Category Archives: Redemption

Storyline

In the Storylinesummer of 2011, perhaps the most bitter, dead summer of my life, I read my first Donald Miller book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I was challenged by a lot of ideas in this particularly autobiographical and existential novella. Miller posits that each one of us are like characters in a story, and in order for our lives to tell great stories, they must follow the narrative rules and structures of all great stories. In other words, the same concepts at play in story-writing should be at play in life writing, or the agency of directing our own stories through our attitudes and actions.

A year and a half (and several heartbreaks and joys alike) later, I attended Miller’s Storyline Conference at beautiful Point Loma Nazarene University this weekend. As I begin to unravel the multitudes of thoughts, ideas, and recent experiences threading through my mind and heart from the last 48 hours, one thing in particular keeps striking me: time. I guess, in a story or narrative, this is the idea of sequencing. The majority of the concepts offered at the conference this weekend were not entirely new or strange, but they were nonetheless enlightening, and highly encouraging. You see, the last several months, maybe even years, of my character’s journey have been leading me to arrive at just the very truths that were expressed this weekend. But my character was not ready for them before this weekend. In whatever way both God and I work together to author my life, the writer/s knew that so many events had to happen first, in order for the events of this weekend to echo properly in my heart so that difficult ideas would be embraced, not rejected.

Of the many epiphanies and profundities (not sure that’s a word) that my character has already begun to ponder, the following were so veryun-coincidentally and strikingly articulated this weekend:

1.) Man is in search of meaning, meaning in suffering especially. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, argued that, unlike Freud’s theory that  man is ultimately in search of pleasure, what man really needs, especially in a redemptive manner, is meaning. He says, “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.”

In the darkest of my days at the end of 2012, without a doubt, the days that contained slivers of light were the days that I was able to discern a purpose in my anguish, whether it was a truth I’d long needed to learn, a friend or loved one my pain was able to help through empathy, or a heightened awareness of the closeness of God in heartache.

In my best days of teaching or serving or feeling joy, it’s because I saw clearly my purpose or meaning in that place, that time, with those people. Specific moments that come to mind are lessons taught my first year of teaching and conversations had in Rwanda.

2.) There is a point in which going back into your pain can prove healing, but only after some distance protects you from the rawness of the initial cut. Phil Lokey, who oversees Onsite Ministry  (a ministry for Deep Healing), said, “Before you can really gain the wisdom of the resurrection, you have to walk through the death.” Immediately, I recalled words written by Henri Nouwen in his book  The Voice of Love: A Journey from Anguish to Freedom. He talks about how going back into the pain is necessary for healing, but to sit in the pain too soon will actually take you farther from healing. Oh, how this is true. A wise person, also a person who caused me pain, once told me, “Let it go for now. You can come back to it when you’re ready for it.” While I was not always able to take his advice, I realize in hindsight the great and beautiful truth in that admonition. Never returning to pain guarantess it will haunt you; you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But, walking through it too soon can easily devolve into self pity and a bottomless pit of despair.

3.) The best stories are the ones where a character wants something, and must overcome conflict to get it. Tom Shadyac, Hollywood director and now philanthropist said, “We want conflicts in stories, just not our lives. The victim asks, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ The mystic says, ‘Thank you.” Oh, Lord have mercy if this hasn’t been perhaps the biggest lesson of the last four months: the point of pain, the beauty of eucharisteo, and the existential peace of mysticism. I hate, hate, hate change. I’m human, I naturally crave comfort. But, when I go to the movies, I want conflict, I want pain, I want challenges, because my soul craves to see the conflict resolved, the pain healed, and the challenges overcome. The difficult transition is to go from the cinema to my own story. More than not wanting the conflict, pain, and challenges, I need to want the resolution, the healing, and the triumph that comes from undergoing these difficulties, and praising them. For, it is only through conflict, pain, and challenges that a character changes and becomes great. Donald Miller put it this way, in analyzing the life of Joseph from the Genesis narrative, “God has no problem putting me into conflict. He’s more interested in my character than my comfort.” Damn. That’ll preach. Thankfully, I’ve been able to reach a place where I’m eternally grateful for all the hard, because it has shown me so much more good than I would ever have known otherwise. I needed the shadows to appreciate the Sun.

4.) God’s will and decision making is not always as complicated as we want to believe. Sometimes, there are right decisions, and then there are right decisions. Recently, I’ve been tossing around different dreams, places, relationships, jobs, etc and wondering what the heck road I’m supposed to go down. And I think, ultimately, God is giving me a choice. Both roads can be right. Both can be good. Both can honor Him. But, perhaps there is one that will make me the most happy, and in that, I can probably most enjoy God and point others to Him. The beauty of God’s love is that He gives us the agency to partner with Him in His Kingdom, and to do it with the passions, desires, and gifts He plants inside us. And those can be varied, and vast. At the risk of sounding subjective, there is not just “one” and only path for me or “one” and only calling on my life. According to Garry Friesen in his book, Principles of Decision Making, “Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.” Praise Him. And then, pray to Him; pray hard.

5.) Hope. Miller states that one of the elements it takes to be a great character whose life tells a great story is the whimsical and powerful ability to possess “absurd hope.”  This has been perhaps the most ironic of all lessons that appeared deja vu status this weekend. My heart began to pick up faith and love a lot faster than hope in these past few months. Like, it was fairly apparent I needed to have more faith. I began to see God’s incredible, experiential love for me through healing. But, hope, hope was much more elusive. Nonetheless, somewhere in January, after the journey God took me on to find real faith and love, He also began to give me the hope to dream again. Little did I know, hope is actually the word that pops up the most in my blog. It also popped up on a gift someone gave me recently. Hope seems to be begging to be etched onto my heart again. Perhaps, I’m even thinking, it will soon get etched onto my skin. But, that is a topic for another blog, sometime soon if I can muster the time, energy, and decisiveness.

So, for now, with all these undeniable parallel and repetitive themes running through my mind, I can say with solidarity that dreams are re-awakening, one of them being writing. And I hope, I hope absurdly, that I will be a character who takes action and whose life tells a great story, one which transforms me and saves many lives, as Miller would suggest.

Move, just Move.

Movement is a funny thing. In traffic, you want it. Desperately. Sell your left kidney kind of desperately.

In an earthquake, not so much. You want it to stop. Desperately. Now, sell your right kidney kind of desperately.

In spirituality, and life, and relationships, it’s just as mercurial. When things are awesome, and the moon shines up above, and the stars twinkle, and all is right in the world, you want things to stay just as they are. You beg God to leave things perfectly in position for just a little while longer.

But, when things are rough, you want them to morph, to shift, to change. I’ve come to understand that rough times are unavoidable. It’s shallow, and perhaps even unhuman, to wish to never undergo trials. Challenges are inescapable. They’re even good in a lot of ways.

But, what makes challenges sometimes inexplicably hard to suffer is when they grow stagnant, when you get stuck. When you find yourself running over all the same bumps over and over on the same road, going nowhere. I’ve thought recently, I know I can’t necessarily trade hardship for happiness. But, dear God, can I just get a different hardship? Can it just at least be fresh? I’ll take the challenges, I’ll even embrace them, please, just give me a new one. Whether it’s a new place, or a new relationship, or a new academic endeavor. Just new, please, just move, please.

Because the thing is, there’s hope in the movement. In the last several months of hardship, challenge, pain, all the bad stuff, there was movement. Movement brings a sense of purpose. I am going somewhere. I am becoming someone else, someone better. I’m not going to be here forever. I’m not stuck. Maybe there are still challenges, but praise God with his healing and liberation, they don’t have to be the same.

And praise God that sometimes, He gives us the freedom to pick our next challenge. I know I have good things ahead in life, and I know I have hard things ahead. I just pray that I find myself often in a place where the good doesn’t stay so good for so long that I become comfortable, and ease becomes my idol. And, I pray that I don’t find myself in a place again where the bad stays bad for so long that I despair it will ever change and self pity becomes my idol. I’ve been both places, and the remedy is always movement.

Thank you, God, for movement. I don’t know exactly where to, I don’t know exactly how, but I know it’s not back and for right now, it’s enough.

When I Asked Jesus to Make Me A Mystic…

 

I didn’t expect Him to lead me out of one wilderness and into another.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I didn’t really think He would, or worse yet, could.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I didn’t think it would happen in such a long, no short, no long, no really, short time period.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I really had no idea what I was asking for at all.

A google search of the word “mystic” proves to be as nebulous and fuzzy as the term itself. Various sources report anything from a person who has an otherworldly experience to a person who dabbles in the occult. Some sources claim mysticism is achieved via intuition, while others seem to stand behind experience. Common Christian mystics throughout history have typically been monks, or others given to a strict monastic sort of lifestyle, people the likes of which include Julian of Norwich, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Thomas a Kempis, and more. Meditation, self-denial, prayer, and pain are associated with the journey to mysticism.

In the throes of 2011, my carpe diem stage, when I prayed and asked God to make me a mystic, despite my hard heart, I actually blogged it here on Sept. 12:

After 6 months in the wilderness, this is my prayer. Plain and simple. It’s all I’ve got. Lord, make me a mystic. Lead me out of the desert. Forgive my sin.Cleanse my heart and make it new. Help me truly, fall in love with You.

Just a tad over a year later, I prayed another prayer on Sept. 24, one that lead me to where I am now: a girl who has actively seen the healing hand of God in her life, who has experienced His miracles, and who has come to believe in the impossible.

When heartbreak came knocking on my door this mid-October, prompted by events that began Sept. 25, after a period of blissful happiness and belief in dreams again, despair answered the bell, swallowed me whole, and left me gasping for breath on the floor. Past anger and bitterness, rage and self pity, I cried out to God, and I waited. I waited for Him to remove pain, to bring joy, to restore peace, to illuminate hope.

It seemed like I waited a lot longer than, in hindsight, I really did. And while I waited I prayed, I sat in my pain, I processed it, I wrote about it, I pondered it, and I begged God to give me a heart for Him beyond and above the pain and the loss and the fears. And on some days, some of my greatest pain came from the feeling that He never would remove the pain, the darkness, and the persistent aches. I heard people say to just “Trust God,” to “let Him show you His love,” and all these other Christian adages that sound nice in the abstract, but are absolutely devoid of semantic meaning when confronted with some tangible need for an explanation. What does it mean, I mean, really mean to “surrender to God,” to “want His will beyond your own”? I sure as hell did not know, but I began to pray that God would make His love for me so rich, real, and palpable that these abstractions would become concrete realities in my heart.

And I waited. And I read and reread and began to memorize Lamentations 3:18 – 33:

 But this I recall and therefore I have hope and expectation: It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness. The Lord is my portion or share, says my living being (my inner self); therefore will I hope in Him and wait expectantly for Him. The Lord is good  to those who wait hopefully and expectantly for Him, to those who seek Him [inquire of and for Him and require Him by right of necessity and on the authority of God’s word]. It is good that one should hope in and wait quietly for the salvation (the safety and ease) of the Lord. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke [of divine disciplinary dealings] in his youth. Let him sit alone uncomplaining and keeping silent [in hope], because [God] has laid [the yoke] upon him [for his benefit]. Let him put his mouth in the dust [in abject recognition of his unworthiness] — there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the One Who smites him [even through his human agents]’ let him be filled [full] with [men’s] reproach [in meekness]. For the Lord will not cast off forever! But though He causes grief, yet will He be moved to compassion according to the multitude of His loving-kindness and tender mercy. For He does not willingly and from His heart afflict or grieve the children of men.” -Amplified version

And I can honestly say, that the prayers and the clinging to Scripture and the intercession of others, while no doubt were of great effect, did not heal my heart until one day, Jesus just lifted it all. He took the pain, He took the dust and the wormwood and the gall and the ugly, and He cast it off instead of me. And it just took time. It took waiting. It took learning dependence, faith, trust, and hope. It took putting aside bitterness and anger. It took pain. It took the wilderness.

I wonder if this is how Hagar felt in the wilderness, when she learned her God is the God who sees. It took time, it took a journey. I wonder if this is how Joseph felt, when he labored in a prison cell, sold by his own brothers, but learned that what man meant for evil, God meant for good. I wonder if this is what Paul felt, when he endured the lashes and the stonings and the shipwrecks, but proclaimed that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

There is no understanding God’s love apart from His deliverance. Until you have that from which you must be delivered, I don’t doubt none of us can become a mystic. There is a deep saving that must happen, that must be felt in the soul. But, first, there must be a deep fall, a harrowing abyss, a tragic loss that necessitates the saving. There must be a wilderness.

But after that wilderness, oh what love. So now my prayer:

After 3 months in the darkness, and 6 weeks out, this is my prayer. Plain and simple. It’s all I ever want. Lord, keep me a mystic. Lead me in and out of deserts, only always remind me you are the God who sees, you are the God who redeems, you are the God who empowers. Forgive my unbelief. Thank you for making my heart new. Thank you for taking me painful places so that I could, truly, fall in love with You.