Coming up with good words after you’ve given your brain a month off is a little like trying to get the ketchup to come out of the bottle for the first time: it’s all in there, but it takes some maneuvering to set it loose.
That’s where I am this morning.
I read two books (fiction and memoir) in the first 3 days while on my “sabbatical –“ a forgotten love I haven’t had time for in years as I bury myself in commentaries and non-fiction inspiration like a good Jesus writer. I sat and watched my kids ball game after ball game and never once checked my phone, not even at halftime. (p.s. Who knew it was possible to sit and not scroll?) I went to the doctor with my ailing father and had necessary, hard conversations with my mother about plans for the future. I sweated and painted and fixed and pulled knobs off of things and nails out of walls in an empty house and cried a lot – the bottled up tears I have neglected. I petted my dog a little longer. My husband told me he likes me, again. Turns out social media can hamper a marriage silently and before you know it, you are in need of marriage ER.
I’ll be brutally honest: there have been moments in this hiatus I have feared I am done with writing – that the words won’t come, again…and maybe even scarier moments when I fear I am not – because when you’ve gone and gotten yourself a taste of a normal life – one outside the swirling social media world and the awesome burden of public inspiration and yes, consumption – you begin to crave it more, at least for the introverts.
The latter fear came true as I am standing on a ladder last week, fresh smudge of paint on my face, painting the inside of a bookcase I’ve known for 11 years but needed freshening. The symbolism to my own life doesn’t escape me.
I am thinking about you and how to tell you why we moved back to our old house after moving to the mission house for a year and all I can think about is Romans 8:28.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
And I know in that Holy Spirit speaking kind of way, that we, the people who so badly want everything to work out and all stories to have perfect endings, often misunderstand this. We take it to mean that all things work out, but it’s not true. All things don’t work out, at least not in the way we anticipate.
But with God, all things work together. Together is different. It’s not just one thing but joint things, in concert, collectively. Somehow, as we make each experience of our life mean everything, we miss this piece of all things, together.
This means that sometimes particular stories won’t end pretty, but when you put it with the rest of the stories and things, all of it, together, will be for our good.
And then, even with all the planning and hopes and following Jesus…some stories don’t end particularly bad – they just don’t meet human expectation, which quietly has become our Gospel. You must have an epic mission house story ending, some to me have said, and I know they want me to have one to tell. The thing is, I do not. We moved because some things happened that we know only God could orchestrate and we walked in obedience with the information we had at the time and we move back for the same reasons. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t amazing. It just was. This year, we learned. We grew. We got less selfish and maybe learned to appreciate space. We also still fought and had to say we were sorry and got on each other’s nerves, just like in the other house. But it’s like when we started and closed a church in 13 months some years back and there was no neat and perfect story to tell the people like I wanted: some things are too God to be understood and too soul cavernous to be explained in 500 words. And some stories don’t yet have endings so it makes sense we can’t fully tell them. Sometimes stories aren’t epic, they are just another story.
All things don’t work out. I need to remind us of this, not to make us pessimistic about our life, but to remember God’s promise that if we love God and follow Him, our life works together – all the good, all the bad, all the hard, all the disappointing – and it is truly the best life, still and always because life doesn’t depend on one just thing — even a big thing — to make it good.
I tell you this because I know you’ve had things not work out at times, too. And I want you to remember that a perfect plan on paper not working out disrupts nothing about God’s bigger plan for your life experiences to work together for your good.
I have to tell you this one last thing.
Before God called me into this life of ministry (or perhaps when I finally said yes), I wanted to be an interior decorator. I was a few weeks away from enrolling in the Art Institute of Charlotte to further my dream when my mom and I decided to start teaching a class at church that wound up becoming my first book. As God furthered my writing and speaking, I put the enrollment papers away and determined one day, I would pick them back up if He ever let me.
Somewhere between travels and words and looking into people’s eyes and seeing God use me, the desire to pursue being an interior decorator left. But my love of decorating never did.
As I painted the bookcase the other day, I recognized the unexpected kindness in the things not working out like I had planned – one only God could lace a disappointment with so beautifully.
After 11 years of the same old paint, the same old look we were moving back into when we really wanted to be moving forward, I was getting to redecorate my home and make it almost like new. It wasn’t my plan when I lived there. It wasn’t something I had the time or resources to do. Had we never moved out in the first place, none of it would ever be done. I can choose to see it as coincidence. Or I can choose to see it as the Father who loves me, made me and knows me so very well, knowing what I love and letting me get to brush off the decorating passion and use it in a healing way in the midst of disappointment. I have to tell you – it’s been the sweetest of unexpected gifts to take this month off to create in my home.
That’s our Father, friends. He doesn’t stop being present when our life on paper doesn’t work out.
That’s our life: not just one thing working out but all of it, working together.
For our good.
When we love God and live in line with His call and purpose.
p.s. I’ve missed you. I am not sure exactly how all of my re-entry will look, as of now. But as always, I will write as God puts things on my heart to share. Thank you for your love and patience. I’m so very grateful for you.