New Day

For the past several years, I have been feeling in the deepest parts of my spirit that some sort of change was coming for me, for my family. I've had no clue as to what kind of change that might be, though we felt the beginning stirrings of it almost 2 years ago when God moved us from one church home and planted us in another. But I feel that the change, whatever it is, may be nearing its culmination.

I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately. There are a number of things going on contributing to this stress, but the current that constantly runs beneath all of it is the fact that I still have not fully dealt with the death of my daughter over four years ago. And that has influenced how I handle things - big things as well as little things. Things like interactions with my husband, my outlook on life, and even how I am raising the two children I now have. I am very aware that this issue needs to be dealt with, and I am taking steps toward dealing with it. But in the meantime, my stress levels have been gradual building.

Today, I was driving around after dropping off my husband at work. The kids were asleep in their car seats in the back, and I was conversing in my head with God. We are on the cusp of so many possibilities - a possible house, possible school for my husband, possible preschool for my daughter - and for so long it has just felt like my life has been bound up in the unknown. I feel like I have been tossed about, jarred against one wall and then another, until I finally stopped fighting it and let myself be bruised and broken from the jarring. And all of a sudden, as I was silently talking with God, silently weeping as I drove, this phrase just stuck in my head - "New day." It was almost like a voice spoke it. And without forethought, my whole being suddenly began crying out to God, resonating with the phrase - "New day! New day! New day! New day! New day!" I didn't vocalize it, but I was crying, and if I had actually said it out loud, it would have been gut wrenching and without breaths between the words.

It was the first time I have had a prayer wrack my body to the core.

And I'm not even sure what the prayer meant. And by that I mean, I did not plan that prayer, didn't think it out. It just...poured out of me. I think that was literally the Spirit praying for me. It was an intense experience. For those several seconds, all that consumed my mind, my heart, my soul, and even my body, was "New day!"

I feel like we will begin to see answers within the next month. And while I am not sure exactly what this "new day" will entail, I am eager to find out. And with all my being, I will look for it.

Brutal, beautiful Love

I visited a friend's church tonight. This was my second visit, and my husband's first. The worship was awesome. God's presence was definitely there. But the pastor said some things that were just deep, and really got me thinking about stuff. (Warning: my thoughts sort of go all over the place, and don't necessarily lead neatly from one to the next.)

He was talking about how God's love is brutal. One of the illustrations he gave (not sure if he came up with it on the spot or not) was that, if the Holy Spirit were a bear and wanted to eat you, He would have to tear you limb from limb in order to do so. If we want to be consumed by the Spirit, by God, we must be broken. It is a painful process, the whole dying to yourself and dying to the world thing. But it is necessary, and it's really beautiful, even though it is brutal.

Myself - I've had a hard heart lately. The past couple of years, since the death of my first daughter, Genna, have taken me through an emotional - and spiritual - roller coaster. I'd thought that I was on this awesome track, growing ever closer to God, when in reality, I had begun shutting myself off from Him. I've described it to several friends as feeling stuck inside a marble statue, being able to see what's going on, but not being able to actually do  anything.

During the sermon tonight, I was thinking again on this image I'd had in my head, of being stuck inside a statue. But then the image changed, and I saw a baby chick struggling desperately to get out of its shell. This struggle is so hard, it takes all the chick's strength and energy - and honestly, all the chick's will, also. But after the long, desperate struggle is over, the shell is broken, and the chick is able to emerge into a new world, and is able to grow.

And I believe that I have begun to struggle against my shell. I'm really ready. I'm done incubating. I need to bust outta here, see new sights, grow some feathers, and eventually, learn to fly. But I won't be able to do that if I stay in my shell. If I stay in my shell, I will die. I'll outgrow the space, I won't be able to breathe, and I won't have a food source. In order to live - truly live - I must hatch.

And so, that is what I am doing.

Expect to see me leaping from branches flapping my wings in a few months.

Rediscovering Reverence

Today, for the first time in a long time, I visited a church.

I say the first time in a long time, because, for the past nearly seven years, my husband and I were members of a particular church and attended pretty much whenever the doors were open. Recently, however, we felt God's move on our hearts to leave that particular congregation. We weren't sure exactly where God was leading us. We just knew He was moving. So we followed.

Today, my husband and I (along with our daughter, and a friend and her son) visited an Anglican church.

I will be the first to admit that I am by no means an expert in the difference of doctrines or church origins. All I know is that the Anglican church is a sort of outgrowth of the Catholic church that came about during the time of King Henry VIII and the English Reformation. I also know that the Anglican church is a lot more liturgical than almost any other church I've been to (save my grandma's church, which is Episcopal, which is the sister of the Anglican church).

Now, my husband grew up Nazarene, and I...well, I grew up going to a wide variety of churches, from Baptist, to Assemblies of God, to Church of God, to Non-denominational, to Church of Christ. I've been exposed to a lot of different versions of the Body of Christ. This was probably both a good and bad thing for me. I've encountered a lot of diversity in worship, but I also have no clue about the doctrinal background of pretty much any of the afore-mentioned denominations.

When my husband and I married, we decided to go to a Nazarene church. He grew up knowing the denomination, we met at a Nazarene made sense. And so, for the past nearly ten years, I have considered myself Nazarene (though I've been a bad Nazarene and haven't really learned much about the denomination as a whole).

Based on my background (or personal "church history"), choosing to try an Anglican church may seem strange. I come from what you might call a "charismatic" background, where the churches tend to embrace "freedom of worship" more than structured, liturgical services. I've attended many services that were really just several-hours-long worship services, because "the Spirit moved." This is awesome. I love it when the Spirit moves. But I've found over the past several years that the Spirit does not need a lack of structure in order to move. And I've come to feel that many churches fall into one extreme of too little structure, too much freedom; or the other of too much structure, too little freedom. It's either too stiflingly structured, or it's chaos, and there's so much going on that you can't feel the Spirit moving.

The church we visited today was, I believe, a good balance of the two extremes.

I've been realizing slowly over the last several years that deep devotion and liturgy woo me to Christ best. Sure, I love a good worship service. Music speaks to my soul. I love praise and worship bands, and good music, just like the next person. But I've felt that there's a huge lack of reverence when it comes to approaching God. Yes, Jesus is our best friend, who sticks closer than a brother. He broke down the walls that kept us from approaching God. We can now approach the throne of grace boldly, with confidence. But God is still awesome, worthy to be feared and praised. He is mighty, wondrous, amazing. We should be awe-struck to even think to be in the presence of the Creator-God who sent His Son to save us.

That reverence is what I've been missing in churches. And that reverence is what I found today in the Anglican church we attended.

To quote an email I sent to a friend earlier today:

"The first thing that struck me was the unison chanting of the Psalm. It was a long psalm, and I wondered how it could "hold people's attention" by singing the same chord progression over and over and over for that many verses. But by about the third stanza/verse, I realized that there was some kind of amazing power in this unison chanting. People started getting a little freer, actually worshiping through the chanting of the Psalm. I heard a couple of voices begin to harmonize, other voices grow in strength and passion. I was intrigued.

I must admit that, when the Bible was brought ceremoniously down the center aisle for the gospel to be read, I got chills. Congregants bowed their heads as the Bible passed by them; there was such reverence and respect for the Word of God. [...]

For the first time today since I was in elementary school (I think), I took communion with wine. The real stuff. Not grape juice. This was something else that made me think, made me internalize some things. I've never really understood why wine was necessary for communion. I'm not a drinker - I don't particularly like the flavor of alcohol. But the bitterness of the wine - the pungent flavor on my tongue as I chewed my wafer - reminded me of the bitterness of blood, the pain Jesus felt when he died, the weight of the sins of the world."

There were other things that affected me during the service, but alas, this post is already long enough. Attending an Anglican church today, though, taught me that ritual and tradition is okay. There absolutely can be freedom in worship in a structured setting. And I firmly believe that, at least for some, the structure actually helps people focus more on the most important thing: God, through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. 

I completely believe, also, that different formats of worship (and different denominations) exist because they call to different people. Just as people have different personalities, I think that people have different ways of worshiping. If we all worshiped God the same way, life would be pretty boring. So I am by no means knocking any denomination, because I think that God uses everything for His glory, and every denomination does some kind of good, and brings people to Christ.

Liturgy seems to be my thing. I can do charismatic, evenagelical services all you want me to. But it seems that, for me, the quiet reverence of a liturgical service speaks to my heart the most.

Pottery by God

Last week in church, as we were singing our worship songs, a vision struck me. We were singing the words, "You're the potter, I'm the clay; mold and make me yours today," and I suddenly had this vision:

I was standing in a room full of all kinds of pottery. There were plates, mugs, bowls, saucers, basins, pitchers, etc. All different shapes, sizes, colors. Some glazed, some unglazed. Some with ridges, some smooth. Some up high on shelves, some on counter-tops, some on benches. There was a potting wheel, too. And all around the room was a feeling of work in progress - it felt like the potter was never going to be done potting.

And I began to realize that, beyond the cliche of the potter and the clay, God really does mold us. He shapes us with his hands. And each of us is made for something different. Plates are made to serve food to people, pitchers to pour out water, vases to hold flowers. A plate cannot ever be a vase, and a vase cannot be a bowl, and a bowl cannot be a pitcher, and a pitcher cannot be a plate. If the plate were to choose not to do the plate's job, then it would be placed on a shelf, because it could not do anything else. And once it decided to do what it was made to do, it would have to be thoroughly cleaned inside and out before it could be used for its purpose again.

Even in sets of things - like a service of eight plates, for instance - each plate is slightly different from the rest, because each was hand-shaped by the potter. The ridges and swells may be wider or smaller, or there may be more or fewer. The coloring may vary, the shininess of the glaze may be duller or brighter. Each one is extraordinary, because there is no ordinary when each thing is hand-made.

And I realized, as I looked around that potting room, that we are clay and God is the Potter. We must each do what we were made to do. Some of us were made to be pastors, and we will never be satisfied until we are doing what we were called to do. Some were made to be writers, or artists, or teachers, or managers, or musicians, or fighter pilots. And we must each do what we are called to do. We can run from it all we like, but we will never be happy - really happy - until we are performing the function for which God made us.

So, if you are a pitcher, stop trying to be a vase. Sure, perhaps you can hold flowers nicely. But everyone knows that a pitcher's purpose is to pour out water for thirsty people. So be the pitcher you were meant to be. Or if you are a plate, stop trying to be a mug. Stop fighting what God made you to be, and be who you are in Christ.

(I'm pretty sure I'm an inkwell.)