This was first posted as a regular update for those checking in on us during our trip to Greece, Turkey, and Rome. We travel with GTI Study Tours, and are thankful for the work they do.

These past few days have been a reminder to me that growth happens in community. Today, we ventured into Ephesus and Aphrodisas, one city that is well known to us through Scripture and another new and unknown.

I am quite partial to Ephesus, and one of those many reasons is that my favorite conjunction in the Bible, “but God,” finds itself smack dab in the text, in the heart of a city where the brothel and gods demand constant allegiance. If we are honest with ourselves, that portion of text also describes our lives clearly if we are those who know the truth of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:1-10

As one who finds herself to be much more “hellenistically” minded, I have also fallen into the mindset that this run, this life of faith, is mainly one to be done alone, on my own. Of course, I know the right, biblical answers as to why this is not right, but like most knowledge that we might have of the truth, sometimes we find ourselves to still be unbelievers of that truth in our heart.

What struck me in Ephesus as we walked together, sat, and talked together, was that over the past few days, we have bantered and debated, yet have only grown in love towards one another and for Christ. This for a long time has seemed paradoxical, but today much more clear. As many people shared together under a tree which used to be in the area of the temple to Roma, there were many who confessed blind spots as to why they need community. In God’s good kindness, the chapter I last read of my book called, “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren has to do with these communal challenges. She writes:

For a couple of centuries now, evangelicals have focused almost exclusively on a personal relationship with God, on individual conversion and spiritual growth. Many feel that the church (if it’s necessary at all) is primarily intended to serve our individual spiritual needs or to group us together with like minded people - a kind of holy fraternity. If we believe that church is merely a voluntary society of people with shared values, then it is entirely optional. If the church helps you with your personal relationship with God, great; if not, I know a great brunch place that’s open on Sunday… We profoundly need each other. We are immersed in the Christian life together. There is no merely private faith - everything we do as individuals affects the Church community.
— Tish Harrison Warren

As I think again about the glorious conjunction of the gospel, God intervening, BUT GOD, I think too of the ways in which this has been passed down throughout the generations, especially as we walk through the streets of Ephesus. Because the gospel is the power of God, those who have truly been changed by Him make disciples. It spread like wildfire throughout Asia Minor, and very clearly, further than that. Friends, family, we must remember. We must remind one another.

We finished the blazing hot day in the artist colony city of Aphrodisas. Not only was the art incredible, but the archaeology found of the stadium there was seriously well-preserved. We sat from the top overlooking the arena, where brothers and sisters before us more than likely went to their utterly painful deaths. Rod led us into remembering those portions of sport-pictures in the text, running the good race, finishing, persevering to the end.

All of these people have a story that are with me here on this trip. All of these people have testimonies of God’s great and glorious faithfulness through some of the worst suffering I would never ask to endure. And yet, BUT GOD.

The question was this: are you making disciples with your life, running the race well and devoted?

I need that question everyday, with the reminder, the fresh knowledge that Jesus has done this for me and I can boast, running in the strength He gives with daily bread and living water.

Not one of us hesitated to follow, grabbing a stone, and building an ebenezer.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus is our abundance. Jesus is our all. Hold fast to the gospel, friends. Don’t do this alone. 

Being Weak

Yesterday was day one of our trip.

Day One went as I expected, but always don’t want to expect. I get nice and nauseous when running on zero to four hours of sleep, and thought that I might still be in the clear when in the middle of the hike up a long winding path at the Temple of Apollos, I had to stop.

Rewinding a bit, we have memory verses to recite while we are here. Mine have mainly dialogue as found in Acts 18, but James’ have been some of the verses that we as Christians love to throw out the most. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

In order to memorize these verses, he would say them over and over again out loud, as well as write them out and have me double check where he stumbled and needed a word. For my brain, this meant that these verses also got stuck in my head.

When the thirty-some people who are also along this trip with us took notice of my illness, my weakness, they did what good communities do: they asked how they could help. There are few things in this world I dislike doing, like cooking dinner or doing cardio of any sort, however, receiving help is probably number one on that list. So as I was telling everyone that I was OK, swinging off the many suggestions of what I should do for my nausea, James’ verses came into my head.

Why am I not okay with being weak?

I felt such guilt for having the attention focused in on me. James had to carry my bag, making his load twice as hard, and the group had to go slower. I felt like a failure to not only myself, but my husband, and the rest of the team with me. I felt like a burden on everyone, sucking the life out of those who are already exhausted from the heat of the summer sun beating down upon them.

I am very keenly aware that this points to an area in which I do not practice what I preach.

Christ is in the business of redeeming and restoring, but most times what that means is being brought low, to the end of yourself. When you live your life actively receiving His grace, preaching to yourself the truth and power of the gospel, humility is easy. When you know that all you need is need, your eyes can be open to the fact that only He can come in and fix what is broken.

Why am I not okay with being human?

Jackie Hill Perry recently tweeted this:

Basically, humility is simply living in reality. Reality is, we are not God.

Taking a nice long nap on our way to Athens from Delphi was incredibly helpful for my stomach issues, and as I write, I’m nervous but excited for Day Two. Yet, if yesterday reminded me of anything, even this youthful body will fail me. I need Christ to come in and help save what I am both aware of being broken, as well as what I am not. My prayer for our time overseas is just that I would listen, and adding from yesterday, that I would also humbly receive.

Resting and Expecting

I heard the words from our well-meaning friends last night, that they desperately needed to hear the message that they should be expecting great things from our great God. They were tired of the old adage that said to expect suffering and expect wrestling. They wanted to expect revival.

They aren’t wrong. We certainly can ask our Father for amazing and abundant things (John 14:13, Ephesians 3:20, 1 John 5:14). I have no shortage of prayers speaking words asking for a treasure trove, miracles around the corner every moment.

We pray for abundance, most times I feel, because we feel like there is something missing. This something missing doesn’t necessarily have to be the next big step God has for your life, or a material object[s], but it could even be what we feel is missing within us.

I was wounded by a co-worker in ways that left me feeling tossed to-and-fro in the workplace. I sat in an empty room on the phone with my husband, hoping for some validation. Through tears as he began to comfort me, I interrupted and said, “I know, I know. I’m enough.” He stopped me to remind me gently, “you are not enough, but He is.”

Earlier this week, Lore Ferguson-Wilbert wrote a blog on “The Gift of Lack”. Through her beautifully written words, she is able to faithfully and poignantly say that God is the gift in the midst of lack.

He is the gift.

Every week, I re-do our calendar that shows the tasks of the day for both James and I, a little form of showing I have seeming control over the next seven days. I always put a little scripture, or a quote, most times that I’m digging off of twitter while the chalk pen dries. This week, in God’s great kindness, I wrote this:

Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.
— John Newton

Personally, in this season of “what’s next,” I have found I am expectant in a way that has become a breeding ground of discontentment for what He has given me here and now. For my friends, the great wisdom in my husband left Him asking them, “in all of this, then, is God enough?” Even in the not-enough that I feel of myself all of the time, am I left attempting to muster up the strength to be enough, or will I let God be my strength in my not-enoughness?

Blessed be the Holy Spirit, working within us and through us from one degree of glory to the next. Jesus is enough. Our Father knows what He is doing, and we can rest in what He has given for today without worry for tomorrow. As I recount the many ways in which I shake my fist and ask when He is going to come through, I need to also recount the many ways in which I can shout from the mountain tops His great faithfulness to a wretch like me.

Incoherencies on Being Young and Shame

I had a really great time a few nights ago, out with some co-workers and friends to celebrate a redeemed marriage. I’ve been trying to figure out who my friends are, especially because every single book I read on being healthy while working in ministry warns against not having good friends. When I was with this group of women, I felt like I could actually be myself.

Yet, as soon as I got home, this overwhelming feeling hit me with a wave of total fear and anxiety.

You know the feeling when you wake up and everything feels fine until the memory of laying yourself open washes over you and you want to hide under the covers? What did I do?
— Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

She calls this the “vulnerability hangover.” Quite honestly, along with the social paranoia that I battle regularly, the constant aftermath of replaying every single detail in my mind can be just exhausting. Because of those things, I don’t tend to keep reaching out, to keep putting myself out there.

I’ve thought about this a lot today, partially because it’s also my birthday. The question comes up a lot as I serve in my church about how old I am, or rephrased, how young I am. For the opposite reason that most people don’t share their age, I’ve felt like I’ve needed to cover the fact that I am quite young, and younger than what most people would think. Once that yearly-changing fact is disclosed, I fear I am written off by many who are older than me, which is most everyone that I serve.

These emotions that hit me regularly are all full of dirty, filthy shame.

The definition of shame even expounds upon the fact that it can be caused by so many different things, in that “shame is a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.”

There is shame that should be there, when we fall like Adam and Eve, missing the blatant mark and deserting God with our words and actions. We hope that when we feel shame when we have done the same, that shame would lead us to see Christ and the ways that He both bore our shame and made a way out of shame. He provides the perfect covering for the shame with the gift of His blood and resurrection. However, there is shame that I believe is from the enemy.

My husband has a tradition of consistently reading the Psalm that is the same number as his age for that entire year of life. This morning I remembered that my Psalm switched with my new year of life. The first three verses became such a gift to my soul, an answer to my prayers.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
— Psalm 25:1-3

My shame lately has been in this tension of not having control; not being able to manipulate what my future should be post-graduation in December, not being able to be the exact savior to everyone I serve in the place where I work, and even not being able to force God’s hand at making me into this different version of myself that I would rather be. A lot of my shame is misplaced and unnecessary, but it comes out of a lack of trust in God. When I distrust God, I follow along with Eve in listening to the serpent saying: “Did God really say?”

O my God, in You I trust.

Some of my shame is also discontentment in the manna, the daily bread, that He has given. Do I trust that He does nothing without a purpose, without a plan? Do I trust that He withholds nothing good, or do I keep lusting after the fruits that I can grasp?

Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame.

So here is to year twenty-five. No shame in that. With open hands, I pray that the shame that I feel can turn from unholy obsession with myself into a holy rest in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To trust Him is enough.

The Lament of Naomi, the Lives In-Between

No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.
— Ruth 1:13b
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?
— Ruth 1:20-21

Reading these verses through the first time left me wondering how Naomi could be so shortsighted. Most of this comes from the ignorance that this season of my life has me in. It has been a sweet couple of months of adventure and trust, for which we are thankful. However, it has also been hard to empathize with Naomi when it feels as if she’s just being a little too melodramatic.

What colored these verses, however, was not my lack of empathy, but the people that the Lord specifically placed in my life during this week of reading chapter one of Ruth.

My dear co-worker right now is watching her mother die slowly in front of her, as her father struggles to watch the wife of his youth forget who he is. As we prayed together, she shared words like Naomi’s, words that caused me to take a step back as I tried to grapple with the tension of her faith as well as the reality of her situation as she shared her heart of frustration that God couldn’t just come and fix it, even end it, already.

Another friend of mine finds herself battling the awful systems we have set in place for those in foster care here in America. Her family has raised these two boys for three grueling years through infancy and some terrible toddler years only for mom to show up and claim them as her own. A court case will proclaim either the adoption into their family or the termination of their guardianship in a month, and she mourns with deep pangs as they pour out their savings to a lawyer that won’t dictate the decision at the end of the day.

She [Naomi] feels anguish precisely because she believes God is in control.
— Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life

We cry out with eternity written on our hearts because we know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be.

The gap between hope and reality is the desert. Naomi’s lament is the prayer of the desert, the agony of living in the tension between hope and reality.
— Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life

One of my brothers has also found himself in that desert, wondering when the striving will cease. Encouraging him to lament was something he had never thought to do. It doesn’t seem correct, not right to shake our fists at our Holy God, the Almighty One, and demand deliverance. Yet, mourning loss and grieving the many deaths, losses, and “whys” of this world actually don’t allow us to breeze by the season that He has placed us in, but keep our eyes fixated not just on the problem, but the only One that can come and heal what has been damaged and destroyed.

Let us call out to our God, for we know He saves. One day, all of these deaths will be resurrected because God Himself, Jesus, was raised to life from death. Holy Saturday is for all who suffer and feel like God’s promises aren’t adding up. Take heart, you who are in the desert. Lament in faith. Lament boldly.