A Piece of My Heart

I want to warn you by saying that this post may have more info about me than you want to know. I second-guessed writing it, but I feel the need to brag about God and what He’s doing in my life no matter how I personally feel about it. He’s worth more than that. He’s bigger than that.

Gen-Why, the young adult small group through my church that I help lead, has been studying a book by the name of SHAPE. It helps us examine our exact shape, or footprint, of who God made each of us to be. It walks us through the spiritual gifts, interests, passions, and experiences that God gave each of us, and it leads us closer to using those things to glorify God (our ultimate purpose in life). For those of you who have read Purpose Driven Life, this book was written almost as a sequel to go a bit more in-depth on how each person is designed uniquely. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, enough about the book. This week’s chapter, as we wrap up our study, was designed to start pulling some of the individual chapters/pieces together into a portrait of how God designed us and perhaps what He has in mind for our futures. I started pulling some of these pieces about myself together (below). Notice the lovely SHAPE acronym.

Spiritual Gifts: (I am gifted in…)
Counseling, administration, discernment, leadership, wisdom

Heart: (I feel passionately towards serving…)
Young girls. See “Experiences” section below.

Abilities: (I am good at…)
Coordinating, encouraging, designing, planning

Personality:  (I…)
Am better with one on one interaction, like to lead, am self-controlled

Experiences: (I’ve been through…)
I’ve never written out a “testimony” for the world to see… maybe one day. If you’re interested in hearing the full version, or at least the version I’ve been able to wrap my pea-brain around, I’d love to share it over a cup of coffee. But much of it can be summed up in a sentence that I’ve recited every Tuesday night at Celebrate Recovery: “God is granting me victory over issues related to childhood sexual abuse.” It sounds so clinical, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth, and that truth is setting me free (John 8:32) from a lot of years of pain, anger, confusion, and apathy. Long story short, it’s this experience that God is really calling me to use for His Kingdom. And it’s this experience that really gives me a heart for sexual abuse victims. I understand them in a way that other people can’t. And because it happened while I was in middle school, I really have a passion for middle schoolers, especially girls. And I want to stop it from happening to anyone else.
As I started pulling each of these pieces together, I got a very distinct impression of what I was supposed to do. Maybe not “do with my life”, but definitely “do now”. For the first time I was able to get a clear picture of who I was, what God had gifted me with, what experiences He’d given me, and how I was supposed to use those to really make a difference. In my head I immediately got this mental image of me working in/for an organization that helped educate parents and kids on the issue of sexual abuse, mainly focussing on preventing it. Either that, or me working in/for an organization that helps victims and their parents deal with it after it’s already happened.

But what was my next step? On Thursday I had no clue, but God let me know on Friday morning during my devotional time: “Hannah, go talk to Cori.” For those of you who don’t know Cori, she’s the pastor’s wife and Children’s Ministry coordinator at my church. I’ve been working with her for years, since I teach the middle schoolers in Sunday school, and we have a good relationship. My task tomorrow is to share this piece of my heart with her and see if there’s any place for my “ministry” within the church. I feel strongly that we should talk to parents in our church on how to prepare their children to stick up for themselves and educate them just enough to keep them out of harm’s way. I could be wrong… maybe the church isn’t the right setting. Maybe there’s an organization I should join outside the church to campaign for that. But either way, I’m showing up tomorrow to do what God asked. We’ll see how this goes.

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Drawing Near and Forgiveness

I woke up at 6am this morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise. I was thirsty, so I got up for a drink and crawled back under the warm covers. I laid there, watching the light getting brighter through the slats in my blinds.

Last night I participated in something my church does each year before Good Friday service called Power of the Cross. It’s a room that is set up with various activities and devotionals. There are different “stations” that you visit, each with its own theme, set of Bible verses, and actions that are designed to teach you something about Christ’s nature or sacrifice. With a total of 5 or 6 stations, I was in that room for 2 hours last night, praying, reading, singing, and crying. It was such a fulfilling and humbling experience.

There was one moment last night where I knelt down at one of the stations in front of a cross. I was reminded of how He was mocked and assaulted before His crucifixion. For the people in this world that I really love, I get very protective: physically and emotionally protective. I sat there on my knees and thought of Christ. Not only did He carry His own cross up to the hill before they nailed His hands and feet, but they mocked Him. While He was in the most excruciating physical pain, they made fun of Him. I don’t know why this realization made such an impact on me. Maybe it’s because I can’t even begin to comprehend the physical pain that Christ experienced that day and that night. But I do know what it feels like to be left behind by your friends and what it feels like to be cruelly mocked. It just made His pain so much more real to me, and I was all-the-more grateful.

I laid in my bed this morning thinking of the Power of the Cross experience I’d had last night. God is becoming so real to me lately. I feel so close to Him sometimes that His physical presence is palpable. And when I forget about the excitement of my friends, my work, school, media, and everything else that serves as a distraction, I  realize that all I want is to be near Him. Close to Him. Next to Him. As I thought about this, laying in my bed, an image came to mind from one of the Bible stories I hadn’t read in a long time. In Luke 7, there is a prostitute who interrupts Jesus’ dinner with his apostles and some pharisees:

“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37-38)

I don’t know why this story came to mind, but when I remembered it, I suddenly understood the story on a much deeper level than I ever had before. I think it’s because of where I am spiritually, how much I’m able to see now because I’ve been praying more and spending more time in the Bible, but I can relate to that woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a prostitute or to carry that kind of reputation with you when you enter a room full of “holy” people (Jesus, His followers, and the pharisees), but I do know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed with your sin that you don’t feel worthy to walk into church or a Bible study. And now I understand why she had to be near Jesus. She didn’t make an appointment; she found out where He was and ran to see Him. It was that simple. Who knows what kind of trouble she could have gotten into just by entering, but she did anyway because she had to see Jesus. She just had to be near Him.

As soon as she seems Him, she breaks down, and she cries so much and so hard that she’s able to wash his dusty feet with her tears. I’ve certainly never washed anyone’s feet with the tears I’ve cried, but I have definitely cried so many tears in God’s presence that I could wash a car or two. I know what it’s like to totally lose all control and composure when I’m around Him.

In Luke we don’t see Jesus talking to her before the end of the story. She enters, weeps over Jesus’ feet, and dries His feet with her hair before Jesus ever responds to her. I’ve felt like that a lot, where I’ve been crying out to Jesus but He seems silent. I have to remind myself that maybe it’s because He’s just taking it in. Maybe He’s just listening and enjoying my company and my surrendered spirit.

As she is washing His feet, there is some dialogue between Jesus and the people having dinner with Him:

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:39-47)

It’s here that Jesus finally speaks to the woman herself:

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

I love that line: “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” The more I’m honest with myself about how messed up I really am, the more I’m realizing what’s Christ’s actions on the cross did for me… how he really redeemed me. It’s a challenging experience to have God point out my flaws and to work with Him to address my issues, but at the same time, I’m learning how perfect He is. And I think it’s worth the tradeoff.

The Great Tapestry

I have an eye for detail. And it isn’t that I just notice details; I delight in them. I hate going for nature walks because I pass by everything no matter how slow you go, because isn’t the the goal of a “nature walk”? To keep walking onto the top of the mountain or end of the trail? I’d rather just sit there and stare at a tall tree from afar, then get up close to it to look at the cracks in the bark and pick up a leaf to look at the veins. I’m amazed by details. I’m the same way with works of art. I’ll sit and stare at a painting for a while, but my urge to get closer is too strong, so I eventually end up staring at the piece from 2 inches away. I like to get close and see the details: the brush strokes, the individual colors, the intricacies that went into the final product. I look like an idiot standing so close to things, but I don’t really care, because it’s what fascinates me.

I’m like that when it comes to God and His master plan, too. I’ll often sit and think about all of the little events that happened in order for me to be where I’m at (spiritually, mentally, and physically) today. It’s amazing, and overwhelming, to know that God began arranging things in my life long before I had the mental capacity to understand cause and effect, and long before I had an uncontrollable urge to manipulate the events and situations in my life.

I labeled this post “The Great Tapestry” because as I was brainstorming what I should blog about today, an image came to mind. Think of a tapestry, or maybe a woven blanket like this one, since “tapestry” is a bit of an outdated term:

If you look at a cotton thread, it’s simple. It doesn’t carry much weight, and it isn’t of much importance. Threads are events, people, and ideas in our life. There are a few large, life-changing factors that enter into our life at critical points, but for the post part, the events, people, and ideas in our life play small roles. That’s why there’s a lot of them. And I’m sure you’ve guessed where I’m going with the tapestry/blanket: it’s our life. Wow, I’m so original.

There are so many things that can be drawn from this metaphor though, especially when you zoom up close to the detail of the threads, as I tend to do.

First of all, the threads are very different from each other. It takes all kinds of people, events, and ideas to make our life (and us!) colorful and interesting. You need all kinds of dark, bright, and colorful moments and people in your life to make your tapestry interesting. Each plays its own role. Don’t get so focussed on the black thread (let’s say it’s a dark event in your life or the person that really drives you crazy) that you forget about the yellow thread next to it. It’s the black thread that makes the yellow look so stunning and wonderful.

Secondly, you’ll notice that sometimes threads disappear for a while, only to pop back up elsewhere, seemingly out of nowhere. If you were knitting a blanket, you couldn’t simply cut off a thread when you were done with that color. Each thread remains a part of the blanket until the ends are tied and finished. It may not be visible in all places, but it might be in the back, holding together threads in the front. And it’s always there, it never goes away. In the same way, I think that every event and person that comes into our lives always leaves an impression. The person might not always be present and the event might not always be on the forefront of our minds, but the impression those things leave on us and the way they affected us will always be a part of our life; for the good or bad. And their impact will always have an effect on who we are as a person, whether we let it show to others or not.

Thirdly, if we zoom out, we can see the big picture that God is working on. Since He’s the master knitter (I just got this awesome image in my head of God with two big knitting needles, haha!), we have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. Because I’m so detailed-oriented, something I have to constantly remind myself to do is focus on the bigger pictures. I get so caught up in the tangled threads as they are coming together that I miss the tapestry God has already, and I lose faith in the final product. I can’t look at my life’s tapestry and get frustrated because it doesn’t quite look right. It’s because God isn’t finished with me yet.

There’s a lot more details in life than we notice. I challenge you to stop today and look at the cracks in the pavement, the creases in your best friend’s face as he/she smiles, the scuff marks on your favorite pair of tennis shoes, and the colors of the hairs on your dog’s head as he sits in your lap. You might be surprised at all of the details you’ve missed.   And with that, think about the events and people in your life and the roles they’ve played. You might be surprised at where your train of thought goes.

Do not let your heart be troubled

My mom used to tell me when I was a little kid that I was choosing to have a bad attitude. She tried to teach me early on that my attitude was my choice, and I had control over it despite the circumstances. Often I had a bad attitude because something wasn’t going my way or I didn’t have control over the situation. But how I dealt with those feelings was always my choice, she said. I hated it when she said that, because it was always so much easier to blame her or the situation for my tantrum.

Even now, I still throw tantrums. I’m still very much a baby Christian. I’ll throw a “spiritual” fit and get frustrated with God because of all of the work He’s doing on my heart. He’s taking the time to teach me a lot about myself, Himself, and how the world works, and to be honest, it’s resulting in me often feeling spiritually and emotionally drained. And that exhaustion often leaves me frustrated with myself, God, and the people around me. When I’m not frustrated, I’m mopey and pouty. I don’t really have a reason to be… but I still like throwing my baby fits.

But the “mature” side of me knows what the Bible says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” John 14:1

Our pastor brought up this verse during his sermon on Sunday. I know it well, but it hit me in a funny way on Sunday. And as I was laying in bed this morning pouting about my circumstances (even though, like I said, I don’t really have a reason to pout), God reminded me of this verse. “Do not let…” If I don’t let something bother me, I have a choice. Which means I have a choice over whether or not my heart is burdened.

But how do I make that choice?

I don’t know the Bible through and through, but one thing I’ve seen from the passages I know is that our thoughts have power. Anxiety, lust, jealousy, pride, and anger all have physical manifestations, but they begin in the mind. David pleaded with God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Where our thoughts go most often is where our heart is. The things that I think about the most are probably what I’m putting first in my life. God is often not far from my thoughts… but I tend to focus on the hard parts on my journey with Him more than the easy parts. I put my God-approved troubles and experiences above my God-given strength and encouragement. He is so good about sending me reminders and demonstrating how easy His yoke is (Matthew 11:30), but even still, it is so easy to let my heart be troubled and focus my thoughts on how hard life is.

A friend of mine made an art/photo collage for me a few weeks ago that has this verse affixed to the middle. It’s something I seriously need to take to heart and live by:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

On a more personal note… I sit here typing this, being all “spiritually mature” with my Bible verses, after throwing a tantrum last night. I was up late pouting, went to bed pouting, and woke up pouting. But then that verse, John 14:1, came to mind. I know it was God, slapping me gently and reminding me that I didn’t have to be a baby. Dang it.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m up, down, and all over the place when it comes to my walk with Christ. Most of the time I’m in the middle, and I feel like my high points are getting higher as I spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, but I’m still soooooo far from where I want to be. I know that I’m not who I’m supposed to be yet. There is still so much that God has to do within me. He’s done a lot these past 6 months, but He’s only getting started. In some ways that’s encouraging, but it’s also a harrowing idea to entertain because there have been so many difficult steps these past few months already. However, I have an idea of the person God is growing me to be. I can almost see her… and I want to be her, really badly. I get glimpses of her when I’m really on fire for Him… selfless, gracious, pure in deeds and thought, and most importantly, a champion for Christ. But I’m very far from that ideal right now, so I guess God and I are going to keep working (Philippians 1:6)…….