Glory, glory, glory.

I am a fearful person.

I’m afraid of a lot of stuff – rejection, talentless-ness, failure, death, being alone, being with someone, paying bills, getting jobs, being ordinary, deep water, change, raising dumb children (and I don’t even have children!).

And that’s just the easily-described stuff.

It sounds crazy.  It sounds like I’m hopelessly crippled with fear, and while I assure you that my day-to-day life is rarely hindered by my fears (i.e. I am just as sane as you are), I am still bothered by the darkness inside of me.  The same darkness in all of us, I imagine.  Some are better at giving it to God than are others – I’m definitely one of those people who basically suck at trusting God a lot of the time.

But I’m sort of sick of that.  I’m sort of sick of being afraid.

Tonight – God broke into my fear.  Finally, I listened to Him.

New Life Worship, a team from Colorado, came to my school for a worship conference this weekend.  I was so excited today, because I knew there would be a worship concert tonight.  I needed this.

How selfish a statement is that?  I needed this worship time.  As if the worship was for me.

But I think God was working in my excitement today.  Lately I’ve been… Distracted.  Caught up in myself.  Wallowing.  Distant.  I was excited because I knew worshiping would make me feel better, but all along God was preparing me to come into His presence and for once think of something other than myself.  He knew my selfish motives.  But He wanted me to come to Him anyway.

I like how God wants us anyway.  No one else wants the way He wants.  His divine jealousy for my soul is astounding and indescribable.

I was planning on going to the concert all day today, but everyone I talked to about it seemed busy with other things – homework, mostly, which is what my friends are always busy with.  I’m quite happy to have hard-working friends who insist on doing homework on many Friday nights.  I, however, hate starting off the weekend with homework, and thankfully I am a communications major, so I rarely have to.  It seemed like I would be going to the concert solo – slightly depressing, to say the least.  But God prodded me along anyway, and He graciously led me to one of my friends and the girls who live with her.

God planned my company.

Then we sang.  Oh, we sang.  The worship team was one of the most humble I’ve ever seen, and the choir of college students behind them – some of the most genuine, beautiful worshipers.

Do you ever watch people praise God?  I do – all the time.  I’m sure it probably looks pretty creepy to someone else: it’s one of those really intense bridges in a song, when half the people are stretching into the air, reaching to God, and everyone’s eyes are closed, and then there’s me, eyes wide open, whipping my head around, staring at people who aren’t seeing me back.  I have this goofy smile on my face and I am sure I look ridiculous, but I love it.  If I catch someone’s eye, I immediately return to Socially Acceptable Christian Worship Pose.  But only until they get lost in God again.

That’s part of what I did tonight – I watched the choir.  I picked out people I didn’t know and I learned what words made them beam, what chords caused their arms to rise, what rhythms made them jump and clap.  I thanked God for these people who seemed to want Him in a way I tried to want Him.  I asked God to heal the rifts in their hearts like I wanted Him to heal mine.  Some of the worshipers I did know, or at least I’d seen them around, and I thought of all I knew about them and all I didn’t know about them and all I wanted to learn about them and all I’d never guess about them.  I thought about the great oceans that rage inside of people, souls of immeasurable depths that God saw and lived in and loved.

Then God would hit me, and up my arms would go (which, even after almost two years in a Baptist school, is still a bit uncomfortable for this Methodist girl), and I would shut my eyes to the world and let Him sing to me.

“Stop thinking so much,” He would whisper.

I just praised Him.  Not because it made me feel good.  But because I wanted to show Him I loved Him too.  It was like I had to do something in return for all the grace He’s bathed me in.  Even though I will never come close to repaying Him, and even though the only thing He asks of me is… Me.

We had a time of prayer in the middle of the service.  And this time, I really prayed.  I didn’t let my mind wander away, the way it so often does.  I talked to Him and I listened to Him.  I let myself go, lost myself in who He is.  He asked for my fear.  I told Him I wanted to give it to Him.  He reminded me that His love is perfect and it makes fear vanish.  He reminded me that He is Peace.  We talked about my stage combat class, the one I was so afraid of and yet so drawn to, so intimidated by and yet so empowered by.  He told me that I was getting good at pretend violence, which is a weird thing for God to say, but I think maybe He was trying to make me laugh.  Then He showed me that my fear is like a battle, like a combat scene, but real, not theatrics.  It was a war already He had already won, but a battle that I insisted on fighting by myself anyway.  He said I didn’t need to do that.  He said He had already given me a warrior spirit, that He makes it possible for me to not be afraid.  Because He takes those fears away.

I don’t always talk with God the way I talked to Him tonight.  But I like it.  I need it.

The band started playing A Camp Song.  Of course, it’s a normal-life song to normal-life people.  But once you sing a song to the tune of one guitar and a bunch of birds and under a setting sun on a summer evening (and then do it about fifty thousand more times the same way), it is always A Camp Song.

They started singing it and I laughed.  Audibly.  One short, hearty “HA.”  In the dang middle of Intense Prayer Time.  It was totally not even a “HA.” sort of song.

You dance over me/While I am unaware.

I laughed because there He was.  God, right there, affirming my worth and my safety and my freedom, with a song that meant more to me than anyone could know.

The worship band did what worship bands do and transitioned effortlessly into a few increasingly up-tempo, victorious-type songs to round off the evening.  I did my looking-around thing again, and everyone was joyful.  I saw a boy in the choir put his hands behind his head, grin, and then look down at his shoes as if the glory he knew was around him was too much to take in.  I saw an old man jumping straight up and down.  I saw a girl in the balcony twirling in circles and laughing.  I reached my hands up to God like a little child begging to be swept into her daddy’s arms and I thought, “If this is what it is like to praise You in a broken world, I cannot wait to praise you in Heaven.”

Tomorrow, I will have to ask God to make me fearless again.  And then every morning after that, and probably multiple times a day, I will have to keep asking Him.

But He wants me.  And tonight I was reminded of how awesome it is to want Him back.

Magic Cake People

Tonight I had dinner with a dear friend of mine who has been away over the past year.  She was my bible study group leader during the first semester of my freshman year, but took some time off school and just came back this semester.  She’s such a sweet girl, so intent on loving Christ.  We ate and talked for over an hour about our adventures over the past year: she climbed some mountains, I worked on my first collegiate theatre production; she worked six days a week, I finally took some upper-level communications classes.  Through the beauty and wonderment of technology, we discovered we both purposefully Facebook stalked one another, keeping up with the amount of life that can be kept up with through  ambiguous statuses and snapshots.  We wrote a few emails and followed each others’ Pinterest boards.  But I was so excited to have dinner with her tonight, because I wanted to tell her in person how important she was in getting me through the past year, even if it was only through social media.

Here’s how it is: I am inclined to believe, lately, that no one figures anything out.  Ever.  A few years ago – around 16, 17 years old – I began waiting for adultness to hit me like a tidal wave, drenching me with maturity and wisdom, washing the child off of me and revealing my shiny adult self, the person I was meant to be for the rest of my days.  I was fairly certain that I had experienced my share of trial, I had learned the lessons, fought the good fight, and now I was at last the all-knowing, never-going-back, full-grown woman I was supposed to be.  Like life was this grand Easy-Bake Oven, where you put the powdered food dust in a bowl, stick it in the lightbulb oven of adolescence, and when it dings, out comes a perfect cake of a person.

But the last year or so has more or less disproved my Magical Cake Person Theory.  As it happens, I still make the same mistakes I made when I was in high school.  I still don’t pray enough, I don’t trust God the way I should, I still allow fear to suck the life out of me, I still try to control basically everything.  I know better what I need to do and why, I try harder sometimes, and sometimes I conquer the sin that lurks inside me.  I know myself way more than I did when I was 16, so I know my tendencies and I know my temptations, and I’m better equipped to deal when life happens.  But, my bottom line conclusion is turning out to be that there is no such thing as a Magical Cake Person.  Even the people everyone thinks is a Magical Cake Person is not one; even the person who thinks he himself is a Magical Cake Person is not one.  By and large, I’m beginning to think everyone has just gotten really good at faking it.

Of course, I don’t think everyone fakes everything.  That is ridiculous because joy is real.  You can be joyful and content while still not having figured most things out, I know for a fact.  I’m just saying that we are hard people to teach lessons to.  We don’t learn.

Tonight my friend and I talked about that.  We talked about the brokenness inside of us – not tragic brokenness; just the brokenness associated with being a human being.  We talked about how sick we were of going it alone, of Christians acting like they’re put-together people.

“How prideful is that of us?” my friend said.  “You and I, we insist on dealing with life alone, when in reality, probably everyone is just like us.”

“And yet so many people still go it alone,” I replied.  “I feel like there are two Courtneys – one who seeks God and praises Him and finds His truths amazing and beautiful, and another one who does nothing.  Who acts like He isn’t going to come through for anything.”

“I know!” she said.  “Time and time again, God has proved Himself to be faithful and good, and we are still afraid and we still don’t trust Him.  I don’t want that.”

There’s this stunning story in the Bible, way back in Genesis.  We’ve been learning about it in Old Testament Lit.  It’s one I thought I knew, after years and years of Sunday School felt boards and children’s books.  But God is just blowing my mind with this one, opening my eyes to the heart of it.  It’s a rich, complex story, but the gist of it is straightfoward: Abram and Sarai were promised a son through which restoration and redemption would come to Israel.  For years, Abram and Sarai trusted God… mostly.  Then they would doubt, and they’d screw up, but God would fix it, because He promised.  And God can’t break promises.  So then they’d trust for a while, until they didn’t trust, and they’d screw up, and God would fix it, because God can’t break promises.  And it would happen a few more times over the next couple decades, and each time, they’d come through the trial having been taught a lesson that stuck for a while, until they messed up again.  But they were growing and learning, and God was always faithful, and He would always draw Abram and Sarai – newly named Abraham and Sarah – close to Him.  Eventually, He gave them the promised son, Isaac.

One day, God told Abraham to go sacrifice Isaac.  So Abraham went to do it.  This is where my mind sort of blows up, because they never told it to me like this in Sunday School.  For years, Abraham had seen God be faithful.  So when God told him to kill his son, He knew God would be faithful again.  Because God had promised that restoration would come through Isaac, and God cannot break promises.  With God, whatever He speaks comes true.  Always.  And Abraham had finally learned this.  He knew that if he killed his son, God would still keep His promise – to bless the nations through Isaac.  And if Isaac was dead, that couldn’t happen… so if Isaac died, Abraham knew that God would reverse the death… Because

God

keeps

His

promises.

Abraham finally got it.  And God ultimately affirmed Abraham’s faithfulness by providing a different sacrifice than Isaac.  And more than that, God blessed the nations by sending Jesus through Isaac to die a real death, live again, and give restoration and redemption – the promise.

And Abraham never lived to see that on earth.  And God was still faithful.  He promised He would be.

My friend and I talked about that story and sat in awe for a few moments.  Despite our brokenness, our failure to trust, our Abram-and-Sarai condition, God still teaches us and God still wants us and God still uses us.  He takes us and changes our name because He has promised us that someday we will see the fulfillment of every promise He’s made.

So, maybe I need to amend my previous statement – that no one has it figured out and it is a sad thing.  Maybe not having it figured out is an inconsequential thing, something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of it all.  We can’t figure it out, and we won’t, but we trust God anyway.

If I believe Abraham and Sarah and Isaac’s story is true, than I must believe that God will do no less with me.

Aside

Building an Eden

When I was in high school, I worked as a junior counselor at an amazing camp.  I had been a camper there for years, ever since I was about 8.  I was always painfully homesick, until one summer right before ninth grade, when I just stopped crying.  I had all of a sudden fallen in love with camp, and I never, ever wanted to leave.  So I made a promise to myself: the following summer, I would volunteer my entire summer to work as a counselor-in-training.

A year came and went, and there I was at camp, for two months.  I came home every weekend, but every weekend I could only think of going back.  The following summer, I did the same thing, but this time, I was in more of a leadership position amongst our little squad of volunteers.  I grew and learned so much that year.  I fully expected to be hired onto staff for the following summer – the fulfillment of my dream as a 17-year-old.  It was rare to be hired as a minor, but I felt like I deserved it.  And maybe I did.  I was good, I was experienced, I was loved and respected.  Maybe I felt too entitled for my good.  But in my mind, I was a lock.

I wasn’t offered a job.  I was asked to come back for one more year as a volunteer.

And I was crushed.

I was crushed for months.  I was hurt, because I had felt like something that was implicitly promised to me had been yanked away without any justification.  I felt betrayed and unwanted.  My idyllic place, my perfect camp, suddenly had become so very human.

It took me the better part of my senior year of high school to work out why my heart had broken so badly over something so trivial, in hindsight.  After all, no one had promised me the job aloud.  There was no real betrayal.  I’m sure that my longing and expectations for a job were common knowledge, and perhaps I could have been let down softer.  But it was no one’s fault.  The thing that broke my heart was not a vicious attack.

It was as if I was thrown into bitterly cold water.  I was not hurt, but it felt like knives.  I was in no danger, but my senses were hyper-aware of the change.

You see, I had spent my entire life building my camp up as a place of perfection, as heaven-on-earth, as Kingdom Come.  It was a place of Eden-esque beauty.  In my head, nothing bad could happen.  Nothing could hurt me.  I was protected from everything.  I had no notion of fear at this place, because it had become like God to me.  It was my idol.

And then my idol didn’t come through.  It proved to me, all at once, that I had it so painfully mixed up.  God makes promises that won’t be broken.  Not camp.  Because camp, as Christ-centered, loving, and safe a place that it is, is a place overseen by humans, populated by humans, who make human mistakes, and handle things like humans tend to handle things, for good or bad.

The humanity of it all broke my heart.  The sin crushed me.  Not the people who so lovingly care for camp, not the fields and trees and rocks and water that makes it up.  But the very un-Heaven-ness of the place startled me to tears.  I did not expect to find sin in a place I had deemed “Christian,” because I had purposefully ignored the fact that even the best of this world is tainted with the Fall.

I ended up working on staff at camp for two years.  Those two summers were some of the most challenging, beautiful, fulfilling periods of time in my life thus far.  I wouldn’t have been ready to work there as a 17-year-old.  My time there was not perfect, and everything did not go perfectly, but I promise you that all of it was overseen my a perfect God.

Which brings me to today.

I go to a beautiful Christ-centered university called Cedarville.  In my three-going-on-four semesters here, I have learned more than I ever thought would possibly fit into my head, both in and out of the classroom.  I have been blessed by magnificent, Godly professors and mentors.  I have been challenged and strengthened by chapel speakers and dinner-table discussions.  I feel so blessed to be surrounded by a community of believers who truly strive to know the heart of the Lord.

It will only take you a few minutes to do a Google search of my school to discover that in recent months, many students and alumni have become dissatisfied by the University.  As a rule, I like to avoid angry rumors and conspiracies – because I don’t think Jesus spent too much time immersed in contempt.  But I also think it’s important to understand life outside of a vacuum, so tonight I took a few minutes to read up on a the issue floating around.  Simply put, as a few important leaders in the CU community have announced their retirement recently, many have spoken out about a possible dysfunction on the leadership level.  Is Cedarville too focused on pleasing conservative constituents that it is suppressing progress and forcing homogeneity?  As you can imagine, there are some pretty vocal opinions, replete with Facebook protest groups and online petitions.  And people have a right to be concerned.  One should be concerned about something they care about.  Perhaps there is a better way to influence change than trendy Facebook groups or hashtags – by talking to people who actually know what is going on and who can actually make a difference – but I don’t know if it’s right to fault anyone for being concerned.  I think it’s very important to be mindful of our attitudes and actions, lest we lose sight of the things that matter: caring for people above agendas, seeking to love rather than tear down, crawling to Christ as our hope instead of relying on institutions.

But there’s something a little bit deeper.  Something a little bit further under the surface, under the whispered conspiracies, under the haughty proclamations of “If I ran this school…!”

People are hurt.  The Christ-centered college might have faltered on its path.  It might have gone a little too far, it might have wrongly dismissed someone, it might have, for one moment, lost sight of Jesus and chosen the way the world would have done it.  And people noticed.  And now people feel betrayed by something that was supposed to be better than the world.  We were supposed to do the right thing.  We were supposed to look different, to beat temptation.  But then something happened, and someone screwed up, and now there is a blemish.

I think the reason I am less concerned over whatever is happening in the board room at Cedarville than some of my peers is not because I care less.  On the contrary, I care a great deal about my school – I love it.  I trust it.  But I have felt the pain of building an Eden where there is only a pretty garden.  In our Christian communities, there is a magnificent amount of love and joy and beauty and peace and goodness.  But there is not perfection.

And it’s important to keep that in mind.