Faithful Obedience by Christiana Hale

Christiana lives up to her name and I am grateful for that. We need more Christianas in this world!

Read and be encouraged to be faithful, to submit faithfully to the will of the Lord in your life. He is good. You can trust Him with all your life too.

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Receive, and Be Glad
By Christiana Hale

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad” (C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, PAGE).

We all dream. Daydreams and weird dreams. Dreams that are really aspirations. We hope and we plan to make those dreams a reality. I still remember, even now, the dreams I had when I was small. A six-year-old in pigtails who decided to become a circus performer (it was a short-lived dream though, destined to give way to the cowgirl phase). I still remember where I was when I decided to become a missionary to Africa or perhaps Indonesia. The dry yellow grass rattled and rustled around my knees, the smell of the hot dirt baking in the August sun, and the sheer, overwhelming weight of conviction that came to rest on my eleven-year-old heart. I was going to save souls. Then I was an awkward teenager, holing myself up in my room for hours typing away at my computer. One novel, then two flew from my fingertips, fueled by oceans of tea and sustained by the patience of my family as I disappeared into worlds of my own making. I would save souls through words printed in ink. Then I’m a shy Freshman college student, terrified and uncertain, dreaming only of straight A’s and maybe making new friends along the way. Mostly just dreaming of making it through another week without giving up and going home. Late twenties, two degrees later, and the dreams are grander again. Publish books, study at Oxford, become a great college professor, make a difference, make a name for myself – but secretly, the despair at not having a husband and children yet wrapped its bony fingers around my soul. Diversion tactics came into play. Nothing to see here. Move along please. Look at these other big, important things I’m working on. I’m happy you see. Dreams are coming true. I don’t really want…

We lie to ourselves all of the time.

I am thirty now. I did not look forward to turning thirty. Because I had finally stopped lying to myself and accepted fully that I had (and have) deep desires that are yet unfulfilled. Now what? What must I do with these?

The answer came with struggle, with prayer and tears and long walks in the cold chill months of north Idaho winters. It came when the ground was hard and brittle, when the bare tree branches scraped against the stars.

Plant them.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24, NKJV).

We plant dreams. Place them in the ground in faith. Let them fall and slide from your fingertips. You will let them go in any case. You can give them up in faith or they can be pried from your stubborn hands, fingers cracking in the effort to retain some semblance of control. Plant your dreams and give them to the One who can give the increase. The One who sends the showers and the springs. The One who sends blossoms.

But some dreams never bloom.

Some seeds go into the ground, never to be seen again. What about those?

Receive, and be glad.

Receive. And be glad.

What do we have that we have not received? The dreams and the planting. The repentance and forgiveness. The small joys and the large victories. The heights and the depths. Our Lord gives us gifts like these and calls us to plant and plant again. And the harvest is not always what we expect.

My Lord has broken my fingers. My grasping and my striving to keep my dreams in clenched fists has been destroyed in His grace. Pried open, laid bare, I am not ashamed to confess that vanity and pride were my close companions for many years. But my Lord is a Master Gardener and He has broken up hardened soil, pruned and ploughed, watered and re-sown. When I let Him sow in me, I find that my dreams have become more modest and held with open hands.

A husband. Family. Children. An inheritance in the Lord. Good things He hasn’t given me yet. Deeply sown desires, but laid open to the rays of the sun, simply waiting for the Lord to shed His grace upon them. To make them fruitful.

Have gratitude. Receive. And be glad.

I am small. And my dreams are small. God stitches us together by means of small things – small mercies, small joys, small fruitfulness. He uses the small, foolish things of this world to put to shame the proud. When I think back on my life, complete with my many foolish dreams and petty weaknesses, I see a rich tapestry of God’s goodness and faithfulness. My childhood was stitched with crimson and shot through with starlight. My mother reading Narnia stories to me and my sister before bed. Creeping out of bed in the middle of the night to crouch by my open window and watch the moonlight on the river and listen to the howling of the coyotes echo against the mountains. My favorite corner of the old library. I can still picture where the faded green biographies of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone used to sit, the ones I’d check out over and over again.

Blankets on a trampoline on a warm summer night, stargazing with friends and talking about the future and the past and the promises of God. A field of flowers. A friend with babies. Sunset-chasing, meteor-shower-watching. Bittersweet farewells, heartbreakingly happy reunions. Death and new life and aching joints and late-night talks with roommates who confront your sin. Confession and repentance. Kind eyes and loud laughs. Weariness and good sleep and good coffee. Steam curling off a bowl of soup on a crisp autumn day. Days when everything goes right. Days when everything goes dreadfully wrong. Heartbreak and healing and heartbreak again.

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness.”

I am not where I dreamed that I would be. And I know I am not the only one. His ways are not our ways. Praise the Lord! I would not have written my story this way. It is infinitely better than I would have planned. Even the trials that He has crafted for me. Because all of it, the heights and depths, are shaping me into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. My life is not a series of dreams coming true – it is the process of becoming true. I am being re-made into a true woman, the one that He wants me to be. With every chip of the chisel, every spade piercing earth, I am being fashioned.

How?

Accepting all things with gratitude as coming from the hand of a loving Father.

Planting dreams in hope, letting them fall to the ground and praying for a harvest.

Submitting to His will in joyful obedience in the small things. Sacrificing dreams. For I am small and this is good.

Laughing through the smallness and the joys and the sorrows and the trials. This is His will for me: gratitude and joy, obedience and fruitfulness.

I don’t have children. But I have ninety students that sit under my guidance. I have dear friend who (for some reason) ask for my advice. I have little sisters and older sisters beyond number. I have written a book. I am writing more. I’ve made meals beyond number and picked flowers for the sick and weary. I’ve been fruitful. He has made me fruitful. I’ve received and so I give. All of this is because it is He who works in me. He plants and waters and sows and weeds and tends.

So receive. And be glad.

For “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

*****

Faithful Obedience by Elise Warner

Elise is one of the of those women that does the hard things with a tender heart. She and her husband have been close friends to my children and they all say that she is a very special friend, a loyal friend, a godly friend. Today I’m honored to have her share with us in our series, Faithful Obedience.

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Perfect Grace and Blueberry Muffins
by Elise Warner

My whole body shivered uncontrollably as I curled up on my side, trying to position the pillow perfectly to cradle my neck without putting any pressure on the screaming nerves and muscles. My husband gently placed the heat pack on my shoulders as he has countless times over the course of our relationship. I smiled, but I wanted to cry. Not this week, Lord. Not this week. Why now? It was Josiah’s first week of medical school. And it wasn’t going according to plan.

If you were a fly on the wall of my home, you would quickly realize that I have a thing for charts. There is a wall calendar, a daily planner, a work to-do list, and an ideal daily schedule in the room with me as I write. My brain craves order. And while that is not a sin, control has often been my idol—an idol that is never satisfied and leaves me filled with anxiety as I try to predict what the next day, month, year will hold.

I was nineteen when the subtle theme of needing to surrender and trust my God became a resounding cymbal. Now I like to joke with my family that my stubborn do-it-all attitude meant God needed to slap me upside the head to stop me from running off a cliff. And he did it through a pinched nerve in my neck that set off a chain reaction leaving me bed-ridden for a short time and physically limited for, well, seven years now.

Josiah and I spent the weeks leading up to the start of medical school carefully preparing. We wrote down principles, guidelines, and (of course) schedules to help us navigate this new season. I thought we were ready. That I had everything in place to control how this week would go. I had even planned out what I needed to pack for his lunches and how I would make him blueberry muffins for his first day as a surprise breakfast item. I had everything ready, all my ducks in a row, and I was going to make starting school easy for my husband.

Instead, I spent the first three days in worst pain than I have been in for over a year—exhausted, unable to stomach much food, barely able to hold my five month old without feeling sick. I got behind in my Bible reading—little boxes left unchecked. The idea of blueberry muffins was laughable. I needed my husband to put our daughter down, rock her, play with her while his pile of schoolwork loomed large on the desk in our room.

Thursday I woke up feeling physically better. Spiritually, I was grumpy. I struggled to pray out my frustration, to confess my anxiety, to find gratitude, to believe that the Lord could work through me. How can I be a good mom if I can’t even play with my daughter? How can I be a good wife, run a hospitable home, bake those stupid muffins if I am so easily debilitated? I grudgingly opened my Bible, knowing that I needed to preach truth to myself. I checked my reading plan to see what I needed to catch up on. 2 Corinthians.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

“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 in my weakness 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: 9-10

How gracious is our Lord? He uses my small trial to topple my idol over and over. And when I come back to him broken, frustrated, and confused—he always meets me and reminds me of the kind of God I am learning to surrender to. His grace is always enough. He will do far more with my weakness than I can ever do with my plans and schedules. He is my strength, my shield, my keeper, my redeemer. And when he demands that I surrender and trust him, he is doing it for my own good so that he can bring me more and more into the light of His glory. To surrender to him is to be made strong.

I don’t know if my head injury will ever be healed—if I will ever be able to play a game of volleyball or go on a run without meeting pain the next morning or if I will ever be able to do a small morning workout without wondering if it will throw my daily plans out the window. I wish that I could entirely predict what will cause a horrible episode like this week. I pray that one day it will simply be gone. But even more than I wish for healing, I wish that I never forgot His promises. I wish that I could wake up one day and never doubt His goodness, never question whether I really should trust Him. I pray that I will be a woman filled with peace and freedom, knowing that my God is in control. My flesh and heart fail me daily. But God’s grace. God’s grace never fails and never runs out. It meets me in my need through His Word, pointing me outward and upward towards Him. It meets me in my daughter and husband and all the gifts I have to rejoice in. It meets me in medicine and doctors and heat packs. When I faithfully open my eyes to find his grace, it overwhelms every aspect of my life. Even in blueberry muffins baked just a few days late.

******

Don’t know where to find a plan that will help you start, keep up, and finish reading the Bible? Find us here! We would love for you to join us!

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Say NO to the “Verse of the Day”

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J.C. Ryle (1895) wrote, “I am convinced that one of our grave defects today, is a most serious diminishing of the good old custom of private reading of the Bible. Between the growth of Christian periodicals and books, I have a strong impression that Bibles are not read as much and as carefully as they were two hundred years ago.”

Ryle will be surprised that 124 years later this has not really changed much. Many professing Christians simply are not reading their Bibles. They are happy to read the verse of the day on their phone as they scroll to the next thing, and then the next thing in their day hits and they are surprised to see how weak they are to face it.

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy to remind us that we are not meant to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4 Deut 8:3 emphasis mine). But how many Christians know this passage, and yet feed themselves with selected words from the Bible?  It has become easier to scroll down our feed, find the #verseoftheday,  give it a like and move on through the day. We know that Christians are the “People of the Word”, but reading all of it might not be necessary, right? A verse a day is enough to check the box to keep up with the spiritual discipline, we think.  Only a verse a day can help us fight this world, our flesh, and the Devil, right?

But the truth is that doing this we  grow weaker rather than stronger. The trials will come and our weak faith will not be able to stand firm against the storm. It takes, after all, all the Bible to face all of life. It is not only the one promise we hold dear or the one encouraging verse that we liked on that Pinterest quote that will hold us together, but every word that God has breathed out for us to live.

All the Bible is for all Christians. Old and young, men and women, in every corner of the world we Christians are meant to live and to be sustained day by day by each word spoken by God. Each bite of warm home-made bread, each scoop of ice-cream, each bite of a late summer peach is a reminder that we are not meant to live by those good things alone. Each bite of those yummy, nutritious, and rich foods are there to point us to the food that will always satisfy us. And so each word of God in the Bible is there for us to taste and see that He is good, that He is just, that He is merciful, and that He is a loving Father toward His own.

Why have we grown to be content with only a bite of the Holy Scriptures each day? Why have we let ourselves make believe that a verse a day will make us strong? How is it possible that after many men and women gave their lives so that we may have the ALL the Word of the God available in our own language, we decide that only a verse a day will do?  How after being saved from sin and been set free to live in communion with God, we choose not to grow in knowing Him? How did we come to believe that a random verse a day will help us fight the good fight of faith, and run the race to finish it well? I dare say it is because we are lazy and prideful.

Reading all the Bible over and over again is a gift, and yet in our laziness, we decide not to open it. Ten more minutes in bed, twenty more on social media, thirty more on the coffee shop, and forty five in the gym… the Bible will have to wait. But the trials will not wait, the temptations will not wait, the Devil will not wait, they will come as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. We can’t put the Bible aside, we just can’t. Each Word of God is there for us to so something in us and through us. Each Word written in the Scriptures will equip us to fight, to stand, to be content, to say Amen. We cannot be lazy, not anymore. We are in the battleground already, there is no time to wait until January to start being in the Word.

I believe it is also pride that keeps us from coming to the Word of God each day.  When we live far from it, rarely opening it and taking  only the verse of the day that the app on our phone gives us, we are acting in pride. It is as if we were saying things like,  “I don’t need your Word to show me the way, Lord, I can figure it out.”  “I don’t need your Word to cut through the marrow of my heart to show me my sin. My conscience is at peace.” “I know where I am weak but I know how to be strong; I am enough -thank you, Lord.”

We have seen many Christians boycotting this or that company many times, but what if we all decided to boycott the “verse of the day” and started reading ALL the Bible, each word that comes from the mouth of God? What if we all decided to boycott our laziness and pride and started reading all the Bible?

Let us be the kind of Christians that live by each word God, Christians that say No to the verse of the day. Let us open our Bibles each day as if we truly believed that all the Scripture is inspired and breathed out by God. Let us be known again, as People of the Book.

Don’t know where to start? Join us as we read all the Bible starting on September 9.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

Image via unsplash

 

Faithful Obedience by Christine Cohen

Christine is a relatively new friend. A young mom with her hands and days full of good gifts, and her heart and mouth filled with good words. I knew I wanted to call her friend and learn from her when I saw her loving on her grandmother who had dementia and was ready to depart with the Lord. How Chritine loved on her grandma each week and how she helped her mom take her always gladly, always with a smile was a beautiful thing to witness. There she was, being faithful in her daily life. Obedient in her walk with the Lord. Doing the next thing without giving it too much thought, because this obedience, this faithfulness, was her joy.

I am grateful to have her on the blog today so that you can taste a bit of how lovely Christine is.

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Romaine Conversion
by Christine Cohen

My third floor study is seafoam green, cluttered with stuffed animals and books, and smelling like the moss one of my children brought up for decoration. I hear my son coming to join me upstairs, bare feet slapping each step like a giant laying waste to hilltop villages, a scenario he’s likely enacting in his mind. When his ascent is complete, he rushes toward me, in a hurry to place a sticky hand on my arm.

“Can I have a snack?”

An additional snack. The chocolate traces of a granola bar are already smeared around his mouth.

“Fruit leather,” I say, and he races away.

A delighted shriek soars through the open window, launched by my middle child who is spinning circles on the tire swing, ringlets flying while my eldest pushes her close to the maple tree, the rubber skimming the bark.

The fruit leather should buy me another five minutes. I pause my word count and open Facebook. The red notification bubble is for a bible reading group. A new member asks a question I’ve seen several times over the last couple of years:

“I want to have a really real quiet time with the Lord. I want to feel like I’ve connected with Him, but it’s so hard with my kids running around. And I can’t wake up any earlier. What do I do?”

I understand what she’s craving; I’ve felt that pull too, as has almost any woman, especially if you have an Instagram account. Click the sherbet-colored camera icon and enter a world of curated aesthetic moments. Scroll the bible hashtags. Look at all those cozy knit fingerless gloves! Dancing flames in a cast iron stove! A cup of coffee and leaf-dappled sunlight! If I adorn my table with votive candles and eucalyptus leaves before I read, my emotions might rise to a gnostic height where I can better commune with God. Who wouldn’t want that?

When I was eight, maybe nine years old, I attended a weekly youth group night at my church. One night in particular has come back to me recently. We’d broken into small groups, sitting cross-legged on the taupe Berber carpet. One by one the kids around me gave their conversion stories, testimonies as inspiring as the music we’d just sung. As the minutes ticked by, I started to fidget, dreading the moment when all eyes would turn towards me.

I wasn’t unregenerate; I had what felt like an even bigger problem. I couldn’t remember my conversion. When the modern evangelical kid is asked for the reason for the hope that is in her, she’s supposed to sound like she was a young Wyatt Earp, and not a head of lettuce waiting to be picked off the produce shelf by the hand of Providence.

The small Romaine waits patiently beside its fellow leafy vegetables, having done no wrong save turning faintly brown at the edges. The mister hits its curling outer tips, the phosphorescent rays shine down on its glistening leaves. A cart squeaks to a stop.

“No, not that one, that one,” a mother’s voice declares, and tiny hands encircle it and carry it home to the heaven of a strawberry pecan salad.

There is no glory in a Romaine conversion. Not for the lettuce, at least, but it’s all I’ve got. Unless. Unless…

The kid beside me was wrapping up. Everyone sighed with appreciation, and it was my turn.

Adrenaline kicked in, and I started improvising.

“Well,” I began, “I don’t talk about this much.”

The circle leaned in. I had their attention.

Warmth rushed to my face as I carried them along on a narratival sea of emotions. I told the tale of a world-weary six- or seven-year-old lying in bed one night, wracked with the same questions that countless philosophers had struggled with before me. And then….(pause for dramatic effect)…and then…right out my window, I see a shooting star! A sign from God, just for me. A promise that He was real, that He was there for me.

“Wow,” our small group leader breathed. Awe filled the faces of my peers. I adopted my best mock-humble expression. I may have even offered a modest shrug as if to say, “Don’t we all have shooting stars herald the moment of our re-birth?” I was convincing. So convincing that the lie stuck and was forgotten, gaining me glory in the moment only to be buried deep in my memory basements for decades until it reemerged in early adulthood.

Another shriek sails through my study window, this one tinged with pain. Someone needs tending, my moment of solitude is up. I think of the woman online who’s frustrated that her kids are keeping her from authentically connecting with the Lord. Children in spiritual Instagram posts are never crying or sticky or hanging from their mother’s front pockets asking for food fifteen minutes after dinner.

But where is Christ in these moments? What are the tethers that connect us to Him? Whatever you do for the least of these.

On the floor of First Presbyterian Church, I sought to manufacture a moment as emotional and authentic as I believed an encounter with my Creator should be. And now, as a mom, I understand that same temptation: to seek for God in a time or a place He hasn’t given me. As if what He did give me isn’t enough. Dole out snacks to village-stomping future men, He instructs. Not now, Lord, I’m reading my Bible in this perfect ray of sunshine, can’t you see I want to obey you? Read your Bible here on this jam-smudged table instead. With all these kids running around and dishes in the sink? The decapitated doll head on the floor? That might actually break Instagram, Lord. I can’t seek you there.

I shut my computer and stand up, stretching tight muscles. Yes, there are instances of extreme conversion. There are stories that will make a small group circle gasp with awe. But I can’t remember my moment of conversion any more than I can remember my first taste of ice cream, and that doesn’t cheapen its value. I don’t often read my Bible under the aesthetic approval of a fiddle leaf fig tree but that doesn’t make it any less authentic. God is not bound by the square borders of an Instagram post. He’s in the duties set before me.

I start down the stairs, thankful for the clarity of what God requires of me in this small, everyday moment. A hug. A kiss. A strawberry shortcake bandage. All done in faith, sustained by a promise. I am with you, always.

Christine Cohen

*****

Join us in reading the Bible right there, where you are at now. Find our upcoming plan here.

“It Is Written” And So We Read

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How  else will we know what a great love the Father has for His own children, if we don’t open our Bibles to read them?  How will we know how immeasurable are God’s grace and mercy towards us if we rarely read the Scriptures? How will we know how deep our sins are and how great our Savior is if we don’t read the Holy Scriptures? How will we know what the Father promises to us if we keep shutting our eyes and ears making no room in our hearts for the Word of God in our lives? How will we know God, how will we taste and see that He is good, if we are just too busy for that? Friends, All these things have been written so that we may know them and the Author of Life. These things have been written so that we may read them! Each of these words has been written so that we may believe them and live by them!

Because “it is written” we know the wonderful news of the gospel. Because it is written, we know that if we repent and believe in Jesus and His words we can have eternal life. It is written that those who believe in Him have passed from death to life, what a joy to read what God has determined for us to read. Think about this, you and I would have never known these news, news that carry eternity within them, if Jesus had never spoken and if His words had never been written.

This world neither would have ever been if Jesus had never spoken it into existence. God’s Word created galaxies with planets and stars and waves that make music in the heavens for us to discover. God spoke and His Word created creatures under the seas that even now are hidden from our eyes. Today, this minute, this world keeps spinning and your nails keep growing, and flowers keep blooming and babies keep crying, because Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God “upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1).” Jesus “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1).

There are more riches in the Word for us to discover than galaxies in the heavens. There is more to know about God and His ways than we can possibly imagine. The vastness of the treasures to be found in the Scriptures and the hugeness of God should not keep us from pursuing our desire to know them. On the contrary, to know that these treasures are waiting for us, should encourage us to seek more diligently, to read more attentively, and to pray more fervently asking God that we will not miss any of them. It is written so that we may read and believe. And as you immerse yourself in the Scriptures, “think every line you read, that God is speaking to you,”[1]

And so we keep coming and keep opening our Bibles, and keep reading, because, really? Who doesn’t want to know the Triune God? Which Christian who has been called by name before the foundation of the Lord, doesn’t want to know more about God? The fact that we can know God is such good news that it starts to sound almost like a big bang in the ears of those who try hard to suppress the truth of God with lies. But nonetheless, it is true, it is written: God wants to be known! So we will keep coming to our Bibles each day because we want to keep breathing, living, discovering, knowing, worshiping. God wants to be known! It is written! Thanks be to God!

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth. (Hosea 6:3)

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

[1] https://gracegems.org/Watson/reading_the_scriptures.htm Accessed Sept,14 ’18
Photo credit: Lilian Dibbern via Unsplash

Don’t know where to start reading the Bible? Join us on today’s reading! Find the schedule here.

Faithful Obedience by Gwen Burrow

I love being friends with Gwen. Her love for the Lord and for the Word is clearly seen in the way she does life. Passionate and joyful are two adjectves that describe her and two of the various reasons why her company is always a gift. I’m sure you will enjoy the company of her words today on this blog series.

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How to be a a Faithful Traveler
by Gwen Burrow

On top of the world
Boots drumming, heart hammering,  I race up the indoor staircase of the ski lodge. My friend Grace is on my heels. We’ve been like this for two weeks: me charging ahead, Grace following to make sure I don’t kill myself on our whistle-stop gallivant across Europe. Dublin > Howth > Berlin > Rothenburg > Nürnberg > Salzburg > Munich > Dachau > southern Bavaria > and finally a vertiginous ride in a glass gondola up to this ski lodge. But I am not here to ski.

At the top of the stairs I burst through the door to the outside. The air at 10,000 feet is thin and bright. Snow-sharpened wind runs up my nose. My eyeballs feel cold when I blink. But I still haven’t reached the top of the lodge and I still can’t see what I came to see.

There’s a ramp. I keep running. Halfway up, I glance over my shoulder and catch my first glimpse of a wide panorama jeweled with blue and white mountain peaks. “I think I might cry,” I hear myself say.

The ramp ends. The world opens. And I step at last onto the wide, windy, snow-packed terrace.

I am in the middle of an Alpine sea: stunning ridge after ridge, rock tip after rock tip spreading out to the horizon and the horizon after that as far as the eye or telescope can reach. Heavy white wings of winter clouds cover the pale afternoon sun, but the mountains are clear. From here I see over 400 peaks across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy. The world has split into thirds: a cathedral of sky, a ring of mountains, and spectacularly hewn cliffs plunging in deep, cobalt shadows to a bottom I cannot see.

Laughing, gasping, I race from railing to railing, trying to take it all in. And I do cry (sort of). Tears come to my eyes but freeze before they can spill over. The yearning, phantom limb-like pain I have felt all my life belongs to a place and that place is here: on top of Germany. As far as I am concerned, on top of the world.

How did I get here?

I climbed.

Sehnsucht
Everyone feels Sehnsucht for a place, a time, a season, an idea. That exquisite ache which C. S. Lewis calls Joy, Sehnsucht is “the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing,” “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction,” “always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’ “ (Surprised by Joy).

My Sehnsucht is for mountains.

I was born in Germany but have no memory; I was only nine months old when my family moved back to the States. Growing up in Florida and surrounded by jungle at sea level, I could hardly imagine a hill, let alone a real height. It was The Sound of Music that gave me my first look. As I watched the von Trapp family hike to freedom, the Alps became more than a series of pretty peaks. They stood for everything beautiful, painful, and to be desired in the war against evil. Five years old, I knew in my bones that if I was supposed to “climb every mountain” till I found my dream, then my dream was to defy darkness like Captain von Trapp ripping that swastika in two.

Regarding mountains, I do not feel the ache of Sehnsucht so much as I am pierced by it as by a spear. When the oxygen is thin and the pulse racing in my temples and death is a very long way down, then beats hard my own yearning to live a good story and die on time.

Mountains are where bloody sacrifices are made and good wins. Mountains are Zion. Mountains are Golgotha. Mountains are temples, altars, crosses. On the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided, and on the mount it was said, “It is finished.” “Molon labe” cried three hundred Spartans at the mountain pass, the very gates of Hades. Down the slopes into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred. The Alps stretch half a league, half a league, half a league onward, and in their cousins the Pyrenees you can hear the echo of Roland’s horn. “Here I stand,” says the mountain. “I can do no other.”

For thirty years I felt like a kite flying high and loose on semi-permanent loan to America, my real country after all; there’s no doubt my loyalties are stained red, white, and blue. But always Something held the other end of the long string across the ocean. The only question was when It would reel me in. One day I would go back and touch the snowy crown of the country where the world waged its second bloody war and thousands of my patriot brothers died. I simply had to go.

I explain this so that when I tell you that returning to Germany didn’t feel like destiny, but like I would die or go insane if I didn’t, you’ll believe me.

Well, that was my first mistake. I went insane.

Climb
How you travel is how you live. If you want to run a quick test on how your life is going, if you want to check the quality of your gratitude and trust in God, then step foot out your door—or try to. The first person you meet is yourself. And in my case, it wasn’t a pleasant meeting.

After graduating college and getting a real job, I set my sights on a trip to Germany. All I needed was a budget and a travel buddy. I saved money, invited friends, and made a plan. Then my dad recommended that I buy a car first. So I bought a car. Then my friends had to cancel. So I invited more friends. They agreed, then had to cancel too. I asked my friend Grace if she’d like to come…but no, she was already planning a trip to Italy.

Two years went by. During this time, I didn’t stop planning for a single minute. When I get an idea, I go from zero to sixty in two seconds flat. Trying to stop me is trying to stop a train. I pestered my travel-savvy friends for advice on packing, trains, hotels. On my cubicle wall I thumb-tacked two maps of Germany for motivation (like I needed any). I devoured a dozen books on World War I and II. I updated my passport. I studied German. I planned a wild itinerary: Ireland, Austria, France, and Germany: four countries, 16 cities, 19 days.

And still, no travel buddy.

Finally I announced to my dad that I would go by myself. Now, my dad rarely puts his foot down about anything (especially since I was out of the house and had been for years), but he put his foot down right then (and wisely). No, I was not about to run around Europe alone. End of story.

In despair, I literally made myself sick. Stress caused my adrenaline to skyrocket. My stomach was in knots, appetite dead, digestion in gridlock. I barely slept because I barely needed to. My mind was racing a million miles an hour, trying to solve this problem. I must go, this needs to be my story, so why won’t it just work?!

At long last, the truth broke. Bad job, Gwen. How many times does God have to break your fingers? Let go. Put this trip on the altar. Give it up. One hundred percent. Keep nothing back. So I gave Germany away. I told God that if I ever made it back to my birth country, I wanted the trip to be from Him. Because I was done fighting.

That very second, my appetite returned to normal. And I slept.

Let Go
My dad has a saying: God never takes anything away unless it’s to give you something even better.

God could have kept saying no, and if He had, then that would have been the better story. But when I finally became content not to travel, I suddenly remembered that I’d never noticed any Facebook pictures of Grace’s trip to Italy. Perhaps she hadn’t gone after all. I sent her a quick, tentative email. Was she, by any chance, interested in Germany now?

Yes.

She said yes.

As it turned out, Italy had fallen through months ago, but Grace had continued to save money anyway…based on sheer gut instinct that God would send her on a journey somewhere else.

My heart started skipping again, but I held my excitement down like you’d hold a beach ball under water. My dad still had to mull the idea over for several days, in his methodical lawyer way. Europe was no longer the Europe he’d known in the 1980s. ISIS was rearing its ugly head and Ebola was creeping across continents, leaving a wake of panic and dead bodies. Even with a companion, traveling might not be the best idea.

August 29, 2014. My dad still hadn’t given me an answer. I was driving to my parents’ house for the weekend and I figured he would tell me his decision at the end of my visit: the answer would be no. The trip was simply too dangerous. Thirty years old and on my own, I still respected my father. I knew I would never leave without his approval. If he was telling me to stay, then God was telling me to say. And I was fine with it.

I walked into my parents’ house that warm summer night and hugged my dad, determined not to say a word. He’d tell me in his own time. I had waited years. I could wait a few more days.

Still hugging me, he said without warning: “Hey Gwenny, Europe sounds okay.”

I jerked away. I felt like I’d been electrocuted. “Really?” Then I grabbed him in another hug and squealed.

My dad said firmly: “Just don’t stay in any hostels where it’s an open room with guys and girls.”

What? Of course not! What kind of girl did he think he’d raised? But all I said was, “Okay, I won’t!” Bouncing off the walls. Sheer joy. I was a champagne bottle, heavily shaken and suddenly uncorked. My poor family got the spray, but they were kind enough to join my excitement. Mom started Googling pickpocket-proof purses and the statistics of getting scammed at ATMs. Jen and Lacy were thrilled. Kate pouted and said I had to skip Trinity College in Dublin because I wasn’t allowed to see the Book of Kells without her (she has since then seen the Book of Kells without me). Erin just said: “DO YOU HAVE A CUTE COAT AND CUTE BOOTS.”

I texted Grace with delirious thumbs and barely intelligible English. My message went something like this: “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’re going!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEE!”

And at long, long last, the planning began in earnest. I stayed up past midnight as I researched flights, cities, castles, weather, trains, shopping, history, Rick Steves, Rick Steves, Rick Steves. Because zero to sixty.

Go

Learn this now: Wherever you want to go, you must plan and budget and work for it, and still wait for God to hand it to you. Traveling, like everything else, is a gift. Gifts must be given. You can’t make it happen. You can’t seize for yourself. Oh, you can try, but you’ll make yourself sick and miserable like I did; or maybe God will grant you your way like the father granted the prodigal son his inheritance. Either way, you won’t be happy. Stolen fruit is never sweet.

As with traveling, so with everything. Open your hand and let go whatever you’re desperately clutching. An open palm is open for surrendering gifts, but it is also open for receiving them. And God will put something even better in its place. If you want the gift of Go and God says Stay, then you may sleep in peace, knowing that Stay is better than Go.

Do most people travel for fun? To see new things? To get away from normality? I went to find something, and God gave me so much more than I was even looking for—right in my own home. And when I finally stood in the Alps and watched the sun sink in a riptide of pink glory, I realized God hadn’t just relented and said yes. He had been chasing me here all my life.