Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Love of A Father

Lately I have been completely enraptured by a song.

It's Elevation Worship's "Call Upon The Lord." We sang it at 12Stone several weeks ago. Then again at Night of Worship. Something about the song is just so powerful to me.

I have been trying to figure out why, I mean, for obvious reasons it's a powerful song. But why for me in this time is it so gripping? I downloaded it the other day. I put it on repeat this morning on my way to small group. 

And it hit me.

There is power in singing a song that speaks faith into an area of struggle, an area where you feel like you're sinking. It's almost like the song is pulling you up into the faith you want to have.

There is another power altogether in singing a song that claims victory of what you know to be true about God's faith in that struggle, looking back in freedom as your head is once again above water. (Not on dry land, mind many ways I'm in deeper water than before, but no longer drowning.)

It's powerful because you've been there. In the undercurrent.

And by the grace of God, your faith has lived to tell about it. 

There was a time, not so many years ago, that proved to be the hardest and honestly just plain most confusing years of my life. 

I won't go back into it all, it is a blog for another post. (One that has already been written...or rather 12.  See the first of them here.) But it was this time of Singlehood that brought me lower than my knees, it sometimes brought me to fetal position on the floor. And in this posture, God taught me how to own this struggle, to name it (singlehood), claim the truth of who I was in it (understanding my identity as His daughter), and learn to walk in the freedom He had for me.

It's the thought of that freedom that grips me right now. I don't know why walking into that was so hard. Maybe it was the letting go of expectation, hopes, and dreams. Letting go of my will. Embracing His. 

But the reality is that my will was actually keeping me in shackles. 

The song says "Rise, your shackles are no more, for Jesus Christ has broken every chain." The process of God removing those shackles was painful. It felt safe to just remain chained. 

Chained to my expectations, to my idea of what my life should look like (married out of college with x amount of kids, a house, the minivan, yada yada). I was living in a way that kept the chains on. My freedom was purchased but because of my pain and fear, I chose to remain shackled. 

Letting Him remove the shackles, one by one, was scary. 

It was release of control. 

It was fear of not knowing how to walk, where to go. 

And once those chains are gone, the bruises left behind are completely visible. That is a level of vulnerability I'd just as soon not embrace. But that isn't what this life of Christianity has called me to.

As the song says, "Jesus' name will break every stronghold/ Freedom is ours when we call His name."

That freedom...oh, that sweet freedom. To retrace the steps of that freedom since 2012 is overwhelming...

*A seemingly long (at the time) journey of discipline to debt-free living... 
*Having to leave student ministry for a career I never wanted to have...
*A trip to Guatemala to teach me some powerful lessons in partnership, a trip to Colombia where God stirred the already-brewing confusion pot...and three trips to Africa with countless memories, faces, emotions, souls...
*The last of those trips, opening my eyes to the gift God was giving me - that career I was ungrateful for turned out to be a treasure from Him I squandered all this time...
*Knowing the grace that comes in repentance as I learned to choose to love that career for what God has always intended it to be, floored by the mercy He gave in allowing me to see that while there was still time...
*And being led back into student ministry, my heart's love...and right into the arms of a man who wants to spend the rest of his life with me as we learn together what a holy covenant union of marriage really is.

THAT is sweet freedom. And to think, all that time, that man was right there as I learned I had to let go of my acorn dreams (literally, Stephen was there the weekend of that retreat). Those dreams would never grow unless I gave them to God. From he Acorn Dreams blogpost: "[T]hey are His to have. He plants them in due time. He waters them with his eternal water. He grows them. And then He brings them into our lives again at some point. But only if we give them to Him...completely."

Reading those words is almost eerie now, looking back and seeing how close he was when I didn't even know it. When I literally had no idea he would be a part of the harvest God would grow from that acorn. 

It is sometimes too much to think about. The goodness of the love of our Father. 

I was having a conversation with a coworker yesterday about this time of engagement. It is almost more goodness than I can bear, walk in the outpouring of God's love. It's like a fully-saturated sponge that keeps getting soaked with goodness!

I don't deserve it.

And well-meaning people say that I do. But the reality is I don't. I don't deserve any of it.

Sure, I try to be a good person. But any act of goodness on my part could never spare me from what my sinful self really deserves. Nothing I do could ever earn freedom. Jesus Christ is my only salvation. 

He gives me freedom through the cost of His life. 

And a Father that goes to those extremes to save me must really love me. It took me awhile to figure this out. I hashed it out in this post and this post as I wondered why God wasn't giving me the pony (a husband, a man to love and to love me) I so longed for.

Carolyn Custis James puts it this way in her book The Gospel of Ruth,"There is mystery to God's ways, and we will never know why he doesn't answer our prayers, stop the blizzards, change the hardened heart, or stop the endless suffering in this world. But from time to time, we do have flashes of clarity, and we have a bit of clarity in Naomi's story. Naomi would be poorly equipped to do the job of raising the king's grandfather with an untested faith and a shallow knowledge of God that was derived from hearing the Scriptures read in corporate worship and picking up secondhand information about him from other believers. She can't coast on...the teachings of her parents. Vital as all these other resources and influences are, Naomi's participation in kingdom building is seriously impaired if she doesn't know God for herself. She has to experience him, not just learn about him...She had to find God's hesed [lovingkindness] in the middle of the mess. The dark night of the soul is an awful place to be, but that's where God trains His best warriors."

In that mess, I grew to learn God still loved my pony-less self. More than I could ever know. And I ultimately determined in my closing statement in that series of 12 (very vulnerable) blogposts to "just seek him." 

That is what my heart proclaims as I sing the words "I will call upon the Lord, for He alone is strong enough to save."

Just seek Him. Him alone. 

And then when He decides to give you that acorn dream you let go of 5 years ago, that pony you've wanted for so long, you can only walk in gratitude, soaking up the gift of a relationship that is so much healthier than deserved (oh sweet grace). 

So much deeper than expected. 

And so much sweeter than I could have ever made it on my own.

That is the love of a Father.