He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

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Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One)

I’m With You

I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.

This chapter is about a super cool dude that was in Bob’s life named Randy. Although he had awesome things like a motorcycle, the most amazing aspect of his character was that he was committed to being part of Bob’s life. So when Bob decided he was going to travel across the country to pursue his dream, Randy picked up his things and went. It was only when they returned that Bob glanced around and saw partially opened wedding presents. Being freshly married didn’t stop Randy from being the person Bob needed. My favorite thing about this chapter was the response of Randy’s wife. It wasn’t anger or resentment; it was the response of a woman who had a heart for the same things her husband did, and embraced the cost that sometimes comes with it. Presence over preaching. People will eventually ask about your “why.” But they need to know who you are first.

Sniper Fire

I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.

This chapter is about a guy he knew who had a sweet pellet gun, way cooler than Bob’s BB gun. One thing led to another, they began shooting at each other, and Bob got shot. It was awesome. “I liked how Doug did life. He was full of adventure and always had some wonderful mischief in mind… Doug began telling me the story of another man of adventure named Jesus, who lived a long time ago.” (12) This really spoke to me, because I sometimes feel pressure to conform to what “looks” Christian rather than the person God made me to be. Not the sinful parts of me, but the parts of me that God designed into me that don’t match the cookie cutter picture of Christ follower. “He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because he was all about engagement. That’s one of the things I saw in Doug. I liked that Doug could be friends with Jesus and still shoot pellet guns.” (12) And this is who I have a heart for; the people the church sometimes talks about but rarely engages with in community. I need to be less worried about what Christians think of me and embrace who God made me to be.

Ryan in Love

I used to think being loved was the greatest thing to think about, but now I know love is never satisfied just thinking about it.

Young and in love. It’s a magical time full of whimsy, hope and believing that it will all work out. Why wouldn’t it? Ryan is a young man walking by Bob’s house who eventually introduced himself and proudly announced he was, indeed, in love; and he wanted to use Bob’s house to propose. Bob writes, “I was taken aback by this love-glazed kid who would approach a complete stranger and ask to use his house to stage a great caper. But that’s the way it is when you are in love, isn’t it? All he knew was that he wanted the girl and was going to do whatever it took to get her.” (18) His ask grew to include a dinner on their deck, catered by 20 of his closest friends, dancing afterwards and ultimately, a ride on Bob’s boat. Bob, swept up in the excitement of Ryan’s love, said yes to everything he asked for and planned a surprise of his own. It went beautifully, and of course the girl said yes. “Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being ‘engaged’ isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee…Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” (24) It is loving with abandon. It is fully participatory. It is a perfect example of true humility and hope. This kind of love brings us all joy and reminds us to worry less about ourselves and more about how we are loving others well. This is how I felt at Mario and Lauren’s wedding. I had the opportunity to be part of something beautiful, and everyone did something to help add to the occasion. In the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more beautiful or perfect wedding than theirs and it gives me hope that someday my story might include that same kind of love and joy.

The Reach

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

Bob got a job and put in a lot of time to become a waiter at a super fancy restaurant where you had to wear a tux to be a server. On his very first night he described an event that had me laughing to the point of tears. In short, he was fired on the spot, not even earning enough money to pay for the tux he had put a down payment on. Failing can suck. It can be hard. But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides us into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents and each other.” (29) This is an expression of God’s love and patience. It is a reminder that, as much as we might like to, we can’t do it our own. And really, we don’t want to. We weren’t designed for that. “God finds us in our failures and our successes, and He says that while we used to think one way about things, now He wants us to think another way about those same things.” (30) Fortunately, I’ve failed a lot. So much. And so I’ve learned to see every failure as an opportunity to learn something new, to laugh, and to maybe not make the same mistakes again. I also know that oftentimes my failures are a result of me NOT relying on God and my community enough, that my failure is the result not of ability but of stubbornness.  #PlacesToGrow

Continue reading at Reflections on Love Does by Bob Goff Part 2

Israel, 4 am

The journey was over 24 hours to get here but I managed to steal a few hours of sleep from a couple flights. I was positive I would sleep soundly tonight, yet 4 hours later I’m wide awake and I don’t need to rise until seven. Perhaps some journaling and a sunrise with God is in order (and maybe some coffee too).

I heard children using “Abba” with their fathers today and it brought a whole new context to the word for me. This term, which Jesus used to refer to our Father, is similar to “Daddy.” But today I heard it used by small children, often accompanied by reaching arms and grasping hands. “Abba, Abba!!” they cry, unabashedly asking to be held, or comforted, or protected. Striking out fearlessly, one little one became startled and ran with arms open back to her Abba. It makes me reflect on Jesus’ choice of words and the posture of children with their Abba. Is that how I would describe my relationship with God?

Israel and Relationships

So we’ve got this group of singles, of which I am part, heading over to Israel for a couple weeks. There’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation around it, and for good reason. This is the longest and most consistently I’ve ever prayed for anything, and I’ve now had several people who have spoken over this trip that maybe “relationships” will come out of it. Please don’t misunderstand me in what I say (I would be so happy for whoever it is), but I worry that these words will seep into hearts and distract rather than encourage.

I know that we are going on an awesome adventure. We will walk where our God walked; we will pray where our God prayed. We will learn from a man whose walk in faith resembles that of Jesus’ far more than the modern Christian does. And herein lies my point: this is an once in a lifetime chance to know God in a unique and intimate way. If it is His will to bless people on this trip, by all means, may the Lord move hearts. But I pray that the idea of a potential relationship would not be so distracting that it comes at the cost of intimacy with God.

So my prayer is this: “Abba, should it be your will to bring new relationships to life in Israel, I pray that they would be relationships that honor you. I petition you, Lord, that the blossoming of that relationship would increase the intimacy they know with you, Adonai, and that it would serve as a testimony to you. I pray that you would guard hearts that need guarded, that you would bring them life and comfort in discovering your character. Above all, I pray that we would all love you, the Lord our God, with all our hearts, souls, minds and bodies; and that we would also remember to love each other. Your will, Elohim, and not ours be done. Amen.”

A Vivid Dream

I was at an alt grunge EDM concert, but they were also performing the third part of The Pelleas Trilogy. I was there with my sister and a few friends I’ve made at church (I remember thinking it was not my usual concert going crowd).

I wandered around, immersing myself in the show as I drank from my flask. I’m talking to new people and I start smoking again (and in the dream, I got the sense that this wasn’t unusual for me because it was a concert).

I spot my friends and head towards them. They scrunch to make room for me on this hill and next to them is a guy I haven’t seen since high school. We talk real life, the nitty and gritty, about our struggle and how different things looked from how we imagined. Towards the end he said, “You’ve changed a lot too. You really believe all that holy crap?” I smile at him and lean against a wall. “I went through some dark times, Cass. I found Someone who brought me out. So that’s where I put my faith. Can you blame me?” And he mumbled no, that he wished he had that.

Apparently the concert ended and the sun is starting to rise. My flask is empty and all my friends are gone. We walk to his car and he starts driving me around looking for mine. I keep reassuring him, comforting him because he seems distressed. We finally make it to my car and he said “You’re unbelievable, you know that? You never realize the effect you have on people.” And he’s upset with me, about how oblivious I am. I want to calm him down so I tell him I had really liked him in high school. I asked him if he remembered the art trip and he laughed. All the tension left his body and he replied softly, “Yeah, I remember. And I liked you too.”

Somehow we seemed a bit entangled, so I carefully extracted myself from him and exited the car. I waved as I got to mine but he was already driving off.

My Surrender

Once a heart of stone now flesh

A gift bestowed on one You adore.

My emotions stir afresh

Into my heart Your love does pour.

 

For I know so well this darkness

That I give thanks for that which is Light.

Once trapped in a pit of hopelessness

I now soar to an unfathomed height.

 

It is here I kneel and surrender

where there is no pride or shame

my sin You bore on the cross

and my just punishment you claim.

 

Such love is wonder beyond wonder

such truth I cannot grasp

Your grace I can but ponder

your every mercy makes me gasp.

 

There are no words or songs

Of thanks for the freedom I now know

from the sin and from the wrongs

under whose weight I once bowed.

 

I nearly knelt before my enemy

Who accused and declared blame

But now I choose my own King

Whose sovereignty I proclaim.

 

For my name is written on His hands

and His on the tablet of my heart

and from one another

ne’er shall we part.

Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.