Sunday, March 6, 2011

Home and abroad, and home again

Since I last wrote, I've been to New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, and Georgia. I visited my good friend Sarah Bracey Johnson at her seminary in Yonkers, and experienced the places and people who populated the New Jersey landscape of my BFF Pam's childhood. I've applied to a handful of jobs, sold a few gallons of carrot juice and soymilk, and started planting camilia cuttings to sell. I applied to begin graduate classes in the summer. I walked the Cottonwood trail, bartered a haircut for fudge, and watched a baby feel spring air on his skin and grass under his feet for the first time.

And I wrestled with God. At first, the unexpected turn of my life over these last  few months was a new adventure, sovereignly prepared and sweetly paved. Like a young child, it seemed my every trifling obedience brought instant rewards. Or at least, for some inexplicable reason God was smiling on me. But lately, I've felt as if I'm only beginning to realize I got sent into a pit of waist-high mud and the whole time I thought I was running I only moved two feet and have since ceased to move entirely. Lazy, listless, spiritually drained, cranky. Escaping an ever-gloomier reality through the desperate consumption of books, movies, and music. My prayer life thinning to a tenuous thread, my Bible reading a sludgy trickle.

When I found out about the college-age conference in Athens, I was so hopeful, so eager. Most of us church kids look at these kinds of conferences as a spiritual "fix." It's not about some emotional high, it's about getting a concentrated dose of God. Hopefully jumpstarting our spiritual lives, reminding us how good He is and how to get Him. Turning a downward-facing life back towards the Prize to which God in Christ Jesus called us upward. I didn't really deserve to go to the college conference; I couldn't pay my own way. I'm not even a student, just vaguely college-aged. But I felt like I needed it so badly, was in such a pitiful condition, I didn't blink my eyes at accepting "charity" to get there. There was a kind of desperate hope, that something would change, I would see something more clearly. Mostly, I knew I would gain more of God and that always improves things.

I did gain God. And something changed. And I saw something more clearly than I did before, though God had already been giving me a fuzzy image. It's been hard coming to terms with the possibility that God might want me to stick in Spartanburg for the long term. I want nothing more than to be back in the Training, pursuing Him with my whole being. But see that's the thing, what I really want isn't what God wants, it's a particular means of reaching God. I could be a fox determined to climb the fence to reach the chickens because that's the best way I can see, refusing to listen to the chickens themselves telling me there's another way in.

Even before this conference I was starting to get the sense that going back to the training without God's clear leading would be an act of spiritual cowardice, showing a lack of trust in God's provision. My father doesn't feel the time is right to go back and I take his authority as from the Lord.
But even as I was sharing this glimmer of light with a few sisters at the conference, I was getting a taste of the life I've been missing. Fellowship, prayer, truth. A simpler church life, an easier way to be absolute for God. Clear choices. How I wish God would allow me such a black and white existence! Go to the meeting, or hang out in the world. Spend time with the saints, or indulge my own individualistic desires. It's human to seek the tangible, the quantitative. To measure spiritual progress with a checklist - how many meetings attended, how many people visited, how much time spent in prayer, how many chapters of the Bible read. But my life in Spartanburg has never been that clear-cut. Maybe, I was thinking midway through the conference, the Lord would desire me to move for the sake of the churchlife. Friends of mine are migrating - uprooting and moving somewhere they've never even seen, with the sole purpose of establishing a healthy church there. That's their whole focus for living. What a sense of purpose. Even my parents, when they were my age, moved across state and country so they could live the church life. So admirable. What could be wrong with me taking the same action?

A friend even dropped the hint - have you thought at all about moving? So I did, I really thought about it. I considered the steps to take, I even came home and started looking for jobs outside of Spartanburg. But he also urged me to pray about it. So I finally did. I asked God if it was His will for me to move. I told him I'd be willing. I thought, maybe the only reason I'm still in Spartanburg is because of the security of it, the practical simplicity of life under my parents' roof, on my parents' nickel. It makes a lot of logical, secular sense, but was I following reason at the expense of trust in God? I gave that to the Lord. I also gave Him my desire to escape, to find a "normal" churchlife. My hunger for radical action. My dad said that some people confuse "absoluteness for God" with spiritual laziness - doing all the things people expect you to do if you're serious about God. Following a formula. It drives me crazy because I don't know who of my friends outside of Spartanburg could understand how this anti-formula, as it were, sticking in this crazy barren looking Spartanburg life, could actually be an act of obedience. I really don't see it myself. It's a lot easier for me to understand leaving friends and family behind as Abraham did, to journey to the unknown on God's bidding. But as I prayed it became more and more clear that it was just me begging for the greenlight to escape. I remembered brother Lee's words to my dad: "make sure you're clear with the Lord before making your move." and eventually just asked for God's peace, provision and guidance if it really is His will for me to stay right where I am. The fact of the matter is, He hasn't given me the green light to leave this place. In fact, the more it makes spiritual sense to leave the more He seems to be telling me to stay.

So there it is. A roller coaster taking me in one big circle. I'm glad my friend told me to pray about it. Exploring my options with an open heart before the Lord, allowing Him to solidify His choice. Maybe this suspension in the mud is really just God holding me in His hand, waiting for me to stop struggling and just believe Him. I still have my work cut out for me. His will is for me to give myself to Him each day, be willing to lavish time on Him, listen to Him. His will is also for to follow the small steps He's shown me: to clean the house, to write and sing in a balanced way, to contact the saints, to help my parents, to faithfully seek employment (maybe casting my net a little further from home this time, just in case). Not particularly spiritual or admirable. But that is obedience. He's giving me just enough strength to do what I see to do. Not more so I can accomplish some great work, make some bold move. But enough. He's promised me that much.
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