Friday, July 8, 2011

Written July 6th

I spent pretty much all day yesterday rereading this blog and wow, but I am an odd bird. And I don't hide it. Oh no. I'm just openly, consistently, passionately eccentric.

Who writes about that kind of stuff? Me, apparently. If I weren't me, I think I'd be a little scared of me.

I wish I wasn't so odd, sometimes. For example, it would be great to just fit into a church. I didn't start attending church with the express purpose of trying to find fault with it or the pastor. I was guarded due to past experience, but still up for giving it one more try, you know? I really listened to the sermons. I thought them through, not to find mistakes, but to simply think them through.

Two Sundays ago, I actually shook the pastor's hand and said, "Your sermons always give me so much to think about. I appreciate that." I was speaking genuinely. I didn't tell him that I frequently disagree with what he said, but maybe he picked up on that from the expressions on my face, try as I might to hide them.

Frequently, I wish I had not taken the opportunity to write about my experiences with Christ. When I do so, I sound bizarre. Doing so causes me no end of internal upset, anxiety and heartburn.

On the other hand, I feel Christ very close to me before and after, so it's worth it. I'm constantly checking in; do you want me to say this? How can I phrase that? What does that mean? Do You want me to say this? Where on earth is that verse located?

When I'm finished, it's as though He is the sea and I'm floating away on Him. That's what it felt like last night and the night before. I couldn't sleep for talking to Him... which is a bizarre thing to say.

It helps a little when I remember that He does have a history of using weird people. And various people say wonderful things to me after I've posted, things which remind me that I'm playing a very small part in a very beautiful, vast picture.

So I guess I'll go on writing about these things. I didn't used to be strong enough. My relationship with Christ was my secret; my lovely, hidden world of grace that I kept sheltered away lest someone in Authority came along and said "You cannot have that. That's not how it works. Go back and start over." I know I don't deserve what Christ gives me, so I'm vulnerable to agreeing with such statements.

When I was in middle school, I was riding on the school bus and watching the sun come up through the trunks of the trees, bare and black, as they flowed past the dirty window, when an awful truth struck me: I did not love Jesus.

I thought of Him as He was portrayed on my childhood Bible: a pastel Jesus, interested in lambs and pink cheeked children. He was above earthly realities, sitting in heaven, the demanding and angry first born Son of the demanding and thunderous Father. Jesus was frowning down at me because I owed Him big time and, instead of being a grateful, good girl, I was instead a resentful, hard hearted girl.

Horror enveloped my soul as I realized this. This was sin above and beyond that of the usual sin. I was sinning in the Big Leagues. I scrambled to make recompense, to ask for forgiveness: I scrabbled around in my heart, desperate to find some scrap of honest love I could offer up to God's own Son, the one who stood amid the crowd two thousand years ago and said inscrutable things that I could not for the life of me figure out and was certain I could never live up to.

I couldn't. It was terrifying. There was nothing I could do; I had to wallow in my miserable state. I told myself that when I went to the summer convention that my church held for its youth, I would wrestle with this unacceptable state of my heart. In that settling, surely I would find some kind of acceptable answer; surely my heart would be softened.

When that time rolled around, I took myself up to the prayer tower that still stood as a testament to the beginnings of the church I was raised in- by my reckoning, a very holy place, infused with prayer and obedience. God would have to speak to me there, on the seventh story.

I stayed up there all afternoon. I stayed up there for hour upon hour, reading my white bound Bible, underlining dozens of verses and searching for an answer. I watched while the sun moved through the sky and the shadows changed.

By early evening, I was exhausted and without an answer. I closed the Bible; my prayer changed to a feeling of sheer desperation. What could make me love God as I ought to love Him? What was wrong with me?

In the stillness, I began to be conscious of a growing sensation; one of emptiness. It was as though I could actually see it, and it was inside of me. It was as though I carried around inside of me a square box of frightening emptiness.

In my fear, I cried out to God, "Fill me! Fill my emptiness!" I knew that He was supposed to do that; I had some expectation of Him doing that.

After a moment of perfect stillness, I felt a sensation of liquid warmth being poured over my head. I recognized it immediately for what it was; the symbolism was familiar to me from my church. Only it wasn't oil; it was love. God was pouring down His love for me, starting from the top of my head all the way to my toes.

It was almost unbearable, the amount of love that was being poured out on me. It was as though my body would burst from it. I could not sit still one moment longer. I leaped up from the hard wooden chair.

I want racing down all the many flights of stairs; I ran out into the night. I was acutely, marvelously aware of Christ Himself running along beside me. We were both running and leaping for joy on the dew wet grass of the wide lawns that stretched out on either side of the building.

It was the first time I experienced Christ as a Person. His love for me was so great and so personal that I couldn't take it all in and I could not express it. God Himself was running around with me in the dark: because He loved me, because He knew exactly what it was like to be me, because He is like that.

Later on, as I was tucked up in my sleeping bag, I let Him go. I said, "I know I can't feel You like this all the time. That's unreasonable to expect. But I know You'll always be there, even if I can't feel You. Now I know; all the rest of my life I'll know."

But I never expected the rest of my life to so deeply test that statement.

Several years later, at what I think was the last church gathering I attended, I stood and sang a hymn. I knew He wanted me to sing that exact hymn; that is the only thing that could have compelled me to stand in front of the church and sing, with no practice before hand.

What I didn't know, was that my entire life as I knew it was about to end. I couldn't know. Even then, my family was reeling from revelations of the sexual abuse that had riddled it. Very soon, we would be leaving that church, which was my entire world.

Very soon, I would graduate high school with no plans and no hopes for the future, besides surviving. I would end up marrying an emotionally immature man, an act which would destroy what was left of the person I thought I was.

I would spend the next ten years searching desperately to figure out who I was and how I was supposed to live, all the while crippled by severe anxiety and smothering depression. I would end up in trauma therapy for almost five years, all told. I would try and fail, and try and fail again to try and be the person I thought I was supposed to be, until I finally gave up.

In short, everything soon would be in pieces at my feet. I knew nothing of this; but I knew Christ wanted me up there, on the steps before the podium. So I went. I sang this:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake."

(How Firm a Foundation, John Rippon, 1787)

By the time I got to the second verse, tears were pouring down my face; when I looked into the audience, I saw that many others were weeping with me. I could barely sing the fourth verse. It came out in a hoarse croak.

As I sang, it was as though the very roof of the Sanctuary was lifted off; I saw right up through it, into heaven, and I knew that I moved heaven. It was terrifying; it was awe inspiring. It was as though Almighty God moved His eyes right to me, because I was singing His own words to Him.

That summer I left my exhusband, I deliberately put God in the backseat of my life; I told Him I was. The religious strictures and dogmatic, legalistic systems that, in my own mind, were all bound up with Him, were finally too much for me. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know how to think. I had so many conflicting ideas of what the Christian walk was that I felt completely unable to walk it at all. I shut myself away from Him.

I fully expected Him to abandon me. I had been taught that He would. I had been taught that those who sin can't be close to Him and must, in fact, be punished by Him. I told Him that I wasn't expecting clemency; I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew I was leaving His special protection and I could no longer expect His blessing.

The thing is though, that none of that happened. He never shut Himself away from me; I never felt His punishment, I never felt His anger. Good things happened to me, so did hard things. Whenever I let down my guard, He was right there, loving, patient, and personal. It even offended me, at times. It offended my sense of rightness.

It took Him over a decade to prove to me that His own promises, those promises that I sang to Him, He would keep. He would keep them all exactly as I had sung them. He would keep them despite my sin, in the face of my disbelief, and through my weakness, because it is in weakness that His strength is made perfect.

So we have a history; He and I. We have a history that began before the foundations of the world were laid, a history that charts all the crooked lines of my life.

Years ago, He saw the blood, sweat and tears that poured from my pursuit of a perfection that I believed would please Him. He didn't despise that gift. He loved me the same. All the while His heart was breaking as I condemned myself again and again for my failures, as I took myself away from Him even before He had a chance to say one thing to me, even a word of mercy.

My striving was not the object of His ardor. I think what He most wanted was for me to cease that striving and instead, to fall limp and ugly and incomplete into His arms. He wanted to take over that work for me, so that He could be everything to me. He is a jealous God- it's true. When I did that, He caught me right up close to Himself. He won't let me go, nothing can take me out of His hand.

I don't know why He pours His heart out to me in the way He does. But I know that a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He leads justice to victory. -Matthew 12:20-21

He is the most delicious thing in my life. That verse that says, taste and see that the Lord is good- that verse does not lie. I have been loved, pursued and won by God Himself. How could anyone resist that? I cannot.

Even if it does come out sounding really, really weird.