Staying strong in the struggle

“Walking around these walls, I thought by now they’d fall – but You have never failed me yet.”
I’ve heard it said that prayer is like chopping down a tree – one or two whacks won’t do it, it takes strength, commitment, and persistence. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to you 🙂

 

And, we’ve seen that – haven’t we? When we are in the midst of the struggle and pray without ceasing for a month, or two, or twelve – and it takes what feels like an eternity – BUT! The answer does come, and it is indeed miraculous. What happens, though, when one year turns into three? Or five? In the spirit of complete honesty, there’s one thing that I’ve been praying for – passionately and persistently – for the past seven years. And, if anything, it feels like more of an impossibility today than it did seven years ago.

 

My heart feels like it’s been on the losing side of a fistfight and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t found myself crying on the bathroom floor a few times over recent years. So what happens when God feels distant, and we start to doubt His promises to us? Well, first – is He being distant, or are we? Have we grown skeptical, and started to pull away? Have we become so fixated on this one request that we’re blind to the blessings that He’s poured out in other areas of our lives? Do we doubt His power because He hasn’t yet answered one request, while we forget the hundreds of miracles and past prayers that He’s answered? The times He made a way when there was NO WAY? Do we doubt His goodness because we don’t see “the goods”? Do we doubt His timing and develop a preference for our limited understanding? Yes, it hurts when it feels like the cries of our hearts are unmet, and it’s desperately lonely in that place. It HURTS. And oh, dear heart, yes the loneliness hurts too. God doesn’t discount that – not for a minute.

 

But, He does ask us to trust. To bask in the overwhelming evidence that He IS good, and is always on our side. So tonight I make the resolution that how I feel won’t dictate how I follow. Will you join me?

 

“Your promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness. I’m still in your hands. This is my confidence – you’ve never failed me yet.”

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The view from the passenger seat

Sitting in the passenger seat of a car with no brakes and no driver, hurtling down a steep mountain road with lots of hairpin turns and no guardrails.

The ideal:

Isn’t that sometimes how it feels when something in life is beyond your control? I prefer to be in the driver’s seat—accelerating when I want to, tapping the brakes when I want to, taking in at a scenic outlook when I want to, stopping for Starbucks when I want to. That’s my preference. My fate is in my hands. I am able to protect myself. The twists and turns my life takes are up to me—not someone else—and I can take a different path when I want to, turn when I want to, or hit reverse whenever I’d like. Having control over what happens in my life is one place where I find security, empowerment, and freedom.

The reality:

Have you ever realized in life, though, that someone else may have taken the driver’s seat? Sometimes you willingly hand over the keys, other times you don’t even realize it until you find yourself longing to take back the wheel. It’s part of why close friendships and relationships can be scary—because whether you may have intended to or not, you’ve strapped your heart into the passenger seat and let someone else drive the car. And let’s be honest—the reason there are backseat drivers is because nobody trusts anyone else’s driving style. It’s always the backseat driver saying “turn here!” or “slow down!” or buckling their seatbelt after a particularly fast turn with a pointed look towards the driver.

Over the weekend, I discovered that there are some places where I’ve put my heart in someone else’s passenger seat. And that can be an awesome adventure! But it can also be super scary, because your heart is your life. The brain can’t function without it, you can’t go anywhere without it—it fuels your thoughts and guides your movements. And giving someone else the privilege of protecting it is nerve-wracking. What they do with it is beyond your control. It may take time before you get to know their driving style and understand where they’re taking it.

In truth though, I’ve come to learn that, in life, it’s impossible to have control all of the time. The world does not start and stop around you, and other people’s lives are still happening in other places. You may be waiting for a message or a result, for a response or for affirmation. It takes time.

The truth:

And I’ve come to learn the that the only driver that I can ever trust with my heart, completely and entirely, is Jesus. I can trust that He will defend and protect it, that He knows the scenic overlooks that will make my heart swoon, and He knows what turns to take.

And my trust doesn’t come through the knowledge of His omnipotence, it comes because I’ve experienced His love. I know that He loves my heart enough to go through Hell for it, to die for it. That He’s always thinking about it and never wants to be without it.

Isn’t that such beautiful hope, friends? That there is one who is always in control so that I don’t have to be, and that my trust of Him—letting Him take the reins, is actually my source of freedom.

“I trust in Your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.” ~Psalm 13:5

I know less, as I come to know You more.

Real talk, y’all: To say that it’s been a whirlwind of a week has been an understatement.

Last Wednesday, I was sitting at the new “Fort Wayne Famous” restaurant, the Golden (BEST chocolate / toffee pudding EVER), laughing about future dreams and aspirations.

A week ago today (Fri-YAY), I was leaving my cozy Indiana apartment at 1:30a to drive to Detroit and jump on a 5:50a flight to NYC—only to be in a restaurant that evening that was also hosting ladies from the Bachelor.

A week ago tomorrow, I was laughing with some of my favorite people in the world and dancing to 90’s hits on their living room couch.

A week ago tomorrow night, I was standing in one of my favorite places in the world—right in front of the fountain at Lincoln Center, taking in the wonder of the moment.

A week ago Sunday, I had slept 13 hours in 4 days and spent six hours on a plane, trying to get back from NYC to Detroit. And then driving from Detroit to Fort Wayne.

Last Tuesday, I spent the day driving down to Atlanta (Indiana) for a client presentation.

Wednesday—I was roasting s’mores & eating pineapple tacos at one of Fort Wayne’s (other) best new restaurants.

Yesterday was—well, let’s just say a DAY.

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I tell you all of that to show you that, when I say it’s been a week, you know it’s been a WEEK. I’ve simultaneously basked in some of my life’s greatest joys, and been confronted with the weight of a few of my hardest decisions. Relished the highs, and ridden out the lows.

As I’m typing this, I’ve finally surrendered & am sitting on my couch in leggings with a glass of Oliver’s, Skinny Pop, & an unbelievably cozy blanket. Fully embracing the week’s end.

Yet, the thing I’d like to let you know is the part of it that sticks with me—along with the joys & struggles & moments—is there has been one constant in everything. In the moments right before drifting off to sleep on the plane, to the times that have found me on my couch with Bible in hand—and every minute in between, there’s been a presence.

His presence. It’s been undeniable. Even in the moments I wasn’t actively seeking it, when I wasn’t going out in search of direction. I’ve found that, even when I wasn’t consciously seeking to be at His side, He’s been at mine. Taking me in His arms, kissing me on the head, and saying, “Let it go, I’ve got this.”

There have been times this week when I’ve been too tired to put two words together—let alone form a whole prayer—and still, there’s Jesus. Beside me on my flight, with me as I slowly wake in the mornings, or with me on the couch even now. And that—that feeling of being pursued—it’s humbling.

By His side.

Judah Smith puts it this way: “God has placed you in a position of favor by His side. He’s faithful. You will feel His hand in the small of your back, prompting you, ‘Come on, we’re going to go this way now.’ It might just be the subtle, simple hints from the spirit of Jesus that are leading you every day. Don’t spend another day busying yourself with somebody else’s lane and plan and purpose. You have your own, by His side. Just enjoy.”

I know & love people who have read the books and go to the classes, who volunteer at church and never fail to do their morning devotions. I’d like to say that’s me. I try hard to be that way. But mornings aren’t my thing. I’m the kind of person who has to set 15 alarms to get up. When there was talk of an early-morning meeting at work last week, one of my coworkers laughed out loud when I said I could be there.

…I digress. What I mean to say is—those are all great things. They are all relationship-builders with God. But this week, my mornings have usually started with my eyes fluttering open and, through the mass of pillows & covers piled on my head, saying, “God, are you there?” And I sense His presence—as close as if He’s sitting on the edge of my bed, laughing, saying, “Yes, of course I’m here.”

These little moments have actually changed my relationship with Him. I think, too often, it’s easy to slip into a version of relationship that we think is appropriate for us to have with our Creator. We set the limits, we initiate the interaction, we do the talking and feel like the seeking is something that happens on our end, too.

But, I don’t think that’s what He wants. I don’t think that’s all that He wants. I think that we see Jesus’ divinity and completely miss the point of His humanity.

If our relationships on earth are meant to be reflections our relationship with Him…oh, friends, we are missing out.

Your life and your love are something you give to a person, not to a set of rules or do’s and don’ts.

And realizing the depth of this Relationship with Jesus this week…I never want to go back to anything before. I’m falling in love with the Savior, my Jesus.

I couldn’t put it any better than this (I know it’s long, but please read the whole thing):

“I used to shake You like an 8-ball

I used to shoot You like a gun

I used to hold You like a hammer

Try to nail down everyone

I used to keep You in a steeple

Used to bind You in a Book

I used to take You like prescription

Without knowing what I took

But now I just don’t buy it anymore

No, I’ve tried and I’ve tried to know everything for sure

But I find I know less as I come to know You more

You’re not who I thought You were

Praise the Lord

Your love’s an ocean, not a river

A symphony, not just a song

I don’t think everybody’s right

I just think most of us were wrong

I think that when we get to Heaven

We’re gonna laugh when we can see

How hard we try to make it

And how easy it should be

Providence is endless

Mercy is a mystery

And fear is no good reason

To believe in anything

So I just don’t buy it anymore

No, I’ve tried and I’ve tried to know everything for sure

But I find I know less as I come to know You more

You’re not who I thought You were

Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord.

Free falling

The hatch on the side of the plane slid open, and the wind rushed in with a strong “whoosh”. I held up one hand to shield my eyes against the blaze of sunlight, and felt someone firmly take hold of the other.

“Step forward now, a little closer to the edge,” shouted my companion over the roar of the plane’s engines. He must have sensed my hesitancy, because he put his arm around my shoulders and whispered, “Don’t be scared, I’m jumping with you.”

“Now, are you ready?” he asked. I steeled myself and stepped towards the edge.

“1…2…3…GO!” He took my hand and, together, we leapt out of the plane.

*                          *                     *                     *                   *                  *                  *                   *

“Are you ready?”

This story illustrates the state of my life for the last three months or so. I took the proverbial leap—one week, I was signing a lease to stay in NYC for another year. The next, I was moving halfway across the country. Certainties had evaporated, and impossibilities were not only becoming probable—but had taken the shape of contracts and dotted lines.

Never would I have thought that I would be where I am now.

I’ve never been more sure that where I am now is in the midst of His plan – poised for what comes next.

 

I’m not the same person I was four months ago. There have been times of almost unbearable pain and hardship. There have been victories beyond belief.

 

In the coming weeks, I’ve dedicated myself to writing it all down so that the miraculous will never become overshadowed by the mundane.

 

Thank you in advance for journeying with me. Peace & Blessings, Kenzi.

 

 

 

 

Undone by love.

“I will sing until the miracle comes.” ~ Hillsong United

 

As I write this, I’m about 20,000 feet above the ground, somewhere between New York and Pennsylvania. The sun has just set, and the horizon outside my window looks like it’s on fire. The tears on my cheeks aren’t yet dry, and I’m at a loss for words.

 

My fellow passengers have sent me sympathetic glances here and there—I can only imagine they assume I’m crying because someone broke up with me or something catastrophic has happened. But that could not be further from the truth.

 

Before this month, I never knew that peace could bring you to tears. But now, it’s happened to me twice in the last two weeks. I’m awestruck by His desperate, astounding, unshaking love for me—love that delights in surprising me, and continues to go above and beyond to provide a future that isn’t just good, but is absolutely amazing. He loves me in a way that eliminates any need to strive, and so brings freedom, fills me with joy, and inspires confidence. He invites me to rest with Him, and to enjoy living in relationship with Him. I am in love with Him because of this love. It’s a love that can be trusted.

 

His love brings tears to my eyes, and I’m so thankful for the journey that has brought me here.

 

Don’t misunderstand me—these past few months have been full of challenges I never thought I’d face and battles I never thought I’d fight. Some have found me on my knees in prayer and others have driven me all the way down to the ground, lying flat before Him, with tears falling onto my bedroom floor.

 

Someone very wise once told me, “It’s okay to let God know you’re angry and frustrated. He’s big enough to take it.” I understand what that means now. Just like my earthly father, there are times I feel like I need something now and don’t see him working on it or moving quickly enough, so I make the entirely unfounded assumption that it’s not on his radar. That somehow, what’s important to me isn’t important to him anymore. Every time, my father will patiently listen to my ridiculous reasoning and desperation and, every time, answers me with one question: “Do you trust me?” “Yes, but—“ I’ll answer. “Ah,” he cuts me off. “No ‘but’. Do you trust me?”

 

For the past 23 years, each and every time I’ve jumped to the conclusion that my dad isn’t on the case, he has proved me to be egregiously wrong. He’s always working behind the scenes, going above and beyond to make sure don’t just have everything I need, but everything I could possibly dream of. My earthly father delights in surprising me and ensuring I always have more than I need, and the same is so true for my heavenly Father.

 

“Do you trust me?” That’s the question that I’ve found God asking me over and over in the last year. Sitting here on this plane right now, I can say, “Yes” without any hesitation or reservation.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!” That’s the key to life there, friends. I’ve met other Christians who seem entirely empty of joy—that they find no happiness or fun or excitement in their faith (and, some even seem to find it offensive that others do!). It’s the difference between religion and relationship. You can’t wholeheartedly trust someone that you don’t have a deep relationship with. And did you know—God wants better things for us than we want for ourselves! But, His ability to bring these things to us is entirely dependent on our faith in Him and His nature.

 

He loves us so desperately that He didn’t want to live without us, so He came down and took the pain we deserved so we could spend eternity with Him. He made this sacrifice for me, so I freely give Him my life.

 

I’m crying on a plane because He has written a story for me that is better than I could ever imagine, and I could not be more excited or confident to take this next step with Him.

 

“There isn’t any fear here, there isn’t any fear in love when You come.

There isn’t any heart here that you don’t want to overwhelm when you come.

I am speechless, but I can’t keep quiet.

I am wordless, but I can’t keep silent.

I’m lost for words to say. You take my breath away.

There isn’t any rush here, so I’m just going to wait on you and linger longer,

Because every time I find you, I’m a little more undone.

You move me, and I can’t define it.

You consume me, and I can’t describe it.

I am speechless, but I can’t keep quiet.

I am wordless, but I can’t keep silent.”

Wordless, Lauren Daigle

 

Thank you, Abba.

Three ways to “Live Free”: Open heart, open eyes, open hands.

I’ve spent a lot of time in conversation with God this week.

 

I don’t want to say I’ve spent a lot of “quiet time” with Him. Why? Because our chats have become rather continuous throughout the day and, well, when you’re talking to God while braving NYC traffic, that’s not usually quiet. It’s far beyond “devotionals” and it isn’t always “study” in the truest sense of the word—it’s really been a back-and-forth dialogue with the King.

 

It’s taught me even more how to invite Him into my everyday.

 

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk who worked in his monastery’s kitchen, started his prayers with, “Lord of pots and pans and things…(The Practice of the Presence of God).”

 

In the last few weeks, Brother Lawrence’s prayer has triggered a profound revelation in my life. My God is not just the God of the big things or the immediate crises, but rather, He’s also the God of taxis and subways and things, of meetings and coffee and views and Pilates and air conditioning and oh so much more.

 

One of the most frequent mistakes we make as Christians isn’t something we’ve committed-rather, it’s something we’ve omitted: we forget to invite God to infuse our natural with His supernatural and make our ordinary, extraordinary.

 

How do we live life with this Kingdom perspective? Here’s the checklist He’s been revealing to me:

 

1. Open your heart to God’s plans for you.

We serve a God who despises “religion” and desperately desires relationship. He offers us the opportunity to live a life of freedom and joy, knowing that our soul craves connection with its Creator—and that He’s created us to fulfill and be fulfilled by a customized purpose in His Kingdom. It’s all there, in Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (MSG).”

 

2. Open your eyes, to see and steward His blessings.

God has given us the gift of wisdom and discernment, and living life in freedom does not mean living a life that squanders what He has given to us. This discernment is a tool to navigate the Christian life. In Philippians 1:9-10, Paul says, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so you may approve what is excellent and be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (ESV).”

 

 

3. Open your hands to live freely and lightly.

We are stewards of God’s resources, not owners (Hebrews 2:10, “Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by His power [CEV].”). These resources include our money, our apartments, our cars, our relationships—everything we’ve been given is a gift. And, if we open our hands to give these resources back to Him, He has promised to withhold no good thing (Psalm 84:11). Just look at the story of Job, who God blessed with twice as much because Job understood the steward / owner relationship. Isn’t that great news? We serve a God who desires relationship with us, wants to show us how to live freely, and who we can trust will not withhold any good thing from His children!

 

Hopefully this is an inspiration to you, too, as you start this week.

 

Grace and peace, friends!

Leap of faith.

Setting: Middle Eastern Desert, Afternoon, 1989

Indiana Jones looks across the chasm to see the doorway cut out of the sheer rock face on the other side—knowing that behind that door lies the object that he seeks, the reason for his journey: the Holy Grail.

 

But looking at the sheer drop below him, he falters for a moment: “It’s not possible. Nobody can jump this,” he says.

 

Taking a moment to look back at the ages-old guidebook in his hand, he suddenly has a moment of realization: “It’s a leap of faith.”

 

His father, from the cavern behind, urges him on: “You must believe, boy. You must believe.”

 

Though his trepidation is still present, Indy sets aside fear and reason and takes a step out into nothing but air…

 

….and is caught by the rock bridge beneath his feet. One that is invisible to the eye and otherwise unknown, except by those who dare to tread there. Indy’s elation is apparent as he walks—first slowly, then with greater confidence—to the other side.

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Setting: Sea of Galilee, Night, Time of Jesus

Twelve men are rowing across a lake. Twelve men that have left everything—their families, their occupations, their futures (in the eyes of society)—to become disciples to a rabbi who called them out.

 

Now, at this time, the discipleship of these particular men was a radical thing on multiple counts. First, they were not who the society of the day would have typically viewed as disciples. Why? Well, the education for a Jewish boy in Jesus’ time came in three parts. At age 4-5, students would enter into Bet Sefer and began their study of the Scriptures. At the age of 12, most boys would then stay home to learn the family trade, while the best students would continue their study (while also learning a trade) in Bet Midrash (secondary school). Very, very few of the most outstanding Bet Midrash students then sought permission to disciple a well-known rabbi of their choosing.

 

Jesus called Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, as they were casting nets into the lake—same with James and John. This meant that these boys were already a part of the family trade—they had been through Bet Sefer and maybe Bet Midrash, but they had not been called beyond that into the discipleship of a rabbi. They were, instead, learning the business of their fathers. But, in that instant when Jesus called, it says James and John “immediately left the boat and their father and followed him (Matthew 4:22).” This discipleship was such an honor, they left everything and went without hesitation.

 

Secondly, Jesus had called them. Usually, the disciples would ask the rabbi if they could follow him, not the other way around. Jesus had selected the disciples first, instead of the disciples selecting Him.

 

So, back to the boat—we now know its passengers are twelve men (Jesus’ disciples) who were not society’s choice, but they were Jesus’ chosen. Each had taken a huge leap of faith—leaving behind their livelihoods, families, and futures (by society’s definition)—to follow Jesus.

 

As they row towards the opposite shore, the wind starts to pick up and the waves start to get rough until they’re in the middle of a full-blown storm. The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, so they’re also far from shore and stability. Their boat is being battered amidst the waves, and the worry amongst the group starts to grow.

 

When they first see Jesus walking on the water towards them, this worry has escalated to fear. They cry out, “It’s a ghost!”

 

But Jesus keeps walking towards them, and calmly says, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”

 

Now, it’s interesting to note that at this time the disciples seemed to have already forgotten who Jesus is. This isn’t just about the fact that they’ve mistaken Him for a ghost; rather the much more significant fact that they’ve forgotten that He’s the one who works miracles against all odds. He calms the wind and waves. They had just seen Him feed the 5000, and yet their confidence in His capabilities seems to have already given way in light of their current situation.

 

Also note that Jesus does not immediately calm the storm, but starts out by reminding them who He is. He’s teaching them to trust before He tells the waves to cease.

 

Peter still has doubts. “Lord if it’s you,” he calls. “tell me to come to you on the water.”

 

“Come.” Jesus says.

 

Peter steps out of the boat and—as long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus—he’s able to walk forward confidently. He can walk on water with his eyes on Jesus—defying logic or circumstances around him. Like Indiana Jones, he takes a leap of faith.

 

But Peter starts to sink when he becomes so focused on where he is that he loses sight of who is in control. Peter realizes that the situation around him seems impossible, and allows it to literally pull him down. He experiences a crisis of faith that resulted from a misplaced focus and ends up dragging him under. His situation seems impossible, given the wind and waves rushing around him.

 

He cries out, “Lord, save me!” and as soon as he does, Jesus is there and pulls him back up to safety.

 

“You of little faith,” Jesus asks, “why did you doubt?”

 

Why do we doubt? Why do we take our gaze off of Jesus when the waters get rough?

 

I’m not talking “rough” as in a bad day (that, too!), but “rough” as in when things feel hopeless, and we feel helpless to control the forces, circumstances, and situations that have beat us down or backed us into a corner.

 

Like the disciples, we’ve seen God work miraculously in our lives before; yet, we often become so consumed by our current situation that it threatens to drown us. Like the Israelites in the David and Goliath story, we tremble because we face an adversary we feel we cannot beat and lose sight of whose we are. (Thanks Dan Sadlier, for the analogy today!)

 

Take your eyes off of the waves, and focus on His face. We are loved by the one for whom nothing is impossible—not even the storms we face that are entirely beyond our control. He is called the Savior for a reason.

 

The best part? He has already been building a bridge for you (see the Indiana Jones analogy) and charting your next step amidst the waves to bring you closer to Him. He’s been planning your steps since before you were born (Psalm 139:13), and has been working all things together (Romans 8:28) for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Stepping out in faith is stepping out on solid ground—you may not be sure where the next step will lead you, but you can be sure He does.

 

“You called me out upon the waters,

The great Unknown, where feet may fail.

And there I find You in the mystery.

In oceans deep, my faith will stand.

And I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves.

When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace,

For I am Yours, and You are mine.”

Oceans, Hillsong United