Monday, January 19, 2015

Once Upon a January

Last night I stood in my shower, crying. Too tired, too empty, too overwhelmed to keep it together. A  long, busy week and weekend had left me overwhelmed. Andy had gone to a movie with friends and I tried to keep it together and finish my housework but by 7 o'clock I was on the verge of tears, as I wiped the inside of my microwave. By 7:15, I was in the shower, completely giving in to it.

The A&P teacher side of me knows that my brain is awash with hormones, but I'm unwilling to completely toss it over to the physical. I blame Tim Keller, who insists that the human experience is never simply physical, emotional, relational or spiritual, but that all are forever weaved together by the Master Craftsman, who always meant for it to be that way. Who are we to try to unravel it thread by thread?

I cried because I feel like I have too much to do and not enough time or energy to do it. I cried because I want to go home. I cried because I'm afraid of the unknown. I cried because it felt good. But I'm not really here to write about the crying. I'm here to write about what made it stop- the salve for my soul- a memory that has given me peace this morning and a joy I wish I could keep in my pocket always. I will tell you the story.

Many Januaries ago, I was a sophomore at NC State. Externally, I was trying to adjust to life at a new school. I'd transferred from Wake Forest University in the fall. I was trying to make friends and attend games and all that sort of thing. But inside, I was ruined. A carefully crafted kingdom of self-indulgence, one I'd labored years to create, had been attacked and defeated the summer before, and I vacillated between mourning the loss of all I had known and stubbornly trying to stack the wreckage back together.

People kept talking to me about God- mostly my parents, but even some college friends. I was supposed to submit to Him, give my life over to Him, and that was supposed to fix things. But honestly, I had little to no desire to do this. Mainly because I knew that He was responsible for my kingdom's destruction. Hadn't it been implemented by the decisions of others? Yes. But I knew, even then, that it was all His idea. He wanted it ruined, I knew that much. I didn't know much else of Him, not really, but of that I was absolutely certain.

If you've known me a long time, you'll be surprised to read this, maybe. But it is surprising when a child trained up in righteousness makes such a statement-daughter of Christian parents, devoted to church attendance, genuine in their faith. I had won awards in AWANA, for heaven's sake- literal prizes for Scripture memorization. I'd been put under water and "risen to new life in Christ" when I was a teenager. People were there, they saw me emerge, wet t-shirt dripping, but had they been able to see the inside, they would have searched for Living Water only to find me empty of any such thing. How could this be true? How could I have spent thousands of hours in environments that were all about God and yet really only know one thing. To explain this, I have to use another language. In English, we just use one word for "know," and yet, we're all familiar with the different levels at which we can "know" someone or something. Many other languages have different words for knowing with your heart versus knowing with your head. In Spanish, for instance, conocer, means to know with your head, to have knowledge of, to know about something. But saber, means that you know it in your heart, you know something to be true, probably because you've personally experienced it. You can use conocer to describe a song you've heard before, "I know (am familiar with) that song," but you'd use saber to describe that you know how to sing. These words are better for describing what I knew (conocer) about God. That's how it can be true that, even though I'd grown up in Sunday school, AWANA, a Christian home and even Christian schools, that January what I knew (saber) about God was that He had destroyed my kingdom. And that, for the time being, was all that I knew.

Still, I was desperate. I couldn't deny that God was at least powerful. Only a very real and powerful Being could demand the attention of the conquered. Conquered as I was, He had my attention. But, the attention was divided, half the time I was balling my fist up at this megalomaniac and accusing, "How dare you create life and then demand it back!" I felt that I had no free will, no choice- I was either going to submit to Him or be miserable. And this seemed so unfair that I, at times, genuinely hated Him for it. Then at other times, I was so tired of trying things my own way that giving in seemed somewhat appealing. The fight was draining out of me. Perhaps it was for this reason that I hesitantly agreed to attend an "Intro" night for Bible Study Fellowship after being "strongly encouraged" by my mother to attend. This wasn't really a choice. It was an expectation. I had to go. I knew the repercussions if I didn't- more disappointment, more conflict. Was I up for that? Not really. And yet, when that January Monday came, I got in my car and instead of driving to the little church in Cary where the believers were gathering, I mustered the remnants of my defiance and drove in exactly the opposite direction. I was Jonah fleeing Ninevah, only in a Volkswagen instead of a boat.

I drove for hours, and have no recollection of my thoughts. I had no real "plan," in mind. I knew that I was going to have hell to pay when I told my mom about my failure to attend Bible study. But I couldn't help it. I had to drive. I felt so trapped, this was my last chance- maybe if I could get to the ocean then maybe I could breathe. Maybe the wind and the waves would infuse me with their wildness, make me feel alive again.

I parked at a public beach access at Wrightsville Beach. The island was so dark, few inhabitants back then at that time of year. There was a bright lamp that lit up the walkway to the beach. I marched through the sand, charging toward the sea. I could hear it in front of me, even more powerful than I had hoped for. But then, I stopped. The ocean was in front of me, and even in the darkness, I could make out the whiteness of the breakers, but I couldn't move closer to them. I was frozen. One grave thought seized my mind- He is here. I could see the waves, hear them crashing out in front of me, feel the wind whipping around me, but they were diminished. They were almost nothing compared to the Greatness of the Presence, the Deepness of Him darker than the winter night. He said nothing, but He didn't need to. And I didn't say anything either. I just stood there knowing. I'd driven for hours to get away from Him, he was supposed to be in that church in Cary. I was supposed to be free here on this beach. But standing there I knew how foolish that thought was. I knew (saber) that the beach was His, as was the wind and the water and the dunes and the blackness around me. Strangely, I wasn't angry over this, nor did I fall face-down in worship (though that would have been the appropriate thing to do- youthful arrogance still had too much of a foot-hold for that) I just stood there in that moment, surrounded by the Presence of God, not wanting it, but submitting to it all the same. He was everything.

I got back in my car and drove to Raleigh. The next time the Bible study had intro night, I sat in the pew in that church in Cary. A little over a month later, I fell to the floor of my apartment one Tuesday morning, weeping. I had just met Jesus. It was the very first time I tasted for myself the freedom He bought for me. I believe that it was March and I had been reading the book of John. My life has never been the same since.

When I tell people about when I became a Christian, I usually tell them about attending BSF, and the Tuesday morning, the sweetness of that moment, the freedom that followed it. I tell them of when I met Jesus. I have never written about that night in January when I was face-to-face with His Father.  They are the same. "I and the Father are one," Jesus said. Greatness and sweetness. Majesty and freedom. Often I focus on the sweetness, the freedom offered by my Friend, Jesus. But it was the memory of the Majesty that God used to comfort me this morning. Maybe because I was feeling trapped, overwhelmed- the way I did that night in North Carolina. So many years have passed, so many experiences and yet, I would trade any one of them to stand on that beach again and feel what I felt in that moment. True that my mind and spirit at that time could not completely comprehend or appreciate what was happening to me. But I was in the Presence of the Almighty- cognizant of His all-ness. I take comfort in that now. Though it's been years since I traded rebellion for submission, I know that in my heart there is always the urge to run, to go my own way, to figure this out on my own. And maybe these are the thoughts that leave me so tired, so restless and tearful. They're natural, aren't they? Part of our human nature. We want to do life well, we want to do it on our own. And it almost seems like I could...but then I remember the blackness, and how the Atlantic whispered, silenced by the One who, in ancient days, showed it where to stop. And I know that He is still out there- everywhere, and that I am small before Him, yet significant enough for Him to see me running, worth enough for Him to show me Himself, so that I wouldn't run away from Him anymore.  It was only later that I realized that the revelation I experienced that night was an act of love. A Father, seeking a rebellious daughter. A Husband, stopping His adulterous wife- not because He is angry or seeks to punish, but because He loves, He misses. And now, I am the one who misses. I miss Him- in the busyness and chaos of the everyday, in the anxiety of life's pressures, the ones placed upon me and the ones I place on myself. But His greatness puts everything into proper order. And so, I rest in the memory of the darkness, and the wordless knowing of that night, and let its memory work here- so many Januaries later.

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