Sea Fort

It’s been a season of discovery. Of looking back and rediscovering little joys in areas I had either forgotten or forsaken, thinking I wasn’t “good enough” to savor the small habits such as photographing flowers and banging clumsy fingers on piano keys. In this moment of newness these simple acts of self-kindness have reemerged, but I find myself still struggling against whether or not I am “good enough” to claim them as the hobbies they are.

Protect me, God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.”

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In the grand scheme of life, I recognize that such debates are pure minutia. Still, I think they are a part of figuring out who you are as a twenty something. These little frivolities we so quickly write off are part of what bring us joy in the day to day, so I don’t think Christ would write them off. In fact, experience proves to me that He cares deeply. Deeply enough to bring me to a home in the canyons when I was expecting a little duplex in the hub of the Inland Empire to be my abode, knowing full well that my spirit needed these springtime flowers dotting the mountains.

As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them. The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply; I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood, and I will not speak their names with my lips.

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Photo: Annie Spratt of Unsplash

Amid these small buds, full blooms of newness have been emerging, with hints of more to come. Realizations of what the Lord truly created me for are coming into play. Like ocean spray caught in a breeze, I catch whiffs of these promises here and there. The ocean is there, on the other side of the wind- I must keep walking. The terrain may change again, but instead of being afraid of falling down the mountain because my foot slipped on a stream, I will simply learn to step differently as I walk towards the sea.

Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

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Photo: Daniel Ribar of Unsplash

It’s amazing how insecurities rise up. Rarely are they new, it seems, but rather the same old lies flying around like crows in our heads since adolescence. Instead of getting frustrated at our insolence as we pause in fear every few moments along the path of obedience Yaweh has laid out for us; instead of growing as short as our faith when worry seizes our muscles, He patiently reminds us of that which He’s told us over and over and over before.

I will bless the Lord who counsels me- even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I will always let the Lord guide me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

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Photo: Baptist Standaert of Unsplash

It’s not about you, love. 
I am the One holding you together.
I will keep you on the path I have set before you. 
Though you may stumble, I will never allow you to fall irrecoverably. 
These scrapes and bruises are strengthening you, growing you into the woman you are called to be. 
I never said the road would be easy, but that I would be with you the entire way. 
To know the end from the beginning would be too much for you; trust in My hand guiding you instead.
This route, though at times dull, at times terrifying, at times miraculous and at others confusing, is for good.
None of this is pointless; I know what I am doing.
Your destiny is for a future and hope; a life filled with Me.
In the end, it will all be beautiful.
The more you look to Me, the more beautiful you will see that it is even now.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely. For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your faithful one to see decay.

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Photo: Ustav Shah of Unsplash

Like a child, we need the repetition. We need to be reminded time and again that obeying His edict, even when it seems as insignificant as photographing some flowers, is crucial. As His children, we do not always know where these small acts could lead in our lives. Even if they are only to maintain a level of joy and creativity in our private lives, that is of the utmost importance to our Father.

You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; at Your right hand are eternal pleasures.

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Photo: Joe Caione of Unsplash

So we step forward. We walk forward along the uneven mountain terrain, taking in the beauties of quiet streams trickling from a rock where we may fill our canteens and be refreshed once more in the purest of ways, and choosing to trust Him when the noises at night truly are what we dare not think, because though danger be present, so is our King.  Nothing can truly reach or harm us when we are His.

Psalm 16:1-11

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Under the Same Sun.

The cold post of the bunk pressed against my cheek as one of the boys shows me the music he’s been enjoying lately, downloaded to the sim of his flip phone. There’s sadness in his usually dancing eyes and I don’t know why. Ask, and he shakes his head. So we continue to listen to the sounds of Bollywood mingled with the rush of the rails. The next day he was gone, having left without a word to return to his fears and emerge a conqueror. After four tries and running away three times, he finished his Discipleship Training School in India.

Feet dangle hundreds of feet above the Ganges, hands gripping the door. The train stretches out on either side. From each window there’s smiling faces of the boys we were serving on the right, strangers’ contemplations on the left. Everything was grey and green and misty and alive.

Staring out the window, I see his face walking up, like I had dreamed would one day happen so many nights as a little girl, staring out that same window. The plumeria danced in the wind above him, his hair swaying to the same music. What joy it was to finally be in the same place at the same time. As the morning light caught his eyelashes, we met at the door to go on the picnic which would change both our lives forever.

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Sitting in the green chair from the thrift store, the first piece of furniture either of us ever truly owned, His Words opened on my lap, sun smiles on the mint flowers given by a sister who had no idea the act she was doing for the Lord. In those flowers I saw His eyes illuminating everything that had passed and was that I could not understand. The struggles of marriage. The pain of seeing too much in all the wrong places- in yourself, even. The sugar of betrayal from one you thought would always be close. The furnace of making a home. The insecurity of young friendship, and the stars of acceptance. The galaxies of what it means to truly love and be loved, asking nothing in return. The sparks of discovering home may never be a place anymore, but will always be the gold in his chocolate eyes.

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Feet propped on a coffee-colored chair. White windows meet at a corner as the peach tea flows down my throat. It is miraculous the moments a single song can tie together, crossing years and emotions. Waiting for the one who makes my home to arrive, learning what it means to grow through dirt and allow the nutrients to replenish the soul without the weight crushing down in the process. It’s so easy to think we know it all from our little corners of perspective.

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Photo by Tim Wilgus on Unsplash

I wonder what he was thinking, as he knew the week was coming to a close and the group of people he had lived with for two weeks now would never be seen by him again; that he was returning to a journey he had never been able to complete; that this time he would. I wonder what the women a few cars down thought as they watched the pale legs clad in Colombia hiking boots now so coated in dirt the original shade is indistinguishable stick out the door, pink and blonde hair whipping her face. I wonder what the flowers thought as they saw two kids, young and in love, smile through glass without words. I wonder what stories that old chair has carried, tears besides my own soaked into its welcoming plush. I wonder what the woman across the street in the tribal shirt and tattered skirt is thinking as she walks her bike across the intersection. I wonder all the lives walking into their purpose at the moment I write these words- all the lives missing it in this instant by a seemingly small choice but which would define their destiny. I wonder why these words pour themselves out as the branches dance in the wind, like blood through my fingertips requiring release.

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We can never know fully what is on the horizon. I think if we did, it would steal half the joy and excitement. In this interim time, caught up in a cocoon of the Lord’s love, I can sense the dawn coming by the layer of misty fog in which I dwell. When the morning comes, shedding light on the next season, these wings will emerge in their fullness and beauty, ready to discover what it means to fly. After having tried my wings for a bit, tired from the weight of newfound beauty, I’ll settle on a flower for a bit, under the same sun where I learned what it meant to relish in the joy of being His creation.

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Retrospect.

In an evening filled with the Spirit and raw emotion, He whispered to me through the vessel of a sister the purpose for which I had been created. With what I have and will see, I am to speak and create, and in that discover my blessing. However, flash forward six months and I am huddled up in a heap on the front porch of my first big-girl house, sobbing at midnight because it was all simply too much. I had sensed the burden for years, but could never determine its origin or identity. When Hannah spoke to me, I began to understand, but now that I was back in the field I was raised in, I did not know what to do with the revelation. The pouring out – the speaking and creating with which I was designed to bless and serve – were  coming from my own shallow pond of strength. I would allow Him to give me His topic, then fill it in with my words and judge the reaction according to a self-perceived dosage of talent. It would originate from Him, but get polluted along the way, leaving me frustrated, burnt out, confused and crying.

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A year later, my husband and I lie exhausted after fleeing a hurricane in the one place we could find power and running water- on an air mattress in an upstairs office at the church where we served. After setting up camp there on Thursday, the Lord gave us our next assignment that Sunday. We were to move to California. While in the process of packing up and saying goodbye the excitement never waned, the familiar theme kept rising up in the form of what has proven to be my life’s most pervasive question: Am I enough? Each time I received the same answer: Of course not, because it’s not about me.

Do you realize how hard that is to learn? As the only daughter? As my daddy’s baby? As the pastor’s daughter raised the sweetheart of the congregation? I can tell myself as much as I want that it is not about me, but when it comes to the grit of things, there is a part of me that will always think that it is.

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But before I am anything else, I am a Christian. From the moment I was born I was on a sort of pedestal. I would breathe and to some it was miraculous. I would yawn and to others it was sin. And then I went to YWAM and the proverbial plastic tiara proved transparent in the Pacific breeze, and I was worn out and without identity. For all my years either directly rebelling against the PK stereotypes or picking one to decidedly play into, while trying to figure out life, I had found my identity in the diadem rather than the Maker of my soul. So what happened when no one could see the thin little outline framing my artificial crown? I shut down. I came home and tried to stand back up but found I was crippled and dirty and confused. But during that time of paralysis, the Lord was slowly cleansing my knees, straightening my bones and picking the broken shards of  plastic out of my hair. When I hit the ground, so did the chaplet, and in the confrontation it broke.

The next year and a half – my time in Miami, with all the sidewalk tears and air mattress edicts – was about learning to hold my neck without the weight. Often I’d reach for other things to place there instead – a sewing machine here, a bit of dirt formed in the shape of a trial there – but in His grace He’d take it down and readjust my neck held crooked for the old balancing act. He was never offended, never frustrated that I had just dumped a mudpie into the hair He had just washed. He just smiled (sometimes I think He chuckled), and kept the shampoo close.

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When we were reassigned to California, a new lesson began for the new season. Now I was to learn to say my name, and nothing else; to present myself as the same girl who sat alone with Jesus in a tree instead of the one poising a synthetic wreath with synthetic gems tilting slightly off my head, staring at you sideways, searching for eye contact through the shadow of the falling crown. I’m learning what it means to truly find my identity in Christ and nothing else. I’m learning how to thrive.

So what does it mean that I am a Christian first? It means that He has a waterfall gushing through these carbon bones. It means my entire being is made up of those moments sitting with Him, where His love flows into me just to rain on someone else as I do as He instructs, and perhaps those droplets of Living Water can help lead to their eternal life. Yet even as I make these notes, the girl who is used to the plastic crown cringes within me at the Christianese of it all and the amount of “I’s” written down. She is used to looking at her own talent and performance, and now Satan knows he can use that to stop my hands and mouth from doing as commanded.

That is what it all comes back to. It is not about me. It is not about my talent or performance but pouring out what He has put in me in the way He assigns, without worrying if my voice sounds like the old princess or if any of those old dregs of manufactured dignity come falling out of my hair. They will. The plastic polluted me. It is a part of my broken humanity. But it is not my identity. He is, and He alone.

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What’s the plastic polluting the garden of your identity? Would you bring it to Him?

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10

Taking Ownership.

Recently, my incredibly loving, amazingly faithful, brutally honest husband looked at me with genuine curiosity and asked, in so many words, where my personality had gone. While that almost sounds like it would be offensive at first, I knew what he was saying and knew he was right. Since the day we first met, I had been growing steadily duller by the minute. Yet I had no answer to his question.

Laying up, gazing a midnight ceiling, the answer came to me like the hush of rest. I was happy. For years, anger and discontentment had fueled my passion, but suddenly joy had taken their place. However, while in the frustration I’d learned to scream, in comfort I hadn’t learn to sing. When fury was fueling every ounce of my emotion, at everything and nothing in the most Salinger of ways, I failed to submit it to the Lord. Thus, when mirth took over I didn’t know what to do with it. So I slipped into what I presumed to be peace, when in reality it was a spiritual slumber of sorts. I was worn out from all that screaming.

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We have to claim the fullness of our relationship with Christ. My husband can tell me as many times as he wants that he loves me, but I have to accept these words as truth for them to affect the way I live. I knew intellectually that the joy of the Lord invigorates, refreshes, and restores us. Yet when it came to living it out, I walked tiredly, just getting through the day as opposed to laying hold of the spontaneity and moxie evidenced by the disciples. I allowed my struggles and surmountings to define me instead of the verity overflowing from His eyes.

If our walk with the Lord is truly a relationship, at some point we have to take ownership of our side. He isn’t a genie or even an old lackluster boyfriend, satisfying ardor’s itch for a moment, but never wrapping us in agape. Because He is the only One who can satisfy our deepest longings and passions, searching for other modes of appeasement will always leave us dull and colorless. On the same note, thinking we are okay to live with Him as “just friends” when He’s asked to be our Groom will result in drab days of subdued existence, instead of the beautiful, intense romance He longs to draw us into. But first we have to accept His invitation. It’s only there that we will find the vivacity of life we’re made for, as it only ever comes from life with the One who created our hearts’ desires and begs to be allowed to fulfill them.

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He Restores.

It’s been such a wild and drawn out ride, I’m sure many of my friends and family are done hearing about it. But bear with me just one more time.

In March of 2016, the love of my life officially proposed to me with a ring I had picked out while still in Nepal. Handcrafted by an artist to resemble branches, it matched our wedding bands and was my pride and joy for the summer.

Just days before the wedding, however, the ring disappeared. I had taken it off during a time of sweet blessing and prayer with some of my dearest friends, and during that time it “mysteriously vanished.”

Being the amazing man that he is, my husband stole away with my brother in the middle of an utter bridezilla meltdown in Macy’s and figured out a way to surprise me with another ring, so I would still feel like a bride (despite my diva moments) on our wedding day. This is the ring I have worn and cherished since October 28th, 2016, when the most amazing man in the world took me as his wife.

Praying that the original ring would turn up, however, we had had the second ring sized a half size too large, so that should the first one surface, the second would fit on another finger as a reminder of the devotion of my husband, and my God. However, after endless searching it never materialized.

Today, on December 27, 2017, exactly a year from the date we celebrated our marriage in California, I received in the mail my husband’s Christmas surprise for me. Over a year later, as we continue in our new life in SoCal, my husband located the artist who originally crafted the ring for us, and had her make another. Today the ring sits proudly on my finger, with the wedding band it was designed to match, and the ring signifying the faithfulness of a husband sits on the other.

I’m aware how petty this may seem, but to Jon and I it symbolizes so much.

It symbolizes the faithfulness of the Lord in our marriage.
It symbolizes the strength of choosing love when everything seems to be going wrong.
It symbolizes redemption, in every area.
It symbolizes a fresh start, just in time for the new year.

When the ring first disappeared, the Lord told me He would restore it to me. I came across verses such as Joel 2:25 on a daily basis, often multiple times a day. At the time, I had no idea how it would come about. As I sit typing this proverbial journal entry, I am so grateful for the perfect beauty of His timing and methods. This is is so much more than a ring: it is a stone of remembrance of all that He has done and will do in our lives, of His unfailing love, and all of His fulfilled promises.

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And may I just say, I have the most devoted and romantic husband a woman could have.

Until next time,
XOXO

The Beauty of Mediocrity.

It’s been nearly two months since Jon and I moved to California, bringing nothing but what fit inside the 1971 beetle which served as our main mode of transport when in Miami. As with any substantial life change, reflection and insecurity have been frequent kinesthesis. Through it I’m learning, maybe feelings of mediocrity are not always a bad thing, contrary to what society’s drum continually beats. Maybe it keeps us aware of the truth that we are mediocre, we are broken, we are ash falling to the ground and drifting with any lift of the wind. And maybe that’s okay, because when we’re aware of our futility there is room for Christ to step in and give substance to these bones.

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When I fail to present these emotions to the Lord, however, they often give rise to others, such as inferiority. While remembrance of our human insufficiency apart from our Maker is healthy, the sense of forlornness and desolation deriving from dwelling there, as opposed to turning eyes heavenward, are in no way beneficial. The truth of it all is we are each of us works in progress, hopeless without Him but miracles once inside His hands.

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Often I’ll find myself, when in these navel-gazing states, comparing my walk with those around me, wondering why (like the millennial I am), I am not yet rich and famous, or even on the road there yet. While in word I recognize that His calling for me is unique, as His calling for each of His children is, when the negative emotions come knocking I fall directly into the mode of contrasting my current situation with what the world says it should be if I am to reach location x within y amount of years to be z amount successful. It’s the same mistake Sarah made when the Lord promised she and Abram a son. Instead of trusting in His holy (although yet unexplained) method for achieving the promise, she proceeded to follow the route which seemed right to her, although ultimately it only produced a detour they had to double back from. In the end, God still worked out the promise in His way, not hers, not her family’s, not society’s.

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As much as I know this story like the back of my hand, when questions regarding my future arise I begin thinking like Sarah, trying to conjure up my plan for producing the results I desire, instead of trusting the Lord enough to simply do what He has instructed me to do in this current season, and refuse to worry about the rest. Over the holidays I was asked what my goals for the new year were, and at the time, besides finishing my associates well, I could think of none. After writing this post, I realize my goal for the new year is this: to simply do what the Lord sets before me with trust and diligence, and rely on Him to fill in the blanks.

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Until next time,
XOXO

The Dawn is Coming, Open Your Eyes.

I want to sit here and write some wise-sounding words, but I have none. As the days pass I am growing increasingly, brutally aware of my own naivety. Today I type this in front of an open window in a white and grey bedroom on a comforter that looks like the trees from a book my mom read me when I was little. Mike Mains and the Branches plays in the background (second album).

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Lately I find myself missing India and Nepal more than ever. I think it’s the mountains my habitat is surrounded by for the first time since backpacking through Asia. While reading my Bible on our second day here and sipping some coffee on the back patio, it occurred to me how much peace the mountains have always brought me. When I look back on my life, the Lord always brought me to the mountains after a season in the desert, and it was there that new life began. In the past I always brought that fresh outlook back to Miami from the mountains, but now the rocky outline hemming me in furnishes the city I’m learning to call “home.”

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Whenever my mother-in-love Liz and I go out, I try to spot Big Bear. I’m learning to recognize the peak more each day.


My writing, at least that which is intended for public reading, is increasingly sporadic these days. I don’t even remember when I began this post, but now it has been three weeks since Jonny and I arrived in the sunny California foothills, and we are finally about to get our new licenses. Once I see my face plastered onto that piece of plastic which will forever look like a toy to me, I think it will all become more real. For now it still feels somewhat like a holiday vacation.

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The Lord seems intent that I not work during this season, but instead focus on my studies (which goodness knows needs some TLC after a monumental hurricane heralded a cross-country move, all in the same semester). While it was a blow to my pride, I’m so grateful that’s what He has for me right now. As much as my millennial self desires to be “self-sufficient” and all that, my spirit needs rest. These past few weeks doing life with the family here, getting to learn how to best love my husband from the one who raised him, have been the sweetest blessing.

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I think I tend to want to run more than is good for me, and honestly more than I am yet able to. Contrary to my pride as well have been the Sunday morning sermons teaching me to yield to the Lord in ways which before were close enough I thought I could manage them. I never needed to yield my job, because it was always there. My school was never an issue of control, because I always naturally excelled. Until September. With Hurricane Irma came a serious drop in academic performance. For once, not only were my classes a serious academic struggle, but after returning from the evacuation I was displaced due to a lack of running water at the apartment we were renting. For two weeks, we lived at the church we were engaged in ministry at, where I tried to get back on top of things while realizing slowly, somewhat subconsciously, that Jonny and I were never going to return to our little North Miami apartment the same way. A week into our stay at CMB, on the side of the bridge on a Sunday afternoon, walking to get a Subway sandwich, he asked me what I thought about moving to California. And there was peace, transcending any ounce of understanding I thought I had.

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Three weeks later, I sit in a Starbucks sweetly familiar to my husband, and utterly foreign to me. The semester is almost over, and if I pass all my classes, it is only by the grace of God and skin of my teeth (prayers appreciated there). At 6:30 AM he shared a croissant with me here before heading to work. And just like every other season before this, I am confused as to what God has for us here, but I am so grateful to be here.

It’s a season of learning what it means to truly rest. Of trusting that the Lord will work out every detail for those who are faithful to Him. Of accepting that no element of life will go as I planned. Of recognizing that I am such a small element of His grand scheme, but such an important one to Him. Of learning what it means to truly dwell in an attitude of joy.

Until next time,

XOXO

 

Oh, California…

Sunday, September 9th, 2017
Sitting in the office in Calvary. There’s a strange bittersweetness in the air as everyone tries to put a brave face on. We meet in the cracks, connecting on the level of being terrified as anything, but determined to thrive, even if we don’t know how. A few people know that Jonny and I are heavily considering moving to California early this November, that it’s growing increasingly certain. I hide in the office because I feel fragile. As much as I know church is the place the weak ones can come to, I shy away from showing my frailty. Once again, I want to be strong, to be the shoulder for everyone else trying to figure out what life will look like and what the Lord is doing here. I want to suck it up, get out of my own self-focused head. Once again, I can’t. Because I’m human, and so are you. 

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Photo by Daniel on Unsplash

Mingled with the bizarreness heralding the oncoming change is the intoxicating joy of what’s to come. However all the expectation hangs on a hook shaped like a question mark. What if we can’t find jobs? I’ve never worked in the “real world” before; what if I fail? What if we’re hearing the Lord’s voice wrong, despite all the confirmations? What were those confirmations again? While the Lord’s peace rings in my bones regarding each of these “ifs,” I’d be lying if I claimed I could feel it right now.

I want to tell you something I normally would in one of these posts: that I remind myself God is in control, pick myself up, and get back to work. It would be another lie. Instead I’m forced to tell you the truth that I am sleep deprived, hormonal, insecure and confused, and all I want is a cozy, grey knit blanket of practical answers. But show me someone who doesn’t feel this way. 

The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For You, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
– Psalm 116:6-8 –

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017
Power and water were restored to the house yesterday, so tonight we move back to the apartment. I struggle to call it “home,” since soon home will be changing. Overall, my circumstances haven’t altered. Homework is still looming (in a tab behind this one which I am determinedly pretending not to see), true slumber has yet to grace me with his presence, and answers to Sunday’s questions haven’t been given, but the pervasive peace of Christ floods my bloodstream. One step at a time. Today’s step involves writing this, completing my homework, and hurricane cleanup. Tomorrow’s will be different. But tomorrow is not today, and maybe the tension is not something we’re meant to run from, but rather grow through. It is time for a fresh season.

When asked why we are moving, I can only supply the answer “Because God told us to,” as that is the only complete reason He has given us.  Once confirmed, sometimes that’s all you need. I think often we get caught thinking about all the fallen trees that could block our path, unaware that the journey will teach the strength to climb over them. Perhaps that’s why He’s planned this specific journey we are on for this specific season. Everything is preparation for something else. 

We don’t know where this road will take us. All we know is that we felt the call, God confirmed it both to us and our leaders, and now it’s time to go. To stay would be to turn this beautiful castle into our prison. Instead, we lean into this unexpected turn, understanding that this season will be about a deeper dependence on God. It’s time to run further up and further into His magnificent plan for our lives. What’s your next step? 

I will plant cedars in the desert, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees. I will put juniper trees in the desert, elms and cypress trees together, so that all may see and know, consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
– Isaiah 41:18 –

Until next time,
XOXO

 

The Ark Encounter

A guest post by Don McChesney. 

In a seminal treatise, Notes Toward the Definition of Culture, TS Eliot observes, “’The term culture … includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people; Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes,… the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list …” And a fellow named Ken Ham did make his own list that included a life size reproduction of Noah’s Ark. Here we have conspicuous example of what makes America great: that no matter how outlandish the dream, the only question that matters is, “Can you do it?” And they did. So on Friday, July 8th, 2017, we loaded up the minivan and went to the Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Ark Encounter, in Grant County, Kentucky.

For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. Genesis 6:17-18

Scale

The thing is huge: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, 51 feet high, weighing in around 8000 tons, or similar in size to an Arleigh Burk- class destroyer. Three public decks pack in movie theaters, exhibits, explanations, history, and food. Air conditioning and Pepsi products keep you cool (no Coke ☹). From arrival in the parking lot to departure, plan 3 hours for your self-guided tour. It could be done in 2 hours if necessary and those wanting a close inspection of every exhibit will want 4.

Genesis chapter 6 specifies the dimensions to which Noah is to build the ark. However, the “cubit” is a unit of measure no longer current. Therefore, an early task in construction of Ark Encounter was to determine the proper length of a cubit. It turns out there were several different cubits in use back in the day and the final analysis can be seen here. The parking lot is fair dinkum far from the Ark so bus transportation is provided.

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Genesis 6:14-15

Quality

The thing is beautiful inside and out (not surprising given a production cost of over 100 million dollars). Animal sounds and exotic music follow you throughout the experience. Production values are more or less at the level of a Disney theme park. The only apparent inconsistency in construction is the obvious usage of metal fasteners where Noah almost certainly would’ve used wood (building codes required steel). Exposed hull ribs and tree-trunk vertical timbers lend authenticity and beauty. The only thing missing (from the Disney veteran’s point of view) is a more liberal use of animatronics.

Uniformly beautiful and thoughtful exhibits display bright colors, interesting ideas, and creative video visualizations and explanations. Countless animal exhibits include interesting solutions to the problems of housing so many animals such as food and water provision, waste removal, air exchange, and the need for light. Living quarters, complete with kitchen and foodstuffs, demonstrate what life might’ve been like for Noah and the fam. There is both a small live-animal exhibit for the kids and a small Museum of the Bible exhibit for the adults. Gorgeous. Inside and out.

Young Earth Creationism

Of course, no review of Ark Encounter could be complete without discussion of the major controversy facing the project: the young earth creationism of Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis organization. Yes, it is true, dinosaurs in cages on the Ark! In one small, but remarkable exhibit early in the tour, we see a colorful, pre-flood coliseum of sorts, where normal people are attacked by a giant-looking human on one side and a dinosaur on the other for the amusement of spectators. Now, full disclosure: I am a Bible-believing Christian, who is, in CS Lewis’ words, a “thorough-going supernaturalist” and someone with a lot of skepticism about the explanatory power of the theory of evolution. But I am not a Ken Ham young earth creationist. Some Christians agree with young earth creationism and some don’t. Certainly, it would seem almost all skeptics would vehemently disagree. So what to do? Is it a visit deal-breaker for someone who believes in an old earth? I hope not.

I hope that the believer in an old earth will still visit Ark Encounter, first, for the spectacle of the thing, which is undoubtedly spectacular, second, for the possibility of exploring a story that arises in many civilizations outside the Judeo-Christian influence, and third, to appreciate the fact that there are people in the world who don’t think like they do. Non-Catholics tour the Vatican all the time and thinking Christians read Thus Spake Zarathustra.

My own view is that since at least the Scopes Monkey Trial, Darwin and his theory have been the primary flash-point between Christians and the broader culture. With an obviously evangelical purpose to Ark Encounter in view (more on that in a moment), it would seem to me that it might not be advisable to be so heavy-handed about the age of the earth. Unfortunately, the effect of the whole thing is to pick a fight over science that will prevent, for many skeptics I fear, consideration of the bigger issue at hand: a God in Heaven who cares about His creation.

 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Genesis 6:19

Evangelism

Ark Encounter is replete with evangelism and apologetics. Numerous displays highlight theism in general, Christianity in particular, and the reliability of the Bible. An extended, story-boarded comic-strip toward the end of the tour presents a case-study of life with and without God, finishing with a basket of gospel message tracts. The vast majority of the evangelism of Ark Encounter is artful, tasteful, and effective. However, there are a couple of exceptions.

In two movie theaters located in the stern on decks two and three, short films produced by Answers in Genesis lend in one case, a closer look at the life of Noah and in another, a skeptic’s view of Ark Encounter as a project. In both cases, the films suffer from the same maladies afflicting much of contemporary Christian filmmaking: Christians are invariably persecuted and skeptics invariably get saved. Worthwhile ideas motivate both films, but execution is lacking.

 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:12-13

Overall

In the end, I give Ark Encounter five stars out of five. Why? For its contribution to Eliot’s definition of culture. It offers visitors of all stripes the opportunity to think, engage in conversation, and talk to their children. Christians should visit in order to enjoy the scale, quality, and thought that went into an impressive representation of a larger than life story. And skeptics ought to visit – not to ridicule that with which they don’t agree, but rather to gain some understanding of a section of American culture with which they might not be familiar. Mortimer Adler would be horrified at the state of the great conversation in our day. We talk at each other but not to each other. We construct echo chambers around ourselves to interdict disparate opinion. We think we have nothing to learn. But TS Eliot would suggest to us that our worlds are greater, not lesser, and richer, not poorer, as we broaden our definition of and appreciation of a widely diverse and thus exceedingly abundant common culture. That, to me, is why Ark Encounter matters. It’s three hours of larger than life, thought-provoking pageant that could restart an important conversation – the one where we listen to each other. You should go!

 

It’s Not About You.

Life is always filled with complicated situations and confusing choices. The type of choices which you know deep in your marrow will forever alter the course of your future. Feverishly we seek counsel, read self-help books and articles, try and pave some way through this maze, but still everything feels muddy and grey.

In the midst of these unsolvable plights, He remains simple. But let’s be real. As you read that sentence there was a two-fold thought passing through your mind: “I know, I know,” and “But how is that relevant to my current situation?” Because, darling, it’s not about you. This post has been in my drafts for a month. Even then, it was around a month overdue. I’m at the inevitable intersection every twenty year old faces, when life is changing and paths are opening up all around. 

“All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for food and their leaves for medicine.”
Ezekiel 47:12

When I first wrote this post, it was too raw. With every crossroad there are deep elements of fear, confusion, dreams, and hope. The junction this post was first written about was more personal than the professional future it now regards. However, the premise is the same. Every crossroad can be handled and simplified the same way: realize that it’s not about you. Scarcely anything of this life is actually about you.

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If we only knew His heart more, I am convinced we would understand the beauty in this statement to a much deeper degree. Instead, we often slip into the mourning of a season’s end, overwhelming celebration of a fresh beginning, or the confusion of what it will all mean. Once we recognize that it is not about us, but rather we are simply allowed to be a part of something God is already doing, the weight is lifted and joy re-enters. He will guide you! If we’re willing to listen, He won’t withhold the wisdom of which route to take. Even when He seems silent, that is in itself for a reason regarding His purpose.

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Friend, He is doing something new. Don’t let the unknown or novelty of it all frighten you out of your calling. Stare it in the face! We’re made to be a piece of something so much grander than ourselves. While you will be immensely blessed by being a part of the beauty He is working, in the end, it will never be about you. It is always about the Kingdom. While He does not ask you not to feel the fear, just to obey nonetheless, He also doesn’t request you not feel the joy of a fresh season beginning.

“After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again, so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord- even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, declares the Lord who does these things, known from long ago.”
Acts 15:16-18

Whatever it is He is asking of you, charge forward! He is already there, on the other side of it all, just as He is here, walking you through it and helping you decide which road to take. No matter the intersection of decisions you may be struggling to make sense of, ask Him, think outside the realm of yourself, and He will give you clarity and peace. Even if you accidentally choose wrong and mess it up, so what? Yes, it’ll be frustrating and something to work through, but He’ll take you through it! It’s time to begin the trek into the Promised Land. The only true questions then are will you listen, will you trust Him, and will you start walking?

“And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so they may follow My ordinances, and practice them. They will be My people, and I will be their God.”
Ezekiel 11:19-20

d-ng-tr-n-qu-c-16965.jpgUntil next time,

XOXO