Selah

For this moment, I allow my heart to have no words…

Advertisements

Surreal. I’ve been using that word a lot the past week or two. This particular moment in my life is surreal on so many levels. Today is the day that I receive my master’s hood for my Master of Divinity. Four years ago to the day, I was the last one in the office on a Friday evening, sitting at my desk and praying. I never expected that the response I would hear that evening would be a call to vocational ministry. In God’s sense of humor, in a few days I will be returning to that very office as I step back into a role on the Taylor Enterprise Applications Management team at Taylor University while I continue to explore ministry and writing opportunities.

That day four years ago feels like a lifetime ago, and over the past four years I have not just studied, but have been renewed body, mind, and spirit. I’ve had the blessing of having no commitments this week, allowing me space to reflect and process. Even so, I have struggled to find words for the multitude of thoughts and emotions that I am experiencing this week as I am presented with such a clear side-by-side of who I am now and who I was four years ago, of the magnitude of God’s faithfulness. I feel profound gratitude for all those who have journeyed beside me these past four year. I am struck silent with awe at the grace, healing, and freedom God has poured into my life during this past season.

This week has been my “selah,” my worshipful pause. Monday brings a new beginning, and my selah will turn into a different form of praise. But for today and for this weekend, I relish in my pause and I cherish every minute. For this moment, I allow my heart to have no words, and to offer my profound silence.

Selah.

To My Seminary Family

We who once were strangers have become family.

We who once were strangers have become family. We’ve sat around tables in classrooms, coffee shops, and late-night paper writing in the library; we sat across from each other and wondered, questioned, wrestled, and hoped together. We’ve discussed scripture, and history, and theology; the world, and the church, and yes, even politics. Our minds have been stretched with the content of our courses, and our hearts have been nourished as we–students and teachers together–have gathered as a community to seek God through it all.

As we part ways, we laugh and cry, knowing we have walked through deep places together. In the years to come, we will weather many storms, and see many mountaintops. As our lives diverge only to intersect again through text, email, coffee, or conferences, we acknowledge that we are forever connected, forever a part of a tapestry of those who have given their lives to pursue God’s call on their life, wherever that may lead.

We’ve arrived at graduation, commencement, the new beginning that marks the end of a season. As we continue onward, growing in our role in the Body of Christ, we step forward in faith, with confidence in our preparation, knowing that our seminary family is always there for us. Yet we are strengthened not as much by the answers we know as by the courage we have given one another to never stop exploring the depths of the mysteries of God.

Grief, Joy, and Faith

Today I declare that God is good.

I’m scheduled for surgery a week from tomorrow, so I went for a run this morning. I ran this morning as an act of faith.

It’s been tempting for the last 5 weeks (since calling to schedule my surgery for my endometriosis) to give in to hopelessness. So often I thought, “I’m not in good shape right now, and I’m having surgery soon, so why bother to exercise?” For me, I choosing to run anyways was a prophetic act. It was my way of declaring, even though I’m facing a surgery that has the potential to end in a full hysterectomy, leaving me unable to have kids while still unmarried and in my 20s, that God is good. More than that, I believe that God will/has healed me and I will not need surgery, so there’s no reason to wait to get into shape. But most of all, my choice to run is a declaration that I can and should continue to prepare for the future because, whatever happens, it will be good.

My journey with endometriosis has deepened my faith in incredible ways. It has taught me how to face the facts and still declare that my God is bigger than any circumstance. I believe God, through healing, will make it so that I do not need surgery, and yet if my test tomorrow shows that I do still need surgery, that does not change my faith. It is easier to live only in facts, or only in blind faith; learning how to live in the tension of both facts and faith has shaped me in beautiful ways.

As I have faced the reality that I may need to grieve my ability to have biological children, God has been teaching me how to face grief with joy. The potential for grief is not the same as walking through current grief, so please don’t hear me equating the two. However this journey has helped me in other areas of my life where I am walking through current grief, though that’s more than I can go into in this post. As I’ve approached surgery, I have been tempted to buy into the lie that if I think about how much it could hurt, I’ll be prepared. That’s a lie. These past few years, but especially this past month, God has been teaching me that the only way to ‘prepare’ for potential grief is to practice joy. Joy will not take away the pain of grief, but it will keep us from actively making it worse. I don’t understand how it works; perhaps it’s simply supernatural. What I do know is that joy has allowed me to grieve more deeply and fully in areas of current grief without losing sight of the goodness of God, and the goodness of God always brings peace. Somehow, with God, facing grief has brought me joy.

I will likely know tomorrow whether or not I can cancel the surgery, and so today I ran. Today I declare that God is good. That tomorrow and next week there will be joy whatever the circumstances. God is good, and that is more than enough.

Destiny

Jesus displayed perfect love, yet it wasn’t by focusing on those around him, but by focusing on the Father and doing only what he saw his Father doing.

Not only am I a millennial myself, but I am currently researching young adults for my thesis, and I keep coming across something that I believe resonates with many people: a search for their destiny. Millennials tend to be more outspoken about this search than previous generations claim to have been (I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to that 😉) but I think it’s something every heart desires. As a Christian, I have often wondered what a godly understanding of destiny is, or if God even cares about such things.

This morning I had to apologize to a friend because as I have been wrestling with this, I felt like what I told her several weeks ago was wrong. I had told her that I thought walking in our gifts and abilities was a response of worship to God’s love. I’m no longer sure that’s true. Hear me, I absolutely think that we should be living for other people, that when we are healthy our focus will be on others and not on ourselves, but that isn’t worship. Worship only happens when we focus on God and who God is. I realized that I was once again falling into the trap of striving, of a works based faith. I thought it was okay because it was joyfully done out of the joy and love I had received from God. The bottom line, though, is that I was taking what God had given me and then taking my eyes off of him in order to give it to others. Giving God’s love to others is a good thing, right? Yes, but only when we do so without taking our eyes off of God. Jesus displayed perfect love, yet it wasn’t by focusing on those around him, but by focusing on the Father and doing only what he saw his Father doing.

So what does this have to do with our destiny? First, I think that our understanding of destiny will always be diseased as long as it’s focus is on others, and even more so if the focus is on ourselves. Our destiny is found in God alone, and it is only out of the overflow of that that our mission comes—a person’s mission is the shape of how the overflow of our focus on God will impact those around us. The classic confession from the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” As I have been praying and reflecting over the past few months (and have been reading the Passion Translation of the Bible) I came to this, which is basically a rephrasing of the catechism above:

Our destiny is the extravagance that overflows from being the lovesick beloved of God.

Never Give Up: what I have learned about God’s goodness through my walk with depression

The goodness of God, the kingdom of God, is more expansive than anyone can possibly exhaust in a lifetime, and I believe we were created to continually live into greater measures of God’s goodness than we have yet experienced.

I fully believe that God wants every person saved, healed, and delivered. I also believe that the power of the one who raised Christ from the dead is in every child of God and is willing and able to to do just that. In recent weeks I have experienced the reality of that in ways beyond what I was capable to even dream of. There is so much I want to share, and I’m sure I’ll share more in the future, but today I want to focus on one piece: never ceasing to explore the goodness of God and what that looks like on a personal level.

I’m going to start at the end by first describing the breakthrough of God’s goodness that I have recently experienced before I talk about how my choice to never cease to explore God’s goodness helped me get to where I am now. I have lived my life with depression. Almost certainly caused at least in part by genetics, I do not remember a time before depression. Recently, my depression deepened again. Severely. After a bad experience in the past, I have always been nervous to try antidepressants again, but I knew that I needed to do something, so I gave it another try. And, wow, my life is forever changed! Judging by the impact even in these first few weeks (and they take about a month to fully have their effect) I am more sure than ever that I have never NOT been depressed before now. The severity has changed from season to season, but some level of shadow has always been there. Now I am in a continual state of awe and giving thanks to God for the change that I have experienced; and I believe this is just the beginning! God is truly so, so good!!

Bonus mini-post on medication and healing: Do I believe that God heals miraculously? Yes. I also believe that God who created everything that has been created is the source of of all breakthroughs, including medication. I do believe there will be a day that I am free from depression while not on antidepressants, and God still gets the glory for the miracle I am living in right now. One does not negate the other. There is so much more I could say on this, but this post is already long enough, so it will have to wait for another post!

My good friend Stephanie describes the relationship between depression and joy well in her blog post about her experience with depression. I had already started working on this post and had no idea she was also writing a post about depression, and her post is an amazing, hope-filled, practical engagement with how to walk through depression, so if you haven’t already, take a break from this post and go read what she has to say! Seriously. Here’s the link: http://www.pastorstephanie.com/blog/how-i-survived-seasonal-depression

Stephanie mentions in her post coming across a sign that says “choose joy” and the anger that rose up in her at it in the midst of her depression. Man, did that story hit me hard. Until this month, I could no more choose to feel joy than I could choose to grow wings and fly, as much as I would love to do both! That’s not to say that I never felt joy; I did. However, during the days, weeks, seasons, and years when I felt imursed in darkness, I did not have the ability that, with the help of antidepressants, I am now discovering of being able to turn my mood. So I could not choose to feel joy; but I could choose to practice joy. Stephanie talks about this beautifully in her post. Doing activities that have brought joy in the past. Celebrating with friends even when I may be feeling nothing. Acting out joy not as a mask to hide the truth, but as a prophetic statement that declared joy is more real than how I currently feel.

Yet for me, having never felt 100% free of the shadow of depression, there were times when I was at some level practicing something I had never fully experienced. That is not to say “woe is me,” because I believe that this is the very nature of the kingdom of God. This is what I mean when I say that we must never cease to explore the goodness of God. I was aware that more joy existed than I had experienced, so I continued to feed that awareness as I lived out of the conviction that that joy was possible for me even before I felt it. The goodness of God, the kingdom of God, is more expansive than anyone can possibly exhaust in a lifetime, and I believe we were created to continually live into greater measures of God’s goodness than we have yet experienced.

One of the main turning points in my journey was a miraculous encounter I had with God that first awakened in me the awareness that something more was available. It’s been almost 11 years now, and I don’t think I’m really any closer to being able to describe what happened that day, but one piece of it is that God planted in my heart and mind a seed – just enough of a revelation to know that more and better was available than the life I was experiencing. And oh, how my mind fell short of of imagining the full reality of what God had for me. Yet it was enough to create a hunger in me.

2 Corinthians 2:14-15 says “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (NASB). When God encountered me that day, I caught the sent of the fragrance of the goodness of God, and it has ruined me. The goodness of God is so sweet that every other thing on earth is a stench compared to it. That’s not to say that everything else is bad; but anything that is good (vocation, family, etc.) can exist either within or without of the fragrance of God. That may be confusing, but I will have to unpack it in a later post. For now, the point is that that encounter started me on a lifelong pursuit of the fragrance I got a hint of that day. It is the fragrance that we encounter when we are around those who are walking with Christ as they allow him to transform their lives.

I wish I could say that my efforts to continue to explore and step into greater levels of joy than I had experienced was a result of intention and wisdom, but that’s not the reality. The reality is actually better than that. The reality is that time after time, just as he did almost 11 years ago, by grace God gave me a taste of what was available. When I responded with hunger, I was able to step into new levels of joy that had previously been unavailable. When I was unwilling to risk my comfort in what was familiar, I stayed were I was or even retreated back farther into my comfort and away from the joy that was available to me. Yet God’s grace and goodness always is there, and always gives me another chance. One month ago, I did not know that the joy, peace, and freedom that I’m currently experiencing existed, yet out of faith that something better was possible, I risked the medication that scared me. I had talked with multiple counselors about antidepressants and the possibilities, I had witnessed the joy of friends around me that encouraged me that perhaps there is still more available than what I had yet found, but I still needed to take the leap of faith. There always comes a moment when all that remains is a leap of faith. Over and over again throughout the past 11 years I have been faced with the choice of whether or not to leap. Sometimes I retreated. Sometimes I leaped and failed. Not every effort has succeeded. But those times that I leaped and landed make all the rest worth it.

There is a song by Bethel Music called Getting There that starts with the lines “Further seems forever, Until you’ve seen, until you get there, Until you feel a promise land beneath your feet.” For so many years I felt stuck in the ‘further feels forever,’ wondering when the promise would land beneath my feet so I could finally stand. What I’m beginning to understand is that what I am made for, what my soul really desires, is not to find a past promise that I can can simply stand on, but rather to allow each promise to become a stepping stone that begins to form a path that leads me ever deeper into the goodness of God. The most extreme, most extravagant, most miraculous picture I was capable of imagining 11 years ago is black as night compared to where God has already brought me, and I believe the journey is even now just beginning. There are so many times that I could have stopped, that I could have said “this is more than I could have ever imagined; I will stop and live here.” And it would have been good. But oh, how much I would have missed out on. There are many ways that I took steps forward in my journey. Sometimes it was through learning. Sometimes it was through serving. Sometimes it was through receiving love from others. But the important thing is that I chose, time and time again, to believe that God’s goodness is still greater yet than what I have experienced, and to never stop reaching my foot out in faith until I can find that next stepping stone, that next promise fulfilled to bring me a little deeper.

I heard a worship song recently that unfortunately seems to be an original song from the church I was visiting and not publicly available. Even so, I want to end this post with (as close as I can remember them) a couple of lines from the chorus of the song:

Just when I think it doesn’t get better than this,
You sweep right in with a fresh new wind.
Just when I think your goodness is at an end,
Your love pours in, and you fill my heart again.

There is more available. There is more of God’s goodness than you have experienced. God’s promises are true. Miracles are available. The goodness you hope for, that thing you are praying for, is not a mirage that leads to disappointment, it is a taste that God longs to surpass if you allow it to feed your hunger for his goodness.

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/225045/