Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Doing Something Together

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper who is just right for him.'" -Genesis 2:18

"It's about doing something together." -MacKenzie, "The Newsroom"

Today is February 19th.  Valentine's Day, that holiday of manufactured affection and sales bumps for the chocolate and diamond industry, is over for another year.  Last Thursday, I took cupcakes with pink frosting and heart sprinkles to the office.  I wore red and lace and smiled and complimented other girls' roses and jewelry and cards, and it was fine.  Honestly.  It really is a made-up holiday, and not one that really bothers me to be alone for anymore.  I'm well practiced at it.

But now, it's over; and since today was a very special day for me last year, I thought I'd write a little bit about what I carry with me in my heart - my fondest hope and dearest petition to my Daddy, God.  

It might not be exactly what you'd think.

When I was in London in 2006, spending the most creative, faith-challenging, and also the loneliest year of my life following God to another country to get my Master's degree, I spent a lot of time listening to a certain pastor and his wife.  (I won't say who it was, because people can get kerfluffled quickly about pastors, and not seeing the forest for the trees is one thing I don't need to be manufacturing, believe me.)  The pastor himself is a spunky, lively man, a former professional musician who sings every chance he gets and whose charmingly infectious laugh comes easily.  His wife is one of the women I want to be when I grow up:  a petite lady, she is nevertheless a powerhouse of faith, supporting, praying over, and edifying her husband and their ministry together.  He is strong where she is weak and she is steadfast when his faith falters.  He often says that she has pit-bull faith and when she grabs onto something God has spoken to her, she won't let it go for anything.  In those long weeks when almost all I did was listen to their messages and spend time in the Word, I asked God to give me pit-bull faith too.  I didn't know what I was asking for at the time, but I'm pretty sure He was listening.

During that summer, they both spoke at a conference with other pastors and leaders of their denomination.  When the pastor got up to introduce his wife, he started out by saying, "This is the woman that God has put by my side." She then went on to deliver a message that, no exaggeration, tangibly changed my life from that day forward.

Let me bottom line it for you:  I've been single for almost all of my 30 years.  I am not afraid to be alone.  In fact, often times I prefer it.  I will isolate myself purposefully:  to pray, to spend time with God, to recharge.  For these many years, it's just been God and me, and praise Him, I know Him better and myself well because of it.  

I don't want to be married just to be married.  I don't want to be married because I want someone to take out the garbage, or change the clocks, or kill bugs, or get things down off high shelves.  (Though in truth, those will be perks - I'm tiny!)  I can manage my own money and make my own decisions.  I'm not afraid to sleep alone in my apartment or go on trips by myself.  I've done it all - I know I can do it. 

I don't want to be married because I'm lonely, or because I'm incomplete, or because I'm waiting for my life to start. I don't even want to be married to have children, necessarily - that's up to God and I don't know where He stands on the subject yet.

I don't need a savior - I already have One.

What I want, what I glimpsed just a glimmer of last year at this time, what my heart cries out to my Daddy, God, for, on Valentine's Day and every other day, is a partner.  A ministry partner.

I look at marriage as a joining together of myself and my ministry partner so that we can live a life together poured out in service to our Lord:  bringing each other closer to God by virtue of who we are, and using the spiritual powerhouse that will be us together to work for good in ways that neither of us could do separately.  We will be doing something together.

During that summer in London, God spoke many things to me about my future life.  I know He is calling me into active, purposeful ministry.  I know He is calling me - in fact, He calls me daily - to step up, to use my passions and my talents and my substance - to minister to others, to help them grow in their faith, to help them see Him and experience His love in new, radical, relevant ways.  He calls every Christian to do this, but He's spoken specifics to me then and now. I'm even pretty well sure on how He wants me to begin my lifelong journey of service to Him - in fact, I've already started.

But I know that there is more for me to do than I can do alone.  I know that there is someone out there with whom I can do more with him as my partner than I could do on my own or that he could do by himself.  I know there is someone whom God is calling in the same way, with the same pull on his heart, with the same love for our Lord and the same desire to step up and serve Him that I have had flickering and burning inside of me like an ember that just won't die, despite the years and struggles and gallons of discouragement heaped on them since those whispers of the Holy Spirit in my dorm room in north London.  Someone who is strong when I am weak, and someone for whom I can be steadfast when his faith falters.  Someone who will be proud to have me by his side and who will be overjoyed to be half of our partnership.

Now, whoever that is, it's up to God to tell him about it.

In the years since London, God has put me through a lot.  Wilderness periods followed by seasons of happiness and blessing, followed by being dragged out into the wilderness again.  Pounding and shaping and molding.  Learning patience, gumption, self-assurance, professionalism, maturity, when to stick my neck out and when to keep quiet; toilet scrubbing, bill paying, getting my oil changed or my tires fixed, how to roast a chicken to perfection or make Eggplant Parmesan from scratch.  Thinking I might know what on God's green earth I'm doing to suddenly having the rug yanked out from under me and hitting rock bottom, hard - more than once.  Learning how to say I'm sorry when I should be, and also learning how to say that really hurt me when it needs to be said.

I can only hope and pray that these years have been preparation for the day when God blesses me abundantly with my ministry partner for life:  the man who will be proud to say "This is the woman that God has put by my side."  Not because my life will begin then, but so that the life that I've lived thus far will add and contribute to the ministry that our life will be as we are doing something together for Him.

"Let us hold to each other until the end of our days." -Rob Thomas, "Now Comes the Night"

"So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What God has joined together, let no man separate." -Jesus, Matthew 19:6

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Sleeping at the Wheel

I would give anything
But for the grace of God I'm here and still aware
We know the end is overrated
We've become the walls we raise
We don't believe enough but we still care
Standing on the edge without a prayer
So come on, come on, it's all we've got
Our hands are full, our lives are not
The loose affiliation with the real
We're sleeping at the wheel. -Matchbox Twenty

A niggling, prickly restlessness has been growing in my spirit for some time now, unsettledness about my own faith and that of the people around me.  Talk is cheap.  Promises are hollow.  Words mean nothing when they’re not followed by actions.  I believe is a boldfaced lie when it isn't followed by and because of that, here’s what I’m going to do about it.

We can say we believe; we can say we’re people of faith - but are we acting like it?

Life is hard.  I get it.  Really, I do.  As people in my generation get older and we no longer have the protective shelter of our parents’ homes or our parents’ money or our parents’ reassurances to comfort and coddle us about what special snowflakes we are; as we go out and face the big bad world which, frankly, doesn't really care and expects us to show up and earn our keep, our faith is tried and tested and twisted and changed.  I’ll be there is easy to deliver on when you have all the time in the world, but in the real world, we don’t.

So I ask again – what are we doing about it?

Let’s bottom line it here:  what kind of faith do we want?  Do you want a pat, cotton-candy “belief system” that pacifies us by the “power of positive thinking” into believing that everything is perfect, wonderful, sunshine and fairy dust, and then the bottom falls out when things go wrong?  A “religion” that’s a band-aid?  A “doctrine” that’s a placebo?  So many of us have been living in that magical bubble of a fairyland and simply don’t know how to react when, as our Lord Jesus assured us it would, tragedy strikes us and the people we claim to love.

Or, instead, do we want to engage in active, living, mature relationships with the Creator of our souls that push us to be better, to do more, to step up and prove that we mean what we say when we say we have faith?

What do you want?  Do you want a faith that honest-to-goodness changes you, matures you, grows you, and improves you?  Do you want to know a God who isn't content to leave you the way you are, but instead wants you to be all you can be for Him and His glory?

Or are we all just sleeping at the wheel?

I used to call myself a “hippie dippy Christian flower child” and was proud to do it.  I thought I was being accessible to people of all faith walks.  But that’s not good enough anymore.  Now, I’m taking an even firmer stance.  I don’t want to be a hippie. I don’t want to just frolic around a field or in a forest making like the world is perfect and everything is wonderful and nothing bad can ever happen.  I don’t want to be an ostrich with my head in the sand, ignoring the needs of God’s children in a fallen world.  The thing is, God never said that our lives would be perfect.  In fact, He said the exact opposite.

I want to be a radical, fanatical, genuine Christian.  I want to be just like Jesus.

I think it’s high time we started being real with each other.  This isn't just about holding hands and singing Kumbaya on Sunday mornings or affirming each other on Wednesday night and doing whatever we want the rest of the time. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great; but there’s so much more to it than that.  It’s about love – real, unconditional, unwavering love.  It’s about stepping up and doing what’s needed.  It’s about being loyal when loyalty counts and being on the other end of the hug or the phone or the table or the prayer every single time.  It’s about meaning what you say and saying what you mean.  It’s about sticking by your word.  It’s about showing grace to those who disappoint you and forgiveness to those who hurt you, just like Jesus did.  It’s about saying “I love you” and then showing it, over and over and over again.

I have seen so many people who have been devastated by others not being there for them.  I've seen so many people profess love and affection when things are good, but they’re nowhere to be found when the skies get rough.  They don’t show up by the sickbed.  They’re absent at the memorial.  They won’t visit the prison.  More than that, they can’t even entertain the idea that those types of things could even happen.  They can’t talk about the real stuff, the uncomfortable stuff.  They flake out.  They run away.  They’re just, very simply, not there.  Their “belief system” doesn't have an answer for when life happens and stuff gets real.

I hate to admit it, but I’m guilty of the same thing.  I've not shown up when I said I would.  I've made excuses for how busy I am or how hard my life is so I don’t have to deal with tragedy.  I've pushed people away and put up walls rather than admit my own mistakes or insecurities.  I've kept quiet out of “meekness” when I should have extended a word of comfort, kindness, or support.

That’s not real faith, and I’m sick of it - in myself and everyone else who claims the name of Jesus.

So what’s the answer?

I don’t think there is just one.  But right now, in this moment, after living through more than half a year of more tragedy than I've seen in any nightmare, I’m taking a stand in my own life.  No more excuses.  No more whining.  No more running or hiding or flaking out.  It’s time to decide who we’re going to be, and in Jesus’ name, I am a Christian woman and that means something to me. 

Lord, help me to be more like You – every single time.

How about you?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Streams in the Wasteland

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." -Isaiah 43:18-19

In the more than five years that have passed since I obeyed God’s call to move to Raleigh, I've felt as if the battle has been constantly uphill.  I have had nine different jobs. My toy poodle and I have lived in six different apartments, one of which I found just days shy of us being homeless.  My closest friends have suffered more injury and injustice than anyone should in a lifetime, much less in five years.  Also, I've been through several failed relationships (and pseudo-relationships), the most recent dissolution of which was nothing short of just pitifully tragic and left me feeling like a life-giving, spirit-illuminating candle had been snuffed out in my soul.

When I woke up this New Year’s Day, I found myself looking blankly up at the ceiling and realized that in the last few months I had settled into an attitude of forlorn complacency.  I’d accepted that this is it, then, and at 30 years old staring down the barrel of yet another long, cold, lonely winter, I realized I’d been behaving for months like there is just no more fight left in me.  I had become a modern day Miss Havisham, rotting spiritually and emotionally in the ruins of hope continually deferred.

But God.

Suddenly, words God spoke to me six months ago rushed into my ears like a flood.  I remember it like it was yesterday:  I was sitting in a church basement on a Wednesday evening.  It was mid-July, and God’s rich blessings to me throughout the previous year were now totally up in the air.  Everything was uncertain, and the foreboding scent of approaching tragedy wafted around unmistakably.  As I sat there during the service, I knew that things were going to drastically, starkly change, and I was not happy.

In fact, I was furious.  I felt duped and betrayed by God, like I was watching Him wrap His fingers around the rug He was about to yank out from underneath me.  As the certainty settled into my spirit that I wouldn’t be back at that church for awhile, knowledge that was surely being divinely given, I flung my anger and heartbreak back at God in silent but virulent consternation.

The service was an hour long.  Forty-five minutes into it, I had not given God one second of respite from my heartbroken vitriol.  (Those of you who know me in person will believe this easily.)  Why was all of this happening?  Why did I have to suffer this way?  Why, why, why?  What was the point of all this?  What had this whole year meant if this was to be the conclusion??

Approaching minute 46 of the service, God had had enough.  In my spirit, I heard STOP!

I stopped.

For a moment, there was silence.  The clock ticked by for a few seconds.  My mind was frozen in startled obedience.

And then, “You need to trust Me.  I will make all things new.

I wish I could say everything changed right then, but I honestly didn't believe it.  I was so brokenhearted that the Creator of the Universe spoke promises to me and I second-guessed Him. “What, Lord?  Can you repeat that?” 

He did!  “You need to trust Me.  I will Make. All. Things. New.”

And this New Year's morning, after half a year of feeling like a light had gone out in the parlor of my heart, He spoke those same words to me again.

If I believe what I say I believe, then I have to believe Him when He speaks - especially when He speaks His Word, and I know His Word to be the truth for my life.

He will do it.

For Him, nothing is impossible.

He will make everything new.

He will make a way where there is no way.

In fact, it is already done.

I’m still looking up.  

And wouldn't you know it?  I'm already starting to see the beginnings of His streams in the wasteland.

"The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." -1 Thessalonians 5:24