The Farmer Doesn’t Know How: Seeds of Growth in the Waiting

“You’re pregnant!…Now don’t move for two weeks so you stay that way.” My doctor said this to me moments after transferring our embryo into my womb (Thank you, God, for science!). The next two weeks I had the very important job of doing nothing so that that embryo would have a chance to implant. Bedrest was a big test of my faith. I knew there was something microscopic inside me beginning to grow, but I couldn’t see it or feel it. My only job was to wait… and wait and wait, hoping that that tiny embryo would attach to me and become our child.

I was reminded of when Jesus described the Kingdom of God “as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how” (Mark 4:26-27).

Those two weeks of bedrest were a microcosm of my experience of the last four years of infertility. Waiting exposed my unhelpful need to know how: how long will it take, how will it happen, how much will it hurt, how will I manage it all? Often I turned to Google or Reddit for answers…they never satisfied. Nobody but God knew how our story would go, and that was often hard to accept.

But in the waiting, God was growing seeds of maturity in me. God grew trust and confidence in my body. After every unsuccessful attempt at pregnancy, God helped me to speak lovingly to my body and to say “this is not your fault.” When people, with good intentions, suggested I wouldn’t be able to handle a pregnancy because I have Fibromyalgia, a fiercely courageous voice within me was able to say back, “you are wrong. I am strong.”

One of the biggest seeds of maturity that Jesus has been growing in me, is the lesson of what to do with the question “how?” When I start to go down that path of asking unanswerable questions, Jesus stops me and says, “Kelly, you don’t need to know how or why. What you need is comfort.” Comfort is is hard to receive, and harder to ask for. This season of waiting has been a time for me to learn how to experience Jesus’ comfort in my mind, body, and marriage in deep and rich ways.

In InterVarsity we have a tradition of sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness by saying, “My name is…and I want to give glory to God!” And everyone responds, “Amen!” So…my name is Kelly and I want to give glory to God! That embryo did attach and Mike and I are expecting a baby girl this September. We are overjoyed! And I also give glory to God for what he has been growing within me (and within Mike) as we have waited. We will never know the how, but we know God’s comfort, and we will cling to that in this next season of our lives.

What “how” questions are you asking these days? How might you turn to Jesus for comfort even as those questions remain unanswered?

Rebuilding Trust with a Body that gets Sick

Body, I am not afraid of you. I love you. I said this to myself yesterday as my throat tightened with anxiety by the thought of sickness being around every corner these days. A wave of healing came over me.

“God help me not get sick” has been a life-long tune in my head, beginning with my inability to have my plans interrupted and crescendoing with Fibromyalgia’s threat to make every sickness chronic. That tune is especially loud right now as we communally hold the heaviness of the global pandemic, and also because I am running the last leg of an expensive IVF marathon to try to get pregnant. Any type of sickness could sabotage the whole effort.

But lately Jesus has been teaching me to pray this prayer less. In some sense, every time I beg God to not let me get sick, I am communicating to my body that I am scared it will mess things up. And this message, spoken over and over again, can translate: I am scared of you, body.

Three weeks before my wedding day I had multiple rounds of sinus infections and an unknown tooth decay. Pain lasted for a year and a half. The mystery of unrelenting pain during one of the biggest transitions of my life was traumatic. Now every time I have a twinge of pain in my throat or mouth, I panic, fearing that my body and its abnormally loud pain signals will ruin my dreams for the future.

As that trauma resurfaced yesterday I heard Jesus’ invitation to focus on building back broken trust with my body. For too long my body has received the message that it is scary and going to ruin me. I do not want to be afraid of my body – which is myself. I do not want to be afraid of its pain signals or its hard work to fight infections and to keep me alive. I want to trust my body and let it know that it is loved.

I placed my hand on my throat as it tightened and said, “It’s okay, throat. I am not here to tell you to go away or that I am scared of you. I just want to be with you. I am so thankful for you. I welcome you. I love you. And I trust you to do whatever you need to do in this season.”

The muscles in my throat relaxed and I was able to breathe deeply. The pain went away. Trust goes a long way in healing. But had the pain not left, it would still be okay. I do not need to be afraid of my body. I just need to be present to it. For this is how Jesus is with me.

Can God help with math homework? Asking for wisdom in every-day life.

I once took a peak into my dad’s prayer journal. He had written the question, “God, how do I help Kelly with her math homework today?” I chuckled to think that I was perhaps so bad at math that my dad had to go to God for help. But as I flipped through the pages of his journal, math homework wasn’t the only thing he was asking God about. No subject was off limits: How far should I run today? How do I fix this software program? How can I help Sandy worry less today? What can I talk about to my friends on my long carpool ride?

When we think of asking God for wisdom, we often think about consequential decisions like relationships and career choices. We picture God speaking to us in ciphered messages hoping that we will be smart enough to decode the right answer. But when God gives us wisdom he is often less concerned about us picking the one right answer and more concerned with who we are becoming and how we we are relating to him and to others. He loves to talk with us! And the more we become familiar with conversing with him about the small things in life, the less scary it is to listen to God for the bigger things.

James 1:5 says: “But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” God loves to talk to you about everything. There is no topic that is off limits to him. He will generously give you wisdom in every area of your life, if you take a moment to ask and listen.

I’ve been taking a page out of my dad’s book and have been practicing asking God for wisdom. Today I opened my journal and wrote my unfiltered questions to God: Where can I find a heated swimming pool this winter? When should I initiate with my friend? Who should I invite to lead a meeting? What should I prioritize today? What things do I need to let go of emotionally? How do I find clothes that fit me that don’t break my bank? Why was I bothered by that Instagram post? What part of my research paper needs the most editing? What have you been saying to me that you want me to remember?

For every question, God gave wisdom. With some of my questions, he gave me a specific idea. With others, he just wanted to talk me through it and help me become more aware of what really mattered.

What’s your list of questions for God? In what small and big areas of your life are you wanting wisdom? Take a moment to ask God your questions and listen. He will be generous with you.

Too tired for daily devotions?

I woke up the other day with two papers due, ten text messages that deserved thorough and urgent responses, three meetings to plan, and an achy neck that desperately needed physical therapy. I knew what I had to do. I walked to the park, put on some worship music, opened my Bible, and prayed.

It is counter-intuitive to go spend time with God when your to-do list is a mile long and people need you. Many of you are college students, working multiple jobs, trying to pay for tuition, while taking care of your family. I don’t pretend to know how difficult your specific circumstances are, but I do know that a daily prayer life can feel luxurious and impractical.

When I went to the park that morning, my whole day changed. I looked at the trees around me and heard God saying that I wasn’t going to fall over because I was rooted in him. As I listened to Travis Greene sing, “Thank you for being God,” I remembered that I wasn’t in control of life, but that God was, and I could trust him. The rest of my day fell into order. From my prayer time, I knew who and what God wanted me to prioritize that day. I could write my papers, lead my meetings, respond to people in crisis, and SAY NO to people, with a sense of stability and assurance that God was with me, shepherding me through each moment.

Why wouldn’t I want that kind of experience every day? Especially on my busiest days that make me feel out of control.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest apprentices, tells us that the way we mature is by craving time with Jesus and his word: “Like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2: 2).

When we get a taste of how good it is to spend focused time with Jesus, we crave more of it. And when we regularly nourish ourselves with God’s goodness, we grow into the mature and whole people who God created us to be, overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and more effective in our love and leadership.

So how do you find time to be nourished by Jesus, especially when it’s not already in your regular routine?

  1. Ask yourself: What are my internal and external barriers? What’s stopping you from getting time with God? Maybe you have an internal fear of failure. Or maybe you just need some strategic help navigating your schedule. Identifying your specific barrier will help you problem-solve.
  2. Write it in your schedule. While you’re new to this, don’t fool yourself that you’re just going to do it automatically. You won’t. Look at your calendar for the next month and write in when you will spend focused time with God. When I was in college, I would write it in my class schedule as if it were another class. Sometimes the best time for me was in between two classes.
  3. Go somewhere where you won’t fall asleep. Find a spot of grass on campus or plan to go for a walk outside. Turn on the lights. Open the windows. Turn off your phone. Whatever you need to do to focus.
  4. Commit for at least a month. There are a million creative ways you can spend time with Jesus, but in order to establish any habit in life, you will need to do something repetitively for a while. Pick something and commit to it for at least a month.
  5. Need a devotional guide? Try this one: God Speaks Through Wombs. Drew Jackson is a poet and theologian who interacts with the book of Luke through poetry. I am reading a section of Luke each day and his poem that goes with it, and then taking some time for God to speak to me through my reading. Try it with me!

Will this be forever? Reflections on Covid, chronic pain and the eternal loyalty of God

Pain in itself not hard to bear, but hard to bear so long.

Frederick William Faber, The Thought of God, 1814- 1863

There are times that I forget that I have a chronic pain disorder. I feel healthy, strong, and unstoppable. But then out of nowhere a flare of pain comes to remind me that it’s still there. This chronic pain-in-the-neck is living up to its name.

For many of us, the Delta variant has been like that flare of pain that has whiplashed us back into reality. The pandemic is far from over. 18 months ago the sidewalks were covered in chalk saying “we can do this!” Now we are collectively trying to fathom that Covid-19 may be a forever thing. And the thought of the longevity of suffering is deflating.

When I get overwhelmed by the chronic nature of my pain disorder, what helps me the most is to remember something that is even more “forever” than pain: God’s eternal commitment to us.

Recently I have been studying about what it means that Jesus was with God and was God in the beginning (John 1:1-5). Sometimes we think of Jesus as an afterthought in God’s plan: God made humans to flourish. We screwed up. So God made a plan-B and sent Jesus to save us. But God’s commitment to humans through Jesus was never plan-B. God’s commitment to us is a part of his own eternal identity.

Two theologians who go to great lengths to unpack the John 1 scripture, write:

“John does not simply talk about God’s coming as an incidental attribute. It is rather a part of his name, his identity…an inevitable consequence of God’s being who he is.”

R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) 178.

“From all eternity God posits His whole majesty…in this particular relationship to this particular being over against Himself. God pledges and commits Himself to be the God of man.”

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Election of Jesus Christ, II/2 §33, pages 107, 177.

Jesus and the incarnation were never an afterthought. Jesus was there in the beginning. God intentionally wanted to wrap himself up in the affairs of humanity since before we were even created, and his identifying with humans is a part of his very personhood.

God commits himself to us, not out of some last ditch effort to save us from our destructive ways, nor to reward us for our fervent prayers. God’s commitment to us is from forever ago and to forever from now.

Far more than any pain or suffering we experience, God’s undying loyalty to human flourishing is the most reliable and predictable thing we can ever know.

What personal or communal pain are you worried will last forever? How can remembering God’s eternally loyal character fuel your lament and your hope?

What songs take you to heaven?

It is healthy to let our imaginations turn to eternity. Jon Ball, the regional coordinator for theological formation in InterVarsity, regularly asks us this question, “What are you looking forward to in the new creation?” This is not a question intended to make us ignore our present circumstances, but a question to help us stay grounded in the truth that the resurrected Jesus is real and that his everlasting kingdom transfigures our daily lives (2 Peter 1:10-19).

Mike and I were talking about eternity the other night and at one point Mike said, “I’m glad that we both have a song that takes us to heaven.” I laughed, but knew exactly what he meant. There are certain songs that make you feel like heaven is right here, right now. Songs that make you feel close to God and make you long for the day he will make all things new.

Today is our 4 year wedding anniversary. As a gift to Mike, I had our organist re-record the song that played as I walked down the aisle. It’s combines both of our “take us to heaven” songs. The first part of it is Mike’s song: Apotheosis by Austin Wintory, from the video game Journey. He says, “(Spoiler Alert!) The game is about trying to get to a destination and you can’t get there on your own…but you can be brought there. To me that is the gospel.”

At minute 2:40, my song overlaps with his song. It is the old hymn “I love to tell the story” by Kate Hankey:

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long. 

When I hear it, I envision us all together at the feet of Jesus recounting the stories of his faithfulness, and it never gets old.

Here are our songs put together, arranged and played by organist Fran Johnston:

What songs take you to heaven? What helps you remember the reality of Jesus’ everlasting kingdom?

The 3 best leadership gifts my dad gave me before he died

It’s graduation season. I love seeing the celebratory photos of kindergarten and college diplomas. I love telling students they are upperclassmen now and are being entrusted with greater leadership in the ministry.

Father’s Day got me thinking about one of my biggest transitions in leadership. Unbeknownst to any of us, during my first year of college, my dad — my teacher and spiritual mentor — was about to die. But before he did, he left me with three of the most valuable gifts for my growth as a leader.

  1. Vulnerability: My dad’s life exuded stability. He was a disciplined and effective leader with a PhD, several patents, and a wide spiritual influence. But one of the best things he ever did for me was let me know that he worried. I remember him telling me his favorite Bible story was when Jesus said “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25). And I remember thinking, what in the world could you possibly have to worry about? But now, 16 years later, I am so glad I knew that my dad had anxieties too. Even the best of leaders struggle. I needed to know that.

  2. Confidence: One of my very last conversations with my dad was at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood after watching a UCLA basketball game together. I was telling him about an evangelistic conversation I was having with someone in my dorm. As I often did, I was looking for feedback in my leadership. Did I do it right? Did I say the right things? I remember being surprised by his answer. He didn’t give me any feedback — nothing positive or negative. Just a silent nod that said, “You can do this without me, Kel. You don’t need my approval to be a good leader.” As someone who often struggles with unhealthily attaching my confidence to the opinions of authority, this was a powerful lesson for me.

  3. Commissioning: Two nights before my dad died, I was having dinner in the college cafeteria with him and my roommate, Alicia. We were talking about who we wanted to be when we grew up. My dad looked at me with total certainty and said, “Kelly, you will be a writer.” In the moment I rolled my eyes and thought, no, dad, I’m going to be an InterVarsity staff. But now I look back at that as a commissioning. I was thinking about job titles but he was blessing me to use my strengths. Now as I am beginning to write a second book (using my dad’s print-on-demand publishing technology), I hold onto that blessing, amazed that he saw in me what I couldn’t yet see in myself.

Who is someone you are influencing right now? How might you offer these gifts to them in this transitional season? How have you received these gifts in your own leadership by people who have led you?

How to keep hoping when you aren’t getting what you want

“We let our expectations die and embrace expectancy.”

James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer, Longing for Revival: From Holy Discontent to Breakthrough Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 52.

3 years, 75 hours at a fertility clinic, $4000 of copays, 3 surgeries and 9 procedures later, and still no baby to show for it all. Our fertility specialist says our next step is to pay $25,000, decide on a whole host of ethical questions, have a major surgery…all to increase the odds for one more roll of the dice in getting pregnant.

As Mike and I have been processing this news, a friend of mine prayed over me. The word that came to her in prayer was the quote above from the book “Longing for Revival.”

My expectations for my future have done a 180. Initially I expected to get pregnant right away, buy a nice home, and be having our second child by now. Now my expectation is for my money, time and body to be forever depleted with no return on the investment. Jesus is inviting me to surrender all of my expectations — the positive and the negative. I have no control over how tomorrow will go, and trying to predict the future is a breeding ground for anxiety and resentment.

Instead of riding the emotional roller coaster of expectations, I want to be stabilized in the expectancy that comes by knowing God’s character and track-record of faithfulness. I cannot tell you if we will get pregnant or adopt or have kids in some other way. I can’t tell you the timeline of how soon it will happen or how much money we will have left in the bank when it does. But I do know that Jesus has proved himself trustworthy. And whether or not I see it in this moment, I have known him to be the God who is lavishly generous, full of surprises, and willing to do the impossible because he loves his kids.

So that’s what I’m choosing to hang onto.

We are still lamenting as well as making plans (starting with a couple months of rest), but I want to hold those plans loosely. Not out of a place of guardedness so as not to be heartbroken again, but out of a place of genuine expectancy that God is up to something really really good, and he can do it however he chooses.

How have your expectations held up or let you down? What areas of your life are you wanting to cultivate expectancy, grounded in God’s character?

Having social anxiety after isolation?

The day finally arrived: two weeks after vaccination! I envisioned fireworks, chocolate fountains, a giant party . . . instead I celebrated my end of isolation with a quiet walk through Hobby Lobby.

With so much of the world still in crisis, and half of my community unvaccinated, it wasn’t the climactic ending to a terrible year that I had hoped for. Still, I was so excited to finally get to hug some of my friends again. I soon got to work texting them, setting up times to hang out.

Quickly, the anxieties hit me. I haven’t used my communication muscles for a very long time. What if all my friends want to hang out at once, and I have to decide who gets priority? Or worse, what if my friends don’t want to hang out with me? Although I tried to keep some connection during the pandemic, what if it wasn’t enough? What if they judge me for how cautious I lived? Or for not being cautious enough? Can we recover from our pandemic-related tensions?

Still deeper sensitivities stirred in me. This hasn’t just been a year of a pandemic but a year of racial reckoning. Can I share with my friends honestly how I’ve been doing with that? Will they feel safe to share their pain with me? Do I even remember how to be cross-cultural apart from posting on Instagram? What if I say something unhelpful . . . will they still be my friend?

When I finally did get to see some of my friends, although I savored every moment, I spent hours afterward analyzing everything that I said and did, combing through every sentence, looking for ways my friends might judge me . . . or hate me. What was I thinking? Why did I say that?

You may not be a naturally paranoid person like me (Enneagram 6), but having a certain level of social anxiety after a year-plus of isolation is to be expected. Some of you are about to go back to campus or start working in-person for the first time in a long while. That’s a really big change! And anxiety is normal.

What do we do when anxiety comes? Here are a few suggestions: 

  1. Notice & Nurture: In my last couple posts, I’ve written about the idea of noticing and nurturing (a concept taken from the founders of The Institute for Bio-Spiritual Research). When you feel anxiety or paranoia, notice it. Pay attention to where you carry it in your body.

    Then bring some affection to that place. We can learn from Jesus who verbally and physically expressed his compassion for the socially rejected (Mark 1:41), and ask the Holy Spirit to help us bring that same affection to the hurting places within us. Maybe put a hand on that spot in your body, where you are carrying the anxiety and speak kindly: Of course, you feel anxious. It’s been a long time since you’ve socialized. I am with you. I won’t leave you. Rather than trying to curse or shame your anxiety away, just bring it some loving attention and be kind to yourself.

  2. Give Yourself Time: The amount of trauma and disruption that’s occurred in the last 15 months isn’t going to be healed overnight. Even if the world eventually opens up and life “goes back to normal,” it will not feel normal right away. Healing takes a long time.

    Remind yourself that you don’t need to immediately bounce back. Go at the pace your body is ready to go. If that means not attending every large group or worship service just yet, that’s just fine. If it means you can’t plan the perfect outreach in the fall, that’s okay. And it’s even okay if you cannot immediately reconcile with every single friend. Give yourself time.

  3. Extend a LOT of grace. Remember that you’re not the only one going through some anxiety right now. Your friends and classmates may feel the same way. They may be upset with themselves about something they said to you, wondering why they can’t seem to hold a conversation anymore. This year has been a year of exposure, and we have all experienced a taste of ourselves at our worst. Keep extending grace, starting with yourself.

  4. Find a Counselor: If you need help finding a godly counselor, reach out to a local InterVarsity campus minister or pastor and ask for some referrals.

Anxiety is often correlated with fatigue. And though you can celebrate when you get to be with friends again, the pandemic and chaos in the world is not over. The fatigue from past and ongoing suffering is real. And we need an extra dose of compassion.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8).

How do you relate to having anxiety in this season? What else has helped you?

*Dr. Edwin M. McMahon and Dr. Peter A. Campbell, Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality, Minneapolis, MN: Tasora Books 2010, pg 78.

Loving Yourself through Affectionate Presence

When my seventeen-month-old nephew, Zachary, is having trouble sleeping at night, my brother pats him on his back gently and says, “I know, I know.” The other day, Zachary was awake and alone in his crib saying to himself, “I know, I know.”

From a very young age, kids learn how to soothe themselves. They recognize affection and imitate it, nurturing their own bodies. Adults have a much harder time doing this.

Drs. McMahon and Campbell, ordained Jesuits and psychologists, explain that we all have “affection teachers” in our lives that help us to nurture the hurting places within us. They write:

“Your Affection Teacher can become the practical, physically felt Loving Presence of God in your own body….With a quiet inner presence, you can talk to your body in pain…expressing to your body how sorry you are that it hurts so much. Allow your pain-filled place to know you won’t neglect or abandon it. Promise to be a good friend, remaining as long as it needs you.”

Dr. Edwin M. McMahon and Dr. Peter A. Campbell, Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality, Minneapolis, MN: Tasora Books 2010.

In my last blog, I wrote about the gift of presence — and how sometimes just showing up and being present can be the greatest form of comfort to those who are grieving. In the same way, we can offer that gift of loving, attentive presence to our own bodies.

Zachary’s “I know, I know” has been my affection teacher these days:

When tightness came in my chest as I went to a grocery store for the first time in the pandemic, I put my hand on my chest and listened to the anxiety there and, said “I know. I know, Kel. I see you.”

When I woke up multiple times in the night with itchy and swollen ankles, rather than trying to understand why this was happening, I just put a loving hand on my ankles and said, “I know, I know. I am so sorry.”

After extending much leadership to a grieving team in a suffering world, I put a hand on my shoulders and said, “I know. I know. The world is a mess. This is so heavy.”

What is an affection teacher in your life? Maybe it was a moment when you noticed a parent holding their screaming child. Or you saw a plant being watered. Or you held onto a stuffed animal that gave you a sense of safety. Try to remember what that did for you in your body and bring that same kind of affection, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to your innermost parts.

There is nothing magical about this practice. It’s something that we were created to do. Kids do it instinctively. But sometimes we have been so out of touch with the kindness of our creator that we need a little re-training.