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.

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By Faith, I…

The story of Abraham and his journey out from Ur has been one I’ve returned to over and over since the very beginning of our family’s exit from Ohio. There’s been a lot that I feel like I identify with there in that story of a handful of people stepping out and leaving what they know to go out in the world and find where they belong, one foot after the other led by not much more than a few conversations with God.

The Israelites, it seems, were forever building little altars, or big altars, stacks of rocks that whenever anyone saw that pile, they’d remember, this is where God did _____ for them. And I imagine that in a nomadic tribe they wandered back by those stacks from time to time and did revisit those stories. I am so glad for those stacks of rocks, those stories retold so that I could return to them so many many years later and hear what those stories tell us.

I was back with Abraham again this week, listening to a few sermons, reading the passages again, and ready to process the meaning for today. During each class I’ve taken in the past year, we’ve been assigned a sermon to prepare and present, and this week one of my classmates presented on Abraham. While my friend gave his sermon he repeated this passage…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Don’t I hear that? Don’t you? Oh man, y’all….I am looking forward to that city with foundations, not the one I came from where I struggled to build my own foundations, but the one where I am going, built by Him. I long for it as it applies to my time on Earth and I long for it as it applies to my time in the next life.

When my classmate gave his sermon he read that passage a few times, by faith, Abraham…by faith Abraham….by faith, Abraham…and then he asked “I can’t help but wonder what it might say about you, By faith,…..” and then he named each of us sitting there. I sipped in the air of the room and held a tiny breath til he reached my name.

By faith, Sarah….

I can’t keep moving towards the promise of God if I rely solely on a pile of rocks we made three and a half years ago when we left Ohio. The Israelites piled up the stones and moved on. They reflected and remembered, but they kept moving forward.  When I hear “By faith, Sarah…” because I am still alive it is an action statement. What did I DO because I trusted God at His word? What am I doing today because I believe in what He’s promised? What will I do tomorrow? How can I keep moving forward “by faith?”

There is a purpose and a plan for you, friend.  When you have those times that the action called for by faith is so clear, DO it!!! Do it and then mark it so you can remember it, so you can come back upon the old stories of your life and see, “By faith, I….” Let those moments encourage you to see that when you trusted God to direct your steps, He guided you well, He defended you, He protected you, He provided for you. Build little altars. Keep a journal. Plant something. Mark it so that people will see and remember what God has done. And then travel on, little nomad, because God has a journey ahead of you before He brings you home.

If it’s been a while since you’ve made a stack of stones, consider today, what does God have for me to do?

By faith, Abraham.
By faith, Sarah.
By faith, you.
By faith, I…….