Vincent Vacation, The Grandeur and The Fear

Our introduction to Yosemite National Park was an early June afternoon at the northern Tioga Pass which only opens in late May because of snow.

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As soon as we passed through the park entrance gates, snow began to fall.  The kids have never seen snow since it’s not snowed in Houston since they were two months old.  We pulled over so they could catch a few flakes on their tongue.  The next day in the Valley it was 100 degrees.

Such is the grandeur and unpredictability of Yosemite.

El Capitan greeted us at first view when we drove in Sunday morning:

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We ate on the Merced beach across from El Capitan’s trail with the rain beginning to fall:

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We drove past the tiered Yosemite Falls on one side and Bridalveil Falls on the other:

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At the top of Tunnel View we could see most of the Valley spread before us – from Half Dome to the falls to El Capitan with glimpses of Cathedral Rock and Three Brothers:

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The wildness is breathtaking.  Spectacular.  Extraordinary.  It’s also a little bit terrifying.  The hairpin turns around mountain ranges with no rail or views beyond the next curve.  The warnings of roaming bears and coyotes.

Truth be told, I’ve been scared by a lot lately.  News reports are chilling.  Headlines from Nigeria to our backyard have set me on edge.

I was acutely aware of my growing fear in the wilderness.  I stood guard over the family picnicking by the Merced in case of a wandering bear (despite my husband’s chuckling that no person in recorded history has been killed by a bear in Yosemite).  I gripped the door handle and pressed my foot on the invisible passenger brakes as he slowly inched up the mountain’s edge.  I packed extra food and drinks in case of weather or misdirection.

Yet everything was beyond my control.

So much in my life is.  Funny, those are the things I worry about.

I shared what I began to see about my fear out there in the wild with a dear friend, and she wisely remarked, It sounds like you are afraid of the big.  But it’s in the bigness of God that we also find safety. 

Sigh.

Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
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eautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,

like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.
God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.
As we have heard, so we have seen

in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever Psalm 48

This wasn’t the vacation post I’d set out to write about the grandeur of Yosemite.  There are plenty of words to fill a page to share the beauty of each nook and cranny.  Not just the mountains and the waterfalls, but the flowers and the rocks and the dappled light through the trees.

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I would have done them all injustice, but I could have easily written that post.

But I wondered if maybe there’s not someone else struggling with fear over the big.  Fear which could easily take over even though it’s everything beyond our control.

I found tremendous peace in remembering the bigness of my God is the antidote to the bigness of my fear.  {==> Click to Tweet}

You see, the God of all this grandeur, isn’t about fear; this extraordinary God is about extraordinary love.  And as big and unpredictable as life, and my fears, are, He is bigger:

 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  I Tim. 1:7

God is love… There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  I John 4:7

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day…
Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.  Psalm 91

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I know it’s scary when we can’t see around the corner, but He can, and He’s there.

The Storms

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We squinted at the small screen as the radar showed a long line of storms from San Angelo to Oklahoma City.  Unfortunately, we were headed north on I-35 to visit my father in Oklahoma City.

We would have been on edge in any event given the deep red shades on the radar, but we’d only just gone through one of the most severe thunderstorms that week we had ever experienced in Houston.  Swaths of the city were underwater and our neighborhood saw 11 inches of rain in six hours overnight.  We were still picking up debris. 

As we drove north from Dallas toward Oklahoma City, I monitored the storms inching toward the freeway and entertained the children as he drove at an ever escalating pace.  My stomach turned flips as the storms moved ever closer.  Just on the other side of the state line, I told him if we could make it to Ardmore within 30 minutes, we might avoid the main line of storms.  As if to punctuate the importance of beating the thunderstorms, our phones alarmed with flash flood and thunderstorm warnings and the sky lit up with incoming lightning. 

As my nerves jangled, I opened up the Bible app on my phone to remind myself of the most famous storm the disciples encountered.  Mark 4 tells it like this,

That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Oh ME of little faith.  Imagining the disciples being overtaken by waves on a small boat gave me some perspective.  It settled me.  I began to pray.  Dear Lord, please guard our car.  Guard our family.  Guard us as we approach this storm.  Please help us make it through.  Get us to the city without driving in the midst of that terrible line of thunderstorms.  Send your powerful protection. 

And we made it.  The storms hit I-35 once we were north of them. 

I prayed with heartfelt thanks for the safe arrival at my father’s house. 

But then I paused.  I recalled a passage from Undone I had read that afternoon on the ride up.  The author tells of her and her family’s weeks of prayers as they awaited the verdict of whether her cancer had spread.  The doctor called and the news was positive. She still had recovery ahead, but the cancer had not spread.  She fell on her knees in thanks for the good news. 

Until she received her doctor’s reply to her enthusiasm, Yes, God is good – I believe this even when we struggle to understand all of His purposes.  She quickly sobered and remembered others who had received different news: Yes, God is good.  It was easy for me to say it at that moment buoyed as I was with good test results.  But would I still have celebrated the goodness of God with different results?  Would I have testified to my confident, unwavering belief in Jesus had the test scan turned out differently

Would I?  I began to ask myself some questions:  Would I have been grateful had we spent time in the center of the storm?  Would my faith have reacted differently if our little family experienced flood waters rising, hail falling and wind blowing?  Would God still be a good God who cares about us?

This is what I’m constantly learning when confronting storms:  God is good.  He’s good when He saves us from having to go through the storm.  He’s still good when He stands with us IN the storm. 

I don’t always understand where God is leading.  Or why.  I’ve stopped trying to understand with my limited field of vision.  I will probably continue to pray to be delivered from the storms.  But I will trust God is good and is fighting for me even in the storms. 

And I know I will arrive safely at my Father’s house. 

God-sized Dreams Mission Moments Plea

The headline blared: Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria.

It was the above the fold story. The first thing I read in the paper that morning. The opening paragraph from the Times on May 18th screamed this indictment: Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.

The voice in my head screamed louder: HOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW?

The how rapidly morphed into a howl: within the same 24 hours I read the gut-turning, mind-shattering story of the atrocities being committed by ISIS against NINE YEAR OLD girls over at Ann Voskamp’s corner:

Click away, turn the other way if you want, but those girls are wild to turn and escape — and they can’t. They are categorized. Stripped. And shipped naked. Examined and distributed

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Please join the God-sized Dreams community today as we seek to support the girls and women surviving horrific assaults in Iraq and Nigeria.

Planting of Splendor

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The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.

Isaiah 61

No matter where you are today, what your life circumstance, how large the obstacle feels, He will use even this and you will be planted for the display of His splendor.  Even in this.  Because of this.  Splendor will come.

He Leads, So We Can Be Brave

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Be Brave.

That’s the entire title of the speech I’ve been giving this past month as I travel.

The how I often have to leave unsaid

How?  Because He’s got it.

The Bible is clear on this point.  All the stuff, the external metrics we’re so obsessed with living up to every day even though they keep changing, becomes irrelevant in light of the Scripture.  Once the measuring stick is gone, it’s tremendously freeing for a leader.

I couldn’t be free, or brave, without the cornerstone of my faith.

This is where I hang my metaphorical hat:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to doEph. 2:8-10

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Phil. 1:4-6

Did you catch that?  Three simple, freeing, promises:

1.  We are His work.

2.  He created us to do good works that He already has PREPLANNED.

3.  And He will carry out His good work in us.

External forces will always tell us there is a new barometer by which we must measure success.  Right?  Facebook changes its publicity policy faster than anyone can track.  The networking technique of today turns changes to the branding yourself tool of tomorrow.  That six figure salary won’t put a single kid in private school while you juggle your mortgage and car payment.

The money is never enough.  The promotion doesn’t buy satisfaction.  The plastic surgery, social media, luxury handbag or SUV, the front page headline, the publication, the big award, they never provide freedom.  They just provide more pressure.  To do the next big thing.  To surpass your last achievement.

But. God.

Endless freedom.  Stable assurance.  They form the foundation for a lifetime of brave leadership.

God wants you to succeed more than you do.  He just wants you to succeed differently.  {===> Click To Tweet}

He wants you to see that you are beautiful and loved and forgiven and a conqueror because HE created you.

He wants you to fulfill all the good works He has preplanned and stored up for you.  He’s just waiting for you to ask the simple question:

What God?

Where God?

When God?

How God?

Then He will carry out that good work to COMPLETION.  That’s right, all those good works will be done beyond anything we could have imagined for ourselves (Eph. 3) because He’s doing it.  We just have to go where He says.

Do you know how bravely you can lead when the pressure is off of YOU?

The pressure is on Him.

You just get to say, “okay, let’s roll,” and everything else is up to Him.  We follow where we’re supposed to go even if it feels NUTS.  Even if it’s antithetical to the way everyone says we’re supposed to do it.  The world says, “write a blog about only one topic if you ever want to succeed.”  God says, “mmm, no, I want you to write about a dozen things, none of them related, and any one of which might turn off the people who read the other thing.”  Crazy, right?  But SO freeing.  The world says, “speak more and more and take the bigger promotion and salary and do it bigger and bolder.”  God says, “why don’t you just stay quiet for a while, and wait on the promotion, and hang out with neighbors instead.”   Are you kidding me?  Oh, but how much more fun is it to do it the crazy way.

A girlfriend recently said, “I can’t get over how fun this is.  This following Him in the ways He takes me and doing the things I used to be way too scared to do.  Can you believe how He is using this simple act of obedience?  It’s nuts.  And so fun!”

If are ready for a wild brave leadership ride, then spend a little time each morning asking God those simple questions and then head out wherever He leads.  It will be scary and fun and nerve-racking and breathtaking and unexpected.  He’s leading, so we can be brave!