When You Start to Doubt Everything

Up until recently I thought I was a relatively healthy person. I didn’t have too much baggage or too many issues to deal with.

Then I started counseling.

My counselor told me she thinks I have control issues. I told her I think her customer service skills are lacking.

I mean, seriously? Control issues? Me? I have absolutely no issues with being in control. So, I don’t see the problem. In fact, as long as everything is turning out the way I think it should, and everyone is acting the way I think they should, I have absolutely no issues at all.

I’ve witnessed multiple miracles this past year. Prayers prayed for 15 years have been answered. Dreams 15 years in the making have come true. I’ve watched God do things that only he can do. And yet, I still can’t let go. Can’t let go of the idea that I can do things better than him — that I can do things faster than him. When God veers off my well-constructed plan, I wonder if he’s maybe a little off his rocker as well.

When you’re packing up everything you own, putting it into storage and heading off into the great blue yonder, we’ve realized it’s better to do it quickly. Less time to think. Less time to wonder.

To tell you the truth, I’ve doubted that we’re doing the right thing — living as vagabonds for a year. When we first made the decision, the writing was clear on the wall. The kids were excited. We couldn’t believe this dream was coming true. We sat the kids down to make sure they were all on board. I read testimonies for a living — do you know how many people blame a move for the destructive path they chose? I’ve allowed outside voices to weigh me down with guilt. Your kids need stability. What will your kids do for friends? Won’t that be hard for your kids to leave everything they know behind? Our oldest daughter has struggled with this decision. She doesn’t want to leave her friends. I get it. I’ve spent 13 years trying to protect her from pain. I’ve spent 13 years sheltering her from the harsh reality of this world. Sure, she’s experienced sadness and hurt. Sure, she knows what loneliness and frustration feel like. But for the most part, I’ve protected her from everything that could hurt her.

And now I’m the one who’s doing the hurting. At least from her perspective, I’m the one who’s messing everything up for her life. The point of spending a year abroad was to draw our family closer together. And it has felt like it it’s unraveling at the seams. All my fears were coming to life right before my eyes. And all of my what-ifs were now becoming what now? Will she resent us? Will this crush her? Will this ruin my carefully laid plans for my family? If this was truly what God wanted for us, wouldn’t it be easier? Wouldn’t she be happy?

We went back and re-evaluated our motives. We prayed and cried out to God for answers. Would God lead our family on this adventure with one of us dragging her feet? I asked again and again for confirmation. Again and again it came. I asked God again and again for clarity in our vision for our family. Again and again he gave it to me.

But I still doubted. I wanted to know for sure that it would all work out. God, if we do this, will my family look the way I want it to? If we do this, will my kids end up the way I want them to? Again and again I cried out. And again and again no response came.

Like Jacob, wrestling with God, I fought hard. Do you know the story? The Jacob who had deceived and manipulated his way through life to get what he wanted. The Jacob who was so desperate for life to look the way he wanted, he betrayed his own brother and stole the first-born’s blessing. Now, that’s someone with control issues. We find Jacob in Genesis 32, running from one problem Now his brother was coming. Jacob hasn’t seen him face to face since that day. And he’s scared out of his mind. So he manipulated his circumstances. He placed his possessions, his animals and his family in places that would guarantee their safety. He wanted to make sure everything would be okay — make sure that everything would turn out the way he hoped.

And that’s where God found him. There in the dead of night. And they wrestled into the wee hours of the morning. And Jacob wouldn’t let go.

God said, “Let go.”

Jacob responded. “Not until you bless me.”

Jacob wanted to know the result of his letting go before he opened his hands. He wanted to make sure that he would get something better than what he was holding onto so desperately there against the velvet sky.

I’ve let go of a lot of things recently. God is continually prying my white-knucked fingers off my carefully laid plans for my life. Let go. Let go of my things. Let go of my security, my stability and my expectations. And some of it has been easy to let go of. The house? How refreshing to live without a mortgage for the next year. The furniture? I can buy more when we get back. The toys? Less to clean. The friends? I’ll miss them desperately. But we have social media, right?

But what about my family…wait, no. I thought I was giving up all that other stuff FOR my family. That’s asking too much, God. I’m doing this because of my family. Because I want more for my family. Which is why I don’t understand why one of my kids thinks I’m ruining her life. That’s not what was supposed to happen. That’s not the result I want.

So I grip a little tighter. I fight a little harder.

God said, “Let go.”

And I cried out, “Not until you bless me.”

Not until I know that everything is going to be okay. Not until I get a guarantee that what I’ll get in exchange for what I give up will be better.

And God whispered, Everything is okay. Not because you’re holding fast to your security, but because I’m holding fast to her.

“But God, she’s hurting. I don’t want her to hurt. I want to save her from this pain.”

And he spoke soft and gentle to my heart.

Melissa, when have you come to know me better? In the good? Or in the hard?

When have you known my hand of provision? In your plenty? Or in your need?

When have you known me as your healer? When you’ve got it all together? Or when you’re broken?

When have you known me as your strength, your source and your life? When you’re safe there on the shore? Or when I lead you out beyond the waves?

When have you discovered the riches of my presence? When you can see the way ahead? Or when your clutching my hand in the dark?

Stop trying to spare her from the pain of life. And teach her how to walk through it. She sees her small little world. You see my kingdom. Tell her what you see, and I’ll turn her face when she’s ready.

None of my scheming makes my family safe from pain. I can try to manipulate our circumstances in an attempt to keep them from ever experiencing hardship or need. I can protect them from knowing brokenness and keep their feet planted on the shore. I can shine my own feeble light to guide their steps so they never stumble in the dark. I can keep them safe. But is their safety what I want most for them? Well, if I’m honest, yes. I do. And I realize my responsibility as a mother to shield and protect my kids.

But how am I getting in the way of the transformation God is doing in their lives? How do my efforts to ensure their happiness hampers their discovery of God as their provider, healer, strength, source and life?

After all, isn’t it in the hard places where we discover we’re not alone.

It’s in our need that we witness the miracles.

It’s in our brokenness that we encounter a healing that mends our souls.

It’s out beyond the waves where we discover the courage to face our fears.

It’s in the darkness where we find the extraordinary riches of God’s presence.

It’s in the pain where we discover that God really is enough — and we are enough in him.

Do I have control issues? You betcha. But maybe it’s not so much about what I can and can’t control as it is about what I allow to control me. Will I let fear dictate my steps? Will I let outside voices determine my faith? Will I trust that God is enough — for me and my kids? Or will I step in and try to be God for them?

I’m not guaranteed that my kids stories will turn out the way I want. But I’m not the one writing their stories, as often as I try. But I’m going to walk forward believing that God is bigger than my fear. I don’t know how this will turn out for my daughter, but I know it’s okay. Everything is okay. I can let go because she’s already held–held in the arms of an extraordinary God who much better at writing stories than I am.

So, in six weeks we’re going to say good-bye. She will cry, and I will pull her close. She will ask why, and I will keep my eyes on the Author of both our stories, holding tight to his hand.

I will tell her what I see. And I will point her to the One who catches her tears in a bottle, walks with her through the fire, carries her through the storm, shines light in her darkness, and never, ever lets go.

Now, that’s extraordinary!

 

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When God Gives You Extraordinary

Seventeen years ago, two kids met at Capernwray Bible School in a small farming town in New Zealand. It was at this school that our love for each other, our love for Jesus and our love for traveling the world grew.

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Although much has changed over the years (like growing kids and growing waistlines), our love for these three things hasn’t. But life happens, doesn’t it? We’ve traveled, but it was always embedded in our hearts to spend a large chunk of time abroad with our children. With a 12-year-old, it has felt like time was running out. We were living to pay our bills and it was killing us. So, we began to dream of what it would look like to live fully alive and fully awake — living with our hands and eyes wide open. Things began shifting in our hearts. The things we thought we wanted didn’t seem to glimmer quite as much any longer. We began dreaming of a simpler life. We began dreaming of a bigger adventure. We said this would be the year we would search for extraordinary. And this would be the year we shifted our priorities.

We had no idea what that shift would entail.

This January, we sat our kids down and asked them what their dreams were for our family.

“Do you want the big house, with the big yard? Or do you want the world?”

We realized we couldn’t have it all. And we had to surrender our small-minded ideas of what we thought our life should look like and what we thought we deserved.

In unison, they all cried out, “We want the world!”

I’ve told you how God sold our house this past January. And I told you how the people who bought it needed us to stay in the house until August. Did I tell you that Ryan applied for a masters’ program here in Arizona? We were so sure that he would get in. His advisor told him it was a sure thing. But he didn’t get in, and we were devastated. I had given up my house. I had done my part. I had showed up. But God hadn’t. At least that’s what I believed for about five minutes (okay, it was longer than that by about a lot). What was he up to? What was he doing?

We sat in this space where there were more questions than answers. This space where the path isn’t clear and the passion starts to fade. I call this the space between. The space between surrender and deliverance. The space between trust and answers. The space between the leap of faith and landing safe on the other side.

It’s in the space between that we are faced with questions. Is God good and does He even care?

It’s in the space between where doubt festers and joy fades.

It’s in the space between where wonder if it’s really all worth it in the end.

It’s in the space between where we decide that we are going to keep surrendering even if deliverance doesn’t come. Where we decide that we’ll continue to trust even if we never get the answers. And where we take the leap of faith knowing that we’ll land safe in His arms.

We decided to keep surrendering, to keep trusting and to keep leaping…And we did land safe in His arms. But in His wild grace, He gave us exactly what we asked for… just in a way, place and time we weren’t expecting.

We’re celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. We aren’t the same two kids we were 17 years ago. We’ve added a few kids, a few pounds and a few heartaches to our family. But in God’s sweet tenderness, He’s leading us back to the place where it all began. We are so excited to announce that we are heading to Capernwray Bible School in Australia with our kids in tow. We will be there for 10 months working with the students and helping in various areas at the school. Ryan will be working on his Masters in Sustainability online. And I will get to teach the Bible at the very place where I learned to study the Bible! Oh, and guess what? We just happen to be leaving two weeks after our lease on this house is up. Oh, and there happened to be a sale on airfare and we bought tickets for a ridiculous price. And God provided the money for our tickets —  2 dollars more than what they cost.

Is it scary? You betcha. Our middle schooler is missing a year of school and a year with her friends. But she’s searching for extraordinary right beside us, and she knows that sometimes extraordinary comes at a cost. We’ll live in a small apartment where our kids will have to share space and time. They will leave most of their toys and belongings behind. But they are learning that searching for extraordinary means leaving ordinary behind. And it’s okay to be excited and sad at the same time.

I told you we were searching for extraordinary this year. I didn’t know it would mean moving across the world. But isn’t that how God so often works? We surrender our dreams and He replaces them with something bigger than we even imagined. When we let go of our tight-fisted grip on life, God gives us extraordinary. And sometimes, He even gives us the world.

 

When Dust Becomes Extraordinary

March 1st marked the beginning of Lent. The season of sacrifice as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. To be honest, this day has never meant anything to me. I’ve watched and listened as friends described their deprivations. I’ve wondered at the point. Because, truthfully, I’ve never understood. In all our depriving ourselves from the things we desire, what good does it do? To pay back a debt for the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf? To pat ourselves on the back for being extra spiritual for 40 days? To pay penance for our sins?

But this year there is a deep longing in my soul. My soul feels starved right now. I know I don’t need to do anything to get closer to God. He already did the work to get close to me. But there’s a stirring in my soul I can’t ignore. So, on the first day of Lent I went to an Ash Wednesday service. I had no idea what to expect. I’m used to a loud and anonymous worship experience. This was somber and personal. I believe there is a time and place for both types of worship. I looked around at my fellow sojourners as they formed a line to receive the ashes. Fear prickled my spine as I walked toward the front. Would they know I’d never done this before? Would they see that I had no idea what I was doing? The Vicar rubbed the black ash onto my forehead in the shape of a cross, whispering words that I’d never heard but somehow already knew by heart.

From the dust you have come. And to the dust you will return.

The words made their way into the grooves of my soul, settling deep into the hidden places I’ve ignored. I sat down in the pew and wept. For what, I couldn’t say. They went through the liturgy, sang the hymns and followed the rituals. Not because the rituals brought God any closer. But because they remind us of how close God already is. And in the stillness I knew why I was weeping. Because I’m starving, and I had forgotten that I have access to the Bread of Life. I’ve been feeding my boredom with mindless hours on social media. Feeding my shame with thoughts of regret. Feeding my fear with my list of “what ifs.” Feeding my pride with a house full of stuff. And meanwhile, my soul cries out for the One who gave up everything for me because of his extraordinary love.

Lent is about quieting our souls so we can hear the voice of the One who adores us.

Lent is about slowing down our lives so we can sense the One who lives within us.

Lent is about opening our eyes so we can see the One who is working through us.

Lent is about opening our hands so we can take hold of what we already have.

Extraordinary love. Extraordinary forgiveness. Extraordinary courage. Extraordinary hope. All given to us in Christ.

Lent is about remembering the extraordinary goodness of God that we so often forget. It’s not about a debt we owe or a sacrifice required. It’s about letting go of our tight-fisted grip on what we think we deserve — both the excess we think we deserve from this world and the punishment we think we deserve from God. It’s about letting go of the things that fill our spaces, our minds, our hearts and our time.

Lent is about realizing that the extraordinary goodness and presence of God is ours for the taking. And it’s about realizing that this life is but a moment so what will we do with that moment?

From the dust we have come and to the dust we return.

The pastor read the story of Lazarus. A story that’s spoken to me a hundred different times in a hundred different ways. But this time I heard something new. Like the words spoken with the ashes on my forehead, they were words I’ve never heard yet already knew by heart. A man lying dead in the dust, awakened back to life. A man who slept in the dark, awakened to the extraordinary goodness of his God. And because of that extraordinary goodness, he could never again live an ordinary life. The Bible says people flocked to see him. They came in search of the man who would now count his moments because he knew the moments count. Because the world, like us, is hungry for more. Because the world, like us, is searching for extraordinary.

The world needs to see resurrected people.

From the dust we have come and to the dust we return.

But what will we do in the meantime? In this breath that we walk this earth? In this moment we get to live? How will we live? And will the way we live point hungry souls to the Bread of Life?

Lent is about waking up from a long sleep. It’s about rising from the dust and living fully alive and fully awake. Why? Because we’ve been resurrected from the dead. How? By the resurrection of Jesus. Will we live clutching tight to our fear and shame and pride? Will we live grasping fast to our security, our rights and our  pain? Will we grip onto death? Or will we open our hands to receive life?

I’m waking up. Like Lazarus, I hear Jesus calling my name.  And I’m realizing that the more I turn down the noise around me, it’s a lot easier to hear the Truth within me.

Searching for Extraordinary

Last summer I found myself wandering lost in the wilderness of disappointment. We had moved the year before, full of expectation for what lay ahead. But one by one, each of the things we had anticipated fell by the wayside. We weren’t victims. Life just simply has a way of taking unexpected turns. In our case, life had taken an abnormal amount of unexpected turns, and I was having trouble keeping up. I couldn’t see what God was doing, and I was angry that he wasn’t doing what I wanted.

On the outside, it looked like we had everything we ever wanted. It was everything I had ever wanted. A beautiful house with a swimming pool on an acre. Dinner parties under trees lined with twinkle lights. It was a dream come true in more ways than I could count. People came to our house and gawked at its beauty. It felt good. But it didn’t feel right. We were stressed out. We were short with each other and short with our kids. We were running around making sure it looked like we “made it” in the eyes of the world, only to find we were “losing it” more and more each day. Losing what truly mattered as we fought to keep what was tearing us apart. We had joined the have-more, do-more rat race. And the race was sucking the life out of us.

I cried out to God to do something, and he gave me a promise in Isaiah 43:19.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?

I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

I liked the idea of God forging a river in my wasteland. But I didn’t understand. Nothing was changing on the outside. We were living to pay our bills, and we were losing our family in the process. The only way to keep up was to work harder. Make more money. Do more. Be more. Have more. I begged and pleaded with God. “Do something! Show us what to do!”

As Christmas drew near, I begged harder. “Where’s the river, God? Where’s the new thing you promised you would do?”

A story flooded my mind of a man standing before Jesus, crying out to him for help.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “My Rabbi, I want to see!” Mark 10:51

And that’s when I realized the river was already there. I just couldn’t see it.

So, I cried out again, “Show me, God! I want to see. Show me what to do!”

And God scooped me up, laid me against his chest and whispered softly in my ear. What do you want, Melissa? All of this…the house, the things, the parties…these are ordinary. Do you want ordinary? Or do you want extraordinary?

“I want extraordinary! Show it to me, God! Show me the way.”

Let go of your house.

“No! Not my house. I need this house. I can’t give up my house.”

My child, if you let go of your tight-fisted grip on your dreams, there will be room for the dreams I have for you. Open your hand and you’ll see. Open your hand, and I’ll open your eyes. And I’ll show you something extraordinary.

So, I pried my fingers open, and I released what I thought I wanted. And I found that it wasn’t really what I wanted at all. My eyes were suddenly opened to a bigger dream. A God-sized dream that finally had room to grow.

Two days later the house sold to a couple living in Germany who had never seen the house. We closed this past Thursday. It was the smoothest, most uneventful house closing we’ve ever experienced. We are renting the house from them until the end of July while we discover the new dreams God is planting in our hearts. We don’t know exactly what he’s up to, but we know he’s good and he has good for us. We also know that we want to live differently. We want to live in a way that goes again the grain of our culture. We want to live open-handed and open-eyed. We want to value relationships over stuff and adventure over impressions. We don’t yet know fully what this looks like, but we are making space so that God can move.

In the meantime, we’re searching for extraordinary in the people and places right in front of us.

Searching for extraordinary is about letting go of our tight-fisted grip on what we think we want so we can receive what God wants for us. It’s about choosing to see the good all around us. It’s about living fully alive and fully awake.

Searching for extraordinary is about getting up and living life instead of waiting around for life to happen. It’s about realizing that extraordinary things are all around us, if we choose to see them. It’s about letting go of what’s good to find what’s great. It’s about ending the search for the American Dream and searching for a much Bigger Dream. A dream less about money and more about people. A dream less about keeping up and more about keeping what matters.

Searching for extraordinary is about jumping out of the rat race to gain more things and more happiness and slowing down in order to enjoy the people and places right in front of us. It’s about finding wildflowers in the desert or rivers in the dry wasteland. It’s about finding light in the darkness and joy in the pain. It’s about being alert and present to what God is doing right here. Right now. It’s seeing the beauty in the here-and-now instead of pining for the back-then or someday-when. It’s letting go of fear and taking hold of courage. It’s living with open hands, open eyes and open hearts.

When we open our hands, God opens our eyes. Extraordinary is all around us. Sometimes we just have to go looking for it.

Our family is searching for extraordinary this year. We’re ready for an adventure. But first we’re letting go of our tight-fisted grip on what we think we deserve. What we think life should look like. And we’re ready to exchange it for a life that is full to the brim. Not with things. Not with ease or convenience. But with hope. With rest. With courage and generosity. With hearts that beat in tune with God’s heart. We’re ready to live full alive and fully awake.

We’re searching for extraordinary. Want to join us?

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