Prison cells with open doors
Sometimes, we might find ourselves standing inside of a prison cell, with the door wide open.
That would be where I have been for a while now. I've been standing in a prison cell, seeing the bars around me, and not even noticing the door standing open. There are a lot of reasons for this, more than I can share in one blog post. Past trauma, old thought patterns, new situations that feel familiar and signal the need to shield myself.
Jesus has been drawing me out into the open for years, now. Thirteen years, to be exact. When I first came out into the sun, it was blinding. So many years in hiding caused me to stumble and shield my eyes from this new dawn. I think I've spent thirteen years learning how to live in the light. Darkness was comfortable for a long time, and living in the light required a whole new me.
Shattered pieces of my life had to be picked up by those nail scarred hands and put together in a way that didn't erase the past, but refined it and turned it beautiful. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Life suddenly was in technicolor. I went from being convinced that I didn't have much to offer, to a discovery of treasure. I spent those early years learning how to live in the freedom of these discoveries. And there came a point I realized I wanted to share this treasure with others. I wanted others to know that if they grabbed hold of the hem of Jesus' garment, they would find healing. I was building upon the things God put in my heart, and going where he called me to go. And I thought I knew what was ahead. I thought I understood. And then my life went topsy turvy.
Loss comes in many forms, and that means grief comes in many forms. The death of everything I thought was lasting left me so broken and confused. The loss was palpable. I had not felt this kind of loss before. Not in such a rush. I had grieved many things over the years of coming into the light, but this felt like a storm with waves that swallowed up everything and left me water logged and choking for air.
Grief is a strange companion, but a reliable one. It won't be ignored, it won't be pacified. When it wants attention, it will have it. Grief also leaves a soul as weak as can be. There is no mustering up strength to fight it. One must simply sit in it, and let it speak.
Our first year of life in Utah was marked by survival. Heck, the whole world went into survival. There was no processing anything. There was just getting up, going through the motions, and going to bed. Tears would come in the dark, when I knew everyone was asleep and didn't need me. Tears that felt like they had come from a cavern inside of me. I blinked and a year had passed. Year two brought a little more light, but still was met with pain, tears, surviving, and learning how to walk again. Year three brought a shift. Some opportunities, some next steps. Light glimmering through the forest.
Maybe it would be okay. Maybe it could even be better than before.
I put one wobbly foot in front of the other. I tried new things, allowed hope's warmth to take root. Still, a hesitancy permeated my steps. So much hope deferred. So much disappointment. Would it be wise to hope again?
This brings me to that prison cell, with the door wide open. The Lord revealed this prison cell to me, but it wasn't until recently that I realized why I was staying in an open prison.
I was hesitant to step out. The hurt and grief were so heavy from those last two years that I could only just barely see past it. I knew in my mind that it was time to be free, but those hurt places in my soul whispered not to try. Just in case it could hurt again. I've never battled depression, not even in my darkest moments, but I battled it last year. I felt crazy at times, alone at times, angry at times, helpless at times, and hopeless at times. I prayed. I cried. I journaled. I lamented.
I thought in all that I was missing Jesus, but I see now He was beside me in all of it. I was clinging to him in my wandering.
When we live so long one way, it takes more than a day to learn a new way to live. Hesitant became a protective measure I could deploy in uncertain waters. If I didn't say it, I couldn't be accused. If I didn't do it, I couldn't be attacked. If I stayed in my box, I wouldn't be cut down for trying to step out.
This has been my Crossroads lately. Choose to stay in that cell, because I'm hesitant to step out, or throw all hesitancy to the wind and run out, wild and free. I took a step towards wild and free. Jesus asked me to take an adventure with him across the ocean to His homeland. I said yes, even though I felt hesitant. I know there is more to come because faith will require it.
Another way I'm stepping out of that cell is coming back to where this all began for me thirteen years ago. I sat down one day, and wrote my thoughts out and shared them with others. I spent years doing that, once a week. Life's twists and turns pulled me away from that (and writing novels!) Last year I found myself questioning this writing gift more than I ever have. I wondered if I was dried up, had used all my words. I still have that lingering fear, but I have learned one of the best ways to dispel that fear.
So, I'll be here, writing down the things I need too. Finding Jesus in my everyday. Maybe you'll join me, and maybe you'll find him too.
Maybe together we'll abandon hesitancy and run wild and free.
Not a person alive can escape the reality of appetite. The word most often turns our minds towards food, a good starting point for understanding the complexity of the word.
Our family has been on a wild healthy journey for years. Allergies, and auto-immune have led me down paths of nutrition that I never would have explored otherwise. That journey has taught me a few things, and one of those things stands out to me right now.
Appetite can change.
When we began the journey to a different lifestyle of eating, there were things I introduced to my family that none of us had ever tried before. What is a chia seed, what is plant based milk, and for the love someone tell me what I'm supposed to do with tofu? I remember being overwhelmed at first. I could not fathom a life that didn't include cheese, one of my favorite things to eat. Over time, though, I did find a new rhythm. I found what worked, what was definitely out, and what would be the new staples in our pantry. And you know what surprised me in that journey?
How much my cravings changed.
Where once I would crave a bowl of ice cream, or casserole smothered in cheese (hey...I'm southern) I found those things just didn't appeal to me. When I would eat ice cream, I would get the worst head ache. When I ate anything cheesy, the cheese just tasted like rubber. Many of the things I had eaten before, I had lost my appetite for.
Jesus seemed to understand this simple concept of appetites, as well. In fact, He discusses it with a woman, in the heat of the day, drawing water from a well.
"Can I have a drink?" He asks, having encountered her in the heat of the day, alone at the well just outside her village.
With sarcasm she responds, "Ha! You must be really thirsty if you, a Jew, are asking me, a woman, for a drink."
Jesus isn't ruffled by her bitter sarcasm. He gets it. She's lost her appetite for life. She's been rejected, broken, abused.
"If you knew who I was, and the gift God wants to give you, you would ask me for a drink, and I'd give you living water." Jesus replies, calmly.
She looks him up and down, her face betraying her thoughts that he must be a crazy Jew. "Sir, you don't even have a bucket for water, so where exactly are you going to get this living water? "
Jesus is not deterred. "As long as you continue to drink from this well, you'll always be thirsty. But anyone who drinks from the living water I offer will never thirst again."
Never thirst again.
Jesus sees to the heart of the matter. This woman has lived her life unsatisfied. She comes to this well, in the heat of the day because of her shame, because this world, this life has left her completely empty.
"Well, by all means, give me some of this water, Sir. I could surely use it." She stops her back breaking work of hoisting her water bucket, perches it on the edge of the well, and stares fully into the face of this very odd man.
"Okay. Go call your husband, and come back with him," Jesus replies gently.
She looks away. Down into the deep darkness of the well, that mirrors the condition of her soul. "I'm not married." This man is making her uncomfortable. What does he want from her?
"True. But you have been married five times." Jesus says the words so calmly, so plainly.
"Oh great, you're a prophet. Well, Prophet, where exactly am I supposed to worship? Because my people can't seem to agree with your people." She is clearly agitated.
"The time has come, where anyone who wants to worship, will be free to do so, no matter where they live. Because worship will now be about the heart, no matter where you live." Jesus is standing now, and walks a bit closer to the woman.
"This is all confusing. You are confusing. All I know is someday the Messiah will come and maybe then I'll find some answers." She reaches out to hoist her heavy bucket of water onto her shoulder when he whispers words that seem to echo deep in the cavern of her soul.
"You don't have to wait any longer. I am He."
The woman's life is changed from that day. The first to hear the news, that the Messiah had come. The first evangelist for Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, the first to grasp the truth that at last, at long last, her appetite for peace, love, hope...at last it was all being fulfilled.
The woman Jesus met was bitter, calloused by life. The world's cravings had left her hollowed, empty. But the woman who rushed back to her village to tell everyone about Jesus was a woman who had found a craving worth satisfying.
A woman who, finally, had found the food of life.
Appetite is everything, I say. What I crave, I pursue. The good news is that what I crave can be changed. Just like I changed my eating habit all those years ago, and lost my taste for cheese, the same can happen in my spirit. In a moment, I can encounter King Jesus, who showers my soul with living water, so that my thirst is finally quenched, my appetite finally satisfied.
The odd part of following Jesus is that, though we are satisfied with Him, we continue to crave more of him. He's the only craving I've found, that both satisfies and makes me hungry for more all at once.
What are you craving, friend? Are you like the woman at the well, tired and worn from chasing appetites that have left you hollowed and starved? The hope here is that appetites can change. Cravings can change.
And the truth here, is that as long as you crave and pursue the appetites of this world, you will always be left empty. Like the woman at the well. Shame will find you in that empty place, and tell you you are defeated. Isolation will be your companion in that dark place, where you feed those cravings. Jesus is your only hope for satisfaction. He's the only craving that will nourish your soul.
Jesus, be the craving of my soul. Be the food of my life, the water that quenches my thirst. Let me, like the woman at the well, abandon my water jar, and run into the highways and byways to let others know that I've found it. At long last, I've found the water that quenches my thirst, and the food that satisfies my life.
"All at once, the woman dropped her water jar and ran off to her village and told everyone, “Come and meet a man at the well who told me everything I’ve ever done! He could be the Anointed One we’ve been waiting for.” Hearing this, the people came streaming out of the village to go see Jesus.
I think we all like to have a plan. I felt the tug of this recently, when we went back to what was home for ten years. I knew the question would come up of what we have been up to, and how our ministry is going. I will be honest, friends. I was tempted to focus on the things that might somehow validate where we are, eight months into this new season, because if I'm very transparent, I had a whole different vision for where we would be eight months in. The issue was not with those who care about us and asked the normal questions that come from seeing someone after an extended separation. The issue was with my own heart and that demon of performance that Jesus RID me of years ago, but still comes whispering lies every so often.
After the first attempt to answer these predicted questions with a list of what is “in the works” I felt the conviction of God’s Spirit and heard his whisper…
“You don’t need to justify to others what I have called you to.”
I felt that. Big time. How many years of my life were spent working hard to justify myself before man? How many years were spent trying to make my words and deeds fit into someone else’s box?
I did an about face after that moment of conversation with my Papa. I repented for my wrong thinking and answering. Then, for the rest of our trip, I answered with the truth.
The truth is, Jesus had much different plans for how we would begin this new season. That's why the idea of being obsessed with plans is so comical, really. How much can we plan, and control? Not a whole lot, as 2020 is teaching us all. And then add to that, how often we think we know what we need only to find out that Jesus knew a WHOLE lot better than we did what we needed. And yet, we plan and plot. What we planned to do was jump in to the next assignment right away. What we planned to do was dive head first into all the things. What Jesus planned was for deep, extended and healing rest.
Did you know that when Jesus calls you to an extended season of slow down and rest you will be forced to wrestle with your identity?
You will come face to face with JESUS and have to determine if He is enough. Is he enough if you have no title, no plan, no massive mapped out vision? Is he enough if the culmination of your ministry in that season is that you meet your neighbor and have them over for dinner or quietly serve in a community where no one knows your name?
These are the questions that rise up, and that we must answer when all that is left is Jesus.
I have boldly prayed for years now, “Jesus, purify my heart,” and I will tell you, that is a no joke kind of prayer. Because if I pray it, I can bet on Him to come through with the exact circumstances that will reveal the deepest, most hidden place inside of me. He has done SO MUCH good work in my heart. I cannot even write in words all He has done over the years. And yet, there is never a moment that I don’t need to pray that prayer again, because I am always in need of a deeper cleansing, a deeper revelation of truth.
So, how did I start answering that question of “How is it going in Utah?” after my moment with my Papa? With total honesty. It’s been hard and beautiful all at once, because I have peace in the deep place that all Jesus wants from our family is to do the next right thing, even though I might not know today what that will be tomorrow. It’s not going how I thought it would, or even at times how I think it should, but it is going exactly as Jesus wants.
Don’t get me wrong, now, friends. We are eager to run, to plan, to do wild things for Jesus. That hasn’t changed in this season. And this hasn’t been a season of abandoning those dreams. It’s a season of pause. A season of reset, refining, and reordering.
Maybe what we thought we needed before this season isn’t what we need at all for Jesus to be made famous. Maybe we can just show up, like little children on Christmas morning waiting for Mom and Dad to put our presents at our feet.
This is who He is, friends! He is a God of rest. He is a God of relationship. He is a God that is willing to put a pause on any plan if our hearts are broken and tired and needing rest.
He cares more about the condition of my soul more than the condition of my plans.
I look back at month two of this season and I breathe a sigh of relief. Are you kidding me? The last thing we needed then was to plunge head first into a new assignment. The last thing we needed was a new to do list. I can’t even imagine where we would be today if we had followed THAT plan. Oh, to trust Jesus who knows so much better than I do what my soul needs.
I’m pretty sure if you are reading this, you can identify on some level with this struggle. I mean, didn’t we all just go through a season where everything was stripped down to the minimum? Didn’t we all just emerge from a season where ALL of our plans were completely wiped out and reordered?
Now, if you are reading this and cringing a bit because you are a planner, I totally get it, friend. Your planning self is revolting. “But...wait...I think I need some kind of plan, don’t I?” I won’t try to answer that for you, friend. I can’t answer it for you. That’s between you and Jesus and what He is speaking to you. I can only share where He has brought me in this eight month journey, and it is this right here...
My lack of plan has left me staring at Jesus with childlike wonder.
Perhaps this is the better way. Perhaps I was never meant to be such a grown up, but always a little girl who twirls and dances with her Papa and then waits for Him to surprise her with beautiful Christmas morning gifts. Maybe when I’m busy planning, I miss the gift of dancing with HIm, and seeing the gifts He is freely giving.
I’m convinced that Heaven is a Christmas morning kind of place. If that’s so, then I want to be the child rushing to the tree early in the morning because I just couldn’t sleep and I HAVE to open those gifts. And I already know what the Heaven Christmas gift is.
Jesus. The gift is Jesus, friend. Our plans, our blueprints, our maps, they are all fine, but they aren’t the goal. They aren’t the end result. They aren’t the childlike wonder that we are created to live in.
Jesus is the plan. Jesus is the blueprint. Jesus is the only map I need to follow. If I choose him over my well laid plans, then the pressure is off for me to perform. My eyes are on Jesus. Will I need this lesson again on plans and trust and childlike wonder? Most likely. But that’s okay. Because I know His heart for me. I know Him, and He is enough.
Eyes on Jesus, friend. Let’s make that our plan.
author. Bible teacher. trauma healing facilitator.