Friday, November 23, 2012

My 29th Year

Well, this is it, folks.  Today’s the day.  I have officially now become a red-headed, Christian Bridget Jones, a single thirtysomething woman, and I'm expecting the proverbial scales to appear on my body any minute now.

I had all sorts of ideas on what to write about today, but ultimately, all my thoughts came back to one thing:   this past year.  So, instead of waxing philosophical about turning 30, I thought I’d take a minute and look back on year 29, because it was, indeed, one for the books.

This year, God brought me closer to Himself than I've ever been.

This year, God shoved me out of my comfort zone with regards to faith, theology, and knowledge of Himself.  He challenged me in the ways I thought about Him, His love, His grace, and His will.  He pointed me towards a new church and watched me sit in the parking lot after getting there early (I'm never early!), praying nervously before the service started.  He pried open my mind with a holy crowbar and dumped in ideas I’d never dreamed of in all my previous years serving Him.

This year, God forced me to face some of my deepest-seeded fears.  The fear that I'm not good enough.  The fear of trusting someone else with my heart.  The fear of sharing the most hidden parts of myself.  The fear of all my flaws, my shortcomings, and my secrets being laid bare.  The fear of saying, “This is me, faults and all” to someone who really mattered.  He even held me in my seat when, sitting in a huge auditorium in downtown Raleigh, I was so completely terrified that all I wanted to do was run to the parking lot and drive away.  (I'm so glad I didn't.)

This year, God trusted me with the beginnings of a significant, powerful, multi-denominational ministry.  He called me to step up in ways He never has before.  He pushed my introverted self into new situations, new challenges, and new moments where I had to step forward, shake a hand, introduce myself, and talk about my faith.  He put everything on the line and asked, “Will you?” – and, of course, I knew I had to say yes.  He gave me brand new responsibilities and accountabilities, put children with wide eyes in front of me to teach, and branched out my own personal ministry further than it’s ever reached.

This year, God showed me just a little bit of the future – of things He had promised me and spoken to me years ago during my time in the desert with Him in England.  When I first meet someone new, my question to them is “If you could be doing anything, what would it be?”  If I had to answer that myself, I’d say I’d be doing what I was doing this past year:  working in ministry, growing in closeness with God, entertaining, learning, teaching, sharing, and bringing people together, all in a mutually supportive, respectful, loving, laughter-filled, faith-challenging partnership.

This year, God blessed me with the knowledge of what it is to really be in love.  To love someone so deeply that I’d drive until I run out of gas because he’s asleep in the seat beside me.  To love someone so completely that it feels like a light has gone out in the room when he’s not here.  To love someone so spiritually that our personalities, ideas, world-views  and personal ministries lined up with each other’s like puzzle pieces I didn't even know I was missing until God snapped them together.  To know what it feels like to have found the person who brings me closest to God, and about whom I can confidently say that we can do more together than we can do apart.

And then this year, God spoke to me and molded me through overwhelming, heart wrenching, soul-confounding grief.  He watched me weep – angrily, bitterly, and then just sadly.  He let me vent; He listened silently as I questioned Him and yelled at Him.  His heart broke as mine did.  He waited months for me to lean in and actually try to hear Him, and when I finally did, He told me it’s not about me.  He answered my cry of “What do I do now?!” with four simple words that shouldn't have surprised me:“Let Me use you.”

I will do it, my dear child.  I will keep My promises.  But right now, it’s not about you.  You want to know what you should do?  Pray.  Get closer to Me.  Get stronger in your knowledge of the Word, your fruits of the Spirit, your understanding of My love and grace and forgiveness.  Let Me prepare you.  Let Me strengthen you.  And then, let Me use you.

So that is what I intend to do – continue, always, to let Him use me.

That was my 29th year.  Let’s see what my Lord does with my 30th.

Friday, November 02, 2012

As Political As Ever I'll Get

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. -1 Peter 2:13-17

A couple of years ago, I was in the habit of taking my writing notebook into Applebees in the evenings after choir or play practice at church and sit and penning a few paragraphs there while feasting on their half-price appetizers after 9pm.  One nondescript Thursday night, after spending my evening at church directing our latest skit, I was doing just that.  Usually the servers could tell that I wanted to be alone and would generally leave me as such; but tonight, I had been seated in the section of a young male waiter who was obviously not getting the hint.

After several minutes of him trying to engage me in conversation, to which I responded politely but succinctly, as I really had some Very Important Writing to get done, I happened to mention that I had just left church.  His interest was immediately piqued.  Standing by my table and totally abandoning his side-work  all he wanted to do was talk to me about faith.  He told me that he had been raised in a household where his father was Catholic and his mother was Pentecostal (or perhaps the reverse, I forget which), and they hadn't done a great job of making things clear for him.  He was understandably confused and seeking answers.  (I've since gained some rather strong opinions that children can most certainly be raised well in faith even if their parents are of two different denominations, given the right amount of openness, maturity, and mutual respect, but that's another thought for another time.)

When we started talking, I'm ashamed to admit, I secretly wanted him to just leave me alone.  I wanted to write!  I had things to do and I didn't have all night - I didn't want to bothered with talking to someone I didn't know.  It literally took God speaking to me in His still, small, yet very commanding way that this was more important than my writing and I needed to give him my full attention before I really got it.  Yes, I know how that sounds.  I'm not proud of it.

As soon as I really started engaging with him about God and faith, he actually slid into the booth opposite me and got very serious.  "I have to ask you a really important question," he said gravely.

Oh no.  I prepared myself for the worst.  The question of salvation?  Purgatory? The rapture?  What was he going to ask me for which I was probably by no means doctrinally or knowledgeably prepared?

He looked me right in the eyes and stared me down as he asked, "What do you think about abortion?"

I was honestly shocked.  I was taken aback, really.  Why did a 25 year old guy care about abortion?  It wasn't like he was ever going to have one.  I  barely thought about it, and I'm a woman!  For a minute or two I was silent, trying to make sure I even knew what I was going to say, and then make sure it came out right.  Eventually, I said something like this (though perhaps I've added a touch of elegance in the retelling):

That's a very tough question.  It's a very hard thing.  For me, I can say that I would never have an abortion.  I could never do it, ever.  If I had a friend who was considering abortion, I would be so heartbroken for her.  I can't even imagine.  I would pray with her, I would cry with her, and I would read the Bible with her.  Ultimately, I would counsel her to not have the abortion and instead give the baby up for adoption if she didn't want to keep it.  But I hope I never have to be in that situation. Also, I would never judge someone else if she told me she'd had one, and I would do my best to show God's love to her as I do with everyone.  I would just be so sorry she had to go through that.

He seemed satisfied.  I think he told me it was the most real answer he'd ever heard.  Praise God.

If you de-construct all that, what I said is that I'm anti-abortion, but pro-choice.

I believe the Bible.  I believe what God says, and I try the best that I can to live my life accordingly.  I believe unswervingly that accepting Christ as our Savior is the correct choice for every person's life and the way to Heaven, and ultimately that a relationship with God is what everyone in our country should seek with all their hearts.

But here's the thing:  not everyone believes what I do.

God gives us a choice.  In fact, He gives us the ultimate choice:  whether or not to follow Him.  To love Him.  To serve Him.  To accept Jesus Christ as our Savior.  He doesn't force us - He gave us free will.  

If God Himself gives us free will, it's not up to the government to force us to believe, or to institute governmental rights based on beliefs that not everyone in the United States holds.

I believe that when the decision in question comes down to something that separates us from God, then that decision should be between that person and God.  Not between that person and the government.

What political party do I affiliate myself with, you may ask?  Well, unfortunately, both sides are made up of people, and people are imperfect, so as a result, I really don't affiliate myself with one or the other with abject loyalty.  I vote for the candidate and the party whom I feel will be the most fair.  You're free to take that as you will.  Ultimately, though, politics don't really matter, because God's law is supreme.  Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, they've got nothing on the Creator of the Universe.

This election is important. But what's most important is who you elect to be the Lord of your life.  That choice goes way beyond the next four years:  it affects eternity.