“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world – free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen

How much of my life has consisted of avoiding those risks, even a journey worth taking, to preserve my self or some sense of accomplishment? Instead of stepping out in faith, of retreating in fear. Even the fearful unknown, that sense of disappointment when venturing down the wrong track, or heavy burdens in the darkest night. The striving for perfection instead of compassion and action.

In the past, I wondered the worth of such careful practices, of purity, morals, integrity. Most of those actions as a young girl were out of fear and duty and responsibility; fear of breaking a rule, and duty to my parents, and responsibility to God. In high school I developed more depth toward my relationship with the Lord, and striving to follow His heart and His word flourished from my changed attitude and character.

That same struggle seems to follow us as we mature in Christ, as Matthew 6:33 reminds us, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This true litmus test of my faith and character is constantly reminding me of where He has challenged me and the experiences still ahead.

If I were to calculate my life at age 15 and plan out the realm of my life, that very existence would have been incomplete and underdeveloped. My dreams at the time were of going to college and working in the field of teaching. At age 21, I had realized those ambitions and pressed forward toward more multi-dimensional ideas, which included foreign travel and long-term missionary work.

A year after completing my degree in education and English, I relished the opportunity to spend a season abroad, working for Wycliffe. Again, my paradigm framework shifted; now toward a global perspective, and the challenges I encountered stretched me away from Christian education and a dream of being a missionary teacher and refined my vision: toward public school education.

I had conquered one of my greatest fears, and understood the tremendous privilege of traveling thousands of miles alone, of being on my own in 6 different countries but never feeling lonely. Of becoming comfortable in my own element, living independently, and developing peace in solitude, and strength in prayer, while taking faith risks for God.

I often think about that season in my life as my most extravagant faith walk, a deep chat with God, the quintessential journey away that inevitably leads us home, back to the beginning. Observing familiar landscape with fresh eyes. My passion for teaching was renewed, and the irony of that desire was my opportunity to step into full-time writing for 5 years.

And then another unexpected – but lovely – turn in the road was meeting my wonderful husband J.P., a loving man who was studying to become a pastor. All of my prior experiences – of quality, challenging education, leadership opportunities throughout college, and even difficult lessons nurtured during my time abroad – prepared me for this monumental task of becoming a wife.

As we dance into our eighteenth year of marriage this August and consider all the marvelous blessings God has provided, my dreams and expectations could not have imagined such wonders. If the Lord had provided all I requested of Him in my youthful ambition, my life would not have been flavored the same way, or have the multiple layers of depth, of difficult lessons learned along the way. The blessings He’s given has been a refreshing and encouraging promise, a reminder of His presence and affection.

Those dark seasons, the humbling and realistic work of my husband’s calling as a pastor, and of my outreach alongside his; of stripping away myself to be clothed in Christ’s fragrance, the often noisy and exhausting ministry of mothering three precious daughters (amidst obvious blessings!); every instance of struggle in this desert-like place of ministry, and now his pursuit of a counseling degree; all this and more has been prepared beforehand in my life and heart. God paved the way.

Isaiah 43:19 encourages me, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

The reality of Christ’s immense love has freed me to become myself, to follow Him because of our relationship, to capture His love in my life and seek to provide opportunity for others to experience the same.

There are moments of reflection when I realize how struggles in the past – moments of seeming despair, times of personal disappointment and great pain – have given me greater freedom to reach out to others facing similar hurts.

If only I am brave enough to step out in love.