Closer

This morning was just one of those times in my life when I couldn’t feel the presence of God. I wanted to, but I seemed stuck in my own little world, numb and alone and disappointed. And in those moments when I feel far from God, I try to pray for direction and guidance, but it feels awkwardly fake, even to me. The words sound hollow to my apathetic mind. So if prayer changes nothing, what remains to be done but sit there and feel awful while everyone around you in church is worshiping wholeheartedly?

But God used my confused state of mind this morning to show me a new aspect of my relationship with Him. Even if it feels like prayer changes nothing, it’s at work behind the scenes.

Every day, regardless of how close I may feel to God or what is going on in my life to distract me, our relationship deepens as He reveals more of Himself to me. It’s an ongoing journey, and there is no turning back; no, every event and every moment in my life is carefully calculated to draw me closer to Him. Even on those days that I am questioning and being complicated, my vulnerability only opens me up to Him and draws me closer.

Relationships are made strong through honesty and struggles and learning to understand each other. So even in my weakness, when I don’t know what to say or do, God is merely holding me and understanding me. Sometimes I wish I weren’t so emotionally complex… but if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be uniquely loved.

Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Me…in Progress

This will be a shocker to most of you, so I hope you’re sitting down, but…I’m not perfect. I’m not the smartest girl, the prettiest girl, or the nicest girl. I’m not always self-confident when I need to be, and I’m not always humble when I ought to be. Sometimes I pick the wrong time to say things, and sometimes I say entirely the wrong thing. I don’t always know the best way to fix things, so sometimes when I mess things up they stay that way. I can be kind of immature, and I can be kind of hypocritical. I often take one step forward and two steps back.

And sometimes I get really, really angry at myself for not being perfect. I hate that people see the process instead of the end result — me in progress, rather than me in perfection. I get really embarrassed when I screw up, sometimes to the point that I don’t even want to try anymore, and sometimes I’d rather just burn my bridges because I hate people seeing me at my worst, and because sometimes when I see them it reminds me of how stupid I’ve been in the past. But obviously that would be a dumb thing to do, because most of them still love me anyway.

Maybe because they know how it feels. Maybe they’re in progress too. Because really, isn’t the entire point of life to work our way to the next one? I’m not perfect yet. But I’m working towards a goal. So if I do something really dumb…or say something out of place…or somehow make you angry…please don’t hold it against me. Because that’s not me. That’s me in progress.

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Raw and Unpolished Confession

Most of the “Confessions of a Creature of Habit” notes that I write have been carefully and eloquently worded to make them sound a little more acceptable. Yeah, they give glimpses into the struggles of my spiritual life, but in their revised form they can hardly be considered legit confessions. It’s rare that my pride willingly lets people see the less-than-perfect part of me, but God put this on my heart to post. So here’s a raw and unpolished confession, straight from the pages of my journal, dated November 5, 2010.

“Honestly, God, you’re not all I want. I desperately want that to be true. I want to be in a place where I can say truthfully that you’re all I need. But I’m just not there yet. Could I pray for you to take away [the things I care about] so I could no longer even pretend to have security? No, Lord, I couldn’t. I’m clinging to an imitation because I want so badly to feel the real thing. I know it’s pitiful. Yet here I am, doing it anyway.”

I remember the pain I felt as I penned that entry and the struggle to relinquish what I wanted most. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let go. I was on my knees crying and trying to pray, and all that would come out was, “You’re not enough.”

I wrote that half a year ago to the day. Looking back now, I can hardly believe the changes God has worked in my heart over the past six months. Where before there was stubbornness and rebellion, now there is a quiet surrender and a willingness to wait. The desperate desire to have things my way has been replaced with a desire to see the revealing of His perfect plan.

Do I still become frustrated and get ahead of myself sometimes? Oh yeah. Do I still rely a little too much on finding security in others? Definitely. But I’ve come to a place where I can say that He alone is enough — and mean it.

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 1:51 am  Comments (1)  
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Waiting for…me?

Written February 20, 2011.

Hands uplifted to the sky, reaching for what seems just beyond reach. Eyes turned upward, searching for something just out of sight. Lips moving in a silent prayer, wanting but not quite expecting an answer. A thousand thoughts running through my head, all forming a well-worn and tear-stained path to the question I had put off asking. Now, though, it came exploding out in bottled frustration and exhaustion. “Why won’t You speak to me? Why can’t I feel You? God, where are you?”

Recognizing that lately I’ve just been numbly going through the motions of the Christian life without any real or tangible sense of God’s Spirit leading me, I’m desperate to have that reassuring feeling of guidance and direction. I remind myself as though reminding a child, “Of course God is with you. Now bow your head and close your eyes like everyone else and stop making such a big deal out of this.” That never works, of course; mental exercises can sometimes make you think the right thing, but feeling is an entirely different story. Mind games are no substitute for a real and vibrant relationship with God.

As the worship team launched into John Mark McMillan’s most popular worship song, I thought despairingly to myself that I was going to be the only person sitting there wondering why I couldn’t get into the same mood and produce the same response that I saw all around me. But that wasn’t what happened at all. The music washed over me as the sanctuary resonated with the sound of God’s people joyously singing, “Oh, how He loves us…oh, how He loves….” I asked the question one more time: “God, where are you?” The answer came like the whisper of a gentle breeze, but it rang unmistakably clear nonetheless.

“I’m waiting for you.”

Waiting for me? Here I was trying to get to God and He wasn’t showing up — wasn’t it the other way around? But then He gave me another reminder, a promise that He has never failed to keep: “I will never leave nor forsake you.” Around me the chorus continued to bore its way into my soul: “Oh, how He loves us…” If God never moved, but there was a distance between us, who was responsible for the distance?

There’s a facebook page entitled, “Grades. Social life. Sleep. Welcome to college, pick any two.” I have found that to be all too true — and that’s even without God in the equation. So often lately I have crawled into bed to get my precious five hours of sleep, too tired to read my Bible. I intend to pray, but as soon as I close my eyes, I’m out. And slowly I begin to slip back down the slope I had been climbing: one step forward, two steps back.

It was I who had put the distance between us, and now I was presuming to ask God where He went? God does not change like the shifting shadows; He remains constant. It is we who drift away from His arms and then look up, startled and confused, when we realize we’re alone. Fortunately I serve a faithful, loving, and infinitely patient God who will only look at me longingly and say, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Praying to Change

Written February 6, 2011.

Most of the time, I am afraid to ask God to change me, because I’m not sure if I want to deal with all the ramifications of that. As Mr. Limpet says, “Be careful what you wish for, for wishes can come true.” There are some days, however, when I’m so fed up with the person I’ve become that I really just don’t care. Those are the days that I can legitimately pray, “God, I don’t care what it takes, just do what you need to do to change my heart!”

Unfortunately, as long as I clutch my selfish heart and refuse to let it be molded into the shape of Christ, that prayer is cancelled out by my actions. I struggle between the desires of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; part of me so desperately wants to get rid of everything that stands in the way of knowing Christ, but part of me just doesn’t really care all that much. When I say the words, “Lord, change me,” sometimes I’m not entirely sure if I mean it.

Yet at the same time, I hope that God will take my words at face value without considering if I’m ready to face the consequences of my prayer. If He would just take it all out of my hands so that there was no turning back, I know the result would be exactly what I want. Did anybody ever push you off a diving board when you were a kid? It happened to me once. I was terrified to jump and stood there debating forever. After multiple times of my friend yelling “1, 2, 3, go!” and nothing happening, she decided to help me out with a little shove. I was scared to death, but when I hit the water I realized, “Oh, that wasn’t too bad.” And then I climbed back up on the diving board and jumped again by myself.

I wonder if enough prayers would force me out of my comfort zone whether I feel ready or not. I’m tired of a mediocre life, so I’m asking all of my Christian friends to pray that God will give me a push. And you may have to be there to help me through the consequences — but I’m ready.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #7: This is It

Written January 22, 2011.

“This is it, Frodo. If I take another step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.” Poor Samwise Gamgee had never in his life left the Shire, preferring the comforts of the familiar to the world of the unknown. Yet he did take that next step; throughout the rest of the series, he grew in confidence and courage, ultimately saving Middle Earth from the reign of Sauron. Just think what would have happened had he backed out and run back to the Shire. Sam was a creature of habit, yet he overcame his fear of change and took the next step.

God has called me to a radical life of service to the world. Yet am I radical enough to accept it? Maybe I’ll hesitantly put my toe over the line, but when it comes down to it, I am too afraid to plant my foot firmly outside the realm of my comfort zone. This is it; it is time to choose. I have heard the call, but have I the faith to answer? This is it; a decision has to be made. I see the path before me, yet still I hang back at the line. If I take another step now, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

And I know that, were I to leave, I could never return. After all, no one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. It’s all or nothing. Were I to step outside of my self-centeredness to see the need around me, God would destroy the state of mind that I consider home. I would never see things quite the same way; I would never be able to settle comfortably back into a routine of contentment. It sounds ridiculous to admit that fear; after all, isn’t that what I want, to be rid of my pride and selfishness? Well . . . is it?

There is such a paradoxical conflict within me as I dance on the border between two worlds: what I don’t want, I long for; and what I need, I’d rather not have. I would like to explore, but only if I have the option of returning home at the end of the day. I want a safety net; I want a back-up plan. Yet God promises none of this: He simply beckons and says, “Follow me.”

This is it, timid creature of habit. The world is waiting; take the next step.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #6: What Now?

Written January 17, 2011.

Another puzzle of my own making has crashed and burned. Again all of my plans have been torn from my hands, and I’m looking around in bewilderment asking, “Where do I go? God, where did you go?” I thought I was on the right path, but somewhere along the way it curved into a gray area of uncertainty. So now I’m retracing my steps and trying to figure out what happened. I can’t pinpoint any one moment, decision, or action; as Casting Crowns put it, “It’s a slow fade.” Here’s my best guess: I began with good intentions. But, assuming I knew God’s will, I took it and ran with it. God gave me a puzzle piece, but instead of fitting it into the puzzle of my relationship with Him, I got ahead of myself and began to build another whole sidetracked puzzle around that one piece.

It’s a nice analogy. But looking at it from a realistic viewpoint, just where did things begin to change? Exactly what should I have done differently? And how do I prevent the same thing from happening again? Here’s the confession: I haven’t a clue, so it will probably continue to happen. I hate admitting it, but I honestly don’t know. All I can think to ask at the moment is “What now?” And I have no response for myself.

It’s easy to trust God when you have carefully laid-out plans and you think you know where your life is headed. It’s a lot harder when you’re staring down the road asking that empty and hopeless question, “What now?” Yet that brings up another interesting question: who do I really trust, God or myself? It’s a thought that makes me painfully and honestly examine my heart for the answer. I put so much stock in my precious roadmaps and blueprints that I feel panicky when I have no sense of direction and no answer appears emblazoned across the sky.

Yet haven’t I been the one who has told people, “That’s when you can serve God best, when you’re just open and available for Him to use”? Why then is it so hard to implement that logic in my own life? Do I, or don’t I, believe that He can make something out of my confusion? Even being an MBTI “P” (google it), I sure seem to find security in closure.

Yet I have none, and I feel painfully at the mercy of the world. So where is all my faith now?

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #5: Puzzle Pieces

Written January 11, 2011.

I have always found extreme satisfaction in examining a puzzle piece, matching it to the picture on the box, determining where it goes, and fitting it into place. It thrills the perfectionist in me. I suppose it’s for that very reason that I expect my life to be a metaphorical puzzle. I can’t seem to stop searching for signs or indications that I’m in the right place, with the right person, or doing the right thing. I want all the edges to match up so that I can have my picture perfect puzzle.

One of my friends (*cough cough* Will Hazelwood *cough cough*) recently pointed out that I expect everything in my life to be perfect. I indignantly denied it, but I am beginning to see the truth behind that statement. It’s not so much that I expect everything to be flawless, but I do like all the elements of my life to fit together perfectly, as if to give me some sort of magical indication that I am on the right path. Basically, I feel reassurance from coincidences. Phrasing it that way makes me sound even lamer, but that’s just the truth about how I am. I like to fit together puzzle pieces.

Up until last year, I was happily occupied humming contentedly to myself and fitting in piece after piece, delighted to see my life puzzle coming together so easily. Everything just seemed like it was right, like it was meant to be, like it just fit. It looked as though I would have a nice masterpiece to frame and hang on the wall.

But that’s not what happened at all; instead my fragile puzzle fell to the ground and shattered. Shattered, too, was the security I found in order and perfection. I didn’t understand how the pieces could all fit together and still not be right; I couldn’t reconcile the seeming inconsistencies. One day, however, a very simple realization hit me: I had been working the wrong puzzle. What should have been the puzzle of my relationship with Christ was instead a puzzle of Me, a puzzle of compromise. Of course the pieces had fit together; rationalization can make anything work.

If I was going to surrender my life to Christ, though, I had to let go of the expectations and the search for signs and look at the big picture instead of fitting in the pieces on a self-absorbed, microscopic level. I had to start a new puzzle – the right puzzle – from scratch.

I’ve made progress, but from time to time, a piece of the puzzle of selfishness or the puzzle of immaturity sneaks in and looks like it belongs. I can’t tell you why I still get so excited over the wrong puzzle, but sometimes it takes me a while to get my head screwed on straight and realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean it is God’s plan for my life. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: When all the pieces seem to fit, check to make sure you’re working the right puzzle. I don’t believe that God has set up my life to be a scavenger hunt where I rely on mysterious clues to tell me where I’m going, but somehow I still catch myself saying “It all just seems so perfect!” instead of “I know this is right.” I would like to say that I’ve figured it out by now, but then I guess this note wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of its title, would it?

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #4: Search for Security

Written January 9, 2011.

The line from the Tenth Avenue North song gets me every time: “Why are you looking for love? Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough?” It hits a little too close to home; far too often I look for love and acceptance elsewhere, seeking security, when God is the one who offers safety. The song continues, posing the rhetorical question, “Where will you go, child; tell me where will you run?” I haven’t yet found an answer to that question, because everywhere I go leads to a dead end.

There is no one in my life that has not let me down when I needed them, because no one is perfect. I don’t even want to think of all the people I’ve let down when they depended on me. The reality of life, unpleasant though it may be, is that security cannot be found in flawed people or anywhere else in this imperfect world.

Why then do I continually turn my back on what I know to be authentic and spend my time searching for what seems just beyond my reach, eventually settling for a second-best imitation of the real thing? For a while, I can pretend and even convince myself that I have found security, but there always comes a painful moment when I realize that none of my support, nothing I depended on, was real. My imagined walls of protection come crashing down around me, driving me to my knees to seek security the one place I can find it.

At the point of breakdown, forced to depend on Christ alone, I do begin to feel truly safe, for I know that genuine security cannot be threatened or compromised by the circumstances of this world. But as always, life begins to drag me down. As time passes, my perception becomes cloudy, and again begins the desperate scramble to find a somehow more tangible sense of security.

The great irony is this: if I feel the safest when relying on God rather than on others, why then do I return to the world to find security there? Embarrassingly trite and a pathetic excuse though it may be, the only explanation I can offer is that old habits die hard.

Nothing found in this world is permanent; it can all slip away despite my futile attempts to hold on. The only thing steady in a life of ups and downs, the only thing safe in a world of change, is the unending love of my Savior. So all I can do is to take one day at a time, looking only to Him to provide security. And with each passing day the wait becomes shorter until the very feeling I have been seeking all this time becomes tangible; as the days of my life play themselves out one by one, the time draws nearer that I will fall into the arms of the One who will never let me go…safe at last.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #3: Letting Go

Written January 5, 2011.

I’m not sure I’ve ever really made a lasting difference in the life of someone who needed me. If I were to die today, would anyone say at my funeral, “She changed my life”? I’m afraid they wouldn’t, and I’m afraid I know why.

Working in retail, you learn the art of carrying on a friendly yet controlled conversation, letting the customer be in charge. You talk as long as they want to talk, but you don’t get so deep that you can’t easily wrap it up when they’re ready to go. And you can always tell when they’re ready – it’s a voice inflection, a casual wave of the hand, a step back from the counter – but you can always tell. You know it’s time to finish the conversation with a smile, hand the customer their bag, and let them go on their way. I’ve become quite good at it in a professional environment, but my personal life is a different story.

I meet someone who is struggling with something in their life and want to make a difference for them somehow. Yet as time goes on, I want and expect to see a change in their life, and I feel as though I bear some responsibility if that doesn’t happen. Then I become frustrated; I want their problems to become the past and the “difference” to be the future so we can have a normal, give-and-take relationship. I want them to be there for me as well; I become self-centered and expect the relationship to benefit me. Rather than making a difference for them, I want them to make a difference for me. Time passes and they no longer need me, but by then, I need them. And then the jarring realization hits me: When did this become about me instead of them?

In reality, my strength comes from Christ alone; depending on others makes me ineffective. I’m trying to strike a balance: opening up to others with sincerity but not relying on them, getting close enough for their benefit but not close enough for mine. I’m trying to learn how to be there for people when they need me but rely on God instead. I’m trying to learn how to wrap things up with a smile, make what difference I can, and let them go.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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