Lead Me, Teach Me

Truth

Gentle Reader,

Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

– Psalm 25:5 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Truth: that which is in accordance with fact or reality. Verity, certainty, sincerity, honest, accurate, correct. A fundamental characteristic of God; He cannot and will not lie.

Normally, I place little stock in choosing a word for the year. There’s nothing wrong with the practice; I have – rather half-heartedly and forgetfully – done it before. I am wary of probing for deep significance in a single word, however. There is something unsettling about hoping for one string of letters to define or guide a 12-month cycle. I prefer sentences, paragraphs, entire books, because context, the way a word is used as intended by the author, always matters.

This year, there’s a shift in my thinking.

Lead me in Your truth, the psalmist writes. Not a truth. Not any truth. Your truth.

The truth.

In this relativistic society, metanarrative, an overarching story that gives meaning and purpose to all of life, is hardly in vogue. We are taught that it’s never correct to imply, let alone baldly state, that there is such a thing as truth, and that that truth is the same for each and every person. Themes of sin and salvation are rejected for “do what thou wilt,” a maxim coined by the twentieth century British occultist Aleister Crowley. I do my thing, you do your thing, everyone’s thing is perfectly valid.

This is what we like to think we believe, and what we give lip-service to, but just read through a Facebook comment thread (or, better yet, Tumblr), and, ironically, the truth is there, plain as day. All beliefs, behaviors and opinions are not, in fact, equal; the one that wins the day is usually the one that the majority of people in that particular space agree upon. This is not merely a religious phenomenon (see: sports fandoms and political philosophies).

We reject metanarrative while seeking to build one.

As creatures with free will and high thinking skills, we get to choose. Take the story laid out in Scripture or make our own story. Sit at God’s feast-table and indulge in the delicacies or scrounge for scraps from here and there. Completion or cobbled-together-ness.

I have wasted too much precious time and headspace on stories that aren’t true. Stories about the world, about others, about myself, about God. Oh, yes. Christians aren’t immune. We can ignore the delicacies and chase the scraps. Why else would someone like me struggle with a sense of identity or purpose? God says, black-and-white, that I am His child, His royal daughter. God says, clear-and-plain, that He has called and gifted me. I say that I believe these things, that I accept this metanarrative…and then live otherwise.

Perhaps you struggle as well.

This year, I intend to dwell on truth. Not the word itself, but all the words that come from the mind and heart of God. I will sit at His feet, as Mary did on that day so long ago. I want to know, need to know, His commands. His perspective. His way. But not this only; I need to know Him. In a new, deeper, richer way. Because He Himself is truth itself.

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Five Minute Friday: Yes

Along the WAy @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I love my bunch of writers. I love how we’re different and yet so similar. I love how we agree to trade cilantro for bacon. I love that we’re funny. And serious. I love that we span all interests, decades and walks of life.

Kate.

My people.

We say: yes.

Go.

One of my greatest fears descended upon me last weekend.

And I lived to tell the tale.

Barely.

(Okay, not barely).

My friend and I went over to a neighboring city on Saturday to see another friend perform in a play. The outing was all planned  – park here, walk there, a little theater, a little dinner. No boys allowed. She graciously drove us since I assume that whatever direction I’m facing is North (sad, but true) and can’t find my way out of a paper bag. Everything went swimmingly. She pulled into a parking garage and tucked the car into a nice, out-of-the-way spot. Merrily chatting away, we headed over to the elevators and punched the “down” button.

We got stuck in there.

For 75 hours (5 minutes).

It was disgusting and terrible. There is something so profoundly awful about being stuck. I want options. I want to be able to leave whenever I darn well feel like it. So I’ve never liked elevators. Or bridges. Or airplanes. Or that field trip the teacher took us on when I was in fourth grade, the one where we toured a silver mine.

Yeah.

All kidding aside, I went into panic mode approximately 4 seconds after my friend and I realized that we would not be exiting as scheduled. We looked at each other, then at the doors. Words like, “what” and “seriously” slipped from our mouths. She punched the service button or whatever it is, the one that lets you talk to the person with the power to send someone to save you.

Some kind of conversation took place between my friend and the magical man. I just called into the intercom, “Please hurry!”

Then I gripped the rail, the brass one that’s bolted to all elevator walls the world over, and said, “I’m freaking out.”

My friend, bless her, patted me on the arm and told me a funny story about her daughter. She deals with anxiety, too, but managed to keep it together long enough to distract me. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.

Some popping and creaking and wondering if we were going to die later, the smallest of cracks appeared between the doors and we could just make out the shape of out rescuer. I yelled, “Get us out of here!” His response? “Give me a minute!”

Nice.

With no buzz or fanfare, the doors opened and we were met with the blank expression and navy-blue uniform of our skinny, bespectacled, possibly teen-aged savior. He waved us out. We said thanks. I probably should have hugged him. It probably would have gone on too long and I would have creeped him out.

We laughed about it for the rest of the day. We joked that the play had better be good, after all we’d gone through just to get there. When the last notes had faded, the bows made, the clapping finished, the artisan pizza reduced to crumbs, the sweating glasses drained of cucumber water and beer – it was time to go back.

She talked me into it. Talked me into getting back on that thing. Said I could punch her if we got stuck again.

I would have laid aside every one of my pacifist convictions and done so.

But it was fine. We were fine.

Nearly a week later, I mull. I stew. I fret. I get upset thinking about what could have happened. What might yet happen if I ever set foot in an elevator again (which is debatable). I conjure up frightening scenarios. My heart races and the sweat beads on my forehead.

How stupid.

While I will continue to use the stairs whenever possible, I realize that this fear of elevators could keep me from experiencing life. Maybe already has. Not just elevators. Fear of so many things. Stepping aside. Staying behind. Melting into the background.

Saying the timid “no” instead of the courageous “yes.”

I can’t take a trip to the East Coast next year without flying. (Not in a reasonable amount of time, anyway). I can’t tour the buildings and see the views without elevators. I can’t drive around my own town without bridges.

Sometimes the fears come. Sometimes what we dread happens.

Somehow you live and you just keep going.

And I see: What makes a woman – what really shapes her into the best version of herself – is not the times when she falls down. It’s not when she cries or feels afraid.

It’s when she says “yes” and dares.

It’s when she gets back up.

And if she comes up swinging, so much the better.

Stop.

Yep, longer than five minutes.

My journey to faith. (15)

How I Came to Faith: These Days

sunset-hair

Gentle Reader,

That dark season when Chris and I both found a new level of intimacy with the Lord led directly to a season of testing. It seems as though the moment our hearts were stolen by Him, He determined to test our devotion. When a non-believer hears something like that, strange visions must arise. Again, there were no burning bushes, no audible voices. The question we were asked is the one that believers have been asked time and again, whatever their era.

Will you follow Me?

For awhile this question made sense in the context of getting our lives on track. We stopped partying. I dove into Bible study and found that it thrilled me. Chris took his medication and went to his therapy sessions. We just kept doing “the next thing,” whatever it was. When your life is mostly about surviving one day at a time, that’s all you can do.

As we both grew more confident in our faith, ourselves and our relationship, the implications of the question changed. Obeying God began to cost something. Friendships began to deteriorate as we no longer fit into a neat little mold. The worst came when it grew clear that we could no longer remain at the church we’d been part of for nearly four years. We both had serious misgivings about the direction the leadership was moving the people toward. Things began to feel uncomfortable. Theological questions began to arise – questions that we could not get satisfactory answers to.

Breaking up is hard to do. By the time we left, the damaged relationships and the spiritual abuse we experienced were intertwined in ways that shouldn’t have been. I was done. Though quite decided in following the Lord, I wanted nothing more to do with the church. Frankly, I thought most of His people sucked.

He kept on me. Will you follow Me? A friend of mine from high school moved back to the area. He and his wife invited us to attend their church one Sunday. I was skeptical, to say the least, but Chris seemed eager to go and I didn’t feel like arguing (again) about church. We went, heard a sermon, met some people, ate some food. Nothing earth-shattering.

Except, it was. The difference between the two churches was staggering. The one didn’t claim to be perfect. In fact, a certain level of dysfunction seemed to be expected. The very imperfect human journey with a perfect Lord was embraced. The occasional spat was tolerated as long as it led to growth amongst the parties involved. The pastor didn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, he admitted to his own struggles. His preaching came from a place of brokenness, rather than superiority.

I came to the realization that no dichotomy of perfect vs. fallen churches exists. There is rather a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. The place we left had begun well but had slid into unhealthy territory. Too much power was given to too few people with too little accountability. It became about processes and rears in seats rather than the work of discipleship. This new church, while certainly home to some unhealthy people, strove to be healthy. Christ was at the center.

I have hope for the church today because of the people I know in this little congregation. They are beautiful. The building isn’t. The coffers aren’t overflowing. The singing is sometimes off-key. The pastor gets distracted in his preaching. But there is warmth. There is heart.

There is Jesus.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. There is no more compelling figure in all of history. He steps into the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, our despair and provides the answer. That answer isn’t us. We can’t save ourselves. There is no golden utopia waiting to spring from the minds and hands of perfect people. Such a people do not exist. Look out your window. Look in the mirror. You know it to be true.

Jesus, God-Man, came into this world to rescue and heal it. Believers exist in the “already” aspect of His Kingdom while history looks forward to the “not yet.” It is only by living in light of His Lordship that life takes on purpose and meaning. Joy – the ability to look beyond the now and into something better – flows as a result of knowing Him. He grants grace, mercy, peace. He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. He kept my husband alive. He stopped me from killing myself just a little less than a year ago. I have seen Him work in time and space to such a degree that my father-in-law, after breaking both of his knees, was brought from Europe to the United States by a missionary who “just happened” to be in the area. The only missionary in the area that our church had any kind of contact with. I have seen babies who should have died thrive. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen prodigals return. I have had bills paid and needs met. I have witnessed testimonies of those who tumors have disappeared.

Above all, I have seen love. Real, selfless, lasting love. I have watched people spend money they can’t spare to help others in need. I have known some whose wretched tempers used to control them who are now gentle as lambs. I have seen big men rock children to sleep. I have seen women with nothing in common embrace each other as sisters. I have siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all across this area because of Jesus.

I could not see Him until my eyes were opened. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of His will and ours. All I know is that I reached a point where I wanted to see. I no longer desired to suppress the truth. And there is truth, my friend.

His name is Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here

How I Came to Faith: Tough Days

sunset-hair

Gentle Reader,

The late afternoon sun poured through the kitchen window, setting the bright orange and harvest gold appliances ablaze. I could see the dust hanging in the air. Seemed like I could never get things clean enough.

Chris sank to the curling, pock-marked linoleum, his face caving in to grief.

My husband, my dear, funny, strong husband wanted to kill himself.

The world stopped spinning. I heard nothing but the beating of my heart. The pounding filled my ears, my soul. How was I supposed to respond?

Being the “put your head down and plow through” sort of person that I am, I called my parents. Mincing no words, I demanded that they come over. We had to take Chris to the hospital. Hanging up, I turned to face him again. He was crying. Holding his head. I was too afraid to touch him. I called his men’s group leader. Called our best friends. Anything to fill the time until my parents arrived.

My mom came in and asked me what happened. I can’t remember what I said. My dad helped Chris stand up and pack a bag in case he was admitted. Chris didn’t need convincing. He climbed into the car. I wedged myself between him and my brother. Nobody said anything.

Why is it that hospital waiting rooms are so uncomfortable? The five of us sat in a row, pleather (or whatever that material is) sticking to our sweaty skin. I filled out forms as best I could. Chris calmed down some. Several tissues were balled in his hand. An occasional tear dripped off the end of his nose. We listened to a young boy scream, three of his bloody fingers wrapped in an old towel. Someone vomited. The automatic doors swished open and swished shut with each admittance.

Chris reached for my hand. He gripped it with an force I didn’t expect. I looked into his eyes and saw the desperate fear. I excused myself.

The bathroom became my own private sanctuary. It didn’t matter if anyone else heard my words. “God,” I began, wavering somewhere between rage and sick fear, “if You are real, then You had better show Yourself.” (I don’t recommend this kind of demand, but, thankfully, the Lord knows all of our weaknesses and shows great mercy).

There was no burning bush. No booming voice. I faced the same questions, grappled with the same fears. What if Chris was admitted? How would we pay for it? Would I have to come and see him every day? (I hate hospitals.) Would he lose his job? Would i have to start working more hours? What did it mean to live with someone who was depressed?

By the time I walked back into the waiting room, Chris was called back. The nurses quickly took his vitals and asked him a few questions. We were ushered into a consultation room to await the psychiatric nurse. My heart kept crying out to God. I loved this man. I had pledged to spend my life with him. Did the “for worse” part have to come so soon?

The psychiatric nurse came in and did an evaluation. After determining that Chris was clinically depressed, she asked him if he genuinely felt that he was a danger to himself or to anyone else. If he did, then she would admit him, but she didn’t think that he needed that. Chris thought he would be okay. I assured her that he wouldn’t be alone. Under orders to see our doctor as early as possible the next morning, we reconnected with my family. My mom told us that we’d be sleeping at their house. Under any other circumstances, I might have bridled at being ordered about.

Looking back, I see my desperation as the real turning point. I could not fix my husband. I could not solve this problem. I had known more than a few people who dealt with depression. I’d even had one friend kill himself at the tender age of 18. This was bigger than me. This was beyond me.

Perhaps we begin to see God when we actively look for Him. The questions didn’t go away – but answers came. Mysterious checks arrived in the mail, one from the cell phone company, one from the power company. Just the right amount to cover the hospital bill and the initial counseling sessions. Chris had little difficulty adjusting to the antidepressants and only missed a couple days of work. I watched him cling to the hope that God was good and that He had a plan. This fueled my own thirst.

I knew what the Psalmist meant when he had described himself as a parched deer. My soul ached for God. This was the step of faith (for both of us), the decision to move from head knowledge to heart devotion. That one, honest, “Please, Jesus!” That one small movement forward. I, the stereotypical prodigal, found myself embraced by the Father who had long been watching for my return home. He ran toward me when I had not the strength or the sense to be the one doing the running.

God will not meet our expectations. He will blow past them. He will take every stubborn demand for evidence or proof and reveal Himself in a way that we cannot, or perhaps should not, deny. We wonder why our lives are marked by pain if God is so good. How many of us are too stubborn, too prideful, to bend the knee to God without the very pain that He allows?

My own head has been far too thick and my heart too hard.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here.