What if You Don’t Like the Chapter You’re Living?

Last week I spoke to a large gathering of young moms. As I looked around the room of women seated at round tables I saw the fatigue of too little sleep, and the hopeful expressions of “please nourish me with something other than goldfish crackers”.

I know that most of them (probably with toddlers wrapped around their legs), stood in front of a mirror fretting about what to wear and how to camouflage a bulge here or there. I know I did too.

They worried about how much of their true story to reveal. They wondered if the chapter they’re living is important or impossible.

Each of us, married or single, parents or not, old or young, are living a chapter in the larger story of God.

You may not like this chapter you’re living right now. You may think it’s not important to the Storyline.

You see signs like this and you want to hurl something.

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But God’s story doesn’t depend on our setting.

How did Moses feel about his chapter in the wilderness when God was writing a chapter of character refinement?

How did John feel about his chapter exiled on Patmos when God was writing a chapter of encouragement for the future?

How did Peter feel about his chapter in jail when God was writing a story of salvation for a jailer?

How did Joseph feel when he was sold into slavery when God was writing a chapter of rescue for His people?

Or how did Elizabeth feel during the MANY chapters of her life when she was barren when God was writing a chapter of preparation.

In Exodus 3:21 God says to his people in slavery (READ: crappy chapter!):

“I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed.”

But this promise isn’t fulfilled until Exodus 12:36! That’s chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 that the Israelites had to trust that God was at work writing a redemptive story even though they couldn’t see it! They had to trust that even in the midst of harsh punishment and plagues and Pharaoh’s hard heart, God was at work. And they weren’t very good at it. Like you and I are often not very good at trusting that God is working in ways we can’t see.

God repeated His promises to the Israelites in Exodus 6, “but they did not listen to Him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”

Sin is when we reject God’s script and try to write another one. We want to snatch the pen out of His hand and write ourselves out of a situation that God may be using for purposes we can’t see yet.

When we moved from Washington D.C. to Minneapolis, humanly speaking there was not enough time to sell our house in D.C. and close on one in our new state before John started work. We had two daughters under 3 years old, and I did not relish the idea of being a nomad wandering in the wilderness without a home (cue the violins). CLEARLY God needed my help with the script. I chose to snatch the pen away and try to write my own story.

And so I made an unethical choice. Before John had formally been offered the job, I whispered in the ear of a realtor friend that he could “unofficially” show our house on the DL while we were away in Minneapolis candidating.

When we arrived back in D.C. I called the realtor to ask if my plan had worked and he had a buyer. He said “Nope!”.

As soon as I hung up the phone, it rang. I picked it up and it was a different realtor who had no idea we were moving, but she had been in our house. She had a couple who had been looking for a home for a two years. She had described our house to them and they wanted to buy it sight unseen at asking price if we were willing to sell it.

And God said “HA!! I will ALWAYS be a better author than you. Trust me!”

If you’re living a chapter that seems like Egypt, seems impossible, it may be that you’re living Exodus 4-11, and like in chapter 12, a teacher recently pointed out to me that you won’t have to leave empty handed. Think about what you may be able to take with you from this chapter you’re living.

 

Who and Whose is Your Church?

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You can just barely see me in the second row of this picture, taken at church yesterday. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of when believers first gathered on this corner of Minnesota in the midst of a farmland.

Outside the sanctuary more people – families with littles gathered around tables to participate with wiggle room. And outside the building, Minnesota couldn’t decide whether to be all blustery clouds, or sun-shiny. The weather reflected the many seasons we’ve experienced here.

As we worshipped, I cried because the picture above may look like a crowd to you, but we’ve been here 27 years, so it’s not a crowd. It’s a family of people with amazing stories of God’s love and redemption.

I turned and looked up to see my long-haired friend in the front row of the balcony who first rode up to church on his Harley, found love and acceptance and never looked back.

I was hugged by a teary woman I had prayed for a few months ago with alcohol on her breath at 9 a.m. She said “I’m making it.” referring to her recovery.

I laughed with the people who had been our first neighbors, whose kids created forts with ours, and came to Jesus through a backyard Bible study I hosted.

I met the new wife of a widower my age, and I watched a young widow pitch in as a volunteer for the bbq after worship.

As I stood talking, a 7 year old friend came and silently leaned up against me for a brief hug.

I cuddled babies belonging to young couples who were just engaged or newly married when I gathered them together as a small community 5 years ago.

Looking across the sanctuary I saw people we’ve done life with – 4th of July gatherings, weddings, births, New Year’s welcoming, and funerals. Together.

Among the folks gathered yesterday were also those who have hurt my feelings. Those who I’ve had to ask forgiveness. Some who have been critical. Others who have gossiped, including me.

This is the church.

I love Jesus. And I love the Church. But the Church isn’t Jesus.

We’re all a mess and we’ll let each other down from time to time.

We are both humble and proud.

Generous and selfish.

Open-handed and controlling.

Inclusive and exclusive.

Gracious and legalistic.

Brave and fearful.

But we keep showing up, because the grace of Jesus is why we’re here in the first place. 

We’re works in progress all.

In addition to the people I’ve named, I know there are some who are just watchers. Maybe wounded. Maybe shamed. Maybe feeling they don’t fit in. They stand on the edges. They slip out early. I try to look for them and take them by the hand and gently pull them in, but they’re slippery and they may not be ready.

If you’re a watcher, I understand. There was a season when I was a watcher too and the church just felt too dangerous. But I’d encourage you with this. It isn’t the church we trust in. It’s Jesus.

Yesterday I cried as I always do when we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness”

We as a church are going to blow it, but it’s His faithfulness that carries us, that picks us up, that mends our broken hearts, that redeems our relationships and knits us together in love and forgiveness. And so we keep showing up together at 70th street and 100 with “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

 

 

 

When God Seems Boring or Irrelevant

In our family, John makes the deposits into our bank account and I make the withdrawals. What can I say. We all have our gifts, right?

I’m not aware of the automatic deposits at the moment they happen, but I’m really glad the money is there when I need it.

The idea of holy deposits has been rolling around in my head since I spoke to a large group of young moms last week. I had prayerfully prepared and thought I had responded to the specific promptings of God when I chose my topic.

I talked about wounds, how we all have our mess, and the positive and negative affects of wounds. I shared my deepest wounding time and how God had met me in that time. Lastly I talked about the importance of being safe places for us to be authentic about our mess.

The day afterwards I was walking, kicking up the dry leaves that are starting to fall, and prayer processing (you know, going over stuff with God). I thought, “Gosh, when I was twenty-something with two toddlers I couldn’t have thought of a deep wound in my life. Maybe it was totally irrelevant for the majority of my audience!”

But God whispered, “Maybe I was making a deposit that will be important later.”

It made me think of a very low time in my life when I felt like I was done with God. I was walking in the Swiss Alps at dusk, basically yelling at Him about how I couldn’t trust Him any more. I was sobbing and when I had finally exhausted all my frustration I was still for a minute. That was all the Lord needed. He reminded me of the truth from His Word that He had deposited long ago. “I will never leave or forsake you.” No matter what.

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I hadn’t thought about that verse…well, ever, that I could remember. But there it was. A deposit, withdrawn at the exact moment I needed it.

There are days when I read the Bible or listen to a sermon and think, “Meh. Not particularly relevant to my life.” OR I get preoccupied with who it IS for.

But maybe God is making deposits I’m not aware of that I’ll be thankful for later.

There are other times when I’m going through an experience that seems dry, boring, unimportant or hard and I’m tempted to say “Lord, can we please get on with it??”

But again, maybe God is making deposits I’m not aware of that I’ll be thankful for later.

I’m grateful we have a God who knows the beginning from the end and beyond. He loves us beyond what we can ever comprehend and is always making deposits of great value into our lives.

Just what I’ve been thinking about this week…

 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:13-14

How to Respond When “Not Good Enough” is Ringing in Your Ears

I have to be honest with you. I was feeling quite Anne Shirley-ish the beginning of August – “in the depths of despair” as she liked to say dramatically. There was no up to my emotional roller coaster ride, only down. I experienced some cold hard failure and  the crafty Lying Liar was having a hey day with me.

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This isn’t his first carnival. He knows exactly which attractions will trigger all the fear and insecurity in me. He knows how to get me into the “fun house” of distortions, and turn up the volume of the hawkers on the Midway who all seem to shout “Not good enough! Not good enough!”

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And before you know it, I’m owning it. It’s MY refrain that echoes through my days. “Not good enough.”

“NOT good enough!”

“Not GOOD enough!”

“Not good ENOUGH!”

I did all the things I know to do when discouraged.

I tried to focus on serving others instead of myself.

I tried rehearsing everything I’m thankful for.

I prayed.

And then, a little nudge on my shoulder drew me away from the noise of the Midway to a tiny whisper of the Holy Spirit.

At first there was a question.

Could it be that by saying “Not good enough” about yourself, you are actually saying that about God? That God isn’t “good enough”? Did He make a mistake? Are His ways perfect except when it comes to you?

And then this came to mind:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

If God has prepared good works in advance for me to do, He has created me “good enough” to accomplish them.

Yes I’m a cracked pot, broken and imperfect and in need of redemption.

I may not be a 10 talent person, but the 3 talents God has given me or you are good, and the works He has for us to do are good. And He is good.

There are times we may fail and it’s God’s will for us to learn from it, pick ourselves up, and try again. But I think there are other times when, instead of beating ourselves up, we need to say, “Well, that must not be the good work God has for me. He must have something else up His sleeve.”

The Message paraphrases it this way: “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

You ARE good enough because God in you is more than good enough.

So let’s find the work He’s prepared for us to do and do it!

“If you know you are the Beloved, you can live  with an enormous amount of success and an enormous amount of failure without losing your identity. Because your identity is that you are the Beloved…The question becomes ‘Can I live a life of faith in the world and trust that it will bear fruit?'” – Henri Nouwen

 

The T.V. Preacher and Me

Very early most mornings at Starbucks, my elderly gentleman friend Stan, walks over from his home in the neighborhood to buy his morning paper and stops by my “office” to chat. The other day he was telling me about a new t.v. preacher he had discovered who he really likes.

I asked the name of this guy and when Stan told me I gulped and bit my tongue as I continued to listen. I wanted to say “Stan! Don’t you know about this guy?! Don’t you know about what he DID back in the day?!! I would never listen to him!”

And then the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “What if you were judged by all your past sins? What if you weren’t allowed to grow and change?”

I thought, “Jesus is about forever tries and redemption and new life. Am I?”

It made me think about all the people I’ve “written off” with labels like “out-of-control”, “racist”, “addict”, “unhealthy”, “materialistic”, “victim”…

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I thought of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 and I wondered how Jesus’ grace affected her. Did she change? Did people let her become something other than the label, “adulterer”? Were they able to see the label Jesus gave her: “Beloved”?

Today there’s someone who comes to mind who I’ve given the label, “User”. I haven’t seen him for years, but today I’m praying for him and in my mind as I pray, I’m picturing that label being removed from him, and replaced by one that says “Beloved”.

Fitbit Faith

For my birthday I received the absolutely delightful gift of a Fitbit from a dear friend.

I LOVE it! John says they designed this little gadget with type A, goal-setting, competitive, rule-followers like me in mind.

This magical wristband tracks your activity, sleep, and may even make your breakfast for you (I’m still looking into that).

At least 10,000 steps a day is the target. John just shakes his head and laughs when I jump up and start walking in circles around the kitchen island after my wrist has tingled and a prompt has reminded me I have 75 more steps to go in order to make 250 for the hour. Whatever…It works for me.

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But I’ve found this little motivational marvel has some lessons for my faith as well as my physical fitness.

  • Things are not always what they seem. Facing the facts is life-giving. Before I had hard data, I assumed some activities were more beneficial than they actually are, and I discounted some that turn out to be valuable. In the realm of the spirit, Satan is the father of lies and will always be distorting, distracting, and discouraging. This is why it is so important for us to “bring every thought captive” to the Truth of God’s Word.
  • Intention is crucial. No one drifts into fitness and no one drifts into spiritual maturity. Discipline pays off. Every tiny step of obedience adds up. Evennnnnnntually it will pay off on the scale physically, but more importantly discipline pays off in spiritual transformation over time.
  • Intention CAN become legalism. I have been known to run up and down stairs at 11:30 at night just to get in my last hundred steps if it’s been a slow day. I’m such a rule-follower that I need to be careful that I’m more about the big picture than the letter of the law. When a goal, or a task (no matter how good) becomes more important than loving the person in front of me, I need a reset. I also need to be willing to LET IT GOOOOOO. God, our loving Father is all about grace, not shame.

As helpful as this might be for me, writer Chris Rogers points out that Spiritual discipline is more romance than formula.  Whatever is going to stir us to greater depths of love and devotion to Jesus is where we need to take our steps. Are you with me?!

The Busy Burden and Badge

When you ask a friend, “How you doing?” I bet I can guess the answer you hear 99% of the time. It’s a version of the same response I get.

“I’m too busy!”

Busy has become both a burden and a badge of honor. We are stressed, but we are secretly kind of relieved that we are soooo in demand. We are soooo important to the world. We’re kind of a big deal.

An acquaintance of mine who’s also one of my favorite authors has a new book out that’s been getting a lot of traction. The gist of it is basically:

I was too busy. I learned to say “no”. It helps to have a lake cabin to retreat to.

You’re too busy. Learn to say “no”. It helps to have a lake cabin to retreat to.

Many, especially young women around me, find this simple message tremendously freeing and validating. I’m all for it and I’m thrilled for any resource that helps us become more grounded and Jesus-centered, but what are we actually doing about it? We don’t have to live by default or as cosmic victims. We all have choices. As Craig Groeschel says,

“We all have time for what we choose to have time for.”

What about if we asked some of these questions about our choices:

  • What am I filling my life with? How much of it is vital to who I want to become and who is most important to me?
  • How attached am I to my phone, to social media? What is it replacing?
  • Am I spending more time invested in relationships with the characters on Homeland than the people in my own home?
  • What is the most important thing I’ve been distracted from doing?

Adele Calhoun, in her chapter on Rest in Invitations from God, writes about soft addictions. These are behaviors that sap time, money, and energy just like work. She sites the statistic that 91% of us have soft addictions. They are the ways we overuse good things: food, caffeine, exercise TV, Internet, texting, Facebook, work, and shopping.

My friend James preached recently and talked about this as the stuff that pollutes the springs of Living Water Jesus promises us, clogging our lives like milfoil.

“Filling our blank spaces with every addiction, reduces our capacity to give and receive love.” he says. At risk are family dinners, face-to-face date nights, devotions, prayer walks…

Some of the things that keep us from lives that are peace and joy-filled are comparison, perfectionism, fear, and shame. Ironically, these are things that are reinforced more and more through social media, 24/7 news cycles, t.v. and ads.

Evidence of too-busy-too-preocupied-to-be-present-disease is present everywhere. Phones are just one distracting urgent-over-important choice among many.

When I see parents with kids in tow, absorbed on their smartphones, oblivious to their children. I want to snatch the phone and say “DON’T DO IT!! I know it doesn’t seem like it, but your time with them is so fleeting! God has entrusted them to you. You have stewardship of these precious ones for 18 years. Make the most of it! Talk to them! Listen to them!”

But it’s not just parents. It’s 20-something singles (and 50-somethings…ahem), gripped by FOMO, who hold their smartphone through a meal like a security blanket.

I’m not in a stressful busy season of life. I have margin. But I’ve lived to experience the truth a mentor of mine shared with me when I was in my twenties. She said:

“Yes, it’s especially hard to prioritize in seasons when you have little kids, or high stress jobs with long hours. However, in some ways it doesn’t get easier no matter what season you’re in. You will ALWAYS be tempted by distractions, and the Evil One knows exactly what is most tempting to derail you. How you spend your time is always a choice, so work hard RIGHT NOW to put good practices in place.”

When we listen more to the Lover of our souls than the Liar, we find grace and acceptance just as we are.

Then we’ll hear:

“I’m cheering you on as you serve Hamburger Helper and leave the carpet un-vacuumed because I love it when you choose people over ‘perfection'”

“The world won’t end if a few emails go unanswered for 12 hours. I’m delighted that you chose to walk with Me and talk to Me tonight.”

“It’s ok if you don’t know what Donald Trump said today, you listened fully to your 2 year old’s excited rambling about something crucially important to him.”

“Way to go. A phone-free walk outside with a friend who shares your heart is better for your soul than scrolling FB feeds for a virtual community buzz.”

We’re in this together! Let’s encourage each other today as we try to choose what’s most important to our souls.

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After I finished writing this, I happened to listen to a great podcast by Craig Groeschel called “I choose Important over Urgent”. I highly recommend it if you want more on this subject!

 

Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

It is a stormy, gray day here. The pool is closed for the season, and most of our kids are starting school today. The tops of the trees are already tinged crimson.

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There is such a cornucopia of all the feels.

Grief at the end of a glorious summer…

Good bye to some of the rhythms and relationships that come with vacation, lake time, and outdoor sports…

The excitement and uncertainty that comes with new beginnings and new locker combinations.

Maybe even more than January 1st, September marks a BEGINNING.

We’re inside more, and more dependent on information – the weather report, full email in-boxes, school forms to sign, volunteer requests, schedules to keep straight, more meetings, the up-coming election, the WORLD situation for Pete’s sake!

September can feel like JUST. TOO. MUCH.

So, two quick thoughts and then you can go drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

You know I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from the blog this summer. You’ve been kind to encourage me and inquire when it will be over. It’s been good, and the Lord has prompted me to work on some other writing projects that I’m both excited and scared about.

As I’ve prayed about this space and whether/how to continue, the one thing I’ve been concerned about is clogging your in-box with anything that’s not a value add to your life. We are overwhelmed with so many good resources! So I’m going to be more careful. I will post less, and try some shorter posts (We’ll see how that goes!) but I pray God will use what He gives me to send you for His purposes and that you will be encouraged.

My friend James preached at our church this past weekend. In his message he shared the irony that the statue of Atlas holding the world, outside of the Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan is across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In the cathedral is a statue of Jesus as a boy, holding the world in His hand.

So this September, in the midst of busyness, take a deep breath and remember, Jesus holds the world. You don’t have to.

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The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Psalm 93:1

4 Ideas for Navigating Change

“It’s coming. I can feel it.” That’s the refrain I hear too often these August days as the light mellows earlier in the evening and green things have lost their luster. Everything looks a little dry and tired. A little droopy. Long shadows seem shadowier.

I want to yell “NOOOOO!” and stamp my foot like a toddler fighting bedtime.

Instead I breathe deep and stay outside as long as possible, trying to ward off the inevitable, and the deep feeling of loss that accompanies it.

“Seasons change and so did I.” as the song says.

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I have friends going away to college, those who are moving from single into married life; some who are expecting babies, one who just got fired, others who are sending their kids off to school for the first time, and those who will become empty-nesters.

Thirty years ago my husband John and I moved from our home and families in the Chicago area to serve at a church in Washington D.C.  It was a huge seasonal change for us.  John was required to attend a seminar on transitions and while he was there he had to take an assessment that assigned points to the the different changes in your life.

POINTS???!  We love points!  We’re a tad competitive :).

We were moving away from family for the first time, expecting a new baby (I was 8 months pregnant with our second when we moved), buying our first house, starting a new job in a new church culture.  Each of these got points assigned to them indicating the amount of pressure in our life.

John came home and said, “Honey, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is, we WON!   We had more points than anyone there!  The bad news is they said we should have been in counseling 50 points ago!”

Change, even good change brings stress. There’s an article I’ve saved for years that documents the effects of moving. Even a short move across town causes a level of anxiety because it’s fruit basket upset for relational patterns. All of a sudden there’s a new dry cleaner and mail person, and supermarket checkout person – the people you interact with daily. For students it’s new teachers, for others it’s new bosses or a new gaggle of moms to get to know.

Holy buckets! I hate change like most people do. These are just a few things that seem to help me:

  • Phone a friend. We are relational beings, and it’s community that seems to take the hardest hit when we’re going through seasonal change. So when you’re low, call an old friend, but also reach out. Be brave and call someone new. Remember, if you’re feeling lonely, others are too.
  • Be aware of the impact of change.  Give yourself and your family extra grace during times of transition.  (John had perpetually wet shoulders from absorbing all my tears the first year in D.C.)
  • As much as possible, continue the spiritual rhythms you have put in place.  We feel more out of control during these times.  As I look back on our years living in D.C., the one thing that kept me going was a weekly community Bible study I attended where my kids were taken care of.  What are the positive choices you can make that will be nurturing to your mind, heart and soul?
  • Anchor your life in the one thing that is unchanging – God and His character.  Make a practice of voicing the many things you’re grateful for.  Specifically thank God for who He is, not just what He does.  In our family we have a “Twelve Stones Book” taken from the biblical examples where God commands the Israelites to build visible memorials so they’ll remember His power (Joshua 4).  In our book we record instances of God’s faithfulness in our family since we seem to have spiritual ADD.

So here’s to strolling through crunchy leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and “bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils”.

The Question Fear Asks

This weekend I had the privilege of preaching on Matthew 14:22-32 – the super familiar story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. I LOVE this story and I felt like God had so much to teach me as I prepared.

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One of the most important things I learned as I was studying the passage of Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee and sinking, was that it was about more than Peter’s faith. It was about Jesus’ greater grace.

Jesus reaches out when we’re sinking and lifts us up. 

This morning I was thinking about a related story I heard a million years ago about a little boy trapped in the bedroom of his home which was on fire.

He was at the window, the home swallowed up in flames, no way out.  Smoke everywhere.

Below, a fireman called up to him, “Jump son!  I’ll catch you!  I’m here!”

The little boy screamed “No!  I can’t SEE you!!!”

“I know,” yelled the fireman, “but I can see YOU!  Jump!”

Cheesy story?  Maybe.  But it makes me think about the question fear asks of God.

The underlying question in the little boy’s heart was the question that fear asks:

What if…?

What if you don’t see me?

What if you miss?

What if you’re not strong enough?

What if I get hurt?

What if I look silly?

Sometimes I can’t see God.  And I’m afraid to jump. (or step out of my boat)

 

What does Love ask of you today that’s scary?

To go someplace uncomfortable?  Talk to someone uncomfortable?  Serve in way that’s uncomfortable?

Quit a job, or stay in a job that’s hard?  Give something away?  Build a bridge, or shake the dust off your feet?

Are you afraid to jump?  I am.  And I’m thinking about the lyrics from this Nicole Nordeman song:

But what if you’re wrong?
What if there’s more?
What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
And just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough?
What if it’s love?

Jumping, or taking a step outside our boat of comfort. There are different things that God may use to prompt us.

Invitation to go on an advocacy trip with World Vision when that’s not “my thing” prompted me to step out this summer.

Frustration over the lack of sanitary equipment for girls in northern Uganda, causing them to miss school, prompted our daughter Maggie to step outside her “boat” and solve the problem.

Fear of the overwhelming emotions around returning to church after her husband died, prompted my sister-in-law to cling to Jesus and take the hard step back.

Loss of her beloved son Brett, who had Downs Syndrome, prompted my friend Nan to start ministries to kids with special needs.

What are you afraid of?

What might God be using to prompt you to jump, or step out, trusting Him? 

If we step out and sink, we can be assured that God’s grace is greater than our faith.

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