God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

God Isn’t Who You Think He Is.

I never considered myself a theologian.

I mean, those people are like probably really smart and have long beards and write books that end up stocked in the “Religion” section of Barnes N Noble. And I was… well, a white, middle-class, 16 year old girl who donned a cheerleading skirt on the weekends and drove a Jetta to her public high school every weekday.

So I never thought I formed much of an opinion about God. I mean, God is God. Right? He’s just… God. The Untouchable one, the Creator of the world. Being raised a pastor’s kid, I knew every adjective under the sky for the Big Man Upstairs, and I had been raised speaking fluent Christianese. I knew what to wear to church, what to say at church, what to do at church, that I should GO to church.

And it was all good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I have begun to realize that it all created an identity for God in my mind that has nothing to do with God at all.

I believe that one of the biggest influencers of our relationship with God is our relationship with the world. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you, of course. How many times have people been turned off from God because of pain in their life? Losing a loved one? Seeing how people treat each other? We correlate how the world treats us with how God must be treating us because, after all, He controls all things, doesn’t He?

Growing up, the world was one of my best friends. I know that may sound weird, but it worked with me. It held me up, gave me what I thought I needed. I had a clean bill of health, a living and well family, dinner on the table, a prominent position in my social groups, friends… I began to trust that this world would keep it up. I honestly remember thinking that other people suffer, but I never would. Surely if I made it to 18 without anything, I’m good to go, right?

And the theologian in me began to tell God who He was. He was the God that would make all of it happen for me, who would walk me through life without a scratch. He was my “buddy”, my patron saint, the one who would make things good for me in this life.

And oh, how I wish I could tell myself, all those years ago, that God was nothing like I imagined.

Because none of it came true. Life in college did not go by easily, I was not given everything I wanted, I did not come out without a scratch. So many dreams shriveled up and died right in front of me, and I had to learn how to grieve them. So many desires went ridiculously unmet, and I had to learn how to soothe them. The world seemed so against me all of a sudden.

The worst of all were the ghosts. The world didn’t have a lot of leverage on me growing up, but now it did. Memories that wouldn’t go away, lies that I believed for too long, beliefs that would pop up and follow me around. Things people said and did that hurt me more than I thought I could be hurt, and I can forget it when days are good, but once the pain hits they all come haunting back.

And you know what? It made me mad, really mad. Because to some, being hurt by the world is a given, and they learn that early on. The world is a messed up place.

But to me, it seemed a personal betrayal. I had trusted this world, believed that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it did.

The world hurt me… and in my mind God did too.

You see, I never saw myself as a theologian, but I have always been one. My whole life, I have formed opinions about God and decided who He was as regards to who He had been to me. He was good to me, therefore He was good.

But now I know that it doesn’t work that way, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it.

God is good, always. This world is fallen, this world will hurt me, but God is good.

God is love, and His love stretches far beyond giving me everything I want. He loves me enough to take it all away, like a forest fire through the trees, clearing it out in a painful blaze so that something new can grow.

God is just, and I deserve His wrath. Every day, that ridiculous pride I’ve carried around is thrown off a bit more and I begin to see, clearer and clearer, Jesus in front of me, taking that wrath in my place. And I am standing, only in the shadow of His pain.

I have learned that sometimes God leads us through fire so that somewhere down the road some fire-scorched human being can take solace in our experiences. I have learned that He did not call us to ease, but to cross-bearing. To suffering. And our sufferings aren’t even for us all of the time, but they are for other people, tools that make us useful in loving those people.

And that my theologian’s mind may try and define the God who made it all, but even my most off-base definition can’t change Him. He is God, and I am not.

He is to be worshiped, and I am not.

He will never change, no matter how much I do.

And He is love – no matter how much this world hurts me, He never will.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you.

Therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:5-6

 

 

 

 

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.

It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.

I came into the week weary.

So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.

“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.

It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.

That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.

This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.

And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.

I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.

This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.

2017.

The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.

Which will win?

It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?

It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.

Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.

Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.

Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.

This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.

And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.

I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.

But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.

I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?

Who would I be without the pain?

I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?

To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)

I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.

I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.

May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.

May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.

 

 

 

 

 

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us.

Shauna Niequist

I’ve learned how easy it is to hate any moment of darkness, any difficult season in our lives.

When we are walking through the fire, there is an image in the front of our minds of the moment we walk out of the “furnace”, isn’t there? The time when it ends. When we escape the tortious moments we’ve lived. We all have them, I’m sure.

Don’t we?

We imagine ourselves out of the hospital, clear-headed, at peace. We’re skinny and healed, our bones in place, our mind at rest.

Nine months ago, I was home from school, battling what the doctors like to call depression. I like to call it sin nature. Or the effects of a fallen world on my earthly mind. Either way, I was sick. I will never forget those days, no matter how desperately I wish I could sometimes. I will never forget the night I first got home, how I laid sideways on the couch, head on my mother’s knee.

She stroked my hair. Something played on the TV. Dishes clacked in the kitchen. But I was somewhere else, fighting a battle in my brain that I never imagined I ever would.

No one ever told me how distant reason can be in a fighting mind. Or how your eyes can be every bit open but it’s as if they have forgotten how to register light. I tried to wave my hand in front, but the fidgeting of my fingers was lost amongst the midst of my pain.

That’s the way I describe those days. Painful. And terrifying.

I couldn’t hold the tears in that first night home. I had left my friends at school, my notebooks, my sense of purpose, and a waning stream of my dignity.

They streamed past my face.

“I can’t do it, mom.” I whispered. The floodgates of my raging emotions finally let loose as I let myself feel the slow fall of the past months.

She looked at me.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

 

It. This. Life.

Fighting a battle that is beyond myself. I have always been confident and purposeful, long strides and head high. But that night, for the first time in my life, it was more than me. It was swallowing me. It: the doctor’s diagnosis, my present circumstances, the sadness, the singleness, the disappointments, and every small moment of my story that had lead up to that night.

It is a terrible and frightening lesson to learn, the one that we are human. We are fragile. We are weak. And there are days, many days, where we run to the end of our own chain.

 

I learned this week about thin places.

It’s an old Irish tradition. Thin places are the spaces on earth, or the moments in time, where the sacred meets the secular, the holy kisses the ordinary. They’re places where God is close by. Where you can see Him, more than you could before. That something lined up, and two moments met, and something special crashed together in order to allow you to have even the smallest glimpse of the Most Holy.

That month I was home last year? That was a thin place.

I see it now. At the time, all I wanted was out. I hated the diagnosis, hated being called depressed, hated the pain and confusion and darkness. I hated being viewed as less than whole. I hated leaving the doctor’s office with a small orange bottle in my hand.

But every morning, out of the burning desperation in my heart to find light out of anything, I would rake the Bible, demolishing pages at the hand of highlighters and ballpoint pens and tears. My decaf coffee would cool as I could do nothing but cry out to my God. I learned how to cry that month. And there are a million other stories I could tell about that time, a million lessons learned, but today I want to speak of only one.

My thin place.

I found God in those days. The tan sectional in the living room of our Pennsylvania house transformed from my prison to my homecoming. I could be nothing there but myself. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a peer. I wasn’t a resident’s assistant or intern. I was hardly a friend, as I had left them in Ohio.

But I was God’s. And He was mine, in that thin place.

It was the most painful time of my life, that standing in the Holiest of Holies. Being nothing but Forgiven, not a fragment more than Grace.

 

I still find my thin places from time to time.

I couldn’t make it through class today. Sometimes, in the midst of moving forward, out of that season of last year, I am catapulted back to the girl on the couch. Sometimes it is the emotions of others or the minor chords of a song, or the conversation that the professor chooses to dwell on during class.

Sometimes I’m brought back. And I have to move. I have to do something.

And today that meant standing up, out of my squeaky desk chair, and taking a walk. I needed Jesus. I can tell because I get that same feeling I had as I curled up next to my mom.

The ache of sadness, the heaviness of life.

And today it found me crouched down near a wall, phone in hand, Bible app opened, reading aloud amidst the cavernous staircase of the academic building.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Voice echoing off of the cinder block walls, tears coming to the front of my eyes. The unstoppable, undeniable Truth of my precious Savior began to do its work, transforming every part of me and comforting the restless, childish soul that I own.

And I realized. A thin place. There, in my least favorite building on campus. Breathing the same air that desperation blew out only minutes ago.

But that is exactly where God loves to find us, isn’t it? When we’re finally quiet enough to hear Him? Finally blind enough to see Him? It makes me rethink. What is good? And what will be made good, building up into one of the greatest blessings we could ever ask for?

A glimpse of the Most Holy, the Prince of Peace, my Savior and friend. Jesus.

 

 

Lend Me Your Hope

Lend Me Your Hope

I ran across a poem the other day that stopped me in my tracks.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.

I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future times
does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times,
pain-filled days,
and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me,
offer me your presence,
your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain,
it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed
with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.

Do those words resonate in your soul? They do mine.

We live in a broken world, one full of depression and death and blinding suffering. One of the greatest issues I have known and observed that accompanies times of suffering is the question, “Where do I go from here?” In the throws of the storm it seems impossible to function at any level of normalcy, and conversations with those hurting often land somewhere around the tearful wondering:

How?

How can I keep up with the life I once knew?

How do I even pretend to function like I once did?

How do I get out of bed?

How do I go to work, or school, or even church?

How do I live surrounded by people that appear to have it all together when my life is literally falling apart at the seams?

 

And those conversations usually end with a tear-stained face and puffy eyes, emotions overwhelming the sufferer to the point of collapse. Oh, how the wars Satan wages can rock us off of our feet! Whether it was a gradual collapse or an overnight crumbling, many of us at some point in our lives find ourselves weeping and running to the bottom of the rocking ship to wake Jesus and scream “Where have you been? Can’t you see I’m drowning??”

Many of us have, at some point, had a deficit of hope in our hearts. Maybe we know in our minds that light and hope has come into the world, but in the pits of the despair we are currently sinking into we cannot see anything but darkness.

This post is not really about the healing that comes through Jesus Christ, though I need to say that healing exists and is very, very real in His hands. Instead, however, this post is for those of us that need to know how to function today. Suffering is real, and many of us right now are waking up and staring at our bedroom ceiling thinking, “How am I going to get through today?”

The poem starts with “lend me your hope for a while, for I seem to have mislaid mine”. Oh, what an accurate description of what it feels like to be in the throws of a trial! Many of us wake up one day and realize that our hope somehow left without our permission, leaving us desperate for its return. This poem is a cry to those around us, the people in our lives that have perhaps been asking what they can do to help us through this difficult time. In my sufferings, I have grown accustomed to saying:

“Just lend me your hope.”

I don’t know about you, but there are mornings where I rely on the hope of those around me to get me moving. The concept of borrowing hope is, quite honestly, a hopeful one.

But that wasn’t even the line that stopped me in my tracks when I first this poem.

This past month, as I rode out a painful trial, my parents longed to know how to best help me, and my answer surprised me. I’m not an incredibly touchy person, but I realized that what I needed most in the days to come is somebody to hug me and hold my hand and be with me through what was undeniably going to be a torturous season of life.

Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings,
recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing
seems like a long and lonely one.

Hold my hand and hug me. Listen to all of my ramblings. Lend me your hope in the form of your presence, for the road out of suffering can be long and lonely and I need to know that I am not alone.

If you are reading this as someone striving to help a loved one through a trial, remember that what sufferers need most is companionship. They need to know that they are not alone. They don’t need you to solve their problems, they simply need you to hold their hand and let them cry for as many days as it takes. They need you to listen to their ramblings and love them through it all. Tell them that you love them and tell them that you are going to be by their side until the storm has passed.

And if you, dear friend, are the one in the midst of the storm, please please please remember that Jesus is not absent. In fact, he allows storms to happen so that we are able to see Him calm the waves that rock us. If you are suffering, remember that you are in the exact right place for your faith to be transformed. 1 Peter reminds us that “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.”

Genuine faith. That’s your prize after all of this is said and done. Don’t lose heart!

If you are blinded by darkness, know without a shadow of a doubt that the True Light has come into the world and, if you have allowed Him, into even your heart.

For one day, perhaps not too far down the road, you will be able to lend your hope to someone else. “Lend me your hope for a while. A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal, hope and love with others.” What a day that will be!

But today, friend, give yourself grace. Pray. Cry. Sleep. Find beauty. Go for a walk. Cry again. Read and paint and run. Do what fills your heart and balms your soul. And remember: Jesus is the Great Physician and He begins healing you the moment you ask Him to.

But in the meantime, borrow hope. Borrow it from friends, family, and from the Hope of the world Himself. For there is unquenchable Hope in this world, and it is yours for the taking.