Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Journey: Part 6

I have been on vacation for a week now, so thanks for waiting patiently on the next part. Your comments have been so sweet and encouraging. I'm thinking I'll only write one more part to this series after this. But my journey is not ending, only beginning.

I told you about the 31 Days of Grace blog I have been reading. Well, I’m halfway through and boy is it hitting me in all the wrong places…or the right ones, I suppose. The next part of my story is when I began to start seeing glimpses of grace everywhere. And yet apparently I am still on the journey of grace. I felt Emily explained it perfectly on her 13th day of grace. She said she felt like all she had to share was a pocket full of vanilla jelly beans instead of a single colorful everlasting gobstopper. So my story is just that. A single vanilla jellybean. There are plenty more moments when I have been overtaken by grace, but I can’t give you one beautiful story to blow you away and make you comprehend God’s grace.

And I think that’s just how God works. We can’t have it all at once. Or even handle it all at once. It isn’t something to be achieved. We can’t control it or earn it. He gives it. Moment by moment. One single jelly bean at a time.

It was April when I actually went to my favorite Christian bookstore. The same chain store I had memorized as a teenager I hadn’t stepped foot in for months. It was my love of savings and all things frugal that brought me there. I had a coupon, a really good special birthday coupon. J

I went thinking I would pick up some new music or one of the books I had been eyeing the fall before. Even if I wasn’t ready to read it yet, I could have at least gotten it for when things were back to normal again. (That hasn’t happened yet.) So I looked. I wasn’t really looking for anything new. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason for me picking up that book that day. It can only be the working of the Holy Spirit. I say that with certainty.

The name of the book was Craving Grace by Lisa Velthouse. The last thing I want to do is start a theological debate, and I don’t consider myself a Calvinist; but there was something irresistible about that book. I bought it. And although I didn’t really have time for it, being around final exam time, I couldn’t seem to put the book down. I haven’t been able to say that about a book in a long time.

I don’t think I can explain it to you, except that it was like the book was written about me, to me. It was a memoir and the girl was learning lessons I was either beginning to learn or was yet to learn. I was completely captured by this thing called grace.

Reading this book marked the beginning of my being able to see light at the end of the tunnel…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Journey: Part 5

Some time on a Sunday in January I had a phone conversation with my mom that went something like this...

Mom: So where did you go to church today?
Me: I decided just to stay home and get some rest today.
Mom: You couldn't find a friend to go to church with this morning? Jamie? Andrea? Kelly?
Me. I just decided to stay home and get some rest today
Mom: Well maybe next week....

Some time on a Sunday in February I had a phone conversation with my mom that went something like this...

Mom: So have you gone to any new churches recently?
Me: Yeah, I went to Kelly's church a couple of weeks ago.
Mom: O great! And how was it?
Me: It was good. All churches are kind of feeling the same.
Mom: Well, I know you'll find the right place soon. You just have to keep looking

Some time on a Sunday in March I had a phone conversation with my mom that went something like this...

Mom: So what did you do today?
Me: I just slept in and did some reading down by the river.
Mom: O ok well your dad and I ...

These conversations look like they would come from a girl who didn't really care what her mom thinks about what she does and who she is, but I wouldn't say that is true of me. But from November until this past May I only tried about 5 different churches, and I usually didn't go back a second time. And while my mother was concerned about my faith, I just wasn't in a place to fix that. I needed something from God that couldn't be found in aimlessly wandering from church to church. I refused to go to church by myself, something I had been doing for a year and half.

Not only was I not going to church, I was tired and frustrated with all "good" Christian things. I stopped reading my Bible. I would not pick up Christian books. I didn't really pray for others.

And here's the hardest thing I had to wrestle with....God was giving me permission to do all these things, or I guess better put would be to not do these things. Do I recommend this or think God often tells people not to read their Bible or pray? No, not necessarily.

But I had been living off of a checklist of spiritual things that had lost their meaning. God didn't want me to read my Bible everyday because I felt like I had to. He wanted me to want Him.

There were times I felt like reading my Bible during those months, because I thought it would fix everything. And God would tell me no, not yet. Not as an obligation. Or as leverage. Or to feel better. But when you are drawn to it.

It was funny, how God started showing up in other ways. Through art. And nature. And people. And in really small, insignificant events.

And my prayer life was changing too. I wasn't wrapped up in praying specific things or specific ways for specific amounts of time. It was becoming an ongoing conversation. Brutally honest conversation. Raw. Unpolished. Unapologetic.

I had always had glimpses of these things, but now I was living in a much freer relationship with Him. There wasn't anything forced about it. I was learning "the unforced rhythms of grace."

Wow. I just had a moment. I couldn't figure out where I had heard that phrase, so I did what any 21st century person would do. I googled it. And though I don't think it's where I originally heard it, it's found in the Message, a modern translation of the Bible into everyday language. And although my hermeneutics professor might die to hear me quote from it, it has been the only translation I have picked up to read on my own, outside of church since January. God will use anything to speak to His children.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)

 28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Wow. Thank You, Jesus.

Hang in there. We are getting close to being caught up. We just have March-July to go. I have shared my whole life with you in 5 posts. You are very patient readers. I would so love your feedback.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Journey: Part 4b

All the while I was studying Acts, I was struggling in other areas too. I still didn't know hardly a soul at my church. I started Thursday night discipleship with 5 girls in my small group, which turned into 3, which turned into 2-me and the girl I was coming with from my school. I was really desperate, so I asked if we could join forces with another group. I know they had good hearts, but they didn't want to disrupt groups that had really taken off and started opening up to each other. The first time it was a no. Eventually, my friend stopped coming on Thursdays and so they let me join with another group.

I was placed in a group with 3 freshmen and a sophomore in college. Not ideal, but I figured it was a starting place. But they really couldn't get how lonely I was and how hard I was seeking to connect. Every answer I got was super spiritual and true, but not helpful or practical. Every Sunday, I would still almost always end up sitting by myself and would often leave without making any meaningful connection with anyone.

Towards the end of the study, I was at a meeting where leaders and students were talking about what changes they would like to see in the upcoming studies. One girl voiced that she would like to have more time to get to meet other people. This was met with an immediate response. Thursday night discipleship was just for discipleship. Not for meeting people. If you wanted to meet people, you could go to one of the age appropriate house churches. I was so upset by that response, as if trying to meet other people in the church and getting to know the church body was of lesser value than learning to studying the Bible . It was as if the girl had said, "Who cares about studying the Bible? I'm just here to find a nice, Christian boy to date." But I wasn't boy crazy, I was relationship starved.

Up until that point, I had not been able to go on Wednesday nights to the young adults house church. And by the time I was, I was terrified of going by myself. It was held at a group of guys' house, and I didn't know any of them. Those were my excuses. Then I randomly met one of the guys who lived there, and he seemed welcoming enough. Then I met a girl who had been going there, and both of my excuses were shot. So I called up the girl who had been going and asked if we could go together. And we did.

It only worked out that she could come that one time, so I spent the next few months awkwardly going by myself. People did not come very consistently to house church, and apparently most people already had friends that they came with. And the main church had 3 services, so I only saw some of those people on Sundays. It was not very conducive to developing deep relationships, and I was exhausted every time I left. Still, I went to every event I was invited to for house church.

Invitation #1: Contra dancing on a Friday night. I had made friends with a girl who was only in Atlanta on a six week rotation at Emory (my luck), and I decided to go, since she would at least be there. There were only five people who went, and I really enjoyed it. But it did kinda feel like an awkward group, like we were the reject group from house church going to some uncool country hick dance. And there were 2 guys to 3 girls, which made dancing awkward.

Invitation #2: Fun at O'Somethings pub after house church. This was where everyone went after house church. I just had to wait a month to be invited. In fact, more people showed up for food and drinks there than were at house church. I went into culture shock for a bit when I realized I was the only one at the table not ordering a drink with alcohol in it. (We didn't typically go out drinking after my Southern Baptist church get togethers.) We had fun, played a few games, and I was outta there before things got crazy.

Invitation#3 The Braves game. I even went to the cookout before the game. But somehow, at the game I got stuck on the end. Behind me were obnoxious people cheering for the other team. Beside me were some girls flirting with one of the boys and bragging about all of the spiritual stuff they had been doing, saving orphans and quoting Scripture and such. Thank goodness I brought a friend with me.

There were a couple of other things I went to, but overall my experience wasn't very positive.There were some who made me feel like an outcast and others who were inviting and friendly. But all of my trying was falling flat.

House church was growing, so they decided to do a split. I was placed in a group with none of the people I knew. They also decided we would read a book together, so we would all be studying the same thing. Read a book? In what time? I have 5 million other books I am reading. My group was also meeting far away from where I was working on Wednesdays, so if I made it, I would be late. I just quit.

At the same time the main church was growing and needed to find a new place for us. We were packing 400 in a room that comfortably sat 250. The fire marshall would come lock the front doors when we reached capacity. And we had a growing overflow room. So when a place opened up for us to rent on Sundays that sat 1,000, the leadership jumped. They combined some of the services, so instead of coming to a service with 300-400 people sitting in a pew I was going to a service with 600-800 and dark, stadium seating. You couldn't see or talk to anyone there.

I had been at the church for a year and a half. I had hardly a thing to show for it.

This is what was leading up to that rainy night last November...

31 Days of Grace

I found this website a few months ago and remembered that I wanted to go through these posts and learn from someone else about grace. So as a new month begins, I take yet another step in my journey of learning about God's grace. And I wanted to invite you to come along with me. Emily Freeman has written 31 Days of Grace, 31 posts on the topic of grace. I know it's already August 2, but you can catch up! I forgot about it yesterday, but I caught up today. Since the post are a year old, they are listed backwards. So scroll to the bottom and read up. To go to the next page of posts scroll to the bottom and click Newer Posts.

I leave you with a quote from her first day.

"I will not give you a list of things to do; I want to inspire you to receive the abundance of that which has already been done."

I have the tendency to think that I need to do something first in order to receive grace. What a great reminder that it's already been done. The price has already been paid. I do nothing. And who needs something else to do?? :) Come do nothing with me!