God, we’ll do anything.
Beware of these words. Do not let them fall from your mouth that is currently beseeching God for any plan, any direction, anyTHING to make this swampy fog of life disappear unless you are ready.
Somewhere over the rainbow of my early-30’s my tule fog started to swirl. Not much at first, but then thicker and more dense as I got older. Where I grew up we called this kind of fog hallelujah! because it meant a school delay. In California’s San Joaquin Valley this thick ground fog forms when moisture condenses overnight in the cool night air during fall, winter and into early spring. I remember my father driving us to school on a non-fog delay day where the air was a wall of white. Tule fog is the number one cause of weather-related accidents in California.¹
When your faux wood paneled station wagon is flinging itself down Stockdale Highway at 50 mph in a veritable wall of white, it’s a sixth grade wonder. When your real skin-covered skeleton is flinging its way through life at full-speed, ensconced in a tule fog-esque state of mind, it’s downright terrifying.
That’s where I was just shy of a decade ago. Terrified, blind, scared and defiant. I know what you’re thinking. Defiant?
The highway patrol advises motorists, when traveling in a fog bank, do not use your headlights because the glare from the reflection of the light on the fog makes it harder to see. So, keep your headlights off and drive slow, slow, slow. Of course, those of us who are defiant, we drive, shall we say, slow-ish. We brave the tule fog because we’ve been there, done that. Seasoned veterans of the road. No tule fog is going to stop me today!
I’m here to tell you when applying this same logic to your spiritual life, you’ll lose. Every time. As in, Hey God! I don’t need you! I’m good. All this awesomeness? Yep, all me.
As I type that tonight, I get chills.
God has worked on me for the last 8 years or so. He’s slapped me up one side and down the other. Listen to me, He says. He’s taken me by the shoulders and shaken me to the very core. Trust me, He begs. He’s rubbed my back and loved on me. You’re ok, He whispers. He took up residence in my chest cavity this past February. Remember when, he bluntly stated, at IF:Austin 2015.
I was with you then. Remember all that nasty stuff? Images hit me from all sides, like one of those flip books where you think the pictures are moving but it’s an optical illusion. Big, nasty decisions and small, gritty secrets. He knows them all and shows them all. Not to guilt or shame, but to show me how He was there with me. When I was dumb and scared, smart and successful. He had to let me flail in my failure first in order for me to be at this point, at this time in this place.
I was ready. I gave it all up and said: Anything. Anything, God.
The fog lifted. We’d been working on the fog, God and I, together. But, this last step into Anything-land blew it all away. And then I started qualifying my statement.
Anything but missions.
Anything but dirt and hot and dry.
Anything but vegan.
Anything but adoption.
Anything but bugs.
Anything except exactly what we have going on right now. Because, kids, job, mortgage, ex-spouses, custody, the dog, my new car, I just got a mani-pedi for IF:Austin. Etc. Etc. Etc.
You know, anything but all that, God. He gently reminded me that He needed my anything more than He needed my half-somethings. As in, it’s all or nothing. You can’t have it both ways, sister.
Since I uttered that most dangerous word, anything, I’m here to tell you how it feels to live fog-free. It’s both freeing and frightening because you know you can’t cheat God. You said, anything, and meant it. You used to joke about how you’d never be a missionary to Africa and that’s not so funny anymore. (In fact your husband about throws his back out whenever you tell this story. As in, wild gesticulation while uttering, ixnay on the issionarymay!) You said you’d never adopt. You said you’d never be caught dead in dreadlocks or at a Catholic mass or training for a marathon. Well, to be fair, none of these things have been asked of you, thankyouverymuchJesus.
We’ve surrendered our jobs, our marriage, our finances and our children. Our step into ministry, our friendships, our health and our safety. I’ve got two examples of this, both very recent.
About a month ago my husband was struggling at work. He was working in the oil industry and each day, as gas prices fell, so did his job security. It was taking a toll on his mental and physical health. One Sunday afternoon, he was late for a church meeting in which we were leading a part for the first time. I was furious until I saw him enter the restaurant. His pallor was grey; his left foot limping slightly. In the evenings, he’d come home from work, collapse into the recliner and sleep. I’d wake him for bed and he’d slur his words like a drunk. (He never drinks, ever.)
That Sunday evening, as I was rolling our big trashcan to the curb for pickup the next day, I prayed.
Hey, God. The hubs and I have been married only 5 years. I’d really like to be married for a long, long time. This job is killing him. Can you just make it really, really clear what we should do about it? We’ll do anything.
He was let go the next morning. (Since then, I’ve agreed to let him know when I’m praying BIG PRAYERS such as this.)
After a week of transition, sickness and recovery, I sat down to do the bills. Here we go, I thought. I’d taken this task over from him recently and had yet to really dig into his system. At the end of the evening, I was staring at all black numbers. No red. My job, which I love, was sufficient. I was able to tell my husband that he didn’t have to go back to work if he didn’t want to. It was the best gift I’ve ever given him to be able to say that. Since then, he’s launched his own consulting practice. He’s not even advertised and he’s booked work into the fall.
Taking a step into public authorship and pastoral ministry at the same time has proven a daunting task for the humility meter. My ability for eating crow has tripled as I stumble and bumble through the beginning stages of pastoral work. After writing about this journey for a little while, people from my past have emerged to remind me that “my character is not sufficient to lead Christians.” I mean, sure. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away from God. Nevertheless, I felt a tug to attempt to reconcile, or at least apologize and ask forgiveness for those I’d wronged and swept away in my attempt to clear the fog. My next question to God was about logistics, which is trivial to Him.
Seriously, why do I even bother? He works it out and I never see it coming!
On a work trip planned months ago, I reconciled with a former flame and asked for forgiveness in my part of our damaged relationship. Jesus sat right by me the entire time and I never spewed verbal vomit once! (This is a problem for me when the nerves kick in, truly.) I left that trip in awe of God’s timing and assistance. It buttressed my faith so that I could respond to a former long-term friend who had recently chimed in on my public blog page, angered by my recent step into ministry. She reminded me of some heinous decisions and vile behavior, all of which was true. Because, people, you never forget. The memory just gets less intense over time, thankfully. Until it’s in print and then you live it all over again, regrettably.
There’s no denying the depth of my stupidity, the jagged edges of my brokenness back then, I’ll tell you.
I’d let the message sit until after the first reconciliation conversation. God reminded me that He wanted me to briefly address the issue, not get into an email war, offer a sincere apology, ask for forgiveness and offer the chance to bring closure in person. (Sometimes, He’s really, really specific.) You see, I’d be in my hometown in two weeks anyway. (Note: Whomever does God’s travel arrangements is a genius. Einstein, perhaps?) I’m never in my hometown! Sometimes this anything business is quite inconvenient.
I wrote the email in the airport just before taking off for home. With a shaking hand I hit “send,” knowing I’d arrive home to a barrage of emails reminding me, once again, of my failure as a moral human.
Can I just tell you this? I’ve received nothing in return. Not a peep. (Until this blog post hits, I’m sure.)
Perhaps God does know best after all. Perhaps He does have our best interest at heart. Perhaps He protects us from evil but also makes us do our own dirty work from time to time. Every time I practice radical obedience, He never disappoints. He’s always got my back as long as I don’t turn mine on Him. When I walk out my anything, I always feel his presence the strongest.
The most dangerous word can also be the most freeing, the most fog-clearing: Anything.