Toddler Christians

I spent most of Thursday angry with God. There was even a moment where I was running through my house, screaming at Him. I then stopped, realizing that screaming in a close-knit condo complex was probably a bad idea. After waiting for a minute, half expecting someone to come knocking at the door or the phone to ring, I decided it was safe to keep on yelling. So I did. I told God exactly how I felt.

It’s been a long time since I last threw a temper tantrum, but I was definitely throwing one on Thursday. As I ran through the house screaming, I remarked at how spiritually young and immature I felt.

I’ve written before on how I’ve started feeling like a new Christian. Those feelings have only gotten stronger as I go through my weeks. I used to stand firm in my faith; it was something I could always rely on, and I took a lot of pride from it. I was GOOD at this whole “Christian” thing. But now things are different. I’m back to basics:  figuring out what faith is, how I’m supposed to feel about things, how I’m supposed to live out my faith, and what a relationship with God is like.

I feel like I’m spiritually walking around, running into things, and stubbing my toes like a toddler. I used to know the Bible really well, or I thought I did. I know the verses, the stories, and the people. I’d been raised in church, so I had Bible trivia down pat. But now I’m reading everything for the first time, seemingly. I know the words, but the words take on actual meaning now. They’re not just a cool phrase or a “food for thought” tidbit.

And on top of that, just when I think I know how to approach something, God comes alongside me and correct me in His soft, encouraging voice. There have been many times where God has corrected me. I’ll be struggling with something, and just when I think I’ve figured it out, He sends a person, song, or sermon to adjust my thinking. I’m usually not too far off base, but He keeps reminding me that not only do I not know everything, I don’t know anything. He’s teaching me daily humility. It’s hard to be cocky and proud when I keep running into things and making a fool of myself.

So I apologize in advanced if I appear clumsy or if I spend a lot of time licking my spiritual wounds and tending to my bumps and bruises. I might be a bumbling mess for a while. But I know that eventually I’ll stop getting knocked around so much, once I  develop a little more balance and coordination.

When Honesty Trumps

I’ve been going to the same church for 4 years. If you had asked me 3 months ago how to describe my church, it would have been as follows: It’s a great church, and the worship is phenomenal. We really have some talented musicians. The sermons are short, simple, and geared towards new believers, because they tend to be somewhat superficial. You really have to get into a small group to be challenged and to grow your faith.

I’d never been challenged by my church’s sermons. Every once in a while the pastor would make a good point that served as a reminder, but I never once felt convicted, and I never, ever, felt like the pastor was speaking directly to or about me.

But something happened in my life in November that changed that. God seriously and forcibly began working on my heart. As He broke down my walls I’d built to keep Him and everyone else out, I sat and looked at all of the pieces. He began pointing out my flaws, my struggles, and my sins. The more I embraced ALL of me, including the stuff I’d hidden from myself and other believers, the more I knew I needed God, His mercy, and His daily forgiveness.

I hadn’t realized how that would change my Sunday morning sermon experience, though. The more God worked on my heart, the more the pastor’s simple “new believer” sermons hit home for me. It was like I was a new believer, sitting in church for the first time. I went from getting very little out of his lessons to sitting there, petrified, because it felt like he knew my life story and what I was struggling with at that very moment. He talked about pain, pride and humility, addiction, honesty, and relationships. I could’ve sworn someone had told him. It’s been about three months since my first meltdown, and I still sit there and cry during sermons.

Yesterday’s sermon, titled “Temptation Island” (remind me to link to it when it’s up on the church website), convicted me more than any other sermon I’ve heard in my lifetime. It made me so uncomfortable that I had to resist the urge to get up and walk out of church. That’s saying a lot, especially for someone like myself who’s been a “Christian” and sitting in church for 18 years. I sat there, crying, and thinking to God “This isn’t fair. It’s not fair that you get to do this to me.” But then in the next breath I’m praying “Ok, this is ok. I know I need this. Thank you, I love you, please keep it up.” Talk about a war between the Spirit and the flesh…

With yesterday’s sermon came a small revelation. I never really connected with worship songs or sermons before I was honest to myself about myself. Now, it seems like I fit the bill for every screwed up sinner, duty-fulfilling servant, and grace-abiding child of God that’s mentioned in churches and worship songs. Suddenly I identify with EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. And as much as I hate this roller coaster I’m on, at least it feels real and honest. And I know that even though I can’t see the track, and it’s sometimes dark, I know there’s a light at the end of the the tunnel, and God is in the seat next to me, cradling my heart.

The King and I

During summer 2011 I enrolled in a 14-week class that my church offered called “Experiencing God”. We went through a workbook by the same name, written by Blackaby, Blackaby and King. It was an eye-opening process for me; I was at a stage in my life where I was really ready to see God, to EXPERIENCE Him in a way I hadn’t before. I was also at a personal crossroads and was looking for His direction in my choices.

The study had a ripple effect on many things in my life, but one of those ripples was an idea that I’d always been taught growing yp, but I had never embraced or understood it before: When we pray, we should expect an answer from God.

I didn’t know what “expect” really meant until now, though. Was I supposed to just be determined that God was going to respond to me in His small, quiet voice eventually, if I sat in the silence for long enough? Was I supposed to open my Bible to a random page, pick a verse with closed eyes, and try to interpret it to fit my situation? Was I supposed to go ask the wisest Christian I know their opinion, and go with it? How was I supposed to know when and where my “answer” would appear? What was I supposed to DO?

This past week has been intense. God has been teaching me more in this past week than He has in the past year of my life. And it’s only getting more exciting. But what I’ll pull out of those ramblings for the purpose of this blog post is that GOD RESPONDS. He not only responds to prayer, but He responds to our thoughts and ideas.

After my last blog post, “Just Show Up,” was published, I went to bed and opened my Bible. I usually read two chapters a night, unless I’m especially on fire. The last section I read was from Luke 17:

 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

I sat there and cried like I often do these days as God’s power washed over me. I was amazed that God had listened to my rambling thoughts just an hour before when I wrote my blog post. Those thoughts hadn’t even been expressed in “prayer mode”… I had just been thinking. And I was amazed that He sent me to a part of His Word where I could find His thoughts and His words about the subject.

So, this is what “expecting” looks like: It’s listening, everywhere and to everything, but not trying to FIND the answer. There have been times this week when I’d hear a verse in a worship song that speaks to what I’m experiencing. It encourages me and puts little joy in my heart. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a random stranger or a friend, and they word something just so, and I know that what they said was a hint to me from God (for an example, see the 5th paragraph in my post “The Godly Condition” about not being able to let God down). Or I’ll open my Bible to do my nightly reading, and something LEAPS off the page at me, and I can’t help but sit there in amazement.

I’m not wise, but I am a quick learner usually. One thing I’ve seen these past few weeks is that when God really shows up, and when He speaks and I’m listening, it’s very hard to miss because it clicks in my heart and my head. When I’m aware of His power and His caring concern over the details of my life, I know when He’s telling me something. It has been a daily exchange between the King and I.

But I’m learning to DO less and TRUST more. I need to stop trying to do the right things to find the answers to my prayers…

I need to TRUST (there’s that word again!) that if I keep living on God’s path, He’s going to walk by my side. Then I won’t have to go looking for Him when I need some advice.

Just Show Up

I’m a thinker. I always have been and probably always will be. I’ll spend hours strategizing over the best way to do or approach something. I’m also a master manipulator. I’m pushy, stubborn, and usually think I’m right no matter what anyone says.

I’ve had the uttermost privilege of coming alongside a few people in my lifetime when they needed a good friend most. God has used my relationships with them to keep them encouraged and going along the path He’s had planned for them. Every once in a while it’s like I get front-row seats to the greatest film ever: I get to watch God change someone’s life. It’s humbling each and every time it happens, and each time I’m amazed all over again at God’s awesome grace and power.

A couple months ago I had a God moment. If you’ve ever been in a close relationship with Christ, you know what I’m talking about. It was a moment where God literally cut me off at the knees. He shook me by my ears and yelled at me. It doesn’t sound gentle, and I can tell you that it was NOT, but it was exactly what I needed. He was telling me that I need to stop trying to manage other people’s situations, because that’s what I do naturally. I sit and think about the details of what they’re going through or struggling with, and I figure out how to solve it. And then I tell them exactly how they could fix their life by following my few easy steps. But like all humans, I don’t have the capacity to understand God’s plans, and quite often my plans interfere with what He’s trying to accomplish.

A couple months ago I had a sit-down with my best friend. I apologized to her for being a jerk, even if the manipulative thoughts never left my head, and for trying to “fix” her problems. I know, it’s funny, ME fixing other people’s problems. I have a hard enough time managing my own. But on with the story. I’d spent  so much time trying to manipulate conversations and situations to get the result I thought she should achieve. And it wasn’t just her. I usually spend my entire day trying to make people think what I thought they should be thinking. That night God had brought me to a place where I was exhausted from trying to control the world on my own. No duh.

I sat there in tears and cried on her shoulder. I don’t know if she understood what was really going on in my head, but God was in the midst of teaching me a lesson or two. By the end of the night, I knew I had to step back and stop trying so thinking hard. And not just trying, but THINKING about trying. My mind would constantly turn while I tried to solve the world’s problems. And then when I thought I’d had a solution, I was all gun-ho trying to get everyone in their “places”. Of course it would never work out, and I’d wake up the next morning quite disappointed in myself.

I have a dear friend from high school whose life was drastically changed by Christ just in this past year. I’ve seen such a 180 in her. Tonight she thanked me for being such a great friend, and she thanked me for “all I’ve done”. My reaction 6 months ago would’ve been a flat out “You’re welcome. I love you! Glad I could help,” but this year it’s different. I’ve witnessed first hand that I can do absolutely nothing. I’m stupid most of the time, and I usually have really horrible ideas. My response to her tonight was a line that I believe is whole-heartedly true: “You and God did all of the work. I just showed up.”

I know I’m slow, but I’m beginning to think that sometimes “showing up” is all God really asks of us. If  we see an opportunity, sometimes we need to just show up and be willing to do whatever He asks. In September I had a “divine appointment” that required me to show up and play whatever role was asked me of. Within one week I went from not knowing a particular girl at church to holding her, wiping her tears, and crying with her as she dealt with trauma from childhood abuse. I never could have predicted that, but God knew she would need someone, and He knew that if I would only show up, I’d play the role I was supposed to. I did show up, and God used me.

As I reflect on where God has me now, I have to constantly remind myself of what God has been teaching me. My instinct is to take control and protect the people I care about who may be going through something difficult. But God can do the most work when EVERYONE steps out of the way. Especially me, their pesky, nosy, pushy friend/daughter/sibling.

God will handle the details… we need to trust those to Him. We can’t be afraid of jumping in just because we’re not sure how deep the water is, how cold it is, whether there are sharks, if the floaties you bought at Target are guaranteed to work, or if there is a life guard on duty. And we can’t spend so much time focussed on the unknown details that we never embrace God’s big picture or trust in His power. Maybe you’re standing in the way of God  doing something big in your life. Or worse, maybe you’re standing in the way of God doing something big in someone else’s life. Either way, if you trust Him, let Him work. Let God do His thing. Believe me, God is GOOOOOD.

The Godly Condition

I love it when Paul says in Romans 7:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

That kind of describes the human condition, doesn’t it? Struggling with what we know is right and wanting entirely do what is right, yet we do what is wrong time and time again? I wish I could always obey the small, quiet voice in my head that is my mother, God, my conscience, or the part of me that is really trying to please those who think I’m perfect (ha!). But I never do.

I was reminded by a friend this morning of something I had forgotten, and I had been struggling against it up until she said something. She said off-handedly “I try [speaking about being a “good” Christian]. I really do. And then I get discouraged because I think I’ve let God down. But then I feel stupid, because seriously, ‘I let God down?!’ Like the God of the universe was counting on ME?!” Note the excessive inflection. I love her to death for her candid enthusiasm for life. I sat there and chuckled, because she hadn’t known what was running through my mind as recent as last night, and God had just used her words to comfort my heart.

I’ve spent the last two days stressing. It’s what I do when work is boring or there’s no one around to talk to. I stress. I have a lot of things up in the air right now, so I was freaking out about all of the unknown variables. But then God showed up in a another friend’s life last night, and I had the privilege of being one of the first people she decided to share it with. As she told me, I became overwhelmingly aware of God’s power and mercy. I sat there and sobbed for an hour, crying out to God, apologizing for my lack of trust and faith in Him. He had just moved a mountain in my friend’s life, and I was whining about car repairs. I remember saying to Him, “I’m sorry for letting you down.”

Then, over a cup of hot coffee with the first friend this morning, God reminded me through a few simple exclamatory sentences of how I should feel about my thoughts and actions. And I had to apologize again, but for better reasons than the first time. Sometimes I feel like a toddler in my relationship with God. I’m always crying, always running into things, and I often stare at the big world with wide-open eyes like I’m seeing it for the first time.

But like Paul, I don’t always understand what I do or why I do it, because often what I want to do and what I do are two different things. Often what I know I should be thinking (I can’t let God down because He is not depending on me) and what my gut reaction is (I’m sorry I let you down again!) are two different things. But then God, as my father (though I prefer the more technical term “Daddy”), in His quiet and gentle nature corrects me and forgives me, and I’m humbled.

“Wimps lift Weights, Cheerleaders lift People”

(quote is by a cheerleader, Stephanie, from PA, USA)

My mom told me on my 21st birthday that she was proud of me for who I’d become and what I’d accomplished thus far. She told me that she would continue to be my biggest cheerleader in life, encouraging me to fulfill my potential and guiding me along the way.

I love the analogy of the cheerleader not just for the comical mental images of my mother in a cheerleading uniform with a big “H” on the front. I love it because it’s such a perfect representation of our relationship. She has always been on the sidelines of my life, cheering me towards my small victories. And she’s been there in my small failures, too, telling me to get back up and take the ball down the field.

But a cheerleader doesn’t just encourage the players. They rally around the players, waking up the fans in the stands, getting them to their feet to scream the player’s praises, and building the excitement on the field. It’s the player’s responsibility to make the touchdown, to take that next step in life, but the cheerleader has a lot of power over the moral of the crowd and the players on the field. Without cheerleaders, the players and their performance would suffer, though it might be unknowingly.

I’ve been downright blessed to have the Mom that I do. She’s been my best friend and mentor, and she has set a wonderful example of how to be a friend that I feel obliged to follow and share with others. And she’s rallied people around me my entire life to help me make my dreams reachable. I still have to take those steps on my own, but she has helped me establish a “fanbase” of friends and family to be there on the sidelines.

As I look at the relationships in my life, I want nothing more than to be the biggest and loudest (and quite possibly the stupidest) cheerleader that my friends have ever seen. I want to be enraptured by the talents God has entrusted to them. I want to run around and show them off to the world. I want to be there on the sidelines, rallying people together and generating excitement for their unique talents, gifts, and abilities. It takes more than one encourager/cheerleader to make a difference in someone’s life: it takes a fanbase.

Thank you for speaking my language

Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book a few years ago that you may already be familiar with: The 5 Love Languages.

He defines a love language as a person’s “primary way of expressing and interpreting love.” He says that each person has one these dominant categories, or languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I’ve known about these “languages”  for years, since my mom read the book that was written about children when I was younger, and they’ve always interested me, but they’ve recently become the topic of a many of my conversations. I love psychology, so these, like personality types, fascinate me.

Dr. Chapman wrote his first book on how love languages relate to married couples. He then authored a book on how these languages play out in children. To my knowledge, he hasn’t announced a third book, but he should write a book on love languages as they should be spoken between friends or colleagues. In my humble opinion, the world is seriously lacking meaningful relationships. The song “All You Need is Love” comes to mind. Yes, people often lack the motivation, attention span, and time to really love on other people. Most of the time people genuinely don’t care. But what if the public was made aware of these languages, and they have the capacity to apply them to everyday situations? What if you could learn what your boss’s love language is, and walk in the office every morning “screaming” their language to make them feel appreciated? What if you could recognize the love language of your best friend and really get to know them on a deeper level?

As you may have guessed from recent blog entries, God has been working on my heart these past few months. I’m learning to embrace a lot of things about me — some of them are good, and some of them are faults that I struggle to admit. One thing I’ve been able to grasp onto is my love language. My mom “diagnosed” me at a young age of having the “physical touch” language. I knew it as I attended middle school and high school, but I never owned it as a part of myself. That’s beginning to change. God has placed people in my life now that are allowing me to throw out my insecurities and speak my language. I’ve been running around and telling everyone about it, because as they see the change in me, I want them to be able to understand what and why.

There’s so much that I want to write and include in this post, but I think that if you invest some time into learning about the person God made you to be (not just the person you really want to be), you’ll come to those conclusions on your own.

The official website has some great quizzes. I’m not sure how accurate they are, but you should take them, and then look through the descriptions of all 5 languages to see if you agree. If you’re still not sure, start experimenting. Look at what the people around you do for you, and try to figure out which is the most meaningful for you as they fit those categories. It’s a cool feeling when you learn something about yourself.

Now class, let’s take out your journals…

I’ve often thought of blogs as awfully self-indulgent. I’m going to sit here and write out my innermost thoughts for the world to see… and you’re going to read it and like it or utterly disagree with it. Sounds like a picnic, no? Sounds like Facebook, actually, but that’s another topic. Maybe another day.

I recently read “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, which is an utterly fantastic book for Christians to read, process, and live out. It talks (among other things) about the important of journaling God’s work and your growth in your life. God has been busy in my life these past few months, so I’ve begun writing it all down. The way my mind works is both a blessing and a curse. I remember everything. EVERYTHING. And I’m obsessive, so I tend to obsess over details, especially when I know that they’re details that God has arranged for His purposes. It’s something I’m fascinated by… God plans. And I’ve been fixated on a lot of those details the past few weeks. I get stuck thinking about them, and there’s a mix of emotions ranging from frustration and anger to redemption and amazement. These details keep me enraptured, and they take up a lot of my time. So I’ve started writing, and apparently I have more words than I thought I did. I’m not sure who will read those words, but they’re there for when I’m ready to share them. But simply through the process of writing them dow, I’m organizing my thoughts and expressing the results of my “stew” sessions. And I’m saving these thoughts for a time when my faith may need some encouraging. Maybe no one other than me will ever read these notes, but that’s ok, because in truth, these words are just for me.

So I’ll put this out there: Christians (that means ME!) need to journal. I often thought that journaling was a response to what I was reading in my Bible. It can be, I think, but it’s so much more than that. Journaling should be my thoughts and reactions of my walk with Christ. He should be an intricate part of my daily life, and no human on the planet has the brainpower or memory storage banks to remember everything that He has done for me in my short 21 years. In another 21 years I want to be able to look back and tell exactly when Christ showed up. I want to be able to brag about Him, just like I would of a friend, sibling, or parent. Families tend to make memory books and take photos of special events. Think of a journal entry as a snapshot of a moment with Christ.

I want my testimony to be so long that it would take a lifetime to tell. And the only way I’m going to remember the way Christ was patient with me, loved me unconditionally, took care of my emotional, spiritual and mental needs, and showed affection toward me, is if I write it all down. And so I write.