November 28th || Plan A

As a writer, I am constantly having a love affair with words. I write little hearts in the margins of books when I find a sentence that touches something deep in my soul and I’ve been known to cut phrases out of magazines and carry those little shreds of paper in my wallet to meditate on until they deteriorate. I write words and prefixes on my body (some more permanently than others) and I soak them in.

Sometimes the Lord strings the words I hold dear into sentences and stories on this site. But sometimes, He tells me to hold them close to my heart– a little gift just for me, a reminder that He sees me and knows right where I’m at.

~~~

On November 28th, 2015, I went on my first hike with both Abbey and Katie; it was on that day that I came to know these beautiful women on a heart level as we got lost looping our village and poured our souls out to one another, word by word, story by story. img_1592

We covered a lot of (literal and metaphorical) ground that day, and while I remember the jist of the stories told, the only words that stayed strung together in the recesses of my heart were Katie’s incredibly wise trail-ponderings:

 

“You know what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately? 

Jesus dying was God’s ‘Plan A’.

That makes me uncomfortable to think about, ya know? Because I think I’m realizing that means that God’s ‘Plan A’ involves a lot of pain and death and suffering sometimes… But I think that also means His ‘Plan A’ involves a level of love and grace and goodness I can’t even fathom…”

 

~~~

Last year on November 28th, 2016, I sat in my living room in Denver and drafted this blog, typing out Katie’s words for the first time. At the time, as I reflected on her wisdom, I felt a story brewing inside of me. I considered writing about that hike and the way those two beautiful women and their stories have forever impacted my life. But as I tried to spit out words, none of the stories my heart ached to tell felt quite right.

I wrote and deleted a handful of stories from 2016– each of which had taught me a heck of a lot about suffering and the agonizing learning curve associated with joyfully submitting my heart to God’s Plan A. And yet I knew none of those stories were the one I was meant to tell.

So I refrained. I wrote Katie’s words in my journal and this blog post remained a draft– a scattered graveyard of half-finished stories and confusion for another year.

Today, in relative hindsight, I can see that Katie’s words were a gift for me– both when she said them initially and when the Lord brought them back to my mind a year later.

On that year anniversary of our grand hike, the Lord was preparing my heart, not to write, but to soak in the truths discussed on those trails. By bringing Katie’s words back to my mind and allowing me to meditate on the Truth in them, He was preparing me for the story that He was writing for each of us– one that included the news that brought each of us to our knees a week later when we found out that our loved ones’ plane had disappeared on its way to Anchorage.

None of us with our limited, earthly perspective could’ve foreseen that the flight with Katie’s “adoptive” family (Scott, Kaitlyn, & Zach) and Abbey’s fiance (Kyle) would leave Port Alsworth that morning and reach it’s perfect destination in the arms of Christ, rather than Merrill Field where we thought it would land.

In all honesty, even a year later, this story is not the story that I would’ve written for any of us. (Oh the number of times I’ve arrogantly and pridefully thought to myself If only (insert situation here) were different over the last few months– as if I am somehow a better author than the Creator of the Universe…) The words that each of us have strung together over the last year as we have grieved and grappled with the loss of those close to us are not the words that I (in my ever-lasting desire never to be uncomfortable or to endure pain) would have chosen as dialogue for my own or my loved ones’ stories…

Yet, each of those words holds purpose as the Lord is constantly combining them to write a story that will ultimately bring Him more glory than I could ever imagine. Over the course of the last twelve months since the accident, Jesus has graciously allowed His Plan A to unfold before my eyes.

Has my stomach turned inside out at times as I’ve heard and read the words of my dear friend who lost her husband and two littles in that plane crash? Absolutely. Did I bawl my eyes out in Cambodia as I watched her second oldest son proclaim the goodness of God over and over again, even after losing his father and siblings? Oh, the term “ugly cry” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Did I trail run/scream/cry my way down the side of a mountain on July 15th– the day that “should have been” Abbey and Kyle’s wedding day– like a lunatic? You betcha. Do most of Abbey and my phone calls still involve the same tears that her blog illicit from me every time I read her words? Yes.

But through it all I have seen more of Christ’s relentless pursuit of each of my loved ones and His grace in our lives than I ever thought possible.

Since my first November in Alaska, the words of Isaiah 55 have been written into my heart and story through Andrew Peterson’s “The Sower Song”– a constant reminder that  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, English Standard Version).

The flight plan to Anchorage that I so desperately long to somehow still see fulfilled will forever serve as a reminder to me that our plans are not necessarily God’s plans.

His Plan A is infinitely more grand than mine. His Plan A, while occasionally painful(ly sanctifying), is higher than mine; for surely I (as I said before, with my aversion to pain and death) would never be Just enough to sacrifice my own Son for the salvation of the world. (And in the moments when I find myself on my knees, crying out tears that my heart could easily mistake for blood, I am thankful that I have a Savior who can empathize with me from the Garden of Gethsemane.)

In the searing pain of loss, Jesus has shown me that Katie’s words from November 2015 are exactly true:

This is His plan A.

Jesus dying to lay death in its own grave was and is Plan A.

The events in our lives that leave us at the end of ourselves, begging Christ to come in, nearer to our aching hearts are a part of Plan A.

While there are moments that the truth is incredibly difficult to swallow, it remains Truth.

~~~

In this season, as we celebrate an anniversary of sorts in our friendship and simultaneously draw nearer to the anniversary of the crash, Christ continues to teach each of us that perhaps it’s not (entirely) different stories that our hearts desire, but rather more of Him.

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“Since then we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

(Hebrews 4:14-16)

 

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Muddy, messy, and grace[full]

It was one of those days from the second my feet hit the floor… ten minutes late.

I shot out of bed after realizing that I’d slept through my alarm. I sprinted for the shower, then ran downstairs, tossing on clothes and running a brush through my sopping hair. I couldn’t find my glasses, and well, without my glasses I couldn’t see to find my glasses… (Life is full of vicious cycles such as this at 5:45 in the morning.) I felt through my blurry medicine cabinet, popped contacts in my eyes, and flew out the door.

I was late to Bible study (barely, but none-the-less). From Bible study I raced to work where I sat in a classroom of screaming little ones– all sick from the cold going around the Street School. After a few hours of cranky babes and being thrown up on twice, the dismissal bell rang and I left as quickly as my frazzled feet would carry me.

I dropped off one of my students on my way home and raced inside to change into my running clothes. Two miles later, I was happily out of breath, running just barely behind schedule. I ran inside my front door and grabbed my water bottle, remembering that I needed to get to the bank before they closed. After digging through my purse for a minute, I realized I’d left my wallet in the car earlier in my haste to change out of my work clothes.

I glanced at the time. 4:45. Perfect. I’ve got 15 minutes to get 3 blocks to the bank before they close. Easyyyyy.

I ran out the back door of the Yarrow House, locking it behind me. Just as I slammed it shut and took a step off the porch, it hit me.

My keys were inside the house… the house that I’d just locked myself out of.

After a few frantic texts to my roommates, it became apparent that I wasn’t getting in the house or into my car for at least an hour.

Well, the garden needs to be weeded and at least the shed’s not locked today… I thought. If I’m not gonna make it to the bank, I might as well be productive in a different way. So I sat and dug dandelions out of the little fenced off dirt plot in the yard, laughing out the majority of my frustration.

As I laughed and yanked the weeds out of the earth, my wild post-run hair fell down over my eyes. I attempted to sweep it out of my face with the back of my hand and I realized I’d made a mistake just as everything went blurry.

I’d swept my contact right out of my eye, into the dirt. With no way to make it inside to rinse it off, I declared it a loss and buried it with my finger.

Growing more frustrated with my situation, yet still determined to make the most out of my time locked out of the house, I shut my contact-less eye, squinted at the soil, and continued to pull weeds.

Alright God… Not funny. I have a million and one things to do to prep for Alaska and a million and two things on my mind, and now I’m essentially a prisoner in my own backyard– a sweaty, windswept, partially blind, mud caked prisoner.

That was not how I saw my Tuesday going.

The night before, I’d laid out my clothes with grand plans of being graceful, put-together, professional, and productive… the type of woman I usually feel like I should be. But my Tuesday had been a not-so-delicate reminder that that is not the kind of woman God has created me to be.

I’m perpetually late. My clothes usually don’t match. My glasses (if I can even find them) usually have tiny finger prints covering them from working with tiny humans and their mommas all day. I’m spacey and lose things more often than I find them. I’ve been described as a hail storm– wild, unpredictable, and noisy– when I sprint into a room just a few moments behind schedule. I’m a hot freaking mess, and most of the time I’m okay with that.

However, even on my best, most confident days, comparison can creep in and leave me feeling insecure and worth-less (not worthless) because I am not some put together, graceful princess.

As I sat, barefoot in my weedless garden that afternoon, aimlessly tracing lines in the dirt, I thought about all the people I consider to be graceful and it dawned on me that, dang it, I am graceful. Or at least I strive to be grace full; full of grace.

It’s an awkward kind of grace for sure, but it’s there. And it’s there despite all my clumsiness, tardiness, blindness, and well… general mudiness…

Grace is in there somewhere because Jesus is.

It’s not the type of grace that I could exude or perfect by being timely, well dressed, or less of an overall space case. No, it’s the kind of grace that is purely a gift from God because of who Jesus is and what He has done for me, for all of us, on the cross:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth... For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.(John 1: 14, 16)

Jesus came to this mess of an earth, lived a perfect life, died a death that I deserved, and then conquered death to raise Himself back to life. It’s the gospel of perfect love and grace that I hear all the time. Yet somehow I forget it’s just as true for me, (the one who simply can’t seem to get anything together, ever) as it is for the ones I constantly compare myself to.

I may not be able to get my ducks in a row or be graceful by the world’s standards, but I’m sticking to my revelation that I am indeed, full of grace because He has allowed me to live out of His fullness. Even though, I’m weak and a mess, in the awareness of my disheveled state I’m able to rely on His strength and perfection by and because of His grace to me.

Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I know that to be far too true, but I’m slowly realizing that if I let it, comparison can also kill my awareness of His grace…

263 days after writing this, I found myself walking down an airplane runway in Port Alsworth with Kathryn. As we meandered our way to a friends’ house, we talked about the unpublished draft of this very blog, laughing at how dramatically different my life looks a year later, but how much of a mess I still am.

This draft mentally resurfaced on our walk because I was wearing contacts yet again, as I’d woken up that late morning (way after my four alarms) unable to find my glasses. (Which I swear had to have been stolen from my room in the middle of the night by gypsies or something, because their location still escapes me…)

The million and one things that were on my frazzled mind in that garden have all been worked out in the beautiful sovereignty and grace of the Lord. Clearly, I eventually made it back into my house that evening and to the bank sometime later that week. The million and two support letters that the Lord used to bring me to Alaska were sent out, perhaps a few days (or weeks) later than I’d intended, but that didn’t impede upon God’s faithful provision or plan.

Sure, I’m still a hail-storm of a human. And no, maybe I don’t have a car that I can lock myself out of these days, but I did almost back a 4-wheeler into a house last night… I digress to simply say (mostly to remind my own fickle heart) that there’s nothing I (or you) could ever do to disrupt the grace-full sovereignty of God in His bigger story or tiny details.

While I’m reminded daily of my shortcomings and weaknesses, that has never stopped God from reminding my hot mess of a self that everything is accomplished by His grace and goodness, not the world’s expectations of what grace should look like in me.

Glory be to God.

“For You are good, You are good, when there’s nothing good in me…”

(“Forever Reign”, Hillsong United)

Waiting at the end of myself

Sunday night was one of those evenings that make my heart smile.

After an action-packed weekend of climbing a 14-er, having a bonfire with friends from out of town, playing several games of volleyball, attending church with my roomies, and eating more ice cream than I should probably admit to, one of my roommates walked into the room I was laying in and flopped down on the bed next to me.

As the sticky summer breeze blew threw the open patio door, we both sighed and then laughed at our tandem exhaustion.

“I had such a good plan for my life, Jules,” I said as I stared at the ceiling.

“Me too. It’s funny to think that we both wanted to be doctors. Ooooooh how different life would be right now,” Julie said, laughing to herself.

“Yupp,” I sighed. “I was going to become a cardiac surgeon and here I am– a broke missionary “ex-teacher”– just about the furthest thing ya can be from a surgeon. I had everything all planned out and now I’m laying on here contemplating changing the entire trajectory of my life yet again with one seemingly simple decision: Do I finish this master’s program at GIAL? Or do I do the seemingly illogical thing and stay here in Denver, where I have given everything up and have no concrete plans for, well, anything?”

Oh yeah, you read that right. Those words came out of my mouth and then part of me immediately wanted to shove them back in.

After nearly a year of preparing to move to Texas and several months of praying through my waffling heart, I’m suddenly pretty sure that I’m not moving to Dallas in December.

I had a lot riding on Texas. (Well, that’s a sentence I NEVER thought I would type…)

Texas was my only real plan at this point.

Throughout all of the chaos and transition of my last few months, moving to Texas was the only stable thing that seemed to make sense.

“I’m not going to enter into a lease here in Denver because I’m leaving in less than a year.”

“I’m not going to sign a teaching contract for next school year because I’m leaving after Christmas.”

“Thinking about getting involved with this activity or that ministry simply doesn’t make sense because I’m moving…”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Texas was “it” for me and admitting that I was wrong… that I rushed into something (big surprise there)… that I have been trying to fit my stubborn square peg into God’s perfectly rounded plan… Well, that honestly is a blow to my pride and my adventure-obsessed heart.

Yet I know that it wasn’t all for nothing. I know that over the last few months as I have “prepared to move”, God has stripped me down in the most glorious way possible.

He has exposed some pretty gnarly idols and lies that were eating away at my blinded heart throughout all of this– idols of adventure, fear, comfort, and affection; lies about who I am and who I was before I fell in love with Christ…

And now? After being stripped completely of all of my plans and the paths that I was trying to stubbornly (Did I mention that I’m stubborn?!) create in my own wilderness, it feels like He is simply calling me to be silent and wait for His direction– something that I clearly suck at.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– I’m guilty of being an over-committer, a go-er, a woman is seemingly incapable of sitting still for more than five minutes, even though God continuously has told me to simply sit my butt down and stay a while.

I am hungry for adventure and new destinations, when in fact, I should be hungry for Him and only Him.

Somehow, the fact that God is not a destination or a box to be checked on my bucket-list continuously slips my little mind.

Yet every time I stupidly forget who God is and what He has called me to, He reminds me that He is relational. And as He reminds me of this, He also reminds me that my relationship with Him consists not only of praying and meditating on His Word, but also of waiting and listening.

So, what better place to be silent and wait on Him than in Alaska?

(But seriously– I’m sitting on the terminal floor at DIA, waiting for my plane that leaves for a tiny village in Alaska in less than an hour… It’s funny; it’s like God knew that I was going to be a scatter-brained, mental-case right about now and would be needing a week away from my distracting life here in Denver, in a secluded village in the mountains where I can focus on little but Him.)

kbronn_mttanalianPhoto credit: Kathryn Bronn (Click here for more photos of where I’m headed and for an awesome blog post from one of my favorite ladies.)

In the midst of my breathtaking, but busy life here in Denver, it is easy for me to forget that silence and stillness are necessary and beautiful parts of my relationship with God. I cannot admit enough that it is incredibly difficult for me to quiet myself completely and simply lay in His presence and wait for Him to move, but as I said before, I know that is what He is calling me to.

He is calling me to Himself.

Maybe He will still lead me to Dallas eventually. Maybe He will continue to tell me to park my tush right here in the community that He has brought me into.

Either way, I am (slowly) learning that I want Jesus more than adventure or forward motion— a lesson that seems like it should’ve been more straightforward and less confusing to begin with… but nope. I’m hard headed and obviously easily confused when I’m not constantly listening for God’s voice in the midst of my own chaos.

But as I’ve read through the Psalms this summer, I have realized that David continuously wrote about this confusion within his heart and mind, and for that, I am incredibly thankful. (After all, if David, “The Man After God’s Own Heart” didn’t have anything concretely figured out either, I’m probably not doing too bad in life.)

All throughout the Psalms, David teaches an incredibly important lesson– When you don’t know what is going on, go humbly and honestly before the Lord; pray and then wait.

Sometimes God answers prayers and moves quickly. Sometimes He doesn’t. And I’m learning that slow answers are equally as beautiful.

As a wise blogger once wrote, (okay, wrote four days ago…)

“David knew a thing or two about waiting. Even after Samuel appointed him king of Israel, David didn’t immediately go slay Goliath. Saul was not promptly impeached and David sworn in. David had to wait. Before he could rise to his calling to become king in the future, he had to fulfill his responsibilities—as a shepherd—in the present. And so do we.” (Read this awesome post about waiting on God on Relevant here.)

So here I am. Simply a mildly confused, very tall woman with a blog, a heart for the Nations, and no clear long-term plan for my life. Will I stay in Denver forever? Will God end up taking me somewhere better than my little brain could have ever dreamed up? Will I ever return from Alaska where the sun stays up for 24 hours straight in the summer? Will learning to be patient and wait on God kill me? (Okay, probably not… Honestly, if anything Him forcing me to be patient is making me fall even more deeply in love with Him everyday.) As for the first few questions though, it looks like we’ll have to wait and see…
What is God asking for you to wait on Him for today?
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!”
(Psalm 31:24)