Love Does, My Story

Is this real life or am I dreaming?

When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives, but we never were.

Tim Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Two weeks ago I joined a call with our Board of Directors, our Executive Director and our Battle for the Heart Coordinator (aka my sister) as we grappled with reality and many unknowns, seeking to hear one another and make a decision about three events in three weeks, one of which was scheduled to begin the very next day.  We didn’t want to make decisions out of fear, but we wanted to be aware of what was at stake in the decision we were facing.  I would be lying if I said we all agreed…

But we all committed to a decision and moved forward in unity. There is strength in unity.

I am a leader.

Leaders have to make difficult decisions in how we will lead our people.  I’m grateful I don’t carry this weight alone. I walk with men and women, most of whom have many more years of experience than me… yet they invite me in to speak, to listen, to grow and to lead in the safety of community.  Leadership isn’t my natural bent.

My reality in that moment was also that I had four little girls in the backseat who had just been released for spring break.  They barely had an understanding of what was occurring in the world around them and the decisions being made even on their own behalf.  Life as we know it was changing.

I am a mother.

It’s a story line that also feels surreal. Sometimes I look at these three beautiful faces and I’m undone by this call to love and shepherd their hearts.  I didn’t grow into motherhood the way most do, I was thrown into it with rapid fire.  I’d say I just began to find my groove, our normal was starting to appear survivable.

As we began to face the reality of social distancing and school closures, every bit of structure I have built to give myself a sense of control has been dismantled.  I keep looking around for the wife that will help absorb the disruptions and I realize –

I am the wife.

This may very well be the only role I joyfully entered thinking, I have what it takes. Obviously that is because I had no idea what marriage really means.  That poor man of mine, he is perfectly patient, loving and has given me space to grow into the woman God created me to be.

Like many of you, we are navigating a life that looks much different than before.  There are fears, uncertainties, risks and rewards… so many unknowns of the long-term impact of the days we are living.

Each day I find myself wondering if this is really real.  Do you remember the movie The Truman Show that was sort of an experiment in reality television where the show’s creator seeks to capture Truman’s real emotion and human behavior – but the main guy, Truman, doesn’t know everyone else is acting and the world is watching his every move.

I feel like that. Like I’m about to bump up against the bubble of the set of this not-real reality and then a voice will say, it was all set-up to see if you would survive, good job Abby, you didn’t die.

But this that feels so surreal, is actually real and I can’t find my footing.  Yes, I navigate well enough to make it through each day, but I can’t figure out what next week is supposed to look like.  The past two weeks tell me that new information will change what I think is the next best thing.  This is incredibly disorienting for a control freak.

And everything feels tender, vulnerable, unsafe and upside down.  The fact that there is a literal pandemic adds a whole other layer of pressure to my need to get things right… because obviously, if I don’t – failure leads to death.

I fully own that my feelings are all over the place. I feel frustrated, disoriented, vulnerable and in some ways like everyone’s safety is dependent on me.

I long to surrender, to release the weight of the world, to see God’s faithfulness, to experience his nearness and to be a channel of his love to my girls, my husband and those in my sphere of influence.

I want to walk this path well… I want to glean every bit of growth I can from it.

In the moment, I’m totally overwhelmed by expectations that are not realistic. I’ve tried to give myself grace to do what I can do and release what I can’t… but then I get this email that I’ve been expecting about how I’m supposed to facilitate “continued learning” – which essentially means home-school the girls since we do not know when they will ever go back to school.

And I feel like I would have a better chance of surviving the lion’s den than be given this task.

And it’s oh so painful to wade into these familiar depths once again… where surrender to the call on my life feels impossibly hard and unfair.  I fumble and stumble into the way of humility because my illusion of control has been dismantled and I learn once again the only way forward is in utter dependency… which feels so vulnerable.

It’s crazy as I consider…  The ones who want to help me can’t reach me. The ones who need me can’t help me. The ones who could release me don’t see me. And the one place I feel like I would be most likely to succeed… is the hardest to release.

I look to the left and to the right and realize, I’m not alone. The joke is not on me. We are collectively navigating this new normal, filled with uncertainty and unknown.  I feel a bit safer in the collective and want to be a voice that says, we are going to make it!

So I lean in to surrender.

I ask God what he is up to… in me and through me.

What is he saying?

And what does it look like to engage each day with courage, beauty and love?

I long to reveal his glory that others may see… he is good.

Sweet friend, you are not alone. This place we find ourselves, the collective vulnerability, as Brene Brown calls it… this is what gives us strength, breathes courage into our very lungs, gives us purpose to love one another in ways that seem counter-intuitive to our old life. For some it simply means staying home. For others it means showing up at the front lines.  For me… it means making space for this new reality where motherhood overlaps with ministry.

I shared with the girls one day last week, when we were basically all in tears, sweet girls, this is not normal and I am so sorry.  Life is not supposed to be this way.  It’s ok for this to be hard, we have to work together and we will get through this.  Let’s try to have fun in the midst of it.

It was a pep-talk even for myself.  But their response was priceless, What?? You mean we work for Wellspring now?!!??  😂

So let me introduce you to my new assistants, DSC_6666

They are super sassy, very disruptive, highly creative, love worship and are waiting for a paycheck.  [Don’t be surprised if I put them on donor development calls.]

I am humbled.

I grappled last night with what it means to be the woman God created me to be in this new normal.  We are all facing this – and the only thing we can control is how we choose to respond.

For me, I choose to believe his heart is good, this journey is purposeful, the destination falls nothing short of his promises… I have to believe… he is near.

Let me the voice that whispers to your heart of hearts, you have what it takes…. do not lose heart.

Much love,

a broken girl

Love Does

No One Chooses the Wilderness – Except that one time

Twenty-nineteen, the year that put me in therapy.

The year that broke me – and many others I know.

The grace is shaping something new out of broken pieces… the end result is yet to be revealed.

Did you know when the Children of Israel were freed from captivity in Egypt, God chose the path they would take?  There are two ways from Egypt to the land of Canaan.  One is short, a few days’ journey.  The other… much longer, through a desert. … this is the way the Lord chose for them. ¹

One might think the Lord could have saved a lot of time, [40 something years to be exact-ish], by choosing the shorter path.  He could have fulfilled a promise in a few short days.  I’m confident there would have been much less grumbling and complaining, at least one less golden idol and a lot less manna.

Jesus, it’s me, your resourceful, efficient, path of least resistance girl trying to show you there was an easier way.

If you ever dig into this story more, in Exodus chapter 13, verse 17 explains a little bit why God did this.  God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people may change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”

In other words, the shorter, easier, path of least resistance was actually more than they could handle.

As I sit on the edge of 2019 looking back, I cannot help but see my year as one of a wilderness wandering journey that seemingly leads nowhere closer to his promises fulfilled… except maybe… I’m seeing that the work he is doing in me is much greater than the destination.

You see, the Children of Israel couldn’t handle the giants, and God knew that.  They had lived in captivity, their faith muscles were not yet developed.  They needed a journey in the wilderness to know who they are, who God is, and see his goodness in the parting of a sea, a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They needed to taste the provision of manna and stumble in the desert… they needed a journey that they would never have chosen on their own.  They needed a God to lead the way.

I apologize for being quiet so much of this year.  It is sometimes hard to find words that adequately express the work God is up to in my heart.  I’ve tried for months, yet only small pieces come together. I long to bring inspiration, but some days I can’t make sense of the tears.  Recently when someone was praying for me, she shared

…what he’s doing is, he’s drawing you deeper and deeper into another level of faith, too. Whereas if you could have it all organized and laid out, your brain would automatically try and figure out the next step or the next process, or the next thing that that needs to be done. But God did it that way so that you would deepen your trust in Him…

You don’t know me.

As she shared for minutes that felt like an hour, it was as if she was reading every word I had written in the past 12 months, weaving them together with threads of hope that this might be accomplishing more than I could imagine – that the pain of deep heart work would yield fruit for years to come.

It’s hard to say this was the most painful year of my life because it is drastically different than any before.  I can’t imagine anything topping the year I went from zero to three tiny people in a flash that literally solidified my need to color my hair every six weeks…. though I gracefully try to stretch it to eight.

This was a different kind of year.  The pain was a deep cry from within, questions that surfaced that I could hardly speak out loud… and when I did, nothing could hold back the tears.  I’ve come to see things in my own heart that slayed me.  I’ve been humbled as I grow in understanding my own brokenness and the way I saw God in the midst of it.

I realize I have a unique privilege to work in an environment that always presses me to dig into deep matters of the heart.  It is both a blessing and a curse. 😏  There is no hiding.  I must practice that which I quite literally preach… vulnerability and surrender.  Speaking of preaching, did you hear about that guy that said disgraceful things about women who preach?  :: table that for a whole other post :: dear Jesus please save him from himself [and a girl named Joy Wells – she’s got my back].

Oh my gosh, I’ve lost my path. I’m on the wrong platform.

Back to the wilderness.  That’s where I find myself again.

In September the deep work came to a soul shaking head that literally made me sick for a week as I faced what felt like a juncture of God inviting me to choose between my heart and my dream.  Both held parts of my heart for very different reasons, but to live out both directions seemed unachievable.  As I sat in the place of confusion I heard myself say,

God, I believe you are good but I do not believe you are kind. This is not kind.

As these words fell out of my mouth, tears poured out of my eyes and I was sitting on the familiar couch in the office of my therapist, she graciously held a safe place for me to fall apart.  I grappled with the path I am on and how I even got here in the first place, life was not supposed to be this way.  Now everything is up to me to get it right because failure is not an option.  I have stepped into the impossible, the journey has been pain-filled, not just my pain, but the deep pain of others.  She gently reminded me that failure is always an option… and I slowly began to breathe again.  Then she questioned if maybe what feels like is a choice between my dream and my heart might actually be a choice between control and faith.

Excuse me?

I mean. Whatever.

It sounds so much better when I am painstakingly weighing my dream against my heart instead of my control issues against my faith. Gosh golly. It was like a punch in the gut that took the wind out of my dream and painted it for very clearly what it was… a sense of control that I could cling to.

Y’all, my therapist does not waste time. She knows Jesus and she nailed me.

As I began to unravel more and more what was behind this I began to see the crisis wasn’t even about a choice at all… it was merely a catalyst for God to do a deeper work in me – how I see myself and how I see his goodness.  Kind-of like those children from Israel…

A sea didn’t split before me. Manna did not fall from heaven. I did not receive 10 commandments.

But I did hear his words over a period of weeks saying… I am doing something, you wouldn’t believe it even if I told you.  This path isn’t a mistake, it has a purpose.  I am strengthening your roots.  Please do not confuse my kindness with being nice – that is not the same thing.  I am much more concerned about what I am doing in you than what I am doing through you.  You are worth it… even if I never do anything else through you.

I found myself a bit disoriented at the end of it all, wondering what the journey was for to begin with. It seems we ended up in the same exact place where we started, except dreams had been stirred that were perfectly content being dormant.  While this remains unknown, I’m resting in believing there was a purpose.

In hindsight, as I’ve tried to connect some of the dots, I found an invitation into a new level of surrender.  Once again, I choked back tears at the thought of this word that feels so hard.  I don’t have much experience in surrender being easy.  Surrendering what I thought my life would be for the promise of what he has created me for has been costly at times. It is most definitely not a path of least resistance for which I am accustomed.  But it is an invitation to surrender to a plan that is beyond what I can imagine, believing that in my deepest place of doubt he is speaking, I have never doubted you.

This is 2019.  A wilderness journey. An unearthing of deep beliefs, questions and a growing in understanding truth and goodness; repenting of my own brokenness and surrendering to a call that is more than I can comprehend.

Some of you, like me, sit at the end of this year and breathe a sigh of relief to see it coming to a close. It has been brutal.  But sweet friend, you have persevered.  Beautiful one, you have given me courage as I watch you surrender to love in the midst of some of the greatest pains of your life.  I have no idea what his purpose is, but I do know his promise is much more than we can see or imagine.  Do.not.lose.heart.

One of the beautiful things echoed through my year is found in the closing of Psalm 23, surely goodness and mercy shall follow me … There are moments that clearly reveal goodness and mercy… while other places leave my head spinning, wondering what is even good. I consider the past year and feel like I’ve come a million miles in uncovering belief systems – as if God made it his sole purpose this year to pull off each layer like a flaky biscuit.  Just when I think I’ve stabilized, in his mercy, he brings greater revelation.  I feel pursued by God, almost relentlessly.

As I face the unknowns of life and at times even fall into fear of what may come, I hear the words again – surely goodness and mercy shall follow me… all the days of my life.  This isn’t just one day, or once upon a time – it’s a confidence that his goodness doesn’t expire. I can’t outrun it. It follows me. Until the end.  There’s goodness and mercy.  Both keep me humbled.  Mercy covers when I feel less than good enough. His goodness reminds me, it’s not really about me to begin with.

In the closing of this year, I invite you to remember, surely goodness and mercy shall follow you – all the days of your life. And for those of you, like me (and my sweet dad) who tend to see God’s goodness looking back… I invite you to consider turning around… and see God’s goodness going before you.

Here’s to 2020.  Let the goodness lead the way.

Much love,

A broken girl

¹ The New Matthew Henry Commentary