On Saturday I will be 29.

That’s the last lap of my 20s . . . if I make it past that lap. My desire is to be Jon’s wife and Jael’s mom into old, old age. Billy Graham old age. I can’t help but want that. They are, by far, the most precious gifts God has given me outside of salvation. And if I’m honest, the last few years have probably been my sweetest. I often find myself playing with Jael in our gorgeous neighborhood park overlooking the sparkling lake, thinking, in so many ways we’re living “the good ol’ days” right here, right now.

Here we are at our neighborhood park facing the lake. I really do love these moments.

 

Our Valentine’s lunch at Iaverone’s. I don’t remember what Jon ordered because I was enthralled by my NY Strip Steak.

 

Singing, “In New York you can be a new man!” Being 28 meant more traveling than usual for me. Here’s a kiss in Manhattan captured by Savannah, one of our best friends in the world.

But it would be my pride talking if I said, “I’m going to do this or that this year,” unless I added and genuinely believed, “if the Lord wills.” The last extended devotional I did in November drove home the reality that tomorrow, the next moment, the next breath is not promised. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” (Ps. 90:12). And what would a heart of wisdom seek? “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,” (Ps. 90:14). God’s steadfast love. Every morning. Every day. Every night. God’s steadfast love all wrapped up in Jesus, proclaimed in his living Word, proven at that suspended wood and vacant tomb. God’s steadfast love. This alone will satisfy. This alone will propel all my efforts. This alone will sustain my own love, my faith, my joy, my hope. God’s steadfast love.

I’ve been so divided. I haven’t been able to perfectly articulate it, but the reality is that I’ve been longing more for certain things above God lately. I’ve been wanting Jesus to be life-enhancer more than Lord. Make me a great writer and speaker, make me an efficient yet fun mom, make me a compelling ministry leader, make me a goddess in bed, just make me awesome . . . oh, and everyone else around me awesome too. Amen. Those aren’t my exact prayers, but often their intention and extent.

You know what has kept me up at night? The thought of losing Jon and Jael. Or sometimes the thought of blowing my work opportunities. You know what has enraged me to the point of cursing and slamming my hand on the wall in anger (when no one is around to see)? Not getting sufficient sleep the night before. I’ve focused much on Quina’s kingdom come and Quina’s will done. I’ve been confessing that sin here and there, but this consuming desire in me to be self-sufficient, independent, and efficient is a beast of an idol. I’ve been hardly focusing in my prayers, hardly checking in on others, hardly thrilled about church, hardly godly.

Somehow, God has been so kind to still convict me in his Word lately, even when my half-hearted self has strolled in half-steppin’ and distracted. Last week I finished the book of Nehemiah and was struck by Nehemiah’s almost violent determination to see God’s people truly Sabbath. “Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy,” (Neh. 13:22). What would it look like for me to “guard the gates” of my life so I can actively soul-rest in God’s presence weekly? What would it take for me to drink deeply from the well of God’s salvation frequently enough to see my divided heart unite under one Lord, one mission, one desire: “that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple,” (Ps. 27:4)?

So I committed to spending some extended time alone with God today . . . and then I talked myself out of it. Too many excuses to enumerate here. God threw me a lifesaver in Jon’s question, “Are you OK?” then his insistence on watching Jael so I could have some time to myself. With zero excuses left, I admitted, “I think the problem is that I really want to work today. I don’t want to be still. I want to check off list items so I can feel accomplished and at peace.” A divided heart. A child refusing to rest. A soul unconvinced of the sufficiency of Jesus’ work, Word, and presence.

THANK GOD I finally gave in to this time alone while Jon took Jael out. And thank God for my friend Laura’s beautiful “Ponder” devotional guide which allows you to pick what passage you want to meditate on, then offers very helpful guidance. Today I landed on Psalm 51. It was like knocking on the door of an old friend I’ve shamefully neglected to call for too long. Confession and repentance and restoration and mission and finally, praise. This is rest.

These two verses firmly grabbed my face like two large hands:

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

(Ps. 51:11-12)

Perhaps the scariest kind of wrath is passive. When God effectively tells rebellious people, “OK, your will be done,” and he hands them over to their hearts’ desires: everything and anything but him (see Rom. 1:18-32). I have staked my eternity on a man from Nazareth. A man I truly believe rose from the grave in victory over my sin and death. A man I truly believe is God. My life has greatly changed since 2005 when I first opened my dusty Bible in genuine search of answers to the gaping hole of meaninglessness in my soul. But as much as God’s promises to those who have trusted him are true, so are his warnings to keep believing, keep seeking, keep obeying (see 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Phil. 4:1; Jude 1:20-21).

King David knew that God’s presence is God’s greatest gift. To be cast away from God (or God’s Spirit cast away from him) would be, quite literally, Hell. He saw in King Saul what a life turned away from God looked like: tragic. David knew that the greatest, most severe consequence for his sin would be disconnection from God. This would be unthinkable, worse than losing his unborn son, worse than losing his kingship, worse than anything he could fathom. He knew that to be cast away from God’s presence was exactly what he deserved, but with every fiber of his soul, he knew that was exactly what he didn’t want.

When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin, David confessed his sin and Nathan proclaimed, “The LORD also has put away your sin,” (2 Sam. 12:13). Forgiveness was proclaimed. Grace would be the final word. But it was that forgiveness and grace that made the mere thought of being cast away from God’s presence so unbearable. David wrote Psalm 51 after, seemingly right after, that encounter with Nathan. God’s proclaimed forgiveness drove David’s repentance and his plea: “Cast me not away from your presence!” Do we ever see a fallen King Saul genuinely grieve at the thought of being cast away from God himself (and not just God’s gifts, like honor from others)?

The very reality that God is gracious and has reconciled me to himself through his Son can’t possibly make me yawn at the sin in my heart. It can only make me repent even more and repent even more thoroughly. It is God’s grace that makes me aware of the beauty of his glory, the absolute necessity of his presence, and my desperate state of being before him. This must be my plea today, this season, every morning and night: “Don’t let me go! I need you! I want to want you more! Don’t let my sin drive me away from you!” How will an enduring faith be accomplished in me? By God. By God daily refreshing me with the joy of his salvation. By God daily upholding me with a willing spirit to follow him.

What if my scariest nightmares materialize this year and I lose my family, my health, and my wealth? I think these verses point me in the right direction. If losing God is the absolute worst possible tragedy I could ever experience (Hell itself), then my worst nightmare is actually (or should actually be) walking away from this all-sufficient God. This God who bankrupted Heaven to redeem me. This God who gave his own Son for me. If God has promised to never leave nor forsake those who place their trust in him, then losing everything but God can only be a second-tier nightmare. Losing my dearest loves is an impossible thought, but even if I do, I will still have God. If I am his and he is mine, then all hell may break loose, but I won’t be there. I won’t be without God. To know him is to possess eternal life, eternal joy, eternal everything good for me. If he is calling me to himself, then I have everything to gain and nothing to lose that eternity with him won’t incomparably restore.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

(Ps. 51:11-12)

These verses are now my prayer for the last lap of my 20s before my (Lord willing) 30s. May I learn to treasure God’s presence more than his gifts. May I approach him daily on the grounds of Christ’s finished work and not my scratched-off lists. May I come to him desperate as I actually am. May I come to him frequently because he’s just that good, and I’m just that forgetful. May I boldly, humbly ask him for more and more of his Spirit’s influence, for fresh filling of his Spirit. If my (second-tier) scariest nightmares materialize, may I truly believe in, and even praise, the God who will walk with me through the worst.

But please, oh please, don’t take your presence away from me.