I lean not on my own understanding.

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3: 5–6

I’ve been thinking about the path the Lord has established for my life and the decisions I have made along the way. The longer I stay on this path, the more I realize that the Lord will lead me into both good situations and not-so-good situations. Sometimes, the latter makes me question the Lord’s voice and His benevolence.

Often, I become frustrated with the Lord because I earnestly follow Him but the path is treacherous. I write statements like this one in my journal: “I try so hard to listen to your voice and do everything you ask of me, yet I encounter and I am stuck in these awful situations that are no fault of my own. I’m just following your voice—doing what you ask me to do—and I am miserable because of it.”

Later, the Lord showed me that if I had known what I would encounter before I encountered it, I probably would not have gone. I would never experience hardships that forced me to rely on the Lord and no one else, I would never meet people who became my close friends, and I would never learn the lessons and gain the tools that would equip me for future experiences.

The Lord knows that I will obey when He says “go” or “wait” or “stop” or “slow down” or “move faster.” In the past, I went even though I was completely clueless about what would happen along the way. In my naivety, I believed that nothing bad would happen to me or that I would not be disappointed by opportunities or people the Lord wanted me to encounter.

Many years have passed since the Lord and I first began this journey, and I am learning that some situations the Lord leads me into will be filled with disappointment, failure, or constant struggle. But experiencing challenges does not mean that He did not lead me or that I went the wrong direction. Nor does it always mean that I have sinned and am being punished. When the path is difficult, I am learning to remember Proverbs 3:5–6. I will not lean on my superficial understanding of the path. Rather, I will trust that there is purpose in the Lord’s direction and begin to ask Him about the lessons He wants me to learn so that I make the most of every experience.

Psalm 37:23 says, “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” Sometimes, those steps may lead to battle, but I will be victorious because He led me there and is with me. Other times, those steps may lead to a great joy or an abundant harvest. He is with me in those times, too.

It is not easy, but I am learning to be satisfied with wherever the Lord directs my steps because the path He has established for my life is not necessarily about my happiness or comfort. Rather, it is about obedience, trust, a refinement of my character, and partnering with the Lord to accomplish His plan for the earth.

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Do you remember when you fell in love with Me?

heartbook

On Tuesday, I was preparing  for work and listening to worship music, but I was not focused on the Lord. Countless anxious thoughts raced through my mind, and the Lord spoke, interrupting me.

“Rachel,” He said. “Do you remember when you started to fall in love with Me?”

“I do,” I said, and I smiled.

“You would sing to me when you walked from the library to your dorm late at night after you finished studying. One day, the time came when you didn’t stop singing when someone walked by. You sang anyway, even though you’re not a great singer.”

I remembered those days.

“And your senior year in college, you would stay up until three in the morning reading your Bible and journaling even though you had to wake up at seven.”

I remembered that, too.

“And when you worked in Washington, D.C., you would go out of your way to pray for others because I asked you to. And you would lay on your floor and listen to music about me, and I would be there with you. And when you took the long, dark walk to the metro after really hard days at work, I held your hand. Do you remember those days?”

I remember those days very, very well. Although those days were years ago, they feel like they happened yesterday.

By reminding me of our history together—those days when I fell in love—the Lord reminded me of the foundation I should stand on during all times of life. For too long, I have stood on worries, fears, and anxieties about situations that are far beyond my ability to repair or control, and as a result, I am swallowed alive. There is only one structure to stand upon, and that is the Lord’s love. It is a foundation He has proven mighty, faithful, and indestructible throughout our years together. He is always kind, and He has always been there. He’s my faithful friend.

 

 

My Parents Didn’t Talk About Race

When I was a child, my parents did not talk about race. They did not talk about black people or white people or or any other group of people. Therefore, they also did not talk about how these groups dress, look, act, talk, and are “supposed to be.”

This does not mean that my parents did not talk about their life experiences, though these discussions happened when I was a teenager. I can remember a few times when my mom talked about desegregation, which occurred when she was in high school, or how some of her relatives were so light that they could pass as white people. One relative was in the Coast Guard, and no one knew he was actually a black man. Other relatives could try on hats in stores without placing a piece of paper between their heads and the hat. Once, my dad mentioned that when his family took long car drives, they packed food because they could not stop at certain restaurants along the way. The stories they shared were nestled into historical contexts, and therefore, they were not designed to shame any particular group. My parents simply stated what happened.

Because my parents did not talk about race, I learned about it at school. My first encounter was in the first grade. I remember standing by a bookshelf with a poster taped on the side. It said something about friendship, and two characters shaped like jellybeans, which had eyes and stick figure legs and arms, were featured on it. One jellybean was tall, lean and purple, the other was short, stumpy and yellow. Looking back, this poster was obviously a commentary on diversity in friendship.

My classmate and I stood beside this poster. She asked me very directly, “Are you mixed?” I had no idea what she meant.

“Mixed?” I thought. “What does that mean?” Then, I gave her the answer I thought she was looking for, “Yes.”

Others asked me the same question in elementary school, and still not understanding what they meant, I responded in the same fashion: I provided the answer I thought my classmates wanted to hear.

I was in the eighth grade when I realized why people asked me if I was mixed. I was at a family reunion in North Carolina standing beside a cousin. Our arms were close together, and I stopped to consider our complexions. Suddenly, I understood, “I’m so light. I thought I blended in with everyone else. I stick out so much.”

I was shocked, disappointed, and felt rather silly. I felt different in a way I had not before. I didn’t feel like I blended into my black extended family, which I really wanted to do, or like I blended in with my white friends anymore. I felt like I was in limbo, and on many days, I still feel that way.

Also, why had it taken me so long to consider how light I am? I wondered if that made me naïve, but looking back, I think it was a blessing because I could form my opinions about race on my own terms. Besides, I grew up in a family in which various shades of blackness was normal, and I wasn’t taught to regard our family as an anomaly. My core family is a variety of colors ranging from lightly tan to pecan tan, which is what my mother calls my dad.

As a kid, I knew we were black—it was what we checked on forms—but other than that, I never considered that my skin tone would confuse the outside world. That it would make people think random things like I was dating my brother or even married to my father because they are much darker than me. I didn’t realize that people wouldn’t look beyond our skin tones and see that our noses and cheekbones are structured similarly. I didn’t consider that all they would see was color.

When I was in college, Barack Obama ran for president, and race emerged into the sociopolitical arena more than it ever had in my lifetime, and people I respected suddenly expressed opinions about race that baffled and offended me. I asked my mom, “Why didn’t you and dad talk about race when we were growing up?”

She responded, “Because my parents didn’t.”

I was partially satisfied with her response. I liked that her family didn’t fuel racial stereotypes at home and that my parents continued that tradition, but I wondered if they should have prepared me.

When Donald Trump ran for president, the race issue exploded again, and I asked my mom the same question as she stood in front of the kitchen sink wearing yellow rubber gloves. “Why didn’t you and dad talk about race when we were kids?”

“Because my parents didn’t,” she said. “And because you would see how people were.”

Have I seen how people are? I think so. I have had a fair share of encounters with racism that made me realize that we are all raised differently and develop notions about “the other,” whether “the other” be white, brown, yellow, black, rich, poor, or any other classification.  I’ve encountered many people of all backgrounds who’ve projected the stereotypes they learned onto me. (I talk about my experiences with racism in “Racism in America: The Wound that Festers.”)

I often wonder what I will say to my kids. Will I not talk about race and allow them to learn about it for themselves? Or, will I warn them that some people will carry unfair notions about the color of their skin and that they must learn to navigate those encounters with wisdom and grace?

If our country continues to segregate along the lines of race, I may have to break the family tradition.

The Stone That Exceeded Great

Jesus tomb
Photo: ThoughtCo

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been moved away.”

Mark 16:1–4

I read this passage in a devotional about five years ago. At the time, I faced a situation that I could not rectify, redeem, or change on my own. The last verse has stayed with me since that time: “…the stone, which was very large, had been moved away.” Some versions say that the stone was “exceeding great.” That phrase makes me feel the unbearable burden of encountering the stone that was infinitely beyond their strength to move.

In the years that followed, the Lord brought that verse to mind when I prayed about anything that was undoubtedly beyond my ability to change, control, make happen, or influence. He reminded me of the verse this evening. I want to share what He said, which I wrote as a letter from Him to me:

Rachel—

Trust me. Trust me to move on your behalf. Have I not done so in the past when you committed your ways to me? Your fears make sense for this context, just like it made sense that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James were anxious about the stone that awaited them. It really was impossible for them to move it. But, they made the journey to my tomb anyway because they loved me.

On the way, they believed two things would greet them: a stone so great that they could not move it and my dead body. But two miracles they did not expect were complete before they arrived: I had risen from the dead, and the stone was moved.

So, be encouraged, Rachel. My angel armies and I go before you. We have miracles planned far in advance that you cannot imagine that will make you wonder why you were ever worried, anxious, and concerned in the first place. But, you must trust me. Trust me. Trust me… trust me. Trust that I will arrive to the point in time that worries you before you arrive there, and that a resolution will already be in place when you get there. I am working for your good because I love you. Do not fear the future. It is glorious, and I am there.

I love you—

Father

The One Form of Darkness that is Good

thrasher

This spring, a thrasher, which is a tan bird about the size of a robin, made a nest in a bush outside of a window in my kitchen nook. It was the perfect vantage point. I’d peak through the blinds, careful not to scare the bird, who I named JoJo, to see how she was doing. She sat on her nest faithfully.

One day, I saw JoJo perched on the back patio, watching me wash the dishes through the wide, bay window. I stared back. “What are you doing off your nest, JoJo?” I asked through the window. “You better sit back down.” I dried my hands, walked to the window and looked through the blinds. The eggs had hatched. JoJo had not abandoned her eggs; rather, she was hunting for breakfast.

For days, I watched the brood. At first they looked like fuzzy raisins. “You’re so ugly, you’re cute,” I told them through the glass. In time, I could distinguish their wings and legs, and their feathers were more defined. When they napped, they huddled together so closely that I could not distinguish one bird from the next.

JoJo and her husband, who I named Chip, dedicated their days to feeding their children. When JoJo or Chip hopped to the nest, the babies flung their necks in the air, beaks wide open—just like in the nature documentaries I enjoy watching. Then, JoJo or Chip would drop food into their beaks and fly away.

One Friday afternoon as I drove home from work, the sky darkened and the clouds threatened to rain. I headed to the store in hope of beating the rain, but there was a downpour. I worried about the birds in the nest. What if they drowned? As soon as I got home, I went to the window and peeked through the blinds. There was JoJo, sitting on her babies.

JoJo saw me and flew away. Instantly, the babies’ heads popped up, and they flung their beaks open, ready for their afternoon snack. They were more than fine.

I chuckled to myself, imagining what it must have been like for the four siblings, mooshed together in the darkness. Maybe it was hot and smelly. Maybe they poked each other with their beaks and talons. Maybe it was so tight that none of them could move.

It is likely that the baby birds did not realize that their lives were in jeopardy because they had no concept of downpours or death. They were merely aware of their hunger and the cramped, hot environment their mother created as she sat on them. JoJo, however, was keenly aware of the destruction that storms bring, and she knew the temporary discomfort her babies would face outweighed death by storm.

JoJo’s expert protection reminded me of Psalm 91:4-6.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

There are seasons of life in which we do not sense the threat of danger. We eat, we sleep, and we spend time with our families—much like JoJo, Chip and the baby birds We have a comfortable routine, and the weather is pleasant.

But in time, darkness gradually emerges, and while we may notice the change, we are not overly concerned because our lives continue as they did before. Like the baby birds, we continue to eat and sleep. Our routines stay the same, even though our environment is changing. But the Lord, who sees and understands all things, knows that the gradual change in our environment is more than shifting shadows; the shadows are warnings of a great storm. Like JoJo, He covers us with His feathers because He knows that we do not have the strength or resources to survive the storm.

While the darkness may seem vaguely familiar, we are distracted by the discomfort we experience. In many cases, we wrestle with the dark weight that rests above us. We yell, punch, and cry at the weight because we are hungry and scared and confused. “Why is it so dark? Why is my life so uncomfortable? What did I do?” We complain and shout these questions into the darkness, but we do not realize that the darkness is not punishment, or some form of evil or violence, but protection.

We are taught to resist darkness, but there is only one form of darkness that is good—and that is the one that emerges because the Lord covers us with Himself to guard our lives because we are too helpless to protect ourselves.

The Man Who Sang “I have decided to follow Jesus”

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Credit: Foggy Bottom Association

I heard “I have decided to follow Jesus” today, and it reminded of the man who sang at the Foggy Bottom metro stop in Washington, D.C.

In late 2012, I stepped off the Foggy Bottom escalator on a grey, cold morning. I heard a powerful, quiet voice, and I stopped and looked behind me. A man with glasses stood near a short, stone wall. He wore khaki pants, and if I remember correctly, he had layered a faded jean jacket over a hooded sweatshirt. There was a brown box at his feet. He sang,

I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus.

No turning back. No turning back.

I walked a little slower so that I could soak in the song and fought the urge to cry. The words reminded me to keep going and to be faithful because I was doing the right thing.

I wanted to linger, but I walked faster because work started soon. I thought about the man at the metro. It was unusual for someone to sing songs about the Lord in public, particularly first thing in the morning. I wondered if he was homeless. I wondered if he had a wife and children. I wondered about the life experiences that compelled him to sing with so much emotion.

That winter, I took the metro more often than I took the bus because I hoped to hear the man at Foggy Bottom singing.

I did not hear him each time I got off the train, but one morning, I armed myself with the only cash in my wallet and prayed that he would be there. I was nervous as the escalator reached the top, but as I listened as intently as I could, I heard his song above the traffic.

Nervous, I walked to where he stood and put the money in the box. He looked at me and nodded slightly. I wanted to say, “You have no idea what this song means to me. Hearing you sing this song makes me want to cry,” but I didn’t. Instead, I replied with a small smile, turned around, and walked to work slowly.

For reasons that are too numerous to explain, I needed the constant reminder that I had decided to follow Jesus, come what may. I was learning that following Jesus came with great costs and that it was sometimes a very lonely road. But that year, I also learned that while I had the option to turn back, I didn’t want to. I had chosen to follow Him, and even though the road was one I probably would not have chosen if I had know what lied ahead, I still did not want to turn back because Jesus was not behind me but ahead. Turning around would mean denying Him and shattering my testimony. The thought of doing either of those things filled me with fear, so I kept moving even though I did not know where I was going.

Sometimes, I still wonder about the man at the metro. I like to think that he’s still there, singing a song that commuters need to hear, encouraging them to keep going, come what may. At the same time, I hope that he, too, moved on to his next destination.

Spring Came Early

Regent Campus

Last year, it took a while for spring to arrive. Cool temperatures and weeks of rain lingered well into May. I would stare at the clouds and think, “It’s spring now. What’s with the depressing weather?” Spring arrived suddenly one day. The clouds and rain moved away, and they were replaced by clear skies and temperatures in the eighties.

This year, Spring has come very early. I caught the first whiff of Spring in early to mid-February when I heard a bird singing one morning. I expected his anticipation to fade as it usually does and reemerge in March, but unlike last year, it did not. Frequent days that reached the lower and upper seventies followed. And when February concluded with a day in the upper seventies, and March began with a day in the mid-eighties, it became clear from the permanently-cheerful birds in my neighborhood and the flowers on the trees that spring would stay.

Spring’s early arrival makes me wonder if the Lord is telling us something. Perhaps he is saying, figuratively, “It’s been a long season, and you’ve had enough winter. Enough clouds and cool temperatures. You’ve had far too many lonely days, trudging through blizzards, and hiking up treacherous, snowy mountains. It’s time for a break from all of that. It’s time for a new day, a fresh season. It’s time to enjoy life again. To be happy, to be at peace, and to experience adventure.”

Perhaps winter ended early because He could not wait any longer for us to experience the grand surprises that lie ahead, just like a father who excitedly awaits the moment we encounter the good things he has saved for us.