When the Cloud Moves Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

IMG_1808Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

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When the Cloud Moves—Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

 

An Encounter with Swamp Monsters

In the late 90s and early 2000s, my friend Debbie and I went camping about twice a year. We’d load her car with everything from the basics (like tent and lanterns) to totally useless stuff (like whitener strips and a welcome mat) and spend a few days cooking pancakes over a butane burner, hiking until we hobbled, and pulling ticks off our ankles. At the time, I was almost two decades into a 23-year marriage that was void of everything that makes a marriage tolerable, much less meaningful. Anxiety played a daily role in my marriage and in life as a whole, but a few days at Fall Creek Falls always reminded me how to breathe again.

Debbie and I always took full advantage of those outings to work on our issues. Mine included codependence, unhealthy boundaries, a victim mentality, and—of course—fear. One of our approaches to helping me overcome fear was to take night hikes. We’d wait until nine or ten at night, when all was deathly still and dark, grab our flashlights, and venture down a trail, away from the safety of neighboring campsites and the reassuring flicker of our campfire. Into the deep woods we’d go, armed with nothing but my can of pepper spray and her husband’s buck knife.

Usually we’d walk for ten or twelve minutes, congratulate ourselves, then turn around and walk back. But on this particular night, we either took an unfamiliar path or went a little farther than usual—I don’t recall the exact circumstances—but the point is that our surroundings seemed especially eerie and unfamiliar.

Just a few minutes into our walk, we both shrieked as a deer, startled from its bed in the underbrush, shot to its feet and darted away. The forest was so dark that, even with flashlights, we couldn’t tell if it was a buck or doe, but it sounded massive, cracking tree limbs as it retreated into the blackness. Hearts pounding, we pressed on, determined to go a little further.

Suddenly, we stepped out of the thick woods and onto a peninsula of sorts. The area looked like a swamp. In front of us was a stretch of land or water—the shadows made it impossible to tell which—interrupted by clumps of tall grass that shuddered in the breeze and created peculiar shadows. The place screamed of swamp monsters and unnamable creatures with jagged teeth.

For a long, icy moment, we both stood motionless. Then, as if on cue, we pivoted as fear propelled us into a dead run—down the dirt path, through the brush and the inky darkness we sprinted, tripping over one another, flapping our arms like birds caught in a snare, laughing one moment and screaming the next.

When we burst out of the trees, back into the fire-lit circle of our cozy campsite, we collapsed to our knees, choking with laughter and trembling with lingering fear.

We were appalled at how miserably we’d botched our night hike. But today I have to wonder: Was our experiment in fearlessness a complete failure? I don’t think so. Granted, we bolted, but not before we’d completed the task we’d set out to do. In spite of all the screaming and flailing, by golly, we did it.

Sometimes God will ask you to jump through a ring of fire and you’ll say yes even though you’re terrified of fire. Sometimes you’ll jump while shrieking and flapping your arms. In the end, the fact remains that you said yes… and you jumped.. and you cleared the ring without being burnt to a crisp…

and that is victory.

Sneak Peek at Fearlessness

Man pushing a giant, heavy stone, rock over the mountain.Here’s a sneak peek at the book I’m currently writing, Seven Days of Fearlessness. My goal is to finish it by the end of this month. My plate is less full than normal right now, and I’ve set aside a week to hide and write at a cabin in the woods owned by some friends of ours (thank you S and T, I love you), so finishing is actually feasible. However (if this isn’t the most ironic thing I’ve said all year, I don’t know what is), the whole idea of finishing this book about fearlessness is giving me anxiety: What if, when I’m finally done, I realize I’ve written nothing more than a 30,000-word collection of drivel and slop? Or what if I leave out something crucial, or—worst of all—say something that’s not doctrinally sound? What if I not only fail to find a publishing company who wants it, but they send me rejection emails full of LOL emoticons?

And that’s when I remember that I’m doing the very thing this book addresses: fretting. Spending my energy on worry. Wasting precious time on ridiculous, exhausting thought processes. In other words, the truth the Lord gave me, and which I’m attempting to put down on paper in this book, needs to be said. So let’s get on with it.

When Jesus called His disciples, He expected immediate obedience, and they gave Him just that. The moment He said, “Follow Me,” they dropped what they were doing and walked away from their old lives. There was no time to second-guess Jesus’ command, work out the details, overthink the situation, or even say goodbye to their friends and family. Imagine if Peter, Andrew, and the rest had said, “We want to follow You, Jesus, but it’s scary to abandon everything we’ve known to go who-knows-where and do who-knows-what as Your disciples. As soon as we muster up the courage and work out the details, we’ll give You a call.” No doubt Jesus would have moved on and found other disciples who were willing to obey before they possessed full understanding, unwavering faith, or unflappable courage. 

Sometimes, faith and fortitude arise in our heart, followed by obedience. But more often, obedience must happen while faith, understanding, and courage are in short supply. Don’t wait for the courage to follow Jesus unreservedly, or one day you’ll be eighty years old and wondering why He never gave you the wherewithal to change your corner of the world. The original command—”Follow Me”—is all you need to obey. Courage and clarity will be released in the obeying. 

 

From: Seven Days of Fearlessness

The Contemplative Life

I’ve always been intrigued by the writings of monks and priests—Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence. Manning used to spend months alone in a cave, with no companion except God, and though part of me cringes at the idea of such solitude, another part of me understands it. I live continually with a relentless longing to be with God every day, all day—to “splash around in His heart,” as a friend who now lives in heaven described it. I can think of no better way to spend a minute or an hour, a day or week or lifetime, than in connection with God—sometimes talking, sometimes silent, but always in His Presence, always listening, always aware of His nearness.

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I thank the Lord for a husband who’s more than happy to take second place in my life, who doesn’t doubt my absolute love for him while also making ample room for my madness for God. Kenny doesn’t blink an eye when I crawl into my prayer closet or pull on my running shoes and head to the park because I can’t go another minute without getting alone with God. He takes it in stride when I talk aloud to Jesus, though sometimes he has to ask, “Who are you talking to?”—knowing the answer could go either way.

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I used to find the verse “Pray without ceasing” confusing: How could a person possibly get anything done if all she did all day was clasp her hands together, close her eyes, and intercede for the sick? But there’s nothing impossible about that verse at all! To pray without ceasing is simply to cultivate a constant awareness of Jesus, to converse with Him with the ease of one who talks to a best friend, to develop the ability to see Him everywhere. There’s no striving in this kind of life; in fact, if you’re trying to white-knuckle your way into His presence, give it up. You need only to lean back into Him because He’s already there, within you and around you. Dare to see, taste, and hear Him right where you are, right now. Practice His presence, and one day soon you’ll realize you’ve spent the whole day tuned into the heartbeat of Jesus.

That is the contemplative life.

Brown Bag Sunday

Ever since May of 2016, my husband Kenny and I have been pastoring a little church that meets in a coffee shop. We call it Brown Bag Sunday, and it’s made up of all sorts of people. Roughly 70 percent of them are homeless. Few things have brought me as much joy as this little gathering. We tell people to come as they are, and they do. We tell them they don’t even have to be sober to show up as long as they “behave.” Is that bad? Is that too permissive? I don’t think so. What do you do when you’re tormented by alcoholism or drug addiction but you also know that you need God? You come to Brown Bag Sunday.

Don’t misunderstand me. Not everyone who attends Brown Bag Sunday is homeless, or an addict, or an alcoholic. BBS has its share of hard-working, God-fearing congregants, some of whom are clean as freshly fallen snow (and others of whom are also homeless or addicted. You can’t be saved and addicted at the same time, you say? Puuulleeeeeeesee). Anyway, we’re a motley bunch of ragamuffins— to varying degrees flawed, homeless, employed, unemployed, addicted, straight, gay, victorious, depressed, hungry, full, fat, thin, sober, drunk, and so on. You get the picture.

I do know that we have a pretty high percentage of folks who would never walk into the typical church.

I love the local church. I have such respect for the local church! But one day, years ago, I brought some friends (a married couple) with me to church on Sunday. They didn’t smell very good, and their clothes were ragged. As soon as we walked into the building, one of the deacons offered the husband a clean jacket to put on. My friends were utterly humiliated, and I was appalled. They’d been deemed “not good enough” to be in that building, to be part of the Body of Christ. They were both Christians, both hungry for God, and both deserving of a little hospitality.

But their clothes weren’t fancy enough.

I never forgot that incident.

A handful of years later, around 2002, I was finally part of a church that loved the homeless. One morning, a certain homeless man named Paul walked into the building during the Sunday service and grabbed one of the big cornbread muffins that someone had laid out for anyone who needed a snack. As my pastor preached, Paul stood in the middle of the aisle and rubbed his thumb back and forth across that muffin, watching the crumbs fall to the floor. He didn’t stop till he’d destroyed the whole muffin. And what did the rest of us do? Nothing. We all knew that Paul just did this sort of thing. It was no big deal. Sometimes he talked to himself, but he was never belligerent. If he wanted to butcher a muffin, no one minded. If he talked to himself a little, fine.

As I watched Paul and the rest of my church family, I thought, This is church. This is IT. I knew I’d never again settle for being part of a congregation that didn’t accept the Pauls of this world. Never again would I be satisfied to call myself part of a so-called church that had no room for the mentally unstable, the addicted, the homeless, the “least of these.”

The fact that God is allowing Kenny and me to love, teach, and feed fifty people, some of them just like Paul, is an honor I don’t deserve.

 

My Husband and the Homeless Man

A year ago, I wrote the following entry for my husband’s blog, ProveItClarksville.com. If you’ve been following Doulos Chronicles for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that Kenny and I live a rather unusual life. We dated by hanging out in homeless camps, got married (i.e., eloped) beside a fountain without prior permission (and me in bare feet), and launched a soup kitchen six years ago that now distributes 25 thousand meals every year. In other words, we’ve had our share of adventures. A few of them have impacted me to the core. Last year, when Kenny voluntarily went homeless for the second time, was one of those occasions….

My husband Kenny was homeless for a while in ’96, while going through a divorce and trying to keep his business afloat. You’d think that one such experience would be enough for anyone, but last summer, in an attempt to give a face and a voice to the “invisible” population that is the homeless in our community, he lived as they do for two weeks. This year, he felt God nudging him to once again spend some time without a roof over his head. Two days ago—a week into the assignment—he came home for a visit.

kenny-julyWe decided when he first ventured out that we’d set aside Sunday to see one another and catch up. I’d pack a picnic, and the dog and I would meet him near his camp so we could all take a walk and eat lunch together. But the weather didn’t cooperate. So, rather than sit in the rain or try to squeeze all three of us into his tent, we decided he’d come home. We didn’t want to exploit the situation—after all, he was living as the homeless do—so we committed to sit on the porch rather than in the warmth and coziness of the house.

Once I knew he was on the way, I straightened up the porch, even setting out some candles. Back in the house to retrieve another match, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Kenny through the front window. Feeling suddenly like a teenager with a crush, I opened the door to greet him.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Let me interrupt myself here and say that there’s a look, a demeanor, that the chronically homeless have—but it’s more than the obvious. In fact, after you’ve interacted with the homeless long enough, you’ll spot “the look” even in those who go the extra mile to maintain their appearance, because it goes far deeper than the external.

aKenny had “the look.” What I saw as I peeked out our front door was a man who looked like he’d been on the streets for a very long time.

Granted, there were the obvious things: he was dressed in layers against the rain—stocking cap, raincoat, sweatshirt, T-shirt, and overalls. His shoes were soaked, and from his left shoulder hung his backpack, loaded down with essentials. His eyes and mouth were tight with pain as he gripped his cane and hobbled toward me with short, faltering steps.

Then there were the less obvious things—namely, the deep, vast heaviness in his eyes. He was clearly carrying burdens that had nothing to do with the gear in his backpack.

It’s nothing new for Kenny, who’s a bit rough around the edges and has never shied away from hard work, to look a little scruffy or exhausted. As a sound engineer, he has worked impossibly long and difficult gigs in brutal weather. I’ve seen him dazed from lack of sleep, and bone-tired from many hours of physical labor. But this was nothing like that. I realized I was seeing Kenny with what the Bible calls the eyes of my spirit. Here was a battle-scarred warrior. God had allowed one week of homelessness to affect Kenny exponentially and at an accelerated rate. As Director of Manna Cafe, he can’t “disappear” indefinitely, so God is ensuring that he feels the suffering of the homeless and identifies with their plight in just a short time. After all, suffering breeds compassion. The Lord allows it “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1).

A few skeptics have remarked that Kenny’s experiences in homelessness are nothing more than camping trips. If only that were true! He would never have ventured out right now if he didn’t feel compelled by God. In the natural, the timing was bad. There’s a great deal going on at Manna Cafe. Kenny has been burdened mentally and emotionally by some important issues. Then he spent his first day of homelessness with a stomach virus, and sleeping on the ground has been ruthless on his back. He can’t stand or exit his tent without a cane in each hand. He’s also withstood spiritual assault—the sort that’s overcome only with obedience and prayer.

For a long, painful moment I could only stare at him. Then I made the poor guy stand there for a moment longer as I snapped a photo because I didn’t want to forget what I was seeing. Finally, I wrapped my arms around him, and he relaxed.

And then he wept.

This would continue throughout the day: his voice would catch, or a tear would randomly roll down his cheek. At first, he was baffled and frustrated by his runaway emotions, but I knew there was more to it than either of us could comprehend. He realized that the weight and weariness he’d felt while praying and walking the streets of Clarksville, or crouching in his tent at night, had been less about back pain and falling temperatures than it had about spiritual warfare.

As Kenny shed his outer layer and changed his shoes, he looked around the room and said, “It looks good in here,” as though I’d painted or redecorated—or as though he’d been gone for months and had forgotten the details of the room. We spent the next hour or two wrapped in blankets and picnicking on the back porch. I caught myself not just watching but observing him. There are little gestures and nuances that belong to the homeless, and—once again, what should have taken weeks or a month had taken seven days—Kenny had already adopted a few of these gestures: the way he maneuvered a piece of smoked fish into his mouth with his fingers, the way he uncapped a bottle of water with his teeth.

I also noticed that Kenny seemed slightly out of place… but not because of his demeanor; we’ve had many homeless people in our home, and some have lived with us, but this was different. On one hand, he had all but melted into the seat, like one who finally feels safe after a harrowing experience; but on the other hand, it seemed he wasn’t allowing himself to truly be at home, or to separate himself from his camp and from the state of homelessness. He was there with me—but not quite. I was reminded that homelessness is not just a geographical condition but a state of mind.

“This doesn’t feel like your home right now, does it?” I asked.

“It feels foreign,” he admitted. “I feel out of place, like I don’t belong here.” Like many wives, I want my husband to feel like a king in his castle, so I was tempted to fly into action to ensure he was completely settled and comfortable—and present. But the Lord deterred me: This is how it has to be; he’s not finished out there yet.

We nibbled on grapes, talked, and watched our dog, Annie, play in the rain. At one point, she did something silly, and Kenny burst into laughter. For a moment, as he tilted his head and the corners of his eyes crinkled, I caught a glimpse of the Kenny who is a devoted husband, a prophetic musician, and a visionary who said yes when the Lord told him to feed the hungry. An instant later, he was gone, and the weary homeless man had returned. Back and forth it went for a few minutes, like the novelty collector’s cards we had as kids that shifted from one image to the other when we tilted them. I’ve said many times that we’re all just a hair’s breadth away from homelessness ourselves, but now, as I watched this vagabond who was also my strong and steadfast husband, I realized that the reverse is true as well. Underneath it all, we’re all the same.

Ours is a “hippie house,” which means we have a swinging bed on our porch, so when Kenny’s eyelids started to droop, he lay down and immediately feel into a deep, luxurious sleep. Several hours later, he woke and ate again, then allowed himself the extravagance of a shower. Too soon, it was time for him to go.

Needless to say, it was painful to watch him leave. But my consolation is that even as the Lord is allowing Kenny to be tested, His ways are perfect. Out of the weight that Kenny is carrying will come something priceless. As someone has said, “There is nothing heavier than compassion.”

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Kenny (second from R) with a few friends from our winter homeless shelter, 2014.