You can’t go back.

It’s not always easy, this road.

In fact, a lot of the time it’s hard. But the deep depths pale in light of the high highs.

And my friend was right. You can’t go back.

 

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The sun poured down through the thousands of dead brown leaves clinking together in the trees, our own surround-sound percussion section. The breeze rustled the pages of my journal, and my friend Caitlin dozed with her head on her arm on the other side of the picnic table.

It was summer. It was winter. It was January in Alabama.

It. Was. Great.

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There isn’t a lot that makes sense with the weather here in winter. For a few days in a row that week in late January, the sun kept baking Birmingham, and the temperature topped 70 degrees. People were fanning themselves in our coffee shop.

The cup was half full of winter, half full of summer. And the summer half was winning.

I wasn’t sad about that.

Not everywhere in the world you can sit outside and read in the dead of winter.

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The breeze rattled the trees again, and then it happened. I heard it. It was faint. But it was obvious.

The ice cream truck.

Before the first note had even died out, Caitlin’s head shot up from her arm, her face lit up like Christmas morning.

Only a few days before, I’d told her one of those things you hate to admit out loud.

I’ve never actually had ice cream from the ice cream man.

I know, I know. It’s unAmerican and all. But the small town where I grew up didn’t have one, so I didn’t get the whole experience of sprinting out the front door at the first note, afraid you might not catch him.

I didn’t really feel like I’d missed out on anything.

And Caitlin thought that was just wrong.

So that day, after her face lit up like Christmas, we chased the ice cream man. The first time we ran across the bridge and through the park, leaving books behind.

We didn’t make it. We trudged back to our picnic table. But about 15 minutes later, we heard it again, and we did it all over again.

And this time we caught him.

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And Batman with bubble gum eyes changed my life.

And after that, I just can’t tune that truck out like I used to.

The other day, Caitlin and I were talking about how sometimes the depths of following after Christ can be deep, if you really want to know Him for all He’s worth.

If you want to grab hold of Him, it’s not something you just kind of accidentally slide into while you’re living your life. You have to really want it.

The battle can be rough. The hard things can be really hard.

And sometimes life might just seem simpler if you stayed at the picnic table and didn’t know what you were missing but also didn’t have to make that full-out sprint.

But you’d also never know the soul-shaking joy and all-consuming peace that comes from running after Him with lungs burning, heart pumping … and catching Him.

Once you taste it, it’s like the picnic table life is never an option you’ll be okay with again.

Caitlin said it’s like once you know what Jesus is really like, trying to go back to living that life without Him isn’t going to work.

“It might’ve worked then when I didn’t know the alternative, but now that I do, it throws everything off when I try to revert back,” she said. “Much like when I was introduced to the ice cream man … before I knew who he was, my life was fine and happy, but after I knew who he was, I couldn’t just go back to not knowing and be as happy as I was before – I craved ice cream.”

I knew what she meant.

It’s not always easy, this road. In fact, a lot of the time it’s hard.

But the deep depths pale in light of the high highs.

And she’s right.

You can’t go back.

(@gracefortheroadblog on Instagram.)

*****

i dont wait anymore

It’s almost here, y’all. Two weeks away! 

“Have you been waiting for life to turn out the way you expected?

… You’re not alone.”

“I Don’t Wait Anymore” the book, available here.

Ready or not. (The year of the book.)

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I feel like this year sneaked up on me.

I wasn’t ready.

But it’s here. And I’m taking a deep breath and embracing it.

i dont wait anymoreAnd this year, whether I’m ready or not, there’s a book coming out that tells the story about how God became the biggest thing in my life, the thing that overshadowed everything else until the dreams I’d had for myself faded away.

It’s called I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You. It was birthed out of a blog from a few years back when God was cementing in my heart the fact that He’s enough, the fact that He’s better than any dream I ever had for myself.

It’s deeply personal. I’m a little nervous about that.

But it’s a story that’s not just mine.

So I’d love it if you’d come along, if you’re up for it. You can find it here at a number of bookstores. It’s not out yet, but the pre-order links are live.

Ready or not … here we go, guys. A new year. A new adventure.

Happy 2016.

 

Defeated.

I can’t do this alone. That’s why Christmas happened.

It happened so that we can have hope, hope that fights for us. Hope that hinges on a victory that’s already been claimed. 

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That Santa, he was kind … and kind of plain spoken. And he wasn’t giving me much to work with.

“Tell me about a kid from sometime over the years who really made an impression on you.”

He thought about it for a minute.

“I remember one time a kid said if he didn’t get what he asked for, he was going to bring a knife with him next time he came to see Santa.”

I can’t print that, I thought. It’s kinda awesome, but I can’t print that.

I was interviewing Santa for a community newspaper here in town. In my non-coffee life, I’m a journalist. I spend a lot of time hearing people’s stories and retelling them.

People like Santa.

People like wrestlers.

A couple of weeks after Santa’s story I sat down on some bleacher seats across from three brothers, all key members of the high school wrestling team. They were kind. They were kind of plain spoken.

And I had a feeling that if they were provoked they could really do some damage.

“I know you fight hard when you compete. But do you ever fight each other?”

They all laughed … and nodded.

They don’t just fight. They break beds. They bust walls. They splinter furniture.

“It’s the worst when we fight each other. We know each other’s moves. We know each other’s weaknesses. So when we fight, we nearly kill each other every time.”

I’m no wrestler.

But I knew what they meant.

*****

I lay there in the bed, the weight in the room heavy and thick.

Like it could bust walls. Splinter furniture.

Kill me.

It feels like lately God has been doing a great work … an unspeakably great work, the kind that brings hope, the kind that pushes back the control of the darkness and sets us free to walk away.

It’s like I’ve heard chains popping around me. It hits me deep in the feels. It’s literally the best thing in the world.

It feels like Christmas.

But where light invaded, darkness came up swinging from a long winter’s nap. It’s like a fight got picked in the living room, the kind that goes from zero to gut-punch and hits you right where it hurts, like a brother who’s been watching your weak places since the day you were born and just waiting for the right opportunity to use them. It’s a well-studied enemy who knows what hurts. Darkness knows where you’re tired. It goes for those spots.

“God,” I whispered. “The darkness has no power here. No right to be here. You have so much more power. Please make it stop.”

As I lay there in the dark, heart pounding, it was one of those moments where the fight felt more real than it ever had, the transcendental more tangible than it ever had been. Like I could feel Jesus’ arms around me. But like I could see the glowing eyes of the enemy from inches away.

I had a lot of thoughts.

But one rose to the surface.

Thank God for Jesus. What if we didn’t know He won? What if we thought the outcome was still up in the air?

This week’s been a weak one. My Bible has stayed tucked in the same spot for days between the front seats of my car. I’ve let the radio take the time that Jesus and I usually talk while I drive. My back seat is an explosion of dirty clothes and gift wrap and coffee shop aprons, and it shows the state of my week.

Not quite together.

Can I life? Maybe. But I can’t brush up against an enemy who smells my exhaustion and knows when I haven’t looked into the eyes of Jesus this week and let the glow of victory fill me up. I can’t lean on the fact that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world when I’m not firmly gripping His hand.

He’s given us the biggest gift we could ever want. Ever.

Himself.

The fact that He’s already fought for us and won.

I can’t win this. I’m defeated before the first punch gets thrown.

But as I lay there in the darkness, I found myself thanking Him that the enemy’s eyes were trained on my world that night. Seems like a weird thing to be thankful for. Of course I didn’t want it. I hated it. But it reminded me.

I can’t do this alone. That’s why Christmas happened.

It happened so that we can have hope, hope that fights for us. Hope that hinges on a victory that’s already been claimed.

Hope that started before the enemy ever opened his eyes for the first time. Hope that started long before an infant opened his eyes in a manger, too.

And hope that’s there every morning I open mine, every time I shut them at night and the darkness tries to close in.

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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.)

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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.