"Can you pick me up from the park behind Kroger? We're done here." Luckily, I was already at Kroger so I finished up and headed over. My boyfriend, Jordan, and three of my friends were at a Muslim celebration open to the community. The Muslims were celebrating the end of Eid--a commemoration festival where the Muslims celebrate Abraham sacrificing Ishmael (though the Bible says that Isaac was offered) and the lamb that God provided. The Muslims were celebrating with a potluck open to the community. My friends saw this as the perfect opportunity to bring Jesus' love to them. Grocery shopping kept me from going. Classic.
The night was coming to a close when I pulled up, but I was immediately offered food and fellowship. I settled in with my friends and began talking with the Muslim's still present. The food was phenomenal and so was the conversation. As we talked, I suddenly noticed a guy being carried off the basketball court next to the park. My friends said he was injured.
"That's the second time he's been carried off to his car." One of my friends mentioned. "His ankles are hurt." At first, none of us noticed, but, our friend had rushed over to meet this guy. As we looked over and watched them talk, it became clear what was about to happen. Our friend put his hand on the guy and started to pray. "He's gonna get healed!" We whispered and became giddy with anticipation. The Muslims at our table were equally intrigued. A moment later, the guy threw up his arms and put on a face of shock and disbelief. We all burst into laughter and celebration as we watched Jesus heal this guy's ankles on the spot. Our friend, the guy who got healed, and his friends all ran over to us.
"Man, what was that!? What did you do!? How did you do that!?" Our friend responded, "Jesus healed you! He's real!" We found out this guy's name was Tyreke. Tyreke jumped and tested out his ankles and continued to ask what happened and say how crazy it was. One of his friends said, "Hey, you should pray for him again because he hurt his ribs in football a few months ago and it still bothers him sometimes." To which Tyreke responded, "Dude, I don't even feel that anymore!" More laughter and praises shot up at that report. Jordan stepped in and asked Tyreke if he had a relationship with Jesus or any other experiences like this. Tyreke said that he prayed but he had never experienced Jesus like this before. "Tyreke, what are you going to do now?" Silence and then he said, "I have to tell someone about this!" I loved hearing that. I felt the same thing.
Slightly breathless from joy, I turned to the Muslims and one of them asked me, "Can all Christians do that or can only your friend do it because he is extra good?" I said, "All Christians can pray and see healing happen but it's not because we are extra good. It's because we believe that Jesus is God and that He loves us and wants to heal us! He acts when we pray to Him and He loves to show us how much He loves us in awesome ways." They nodded and my friend jumped in, "Don't you guys see? Jesus is real!"
I let him take the reins and I walked away to watch Tyreke successfully dunk on his healed ankles. We didn't know that we would see a miracle that night. I didn't know that God wanted me to be apart of something amazing though I thought I was going to be trapped in the grocery store. Tyreke didn't know he would get his ankles and ribs healed and that He would meet Jesus in a powerful way. The Muslims didn't know that they would have Jesus so tangibly brought to their attention. But God knew everything. He knew exactly what each person needed from Him and He delivered magnificently. I don't know where Tyreke is, but I like to think that the rekindled his relationship with Jesus. I don't know where the Muslim's are, but I like to believe that they can't quite get the miracle out of their heads.
Like Tyreke, I know I'm supposed to tell someone about how awesome Jesus is. So I'm telling you.
Pass it on.
I did a crazy thing. I moved across the country where I know no one and don't have a job. Classic millennial move, I know. I'm not running from myself, I'm not trying to find myself, and I'm not looking for amazing Instagram pics. For awhile, I had no idea why I was here. God didn't tell me to come and, honestly, I didn't really want to. I'm in the same boat as you with this decision: confused.
The "reason" I'm in California is because I have an internship with Saddleback Church and free housing with an amazing host family. So far, my job description is to write and help Saddleback gather and distribute stories and testimonies from women in the congregation. I'll also be helping plan one of their women's events and assisting the payer ministry. That kind of work gets me excited and it's what I'm made for.
In this season, I just have a lot of time to write, get coffee with people who do it better than me, and I think that's just what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes it's just the grind and that's what is going to help build me into who I need to be.
Learning about my summer projects didn't completely settle me, though. The Saturday night before my plane left I cried for half an hour. I frantically thought through my options for staying put in familiar Ohio. I'm one of the many who romanticizes traveling in her mind but just a few days off the plane and I feel weird. Homesickness. In college, I've traveled to both coasts and around the world to Israel. Each time I forget about that unique depression. But not this time. This time, I really just wanted to skip it and have fun thriving in the things I knew. Newness was dancing towards me and I didn't really want to accept the invite.
I had the choice to silence the music by staying put. I could've sent a few texts and emails, canceled the plane ticket, and done a sharp pivot in a new direction. Truth is I was too embarrassed to back out. Most voices around me sounded like, "California...or Ohio...is it even a contest?" How could I turn down a chance that it seemed like everyone around me would jump at no question? I knew God had entrusted me with the decision so it wasn't a question of obedience; it was a question of what voice would I let control me. There's one voice in me stronger than the fear of homesickness: wanting to live with no regrets and making the most of every opportunity that comes my way. My boyfriend appealed to that voice when he said, "Taylor, you're not going to be able to just get up and move at other times in your life. Nows the time to do it." So now I'm in California.
I'm uncomfortable here and that means I'm learning. Nothing is the same about my life but I think it's handing me a healthy dose of 'keep moving.' Being a distance runner, endurance is my thing. If you let me go slow, I may never stop. But I'm learning to pick up the pace and use some new muscles. It's hard, but that doesn't mean it's purposeless or fruitless. Here's a few lessons I have to share about accepting the invitation to dance with something new:
Romans 5: 4, "And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation."
I'm learning about flexing my muscles and throwing my weight around in my gifts. If you know me, that probably sounds funny considering I'm a little stick of a person (I'm a runner, it's what happens). But just before I left someone said to me, "You need to walk more confidently in the gifts you already have. Especially spiritual gifts."
I just came out of two years where my relationship with God felt like it was in overdrive. It seemed like new revelations were dive bombing me every day, my peace and joy were unshakeable, and God was all around way cooler than I had previously thought of Him. Recently, the "fresh revs" have slowed and I've been distressed about it.
I took to voraciously reading and writing and praying in hopes I could create some momentum. Headed to my room to take a nap, I heard God tell me, "I'm pleased with you." He has this tone of "settle down...you don't have to work so hard. I'm right here." That lifted me. Now I just write because I want to and because it's part of the grind I'm called to.
I have to practice what I learn and what I preach so that I have a new foundation to leap from when the time comes. If everything I've learned about God's love stays in my head, the same trials will wipe me out if I don't engage the truth. If everything I've learned about prayer stays in my conversations and doesn't revamp my actual prayers, I won't go deeper into God's heart. If everything I've learned about rest gets forgotten when I'm met with endless opportunities, I'll choose them all and forget myself.
As I let this flex-work and newness in, I myself am made new.
2. Perspective uncovers purpose.
Romans 5: 4, "And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation."
I have some choices right now: I can gripe and grumble about being unemployed, I can be intimidated by the tasks in front of me, or, I can be grateful and choose to believe that the time give to The Kingdom now will be returned to me later.
Today, I remembered something about myself: one of my greatest weakness is a lack of eternal perspective. It kills me every time. Without knowing that this life is temporary and that everything that happens is for a future glory, I fall apart. My eyesight shortens and I can only focus on myself, how much it hurts, and how far away God must be because this is happening to me. But the moment I lift my eyes back onto Jesus, my hope and endurance kick back in.
If my perspective stays eternal, so does my purpose.
3. When abilities run out, draw on identities.
Romans 5: 4, "And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation."
This happened yesterday.
'm sitting across from the woman who heads up prayer for Saddleback women. I can tell she's discouraged with the prayer culture and wants change. She knows she's at Saddleback at a time where revival is at the doorstep and so she listens and surrenders and prays. She lays in front of me countless Scriptures she's written on notecards about hope, about love, about belief...about everything we could pray for our hearts. She says, "We need to figure out how to get these into a resource for women in crisis." Her handwriting is careful, each verse prayerfully chosen...she's a woman of slowness, meditation, and compassion.
I say, "You look discouraged." My heart goes out to her and I let her know I see the struggle and her heart for these women. I tell her that God is going to bring revival to their hearts and we can stand strong in that. The next thing that comes out of my mouth brings us both to a point of decision: "Do you think we could host an event for women to meet the Holy Spirit and God's presence?" I see the seesaw in her mind as she considers. I tell her I will help and am on her team.
I've never run a "Holy Spirit Night" much less trained people on how to do it. But I might have to and I speak in Jesus' name that it'll be awesome.
The truth is, I am more than a conqueror in Christ. I am God's daughter empowered by the Holy Spirit and He knows whats up. The truth is that the defenses I put in place keep me from surrendering to the One who is my Defender and who is my Refuge. In this time when I'm being asked to do things I've never done and to teach about things I've never taught on before, I don't have a choice but to draw on my God-given identities and forego my abilities.
My abilities have a limit, but my identities last as long as my Savior.
I'm becoming more of a fan of doing hard things. Just because it's hard doesn't mean we're in the wrong place or what we are doing is meaningless. We have to buckle down, catch it, and put it under what Christ says about it. Muscles of endurance, persistence, devotion, and diligence are what The Kingdom calls for.
And the stronger we get, the more dances we can say yes to.
I work at a place where I help people tell stories with excellence. Being a writing consultant means being a safe place where writers can divulge their writing insecurities in confidence and leave with new confidence. One of my supervisors is currently writing his dissertation. I’m not exactly sure what the topic is, but, he wanted to interview me about my journey with writing. I gladly agreed to an hour conversation about such things (and an Amazon gift card). We talked about my journey, what writing is to me, and what I had learned from college about writing. I was honest. I said that I felt like I hadn’t learned much. In an education institution that tries to quantify such things like writing skills, intelligence, and depression, it’s hard to learn how things really are.
Over 21 years, the best writing advice I’ve gathered has been twofold: good writers are good readers and the best way to learn to write is to learn to live. It’s proven true in my own life: the more omnivorously I read, the more prolific my writing. The more bravery I wield to ask the hard questions and to gather new experiences, the more my wonder of the world grows and the more generous the world is in handing me content.
So, in my interview, when my supervisor asked me what it is to be a writer, I said, “I think to be a writer, it really has nothing to do with skill at all. I think it has everything to do with bravery.” Some people consider themselves writers, some do not. And I think what sets these two groups of people apart is simply a bravery and a need to share their experience--and the truth they find within it--with the world. I am not saying that only writers are the brave ones. I’m only saying that the brave are the writers.
I think about all of this in regards to ministry. If I am called to storytell for The Kingdom, I need to be reading and being brave about the right things. I notice that when I write to teach, teach is all I do. Everyone sounds the same when they teach. It’s because when our goal is to share facts and principles, it stops there. I think those that we consider good teachers do things differently: to be a good teacher is to share good stories. Stories do something that lectures could never do.
Stories don’t just transfer knowledge and information from one place to another. Stories fabricate relationship, wonder, and childlikeness. If we come to someone to learn something from them, we also come with a specific expectation of what we hope to learn. But, if we come to listen to a story, we come filterless and our only hope and expectation is to be swept up in the tale. What we learn then playfully surprises us and finds a much more snug and stable place within our lives. We learn something that we feel we can come back to, talk with, and grow with. Stories have their own breath that changes pace when we get to the good parts; and we have to catch up and slow down as it does.
The childlikeness of stories is that they don’t just teach us just one thing. They introduce us to new lives that expand and make more beautiful our own lives. I don’t really know how to share a life other than telling stories that encapsulate the kind of person that lived the life and the kinds of adventures he embarked on. When our goal is to share a life, to create meaningful relational connection, there is no end to what is taught. The best way I’ve found to do this, or rather, the way I think God prefers, is this storytelling.
I think this because Jesus did this. I don’t think He spoke in parables to only hide truth from deaf ears, I think He knew that the childlike would be the ones to receive the stories. “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they wilI have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them” (Matthew 13:12). I think this is one reason He wants us all to become like children to enter into Heaven. Children come to stories ready to listen and ready to hear. And story is how He likes to talks to us. He wants the ones who will listen to His voice and to whom His stories will have meaning. He wants to know that we think what He has to say is important. But those who cannot listen to his stories will be left in the dust in of their own understanding.
If we cannot listen to stories, if we cannot tell stories filled with truth that cut to the heart, perhaps we’ve lost an essential tool in getting to know our Father.
I’m reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. She has a beautiful paragraph which describes the dangers of trading our stories for the chance to quantify experience and underhandedly gain control:
“One of the many sad results of the Industrial Revolution was that we came to depend more than ever on the intellect and to ignore the intuition with its symbolic thinking. The creator, and the mystic, have tended more towards Platonism than Aristotelianism, and tend to be willing to accept Plato’s ‘divine madness,’ with its four aspects of prophecy, healing, artistic creativity, and love. These divine madnesses have been nearly lost in this century, and we we’ve lived almost entirely in the pragmatic, Cartesian world. I wonder if Descartes knew what he was doing when he wrote his famous I think therefore I am, and subsequently, if not consequently, we began even more than before to equate ourselves with our conscious minds. Cogito, ergo sum nudges us on to depend solely on intellectual control, and if we insist on intellectual control we have to let go our archaic understanding and our high creativity, because keeping them means going along with all kinds of things we can’t control.”
I’ve also recently begun reading A.W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God. The Foreward and the Preface are where others tell what they discovered about Tozer’s own pursuit of God. What these authors found important to share was just how much time Tozer spent on his face in worship of God. Tozer influenced thousands in the 1900s with good old fashioned word of mouth, the radio, and the newspaper. Tozer didn’t have social media to build his brand or the tactical marketing strategy to make God famous; he had revelation of God’s heart that was unmistakeable and captivating. He carried with him stories from God’s heart that he took the time to explore and exercised the humility to receive.
I don’t have specific prophesies over my life or dreams about the hugeness of the crowds I’ll minister to. But, I do have a passion to write stories about truth that’s relevant just because it is. The Bible, The Illiad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, Luther, Mozart, Picasso, and Achilles have survived because these storytellers and tales made their homes in our hopes, longings, and childlike fantasies. Is not human excitement the best messenger?
Go into all the nations and tell of the joy you have found.
Tozer’s story is a comfort to me. I’m sure Tozer worked every opportunity he was given to preach and to write and to teach. But I’m equally sure he spent much more of his time seeking God rather than strategizing how to build his platform. I’m sure he spent much more of his time understanding how the truths and beauty of God are meant to nestle themselves into his human soul. I’m sure he spent much of his time letting his excitement, wonder, and listening ear build to an uncontainable state. What we are left with then, is a collection of a learned child’s poetry that simply and faithfully leads us to where the joy is found.
Truth is a rally point. Beauty captures loyalty. Love is undeniably the largest banner we can raise. These are the things that knit people together. These are the stories that people flock to. These are the things that God has given us to trumpet and march with. If we are to lead lives that leave a mark, stories that bugel these things are what we must share and immerse ourselves in. No one really wants to know how to live their life well. What we really want to know is who we can live our best lives with. Let’s tell them the story of Jesus.
3 in the morning and I saw the familiar site of a dressed up girl standing alone in her heels on the sidewalk with her phone pressed to her ear. She'd been standing there awhile and it looked like whoever she'd been calling wasn't answering. I walked over to her and asked if I could walk her home or if she needed any help. "I'm trying to get ahold of my boyfriend but he's not answering. He always does this. He's mean to me." Tears trickled out and down and she told me how hard it's been to get out of the abusive relationship. She knew she was wasting her college years, she knew he wasn't a good guy, but she also said she loved him. My heart went out to her and we talked for my heart had been similarly trapped before.
We have choices in moments like these. I could've told her that better guys are found outside the bars, I could've told her to wear a cami next time, I could've told her to get over it and get out, or, I could seize the chance to tell her what she really needs to hear: she's loved. The tears flowed a little more consistently as I spoke value and worth over her. I asked if I could pray for her because I believed that prayer and Jesus change things. She said she was Catholic to the core and prayed everyday. I prayed for her freedom, for her soul to be bound up where it was broken, then I hugged her and told her I loved her.
I don't know if you've ever felt like an angel to someone before but I did that night. I don't know if you've ever felt the Holy Spirit rush through you into another person but I did when I said "I love you" and held her up as she melted in relief. Watching someone walk into freedom before my eyes is a high I can't escape and I don't think I'm meant to.
She was up because she had been partying and was looking for a broken place to stay the night because her relationship with her roommates wasn't good and neither was her relationship with herself. I was up because that Thursday night was the last night of a 24/7 prayer initiative called RezWeek - or - Resurrection Week. Myself and this beautiful girl were awake and after the same thing: love. And we cried together about it.
I might not ever know what happened to her, but I can trust that God is her protector and that I played my part. I walked away and just cried. People have told me my whole life that my words carry power and authority. Every time I see God use this part of me, I don't know what else to do besides humble myself and weep gratefully.
This is only one God-story of the many that RezWeek created room for. RezWeek looks like dozens of college students, local pastors, and other praying adults gathering together to pray for 24/7 straight. It's called RezWeek because it usually happens the week after Easter and its whole mission is to bring the dead to life as we make Jesus famous. We reserve a green space on campus, set up a big tent, furnish it with chairs, posters, tables, snacks, and water...and we pray. We always make sure at least one person is in the tent at all times and during the night hours at least one guy. And we don't just pray: we offer the students walking by snacks, water, prayer, and conversation. During the night hours when students party or have more time to chat, the tent serves as a haven for those who had had a bad night or for those who are genuinely curious about what we were up to. It takes a city to care for a college campus, and RezWeek is designed to do bring us all together to do it.
RezWeek 2017 was the third year of this initiative on Miami's campus. I had visited and prayed in the tent the past two years and this year found myself spearheading the event. I learned somethings about leadership that I didn't expect from this experience: good leaders make their people feel noticed and good leaders continually notice God.
With RezWeek, you never know who is going to sign up to pray. This year, a few brave souls spent upwards of 12 hours in the tent at once; others 7 hours and still others consistently took night shifts. These are the ones that the Lord is raising up to adore His presence and to help lead others into it. These are the ones who step beyond what's normal and step into what's grand and extravagant. But it's not about the time: it's about a their heart cries and their response to an invitation of love. As one who loves to empower and help raise up others into their callings and identities, the ones who I watched fall in love with Jesus reassured me that I wasn't even the one in charge. It reassured me that I'm first called to be in love and next called to tell others about it.
One last testimony from the week. Just two weeks before RezWeek, I was sitting with a struggling friend and doing my best to speak truth to him about who He was and what God had called him to do. He left still fighting to believe. During RezWeek, he was one of the warriors who met God in awesome ways and shepherded the community. Thursday night, he went with me to baptize my friend and he prayed powerfully to bless her. Later that night (or maybe early Friday morning), he was at the tent and I walked past him and felt the presence extremely strong on him. I said, "You are just emanating safety right now." Friday afternoon, I got to see the transformation continue. One of our friends had been struggling the past week and he said to me, "We should get a group of people together to pray for her." To have the privilege to watch a heart transform over just a few weeks might just be my favorite miracle that I've seen yet.