The deeps.

(Traveling has been a good time to reflect on what God’s been teaching over the past couple of years. Here’s one such word.)

river

I lay there in a tangle of sheets, emotions tangling around my heart.

I could’ve never seen that coming.

Why? Why that? Why something so painful?

Why something so close to my heart?

I shoved my swollen eyes back into the pillow.

Out the boat’s bedroom window, the land began to fall farther away as we moved out from the dock into the deep center of the river.

I lay there, eyes burning with early morning, ears tingling with the banging of anchors being drawn up.

I’m not ready.

The deeps are no respecter of person. Ready or not, we’re moving.

This is out of my depth.

I don’t know how to navigate this.

A horn blast bounced in layers, rippling across the harbor, soaking into the river.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders.

His voice splits cedars. It shakes the wilderness. It strips the forests bare. (Psalm 29)

That’s the same voice that speaks into the quiet of my heart.

The one that strips.

I heard it two years ago as I lay face down, forehead pressed to the floor, tears soaking the carpet in matching circles.

I’d just lost my friend.

No. Too far. Too much.

When I said everything was on the table, I didn’t know how deeply that could cut.

It hurts.

But I trust You.

And in the quiet of my heart, I heard it. That stripping voice.

Grace, get ready. Know who I am. More deep waters are coming.

My heart stood stone still.

It’s the kind of word that would shake your soul if it didn’t come from the One you love, from the One who loves you with a fierce, heart-bursting love.

Who He is makes all the difference.

From Him, I heard the words like affection whispered in my ear in the middle of a lingering hug.

Be solid and confident in My love. Know who your anchor is. Because the water that’s coming — it’s deeper still.

The words lingered.

The embrace lingered more.

The voice that strips heals all the greater.

God, if it brings You glory … if it means I know You more … if I gain You at the end … then I want it.

I’ll be okay.

Because of who You are.

Because of Your love.

The deeps, they sit uncomfortably in my skin. Pain, discomfort, death, loneliness, hard conversations, loss … they hurt. They squirm in my soul.

With each year that passes, I face my own humanity, my own failings, in a new way.

I see the sting of death, the sting of sin’s poison in a new way.

The world seems more and more broken.

Sometimes I feel like it’s breaking me.

As deep water flows under the bridge day after day, my eyes widen. It rises past heart level, going deeper still.

I feel ill equipped to face it.

This is out of my depth.

I tremble all the more.

And yet His hand holds mine with more firmness than ever.

Stripping.

Healing.

Loving.

Soaked in comfort.

Breaking to rebuild.

It is well with my soul.

Because of who You are.

My heart cries out, hand tucked in His, chin poked above the surface. His love holds me tight in the current, in the water that threatens to pull me under, the river that’s bigger than life to me right here, right now.

The river that’s barely a teardrop to be wiped away by eternity.

It’s worth it, my soul whispers again.

And He pulls me further up and into His love.

Deeper still.

When love finds my square foot on earth.

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The sand crunched cold against the back of my hand as I lay there in the dark, arms crossed behind my head. My knuckles worked their way into the soft silt soundlessly, my weight making the slightest dent in the massive desert dunes.

Slight. Tiny.

Tiny like a grain of sand.

I feel so small right now.

In this huge ocean of desert, all I’d have to do is move and a whisper would shift a silky wave of sand back over the spot where I’d been.

But at that moment, there wasn’t even a whisper.

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The silence was huge as the desert sky forgot the last hints of sunlight and gave over to night. In seconds, it became a rich black canvas for stars to poke through, white bulbs punched in a Lite Brite.

“It almost feels like you can reach out and touch them, they’re so close,” said my friend Elizabeth, who was laying a few feet away.

I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me.

I don’t think either of us could’ve felt farther from home than we did in that moment, lying there in the gaping evening shadows of the central Asian desert, starlight piercing our thoughts. Moments ago, I’d laughed until tears ran out into the sand — we were looking at a ridiculous picture we’d posed with a cup of noodles and the camels that had brought us out here.

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Where are we.

Still, even here, God sees.

Earlier that morning, we’d taken a tour of an ancient place covered with art that honored a faith whose followers strive to be like their figurehead — to achieve a state of sleep.

Lying there wide-eyed, sleep was the furthest thing from my mind.

I sifted sand through my fingertips.

“Elizabeth, aren’t you glad we don’t have to follow something that tells us the best we can do is to one day get to sleep for a few thousand years? Aren’t you glad we get to follow the One who made all this?”

The One who is bigger than the sky, yet sees us. And loves us. And pursues us so we can spend eternity reigning with Him.

The silence reigned a little while longer, and then we found ourselves singing. Song after song came, and eventually this one.

Your love is like radiant diamonds bursting inside us we cannot contain.

Your love will surely come find us like blazing wildfires singing Your name.

God of mercy, sweet Love of mine,

I have surrendered to Your design.

May this offering stretch across the sky;

These hallelujahs be multiplied.

I thrust my palms into the night sky, praising the One whose love does surely come find us, no matter what square foot of earth we’re standing on, no matter how remote or how normal.

He reaches for us. We just have to reach back.

Starlight traced the edges of my outstretched hands. Lying there, like Elizabeth said, it’s almost like we could touch Him.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

But the next morning, as I drank instant coffee from a paper cup and watched the sun pierce the sky over the dunes, the thought that warmed me wasn’t so much that this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

It was the thought that these moments, moments where I feel His grandness bursting my heart – they pierce my every day. In my car. At my desk. When I run, when I’m folding laundry, when I get up early to read the Bible.

Your love will surely come find me.

In a few days from now, when I’m back at my commute from the Birmingham suburbs just as the sun rips the Alabama sky open over I-65, God will find me there just like He always has.

I just have to choose to reach back.

He’s always there, and He’s always just as amazing. Expansive. Overwhelming. Personal. Beautiful.

Sometimes when we find ourselves on a mountaintop, we feel like our heart is quickened to realize His presence. And in some ways, it is.

By design.

But those moments were never meant for us to walk away and forget who He is. We pack that mountain, that sunrise, that starry night into our hearts and they gather together again in collective praise every time that we feel Him in our quiet cup of coffee, every time we talk to Him while we fold clothes, every time we do our job as an act of worship to Him.

Wherever we are, His love surely will come find us.

Like blazing wildfires.

More, please. More of that.

I stretch out my hands again.

Where God’s voice is.

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The laundry hangs dead still on the line just outside the window screen.

It’s a good thing that a breeze isn’t the mark of success here. The air sits heavy, dry and hot like it would in a confection oven, and though there’s no wind, moisture evaporates so fast you can almost hear it leaving.

Southeast Asia’s evenings are a natural tumble dryer.

And I curl up in a chair, right in the heart of it.

Perspiration beads on my face as I sit beside Mu, tearing cabbage much more slowly than she does. “Clare was probably much better at this than me,” I say.

Her dark eyes laugh, but the laughter doesn’t make it to her mouth. “You’re doing great,” she says instead, grinning.

We smile, but we have a common hurt. We miss our friend.

We carry on in silence, ripping leaf after leaf, until a bird squawks through the screen, a bird that sounds even closer than the laundry.

I jump. “Your birds are really interesting here,” I say.

What I mean is … your birds are a little bit crazy here.

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That morning, I had lain in bed with my eyes open, listening to the cacophony of jungle sounds outside the window, including one bird that sounded like a screaming toddler. Every time its voice raked against my window, I shot up from the sheets.

“Did you hear them this morning when you were in bed?” Mu asks.

I smile.

“I did.”

“At 4 a.m.?”

Oh, no. Not that early. I tell her as much.

“Oh, good,” she says.

Apparently the neighbor has a rooster that likes to wake everyone up at 4. And apparently that same neighbor also likes to feed rice to the entire country’s population of crows in her driveway every morning.

No wonder I’d felt like I’d woken up in a bird sanctuary.

Even if the neighbor wasn’t the birds’ main breakfast supplier, I still couldn’t blame them for flocking here every day. The former owner of the house where we sat ripping cabbage used to keep the upstairs windows open, letting the birds have the whole second floor to themselves to do as they pleased. When she moved out, they got kicked out.

They still peck on the windows. Every day. They haven’t forgotten their posh former home.

Interesting for sure.

Sitting there in the thick, hot silence of the kitchen, Mu and I can hear them loud and clear from where they sit in the trees, some near, some far, all singing a language to each other that neither of us can understand.

“Sometimes it really sounds like they’re communicating with each other,” Mu says.

She looks out the screen over the sink, absently washing the cabbage in a small plastic bowl.

“You know, one of the things about Clare that I loved the most was the way she communicated with God. It changed the way I communicate with God, too. I saw she could really hear Him.”

It was like Clare and God spoke their own language, she said. They heard and understood each other.

When Clare first met Jesus, she was right here in Burma. And she was overwhelmed by Him and His love. She found it — it found her — in the silence, the simplicity here.

She begged Him to speak to her. She was hungrier for Him than anything else. He spoke. And she listened. And she poured out her heart to Him like a close friend, a friend she could talk to naturally, a friend who meant more to her than anything and anyone else.

That stuck with Mu.

She started to pray the way Clare did. And in the thick, hot silence that sits around Mu’s heart and the house where she’s preparing dinner, God speaks.

And she curls up right in the center of it and sits down.

Because, just like with Burmese laundry, just like with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, wind isn’t always the measure of success. God’s voice often isn’t in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire.

Plenty is getting said in the silence.

So that’s where we go. The silent spots in our lives. We find them. We wrap our faces like Elijah did, expecting God’s presence and glory, and we go there. We make silent places in the midst of chaos, if we have to. We make silent places in our hearts.

And there He finds us. And remakes us.

And we find we can communicate.

Silence with a purpose.

blue patch

Sorry for the silence, friends.

It’s been a long stretch of quiet in the midst of chaos, the kind where incredibly deep things are happening in the stillness of my heart while the world goes on around me. I’ve made decisions, dragged suitcases around again, said goodbyes. And I’ve seen God be who He is. Faithful. Good.

And I’ve been quiet.

I’ve missed blogging.

But it’s been hard to articulate the things He’s working in my heart. So I’ve sat, hammock creaking, birds rustling in the leaves, and I’ve closed my eyes. I’ve left the laptop shut.

This quiet place is just for Him and me.

There’s been so much to say, and nothing. All at the same time.

I need His presence in that space in my heart where no one else goes. It changes me like a fire plunged red-hot into the depths of my soul.

I need the quiet. It’s my lifeblood.

But this winter, the silence has held a secondary purpose, too.

In the midst of all the moving, there’s been a humbling opportunity to put to paper the story of what He’s done in my heart over the past decade or so, the story of how He brought my life from stagnant, broken dreams to being finally free. The story of how He became enough … of how He became everything.

That story is going to be a book soon. Crazy.

To God be the glory for the things He has done.

Writing them down has driven me straight to worship.

I hope it will do the same for you.

I’ll have more details soon, but I hope you’ll come along, if you find the story resonates. I hope it will, because I’d like to keep hearing yours as we go. Because your story, our stories – they push me closer to God. And I’m grateful for that. Grateful for you.

Because this path that leads to Him was always meant to be walked together.

What He makes me do.

green

I stood there, the sea of grass rippling against my ankles, chest heaving like I was trying to suck in the entire chilled sky all at once.

I’d sprinted. I’m not a sprinter. But sometimes that’s the only way to get to a place where you can yell.

“Why is this so hard sometimes?”

“Why don’t I feel You?”

The questions flew out over the pasture without anything to bounce off of except the rabbit bouncing into the bushes, the wind waiting to carry my words away.

I gasped for air.

The wind tousled my ponytail.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.

Of course.

Of course that’s the truth that would drift through my brain as I stood there in a horse pasture, restless legs stamping down the tall blades in the spot where I’d stopped.

“God, don’t you know all I’d like to do is rest? And be restored?”

For weeks I’d been living in the desert — literally and figuratively. When I moved there, I’d packed a mixed bag of excitement and nerves.

In return, the desert packed a punch.

The desert is a hard place to live. This I knew.

But my feet were barely sandy when His promise to just walk forward, I’ll lead you got shaken out of my pockets like lunch money by a playground bully.

The adventure was gone. Fast.

I felt like I’d been beaten up on the dry, dusty road, so like a bloody-nosed kid with cut-up knees, I ran back to the last place I remembered seeing my Father’s face.

Where things were green.

And like the walking wounded, I paced His pasture, asking Him to explain Himself. I let it all out. Questions. Indignation. Tears. Hurt. Exhaustion.

He makes me lie down.

I didn’t feel like I needed Him to “make” me.

But at the same time … I did.

I needed Him to tell me to rest, to remind me again that He wouldn’t leave. In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, though He was there, I’d lost sight of Him somehow.

The dark closed in.

For You are with me.

He was.

Even when I felt desperately alone in the dark, when the weight was crushing, He was with me.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

It wasn’t always what I wanted. But in the moments I needed Him most, He was there, providing the exact thing I needed to get me through the night.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

No matter where I run. Valley. Sand. Pasture.

If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

My feet came to rest.

And as I sat down, not in the bed I’d made for myself but the one He’d made for me, He reminded me who I was.

A daughter.

His sheep.

And like a sheep, I’ll need to remember — and need reminding — again tomorrow.