When Your Theology Meets a Woman With Reddish Hair

Sometimes (mostly lately), I struggle with the idea of God’s will and what I think I ought to do versus what I feel I ought to do, and I’m arriving at a conclusion.

This is a conclusion – which is to be held lightly. (Conclusions should always be held lightly, with open hands, realizing humbly that the final say of anything always rests with God, and that knowing Him is of far greater value than being right).

But I have an idea of a conclusion all the same: that it’s no use being scared of what you’re inevitably going to do. 

Because deep, deep down, especially if we’re connected to Love, we know what we’re made to do.

Even the most deeply theological pastors cannot deny this. Somehow, they have come to where they are, they have done the inevitable thing – and maybe they attach this word to it, “called,” because that’s what people understand.

You aren’t born an athlete, or born an artist, or anything else. You have to make choices that get you there, and it makes sense for you to say yes to opportunities – because deep inside of you, you know that this is what you were made for.  There was most likely never a light from heaven, no solemn, booming voice, but you heard it deep inside you, or you read it somewhere, and it resonated with what was in your heart. It seemed clear enough to you at the moment that you decided to have faith and hold onto it.

We have purposes written on our hearts. 

There’s this whole heaping barrier of earth on one side that represents the position of the unalterable sovereignty of God. And yes, we can live every day without worrying about the next (Matthew 6), we can trust the road that we’re on. He says so.

But if I believe His sovereignty in making us for such a time as this, for the time that we’re placed in (Acts 17:26-27), THESE right-here right-nows, then the thing that will glorify Him the very most is if I pursue the passions and talents that He has placed in my heart.

And I would even venture to argue that an active belief in God’s sovereignty would step forward confidently, rather than wait and do nothing, waiting for God to make the first move. I would argue that God has already made the first move, the second move, the third move, and is waiting for us to have courage. He only ever requires our willing yes.

Yes, I’ll be brave.

Yes, I believe that you are faithful.

A woman with wide eyes and reddish hair asked me my name at church this morning, and gave me hers, which I already knew. I knew her from her music, knew the quiet, still trust in Jesus in it.

And there’s a poster up on the wall of the church that is full of words that describe what the church strives to be. I remember two of the words in particular: missional and incarnational. (Please understand: No church is the perfect church. This messy, broken system is His hand in the world, full of messy, broken people – yes.)

I think that it is more important to be incarnational than to be missional. Not that we can embody the person of Jesus, but that we can try to live like Him as much as possible – that is incarnational. I can be as missional as everything and sell all I have and move to Africa, and not live at all like Jesus.

Oh, let’s not ignore Acts 1:8! Let’s not ignore God’s obvious, active love for all peoples, so evident in Scripture.

But – missional living will always stem from incarnational living. 

And at the core is the person of Jesus. THIS we cannot avoid, cannot deny, cannot talk away or disprove how He touches our hearts, how He draws close, how much sense He makes, how often there is a third way –

We cannot make cookie-cutter Christians in other cultures. We can’t make people in our image, that have our desires to go to the next unchurched village. It’s not possible. But what about disciples that love Jesus? That follow Jesus? Can we live incarnationally and know the heart of Jesus, and transfer that to the next person? And if a person becomes like Jesus, he will want to go to the next unchurched village because that is the heart of Jesus.

Let us not get caught up in the pursuit of Jesus and lose sight of Jesus.

Jesus was flesh and blood and made of dust, and yet he glorified God in doing ordinary, human things.

I am inevitably going to do something. And it glorifies God profoundly, just the simple doing of it, and I can’t talk it away. And that woman with the red hair writes her sweet songs to God just because that is what she does – because she has to, that is her task, it’s what she’s been given to do, it’s inevitable – not in a God-is-sovereign-and-thus-I-am-forced way, but because God is incarnational and that is precisely the first step in being missional.

And maybe, just before that, a half-step in the right direction, is trusting that God did make you for such a time as this (Esther 4:14), that you can glorify God in how He reveals His glory in you by doing what He made you to do – this is a premise of incarnational living.

But the foundation is always, always the person of Jesus.

Please understand – this is a new kind of theology for me. God has made it clear to me more than once that I need to hold onto Him before I hold onto my beliefs about Him. I’m willing to give it all up if He leads me to. But right now, this is what my heart understands, and I’m so thankful for it – and I’m ready to be brave and say yes


Irrepressable; or, how to, river-like, change your course

It’s a worthless task for me to make a book list – a reading list. My tastes change so much from day to day, even within in a day, from morning to afternoon to evening, that by the time I reach a certain book on my list, I will almost always have no patience for it.

Some days I feel an irrepressible urge to read nothing but the weather almanac, all day long. Maybe once a month I decide to read Shakespeare, then put it back on the shelf the next day. I read two Jane Austen books in five days several weeks ago.

Inevitably, I find myself reading the same book nearly exactly one year from when I read it last. In the spring, I’m drawn back to Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, because I read it in the London airport one spring several years ago.

We are creatures of habit. We live by precedents. We carve a course for ourselves, river-like, and unless we smash forcefully into an obstacle, we will continue to move over the same curves and narrows, smoothing them out, wearing them deeper, making them our own.

We can only truly speak and write from what we know. When we speak of what we don’t know, we’ll inevitably get the terms wrong and be ignorant of our blind spots on that topic. We can intuit – we can infer – but there is something to be said for experience.

What are you waiting for? The black letters on a page glare up at me. What are you waiting for to make that life-changing decision?

As creatures of habit, we don’t know how to change. Our ideas remain our ideas; the word change enters our minds and gets caught up in a stream of consciousness, something about  birds migrating across the Atlantic, elephants crossing jungle paths, dhows meandering up the coast of India. This is what we know.

And then we’re reading, one day, a self-help book called How To Change, and it strikes us, all at once, that we have to take action immediately. We begin to put our socks on inside-out, and we try to like the taste of black coffee. We buy, impulsively, a plane ticket to New Zealand. The hills aren’t as green as we had imagined, the hobbit-holes are smaller than we’d pictured. The next time we read The Hobbit we have a hard time remembering the way it had looked in our imagination.

We realize that we don’t know what we’ve been waiting for – no one has ever told us. We hope we figure it out someday, but we likely won’t know until it happens. And we’ll say, “Oh! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” And at that moment, we’ll realize that we’ve changed, nearly without trying to.

Falling Into Faith

I made a list of goals last September, and somewhere on that list was “learn to pray.” I was enamored with the idea of being a ‘prayer warrior,’ falling on my knees and claiming the power of God, seeing miracles and breakthrough.

You’re supposed to write out small steps to your goals when you do this type of list, so I wrote two. 1) I would get in touch with the local prayer ministry and 2) I would read books on prayer. I didn’t do either of these things.

Finally, after watching a movie about prayer, I emptied out a hall closet and taped pretty print-out prayers over the walls, and labeled this place prayer closet. It was lit by one old, yellowed light bulb that blinked disconcertingly. If I turned it off, the tiny space became as black as night. The closet echoed; when I prayed aloud, you could hear me all down the hall. There was hardly enough space to sit, and when I closed my eyes, the room seemed to get smaller.

Despite all of this, I would sit with my knees pressed up against my chest, talking to God for hours. I filled journal pages with questions, and I began to pray through the Psalms. So many things in my life were upside-down, and I wanted answers. Friendships were becoming elusive – I needed someone to talk to earnestly. I had to pray.

In my life, everything continued to go downhill, so I prayed for redemption. I prayed for my idea of redemption. I was faced with decisions that paralyzed me; I asked Him not for clarity, but for faith take the right steps. I only became more confused.

One afternoon, I cancelled everything and decided to pray through – to pray until I had a definite yes or no. I prayed for a yes, and I could feel Him saying that He wanted to say yes. I was determined to neither mourn nor to rejoice until He had given me an answer.

His answer wasn’t immediate, but it was definite – a no. I lay on the floor, sobbing, with my Bible open in front of me. Elisabeth Elliot writes that “God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same.” I tried to understand it.

With the loss of a dream in the Lord’s refusal, I lost my trust for Him as well. I slept fitfully, shaking. I was too afraid to pray again.

The Lord is good in this: I ended up at the prayer ministry office looking for help. Slowly, painfully, I began to speak to Him again. For days, I listened to Jon Thurlow’s My Little One on repeat, the promise of His unfailing love. Prayer times became so much sweeter because I knew my need for Him.

God broke my heart, and in my heartbreak, He won me to himself.

When I ask why, He offers Himself. I sit down to pray with a list of worries, and I laugh because I’m so thankful for these small things that bring me to Him. I found a book on prayer that someone lost, and I’m reading it. It’s changing my perspective.

I didn’t ask for a no. I didn’t ask Him for broken friendships that would force me to get on my knees. But I can see the mercy in it now.

I haven’t become a “prayer warrior.” I’m not like Brother Bevington – I don’t crawl into a log for five days to pray, and come out again to see everyone healed. Prayer has become more real to me, more natural, more like breathing.

What are truths in this? What are the great broad truths? I don’t know. I know that God is good and that He wants us to talk to Him, even about the little things, though He knows them already. I know that His love is steadfast and unfailing, really, truly, all the time. I know that He even more powerful than we hope – that if it’s impossible, He can do it, we need only ask.

When you don’t know what to say, He hears you still. There aren’t specific words – you don’t have to say “Amen” when you’re finished, He knows. You can tell Him, “I don’t know, Lord,” and He draws near.

I think this is a story worth telling.


Rise up and Walk

I don’t know how to introduce this. Only – I’ve spent a lot of time on Pinterest, reading all the quotes. You know which ones? All the self-esteem boosting ones, about moving on, leaving things behind, and becoming stronger. I’ve read the blog posts full of wise sayings about how you’re better off without certain people, you don’t need them in your life, you can have courage and move forward.

All these bitter things.

Because the people who write these? They never learned that the best thing to have is a soft heart, a heart that can be wounded,

that sometimes ‘tough skin’ is a euphemism for ‘resentment,’

that the safest thing to do is to cry,

that real things are so much better than glass walls and burning bridges.

They say that the bravest thing you can do is be yourself,

but I say that the bravest thing you can do is stop remembering to be yourself and just live.

They say to only trust people who are trustworthy, who aren’t going to break your heart, or else to trust no one at all.

They say that you don’t need to forget in order to forgive – that “[d]on’t think it’s in the past… time can heal but this won’t…

Oh, but this isn’t the way to a whole, healed world.


I can write about this because I’ve been hurt deeply, and I have learned to lean my head on a God who catches all my tears and hurts more deeply for me than I ever could.

If His love isn’t great enough to take away the fear, then what is?

Don’t we learn forgiveness from Him? “We love because He first loved us…” (1 John 4:19) “Forgive as the Lord forgave you…” (Col. 3:13).

How does He love? He doesn’t keep track of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5).

How does He forgive? He casts our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12).

Am I willing to include forgetting in my definition of forgiveness? Really, am I willing to let go of my right to be hurt?

And I want to – I do, truly – but some piece of me wants to be affected. I want to flaunt my scars, to say that I’ve been through a hard time, but it’s made me stronger. I want those who’ve hurt me to know that I’m irreparably damaged.

I’ve had to wrestle with this question in the past weeks. When someone asks me how I’m doing, am I willing to give up my shrugged shoulders and weak smile, my “I’m not doing well… but God is good,” my badge of I’ve been hurt like someone took a Sharpie to my soul?

Am I willing to give up my right to pain, willing to give up my right to a scar, and to say simply, “Lord, let me see the whole thing as a blessing”?

Anita Dittman, survivor of forced labor and abuse in a Nazi concentration camp, does not cry as she talks about the horrors she endured. She declares she will not cry. “But I will cry,” she says, “because of the goodness of God!” And tears cascade down her cheeks as she tells of it.

We are fragile human creatures, with fragile bodies and spirits that are often severely injured. But we have a God who is near to the brokenhearted – oh praise Him for it! – and isn’t He God enough to redeem?

I still believe in redemption. I believe in a God who is Who He says He is, capital letters and all. I believe that He can turn the bitter into sweet. I believe that forgiveness can be complete, that He can fill the gaps with His love and that someday, soon, I will be able to see the whole thing as a blessing.

It happened – I can’t erase it – and by forgetting, I don’t mean not remembering that it ever happened. It’s letting go of the idea that there has to be a scar

and waiting to see where the Lord will bring redemption.




He says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters –”

You’re going to need to run to the waters.

Leave your jug right there at the well, and just run – because here is the water that satisfies.

Leave your jug at the well of redeemed endings, the well of long-enough prayers, of hard joy and hard work, of wise decisions and white sheets and waiting for something to come around the corner and turn your winter to spring.

Jesus asks,
“Why do you labor for what does not satisfy?
Listen to Me and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.

… Come to Me.
Hear, that you may live;
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
My steadfast, sure love for David.”

The psalmist pleads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found – call upon Him while He is near!

No matter how crazy they look at you, you have to keep repeating it over and over for your own sanity. I need You – I need You – I need You.

Leave your jug at the well and run to the quiet and kneel.

Stop trying to fill your jug at the well – the water recedes as you approach it – and come to the One who draws near at your coming.

Whether you’re stretched out on the ground, weary, or whether your hands are lifted and your face is turned up, He hangs on your every word, and you and the universe hang on His.

Wait in the quiet and listen – wait ’til you see the glory.

His word shall not return to Him empty.

You shall go out in peace.

He is so faithful.



In the shadow of the cross, how can you give thanks?

I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t get if out of my head – those three days in-between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is the part where you start to wonder – was it all real?

He told us He would rise from the dead, but we didn’t believe Him. So when they took Him and nailed His body to the cross – because He really was just flesh and bone, like us – and when they took Him down hours later, dead, and a hard-faced Roman soldier who had looked into death’s face a thousand times didn’t blink, we didn’t know anymore.

And someone who had loved Him went and pleaded for His body, and laid Him in his own tomb. He had to do something. 

I can’t write out this kind of pain.

We hid – we looked around in the dirt and tried to find our broken pieces, and we couldn’t see anything.

Somehow, “On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread and gave thanks for it,” knowing fully what would happen in the next twenty-four hours. 

And oh, it’s so dark right now. We’re waiting – we don’t know what for, but we’re waiting.

it is provided // cardboard faith

Oh honey, I know that life is really tough right now.

(We can sit in the dim light and wait it out together –)

I’m praying Psalm 139 for you,

because He has searched you and known you – He discerns your thoughts from afar – He is acquainted with all your ways.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too.

When you don’t know where you’re going, and all you can do is cry and cry,

I fall down on my face before God and “because He stoops down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (Psalm 116:2)

O Lord, do not relent! Would you continue to hem her in, behind and before, to lay your hand on her? It is too much for her – but Lord, don’t relent! 

It overwhelms me. I can’t believe anything but that God is working right here. This is his work, and his territory, and his domain. It’s His – no one may touch it.

Honey – no one understands. They’re all calling it something else, labeling it the way the weathermen name hurricanes, but this is the wind of the Holy Spirit.

My God is so good.

To begin: He heals me when I don’t know how to ask wholeheartedly. I pray for healing, and I doubt that He will.

I pray that He’ll knock down all my cardboard faith. I’ve built it up in imitation of real faith – so I can say I believe, but I’m really only wishing. There’s a lot of it, and it’s real and stands as tall and proud as castle walls, but it doesn’t hold against pressure.

With the hard-as-diamonds mustard seed of faith left in the heart of me, I ask Him for healing.

“Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails!

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.” (Psalm 143:6-7)

So, honey – you are fully known and fully held by the One who shaped the world. Maybe that isn’t enough for you right now, and that’s okay.

What I know is this: He has been working in your family for decades, and He’s beginning in earnest on you now. Do you feel the earthquakes? Is your world crumbling to pieces? Those are the tremors of His love.