Friday, January 29, 2010

For What I'm Worth

It probably comes as little surprise to those who know me best that one of my greatest struggles is my worth. Though my circumstances may be unique, I know I am not alone in this struggle.

It is the voices of the world vs. the voices of the Lord in a battle to become the voice that I talk to myself with in the middle of the night. It is the discrepancy between beginnings. What does that mean?

Have you ever worked on a project - baking a new recipe, perhaps - and about halfway through, you realize there's a better way? Easier, quicker, more delicious...simply better. You make a mental note to do it that way next time then look down at a half-mixed batter that no longer holds your interest. You keep working with it because you are invested, even though in the back of your mind, you can't wait to try again. That is where I am at - stuck between a beginning that began nearly 25 years ago and the one God is calling me to, a different and better way.

It's hard to just throw away everything that once was, even though I know it failed. Those patterns, those mechanisms, they brought me to this point. They were not the best ways of relating the world - not the gentlest, humblest, kindest, most honest ways - but they were all I had to go with. Now, I have something greater - the peace of God in my heart and unwavering faith and confidence in His ways.

So why can't I just do it?

Because it requires sacrificing a lot. Giving up the past for the future, even in the present. How can someone live without a past? (This is a question I've pondered more than once.) It is only the contrast of Godlessness that makes righteousness stand out. Part of the beauty of God is how strikingly different His life is, that beautiful gift He offers.

It also requires trust. This is where it gets tricky for me. Do I believe that God is God and I am not? Yes. Do I believe He is Who He says He is? Absolutely. Do I believe in salvation, redemption, an eternal home with Him? You betcha. Forgiveness? Of course! But I struggle to believe a single word He says about me.

He tells me I am beautiful. He tells me I am His. He tells me that He loves me, labors for me, has created this world for me. He promises to listen, to understand, to answer. He shows me His might, power, and tender care.

Yet His is not the loudest voice in my heart. The voice in my heart has a much different message - a message that says I am broken, dirty, troublesome, despised, worthless, and a waste.

Some of those messages have always been there; some are new as I come to know God more. How is it that the world gets louder when God enters in?

I know a few of my gifts. In those brief moments I can close my eyes and block out the noise of this world, I see clearly what God has put into me. A gift for communicating - writing, music, drama. A gift for relationship - listening, strengthening, serving. A gift for humility - walking softly and knowing that He grounds me. There are probably many more I've yet to discover.

Even so, I sit, having little to do and little impact on the world. The world rejects me; it does not want my gifts. Friends reject me; they do not want my trouble. I have no place to use my gifts, no area to powerfully serve, no way of showing God through me, though my heart cries out for the place to do so. There must be an Aidan-shaped hole in this universe somewhere!

It is as I reflect and realize how God goes wasted in my life that the voices of the world get stronger. What a retched waste I am! Sitting here doing nothing! I always knew I didn't have the guts.

This is where the battle of worth begins - in the discrpancy of beginnings. As God works on my heart, I am stuck between a Rock and a hard place. (Oh c'mon - Christ is the Rock; my heart is the hard place.) To give up on the past and step into God's present is to sacrifice a lot. Yet I am truly, completely worthless from my first beginning. In this new life, this new heart, this new heavenly Relationship, there is no space for what I once was. There is no way to move forward while tied to the past. And in the present God is calling me to, I am still worthless, useless - because I have not reached that point yet. I have not stepped forward and accepted His call, His gift, His honor. So it does me no good to feel Him, to know Him, to seek and answer Him.

Worthless in the new heart because I'm bound to the old. Worthless in the old because I am called to the new.

Completely, utterly worthless.

So here I am. God is calling me forward in faith, risk, and trust. I'm holding to the past for...for what? For the depths of fear. It is not the fear of failure, for if God is God (and I know that He is), then He's made no provision for my failure. What He calls me to, He will strengthen me as I endeavor to follow.

The fear is that He is right. That I could be beautiful, valued, loved, served, honored. To be completely honest, those are words that never in my wildest dreams have I been able to fathom. What would it be like to embrace those things? To listen to my Father and truly accept His message?

Not long ago, this would not even have been my question. When the voices battled for the territory of my heart, I'd look up to Heaven and tell God He was obviously wrong about me, that He didn't know what the world knew, that He had been smoking His own pipe dream. In the spirit of discontent, restlessness, and the yearning of my heart, I now turn to Him. I turn to God to silence the voices, to replace their words with His own...and I invite Him to show me evidence to the contrary. To show me the Aidan-shaped hole in the universe, reveal how He will use me, grant me the opportunities to step out in faith and passion. And so much more.

It's still scary. He introduces me, little by little, to a world I do not know. It's a world vastly different from the one I grew up in, the one that threw me into the cold and forced me to fend for myself. It's hard to give up fighting and arguing and "surviving" for peace, love, and thriving. It makes no sense - either to my head or to my heart. What's a girl to do when she doesn't have to fight any more? I just can't fathom it.

Yet He asks me to. He's been asking, and He'll keep asking until I figure out how to let go. He reminds me of everything He says about me, and I know He longs to show me His truth. That what He says is what is, that it's more than just a pipe dream.

I just don't know. It humbles and scares me to think He even cares. But I can't help but wonder...what I'm worth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where Your Heart Is...

I am in sort of a weird place right now. God has done great work in blessing and redeeming me. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful, standing in awe of the One who could even do this.

But not a day goes by that it doesn't hurt. It hurts to know where I am, where I've come from, even where I'm going. And to know that despite the longings of my heart, I am still separated from my Father. Still, even the hurt is beautiful as it only draws me closer to Him.

I think about where I've come from, and my heart aches. I grieve for what was because each day, with another step toward freedom, it becomes more clear to me just how far from perfect that life was. Even how far from "normal" that was, though I always considered it normal. It was all I knew.

All the missed opportunities, the brokenness, the destruction. What for? Why? These are the questions that may never find answers, the ones that have always defined me in a strange way. Now, I continue to ask them, but in a new way. These are not questions for the universe to answer; they can only be answered by God. Maybe He will not answer until I meet Him face-to-face. Maybe by that time, the answers won't matter any more. For now, I can only look back to a little girl who knows nothing of the things a little girl should know...and cry. The pain is anguishing; it tears my heart as I continue to find no answers for my grief.

Now, I live in awe, living each day knowing the tender care that my Father has for me. Knowing His redemptive work goes on, even as I continue to question and to not understand. It scares me most days to feel this, to have this sense that peace is even out there, even exists. I try to act according to my new Spirit, the one within me that doesn't worry, doesn't fear, doesn't feign to protect itself. This is where God is truly calling me.

But I fail. Miserably. I fall short. There are things within me that I despise, traits that have been with me since the world left me to fend for myself, since that time before I knew God or love or anything noble, beautiful. These things did not used to bother me so much. I could easily justify them, knowing where I came from and how they served me well. This is no longer the case. These things clash dramatically with the new Spirit God is developing inside of me, and they no longer go unnoticed, no longer receive justification. They trouble my heart, keeping me awake at night cursing myself for my weakness and these offensive ways in me. Oh, how I long to change them, to live according to God's heart, my new heart, and yet, my flesh is wickedly attached to them. Like Lot's wife, though I know I am escaping, being led away from disaster and evil, there is a part of me that longs to turn back to what I know, to all I've ever had. It is hard to not look back, to not fall into the same old habits.

Primarily, for me, these traits are ego-centered. I have been arrogant, harsh, unforgiving, boisterous. These are most troubling to me because they demand attention, they demand that the world look at me and acknowledge. What God is doing in my heart is just the opposite. He has softened my footsteps, given me peace beyond measure, taught me to live in forgiveness and understanding, shown me glimpses of the world as I have missed it, as I have offended it, and so much more. Each time my voice rises or the thought creeps in that someone OUGHT to be noticing me, my heart sinks. This is not what I feel inside of me any more! Not at all! And yet, I cannot break free from it. I cannot convince the flesh that it does not have to live that way any more.

Flesh is deceptive that way. It tells me that the only way people are going to notice this change God has made in me is if I shove it down their throats, stand in front of them boldly, loudly, proclaiming this good work, this ransom, so that they have no choice but to see. This is precisely NOT God's plan! He says the way to change the way people see me, the way they interact with me, is to change myself to mirror Him without thought to what others think. It means to walk softly, speak gently, serve humbly, and live in accordance to His will, to His Spirit that He has implanted in me. Then, and only then, will others truly see the change. Otherwise, I'm trying to show them His mercy by being precisely what I was before. Where is God in that?


There is a third piece of this, which I know rings true for more than just myself. It is the future. It is the confident assurance and steadfast faith that God is doing as He promised. It is the comfort of knowing what the next step is, even when I do not know what lies down the road. This is equally a scary place for me. I know what God is calling me to do. Not necessarily five years from now, but I know what the next step has to be. So I stand here, unmoving, afraid to take that step. Afraid to trust. Afraid to risk. Afraid to move forward. Partly because it scares me to know that God is who I think He is, who my heart tells me He is. How intimidating to know intimately the God of the Universe! (Seriously - it's great, but c'mon - it's God. How can you feel comfortable knowing even a part of His incredible awesomeness, power, love, care, mercy, control?) Partly, it is as many writers before me have known and expressed: we are not afraid of our darkness. It is our light that most terrifies us.

I am afraid to be glorious, successful, beautiful. I am afraid to be known as anything other than what I've always been known as. How does that change me? How does it change the relationship I have with God, with the world? He has only recently begun to show me how to love at all, to love Him or myself or anyone else. If that self changes, how do I love her? How do I continue to love Him?

Perhaps it is that in this place, out of this darkness and in limbo between the darkness and the light, I have found God. If I keep pressing forward, taking each step closer and closer to Him, then will I still find Him? Will He still be there? Here, and only here, I know precisely where He is.

He promises us He never changes. He always stays the same. I believe Him. But I know from my experiences here on Earth that the sun always rises in the East and sets in the West, but if MY angle, MY perspective, MY relative position changes, then sometimes, I have to look to find it. It re-orients me once we connect, but it is I who have to find it.

I know God would do the same. If I take the next step forward, the next great thing He is calling me for, then I might have to reorient myself, to find God again as He continues to move across the world. And I know once I find Him again, I would know exactly where I was at and which way was which way. It's that initial lost period of disorientation that scares me.

So I'm in a very scary place, knowing my heart is caught in the middle between the calling of the Spirit and the comfort of the past. It is here, I believe, that is the most dangerous for me. One step in either direction spells my future - hope and peace or despair and misery.

I want to step forward, boldly, knowing what it has done to truly know Him as He has continued to reveal Himself to me each day. I'm just scared. Of a lot of things. And I am overwhelmed with grief, with the past that continues to haunt me and echo my footsteps in its emptiness. I cannot shake it...

It breaks my heart.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sinful Woman

Luke tells the story of a woman who, I must admit, reminds me a lot of myself. Let’s set the scene:

Jesus has gone to the home of a “wicked” man – a tax collector. He is having a meal with the man, probably sitting at a table waiting for food to be served while talking about society, culture, and the man’s struggles. This woman walks in.

She’s not invited; she’s a dinner crasher. Despite the host being a hard, prideful man, his home is somehow open enough to enable her to enter. She walks in timidly, knowing this was not her place and fearing, perhaps, being found out; yet she knows there is One here who she desperately needs to see. It is Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. Or, in her culture, the Rabbi.

He’s been walking around for awhile, talking with people, performing miracles, radically challenging Hebrew culture and social norms. If anyone can bring power and healing to her life, it MUST be this Jesus. As a woman, a sinner, a super-sinner, living in relative poverty, she needs a new way. And she believes He is it. It’s worth the risk…if she can just get in.

So she does. She walks into this man’s house – a member of the government, hated by the people, yet hosting the Rabbi. Did she just walk in the front door and yell, “Hey peeps! Wazzup?” No. Did she knock? Surely not; she was the type of woman who would not have been let in. She must have creaked the door open and tiptoed in. Her hands cradled a jar of expensive perfume, probably expensive beyond her means and quite precious. She knew she would need it.

So she tiptoes in, inching ever closer to the table where sits the Man she knows can purify her, can save her. In her head, she probably believed she would walk in, walk right up to him, and beg for mercy. Instead, something interesting happens. Luke says she kneels behind Jesus.

Behind Him.

It doesn’t seem the best way to get your prayers answered or your needs met, does it? I don’t think she planned it that way. I think she walked into that room and saw Him, saw everything she believed in right before her very eyes, saw that it was, indeed, true, that her heart sought (and found) the Savior. That realization overwhelmed her, and she fell to the floor behind Him.

The very next verse says her tears covered His feet. She knelt behind Him,
yet her tears fell on His feet? He must have turned around! It doesn’t tell us how the host reacted immediately. Did he call someone to bring this sinner woman out of his house? It doesn’t say that. Luke simply continues with the story as if the host stands off in the corner, waiting and watching to see what the woman will do, what her game is. She proceeds to anoint Jesus’ feet with her expensive oil, then wipes them clean with her tears and her hair.

A short debate ensues as the host cannot believe Christ’s hospitality. This was a sinner woman, the most wicked of the wicked! She probably was shunned by the community, an outsider, dirty. It does not say her sin was sexual, but based on the culture of the time and his strong reaction to her history, she was probably an adulteress. A whore.

Yet Jesus sensed her presence. He heard her fall to her knees before even reaching Him. And he turned around. He turned to her, allowing her the ritual for which she had come (though with Christ, it was unnecessary; He doesn’t require ritual for forgiveness), then honors her with salvation.

That’s probably how it will be when I meet Him. Even as my heart trusts, believes, and knows that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is real, that God redeemed me and set a place for me in Heaven, I imagine I’ll walk through those pearly gates on tiptoes, looking for the One I have so long sought. And when I catch a glimpse of Him and it all is truly, truly real before my very eyes, I will fall to my knees and cry. Tears of repentance, of anticipated ransom.

God will turn to me and let me take whatever ritual I need, whatever my flesh tells me is necessary for His gift, even though it is not necessary. Then He will say those most beautiful words to me and to all who gather in witness:

“Her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Reflections on Eve

At creation, she was simply "woman." She needed no name, for she was special in her own right, by her simple existence. Woman lived with Man in the most beautiful paradise - Eden.

In Eden, there were two named trees. Out of abundance, only a few were named - the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warns man and woman against the second, saying they should never eat of it or face death. With the Tree of Life in their midst, death must have been a foreign concept. For God did not forbid them to eat of that one. May we assume they probably did once or twice? And all was peace - for it was not in God's plan that they die, but that they live forever. The Tree of Life was His gift.

But the slimy little serpent took matters into its own hands, all temptation and evil embodied in one creature. One tiny creature with the ability to destroy perfect creation. And it succeeeded - the woman ate of the ONE tree God said she could not, then fed the man. God was not happy and laid a curse on all three. The serpent would forever crawl across the ground on its belly; the woman would suffer great pains in childbirth; the man would work hard for little to nothing, but would have no choice but to do so.

Man then turns and gives his own gift to woman - a name. Eve. Giver of Life. In this darkest moment, when she sees her own nakedness and trembles in fear of God for having defied Him and faces the curse of pained labor and ejection from the paradise of Eden, man turns and gives her his own gift. Isn't it weird in these darkest moments when that shred of redemption comes, when someone says that one thing you long to hear? "Yes, woman, you are cursed. You have done wrong. You ruined everything. So I shall call you....Eve. The Giver of Life." What? She must have smiled, must have found some comfort in that. For they were more than the first man and woman - they were lovers.

Now it is God's turn to give another gift. Before, it has been no issue to have man and woman around the Tree of Life. Indeed, it was His plan that they should eat freely of it and live forever. The plan has changed. For many years, every time I read this story, I thought God was being harsh. I thought He was, in fury and anger, casting man and woman out to fend for themselves and face a new disaster - death. I thought He was angry to the point of regretting Creation, of changing His mind about creating man in His image and loving him and walking in relationship with Him. As I read this story anew, a different picture emerges.

God, of all, knew the weight of this heavy curse He placed on man and woman. He knew man would suffer greatly at the futility of his work, would grow frustrated and weary as manual labor took a toll on his body. He knew woman would suffer greatly bringing new life into the world and would neglect her own body to raise her child, would fall apart as age and stress ate away at her. He knew if they continued to eat of the Tree of Life, "they would surely live forever." And He knew they shouldn't.

Why would man and woman have eaten? Wouldn't they have wished for death? No! They were not created for death; they would know nothing of it. And don't we agree - the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all? Even as their bodies deteriorated, they would continue eating, for the fear of not knowing what would happen if they stopped would be too great. They would live forever, falling apart, struggling, laboring, and getting nowhere. Their hearts, in great tragedy and pain, would fall further and further away from God, bordering on irreconcilable as time passed with no relief, no rescue, no redemption. So God, in all His wisdom, gave them another gift...the gift of death.

Death is not something to be feared. It is God's gift. It is the passing of a labored life back into harmony with God, with reconciliation to the Master, Creator, Father. Had He not seen the future and protected man and woman from the Tree of Life, they would live forever in misery...instead of gaining true life in peace.

So I no longer think God was fearful of the rebellion of man and woman for His own sake; it was for ours. It was for us that He created death in the first place, after we Fell and began to live in Sin. Before Christ, it was our redemption. Then, of course, came Christ as the Redeemer...and by DEATH, He saved us. Maybe it wasn't the original plan; maybe free will made the Fall possible and death necessary. But I would not give up the struggle here to live back in Eden in my sinful nature, eating fruit to live suffer...forever.