The Church On Tangier Island

Sometimes missing church happens, but in this day and age with all the technology available, you can find a service to livestream any hour of the day. That is, you can find a service to livestream unless of course you are visiting Tangier Island.

When you go to Tangier you are going there to disconnect, and disconnect you shall, because unless you stand by this one large mud puddle near the beach or this a certain plank on the seldom used dock behind the Muddy Toes library, you won’t have enough signal to text, let alone find a sermon.

I’d resigned myself to being churchless this past Sunday, until, as we rode the golf cart around the corner to our B&B, I saw the marquee. Service after service was listed. I saw that there would be 2 services that evening and my curiosity was piqued.

Cats, gnats, beach, bikes and ice cream, I have experienced Tangier.  But I’d never stepped foot inside the little white church on the corner. As it turned out, we’d come on homecoming weekend. No football games and pep rallies for this event, homecoming weekend is just what it sounds like. When the folks who’ve left the island return. There is a festival style party with bounce houses and a stage. People who’ve gone off to serve on the mainland in ministry come home and help lead in the many services offered all weekend long.

I have in years past looked with curiosity at the small white church on the corner, but we’ve never been there during a service. This would be my opportunity to find out just what church on the island is like.

I entered up the steps into a small entry. No signs necessary to find my way to the sanctuary, I needed only allow myself to be led by preacher who grasped my hand as I entered and swinging our handshake to the left guided me a step and a half forward into a wide well light room.

Oh, I thought, I know this kind of church.

The light came generously through beautiful stained glass windows. The wooden pews formed sort of a semi-circle facing the pulpit which was raised about the congregation a few steps. The pews were soft and shiny and one could imagine that in just the right Easter dress you could slide from one end to the other if you got a good start. This church and others like it smell the same, a mixture of dampness (this one with a tinge of salt air), Murphey’s Oil Soap and a few centuries of potluck casseroles.

This church would be the same as others I’d been to, I was certain, where eyes don’t lift 3 feet above the ground the entire service, gazing from hymnals during singing, watching your knees during the sermon, and checking in your purse or your pockets for a mint or something else to pass the time.

A strong woman took to the front and raised a mighty welcome and immediately my head popped up. She greeted everyone and I strained to understand her thick island accent. For the first minute or two, she could have been talking about coffee and crabs, boats and buoys, for all I know, but it was pleasant. After a moment, the strange vowels sounded natural I could understand her, and I was smiling with her joy expressed of services I’d missed that morning and the day before, of seeing friends and family back to visit. “Hey!” she’d called. An island word, a greeting so common to her and a joy she’d found to share with a man she knew from Africa, teaching him how on Tangier one local greets another. “Hey!” the congregation rang back.

Something seemed to let me know I wouldn’t be knee watching this service. I looked from window to window, from pew to pew, and the familiarity of an old time church was still in the tangible building, but something fresh was in the room, too.

As the service got underway, we sang old hymns, songs that I’ve been singing to myself this summer and missing. I love the new worship music, but sometimes it’s nice to sing “How Great Thou Art” without a kicking drum solo in the middle. One lady in the choir had a solo, and though the style of her singing was classic, it was full of newness. A duet of two middle aged men sang and old song and sounded about like two pleasant men singing until something moved the songs from their mouths, deeper, and it resonated from within them and spilled thickly into the air around us all.

The missionary woman came again and invited joys and concerns and testimonies, and people rose to their feet and shared, joy upon joy and then one man, certainly in his early 60s stood and shared how grateful he was for his salvation. With a tremble in his voice and a tear in his eye, he spoke more sweetly about how much his faith meant to him than I may have ever heard. Ever. So unexpected to me and so precious was that moment, that I could only think “What is this place?”

The visiting speaker took to the pulpit and said that when he’d been asked to speak on homecoming weekend, he knew right away what he’d preach from. I tried to pull up a fast verse in my head with the word home in it and predict where we were going, but he went straight into his verse, from Proverbs 22 “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” Well, that doesn’t have the word home in it at all!

He gave a fine message where he spoke about his favorite national landmarks, and then moved to his favorite island landmarks. He shared the story of the history of faith on the island brought ashore with Rev. Joshua Thomas, a great story unto itself. He told of revivals that had happened on the island, where hundreds of people came forward to receive Christ. He referenced a revival on the island as recently as 1996.

Then he made this point. The landmarks WILL fall. The island, which is slowly being taken back into the sea as they pray for the funding needed for a second sea wall, the island too will fall. The people, good and faithful though they be, will also pass, from this life to the next. They are not immune to the passage of time. None of these are the landmarks. Not even, he pointed out, would he say that the revivals were landmarks. Those prayers and songs and times ended and people moved on from the altars.

No, he said, Christ is our landmark. Remove not Christ from your life, for He alone is the only which is unpassable, unshakable. He will remain.

And he closed expressing hope for another revival. It doesn’t matter that the most recent revival they’d experienced was in 1996, no time was too soon for more of God. His hope was for revival. His hope, he said, is that when people speak of Tangier Island that they say “They are a godly people.”

I will say of Tangier Island, they are a godly people. Do I know each of them? No. Do I think that they are free from the ins and outs and ups and downs of life? No. But this I know. While we on the mainland download and upgrade our faith, Tangier carries on, with hymnals and stained glass, with pews and and a pulpit. The service I experienced was dynamic and dear. It is not something you can manufacture for a special weekend. It is very obviously natural to them.

If you get the opportunity to go visit Tangier, include in your stay over a trip to the little white church on the corner.

Two last notes worth mentioning, if only so I can remember them years from now.

First, on the island there is a second church that I didn’t get to attend. I thought about the old joke about the man shipwrecked on the island who when rescuers arrived they found he’d built many small buildings. He showed them around his village he’d built pointing here and there saying “That’s my house, that’s the diner where I eat. That’s my church.” They saw another structure he hadn’t named and asked about it. He made a disgusted face and said “That’s the church I used to go to.” I wondered what it must be like to be on an island with two churches. On the mainland, we often ignore the churches in our neighborhood, viewing them as competition or not viewing them at all in our business to only view ourselves.

In the sermon, the man was thanking God for all the ways He’d blessed Tangier and set Himself among them. In this piece, he took time to thank God for the other church, for their work and their ministry to the island.

And secondly, as we entered the church there was a dog trying desperately to gain access to the sanctuary. He was shooed away repeatedly and I chuckled at how interested he was. Towards the end of the service, a woman rose and tiptoed out of the front door and returned a moment later. A minute or two after this, as our heads were bowed in prayer, I saw the woman in front of me jump a little. She spun around and mouthed something to people behind me.  Leaning forward, her shoulders went up and down with a little effort and then she popped back up, carrying the holy little mutt and taking him back to the entrance, she pitched him a little unceremoniously out the door.

It was as if I was reading a left out chapter from James Herriot’s Dog Stories. ❤

This service, these moments are enough to encourage you to give Tangier a visit and to find that church in session, but if that’s not in your ability, pray for those people, for their hope for revival and for their sea wall.

Resting Place?

Y’all, I’ve been busy. Like buuuuuuuuh-issss-eeee.

It has never been so apparent that I have spent the ten months before taking this job waiting for the phone to ring at a desk. My mornings, noons and nights have been jam packed. My muscles are pointing at each other saying “She hasn’t used me for a while, Has she used you? No?” A friend noted that she hadn’t seen anything from my blog in a few weeks, and I confirmed that it wasn’t a trick of Facebook choosing not to show her my posts, but in fact I hadn’t posted anything new in a long time.

Oh, I’ve started posts. You would not believe all the phenomenal expressions of the starts of ideas I’ve had the past 5 weeks, but before I can look back over things and hit post, I either run out of time or collapse asleep exhausted.

I have been doing and serving and helping and giving. I have done my honest best to do it with a good attitude and when I felt the stress level rising to walk myself into some private conversation with God, to seek out the counsel of a friend, or to sing and then sing louder.

But I have been living in anticipation of Tangier Island.

I am heading to Richmond with the kids today to join my parents and then rising before the sun tomorrow to head to the boat. A couple of days disconnected from the world, surrounded on all sides by rest and recovery? I can hardly wait!

It was with a body tired that I sent my mind to the ferry, checked out in the middle of the week. I have earned a break. So when it was suggested on Thursday that I help out  the next day building the pergola at the Resting Place at the fair, I was very clear. I would NOT be doing that. I was all served out.

Friday I drove in to do the last little bit at work I needed to do and start my vacation ASAP with some time spent with a friend I had missed during my busy season. What better to recover my spirit that lunch with my friend Jen.

Jen and I are so alike that I best describe her to others saying, “She is like my brain outside of my body so I can talk to myself and not appear crazy.” Whatever it took I would be hanging with her today. Girls lunch out? Running errands? Help her settle into her new house? Whatever it took I would hang with her today.

I did my few things and then texted her.

Me: Hey! What are your plans today?
Jen: Helping set up the Resting Place at the fair.

Ha. Ha. Hardy har har. I get your point, Big Guy.

So, even though I’d adamantly refused to go do that the day before, laughing and assuring the people who suggested it that I’d see them Wednesday, I turned the wheel towards Rt 11 and showed up at the fairgrounds.

I wouldn’t say that I built a pergola yesterday. But I spent a few hours doing little tasks like spray painting buckets or holding a corner post of the pergola so the people who know what they’re doing could build it. And I did that with an interesting assortment of people. It was a few hours of laughter, joking, bouncing ideas around and arranging furniture.

I had to stop and smile when I remembered that last year I knew for some time before that I wouldn’t end up helping with this annual offering my church has at the fair, and sure enough, fair week rolled around and my appendix went phooey on me. This time I am headed out of town for the first half and unavailable for the second half, but it was nice getting to see what goes into preparing for rest.

I was sure a few days ago that should I agree to show up and do any physical labor before my trip, I’d end up even more tired, but as I pulled out of that parking lot I had that same feeling I had every time I volunteered last year. It was as if I’d gotten more out of the experience than I had given.

I said to another friend this week, “You have to choose to take time beside still water, or else you’ll sat down and that’s no fun. It says ‘He leadeth me beside the still water.’ Sometimes He has to trip us to force us to sit down and rest.”

I don’t know that my brain is put back together enough for a well written conclusion this morning. But can I encourage you to do something?

Don’t count out the idea of rest. Rest and recovery is every bit as important in our spiritual, mental and emotional lives as it is in our physical lives.

And secondly, don’t count out the idea that rest might be found in doing something.  There was more relaxation in being helpful with good friends than I would have found on any couch. I have found little in life as restorative as doing good work that I don’t HAVE to do.

If you are at the Rockingham County Fair this week, stop out at The Resting Place and enjoy a moment of relaxation.

I’ll be thinking of and praying for the island of respite I’m missing at home while I’m sailing out to an island of respite in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy and The Scary Truth About Target

Y’all, you might need to sit down for this.

I have figured out why we have virtually no ability to self regulate in Target. Why we all understand the scenario of walking in under that big red bullseye and walking out 3 hours later with no idea what happened and cart full of things you had no intention of buying.

There I was, doing dishes and thinking about what to do this week while the kids are gone at the beach. Enter stage right of my daydream was the front of that red cart. I could feel the chill of a cold coffee in my hand. I could feel the motion of the back and forth as I would weave in and out of The Spot. I could hear myself saying “Now Sarah, if you behave, I’ll get you a treat!”

Something new occurred to me at this point in the daydream. Target has its impulse buys at the very beginning of the experience. How strange. This is not how other stores function. Target also has impulse buys at the register, but their major point of “Do I need this? Aw who cares, it’s only a dollar!” is at the beginning. Why could that be?

In the next moment the background in my daydream changed. There I sat in the gross motor/meeting room at Head Start back in Washington Court House, Ohio. We’d had a particularly challenging time in those months leading up to that training and were hungry for any advice that this behavioral expert could give us.

Over and over through the years I have used what he taught that day about “neutral observations.” Creating a connection with a child who wants to fight off any connection by making them feel noticed but not attaching a positive or a negative connotation to what you say to them. No more “I like your criss cross applesauce, calm body!” No more “We shouldn’t hit our friends!” Now we were to look at the child and say “I see you are wearing a blue shirt” and leave it at that. The child feels noticed but cannot exercise control over that interaction to push you away. You build a relationship. You sound like a big ol’ weirdo, but let me tell you. It works, every time.

The other concept he introduced was a “yes set.” You get a child to agree to what you want him to do by asking him questions that are very obviously answered with a yes. “Is that a ball?” Yes. “Is it red?” Yes. “Would you put it in the bucket?” Yes. It was not as mind blowing to me as the neutral observations and so I’d set it on the shelf in my mind and forgotten it.

But leaned up at the sink today, there it was again. A “Yes set.” And I understood. Target has exercised an amazing cognitive behavioral challenge on us!

Think on this. A mom goes to a similar big box store. She spends the whole store trip say “No. Don’t touch that. Don’t grab this. Put that back.” She is all practiced up for getting to the check out aisle with her little ones who match her training for training. Who will break? Can I have it, Mom. No. Pleeeeeease! No. Just one, Mom! No.

Mom wins the impulse control battle with the child, because she’s practiced the whole trip just repeating no. When she leaves the store, she feels negative because she just had to spend the whole time arguing with her kids.

But imagine, Mom walks into Target. The first thing she sees, which is actually stuck out further into the walkway so she cannot ignore it, is an impulse buyers paradise. And why not?!? A scarf? It’s only $3! A bow for your daughter? Just a dollar. A light saber? $3. A floppy hat, some seeds, a journal (she’s been meaning to write more), a pet toy, a new cell phone case, a very thin yoga mat (if it’s December and that New Year’s resolution is coming up), some educational tools for the kids, Minions socks for her son, a tea towel with a witty phrase, a holiday decoration, a chalkboard something (because it’s almost exactly what she saw on Pinterest, and now she won’t mess it up making it herself), a few pirate kid’s plates, a candle and she has a good start to filling up that cart. Turn the corner and there are those animal cracker packs so easy for sticking in lunch boxes. For just a measly, well, uh, it can’t be that much right, because each thing was like, a dollar….ish.

She has just said yes to every department she will walk through. She has already agreed to buy clothing for her and her children. She’s nodded happily to toys and home goods. She remembers that Fido was low on food, which she hadn’t really thought about until that squeaky seasonal bone looked so agreeably at her. She’s felt that holiday spirit and dropped in something that will remind her she did want to go all the way to the back of the store to see what they put back there in that impulse control disaster of a seasonal section, which is right next to lawn and garden where she certainly needs everything it will take to make those dollar seeds grow. As she walks out of lawn and garden, she remembers, Junior needs some food to go on that new pirate plate.

She has said yes so many times that by the time she makes it out of the Spot the idea of saying “No! Don’t touch that!” seems foolish, because HELLO who wouldn’t want to touch everything?!?!

Not only that, take a moment and realize that the other end of the cash registers is closed off, so Mom can’t skip it and enter through another path. This creates a bit of a bottleneck over by the entrance. That paired with the walled off feeling created by the snack display on the back of the Spot is absolutely enough to make Mom think twice. She had considered telling Junior that if he doesn’t sit down in the cart and stop harassing his sister, then she will make him put that light saber back! But ugh, to go back up there and put it back in the bin? That is a hassle.

She bites her tongues. Yes has been so easy and so pleasant, and no….well, no is the worst, because her cart won’t fit going against the flow of traffic and nobody wants to take a screaming kid back into the Spot.

So she heads to the register, Junior is happy, she is happy, the baby has fallen asleep because she’s been in the carseat on top of the cart for the past …uh…hour-ish. Mom reads the covers of the magazines. She smiles at the college girls with this dorm signs and the same holiday decorations she’s chosen, and feels hip and with it. They smile back, and she sees their approval of her life and perhaps their future, where they might have kids of their own and still use the same things in their cart which makes them feel super mature. Mom hears Junior tells the clerk about his new light saber. The clerk gives him a sticker. Mom thinks that she deserves a treat for having such a lovely outing with the kids and after loading the bags in the cart she heads right into the Starbucks line. And out into the bright, bright sun….and yes…yes…is it a beautiful day? Yes. Yes it is.

And all those tiny wins, those mom victories next to the college girl victories, next to the working woman victories, oh how you can almost smell the dopamine releasing in their brains. All those women releasing all those happy little pings that will let them know….on those days when the world seems just a little too NO to be fair, a little to “Don’t touch that” to be tolerated, she can find herself daydreaming about the one place that from the moment she steps in the door is yes.

Fellow women of America.
It is not our fault.
We are victim to one of the most extensive cognitive behavioral experiments ever.

Target has created a “yes set” and has changed our feelings about their big box store from negative, local store killing beasts with no heart, to the store that just feels good to be there and we don’t know why. Now, you do know why!

YOU ARE BEING MOLDED INTO THEIR PERFECT CUSTOMER WITH EVERY TRIP YOU TAKE!!!!

Should you accept this?
Should you allow a big business to control you like this?
Should you permit your mind to be changed and feed the addiction it creates?

Well, I for one can say quite clearly, yes….but…I’m not quite sure why I feel so compelled to answer that way…….

***Disclaimer – I do not have any rights to anything Target, except the stuff I bought from Target, which, if I find you snooping around my holiday oven mitts I will put a fight for. I do not work for Target or against Target or super duper near a Target, except relatively, it is closer to a Target than where I used to work. I made that picture on Canva, and the circles aren’t even even like Target’s circles, so it’s only supposed to be reminiscent of Target, but not identical to it, so that seems safe. My views do not represent anyone else’s views, except yours if you totally agree with me. I also am not a psychol-psychia-doctory person and so nothing I said above is to be considered medical advice.  If you have an emergency, please call 911.

But How Does It End?

A friend and I were talking recently about the deep theological point of omniscience, you know, how God already knows everything and the devastating of the lack of omniscience in ourselves. I know you’ve had the same conversation before. See, I may not know everything, but I know you have had this talk before.

It’s the conversation that follows when something is ahead of us, job offers, proposals, children, test results, healing, or anything that requires us to wait. It is the monologue we deliver when something is upon us, pain, sickness and suffering, trial or temptation. That desire rises up inside us to just know how this all ends.

We tell our friends and we tell God, “I just want to know how this all turns out. I want to know how this is going to be used in my life. Then I will willingly walk through whatever He has for me.” I’ve been there. I’ve seen friend after friend arrive to this point. We are fine and content when the story of our lives is reviewing the setting, introducing the characters, building a background little by little. We are happy to listen as the narrative tells us about the ins and outs of our daily tasks and we happily read through happy times, feasts and family experiences, events and adventures. In fact we’d almost prefer there not be any talk of an ending in those cases. More words about those things, please, more pages, more time.

But onto the scene arrives a villain. Into the picture walks a problem. I am not trying to minimize the absolute horror and terror that can be written in to our lives. We lose loved ones before we think it’s time. We struggle with demons that won’t let us rest in sleep or in waking. We watch people fight battles we can not take from them. We have trials. Big, scary, painful trials.

Then our thumbs drag across the edges of the page flipping page after page, eyes skimming for a word to latch onto which will signal the description of the resolution and the explanation of the purpose. We hit the back cover with frustration, because there just aren’t the words. There aren’t words on the pages yet. They haven’t been written. But not just there. We look out to our friends, to our leaders, to our own understanding and ask why! What is the point of all this!?!? And our friends, our leaders and our own understanding have no words.

So we beg to know the ending. God, if you will just tell me how this turns out. God, if you will just tell me why this is in my life. God, if you…then I. And we flip back through the book hoping to see that lines are forming, letter after letter the answer will appear and we might see the future. But they don’t.

It is enormously frustrating!

A few months ago I heard this story.

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

This story was shared just days before I would come upon one of my own flip to the end times. Tell me what to do, God! Be clear with me! Send me a sign, a map, an angel who spells it out for me. But no, not clarity. Trust.

Back on that riverbank in that conversation I heard words come out of my mouth that I knew I’d need to write down. Not because they were particularly special, well formed and brilliant. Rather, because I know I will need to remember them later.

I told my friend to write down her story. To get a journal and write down this experience so that in a few months she could look back through her journal and see all that He has done.

But first, to know this.

When you ask God to write your story, when you allow Him to read it over your life….you already know the ending. It is going to be a happy ending. It is going to work out for His glory and our gain. Every. Single. Time. You can trust this.

I suggested she find a journal and on the front page write “And they lived happily ever after….what follows here is how it happened.”

Friends, it is advice I need to heed. I do not have some deeper knowledge of the future which gives me secret clarity or some ultra-faith that in unattainable to the masses. I sit on my own riverbank, in my car, on my computer, at my desk, on steps, in a friend’s office. The background to this situation changes, but the story is the same. I find myself explaining why God should let me in on the plan, why it’d be ok this time for Him to reveal more knowledge to me. And time and time again He leads me to the same sentence in my book…

They lived happily ever after.

And then He tells me to sit back and let Him get back to reading.

There is in this life or the next wholeness, happiness and healing beyond anything we can know here on this broken ground. There is hope and a future. There are plans to prosper us.  Do you know this? Do you?

Then you know the ending!

They lived happily ever after.

Now hush, child, and let Him read.

Unreal. 2 Weeks In.

Y’all, it’s been nearly two weeks. Almost two whole weeks since I started at the church. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. (almost.)

I have sat down at the computer countless times to record my experiences, because I know they’ll dim in my memory, and I do not want to lose a minute of it, but I just sit and stare at the screen, unable to find the words to describe any bit of it.

Me. Unable to find words. Well, able to find one word. Over and over, one word. Unreal. Unreal. Unreal.

I keep expecting to wake up and find it’s just been a dream. I keep expecting someone to come say “Ugh, I hate to tell you this, but we made a mistake.” I keep expecting something that will say, “Sarah, you made all of this up in your head.”

It has been a big year of the same lesson over and over for me, God repeatedly showing me that He is not just abundantly gracious, but that He is abundantly gracious to me. To me!

And yet, I walk around in shock that God is being THIS abundantly gracious to me.

The only thing I’ve formulated in my head by way of a summarizing statement of what the first two weeks have been like is this…..When you start a new job, you cling to everything they tell you, like there is going to be a test later. Where do you keep the paper? What color pens do you use? What’s the code? How do you turn on a computer? There is usually this tense transition time where you’re scared you’re going to mess everything up. But it hasn’t felt like that. Sure I’m having to learn where the paper is and about new software,but really, it just feels like I’ve started working from home. There just happen to be other people working in my house with me.

Moments of confirmation after confirmation. Joy upon joy. Situations I never thought I’d be blessed to be a part of.

I wish I could describe it better. I wish I had the words. But I don’t. So I’ll use someone else’s words. how about His?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

They so are. Because in all the ways I tried to imagine the graciousness of God TO ME…this is far better than I could have dreamed up.

Unreal. Simply unreal.

In or Out?

        I had just finished telling her why I would NOT be coming back to this church.

The people were nice enough. The worship was good. The kids seemed to like the children’s church stuff well enough. But one thing had turned me off and turned me off entirely. So I thanked her kindly for her time and consideration, but I was outta there.

When we first moved here, she had taken time out of her busy days a number of times to sit and talk with me. She had more important things to do, and that’s not me being humble. She legitimately had more important things to do than sit and talk to some random girl who came to her place of work unannounced. But for some reason, she took the time.

We had similar interests. Both in early childhood education. Both with big thoughts about the issues and experiences surrounding that field. We talked probably more intensely about theological issues than one should when you just barely know someone, but that is my way and she indulged me.

She had walked me around the church, giving me the updated tour. I hadn’t seen it since I was in college, when Kermit and I had come to this church a few times at the end of my senior year when the building was just being plastered on the overhead screen as blueprints and dreams.

She took time to invest in me and I told her thanks, but no thanks. All the same, she smiled and gave me another moment to listen about what had upset me. As I made my way to the door, she walked with me, wrapping up our conversation.

I put my hand on the door, trying to push myself out of that church and on to whatever lay on the other side of “anywhere but this place.”

She said “So what’s next?
“Well,” I began, certain of the answer, “My plan is to get my master’s and teach Head Start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t have a completely different plan for me.
“I guess we’ll see.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “We will.”

And with that, I left.
I had no intention of returning.
I was Jonah, having been told to go to Ninevah, turned and booked it to Tarshish,  the most remote place in the other direction I could think of. No doubt, it would take a giant fish and an act of God to get me back in the doors of that church.

Thankfully, mercifully, God acts.

         I have put pieces of the rest of the story throughout my blog in the past, and so I won’t retell the whole story of the storm and the ship and the whale that God used to bring this Jonah back to where He intended me to be in the first place.

This piece of the story though, I tell and retell, because even when I was running to the remote parts of the Valley to escape where I felt He had pointed me, I knew, my plan was not going to win out. His plan would.

Not only that. The part that is most tender to me, which melts me in front of the glorious redemptive love that my God has for me, is that in the VERY conversation which I intended to reject this church, God placed my hand on the building and put these words in my mouth “I wouldn’t be surprised if God didn’t have something completely different planned for me.”

There are often times that I feel like God sighs before He says things to me, wondering at my amazing ability to miss a point, but there is no sigh in that moment. Only this sense that God may have thought, “Watch this. Watch what I’m going to do here. Watch me knit my plan into her hand so that she will not ever forget the hard coolness of this door and those words which I am about to unfold in her life. Just watch.”

This morning I put my hand on that door again and pressed it open. Certainly one of the greatest evidences of redemption I have in my life is that when I rejected “that church,” God brought me back and over and over placed my hand back on the hard coolness of that door until that place became “my church.”

Today, my first official day of working for my church, this story came out again in conversation, drawing me back to those same words of the unknown plan of God in my future and hitting me hard with the magnitude of just how much higher His thoughts and His ways are than my own.

Closely behind this story came a verse to my mind, a verse that was shared in the sermon given the day I put words to the calling I felt God was laying in front of me. The sermon talked about considering the cost of following Christ and was full of commentary that felt so made for me.

Jesus speaks to a man who wants to follow Him, but wants to put it off for a little while, til he can enact his own plans and settle things his way. In Luke 9:62  “Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Here is my plow and my hand is upon it. How gracious was He who did not turn away from me when I ran from my plow. How kind is He who called me back to it. Each day that my hand presses open that door, I pray that the hard coolness under my hand will serve as a constant reminder of the day I spoke those words, and press into my heart which side of those doors I will choose to be on.

May I never look back from my plow or my door.

Saying Goodbye When You Don’t Have To

The day we loaded our moving van to begin our adventure to the east, I stood on the front porch, leaned against the wall. Friends had come by to wish us well, to hug and cry, to make promises of continued closeness and then they were gone. I watched the last few things loaded and there it was. Ready to go.

But I wasn’t. After being thoroughly convinced that we were making this move out of obedience to God’s calling us beyond our small town’s borders, there was this inside itch, this tiny voice, this urging. All I had to do was say “I was wrong. I’m not going. Put it all back in the house.” All I had to say was, “No.”

I could, too. We would have a just fine life in Ohio, with great family support and good friends and a church we loved and a home we loved despite it’s “antique needs.”

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak the words, because I felt so deep down that to unload that truck would be willful disobedience. So I climbed in the van and followed the truck out to 35 and on to our future. It was the right choice. I have been blessed beyond measure because I didn’t shove everyone out of the way and drag the couch back in the house. No matter how big the blessing, no matter the confidence I had in the direction, no matter how excited I was for the future ahead, I can’t deny that urge was there.

Last fall, as I began my second ministry class I had a period of time where I was overwhelmed at the bigness of the task ahead. Classes stretched ahead of me. Personal growth requires incredible effort that I had no concept of before. I am not everyone’s cup of tea and if the end of this is being a pastor, those moments where it is clear I am not for someone will hurt deeply, and probably happen more frequently than I want to imagine.

The week leading up to the first class session there was that itch, that tiny voice, that urge was there. I don’t have to do this. I can work at a comfortable job with people who like me. I can still sound smart and have good illustrations that I use here and there that would make people think well of me. I don’t have to show up to class or interview in front of panels. I could say no.

I could, too. Only, I couldn’t. Oh, it was true that God doesn’t need Sarah Kinzer to fulfill His purpose in this place. If you thought Mcgyver could do some impressive stuff with little to no resources, you should know, he has nothing on what God can do. I do believe that God would allow me to have a nice life, even if I said no. He’d use someone else who would be willing to do what I refused. But if obedience is a blessing, disobedience is a torment for the one who walks in it knowingly. Even if life was comfortable, I would know I’d said no, and I just can’t live with that.

That night in class Pastor Dave began with some opening comments which included this. He said “You will be tempted time and time again to be ordinary. Don’t be ordinary.” Those words were just what I needed to hear. Not just the encouragement to be extraordinary, but the recognition that the temptation would come. It wasn’t my weakness and it wasn’t my shame that I thought about the pretty bow that wraps up an ordinary life. It was a common temptation. But it was not without option.

I am able to choose to trust God’s unknown future where He hides His extraordinary plans until the appointed time.

Today is my last day at that job that I like, with people I like, doing tasks I can competently handle, that has benefits beyond what is laid out in the employee handbook. People are saying goodbye and wishing me well. This is a building full of men, so the crying and hugging which was so present as we left Ohio is noticeably absent, but the goodbyes are just as tender, at least to my heart.

There is that itch again, that tiny voice, that urging. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to leave. I don’t have to go forward to this next adventure.  I can go yank my resignation letter out of the file and tear it up and just show up here on Monday. I don’t have to do this.

I could, too. Only I can’t. I can’t stay here in the safety and comfort of the known any more than I could get that couch out of the moving van and drag it back up the walk, sit on it and refuse to move. When God says go, you go.

I told my friend, Maite, this morning that I had a case of the nervousness and she got straight to the point in her encouragement. “God didn’t open this door for you to hide behind the door jam.” She’s right, too. Not because the option isn’t there for me to hide,  to resist and refuse, but because if I want God’s best for my life, I must accept it, take it, step into it. I must go.

So today, even though I don’t have too, because I believe in a God who offers, but never forces, new beginnings, I say goodbye.

Friends, I hope you have the opportunity in your life to say goodbye when you don’t have to because something better lies ahead for you. Be prepared for that itch, the tiny voice, that urge to tell you that ordinary is fine enough for you. And maybe it’s ok to daydream, for a moment, just a moment. Picturing it play out will set it there in your mind for you to return to the image when you are living in the extraordinary unknown and know that you made the right choice.

Oh, friend, in the pursuit of God’s best for your life,
you will be tempted time and time again to be ordinary.

Don’t be ordinary.

4 Lessons I Learned About Crossing Rivers and The Israelites

When we moved from Ohio to Virginia, I fell in love with the story of God leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Time. Time again I saw connections between that journey and ours, leaving a place we knew to head towards a place of promise, without a map and without a plan of our own.

A few months ago, I found myself drawn to Joshua, someone that I knew enough about from childhood Sunday School, VeggieTales and the occasional sermon to give you a basic run down of his story. I had no idea, however, just how his experiences would speak so perfectly to my own. I had the pleasure of writing a sermon about him for class and was overwhelmed with all I learned from that character study.

I find myself walking through a riverbed this week, having seen the waters parted and the way made clear for me to head in to a new position at my church. I’ve remained in that Joshua story, making sure I took notice of just exactly they went through in order to get into the Promised Land.

Here are a few things I do not want to forget.

1. It was big and scary. God did not mince words when He over and over told Joshua that what lay ahead would be something that could be seen as terrifying. He said this to Joshua, the guy who had lead the nation in military victory, who had gone as a spy into the Promised Land 40 years before and wasn’t scared of the giants then. And yet, God had to repeat over and over “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”

We have the idea that the Promised Land was ONLY filled with milk and honey, as if here came the nation of Israel with bowls of plain Cheerios ready to flavor their life with sweetness and refreshment. But that’s not what they found.

Before they entered the land, the sent spies for a second time. These spies were found out and their lives were in danger! They had to rely in Rahab, a woman of low reputation from Jericho, to deceive her king and sneak them out. After they escaped, they spent days trying to shake the men from the city who pursued them. The first set of spies, 40 years earlier had only seen the people in the land and perceived great danger. The second set of spies were seen by the people of the land and were in actual danger!

Yet still, when they returned to Joshua, they said “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” That’s some confidence!

What lies ahead of us when we walk into God’s promises on our lives may have challenge, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God is the same for Joshua, for me and you and for generations to come. When He says He will lead you into His promises, follow Him! He is trustworthy!

2. It took a minute. God directed Joshua as to the plan, and Joshua immediately set about accomplishing the plan. However, before they would take the city of Jericho, before they would accomplish the first great task at hand, they had to pack an entire nation, send the spies, consecrate themselves, wait for the Jordan River to part, go back into the riverbed and collect stones, build an altar, tell the story of what God had done for them, set up camp, allow the story to reach the kings of the nations in the land, circumcise the men, heal from that, celebrate Passover, hear the plan of attack from the angel of the Lord and get themselves ready and head over to Jericho.

This was no flash of lightening and boom! Accomplished! No, it was a process, and each part of it served to prepare them not just go into the land, but to inhabit the land. God’s plan was never about entrance. It was all about dwelling.

When you are moving from one chapter to the next, be patient and be ready to find valuable preparation along the way.

3. The riverbed crossing was intentional. God made sure that the nation would see Joshua in the same light they saw Moses. Everyone knows about the parting of the Red Sea, but not many people talk about the Jordan River. But reading and rereading this part so sweetly illustrated the magnificence of God’s authorship. Through water Israel passed to freedom and through water they passed to promise. God is making very obvious points so as to make clear just exactly what story He is telling.

Echoed in this beautiful evidence of God’s crafting of a story, we see one man from each tribe head back into the riverbed, selecting 12 stones with which they will build an altar, the purpose of which is to communicate to the watching world what God had done for His people. God wrote the story so His people could tell it and tell it forever.

As you walk in a transitional time, make note of the story God is telling in your life. Make something permanent that you can refer back to for your own edification and to show others what God has done for you.

4. Be ready to fully rely on Him.  The Israelites had stopped circumcising their boys in the wilderness. Nothing marked them as set apart for God. So before they could be able to move into inhabiting the land, they had put themselves in right relationship with God. For them, this meant circumcision. For us, we look to a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the law, an identification by cutting away what is between us and God, a commitment to God’s precepts written on our hearts. They had to take radical action to show that they trusted God, and so must we.

As they healed from the circumcision they celebrated Passover (oh, the beauty of God’s storytelling!) The day after the celebration, they ate food of the land for the first time. Until this point they had still be eating manna. They were finally able, having told and retold and celebrated God’s story on their lives from Egypt to the other side of the Jordan, to enjoy what grew in God’s promise. No more would they just open the tent flap and grab breakfast. Now was the time to harvest and gather and prepare new delicious dishes! God had kept them on a steady diet of plain provision, and now He set before them a bounty of promise. There is a maturing that has to happen to move from the expectation that God will put the food in front of your face to getting the food that grows in abundance around you. This is in itself a deepening in your reliance on God, because it is not as easy as just eating what’s put in front of you.

When at last you are ready to dwell where He has lead you, do not sit and moan that the manna isn’t falling. Get up and go get that milk and honey!

*************************************************************************************

In just a few days I will be in a new land.

If you could see my rock pile I’m gathering from my riverbed.
If you will listen to my story of how He did this for me.
Oh, my friends, God was trustworthy and able for Joshua and He is trustworthy and able for me and He is trustworthy and able in your life, as well.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:7-9

Pray For The Church

       I took a break from my own thoughts tonight to listen to someone else’s. A search result brought me to David Platt’s Secret Church simulcast speaking on the Holy Spirit. This is my first time watching one of these. Barely 5 minutes in and he lays down this admonishment.

I have come face to face with my self sufficiency that plagues me, and along the way face to face with the frightening realization - I am a part - and I think I would be safe to say we a

Wow, y’all.

He follows it by pointing at how we have marketing and publicity to do what the Holy Spirit should be doing and the danger of mistaking the physical presence of people in a building for the existence of spiritual life.

       May that never be the story of my church, my leaders, or myself. May we never rely on ourselves and our modern means and methods to do the work of the Holy Spirit of the abundantly able God of the universe. May those who have experienced the holiness of God never fall silent on the subject and may we never fall reliant on any other.
      Today someone spoke word of advice to me, directing me that as I move forward to “embrace, believe and minister out of” three verses he referenced, each of which pointed out that in all that we do, making him known, fulfilling God’s purpose, even simply being, the foundation of this is Christ in me. Not my power, not my ability, not my purposes and plans. His alone.
       I hear this word of warning. I give ear to this advice. I stand ready to work not in my own strength, but in His. I have been so blessed both in Virginia and Ohio to be a part of churches where I believe we are led by people truly infatuated by His Spirit. Shining examples of standing back and letting God work though they are, I am committed to praying for their protection against this kind of apathy, pride and self sufficiency, because how it would break my heart to see them ask forgiveness for those.

      The American church needs prayer, now more than ever, and that means that your church needs prayer more than ever. If you don’t know what to pray, pray for a fresh move of the Spirit and pray for protection.

May it not be said of my church or of yours that we think we are bigger than the God we serve.

A Tale Of Two Mountains

It is easy when people speak about “holiness” and “righteousness” for people to interpret the message as a demand of perfection, unattainable and futile, frustrating and infuriating.  It’s easy to interpret it that way. It’s wrong, but I can see how one would hear the message that way, because I used to hear the message that way.

In the past few years I have learned that holiness and righteousness are not about adhering to a list of demands from an unfeeling master, but rather about relying solely and fully on the only one who is truly holy and righteous.

Hebrews 12 speaks to me to that point more than any other passage in the Bible. It begins with a heavy portion of the chapter addressing how we behave, instructing us to press on, to focus on Jesus, to expect ridicule and attack, to endure discipline as a blessing, to strengthen your spiritual self, to refuse to fall short, to reject anything that might cause you to reject Christ, because in unrighteousness is incredible and terrible consequence.

Alright, seriously though, how do you read that and not think again that this holiness thing is simply about behaving better? This is how. You don’t stop there. You read on, because in the second half of the chapter, following some of the strictest admonishment in the New Testament of how to live our individual faith lives, comes some of the most freeing, sweetest breath of life and hope kind of words that I have read.

Add suYou have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those

Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law, but there were strict boundaries placed which limited the Israelites from drawing near this event. Exodus 19 recounts this story and makes it clear that to attempt approaching the holiness of God by climbing the mountain would result in death. Hebrews sends us back to that moment, to remind the listeners of the familiar story, Moses going up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. These commands and the law were given to God’s people so they would be set apart from the rest of the world,

But the writer makes such a strong statement saying “You have not come.” You have not come to the kind of mountain where law is given as a method of setting you apart, of making you holy. At Mount Sinai, Moses had to consecrate himself and follow strict guidelines and then he still had to wait for the trumpet blast in order to approach God there.

When I didn’t understand holiness, this is how I thought of it. That it is marked rightly as burning with fire, darkness, gloom and storm. That it is about consecrating yourself, following those rules and regulations, and then waiting for a trumpet blast to tell me that I’ve been good enough to come to God. However, Paul makes it clear with those 4 words “You have not come…”

So if we are not approaching the mountain of the law, what do we approach?

you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstb

There it is. “You have come.” The other mountain, the mountain of God, where the first indicator is one that points at worship, thousands of angels in joyful assembly. And then “You have come” again, this time, not to a place, but to Him, to God. It is this path that ends in communion with our holy God.

How is this accomplished? By the word of The Word Made Flesh, which speaks better than all of the condemnation laid out from the first condemnation, that of Adam.

But it doesn’t end there! It goes on…

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from

Just before Moses stepped onto that mountain, it shook violently. These details would have been so familiar to the Hebrews receiving Paul’s letter here, that to connect the shaking of Mount Sinai before Moses went to receive the law would translate so sensibly to what is experienced when the Holy Spirit came to the new believers in those days.

The writing of the shaking mountains moves into the consuming fire, this Holy Spirit symbol that we still recognize today, thinking of those tongues of flame that rested on the apostles as the Holy Spirit came upon them. It connects to Exodus 19 as the mountain shook, it was covered in smoke “because the Lord descended on it in fire.” Paul connects the power of holiness on the mountain to the fire witnessed at Pentecost to explain the power now available to us through His Spirit.

Before we are ready to allow the Holy Spirit into our lives, to experience him not like the nation of witnesses kept at bay down at the foot of the mountain, but to experience Him in full at the mountain top, we will find a shaking away. Just as God shook the mountains and arrived in fire, just as the Spirit arrived with rushing wind and fire on Pentecost, so to will He come to us in an experience unlike any other.

When my shaking time was on me, a friend heard a song and gave me a lyric from it which says “You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” My friend, there is deep truth in that. I ran those words through my mind as things seemed to go from bad to worse. I found myself, at last, at a point where I was out of options and out of ideas on how to fix the mess all around me. I sat there in the sanctuary with what sounded like thousands of angels singing around me and in front of me I saw two empty hands with up turned palms. “Those are my hands,” I thought “I have nothing to offer. I have no more ideas. I have nothing.” Then into those empty hands slipped another pair of hands, filling them, curving around their edges, the meaning clear. Now that I had empty hands, they were ready to be filled by His. Now that I had nothing to give, He could give to me. Now that I had no more ideas, He could use me.

When you feel control is slipping through your grasp, don’t clench your fists. Let things fall around you, leaving your hands open so that what is of this world shakes away. Let His hands fill yours so that instead of you trying to grapple and grasp on to whatever you can grab to hold as the world breaks around you, He can hold on to you.