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Cornerstone’s team returnred from Uganda on Saturday.  I got to pick them up from the airport.  On the ride home, several of them shared stories with me despite their weary eyes and bodies.

I love to hear stories of what God is doing in other parts of the world.  It makes my heart ache, in a good way, to see His redemption in action.  It makes me long to share my faith with those who have never heard His name.  It makes me aware of how I need to be sharing my faith more with the people who come in and out of my life every day.  It makes me want to move.

As they told me stories of meeting some of the kids who are sponsored by people from Cornerstone, I asked if they had met a little girl named Sylvia.  Sylvia is the little girl that I sponsor from Buloba. Josh told me that they had, and actually they had the opportunity to spend some time with her.

Here she is with Josh, showing off her school uniform.

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She is beautiful.  The entire time our team was in Uganda, she was where my heart was.  I want to meet her so badly, and I know that one day I will.

This isn’t just a picture of a beautiful little girl.  This is a picture of a life being changed.  This is a picture of hope.

That school uniform is one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I have ever seen, not because it’s something she has because of me, but because it’s a little piece of my heart in Uganda.

And, you know, the more I look at this picture, I realize that it’s not just a picture of her life being changed, but mine, too.

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I went almost a month without going to the gym.  I blame it on busyness….or maybe just laziness.  But, now that I have started going back, I find that I am pushing myself more.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I’m working out some agression…..I don’t know.

Yesterday in my “workout” I did pectoral butterflies (impressive….I know…).  Other than the fact that it hurts to lift my arms today (There is a sign in my brother’s gym that says, “If you can’t tie your shoes, you’re doing it right.”  So I guess that means I did something right.), it made me start thinking about the miracle of our muscles.

I have always been fascinated with the anatomy of the human body.  It amazes me how everything works together so beautifully, and if the smallest thing goes wrong, the entire body is impacted.

God has given us the ability to grow stronger by building our muscles, which can only happen through pain.  We build muscles by tearing them down first.  This is done through putting weight and resistance on them, making them work so hard that they rip and tear.  Then the miracle happens…the muscles repair themselves by building little bridges of more muscle tissue where the little tears are…binding them…building them…healing them.

This morning as I was lying in bed, trying to wake up, and trying to get my very tired and achy body to move, I remembered my pectoral butterflies.  I remembered that my muscles were in the process of repairing themselves and growing stronger.

I hate it when people say, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” (Sometimes I wish it would kill me.)  Or in the midst of a difficult circumstance someone says, “God is building your character.”  I hate it, because when people say these things it’s usually to make themselves feel better than the person going through the difficult time.

It’s not that I don’t think God desires that we have good character, but I believe He is more interested in building our dependence on Him and our desire for Him.  And, many times God tears us so that we become aware of just how much we need Him and want Him in our lives.

And, He has given us such an amazing picture of how this works.  Just like our muscles are built through resistance, our faith is built through resistance.   We come face to face with problems that are bigger than we can handle.  We find ourselves struggling with emotions and fears and doubts that weigh us down.  We look around and find ourselves alone, going against the flow, knowing that what comes next just might knock our feet out from under us.  It’s too much.  We can’t do it.  The fear swallows us alive.  Our hearts yearn for something more, but there is no hope.

That’s when we throw our hands up in the air.  We give up.  And that’s exactly where we need to be.  It’s where I am.

Becuase only when I give up does God step in and take over.

He will let me fail.  He will let me be torn down.  He will let the resistance come.  Because it shows me how much I need Him….how much I love Him….how much I can trust Him….He is my Healer.  He is my Defender.  He is the One who is Victorious.

I feel the burning in my bones for more of Him, and I will rest in that.

…that is approximately how many minutes have passed since I graduated from seminary and moved from Texas.

A year ago, yesterday, I walked across that stage, and walked away from, what seemed like at the time, the most rewarding time of ministry in my life.  I thought that God had BIG things in store for me.  I knew He was calling me to do something I couldn’t do on my own.  I had dreams….I had ambitions.

But, I also had this sinking feeling deep inside me that I was walking into a dead end.  God wasn’t just calling me out of Texas; He was calling me to move back home…the one place I never thought I would go back to.  For me, it was the scariest place in the world.

And yet, here I am, a year later, still living in Auburn, AL and for the most part feeling blessed.  But it hasn’t been easy.

I have kept a journal since my senior year of high school, and I have this habit of looking back on my life to see where I was and where I have come, This week I have doing that a lot.  This past year has been one of the hardest years of my life (second to the year I lost my dad).  It’s been grueling.  It’s been painful.  I have gone through the darkness of the wilderness, and some days I feel like I’m still there.

There were points in the first few months after I moved back home that I was begging God to let me go back to Texas.  I felt like Israel begging God to return to Egypt.  I was in the wilderness and the only thing I wanted was to return to what I knew, because it was safe…even if it was bondage.  There is an entry in my journal that I read over and over because it is a perfect picture of what I was feeling.  It is from October 7, 2008:

“Today has been another one of those days — thick with silence and doubt.  It makes me wonder if I’m even alive anymore.  I feel like a dead person walking around…My life has lost its fervor…None of this makes any sense.  I have no idea what’s going on with my life, and I’m beginning to worry that the answer is NOTHING.  Why am I being made to wait so long?  Why am I being kept from understanding?”

Two weeks later I had my first job interview with a church called Cornerstone, and things haven’t been the same since.

But, I can’t keep looking back without looking ahead.  Today, I can stand on the other side of the unknown and say I still don’t know, but I trust God.  I can see how God has unfolded the events of my life to get me exactly where He wanted me at exactly the right time, especially over the past few years.  I wouldn’t trade that in for anything.  But, it also reminds me that the road to experiencing God’s pleasure often takes us through a path of pain.

What I can say is that last year at this time where I thought I would be this year at this time is nowhere near where I am now.  I thought I would be living in Atlanta, or Nashville, or Birmingham, writing or working as an associate youth minister.  I never thought I would be living in Auburn, AL working as a youth minister.  This was not on my radar.  And, I’m okay with that because it was on God’s radar for me.

I can’t say that one is better than the other, but I am thankful that in those moments, which are quite numerous, where I was ready to give up on God, throw in the towel and go work at the post office; He patiently waited on me and stood with me.  He didn’t leave me all those times I thought He had.  All the times I couldn’t hear/see/feel Him, it wasn’t because He wasn’t there.  He was there the entire time.

Now, I can look back and see much more than just his fingerprints; I see his signature.