Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wave After Wave

Last spring, I went to Hawaii for spring break with my brother and a friend. We had made plans to hang out with another couple of friends there and we got picked up at the airport ready for adventure.

The same day we flew in, we went to a beach. It was close to sunset and the waves were pretty choppy but I was just so excited to be on a beach and starting this epic vacation that I didn’t let it bother me. I ran into the waves and enjoyed the warmish water, twirling around, and feeling like a mermaid. After a little while of floating around, I noticed the waves pulling me further into the ocean were getting stronger and because of my fear of deep water, I got spooked enough to start making my way out. The waves were so strong they kept pulling me back as I tried to make my way to shore. All of the sudden, with water still up to my waist, I noticed a big wave heading toward me. Instinctively, I rose up my arms and got slammed to the hard, sandy floor. I managed to crawl onto the warm, dry sand with scraped knees and a wounded ego. My brother had seen it all happen and laughed as I walked towards him. “What were you trying to do, raising your arms?” he asked sarcastically, “Stop the wave?”

I laughed with him, agreeing that I had been foolish.

A couple of months ago, I had a dream. (I know, pretty soon these blog posts will be dream journal entries.) I was on a beach with my mother, grandmother, and brother. We were sitting on a sandy hill and the waves were crashing below us. It was sunny and there were other people lying out also. All of the sudden, the waves started receding and a huge wave started to form. It grew bigger and bigger in just a matter of seconds. My family got up and we started to run away from the water, all the other people running, too. Quickly it became chaos. Yet the sun kept shining bright. As I am running behind my family, I think we’re not going to make it. Suddenly, I’m caught up in the wave and I’m up so high, the people look like toys. All I can think is, this is going to hurt when I land. Then I wake up.

So why would I share this dream? There is a connection. Bear with me as I share another seemingly random piece of information.

My junior year in college, I struggled with feelings of restlessness and questions of my purpose in life. I came across the song “Something Beautiful” by Needtobreathe. I played this song over and over as I sat at my desk in the Campus Ministries office. Let me share some of the lyrics with you:
In your ocean, I'm ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin' on my feet
It's like I know where I need to be
But I can't figure out, yeah I can't figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There's only one way to figure out
Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees, I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

And the water is risin' quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can't be sure when it will subside
So I won't leave your side, no I can't leave your side

I came to Holbrook the next school year as a task force worker with these memorized lyrics playing in my head. I decided I would surrender. Even though a part of me was just as scared of God as I am of deep water, my desire to be a woman after His own heart was pulling me toward the great abyss. And I let go for a while. I dove deep into each crashing wave God sent my way. Sometimes the wave was a girl sharing about her past traumas. Sometimes it was fighting an evil presence. Sometimes it was battling with my own self-worth and self-doubt. I would dive into it, trusting that God would bring me up for air when I needed a break.

Recently, I have not been so faithful. Just like on that Hawaiian beach, I toss up my arms trying to defend myself against the incoming waves. I have relied more on self than God and then I wonder why I have scraped knees and a wounded ego. I wonder why I am so exhausted and overwhelmed. I have forgotten how to dive into the wave – into faith that my God is enough for me.

In Matthew 14:22-33, we find the story of Peter walking on water. I feel like a Peter. I asked God to call me out into the waves and for a while I was walking on water. But I lost sight of Jesus and I started to sink.

I started to fear the water again. Not realizing that the water is His love for me. God loves me so immensely, His love is often overpowering and jaw-dropping. His passionate pursuit of my heart is intimidating and I often react by shrinking back in doubt and fear. Surely, He could not love me this much? And I have fought His love in my life. I have told myself He is not enough for me, I must find another way. I put up my arms against the waves.

Yet, just like the ocean, the waves keep coming. His love never ends and He is persistent. He will keep pursuing until I dive in again and find healing for the deepest caverns of my heart. He will keep sending the waves until I, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, walk on water again.

Thank you Jesus, for Your persistence. Thank you for Your faithfulness. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Uprooted - A Declaration of Faith

Last year I had a dream. In my dream I was going getting rid of a dead, hollow tree. This tree was in a big pot and I wanted to plant something new and living in it. As I go to pull up the tree, I see this black snake tangled up in the roots. It burrows further into the soil and I drop the tree, too scared to do anything with it. I woke up filled with a sense of dread. I knew there was a message in there for me but I didn’t know what it was. It isn’t until recently that I am starting to wonder if God was sending me a warning of things to come.
To say this year has been rough is an understatement. It felt like a battle every day and I would win some but mostly I lost. My mind was at constant war with itself and my spirit was heavy. I had these strong urges to cease to exist and I wondered at the meaning of life. I wanted to break free of this body – to escape from the constant noise, fear, and anxiety. Despair seemed to be a constant presence.
Throughout it all God was present. He has been patient. He has held me and sent people or messages or thoughts to let me know that this is not the end. Several times I cried out to Him, begging Him to take this pain away from me. It was too much. My strength was not enough. Every time the answer was the same. “No, I’m not going to take it away. But I’m with you. We’re going to go through it together.”
I considered leaving and moving to some far place and running away from all of this – temporarily silencing the pain and fears. I doubted I could handle more of the same but my promise to God kept me in place. I had vowed I would not make any major decisions without knowing His will. I kept begging Him to give me a sign. For a while there was silence. Then, I heard a sermon about Naaman. I wept at the front of the church because I felt the convictions hitting my heart like a knife. God wanted me to stay in this mess – my mess. He wanted me to remain in this low place. He wanted me to trust Him. Though I sometimes wondered if I could even hold on. I felt so broken, my next step might not hold me and I’d collapse. But I also knew, even in that darkness, that without God I had no hope at all. So I surrendered in a spirit of resignation.
I was not happy nor did I feel much peace. But I realized something. This belief that God was sovereign, it was unchanging. Even in my despair and hopelessness, in my moments of panic and self-pity, I knew that God was with me and He was fighting for me. I clung to that. There were no emotions tied to it. There was no peace with it. But it was my truth. It kept me from sinking completely to the bottom. Call it stubbornness or strong will but I know this belief has been etched into even the deepest corners of my heart so that even in the darkest times of my life, it is present. That alone fills me with hope. God and His strength, His love, are still present in my hardest struggles.
Once I had made up my mind to stay and not run away, things began to grow a little clearer. The colors, once dull, started to look vibrant again. Where it was once so hard to even think a complete sentence, I could reflect on my relationship with God and my identity. That’s when the next wave hit.
I had a moment of quietness and though I was too anxious to be completely at peace, I felt a rest from the constant mental battle. Then, I started to try and think about who I was and what I wanted from life. I realized two different core beliefs about myself that have been very destructive. But I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know what to do about any of it. And I felt substance-less. Like a ghost, a void. Simply going through the motions, feeling the words and emotions just flow through me, nothing sticking.
I had no firm footing on anything. “One day at a time” became my motto. I couldn’t handle any more. I felt like I was floating above and kept trying to touch down on the surface – these brief contacts with present reality. I wondered if one day I’d float too far and not be able to touch the surface at all. I felt separated from God but not disconnected from Him. I started to slowly realize that my identity had been rooted in so many things other than God and His word. My core beliefs had been the main forces driving my personality and my choices. Shame and fear were my main motivators. It was as if I believed God’s promises but they never went as deep as my shame.
I was shocked when I realized this. I mean, I’m a Christian! I have been all of my life! How is it that my identity isn’t rooted in Jesus? And then I remembered my dream. I have been trying to revive my spirit, start anew. I have been trying so hard to draw closer to God but I have failed countless times. At one point I felt ready to give up, simply going to accept the fact that I was just a bad person and had no hope of getting farther than I was. I envisioned that black snake. Coiled at the roots of my tree. Poisonous and relentless, burrowing itself deeper to not be seen. And the fear I had of it. So intense a fear, I ran away. I couldn’t finish the work.
I have asked God to draw me closer to Him. To change my heart so I can love Him better and love those around me better. I didn’t realize what this would require. He needed to uproot me from these core beliefs. He needed to destroy my concept of self in order to replant me into His soil, His truth.
Through it all, He has been working, honoring my prayer. He has been fighting the demons that have dug so deep into my mind and heart. And He will be victorious. Jesus said He came to set the captives free and relieve the oppressed. He’s relieving my oppression. He’s going to give me something new.
As I write this, I cannot pretend that all is well and everything has come full circle. It has not. I am a far cry away from where I need to be. There are days where I still feel like a vapor. Days where I lose my direction and take my sights off of God. But there is this relief-filled promise: even though I’m faithless, God remains faithful. His faithfulness is new every morning. He never runs out. He will continue to fight for me and continue to work in me. I am not lost. I am not without identity or form. He has come for me and He will fit my broken pieces back together into a beautiful mosaic. He has caused discord into my normal, but unsatisfying, destructive life and with it, He has brought clarity. He has uprooted me but He will re-plant me. I was once a hollow, dead tree. He will make me into a tall, unmoving aspen.

This year is ending and as hard as it was, I am grateful. This next year is blank – who knows what’s going to happen. But where once I walked timidly and full of apprehension, I now walk boldly. God is with me. And if God is for me, what can stand against me? 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pancake Breakfast, An Offering

Worship is often explained as an offering. We are called to worship, regardless of our circumstance. Just flipping through Bible stories in my head, I can come up with a list of people who worshiped despite moments of pain, loss, and confusion. King David worshiped when his son died, after begging God to spare his life. Job worshiped when he lost everything that mattered to him. Abraham worshiped as he was about to sacrifice his son. Paul worshiped while imprisoned. The list can go on. It's an intimidating list. 

Recently, my best friend shared the important role of worship in the growth of faith – how essential worship is to rise up from the darkest pit. Sometimes worship means waiting on the Lord in silent surrender, riding each wave of pain and fear, clinging to the belief that Jesus will bring deliverance. 

I often wonder how some people can worship even when it feels as though going against oneself. How is it possible to surrender and chose to believe in God's promises when the darkness rolls over my head, drowning out any sense of direction and hope? How to praise God for a flower on the side of the road when I feel as though He is not answering my prayers clearly? 

This year has been a terrifying and exhausting emotional journey for me. I have often felt as though God is placing me under His refiner's fire. There have been many moments where I wonder if the ending of the story is worth the constant fighting, striving, and struggling. There have been many moments where I have wanted to lay down and never wake up.

I have good days. I have moments where I can see the hand of God working and it is beautiful. I have moments where I feel the overwhelming love from family and friends. I have been moved to tears by the amount of giving from both God and the people closest to me. I have conversations with my best friend and my courage is restored – giving me enough strength to face the battle of the day. I have days where I see a glimpse of the fruit of my labor through the praise of a coworker or an expression of gratitude from a student.

But I also have bad days. Days when it takes all I have to get up from bed. Days I spend crying – hoping no one will notice my brokenness. Days I feel so desperate, I want to get into my car and just drive away from it all – never coming back. Days, like this morning, when I wake up with my heart breaking. Such a mixture of self-hatred, feelings of failure, isolation, hopelessness, and despair, my whole body shakes as I try to sob out my pain. The desire to rip off my skin and emerge from this body of death is so real, I grip my pillow until my knuckles feel sore. And I cry. I cry, begging God to hold me and to take this pain away. I cry until I have nothing left. Laying there, as though leaning on God’s chest, being rocked back and forth. Then, taking several deep breaths, I rise up to go through the day. Some days, I feel washed clean and free to enjoy the day. Other days, I push myself to go through the motions, hoping, praying, it will get easier.

This morning, I got up and made breakfast for some girls who slept over. In between flipping pancakes, I looked outside of my kitchen window and noticed the sunlight shining in. Listening to worship songs, I thought about the Biblical call to worship even in the midst of pain and confusion. The concept of "waiting on the Lord" passed through my mind. I could feel my shoulders droop in deep exhaustion just thinking about the emotional energy it would take to lift up my head and choose to rise above my sadness - to wait, patiently and trustingly; clinging to God's promises of restoration and an abundant life. 

As I watched the sun stream in through my window, I experienced a quiet realization: Maybe waiting on the Lord is as simple as getting up from my bed, wiping the tears from my face and making pancakes. Each pancake an offering – even the slightly burnt and lumpy ones. Maybe these small, barely noticeable offerings are accepted along the great ones just like the widow's pennies next to the bulging bag of coins. Maybe God honors these small acts of effort as worship, holding His hand out and saving these moments in His book. 

I believe He sees and He acknowledges. So I will continue to seek opportunities of worship, big or small. I will continue to push through the heaviness and the confusion, clinging to my Jesus believing that He will bring in the new dawn of restoration soon. While I wait for Him, I will worship. One pancake breakfast at a time. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Girls Retreat... or desperately trying to plant words of life & wisdom

We had our Girls Retreat this weekend and it was definitely a first. There are so many things I know I will have to do differently or earlier but I'm so glad we went for it! The boys had their camp out this weekend so we had the campus to ourselves. As we looked over the calendar before school started, Heidi and I realized this weekend would be perfect for a girls retreat! (I had become inspired by this book I ordered from Amazon: Girls Ministry 101.) So, we set the date and started planning, in sporadic moments when we would switch the phone or just whenever we'd get a chance to talk about it. Point being, if it were'nt for God helping put the frantically placed pieces together, this weekend would have been a disaster! Most of the girls stayed (we had 19) and it seemed they enjoyed it! We started on Friday night for an Agape Feast out in the commons area next to the gazebo. I really wanted to string up lights to make it look enchanted and all was well until I realized that I couldn't plug the lights into the power strip because both sides were flat... Jared, the maintenance man actually came over and we were able to figure it out but I was pretty stressed for about 20 minutes!

Heidi made all the food for the entire weekend and it was all so very delicious! On Friday night, we had an agape feast so there was lentil and potato soup, fruit trays, home made bread, cheese spread, and juice. Heidi then gave a worship thought, reading the geneology of Jesus in the beginning of Matthew and mentioning the women. She talked about how the only way we will truly be remembered for our good characteristics is if we have God in our lives. Afterward, we spent like half an hour just singing songs out there. I asked one of the girls to take photos and I think she did an amazing job, don't you? (My photos have a tendency to come out blurry and off-center, so I was glad to give the job of photographer to someone else!)

On Sabbath morning, I woke up early to set up the Rec Room for Breakfast. I had looked at some ideas I had collected from Pinterest (LOVE that website) and drew a tentative layout, then I went shopping in Show Low and Snowflake for the materials I would need. With  a $50 budget, I feel like we did the best we could (but I will continue to scower through websites to see other ingenious ways to stretch the dollar when it comes to decorating and event planning). The little girls were especially excited!

After a late-ish breakfast, we had Sabbath School. I talked about God's love for us and how we need to understand His love (how it satisfies our EVERY need) before we start looking for a relationship with any guy. Friday night, after vespers, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I think God was merciful (because I should have prepared this a long time ago) and gave me this topic of His love for us. We went through some scripture and I showed several songs about God's love (How He Loves Us, Beloved by Tenth Avenue North, and Like an Avalanche by Hillsong were a few I played).

Then, Jovannah delivered our sermon. She talked about life on the reservation for her and all that she had to overcome in order to be at the point she is today. I thought it was very creative how she wove this idea together. She used the topic of cards. In a card game, if you are given a bad hand you try to switch out your cards. She made her own stack of cards with situations written on them like: alcoholic parents, parents without a job, being raped or sexually abused, not having enough food to eat, etc. Then she said with God's help, we can make the most of the cards dealt to us. Even though we cannot choose the situation we were born into, we can choose where we will end up. Throughout the message she shared some personal testimonies, which I thought were so powerful because, as a Native American woman, she can connect so much better with these girls!

After church, we headed over to the cafeteria for lunch (Heidi needed a well-deserved break!) and had some down time before our workshops. Leanne and Mrs. Gungle were willing to talk to the girls for about an hour from 3-4pm. Leanne talked about finding a good guy and Mrs. Gungle talked about child abuse. During this time, I had my youngest girl watch a Veggie Tales at my apartment while I whipped up the facials for that night! At about 4:30, we went on a walk to the gulley behind the girls dorm and I made some reflection envelopes. Inside, I had put a piece of paper with several pieces of Scripture (all were passages of encouragement and about God's love for us) and a piece of journal paper. I told the girls to find a place in the gulley to spend some time alone with God. (I really wish I had brought my camera because it was such a beautiful picture seeing all the girls sitting in nooks and crannies or laid out on boulders.) Then we had supper!

Once the sun set, we had facials and foot soaks! The girls really had a great time with that! Then Jovannah (who is IMMENSELY  talented) painted the girls' nails. After getting pampered up, we watched the first two Anne of Green Gables movies. The girls loved it and became fans of Gilbert!

This morning, we had brunch and that ended our Girls Retreat. It is my hope that we continue to do this every year and that it gets better every time we do it! (I would like to bring in a team from a university or college to come and do our program, eventually!)

I know there was a huge time gap between this post and the previous, but that goes to show you how busy dorm life is! I love my job and I feel so honored to be here. Please continue to pray that God may keep piling on the blessings for this dorm, these students, and this school!