What Does the Lord Require of You?

I’ve been meaning to write this.
For those struggling to separate purpose and career.
For those who took one sure step into the world and became all kinds of lost.

This messy and longing and lost chapter in the book the Lord is writing on my life is not just for me, but for you.

And I’ve turned a page.
It’s far easier to read to the world a chapter that is finished.
A chapter that now uniquely fits into the grand story of this Author’s purpose.
I can, reading back, see this.
But there was a time when my eyes were discouraged and the scene around me seemed out of place.
Like a mistype. A misstep. Something to be erased. Something that needed fixing.
I graduated from the school held high all throughout my junior high and high school years.
It was the dream, the goal.
And during my time at the university, I worked toward a bright and flourishing career.
It was the new dream, the new goal.

But, in the words of the beloved Flynn Rider, Eugene Fitzherbert (because who am I if I don’t squeeze Disney into my own writing?),

“For one moment, everything was perfect…and then that moment ended.”
Graduation, one moment of perfection.
And then that moment ended.
What began was a mess.
A mess of anxiety.
A mess of comparison.
A mess of doubt.
A mess of fear.

This dream that I wrapped like a present through the years was finally ready to be opened. Now, the paper was torn, the ribbons scattered, and the gift inside was far more disappointing than I had imagined it would be.

Everyone else’s gifts seemed perfect. I watched them take it out to play and show the world, a testament to how wonderful their gift Giver was.
And even if their gifts were not as they seemed, I knew their Giver was wonderful.
I rejoiced for them.

But mine…I feared was meant for someone else.
What I hoped was a shiny new toy, ready to be played with, batteries included, turned out to be an oversized dress, big enough for me to swim in.
And that’s exactly how I felt.
Small and swimming in something too big for me.

I sought answers, advice, and counsel. I scheduled and canceled several advising appointments, spiritual, emotional, and academic. And I longed to find someone walking around with the same baggy dress that I was wearing.

Oh, how we ache to relate and be understood. To be found and known in the dark.
But the Lord let me get lost. Be lost.
For He alone needed to be the one that found me.

Unknowingly, I rested in the security of people’s certainty in my choice of profession.
I fed off their affirmations and drank deep their praises.
“Oh, you were made for this!”
“You will make the most incredible teacher!”
“Teaching suits you so well!”

Oh, their words were my comfort, because my heart doubted.
Again and again it doubted.

Pondering these things, now, I truly do believe the Lord used these words. They were well placed. They were thought through and honest. They saw gifts I was too blind or insecure to recognize.
But, in the end, it was often their word I clung to, and not the Lord’s.
Their confidence was often my foundation, and not the Lord’s unchanging promises.
And soon enough, their words, their confidence were not enough to convince me.
My own doubts overshadowed their sureness and the foundation that held me up crumbled.
Inevitably, I fell.

It was a long fall and the Lord took His patient time lifting me back up.
For He was not merely seeking to raise me, but to build me up.
I needed a new foundation. One that was planted on solid ground.
Built from unwavering truth. Carefully fixed. And designed to endure.

And, the truth He chose to be the cornerstone was entirely unrelated to my career, which I often equated to my “calling.”

Rather, He gently spoke the words of Micah 6:8.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The verse that I was taught again and again as a young girl in GEMS throughout the years (please tell me y’all did GEMS, too?).
I sang it every Wednesday night. I’m pretty sure it was to the tune of a Greece song.
Ridiculous to think of it now, but boy, did my heart need it, more than I knew at 10 years old.

This verse comes as a response from the minor prophet to the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” It goes through a long list of costly sacrifices and weighty duties.
I hear the sorrow and the agony in the voices, crying out, “Lord, what must we do?”
I hear it because my voice uttered the same words with heavy, heavy tears.
“Lord, what must I do? I need to do this thing to please you. I must do this thing to follow you. Surely, I’m required to do this thing to find my purpose. Fulfill my purpose. Otherwise, I’m wasting. Wasting my life. Wasting my time. Wasting away.”

My purpose. The Lord’s pleasure. A fulfilling life. It was all rooted in this career.
And to my surprise, in response to work-harder-do-more perspective, He gently offered these words.

“Mary, what have I told you? What is good? That you live just and free. That you take great delight in My steadfast love. That you walk ever nearer with Me. This is what is required. This pleases me. This is full life. This is where you find your purpose, because, my darling, this is where you find Me.”

I was looking for an occupation. I was looking for a job.
I was looking for purpose outside of the One Who purposes me for good things.

He took me aside. He took away my security.
He let the foundation that other’s had built tumble down, with me tumbling after it.
And what caught me was not a job.
I fell to be caught by the hands of my Maker. The One who gives me purpose.

And so, I start again. Fresh. New.
Same gifts. Slightly new direction.
I’m back in school.
Yes, teaching is surely my future. But making coffee is my present.
And with this new time, this blessed and purposed time, I have the space to use my gifts still.
Not in the school. Not teaching geometry and history. Not to a class of 30 students.
But rather, in the Church. Teaching the Gospel. To a group of 12 hungry, seeking, and delightfully eager sixth grade girls.

It took a year. It took a long hard fall. My moment of perfection had to end.
But, a moment of perfection gave way to a lifetime of purpose.
Purpose rooted in Christ and loving Him, in all I do.

And, to quote Tangled just once more,

This is my new dream.

Oh, and that dress?
It fits now. Like it was made for me.
Our Father really does know how to give good gifts.

He Will Do It

I’ve thought quite often about writing again, curling up on my bed and letting my heart spill over with stories of the weathered seasons.
But the seasons felt dreary, and I had yet to walk through them entirely.
I hadn’t reached the other side of them, with beautiful truths wrapped neatly together to offer others. With triumphs to tell. With prayers heard and answered.
No, it was still grey and murky, so my heart kept to itself.

But, now, I’d like to share, still a little lost, still a little tattered and worn.

I was looking over a journal entry from early September of 2015, and it began with,

“I have good things for Mary, but the Enemy is going after her heart.”

My mother had called me, impressed by the Lord to share these words, feeling and knowing them in her soul, meant for me to hear.
And so has been the words over the past year and half of my life.

Good things are on their way, coming like clouds over scorched and barren lands, but not without a fight. And, friends, the fight has felt long.

I had battles in my heart to be waged, and ultimately won by my King, Jesus. I had branches that were beyond pruning, needing to be entirely cut off, if there was to be hope of future fruit.
And the battles, the barren branches, the empty, dark caverns of my heart were the Enemy’s finest work. He probably had them framed and mounted on his wall, each one named.
Disobedience. Faithless. Discouraged. Failure. Hopeless. Coward. Shiftless.

While the Lord in His kindness had allowed my feet to tread barefoot through green pastures along the way, seasons of refreshment and renewal to strengthen my weary spirit, I found myself back in the valley, in the dark, again. And again. And again.

Over the months turned years, my heart has wrestled with the Enemy, throwing weak punches, only to cut through thin air, leaving me stumbling and open to every blow.
I fought disbelief that the Lord would provide in my immense need.  Encountered failure to stand against the Enemy’s scheming and lies toward me. Fell prey to apathy that left me spineless and tossed by waves. And was paralyzed by crippling insecurity that questioned every truth until certainty in anything was entirely lost.

When your mind becomes a warzone and your heart a battlefield, life loses its zest. Joy gives way to survival. Rest turns into striving. Grace isn’t enough. And works are your stepping stones to the Throne.

This wasn’t me. This had never been me. Distressed and striving to fix what my weak soul never could.

My friends knew me as the biggest advocate of Jesus’ grace. It was the song in my heart and my lips spoke of it often. But the Enemy sold me a lie and convinced me to trade the grace of my Savior for the burden of works. And like Eve, I ate and was deceived.

But, here’s the thing, I was never good at working. It was like I had a devil on either of my shoulders. One telling me to work my way out of the pit and the other telling me I never could. At least one was honest.

So, I looked at the canyon between my sin and God. I’d stack a few stones and give up, weeping. I could never reach Him. Not with these pebbles. And I’d forgotten about grace at this point, so my only option was to sit, stuck in the mud and mire. Pathetic. The Enemy is good at what He does.

The Bible compares us to sheep. And I experienced why, here. Like those little lambs, we’re helpless without a Shepherd. Unable to turn ourselves around when we’re lost. Incapable of getting up when we’ve fallen. Powerless against ravenous wolves.

Over the past several years, throughout college, I’d really come to terms with this sense of weakness, learning to boast of Christ’s power in it, and allowing it to press me firm into His arms. I was asked a while back what I was grateful for, and I answered, “My weakness.”

My words were heard by the Lord, and He wanted to test that answer. The past year and half has been that test.

Now, good news.
The Enemy is crafty, but God is the ultimate Craftsman. The Enemy is alluring, but the Father’s pull is stronger still. The Enemy can wreak havoc, but cannot ever wreck the secure plans of the Almighty.

When Psalms 73:26 is the banner waving over me, claiming, “my flesh and my heart may fail,” my Heavenly Father sings, “But I am the Strength of your heart forever.”

And I’m learning this.

The Lord is allowing me to come to end of myself and discover just how reckless, foolish, and inadequate I am apart from Him. To see sin for what it is, how it destroys us, and how much God hates it. To weep over stacked pebbles trying to fill the spaces between Him and I. And it is there that the Lord draws near, very near, revealing the relentless devotion He has to His people, covered by the blood of His Son.

God was, is, and always will be more fiercely committed to my holiness and to my wholeness than I ever could dare be. Even when I give up, caving into the lie that I never could come close, God remains ruthlessly faithful, proclaiming,

“I will sanctify you completely, keeping your entire spirit, soul, and body blameless until my Son returns. I, who call you, am faithful, and I will do it.”

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Friends, I’m still in the mess of it all, but the gaping canyon is filling with waters of His grace, sailing me back into His arms. The Lord is training my eyes to see the severity of my need, and rather than pull away in despair, to look up and draw near in hope.

In hope that He alone will hold me fast.

He who calls us to this life of holiness is faithful to fashion us and sustain us in that calling. And because of Jesus, who covers our rags with His robe, we can hold God to that promise.

Those who are fighting, failing, falling, hold Him to that promise.

When you need an answer to the cry of your heart, whispering, “How can I ever be made right?” Remember.

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Serving Jesus While Serving French Fries

At 17 years old I got my first real job.
At 21 years old I still rock that adorable ascot and visor with the golden arches.
You’ve guessed it. McDonald’s.
Many have a negative connotation with fast food, McDonald’s in particular. Some people cringe. Some people laugh. Some people sue.
It’s the last place people would expect to find Jesus, but I have had the privilege of serving Him there.
“Wait a minute. Did you just say you served Jesus at McDonald’s?” 
Why yes, I did.
Whether I’m serving up Big Macs for the late night crowd or dishing out hash browns for the early morning regulars, I’m still serving Jesus.
It seems like the oddest place for Him to reveal His promises and statutes, but for over four years, I’ve encountered Him there.
While there are countless stories to share about my experience as a McDonald’s employee, here are three significant values that the Lord has taught me during my time there.

1. Love Your Enemies
Sometimes your enemy doesn’t always threaten your life. Sometimes your enemy threatens your patience, however, as he cusses you out because you forgot his Sweet and Sour sauce for his Chicken Nuggets.
It’s in those moments when Jesus whispers, “Show him My love, today.”
I’d like to show him something else.
As hot tears rolled down my cheeks, I walked away to recompose myself. I realized that it probably wasn’t even about the Sweet and Sour sauce.
I could not step into his shoes and know all the burdens he has carried in life. I will never know what made him lash out over something so, well…ridiculous. And, while I could never excuse this poor man’s behavior, I can extend grace and forgiveness.
can show him what my Jesus’ love looks like.
The love that poured out forgiveness on the ones that cursed and mocked Him as He hung on a rugged tree.

2. People Matter
French fries will get cold. Orders will be messed up. Our food may not always be considered “fast.” But, people matter. People are eternal. And I have the privilege of serving and working alongside them every day at work….Well, technically five days a week.
My mission field may not have brick red, dusty roads or shacks for homes, but the people I serve still need Jesus’ life breathed into them.
My co-workers that greet me as I walk through the doors at 5:45 in the morning need to be shown Jesus’ unwavering peace.
The young, single mother holding her child as she waits in line needs to be shown Jesus’ saving grace.
The tattered homeless man that searches for enough coins to pay for his coffee needs to be shown Jesus’ radical redemption.
The people who come in and out of McDonald’s doors every day, employee or customer, matter. Their lives have purpose.
And God loved them enough to send His Son to carry the weight of their sin in order that they might encounter true Freedom.
I have the absolute honor of serving those people. And while I may not be able to read them the Gospel, I am able show them what a person transformed by the Gospel looks like.
I am able to plant seeds of Freedom, one kind word and tender smile at a time.
And I pray that as I plant the seeds, the Holy Spirit causes them to bloom.

3. Small Things for God’s Glory Matter  
It took years before my eyes were opened to see God’s purpose for me at McDonald’s.
I spent my summer asking people, “Would you like to make that a large meal?” All the while, I was green with envy and filled with self-pity as I watched my friends travel to impoverished countries, eager to serve Jesus’ people and share with them His truth. I was just serving french fries.
This rotten attitude was the outcome of jealousy. The product of comparison.
“Why can’t I do something radical for Christ?” I asked myself.
My friend’s missional lives felt important. My fast food life felt…trivial.
It wasn’t until this summer that the Lord graciously revealed to me just how damaging that outlook was and just how precious my work is.
Before I left for home, a friend from my Grace Group lent me a copy of The Practice of the Presence of God. Little did she or I know how the Lord would use this book to reshape my heart.
As I read, I stumbled upon this.
“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
Brother Lawrence spent a good portion of his life working in the kitchen of a monastery. To some, his life may have looked insignificant. Small. Trivial.
But God looked upon his life with great honor, for Brother Lawrence had labored with great love.
The Lord sees whatever is done for His glory, whether you’re caring for orphans in Ethiopia, filing paper work in the office, or even flipping burgers.
So, just as Brother Lawrence happily washed dishes and scrubbed floors, aware of Whom he was truly serving, I too found joy in my own work.
Because I have learned to do it with God and for God.

And I’m lovin’ it.