Saturday, October 21, 2006

God Is Enough

Everything’s changed since I came to this conclusion. The transforming work God’s been doing in me has been tough in some respects, but not nearly as tough as it was on the other side.

Once I quit pursuing happiness and fulfillment and started pursuing the heart of God, my outlook and perspective shifted dramatically. And, oddly enough, I began feeling content and fulfilled, even though my circumstances hadn’t changed at all.

It wasn’t easy. In those first weeks it seemed I prayed a kazillion times a day, “Lord, be enough for me.” Every time I felt frustrated, hurt, ignored, attacked, disappointed, I prayed. And almost immediately my heart would still, my mind would center on the truth that He is enough, and His peace would replace my turmoil.

And He began doing things. Using my writing for His purpose, as I’d always said I wanted. Leading me into deeper relationships with people who, if they don’t always get me, at least respect and love and support me. He challenged me with my recent trip to Africa, and then removed the fears I would normally have had about our travel, the political conditions, and my own shortcomings.

Let me reiterate, nothing outward has really changed. It’s all been inner transformation. It doesn’t matter that one of the judges of the writing contest I entered last spring hated my novel. God is enough. It doesn’t matter that I don’t quite fit into women’s ministry the way I used to. God is enough. It doesn’t matter that I can’t see the specific direction God’s taking me in ministry. He is enough. It doesn’t matter that I find refreshment in solitude, and I had little of it in Zimbabwe. God is enough. It doesn’t matter that my job requires me to defer rather than take charge as I’m inclined to do. God is enough. It doesn’t matter that my kids are growing up and making their own choices without my input. God is enough. It doesn’t matter when an expected invitation—or praise—doesn’t come. God is enough. It doesn’t matter when I can tell I’ve under-impressed someone. God is enough.

I’m still learning what it means to really believe God is enough. But I know that He is.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Funny, isn't it . . .

. . . how faith is so multi-layered? How understanding, comprehending (at least a little), and experiencing God comes in bits and pieces. How understanding our own hearts can sometimes be almost as daunting a prospect.

The above paragraph and those that follow are thoughts I shared with a few friends last April after my introspective question: “Is God Enough?” Looking back, I can see what God was doing in my heart. It just gets better. But for now, I’ll let you pick up where I left off on my last post . . .

I don't know how much further along I am in understanding how to let God be enough for me, but I've had an interesting week. A more satisfying week. A more settled week. Of course, I know God IS enough, but to really feel it when your emotions tell you differently is another matter.

I suppose the greatest and most difficult insight I've had over the past several days has been how juvenile my expectations of Him have become. I want, want, want. Guess that'd be great if it was all about wanting, wanting, wanting God. But usually it's more along the line of wanting things to work out my way. Because, of course, "I only want what best serves His Kingdom." Oh, brother.

I've been pondering how low I must have sunk that he has had to teach me so patiently (read that as "so long"). I now see that during the past year God has removed most of my usual props--the things I normally rely on to feel significant, useful, approved of, or applauded. Not exactly Job revisited, but I'm pretty much standing alone right now, just learning to let the Lord be enough for me. As if I could handle anything more.

I know I'm not alone, though. Besides God, I'm discovering a few brave souls willing to truly love and support me just the way I am. Even if I do test their ability to sort out my ramblings.

And about significance. Well, maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be. At least not when your significance lies in the value others ascribe to you rather than the value God gives you.

Dadgum, I'm embarrassed that these things are so basic. I used to KNOW them. Not sure what happened other than that it's the same old deceptions just prancing around in makeup and high heels.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Facing the Truth

I attended a ladies retreat at a YMCA camp in Winter Park, Colorado last weekend, enjoying fun and fellowship and challenge with both new and old friends. There was a YMCA poster on the wall of our meeting room that spoke these profound words: “You never find yourself until you face the truth.”


Most of you have no idea how accurate this statement has proved to be in my life this year. While I’m not proud of where I’ve been, the conclusions I’ve come to since—by God’s grace—have changed everything. The remainder of this post is taken from my journal entry last March. It’s not important that you understand exactly where I was. And I ask that you be patient to read my next few posts describing some of what God’s been doing in my heart since—it’s been awesome. But for now, just read. And maybe consider what truth you need to face on this journey of yours.

Is God enough?

I know in my mind that he is, and I sense in my heart that he is, but somewhere—at my core—I'm wrestling with that question. Maybe it's disappointment speaking. Maybe it's disillusionment clouding my thoughts.

Funny. Disillusionment means the illusion has been removed. Was the illusion that God is enough? Or was the illusion that things will work out, that he will remove my hurt, that when he's on my side he'll bring me success, acceptance, and honor?

I've been troubled lately--afraid the former is true. Afraid that no matter what everyone says, no matter what the songwriters pen, no matter what I've written, taught, and assured people of in the past, God isn't enough. How trite the DJ's have sounded on the Christian radio stations, purring that "The Lord is the answer for every heartache." Well, I have the Lord, and my heart still aches.

But despite my doubts, in my gut, I'm sure the latter is true. I'm ashamed that I've been deluded into thinking like the immature think on these matters—like Christianity is some sort of happy pill—but it's the first thing that's really made sense to me in months. No wonder I've felt so isolated, inadequate, ugly, rejected. No wonder I haven't understood the pain, the loneliness, the tears, the sense of loss. I know better.

It forces me to ask—what now? Am I willing to let God be enough? I'd better be, for he is abundant in his giving, whether it's love, mercy, grace, or comfort.

But can I pursue God alone? Can that be enough for me? Can I really let him do what he will with my talents, desires, and passions? Can I be all right with being ignored, forgotten, undervalued by man? Can I accept furrowed brows, puzzled faces, changed topics of conversation, and outright disagreement when I share my ideas and heart?

Is God enough?

I know I want my answer to be a resounding, Yes! I sense that if I can get my mind around this concept, grasp hold of it with all the passion inside me, then I will be one of the most blessed and content women on the face of the earth.

So, here's what I think: I believe God's inviting me into deep intimacy with him like I've never even imagined. That he wants to be my food, my drink, my very breath. St. Ignacious said, "The glory of God is man fully alive," but I haven't really been living. I've been yearning, not for bad things, but for lesser things. I've been searching for purpose, meaning, significance. I've wanted my life to matter--but it can never matter like I want it to unless I get this one thing: God, alone, is enough.

Until he is enough for me, he will never be fully formed in me. I'll never be fully alive. Fully glorifying him. Writing, ministering, encouraging, praying, leading, teaching--none of it will matter unless it glorifies him.

God help me . . . I want to believe it. To get it. To live it.

Can I let God be enough for me?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Zimbabwe Looks Like . . .

In September Zimbabwe looks like a land waking up from winter. Like the purple flowers of the jacaranda tree and bright red bougainvillea. Like green popo fruit trying to turn ripe and yellow. Like small gardens filled with kale and tomatoes. Like baobab trees stripped of their bark, a sacrifice to woven mats.

It looks like the dusty, cracked feet of a twenty-year-old village woman. Like mothers nursing babies. Like the tattered clothing of an orphan. It looks like women carrying every manner of thing on their heads—baskets, suitcases, bags of mealy-meal, bundles of thatch, firewood, tall buckets. It looks like women and children carrying their little ones or siblings strapped to their backs with beach towels.

It looks like coffee colored skin, dark and glistening. Like young eyes that have seen too much. Like curious glances and warm smiles. Like twisted feet and untreated tumors. Like the sallow complexion of HIV.

It looks like bricks made from the soil of termite hills. Like round huts with thatched roofs. Like ox carts driven by small boys or young men. Like old preachers in faded suits. Like people walking or sitting or bicycling along the road. Like a pitch black countryside at night. Like hopeful vendors rushing to your car windows with hands full of bright orange carrots or baskets of oranges, lemons, apples.

It looks like prayerful dependence in the midst of pain and suffering.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Zimbabwe Tastes Like . . .

In September Zimbabwe tastes like grit in your teeth. Like orange Fanta gliding cold and sweet over your tongue.

Like salty kapenta which moments beforehand were staring from your plate with sightless eyes.

It tastes like sadza, bland and thick.

Like sugary telephone pudding at the game park lodge. It tastes like the apples you eat in the backseat of a small extended cab pickup while bumping down a cratered single lane road.

It tastes like trail mix and granola bars you brought from home, a makeshift and welcomed lunch. It tastes like water you made sure came from a safe source.

It tastes like chicken fried so hard you cannot break or bend it. It tastes like pork and beans every morning for breakfast and strange sausages you pass along to someone hungry enough to appreciate them.

It tastes like pure spiritual milk in the midst of oppression.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Zimbabwe sounds like . . .

In September Zimbabwe sounds like singing. Loud, warbling tones that somehow blend into the sweetest music. It sounds like young people clapping, keeping time with the rhythm of their voices.

It sounds like the delighted laughter or shy giggles of orphans.

Like widows ululating in thanksgiving. Like a hotel maid humming as she bends low, raking leaves with a small homemade whisk.

It sounds like the bleating of goats in the school yard and bells clanging around the necks of oxen pulling a cart or cattle meandering past the church gathered on a wide rock.

Like the crack of the masasa tree as its seed pods burst open. Like the squawk of guinea fowl.

It sounds like children along the roadside yelling, “Hello!” as your vehicle passes. Like fussy babies cradled in the arms of their grandmothers, for their mothers have died of AIDS.

It sounds like songs of praise drifting down a footpath through brittle grass in the midst of a barren land.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Zimbabwe Feels . . .

In September Zimbabwe feels dry. Dry and dusty. Dust that covers your clothing, plasters your neck and arms, coats your hair until you feel like you’ve become as hard and worn as the dirt roads that carry you into the bush.

It feels like calloused hands grasping yours. Like the strong arms of a wizened old woman hugging you roughly. Like a young woman who embraces you, burying her face in your shoulder, reluctant to let you go. Like children crowding around, jostling you, trying to glimpse their faces on your digital camera.

It feels like the unrelenting firmness of timber spanning two boulders, an improvised church pew protected from the sun’s heat by the shade of a scraggly tree. Like cool water poured over your hands before you eat.

It feels like the surprising satisfaction of the Bread of Life in the midst of hunger.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What It's Like

Since my return from Zimbabwe, one question has been asked predominantly: "What was it like?" I'll spend the next few days trying to respond.

Others who traveled before me kept saying, "I'll never forget the way Africa smells," so naturally, I wondered.

Well, maybe I went at the right time of year--early spring. Or maybe I was congested from too much dust in the air. At any rate, I struggled to put it into words.

But I was struck by this:

In September Zimbabwe smells like smoke. Smoke from a million cooking fires. From fields being burned in preparation for the planting season. From grass fires raging through the parched countryside. From vendors roasting maize on the street corners.

It smells of sweet blooming trees, climbing vines, and bushes. Of unwashed bodies and henhouses and boiled chicken.

It smells of fresh laundry washed in a tub outside and draped over fences or bushes to dry. Of dank shops and crowded classrooms-turned-churches, earthy breeze blowing in through open windows.

It smells of hard-to-explain hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What I saw

I arrived home Friday and spent the weekend cocooned with my family, sleeping a lot and letting the stories begin to trickle out.

Loved worshiping with the church at Southwest on Sunday, though the tears flowed as we sang. I'm not entirely sure why, but maybe it was the fact that it was the first time I'd worshiped with these brothers and sisters after so many times of worship with my African spiritual family. And then there was the video.

Not a real video, of course. Just an imagined one playing through my mind. I saw old women carrying their grandbabies on their backs--the young parents dead from AIDS. I saw Chipo and Kuda and Lillian and Sihle--preacher's wives, all of them. I saw faith-filled Pamela balancing a Bible on her head and telling me what God has done in her life. I saw the women's prayer group in Harare, the Sanganai and Chigondo churches meeting under trees, the Christian women at St. Clemence standing by their huts singing us into their fellowship.

I saw orphans playing soccer with rolled plastic bags for a ball, the little boy who carried his small sister because she had a bad cut on her leg. I saw the feeding center at Dorowa, and heard the laughter of the children when they saw their photos on my digital camera. I listened as Precious read Hebrews 12:1-2 from a borrowed Shona Bible.

I saw timber laid across cinder blocks for pews, tattered Shona songbooks, and beautiful ebony faces. I heard the lively Shona song that every congregation seemed to know. I saw Freddie leading worship with the passion of King David. Saw the Sakubva widows--some very young and some very old--collecting their bags of mealy-meal with much rejoicing and thanksgiving. I saw hope and prayer and perseverance and faith and suffering.

I saw all these things, and I felt humbled. Connected. Inspired. Grateful. In awe of our great and loving Father. Thankful for Jesus.

And so the tears dripped from my chin as I wept through a song and a half and Bob put a tender hand on my knee.

Then I found my voice and joined in.