A few weeks ago, I was struggling with where I am as far as my career goes. I should have had two books out by now, but things have not gone as planned due to changes in one publishing house, and Covid delays in the other.
My freelance writing also slowed down a bit. I was looking at where I wasn’t at in my career and looking at where others are in their careers. I got frustrated. During this time, my Bible reading was in 2 Corinthians 11.
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
2 Corinthians 11:23-33
It dawned on me while I was reading. Paul’s mindset was not on working hard to retire but preparing to be a martyr. Those mindsets couldn’t be more different. One strives for ease and comfort, and the other welcomes trials to grow strength.
As I’ve been working on one of my writing projects and came across this quote, “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” — Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor (original quote from missionary Ed McCully). As well as this one from her husband.
As a member of the Redeeming Your Time book launch team, Jordan Raynor has taught me about unfinished to-do lists. Of course, there’s always something we won’t get done. But this week, I was reminded of that again because I’ve attended two memorial services within a week’s time.
I know we all will have unfinished things, but I want to make sure I’ve done as much as possible to leave as little a list as possible. Jim Elliot said this, “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.” For those who don’t know — Jim Elliot lived those words. He was martyred in Ecuador, trying to reach an unreached tribe with the gospel of Jesus.
Jim Elliot lived fully and died laying it all on the line. Retirement wasn’t on his mind either. Carrying out the work of His Father in Heaven was. God decided to take Him home earlier than we all thought, yet he finished strong. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who was first in His life.
When it comes down to it, the retirement mindset is about self. I’m not saying retirement is bad. Retiring from a job is expected. However, retirement from serving God is not. We are His servants to do with as He pleases. For some, like the two people I attended services for, God chose to take sooner than we all expected. For others, He chooses to leave here longer. The fact is we don’t know when it will be our time to die. But when it is my time, I don’t want to be wishing I had done more for the kingdom and didn’t. I want to go out like my Dad and Jim Elliot did. Guns blazing, ready at any time to meet my maker.
I’d gotten to Virginia Beach earlier than I anticipated. Since my former roommate and host wasn’t home, I decided to meet a former coworker in the parking lot of the place I once worked.
After catching up a bit, I noticed a car in the parking lot, “Oh hey, isn’t that TJ’s car?” I said remembering the time he came over to help my roommate and I move a futon.
I turned to look back at my former coworker who stared back at me like a deer in the headlights…
Today, I want to introduce to you Lauren Pearson. TJ’s wife and now dear friend. I have been amazed at her transparency and grace during the last four years. Please welcome Lauren Pearson.
In November of 2017, less than two months after our wedding, my husband TJ was hospitalized for the first time. After performing a surgical biopsy, the ENT oncologist found me in the waiting room and told me that my beloved husband had stage IV throat cancer for the second time, as well as a blood clot in his jugular vein that was causing a lot of discomfort. TJ was in the ICU for several days before we were released to go home and begin an eleven month journey that would ultimately end in his death only a month after our first anniversary. So many horribly hard lessons were learned during the course of the journey, but some lessons weren’t learned until long after he was gone.
That first week in the hospital, I left TJ’s side one morning to go to the chapel to pray. Someone had just emailed me and said that Pat Robertson was going to pray for him on the 700 Club that morning, and I sat on the chapel floor to watch the clip, tears pouring down my face. “TJ Pearson. He’s one of our own,” Pat said gently as he prayed for his faithful employee, asking God to spare TJ’s life.
From somewhere deep inside of me, the song “Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus” came to mind as I watched my husband being prayed for on national television. Laying on the hospital chapel floor, I sang it over and over again and wept and wept. I could barely get out the words, and I didn’t care who heard me in the busy hallway on the other side of the door. I had to remind myself that Jesus was still worthy of my trust.
Back up in the ICU, I wrapped my arms around my beloved husband and sang the song over him. He needed to be reminded, too, though his faith was so often stronger than mine.
Months later, I sat alone in the painful silence of my living room. The funeral was over. The leave of absence from work had ended. Life was back to “normal,” whatever that means, and I was alone. From somewhere deep inside of me, the hymn came back, but now thinking about it made me feel betrayed. Could it really be sweet to trust in Jesus? As I sat at the piano in my living room, the song began to pour out of me, but this time it came out as a lament. I meant the words, but I also meant the cries that came forth as the interlude of the song took on a new, haunting melody.
It may be sweet to trust in Jesus, but sometimes life itself is the very opposite of sweet. Sometimes our hearts are broken. Sometimes we weep on hospital floors. Sometimes we even lose the one who we love most in all the world, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t still very much worth trusting. I have learned that there are times to weep and there are times to rejoice, but sometimes there are also moments when the two come forth simultaneously and there’s no way of knowing where one ends and the other begins. If there is one thing I know, it’s that Jesus is okay with us expressing both emotions. That is exactly what He did when Lazarus died. He declared the truth, but He also wept. He spoke about the spiritual reality of what was happening while also experiencing the full weight of the moment in the natural. I believe that He asks us to do the same.
The exercise of trusting Jesus through pain instead of running away from Him is a daily one, but it’s the only way to keep moving forward. May we learn to trust Him daily, no matter how much it hurts. He is there both to empower us to trust and to hold us in our sorrow.
My coworker eventually told me that TJ had passed away I stood there in shock. TJ and I had worked together several times on remote shoots. I knew he’d gotten married. When I found out he passed away I knew I needed to meet Lauren. I got her number through friends and told her I was in town if she was able to meet. She graciously met me. That was the only face to face interaction I’ve had with Lauren but we have remained in communication.
I asked Lauren to write a little of her story because it’s out of her loss that her album, “magnificent desolation” was birthed. I listened in awe when I put on her music.
I know more than anything she would want TJ back over an album but instead of letting her grief destroy her she’s allowed it to remake her. Please check out her CD. I promise you will be so glad you do. Thank you, Lauren. I’m so grateful and honored to know you. I know TJ would be so proud of you. Keep changing the world one note, one chord, and one song at a time.
I spent the entire afternoon getting ready, but I have been preparing for months. I have so many expectations, and my heart is nearly swelling out of my chest.
I stepped into the car, waiting for the driver to move, yet something is wrong. Finally, the driver apologizes, “I’m sorry, miss, there is something wrong with the car.”
“Oh,” I say, hearing all the disappointment in my heart speak. “I hope you can get it fixed.”
“Me too,” he says, stepping out of the car to look under the hood of the car.
I wait in the back, staring out the window. As I stare, I see a car go by that looks like mine. Hmm, I think to myself. They must be headed to the dance too.
I look down at my light pink silk dress and take in its beauty, still optimistic about what is to come. I smile, thinking of the fine food that will be there, the decorations, and the guests. I drift away in my imagination before a grunt from the front of my vehicle startled me back to reality. I realize I’m still not moving. It’s getting a little hot, I think. Suddenly, something passes beyond me. I look out the window to see two more cars pass.
Oh, everyone’s going to get there before me! I cry out to my own heart.
I step out to ask my driver what the Dilemma is. “Well, I’ve blown the front gasket. Unfortunately, this car isn’t going anywhere.”
I try to hide my look of horror. “You mean I need to find another ride?” “Yes, ma’am. I need to call a tow truck and then make sure they get my car to the right shop.”
“Oh… okay… I understand.” I say, turning back to get into the car to get my purse, which I left in the back seat. I open the door, grab my purse, pull my cellphone out, and call a few friends, all of whom are also supposed to attend the dance. A voicemail for one. And an “I’m already here” from another and a text from a third, “I just arrived. Sorry!”
I plop down in the back seat with the door open, feeling utterly defeated. Will I ever make it? I scroll through webpages to find a taxi service. I call and hear the news that the fastest car that can get me is 45 minutes away. I try desperately to hold back tears as I make the reservation.
I get off the phone, and suddenly my tear-stained cheeks have not only messed up my foundation but also left temporary water droplets on my silky dress.
It’s okay, I tell myself. It’s only 45 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that late.
After what feels like a lifetime, the cab picks me up, and I’m on my way to the dance! Everyone was there before me. I wished I could have to say I was fashionably late, but my hair looked stringy from being in the humidity, and my makeup showed the retouches I made due to my tears and now red nose.
I walk in and let out a sigh of relief. I made it. What happened earlier is now behind me! Just enjoy tonight.
As I makemy way into the room, I notice all the couples dancing. They look like they’re gliding. Other couples are giggling and chatting off to the side. Everyone looks comfortable with each other. My head sinks. I feel so incredibly behind. I think to myself.
I try to make eye contact with everyone I pass and greet, but everyone looks a little preoccupied. I sit in a chair near the dance floor, waiting for someone to come ask me to dance, but no one does.
Isn’t this what I’m supposed to be doing?! Or should I ask someone to dance with me?
I sit there fidgeting in my chair while rubbing my thumbs together. The frustration begins to build. Maybe I should eat. Perhaps I’ll meet someone there.
I walk over to the buffet table, looking for someone to be there getting seconds or maybe thirds at this point. There’s one guy at the table. So, I greet him. He looks up, nods and grabs his desired food item, and walks away.
Ugh! This night is all wrong!It’s all wrong. Why did I even come?! It’s too late. I got here too late.
Feeling out of place and disheartened, I go back with my plate of food to the seat I was sitting in only to find it preoccupied with a happy couple. I roll my eyes and find another chair on the other side of the dance floor. While grumpily munching on my food, I can’t help but be envious of a couple I see captivated with each other, moving together like water and swaying like a reed in a gentle wind.
I finish my food and head to the trash to discard the remaining bits and pieces on my plate. While there, a young man in a jumpsuit says hello. I say hello simply because of the manners my parents taught me, and then I quickly walk away. I put my plate where everyone else stacked their plates nearly an hour ago.
The night feels ruined. until I hear a small whisper, “Go dance…”
What?! No way! Not by myself!
The voice speaks again, “You’ve been preparing for months for this dance. Don’t waste your chance.” I shot back, “But, I’m supposed to have a partner!”
“Just give it a shot.” The voice said once again.
My knees shaky. My palms sweating. A clear sign I was about to do something everything within me did not want to do.
As I made my way to the dance floor and put on foot on it, the music stopped. Of course it would!!! Isaid to myself while letting out an internal scream.
The DJ came on and said, “we will be taking a little break and will resume again after dessert. Frustrated with having gotten my courage up and now being too full from dinner just a few minutes ago, I sat back in my chair. The frustration now hung on me like a 50lbs weight. There was no denying its presence on me.
The desserts were served and savored by all, and soon the music resumed. Yet, my frustration was still there. I got up out of my chair to attempt my dance alone, but the thought embarrassed me. I decided to get some air. As I walked away from the music, my old familiar tears came flowing down. Nothing is what I thought it would be. I thought I was going to meet someone, eat with someone, and dance with someone. And the only one around me is me.
With my shattered expectations came the breaking of my heart. I wanted to run away. I thought about calling the taxi back, but I actually didn’t have the money, and my pre-scheduled ride home wouldn’t be here for another hour and a half.
“Face the music and go dance. Don’t waste the time you spent practicing.” The voice said.
I sniffled, wiped my nose with the back of my hand, and headed inside. I freshened up in the ladies’ room, put on my brave face, and made my debut. At first, people stared blankly. I felt like I was in a dark room, and I had lit a match. All I could feel was everyone’s eyes on me. I closed my eyes and pretended I had a man leading me in the foxtrot.
Slow, quick, quick, slow, I repeated to myself. With each step, my heart fell into a rhythm, and my frustration began to melt away. I finally found myself lost in the music. Just then, I felt someone grab my hand and place their hand around my side, and slide until it stopped at my shoulder blade; I startled.
My eyes caught eyes with a handsome man in front of me. Immediately, he picks up where I am, and we are dancing. Slow, quick, quick, slow. But after a few trots his steps become faster than mine, and my excitement turns into stress trying to keep up with him. His grip becomes firmer, and although we finish the first dance, I am spent. I thank him as he asks for another dance. I can’t. I need to catch my breath, I say.
He nods, kisses my hand, and lets me go. I walk over to the cooler, and a few people comment on the last dance. Isn’t he a great dancer? Was the comment most repeated. I furred my brow, shrug my shoulders and continue to the water.
I turn around to see this same man dancing just as intensely with another girl. Suddenly, I realize this was also the same guy from the couple I had been so captivated with initially. Oh well, at least I dared to dance.
I decide to sit this next dance out. A few more songs play as I worked up more courage to dance again. Finally, I took a deep breath and stepped on the dance floor.
It was the quickstep. The beauty of this dance was synchronization with your partner — which I was lacking, but I stepped out.
To keep out of the way of the couples, I hugged the border of the dance floor closely. Feeling very self-aware of my absent partner, I told myself to keep breathing. Then, as I did a spin, I misstepped and went right off the dance floor; I was about to lose my step when a strong arm caught me. he smiled and then said, “may I?”
We got on the dance floor with the other couples and no longer needed the comfort of the border. We finished the dance superbly. As with all the dances, the room applauded those on the floor. My partner looked at me, nodded his head, and walked off the floor. Clearly making a statement that he set out what he meant, and there was no more.
Embarrassed not to be escorted off the dance floor, I quickly hasten my step to find my seat — my safety net. I looked multiple times at my last partner to see if he would change his mind. But there was zero indication of that. So once again, I was alone. And my favorite dance would close out the night — the waltz.
As badly as my pride wanted to sit this one out, my heart wanted this dance so badly. Well, I’ve gotten up the courage twice already. What’s one more time? I say to myself as I take the floor once more. Feeling even more intensely the stares from the crowd, I close my eyes and swayed with each step of the music. Within a matter of seconds, I am lost in my own head and the only one dancing in the room. Yes, this night had not gone as I planned. I’ve been a step behind all night, and although I’ve had some partners, they never felt right.
The waltz soon came to an end. Everyone hugged and slowly said their goodbye as they departed the room. Once again, there was an issue with my ride. The family who was supposed to pick me up had a family emergency and hadn’t gotten around to calling me, so I somehow convince a cab driver to pick me up, and I’d pay him once I arrived at home. Reluctantly, he agreed.
One by one, the guests leave until I am alone again. Instead of my dress and makeup catching everyone’s eye, it was my party of one that had been in the spotlight. Maybe not to everyone but definitely in my own heart. I sat down on the curb. I sighed out of relief for getting through such a rocky night.
Just then, I heard music that sounded familiar. But where was it coming from? I stood up to follow the sound. It was coming from inside the building. The same building I had desperately wanted to exit, just half an hour earlier.
There was a disco ball, and Glenn Miller’s, In the Mood, was playing. I couldn’t see anyone on the dance floor, but I heard a rustling in the corner. But I couldn’t make out who it was. I didn’t want to intrude, but I was also curious. So I hugged the corners of the room closely.
The rustling stopped. But because it was dark, I couldn’t make out if the person had left. Suddenly I heard someone behind me clearing their throat. I about jumped out of my skin.
“Care to dance?” The voice said. Still not able to make out the face, I grabbed his hands. They were thick and strong. He wasn’t what I was used to in a partner, but he was strong, and his form made him easy to follow. He wasn’t too fast or too slow. He also was attentive, but his dress was not what you would expect. He was the janitor who had greeted me earlier in the night. The only one that made me feel welcomed and the only one I internally turned my nose up at.
I was confused. How was this guy, who I never expected to dance, able to lead me better than anyone I had ever danced with before?
We were totally in sync. We were not impeding each other. Instead, we were making one another shine. He was not who I expected but exactly who I needed.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11
I’ve been thinking a lot about this… Of all the ways for God the Father to prove His Lordship, why did He choose to lose His son to the grave?
He could have done it a million other ways, yet He chose the most painful, the most devastating, the most earth-shattering way. Why?
Since losing my dad, I’ve experienced scenarios that brought me right back to death’s door, whether it be in ICU with a family I know, at a hospice bedside, or over the phone with someone whose world has just been shattered by the loss of the one their heart loved.
As I ponder the grave and the ruinousness of death, I believe God allowed Jesus to experience death because it’s the hardest thing we wrestle with on earth. He did it so He could proclaim this: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) to our weary souls.
I realize, after experiencing and facing my grief, God in His mercy has given me opportunities to step into several friends grief. In every situation, two things take place. The first is my heart breaks all over again. The second, words always fail.
It’s a horrible and humbling place to be welcomed into someone’s pain. Because you wish with everything in you that you could take their pain away, you can’t. And you know what an arduous journey awaits them, and it hurts to see another life altered by death. But what you can do is enter into that journey with them. Whether it be sitting with them in shock, crying with them, or being their sounding board when their anger and frustration comes flying out.
This brings me back to the grave — I couldn’t see it when I lost my dad, but I am reminded of this (again) now. Maybe the reason it felt like I couldn’t hear God speak during those horribly dark days was that He was sitting with me in my pain. And looking back, I’ve seen His footprints beside me through each year since the accident.
So if you’ve lost someone, know that God may be silent because He’s weeping with us. He knows that pain better than anyone. His grief has become our safe harbor, our refuge when it seems like no one else understands the loss. He does… and He conquered it…
As Elisabeth Elliot once said: “Of one thing, I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes.”
And being found in appearance as a man, hehumbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8
In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. Proverbs 21:1
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21
Do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? 14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animalsenough for burnt offerings. 17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? Isaiah 40:9a-18
As I lay down to sleep, it’s quiet. What a whirlwind the last year has been. Around this time last year, we were receiving reports of the coronavirus popping up outside of China. Now, we live in masks and bathe in sanitizer.
As we face another day in our pandemic world topped off by a changing of leaders, rumors run like wildfire. Yet, I am reminded that our tomorrow is NOT promised. And we, as believers, are NOT given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
We were redeemed, purchased, bought with the precious life of Jesus. Although things have and will continue to change in our world, our citizenship has not (Philippians 3:20)! We come from a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28)! Our commanding officer had not changed. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Lastly, our mission has not changed (Matthew 28:19-20).
So whether the guy you voted for didn’t make it. Or whether the guy you voted for is taking office, or whether the guy you voted for is leaving. Our God is still King. He made all men in His image. He knows how many hairs are on their head and how long their days are on this earth. And, He knows that about you and me too!
Our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Warrior, The Alpha and Omega, the King of King and Lord of Lords is still on His throne. And NOTHING is impossible for Him. It is at His name that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.
Do not grow weary in doing good, friends. Our mission is still the same to bring honor and glory to our King. To make much of Him and His office.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
“Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; Each with its days I must fulfill, living for self or in His will; Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” — C.T Studd
Why?! Why do you catch me when everything is shut off. Why do you interrupt my silence? Haven’t you done enough? Taken enough? Why do you keep coming back?
Slowly walking towards me, I try and wrestle him off me… by now you’d think I would learn how to handle it…
I reluctantly give up my fighting. It is useless anyways. I collapse onto the sand and my grief sits right beside me. Like a friend who just wants to be near.
Why can’t you just let me live my life? I ask.
But, I am… this is a part of it.
How? You’re so cold, callous and evoke so much pain.
Without embracing me, as painful as it is, you will never fully live… it’s only when we lose that we gain.
How is that even possible? How could you say that?
We lose things, our work, or the people we love and we gain perspective. We see through the lens of loss, and in that others can gain from our seemly unbearable pain.
But why does it hurt so much? Why can’t you just not exist?
Because I remind you of what’s real. I remove preconceived notions. I remove the fluff, the surface level conversations. I strip away all the realities you have a tendency to create and remind you of the importance of not just life but this very moment. Each moment is a gift. You struggle with spiritually amnesia which is why I keep coming back.
Without me joy wouldn’t make much sense. Life is not a straight road but road through deep dark valleys and beautiful mountain peaks. It’s only when you embrace the sun setting, you gain an appreciation of the sun rising.
Were there no darkness you’d not appreciate the light..
You lose but you gain…
Reluctantly I, yet again, let grief be my friend. After he spoke, he didn’t speak again… his silence was deafening… but I know when these tears stop… I’ll have more room for the joy that I cannot see, but eventually will be…
Grieving in a way is an act of faith… It takes faith to let the pain flow up trusting that the joy will eventually fill you back up… knowing that one day He will wipe every tear from my eyes.
Have you ever needed to hear a great story? When I found “I am second” videos on YouTube, I devoured them. I distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing.
I was in a very intense job at the time, and it was my day off. I was cleaning the house where I was living. When I heard the first story, I listened and cleaned the entire afternoon and into the evening. As soon as one ended, I’d click to listen to the next one. Mind you, these videos are, on average, 7 minutes. I just needed encouragement, and they were just what I needed.
From time to time, when I feel discouraged, I will scour the internet to find a good story. There’s nothing like a good story to lift your spirits. A good movie can do the same.
Recently, however, I found myself looking for another good story. I started listening to one, and instead of finding encouragement, I found frustrated. I think because as the woman (in the video) was telling her story, it was the story I wished/prayed would have been mine. I turned it off and then felt like the Lord was saying, “Why are you looking for your story in someone else’s story?”
That hit me like a ton of bricks. Honestly, how many times have I just blindly followed a narrative without considering where God might want to take me? Do I care what story He wants to write with my life? Or am I trying to write my own story and then try and fit God into it later?
Do you know how incredibly creative God is? I don’t, but the bits and pieces I see blow my mind! He doesn’t have a one size fits all formula when it comes to our lives. He is intimately acquainted with all our ways (Ps 139:3). Your story might look different. Everyone might not understand it, but God knows the desires of our hearts (Ps 37:4). His ways are not our ways (Is 55:8-9).
I was reminded of this a few months ago as I was thinking about a book idea. I paused for a moment and thought how incredible it is to have the privilege of writing a book and have it published by a traditional publishing house. I mean, how many people would kill for that opportunity. The crazy thing is I can take zero credit for it. I thought back to when I graduated from college and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I never thought I’d graduate from college. I always assumed I’d get married and start a family.
But that day, as I thought about my book coming out, I realized if I had gotten married, I probably never would have pursued writing. I wouldn’t have the time to write. Plus, only the Lord knew that I had always wanted to write a book. I remember thinking as young as 12 that I wanted to write a devotional someday. I might have forgotten that for a few years, but He didn’t.
To wrap this up, I want to pull from the story of Ruth. She’s someone who didn’t quite do things the way she was expected to. After she was widowed, she was supposed to remain in Moab (modern-day Jordan) with her people, with her family. Instead, she left with her mother-in-law (Naomi) to go to a foreign country with no real prospect or direction. She knew that Naomi’s God was real and worth following, even if it meant a different narrative than what people expected her to have. Am I willing to do the same? To set aside what I think should be. To stop looking for my story in someone else’s story. To embrace the story God wants to write in my life. I can guarantee it won’t always be easy or comfortable, and people won’t always understand, but you won’t be alone, and it will be worth it.
So if you’re like me and scouring the internet to find a good story, let it encourage you, but we must try not to look for our story in another person’s story. Because ultimately, our stories should not be about us but reflect the creative, kind, good, intimate, gracious, just, and true author of the story.
July showers may not be something you think much about. Who would? It’s just a few minutes of crazy weather that eventually passes. It might delay your plans or mess up your hair, wet your shoes, but that’s it.
This week, of July showers, just seems angry. Crazy wind. Lightning out of nowhere. Huge raindrops. Dark skies. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t messing with me.
I ended June in the best way. I flew again. I took a road trip. I saw one of my best friends. I met a bunch of really amazing individuals. And I got to be a part of an unbelievable organization. One that I think is going to turn the world right-side-up in its own way. All weekend we discussed what it meant to carry each other.
But, this crazy weather has been a really crummy reality check. It’s like the dark clouds, and nasty rainstorms were a reminder. A reminder that said, “Welcome, again, to the most painful month of the year!”
This month marks three years since my Dad left this world… For those who don’t know, it was partly because of the “crazy weather” he was driving through.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve driven through the rain with knots in my stomach while fighting the grief that wants to suck me into a dark hole. Or, how many times I’ve tried to wrap my head around the fact that my Dad, who was the best driver I knew, was taken in the way he was. My head would spin around and around, but each time around, it never got any clearer. And, with the coming of July, sleep has become difficult.
While running an errand for work today, lightning struck very close to me, and the sky opened up. Facing the elements of July is exhausting. Driving a single mile sometimes feels like 100. But as I drove, a song came on, and it was just what I needed…
“White lights and desperation
Hard times and conversations
No one (No one) should ever love me like You do….
Last night, confidence was shaken
My wounds and my past was saying
No one should ever love me like You do
Oh, while I’m on this road, You take my hand
Somehow You really love who I really am
I push You away, still You won’t let go
You grow Your roses on my barren soul…
The way I push You through it what You had to see
I’m a train wreck, I’m a mess, You see the best and the worst in me
Still I can’t imagine that I’ve learned Your trust
I don’t understand where Your love comes from…
Who am I, who am I, who am I, to be loved by You?”
Hearing the lyrics made me cry. Because the day, I heard my sister say, “I don’t know if Dad’s going to make it.” My world, as I knew it, shattered in a thousand pieces. My heart became unrecognizable. I didn’t know how to react. It was too much to process. So much hurt. So much confusion. I was angry. And for the first time in my life, swear words seemed to be the only way to express the pain now deeply etched in my soul. For months I couldn’t cry. I told God to stay away from me. I told Him He had nothing to say to me. I told Him He’d done enough. I questioned if following Him was worth it. I didn’t see a purpose for it. Why give me a good Dad and take him so unexpectedly and make my Mom suffer… again. Taking one husband wasn’t enough for Him?!
Hearing that song reminded me that over the months and years, He waited… patiently for me… He waited to pursue. He found a way to get through to me despite the agony I was in. He loved me even though I tried to throw my pain back in His face. Still, His love slowly broke through. And somehow, He’s used it all. Don’t misunderstand me; if I had the choice, I would choose my Dad back every time.
But, because He never left me, He somehow grew His roses on my barren soul. He gave me a voice that I could have never known was there. He’s helped me understand that when He sent Jesus, He sent Him to suffer with us so that I could learn how to suffer with others, which is a part of carrying each other. He brought me, people, to help carry my pain, so now I can help carry other’s pain.
He taught me that I am not a product of my own. No one is. I would not be who I am today if it had not been for those friends who showed up at the hospital. Or, for the friends who showed up at the service. Or, for the friends who reach out every Father’s Day to let me know they’re thinking about my family and me. Or, for those who say, “One thing I always appreciated about your dad is…” or for those who didn’t get to meet him who say, “I wish I could have meet him” or that “if he were anything like your family I know he was amazing.” And he was… it’s because of my family who taught me to be brave, and the friends who allowed me to talk through tears that I am still standing today.
I have been waiting for inspiration to come for a blog for weeks. For whatever reason, it came today. And, although I really didn’t want to share this, I hope it helps at least one person.
Because no matter what condition your soul, heart, or mind is in… God is still there. Not prying. Not condemning. Not angry. But hurting with you. And even if you feel like a “train wreck” or “a mess” He sees the best and the worst. He can handle our anger and frustration. He stays. He never runs away from us. He runs towards the ones who suffer. He’s not scared of our brokenness. He’s not scared of our emotions, and He’s not scared of pain. In fact, He carries us when we can seem to get out of bed. He sings over us when we can’t sleep. He cradles us and holds our broken pieces together. Because we are His creation, and it is who He is and what He does… He loves us for who we are… the good, the bad, and the ugly. He carries us, so we know how to carry others…
I’m so thrilled to introduce you to my beautiful friend, Sarah! Sarah and I met through our mural friend Connie. We both were invited to go to The Rabbit Room’s annual conference called Hutchmoot. We quickly became friends. Sarah is a total gem. She is incredibly kind, thoughtful and honestly so beautiful inside and out. I am better for having her in my life. I didn’t know she had her own blog until just a few weeks ago and I asked her to be a guest on my blog and she graciously accepted!
So without further ado , please welcome, Sarah Rooker :)! To learn more about Sarah, I will post her website at the bottom of this blog.
Yeah, I get that. But, what if?”
My clammy palms were clenched in my lap as I precariously perched on the edge of my counselor’s sofa.
But I wasn’t there for my sweaty hands or my pounding heart. I was there because of my lungs. Well, actually, my throat.
Some mix of college woes had brought me to this deceptively comfy couch for the past few months. Roommates. Stress. The future.
But, on that day, there was a greater darkness that threatened to suffocate my thoughts- fear. Fear of death.
It had been five years since I had stopped breathing. Five years since my lungs had begged for mercy as my throat swelled shut.
Back in the room of a Peruvian clinic, my body had succumbed to an anaphylactic reaction of unknown origin. Spanish and English words flew around the room as I struggled to maintain consciousness. The darkness eventually won, and my mind faded to black. But kind and quick hands provided lifesaving measures, and I lived.
An experience like that changes a young woman. For years afterwards, I was lost in the throes of fear. I often quipped, “God gives me my breath. So, I’m good!” While secretly stuffing my epi-pen into my pocket, calculating the fastest route to the hospital, and keeping a finger on my pulse. I wish I was kidding.
Fear had consumed me.
Death was not the culprit of my frantic thoughts. The process of dying was. Or so I told myself.
Because I knew and believed that I would see Jesus at the end of my dying. But I wasn’t so sure about what would happen in the midst of my dying. The thought of again going without the oxygen that my body craved, terrified me.
So, there I sat, propped between throw-pillows, my fears bubbling in the back of my throat. Shortly I would be traversing with professors, professionals, and peers deep into a Guatemalan jungle to provide medical care to indigenous people.
After my anaphylactic emergency I had continued to travel. To Peru. Haiti. China. With my epi-pen close at hand. But, I had yet to go eight hours over mountains and rivers, deep into the heart of a jungle where plumbing did not yet exist, and satellite phones were spotty at best.
So, what if it happened again? What would I do if my unknown allergy came roaring back and I had to see death again? And what if, instead of just tasting it this time, death won?
My sweet counselor taught me a very useful coping mechanism. Just stop. Literally. When the swirling thoughts would come, all I had to do was imagine a stop-sign. And it worked. Temporarily.
Loaded with supplies, I timidly (and rather nauseously) rode that bus straight into a Guatemalan jungle. And then, I rode it back out. I had lived.
However, as it often does, fear continued to sneak up. Poking its poisonous head out at the most inopportune moments.
Often to fight those thoughts of fear we slap a Band-Aid of reassurance over it with a quick statement- “That’s highly improbable. No reason to fear that.”
So, what do you say to the girl who randomly had a reaction in the middle of a foreign country and tried to see Jesus? The chances of that are so improbable that I should buy a lottery ticket.
So, when I faced a fear, I could no longer use reason. Unreasonable had found me. And eventually the stop-sign method stopped working. Because stop-signs can’t really slow down a steam engine powered by fear.
Over and over, my heart and my mind were asking the same question. What happens when my worst fears come true?
Because they had. Death had found me. And regardless of how many epi-pens I carried around or how cautious I was, I knew that no amount of preparation or caution would prevent my fears from becoming reality.
I sat in that space for a while. Wondering how to calm my racing heart and quiet my screaming fears. Deep and dark. Unsure of how to live life when fear was strangling the very breath from within my lungs.
But then. Someone found me. Came to me. Rescued me. From every single fear.
His name is Jesus.
He came because of love. But, to be honest, I don’t understand why He came to me. He had given me extra years of life that fateful night, and I had squandered much of it away worrying.
So to know more of this man, who came to me despite my entanglement with anxiety, I have been reading of His life.
And lately, Jesus’s words in the book of John have taken my breath away. But this time, it’s a breathlessness that’s filled with hope.
Jesus tells His disciples that His Words would bring them peace and joy. Why? Because He had overcome the world and the day was coming when He would overcome death.
Not much later, Jesus died. The grave held Him for three days. But then, suddenly, it was empty.
That morning, a woman who had loved Jesus, Mary Magdalene, stood weeping by His empty tomb. But then the living, breathing Jesus approached her. And yet, she did not recognize Him. I imagine her distressed tears blinded her. Her worst fears had come true, after all. Her Lord was dead, and His body was missing.
But was He dead?
As her name left Jesus’s lips, she recognized who He was and fell at His feet.
Her worst fears had been redeemed. Jesus was not only alive, but He had defeated the very thing that afflicts all of humanity- death. Suddenly, He was not only her Teacher and her Lord, He was Her Savior.
There are days when the thoughts of my worst fears blind me. Tears stream. My throat tightens. But, then, a voice comes.
“Sarah.” It says. That’s all it has to say.
Lifting my eyes, I see what stands before me. Not a stop-sign.Jesus.
And suddenly I understand. Even if my worst fears come true. Even if I lose what I love. Even if my heart breaks into a billion pieces. Even if I am abandoned and alone. Even if I have no security. Even if my throat swells closed forever. There is hope.
Several months ago, I went to see a movie in theaters. It impacted me so much, I went back to see it again with my mom and sisters. The movie was Harriet. If you haven’t seen it, rent it when it comes out!
The whole movie is one challenge after another as you see Harriet live her life counter to everyone around her. She doesn’t stop because of fear; instead, she uses her fear as a platform to push herself to greater lengths.
Spoiler Alert: There is one scene in the movie that keeps playing over and over in my head. Harriet has come back from her first “rescue”. She hadn’t planned on bringing anyone back with her except her husband. But, due changes in his life, he tells Harriet he won’t be going back with her.
After Harriet returns to safety, she tells her new-found friend, Marie, who is helping Harriet navigate what life looks like to live free, how torn up she is without her husband. And that’s when Marie says something along the lines of:
What’s a man to a woman, who has the call of God on her life…
I could hardly breath when I heard that. I felt glued to my chair as the lump in my throat began to rise, pushing tears out of my eyes. The truth of that statement arrested my soul.
Around the same time I saw this movie, I was at a FAM (Family Advocacy Ministry) event. FAM is a ministry that creates support systems around a foster family. This means bringing meals to the foster family, babysitting, or doing household chores. If you want to know more about this please send me a message. It’s a wonderful ministry!
While I was at this event, they highlighted a long-time friend of mine. She and her husband stood side-by-side, arm-in-arm as they announced that they are working towards their 6th adoption. That’s six kids in our community whose lives have been re-written. These kids will know what it means to have a loving home. To have a mom and dad who fights for them, and loves them unconditionally.
You may be wondering what I’m getting at. And this is it: If you’re single, live out the life God has given you for His glory and the good of others. And unless you can do more married, like this couple at the FAM event, then don’t worry about it. God has amazing things He wants to do through each one of it. That may be through singleness or it may be through marriage. The couple I talked about are able to fight for their kids because they’re fighting together. Harriet was able to fight for those in slavery because she was single.
A lot of us miss out because we are aren’t comfortable with God’s plan. Why? Because most of the time it isn’t easy. It means dying to self. Serving others and getting out hands messy and our hearts broken. Elizabeth Elliot said it well when she said:
“The will of God is always far different from what we imagine, far bigger, far more difficult, but unspeakably more glorious”
So, my prayer for myself and for you is that we will be generous with our time and money. That we will be courageous for the things that need to be fought for and spoken up for. And, that we would love deeply and speak truthfully. I fall so short every single day. But, as Anne of Green Gables says, “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes”
And for the single that may still be waiting for someone to fight beside you… Remember this:
“To love God is to love His will. It is to wait quietly for life to be measured by One who knows us through and through. It is to be content with His timing and His wise appointment.” — Elizabeth Elliot