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The undoing

Last week I went on a trip with college students to the great city of Chicago as a part of my job working in college ministry.  This trip includes countless secrets I cannot disclose, but one of my favorite parts each year is spending time on Navy Pier.  Yes, it is one of the most touristy things to do in all of Chicago, but I love it.  I love the peacefulness of the open water that provides a very welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Each year, I ride the ferris wheel, providing one of the best views of Chicago I’ve seen.  This was at least my third ride on this same ferris wheel spanning over the last five years, yet this one was quite different.  Before, I knew this ferris wheel to be a normal ferris wheel with open cars and two rows of seating facing each other.  The wheel would jolt each time it needed to stop to let someone out and it was easy to talk to people in the cars around you.

But this year was different.  To celebrate its 100 year anniversary of providing a great place to eat, play, and watch the ships on Lake Michigan go by, Navy Pier underwent revitalization.  A great focus of this revitalization was Navy Pier’s iconic ferris wheel, so much that it is now know as Navy Pier’s “Centennial Wheel”.  The Centennial Wheel is taller, faster, updated, and provides enclosed cars with air condition and eight seats inside.

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I boarded the car of the Centennial Wheel with seven friends, unaware of all of that information.  I was thankful for the air condition and break from the sun, but not until our second time around the wheel did I begin to think about how it was different.  Everything about the wheel, its location, the experience it provided, and even the time of day I was riding was so reminiscent of the times before, but it was different.  It was new and changed.

I appreciated these changes and how nice my experience was on the new and improved Centennial Wheel, but it hit me that I was experiencing the new and improved and applauding its changes, overlooking the messiness it took to get there.

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For the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel to become the Centennial Wheel, making so many changes and upgrades it merited a new name, it had to be stripped down to its barest beams.  I’m sure all who were involved in the process can attest to the great amount of work required and mess that ensued.  Demolition of such a large piece of equipment had to have been extensive and time intensive, not to mention the construction that followed.  But I didn’t see that process.  I just saw the new, shiny, beautiful, clean, air conditioned Centennial Wheel.


 

There’s been a theme in my life recently of “undoing”.  I’ve listened to Steffany Gretzinger’s album entitled “the undoing” countless times because it has been with me in my rawest and messiest of places I have had to walk into.  After facing the greatest tragedy of my life so far, I sat across from a trusted counselor who calmly whispered the scariest words to me I had ever heard, “Emily Katherine, I am inviting you to lose it.”

To lose it.

Those words, though spoken at such a low volume reverberated through my head to the point it felt like they were being shouted from one ear to the other.

And she was right.  To come to any place of healing or restoration from the hurt, grief, and confusion I was facing, it took a great deal of undoing.  A great deal of demolition to my barest beams.

It took demolishing habits of people pleasing, stripping tendencies of poor self care, allowing some of the most pivotal parts of my structure to come completely undone.

And I’ve felt completely undone for a long time.  Undone and empty.  But strangely enough, the undoing seemed to take much more work and initiative on my end than the rebuilding.

I worked hard to walk head long into the hardest and darkest places in my heart.  Goodness it hurt like hell.  And I am still on this journey.

But in the most broken places, when I felt like I was sitting in a valley of dry bones lost for any sign of life or love, Jesus met me.  He met me and held me and let me be where I was, angry, lost, bitter, confused, and empty.

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And somehow he took the empty and broken and began building.  He took the fragments I had left and began to piece me back to whole.  And not just whole, but an entirely new one.  So new and revitalized it almost feels like this change has merited taking on a new name.


This theme of undoing, though, has not solely been a theme in my own life and growth, but in the way God has called and allowed me to minister in this season.  Rather than teaching and training students, equipping them with tools and information, so often the role God has given me in students lives this year is to walk with them to the wrecking ball of their own selves.  To know the fear of turning on the machine, to be with them in the hesitation and doubt of wondering what will ensue when they truly demolish all of the control they have built up.  And to sit with them in the ruins, the questions, the hurt.

A line my counselor has often said is, “I just don’t want to rescue you from that.”  From the immense pain and hurt I was feeling.  She didn’t want to rescue me because she knew just how much I needed to face it.  To face it and feel it and hold its weight.

And as much as I hated those words in the moment, I have grown to see their value as I have sat with students who also underwent undoing.  Together, we sat in the mess they found themselves in, stripped down to their barest beams.  And at the end of themselves, they have found Jesus in their own valleys.


In my own season of darkness, I sat with a friend and mentor, truly asking what my job would be if I “couldn’t come back from this.”  This disbelief and hurt.  What would my job be if not ministry?

He shared that of all theologians he has read, the most influential ones are those that have walked through seasons of undoing.


So I enjoyed my ride on Centennial Wheel.  And I have so treasured days of feeling whole again.  But it still feels weird for me to interact with people that see and know my newly constructed self that the Lord fashioned so kindly, knowing they never saw the mess. The emptiness.  The work that it took to lose it, and the sweetness of my Father to piece me back together.

But I’ve learned to see that behind every good thing is a messy thing.  Every organized closet meant taking everything out and putting it all over the hallway floor.  Every beautiful tall building meant digging endlessly to provide a deep enough foundation.

I’ve learned every bit of creating and making, first calls for undoing.

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Review of Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

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I read Love Does a couple years ago and very quickly fell in love with Bob’s writing style.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover Maria employs the same style, sharing a story and example and tying it to a deeply profound truth that resonates deeper than you realize in the moment.

Since reading Love Does, I’ve found myself telling the stories Bob shared in lessons I teach and conversations I have.  I have already found myself doing the same with Maria’s stories and examples of Love Lives Here.

I think the best way to explain Maria’s focus of “Finding what you need in a world telling you what you want” is in a metaphor she uses.  Bob is known for bringing balloons to events all over the world.  He is a big, audacious, whimsical personality that I was shocked to find also works as an attorney.  Maria shared that whenever they go places Bob brings balloons and she brings string.  Maria does not similarly share of huge, crazy adventures.  Instead, she shares of loving her neighbors, friends, and family really well.  Maria talks about crafting a home where everyone who enters senses and feels the home and safety she has found in Christ.

“His plan from the beginning of time was that love wouldn’t be traded among the noises in our lives; it would be understood in the places of peace.  Sometimes when we’re asking Him for an answer, He sends a friend.”

Over the first few pages I found myself writing hearts all over the margins, underlining, and writing the phrase “DON’T SKIP THIS” before the foreword and introduction.

“Faith doesn’t eliminate fears in my life; it lets me know I had someone I could bring them to.”

Maria also offers great insight into walking into your own story and scars in order to truly love people well.

“What I’m learning is that the good news of our faith isn’t found in avoiding the pain, but in living through the loss, walking through the ashes, and stacking back up what we know could burn down again.”


“Preparing soil that someone can grow in is hard work, but it’s not all the work.  Preparing your own soil is where the most important tilling is done.”

As I read this book, I quickly began making a list of person after person to give this book to that I love in my life.  So if you’re reading this, go ahead and click here to purchase Love Lives Here.

Nothing is wasted.

You know those sermons you are listening to and you feel a little creeped out?  I don’t mean the speaker is being creepy, because that’s obviously not okay.  I mean the sermons where you find yourself looking around and over your shoulder to make sure the whole room isn’t just staring at you because you feel like every word the pastor is saying is directed right at you- maybe that’s just me?

Well I found myself in this situation a few Sundays ago.  I was sitting in a church service next to my mom and the more the pastor spoke, the more all of my emotions were welling up.  After a while, I wasn’t quite listening to the pastor anymore and instead the Holy Spirit was leading and guiding, as is the Spirit’s nature.  I was listening to my Father connect these stories throughout His story in a way I had never seen before.

The message was about Miriam, the mother of Moses, a story I had heard many times before, I mean I owned The Prince of Egypt VHS tape, okay?  But this was a part of Miriam’s story I had never really focused on.  At the time, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and the Egyptians were fearful because of how fast their population was growing that the Israelites would rise up and revolt against them.  So, the ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh (a word I’m still learning how to spell) made a law that whenever a male Israelite was born, he was to be thrown in the river.  Absolutely terrible.  [Side note while I’ve got you here.  Feel how angry you are that those baby boys were thrown into the river.  This same “gendercide” is still happening in China due to the 1-child, now 2-child policy.  Families would rather have boys to “continue their family” so they don’t keep the girls.  Learn more at http://www.allgirlsallowed.org/gendercide.]

So Miriam, a young Israelite mother was pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy she named Moses.  She knew she had to follow the rule, that there was no way to keep him in her house and raise him.  So, she built this awesome waterproof baby basket, wrapped Moses up, and put him in the river.  What happens next is the coolest part to me.  So Moses’ little raft/basket floats down the river and over to Pharaoh’s palace.  Pharaoh’s daughter happened to be out there to find the basket.  She called for ladies to help her rescue, nurture, and eventually raise this baby and guess who one of those ladies was? Miriam, mother of Moses.

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It took an act of bravery, sacrifice, using her good judgment, and listening to the Lord, but through that risk, Miriam was able to raise her baby.

And Miriam’s story is so encouraging and awesome, but also not isolated in scripture.  And the Lord began to reveal to me this pattern of people sacrificing and believing, and taking small brave steps to let go of what they loved most in order to end the end receive it.


I thought of Hannah in 1 Samuel who wanted a son so desperately she was praying on the steps at the synagogue and weeping to the degree the Rabbi walked up and asked if she was drunk.  After praying and petitioning with God, she finally said that if she could have a son, she would give him to the Lord.  Soon, Hannah conceived and gave birth to Samuel.

I thought of Abraham who was promised to be the father of many nations, yet his wife was 100 years old and still hadn’t conceived.  Finally, after much testing, Abraham and Sarah had Isaac.  But God eventually called Abraham to go on a journey, lay Isaac on an alter, and kill him.  This son he had prayed for for so long, who was given to him to fulfill the promise of God.  So he went and as Isaac was lying on the alter and angel came and stopped Abraham from killing his son.  So Abraham becomes the father of the nation of Israel.

I thought of the widow who was making her very last piece of bread with the little flour and oil she had so she could share it with her son and die because the famine in her land was so bad.  But the prophet Samuel asked her to give him her last piece of bread- I mean, those aren’t really great manners, Samuel.  And when she did, she had enough oil for her whole village and didn’t die, but had food in abundance.

And God enters into this journey with us, as He gives and sacrifices His Son He loves so dearly, so that by giving His Son, He may redeem all peoples of all nations, that will believe in Him.


So what do we do with all of this?

I think first of all we understand that God seems a little crazy sometimes.  My Old Testament professor talked about this yesterday and I was thankful, that this Hebrew scholar could say what I’ve been thinking for some time.  Like, God what?!  You can do all things, why do your plans not run more smoothly or cohesively?

I was reading the Desiring God article this morning about Jacob who wrestled with God in order to receive His blessing.  And I think this is what God does.

He tests us so we grow and humbles us so we know where the power and authority comes from, and it’s in this place of growth and humility we can truly receive the height, depth, width, and breadth of what He has for us. 

We are not always ready for what we desire.  This one is still hard for me to swallow so hear me in this.  I’ve struggled for a long time with the verse of “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Because sometimes I am doing absolutely everything in my will to try and delight in the Lord and those desires are still unmet.  And I’ve asked myself what I’m doing wrong or what I’m holding back and all I have been met with is that God’s timing is perfect and He is faithful.  And sometimes the waiting, lacking, and needing is a season we would never desire but the very best thing for us, like the Israelites’ 40 years wandering through the desert from Egypt to the promised land.  These seasons of refining and dependence are hard and feel never ending, but necessary all the same.


I spent time last night with a mentor and friend who is in the hospital.  She is pregnant with her fourth baby and has been experiencing some complications.  She spent months in the hospital with her third who was born extremely premature.  It has been a journey that Jessica has been beautifully raw in sharing with me.

One thing she continues to share is that when we face hard things we have two options.  We can tighten our fists and be closed off to God, or we can have open hands and receive the trial, the testing, the need, the lack and invite Him into that with us- similar to how when a woman is in labor if she holds her breath through the contractions they will only get worse and unbearable, even slowing down labor.  Instead, we have to breathe through contractions so the baby will deliver sooner.

So I am learning to have open hands and to breathe Him in through seasons of putting back in the basket or on the alter what I have been praying and hoping for.  Because even though He doesn’t always make sense, He is always good and always faithful, always seeking my good, and always preparing me for just the right time and just the right gift.  Because in His plan, no hurt, no pain, no waiting, nothing is wasted.