Look What God Did

Dear 25 year old Anne,

It’s me. Anne. Today you…me…we…? turn 35.

Holy Moses, has it been a decade?

I wanted to tell you four words: “Look what God did.”

25 year old Anne, 2005 was the year you landed in the hospital so stressed out and so hurt from working at a church. You were 40 pounds overweight, working 90 hours a week, and glued to people-pleasing. You thought doing things for God was the same thing as being with Him.

But it wasn’t.

And over the next two years, as you resigned from that church and healed, you wrote about your journey. You helped others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

A few years later, you had to do something terrifying. You had to open up to a group of strangers who were investigating the man who sexually abused you 12 years beforehand. Memories you buried so deep emerged and you even went into shock as you recalled them. You put words to the actions of what a grown man, a trusted youth pastor, did to a vulnerable high school girl who just barely had her driver’s license.

It was like watching a horror film in your mind on repeat. But God gave you the words and the strength and the right medication and friends to help. The man was finally caught. His sins finally came to light. And God healed you and the shame and gave you ways to share your pain and His healing with others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

When you turned thirty, everything was in full bloom. Life. Was. Good. You just finished writing your second book and still had a contract for more. You rode your bicycle across the flipping United States. California to South Carolina. You made friends in those two months that forever changed you and shaped you. And then the tragedy of divorce fell into your path. Grief swept you away but friends held on to you for dear life. It was a long, quiet, tough road of healing. And God was good even when everything was going bad. You learned this about Him then.

A few years later, a strong and Godly man with a passion for truth and holiness and loving others and serving everybody who comes into his path humbly and out of the abundance God gave him met you in the most lovely Michigan town. He won your heart, even though you were still timid to give it, afraid of being hurt again. Then, when you were afraid, God met you in a living room on a cold night and music played singing “night must end.” God gave you this moment and said, “You can trust your heart to him.”

So you did and you married this man on a beach at sunrise because you and he wanted to raise an ebenezer to the fact that God’s mercies are new every time the sun rises.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

And now, here you…me…we? turn 35. You live in west Texas and you pretend you’re Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights and you’re minutes away from the church where you got baptized thirty years ago. Life has come in such a full and glorious circle. You’re surrounded by new friends, loving neighbors, and people who pray with you with babies on their hips and in the midst of toys in the kitchen floor. You sing praises to the God who took those messes and made them beautiful surrounded by the voices of others you call your church–your friends, your small group. Twice a week you get to see a few dozen teenagers who are uncovering the depth and breadth and faithfulness of God and it’s so exciting to watch your husband lead them and their eyes light up with every moment of new truth revealed to them through your Word.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

So, as another ten years passes and the wrinkles on your face grow deeper and gravity continues to pull you down, as people come in and out of your life and as you come in and out of theirs, even when those you love are dying or are sick, are broken and are hurt, know that God is good because God is good. He is not good only because He redeems; He is good because He allows things into our lives that need to be redeemed.

All this to say, and always say, and never stop saying to a world who always needs to hear it:

In everything, in every moment, God took it all and made it beautiful.

Look. What. God. Did.

Welp (Big Gulps)…

It’s Monday, July 26.

A day that seemed so far in the future the first time I hopped on my bike and attempted riding it down Fair Street in downtown Franklin.

A day I thought would never come, and at the same time, once the trip started, a day that I knew would come too soon.

Most of the team has headed out – some by air, some with friends or cars or our support van…

One by one we hug the departing teammate, our circle of remaining cyclists shrinking smaller and smaller.

I’m about to get into my own rental car – I’ll be in Myrtle Beach an extra day and flying to Canada, of all places, tomorrow – thrown back into the real world and real life and real work faster than one can say “Eh?” – and then meeting back up in Minneapolis on Thursday to begin the drive back to Nashville.

Last night we sat in a circle and attempted to process this insanely lovely trip in an hour.

As impossible as it sounds, we finished early; nobody had many words to say.

We’re left in a state of wonder about what just happened…a paradoxical time warp of two months that have flown by in slow motion.

It seems surreal, but tan lines and broken hearts as we say farewell to each other prove to us this indeed was a very real, very powerful story that has taken hold of each of us in unique ways.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the trip…I’m sure as time and space continue to hold me as I walk through the upcoming weeks in reflection, more layers of this adventure will be exposed.

Packing up to Leave Nashville

At the Pacific Ocean

 

Beauty Was Not Absent at Any Point

Dustin & I at the VLA

My Longest Ride - 106 miles into Forrest City, AR

The Girls Wore Tutus for the Last 20 Miles of the Trip!

Girl Tan Lines :)

Abandon

Self-Consciousness and Pride

I only brought two books with me on the Ride:Well Tour: Mary Oliver’s Dream Work (my favorite collection of hers) and Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle. I’m a fairly uncommitted reader, so I thought that would be enough.

L’Engle refers to several books in Walking on Water, two of which I found myself desperately needing. One being her own A Circle of Quiet, and also Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It just so happened that A Circle of Quiet is in my own library of books, and with two taps on my phone, I had Rilke’s on the way to meet me in Nashville when the tour stopped there.

I finished Rilke’s the two nights I was home, and plucked A Circle of Quiet off the top shelf in my office to put in my messenger bag. Also, since my church (St. Bartholomew’s) was hosting me, from their bookstore, I picked up a copy of Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail – a book exploring the movement of protestants into the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition, since I currently find myself in such a transition.

Only eleven pages into A Circle of Quiet, I came across these words I found quite worthy of sharing. I’d love your thoughts on them:

The Greeks had a word for ultimate self-consciousness which I find illuminating: hubris: pride: pride in the sense of putting oneself in the center of the universe. The strange and terrible thing is that this kind of total self-consciousness invariably ends in self-annihilation. The great tragedians have always understood this, from Sophocles to Shakespeare. We witness it in history in such people as Tiberius, Eva Peròn, Hitler.

I was timid about putting forth most of these thoughts, but this kind of timidity is itself a form of pride. The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Therefore, the act of creating – painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story – is a humble act? This was a new thought to me. Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.

I tweeted this specific line a few days ago: “One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time,” and surprisingly received some negative feedback. I personally thought it was a brilliant, but others didn’t share the sentiment.

Oswald Chambers hinted on something similar once:

Yet you will never be able to measure fully what God will do through you if you have a right-standing relationship with Jesus Christ…it is actually by His mercy that He does not let you know it.”

Y tu? What do you think of humility, self-awareness, and self-consciousness and how they play together?

When we notice how we are being humble, or sacrificing for one thing or another, I think that could be a form of pride. It’s in the unaware, subconscious moments we don’t notice when it’s truly God working through us, and we’re allowing him to by getting out of the way.

THANK YOU (Century Ride Update)

Thank you guys so much for your prayers, support and pledges for the century ride! I am happy to report that with the support of my team and you guys we rode 106 miles from Little Rock to Forrest City, AR!

AND…we had OVER $1000 pledged!!!!!!!!!!

I must have been high on adrenaline because I didn’t hurt much at all (until I made it to the church) but everything is good and the heart rate behaved for the most part (Thanks, Dr. Moreland in Dallas for the medicine adjustment suggestions!)

Anyway, here is the picture of my bike computer before and after. If you pledged (or even if you didn’t), you can make your donation by clicking here.

Again — I am just so humbled and grateful for your support and willingness to pray for and financially support our amazing friends in Africa. Knowing that there are 19 people who now have access to clean water (and are now safe from being victimized on their way to find clean water) is just incredible.

THANK YOU!

Sex for Clean Water?

Who would you say are the most vulnerable people in the world?

Children? Women?

Guess who typically holds the responsibility for walking miles daily to fetch water when there is no source available?

Children and women.

When our cycling team shares about how clean water helps communities become more educated, we talk about how children can go to school instead of having to spend their days walking to and from a water source. Women are also free to earn income or take care of their homes.

But a few nights ago, I was looking at my schedule for our upcoming rides and was struck with a thought that terrified me to the core.

—-

I’ve sparsely mentioned on my blog that I was sexually abused by a pastor when I was in high school. As I went over our route, I realized something.

On this trip, I would be within miles from where the person who abused me is living.

Knowing this instantly caused me anxiety. What if I saw him at a gas station or a grocery store? How would I react? Flashbacks from years past rushed back. I felt like a vulnerable sixteen year old again.

It’s interesting how Blood:Water Mission and this particular part of my past have woven their stories together. I didn’t expect that discovering my proximity to my abuser would have such an impact on the way I thought about clean water, women, and children.

I mean, if I was a vulnerable, lower-middle class sixteen year old girl in America…what happens to vulnerable children without the protection I had?

So, I researched.

—–

It didn’t take long to discover how women and children seeking a simple place to use the restroom are often targets of sexual crime. I found this right away on the UN’s website:

1.3 billion (NOTE: BILLION!!!) women and girls in developing countries are doing without access to private, safe and sanitary toilets. In some cultural settings where basic sanitation is lacking, women and girls have to rise before dawn, making their way in the darkness to fields, railroad tracks and roadsides to defecate in the open, knowing they may risk rape or other violence in the process.

That doesn’t include the risks women and children who go alone to find clean water source may face, either. The World Health Organization says that many women are forced to have sex in order to receive clean water. Certain men will claim territory over areas of water and use that “power” over the women and children who need that water in order to survive.

—-

Even though I haven’t been able to ride every single mile on this trip, it was my goal to get a century (100 miles) ride in and Thursday, July 8, is my last chance since it’s the last century ride on the trip.

At first, attempting it was more of a personal accomplishment. I’ve ridden 80 miles before — why not finally ride the milestone of a century? But after all of these random bits and pieces from my own story and the tragic statistics from millions of others, I decided to change the focus of that ride.

I’m riding this century for the women and children who have lost had taken away from them their innocence, their hope, their sense of who they are for the unjust reason of not having clean water or a private place to use the restroom.

And I’m going to make an ask of you.

Would you help sponsor me for this ride? We raised over $5200 on my 30th birthday that went directly to Blood:Water mission and I’m going to ask you to donate again.

Can you pledge to donate $1 for every mile I ride on Thursday? Or even $0.25 for every mile? Even $.01 for every mile will give an African clean water for an entire year — every penny counts. Every penny goes to Blood:Water Mission.

The route has us going 104 miles from Little Rock, AR to Forrest City, AR, and I’ll take a before and after picture of my cycling computer and post it as soon as I have internet again so you can see how many miles I finished.

The lack of access to clean water is such a solvable problem, penny by penny. And with clean water, maybe we can help prevent innocent women and children from being taken advantage of by allowing them to stay in safe places.

Because nobody — nobody — should have to have such a beautiful part of their life stolen from them just so they can survive and provide for their families.

If you can pledge, please leave a comment and I’ll let you know how it goes as soon as I can. Or, if you’d like to simply make a donation, you can click here.

When God Isn’t…

Before heading out on this cycling trip, one thing I was curious about was how “God would show up” and I was really excited to “find Him” in different ways.

Anyway, I thought I had it figured out, this “God showing up” thing. In my fantasy I was leaning head-down into the wind, pathways of sweat cutting across my face and rolling off into the road behind me. I heard the vibration of my bike moving across hot asphalt as blades of grass and insects buzzed next to my feet. My chest moved in and out as my lungs expanded and emptied with each breath. I felt the movement of God in me. I felt alive.

We’re now on our fourth week of this trip and my God-fantasy is just that. A fantasy. There have been no magic burning bushes or epiphanies had on the open roads. In fact, it’s maybe been the opposite.

And as expected, the unexpected has happened.

Physically, the heat and climbing escalated my almost-fixed-but-evidently-not-quite heart problem. That knocks me out from riding every mile on certain days with big climbs or 100 degree plus weather.

Didn’t see that coming.

On top of that, the day before two really great rides in Texas, a component of my bike broke to an extent I couldn’t effectively ride. I had planned to do my first century ride into Anson, TX (which is close to where I went to high school) but because I couldn’t get my bike fixed before that day, I ended up driving the van.

In keeping a healthy perspective, my unplanned time in the van isn’t really a big deal. Before my heart surgery, simply walking to the van would have been tough. So riding 30 miles, 50 miles, 80 miles…any miles, really…is beyond anything I could have hoped for a year ago.

But my perspective isn’t always healthy.

I’ve been fighting with my “ideal” self – the athlete I was before my heart problems. I know my muscles are strong and can handle these long miles. Except for the literal pain in the butt from sitting on a six-inch seat for seven hours, nothing really hurts.

If only my heart worked right, this wouldn’t be such a struggle for me.

If only…

The unexpected has thrown my spiritual fantasy out the door as well. And once again, it has to do with my heart.

What I expected is something emotional. Cathartic. Exciting. Clear. Maybe even miraculous in an obvious way. I’m supposed to be writing another book and planning my future as an author and speaker. I wait each day, hoping for a revelation on what I’m supposed to do when I get back in August and each night go to bed as empty handed as I woke up.

If only…

What I am realizing is the extent I let my expectations control me. My heart – both physically and spiritually – had formed expectations for this trip. Expectations that aren’t being met. I’ve spent so much of my spiritual life coasting from a mountain top to a valley and back up again, so I only expect to see God at the top or at the bottom on a roller coaster.

What happens when there is no roller coaster?

What happens when the land of my spirit is flat?

How do I find Him?

And when I don’t “feel” Him…where do I turn?

Quite honestly, I find myself turning the other way.

(Evidently I am not gifted with patience.)

“What? You’re not here? Okay. Fine. I’m gonna try running over there to find you.”

I’m left breathless and exhausted at the end.

My heart…It’s not perfect.

It beats too fast sometimes.

It gets anxious.

It doesn’t like to wait.

It likes to experience the highs and lows, but never the middle.

The middle is too quiet. Too tame.

And as such, too threatening to my comfort.

In the same way I can’t control how my physical heart functions, I can’t control how God shows Himself, or how I see him.

What happens when God isn’t a feeling? When He isn’t a high or an adrenaline rush or a moment of clarity when I expect Him to be?

God simply is, and I need to simply be.

I need to realize that in that holy moment of simply being, it’s not about my expectations.

It’s about His.

Resting.

Existing.

Living.

Being.

Right here. Right now.

In this moment.

With this heart beat.

And this one.

And that’s all He wants (and expects) of me.

—-

On Being Homeless

It probably doesn’t need to be stated, but just in case, I do realize I’m not homeless.

In fact, we have a very charming little turn-of-the-century rental cottage we call home. And we have friends who are caring for it during our absence as we cycle across the states.

But as we cycle, we continually rely on the hospitality of strangers to take us in, otherwise, seventeen of us would sleep in a fifteen passenger van or perhaps on top of a fifteen passenger van. Every night, a church opens their doors for us, a group of smelly, sweaty, unknown young adults and lets us sleep on their floors, their pews, their couches.

They let us shower if they have one, sometimes feed us, or let us use their kitchen to make our own dinner. We’ve been greeted with ice coolers full of Gatorade, towels soaked in cold water, and always smiling faces.

Some of these churches are quite large, thousands of people calling them home. Their campuses sprawl and it’s easy to meander to a quiet spot to find some time alone. Others maybe just have a room or two, like the old and outdated church in a ghost-town in the middle of Arizona. But there was a floor, a kitchen, a shower, and a lovely pastor who opened the doors for us.

I realize quite a few people who may read this blog are on staff at a church, or are somehow involved in a decision-making capacity, and as I sit in the youth center at our church in Brownfield, TX, I couldn’t help but make a plea to you:

If you have the facilities or resources to host someone – do it. In fact, seek out those opportunities.

In the American church culture, we put a lot of bank in our building projects. We see this as an investment into ministry but it’s typically limited to the weekend. But what would happen if the doors were opened all week long? And if we can’t open the doors to our buildings for some reason, what about our own homes?

Every time I take a shower I find myself thinking, “I am taking a shower in a church in a place I’ve never seen before, and I’ll be safe inside this church tonight when I sleep because of people I’ve never met before.”

And every time I’m just humbled and blown away by their spirit of generosity, no matter how “much” or how “little” they provide.

The amount doesn’t matter.

The open heart and open doors do.

Quiet

I should be blogging more than I have been.

One legit excuse is we don’t typically have internet (and rarely mobile reception) in these random parts of the southwest.

But mainly it’s because I don’t have anything to say.

It’s been easy for me to talk my whole life. I grew up knowing the right answers…the right things to say…and most of the time…when to say them. And don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of things I could tell you about from this trip.

But not now.

The sound of pavement under my road tire for miles and miles and hours and hours has me realizing something.

I need to be quiet more often.

When you’re dehydrated or overheating or your heart rate is too fast or your knee begins to burn you listen to your body and you respect it. You take care of it.

My mind, my heart, my soul are all telling me I need to be quiet.

So, for now, I’m going to listen to that voice, and respect it.