Early Friday mornings and it smells of rain—a delight in a week of 100 degree weather and strict water rations. I’m up early for emergency coffee runs to WinCo with the windows down and the rain splashing in on my leg, because the roommates got home last night and that means together and I’ve lived enough of this rhythm-seeking, mid-twenties life to know that together isn’t permanent or guaranteed. Read More »
Sometimes the things they say on packaging can be hilarious in way-overkill fashion. Sometimes it can be spot on. The box of the cereal I’ve been munching on states, “What matters most is what’s inside.” It’s true for cereal boxes and people and it’s been making an impression on me lately. Read More »
“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” – Psalms 139:5-7
I have always taken comfort in times of uncertainty that He is the God who goes before me–that He prepares the way, and is in my future before I ever get there. It’s somewhat easy for me to trust Him with the things that have yet to happen, but recent history has challenged how well I trust Him with the things that lie behind. A few weeks ago as I was taking my 7 minute drive to school, I tuned into K-Love thinking, I bet there’s something playing right now I need to hear. Sometimes those 2 or 3 songs that carry me down the 44, give me just what I need to approach the day right. It’s almost my last ditch effort at perspective readjustment on days when there hasn’t been time for anything else!
Chris Tomlin was singing his new song, “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind…” I was struck. He stands behind me! How had half the impact of this reality never made its way home? I wasn’t scared about my future, I was scared about my past. I was scared of the things I couldn’t do anything about–the things that had already passed through that small window in which I have the chance to alter them. We are powerfully present in our lives in only a sliver of time. We don’t get to go backwards and forwards and make adjustments based on lessons learned and perspectives gained. When today comes, I greet it with today’s wisdom, today’s resources, and today’s state of mind and heart. And then today leaves me, and it goes into a part of my life I can’t pick up again. Tomorrow isn’t so scary because it still has so many chances. Yes, it’s unknown and uncertainty gives fear, but it also gives hope. Where is the hope in yesterday?
He stands behind. I got excited and relieved. Although it’s hard for a time-constrained brain to comprehend, I knew with sudden sureness that the comfort of trusting a God who stands in my future could be applied to a God who simultaneously stands in my past. He’s still there. He’s still working it out. He hasn’t let yesterday go. He’s not done with it yet. Though I can’t do anything, He can, and wherever He is, there is grace, and grace makes beautiful. Trust means not only that I move forward with confidence of a good future, but that I let go with surety that He will take care of the things I no longer can. The deepest beauty and freedom of a life surrendered is that nothing is beyond redemption for a God who stands behind.
In times when I feel behind and desperate to compensate with large leaps, I am gently reminded to find my way through small steps. I have a conviction that they are one of the best ways to get anywhere. There is nothing in this world that you could want to do that you can’t take a small step towards. Often the felt obligation to start out with a ceremonious leap prevents us from ever beginning. We become lost beneath ambitions we are yet incapable of. But when you focus on what you do have within your grasp, it makes for progress. Today I cannot write that book of mine, but I can write this post. I cannot disperse all of my fears and insecurities, but I can choose to seek truth.
I could psych myself up for six weeks to make a great movement, or I could just move a little each day as I can and find myself further along. Life and progress is found nestled between turkey samwiches, morning showers, and the picking up of a book. Oh but we are swooned by the big! Big movements look progressive and create the sensation of purpose. Simply completing the process of the here and now has a drab coating to it. But motion breeds motion, and the daily warms up engines for great enterprises. It’s not just that those journeys of thousands of miles start with one step. It’s that those journeys are completely comprised of, from beginning to end, small steps. That makes today so very important. So very possible.
I will find the courage to move forwards. I will remember with kindness. I will take the time to heal. I will let my steps be small if that is all they can be. I will brave my visions to be big. I will seek spaces in which to dream. I will press against the voices of fear that echo through holes made by disappointment. I will rise above pain. I will strengthen my identity. I will forgive myself. I will celebrate.
I looked up at the vast blue today and allowed it to make me feel small. I needed that sense of me being tiny in the expanse of everything else that is. Sometimes I get too big, and when I am too big inside of my world, I become scared. When I am big, my problems are big, my needs are big, my importance is big, and my responsibility to those things is big. There I am–looming all important in my world. My disappointments fill the sky, and I am the one to face the problems and fix them.
I stepped outside into the cold. I let myself feel cold for a while. I asked that big tree across the road whether he was touched by my situation, and how he thought history would progress if I didn’t master it. I asked him if he didn’t think my troubles and predicaments were unfair and worthy of obsession. But he wasn’t very obsessed with any of the things that I have been. I looked at that endless blue that I don’t understand, and I thought about all the things of time and eternity that I can’t explain. I contemplated all I don’t know. I contemplated how much of history past and future stands unmoved by what is so moving me. I felt small again and as I shrunk back to size, I felt the freedom of being a small person in a big story. It’s not that my life isn’t important. It’s not that my choices don’t matter. It’s just that I’m not the whole story.
Fall is good at this–this shrinking experience. Fall strips and sheds and spills. Fall gets you bare. But there’s so much comfort in it. It’s the reassurance of things so much bigger than yourself. Here you just get to be. Be bare, be held, be small.
I turned 25 yesterday and for the first time I feel that I am getting old. I had a scary moment when I thought, “oh no! I can’t start this now! Am I going to feel like this for the rest of my life!” Somehow at 25, every decision feels more risky as if it’s toying with uncertain time and resources. I want my decisions to feel more guaranteed in their outcome, but my life is still young and I am figuring out where to walk, and how best to get there.
Plans are changing. Big plans. Plans that for the past two years have played a role in where I have pointed my life and what side of the world I have lived on. Have you ever had a vision that pulled you forward, and gave you your sense of where you were going, suddenly end a few feet in front of you? Sometimes these visions change because we have grown to see differently. Sometimes they are changed by things outside of ourselves. But when change means that plans end, so much that is big and meaningful is unfulfilled.
For some time now, I have been chasing a train track until it has run out of rails and steel and I have become disillusioned to find it doesn’t go anywhere. The plan no longer continues, and so it seems that it was never valid. How does one not become stunned and disappointed? I look forward and I ask, “what was the purpose?” But then I look at where I am today, and I see that these plans, these rails that have ends, have brought me here. So much of what my life has come to look like, where I am and what I have to build from, would not exist if I hadn’t chased that dream. It gave me the security and the vision I needed. We need these–these evolving plans–to keep us moving into our future. We move forward through vision, and the visions I have had have helped me to carve out this world. God knows this. He knew I needed those big plans and all their meaning to bring me here and give me the security to make the decisions I have made. What if this track I have been walking on was to serve that end, to bring me forwards? Here I can see new plans and form new visions that perhaps I would not have embraced further back on the road.
On day two of being 25, I am scared of changing plans. I am scared of train tracks that end, and casting vision without guarantees. I want to make plans promise me that if I chase them, they’ll work out. But what if it’s not supposed to look like that? These unfilled plans of mine dare me to consider that perhaps they have met their purpose. Even as plans morph, change, or dead end, they fulfill a place of meaning in that they bring me forward.
Life has been very much an experience of the “inbetween” lately—those days that happen after one thing ends but before the next one starts. These days can be giant lulls of empty. Standing inside my life, I begin to feel as though it is slowly shrinking. I can’t stand these kinds of days. My ideal self would be filled with expectation of the unseen, but I’m not really. Not yet. I know that those things are there, but what I can see and what I can feel is pure frustration. It’s a low-lying drone that rubs against hope and purpose and wants to bury me inside of itself.
Something asks me whether frustration isn’t a promise of new life in the air. Perhaps it is meant to lead us to expectancy. Like a growing pain, it can be the herald of change. Frustration is telling me that I have grown and that the old life no longer fits the new me. It is telling me that seasons have ended and new ones are beginning. It’s not that my world has shrunk, it’s that I have outgrown it. When things begin to feel empty it’s because I can feel the absence of something that is about to be. God awakens a longing in anticipation of fulfillment, and we ache because it’s coming. With these eyes to see, my frustration is a misperception. Frustration is the edge of a need without the hope of an answer. If I can let discomfort adjust my focus, frustration holds a promise of things to come.
My in-between days feel bare and struggling, but they are rich and purposeful. They hold all the emptiness of transformation, all the frustration of new birth. There is a promise to my frustration that is meant to point me on. It is a moment of expectancy that has been misperceived, and if I can turn it the right way, this lull might just become a celebration…
I’m not sure that it’s possible to graduate from the subject of grace. It has been as consistent a theme in my life as any, and the one that stands tallest when backwards gazing on what my life has become today. These days, these months–when I look at them, I see answers to what seems to have been prayers of a lifetime. These answers have come to me in adventure, surprise and poetry. But none of it has come without some kind of peril or heartache. None of it came the way I thought of it in my prayers. But the lives that make the best stories are exactly this kind. They are ones with unexpected answers–answers that come in packages we were never looking for–packages of struggle giving birth to glory, and tears that make way for song. The best of lives contain lessons learnt from unbecoming tutors.
When I look at this season, this life, I see much of this lesson learning and prayer living. But the thread that weaves through it all–the line one can put on the end of each story, or anywhere in between, is, “and then there was Grace.” It is what transitions every tragedy into beauty. It is what rearranges the chaos and calls it a life worth living. It is the “however” of life. One day, or a whole season, can turn on this word “grace”. The arrival of grace is what transforms our vision and opens up the back road of hope.
My story could go something like this: I prayed for a world of things I had never seen and knew not how to get to, and then there was grace, and grace brought me into a dream. I encountered all my fears and insecurities to live inside that world, and then there was grace that triumphed fear with love. I walked with people I loved and their battles and wounds became companions of my own journey. But then there was grace, and grace knew how to love deeper and go further. Onwards the story goes. I encountered rejection and grace showed me how not to throw away life’s sharp cuts. Grace came when I failed and came again when I ran out of space in my heart for others who had done the same. Above most other things, mine has been a journey defined by the power of grace to rewrite all that has been written.
I still catch myself whispering those words, “and then there was grace,” when I reach a moment in need of transition. I rarely know what will follow–the second part of the sentence–but I know that for every sentence that needs it, there is a “however”. There are some things in life that we need to know, and others we don’t. Knowing that there is grace is the first; what falls on the other side of grace is the second. And here, trust is so simple, so beautiful and scary, it actually makes me cry. It seems almost incomprehensible to entrust to grace what we cannot control or understand. But this grace is something so deep to rest in and I know that as it has marked the days behind me, it will continue to show up in the days ahead.
So if you ask me, or I ever ask myself, how I got here, though the story could start with a dozen different challenges or trials, you can be sure that it will always turn with the words, “and then there was grace…”