Hope in the Wilderness

Well crap, I thought as I sat near the back of the church auditorium. It was one of those mornings where I had gone to church hoping, praying, to get word from God about a particular situation. And on that Sunday morning, I got what I wanted – only it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My pastor spoke the exact words that I loathed, because they told me this situation wasn’t going to resolve any time soon.

Ok God, I really wanted to hear from you today, but seriously?

I’ve been dealing with a situation for several months now. Circumstances have made it very clear to me that it’s time to make a change. So I’ve been working, struggling, and grappling with this issue. Every day I’ve tried to do something to change the circumstances, and every single stinking Sunday sermon over the last few months has told me to chill out and let God work. Dangit.

This entire time, I’ve been impatient. I’m like Violet from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I want an oompa loompa NOOOOOWWWW. I’ve made up my mind to change the situation, to move on to bigger and better things, so let’s get a move on. What are you waiting for, God? I’m ready…I think as I tap my foot impatiently.

But here’s the thing: that’s not how this works. You see, God’s got a timeline and much to my chagrin, it doesn’t match up with my own. I find myself in an uncomfortable place. I frankly feel stuck, and I feel lost. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. It was time for them to leave Egypt…but it wasn’t time for them to enter the Promised Land for 40 years. (Dear Lord, PLEASE don’t let this take 40 years.)

Wandering and Waiting

It begs the question – what do you do in the wilderness? For Israel, they just walked and walked and walked around the same few hundred square miles for 40 years. 40 YEARS. They looped around the same sand dune, wore the same shoes, and ate the same weird manna bread every single day. They wandered, and they waited. (Ok, ok, they complained a lot and tried to take matters into their own hands too…but mostly they waited.)

I hate waiting. HATE. I’m that person whose normal walking pace is akin to a power walker, because I’ve got somewhere to be, so why am I wasting time getting from here to there? I take the most direct route and don’t stop to smell the roses or check out the scenery. I’m on a mission to get somewhere.

But now I wait.

wilderness

Waiting and Hoping

There are really very few things that you can do while you wait on God to move. You can try to ram the door open yourself, but all that’ll get you is a headache. You can try to turn around and go back to where you came from, but the only thing behind you is centuries of slavery and Pharaoh’s army hot on your tail. Or you can continue moving forward one day at a time, keeping your eyes fixed on the Lord and clinging to the hope that He has already brought the victory.

Nothing about hope is easy. Hope is far away; it’s hard to see, a tiny speck off in the distance. It’s much easier to focus on the challenges; heck, they’re right in front of you rearing their ugly head and breathing down your neck.

Nothing about hope is quick. It’s slow. It’s in the future. I mean, that’s kind of the point – if hope were already accomplished, we’d call it “now” and not “hope.”

But everything about hope is necessary. Hope forces you to question what God is doing and really wrestle with your feelings of doubt and insecurity about His plan. It makes you look back at previous situations and recognize He brought you through each one at exactly the right time in a way that was in your best interest. And once you’ve wrestled and remembered, hope gives you the strength to keep moving forward for one more day – even if it’s past that same sand dune and you have to eat that same stupid manna bread one more time.

Hope as an Anchor

The thing about hoping in God is that it isn’t just hope. It’s reality. It’s a promise. It has already been accomplished, because it’s based on God’s word and His character. So when God makes you a promise, you can hope with confidence, because if God has promised it, He has already brought it to pass. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)

It’s a lot easier said than done; trust me, I know. But if you need me, I’ll be over here in the wilderness – wandering, waiting, and hoping.

Anchor

dark forest

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

This article first appeared at Unapologetically American on January 27, 2016. 

I won the workout tonight at Crossfit. By a lot. On some level I’m happy about it — I mean, who doesn’t like to win? Who doesn’t appreciate knowing their hard work is paying off? I certainly do. I love knowing that I put in the effort, trusted the process, and came out a better athlete on the other side.

But I have mixed feelings.

See, here’s the thing: tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve won the workout. It’s happened several times in recent weeks. I got a big new max on my clean and jerk. I shaved almost 25% off my Grace time. Prescribed weights are light. I finished tonight’s workout several minutes before the next person and still had gas in the tank. It keeps happening, and that’s a problem.

You see, the problem is that I’ve reached that point where I now have to do more work to keep progressing. I have to put more weight on the bar, take the next larger kettlebell, graduate to chest-to-bar pullups, and move faster.

Part of me doesn’t want to. I just reached this glorious place. It’s nice here. It’s comfortable, sunny, and warm at the front of the pack. But it’s not the top of the mountain; it’s only a plateau. And while I’ve enjoyed basking in the glow for a few weeks, I know it’s time to redouble my efforts and keep pushing forward. Because there are still girls out there who are faster, stronger, and better than I. And there are several hardcore ladies right on my heels. And the fittest, fastest, strongest version of myself is still out there.

It’s time to press harder. To dig deeper. To get stronger. It’s time to go into the Dark.
Every athlete knows about the Dark, but not every athlete goes there. Some fear it while others embrace it. Others can encourage you to go, but only you can take yourself there. It’s that dark, scary place deep inside of you where “what you’re really made of” is located.

I hate the Dark. I’ve been there before in my training, and I despise going back. It never gets easier; in fact, now that I know what the Dark looks like, it makes venturing into the forest that much more daunting. There are plenty of reasons not to visit that place.

  • For one, it is dark and scary (duh), and it hurts. It’s the place where your lungs burn and your muscles cry for mercy, where sheer resolution is the only thing moving you forward.
  • But there’s also the fear of failure. Digging deep and leaving it all on the table, but finding you’re not as strong or as fast as you want to be can be disheartening.
  • And certainly, a lack of drive can prevent an athlete from truly pushing themselves into the Dark. It’s an experience closer to the Fire Swamp than to CandyLand —  you really gotta want it in order to psych yourself up to go there and battle the Rodents of Unusual Size.

But there are rewards for venturing into the Dark, and they are totally worth the risk.

  • You only find out what you’re truly made of in that place. It’s where you learn whether your will is stronger than your desire for rest, whether your determination is greater than the pain. It’s where you truly discover just how strong you really are. And you have to know who you are today to make a plan for who you want to be tomorrow.
  • Sometimes, all the hard work you’ve been putting in pays off. Some days, the Dark isn’t as soul-crushing as it used to be and you find you are fitter, faster, and stronger than you’ve ever been. Relish those days, because there is light at the edge of the Dark; you invested in yourself and have come out better on the other side.
  • The journey is yours alone to take, but can inspire your community. When you plunge into the Dark, you inspire those around you to push themselves to be better too. Like the soldier leading the charge with the colors, you inspire confidence in others as they challenge themselves to begin their journey.

I really, really hate the Dark; but I know I must return there to improve in my training. It’s gonna hurt, but I’ve gotta go back. A better me is waiting on the other side.

Does anybody have a flashlight?

It’s All In Your Head

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  it’s all in your head.

Last week was max clean and jerk day at the gym.  I saw the workout posted online the day before, and I was ecstatic!  Cleans, cleans, cleans are my FAVORITE!!  So I made up my mind the night before that I was gonna get a new PR the next day.  It was GOING TO HAPPEN, period.

So I showed up at the gym the next day, and I successfully lifted 7 pounds more than I ever have before.  PR complete!

One of my friends arrived in time for the class after me.  In passing, I asked her if she was ready to lift ALL THE WEIGHTS and get a huge PR.  She said, “We’ll see how it goes.”

Guess what?  She didn’t hit a new PR.  Sure, she lifted well enough, but she didn’t surpass her previous performance.

I’m convinced it was because she didn’t believe she was going to succeed.

Chances-of-Success

The mind is a powerful muscle, and what’s rolling around in there can have a profound impact on what happens on the outside.  Let’s exercise our minds by filling them with positive thoughts; our minds have profound effects on the performance of the rest of our muscles.  It really is all in your head!

 

 

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Hanging Up the Jersey

There comes a time when enough is enough — when it’s time to let go.  It happens throughout our lives, whether we want it to or not.  Time to let go of those penguin pajama pants you’ve had since college.  Time to let go of someone you love enough to know you don’t love him enough.  Time to let go of a sick pet.  Time to let go of a sport.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But it certainly isn’t easy.

For me, it’s time to hang up the jersey.  After 4 years of being a sponsored 3-gun shooter, and 7 years of competitive shooting overall, it’s time to let go.  Over the years, I missed numerous family birthdays and friend outings, and spent countless nights in hotel rooms across the country all so I could “play” at a game that lost its fun factor somewhere along the way.  What had begun as an adventure and an exciting new challenge somehow morphed into a demanding second job.  Offseasons grew progressively shorter, social media feeds became neverending product advertisements, and I simply couldn’t keep up with the demands of life and meeting my sponsors’ needs.

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I held onto the game longer than I should have, hoping and wishing that it could be fun again.  But the 2015 season made it abundantly clear to me that it was time for a change, as I repeatedly struggled to find the motivation to attend just one more event.  So that’s why I won’t be competing in 2016, at least not with any regularity or with any manufacturer’s logo painted on my back.

I’m not saying I’ll never shoot again, or that I won’t ever seek out sponsorship in the future.  But for now, I just need a clean break.  If I shoot at all in 2016, it’s going to be for the fun of it.  With friends, fun, and food.  No stress, no drama, and no pressure.

I plan to spend my free time in 2016 doing things that rejuvenate my spirit:  spending time with friends and family, becoming more involved in my church, working out, and giving back to my community.

I’ll see you all on the range…sometime…  In the meantime, stay safe out there, shooting friends.  And for goodness sake, HAVE FUN!

Caught Inside

One of my favorite bands during high school was the Christian ska/rock band, The Orange County Supertones. My least favorite song on any of their albums was an instrumental track called “Caught Inside.” I hated it because it had no words, no message, and nothing I could relate to. I almost always skipped that track.

Fifteen years later, I finally get it. They had a message, but their words were caught inside them, unable to escape, and even though they couldn’t articulate, they couldn’t stay silent. So they just played music.

In contrast to previous years when I’ve been more prolific with my writing, I’ve spent much of 2015 without words. But I haven’t been without feeling, without a message, without something to say. I just haven’t known how to say it.

HAAAALLLLPPPP! I'se stuck insides!

HAAAALLLLPPPP! I’se stuck insides!

I don’t have eloquent words for any of this, but the major themes I’ve been grappling with are:

  • The end of a long-term relationship, and eventually that friendship
  • Burnout from a hobby I used to love, and what new hobby may replace it
  • Spending my time on things that actually matter in the world, and what that might look like
  • Building a new relationship and the range of emotions accompany it
  • The evil in the world that strengthens by the day and what are the best ways to counter it
  • Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • Missing family and friends who I’ve been too busy to see for far too long
  • The pain and burdens that dear friends bear

The words are brewing. They may still be caught inside, but they’ll escape eventually.

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Smores Brownies!

Last weekend I went to a barbecue, where attendees were asked to bring a dish to share. Given my love of baking, of course I volunteered to bring dessert. 

But what to make? I scoured the Internet for “summer cupcake recipes” and actually found some delicious options. But time and ease of prep are always a factor with me, so I opted for one of my favorites: smores brownies. 

They’re super easy. And delicious! You should make them. Here’s how:

Start by building a graham cracker crust. If you have a blender, this is super easy. But if you don’t, put 3-4 crackers into a giant ziploc bag and start smashing. (Maybe do this over the sink in case you puncture your bag.)

  
Smash about a package and a half. Then melt a stick of butter in the microwave and dump your crumbs in the golden goodness. Stir!

  
Make sure you have enough butter so your crumbs are all wet (add more butter if you need), and then press them into the bottom of a 9×13 pan. If you use your fingers, go ahead and lick the butter off — I won’t tell on you. Just be sure to wash your hands before moving on. 

  
Bake this at 350 for about 12 minutes. In the meantime, prepare your brownie mix as directed on the box. 

  
When your graham cracker crust is nice and toasty, pour the brownie batter on top and CAREFULLY spread it across the pan. Be gentle; if you try to spread too quickly, you will disrupt your crust. 

  
Now bake the brownies as directed on the box, and maybe a few minutes more. As much as chewy brownies are delicious, you actually want to make sure the middle is fully cooked; otherwise you’ll have a sloppy mess. 

While your brownies are baking, you need to prep your toppings.  Break up a few graham crackers into chunks so each of your brownie slices will have one. And be sure to take at least one good sniff from your bag of marshmallows because it smells soooooooo good. 

  
When the brownies come out, switch your oven over to BROIL. Line up your marshmallows in neat little rows. This will make your life a LOT easier when you cut the brownies later. Plus, it makes my OCD happy. 

  
Put the pan back in the oven and DO NOT MOVE for the next 90 seconds. Just stand there and watch the marshmallows poof up into tiny sugary pillows and then rescue them from the oven when they reach that perfect golden brown point. Seriously, no more than 90 seconds. 

Immediately after removing them from the oven, adorn your marshmallows with the graham cracker chunks and VOILA! You are done. 

  
Cut these along the spaces between the marshmallows. Try to wait till they’re cool — I dare ya!
WHAT YOU NEED:

1 1/2 packages graham crackers, smashed

1 stick butter

1 box brownie mix, with eggs and oil as directed 

1 bag marshmallows

9×13 pan

350-degree oven 

Brother

I’ve been hearing “Brother” by NeedToBreathe on the Christian radio station for months, and I love it. But I was recently pleasantly surprised to hear a remix featuring Gavin DeGraw on the pop radio station.  Not excited because I particularly like Gavin DeGraw, but happy because the song offers a fantastic message that everyone needs to hear, religious or not. 

If you haven’t heard it yet, take 5 minutes and listen now!  Music Video

The point of the song is pretty simple: everybody in this life goes through hard times, and they need someone to walk through the challenges with them. 

Two people in my broader work sphere took their own lives this week. I didn’t know either of them, but it serves as a stark reminder that we need to reach out to those closest to us (and maybe even those not so close) and let them know they’re not alone. They have an ally. An advocate. A sympathetic ear.  

People are hurting and need to know they are loved. They need a brother. 

  
Lyrics:

Ramblers in the wilderness we can’t find what we need

Get a little restless from the searching 

Get a little worn down in between

Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes

Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea
Brother let me be your shelter

I’ll never leave you all alone

I can be the one you call

When you’re low

Brother let me be your fortress

When the night winds are driving on

Be the one to light the way

Bring you home
Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart

I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were 

Now my hands can’t reach that far

I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take the world alone

I know that in my weakness I am strong, but

It’s your love that brings me home
Brother let me be your shelter

I’ll never leave you all alone

I can be the one you call

When you’re low

Brother let me be your fortress

When the night winds are driving on

Be the one to light the way

Bring you home
And when you call and need me near

Sayin’ where’d you go?

Brother I’m right here

And on those days when the sky begins to fall

You’re the blood of my blood

We can get through it all
Brother let me be your shelter

I’ll never leave you all alone

I can be the one you call

When you’re feelin’ low

Brother let me be your fortress

When the night winds are driving on

Be the one to light the way

Bring you home
Brother let me be your shelter

I’ll never leave you all alone

I can be the one you call

When you’re low

Brother let me be your fortress

When the night winds are driving on

Be the one to light the way

Bring you home

Be the one to light the way

Bring you home