The Wilderness Way

“So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea.”
Exodus 13:18

Blink and you miss it in that verse nestled right before the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus of the Israelites. Right there, God led them out into the wilderness. It’s where John the Baptist would be called from before birth. It’s where Christ would spend 40 days. It wasn’t new for Moses to be in the wilderness, it’s where he met God.

God was intentional in leading His chosen people out of bondage and directly into the wilderness. There was another route, a more direct one along a road. But they would have encountered the Egyptians’ fortification for defensive purposes there, done long before the Exodus. God knew this, and He knew the Israelites were not prepared for battle…yet.

He knows this about us too. Knowing that the route we see as easier and exactly what we would plan out for our escape from slavery and bondage within this world isn’t for us. That route has a battle on it that we just aren’t ready for, so He leads us out into the wilderness just like Moses and His chosen people.

A few verses later we see exactly what was in store for the people of Israel on the wilderness way:

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.”

He led them out to safety, to security, as a safe place and trusting guidance on their journey. He would part the sea through Moses’ hand. He would provide a way of escape for them. This wilderness way would point directly to depending upon God fully in the journey, for provision, for light…for all of it. This wilderness way was so the Israelites would focus on Him, His Presence with them in the entirety of each step, each moment, each day. In everything.

How often do I even recognize His Presence with me in my own life? In my wilderness, do I see it as a way to be prepared by Him? To be led by Him? To fully acknowledge and depend fully upon His Presence with me in every moment? Do I stop to consider He goes before me, leading my way into and through the wilderness because that’s exactly what He wants for me, and knows this is the absolute best for me?

Newborns, Expectancy and Advent

Yesterday I had the privilege of holding a friend’s newborn baby. He was a mere 13 hours old and I have to say the sheer breath of calm and joy he ushered in was beautiful. To see friends becoming parents, and the elation and sereneness on the faces of my friend as she looked at him, as her husband held him, was one of the most beautiful sights to behold. (Thank you Abby and Tom for allowing me to witness that and hold the fantastic Fitz)

All week there’s been a build up of expectation, even as another friend awaits the arrival of her son whose holding out a bit on them a week after his expected arrival. It occurred to me the same feeling was overcoming me as well heading into Advent season. This expectation of the glory of the Lord. The celebration and elation of the birth of Christ 2,000+ years ago even now.

In doing some digging into expectancy, and what that word looks like (hi word nerd over here) in the Bible, it is so strongly correlated to hope throughout the Hebrew. They are linked and intertwined, and then I found this beautiful imagery of expectation. It is as one with an outstretched neck.

I don’t know about y’all but I LOVE THAT. Expectation is us stretching out to look, to see. It took me back to the days of going to parades in my hometown, and leaning out my head to see what was coming, to see if Santa was near at the Christmas parade, or the band was marching next in our 4th of July parade. You have to put yourself into it and truly feel the expectation in your body.

The expectation doesn’t come without a wait. It doesn’t come without some pangs of hurt, loss, strife, and suffering. Expectancy can be long and drawn out, but it’s still lingers. Hope builds in expectancy, confidence in the thing believed to be on the way. And just as my friends are now living out the fulfilled expectation of new life, so do we. The expectation of this season of Advent brings new life in joy, peace, hope. It ushers in the new life of Christ with us. In flesh now appearing. It brings confident expectation of new life not found in ourselves, but in Him.

All may be calm, it may be quiet as we wait in expectation. But may we lean out our necks to see the fulfillment of our expectation this Advent season in Christ’s presence with us.

Continuing His Story

By now the presents have been unwrapped, some returned, others already discarded. The gleam and shine of Christmas is slowly dimming. The spirit of joy and peace having been replaced with frustration and strain for many.

And here I am, still sitting in the manger, adoring His story in history. But it’s not history, as we live it and breathe it in daily. We bring back this story of His embodiment of both God and man each year. I still marvel at the manger. I still sing with joy “For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” Today is new, tomorrow will be too.

Yet once the calendar moves beyond December 25th, we pack away His story, the joy of His being with us and we go on about our moments, our days and our weeks until we find ourselves back here in the manger in December once more.

We get back to distraction, to resolutions and work that we allow to define us. We replace the journey of a star with the drudgery of another project or to-do list. We begin anew the things we said would not matter to us during this season. Why does this have to be but a season for us? Why does the marveling at the wonder of God with us, Immanuel, have to end because of a day on a calendar?

The last two days I have come to the story of the wise men. The magi who journeyed across hundreds of miles, after visiting Herod to see this Child, born a Messiah. The same star which heralded the birth to the shepherds, I believe cast a light for the magi to follow for weeks to get to Him. That even the stars could not contain their praise of Him. I love that by the way…

The wise men didn’t arrive the night of His birth, as we often depict in manger scenes. No, their path was long and I imagine often daunting. Yet that star rose before and went ahead of them, much like Christ would do for us. It rested over where He could be found, a newborn of humble beginnings that would be the Savior of us all. Three gifts were brought before Him, gifts many of us could name them long before we ever had a Sunday School lesson. But do we look closely at what they laid before Him?

Gold…to signify His royalty. This Child born of a virgin and laid in a feeding trough at birth.

Frankincense…sweet aromas to please Him. A newborn with new lungs in which to breathe.

Myrrh…annointing oil at death.  A Child recently born and just beginning life.

I look at the lives of the magi on that journey…following a brightness which heralded good news through what was a long trip over terrain unknown to them. Guided by something going before them, laying down gifts before Him and bowing before Him in worship, with their treasures laid before Him. Gifts that mean He is royalty, laying their crowns and wealth before Him. Bringing sweet aromas of praise before Him. Knowing they must die to have life in Him.

I see that I too am a magi, a shepherd, the manger. I am all parts of this story of His entry into our lives, and yet I choose to enjoy it only up until December 25th. May His story bear repeating, living and rejoicing in throughout the next 363 days of my life just as He calls us to do through His birth.

Uncertainty in Difficulty

How much do we like to revel in defeat? Don’t we often return to God shouting, “Why would you let this (or that) happen?!” We will point to a time in the past when it was good, when we had it so much better then or there.

We choose to have selective memories then, in our defeat, don’t we? We choose to say that was the very best and we should have remained there or then or with that person. For us, the certainty of the past is often preferable to the difficulties of the present and the uncertainty of the future.

How quickly we forget the problems or issues associated with a past relationship or job or living situation. Instead we only see the good. Instead we focus on the better times, putting a gloss on the struggles, the heartache and the pain. We cast aside even the very presence of God with us in those moments, which reminds us we are in His will, learning and growing, being sharpened and tested by fire.

We faced that past situation or circumstance together with Him, knowing it would bring Him glory and bring us peace beyond understanding.

Instead of looking to the past with such fondness, we have to lay hold of the present, knowing Who it is that walks with us. He guides and fights for us, as we stay obedient to His truth in the midst, seeking His face in all things, understanding it is not by our means but by His. We must cling to hope in the future, that expectation of what is to come. While it remains uncertain, He knows. He always has.

He has promised.

He is faithful.

That is what we can be certain of in times of uncertainty.

Unmet Expectations

Back in February I wrote on quitting expectations, and over the last few weeks I have continued to have conversations about that same topic with different people. The most recent happened in the last two days with someone who is having a rough season of life.

When you are younger, you have these dreams of where you will be at 25, 30, 40 and so on. Then as you grow into adulthood, you find those dreams tend to morph into an expectation in your heart. To be at this goal, to have this, to be in that, to have that title. For many, including myself, I think the expectation underlying it all is to have life figured out at a certain point. I laugh when people think college graduates should have themselves completely figured out, the future planned entirely, and a mate to share it with upon the day they graduate.

For some that might be a reality, but in most cases it is far from it.

Somewhere in the dialogue yesterday, as unmet expectations of life at this point unrolled themselves, I found a different thought train leaving the station of my mind. All of these dreams, that changed to expectations, ultimately became idols of my life whether I realized it or not. When I compare them to the Biblical standard of expectations, I realize just how unholy (and ultimately unworthy) they are for my life. The expectations that God says are good and true for my life look vastly different than the ones I have crafted.

  • The Expectancy of His Command-Psalm 119:131
  • The Expectancy of His Reward Awaiting Us in Heaven- Colossians 1:4-6
  • The Expectancy of Eternal Life with Him- 1 Peter 1:2-4
  • The Expectancy of His Return- 1 John 3:2-4

I have to say, my expectations look like rags compared to this. They look cheap and meaningless when compared with eternity. Are expectations bad? I don’t necessarily think so. But I do think when they are set up as idols, when they are what we look to in order to measure the goodness of our life instead of Christ, they are bastardized for our own good. We naturally gravitate to the things which will bring us comfort, that we define on our own terms. We do the same for our expectations…we want them in our plotted way, on our terms, in our timing.

God wants nothing but good for me. Sometimes that looks like wildly unmet expectations that I have held too close to for security, as a measuring stick of my life. While I am no where near where I want to be in this, in releasing every single expectation I have crafted for myself, I am seeing now that it is a work that God is doing in me to allow me to see it first, and then to tear down the strongholds they have on my life, and in relation to God.

Quitting Expectations

I am a big fan of the show New Girl. I have been since it started. I found myself a couple of weeks ago identifying all too well with Jess’s character. Her birthday had rolled around and she had, over the years, gotten outlandish expectations about what people did for her birthday. In an effort to not get hurt, she took herself to a movie alone.

I laughed, and then realized I do the exact same thing. I have expectations of people in my life…of the situations we find ourselves in together. Whether it be birthdays or meetings, I have crafted expectations for how these individuals will behave, how they will react, what they will do. All of it is based in how I think they should act, and not how they actually do. Hurt feelings, resentment, and anger then fill me.

Is this a fun thing to be admitting to you all today? Not in the least.

I am seeing the season of life that I am in, I am weighted down. I came upon this quote from Stephanie Gates the other day that hit me right where I am:

The task before you is not your problem. What’s wearing you down is your expectations.

Yowza, she’s totally right. I am wearing myself down…with my own expectations of how life should be, how others should be towards me, how I should be at this moment already. My circumstances, the people in my life weren’t wearing me down…it was me doing it.

What a revelation that is when you see the weight you pile on your own shoulders to carry, and how easily it could have been to dump it all off, if you’d only seen it sooner. So today, I quit having expectations of others that wear me down. I quit expecting a situation to play just as I see it, just in my favor. Today I quit being selfish with my expectations.

What expectation can you quit today?

Rush Rush

Yesterday I got the opportunity to chat with some colleagues I rarely spend time with at work. It was refreshing honestly to chat about their areas of responsibility and catch up on life as I typically see them in passing-hurried steps to keep up with the pace of our jobs. The conversation came around to relationships as they oft are to do when females are together. (We don’t talk about it all the time guys, but frequent enough for the stereotype to hold true) One of them commented that they missed dating life, as she is married now. The other responded she was much happier now being married over dating any day.

The conversation flowed back and forth on the joys of being in a dating relationship versus a married one. It was interesting to hear from these women about the differences and lens with which they viewed dating and marriage at this stage in life, as both have been married for a couple of years now. It renewed a sense of joy in me for the dating life I have now.

courtesy of oprah.com
courtesy of oprah.com

Too often we try to rush one stage to get to the next. We want to fly through college to get the job, push through the first job to get to the corner office. Rush through dating to get to the wedding, then hurrying past life to have children. We choose the pace that the world tells us to have, instead of breathing in the sweet timing that The Lord has for us. I fear life is being lived out at some rapid spin that I will not understand I have a say in stopping. No, I cannot stop time from moving, I know that.

You know I can do though? I can create space for the things I say matter in my life…relationship with God, The Dude, my family, my friends, my students, my work, my writing. Ultimately I get the choice in how I spend my time, what I dedicate the preciousness of my time to daily, weekly. What if I started establishing my heart instead of my calendar each morning? Would my day reflect my heart? This is my pursuit, my prayer for my upcoming days and weeks, for my life.

“You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of The Lord is at hand.”-James 5:8