Sharing His Heart Space this Christmas

Uncategorized

Advent is one of my favorite times of year, because it teaches this weak heart of mine to be strong, strong in the waiting, strong in the expectancy, strong in the hope of what the Messiah is doing. He’s a master storyteller, a patient farmer, a wise father. He knows that the outcome of his efforts often takes time, and he is willing to put in the time to cultivate the outcome he had dreamed of. Advent teaches me not to make assumptions, but to wait in a place of present expectancy for what the Messiah will do next.

My heart has been struggling with this. Living in expectancy can feel very precarious. Jesus is teaching me new levels of trust, new degrees of intimacy, new ways to share the same headspace and heart-space with him. It’s so new, that I feel unready to share this journey. For now, this Advent season, its time to tuck in and give God my full attention. I’ve learned that the lessons he wants me to share, he will lead me to share after he and I have sat with them for a while in the secret place, after they have taken root and become a treasured practice in my life. So while the Messiah is busy teaching me new lessons amid the glow of Christmas trees this year, those lessons will, for now, remain in the secret intimate space between he and I.

But what I can share are the lessons I learned last Christmas–my first Christmas without Ethan, my first Christmas in my new home all alone.

I moved in December 1st, 2017 and it was the strangest thing. I knew without a doubt that this new home was a gift from God, but that didn’t make it an easy transition to move into a place all alone. I cried and celebrated my way into my new home in such a profound combination of thankfulness, hope, fear, and sorrow. I was afraid of going it alone. I was grieving that this home was not being christened with Ethan by my side sharing this space with me. But I was also thankful that God was giving me this gift and that we would have so much uninterrupted time just the two of us. And I was full of hope for the culture of heaven to become obvious in my new home, to feast with friends, to make music, to laugh, to play, to share life and heart here. I was afraid that it was horrible timing to move into a place all my own on December 1st when this was to be my first Christmas without Ethan, but it wasn’t horrible. I kept saying to the LORD over and over again through the tears as I packed to move, “I’m only going if you’ll be there too.” And over and over again He promised that He would be there, waiting to spend time with me in greater degrees of life than I had yet known. And He was and is. I love Him so much. Never once, never once has he left me on my own.

And so, without further ado, I am honored to share with you another advent post I have had the privilege of writing for our church blog this Christmas season. It is called What I Found in the Messiah’s Eyes: Overcoming Depression at Christmas, and it is my personal story of how Jesus rescued my heart from depression that first year without Ethan. I know we all have different stories, some of yours are even harder to bear than mine, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wants to be the God of me and you too. So I pray that, though our stories may be different, your heart will be kindled toward the heart of the Messiah through this story of God at work in the life of one of his children.

Merry Christmas Friends!

This is an article that I have had the privilege of writing for my church recently. And its message has become so significant to me and related to my most previous chapter on Lavender Wheat that I wanted to share it here. I hope it blesses you. Merry Christmas!

God has had me on a journey of coming home. I don’t think I realized this until our last series here at Redeemer Church. During the month of Imago Dei teachings, I was asking the Father how do we get back to […]

via I’ll be Home for Christmas — REDEEMER STORIES

I’ll be Home for Christmas

Uncategorized

My Shavout Encounter

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

I come from a reformed Protestant background. We don’t keep many feast and festivals. In the way of sacraments, we take a minimalistic approach. I love the stream of Faith I come from, but I take the Apostle Paul’s word to heart when he said, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). A friend wrote that verse for me in a card shortly after Ethan died. At the time, I could not understand what she was trying to tell me, but I felt God in it, shaping my soul, and I am just now beginning to see. 

Yes, I love the stream of Christianity I currently live and work within, but I love other streams of Christianity too. And I want them all. I do not want to be confined to a small picture of how to express my faith, I want all that I find covered by the Blood of Jesus to be mine. I want the rhythm of ritual, and the unexplainable power and wonder of the Holy Spirit. When I open the Bible, I want to exercise proper hermeneutics as I discover sound doctrine, and I want to be the awe-struck recipeient of the secrets of God given to me by the Holy Spirit’s voice.  I want to open the Scriptures and be able to construct theology while marveling at literary beauty and technique. I want to see through the lens of a foreign culture while letting it shape my own.

Even though I came from a reformed, protestant stream, I have a thing for Orthodoxy… for example, I love liturgical calendars—both Christian and Jewish, and especially together, in the overlap. 

There is something about being aware of the times and seasons that bring me into that unbroken circle of the Messiah’s story reaching deep into the past and moving forward, toward restoration. Something about it makes me breathe deeper and slower, I feel rooted in the historical and eternal connectedness when I am aware of where we are in the calendar and daily engaging with it. 

The year I met Ethan, I began using a liturgical calendar as my daily devotional, reading through the Scripture lectionary as the year moved through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost—we often talked about this place of sustainable rhythm I was finding in the seasons, a place to remember and believe. The next year, the year Ethan died, his family brought me into the Jewish calendar of feast and festivals. They taught me the cycle and meaning of each feast held within the Hebrew calendar. Ethan’s mom invited me over for tea and cookies and opened up the scriptures for me of when and where and why the Jews were commanded to keep each festival. Ethan’s dad would send me books and video links of teaching on a Hebrew understanding of words, and seasons, of past events and present ones. In that same year, they hosted the first Seder I ever went to, and I held back silent tears flowing like a river just under my surface as every metaphor encapsulated in every beat of this ancient celebration had come to mark me forever—my story was becoming one with Jesus’ story and there would be no way to unravel the glorious weave of me into His tapestry.

Of all the Holidays, Shavout, (also known as The Feast of Weeks) is my personal favorite. Shavout takes places 7 weeks after Passover and in the Greek New Testament it is known as, Pentecost, which means fifty because it occurs 50 days after Passover. Shavout… seven weeks. Pentecost… fifty days. Its a festival that’s reward is found in the waiting. 

Shavout is a grain harvesting festival originally commanded in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. Over the past two years, the Jewish agricultural cycle has become my spiritual rhythm, secrets from God to help me know where we are at in this harrowing journey we are taking together. There were hints of it, poetic strokes in God’s language of bread and scenes painted with the textures of rain, beginning the year I met and fell in love with Ethan, but those hints were like faint whispers in the background, seen only with soulful eyes, the fullness not known until I looked back and the Father unfolded His brilliance before me. Those whispers were leading up to the years that would follow, when they would break through the surface and become the world I lived in. God’s language of Promised Land agriculture became the symphony playing all around me, I was becoming aware of each rise and fall, every note, every movement, it was setting my pace, shaping my mind. 

They first broke through the surface, these agricultural metaphors of land and rain and rivers, of bread and wine and oil, the night Ethan died. As I sat in the waiting room, flush with the numbness of shock, the Father said to me “I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when what you need is a loaf of bread.” 

And then again four months later when within a week, a family member was diagnosed with Cancer, my family was being broken by actions of manipulation and betrayal, and then to really drive the knife in, Ethan’s dog died (that beloved dog’s death nearly broke me… its hard to explain, the human soul endures so much and then it reaches its tipping point–losing Emma felt like it might do me in), and I cried out to God, “If you are all-powerful, why don’t you do something? I cannot take anymore!” And He in all love and with the power to upright me, whispered out of Isaiah 28:28, that He would not thrash the grain forever, but just enough to separate the grain from the husks and straw. 

But that was just the beginning of these whispered words of wheat. A little time went on and then the winds began to blow, fierce winds that burned my surface until I felt stripped and raw. In one long season it looked as if I faced one test after another, could it all be taken away without any bitterness taking root? Could it all be taken and I still believe that God cared about my hopes and dreams and purpose on this earth even more than I did? Could it all be taken away and I still be able to see His goodness at work in my life. 

That long season of fiercely stripping winds began just a few months after Ethan’s death when all my married friends and cousins had babies (a total of 6 babies were born in my immediate circles that spring and summer) and my body ached to hold life within it the way theirs did, my arms longed to cradle life the way theirs did, my motherhood longed to be called into action the way theirs had. 

Next my friends, dear friends who had walked with me through the darkness of losing Ethan began to move far away to distant lands like Virginia and Tennessee, places that felt impossibly far from California, and as I prepared to say goodbye, I felt the loss sharply, and in a strange way it was as if I was losing Ethan all over again. 

Then my sense of purpose was tested as my brother and one of my dearest friends went without me to Africa—to the country I had once dreamed of living and working—while God specifically told me I was not to go on mission with them this time. That was followed by the epic failure of an intense creative project that I had poured my heart and soul into and the shame I felt over letting down those I had collaborated with. Next God clearly asked me to give up all my local outreach and social justice ministries I was overseeing, and I was set to chanting over and over again, “I trust you, I trust you, I trust you,” until I believed it enough to let go of everything I was trying to build my life on as I sought to find meaning without Ethan. 

Also that year, my little sister got married to the man she had started dating the same time Ethan and I had begun dating, and I was caught in a whirlwind of joy and pain as I walked beside her through all the wedding planning, the decisions, the meltdowns, and the excitement of them starting their new family together. 

Everyday was a tightrope walk of being present to every emotion without being swept away on the tidal wave that threatened to take me under its influence of hopeless, bitter, unbelief. And it was in that long, painful season of stripping away every form of purpose I reached for, that the Father leaned in close and whispered that these fierce winds are meant to separate the grain from the chaff. He would give me bread, but bread came from wheat, wheat that had to be cut from the field, thrashed, winnowed in the wind, and finally ground into dust to make flour that would make bread. 

The year I met Ethan I often fantasied about trekking up some desolate fog endowed mountain where I could be trained in the ways of life by the all-powerful, unbreakable, master of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I look back now over the years that followed Ethan’s death, and I see exactly that happening. Even in that season of stripping, Jesus was teaching me how to live and love like Him, present enough to be powerful in life, strong enough to be unbreakable even in death.

After the winnowing came the crushing. That season caught me off guard. I emerged from the fierce winnowing winds with something pure and solid. I looked at the grain unpolluted by chaff and I felt that I understood something of what God had been up to. I felt whole and stronger then ever. I had lost sight of the bread, and was nearly satisfied with this handful of pure grain we had emerged with. But God had not lost sight of the bread He was going to give me. He dropped me suddenly into a grinder, that obliterated the pure grain into a fine dust. I did not understand. I could not see God in the crushing events that followed. I felt like the enemy was taunting me with his victory, standing on my neck, crushing every last shred of life I had within me. I was Job, tearing my clothes and covering myself in ashes. How could this be? Why would God let me and all that was my life be destroyed beyond repair. I sobbed into the fine flour my God had made from my life and mistook it for dust and ash. I thought the end had come and He had walked away from every promise. And then one day, in the quiet, after hours spent crying and pouring over Scripture searching for a shred of hope, He whispered, “Now we are ready to bake bread.” 

So is it any wonder that Shavout, the Festival commanded to celebrate the grain harvest is my favorite. In the crushing, He is making a feast for us. 

To me, the most fascinating thing about Shavout is the passing of time between Passover and Shavout, for tucked in-between these two is another feast. Just a few days after Passover is the feast of Firstfruits. Its strange to me that Shavout is counted from Passover, but Firstfruits, like Shavout, is also a harvest festival in which the Hebrews were commanded to give an offering to the LORD. 

In Leviticus 23, we find the LORD telling Moses that the people are to take the sheaf of the firstfruits of their harvest to the priest. This was to be done in the new land that God would give them—their promised land. They were to take this first sheaf of their harvest and wave it before the LORD as an offering—and it was a statement of faith. It took faith to offer the first fruit because there was no guarantee that there would be more. When the first bit of something good comes, the first breakthrough of spring after a long hard winter, the temptation is to cling to that “sheaf”, to hide it away and fear it ever being lost because its all that you have. But God asks them to give it in faith, right in the midst of counting the Omer (the span of time between Passover and Shavout). Give what the LORD has given you and trust Him to provide the full harvest. It is a small offering, on the Feast of Firstfruits—in its entirety, it consists of one lamb, one sheaf of wheat, a food offering mix of flour and oil and a drink offering of wine. Just a lamb, some grain, oil, and wine. It reminds me of the widow’s offering, when she gives all that she has. It is small, but it is everything. And you give it, while saying over and over to yourself that God is good, that He is a good Father who knows how to give a loaf of bread when you need it. You give it in faith that Jesus came to bring life abundantly, that He doesn’t want you to live in poverty, not of possession or of soul, and that the only way to abundance is to give everything you’ve got, hold nothing back. Nothing. 

The counting of the Omer… its a very curious thing. An Omer is another word for sheaf, but it specifically is referring to a tenth of the ephah (which is an ancient Hebrew way of measuring grain). What I find curious about the counting of the Omer is that they are counting toward the fullness of what they gave a tenth of. The counting of the Omer is all about preparing to receive. 

At Shavout, we receive the fullness of what was given in Fatih at Firstfruits and what we have been waiting for during the counting of the Omer. 

Shavout commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. They had the first passover while still in captivity, enslaved by the Egyptians, just like Jesus comes to cover us in his blood while we are still in the land of our captivity before salvation. Once they are set free, in a dramatic moment of God’s power and precise storytelling genius, perhaps only surpassed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God parts the Red Sea and the Israelites pass through unharmed while God closes the Sea in on their enemies behind them. This too, is like our baptism into the Faith, a powerful statement of freedom, the mark of a new life. We were rescued in our captivity, but we no longer identify as slaves nor live in fear as slaves do. We are a new people, preparing to receive a new culture. This is what happened at Sinai and again at Pentecost.

Jesus dies on Passover, is resurrected on the Feast of FirstFruits and the Disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit at Shavout, or Pentecost as they called it in the Greek. Its stunning really, but why the specific gap of 7 weeks or 50 days in between Passover and Pentecost… why the wait? The wait of the Old Testament grain harvest makes sense, it takes time for the full harvest to grow, but why the same wait for the spiritual reality in the New Testament? It was, after all, still on the feast of Firstfruits, on the evening of the same day Jesus rose from the grave, that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 20:22). So why didn’t the Holy Spirit fall on them in power right then and there, the moment Jesus “breathed on them”? Rather they waited on the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus said, “receive the Holy Spirit” and then they waited for the Holy Spirit to come, they, just like all the generations of Jews before them counted the Omer that year, preparing themselves to receive. 

I, too, find myself living these days right in the midst of the Omer Count.

Shortly after discovering the depth of meaning in the Feast of Firstfruit and Shavout, I knew exactly the Firstfruit offering the LORD was asking of me and it took FAITH to give it. Now I wait, preparing to receive the fullness of what I have given.

I sit here waiting in a number of ways—in a personal promise and an eternal promise. All of us are in that strange already and not yet of the Kingdom. All of us in Christ are living in the wake of liberation, new life, new land and yet are still waiting for the fullness. But I experience this on a specifically personal level as well. I am the grain that grew from a seed … first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when that grain was ripe, He sent for the sickle because the harvest has come (see Mark 4). The swing of the sickle knocked the wind out of me. The thrashing nearly destroyed me. The winnowing winds swept me raw. The grinding into flour crushed my life into dust. And now it is time…. time to bake bread… time to celebrate Shavout… time to receive the full harvest of all the LORD has promised. 

In the coming days, my sheaf of wheat will be exchanged for two loaves of bread waved before the LORD. A double portion. A life come full circle. In the crushing, He is preparing a Feast for us. He is making all things new. 

The Embrace of Submission

Rain, Submission, Unveiled and Covered

Slowly I opened up and gave God access again to the place in my heart where He had first asked me to submit under the “wing of the Redeemer”. It seemed so counterintuitive to take refuge under the covering of the One who had brought all this disaster upon me. The resistance in my heart was strong.

Then I thought about a verse God had brought to me around the time I first started dating Ethan—it’s found in the book of James and it says “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). The verse had come as God’s answer to a question I had about how to approach prayer. At first the answer seemed too simplistic. Be on God’s side, not the devil’s. Wasn’t that like Christianity 101? But God kept the verse on my heart and began to show me that I often get this one backwards.

As the coinciding events of my developing relationship with Ethan and a prayer ministry I was leading began to challenge my heart in deep ways, God continued to unfold for me just how often I actually resisted Him when He did something I didn’t understand. For example, when one person gets healed and then the next one doesn’t. The question mark there made me take a stance of leaning away from God, in essence, resisting Him. And He was telling me that submission looked like leaning in, getting closer, searching for meaning, seeking His heart, pressing in until I saw His glory in all things that I didn’t understand.

I remember the first time Ethan put his arm around me and I tensed up, afraid. I don’t know if God saw a teaching opportunity or if he orchestrated each move of my heart in order to show me this, but when Ethan’s arm went around me and I went tense with fear, He spoke again, the reminder of James 4:7, whispering to my heart, “lean in.”

I wrote the following shortly after.

I am in a brand new relationship. I feel younger than I am, too young, and have no idea how this whole dating thing is supposed to work. I am eager to be close to him, but end up feeling stiff and awkward most of the time as we wade into this wild new territory. The other night, I was  sitting next to him, enjoying his nearness despite my apprehension when suddenly he put his arm around me. I stiffened out of fear and uncertainty. His arm felt huge behind my back and I sat like a log beside him, balancing with anxious energy so that in my stiffness I didn’t tip forward and fall off the seat. I begin to fidget, trying to figure out how this is supposed to work, when I heard the words “lean in” echo inside my soul. I lowered myself just a little so that my head moved into place just below his head, resting somewhere between his shoulder and his chest. I fit there in a way I didn’t when I resisted. I could hear his heartbeat from there and I felt like I knew something of him that I hadn’t before. My rigid discomfort finally relaxed within his arms and I begin to feel as though I could stay right there forever.

I’ve found “leaning in” to God to feel something like that. God calls me into something new, something scary, something that I have no category for, I don’t have answers for, I haven’t got it figured out yet; and if I resist, remain stiff, hard hearted, distrusting, retreating out of fear, this new thing becomes the most uncomfortable thing in the world. And everything within me wants to go back to before when I sat comfortably beside God, but not directly engaged in something with Him. But when I decide to trust, to risk, to hope in the character of God and lean into Him, my head on His heart, awakened by what stirs and moves Him, aware of His movement and responding to His lead—then, even though I might not have anything anymore figured out, all that doesn’t matter as much anymore because I just want to be here, close to my God, held within His arms, listening to the sound of His heart. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:6-8 

There is another thing that God said to me in this vein when I first began to date Ethan. After He opened my eyes to the transformative truth of James 4:7, He also told me, “I am going to do things in your life that you won’t understand at first, just keep leaning in.”

And so as I struggled to submit “under the wing of the Redeemer”, God reminded me of all this and finally I knew what I had to do. I had to lean in, close enough under His “wing” to hear His heartbeat. Answers were not going to come through my pulling away and resisting His leading. In fact, leaning in, submitting to that which I did not understand, but knew God was behind was the only way to get the devil to flee from me. As long as I resisted God, I was placing myself outside of His covering of protection and the devil had much more access to torment me.

As I began to submit to God before understanding all that He was doing, He would remind me of dearly held memories of life with Ethan, and show me His presence in these memories, the way He had woven himself into the fabric of our lives, often giving me a picture of something bigger through these memories. Like the time Ethan and I were at the Arboretum in a heavy rain, but had decided to stay and enjoy having the beautiful gardens to ourselves. If you have been reading my story all along, you might recall the scene when Ethan had given me his coat so that I could endure the rain, and we kept walking, exploring, enjoying one another. It was at the end of that chapter that I had said, “There was a secret truth that God had embedded into this memory.” The secret truth was a picture God had painted for me of what this time after Ethan’s death was meant to be—an invitation to submit and have everything my heart longed for.

That day after hours of exploring the Arboretum in copious rainfall, Ethan turned to look at me once we got into the car and said, “It meant a lot to me that you wanted to stay with me and adventure together even though it was cold and raining.”

“Well,” I answered, “It meant a lot to me that you gave me your coat so that I could stay with you.”

I had sensed the importance of not complaining about the cold. I had known, somehow, it was important to him. And I adored him for giving up his coat for me. This had become one of our favorite memories together (for a fuller look at this memory, see Ch 6).

God opened for me in that memory, a picture of His heart, of all that He was inviting me into. With the memory came the message from God, I know what I am asking of you is difficult, but it’s so important to me. I want to share beauty and adventure with you, and I will cover you in my protection so that you have what you need to endure.

I thought of the way that Ethan had put his arm around my shoulders as we walked through the garden in the rain, and how I leaned in because I loved him and enjoyed being near him.

Yes, if this was important to the heart of God, I would stay with Him. I would accept His covering, and come close, under His Wing.

Covered by His Wings

January 10, 2017, Submission, Unveiled and Covered

The setting of these days was a beautiful cemetery in the desert. The soundtrack was the rising cry of worship from a woman who had felt as though she had just encountered the life of the Messiah for the first time.

When grief threatened to take over or fear offered the temptation to numb out, I consistently fell back on the fact that God did not want me to walk though the grief cycle. There was no normal next step for me. I had no road map, no one to look to who could show me what the daily living out of this journey was supposed to look like. 

No one but Jesus. 

In Him I found my model of what it looks like to walk through the process, present in all the emotions, while always holding onto an otherworldly hope. With Jesus, I found a friend who had gone before me, a man who had wept at Lazuraus’ tomb even though He knew He was going to raise His friend from the grave; a man who was aquatinted with sorrow and anguish of the soul, a man who asked for the cup of suffering to pass from Him even though He knew the purpose of the pain. Jesus showed me how to walk the narrow path. How to stay present to the pain and the hope, how to keep my heart. He dignified every human emotion, and taught me how to feel the pain without indulging in self-pity and getting side-tracked by other’s expectations of my process. He was drawing me so close, pulling me in close to His chest until my heart was learning how to beat like His. He was giving me His shoulder to lean on until I could see what His eyes could see. He was teaching me the language of His heart, the beats of His story. 

As I began each day I would ask the LORD to show me what to think, what to feel, what to pray. I had no preconceived notions of what this journey was to look like. If it was to go anywhere, He would have to show me the way. I didn’t even know what to feel, let alone what to do, without His guidance. 

And as I asked for Jesus’ thoughts to become my thoughts, His prayers to become my prayers, I began to find myself meditating on a host of verses that spoke of clothing and covering. 

At first I found this odd, almost out of step from the rest of what He said. But I was determined to keep my heart and mind open to His leading, I needed to available for Him to course-correct me, to mold the path for this river to go through. If I had been wrong in believing that God would raise Ethan from the dead, my only hope for a future and life of purpose was to stay open for Him to be able to correct my faith if it was misplaced, and set me on the right path for His glory. So if He wanted to talk about clothing and covering in scripture, I would listen, even if it seemed like it didn’t have anything to do with all that had come before. 

Soon, I discovered He was offering me an invaluable tool through these “covering” scriptures. Whenever I felt the blackness of grief pressing down on my soul like a shroud of death, I would take the verses He had brought to me about covering and speak them out loud, one after another. 

I would say out loud, “I am clothed in the garment of praise” (Isaiah 61:3) and amazingly the heaviness would begin to lift and I found I could praise Him a little more. 

I thanked Him for covering me in “robes of righteousness, in garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). 

I grew emboldened, declaring that He was “clothing me in strength and dignity” (Proverbs 31:25), 

My heart was kindled toward my eternal purpose and renewed in the dignity of faith as I recited that I would be clothed in “fine linen, bright and pure” (Revelation 19:8). 

My voice grew stronger as I grew sure that I was “clothed in favor” (Psalm 5:12) and “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). 

But the greatest power came when I would declare aloud that I was “coved in the Blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11). With that statement, I could quite literally feel the darkness flee, leaving me alone and free to worship my God. 

But there was one covering that I was having a hard time coming under, “the wings of the Redeemer” (Ruth 2:12, 3:9). 

The statement and the invitation from God to come under “the wings of the Redeemer” directly hyperlinked me to the night of Ethan’s car accident. It hurt too much to look directly at the night and all that God had said to me.

I couldn’t fathom why God had chosen the same moment in time to radically enter my life and speak to my heart with more clarity and power and love than I had ever known, saying “This is it Makaila! This is what you were created to do! Get under the covering. Submit and show the world My heart.” Why did God choose that moment to radically lift the fear that had been the greatest obstacle in my relationship with Ethan—a fear that Ethan was committed to helping me overcome through prayer and the grace of his love. Why did God let me believe that I was to live this commission out with Ethan when He knew that Ethan was moments from dying. (To read the full account of this, see Ch 11). 

Yes, it’s true that I had reason to believe that God would bring Ethan back to life (see Ch 21 & Ch 22). But at that point in time, I was very much a product of my culture and generation—a 21st century, western-Christian who by and large had been taught that miracles no longer happened, and that they were more the exception than the rule. My faith muscle was incredibly weak, and easily fatigued. 

And so I went to war over feeling that God had betrayed me on the night of the accident. I couldn’t find the nerve to let myself think about everything encompassed for me in the statement “wings of the Redeemer”. For awhile, I refused to include that statement as one of my “covering” verses. 

It hurt too much to look directly at the way God had taken me soaring on such glorious heights while at the very same moment Ethan lay dying. I couldn’t understand why God had chosen that moment to make me so sure of how much He was pleased with and had purpose for my relationship with Ethan. Of all the moments to rain the undeniable glory of heaven on me…to give me reason to say no to all my fear…a reason to push beyond any and all uncertainty about making life with Ethan…and a purpose in marriage to know and make known the heart of God.  I felt like God had given me the most glorious gift my heart had ever longed for, specifically, intentionally, and then rapidly, violently took it away. Maliciously crushing the dream He had birthed in me.

My soul was still suffering the whip lash from it. 

I thought I could only go on, trusting God, as long as I kept myself from looking directly at the book of Ruth and “the wings of the Redeemer” and everything God had spoken to me that night.  I kept telling God, that if I had gotten His direction wrong in my relationship with Ethan, there were nicer ways to redirect me.

But I hadn’t gotten it wrong. If I know anything in life, I know God’s presence and words that night. No one could ever convince me otherwise. There was no mistaking it. I knew what He had said, what He had meant—He made sure of that. 

I was angry that God had given me no time to process—divine purpose spoken, divine purpose crushed beyond a hope, all within the same hour. God had told me that I was created for this, a plan that He had let me believe Ethan was essential to, and then Ethan was dead within the hour.

No, I didn’t want anything to do with the “Redeemer’s wings”. I hated any reference to the book of Ruth. I never wanted to think of that night. I didn’t think I would ever be able to understand it nor have peace about the way God had handled my heart that night. 

And there came a point when He would no longer let me run from it. 

(He is too kind to let me go on thinking that I trusted Him, when clearly I did not). 

Person after person from all different places of my life, even complete strangers over the internet began telling me how I reminded them of Ruth from the Bible. Ethan’s mom gave me a necklace inscribed with the words, “under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). When I asked for prayer, on a number of occasions, friends kept praying that I would be able to “come under the wings of God”. Which was an odd thing to pray, I thought.

Yes, there was no mistaking it, God was chasing down this rebellious place in my heart, the place that believed He had betrayed me. 

He loved me too much to let me run away from this one. 

No, I could not be selective in what I liked and didn’t like about God. I couldn’t pick and choose the words I wanted to take in and the ones I wanted to chuck across an ocean. He had a point in every word spoken, in the timing of every event. He knew what He was doing then and He knows what He is doing now. He would not be derailed. I, of course, had the choice to continue to resist, but He wasn’t going to let me get away without me clearly hearing from Him and consciously choosing to reject His direction. He knew how to make Himself heard. If the first mention of the “wings of the Redeemer” was too easy for me to push away, then He would offer a second go at it, and then a third and forth. 

He is a good shepherd who comes for the one lost sheep. His rod and His staff comfort me because they keep me on the path. He was not going to let me derail by accident, if I chose to reject this strategic point of the plot He was writing, it wouldn’t be because He didn’t make Himself heard. I knew I needed to soften my heart and come under the Redeemer’s wings and even if it was painful, I needed to trust that I would find His goodness there. 

I began to attempt to soften my heart then, but this one was going to be a long process. I hate when it is my fear and distrust that drag a painful thing out into an even longer operation. But I am so grateful that even then, even when I am weak and slow and afraid, God is there in patience, healing my faithlessness with His unfailing love. 

I Want to Build You a Garden

Promised Land, turn the desert into a garden

I pulled into the cemetery aimed at my familiar perch in the rocks behind the lawn where Ethan was buried. 

“Take a walk with me.” God said, inviting me to go a different way this day. 

Instead of climbing the rocks behind Ethan’s grave, I went the other direction. Across the field, past the olive trees that boarder the balcony and down the stairs toward the pond on the lower field. 

I had thought I would hate everything about this cemetery, but I didn’t.

For example, I was grateful for the hot water dispenser inside the lobby ready to brew whatever teabag was in my pocket.

I appreciated the chapel wall that had been the back drop to Ethan’s casket on the day of the funeral—a floor to ceiling, wall to wall window, revealing a stunning view of the desert below this hill. This was my desert, our setting. Somehow it mattered. Every detail mattered. An echo of purpose, textures of meaning, reminders of all that I had been entrusted with.

And I loved the giant olive tree lit with white lights in the lobby. It was easy to picture just about everything Jesus did and would do happening under a tree like that—teaching the multitudes, breaking bread that had just multiplied like magic, praying as he wrestled into the night sweating blood even as he submitted, marrying his bride and feasting with his beloved fellowship. I saw it all play out before me as soon as I stepped into that lobby. I saw it right through the sick in my stomach, and the swimming of my head. I’m not sure I was even aware that I saw it, but my soul remembers it now, remembers the shift that happened inside, the knowing.

On the day of Ethan’s funeral, I had tucked in behind the giant olive tree and made my tea and walked out onto the back balcony. It was large and regal, like it belonged to the home of a Jane Austen character. I walked up to the rail and found that there was a pond on the lower field. I sipped my lavender tea and felt a settling come over me that somehow did not replace the anguish. I will write my story here, I said to myself. I had meant that I would revisit my novel manuscript, but little did I know that God was actually getting ready to make good on His promise that He would out-write me.

It was now April and God had invited me to take a walk with Him. A walk by the pond. The shrubs bordering the pond were in bloom with something red and something white. A turtle sunbathing on the rocks slipped back into the water for a swim. I put in my headphones and my music seemed to have a mind of its own for it started playing a song I had never heard before. 

I’m wanna build you a garden… the voice in the song began to sing. 

“Do you remember?” The voice of God whispered in my soul.

In a dry and desert land…

Do you remember what I promised you?

I’m gonna find a river there….

“Yes,” I said faintly. “I do remember.” He was tugging at a promise He written on my heart back in 2014. I called it my garden promise. It came from Isaiah 51:1-3.

I had been reading in Isaiah one day when I ran across those verses and God marked them for me in such a profound way, saying, “If you have faith like Abraham’s I will turn your desert into a garden.” I didn’t know really what the desert and what the garden were symbolic of, and I didn’t know what I was to have this Abraham-like faith for, but I knew it had something to do with my future family. I did not understand what it meant exactly, but I loved the passage and I held it close to my heart ever since.

“I do remember, but the promise feels so far away, now LORD.” I began to pray, “You gave it to me over three years ago. I didn’t know Ethan then. I didn’t know his love. I didn’t know this grief. How could the garden promise have been about all of this?”

Have you seen me turn a desert into a garden in your life yet?

“No…” could it be that He was talking to me about His plan in Ethan’s death back then, even before I had met Ethan?

I walked up a ramp where a patch of roses where in bloom, climbing high and opening wide in yellows, whites, and pinks.

And still the music played:

No one knows what God has seen. 

Human kind destroyed this garden. 

With bleeding hands, we’ll plant the seeds. 

And he’ll make all things live again…

I began crying then. I stopped under an olive tree where I could feel the spray of the fountain against my face. I dropped to my knees because I could see it. Not the garden, not yet. But I could see Jesus’ bleeding hands, and mine planting seeds. I could see it so clearly. The tears where rolling off my face and onto the grass as the song ended. 

I stood up and pushed repeat. I took another lap around the pound laced with new blooms.

I wanna build you a garden. 

In a dry and desert land

I’m gonna find a river there

I’m gonna find a river there

A prayer began to burn in me, “Lord, I want to be part of that River. Make me part of that River.”

I never needed anything as much as I needed to be part of that River. Now, my soul knew what I was saying. The Holy Spirit was the River, the River of Living Water, and He and His power at work in me, continually following in and flowing out, unrestrained by fear or doubt or pride was what was going to make this garden a reality. I wanted to be part of the River with more intensity than I wanted the garden–from one flowed the other. The River made it possible. The River in me was enough. It was filling me and making me new. Whatever came next, being part of that River was enough.

The song played again and I lifted my eyes to the land surrounding the cemetery below. Desert. All desert, as far as the eye could see was brown dirt and tumble weed and Joshua tree. But just here up on this hill where the cemetery was built, was the green of grass and olive tree. The iridescent blue of still waters, and the splashes of color as warm as the sun in every spring petal. The song ended and again I pressed repeat. Again and again and again, I listened. Until I began to believe.

He wanted to build me a garden.

I began to laugh with overwhelming joy. I spun under the sky in-between the olive trees on the far side of the lawn. He is going to turn my desert into a garden. How could it be? This love was too much. 

I felt my heart might explode out of my chest. His love in this promise was more then I could contain in emotion. It was a feeling beyond anything I had ever before known. It was too much for my body to hold. The force of His love poured into me offered the security and the significance my being craved, I grew sure, confident, unafraid. It was almost painful, so overwhelming was the love, my chest actually ached with joy and I couldn’t decided whether I ought to weep or laugh out loud so I did both, looking like a crazy person to any passerby. 

But I didn’t care. Let them think I was crazy, this was worth any opposition. I would not let go until I saw this promise fulfilled. I trusted His heart. I would see this promise fulfilled and I would be satisfied with the way He would do it. I didn’t have to worry about how or when. It was enough that I knew, this desert was turning into a garden. It was enough to not let go. 

*Garden Song by Jason Upton


“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    that I might bless him and multiply him.
For the Lord comforts Zion;
    he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Isaiah 51:1-3

I Will Not Let Go

Submission, Wrestle Me

One of the hardest and most significant days of 2017 (and my whole life probably) was my birthday that year. I was so unsure of how to approach my grief and hope and longing with the LORD. I didn’t trust yet. I didn’t trust Him enough to let go of all my fear and actually believe Him.  I wanted to have bold faith, to walk in fearless obedience, but my heart looked a lot more like the Israelite sojourners fearfully headed to their promised land, crying out, it would have better for us to die in our slavery than to be brought to this HUGE problem that requires enormous faith. 

But I fought hard against the temptation to fall into the darkness of self-pity. Through the tears and anguish, as I got ready that morning, I began to pray, “Lord, show me what to think, how to feel, what to do.”

And that’s when I started thinking about Jacob wrestling the Lord through the night as he awaited the threat of his brother’s approaching army (see Genesis 32).

I didn’t see the connection at first (I had never understood that story). But that was the only scripture coming to me and it had stayed with me all morning. I decided to go read the story, and there I found a powerful invitation from the LORD. “Wrestle Me,” He said, “and don’t let go unless I bless you.” 

Now, I had no idea, at first, what to do with this. I was having a hard enough time understanding praying persistently, but wrestling God and refusing to let go, this seemed downright wrong. I couldn’t understand. Wasn’t I supposed to humbly accept God’s will? 

I couldn’t seem to get over the fact that God seemed pleased that Jacob didn’t let go even after getting his hip thrown out of socket and hearing the man of God say, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” And to this Jacob replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And so God blesses him. 

Now my relationship with God had never looked anything like this. I couldn’t imagine, continuing to wrestle with God once Jacob realized who he was dealing with, and I especially would not have refused to let go after having been told to “let go, for the day has broken.” 

I started to think how much of my relationship with God was defined by “surrender”. But there was no surrender happening here with Jacob… and this pleased God? Hmmm. 

The more I thought about this, the more I tried to recall verses about surrender. And you know what? I couldn’t. I could think of songs and books, and lots of conversations among Christians that have held the theme of surrender, but I could not think of a single Bible verse about surrendering to God. So I decided to do a search throughout the Bible. I searched many translations, using Bible software and never once could I find a verse where the word “surrender” was used in reference to our relationship with God. The word occurs a mere handful of times (it varies depending on the translation) and always in reference to giving up and giving in to an enemy force that has overtaken someone. This domineering force is never God in the Scriptures. To my utter surprise I discovered that “surrendering to God”, (at least the limp, non-active posture it evoked in me) was not actually a biblical idea. 

Now, of course there are many verses dealing with “submission” to God. But submission and surrender are words that hold very different connotations. In my imagination, surrender is a type of giving up, a hands off and a step away from whatever the problem is. Submission, on the other hand, is a coming under God’s authority and an aligning of wills from a position of humility and action. Submission is a stepping closer and a working with God from under the covering of Hs authority. 

This realization blew my mind. Just this simple word shift from “surrender” to “submission” has changed the way I daily interact with God. It has changed the way I pray and move and act. 

Three times that day I caught myself facing the difficult in my heart and saying to God, “Lord I surrender this to you.” And essentially tried to hand it off so that I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. But each time I caught it, and asked God, “or do you want me to submit rather than surrender? Okay, then Lord, show me where you are working and leading here, how can I align my will with yours?”

 When I surrender something, I try to hand it off and walk away only to face it again and again, because the problems aren’t going away. When I submit, I begin to move in action and purpose toward victory from under the authority of the One who is covering and leading me. 

I think my understanding of surrender produced some weird version of humility where I keep an unnecessary distance between God and I, bowing my head and saying “your will be done not mine” over and over again as I back away and duck out of sight. This is not the relationship God desires with me. When Jesus’ prayed “your will be done and not mine,” it was not a prayer prayed from the distant unknowing of what God’s will was. Jesus knew exactly what God’s will was for him that night. When he said, “Your will not mine,” there was nothing passive about that statement, rather it was the bravest moment of submission the world has ever seen. 

Submission understands humility much better. The humility of submission does not come through distance but through familiarity and understanding of authority and power that is only increased through intimacy. Submission is always a coming under and moving closer. It is an agreement of wills and an acting upon them from your respective position. I cannot know God’s will unless I step in close enough to hear it. 

So back to Jacob. Jacob did not surrender because he knew, this man he was wrestling and his blessing was the only hope he had of surviving the the army of 400 men the next morning and saving his family from certain death. Somehow, at some point in the night Jacob became aware of who he was dealing with and he knew that this man had the power to simply speak a blessing and his situation would be altered. He submitted to this man’s greater power and authority by not letting go, but depending fully on this man’s blessing. 

And so a new pattern of victory and humility was created in my heart that day. A pattern of living as if Jesus really is my only hope. I began to wrestle Him and it was different than the tormented, confused kind of wrestling I had been familiar with. This was a wrestling that was beginning to trust in the power and love of my God. This was a wrestling that was growing determined to see victory. This was a wrestling that would not let go until I saw the glory of God. 

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

By this time, I was spending everyday after work at the cemetery, not to grieve, but to pray. I found it to be a quiet, distraction-free place where I could sit for hours and pour over scripture to seek the face of God. I was trying to mine out what faith actually was and how I could know if mine was the active, genuine article or just the passive, counterfeit of it.

I was asking questions like where does faith originate from, me or from God? And how was it that it had the power to move mountains? What was faith not? How was it not mustering up meaningless willpower? How was it not misguided assurance about false hope? What was the faith that Jesus seemed to be so laser focused on teaching his disciples to have and how is that different from the deception of “name it and claim it” sensationalist self-centered false doctrine.  

One thing was very clear, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And through faith God works miracles, produces fruit, and tells amazing stories of glory (See the Bible… pretty much all of it).

I had been ignoring faith for far too long, living instead off some dull, deflated doctrine that says, “God is going to do what God is going to do, best just to accept it and learn to be okay with whatever He gives you.” This kind of approach to God was suddenly no longer acceptable. But what was acceptable? Of that I wasn’t sure. 

And I was still constantly on the search to discover the value behind persistence. I turned to some word studies as I mined a little deeper. From the Ask, Seek, and Knock passage in Luke, I had noticed that the word “persistence” is sometimes translated as “Impudence.” (For the fuller context of this passage as it relates to my story, read the chapter: The Promise of Bread). If I didn’t understand “persistence” very well in this context, I had no idea what “impudence” meant. Yet another translation offered up the words, “shameless audacity.” Persistence was starting to sound less and less like the endless grind of a child’s pointless begging and more like something strong and bold, born of a bravery I did not know but desperately wanted to have. When I looked up this word for “persistence” in the Greek, there was one definition of the original word that opened up the meaning for me, stating “this shameless persistence of which Christ taught relates to carrying out God’s plan with unembarrassed boldness in the dignity of faith. In other words, the shamelessness of a faith-led believer who is not halted by human fears—even when others cry ‘overdone’”. 

This unpacking of biblical persistence was like opening a window upon a beautiful landscape I had no idea existed outside my house. 

I thought of two other verses that I had held close to my heart for nearly a decade now, though I could never really understand what they meant. The first was 2 Corinthians 3:12 “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” And the second, Romans 5:5 “Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” What was this hope of which Scripture spoke in such outstanding absolutes? 

I thought again to the other night and my secret place of lantern light and Bible and Journal splayed open before me on the floor as Jesus came to me and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

Why had He invited me to ask Him for what I wanted? Why didn’t He just tell me what He wanted to do so that there was no confusion on what I was to set my hope on. What did faith look like here? If faith always originates with “hearing” the word of God (See Romans 10:17). Then He must plant the seed and it is my response to His seed that could either grow a tree or not. Was I good soil? Was my heart soft enough to risk this love? Could I be single-mindedly focused on the words of God enough to not let the weeds of fear and taunts of how impossible this all was choke out the seed He had planted in me? 

Then I began to wonder, would the LORD actually ask me what I wanted Him to do for me? Was such a statement within His character? I didn’t know and so I began asking that God would either confirm and reassure me of His voice and show me what I was supposed to do with it or course-correct me if I was terribly mistaken about all of this. 

And so there I sat at the cemetery, in the rain, asking, seeking, knocking and somehow I found myself in the gospel of Mark and met an impudent man named Bartimaeus. The story unfolded like this: 

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a bling beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. 

But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” 

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”

And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; for faith has made you well.” 

And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

The story gave me chills, for there it was in ink on the page of my Bible, Jesus saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

So such an invitation to state our desire and request before the LORD was absolutely in-line with the character and personality of Jesus Christ. 

And there was Barrimaeus, written into the story of Jesus’ life because of his unashamed persistence in the dignity of faith. Others had cried “overdone” but Bartimeaus paid them no mind. Though he was blind, he could see the Messiah and no human fear was going to halt his ability to reach him. 

The Power of His Love

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread., Nothing will separate you from My love.

When I woke up the next morning and there was no Ethan and no revelation from heaven, the pain of disappointment threatened to sever me in two. I felt more broken that morning than I ever remember feeling. I tried to get ready for work, but it would seem I was powerless to stop the flood of tears rushing from me in my anguish. 

The grief of loss is one thing, but to feel there was no sure place to stand in God anymore was a grief entirely too overwhelming for my finite soul. 

I felt so small, so alone, so broken. I had to go to work without any makeup because I could not get the tears to stop for even a moment. It was ridiculous. I cried all the way to work and then sat in my truck and tried to collect myself enough to go in, but it was to no avail. As soon as I almost had myself under control, I would think of the clarity to which I heard and saw the things of the LORD the night before. He had opened the eyes of my heart to… to what? To let me down? To crush my spirit? To leave me feeling more empty then ever? 

I was a complete and utter mess, but somehow I made it though the morning of work. As lunch time neared, I got a text message from Ethan’s dad. He was in town and he said he wanted to talk to me about something if I had time over my lunch break. 

I met him at Starbucks, we sat outside as he attempted to break the ice with a little bit of small talk, but I could tell there was something burning inside of him. Finally, he said, “Makaila, I want to talk to you about the power of God.” 

“Okay,” I said, not sure how to respond to that. 

“If God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, and nothing is impossible for Him. Then He can bring Ethan back to life. I know its been 40 some days and we’ve already buried his body, but none of that is enough to stop God. It would be easy for Him.” 

I nodded. So far, there wasn’t anything for me to argue with from a biblical standpoint, as much as I was not sure my soul could take the direction this conversation was going. 

“People keep telling me to stop praying for resurrection because it isn’t going to happen, but why?” he said. “If God were to bring Ethan back to live out a full life here, it would in no way jeopardize his eternity with God. He would still get that too. And think of the way it would glorify God and build faith.”

Still sound logic coming from a biblical perspective. Images of Jesus raising the widow’s son on the funeral pyre, and Jarius’s daughter, and His friend, Lazuraus were running through my mind like scenes from a movie.

I was never one for drawing attention to myself and creating a spectacle, but as I thought through these images of Jesus, I realized that He often times was. He wasn’t afraid to demonstrate power strong enough to terrify.

And then I thought of my prayer the night before as I wondered if it was loving to ask Jesus to bring someone back to life. And suddenly I realized that if it wasn’t loving, if it wasn’t a kingdom thing, then Jesus wouldn’t have done it so many times, and told His disciples to do it too. 

“I just have been thinking about how much we limit what we believe God will do,” he went on to say, “His love is powerful. Powerful enough to do anything, anything He wants.” 

I nodded, contemplating this, and prayed, LORD, what are you doing here? Why are you stirring all this up? What are you trying to accomplish? 

“Well,” I finally said to my friend, “you have given me a lot to think about. I had a rather rattling encounter with God myself last night. It seems He wants me to remember that He can do more than make me okay in all of this. But what exactly do you think He will do?” I swallowed and mustered my courage, “Do you think He will bring Ethan back?”

“I know He can,” he said with firm conviction, “but will He?” He heaved a sigh, “I’ll admit, its very hard to fathom.” 

I nodded again, wondering what role faith would play in this. And what exactly was faith anyways?

I left that lunch meeting feeling stronger, contemplative, curious. I could feel God in this, but what if we were misunderstanding what it was that He was trying to tell us. I didn’t want to get this one wrong. I wanted to find the path that God was cutting. I wanted to partner with Him to bring as much life out of Ethan’s death as was possible, but was this where it was going to be found? The stakes were very high. I would need to learn a lot more boldness, and find a lot more courage if this was the path the LORD was cutting to victory. 

What do you want me to do, LORD? I prayed. 

Worship,” He said. 

And so I did. I turned on worship music and kept it on all day. I got lost in the worship, finding my home there again. 

Nothing will separate you from my love,” He told me. 

And this gave a me rock on which I could stand a little taller, a little stronger, a little bolder. If nothing was going to separate me from God, then maybe I had all the security I needed to take this huge risk and ask again for God to bring Ethan back to life. 

Of course, I thought of little else that day and into the next. By the following evening, I decided to bounce all this off a another friend of mine to see what she thought of it.

I timidly divulged everything to her. I told her about my encounter with Jesus and His words, the verses He had led me to. I told her about what Ethan’s father had shared with me while at Starbucks. And then I waited for her to reel me in, to turn the volume down, to talk some sense into me. I was used to this friend trying to protect me from disappointment, so I thought I knew how she would respond, but I was wrong.

“God has been leading me to pray the same way,” she had said, somewhat timidly. 

“What?!” I asked, astounded, “You mean you believe God has led you to pray for Ethan to come back to life?” 

“Yes,” she said. “It started with a vision that came while I was praying on the night of the accident. And since, when I asked God to help me understand why He gave me that vision, He lead me to the story in scripture when Elijah raises the widow’s son.” 

This was a most unexpected response.

I told her, “I think I need to pray about this for awhile.” 

I was a bit shaken by the fact that there were at least three of us who had felt God leading us to pray for Ethan to be raised from the dead, even still, 40 some days after his death. Remember, I was the same double-minded character who had been a slave to fear back when I had my man with me, loving me. I was afraid even when there was nothing to fear. Now here I was trying to risk my heart when it seemed I had everything to fear. 

Some might think that I had nothing to lose in my position, but I felt I had already lost my man, I could not afford to lose my God and my sanity as well. 

Nothing will separate you from my love,” He said to me again. 

He kept offering me that same solid ground of His love to stand on. He was assuring me that I would not lose Him, no matter what. But my battle with fear was not going to be easily won. 

“I don’t know if I am strong enough for this,” I told my friend. 

“Strong enough for what?” she asked. 

“Strong enough to pray persistently for Ethan to come back.”

I went home and laid down shakily in my bed and pulled up the covers. It was not nighttime yet, but I felt as spent as a person could, “I think this might destroy me,” I admitted to the LORD. 

“Nothing will separate you from my love.”

Did I believe that? My actions, my fear, my bowing out before the battle had even begun would suggest that maybe I did not. I took a deep breath and pushed the covers back and found my way to my knees there on the floor of my room once more.

“I believe you LORD.” I began to pray aloud, “Nothing will separate me from Your love. I can risk anything. And so, I shall ask again. Give me the strength for the persistence this will require, show me what this is supposed to look like.” 


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 31-39

The Promise of Bread

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

It was forty days after the accident. I had been jotting notes down all day, everything having to do with bread. God was reminding me that He is a good Father who doesn’t give a stone when I need a loaf of bread. And He was also nudging me and saying, remember what I had said about staying with me on this, and how I would give you manna on the way to the promised land? 

I did remember, but I couldn’t quite put the pieces together. I thought the LORD was speaking into the article I was preparing to write that night, but the more I tried to fit these puzzle pieces into the shape I thought they should be, the more I found they just didn’t fit. I had thought the message was about how no one is ever more compassionate to us than God, and how He sustains us on this earth until we get to heaven. And while both of those ideas are true, they would not fit into the box I was trying to shove them into because they were not the whole truth. God wasn’t just saying that He understands and feels my pain, He seemed to be saying He alone could do something about it. He didn’t only have compassion on me, He was promising to provide for me. 

Why was God always talking to me about bread when it came to Ethan?

Manna.

Feasting. 

Not a stone when what I need is a loaf of bread.

And if the manna was just about getting by in this life here on the way to Eternity, then why did God have to let things get so incredibly good with Ethan? In fact, what was the point of any of it? Why did my manna turn into a feast if he was never the “bread” that the LORD was going to provide for me? It all felt very confusing. 

I was sitting on the floor of my room, the warm glow of lanterns illuminating this secret place. My journal was open on the floor, my wrestling becoming visible as I wrote in the margins and drew arrows to this idea and that, crossing out paths that came to dead ends, all these memories with Ethan where the Lord had spoken and pointed things out to me, mingling with the verses that were flooding my mind. There was something here, but I couldn’t find it, at least not with enough clarity to write an article, not with enough clarity to write a coherent sentence, it would seem.

“Go look at the context.” He said to me again. He had been urging me to look at the context of the good father, bread, and stone passage all weekend. I don’t know why I was so slow to listen, perhaps I thought I knew what I would find there.

Everyone kept telling me God cries with me and He feels every hurt, so I guess I had started assuming that this bread statement just meant God had more compassion on me then all these people who kept apologizing for what God had done to me. But what good was compassion without action when it came from the one person who had the power to change my circumstances? And then I thought about the way Ethan loved me. I thought about what he would do if he had the power to protect me from this pain. 

I thought back to the time I had gotten a creepy voicemail on my phone in which some mysterious caller had taunted me by name. Ethan had texted me right after that and I had told him about the unsetting call. Twenty minutes later, there he was in my office. I hadn’t expected he’d come, the thought actually never occurred to me. 

“What are you doing here?” I asked. 

“I had to make sure you’re okay.” 

I smiled, still a little shocked, “I’m fine.” No crazy guy had come in to threaten my life yet. I assumed I was fine. I had decided to shrug off the call. 

“Are you sure, because I can just stay here while you work.” Ethan had offered, concern etched onto his handsome brow as he sat down at my desk.

“I’m fine, Ethan,” I tried to reassure him with my confidence that all would be fine. I noticed his dress clothes, then, the shirt and tie, “Don’t you have to go to work tonight anyways?” 

“Yeah, I do, in just a little bit.” He checked his watch, “You want to come with me?” 

“Why would I come to your work with you?” I asked. 

“You could just come and sit in there so I’ll know you’re okay.” 

 It was a wonderful gesture. So loving, so protective. 

“I want you to be close enough for me to protect you,” he had said, concern still etched onto his forehead. 

I was so stunned by his need to protect me from this possible danger. It drew my heart to him even more. 

Yes, he would do anything in his power to protect me from harm, to walk me through a challenge, to help me overcome all fear. He wouldn’t just sit off to the side in passive compassion, he would act in some way on my behalf.

And then I thought to a time when Ethan was out of state and he called me just to “brag about me” he had said. He was a flood of such specific and lavish compliments that my head began to spin as I listened to him pour his affection into me over the phone. These where not the typical lines of flirtation and flattery, these where the honest words of a man who saw the beauty in the design of his beloved from every angle. His words were specific and crafted just for my heart, he was letting me know that he saw me, my depth, my passion, my particulars, and he was loving each new layer.

No one had ever said such things to me before. So overwhelmed was I by his love for me that I was literally dizzy from it. I had never expected anyone to love me like that, I had not even thought to dream of it. And as soon as my head stopped floating enough to think, I thought to myself (I think I even said out loud to him over the phone), “If a man can love me like this, then I have not begun to fathom the depth of God’s love.” 

And from then on, it was as if a path had been cut for a river of God’s love to flow through my mind. Whenever Ethan saw me and fought for me, protected me and loved me, each time it was an expanding of my understanding of God’s love. I knew God’s love for me would always exceed human love, but God was demonstrating a love for me through Ethan that I had never before had the capacity to even imagine. It became a pattern of thought, I never received Ethan’s gestures of love without it somehow expanding my ability to receive God’s love. If Ethan cares what I think and wants to know how I feel about this, then so must God. If Ethan feels angry that someone treated me unjustly, then so must God. If Ethan goes out of his way to protect me from harm, then so must God.

God’s promise of bread, the manna, the feast, His constant reminder that He is a Good Father, it had to be more than passive compassion. Whatever it was, it had to make me feel at least as loved as Ethan would make me feel if he were here, right now, I reasoned. 

The words came again, “Go look at the context.” 

I looked around for my Bible. Suddenly the need to see the context was urgent. I rushed to my desk, to my bookshelf, to the other bookshelf. I was spinning  in the room like a mad woman in need of her Bible. When I finally found it, it was there under my journal all along. I threw it open and filed through to the Sermon on the Mount as fast as my fingers would turn the pages. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it wall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks you for a fish, will you give him a serpent? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

That wasn’t about compassion at all, really. It was about asking and receiving. But still I wasn’t understanding. I looked at the footnote, see parallel Luke 11:5-13. I turned there like a woman on a hunt now, I had to figure this out. I imagined finding that aha! moment and hearing Ethan say, “You cracked the case, Holmes. Good job.” I would get there… I had to. 

I opened to Jesus’ words in Luke:

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door in now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise up and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

I sat back and scratched my head, bemused. So this passage was about asking and asking persistently and trusting in the heart of the Father to give good gifts… but not automatic gifts that he gives regardless of what I do, these were about gifts given because the child has asked. So “I am a Good Father. I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread” was an invitation to ask, and ask persistently.

I looked again at the Matthew passage, “how much more will your Father give good things to those who ask him!” 

And then, very clearly, I heard God say, “Ask Me.”

My heart started pounding then. Within my spirit, I could see Jesus standing before me, arms spread wide, palms open like he was ready and willing to hand me whatever I asked for. 

“What do you want me to do for you?” He said. 

Now my heart was racing, because at the same moment I heard his question, I also knew with a sharp clarity of mind that I wanted Him to bring Ethan back. And it didn’t feel like wishful thinking, this was after all, the God who made Ethan in the first place, the same God who rose Jesus and a host of other individuals from the dead. It was a bolder request than I had ever made in my entire life, but it was not beyond what He could do. And here He was before me, asking me to ask Him for it. 

Tears were streaming down my face as I knelt in the lantern light on my bedroom floor. Did I dare speak the words aloud? Could I voice my deepest need? Could I risk my desire? For a fleeting moment I thought I could not be so bold and I almost asked God instead to just make me okay with this reality and help me feel better about it, but I did not ask for that. My God could do more than that! Ethan deserved a risk bolder than that. And so with a shaky voice I croaked out, “I want you to bring Ethan back.” Then again, a little louder, “I want you to bring Ethan back.” And then with conviction and strength, I said it a third time, “I want you to bring Ethan back.” 

Sobs took hold of my chest and I bowed my face low until it was touching the floor. I whispered through sobs into the carpet, “You are a Good Father. You are not going to give me a stone when I need a loaf of bread.” 

What in the world was happening? I thought to myself. Was I losing my mind or was God really suggesting that He might answer my request, that this was the bread he had been wanting me to ask Him for all along? 

Then I thought of how many times I had heard people in the last month say that Ethan was so happy now he wouldn’t come back even if you begged him. I didn’t want to ask something of the LORD that was unloving to Ethan, and so I amended my request, “Father, I want you to bring Ethan back, but if doing so is not what is best for Ethan, then could you lift the veil into Heaven for just a moment, let me see it, let me see him, something to put my mind at ease, a picture to give me your perspective?” 

I clicked off the lanterns and climbed into bed trembling, wondering what was going to happen next.