A taste of life

It’s been a while. And it’s amazing I’m finding time, even now, to write anything on here. My workload this semester with school has been intense, not to mention the stress of my job and certain personal issues in my life, so I doubt I’ll be contributing much on here over the next few months.

But I thought I’d share something quickly that happened to me the other day. Something that gave me a taste–just a taste–of what the author of this blog post shared in his reasons for leaving the institutional church and instead joining a more organic expression of church. I will preface what I’m going to share first by saying I’m thinking of leaving this thing called the “institutional church” as well. I’m just so sick and tired of the superficiality, the ritual, the deadness, the lack of real community, the social club atmosphere…pretty much most of what the author of the aforementioned blog post said. I’m just so disillusioned right now and consequently no longer regularly attend church services.

However, in an effort to find some sort of spiritual community, I recently started attending a small group unaffiliated with any particular church, and geared toward people seeking emotional and relational healing. I wasn’t too impressed at first, even though the people I met were welcoming and friendly. To be honest, I thought at first it just seemed like a navel-gazing session, where everyone rehashed all their child-hood traumas for the umpteenth time. But, because the people were nice, I decided to go back. Well, this past Wednesday evening, as I sat in this brightly-lit room in a basement, surrounded by only four other women, I just spilled some of the things I’ve been struggling with, and instead of the condemnation and judgment I expected, all four women decided to spend some time praying for me. Me, and only me. I protested at first, but they insisted, so I let them pray for me, and afterwards the leader of the group said she felt God wanted her to hug me, because I needed it. So I let this woman hug me, and as she did so, something in me just broke. I sobbed. Hard. Tears of pent up frustration, of loneliness, of despair, of pain, of every negative feeling that has been oppressing me for so long, fell on that woman’s shoulder as she held me close. And as she held me, I felt, in a way, that God Himself was hugging me. Letting me know He understood. That He really did care. That He loved me, despite my brokenness. It was a powerful, cathartic few minutes, and after this woman let me go, the other women took turns hugging me as well, while speaking words of encouragement over me.

When I left that meeting, I felt so much lighter than when I went in. And I felt I had experienced, for the first time in a very long time, a taste of what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. What the true church ought to look like. People ministering to each other. People being real with each other. A place where the broken, the lame, and the sick can come, just as they are, and be made whole. A place where plastic smiles and superficial spirituality are not allowed. A place where the love of Jesus is not just talked about, but actually seen and experienced. A place where rivers of life flow, in place of stagnant pools of dead doctrine and dogma.

I think it’s sad that most of my experiences of this type have been found outside an institutional church. And apparently I continue to find these pockets of life outside the four walls of a church. But I’ll take what I can get. For however long it lasts. If I must go outside of “church” to find church–real church, that is–then so be it.

I think I’ve had enough of the institutional church. But the other night gave me hope. Hope that not all is lost, and that perhaps, as far away as God feels most of the time to me, He is closer than I think, and just waiting to hold my broken, fragile self close to His heart.

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A different perspective…& thoughts on church

So, no more self-pitying today. Despite my last post, in which a flood of emotions just spilled over onto the written page, I am not in the throes of despair merely because I’m single. I keep telling myself I’ll be more positive on this blog, but as is often the case, this place just ends up being my dumping ground. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two for some perspective to take hold of my wayward emotions, and then I realize how silly those emotions really are.

I’ve told myself if I am to remain single I do not want to be the cranky, bitter, self-pitying old maid that no one wants to be around. I have an aunt who is close to 50 and still single, and though I love her to pieces, I’ve often wondered if her crankiness is part of the reason she’s not married. Whether I ever marry or not, I do not want to be that sort of person. Nor do I want to be angry and bitter. Marriage is not a right or guarantee, and though I desire it strongly some day, to demand it from God is unreasonable. It may be very likely I’ll never marry–and I must come to terms with that. But to hold it against God if He never grants me this desire is selfish and silly. He has given me many other blessings in my life, such as the ability to pursue an education, and I confess getting my degree is the one thing I look forward to most right now. It is probably the one thing keeping me going right now. Like the marathon I trained for a few years ago, I know all the pain and effort I’m putting into pursuing this degree will one day pay off and bring great reward and satisfaction once I cross the finish line. And, God-willing, it will open up many doors of opportunity as far as a career is concerned. Doors that are currently shut to me.

So, no, no more self-pity on the singleness front. At least not today. Maybe my “time” is running out as far as marriage is concerned, but even if it is, I certainly don’t want to waste whatever time I have left on this earth bemoaning the fact that I’m not married instead of doing something positive with my life. I have to keep reminding myself of some of my “heroines” of the faith–Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, and Gladys Aylward, for example–all single women who made a tremendous impact with their lives. Singleness is not a curse–often it can be a tremendous blessing. And when I stop and really think about it, there are definitely some aspects of singleness I enjoy very, very much. I don’t think I’ll ever stop desiring marriage, and I won’t stop praying for it, but I must learn to appreciate my freedom and independence more, while I’ve still got it.

So as far as singleness goes, that is my pep talk to myself for the day. However, certainly I’m still dealing with many other painful and discouraging issues in my life right now. And today as I drove home from church, I felt like crying again, because those feelings of being unseen and unknown somehow get highlighted the most when I go to church. The truth is, I’m about fed up with church. I’m tempted to give up on it altogether. I’m just so disillusioned with the emptiness of it. I went to the Christmas party for my singles group a couple weeks ago, and yes, everyone was lovely, and I had a decent time, but is it wrong of me to want more than sitting around eating, making pointless small talk and playing silly games? The pastor talked again today about the church being a family, and he even specifically addressed those of us who still feel like we’re on the fringes and trying to remedy that, but somehow his words only felt hollow to me. Especially when during the service he urged us to get into groups and pray for each other, and though I had plenty of people around me, only one young woman, sitting closest to me, actually prayed with me. Everyone else nearby had already formed their own little groups, or gone off elsewhere to seek another group. And the young woman who prayed with me looked rather reluctant to do so. I wondered if I had spiritual “cooties” or something? Sometimes forcing “togetherness,” instead of drawing those of us on the fringes in, only tends to highlight the fact that some of us are on the fringes. Which is awkward, to say the least.

I’m just sick of this charade called “church.” Occasionally I’ll get something out of it, and I suppose I’m better off getting a tiny bit of spiritual nourishment rather than none, but overall, if I come away from church crying and feeling empty inside rather than feeling uplifted, encouraged and/or convicted, then something’s wrong.

I feel like I’m dying spiritually right now, but I no longer know where to turn to find the life and help I’m seeking. Even the one friend who’s stuck with me through thick and thin over the last couple years no longer provides the spiritual and emotional support she once did. She’s into some weird charismatic stuff I don’t ascribe to, and when I do try to share some of my burdens with her, she seems to barely listen and always seems far more interested in talking about her own affairs. She says she prays for me, and I believe her, and am grateful for that at least, but I no longer feel our friendship is the life-giving, mutual relationship it once was. So I’m understandably frustrated and disappointed. I feel like I have nowhere to turn.

I’m trying to keep my chin up. I’m trying to press on. I’m trying to believe that somewhere, somehow, I’ll find the fellowship, the friendships, and the spiritual family I long for. But the honest truth is that with each passing day I grow more and more disillusioned with this thing called church. I haven’t lost my faith, but even that is on some wobbly ground right now. I don’t know where God is in all of this. I know He’s out there, somewhere, and every once in a while I think I hear His voice, but more and more it feels like He’s led me into a vast wilderness and simply abandoned me here.

But enough of my woefulness. This too shall pass. It must. Some way, somehow.

Sad

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I’m not sure why, but tonight a wave of sadness so overwhelmed me, that directly after dinner I put my pajamas on and crawled into bed. And, as I did so, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. Maybe it’s partly PMS. Maybe it was my grandmother’s snappy attitude toward me when I walked into the house earlier this evening.  Actually, I do know that had something to do with it. But I’d been feeling inexplicably blue all day, and after encountering her bad mood, I just wanted to disappear.

I only dozed off for a little bit, and then I finally sat up in bed to force myself to work on a paper for school. As I sat there, I sort of listened to a sermon being preached in the background on the radio, and when the preacher talked about the Body of Christ being a place to find healing and accountability for our brokenness, tears once more cascaded down my cheeks. Oh, if only, I said to myself, or God, out loud. If only that were true in my experience.

I’m not in a good place right now spiritually. Disappointment and disillusionment, with church, with myself, and–dare I say–even God at times, have hardened a once soft heart. I’m grieved over this, but I also don’t exactly know what to do about it. My counselor has been visibly frustrated with me lately, because, for the last few months I’ve found myself stumbling backwards. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try, she told me. You have to keep trying. No matter how many times you fail, you have to keep trying.

So, I’ll keep trying. I’m going to a Christmas party tomorrow evening, for the singles group at the charismatic church I’ve been attending, not really because I want to, but because I feel like I have to. I’m also hoping to join a women’s group at another church I’ve been attending. (Yes, I go to two churches now.) I’m seeking fellowship. I’m trying to put myself out there. And yet, my experiences so far have been so damn frustrating, that I don’t have very high expectations anymore.

It’s the seemingly never-ending source of frustration for me: finding meaningful relationships and accountability within the Body of Christ. I’ll keep trying, like I said. But sometimes I’m flat-out exhausted from trying. From dealing with disappointment after disappointment. So when preachers, or anyone else, claim the Body of Christ is where we’re meant to find healing and accountability, I just break down and sob. Because, apart from a few short-lived experiences in my life, that has not been the case for me. The Body of Christ is where I’ve been hurt the most, disappointed the most, rejected the most. And it shouldn’t be any wonder I have such a difficult time trusting and connecting with other Christians. Of course I blame myself. And then that just heaps more guilt and shame on top of the burdens I’m already carrying.

I am a broken, broken person. I have no problem admitting that. But I’m sick and tired of trying to make myself whole. All alone. I am too weak to keep carrying these burdens alone. While I’m definitely grateful for the few Christian friends I have, none are the sort I can just casually meet up with, or pray with, when I’m going through a rough time. Most live too far away for one thing. And so far I’ve been unable to really connect with anyone at either church I’m attending. (Unless you count going to lunch with a guy and then practically being stalked by him as “connecting.”)

So maybe my sadness today really does have a source. Maybe I’m just so weary of living in this place of brokenness and having so few people–if any–to turn to for support. Maybe I’m tired of hearing “healing only happens in community” when that community has been so hurtful and/or elusive for me. Maybe I’m tired of hearing God is enough, when He hasn’t been enough for me, and I feel incredibly guilty that I even think that. Maybe I hate the person I’ve become…indifferent, selfish, spiritually cold and cynical. Maybe, even though I’m disappointed with God, I still miss Him. Maybe all I want is to believe again all the nice, warm and fuzzy things about God that I used to believe. Maybe I’m so disillusioned with church–at least the way it’s done in America–that I feel like throwing in the towel and giving it up altogether. Maybe I just need to get out of this narcissistic, materialistic, self-centered culture I live in and go live with and serve those who have nothing–to remind myself of what truly matters.

But for now, I still feel like crying.

The ache intensifies…

I am more confused and frustrated than ever.

I have tried to seek out answers to some of my theological questions and doubts recently. In doing so, I came across a good apologetics website, that had a bunch of teaching videos on theological issues, so I watched a few. They were pretty good and got me really thinking. But a remark in one video struck me with particular force, considering my struggles lately. The guy teaching mentioned that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is actually not Biblical. It is more of a “westernized” phrase. The guy pointed out how a lot of cultural assumptions influence our theology. And here in the US, and other western nations, we have very individualistic societies, as opposed to the collectivistic societies of Bible times and other modern-day nations like China. So, during the early church, for example, having a “personal” relationship with Jesus was a completely foreign concept. Knowing and following Jesus was a communal thing. Which makes perfect sense when you read the book of Acts.

Of course, that’s not to say none of us are to endeavor to know and follow Christ individually–there are plenty of examples throughout the Scriptures of those who walked with God and knew Him on a personal level. Such as Enoch, Abraham, King David, the prophets, and the apostle Paul just to name a few. But no one, especially within the church, is to have that personal walk with God in a vacuum. Yet here in the US, and other western nations, we focus so much on the personal aspect of a walk with God, that we do tend to often put it in a vacuum.

And so suddenly I’m wondering if that’s part of my problem. That because of my cultural background and influences I’m putting my relationship with God in a vacuum, so to speak. Even as there is, at the same time, an ache in my heart for community with believers and a rebellion against the individualistic society I’m a part of. Naturally, this war, or tension, within myself is utterly confusing and exasperating. While I won’t argue with the fact that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a cultural concept, I think it’s nonetheless Biblical to have, at some level, an individual relationship with Him. We have to, at some level. My confusion lies in where does the individual relationship end and the corporate relationship begin? If God is all I need, then why did God say of Adam (in his perfect, not-yet-fallen state no less), “It is not good for the man to be alone”? And why is the church urged not to forsake assembling together? Clearly, we need each other. Clearly, in some capacity, Christ leaves us incomplete if we need each other. So how does this reconcile with the verses that tell us we are complete in Christ?

I just can’t quite figure all this out. And meanwhile this ache and void in my heart just continues to grow. Because, more than anything, I want intimacy. And I don’t know how to have intimacy with Jesus, because as much as He might care for me, it doesn’t feel like intimacy to me when ultimately I know I’m just a small and insignificant part of His larger Body. And I currently still don’t have intimacy within that Body either, leaving me feeling desolately alone most of the time. Then there’s the desire for intimacy with a husband, that also goes unfulfilled.

So I ache. Desperately. And suddenly I don’t know where to turn to fix that ache. I can’t fix the ache within the church. I can’t fix the ache with a husband. And most frightening of all, right now I can’t fix the ache with God either.

Pressing on…no matter what

This past Saturday I had the opportunity, via my community college, to visit and take a brief tour of the university I intend, Lord willing, to transfer to next fall. The visit excited me about my future goals, but was also a much-needed wake-up call to the realities of the possible major life-changes I am facing in the near future.

I am not your “typical” college student. It has taken me sixteen—sixteen!–years to figure out what I want to do with my life, and so here I am, in my thirties, pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret many of my life choices over the last eighteen years or so–I’ve spent nearly a year living abroad, I’ve traveled to other countries, where I’ve done missionary work and volunteer work such as teaching English, and I’ve had many other life-enriching experiences. I’ve also worked at various jobs, some pleasant and rewarding, some very stressful, unpleasant and unfulfilling, which I think have made me a pretty well-rounded, versatile person. All of my experiences since graduating high school oh so many years ago have shaped who I am and have helped me discover where my passions, interests, and strengths lie, so that, finally, I can say with some degree of certainty: THIS is what I want to do with my life. I am definitely a late-bloomer. And I am ok with that.

Part of my late-blooming journey can definitely be attributed not only to my indecisiveness, but to not-so-pleasant life circumstances beyond my control, such as a major health crisis in 2007 that not only sent me spiraling into debt from medical bills, but into a mental and emotional breakdown which I am still trying to recover from. My life has not been easy. It has been characterized by setback after setback, and many physical, emotional and mental struggles, to the point where, even now, if I don’t see things improving in a very dramatic, immediate and tangible way, I am so tempted to give up. To give up on life, to give up on trying to get better, to give up believing anything good, happy, or ultimately lasting will ever come of my turbulent existence.

So my visit to the university this past Saturday left me with mixed emotions. I absolutely loved the campus–it was beautiful, with grand, old buildings, steeped in history (the university was founded by one of our first presidents), and full of a lively academic atmosphere that got my pulse racing with excitement. I could just imagine myself poring over my books in one of its spacious libraries with vaulted ceilings, strolling along its green lawns to my various classes, and just generally immersing myself in this whole new experience known as real college. I know, for most people my age, such feelings of excitement are long over, but having only attended community college so far, going to an actual, four-year university is both daunting and exhilarating at the same time to me.

But even as I pondered the exciting part of possibly going to this university, I also let myself face the inevitable challenges that would await me. I am no stranger to hopping on a plane and traveling half-way across the world completely on my own, to a place where I know no one—I’ve done it more than once, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I’d be doing it now, if I had the money. I was born a wanderer and explorer, and I love immersing myself in new environments and seeing new places. So the idea of moving to another city, only about an hour away from where I live now, to attend a university, shouldn’t frighten me. Admittedly, part of me can’t wait to move to a different city, to get out of the boring, hum-drum place I live now. But, strangely, another part of me is a bit frightened. Even with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve never faced something quite so daunting as college. On my own. In a city where I know no one. For some reason, this intimidates me more than trekking across the globe on my own (which I’d do in a heartbeat, if it was safe, and I had the money). I know part of it is that I know how awkward, alone and out-of-place I’ll feel, at least initially, amidst a throng of preppy, much-younger, partying-type college “kids.” At least at the community college I currently attend, I am not the only “older” student, and there is much more diversity over-all in the types of students that go there. So I blend in rather well. But I know the environment will be far different at the university. And I wonder how I will cope with trying to connect and form relationships with many of my fellow students. I wonder how I’ll find community in a city where I don’t know anyone. I wonder where I’ll live. If I’ll have roommates. If I’ll like my roommates. Suddenly, all these “what if” scenarios start floating through my mind, filling me with fear.

I have come a long ways from where I used to be. But I’m still struggling. I still feel fragile, faltering and unsure of myself much of the time. So this prospect of going off to a university, in a new place, while exciting, also scares me. Somehow, facing the pressures of a university environment and college life frightens me more than going to live in a country I’ve never been to before. Consequently, over the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling a bit emotionally, as I ponder not only the realities of the challenges ahead of me, but of the continued issues and hurdles I’m dealing with in my everyday life. And that’s when the dark thoughts start to push their way into my mind. You’ll never get better. You’ll never succeed. Your life will end before it’s even begun. Why bother trying. Why bother trying to get a degree. Why bother trying to change your lot in life. If you have trouble finding meaningful relationships and friendships where you are now, what makes you think it’ll be any easier in a different city? Why bother with anything? You are a failure. Yes, despite all the positive things you’ve done in your life, you are still a failure. And that’s all you’ll ever be. So give up. Just give up.

Fighting such thoughts has been very depressing. I try to give myself pep-talks, but they’re only so effective. I try to quote Scriptures to myself, but they seem to only give me temporary relief. I admit shamefacedly that I am tempted, very often, to simply listen to all those dark voices and give up. Give up on myself and give up on life.

But I’ve got to press on, no matter what those dark thoughts tell me. If there’s one thing that frightens me more than any of my other fears, it’s living a wasted, completely self-absorbed life. No matter what those familiar, dark voices of despair tell me, and even though, yes, most of the time all I can see is how far I have to go instead of how far I’ve come, I know I was meant for more than this broken life I’ve lived so far. Somewhere deep in my spirit I know. And it’s this fear of not becoming who God intended me to be that drives me forward, even when it feels like hell itself is standing against me. Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from my current counselor, who told me I was “remarkably resilient.” This came after she discovered, in greater detail than I’ve told anyone before, exactly what I’ve been through and continue to deal with. I wonder myself sometimes, why, God, am I still here? And that’s when I know, if there is any resilience in me, I certainly can’t take credit for it.

I am super excited about the prospect of attending a university and hopefully one day acquiring my bachelor’s degree. I hope, and pray, with all my heart, that if I get that degree, I can use it to serve God on the mission field. That’s my goal. That’s my dream. But the reality of the difficulties that will cross my path as I go in that direction is ever present to me. I just hope I don’t finally cave to the feelings of discouragement and despair that so often hound me. I’ve come so, so close to caving.

I don’t want to waste my life. No matter how difficult the terrain, I must keep trekking. One foot. In front of. The other.

Sanctuary

Sitting cross-legged in a wide, green yard, grass tickling my bare feet, a deep azure sky overhead, soft waning sunshine filtering through the leafy bower above me onto my upturned face, a sweet Indian summer breeze swirling my long strands of hair across my cheeks….in that moment, in that place, I am free…I am at peace…I am content. I am glad to be alive. All cares, all worries, all pain…they no longer exist. I am simply intoxicated with the beauty all around me, forgetful of my very self, forgetful of everything but the wonder of life and the simple joys to be imbibed, like a sweet draught of wine, if I only slow down, look around me, and drink.

While most of the rest of my family is enjoying a relaxing family vacation at the beach, I have stayed behind to keep up with my studies, and while doing so, I’ve been spending a few days at my parents’ beautiful home in the country, minding the dog and the house and picking up the mail and newspaper. Although I’ve stayed pretty busy with school and work obligations, I’ve made sure to take advantage of the peace and beauty all around me, letting it calm and soothe what has been my very frazzled and stressed mind of late.

My parents live in a gorgeous log home, situated on about 15 mostly-wooded acres, at the end of a half-mile gravel DSCN0672lane. I lived in this home briefly soon after they built it, about thirteen years ago, and from 2005 to 2010 I lived next-door to them with my brother, who built his own log home on the same piece of land. We jokingly call this acreage, with the two log homes, isolated from other neighbors and the major roads, our “family compound.” Not only because many siblings (of which I have seven), seemingly have lived together and close to our parents either in my parents’ house or my brother’s house for most of the last thirteen years, but because the land on which these two houses are situated is adjacent to the property and house where we all spent most of our childhood. So, essentially, we have all lived a great portion of our lives in the same area.

Up until about two years ago, the house I spent most of my childhood in was occupied by renters, but since the last renter moved away, it has sat vacant, and every time I drive by it, on the gravel lane that leads to the log homes, an ache and sadness over its forlorn state fills my heart. Someone is apparently keeping the front lawn mowed ever so often, but grass is beginning to take over a section of the driveway, and the grass in the small pasture has been neglected and has grown to tremendous heights. More and more often, whenever I get the chance as I’m visiting my parents’ home, I make a stop at my old childhood home, somehow lured to its decrepit beauty and the tantalizing, nostalgic memories that lurk in its familiar nooks and crannies.

Today was no exception, and as I walked down the gravel lane to check the mail, on a gorgeous, blue-skied, sun-drenched late afternoon, I decided to detour for a bit at the vacant house. Something just wells up inside me when I walk down its drive, amble over the front, slated sidewalk, and gaze around at what “once was.” I see myself as a little girl again, running through that big front yard, catching lightning bugs on a warm, summer’s eve…or raking huge piles of leaves on a crisp, smoky fall afternoon…or playing hide-and-go-seek with my siblings…or sitting on my room’s window-sill, imagining and writing stories…or pretending to be cowboys and Indians with my siblings, chasing each other on paths through the acres of woods surrounding the house…or taking my own long, exploratory rambles in the woods, as I often did. Despite all the pain I endured as a child–physically and emotionally–I do have many, many happy memories from my childhood as well. And when I visit my childhood home, it is the happy memories that haunt me the most, reminding me of the joy and innocence I once knew and wish so much I could return to.

After walking around the house a bit, observing the scraggly, unkempt bushes, the myriads of spider-webs adorning the eaves, the weeds poking through the sidewalk cracks, and the dark, deserted outbuildings, all the while thinking how literally haunted and spooky this house would seem come Halloween, I finally sauntered into the big front yard, found a nice, sunny patch of grass, and plopped down. And there I sat, for quite some time, soaking in the sad, haunting, and yet peaceful beauty all around me. Soaking, drinking, immersing…all would be good verbs to describe my primary response as I sat there. But I also reflected quite a bit…and prayed. And wondered why my life couldn’t always feel as peaceful and complete as it felt in those moments. Why have I allowed my life to become what it has? And why couldn’t I go back and retrieve a bit of that little girl I’ve left far, far behind? The little girl who saw the world with eyes of innocent wonder and a vivid imagination? She must be still lurking inside me somewhere, and perhaps just waiting to come alive again.

The truth is, I think she is. And the more I visit my old, childhood home, and wrestle with my past and all my inner demons, the more convinced I am that there is a tiny seed of a story slowly growing in my heart and mind, just waiting for the right time to come forth. It wants to come out, it wants to come alive, but it simply needs time. Time to allow for my present wrestling, time to allow the adult me to heal, time to allow God to do whatever He needs to do. And in the meantime, I need to make it more of a priority to simply take stock, every moment I get, of the simple joys God has placed in my life. I want to have more moments of sitting barefoot in grass, gazing at a blue sky, feeling breezes tickle my face, marveling at what it means to simply be alive, and the recipient of God’s abundant beauty made manifest in His creation. To find, as I did when a little girl, joy in even the simplest things.

DSCN0676It was with great reluctance I got up from my peaceful reverie at my old home, and left it behind, but the voices it stirred within me have not left. Nor has the feeling of God’s nearness. Somehow, He seems far more present to me in nature’s cathedral than He ever does in a church. And I wish I could carry that sense of peace and nearness with me no matter where I am.

Maybe I can. Maybe that was the point of today.

“Lo, I am with you always….”

Come to Jesus

This beautiful song touched me in a profound way the other day, so I thought I’d share:

I’ve been thinking how so often in this blog I vent my tears, frustrations, pains and sorrows–after all, I did title it “Valley of Achor” for good reason–but how few and far between are posts reflecting true joy and thankfulness. The truth is the last several years of my life have definitely been more sorrowful than joyful, more tinged with pain than with sweetness, and I often feel like God has given me the “short end of the stick,” so to speak, when it comes to the amount of pain He has allowed in my life, but lately He’s been convicting me about my attitude to this pain.

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago, posted above someone’s desk, and it really struck me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude, to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstance, than failure, than success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past; we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.

And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

This quote is attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, although that’s debatable–however, regardless of who said it, how true it is. And it reminds me of what James says in the Scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I am no different than anyone else. When things hurt, when things don’t go my way, when my circumstances don’t make sense, when God seems a million miles away and callous to my pain, when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to (and when I want Him to), I get angry. I get frustrated. I question Him. I justify my self-pity and my wrong attitude. I vent much of those feelings on this blog. And most would say, hey, that’s ok.

But is it? Of course, we all need to vent, and God would rather me be honest than mask my pain. He’s big enough to handle my anger, frustration and doubts. But I feel like I need to take a step back and reassess my attitude. I am, somehow, in the midst of my pain, my questioning, my frustration and my doubts, to “count it all joy.” Really, God? Joy? Joy when I’ve endured so much already? Isn’t that asking a bit much?

But it’s what He wants. Somehow. Some way. So often my attitude simply sucks. Let me just be blunt. But even though I know it’s still ok to get angry at times, to question, to vent–King David is my role model in being honest with God–I am not to remain in that place. I am, somehow, to count every hard, difficult thing in my life as joy.

So I’m going to endeavor to do that. By God’s grace, of course. I still don’t understand the why of so much of the pain, confusion and frustration in my life. I still ache, long, hope for intimacy in my relationship with God and others. I still know it’s ok to weep and shake my fist at God sometimes. But I’m realizing I can’t let my pain, my past, my failures, and every other negative thing in my life make me a negative person. Because the truth is that I am blessed. I may not have as much as some, I may not have the kind of fellowship and friendships right now that I long for, I may not have the future spouse I pray for, I may feel incredibly lonely most of the time, I may feel like my dark valley is stretching out to infinity, but I do still have so much to be thankful for. I have a few good, precious friends. I have a wonderful, large family, which now includes two adorable baby nieces. (I love being an auntie!) I have a roof over my head. I have food, clothing. I have Jesus. And, as Jesus said, with these I am to be content.

And when the pain and darkness seem overwhelming, as that song above so simply says, I must go to Jesus. Whether it feels like He’s there or not. I’m still figuring out how an intimate relationship with the invisible King of the universe really works, but to whom else can I go? And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything before we can see what’s right in front of us. Or Who’s right in front of us.

I know all this in my head, but hopefully I’ll come to know all this in my heart. And in the knowing, that my heart might be healed and made whole.

So, I come, Jesus. And may I somehow count all my sorrows, all my pain, all my frustration, as joy.

More thoughts on intimacy…

I should be studying my precalculus right about now, but instead I feel the need to unburden the confusing, frustrated, and hurting thoughts milling about my head.

Intimacy. Fellowship. Relationship. Friendship. These are things every human longs for. They are natural desires. They are meant to be fulfilled in some way. We are wired this way by God. He said Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

So, why, I keep asking, both myself, and God, are these things still so elusive for me? Why, throughout all my experiences in the church, do I continually find myself feeling like I don’t quite fit in, that deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are so few and far between? I’ve had so few truly fulfilling, truly satisfying experiences in the church, that I’m tempted to give up hope altogether that the “spiritual family” and spiritual friendships I long for will ever materialize.

I’ve been attending a wonderful, Spirit-filled church for the last several months, that I’ve been greatly been blessed by and thank God for, because it’s been a long time since I’ve even attended a church regularly–but as wonderful as this church is, I still feel that familiar, disconnected feeling there. Even in the singles group I’m a part of, I feel out of place, as sweet and friendly as everyone is. I know that part of that out-of-place feeling simply comes from the fact that I happen to fall in that unpleasant category in Christian singledom: mid-thirties, never married and no children. Most of the people in my singles group are not only much older than me, but also divorced with children. So while I put no limitations on friendship, not being able to chime in when most of the people around me are discussing their kids, ex-spouses, etc., definitely hinders me from establishing meaningful relationships. It’s also frustrating when you’re still the “newbie” after several months, and it’s clear everyone else has known each other for a while and formed a friendly rapport with each other.

But more than any of these things, it frustrates me most of all that the majority of the people in this singles group seem more preoccupied with superficial, trivial things than the things of God. Unless we’re actually sitting down in our official “discussion” time, it seems most of the chatter revolves around sports, recreation, painted toenails (for the women), and other trivial matters–which, in and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with, and I’m certainly not opposed to, but when I gather with fellow believers on a Sunday morning, I’m not really there to talk about trivial things. I want to share Christ. I want to pray. I want to be prayed for. I want to see Jesus show up. But how can He, when we’re so preoccupied with everything BUT Him? And how can I ever truly find the sweet, intimate, Christ-centered fellowship I long for, when those around me seem more satisfied with talking about who won the football game and what color their toenails are?

I’m not claiming to be more spiritual than any of these people. Far from it. I like painting my toenails, and I love watching football, but there is a time and place for those things. I just don’t think Sunday mornings are that time and place. And when I sit there, as those around me discuss everything but Jesus, something inside me just aches with loneliness. And I walk away feeling so empty and disappointed. Feeling once again that I don’t fit in. That as much as I long for relationships, apparently I’m not going to find them in church. Or at least I haven’t yet. I’m there, but I’m not there. I’m there, but I’m not known. I’m there, but I’m sitting on the outside looking in. And this is the feeling I’ve had throughout my life, in nearly every church I’ve attended. Most often, it’s been outside the four walls of “church” that I’ve found, in brief periods, sweet, Christ-centered fellowship with other believers. Like the time I sat outside for nearly a whole afternoon, in Brazil, talking in Portuguese with a sweet, sweet Brazilian man who told me he was disappointed that most Christians he knew didn’t want to talk about Jesus. So for nearly a whole afternoon he and I simply talked about Jesus. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and one that, sadly, I really haven’t replicated in my life since then.

Is there something wrong with me? Or is it more than just me? Why is that kind of friendship, fellowship and intimacy so elusive for me? Why do I only seem to find it in isolated pockets and experiences in my life? I’ve been crying out to God for a while now for more Christian friends, deeper relationships, and just a Christian “family” where I feel safe being vulnerable, but so far, even at this church I now attend, such relationships feel so out of reach for me.

I long for intimacy. And I don’t just mean the romantic kind (though I certainly want that too). I long to be known. I long for more than “Hi’s” and half-hearted “How-are-you’s” on Sunday mornings. I long to sit over a cup of coffee with someone, pour out my heart, pray, and just talk about Jesus. But I don’t have that. And I can’t figure out why I don’t. Especially when I pray so much for it, and I’m trying to do all the right things to find it.

So for now, God is all I have. And while having Him is certainly a great comfort, I still struggle in attaining intimacy with Him as well. Sometimes all I want is “Jesus with skin on.”

So here I am, just aching inside, and just wishing the ache would go away.

Don’t leave home…

I’ve had a rough few days this week. I hit some bumps in the road, sank into depression, fell apart emotionally, got super-stressed out about school, started having panic attacks, spent nearly every spare hour studying, barely slept, injured my hip yesterday, then got a migraine and temporarily lost vision in my left eye…yes, it’s been a rough week. And through it all, God has felt a million miles away.

But earlier this evening, as I drove down the interstate to go have some much-needed fun with some folks from church, I had a “moment.” Maybe some people think God only shows up in super holy ways like Scriptures, but in my experience at least, He sometimes shows up in ways we don’t really expect Him to. And for someone like me, who finds relating to this invisible God very difficult at times, I appreciate any way He chooses to speak to me. So whether that’s through the Bible, through another person, through a billboard sign (I’ve had that happen before), a talking donkey, or song lyrics, I’ll take whatever I can get.

I can’t explain it, but a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, that isn’t even a Christian song, suddenly struck me in a way it never had before, as it played in my car while I sped down the interstate. The song was “Don’t Leave Home,” by Dido. For those unfamiliar with the song, here’s a good sample:

As I listened to the lyrics, I suddenly had that distinct impression, that gentle whisper in the spirit, that seemed to say, in unison with the song, April, don’t leave home…don’t leave home…If you’re cold, I’ll keep you warm, If you’re low, just hold on, ‘Cause I will be your safety…Oh, don’t leave home.

Maybe I just imagined it all in my head. That’s a good possibility. But, as I said, I’ll take what I can get, even if it’s just crumbs. I just had the distinct impression that God was using those specific lyrics to speak to me in a very specific way, to my specific need. Granted, not all the lyrics in the song were appropriate, but the chorus–particularly the part “I will be your safety”–touched me in a very vulnerable place. I felt like God was telling me to not leave home because He was my home, and in Him there is perfect safety and security.

It’s just a song…I know. And maybe I simply have an overactive imagination. But in that moment, as I wrestled with sadness and so many other negative thoughts and emotions, those words were what I needed to hear.

I like it when God seems to show up like that. I just wish He did that more often.

Thoughts on intimacy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intimacy. What is intimacy? What does it mean to be in an intimate relationship with someone?

I guess intimacy has been so much on my mind because it is the one thing I feel my life sorely lacks and the one thing I crave, more than anything else.

I am, by nature, an introvert, and reserved and a bit shy with people, so developing intimate relationships with people has never been my strong point. I am also currently single, and while I’ve been in physically intimate relationships with men in the past, I’ve never experienced true intimacy–the emotional and spiritual kind–with a man, and I confess, especially as I get older, it is the one kind of intimacy I long for more than any other. Which, I suppose, is only natural.

I’ve stated before that I know, at least intellectually, that only Jesus Christ can fully satisfy these cravings of my heart. And I still know, at least intellectually, that no person–no man, even–can truly, fully meet the longings and needs of my heart. To place that burden on anyone is unhealthy, and I recognize and accept this. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone placing that burden on me (my first boyfriend), and it suffocated me so much I ended the relationship. So I get it. I get that no human being, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling the relationship may be, can truly be expected to meet all my cravings for intimacy, acceptance and love.

But if this is true, and God alone is supposed to satisfy and fulfill me, and meet my needs for intimacy, then why is intimacy with God something I continue to struggle with? I read books and blogs by lots of Christians who tell me that God alone is always enough, that it is only through an intimate relationship with Him that I will find true fulfillment, and I always nod my head in agreement, even though my own heart is feeling completely empty, thirsty and unsatisfied, in spite of my attempts to “draw close” to God.

So, I’ve been wondering, why is this? Where am I going wrong? And do any other Christians struggle with this? Just the other day I sat on a fence at my old childhood home, surrounded by green forests, softly chirping birds, a blue sky, sunshine and a delicious, peaceful silence (aside from the birds), and I poured out my heart to God, with many tears, asking Him why, if He were to be my first Love, and the One I’m most intimate with, then why is He so hard to know? And why must He be invisible and remote, when, in my deepest moments of pain, all I want is two safe, strong, and very visible arms to hold me close? In my pursuit of God, I often feel like I’m playing hide and seek. He’ll let me catch glimpses of Him, and those glimpses are wonderful, but then He disappears again, and I’m left chasing after Him, trying to find Him again. I have this very vivid picture in my mind of being in this beautiful forest playing hide and seek with God. I know He’s there in the forest with me, so that’s somewhat comforting, but He’s always just out of reach. I’ll see Him just ahead of me, peeking around a tree, and excited, I run toward His direction, hoping to finally catch Him, only to find He’s disappeared again by the time I get to the tree. And on and on this game goes. He’s always just ahead of me, “teasing” me as it were, peeking around trees, but actually getting close to Him, or being caught up in His tangible embrace, is always just out of reach.

Naturally, this game of hide and seek with God is extremely frustrating for me. I know, as wiser Christians keep reminding me, that I’ll never develop intimacy with God unless I spend time with Him, and to spend time with God I am supposed to pray and read His Word. Well, I confess, I do derive some comfort from “spending time” with God in this way, but the truth is, at least lately, even praying and reading His Word seem to give me only so much satisfaction. I still come away, not only feeling thirsty, but asking more and more questions. I’ve been delving into the Old Testament lately, and the more I do, the more I shake my head in bewilderment at many of the passages I read, as I honestly ask myself, How do I develop an intimate relationship with a God who is so beyond my reach, so utterly holy, and, quite frankly, downright frightening at times? I know He is love as well as holy, and there are many beautiful passages that express His love toward me. I know, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am supposed to be justified before Him, and given access to Him. But still, I find myself drawing back in fear, because I ask myself, How can a sinful, puny little human truly have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe? Especially the God I believe in, as described in Scripture? How can I truly be intimate with someone I am afraid of? If I were married, I would only be able to have an intimate relationship with my husband if I were not afraid of him. Obviously. So, if intimacy with God is more fulfilling than even a marital relationship, then how does the fear of God factor into this? How is fear truly compatible with intimacy? Is there something I’m missing?

I haven’t read any books, or heard any sermons, that address this issue. And so I am left, for the time being, wrestling on my own with these thoughts, questions and frustrations. The only comfort and quasi-answers I’m finding in Scripture are passages written by the apostle John. I like to call John the “apostle of love,” because he seems to write more about the love of God than any other writer in the New Testament. Even he states in 1 John 4:18–a favorite Scripture of mine–that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” So how do I reconcile this statement with so many other Scriptures that tell me to fear God and portray God as a fearful Being? This is where I’m struggling. I understand the need to fear God. I understand the seriousness of sin. I understand how that separates us from God. I understand Jesus’ blood cleanses us and reconciles us to God. But somehow, none of these truths make me feel truly secure in my relationship with God. They don’t make me feel close to Him or able to truly enter into any kind of intimacy with Him.

When I think of God, I think of my earthly father, who, while never failing to tell me of his love for me, and even showing it to me in different ways, still caused me to draw back from him in fear because he was the strict disciplinarian in our family, and he could/can often be quite intimidating in his “wrath.” I’ve never been able to have an intimate relationship with him, despite his repeated assurances of his love for me, because I’m too afraid of him. Likewise, I feel too afraid of God to truly have intimacy with Him, even though His Word assures me of His love for me. I’m afraid of His anger. I’m afraid of His wrath. I’m afraid of His holiness.

So when people tell me to have an intimate relationship with God, is this really possible? And for those Christians that claim to have this kind of relationship with God, not only am I envious, but I want to know how they enjoy this sort of relationship. Because I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’m envious of the apostle John, who the Scriptures always portray as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and resting against Jesus’ breast. That’s the kind of intimacy I want with God. I don’t think Jesus loved John more than any other disciple–at least that’s not how I interpret those passages of Scripture. I simply think John was somehow able to enter into a more intimate relationship with Jesus than any other disciple, and because of this intimacy with Christ, he had perhaps greater insight into the love of God than the other disciples. Which is why he wrote about love so much. But that is just my hunch.

So, practically speaking, how do I find this all-satisfying intimacy with Christ, that apparently John had, and other Christians have? Why is it so elusive to me personally? Is it really, truly possible to have intimacy with an invisible Spirit? To find satisfaction, when one’s faith wants so desperately to be sight? Or, is it more like the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13–“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known”? Must I learn to simply be content with dissatisfaction, as contradictory as that sounds? Is true intimacy, whether with God, or another human being, even possible? And if not, what do I do with this cavernous thirst, this profound emptiness, that haunts my soul? I feel like an utter failure as a Christian for even admitting I’m wrestling with these things.

I’m sharing these struggles here because, sadly, I don’t currently have any brothers or sisters in Christ I feel safe admitting these questions and frustrations to. And that in itself only frustrates me more. Despite the fact that I’ve found a church, and that I’ve even made some new friends there, all my relationships there, and with other believers, are mostly surface-level relationships only. I have no one right now I can truly open up to. Either most people I know aren’t on the same page spiritually, or they are simply not interested in developing anything beyond a very superficial relationship. So, even though I have some fellowship now, and I’m definitely grateful for that, I still feel like I’m starving relationally.

I’m starving for intimacy. Even in the midst of a loving family, even in the midst of a wonderful church, even in the midst of new friendships…I feel alone. Desperately alone. And I wonder if there is anyone else who feels the way I do.

How do I find the intimacy I crave? Will I ever find it with a husband? Will I ever find it with God? Will this emptiness, this thirstiness, this hunger, ever go away? Or will it haunt me till I die? Will it only be satisfied when I leave this mortal body?

I wish I had the answers. For now I’m simply searching. Praying. Wrestling. Hoping this gaping hole in my heart will one day be filled.