Category Archives: Traveling

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

Three Things to Remember When Facing Regret

Recently my brother and I found ourselves in NYC, on a trip we had dreamed about for years and planned for months. I couldn’t believe we were actually—finally—in New York City. Every step was exciting, every obscure building a photo op.

As the days flew by, I quickly realized things I wished we had done differently. For instance, we didn’t plan as much time for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as I would have liked, and we had to speed through the last exhibits in the Museum. I also wished we had called our hotel ahead of time to ask about baggage storage after checkout; had we known about that cheap option we would have chosen later flights on our departure day and had one last sightseeing opportunity.

At some point in life, each of us will have regrets about harder things than travel plans. Most of us already do. When the what-ifs and if-onlys in plague our memories, here are three things it helps to remember.

We Are Not Perfect

We will not lead perfect lives. We are not strong enough or wise enough to do everything right, and to be human is to belong to that globally inclusive club of Those Who Mess Things Up. As Christians, we know that one of the Gospel’s central truths is that we will never be perfect—and we don’t have to be.

It is one of the ironic things of life that this truth is more liberating than condemning. Since we know that we and everyone around us will fail sometimes, it is not as much of a shock to us when we do.

God is Bigger Than Our Failures

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

No matter how serious our mistakes and problems, they cannot be greater than the power, grace, and love of God. Far from it: our greatest failure became His deepest gift of redemption. I mean, really. Think you’ve messed things up? Talk to Adam and Eve in the garden, with fruit juice staining their hands and nakedness taunting their conscience.

He knows our hearts. He knows we will never be perfect on our own. No matter how many mistakes and failures occur between now and heaven, our imperfections are covered by His perfect grace.

Because our perfection no longer depends on what we do.

When We Fail We Lose Nothing

So we should have done it differently, and we didn’t. We may be frustrated with our own ineptness, or, in a more serious situation, grieve what could have been had we done things right. We may need to apologize and seek forgiveness, depending on the mess we made this time.

But then we move on. We don’t have to live in that failure, or build up layers of restitution until we earn our way out of debtor’s prison. All the important things are still true, untouched by our inability and failure and stupidity.

God is still on His throne. We are still His people. He is still writing our story and everyone else’s, and no matter what glitch we think we caused in this chapter, He has already made it into something good that we will see with time.

Our faith is founded (partially) on our failure to be good. Catch that? Our faith is founded on our failure. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, our perfection is found in our identity with Him. Our failures can’t touch that.

In all those little and not-so-little messes of our own making, our identity stands strong and firm in the righteousness gifted to us by Christ. We don’t lose any standing with God or drop a rung on the ladder to heaven. Our relationship with Him is a gift, and will stay that way regardless of our stumblings.

When Those Regrets Come

As we travel through life, there will be problems in the journey. Dreams-come-true morph into mild disasters and our best efforts disintegrate into Have-I-Ever-Told-You stories.

We will have regrets. As we lay them at the feet of the God who sees our faltering efforts and knows our weak human hearts, we can trust He will keep us from stumbling too far and that His grace can cover all our if-onlys. Each of our regrets drives us to Him who does all things well, and who welcomes us with all our failures still attached.

Friends Like This

My family and I were late to the party when it came to smartphones. We weren’t into texting yet, and really only used phones for calling, so flip phones worked just fine.

During our flip phone days, we found ourselves traveling home from Texas under a cloudy sky. As we approached the Kansas border, rain started falling, eventually becoming a deafening presence on the roof of our van.

My mom fielded several calls from a friend back home, calling with updates about the storm and giving us information that helped us “see” through the blinding rain. It will get worse, they told us. It was just a hard rain then, but at their advice we pulled over at a rest stop and went inside to wait with other travelers. The rain came down harder, with pieces of hail even, and the winds were crazy. We couldn’t see anything.

Messy Beautiful Friendship

After reading Christine Hoover’s From Good to Grace, I was excited to launch into her newest book: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As a church-planting pastor’s wife, Christine has many experiences with making new friends and working hard to make those relationships work. Her insights cover everything from our misconceptions about friends and friendship to healing from friendship hurts to learning to give and receive biblical friendship.

Through her book, Christine reminds us that friendship isn’t as easy as we think it is, and it will take work, but the encouragement of Christian friendship is worth the effort.

“May our friendships in the present day be received as gifts from God for us—but may they not be only for us. May they be signposts, guiding any who will stop and seek directions toward what our hearts innately crave most, pointing the seeker toward a Person and a place where all longings will be longings no more. For it is only in true Christian friendship that two people who are different in every way possible—race, background, language, personality, socioeconomic level—can love like this.”

Friends Going Somewhere

Friendship is a universally recognized gift. People from all walks of life, nationalities, worldviews, and life seasons find other people—typically like themselves—that they call “friends.”

What stands out about Christian friendship? How are our friendships different? Our sameness is found in our deepest convictions and our worship of the same God, though in our individual friendships, many of our other interests or passions can be very different. But what is it about Christian friendship itself that might be different from other friendships?

In the pages of Messy Beautiful Friendship, a quote from C.S. Lewis stopped me.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”

That’s it. That is how Christian friendship is different: our destination.

Friends as Traveling Companions

We may not think of our friends as traveling companions, but that is what we are, because while friendship can certainly include common interests and similar daily patterns, it is so much more than that. We are all going somewhere. As Christians, we know that friends are there to help us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and remind us of truths we might forget (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we journey to Heaven.

“We’re not at the supper table yet,” Christine reminds us, “and it’s going to be a long, arduous journey to get there.” Friends come alongside us on this journey through life, and in a thousand different ways spur us on.

You may have heard the overused question If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?

How about this: If you were traveling on a long and sometimes difficult journey, what kind of friend would you choose to go with you? Are you that kind of friend to the travelers around you?

That Kind of Friend

Christine says it well. “When we sit side by side at the supper table, we will be celebrating that, by God’s grace, we made it to our destination. We made it because of Christ, we made it with the help of our friends, and we made it together.”

As we traveled home that torrentially rainy day, the dangers of flash floods and hail damage and being stranded on the side of the road were lessened because of a friend’s warning. A friend who knew where we were in our journey, shared with us resources we didn’t have (a weather radar map, primarily), and were quick to contact us to warn us of danger. A friend who, when hearing about potentially dangerous weather, thought about us, and spent time studying the weather radar to pass info on to my parents. As if they were traveling on the road with us.

Because, in a way, they are.

Refugees, Exiles, and You and Me

A friend of mine lived overseas for several weeks earlier this year. Not just overseas anywhere, but in the Middle East—in the land of refugee camps and Mediterranean food and, apparently, cold winters.

While she was in the Middle East, my friend visited refugees often, and told me later about their hospitality and eagerness. Families would regularly invite her and the missionary family she was staying with to eat with them – but would wait until their paycheck came in so they could afford to do so.

That floored me. They waited to get paid so they could turn around and buy food for somebody else? Somebody who didn’t “need” the food—not like they did. Who thinks like that?

3 Things Refugees and Exiles Have in Common

When it comes to our modern-day concept of “refugee,” the closest scriptural equivalent I could think of is “exile.” The word “exile” appears 90 times in the Old Testament, but only six times in the New Testament: once in the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, twice in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7) before being stoned, and three times in 1 Peter (written to exiled Christians during Nero’s reign).

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-19, emphasis added).

While “refugee” and “exile” aren’t exact synonyms, they do have similarities:

Refugees and exiles live in a country that isn’t theirs. They understand “not fitting in.” Sometimes they don’t speak the language of the country where they live and they may not understand or adhere to the traditions, customs, holidays, idioms, habits, or worldview of the majority.

Refugees and exiles do not have citizenship. While we easily understand the consequences of this as far as voting rights and political say, for many other cultures, citizenship concerns so much more. For some, their identity is wrapped up in where they live and in the land they call their own. To be outside of the geographical area inhabited by their ancestors is to be in a deeper exile than we Westerners really understand.

Refugees and exiles know this is temporary. At least, that it should be temporary. Living in tents or borrowed and shared real estate is rarely anyone’s long-term plan. In biblical accounts, exiles always knew they would go back to their country as soon as they could—they would not claim this strange land as their home forever. The stories are even harder when these natural hopes are dashed and the months in a refugee camp stretch into years.

We Have Something in Common, Too

It goes without saying that modern-day refugees live a hard life. As we pray for their safety and for the salvation of those who haven’t yet trusted Christ, and as we seek out ways to be the in-the-flesh representation of God’s love for them, we can remember that we are refugees, too. And they have much to teach us about our own spiritual reality.

Maybe the readers of 1 Peter heard Stephen’s last speech (or at least knew of it), and they were likely familiar with the rich Old Testament legacy they were building on as exiles. Peter took that literal reality of first-century exile and folded it into a greater spiritual truth for the rest of time: In a way, we are exiles (or refugees), too.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Peter 2:11-12, emphasis added).

The difference for us is that we aren’t trying to go back. We don’t want to. We are going forward, on to a Promised Land we have never seen but know is greater than anything we have ever known. We know this earthly country isn’t ours. We don’t stake our hopes on our earthly citizenship. We know this place we call home is only a temporary place to stay for awhile.

“The message of the Bible,” Tim Keller writes in The Prodigal God, “is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home.”

We haven’t been home yet. But our spiritual legacy and the believers who have gone before us show us that the promises of home are greater than everything we’ll face to get there.

Christians, We Are Not Tourists

You would think we’d be more alike.

Growing up homeschooled (and 2 ¾ years apart), my brother and I spent most of our waking hours together. We did our schoolwork across the table from each other, racing to finish so we could dash off to one of our rooms to play. Every meal we fought over who would put silverware on the table and who would fill all the cups with water. We know each other in ways no one else can.

A couple of years ago, he went off on an adventure to study abroad for several months. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I visited him in Germany for a week.

So there we were. We had been in the US all of our lives and had only traveled without our parents once or twice, but now we found ourselves navigating intercontinental flights and exploring on our own.

And wouldn’t you know it. We traveled differently.

As we walked down historic German streets together, I tried to document our entire trip for our parents and anyone else. He would mentally observe his surroundings and describe them in detail later (long after I had forgotten those details).

My brother and me. Being tourists.

“Stop taking pictures,” he would whisper to me as I tried to get a better angle of some random restaurant. He wanted to blend in with the locals and his main goal was to not look like a tourist. I was very comfortable in my identity as a guest and didn’t mind if other people knew, too. (And I figured it was probably obvious – at least with me.)

We were traveling through the same places. But differently.

Not Like in the Old Days

The first mention of “travel” in the ESV Bible is in Exodus 13, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It was a wait-on-the-Lord-every-moment kind of expedition, a cloud-by-day-fire-by-night leading to the Promised Land. This was not a joyride. Not a vacation. It was a journey, full of danger and deprivation and more danger. The Israelites would walk for miles every day through the Middle Eastern wilderness, all for the goal of the destination. The Promised Land.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (see Exodus 13:17-22).

This intentional, difficult traveling is not what we think of when we plan a vacation. These days, we travel in relative ease and comfort, without the fears and frustrations travelers would have faced centuries ago. We usually have less of a goal in mind—while we have chosen a specific destination, we go there to visit and not to forge a new life.

Maybe it’s easy for us to forget that this modern 21st-century life is not intended to be a joyride. We are on a journey, too.

And sometimes we travel differently.

Here to Try It All

While I walked many miles on that trip to Berlin, my goal was to take in all the sights and sounds and experiences I could while I was there. To live in the moment.

I wanted to see and hear and taste and smell and touch and feel everything I could. I wanted to get up early and stay up late. The time was short and I will likely never pass that way again—I had to fill my time with as much as I could while I had the opportunity.

As Christians, we are called to live with purpose and wisdom wherever God has placed us for now (see Ephesians 5:15-17). We are to seize the moments of each day and fill them with obedience, leading to an eternal reward. Not experience. Not fulfilling our senses. We are not tourists in the journey of life.

To live with the goal of temporary experience or pleasure is to miss all the eternal treasures God holds out for us, if only we will reach for them. How are we getting to know Him better every day? How are we seeking Him? What has He taught us and shown us during the moments of our days? He is with us every moment of our journey, bringing eternal purpose to our daily experiences. If only we could always see that.

Just One in the Crowd

My brother, on the other hand, wanted to blend in and pass as a German. He wanted to be seen as someone who belonged there, someone who knew what they were doing and had learned to live in that culture.

But he didn’t belong there.

The Israelites were different from the people around them because their God was not like the other gods. We may be a few thousand years later, but we are different from people around us, too. Because our God is still not like the gods of this world.

We usually won’t fit in. And as others see how often we stand out, they will venture closer to see why we are different. Therein lies our opportunity to share with them why we are here and where we really belong.

All the Way There

We are called to persevere even when it’s hard, not to seek out only the pleasures of the moment. We are called to be “sojourners,” “exiles” (see Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11)—we aren’t going to look like the locals.

To be sure, there is a balance to this: On the one hand, we don’t need to be unnecessary killjoys. It’s admirable to try to adapt to the culture we are living in as long as we don’t compromise our identities in the process. On the flip side, we don’t want to set unnecessary obstacles to the gospel in front of others—we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with living in the moment that we forget why we’re really here.

Even when it’s hard (it will be), even when we feel like the only traveler in a world of tourists (we’re not), and even when we fail miserably at finding the right balance (we will so many times), we will continue on. Because we’re going Somewhere. And God, our guide through every moment, will lead us all the way there.

“This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend:
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, heart; lets neither faint nor fear.”
John Bunyan