The Waves of His Mercy

So, I have a pretty serious love-hate relationship with the ocean. It’s the ideal summer destination, lounging around on the beach, soaking up the sun as the waves soothingly roar in my ears. It’s delightful. But on the other hand, there’s so much uncertainty that comes with such a beautiful body of water. Too many critters (remind me to tell you my horror story sometime), too much risk; the ocean itself is a place I tend to love from a distance.

Two months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Cape of Good Hope with some of the people I love most in the world. It was our “fun day” while on a mission trip to Cape Town, South Africa (Truly, the entire trip was a blast. Who knew that sharing the Gospel was actually supposed to be fun?! The Kingdom of God is GOOD news and filled with JOY!), and as we detoured off the trail down a long staircase that led to the beach, I found myself jumping and singing, my heart on the verge of bursting, worshiping my God in the midst of one of the most beautiful, yet dangerous, places in the whole world. At the Cape, the waves are so large, it’d be a death sentence to try to swim, let alone sail. But all the while I was mesmerized; taken aback by the beauty of my surroundings, the awareness of my own frailty and stature, and the fact that the God of these giant waves would draw me out to take them in, all the while pouring his love out onto me in the same way the waves crash to meet the shore.

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That experience was so sweet for me, a memory of my time in South Africa that will be held close to my heart for some time. And as I write this, I think one of the reasons I loved that moment the most was because I wasn’t so afraid anymore. In fact, I was more overwhelmed by my love for the Creator than I was by my fear of getting too close. It all felt a little wild in the midst of the fierce winds and the roar of the waves, yet I wasn’t freaking out, trying to grasp for control of the situation. I was laughing, I was singing, and my heart was rejoicing, “thank you, thank you, thank you.

How I long to be back in that place. For some time, I’ve been doing better, feeling more like myself than I had in months, praise Jesus. For the majority of this past year, I let the hard moments beat me up. And the worst part is, I was really trying to fix it all in my own strength. I was still having my quiet time, still leading and loving the Lord, but I was covering up my heartache by doing more stuff, like trying to cover a deep gash with more and more small band aids. Definitely a hopeless cause. If we’re being honest, the truth is that I’m still kind of doing that, and it only really hit me tonight. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months running away from the hard feelings, doing everything possible to escape the heaviness, the sadness, the shame of feeling down when everything seems to be going great. I’ve been so afraid of getting back to that heavy place that I’ve kept everything and everyone at arms distance, because to really feel things, to really go there, would only mean more pain on the horizon. And in keeping my feelings at bay, I’ve been avoiding the confrontation that comes with change and all its hurt. I know God to be good, but for a lot of this summer, I’ve been trying to run away from my feelings towards him, from my bitterness and anger, from the heartache I have caused myself while placing the blame on him.

Before you freak out and start thinking I’m depressed or doubting God or anything like that, read: this is not a crisis of faith. I’m not losing it or forsaking Christ or anything like that. I love the Lord and I love my life. I’m just tired of having to tie up all my heartache into a perfect little package with a bow that reads, “I’m okay, I know God is good.” And while the truth is I am okay (in fact, better than okay), and God is good (in fact, better than good), I can’t keep telling you that it’s all okay and good while my heart is shaking it’s fist towards heaven, looking up with a tear-stained face, screaming, “Stop it God. Stop taking everything away from me.” Because that’s the way I’ve been believing God to be for too, too long.

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More than anything, I’m realizing that I struggle hard with change (surprise, surprise), and don’t we all. For so long it’s felt like I’ve been beaten by the waves over and over, standing up once again only to get knocked right back down. Just as I finally let go of one hurt, just when I finally have peace with one situation, another something happens; another leak in the boat of my life appears while my hands and feet are already trying to patch up other spots. My boat starts sinking. And I’m finding that these changes (most of the relational) leave me hurting and fearful, because it feels more like I’m being rejected than just a normal part of life. And instead of understanding that relationships ebb and flow, instead of living open-handed, thanking God for the time to love people and accepting when it’s time for them to go, I scratch and claw, clinging to the edges of relationships, crying out, “no, no, no, you can’t leave me too.” And instead of turning and running to God, pouring my heart out to the only one who will truly never leave me or forsake me, I give it a half-hearted attempt and then run the opposite direction, pacifying my heart by doing more stuff while keeping tally of my grievances. “God, remember the time you let this happen? Remember that time this person left and that hurt me? Yeah, thanks for that. You owe me one.”

And today was I day I was really shaking my fists hard at God. Because I’m just so tired. I’m tired of mourning things I should have already let go of, I’m tired of not encountering the presence of God the way my heart longs to. I’m tired of wallowing in my own self pity, rehashing the same hurts, unable and unwilling to let them go. I know it’s not good, I know that I should be okay and should already be over it, and yet I keep finding myself coming back to the bitterness and disappointment of this last season. I’ve come to the end of my own strength and I’ve had enough.

As my head hit the pillow tonight, the tears poured out, too (And now that you know I have cried myself to sleep a time or two (dozen), we can all heave a great sigh at the fact that I’m human. Whew. Yay for being human and broken!). And I had my own little falling out towards God, which consisted of a lot of me crying and wishing I could physically cry out and scream without sending my sleeping house into a panic. I told God I was angry, I told him I was tired, and I told him I didn’t like him very much. I was hurt for all the hurt the change had caused me, afraid to let myself get invested for fear of it once again being stripped away, and most importantly tired of buying into my emotions more than the truth of who he actually is. And all the while I laid there crying, I felt him so close by, almost as if he was sitting at the edge of my bed, his hand on my back, the way a friend non-verbally lets you know that they’re there in a time of grieving. And once I finished throwing the millionth pity party I’ve had, I got up and grabbed a book–Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.

And there He met me on the pages I held in my hands. It’s as if he was just waiting for me to pick up the book so he could give me new perspective. Feel free to disagree, but only a loving God would use the words of one of my favorite books to begin healing and settling my heart. Especially after I literally just finished yelling at him. Why he continues to love me, I’ll never understand. I’m beyond undeserving.

But there I was with my tears spilling onto the page, my heart whispering the same small prayer I found myself praying on the shores of the Cape, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

He’s always for our good, even when we’re to blinded by our hurt to see it.

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I tell you all this because I need to remember. I need to remember these moments, these feelings, the words on the pages that God used to so tenderly speak to my heart. And I need you to remember as well. Because we’re human. And change happens; it’s going to happen all our lives, with the same consistency of waves breaking on the shore. And as Shauna so eloquently writes in the opening pages of her book, “Change is not a function of life’s cruelty but instead a function of God’s graciousness… If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, in the wildest of seasons, just for a moment, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all and holds it all together, you’ll find yourself drawn along to a whole new place, and there’s truly nothing sweeter. Unclench your fists, unlock your knees, and also the door to your heart, take a deep breath, and begin to swim. Begin to let the waves do their work in you.”

And that’s truly the only truth I know.This whole life is a series of storms and sunny days, and it’s my choice whether or not I enjoy the ride. So here I am, falling hard at the feet on Jesus once again, trusting that the waves of his mercy and love outlast my fear of losing control. Let’s let the waves do their work, for He’s good all the time and faithful in all that he does.

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A Different Kind of Freedom

Well, my friends, today’s the day. The Fourth of July: a day that demands attire of red, white, and blue, a day when repeated shouts of “USA! USA!” and “’Merica!” are even more socially acceptable than World Cup games. I love this summer holiday, but while I’m soaking up this glorious weather (seriously, where did the humidity go?) and the chance to celebrate the freedom I so often take for granted, my heart has also been bursting all day at the thought of a different kind of freedom.

It’s the freedom of Jesus. And I’m so thankful that for the last few days, He’s been bringing it to my mind over and over again—not letting me forget His faithfulness in every moment of my life. Because more often than not, I forget that I’m free. I take lightly the weight of the Cross and the sacrifice that Jesus made to set me free. Isn’t that crazy? The God of the universe sent His son, who was pure and just like Him in every way, to earth so that we could meet Him face to face. And not only that, but He came to bear our sins so that we could walk in freedom all of our days.

For the past few weeks, the book of Galatians has been my go-to when reading the Word. It’s so funny that when I ask God for direction, often times He points me right back to His Word. And as I was asking God for guidance about this upcoming year, I kept coming back to Galatians 4 and 5, both of which are filled with verses about freedom in Christ. Here’s some stuff that really stuck out for me:

5:1 says, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

In 5:4-6, Paul continues instructing the peoples of Galatia by saying, You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

And the verse that struck me right in the heart was Gal. 4:8-9 which says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

I don’t know about you guys, but that’s me. How could I forget that I’m already free? More often than I’d like to admit, I fall prey to the lie that I’m not really free, that my sin is a forever thing, that it’s always going to define me, follow me around, and even keep me from the love of God.

It’s a truth I so often forget. I’m already free. I’ve already been redeemed. Yes, I’m sinful and broken but God called me whole and redeemed. And He calls you that too.

If there’s anything I’ve ever wanted, it’s for the people around me to experience true life and freedom in Jesus. Not for the sake of making sure they get to heaven or in order to get them to go to church. Those things are wonderful, but more than anything, I want people (you included) to experience the freedom Christ brings. Because I’m never more alive than when I know in the deepest parts of my soul that Christ has set me free.

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Like Paul writes to the Galatians, it was for freedom that Christ set of free. We were created to be free, no longer bound to the sin that so easily entangles us! We were made to experience life to the full through and with Christ. But so often we are either too ashamed or too prideful to receive the gift of freedom, and therefore we continue to sit and rot in our addictions and shame. Friends, you were NOT created for that. And Christ has already set you free. So what are you waiting for?

Paul even asks the Galatians, “Why are you going back to your sin?” Not only do we know God, but we are known by God, meaning that He already knows the deepest parts of our soul, already knows our sin, and likes us anyways. He likes and loves you regardless. So why are we running back to pornography, alcohol, people pleasing, etc. to fill the longings in are hearts that God is so eager to fill?

We have an option. Either we accept His love and grace, walking out in the freedom He has freely given, or we continue to sin and either soak in it or try and cover it up by our “good deeds.” As hard of a pill as it is to swallow, no good deed that I do to try and earn God’s love is going to get me into heaven. Most people would look at me and say, “She’s a kind and moral person,” but without the love of God and the grace of Jesus, all the “good things” I’ve done won’t get me anywhere.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of trying harder. I’m tired of doing more with the hope that God and others will like me better. I’m tired of trying to cover up my mess instead of just admitting that I’m messy and asking God to help me.

It’s a choice to be free. You can choose to stay in sin, or you can take God at His word and experience the greatest freedom of your life. It’s a daily set of baby steps, walking away from our sin and walking towards Jesus, but there’s grace for every day—his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

You live in a free country, perhaps the most free in the world. That’s seriously something to celebrate. But I pray that as we celebrate this glorious country, as our eyes fill with the beauty of fireworks and our bellies are full of hamburgers or barbeque, that our hearts our even more satisfied knowing that we are covered in freedom through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is for freedom that Christ set you free- you didn’t free yourself. The things you’ve done don’t make you more or less free. God’s grace covers all, and it’s time to start living like we believe it. So, happy Fourth of July, my friends. You are free indeed.

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