October 31, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 29} :: If you ...

When you start living loved, you find new room to breathe. Because the opposite of living loved is living claustrophobic ... all closed up in fear. Ann Voskamp says "fear is the notion that God's goodness ends."

I don't think I ever believed God's goodness would end ... maybe just hover on the verge of drying up. Figured He would eventually get tired ... of same ol' me.

Because we can know gospel truth, but not really live it.

I spent so much of my young life becoming an approval addict, trying to grasp at praise from others in order to be okay. By the time I was a young-married, I still wasn't sure who I was if someone didn't tell me. I had found freedom in so many areas and I was living whole, behaviorally speaking. But sometimes the heart is the last to catch up and I job- hopped every year or so ... unsure of what I had to offer or what I was made for.

I worked in different places, alongside Todd in ministry and in the hospitals too. I was great with kids and good at nursing skills, but I couldn't self critique and couldn't handle ambiguous feedback. Couldn't handle a 90-day review, never knew where I stood.

And ICU and Labor and Delivery didn't have time to coddle a girl who didn't know her own abilities. I could deliver a baby if the doctor didn't show and I could rally at a Code Blue but I couldn't look my supervisor in the eyes, speak up at a staff meeting. And when the praise didn't come and fill me up on cue, I filled in my own gaps. I assumed failure ... wore it like a brick and apologized for all the gifts I didn't posses.

I cried to my dad, asked him why it was so hard to be confident, sure. Asked if he was still proud.

I knew I was good at spending time with kids, but good at being a nurse? I was like a tiny-framed girl in front of a mirror ... seeing only curvy flaws, bulging imperfections. And when I spoke of my work with adolescents as my reasonable act of worship? God showed me that later. It didn't start out that way. Not by a long shot.

When I wandered onto that unit for misbehaving teens, I believed it to be a second rate job. While all of my peers worked in the NICU and the PICU and on the cancer unit at King's Daughter's, I believed I was hiding out right where I belonged. I never wanted to be a nurse anyway, I said. I just wanted to rock babies in Africa. I just wanted to be a mother.

And I had no psychiatric experience ... just my own story of being lost, of too much and not enough food. Therapy. Support group.

This place felt sort of like redemption.

On my very first day, a kid eloped onto the roof and two girls punched and kicked each other on the floor. This work was not glamorous and I was intimidated. Everything in me said "bail out." I was sure I would fail. Someone bet I wouldn't last two weeks.

But I had an odd sense I was on sacred ground and for the first time in my short, working career I committed to not running scared. I thought maybe this place had something to offer me. Could I slow down, receive it?

I worried I wasn't strong enough to be there in the murky water of psychology and trauma and disturbing behavior. I cried in the car and kept bible verses in my pocket ... don't be afraid, be courageous, offer yourself as a living sacrifice, my grace is sufficient, we do not have a spirit of fear, whatever you did for the least of these ...

And my crazy friend Kathy prayed me into work on the phone and called to check in after long nights. She understood the struggle somehow, offered encouragement from a distance.

I wrote words like these in journals, asking for enough integrity, enough grace to stay healthy, stay brave. I want to love kids from a place of wholeness. This can't be about finding me. Jesus, you already did that. Right?

I started handing myself over, one eight-hour shift at a time. I said "no" to old patterns when anxiety welled up and I turned off old tapes that said I couldn't succeed, couldn't lead. I wavered, got tired, and the change was slow. Real. I spoke up and I began to advocate for the children. I watched them, listened, looked into their faces. I started loving them from a real place without an agenda. 

The job became a privilege and while I wasn't there full time, I spent my whole self when I walked through those doors: physical, emotional, spiritual. I logged a lot of miles walking up and down those halls and when I crawled into bed at 2 a.m. my legs ached. I went to bed offering up their names.

I would study Beth Moore later that year and she would quote Isaiah 58:9-10. Call it our "prescription for recovery..."

For the first time in years I fell asleep with with someone else's healing on my mind ... instead of my own performance. Someone else's need ... instead of my own lack.

I fell asleep thankful with a hand wide open, asking Him for more. More energy, more compassion, more grace. Because when you finally start to live loved, you finally have something to give away.

And if you trade in your oppression and spend yourself , in turn, on the oppressed ...

then ...

We'll finish up tomorrow, friends! Day 30 and 31 for a total of 31 posts in 32 days. You have been so dear and this has been hard! And while the old Abby might have focused on running a day (or two) late, I am celebrating a big win on the court of courage. Thanks for grace and for walking this road ... 

October 29, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 28} :: Live loved (part 2)

Back up two years and I am carrying baby number three in my belly. I am tending to little children at home and caring for big children at work. I am worn out and when fatigue sets in, fear becomes my  default. I worry all over again about doing and being enough. It is getting the best of me and I feel like I am living with tunnel vision. Sometimes we just lose perspective.

We just need to be refreshed.

My husband reads me like a book and he knows when I am all poured out. For two years I follow this woman, each night, from my computer screen and she writes words that usher me closer to Jesus. In the morning, I kiss him goodbye and speak of a weekend retreat that is full ... she will be there. I sigh. "Oh well," I say.

It is ten hours later when he walks in the front door, tells me I am all signed up. "But how," I ask. He replies with that matter of fact grin. "Sometimes you just need to let me love you."

There are just a few odd factors ...

"You have to go to Arkansas," he says. "And the retreat is silent. And it is in a monastery. I think you should go..."

The whole thing is crazy but he makes a weekend plan for himself and the girls. He writes me a letter that reads, Just go feel loved. Go get some perspective.

So I get on a plane on my birthday with a big baby bulge and then I drive curvy roads with spotty GPS, into nowhere Arkansas. I cry nervous tears and can't remember why this was a good idea. When I arrive, the ladies are lovely. We will begin silence after dinner, get all our talking out over chicken and rolls. Tea.

Her plane is late and she isn't there. I watch for her and I don't see her until the next afternoon when we join monks for routine prayer. They gather here five times throughout the day, every day. Their chanting is melodic, rich, and full of truth. The bell tower chimes, calls us together on the hour, and she is sitting head bowed. Listening. Waiting. And for two days we mingle, quiet. Walk the gardens. Browse the bookstore. Stand in meal lines. I watch as she stands still at the end of the hall, in front of a carved picture of the Last Supper. I won't know until she speaks, writes her book, what reminders like these mean for her now... for us.

We eat supper too, awkward together at a round table, meeting eyes and clinking forks on melamine plates. She closes her eyes at dinner, the way she does in the church. Takes it all in.

Three times that weekend she speaks, for all of us. Every time she stands tall to share her words, I am more certain of Him, not by what she says but by what she does. I can see that this is not where she is  comfortable and she admits it freely ... says she feels "safer in story." She does beautifully. She talks of "Eucharisteo," gratitude and grace -- how these words changed her life, how "gratitude always precedes the miracle." She is brave and she is radiant and I believe her.

In my quiet room alone I can't figure out what I am doing there, silent. Is this silly, I wonder? This quiet weekend so far away. With the monks? I know He is asking me to be still, and know.  But what?

I re-read Todd's card. Go. Get refreshed. Know you are loved.

She speaks again, about how, if we will slow and encounter Him, we will really see. See the gifts. And when we see the gifts, we can know with certainty that we are loved. Blessed. She tells of Abraham and of God when He promised, "I will bless you and you will be  a blessing."

She calls this living loved.

And I know why I am there. It is time to slow and take eyes off of me again. See Him. Everywhere and all over this life. She says "our lives bleed story" and I am sure of it that day. I am blessed . I can bless. These are her words and this is a radical change in living. She teaches us at a horseshoe table to record our gifts so that we may begin to see. My list of 1000 begins that day.

1. husband who loves to be dad
2. anticipation of spring
3. new kindred friends.
4. revisiting old places
5. little girl voices on phone
6. coffee warm and good
7. words that inspire
8. new journal filling page by page
9. tiny boy growing in womb
10. pictures of babes eating donuts
11. warm green house and thoughts of a garden
12. bell chimes on the hour
13. sweet inspired Ann
14. fresh words from the Father
15. learning to live loved ...

I hug her and He has woven her a special place in my little story. She won't know what this time has meant, what her living brave has done for me. What it will do for so many. I fly home to my love and to my life. I am a little lighter. "I am blessed. I can bless ..." (Ann Voskamp)

I pray you stop by at A Holy Experience where Ann whispers pure beauty and grace, daily. For His sake, and for us too. And her book, One Thousand Gifts? Reading it and giving it away this past year has been one of my greatest joys. Again, be blessed.  

October 28, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 27} :: Live loved (part 1)

I have been a journal writer for as long as I have been able to write. Anything significant in this little life has been scribbled down somewhere, in some fashion. I can't make sense of anything otherwise.

I have been painfully private for equally as long. I have opted out of every peer revision group, from middle school until recently. This says more about my fear and upside-down pride than anything else ... never wanting to risk humiliation, criticism. Never wanting to be wrong.

Truth is, I am wrong all the time.

And this fear of critique has extended well beyond my make-believe writing life. This fear has kept me living afraid in all areas. Quiet and choosing the back row. It has kept me mysterious and noncommittal. It has kept me safe and mediocre. And a little bit flighty ... because people don't expect too much from the flighty girl.

I have heard bad habits die hard, and this fear has been a killer to kill. Over the summer, I read that only cowards "under-promise and over-deliver." This is who I have been.

He is growing me up.

And now? I am learning to live unafraid. I am learning to live loved. 

And this journey is wrapping up faster than I can write and I am more tired than I ever thought I would be. Still, I have to walk you back a few paces. I have to introduce you to someone.   

We all have pivotal moments in this life. Moments that make perfect sense and moments that pave the way, open our eyes. Some of those moments include people.

And this woman has been like a distant, kindred friend-- etching His words onto my heart and I haven't been the same. Truly. She has become part of my story ... like so many who, by sharing their own lives, bring us closer to the full life too.

I know you will be blessed.

October 27, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 26} :: Invest well

I have two unlikely friends.

One is practical and cerebral and her ability to make decisions intimidates.  She is a fierce mama and she loves her boys, her sports. She does what she says she will do, even when I do not. She offers grace by remaining faithful, steady. She is comitted to knowing truth. She loves Jesus and she loves people.

I don't know how we became friends, frankly, being so different. In my earlier days, she was the girl I was afraid of. Confident and sure and outspoken. She out-spoke herself right into my quiet life.

The other friend, she inspires me. She laughs loud and asks great questions and makes me feel worthy of time ... wants to share my life in every way, even with states between us now. She is energizing and tireless and brave in the way she gives herself to people. She isn't into appearances, status ... all those silly games we play. She is refreshing to the core and I often miss her bad. She sees big picture and she always comes back to the bottom line. Always. She loves Jesus and she loves people.

I don't know how we became friends, frankly, being so different. Before we had babies together, we only held ministry in common. But then we nursed our infants in shared space, pushed strollers in the morning cold ... comitted to doing-life together.

 These ladies have taught me how to spend this life, how to invest well. In relationship.  

You may know by now that I am a (recovering) perfectionist and that means I don't want you to come over if my house is a mess. And if you catch me off guard, show up anyway, I tend to apologize profusely... sure you might love me a little less. I miss opportunities because I over think.

Enter these two gals who crash into my life and into my home and they just don't care if my kitchen is wrecked. Or my heart. Let's get to the issue, they say. Let's just go zero to sixty. They call at crazy times and hang up too fast if something else comes up. This used to bug me. Now I feel so loved, because there is freedom to be me. Freedom to check in real quick and hang up again and know the friendship is real, stable, not dependent on the minors ... like etiquette or a clean home.

But really, the main reason I adore them? They choose relationship every time. "Will this decision serve or grow my relationship with people and with Jesus?" If not? It's an easy call. And these ladies live simply because when relationships are priority, much falls to the wayside. Much
Days become richer. Stress over schedules, possessions, and the future seems to dissipate.

Decisions become easier with far fewer factors weighing in. Inconvenience? For the sake of relationship? Bring it on, they say. Saying "no" for the sake of relationship? No question. And I have come to realize one thing: they don't live this way because of their extroverted personalities or their great need to go and do. They are not martyrs. I believe they live this way because they choose to follow Jesus when He said to "love God and then love your neighbor."

And sometimes choosing relationships means choosing what is hard. But I hear my friends ask the same questions, over and over again: Will this serve relationship? With God? With the people I love? With the people I am called to love? 

I am learning. I am learning to choose relationship with God and people over pride and insecurity, over my schedule or routine. Over myself. This is not natural and this is not easy. But it is beautiful, it is rich, it is worthy of energy and time. It looks a million different ways on a million different days and it is what He told us to do.

And I wonder. Could I live this way? As a person who chooses God and people time and time again? 

These ladies have been beautiful teachers, modeling well by following hard after Him ... who first chose us over everything.

And there are so many more ... beautiful women woven all throughout this life. Some so kindred they nearly share this heart and brain and I ache for them. Some so remarkable, so humble, I am sure they know a Jesus I only long to know. Some so hilarious and real and available, I crave their otherness and they fill up places I didn't know were thirsty. Pure gift, all of them. And I suppose this is how it ought to be ... this family of unlikely friends.

We choose Him and then we choose each other: when it is extravagant, when it is costly, when we are not the same. Jesus said, always relationship.

This is a life well spent. 

This is Day 26 of 31. Come follow here as this journey wraps up. Thank you a million times for coming back each day, for walking this road with me. You are sweet friends and I have learned so much. Say hello if you've been reading @ abbyelli@gmail.com ?? Remembering this is not about me, but about a big God who loves His people. Peace, all.  

October 26, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 25} :: On People ...

Friends came over last night and we sipped coffee and they talked about family... how it can be sad sometimes and just feel all wrong. They told about parents who left gaping holes.

How mixed-up love can sometimes go bad and leave you wide open ... lacking.

And we talked redemption and healing and the evening ended with Jesus.

But I couldn't help but think back to last year:

I'm at work on a Wednesday and I walk through the locked metal door. That all-star therapist peeks her  head out and stands to meet me. I adore her and she doesn't give herself enough credit. The work she does...

She pulls me aside to tell me that "my girl" is waiting for me today... to be ready. I haven't walked on the hall yet. I call it The Gauntlet because once I step across that line into visible space, they descend. The teenage girls who live here all day, every day, will flock like gulls and I need a report from the off-going crew. Then I'll take a deep breath. Go.

"She just spoke with her mom," the therapist says. "She will give up custody. Just isn't invested."

I sigh, drop shoulders.

"You just need to be prepared," she tells me. "And I'm glad you're here tonight. For her."

I nod. I know.

And when I step onto the unit, I see her there in her usual place. She is pacing, leaning into the cinder block wall ... shoulder rubbing, holding her up as she goes. This is what she does when she needs to work through a moment, to decide what she will do next.

I know her. She will pound her fist and the tears will come. And after that it depends on who is around, to talk her down ... or up. And it could be any one of these sensational staff who does either.

It is like Russian roulette.

I walk to med room, count narcotics. Check all things check-worthy. I hear her. She is pounding now and this is always the part when they look to me.

"What do you want to do , Ms. Abby?"

And when all eyes are on me I wince. I am not a decision maker but this job has pushed me, like a shove in the back with whiplash, into a leader role. This hospital policy will allow for "hands-on" if a child is unsafe and this is a big deal.

Because this is some one's child.

Whether they want to relinquish custody or not ... this is some one's child.

And I sometimes wonder what I am even doing here.

I should be home with my own.

And so I don't jump too quickly. I know she can work this out, but she hits the side of her fist on hard wall now. She keeps breaking her hand and how do I not get excited, talk her down?

What do I know of mothers who abandon?

I decide to join her. Find her stride. Wave everyone off. We will do this together.
Tears are streaming and she says she's trying to use her skills. She bites her shirt and I laugh and tell her not to eat through another one-- her chin all tucked inside with wet ring on cotton. We threw her other shirt away just last week.

I tell her to stop pounding, tell her I don't feel like sending her out again for x-rays. She smiles and it's a good sign. She links both her arms around my one, latches on tight. We are in step and she slows ... asks if she can show me something. I wait to be invited into her room and when I enter in and look, I am stunned.

There on four walls, nearly top to bottom, are pictures: of mothers and babies.

Mothers holding babies. Mothers cradling babies. Mothers kissing babies.

White walls covered in mother love and I am blown away. On every picture, ripped from trendy magazines, she has written her name. She has named them ... given every infant on the wall her own birth name.

They are all her: held, cradled, kissed.

This long neglected seventeen year-old girl sits on edge of bed and tells me how she feels. She used to shut down, flail, and fight. She couldn't make a request ... didn't feel worthy of one. She used a pacifier to soothe herself to sleep. And now? I listen and realize how far she has come in these months. She has made poor choices, yes, but she is learning.

She pulls up sleeves, shows me her pain in black ink-- every wrong word in every which way. This is what she calls herself and I offer to help her clean up, to help her replace those words with words that are true. We walk to sink and make water warm...find good soap.

I  rinse black expletives and hurt down the drain and soothe with encouragement. Compassion.

I glance up for paper towel and her affirmation list catches my eye: her reminders displayed in a prominent place.

1. I am lovable
2. I am a good girl.
3. I am safe here.
4. I can ask for what I need.
5. I can say how I feel.
6. I am beautiful.
7. I will be a good mother...

I will be a good mother...

I read her ball-point scrawl on paper on mirror and I am undone. I hold my breath and my face gets hot and these white walls are moving.

How inadequate I can feel at this mothering profession and here I am, linking arms with a girl who just wants the time back ... just wants it to look different.

This mother-longing has worn her right through, hollowed her out, laid her bare.

And I brace myself in that moment, one hand on counter and one hand on hers.
I look her straight in the eyes and I tell her.

"You will be." I say. Her eyes ask the question.

"You will be a good mother."

She falls apart and falls into this shoulder and this mother-nurse plants feet firm and waits out the storm.

And I know this lacking will end with her. 

Because He can make all things new and He can graft us in to new family and she can be the first to offer a different kind of parent-love.  

That night she waits at her door, leans into hallway and asks to say prayers.

I enter in again and she takes the lead.
She says the Lord's Prayer.
She reads Psalm 145.

"One generation will commend your works to another... the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."

I turn out her light and tell her she did great work today.

And she sleeps under dreams on walls of what could have been ... dreams of what will be. I marvel at how far she has come. I offer her up and I am spent ...

And this is how it goes.

Because we spend our whole lives on people. We don't always relate, but we enter in. We don't always know what to do, but we walk alongside. We point people back to Him when they become muddled, hazy grey, and we ask them to do the same for us. We offer hope. We live out this hope together, side by side, every single day. Because, really, this is what life is about.


And it was all for the love of people that He came down ...

October 25, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 24} :: Live expectant

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ..." Romans 1:20

Look up and around today? Live expectant, see Him everywhere? This is a day worth spending ... with eyes wide open.

October 24, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 23} :: Reasonable Worship

We had been married for ten days when we packed up a U-Haul and drove the eighteen hours to our new life. Together.

We lived above the best restaurant in town with a private staircase leading straight into the dining room, all dressed in white linen. Too many nights we used that private entrance and helped ourselves to a table and a cheesy biscuit. The waiter would slow down, turn and wonder from where we had come. 

We were new to this obedient life. We were new to this married life. We were new to this small, southern town life. We were vulnerable and hopeful and naive about covenant love and ministry. We did a lot of things wrong ... sometimes went to bed angry; sometimes spent too much time loving teenagers and not enough time loving each other; sometimes skipped church. We were aliens and we gushed about our colonial town in the fall and the candles in the windows during winter. They gushed about high school football ... and college football. And they were beautiful people who loved us well.

But it was hard. So much new. So far away. I wavered in all of the new. But I had a deep sense of His goodness over this life too and I had a new focus. I battled. But I didn't fall.

Because I had been miserable. I had felt afflicted. I had been all locked up in my own messed-up living and He had shown compassion. Now I was living in relief and in gratitude. (See Romans 11:32-12:1) I didn't really know how to love teenagers from a ministry model. I just knew I did love them.
Truth is, there were so many people in my life along the way until that point. So many women that loved me regardless of the struggle or the choices. So many people, just one step ahead, that assured me by their living, and by their love, that it was worth it to keep choosing Jesus.

I had all these markers in the road along the way. People who had shared their lives. With me.
I wanted to be a marker on some one's road. I wanted to love kids regardless of their struggles or choices. I was good at this: good at entering into relationships, good at offering safe space. I was good at listening and showing compassion, telling them about a relentless God who pursues and who has a plan. Todd was good at this too. Gifted really. So we lived out our thanks together.

And several years later after leaving Arkansas and returning "home," I found myself frustrated while building a resume. I am all over the place, I thought. Who will hire me with a job history that looks like a three-ring circus? I felt like a failure after trying and not succeeding in the intensive care unit, on the night shift with too many buttons and too much beeping, too much equipment. That dim hall was too quiet for hours with complicated IV mixtures and unpredictable moments. 

In the mean time, I met with eight girls once a week. We were still meeting together three years later. They were darling and mixed up and rock-solid. I just adored them and they knew it.

I tried out labor and delivery downtown and migrated to the teenage moms who arrived and left again in the same pair of size 4 jeans. Ate lollipops while they labored and laughed with girlfriends and mothers and no daddies. They called me a good nurse but I just adored them and they knew it.

I taught french and algebra for a year. And we laughed and I was terrible at controlling a classroom. They called me a good teacher but I just adored them and they knew it.

Then I had my first baby and it was the most natural thing I had experienced yet, this little person with little fat fingers and thighs. She traveled with me to bible study and we slept on that crazy striped couch, watched Gilmore Girls. I hoped she was the beginning of my own little posse because I just adored her and I think she knew it.

Next, I coached gymnastics for two years and I bounced around with little, strong gals in leotards. We laughed too and I worked them to the bone. They called me a good coach but I just adored them and they knew it.

When we finally decided it was time for me to be a nurse again, I wondered where I would end up, literally. I had learned by now that the ER and the ICU with all of their alarms and tubes and necessary type A-ness were not for me. I had been a coach and a teacher and a mentor and a mom... 

And I realized that while my jobs were sporadic at best, they all had one thing in common: I had a little flock everywhere I went. I had been graced in each place to love and encourage kids, at every point along the way.

So when the nurse manager for a residential behavioral health center looked at my resume, she was kind, to say the least. I was surprised, then, when she stood up and gave me a big, rib-popping hug. She looked at me and said "I just have a feeling about you. You are just who I need."

And then she offered me a job.

This job was the beginning of a love for a group of kids I hadn't thought about or encountered. The more hours I spent with them, the more I saw myself in their faces. And I knew it was only by grace that I...

And when you know you have been loved well along the way, it is only reasonable to give that love back. When affliction has been relieved by compassion, it makes sense to dole it out again by the bushel. I was all mixed up once and He showed me how to love every little mixed-up guy and girl that came my way. For four years, I just adored them. And they knew it.

This job made me tired and sleepless at times. It was a strain on my husband. It was a burden and I carried their stories. It was sacrificial and it became a family affair.

All this, because it was natural. It was logical. It was reasonable worship.

What about you? Have you been loved well? Have you been relieved? Freed up? Have you discovered this reasonable worship? And naturally, I am speaking of offering ourselves back to Him, not to a job, per se. But doesn't it all mix together somehow? Spill over into everything ...

 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is our spiritual act of worship..."

October 23, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 22} :: When it is reasonable, part 1

I stumbled upon him this evening and I was elated.  I love all of what they do ... the impact.
The enormous gift they are giving to so many!

And I love him too, because it is all so logical. And it's where my heart wanted to take us next.
In view of where he was, his work now is very... reasonable.

This is a small attempt to catch up a bit... stop by later and I'll follow this up before evening. Peace, friends. We are on Day 22 of 31 and it's all wrapping up. You have been so wonderful.  

October 22, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 21} :: What happens when ...

I knew I would be ... when I pre-ordered her book last month.

I knew I would be completely overcome.

It came in the mail yesterday. I have spent most of this day reading and crying. And reading. And crying.

Because really, isn't she doing what we're talking about? Spending her life?

This little gal is wise beyond her years and she is "living the secret."

If you were here last month, then you have seen her -- her beautiful story. Watch again anyway? Perhaps order the book too? Support her at Amazima? Pray.

Be blessed and be changed, friends.

October 21, 2011

Spend Yourself {Day 20} :: Live your story

We all want to encounter God. We were made for this interchange, this collision of human and divine. The created intermingling with the Creator.

When I was in high school, I sat in the popular girl's basement with my closest friends, watching college kids act crazy and I listened as they told about Jesus. I remember the tall, good-looking leader and I can still hear him reading, "What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

I don't know how many times I heard about that God-shaped-vacuum in my heart that could only be filled by Him.  And in my teenage neuroses, I thought I knew a lot ... about this God.

And when I heard the college kids tell their stories, I wanted to have a story to tell.
Because that's who we are. All of us. We want a story too.

And too often I want a story that isn't mine. I think I see a "really good life" and I think I want in. I forget what I have and I want what wasn't purposed for me.

I forget that we all have our own stories and we have our own lives. They are happening now and all around and He is in them. Can you see Him?

Jesus, who calms the storms and turns water into wine, is at work right now and He is all about your life. It looks different than mine and mine looks different than hers but He is all over them both. He is really, really big that way. And he is really, really personal.

I had some friends once and they were friends of the road. We spent time together at camp and then across the state lines, doing the same work. Then we moved and our lives didn't intersect again. Years later, I heard of them through channels and their lives had changed. They had mourned and they had buried a child and I hadn't known. I read their story and I was awestruck. Moved. Changed.

Because I had a young child too and my mama-fear had skyrocketed and I worried too much and what if-ed, cried in a counselor's office about feeling crazy.  I fell asleep reciting this every. single. night. Couldn't bear the thought of losing her and couldn't keep my mind from going to crazy places. 

Then their story ... and I watched this over and over again and my anxiety didn't worsen. Strangely, it was relieved. All I can say is that their beautiful journey of grief and grace changed me.

Jesus all over their lives changed me...

And after all of their loss and all of my fear, I wanted to know God the way they knew Him. I envied their faith.

He whispered soft and direct ... "Could you walk their storm? This story has cost them greatly."

And I realized that He had written something different for my life. He was accomplishing great things through them, in their sadness and in their courage, and it wasn't for me. But it was ...

Do you hear what I'm saying, friend? You have a story.

And when you let Him move all over it, encounter Him in it, your life will be a vessel of blessing. Others will see you, read your story all over the walls of your living and. be. changed. 

Who is this man that calls to the wind and the waves? He is God who came down to make himself known and He encountered every one He met in a beautiful and profoundly personal way. The God of the universe and the God of our tiny, fleeting lives.

So live your story, friend, and live it well. Let the God who made you be written all over every page. Get freed up from wanting to live like them. That isn't for you. But this life you are living, it matters.

And I need to see you walking with a personal God on the days when I feel all mixed-up and left out. I need reminding that He is still at work. And you help me see Him. And I will repay the favor when you are feeling mixed-up too ...

And to you, friend, if you find yourself walking out a hard chapter just now? Be encouraged. He is in your midst. Oh, don't miss Him ... especially not now. This is an encounter with a holy God.

It is yours alone. And it is for us all.