Thursday, April 21, 2011

Changing my alignment...

Written 4/20/11

Just what does one do to fill up their time when they are not working an 8 to 5 job?  Well, if you are anything like me, you will certainly find things to fill it up pretty quickly.  I can say, with relief, that I am enjoying not having to set an alarm for 5:30am, only to hit snooze until 6am, still exhausted from a restless sleep.  However, I am still setting an alarm…most days…in order to pursue the things that I am passionate about, that bring me a sense of fulfillment, that allow me to align myself more and more with who God says I am.

I have the privilege of being part of one of the most amazing churches!  After a dinner tonight with 3 amazing women of God, I continue to see confirmation of the reasons I was brought to Chicago.  Talking with them about ministry, about pursuing God, and about fighting for destinies corporately and personally further fanned the flame of passion stirring in me to see all that God will do with me, with my friends, with my church, with this city, etc.  I get the privilege of investing my time and my energy into many different things at this church and I am so grateful for every opportunity to do so.

Approximately 6 to 8 months ago, I started seeing (or rather, frantically tried to turn the channel so as not to see) a rash of horror/thriller/enemy-centered movies come out.  Quite honestly, this upset me greatly.  I found myself in my kitchen one day talking to God about it and tearfully expressing to Him that I didn’t understand why these movies were so popular.  I was angry that the enemy was using dirty and counterfeited tactics through media to trick people into believing that these dark themes would be somehow entertaining.  I cried out to God saying that I didn’t understand why movies glorifying Him weren’t more popular than anything else.  I started talking about it with friends, and specifically one filmmaker friend of mine who had already been developing ideas for a revival-focused film.  Today, I am honored to be able to assist him in doing some of his PR/promotional work.  I get the honor of putting my energy where my mouth is where God is concerned and I get to help a good friend with a great documentary that will glorify my Heavenly Father and ignite revival fires.

I used to write when I was young….all the time….songs, short stories, poetry.  I loved writing.  It released me from my feelings and allowed me to be creative.  When I was 13 or 14, I would sit at my dad’s typewriter in his office and start my autobiography.  I probably started it a couple of times on a couple of occasions before throwing out the crumpled up start to my story, telling myself that no one would want to read the autobiography of a teenager who had never really done anything.  Then, I started my pursuit of substances and stopped most of my creative outlets altogether, telling myself I wasn’t talented.  I shut it all down, period.  When I came to Chicago, I had the belief that I had absolutely, positively no creative talent.  This was incredibly frustrating as I came from a family full of artists and was a member of one of a church FULL many, many creatives.  I received a couple of prophetic words about 7 or so months after being here regarding me writing books/programs….however, I shut the idea of this being true down thinking “I’m not a writer, I’m not creative”.  The stirring was there, and I believe now that the stirring is from God.  There is a reason that I wanted to write all the time as a kid and very recently, I have found myself drawn again to writing.  As I sit here and type this, my soul resonates with even the mere act of putting words to my thoughts and feelings.  That all said, two days prior to my decision to leave my job, I was at a friend’s house.  This friend is an amazing musician and she was playing a riff on her guitar that spoke to my spirit.  I heard a sentence in my head that fit with the music and it did not leave my head that night.  My friend emailed me the riff and the next day, I wrote the first song I had written since I was about 8 or 9 years old…a worship song.  Additionally, I had been in talks with another friend/former colleague of mine, who had seen one other piece of writing I had done at the beginning of this year, before I left my job.  These talks focused on the possibility of us writing a book together.  I am so excited and amazed to say that the decision has been made and that this possibility is now a “let’s do this thing” 

I find myself in total awe at the fact that the stirrings and dreams I had long ago have come back to the surface, that God cares and listens to my cries out to him in my kitchen, and that He knew the right church in which to place me to ensure that I would continue seeking and walking into the plans He has for my life.  As the Holy Spirit helps me to become more like Jesus, my desires and hopes continue to change.  Proverbs 19:21 says "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. Though I had seen and taken certain paths in my life, God has used those to lead me to Him, to conform my will to be more like His, and to guide me more and more into who I am becoming for His ultimate purposes.  For this, I am truly grateful.

There is more to this type of a journey for me, however…the “doing” versus “being” and the balance between the two with Him at the center, and this is something with which I have historically struggled.  To be continued in another blog post….

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Journey Begins...

This is the start of keeping a journal, diary, blog, or whatever comes out at, what I feel is, a nudging from God.  I believe He is pushing me in the direction of writing about how my journey of a faith-walk unfolds.  I have been walking with Jesus for a while now, but this is yet another new step because I made a decision and this month it was completed.  By the world’s standards, the choice was “stupid” or foolish.  The choice was impractical and didn’t make sense.  The choice was to leave a well-paying job and start a new chapter….

I started working at this job over two and a half years ago and it is the job that brought me to this city.  Without going into great detail about history (after all this is my walk of faith not my journey into the past) the job was not fulfilling for me.  That said, I stayed.  I persevered.  I fought through days and situations at this job that, for most, may have otherwise resulted in possible expletive-filled, emotionally charged exits.  I stayed.  I persevered.  I fought.  During the course of my employment, both my parents and both my cats died.  I was promoted twice.  I said goodbye to a boss for whom I had worked for six years at two different jobs.  And through it all, I continued to develop my relationship with God and to seek His plan for my life.  I would be remiss not to say that this job was God’s gift to me for as long as I have had it.  Not only was it a generous way for me to more than make my ends meet, but I have learned many, many things about myself, about leadership, and about who He is in the midst of challenging and painful situations.  I learned that I can walk through so much, provided I ground myself in who He is.  I learned that I am so much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.  I learned that my administrative gifts were valued by people.  Above all, I learned that this was not the job for me and that money does not mean everything….that I do have a purpose and though I am not fully sure what it is, I do know that God is sure and He will lead me to it because it is part of His plan.  He will lead me into fulfillment in His purposes. 

So…I have stepped out in faith, yet again.  It looks different this time as compared with the previous experience of leaving a job without having another one.  This time, I don’t have my parents as a “fall back plan”.  This time, it is just me and God.  Granted, I do have a good savings, but it is not a limitless supply.  I have a mortgage and a car payment and human fears about bills.  But I have a God who is so much bigger than any fear I will ever have.  I am willing to give up anything for Him, because He gave up everything for me.  Obviously it would be great to keep my house and my car and not have to get a roommate, but I am willing to do what it takes to follow Him, whatever that looks like.  So this is the introduction to what will be a new journey of faith for me. 

God, I invite you to do as you will with me during this period and to strengthen me with your love, joy, and peace, should the journey get rough.  Help me to be honest in my days of writing.  Comfort me and continue to confirm that I am no longer an orphan.  Show me what it really means to be Fathered by You, the Father of all.

Introduction To My Journey (January 2011)

Overwhelmed with God’s great love and mercy…

Upon my return from Church this afternoon, I completed a few simple household tasks, eyes still raw from the tears shed during a powerful time at church.  The thoughts poured over me of the goodness of my God and His continued faithfulness to me.  God has brought me out of the vast darkness that had held me bound for so long.

In the afterglow of a tear-induced nap, I am still attempting to process all that has happened and the wonders of His amazing goodness.

The last two and a half years have been the most challenging years that I can remember ever walking through.  As I look back through pieces of my story, before any of my time in Chicago even came to pass, I can see periods of my life where I was on a search…..a search to find my purpose, a search to find identity, a search to find acceptance, a search to find community, a search to find love….really this was a search for all of that wrapped up in my search for my Heavenly Father.  God has shown me that “all the days ordained for me were written in [His} book before one of them came to pass” (Ps 139:16) and that He knew the plans he had for me, plans to prosper and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future (Jer 29:11).  In Jeremiah, God goes on to say “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity” (Jer 29:12-14).  In all the life steps I have taken, before I even knew God, He was there, He heard my heart’s cries and my mouth’s cries for Him….He pursued me because, in His eyes, I am worth pursuing and He did not give up on me. 

God prepared me to come to Chicago, by loving me back to following Him through a church family.  He left nothing out in the preparation – NOTHING – and was faithful to answer my prayers for direction in a way only I could understand.  Today, I am fully and wholly convinced that He called me to Chicago – the city in which I had dreamed of living for many years.  Though I am not fully sure of His plans for me, I know they are good and I know that in these two and half years, He has NEVER left my side.

When I arrived here in May 2008, I did not know what I was to face.  I had been pursuing, even fighting for, emotional healing through 12-step recovery for many years.  I had been set free from the captivity of addiction and had re-committed my life to Jesus.  I had visited a church the first weekend here but, with His prompting, I tried another church the second weekend here.  Through a supernatural experience of Him in this place, I knew that this was to be my church home.  I immediately joined this church family and continue there to this day. 

In just over 16 months of living in Chicago, both my parents and one of my cats had died.  If I had still lived in Champaign, I would not have been able to be with my parents in their last days of life.  This was an opportunity for me that I had only because of my obedience to God in moving here.  However, I was not prepared for the overwhelming grief, sadness, and pain I would feel as a result of these losses.  Because of my profession, I had a basic, textbook knowledge of the depths of grief.  I had even worked through some minor episodes of grief due to changes and losses over time, but nothing like what I faced here.  I was not prepared for the wounds that these deaths would re-open, nor was I prepared for the old faulty core belief systems to increase, the loneliness, the emotional regression, or the intense urges to run back to the safety and comfort of Champaign.  Though I could barely see through the intense emotion of that period, God was there. 

In this time, I found myself feeling more lonely than I ever remember feeling.  I did not feel accepted  – not because of others but because of me.  Work was challenging.  My emotional state was fragile at best and, in all honesty, I thought I was losing my mind.  I pushed people away on a frequent basis, and was so angry and grief-soaked, that I was merely functioning and surviving….not living.  God was still there and was placing people around me at church that did not allow me to go through this alone.  In addition, He was showing me new areas of focus and awakening giftings in me that I was not even aware I had.

I had intense periods of darkness and despair and found it hard to describe this to people.  When I did describe it, many, well-intentioned people were quick to offer the advice of anti-depressants to “get me through” this time.  I resisted this option because on some level, I knew that this was not just a period I needed to get through, but a full-on battle for my heart and mind.  I’m not a bible scholar, by any means, so my knowledge of the Old Testament was quite elementary.  A few months after my mother had died, I was on a much-needed work sabbatical and heard Joyce Meyer speak on Deuteronomy 8.  This was the first time I had heard about this book or the possible purpose of the wilderness, and it was a turning point for me. 

The concept of the wilderness fit in every way possible and I had revelation about where I was…but, better than that, I then had an idea of why I was there.  God didn’t stop there…he went further.  He also showed me that when He leads His people out of Egypt to the wilderness, His glory is there (Ex 16: 10)….He hears our complaints and shows us who He is in the midst of our fear, our darkness, our loneliness, our own individual wilderness.  Deuteronomy 7 says that when God brings into the “land you are entering”, he drives out many nations and when He has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them , then you must destroy them totally (Deu 7:1-2).  It says He will drive them out little by little (Deu 7: 22) and that we are not to be terrified by them because God is with us and He is a great and awesome God. (Deu 7:21).  I had a lot of nations/”ites” for God to drive out.  Through the great loss I had suffered, God led me to a place where His glory could be found.  He was waiting for me in that wilderness and He has lovingly been “driving out nations” from me in that place over the last two and a half years so that I could enter the land He has set aside for me….the plans He has for me…my destiny.

Deuteronomy 8:1-9 says the following:  “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”

Through it all, I have not turned my back on God.  In my complaining, my crying, my grief, my despair, my loneliness, my anger, my pushing people away, my inability to communicate with Him what my needs were, my struggles with prayer and quiet time, my fear that my emotions would hold me captive, my negative thoughts about myself, I clung to Him, my only source of refuge and peace.  There were times I had felt He was so far away, I felt dry.  He was still there. 

I was given a prophetic word….a scripture written by a prophet in a book to me – just the scripture, no interpretation.  I tried for weeks to seek God on the interpretation.  I was really wanting to just feel Him with me…then, one Sunday in Church, my pastor quoted the scripture and talked about the implications.  The scripture was Luke 2:36-38 and talked about Anna sticking close to God and continuing to pursue Him for the promise of Jesus the Messiah. Our pastor talked about God never remaining silent even when we perceive Him to be and the need for us to hold onto the promise and not the circumstances for our truth (my interpretation of his message).  God was speaking to me even in the perceived dry times, He was not going to let me go and continued to whisper words of love and encouragement to me.  My wilderness has led me to a deeper understanding of who He is in my darkest hours and I believe that I have done my best to keep His commands.  The deaths of my parents were horrific.  Through them, through the move, through the work challenges, God used the wilderness to raise me up and to equip me with a heart knowledge of Him and His love.  My shoes did not wear out, my feet did not swell….He blessed me with favor throughout this time in many other areas while He was disciplining me and driving out the “ites” so that I could walk into that which He has called me.  God has brought me out of the darkness.  I feel that the wilderness, in many ways, has ended.  As a result, my perceptions have changed about myself and others, and especially of Him and my relationship with Him.  He is so good and He is a loving Father who will meet us where we are and heal us in the wilderness. 

I am completely and totally overwhelmed at the amazing love, favor, and grace of God.  My heart is full with a knowledge of what He has done to heal me….no human could have fixed me, only Him.  The emptiness inside of any of us can only be filled by Him.  He is in the wilderness waiting to meet us and bring us through so that we can walk with Him into the greater things to which He has called us.  I am truly humbled and forever grateful.