He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

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Vulnerability

I went on a camping trip with some friends a couple weeks ago, which I wrote about at that time. I wanted to dive a little deeper into part of that trip; to be vulnerable regarding what I experienced in that moment now that I have processed it more fully.

A few days leading up to the trip God was REALLY driving home being vulnerable and I was feeling so frustrated because I felt like I had grown a lot in that space. For a little background, I’d also been having some lung problems because of my allergies for about a month. All this happened leading up to me on a hike in Hocking hills. We were going to do a 3 mile loop but some of my friends wanted to add another loop (ultimately around 7 miles). I tried to dissuade them but I didn’t want to look weak in front of people I really admired so ahead I plowed, not mentioning to them that it already hurt to breathe. My lungs felt like fists clenching tighter and tighter, and this continued for maybe two hours. I got to the point where I’d lean my body forward and force my legs to respond by catching me. I continue to try to act like everything is okay. Mask the pain. I told myself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Then, suddenly, no more air. I see my friend beckoning to me and I can’t speak. I gasp and still, no air. A young couple passes me by and I make eye contact with the woman and wonder if she can see my panic.

This is the first time during the entire hike I actually begin to pray. It’s suddenly so quiet. I look up in awe at the tall trees surrounding me and I see spots of light dancing around me and I ask God, “Is this really my time? Will I really die from lack of oxygen surrounded by the very things you created that make oxygen? My God, where is your breathe of life now? I don’t have it. Help me, Abba. I need you.” Tears swell in my eyes and I’m torn between my plea to God and my desire, still, to hide my struggle so that my friends don’t see my weakness.

Suddenly, there is a woman in front of me, the one who had walked by before. She says something about also getting asthma attacks and my brain responds, “Yes! Asthma attack! I’m not dying.” I imitate what she does, following her instructions and slowly, deliciously, air begins to fill my lungs. And as I breathed in I felt not judgment but love from God, paired with what could maybe be described as a mildly disapproving sigh.

After a short rest and a very slow final climb, we made it to the parking lot. As I reached the car all I wanted to do was cry. To break down. To acknowledge the moment and all that came with it. But I locked it down, pulled it together. I laughed and ate Mexican, occasionally wondering if my friends now saw me differently because of this experience and if they would like me less because of it.

As I prayed about it later I felt how silly God thought it was that I would rather LITERALLY run out of air than tell my friends my lungs hurt. That we had talked about this and because I put my fear of rejection ahead of God’s call to be vulnerable with my community, I had to suffer and he had to send someone to teach me how to breath. Later I was talking to someone and they remarked at how lucky I was; that they had known of several people who had died from these kinds of attacks. That they were dangerous and should be taken seriously. It was at that moment I remembered a text someone had sent me at the end of May describing a picture they’d received for me:

…a picture of you rowing a boat with these really wide oars that were like fish fins so you had to do a lot of work to row but when you did you went far. He felt the Lord was saying you were in a season for the next eight weeks of heavy work but it would propel you far. Then on the oars he saw 1) 2) and 3), like there are three areas of focus and a small 4), like maybe you could do a little in 4) but 1.2.3 were the focus. The words behind those were self, health and safety…

I realized how much I had endangered my safety with my unwillingness to be vulnerable. After the trip I went and got allergy medicine and an inhaler and it was amazing the difference this made to my health and even my attitude! And so a big area that God has impacted through this is my health and safety, in learning to listen to my body better and to take care of it. But the third that came with it is my ongoing struggle with rejection.

I shared this struggle with my small group as well as with my co-workers, a moment of sharing my current “mess” that felt both exhausting and encouraging. I have known for a while that my greatest desire is to feel known, and not just known but to still be loved when I am known. This is also the thing I most fear, and the thing God has been working with me to overcome these last few months. Because of my background (particularly with my two longest running relationships), I have this undercurrent in my heart that whispers, “If they really know you, they won’t love you. People don’t stay for people like you.”

I know this probably sounds like a super depressing place to be but it isn’t, it’s just hard. I can continually remind myself that I am already known and loved by a King who adores me, and that if I remain authentic to my God and myself, then the rejection or acceptance by others will not influence the love I have for myself. And so, I am in this eight week season of working on the self, health and safety. Self, that I would become even more free of rejection and the ways that it influences me, making me an emotionally healthier person and leader. Health, in that I am learning to listen and respond to my body and what it is telling me. And safety, not that I would begin operating out of fear but rather that I would truly appreciate how fragile life is and what a blessing it is to be able to experience the moments I do. Lastly, within all these things I need to seek God and listen rather than believe that I can do this on my own.

Father Edwin Leahy (Catalyst Notes)

Father Edwin Leahy is impressive, although he doesn’t think so. There’s some videos below that explain a lot of what he has done and what his work is. Some of his insights as he spoke:

  1. Racism is America’s original sin.
    1. White people in power knew what they were doing, starting in the 1800’s, to neutralize black males who were now free, and that neutralization continues today.
    2. Most of the students he is responsible for at his all boy school are missing fathers. They need help discovering and amplifying their voice.
  2. Be quiet and listen. Folks in the community will eventually tell you what they need.
  3. Tell people, ‘God loves me to the cross. But also, love others.’
  4. Recognize attitudes versus the vastness and vagueness of “culture.”
    1. Whatever helps or hurt my brothers and sisters helps or hurts me.
    2. Tend to their hearts.
    3. Create community.
    4. Create leadership opportunities.
    5. Accepting the Other and where they are.
  5. Be okay with arguing; sometimes provoke fights. It’s not okay to stay comfortable.
  6. Remember: the orchestra tunes to the first violinist.
  7. Develop listening skills.
    1. People will teach you how you can best be of service to them.

He said, “I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.” A great joy is seeing boys who graduated return as fathers with their kids.  They are designed to be a community that bears one another’s burdens. He told a story of an expelled student who was a Junior and he never left. He sat outside his office for two days and the Father told the other boys, “No, he’s out.” The next morning, the kids hid him. During attendance, they’d call his name as absent when he was there and then stopped. They spent the year avoiding each other and his Senior year the Father welcomed him back.

Why is there a fence around this school in downtown Newark? It marks off holy ground in the middle of a city in struggle. Like Moses, in the middle of the ordinary we encounter the extraordinary. Remember: Not all fires destroy; some fires ignite us.

Just a little bit about Father Edwin Leahy and what he does.

Remember…

Steady Heart

I am constantly in the process of being humbled and amazed, and it is wonderful.

Do you know how much, in my journey from my life before God to a life lived with God, I petitioned him to know the end game? To reveal to me the places where we were going together? And I was given hints but the majority of the time it was one step at a time. Infuriating, frustrating, and aggravating.

But so, so good. It revealed God’s faithfulness. It deepened our relationship. I was shown my vast capacity to trust in God and to rest in love. I found myself as I was seeking God and discovered what I was made of: love, compassion, empathy and hope. I found freedom in becoming the person I was designed to be and found healing and restoration in my body, heart and soul. I discovered faith is less a destination than a journey, and the beauty in it is astounding.

 

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.

 

Vulnerable

Friends,

I am in the midst of some of my greatest struggles, and I feel more alone than I have in a long time. I love people but I have an ability to give this impression that they know me without ever letting them close. History has taught me when you let people close to you it ends poorly and so I built walls. These walls have created the very isolation I now struggle with when my life feels unstable. Yet God keeps reminding me to “Be loved.”

Tonight, I’ll be vulnerable about my desire for a husband and children. This desire is so deep and so full that sometimes my heart aches. That desire for children has only started in the last year or two and the husband not much longer than that. Even with my ex’s and their families pointing out my deep capacity to love and care for them, to build a home… I had this impression that motherhood was beyond my capabilities.

But I believe God changed my heart. I went on a prayer retreat where we prayed for our future husbands, ourselves, God, etc. A tangible thing that came out of that was feeling like I should get off of birth control. This facilitated conversation with my migraine doctor which taught me what I’d need to know when I was getting ready for pregnancy.

And I want it. I’m taking these steps because I am hoping that God will show up behind this with a man after God’s heart, full of intellect, wit and kindness and who is ready for a home and family. Someone who loves community.

It’s why I’m selecting the car I’m going to pick. I could get a car that would work for now but I want God to know I believe He’ll show up for me here. I’ll buy something that will work for a family. I’m betting on God and not the whispers that tell me that the only one capable of loving me is God; that I missed my chance at a family because of the poor choices of my past…

God, I believe that these desires didn’t appear without purpose. I believe you mean for me to have a husband and a family; help me with my disbelief and heal my heart so it can receive the love you send it, Abba. AMEN.

 

Prayer for Steadfastness

Abba, Father, Creator of all that has been and will be, how great and holy are You? I praise You that in the midst of all creation, You pursue so faithfully a relationship with us, Lord. You are all good and Your Kingdom is a Kingdom filled to the brim with the fruit of that goodness; our separateness is the fruit of our disobedience, not proof of your faithlessness. I pray you help me and my community to become more of a reflection of You, and that we bear fruit as you would have us do. You answer my prayers over and over again, Abba, and You provide for me in all ways and I give thanks for it. When disbelief in this creeps in, I pray you protect me from it. Remind me of Your steadfastness so that I can be more steadfast in my love to You. Help me to receive, Abba. Amen.