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.