2014 was a great year. I got to travel and celebrate the marriages of close friends. I moved into a new place and I met the neatest people. I got my diploma, started a new job – and yet for most of it I felt like such a mess.
Sometimes everything is a mess; and somehow your cookie sheet ends up with the snowboarding gear and your hair dryer in the box of cleaning supplies. They say all great change is preceded by chaos. So maybe the being spread thin, and stretched beyond what you thought was possible – precedes all greatness.
That season of chaos, whether it lasts a few days or a few months, has a purpose. When you’re stripped down to the essentials, when you’re drained to the point of empty – the next season finally has room to fill you up deeper than before.
I know this because I’ve been in this season before. Because not so long ago I sat on my parents front steps, my car packed tight with everything I owned, and still no word that I even had a place to go.
And Mom said quietly – “I think you’re going to have to just get in the car.” She’d been there once too and she knew what I had to do. That kind of advice is hardest to swallow and all too frequently true.
My hands shook as my car rolled slow down that gravel road – And it felt like the longest two miles of my life. As my tires passed the green gate marking the end of my parent’s ranch, my phone rang news of a new home waiting for me. I can’t tell you how deep the gratefulness ran those next few hours, dotted yellow lines and prayers of thanks paving the road ahead of me.
And I need to be reminded of this reoccurring theme of “right on time,” God has been writing for me. A reminder to keep my eyes above the waves. It’s the anxious heart that whispers brave to be led where your faith is without borders, because you feel the boundaries of your faith so acutely in this place.
There are days when you just feel drained to the point of empty. Because it doesn’t get much emptier than 10 days of $0.38 in your account, a lost credit card and an empty gas tank. It doesn’t get much more drained than crying hot, choking tears over a box you can’t carry, when you have to be out by tonight.
I can’t tell you how hard that .38 cents hit me, the planner, the organizer, the guilty spender.
Days later, stopped at a red light on my way to a post work hike, I dug through the center console for a hair tie, opening the ashtray to find a $20. I gasped, and waved it at my friend in the passenger seat. You’ve got to be kidding me? And why the heck couldn’t I have found this last week? When I didn’t even know if my car would make it with another load to my new house?
That night in the quiet of my driveway I pulled that $20 out again. I smoothen the wrinkles, stretching it against the steering wheel, wondering why God does what He does. Just ten days ago I sat on my empty bedroom floor, staring at the wall for answers, finding it hard to swallow. That $20 would have felt very much like a gulp of air after holding your breath for too long, but God didn’t allow me that.
I don’t know what your story looks like but I know that’s never been the story that God has been writing for me. My story has been a lot more chapters of getting on the road with a thousand prayers for a destination to materialize. It’s been putting one more box in my car and driving across town hoping the gas gauge stays where it is for just one more trip.
My story includes a lot more $20s after the fact. A lot of steps made in good faith when faith feels anything but good. And you know what? That’s ok.
Because all along it was God, moving people and moving us, writing a simple story with an extraordinary message. Emmanuel. God is with us. He’s here.
As the days got marked off in June, and I looked at more creepy houses, and met a few more potential killer craigslist roommates. Prayers about where I would live when July 1st arrived became less hopeful, and edged closer to panic.
In the chaos when my faith feels small, I pray small too — thinking the smaller they get the more likely they’ll be answered. As if answers to prayer are based on whether they’re small enough to fit in an already packed suitcase, or easy enough to whip up without another trip to the grocery store. If I’m not too much of an inconvenience to God, maybe He’ll come through for me. And in praying small, I limit an incomparably big God whose pleasure is to do us good. Luke 12:32
While I shrunk my prayers, others were praying very big, very specific, perfect-for-me kind of prayers. And not a moment too soon I found a place to live that was beautiful and safe. A place filled with such good people. A place where there are more cows than cars. Where you look out your window and see pastures and mountains rolling right out to the ocean. A place that feels like home.
I’m so grateful for these people who pray big when I can only hope small.
When high rent, and student loans filled my mailbox, I ran myself ragged from interview to interview, praying to find a new job to at least pay the bills. Meanwhile people prayed this, but also for a job that let me use my strengths, my degree, a job I could enjoy.
Interview after interview lead to closed doors keeping me where I was. In retrospect, what I saw as my only option was keeping me in a position so that I was ready for the best option. Had I taken any one of those jobs before, I wouldn’t have been looking when my dream job opened up.
If I’m being honest, I spent most of the year waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for what I held in my hands to crumble and blow away like the summer soil in California. I spent most of the year needing a hug and not knowing how to ask for it.
But our God is faithful beyond our wildest, quietest dreams. More often than not it takes the $0 .38 in a bank account, being stretched thin, bruised from carrying things too heavy for me, drained and emptied out – for gas gauge to stay frozen in place even after the 10th trip across town. For old friends to show up, and new ones to walk in. For better homes and jobs you love to become a reality.
This isn’t to say that it’s smooth sailing once you learn how to pray – there are still things hoped for that remain unseen for me. But I’ve watched the boundaries of my faith be rolled back like coastal fog against the strength of the mid day sun.
I don’t understand why God works the way he does, but I do know that He’s come through for me every time, in His time.
And I wish that you could be confident despite the raging waves, that you could believe this deep inside you, that you could feel the absurdity of gratefulness that keeps bubbling like a spring in a season of drought. I wish you could know these things without the chaos, without the ground tilting awkwardness of worry, but know this:
When you’re all poured out, you can finally be all filled up.
I can’t say it will all work out like you plan, and had I held the pen I would have written those weeks and months, very differently. But so many times I’ve been equally grateful that I don’t write the final draft, my shortsightedness would have provided me with so much less than what I’ve been given.
Every time I’ve been poured out, I’ve been filled with so much more, holding things so much better than what I was storing before.
“Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees.” – John Newton
I don’t hope hard days on you, but I hope you remember we write “See Jane Run” stories while God writes “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5
I want life to play out like an easy beach read while God is writing a work of art that will stand the test of time. I want a $20 to fall out of the car when He plans unexplainably frozen gas gauges. I want clearly charted paths and He writes soul searing lessons in faith.
He’s taking our short stories of tragedy and triumph, heartbreak and healing, somehow weaving it together into something remarkable; a continual story of redemption, played out in our countries, our neighborhoods, our kitchens and our hearts.
God pens radical life changes and stunning plot twists. He writes passionate fights and underdog victories. He writes forgiveness for the incomprehensible and perseverance through the impossible. He writes quiet leaders and outspoken love. Monumental sacrifice and simple truths. He writes deep-seeded peace in times of turmoil – And he puts it all in the unimpressive setting of ordinary life.
He writes the stories I want to read, in places I know well. In times of chaos, He writes footnotes of reassurance, that greatness is just a page away.