Do the Next Thing

With the beginning of a new school year, so many pieces of the past year have flashed before my eyes, with their own questions trailing behind them. How is possible that an entire year has gone by just like that? After everything the past year contained—what deep grace is this to be in the grace-filled place I am today? Am I seeing tiny glimpses and bold swaths of God’s presence in this last year (Gen. 39:21)? Do I see how much of the previous year was covered in a love so vast, so deep that one day it will simply cover over all the pain, failings, and brokenness of these years (Rev. 21:4)?

Over the couple weeks off between semesters, I wrote a lot. Prayed a lot. Read a lot. Cried a lot. Dreamed a lot. Hoped a lot. Listened a lot. And was helped and encouraged a lot.

For several weeks before break began, I had great expectations of using the time away from school to write a half dozen blog posts. But that did not happen. Over the course of the two-week break, numerous topics found their way into my journal or a Word document. Sometimes, it was something someone said, a verse I read, something from one of the many books I’d been reading, or something I was wakened up to during the night. But I was not able to finish anything.

The words just were not there to bring even one thing to completion.

It is like seeing something but not being able to see it clear enough to adequately describe it.

So, instead there is this post about doing the next thing.

Be Faithful in Doing the Next Thing

Truly, there are days and years and seasons when that is all any of us can do. Or should do.

Trust God, listen to him, be with his people, and simply do the next thing.

Three weeks ago, I received an email from Travelocity, asking me if I were ready to go back to Great Falls, MT, as it had been nearly a year since I had been there. And over the past couple months, Facebook has regurgitated quite a few memories and blog posts from my summer trips to Myanmar and the Dominican Republic. Another lifetime ago.

But I am not going back to the reservation in Montana this fall. Nor am I in another country.

No, I am going to school, while living in a small town in the Midwest.

Doing the next thing. With joy.

If someone had told me last summer what my life would look like this year, I never would have believed them. But I am deeply thankful to be here. There are not enough words to express how much I love my school and church and the people who make up both. Nor is there enough gratitude for the sisters, friends, pastors, instructors, and classmates who share life with me. God has been kind.

And I am realizing that doing the next thing can look a million different ways for a million different people.

It may mean showing up to work or it could be resigning from a job. It could be serving in the church or it could be taking a season off to just attend. It could be moving far away or staying in the same place. It could be continual doctor visits or unending tears in the midst of broken hearts, lives, or bodies. It could be laying under the stars or driving home at night. It could be singing worship songs to Jesus in the shower or pouring your heart out to him on a late evening run. It could be admitting your fragile faith and great unbelief to God. It could be sharing Jesus with your unsaved coworkers or encouraging a friend. It could be listening to the breaking hearts of people you hardly know or simply offering a greeting to someone who doesn’t look at all like you. It could be seeing a counselor or finding a mentor. Or it could be realizing that it is one’s time to pour into the soul work of others. It could be a time for more afternoon coffee dates or a time to stay home and read to your children. It could be any of these things or a hundred thousand other things.

Be Faithful in the Time Given

When Frodo mournfully told Gandalf that he wished all the mess with the ring had never happened to him, Gandalf spoke words to him that are also thoughtful for us, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

To a follower of Jesus, deciding “what to do with the time that is given to us” should, above all else, be consumed with living lives that proclaim the glory and worth of Christ (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Rev. 4:11; Jude 1:24-25). This also means deeply loving, knowing, and treasuring Jesus (Ps. 16:11; Luke 10:27a; Matt. 13:44; Phil. 3:7-8). And it should also mean that we love others out of the overflow of God’s great love to us and in us (Eph. 5:2; 15-16; Luke 10:27b). The million smaller things we do next should first have their source in our One Thing—Jesus (Luke 10:42).

His grace, strength, and love are enough for every next thing, every next step (2 Cor. 9:8). He is always enough. We are simply called to love him deeply, love others greatly, and be faithful in doing what he has called us to do.

 

 

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Farewell, Bestest Friend

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Just two short days ago, my bestest best friend left this place we call earth—a mixture of dirt, sky, and water. In the end, God will do the right thing, but my heart believes that the precious lives found in our pets go home to be with Jesus. That one day, it will be both Jesus and Harvard who meet me in Heaven.

Harvard lived an extraordinary life of 17 years, 3 months, and 10 days. He was the answer to all my childhood prayers: miracle, best friend, someone who understood and loved me deeply, the light of my life and joy of my heart.

In all my years, there have only been a handful of things that really, truly make my heart sing and he was one of them. It was always Harvard who waited for me to come home, and greeted me every, single time. It’s always been Harvard who “got” me. Always Harvard.

Harvard was the one who had my heart. And in many ways, he took much of it with him when he died. But he also left me with much of his heart in mine. Though he was “just a cat”, I learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons from him.

  • Live in the moment: Don’t wait for tomorrow to really start living.
  • Embrace simplicity: It’s never the extravagant, excitable things that make life sustainable long-term.
  • Love deeply: Give and receive love for the unspeakably precious gift it is.
  • Laugh: Whether dreaming or awake, find things that make you jump for joy.
  • Be grateful: Express your gratitude in your actions.

Friday, I lost my best friend. The face I knew better than my own is gone. The white stripes running down his ears will never be stroked again. Never again will I run my finger over his soot-colored spot by his left eye. There will be no more sorrows to share with him. No more stories to tell him. No more tears to fall on his shiny coat. No more soul-eyes to stare into.

The deepest things of life were reserved for him and Jesus alone. On earth, only he truly knew the greatest dreams of my heart, the deepest hurts, and the happiest moments of my days.

My apartment feels hollow now, and no amount of music can ever replace his voice. Every day of his life, he talked to me and I miss our conversations. It is truly a rare thing to have a cat converse as much as this one did—with the greater thing being that he “answered” questions with a well-placed response.

Harvard was always the better best friend…and it will be a very long time before I find a friendship that comes close to all he was for me. Only God really knows how much that cat held life together for me in the times when there was nothing to live for.

Jesus, I am unspeakably grateful to you for giving me the greater greatest gift in the better best friend. There are no words to adequately express my thankfulness to you for sustaining his life through all the heartbreak of just this past year alone.

Dearest Harvard, I miss you in the depths of my heart. I’ll always love you. It will always be your voice I hear in response, when I come home in the evening saying, “Honey, I’m home.” And one spectacular day I’ll come Home to stay and my heart will again be home with you.

Grateful

This is a difficult Thanksgiving season for me. Gratitude has come far easier most years. It has proven strenuous to see the trees in the midst of the woods—it is hard to pick out the good and really great from all the perceived loss and pain.

But it’s Thanksgiving and I am choosing to be grateful. Many things are small but that is what makes them the most special to me. It is a season of life where I do not need or want very many big things—just the small things that make life worth living.

Tonight I am grateful for:

  • Best chats with my sisters
  • Elisabeth coming home and getting to have good conversations with her last night
  • Last night’s tomato soup—comfort food
  • The black and white cat with the beautiful green eyes at the shelter yesterday. He ran up to his cage door to see me. Heart hug.
  • The opportunity to enjoy the blue and purple city decorations and lights from the walk to and from the downtown church office.
  • The hundreds of geese on the frozen lake just a few days ago. I’ll remember that picture forever.
  • Movie nights with the family. Thankful to have gotten to watch the poignant, sorrowful movie, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, with my family last Sunday.
  • Even though my bestest boys are gone, Santiago, Fernando, Tristan, Pistachio, Buckets, Rip, and Canta still make me smile.
  • Harvard and Joseph—old and young but I love them deeply.
  • The Bethlehem craft sale last Friday night…so many rainbows of colors. It was every sensory-driven person’s ultimate dream—softness, brilliant colors and designs, airy feather ornaments. So much to touch and the chance to experience life through the senses.
  • The Bethlehem bookstore—my, how I’d missed just being among all those books.
  • Bethlehem itself—even though it wasn’t a Sunday service, my heart was home.
  • All the people—past and present—who have influenced my life. I am so grateful.
  • Hillsong
  • Jesus. From Him and for Him are all things and in Him all things are held together. Thankful that nothing can separate me from His deep love—who loved me 2000+ years ago and loves me still.

And that is why I can and will be thankful tonight and tomorrow and this year. I have been blessed with immeasurably more in Jesus than I ever dreamed possible. And I get to be here. So grateful to still be experiencing life.

Thank-You, Jesus.

Launch Sunday

It was a beautiful Launch Sunday. My heart is full. I am amazed at how great of a blessing God gave us in this first Sunday, first service, first of many other things. Five people responded to the Gospel message. Our heart’s desire for Hope Church is to see people find freedom, life, and hope in Jesus. And here we are, on our very first Sunday, and God is giving us a glimpse of these prayers being answered.

Today was a day to be happy about, a day to be joyful in God for, and a day to remember and cling to when a rainy day or stormy season happens.

It was all God. His fingerprints are evident in every good thing. But he has also been present in the tough situations, dark days, and sad nights leading up to this very day.

I am blessed to be able to “play the background” in a venture I never would have chosen for myself. The irony of God is astounding. Truly, his thoughts and ways are far above our human ideas and his purposes will prevail over any of our plans (Proverbs 19:21).

And I am infinitely blessed to walk this journey with followers of Jesus who are passionate about being a part of his great story. This story is far larger than any one of us and it wouldn’t be possible without him. I am thankful that for a sliver of time I have the privilege of being in this present moment, with these precious people. Jesus, I am grateful.

I am grateful that you have led us all this way. I am grateful that you have taken our hands and held our hearts for all this time. I am grateful that this is only the beginning, the genesis of something greater to come. I am grateful for your smile—felt and seen on days like today. I am also grateful for your hidden smile on the days and nights it is not evident and all around us screams that you’ve left us. Jesus, you are a greater reality than any perception we experience. And when you said that you’d be with us forever, it is just as true on perfect days like today and on awful, horrible days this past year or in the year to come. No one can take you away.

Tonight, my thoughts are captured with two things:

  1. Respond

One of most beautiful response moments in history occurred in John 7. Jesus stands up on the last and greatest day of the feast and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” While some people questioned, others responded by plainly saying, “This is the Christ.” The officers came back from a feeble arrest attempt saying, “How could we arrest him? ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’”

Jesus, still today, no one speaks like you! Your words are alive and full of grace and truth. You are the Savior of the world and because you were lifted up on the cross, you can and do draw all people to yourself (John 12:32).

  1. Remember

Today was reminiscent of our first church service of the week in Le Vega, Dominican Republic. Ashley and Wesley sang “Lord, I Need You” in Spanish (which we also sang today) and Jordan preached. People came forward and made decisions to follow Christ. Tears and hugs all around in the sticky, hot evening—very unlike today with the cool, crisp fall temperatures. That was a favorite moment from the week in the DR—God calling his children from the depths of darkness into the blazing light of truth found in the Light of the World. And less than two months later, I was able to see it all over again.

Jesus, I am grateful. So grateful.