What is the purpose of life?

As I’ve gone through this pain, I’ve started to notice the prayers that we tend to pray: “Give us this or that good thing, make this or that smooth, take away this or that trouble…” That’s what I prayed at the start of all this – “God bring my husband back NOW so we can reconcile and things can go back to normal.” Things HAD to go back to normal. Normal was good. Normal was smooth. Normal was comfortable. Once things were normal again, THEN I could move forward in life. Right?

But wait…

Is the purpose of life that everything be smooth and comfortable?

I think we will tend to answer “no”. But in reality, we find ourselves chasing after an ideal life with comfortable and smooth circumstances.

Are smoothness and comfort a bad thing? Should we wish ill on ourselves? No, of course not. This desire for smoothness and comfort is in fact central to our nature as spiritual beings. We are wired and meant for a heavenly place of perfect smoothness and comfort, of perfect peace, rest, acceptance, safety, and joy. We long for that ideal place. Every day.

The problem is, we’re looking for the smoothness and comfort in the wrong places.

So I go back to my question: What is the purpose of life?

Is it for my marriage to be reconciled? For us to move forward with a certain set of predictable, comfortable circumstances that seem right to me?

No.

After two years of experiencing indescribable joy in the midst of my own life shattering, I have realized that this place of perfect peace is NOT found in circumstances of this natural world, in human relationships, in jobs, in completion of tasks, in success, in comfort. Those things are nice and good, but the purpose of life cannot be found there.

For me, the purpose of life now has to do much more with being content in all circumstances – whether in plenty or in want. Living out the greatest commandment – loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

To know God. To encounter His love.

Really? A God who allows pain? A God who let his own son be tortured and beaten even though innocent? A God who allows all the suffering in the world?

Yes.

This God did not come to fix the world. At least not yet. He came to redeem it and overcome brokenness through Jesus… and to BE WITH US. To enter our pain. To enter our suffering. We have a God who can relate. Who can say: “I know what that’s like.”

I invite you to get to know this God with me. A relatable God. A redeeming God. A God who caused a symbol of torture to become a commonly recognized symbol of redemption, even 2000 years later. A symbol I saw by my feet in the elevator of my apartment in China on a day not too long ago, a day I needed a nudge from God.

I want my pain to be redeemed like that. I want to experience the “joy set before him” that Jesus experienced, a joy that enabled him to endure undeserved torture on the cross. I have tasted this joy, and I am hooked.

This joy has become better to me and sweeter to me than the smoothness and comfort of the set of circumstances that I envisioned before and desperately wanted before.

This joy I experience every time I meet with my mentor Judi, who at a critical time of pain for me last year, felt her heart stirred to commit to meeting and praying with me, even before she ever met me.

This joy is the joy of knowing an active, living, breathing God, who knows my every move. Who is pursuing me relentlessly with love and good things. Who gives me treasures of wisdom, laughter, insight and joy on my darkest days. Who assures me that He is bigger than all this pain, and that He will release exorbitant amounts of beauty from it.

This joy I experience every time God reminds me that he knows my heart, and things happen at just the right moment, like two friends showing up at my house the other day with roses and much-needed laughter.

Let’s stop chasing ideal circumstances.

“So, Corrie, what are your plans now? Are you going to stay in Shanghai? What are you going to do?”

Well, it’s really a simple picture that comes to mind now, every time I think of my future and how I want to live my life. It does not have to do as much with my circumstances anymore. It is a picture of my hand in God’s hand, walking through life together.

Knowing Him. Having intimacy with God. Hearing and responding to His voice. Experiencing a love that is bigger and stronger than the brokenness and pain of the world.

Entering a secret place with Him, and tapping into a spiritual realm that is in fact a taste of my true home, his kingdom come now, eternal life now, a supernatural place of smoothness and comfort, better than the smoothness and comfort of circumstances.

I can’t wait to one day enter it fully.

 

Horton Hears a Who; I Hear God

Horton Hears a Who; I Hear God

What does hearing the voice of God have to do with an elephant running through the jungle? Well, that’s what I was trying to explain to a room full of 60 high school kids today when I spoke to my youth group about suffering.

It started with two things I sensed from God in late 2010 – one vision I had right before everything happened in my marriage, and one dream I had right after. The vision came (just a picture to my mind) as I prayed for my husband. I had no clue what it meant at the time.

It was a coffin with purple glowing lava flowing out of it, with a book on top, being consumed and absorbed into the lava. The lava oozed out with a powerful slow intensity, and I could tell it was a “good”, God-type lava. You know the kind. That God was in the lava, overcoming the death of the coffin, and consuming the book.

Ok.

If that wasn’t strange enough.

Then came the dream about a month later. I woke up one morning and clearly remembered the scene – sitting on the grass with my husband and another couple who we didn’t know very well, and then all of a sudden the earth shaking and all 4 of us in an oblong orange raft, floating on a gushing river of water as the earth cracked and boiled beneath us. Chunks of mountains falling into the sea of water around us, and chaos – a storm of huge magnitude. And worst of all, a terrifying demon lady rose up and towered above us, shouting curses about God with the four of us cowering in the raft below.

I remember feeling terrified, but then… a slowly growing, rising sense of anger at the lies that this demon lady was spewing. A rising sense of boldness to stand up and face her. I knew I needed to stand up and face her. So I rose and turned around, raising my fist, and screaming out truth boldly at this massive demon. That God was powerful, and real, and good.

Click.

Scene change like the flick of a switch, I was in a peaceful, beautiful park. The demon lady had been reduced to a speck – a single tiny white puff from a dandelion flower that was floating through the air. I was watching it intently, following it with my eyes, trying not to lose sight of it and chasing it around the park, speaking softly to it that Jesus was real and that his love was real. All of a sudden, the speck became a beautiful lady sitting on the grass. She looked peacefully at me and said: “I believe.”

Then I woke up.

Clearly sensing that boldness and tenacity I had demonstrated in the dream. It felt foreign to me at that time, as my emotions were consumed with overwhelming and debilitating hurt, weakness, and sadness as I faced my “storm” of circumstances. But… the boldness also felt so good, right and natural to me. The intense me that God created and intended. I knew I was to walk that way. Was it really possible? I started to think it was.

So, a vision about God-lava consuming a book, and a dream about yelling at a demon lady and chasing after a little white dandelion speck.

Hm…

That brings me back to the elephant in the jungle connection. It was a month after having the dream that I was back in the US for Christmas. I was in trauma mode, and in a lot of pain on a moment-to-moment basis. Not able to eat. Crying out desperately to God to help me make sense of what was going on.

My little 9 year-old sister roped me in to watch a movie with her – Horton Hears a Who. Horton is an elephant. The first scene of the movie has dandelion pods floating through the air, then one single little white speck that Horton follows intently all throughout the jungle. Then twenty minutes later, a scene with a book being consumed in a bubbling hot liquid.

Shock!
Chills.
Closeness.

I just sat there in awe. He was there with me. I was not alone.

Everyone in the jungle thought the elephant was crazy for believing there was something special about this little tiny speck. As crazy as I felt for beginning this faith walk, tapping into the spiritual realm, and hearing the voice of God.

I laughed out loud.
A good long laugh.
Joy.
Relief.

Gosh, it felt good to laugh.

Yes, I laughed because the movie itself was absolutely hilarious (I highly recommend watching it), but more importantly, I laughed because I knew that the God of the universe was assuring me through an elephant running through the jungle, that He had truly given me that vision and that dream, and that He was…

intimately aware of my circumstances
involved in my circumstances
bigger than my circumstances

That I was to listen and follow God’s voice alone. That He was holding me, and that I was loved and ok.

Swept above the pain. Soaring.

[P.S. A year later, a friend wrote me an email that said: “Hi Corrie! Just wanted to share a picture with you that touches my heart…when you are having one of those moments when you think that everything is so complex, look at this picture.” God loves to remind us of what He has spoken.]

 

Random Little Thoughts: The Number 4

Random Little Thoughts: The Number 4

God is really funny because he knows how my mind works. He knows that I look for signs of His presence and His voice everywhere. He knows it’s a way I feel love from Him, noticed by Him, close to Him. Tonight He showed me His closeness as He always does, and made me laugh. Really laugh.

I regularly read a devotional called Charlyne Cares (part of Rejoice Marriage Ministries), which gets emailed to me daily. Each Saturday is a collection of stories, real people writing in about how God is moving, how He is restoring broken marriages… ev…ery…where. All the time. (Isn’t that awesome?)

Anyway, as I was in my faith room today, I was wondering how to start my time with Him. I kind of listlessly went to my email inbox (as I tend to do)… then saw the Saturday testimony devotional at the top of the queue. Hm… I felt moved to read it, and a sense of quiet. Ok, cool. This is good. I’m focused. Will you show me a sign, God? That you know I’m reading these? That you’re here?

Waiting.

The 4th one. The number 4. That was the number that popped to mind. Cool! Lord, do you have something for me in the 4th testimony? (Normally there are 15-20 testimonies). That would be awesome. I trust you. So, I read with eager anticipation. 1st, 2nd, 3rd… ok, here goes. The 4th one.

Sigh.

Shoot. It’s about a woman on mother’s day whose husband came over for dinner and talked with her kids.

I’m not moved. Just disappointed. But, wait, I had noticed that the whole testimony page had started with MY verse, the one I had first experienced God with when I was 12 – Psalm 40. Is there something you have for me in that, Lord? That had caught my attention.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. 

Psalm 40:1-3

That’s neat, God. At least there’s that. I kept reading. Huh… funny. There’s another one! Psalm 46, the chapter He put on my heart in 2010 before everything happened with my marriage.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

Psalm 46:9-10a 

That’s also the main verse displayed on my center wall in my faith room, which I have really just started using. What are you up to? Then another verse, and another one! Oh my word! God, you are filling this one Saturday devotional with ALL the key verses you’ve led me to on my journey! Wait… except one. Ephesians 2:16. What about that one, God? You know it’s a key verse for me. That must be in here. I’m sure that’s the one you have for me at the end of the devotional.

I kept reading, and at the end, didn’t dare to look, not wanting to be disappointed again, then I peeked. . . It was NOT Ephesians.

Sigh.

Oh well, at least You reminded me of some truths from this journey. That was neat. Pause. Scanning over the devotional again. Gosh, there were a bunch. Looking over each verse until I got back up to the top.

Then it hit me.

I had been counting. One, two, three, four. FOUR! There were FOUR key verses in the devotional. FOUR… the number that I had in my mind as I had started reading. Ephesians would have made it five, so of course it wasn’t there.

I laughed out loud. A long laugh.  A laugh with God. I savored each of those 4 verses, and drank them in like water, knowing they were His verses for me tonight.

He always does that! Pulls in a twist at the end that is better than what I had thought! He keeps me hanging, then comes in right at the right moment.

I love laughing with God. He’s hilarious. He’s so close. He knows how our minds work, and enters our thoughts and our funny little world and shows us He’s there.

Maybe you’re scratching your head going, “What is Corrie talking about?” Well, my point is that we can ask God for signs that He is “around”, that we are on the right track. Gideon did. He put a wool blanket outside overnight…twice…to see if God would make it stay wet, then dry! Now that’s a bit random.

It’s different to know in your head that God is close than to actually experience it. God’s voice is real. Go ahead. Ask for a sign. See what He does. Pay attention to your random little thoughts. He does.

He is intimately familiar with each one.

[P.S. A few days later at small group, the leader told us to open to Ephesians 2. We normally take turns reading aloud, and I volunteered for the second half: verses 11-22. When I got to verse 16, I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time as I realized the connection and God’s perfect timing.] 

A Treadmill, God?

A Treadmill, God?

Today felt particularly significant for me, since I’m starting to feel drawn to a season of needing and wanting more alone time, just me and God. Times of pure intimacy with Him. What a cool thing to get to do. Here’s how it started…

A few weeks ago, the idea of getting a treadmill kept popping into my mind. Strange. I have two gyms, and I bike and take walks around Shanghai all the time. Why would I want/need a treadmill? Is this you, God? It certainly does not feel like me. Hm… So I researched online a bit, and saw some for sale, over 2000 RMB (roughly $300) – very expensive. Nothing moved me. Ok, so I’ll just keep my eyes open. Then I got an email about a friend’s moving sale. On the list was a treadmill. I was stirred.

I called… 700 RMB!

I sensed a Yes.

So I picked it up today (with the help of two strong gracious guy friends), and put it in the room in my apartment that I call my Faith Room. A place for my music, painting, reading, and now… treadmill-walking.

So tonight I lit candles, turned off the lights, queued up some Jesus Culture songs and Graham Cooke podcasts on my i-pod, and then walked for 48 minutes. I sang as I listened. I laughed. I cried out my pain. I cried out my joy. I yelled “Amen!” I made weird faces. Uninhibited. I touched the side bars with the tips of my fingers and closed my eyes as Graham’s voice filled the black space.

Wow.

A little different than red lights, honking cars, and trying not to step on dog poop.

Then I kneeled down, pouring out my heart to Him. Crying. Feeling His closeness. So grateful that He is strong for me. That I don’t have to be strong.

Huh. A treadmill. Quite a brilliant arrangement, one I would have never thought of on my own. Now it is my place of focus, of intimacy with God, of feeling vitality course through me as I cry out to and hear from Him. Immersing myself in truth and getting filled up.

No more falling asleep while praying.

 

Freedom in the Airport

Freedom in the Airport

In my life, fear is the default white noise, and God’s voice is the mute button. I get so used to the white noise that I forget about the mute button. When I was reading a book today, a book that a good friend of mine wrote and printed, and bound for me, God muted my fear. I blinked. Stopped. Breathed in. Noticed things. Noticed the fear, and the lie of it. The rush of it. The normalcy of it. It’s my default. It’s my safety. It’s my comfort. Why do I keep running back? Could life really happen moment by moment, word by word, breath of God by breath of God? Following God’s voice and savoring the journey? I dare to think so, though I miserably failed this past week to walk that way.

My to-do list dominated much of my thought life this past week. Fears about pleasing people, missing flights, having to pee at inopportune moments, not eating too much, not being focused or free enough, not connecting with people enough… The weight of this fear on me. The longer I submitted to that weight, the more it dominated my thoughts, and then the focus is just “getting through” things until at some magical point “in the future”, I could be freed of it again. Why do I keep falling for that lie? Submitting to the white noise that never ends? That swallows me up and feeds me counterfeit promises of freedom once I do this, or please them. “Just a little more… Just get through this… Just push a little more… THEN you’ll accomplish enough to deserve your freedom”.

Freedom happens now, cutting into the fearful fog like a knife. Silencing it, and clearing my head with a loving tenacity. Affirmation by an invisible hand seeping into my thoughts and even my body. My posture straightening, my muscles relaxing. There you are, God. Why have I been running from you all week? Why do we avoid stillness? Why can’t we find rest? True rest?

As I begin a journey into the creative realm, out of a life in the purely practical realm, I know I will need to rely on that mute button, daring to believe it is accessible at all times. That living free is possible, not just in fleeting moments, but as the only way to walk this narrow road, letting go of the comfort of my fear, and clasping the hand of Jesus, fixing my eyes on his as I walk out onto a tightrope, onto the waves with a steady gaze, unwavering.

Now, I see. Now, I start to hear. Now, I start to write. I feel my pain, name it, and know He feels it too. Now I feel the beauty of laying my pain down again. It bubbles up. I curse. I cry. I feel the rejection. I look in the mirror at the airport, and wipe away my tears. I feel beautiful. I feel Him say that. I breathe again. I stand in line with my bags, getting lost in my book, my heart soaring with my friend’s heart, as she shares and writes her own story, freeing me to live and write my own. My tears drop onto the metal handle of my luggage cart. I don’t care that people might notice.

I’m alive. I’m free. I ask for a window seat. “Sorry ma’am, only middle seats left.” I say “Ok”, and feel sure that God is there, and wonder what he might have planned for me in that middle seat, that maybe I’m to stay up and write, instead of sleep. That maybe He would put me next to someone on the window who really preferred the middle, or decided not to board for some reason. I knew He could open one up for me. But, ok, I’ll take the middle.

3 beeps later, she hands me my boarding pass: “Found a window seat for you.”

A rush of warmth takes over my mind and body. God’s voice. I know it’s Him. Surrendered. And Soaring.

 

Jazz and Rap

Jazz and Rap

Finally, time to go to my gym classes tonight. Music. Dance. Sweat. Vitality coursing through me. Him. I feel Him. The last song was “Stand By Me”. Feeling a stirring in me. This is my song. A stirring deep within me. He is in the song. The intimacy of God through music.

Flashback to October, 2011. An idea would not leave my mind: “Corrie, you must sing in a jazz club before November 11″. What? A jazz club? Is this the voice of God? I’m not a jazz singer! I don’t even know any jazz songs…do I? I just sing in church, sometimes. Singing. Wait…

Singing was important to me. Maybe more important than I realized. I think I knew that deep down. Knew that I had never even had the guts to admit to my husband or even myself how deeply I wanted to sing. In front of people, over people. Singing equals intimacy with God to me, allowing me to feel Him and express the deepest parts of myself to Him. I thought that one day it would come out. But I was so scared. Scared I wasn’t good enough. Scared I wouldn’t be “the best”.

The thought kept coming. “You must sing in a jazz club before November 11″. Lord, is this you? It’s a crazy thought! Exhilarating, fun. What the heck? What do I even have to lose? Maybe I’ll start to tell people… so I told my life coach. I started telling friends, random people I met: “One of my current goals is to sing in a jazz club by Nov. 11″…just a fact, as if it were really going to happen, which of course it wouldn’t.

People flipped. They thought it was a great idea, brilliant! They threw out suggestions, connections, real possibilities for how it might work. Then I discovered it – an open mic night. Oh, God! It COULD really happen! So I found myself walking toward what I sensed was His voice. It just felt like Him. It was the kind of terror that I sensed He wanted to conquer in me. But could God be that fun, that crazy? “Just trust me, Corrie.” So I went to the place, scoped it out, looked through their band’s songbook, chose two of the first songs I saw (two of the only ones I knew), then trembled as I pushed the “Send”, inviting all my friends and colleagues. It was set – for the Sunday night before Nov. 11. I would be singing at Open Mic night at the Melting Pot in Shanghai.

Ok, God, I will obey you. I will trust you. This is my journey with you. But why a jazz club? Why now?

Two days before Sunday, my Chinese co-worker asked me about the origin of one of the songs I would be singing – Stand By Me. Strange question. I looked it up, and Wikipedia popped up. Clicking the link, I sucked in my breath, as I read: Stand By Me was based on an old spiritual song – from Psalm 46. My Psalm. “God is my refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear, though the mountains fall into the sea, though the oceans roar and foam…”

God in musicOf course. There you are, Lord. I didn’t know I could start crying so fast. He WAS in it. That’s all I needed. Sunday came. I was there. The Melting Pot. Almost midnight, my turn. Shaking off nerves as I tried walking more confidently than I felt up onto stage. The music started, and then…I started singing. What? Not scared? How could this be? I wasn’t nervous anymore. From the first note, it was complete comfort. Soaring. I LOVED it, it was me. It was what I was made to do. I wanted to sing all night. People cheered. Covered me in hugs and flowers. One of the best nights of my life.

Back to the present, biking home from my work out. Waves of pain again, as always. Sobbing and pedaling, sobbing and crying out. Yes, there it is. The thoughts of my husband. My best friend. How could this be happening? Lord, I’m hurting.

Then quiet. Running through my to-do list in my mind. Remembering my maid-of-honor’s wedding coming up soon. Oh gosh! I haven’t started preparing yet. Lord, you know I want to do something special for her. Ok, I’m thinking about that for a reason. Silence. 

Click. 
Clack.
Click. Clack. 

The bike behind me is broken.
That’s kind of annoying.

Click. 
Clack.
Click. 
Clack. 

A rhythm. A rap. That’s it! 30 seconds later, I had the chorus and first verse. Flooding my thoughts. So clear. I laughed out loud all the rest of the way home, and up the elevator. A rap! God, that is genius! Six of her closest girl friends doing a rap together – THIS rap. The rap you put in my thoughts immediately when I heard the click clack of the Chinese man’s broken bike behind me. 

God, you are so fun. So intimate in music. You know how I tick. You are so musical. You know. You are hilarious. I’ll let you lead. Your voice. I trust you.

Security Blankets

Security Blankets

Fear used to be (and still can easily become) the norm in my life. So… I covered, coped, and satiated myself with security blankets, grabbing them and clutching them with white knuckled grip. As the pile of blankets got higher, the volume in my mind got louder. Then it was all I knew: Self-medication. Clinging to pleasure, people, things, work targets, substances, entertainment.

The result? Numbness. Apathy. Anxiety. Self-hatred. Boredom. Binge.

AHH! Be GONE!

Gone? I had only tasted the blips of encounter since my first one at age 12. Blips of freedom, of intimacy with God. The exception rather than the norm. I lived for those blips, though, longed for them. But they were so few and far between, it seemed, and I guess that was just normal. God was so “hard” to get. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll just keep working hard for ‘the next thing’, trust that God is working in my life somehow, and besides, I’m already further along than so many around me anyway, and I also have a lifetime to grow. I’m fine, I guess. I’m normal. God will get me there someday.”

Well, my someday started two years ago. How did he get me there? He allowed the enemy to go after my biggest source of affirmation, my biggest and best gift from him, the one thing in my life that I knew was right and good and part of His will for me – that thing? My husband. My primary go-to security blanket; it was ripped away.

Just like that. My lights went out. My world went dark, upside down. A haze. Couldn’t eat. TV was not appealing. Even my other security blankets had no appeal. So where was I? Who was I? God, where are you? Were my beliefs all a lie, an illusion? How could this have happened? Where are you? What is happening? Oh God, oh God, oh God… When am I going to wake up?

I don’t think we ever really grow in significant ways unless we’re forced to. It’s too hard to choose significant growth, because the cost is too high. Too painful. We clutch at our security blankets instead because they’re what we know. We are stubborn. We like them. We can see them, touch them, feel them. But they are in the way.

I define growth as learning how to live without relying on security blankets. Instead? Relying on constant encounter with Him, hearing the voice of God. There is freedom there. Fear will shrivel up and die.

It’s painful, but with high cost comes high gain. Welcome along the journey.

What is your biggest security blanket?

 

Encountering God

Encountering God

Trapped.
Apathy, fear, anxiety.
Me. Me. Me.
Out of it.
Not really here.
Avoiding.
Binge.
Scattered. Fake.
Insecurity.
Second guessing everything.
Doubt.
Proud. Pleasing others.
Lost.
Stuck.
I don’t care.
Controlled by fear.
Sleep, eat. Sleep, eat.
Avoid. Escape.
Trapped in my mind.

You.
Your voice.
Be still and know…that I am God.
Your direction.
Your agenda.
Your voice.
Listen… Obey… Step out.
Trust.
Enjoy.
Fruit, resonate, wonder.
Still.
Trust.
Watching, waiting.
Satisfied.
Free.
You.

Fear. It’s an epidemic. It is eating us alive, and we don’t even realize it. It has driven me my whole life. Isn’t that normal? Fuel for my intensity. I’m known for that intensity.

I first encountered the supernatural realm at age 12, at night, on the beach. I remember my mind went quiet. I hadn’t even known the volume switch existed, much less that it was on full blast in my head. And then all of a sudden it was quiet. He was there. I could breathe, hear my own breath. I was not alone. So this was Him. This was encounter. Stillness. Acceptance. It was Him. He knew I was reading Psalm 40, word-by-word, phrase by phrase. I could feel it, sense it. The voice of God.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth…I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips…Yet I am poor and needy…You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.”

The presence. A shivering sensation of smallness. He was there, here, watching, speaking, breathing, hearing my breath. Encounter. I knew I had found gold. The picture coming to my mind’s eye of Jesus lifting his head, beaten and bruised, looking right at me – I love you. I had to know that love. I had to stop at nothing to pursue a life running hard after the source of that love, that source of freedom. “I don’t care what it costs me!” I screamed into the wind, tears pouring down my face. “I will not be ashamed of you. I want to live for you. I accept you. Come into my life.”

Every encounter to follow that had that same characteristic stillness. Fear was gone. But for me, encounters were in short blips, then volume back to high and somehow semi-forgetting about the switch. He was there for big decisions – choosing a college, getting married, starting my first job, moving to China. But it was me in my mind for the rest.

Knowing about the stillness, the fact that it existed, that place absent of all fear, was maddening, and looming over me, always just out of reach. I just need to get through this…do this…check this off my list…see this person… then I’ll come to you, God, for that encounter. THEN I’ll come to you. THEN. Then.

In 2010, my next THEN point I “needed” to get to – the time I would finally have my ducks in a row enough to allow myself to pursue encounter again – was July of 2010, which I thought would be the start of planning parenthood, but which turned out to mark the start of a journey of pain through which encounter would become my only respite.

What is that “next thing” or “next point” you are aiming toward? The point at which you’ll allow yourself to live, finally, to enjoy, to rest, to pursue encounter, meaning, slowness? What is that point? Did you realize you were fixated on it? Why do we fixate on next points? ….. STOP! NOW! I dare you. That “next point” is… NOW. Will you dare to believe that with me? Dare to believe that fear-obliterating encounter can and will be the norm in your life, not the exception? Not the blip? To believe that you can and will hear the voice of God?

I dare you to begin a journey of encounter. Of intimacy with God. It’s how we were meant to live. Fear has become our master, our norm, and it makes me sick. Stop waiting.

 

Psalm 46 and Yom Teruah

Psalm 46 and Yom Teruah

I have a stack of journals on the coffee table in front of me. Let me start with an entry from June 21, 2010:

“Let my words be few: God, I want to hide with you, in the shelter of your wings – there the enemy doesn’t know where I am… Teach me more about the spirit realm. I’m caught up in lies. Can’t function well.”

I was caught up in lies. I am caught up in lies. We in our human state are caught up in lies, trying to be our own source, addicted to ourselves. Daily, hourly…by the minute, by the second. So accustomed to our prison of self, that we recognize our need to get out, but find we simply can’t, and won’t.

A few days later, I was listening to Graham Cooke, whose talks center around hearing the voice of God. He pointed to the need to ask God to highlight which section, book, chapter, or verse He wanted us to focus on in the Bible, as opposed to aimlessly and randomly flipping through pages and reading, which is what I tended to do. So I asked, and Psalm 46 jumped to mind. So I opened to it, and my heart stirred as I read:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear…be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46

That was it, my verse for the coming days…weeks? Months? I wasn’t sure. How refreshing to know, though, that one chapter was all I needed to focus on until He stirred me to go elsewhere. I read it aloud, wrote it out by hand, and memorized the first few verses.

A few days later, I has this sense that I was to fast, the date in mind being July 1, 2010 – the beginning of the month my husband was to be away, and the month that had been highlighted to me a year previous (during a prayer time with a close friend) as a significant month. I assumed it had something to do with going off birth control pills to give my body a rest for a couple of years until we officially started “trying” for a baby.

With this in mind, I started my fast. And I was hungry, really hungry, all day at work. Not feeling particularly spiritual or close to Him…until evening when I wandered online and stumbled upon a site that informed me that July 1st was in fact a Jewish holiday called “Yom Teruah” – The Day of Shouting, or sometimes called The Day of the Awakening Blast, or The Feast of Trumpets. I NEVER randomly searched for information online, but here I was, reading with a sense of calm slowness. He was near.

Here is what I read:

“In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. ‘You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to YHVH.’” Leviticus 23:23-25

Teruah literally means to make a loud noise. This word can describe the noise made by a trumpet but it also describes the noise made by a large gathering of people shouting in unison (Nu 10:5–6). For example,

“And it shall come to pass when the ram’s horn makes a long blast, when you hear the sound of the shofar, the entire nation will shout a great shout, and the wall of the city shall fall in its place, and the people shall go up as one man against it.” (Joshua 6:5)

I got chills. A great shout. I loved that. I thought of my international church in Shanghai and 600 of us from 60 nations on a Sunday singing and shouting out to God. The power of that cry, in unison. I loved it. Was God giving me a name for our child… “Terah”? That would be neat. I had always loved worshiping and the power of corporately declaring truth. Hm… I kept reading:

The sounding of the shofar on Yom Teruah is a wake-up blast — a reminder that the time is near for the Day of Atonement. It is time to teshuvah (repent, turn back to YHVH). Traditionally, these ten days are ones of heart searching and self-examination — the shofar warns us we need to examine our lives and make amends with all those we have wronged in the previous year, and to ask forgiveness for any vows we may have broken.

So a main theme of the Fall Holy Days is repentance. Other themes during Yom Teruah are those of rebirth and resurrection (Matthew 24:31; 1 Cor 15:51-2)…when a trumpet blows (in Torah, Prophets, and Revelation) it’s almost always a summons, a war-cry, an alert warning (to prepare for something), to hail an arrival, or a wake-up call if one has been slumbering (spiritually or physically).

I had no idea at the time about the shaking and attack that was about to take place on our marriage, but what I did know deep down was that I had been slumbering spiritually, rushing through my life at a speed and intensity that was leading toward…what? What was I so intensely doing every day? Why so intensely fear-driven, still, after months of counseling and life coaching in the US, before our move to China? Why did I persist in allowing it to drive me? At work. At home. I was swimming in it, caught in it, so immersed, and I knew I was coping with security blankets… getting lost in TV series, making more to-do lists, cramming my schedule with social appointments, sleeping, and leaning on my husband for affirmation, love, and affection.

I always had in mind “that next thing/arrival point” as the time in my life when we would start to talk about kids and preparing for them. Well, it was now time for that, and I tried to slow down. It was time to rest, time to seek. Time to get out my journal and start journaling again. So I did. July 2010. Psalm 46. Yom Teruah.

On July 24, 2010, I wrote a quote I had heard that day, by CS Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”.

I wanted that. Desperately. I continued to write and pray:

“I want to be others-focused, to be released from the prison of insecurity, doubt, and fear. Those things can really control me sometimes…often. I want my energy to be driven by the passion that you have put in me.”

I wanted a life not burdened by trying to control others’ perceptions of me, second guessing myself constantly, and using fearful anxiety to drive my intensity at work and in life… all the time. I wanted to actually care about others, and not just spend time with them to check a box off my list.

I wanted to think of myself less. That was my prayer. I wanted to hear the voice of God. I wanted encounter.