When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash

#WhatADoctorLooksLike

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167 reactions. 109 comments. 109 comments! It’s quite a response for a woman’s mid-day, quick Facebook post at work.

She could have referenced an experience from a college class she teaches. Or what it was like to be the speaker at a Breast Cancer Awareness Tea. Or treating patients here in St. Louis. Or how she goes about mentoring medical students. Or her recent submission for the medical column of a local paper. Or her fairly recent, annual medical missions trip to Malawi.

But no. Dr. Hooks-Anderson didn’t pause to tell her Facebook friends about good news. Instead, she wrote:

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Dr. Hooks-Anderson is African American. And despite all she has accomplished and how much she is respected, this was still her reality on Tuesday.

What do you say? No, really — what do you say when you’re white?

I first met Denise when she and her husband applied to our school for their daughter. The Director of Admissions at the time, I asked to hear their story of why they wanted to send their little girl to our community. I should have asked them why they trusted us to educate and care for their daughter.

When I read Denise’s post on Tuesday, I wasn’t yet aware of the Delta story. But I’m aware now as I’ve viewed countless #WhatADoctorLooksLike posts swirling around social media. I hope more swirl around and take the world by storm…

rain

…Because when it rains, we pay attention. When it storms, we pause and plan before going about our normal routines. We’re more prone to contemplation when the world shields itself from torrents and the weather has halted our plans. We’re less distracted. We’re more focused.

Sometimes we think a little too much, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in this case. For eventually in our pausing and contemplation, we realize it’s not so much about what we think about bias and stereotyping but how our thoughts materialize into behavior.

What do we find when we pause and bravely engage in self-reflection? What is there to discover when we examine our own hearts?  What makes us assume something about a person before introducing ourselves?

Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am.
    Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.
Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me,
    and guide me down Your path forever. Psalm 139:23-24

While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? What images were missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? Sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

Self-exploration and deep digging and discovery are uncomfortable. But growth is always preceded by discomfort.

We’re a culture that wants to say and do something. Maybe our doing is listening as God reads our hearts back to us. We’ll cringe. We’ll deny. We’ll make excuses and point to those who are “worse” than us. But eventually, soaked with God’s grace and tenderness, we’ll shake our heads in shame and boldly surrender to the truth.

 Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
 I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall

        like the willow trees lining a riverbank.
One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.” Isaiah 44:3-5

He comes every time. The Devoted Gardner comes and restores and then invites us to join Him in the restoring. He transforms the storm we once feared into cisterns of self-discovery and streams of humility. He pours out His Spirit and grows us up into change-agents whose love is a reflection of His own love for mankind.

Might we say, “I belong to the Lord” and have people believe us.

So what does a doctor look like? One of them looks like this:

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photo source | mario calvo

Choosing Substance: Defiant Hope (Day 5)

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After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for… After a few months had passed, Herod realized he’d been tricked. The wise men were not coming back. Herod, of course, was furious. He simply ordered that all boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years of age and younger be killed. Matthew 2:13, 16

He simply ordered… It’s a tragic part of the advent story that’s been swept away by countless Christmas pageants. It’s hard to process, so I avoid. Hard to reconcile, so I ignore. Have you looked away, too?

Only Matthew chose to go there — not Mark, Luke, or John.

Mary and Joseph fled a leader’s insatiable greed and insanity, racing to Egypt. No promise from family to email. No hope of seeing their relatives’ Instagram posts. No ability to connect to headlines to see what was going on back home.

The carpenter-turned-refugee fled. The girl-turned-Mother of Messiah found herself a refugee, too, desperate to escape Herod’s wrath. And the Son of God, in all his mortal, two year-old adorableness was clinging to his mama and probably asking “Why?” a hundred times all the way to Egypt.

Are you, too? “Why, Rescuer? Where is Your deliverance? Why Emmanuel? I’m so alone, so lonely. Why, Morning Star? Why is my story so dark?”

The injustice they left behind was so threatening, so severe, that pursuing the unknown with no one waiting on the other side was the solution. As Christ fled deeper into refugee status, baby boys in Bethlehem were being ripped from their mama’s arms, torn from the earth forever. The wounds of the community’s heart were so great that Matthew pointed back to another refugee crisis in his people’s history:

* A voice will be heard in Ramah,
    weeping and wailing and mourning out loud all day and night.
The voice is Rachel’s, weeping for her children,
    her children who have been killed;
    she weeps, and she will not be comforted. Matthew 2:18 (Jeremiah 31:15)

And suddenly the advent story sounds similar to our own headlines. Did you catch it? Countless murders. Utter fear. A refugee crisis. Injustice.

A person of substance hopes defiantly. Her belief and desire will absolutely not be conquered.

From His birth, Christ entered a world churning with violence and injustice and fear, and from the beginning, He pointed to the cross. His cross. For through violence and injustice toward the Rescuer, we have life.

Our hope is not in what we watch every evening, or the headlines we scroll through on our phones, or countless news analysts. Our hope is found in a God who saw injustice and chose to enter the suffering in order to save us. His solution was to strip Himself of glory and wrap Himself in the mess. All the way to cross.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ”  Revelation 21:3-5 niv

On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the Reason to hope defiantly.

… A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

photo source


Choosing Substance

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What horror abroad is making you restless? What situation in your own story leaves you unsettled every morning, every night?
  • Read the Maker’s response to Israel’s weeping long ago: Jeremiah 31:16-17, Jeremiah 31:25, Jeremiah 31:35.
  • How’s that definition of choosing substance coming? 🙂

* Matthew 2:18 — “The setting is Ramah, a village a few miles north of Jerusalem, where exiles are assembled before the long march to Babylon. Later the prophet himself will spend time in this refugee camp awaiting his own exile (Jeremiah 40:1). For now, he paints the picture of Rachel, one of the matriarchs of this nation, weeping for her children as they head off into captivity.” (The Voice: Step into the Story of Scripture, p. 922)