The Water Is Within: Why Everything You’re Looking for, You Already Have

“If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The high-rises of Dubai Marina (my neighborhood), as reflected in the Arabian Gulf

Have you ever looked really hard for something you were sure must be available, only to give up your search? Perhaps it was a last-minute Christmas gift when all the racks are picked over. Or the perfect dress you needed—but couldn’t find—for an upcoming gala. Nothing’s worse than a search undertaken under pressure. The clock is ticking. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, it will soon be too late.

Life can feel like that sometimes. I don’t know about you, but I am often in a frantic search for purpose, significance, creative inspiration and (yes, let’s be honest) more money. I’m keeping my eyes peeled everywhere I go for that one “magic thing” I want. My search for a marriage partner was like this for many years. Can you relate?

It’s like keeping your eyes peeled for an oasis on a torturous trek through the desert.

If only we can find that thing “out there,” we’ll survive the heat.

Or so we think.

Lately I’ve come to realize more than ever that the search for all of this is never outside of ourselves. It’s always within. The next book, the next course, the next man, even the next gathering at church—all these are good things that can become our own personal definition of a mirage because they won’t slake the thirst we feel.

What if you’re wasting your time wandering around like that, looking for something you’re never going to find outside yourself? If you are a believer, God has already provided everything you need to feel significant, purposeful, loved, creative and financially free. And what if, as a believer in Jesus, you already have all that inside you through the Holy Spirit?

It would be a shame to keep searching for the mirage, growing fainter by the moment, when you’ve got a freely-flowing fountain deep within (Psalm 36:8-9).

And yet, that’s what we do with God. We forget the Holy Spirit is always with us, ready to guide us into all truth, if we’ll just ask (John 16:13). It’s so much easier, after all, to focus on what’s in front of our faces. And if we’re being honest, searching for the answer is addictive in itself.

You can be so hooked on searching that deep down, you’ll do anything to keep yourself from really, truly finding. So what if you bought one less course, went on one less date and cancelled, yes, even that church bowling event—just so you could spend time drinking at the well that is already within you?

In my own search to assuage the pain inside and make sense of the chaos of my life, the running only stopped when I decided to stand still.

The less I did to solve my problems, the more God presented the solutions I needed.

The less I chased people or opportunities, the more God put the right ones in front of me.

The more time I spent with God, the better my experiences became in the outside world, and the more creative I began to feel.

When my inside “woke up” to the reality of the authority, power and provision God had already planted deep within me by His Spirit, my outer world began to take care of itself.

This was most evident in my search for love following my divorce, which was really a three-year journey to heal my own love wounds from childhood through adulthood, and become a clean channel, able to receive the full flow of God’s love to me and give it back to others. (Still a work in progress, but I’m happy to say I’ve come a very long way!)

In this journey, I was convinced once I had successfully created another union with healthier patterns than the last one, I would arrive at the oasis. As a girlfriend, fiancée or wife again, I would have a chance to rewrite my story and change the future for myself, my new husband and my eventual children.

But you know what?

None of those efforts worked out.

No matter how much I changed myself, refined my thoughts and behaviors or stepped outside my comfort zone to embrace healing … all of which was amazing and helpful, by the way … I still didn’t get the results I was looking for.

Then one day, I realized: there was nothing to fix. Jesus took the penalty for all my mistakes on the cross. And He would carry the wounds from my childhood if I asked, so I didn’t have to anymore. I was already loved unconditionally, accepted fully in the beloved; I just wasn’t living my life as a loved, accepted woman (Ephesians 1:6).

And the real reason none of those relationships (including my marriage, I believe) lasted?

Because God loved me so much, He did whatever it took to bring me to the point where I was dependent on Him for love, and not on another human being. Even if it meant allowing the dissolution of relationships I had cherished—even ones that are supposed to last a lifetime.

What felt like pain was really the most amazing form of “tough love” designed to bring me into greater levels of life. The day I recognized my true worth, and the level of love and acceptance God already has for me, was the day I found my freedom from the past and finally stepped beyond the limits of my own need for companionship. My three-year journey to learn how to love culminated in the reality that I was loved already. There was nothing to find, improve or create (Psalm 136:26).

Would I still love to be in an amazing partnership? Absolutely. I still pray and believe for this outcome in my future. But I don’t “need” to be in a relationship to slake the thirst inside, or to heal my past love wounds.

I am God’s amazing daughter, and I walk right now in more radical love, acceptance and provision than any human could deliver me. And I always will, from now until the end of time.

I’m not waiting for the oasis to show up on the horizon.

The fountain lies within.

Dreams Are Overrated but Who Admits It?

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Dreams. We all have them. Desires and plans and goals. But for as many dreams as we can create for ourselves, it’s funny how rarely reality matches them. Or maybe I’m the only woman on the planet who feels that way?

If I had my dream right now, I would be the supportive wife of a godly Christian husband, probably working in ministry somewhere an raising 3.25 joyful children (because statisticians seem to enjoy splitting that last one about as much as Solomon would). I would be a published author by now and a veteran of the speaking circuit, signing books while I nurse my babies and sign three new contracts a week in my private creative consulting agency.

If I had my way over the situation, I would not be living out of a suitcase and traveling house to house in glitzy Dubai, trolling job boards daily and trotting off to Oman each month to renew my tourist visa while I wait for a job to open.

But that is my current reality. And it’s also the adventure I’m chronicling on this blog.

But that’s where a little perspective shift can go a long way toward fixing our dream-induced malaise.

Because what if the dreams we’re so hyped up about now are actually getting in the way of the ones God wants to give us?

Whenever I get stuck on how much I still don’t have, I find myself in need of a serious perspective shift. If we’re being technical, I am actually not really without a home, a job, possessions or a country. It’s just that what I DO have is not exactly visible to the naked eye. Mostly because everything I have comes from God.

God is my secure and certain dwelling. Serving Him is my Number One Job. Knowing Him is my most important treasure. And He says I belong to His country, which is (according to Hebrews 11) not of this world. But it took me a long time, and the loss of everything I had, to realize these comforting facts.

It also required me prying both of my tight little fists off the dreams I had for my life.

Think about it: how often are our dreams based on an infinitesimal understand of the possible realities God could bring about?

We have barely scratched the surface on who we are, what makes us “tick,” and what it would take for us to feel truly fulfilled in our purpose. Yet we cling to the belief that we know the answers to these questions. As a result, we often resist what God wants to bring into our lives because deep inside we do not believe He could possibly know us better than we know ourselves.

Do I still hope for the husband, the children (hopefully all in one piece, thank you), the home, and the sense of deep belonging in a Christian family unit? Absolutely.

But am I also constantly amazed how God knows me so much better than I could know myself? Am I shocked almost daily at the surprises He has planned for me that I could never have known to even want?

Absolutely.

This is why the concept of getting clear on our desires and goals—while valuable—isn’t really a fool-proof guide to our purpose.

I don’t want my dreams anymore if they keep me from receiving the amazing plans God has for me. And remaining in that place of surrender is the safest and fastest way I know to see miracles come about.

I’ll take miracles over my pre-planned ideas, thank you very much. My desires may be predictable, but God is always full of surprises.

There’s no greater dream than to receive exactly what He has planned.

That’s why, right before I went to Dubai, I started praying the Surrender Prayer of Betty Scott Stam for the first time in many years.

I’ll warn you, this powerful prayer can be a dangerous one. After all, if you tell God you’ll give up all your own desires and hopes … He just might take you up on it!

There are several different versions of this prayer floating around on the internet. I borrowed mine from this fellow blogger.

The prayer goes like this:

“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Your will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to You to be Yours forever. Fill me and seal me with Your Holy Spirit. Use me as You want, send me where You want, work out Your whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.”

You see what I mean about how dangerous that is? But Jesus DID say that in order to find our lives, we must lose them. Recognizing that your own desires may be given by God—but might also be a stumblingblock to receiving our greatest joy and purpose—is the most effective way I know to let go of them.

Dreams are great. Plans are useful. But only God can bring the Impossible to life, in us and for us.

What more beautiful dream could there be, than seeing that?

A Tale of Two Sunsets … and Two Seasons of Life

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Think things won’t change?

Give God a year and see what happens.

I love a lot of things about the new home God has sent me in Dubai. But perhaps the thing I love most, besides the people He has placed in my life, are the sunsets. Last night, I got to enjoy this amazing edition (above) with a friend as we strolled around a local market perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf. There’s no filter on this photo, other than the little “enhancement” button my iPhone has.

But as awesome as this sunset was, as it happened, it wasn’t the only sunset I saw today. Facebook also reminded me of a memory and sent me another sunset photo—of the one I saw exactly one year ago to the day, in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Could those two sunsets be any more different? Ah, now there’s the story.

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Dream Trip? Um yeah, no ….

Going to Iceland may sound exotic, not to mention the extreme opposite from a sunset in the Middle East!! For me it was definitely a bucket-list dream—but I wouldn’t have picked to go in the nadir of the year: those cold, dark, seemingly-“dead” weeks before the winter solstice. I also wouldn’t have picked to do it with about $40 USD in the bank. This translates to about 5,000 Icelandic krona.

If you know anything about Iceland, you know it’s expensive to do anything there, from taking a taxi to eating lunch. Five thousand krona might get you one meal. Maybe two if you shop deals hard for, like, two hours in advance of each meal. (Who has time for that, yo?) I don’t know, it might even cost you 5,000 krona to eat at McDonald’s. Not that I did … but my point is: it’s freaky expensive to survive.

Frankly, when I arrived and saw what I was really dealing with price-wise, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive at all.

I had money set aside for this trip. Not a lot, but definitely more than $40 USD. And then … as always seemed to happen during this “Nothing” phase of my life … the money had to get reallocated for other purposes. Last-minute financial crises always seemed to hit when I was about to take a trip I had felt led to schedule in the first-place.

Iceland was no exception.

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Last Ray of Hope (or So It Seemed)

I remember that sunset well. December 2 2017. I was pounding the cobblestone pavement of old-town Reykjavik, peeking in windows and snapping photos of the adorable cats and dogs that seemed to grow three extra layers of fur against the biting Atlantic wind. I wasn’t going in many places, because what’s the point when you don’t have money to spend? Stepping inside a restaurant  to get warm and read the menu gets really awkward after awhile when you don’t ask for a table!

There’s only about three hours of sun in Reykjavik any given day at that time of year, and since the rest of my stay in Iceland was totally cloudy, it’s a good thing I snapped this photo before the sun went down that day. Right at the top of the hill in front of Reykjavik Cathedral, the national church known for its distinctive bell tower (among other architectural features).

I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful than that last ray of light amid the grimness.

After I took the photo, I remember deciding to blow 2000 of my non-existent krona on a bowl of lamb stew—the absolute rock-bottom cheapest local food I could find—so I could at least say I had eaten a “traditional local meal” whilst on the island. I walked around for a few more hours before heading back to the silent, empty women’s dormitory of the hostel where I rented a bed. More a hostel for ghosts, it would seem. I never saw another human soul there the whole time I stayed.

The north wind whistled around that traditionally-built wooden house. And even though I knew it had been built generations ago to withstand exactly this kind of weather, I still shuddered every time I heard a board creak.

It was as if the wind intended to splinter not only the house, but what was left of my life.

End of One Life, Beginning of the Next

That sunset has stuck in my mind ever since. Mostly because it reminded me that there was still light, still hope. That even though my life seemed completely out of control, traveling to Europe alone simply because God said to, with no money and no plan, at the ugliest/darkest/most depressing time of year … well, even in the middle of that mental and emotional landscape (which happened to feel as barren as Iceland!), there was still a sun behind the clouds.

Fast-forward 365 days, I was sitting on the pier at a market in Dubai, eating a beautiful meal with a friend whom I didn’t even know last year. There was food in my belly, cash in my wallet, and even a bank card with more where that came from, if I should happen to need it. I was enjoying a holiday from an amazing job, wearing a new dress I’d picked out myself, and was carrying a card in my purse that entitled me to resident benefits and services from the UAE, a country I never even once thought of while I was penny-pinching my way through Europe.

And then there was that sunset, the one I posted at the top of this post. One of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen in my life, right there over my head, God’s banner of love painted in watercolors across the sky.

I couldn’t help noticing that everything about it was extravagant: the scope, the size, the layers, the intensity of color. All of it was triple or quadruple (maybe more!) of those same features in the Icelandic sunset.

Between Dec 2 2017 and Dec 2 2018, it’s like someone took the saturation tool in Photoshop and jacked it up to maximum.

My life, too, feels like it’s been jacked up since that now long-ago day.

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Change is the Only Constant

There’s no greater lie than the one we all like to tell ourselves when we’re most in distress: “Things will never change. Because in the walk of faith, I’ve noticed, change is the only constant. Sometimes, as in the tale of two sunsets, you just gotta wait 365 days to really see the full effect.

If I could go back to that girl I was last year, floundering in life, questioning why she couldn’t seem to settle down, and why nothing was working out, and why she was traveling in Europe when she just wanted to be home with people she loved … except that the more she chased home, the more it seemed to evade her … I would hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.

Yeah, even when you’ve landed in a country where it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit in December and there’s 20 hours of darkness every single day.

Seasons come, yes. But they also go. There’s no guarantee that next year’s sunset on December 2nd will be anything like this year’s. If you’re smart (and you know how God works), you know better than to say, “Nothing’s ever gonna change” out loud. Or in your heart. Or even in your deepest, darkest thoughts.

Because words have power. Expectations are the fence we try to build around what God can or will do next. You have no idea what’s coming next in your life, even if it seems as bleak and dead as a frozen island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

So don’t build a box for God that you don’t want to live in.

For every dead twig, salt-soaked rock and gust of killing wind I felt in Iceland last year on this same day …. I’ve been repaid a hundred-fold in flowering trees, warm Gulf waves between my toes and endless sunshine. Not to mention amazing friends who feel like family, a steady income and the prospect of once more trading my suitcase for an address.

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Are you really ready for your big shift?

Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one told me about the Dec 2 2018 sunset back on Dec 2 2017. Because no matter how much they would have tried to encourage me with it, I wouldn’t have been ready to believe it was possible, or even receive it into my life.

Maybe you’re not ready, either, for what God wants to send you in the way of prosperity, love, community, ministry and purpose by this time next year.  Maybe He knows it’s gonna take a WHOLE year of wandering to prepare you for your blessing.

Don’t fight how He chooses to work—even if He sends you on what seems like a fool’s errand.

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One year later, at a market on the Arabian Gulf!

What if I had to be in Iceland last year at this time, and snap that one precious sunset photo, because He knew it was the only way I would fully appreciate and worship Him for the shifts in my life?

That’s probably not the only reason … but even if it were, the “fool’s errand” is starting to look quite a bit less foolish.

Waiting for your big shift? In the meantime, trust the process. Watch the sunsets. Guard your heart, your mind and your words against thinking change will never happen. Thank God in advance that you’ll be seeing next year’s edition from a whole different vantage point.

Oh yeah … and don’t forget to take a lot of photos. You never know when God might use Facebook memories to help you remember!

Want to reach out? I love to get mail! Send me a note:

Why is Lasting Life Change is So Elusive?

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You’ve been working on yourself for some time now.

You go to counseling. You’re in church regularly. You’re seeking God, following all the self-discovery and self-care practices you’ve been taught, and making some radical shifts to how you “do you.”

But it doesn’t really seem to stick. You know what I mean? You feel good, eat right and go to yoga for a week, then the next week you binge out. You pray and seek God often, but you still struggle with tremendous bitterness about what you’ve been through. T

he new friends you’ve made are strengthening you … but for every one of them, there’s ten from your old life whose energy drags you down every time you open your social media feed.

Life change is elusive, Sister.

I know you know this. You wouldn’t be here reading this blog if you didn’t sense it in your bones. Know it in your soul. Feel it in the wet fabric of your pillow each night.

I get it. Totally. I was there for more years than I care to admit. Things shifted, yes, but nothing radically CHANGED until I got clear on one small truth that I kept wanting to overlook.

To get and become everything you want, you must say yes to ‘nothing.’

For most of us, I think we come to this healing journey because we desperately want more. More than the oppressive emotional pain. More than the broken relationships. More than the dead-end career or struggling business that is our daily reality. And I do believe God wants more for us. He is calling us to MORE, which is why He has led us to pursue the changes we are trying to make.

And yet.

And yet …

Sometimes we re not fully ready for the impact of what we are asking for.

You see, God knows that it’s impossible for us to have what we really want while we are clutching so tightly to what we actually don’t want. Half a life shift is no shift at all. You cannot have a legitimate resurrection without a legitimate death.

But who really, honestly, actually wants to DIE?

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of your healing journey, trapped halfway between who you were and who you want to be, mark it down. THere is something that must die before you can be reborn. There is something you must drop from your grip so you can receive your destiny with truly open hands. There is a nothing you must submit to so that you can step into everything.

Okay, you get that in theory. But what does it look like?

In my healing journey, there is one simple “trick” God gave me to help jettison myself out of every stuck place. And that was just a simple question:

“What is the ‘empty space’ I am resisting today?”

Invariably, there was a “loss,” a “death,” some kind of emptying I was resisting to. Instinctively, I knew that in order get where I wanted to go, I was going to have surrender that place: to step beyond it and leave whatever was there behind, so I could get to the next level of my destiny.

There’s nothing harder than letting go. Which is why we resist. Do everything else we can. And ultimately, remain stuck.

What could that empty place be for you? I have no idea; I suspect you already do. But in case you’re truly stumped, here are some “nothings” I had to face, in order to receive everything:

  • The “nothing” of space: Cleaning out a lifetime of emotional clutter in the form of stuff in my house that was emotionally dragging me down.
  • The “nothing” of relationships: Releasing boyfriends, exes I still had a “thing” for, and toxic friendships—as gently and kindly as possible—that I kept stumbling over.
  • The “nothing” of dreams: Closing my dream business and giving up on achieving my deepest desires, so that God could put brand new better desires in my heart.
  • The “nothing” of social expectations: Following God’s call into things and places that I knew my friends and family would look down on and reject me for.
  • The “nothing” of self-image: Letting go of my obsession with losing weight, perfecting my skin, getting the right wardrobe and anything else designed to boost my image to others, in favor of practices that made me feel good inside.
  • The “nothing” of finances: Submitting every dollar I had to God, watching Him take it ALL away, and trusting that He would provide for me.
  • The “nothing” of meditation: Returning daily to practices like meditation and yoga even when I struggled to quiet my mind inside, believing that the practice would yield rewards in time.

Did any of these resonate with you? I’m sure there are many more kinds of “nothing!” But I bet you can see something on that list that speaks to at least a part of your situation today.

Any time we are stuck on the healing journey, it’s only and ever becuase we are holding back, unwilling to release something we have been clinging to.

Let’s face it: the empty space can be terrifying. Who wants to sit alone with their thoughts (during meditation), sit alone with four bare walls (after decluttering), sit alone with themselves (after jettisoning the toxic job), or sit alone at the coffee shop (when others reject your choices)?

And yet.

And yet …

Though your healing journey is perhaps the biggest gift God will every give you, the “dirty little secret” of emotional freedom is that you will be required to lay it all on the altar.

Freedom never happens when you’re dragging your past around with you, or a toxic present, or excessive expectations about the future.

True freedom happens when you drop everything you’re clutching so tightly, and submit to the terror of the empty space.

Make friends with Nothing, dear heart, and you will find the change you seek.

What Really Happens When You Buzz Your Hair in the Middle of a Nebraska Blizzard

On Saturday, the 14th of April 2018, I buzzed off all of my hair. 

My journey toward this moment began more than a decade ago, in Tibet, where I was frustrated by the intermittent showers I could get in that harsh, wild landscape. Sometimes a week went by between real showers, and my greasy hair was suffering. I told some other people in my travel group that I “just wanted to buzz it off.” They all thought it was a great idea, a smart solution, but ultimately I chickened out. 

Why? 

Simple.

I was afraid of what other people would think. 

Fast-forward a decade and a half. I had just come out of a rich, full romantic relationship that did not last as long as I had hoped it would. But in that breakup, God gave me the tremendous gift of revealing to me, through my now ex-boyfriend’s wise observations, all the ways in which I was not honest on my exterior about who I really inside.

I sat with his words and recognized the truth in tI knew I needed to make certain changes to be more authentic. And I had a feeling my hair was one of those changes. 

My friend Snowe and I started praying about what I should do. And you know what God said? 

His response was to show me an image of myself, vowing to buzz my hair back in Tibet. 

I knew immediately that the meaning was clear: this actually was the real me. But my fear had gotten in the way, and it was time to let that fear go. After all, it was fear that had kept me from fully being the real me in my dating relationship, which was a large shared of my contribution to its ultimate demise. 

I had learned my lesson. There was no going back. 

I promised God I would buzz it all off as soon as I got to Colorado, where I was going to visit a friend. 

God has a sense of humor, of course. 

I had a gut feeling that He wanted me to buzz my hair on 4/14, which back home in Milwaukee is known as “Milwaukee Day,” since our primary area code is 414. But as it turned out, I never made it to Colorado for 4/14. Instead, I got stuck in the biggest, nastiest blizzard I have ever witnessed. On 4/14 I was stuck in a roadside hotel in tiny Paxton, NE.

After paying for the unexpected hotel bill, I had $14 left to my name. (Ironic, no? $14 on 4/14? God has such a sense of humor!) But I was undaunted. I went to the hotel clerk and asked who in town could buzz my hair for $14. Keep in mind this was the day after a mammoth blizzard, when the I-80 highway was still completely shut down from Lincoln, NE, to the Colorado border!

He sent me into town to find the only beauty parlor, which was located in a house. Long story short, I almost missed the stylist, but by some miracle, she actually did come in to work that day. She buzzed my hair for $10 and I gave her the remaining $4 in tip. 

I walked out the door feeling completely liberated of every fear I have ever had about “looking good” in order to be accepted by others. 

The funny thing is, too, that the response of other people has been far different from what I anticipated. I thought I might get shunned, or get a lot of negative comments from people. (After all, where I come from in Milwaukee, you don’t see a lot of shave-headed women running around like you might in some more fashion-forward towns.) 

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Shaving my head has shown me who my true friends are. And I discovered, in fact, that more people were ready to applaud me for revealing the Real Me than were ready to ridicule me. 

People come up to me all the time now and ask about why I shaved my head. Women tell me they wish they had “that much courage,” and I encourage them to step out and do what their heart is leading them to. 

Perhaps I have been most surprised by the number of men who come up to me in stores or restaurants and compliment my hair—not in an uncomfortable or suggestive way, but with an energy of genuine appreciation for someone choosing to be different. 

People tell me all the time that my buzzed hair looks good on me, but here’s the dirty little secret about that: 

I had no idea if it were going to look good, or not, when I decided to do it. 

I simply went with God’s leading, and with the absolute conviction that I NEVER wanted to get into a relationship again where someone was unclear about who I really am. 

My buzzed head said “rebel.” It says, “free spirit.” It says, “artist.” Funnily enough, more cool people who also fit that description are showing up in my world every week now. 

Why? 

I think it’s because I chose to step out first, in the middle of a blizzard, when I didn’t know what the outcome would be. Following what God has for us, and creating the life He has given us a vision for, is all about faith. 

Sometimes you gotta take a pair of clippers to your head before you can really see who you are under all the layers of social conditioning, people-pleasing and unconscious choices you have been making all your life. 

Let it all fall away, and find out who you were meant to be.