he guy never balked once. And, I mean, he really could have, only about a couple thousand times. Turns out:
When a man doesn’t falter in trusting a woman, it makes a woman fall harder.
But that’s not the point of this story. Or maybe it is.
I mean, the Farmer could have straight up guffawed when I kinda shriek right there on Main Street: “TURN AROUND.”
He doesn’t bother asking why.
Mainly because we’ve been married nearly a quarter of a century. There are things you now just do without batting an eye. He wheels his pick-up around in the shuttered Mac’s Milk parking lot.
Turns out I had read the sign in front of the old stone Anglican Church right:
“Thanks for the memories.”
And, to me, that kinda sounded like a goodbye.
“First, Mac’s Milk — and now — they’re closing down — the church?”
“And you want me to drive around the block again? Right —?” He’s grinning. The man knows the quirks of his bride.
The day we find ourselves bizarrely standing in the abandoned church with a real estate agent, I keep waiting for him to roll his eyes.
To shake his head a bit at this new level of outrageous ridiculousness and to turn around and walk right back out to the truck and beat it for home.
I mean, you could write your name in the dust on the back pews.
There are no bathrooms on the main floor. The closet-sized bathrooms that do exist in a corner of the basement had to be at least 50 years old, and who knew when some rusted pipe might blow to a catastrophic, stink-to-highest-heaven effect.
There is no heating system beyond a handful of prehistoric cast iron radiators and this is the great white north: there can be snow on the ground here 6 months of the year.
And the obvious:
The Church is about rescuing us who are down and out — so why be about rescuing a run-down church? And isn’t the church the body of Christ — not the old stones of some battered steeple? But what if — rescuing a house of God — somehow allowed more to be rescued?
There is no congregation left.
There are bats in the belfry.
The Farmer grins and knows better than to make any tongue-in-cheek jokes along that tempting line about his wife’s own leaning belfry.
The real estate agent’s kindly trying to figure out why there is a water stain along the one back wall and if it has anything to do with the roof. I am nodding, but I look over at my man standing there quietly looking up at the stained glass windows.
The Farmer’s standing in this shaft of light in a a deserted church and all these old stone walls are begging us to believe in a future for abandoned dreams, begging us to be brave and walk toward what others have walked away from. And he turns toward me and grins and something inside me explodes:
Beginning again feels like hoping again.
He and I — we could find — something calling to us — and begin again. You’re never too old to start again, hope again, believe again for impossible things all over again.
He looks 22, standing there in the light, smiling like a fool who believes. And I nod. We could find our own beginning again.
You’ve got to keep dreaming if you want to keep from losing your hope.
When I slide across the pick-up seat to get closer to him on the way home to the farm, I lean in, brush against his week-old stubble when I whisper there at his ear: “So what exactly are we doing here — looking at an old church?”
One hand on the steering wheel, his other work-worn hand finds my knee, squeezes gentle, “You tell me: Did Abram have to know all the details of the plan, or did he trust the logic of God?”
I turn to look him in the eye. He knows I’ve been married to him for nearly a quarter of a century now too and this knowing each other goes both ways. He winks. And there in front of all the fools-for-Christ, is the expansive horizon of a life of faith:
Abram didn’t know where he was going, but he knew Who he was going with.
You don’t always have to know where you’re going — when you know you’re going with God.A life of faith doesn’t demand knowing the destination — because it’s about knowing the Guide.
Why does faith feel a bit like the wild fear of free falling straight into wind but aren’t we always carried on the wings of grace?
Why can the largeness of lioness faith feel like all your ease is being eaten alive and you are feasting on something out of this world?
Faith means exodus from the comfort of what you know — into the unknown plan of the One who is your deepest Comfort.
How many times have I said it:
When you just want more clarity — God just wants you closer.Clarity for what’s ahead comes from moving closer to the heart of God.
Frankly, when the Farmer turns at our gravel road, what I want to turn and ask him is: “You tell me: So did our buddy Abram want to slam on the brakes, wheel his camels right around, and high tail it home to comfort and a heaping plate of fattened calf around the fire?”
But I just kinda swallow down what feels like rising terror — and sorta choke-whisper:
“Abram only stepped out in faith — because he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God called. You — think God’s calling to….?” I don’t even know how to — finish that sentence.
My heart finishes it for me:If God’s calling you, don’t worry about how to answer. Be far more concerned if you don’t answer at all.
The Farmer’s gentle —- because the man knows how to plant seeds, how to talk tender to terrified sheep: “What — have we been reading over and over again for weeks around the dinner table?” He’s about got the passage memorized:
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after….
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad…
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out…
I will always show you where to go.”
He punctuates every word with it’s own generous space, planting it somewhere deep in the broken places of my heart, like it could grow something that points the way forward. I remember to breathe and tell myself that faith is supposed to feel this wild because you only are living by faith when you’re leaving the known and tamed places.
“You know the rest,” he squeezes my knee again. Yeah — I know the rest — but knowing something is very different than doing it. Faith may be easy to nicely pontificate about — but it is infinitely harder to actually incarnate.
But if you don’t live by faith — are you really living?
“ ‘I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places….” The Farmer seeds the those last few verses and I can feel this terrifying, embryonic dream start to grow.
“You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past…
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.” (Isa 58:9-12 MSG)
The fast God wants is to go hard and fast toward those hurting on the fringes.
The fast God wants is that we be not to be slow about choosing literal sacrifice and actual surrender and the all-sufficiency of the One who saves us.
The fast God wants is faith that lets go of lesser loves to fall — freefall — into a far deeper love with Him — and find what we’re holding fast to is only Him.
We fast. And pray and pound loud on heaven’s door and lean long over the open Book that keeps breaking us wider open and verses always are the megaphone of His voice. We lay awake praying that we heard.
The Farmer and I get down on our knees and we burn our boat and and decide: Live your life — make your decisions — practice your faith — with:
The Practice of Boat-Clinging Minimization:
1. Will this get me to stay clinging to the boat? Or will this get me out of the boat — and get me to cling to Jesus?
2. Will this end up being a regret of something I failed to do — because I was scared to fail?
3. Will this be a regret of omission — to fulfill the Great Commission?
Life, Decisions, Faith are about: Minimize the number of times you cling to the boat — instead of to Him.
Honestly, we do what we have hardly ever done: We lay out fleeces and we lay them out again, to make sure we heard, and when He answers again, we are stripped of words — of all excuses — and left only with awe and our naked hearts that have to choose to say yes — or turn away from His clear, vulnerable heart.
Burn the boat. Just burn the faith-killing boat.
When we end up signing the papers on a nearly 125-year-old abandoned church, I feel this glorious-terrified upending, hand trembling across the dotted line, feel the heat of burning up of any boat — and feel the faith of all this cold water like a jolting awakening to the hope of really living outside of boxes and boats and any pre-mature comfortable coffins.
The next morning, before I’m even semi-conscious, it hits like a ton of bell tower bricks, the irrevocable foolhardy-faith we’ve signed our John Henrys to, because we don’t know anything, because we’re limping hard and don’t know how to get from here to —anywhere…. because the stakes seem high and I’m undone and laid low. And I fling myself out of bed, sorta gasping like I can’t breathe, like I’m kinda drowning, like I can’t haul myself out of the water and back into the boat.
Then, like a bolt out of nowhere into all my panic places, into all my places empty of faith, there are these four reverberating words that feel like they thundered straight out of the throne room:
“God is about restoration.”
…. …. ….
God is about restoration — restoration of broken hearts, restoration of broken dreams, restoration of broken justice, restoration of broken churches, restoration of broken relationships, restoration of broken hopes, restoration — of what seems the most impossible — restoration of us.
Lay fast of that:
God is about restoration.
The Farmer steps into our room with his steaming cup of coffee, catches me all wide-eyed and wild in morning light.
“You — you okay?”
“What if — what if — ,” I force-whisper the words out.
“What if — whatever in the world is that we are doing with Isaiah 58 on the Main Street of a little country town with an old stone church — what if we fail?”
The Farmer puts down his wafting mug of caffeine on the edge of the dresser, steps close, cups my face in his hands, and waits till my wild eyes rest in his sure ones.
“Hey — listen…” His smile’s gentle.
“I would rather fail at this — then succeed at anything else.” And all the angst in the room exhales and I don’t know if I have ever loved more.
At least fail at what matters — instead of succeeding at what doesn’t.
Go hard and fast after what matters — helping those hurting and lost and looking for hope and healing on the fringes.
Even if you go with knees knocking, go after what matters — instead of going confidently after what doesn’t.
And the Farmer puts his hands tenderly on my shoulders and turns me around and I don’t balk but fall harder.
Right into the steadfast arms of the God of impossible restorations.