The Tune Without the Words

I looked down this morning and realized all my hope was pointing outward. I don’t usually pay attention to how the words on my hope rings line up, but I do take notice when they point outward. It reminds me to share. To try to help someone else find the courage to hope. So here’s where I’ll send some hope your way, if perchance you need it tonight.

Let’s begin here: you get to decide what kind of woman or man you are going to be. You can live safe and shut down, or you can live open and brave. But here’s the kicker: both choices carry risk. Don’t think for one hot second that living safe and shut down is risk-free. It is anything but. Sure, being brave means risking rejection, failure, and a wounded or even broken heart. But I have lived shut down and I know firsthand just how hard it is to revive a heart turned to stone. In fact, in Ezekiel God poses the remedy to the heart of stone and it isn’t a bypass. It’s a transplant. “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Eze 36:26) Those brave and broken-hearts? He binds them up. (Isa 61:1) But he does not fool with the stone hearts, other than to pull them from our chests and put something new in their place.

So I choose open and brave. I choose hope. And I dare you to do the same.

Whatever it is that seems hopeless, beyond repair, beyond redemption, beyond resurrection…put a pin in that and pause with me right there for a moment. Look beyond that thing and see Jesus as he watches the rich young ruler walk away, forlorn. Watch as Jesus turns and tells his disciples how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Hear them ask, incredulous: “Then who in the world can be saved?” Listen as Jesus returns his intent reply: “With man, this is impossible. But not with God; all things are possible with God.” Can you see the hope glimmer in Jesus’ eyes as he says this and glances back at his rich young friend once more? To quote John Eldredge, “With a smile and a wink, it’s as if (Jesus) says, ‘He’ll be back.'” I wept to read the story from that perspective, to realize: my Jesus has a heart that hopes. He doesn’t see the lost cause. He “sees the internal revolution already taking place.” (Eldredge) And when it comes to those things we think are hopeless and beyond repair, redemption or resurrection? He doesn’t see trees laid bare for winter. He sees that “wonders are being performed under the surface of things.” (Elisabeth Elliot) And He knows spring is coming.

Hope means knowing spring is coming. Hope means releasing the leaves to fall as autumn’s crisp breeze pulls them from your grasp. Hope means facing the winter and refusing to freeze. Hope means expecting life where yesterday there was only death. Hope means choosing to live in anticipation of the moment when you see your joy doubled. Hope awaits the jubilee – even (or perhaps precisely) when you have no idea how that may look or what form it may take. After all, “hope that is seen is no hope at all.” (Rom 8:24)

Ah, but there’s the rub, isn’t there? We want to see. We want guarantees. Jesus, tell me what it is I’m hoping for here, in the most precise terms possible, then I’m all the way on board. I will be the poster child for hope. I’m just gonna need a few details first. Well now, that’s just silly. You can’t have the plan and the hope. A choice must be made, and I find it is one that God ever so mercifully makes for me. He keeps the plan to himself, and he keeps daring me to hope.

It’s a beautiful tension, especially when the deepest longings of our hearts are involved. We walk what is sometimes a very thin line between hoping for a specific outcome and hoping in God – in His goodness and His love and His plan, no matter what. It is dang hard and some days it feels like I recalibrate my hope every hour on the hour. But to refuse to hope? To cover over those deep longings with pounds of cement and watch as my heart slowly petrifies, inch by stony inch? No thank you. I’ll take the hard work of choosing hope any day. Because as it turns out, hope itself isn’t a work we do. It’s a choice we make. We’re not responsible for conjuring or even sustaining hope. Our only task is to give it a place to light and listen for its song. Emily Dickinson explains this so beautifully, so I believe I will let her take it from here.

Don’t be afraid to hope, dear ones.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Categories: Hope, Knowing His love, Resting. Just resting., Trusting His heart, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

If You’re Going to San Francisco

It all started with my refusal to cooperate.

I could have insisted. I had every right. Normally, I do assert this right. But there’s this journey I’ve been on lately, and it calls for a new way that looks a lot like surrender and peace. So when I was checking in for a flight last month and I had the option of changing my seat assignments, I refused. I wondered what might happen if I just went with the flow this time. What might I find in 6A or 23F or 42A? For starters, maybe I would find some freedom from my need to control my life – this thing I have been fighting to be free of for years now. This lie that tells me I can somehow manage my world and mitigate all risk, discomfort, pain or inconvenience.

The risk mitigation theory is a whopper of a lie, I tell you. There is not a single one of us that has that kind of power. Not one.

Yet we strive and we strain and we reach for the ever-elusive comfort of Controlling All The Things and we end up shattered and bewildered when life is still somehow itself:  mysterious and unpredictable and complex. I have been alternately striving and shattered for years now. One might argue both sides of the chicken or the egg’s pre-emergence, but in my case (and I think perhaps in many cases), the shattering came first. We are born. Life is itself. We are shattered. As we pick up the pieces, we realize: hey, these are pieces. Maybe I should just try holding onto them myself. I bet I can fit them all back together in a way that might not break again. And so we puzzle over the pieces, trying this combination and that. Sometimes the picture is garish and difficult to look at; other times, we manage to piece together a semblance of what we began with – yet somehow, something always seems to be ever so slightly off. Something is always missing.

My Father has been showing me for months now – lovingly and relentlessly – just how much I have loved tinkering with the pieces all these years. And just how much has been missing.

There is a freedom in powerlessness that I have always considered such dangerous territory. It seems to be the place where all the bad things happen. I have been so busy avoiding this place that I could not see my own hands, bloody and scarred from years of clinging to the pieces of my life and forcing them into place. As I have seen this in the light of day, I have made small choices here and there to consciously relinquish control of my life, to birth a way of living free and unhindered, dangerous in peace and beautiful in rest. Small steps into what I know is a spacious place.

Letting the airlines tell me where to sit on September 19 was a small choice, but by 9:00 pm that evening, I was seated in 17F, somewhere high above the Pacific, fully at peace.

You may notice that 17F was not in the list of seats I referenced at the beginning of this post. That is a fun little story.

The wonderful thing about living in Little Rock is that you get to see so many airports anytime you need to go anywhere. Seriously. It’s amazing. Who knew you could connect to so many destinations only by going through Atlanta, but when it comes time to actually go to Atlanta, you have to be routed through Houston? The mystery of air travel is amazing and I will never understand it. As a lifelong Arkansan, I have come to expect multiple connecting flights in my travels, and I knew this trip would be no different, particularly because I was flying to an island in the middle of the Pacific. Little Rock to Houston to San Francisco to Honolulu. No big. I squinted just a tidge at the 45 minute layover in San Francisco when I made my reservations, but the ticket was so much cheaper I decided it was worth the risk.

We left Little Rock the morning of my trip and all was well – a quick, smooth jaunt up and down, landing in Houston. When I boarded the plane bound for San Fran, I realized not only did I have a window seat, but the middle seat was empty. Huzzah! How wise I had been in accepting the airline’s seat reservations for me! What good fortune to have extra space to stretch out during the four hour flight to California without worrying I might accidentally fall asleep on my seat mate’s shoulder! I smugly settled in for the four hour flight. Clearly my decision to deliberately release control over my life was being rewarded.

We were in the air for approximately five minutes when something felt off. I was warm and anxious and nauseous and my head felt a bit like it was trying to expand three sizes. I shrugged it off at first. I do tend to be a little on the sensitive side, after all. The flight attendant assured us the captain was aware of the temperature in the cabin and was working on it. Then my ears started popping, constantly and uncontrollably. I reached for chewing gum. The passenger next to me reached for chewing gum. A passenger in front of us held his head in his hands and asked why his ears were popping. It felt like the captain was climbing fast enough to break the sound barrier, and then it felt like the plane was suddenly losing altitude. Because it was. We were coming right back down.

The captain announced the automatic cabin altitude regulator had failed, and while they were able to manually control the altitude in the cabin, we were being diverted to Austin to have the plane checked out before we could continue on to San Francisco.

Did I mention I had a 45 minute layover in San Francisco? Yes. An Austin diversion – no matter how swift – meant I would miss my connecting flight.

I have done this dance often enough to know how impractical it is to expect a same-day arrival once you miss a connection. Add the necessity of crossing the Pacific to the mix and you can forget about it. I had so been looking forward to getting to the hotel and having a moment or two to myself before jumping into several days of meetings and events. Still, I had to admit the obvious: I had zero control over this situation. If I wanted to get to Honolulu at all, I would have to wait and see how the plan unfolded. So I released myself from the dizzying self-imposed obligation of searching all available flight routes and forming fifty contingency plans in my head. Instead, I simply waited.

Once in Austin, we were asked to de-plane in favor of a new, cabin pressure-regulated aircraft bound for San Francisco. I prepared myself for standing in an interminably long line at customer service only to be told I would need to stay overnight in Austin or San Francisco or some other random city before being booked on a connecting flight for the final leg (or legs) of my trip the following day. I decided that would be okay. If I could not control the outcome, what good would it do to fret over that outcome’s many possible iterations, including the least desirable?

As I got off the plane, I tried to focus on one thing at a time to keep my mind from rushing ahead. Step one: get off the plane. There were two passengers ahead of me – older passengers, with slower gaits. Normally I would have brushed past them in a very self-important hurry to find out when I was going to make it to Honolulu because obviously I was the only passenger inconvenienced here. This is where I hear my dear cousin Shawn, a flight attendant, saying: Andrea. Please don’t be one of those passengers. But since I was focusing on one thing at a time, and my current thing was getting off the plane, I slowed. I walked behind the passengers without wishing they would move faster. It calmed me. It helped me remember: I am not in control here, nor am I alone. None of these people planned on being in Austin today. Besides that, no matter how you sliced it, I was facing at least 9 hours of flight time and several more hours of waiting at various airports. Shaving an extra five seconds off my walk to the gate would not get me to Honolulu any faster; if anything, it may make me a little more miserable in the process.

I reached the gate area and it was time for step two: find someone who can help. I stopped at the ticket counter and said, “My flight was diverted from Houston. I won’t make my connection from San Francisco to Hono…” and before I could finish my sentence, the gate agent was asking for my baggage claim ticket. I handed it to him and he said, “Yes. You’re headed to Honolulu. We’ve rerouted you through LAX. One moment please while I have your luggage pulled off the Houston plane.”

I just stared at him in stunned silence.

If you have ever flown and missed a connection, take a moment and let this sink in. What usually takes hours – and considerable gnashing of teeth – to resolve was handled for me before I was even off the plane. As the gate agent, a very serene man named Clemenceau, radioed the ramp crew about my luggage, I noticed another agent was struggling with keying something into the system. Clemenceau leaned over to help her while he was on hold with the ramp crew. Another agent was standing nearby, guiding them through the arrangements they needed to make, snipping out questions and reminders here and there. Clemenceau just kept moving, staying calm as a cucumber.

A fellow passenger, this one London-bound, was asking for help with putting her Samsung on airplane mode. She was terribly worried about incurring network charges once she arrived in London, but her daughter had insisted she bring her phone. After striking out with the gate agents, she asked me for help. (I was glad because I had been itching to help her but did not want to be intrusive.) What a joy to be able to stand there and help this sweet woman with her phone instead of being so consumed by my own situation that I was oblivious to her need. It was such a lovely gift to really see the people around me.

Three hours later, I was headed to LAX for a brief layover before making the final jump to Hawaii. I was tired. My knees were sore and swollen. I had eaten the most random food, and by the time I got settled in Honolulu, I would be awake for close to 24 hours. And all of that was okay. I would get where I was going. I would do what I was there to do. Then I would come home. But in that precise moment, even from that spot 32,000 feet above the ocean, I already felt closer to that spacious place where my feet roam free, hands open to receive whatever may come my way. And I flat could not shake the feeling that my decision to roll with the seat assignment flow the night before had somehow paved the way for all that peace.

I suppose I should not be surprised that I now find myself on a different sort of diverted flight. My flight from Little Rock went to plan. We took off in Houston and everything seemed fine, until it wasn’t. And now? Well, now I’m not quite sure what to expect. But I do know this: I will get where I am going. I may not know how or when, and trying to figure all of that out is guaranteed to make me one very crazy person. So I focus on one thing at a time. I’ve had to deplane in Austin. The man at the ticket counter can tell me what to do next. Purse and backpack in hand, I make my way to the gate, intentionally slowing my pace to match the passengers ahead of me. After all, their plans just went woppy-jawed, too. Trying to rush past them in my self-important hurry will only scuff my soul. But if I can slow down and breathe and remember that I am not in control here? Well, maybe I can find myself in that spacious place again. And maybe I can even help one of them find that place while we wait. Anybody here headed for London? I can show you how to put a Samsung in airplane mode.

 

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Welling Up

When I was in my twenties, God the Father went from being a two-dimensional character on wispy thin pages to a fully alive, very real and amazingly involved and loving Father. I experienced Him in deeply personal ways, and I learned at least the beginnings of what it means to rest in being His child. Somehow through all of this, Jesus remained a bit of a mystery. Well, not somehow. I can tell you how, but that’s another story for another day.

In February of this year, I went to a conference in Houston hosted by Beth Moore for women in their twenties and thirties who are called to teach, speak or write. That I ended up there made no sense to me; how I ended up there showed it made perfect sense to God. Even if I did want to run straight out of that hotel ballroom in a wild panic about fifty times before we were even a full sixty minutes into the conference.

My sweet friend Melanie went with me, and we had the best and deepest talks throughout the weekend. After a Saturday full of listening, absorbing, worshipping, crying our eyes out and furiously scribbling notes, I felt comfortable enough to tell her how I felt about Jesus: that my experience of Him felt impersonal, somewhat removed; that I felt my primary line of communication was with the Father. It’s a very difficult thing to describe, so I don’t often try. But Melanie gets me and/or is gracious enough to hide it when she does not. Before we fell asleep that night, our heads still spinning from the day, I said I thought I would begin a deeper study of John when I got home. My pastor Craig has always said that’s a good place to go when you want to know Jesus.

Just a few days before I left for Houston, my dear friend Sarabeth asked me to write a series of daily email devotionals for our church during the Lent season. When I returned from LIT, I began to discuss ideas for that series with Sarabeth, and she suggested I focus on John. Surprise, surprise. I undertook the assignment with eager anticipation, and I thoroughly enjoyed every last minute of it. I felt more alive than I have felt in years – like a wild, rushing river was roaring in my chest. I loved digging into the text, imagining the stories as if I had witnessed them firsthand, geeking out on word studies and communicating what I had learned each week. I was loathe to see it end – I even asked if they would let me write a bonus week and I may have cried real tears when I hit ‘send’ on the final installment – but I intentionally refused to ask God to show me my next assignment when I finished. Since January, God has been graciously – if not relentlessly – showing me all the ways I just love “controlling” my life. (Those quotation marks there are 100% intentional.) So when I finished the Lent writings, I felt the need to just sit with what I had learned for a bit, to rest from several weeks of hard but rewarding labor and enjoy the afterglow without jumping right into the Next Big Thing.

Isn’t it funny how even our not-planned plans so often go awry?

Not long after the last Lent email landed in everyone’s inboxes, I was given a copy of Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge, a book specifically about exploring the personality of Jesus. Weary though I was from the weeks of writing and studying, I longed to read back through the passages in John and what I had written, to spend some time sitting with the stories as an observer and see what undiscovered treasures I might yet find. I figured I would dig into Eldredge as well. Then life happened. I got busy, and I didn’t take time to sit with those stories, or any stories for that matter. I allowed myself to get overwhelmed, allowed my voice to be stifled, and I watched in resignation as the rushing river in my chest slowly stilled and dried up, leaving behind dry, cracked, thirsty earth.

Over the last several weeks, I have felt my thirst to the point of great pain, and I began to intently ask: what does it mean to drink the Living Water? What does it take for that water to well up inside me? I waited for answers. They didn’t come at first. See, I was looking for a to do list (really, when am I going to stop with that?). I was just like the people I continually marveled at in studying John – the people clamoring for the gift and not the Giver. I was asking how to drink the Living Water and growing frustrated with the lack of response. Yet standing before me all along has been the actual Living Water: Jesus, just waiting for me to drop my guard and admit the obvious. It’s noon. I am at the well. Alone. Unseen. And I am ever so thirsty.

If there is one thing I do not lack at the moment, it is reading material. I have at least one dozen unread books silently accusing me from various places in my bedroom. That having been said, I just flat cannot abide reading anything at all about myself and my future and my five year plan right this second, but it’s also not exactly the time for Tozer or Lewis. Eldredge’s book about Jesus kept catching my eye, though. In the spirit of vulnerability, I will own that I have been afraid to read this book. What if I didn’t get it? What if I read it cover to cover and somehow fail to know Jesus more intimately? Something about standing in the blazing hot sun, parched and weary and desperate for Jesus has managed to strip me of those particular inhibitions, so I cracked it open and began to read. I’m mere chapters in and it’s already blowing my mind in the best and hardest ways. I’m also walking back through my Lent writings – this time less as an eager writer, more as a thirsty reader. Along the way I hope to share a handful of my thoughts on all of the above in this space, for two reasons:
1. I am an external processor and I love Jesus.
2. If I keep texting my long-form thoughts to my mentor after every new revelation, he may end up blocking my number. And I really need him not to do that.

For now, I ever so briefly revisit the beginning, when two of John the Baptist’s followers were trailing Jesus and He turned to ask them what they wanted.
“They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’
‘Come,’ He replied, ‘and you will see.’” (John 1:38b-39, NIV)

Come, He tells me. Come and you will see.

But Jesus, I need the address. Can you write down the directions? Maybe draw me a map?

No, child. Come. Walk with me. Release your need to know. Take hold of my hand instead.

Come and you will see.

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Since We Have Such a Hope

Several years ago, I stood at a crossroads. To the right was a safe path of dutiful obedience where I could believe that God was good but mostly life just really hurt and I could learn to be okay with that. To the left was a daring path where I would have to believe the impossible – that God was not only good, He was good to me and He was still making beautiful things out of my life. I was about to step onto the safe and dreamless path when God whispered to my heart, Don’t be afraid to hope. So I turned, and I chose the daring path of hope. 

Almost one year later, my heart was smashed to smithereens and I found myself grieving more deeply and wrestling more desperately than I thought I could. Yet my Father’s whisper remained: don’t be afraid to hope. It was during this season that I stumbled upon a lovely sterling silver ring with the word “hope” daringly engraved in its delicate, thin band – a physical reminder of His promise that even in my breaking, hope remained. 

I wore my hope ring tenderly and bravely for the next several years until a brisk autumn day when I met this beautiful, courageous woman and the Spirit whispered to my heart: give her your hope. I was pretty sure He meant my ring, but I also thought maybe I had heard Him wrong. After all, He knew what this ring meant to me. So I asked Him for clarification, knowing good and well: He meant the ring. 

I gave this darling woman my hope ring and told her its meaning. I told her it reminded me of His words, and I spoke them over her: don’t be afraid to hope. My heart was cheered in obeying, if not also a wee bit achy. 

Not long after, I found the exact same ring online and promptly placed my order. It was set to arrive just before Christmas. In the meantime, I began to ask God for a word. What word would He have me carry into the coming new year? I asked several times, and His answer was the same each time I asked: New, He said. I am making all things new. 

Christmas came and went, but my ring did not. I finally contacted the jeweler who sold me the ring and a few days after the New Year, it arrived. Now, this was an inexpensive sterling silver band barely thicker than a dime, but they had packaged it in the most beautiful black box inside of a larger ivory box topped with a satin bow, and oh. You would’ve thought I’d just ordered a diamond ring from these folks. I opened the package and pulled out the shiny new hope ring. I placed it on my finger and my heart sank. The fit was perfect and the design was the same, but something about it was different. It didn’t have the familiar scratches and dings my old ring had. It was so…shiny. It wasn’t the same ring I’d had all those years. And the Spirit whispered to my heart: No, child. It is not the same. This ring is new.

I walked through my year of New and indeed it was. Coming into 2016, I asked God for another word, to which He replied: abundance. And then things promptly proceeded to fall completely and totally apart. 

Everything felt like a struggle. The landscape grew increasingly bare. I knew change and loss and trial during 2016 in ways I have not known them in a very, very long time. I found myself taking in the scenes around me and being so confused. None of this felt hopeful. None of it felt abundant. 

One brisk autumn day while playing piano for my sister’s church, I placed my hope ring in my pocket. After church, I went to the grocery store and when I reached in my pocket for the ring, it was gone. I texted the pastor and she searched the church. I searched the grocery store aisles. No ring. I was heartbroken. 

Was this a sign? Was He withdrawing His favor? Had I really landed in the barren wasteland I felt I had and was this finally, at long last, proof positive? (My despair game is strong, y’all.) 

Or did someone else need my hope right then? Did some hurting soul need to stumble upon the thinnest of silver bands boldly declaring hope to her heart right there in the frozen foods aisle?

I chose to believe the latter, but it did not break my heart any less. 

I searched for a replacement ring online, knowing good and well it would no longer be in stock – or even in production. So I chose another ring that said hope on it, only this one really wasn’t the same. My hope ring had been a tiny, square-edged band so dainty you’d have to look really hard to know I was wearing it. My hope ring had a crooked H and a bottom-heavy O and a top-heavy P and a slightly wonky E. This replacement ring had a thicker band with precise lettering. I wore it anyway, if only to prove to myself that I could still choose hope, even when life felt hard and unfamiliar and strange.  

In the meantime, I spent every trip to the grocery store scouring the aisles for my lost hope ring, knowing good and well I wouldn’t find it and looking like a mad woman staring obsessively at the grocery store floor instead of the groceries.

One day in October, I drove home from work with all the weight of the year’s confusing abundance pressing on my chest and I prayed, “Jesus, please. I need a word. Just one word.” 

That afternoon, I opened my mailbox to find a letter from a jeweler. This was the same jeweler who’d manufactured my beloved hope ring. The same jeweler whose entire online inventory I had already checked to confirm they no longer sold my beloved hope ring. The same jeweler from whom I had only ever purchased one item: my hope ring.

The letter told me there was a production error during the manufacturing of a jewelry item I’d purchased. They couldn’t confirm that my item was impacted, but they were sending me a new replacement just the same. It would arrive soon. They’d included a picture of my item for clarity’s sake. And there, at the bottom of the letter, as if to leave no room at all for questioning, was a picture of my hope ring. 

Not three hours earlier, I’d told Him I needed a word. Just one word.

Hope.

And isn’t this just like our Jesus? 

Right when we need it the most, He speaks hope to our fragile hearts. Over and over again, He tells us to hope. We keep trying to choose the safe path devoid of dreams and He keeps pulling us deeper into a destiny we couldn’t dream up if we tried, whispering hope to us all the way.

Eventually, we learn to believe Him and we find a way to offer some of that same hope to our neighbors because let’s face it, their hearts are every bit as fragile and they need that hope just as much as we do. 

And here comes Jesus again, circling back to remind us that the hope we just gave away is the same hope He gave us to begin with and His supply is never-ending, unceasingly abundant. So when He tells us not to be afraid to hope, He really means it because His hope is always in such spilling-over abundance. 

See, He never runs out of hope because He is our hope and He will never run out of Himself. He is our stream of Living Water. He is the source of the hope-well that never runs dry, and He beckons to us: draw near and drink deep. 

Three weeks after I read the jeweler’s letter, the ring arrived. It was packaged in the most beautiful black box within a larger ivory box topped with a satin bow, and oh. It held such treasure. I opened the box and there was my ring: crooked H, bottom-heavy O, top-heavy P, wonky E. I didn’t care how shiny it was – I put that hope ring on my finger and it’s been there since.

I won’t be afraid to hope. And I won’t be afraid of losing it ever again. 

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Point Me Home

All this brick and concrete 
building towers over building
city lights glare and my soul says

Point me home.

To that big, wide porch
warm lights in sleepy little cypress wood
house at the end of the lane

To my daughter’s smile, 
her big blue eyes and bedtime snuggles
in our space, on our time


no more airplanes
hotels
public transit
suitcases out of sight, out of mind, 
out of use.

Point me home.

I wearily penned these words before bed on Saturday night in Denver and woke up refreshed the next morning, Rocky Mountains in view, coffee in hand, soul somehow settled by slumber and morning’s new mercies. I asked Him to show me the work He’d brought me here to do, grant me faithfulness to do it, and then, Father, point me home.

I had the strangest feeling that He was going to do just that. And I had the strangest feeling it would look nothing like I expected.

Twenty-six hours later, I was sitting on a plane in Denver hearing what I’d already surmised from our return to the gate: today, you will not make it home.

We flew on to Phoenix because somehow I just needed to be free of Denver, in a new city and on the off chance they could still get us home that night. Deep down I knew the off chance had no chance. Maybe going on to Phoenix made me feel less like a hostage, more like I had a choice in all of this. 

Or maybe Phoenix was precisely where I was meant to go. 

I contacted my cousin who lives in Phoenix, certain he was out flying the friendly skies himself, just in case he wasn’t…and he replied: 

We’re on our way home today. When will you be there? You can stay with us. 

And just like that, neighbor Judy was meeting my coworker and me in the Phoenix airport, driving us to my cousin’s home, letting us in and showing us around, making sure we knew how to get to Target because, obviously, part of this story involves nobody knowing exactly where our luggage was at the moment. 

Two tired ladies, we made our way through Target, somehow managing to find everything we needed to be presentable again the next morning, along with hummus and blueberries and Genoa salami because fancy snacks cover a multitude of travel wrongs. 

Shawn and David arrived just as we’d nearly demolished the hummus, our motley assortment of snacks spread across their dining room table. I’d forgotten just how much a big bear hug from family can soothe the weary soul. We visited and shared the updates from back home before heading out to meet their friends Patrick and Donny at the kind of lovely delicious Mexican restaurant you can only find in a place like Phoenix. 

The men regaled us with their tales from the air, all of them flight attendants, and we laughed until our faces hurt. Back at the condo, we were just winding down for the night when four adorably boisterous neighbors showed up with cocktails in hand, demanding a song from Shawn, like something straight out of a Golden Girls episode. 

I sat and watched my cousin play piano, something I used to love doing as a kid, and I wondered at the beauty of it all. Yes, I missed my daughter, yes, I longed to be home. But when will I have another opportunity to do this? Here was this cousin I have always so adored and his equally adorable husband, and I was getting to do a little bit of life with them. 

Shawn and David woke up to take us to the airport early the next morning, made sure to drop us at precisely the right door for our gate, and I realized a big bear hug from family is just as wonderful, even when your soul is a little less weary and a little more whole. 

We boarded in Phoenix, breath held for no delays, and landed in Vegas right when we were meant to be on the ground. As we waited to board our final flight home, I saw two familiar faces in line. The faces were not familiar because I’ve met them but because I know their daughter, this precious woman at my church, and I have seen their faces on her Instagram feed.

I am shy and an introvert on a good day, and it almost always makes me nervous to meet new people, not to mention on a plane where you can’t gracefully exit a conversation gone awkwardly silent. Something about being miles from home and a full twenty four hours off schedule can strip a girl of her inhibitions, and before I knew it I was sitting right down next to them on the plane telling them I know their darling daughter, posing for a selfie and chatting about life.

And even though I’d only just met this couple, they were a connection to my life back in Arkansas – to my church, to my community, to where I feel grounded and safe…to home.

I asked to be shown what work He would have me do, for faithfulness to do it, and instead He said, hey – watch this. Love on your family – let them love on you back. Bond with Kortney over ironic pajamas and toothpaste and hair products. Spend the last leg of the journey with some sweet folks who remind you of your community and calling. I am your home, and I am here. 

And wherever I am, you are home.

Categories: Knowing His love, Trusting His heart, Uncategorized, Waiting | 1 Comment

For My Sisters-in-Waiting

I see you, friend – you who think you are just way too much to take and somehow simultaneously not even close to being enough. See, you and me, we may have been cut from the same cloth. The shears have torn our souls in the same places.

I see you trying to hold it all together in the middle of it all falling apart and running through the spaces between your fingers. I see you staring at the mess and thinking that somehow, the falling apart was your fault, that somehow you’re to blame.

I see you wondering how you can get through another day of the hardness of life when you know there is beauty up ahead.

I see hope’s flame dance in your chest as you read that challenge to be bold and declare your dreams right there in screen-lit white and black. I see you type and delete, type and delete, and I see doubt’s smug grin as the flame flickers, dreams choked back, words unsaid.

But that smoldering wick? He won’t snuff it out.

I see you living your brokenness brave in redemption and wondering when the final pieces will fall into place and you’ll walk even more fully in your calling.

I see you and my heart is heavy for you, for me, for all of us who feel like we’re stuck. We used to think we were marching right on into Canaan, but the journey hasn’t gone just how we’d planned, and we know we’re out of Egypt, but we’re pretty certain our sandals haven’t touched the Promised Land yet either.

And I’m choosing to believe – for you, for me, for all of us – that we’re not stuck. I’m choosing to believe that these are the final stages of labor. I’m choosing to believe that we are just one or two hard pushes away from delivering destiny.

I did not birth my baby the way my body was designed to deliver her. Just as I neared the final stages of labor, my body got stuck. It refused to cooperate. All had looked so promising, and then, in a moment, it did not. I remember 17 hours of contractions being gone in an instant and 60 minutes of waiting for an OR to open up and being prepped for surgery lasting an eternity. I remember counting seconds that I would have sworn had stood completely still, waiting for my child to be pulled from my body, and I remember time actually seeming to move in reverse as I waited to be sewn together and wheeled to her side.

Those 60 minutes of waiting and surgery prep? They were the longest, and they were the loneliest. All I could think was: I’m stuck. I’m out of options. This baby has to come out right now, and I can’t force her out…which means they have to force their way in to bring her out. Or we will both die.

I had tumbled down into the dreadful dark of night and the voices surrounding me, speaking love and strength and encouragement were muffled echoes at best.

If I could go back and do one thing differently in those 60 minutes, I would have opened my strangled throat and told my people just how terrified I was. I would have begged them not to leave me until the nurses barred the door. I would have asked them to hold onto me and pray for me and I would have wept and flailed and I’m guessing one of them would have grabbed my hand and told me that we were almost there. That we were mere moments from the beauty I’d been waiting for all this time.

Instead, I sent them all away. And I lay there in darkness as time stood still.

I see you, friend, and I will not let you lie here in darkness. I will not let you believe the lie that you are stuck. I will grab your hand, and I will tell you that you are almost there. You are mere moments from the beauty you’ve been waiting for all this time. And yes, those moments may be filled with peril and pain and labor, but you do not labor alone. And you do not labor in vain.

In a little while, dear one. You are almost there.

Now push.

 

 

Categories: Being a woman, Waiting | Leave a comment

Out on the Bounding Main

I don’t know when I stopped being grateful. I don’t know when I stopped counting gifts and numbering graces. But I did and I am soul-sick for the lack of contentment in my heart. 

I walk to the edge of the parking lot and stare out into the woods, watching a small stream trickle down through the rain-drenched ground. A cardinal flits and lands on a branch, catches my eye with its red beak and I think of the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and I know that I’m supposed to consider them but somehow I can’t quite remember why and what it is the birds of the air have to teach us. Was it something about worry and tomorrow? But I am consumed with tomorrow, it has become the place where all will be as it should be, and I have failed to abide in today with its fullness, full-well knowing that King David meant today when he spoke of his head being anointed with oil, his feast being prepared, his cup overflowing.

My cup overflows. Today. In this moment. Right now, right where I stand, drops of oil stream down my face from this present-day anointing. 

Instead I live as a petulant child patted on the head with a patronizing, “You poor thing. Maybe someday.” This is not my inheritance. Nor is it yours. We stand in the fullness of our inheritance now, in this present moment, sons and daughters, and that inheritance is available for our spending. 

But try spending something you don’t believe you have? It’s a constant sense of lack, an ever present deficit that wearies the soul and darkens the mind. 

Living in the red can make you see black. 

All things, dark and dreary, not enough, and up ahead, in our tomorrow, that’s where our abundance lies. And we’ll get there if we can just survive today. So we strain against the moorings, eager to launch into the treacherous waters of the sea without a second thought for the blessedness of our stay in this particular port of call, docked precisely where we need to be at the moment. To refuel. To unload. To rest from the battering of the ocean. 

We forget the danger awaiting us in the deep, remembering only the promise of adventure on the high seas. We forget just how much we will have needed this rest and refueling when we get there. We forget that the He who is faithful, the He who will do it? He is our He, He is our Father, He has called us sons and daughters, and if I am a daughter, then I am also an heir. 

And so I come nose to nose with this truth: waiting is part of my inheritance. Waiting is part of being a daughter. Because waiting is part of life. But because I live life as a daughter and an heir, then I get to live waiting as an heir. I get to live waiting within His glorious riches. I don’t have to live waiting barren, forsaken, hopeless. I can live waiting content.

Which means I can still occasionally strain against the moorings because I know my Father has good things out on the bounding main, and I am beside myself with excitement to get there and see what He’s up to. I can spend my breath thanking Him for the grace of the here and now, even as my heart whispers: Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me…

In the meantime, I live waiting content, even if now and then you see my ropes snap taut. And I can know that one day, those cables will break. 

And He’ll send the tide in to carry me out.

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The Arrow That Flies By Day

Sometimes I feel like my life is this endless string of events that if they were compiled and made into a movie, it would require such a gross suspension of disbelief that no one in their right mind would be willing to watch it. 
At the end of last year, I began to pray and ask God for a word for 2016. Just one word. Last year, the word was “new.” And so many things were, in so many wonderful ways. This year, the word is “abundance.” And I’ve gotta tell ya, we’re 70 days in and that’s been a bit of a head scratcher. 

The year began with a quick trip to Tampa and then a sick little girl. A mid-month ER visit and then a snow day. After all of that, I wasn’t back at work two hours before the school nurse was calling me. But we pressed on, and I spent the next two weeks trying to catch up at work, with meetings and trips and projects aplenty. 

I had been desperate to get back into my routine after the holidays, and I was just sure I’d find my rhythm again after Tampa. But as January came to a close, it was obvious that nothing of the sort would be happening anytime soon.

February came in with a fever. Literally and again. More disruption of the routine. And then a flat tire that was really a ruined tire with one ginormous object lesson stuck in the sidewall. And then a fixed tire and a well kid but more trials by fire, more feeling like I’m marching straight into battle. 

Late February saw her sick again. This time, a diagnosis and antibiotics, but geez Louise if I’m not about ready to pull my hair out over germs and other things outside of my control. Also, routine? What routine? We haven’t seen one of those since October, at least. 

March began benignly enough. Well. At least, the first day or so of March was pretty normal. Mostly. Things kicked into gear – or should I say out of gear – last Friday, when my vehicle decided to roll out of my carport, down my driveway, across the street and into my neighbor’s yard, stopping roughly four feet from their front porch. Without me in it. I actually stood in their yard and watched as my previously barreling-toward-their-door SUV suddenly slowed and came to a stop, ever so gently bumping their little boy’s t-ball stand, causing the stand to teeter and knocking the bright green ball to the ground, where it bounced twice and quietly rolled behind my tire. I would have appreciated the irony if I had not been standing there, trembling and wild.

My nerves were shot and my throat was sore (did I mention how much I screamed as I chased my runaway vehicle?) for the rest of the night. I had planned to pass the weekend in relative ease at the lakehouse, and I certainly did give it my best effort, despite another completely bizarre event in the form of a random, unwanted email and one very euphemistically accurate bad penny. 

So I came back from the lakehouse, and I dug in for the week and I’ll be darned if everything hasn’t felt just a little bit off. 

This is the first week since December that my routine has been completely back to normal. No trips. No catastrophes. No meetings or speaking engagements. Just kid, life, work, Bible study. Normal. 

So naturally I’ve spent all day with smudged mascara and emotions as raw as hamburger meat. 

Then another email this afternoon, only this one I had been expecting…and more smudged mascara. More raw emotion. The lies hissed loud. And I knew I had this conscious choice to make: believe the lies, or recognize them as just that – lies. Falsehood. Ridiculous ridicule from the mouth of the accuser who sees my calling and my assignment and my tribe as a threat. Somehow, even in the midst of all this chaos, with this one final flaming arrow soaring toward my heart, the truth was running deeper still, a strong and rushing river with a current pulsing mightier than those winds could hope to batter my heart.

Because, see, what I haven’t told you about these 70 days is this: they have been overrun with grace and provision and richness. 

Abundance, you might call it. 

There are people who have brought the kid soup, sat with us at the ER, run errands for me, helped us get where we were going, gave us a reason to escape to north, north Arkansas, made us their Valentines, called just to check on us, called just to check in with us, spoke truth and love and strength and wisdom over us, came over and sat on the couch with us with knitting needles clacking away, came over and laughed over cheeseboard with us, read the Word with us and prayed for and with us. 

Last Friday, just before my vehicle decided to go on its terrifying little jaunt across the street, I told a trusted friend that I had this sudden and strange dark feeling, and he said: “Psalm 91. You will feel it, but it won’t come near.” I didn’t have a chance to read the psalm until late that night, after the business with the car. It stunned me when I did.

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
 will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
 my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
 from the fowler’s snare
 and from the deadly pestilence.
 He will cover you with his feathers,
 and under his wings you will find refuge;
 his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 You will not fear the terror of night,
 nor the arrow that flies by day,
 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
 nor the plague that destroys at midday.
 A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
 but it will not come near you.
 You will only observe with your eyes
 and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
 and you make the Most High your dwelling,
 no harm will overtake you,
 no disaster will come near your tent.
 For he will command his angels concerning you
 to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
 so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
 you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
 I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
 I will be with him in trouble,
 I will deliver him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him
 and show him my salvation.”

Yes, it has been a rough 70 days. There’s been trouble. Arrows have flown left and right. The fowler’s snare has been set in just about every place my feet have landed and I have been flat-out weary of the constant attack. I have seen it, and I have felt it in my bones. But still, it has not come near. 

And what has come near instead?

Rescue. Protection. Answer. Deliverance. Life. 

He has shown me His salvation. 

Abundance, you might call it.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear

  

It’s been a good year. God has been more than faithful, He has been extravagant in His grace and mercy and favor and beauty. I’m looking forward to 2016, but first I want to remember 2015 well. 

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December 29, 2006

The story of how I knew she was on her way is a hard and tender one that I don’t tell freely. And that’s odd for me because I love to tell stories – from how I switched the wires when I was installing a new circuit board on my oven two weeks ago to how the Lord spoke into my crazy once I finally learned that it was okay to just stinking be honest with Him because really, He can handle it.

But this isn’t just my story to tell. It involves her, my most precious person in the whole entire world, and I have this fierce protectiveness over it because of that. I want you to be worthy of hearing her story. I want to shield her from prying eyes and nosy Nellies. I’ve wanted that from the start. People can so dreadfully mishandle your heart when there’s a scoop to be had because a scoop means digging and that sort of digging is always such a ruthless act.

Still, the story started weighing on me somewhere around early December this year, and it won’t turn me loose. I can’t shake it. And that’s usually how I know it’s time to tell a story. I normally don’t shrink back, even though I’ve spent these last several weeks doing just that. But it’s time now.

Because today is the day, nine years ago, that I found out I was going to have a baby.

It had been a hard year. There was heartbreak, and then crazy amounts of grace and restoration. There had been this insanely free and joyful summer of days at the pool and nights out with friends and finally learning to believe that I was actually, truly loved by the Creator of the universe, that He called me daughter and Beloved. As autumn’s days shortened, though, the darkness slowly crept back in, and I was in serious danger of veering completely off course until I finally said to myself one night: this is enough, Andrea. No more. Get it together or you’ll be right back where you were.

Then Christmas came, and I found myself in a terrible fight with one of my sisters. To this day, I don’t remember the nature of the argument, but it was such a horrible row that it looked like Christmas might actually be cancelled. I was talking it over with my mom one night (read: trying to get her to take my side), and I just sobbed into the phone. I told her how alone I felt. I told her I didn’t have a person. Everyone else had a person. Mom had Charlie, my sisters had their husbands, my dad had Kelly, almost all of my friends were married, engaged or moving away, and I didn’t have anyone. I was all alone. The more I said it, the more my heart broke to hear those words said out loud, and I realized just how much of my hopeful joy had fled the scene and how dreadfully alone I felt.

My nephew Gramm was about about 17 months old, and if any one person was the light of my life right then, it was him. I can still remember how his face would light up when he’d see me, how his chubby little arms felt around my neck, how his precious giggle infected everyone around him in the same silly way my sister’s laugh does. My mom listened as I cried/yelled/almost-hyperventilated into the phone, and when I finally got calm enough to get a full sentence out, I told her, “Sometimes I think maybe I’m just destined to be alone. That I won’t get married, I won’t have kids of my own. I’ll just be Gramm’s really cool Aunt Andrea.” New sobs. Fresh wave of despair. But an odd sort of comfort, too. Being an aunt would never substitute for being a mother, but it was still an opportunity to love some pretty amazing kids. Deep down, I knew I’d take it. So that was that. I would be Gramm’s really cool Aunt Andrea.

Two weeks later, I was standing in the bathroom at work, staring at a pregnancy test that said “Pregnant.” I just stood there, waiting for the “Not” to fade in beside that big, heavy word, knowing that it wouldn’t. Part of me had known for weeks that it wouldn’t, but I had managed to bury the knowing and tell myself that it couldn’t be – it wouldn’t be. Hours later, I was asleep in one of the exam rooms at the clinic where my mother worked when she came in with the results of my blood test.

“Well. Do you want a boy or a girl?”

I spent the rest of the day in stunned silence, staring into space. My sister Holly, Gramm’s mom, knew. She called to check on me – or she might have come by, I don’t recall exactly – but my mother asked me not to tell anyone else at least until after the weekend. Not in an Emily Gilmore give-me-and-your-stepdad-time-to-flee-to-the-Hamptons-before-you-break-the-news kind of way. More as a way for me take some time to steady myself first before the onslaught.

Most of that day is hazy in my mind, with a handful of poignant moments that I think will always be part of my remembering. A few of those moments were things that my mother said to me. I’ve already mentioned a couple of them here. Later that day, though, Mom handed me a pregnancy journal that she had gone out and bought for me. She inscribed it with the words “It is God and God alone who is the Giver of Life.” I don’t recall if she wrote this next part in a card or if she said it, but either way, her words to me were: “Not alone anymore.” And I knew right then that I wasn’t.

And here we are, nine years later to the day, and I’m staring at my sleeping person. She’s wearing her Kermit the Frog sleeping mask from Miss Rebekah and she’s snuggled up next to me, pink manicured nails clutching her stuffed puppy dog named Spot, refusing to wake up because she’s so much like her mother it’s scary.

There’s so much more to the story, and I have no doubt I’ll find a way to more fully tell it someday, but what has stayed with me during this season is the remembering of how I went from being alone to being a mother, and how He overshadowed me with His grace in the process. How He gave me beauty for ashes and showed me even more of what it means to be the Beloved. And that is what I am.

I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine.

Not alone anymore.

 

 

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