pull me from the depths of the pit and place me on high ground.
You are my high ground.

Your Kingdom is marked by truth and righteousness.
You opened Paradise to the ungrateful beggar.

Your mystery dwells in the hearts of everyone who calls upon Your name.
You are deep in the DNA of Your people.

No one can know what You know and still love like You love.
No one saves like You.

You are both my hiding place and my courage.
You are my Savior and my Maker.

Great is Your faithfulness!

Good and Faithful

IMG_0635Every person I know who follows Jesus, longs to hear Him say the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when their time on Earth is done.

But somewhere along the way we’ve convinced ourselves that a good and faithful life takes shape in some extravagant display of radical living.  We start thinking, “If I really take Jesus seriously I need to move to a nation hostile to Christianity, adopt a child from overseas, choose a life of celibacy, write a best-selling book etc.” None of those choices/circumstances are wrong, they just aren’t ultimate. They aren’t the standard to which we, as people who love Jesus, ought to hold our lives up to.

Instead, we hold our lives up next to Jesus — imitating him, listening to his words, letting him direct us towards the life he has purposed for us. So many of us are going to lead lives that will receive no standing ovation from the world. And that’s a great thing.

Faithful living is not elaborate or fancy, it’s by nature — quite the opposite. It’s stubbornly moving towards the same goal, day after day, hour to hour. Every person I have talked with whose walk with God I desire to emulate, teach me that faith is a million little decisions you make every moment of every day that are influenced by a common belief: God is real and trustworthy and bigger.

God is real — His existence ought to change the way we see our own.

God is trustworthy — All the promises He says in the Bible, will be fulfilled. Regardless of what the current state of the world leads us to believe.

God is bigger — Nothing is too difficult for Him, but not everything He does or does not do will make sense to us. He is always bigger than the boxes we make for Him. 

IMG_0633 A few months ago I sat on the couch with a woman who is so familiar with faith playing out in  the ordinary. She lives a normal life, raising her kids and loving her husband and spending her  days basically up to her ears in the nitty-gritty of life – laundry, bills, soccer games, all while battling a sickness that has pushed her into new depths of dependence on God.

As we tucked our slippered feet under the couch cushions and cradled our mugs of steaming hot coffee, I asked her a million things. We talked about marriage, careers, sex, parenting,  vacations. We just talked about life. And I realized as I sat across from this woman that she was a difference-maker and a world-changer in her sphere of influence. She was not looking for fame or applause or approval from a sea of faceless people she’s never met. She was consistently looking to Jesus and it filled me just up to be near her.

Her faithfulness to show up and do it all again and believe it all again, even when no one was watching — THAT is the stuff that changes people and communities and churches. 

It all starts with surrender. Every good and faithful life is born out of a genuine desire to submit to the will of God. In my experience, whenever I do this I almost inevitably end up connecting with people.  In fact, whenever I give Him free reign over my day or week or season of life — He runs with it. He runs straight to people and says, “This. This is where I want you.”

It’s almost like he meant what he said when he tells us to love our neighbors. Imagine that.

When you lay your life at the feet of Jesus, the most difficult thing He’s going to ask you to do is trust Him with it. Wherever you are, in whatever season or storm, you cannot lose by surrendering to Jesus.

Instead of trying to make your life measure up alongside of anybody else’s, live your own. Give it a rest. Put down the measuring stick and run with endurance the race that was set before you. Cheer on those whom you see doing the same thing. Let’s arrive together at the throne of grace and just dump all of our wild misconceptions about what a good and faithful life “should” be and  start trusting that the Author of our faith knows what that looks like way better than we ever will.

Waste vs. Grace

On the occasional Sunday afternoon I will decide to tackle an “around the house” project and one of the projects that has been haunting me over the past several months has been our pantry. That slim, little, out-of-the way closet which becomes a black hole of half-eaten chip bags and canned beans stacked to oblivion. I kept putting this project off because I was scared of what I would uncover during it. This afternoon I mustered up the courage to begin pulling every.single.thing out of the back of my tiny pantry and with shame flooding my neck and face, I collected a garbage bag FULL of wasted things. Corn and beans and untouched pretzels and all manner of waste. Waste. WASTE.

All of it reminds me of all the times I failed at cooking. I am not a grand master chef, friends. I have big dreams about all the healthy ways I

The results of sorting the expired from the non-expired goods.

The results of sorting the expired from the non-expired goods.

want to feed my family and, in an emotional rush to “do better” “be better” “eat better” I will frantically google healthy recipes, skip all the ones that involved anything minced (ain’t nobody got time), and happily fill my shopping cart with as many good intentions as I could muster. Then I bring those good intentions home, neatly stack them along the back wall of my pantry, and forget about them. Do you guys know how long your corn needs to be sitting in your pantry in order for it to expire? YEARS.

For me, this household chore symbolizes another embarrassing moment in a long history of failure in the kitchen. Emptying this pantry wasn’t about organizing my home as much as it was about coming to grips with my faults and my unfulfilled promises to myself.

As I lugged the horrifically heavy bag of untouched foods down to the dumpsters, I asked God to forgive this. All of this wasted goodness and provision. I literally had to limp to the dumpster as the bag sliced into my leg, pressing into my skin a painful reminder that I had not been a good steward. That I had failed. Again.

I heard that familiar nagging voice: ” Such waste! So many people are starving and you’re lining your pantry with food you’ll never eat because you know you won’t use them since YOU KNOW YOU ALWAYS FAIL AT COOKING?! WOW. So much for all of these great ideas you had huh? This is pathetic, Rachel. Why do you even try?”

I heaved the bag into the dumpster, ignoring the Deciever’s mocking voice and I prayed,

“God I cannot tell you this will never happen again. I want SO badly to promise you that I will change overnight. That starting TODAY things will be different. But how many times have you heard that from me, Lord? How many times have I started a plan to eat better or cook better? How many times have I hauled heavy trash bags to the dumpster? More times than I can count. And yet, You forgive me Lord. Sometimes You remind me to reflect on the progress of this battle, or You remind me of my husband who is willing to help me with this. You warn me of the poison of comparison and You always delight in my need for You because You know that sweet things are born in repentance.

Would You forgive me of this waste that symbolizes my laziness, my insecurity, and the desperate, wasteful measures I have taken to change myself apart from You? I ask that You help me buy only what I eat so that I might be a better steward of Your provision. Remind me of the privilege it is to be a citizen of a nation with supermarkets filled with food every day. I ask for help in learning new recipes that would help us take better care of the bodies you have given us. Help me not to be afraid of failure, help me be humble in this and willing to learn.

I can’t believe you actually care about this small, silly issue in my life but I know you do because you want all of me: all the bags of waste, all the battles with apathy, all the thoughtless spending, all the anxiety over money, all the recipes I didn’t get right, all the times I compared and I belittled and I hated and I coveted. I can’t believe you would want me but when I look at the Cross, I can’t believe that You don’t. You gave Your best so that when I gave mine and I failed, it wouldn’t be about my failure as much as it would be about Your victory.

What do you need to take to the dumpster, today? What is it that clings to your heart, sucks out your resolve, and leaves you feeling ashamed and worthless? Let me encourage you to stop procrastinating the difficult task of facing it. Don’t carry it with you, friend. Admit it. Confess it. Learn from it. Be free from it by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

God is in the business of redeeming the repentant, embracing the humble, and moving through the busted up parts of us. Don’t limit the way He will do it, either. Never underestimate the lengths He will take to reach you with His stubborn love — because clearly, kitchen pantries aren’t off – limits.

 

An unedited confession

The whole church service today was absolutely beautiful. And compelling. And edifying. We, as a church, heard the earnest prayers from the lips of mothers and fathers to raise their children to follow hard after the Lord and we were able to lift up our own affirmations and promises to help these children seek the face of our good God. Then we were ushered into a time of worship that spoke so much healing and life into my soul, I had no idea how thirsty I really was until we sang the ancient hymn that charges our God to bid our anxious fears goodbye. Oh! How I long to rid myself of these anxious fears. To really believe that Jesus is one day returning and that my life is but a vapor, a minute, a drop into eternity. And yet, how careful God has been to bring me to Himself these past few years. How pressing, and purposeful, and painful my walk has been. I just sat on the living room floor, watching the clouds dance through our skylight and I was overcome with a deep need to confess. Everything. All of my fears and insecurities and all of my reasons for telling God that he can’t use me. I am prideful and cynical and self-centered and a slave to people’s approval and I have no idea how to really believe that I can get out of all of that.

I know that my true identity is found in the person of Christ. I know that I died with Christ’s sacrifice and it is no longer I, but Christ, who lives in me. But I can’t stop tripping over me. I can’t stop wrapping myself up into the same insecurities which convince me of how helpless and restricted I am in the Kingdom work. Even as I write this, my mind is thinking, do I share this? Would it be prideful to write a blog post about this and plaster it on the internet and expect some kind of kickback from it? Am I so scared of the approval (or lack thereof) of other people that I dare not post something that wouldn’t connect with all of them? Am I desperately longing to be influential for all of the wrong reasons?

But here is the honest to God truth about me, friends: I want people to know that Jesus is coming back and I want to see them celebrate, rejoice and weep with joy when that day arrives because they love their Maker, and they took Him at His word. I want to lead people to that place. That place where your ordinary life doesn’t stop being ordinary but it starts being hope-filled. Where nothing, no circumstance, no haves or have nots, can rob you of the secure and absolute assurance that Jesus Christ has wrapped you in righteousness. That when you stand before God He will have removed your sins as far as the east is from the west. Not because I was awesome or even faithful and certainly not perfect. But because Jesus was and is.

I can’t count the number of times I have backslidden in my walk with God. I’ve had my mountaintop moments, I’ve crawled through the valley, and I’ve wandered in the wilderness. I’m only 25 years old but my story is full of countless thousands of moments where I chose not to obey, not to listen, not to believe. I have left my Bible on the shelf because I was tired of reading it or didn’t give a lick about what was inside it. I fought the Spirit within me, I have grieved Him with my anger and apathy. I have gone weeks without praying for anything except that He might, “Bless this food to my body.” whatever the heck that means. I have entertained fantasies of a thousand sins, I have left room for bitterness, I have nurtured hurt into ugly, seething anger. And yet. YET! He remains. God has looked into the parts of my heart and mind that would taint my reputation with anyone who has ever known me. And yet! He will not stop. He knows when to wait for me and where. He knows how to pursue me and bring me back on my knees. He keeps reminding me that He wants to use me. All of me. He wants it. He’ll take it and He will ruin the parts that choke out my faith and softly massage those small kernels of hope that refuse to be uprooted in the center of my soul.

Even for all of my shortcomings, I am a daughter of the Almighty God. I will be singing when my Savior returns to make all things new and right and whole again. But what about right now? Am I faithful to my ‘right now’? Sometimes, y’all. Sometimes. But other days I am overcome with anxiety and bitterness and a rotten ego that fouls up every good intention. So I wake up and ask for grace the next day. Some days I am overcome with awe and find myself staring at the world I live in and loving the beautiful and hating the crippling evil. Some days I shake with grief at the millions who don’t know Jesus. Because even though it offends many, those who don’t know Jesus will not know eternal life. And it’s horrible. But it’s the truth. 

Some days I get the feeling that God wants to reach deeper into me and push me farther than I would go. And the only reason I don’t go, the only reason I try to run away from Him is because I’m scared about what other people will think of me. How would they feel if I told them they need Jesus? They would hate me! They would judge me! They would paint me in a corner and put me in a box labeled “Crazies” and I would have ruined any chance of the Holy Spirit intervening and opening up their hearts to a freedom I could never put into words. Because apparently the Spirit can’t work through the awkward conversations? I have this obsession to say it right. To say it perfectly. But sometimes God tells me to write out the aches and pains in my heart and resist the temptation to clean and polish all of those sentiments and insecurities. Because He desires a contrite and willing heart over sacrifices. He longs for obedience, not a State of the Union on my soul.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from having a relationship with Jesus for almost 20 years, it’s that He couldn’t care less about my accomplishments. He cares about my affections. Always. Always He will place Himself in the center, with a jealous love that surpasses any connotation our small minds can conjure up about that uncomfortable word “jealous.” God doesn’t pout and sulk, as we do in our finite and foolish jealousy, He makes it so that He no longer has need to be jealous. He wrecks our walls of stubbornness, He throws over the idols in our hearts with no gentleness or subtlety but with a love that refuses to be undermined by a lie. It hurts and it cuts and it heals. Walking with Jesus is not about a “Happily Ever After” it’s a “Be the light of the world” even when the darkness is deafening and everything around you mocks you for believing. You believe anyway. You shine anyway. Faith is a life surrendered to pleasing God in the here and now, without always knowing the how, when, who and hanging desperately onto the “Why.” Why do I believe all this? Because He first loved me. He first loved you.

The Patchwork Life

Patchwork: a thing composed of many different elements so as to appear variegated. See also: My life.

I had it picked out. It was fluffy and clean and immaculately sewn together. The seams happily held hands and created smooth and crisp lines along the fabric. I called it: My plan. It was perfect, comfortable and warm and I was wrapping myself up in it, “snug as a bug” if you will.

And then I started to realize that one seam was beginning to fray, and then another became undone, and another and another. In my panic to keep it all together I fought it…I fought HARD. And it only made it worse. I cried when I saw threads popping and all of my plans for comfort and security beginning to spill out. I felt like Cinderella right after her stepsisters tore her ball gown apart. Devastated. Humiliated. I was so angry as I stewed in the fragments of my plan that I didn’t notice how someone else had begun stitching them all together. Slowly, purposefully, lovingly.

The torn pieces of my “Happily Ever After” are being fashioned into this haphazard tapestry of grace. As I open my tired eyes and more closely examine the ruins, I find beauty I could never have imagined. It’s the beauty that’s born of brokenness. Raw, radical, and unhindered, this beauty can never be found in perfect plans that only leave room for success and prosperity. It’s forged in the furnace of life. First consumed by struggle, and then refined by grace.

I’m still there, friends. Still sifting through the wreckage of all I had imagined. I had set expectations for myself and, on many accounts, I had failed. They didn’t seem far-fetched or unrealistic but they also didn’t include much risk, pain, or a fierce dependence on God. There are parts of me that still desperately ache for the ideal. Sometimes I look at the hodgepodge fabric of my life, all the changing colors and textures, all the unknowns and missing pieces, with skepticism and (on occasion) disgust.

But this is my life. It involves long days, short nights, Sabbath days, and 2 jobs. It’s kind of a mess, but it’s mine. And I’m starting to realize that it isn’t being thrown together by chance but is rather hand-stitched by the Maker of the universe. All of my mistakes, accomplishments, passions, and weaknesses collide to make me who I am. The moments that I feel threatened or disoriented, He is patient and present through all of it. When I am weak, He is strong. And when I give up, He just keeps tearing, stitching, breaking, healing.

I’m learning to wear this new patchwork life with joy. To rejoice in it’s crooked seams and praise God for His purposeful mending, redirecting, and salvaging. I’m learning that He delights to be my refuge and my only hope. He will stop at nothing to secure my affections. He will render from me a life that is focused on self and place in my hands this beautiful tapestry of sacrifice.

I’m learning that being faithful where I am isn’t the same thing as “biding my time” and waiting for something better to happen… it’s laying down my life at His feet and saying, “Yes, Lord. I will do it all again and I will give You the best I have.”

 

Honesty from the Valley

Lately I’ve found that I can’t really string two coherent thoughts together when I talk about my life. For example, instead of a neat articulation about God’s provision and the joy of trusting Him in uncertain times, I chose to cry into my chicken cobb salad while snotting into my friends shoulder during Girls Night Out last week. This was closely followed by a phone conversation with a sweet friend in which I broke down right after saying, “Hi!”

Lots of snot and tears in my life right now.

Then the next day (just for fun) our heat broke in the middle of an ice storm and our power flickered on and off just enough to spoil the food in our fridge. Then we lost hot water and (as of yesterday) the electric company has officially washed their hands of us while our landlord is scratching his head in bewilderment. And if tomorrow brings the apocalypse, I’m just gonna walk right into the burning buildings, high-fiving the zombies without blinking an eye because OF COURSE this is happening.

When my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few weeks ago I snarkily replied with, “A great, big gift-wrapped box of NORMAL, would be nice.”

There is so much bless-ed numbing power in normalness.

I liked living a normal life because I could just exist in the blur of humanity, warm and comfortable and happily settled in the nitty-gritty of life. Life hasn’t been normal since October 18 and it’s basically just gotten less and less so. My prayer of choice is currently, “Lord, there is a fine line between persevering and surviving and I’m pretty sure I crossed it  2 weeks ago. Can we please move on?” I’ve learned that it’s hard to swallow humble pie when you’re choking on bitter tears. I’ve learned that I am selfish, petty, prideful, lazy, and sometimes even flat-out mean. That’s not new news to me but, in the current circumstances of my life, those qualities have surfaced with an uncanny stubbornness. This isn’t a call to mollycoddle and pity my poor, unfortunate self. It’s an honest “no filter” look into a spirit that is running on fumes. Because probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned through this is if you can’t be honest with God, you’re just wasting your time.

God  has been hard at work in the dark and ugly parts of my heart and I’ve felt every internal “adjustment” with acute discomfort. He has unapologetically crippled my ego so that the Spirit can move more freely. He’s called out all of my facades to make room for sincerity.  He’s let me sit in failure so that He could show off His amazing grace. At the end of each day I really have nothing to show for it all except wavering, flickering invisible Hope in an invisible God. And for all the feel-good, fuzzy-wuzzy, happy thoughts that surround Hope, it really sucks that you can’t actually touch it or see it. Frankly, my experience lately has shown me that it’s next to impossible to hope in things you can’t see when there are so many physical needs staring you in the face every morning. I’m genuinely struggling to hope  in God when I have no paycheck and some days I don’t even try. That’s the truth, y’all.

When you’re walking through a valley don’t try and pretend like it’s a mountain. Respect the valleys in your life. Tell God how much it hurts, yell a bit if it helps. God has shown me that I can fly off the handle as many times as I want but He will never stop promising me that I matter more than sparrows. Every day He dresses the lilies, He walks with His children, He hangs the stars.

He is God. I am not.

I don’t know when this will be over, but from what I can tell, there seems to be enough hope for at least one more day. If you’re walking through a valley right now too, I wish I could just hug you and yell with you and buy you a drink. Hang in there, friend. This can’t last forever. But maybe Hope can?

“…and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:4-5