We Still Aren't Big Enough, and God Still Is

Ten years after our small little college lives got flipped upside-down with an unexpected pregnancy, I can't help but wonder if it was meant to be this way for Jesus to bring us back to Him. Proving His goodness--not by His acceptance when we're "good," but by His persistence when we wander and veer. While we weren't, and still aren't, big enough, we actually were never meant to be. We were always meant to see that God is.

Ten years ago I told my then-boyfriend I was pregnant while we sat on a round picnic table on our college's campus at 6 a.m. We'd been a couple for 6 months + 1 day, and had loose plans to get married the following summer. Afterall, we both had about a year of college remaining, and while neither of our parents were paying our full tuition, both had jobs that discounted our tuition. A discount we'd lose if we got married, and we couldn't afford that.

None of that mattered now, because we chose our fate a different way.

We sat on that table, feet propped up on the seat below, blue-capped stick in my hand with the word pregnant displayed in tiny digital letters as evidence. My then-boyfriend now-husband managed four simple words in his just-out-of-bed morning stupor: "Are we big enough?"

Looking back, I can say we clearly were not. Two more pregnancies later, I wonder what parent is ever fully prepared or "big enough" for what we're walking into, even when we think we know.

The words I wrote to God in my journal back in my dorm room after that groggy, pre-dawn exchange ring true even now 10 years later. "'Are we big enough?' Truth is: I don't know. But I do know You're big enough and that's all that matters to me."

As we navigated through doctors appointments and Medicaid application, premarital counseling and wedding planning, and so many first trimester symptoms, we'd dream a little. What would it be like to be married and have a baby? Everything was crazy, rushed, financially bleak (tooth paste got a line item on our first joint budget because literally every cent mattered), and it was all covered in a fog of morning all-day sickness.

What about 10 years from then or even 5 years? What would life be like after time slowed and finances improved and we caught our breath?

Where would we live and work? How many years before we'd buy our first house and have our next baby? When would I start working on getting my Masters (because a bachelor's in English doesn't do much for a career)? Where (and when) would we go on an anniversary vacation since we couldn't afford a proper honeymoon? Surely 5-10 years would be plenty of time to start checking all of that off our list.

We didn't know--how could we?--that two years into teaching, Daniel would lose his job and change careers. That the job suited for him with great benefits would actually start with less pay than his salary as a teacher. That we'd wreck our car with only liability insurance and waste months and dollars recovering from that. That we'd have news of our 2nd pregnancy in the middle of his job uncertainty, and news of our 3rd pregnancy the same month we'd decide it was financially irresponsible for us to have anymore kids. That maintaining family expenses would derail us from paying off our student loans. That my being home while our kids are young would matter so much to us--enough to put everything on hold financially.

We hadn't yet experienced for ourselves that just as time moves on, so do life circumstances and how we choose to respond to them. I'm learning I can get caught up in the privileged self-pity of it all that we didn't get our "rightful" honeymoon, we still aren't any closer to owning a house, and we're still a poor family living on one income with too much student loan debt.

Or I can see how Jesus' grace covers us and provides for us even after (and as) we screw up His plans for us. While choosing a different fate for ourselves changes our trajectory and places us paces behind our peers in the accouterments of this life, we are actually forever rich in God's mercies.

A few days after the news of that first pregnancy settled, when 3 days felt like 3 long, drawn-out weeks, I wrote out some of the lyrics to a hymn: "Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace. Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me ever to adore thee, may I still Thy goodness prove, while the hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love."

Ten years after our small little college lives got flipped upside-down, I can't help but wonder if it was meant to be this way. Sure, it clearly wasn't God's perfect plan for us, and imagine where we'd be if we followed His plan! Still, this side of Heaven--this sin-stained Earth side--I wonder if the veering from the plan in some ways is the plan for Jesus to bring us back to Him.

If it wasn't this particular life choice, it'd be another, and often it has been more than just one choice that gets us off God's perfect course. These areas we mess up and are in need are just opportunities for our hearts to sing in His grace, for His blessings to flow in streams of mercy in spite of our scarred and messy humanity. Proving His goodness--not by His acceptance when we're "good," but by His persistence when we wander and veer.

The hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love... When I think of my 8 1/2 pregnant self getting a call of a job offer out of the blue, the God-given miracle to provide our needs while my husband finished his degree. When I think of our short homeless and jobless season that could have ruined us but by God's grace and my sister's kindness didn't. When I think of all the hiccups and detours and every step see that we weren't alone. While we weren't, and still aren't, big enough, we actually were never meant to be. We were always meant to see that God is.

I see that, even as ten years later we still face our same ol' mountains (that mostly revolve around finances). The miracle is that God saw us and assured us that we'd be okay anyway. That while our choices changed our circumstances, they didn't change His love. He wouldn't leave us.

There are times in our last 10 years when I praise God for the miracles in our impossible situations; when He delivers us because He can. And there are many others when I simply thank Him for being present in the midst of our struggles, because God is with us even when He doesn't heal us.

When we were on our college's campus this week, I snapped a picture of our three kids, including the one-that-made-me-a-mom, sitting on that same table my now-husband and I sat on ten years ago. I imagine going back to that young couple, scared out of their minds of the unknown that lay before them. I would probably just affirm what they already hoped: "You'll never be 'big enough' for the lives you'll live, but you will continue to celebrate all the times that God is."

Whether or not we've made the best choices that have led us here, God's not leaving us and never has. And for that, I am truly and deeply thankful.

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also see:
new? start here...
our wedding story, shame-free
my motherhood ebenezer
monthly emails

Blessed are the Peacemakers

One: Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs is a book for peacemakers by a peacemaker.  It's a timely invitation to join in Jesus' mission of making us one. Read it if you're a natural peacemaker or if you're feeling God calling you into the role of peacemaker in your own life and among your own circle.

I used to read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 as a sort of to-do / to-be list in order to be blessed. Gotta thirst for righteousness, be merciful, have a pure heart, and be a peacemaker. Tough, but maybe not entirely impossible?

It's been sinking in how that really doesn't make sense. This a backwards list, as are most things with Jesus, where He's heaping blessing on those who mourn and are poor in spirit and perpetually seek and are persecuted. Okay. Well. Those things are a little more uncomfortable, and do I even want to put them on my Christian to-do list?

At the root, these blessings are less about our effort to be something good, and more about Jesus meeting people down where they are in their struggles in life.

So blessing the peacemakers, as Jesus says in verse 9, isn't as much calling us to it (at least not in this particular verse), as He is speaking encouragement to the overlooked and burdened peacemakers. A category in line with mourning and being pour in spirit and meekness and persecution. It's a tough place to find yourself, this trying to find peace and unity in a divided world. (affiliate links used*)

Peacemaking can be a hard burden to carry.

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I was reading a book on parenting when I read and re-read a paragraph that took me back to my counselor's office in college, particularly this line: "In an effort to bring peace and comfort to those they love, Type 2 children sometimes take on too much emotional responsibility for others." (The Child Whisperer)

It goes on to talk about appreciating and honoring this natural gift of bringing peace into the home, without relying on it to resolve family conflict. Then it concludes with advice to remind this type of child "that they are not responsible for anyone's feelings but their own."

I remember finally breaking down in college and going to the campus counselor. I remember working through my independence and breaking it down so I could see and accept my need for Jesus. I remember sharing about others' stresses that I shouldn't have been carrying (and they likely didn't know I was carrying), and feeling caught in the middle.

That little paragraph in that book about parenting took me back to that tension of trying to create peace for others. It's natural for me to do. To feel someone else's pain and discomfort and want to fix it for them. It's natural for me to take that on and try to create peace in the tension so we call all feel loved and stay connected.

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For some people this is no big deal. For peacemakers, it's an ongoing burden of carrying other people's struggles and emotions. It's a constant discomfort of sitting in the tension between sides, of trying to be the bridge instead of build the bridge. The good news I had to relearn in that counselor's office and that I remind myself of today: The bridge in our Savior already exists. We aren't meant to carry that burden for ourselves or anyone else.

We are meant to follow our own peacemaker road--sometimes because it's just naturally who we are, and sometimes because we've been called into it by God. And that blessed burden comes with a promise: We shall be called sons of God.

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One: Unity in a Divided World by Deidra Riggs releases today and is a book for peacemakers by a peacemaker. I can say that because I know Deidra, and I've seen her regularly place herself in the tension between sides and invite people to join her. She creates a grace-filled place where we can truly sit and listen to each other instead of shouting across self-drawn lines.

This book is a timely invitation to join in Jesus' mission of making us one. As she writes in the intro: "Oneness is God's desire for us. Unity is what Jesus prayed for us. The odds are definitely in our favor."

Read it if you're a natural peacemaker or if you're feeling God calling you into the role of peacemaker in your own life and among your own circle.

Learn more or get the book >> here.

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every little breath
caught in between
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Finding God in the Tension

Finding God in the Tension: The question that really comes up for me in all of that--thinking of Luther's struggle against church leadership, and Jesus' run-ins with church leaders, and Ellen White's assurance that we'll continue to conflict with church leadership--if church leadership has a history of being so off, do we really think we have it all figured out today?

This is part of my apparent on-going posts on church: If you feel like quitting church, If you've quit church, and When you need bread and the church says no. There's no need to go read all of those, that's just my forewarning of where I'm going, and some back-reading if you're interested.

This week, after the This Is Us finale (what in the world was that?), my husband and I caught the end of a live streamed Q&A hosted by a couple of our denomination's leaders in America. It was a way to connect young people's concerns with responses from church leadership--I think? Whatever the intent, it was a good opportunity for "the church" to address important and timely topics that aren't always brought up or welcome in typical religious settings, and I commend the effort.

The few concerns and questions that we heard from the audience and the careful answers in response, I just felt more of what I usually feel in these types of set-ups and discussions: more disconnected and like I don't belong.

This disconnect really is nothing new for me. I first shared about this tension I felt with church 4 years ago. I can't even believe it's been that long, because I would have thought back then, that it all would have been resolved by now. Or at least starting to? Yet, here I still am, waiting in the tension.

Scenarios like this live stream and hearing views that differ from mine from church leadership just reminds me of the tension and the void I've felt for a long time now, and sort of stirs me to questioning it all again.

So that's where I sat at the end of the live stream earlier this week. Bible, pen, and journal in my lap, praying about that tension and void that stands in the place of "church" for me right now. It leads me to questions that I don't even want to type because they're such a downer, like: Do I belong anywhere?

I let that question be for a moment, and realized perhaps it's fine or maybe better if I don't obsess about belonging. The belonging as I tend to think of it in terms of church and humanity and seeking approval from anything or anyone but Jesus, it's an ongoing struggle for me. "The desire for others' love [and acceptance or approval] can become a substitute savior." (Love Idol, affiliate links used*)

This world is not my home, so feeling like I'm wandering or a stranger or don't belong among the man-made is maybe actually a good thing.

I find myself wondering if it was simpler when Jesus was alive with John baptizing on mere admittance of belief and Jesus preaching about love being the fulfillment of the law and people simply being Jesus-followers because they literally followed Him around. None of this getting-approval or acceptance through membership from a local church.

Church leadership was constantly at odds with Jesus and everything He did. He kept showing up and teaching at the synagogue. He also spent a lot of His time on mountainsides and travelling between towns and in homes, meeting people where they were. And the holy men did not like it.

One of our denomination's founders wrote an insightful book on Jesus' life called The Desire of Ages. She notes this tension between Jesus and the church leaders often, and notes each time how it will continue. We'll continue to struggle with this tension between Jesus' radical love, grace, and truth beyond our understanding, and the rules and burdens based on tradition that righteous men would rather us be tied to.

She writes, "When the Reformers preached the Word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth. ... Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the Word of God."

Yet, many people in my denomination (perhaps any denomination?) would argue that we are the ones with the plain teaching of the Word of God. We are the ones with the true light following in the steps of the Reformers. I have a hard time accepting that when the established church is historically what needs the love and light of Jesus.

Jesus' experiences give me a bit of peace in my struggle, because Jesus gets it. He came to save individuals, and there were religious men that tried to interfere with that personal salvation because they didn't like their power being taken away. While I'm not exactly trying to take anyone's power away, by connecting with Jesus while questioning organized church, I kind of am.

Put another way, "this is what's most annoying and beautiful about the windy Spirit and why we so often miss it. It has this habit of showing up in all the wrong places and among all the wrong people, defying our categories and refusing to take direction. ...God is present both inside and outside the traditional church, working all sorts of everyday miracles to inspire and change us if only we pay attention." (Searching for Sunday)

I'm still left questioning--where, what, why, how, who? Where should we "go to church" and spend our time worshiping God and investing in community? What do we go to church for and what do we have to offer? Why is it what it is and is what it is okay? How do we change it or stay and "be" the church? (Because that's a favorite line: Don't leave the church, stay and be the church! But what does that even mean or look like when I don't agree with the church excluding certain groups of people?) Who is meant to lead or be helped or get involved or come along this journey?

It's really not anything new, this feeling lost. At the heart of the matter, it doesn't concern me too much, because it's just that--a feeling. Which always makes me think of a song I heard a pastor use in one of his sermons to the tune of Yankee Doodle: Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving; I'll trust alone in the Word of God, for nothing else is worth believing. (Or something like that; I heard it years ago and didn't write it down.)

God is my anchor. His love is my mission. His spirit of truth is my compass. Even if the full picture and all the answers won't be revealed until His return, I know that He is not giving up on me or "the church," and He's not giving up on us His people.

The truth is, as long as there's a panel of faulty men saying who's in and who's out (of church or God's Kingdom), I have a hard time getting on board. I have a hard time believing this form of "leadership" is what God really wants for or from us. He came for the outsiders, and here "we" (as "the church," Christians, Adventists, Americans) are just creating more outsiders.

It's not a label (or a lack of labels) that saves us. It's Jesus. All Jesus. And no man-made divide or boundaries will keep Him from us. Thank you, Jesus!

I'm finding comfort reading Katharina and Martin Luther--about the famous protestant reformer from 500 years ago and his wife. Not only is this the first I've heard of Martin Luther having a wife (a renegade nun with opinions and courage at that), this is also the first I've really considered the context of what it meant for Luther to do all that he did.

I'm realizing what a big deal and challenge it was for Luther to step forward in faith in God over man. To state and act on differing beliefs and new insights that went against an entire institution and governing tradition. To face even his close colleagues and peers. To confront men ready to damn him to actual hell (because they believed in their insight and traditions and their own power that strongly).

"According to Luther, Scripture could, and did, contradict church doctrine and well-established traditions, which made the church wrong. Christ alone was the key to salvation. In short, Luther argued, God speaks to all people through his Word; no mediator or intercessor is necessary between God and man except Christ himself, and Christ speaks 'not to an institution but to the heart.'"

The question that really comes up for me in all of that--thinking of Luther's struggle against church tradition, and Jesus' run-ins with religious leaders, and Ellen White's assurance that we'll continue to conflict with church leadership--if church leadership has a history of being so off, do we really think we have it all figured out today? Can we be so bold as to say that this is how far we've come and we have no further to go in our understanding of God and His Word?

We're not yet with Jesus in Heaven or the New Earth, and as long as we're still here I'm 99.99% sure that we don't have all the answers. (I'm leaving the .01% in case there's an Enoch or Moses or Elijah walking with God among us now.) It's actually quite probable that pride in our assurance that we have things figured out will be the first sign of our fall when we realize we don't have all the answers.

Knowing this actually gives me peace. Even in all of that uncertainty and questioning and constantly bringing that before God, I am certain of the biggies, because the Bible makes them clear over and over and over.

Here are just a few, off the top of my head:
1. Jesus loves us and gives us salvation through Him.
2. He tells us to love. Love Him and love others.
3. He's not giving up on any of us. Not even the people or groups of people we've personally already written off.
4. God's role is to be God, and man's role is to need Him. (And, just to be clear, Man is not God; and even though God's Son became man, He is still fully God.)
5. And that brings us back to 1: Jesus' love and salvation for us.

This has kind of been a more rambling post than usual, so where does this questioning leave me?

Still in the tension.

All's quiet even in the static right now because God's just being with me. We're in the tension together, and He's here waiting with me. I know He won't leave me alone here, and He assures me this tension isn't all I'll ever know. This is just a season and He's with me in it and through it to the end. Which is really the beginning of forever with Him.

And I'm good with that.

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also see:
new? start here...
if you feel like quitting church
when you need bread + the church says no
books that changed my faith + life
monthly emails

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