Sell everything

Last week, I felt like God wanted me to prepare for something. At church (note to self: at The Plant), God put the sense on my heart that it’s getting close to that time to write again.

God calls each of us to take the land, just like He did with Joshua. He calls us to enter the promise land.

God placed the sense in me that He was going to call me to take the land with a pen. My pen was going to be the way He uses me to push back darkness.

My head knew that I needed to start the process of obeying, even though my heart wasn’t there yet. I deleted Facebook. I fasted from dessert.

Writing used to be a dream of mine, but I’m not naieve anymore.

Because dreams now? They can look a lot like hard work.

Dreams? Can appear impossible.

Dreams? Might be misunderstood.

Dreams? Might not look worthwhile.

And lets get real here. What if God is calling me to do something hard? Something that I don’t think will have enough impact to warrant the hard?

It’s easy to stand just eyeing the promise land and hoping that the good life doesn’t cost too much.

I’m just that girl, standing and asking God what it’s going to cost and if it’ll be worth the pain and hard work when I get to the top of the mountain. Doubting that the cost will be worth it is doubting that God is worth it. It’s doubting God.

Isn’t my not knowing the outcome is the start of faith? The start of trust? Isn’t the fact that this seems too big and too scary and too unclear and too time-consuming perfect for a God who does impossible things?

I’m reading this book called Love Does, and is this how God can move through writing?

Bob shares the passage about the man who had everything and wanted to know how to follow God. Jesus said to go and sell his possessions and follow Him. The man left. He left because it was going to cost him too much. When I place the cost ahead of Jesus, I’m only giving Him the parts of me I want to. When I place the cost ahead of Jesus, I forget the cost Jesus paid for me.

Bob Goff shares a sentence he heard. “You know what it is about someone that makes them a friend? A friend doesn’t just say things; a friend does.”

If I’m a friend of Jesus…can I not just say but actually do hard things?

I want to. I realized that I want to write for Him. His glory is always worth my discomfort.

And right then, my heart caught up with my head. I don’t know what writing fiction with God looks like, but God’s a good teacher. I know that from experience. I will rely on Him to show me the way to transmit what He wants me to write.

Even though I mostly wrote this about singleness, I find myself returning to this post: Saying thanks in faith

 

A Jesus-lover’s soul survival guide to joy

I beat back the darkness with counting gifts. I hacked my path through brokenness by remembering the goodness of God as I walked the half-mile path around my neighborhood through the winter. Praying. Wondering why eternity felt so far away. When the wounds of the whole world felt like a ripping, it was thanking God stitched me back together.

In my aloneness last year, I learned “you alone.”

You alone fulfill me. You alone comfort me. You alone give me strength. You alone give me joy. You alone are good. You alone are any good in me. Your presence alone is joy. You alone take me through the long nights of chest pain and fluttering beats.

I wrote plenty about it. The depth of the joy I felt and the depth of brokenness that I felt. I needed God every day. Every night. I needed His presence.

God has gradually repaired my joy the last 7 months in many significant steps. Now my days are full of joy. I’ve tossed around in my mind lately how not to lose God in it. How to still know my need for God in my joy.

Here’s what God has been teaching me.

-In good times, counting gifts is even more important because it keeps me focused on the giver. It reminds me that every. single. good and gracious gift is from above.

-In good times, I know my need by knowing my sin. Don’t stop knowing and repenting.

-In good times, have the extra dose of strength to pray for the brokenness that others are experiencing.

-When God talks about the feast, he’s not talking about abundance or joyful emotion or comfort in this world. He’s talking about the blood and I still need the blood in my joy. That’s the seat at the table. That’s the joy.  The feast is all about the body and blood, not the side-dishes. I need to not let the taste of the side-dishes distract me from the real feast.

-The joy of His presence is still my strength. Soak in His presence daily. Thank Him for joy.

-The joy gives me a greater margin of emotional energy to serve. There was that hard thing that I didn’t have the emotional reserves for. God has been prompting me to consider that now is the time. That there’s a purpose for joy, just like there was with pain. Now’s the time to take the land. He wants me to take the land with my pen. With my obedience…To know my need for Him in this new way.

I’m sure more lessons will come, but I’m grateful for this start.

 

Why God is faithful no matter what

Ryan Miller sang it like a cowboy. He sang it during communion at my best friend’s wedding. And I couldn’t help but cry at God’s faithfulness to Rheanna. I couldn’t help but recount how I had prayed that she’d meet someone who appreciated her like I did. Who’d recognize the gift of her like I did. I had prayed for her more than I did for me. I remembered the conversations we’d had when we were happy for friends and family but wondered “where’s my man?”

Even after I surrendered marriage to the Lord, there were hard reminders and weeks. Rheanna was the one who I could call and knew would understand and yet have a word that was truthful, empathizing, and spiritually-encouraging without being cliché. In the back of my mind, I had always wondered how I’d feel if she, my last single friend, married first. And here we were, standing at the altar.

I have to admit, three months ago during that song, I wasn’t just crying because of God’s faithfulness to Rheanna. I wasn’t just crying because I saw her come alive in a deeper way than I could have imagined with her fiancée. I wasn’t just crying because her husband was better than I could have imagined.

I was crying because I was telling God that I would cling to that old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown. Even though it meant turning 30 without being married. Even though it meant turning 29 with no prospects. Even though it meant that I might never know love, know motherhood, know what it’s like to feel valued, to feel important. To have someone to call when there’s an emergency.

I’d suffer for a while for the glory that I’d forever share of an eternity with Him. I’d bear my little cross because He wanted me to. I’d bear it for the one who bore the big cross to bear me to heaven someday. I cried because He was still good, because of that old rugged cross. I cried because He knows pain beyond what I know. I cried because just as He was faithful to Rheanna, He had been faithful to me in dark nights, and I knew He would continue to be.

I went through many lows without a significant other. I can look back and say that God is faithful. Not only or primarily because He brought a good and gracious gift into my life, but for His presence in each of those moments. For His tenderness and comfort. For the truths He spoke to me and over me.

Rheanna wrote it all those years ago…how “The Man” doesn’t show up as a prize or reward when we’re at some certain spiritual level. He’s an added blessing to what I already have with Jesus.

I’ve been given an added blessing. And just like my cat was a reminder of God’s faithfulness (I wish I were joking), so is this man. God is always faithful. He just shows it in different ways at different times. I’m grateful for the reminder of how well God knows me and thankful for how faithful God’s been in his provision of this particular man…but I’m grateful that God’s heart is always faithful towards me whether or not He expresses it with gifts.

Step outside of the auditorium: On living life and faith unscripted

  1.                  All the world doesn’t have to be a stage

I see you. I’ve been you. I am you.

I’ve been A Girl Striving.

I’ve endured pain, driven myself to pain, driven myself to perform, driven myself half-mad…all for praise. I’ve driven myself hard just so others would think that I am Exceptional and InControl. So they’d think I’m worthy of GoodOpportunities, GoodResults…and most of all, Worthy of Love.

I’ve repressed and suppressed to look de-stressed but it eventually always manifests in a cracking of my joy. Living as a slave to performance and opinions always does.

It doesn’t look the same for all of us, this performing for love and respect. Some of us audition for the part of ThePerfectPerson by HavingItAllTogether. Others of us audition by acting laid-back and carefree. Some try to make the grade for love. Others try to be cool.

Can I tell you something?

I’ve even made a performance out of prayer. Yeah. I thought if I waxed eloquent prayers, God and man might know I knew the right things to say. And then God’s words smacked me one day and I saw stars:

“The only kind of prayer I care about is honest prayer. The rest is just lip-service.” God knew when the words on my lips weren’t what I felt in my heart, and he was thoroughly not impressed.

The day my prayer life took off was the day I started getting real and honest with ordinary words with an extraordinary God….when I stopped trying to think my way out of emotions and just let myself feel them and confess them and seek God through them…when I started asking God to help me learn what it meant to pray in the Spirit.

He started giving me prayer experiences and words that moved me to tears and soul to rest almost every single night. I didn’t have to perform for them. I didn’t have to perform for His love.

Jesus came down to show me what love without performance looked like. He didn’t look at accomplishments or education. He didn’t regard wealth or poverty. He didn’t marginalize the misunderstood, the sinners, or the repentant Pharisees.

Because here’s the real truth about real love.

Real love is always a stripping back of the external things.

Real love looks at the heart.

Real love hugs the core of who someone is.

Real love cherishes who someone is.

Real love gently corrects.  

Real love stands firmly committed in trial and after mistakes.

Real love is interested in the heart, takes the time to understand the heart, wants to free the heart.

This is the kind of love of Jesus. His love is simple, pure, humble, Father-directed and Spirit-empowered and powerful.

Jesus didn’t perform. He just surrendered to the Father’s will.

Jesus doesn’t want us to perform, either. He just wants us to surrender to the Father’s will.

And here’s the secret:

God doesn’t primarily desire perfection.

He desires humility.

Humble hearts know their need. Humble hearts know God’s grace. Humble hearts know God’s goodness and God’s power. Humble hearts know their own feeble strength. Humble hearts are able to share God because they don’t live in glass houses but brick shelters.

Hearts striving for perfection? All they know is vanity and a striving after the wind.

 

2.             We have to allow deviations from our written scripts

And performance? It might just block God.

I’ve been turning it over in my mind lately:

How self-control is a fruit of the Spirit,

but the desire to control is the enemy of God.

Self-control helps us run full-force towards what God’s asking us to do and be by the power of His Holy Spirit. Self-control submits the self to God’s desires over ours. It allows us to stand and respond to that scary, tugging leap of faith God’s asking us to take or make or state.

It’s hard for God to move in big ways if we don’t give Him room to move in big ways.

We have to believe that the God who asked Jonah to speak a simple sentence to Nineveh is real. We have to believe the God who told Daniel what to say to the King is real.

We have to live like He’s real. We have to leave room in our prayers and programming and conversations for Him to move.

That requires us (me) constantly surrendering any desire to control to the truth that if it’s meant to be, God will help me overcome all challenges. God will help us overcome challenges in calling, ministry, work, friendships, and relationships. Control can kill all those things, because only God grows all good things.

3.           Abiding kills performance  

Performance is a grasp for control because I don’t trust God.

It always begins the same.

It always begins with forgetting.

Forgetting that Jesus loved me to death (-Ann Voskamp), and then later revived me to life

Forgetting how big God is or how big His love is

Forgetting the times that He has pursued me, protected me, held me,  encouraged me, and done something out my nothing. In spite of me.

Forgetting that He’s already deemed me worthy of the best kind of love

Forgetting how to live out of that love

There’s really only one way to break performance and the desire to control the outcome. There’s only one way to begin to trust God again.

It’s abiding.

Abiding gives God control and frees me from performance.

Abiding frees me to live my life the way God wants me to.

Performing restricts God from working through me. Abiding unleashes God to work in and through me.

Perform to be worthy of love because you think that you’ll get joy…

and you’ll always just get emptiness.

Go to God with your emptiness and abide and you’ll always get joy.

Through the gift of worship, He gives us the gift of joy because He gives us more of Himself.

Can I be real with you for a second? You might still feel brokenness too, but joy in the midst of brokenness sustains to the full measure of joy God has in store. And He always has joy in store.

And so I have to go back frequently and remember. Remember that He’s rescued me from a prideful heart, a doubting heart, and a fractured heart. Not so that I could perform, but so that I could joyfully and humbly serve.

Which may be why I find myself stooped over steering wheel at a stop light talking to God about one of my fears. “Don’t ever become an act to me, God. I pray that you never become an act to me. Don’t let me forget how wildly and passionately you pursued me. Don’t let me forget how real and living your love is for me is, that you spoke to me in languages I understood. Help me live unscripted in the ways you call me to…”

On that scary decision

So yeah, sometimes God doesn’t give a great, divine “yes.”

He just keeps prompting you to say “yes” to the next thing, and that thing is the answer in itself. It’s an exhale in itself.

There is someone whom I’m really enjoying getting to know. There’s someone whom I look forward to talking with every night and going on dates with.

If you knew me, you’d know that I’m usually the girl who is content to just see someone, have fun, and catch up every few months when we’re apart. So that is Different for me.  A good different.

It also changes my routine. It changes the fact that, until recently, I was able to work in some worship, prayer, and Bible time every night, in addition to writing. I was able to spend a few hours on these pursuits.

One of my greatest fears is that I’ll become a “rearview-mirror” Christian. The ones who recount miracles of God…that they last saw 10 years ago…because they stopped believing God could do new things. If the Bible is true, then God is capable of infinitely more than we dare to pray. I want to see the opportunities and stretching that He has for me today. I want to keep stepping out to see God do impossible things. I don’t want to just think that happened all those years ago. I want to think that the best is yet to come. Looking back once-in-awhile is a good way of recounting God’s faithfulness, but looking back too long or too frequently isn’t healthy in my book.

I want to keep growing in prayer, joy, character, Bible knowledge, obedience, and ability to hear God’s whispers. I want to appreciate Jesus more. I don’t want to keep singing yesterday’s song. I want to sing the new song God wants us to experience and recognize.

I can see several areas of potential vulnerability that I am asking for God’s help on:

  1. To not forget my first love. The one who is better than everything, anyone and any circumstance. The one who loved me first and last and every single day in-between. To let earthly relationship reflect heavenly ones, not replace them
  2. To keep running to God to meet my emotional needs and not place that expectation on a man
  3. To help me carve time for Him first
  4. To put someone else’s needs before my own. This gentleman does this beautifully for me. I want to do it well for him
  5. To figure out what God’s purpose for this time is, and how He wants me to work writing into it

My wise bestie, Rheanna, shared with me when she began dating her now-husband that the Lord asked her to not take her heart out of His hands. He then asked her not to take her boyfriend’s heart out of His hands. I want to make sure that I don’t take my heart out of God’s hands either, and it’s his hand deciding whether to put us together or not.

For now, I’m just enjoying the process of getting to (re)know someone and discovering the nice ways where our styles are very healthy complements of each other.

Mist

Decisions weigh like a heavy fog, and I’m right in the midst of it

Never forget it, Joyce. How God is always in control

How God is above the fog looking down, seeing the full picture

It doesn’t overwhelm Him.

 

Never forget it.

How you just have to let His voice of reassuring presence be enough in the midst of the mist

To let it guide you out of the mist

Just keep walking towards His voice

And confusion will gradually clear

In the reassurance that yes, he is here

And He’s not scared

And I am tethered to Him

I don’t have to see it…I have to feel it. I have to trust it. I have to let that tether be stronger than all the creeping things around my ankles

 

Can I just spit it out? How terrified I am of the future and men cheating and babies leaving and of letting my joy be tethered tightly to someone elses’?

How terrified I am of not being enough

How terrified I am of destroying

How terrified I am of settling

How terrified I am of safe, comfortable Christianity

How terrified I am of change?

 

And why is it easier for me to be vulnerable from a platform

Than with a man?

 

Fear upends me and I am no longer calm

I am no longer strong

I am no longer unafraid

I am in a wild kind of poached-animal panic

 

But He comes and meets me and makes me calm

He is my strength

And I trust in his Brave

 

The God over my confusion gives me only that as clarity tonight

On slaying pride with writing: Part 2

I shared my first poem and felt a little piece of my purpose fell into place.

I was relieved afterwards to find that I didn’t feel any pride. God had unmistakably given me that surrender experience, led me out of struggle, and then given me that poem. I just asked Him what He wanted me to say, and then wrote it down. God led me to humbly share. There was nothing for me to be prideful about in my head before, during, or after.

But here’s where I did falter: I moved on before God said “go” to the next poem.

It started innocently enough. I was sitting at church grappling with communion and what it meant to me. I received a couple phrases. That happens often enough. Most of the phrases God gives me don’t become poems or blog posts. But this time, there was a part of my brain that felt “I have to follow this up with another poem to stay relevant.” And I moved.

There was a moment of repentance at IF:Gathering 2016 before communion, and I experienced the power of God convicting me to repent not only to Him but to man. That was when He chose to help me. Put two-and-two together, and I figured that I could share that experience with others.

Except again, it was partially motivated by a desire to stay relevant and unleash a friend. Y’all, I spent hundreds of hours on that poem, and I did feel that there was a word in there, but I knew instinctively as the weeks trimmed down that this poem wasn’t going to feel finished when I performed it. It wasn’t going to feel polished or tight. I knew that God was going to humble me through sharing something I really wasn’t satisfied with. I knew He was going to teach me a lesson.

And I did share the 2/3-baked poem. For a long time afterwards, I didn’t open the file. I didn’t know if I ever would again…except I didn’t feel released from it. When I opened it several months later, the hours upon hours I spent on that process felt like a burden that I wanted to be over but wasn’t.

Piece-by-piece, though, God started putting this piece here and teaching me that there, and new structure, experiences and revelation made their way into the poem. God just gave me a vision for what a relationship with a non-Christian man that I had been attracted to would look like, and suddenly attraction dissipated with His statement that “you were made for more than that [kind of relationship],” because when he showed me what More looked like, I wanted that. No competition.

That poem was more about a lot of little, quietly sown moments that would happen after 5 hours of sitting on the couch in prayer, worship and Bible reading. If the first poem was a loaf of manna dropped from heaven, the second one was more like crumbs collected a piece at a time until I had a loaf.

The second time I shared that poem, the finished poem, I knew that God was done with it. I was happy with it, which is no small feat. It felt complete. I knew that He had humbled me. I knew that God had redeemed that poem. He taught me “I’m going to take you there slowly. But I’m going to be creating the opportunities, so you don’t need to worry about “staying relevant.” Don’t run ahead of me. I am going to pace you so you run your race well and stay humble.”

So yeah, I guess since then, my next pieces of advice for writers:

Wait on the Lord

Don’t run ahead of Him

If he hasn’t released you from it, complete it– no matter how hard. You will be glad. I promise

The process of writing an poem may look different each time. The communion poem feels no less spirit-filled than Waiting Rooms, but part of me wondered “if it was the spirit, shouldn’t it come easier?” But God wanted to teach me a lesson in the second poem as a writer…that sometimes it’s hard, but it’s worth it. Thankfully, by grace, He has made my third spoken word flow out like honey though 🙂

The Blessed Scattering

Confusion about a decision entered my heart this week, and I am praying hard.

When Thursday night rolls around, you take Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller out into the blissful warmth and read. You read and you think and you read and you think and two names keep whirring through your mind.

The thunder echoed before the clouds came. The dark mystery of condensation gathered overhead while the wind whipped through trees resilient enough to bend and strong enough to not break.

The hair-swirling wind spills seed across the earth. Seeds and leaves fill the air in a far greater quantity than before. There are more. They go farther.

There’s comfort in realizing that is what every strong wind is supposed to do for a Christ-follower. A strong wind may bend us, but it won’t break us. The strong wind is meant to scatter seed. Seed is the knowledge of God.

Let the wind come. Let your branches yield to the power of the experience while staying rooted in Christ. Trees rooted during storms are powerful testimonies to His strength. They spread seed.

I tend to withdraw from decisions like this, choosing neither option rather than hurting someone. But, over-and-over again, God keeps presenting this scenario. I think He wants me to learn something. Maybe how to trust Him and seek Him in making tough decisions?

On a funny note, fasting is not helpful for me. I didn’t eat breakfast, and my blood pressure was 85/50 at work 🙂 It felt like I was walking on clouds.

Why I feel being told I’m beautiful is a second-rate compliment from a husband

I never gave much thought to beauty when I was a kid or tween or teen. I didn’t care if someone thought I was beautiful. Beauty didn’t represent much to me. Male attention didn’t represent much to me. I was too busy climbing trees, reading books, memorizing facts, and trying to beat the boys in cross-country races. I was too busy hanging with my friends. I felt pretty neutral about my physical appearance. I just didn’t think about it too much.

Other compliments would have meant much more than “you’re beautiful.” When a teacher complimented my writing or a friend my kindness or a boy my sense of humor…those are the things that made me glow.

But sometimes, I find myself looking in the mirror with a wild, raging desire to be beautiful. Especially over the last year. Only recently have I found myself asking why. Only recently have I asked when and why that changed. Only recently have I asked what hearing the phrase represents to me now.

I realized it represents security. I realized it represents worthiness of love. I realized that it represents assurance that he will stay and that he doesn’t regret his decision. It represents that I don’t have to feel threatened by “the other woman” because my (future) husband thinks I’m beautiful and beauty apparently matters a lot to men.

Right now, it seems only the beautiful get chosen.

Which begs the question: Do we only desire to be told that we’re beautiful…because it reassures us that we’re loved? I scroll through that Christian man’s Facebook photos, and every single one is captioned with “my beautiful wife.” There are no other adjectives.

I want my husband to think I’m beautiful, too, but truth-be-told, that feels like a second-rate compliment. I wouldn’t need you to tell me I was beautiful in order to feel secure if you were already telling me that I’m important to you. That you love what makes me, me. Hearing my physical appearance complimented wouldn’t reassure me that you’ll stay as much as you telling me that you think it’s attractive when I’m encouraging a child or using my gifts.

I will know that you value me…even if cancer takes my hair away. Even if steroids make me gain weight. Even if I’m the victim in an accident.

Here’s the thing:

When I’m uncertain about whether I’m desired for my personality, I desire beauty.

When women are uncertain about whether they’re desired or still desired for their personality, they desire beauty.

Here’s the other thing:

Nothing unleashes God as when half the country spends as much time on their knees as they do their beauty routine.

I would like to know from time-to-time that my physical appearance gives a man that I love pleasure. But I don’t want my worth to start or end with beauty.

I intend to spend more time refining my gifts than priming my pores. I don’t see my primary purpose in life to look flawless. That falls below letting let God use me to show people a God who is real and loves them to death.

Men, if you love a woman…we get it. It may have started with appearance. It may have started with beauty. Certainly affirm that. But you have to be honest and specific about personality, too. And please be willing to not overlook friendship and/or relationship with women who aren’t a “10”

Overwhelming joy

I can’t understand the joy.

I can’t understand the joy of playing with kids, can’t understand the joy of reading scientific journal articles, the joy of writing, the joy of reading, the joy of being with family and friends, the joy of exercise. Simple, sweet friends. I can’t understand the joy of making the man on the plane laugh for four hours, the joy of using my humor, of using my intelligence.

I’m returning to the girl who recognized that the things that made her odd or quirky made her special and needed. And now I’m even better for being the girl who is motivated by joy and the Lord rather than the desire to achieve and be important.

I’m even better for being the girl who knows how it feels to walk through relentless brokenness and misunderstanding. I’m even better for building trust in walking with God through brokenness.

I’m thankful that I was able to spend a week across the country celebrating the faithfulness of God in my bestie Rheanna’s life and revel in the creativity of God’s creation

 

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