A Whale Tale

Tuesday was a hard day for me. I woke up in time to get ready for class, like I usually do, and jumped in the shower. I got out and began getting ready, but I was so exhausted (emotionally) that I decided to skip class and go back to bed. I sat down and began praying, but I fell asleep half-way through. I woke up two hours later feeling like I’d been hit by a car. I was drained, had a headache, and just wanted to sleep, but I had so much to do. I knew what the problem was. I’d been trying to do everything on my own; I’d only been talking to God in passing and hadn’t taken my time to surrender my worries to Him. I knew I needed to have a good prayer session where I just sat and talked to Him for a while without any distractions. But I had a lot to do, so I picked up my computer and started working on homework.

But God has a funny way of letting us know what He wants us to do. I have a worship playlist I frequently listen to, and it was playing on my computer that afternoon. One of Kari Jobe’s songs started playing, and I began crying. I wasn’t thinking of anything other than the content of my essay, but my emotions were running wild. It was like my spirit said “Hannah, you may not be paying attention, but I need this, so it’s happening whether your head is engaged or not.”

I texted one of my friends to vent. I told there I was sitting there, typing my essay, and I had started crying and couldn’t stop. She told me to go to the beach and let it all out. I knew I needed to do something or I was going to implode, so I packed up my stuff and went to the beach.

As I sat there on the sand, I had a hard time getting started. I always have a hard time talking when I’m supposed to spill, even if it’s to God. But I started talking about my new job, graduation, finances, relationships, and everything else I’d been thinking or worrying about. I just started rambling. And soon enough, I got down to what some of the core issues were, just by talking it out. Tears streamed down my face for a half hour. I talked and talked and talked, praying for every item that came to mind.

At one point I sat there with my eyes closed, listening to the water. I told Him, “God, I see you working all around me. And I’m grateful. But sometimes it just feels like you’re so far away. I miss you.” At that moment I opened my eyes to the wide expanse of cold, blue water that was in front of me. Right where my eyes were looking, there was a gray whale breaching. She came up ever so gracefully. I immediately looked around, wide-eyed, wondering if anyone else was around to see her. But I was the only one. Instantly my spirit knew that God had sent her. It sounds silly, but I know it was His was of telling me “Hey, Hannah. Hey, you! I’m here. It’s ok. I’m here. And I love you.”

I lost it. Whatever inhibitions I had before were now gone. I sat there amazed, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the God of the universe loved me. And He loved me enough to instruct a whale to swim up to the shore so I could see her and be reminded of God’s greatness. I love God’s grand, sweeping gestures, but I really love the little things He does. I’m about the details. I watched the whale come up, then dip below the water again, then come up. I kept telling God, “Wow, make her do it again. Please?! Can I see it again?” She breached four or five times… each and every time I asked. When I stopped asking, when I’d been convinced that I’d actually seen her and that I wasn’t making it up, she stayed under. I sat there stunned for a while, telling Him over and over, “She’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Thank you.” It was so peaceful.

He reminded me that He loved me. I read it over and over in the Bible, and I’m shown His love by other believers constantly. But sometimes I just need a visual reminder, from Him, that He loves me. And when I needed it most, He sent it. God used a gray whale off the coast of Southern California to tell me He loves me. How cool is that?

Just thought I’d share 🙂

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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 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.