success & sacrifice: all as loss

it wasn’t until i met by best friend steve that i realized we get to choose the kind of stories we tell with our lives. we all have dreams. some of us simply choose to go after them.

“i kinda feel like i’m tearing down everything i’ve spent the past four years building up,” i explained to steve while he worked away.

“kind of?” he said with a look of confusion on his face. “you are.”

i had dropped in an on early friday morning. to say hi. to catch up before heading into the office. i wasn’t planning on telling him i was having a rough time. but it ended up coming out anyway.

steve was already working away when i arrived. he had been all night, as it turned out. he owns his own business, and summer is his busy time. his unshaven face a dead-giveaway he hadn’t been home for days.

“but that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” he asked.

“yeah. yeah, it is,” i said. “but it still stresses me out. it’s just so much change.”

not his own

i met steve a couple years back. at a friend’s birthday party. it was at steve’s shop, and he was delivering some birthday cakes for the party. we got talking a few weeks after the party, and i was blown away by how this guy lived out his faith.

for starters, he served full-time at his church. leading the worship team. which isn’t a huge thing in and of itself. okay, maybe it is. especially for a guy like me who can’t even whistle in tune. but that was on top of owning his own business. achieving incredible success and notoriety in his industry. being featured in loads of magazines, including martha stewart. he had gone after his dreams, and he was living it out in a way that glorified God. all before he was 30.

“money is just a tool that allows me to bless others,” he explained over coffee shortly after we met. and i never doubted for a second his words. i knew he was being genuine. and he was. the income he received from the church he worked at was used to support his widowed mother. and to treat the youth on his worship team. truly, his time and his money were not his own. and he lived that out in a way i had never seen before. and haven’t seen since. it blew me away.

introducing my dream

not long after that, steve asked me what my dreams were. it took me completely off guard. this wasn’t something i was used to being asked. and so i fumbled my way through an answer. keeping things pretty shallow. but then, after a while, i blurted out what was really on my heart. it came pouring out of me before i could stop it. what i really wanted to do, but what i had been too scared to share with anyone other than my wife. for fear of being laughed at.

“i want to study at oxford someday,” i said. pausing. giving the statement room to breathe. giving him time to laugh. but he didn’t. so i continued.

“c.s. lewis studied and taught there, and he has had a huge impact on my faith,” i explained. “his writing has helped me think through and understand a lot of things of the Christian faith, in a way that nothing else ever has, and i’d love to be able to do that for others.”

“then you should,” he said, matter-of-factly. that was it. straight and to the point. no laughs. no “come on’s!” just, “you should.”

i remember sitting outside with steve on another occasion. in the courtyard outside his shop. it was sunny. and we had just finished lunch. and i remember him saying to me, “if i were you, and if this is what i wanted, then i would do everything in my power to get there.”

let’s be realistic

a couple months after i had shared this dream with steve, my wife and i had some close friends over for dinner. an older couple from our church. i say friends because they are. but they’re so much more than just friends. they’re mentors, in a lot of ways. they’re trusted counselors in our lives. and we love them dearly.

carol is a very intelligent, beautiful older woman with a sing-song voice. soft-spoken, her presence feels like a warm plate of fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. doug, her husband, is a man’s man, to be sure. he loves to fish and play sports, and he greets you with a firm hand-shake. even though the grey hair has tried to steal away his youth, his looming frame gives away that he was an exceptional athlete. doug’s laugh bellows through a room after each witty jab, and he’s one who is always digging deep in his faith. reading. discussing. never taking it for granted. which i consider invaluable. and i love being around them both. their energy is contagious.

it was after dinner when we found ourselves seated around the living room. talking. and carol brought up something i had been getting doug’s thoughts on for a little while. an itch i had had for some time. to be doing something different. to somehow be integrating my faith with my work. to mix things up a bit. even though i didn’t know exactly what that looked like.

“so ryan, what’s the news on that?” she asked, nonchalantly.

“well, it’s still there,” i said.

“yeah? well what are you going to do about it?” she replied.

i grinned. “i don’t know. nothing, probably.”

doug smiled from across the room.

“oh come on,” carol cooed, in that sing-song voice. “what would you be doing if you had nothing stopping you?”

this was her way of prying the answer out of me. and it worked.

i paused. to look at her. to gauge if she really wanted to know, or if these questions were just for the sake of conversation. the look on her face told me she genuinely wanted to know.

“if i could do anything?” i asked. repeating her question. “well, honestly, i’d love to teach and write about theology someday.”

her face blew up with excitement.

“really! oh, ryan, that would be great! now, you’d have to go back to school, of course. where would you want to study?”

“i’ve gone this far,” i thought to myself, “and she hasn’t laughed me out of the room yet. i guess there’s no hurt in going the rest of the way,” even though this was terribly out of my comfort zone.

“oxford,” i replied, aloud. “i’d love to study at oxford.”

again, she blew up.

“i knew it! i knew you were going to say that!” her voice erupted into the room.

“really?” i said. scrunching up my face, completely baffled by her response.

“yes, i just knew you’d want to go somewhere exceptional,” she said. “I knew you’d want to travel and go somewhere far away.”

pausing, to let it settle in. to think. looking at me with a smile on her face, carol then spoke again, “well, you’re going to have to go for it, then.”

“okay, but let’s be realistic,” i interjected. only to be put in my place.

“realistic?!” carol belted out. so loud and deliberately i was almost ashamed of my words. “realistic? what’s not realistic about that, ryan?”

carol and doug spent the next two hours talking us into booking a trip to england that summer. to look into schools. to meet with professors. and to see if this was something more than just a pipe dream.

“if you don’t go after this now,” doug said, “you’re going to spend the rest of your life wondering ‘what if?'”

he was right. and i knew i had no choice in the matter. this itch would not go away on its own.

successful

growing up, i wanted to be successful. i thought about it all the time, even though i didn’t know what that looked like, exactly. i knew i wanted to do really well at whatever it was that i ended up putting my hands to, but i wasn’t sure what that was.

i knew what i wanted to achieve, though. i wanted to achieve security. i wanted to earn enough that i didn’t have to worry about providing for my family. i didn’t want my children to have to want. or to worry about money. or where it was going to come from. i wanted to take care of things. i guess that’s what i thought success meant. not having to worry about things. i thought it meant doing so well in your job that you had everything in control. whatever that was, that’s what i wanted.

but then, at some point, that all changed. i realized i could have a job that provided great paycheck after great paycheck and still not feel successful. if it was something that didn’t have deep significance to me. not because i felt my job was insignificant–i actually really enjoyed my job–but because, well, i realized there was an itch inside of me that deeply desired to be scratched. there was a passion that begged to be let out. to teach and write in a way that helped others see Christ clearly. to be doing that. full-time. as my job. i knew that’s what success looked like for me.

to look back on my life. 50 years from now. and know i did that. that my life’s work pointed others to Him. that is what success looked like to me. and i knew that’s the path i needed to set out for.

all as loss

the new testament tells us about a jewish man by the name of saul. saul was born into the right family. he was taught by the right teachers. and he went on to become a very prominent man himself. he was what many young jewish boys dreamt of being one day. for his time, saul had it made.

saul would have been in his mid-twenties during the time of Jesus’ ministry. which means he would’ve heard all about it. about the healings. about His teachings. about the huge crowds that would gather everywhere He went. about how He was going against the traditions the jewish people had kept for centuries. and about the miraculous claims. that this Jesus had risen from the grave three days after being crucified. he would’ve heard it all.

the new testament also tells us that saul went on to lead a persecution against the early Christ followers. against those professing faith in Jesus’ resurrection. against those who were mockingly called “Christians.” we’re told he would imprison them. and that he even personally oversaw their stonings.

and it was at one point in saul’s travels–on his way to send some early Christ followers to prison–that he was stopped. suddenly. by a great light. and a voice that came from within the light. a voice that spoke to him. personally. asking him,

saul, saul why do you persecute me?”

we’re told it was the voice of Jesus. and we’re told this man saul was so changed from this personal interaction with Jesus that he stopped his mission of imprisoning and killing the Christians, and he actually began telling other jews that this man Jesus was the messiah they had been waiting on. that He was the way to their God. he began telling his jewish brothers and sisters about the salvation that was found only in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. and about the life that was made possible by His grace.

saul was completely changed. he had it all, and he left it all behind. he traded his place of prominence for a lonely prison cell. he traded praise from men for beatings and lashings. because of his experience with Christ.

and at one point in his ministry, saul (who Jesus renamed paul) went on to write, “i consider it all loss for the sake of knowing Christ.”

over tea and books

and so we went to england. the first time for either my wife or i. we had an incredible time. and by incredible i mean, of course, it was filled with plenty of moments where i thought to myself, “what in the world are we doing.”

the day after we arrived, we found ourselves sitting in the rental car office. we were told our car had been rented to someone else. but not only that, there were no automatics left. anywhere. i could probably re-introduce myself to the intricacies of driving stick shift after driving an automatic for the past eight years, but it would be enough of an adjustment driving on the wrong side of the road, from the wrong side of the car. it was a risk i didn’t want to take.

i had setup an informal interview at oxford for that day. it was supposed to be starting in only a few hours, and i had no idea how we were going to get there.

but we did. it all worked out. we even made it there on-time. and i was speechless when we arrived. the old brick buildings. the beautiful, stretching green lawns. the sunlight pouring over the fields as the local youth played cricket. it was breathtaking. all of it. and i felt a bit like we were stepping into someone else’s shoes for a while.

i had my meeting with the oxford professor whom i had been in touch with for a couple months. by e-mail. as soon as i knew we were coming. he greeted us by name with a warm smile and that rich english accent that makes you feel about 50 iq points lower. he asked if we wanted some tea, of course. and we did, of course. his office was like a small library. brimming with books. both old and new. rows and rows all lined up neatly along shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling. the room wasn’t terribly large, but just large enough for a fireplace, his desk, and a few chairs for guests. tall windows that offered beautiful views of the english countryside sat across from the bookshelves.

he started with some questions to get to know us a bit better. where we were from. what we do. welcoming jen into the conversation just as much as he spoke to me. making us feel very much at home. even though we were so very far from it.

and then he got straight to the point. he turned toward me and asked why i wanted to study at oxford. and so i told him. paying careful attention to each word.

i explained how i had a great job back home. one i knew i could stay at and be very happy with. but that i also had a deep passion for theology. that that’s what i spent my free time in. reading (he asked me for authors). writing. and that’s what i wanted to spend my time doing.

i shared with him how i had first experienced c.s. lewis’ writings during my sophomore year of college. how i had been amazed by how brilliant this man was, and by his ability to support his own faith in the Christian traditions. traditions and beliefs that can be pretty tough to swallow, he illustrated clearly. illuminating them with approachable analogies and precise logic. and i explained to this professor how lewis had taught me that i did not need to sacrifice my intellect to approach the things of the Christian faith. and how i wanted to help others see that.

he smiled at me from his chair across the room. nodding in agreement. and all of a sudden, i knew we were speaking the same language.

he asked about my academic history. grades. and he closed our meeting by telling me he thought i’d be a great fit. he encouraged me to apply, and to use his name as a reference. i was ecstatic.

returning home from that trip, i knew this was the right path.

three months

i spent the next three months working on applications. after a full day of work, i’d find my spot in the local coffee shop. my favorite. the one that looks out over the bay. the san juan islands and sailboats gliding slowly across the water provided a backdrop for my preparations. asking for paperwork from these people. and then sending them to those people. writing. about myself. about why i wanted to go. until the sun had set and the coffee shop closed for the night. then i’d leave. and do it all again the next day. for three months. i hardly saw my wife during this time. and it was wearing.

less than a month after submitting my application, i found out i had been invited to return to the school for an interview. i was so excited to hear the news. but i also knew i simply could not afford the time or cost of the trip for a single interview. and so i worked out a deal with the school. so that i could hold my interview over the phone. i knew this would put me at a disadvantage. to those who were able to meet face-to-face with the school. but i had no choice.

the night before my phone interview, i thought i’d look a little into the process. just to see what i was getting myself into. apparently these interviews are a pretty big deal. i found out that just getting invited to this point is quite the achievement. and that parents were known to spend around $500 an hour to hire a consultant to help prepare their child for the questions they might be asked during their interview. which put me at ease.

i went on to read that of all of those who had applied to this program, the school had only accepted six students the previous year. six. in the world. and it was at that point that i laughed out loud. i was actually relieved. there was no longer any pressure. if i was supposed to be there, then i’d be there. but if i wasn’t. . .well. . .six.

even his very life

i watched a video online a while back. it was introduced by francis chan. a pastor and author out of california. a man who is absolutely committed to helping the downtrodden. and to sharing with others the love of Christ.

but the video itself was something else entirely. it was a video of a man being beaten for preaching his faith (as was made clear in the introduction). his Christian faith. he was in india. and he was from india himself. he was standing in a group of people. the group was circling him. and all of a sudden he was kicked in the back. knocked to the ground. and then the beatings began. kicks to the head. stones were thrown. he was literally beaten to death. it was horrific. unlike anything i’ve ever seen. you wanted to do something. to step in. to help this man. but you could not, of course.

and the thing that stuck with me most from this video. the thing that is still with me, more than anything else. more than the physical violence. more than the crowds of people. more than the fact that no one got involved to stop the violence. no, what stuck with me most was that this man fought to get up. after the kicks to the back. after the kicks to the head. while they were still standing there. waiting for any movement. to attack again. this man actually struggled to get up! and that blew me away. it still does.

me? i would’ve laid there. quietly. i wouldn’t have moved. i would’ve made it appear as though i were dead. until they left me for dead. then maybe i would’ve tried to get up. after i knew the coast was clear. but this guy. this man. he struggled with all he had to lift his beaten and battered body from the ground. even while his enemies stood over him. even while the beatings continued.

how proud the Father must have been at that point. for this man. in this instance. when he considered all as loss. even his very life. for the sake of knowing Christ. and showing those watching what that looked like in His life.

everyone who stood there in the crowd that day. the hundreds of thousands of people who watched this video. they all saw what i saw. a man who professed faith in Christ. a man who believed in Him with all he had. and who cared more about that than his very life. and who wasn’t giving up.

that’s the kind of faith i want. with all i have. the kind of faith that considers all as loss. even my very life. the kind that’s willing to strive with every last ounce of my being to show others my faith.

and i pray you would, too. i pray you would see clearly the love of our Father, and the incredible gift He is offering. i pray you would be so enamored with it that everything else would be but a periphery issue. that all else would be but a distraction for the path that leads you directly into the loving arms of your Savior. and mine. Jesus Christ. that He might change you from the inside out. creating you into the most beautiful creation. into His very own image. that you might display Him to the world.

creation over the Creator

the truth is, very few–if any–of those reading this will be asked to choose between their life and their confession of Christ as Lord. that is simply not the way satan is attacking those in this part of the world. instead, he is battling with complacency and pride and self-worship and materialism and idolotry. rather than fearing for our lives, we are fearing for our possessions and lifestyles. you may not be asked to bend the knee to allah, but you will certainly be asked to bend the knee to a lifestyle that worships creation over the Creator. you will most certainly be led to believe that a life lived for one’s self is not a wasted life, but rather an admirable life, if it is met with success.

and rather than holding on to our faith and the gospel so tightly, more tightly than our very lives, our grip loosens on it a bit more each day. slowly. so that we care a little bit less about the gospel, about His good news each day. so that, steadily, our gaze moves from Him, onto ourselves. or others. or things. and that is where satan wins. he wins by saying, “look at this.” and we do. rather than at Him.

His desire is to pour Himself out, completely, into your life. but, you will have no arms to catch Him, no room in your life, if you are holding too tightly to the things of this world. and He knows that.

i pray your gaze would remain on Him. i pray your heart would be broken by His love, and His sacrifice. every day. i pray you would not help but be consumed with love for Him, and for what He has done. every day.

misguided focus

the entire story of humanity is one in which satan comes to us and whispers, “this deserves your focus. this deserves your focus. this deserves your focus.” continually throwing things at us in the vain attempt (or perhaps not so vain) to distract us from what actually deserves our focus. namely, Him. the Lord of all creation. the Lover of our souls.

throughout all of history, that is what he has been doing. trying to distracting us from what our focus should be on (Him). and, instead, trying to focus our attention and our efforts on other things. on money. on government. on fame. on clothes (“fashion”). on sex. on appearance. on food. on our work. on ourselves. and, as we’re created knowing something actually does deserve our focus. our worship. we fall into the mistake of believing him. we fall for his lies.

and our self is the thing with which he most easily distracts us. tricking us into thinking we deserve our focus. for, of all other things he points to, our self finds itself most fitting this description. of that which deserves our worship (perhaps it is because we’re designed in His image). we see this worked out in pride and self-conceit.

surely, when it comes down to it, we’re able to identify the futility of living for material gain. we all strive for it, but not many of us are going to say clothes or riches or any material possessions should be our ultimate pursuit. however, it is more difficult to make the same acknowledgement when it comes to our own well-being. when it comes to our selves. we’re much more likely to realize material wealth does not deserve our focus when compared to our own needs, but our own needs fail to deserve our focus in light of His purposes. of His glory. and of helping others realize His love.

busy little bees

i fear we are living our lives just to busy ourselves. like busy little bees. or birds. going to and from work. building. going. meeting. moving. doing. so that we can build these comfortable nests for ourselves. that is our aim. for most of us.

we believe the lie that His desire for our life is one of comfort. of a safe, warm nest. and the sooner we awaken from that misconception the better. for the longer we’re led to believe that to be true, the more difficult the truth will be to receive when it comes. for many, there may be a period of shock at the realization that there are no suburbs in heaven.

i feel like He wants so much more for us. i feel like He wants to free us from this lie. that we might experience Him. and live for Him. in big ways.

christmas eve news

i got the news on christmas eve. we were in-between christmas parties. dropping off gifts from the last stop. picking up gifts for the next stop. i picked up the mail from the staircase, and i didn’t even look at the address to see who it was from. i assumed it was junk mail and i was on my way to the trash can. and then i stopped. in the middle of the kitchen. by myself. and read the words i never actually thought i’d see.

“dear ryan pemberton,

we are pleased to offer you a place to read theology at harris manchester college of oxford univ…”

that’s as far as i got before letting out an embarrassingly loud yell of excitement. there may have even been a little bit of a scream. but i can’t know for sure. i was in a state of genuine shock.

“no way!” i shouted, running into the living room, letter in-hand, to show jen. as she stood at the foot of the stairs. looking into those big blue eyes that knew this news was going to forever change the road we had been traveling together.

the sadness in her eyes

we were on our way to jen’s grandparents’ house that christmas eve night. when i opened up the mail. we were heading there to open up presents. jen’s family was already there. it was late. and we were late arriving. everyone else–jen’s immediate family and her grandparents’–was already sitting around the table when we walked in. talking. over plates of pie crusts and dirtied forks.

“i got in” i said excitedly, as i approached the table. the smile on my face likely giving away the news long before my words.

big eyes. huge smiles. at the news. laughter. people getting out of their chairs. for a hug. to congratulate me.

i made my way around the table. and i’ll never forget the look on hayley’s face that night. her best attempts to put on a look of joy and happiness for this news failed to hide the sadness in her eyes.

she was supposed to wake up

a few months later, we found ourselves in the hospital. by hayley’s side. saying goodbye. even though we didn’t realize it at the time.

it was the second night we were there. and i had been up all night. by her side. waiting for what was supposed to be good news. the hospital staff had brought hayley’s body temperature down significantly. shortly after she arrived. to try to save her brain functioning. they were warming her body up now to her normal temperature. two days after she arrived. slowly. carefully. so as not to do any damage.

she was supposed to reach normal body temperature between 4 and 5 a.m. at which time she was supposed to become responsive. she was supposed to wake up. that’s what she was supposed to do, we were told. but she did not.

what was supposed to be a celebratory time was traded for tears. and sorrow. after seeing the look on the nurse’s face. the look that said, “this is not good.” i went to the waiting room. to wake up the rest of the family. her mom first. shaking her shoulder gently. and then the others. so that they could be there. they woke up expecting good news. to be able to once again say “hi” to hayley. but that’s not what they received.

family filled the room. we cried. and prayed. and then the doctors asked us to give them some space. for tests. so we were shuffled down the hall. and into the waiting room. we took our places. to wait some more.

after not sleeping all night, expecting to see my sister open her eyes once again. i realized there was absolutely nothing i could do at this point. i could not even be by her side. so she didn’t have to  be all alone in that cold hospital room. and so i took the opportunity to close my eyes. to get some rest. i grabbed a blanket and crawled underneath the computer desk in the corner of the waiting room. closing my eyes hard. trying with all i had to shut out the reality we now found ourselves in. hoping to wake up and find myself somewhere else.

waking up in the icu

at 8 a.m., the previously quiet waiting room was now filled. with family. and a handful of friends. i awoke slowly. from the voices. and one voice in particular stood out from the rest. not because i recognized it, but because somehow i knew i was being talked about.

“i think that’s him,” i heard the voice say. “i think that’s her brother.”

slowly my eyes opened. i stretched. and sat up. carefully, so as not to hit my head on the computer desk that had acted as my makeshift tent in this icu waiting room. squinting to open my eyes. contacts sticking to my eyelids from working overtime. i didn’t recognize the girl who had spoken, but i could see her steal glances over her shoulder. so as not to stare at the guy waking up in the corner of the room.

laughs, from family. “get a good night’s sleep?” they joked.

rubbing my eyes. looking around the room, i realized i had woken up exactly where i had finally went to sleep. things were the same. they had not changed. unfortunately.

the girl looked over again. this time long enough to ask, “are you the one who wrote the devotional book?”

“uhhhhh,” i struggled to catch up to speed. with the question. “yeah, i think so. . .maybe.”

the birthday present

we celebrated my birthday the same week jen and i returned from our trip to england. and it was at my birthday party that i was given the greatest gift i’ve ever received. it was my words. in book format. steve had compiled each entry from hands&feet, and he had them bound into 10 hardback and 10 paperback copies. i was speechless.

hayley was there that night. when i opened my books. when i saw them for the first time. when the tears filled my eyes as i held the wrapping paper in my hands, staring down into the box. at the spines of these books that held my words.

saying goodbye, hayley said she’d like to read one sometime. without thinking twice, i put one of the hardback copies in her hands. “here you go,” i said with a smile. “now you can.”

she had been walking a pretty rough road for a while. i didn’t know where her and God stood. but i knew that relationship had seen better days. i had hoped the words would help her see Him more clearly. and His love for her. and how deeply He wanted better for her. i wanted that so bad. and i hoped this would help.

she talked about you

“she talked about you,” this girl spoke up again, in the icu waiting room. jen told me later she was a roommate of hayley’s. “she’d read your book at night, and then she’d share it with us.”

a smile spread across my face, slowly, as i woke up. as i became more aware of the conversation at-hand.

hayley had been reading my book. she read my words before bed. and she even shared them with others. and i could only hope and pray that it had helped her see Him more clearly. and His love for her. with all i had, that’s what i wanted.

you have mine

hayley and i talked a few days after i shared the news with her that christmas eve night. by text. i asked her how she was doing. she congratulated me again on school. and then she said something i will never forget. something that sticks with me to this day. something that pushes me forward and encourages me when i need it most.

“you’re going to impact a lot of people’s lives. you have mine.”

saying goodbye

we’re moving to england later this month. we’re saying goodbye to all that we know and love. to all that is comfortable to us. to pursue a long-time dream of mine. i’m going to study at oxford. theology. that i might use the knowledge i gain there to continue to write in a way that helps reveal Christ to others.

and it’s funny. i never thought i’d actually get to this point. preparing to go pursue this dream i thought was so far out there only a couple years ago that i didn’t even want to share it with others. for fear of being laughed at. and yet, here we are, preparing to go. and i never thought i’d be so scared.

in pursuing this dream, i’ve realized that often times our greatest hopes and dreams are tethered to our greatest fears. and it isn’t until we take a step in the direction of our dreams that those fears become real. so real you can smell them. so real you can feel their warm breath on your face. the question is, will we believe in the reality of our dreams deeply enough to face our fears head-on? it is only when we do so that the beauty of our dreams will a become reality.

our very own all as loss

the past several months have consisted of us preparing to leave behind all of our comforts. tearing down the professional relationships i’ve worked so hard to build up over the past four years. with my clients. and the job i fully expected to be at. for years. to settle down and have our own warm little piece of the american dream. saying goodbye to all of our friends and family. most of whom we’ve grown up with.

this is me considering all as loss for the sake of His glory. i have a good job here. i have no idea what job awaits me at the end of this journey we’re undertaking. i have amazing friends here. i have no idea who we’ll meet over there. this is my wife considering all as loss. putting her own dreams of settling down and raising a family on-hold so that we might undertake this calling now. and i couldn’t be more proud of her. or more thankful.

there are still so many unknowns. so much that makes me afraid. but we are doing this in the hope that, through this step in faith, God will show up in a big way. that He will swoop in and work through this experience and use it to help share Himself with even more people than i might otherwise reach were i to remain where i’m at. where we’re at.

i am not risking getting kicked in the face or beaten for my faith. but i don’t think that’s what He is calling me to. not at this point, at least. but i do think He is calling me to this. to relax my firm grip on everything i thought would bring me comfort and security. my job. my friends. my family. and to trust Him. so that He might do an incredible thing with a pretty ordinary thing.

what is it?

what’s distracting you from living for Him? what’s getting in the way of living in a way that others see Him at work in your life? what’s stopping you from living your life in a way that tells a beautiful story of His grace? of His redemption? of His love? what’s preventing you from living in a way that makes Him look glorious?

is it fear? for taking a step out in faith that He’s going to show up? or is it fear for what others will think if you put both feet in this faith, rather than leaving a bit of yourself outside this faith? rather than investing all your faith in Him. so that, when the opportune time comes, you can pretend like you’re not totally into this faith. so that others don’t think you’re one of the loonies.

what is it? is it something else? have your desires become muddled? have you become tempted by the world so that other things have taken the place that is meant to be reserved for Him? so that other things have taken the prominent role in your life? so that you’ve become the ignorant child content with making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation by the sea (as lewis puts it)?

whatever it is, i would ask that you be honest with yourself. let yourself answer the tough questions. even if the answers hurt. it’s only when you answer this question that you can begin taking steps to remove the distractions. to remove the fear. so that He might be displayed in your life as He should. so that He might take the throne in your life. and so that you might live life beautifully. so that your story would display His love, mercy, compassion, grace and redemption. in a way that touches the lives of those around you. in a way that makes Him look glorious.

not leave you as you are

i pray your life would be blessed as mine has.

i pray your life would be filled with amazing people. friends. family. with people who believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself. who dare you to dream big. who encourage you to do great things. who make you a better person, just by being around them. who love you. dearly. so much so that they’re willing to lay aside their own interests for the sake of yours. who sacrifice. for you.

but, even as great as those things are, i pray you would consider them all as loss. for the sake of knowing Him. for the sake of seeing Him more clearly. and for the sake of being His hands and feet. to a hurt and broken world. i pray your grip would not be so tight on the things of this world that you cannot carry His beautiful story of grace and love and redemption into those dark spots in this world that need it most.

that’s my prayer. that’s what it has always been. that’s why i began writing here three years ago. and that is what i hope you take away from these words. hold it close to your heart. chew on it. take it and run with it. share it with others. let it stir within you and drive you to seek Him out. in His word. in prayer. but, by all means, do not let it leave you the same. for His desire is to do great things with you. and He will not leave you as you are.

digging in

like a farmer on his hands and knees. in the dirt. under the scorching sun. he digs his worn hands into the soil. scooping it from the ground. and lifting the rich, dark soil to his face. he closes his eyes and breathes in its smell. a smile spreads across his sun-weathered face before opening his eyes. slowly. and as he exhales, you might be confident he is in fact crazy. but he is not. for he knows something we do not. he knows what this soil is capable of producing. life. newness. of the sort we cannot imagine. but he can. he has seen it before. and he is looking forward to seeing it again.

in the same way, He is capable of producing life. even in a life that seems so far gone. but we must dig in. we must get our hands dirty. and when we do, we will find life of the sort we did not know possible. we will breathe it in. and it will fill us up. so much so that it will pour out from us. into the lives of others. and the smile will spread slowly across our own face as it does. going out. changing lives. all for His glory.

thank you

thank you so much for taking the time to read my words. the past three years of writing here at hands&feet. of pouring out my heart and my thoughts. this truly has been a blessing in my life. i pray they have been for you as well, and i look forward to hearing what they’ve meant in your life some day.

4 thoughts on “success & sacrifice: all as loss

  1. I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your words & thoughts. They have helped in times of stress & worry (they crawl in from the edges & calm me). Sounds weird, but they do. I know God has big plans for you & wish you & Jen well. Know that our thoughts & prayers will be with you both always.

    Doug

    • doug,

      thank you so much. your words mean more than you likely know, and i am so grateful to hear these words have helped you in difficult times.

      thank you also for the well wishes and prayers. we will certainly need those.

      all the best to you.

      ryan

  2. ryan,
    it is an honor to be your best friend, and it has been my joy and privilege to walk through this process with you. although i am dreading saying goodbye as we end this chapter of our friendship, i know without a doubt that God has amazing plans in store for you. i am proud of you for daring to dream, and having the faith to believe that God will do immeasurably more than we ever asked or imagined. i love you my friend and will miss you terribly.

    steve

    • thank you for your words, steve. you know how much they mean. thank you for your incredible friendship. for it is simply one more way God has shown me He knows my needs even when i do not. and thank you for reading these words. without you, they would not be here.

      the best days are in front of us, my friend. this is not the end, but the beginning.

      ryan

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