I recently saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh out loud.

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Genius.

Yes, I don’t run.  I have hard time with it.  I like the idea of running…the cool shoes, the fancy workout clothes, the amazing body that probably comes with it, and the sticker you can put on the back of your car announcing the courageous distances you have conquered.

But I don’t run.  I have a hard time with it.  I have some pretty decent flip-flops and a new shirt that says, “namaste in bed.”  I am slowly beginning to accept the extra 15 lb. around my middle and now I can have a sticker on my car…0.0…and proud.

I am realizing this morning, that I also don’t like to run spiritual races.  I have a hard time with it.

This morning’s verse hit a nerve in my soul, like most morning verses these days:

Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

run

Bleh.  Run.  With endurance.

“With endurance” implies that the race will necessitate endurance.  Which means I probably will have a hard time with it.  This is not a promise for an easy, uplifting Sunday jog.  We are promised vigorous races that we have to “endure”.

Again.  Bleh.

My current house buying experience is asking me to endure changes, instability, lots of waiting, and unending unknowns.  As soon I think I see the finish line ahead of me, I realize I’m only entering a hillside and my vision has been deceived.  As the horizon line swells, the optical illusion is revealed and I watch the finish line disappear behind the mountain.  This race has tricked me, pricked me, and left me exhausted, barely able to catch my breath.

Do you remember the first time your mom or dad stood in the swimming pool and asked you, a trusting child, to jump off the edge into their arms?

As a mom, I now realize what was really happening in that water.  Often, my parent, or older sibling, slowly stepped back forcing me to swim further and longer than I ever expected.  And usually, I ended up a little upset, even if I just doggie-paddled half the length of the pool.

This is me and God right now.  I jumped.  He’s backing up.  And I’m finding my water-legs.  And I’m a little ticked off that now I’ve no option but to learn to swim.  I feel like the whole world is watching, (though I know this is the farthest thing from the truth).  And I feel like God is playing some kind of mean prank…just for laughs.

This season of “homelessness”, living with another family of 6, (two of which are toddlers who have made it their passion to NOT share and to tattle-tale on each other)…this season of multiple closing dates that come and go, all while storing our stuff in 4 places across the city…this season of school supply lists and uniform orders that have no place to be stored except for the front passenger’s seat of my car…this season of suitcases and the same two outfits for over 3 weeks now…this season has tossed me into the race without water, into the pool without a floaty.

I don’t run.  I have hard time with it.

But last night, the couple who has been so generous with us, sharing their home with us, “crazies”, sat down across from us and shared much more.  They shared encouragement from God’s word.  They talked through the decisions that lay before us.  They gave perspective, hope, and most precious of all, witness to God’s faithfulness and sovereignty.

Today’s verse hit a nerve in my soul.

I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, and therefore, I can lay aside all my weight and all my fear and all the doubts that are entangling me.  I am not alone.  And now, the word “endurance” doesn’t stick out and prick my heart quite as much.  It’s a little two letter-word that now catches my eye: “us“.

Let “us” run with endurance.  I don’t run.  I have a hard time with it.  But my wobbly legs and flailing arms are being supported and encouraged and I don’t feel alone.  We run.  We don’t have to have as hard a time with it.

And God stands at the finish line, encouraging me to push through, telling me, “look, you’re doing it!” And, though I’m still a little miffed at the process, I realize I’m finding my legs, my breath, my stroke, and my pace.  I don’t know when I will reach the finish line.  But I do know that struggling along the way will only produce good things, if I allow it.

There are benefits to running.  Cool outfits, slimmer waistlines, and stickers that bear witness to the lengths that have been endured.  Spiritual running is no different.

romans 5

 (Romans 5:3-5)

 

 

This morning as we left the house for school, I was determined to make it in record time.  Due to the recent flooding in our area, our morning commute had increased dramatically.  I’ve had the Waze app on my phone for some time now, but have only been using it for trips into downtown Houston, (because attempting to drive into that without help is downright scary).

When I typed in the address of the school, Waze reassured me it could lead us there in 35 minutes.  (The day before, it took us an hour and a half).  The kids and I laughed.

“Do you think it will work, Mom?”

“If this works, it will be a miracle from Jesus.”, I said.

So off we went.

If you’ve ever used Waze, you soon learn that it requires an incredible amount of trust.  It will send you in the opposite direction, down dark alley ways, through someone’s backyard, and then ask you at the drop of a hat to turn around and retrace your tracks.  But any user of the app will tell you, “you’ve got to just trust the wisdom of Waze”.

See, the app keeps track of traffic, accidents, inoperable lights…all of it.  Plus, it knows how fast you and other Waze users are moving.  So, in an instant, it knows when changes occur.  Immediately, it calculates when changing your route all together is time-efficient. And sometimes, it sends you in the opposite direction to have you arrive at your final destination faster.

This morning, Waze led us through small winding streets, on the Hwy headed south (when ultimately we wanted to go north), and zig-zagging neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed.

As we turned off one little street onto the next, we suddenly saw it: yard after yard filled with rolled up carpet, dismantled wood flooring, piles of sheetrock, and couches stacked upon one another.  Kids were waiting in their front yards for the school bus next to piles of destroyed belongings.

It took us by surprise.

The car fell silent.

All the air was sucked into our lungs by our gasps.

Eventually, someone broke the quiet.

“I wish we could do something.”

Suddenly, our commuting challenges of the past few days didn’t matter.  The unacknowledged rains of last night (the ones we slept through), now seemed cruel and  senseless.

“Kids, if it hadn’t been for Waze, I wouldn’t have even known this was back here.”

“Maybe Jesus is in Waze, Mom.”

Maybe.  I don’t think He is literally living in the phone app.  However, I think Jesus absolutely used Waze this morning to guide us down a path of humility, compassion, and gratitude…the ways of Jesus.

As we continued to follow the directions offered by my phone, we saw house after house, family after family in need.  We discussed plans to come back after school, maybe toting pizzas, or cleaning supplies, or just prayers and consolation.  The kids were no longer arguing about who ate the last breakfast bar or debating whose fault it was that we left 10 minutes late that morning.  Our hearts had been shifted.  Our perspective had been flipped.  My words came back to me: “If this works, it will be a miracle from Jesus.”

Jesus, in all His ways, miraculously turns our selfish hearts outwards towards others.Tweet: Jesus, in all His ways, miraculously turns our selfish hearts outwards towards others. #WAZEofJesus  The Holy Spirit guides us down paths previously unseen.Tweet: The Holy Spirit guides us down paths previously unseen. #WAZEofJesus

But if we don’t trust Him, in all His seemingly awkward and backwards-pointing directions, we just might miss the opportunity for a dramatic change of heart.  We might miss the hurting and the broken.  We might miss a whole world of opportunity to serve as the Church.

When we don’t trust His promptings, we find ourselves taking our route back into our own tight-gripped hands, only to be frustratingly locked in a spiritual stand still.Tweet: We find ourselves taking our route into our own tight-gripped hands,only to be frustratingly locked in spiritual stand still #theWAZEofJesus

Think of Noah.  Think of Jonah.  Think of Lot.  Think of Jesus!  “Go towards the cross…”, even when Jesus asked the Father for a different way.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act in specific ways–to head in a specific direction.  But I’ve been putting action off, straight-up ignoring His voice, and allowing myself to be distracted by the selfish conveniences of life.  Today’s little adventure to school not only filled our car with compassion, launching us into a plan for service, but it also helped fix my eyes on Jesus…His voice, His direction, and His ways.

(And we got to school in 35 minutes.)

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4).Tweet:

 

Just before Easter, I found out that CrossBooks, the self-publishing arm of Lifeway, is closing it’s doors at the end of the month.  It was a shocker, seeing as I had just arranged with them to have a book-signing at the Southern Baptist Convention later this summer.  Now, that opportunity is cancelled and the printing of my book will be put on hold while all the ins-and-outs are transferred over to another publishing company.

I didn’t see this little bump coming.  In fact, just the week before, I was so encouraged by multiple chance-meetings, conversations, and opportunities, that I felt as though I was reaching the summit of a new peak.  Little did I know, that I was merely rounding the foothills of a great chain of mountains that lie ahead.

What do we do in these moments–when all seems to be rapidly advancing forward, only to abruptly stop at a standstill?  If we are on the highway, we might have a few choice words for the situation.  If we are distracted, maybe texting while driving, we might find ourselves up the rear bumper of those in front of us.  If we are alert and aware that the highway is an unpredictable environment, then we allow time to avoid collision and can bluetooth Siri for an alternate route.

This past week, I was excited about getting to the final destination.  I was looking at the horizon, dreaming of the Dairy Queen that lay just beyond…

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…and I was aggressively driving to get there.  I wasn’t noticing the Bluebonnets or the Indian Paintbrush.  I wasn’t aware of the other drivers or the chance of construction on the future 5-mile stretch.  So when traffic came to a halt, I reacted with a few choice words and a little bit of panic.

Have you ever thought about the highway journeys found in Scripture?  Consider Moses:  From birth, he was removed from the solid arms of his mother and put into a wobbly river-born basket.  He grew up in a palace, rapidly advancing in the Egyptian hierarchy.  He was unaware, however, that the fast-paced, golden overpass he was traveling was about to run out of asphalt.  He ended up in the desert, running as a former adopted child to a king, reeling from the reveal of his true biological make-up and the guilt of his actions.  He was not who he thought he was.  He was taken in by tent-living nomads who tended to sheep.  It would appear Moses was on a completely different route, living a new life, perhaps even happy to seek a new dream.  Then he found himself literally on a mountain.  It was there that a burning bush smart-phone redirected him back to Egypt, back to the palace, but with a completely new role.

How awkward that first reuniting with his adoptive brother, Pharaoh, must have been.   How awkward getting to know his biological brother, Aaron, as they took on a seemingly impossible adventure together.  None of it was the path that Moses envisioned for himself.  He was in an unpredictable environment.  None of it was comfortable or ideal.  His 10-year plan, likely drafted within advanced Egyptian architecture, probably didn’t include a Midian wife, a shepherd’s/farmer’s-tan, and a plague-ridden squabble of “LET GO!” with his older childhood brother.

I am amazed when I think about the lifespan of Moses…all that he went through, all the different roles he filled, and all the things he must have seen.  Even more awe-inspiring to me is how God used a man who lorded over His own people to later free His people.  Just like Saul, God used a man who was an enemy to become the greatest advocate.

My road has been bumpy…and not just with publishers and book stuff.  I’ve been the worst of enemies with those who God is calling me to advocate for–my husband, my children, …my self.  The lies that I believe about my identity tell me that I belong to a worldly dynasty, entitled to riches and authority.  I have lorded over my own people.  I have not been kind.  We all do this, right?  We all believe the lies of entitlement.  We all abuse those closest and dearest.

But we are not destined to this…

There is hope.

God has a plan to remove us off the interstate leading to creamy soft-serve, where we are likely weak to over-indulge and cut in line.  He sits us in a desert and gives us sheep to watch.  He leads us to green pastures.  He calls us by new names and reminds us of our true identity.

Then…

He sends us to a mountain.

He asks us to recall where we’ve been and redirects us to a path that is a divine mashup of all we have ever been with all that we are to become.  He takes the stuff that shames us and pushes us forward with wisdom gained and connections built.  Rather than a fancy headdress and a royal polished crook and flail, He adorns us with humble sandals and a shepherd’s knotty staff in hand.

I don’t know where I am headed, or at what pace I am supposed to walk.  However, I have been reminded of who I am.  I have been retaught of where I have been and where I currently pause.  I stand, waiting in the cleft of a mountain, for the still small voice or the burning bush…whatever He has for me.  And when He says whatever He has to say to me, I pray I move with confident hustle, even though awkwardness and discomfort are inevitable.  I ask that He continue to remind me that every place I’ve been and have yet to  go is preparing and shaping me for one purpose and one goal…to bring news of freedom to those who are enslaved.  He is grooming me with all that I need to reach those to whom He has called me.

Moses didn’t go to Dairy Queen…right away.  He was first diverted off the path, given all that was necessary to get him there for more than just ice-cream…for the milk and honey sweetness of freedom for God’s people.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”   

Psalm 25:5 

Day 20: Trampolines

Spring Break is officially half spent. All we’ve done is sleep in and have people over. It’s time to get out. The kids have been begging to go to JumpStreet, a trampoline park. So we added trampolines to Lent.

The older three headed to the main section of the park while Judah and I hit the “7 and under” area. I put him down in front of the trampoline, took my seat on the floor against the wall, and told him, “jump.” He looked at me with an impish smile, looked back at the trampoline, and ran into my lap. I stood him up, pointed to one of the dozen inflatable balls lying around and again said, “Go…jump.” He got up and ran to get a ball that was in the middle of the trampoline, but abruptly stopped at its edge, curling his tiny toes to keep from falling.

He surveyed the land for a bit, walked over to the space in between the brightly colored trampolines, and slowly lowered one foot on its rigid surface. Then, he slowly walked, one foot strategically placed in front of the other, down the one-foot-wide green non-bouncy strip.  Like a tightrope walker, he methodically ventured. He paused as he came parallel to the ball in the center of the trampoline, the wheels turning in his mind to plan his next move. Just then, another toddler jumped on the opposite end of the trampoline, and wouldn’t you know it, the ball rolled directly into Judah’s little body. He looked back at me with amazement as he reached his short arms around that gigantic ball and pivoted on his solid path to make his way back to me.

As he walked, the large ball impaired his field of vision, blinding the two feet directly in front of him. As he neared the end of the green runway, he miscalculated the end of the trampoline and took a sharp left turn towards me. He caught the corner of the trampoline, running four little steps on it’s bouncy taut skin. Immediately, his 2-year-old body gained momentum and speed, and he instinctively rose to the tippy tops of his toes. His eyes were too large suns peering over the horizon of that big red ball. Before he knew it, he was back on the solid floor face to face with me. He lowered the ball, looked at me and said, “whoa.”

What joy he was missing walking along the safe edges of life. Me too! I never thought I’d be publicly thanking JumpStreet, but, yes, thanks is in order. I am grateful for the reminder that sometimes joy is just on the other side of risk. I can trust God that if he tells me to “jump” and go fetch a ball that lies in the middle of an ominous unstable place, He isn’t throwing me into danger. I can trust that He’s pushing me to experience new things and the fullness of life. whoa.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”

Psalm 28:7


 

Day 21: windshield time

Today we headed to Austin. I love the space of green that exists along vast expanses of highway, in between the buildings and busyness of cities.

As we drove, the kids watched Finding Nemo and the adults had a chance to talk and catch up. I’ve been forced to ask some hard questions of myself lately, involving purpose and life goals. I have some decisions laid before me that require the investment of time and money, but first I need to know if that’s the path God wants me to walk down.  It was good to discuss my thoughts and feelings with someone who knows me like none other. It was enlightening to hear how he sees me and the purposes to which he thinks God has called me.

I’m thankful for a partner, for his insight, and his patience with his often confused and bewildered wife. We call these car ride conversations having ‘windshield time’. It was good to add this to Lent, to take the time to ponder and reflect on these questions. Processing my own goals while considering Jesus’ life and the purpose to which He was called, is humbling and recalibrating.  It’s also amusing to have the conversation with Dori in the background singing, “Just keep swimming…swimming, swimming, swimming…”

If God can speak through a donkey, he can use an animated fish, right?!

“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”

Proverbs 27:9 

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”

Proverbs 19:20 

 


Day 22: familiar places and faces

Today we visited Buda Elementary. When we were discussing our trip to Austin, the girls pleaded to go to recess at their previous school so they could see old friends. It happens to also be the school where The Well gathers every Sunday for church. It was surreal to be back, comforting to be “home”, yet sad to know that we would not be staying. It was just a year ago, over Spring Break 2014, that we piled into the moving van and relocated…how timely to be back for a visit.

Today we added familiar places and faces to Lent. In doing so, we treasured the past and gained hope for the future. We made sure to hug every familiar person and take in all the memories of the place…painting the paw prints on the sidewalks, Easter-egg hunts in the courtyard, and doughnuts by the nurses office, to name just a few.  I remember the first day of Kindergarten for our oldest, so many years ago, and worrying about leaving her with people I didn’t know. Now, I call them friends and trust those people more than ever. Recalling this makes me view our current home and surroundings in a refreshed light. One day, I will look back at this first year and remember the fear of starting a new adventure, only to bask in the love and memories that God is already fostering.  I’m excited for the new stories that He is writing–for us, for The Well, for Buda Elementary, and for our new family in Katy.

“O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”

Isaiah 25:1

Day 15: Gummy Vitamins

I’ve never been big on taking vitamins, even when I was pregnant, I opted to try and eat really healthy instead of taking a huge pill.  However, given all the sickness running through our house lately, I decided now would be a great time to start beefing up our daily intake of vitamins and minerals.  And let’s face it, our consumption of junk has sky-rocketed recently.

Today, I added gummy vitamins to the grocery list, to dinner, and to Lent.  Of course, they were a hit.  Now the challenge is thoroughly explaining that taking more than the recommended dosage is not just my rule, but printed on the bottle.

I think I need a similar once-a-day spiritual vitamin-taking-routine.  I probably could benefit from a devotion pill every morning and evening.  I used to consume a daily devotional diet.  I think I have unfortunately associated devotions and routine with a very legalistic approach to spiritual living…partly because I allow guilt to consume if I miss a day, and guilt doesn’t come from Jesus.  However, when I consider devotions as just a good healthy routine to boost my spiritual immune system, the idea is less shaped like a huge horse-pill and more like a little glossy-red sugar bear.

“I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”

Job 23:12


Day 16: Swatches

Judah and I went in search of fabric for the new dining room chairs.  So many colors.  So many designs.  So many patterns.  So many choices.  It was fun for both of us to leave each store with free long strips of colorful samples.  He would grab a handful and shake them as he sat in the cart.  We both felt like we were somehow getting away with a great heist, waving our loot in the air without paying as we ran out the door.

We added swatches to Lent today.  We added joy and admiration of pretty little things…and the thrill of a free gift.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23


Day 17: Calf Scramble

We were invited to the Houston Rodeo.  My favorite event was the Calf Scramble.  Fifteen calves were released in the arena along with thirty kids.  On foot, the youth chased and roped the calves.  It had the entertainment value of The Amazing Race and America’s Funniest Home Videos piled into one.  Kids were darting and dashing in every direction with great purpose and execution while others were being dragged behind the dirty end of a bovine.  Catching and roping the calf proved to be only half of the battle.  Once caught, the calves have to be led back to the center starting point in order for the child to receive the payout.

There was one little cow that was quite stubborn.  He dug his front hooves into the dirt, head down, determined not to budge.  His juvi-wrangler spent a solid ten minutes in a stand-off with him, the two in a battle of the will.

I think I’m a stubborn cow most days.  And the days I’m not fighting the Father as He tries to guide me back to center-point, I’m running like a Banshee for the nearest exit.  Who do I think I am?  He always wins.

“Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.”

Deuteronomy 10:15-17