thin margins.

Putting yourself in a place where if God doesn’t come through, you’re screwed.

I forget where I originally heard that, but it stuck with me. That’s what we talked about in church today, in 2 Samuel 15 where David is suddenly back to his normal, God-fearing self after his devastating mistake with Bathsheba, and repents yet is on the run again because of something he cannot control: his son Absalom is trying to take over. Knowing that he was going to have to suffer consequences for his sins and being ready for whatever that meant (because real repentance relinquishes all the rights to control the circumstances of the consequences…love that), he prayed and wept as he left his home.

He found himself again in the wilderness, fully dependent on God to provide for him and guide him. The first mention in 10 years of David praying to God is right at this moment of exile. This is where David thrived. In the wilderness. I love the irony of that.

For whatever reason, God always has me in the wilderness.

You would think I’d get a break, maybe some time where I am sitting there with a substantial emergency fund saved up, or a picture of what’s going to happen in the next few months, or get involved in a project that has a guaranteed good outcome, or at least an outcome that couldn’t potentially leave me homeless living in a box someday.

For some reason, he chooses to let me live with “thin margins.” I love that concept that Pastor Frank taught today. I have come to believe that letting me live with thin margins has not only been Christ’s greatest mercy to me but in a strange, counter-cultural way, I can honestly say this is my favorite way to live, which seems weird, considering I’m saying I love living like I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, or how I’m going to survive the year, month, day, etc.

Many people long for financial security, even thinking their motives are right because “God wants them to live in prosperity.” I believe God wants the best for us, but He does not always think the best means wealth. Most of us, when given wealth, will become slaves to it. God trusted David with wealth, yet did not always give him prosperity. He was always on the run, life was never comfortable for long for him, always full of adversity. There are other ways that God helps us to know him better, like when he gives us the gift of adversity.

My whole life has been full of thin margins. I left my familiar homeschool world simply because I felt like God said to go to public school. When I graduated high school, I walked into a future that no one else around me had chosen, at a college 12 hours away that I couldn’t really pay for and only knew 1 person. When I graduated college I entered a year of fundraising what looked like an impossible over $33,000/yr, while working a minimum wage job and barely surviving. Before I left for Germany, I experienced some devastating losses that I felt like I’d never come back from. Then I successfully moved to a country across an ocean without knowing a soul or even knowing how to do the job I was called to. I lived solely for 3 years on others’ donations and whenever I lost a donor, the margin shrunk. Job security within the shrinking European military world was shaky at best and I was reminded of this shrinking margin at every staff conference. I had a huge scare when I defaulted on a student loan and would’ve gone home if it weren’t for a very generous friend that God sent to me, like God sent Hushai to David in 2 Samuel 15.

Recently I came back to the states and left my entire life over there not even knowing if I would be making enough to live or if the ministry I would try to restart would even survive long term. Some people wondered if I should’ve just stayed over there, or should’ve gotten a back-up job. Thanks to generous donors who have continued or started giving to me in this new endeavor the Lord has called me to, I am surviving on part-time salary right now. Last month, though, the paperwork didn’t go through for my raise that I was desperately waiting for, and thus I have spent the last month barely making it, and even in this current week I have been struggling to make it just seven days until my new paycheck. I have no security in money right now because I don’t have any money, or even health insurance. I don’t even know if Young Life will make it in Northwest Georgia, though so far the Lord has confirmed over and over, we still are working towards what we would consider “making it” and will probably be for awhile.

However, the way I have learned to depend on God throughout my life and right now has been priceless. I honestly do not wish for wealth, or security of any kind, because like David, I thrive spiritually in these times of thin margins. When things get comfortable in my life, when I have money, or think I know the future (“If we knew what was in the future we would never live in the present” -from Heritage’s graduation speech yesterday), or am involved in an already successful project, or things are just “easy,” I tend to fall away from the Lord. I tend to put confidence in myself and I tend to be vulnerable to sin.

When my margins are thin, when God just has to come through or I am in big, big trouble, I am on my knees like David. I am asking him for help and guidance like David. I am depending on him, leaning on him for everything. I am seeing answers to prayers, I am reading His word, and I am seeing others’ through his eyes. I am so thankful for thin margins and wouldn’t have it any other way. As we sang “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” today I cried tears of gratitude for what most people dread and try to avoid their whole lives: thin margins.  I pray that I would always put myself in a place of thin margins; where if He doesn’t come through, I’m screwed. Because He always, always will.

He is, after all, the Provider.

seeing God in the good.

So I drank some coffee and took Excedrine to fight off my second migraine this week so I’m still pretty awake at the moment. Thought I’d use some of this time to post some of my gratitude list, in the spirit of November’s Thanksgiving. Ever since I read Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts I’ve started the year off listing things I’m grateful for. I am currently on #708 and know I will reach at least 1,000 by the end of the year! Life isn’t without pain and this isn’t about ignoring pain. My last couple weeks have been far from easy. There have been goodbyes, annoying headaches, and overwhelming amount of work to do, frustrating roadblocks,  a friend is currently distancing from me, I haven’t slept or exercised enough or eaten super well. Etc. But here’s what focusing on the crappy stuff does. It just creates a spirit of complaining. Worst of all, it causes you to miss the good and it trains your eyes to see the bad. It’s amazing what listing the good things can do for your soul and for the way you look at life.

Some of my highlights from the past couple of weeks…

642. Father Fred asking me to share thoughts on prayer with teenagers in his Catholic religious education class.

650. People pointing out my spiritual gifts at Bible study.

659. Phil Stacey & Trevor Hager leading worship at staff conference.

662. My staff goodbye and all the words of affirmation given to me.

668. Rapping some old school DC Talk around the bonfire with Phil and Trevor.

669. A random and meaningful bear hug from a friend.

672. Making my first-ever work-related phone call to a longtime friend who will soon be a coworker.

676. A student reading me her poem about bullying and having self-worth rooted in what God thinks about you.

685. The Shack.

690. Dancing at the military ball.

691. Snuggle time with the bestie talking about how cool God is.

699. The awesome Eagles game against the Raiders.

703. A volunteer leader saying that being around all of us leaders is uplifting.

704. Drew Holcomb’s music.

In her club talk the other night, one of my leaders spoke about how we always ask if God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? when we should also, and maybe instead, be asking, Why is there so much good in the world? Everything good comes from God. I’m so bad at looking for the good. I’m an expert at looking for the bad, inside and outside myself. But when we look for the good, we see God Himself. I want to see more of Him and less of the crap in the world and in myself. There is so much joy in gratitude. Sometimes I look at what I’ve written and feel incredibly selfish and self-involved, and I miss all the things God is trying to show me with each of those things on the list. I feel like with each tiny thing on my list He is saying, “I know the bad stuff is hard. But I want to show you some good things to encourage you, to redeem the bad, to let You know that I am here and that I love you through the hard things. Don’t give up.” He does that throughout the entire Bible, too. He is always telling the Israelites to build altars and stuff to remind themselves of how He delivered them in the past, so that when they run up against something else that’s difficult and painful they can look bad and remember their deliverance and God’s goodness. God knew we’d easily forget, easily focus on the hard stuff. Practicing gratitude is like the modern-day version of building an altar. I don’t write things down to check a box. I write them down so that my negatively-focused soul will remember my God and know He is with me in the present just as He was with me in the past.

You are good, You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love, You are love
On display for all to see
You are light, You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope, You are hope
You have covered all my sin

You are peace, You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy, You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life, You are life,
In You death has lost its sting

Oh, I’m running to Your arms,
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

My heart will sing no other name
Jesus, Jesus

Forever Reign by Hillsong

Roadblocks and windows

I was meeting with a parent for coffee one day, one of my favorite things to do, when a bird flew awkwardly and clumsily through the open window of the coffee shop, landing on the ground near some tables and chairs. It took us a second or 2 to realize what in the world all that noise was. I’m sure it took the bird a few seconds too. The mom took off her sweatshirt even knowing she’d probably get some weird bird disease on it and gathered the little injured thing up in it gently and we headed to the vet. We weren’t walking long before it magically recovered from its bird concussion and flew away. We just shrugged.

This week I feel like I’ve been flying into about, oh, 1937134510384 glass windows.

Government shut down. Post shut down. Background checks. Trying to get a medical bill re-sent to me as I am referred to one person, then another, then another, then a phone number, and passed around to 3 more people. Plans I make for fun trips keep falling apart as people back out. I’ve been spending my work days mostly sending emails, filling out paperwork, making phone calls, and waiting. Not exactly fulfilling parts of the job. Just this morning, my bus route was disrupted and I was late to a staff meeting because of a bomb threat to the train station. I felt all kinds of derailed (sorry- pun, couldn’t help it). Even something like the printer not working was sending me into mini-rage blackouts.

Yesterday, as I was complaining, our priest, who is awesome, convictingly sat me down in his office and simply said, “Laura, if you really want to do this job, you’re just gonna have to decide to deal with it.”

Sigh. 

We think birds are stupid because they keep flying into windows, but look at it from the bird’s perspective. You see the other side and you think you can totally make it, but your perspective is all wrong because, well, you’re just a bird, and frankly windows don’t make any sense whatsoever to you. What’s a window? How does it work? What’s glass? Why can I see through it but not go through it? A bird will never understand windows. Period.

I will never understand roadblocks, disappointments, waiting, walls, and windows. Period. I am just a human. I can’t see that far. I can’t comprehend the big picture.

Today I woke up and asked Jesus for a better day, and I don’t know why but He gave it to me. I felt like I was soaring through the day. However, I can’t decide if good stuff actually happened or if I was just not as focused on the crappy stuff and actually looked for and saw the good stuff today. What about the days where I can’t see grace? When I’m dazed and confused from hitting all the frustrating walls and forget how to fly? Sometimes I feel guilty for how long it takes me to get back up on my feet.

But I think that’s when Jesus carries me in His sweatshirt, even if I’ll get it dirty. He felt my dirty sins on the cross already and He’s all like, “Whatever, I’ll wash it later, not important”. He’ll carry me until I’m ready to fly, no matter how long it takes. He doesn’t mind, He’s already decided to give me all the help I need until I’m ready to see His grace and see that I’m not really hopeless. My identity is not in my job and if I’m doing something that feels “purposeful” or not. My identity is not in my relationships and whether they are going well or how many people I still have around. I can still have joy and full, true life because He’s safely and gently carrying stupid, confused, fragile little me around and I can trust Him not to drop me. That’s how I can “deal with it” when life throws roadblocks at me. It may take me awhile, I might not bounce back right away, I might panic that He’s gonna drop me and need to hear His reassurance to me over and over again, but He is eternally patient and understands.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-11

If you really, truly, know you are deeply loved by someone who is compassionate and strong and gentle and powerful, you can straight up take on anything.

welcome home sky soldiers!

Nine months ago some of my closest friends here went to go fight in a war. Today we welcomed them home. After signing on my German friends (and one Irish friend visiting one of them) to the post, we arrived early, expecting it to start at 1500. False. Then we realized that most welcome home ceremonies end up being late, because we have to wait for the soldiers to get there from the airport. The ceremony didn’t start until two hours later. We were getting anxious! However, I can’t really explain to you what it was like to just sit there and people watch at something like this. Moms herded their children to a seat, some kids had made signs for their daddies, some were carrying balloons, and some were wearing t-shirts with their daddy’s photo on it. They handed out American flags and pins to the crowd, and even my German friends waved theirs proudly. I saw a couple of my high school kids there too, getting ready to welcome home their dads. It was an amazing sight and an amazing feeling as the anticipation and happiness in the air was contagious.

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My high school friend Tori and her family

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Setting up

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Kat, my new Irish friend, Salome, and Jess, having fun “being American”

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DSC_0020The German/American crew waiting patiently

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Suddenly and without warning, the curtain slowly went up, and the sight of over 100 combat boots standing in formation representing friends, daddies, mommies, husbands, and wives was enough to make me tear up and get goosebumps. As they stood right in front of us, they weren’t supposed to smile and we had to wait. It was torture! My friend Chaplain Martindale offered a prayer and the post Commander said a few words but dismissed us fast! I took a video- the whole ceremony was only about 3 minutes long (sorry for the blurryness):


It’s impossible not to be proud to be an American after that. And to enjoy the glorious reunions!

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DSC_0031Jonathan came bearing German gifts 🙂

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The Huisjen kids (whose missionary parents run the Hospitality House- a ministry to soldiers) missed Karl

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Monte and Brook

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He sets the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6

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Snapped this one as we were leaving- don’t know them but this was beautiful.

So grateful to God for bringing my friends home safe, and grateful for what they do for us. Being in the Army is hard in many ways, but these guys do it with an incredible reliance on God to get them through each day. So glad to have them back with us! The reason I think things like this strike at our emotional core is that we are relational people. We are not meant to be apart. This ceremony was a reminder to me of the beauty of the reunion we will have in heaven one day with everyone we love. The anticipation builds.

ministry happenings

Tacky Prom. When I was a Young Life leader in Northwest Georgia, we had an event called Tacky Prom every year. All our students dressed tacky  and we crowned the King and Queen and danced to crazy music like the YMCA and Macarena and did the Limbo and everyone loved it. Since Tacky Prom was one of my favorite Young Life events EVER, I decided that the military brats in Bamberg should not miss out on it. So, we had Bamberg High School’s First Annual Tacky Prom this past Thursday, and it was awesome! Parents came through at the last minute to provide tons of finger food, Shea was a great DJ, we had awesome Club Lotto (our raffle) tacky prizes, and took photos in front of the Tacky Prom backdrop. Even though it got hot in there, our kids danced most of the time and were exhausted at the end. I had so much fun!

Track Meet. Saturday I went to the track meet in Vilseck and saw a bunch of Bamberg students there. We hung out and I although I missed seeing most of their events, it was a nice sunny day to be outside and hanging out on the bleachers. Several of them were surprised to see me there, an hour and fifteen minutes from Bamberg! I met up with Club Beyond staff members Diane (who has been in Germany only a month- we were roomies at CD school in Colorado!), Josiah, and Storey and we spent the day together. So good to hang out with staff people who know where you are coming from!

Guitar lessons. I’ve started teaching guitar lessons to one of my middle school girls and a younger sister of one of my other middle school girls. It has been going really well and I’ve really been enjoying the chance to pass along the skills I learned when I was about their age from my youth pastor (shout out to Rick!) as well as get to know them better.

Middle school girls small group. I’ve started meeting with a group of quality girls on Fridays for milkshakes and we just started going through a Bible study called “Stick: Glue Yourself to Godly Friends.” It’s been good discussion so far and is definitely a topic that all of us want to learn more about, especially since these girls have been friends for a relatively long time with each other.

Middle School Adventure Camp. We leave THIS Saturday with our middle school students to go to camp in Belgium! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to do some rock climbing, kayaking, laser tag, caving, and tons more fun stuff with my girls. It’s going to be a great chance for all of us to learn more about loving Jesus and each other. PLEASE be praying for us as we head out!

For those of you supporters who are making these things possible, THANK YOU and know that without your help, I could not be here ministering to these military brats that I have already come to love so much.

one thousand gifts

One of my favorite speakers and writers, Beth Moore, says a theophany is a visible manifestation of God.

This book is a theophany.

I’m just one chapter away from finishing it now and I’ve been taking it in for a month, slowly, savoring the treasures inside. Ann’s writing makes me want to dance a happy writer’s dance, kind of like the feeling I get reading the prose of Gilead or the poetry of Macrina. It’s. Just. So. Good. I think I have underlined 75% of the words in this book. For example:

A pickup drives into the lane. I watch from the window, two brothers meeting, talking, then hand gestures mirroring each other. I think of buried babies and broken, weeping fathers over graves, and a world pocked with pain, and all the mysteries I have refused, refused, to let nourish me. If it were my daughter, my son? Would I really choose the manna? I only tremble, wonder. With memories of gravestones, of combing fingers through tangled hair, I wonder too . . . if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our worls, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.
That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave. (p. 22)

I think what really makes this book worthy of the attention it’s been receiving is who Ann Voskamp is. To be honest, I wouldn’t pay as much attention to it if it were written by a name I already knew well. But Ann is a humble farmer’s wife who writes a blog. She agreed to do book club videos for each chapter that were filmed by two moms with a calling to encourage other Christian women, and her honesty and transparency are amazing to see. Let’s pray through all the popularity she’s gaining that the Lord will protect her heart.

The core of her book is about learning eucharisteo – a Greek word that means thanksgiving. As a self-proclaimed pessimist and complainer, this is really turning me upside-down- finding grace and joy in tragedy and in the everyday.