Saturday, March 11, 2017

Let Him be your sunrise

I'm headed into a transition in my life. A big one in fact.
I've decided not to return to teaching 5th grade next year. Somehow, it became clear to me that it was time to leave the greatest and best job I've ever had. A job that has overwhelmed my life with blessings in every single facet of my life. I can't begin to list how God has used this job to revolutionize my life, to bring me blessing upon blessing, to show me His grace, His love, and give me the best friends a girl could ever ask for.

In 2009, I left something hard and God brought me to something beautiful. I came out of a time where death seemed to surround me and God used this job to breathe life back into me.

But this time, I'm leaving something good.

And you know what, though being resolute in my decision, I'm scared to think of what that decision could mean.

Though I know it's time, I see what all I have been given in this place and I can't imagine walking away from something that has been such a gift.

Yes, there's an excitement of what could be ahead, but mostly, there's fear. What if all I can do is this one thing in life? What if I'm not enough for anything else? Wonder if I've ignored God for so long that I'm headed for disaster or dry ground? What if I think He's talking to me, but it's not Him?

What if?

Yes, I can answer all those things with spiritual platitudes, but what if my life has been so spiritually dry that I feel like those platitudes don't apply to me right now?

As I head to this unknown, these thoughts were starting to consume me. They were beginning to win the day.

As my mind swirled with the what if's, I tried to ignore them as I had so much to accomplish that weekend. I needed to tackle more chapters for my accounting class and I needed to write the devotion book for my New York adventure that was quickly approaching. AND, I needed to finally organize my closet and clean my ridiculously untamed room FOR THE LOVE of all things good.

But, when Saturday morning arrived, I was paralyzed from doing any of that. And because a single girl, with her son at his dad's can hide from life with no one knowing, that's what I did. I never left my room and I hid from all things because I was petrified of the unknown in all of it.

What if I can't pass this class? What if it's too much? Has it been a mistake?
How can I write a devotion when all I do is spend my time begging God and asking Him why I feel so lost in life?
What on earth am I going to do for a career that provides for retirement? Pays for Cade's college? That makes enough money for me to live on? And continue my Starbucks habit?

So...I hid.

But, by the grace of God, a friend and I began to text that Saturday night.
She too was having a less than stellar day, for better reasons than mine, and as we joked back and forth for a while, one of her final texts was, "there's always tomorrow."

Yes, tomorrow, we begin again.

And on Sunday, I did.

I conquered the world of accounting, chapter 8 with a solid 80. I stood in my closet and thought about organizing it, put one pair of shoes away, put a load on to wash, and called it good.

And then Monday...

Monday, was the day I would approach the mountain of God, asking Him to help me write about Him, even though my time with Him seems to be limited at best and complete avoidance at worse.

I am the deer panting, thirsty in a dry and weary times I feel like there's a calling on my heart but I'm too scared to follow it. I'm afraid of chasing an unknown.
I'd rather stay dry and weary, than head somewhere I don't know where it's leading.

As I opened my Bible that morning, I thought that's what I'd write on: Listening to God as He calls you to something new...even though I was proficient at ignoring it at this stage.

And as I began in Exodus with the enslaved Israelites, something prompted me to go back to Abram in Genesis, which then took me to Hebrews 11...the chapter of faith.

As I meandered along the path God had me on, I found myself staring at Hebrews 11:8-16.

In fact, I couldn't move on from it. I wrote a few things down, but I knew this was the garden of goodness God had in store for me.

I sat amongst His garden for a bit but lingering there placed that call on my heart again.

The unknown, God's plan, though we know that plan is beautiful and is written about in books and transforms lives, it's UNKNOWN, so I moved on. I closed my Bible, put my computer back in my bag and headed to breathe and think about avoiding Him.

Some might say, and I would even agree with them, much in my life these last 9 years has been about living in the unknown, but also a rhythm came, a simple, predictable rhythm has become my life. And I keep choosing that rhythm of predictability instead of following Him into further unknowns even though I keep hearing Him beckon me.

And as my decision became resolute around Christmas time to leave my job at the end of the school year, I feel like my safety net of simple predictability is threatening to leave me and that thought is paralyzing.

As I began to write the NYC devotional, I mentioned how in this western world, everything is known. We can solve almost any problem. "Have money, will fix" is the mantra of the day. Keep things at arms length, stay loose, have a back up plan, and create your own destiny.

We put our hope n all things seen.

But, then there's God. A God that beckons us to faith, that says that faith is the crux to all things eternal.

"It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith - for he was like a foreigner, living in tents... Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep His promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead - a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised them, but they saw it from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."

You know, I had a plan for my life, a vision for it.
I had hopes and dreams and wishes and longings.

And though I see how God has brought immeasurable blessing and gifts upon my life that I couldn't have even fathomed, in my loneliness I can convince myself that I'm tired of being lonely and that my dreams were better.

And then I get scared because I'm being called out to a land that feels even lonelier.

And then in the calling out, I'm reminded that I am alone, and doing this alone, and that I better not screw this up because I am the safety net, and wonder if this safety net isn't enough.

And then I start to miss my mom and wish my life was different.

So, then I hide.

I live a life of predictability, too scared to have faith in the unknown, and begin the circling in the dry and weary lands of desert living.

It's a vicious cycle really...reminiscent of people can see why I thought my lesson for these girls would be found in Exodus. ;)

How else does one get out of a desert, if not through a great Exodus.

The lesson I seem so desperately in need of learning...again.

And, as I thought my answer would lie there in the desert, instead, He took me to Hebrews to talk to me about faith.

And reminded me of the stories of how these greats of faith, had many days of doubt and days of wonky, messed up ways of not believing in God's plans.

Having faith is hard.

It's truly the art of believing in something unseen...of watching your life plans get really jacked up and praying to the depths of all within you that there truly is a moment of rescue and that there is a garden and not more desert at the end of His path.

But see, what is crazy ironic about faith, is that the only known and guaranteed element in all of it is God.
We, the seen, are the crap shoot, the wanderers, the unreliable factors in this equation, but God, He's the constant. He's the faithful. He's the unshakable stalwart.

He's the sunrise of tomorrow.

For a solid 3 years I've been scared to have faith and to trust God in many areas of my life. I've chosen the seen and the predictable instead. I've chosen, more often than not, to hide. And then, I've beaten myself up for being one of such little faith and being a runner from God instead of a runner to Him, because I've been too scared to see what that would mean for my life.

But, as I read about Abraham's faith in Hebrews, I also reread his complete lack in all things courage while he traveled through Egypt in Genesis. He basically sold his wife out to prostitution to preserve his own life.

And then as I read Sarah's beautiful testimony in Hebrews, I couldn't help but remember how her lack of faith and patience produced in her the need to solve her own problem and "help God" by having her husband sleep with the maidservant, which led to the birth of one of the most life altering shifts with Ishmael.

Both of their life stories could very well frighten us with the consequences of what lack of faith leads to...

But, what is better than that, is that their stories are great reminders that having faith is hard for people...even those who have been the pinnacle of it. Part of being human is this struggle to surrender our lives and our visions for what we thought it would be like, and taking hold of what life is really about.

On that Sunday, I thought my answer would be found in a great desert, but God had another place for it.

What if in life, where I thought my answer lied, it really wasn't there?

What if I showed up looking to prove my point, but God had a completely different one to prove?

I can't help but think that faith could be about showing up with a question for Him.
And then letting Him answer it.

And then asking Him to give me the courage to keep showing up and letting Him lead me through the unknown to His path and following it as it meanders around to His garden of goodness.

Are you feeling alone? scared? or stuck?

Let Him be your sunrise in the darkness. If you don't know where you are or where to go, start in the desert...He will always be your Exodus.

In Him,

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Life doesn't give us security and we can't find our identity in anything here, but during a great exodus, I found both.

God could have stood before me and told me I was making poor decisions, that I was jumbled up and twisted and about to live it all out on a grand scale, and, without question, I would have grabbed Him by the shoulders, looked Him in the eye and said,

"I've got this Lord."

and walked away...

You see, the more I read the book of Exodus I don't just see myself as an Israelite needing rescue from bondage, I see myself as Pharaoh doing the enslaving.

I'm not just a captive in need of freedom, I am a captor in need of being overthrown and swallowed by the sea.

There's a line in Exodus I can't ignore...

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land..."

for under compulsion

God knew that Pharaoh wouldn't do anything until he was losing everything, and just like Pharaoh, we too often won't budge until we are under compulsion to do so...

And that explains how 2008, a year of death and divorce, was the very same year of my exodus.

It was the year I got to see how God's grace works on a grand scale...His outstretched arms parting waters and walking me to freedom, while simultaneously, causing the waters to crash down and kill the pharaoh I had become.

I would soon see that through death, His plan was to give me life.

I've written before about how fear entangled and intwined my life in ways that my main goal was to find security. And when one is searching for security, that means their identity is in question as well.

I believe the two are inextricably linked.

Therefore, I found myself looking for both in all the ways life can offer it. And for a 20 year old, that meant marriage. I, of course didn't realize this about myself. I traipsed around covering my insecurities with fierce independence, false confidence, and seemingly knowing exactly what I wanted in life.

Unfortunately, all of that was a facade.

My heart was hardened to the fact that I was lost, scared, and knew little about anything.

Then the Lord said to Moses,
"Pharaoh's heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go."

As humans we all face the question of where our security comes from.

Sometimes, life lets us slide for years before we face the question, but the knock on our door will come.

Personally, I believe the knock comes in the form of death. Death exposes our vulnerability, and we realize we are sitting ducks.

When death comes into our life through abandonment, disease, divorce, betrayal, or in any of its myriad of forms, our eyes are opened to the fact that we are vulnerable, and this vulnerability becomes a plague to us...and if we aren't careful, this vulnerability can lead to our own death if we let it.

I don't know when death first knocked on your door...for Adam and Eve, it was when the serpent showed up convincing them to not trust God.

For me, it was when I was 9, when cancer entered my life.

My mom's cancer diagnosis stood at the door telling me, taunting me that there were no guarantees in life, and it shook me so deep that I scrambled for years trying to find a guarantee, trying to find my now lost security.

Being the sensitive young one I was, that news formulated a chasm inside of me that convinced me life was just a bunch of quicksand.

Death may not enter our realm until adulthood. Death of a loved one, death of dreams, jobs, marriages, innocence, or even our own, but death will eventually knock on all our doors and we will have to face the inevitable questions death brings...

Am I OK?

Am I going to be okay if all of "this" goes away?

WHO am I if this all goes away?

How can I possibly be this vulnerable in life?

When those questions were posed deep within my soul...was I going to be okay? My answer was a resounding NO!

Even with all the support and truth that surrounded me, I would have to discover a new answer, the true answer on my own. By God's grace, I had people pouring into me, people who already stood on the other side of the bank of the Red Sea. But, just as we all have to, I needed to see God's outstretch arm part those waters in my own life and watch Him lead me across on dry land.

Unfortunately, first, I would have to find myself in Egypt.

Because I could not handle this new realization that my life could completely fall apart in a moment, fear gripped me, so I tried to control as many outcomes as possible, which led to me becoming a perfectionist and a linear, black and white thinker.

Because I couldn't fathom a life of unknowns, I decided to create as many "knowns" in my life as possible. I became a mitigator, a planner, an anxious anticipator who allowed little emotion to shake her. No more spontaneity, no more uncontrolled, unplanned, excitement-filled life events.

 I was someone who knew the definitions of trust and grace, but never understood them...they were foreign to me.

Therefore, my walk turned into shakily balancing the legalistic tightrope of how to map out a life plan where no hurt would be involved. Going from point A to point B in the most "I know exactly what is going to happen here" kind of way was my long term goal, which by proxy became my daily goal.

FEAR had taken hold and was grabbing my life by its throat.

Laughter, love, joy, rest, mountain tops that take your breath away, valleys that cause you to hold on tight, and everything in between that make you want to live, were absent.

I can remember being beckoned by the Holy Spirit during all of it to turn, but I was stubborn and too afraid. I refused to let my fear go and to trust in something that I saw as risky and unknown...even if that was this God I claimed to know and love.

Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them.

So I would forge on in all I thought I knew: how to avoid the quicksands of life.

I have vivid memories of me crying, knowing that I was headed in a wrong direction, but changing courses seemed way too big and too frightening to even fathom doing so.

What would that mean for my life?

Who would I even be if this planned out existence didn't come to fruition?

Looking back, I can see these were moments where God was prompting me to turn and engage Him, to let all of that fear and insecurity go, and come trust Him, but I always had a reason not to.

I always chose my plan over His.

Pharaoh turned and went into his house with no concern...

With my marriage and my mom, years of anguish and angst were had. Moments were there where all I could do was turn to God, I would beg for mercy and relief, and just as Pharaoh had done, I'd make bargains with God and even agree to let things go for a short while, but then I'd grab back hold because I seemed to know no different. The known seemed better than the unknown.

My heart was hardened, so I remained in Egypt being both captor and captive.

And then 2008....for under compulsion, he will let them go.

When DEATH knocked again and took all that contained my security and identity...

under compulsion, I decided to let them go.

My safe place of finding unconditional love in my mom and then my marriage where I had seen myself as chosen and had given me an identity were now both gone.


In a moment.

And that night, there was a cry from my Egypt, RISE UP AND GET OUT!

As I was curled on my bedroom floor, with everything inside of me screaming, I declared,

It's time to leave Egypt and go worship the Lord.

With steely resolve, I exclaimed, "GET OUT! All that is within me that is toxic and wasting my life away. Get out. No more.

No more!

I begged God, whatever it takes, right this ship, swing the pendulum back, and right this ship because I can't do this anymore, and I need You.

I need You.

I turned to God and said I need You to come SAVE me.

And He did. On January 1, 2009, God walked me out.

"for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt."

In the story of my exodus, He parted the waters and brought me out from an Egypt I'd spent over 20 years in. And, just like the Israelites, as I was walking out, in those dark nights, feeling alone, confused, and petrified of what life was like in front of me, fear would set in and I would look back. I would see and feel Pharaoh chasing me once more.

I would begin to question...question if God could be trusted.

What have I done?

What if Lord?

How can I know Lord?

This hurts too much Lord!

Leaving Egypt is one thing, but facing the unknown of what is to come is another. The fear of the unknown can be powerful enough to make us choose to go as God draws His people out, His mighty hand kills the most powerful stronghold those Israelites had...Pharaoh and his entire army.

As they stood still, God parted the waters for them.

Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today;
for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to keep still.

Though terrifying for the Israelites, God had Pharaoh and his entire army chase in after them, in order for the Israelites to watch God utterly destroy the Egyptians.

As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army...then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord...then the Egyptians took up the pursuit...the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians...Stretch out your hand over the sea...and the sea returned...and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea...not even one remained.

But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea...thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.

And as I stood still, God parted the waters for me.

And though terrifying, God had all that was pharaoh inside of me chase me down, so I would watch Him send the waters crashing down to swallow it up.

And just as ancient Egypt has never recovered to its former glory, the Egypt inside of us won't either.

Because when God sets us free, we are free.

God knew what it was going to take to get His people out. He wasn't coming to give them temporary relief, He wasn't coming to give them a simple story of entitled rescue, because that doesn't truly deliver them from anything.

God came to set His people free, so they would know without a doubt that He is the Lord. He is the Lord that sees their affliction and comes down to deliver them.

Do you feel like you are in Egypt? Maybe the pharaoh inside of you is in need of being swallowed up and destroyed once and for all?

God knit you together in your mother's womb, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made by His very hands.

Don't for a second think that He has forgotten you or that He's not willing to come and rescue, no matter how long you've been in slavery.

No guilt or shame, no indifference or stubborn will, no anger or hurt, no darkness is too far or too deep, that God will not come and with His outstretched arm deliver you.

"Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. and at the end of the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt...

"Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite...a land flowing with milk and honey...

Are you in Egypt?

Are you a slave to fear? shame? anxiety? substance? rejection? loneliness?

Are you Pharaoh holding yourself captive?

I bet God has been sending you signs and wonders, and at times, you are tempted to trust His power, and you are tempted to let it all go...

Or maybe, something so big has happened that you find yourself on the floor begging God to carry you out, with His outstretched arm, and you're telling Him that you're ready for Pharaoh to be killed, and you're ready to head towards the unknown, towards whatever is ahead that He has prepared, even if it includes a long journey of walking with Him while He sifts and molds us into a free people.

Then the Lord said to Moses,
"Why are you crying out to Me?
Tell the sons of Israel to GO FORWARD.

As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it,
and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.

There seems to be nothing else He wants more than for us to know that He is the Lord, and the God of the universe is waiting to strike Egypt with all His miracles to show you how His grace parts waters.

May 2017 be a year of days we get up and GO FORWARD.

Life doesn't give us security and we can't find our identity in anything here, but during a great exodus, I found both.

I am the Lord...I will deliver you...I will redeem you...
I will take you for My people, and I will be your God

The journey isn't easy. It isn't predictable.
It can't be mitigated, anticipated, or controlled.
But you are guaranteed that across the waters there will be manna, something you've never had before, you will experience God's constant presence guiding you by day and by night, you will stand still and watch Him fight for you, and there will be the Rock for you to stand on...

You will see miracles, and you will stand on a shore watching God save you, and you will never be the same again.

"Therefore if anyone is of Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." 2 Cor. 5:17

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone...and give you a heart of flesh." Ez. 36:26

In Him,