Friday, January 17, 2014

An open and vulnerable peek at 2013

So maybe the go-getters have already written their 37 resolutions down for 2014, but I'm just dipping my feet in, 'kay? I would really like to share my thoughts on the upcoming year, but I can't possibly frame it right without spending some time in the past. So buckle up.

It seems an eternity ago that I sat looking at my life and realizing that I was a hard-hearted person, stone-cold rational, and that I didn't believe God.

Amazingly, it was only last year.

The beginning of 2013 feels so far away, but I remember entering it with a sense of weakness and surrender. I had been so self-absorbed, so hard and cold. I was trying to grasp what trusting Jesus really looked like in all my fortresses of rationality that I had spent 2012 building up. I was so logical. So cold. And in light of Jesus, this also made me so broken.

So I sat before Jesus and said, "You have to do this in me." I came into 2013 deflated, surrendered. Wanting to actually trust that the God of the universe could do the things I asked him, but realizing I had departed from that belief already. It was a shocking and raw realization. I had always been Christy, a girl of great faith. I realized suddenly on the brink of the New Year that if I was honest with what I believed practically (regardless of what I believed mentally), I didn't believe God saved me or changed me. And this required scrutiny.

The previous year, 2012, I had struggled to try and have it all - be the young, put-together, professional twenty-something. I underwent a lot of change transitioning from undergrad to working two jobs to finally a new graduate student in a Ph.D program. I tried so hard to look the part with the right hair, make-up, outfit in each of my different spheres. I discovered in time that I could be quite logical, and that it was so much easier to judge something rationally than emotionally. I clung to this. It felt more powerful. Although this isn't always the case, the more logical I became, the less compassionate I became, though I didn't see it at the time. I put people into neat little boxes based on the issues I surmised that they had. Not because I knew them or listened to their stories. If I'm honest, I just thought I was pretty darn perceptive. I would tick strangers off in my head: Codependent. Insecure. Daddy issues. Next.

To be sure, I really was not cognizant of most of this. If you were to ask me about my relationship with Jesus, I probably would have said that it was fine. The year was punctuated with some very real spiritual growth, even if I was backpedaling in other ways. We are always in danger of being the last to see our own hypocrisy. I was not yet aware that there was a growing disconnect between my head and my heart. I could not yet comprehend that I didn't believe the words that I prayed, because I had always prayed. And I still earnestly loved the God I believed in, regardless of my growing distance from him. I simply didn't fully perceive the distance. It happened in the same way that couples drift apart over the years. One day you wake up next to a stranger.

And to be sure, many good things happened in 2012. It was a year of some very genuine growth out of my own codependence and family yuck. My success in that endeavor actually probably precipitated my resentment towards others still struggling with the issues that I was overcoming. I felt a need to distance myself from that, and with my own success I felt entitled to. But largely all this development mentioned above was a backdrop, an undergrowth. I only really became aware of it not long before the ball dropped to welcome 2013. It broke my heart and made me feel helpless all at once. Who had I become?

It's probably hard to understand how I could believe in God and not believe him at the same time. I believed he was there. I still prayed. I still loved him. But I loved so many other things as well. He went from being my first love, my greatest love, to just another love. And with the centrality of my love went the centrality of my faith too. Suddenly God wasn't the only thing that could change people. People could change people. The right experiences could change people. And from there, maybe God didn't really change people at all. When I analyzed my own prayer life, I discovered that I didn't actually believe that God cared to answer, or even was able to answer. I would pray, but expect only what I myself could do.

So what did I do? To be honest, I didn't really know what I could do. By that point in my life, I had experienced many great and amazing things through prayer. I had and continued to have prophetic experiences. I did not doubt that God existed. But whether his name was Jesus and whether he was exclusive and whether he alone was sufficient to really change lives were questions I had to be sure that I really believed before moving forward. So I did what I could: I acknowledged the state of my belief (or lack thereof), sat down with God, prayed….and had no idea what to do next.

Around March of that year, after a couple months of stalemate, I was sitting in Cartel, a favorite coffee haunt, journaling. I ran across a story on one of the blogs I read of a girl named Clare. Clare lived a beautiful and vibrant life, a life of joy, adventure and care of others, but mostly a life that highlighted the glory of Jesus in her life. Her life ended before she turned 25, a year and a half after she saw in a vision that it would. I've always had a 'thing' about dying young, for better or for worse, which is probably why Clare's story grabbed me so hard. I didn't (and don't) know what God's plans are for my life, however long or short, but what was crystal clear to me in that moment that this was not how I wanted to go: limping along to the finish line, apathetically, sinfully, broken. Let me dance, let me leap, let me glorify God to the end of my days, but don't let me go like this. My world was shaken.

Shaken awake.

That day marked many prayers - prayers prayed in the awkward space of a coffee shop, trying to say to God all the things that this story had released in me, yet trying not to burst into tears in front of complete strangers. GodI am yours.

My faith did not resurrect in a day. It was still a floor full of holes in the woodwork, but that moment was a boulder in the stream, changing its course. I remember praying later on and sensing the invitation to actually let myself believe that it was going to be answered. Let myself believe that God wanted to answer it. It felt like fruit on the branch - within reach, but I still had to make the effort. I had to let myself go there, ante in, choose faith. And I did. And as I did, something happened - not just that day but so many days following. It wasn't in the bells and whistles, the booming voice, the smoke and mirrors, but in the softness that God showed up. He spent the rest of the year showing up.

He showed up by providing for me. He showed up to pay my rent when things were short and a random $300 got transferred to my account. He showed up to provide meals when I was watching my bank account dwindle. Left and right, I watched as I was never in need. It surprised me so much at first, but I slowly began to smile inwardly with each new provision. But even more than my barest needs, God showed up in the details, the gentle surprises. He was in those tiny delights, the kind you hope for but do not voice. I learned that God not only pays my bills, but He pays attention, and it made all the difference in changing the way I understood Him. We weren't God's obligations, we were His children. Oh. As I stepped out on these little limbs, choosing faith and rejoicing that God cared, He was all too present. So sweet was the season, so full of healing, so overflowing with everything I needed. For everything I had mentally believed, the year taught me how to practically believe it.

God spent the rest of 2013 assuring me without any doubt that God answers our prayers. I believed the antithesis of what I had come into the year believing: I believed that God could do anything. I had watched Him rebuild my heart. But very importantly, through my experience wandering away I had seen that heart: my ugly, scornful, discompassionate heart. For the first time, I saw with clear eyes how desperately far for perfect, or even good, I was. And I'm not just talking about 2012. Even on a human scale, I had been every form of awkward, every vestige of broken, every prideful inch of 'together'. It wasn't for shame that I saw these things, but for gratitude. I finally understood that of all the people in the world who needed grace, I was not exempt. And God had taken the liberty to change those things in me over and above what I ever could have hoped. (And He's not done yet!)

But seeing in myself the capacity to do all wrong, all things hateful, I newly understood looking at others with love. For the most mired pieces of humanity in another, I felt I could look gently in the eye and say, Me too, friend. For the most horrifying sin, I could say, I understandI could no longer point out the wrong of anyone, because always behind my eyes was my own reflection. Let she who has no sin cast the first stone…Such began God, having shown me His love, instructing me how to love other people.

So here we are. I'm not a perfect person, not even a particularly astounding person. But in 2013, I was a lost person who became a found person. I had spent my life knowing and loving God, but in 2013 I began to understand all the more deeply His love for me, and for all people. What has made the difference was not perfecting what I had done for Him (religion), but understanding what He had done for me. And continues to do, every day.  I await, with patience, hope and excitement, what 2014 holds.