Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding Purpose in the Blur and the Stillness

I sit here late into the night (or more appropriately, early in the morning) just pondering life and what it will be like over the next few months. I am an odd person in general when it comes to life. The more things I have going on and the more stressful and aggravating deadlines I have coming up, the more efficiently projects and goals get accomplished. In fact, the busier I am, the more I get done. However, when I hit dead times in my life when my schedule is fairly flexible and is not run in a military and uncompromisable fashion, I actually get less done and want to do nothing. I get bored; I get slack; I get lazy. I deal with life the best when the next week's schedule is anything but predictable and when the schedule is filled with so many things that getting them done seems impossible. I thrive in an insane and impossible lifestyle. Without that insanity and commitment to things that are coming up impossibly fast, I get bored and slack off; I give up really pursuing those goals because I lose focus and purpose.

And what am I doing as I am thinking about this subject? Sitting here. How ironically appropriate to the coaching that I am about to give here. See, I have begun to realize that life is not a game where the events and problems come to your doorstep. Most of the time, we have to go find them. Yet, we spend so much of our lives pining away over what we could do and what opportunities there are out there and waiting for them to approach us before we can approach them. It is interesting how a lack of courage, commitment, desire, truth, heart, and spirit is displayed in such complacent actions within our lives. I will be honest: there is probably not a whole lot I can do outside of what is around me at the moment. However, I can definitely take that step of faith and action and make the most of what I have got right in front of me. That strict schedule that I have put off making for the past so many weeks (okay. . . maybe months or years is a better term) could actually be made and adhered to. Maybe those books on the shelf that I have been 'planning' to read for the last so many weeks will actually get read. Maybe the regular cleaning or exercise program I have been wanting to implicate will actually become reality this time. That is a lot of maybes.

The truth of the matter is that I am never really bored or lacking items to do; I am only lacking interest in what I could do. I spend my life wishing that things would happen and events would take place that would simply spark my interest in life. I sit back so many times and just look at life and ask myself, "What are we fighting for?" I look for purpose, need, response, impact, and eternal meaning in just about everything I do. I will literally slack off on tasks that I deem to be pointless or meaningless. I do not slack off on them because they do not have to be done; most of the time, they actually do have to be done. But, I lose sight of that purpose; I lose sight of what I am fighting for. And as I type this out, I just shake my head at my reoccurring need to always try and find that purpose when the purpose is right before my eyes. I became a Christian because I was looking for something that would keep my interest and something the would fulfill my desire for a purpose in this life. And I found so much more than that in the Lord; I found a love that replaces the need for anything and everything.

But, I forget, as I am sure we all do. I get so caught up in the lesser things of life that I lose my passion and my deep desire to continually fight. I get worn out deep down at heart, fighting against the feeling of inadequacy and pointlessness. And what do I do? I keep fighting, by myself. Instances like these just remind me of how much of a fool I can be at times, of how much I could lose at any moment as soon as my whole life fails to be based upon Him. One of my favorite song that just hits home every time I hear it is More Like Falling in Love by Jason Gray. The entire song speaks volumes of who I really am at heart. I will break rules; I will fight wholesome words; I will cross lines. I need something much more than a religion to satisfy my heart. I need something that is overflowing and something that I can give my whole heart to. I need a relationship the just destroys all needs for rules and boundaries. And so do you.

There is something so amazingly comforting, awe-inspiring, and joyous about Him being the solution to all my desires. Everything I do on this earth stems from the completely fulfilling relationship that I have with my Father. Though my heart is completely and utterly stubborn by nature, He is slowly but surely teaching it lessons through the everyday things of life. I do not need to be super busy or running around like an insane person to get things done and accomplish much in this life. Is it Biblical to work as much as we can with whatever we have for His glory? Absolutely! But, that does not mean that I am to go after life with an attitude of always overloading myself for the sake of having little free time. I will get tired and worn out and I will lose focus. I know that and He knows that. And no matter how often I look at my life and say there is nothing to do, I am wrong. There is always something to do, something to be done, and something to accomplish for His kingdom. I need to let Him be my balancing point. Only through honestly seeking to include Him in every daily decision can I ever find the balance point between busy and lazy. Laziness is not the lack of something to do; it is the lack of desire and effort to actually accomplish something that could be done.

Life is not about going after those things that interest you. Life is about going after anything that needs to be done so that it can be done in His name and His glory. The goal is to be able to lay down at night and say, "Lord, You have accomplished much through me today. While I feel like my free time was almost non-existent, I know that my definition of free time is not Your's. I thank You for all You privileged me with doing in Your name." We have six days of work and one day of rest. Let us not spend our days of work in rest simply because we are too lazy or too busy to actually complete and work on things.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Intertwining of Lives

One of my dearest sisters in Christ recently returned from her missions trip to Africa. I cannot describe how joyful my heart was to have her back and to hear her voice again, but as I read her blog, I could not help but feel my heart just leap in my chest. She described the beauties of the African community and the people. And while I was most definitely blessed to have her back in the U.S., I was also absolutely floored as I thought of the amazing journey the Lord had taken her on; that same amazing journey put a joy in her voice and an undeniable bounce in her step as she returned to her life in the United States. I could say that during those two months I would have loved to have her talking with me multiple times a week or texting me every day, but in truth, I would have loved more to just take the journey with her.

See, those two months of praying daily for her and praying that the Lord would touch and move her heart did not just result in His providence for her safe return home, but it also deeply touched my heart. As I prayed for her, I would imagine and simply contemplate on what she was doing or what she was learning during her time over there, whether she was in boot camp or in Africa the day. It took me literally weeks to finally let the realization hit me that though we could physically not be in contact with each other, we were in contact with each other spiritually every day. And I am sure our Father was rejoicing with us as we walked our different paths those two months together. We believed our thoughts brought memories of each other in the small, every day things, but truly, it was simply the Lord reminding us that He was directing both of our paths with a beautiful and mysterious deliberation. Her journey taught me though my prayer for her while her journey was teaching her through physically taking part in it. Is not our God just absolutely breath-taking? He showers blessings on us so freely when we deserve none of them.

It is with this story that I realized how much each and every child of God is no more than a piece of a large and very intricate puzzle. So many people think that their life is the only life that matters and that they need to live it out to the best of their ability for themselves. Oh, how those people are missing out on the magnificence of life! My life is not worth living if I do not hand over pieces of it to others, if I do not devote time to praying and pondering the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Each person has their own journey to take, yes, but that is not the only journey we are taking. Each prayer said for another, each hand reached out in compassion and love to another, each leaping of the heart for those hungry souls out there, each gathering of His children together holds an amazing amount of power because we learn just as much from their lives, sufferings, joys, mistakes, and successes as we do our own. It is such a privilege, an unspeakably glorious gift, to be a witness to God's hands working in our neighbors, our best friends, and our strangers lives.

In the same way, our lives can teach others lessons. We do not walk our journeys alone; we walk it collectively with every other follower of Christ. We are running for the same prize, ready to be taken to the same home, serving the same Father, being shaped and molded by the same Lord, and being covered in white by the same Savior! Not a single moment of our lives is worth wasting, is worth sitting with our hands in our laps, is worth watching the clock tick away. Our lives impact others more than we can ever imagine. One loving look and word of comfort to a stranger crying at a grave can mean more than a thousand hours of their stumbling through the next few days of grief and learning to live life all over again. Why do we waste our time? Why do we waste our words? Why do we flounder in life when we already know the end?

However, I must caution that we not equate serving the world with all of our hearts with never allowing ourselves time to rest and let His Spirit move our thoughts and longings. We need refreshment, not just every week, but every day. We are weak; we are human. While we must understand the impact that the body of Christ can have on this world, we must also realize our dependence on each other and the Lord's timing. We must not become so caught up in making an impact that our hearts harden to His gentle nudges to rest or to sit quietly and simply listen. Using our time wisely is not being always busy. Using our time wisely is purposely grasping and utilizing every second for His glory, whether that be sitting in a chair and resting for a few minutes or actively studying material for school or getting our hands dirty building houses for those that have none. The question is not so much of time as it is how much we are willing to give up our entire lives in pursuit of His Spirit, His truth, and His guiding.

See, the moral of the story is not that we need to work to be better time managers (though we all can). It is the simple fact that we must be willing to constantly soften our hearts and let our eyes become perceptive of all that surrounds us. It is not about living our lives to the fullest (though that we must and can only do by pursuing Him); it is about being able to let others leave footprints on our hearts. It is about letting every single person and every single person's journey teach us something and to leave an imprint on our lives and hearts forever. The Lord does not only use our personal situations to affect the manner in which we live; He also uses our prayers to others, our aid to others, and our wondering thoughts about others. The Lord used my dearest sister's journey to Africa to touch and move my heart with love for all that surround me, for appreciation for the smallest blessings, and to reveal to me how much further I have to go in letting Him soften my heart. The Lord used my prayers for her to move both of us. What God would do that? What God would find so much joy in moving His children to realize the interweaving of our lives? My God would. The Lord of Heaven and Earth would. The Father of every single human being on this Earth would.

So next time we step outside our door, let us use every second for soaking in all He provides for us to observe and learn from. When an opportunity to aid another presents itself, let us not be hesitant to take it. When we sit down to pray about our dear friends or fellow brothers and sisters or His lost children, let their lives and their plights touch your hearts. You never know; He may change your entire life in one, simple moment.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Morning of Surrender

I sat down in my antique rocking chair ever so slowly. My breathing deepened as I sought the words that my heart wanted to speak to Him that still, dark morning. I was rarely up that early, but I had something on my mind; sleep was just not a possibility. I quietly whispered to Him, "I know you got me up early for a reason, but Lord, I am so tired. I can barely keep my eyes open. So, if I fall asleep on you, know that I still love you." I could almost picture Him smiling down at that statement. If those were the words that came out of my heart in its more revealing stage (the exhausted stage), He definitely had a purpose for that morning.

I did not really have a game plan; I had just woken up from a fretful night of tossing and turning after all. I just basically sat there, in my quiet place, letting thoughts flow through my mind. Numerous and overwhelming instances of failed friendships and of relationships with people of my past just started to burden me. My brow wrinkled, "Lord, I have given up those relationships and are at peace with them. I do not understand why you would wake me up to keep listening to those. It was bad enough that I was dreaming about them." Again, I could see a small smile forming on the corners of His mouth. I felt like shaking my head, but instead I just settled deeper into the chair, pulling the corners of my rather large blanket tighter around me. My heart was groaning and complaining that this was going to be a rough morning.

The puzzle pieces of broken trust, broken commitments, broken words, broken actions, and broken promises just started to fall into place. I was seeing a picture I had avoided seeing for a long time. My heart jolted as my thoughts touched upon each instance where something had been taken from me, where I had let myself be vulnerable in some way. But then, the outside puzzle pieces started surrounding the inside ones. These were different. They were locks, chains, walls, doors, and cells. They were trapping the hurt inside a shell, the shell of a hardening heart. I watched carefully as gentle, giant hands began to take the outside pieces away again. But, the pieces were frantically being put back in place by smaller hands. The larger hands moved to cover the smaller ones, continuing to take the pieces apart and keeping them away. The puzzle, the outside shell, was unraveling.

Honestly, I was seeing my heart that morning. I will admit; I have endured a lot of betrayals in my life, too many to count. I have seen people turn around to be snakes right before my eyes. I have seen people abandon me for the next best friend in line. I have seen the slow backing off of those that just did not care anymore. Each time, I took the hurt like a brick. I disregarded it, figured it was all my fault, and then moved on. After all, who could cause the hurt in these relationships but myself? So, I started to become anything but personal with friendships. I would know loads of information about my friends, but they would know little about me. Deep conversations were never allowed to take place. I had been through the same cycle so many times, endured so many scars, that I was not going back.

And this morning, I was reminded of that because the same cycle was occurring yet again in my life. At that moment, I could not withstand the tears. I had thought I could escape the hurt by trusting in Him and guarding my friendships so close that only certain people would be trusted. I had trusted the wrong people again. To be honest, this one was worse than before. I felt trapped. When I tried to pull away, my heart pulled me back. A bitter root and a sober spirit arose in my heart, threatening all I knew and cared about. My joy in life was mysteriously becoming more and more clouded. I had a choice that morning. I could either drown in the fog or I could climb out of it. I could either continue to fight and close up or I could keep my heart bare to Him and seek to truly forgive and let go.

I took the path I had never had the strength to take before. I chose to forgive. I chose to painstakingly remember all I could and write it down and let it go. It was in His hands. Though I knew I had to get out of the friendship, I also knew that I had to continue to love and to wipe the slate clean. And that I did. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but it was a step in life that I needed to take. It meant sacrificing a bit of who I was for another person. It meant looking at the good and loving the good. It meant learning to trust and lean into Him.

Though I was originally afraid of going through the memories, I learned that the Lord was showing me where I had come from. See, I was not strong; I was weak. I was not courageous; I was afraid. I was not bold; I was reclusive. I was not honest; I was deceiving. I was not whole; I was broken. On that morning, the Lord said, "My child, I know you are weak, afraid, withdrawn, dodging, and shattered down in that place, but I need you to go there. I need you to go there because I can fix it. I am answering your prayer that I come in to your heart and heal it and make it new. I am healing it; I am healing the hurt."

While the friendship may not exist or be salvageable any longer, I know that He is there and will be there always. I know that He is just waiting for the moment when I openly and humbly admit that I need Him. I know that there is a healthy way to guard my heart and there is an unhealthy way. I know that there is a chained life and a free life. And the only way I can ever be truly free is when I let Him direct my heart and when I let Him determine how much of my heart must remain guarded and when I let Him be the healer He always wants to be.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Drawn to the Mysterious

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a wagon ride (yes, a real wagon pulled by horses) through the deepest valley in Wisconsin. Sure, I will admit, it was not very deep at all compared to the other valleys I could have traveled through. But, the depth of the valley was not what got me. The walls, made of sandstone, had been carved away by the melting glacier waters many a year ago. One particular place along that valley held the meetings of Native American tribes many years ago. Over eighty years ago, the first people to actually tour the valley walked on foot though the stone encased area, carving their own names somewhere along their journey to signify they had been there. I wanted so much to reach out and touch the walls that surrounded me, to lay my hands on the walls that many hands had touched in the past. Part of me did not even want to be in the wagon; I wanted to walk in the footsteps of those before me. If I listened closely, I could hear the whispers of generations past still echoing off the walls and grasping for the next people that we bound to walk through there.

The feeling is everywhere for me, whether I am walking through antique shops, museums, ghost towns, old buildings, historical documents, history channel recount expositions, the field that belonged to my relatives that are now in Heaven, the trees of a forest that are old and moaning, the mountains that hold mysterious cabins and homes that are not always occupied, the old and abandoned lighthouses; the list goes on and on. Every time I go into one of those ancient places or hear the history of something similar, I want to linger in the moment; I want to let my mind wonder and explore all the possibilities of who and what those people were. What were their thoughts when they walked through this place or experienced this event?

In a world that is always striving to accomplish and develop the new and the better, in a society that is always pushing to know every answer and every piece of logic, I just want to go find a mystery; I want to find something that is not answered according to the book, that cannot be fully known for anyone during their time here on this earth. I want a mystery; I want something I can puzzle over and imagine; I want something that I know the truth about, but can still discover something new every second I think on it. I want something that does not have a logical and planned out answer, something that does not work the same for everyone. I want something special, divine, mysterious, inviting, enticing, captivating, solid, real, and as ancient as time itself.

And guess what? I have that. I have had that. I will have that. And He is right in front of me. He is the Lord. Now, some of you may say that God is not a museum or an ancient house or an antique. You are right; by definition He is not. But, He is a mystery. He cannot be fully explained in a single setting nor in a life time. He is not a by-the-book type of God; He loves to work in everyone's hearts in different ways and at different times. See, God is not science; He is not a logical being that was created at some point in this life. His origins are a mystery. His purpose in every little detail in life is a mystery. His ability to know all of our thoughts and every detail on this planet and in the universe is a mystery. He, the Lord Himself, is one large and never-ending puzzle defining truth itself. That is what I search for and desire. That, I believe, is what every human being searches for and desires.

We all have a heart for the mysterious. Sure, we put all of this effort into finding out the answers to everything around us, but the truth be told, we are not looking for the answers so much as we are looking for experiencing and uncovering a mystery. People are out there looking for the answers to a deep longing, a longing that they cannot satisfy. They are looking for solutions, but pretty soon, those solutions represent nothing but loss to those people. They get their solutions, but they keep searching. And then they feel that they have come up empty and dry because they have not found the solution they were searching for. In reality, they were not looking for a solution or an answer. They were looking for something bigger, deeper, fulfilling, and mysterious; something were all the nuts and bolts could not be seen right away.

A recent survey said the most people in today's generation prefer older church styles, buildings, and services. A rise in the interest for national monuments, historical museums and tours have also been uncovered in the modern generation. There are people out there searching for a mystery and for an history that cannot be fully explained. And folks, we have that mystery. As soon as we, as Christians, tap into the Lord and the Spirit, we become mysterious to the world. Our actions cannot be predicted by the world's standards. Our devotion to something not of this world cannot be explained fully. Our passion for people and for the Spiritual continues to grow. Yet, with all of this mystery, we advocate and cling to one truth. If there are people out there searching for something set apart from the world and something so mysterious that it just cannot be fully explained, then why are we, as Christians, trying to become of the world? Why are we seeking to make ourselves no different from the rest of those around us? Why do we put so much effort into trying to explain to those that complain about us that we are just like them?

Folks, we are not like them. We are different. We do not have to do as the world does and hang out with the people of the world in their ways. See, Jesus had a unique way of touching people. He was set apart from the world in every way. He conducted Himself completely different, yet did not shy away from talking and working with those around Him. The mystery of Who He was drew people to Him. The differences, the unexplainable differences, in His manners were like a magnet. Though mystery was only one aspect of Christ that acted like a magnet, it was a powerful aspect indeed, one that we should naturally hone the closer we become to Christ.

So, the next time our hearts long to go out and watch some movie we do not agree with in order to prove we are just like our friends, let us instead stand firm on our difference from the world. Next time a friend comes up and tells us that we are too withdrawn from the world because of our music choice or our decision to not laugh at crude jokes, rejoice in our difference from the world. Always remember and live upon the distinction between being in the world and being of the world; always be on the lookout for the subtleties in our thoughts that lead us to become more of the world rather than simply in it. Dare to live radically and boldly and let the mysterious surround your entire life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For the Young Ladies

. . . With dazzling smiles and heart-felt wishes from family members, the newly wed couple parted from the gathering into the vehicle that would carry them away into the setting sun.

Does that not seem like a beautifully happy ending to what was hinted to be the commitment between a man and a woman to serve and care for each other in every way possible to the end of their days? It probably is to those who dream about weddings and dream about marriage. Interestingly enough, just a few months ago I would have shaken my head at such a sentence and called it absurd and a waste of words. Oh, how much the Lord has changed my heart in that area. But, perhaps, it might be best that some form of a story be developed so that all may understand.

Let's start with quite a few years ago. At that time, I was a die-hard feminist to the core. I did all things myself; and if it seemed to be an impossible feat for a woman to conquer, you can bet I was on the battle ground, in the front lines, testing that theory for myself. The young men never took those front lines with me. They preferred to stand in the background and let me do the work for them. I was a strong leader and could lead just about everything. My personality and my opinions, while often left unspoken unless asked, were seldom changed and were as pointed as that tip of a knife. I knew how to word things in just the perfect fashion to create a point that could not be argued by anyone but the few brave souls. My feminist attitude translated into my body language and my goals. While it seems silly now, it definitely was not silly to me then. I was defending myself, guarding myself, and proving myself to be able to fend off anything and everything just as well as a guy. I became the protector of my family and my friends. My emotions were buried to the point of no return. To put it lightly, I was a woman out to defy every and all odds while completely shielding myself from anyone and everyone's knowledge of having existed. And to be honest, it worked for many years and the many secrets still remain stashed somewhere in my being.

About five years ago, I finally became willing to give my life to the Lord. Honestly, it did not change my views very much. I was still the strong protector and feminist. I still clung to the beliefs I had always held sacred. About this time, I entered the realm of high school, public school style. The dating game was in high heat and the girls' biggest dreams floundered in the pond of hoping to meet that special someone. And me? I could care less. My crowd consisted mainly of guys, band geeks and jocks. I got along so much better with that crowd than I ever did the girl cliques. Sure, I met a few girls that were what many called tomboys as well that I managed to stand enough to be around. But, for the most part, I let myself be alone and when company was needed or required, the group of guys to my right became my venue of choice. I was happy being seldom invited to events or being rarely called to join in on something. All I wanted to do was go home anyway because school was anything but joy for me at this time.

However, about a year ago, God decided it was time to show me how real people can be and how much I was missing out on due to my prideful and feminist based attitude. A team of people came into my life that I will always be thankful for. Though I have yet to meet them in person, their words through chats and phone calls began to slowly reveal to me a whole new group of people I had never, not once, been in contact with at any point in my life. It took forever for a trust, a genuine trust, to occur with these people, but it did occur for the first time in about eight years of my life. I learned to count on them and I learned that there may just be other people in the world that do not spend their lives finding the next person to use or back-stab. But, their attitudes did not just open the door to trust that had seemed to have long rusted shut, but they opened my heart to being willing to start listening with an non-choosing type of attitude towards God's still, small voice. See, even with God, there were tons of walls, ideals that were not going to be touched or altered because I deemed them my protective gear for living life. Some may find that rather childish of me, but guess what; I was a child simply learning the ropes of true life, His child. And breaking down those walls was something that He was going to do, should I actually choose to listen to His gentle probing.

Oh, but it all gets better. Trusting Him became a desire for Him. A desire for Him became an un-containable thirst for His knowledge. The thirst for His knowledge became a hunger for His ways. A hunger for His ways finally became the openness and implication of His truth that I had long pushed away. My head knew a lot of knowledge about Christianity and knew the scripture incredibly well, but my heart was starving. I thought I had my relationship with Him on the ground and rolling, but I sure did not; I did not even have the power to accomplish such a feat. This last year and a few months has been a treacherous journey of willingly letting Him turn head knowledge into heart knowledge. This last year has been one of letting Him create living and breathing practices from that heart knowledge. And one of those things He changed was my feminist approach to life and my desire to have absolutely nothing to do with the male species other than shallow conversations that said nothing about who I was.

You see, in the past few months, I have realized something about the feminist movement that few may realize. It is not a movement of women striving for equality with men. It is not a movement of women seeking man's leadership responsibilities. It is a movement of broken-hearted souls striving to find something satisfying in life. It is a movement of women striving to rid of their hearts that are interfering with what they think to be their dream of an absolute solution to abandonment, hurt, worldly expectations, popularity, satisfaction and accomplishment. Truth is. . . that movement is draining, hurtful, prison-like, and a slow, painful death to a woman's heart. Trust me; I would know. There is something unique, precious, and just totally freeing about living out God's intentions for women. Sure, this world demands more of women today than it has in the past. Yes, there are more opportunities for women than there were in the past. Correct, women are treated with more equality and held to a higher set of expectations by the world than they have been in the past. But, I am here to ask you: What demands are you succumbing to? What opportunities are you seeking? What equality and expectations are you letting yourself be chained by? Because, God's standards are not prison cells; God's standards are not forcing you to neglect your hearts; God's standards are not making you hunger for more and more of anything you can get your hands on; God's standards are liberty, freedom, and truth.

Some may say that my story stems more from past hurt than from a feminist viewpoint. If that is the argument against my conclusions, then you have just found the root. Feminism is nothing more than covered up scars and pride. A true woman is a delicate creature made to be more open and less able to always hide in shell. Men are there to protect and lead. Woman are special; men are special. Women and men are equal and totally valued by the Lord. When a woman seeks a godly womanhood with a passion, the chains and the limitations no longer exist. True freedom waits around the bend for those who have suffered what I call the abuse of the world's idea of womanhood. Life becomes life and a heart becomes a heart and the eyes truly become windows to the soul, a soul created, formed, shaped, and made vulnerable and beautiful by the Lord himself. Don't let hurt, pride, feminism, or the world chain your heart into a prison where that beauty is lost; don't let anything not of Him harden your heart to the glistening light of His design and purpose. Be the woman and person He has called you to become.