Day 1,007: Clinging to You

Nearly two weeks ago on a chilly Tuesday morning, I had a conversation that was loaded with equal parts humor and real confession. My beautiful friend, Mrs. Rita (my long lost best friend) and I were having a conversation. She and I share a mutual dislike for being lost paired with an inability to navigate the unfamiliar. We chuckled at stories of days when we had forgotten our way or when construction caused our familiar life-beaten paths to change. I admitted I use my phone to navigate most of my life, and I’ve just recently moved up to the achievement of making it to Flowood without getting lost. If you searched for my sense of navigation, I’m afraid you’d get lost trying to find it.

After our conversation, we shared a hug, and we parted ways. Not two days later, I agree to meet a friend in Flowood for dinner. We haven’t caught up in a few weeks as she’s quite busy slaying life and I’m distracted by the stacks of unorganized chaos I call a to-do list. My conversations with Margaret are always a breath of fresh air. She is both witty and intelligent. She’s observant. Nothing gets by Margaret in conversation, and she can effortlessly kill your pride, encourage your heart, and minister to your soul all without batting an eye. She is extraordinary.

With a smile on my face, I stepped into the car to go home. I took the path I knew. I zipped and zoomed (within the speed limits, of course, Mom.) down the dark winding road. I was used to turning left just at the “road closed” signs. I didn’t need to look for it because the road just emptied out in one direction. But suddenly the stripes on the road changed. My lane was suddenly white stripes and reflectors. Then I was coasting down a bike lane. Everything was veering right. The “Road Closed” signs loomed in front of me, but the road emptied right. This was wrong. Something was very very wrong with my route well traveled. I had driven this dozens of times. I knew this road. I stopped mapping it out because I knew this journey. But I was turning right. The right road continued for a while, and there was no place to turn around. It was just four lanes of dimly lit black tar looming in front and behind me. My safety and security were slipping away from me like a blown back tire. Going. Going. Gone.

“I don’t know where I am! I don’t know this! I don’t know where I am!” I cried out audibly.

Nothing looked familiar. Nowhere to turn around. No idea where I was going next. I was stuck with no choice but to move forward. Just keep driving, I would tell myself, just keep driving. You’ll find it eventually.

I was right. The road dumped me out on a 4-way intersection off Old Brandon Rd. I was just a few blocks from a summer camp I worked with in college. Minutes from home and work. I wasn’t lost at all. I was at the edge of my two cities. I was home. After getting home, I considered where I went wrong. The giant veer to the left had changed since I drove through their last. There were no signs or indications of where it had been. I had apparently driven by it without a single thought. My conversation early that week with Mrs. Rita came back to my mind. I considered how we chuckled at how much we hate construction, detours, and how our roads change so consistently. Something I had just joked about days before had only happened to me. I’d been lost with no idea where I was or how to get home.

Walk with me to tonight. I met another dear college friend, Emmalyn, for dinner tonight in Flowood. As I hurried home in the chill of this late November evening, I was more aware of the road’s circumstances. It had become clever, but I was going to outsmart it this time. I drove further from the strips of shops and down the boulevard of lampposts and trees. Every single opportunity to turn around taunted me that this might be the turn I was looking to take. A car behind me was unimpressed with my speed and cautiousness (they must not be afraid of being lost) and zoomed ahead of me. My fears were relieved at that moment because they must be looking for the same road I am. Sure enough, the car signaled and started pulling into the left turn lane. I followed behind, and as my front tire hit the edge of the turnaround, I saw them brake and veer back into the lefthand lane. It wasn’t the right turn. I checked behind me and slowly crept back into the lane I had just moved. I laughed because I realized the care behind me had no idea where it was going either. Two more turn arounds and the car pulls over again, and I follow. Yet again we are wrong. By this point, there is an additional car behind us following us in and out of the lefthand turn lane. We are lost. That exact moment is when the weight of it hits me. WE. We are lost. It wasn’t just me this time. These were my friends inside these fellow cars just looking for the lefthand road that leads us home. We were lost together. What a stark contrast from just weeks ago when I was blindly following the road alone.

Together, the three of us find the correct spot that empties to the left. I half-shout in victory, and I am confident that we would have all pulled over to high-five one another had this been a movie. We had been to the battlefield and we were coming home changed. Perhaps that is just the way I feel about it all though.

You are not alone.

As I turned the corner, I could feel it all clicking into place. This wasn’t just another drive home. This was an ordinary moment that Jesus was going to use to speak to me.

You are not alone, He whispered.

You see, there are times and seasons when you will follow the same path you’ve always known, and it doesn’t lead you home. It might drop you out in a field or send you soaring into a bicycle lane in the darkness. There are going to be moments where you have no way to turn around. You must go forward. God promises there’ll be just enough light for your feet to take the next step or two. Above that is up to our Father in Heaven. You can’t break or turn around, but you can go forward. Your road of unfamiliar territory will end eventually. You’ll find your way to something familiar, or He’ll tie you to the unknown road, so that becomes your home. Either way, He’ll lead you to your ultimate home in Heaven.

But unlike my ride through unfamiliar territory- you are not riding alone. There may not be a ton of people on the road you’re traveling, but the few that are there are all you need. There have been a million moments the last few weeks where I’ve wanted to reach out and cling to the hands of those around me. Mommas who strive to pursue and love their children, friends who need to know they are giving life all they’ve got and killing it along the way, the friend who fought back tears as she talked about her mother’s poor health, the friend who can articulate just how quickly and purposefully the Lord has changed his life. I’ve wanted to cling to these people in all of the emotions.

………

My sister had emergency surgery yesterday. It was unexpected. It was scary. It was a road we hadn’t traveled before. But the Lord used so many to guide us through. From friends to offer encouragement, to special individuals who brought food and company, for prayers that covered us in peace. It was a day where everything was just enough. There was just enough grace and peace that we all got to rest, and we got through the day.  I shared a photo on social media of me with my sister, Audrey. She’s asleep in the hospital bed, and I’m bent over in a hospital chair with my head propped on the bedrail. The piece of the picture worth noting is the two hands that cling together. Despite circumstance and situation my sister and I are clinging to one another.

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When I first saw the photo, I was less than thrilled to be documented for sleeping. Later, I couldn’t bring my eyes away from the two clasped hands. So simple yet such a statement of our loyalty to one another in blood and friendship. Audrey said she couldn’t rest until we were all there together. As soon as I arrived, she drifted off to sleep.

………

Sometimes we will have to travel the road less, well, traveled. Sometimes God will surprises you with the most flipped upside down day that somehow manages to be more than okay. When He calls you into the unknown just know you aren’t going alone.

That photo will always serve as a reminder to me that when things get crazy, you can grab one another and bind together. You are not alone.

Clinging to you and the Lord,

B.

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Day 972: Peace

I slipped home after work today and snuggled into the cushions of our couch. Everyone else in my family was journeying home or out within community. As I sat on the couch I noticed the world through the blinds was fading out. I didn’t want to ruin this half light/half night moment so I delayed turning on a lamp. I nestled even further into the cushions so I didn’t rest on top of them but I melted into existence with them. The world was quiet. All except for the cat that had noticed my arrival and came to sit beside me. Her slight pur faded out as even her attention was turned to the world outside the window. The stillness. Like the sky was a symphony and we’d stopped to watch each musician play their part. The lamp posts outside flickered on in an almost premature move as the sky continues fading. By this time, I cannot see the walls across from me or more than a few steps away from my new cushion home. But the peace of this moment draws me in. My breathing slows. Peace. No worry of tomorrow. No to do lists. No calculating the words I said today or my attitude. Just peace. Peace that cradles me and this moment. It’s moments like these that circumstances change from “it will be okay” to “it is okay” or “life will work out” to “life is working out”. It’s moments like these where you know God is with you. It feels as if He just sat down on the couch beside you, scooped you up, and watched along.

These aren’t everyday moments. My family will soon walk in the door and the feeling of the clock starting again will fill my chest. The to dos and the got tos will come pouring out into my mind and even as I type it I can feel the peace draining out of my feet and on to the cold concrete of our painted floor. But when these moments do come they serve as a reminder. Whether we notice it or not- the sun goes down every day. This same stillness happens every day. Just not always in our version. Sometimes we miss it for a conversation in person or on the phone. Other times we don’t experience it because we have our faces buried in a thing or a task. Sometimes something good takes its place and sometimes something bad takes its place, but rest assured the moment happens. As sure as I feel God right now I know He’s right there in the other moments too. And it’s good.

Day 971: Find the Light

Can I be really honest? I woke up and the world was total darkness. It’s been like that the last few weeks as we meander through fall and into the quickly approaching winter season. When we made the switch to 3 services it seemed like I woke up and raced the sun into the day. It was fun to see daylight crawling in behind me as I left my house and to have the sun peeking over our building just as I walked in. But now we’ve hit a later season the sun seems to be cradled in its warm bed far longer than I get to be. The alarm goes off and I wake up into a startled darkness. “This can’t be right.” I think every time, “I must have set my alarm far earlier than I needed. To my great surprise that hasn’t been the case. Some mornings I’ve even been a few minutes later than I needed to be and the darkness was still saturating the world I am expected to go and live.
When I have to turn the knob of a lamp because I cannot see to stumble out of my bed- this is an injustice. Especially for a weekend. But today it was especially dark because of the rain. Even as I arrived at the building it remained a dark stillness. It was as if the world had collectively pressed and was one hushed “shhhhhh. Just 5 more minutes.”

When I arrived today our building had no power. So I went from darkness to darkness. Even our facility wasn’t ready for the day. Yet even in the stillness I heard laughter and singing. Preparation for the day continued with iPhone flashlights representing the hope that we’d be able to have service and pull off another day of getting and giving life.
By 7:45 the glorious hum of the air unit appeared and fluorescent lights flooded the building. We would indeed survive the day.

The next few hours would be a buzz of waist-high hugs, hellos, laying down of to-dos for ministry, half-finished conversations, jokes, and weekly catch-ups. All too quickly it’s time for lunch and then to community time with a group of ladies.

A little more than 12 hours after I left, I return home. I step inside the door and as I turn the lock I feel it. Every single emotion from the day. The heartache, the amazement at what Jesus is doing with the disbelief of what people have to walk through.
The sheer honesty some people trust you with and the joy, too. It washed over me and I stood still for a moment. It was nice and also awkward. It was amazing and uncomfortable. It felt like a warm blanket I could snuggle into while also feeling like a skin I could shed and cast away from me. It was unrest.

I was reminded of the darkness from this morning. A darkness I left. A darkness that was replaced by laughter in odd circumstance, by praises when electricity returned to our facility, by kids with big hearts and big stories, by people who take time to see me and let me see them, by waist-high hugs, hi-fives, and “good job!”, by sitting in a service with others- worshipping and growing together. It was replaced by watching people with gifts for communicating with kids, by catching up with family and friends, by joy and sorrow-filled community with women. Darkness replaced by a whole lot of light.

Yet I can’t help but feel burdened for the people who stayed in darkness today. This is an injustice. For the people who never turned on the lamp and stumbled out of bed. Didn’t experience community and life. Or for those who did get up, but stayed in the darkness like our powerless facility. They chose to be present, but they never experience the hum of the electricity being restored. My heart is burdened for those people tonight. I may wake up in darkness but I run to the light. I run to Jesus. I run to community.

If you bothered to read this far and you don’t have a light to turn on or you don’t have a community then I urge you to reach out. You aren’t a burden. You aren’t too loud, too dramatic, too quiet, too much, too little. You are enough and you are made to live in the light. I’d like to be the iPhone flashlight to guide you back to our powerful source. You’re worthy of more than darkness.

Day 751: Why I DON’T Attend A LIFEgroup

Here is a little known secret about me: I don’t attend a LIFEgroup. What is a LIFEgroup? Well it is what we call our church small groups/community groups/whatever rad term your hip church culture uses. For us, our mission in everything we do is about giving life to others. Pointing others to Jesus in a one time deal is super cool, but we value walking through the other days in a person’s life as well. We are in this thing together and we strive to point people to Jesus beyond that one salvation moment/baptism. It is a lifetime journey.

To do life together we have LIFEgroups that meet throughout the week and are composed of like people in each group. They do a bible study or work through passages of scripture together every week.

Almost two years ago a group started for young adults. I went to the group expecting it to be another thing on my busy schedule. But I was wrong. I didn’t just find an additional line for my planner. I found community and friendship. We’re a group of women in varying stages of life- some married, some single- with different careers- college students, grant writers, teachers. But we are unified in our pursuit to know God and have a relationship with Him. I expected to survive a study with them, but I never expected to so enjoy their company. Over time we’ve grown to a place that these are the women you turn to in crisis and when life gets hard.

Last week a friend of mine died after battling cancer, my sister had the flu, and a family member was in the hospital undergoing testing. I never doubted for a moment or worried over who I would turn to for prayer. The women in my LIFEgroup immediately responded with such love and encouragement. All together our group is walking through family members battling cancer or disease, job changes, and sickness, but we are walking through it together. As we met tonight I couldn’t help but think about why I love and value each of these women. Watching them walk through their calling as Christian wives, singles, career professionals, and college students. I admire each of them for their strength, grit and determination, sense of humor, wisdom, and their love for the Lord. Truth is, we are all very different, but we all line up in our pursuit for a real relationship with a God who loves us.

So no, I don’t attend a LIFEgroup. I’m not a bystander of a LIFEgroup. I am part of a LIFEgroup. I am a participant in a LIFEgroup. I am a member of a LIFEgroup. I belong to a community of people who do life together. They are my friends, my people, and we are in each other’s corner.

Please don’t hide from the life-giving change to grow with other people. You weren’t meant to do life alone. Here’s three pieces of advice from my experience:

  1. Show up. It’s okay to be nervous and be new, but you won’t ever belong if you don’t show up first. So be there. Think of it as a gym membership for your spirit. You gotta go in a sign up and then start working out.
  2. Say something. Let the people in your group get to know you. They don’t have to see the skeletons just yet, but maybe try adding to the conversation around you. You won’t feel like a member unless you engage. That spirit gym you joined? Well, you just started to get to know the people exercising around you. Maybe y’all will do a Zumba class together!
  3. Be open. Now that you’ve said something you’ve got to keep showing up and talking. Soon you’ll find out that you have things in common with these people. Spirit gym: you’re a walking advertisement for this facility. Look at the results of all you’ve achieved!

Day 748: Snickers, Uber, and the Holy Spirit.

Last week I turned 22. So far it has been refining, and the most complete reminder that I am still deep into my journey of sanctification. I’ll be honest, lately I’ve dismissed the Holy Spirit as part of the trinity that guides my life. Of the three members we are by far the least close. I blame myself because I’m not looking for Him to speak into my life in the everyday. I look for Holy Spirit wisdom at 2 in the morning when I realize I’m behind a deadline or realize I didn’t plan something that will work. I used to say He rarely answers me, but truthfully it’s been like having a conversation while wearing headphones. Sure, I’ve been blasting the latest Kari Jobe or Passion, but I haven’t had my ears, heart, eyes, or focus on the Holy Spirit as my guide.

When I was little I used to dream of being one of those adults that frequently had encounters led by the Holy Spirit. You know, like the video going around of the lady who bought bananas when she really just wanted to get the homeless man some fried chicken. If I had been in that story I likely would have been the woman on the cereal aisle two rows over while all of it happened. I’m just not as in tune to stopping and listening. I think 22 is the season of being still. Taking time where my phone isn’t in my hand or Netflix isn’t rotting out my brain. The only times I’m ever completely without distraction are the moment I lay my head on my pillow or the moment I wake up. I’m so deeply ashamed to admit that, but even my bible reading is influenced by some form of technology. My prayer time has become an uber ride for Jesus, and some of the time I’m just blasting worship music instead of having conversation. I’ve gotten distracted.

In the distraction, I have loved this season. I have been happier than any other time of my life. I was reaping the benefits of a relationship and trust with Jesus, but I stopped feeding and spending time in the relationship because I was busy being happy. In college, my mentor pointed us to this verse.

Proverb 5:15, “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.”

Imagine with me that we all have wells sitting in the yards of our souls. (By the way, your soul also has a yard.) The well is full of the living water mentioned in John 4. As we interact and minister to others it is as if we pull water up from the deep well and quench their thirsting spirit. Imagine if you stood at the well waiting for others to come and drink, but you never took the time to stop and drink yourself. Eventually those needing a drink would arrive at the well in the yard of your soul and find you there, withered and without life. If you want to serve others from the source of life you must drink from the source as well.

In my happy state, I’ve allowed my well, with living water, to give life to others. My joy and happiness were the only nourishment I absorbed. It is to no surprise that I survived the last week (More on that in another post), but came to today feeling empty and irritable. Snickers coined the famous phrase, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” This applies to our spiritual lives as well. We aren’t ourselves when our souls are hungry. Much like a child struggles to pay attention in class when they haven’t eaten. When our souls are hungry we cannot focus on the Lord. We need to drink from the water, but we become distracted. Our distraction leads us away from the well and giving life to others and we try to feed on other satisfactions.

At the beginning of the year I felt the Lord had called my 2017 the year of “More”. That’s it. Four simple letters added to our vocabulary as squirming toddlers in our high chair. Spaghetti noodles on our head and our skin a shade of orange from the sauce. “MORE!” We cried out, “MORE!” And we would receive or cry until we did.

I thought the word was nice and ambiguous at first. More could mean anything. More hope, more laughter, more pain, more joy, more loss, more grief. More. Just a vague word uttered by babies and waitresses looking to refill your drink. But that’s exactly it. I am an infant in a high chair crying out for “MORE!” I am crying out for more of Him. More of the Holy Spirit prompting me to buy those dang bananas. More of His voice whispering into my focused ear. Go. Do. Be. More realization that I am able to exist because He is the I am. So the answer is yes. It will mean more hope, laughter, pain, joy, loss, grief. But it will also mean more life, more purpose, more sanctification, more refinement, more time being still, more time spent listening. This is the time my heart cries out in desperation for more. More opportunities to serve, more time spent at the well drinking and giving water to others. As Christians, we go through a lifetime of sanctification. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking your lessons are over. Our life intention is to get back to God’s design, but with the world we live in it is a lifetime journey. If we listen to the Holy Spirit then we will see the things we hold between us and fully knowing God as our Father. He will reshape us and mold us if we are willing to lay down the idols of our lives. Think the Lord is finished shaping you? Read this testament by a woman who sees the Holy Spirit still at work.

Along the journey, the Lord has given us the most amazing opportunity. He placed a well in the yard of our souls so all who visit us will not leave thirsty. Some of us need to first uncover the well so it may be used. Others of us need to start pouring out for those around them. Some, like me, need to join the thirsty in drinking the living water so we do not grow weary. Some still, may have some frequent visitors at their well and you are realizing the opportunity that is there to continue to minister to them. Do not give up, do not lose heart, do not grow weary with those people. They need someone to water them until they can do it themselves.

The Holy Spirit is in our corner just waiting. Let us drink, friends, let us drink.

B

Day 729: 2 years. I’m Learning.

Two years ago, I was in need of some life giving friendships, a church family, and surrendering my control. A year ago I wrote a piece celebrating the life change I had seen as I finally surrendered my plans to the Lord. You can find it here. I thought it was good and I was pleased with the lessons the Lord had taught me.

Two years later I’m amazed at how the Lord has worked in my life. A year later I’m in awe of the lessons the Lord has used to remind me that I’m not done growing. You see, in the last year I found out that part of my brain is too big, I stepped up to some unknown challenges and conquered them, I stepped into new leadership roles that I greatly enjoy. In the last year I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to stop fearing the plans the Lord has for me. Don’t fear the unknown for it gets us nowhere. Fear the Lord for He holds the plans and the future.

See, last year I was learning how to trust and settle into relationships. This year I’m learning to enjoy them. That friendship is a challenging investment with invaluable rewards. I’m learning that its better to ask someone than stay silent. I’m learning to see people in their flaws, love them, and point them to the truth. I’m learning that people are worth the investment. That people care less about what you bring to the table of friendship and more about how long you stay there at the table. I’m learning to take the extra mature step when it comes to loving difficult people. I’m also learning to stop calling people difficult. Ministry happens in the most informal of settings. Discernment is a gift that must be nurtured. Peace is worth far more than I imagined. I’m learning that showing up in kids lives is more important than any object lesson. That consistency is the hard, but necessary thing. That vision for the long haul makes the present things more successful. I’m learning to watch my words. That a sincere apology makes you a good leader and team member.

To sum it all up. . I’m learning. I wouldn’t say I’ve learned it or that I’m an expert, but I’m learning. I’m learning how selfish and prideful I am. I’m learning how quick to speak and quick to anger I am truly. I’m learning I get it wrong a lot, and I speak unfiltered. I’m learning that the plans I have must sit on my palms with my fingers spread wide. They may be altered or removed altogether by the Lord. I’m learning my security is not in who I am or the things I’ve done. It is not in my age or my ability because all of that could change in an instant, but I believe that Jesus could still use me. The message of the gospel doesn’t change, but the messenger remains moldable forever.

My prayer recently has been for the Lord to guard over my mouth. That I may watch my words and speak only life when my mouth is open. Its a process that means my desire to speak for the sake of a joke, a sarcastic remark, a fiery opinion must die. A sacrifice of self so my life may be given to life.

2 years later and I’m still learning a whole awful lot. I see who I was two years ago and its like looking at the shell of who I am today. 2 years ago I felt empty, lacking joy, reeling in self-doubt, hate, and hurt. I felt like a glass with no more than a drop of water inside. Now, I’m filling up. Filling up of good water that never runs out. Filling up with life and God’s purpose. Being poured into and poured out in equal, peaceful rhythms.

2 years. I’m learning.

Day 703: Take the Step You See

Honest confession: tonight fear gripped ahold of me. Grabbed my heart and my future and squeezed the joy out of them. Sudden anxieties because I don’t have all the answers to where and when for the next season. I don’t know the who or even the how of what is to come. The newness of the year has worn off. Here to stay is the doubt of what is to come.
Thankfully, just mere hours ago, I sat in a LIFEgroup where we discussed the foolish Israelites and their inability to trust God to provide day to day.
Someone mentioned the verse “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Now, I learned this verse when I was just a daisy in Missionettes (RIP Missionettes), but it has followed me through life and the truth hadn’t changed. It doesn’t say it’s a spotlight or stadium lighting that’ll show us  the length of a football field ahead. It’s a lamp that illuminates its immediate surroundings. We can see where we just came from and a few steps ahead.
It doesn’t say it is an easy path. We just know it’s the path we’re called to walk in.

Truth is, I don’t know nothin’ about what comes next. I know the Lord has called me to honor Him with here. The way I stand on this part of the path and the motives I choose in moving forward. See, I don’t want to see the rest of the path. I don’t. Because I’ll miss the good I’m standing in here.
Friends, don’t miss the love, friendship, and joy meant for here and now. Here refines you for there. For the next thing. Stop trying to find answers for questions the Lord isn’t asking you yet.