Words from the Hard and Messy Middle of a Journey of Surrender
I wrote the following words 6 months ago, but never posted them. Soon after I wrote all of this, before I gathered the courage to actually post it, we entered a really hard season that has carried through the second half of this long and challenging year. This journey we’re walking is far from over…the work God began in us is continuing and will no doubt continue throughout the upcoming days, months, years…and I don’t yet have all the words for all that this past year has brought us, or all that we have learned, or all that God is still doing.
But I’m posting these words now, not because I’ve reached the other side of this story and have any wise or wonderful revelations about any of it…but I’m posting this now because perhaps these words, written in the messy middle of this beautifully hard journey, will be an encouragement to others who are walking a similar road of surrender. And honestly, we covet your prayers as we continue to surrender to whatever it is God has for us in this upcoming year.
The Call to Surrender – the first 6 months of 2018:
You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been a bit quiet around here this year. The days have been full and a lot has been happening, but words have not come so easy. I’ve had a lot on my heart, but I’ve kept it all pretty close. I’ve spent a good deal of time on my knees these past few months. A good deal of time in His Word.
Back in January I chose the word surrender my “one word” for this year.
Let me just say this:
When you choose a word like surrender and you start intentionally seeking it and living it…when you tell God that you want surrender everything to Him—your dreams, your plans, your life, your own way—and you open your hands to whatever He has… then be ready. Because He might just ask you to do something you didn’t quite expect, something you may not even think you can do, something that will stretch you and challenge you and push you right out of every comfort zone you’ve forged around yourself and plunge you head-over-heals into the deep waters of something uncertain and unknown and maybe even a bit scary.
Surrender is risky. It requires risking all you have and are holding onto, in exchange for all that God has to give you.
But it is absolutely a risk worth taking.
Last October (2017), my husband, Mark, and I went on a short-term mission trip to Togo, Africa.
We will forever look back on that trip as the moment that everything changed. I still don’t know that I yet have words to adequately describe the impact that week had on us – on each of our hearts individually, on our marriage, and our family.
Our lives pivoted that week.
God changed us, moved us, stirred us, called us.
We came home knowing that God was asking us to do something, but we didn’t know what. We had what I now call a holy discontentment…a soul-level dissatisfaction with our safe and comfortable, fairly self-focused life. We wanted to invest our lives in something that was bigger than us, something larger than our lifetime. We came home with the burning desire in our bones to live the kind of life that outlives this life.
But how? And what?
We knew God was asking us to risk something for Him…to risk it all for Him. But we honestly didn’t know any details or specifics, just that He wanted us to lay down our own plans for our lives and to be open to His plan for us…whatever that was.
So for the following months, we prayed. We prayed very intentionally, like we’ve never prayed before. We asked God to show us what He wanted us to do. We opened our hands and told Him that we were ready to lay down our lives and accept whatever He had for us.
The months following that trip were crazy, to say the least. I came home from Togo with a horrible case of bronchitis which lasted 2 months and took 3 rounds of antibiotics and steroids to kick. Then it was the holidays and all the busyness that those days bring. And then my mom had two back-to-back, very intense back/neck surgeries in January, from which she is still recovering. There was so much going on and I was so tired, emotionally and physically. But Mark and I still had this ever-present feeling in our heart that God was trying to tell us something. It felt like the enemy was doing everything he could to keep us from hearing what He was saying. But we kept praying, kept seeking, kept asking, even though we didn’t really even know what we were asking for. We just wanted God to show us what to do.
I know God heard us. I know He was patiently guiding us. I know He was orchestrating events and people long before we even realized that He was doing anything.
God is always doing something. Even when He’s quiet, even when you can’t see it…things are happening under the surface, a whole world of things you can’t see yet. If you are waiting and praying and seeking and you don’t see anything yet, don’t give up, don’t lose hope, don’t stop praying…He’s working. He’s always working. And it will all come to the surface at just the right time, according to His perfect plan.
One particular night back in February, we prayed very specifically and intentionally for God to make it clear to us what He wanted us to do. We felt burdened, but we didn’t have a name for it. We just needed some direction, some kind of sign, some sort of clarity.
The very next day, we met a couple of friends, Michael and Dale Talley, for lunch. Michael was the pastor who led our mission trip to Togo. While in Togo, he shared how God was working in his heart and calling his family to move to Denver, Colorado to be missionaries to a very unchurched and unreached community in Denver and plant a church there. He shared with us that he and Dale were praying for 300 people to commit to giving $1000 a year to support them and help them start this new church. Mark and I immediately knew we wanted to be a part of that somehow. Surely we could work our budget and sacrifice some things to give toward such an incredible endeavor.
Later during the trip, we were riding across the lake in a boat after visiting a plot of land that will one day be the home of an incredible camp that will reach countless souls in Togo for Christ, and after hearing JJ Alderman’s vision for that place…a vision that he may never see completely fulfilled in his lifetime, but that he is faithfully and wholeheartedly pouring into for all of his days, humbly allowing God to use him to help write this one page in a story that will go on long after he is gone. We were riding back across the lake, and I told Michael, “I just want to be a part of something that is bigger than my lifetime. I want my life to be about something that outlives my life.” And he responded, “Well, I’d love to have the Tuckers on our team in Denver.” I smiled and kinda brushed it off, thinking he was probably just saying that to be nice…and anyway, something like that was just not even remotely on my radar, so I barely even entertained the thought of it.
And yet, a seed was planted in that moment that I didn’t even realize.
Flash forward again to February, after a couple of months of fervent prayer and wrestling and seeking God’s voice in this, and after a night of very intentionally praying for God to give us some clarity, we had lunch with the Talley’s.
We loved what they were doing. The risk they were taking for Christ inspired us. We knew they were (and still are) praying for about 300 people to give $1000 a year for the first couple of years as they prepare and plant this new church, and we wanted to be a part of that. So we met them for lunch with our checkbook in hand, prepared to invest in their ministry with our money…but God had bigger plans. Before we could even pull out the checkbook and make our offer, they gave us a different kind of offer:
We’d like you to consider moving to Denver to be a part of our team and help us plant a church.
Their invitation to join them in Denver to help plant a church washed like a wave over both of us. We had just prayed for clarity and direction the night before, and it seemed that God pretty clearly answered our prayer in the form of this very direct and specific (albeit crazy and unexpected) offer from our friends.
We went to lunch ready to give them our money (a low-risk investment on our part, to be honest)…but we left with an opportunity to give and do so much more—to risk so much more.
I wish I could say we immediately recognized God’s answer to our prayer and we quickly said yes. I wish I could say we were confident and fully trusted God and jumped right in. But we didn’t. We really didn’t.
To be honest, we weren’t really sure what to do.
I mean, we had just prayed for God to tell us what to do, and then the very next day the Talleys very specifically invited us to move to Denver and help plant a church. Seems pretty obvious.
But was that really God answering our prayer? The questions and doubts came like a flood. We were like Moses staring at the burning bush…God was telling us what to do, but we had so many reasons why it couldn’t really be us, and it couldn’t really be there.
I grew up all over the world because my dad was in the Air Force (we even lived in Colorado for 3 years when I was in elementary school), but we’ve lived in Georgia for over 20 years now. This is home. Our family is here. Our girls are 13 and 15…how can we uproot them now? Mark would have to get a new job. In Denver. We don’t know anyone in Denver (at least I didn’t think we did at the time…turns out God has been orchestrating this for quite some time…but that’s another story for another post). We’d have to sell our house. We’ve never sold a house. (Who would even buy our little house?) And then move everything 1500 miles across the country?! We’ve never moved farther than across town in our entire marriage. And we’d have to find a new house there (can we even afford a house there??). The girls would have to change schools and make all new friends (will we royally mess up our kids by doing this?). And what in the world do we even know about planting a church?! We are not qualified to help with this. We don’t know enough, we’re not good enough. I get extremely anxious in social situations, and yet our primary goal there will be to build relationships with strangers and invite them over and start a small group in our home. I don’t know if I can do that. It is so far outside my comfort zone. And oh, how I love my comfort zone.
I know I told God I would be surrendered to His will…I know we asked Him what He wanted us to do…but this? Really?!?
See what I mean?
All. The. Doubts.
All. The. Questions.
Yeah…I really wish I could say we quickly jumped right on board and confidently said yes to God. But we didn’t. We struggled and doubted and questioned…a lot. We prayed for God to give us signs. We laid out our fleece like Gideon, asking God to make it clear what He wanted us to do.
I could fill another whole post with all the ways God patiently and lovingly gave us clarity. From small, everyday things that He put in our path, to the words of encouragement and assurance of family and friends as we opened our hearts and shared with them what God was doing…through SO many things, God has made it clear that this is indeed the direction He is leading us. And as scary and uncertain and completely unknown as the actual path forward is, we want to obey and follow Him and go where He is telling us to go.
When God asks us to do something—whatever it is, however big or small or life-altering or seemingly insignificant—we always have a choice. We can either trust and obey, or we can doubt and delay. We can either set aside our own plans and do what God says, or we can put Him off, push Him to the side, and keep our own agendas and plans on track.
I can have my own way or I can follow The Way…but I can’t have it both ways.
Sometimes what God asks us to do is inconvenient. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense.
But here’s one truth I know: God can be trusted.
Whatever He asks us to do, we can trust that it will work together for our good and His glory. We can trust that He loves us. We can trust that He knows best. We can trust that He will make a way, even it seems impossible. We can trust that He knows what He’s doing. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing takes Him off guard. He has this whole thing already mapped out. He’s just asking us to cling to Him and hold tight to Him as we ride through this journey together.
We don’t have to have all the answers—because He IS the Answer.
We don’t have to know how it’s all going to go—because we know Who goes with us.
We don’t have to figure it all out—we just have to open our hands and hold them out in surrender.
The words of Proverbs 3:5-6 have taken on a new meaning for me these past few months:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”
When we hold tight to our own plans and our own understanding, when we clinch our fists so tight around our own agendas, we can’t receive all that He has for us. He can’t put anything in a closed hand.
But there’s a risk involved in opening our hands. Because an open hand only holds things loosely. Things can be taken from an open hand, things can fall through our fingers and be lost along the way.
Sometimes the comfort of what we know makes us close our hands so we don’t lose it. The fear of what might come, or what we might lose in the process, cripples our joints and clinches our fists. We settle for what is comfortable instead of risking it all for something we can’t yet see.
I’ve lived a long time with closed hands. My joints are stiff from holding onto things so tight. It has been a bit of a painful process to pry my hands open, to pry my heart open, to pry my life open…to give God total access and allow Him to take it all—every plan and dream, every relationship I hold dear and everything that is precious to me—and let Him have control of the pen and write the story.
I’m not great at it. It’s a daily struggle. I’m a recovering perfectionist and a bit of a control freak, and it is really hard to not have a detailed checklist and plan for every step ahead of us. I want to know what’s going to happen…and how it will happen and when it will happen and what exactly will happen after that.
But surrender includes
surrendering the knowing—and exchanging it for trusting.
Surrendering the plan—and exchanging it for prayer.
Surrendering the control—and exchanging it for Christ.
Change is on the horizon for our family. Seasons are changing, a chapter is closing, and the door to something completely new is opening.
But change isn’t easy. Sometimes it can be scary. To step away from all that we know and walk into the unknown requires courage. It requires us to trust God, even if we’re trembling.
“Bravery is not the absence of fear but following God through the fear as you believe God’s promises. It’s holding on to the facts of our faith more tightly than to the fears for the future…It’s believing change is not in the way of God’s plans for us but on the way.” – Kristen Strong, Girl Meets Change
We don’t know when we’re moving to Denver, we have no idea how it’s all going to work out, and we are walking forward with our knees knocking together and our open hands shaking a bit…but we trust that God will make a way. We trust that His plan for our lives is so much better than anything we could have dreamed. We are daily surrendering to Him and letting Him write this story…and we can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.
Right now we are very much in the waiting. Waiting for God to open some doors and part some waters and reveal the next step forward. The waiting can be a scary place…doubts and fears loom heavy in the waiting. But time spent in waiting is never wasted with God. Because God wastes nothing. He is right here with us in the waiting. He is working in the waiting. And His peace in the middle of all the unknowns is bigger and stronger than any fear the enemy throws our way.
Will you pray for us as we embark on this new adventure? There are so many things we are trusting God for through this…He is the great Way-Maker and we are trusting Him to make a way as we obey and follow Him.
And will you pray for Michael and Dale Talley and their beautiful family, as they are beginning their journey in Denver and trusting God to lead them as they prepare to plant a church in an area that is in great need of the Gospel? You can read more about their ministry, and even sign up to support them, at reachingdenver.com
A Season of Struggle - the rest of 2018
I wrote all those words back in July, just before we entered an even deeper season of struggle and surrender. I haven’t yet shared all the details of the hard season we are currently in. I’ve been keeping it pretty close and quiet…partly because we’re still in the thick of it and I don’t really have the words for all of it yet, and also because it’s not only my story to tell and I want to be careful with how I share it (and people can be plain mean and judgmental and we’ve been a bit fragile and tender these past few months). All I will say at this point is that we have been in an intense battle with anxiety and panic attacks that have plagued the days of our beautiful youngest daughter. We’ve transitioned into homeschooling (another long story), and we are doing all that we can to help her and support her through this season. But to say it has been hard and challenging would be an understatement. I feel like I’ve cried out to God more these past 5 months than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve begged Him for healing, for clarity, for a way forward.
He’s felt silent and distant and I’ve felt pretty alone.
But I know that my feelings can lie.
I’ve had to set aside how I feel and lean into what I know to be the truth: God loves us. He loves our girl more than we can even imagine. He is writing a story that is more beautiful than we can see right now. He WILL use this part of her story—He will work it all together for her good and for His glory. He hasn’t gone anywhere…He is still right here with us. He is still Emmanuel. He does not change.
We had to temporarily set aside the call to Colorado for a season as we have focused on our family. Mark had applied for months for jobs all over the Denver area, but was turned down and rejected for them all (it was a bit discouraging, if I’m honest). A job for Mark was one of the doors that we knew only God could open, and we were trusting Him to open the right one at the right time. When nothing happened, we were a bit discouraged but we trusted God’s timing. If He didn’t open any doors, then we were meant to wait. Then school started back and we were quickly plunged into this new battle with a new diagnosis which led to so many changes in the rhythms of our family. But we know that God is not finished with any of this story yet. There were too many burning bushes to ignore what God was calling us to do. His calling doesn’t change just because our circumstances do. But His timing and His ways are not like ours.
So often in Scripture, there is a long season of waiting between the time God calls and the time He fulfills His calling. There’s a season of waiting and preparation between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. And so often this long path of waiting leads straight through the wilderness.
We’re living in the waiting. We’re walking through the wilderness. We’re waiting for God to make a way where right now there seems to be no way. We’re waiting for Him to part the waters that right now are raging and threatening to overtake us. But our God is bigger. And His way is better. And His love is greater. And He WILL lead us through this. And one day we will look back and be able to say, “Wow, look what GOD has done!”
Mark is planning to begin applying for jobs in Denver again as we enter this new year. I’m limiting my design work in 2019 so I can figure out this homeschooling gig and be fully present for my family in this hard and crazy season full of so many unknowns. And we’re going to keep waiting and trusting and believing God. We’re going to yield and surrender to whatever He brings, however He brings it.
And we’re clinging to the Truth in His Word:
“For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 (AMP)
This season isn’t over. There’s a whole lot we just don’t know. I have no idea how this will all play out or how God is going to work through all of this (probably in some pretty amazing and incredible ways that we never would expect, because that’s just what He does).
But no matter what, this we know: God can be trusted, He is always good and He is always loving us, through it all.