Weak.

It feels heavy today.

I thought that as the fog piled up around me in the wee morning hours, clogging the headlight beams, tossing itself over my car like one of those dense blankets you throw over a fire to smother the flames.

And inside I felt a little bit smothered.

Life unleashed a lot this week.

And I wasn’t ready.

Do you ever have those days or weeks when you feel like in a breath you become the worst version of yourself, like one big walking weakness? At first, you’re okay. Got a lot going on, but holding it together.

And then out of the fog, Satan sucker-punches you.

And it’s like the stars that fly around people’s heads in the cartoons, like he’s out of the blue walked into your house under the cover of night and kicked open that box that holds all the stuff that you’d like to never see the light of day again — your deepest hurts, your deepest grief, the things you struggle with.

And he’s like that bully kid who doesn’t care how sacred that particular stuff is. He’s just dumping it all out like cheap toys to be played with, throwing them all over the floor, breaking them, messing with them, and you watch in horror, powerless as everything broken is horrifically on display.

That was my week this week.

And I spent all seven days on hands and knees crawling around, trying to pick it up as he just reached into the box and threw out more.

For the love, just make it stop.

But that’s just not how our enemy rolls … not once he has his crosshairs trained on you. He just goes harder. (I mean, just look at Job 1.)

This week was hardly like Job. But in one particular moment, after trying for days to catch up to Satan’s pace and overtake him, I cried mercy. I was in a conference, and the worship leaders started playing a song that yanks my heart back to a moment I’d love to never revisit again. What are the chances they’d play that. Right now. This week. Two friends saw it happen, and they reached over from both sides and grabbed my hands. I squeezed them like I was holding on for dear life.

I found myself wishing I’d worked a lot harder to keep a tighter squeeze on the lid of that box. To not leave my vulnerable spots wide open.

But as I squeezed their hands, I remembered that I’d released my grip on that box a while back, on purpose.

Why?

Because I can’t control it even if I try.

And because the pain itself isn’t the problem. Weakness itself isn’t the problem. Neither are the struggles.

It’s going to come out sometimes. It’s going to hurt sometimes. I’m going to wrestle sometimes. I’m going to ugly cry on friends kind enough to let me in the middle of a worship service, and I’m going to do it sometimes by myself in a bathroom stall, or my car, or in my bed at night.

It happens.

That song, for instance. It’s not the first time it’s been played. It’s played a thousand times (or ten thousand, one might say) in the past two and a half years since the day I sang it as the guys carried my friend Clare’s wicker casket down the aisle. Sometimes I’ve switched it off the radio. Sometimes I’ve been able to sing it. Others I’ve been able to just let myself cry and tell God how much it hurts.

The box gets opened.

But the difference is this — I don’t have to hit the mat when the punches come.

Because when I’m buried in God’s Word on a daily basis … when His truth is filling up the corners of my heart … and the box opens, I filter it through His truth. When I’m not going from strength to strength in the power of His presence and Word, I’m just Grace. Grace who means well and wants to hold it all together but who has a well of emotions that runs from Alabama clear through to China.

But because of Jesus … even that Grace can see her pain through the lens of His love and truth and greater purpose and in light of the highway to Zion that’s getting me to the place I want to be more than anywhere else.

When I’m weak, He’s strong.

But only when I saturate myself in His strength.

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One night, as tears ran down my face, I texted one of those hand-squeezing friends and told her how I much I hate it when weaknesses smother you.

And she said this: Sometimes I wonder if God lets our emotions overtake us to remind us that we can’t control everything. I don’t love it.

I don’t love it either.

But the fact is … it’s better for that box to get opened and remind me why it’s important I not try to life on my own. It’s better for it to drive me into Jesus. It’s better for it to end up in His hands than stay locked up in that box. It’s better for me to remember that it’s Him I want, and that He cares for me, and that all this is temporary.

And that grounds me. It hurts, yes. But hurt feels different when it’s grounded in His heart for me.

And that … that part I love.

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(@gracefortheroadblog on Instagram.)

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.

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.

Held.

“I think God’s people are at their strongest when they are broken, because God can use them to do incredible things when they say, ‘All I can do is rely on God.'” – Mark Stuart

potter 1

When I woke up that day, I didn’t think, “Today will be the day a stranger squeezes my bicep in the parking lot.”

But it happened.

It was awkward, and I don’t think he was impressed.

“Know anything about clay?”

Only that it’s heavy. “No.”

“Well, it can be a beast of an upper body workout. Hope your arms are ready for this.” Squeeze, squeeze.

OK … great. Thanks …

I managed to make it the last 10 yards to the car with the 25-pound block of clay without any more stranger arm squeezing. Amazing how dense that clay was at about the size of a cantaloupe … somehow 25 pounds feels a lot different when it’s in the form of a knot rather than a toddler or a carry-on suitcase.

This was solid. Intense. Heavy. I was hunched over it all the way from the art store to the car, super-flexing my non-biceps, carrying it right next to the gut with everything I had.

It was a familiar feeling.

Sometimes I think our spiritual loads actually feel physical. Some days the ache and the longing for the real stuff that’s coming later make me want to reach out and punch a hole in the flimsy canvas tent I’m sitting in, wind-battered and broken.

And stick my hands into the Light. For good.

“For we know that when this tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … “

We all have a load. And we all have an innate longing for the real stuff, if we don’t allow ourselves to numb it.

This life is good, don’t get me wrong. I love the neighborhood where I run in the mornings under a bunch of hot-pink crepe myrtles. I love a good chai latte. I love hanging with my people. I have big plans to become a unicyclist by the end of the year.

But the good stuff (when it comes) is meant to remind us of the even better, and the pain (when it comes) is meant to drive us further up and further into His arms.

When my good friend Clare died earlier this year, it felt like a 25-pound block of pain lodged in my abdomen, like I’d caught a cannonball with my gut. The only thing I knew to do was run as fast as I could to Jesus, and I face-planted into His solidness kind of like that guy in “Man of Steel” who tried to get in a bar fight with Clark Kent.

God didn’t move an inch. He just stayed. And cared. And was solid.

He always was. But I think death and pain have a way of making the eternal look even more permanent and the stuff here look even more translucent, our human form even weaker.

“But we have this treasure (the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ) in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed … “

mangled pot

My fragility was on display. And the more broken I became, the more solid He felt, and the more I wanted Him to fix what was broken in the way that He chose.

“’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do …”

ruined pots

For months in the quiet as I’ve sat with Him, the words that come to mind about Him are Rock. Shield. A Shepherd who carries me, solid and gentle. A Creator who, like the Potter, keeps His hands still and steady and lets the clay conform to them without movement or force.

And another word: love.

And for months as I’ve thought about my own condition, the words I thought of were weak. Broken. Out of strength.

So I took my clay and I went down to the potter’s house.

I’m still doing that every day.

potter 2

I don’t know how to put into words how sweet His care is. One night at the beach recently, I stood in the shower and let the tears run. I didn’t even know how to tell Him what was wrong. I just said, “I have no strength. I know You’re in control, and I trust You. I’ll follow You wherever You want me to go … just please be my strength.”

I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up when my niece, who was sleeping near my feet, screamed at 5:30 a.m. with a missing blankie crisis. It abated quickly, but the thoughts in my head didn’t.

So I grabbed my phone and my Bible and headed for the beach.

And on the way down, I read an email from a friend I hadn’t had a really good conversation with in months.

“Hey! Ok – this is going to sound a bit strange but here goes.  I just wanted to check in on you to see how you are because I just dreamt about you. I just woke up instantly thinking of you and prayed for you. I am not any prophetess or anything and it maybe me just missing talking to you but I thought I would check in since it isn’t everyday that this happens – and prayer is always good!”

Huh.

I laid my head back on the beach chair and watched the waves roll in. A couple of older people were picking up shells about 100 yards away. The beach is pretty deserted at 6 a.m. Guess that’s not surprising.

“Father, You’re so big. You made the waves, yet You made someone wake up in the middle of the night to pray for me.”

Insane.

“Hey … umm … hi.”

Where did these girls come from? There was no one on the beach but the old people.

“This is kind of weird, but we were just walking by, and I felt God telling me to stop and pray for you for strength.”

For strength.

The next thing I knew, the two girls were praying over me things they couldn’t have known on their own.

“Is this something y’all do all the time?”

“What? Stopping and praying with people?”

“Yeah.”

“No … this is kind of weird for us.” They made a face at each other. “We never do this.”

We talked for a minute, and I headed back to the beach house amazed.

My God cares.

For me. And for you.

He cares