Um, Hello God, you there?
Wait. It’s a word that I dread.
I don’t consider myself a particularly impatient person, but there’s something about waiting that makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the feeling of having no control over the situation? The feeling of uncertainty? Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Whether I’m waiting for a friend to show up, waiting for my plane to depart, or waiting on God to give me direction, I get anxious. Edgy. Frustrated.
But the thing is, I can’t force my friends to show up when they said they would, can’t will that plane to take off, can’t strong-arm God into telling me WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON IN MY LIFE.
So I must wait. And try not lose my mind in the process.
Waiting has been somewhat of a theme in my life over the past couple of months, and God seems to be using this season to specifically teach me what it means to wait on Him. (And what a painful lesson that tends to be.) I’m waiting for clarity on my living situation, waiting for new people to be hired at work to help balance out my workload, waiting on God to move in family situations where there’s sickness and hurt…and the list goes on.
At times I’m frustrated with God—I know He could fix these things in the snap of a finger, so why is He keeping me waiting?? Most days, I don’t understand what the plan is or what in the world He’s waiting for. Why does He make us wait for healing? For clarity? How long do I have to wait?
In the past couple of weeks, these questions have pretty constantly been at the top of my mind, and I’ve been praying about it a lot. And then I came across Psalm 13 the other day—and was it ever timely. Here’s what it says:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for He has been good to me.
David is so human in this Psalm; he’s wrestling with some of the same questions and frustrations I am. “Um, hello God? You there? What are you waiting for??” But at the end, David comes back around to remind himself that, even when he can’t see God moving, God is worthy of being trusted.
There have been days when I feel like God has forgotten me and all that I’m going through. Or that He’s cruelly withholding help and direction. And, like David, I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart. Have you ever felt that way?
But it’s on those days, when we don’t feel God’s direction or guidance, that we have to remind ourselves of what we know to be true: That God is faithful and His love is unfailing. That often, we don’t see what God is working on below the surface—but in His own perfect timing, He will deliver us from our circumstances, heal our pain, and bring light to the darkest parts of us. Also, that it’s often in the dark that God teaches us to trust Him with unwavering faith.
In seasons of waiting, we get to trust Him all the more for the strength to get through the day, the motivation to carry on, and the wisdom to take the right steps moving forward. And isn’t that what He’s wanted for us all along?
am i enough for you?
I am a writer. And for a long time, I considered myself a writer first—everything else fell in line after that. Including my relationship with God. My whole identity was wrapped up in the dream of being a successful writer. I truly believe God gave me a gift with words and that my purpose lies somewhere in the world of stringing them together. But God won’t accept second place for long, even if it’s second to the gifts and talents He’s given you.
After graduating with a degree in journalism, I worked as a freelance writer and editor for four years, and took whatever projects came my way. I wrote blogs and marketing copy. I edited manuscripts and covered city council meetings. I interviewed people and wrote articles.
But freelancing took a toll. I was constantly looking for more clients, working all hours of the day, and constantly worrying about paying the bills. What had initially come naturally and brought so much joy was leaving me exhausted and so, so stressed.
Enter: panic attacks. One December morning, I had some client emails to shoot off before my shift at the coffee shop. I was rushing around getting ready when everything stopped. My heart started pounding, my mind racing, and in two minutes flat, while gripping the edge of the bathroom sink, my mind whipped through the worst-case scenario of my life and affirmed all of the worst things I believed about myself—I couldn’t provide for myself, I was a burden, I had no real talent, I was unlovable. It left me gasping for air and feeling utterly alone. But I had things to do and no time to be derailed, so I brushed it off as best I could. But anxiety will not be ignored. A couple days later, another panic attack. This one stopped me in my tracks. It left me flattened and terrified. My life came crashing down.
In the wake of this, God started showing me that for years I had been finding my identity in what I could accomplish and achieve—not in Him, not as a child of God. And, as a result, I was exhausted, disillusioned, stressed beyond belief. I see now that He tried to redirect my priorities along the way, but I was too busy to listen. Even though I would always have said that God gave me talent as a writer, that He opened doors of opportunity and guided me along the way, I was edging Him out. I wanted to be a successful writer more than I wanted a good relationship with God.
So, for a season, He took it away from me. My words dried up and there was nothing left in my head—only fear, dread, and emptiness. My writer’s sharpness and creativity had fled with anxiety’s arrival, and even stringing together sentences in my journal was impossible—let alone writing for paid clients. And without writing, I believed I had nothing. My talent was gone. My confidence shattered.
And finally, I began to realize my deep, profound need for God. I held onto Him for dear life, because I was drowning and I finally admitted that I couldn’t save myself. And I began to trust Him in a way I never had before.
The same week as my first panic attacks, I started a temporary job at Eagle Brook. Even before they hit, I knew I desperately needed some stability and predictability. I needed work to be one less thing I had to feel anxious about. And it became a safe haven.
Two months in, I was at a staff meeting and Tyler Gregory, who is now the Executive Pastor, said something that rocked my world. He was talking about our staff culture and priorities, and he said, “We care about you, as people, more than we care about what you can do and how you perform. Of course we want you to do well at your jobs, but if you aren’t doing well spiritually and emotionally, you’re not going to do well in other areas. We want to make sure you’re ok and support you when you’re not.”
It slowly dawned on me that this is how God sees me too. I don’t have to be my definition of successful for Him to love me. I don’t have to achieve this and that for Him to consider my life well-lived. I am a child of God—that’s all the prerequisite He needs.
In that meeting, it was as if God was saying, “I created you with a unique voice, and I want you to use your gifts to make the world a better place. But if you try to do this on your own, you’re going to crash and burn. And I need you to be rooted in Me if you’re ever going to use your gifts for My glory. I want you to live a joyful, passionate life, but you can’t do that if you’re holding all of your dreams and accomplishments so tightly. So, let them go. Let me fill your hands instead. Will you be ok if you never write again? Am I enough for you?”
During that season when anxiety hit, my life became a desert. It felt like everything around me was dying, and the person I had been before anxiety entered my life had died too. I was no longer sure of my purpose, my talents. But in that desert and that season of wandering, God filled me with His truth, helping me to become rooted in my identity in Him. He became enough for me.
My old life died away. But new life sprung up. Where I thought nothing could live anymore, I found hope, refreshment, direction. And slowly, words started returning. I began to write again and started to see where God might be leading me with it. And while anxiety is still something I battle most days, rather than casting a shadow over my whole life it now serves as a reminder to me of my helpless state without God. It reminds me to lean on Him and trust Him. It reminds me that I am a child of God first—and everything else falls in line after that, including my talents and dreams.
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
choosing gratitude, again and again
What are you grateful for? What, recently, has caused you to stop in wonder and awe? What simple little thing has brought a smile to your face in the midst of a busy day?
For me, right now, it's the way that seasons change, reminding me that no season of life lasts forever. It's the rose bushes by my favorite coffee shop that miraculously still have pale pink blooms hanging on, despite the cold. It's soup with friends on a snowy evening. It's the way that uncertainty doesn't scare me so much these days.
Lately, I've been learning what it is to practice gratitude, to actively make note of the things that make me catch my breath and pause, that make me feel more alive. I'm working on grounding myself in the present moment, instead of running off down the path of what-ifs and whens and hows. And what better way to acknowledge the present moment than to find something you're grateful for right this very minute? It doesn't make life easier or make the path before you clearer, but it does make life a little more joy-filled.
Do you know the concept of "thin places"? It has Celtic origins, and it's the idea that in certain places, the barrier between heaven—the Divine—and earth becomes thinner, where the distance collapses and we almost tangibly experience the presence of the holy.
I'm of the belief that those thin places aren't just found in certain locations around the world, but in moments, fleeting moments. And I think gratitude is how we find them.
When thankfulness becomes our default, we start stumbling on those thin places—where barriers break down and we encounter the Divine at a closer range, and more often.
Gratitude then becomes not just a fleeting thought of "Oh, how nice. Moving on." but a song of praise for what's in front of you, a gift of grace from God, moments that are too full for anything else. Even if for just a moment, filling up on gratitude means there's no room for fear and worry, no room for sadness, no room for dread. Gratitude breeds joy and contentment in the present moment.
But it does take practice. We can't just decide that we're going to be grateful people and there, it's done, we're always joyful and filled with praise.We must train ourselves to slow down and take notice of beauty, to pause and give thanks.
I think that choosing to practice gratitude starts a lot like someone trying yoga for the first time. The first go at it, you may only be able to hold a pose for 10 seconds before you collapse. But maybe next time you can hold it for 15 or 20 seconds. As your strength and flexibility grows, so does your ability to practice for longer, to do the real pose and not the cheater version, to hold them without your limbs shaking. (And hey, both gratitude and yoga require you to slow down, concentrate on your breathing, and ground yourself in the present moment. Why do you think I chose this analogy, huh?)
I don't think we're very accustomed to slowing down, to taking notice. Our brains are going a million miles a minute and we're busy, busy, busy. And stressed, stressed, stressed. And often sad, sad, sad.
For a long time I believed that I had no control over my emotions; I thought that I just had to ride out the waves of whatever emotions hit me. But as I practice gratitude more, the Lord is showing me that I do have a choice. I can derail myself over worries about the future, the unknown, work and relationships, or I can choose a better thought, choose a better emotion. I can surrender myself to anxiety, or I can surrender myself to God and choose peace. I can let anger and frustration wash over me, or I can turn around and choose grace. I can choose fear over what I don't know, or gratitude for what I do have.
Most of the time it ends up being a minute-by-minute (second-by-second) choosing and re-choosing of these better thoughts and emotions, but eventually you fight your way out of the fire swamps of those negatives and maybe you only have to choose every ten minutes or half hour, and you can just breathe and be at peace in between.
And in those moments we can remember: There will always be darkness and light, joy and pain, but there's beauty in the in-between, grace in the choosing.
the decisions that shape us
The decisions we make, big and small, begin to define who we are, and affect other decisions that we make down the road. Our journeys are often not a linear path, but one with many bends and winding roads.
Cal and Barb Winbush can relate. They grew up in central Alabama in the 1950s during the heat of segregation and the Civil Rights era—an experience that truly shaped their trust in God and their outlook on humanity. Though they are enjoying their retirement and spent much of their adult lives in Minnesota, it was not a simple journey to settle here. A series of decisions, good and bad, in their estimation, brought them away from family and the familiar to the place where they believe God ultimately wanted them to land.
HOW IT ALL BEGA N
Cal and Barb met as juniors in college in Montgomery, Ala., where they were both training to be teachers. They were seniors the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. marched from Selma to Montgomery, and while he was still in Selma, they joined a group of a couple hundred students from their college to petition the governor because of the attacks on the demonstrators in Selma.
As the students marched, unprotected, from their campus to the capitol, they rounded a corner where they faced leering crowds hurling insults at them and a line-up of police with guns out and dogs at the ready. But they kept marching. Though she was afraid, Barb said she felt compelled to participate—that they had to stand up and be heard. When Rev. King reached Montgomery, Barb and Cal joined in and marched into the city along with thousands of other people from different racial and faith backgrounds, a defining moment in their lives.
"Growing up and living in the South in the 50s was, for me personally, frightening," says Barb. "It was a very violent place. We were there during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, church bombings, you absolutely had no rights. That's hard to convey to someone in America today that you couldn't vote, there were places you couldn't go, you had no rights. You couldn't stand up for yourself."
However, Cal and Barb firmly believe that growing up in the segregated South helped formulate their outlook on humanity—that it is love, not hate that wins hearts; that the dignity of human beings cannot be ignored and is worth fighting for.
"I want to accept people for who they are," says Barb. "I want to get to know them, just like I want them to get to know me, and I don't want to continue this animosity." That was the philosophy she was raised on, one that continues to define her actions today.
"My grandparents had always taught us that you don't hate people in return," she says. "Martin Luther King actually taught love—love your enemies. He really taught the Gospel message and that was the underlying basis for the whole struggle. It was not the hatred that I see today, which I do not like. It was love, and that's how you win—stand up for your own dignity, but don't hurt someone else [in the process]."
Barb says that her grandfather, who taught her so much about faith and love, is her hero. The son of a slave, she doesn't know how he came to know the Lord, but she firmly believes that one decision of his has had a ripple effect. "He was a strong, devoted Christian. He sowed that seed in our family. And it's amazing, the fruit of that over a hundred years or more. That was his great decision. And one great decision affects generations."
AWAY WE GO TO MINNESOTA
When Cal and Barb were in their early 20s, both teaching at a school in central Georgia, they started questioning how long they could realistically stay there, based on the salaries they received.
"One day we were having lunch at the Dairy Queen—very fancy—and we looked at the teacher's pay schedule going out 20 years," says Barb. "And were like 'We won't make enough money to take care of a family in 20 years if we stay here!'"
So they started looking for something new. This was shortly after the Civil Rights Bill passed, so large corporations were beginning to try to diversify. Cal and Barb went to a job fair, and Barb ended up interviewing with IBM. They brought her up to Rochester, Minn. for a final interview, and she got the job. So, they packed up and moved across the country, to a place that was entirely different from their experience thus far.
"I think God just helped us do that," says Barb. "I think he gave us the courage to do it, and the confidence to do it."
As they settled in, they found people to be welcoming and kind to them, a stark contrast from the violence and animosity they had experienced growing up in Alabama in the 50s.
"It was not a hostile environment. It was more of a curiosity. We were a curiosity," says Cal. In a primarily white community, they certainly were in the minority, but they found that, for the first time in their lives, they weren't being defined by the color of their skin, but simply by who they were.
"I always wanted to live somewhere where I could be myself," says Barb. "And I wanted to have the chance to raise my kids that way. So that was a big, underlying motivation for this move."
They spent four years in Minnesota, Barb at her job with IBM and Cal working for the state of Minnesota, and also attending graduate school at Winona State.
But after having their first child, they wanted to be near family again. So they began praying, asking God to open doors, to help them find jobs back in Alabama.
"I remember approaching it with God like, I just started praying that he would find us a job, that we would get settled," says Barb.
They eventually found jobs, but a couple months after returning to Alabama the Winbush's knew they had made a mistake. Though it was wonderful to be near family again, schools were overcrowded and still groaning from the pains of integration, and the healthcare system was in shambles. This wasn't what they had wanted for their 6-year old son.
"It wasn't the coming home that we thought it could be," says Barb.
After seeing if they could return to their old jobs in Minnesota, to no avail, they decided that they simply had to make the best of a bad situation, and they spent six years learning and growing through that.
The biggest lesson they learned during those years? "Trust means something different than just asking for what I want." Barb said that, in praying that God would open doors and bring them back to Alabama, she says she forgot to ask a key question: "God, what do you want us to do?"
"I have never done that again," she says. "When there was time and opportunity to come back [to Minnesota], I asked the right question: 'If this is your will, bring us back.'"
And He did.
"I just learned how to pray differently," she added.
And, in returning to Minnesota, they were able to give their two sons a different growing up experience than they had. "Their whole sense of things is that everybody's the same. That's what they grew up with," says Cal.
"We raised them not to see differences so much as to be who they are," says Barb.
HE WAS THERE ALL ALONG
After moving back to Minnesota the second time, they stayed for good. Cal worked at Winona State for 25 years, and spend many of those years as the Vice President of Student Affairs.
But their time in Minnesota has not been without its own set of ups and downs. They've celebrated marriages and the births of their grandchildren, but also walked through the valleys of illness and uncertainty. Cal faced cancer and in 2006 he went into kidney failure and had to get a transplant but, miraculously, Barb was a perfect match, and was able to donate one of her kidneys to him.
Shortly after that, they decided to move up to the Twin Cities from Winona to be closer to their two sons. They settled in Lino Lakes and, upon the recommendation of their pastor in Winona, started attending Eagle Brook.
Cal and Barb both agree that moving to Minnesota (and, staying after their second move) was one of their best decisions—their very best being their decisions to follow Christ and their decision to love one another. They credit God with giving them the wisdom and direction to navigate life's many turns and decisions, and the grace to make a new place home.
"You look back and go, 'He was there all along.' Even in little ways that we didn't recognize at the time," says Barb. "[God] created in us a spirit of openness and forgiveness and acceptance that would let us function in a different place." And that, to her, makes all the difference.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5
When I was five, my parents took me and my siblings to Wal-Mart and let each of us pick out a new toy. We didn't typically get presents outside of birthdays and Christmas, so this felt like a pretty special occasion. Because of this, I felt quite wracked by the weight of this decision. What toy should I choose? How would I know which one was the right one?? What if I chose wrong?! So paralyzed was I by this decision, that I went home that night without a new toy. I was so afraid of making the wrong decision, of making a choice that I'd regret, that I didn't choose anything at all.
Things only got worse as I got older. When faced with decisions about where to attend college, whether I should date someone or not, which jobs to accept, I froze. I've always been afraid of the impact that a decision will have on my life—believing that I could derail my entire life with one wrong decision.
I held onto this belief until a couple years ago. I was at a conference, and the speaker said that, in general, most of life's big decisions aren't choices between good and bad, right and wrong. Generally, they're between good and good. There often isn't one path that's entirely better than the other, one that will totally shape and define us and one that will destroy and deplete us. If that were the case, would it really be a choice?
Instead, God gave us free will. He lets us make decisions about which path to walk down and which doors to open. When we're faced with something that goes against a directive He has given us: do not steal, do not murder, love your neighbor as yourselfHe'll make it pretty clear what we should do.
But in the absence of a command from God, he gives us the freedom and wisdom to choose. We then simply trust that our sovereign God will work the details together for good.
The game-changer for me was realizing that no decision I could make is outside of God's redemptive possibility. Whether I choose this job or that one, He can use me. Whether I date this person or that one, He can teach me. I may have experienced different opportunities if I had gone to that college rather than this one, but God used the choice I made for my benefit and his glory.
Sure, having free will means that sometimes I will choose something that is not God's best for me. But that doesn't mean my life will then spiral out of control and end in total destruction. It simply means that it may take a little longer to learn something, or my path to get from point A to point B may be a little more winding than it would be if I had chosen something else. But God is in the business of redemption—he can and will redeem those decisions.
So now, when faced with a choice between two good options, I ask God for wisdom, and then ask myself a couple of things: Does this light me up and make me feel more alive? Is there peace in my heart and mind as I think of making this decision? Can God use me in this situation? When I look back in 10 or 20 years, will I regret this decision, or will it have helped shape who I became? If I can answer all of these questions in good conscience, I can feel pretty confident that I've made a wise decision. And then I have to leave the rest up to God, trusting that he is faithful and will work out the details for good.