Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Woods of Solitude

Technology robs us of silence,
of solitude.
Convenience becomes an intrusion.
The noise keeps us shallow and prevents us from being taken to the depths.
And the depths cry louder.
We become uncomfortable.
We hush their cries with the noise of technology –
we numb the longing for deep connection
with the convenience of quick, shallow communication.
We scramble to fill
only to realize we are becoming more empty.
We break the vicious cycle and sit in silence.
It is uncomfortable.
All the voices of desire,
all the groanings too deep for words
begin to rise.
We are scared.
We want more noise!
to hide the fear,
to distract from the pain of longings unfulfilled.
But we press on in stillness.
As the silence grows and our minds become calm,
our soul emerges from hiding,
like a wild beast emerging from the brush because
we finally stopped traipsing through the forest.
Sitting quietly by a tree
we finally realize how our crashing through the forest of our lives
kept our wild souls in hiding.
But in quiet, in solitude,
We invite our souls to be seen,
to be heard.
Then we begin to hear –
the longings of our soul
the hopes
the dreams.
We are reminded of who we really are
and who we really want to be.
The emotions rise –
who we are is not who we really want to be!
And what we have is not really what we want.
We sit in our sadness from the discrepancies between our heart and lives.
And then we hear it –
a new voice
a voice not our own,
a voice of promise
a voice of hope.
We can be fulfilled and satisfied!
But this new way,
this life
is so much different than what I look like on the outside…
I become discouraged,
I fear the shame
of so much change.
But then the voice speaks love.
My heart floods with sadness and joy as I realize that is what I wanted all along!
My constant searching through technology,
my constant busyness and noise,
and yet here
in the silence
and the uncomfortable solitude
is where I have found the deepest longing of my heart.
I am so glad I went here.
I am so glad I stopped here.
I have peace,
and joy.
I smile.

JOLTED by the obnoxious intrusion of my phone’s ‘ding’ and vibration,
I jump from the tree where I found solitude…and love.
My wild soul goes running into hiding as I keep running through the woods.
Remembering what just happened,
almost as if it were a dream,
I pause and look back to that tree.
“I’ll be back soon.” I whisper with a smile.
Then I turn and keep running.

[This poem was inspired by my readings in Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sin vs. Suffering


I've been thinking about it more often lately...

...facing my own struggles and failures with it, and hearing about others' struggles with it.  I have had several great conversations with people this summer about sinful patterns and habits, about accepting God's forgiveness and grace, and even about pursuing freedom from sin.

Frankly, I have been feeling a little sick of giving in so easily lately and seemingly not even fighting much. As I was reading 1 Peter the other day, this verse stuck out to me:
"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God." (1 Peter 4:1-2)
As I meditated on it, it became more practical to me and I decided to memorize it to use as a weapon against temptation (so feel free to quiz me on it). It helps remind me precisely of that about which it speaks - the "way of thinking". I haven't spent much time studying it, but from it I understand that sin and suffering seem to be opposed, just as human passions and the will of God seem to be opposed. Now, I would not go generalizing this to all of suffering, but in this passage I see this juxtaposition of sin and suffering, that if one is suffering then one is not sinning, and if one is sinning then one is not suffering.

For example, as many (or all) people do, I experience sexual desires and struggle with wanting to satisfy them in one way or another (hopefully this is not too much information...I know it is risky for me to even put this out on the internet, but it is the easiest example I have). Part of those desires are good and God-given, but there is a part of them - my desire for instant gratification, for instance - that gets classified as "human passions". But in his will, where he has me in life, he has not provided a way for those desires to be satisfied right now. So, if I give in to that sin, my human passion is gratified and my flesh does not suffer. But, if I do not give in to those desires, then my flesh suffers, and I cease from that sin, at least that time around. I don't know, seems pretty simple to me...not to say that it is easy though.

What do you think? How could this be applied to your life?

Feeling like Rapunzel

This is twice now this year that a Disney movie has helped me to identify and express how I was feeling. This past week, it was Tangled. Here is how the week played out:

Monday, this is how I felt:

Tuesday through Thursday:


As you can imagine, this past week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I spent much time wrestling in prayer and crying out to God.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Single Life

I'm hungry for intimacy.

I'm searching for intimacy, even without realizing it. I seem to only notice it once I've found it and then it gets removed, like recently.

Recently I returned from a summer trip where I spent three weeks with the same group of 18 people (more if you count the others that came for a shorter amount of time - 62 total individuals). This is the third time I've been on this trip and the fifth time I've been on a trip like this, so I'm familiar with how it feels to make such deep bonds during the trip, only to have them quickly or slowly lose touch in the days and months to follow.

This year has felt a little different, and because I'm in a different stage of life, my perspective has been different. And as I've been writing in my journal and processing with the Lord, I think I've stumbled upon what seems to be a huge insight! [Granted, none of this has been verified by any married folk, so for now it is completely theoretical, and nonetheless my personal observation and interpretation.]

So for those who may not understand the kind of trip and relational bonds about which I am talking, I'll fill you in and get all of us on the same page. These trips are anywhere from three to six to ten weeks long, and for that time you are living together, working together and everything in between (especially these camping trips, like the kind I was just on - then even bodily functions become a normal conversation). Usually we don't know anyone going into the trip, yet we are all committed on the front end to loving and being friends with everyone. So when we finally get together, relationship-building is intentional and thorough. You pretty much share your life story every day and by the end of the trip, everyone of the same gender has heard it (and you've heard theirs) and half or more the people of the opposite gender knows your story and struggles too. Over the course of the trip you laugh together, cry together, be absolutely crazy and obnoxious together and even experience some relational tension...pretty much all the makings of a family. Ultimately that is what it feels like and what it becomes - a family, for those three or more weeks. Goodbyes are really painful, and nearly everyone cries - even the guys, but that's a sign of good, deep bonds. Many will keep in touch in the ensuing days, months and years, but it will never feel the same as when you were all together.

Much of this does feel the same for us leaders, but over the years I have noticed a difference between the leaders and the students on the trip (outside of the fact that the leaders return year after year, while there is a fresh batch of students). My observation is this: for the most part, the students do not keep in contact with the leaders to the same extent that they do to the other students. I will withhold my interpretations for now, but I will say that for me, this reality has created a bit of a void, which has stirred this deeper contemplation.

This difference, and for me, this void, stirs up my own brokenness and insecurities, so I dwell on it more. I ponder: why do I feel this way? Obviously these trips provide a source of relational and emotional intimacy that is rarely found in the "real" world, at least as I've experienced it. Once a year I have this amazing family for three weeks, then for the rest of the year, it seems a struggle to connect with people the same way, especially after graduating from college (another important observation).

So I wonder, as I have for years: can this type of community exist in everyday life? Why doesn't or can't my small group feel this way? This is where stage of life has created even more of a chasm. In college, there were some experiences throughout the year of community like that, yet the older I've gotten and the more my friends and peers have gotten married, the farther I feel from the reality or possibility of that type of community in everyday life. So I wonder: maybe it's because I'm single.

So I return to thinking about the trip and now think about the married couples on the trip. Do they feel the same loss of intimacy and community that I do upon leaving a group and trip like this? Of course they do to some extent. However, I imagine it is also different. As married people, your "family" - your essential community and source of intimacy is self-contained, whereas us singles need to outsource to find "family", community and intimacy. Thus we find it on trips like these, and why I think it is likely sweeter but harder for singles to come and go, than for couples who have a partner that comes and goes with them and where they experience intimacy no matter when or what (as a general principle, with their spouse). The leaders who are single connect much like the students, yet the post-trip interaction is not the same between the leaders and students, which is how I began to notice all this in the first place.

Then, in everyday life, as more of my friends and peers have gotten married (and as I have remained single) I've noticed a significant difference in group dynamics between groups of mostly singles and groups of mostly married couples. Groups of singles seem closer, more intimate/vulnerable, and more committed as a group, whereas groups of mostly couples seem more disconnected and distant as a group, by comparison. As I thought about why, it finally dawned on me that it is probably precisely because they are married and therefore get much of their need for intimacy and vulnerability satisfied within their marriage, so it is less natural to initiate and engage in that intimacy and vulnerability within the group setting.

And that is where, as a single person living in the reality of an ever-increasing percentage of peers getting engaged and married (and having babies), I have less and less intimacy, and am more and more hungry for it. :\ There is a huge, but natural, shift between group dynamics and group intimacy between college and adulthood. And if you're like me, in the group of people that gets married later than all your friends and peers, it can be a challenge.

So, I guess this wasn't a "happy" post, but it seemed a monumental insight to me, and an important one in order to help keep my expectations in check, both for trips and for everyday life. I, like many others, live on the margins of society (in a sense), frequently experiencing loneliness due to being single. But I don't say this as a complaint, just stating a reality. I know I'm right where God has planned, and I trust that he will provide according to his good will and his perfect timing (not that it's not hard though). And he has taught me that in the period of patience and waiting on his timing to provide, he has provided himself and a different means of intimacy and community. I do long to be married and to experience the intimacy and community of a husband, but I know that ultimately, there is a source of intimacy and community that is even greater and deeper than that, and I can experience that, even now, when he grants it. So it is that I ache for more, yet I am content and satisfied.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Searching for Rescue

What are your top 5 favorite movies?  Chances are at least one, if not more, of those movies has a main theme of rescue and salvation.  That is no accident.  We all face difficult or undesired circumstances in life and want a way out.  Our love for these movies shows our desire to be rescued ourselves - we love them because we want that to be our story.

People in the Bible wanted rescue as well.  Let's take a look at where they searched, and found, salvation.

Someone Else's Story
Read Psalm 33.

What do you observe about this psalm?  What stands out to you?

Digging In
Where are you following counsel and plans that are not the LORD's?  Where are we as a nation following counsel and plans that are not the LORD's?  (Hint:  The counsel is failing and you're probably frustrated with the plan because it's not working out.)

Why are you/we following counsel and plans that are not the LORD's?

From what present circumstances do you/we desire rescue and salvation?

In what are you/we hoping for rescue and salvation from our present circumstances?  For eternity?

Are you/we waiting for the LORD, hoping and trusting in Him?  If not, where are you/we not trusting, hoping and waiting for Him, and why?

Now what?
Confess to God your belief and hope in other things for salvation and deliverance.  Even share your struggle of why you trust in those things rather than in Jesus.

Ask for forgiveness, and then thank him for it.  (Our assurance of forgiveness and gratitude can be based on 1 John 1:9.)

Ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you and help you to trust in Jesus for the rescue you want.  Then make a new confession of belief and hope in Jesus for that salvation and deliverance (even if you don't know what it will look like - He knows and you can trust His plan).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Stuffing's Getting Ripped Out

This is what I was processing on the way home tonight.  If I tagged you, then it's probably because this came up in conversation one way or another.

It's like I've been a stuffed animal and God is making me into a puppet.  As humans there is only so much we can do with stuffed animals - we may be able to grab them and move them and talk, but it's not like what we can do with puppets - acting and speaking through them.  But what's the difference, they're both made of fuzzy material on the outside that represents their skin, their being?  The difference is that puppets are empty.  Stuffed animals are literally stuffed with stuffing, but puppets are totally empty.  But it is exactly their emptiness that allows us to act and speak through them.

That's how I feel about what I'm going through.  So often recently I've just been feeling completely empty, just totally void - lonely, alone, abandoned by the Church - empty, all there is is God but it doesn't even feel like he's there sometimes.  But the past couple of weeks he has shown up, through my job, through ministry.  Like Fastbreak or Monday's meeting or tonight - I'd be on my way to these things just crying out to God "I'm so empty that I can't do anything!  I NEED you to show up and fill me if I am to do anything good."  And he has been showing up.  But it's weird because I still feel empty.  But even in that good things are coming out of me.  Like tonight, I drove a student home.  She asked me for advice about something and I forewarned her that I was in a weird mood (feeling emotionally exhausted and just blah from my most recent conversation) and that I didn't know if anything I was about to tell her was going to make sense.  And then, from who knows where within me, I just started spitting out scriptures and truth and things Jesus said and I was like "I don't really know what I'm saying or if it's relevant or if it makes sense" and she was like "No, that's exactly what I needed to hear!"

So, I'm empty - I feel empty, but I guess what I've known in my head for years I am now finally starting to experience in my heart, that only when I'm empty of me can God really work through me.  He's been ripping out my stuffing so that he can stick his hand inside me to move my arms and lips.  I imagine for a stuffed animal (if they were living, feeling beings) it would be painful to be ripped open and have your stuffing ripped out.  And thus is our experience - painful.  And we are left feeling empty.  But somehow it's all good in the end because then we have that much more of God inside us and it is so much less of us acting and talking, but rather him, because we have nothing left.

I hope that makes sense.

And then to really seal it all in, he brought to mind the song "Empty Me" by Jeremy Camp.  So I just blasted it in my car the rest of the way home, like REALLY meaning what I was singing, because that's exactly how I felt.  I was a little hesitant at first to really beg him to empty me, because I know I don't like it, but after the repetitions of the song I sang more emphatically because I admitted that that was the best way - that I'm sick of being stuffed with things that aren't him and I WANT him to burn away all of my desires for the things, the sins, that keep tripping me up!  It was devastatingly wonderful.

I felt like I was bursting with all of this amazing work that he was doing in me and I had to share.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I had lost all hope...

Hope.... When I listened to my pastor's sermon about it last Sunday I thought, "Yeah, I know what hope is...I got this!" And even last night as we talked about it in Connect Group, I thought I had a pretty good handle on it. But this morning, God broke me down. There is (and has been) a situation in my life that has been really hard. Sometime in high school I just started ignoring it so I could go on living, but I know it's still there, and throughout college I began to acknowledge it again - just a little bit. I would pray about it every now and then, but it's just so hard that I can only handle acknowledging it for so long before it starts to disrupt my ability to carry out my daily responsibilities. Then I ignore it again, so I can be a functioning adult.  (Not the healthiest - I know.)

Well, a few weeks ago, I was challenged to pray for other people for 40 days.  The person at the center of this situation was the second thing on my list. As the days have gone on it has gotten harder to pray for this person/situation. Today I finally broke down and didn't want to pray anymore. I was mad at God because I can't see him doing anything. I've read about people that prayed everyday, without ceasing, for years and even until they died, without giving up. I want to be like them but today, I just wanted to give up.

I was so angry I wanted to just wail on God and walk away. I got one step away and he grabbed me and pulled me into his bosom. He embraced me despite my fight and held me there until I surrendered...really surrendered, not just my fight but let go of this hurt and anger. Then I felt his comfort...and hope.

Here's how it happened: I had given up on praying for the moment and went to do something else. Still distracted and wrestling internally, a friend calls, who happens to be in my Connect Group so she is familiar with the sermon and conversations around hope. When she asked how my morning was going, I was honest and said that it was hard. I shared everything, including some tears (which is hard and a big step for me). I realized that it is much easier for me to choose despair in this situation, and that's what I had finally done earlier in the morning. She commented on how it's hard to hope when there is no opportunity, and I agreed. That's why I had lost hope for this person, there is nothing else that can help her. Jesus is her ONLY hope. Jesus is MY only hope for her. Somehow, with that refreshed realization, God supernaturally renewed my hope. It seems so backwards to me, that I have hope, especially after acknowledging that there is no visible or logical hope for her. Like, huh? That doesn't make sense! But that's what hoping in Jesus is all about. It doesn't make the situation any easier, but I have hope, and what's better is that I can talk to the One that is my hope for her. I can sit at his feet and beg and plead, and he will never get tired of it. That's some love!

So what day is it after all?  I haven't been counting the days, but now I'm really curious how many days it's actually been.  After looking it up just now, today is actually day 40.  Wow - significant!  I am in awe of God and how he works.