Wineskins and sunsets: the danger of going back to what we know

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The strangest thing happened to me today.  There I was on the 101, windows down, soaking up the sunlight, catching glimpses of the ever-beautiful California coast. It was glorious.  And after a very full (and very fun) weekend, I thought, why not stop for a bit and catch my breath by the ocean?

So I turned into a beach I’d never been to before, only to realize, I don’t know these beaches.  I don’t quite know what to expect.  Is it a good beach?  Do I pay?  Where do I park?  And since that sort of thing kind of bothers me, I turned around and decided to stop at the beach we always go to, the one closest to home.

But right before I reached the exit, these HUGE, dark, thunderous clouds came rolling in out of nowhere!  Stupidly, I kept heading toward the beach, only to run into this mass exodus of disgruntled tourists trying to escape the storm.

As pitiful as it sounds, I was so angry.  It was perfectly sunny the entire drive up to that point.  I had already pictured myself, toes in the sand, watching the sun set over the waves, reading and praying and having my own wonderful little moment.  I said to God (only half-expecting any response), “Please, tell me there’s a point to this! Is there something You’re trying to teach me, here?”

On my way back home, I became annoyed with myself.  I thought about my tendency to go back to what is safe, and known, and predictable…and how sometimes my fears simply get in the way of what could be better.  (Oh, if I had only ventured on when I stopped at that other beach…)

It reminded me of some things God has been revealing lately…about how scared I am of making bold decisions…about how hesitant I am to step into things I know God has set on my heart.

As I pondered all of this, the words old wineskins came to mind.

Old wineskins?

Old wineskins.  Jesus said that if we pour new wine into old wineskins, it will make them burst and ruin the wine.

And then it hit me.

Sometimes, God does something new in us, and it’s a big deal.  It changes everything.  Maybe it’s a new conviction, or a new calling, or a new revelation.  But instead of walking fully into it, we find ourselves going back to what we’ve always known, trying to take what is new and fit it into what we’ve always done and who we’ve always been…and it doesn’t really work for us anymore, and it stifles the new work God has begun, and it causes us to miss out on things that are better.

I don’t want to miss out on any more sunsets because I’m afraid to explore unknown territory.  And I don’t want to mess with what God has made new by going back to my old ways of doing and being.

Lord, give us the courage to follow Your lead.

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where do we go from here: reflections on where I was and where I’m headed next

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I was seven years old the first time I saw my dad cry.  It was the end of a long road trip from California to Oregon, our last as a family.  My brother and my dad were just about to jump on a train headed back to California, and it was time to say goodbye.

I know it sounds cliché, but things truly were never the same after that day.  Instead of seeing my dad and brother every day, I saw them every summer – just once a year.  I’d be lying to you if I said that everything was awful after that, or that it ruined my childhood.  The truth is that both of my parents remarried rather quickly, and I ended up with two quite stable families that loved me dearly.  The truth is, I never felt unloved a day in my life.  But through it all, there was a loss that tainted everything.  Members of my own immediate family had never met my friends or stepped foot in my schools, never saw the color I painted my bedroom, never attended a band concert or a softball game.  So many missed Christmases, and birthdays, and more than that, so many missed normal, everyday kind of days.  And even when summertime came, it was tainted by the looming realization that our next goodbye was only weeks away.

How sad it would be if our story ended there, and for many years, I thought it might.  But, dear friends, God loves us more than we could ever know, and while I was busy for years protecting my own heart from further loss, He was lovingly healing, and restoring, and changing me bit by bit…and teaching me the meaning of this word, this beautiful, God-inspired, Gospel-saturated word: redemption.

Redemption.

Redemption is taking the broken things and making a masterpiece.  Redemption is not only finding what was lost, but replacing it with something better.  When God revealed to us the ultimate picture of redemption in Jesus, He didn’t just pull us out of the pit, He raised us up to the heights and glories of heaven.

Redemption.  Redemption is feeling the freedom to love both of my families with my whole heart.  Redemption is victory over fears that once shackled me and hindered my relationships.

Redemption doesn’t belittle loss, or brokenness, or sin.  It doesn’t erase the sad things; it doesn’t rewrite the past.  But it adds a new chapter.  It adds hope, and purpose, and life to what seemed to be only darkness.  Somehow, redemption makes our stories sweeter, richer, and more powerful than if the bad things had never happened.

RedemptionRedemption is New Year’s in our jammies, and late-night talks with brothers, and a full dinner table on Christmas night.  Redemption is In and Out burgers with my dad, or showing my big brother around Bangkok – a city I’ve come to love.

And this summer, Redemption will be living in the same state, the same city, the same house as my dad for the first time since I was seven years old.  Redemption will be seeing my little brothers start college, getting to know my brother’s girlfriend, spending everyday life with a mom I never had the chance to know in depth.

Redemption is why I’m picking everything up and moving to California this summer.  Redemption is why I’m leaving the classroom after seven good years to study counseling and psychology.  Redemption is why I’m stepping out in faith, before my feet even know where to land.  So please pray for me, and my family, and the next chapter of our story.  It’s gonna be a good one.

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