Archives for category: Musing

I love answering the question, “What is God doing in your life?” I love that the question implies that God is active and energetically busy, and He is involved in my life as an individual. It implies that He is interested in connecting with me, and that He is not ambivalent or far away. It implies that He communicates with me in a way I understand, and He understands what I say back to Him.

Of the two of us, He is the smarter. He is the wiser, the more capable. As Reinhard Bonnke says so gently,

“…The Christian God does it the other way around. He spreads the table for His children. And in the other religions, people always seek God. In the Christian faith, God seeks man.”

My heart needs to know I am sought-after. So many circumstances would try to convince me otherwise. Having followed God to England this past autumn, having given up life as I’ve known it and embraced to the fullest of my ability what I felt He was asking of me; having faced the unanticipated consequence of heartbreak when I left England sooner than expected, walked through the tears and challenges of putting life together again, and even as I crossed the Atlantic realizing I was coming home to begin a new life with the man who is now my fiancé – coming home a different person, the transformations accomplished bluntly as well as gently; and going from one promise to another, like leapfrogging through a gauntlet, catching a breath before engaging with the next challenge of the heart; having finally found a car but repairs are expensive; having a part time job but a check lost in the mail; having an idyllic living situation but being unable to hide from my heart; I take off my shoes at the door of this truth: the God in whom I trust is active on my behalf. He holds my heart and my every circumstance. I am His responsibility, and it is wisdom to trust Him.

And with every bite of chocolate and every flip through the Netflix catalog, my heart searches for connection with Him. With every tear of frustration and daunting situation, every misplaced expectation on the fiancé or the friends, every pick at every pore, every impulse to control, my heart cries out for Him.

And I am finding Him in my pain. It’s as if my pain were contained in a whiskey barrel, and having purchased it from me, He is content to sit in that barrel until I am ready to address it. There seems to be a difference between ownership and possession. By rights that pain belongs to Jesus, but He waits for me to unlock the storeroom, lead Him in, and give Him possession. Legally, the paperwork has been signed, and in a court of law, His title holds up. But gentleman that He is, He does not press His authority. Rather He waits for me.

I say I’ve given Him the keys to my heart, so in order to unlock it again, I ask for them back. And we unlock rooms together. We shine light into unlit places where the bulbs burned out long ago, places even the rats have abandoned because of the stench. But as much as He goes with me into those places, I find He has been there before me, waiting.

I wonder if all those tears in bottles are spent tears, or tears waiting to be spent. I find I cry to the bottom of the barrel sometimes. I cry out all that pain I denied – how it really did hurt, although I wish it hadn’t. All the pain I avoided by forgiving too quickly, as if forgiveness were a skin graft over an infected wound, rather than the cleansing and restoring it actually enables.

I’ve been forgiving too quickly. I’ve acted as if forgiveness is the antidote to pain.

If I forgive quick enough, I won’t have to feel the pain.

But in the quiet, in the long stretches of nothing; in the draining of the bank account, in the frustration; in telling the story, in the beauty of friends from whom I can’t hide, who draw out truth from me like iron filings to a magnet; in the guilt for avoiding big church meetings or not reading my Bible daily or avoiding the music room or over-sugaring my coffee; I find the truth. I find that it hurt. I find the cuss words and the names of emotions. I find He is there. I find He is helping me. I find the barrel is much deeper than I thought, but as I’ve gone this far, I might as well find the bottom. I find I’ve tipped over the edge of the slippery slope, and I’m falling head over heels down the stairs.

And there at the bottom, where I thought I would land, where the floor is hard and the corners sharp, I find I am caught. I find the safest arms I’ve ever known. I find I’m enveloped in my favorite scent. I find the most absorbent shoulder, the most gentle hands wiping mucous and tears.

I wouldn’t say faith is a crutch because it’s a challenging road to walk. It’s a river that has many put-in ramps but very few take-out points. Once you’re on it, the options are limited: cling to the boat and let the current take you; paddle to the side and refuse to go further; or address that man in the back of the boat, the one with His paddle down in the water, sitting confidently erect, yet at rest, steering with gentle precision that comes with knowing a river intimately. And as a child, or a happy Tiger Lily princess, I can sit in the front, looking ahead, looking back, looking all around. Rapids and storms and gnarly-looking critters, overhanging branches set with spider webs and abandoned bobbers, shallows and litter and slime and stench, the bits of the river that no photographer cares to capture, the un-pretty effects of a life of exchange, the refuse and fear and challenges and uncertainties, these all comprise the view.

But behind me there is Someone steering, and His eyes are up. Confident in His hands’ ability, He steers without looking. And I follow His gaze to see what He sees: the eagles circling, the kestrels in the trees, the heron on the shore poised to take flight.

And someone asks me what God is doing in my life. I pause to sort through the melange of stories, which one to tell. This beautiful infinite complexity all boils down to a kind and tender truth: He knows me, He loves me, and He is passionately seeking my heart.

Advertisements

The following addresses a mature topic and is inappropriate for children under 15 years of age without parental supervision.

I was 23 years old and a graduate student when he came to read to my class. He had arranged it with my mentor, so she caught the whole thing on film. I remember as he held out the ring thinking, “Is this what this is supposed to feel like? This anticlimactic?” But I said yes, and I went on through the stages of planning.

Four months later I called it off, finally having come to my senses. Not knowing what I really wanted, I went along with the plans we had made together. They were really my ideas anyway. He didn’t have much direction and was riding my energy and ambition. That was the problem. He needed a mother, not a wife. So it wasn’t betrayal of my values or holding onto the past that kept me moving towards my goals, waiting out the interim at my parents’ house. Out of pure necessity I plugged in at a local church. And of course my tender heart was susceptible to the kindness of a worship leader I met there.

One evening, after an emotional conversation about our hearts, sitting on the church lawn under the floodlights in the warm summer air (lightning bugs had long since retired), he looked at me gleefully and said, “You know what I’m excited about?” I didn’t even have time to formulate the thought of being his girlfriend when he blurted, “No more secret sin!”

Way to kill the mood, I thought. He went on to talk about how he and his friends got together and confessed their deepest, darkest sins and prayed for one another, about the healing that brought, about how shame, defused of its power, left entirely.

That conversation and concept stuck with me. God was pressing my buttons in more ways than one. As you can imagine, my engagement had left its mark. However, the fact that I entered into it in the first place was an indication of the pain in my heart. Since leaving the denomination of my childhood as an adolescent, my relationship with my father had suffered. Disconnected from him, the young man who had pursued my hand in marriage held more sway. Now he was gone, and I was under my father’s authority again, but the rifts in our relationship remained. The last thing I wanted to do was be vulnerable with my father.

So I knew it was God when the thought ran across my mind, “I want you to confess masturbation to your father.”

Ugh. Some things are so traumatic that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when they happen. This was one of those times. I was in the kitchen getting a snack or a glass of water or something after dinner. My mother had gone to bed, and my father was in the living room. Silently, I swore at God. But I knew it was Him, and the more angry I became, the more convinced I was that there was no getting around this one.

Finally I made up my mind to just get it over with. I walked into the room, explained I had something to tell him that I felt God wanted me to say, but by no means did I want commentary on it or even response of any kind – and before I lost my nerve, I blurted what could be classified as confession. My father began to respond, but I stopped him and hightailed it out of the room.

All these years later, I go back to that story because it marked a turning point in my understanding of the power of sin and shame. I figured if I could confess my most shameful act to the man I trusted least in the world (at the time – God has since done remarkable things in our relationship), then there was nothing so terrible that it merited the effort it takes to conceal it from people I do trust.

Confession: I have masturbated since I confessed to my father. I’ve masturbated since I confessed to my pastor. And you own what else? I’ve overeaten. I’ve judged friends. I’ve let my temper loose. I’ve thought of myself more highly than I ought. I’ve run from facing my pain. I’ve withheld love knowing others would suffer, knowing others depended on me. I’ve broken commitments. I’ve talked behind people’s backs. I’ve been disrespectful. I’ve voiced my opinions of other drivers.

But you know what’s strange? I’m not ashamed.

It’s not that I think any of those behaviors are wonderful or useful or do any good. It’s not that the actions have no weight, don’t matter, or have no consequence. I am not actively pursuing them, nor am I making them part of my life. But when they occur, there is a distinction: they are actions, and I am me. I am not my actions any more than I am the clothes I put on.

It is easy to say, “I am not my career”. By that I am declaring that my identity is independent of my profession, salary, benefits, or status. My identity is deeper than my education and university degrees. Rather, my identity consists of my relationships, my values, my passions, my personality.

I don’t believe actions indicate identity. They are the effect, rather than the cause. So when I masturbate, I do not say, “I masturbate – therefore I struggle with masturbation.” I say instead, “I masturbated. That is not something I struggle with, not something that is part of me, so I wonder what is really going on here?” The sin strikes me as odd, an aberration. I know there is nothing good that comes of it, so logically, there is no reason to invest energy into something that has no payoff. While I am not saying the action is neutral or has no power, I am saying that the action, when treated as a symptom or an effect instead of an indication of personal weakness or flaws in my identity, is useful in revealing something true.

When I masturbate, I do so because I feel the need to be in control. I feel disconnected, powerless, perhaps misunderstood or lonely. My needs for intimacy are not getting met.

More often than not, I find sin – actions – reveal the heart. My heart surprises me. I am not as aware of it as I’d like to be, and if I am aware of what I’m feeling, I may be clueless as to why, or to what extent. How useful and how kind that God allows circumstances which have the potential to show us what’s really going on.

Are you sick of the term “masturbation” yet? I hope I’ve not desensitized you to it. For me, every time I type it, every time I go back over autocorrect’s inaccuracies – yes, I really do mean that word again – I am punching shame in the face. There is absolutely nothing shameful about needing love, needing intimacy, feeling powerless, feeling out of control. But that is not who I am. The reality is I am loved. I am intimately known. I am powerful, and I can make powerful decisions that impact my life and the lives of others.

Ultimately, every sin is just a symptom of needing more love. Logically, no action can create love. Only a person can love me. And only one Person knows me well enough to know how to love me. If you haven’t guessed it by now, my preschoolers on a Sunday morning could tell you – the answer is (usually, always) Jesus.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be misunderstood. He knows what it is like to feel disconnected. Or powerless. Or out of control. He knows what it feels like to need love, to crave intimacy. And that’s all well and good to have someone who can relate to you, but it’s another thing entirely to have someone willing to do something about it. And that’s the bit I can’t speak to. That’s the bit where it takes a choice to believe in the goodness, kindness, gentleness, graciousness, mercifulness, powerful capacity and passionate motivation of a perfect Father God to do something about meeting our particular needs. That’s the faith bit. And in that journey comes greater confidence of identity. It is at times like fighting a shopping cart (or “buggy”, as we say in the South) with a wonky wheel that wants to keep sending you to the left. There is a wrestle to turn the ship in motion as it prefers the deep channel of habit to the untested course that would have you veer towards God. And that’s where accountability and community come in. Often we need others to remind us of who we are, to keep us from being victims of the shadow puppet that is shame, thinking we are these godawful creatures when really we are magnificent beings. We need to remember there’s nothing so terrible that it’s worth the effort required to conceal it, and in the end, even if we are rejected, even if we are abandoned, even if the expected repercussions occur, we spoke in faith that it is better to err on the side of truth because that’s the side God is on.

It is okay to count the cost. Truth is costly. Taking ownership for actions has a price. But my analysis goes like this: if I lose my friends, I still have a Friend, so I win. If I lose my job, I still am the daughter of the King, so I’m provided for, so I win. If I lose my family, I still have a Father who loves me, and Jesus is a ridiculously fabulous Brother, so I win. If I lose my reputation, I am still accepted and endorsed by my Father, and He is still proud of me, so I win. If I lose my health, well, Jesus paid for my healing, and if it’s my time to die, I get to be with Him, so I win. If I lose everything, I still win.

I. Still. Win.

Because every step away from shame is a step towards God, and every step towards God is a step of faith, and every step of faith is a declaration of allegiance to the Truth that my identity is found in my relationship to my Father, not my actions. I am not what I do or what I’ve done. I am me, and I am His. He belongs to me, and I belong to Him.

He paid for my shame anyway. He bought it when He bought me, so I’m just giving Him what already belongs to Him anyway. It’s no big deal. He is not perturbed by it because He already disassembled it, removing the mechanism empowering it. So if it’s not a big deal to Him, why do I allow shame to make it a big deal for me? That doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, He gave me His identity, so if it’s not something inherent in who He is, it’s not inherent in who I am either.

Last week I heard critters in the attic above my bedroom. I’d heard them before, but as they scratched for a minute and then were still, I didn’t think anything of them. At the time, they weren’t here to stay, just popping in from the cold. But last week they were incessant. I endured the scritching, the scurrying, the gnawing. It was early in the morning, and even soothing music couldn’t drown them out. Finally I was annoyed enough to turn on the light, fumble for an appropriate whacking device, and drum on the ceiling. The scuttling stopped. I whacked a few more times for good measure and waited. Within a minute, those obnoxious varmints started again! I climbed up on the bed and banged loudly with my hands. This time I heard them retreat. The next morning, my father set mousetraps in the attic, and before the day was out, he got one. A few days later, a second trap caught what I imagine was the mate. Since then, there have been no annoying midnight wakings.

Whatever it is that is covered in shame is nothing more than a mouse in the attic. I can tolerate it, but it’s annoying. It has no place there, no right to disturb my sleep, and lord knows what treasures it’s gnawing and ruining while I let it go unchecked. But at the end of the day, it’s a mouse. It’s not endangered, not high on the food chain. It is not worth my lack of sleep. And beautifully, my Father has already set a surefire trap for it – named (all the preschool children together now!) Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Consider Him who endured such trials so that you will not lose heart and give up. (Loosely, Hebrews 12:2-3)

I’m not saying it isn’t costly, this wrestling out of the grip of shame. It takes effort and risk and some pride-swallowin’. But it is worth it. The truth is far sweeter – taste and see that the Truth is good – and the actions are not who we are anyway.

In any way I am able to bless you with wisdom, boldness, courage, strength and resolve, I do so now in Jesus’ name! Grace to you and peace, and may you fly higher on the fresh, bracing wind you were born to ride!

Have you ever attempted to read through the Bible in a year? I have. (Have you seen the feather in my cap? It’s a dead giveaway.) You can go to the Christian bookstores and buy Bibles divided and labeled for this purpose. In high school, I followed a program complete with workbook. I bought a small KJV and highlighter crayon and read like mad, ticking the boxes for each day’s readings as I went. Then I took that marked-up Bible and gave it to a favorite friend/foe in atheist/Christian debate. And I felt proud of myself because I had something else to add to my Curriculum Vitae that legitimized all my religious opinions, doubly proud because my behavior was demonstrating to a “lost” friend what “real Christians” are like. And if he ever became a Christian, it was because of my expert “witnessing”. He would be a jewel in my heavenly crown, an achievement, a way to make God proud of me.

It’s easy to do that, I think. Those of us familiar with Evangelical Christianity – and likely other forms of Christianity with which I have less experience – tend to have an interesting connection to the Bible. If it were a status on Facebook, some would be “in a relationship” or even “married” to the Bible. We have daily devotionals, attend Bible studies, cross-reference with our handy Greek and Hebrew lexicon apps. We take copious notes on every sermon (does anyone actually go back over those notes? Honestly now…)

And then we come to Scriptures like this:

21 “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter God’s kingdom. The only people who will enter are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. 22 On that last Day many will call me Lord. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, by the power of your name we spoke for God. And by your name we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ 23 Then I will tell those people clearly, ‘Get away from me, you people who do wrong. I never knew you.’

[Matthew 7:21-23, Easy-to-Read Version]

Aw, dang.

Though I’m not writing to debate theology, taking the above lines at face value certainly has the potential to upset an apple cart or two. We know enough about Jesus to realize He speaks both literally and figuratively, so we can allow for the idea that He might be referring to us in a very real sense. “There but by the grace of God go I,” as they say. It’s uncomfortable, this possibility that I could spend my life around God, even serving God, even experiencing the miraculous, even ministering to thousands, even operating in every spiritual gift… and still not know Him.

While we are open to this premise, the next few verses slam in:

They will be conceited, will love pleasure instead of God, 5 and will act as if they serve God [having a form/appearance of godliness/piety] but will not have his [or deny his/its] power.

[2 Timothy 3:4b-5a, Expanded Bible]

3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.

[2 Timothy 4:3-4, New Living Translation]

Suddenly I want to change my relationship status with the Bible to “it’s complicated”.

I have heard it said, “Every time you read the Bible, you get a revelation of God.” I like that statement. It is neat and tidy and completely absolves me of having my own biases and opinions when I approach the Bible. It assumes that the Bible has the power to overcome all my judgments, experiences, thoughts, wounds, and ideas when I read it. If the Bible says it, it must be true.

Or it must mean what I think it means.

And this is dangerous territory to traverse because we see how our culture loves to twist the Bible. For example, we who build defenses against legalizing gay marriage by using passages of Leviticus are reminded by our adversaries of similar restrictions against bacon and poly-cotton blends. Or if we choose to defend our stance with New Testament allusions to homosexuality, we forget about “abstaining from blood” (Acts 15:20, multiple translations) when we grill out.

Again, I’m not here to debate. I’m just pointing out that, hard as it is to admit, our critics might be right about us. To paraphrase Don Finto, we read the Bible to gain support for our own beliefs, not to find out what it really says.

And we forget that the Bible is actually a Person. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God from the beginning. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

There was a time in my life where God said to me, “I don’t want you to read the Bible until you can read it without feeling guilty that you haven’t.” (Similarly, He later said, “I don’t want you to pray for another person aloud until you can pray my heart for them.”) In my case, this was the most heretical thing I’d experienced – well, at least since the first time I audibly cussed God out and wasn’t struck dead on the spot.

I think that was an incredibly delicate statement, and dangerous, too. We’ve all met folks – or sadly watched folks – go off the rails by making massive life changes based on an idea of something God said that has no scriptural basis and no good fruit (of the Spirit) to support the initial premises. And yet there is something of an answer to a heart’s conundrum in it. If I want to know Jesus and avoid the scenario posed in Matthew 7, then it behooves me to allow God to search me and know my heart (Psalm 139:23-24).

Ironically, that Psalm 139 reference was part of my daily reading plan. It wasn’t until I looked back at it for the purpose of this essay that I realized it was Psalm 139 – I had read with glazed eyes, letting the words slip into my brain just long enough to get to the highlighted part at the bottom. If you’ve not read Psalm 139 recently, I recommend it. It is one of the most tender, intimate pictures of God’s heart for us. But I am less than 10 days from finishing the whole Bible! So I check it off and wonder why my heart feels so disconnected.

And maybe that’s the thing. Our hearts are meant to be connected to God’s. All the worry and fuss and bother and drama in our lives is an indication that somewhere our hearts don’t quite know we are loved. In His sweet mercy and kindness, our plans don’t succeed. We find ourselves delayed or thwarted in our well-intentioned activities. The cake didn’t rise. I’m two months’ behind in my daily Bible. And we feel the effect of the crisis in our hearts that no encouragement to pray more or read more or go to more church services can touch. How kind of God that He allows scenarios in which we realize our hearts are dying for something real.

So we come back to those scary scriptures. We stop in our tracks, set aside the planner, and tell it like it is: that’s me, Jesus. I’m the one doing good, not knowing You. And I actually want to know You. I don’t want communication, I want connection. I want something real. I want authenticity. And if it means stepping aside from religious activity, so be it. And if it means allowing my theology to be rearranged, that’s fine, too. Ultimately, there’s something that’s just not satisfied, and I’m looking to You to help me out of it. Knowing that Perfect Love casts out all fear, and Perfect Love is actually a Person, so that Person speaks the Word, which is Himself, with His intended inflection, kindness, gentleness, and grace, all the expectation of a negative outcome is driven from every letter on the page.

And He says He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. The we will call upon Him, and He will answer us. We will seek Him and we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. He will be found by us, He declares. (This I know, for the Bible tells me so.)

I get frustrated reading Christian perspectives on being single. There’s certainly a market for the literature, and some platitudes are supported by experiences. But I am nearing my 30th birthday. I’ve followed God for 18 years, and I am a virgin. I’ve been called “a walking testimony to kissing dating goodbye”. I’ve listened to sermons on dating and applied their principles (still left heartbroken). And I’ve mentally catalogued love stories for years, looking for patterns on what a godly romance looks like, trying to figure out what I needed to do to position myself for the blessing of a marriage partnership.

Yesterday my boyfriend had The Talk with my father, and my father gave his blessing. So I’m nearing the end of this period of my life, and while a few clichés could apply to our story (“see, he came along when all you wanted was Jesus and you really weren’t looking for someone!”), I’d like to add my voice to the discussion based on how my heart processed the years.

Before I begin, please hear my heart. I have lived many wonderful adventures as a single person. I have fulfilled multiple childhood dreams, had several careers, traveled extensively, and experienced things that delight my heart. I have lived the past few years in particular saying daily, truthfully, “a year ago today I never could have imagined this would be my life!” I’ve grown in relationship with my family and been established in my identity both as a part of them and as an individual. I’ve been satisfied with singleness. I’ve put time and energy into ministry and service. I “sowed where I want to go”, received many, many prophetic words about my spouse. I kept faith, fought to keep my heart alive, fought to experience emotions rather than suppress them. And life was good. I wasn’t moping, wasn’t waiting around to be rescued. I loved the independence, the ability to make powerful decisions, the lack of responsibility. I truly loved being single, and I completely validate and honor those who want it.

But in the course of all the joy, there was the agony of an unmet longing. As a teenager I was told that God would meet my every longing for love with Himself and to “fast from the desire to date”. This brought a sense of failure and shame. Try as I might, the desire to be married (and precede marriage with dating) never died. So while that advice was motivated by a truth, over time I came to the conclusion that God designed our desires, and as the Bible is in full support of marriage, it seems it is a desire He is interested in fulfilling. My desire for God and my desire to be married are two separate things, just as my hunger for food cannot be satisfied by water or my thirst cannot be quenched with pizza. So faith is believing God is good and kind, willing and able to satisfy both.

And yet we all know people who are single for life, though they’d prefer otherwise. We read statistics on marriage and divorce. We try our hardest not to let the culture’s focus on youth and marriage age influence our emotions. There is opportunity to doubt that God will meet our desires for a spouse, and that doubt is rational based on the evidence of people’s experiences. So in writing my thoughts, I offer no guarantees. There is no formula, no absolute, no password or vending machine or series of steps. There’s just a Person.

In the fight to keep my heart open, the fight to understand, the fight to have faith and believe God wasn’t dangling carrots in the form of handsome, godly crushes, I had an “ongoing discussion” with God. Journals filled with lists. Lists about specific guys. Incidents and implications and interpretations. Tears and frustration upon frustration. Screaming at the top of my lungs. But in the midst of those experiences, and now as I come to a chapter change, I have two conclusions.

1) Being single is an injustice.

2) All pain belongs to Jesus.

The impact Point 1 has had on me is tremendous. The logic goes like this: in Genesis, God made man. Man hung out with God and animals, but eventually God determined that it’s not good for man to be on his own, so He created woman. Eve didn’t have one-on-one time with God. Her existence was in context of her husband and God. There has never been a woman in the history of humanity that has known what it is like to be the only person on the planet. Therefore, for a woman to be alone, she is living outside her original design. Or put another way, woman was made to be in relationship with her husband and God. And that idea opens up a whole theological discussion – when things happen which are outside God’s will, and is He sovereign or not, and why doesn’t He intervene, etc. – because it implies that there are circumstances in our lives that are not God’s perfect plan for our lives. And I’m not just talking about women, either. The Bible is clear that God doesn’t think it’s best for men to be single, either. So the injustice is rooted in the idea that, whatever the reasons behind it, when someone with a God-given desire to marry is prevented from doing so, that circumstance is counter to God’s original, good design.

What this idea did to my heart was validate years of pain. It wasn’t wrong for me to long for a husband, it wasn’t an indication of the sin in my life, the lack of discipline, the places I needed to grow and improve and strive to overcome. It wasn’t faithlessness. No, with the term “injustice” came the gut-wrenching revelation that I was not to blame. The pain I experienced wasn’t my fault, and its origins were on a DNA level. As such, I didn’t bring it on myself. I had no control. No, a loving Father God did not design me to be the victim of loneliness.

I don’t like the term “victim”. I don’t particularly like letting emotions get out of control. But to deny the pain of singleness was to deny the way I’m made. Half the frustration was rooted in powerlessness. What is a virgin girl to do? I was committed to holiness (still am) and am aware of the immense amount of grace I’ve received to maintain purity through various relationships, but dang if my body hasn’t told me for years when it wanted to get pregnant! Spirituality aside, every month there’s a fight against God-given desires, influenced by healthy hormones and eggs ready to be fertilized. Thirty years’ of virginity waiting for a godly husband to have the good sense to chase me down is a rough road, and there’s an injustice in that, too. My body was made for my husband to enjoy! I want him to have the best years of my life! And as a woman pursuing Jesus, I was taught time and time again to let the man pursue, God will bring my husband into my life when it’s time, just as God brought Eve to Adam. So another month would pass, and my body would mourn another baby that never was. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and all that. Injustice.

I say all this because I haven’t seen where it’s been said so bluntly, and I want to do my sisters a favor by validating their pain, anger, powerlessness, and frustration. As I said earlier, there is no easy solution, no guarantee, no answer.

But there is a Person.

If I know anything, it’s this: the best place for your pain is with Jesus. Someone once said, “Press your pain into the heart of God.” Whatever that looks like, whatever that means, the phrase has resonated with me since I heard it a decade ago, and it seems to fit most situations. This means the pain of not understanding. This means the pain of delay. This means the pain of loneliness. Injustice. Broken-heartedness. Emotional abuse. Manipulation. Physical abuse, sexual abuse. The Bible says there is coming a day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy and carrying a harvest with them. And I am struck by the tenderness expressed in these ideas. As any parent knows, babies aren’t babies for long. There is something precious and profound about holding your child through her pain. God can only comfort us while we have need of comfort. We are only His babies for so long, and come eternity, we will never again have opportunity to experience His tender comfort. Or if we do, it won’t be through wiping away tears.

I’ve asked God “why” on several occasions in the heat of emotional breakdowns and gut-busting pain, why is He allowing it. Infuriating as it is at the time, His answer has been, “Because I want you to know I’m here for you in this moment.” I’ll never have another opportunity for God to demonstrate His character and nature for me in that particular pain than in that particular moment. And one experience of love and tenderness makes it easier to come back to Him on the next occasion. And pretty soon we have this history together, where I am learning He is safe, He really is kind, He really is the best Dad, He really cares. I can trust Him, even if it still hurts, even if I don’t understand.

We know theologically that Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf. We know that by His stripes we are healed. He took all our pain and sickness upon Himself. He took responsibility for sin, and that includes its consequences. Injustice is a consequence of broken relationship with God, so in Jesus’s sacrifice, He paid for my pain. He bought it from me, and it’s not mine anymore. But just as the Kingdom of God is here and is advancing, just as the Israelites both took the land all at once and also one town at a time, there is a journey of giving Jesus what belongs to Him.

And you know what? He’s waiting for His wedding day, too. He doesn’t know when, but in the meantime, He holds us in our pain, because truly, truly He understands.

It is an honor to choose Him in the face of many options. I have the privilege of stoking those flames of love by my response to Him. He longs to be one with us even as we long to be one with our spouses. Words fail me attempting to describe the feeling you get when the object of your unrequited love suddenly has a change of heart, calls you by name, and says, “I choose you.” To know that I have the capacity to move God’s heart by choosing Him like that is tremendous beyond words. Would I wish anyone else have my journey, with all its pain and heartbreak? I’d like to think I’d hope better for others. But the intensity and intimacy I have with Jesus now, coming as a result of all those chapters – well, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Any good thing I’m able to give or impart to you, reader, I do so now. Fly higher, eagle-eyed soul-searcher. You were made to live on the heights.

Although not universal for the nation, here are a few photos of how keeping clean at my flat differs from what I knew at home.

20131031-064812.jpg

Clockwise from top left: dishes by hand; washing machine in a kitchen cabinet; bathtub with shower attachment but no curtain or wall socket; over-the-radiator drying racks.

I realized yesterday as I bathed how quickly these things have become part of the normal routine of life! The smallest thought of wonder then trickled into my brain: will I have reverse culture shock when I return to the States (for visa purposes)? Or will I just really, really enjoy a shower and a dishwasher? Hmm…

Those that know me well are probably amazed it has taken me so long to address this topic! Overdue though it may seem, it’s actually a testimony to the grace and favor of God in my life that the issue hasn’t presented itself in a stronger form. Tonight it bears acknowledgement, however, as a sweet surprise “royal” high tea – a belated birthday treat – put circumstances in better light.

20131029-214625.jpg

I had the joy of sitting beside Pastor Lois Gott, world revivalist and personal mentor via the HOP internship. She has a way of putting me at ease with her warmth and vitality – and yet I seem to come away from her company more contemplative than I entered it. She is much more extraverted and gregarious than I tend to be when I am at my most natural. On most occasions this wouldn’t be particularly remarkable. I’d talk if I chose, or silently observe if I’d prefer. But as my superior and one I hope to honor, I challenge myself to draw up out of my comfortable internal nest and engage. This runs counter to the ease I feel in her presence – on the one hand, I am loved and accepted as I am, but on the other hand, I am challenged to behave in ways which are not indicative of who I am.

20131029-224808.jpg

I think my relationship with Pastor Lois is part of the wider fractal of living in community and culture here. There is a tension between being myself as the contemplative observer and the mandate to rapidly become part of an integrated unit. On the one hand, I must be true to myself in order to be truly known. On the other hand, I cannot be known unless I behave in ways that are inconsistent with who I am.

The result of living in such tension is, to be honest, a seemingly permanent state of semi-exhaustion. My closest friends – those with whom long history of mutual appreciation and similar temperament has provided the immeasurably valuable gift of peace – are far from me. Thankful as I am for social media and technology, ain’t nothing like the real thing. My heart longs for the rest found in those longstanding and life-giving relationships. The effects of being apart seem to be cumulative – each day feeling a bit more laborious.

Would you call that homesickness? I’ve shed tears for the lovely Tennessee autumn I’m missing and the swimmable rivers that I could wade in endlessly, but this is a different sadness.

I never realized what a privilege it was to know and be known among others with ease and tranquility of soul. The challenges of my current context makes those friendships all the more precious and their absence more poignant.

You know who you are. I love you dearly and miss you acutely, and I am so thankful for the treasure you are in my life.

There is such joy and anticipation for today – today I am moving into my flat! Since I arrived on September 17 I have been living out of a suitcase, and today I come home! I feel full. I feel excited. I feel eager. I feel hopeful and expectant!

20131005-134446.jpg

And then the thought occurs:

Birds have nests. Foxes have holes. Interns have flats. But what about Jesus? All along He has been looking for home, somewhere He can just be Himself, somewhere to rest. He understands living out if suitcases. So many people want Him to visit – come heal a family member, come fix a financial situation, come make the government behave. But when He is done, or when He begins to have His own agenda, or when He doesn’t conform to ours – is He welcome to stay?

I think loving God means allowing Him to be Himself and still loving Him anyway. I don’t want Him to live out of a suitcase with me. I want Him to feel comfortable and at home. I want Him to mess around in my kitchen. I want to make His coffee the way He likes it and not bat an eye when it’s ready but He requests tea instead. I want Him around even when He doesn’t answer prayers the way I asked, when He takes too long getting things done, when He has different ideas about what to do that day. I want Him to be at home in my new home. I want Him as my live-in friend, more than my guest. I want to give Him a place to rest His head – a place He knows He can be Himself no matter the cost or inconvenience.

May my home be His home, here and wherever He may place me.

It’s been just over a week since arriving, and I am beginning to get my feelings sorted. I think, to be honest, the main reason this has been slower in coming is because it takes me getting alone and quiet to experience those feelings. I miss my travel companion and treasured friend who often helps me articulate what I feel when I describe how I think. At this juncture, she’d say I feel nervous, vulnerable, overwhelmed, but also happy, joyful, and expectant. And clotted cream on a scone always helps!

20130927-073004.jpg
When I arrived, I had no set schedule and no real expectations placed upon me. Now that all the interns have arrived, things can take shape. We must be shuttled from Newcastle, we must try to complete pastors’ to-do list this week. With all pitching in, it can easily get done. But it’s something to get done.

20130927-073302.jpg

(More on my job later.)

And it’s still a lot of community-based activity. Thankfully there are a good number of introverts among us, and as a few just got off the plane, we are brainstorming plans to secure some downtime for ourselves within the context of rapidly growing relationships and roles.

I do not feel disconnected from who I am. I do miss having my time as my own. But this is just temporary. As the things officially kick off in October, there is not long to wait.

But I am thankful for the stretching. I am thankful for the safe, wonderful people surrounding me. I am thankful for technology which connects me to home. And I am thankful for the miracle, joy, and honor that I am in this place at this time!

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? (Proverbs 20:24 NLT)

I have less than two weeks before the move, and it seems my emotions are on hold. I have an understanding of what would be natural to feel – excitement, joy, apprehension, nostalgia, longing, or sorrow at saying goodbye – but none of that is actually registering. I am encouraged by the belief that once I am on the plane, everything will catch up to me. But in the meantime, if I’m asked, “Are you excited?” it’s easier to lie than explain.

Little by little, the to-do list shortens. As stress is relieved, I will have more energy to devote to experiencing emotions. I look forward to it. There is something beautiful and uniquely human about our ability to feel, and being in a time where that ability is disconnected is as awkward as walking on uneven terrain. But I know there are some very deep things happening, and I will be glad to plumb those depths in the weeks to come!

20130906-092240.jpg