November 6, 2013

In the temple

There are tiny tastes of heaven here on earth.

These tastes stir up a longing for much more than this world can offer. C.S. Lewis said, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." This is a clear call to heaven. I don't even need to bring up my faith here to get the point across - it's why we climb mountains and love babies and visit museums and murmur "yummm" after a full mouth of delicious food. It's what pushes us forward into the next thing, and then the next, and so on; we're always searching for more.

Of course, these experiences vary greatly as the measure is subjective but you know this feeling, don't you? You've encountered some event, person, or thing that leaves you with an unfulfilled feeling deep down in your gut. And they're not always good, these things. Sometimes, it's the fierce hope for an end to the madness of sorrow. Cancer sucks. Sex-trafficking (should) make us groan for an end. Addiction stirs the belly up into chaos and the never-ending "more". Death sweeps in and turns up so much, "But why?"

Standing to sing in the church service one night, I felt the need for this other world. The days are flying by lately, all for fantastically wonderful reasons; nevertheless, I was tired. My physical and mental limits became apparent as we sang because my mind, body, and heart were just not in it. I don't like this feeling and didn't wait long to ask the One who sings over me to give me words to sing back. Almost instantly, I could hear, "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6 is a longtime favorite of mine and an awe-inspiring scene.

The first time I heard a friend express her hunger for heaven, I didn't get it. "Wait, you want to die? Now?" It was foreign to me as a baby in the faith. Here in the recounting of Isaiah's vision and commission, though, the awful glory of the Lord is on display before the prophet. This weight of glory and thoughts of the eternal display of God's glory in heaven woke me up. All of a sudden, I knew what my friend hungered for.

While the music played and people sang along, I pulled out my bible and read the Isaiah account. Before I see the words, I know what is coming next. Isaiah proclaims, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"

Isaiah didn't mince words; he knew his state well and felt the weight of God's glory before him, spread wide with the robe and the hosts of heaven shouting praises in heaven. I read through Isaiah's confession of unworthiness, the angels' "Holy Holy Holy!", the burning coals to lips, and land exactly where I need to be...

"And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7)

This is incredible. God did not leave Isaiah (or us now) crying, "Woe is me! I am a child of unclean lips...for my eyes have seen the King...!" The angels touch the burning coal - the purifying agent - to Isaiah's lips and his guilt is gone; his sin atoned for.

Isaiah's humility and God's gracious atonement moved deep within me that night. I tasted the smoke in the air while standing there and once again, my "Woe is me!" turns to "Here I am! Send me." No longer was I stiff and unbending during the worship happening around me; instead, I saw the room full of His robe and felt the flutter of air from angels' wings as I joined in with, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" I longed for heaven afresh!

My hope is to always have Isaiah's temple experience in my mind as I face sorrows and joys too great to handle. God equipped Isaiah to do a great, difficult thing in his time and it's beneficial to see ourselves in a similar place. We can choose to let our earthly need for more terminate on ourselves; or, we can recall the removed guilt and atoned sin as we raise up our hands or lay on our faces and cry, "Here I am! Send me."

Maranatha!

{Songs to Sing}: I Shall Not Want

Audrey's last two albums have been on repeat everywhere I go for the last 3 weeks; in the car, getting ready in the morning, at my desk. I might highlight another song of hers in the near future but this was the first to really reach down in me, stirring up a sweet need.

A lot of us would say to God, "Please deliver me from [a grievous sin]" but how often do you pray for God to save you from the need to be understood or right? Goodness, that has been a long-time prayer of mine; this girl has long loved getting her way (though much work has been done in me here).

I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me, O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, O God
Deliver me, O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me, O God
Deliver me, O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

No, I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

*You can also check out some of Audrey's music on Noisetrade and of course, Amazon. It's all so good!

September 16, 2013

A giver-upper in a do-or-die world

Wow, I can hardly believe it's been eight months since I last posted *anything* on this here blog. About a year ago, life changed quite a bit for me, so much that I feared life would not be normal again. Alas, normalcy reappeared, and here I am post-summer, with excitement for the upcoming heat relief and all that a new year will bring.

I wrote about my ongoing battle to fight overeating and losing weight almost two years ago. Many of the heart issues and struggles described then are still present today, though in much smaller ways. I don't obsess about food the way I have historically; I've made some drastic changes to my activity level; I'm eating almost entirely primal/paleo-style (no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes); and most importantly, I continue to see the scale drop and the clothing loosen up. It's a great feeling!

Just before the cool air blows through in North Texas, though, I have started to hear the doubts, fears, and lies trickle in slowly. I celebrated 22 pounds lost last week, a great achievement in just under three months; what an exhilarating experience! I'm currently the smallest, healthiest, and strongest version of me that I've been in at least 7 years. Truly, maybe longer than that short span.

But after sharing the news with my best supporters, I start to hear the doubts creep in: "It's really not that much, you still have so far to go." Ouch, that popped my bubble for sure. Then, not long after that slam, I hear: "You are going to gain it all back." AH! I had a dream where I was standing on my bathroom scale and watching the numbers increase up and up back to my original weight. That'll get a girl's heart rate up first thing in the morning! The big lie came just a few days ago: "Try all you will, you'll never be skinny/pretty/thin/strong enough for any man." What a way to cut a single girl's heart deep.

I recognize these doubts, fears, and lies very plainly. I live in community with other believers and a strong family support system that won't let me believe that crap. Thank the great Lion of Judah for them!

You know what's in my heart, though? The desire to believe those ridiculous statements and to feel justified if/when I give up on all the hard work. Confession, y'all: I'm a chronic giver-upper in many ways.

I don't think an outsider, or even someone in that strange group of "not quite a friend, not quite a stranger" people would say I give up on things. My career is not exactly what I initially dreamed up, but it's a wonderful position at a very successful company. Six and half years and counting...it all seems great!

My family's idea of me consists mostly of a girl that has worked hard to get through school and extracurriculars, only to come out of the other side with a great job and a few awesome traveling experiences under my belt. Those things aren't untrue, they're just not the full picture.

Those with the greatest insight into the real Angela are also the ones who show the greatest grace. My best friends and my sisters have seen the side of me that many don't, and thank God that they have stuck with me through it. The truth remains: I am a giver-upper.

The list of failed projects could go on for days and I won't waste your time with it. My sweet sister watched me cycle through many aspirations while we lived together; I had the boxes of half-made crafts and unread books to tell the story well enough. She shed some light on the problem, persuaded me to let go of possessions that might have meant more to me if I had done anything useful with them. Diets, workout plans, volunteering with causes, rigid daily devotional plans, this blog...all half-done and with no motivation or desire to return to them.

This is an echo of a much deeper character flaw of mine: I'm looking for the thrill of a challenge, but struggle to keep up in the day-to-day rhythm of consistent work.

Fear grips me when my mind wonders long enough to imagine all the ways this will wreck my life: giving up on the hard workouts after my six-month plan is up at the end of the year. Marriage, kids, making and keeping a home, pushing through the dry days as I seek to feed my soul. My days of self-apathy are far away, but it too echoes every once in awhile, "You don't deserve those things. You will fail and disappoint so many."

This is where my sweet friend Jesus steps onto the scene, and puts those lies and fears to shame. He's unfolding an epic story that he's asked me to play a part in, and won't have me waddling in failure and fear. He calls me out of the desert and to the river of Living Water. He alone quenches my longing for thrill and adventure when he says:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:8-10)

The most lovely words a giver-upper can hear, when humbled before the Lord with hands full of failure and lack of resolve: "I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

When those lies sneak in, or I'm tempted with my own desire to give up, or when someone unintentionally tempts me to cave, I wave this banner of truth in my mind: the Creator took us from the ends of the earth and called us His. He has not cast us off, when that's what we deserve. He promises to strengthen, help, and uphold us through every detail of His epic. 

I can't wait to see the story unfold.

January 24, 2013

A Downsized Life

I started a different post with a different tone but realized I was trying too hard to be eloquent, which kind of defeats the purpose of these thoughts. Stay with me...

I came back from India in the summer of 2011 promising myself that I would simplify my life. I saw and experienced some powerful things in India and I didn't want to forsake those experiences by returning to status quo. I remember talking to a sweet friend, half-way around the world at the time, using the amazing technology of the internet. She asked how I was doing, how was I dealing with life in India. I vividly recall the honesty of my yearning, "I can't wait to go home but I'm so afraid to be home."

If you've traveled much out of the U.S. - particularly to developing or third world countries - you might relate with the sentiment. I was so eager to get home to my bed; to the arms of my friends, family, and church family; to my quick grocery store trips for fresh fruits and vegetables; to eat some dang meat without worrying about food poisoning!

Fear crept in, though, after I realized that I lived so selfishly and so comfortably at home without a care at all about the world just a flight (or three) away. The comfortable life, or the American dream, or whatever name you give it, is a very common yet rarely questioned concept in the West. I couldn't see it for myself until I stepped away to live a different life; as short as that time was, it marked me. Whatever it was I worked so hard to achieve back home was not panning out too well. I didn't know how to fix it but I knew something had to give.

Disclaimer: I'm not knocking tradition, or the reward of hard work, or the desire to continue a growing legacy just like your parents or my parents did before us. Depending on what mood I'm in when you ask, I'm either the revolutionary that declares, "Always question status quo!" or the wanna-be-homemaker that reminds, "Hold tight to traditions and the family life!" I lean much more revolutionary in thought, homemaker in action, and I'm still evolving. (end of disclaimer)

India - and my sweet Father God working amidst it - showed me that I had created a way of life that was not for me. I was afraid to go home to complacency, comfort, gluttony, and selfish ambitions. I didn't want to face the bills, the closet full of clothes, the full refrigerator and endless product options. I didn't want to forgot how ashamed I was to stay in a four-star hotel while looking out my patio door at a family huddled in a shamble of a brick hut.

Where exactly did this all come from? Not my family. Not my friends. Not my church or a documentary or a TV commercial with Sarah McLachlen music. I have spent hours talking to my dear ones about these desires that seem so alien and yet so real. I haven't copied or created my own version of someone else's life (at least, not to my knowledge). Yet my good God is teaching me that this life is not my own.

18 months later, one more trip to my country away from home, and many failed attempts to simplify: I find myself weighed down by this life again. Very little has changed externally while my heart and mind have transformed dramatically. My home, my comings-and-goings, my checkbook...they don't portray the internal change. The resulting tension (some may call it hypocrisy) hasn't made for a joyous season and it's time to reconcile the two for real, for real.

Grief has been a constant companion for the last four or five months; when she settled in, she decided to stay as long as she wanted and I learned to not boss her. Instead, tears and anxiety and anger have taken me to the arms of my Comforter over and over again. As Grief packs her bags, I hear the old challenge to lay down my life so that I might find it again. It's not a one-and-done kind of thing, but a daily repositioning of the heart that is prone to wander far from the grace of God.

A sister in Christ wrote a wonderful post that challenged me last fall and a post from Donald Miller today got my wheels turning again. Don so eloquently phrased the life I want to live but had never taken the time to write down for myself. The means look different but the end is the same:

Connecting with people I love each day
• Having a healthy routine
• Getting sleep and taking a sabbath
• Working on a meaningful project
• Giving generously to the people around me
• Being wise with my finances
• Having some sort of artistic creative expression in my life

• Having a long-term vision for my life
(emphasis mine)

I thought this would be a quick post where I could point you to Don's post, and Lore's post, say a few things and sign off. I guess when the heart pours out, it pours and you don't plug it up.

Will you do me a favor? Keep me accountable to these things. In my post-gone-bad, I waned on about how when I decide to do something new, I jump in full force. It's not a terrible trait - it's served me well professionally - but for a life overhaul, I'm pretty sure one change at a time is easier to swallow. Some of the changes that need to happen will hurt, and I'll question if I really need to follow through, or I'll think I'm further along than I really am. Ask me about my progress when you see me. If there is anything I really know it's that lasting change relies solely on the work of the Holy Spirit, so pray with me and for me that I would die to selfish motives and live for Christ.

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
(Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

January 16, 2013

{Songs to Sing}: The Prodigal

The Prodigal by Sovereign Grace Music
Written by Meghan BairdRyan Baird

You held out Your arms, I walked away
Insolent, I spurned Your face
Squandering the gifts You gave to me
Holding close forbidden things
Destitute, a rebel still, a fool in all my pride
The world I once enjoyed is death to me
No joy, no hope, no life

Where now are the friends that I had bought
Gone with every penny lost
What hope could there be for such as I
Sold out to a world of lies
Oh to see Your face again, it seems so distant now
Could it be that You would take me back
A servant in Your house

You held out Your arms, I see them still
You never left, You never will
Running to embrace me, now I know
Your cords of love will always hold
Mercy’s robe, a ring of grace
Such favor undeserved
You sing over me and celebrate
The rebel now Your child