Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Which I am Not a Victim of My Dad's Sin

Over the weekend I saw the latest Christian movie "Home Run" which details the story of an infamous baseball player with an alcohol addiction--and the mess that trails him as he clashes with grace.

At one point in the movie he has screwed up for the upteenth time, but this time it effects his very own son. He is sitting in a barn after drinking too much and he calls his Celebrate Recovery leader. He looks up at him with a face painted in shame and breath tinged with liquor, "I have an alcohol problem and I just don't know how to stop."

"I know" his friend replies, nodding his head, "I know."

Dad, I needed space this year and it was right and it has freed me up. You needed to sober up too, because let's face it, I can't make you stop--and I accept it now. I needed the space to learn it, and to wrestle some too. But I'm sorry for the way I have set up these unspoken requirements for you, completely conditional and biased in my offerings.

As though you should be punished. Held to a higher standard because you've messed up too much. Because your mess-ups have seeped over into my life too. 

If he finishes a year in that program, then you can call him. I remember thinking. He has to make it at least a year. Don't waste your time on him--or your thoughts. He won't make it a year. Once an alcoholic, always one. How many times have we been here, anyhow? He is never going to change.

Dad, I don't know why I have so selfishly decided you weren't worthy of my time until you earned it. 

Perhaps it happens as I remember what you stole from me, how you crushed my innocence and my dream, and I just hate you. I want to make you suffer. But the truth is, it's me drinking the suffrage overflowing with a heaping spoon of unforgiveness on top, whether you're lifting the glass or not.

As the pedestal bearing the gravity of my daddy issues continues to sink, I am finding myself so acutely aware of my own sinful heart, the sin that so far exceeds the label of abused. 

Your know, I have been hiding under the victim shell and pelting rocks your way every painful thought that crosses my mind. And a few years later, well those rocks have piled up into a flat out wall. Even when it is my sin. Like the night I gave myself permission to throw up a lot of food that I ate because you chose to leave rehab prematurely and it was my heart you left out in the dust of once again. Thinking of yourself before your family, again. Nothing has changed, I remember thinking. Or the way a few nightmares landed me in a heap on the floor when they ended with you and your sin against me. The way I spent the next week depressed and alone. Rightfully so, I rationalized. I am the victim here. 

That was my choice and it's time I own up. I have been labeled my whole life and now I do it to myself? Maybe it feels safe. Maybe it makes everyone else feel for me, justifies the darkness somehow. Maybe it puts makeup on the sin as it suddenly dwells in disguise. 

So I recall the countless times I have said those exact same words--I just don't know how to stop. 

I didn't know how to stop throwing up or cutting my skin. How to stop wanting to be loved. I had no idea what to do with the thoughts that reminded me of the used rag I measured up to be after I lost something most pure. I didn't know how to press through the darkness. Heck, I couldn't even stand up more or less run with perseverance.

Two bombs went off and it could have been anywhere, anyone. Sin is becoming a church word that no one really has time to think about, even down here in the bible belt, because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Best not step on any toes yells the postmods. I go to bed some days expecting to see Jesus before the alarm. And I weep because I'm not ready, yet my worship extends such bold words that echo come Lord Jesus, come. I know I mean it, it's just my heart is so ugly and dark.

Dad, you screwed up. But just because you hurt me does not validate my sin, it doesn't justify it. Nor does it justify the deep down conditional love I've mustered up towards you in my heart.

I am tired of living enslaved to this once-abused-girl mindset. 

No poor creature stands in need of divine grace more then I do, and yet none abuses it more then I have done, and still do. And it is all beyond me. 

So dad, I guess we have more in common then I'd like to admit. At the end of the day, sin is sin. There is no ranking. This truth defines us both, you know? It is setting us free when we choose.

Lately, my lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel, and my ways recluctant to amend. I bring my soul to thee; break it, bend it, wound it, mould it. Unmask to me sin's deformity, that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.

I hate the way I hate you. The way I hold the grudge. The way I still want you to love me the most.

I have been reluctant to amend, slow to acknowledge the breaking and bending. The mask always feels better, doesn't it? It's coming off now and hating it isn't enough. Dad, I just don't know how to stop blaming you for my dark days, how to stop seeing you only in light of your sin. 

I longed for a love you just don't have to give. God used an incredible fatherly figure to step in and guard me and guide me into more intimate understanding of His own love for me. As I see even that fatherly figure let me down, I realize all the more God is the only perfect one, the only one who offers me something unconditional and everlasting and redeems through it. The one who give us a new name.

Ya'll, I am not a victim or a bulimic. Dad, you're not an abuser or an addict. We are children of God. And He commands us to forgive, just as He has done for us. There is nothing radical about it.

Lord, help me to unmask my sin and flee to obedience that your glory might be magnified in my brokenness. 

Dad, I don't need anything from you. But, I still want it.

And I believe God is opening the door after just over a year of Him locking it shut. For now, I will write you a letter.

I look forward to seeing His glory on display in whatever way He would [or wouldn't] allow us to pursue relationship in the months & years to come. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Which I Tell You I Am India Bound

It's been nearly a year now. A year since I've traveled the world and seen God sweep through the mountains of Orissa as His Holy Spirit moves in the hearts and lives of these natives. I can so vividly remember walking through the security gate at the airport in the big city after a five hour drive out of the mountains, all our gear piled high atop the cars as we Americans don't know how to leave the bathroom sink behind. I had several bags across my shoulder and full waterworks streaming down my face, passport in hand. I turned around one last time as I was next to walk through security. I smiled big and motioned one final goodbye.

I remember walking forward, passing through the metal detector and putting my shoes back on. The same ones that were still raw with that glorious red dirt that held my frame those weeks, sweat seeping between my toes. I heard the holy spirit in those moments, as He simply told me This is is just see you later. Trust me now. The plane ride back and months to follow were full of wrestling with much fear and trembling. Wrestling with trust and patience and submission, wrestling with the abundance of stuff invading my life and this American culture luring me away from the gospel, with white picket fence and all. Wrestling with waiting, the feeling stuck, with the culture shock and my salvation too.

Then Pastor Sam came to visit a while back, and I wrestled some more.

These past months have led me into living away from these eleven, learning how to walk confidently in the sufficiency of Christ at work in my life. It's been ups and downs, but the ground is looking more level then ever before and I know the Spirit is at work. Meanwhile, a season of studying my nights and weekends away as the paychecks continue to sustain through the five o' clock hour is coming to a much anticipated close. I have two more classes to go and that is a miracle far beyond my capacity or ability--and yet, here we are!

I was accepted to Thomas Edison University last week where I will transfer all my credit and complete my final two classes to come out with my Bachelors in Social Sciences in June.

In fact, that's only one of the incredible prayers answered in my life through these recent weeks. That final night of these forty days where my friend Sydney and I prayed into the desert instead of fasting, we asked God to provide the money for my tuition, to make India come up unexpectedly through the week if we were supposed to go, and for a job in Arkansas so I didn't have to move to St. Louis. We prayed a lot of other stuff too.

The next day, I witnessed God's miraculous provision of the missing $800 needed to complete my tuition costs, just taped to my car literally the week it was due and after praying it would appear in that exact location the night before. By lunchtime that day, the phone rang from an odd number. I thought it might be a potential job interview, so I picked up. An hour long phone conversation would follow with an American currently living in India, whom I had met there last year, anxious to serve this Pastor and his ministry in greater depth. I hung up the phone completely in awe of how boldly God chose to answer our prayer. Beyond, that He also confirmed India that same afternoon in a clear way to Sydney through a conversation with her dad. Later that week, God also provided a job in Arkansas. 

We met later that night and looked at each other laughing, quite histarically actually, at the unreal realization that God was indeed calling us to India! I know when I pray, I must believe it, but so many of those weeks of prayer had been spent begging Him to help my unbelief. He didn't have to reveal Himself in such tangible ways, and yet in His grace He chose to and I am so thankful and in continual awe. The next step was asking God to provide the right group to send us. There were several options presented to us, and within a week God very clearly confirmed our home church, University Baptist Church, would be sending us.

We will be heading to India for the month of July to teach English to children at this school. Beyond humbling is the fact that simply our American bodies standing in that schoolhouse will bring much creditability and provision to the school, the ministry, and these kiddos futures. We also hope to offer several outreaches to women there, possibly through bible studies, medical clinics and sex-trafficking prevention courses.

For me personally, this month will be spent seeking God and specifically asking Him to show me whether or not I am to return long term to teach and serve within this ministry. Either way, I will be coming back for a year to pay off the remainder of my school debt and continue in international ministry before I can return long term.

We will also have the opportunity to write while in India, sharing stories of what God is doing and will continue to do through our time there, allowing you to see glimpses of our journey and continue praying specifically while we are there and giving to this incredible ministry as you are led.

You know, God's provision these past weeks has been overwhelming. It's like in Hebrews 6 when God promised Abraham blessing and descendants. Abraham waited patiently and then received what God had promised. I have been waiting (though not so patiently) for these requests. And now God provided a new job, the money needed to complete college just in time to go to India, and the path clear for India with a friend to join me.

But God didn't stop there. He continues in Hebrews to explain that He wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose so clear--so He gave an oath, a promise for His heirs to hope in. That's us, ya'll!!

He said we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. 

Do you ever feel as though you need an anchor for your soul? I sure do. Even now as kiddos don't obey and the dishes are piled high and the laundry sits in the washer still. I have a big test this week and am fighting a cold and I just feel like it's all out of my control--I need to be anchored in something! So what are we to anchor our souls in, beyond His immediate provision of things in this world?

Hebrews goes on to tell us that this promise enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our fore rummer Jesus had entered on our behalf. We are to be anchored in the promise of Jesus, the fore runner gone ahead and coming back still.

So as incredibly humbled as I am in God's provision of so much this week, I am realizing I can't hope only in this temporal provision He offers. We rejoice, yes!! But what if God chose to use me in St. Louis rather then Arkansas? What if God did not provide the money for school the next day, but it took several months? He doesn't always answer us the way we choose or expect. So we can't only place our hope in these answered prayers, even when He does chose to answer them in a big way for His glory.

But we CAN hope in the unshifting promise, the provision, still coming--JESUS. And it is with that desire we fly across the world to bring the good news. The news that Jesus is the one to fulfill, the one who allows us to hope in the inner sanctuary. That Christ is anchoring us in Himself until He comes.

In His grace He offers us glimpses--like making a way for us to go to India. But ultimately we hope in the promise that He is coming!!

You can catch up on clips of my India journey last year through this South Asia link. There will be support letters coming soon and we are are so grateful for the way the body of Christ continues to surround us, pray with us, and confirm what God is doing.

              My sister, friend, and the one crazy enough to join me on this journey to India!! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Which I Have a New Job

The past six weeks of unemployment have challenged me in ways unending.

Just two weeks ago, in fact, I began packing up my life here in Arkansas to head northbound to St. Louis where I was offered a place to stay with my best friend and her new twin boys (and the Mr. of course). St. Louis made a lot of sense as I will graduate in June and just need a filler job until then, at which point I can attain the "dream job" whatever the heck that means! 

Plus, I was relieved to have a back up plan after the 30+ jobs I'd applied for ignored my emails and calls. I didn't see then what God was requiring. And I can see now how miserably I failed that test. How often I forget He is trustworthy and fully in control [especially when I'm not, amen?]

Yesterday I started my new job as "nanny" and then some to three boys. 

Just two days before I was to depart for St. Louis, I was offered an interview for a nanny position in Arkansas. I interviewed the following night and was offered the job the day after. In the meantime, I still kept my plans to go to St. Louis and interview there as well, though I knew on the drive up it would be a short trip as I was pulling away from my "home" in the rolling hills (that I once called mountains) of the natural state.

See that was much of the wrestling and not trusting--this place has become my home these past three years and I couldn't imagine calling it quits quite yet. [Despite desperately missing my family in St. Louis.]

God used the trip to confirm the door He'd opened back South was indeed the one I should walk on through. So barely a day into my trip, I accepted the position. The reactions of those close to me were a little bitter mixed with a lot a sweet, as most I trust knew it was the answered prayer we'd been believing for.

Tonight, as I sit here physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained, covered in spit up and various combinations of peas and carrots with a couple layers of paint, chalk, and dog hair to top it off---well let's just say I can't do much but laugh at the reality that this is what many prayers answered looks like in all it's glory. I am reminded God's "working all things together for our good" takes on odd shapes and sizes at times, yet He is working indeed.

As much as I need a shower right now, I am equally confident of His provision of this position for my good. 

I always thought these concepts of God "equipping us for the calling" and "training us in death to self" were ones I would wrestle through prior to moving across the world for the sake of the gospel. Instead I'm seeing it as I re-define the word "time-out" for boys quite fluent in disobedience [and absolute melt downs]. In the way eating my lunch around three this afternoon was a victory celebrated. I'm seeing it in the way my "Tot School" qualifications can be found on my Pinterst wall. How I yelled when my perfectly clean kitchen took a thick layer of red play-dough to the rug this afternoon [and fought to hold back the tears while I scrubbed]. And I see it in the way that the lady at the bookstore today asked me if they were twins and bent down to help as I juggled the baby and his buggy of gear too. She smiled and told me they were precious--and I gritted my teeth and replied yes ma'am, they are.

And you know what? They really are. It's a part of the dying that God is teaching me at the close of this day two. A little spit up and few melt downs doesn't change that. Nor does the suffering I feel when six o' clock feels centuries away. Neither does the fact that they are just my job. They are gifts from the Lord and for this season of time, they are my gifts for these fifty hours of the week. God has entrusted me with them--so have their unbelieving parents. And He commands me to be faithful.

Yesterday I connected with the mom of these boys over her previous hurts from the Catholic church. She explained to me she is excited for the twins to be in school in the fall--school in a church because they need something spiritual, even she can't give it to them. And God reminds me--Courtney, I have chosen this family to employ you for reasons far exceeding your need for a check at the end of the week. This morning I met another mom at story time and she just moved here from India. What a blessing my time with her was. Another reminder the Word is living and active here too.

Today, God didn't need me preaching in India. He needed me at Barnes and Noble for story time in Rogers, Arkansas with two boys attached to my legs and another slobbering in my arms. He needed me to sit cross-legged on the floor of this bookstore feeding the baby a bottle beside a mom from India while the boys shared a bench up front.

I wasn't ever quite convinced changing diapers and teaching the alphabet was a worthy calling until they were my own one day. Today, God ever so gently reminded me that taking up my cross to follow Him is the only worthy calling. 

So tomorrow, picking up my cross is asking these boys to forgive me for yelling over spilled play-dough. It's singing of Christ's love while I change the baby's diaper. It's speaking life over these boys when even their parents tell me they're a handful. It's disciplining when they don't obey the first time, even if letting it go would prevent a melt down. It's praying for patience and joy and India while I wash dishes and fold laundry. It's remembering just how unworthy I am, how selfish, and repenting.

Picking up my cross is resting in His grace all-sufficent when they all three have pressing needs and there is just one exhausted me. It's the deep breath and the peace that transcends it all. It's the fact that He died so I could live. So these boys could live--and one day know the peace too.

And then I realize just how worthy this calling is--and how it being  entrusted to me is grace alone. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Which Babies Remind Me

I've spent the past few days with this new little family of four. I am so madly in love with these boys sometimes I can't even stand it.

I think this weekend has kept me locked up behind the gates of solitude as I find myself staring off into the distance and craving time in the quiet more then normal. This year, I just can't quite seem to wrap my little mind around Easter, around this thing called the resurrection.

My ears flood with sounds of my uselessness, my lack of belonging here. I feel something ugly when menial tasks are tossed my way, as if I am entitled to something greater then unpacking the car or manning the washing machine in the basement. I love to serve and I miss my friend even while she is sitting right net to me, two boys feeding off of her, and I just can't control my thoughts these days.

And as crazy as my brain as been as of late, I have never in my life heard grace sung so sweet as these past weeks. You know, it just keeps getting louder. 

I think the message I hear is such:  without the ressuresction, there would be no Christianity. No grace. No Truth to replace the lies. No after the before. No hope in the pain. No sacrifice in the death. It all hinges on the rock removed giving way to emptiness. It all comes back to the risen Son.

The one that dwells deep and hums to words otherwise mostly forgotten in the noise.

I watch this new Mamma and Daddy love bigger then I ever knew possible and it leaves me hungrier. Give me some a that, I think to myself. While I reflect on how things have changed and how I miss something that isn't even lost, just different.

I've seen God's provision lately in such unreal ways. And what I deserve is death.

There is something to be reconciled this year, some understanding I simply don't understand.

Understanding aside, I know it to be true so why do I still search here, within the constraints of clothes that hide shame and walls that conceal sin? What is it about saftey and belonging that is so appealing in our nakedness?

It's in us from birth, I'm learning. Something programmed deep, something beyond the passing the of genes. The kicking and flailing of complete unrestraint seen against the comfort of a tight swaddling blanket or two. The way their little muscles relax when they are scrunched up tight chest to chest. The unrest that comes in diaper changes contrasted with the peace of nakedness undone. The glory of a mamma nursing that makes every tear trickle away.

We all want to loved, protected, important-we all want to feel safe. 

When I watch this new daddy lock eyes with his boys, I feel goose bumps chase up my arms. I hear him whisper to his son and I remember this glimpse of right relationship, of justice. It leaves me teary-eyed and hungrier. When mamma nurses, her love made flesh really does quiet them. I continually think of the way God rejoices over them with singing, the way watching her calm her little sweet peas reminds me He thinks of me like that too?

Even though my mom is still learning how to love me. In spite of my dad robbing me of safety.

He still quiets me with His love. He calls me beloved. No matter how tight my pants feel today or how I just barely swung a passing grade on that last test or how my bible was altogether forgotten on this little trip or how I have spent a few weeks engulfed in a thick fog, it seems.

I still long to hear Him singing, you know. I need it.

They cry for no reason sometimes. These two precious boys. Completely senseless and sleep-robbing tears, and yet her love waivers not, of course. I hear her voice--Oh my lil sweet pea. You know your mamma loves you? As she quiets them. And I know she would give herself for these little guys because I watch it happening, the way her life is belonging less and less to her.

Lord, is that not what you desire for me too? That as a new mamma of two is somewhat supernaturally empowered to function on far less sleep then should be humanly possible, I also should also feel the sting of something lost so that something else might be gained?

There is something powerful about these early days, something I hope to remember. The way the womb contracts and boys burst forth and there is much rejoicing and much sacrifice.

For me or you, it might not be sleep or a daily shower He is requiring for the taking. Perhaps it is shame. Or fear. Maybe failure. Or hurt of not being protected. Maybe even your love of other things.

Like these precious babies scream over a bit of nakedness, we too must remember that is us. We are completely deserving, you know? We are the naked and guilty, apart from the One who chose in His grace to clothe us--with the righteousness of a risen Savior!

Death that we might have life. Risen that He might live in us. Nakedness undone. Quieting us with His love. Do you hear the song yet?

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.  [Zephaniah 3:17]