When It’s Time to Turn Off The Nightlight

I flew across the ocean, twice, to grow my family.

I invited once-strangers to call me Mommy and made them my own.

I fielded all the hurt and anger that comes from four once-broken lives that are now finding mending in my home and sometimes finding me to be an easy (safe) target. And I loved them.

Things that many fear — loving the outsider until they’re an insider, at a variety of ages, and around the clock — I’ve done (by the grace of God).

“I’ll do anything for You, God,” I whispered under my breath a hundred times, as I slowly warmed to the reality of this “yes” I’d said to adoption, two times and four kids over. I think I even considered myself fearless during moments of walking through and over my fears for them and seeing His response.

Until.

An email and a subsequent phone call and a ball that slid right out of my hands and down what seemed to be a declining slope so that I couldn’t catch it.

I was going to publish my story. Just like that, it happened.

Evergreen Cherish

The story that I didn’t just write, but inhaled at 1am, months after we brought our second two children home and at midnight while we waited for them and one I had scribbled on scratch pieces of paper that I stuffed into my Bible in between making dinner and the changing of the laundry (’cause I just couldn’t get away from it), was going to be available for more than just my internal discussions with God.

And in about five seconds I went from fearless to frozen.

I’d clean up the vomit from a child who quite literally heaved as she experienced a daddy’s love and I’d shut down my entire afternoon for another one of mine who needed hours of talking and praying before she was even able to speak — but a book? A published book, with my words?

Winter Cherish

The waves of fear I had around notions of external promotion and platform and what it all might steal from my tucked-away-and-undiscovered life could leave my head spinning for not just hours, but days. Nothing was penetrating this fog of fear that left me like a five year-old on the first day of kindergarten all over again.

Talk of the book left me with a head full of confusion and fear. One minute I’m thriving in God, alive to what He’s speaking and saying, with the layers of His Word moving me … and the next, I’m winded, sucker-punched.

I’d stare in the mirror at yesterday’s woman who stood bold and confident-in-Him — the mother of (then) four who was wearing big-girl clothes — who now in one second had recoiled into a little girl, unable to think of anything but the noise in her closet at night and what it might be.

Little Girl Cherish

Fear does this. It sucks the oxygen out of a room and leaves us thinking of nothing but the very thing we fear and its potentialities.

And most of the time, we learn to cope. I had.

We avoid circumstances and people that elicit the fear. We carefully — often unbeknownst to ourselves — pattern our lives in such a way that we don’t have to look in the mirror and see that six year-old, terrified of the night. We turn on the nightlight. Always.

Until that purposed moment when our secret cries to God — I really do want more of You. I want a life lived radically alive to You — are heard. And He gently walks us through our valley of the shadow of death.

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Because His perfected, completed love — and fear cannot coexist. New areas of our heart won over to God are always reclaiming space from old place-holders.

I could often focus on God and His Word when fear wasn’t around; so, naturally, I voraciously avoided anything that triggered that fear. Dozens of times over the years I said: “there is nothing new under the sun. The world doesn’t need another book.” It felt pithy when I said it. Fear (and the enemy behind it) are smart that way. You can dress fear up and call it wisdom and be bedfellows for years, unknowingly, just like I was.

So He took the book I wrote in private and which I fiercely guarded, and gave me a very weak “yes” to Him, here. He put it in print. Almost seamlessly. I watched friends labor through a process that, for me, felt like it happened in a blink.

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I’d spent years praying “God, I want more of You,” expecting (and receiving) that “more” in all sorts of ways, but I faced no other hurdle quite like this one, where it was as if He leaned in to me and said: let’s walk through your worst fear. I promise you’ll find me here.

And find Him, I have. And am still.

It’s taken me months to be able to write this post and years to live it. I was locked-up on the inside, trapped in a haze and bowing to the fear of what this life, now-exposed-on-the-outside, might bring me.

But He was gentle. This perfect love of His moved in and scooped up the jammy-clad six year-old version of me and said “no more nightlights.” He took me where I didn’t want to go and waited it out as I kicked and screamed (silently and with language guised as measured maturity). He waited it out with me, patiently unfolding the circumstances I said “no way, never” too. He put my hand to the closet door and put His face up against mine, nearer than maybe I’ve ever felt before, and said: this is love.

This invasive love of God has opened up new spaces in my heart and mind to worship. I see Him, nearer, on the other side of this fear.

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So, I once knew of a girl who feared pinecones.

I thought it was crazy, thought she was crazy, until I was given the gift of telling the testimony of Jesus in my life to many more than I’ll ever meet in person and I got crazy afraid. Just like her.

We all have them. Crazy fears, that we normalize and build our lives around so as to not trigger them.

Mine was becoming uncoiled from my beautifully-hidden space — it was publishing my story, and yours might be flying across the ocean to adopt a child who will vomit at your expression of love. Or it may be pinecones.

The danger isn’t actually in walking through our fears, the danger is in resisting the leadership of God when He scoops us up and says “no more nightlights.”

Is today your day to ask to have His face move closer to you than you’ve ever known, while He puts your hand on that closet door? Is today your day to hole up in your room, even if just for ten minutes, and say “Jesus, no more. Come and replace my fear with Yourself.”

We only have so much space on our insides. I want mine full of Him, not fear.

(Making it practical: Though I’ll likely write more about this in the months ahead, I can’t end this post without saying:  The best inspirational books — even this one 😉 — might lead you to water, but you have to be the one to take a drink. His Word  is that drink. Don’t just hang out around His Word and His Spirit if you want freedom from fear, get lost INSIDE of them.)

Thank you Cherish Andrea Photography for these photos.

Unhinged Love

“Pray for this one,” I told my friends that I knew would pray.

It was a subtle drip of negativity coming from this child whose once-orphan wounds had threatened to be scars. Subtle enough that no one bumping up against the world outside our home would see, subtle enough to avoid what might incur discipline. (But mama’s have an eye for what brews under the surface.)

I didn’t just hear it, I felt it. The passive-aggressive drip that said less about the sibling or situation of which they were speaking and more about the torrent underneath all those words wore treads under my everyday mama-hood.

So I talked to God.

Change this one’s heart, God. You are healer, would you heal these wounds spilling up and over in front of all of us? Make this one new.

Weeks of prayers became months and I was settling in to what Nate so often calls “the long view.” It may take a decade to see this heart move. You hone your eye for the little milestones when you see the haul ahead as long.

But one day this thought came to me.

What if I made a shift?  {Continue reading right here … }

When You Need To Breathe

Our birthing room for her was under the open African sky. The smell of burning trash and the sound of wild dogs outside our guest home, her welcome committee. “Daddy” she squealed when she saw us. It was the first word out of her mouth as she put years of her story and herself into arms that had never been fully trained to hold such loss. She trusted him, even before she trusted me. And both of us were naive to how we should have to raise her.

She let him cradle her before the courts granted us guardianship and I bit my nails at night wondering what we’d do if this child couldn’t be legally ours.

The “odds” were against us. Nearly every legal step we took came back with a “no” or “not now.” The courts were closing, the judges were out of their offices and our lawyer was irritated that we’d crossed the ocean under such uncertainty. (And he didn’t know the cost of our plane tickets and the single digit in our savings account.)

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Did I marry a fool? I wondered, not for the first time. I trusted him to go — to spend money we didn’t yet have and relational capital we hadn’t earned, all on a nudge He had from God. Here we were, with a life in front of us that was no longer an image on our computer screens. Her eyes swooned at the man she called Daddy and our paperwork to adopt her was, at best, incomplete.

So he did the only thing he knew to do.

Morning after morning, he’d set his coffee on the cement steps of the place that housed us (but which felt so far from home) and he circled the permitter with his Bible in hand. He spoke his prayers — these scriptures — out loud, lost enough in the world he read and prayed to ignore the house dog nipping at his feet.

Nearly every day, we’d face another piece of bad news. This child who called him Daddy might never be ours, according to the reports, but my husband had his head in another reality. Those mornings anchored him. The Word of God was his Truth — more real to him than any news we received about our adoption. He imbibed the Words in those pages. They were all he had as a burgeoning father and a still-young husband, following a nudge that most of the world would call crazy.

This often-broken man of mine was given Words. He spoke to the dry bones of my little girl’s story with God’s Word and said breathe and saw life form from the brittle and broken, the lifeless.

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And six weeks (not six years) later, we packed our bedraggled selves onto a plane and traveled back home as Hagerty’s. Six of us. The Word of God, through my husband’s mouth, had became more real than every single door that had closed in front of us. Africa’s birthing room gave way to this miraculous birthing, when God’s Word carried more weight than what we could see with our eyes.

The Word of God made a daddy out of Nate.

As he prayed it and declared it (and even some mornings, sang it), it made a man out of him, that summer we spent our life savings.

It wasn’t the first time His Word would give her dry bones reason to breathe.

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She’d been sinking inside of herself for a few days. I knew the look that accompanied the slumped shoulders and the shuffling feet. Her heavy gait wasn’t all too different than the one I’d seen in the mirror in years past. She’d had years of being an orphan — maybe even more reasons to have to combat the lies that plague a child of God — but her lies weren’t all that different than ones I’d faced. I just saw them more clearly in her.

I watched the fog settle over her countenance and knew my words to her were reverberating against her mind and heart in a way she could hear but not absorb. She’d climbed right into an aluminum tunnel with those lies.

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I started to take notes on her, just like I did with myself — writing down the words she spoke out of that haze, noting the lies that felt as true as day to her. From her perspective, it was just a bad day with a bad set of circumstances. That tunnel keeps you nestled, close, to those lies and nothing else until the recycled air in there starts to feel normal. She’d spent years surrounded by them, those lies. They were familiar, even safe. They’d blanketed her loneliness and inebriated her pain. They’d posed as thoughts of her own, in her own voice. How could they not be hers? They were natural, seemingly native to her.

And toxic: stealing when she wasn’t looking the life she didn’t know she could have.

I knew those lies.

Door Lock

She was me at sixteen and twenty-one and near-thirty, wondering what the morning alarm might serve me for the day. What flavor of awful am I today? Where have I missed it, already, before my feet even hit the floorboards? They morph and mature with age — these lies, they grow with us. They look like us and sound like us and leave us just as hollowed as they are when the day is over, but we climb into bed with them again only to be reunited when the alarm rings.

I wasn’t going to let her sleep on this, but she wasn’t ready to talk. Who is? When we live covered in lies that feel like truth the mere mention of them only leaves us confused.

I gave her the Words her Daddy used — the only Word that has ever worked for that twenty-one and twenty-five and, now, near-forty year-old me who faces lies of her own. My girl and her Bible, a list of those lies and a list of verses from His Word that spoke the opposite — I gave a charge to dull eyes and a sunken gait. Hours later there was a lifting. She’d revived. He’d revived her. No more shrunken shoulders and cloudy perspective.

His Word had worked its way in.

She found her breath. Again. It’s sourced in only one place.

Daddy

To the reader and the writer and those of you with dry bones who need to hear “breathe”

I love words. I still sing hymns and I read poetry near daily. I have a stack of books five-high on my chair that I’m currently working through. I ask God to infuse me with the beauty of Himself as I write my own words.

And in a time and age when thousands of words scroll across my feed and my day, there has never been a greater need within me for One set of Words. HIS Words. His Word.

The others — like these — may allure me into the pasture and down to the river, they may entice me into that quiet space where He lives, but they aren’t my drink and they don’t give me breath. They may leave me enticed, but if I’m powerless because I sat by the river but never took a drink for myself: a life lived merely inspired is lifeless.

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Tomorrow is lifeless for me, without His Word. 

I can’t face another morning alarm, coupled with the enemy’s shouts of all that I’m not, without the Word of God to tell me the Truth.  And neither can you.

The question I ask myself: am I approaching His Word like it’s rote, dry history ….or food, necessary for me to thrive? Are these Words of His on this page more real to me than any circumstance, any diagnosis, any heart-ache, any loss I’m living? Are they shaping me or am I looking to squeeze them into my very-small understanding of God? (Is my jaw dropping in awe as I read about God in these pages and see how different He is from the ways of this whirlwind of a world around me?)

Could it be that the power and the beauty and the joy we most crave is locked up in His Word, waiting to be read and spoken (and shouted and sung) from.our.mouths? 

Could it be that your dry bones need to not just be held or comforted, but could they need to hear the Word, from your own mouth: Breathe.

Life gets clear when you have no other options. But why wait? Maybe today is the day to start the circle around your own “African guest house” with a Bible in hand and find Words to speak into the dark.

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 119 (yup, all of it) | Hebrews 4:12 | John 1:1-4 | Ezekiel 37:1-14 | 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | 1 Peter 4:11 | Psalm 119:9-11 | Psalm 119:25 | Psalm 119:37 | Psalm 119:105

Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.

How to Really Live the Life You Signed Up For

I was twenty-six with a college degree and journals full of worn pages carrying dreams for my life. I’d led dozens towards Jesus in my decade of being a God-follower and somewhere in there managed to graduate magna cum laude. I rarely missed a “quiet time” — a lot like when I was plaid-clad in grammar school and could remember those three Sundays when I missed church (because there were only three of them). I kept pace with other Christians around me — they taught me by how they followed Him. I was in a Bible Study and planted myself in a church and read books about how to grow my faith in Jesus.

And my Bible would stay on my bed-stand, right where I left it the morning before.

Then, those pages of dreams and that college degree? They failed me. A barren womb and a rocky marriage and a messy church split when best of friends became like strangers to one another. And I didn’t know who the pacesetters were anymore. I was the first of my peers to become disillusioned with what I knew of Western Christianity — you see, I thought the system would continue to set pace for me.

The books didn’t tell me this might happen.

Scraps MJ

So I shelved the degree and took a break from actively telling others about this Jesus (for I was in need of figuring Him out anew) and found a part time job.

For months and well into a year, I spent my afternoons amid French-imported lavender and Italian pottery and table linens. I was instructed not to dust the porcelain Guinea Hens or stacks of plates — people feel at home in cottage dust, apparently — and sometimes I made five transactions in a day. Thus this little storefront in North Barracks shopping center became the place where I met with God.

I took my Bible from the home bed-stand, cracked it open behind the register, and sometimes circled the floors of this boutique that smelled of french-milled soap commingled with lavender, praying one passage at a time. As I worked, I talked through His Word with God and started to see the shape of the Person who was that Word I’d memorized and quoted for years.

Cherish Candles

He had eyes and a face. His life on the earth and in the pages held expression. Towards me. His life-sweat in the stories (ones I’d told others for years in an effort to bring conversion to souls) became a scent I was beginning to smell. Phrases from this Word became like poetry to me, shaping the thoughts that’d been buried deep in my heart into a fresh conversation. This age-old God was newly vibrant to me. I was moving from following Him to having His breath leave an imprint on my insides.

I was falling in love.

House MJ

But I was aware of the constraints of my 21st-century understanding of Christianity. How do I explain this hunger growing inside of me to others? It didn’t feel normal, even in circles where following Jesus was the norm.

I came to that boutique matched and sassy on the outside but unkempt in the places where no one could see. “Normal Christianity” had worked for me when all I thought I needed was a 30-minute quiet time. But my mess bled outside of 7am and in order to survive I just had to have a glimpse of that God, bent low for the disheveled. I wanted to sit with Him and study the lines in His face and have His Words shape more than just a few conversations here and there.

Cherish Boats

I was no longer unsticking the pages of my Bible out of obligation, I was clawing my way into what was life to me. How could I give just a quick look towards this God on Sunday morning, or before I taught Tuesday night Bible Study, or merely when the corners of my eyes were still half-stuck together with sleep in the morning and see it as a box to check?

I didn’t know what to do with this hunger for God in the face of these shouts from some in the church to change the world and make better strategies and attend more meetings — those shouts that didn’t feel all that different from shouts from the secular world to “make my mark” (and to fill my schedule).

Leave Your mark on Me, was the whisper I heard when the dust began to grow on Normal Christianity in the overflow of my work in that cottage-pottery shop. I’m worth all that you spend here, on Me.

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(I didn’t realize, then, that the Maker of time multiplies His work on the earth, through us, as we waste our lives and our degrees and our strategies for changing the world … at His feet. It didn’t register then that my greatest “waste” — sitting at His feet for unconventional-to-us amounts of time — is the one thing that He says is needed.)

I’d known since I was fifteen and fresh-in-God that He’d made me to pour out. I signed up to be spent, to die. I just didn’t know that it could be at His feet, when only His eyes were on me.

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Dear twenty-year old (or thirty-three year-old or fifty-seven year-old), it’s not too late.

Our souls crave what our schedule and even our normal-Christian world can oppose: time spent at His feet, in His Word.

It doesn’t make sense, but He never called us to a life that makes sense. Who of you — when you first signed up to follow Him — wanted a life that made sense?

Impact and external investment and world-change are beautiful. But they’re secondary. They’re meant for the spilling over.

Let’s put the first thing back in first place. Let’s sign up again for a life that doesn’t make sense, but inhales and exhales the only thing that will give us life — Him. His Word. 

Let’s take our Bibles off of our bedside tables and expect to encounter Him at 11am and 3pm and 8 o’clock after the kids are in bed. Let’s refresh our approach, with arms wide-open to receive a God who meets the most unkempt parts of us and makes us radical. On the inside. First.

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Let’s take prayer off our to-do list and pray like the God on the other side has eyes and a face and a scent. And a love, waiting to unlock us.

Let’s give ourselves permission to believe that the best thing we can do with our Christian life is to waste it, at His feet. First. (And then watch what He does as we do.)

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Let’s toss the confines of “normal” Christianity that make Him out to be boring, leave us bored, and make us think that the only real excitement in God is outward impact. 

Let’s fall in love at unconventional times — amid dried lavender and dusty pottery, amid lives that bleed beyond those thirty minutes in the morning.

It’s what we signed up for, isn’t it?

{To read a little more of the story …}

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 27:4 | Luke 10:38-42 | Matthew 26:6-13 | Psalm 42:1-2 | Psalm 132:1-5 | Psalm 45:8 | Song of Solomon 5:10-16 | Matthew 22:37-40

Fourth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. The others are compliments of Mandie Joy.

When They Cannot Repay You

The day we pulled up into our driveway with them — into the home that had been full of empty bedrooms for years while we waited for them — we sat with the keys in the ignition while they, buckled into boosters in the back, slept off days of sleepless travel and we sighed.

Done.

We’d finished the hardest part, hadn’t we? They were … home.

They transitioned almost seamlessly into our home — but for some minor hiccups with attachment that an ergo and night-time bottle feeding (eye-to-eye) seemed to cure.

My little girl smelled like me. (She was mine.) My son even looked like Nate, aside from his chocolate skin. They slept through the night and played for hours like best friends and made our family of four feel easy.

A year later and we were adopting again. Insta-family.

And somewhere between that cloudless day when we brought our first two home and the one when we had five packed into our rusty suburban, the seamless days of adoption had vaporized… Continue reading over here–>

Sometimes I Get Stuck — Do You?

One of my favorite parts of life during this stretch, when it would feel easy to think that having five children and being a homeowner makes me old and wise, is having women who truly are wise (and maybe on the other side of forty) in my world. I can’t imagine doing life without women, hungry for God, who’ve been hungry a lot longer than me, teaching me — by their stories — about their own pursuit of Him. Today I’m giddy about one of those women, writing right here. Susan Yates is a seasoned voice in the writing world, a sage with years — and an ever-growing-reach-for-God to prove it (and she so happens to be married to my husband’s childhood pastor — how cool is that?!). Read …and receive.

When I was a young mother with five small children I got stuck. Most of the time, I simply felt like a failure. I wasn’t living up to my expectations of myself as a Mom or a wife or a ministry partner. With colicky 2 month old twins, 2, 4, and 7 year olds, I was sleep deprived. We’d recently moved; I had no friends, and no local family. My husband was in his first job as a Senior Pastor. He got up each morning excited about his day. I woke up just longing to make it through the day.

For almost 2 years I prayed, “God make me a better Mom and wife. Please give me peace and joy in this season.” Only silence answered back. I felt like I’d been put on hold by the Lord. I was stuck.

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I continued to pray for Him to make me a better Mom and wife. But I was not seeing any progress.

One morning I read a passage in Jeremiah 33:3 and I finally heard an answer.

God said through Jeremiah, “Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not know.”

Thinking about this promise I changed my daily prayer. Father I’m stuck on praying about my issues. Please show me something that I don’t know. I just need to see your hand at work.

As I opened myself to God’s showing me something new He began to reveal to me that I had lost perspective. I was evaluating my life from a wrong assumption of God. I was acting as if God approved of me when I was successful but in my season of life there was no visible success. I had to realize that God didn’t love me because I was a good mother, or good wife, or doing great things for Him. I wasn’t. He loved me because I belonged to Him. Period. But there was an even deeper lesson. As I read the words of Jeremiah I realized that in my misery God had something “other” to teach me. I call this the “Principle of the other.”

This little principle has had a huge impact on my life even though I still get stuck sometimes.

Recently I was on a plane returning from speaking oversees. I was exhausted and scrunched in a middle seat next to a snoring man. In my miserable state I began to think about my kids. They were adults now but I couldn’t wait to get my feet on the same continent as theirs. As I thought about one particular child I began to imagine a problem this child might have. The more I thought about the child the more the problem grew. I’ll read my Bible and that will help. It didn’t. OK, I’ll pray. The more I prayed about the issue the bigger it grew. Finally I cried out to the Lord, “help.” While I did not hear an audible voice what came to mind was unmistakably from Him. Two words that were to impact my life once again: “Remember Me.”

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What I realized was that I had let my concern over a child become bigger in my head than God was. I needed to begin to focus more on how big God is than on whatever issue is on my heart at any given moment.

Whatever season of life we are in we all get stuck and we all have issues-a child, relationship, financial need, marriage or singleness. It’s so easy to grit our teeth and try to trust God with the issue. But walking with Christ is not gritting our teeth. It’s focusing on His character traits—filling ourselves up with who He is and then our issue will be seen from a healthier perspective. It won’t completely go away but it will be less likely to control us.

I still get stuck but I have learned to use the “principle of the other” from Jeremiah to call on God and ask Him to show me something unrelated to my current issue. Knowing that He has something special to teach me gives me hope. It generates vision within my shriveled heart. I become expectant. My view of God is enlarged and I am refreshed because I look forward to seeing Him do something new in my life.

To help me focus on God, I begin each day asking Him to give me one character trait of His to meditate on throughout that day.

He Understands

When no one else can understand me or my situation, you do-completely Oh Lord.

“Great is the Lord and mighty in power, his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:5)

I find that when I discipline my mind to think about who He is instead of focusing on my current issue my joy is greater. In His presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)

And so I pray for each of us:

Lord, as we get into this new year open our eyes to see the “other” things, the new things you might teach us that will broaden or understanding of How Great Thou art.

If you would like to begin the habit of focusing on one character trait of God you will find some that I have used and you can sign up to get them in your inbox twice weekly at www.susanalexanderyates.com.

Yates Family PhotoSusan is mom to five children (including a set of twins) and grandmother to 21 (including a set of quadruplets!).  Susan has been married to John for almost 45 years. She’s written 13 books and speak on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and women’s issues.  Some of her books include And Then I Had Kids; And Then I Had Teenagers; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With John). She writes regularly for the blog: MomLifeToday.com, sponsored by Family Life. 

John and Susan and Grands

Are We Too Careful With Our Faith?

I never wanted to be you.

All those years that my womb was hollow and when friends were shifting clothes in and out of their closets – moving out pilled maternity shirts (well-worn), and moving in those post-maternity jeans (worn much longer than planned) and pre-maternity sizes that never quite fit again but remained on the hanger as a “one-day, maybe again” reward – the hardest months for me were the ones when I was a few days late.

A few days expectant.

A few days, planning. Dreaming.

A few days hopeful.

The ones that ended in what I then labeled to be a few days foolish.

I inadvertently had given permission to this part of our life in God, that great mystery – one that I had patterned my life around boxing out: hope.

So, here’s why I didn’t want to be you – mama whose womb was filled, only to be emptied again, early. Those few days of expectancy were days when my hope could be mostly dismissed as girlish – even foolish – fantasy.

[Continue reading on inCourage.me —>]

 

What If You Didn’t Search for God Alone?

I was pretty sure I knew how to do life-together with friends when life all happened on time, working as it should. Late night hangouts and laughing until your sides split, interspersed with the occasional “God story” and prayer request. We shared clothes and coffee dates and “can you even believe I said that to him?” moments.

It was easy to make friends and keep friends over Saturday night sweets binging.

But sometime post-college, after leaving that house on East Vine that moved when the wind blew and was teeming with lives of girlfriends-made-sisters, the content I brought to a coffee date was a little different.

Life got hard. It didn’t run on my time. The year of my newlywed bliss lasted for a day and my womb was empty. We weren’t nineteen and cooking dinner in roller-blades in the kitchen just for kicks anymore.

My girlfriends still circled up every year, coming in from spots all over the country and meeting in the furnished living room of a “real” house instead of just cramming our over-caffeinated bodies onto one girls’ bed after class. And though I had friends in my city, in my world, these girlfriends were my metronome for how my view on friendship had changed since I was young and carefree.

Girls shared updates while I chewed the inside of my cheek — scared to unveil myself to ones who’d once all worn my clothes and driven my car and seen me every morning at 7am with mascara-lined bags under my eyes for four years. We used to share everything and I now couldn’t figure out a way to communicate the torrent inside of my twenty-something frame. How would they handle my mess, when I could barely handle my mess? Was it safe to even speak out-loud what I’d been feeling inside?

Lantern

In those few short years since college, I’d experienced the convergence of beautiful and awful. The identity around which I’d formed my life — my ministry, my output — was slipping through my fingers, alongside my harder-than-I-thought marriage and any plans I’d had for a family. How do you put words to that?

Simultaneously, I’d started a new search for God. This life-ache was unearthing a hunger for Him that maybe I’d always had but never identified. I started to want Him more than I did a neat and tidy prayer-requested life.

But that, too, felt different. Almost unexplainable. Weird.

I didn’t know how to let them in.

Daisy

When life gets hard — when life gets real — how do you transition out of the slumber party into holding the story of another before God? Into holding another, before God, with His eyes and His perspective on them?

What does friendship look like when coffee and casual prayer requests and late-night chocolate aren’t enough to cushion another’s deep life-ache? What does it look like to let yourself bleed a little, in front of another?

How do you find the kind of friendship that fuels hunger for God without losing the deep belly laughter so necessary to life and love of Him, in the meantime?

A decade and a half later, and many of those college girlfriends and others have now shown me — with their own stories — how you do what I just couldn’t do when I was twenty-four and lonely.

They’ve bled, outside their skin, and didn’t wait until it was a hermetically sealed environment to do so. They didn’t play it safe when it came to friendship.

They’ve hungered for Him in an unconventional way.

And they talked about it.

Candle

Various friends taught me, with their lives, that the convergence of their own messy loss and their own unkempt (but burgeoning) hunger for God weren’t so awkward that it would disrupt friendship — but that it instead would cause friendship to grow. (And they still split their sides in laughter at themselves and at life and ate chocolate and planned coffee dates.)

Hunger for God is the undercurrent of deep friendship. And true friendship fuels new hunger for God.

CandlesMJ

Want this fusion of hunger for God and life-ache and friendship for yourself?

What if you didn’t wait until it was the perfect set-up or the perfect potential people or the safest-by-your-standards environment … but just took one little step?

How about this for a start:


(Click here if viewing this in a reader)

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Whether you’re twenty-two or sixty, it’s never too late to ask Him for unconventional friendship, the kind that makes you laugh more than you’ve ever laughed and hunger for Him in a way you just might not, by yourself.

First four photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Fifth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Becoming a Closet Radical

I was in my second year out of college and full of zeal and opinion. After all, you only have one life to live on the earth — eighty years at best. Whose story would be linked back to my impact, in eternity?

I’d change the world for God in my twenties.

Except I was tired. I hadn’t factored in how my zeal might translate into longevity.

We were headed out of town for just a few days of respite and this mentor, this friend, met Nate and me for breakfast before we scooted. He gently interviewed me on my second year’s work in a new town and read right through my words to my heart. Peppered throughout my analysis of the year was my mention of various people who’d placed varying levels of expectation upon me, or so I thought. (I couldn’t bear up and I felt it.) “Something needed to change,” was what I said. But what I really meant was that they needed to change — all of them, this collaborative yet unconnected group of people who were forcing me to turn up the treadmill.

But my hand was controlling that treadmill. I’d pushed the needle a little too far and went from zeal and passion to exhaustion, without noticing it.

These people — the ones with all those expectations — didn’t need to change. I did. I was “headed for burnout,” said this friend, boldly. Something on my insides was off and I wouldn’t be the marathon runner I wanted to be if I kept sprinting through my long-runs.

I left breakfast in a fog, unsure of what to make of all this. His words resonated, slightly, but they didn’t match my understanding of Christianity. There was so much of His work to do … wasn’t I supposed to maximize my daylight hours for His kingdom? My days are numbered, why would I ever waste them? 

Somehow I needed to gear back up, I thought. Get another dose of motivation to expend my life for Him, again.

Bowls MJ

And what is burnout, anyways?

That breakfast was portentous, I learned soon enough.

Months later, my bone-tired insides slowed to a stop. I didn’t heed this friend’s words, so instead I lived them.

There’s no time for planning when exhaustion overtakes you and you just.can’t.keep.going.

I was forced into rest.

+++

Rest, at twenty-three, was reading books and taking walks and holing myself up in my room for long-hour stretches with just worship music and my Bible. It was awkward. Unfamiliar. It didn’t feel natural to this one who’d been sprinting.

I hadn’t slowed to this pace maybe ever since saying “yes” to God when I was fifteen.

It was re-introducing myself to a God-Man for whom I’d been so hard at work and realizing that I barely knew Him.

Roses

My twenties went from my self-declared decade of impact to years when the only heart I sought to impact was His. It was as if  — because I couldn’t get my mind around a love that didn’t come as a result of what I produced — He allowed almost all of my external “doing” to wither so that I might find that sparkle in His eye when I was at my most seemingly-unproductive for His kingdom.

He was so kind to dry up my ministry.

It took years for me to begin to see that He delighted in me during my most “inefficient” years. He loved me in my closet.

He was now the Man sitting across my breakfast table encouraging me to find Him in my unproductivity.

+++

A decade and a half later, He’s still saying the same thing.

Balloons

The needs of my five children grow as they grow. They crave back rubs and to sit on my lap over long books and to rest in my arms as their little hearts ponder their big stories. They ripen under my time.

And my to-do list goes unchecked.

So, those free hours (because, mamas, when it all boils down we do have free hours) — they allure me. Make more lists, they say. Clean the corners and dust the edges and bake-up more homemade something. Sometimes they say clear your inbox or meet a need or start a foundation.

Go. Run. Work. Make an impact … somewhere.

Yard Tools MJ

But there is a rest in Him, available to me and absolutely necessary for a heart that’s made to be in love with God not just work for Him, that supersedes seasons and needs.

Rocking Chair

To choose rest — true rest, not the “rest” this age of ours says is rest, when the work is finished but the alerts inform us and feeds scroll before us — is to say, with our lives, that who He is matters more than what we perform or who we know down here.

To choose true rest is to believe that beauty often happens outside of what I create with my own two hands.

To choose true rest is to believe there is only one set of eyes that matter, only one perspective on me that counts, only One heart I need to move in the course of my lifetime.

His.

From this angle, my most productive days may be the ones that include long walks and unfolding conversations with Him (not just quick asks) and candles lit in the afternoon to remind me there is more of Him to be had, here, right smack-dab at 3pm on Monday.

They are the ones that include unconventional time with God.

Bible Candle

Practically, for me, it means my cobwebs might not be dusted when you come by and I may not be loading my kids in the car to drop off a meal for a friend down the street. It may take days or weeks, rather than hours, to respond to your emails and take-out may be necessary over “from scratch” some days. She may go a day too long without a shower and he may wear the same clothes twice in a row, all so that I can carve out pockets of this new productivity.

But something you might see in the house of the one who has found that hard-to-reach place of resting in Him when their hem is tugged, as you step over the bikes in the yard and lift your eyes from the smudges on the glass, is the light of a wild love in their eyes.

Butterfly Hand Boy

Those who look to Him are radiant because they need not wear their accomplishments as their garments.

They just wear the One at whom they’ve been looking.

Dear church –

I’m tempted to add a dozen caveats that say “care for the orphan”, “don’t forget the hurting, the ones who don’t yet know Him”, “your children are not to be neglected” while you practice this rest, but something tells me that all of us have that tickertape running strong across our brains. We are zeroing in on the outward expression of a life lived for Him, but we’re starving for an underground, radical devotion to Him. A devotion that happens when no one is looking. A closet devotion. 

We’re bone-tired on the inside and turning up the treadmill and wondering why our twitter feed looks more interesting to us than His Word.

When we give our insides permission to fall radically, unconventionally in love with God, the world we’ve been wanting to impact might just turn upside down like we’ve been envisioning, all through the overflow.

Sitting at his feet, like Mary, really is radical devotion these distracted days.

It moves the most important heart. (His).

And the rest follows …

 

[Have you read this, yet? It might just be the story that gives your story a bit of a grid.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 20:7 | Hebrews 3-4 | Psalm 23:1-3 | Song of Solomon 2:14 |Psalm 34:5 | Luke 10:38-42

First through sixth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Seventh photo compliments of Cherish Andrea photography.

The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready To Talk

If we sit sideways in the oversized leather chair — the one that was already faded and cracked before we left our marks on it — two of us can fit.

His little body, tucked into last season’s mismatched pajamas, pressed beside mine and I wondered just what might come out of this kid’s mouth tonight.

He’s still a mystery to me, this child. He was the youngest one we adopted and has no memories of life without being a Hagerty. He smiles like Nate and pops his collar and could spend hours using his sisters’ thread to string plastic toys and legos and army men from the second story bannister.

He’s goofy and loud and all things boy, but some days the clouds hang low behind his eyes. They threaten to disrupt seven year-old boy light-footedness. He has a history that one day will be deep fodder for his conversation with God, but right now he’s not ready to talk.

I think my son is a mystery to himself, too.

Cherish Road

Those clouds brood some days and he can’t access what feels so hard in between building lego forts and shooting his bow up at the sky, so he grumbles. Something hurts. It’s that dull ache again, but how does a seven year old process the kind of life-loss he faced before he ever lost his first tooth?

Each of my children are different in how they face their grief. One crawls into my lap, near weekly, and says “I’m just having a hard, hard day,” her once-long-ago loss so near to the surface. It’s barely a thought before I hear it.  She makes the connections to her past, without me. Her grief is tangible to her. Another cries in secret while I spend months readying myself for the sliver she’ll give me of her heart when she’s ready to talk.

But this boy, he climbs trees and scouts for hawks and makes pets out of field mice. Underneath all the action is a young one that will one day discover that bravery is in a bare heart. Until then, we wait.

Colored Pencils MJ

I wait — until he’s ready to talk.

And we take an actively passive approach — if there is such a thing — with him and the others.

We take a phrase or sentence of God’s Word, we see what those words say about who He is, and we speak it back to Him and to our own souls, in words that make it real. It sounds simple and habitual. Maybe even ritual. Sterile.

But tonight was anything but habit.

His body making new impressions on the old creases of the chair, my boy spoke his adoration. We were adoring God out of Luke 2 — the God who told His secret to poor shepherds — and here’s what he said “God, you didn’t give your secrets to just the wealthy or the kings, you told the people that nobody cared about.”

My son — who can’t yet verbalize the life-question of so many former orphans who can’t yet put together thoughts to ask God why he felt forgotten or forsaken, even despite now being in a family — could see another’s seemingly forgotten existence as noticed by God. He could try on, for another, how it felt, before he is ready to talk about it for himself.

Boots MJ

This is adoration.

Adoration isn’t for the pious rule-followers who see discipline like a feather in their hat. It’s not for the measured and studied, careful followers for God. It’s not for the good girls and boys who keep their emotions under lock and key.

It’s for the seven year-old former orphans who aren’t quite yet ready to talk to God about the deepest parts of their hearts and the fifty seven year-old grandmothers who are learning to open their hearts up to Him, in love. It’s for the once-hardened and bitter who want a second chance to live another stage of life, soft. It’s for the unkempt who are hungry for a new experience with God, but can’t put language to these nascent sprigs inside.

Adoration is for the one who’s lived a lifetime awkwardly approaching conversation with God, but somewhere, buried deep, wants to know what it’s like to have Him hold their hand.

It’s for the ones who aren’t ready to talk, but are craving the conversation that gives their insides permission to not just form words about God but to fall again in love with Him.

Girl MJ

Adoration is for you and me, just like it’s for my son.

Adoration is for the one who wants to be seen. And known. The one who has memorized and quoted his Word, but isn’t laying in bed after the lights are off, awake, aware of their ever-expanding love for Him.

Adoration is introduction to conversation with God, for the ones who aren’t yet ready to talk.

Hand Butterfly Cherish

“So where do I start,” you say?

There’s no better time than now, to approach His Word in a new-to-you way. Starting January 1st, we’re adoring God through the Psalms. We are taking one (sometimes itty bitty) phrase, and using that as our starting point for conversation with God — and with ourselves — about God.

We’re not waiting until we feel God to tell God who He is. We’re not waiting until we like who we are to tell God (and our own soul) who He is.

We’re not waiting for the best time to start.

‘Cause the best time is now. Chopping onions and carrying a load of laundry up the stairs and riding the train into the city for the day. The time to adore God is any new minute you want to salvage, to sabotage, with His thoughts and His Words. It’s in the carpool line and tying toddler’s shoes and walking out to the mailbox.

Produce MJ

Adoration is breathing in His Word and exhaling it back to Him, in our own words, over minutes.

That one phrase about Him from His Word, put into your own language — coming from your angle — gets to work its way into your day and before you know it you’re informing your conversation with God … you know, the one you weren’t sure you were ready to have.

Adoration is sticking that big toe in the water of God’s deep and bridging the gap between the mighty, sometimes mystical, and your everyday experience with Him. To get to the ocean-deep, your flesh has to get wet. One toe at a time.

One minute adoring God, at a time.

Is this your year to talk to God?

There’s no better place to start — especially for the one who finds themselves tongue-tied — than His Word.

[And if you don’t want to try this thing out alone, you surely don’t have to. There’s a group of us over here dipping our toes in the water.]

First and fifth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Following photos compliments of Mandie Joy, who also puts together our daily Instagram adorations.