Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning to Abide

"We all read about the life Jesus describes and are painfully aware that our lives don't match his words."
Vince Antonucci

I guess this whole thing started back in January… actually, if I’m being honest it started way before that, I just chose to ignore God’s gentle nudge until it started to feel more like a shove.

Enjoying a three-day weekend (thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr!), Tevie and I were snuggled in our bed on a cold January morning. Our morning devotional became a great conversation starter and before we knew it, hours had passed and we were in the middle of the deepest conversation we’d ever shared. On one hand, it’s kind of sad to think that it took us 5 ½ years to have that moment… but on the other hand, I don’t think we could have been so open and honest with each other before then.

For some reason or another, we had drifted way too far from God’s guiding. Not on purpose, of course, but because we hadn’t been purposeful in our study and prayer, satan had found a crack in our foundations and wormed his way in (on a side note, you’ll never see me capitalized satan or devil because I don’t think he deserves that privilege). Had we become immoral people? No. Did we look followers of Jesus… unfortunately, that’s a no, too. It was “small” things… cussing when I stubbed my toe, harboring bitterness, getting annoyed with the sweet little checker at the grocery, ignoring the needy, mindlessly writing our tithe check. What was so frustrating was that I KNEW those things were wrong… I just didn’t care enough to do anything about them.

Enter Crazy Love. Upon the recommendation of our very best friends, we bought this book last year… yes, last year, and finally read it in January of this year. I firmly believe that we weren’t supposed to read that book until this year… we just weren’t ready last year. For probably the first time in my life, I felt myself entrenched in spiritual warfare. (Keep reading, I promise I won’t go all charismatic on you.) The devil did not want us reading that book because every time I read, I was moved to action. As an avid reader, I seldom choose TV or other activities over a book I;m enjoying, but there I was finding reasons not to read. This encouraged me to read it more.

In this book, Francis Chan encourages the reader to really consider the way you’re living your life; to firmly grasp the reality that you could die tomorrow; to remember that you can’t take it with you. But most importantly, for the Gooden’s anyway, is the crazy idea to serve “the least of these”… the least of these… and that by loving the least of these we are loving God himself… GOD HIMSELF! In Matthew 25:40 (New Living Translation), Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

Who are the least of these? For the Gooden’s, they are everyone we meet. That’s not an elitist view, at least, it isn’t meant to be. It’s honest realization that there will always be someone hurting more than I am, needier than I am, more lost than I am, more tired than I am, hungrier than I am, more neglected than I am, lonelier than I am, sicker than I am, less appreciated than I am… in these moments I must praise God for where I am, and because I remember what it feels like to be hurting, needy, lost, tired, hungry, neglected, lonely, sick, and unappreciated, I am called to serve the one is now where I have been.

This is not easy! In fact, it’s the hardest thing I have ever set out to do… Our first act of serving in this way was quite possibly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps what I found most rewarding was the feeling of, rather than giving out of our excess, giving sacrificially (we really could have sacrificed a LOT more, but this was our first time leaping out on faith like this- baby steps, I guess)... we didn’t see the faces of the recipients of our gift, but knowing that I filled a need this young family had was gift enough. Giving without the hope of getting is quite possibly the purest feeling in the world.

What we learned all too quickly is that that spirit of giving can’t stay if the spirit of God isn’t residing in you. And my dear friends, I felt like I had helped the Holy Spirit back his bags (or hers, if you’ve read The Shack). I have prayed over and over again to feel God’s presence in my life, to be surrounded by people who love me and will hold me accountable. For a church that can, for right now, lead me into a spirit of worship because I can’t get there on my own.

Enter Divine Intervention. Praise God from whom all blessings flow for girlfriends! With my mom, sister, and best friend in different states I was longing for companionship. Someone to lunch with, gossip with, cry with, but Most Importantly study God’s word with! One of my favorite verses in all of scripture comes from the book of Esther. Moredcai is encouraging Esther to stay strong and he tells her that she has become queen “for such a time as this”. This phrase perfectly describes my newfound friendships. A dear friend, through God’s leading, brought me and my very newest and dearest friend together. A godly woman and ministry partner with her precious husband, she shares my passion for fashion and loving Jesus wholly. As Tevie and I prepare to start our family, her wit and wisdom from raising two beautiful little girls has blessed me richly. Beyond all this, she has invited me into intimate bible study and I have found two new girlfriends who I firmly believe will provide me the same rich blessings. These girls, partnered with the awakening in me and at our church, are blessings straight from heaven. I feel as though I have been created for such a time as this.

I am currently reading Vince Antonucci’s book I Became A Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt. I mentioned earlier that this spirit of serving the least of these and giving sacrificially cannot go one without the presence of the Holy Spirit. This book encourages you to live life with Jesus, rather than living the Jesus-life. So, for now through prayer- and I mean LOTS of prayer- and study, I am striving to abide with God. To feel His presence in every moment of every day. To savor the “thin places”, times when God shows Himself to me.

I could go on and on, but no one wants to read all of this nonsense… well, not that anyone will actually read this anyway… but I digress. For now, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

“Prayer is allowing myself to be gathered up into the arms of my heavenly Father, and listening as He sings His love songs over me.”

I hope you'll hold me to this:
"whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did"
1 John 2:6

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