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.