Enough…

There comes a point when you are just done. You hit a wall and can go no further. For me, it was this weekend – I came to a place where I was just over myself. I think my flesh has been having a field day with me, and the bitterness, cynicism and doubts that I have allowed to fester have been contributing to its takeover of my heart and life. I have been trying to fit the world into my theology, wanting things to be different than they actually are. I was fighting what I knew at the outset was a losing battle: wrestling with God about things I didn’t like or didn’t want. Or that I was angry about or thought were oh so unfair.

I felt the walls closing in, and I wanted out. But “out” felt even more oppressive than being “in”, and I hit rock bottom on Friday night. None of my outrage was creating anything positive, and it certainly was not leading toward anything resembling a solution. As hot tears ran down my face, I cried out to God, and asked what shall I do? The answer was so simple, I almost laugh at the absurdity of it all.
As the untwisting of the pretzel that had become my soul began, I realized that all I needed to do was return.
Return to the Lord. Return to His Word. Return to grace.
I wonder if you can relate to my story. I share it so that, if by chance you can, you may find hope and a reminder that God has not forgotten you.
To speak (or write) about it now, seems so abrupt, so clean. Like it all happened in a span of two weeks and now all is well. But nothing could be further from the truth. This has been a long time coming – years in the making. I simply could not name it, could not put words to it. Hence, the silence that haunted my blog. The desert in which I resided saw no relief – or so it seemed – and my most cherished outlet was cut off completely. There were no words to write, no prayers to utter that could touch it. I was swallowed up by my doubt, my anger, my frustration and cynicism. And it shut up my heart, my mind and my mouth, leaving me literally speechless.
Outwardly, I looked absolutely normal. I have this whole Christian thing down – I know the language, the moves, the right moments in worship to raise my hands. There were moments where I could sense it, where a small glimpse of light would invade and the inward matched my outward expression. But it was few and far between. Partly because of pride – I have to save face after all – and partly because I didn’t know what else to do, I pressed forward. Each brick wall would harden me further, but to what end? I didn’t understand it.
My prayers would either bounce back to me or rise up into the air, seemingly going nowhere, received by no one, achieving nothing. All the normal Christian answers felt fake, lifeless; I became completely disaffected by any of them. But that fake plastic smile never left my lips. Who could know of what I was really going through? No one; I had to keep it to myself.
I can’t point to one particular thing that has brought me here. Wallowing in the mud seems to have brought me to a place of epiphany, or more bluntly, a “duh” moment. If I had a Nerf bat, I’d knock myself in the head with it…it was all seemed so completely and absurdly unnecessary.
Every December I write out a prayer for the new year, usually consisting of goals I’d like to achieve or prayers I’d like answered. This year was very different. Instead of goals and specific prayers, a phrase keep turning over in my mind as I thought about 2015: No more pretending. It occurred to me this weekend that God might actually be taking that seriously. Shocking, huh? You know that cliché, “be careful what you wish for…”? I’m living that right now…in spades! When the masks come off, and you see what’s really underneath, it is not pretty. I wanted to run, but there was no escape from it. To use a familiar phrase, you come to the end of yourself and recognize that all the things that you used to prop yourself up were worthless, fleeting, and useless to help you find the meaning and purpose you were looking for.
But as the masks fall off and I come face to face with what resides in my heart, I feel a sense of relief. Keeping so many balls in the air at once is exhausting. But beyond that, I found the one thing that I had taken for granted all these years is actually breathing life into me afresh.
Grace. How utterly simple. 
My previous post was a list of all the things that I have been using to try to define myself, to give worth and purpose to my life. All of them have left me empty and parched, desperate for even a drop of cool water on my tongue. But only grace – grace poured out from a loving Father who knows all that is hidden deep within but still loves me – can give worth and purpose to me, can define and shape me to truly live as I was meant to live. And although I will spend the rest of my life working out the beautiful reality of this salvation I have found in love of my Father poured out in the blood of His Son and my Lord, I can rest in today this really is enough.
He is enough for me…always…

Take it in…

The morning after a good cry my eyes are always red, puffy and gross. No amount of concealer or eye makeup can cover the fact that I just look plain awful. It generally takes the entire day for my face to look normal again, long after practically everyone asks that awkward “Are you okay” question I have no interest in answering.

Well, I don’t look like that today, but my soul kind of has that same red, puffy feeling. Like it has had a good, long, ugly cry…for about 11 years. Yes, you read that right. It has been quite a journey for me to get to here. And here isn’t really crystal clear, but it much better than where I was. I can feel again. My soul feels again.
I am actually tearing up a little as I write this because there are no amount of words that can express what this feels like. As I was driving to work this morning, I looked around at all the budding trees, cherry blossoms, and splashes of green in lawns that just a few weeks ago looked dead and lifeless. Spring has sprung. The air has a hint of warmth in it, and a lot of pollen, reminding us that summer is not that far away. Everything is coming back to life, and soon my little town will be bursting with lush greenery, and flowery displays of reds, purples and blues. This is a perfect picture of what my soul is feeling. Those first little buds are starting to make their way into the light, drinking in the nourishing rays of the sun.
I feel alive again.
It’s amazing that you don’t know how awful you felt until you no longer feel so awful. And then you wonder how you survived so long in that condition. Before I knew I was anemic, I walked through life like a zombie. I could sleep for hours in the middle of the day, and still sleep a solid nine each night. My body felt limp and weak, but I trudged through it. Since I also have Fibromyalgia, I just attributed it to that and moved along…slowly. When the problem was discovered and corrected I was amazed that I actually walked through life in that condition for so long. The awful felt awfully awful, and now if I even sense a whiff of that, I am on the phone to my doctor, asking if I need to come in, to adjust my medication. I don’t want to go back to awfully awful again.
Honesty is refreshing. It’s amazing what happens when you are finally at that place where you can sit down and say things to the Lord that have been bottled deep within, and feel the cool breeze of His grace blow through your spirit. It’s not like He doesn’t already know. How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking we can keep secrets from God. And how kind and gentle He is when we finally come to that “duh” moment, and just spill the beans. My emotional outbursts of the last few days constitute my most recent “duh” moment. Now I sit, thoroughly exhausted and think, “Why did I put myself through all of that?” 
Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and I feel that freedom right now.
Trying to be something or someone I’m not has led me down a dark path. The uncertainty and struggle of a few days ago is not gone, but I no longer dread it as I did. The confession, “Lord I need You” seemed to release the flood of grace and love, and He has richly poured it out on me. The questions, the searching, the inquisitive spirit remains; but it no longer feels pointless and aimless. It now is being guided by a love that has laid dormant for too long, covered over by a mountain of pride, anger, and a healthy dose of self-pity.
Of course, the realist in me (read: pessimist) is waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, feelings are about as reliable as the weather. Especially in my neck of the woods. It can bright, warm and sunny today and tomorrow a blizzard can roll through. Or a tornado. Or both. But for now, I am rejoicing in the fact that God is indeed on the move, regardless of how I may feel at any given moment. 
I’ll just live here for a while and take it in…

Always enough…

As I peruse the internet and read through blogs, adjust my Amazon wishlist to explore new authors, and devour kindle books whole (and sacrifice precious sleeping hours in the process), I could easily surmise that this whole doubt and angst thing is nothing more than the latest fad. The new way to be authentic and vulnerable in your Christian walk. When I was in seminary, it seemed that questions and doubt were a badge of honor in some circles; you weren’t cool and truly, authentically Christian unless you were questioning stuff the Church had settled centuries ago. 

I certainly don’t want to hitch a ride on that bandwagon; I also don’t want to dismiss all the questions by labeling them as such. Where is the balance, the elusive middle ground? I would tend to think that forces bigger than ourselves have shaped the landscape that has come into view; the vacuous nature of so much of American Evangelicalism (henceforth AE – I love acronyms!) has, in my opinion, led to this collective crisis of faith. You can thank my generation for getting the ball rolling; MLs are simply carrying the torch forward into the future. The mass marketing of everything – and I do mean everything, including faith – has burned us out. 
But I can’t dismiss AE altogether. Most importantly, it was a saving grace for me when I first became a believer and didn’t know where I should land. I felt like a stranger in the Black church, even though I had spent my entire childhood there. Somehow, as an adult, the trajectory of my life pulled me away, not toward it, and I have spent many years mourning that loss. From time to time nostalgia causes me to want to lean back; but in the end I stay put, largely for theological reasons that I can’t even begin to explain in this post. You think yesterday’s post was long…yikes!
I landed at Harvest Bible Chapel before it “blew up”, and loved it. When I moved to the Atlanta area, I found Crossroads Community Church (now 12Stones) and discovered that I had leadership and teaching gifts. When I came back to Illinois, I found my way to a church that is solidly in the main AE stream. After leaving Trinity, I landed in the Evangelical Free Church and stayed there, even after my move to Charlotte, North Carolina.
I returned to Central Illinois in spring of 2013 (greeted by a snowstorm; welcome to spring in the Midwest…) and set out to recreate the life I had before my adventures in Chicagoland and the South. But something had changed. Perhaps the church had changed. Or maybe it was me. It has taken me the last two years to figure it out. And quite honestly, I still don’t know if I’m there yet. But I least feel a sense of hope that was absent for so long.
Circling back to my first statement: I am not seeking to be cool, to be in on the latest trend of authentic Christian living. In fact, I would say this is nothing new for me. I’m just more willing now than ever before to name it, claim it (oh, that did not come out right, but I’ll keep it!) and hand it over to the Lord.
I became a Christian in 1999 at the age of 26. In the sixteen years since, I have on more than one occasion sat on the edge of my bed, literally or figuratively, and thrown my hands up in defeat, wanting to give up on the whole faith thing. Being the hyper-analytical, structure-loving girl that I am, I wanted to formula, a set of rules that would make sense and have predictable outcomes. I have gone through so many iterations of “Seven Step to Spiritual Bliss” I’ve lost count. And with the same result: me, on the edge of my bed, tears steadily falling, sometimes along with every stitch of eye makeup I carefully applied, barely able to mutter the words, “I give up”. Suddenly I start hearing the Israelites’ words falling out of my mouth, “Was it that there were not enough graves in Egypt that you led us out into the wilderness to die?!” Oh the melodrama – all too real to me.
And then, these words begin to creep up in my heart: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-67). The crowds had abandoned Jesus because He started talking about things that were too hard for them to bear, too much sacrifice to consider. They were enthralled with his flashy miracles, but not so much His teaching of dying and sacrifice and denial. At the end, the only ones left standing beside him are the original twelve, and Peter (oh, I love Peter!) affirms: how can we leave You, Lord? You are it. There’s nothing else besides You.
The ground below my feet is shaky right now. Sometimes I think I’m going through a midlife crisis. The steadily increasing number of grey hairs on my head seem to confirm that. Whatever the case, my faith is a little wobbly, and I feel a visit to the edge of my bed coming on. But in spite of all this, the one thing I know is that I desperately need Jesus. I can’t stand before God by myself. I need Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He is all I have. I have nothing without Him. If I lose Him I lose everything. And in a way I can’t explain, I know that I won’t lose Him, that I am not the one holding on. It’s like He’s boxed me in, so that no matter which way I turn, there He is. 
So, even in my doubts, my fears, my struggles – especially when I am staring my sin in the face with tears burning my eyes and destroying my makeup – I know I can’t get through it, through any of it, without Him.
And right now, that’s enough…it’s always enough…