how much more: what we gain from loss and change

I’m not sure how we are ever going to sell this house – get it show-ready, keep it clean with seven kids, and make sure no one’s dirty socks are peeking out of the couch cushions. Friends, I can’t even keep the cat from licking muffin batter while the oven preheats.

how much more: what we gain from loss and change - Copperlight Wood

Our home is feeling simultaneously fuller and emptier. We’ve been nesting and purging and cleaning and packing, but still the house feels a little like your favorite old sweater whose sleeves have shrunk; regardless of how comfy the material is, it doesn’t fit right anymore.

We have known a change was coming for a while. We need it, not just physically, not just for space and breathing room, but we need a fresh start and new memories. We love these walls and woods, but the kids have worn bare patches in the grass and trails through the trees. We’ve walked through some paths that have changed us.

Two years ago we were in the middle of a period of awful loss for our family, and it spiked when some of our dearest friends moved away the same week our cat died. We were still reeling from a season that felt like it was dishing out far more than we could take, and we didn’t know how much more was coming.

P1030662A few months later,  in spite of all of our plans, fears, and biology, we were pregnant with a baby we didn’t expect. God moved mountains and brought that small person here…and we were grateful, but for the first time in six pregnancies my gratitude was outweighed by fear. I didn’t know how much more I could handle.

The morning after our positive pregnancy test, this note was on the bathroom counter waiting for me:

Well, well, well. What have we here? I’m trying hard to think of what to say. How do I encourage you and make you smile on this most emotionally turbulent morning. Fear, which should have no place at Copperlight Wood, mixed with expectation of joy, which we have been lacking of late, seem to be at an impasse. What to do? All I can think of is to quote Master Samwise:

“But you haven’t put yourself forward; you’ve been put forward. And as for not being the right and proper person, why, Mr. Frodo wasn’t, as you might say, nor Bilbo. They didn’t choose themselves.”

I can’t express how proud, thankful, and impressed I am by you. You’re amazing and strong and I love you so very much. Love the Lord, embrace your kids, and let the Holy Spirit lead the way. The enemy fears you. It’s not the other way around.

– Vince

It turns out that moving mountains isn’t hard for Him, though it always seems like such a big deal to us. It’s more the movement of our hearts that is the big deal, the real mountain to be overcome. We think we are ready (or not) for change based on our feelings or circumstances, and He says that those things have very little to do with it at all – we’re ready for something not because we feel like it, but because He has a strategic plan and has prepared us.

And here, some things are restoring – not as they were before exactly, because you can never go back, but pretty close. Or at least close enough, because we can see it happening. We see glimpses of the joy that used to be, and it’s the same but different – kids learning to read, but now it’s Chamberlain instead of Afton; a cat sleeping in the windowseat, but now it’s Knightley instead of Sophie. And some things are brand-new, just beautiful gifts of His grace that we never would’ve imagined – new ministry opportunities, and this blue-eyed, blond-haired, dimply eleven-month-old crawling everywhere.

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He is doing it again. He is making all things new. The in-between stage can make us want to shrink up and die, afraid to take a leap ever again, but amazing things are on the other side if we press through.

Remember your faith from when you were radical, Love – and remember the victories that came from it. When you have Me for your defense, you need no other.

God has delivered you before, and He will do it again.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

– Matthew 7:11, NLT

There is no “filling of shoes” for the old loves. A new pet never really replaces an old one, new relationships don’t replace broken ones, and new friends can’t replace the ones who’ve helped you bury the body.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

– Mark 10:29-30, ESV

There are new loves. There are new friends, and new pets, and new perspectives, and we find that somehow our hearts that felt shrunken by their absence in loss has somehow expanded with love for both the new and the old in ways we never would have expected.

Grief catches us somewhere between the loss and the victory, like the day between the Crucifixion and Easter. The goodbyes, the hard choices, the letting go of the way we thought things were supposed to be — we feel like our labor lasts well past the due date. We know birth is coming; we just don’t know how much more pain we’ll have to take before it happens.

The feeling of fullness, of swelling and discomfort and impatience – these are all signs of imminent delivery: life, joy, the much-longed-for beginning.

But in the pain of labor we rail against God and give Him a piece of our minds: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, this is terrible timing, are You blind to everything we’re already dealing with? Don’t You know how much this hurts? 

Even Death and Destruction hold no secrets from the Lord.
How much more does He know the human heart.

– Proverbs 15:11

And He is so gentle. No lightning strikes, no chasm opening in the ground, no instantaneous heart attack.

He says, I know, Love.

I know what it is to not get what you think you want. I know what it is to wrestle with the Father’s will. You will never know how much more pain I went through.

But I also know what it is to surrender to it and trust Him. I know the gain on the other side of this labor. It’s how I got you.

mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

Well, I’m not proud of it, but it’s done. Finished. Time to move on and get our life back.

Mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

That’s right, folks – I’m talking about how we spent the last three weeks binge-watching seasons four, five, and six of Downton Abbey, months after everyone else wept and waxed eloquent over the series finale.

Now we can weep and wax eloquent, too.

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Now our evenings are normal again. Now we are responsible again. Now we will do things again, like spring cleaning. Like getting ready to sell the house. Like laundry.

Actually, the laundry isn’t really Downton Abbey’s fault. Our dryer stopped working – it would run an unending cycle, but without heat – and when Vince finally had a chance to figure out what was wrong with it (between episodes, of course) we discovered that dryers go on strike once they have accumulated a certain amount of legos, screws, and bobby pins in their bowels. This is hauntingly similar to our discovery that ice-cube makers don’t digest glitter.

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But my appliance-fixing hero husband gave the dryer a bowelectomy or something on Monday, and we are back on track. Which is great, because some of us were dangerously low on clean underwear, favorite socks, and, um, bobby pins. Mea culpa.

Now we can focus on getting ready to move. We have a whole list of tasks: some painting, some trimming, some caulking, little things here and there. It helps that it’s spring. ‘Tis the season for doing the dirty work of cleaning vents and corners and window crevices anyway.

And He’s doing it with us, too. We’re ready for a new season, and the big move isn’t just a physical thing. A laundry list of items that need to be dealt with emerges – heart issues, attitudes, habits, and routines. It’s time to clear the clutter, remove what’s taking up too much space, and make way for breakthrough. We need it. Our kids need it.

This may shock you since your children are probably perfect, but our kids are not perfect and a few of them have had a rough go of it lately. I’ve also had a rough go of it lately. I’ve struggled with irreverent thoughts, like, Hundreds of years ago some mother in Mexico was doing the same kinds of impossible, aggravating things. She was teaching her kids, cleaning her home, cooking food for everyone. She probably couldn’t help her six-year-old understand place value in arithmetic, either, and that’s when she invented Tequila.

I’ve been at a loss for how to pray and intervene sometimes. I’ve wondered if a certain kid’s continued disobedience is because he’s just not ready or because we’re doing something wrong. I’ve wondered if I’ve become resigned to it. I’ve wondered if I’m a good enough mother. We torture ourselves with these kinds of thoughts, the debris that churns round and round, shorting our circuits and blowing our fuses.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

– Isaiah 53:4, ESV

I keep praying the same thing over and over, and still see the same choices, the same mistakes, the same hardness, and what I’m praying doesn’t seem to be helping. And I’ve scrubbed the bathroom in desperation and relief, knowing that if I couldn’t make a child speak correctly, couldn’t make him do his business in the toilet every time, couldn’t make him want to be healthy and whole and free, I could at least send him to bed for a while so I could eat breakfast two hours late and clean the bathroom and pray about it.

At least, for crying out loud, I could clean the mirrors.

And that’s all any of us can do. Just take care of what is in the mirror.

And He told me, Look for the same thing in yourself, Love. Find the log in your own eye, even if you only think it’s the tiniest speck. If you don’t think you even have that, ask Me, and I’ll show you what I want you to rout out and redeem. Confess and repent of it to clear the way, and your prayer for this loved one will be powerful and effective.

We tend to accumulate all sorts of emotional clutter and collateral damage. Repentance is our best routine maintenance.

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It’s just a faint reflection of what He did for us – He looked at Himself, stainless, and when there was no log or speck to pluck out, He took the whole tree instead. For us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

– Isaiah 53:5-6, ESV

Mea culpa. My fault.

There was a really hard day not too long ago, and I needed immediate words for one of our kiddos – words that pursue truth without pushing away, words that don’t let the behavior slide but also don’t miss what’s going on underneath. They needed to be words that helped him see in the mirror clearly instead of further distorting the image. And He gave me the words, but after I said them I realized they were for me, too.

They’re words we all need to hear on days that we’re not proud of. Here they are:

How you’ve acted this morning (this week, this year) is not who you are. I hope you start acting like yourself real soon.

We pray for those who are falling and those who have fallen and those who are walking wounded from their choices – and it’s their choices that we can do nothing about, though we see so clearly the grief they are causing. But we can look in the mirror and find our own frail humanity and need for grace just as much, and then pray more effectively because compassion has swept the debris out of the way.

It’s the same thing I’ve been telling one of my oldest kids over and over, but I didn’t realize it was for me, too: Until we take responsibility for ourselves and how we affect others, we will run around in circles progressing nowhere. And then we feel and recognize His forgiveness – the gentle joy that revels in victory – and the breakthrough from the battle is for us and our kids and all of our loved ones, and we know He is accomplishing it in those we are interceding for, too, because His kindness leads us to repentance. Instead of the grinding downward spiral, it’s a cycle that always leads to our truest self, and more life. And we need to get our life back.

not over yet: oxygen that resurrects our story

While much of the lower 48 is recovering from a blizzard, we are oddly snowless in our part of Alaska. It’s brown and ugly, but makes for easy driving with seven kids in the Stagecoach going hither and yon for errands.

not over yet: oxygen that resurrects our story

The other day we drove home from Cham’s therapy appointment behind a sedan with a slow leak on both of its left tires, wobbling slightly lop-sided down the Parks Highway at 48 miles an hour until it finally turned off near a service station. We don’t always notice when we have a leak; the roads are rutted from studded winter tires, and a little wobble doesn’t necessarily mean any more than that. But hopefully the driver noticed and stopped for a quick refill — air’s still free, you know.

We had snow a few weeks ago before it melted, and some moose came to visit. This mama just stared at us through the window, her ear flickering at sudden noises, on guard nonstop. Her baby was nearby eating a willow. We stared at her, staring at us, as she sized us up through the window. And I know how she felt, this mama on high alert.

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A little on edge. Constantly watching for danger, trying to keep our kids safe and in sight; trying to keep the air from leaking out of our tires.

Most moms really struggle with this. And most adoptive moms I know are driving on at least one steel rim. Some of our tires are just fine, but others are about to go flat without some serious maintenance. And soon.

Someone asked me a while ago what our family really needs, and how the church can support us. It’s a loaded question, so I gave the easy, predictable answer: Pray for us. Then the Spirit pricked me towards transparency, and I also mentioned we need a bigger house. And it’s true, we need both of those things.

But I wish I would’ve said childcare. Or a meal once a week. Or just, invite me to things even if you think I probably can’t come. And you’ll probably be right, but it’s nicer than being written off.

The church is starting to recognize that special needs adoption is a frontline ministry unlike most others – the mission field is brought into the home, and it often (especially in the first years) becomes a war zone. There’s no clocking out; there’s no furlough, there’s no sabbatical. There’s no leaving triage after a 12 hour shift.

Several times a week I hear from grieving moms who are walking wounded, marriages struggling, everyone suffering some level of trauma from the chaos. And for the most part, I don’t mean families who just recently adopted. I mean families – moms, dads, and siblings – who have been in this for years and have little left after so many miles of driving on rims.

What can we do? A meal once a week would free up 30-60 minutes for the adoptive parents to spend much-needed time doing any number of other things that need caught up on: errands, paperwork, phone calls, one-on-one time with a child, or (gasp!) even alone time to decompress. For reals.

Marriages might be saved if someone invested in an adoptive family in such a way that they could provide appropriate childcare for the special needs involved. A mid-week calibration might do wonders for a family on the edge and in need of intervention, because frontline ministries require reinforcements.

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Ready for a science break? A few days ago I was reading to Afton about silkworms and metamorphosis. Here:

“Once enclosed in its cocoon, the caterpillar withers and shrivels up, as if dying.”

Cheerful, isn’t it? Hang with me. Many mamas are right here, in the middle of the mess, shriveling in darkness. And we need to hear this.

“It is an intermediate state between the caterpillar and the butterfly. There can be seen certain projections which already indicate the shape of the future insect….Both the chrysalis and the nymph are insects in process of formation – insects closely wrapped in swaddling clothes, under which is finished the mysterious operation that will change their first structure from top to bottom.”

And did you know that swaddling clothes are death wrappings? The same cloths wrapped around Jesus at birth were meant for wrapping around a dead body. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. But the same death that was meant to be the end of everything was actually the beginning that conquered death forever.

It is an intermediate state, this darkness.

“It must get out of the cocoon. But how? The caterpillar has made the cocoon so solid and the butterfly is so weak! …It would not be worth the trouble of going through so much to stifle miserably in the close cell, just as the end is attained!”

“Could it not tear the cocoon open with its teeth?” asked Emile.

“But, my innocent child, it has none, nor anything like them. It has only a proboscis, incapable of the slightest effort.”

“With its claws then?” suggested Jules.

“Yes, if it had any strong enough. The trouble is, it is not provided with any.”

“But it must be able to get out,” persisted Jules.

“Doubtless it will get out. Has not every creature resources in the difficult moments of life!….But you would never guess the singular tool that it will use.”

Tell me. Tell me how we stop the leak, refill, keep our kids safe, and protect our own oxygen level all at once. Tell me how we get from the new normal that feels like death and darkness to a new normal that feels like flying.

Ready?

“Insects’ eyes are covered with a cap of transparent horn, hard and cut in facets. A magnifying glass is needed in order to distinguish these facets, they are so fine; but, fine as they are, they have sharp bones which all together can, in time of need, be used as a grater…One by one the threads of silk succumb to the rasping. The hole is made, the butterfly comes out. What do you think about it? …Which of us would have thought of forcing the prison walls by striking them with the eye?”

– Jean Henri Fabre, The Story Book of Science

And He says, Look at Me, Love.

Your oxygen is right here. That’s why this is the year of deep and wide. There’s not much that prayer, education, and worship won’t round out again.

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We are so busy looking at the darkness – not only the demands of the day, but sometimes we have traumatized kids or abusive people puncturing our tires and slashing their own. And the darkness tries to command our attention, but we are not at the mercy of darkness because how we aim our vision is how we let the light break through.

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.

– Luke 11:34

We’re meant to thrive and grow, not just barely make it before our rims start wearing against the pavement. Which of us would have thought of forcing the prison walls by striking them with the eye? Only the Creator who made a way for each of us to escape the darkness.

Look at Me, Love.

It’s hard, yes. Diagnoses are real and pain is real, and changing our focus doesn’t change the past, it doesn’t change Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, it doesn’t change the amount of your paycheck or the dysfunction of someone else.

But it’s not the end. The prison turns into a place of new birth, oxygen changes our structure from top to bottom, and where we were earth-bound and vulnerable, we become strong and beautiful. It starts with looking at the One who fills us. The air’s still free, you know.

choosing sides: a post-adoption update, three years later

She woke up with one question.

“You say, ‘Happy bootday, Reagan?’”

After 364 days of talking about what she wants to do on her birthday – to the point we had to reign in and discipline it lest she drive herself and the rest of us crazy – we finally we got to say, Yes. Happy bootday, Reagan. Today is your day.

“Do you know how old you are?”

She grins and flutters her hands. “Yes!”

“How old are you?”

“Five!! I five, mama!”

Yep. Still working on that.

choosing sides: a post-adoption update, three years later

She was born ten years ago. Andrey’s biological mom was seven months pregnant with him, I was six months pregnant with Afton. During their first five years, we didn’t know Andrey or Reagan existed. During the last five years, we spent two trying to bring them home, and the last three post-adoption years helping them know they are home. For good, forever.

She opens the first gift and before I know it, I hear myself say, “Do you like it?” Suddenly it’s three years ago and I’m asking the same thing in my best awkward Bulgarian. “Haresva li ti?” Please say yes. Please mean it.

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And she does like them. Vin took a risk and bought size eight pants. They will fit nicely in the top of her closet while we wait for her to grow into them.

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What she really loved, though, came next. “Oh! Oh! Hoo-ey, ahhhsome! Yay, hoo-ey!” I have never seen anyone so excited over hooey before.

She loves hoodies and glasses. She likes cars and coloring. What really makes her light up, though, is music. And food, of course.

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Vin was home for the day, there were eight inches of fresh snow over everything and it was still coming down on our cusp of the valley. We had a snowball fight before lunch – all of us except Reagan, who wasn’t interested. She made tracks, ate snow, and watched from a safe distance. Cham also wasn’t interested, so she made herself a snow throne and sat like a queen in the middle of the action, occasionally granting boons of huge snowballs to us, and just as often getting hit in the crossfire with her own artillery.

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But Andrey joined us, and for you to understand how significant it is to have him do so – and have fun – in this particular activity, I would have to remind you that he cried fat tears the first time Vince gave him a high five, thinking he was getting hit. And other times more recently, there have been big crocodile tears over the slightest jostle, trying to get siblings in trouble. The boundaries are so paper thin and fragile sometimes, us learning to trust him and him learning to trust us. We want him to know that we can carry him upside down and not drop him.

Vince and I were captains and we chose sides – I took Mattie and Andrey, Vince took Iree and Afton. Afton captured Andrey and took him to the snowbank, and Mattie and I had to Stage A Rescue.

Under heavy fire from Vince and Iree, Mattie threw Afton into the snow bank on their side and I threw – okay, gently shoved – Andrey toward the safety of the snowbank on our side. And he loved it. And then the snow was everywhere – in our eyes, stuck in our hair and melting down our faces, sailing in arcs to land on hats and backs and behinds.

(There was some hand to hand combat and it got a little messy. If you ask Vin, he might tell you some nonsense about me playing dirty and shoving a ton of snow down the front of his shirt. But that’s ridiculous; I would never have done that because he had Finnegan in the front pack under his jacket. I shoved the snow down the back of his shirt. Just so we’re clear.)

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There was soup and bread inside for lunch; a movie and a nap. A normal day. A relatively easy day. The next day was harder; behavioral fallout from excitement and change still happens. Sometimes it’s over just a routine appointment, and sometimes it takes us back to behaviors we haven’t seen since those first weeks together in a hotel in Bulgaria.

Every day is a study. Will they cooperate with school – or speech – today? Will they have fun? Will Reagan join us during meals and playtime, or will she piddle the day away in the bathroom, trying to isolate herself from all of us? Will Andrey obey routines, or will he sabotage every opportunity for freedom and joy? Will Reagan remember how to count past ten today? Will Andrey pretend that he doesn’t know what the number fifteen is?

Will they know that we will do what we can to rescue them from attack, but that we won’t rescue them from the consequences of their own actions?

We are still here, a little over three years later. And the pendulum still swings, but now it usually has a more tempered, predictable rhythm.

As they get older, I hope we’ll see the right answers to all these questions. I hope they will forgive us for being imperfect parents. I hope they’ll forgive their birth parents and orphanage workers for anything they may harbor against them, heart-wise. I hope they will forgive and love themselves. I hope when it comes time to choose sides, they will choose life.

I hope they will see Jesus through their entire story, protecting, loving, correcting, and renewing. I hope they will know He is for them. I hope they wake up every morning and hear Him say, Hey, Love. Today is your day.

_____

related: a love that grows: a letter to Reagan on her eighth birthday

unearthed: what is created under pressure

The highway is framed and divided by road construction, the right lane penned off with traffic cones. The dump truck in front of us, in lieu of actually slowing down and using his blinker, does a wild maneuver with agility usually unseen in construction equipment and whips into that right lane, just barely brushing one of the cones — it wavers, but doesn’t topple over. Pretty impressive, Alaska.

I’m not saying it was safe or responsible. It was reckless and probably the impulse of a moment, not a practiced move. And it’s easy to take risks on impulse.

unearthed: what is created under pressure

Risks that ride sidecar to obedience are harder: Confronting a loved one. Loving a hardened one. Taking on a new ministry. Opening our homes. Being transparent and vulnerable. Choosing life in all of its pain and uncertainty. Choosing faithfulness in spite of failure. Choosing to do the right thing when the wrong thing seems so much more appealing.

These are calculated risks. They are the ones that really make our hearts palpate, hefting the weight of bravery or cowardice.

He tells us to do something bold and sometimes we stall, spinning our wheels and skidding in fear. Dirt flies everywhere and we lose traction. We’ve been burned before, maybe, and aren’t sure we can take it again. So we tend to shrink back, flinching into isolation, fear, or depression. Our footprint constricts and we lose ground, eroding a tiny hole for ourselves in our comfort zone where things are safe, familiar, quiet.

It was foolish indeed – thus to run from farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a  fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.

– George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

That is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.

We burn that hole right into our comfort zone, and it gets deeper as the walls go higher. If we’re not paying attention, we find that the safety net we’ve made for ourselves isn’t a sanctuary at all…it’s a pit. A dry well with no water, no oxygen, walled high all around from the limits we’ve put on ourselves.

Pa and Ma were both turning the windlass. The rope slowly wound itself up, and the bucket came up out of the well, and tied to the bucket and the rope was Mr. Scott. His arms and legs and his head hung and wobbled, his mouth was partly open and his eyes half shut…

Mr. Scott had breathed a kind of gas that stays deep in the ground. It stays at the bottom of wells because it is heavier than the air. It cannot be seen or smelled, but no one can breathe it very long and live.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

It takes that holy stubbornness to kick our toes into the hard-packed earth and dig a stairway out of it. We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls…

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Steadfast. It’s a quiet word we might not pay attention to, like the kid in the back of the classroom who works two extra jobs after school to help his family and still manages to graduate with honors, while his classmates make their own assumptions and garner C-averages. It’s not showy, not impulsive, and rarely wavers.

Steadfastness is the alloy of humility and dogged perseverance, the power of a strong will channeled for holy purpose in the face of fear. It is where bullheadedness meets obedience, the faith in action that happens both behind the scenes and in front of others.

I’m not saying it’s safe or responsible. It is always created under pressure.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

– 1 Corinthians 15:58

We try a new foothold – a friendship, a book, a course, a conversation, an event, whatever He says – lest we hem ourselves in too deep without oxygen and fresh water. A step gained, a little more light, a bold move, and new thoughts stir up ideas and victory that otherwise would’ve stayed unearthed.

What could God do with a family, or a church, or a city, who knew no fear? What if we didn’t shrink back from getting our hands dirty, clawing our way out of the comfort zone?

We’d be the ones who changed history. Any coward can stay in the comfort zone, but those who obey in the big and little things, who do the brave thing in spite of fear, are those who determine the headlines of the future.

P.S. What if that pit is full of mucky regrets, a rotten past, and more pain than you know what to do with? Sign up for the newsletter coming later this week. xo