Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pits and Valleys

So, it's been a little while since I've written anything. Usually when I have these bouts of not blogging, it is because I am so wrapped up in my novel, or simply because I haven't quite put together a thought on what God's been teaching me that's straight enough to blog about. Or at least not straight enough to blog about in my preferred style, complete with examples, analogies, and stories.
But these last few weeks that has not been the case.

The thing is, I haven't been putting a lot of effort into my novel recently or even my relationship with God. That's not to say I didn't have the desire to do either, because I did. I longed for my creative highs and my peaceful mornings spent in the word. But over the last few weeks, those "peaceful mornings" have been filled with depression, distraction, and stress. While the depression would leave me once I got myself out of bed and moving, the stress and distractions would always linger through much of the day, bringing my focus levels to an all time low. With the desire to move forward, but no attention span, my motivation quickly dwindled. Every morning I would ask God, "Please, show me something. Bring me closer to you this day. I want to know you more." And while each day I found some small rarity in a passage I would never have looked in to find out anything more about my wonderful Creator, that step forward was always accompanied by several tiny steps back. The pattern left me feeling stuck. Like I was making progress, but not enough to get any forward momentum. Like a conveyor belt was moving beneath me, but my feet were strapped with lead and I could do nothing more than shuffle along just fast enough to stay exactly where I was, all while longingly staring at what I most desperately wanted at the end of the belt.

I reached a point where I was getting angry. Somewhat with myself, somewhat with God, but mostly just with this feeling of being stuck that I couldn't seem to shake. This distracted mindset that kept me from doing what I know I must do. I found myself thinking things like, "What's the point? I'm not getting anything out of this," or, "I can help people. I have before, I want to again, but how can I do that when I can't even connect to the One who gave me my heart for others?" or even, "If writing is my calling and I can't get myself to write, what am I?"
But I continued to do what I've been doing since this spring. I continued praying (Or trying to. Apparently it's very hard to pray when your mind can't stay focused on one thing for more than twenty seconds. Who knew.) and continued reading my bible every day. Even when I got to boring chapters Exodus 25, which for those who don't know, is the first of several chapters just about how to build the tabernacle and the sacred objects within it. Even on those chapters, I tried to find something to underline, something to write about, something that showed me more of human nature or God's character. But despite my efforts to find something even in these chapters, I still felt stuck. I was still plodding against the conveyor belt endlessly with no end in sight.

Then, Wednesday evening, after a morning of maximum frustration and extremely low motivation levels that led to me laying on the floor for hours with no will to move, God began showing me things that He's apparently been trying to teach me these last few weeks, but I never noticed.
It started when I went out to dinner with a new friend. I had recently asked him where his faith was in a very silly manner, and he told me it hasn't been that great in a while, but that he thinks it's getting better now. During dinner, he decided to shed a little more light on the picture, and after telling me what caused his faith to plummet in the first place, he said something that surprised me. He told me that before he started to talk to me, his relationship with God and his desire to go to church was a giant shrug. He said that if anyone ever tried to talk to him about Jesus, he would just wave it off and be over all indifferent towards it. Having already noticed some of these patterns and knowing what I had just learned about his past, I was not surprised by this confession. What surprised me was when he said, "Talking to you, things are starting to sink in more. I actually want to try to have a relationship with God again. When you invited me to come to church, instead of my normal habit of making up an excuse for why I couldn't go, I wanted to figure out a way to make it work. I wanted to try again."
I was stunned. For literally most of the time I've known him, I have felt like I was shuffling endlessly on that belt, with no way to take the weights from my feet that were slowing me down and keeping me from sprinting to the end. But despite that, God had still used me to make an impact on his life.
I was stunned, I was happy, I almost didn't believe it, but the inflection in his voice showed that he meant every word he said. I didn't know what to do with the information at first.

It wasn't until later that night, after movie night with friends was over and I was laying alone in my bed did it really settle. God used me, to touch the heart of someone who had long since shrugged Him off. I didn't do anything. How could I have, after all? I was struggling in my pursuit of my dreams and my faith. But that doesn't make a difference in God's kingdom. For God isn't just there in my mountain top experiences, where I feel Him close and see Him everywhere, but he is also in my dark valleys, where I can't see Him beside me or even feel His hand guiding me. But just because I don't feel Him or don't see Him, doesn't mean He isn't there or isn't working.

I would like to take this one step further and remind you that God works in mysterious ways. He doesn't only use those who are trying to follow Him (even those in a spiritual funk, as I have been) to further His kingdom, but even those who either don't realize He's there or don't see Him working.
A good friend of mine has recently been learning what it looks like to love unconditionally. To love someone just for being a person, not because of how they perform, treat you, or meet up to expectations. She's been learning what it means to let go of hurt and act instead out of love, rather than holding onto that hurt and letting it effect the way she treats others.

The other day, she and I had a bit of a dispute about the friend mentioned in my previous story. In a nut shell, she thought I was being too nonjudgmental, while I thought she was being too judgmental. A very unneededly long story short, she texts me after movie night and shares several realizations about how God is with her not only as support in her hard times, but also in her good times. After sharing this epiphany, she says, "I did realize though, that he's a person God loves, and that I haven't been very loving."

We, as people, tend to do whatever we want, but that doesn't mean God can't use us or our circumstances wherever we are and whatever they happen to be to bring about something beautiful.
Hardship doesn't need to be just that. It can be more. God can use it in ways we wouldn't imagine. After all, He used my friend with the decade old, half abandoned faith to teach my bestie what it means to love. If God can use me in my spiritual blah, or him and all the things that went into his turning away from the faith to impact the lives of others, can't He also use the poor circumstances in your life for something bigger, something you never will see coming?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Spirit's Whispers

Happiness is good, and there's days where I crave it,
But those days are usually dark and lonely 
Where I forget that the root word of happiness is happen 
And that happiness is connected to circumstance and what we can get out of life.
On those days I forget that joy is what I really need.
That joy is a seed planted in my heart by a loving Father,
That no matter how unhappy my circumstances may seem,
That seed of joy will grow into a tree with hope as its roots and peace as its branches.
And somewhere in that growth my heart will learn to love again
And see people despite the sin that plagues them. 
For it plagues me too.
Because aren't we all the same?
Stuck in this disease called humanity that grips our minds
And in time we stop seeing the truth.
Though it affects most things we do, it's not who we are,
For we are more than our actions and scars-- 
We are souls seeking refuge in a stormy sea, 
But despite what we're told and despite what we think, that refuge is never the boat
That teeters and rears and tries to stay afloat atop the waves.
While our bodies want the boat's "safety," our spirits long to be saved.
Through the cries of our flesh, the Spirit whispers underneath,
"Take hold of his reach. Cant you see? 
The creator of your soul has asked you to be not of the storm but above it,
Walking the waves as if it were pavement."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Devil's Favorite Tool

"Just because it scares us or we don't understand it doesn't mean it isn't real."
This seems a little obvious. I mean, you may be scared of outer space, rottweilers , or taxes, but no matter how much you do not understand or are scared of these things, they are still there and no amount of pretending they aren't will make you not run into them or something regarding them from time to time. Obvious, right?
So, so then, how come we live much of the rest of our lives this way in regards to truth and beauty?

That quote is a line that stood out among all other profound thoughts expressed in my Partner in Crime's newest blog post, entitled The Ache of Beauty. In it she describes how we all experience this longing when it comes to beauty, because we were designed for ultimate beauty. But this longing scares us because we cannot understand it, so we put up walls around our hearts and hide, just like we do with many other things that scare us and threaten our minimal understanding of things.

I have talked a lot about walls over the last couple months. I've talked about how we build walls and masks around ourselves to hide who we really are, why we do these things, and how we should tear town these barriers so we can embrace who we are meant to be. I have talked about beauty and how we are scared to show our beauty to others for fear of being judged. But something I didn't realize until now was it's not just our own beauty we put a mask over but beauty in general. As Miss McCall said in her post, we turn away from beauty and put walls around our hearts so as not to feel the ache.
How many times have you read in the Bible that someone "hardened their heart" and wondered what it looked like? I think it looks a lot like this. Because the ache stems from a longing for more, a longing that we have to leave our comfortable places to pursue. And we, as humans, are oh so scared of leaving the known and the comfortable for the unknown and potentially uncomfortable. We are scared that our actions would not be worth it and that we will make a disastrous mess and fools of ourselves. We are scared because we have bought into the lie that we cannot walk on water. I mean, surely I can't be the only one who has a hard time believing that story sometimes.

But the devil works on this fear. We think he's been getting more and more creative with how he personally attacks us and tears us down, but his tactics haven't changed. Since the beginning of time, his methods have always been fear and lies, fear and lies. So why do so many people seem much more hopeless, lost, and longing for more than ever before?
It's because in the busy, who has time to seek truth?  And who would want to, really? I mean, truth disrupts our busy lives with our meetings, soccer practices, dinners, and even relaxation time planned to a T. You don't even have to look at a working adult to see this. Look at a grade schooler. From school to piano lessons to baseball games to play dates, it's no wonder kids are more stressed than ever and more and more people are growing up to never know how to appreciate beauty at all.

Jesus said we must become like a child to be able to enter His Kingdom. But with kids being scheduled more and more like adults, where has the wonder and inspiration gone? We are being introduced at younger and younger ages to lie that says you aren't important unless you are doing everything. Lies that tell us that the truth is a lie.

But this isn't the first time the devil has used our fear of the unknown to keep us from pursuing beauty and instead keep us pursuing things much less worth our hearts and souls.
In Exodus 5, Moses follows God's leading and goes to Pharaoh to ask if the Israelites can go into the desert to worship God for three days. In response to Moses' request, Pharaoh orders the slave drivers to make the work harder for the Isrealites so that "they keep working and pay no attention to lies." In the same way, our society has told us that busy is better. "Pay no attention to the truth," it says. "You must work, work, work so you can be the best."
With so many people saying this and living this way all around, it is very easy for us to slip into the same rhythm and have trouble believing truth and seeing beauty altogether.

But we must not let our fear of the unknown and the judgement of others keep us from living the lives full of wonder and beauty that we were designed to live. We must start a revolution and start breaking free from the molds we've been put in.
I challenge each of you personally to slow down and embrace beauty when you see it. Let it make your mind run wild, even if that takes you into parts of yourself you haven't explored in a while. Let yourself dream again, but don't stop there. Pursue the dreams and longing for a deeper meaning of Beauty, Love, and Truth that can only be found in the One we cannot fully comprehend.