Another version of the road less traveled

As much as I love to hike locally, hiking in Boulder is a “get out early or deal with crowds” type of hike. There are usually a lot of people out on the trails – and for good reason! The view is great, you can find trails of any level, and … well, it’s Colorado.

Last week I was itching to hike, but it was a last minute decision after having slept in on Saturday. The forecast predicted rain at 60% by 2pm. It was 10am. By my calculation.. it was not a good day to start hiking late. Oh well. I grabbed my rain jacket, a water bottle, my new waterproof hiking shoes, and headed out. I figured I would hike as long as I could and leave if it got too wet.

Sure enough, it started misting about a half hour in – but nothing like what the forecast predicted. It was actually nice and cooling. Thank goodness!

For the first hour I saw a good number of people. It’s summer, after all 🙂

As I got closer to the top of either the 1st or the 2nd Flatiron (still trying to figure out the difference between the two to be honest), the number of people still hiking grew fewer and fewer. The trail got a little more slippery because of the mist, but my shoes held steady. They were made for this.

My mind drifted as it does when I am alone, knowing how often the Lord uses everyday things around us to speak about spiritual truths. I thought of how many people collected around Jesus in the early days. They sought him out, they listened to his blessings, his reminder that they are salt and light, and they brought their sick to receive healing. They stayed through the challenges of their religious leaders, knowing Jesus was different. Yet, as time went on, the road got harder as a disciple. More was required….. and less and less followed.

The parallel wasn’t lost on me.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High…”

You can’t be serious Jesus. You actually expect us to forgive our oppressors and the ones in power? They are in the wrong. They are misusing it and all of us regular folks will have to pay for it.

“…because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked….”

Um.. what about all that wrath stuff that the prophets talked about! You’re supposed to deliver us and punish them!

Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” – Luke 6:35-36

Then he went on to explain just what mercy looked like for those who wanted to follow him: don’t be so quick to judge, check your heart, watch your motives, forgive if you expect to be forgiven, don’t just listen and give lip service. Be different, actions matter.

Later, John tells a story of how Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, they had to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood (John 6:53+). For good Jews who knew that God didn’t want child sacrifice and that they were not to drink blood (both condemned in Torah) – I’m sure this sounded like sacrilege. John said many left that day and couldn’t follow him any more. But to those that did, the mystery of this teaching must have caused them to search and understand what he meant.

I thought about after his resurrection, when Jesus challenge Peter to feed his sheep, Peter looked back and asked “But… what about that guy?” (meaning the disciple John). Jesus’ answer was essentially this:

What is that to you?

If that doesn’t speak to the fact that we all have our own path to follow, I’m not sure what does. And I don’t mean it in that generic attitude of “I’ll do my own thing” that we tend to have as westerners. We have to be careful not to look at others who are walking with Jesus and compare or wonder why we can’t do what they can, or how come God didn’t do that or ask that of us.

Some things, we are all “called” to. The good news, the gospel, is that God has come to invade the earth with his promise of redemption, restoration, and shalom. Tell that story. Live into that reality.

If you’ve headed down the wrong path, made wrong choices, there’s forgiveness. If you have been denied justice, He knows. That belongs to Him, because sometimes it’s not given in this world. Yet he offers His very presence as a trade. He gives real joy, life, and strength in the middle of every part of life, in a way only you will be able to explain once you experience it.

Those who choose to walk in the way of Jesus – you all have a story. You are, like the disciples, the ones who get to – even in your doubt (Thomas) and denying (Peter) and misunderstanding of what might be best (Martha) – be a living representative for the reality of God in your corner of the world, your job, your neighborhood, your life. It doesn’t have to be huge or something that is big and flashy to be real. You don’t need your social media “followers” to like it if you post about it. You know what He has done, you know how He has called you to love others and serve them. So do that.

For some…. like the fact the trail thinned out for me near the top…. You may find there are places in your life that Jesus may ask you to go, and no one else seems to be going that way. He may have put a specific burden on your heart to reach a particular people group, start something new that fills a need, or love someone that no one else wants to. He may have asked you to give up something that’s hard, or that you feel you have a “right” to because you’ve worked for it. Take that risk. Talk to trusted friends, and trust He’s in it. Stay in conversation with Him about it, and He’ll give you the wisdom you need.

I realize it can feel lonely. It can make you question if you heard Him right. You might not get a ton of people to join you, or others might not seem to understand the level of commitment you have in whatever it is… but do what He has put on your heart. Do it faithfully, being fully human, but filled with his Spirit. You won’t do it perfectly because He’s the only one that is, so have grace for yourself. He’s got you!

You never know what the result might be.. the seeds sown, the lives changed. One day, you’ll find out!

Blessings, my friends – and don’t stop seeking!

Lessons of a (late) newlywed, Part 4: Out of the Shadows

A good friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Sarah Bessey’s new book “A Rhythm of Prayer”, and have been reading it little by little. Today, I read the benediction even though I’m not even half way done. Why? because.. well because why read it in order?

It got me thinking.

There are these two huge canvas pictures that hang on the wall in our house. They hold a central spot really, visible when you sit at the dining room table – you can’t miss them. Both are from the rafting trip through the Grand Canyon Trung organized and led over a decade ago. At the start – 16 people, sitting on a raft with the oars and paddle boards, helmets and PFD’s (personal flotation devices .. aka lifejackets).. and in warm jackets. At the end, still 16 people, but some gone and some new ones, sitting around a cooler with the sun in the background, all a few shades darker from three weeks of having been on the river.

I have heard stories about this trip from nearly every person I have met since Trung came into my life a few years back…. enough to make me wonder if another trip can ever live up to it (but we’re hoping we can get a permit some day for another one-so we will see!) I can name and have met almost every single person on that trip as well. Of course by now, everyone is a bit older, some are more grey-haired…. and some have less hair. One no longer has her dreads, having traded them for a shorter cut that her (now 3) children won’t yank on.

If I’m honest, I have felt like I have had to walk in the shadow of this great life of adventure my husband has lived before he met me, hearing tales not only of this one rafting trip but of other grand adventures he has both done and invited others into. They make my meager family camping trips and races seems so small in comparison.

and yet

I am reminded of the following truth:

He and I have spent lifetimes investing in and becoming experts in our respective worlds: his, adventure; mine-family/relationships and ministry. They both have been deep and noble pursuits, and neither is greater than the other. They are just different.

It is easy for me to look at all he has done, and think I have nothing so exciting to speak of (which is crazy, it’s all a matter of perspective, I know)

So as I sit and think… a smile comes to my face, as my imagination and the (hardly) poetic side of me tries to put words to the picture that comes to mind.

He has lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are no disasters, of gear packing and outfitting, of navigating rivers and rapids. He has camped in sub-zero weather, carried the heaviest of packs and walked for miles. He has rappelled down ravines and climbed up frozen waterfalls. He has done back-country skied and snow-shoed. I’m sure he has had some harrowing rescues in his day, stories yet to come out.

He has climbed mountains and seen the stars more brilliant than you can imagine. He has found solace in the silence of nature. He has taught so many the things he knows, calling them to lives of character and respect for the great outdoors. I could go on – and should you need proof, there’s a room in our house full of gear that can attest to any one of a thousand stories.

Me?

I too have lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are not disasters, only mine included snacks and diapers, sunscreen and sun hats, pack -n-plays for nap-time and books for reading before bed. I have outfitted and gear packed, but it came in yearly cycles with the changing of school seasons and backpacks and new supplies, whether it was crayons, dry erase markers, or the newest graphical calculator. My miles were to and from the bus stop, along soccer field sidelines and in the green room or ticket booth at theater shows (along with the miles I ran for my own sake). I can’t say I did any rappelling, but I got pretty creative with a pulley system in a two story house to avoid running upstairs to get something small.. does that count?

I have navigated rivers of moody teenagers, more than I can count, waves of emotion that seemed endless, covered in prayer. The mountains I have climbed seemed more spiritual than physical many years, trusting God to move the ones that seemed to big and help me climb the ones I needed to see beyond. I think my rescues were more in the things you cannot see, victories won for my kids and the lives of those in our church that only God can see (and of course He was really the rescuer there, I just did my part). I challenged people to lives of integrity, to believe there was more to this life than they could see… and to place their trust in the One that created it all. I have photo albums and journals galore, should you need proof.

I think of all this, how our lives have parallelled in ways I never knew, and I have to laugh…

because true to form,

what he has done with his hands and in the natural for others

I have done with my heart and in the faith lives of others

Not that he hasn’t impacted the faith lives of others – for I KNOW he has.. and not that I haven’t invited others into adventures – for I have (just not the same kind).

The reality is that we have both been living a life of adventure really – his full of gear and the wildness of the outdoors, mine full of tears and prayers and the wildness of how watching how God moves in the world.

Now we get to see what it looks like when those things come together.

It’s pretty darn beautiful if you ask me.

Something New

You know how sometimes a verse just sticks in your brain and you can’t get it out, and you realize that it is then the Lord is speaking to you through that verse, even though it was a different time, a different people, spoken thousands of years ago?

For me, that started happening quite frequently about 2 1/2 years ago in a deeper way than I have ever known. The harder thing was that I couldn’t hold onto them well, or believe that they could be true…. let alone that I think we Christians are often accused of “cherry picking” verses we like and taking them way out of context, and I didn’t want to be doing that just because I liked the verse.

No, this one I came across in normal reading, I didn’t go looking for and I didn’t find in a devotional to try and hold onto. I was in a time in life where everything I knew had just crumbled, and I was trying to make sense of it all as I figured out a new way to be. It was into this place in time I stumbled across the following (well known) verse:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:18-19.

Now, most of the time I have heard this verse used to explain how Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel of the messiah to come, that is, as a pre-cursor to Christ. I’m not saying that isn’t the case in the bigger picture. Sure, it could have had two meanings. Yet to the Israelites at the time under Babylonian rule, this was actually spoken about what God was doing in their present time. The new thing God was doing then was preparing to bring Cyrus, the Persian king, to take over Babylon and their oppressive way of ruling, and to bring Israel home (see. Isaiah 45:1 and 13.. it happened in 539BC). So the new thing that Isaiah was speaking about was actually deliverance … just deliverance in a very real and tangible way.

I just kept coming back to this verse. What if I didn’t want new? What if I wanted what was? I couldn’t change things, and I knew I had to keep moving forward to find my “new normal”, and so I did. I dove into things I loved to do – I hiked mountains, I went on long trail rides, and I loved on people. I read, I studied, I pressed into God when it was hard, and I hung onto things I could scarcely believe. (Lest you think it was all roses….yes I went to counseling, and yes I got angry and had panic attacks and cried and grieved and journaled a TON.)

I did what I knew would bring me back to being whole: I reestablished my identity as a child of God alone, and I chose to be content no matter what my new normal was going to be. I couldn’t see what “new thing” God was doing yet, so holding onto the verse for me was more of a puzzling thing.

I know, Lord, I know you are doing something new in my life right now. I just don’t get it yet. I guess you will show me when I am ready.

Enter Trung… the man to whom I am now engaged.

(Love the slippers, don’t you? Just admit it)

It has been a year and a half since we first started talking. I know.. much of what has been going on since we started dating has not made it to my blog, and that is on purpose. I have been protective of this entire journey except for a few select folks, mainly because I’m not the type to share some huge monumental personal things, but also because I wanted to honor him in this process, as he is a pretty personal type of guy (he’s an 5 on the enneagram).

Yet even when he came into the picture, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this “new thing” God was doing… for me AND for him. Sometimes I still struggle to wrap my head around the depth of what it has become, and as I look out at the wedding being planned for this August, I realize I no longer have any twinge of sadness when I see folks posting about their anniversaries of many years.

I am finally – finally! Leaning into the new thing God is doing, and I cannot wait to start life with this amazing guy God has given me. August can’t come soon enough. We may be streaming it on Facebook if no one can come, but we are getting married!

Ok now back to the purpose of this blog…I really didn’t want this post to be just about me. I know I am certainly not the only one who has had to find a new normal at some point in their lives. Heck, its all everyone is talking about now with all the quarantines across our country and the world.

Finding a new normal isn’t new though.

It seems to be the way of humanity whenever big things happen, have you noticed that?

—Scripturally – Israel wanted ‘what was’ after God delivered them from slavery. Somehow things seemed better back in Egypt. After return from Babylonian captivity, Israel wanted ‘what was’ and tried to figure out how to become a nation again. When they started rebuilding the temple, many wept who had been alive and had seen the prior temple built by Solomon.

— In our current day, things have shifted and changed after every war. After 9/11. After the first school shooting. After the internet became available for everyone, after cell phones became a necessity. Some generations long for the decades when things seemed “better” – but were they really? Yes we still deal with racism in our country. Yes we still hurt each other, we fail to take care of and defend those that need it, but at least discussions are on the table. It’s out in the open. Everything doesn’t have to be hidden now that was in the past in our country, and its time for healing. I’d like to think having to suffer together as the human race makes us realize our mortality and how much we need each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religious background (or none), sexuality, education or economic status.

Moving forward, whether personally or as a society doesn’t mean we automatically stop longing for what was. It’s like we get stuck, where the past can seem to have been “better” than the present. Do we realize in saying that we overlook the flaws of what was? Massive flaws that were there before and just could never be fixed, or maybe could never be seen.

That, my friends, is the challenge of the times in which we are living. Sure, we are all learning a “new normal”.. and please hear me: I am NOT SAYING that God is the source of this virus to teach us something new. I’m just asking, are we up to the challenge of LEARNING in the midst of it?

Although this wasn’t intended to be a Covid survival post, I do think it can be a time for us to look honestly at what we are learning in this time… about being alone, about being with “stuck” with family, about helping and serving others… about how much money we spent on ourselves or on things that we really do not need, about how we handle finances, where we find our peace – and make some purposeful changes about how we do life, when things get “back to normal”.

What are you learning you will not let go of when the quarantine is over?