Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Light in the Darkness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all of the things outside of your control? Like the weight of them will crush you under anxiety, fear, and despair? You want to hold on, to be strong, but the injustice and the hurt is like a gaping wound that drains your life away?

Maybe this sounds severe, and admittedly it is hard to put these feelings into words. But at times the weight of that which is unknown and painful is so heavy, it can be hard to see anything else. Like the dizzying after-effects of a slap in the face, we can be blinded to all else, lost inside our clouded sense of reality.

I've been here before. It feels like teetering on the edge of a precipice with nothing to hold onto. You know you are going to be pushed in, but you don't know what's waiting at the bottom. You're afraid of falling, of what it will mean. You're afraid of what will happen when you land, of all the pieces that will break apart. You are afraid of all that you cannot control.

I think Satan likes it here. On this edge of uncertainty he can convince me of many things, that I have much to fear because only terrible things lie ahead. Because all I can see is the chasm, he has me right where he wants me: in a place where fear of "what if" keeps me blind to "what is." In this place he can fill my head with reminders of past pain, and the thought that what is coming could be worse, much worse.

It is easy to stay here, it really takes no effort. All I have to do is stay immersed in the fear, distracted by hypotheticals, and anxious that I cannot control the outcome. It is uncomfortable, but easy. With me distracted by fear, Satan can chip away at many other things, filling my head with anger, doubt, mistrust. Whether it's real or not doesn't matter, if it's in my head, it's real enough to me. It is enough to consume.

I was in such a state already this year, distracted, fearful, uncertain, when my heart was pricked by a bit of truth. Like a tiny beam of light it pierced through my clouded and foggy mind to whisper, "but what about the truth?" What about all the things I know to be true? What about the one thing I can control?

I am like Eve. I'm made of dust and bone, and I'm given a choice. I'm not someone's puppet, forced to operate on command and do only what I'm told. I can weigh my options, I can listen to what I'm told, and I can make a choice. I can control one thing: myself. And in that, I can choose what voice I will listen to, what I will believe, and what I will do.

I know how the story goes for Eve. She chose to listen to the voice of the enemy. That voice only brings death, destruction, and heartache. It led her astray, to a place of deception, fear, and pain. I've read her story many times, I live in the wake of it. But regardless, I still can choose what I will do now. Will I follow the footsteps that lead down to death, or will I choose the path of life?

That day when Truth spoke to me, I turned, drawn to its light. I stopped looking at all the things I feared, all the things outside of my control. I looked at the Light, yes, that is Jesus, so beautiful and perfect, and I said, "That is what I want to look like. Make me more like Him." That is what I chose, and will continue to choose.

I am not perfect, nor will I achieve perfection in this life, none of us will. But moment by moment, day after day, I am given a choice. I am given one thing to control. It is not the people around me--however often I think I would like to control them--it is myself. And in controlling myself, through those choices and behaviors, I am able to embody my convictions. I am able to give life to the things I wish I could change, to the beliefs I say I hold. I am able to be an image-bearer, reflecting the One who made me, embodying Him to the world.

This is no small task. It is not lost on me how utterly impossible it is; yes, at times I will fail. But it doesn't mean that I won't try. Because if I am not fighting every day to obey Christ, to honor Him, and model my life after Him, who am I replicating? Myself? If so, and I am sinful, at the root of it, I am replicating sin. And sin does not point to the Truth, it points to the enemy. Sin is his business, and I want no part in that.

I felt challenged to share this piece of my story because I want accountability. I want you to know more of my heart, I want to share the ways God is teaching me, and I want to be challenged to follow through on my choices. I want to live my calling at all times, not just when it is easy or convenient, but when it is difficult and scary. I want to be actively involved in my faith, not sidelined by fear or pain.

And I want you to join me. I want to open up dialogue, to ask questions, and to search for answers. I want to find encouragement from like-minded friends, and to encourage those who may be struggling. I want to fight alongside others, rather than do battle alone, or worse, against each other. We may not always agree or see eye-to-eye, but I believe that in the kingdom of God, what unites us is more powerful and more important than what is allowed to divide. Through unity we can build, rather than tear down. And that is what we should strive to do: build God's kingdom for His glory, not our own.

If you're struggling on the edge of fear this year, I invite you to turn to the Truth. Let Him guide you into the light and change your life forever.

"Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it." - John 1:4-5

"For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment." - 2 Timothy 1:7

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. ... Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." - James 3:17-18; 4:7-8a

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Thoughts After Houston

Setting foot back in Texas was like coming home. It makes sense initially, the place you lived the longest and grew up should feel like home. But I had never lived in Houston, only Dallas and its surrounding cities, which is why the feeling of belonging surprised me. Everything felt right, familiar, even in a place I had never spent much time. It was strange to feel that way, and I realized I haven’t felt at home, in the way I felt then, since I left Texas. I haven’t felt at home for 18 years.

Feeling like I belonged made me brave. 
+ + +
I used to be an extrovert. Then at some point I turned into more of an introvert as a defense mechanism. It was during my sophomore year of high school, when we moved to Michigan and I didn’t fit in anywhere. I felt like an awkward outcast, so I kept my mouth shut. I learned to be quiet so that I couldn’t reveal how little I knew, how truly clueless I was. Now I’d say I’m an introverted extrovert. I’m not always good at striking up conversations or thinking of things to say. I love alone time. I second-guess how my goofy yet dry sense of humor will be received. I hate trying to make small talk. 

But the bravery I felt helped to diminish my fear of talking to strangers. I found it easy to start conversations, to engage in playful banter, to take conversations to a deeper level. I found it easy to share random stories from my life, and I didn’t feel too guilty doing it. People made me feel like they wanted to know about me. And I realized I didn't feel like that much as an adult. Maybe people just assume there isn’t much to know about a 30-something pastor’s wife. But the people we met in Texas made me feel interesting, and I was interested in them too.
+ + +

Being in Houston was a simple adventure. We weren’t doing anything glamorous, just working on homes that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey when it hit in August 2017. It’s funny how most of the country has forgotten about Harvey, but there is still so much work to be done. We weren't even supposed to be there, we were planning to go to Haiti. But our change of plans was God's plan all along. He had work for us to do.
On the outside, most of the houses in Houston look beautiful. But the inside is a different story. And isn’t that a metaphor for the human condition—outside we look so put together, but no one knows how broken we are on the inside, or how empty. So many people left and never came back, we were told.
We talked about this, and looked for signs of Harvey’s aftermath as we walked the neighborhood where we worked. Dead patches in the St. Augustine grass and remnants of discarded debris told stories of what had been dumped on front lawns. So many things had been ruined by the water. Videos and photos of the devastation reminded us what had happened where we stood.
+ + +

The house where my team worked was owned by an older gentleman who our team fell in love with. The first day he described how much water had been standing in his home, and how it had been a year since anyone had worked on his house. I fought back tears. It changes things when you stand in a home and look at a person face-to-face. It gives a voice, a name, a human spirit to the things you see on the news.

I was so glad our team got to work in his house. We felt like a little family, spending the days talking and laughing in between the work. It didn’t feel like we really did much—we spent the whole time installing trim. But it was one important step in the work that would continue after we left. And eventually maybe his house will feel like home again.
+ + +

We also spent a lot of time praying—each morning before we started working we “prayed in” the day. We also prayed at lunch, and at the end of the day. For a little while each day after lunch we went on prayer walks through the neighborhood. We didn’t see many people in the middle of the day and the Texas heat, but we still prayed for them. We hoped that teams after us would be able to interact more with the residents, to tell them why we were there and what we were doing.
We did get to meet Mr. Stewart in another neighborhood 15 minutes away, where a team from our group was working. Mr. Stewart told us stories of growing up as an African American, and what people called him. He fed us mustard greens and corn bread. He had us write down our phone numbers so he could call and make sure we made it home alright. Mr. Stewart sits in his garage every day and waves at everyone who drives past. I couldn't help wishing I could spend a year sitting in his garage, hearing his stories.

+ + +

On our last full day in Texas, a local church hosted a dinner for our group, and whoever from the community wanted to come. We all shared stories from the week, ate delicious food, and celebrated the ways we had seen God working throughout the week. We celebrated the simplest of things, like changed plans and safety navigating the complex Texas highways. It's amazing how good it feels to do something for someone else, how good it feels to watch people come alive again, how good it feels to come alive yourself.

Leaving Texas, I realized I could do that—I could help people come alive, I could help people feel important. And that it really doesn't take any extraordinarily special skills. Just the ability to look someone in the eye, to ask them a question, to listen to their answer. The ability to make someone feel seen and heard, it was an ability I had forgotten I possessed, but I didn't want to forget again. It is an ability that can open the door to so many other things.

+ + +

There was once a girl who lived in Texas and loved it—the baking heat, the state pride, the trips to the rodeo, the people she knew, all of it. And she never dreamed of living anywhere else. But over time she moved to other places, places where she never ever thought she'd live. And truthfully, at first she hated it, and wanted to move back to Texas. But then she grew used to it, and eventually accepted it, and lived in six other places after leaving her home.

And then one day she found out, after all of the years and miles had passed, that she was going back. She was going back to Texas with a group of people she had met in those other places. People who reminded her of the goodness of God, even on the darkest of days. People who showed her the beauty to be found beyond the familiar. And she realized that it had all been a gift—the leaving, the heartache, the new friends in new cities—a gift that brought her to this moment. A gift that gave her purpose.

Life was never what she expected, but it had become beautiful indeed.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

In All Things, For His Glory

I have avoided writing specifically about this topic for what seems like forever. I've shared with some close friends, but didn't want to write publicly because I didn't want "everyone" to know, to speculate, to assume. But I started feeling like now was the time to share more.

I think people get it into their heads that it's better to keep things silent than share. We'd rather project a carefully crafted image than reveal a weakness. But our strength lies in what is shared, rather than what is kept silent. We need to hear from each other; we need to know that we all deal with things, some of us, with the same things. We need community and communication over competition and quiet. We need to know we're not alone.

So that's why I'm sharing this--it is something I wrote in my journal back in November 2018. But now I want to put it out there, for those walking a similar road. And those who aren't, but who might need to read this anyway and know what another road is like.

I feel like God has helped me reach a good place on the "we still don't have kids" journey. I know that sounds weird, but I don't know how else to phrase it. It has been a culmination of many things over the years, but it all seemed to come together one Sunday during a sermon. I don't remember what Sunday, or even the topic, but I just remember feeling like I could let it go, like I wanted to just release the whole thing. I wanted to let go of the sadness, the anger, the disappointment. I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself, fully this time.

It's been a process, and I've had small moments of realization along the way. Like the time a friend announced that his wife was finally pregnant and I felt sad. As if that was some slight against me. And I realized I was missing out on experiencing the joy in life because I was allowing my sadness to consume me to the point I felt dead inside.

I decided I didn't want to waste any more time feeling sad. It didn't change over night. I still have moments where I feel sad. But I don't cling to the sadness any more. I don't wear it on my face, or call it up in the moments I see other people's baby announcements online. I don't live in it any more; I choose joy.

Another moment--or rather a collection of moments all combined--has been watching the drive to get pregnant consume people. Watching it become a relentless obsession for some, I knew I couldn't do it, I didn't want to become that. If I ran after something at all cost, I wanted it to be Jesus, not a baby. A baby brings joy, I have no doubt, but it cannot fulfill you. No person should have that place. And I knew I could become obsessed like that. I know I can fixate, I have every time I've wanted something. I can fixate until it consumes me. And though wanting to have a child isn't wrong, I knew the fixating would be. It could lead me down a road I did not want to travel, one where I could easily lose myself to an obsession with absolutely no guarantee of fulfillment.

A moment that happened more recently was a late period. I've had them before, and like some before, I took a pregnancy test which came back negative. Unlike other times, I had a split-second where I thought, directed at God, that it was cruel for Him to allow my period to be late. I knew it was wrong the moment I thought it, but I couldn't take it back.

God isn't cruel. Sin is cruel. Sin brings into our lives the pain, the problems. I didn't want to waste time thinking wrongly about God, like He was trying to torment me through this. He is the only hope and help I have at all times and in all things. He is bringing about good and His glory.

The truth is, I believe I will be a mom one day, but I think it will look different. It will be God-ordained, something that no one but He will bring to pass. I think it will be unique, something that can only be explained as an act of God so that He will get all the glory. I don't know when it will happen, but something else I've been learning is that God's story takes time. And it is His story, I am just a piece of it. But I get to be a part of it. I get to be in this story that He is writing, and I want Him to write my part as well.

I think that is something my college years and early 20s taught me. So many times I wanted to write my story, to decide the whos and whens and whats, because I thought my ideas were pretty great. I thought I could imagine the best story line for my life. There were also times I looked at my friends and thought that I would give anything to have their life and story.

I couldn't have been more wrong about any of that, but I didn't learn that until later down the road. It took time for me to learn and see that the story God was writing for me was FAR better than any I could construct. And looking back, really the only thing I wish I could do over is being better about trusting Him and waiting for His timing. Because every piece of my life--the big, amazing, important moments--have been God-ordained. They can only be explained as acts of God, things He has done.

All the things I've really wanted in life, the things I've longed for and craved, have come about in spectacular ways that only God can be given credit for. The first of these things was a sibling, and the story of Michael coming into our life is a straight-up miracle. We weren't even looking; God brought him to us.

The other one is my husband. I wanted to be married as long as I could remember, but my concept of marriage was so skewed, I really had no idea what I was wanting, or what marriage was truly like. And I don't think I ever would've imagined this marriage, it is so "other" than any concept I could have conceived, to the point that I can only credit God as the designer. Where I was so limited and simple in my concepts, He has brought depth, meaning, and complexity. Where I imagined the most human-centric dynamics and scenarios, He has given concepts and understanding beyond that, to a biblical, spiritual, and holy level.

No, on my own I never would have come up with an idea of a marriage like this. And through it, God has revealed to me a greater understanding of concepts in the Bible, of human dynamics, and why we were made for each other as male and female. And to be honest, I know I haven't even scratched the surface of godly, holy relationships. But what I have seen and come to understand demands that I praise, worship, and glorify God.

In all that I have learned, how could I not apply that to my desire to have children? How could I not allow that to shape my expectations, my wants, my plans? And if I am to do that well, I have to release it all to God, into His hands, into His care. He knows whose mother I need to be, and if, how and when it will happen. And that will be so much better than anything I could dream of on my own.

So because of that, I am releasing it all to Him. And I am releasing it because I want to be able to fully focus on where He has placed me and the ministry He has given me now. I don't want to waste time fixating, obsessing, planning, or feeling sorry for myself. I want to live fully alive in God's grace, for His glory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

It's Not Mine, Anyway

Whenever my body doesn't do what it's supposed to do, whenever something's wrong, it hurts in deeper places. My heart aches and among the things I say and do, I blame myself. As though I could somehow control the inner workings of an earthly vessel I can't begin to understand. As though it were my fault things aren't working right. And I hate myself.

I know I'm not the only one, living in a body that isn't "normal." I know others walk this road too. Others know the prying questions that underneath their semantics all ring the same, What's wrong with you? If we were honest, we'd all admit something's wrong. Just some things are easier to perceive than others.

I so easily forget, when I list what's wrong with me, that this shell in which I live, it isn't mine. It's just a rental, a temporary dwelling my soul calls home. And one day, I'll hear the One on the throne say, "Behold, I am making all things new." And that will apply to me too. Lord, I can't wait to get that new body. I can't wait for Him to take all the former things and make them new.

But for now, this is the shell for which I care. And though I may be disappointed in it, what do I gain through my anger and hatred? What will I change by cutting down the image in the mirror? What will I accomplish through my disdain other than more pain? And though this shell isn't mine forever, I know I need to care for her.

I pray for strong arms, to carry others when they are weak. I pray for kind lips that know when to speak. I pray for open hands, to give and to receive. I pray for beautiful feet that bring good news and follow willingly after the Lord. I pray for clear eyes, to see not merely earthly vessels, but the souls they contain. I pray for open ears that know how to distinguish the voice of my Lord from the voices of the world.

I pray that I know how to use this vessel for all that God has ordained. It's not mine, anyway.
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