Wednesday, August 27, 2008

God In Motion

As you know if you have been following for awhile, I started this blog the day after I attended ROCKHARBOR (and church, for that matter!) for the first time, met God very directly, and was instantly changed. I knew after such a powerful experience that I needed to document my walk in a new faith and the incredible things that were taking place in my life. My friend who had been at church with me that night asked if he could share what I had written, and of course I agreed, without knowing who he intended to send it to. He had sent it to a few pastors, some of which he knows from earlier in his life (like his youth pastor), and some who call ROCKHARBOR home, including our teaching pastor, who had given the sermon that first night... You can imagine my surprise!

Out of that initial connection have come a great many things. I have developed a fellowship with his youth pastor online. We've had some great conversations and I'm so thankful for how generously he shares his wisdom and faith whenever I have questions! When one of the pastors from ROCKHARBOR read it, he said it would be a good story for Motion. Neither of us knew what Motion was so we read some of it online. It's a bi-monthy magazine our church produces, which is filled with first hand accounts of how God is moving through ROCKHARBOR. (Check out the online archive here.) I fell in love with the rawness and honesty of the stories and how inspiring it was to see God impacting lives in all kinds of circumstances.

I continued reading it over the next couple months, and felt called to get involved, but I didn't know how to go about that. I've always loved to write and as a loving and devoted follower of Christ, it seemed like a great fit. I flipped to the back page to find the email address of the editor, and sent him a quick note asking if he needed any help. He told me there would be an open enrollment for the writing team soon, and we kept in touch through email for a few months until the time came for the informational meeting and a try-out assignment.

The assignment was to write our own Motion Life-Story; is a time when God transformed our lives, and who we had been before and how we were changed after. Though the past five months have provided endless options, my choice was obvious. I retold the story of my first night at church, and included a lot more honest background of who I had been before and who I am today. (Find the final edit below.)

I submitted my assignment last week and am now just waiting to hear back.

It's something I've been wanting to be involved in since I first read it and have spent the past few months hoping it would happen. I spent some good hours and a lot of energy on my try-out, and have relived some difficult memories in the process. And as much as it's something I've wanted to do, I'm not praying that I make it on the team anymore. My prayers now just ask that his will be done and that I go where I will be most beneficial to him.

I smile when I recognize God revealing himself in surprising ways, even during those times when I think I have everything figured out, and it becomes clear I don't. Its humbling to remember that, but there is so much comfort in knowing that he can see far beyond what I can, and knows and wants the best for me.

I have peace on the subject. I'm not worried about whether or not I'll make the writing team. Life happens, and its far from predictable. I trust that if writing for Motion is his will, it will happen. And if that isn't his will, he has something else up ahead for me. I know he called me there, but only time will tell why. Its exciting to see what God is going to do next.

Faith is not about looking before you leap and then deciding if you feel like jumping, but simply saying, "yes, Lord." No one knows better than he does, is more trustworthy, or loves us more.

So, with my eyes closed I say yes, Lord! Only time will tell where I'm going to land. I can't wait to see!


And now, the story.

Looking Through God's Eyes

Growing up, I never knew God. I’m an only child of divorced parents, and while there was plenty of conflict between them, a lack of religion was one subject they agreed on. On one side I had my mom, a non-practicing Catholic, and on the other I had my dad, a non-practicing Jew.

I was raised to believe physical appearance the most important quality. It was clear from a young age that if there was something "wrong" with how you looked, you changed it, no matter what the cost. And I was far from of this idea of beauty. I was chubby. I had frizzy hair. I wasn't cute. I wasn't athletic. I wasn't popular. As I got older and became more aware of what I looked like versus what I was "supposed" to look like, my self-esteem plummeted. I came home in tears the day my first crush started dating my best friend. My consolation prize was getting my hair highlighted for the first time and new makeup. Whether it was intentional or not, the message was that if he hadn't picked me, I must not be pretty enough.

In high school my lack of confidence consumed me. I never had a boyfriend and it felt like I didn't deserve one. Despite education on eating disorders, at home I was told that it would be healthier for me to be anorexic than overweight. My mom promised she would quit smoking when I quit eating. By senior year, I was overcome by depression and severely limited what I ate. When I met my first boyfriend, it felt like a reward for my suffering. I was finally desirable to someone, and I made excuses for the way he treated me. So did my family.

When I got to college we broke up, and I started getting lots of attention I wasn't used to. It was a thrill to be found attractive, and I thrived on it. But no matter what, I still hated my appearance. Soon my craving for affection led me down a dark road. With everything I knew I couldn't distinguish the line between being wanted and being used. I convinced myself that my promiscuity was an expression of how free I was, when in reality it was a reflection of how broken my heart was. I ached for someone to love me, but I couldn't admit that to anyone, especially myself. Sex lost all meaning.

One summer, I moved next door to two guys who were best friends but polar opposites; Nick, the wild one who drank every night and slept around, and Peter, a sweet Christian guy who abstained from sex and alcohol all together. I fell for Peter instantly. I knew he would never want a girl like me, and I quickly cleaned up my act. I know it was God who was trying to pull me out of my emptiness, but I didn’t know it then.

Peter and I hung out all summer, but he didn’t how I felt about him. When he and my roommate started dating, I was crushed. At a party one night, and his best friend Nick started coming on to me. After too many drinks I went home with him, relieved to be wanted again. As the alcohol wore off I realized what I was doing and practically ran home. I tried to brush my teeth but I couldn’t even look in the mirror. I couldn’t fool myself anymore. I didn’t leave the house for three days, afraid that I’d see one of them.

A friend finally talked me into going out for lunch, but we didn’t get far. A few blocks from my house, another car ran through an intersection and hit me, totaling my car. We were relatively unharmed, although my face and chest were cut and burned from the airbag. In shock, we pushed the car to the side of the road and walked home, where I saw Nick washing his car outside. He looked at me, bleeding, and said nothing. The accident had shaken me, but that hurt much worse.

I’ve heard it said that car accidents are a wakeup call from God, but I didn’t see it like that. Not yet.

It was that afternoon that I made the choice to be abstinent until I was in a serious relationship. I told my friends, and they joked about it, thinking it would never last. But it did, and after two years of renewing my sense of what sex meant, I met someone who valued me far beyond how I valued myself. I poured my heart into it, but being unable to love myself also meant I didn’t know how to be loved by someone else. I never felt worthy of the way he felt about me, and after a few years it finally pushed us apart. I felt my world was crumbling all over again.

I knew I was missing something, though I wasn’t sure what it was. I casually dated some great guys but it never became serious. I was emotionally shut off. It felt good to be more independent but there was still an emptiness that I couldn’t explain. I still didn’t like anything about myself, and hoped for the day that someone would love me enough to fix that.

In the early Spring of 2008, I met someone different from anyone I had ever met. His relationship with God is the biggest part of his life. I had never wanted anything to do with that, but as he would talk something started stirring in me that I couldn’t explain. Having never been to church, I was too nervous to go, but I started listening to sermons on the ROCKHARBOR website. Any time I would read or talk or think about God, I would get this anxious, excited feeling in my heart, though I wouldn’t admit that it was having any effect on me. The relationship was short, but he left a lasting impression.

It was a Sunday afternoon in April when I realized I wasn’t apprehensive about going to church anymore. I asked a friend if I could go with him to the service at ROCKHARBOR that night, but I played it cool. I was afraid I wouldn’t feel anything, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.

The message that night was called Sex is Powerful. It was about how huge of an emotional connection sex is, why God calls us to wait until marriage, and no matter where we’ve been we have the opportunity to start fresh. God can redeem us. It helped me understand that even with the mistakes I had made, all the scars could be healed. I realized that it wasn’t enough to wait for a relationship to be serious, and I knew then I would wait until marriage.

Although I had felt good about being there, I was still so foreign to me. As we were shuffling out, my friend spotted a pastor he knows and I told him I would meet him in the lobby. As I walked out I caught a glimpse of Peter and Nick, the two friends I had lived next door to. Five years ago. 200 miles away from where I stood. The ones I hadn’t spoken to since.

I rushed back in to find my friend. Trembling, I gave him a 30 second synopsis of everything that happened years ago and since then. Shaking, we walked back into the lobby. They saw me and said hello, looking almost as surprised as I was. My heart raced. At that second everything clicked. I had no idea how I had ever been able to see the world and not see God in it. After a few minutes we went our separate ways. I didn’t say much the rest of the night, and as soon as I got home I wept for all the years I had felt lost and alone, because I wasn’t.

They say that the moment you die, your life flashes before your eyes. In those moments my old life ended, and it did. I saw God in everything. Every painful step of my journey made sense, and it didn’t hurt anymore. He was there with me in the lobby at ROCKHARBOR and He had always been, faithfully waiting until the moment I would realize that His love is the only love I need. He led me there to show me I had been redeemed. We can change our own minds, but only God is capable of changing our hearts.

The following Sunday on the way to ROCKHARBOR, my friend and I were going through an intersection a few blocks from his house when we were hit hard. It was almost identical to the accident I had been in five years before. But this time, as we stood on the sidewalk, relatively unharmed and watching the emergency vehicles swarm the scene, I had to keep myself from smiling. Because this time, I knew why I had made it out safely. I was overcome with peace and gratefulness.

God is continuously molding my heart and revealing to me the things that hold me back. As I gain greater understanding on what it means for my whole life to be an act of worship, I’ve realized that hating myself, one of God’s creations, is far from worshipful.

On the outside I’m the same person I was five months ago, but for the first time I can see myself through God’s eyes. I’ve finally learned to love myself just as He created me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An Important Week - A Different Church

A Different Church

I had told my friend a few weeks ago that as much as I love ROCKHARBOR, I wanted to start experiencing other churches, because it was the only place I had ever been to and I wanted to know what went on in other ones. The night before Serve Day was a good time to start, because there was a celebration service at Mariner's Church, a mega-church in Irvine where one of my friends' fathers is a pastor. I enjoyed the service very much, though there weren't many people there, and felt really comfortable there. That Sunday, my friend and I went to their "Sunday Night" service, which is brand new and takes place in a small room above the worship center. There were about 30 people there, and everyone sits in a circle to worship, pray (a lot, I liked that), and listen to the message. It had a good sense of community, but I know that I like to feel the power of a room packed with hearts on fire for Christ.

This past Sunday, I went to Saddleback Church, another nearby mega-church where Rick Warren (author of Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life) is senior pastor. Though I had heard about their "rock and roll" services, I opted for the regular one, as I wanted to experience the "normal" church service. As I passed by Overdrive (the "rock" service) I heard great music booming from inside and saw floods of smiling, energetic young people crowding in expectantly.

I kept walking and finally reached the worship center... this place is huge. I walked in during worship, feeling guilty that I had missed that time to worship, but found that a good majority of the attendees were late as well. I was handing an outline and found a seat towards the top. After some announcements, the worship began again, and though the leader asked everyone to stand, a lot of people stayed seated. I stood, and was aware that I was the only one in my area singing. But I pushed my self-consciousness aside and remembered why I was singing. I saw three pairs of hands held up in praise out of the thousands in the room. The band prayed over us, and before we sat we were asked to say hi to some people around us. I quickly turned around and started introducing myself to the people sitting around me, but it seemed as though most people just sat down.

I sat, and the message began. I felt this stale, lifeless air all around me; this energy of "I dare you to make me feel something" as the pastor spoke, and it was discouraging. I said a silent prayer that God would awaken their hearts so they could have a close relationship with Him as well. Many of the people still wore their Bluetooth device and were talking quietly during the service. I wondered why they were there. I really enjoyed the message, and got a lot of good information out of it. It was about the bible from its very origins; who wrote it, how it was compiled, what it is used for, how its misinterpreted, and how we can try to connect with it better. As the pastor referred to scripture and I flipped through my bible to find the page, I realized no one around me had a bible with them, but were reading the words off of the outline we were given. It ended with the second side of the page, which was a "fill in the blank" and true/false activity that the pastor led.

As soon as the message ended and the pastor finished praying, the worship band came back up on stage and started playing and about half of the congregation jumped out of their seats and shuffled out the door! I've never left church early, but I left too, because I knew my heart wasn't in the right place to worship. I couldn't feel God's presence there. I left feeling empty.

That night, my friend and I decided to go to our good ol' home-church, ROCKHARBOR, and I can't begin to explain what a good idea that was. God was there! There was no doubt about it. We sat in the middle amidst a crowd of passionate followers of Christ and I could feel the presence of God physically and emotionally. The message was fantastic, and just what I needed to hear. It was about why we do the things we do, and how to do them so as to please God, not to be driven by the wrong influences. When we worshiped, I truly worshiped God with my whole heart and any sense of self-consciousness or doubt was washed away. It was such a moving experience.

I will continue to experience other churches because I feel the need to know and understand the body of Christ as a whole. But I do really love ROCKHARBOR. This weekend was such a great reminder of what keeps me coming back every weekend with an expectant, excited heart.

Beyond all the details, God is so good to me. I felt myself becoming more and more distant from Him, and started to wonder why HE was leaving me! Oh, the silly things I come up with. God never leaves me, this I know. But its up to me to choose to hang out with Him, make Him a priority, and fix my eyes on Him alone. It's up to me, and it's certainly not about me. It's all about Him!

I've had A Purpose Drive Life, by Rick Warren, sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time now. After reading the Prologue and seeing that you're supposed to read only one chapter a day for 40 straight days, I had set it aside, thinking I couldn't commit. But as it says, we live on average 25,550 days. What reason on earth would we have for not being able to commit 40 of them to figure out our purpose for the rest of them?? When you think about it like that, it sounds absurd that we couldn't devote a few minutes (a measly few minutes!) to getting to know God and His plan for us better. Oh, the way our minds work. So I am committed. Today was my second day, and so far I've learned more than I expected. One of the last sentences of the chapter today even made me cry! No joke, sitting on my bed, and the tears started flowing. I needed this.

In other news, I have an informational meeting/writing audition on Wednesday for the writing team for ROCKHARBOR's publication, Motion. Since I love to write and I love God, it seems like the perfect opportunity for me. I know I'm really touched by the stories in it, and I'd love to be a part of touching the hearts of other readers. Please pray for me!

Lord, you've rekindled the fire in my heart and reminded me what peace You bring. I know you have big plans for me and I know that you'll see me through anything. You're my reason, for loving, laughing, caring, breathing. You're the reason. I'm only here because you will me to be. Thank you God for the unbelievable grace you show me constantly. I see You now more than ever and I pray that I will continue to do so. Lead the way, Lord. I'm yours. In Jesus' name. Amen.

An Important Week - A Christian Concert

Christian Concert

I went to my first Christian concert, which was at the Orange County fair, and it was great! A couple of my favorite bands were playing and my best friend and I had been super excited about it since we heard about it on the radio. The David Crowder Band played first and they were lots of fun, but MercyMe was really incredible. Bart, the lead singer, has such an amazing voice and a really inspiring stage presence. He really brought the vibe of the show from a concert to a huge worship session.

He said some really moving things that hit home and gave me a lot of clarity on some things that had been on my heart. I had a discussion the other day with a guy close to my age who's getting his Masters at Fuller Seminary, and we were talking about spiritual warfare. He was asking me what I thought about the presence of Satan in our everyday lives and was telling me about this constant battle between God and Satan. It didn't sit right with me, and in my heart it didn't feel right, but I told him I'd have to think about it before I could respond with my point of view because since I'm a new believer, I don't have the same background of knowledge.

The next day at the concert, Bart was talking in between songs (somewhere around the time he told us that he had pneumonia.... wow! He can sound like that with pneumonia? That is talent!) about this battle between the evil one and the Lord. He very bluntly said, "God reigns. He reigns over ALL, heaven, earth, and even hell. He is the ultimate, and there is nothing that even comes close to Him. There is no 'battle' between Christ and Satan. But the Lord allows Satan to get to us sometimes, because it helps to draw us closer to Him and strengthen and shape our hearts to lead us to where we ultimately need to go in His kingdom."

Wow. That really hit it on the head for me. How can I stand and sing about God reigning over all, but not believe that He really reigns over ALL? God is in control of ALL things, big, small, good, and evil. He does nothing by accident and makes no mistake. He has no comparison.

When I returned days later to the conversation we had been having, it felt like I actually had a leg to stand on, and my counterpart even seemed to be able to see a different perspective. To know that five months ago I became a part of His kingdom with 0% knowledge of anything having to do with Christianity or God, it's exhilarating to feel Christ empowering me with an understanding in Him that goes deep beyond the surface, and the passionate heart to want to get to know Him as well as I can.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Important Week - Ministry

I had a very important week last week. There were a few big milestones in my walk with Christ that I wanted to share. (I'm breaking it up in parts, it was getting too long!)


First off, June 26th was Serve Day. If you're unfamiliar, Serve Day is one day out of the year that is meant to be a catalyst; to inspire and connect people with opportunities to dig in and get involved in the communities around them.

There are tons of things to choose from, ranging from beach clean-ups to serving food to the homeless. I read almost every opportunity on the list, and after much internal deliberation about if I was choosing for God's needs or choosing for my own comfort and desires, I picked a project connected with Walking on Water ministry, and did ministry (meaning walking around and talking to people, making connections, inviting them to a screening of a Christian surf movie, and passing out free dvds) at the US Surf Open in Huntington Beach.

Before, during, and even after, though exhausted, I was feeling guilty. I had reasoned with myself that God blesses us with different talents and we should use them to further His kingdom... so I figured I'm great at making conversation and connecting with people, and I'm outgoing, so that's the project I'm best suited for. But I felt like I had too much fun.

In hindsight, I think no matter what project people chose, they got tons of joy out of it after all. But I was doubting my reasons for choosing that opportunity, and feeling like I must have picked it because it was spending the day at the beach and it seemed easy. It was truly exhausting (being in the sun for 9 straight hours and approaching hundreds of people with the same friendliness and enthusiasm the whole time takes a lot out of you) but I prayed that Christ would soften the hearts of the people I connected with and that the materials we handed out would plant the seed in their lives. I was rejected by quite a few people, some even laughing and throwing away what I gave them in my plain view, but for every person that rejected me, there were 10 who seemed genuinely intrigued and open. I really did feel the Holy Spirit was assisting me in connecting with the people I talked to though.

A few days later, I was talking to my best friend, who said he hadn't wanted to tell me ahead of time because he didn't want to scare me, but he was really impressed and inspired by the fact that I picked the hardest opportunity on the list. Like I said, I had been feeling very much the opposite, but he told me that doing ministry that is talking directly to and connecting with non-believers is just about the hardest thing one can do. He said especially since I'm new in my faith, it was a huge step for me. It made me feel a lot more at peace with the situation.
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