Faithful Obedience by Kate Nieuwsma

We count it a blessing to see, in the church where God has planted our family, how many saints walk faithfully and joyfully through very hard things. Their faithfulness, endurance joy, and faith encourage us to press on looking up to Jesus, knowing that He is near us.

Kate has been such a faithful mom through a long trial, and her testimony of God’s faithfulness sustaining her family is a gift to the church. I trust that you will be encouraged to read this.

The Great Gift (of Small Joys)
By Kate Nieuwsma

“When my anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

“But how can they survive?” I asked myself. A few years ago, three faithful women in my community lost their babies within a few weeks of one another, all in truly tragic circumstances. What I saw unfolding for them was my deepest nightmare. The death of one of my children is something that – if I let it – will keep me up at night in a cold sweat. (Pretty sure it will do that to most parents!) Part of why it scared me so much is that I had seen this trial unfold before, and I thought I knew what came afterwards: despair, chaos, spiritual death. I cringed at the loss of faith I thought was fated to follow on the heels of such grief.

But instead? I was given one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have ever received. Every single one of those women showed bone-deep grief. But they also showed us joy. In the months that followed their loss, they told us the sharp-edged sorrow, but they wrapped it with the joy of God’s provision. They showed us laughter with their families. They showed us dignity in loss. They spared us the gritty, public play-by-play of grief lauded in our culture as being the only “authentic” reaction, knowing that we didn’t have the grace to bear that, and they pointed us to Christ instead. When they could have – without guilt – buried us in the heaviness of legitimate grief, they chose instead to hand us joy. Not pretendy joy. Not false laughter that doesn’t admit the difficulty. But that deep, sometimes weeping joy that says “This is a dark night, but Christ is the light.” We saw them cling to Christ, and then we saw them stand strong in joy.

I held onto this gift of joy in trials, but I had no idea how much I would need it. About 8 months ago, my then-2-year-old daughter was suddenly diagnosed with an acute kidney condition. We thought at first it was temporary, but it has become clear over the last few months that this is likely to be a constant throughout her childhood, and perhaps her entire life. Our last few months have been full of pain and pain management, hospital stays, numerous infections, pancreatitis, pneumonia, thousands of blood tests, IV sticks, PICC lines and bandaids and insomnia and hard hospital beds and difficult visions of the future. There was a very real danger of losing her several times in this journey so far, and the possibility for permanent disability or a shortened life is always present.

I remember standing by her hospital bed a few months into her journey after a difficult night and an even more difficult morning blood draw. Things were hard, and the temptation to be weary and weepy and ask for others to join with me in that tired, frustrated pain was very real.  But then I looked up and saw her sitting there with a case of simply legendary bedhead, double-fisting some juice and water, and giving me a classic look of hilarious, near-drunken morning bleariness. There was nothing to do but laugh out loud and take a picture (and show it to her – she laughed too!). That morning, I remembered the glory of those faithful women handing out a glimpse of the joy that comes in sorrow, and I decided to pass that along in a tiny way. I posted that picture of my little one with the very real and cleansing laughter that came with it rather than the bid for sympathy I desperately wanted to post. It was a simple act of finding joy in the midst of difficulty, a preschool level attempt at mimicking the great acts of faith that I had seen, but I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that funny little picture and others like it. There is something foundationally comforting about small joys in the midst of a trial. They tell those around us that we will be ok, and it also tells them that they will be too. It tells them that when their turn for trouble comes along (and we all know that it will), that they will make it through. That Christ will be with us all even when things are hard. That in the darkest cave of trials there is still the light of God, the relief of holy laughter. That when pain is real, heaven is more so.

Joy reminds us that Christ will make it right.

Joy is both submission and rebellion, a sword and trowel. It faithfully plants seeds in the midst of a snowstorm, and it guards the soul like a watchdog. It shakes the fist at the type of “rawness” that insists that glory is not possible in the midst of difficulty. That your truest feelings are only the ones that happen when self-control is lost.

And the best part about joy? When you go in search of it in order to pass it on, seeking the beautiful gems of laughter and provision and comfort in the dark cave you’ve been thrown into, you always find far more than you’ve been looking for. Joy is like the stable in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle’: far larger on the inside than it is on the outside. When you crack open that door in order to battle the darkness, you find that you’ve actually stumbled on a place of feasting. You find that Christ has “set a table in the presence of your enemies” (especially those enemies of the soul – bitterness, ingratitude, fear, cowardice). Even small joy opens the door to great victory.

This race of faith that God has called my daughter and the rest of our family to may be a long one. We honestly don’t know how far this road will take us or what it will contain. But we have seen the faithful runners ahead of us in this race of faith, and we have seen their faithful obedience of joy. Because of them, we know that we will be ok. We know that Christ is here, because they have shown us His joy. Make us like them, Lord!

Light this darkness with the flame of Your joy.

Faithful Obedience by Lauren McMurray

Lauren and I have gotten to know each other through our involvement in the Bible Reading Challenge. And every time she writes or comments, I pay attention because I know she will have something good for us to hear.

It is a blessing to have women in your life whose words build up those who hear them!

Thank you, Lauren for your contribution to this series on Faithful a Obedience.

I became a Christian when I was 18, my freshman year of college. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 26. And as a part of a large church community, I had lots of opportunities to fellowship through giving my time. Serving my roommates, family, fellow church members, and my coworkers was a joy. When I got married it was hard for me to transition away from looking outward to looking inward as a helper for my husband. Learning how to serve him as a wife and as a friend, and how to be a part of his family with their different-from-mine expectations. My outside-the-home time was crunched keeping a large house without roommates help. I was so busy at home that I felt like I was giving nothing. The feeling compounded when I became a mother two and half years later—it became hard to even make meals for people. I really wanted to serve His people, and it felt somehow selfish to just serve my little family.

Facing my duty, releasing my desire.

Eventually I was blessed to realize—through faithful friends’ podcast—that God gives us desires in order that we might have something to give back to him.

Desires to sacrifice??

I looked at my past, present, future and saw that the very duties that had seemed selfish were the reason I had something more to sacrifice. I was able to faithfully give by “not doing”. I had learned “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” but I finally saw when I chose my duties by not doing, that was still pleasing to the Lord.

Practically I can pray for needs to be filled. I can buy Papa Murphy’s when I don’t have time deliver a home-made meal. I can love my little people by leaning in to my husband and children’s hobbies. Praying for friends, and church family is something I can do while overseeing my little realm. Praying, calling, emailing, or writing a card are all kind ways to serve, and offer up your desire to do more by doing what you can before the Great Comforter, the Great Physician.

Interests, desires, wants are all opportunities to have an open hand before the Lord and cheerfully assume our duties and hold desires with an open hand before the Lord.

Faithful Obedience by Maddie Williams

Maddie is a new friend to me. In the last months I came to know her better and all I have for her is respect and a deep love. She is a kind and joyous woman with a compassionate heart that never gets tired of reaching out to serve and love others, -her acts of kindness have touched our lives, and even my grandson gets to be snuggled in a precious baby blanket she knitted for him!

I am so grateful to have her share today with us about her difficult journey with infertility and our faithful God who always walks with us.

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God’s Faithfulness in the Wilderness of Infertility
by Maddie Williams

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 8: 2-3

This verse came to mind when Becky asked me to write something about faithful obedience and how it has affected me. God required faithful obedience from the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, and whether they were faithfully obedient to God had massive consequences. Those who obeyed (Joshua and Caleb) were able to enter the promised land, but those who disobeyed were left in the wilderness, never to enter the land flowing with milk and honey.

Infertility has been the greatest test of my obedience thus far in life, and years in, I still have so much to learn about how I can faithfully obey God in this “wilderness.” God has not given us babies yet because He loves us too much to give them to us right now, and one of the testaments of that love is what He has taught me in this time of waiting. God has taught me that faithful obedience reaps great blessings.

You see, I live in a town of many babies. I mean, many, many babies. Many friends’ babies, many nieces and nephews, many church babies. Not long into dealing with infertility the temptation became great to see each of those babies as reminders of what I didn’t have. Little fingers whispered that God had blessed someone else, but not me. Little giggles hinted that God loved someone else, but not me. Little toes suggested that lucky is she, but woe is me. Several times I gave in to those whispers of sin, using the fact that others had what I did not have as an excuse to wallow in my own sadness and self-pity. The more I wallowed, the harder infertility got, the darker my wilderness grew. The more I envied others with their sweet little babies, the sadder my life became.

God placed me in a wilderness, but He also placed the nourishment I needed to make it to the promised land right in front of me. When the Israelites were in the wilderness God fed them with manna. It was exactly what they needed to sustain and nourish them. When God gives us trials of our own, He also provides us with manna-like mercies to sustain and nourish us through our wildernesses. Ironically, I found that my “manna” was spending time with my nieces, nephews, and friends’ babies. But just like the Israelites, I was tempted to grumble about my manna and resent it. My manna came with a catch. In order to be nourished by it, I had to faithfully obey God and thank Him for it before I could reap the harvest. It was only when I obediently thanked God for blessing others and not me with the gift of children that I was able to feast off that “manna.” It was only when I rid myself of envy and bitterness that I was able to reap the blessing that God had placed right in front of my blind eyes. Not only did the pain of infertility practically vanish, but I also found what is now the greatest joy in my life.

I had to bless God for the blessings of others. And the coolest thing? God taught me to bless Him for the blessings of others, especially the blessings that I myself was still waiting on. Once I submitted in obedience to Him, my wilderness faded away. Now it is one of my greatest joys when my friends have babies. Ironically, I feel like I have the easiest time glorifying God for those gifts. I feel like I should be the one giving the MOST glory to God when I see friends receive what I don’t have. For I know, in a unique way that only some know, just how precious and glorious and undeserved those blessings are. I know firsthand that those blessings aren’t an accident. They’re not a lucky coincidence. They’re not good timing. They’re not fertility treatments. Instead, they are God’s power. They are God’s glory. They are God’s magic. And I have a backstage pass to the magic show. I should be the one giving Him the most praise for those gifts. Through infertility, God has made it easy for me to see just how glorious those many, many babies are.

When I started to respond to these gifts with obedience, God dramatically changed my heart. Now when I see the many babies surrounding me, I no longer see what God has withheld from me. Instead I see what God can do, for it’s no harder for God to give them babies than to give me babies. Now when I have my nieces and nephews over for a date, I no longer see what I’m missing. Instead I see little shoes scattered across my entryway, a sight that brings me so much joy. Now when I get to babysit for my friends, I no longer feel empty afterwards. Instead, my heart is filled to the brim with all the snuggles I just stole. Little did I know that when I started faithfully obeying God, He would bless that obedience hundredfold. When I obediently died to sin, God took that death and resurrected it. He turned the very thing that once caused hopelessness into what is now my greatest source of hope and joy. He turned what was once a wilderness into a land flowing with milk and honey. Praise Him for the babies, the little hands and big giggles, the baby showers, and the snuggles that He has fed me with. They are my greatest joys every day. They are my manna that fills up my cup to overflowing. They are living and breathing reminders to taste and see that the Lord is so very good. As I have learned to faithfully obey God and bless Him for the blessings of others, my wilderness has faded and my emptiness has been filled with joy. God greatly blessed my little mustard seed of obedience.

When we faithfully obey God, we see God’s greatest blessings. If we faithfully follow God even when we are weak, God will always bless our obedience. Our death to sin will be resurrected and raised to new life. And that shouldn’t surprise us because that’s the way God’s world works. Out of defeat, God conquered the powers of death and hell. Out of pain, God healed the greatest of all wounds. Out of despair, God brought the greatest joy. And out of death, God gives us eternal life.

****

 

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 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.

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.