Occupied By Joy

There is no better place to consider the status of your life goals & dreams than in the line for a roller coaster at a theme park. I created that statement 2 blinks ago yet….I think it’s mostly bogus. But, for good or bad, I have done this “soul searching” in the winding, stinking lines of thrill-seekers multiple times. Yesterday, as well as years ago, when I was a bruised teenager who did not know where she ended & where others started. I gazed glossy eyes at thin women in small bathing suits or tank tops, wearing confidence I never dreamed of having. My heart bled all over my family (foul words & festering attitudes) as I searched & searched the crowd for something to make me happy. What missing piece did others have that made them happy & left me empty? I saw teenagers too close, mouthing each other here & there & felt pangs of loneliness I was sure no one else had ever experienced. I thought that a man’s physical touch would make me happy. Month after month I swung between feeling that my diet was the only thing I could control–and restricting my intake severely–to feeling I had no control & was stuck swelling larger & larger. When I needed to say “yes”, I was powerless. When I needed to say “no”, well, I was unaware of the power my “no” had so I neglected it (until I broke down in burned-out, teary exhaustion). Certainly, I thought, I am the most unhappy girl in the world, with the sorriest life. I didn’t just think it, I believed it, deep into my bones. Everyone else has it all, and God has left me with nothing.
These agreements with the Enemy, this despair that he spun into a sticky web stuck against the walls of my heart caused pain for years. Resolution after broken resolution led me to the end of myself time & again. There was emptiness, hollowness, & desperation that culminated in many gooey, dirty encounters with people who seemed more concerned about keeping themselves clean than trying to understand my agony.
The aching made me long for life to speed by. I wanted the painful moments to rush away towards–where?–I didn’t know or care to think.
Yet all that time, something inside me wouldn’t give up. Settling for this pained existence wasn’t an option. Even in my despair, a whisper graced the atmosphere around my mind: Why would God make life purely for desperation & no joy? Why would He create a world only to make it suffer? Why would he bless everyone else but not me? Why would He make me hollow without filling me up?
So I plunged deeper & deeper into his Word. Even when I hated it, I read it. I wrote it on my wrist & on my mirror. I engaged people who did not know Christ & encountered messes that made the hair on my arms stand up. I believed from the center of my chest that there was hope. And when I did not believe, He believed for me.
A transition began with no bells or whistles at the turning point. No altar call. More nights alone feeling abandoned & empty than nights with friends or at a church. I went from crying to weeping, from agony to relief (& eventually expectancy), from flicking ash off the end of cigarettes to showing children of poverty how smoke leaves our lungs dark & shriveled. I took the route of prayer, the role of seeker, the process of making room within myself. I went from determination not to break, to embracing my brokenness.

As indeed He says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’~Romans 9:25

The contrast between my thoughts this weekend & my thoughts years ago shocked me. I stood in the line to ride a gravity defying machine yesterday & as I looked around, concern for the wellbeing of the poor souls around me flooded my spirit. I wanted them to know Jesus. I wanted my life for them, the teens too close as well as the women whose veil of shallow confidence I could now see through. Now that the blinders have been lifted from my eyes I see that everyone else is not blissfully happy. We’re all broken. Fearful. Desperate. Rebellious. Hurting. Addicts. Lonely. Hungry. By a wonder bigger than this universe I have gone from one extreme to the other. I’m deeply in love; I’m deeply loved. Each morning is a priceless gift instead of drudgery. Even on bad days, I know I have purpose. When I am angry, I know that there is power available to help me overcome it. When people revile & wound & ignore me, I am seen & nurtured & blessed. I am truly the most fortunate woman alive; I went from believing that God had given me nothing, to believing He has spared no expense on my life. None of my worst fears will ever come true. He lavishes gifts on me from season to season.

For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps me occupied with joy in his heart.~Ecclesiastes 5:20

If I could change one thing about my life, I wouldn’t. The pain, the tears, the sorrow…it’s all leading me home, intensifying the ache for a beautiful & secure tomorrow. I could gush on & on, but truly it comes down to this: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son. ~Colossians 1:13-14
How did I come this far? What car carried this heart from waste land to Promised Land?
I offer no A,B, C formula for how to get from one to the other. It wasn’t my mentor–though she helped. It wasn’t being involved in ministry–though it got me headed in the right direction. It wasn’t my church. It wasn’t my location or my school or my job.
It was simply the One who says: When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. ~Isaiah 43:1b, Message
He threw me a rope, and by his mercy & Jesus’ blood, I grabbed it.

For thus says the One who is high & lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high & holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite & lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’~Isaiah 57:15

We’re broken, whether we like it or not. Low & dirty is our natural state, but it doesn’t have to be anyone’s final state. Seek Him & be healed tonight, sweet friends. He makes masterpieces of our mud pies.

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

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Empow’r

The odd thing about right-now-in-my-life is that it is a time of definitions. People are watching me, my friends, all the other just-out-of-high-school-ers, to see what we do. Now is when we decide who to be.

I never thought that there was a choice: my beliefs are set; the person I want to be is in my mind’s eye, now I’ll step into that personhood. My belief system is not going to change drastically, so of course I will be a good worker, friend, student, citizen. Things will pan out….Wrong wrong wrong. One does not simply step into anything. Everyday decisions reveal to me that the girl I want to be is years away, separated from me by piles of lessons to be learned.  Contemporary choices can seem so insignificant: an unwashed shirt, a unanswered email, a gift withheld, but it is obvious now that they shape the bigger decisions. An unwashed shirt becomes habitual dirtiness, an unanswered email is a loss of opportunity, a gift withheld snowballs into chronic greed.

We will die in this wilderness but death will not separate us from the love of God.~Dr. Mark E. Ross

Not only do I want to be an upstanding citizen; I have chosen to live by a radical moral code. Wealth? Never. Clean, boxed-up, air-conditioned religion is no reality of mine. Scraping a living, thriving purely by the Spirit pow’r, it’s the plan. Yet suddenly I see, none of this is going to come easy. The idealistic world that I foresaw in my high school naivety is being disrobed. Knowing what I believe does not make me special. Convictions do not say “yes” or “no” for us. Deciding to live by these convictions is what shows true color.

Listen…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?~St. Paul

traveler. cigarette smoker? not-pothead. hostel stayer. hard worker. too hard? No frequenting clubs. Bars will be OK. Who decides these things? Since when am I in charge? How come I choose what is right and wrong? That is not how it works. That is what my daddy does. But I never wanted him to. Now he’s not. Good. Deep breath. Smile. Sway to the music.

Only one desire that’s left in me, let the whole damn world come dance with me.~Edward Sharpe

You never wanted to be worried. You never wanted to bring lines to your cheeks. So don’t. This is the relax-if-ever-you-will time. Now, as actions shape and form to reflect my worldview, the time for no-worry is here. No such time as the present to be smiling. To be loose, to be fit and funny. To take responsibility for  mistakes and to laugh at them.

The Water is free but I should warn you, it costs everything. ~Kendall Payne