Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it…

I used to walk through my neighborhood as a kid and contemplate the nearness of the houses and the relative distance of those inside.  Like, all our houses were crammed so close together and no one really knew the other’s life, knew what happened on the other side of six feet of lawn.

At thirty-something my contemplations have not changed much.

As my favorite, Sara Groves, sings,

who can know the pain the joy the regret the satisfaction

who can know the love of one life, one heart, one soul

at two you’re at abstraction

Story is one of my core values.  It is so important to me that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on “story.”  People’s stories are so important to me that I live by quotes such as in Revelation, “They were saved by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”  Their stories of redemption.  They were saved by Jesus’ cross and telling of the story of His powerful work in their lives.

And yet, I’ve lost sight of this value somehow.

I don’t know how to find my way back.

My reading tutor in grade school taught me that a good story has a clear beginning, middle, and an end.  I rocked the conclusions and worked hard to learn introductions.  I often got lost somewhere in the middle. I’ve gotten really good at structure since then, and I have this frightful feeling that it cannot be imposed on my own narrative.

Years ago I relinquished the desire to have a clear storyline in my life.  My friends would gather together and spend long afternoons, telling the redemption stories.  We set them up, and built up to the moment God shows up, complete with foreshadowing and rising action, with surprises and glory and conflict and climax and falling action.  There was always a new story to be told, and we could go for days.  Somewhere in one of these weekends, I pulled away and let go.  I let go of the expectation and the desire for a story to tell.  My own narrative feels jumbled and disjointed somehow, spread over time and distance.  Sure, I’ve got some pretty good snapshots, but do they all belong in the same album?  The same story?

Last week I was sick in bed.  I read Brennan Manning’s new book The Furious Longing of God, and God met me in the introduction.  Brennan states,

I’m Brennan. I’m an alcoholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I’m a Catholic.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is also the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I was a priest, but am no longer a priest. I was a married man but am no longer a married man.
How I got to those places, why I left those places, is the story of my life too.
But it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan. I’m a sinner, saved by grace.
That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

This is me, contemplating the story that only God knows, that Sara Groves is singing about and Brennan Manning is writing about and for all our modes of communication, only time and campfires and coffee shops and starry nights and sunny afternoons will draw it out.  I am both longing and afraid to find my way back to that tempo, to the lingering, to living poetry and listening to silence.

Last week I also put my new TV to good use and spent some money at the video vending machine.  Three movies later, I am still thinking about The Help.  Particularly the last quote,

“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinking about all the people I know. And the things I seen and done. My boy Trelaw always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it’s gonna be me.”

What would it be like to find my way back to being the sort of person who asks and listens?  What will that require of me, of my own story and my own telling?  What will I need to reconcile within myself in order to truly hear?

Reconcile.  Reconciliation.  R e c o n c i l i a t i o n.

That little word beguiles me, draws me nearer to story.  It is a word, and a mystery of God, and a treasure of the cross, and a ministry given to me as a Christ follower.  A privilege and a responsibility.  And before you flood my email with questions, I don’t understand either.  I am only beginning to look at the mystery, and being drawn in to it’s beauty.

My friend tells me that reconciliation in South Africa began with the telling of stories, the real stories.

John Dawson tells me that before people and people groups can be reconciled to one another, they must be reconciled to God.

My heart tells me that reconciliation is the way back.  It begins…and ends…with a story.

Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it….

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The Big Update

  • 2 years, 9 months, 3 weeks, 4 days since arriving in Pismo Beach for my Discipleship Training School.
  • 2 years, 2 days since moving to Grover Beach to staff with YWAM Pismo Beach and Central Coast.
  • 2 months, 1 week, 4 days since my last day working with YWAM.
  • 1 month, 1 week since beginning work with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.
  • 2 weeks since moving into my new apartment.

I live in a world in motion. After living in 9 different states since graduating high school and gaining experience in four different professional fields since graduating college, you would think I was accustomed to change. Still, this most recent change took me by surprise. It wasn’t my plan, but as I’m fond of quoting in Proverbs, “Beth makes her plans, but the Lord directs her steps.” Or something like that.*

Starting in June of this year, I began praying about recommitting to YWAM this fall. A friend drove me home one evening, and as we sat looking at the community house that has been my base of operation for two years, I imparted to her, “I’m not sure if I’m staying with YWAM this fall.”

“What else would you do?”

I hadn’t give it any other thought. I had only been praying in earnest a few weeks, and I simply did not have peace about recommitting. My mind, usually full of thoughts and ideas, was completely blank. And then out of the thin air I said, “I don’t know. Maybe become a para (educator) in a special needs classroom?”

“Oh you’d be good at that,” and then my friend shared with me how to become a substitute teacher. I wasn’t sure if she had heard me correctly, but the Holy Spirit prompted me to look into her advice. It was as good a plan as any.

On July 8, I went online to determine the cost of taking the CBEST, a test required for the substitute license in California. I learned two things: the cost was $41 and the deadline was 5:00 PM that day. Between the cash in my wallet and money in my account I had $42. With the entire leadership team out of town, I had to make a decision. So I biked to the bank and deposited the money, got my application in under the wire at 5:00 exactly.

When the leadership team returned, I spoke with Lori, and they released me from my YWAM duties to begin looking for work that week. Despite assurances that, “They’re always hiring,” I could not find any open substitute positions. I did, however, find the position I had described to my friend, a para-educator in a special need’s classroom, or in this county called an instructional assistant!

Throughout the application process I kept wondering about where I would be placed if I got the job, who was filling the position in the mean time, what affect that would have on the students, and when I would get to start. Since I have been working it is clear that I am in the right place. It is a good fit for me, and it seems like I am a good fit for the classroom, like my unique contribution is what my team was needing.

I worked with people with special needs all through college, and it feels like I have picked up where I left off. In the bigger picture of my life, this move makes more sense than I can fathom. I still believe in the call that God put on my life that lead me to YWAM, it just seems like the path to that call is different than anticipated. One of the clear indicators came when I was re-reading Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You, God?  He spoke of the two year stint in YWAM being designed to give people a sense of purpose and direction when they returned to work or school. A clear sense of purpose lead me into YWAM and through my experiences I have a better idea of how to steward my resources in the direction of that purpose.  Following that direction meant stepping out of YWAM, and so here I am.

Please continue to pray for me as I settle into my new place and position and seek supplementary income. God really does provide for all our needs, and I am learning, often the provision is already in our hands, we only need eyes to see it and a heart to trust.

 

*YWAM Pismo Beach and Central Coast will no longer be processing support for me as of October 31, 2011.  Thank you for your generous support over the years.

We Must Play

I make it no secret that I often consult God regarding my wardrobe.  It’s not because I do not feel capable of choosing my own clothes (although some days that is debatable), or because I think I will accomplish some spiritual aim for having consulted Him, or worse yet, simply to be more spiritual somehow.  It is, quite frankly, because He is my friend.

The idea that life could be more…or less…spiritual seems strange to me.  Either the spiritual is real, and is an integral part of everything we do, or it is not.  I think the trouble in accepting this comes, for most people, in the perceived weightiness of it.  Because I am lacking in profundity today (but apparently not lacking in big, obscure words), I will quote C. S. Lewis:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

You could probably just stop reading there.  ‘The Weight of Glory” has been my favorite essay, and probably even my favorite extra-Biblical writing, since I first read it in college.  It is foundational to my world view, particularly that last paragraph (quoted above).  But the part which is ringing in my ears today is, “We must play.”

God is a lot of fun.  He is tender and joyful and dynamic.  He likes delicious things (as evidenced when He turned water into wine and it was the best wine of the evening).  He likes laughter (the second patriarch of the Old Testament is named Isaac which means, literally, laughter).  If we understood how truly joyful He is, would we take ourselves so seriously?  Would we be so afraid of the reality that everything is sacred?  Or would we take more delight in each other, more delight in following Him where He leads, more delight in every bit of life?

Working with God is a lot of fun.  It is a life worth living.

Valentine’s Day Post

I strongly dislike Valentine’s Day.

I have always viewed it as a day for single people to feel lonely, lonely people to feel more lonely, and people in relationships to feel undue pressure to perform.  Yeah, not my favorite holiday.

But I might be slightly bitter…an issue which I have been wrestling with recently: my bitterness against romance.

It didn’t start that way.  I remember when I first fasted romance movies.  My heart was so pure in intention.  The man I loved had ended our relationship, and I realized I needed God’s view of romance.  So I fasted the movies.  I read a little book called When God Writes Your Love Story and handed the pen over for God to compose.  I remember reading when Leslie Ludy says God is writing a story for each of us and it will happen soon, and thinking to myself, “Soon isn’t a fair word.  This is going to take a long time.”

At first the theory was that it was taking so long because I wasn’t ready.  Then, my contemporaries theorized, perhaps he is not ready (whoever he is).  I was recently running on the beach, lamenting to God how few people understand how pervasive the loneliness can be, when it occurred to me that *I* understand.  I have been given the gift of longsuffering in this area, and so I have an intuitive sense of the loneliness of others, how it dogs your every step.  What if the waiting wasn’t about me, wasn’t about him, but was about learning how to love people in their loneliness.

God cares a lot about the lonely.  The widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, the poor.  These are the four populations He mentions over and over in the Bible as those to whom we should show care.  The lonely, the lonely, the lonely, the poor.  “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,”  Exodus 22:21.

Remember the lonely, Beth, because you too have known loneliness.

These days God has been confronting the bitterness that cropped up over the last nine years since I “handed Him the pen,” which includes bringing that book across my path again.  It’s been sitting around the student’s house for weeks now, haunting me.  I finally picked it up and reread Leslie’s introduction.  Soon.  So unfair of her to use that word…but I knew.  Nine years ago, I knew this wasn’t going to be my version of soon.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken back the pen on more than one occasion.  God has not been silent for the last nine years, either, but working with me through every trial, holding my heart through every loss, teaching me to hope again…and again…and again.  Still I’ve become bitter.

Today God has helped me keep the taste of bile out of my mouth.  I got to play violin with the Santa Maria Mission’s Base Prayer Room.  I got to deliver valentines to women at the strip club.  I got to have friends in my home and got to know them better.  Out of no where, my friend began encouraging me that this part of my life is not on back burner, that God cares and is working on my behalf.

It is good to lead such a full, rich life.  I still have my moments of loneliness, but I am surrounded by community.  Here I am, at the end of another day, with a debt of gratitude to everyone who has walked with me through the lonely days, who has loved me back to life through brokenness and pain, who has fought for me instead of with me, and who has welcomed me home.

Wreck

Months ago, my friend Stephanie was washing my car.  I went down to check on her and she turned to me and said, “I feel like God is saying that when something happens to your car, don’t worry; He already knows and has something planned for you.  He has something better in mind.”

Weeks ago when I had trouble with my clutch, God reminded me of this.  I got help with the clutch situation, and through the prayers of other and the ways God provided in that situation, my faith grew that He would take care of me.

See, my little blue Saturn was not the car I wanted at the time I got it, and though I often had a bad attitude about it, God was so faithful to take care of me.  From the time I bought it, I would have it break down (as in not even start on one occasion), and all I had to do was change the oil and pray and it would be back in good working order.  One friend was driving it five years ago and saw a mental image of the speedometer turning to 200,000 miles.  He said he felt it would keep working that long, that I would get a lot of miles out of that car without any trouble.  On a mountain top between Pismo and Portland, my car DID turn from 199,999 to 200,000 at exactly midnight.  It was cool.

I’ve logged a lot of miles in that car, in every way.

And last Friday, as I was turning left from a main road to a sidestreet, I got in a wreck.  I don’t really want to post the story until it’s all resolved, but it involves an unmarked curb, one hit and run, and one SUV…all at night.  My engine is cracked (as in torn all the way through) but I am completely okay.

From the first impact, I remembered all that God has done for me so far, and I knew I would be okay.  That faith that has been building up in me became a shield for me, and instead of tensing up, I relaxed and tried to figure out how to get out of the flow of traffic.  My car did it’s job in protecting me…but I don’t even have sore muscles or burns from my seatbelt or airbag.

My car is totaled and my insurance does not cover that.  I am thanking God for my health, my life, and waiting to see how He provides.

And for the time being, I am enjoying my bicycle and sharing rides.  😉

East Wind

Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good. He came into the world to make dead men live!” ~Leonard Ravenhill

I’ve been battling discouragement the past few weeks.  It has been a good experience.  I think doubts and questions are healthy, and I have been aware of God working even in my discouragement.  One question that has been on my heart is why I am called to full time ministry.  One way Jesus answered this question is through a sermon I listened to on Sunday afternoon: “Turning Back to the Mouth of Freedom.”  Unfortunately Church of the Open Door only lists it’s five most recent sermons, and this one was delivered on June 6, so I can’t link to it for you.  Allow me to explain some of what the pastor discussed and how it has impacted me.

The story Steve Weins was speaking on comes from Exodus 14.  We join the Israelites in the wilderness, having just fled slavery in Egypt.  Their Southern journey has taken a Northward turn, due to the Red Sea in their path, but God tells them “Go back and camp at Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the Red Sea.”  Now I know you are saying, “Pi-hihawhat?” but if you look at a map you will see that He said, “Go back to that peninsula and camp between the mountains and the water on every side.”  aka “Trapped.” 
I know my mom, who has a cat-like affection for water, is really identifying with the Israelites who turned to Moses and said, “Are you CRAZY???  We gonna die out here.” 
Directions have symbolic meaning in Hebrew culture, and the North symbolizes Deception.  Fear and slavery have driven them into the land of deception, and it is here that God tells them to turn back, to go to the mouth of the water and wait for Him.
Steve calls this the Mouth of Freedom. 
He says it is a sign of being on the edge of freedom that you think you are about to die.  The Egyptians didn’t want to kill them.  They wanted to take them captive, take them back to Egypt as free labor to build more pyramids.  The Israelites felt like they were going to die.  They wanted to go back to Egypt.  They wished they had never left.
I identify with the Israelites wanting to go back, feeling trapped between the known and the unknown, and fearing the unknown enough to wish I had never left.  A friend said to me recently that she thinks when we get to Heaven, we will be amazed by the amount of fear we each experienced here on Earth…each and every one of us driven by fear right into the arms of deception.  But God calls us to turn back, like the people of Israel, surrounded on every side, and wait for Him.   
What comes next for the Israelites is one of the most famous scenes of the Old Testament.  Moses raises his staff and a wind from the East, symbolizing New Beginnings, blows across the water all night until two walls of water line a path of dry land to the other side of the sea.  At God’s command, Moses lowers his staff and the water returns to it’s normal course, burying their captors in watery graves. 

http://www.youtube.com/v/R1hvnMm91PU&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0
Over a thousand years later a man stands in a river shouting, “Turn back!  The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  John baptises people in the River Jordan as they repent, which literally means to turn back, from slavery to sin, fear, and deception.  But John’s baptism is only half the story.  John is preparing the way for Jesus, who brings with Him the east wind of New Beginnings.  Jesus is baptised by John, then spends three years proclaiming a new way to live.  Through His death and resurrection, He makes that new way available to us who are joined in his death and therefore joined in His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.  This is the transformation which is called salvation. 

Baptism is an outward sign of this salvation, a way of saying, “I die to my sins, I live by the resurrection power of Jesus.”  Or as Steve put it, “Baptism is a place to stand and say that I am a part of a community of people that is called to…stand at the mouth of freedom for the terrified ones who don’t know what to do. To stand at that mouth of freedom and say there is a way through.” 

Oh.

Yeah.

That is why I do what I do. 

I stand at the mouth of freedom for the terrified ones and say there is a way through. 

Because evil doesn’t get the last word, and the resurrection power of Jesus is at work, right now, making a way for so many people who are trapped by slavery, fear, and deception.    Because there are all kinds of slaves in the world today…slaves to human trafficking, slaves to terror, slaves to selfishness, addiction, and sin, slaves to memories and a history they cannot escape.  Because we are, so many of us, driven by fear. Because there is something in this world that is stronger than fear:

Love.

I think it is fair, also, to say that I am camped at my own Pi-hahiroth (Mouth of Freedom).  I am battling discouragement, but I haven’t given in.  I feel an East Wind coming over the water.  Here’s to New Beginnings…

New Things

Happy Resurrection Sunday!  (Even if it is a week late.)

After much prayer and consideration, I have decided to begin a search for new church home.  I did not spend time doing this when I first arrived, and I look at this as an opportunity to get a better view of the Body of Christ in this area.  Please pray for wisdom and insight as I meet people and make connections, that I will learn more about this area and myself in the process.

We had our first staff in-service this Thursday!  Life time YWAMer and long time friend of the base, Troy Sherman spoke to us his perspective on YWAM’s 50th year and the Jubilee celebration.  Jubilee is a tradition from the Old Testament, where every 50th year all debts are forgiven, slaves are set free, and the land rests fallow for a year.  With forgiveness comes the responsibility to learn and grow from our mistakes, and Troy urged us to consider how we can mature as individuals and an organization.  One of the things that really stood out to me is how we steward our treasures…first how we invest the resources God has provided for us, and most importantly how we steward God’s most important treasure: the people He has entrusted to us.

The discipleship training school left for their two month outreach this morning.  I am excited for them, as I have gotten to know them and invest in them through my involvement with the school in the first couple months of this year.  Even though I myself had been planning to leave for Africa with the team today, I know that I am where I am supposed to be.  Just as I myself am in a season of personal transformation, the base is also in a season of transformation.  We don’t know yet what the end will be, but I feel that I am to be an integral part of what is unfolding.

Bless you this week!  Please pray for:

  • Personal growth in this season of seeking intimacy with God
  • Clarity on the direction for my ministry in YWAM Pismo Beach
  • Clarity for the base as we go deeper in God’s call for us
  • Provision as I seek to expand my monthly financial support
Beth

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