Friday, August 28, 2015

How I (Almost) Lost Myself

This might be "putting it out there" but I feel like I owe it to at least myself to live by what I believe.  To, "practice what I preach" so to speak.  I have been alive on this planet for nearly 29 years.  I have been told what to do, who I am and what to believe for most of those years.  And when I say that, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm just one of those twenty-somethings about to rebel and get all crazy about having to follow rules and so now I'm going to just do whatever the heck I want.  I have been a product of my environment.

And when I say environment, I don't specifically and exclusively mean the physical environment.  Whether you believe it or not, whether you're Christian or believe in God or not, there is a spiritual environment that we walk in.  Every. Single. Moment.  It has power to change us, both negatively and positively.  But it is up to us.  We can choose.  The environment that I had become a product of is called F-E-A-R.  And the person telling me what to believe, what to think, and how to act was not my mom or my dad or pastors or teachers or coaches (though I've had all of those in my life).  The person, this thing...was the enemy of my soul.

I know we hear all the time about how it's better to think positively than negatively, to live like a survivor, not a victim, face your fears, etc etc.  But I just have to share, with whomever will see this, that I really did almost lose who I was.  And a whole host of other things.  And my hope is that someone reading this will realize that the enemy is a liar.  The a liar, he is the father of lies.  The Bible says that he has come only to steal, kill and destroy.  And please, hear me, the Bible is true.  The enemy stole my identity, killed relationships, and destroyed my heart.  Why?  Because he found someone (me) who would listen to his bull crap (I really wanted to say something else).  For nearly 29 years...I listened to him, I believed him, and I almost lost myself.

KidZone this morning (last Sunday) taught me a verse as I taught it to the kids.  And tonight, as I glanced up into the sky after youth group, my heart felt full again.  My spirit felt alive.  My hope, Jesus, became real again to me.  "I cried out to the Lord.  And He answered me.  He freed me from ALL my fears."  Psalm 34:4 (emphasis added by a really cute 4-year old, whom yes, does know the entire verse).

About 4 weeks ago, I was lead to believe that my thoughts were the culprit of my crumbling foundation beneath me.  And I gotta tell you, it is only by the grace of God that I have made it to this freedom.  It has not come all at once, because I believe God wants me to have the full experience of walking in this freedom, which has come little by little.  I believe that I would be absolutely overwhelmed if it all came at once.  I have seen that by submitting my entire life (physically, spiritually and mindfully) that it has become less of a burden to walk in the way God has called me to.  I have found that as I continue to do that, my feet are going naturally in the direction that God wants me to go.

On the other hand, I had to take inventory of the time that my feet went naturally the other way.  That other way, was my way.  I lived in constant fear.  I professed faith, but lived in fear.  I showed up physically, but was hardly ever present mindfully.  This is where I "let you in."  If you interacted with me in the last 6 months or so, I am so sorry.  I'm sorry because what you thought you were getting was the real me.  What you actually got was the counterfeit Erica.  Here is where I let you in more...if you interacted with me, chances are my mind was going in a million different directions.  And I really believe that I'm not exaggerating.  (A little more now) ... the sentences that were running through my mind sounded like this, "They don't REALLY love you" "If they REALLY knew you, they'd turn and run for their life" "You are way too messed up to be accepted" "You have WAY too many things wrong with you to be anyone's friend" "You don't have ANYTHING of value to offer" "You are too needy, you are too much, you are not smart..."

And on and on and on.  I should also point out here that the Bible also says that, while the devil is the father of lies, it also says that he is the accuser.  All of those statements, ahem, all of those lies up there, are accusations that shot fiery darts right through the center of my heart.  Then they eventually set up camp in my mind and that is how I lived my life for the past 6 months.  I lived life as a performance.  I had to do everything without flaw and since that is not even possible, I set myself for failure every single day.  Here's an example.  Today I'm going to run 5 miles in less than an hour.  I start running, only get to 2 miles and decide to walk the half mile back to my car.  Instead of looking at what I had accomplished, running 2 miles in less than a half hour for the first time in 9 months, I could only see my failure.  I didn't make it to 5 miles, only a measly 2 miles.  I was a loser in every single situation I walked into.  I had already decided my outcome before I even put shoes on to leave the house.  For every interaction, whether with friends, coworkers, family, whatever...I had decided that I was not good enough, that I lacked what it took to be who God wanted me to be.  And who I thought God wanted me to be was what I believed everyone else wanted me to be.  I showed up with no identity, I showed up a blank slate, just itching to have someone tell me who I was.  I was afraid to be who I am, I was afraid to be funny.  I was afraid to talk about Jesus.  I was afraid to share my heart.  I was afraid to be honest.  I was afraid to be passionate.  I was afraid I would fail.

And if I can save you some heartache, please hear this; the heartache and pain that you experience letting your walls down and letting safe people into your heart, into your life, into your darkness...doesn't hurt as deep or as long as when you choose to show up as the counterfeit you...when you choose to let your fear completely engulf the whole of your identity and then look back at what was lost.  Fear has robbed so many things from me, mostly of moments when God wanted to touch my life.  Moments of love, moments of blessing, moments of generosity, moments of relationship, moments of intimacy, laughter, opportunity, friendship.  I have lived in regret for the past 6 months as I have looked over and taken inventory of these last 180 days.  That is half of a year.  Half of a year where I knowingly spent my life "living" in fear.

One thing that I have been enlightened to is that most days, I wasn't sure which "me" was gonna do my living for me that day.  If it was the faith-filled Erica, negative things could happen all around me and I knew Who I could go to with my disappointments.  If it was the fear-filled Erica, my day was confusing, my thoughts ran amok, and I could never find a moment of clarity.  Simple tasks derailed my ability to accomplish them, things I enjoyed became chores, living every day became a task that I grew to hate.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, I could have spent the whole time in an environment that was life-giving and positive, but because I lived in my head of lies, I ended most every night feeling completely empty, unsatisfied, disappointed.  My day had been stolen.  The enemy came and did what God's Word says he does.  He stole, he killed and he destroyed.  And I let him.

As I look back over the devastation, a deep sense of grief wells up inside of me.  Relationships that were damaged, opportunities that were lost, freedom that was chained up, moments of clarity fogged up by my fear, endless breakthrough that was stopped up.  It all sounds quite depressing, and you'd be right.  How sad that I couldn't find it in me to look up at Him and say, "God, I'm afraid, but help me walk through this anyway."  It is sad.  It is quite depressing.  But here is what I know about my God (this is where it gets good...), He is my redeemer, He is my healer, He makes me whole, He brings health into all my situations, He came that I may have life, and have it to the fullest, He is the hope of glory, He lives in me, He uses my ashes and makes them beautiful, He takes the ruins and makes them glorious.  Whatever I have lacked, He is.  When I go to Him and say, "God, I'm not good at relationships left to myself."  He says, "I know, but I am."  "God, I can't do this thing on my own."  He says, "I know, but I will be with you."

I have found a new sense of desperation, of refuge, inside of His Word.  When I look at my Bible now, my heart thumps, my face does a happy dance because I want to see what I'll find in it.  And I believe His Word is true.  Just as much as I have experienced the truth of the negative things (the enemy comes to steal, kill, destroy. Whatever a man thinks in his heart, so he is.  There is a way that seems right to man, but it only leads to death.) I have come to find the infinite freedom His truth brings.  "What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good, for the saving of many lives" Genesis 50:20.  "And we know that in all things, we are more than conquerers"  Romans 8.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation, what should I be afraid of?"  Psalm 27  "God works together all things for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him."  Romans 8  "Do not become weary while doing good, for in due time, in the right season, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up."  Galatians 6:9.  "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself RESTORE you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."  1 Peter 5:10.

And that's only a few.  I believe that in the seasons of our greatest failure, setbacks, disappointments, God is merely working out the kinks to show off His glory.  Why do I believe that?  It's not just some cute novelty saying, it's Scripture.  It's Genesis 50:20.  What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good."  I believe that in our darkest moments, the God of the universe reaches down, plucks us out of the pit and draws us to Himself, when we are completely helpless.  When we let down our defenses in front of Him, He rejoices and laughs at our weaknesses.  It's a setup!  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weaknesses."  I believe that the seasons where we have experienced the most pain is where He is the most faithful.  I believe that at the end of those seasons, where we look back and take inventory of what we lost, that God takes what was lost, takes the scraps and uses what we call a loss and restores to us what was taken.  Nothing is wasted when we can present it to Him.  He takes our little and uses it for much.  He accepts our brokenness as worship when we surrender it to Him.  His motive is wholeness, healing, restoration, redemption, relationship.  "Come to Me, all you who are burdened and take my yoke, it is easy and light."

I almost lost myself to fear.  I almost forfeited who I was.  But God has redeemed me.
Now I have let myself get lost in His love, acceptance, grace, mercy, truth and freedom.
Amazing grace.  How sweet the sound.  That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost ... But thank God ... now I am found.

Please check out the song below and let the words pour over your soul as you consider its message of truth.  It has brought me continued peace, healing and freedom.

Elevation Worship -- Oh Come to the Altar

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

If You Think God is Random...He's Not.

if you've ever had doubts about what your life was purposed for...that's normal.  and it can feel like a terrible HELL while you're living in that storm of doubt.  hail clouds of accusation, looming clouds of failures, torrential down pours of horizontal rain, loud crashes of thunder and lightning strikes that blind you instantly.  the good news is that it doesn't last forever.  and for months, and i'd say even years, i was wrestling with who i actually was and what i was for real purposed for on this earth.  and it's still difficult, but when you know WHO has purposed you, then you know your purpose is not wasted.  I recently went back to school to go for my bachelor's degree for elementary education.  I am a teacher and volunteer in my church's children's ministry and finally, a youth leader in the church youth group.  And for the past 4 years, i was seriously doubting that God had actually purposed me to do those things.  Had he really gifted me to be in the lives of young generations?  was i just wasting time serving in those areas, was i just a warm body filling a spot?  all real questions that i have had to wrestle down.

and then this weekend happened.  and then i knew for sure.  Something keeps playing through my mind the week of the trip.  I was serving in the kidzone ministry like any regular every-other-sunday. A new VIP and her daughter were serving that same sunday.  I was kneeling behind a lemonade stand, stirring a pot of grilled cheese when the mom  serving that day asked me if i was going on the youth trip to North Carolina.  I told her yes and that i was so excited to go and get to know the students more.  She agreed and said "you guys are so brave."  And then i started to think as i walked to my car this morning to load back up my car to go back home.  I wasn't that brave...God had just called me to do it.

My heart has been forever and eternally changed by 8 students who decided to go on a 14 hour
road trip with other students they kind of knew and youth leaders they knew even less.  For 5 days, we were together.  Either in a van or walking around the city of Charlotte.  It was hot, muggy and we stood in a LOT of lines.  But they didn't complain.  We stood in line for a worship concert for 9 hours, in 90 degree heat.  we sat on blankets, played cards, took selfies, and sang songs.

Justin is the dude bottom left
but let me start from the beginning.  before the trip even started.  in the weeks leading up the to trip, i had been praying for God to show up in all of their lives.  And then i prayed that God would show up in mine.  I prayed a very specific prayer for about a week leading up until the day of the trip.  I prayed that God would give us the opportunity, even though we were going on a trip to be spiritually fed, that God would give us the opportunity to love on others, and pour out His love.  I prayed for divine opportunities for us to show God's love.  And when I was praying for that, i had in mind that only in our group of 15 that we would be able to do that for each other.  Then on Thursday night, close to 11:30 at night, we decided to take a walk to the arena just to check out where we would be standing the next day.  And that is when God decided to answer that week old prayer.  We walked up to the arena, and we could hear the thumping of the bass as the worship band practiced inside.  We stood outside chatting and checking to see if the doors were magically unlocked.  Then, 2 people walked out of the arena.  The guy had on an Elevation Worship t-shirt and the girl had an Elevation name tag.  They stopped to say hi...and then we just kept talking.  We found out that Justin was an Elevation staff member who ran tech and Taylor was an Elevation intern.  We shared the normal "we are from Michigan" speech and didn't expect anything else.  But they stayed and talked to us for about 30 minutes.  Then we asked if we could pray for them and the event.  Justin said he wanted to pray for us.  So we all gathered around, grabbed the hand of the person next to us and prayed together.  Justin said he would look for us the next day and encouraged us to go to the Saturday night service early so that he could come find us.  A divine connection.

We left, feeling especially blessed knowing that we got to meet a staff member from a church that we have followed for years...and when i say follow, I mean stalk.  The next day, we arrived around 9:30am and we were the first ones in line for about 3 hours.  We saw Justin a few times and he came out to chill with us for a little while.  Then we took a selfie that is far greater than the one that Ellen took.  Now if you're wondering if this is still a divine connection or just a really large coincidence, keep reading.

The arena the concert was in holds more than 16000 people.  And 16000 people showed up to this event.  As the doors opened, our group of 15 maybe ran to a predetermined section only to be turned away about 3 times before we finally found a section we were allowed to sit in.  Frustrated that we weren't as close as we had planned to be, we split into 3 rows and anxiously waited for the concert to begin.  Of course there were potty breaks needed and shirts to be purchased.  Keeping in mind,
15,985 other people had the same thing in mind.  Three of our students decided to go get food while we waited the rest of the 45 minutes.  They soon returned saying the food was expensive...and that security guards were not going to let them back down to their seats with us.  They "somehow" found Justin, our divine connection, and got back to us safely.  Then a group i was in decided to use the bathroom and buy our shirts.  we bought our shirts and went back to the section we came from to get our seats.  There was a security guard who would not let us go back down, told us the section was full.  I informed him that we had already gotten seats and that we just needed to use the restroom and bought a shirt.  he wanted to know how we had seats saved, i told him we were with a group of 15 and we were already sitting down.  He ignored me and just looked over me as if i wasn't standing there.  I was severely irritated, and felt my blood begin to boil at the thought of not being able to sit with our group. i turned around in disappointment to walk to another entrance with the others i was with and as i looked away, i caught a glimpse of a familiar was Justin.  I went up to him and told him security wasn't going to let us back in.  And of course, Justin had a fancy walkie talkie that wrapped around his back and clipped to the neck of his Elevation Worship obviously he could get us back in.  I told him the story and he said, "Of course i can get you back in! I just saw 3 other little dudes from your group running around and they came up to me."  So Justin walked up to the curtain, informed the guard that the 4 of us were with him and we walked back down to our seats. He didn't know which rows we were sitting in, but he got us behind the curtain.  Now if you're still skeptical, keep reading.

After the concert was over, we stayed and lingered for about 10 minutes to let the crowd clear from our section as we took in what just happened; 16000 people praising Jesus, with one voice.  It was overwhelming to say the least.  Many shed tears, all of us raised our hands, clapped on and off beat, whooped and hollered for Jesus while jumping and singing and now we needed to sit and let it all sink in.  as the rows cleared in front of us, we saw a familiar face.  It was Justin.  We all yelled, "Hey Justin!" He looked up, smiled and walked up to our youth pastor.  They were engaged in conversation long enough for the event staff to kick us out of the row, then out of the section, then out past the curtain, then out past the merch table, then finally herded us to the exit.  Justin exchanged numbers with our youth pastor and i could tell his eyes were red after talking with her.

The students were giddy as we walked through the crowded Friday night streets of Charlotte, NC.  We went to dinner and found out what the conversation was about between the youth pastor and this divine connection, Justin.  Justin felt the need to share his testimony with our youth pastor, which was why he was emotional.  He told her that he felt connected to our group, that he felt God had called him to invest into this crazy group from Michigan.  He wanted to meet up with us after the saturday night service and go to dinner and just chill with us.  We went to Blakeney, NC to the main Elevation Church campus, stood in line for an hour, found Justin! Then raced to our 6-rows-from-the-stage seats.  Justin came and found us again, told us to hang out after service and that we would all go to dinner afterward.  We walked the campus, looked through all the rooms, got our free shirt and finally, found Justin again.  We headed across the street to Chick-Fil-A, where Justin bought all 12 of our meals.  Him and Taylor sat down to dinner with us and talked to the leaders from 7:30 until about 10pm.  He shared his heart on some things that he has learned and Taylor did too.  Then our youth pastor had a brilliant idea.  She invited them to come to our next youth event, a 3-night worship event at the end of August.  As she was giving him details, he pulled out his phone to look for flights.

We went to be fed and we were abundantly blessed.  Justin told us that he wanted to be that one that the students could call or text at 2am if they were having a rough time, he wanted to be a connection in their lives.  He exchanged his snapchat with all 12 students and 5 leaders.  And so did Taylor.  We left Chick-Fil-A and he prayed one last time for us and we ended the night with them the only way we knew how; with a selfie.

Justin was an answer to my "divine opportunity" prayer.  I had no idea what that would look like, and as always, God blew my mind.  To know, that out of all the people we could have run into, and did run into, Justin stopped long enough to hear our story and stayed long enough to share his and let God speak to his heart.  I prayed for divine opportunity to show God's love, for divine opportunity to be Jesus to the ones on the trip.  And God delivered, big time.  A relationship connection that is so far beyond what i had ever expected.  I am still processing all that happened on this trip.  And i so look forward to the way God will use Justin in our lives and how God will use us in Justin's life.  A truly divine connection.