Thoughts on Music

musicBeing on furlough means access to fast, reliable internet that doesn’t cost $0.025 per megabyte to download. Because of this wonderfully amazing fact, a bulk of my furlough will be spent watching (and downloading) as many YouTube videos as humanly possible. It also means I get to indulge in one of my favorite past times: Listening to cover songs.

I. LOVE. COVERS. Sometimes more than the originals. (Most of the time more than the originals… don’t punch me, please!) The creativity of these endeavors just makes me happy. One song can be done in dozens of different ways and evoke dozens of different thoughts and feelings, even when using the same words, and, usually, the same chord progressions and melody. It’s fascinating.

The catalyst for this train of thought is a video I saw a couple of weeks ago: Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”, covered by Pentatonix. The moment the song started, I knew I was going to be obsessed with it. And, yes – I’m listening to it as I write this post. Take a listen for yourself:

After watching this video, I looked up the original by Robyn. I like it, too, but it doesn’t hit me in the gut like the Pentatonix version. The two styles are VERY different – Robyn is “dance-pop/electropop” and the above version is, well… not that. I think both versions tell the same story, but it’s the emotional state of the storyteller that is vastly different. So let’s start with the story…

A girl hears that her ex (or maybe even just a guy she’s loved/crushed on from a distance) has a new girlfriend. She goes where she knows the couple will be (a club), watches them from the corner, and has to deal with the fact that she’s not the one who has been chosen. She keeps dancing on her own.

That’s it. Not very complex. But it hits me to the core. I hear this, and I’m like, “YES. This person GETS IT. They understand.” Or at the very least, “They are correctly conveying how this feels.” … But I’ve never had an ex-boyfriend or an unrequited love that I’ve pined over… So what the heck am I relating to? I asked myself this very question, and here’s what I came up with:

Worthlessness and Desperation.

Even though I’ve never literally gone through what this song is about on the surface, I have 100% felt the core-ripping, gut-wrenching, crazy-inducing spiral that is the feeling of worthlessness and the desperation to stop that feeling in any way possible. I’m sure we all have in one way or another.

For me, this song is a metaphor. The chorus literally says…

I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her
I’m right over here, why can’t you see me
And I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home
I keep dancing on my own

But I see this as a word-picture of how I used to exist/have to continually fight not to exist in my relationship with God. (All metaphors break down when you pick them apart. I’m not a heretic who thinks God dances with people in clubs, don’t worry.) So, even though this song tells a specific story, when taken as a metaphor, it evokes a feeling/situation that anyone can relate to, whether or not they’ve gone through a break-up or whatnot.

I love it when music is able to give substance to and a means of expression of thoughts/feelings that were (or at least felt) unable to be conveyed. It helps bring clarity to the crazy mess that is my brain and is also helpful in giving me another way to  communicate my thoughts to other people. Well done, music, well done.

This then gave rise to another train of thought: How often does this “substance giving” happen with the specific genre that is “praise and worship” music? Should it happen more often than it does? Should this even be one of the purposes of praise and worship music? How do the goals of a gathering of people to sing praise and worship music differ from the goals of a gathering of people to attend a concert? Why does praise and worship music often evoke this kind of mentality:

Short answer: I don’t know. I’ll have to have a think and get back to you on those. Part II of “Thoughts on Music” coming soon…

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Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2017, everybody! Here’s what my New Year celebrations looked like:

New Year’s Eve:
S’mores! a.k.a Snickerdoodle cookie bar covered in marshmallows and sprinkled with chocolate chips a.k.a sugar with some sugar on it sprinkled with sugar. Also hot chocolate with a marshmallow in it. It was delightful.

New Year’s Day:
Sadly, I did not have black eyed peas and cabbage. But I did get to partake in the consumption of an entire smoked pig and goat (named Taco) and an array of sides made by the wonderful cooks of this community! I provided proper Southern sweet tea (11 tea bags, 2 cups of sugar). Direct quote from a drinker of my tea: “I drank it and was like, this person knows how to make REAL sweet tea!”

For my remaining six months here in Papua New Guinea before my furlough (June 2017 – December 2017), I want to introduce you guys to some of the major characters in my life here in Ukarumpa. These will range from people, items, places, and ideas that affect my daily life here. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the first character of the series… Lazlo.

Yup. Our car. Brandy (my housemate) and I bought Lazlo in 2013 because we were tired of not being to go anywhere/bumming rides home at night. He is also useful for hauling around all of the music equipment I am constantly lugging from place to place in order to lead worship.

Lazlo is a 1978, American Jeep mail truck. It is one of the rare automatic transmissions on center, has survived being rolled on his side into a ditch, and has a speedometer that reads in MPH instead of kilometers per hour, so despite having lived in country for almost 5 years, I still have no idea how fast or slow kilometers are. Other fun Lazlo facts:

  • The max passenger load we have carried has been 10 – three in front, seven in back.
  • Yes, we do drive around with the sliding doors open so as to have a breeze.
  • The steering wheel is huge, so yes, we do use the little red knob to steer it as if we were driving a tractor.

Stay tuned to learn about the other characters that make my life what it is here in PNG!

PRAYER REQUEST: This week (2 Jan – 6 Jan) is Vacation Bible School for children here in the valley. Our coordinator on center has been working with valley pastors and Sunday school teachers for months getting things set up. It is being held at two different locations in the valley (not on our center) and they are expecting a total of 500-800 children to be in attendance. This is an amazing opportunity for the gospel to be spread to the children of this valley. Pray for the ex-pat volunteers as they teach in Pidgin (the local trade language of PNG) and for the Holy Spirit to move among the children, the local valley pastors and church staff, and the ex-pat volunteers from our center. Thanks for your prayers!

The Pew

Hello everyone! First, check out the updated prayer requests page for July/August!

Second, school has started and I get the privilege of teaching Middle School English again!

We are starting the year by writing “Phase Autobiographies,” which are basically autobiographical short stories or essays. The kids needed an example, so I figured I would write one and share it with them (and you!). So, without further ado, I present for your reading pleasure, “The Pew.”

The Pew

            I sat on the hard-backed pew, my six-year-old legs dangling off the edge not yet long enough to touch the ground. For the fifth day in a row, we sat and listened to the tall man give the closing sermon for Vacation Bible School. For the fifth day we, a gaggle of five- to twelve-year-olds, sat and listened to the tall man shout and warn us about the horrible, burning sulfur located in the deep pits of Hell. And this fiery torture wasn’t just reserved for murderers and evil people. It was for us. We were the evil people. We, who had never given much thought to our disobedience (other than the spankings we received for it) were being enlightened that we, in fact, were to receive this condemnation for our lies, bad attitudes, and the other crimes we were sure to have committed in our youthful reverie. This revelation seemed to lie in stark contrast to the “Jesus loves me this I know…” we would sing together in the mornings, but my curly-haired, six-year-old self wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate this dichotomy.

So there, for the fifth day, I sat listening to the tall man, one thought filling my head: I don’t want to go to Hell. Luckily for me, the end of the sermon always held the same, simple solution – if you don’t want to go to Hell, remain seated in the auditorium while your class leaves. That’s it. Stay behind. I’m sure there was also something mentioned about praying with someone and then getting baptized or something, but my mind was only fixated on the most frightful concept known to human kind – BE DIFFERENT. And as an added bonus feature of fright, we were also not told what would happen if we stayed. I don’t know how many six year olds you’ve interacted with, but a sure-fire way to induce a panic attack from one is to deviate from the established pattern without warning them for a month in advance what is going to happen-

“Ok, Tommy. We’re going to go to Pizza Hut.”

“What?”

“Pizza Hut!”

“But today we go to Grandmother’s.”

“Well, honey she’s sick, so we’re going to have dinner at Pizza Hut.”

“But today we go to Grandmother’s.”

“I know honey, but…”

*insert screaming crying meltdown here*

So, the tall man presented the dilemma before me as plain as day: go to Hell or die in the unknown.

For the first four days of Vacation Bible School my desire for self-preservation outweighed my desire to escape the clutches of the fiery depths. “I’ll decide tomorrow,” I thought to myself. But on the fifth day, I had a new problem: this was the last day of VBS. My last chance to overcome my fear of deviation from the normal, scheduled events in order to escape the fate my sin nature sealed me into the moment I took my first breath. My six-year old soul was teetering on a tall precipice that day.

The tall man shouted just as he had done for the four days previous. Then, as I knew he would, he invited those who wanted to be saved from eternal damnation to remain seated and journey forth into an unknown process involving who knows what. Would I go home again? Would I ever see my family? What does a person have to do in order to escape the clutches of Hell? Before I knew what was happening, my class stood up to leave the auditorium.

The time had come.

I clutched the edge of the pew, fear coursing through my body as a voice not my own rang in my head telling me, “This is too important. Stay in the pew. Please. Stay.” I gripped the pew even tighter and looked to my right. The boy who had been sitting next to me was now at the end of the row, following the rest of the class out.

“Are you coming?” He asked.

Now was the moment. One last chance to escape. The voice and my fear battled in my mind.

“No,” I said.

He shrugged and followed the rest of the class out. I turned away from him and stared at the hymnal on the back of the pew. After a few minutes, the noise of children leaving ceased, and the room was silent. I looked up from the hymnal and saw a girl younger than me in the first row of pews. She must have overcome the fear, too. The tall man was quietly talking to her and another adult began walking toward me.

“Well,” I thought, still gripping the edge of the pew, “I wonder what happens now…”

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*Disclaimer:

This VBS happened almost 25 years ago. The details are a little foggy 🙂 While I do remember being scared of going to Hell, the preacher in reality probably just said, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, when you die you’ll go to Hell.” As a six year old, I probably took this very heavily and it left me with a perception of how things were presented, when in actuality, he probably just raised his voice in excitement (you know how preachers do) and I took it as shouting.

When events happen, we don’t necessarily remember what happened, but rather our perception of what happened. Two of my seventh graders are writing about the same event that happened to them in kindergarten and I expect two very different essays, as they have already talked with each other about remembering it differently.

All this is to say, don’t take this as another story of how church can damage a person. I wasn’t damaged. On the contrary, this was my first interaction with the Holy Spirit as He prompted me to stay in my seat and I see it as one of the defining moments of my life. Do we need to be careful to not scare children into salvation? Yes. But at the end of the story, the adult was walking towards me to talk with me about what salvation meant and to make sure I understood the decision I was making.

Thanks for reading,

Leah

 

A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. V

Click here to read Part I.

Click here to read Part II.

Click here to read Part III.

Click here to read Part IV.

We have journeyed through God’s breaking of the things that were hindering my relationship with Him (Parts I, II, and III). We’ve looked at why I was denying him access into the depths of me (Part IV). So, now, we get to look at the final piece. Taking this broken shell and rebuilding it in Him…

A Bit of Vulnerability… Part V

He is lovingly correcting me…

I have a friend who told me that fears are rooted in a grain of truth, and it’s when we focus on that grain of truth we lose our hope.

She’s real smart.

But, seriously, this is exactly what was happening with my fear of God. Because the horrible truth is… My best is not good enough.

Over referenced, but applicable verses to this point:

Rom. 3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Rom. 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

And the kicker:

Is. 64:6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

(If you wish to not be grossed out, skip this next paragraph) The phrase, “polluted garment” isn’t what the original Hebrew says. It says “menstrual rags.” The best we can achieve and give to God, on our own, is the equivalent of giving Him “menstrual rags.”

So, it appears I’m correct in my fear. I want to glorify Him. I want to give Him the praise and adoration due to His holy name. And I can’t. Or, well, I can, but I may as well be giving Him trash.

So, it’s in the midst of this terrifying truth, that the Lord began gently correcting each of my twisted thoughts about Him in the perfect order, like chain of dominoes…

Correction I

One thing that brings me the most joy ever on the planet, is to see my friends and family members displaying their talents. I have been to (and videoed) many a performance – operas, musicals, concerts, dance performances, sporting events, etc… After I moved to PNG, we even tried to Skype me in so I could watch my friend’s senior music recital. When I have kids, I’m going to be “that mom,” – yelling just a little too loudly at the fact that my four-year-old kicked a soccer ball in the right direction. And that’s how I feel when I’m watching my friends and family display their talents. Like a proud parent. And through the persistent truth speaking of one of my friends into this area, it finally sunk in that this is the way God views His children. And this includes me. He looks at me with the proud affection of a father, like, “That’s my kid!!!” And this affection permeates ALL of His interaction with me. Like with my mom, when I was six (see story from Part I). I had lied. I was repentant and full of sorrow. She comforted and then corrected/punished me. This is how He approaches my sinful state. Not as an angry, disappointed tyrant.

(Side bar: I’m not trying to diminish God’s hatred of and wrath against sin. I know that He is a God of love AND justice and that His justice will come down harshly. Just like if I had lied to my mom, again, under the same circumstances, she would have shown more “wrath” towards me than the first time, and so on and so on if the pattern continued.)

Correction II

Many, many, many times in my life, I have seen and experienced the fall out of Christians incorrectly throwing around the phrase, “the Lord told me…” or making decisions that were supposedly after “prayerfully seeking” the direction God wanted them to go. By the grace of God, this did not leave me with a “Christians are hypocritical liars who use “God” to just do what they want, I’m done with this” attitude. But it did leave me with a “if these leaders who I know love God and do actually seek Him can get this off track and trick themselves into thinking they’ve heard from God when it’s really just them talking to themselves… I’ve got no chance” complex.

So, now that I knew of the Lord’s affection for me, it not only spoke into these areas:

If He has this affection for me, then He doesn’t regret picking me.
If He has this affection for me, then when I seek Him, He will be found.
If He has this affection for me, He wants me to be “successful” by His standards. He will lead me where He wants me to go.

But, it also spoke into the over arching falsehood that I had no hope of correctly hearing His voice:

If He has this affection for me, He will make Himself heard. He will not leave me out in the cold to guess His will. He is bigger than my ability to misinterpret Him.

If He has this affection for me, then He doesn’t want me to screw things up. And when I inevitably do, He will work in them to get glory for Himself and move me back to where I am supposed to be.

Basically, He is bigger than my ability to screw-up. This takes off a lot of pressure.

Correction III

And we now reach the final domino – the Holy Spirit and my inability to give anything of worth back to God.

Part IV ended with the idea that, the Holy Spirit feels like cheating. He’s a loop-hole we shouldn’t need, but God must reluctantly give us, because we’re inept.

And as I first typed out that idea in an e-mail, the Lord very inconspicuously and gently brought to mind the rebuttal to that argument, and then solidified it with an analogy. That’s it. No mountain-top revelation. No writing on the wall. He met me where I was in that moment. His scared, crying, child finally admitting her fears to Him rather than ignoring them. And as I wrote the phrase, “the Holy Spirit feels like cheating” the immediate thought He had enter my mind was, “You know that’s not true.” But He didn’t just stop there. Just because you know something ISN’T true, doesn’t mean you know what, instead, IS true. And I think that had been my trouble through this whole process. I knew certain things WEREN’T true. But I didn’t know the things that went in their place that WERE true. And so, He filled in truth…

(The following is an excerpt from the original e-mail I keep referencing. I have edited some of the original language I used to be more… umm… missionary appropriate. But everything else is as I wrote it that night. There is no way in the world I, in my crying, broken state could have come up with these ideas on my own, so I wanted to share the original, “un-polished, non-blog version” with you.)

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The phrase I just thought of was, “the Holy Spirit feels like cheating.” But the rebuttal to that is, “No. He enables us to begin to approach the fullness of life God intended to have before we broke the world He created. It’s not cheating. It’s a necessary part of living to the fullest.”

I think the Holy Spirit just rocked my world with that thought…. because for the first time, I can actually see the freedom that comes from belonging to Christ.

It’s not guilt that “I can’t.” It’s, “the world is broken, you broke it. He unbreaks it. Are you going to let Him unbreak you, or not?”

I sin. I have messed up. I participated in the breaking of this world. I rebelled. But He chose me anyway. There’s no debt to repay. It’s this – “You messed up. Ok, let’s move on. Hold on, because you messed up, and the whole world hasn’t been righted yet, you’re going to need the Holy Spirit for maximum life living potential. Here He is. Listen to Him. Ok, now let’s move on…”

 Another analogy… It’s like I’m a photograph. And the Holy Spirit is the bumping up of the saturation of the photograph. It doesn’t make the picture different. It doesn’t change what the photo is of. It just enhances it to its fullest, maximum pictureness.

It like, “This is Leah.”

*Leah is saved, the Holy Spirit enters her life*

“OOOHH. THAT’S Leah.”

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In other words, we were meant for joy. We were meant to live in perfect relationship with our Creator. We are built to exist in that life.

And we broke it.

So now, we live in this broken world with souls that were meant for a perfect world. We live in broken relationship with our Creator with souls that were meant for perfect relationship with Him. And it’s in this brokenness He sends the Holy Spirit. Not out of anger or disappointment, but out of undeserved love and compassion for our situation. And it’s His Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to have the potential of the fullest life God has for us while we are still in this broken place – in the “already, but not yet” (George Eldon Ladd). Our debt is already paid. We owe nothing. Jesus has conquered death. But we still live in this broken world that has not yet been restored into its fullness.

So we expectantly wait. And we love. And we fight for this not-yet-realized fullness that God has promised us. That is the power of the Holy Spirit. To fight for and make possible in this brokenness that which would be impossible without His intervention – His Kingdom come. His will be done ON EARTH, as is it in Heaven.

And, so, this is where He’s bringing me. He is gently correcting me. He is straightening my crookedness. He is teaching me what it means to live in the light of these truths.

I’d like to leave you with a song I wrote shortly after I sent the e-mail I keep quoting, which was the catalyst for this set of blog posts. Thanks for reading and sticking with me through all of this.

– Leah

(The song was recorded on my computer, with no microphone, at 1:00am. Don’t judge me.)

Lyrics:

I want to be enough, but I know I’m not supposed to be
I want to make it up to you, but there’s nothing to be made
The weighty guilt of my salvation, these heavy chains of freedom strain
The truth of who You are is twisted by my unclear vision of your love

But your Spirit has come… (He’s come)

You are not a tyrant, demanding what you don’t deserve
You deserve what we who broke ourselves, oh we want to, but cannot, give
In our self-imposed ineptitude, the Spirit made His descent (He descends)
Enabling us to glorify You in this already, but not yet (Not yet)

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photo credit: gettyimages, Moment Open – Heather E. Binns

A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. IV

Click here to read Part I.

Click here to read Part II.

Click here to read Part III.

In Part I of this series of posts, I said,

“The Lord is deciding to wreck my view of Him. He is correcting the lies I have believed about Him so that He can get into the depths of my soul, a place I have knowingly and unknowingly denied Him access since I became a Christian at age thirteen.”

To get to my soul, first, He broke me in these areas (Parts I, II, and III of this series):

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

Now, we get to move on to the second thing He has done…

A Bit of Vulnerability… Part IV

 Second, He revealed “why?”…

 “Why?” Pt. I

I’ve always been terrible at doing all the Christian-y things you’re supposed to do: reading your Bible, praying, confessing sins…you know the list. A couple of months ago, He showed me via the persistent questioning of a friend, why that was: I was afraid of Him. I don’t read His Word because I’m afraid of it. I’ll pray for other people, that’s fine. But talk to Him about myself? I’d rather run ten miles with no water break. (I’m very out of shape. I would probably severely injure myself if I tried to do this). I didn’t know why I was afraid. I just was. So, upon that realization, it was time to suck it up. It was time to read His word. So, I started a Bible reading plan thing-y.

And it was terrifying. I would sit down at my desk to read and I would, literally, start shaking. I would have to, as the children here say, “psych up” to read the Bible. As I persisted, it became a bit easier and less shaky, but it was still terrifying. So, I had one piece of the “why” – I was afraid – but as to what I was afraid of, that didn’t come until about ten days ago…

“Why?” Pt. II

My mom recently sent me a USB full of YouTube videos. We pay for Internet by the megabyte here in PNG, so my mom dutifully downloads videos from my favorite Youtube stars and sends me a USB with each package. My mom’s a rock star.

On the most recent USB, there were videos from a web series called “New Song Café.” Christian artists are interviewed about the writing process of one of their songs, they play an acoustic version of the song, and then go through how the parts of the song are played. While watching one of these, the Lord decided to hit me with a mack-truck of realization. In an interview with Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture, they were discussing the song “Rooftops.” She was talking about how the song was written by a fourteen-year-old and how it was just full of youthful excitement and she said,

“We all remember that first time we surrendered our lives to Jesus, the first time we found Jesus and that excitement that I belong to this bigger picture, to this bigger family, and I’m an orphan no more…”

And as I thought on that, I quickly realized, that wasn’t my salvation experience. I got baptized when I was six, after a Vacation Bible School. I distinctly felt the Holy Spirit telling me to get baptized and to “be saved,” but the catalyst of it was, “I don’t want to die and go to hell.” Then, when I was twelve, I was at my Christian school’s student leadership retreat for grades 7-12 and Jesus showed up. The older kids were getting very vulnerable and sharing deep hurts and concerns and questions about their faith and it was a wake-up call to me of, “My relationship with God should be deeper. I’m not a kid anymore. It means something. I need to go to church.” But that, again, was out of duty and my reaction to the Holy Spirit’s prompting was guilt. And even now, when I think about the fact that I’m His, that I do belong to Him, that I am a part of this bigger family, that He has called me to Himself…the excitement that I should feel is clouded by this nagging sensation that I need to “uphold my keep.” I feel as if I were reluctantly chosen to be on a kickball team and now I’m trying super hard to be good enough so that the team captain doesn’t regret picking me.

And it’s in this place He revealed why I wasn’t giving Him access into the depths of me:

I was afraid if I sought Him, He would confirm that He, in fact, did regret picking me. I was afraid that Scripture and prayer would confirm that He viewed me with disappointment. I was afraid of never being able to give Him something that glorified Him.

And it’s that last one that really got to me – not being able to give Him anything – that He used to rock my view of Him. And He did so, of course, with an analogy…

“Why?” Pt. III

(The following is a direct excerpt of an e-mail I wrote right after watching the interview with Kim Walker-Smith. Forgive the terrible grammar. I was crying all over my computer.)

A kid wants to get his mom a gift. And the dad gives the kid an option: Help dad pick out a necklace or jewelry for mom. But the kid is like, no I want it to be from me. So the dad says, ok, you help me pick it out and use some of your allowance to pay for it, then it’s from both of us. But the kid says, no, I’m going to give her something on my own. So the kid slaves and slaves and slaves away on this drawing. We’re not talking stick figures, we’re talking this kid wants to make a beautiful picture for his mom, so he is concentrating and giving his best and works for hours and hours. So which was the better decision for the kid? To be a tiny part of giving the necklace that the mom will cherish and wear forever? Or to have worked on something that, while the thought will count, that picture is going to end up in the trash at some point?

So I guess in that analogy, the mom represents God, the dad is the Holy Spirit, and I’m the kid. And now, after posing that last question it’s like: The kid could have done both. But what the frick does “both” look like when you take it out of analogy land and into practical relationship with God?

The phrase I just thought of was, “the Holy Spirit feels like cheating”…

And with that, the last part of why I deny Him access was revealed: I’m afraid the Holy Spirit is a loop-hole. Anything done with His help and guidance doesn’t mean what it should to God because I should be able to do things on my own. It is out of disappointment that He has given me the Holy Spirit so that I can do what I should already be able to.

So, first, He broke me of things that I used to make-up for the fact that I wouldn’t run to Him. Second, He showed me why I wasn’t running to Him. Now, it’s time for reconstruction to begin…

Click here for Part V…

A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. III

Click here to read Part I.

Click here to read Part II.

In Part I of this series of posts, I listed three things that God needed to demolish and properly rebuild in me:

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

So, let’s have a quick review before moving on to the third area of demolishment.  The Lord has broken me into this powerless, inept, non-superhero who has no grasp of an understanding of herself. That sounds like a great person to spend time with. What else could there possibly be to break…

A Bit of Vulnerability… Part III

I get by with a little help from my friends…

I’m a very indecisive person. The answers to the questions – What do you want to do? What do you want to eat? Where do you want to start? How do you feel about that? Would you like fries with that? – all begin with “Umm… I don’t know,” then transition into whichever version of “What do you think?” applies to the situation. Except for the fries. The answer to that is always “yes.” I’m not a communist.

Now, as I have become a more adultier adult, and dealt with my codependent brain (see Part II), being decisive has become less of an issue as I realize I, in fact, do have opinions, and people will, in fact, respect them, whether they agree or disagree with my opinion about whether we should get fries or not. I digress…

One area in my life where indecision and defaulting to others opinions has plagued me most has been – you guessed it – in my understanding of God. Let’s begin with one of my favorite things: an analogy wrapped in a story…

As a kid, I grew up looking through my dad’s old Encyclopedia Britannica set. The copyright was 1957. I learned very accurate, very out-of-date facts. Then I got the Encyclopedia Britannica ’96 CD-ROM for our computer. I think it came with the AOL start-up disc. Any who, I had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. I could read and read and read about whatever I wanted and learn the randomest of facts to my heart’s content. But do you know what’s better than reading about things? Experiencing them second-hand from someone who has actually BEEN TO or DONE the thing you’re reading about! My fifth grade teacher lived in Alaska as a kid. One day, she was telling us about Alaska (it fit in with our history unit. She was not one to dilly-dally with stories from her childhood unless they applied to our education), and she said,

“It was so cold, that, during the summer, when sun was out and the temperature got up to zero degrees Fahrenheit, we would put on shorts and run to play outside.”

MIND. BLOWN. I was ten years old and had just learned that the most intriguing facts did not come from the 1957 Encyclopedia, but, in fact, from experience. An encyclopedia would never tell you about putting on shorts when the temperature got up to zero! Only a person who lived in the wonderful, exotic, expanse of Alaska would know such a thing! I would probably never go to Alaska and get to experience things like that for myself, but I knew someone who had. I could learn everything from them!

And that has been my approach to God. I can read, study, and glean knowledge about Him. But I don’t have any experience. I can’t trust myself to hear Him correctly. There’s no way I could ever confidently say the magic phrase, “The Lord told me…” No way. How could I presume to know what God is saying? So, since I can’t, I’ll talk to people I trust who have experienced Him. They can tell me what God is saying. I’ll experience Him second-hand through their relationship with Him. It’s a win-win scenario. I don’t have to worry that I’ll misinterpret Him, but I can still hear and be a part of what He’s saying and doing…

And here’s the thing. God met me in that. He has spoken to me through other people many times. This isn’t a bad thing. We were meant for relationship. We were meant to sharpen one another, to come together as His people and talk about our relationships with Him, what He’s taught us, how He has moved in our lives…

But it cannot be primary. It misplaces your relationship with God into the hands of others. It becomes reliant upon what God is speaking into their lives, and, while it may be helpful, it is not complete. Our stories are not the same. The places God must refine in each of us are not the same, nor will those places be refined at the same time in our lives.

(Side bar: This realization has been years in the making and years in the healing. He has, throughout my life, brought this area to my attention and made some corrections to it. However, it’s only been very recently that the depth of the effects have surfaced and now those are being able to be corrected.)

So, through various circumstances (we lead very transient lifestyles, we missionaries), God stripped me of some of the close friends I was crutching to hard upon. I was now a powerless, inept, non-superhero with no understanding of herself and no one to ask how I should fix it. And with that, the last stone in my wall fell to the ground with a heart-wrenching thud…

Click here for Part IV…

A Moment for Music…

Through this past month, God has brought comfort, spoken truth, and shown joy to me through music. Through songs my friends and I have written. Through leading worship at church. Through songs purchased on iTunes. Through various genres (not just “Christian” or “praise and worship”). He has placed a deep love for music into my soul and He has met me here. I’d like to share one of these songs with you…

John Mark McMillan – Guns/Napoleon

Lyrics:

You’re sinking all my ships
You’re climbing all my fences
The storm upon my gate
The breach in my defenses

Like the sun against the morning
You set your face against the doors in
All the houses where I run
And I’m laying down my guns

And you keep coming on
Like Napoleon
And I’ll lose my head and throne
In the bloody revolution

You fill the hollows of the halls
In the houses where I walk
You’re hanging pictures on the walls
In the houses where I haunt

You’re standing on my harbor
You’re landing on my shore
I’m handing down my armor
I’m landing on my sword

On the brink of kingdom come
And I’m standing in the flood
Of everything I ever was
And I’m laying down my guns

And you keep coming on
Like Napoleon
And I’ll lose my head and throne
In the bloody revolution

You fill the hollows of the halls
In the houses where I walk
You’re hanging pictures on the walls
In the houses where I haunt

[Love can break your bones
Broken bones can sing songs
So I’m laying down my guns
So I can sing along]

A Bit of Vulnerability – Pt. II

Click here to read Part I.

In Part I of this series of posts, I listed three areas of my life God needed to reconstruct:

1) My Superhero Complex (my ability to work hard, do things well, and usually succeed)

2) My “Understanding” of Myself (“I’ve been through counseling, I’ve totally got a grip on this!”)

3) My Solitude Complex (I’ll ask my friends, they’ll know what to do…)

We covered “The Superhero Complex” and now, we’ll move on to number two, “My ‘Understanding’ of Myself.”

A Bit of Vulnerability… Pt. II

Your understanding of yourself, does not, in fact, begin with yourself…

I went through a few years of counseling in my early twenties. The fact that I can type “early twenties” like I’m a real adult or something, makes me feel very old. I digress.

I had an excellent counselor. He worked at my university, which offered free counseling for its students. Until they didn’t. So, we fast-forward a couple of years. I’m now a successful teacher with a full-time job. And I’m still just as screwed-up as I was in college. Once my screwed-upness reached a level I couldn’t cope with anymore, I did some digging and found out the counselor I had seen at my university now had a private practice. At an office building. Thirty seconds down the road from my house. Literally. I took that as a provision from the Lord, and made an appointment as soon as humanly possible.

While in counseling, a whole heap of things were brought to light about why I am the way I am and blah blah blah. I won’t bore you with the details. The main thing I came out of counseling with was a knowledge of my main weakness, how to recognize it, how to combat it, how it affects my relationship with others, and the Biblical principals that are in contrast to that weakness. Riveting, I know. And yes, don’t worry, I’m going to tell you what it is, chill out. The term psychologists use is “codependent.” All humans exhibit codependency to some small degree. Worried about what they think of your shoes or the way you raise your kids? Congrats, you just exhibited a bit of codependency. In my case, it was much, much, much more severe and debilitating to my everyday life. My actions, thoughts, and way of life completely revolved around pleasing one person and keeping them happy. Like a drug addict looking for their next fix, I was a people addict looking for my daily wave of validation. Were they happy? If yes, I won that day. If not, I’d better work twice as hard tomorrow to ensure their happiness, and by extension, my happiness, was achieved.

Talking about it now makes me sick. It was the unhealthiest I had ever been. It put the other person in a position they were not meant to fill. Blech. Not how God intended our relationships with one another to be.

So, I processed and worked my way through all of that mess, applied to become a missionary, and here I am now in Papua New Guinea. (For those of you wondering, yes. I got clearance from my counselor before I came here. #healthy)

Well, Leah, it sounds like you worked through your issues, so what did God need to break in you?

I’m glad you asked.

They say that when you enter the mission field, any issues you have will be amplified a hundred times. Or ten. I can’t remember the number they made up to get their point across. The point is, things you deal with in your home country are going to rear their ugly heads and grow into giants that will be much more difficult to deal with. You’re going to have to develop some new coping mechanisms and be ready to press into the Lord more than ever about these issues because they are going to mutate into something bigger.

So, I prepared.

I resolved that my life would NOT revolve around a particular person. That’s not why I was here. I’m here to teach. I’m here to minister to teens. And so I did. I threw myself into youth ministry and teaching. And it was awesome. My first two-year term in PNG was brilliant. I knew how to not be codependent!

But I had not yet learned what my salvation meant for my life now. I had no clue. I knew a behavior I shouldn’t exhibit… but I never sought the Lord about what to do instead. Or about how He filled that piece of me. Or about how even though I wasn’t “being codependent on anyone,” I still have what my friend and I have deemed, “codependent brain.” And this brain affects my view of the Lord, my relationships with my friends and family, the way I interact with co-workers, the way I interact with Papua New Guineans… I could go on and on and on. And He wanted in to correct these views. So, to get in, He first had to strip me of any confidence I had in my knowledge of myself so He could replace it with a confidence in HIS view of me and the way HE works THROUGH my codependent brain, rather than me fumbling around trying to work IN SPITE OF my codependent brain. This paragraph’s word count has a very high percentage of the word “brain” in it. My apologies.

So, in addition to stripping me of my self-proclaimed super hero status, He broke me of my grip on myself, by showing me I had no grip at all. He showed me that for every piece of me I have an understanding of, there were a hundred other pieces under the surface I have no clue about. Or even knew existed. It’s like memorizing a map. You can list every street name, intersection, and landmark. You put the page away, someone asks you for directions and you can tell them exactly where to go. Then another person approaches you and asks for directions to a place you’ve never heard of before. You confidently say the place doesn’t exist. At their insistence, you get out the page and condescendingly hand it to them. Then, to your utter horror, they begin unfolding the map. There’s more than one page. You’ve only memorized five blocks of a one hundred block city.

I may have understood an important piece of myself, but I did not understand every aspect, because I did not understand my relationship to my creator, because I do not understand my creator. My understanding of myself does not begin with myself. It begins with understanding Him and who He created us to be. This wall of mine was crumbling to the ground…

Click here for Part III…