Where the Sidewalk Ends

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He hands us paper in eight different colors.

Purple for me. Tan for another. Green for one of the men.

We’re asked, simply, to pray and speak life over each person, writing down what we hear or see on the card.

The exercise takes thirty minutes or so. I don’t think much into what I’m writing. If I think it, I overthink it, and so I pray “Jesus, what do you say?” then write, not reading over it. On one card, a tree with roots in a river. On another, a wedding bower. Symbolism, maybe, but I hope it means something to them.

When I get my envelope back, there’s a pause, a catch as I read through them. Mostly, they speak of rest–something I’ve struggled with all my life.

But one makes me stop completely.

On it is a crudely drawn sidewalk full of holes. The artist’s written:

There are some cracks in you that cause emotional instability. But the Lord is wooing your heart, gaining your trust. And as you release more and more control to Him all of those cracks become filled up with His love. And you are being built up into a secure, stable and steadfast woman of God.

This is almost offensive honesty.

I don’t want to hear that I’m unstable, uncertain, although this month it’s been true.

April has been the month that wouldn’t end. The roller coaster month of emotion and communication and angst and the question, What if? and What now? It’s been the month of uncertainty at war with peace– and winning.

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Or almost.

Something’s been shifting in my spirit lately. Since Sunday really, when I found myself sitting on my bed surrounded by journals, searching for answers.

I needed God to speak some really clear things to me. I needed a yes–to see where it’s His hand leading me to this place that feels so uncomfortable sometimes. It’s the edge of a cliff and I’m looking over, wondering about the logistics of jumping off.

Will I hit something on my way down? What if I get hurt? How far down am I jumping, anyway? What if I land on something at the bottom and smush it?!

There’s a routine for this kind of questioning. It goes something like this: Massive freakout. Seclusion. Quiet. Emergence of stubborn determination.

And then the search begins.

When I began to search for the answers, I started seeing patterns. I started writing all the promises spoken over me in vibrant color, pulling them up and away from my own words so I could see the truth of the LORD spoken so clearly over me, singing over the things to come.

When I see them, the cracks in my sidewalk get caulked up, filled up, with the tangible expression of His love. I know I’m valuable, seen, loved and adored. I remember how I got here in the first place, and why.

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I think, if I’m willing to jump from such great heights from the edge of the sidewalk, what I’ll find at the bottom of the cliff is a garden, wild and rambling, the trellises overtaken with cabbage roses and sunflowers higher than my head.

I think I’ll find my heart.

Digging for Oil in the Desert

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If you’ve ever been in a long-distance (in my case, intercontinental) relationship, you know there’s a point where you’re just over everything.

You’re over Skype calls that drop randomly or delay for no reason.

You’re over the time difference that keeps him 10.5 (what?) hours ahead of you all. the. time.

You’re really over paying .25 to even send a text message, and the $40 surprise that got tacked onto your phone bill (whoops, sorry!).

More than anything, you’re over simple things: like cooking dinner for one, or feeling single (when you’re definitely not) or having (well meaning) people ask how many more days you have until he’s home.

It’s forty days, people. Forty.

Today was the day that I realized just how very over distance I am. It wasn’t because I had a particularly hard day. It was eventful and packed with things that needed doing, sure, but it hadn’t been particularly hard.

It was because I could tell that the distance had finally gotten to him.

Just this once, it was incredibly evident how wearisome being apart has been on him too.

And that pushed it over the edge, just a little.

We’ve been apart for going on 115 days. We knew, going into it, we could do it; we could make it work. We even realized that it would be difficult, that we’d have to learn new ways to communicate with each other.

What I didn’t understand was how absolutely tiring it is to be apart from someone who brings me so much life, and joy, and the freedom to be myself.

It has been so exhausting.

We got to talk for just a little while early this morning, and afterwards, I sat on the dock and let my feet slip into the pollen-infused water and let the rest of me just lay down in the sun.

Honestly, I didn’t even know how to pray, so I just asked the Lord to give me something to go on. He gently pointed me to John 12, where Jesus is anointed at Bethany.

If you don’t know the story, basically, Mary (full of reverence and gratitude and love) pours a jar of really expensive oil over Jesus’ head and then wipes his feet with her hair.

The disciples–you know, guys like the ever trustworthy Judas–make a grand ol’ fuss and say she’s wasted valuable oil for nothing. The money spent should have been given to the poor.

But Jesus says she has done a beautiful thing to him and tells them to leave her alone.

In this quickly ending season of separation, I’m learning to pour out my oil for Jesus.

I’m learning to go looking for precious things in this desert time, and then to return it to Jesus with praise because He doesn’t owe me anything.

Not better phone connections.

Not closer time zones.

Not my money back.

Not for this man to come home to me at all.

Nothing.

The fundamental difference between the hearts of Judas and Mary, is Mary’s scandalous humility and love.

And I’m hoping that in the next forty days, that’s what I learn–scandalous humility and audacious love and monumental trust in Him who owes me nothing.

But who deserves to have all my precious oil poured out over Him.

And I’ll pour it out in long moments laying on the dock and quiet thankfulness for any phone call at all. And in deep breaths, taken in defiant peace while the enemy tries to wage war on my confidence. And in hope for the things to come.

I can’t ignore the idea that we dig for oil in the driest deserts. We look for something precious in a wilderness.

But even the things we find there aren’t ours. 

Catherine, Bringing Kingdom.

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Her name is Catherine and she’s nine years old now.

I met her when she was eight. She was a little girl with close cropped dark hair and eyes like looking into a well at midnight. I had a nose ring then, a silver hoop. She used it to identify me, asking for me by pointing to her nose and saying “Sista.”

She was bilingual, just not in English. Bahasa–the official Malaysian language–was natural to her, and Tamil tumbled over her tongue.

In the instant when she walked into the children’s home, blue and white pinafore slightly askew and little hands fisted over her backpack straps, I knew she was my girl.

I spent April 2012 with her arms wrapped around my neck. She fell from the swing on the playground; I carried her home. She learned an English word; I learned a little Bahasa. She tickled my stomach and then laughed uncontrollably when I went after her in return.

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And when, one night, she stopped breathing, fainting from panic, I bolted from the house, running as I have never run, for help. I stayed on my face, interceding, until she came home.

I prayed about staying behind, quitting my Race and living in Malaysia with her.

But God said no.

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In the middle of this, I wrote. I wrote about our daily routines and the way we’d fall asleep with our feet pressed together. My heart was expanding far beyond it’s previous capacity for love.

The last time I saw Catherine, I walked her to the van that took her to school. She didn’t cry or kiss me or say, “I go too!” as she had all the weeks before. And when she drove away, my heart splintered into a million pieces that God laid into a simple path leading me back to the purposes of His Kingdom.

But it didn’t stop with me.

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At some point between now and then, another girl in America named Emily read the stories I wrote about Catherine and felt something stir in her spirit. She started praying about going on the World Race and was recently accepted onto V Squad, which launches in September. She wrote a blog that told me about the effect Catherine had on her life. I got the message last night and just wept.

My little girl is bringing Kingdom and she doesn’t even know it.

I have prayed circles around this child, begging God to send people who could love her after I left. And He is. He is caring for our girl better than I could have, had I stayed myself.

More than that, He is showing me the fruit of seeds planted almost a year ago, seeds that were sown with tears and a broken heart. He’s showing me a love too big to be contained in time or space. He’s explaining His purposes behind Catherine in my life, purposes that include Catherine as a rallying cry for future Racers.

The thing is, He doesn’t owe me that explanation. It wouldn’t be out of line for Him to say, “Just trust me.” But He knows that right now, I’m struggling in that area, and so He’s giving me a promise fulfilled to hold onto.

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And honestly, I feel like He’s given me a star. A little piece of light to hold in my heart. Something warm and shining and mine.

Catherine’s bringing Kingdom. He used her to bring Kingdom in me.

The Summit (a letter, of sorts)

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My boyfriend–my wonderful, wonderful man–is out on the mission field right now, leading the next generation of World Racers. About every day I see videos or pictures of him doing incredible things, like bouldering his way up a mountain in Swaziland, or surfing in Cape Town.

That was today, PS.

He’s always been far more athletic than I am. When we first started dating, he took me “hiking” up Stone Mountain. When I say hiking, I may in fact mean that we walked up a rather steep hill. By the way, I got winded about two-thirds of the way up and had to stop. Boyfriend could have run his way to the top and I was standing there completely unable keep any air in my lungs.

I thought this meant that I wasn’t athletic enough for him. He thought it meant he had to keep my pace. Slow. 

He adapted. He knew I wasn’t strong enough to keep up with him, so he stopped and waited, holding my hand as I pulled in a breath and then two. He didn’t laugh at me or sigh with annoyance. He just smiled and pointed out a particularly lovely part of the Atlanta skyline.

We made it to the top eventually, and we lingered there for a long time, leaning against boulders and little shrubby trees. And I found that I loved the view even more for how much it took from me to get there, and how much patience he had with me while I made my way behind him.

If we’re being super honest, this is the story of our entire relationship. Him, ready and willing and excited to just go for it at full speed.  And me, well, mostly willing, but moving at a much slower, more hesitant pace. Him, slowing down, waiting for me to catch up.

I needed a little more coaxing and a lot of encouragement. I needed space to figure it out and minutes to take deep breaths. I needed him to be more sure than I was, and for him lead me gently by the hand behind him.

And, praise the LORD, he’s given me all those things. He’s given me so much more than that.

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Today marks our seventy-sixth day apart. It is the halfway point of our separation. Everything after today is downhill. And for just a second, I want to pause and take a breath and remember. We’ve climbed up a pretty steep mountain to get to where we are now, and let me just say, the view from up here is just breathtaking.

We are living a beautiful story. There are many more mountains ahead for us to climb.There are summits to linger on while we take in the things before us, and remember the things behind.

But I’ll say this– there’s nowhere else I’d rather be and no one else I’d  rather live this story out with.

How to Breathe.

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The deer have gotten used to me, I think.

I’ve been running past them for two weeks or so now, early in the morning, when the sun is just starting to peek out over the lake, and filter gracefully through the oaks.  They’ve  stopped darting across the street when they hear me coming, and now, stand quietly, looking curiously as I go past.

My little feet hit the asphalt and my breath hitches in my chest.

The whole purpose of this particular form of exercise is less for the five pounds I’d love to lose, and more for my lungs.

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This recovering asthmatic wants to breathe.

The enemy likes to attack my breathing. In college, when panic attacks were common, he’d come in and steal my air, sucking it from my throat with an unholy vacuum. For years, I’ve tried to hide the tightness lingering in my chest, sucking in deep breaths just to feel them filled to capacity for even a second.

In all my years of doctors’ visits for chest exams–the kind where they had me blow as hard as I could into a little tube marked with little lines, gauging how strong my lungs are–no one has ever found anything wrong with me. Not medically, anyway.

When asked if I liked to run–a question I get a lot, strangely enough, I’d laugh and give a practiced response, “Honey, I don’t run unless something’s chasing me.”

That was the fear talking. What I meant was that I thought I actually might like to run, to do anything seriously active, if my lungs would cooperate. I never played competitive sports for just this reason.

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It wasn’t until the World Race that I even considered it might be spiritual, and then not once did I think there was anything I could do about it. My panic attacks–the most violents of them anyway–were gone. I’d been healed of those, but the difficulty breathing remained.

A few weeks ago, in the middle of a high-stress weekend, I found myself kneeling on my bedroom floor, gasping, trying to force in air. Nothing came. I felt the familiar feel of suffocation and found that the only words to mouth were, Jesus, please.

And then there was air. Lots of air, in fact. My lungs filled up and stayed filled up. I could breathe.

Jesus, please.

In a prayer, I realized how much hold the enemy has on my physicality. He’s kept my lungs in his clenched fist, and I’ve felt powerless to get them back, to get them working the way I believe they should. But Christ didn’t just come for my sins. He came so I would be healed, body, mind, spirit and soul. So that all of me would be reconciled to Him.

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The Tuesday after this last attack, I went running for the first time. I laced up my red Merril tennis shoes and pulled on my boyfriends sweatshirt. And with my heart beating a little too fast, I took my first shaky steps out the door.

One minute on, one minute off. That’s how this particular “start-to-run” plan works. So one minute at a time, I ran, waiting for the minute where my lungs would sieze and refuse to work.

It never came.

I’m two weeks into this running plan, with about six to go. It’s training for a 5k run, which, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. But to me, right now, it’s something. It’s a big something. It’s a big victory.

It’s taking back something the enemy stole from me. It’s reclaiming territory that he’s been illegally camping out on for a really long time. Let’s be real, it’s been fun to watch him run in terror.

Because this time, I get to chase him.

God of the Present Tense

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I haven’t written much.

I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.

Sorry not sorry.

I’ve been sowing in tears. A lot of tears. In fact, I’ve said–more than once and only half joking–that I’ve gone from being a girl who never cried to being “The Girl Who Cries At Everything.”

I spent the majority of last weekend yelling at the top of my lungs at a God I was finally brave enough to be mad at. I drove across one of many bridges in my town, hysterical sobs finally leaking out of my body as I clung to my steering wheel. I turned into a Starbucks parking lot and pulled the emergency brake on my life.

I sat and sobbed for an hour, finally uncaring that half my office had picked that particular day to go to that particular Starbucks. It didn’t matter. I was over trying to keep it all together.

For once, the grief was just too much.

Can I just tell you what a relief it was to cry about it? There were events grieved last week that haven’t ever been grieved, not in the twenty years I’ve faced them.

Not one tear. Not one time. Not ever.

And to be honest, even in the middle of that cryfest, I didn’t really feel God there. I knew He was, but I didn’t actually feel Him. I screamed and sobbed and begged questions that are small to write here–questions like “why?”–but have such incredible, horrible implications when I think of their context.

But what happened in those hours of sobbing was a breaking off, not a breaking into.

 

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This idea that I’m not allowed to grieve the things I’m grieving got broken off. Because what I’d done in not allowing myself to cry was the emotional equivalent of building a giant cement bunker sixty feet underground and labeling it “radioactive waste” and then acknowledging its existence as if I didn’t have the option of it every going away.

The grieved things are–honestly–radioactive waste that has seeped into every inch of who I am, trying to poison me, to give me incurable cancer. And if I kept ignoring this little voice that something could be different, if I kept listening to the enemy, maybe that would be true.

But something got broken off on Saturday and–Praise God–it hasn’t come back yet. It’s not going to define my future.

Because even though I didn’t feel Him, I know He was there, working and healing. Even when the feelings aren’t there I can hold onto what I know is true. That He is good. And He is faithful. And He is present.

He is “God near at hand”, not “God far away”.

He isn’t just going to break off the cement bunkers. He’s going to till up the soil it stood on and turn it into a garden. He’s doing it. And what I’ve sown in tears, I know I will reap in joy.

The harvest is going to be abundant, but for now, His goodness is showing through my broken pieces.

 

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Open Heart, Empty Hands.

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A few weeks ago, Junior came into my office and sat down. He looked at me, face intent. “I want you to do something for me.”

I tried not to laugh; he looked so serious. “Of course,” I said. “What?”

“Write me an email describing dependance and empowerment.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “Ok, sure. Why?”

“Tell you when you write it,” he said, and promptly got up and left.

Thoughts on dependance have been following me through my days ever since. I think I wrote him an answer about a little girl in Alotenango, Guatemala–which he’ll use to for his class–who will always be the face of hunger for me, about feeling helpless and having to trust God in the face of an absolutely hopeless situation.

I meant to leave it there, but the question of dependence keeps creeping up on me. It keeps showing up in every situation, giving me more visuals of what it looks like to be dependent.

It looks like the month I didn’t get to hear his voice for weeks at a time.

And it looks like the day my tire blew on the way to work and the mechanic told me I had to get four new ones.

And it really looks like this Sunday, when I woke up feeling so much pressure that my chest felt like it was going to collapse from the weight of it.

There is an ache in this kind of life, because it means that I have to continually give up my (overwhelming and epic) desire for control. It requires me to wake up, morning after morning, with an open heart and empty hands, believing Psalm 32:8 with everything in me.

“I [the LORD] will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”

Lately, it means that every morning, when I talk to the LORD, I put my palms face up on my lap and whisper an old Quaker prayer. “Whatever you put into my hands today, LORD, I receive.” And then, turning them over, “Whatever you take from my hands I release.”

And I am not even close to perfectly dependent, or even perfectly obedient to be so. But I am willing to learn dependence. If this week is any indication, the LORD is equally willing to teach me.