Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Decoration Revelation

Having lived in a garage apartment for the last two years, we don't have a ton of furniture. Having committed to moving (to a larger apartment) in the past three weeks, we have to find furniture fast. Add a student budget (and two, er, opinionated people) to this scenario, and it's a complicated cocktail of time sensitive, money sensitive decisions.

The past few weeks have been a blur of Craigslist postings, Salvation Army walk-throughs, and confusing number crunching. But they've also been bursting with creative, contextual, displays of God's gospel love for me, showcased in these most mundane moments of our transition. It's a bit paradoxical that God would use something like the search for a used couch to teach me life-changing truths about His character, because I usually only expect those types of lessons while doing much more "spiritual" or "important" things. But that's just it! When His infinite power and unfathomable love bring me to my knees in the middle of a furniture store, I'm reminded that I can't compartmentalize Him-- all that He is and all that that means for me-- despite my tendency to do so. 

Here's what I mean. First of all, it is easy-- especially in a "vocational ministry" environment-- to write off something like decorating as silly, frivolous, or unimportant. It's easy to start believing the lie that God doesn't want to be bothered by that stuff, since He's got important things to worry about. You know, real prayers to answer. So the natural outworking of that belief is either a) decorate without seeking God's input ("as long as I tithe, who cares how I spend my money or what I spend it on?") or b) shun the activity itself as shallow or unholy ("as a Christian, I'm supposed to be concentrating on more important things than the color of my accent pillows. Anyone who cares about that is carnal."). 

But the last few weeks, God has been showing me that He cares about my living room. Yes, He does. I mean, He created the earth. When I look around outside my window-- even in Texas!-- I'm reminded that God is in fact, a decorator. He's coordinated a thousand shades of green just in my backyard, and arranges for each blade of grass to turn gold at the touch of the sun. God is an artist, and aesthetics matter to Him. Now, this does not mean He might be disappointed with the color palette I choose for our bedroom or frown on our outdated style. But it does mean that He invites me to share my concerns with Him about the work of art that is our home. He doesn't scoff when I pray for "the right couch" or when I ask Him to help us make a decision about a purchase. He cares for me and He enjoys me enjoying the beauty that He created!I've been so freed by the Lord's kindness toward me, and His interest in me, the past few weeks. He did help us find the right couch. 

But I've also been freed by the visceral realization that no amount of bargain deals, perfect patterns, or unique pieces of furniture will be able to provide the security or confidence I so deeply crave for our new home. No couch-- not even "the right couch"-- can soothe my anxious heart or make our home a place of peace. And over the past few weeks when I found myself melting down or losing sleep, I could always trace it back to something like a couch taking a place of preeminence in my heart. God has been so kind to invite me to freely enjoy the good things He's created, but also to experience firsthand the utter insanity of putting my hope in them. 

Decorating is great. But I'm glad to be reminded that all the great things this created place has to offer-- from the feel of a satin pillow to the taste of Chilean wine to the sight of the Himalayas-- pale in comparison to Him.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Handing Over the Key

The day after we move out, we're handing the keys over to another couple who will be moving in. These friends of ours really needed a place to stay over the summer, and it's been fun to see God provide this for them in literally the span of weeks. It has reminded me that He knows all of His children's needs, and that He is trustworthy. That being said, the reminder that we're not only emptying this place of peace in 5 days-- we're giving away the key-- has an air of finality that isn't exactly cozy. What if this new living situation doesn't work out? What if we realize it won't be possible to stay there for the next two years? What if I hate it and want out? We won't be able to return to the home we left. It won't be our home anymore.

When I was nine, my family moved from Georgia to South Carolina. I remember my mom saying once, "I don't want to go back and visit our old house, because I know the new owners changed it so much. It's not our home anymore." I didn't quite understand what she meant then, but I think I do now. It's not that seeing a different decorating style is offensive-- that part I like! It's realizing that the sacred spaces of my life-- the place I broke my ankle jumping off the couch because I thought I could fly, the hearth where my sister and I gave family concerts, the porch where my dad first watched a lightning storm with me--  they're not just behind me in the past, they're gone forever. Those special reading nooks and porch swings no longer spatially exist. 

I was bowled over by the same reality when my father passed away. It's not just that I couldn't talk to him or enjoy his company anymore-- it was that the man I knew had passed out of existence in this world. Even my five year old brother could tell that the body lying in the open casket at the visitation was "not Daddy." 

So how does handing over the key to a place that I chose to leave end up unearthing such show-stopping sadness? Because I'm not just handing over a key. I'm closing the door on a season of life that I can never get back. Even if I chicken out of this calling to move, I won't be able to prolong the season that is coming to a close. The first two years of our marriage, we were nestled under a protective wing. We needed it! Graduating college, moving across the country again, learning to be married, healing from past wounds, entering the world of seminary (and all the meltdowns that come with it), and transitioning to adulthood; these things called for a sacred space, a season of safety. And now the Lord is calling us into a new season, where we might feel less "safe", less nurtured, and less sheltered. There is a finality to the fact that I will never be a newlywed again, that we'll never have our first year of seminary again, that we'll never be "new to Texas" again. That season is ended, and I'm handing over the key. 

I'm learning that my sorrow isn't unfounded-- it's healthy to grieve. I should be sad! What I'm leaving behind is something I'll remember forever with glistening eyes. But what I'm also learning is that grieving the end of something good doesn't mean that what's to come is bad. The same God who provided for me in this season is the one who is calling me into a new one. And ultimately, it is in Him that safety, nurture, and shelter is found, not in my floor plan or job description. He knows my needs, and He is trustworthy. 

Because of His character, I can trust that this next space will be as sacred as the last. And that gives me the courage to hand over the key and keep moving forward. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Confessions and Comfort

Yesterday was one of those days. It started on the way to church when I decided it was worth it to argue about the three extra minutes of sleep that I was robbed of in a cruel and sadistic plot to leave "on time." The Lord was faithful to restore me to Himself during the service-- my appreciation for the weekly prayers of confession we're guided through in church continues to grow-- but then, on the way to lunch something was so unjust about how long I had to stand and wait in the sun that I just had to point it out. Then in the afternoon I attempted to do something profound (or at least productive) with my Sunday afternoon and failed at both, which added to my growing sense of despair about the day. The evening hours were bearable, although I indulged in my second greasy hamburger meal of the day (seriously, Texas and its beef!) more than I would have liked, causing me to leave the church cook-out with a nagging sense of guilt and shame. 

The whole day was crowned, however, with an hour of tossing and turning in bed unable to sleep. Grumpy about my many "failures" throughout the day (from being three minutes late to setting a bad dietary example to wasting time by actually Sabbathing on a Sabbath); feeling guilty about my sinful attitude throughout (blaming a man who has nothing to do with my inability to get ready in the morning and punishing him simply because he's in my inescapable presence); and finally, feeling even more angry with myself (AND that same innocent man for breathing so loudly in his sleep) for being unable to sleep myself. 

I finally got up to pray, but of course I approached the throne of grace tail-between-legs. I began by confessing and repenting, just like I had this morning in church. After that I began confiding in Him about my discouragement and exhaustion-- and that's when it all fell down-- because He comforted me. I had spent all day running myself into the ground; laying burdens on myself that He has not given me (does He expect me to be productive on the Sabbath?) and responding to life in this broken world with attitudes that He has not condoned in me (was my griping and moaning about a day-not-according-to-plan justified?) and yet there He was, comforting me in my exhaustion. Inviting me into His presence. Welcoming me, calming me, ministering to me. By the time I had come to Him, my own self-contempt was at an all-time high. I certainly didn't expect kindness from the Lord, who truly had reason to roll his eyes at my self-inflicted misery. And yet, I had forgotten who He is-- that He's not like me, and His response to my sin isn't what mine would be. 

I had forgotten that it's His kindness that leads me to repentance. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Labor Pains

Last night, I dreamt I was nine months pregnant, about to give birth. In my dream, I was committed to natural birth-- no numbing meds, no knives helping things along-- and I was nervous. "Will I be able to handle it? Will I cave in and ask for the epidural? Will I sacrifice the potential health of my baby for a few hours of pain relief?" The dream ended with me walking down the hall to the delivery room, knowing something intense was about to go down. 

This post is not about natural childbirth and the controversy of modern medicine. It's about what the Lord is doing in my heart as I prepare to give birth to a new season of life and ministry; as I walk toward a calling filled with unknowns-- will it hurt? Will I be able to handle it? Will I sacrifice the potential fruit of this ministry for relief from conflict, rejection, or exhaustion? These are the questions running through me on a constant basis, and I don't think they apply to my situation alone. Anyone facing a new task or calling or ministry-- a friend who recently got promoted to charge nurse in her hospital wing, a friend graduating seminary and starting a daunting new job, a friend preparing for marriage, a friend learning how to be a mother-- I'm sure they wrestle with similar questions, too. 

What I'm learning is that God is calling me to something I'm just not ready for yet. That means the answer to my questions is "no! You can't do it. You won't be able to handle it. If left in your own power, you will cave in and sacrifice your ministry for the sake of relief from discomfort." In other words, God is leading me into a situation where I have to realize my utter dependence on Him and cling to Him. I was expressing some of these feelings to my mentor last week and she said, "good! It sounds like you're in a good place to start ministry. You realize you're bankrupt and that you can't be confident in yourself. Only Jesus." 

I woke up from my dream and somehow, my mind went to Moses. When God called him to go stand against Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelite slaves, his response was, "Lord, who am I to lead these people?" God did not comfort Moses, however, by giving Moses a pep talk about his great personality, his good education, or how his personal strengths would outweigh any areas of personal weakness. Instead, God said, "I will be with you." Any confidence Moses had as he started the long trek back to Egypt was not in himself. It was in the Lord and His promise to transform Moses into the man God had called him to be. 

That comforts me. If the Lord calls me to something-- whether physical parenthood or spiritual parenthood-- it doesn't mean I'm able to do it. But it does mean that the Lord is able, and that He will use the very call to transform me. I am who God says I am and I will do what God says I will do-- by His power, not my own. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Anxiety Medicine

So our apartment "possibility" is now a reality. A whirlwind of interviews and paperwork has resulted in a moving date less than three weeks away, a jaw-dropping timeline. Needless to say, a crazy timeline and really a crazy idea in the first place (moving into a 35 story high-rise in the heart of downtown Dallas to put on a "community development" program for people in a socio-economic class that doesn't exactly match the average seminary student) has made me a bit anxious. Nerve-wracking circumstances, like event planning, a big move, and a looming new "job" environment are all contributors to the seemingly constant knot in my stomach. But I know this anxiety to be a longstanding problem in my life. My lack of trust in God to provide for me-- or for Him to equip me with what I need in order to carry out the calling He's given me, or for Him to protect me enough to be able to face rejection and conflict-- these things are what really cause my disease that we in 21st century America call anxiety. Busy (or uncertain, or intimidating) circumstances only irritate my pre-existing condition. 

The other morning I was desperate. It was one of those didn't-sleep-very-well-still-have-an-upset-stomach-need-God-to-show-up-if-I'm-ever-going-to-kick-this kind of mornings. In other words, I've learned the hard way that stuffing this uncomfortable feeling (ie. with lots of food); buzzing it (ie. with alcohol or sleeping pills); or avoiding it (ie. with facebook, movies, more busyness) may provide some temporary relief from symptoms, but in the long run does not heal. That is because the real issue is not that I am physically hungry, in need of less mental activity, or bored. The real issue is that I am not trusting my Father. 

This past week at church, I was reminded that Jesus is my good shepherd.  Healing balm on my sore and raw heart. Healing, that is, for as long as I believed it and lived in light of it. For this little sheep, a healthy grasp on the truth often lasts about 8 minutes. Makes sense, I guess, that I am likened to a sheep. I don't think they have very good memories. Well, this morning I decided to pray through Psalm 23 very slowly, using words I can understand. I didn't want to simply recite words so repeated that they've become meaningless; this morning, I needed words I could feel; that I could mean. In doing this, I experienced God's word as active and alive! It cut to my heart and applied a medicine sure and lasting. 

My prayer mirroring the Psalmist's is not eloquent, and it's not beautiful. But it's real, it's vulnerable, and it's desperate. I think that's what the Psalms are supposed to be for the people of God. If you are feeling anxious, fearful, or needy, will you cry out to God in that way? If you don't yet have a relationship like that with Him, He invites you. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One Reason I love Redeemer Seminary

I go to Redeemer, but I also work there. It's not a glamorous job, but I look forward to work every day; in part because I get to hang out with so many of the students and hear their stories. I've shared at least one of them before, about a former Muslim who came to faith in Jesus through a dream (Here). He and twenty other students are graduating this May and I get to write their bios! Just this morning I read a friend's testimony about his experience at Redeemer and I couldn't help but cry when I read it, because I feel exactly the same way.

"As my student days are coming to an end, I’m reflecting on what I have learned— from experience— in this gospel community known as Redeemer Seminary. When I first came to Redeemer it seemed like everyone was talking about “Union with Christ” and I am ashamed to admit that I did not understand what they were so excited about. Now, after nearly three years of sitting at the feet of our professors, exploring the scriptures, and walking with other students, I understand. The Redeemer community has shown me that Christ is the source, the means, and the goal of the Big Gospel Story, and also of our smaller stories in the gospel. So now, for the first time in my Christian life, I am walking in the rhythm of dying and rising in union with Christ and in communion with his people, and enjoying life in the gospel story.

My professors have shown me better ways to listen to God’s word, to see Christ in God’s word, to make connections in God’s word, and to tremble at God’s word. As a result, I am learning to handle it more reverently, faithfully, obediently—and, dare I say— more creatively. Because of my experience at Redeemer Seminary, I believe more deeply than ever before that the Holy Spirit is a literary artist, That His Word is alive and active today, and that it is the very Word by which we live, in the power of the Spirit of Christ.

Finally, here are some lessons that I have learned at Redeemer: Weakness is better than strength. Love is better than knowledge. Grace is greater than all my sin. Hope is deeper than my despair. Prayer is stronger than my cynicism. Truth is stranger than fiction. Story is bigger than systems. Christ is brighter than everything."

Christ is brighter than everything. I love Redeemer Seminary because here, I am daily reminded of that. As I step into a new season of ministry- one that is full of unknowns and full of risks- I'm reminded that it's not what I know, how eloquent I am, or how smart I seem that will make any difference in anyone's life. It's Christ and Christ alone who gives life- to the fullest!- and He is where my gaze ought to be. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Home

A sneak peak of where we're moving in less than a month...
Our building is the one with the white point on top! We prayed for a location that would allow us to serve a demographic similar to that of a Northeastern city. I think God said yes.