That Time Spring Hit the Colorado Rockies (And My Life)

I didn’t plan on spending five or six weeks of my spring 2018 in the mountains of Colorado. Not that I’m complaining, mind you: spring in Colorado is gorgeous. Witnessings the transformation into spring is even more of a marvel. But it wasn’t on my plan. (Hello, that’s why I call myself a “recovering control freak.” Because sometimes the control thing still peeks out. 

Anyway, when I arrived in Colorado it didn’t look much like spring at all. In fact as late as April 20th, winter was still in full effect. Consider this photo from my first weekend in Colorado Springs, where I stayed with longtime friends on the Air Force Academy base: 

Yeah, not much spring to be seen there. I despaired that God had brought me out of monochromatically gray Milwaukee, only to drop me into another monochromatic winter landscape. Everyone had been telling me how beautiful the sun would be. How plentiful the wild flowers. Yet I still couldn’t see it, even though May 1st was just around the corner. 

This lingering winter seemed to be a metaphor for my own life. I had believed God for breakthrough: a serious shift in my circumstances that would allow me to quit traveling from place to place and go back home to Milwaukee to settle. I loved traveling, yes. The Holy Spirit had told me to ‘take no money, take no luggage, and go into whatever house will receive you.’ And I had obeyed. 

But I was tired now. Sick of endless weeks on the road with no real purpose or activities to shape my day. Sick of always looking to the horizon for something—anything—to happen. Sick (if we’re being honest) of praying and seeing … absolutely nothing.  

I started taking my friends’ dog, Buddy, for twice daily walks. Every day I kept my eyes peeled for the famous Colorado wildflowers, even while I prayed to Heaven for a glimpse of a single petal pushing above ground in my own life. 

For awhile, it continued to look like this: sunny, but barren. The weather warmed. And yet nothing pushed above the soil.

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

I believe the real test of our faith is not what happens in seasons of victory and activity, but what we do in seasons of silence and barrenness.

Those six weeks of silence, during which I saw almost no flowers pop up on those daily walks, was one of the longest and hardest I have endured. My patience and stamina were nearly at an end. I napped a lot—because there was little else to do.

Still no flowers. Anywhere.

And yet, somehow in the absence of the physical evidence I craved, Spring came. During that time I really re-committed my life to do exactly what God wanted. I heard the call to begin speaking His Name and His Word more intentionally in my relationships. Things that had been “out of order” in my life got placed back into order—none of which would have been possible had I been distracted by other things. 

God even sent me a few rainbows and beautiful sunsets to encourage me that His promises were true, and in the acceptable time, He would shift my circumstances.

There’s a funny thing about praying for God’s “acceptable time,” just as it says in Psalm 69. God’s acceptable time is very rarely ours. His time for flowering often does not match ours. We are impatient. He has infinite patience. We want to run ahead though we can only see in the moment. He sees what’s coming, and acts accordingly.

In God’s acceptable time, breakthrough did come. I got a huge tax refund—several months late—that enabled me to return to Milwaukee and pay the avalanche of bills that were coming due in June. I let go of the last of my old life and got on board with God’s program.  

And yes, the wildflowers did come out. By the time Buddy and I finished our daily routine of walks, the hills were abloom with Colorado’s finest. 

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

“You are not my Bargain Bin Daughter” and Other Radical Things God Said to Me about Money and Shopping

IMG_4432From the time I was born, I’ve been a bargain shopper.

Yes, like literally, I think my mom and grandma took me out bargain-hunting in a stroller.

They raised me “good and frugal.” When it came to clothes shopping, deals were our best friend. If it wasn’t on sale, we didn’t buy it. Living large for us meant buying something on sale without an additional coupon. Money was often tight in our house, and I remember Mom counting cash carefully to make sure everything was covered.

I carried those behaviors with me into my clothes shopping as an adult—even after I got married and my material resources radically increased. Queen of the Coupon-Clipping Discount After-Market Rack? Yo girl, that was me. I may not have always loved what was in my closet, and sometimes it was five or ten years out of fashion, but darn it all, I was proud of what it cost. (Or didn’t.)

I genuinely thought cheapness was next to godliness. That is, until God decided to rewrite my whole money story.

It all started in January 2016, when God randomly-not randomly crash-landed inside my safe little cheapskate box and happily blow it up, along with every other mental box I had. (We could talk about all the boxes. But hey, one story at a time, right?)

Don’t get me wrong. I still like my deals … but I’ve since discovered that my God is not the God of the bargain bin. He’s the God of endless wealth, prosperity and abundant life in Jesus Christ. As I’ve since learned, when frugality becomes an obsession in my life, instead of a helpful aspect of stewardship, then I’m not reflecting Who my Father really is.

Can I say that again, because I can never say it enough?

My God is not the God of the bargain bin. And I am not His bargain bin daughter.

Let that sink in for a minute. If you have an allergic reaction to that statement, you’re not alone. I did too the first time I heard Him say it.

I’ll never forget the day in January 2016 when God dealt with me about my stupid crazy fear-based adversarial relationship with money.

It had been a horrible quarter in my business, and I was fed up with struggling for cash. A friend sent me a link to a free online mini-course by a financial coach, which I clicked on. Somehow, God used this poorly-produced online video about money—something I would never normally have watched—to nail the heart of my beliefs about prosperity.

On the video, a financial coach was talking about the reasons why people remain poor, or behave like they are poor, even when they truly do have means, or at least have opportunities to change their financial situation. She stated that the real reason for poverty (or perceived poverty) is complex, of course. But it starts with our beliefs about ourselves, what we’re worth, what we are “good enough” to have, and how that translates into our earning and spending habits. (Or even the kinds of financial opportunities we are brave enough to go after.)

She listed out several core beliefs people have about money that keep them from stepping into true financial freedom. The first two reasons didn’t resonate with me. But the third hit me between the eyes:

“You secretly believe that people who have money or get rich just use their money to hurt other people, and you don’t want to be someone who hurts people.

Wow. She had described my life philosophy in a nutshell.

As a Christian and an artist, I associated with people who were (at best) very committed to “not being about the money.” At worst, they constantly critiqued or criticized wealthy people—yet constantly spoke about their own lack of resources.

I myself had turned down multiple high-paying jobs because I was afraid they would own my life, and that having a really comfortable life was somehow at odds with my spiritual growth. If I got money, I instantly gave every penny away. At that very moment, I was running a business that deliberately served clients who were running struggling businesses themselves … and could not afford to pay.

Was it really, truly possible that my attitudes about money were at the root of my struggles?

Deep in my spirit, I knew immediately that it was true.

I had been waiting so long for God to send me a windfall of cash out of Heaven so I could stop shopping bargains, but how could He give it to me when I immersed myself in the belief that it wasn’t okay to receive such a gift at all?

My financial life, and specifically my shopping choices, did not change overnight, but this one “ah ha” moment did set off a chain reaction of events that propelled me into almost three years of making friends with money. I made a ton of money in the process, lost a ton more and then learned how to trust God for every single dollar through an intense period of “Nothing.” The whole time, I knew all of this was preparation to step into the abundance He had destined for me before the foundation of the world.

You see, I had to finally realize that much of my early training in frugality had nothing to do with God and everything to do with anxiety. Many of us grow up with people in our lives all around us who are struggling with limited resources themselves, and a deep sense of unworthiness. They have not truly stepped into their identity in Christ (even if they are believers), or into the flow of God’s financial favor. Often, they haven’t even been taught that He desires to bless us with more abundance and prosperity than we can even imagine.

Instead, even in church, most of us have been taught (subconsciously) that money is dirty and people who have it are probably heartless and shallow, deep down.

If this isn’t said directly, it’s implied in a thousand small ways.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but really listen money you hear in your circle of family and friends. Is the conversation full of their joy, gratefulness to God and excitement to invest that money in blessing others, and also in enjoying the fullness of life God intends for them personally? Or is it full of worry, stress, arguments about every how every penny is spent, complaints about people who “have it easy,” and where the next sale is going to be?

I don’t say this to look down on anyone or criticize—not at all. But observe natural behaviors, and you’ll start to notice that we’re all trapped in some scary financial boxes that God never intended. This should cause to want to jail-break our families into mental and emotional freedom, not judge them!

For me personally, recognizing and untangling all of these generational chains helped me step into a new level of financial freedom—even when I had no money at all. I learned to let go of worry about how much money I did or didn’t have because God ALWAYS provided. Often, He provided far more (or far nicer) than I technically “needed,” when I trusted him.

Since moving to Dubai, I’ve entered a new chapter of life where God has sent many financial resources rushing back to me again. I’ve been able to step into this abundance because of what He taught me, starting with that video almost three years ago.

But sometimes, when you up-level up out of one mindset, you find yourself confronted with a host of new ones. “New levels, new devils,” as they say. Though I stepped into a new level of financial favor after coming to Dubai, the rubber really “hit the road” when it came time to not shop for clothes.

For a long time, I’ve been aware of the principle that you dress for where you want to go, not where you are. Clothes aren’t just a covering. They’re symbols of who we aspire to be and believe we can become. Clothes can be an act of faith or a revelation of our financial fears. It’s all about where our hearts are at.

Will we stand out in Christ-like confidence or hide in shame over who He has made us to be?

Our shopping choices reveal our answer to this and many more questions—and I knew it was time to change my answers.

I had been wrestling with this line of thinking for days, because as much as I wanted to step into my destiny and reflect more of who I am becoming through my clothing choices, I also have other things I believe God wants me to do with the financial resources He has entrusted to me. I was feeling the old stress about money again. I was praying for sales and deals, scanning the Dubai headlines for where the next big sale was going to be, and when the annual shopping festival is going to start.

While I was busy dithering, the Holy Spirit pressure to “get going” with my shopping began to escalate. I started bargaining with God about “maybe next month,” or “some other time,” or “when You send me an epic sale, THEN I’ll obey what I believe You’re saying about reflecting my destiny in my clothing choices.”

Finally, in answer, I heard a simple, urgent answer bubble up from Holy Spirit:

“Have you forgotten? You are not my bargain-bin daughter.”

Stop obsessing about getting the best sales and just go shopping, trusting Me to send you what you need.”

In that one thought, God re-shattered the old default programming of frugality that had popped up again and was running me hard.

The truth is: I didn’t need anything more than what He had already given me to go shopping. My Father is the God of the Universe. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. If He chooses to extend my current abundance by using a sale to bless me with more, so be it. But He already had provided enough for me to shop. If I was honest, I knew the budget I had set in my head to spend wasn’t actually His instruction to me. It was a mental box (limit) I had created on what I believed was possible.

“What if I asked you to walk into the most expensive mall in Dubai and buy what you wanted right off the rack … no sale, deal and no coupons …. would be okay?”

I found myself struggling for an answer.

“What’s gonna happen when it’s time for you to dress in Gucci and Prada?” Holy Spirit pressed. “You’re not going to wear a discount dress to stand before the kings of the earth and testify of Me. If you fight me on buying the 100 AED dress today, you’ll fight Me when I want to give you the 1000 AED dress, and the 10000 AED dress after that.”

Eventually, after enough of this, my defenses broke. And I felt so convicted.

I thought about how many times I had secretly judged well-dressed women on the street corner who who obviously had spent time and money on shopping for the outfit they were wearing.

I had judged these women because of my own insecurity and my beliefs about money and wealth. It had never once occurred to me some of those women might be sweet, dear sisters of God who were giving liberally of their means to help others—and also walking out God’s call to be a visible demonstration of His abundance in their own lives.

Was it possible, that in my penny-pinching, deal-shopping, bargain-hunting default attitude, I was missing out on the beauty, richness and joy of the decadent shopping experience God wanted me to have?

Please understand, I’m not suggesting you blow your rent money on new clothes or put a fancy dress on your credit card. (For the record, I shop with cash and cash only.) But what if … what if … God asked you to walk into a store you’ve always dreamed of shopping in, and buy something beautiful you really want … at full price?

(Newsflash: When He begins reinventing your relationship with money, you’ll probably have to do that, at some point. Just saying.)

Do you really deep-down believe you’re worth that brand-new dress with the full-price tag? Because that’s the real question here.

At the end of the day, most of our super-spiritual “frugality” isn’t truly driven by a holy desire to steward our money wisely. It’s driven by the limits of our self-worth, ingrained by generations of people before us who believed that money is scarce, wealthy is hard to get, and it’s not meant for people “like us.”

Most of us come from a heritage of women secretly don’t believe they’re worth more than the bargain rack. They never expected more in their lives or took steps to claim it spiritually for themselves. Which is why they … and we … still restrict ourselves to the bargain rack.

I truly believe this mindset not only saddens but also offends God, because it goes entirely against who He said we are. He paid the ultimate price for us. Why should we act like we’re worth nothing? Spending money wisely is absolutely commendable. But shopping from a secret mindset of poverty, lack and “not-enough-ness” is about as anti-God as it gets.

Do you see the difference?

I’d submit that about 99 times out of every 100, what we think is “wise shopping” is actually fueled by a secret belief that resources are finite, prosperity isn’t biblical, and people who have resources to spend on things like brand-new clothes are, somehow, sinning.

Don’t believe me? Try buying something you truly want, but don’t technically “need,” and isn’t on sale. Let me know how easy it is for you to open your purse for that. If you have a bona five heart-attack in the checkout line and break out in a cold sweat just getting out your wallet … you’ll know where your heart is at. (I can say that because I’ve been there!)

You can be the change in your family lineage regarding prosperity—but you’ve got to start by opening up your concept of money to God and asking Him to blow it wide open.

In the end, I decided I am not God’s bargain-bin daughter, and I will no longer dress like less than who I am.

So I went out shopping just like God said, to the exact shopping centers where He told me to go. (Listening to Him is critical in this whole process, by the way.) And let’s just say … it wasn’t the Discount Mart.

Did I get some killer deals? By God’s grace, you bet I did. And I also buy some things I really wanted right off the rack, full price—because He said to? Yep.

I’m joyful and delighted by everything God gave me. It feels so incredibly good to walk out the door stretching myself to represent who I truly believe I am in Christ—not who my own puny mental limits think I can be. I am in love with how creative He is, and how fabulously impractical He can be.

“You want those silly platform shoes with the tassels? Buy them, Daughter.” I heard Him say. “Delight in my good gift to you, which is completely unnecessary but brings you much joy. I am so abundant, I delight to send you the unnecessary.

That was good, Holy Spirit. Let me say what You said again:

“I am so abundant, I delight to send you the unnecessary.”

Yeah, those platform heels were unnecessary. But I’m rockin’ them as I write this post. And did I mention I happened to get them for a killer 90% off … even though I was willing by faith to pay the full price?

God blessed me with a sale that did extend my material resources—but only after I changed my attitude about who I am and what I deserve.

In the end, it’s all about mindset, isn’t it? My Daddy is the God of the Universe, King of Everything. I’m His dear daughter, His beloved Princess, and He delights to shower me with good gifts.

Every dime (or dirham) I have is a gift from Him, whether I have 1 in the bank or 1 million. Abundance is my attitude, no matter what my external circumstances look like. Elevation is my destiny, no matter whether my “faith shopping” leads me to the Dubai Mall or the local Discount Mart.

If my financial and shopping choices announce where I’m heading in life, I intend to always head UPWARD, in prayerful partnernship with Holy Spirit. Who, apparently, approves of my outlandish taste in shoes …

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?

How Everything Began with Nothing


IMG_0258 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness
was over the face of the deep.
G
enesis 1:1 (ESV)

Walking up Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, you wouldn’t immediately call it a great place for meditation. Especially not at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday—when suit-clad office workers come streaming out of the buildings, scrambling for the car keys that will whisk them off into another lazy weekend.

The tallest buildings in this small-big Midwest city line that street. One end of Wisconsin Avenue stretches all the way past Marquette University and out to the suburbs. The other, which was the direction I happened to be heading, dead-ends in the white wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, spread against ribbons of Lake Michigan blue.

No, Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee is not at all a good place to meditate on a gorgeous day. But it’s where I happened to find myself, pairing my even footsteps with my uneven heartbeat that Friday afternoon. My headphones were in. The worship music was blaring. I had just come from a routine trip to the local bank and now, on my seemingly routine trip home, I found all sorts of reasons to “meditate.” Which was, at that time, really just my shorthand for asking of God how long, exactly, until He sent me everything I wanted.

At that point in life, I felt I had some decent reasons to demand something good.

The year of 2016 had been brutal but transformative for me: an unforeseen divorce, business highs and lows, the carving of a new life from the rubble of the old. I had faced each challenge head on. Brave (with a few lip quivers) Uncomplaining (well, mostly). My body was bruised from repeated falls from grace, and my fingers bled from clawing my way back. But claw I did, fighting every day through that crazy year to create a different future for myself.

By early 2017 I had moved into a brand new apartment I actually liked with a sliver of a Lake Michigan view. I had built my freelance marketing business up to a bona fide small agency with twelve contractors. I had new clothes to hang on a body I actually felt good in, had just bought my first-ever designer purse and driven home a new-to-me Fiat that represented the first car I had not relied on a man to buy on my behalf. I had even just gotten my dream couch: one of those delicate antique settees with scrolling mahogany woodwork. (I considered this my personal down payment to myself on settling in to an altered existence where I had finally achieved some semblance of peace and prosperity.)

Yet something was missing. Well, actually somethings, to be precise.

Money was flowing in, but thanks to all the contractors it took to actually do the jobs I got, my bank accounts always looked anemic. The business had grown, yes, but I was now chained to a desk twelve hours a day selling projects and managing what I had sold. I had finally begun to rediscover the artistry that went into hiding after my ex-husband broke my heart.

Yet even there my progress was fitful at best: the one-off pieces of art that sputtered from pen and paintbrush were a shadow of the complex projects I had once finished regularly. I had even gotten a new handle on body love, health and exercise—things that had plagued me from childhood—but the stress from the divorce and its fallout had taken a toll on my health. Chronic digestive issues and fatigue seemed to eat up every little physical gain I made.

And then there was the matter of my love life. I had done a ton of work on myself post-divorce: really delving in to where I was blocking love from my life, not just romantically but from friends and family too. I had made a lot of changes. I had learned to be really present with the people I love. And yet, I found myself burning from the heels of two broken dating relationships, both of which had started out with great potential.

Oh yes—that sultry, blue-skied Friday in July might not have been the most opportune moment to tell God all of my troubles. But while I dodged the suit-clad on their rush for the suburbs, tell Him I did.

The strange thing was, in my heart of hearts this time, I knew He would answer.

Leaving the bank, I wound my way up Wisconsin Avenue, past the twelve-story, rust-red Railway Exchange Building, Victorian architecture at its ornate finest. On the tenth floor, less than a year prior, my ex-husband and I had sat in separate rooms while his lawyer gave mine an ultimatum: accept the paltry settlement he was offering—far beneath the amount stipulated by Wisconsin law—or face an ugly divorce trial that would wipe out what little I had left. The memory still burned in my conscious as I stepped quickly past the door. Less painful for the resources in question than for the agony of realizing my tender college sweetheart had become my stone-faced enemy.

Beyond that was Amalinda, a red-and-gold painted lintel the only announcement that the city’s finest Spanish and Portuguese food might be found within. Here, in the midst of my divorce, I had sat the previous July with a dear friend. We had talked until midnight over the dessert of the day. Dating soon followed. Being seen and heard for the first time in my life, I fell for him. And I fell hard. But by September, we were parting ways in deep anger and disappointment. Just the thought of eating another dessert there still left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The memories flew by me with each passing buildings, each of them more painful than the last. There was the Pfister Hotel, where I had spent the day roaming with my most recent boyfriend, a gifted professional photographer. We had broken up just one month prior. And then there was a cramped little Starbucks, where one of my best business mentors had encouraged me to up-level my freelance business into an agency. In my heart, I blamed him for the overwork and constant stress that had been mine since adopting his recommendation.

Further beyond that soared the tallest building in Milwaukee, the U.S. Bank Building, though soon not to be the tallest anymore, its rigid white bones were knit together with glass. I ignored the twirl of the revolving doors as I passed them, trying to ignore, as well, all the times I had tried to get inside the upper eschelons of that building, seeking any toe-hold for my business in the endless climb for entrepreneurial success. All I had gotten was after fall. More blood. And more bruises.

“When is it all going to show up, God?” By now I was asking the question out loud, not caring in the least which fleeing office worker chanced to overhear. “I’ve been asking You for so long. Doing all the things You have told me too, as far as know. But did I miss something? Am I not obeying you in some way?” The tears came now, unbidden. “What am I missing here, on the path to everything?”

At the moment I let these words escape, I was still traversing the U.S Bank Plaza. Just then, I happened to glance up to the left. I was startled to see a series of limos, lined up bumper to bumper at the curb. The nearest one’s license plate read THINK 1.

Seriously? Did I just really see that?

“Okay, God.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll think.”

So I thought.

Nothing came to mind.

I glanced at the next limo’s license plate. It read THINK 2.

“No really, God. I’m thinking. I promise. Okay?”

Still, nothing came to mind.

THINK 3.

“Seriously, God. This isn’t funny. I’m thinking, okay? Thinking thinking thinking! Do you see me over here thinking? You can hear my thoughts. I know You can!”

God was mercifully silent in that moment, relegating Himself to satisfaction of a visual joke. No matter how hard I thought, I came up with Nothing. And yet, though I kept walking, I could guess by now where this was going. Limo after limo, each had the same license plate with the same minor adjustment:

THINK 4. THINK 5. THINK 6. THINK 7.

Seven limos, altogether. Seven calls to think.

Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible, I knew. But I wasn’t perfect; that much, the last year had taught me. Now, as if I any doubt left, my feet hurt and the rising stress in my gut was making short work of my lunch. I could feel another of the endless digestive attacks coming on. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be home, stretched on that antique couch with a blanket pulled over my head.

“I’m not perfect, alright?” I shouted to the Heavens. “You should know this by now! And I cannot figure out what you are saying! If you’re going to answer me, You’re going to have to just say it Yourself, God. Just say it!”

I shouted this last sentence so loud, even the most frazzled commuters paused to stare.

Leaving the limos in the wake of this last plea, I rounded the bend in the street. To my right, the orange arms of the Apostrophe Statue spread over Spaight Plaza, punctuating the wings of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum behind. Just a few nights prior, I had gone to this park in the cool darkness of an early July night. I had kicked off my shoes, rushed the grass and danced with manic ecstasy to the tunes in my earbuds. The same tunes that, now, mocked the warm tears streaming down my face.

Ahead was the corner of Prospect and Mason. This, to me, was the end of Wisconsin Avenue, the place where it turned sharply east into Prospect, while Mason stretched to the east, to the east toward War Memorial Plaza, overlooking the Lake, and to the west toward the jagged glass column that would one day become the Northwestern Mutual Building.

In the shadow of this monstrosity, the soon-to-be tallest building in the city, I stopped to cross the street. The no-walk signal flashed. I held myself at the corner, all the pent-up anger and sadness burning inside. Finally, a walk sign. Relief! I stepped into the street. But as I did, a rattle-trap car pulled up at the intersection in front of me. It was so unremarkable that I hardly noticed it, save for the fact that it was a jalopy in every sense of the word.

I had had enough with license plates for one day, thank you very much. But sometimes God causes us to look where we don’t want to, if for no other reason than to remind us that He is still in control of all things, even the trajectory our gaze.

The car was a broken-down wreck, yes: a peeling blue Buick so beat up, its very presence on the road was clearly an exercise in faith. It grumbled and growled at me as I passed it. I made it a point not to look the driver in the eye; to this day, I still don’t know if it was a man or woman. But there was one thing I could not help noticing: a license plate so unmistakably clear, this time, that I stared in spite of myself.

EXNIHLO.

That was the license plate, yes. Due to letter restrictions, the Latin phrase had been shortened, but my mind immediately filled in the details.

Ex NihiloOut of nothing.

I knew that phrase, oh yes.As a good little Bible college girl years ago, with one of those good little theological educations, I knew the phrase Ex Nihilo. Though it never appears in the Bible, it is often used by theologians when debating the origins of life. Some say when God created the world “In the beginning,” as it says in Genesis 1, this means creatio ex materia—creation out of something that already existed. (A few versus in the chapter appear to suggest there was water or some type of matter already present in the world at the creation.) But other theologians say no, it was creatio ex nihilo—an artistic act that called up everything we see around us out of absolute and complete Nothing.

My purpose here is not to convince you of one or the other theological takes on Genesis 1. But if you’re curious, yes, I do come from the lineage of the Ex Nihilo. God knew this when He sent a beat-up Buick with a crazy license plate my way. And when I saw that license plate, I knew that God had decided to answer my prayer.

Before my foot even hit the opposite curb, I heard His still, small voice thunder in my spirit.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

I paused on the opposite curb. This was my answer; I knew it even before the voice of God had coiled again into its majestic silence. I glanced back. The light changed; EXNIHLO was rattling its way on up Prospect Avenue, spewing black clouds as it went. I had never seen that car before, and I have never seen it since. Sometimes I wonder if it really existed at all—or whether it might be some sort of joke, a cosmic illusion conjured up by God’s considerable humor and powered by angels for the sheer purpose of putting me on notice.

My prayers had been heard. The season was shifting.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

Had I been more perceptive at point in my life, or perhaps more receptive, I would have seen immediately that “nothing” had already been my portion for some time now. From the first day my ex-husband announced his desire for a fast, surgically-precise divorce, everything in my life had been receding like the slow ebb of a tide. But I had fought the tide. This was the supreme lack of perception that, at this point in my life, had kept me from seeing the truth so long that on July 21st, 2017, I actually had to ask for it. For every inch of bare sand in my life that the ebbing wave had exposed, I had scooped that same water into a jar and splashed it back over the sand, trying to keep it all wet. Now, even the jar itself would soon be swept away.

But I was neither that perceptive nor that receptive back then. Instead, I took comfort in the explanation, though I did not really understand it. My stomach settled. My feet softened. I had no idea what this directive meant, but it didn’t really matter. I walked the last four home, utterly content with what I had heard from the Most High

As miraculous as this experience had been, there was an ominous edge to it. What I did not understand on that boiling-hot Friday of July 21, 2017, was that my attempts to grab hold of everything were not just premature to my personal process. They were in direct violation of how God actually enacts transformation. He cannot bring us everything He seeks until He wrests from our grasp everything else that keeps our hands balled into a fist.

The visitations of THINK and EXNIHLO—and His subsequent pronouncement—were the only warning He would give me that the hour of complete Emptying was now at hand.

There would be no art without destruction. No progress without regression. No making of anything without the unmaking all that had come before.

That day, God said to me,“Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” And I am here to testify: He always makes good on His words.

This is the story of how I lost and gained it all.