Deep Calls to Deep: What I’ve Learned Through Grief and Despair

No matter where the arms of a clock may land, there is never an ideal time to receive bad news. No amount of sugarcoating makes being told that you’re losing your job, that you’re not going to be able to attend you’re dream college, that you’ve got an illness that has no cure, that your significant other is leaving you, that you have cancer, or that your loved one has passed away any more bearable. Even if you’re braced for it — you’re still blindsided. Shell-shocked. Left with a pit in your stomach, your heart in free fall, and ringing in your ears. Suddenly, the world seems to flip. What was up is now down. Left has become right. You’re tossed around by wave after wave after wave of emotional and spiritual distress. Darkness descends upon you as the storm of grief, an ugly tempest, unexpectedly arrives at your door. Where do you go when the darkness closes in? What do you do when you find yourself sitting among the broken pieces of your heart? What are you to do?

Honestly, I do not know what to write. I have tried time and time again to make something coherent of my restless thoughts. I find that this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to write. Honestly, this is more than I am able to process. A burden far beyond my ability to carry. A path that I am not able to navigate. I am at the end of myself. I have nothing left in me. Frankly, I do not know why I am writing this in the first place… For the last two months, grief has been my constant companion. the most bitter of fruits, an unexpected quest who’s outstayed its welcome. This season, utterly unbearable and quite insufferable, has left my heart rend, cleaved in two, and ground to dust. I continue to lose the words to say, and in the quiet moments, with stinging tears streaming down my face, I find myself crying out to God, “Why?”

Why would you do this, God? Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand! Help me! Help me understand, because I don’t! In my distress, I’ve cried out to God in worship with songs that speak to my present sorrows and to remind my weary, defeated soul that God is still good. Never, not for a moment, have I doubted God’s goodness, but I don’t feel it. I know, from the depths of my soul, that God is working in this season, but I don’t see it. Day after day, I have to preach God’s word to myself. I have to remind myself, and my broken heart, that God remains faithful no matter what I feel. In spite of what I see, God remains true. Yet, I continue to find myself asking God, pleading really, did it really have to be this way?

As I’ve searched through the scriptures, seeking anything that would comfort my anxious heart, I’ve found myself repeatedly in the psalms. Here, among the songs of psalmists, I have found that grief and despair exist simultaneously with joy and peace. I have chewed, day after day, on the vivid imagery and deep meaningful expressions of the psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

-Psalm 42 (ESV)

Here, within the words of the psalm, the psalmist is despairing. His heart hurting beyond measure, weighed down with an a burden seemingly unable to be carried. Yet, in the midst of such anguish, the psalmist is reminding himself that God is bigger than his pain. Hope in God; for I shall again praise him. In the moment of despair, the psalmist looked toward God and the hope that would come again. The psalmist writes as though he does not feel as though God is near to him and that he cannot see God in the midst of this present struggle. Hope is hard to come by as his heart and soul are overcome with grief. As I reflect upon my present anguish, I cannot help but see my life echoed in this psalm. How long must I keep going before I’m no longer over taken by the waves of grief? How long until my heart finds solid footing in God once again? Why are you cast down, my soul?

I feel so weak, so weary. At times, I feel like a broken record skipping and repeating as wave after wave crashes over me. Suddenly up and then suddenly down. Every day, I seem to learn something new about God’s mercies and the deep wounds of grief. I’ve come to learn that I’m not alone in my suffering. Somewhere, through my sobbing, I heard, as if a whisper, God tell me that it wasn’t suppose to be this way.

Losing my beloved friend has been the single greatest struggle of my life. This affliction has been and continues to be insufferable, unbearable, and has wounded me deeply. Death is not part of the natural order of life, because death was not apart of God’s original design. You and I are not equipped to process death! We should not know what grief feels like, to know what it feels like to be dying, or to have somebody that we love pass away. Our flesh, our minds do not know how to respond to these things because they were never intended to experience these things. When God created all things, placed Adam and Even in the garden, and gave them dominion, death was not apart of the equation. Death is the side effect of sin, and when sin entered the world all of creation groaned out. Deep calls to deep. All of creation, with Heaven, with God cries out in anguish because it’s design has been corrupted! Death has tarnished that which God has created.

This world, broken by sin, cries out to its creator. Bemoaning it’s fallen state. It’s cries echoed back from Heaven in an deafening roar of God’s glory and majesty! The psalmist is (metaphorically) caught in a sea that is churned up by restless winds, thrown about by massive waves that leave him desperate to catch his breath, as he’s deafened by roaring cries of his brokenness. His words back to God are not of desolation and destitution, but of lament. Where has God gone? Why has God forgotten me here as I stand among my brokenness? The psalmist is not doubting God’s presence or reality, but rather lamenting the lacking of feeling! The great disparity of what the psalmist knows in his heart and what he’s presently perceiving. This disconnect is perhaps best illustrated through attempting to walk when your leg is completely numb. Your mind knows that your leg is there and how to operate it, but you can’t really feel it. Thus, you either stumble along with your hand on any surface to help steady you or you stand and wait until you’re no longer incapacitated. Grief hinders our connection to God with its stormy interference.

Heaven roars back into the deep, the maelstrom, in recognition of the disparity that lay between it and the rest of creation. As though creation, in it’s anguish, is reaching up to Heaven seeking deliverance. Heaven reaching down to bring creation back across the fold with compassion. Our grief extends beyond just the immediate causes in this life. Grief, as incomprehensible and ill-equipped as we are, is the manifestation of the separation we have from God! Sin separated us from God. Sin brought death. Sin brought grief. The overwhelming brokenness I am feeling is an echo the brokenness I feel because I am, presently though saved by grace, separated from God. Moreover than the inexplicable, excruciating anguish that is ravaging my heart and my soul — God is angry that I am experiencing this!

Make no mistake about it, God is not taking any pleasure in our suffering! Even though we cannot see God through the storm. When we cannot hear His voice through the raging torrent. God is present with us in the chaos. God is among our brokenness! God is feeling heartache, just as you and I are, because He knows the depths of our souls! God did not create death. Death is not apart of His design. Death is part of the opposition of God’s plans. Thus, when death entered the world, God did something radical. Something that would upheave the new, unnatural order of life. God used death to give life!

Jesus knew that it wasn’t suppose to be this way. Death should have never had a place in creation, yet Jesus found himself grieved after learning that his beloved friend Lazarus has died. John 11:33 tell us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and was greatly troubled.” Even knowing what he was about to do next, Jesus felt the weight of loss. John MacArthur notes that Jesus may have been angered because he was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition. Jesus then wept (Jn 11:35). Weeping for the unbelief of those grieving at the tomb. Weeping for the unfairness that death instituted in creation. Whatever cause for Jesus’ weeping, we see, abundantly, that Christ felt as we feel. Paul, later, would write to the church at Thessaloniki to remind them that for those whose hope is found in Christ do not grieve as if they have no hope. We do not mourn as if this is the final stop. We have hope in tomorrow because of Christ. Jesus would go on to resurrect Lazarus in demonstration of his divine authority over creation. Even though he was resurrected by Jesus, Lazarus would go on to die again. The inevitable was delayed, as God continued to prepare the way for something greater.

I want to let you know that you are loved! Not generally, but specifically loved! When death separated us from God bringing darkness and despair with it, God did not stand by to leave creation as it was. God immediately began to work against death. God made moves to create a way for you and I to be reunited with Him once again! He did this because He loves you! Yes, you! Specifically you! God defeated death by dying! How amazing is that? That God loved you so much that He defeated death so that He could reconcile the relationship with you! The creator of the universe, El Shaddai, wanted a relationship with you so greatly, that He faced death in order to reconnect to you! Nothing can stand against God’s love for you! No amount of fear, despair, brokenness — nothing — can stand against His mighty love for you!

Jesus knew his purpose. He knew, exactly and entirely, what his mission was as he walked the earth. He healed people’s illnesses, raised people from the dead, showed compassion to the least of the least, and he revealed his true purpose by meeting people’s spiritual needs. Jesus came to conquer the very thing which had changed the natural order. Jesus came to defeat sin. With it, defeating death. Everything Jesus taught pointed to the plan God had for redemption. Jesus’ life demonstrated everything you and I could ever need. Trust in the Lord, your God. With your heart, with your needs, with your life!

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

-Matthew 6:25-27 (ESV)

Far too often, we get so caught up in our immediate circumstances that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose sight of God’s plan. We work ourselves up into a frenzy as we try so desperately to control our situations by our own power. We must surrender the need for control. God isn’t seeking to see us get stronger by our own sheer will, but moreover by our reliance upon Him for our strength. As believers, we lean into God’s power through prayer, through seeking His will, by laying our selfish desires aside, and taking up God’s will for our lives. Jesus understood his purpose, and even he went before God to ask for strength and to surrender to His will.

Hours before he would be seized, Jesus entered into Gethsemane to pray and I, in this present season, resonate with Christ’s words as he separates from his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death… (Mt. 26:38).” Anguish was building within Jesus’ soul. He did not fear the physical torment that he was about to endure, but rather Jesus was sorrowful because of the bitter cup he was about to be given. There, Jesus fell to his face and cried out to God, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as your will.” The cup, a symbol of divine wrath against sin throughout the Old Testament, was about to be given to Jesus. Upon the cross, Jesus would bear the sins of you and I and of all creation as the divine wrath against sin would fall upon him. All the anguish, the pain, the suffering was bore on the cross by Jesus. Jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus died upon that cross. His fulfilling cry out to God, at this moment, was Christ experiencing the abandonment and despair that resulted from the cup being poured out upon him. He, Jesus, was the sin-bearer for you! Jesus paid the atoning price so that you and I could be reconciled back to God. Jesus died to defeat death. To defeat sin! God changed everything when He sent Jesus to die on the cross! Where sin had corrupted God’s original design, God had turned death against itself! When we lay out faith in Jesus, something radical happens. We are covered by the blood of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, which nullifies the punishment for sin in our lives. We are able to have a relationship with God once again!

In your time of grief, of despair, you are not alone. God knows and feels the depravity of what you’re experiencing. He does not delight in it, but He calls out to you because this is not the end. For those whose faith is found in Christ, there is hope for tomorrow. Hope in God’s awesome, mighty, sovereignty! Jesus felt every bit of the pain and sorrow that you are inundated with. Knowing that this was what he came to earth to do, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will. His prayer to God, “not as I will, but as you will,” reveals how Christ’s humanity voluntarily surrendered to the will of the Father in all things so that there would be no conflict between the divine will and his desires. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father so that we may not grieve as those who have no hope. Jesus died so that we may have hope that defies all logic and understanding. Jesus died so that we may be able to weather through the tempest of grief in our times of crisis.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus prepared the way in which we should follow. Exemplifying laying our trust and our faith in God, and living that out in every facet of his life. At times, his disciples were baffled by Christ’s words and actions and Jesus, giving the most poignant of responses told them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (Jn 13:7).” Grief can breed many different responses. Consistently, I have found that grief obscures our ability to see God at work in the midst of our lives. Only through purposeful reflection, somewhere down the road, are we, then, able to more clearly see how God had been preparing the way. In the moment, we have great difficulty seeing beyond the brambles of our present suffering. Looking back, we can see how God was working to clear away the path He set us upon. Does this make trails and tribulations more bearable? Perhaps not. However, we may be grateful that God was there with us, working through our lives, to assist us as we continue down the trail set before us. Time and time again, I find myself crying out to God seeking “why?” Why did it have to be this way? The only answer that I have found is that I do not understand now, but one day I will. This has not eased my pain or my sorrow or my suffering, but it has eased my anxiousness. I can keep taking steps forward, though small and tepid at the moment, deeper in faith. This path, while presently twisted and choked out with thorns and thistles, is mine to tread. I am not alone on this path, however. God is with me, feeling as I feel. Picking me back up when the burden becomes too great to bear. Wading through the raging sea of pain and grief with me.

I have shed so many tears as I’ve written this article. Tasting the bitterness of my brokenness, and having my heart rend because I’ve had to preach these things to myself over and over and over again. I have a burden far beyond my ability to carry, and even as I set it down at the feet of Christ, I feel as though I’m only given more. I find it unbearable. The honest truth is that God will allow us to experience things that are so wildly, unbelievably beyond our abilities to carry, to process, and to experience on our own. His purpose being that we’re not intended to carry these burdens apart from Him. I wish that I could say that things have gotten easier, but they haven’t. My heart is pierced repeatedly by the very things that had once been sources of hope and delight that are now, suddenly, daggers of sorrow. At times, I feel so selfish because I wish for nothing more than for things to have been different. Reconciling what I would have hoped for and what God’s will has been, has been my greatest trial. Here, as I sit among the broken pieces of my heart and my life, I know that God is with me. He is putting things back together in a way unlike anything else. This process is not easy or comfortable or quick. But as the storm continues to rage around me and the tempest only grows more turbulent, I hear God whispering through it all, ‘I’m not finished yet.’ I reply, ‘not my will, but your will.’

Who You Say I Am

For as long as I can remember, I have relied solely upon my own intuition. My perspective has been centered on my wants, my desires, my willpower. I have wrestled with God for years over my life and His timing. I have tried to force my will into fruition to no avail and I have seen God work despite my shortcoming and stubborn refusal to wait. I lament that I am so incapable of letting go and fully surrendering my life to Him. I have been having what you might call an identity crisis and have had to step back from what I thought I knew. I wrestle with the shifting perspectives of my life. How I view my life and how God sees my life. Who am I? It is a question that I’ve asked myself on many occasions. Why am I the way that I am? Why am I where I am? Why has God withheld things from me? Who am I suppose to be? Why am I not there yet? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I?

In the sake of honesty and transparency, I am terrible at relying on God. I hold onto my burdens and refuse to let them go. I rely on my own strength, my own mind, and my own abilities when God has asked me repeatedly to trust Him and to rest in who He is. I have known for many years now that my life was on a trajectory that was headed toward vocational ministry and God has recently provided the opportunity to step into that ministry. I am blown away and I am somewhat grieved because I have not believed that He would provide. Despite the numerous times that God has provided great things in my life I still doubt Him. I refuse to believe that God is good and that He has promised great things for me. Why am I so stubborn? Why am I such a failure? Honestly, I do not understand (though I do know and understand) why God is so good to me? I do not deserve anything. I am a mess and yet He still pursues me.

God views my life very differently than I have. I have not been able to glimpse what that is because I have refused to let go of what I have known. What am I to do? I am not lost, but I do not understand. At this time, I exist in a state of flux. I fight for what I want but then remember that I am not my own. I am convicted that I have become so attached to what expectations I have for my life that I have missed out on God’s blessings. I have had to ask God to tell me who I am.



You see, I am not done being molded. There are still areas of my life that need to disappear. I have habits that originate from a time when I was bullied, depressed, and hopeless. Typically they rear their head under the guise of self-deprecating humor but the truth hides within humor. I do not know why I do this or why it manifests in the way that it does. I guess that some pain and self-doubt is rooted in my life and that I doubt myself on nearly every occasion. I am thankful that a dear friend of mine has seen through this and that they are willing to call me out on it. Perhaps I am just scared to surrender. Scared to let people in. To let God in.

I am scared. I am uncertain. I see what God is doing in the lives of those around me and wish that I had what they do. I wish to have what God has not said not yet to. Why can I not be a more devoted follower? Why am I so scared to take risks? To put myself out there? Why am I scared to be used by God? I grieve for my inadequacies and that I am so unworthy of what God has done. As cliched as it may be, I’m letting go. I’m tired, y’all. Tired of fighting against God. Tired of the strive and struggle. I’m tired of resisting. It is so exhausting trying to make my will be done. That is not what God wishes for my life. Or your life for that matter. My identify is totally founded in God. He sent His Son to die on a tree of His own creation to be a sacrifice for my sins. He has invited you and I to join Him and has made a place for us to sit with Him. How amazing is that?

I must doubt my doubts and ask God to help my unbelief. He has done so much for my life and I am at fault for not recognizing it. God has invited me into His home and He calls me by name. What more could I ever need? What more could I ever know? God has told me who I am. I just need to be obedient. God has been so unbelievably good to me and I am grateful! Grateful for friends who call me out, who encourage me, who are hopeful for my future, who share in this time with me. I don’t deserve them, but God has surrounded me with them. He has a reason for our gathering. He has gathered us for a purpose. How can I not be grateful for that? So I take a step back and look at who God says that I am and seek His council. May I trust more fully and be devoted to Him greater.

Why Me?

Little more than a month has passed since that last time I sat down to write something here. Well, that’s not entirely true… I’ve attempted to write on four or five topics but have been stumped by writers block at every turn. I’ve been able to get words onto the page but they failed to communicate what I was attempting to say and were not up to par with my own standards. I trip over my own words as I often trip over my own tongue and awkwardly fumble from one interaction to another. I’m sort of a mess… So I’m not going to write anything today. At least, I’m setting aside the Bible scholar hat and writing something personal and likely as informal as they come. Here goes something.


 

Why me, God? Why have you made me like I am? Why do I feel the way that I do? Why do I yearn for that which I do not have? Why do you continue to bless me while I am entirely underserving? I feel as if I am stumbling forward in life. None of it makes sense to me, God! I am abrasive. Rough around the edges. I do not deserve all that You have blessed me with! Why do You love me like You do? I do not understand…

I am not equipped for what You have presented to me. I am not worthy of what You gifted me. I amount to nothing yet You say that I am beyond measure. Why? I have not done anything to be worthy of Your gaze. I lack in qualifications, but You have presented me with opportunity. I do not deserve love, but You pour yourself out for me. I am irredeemable and still You redeemed me.

I overthink. My heart wanders. I am awkward. I have trouble speaking clearly. I am a mess. How could You ever deem me worthy of Your mercy? How could I ever be worthy of being adopted by You? I doubt You. I run from You. I hurt You. Yet You are always there waiting for me. You always forgive me. You always encourage me. You point me in the right direction. Why? Why are You for me when You should be against me? I should be Your enemy but You call me friend.

Teach me to doubt my doubts. Teach me how to love You more. Lead me to where I belong. Show me my place in this world. I ask You to give me heart for the things of You. To break me down and build me up. I beg that You wear down my edges and mold me into the man that I should be. Let me see the things of You and teach my heart to sing Your praises! Build my life according to Your will. Keep me. Bless me as only You do! Show me how to love like You and to forgive like You. I need You! I am lost without You! God, You are so infinitely good to me and I do not understand. I cannot wrap my mind around it. Why? Why me? Why are you so good to me?

Infinite Interruption: A Spiritual War

I went out with my friends last night after bible study to go see the first movie of the summer movie season, Avengers Infinity War. By all accounts the experience ought to have been the intense culmination of a decade long build up to this movie. However, what would transpire would greatly affect the way I viewed the film and would spark the inspiration of this post. Firstly, I am a huge nerd and film buff. From the moment we took our seats it was apparent that something was off with the picture quality of the projector. As someone who works in the media field, I noticed a stark lacking in the reds and greens. Ok, I can live with it. Yet, about two thirds of the way through the film, the projector decided that it had had enough and blew up. The sound died, the picture faded into the darkness, and an uproar began. Now, I’ve had projectors go out on me before in the middle of a showing so this was nothing odd. The theater did what they could to accommodate us for our troubles and did give us passes to see the movie again if we so wanted. So myself and my friends sat in the 3/4ths full theater for roughly forty-five minutes while they worked on the projector. The movie returned and as I left the theater I was struck by the stark lacking in feeling toward the movie and it was entirely due to the stark interruption of the projector going out! Why? Because for two hours the film had begun to build up tension and anticipation, expectation and excitement. When the movie was interrupted all those internal feelings had time to fade away and changed the way in which the movie impacted me. All in all, by the time I had left the theater I had been up for twenty-two hours and I was struck with one thought… For the follower of Christ, our outlook is based on the narrative we’ve planned for ourselves and when something comes along to interrupt and disrupt that path we lose our sense of understanding.

We all have plans for ourselves and very little do we foresee the challenges and obstacles that we will face in those plans. God, too, has plans for you and I and He works to place us upon the better path. Sometimes God is included in our plans, other times we try to place Him off to the side as if we know better than the one who created everything. In the Christian walk we will face obstacles and we have one of two ways of responding: acceleration and stagnation. Our basis of judging our walks with Christ is largely based on emotional, anecdotal evidences. We compare ourselves with those around us and their walks with Christ and try to measure up. You are not on the same walk that I am on, we may be heading in the same direction, toward the same God, but you and I are not the same persons with the same struggles. Comparison is just one of many hurdles that we must overcome as we move through life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize just how little my expectations match reality. Even as someone who has been walking with God for the better part of my life, I see that my plans are nowhere near where God’s are. I’ve also struggled with reconciling the differences between what I plan and want versus what God has given and ordained. So what does this have to do with a movie and a projector blowing up? When life does not meet our expectations, when an obstacle stands in our path, we must respond in turn. How is it that we choose to respond to such crisis?

See, you and I can both be making progress in our spiritual walks. Life is good, we’re feeling it. We’re raising both hands up in worship at service cause we’re just totally engrossed with the things of God at the moment, but then something happens the next day that shakes up the groove you’ve been in and it throws everything off. A coworker is gossiping about you for some reason or other, your car gets towed, college is swamping you with work, a close friend betrayed your confidence, etc. Things happen all the time! Far too quickly does our focus shift from God to whatever this obstacle is and we stop. We shut down! Our focus is drawn onto the issue and we wallow in it, we live in it. We are consumed by the problem. When this happens, we begin to lose feeling toward the things of God. Why? Because we put God on the back burner until we’ve gotten around, under, or over the problem. My friend Alex sent me a message on Instagram, since I posted about the projector imploding, that read, “They gotta make the war last an infinity somehow.” Her comment was in reference to the movie, but it spoke straight to me regarding this topic. We are the they in that statement. We gotta make whatever disruption is vying for our attention last as long as possible. Why? Because the enemy wants our attention away from God! Y’all, spiritual warfare is a very real thing and I say this not to alarm you, because of you are a believer then you know this already.

Whether the enemy attacks in our plans by interrupting the direction we were heading, or by filling our minds with doubt, self-consciousness, fear, insecurity. The enemy, Satan, will do whatever he can to shift our focus away from God. Like the projector going out and disrupting the movie, the enemy attempts to throw off our sense of progress and connection to God. The momentum that we felt as we were walking with God, praying endlessly, rejoicing freely, worshiping thankfully becomes immediately more difficult and far off. Like taking three steps forward and four steps back. The irony is that Satan will throw something small and petty out there in front of us knowing that we will make a mountain out of a pebble and we will stray away from the path God has set us. See the projector going off and sitting in the theater for an extra forty-five minutes was not a big deal. Yes, it was inconvenient, but not that big of a deal. It was minor annoyance but one that allowed for laugher to be shared. I enjoyed the movie in spite of the inconvenience. So why do we become some hindered by pebbles? Why do we allow the obstacle to “last an infinity?”

Now, there are huge, big, enormous obstacles that we will face in life and those will take time for us to navigate and summit. Yet most obstacles we face and make convoluted ordeals out of are just pebbles that we could easily hurdle and propel further in our spiritual walks. Fortunately, God never leaves us even when we stagnate and focus in on the small things when we should be looking beyond them. Frankly, we can see over the pebbles without much concern as we hurdle over them and begin to measure us to the mountains that we will face. Along the way as we keep focus on the bigger issues, God is preparing us for the more pressing of matters. We must have faith in the training God has and is giving us as we overcome the issues in life. I’m not much of an athlete but I excel in a few areas. One area that I do not thrive in is running/cross country/etc. But I think of a sprinter running 100 meters with hurdles. How odd would it be if they stopped at each hurdle and contemplated every aspect of  the matter instead of leaping over it? They wouldn’t gain much momentum in that process. However, if they were to leap over each hurdle they would indeed gain momentum and let’s say that the last hurdle is far taller than all the rest. Which sprinter would have the momentum to properly clear the final, taller hurdle? Definitely not the one who took 15 minutes at each hurdle and tried to think their way around its existence. Yet we can be that person, sitting in the issue before us no matter how easy we could overcome it and we just lost momentum.

The Christian life does not need to be a stop go affair like traffic on I-35. We willingly make it that way. So when God, the enemy, or life throws us for a loop we can have the discipline to adapt on the fly and maintain the momentum to keep moving forward no matter the trial that stands before us. Nothing can stand in our way because God has already won and has already given us what we need to succeed! We do not need to even glance down at the petty pebbles Satan tries to catch our attention with, we just need to dedicate and devote ourselves to God!


So that is how one movie going experience sparked my mind and the thinks of God. I know it is unorthodox, but you never know when inspiration will spark. Sometimes it comes in the form of a projector dying and a friend making a playful remark about a Marvel movie.

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

Finding Serenity: Peace

Y’all, this past week was phenomenal! Throughout the week God affirmed me in many different ways. Particularly and most noticeably through a friend at my college Bible study who simply paid me a much larger compliment than they knew. I was definitely standing on top of the mountain last week! Which brings us to tonight, I just sat down in my living room to watch my favorite baseball team after going for a stroll around my neighborhood. Where I would normally go walking with music I instead went without with the purpose of spending some time with God. As I began my walk I lifted up a prayer for some friends who have asked for it. One who’s currently working in Asia, one who’s preparing to head to the Middle East, one who’s family is experiencing loss, and then after I had raised my petitions on their behalf I told God that I’d stop talking to Him and talk the rest of the time to listen.

For Texas, it has been unseasonably cool and uncharacteristically overcast. The foggy, misty weather was more reminiscent of the Pacific-Northwest than of Texas. The sharp, deeply saturated greens of the plants contrasted nicely against the cool grey sky and slight mist falling through the air. Most curious, as I live in a neighborhood the is just adjacent from a major thoroughfare, was how quiet the world was. Not the eerie, artificial silence of scary movies but the tranquil quietness of a nature trail away from civilization. The absence of people, cars, and aircraft was noticeable. So as I walked, I just looked up to the sky, its blank canvas, and listened. I’m usually thinking about any myriad of topics with my internal dialogue. A ceaseless back and forth of analysis of situations, probabilities, and impossibilities. However, y’all, I was free of such internal squabbling.

Looking back over the last week, I was at peace with God, my circumstances, and the future. Honestly y’all, there is a ton of uncertainty in the air regarding my future. Today, I learned based on some changes coming to school that it would take me four more years (on top of the four I’ve already attended) to finish the last 33 credit hours of my degree. Yeah… No thank you! However, I have already begun to pray for the future and to cast out pieces of the puzzle to see where they land. I wholly trust God to carry me through all of this. Frankly, I have no idea what purpose it serves at this time but I know there is purpose in it. Some may find it odd, but I’m completely at ease! I have hope for the future; I am optimistic about where the Lord is leading! I have faith that God has good things in store for me!

I wait in eager expectation! Why? Because I’ve seen God move in my life over the last four years. I’ve seen the way God has grown my ministry and the ministry I’m apart of. I eagerly anticipate God to move ever further! To call me deeper into my purpose! So if it’s a job, a school, a wife, a whatever, I eagerly await God’s timing! Y’all, this is peace! Better yet, this is contentment! A full trust and foundation found in God! Psalms begins by making clear that blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord and that he is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, nor does its leaves wither (Psalm 1:1-3 (author paraphrase))! Being rooted in God’s plans and laws gives you and I have a foundation that can withstand the various seasons that come. We will not be withered down and wasted away by seasons of drought, nor will our fruits be lacking when the season of harvest comes! When we are rooted in the Lord we are completely secure! We are without worry! We can have peace!

This is what serenity is, a lacking of anxiety! There’s a reason that God’s peace is described as being beyond all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and that is because it defies our worldly logic! When we’re so busy being caught up with the every minute concern or doubt or fear that crosses our threshold we cause ourselves to suffer. We linger on the here and now because we it appears to be an insurmountable mountain. From our perspective that mountain of an issue appears beyond our capacity to handle, but God looks at it as the pebble that it is and beckons us to trust Him to get us over it, or around it, or through it. Y’all, we can have peace by trusting God with what He has given us. Did you know that God never gives us more than we can handle? Paul makes this abundantly clear to the church at Corinth who were caught up with political associations, the nature of the law, and the liberation found in Christ. Paul declares firmly that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” We will have hardships, we will be tempted, and we will have to endure them. But God has given us the capability to endure all things! He has provided a means of getting through it all! We can find solace in this fact! That when we are founded in God, rooted in His commandments we have no reason to fear! We can have peace through every changing season!

I do not worry about what life I have, or what school I will finish my undergrad at, or who my wife will be, or how I will provide for myself. I trust God to provide all of these things in their due time according to His will. What need do I have in worrying about who to marry? If I am to be married, then she will be moving in the same direction toward God! Where I get my degree does not matter, what God has for me to learn is far more important. How I will provide for my needs is of little concern because I can do just about anything in and so long as I am willing to work for it. The point, y’all, is that we have absolutely no need to get worked up into panic and anxiety. If you are a believer of God, a follower of Christ then you are secure in the hand of God and no thing can ever take you away from Him! Do you believe that? Do you honestly, deeply believe that God has you in His hands? If the answer to that question is no, then perhaps you ought to take a moment to pause and ponder upon what you’re holding to so much that it’s robbing you of experiencing peace. I do not know what it is, nor do I need to. And to be completely fair, I’ve never been much of a worrier. I’ve never had an anxiety attack. So I may not be the best source, but I know that God calls for us to not be worriers! I know that God is sovereign and holds all of creation within reach and is actively involved within it.

Our God is awesome, y’all! Bigger than we can ever know, greater than we can comprehend, and glorious beyond anything we can imagine! Do not let something hold you back from experience the peace that can only be found with God. Embrace God fully and bask in the safety that God provides! I know just how much peace I’ve found recently by letting go and trusting God. While I may just be some guy on the internet to you, I hope that this encourages you. I hope that you may experience peace and tranquility in your life. As I continue forward into this new week, I hope that God continues the work that He’s begun in me and that you would allow Him to do the same in you!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up

The Turning Point: A Story of Redemption

I use to be the happiest, jovial child! I was inquisitive, curious, and carefree! My parents swear that I had such a unique smile that never left me at that time. Looking back, I believe that I had a strong sense of justice. I was very sensitive and could gage right and wrong as well as justice and injustice. I was just a happy kid! This may just be nostalgia but life seemed so much more simple when I was a child. I did not have to worry about what major to take, how I was going to pay for things, girls had cooties (though I always got along with them), and the biggest concern was what fun would be had any given day. I loved Star Wars, and if you accused me of being obsessed you’d be correct, and it filled my vivid imagination. By the time of fourth grade, or 2001 for reference, I was still very much a happy, happy, happy child. However, as I entered fifth grade, that smile that my parents talked about would disappear. In the past few years, when we’ve talked about that time and where I am now, they’ve mentioned that that smile I had never really did return.


 

Family Photos


 

When I entered fifth grade, I found out how cruel other children could be. The way my middle school was set up meant that we had a homeroom that would stay together all day, except for our single elective period, moving from one subject to the next. Around this time, too, my family split from the church we had been attending for reasons I still do not know to this day. We tried a new church, the church I am now attending and serving in, but from around this point forward we were unchurched. Anyway, I spent five days a week, nearly eight hours a day with the same kids who choose me as their victim. They’d tease me, bully me, and would find any means in which to antagonize me. This went on for the entirety of the school year. I distinctly remember reaching a point that I no longer wanted to go to school. I remember fighting with my mom one morning adamantly refusing to go to school. I wanted no part of it. I was completely traumatized, looking back the things the kids would say and mock me with were rather trivial and inconsequential, because I was subjected to it every day. As this continued, I grew more and more spiteful, hateful.

I grew calloused and resorted to fighting back in whatever way I could. I learned how to swear and would throw words back at them. I’d take my anger out on my closer friends because I was hurting. I’d make every effort to toughen up and carry the weight of the pain and suffering. I tried to endure. And Y’all, I failed miserably. I became a very angry person. I hated everyone. I’d take out my anger on doors, walls, my siblings. I was explosive. Anger and hate sat just under the surface and would implode by the slightest issue. Even as I moved on to sixth and seventh grade, the bullying lessened as I got bigger and larger than most of my peers. However, the pain that I experienced as a child lingered and worsened. I isolated myself which led me into greater sins that I will not discuss at this time. I avoided people as best I could. My anger became my most valuable weapon during this time in my life. I also adapted my words to be nuanced through sarcasm to mask the hate I’d spread.

I very truly entered into a self-destructive path between 5th and 8th grade because I had an issue in controlling my anger. I also became a skeptic and a cynic. I trusted nobody apart from myself. At some point between the eighth grade and ninth grade, my entire family began going to counseling for other issues. I definitely wasn’t having it either. Let alone, I didn’t trust this shrink, who is actually a pretty fantastic person whom I have much respect for now, who was trying to invoke in us a change. However, what I needed was this person holding up a mirror to myself and my family to reveal the issues that were dwelling within my broken soul. My tongue spread nothing but hate and lies to those I came into contact with. Y’all, when the Bible says the tongue can either give life or it can kill its not lying! So for a good chunk of my schooling life, I was lost and angry and bitter.

Something changed toward the end of my freshman year. I was reintroduced to the church. I slowly, hesitantly made my way back to the place full of broken people. It would take the rest of my time in high school to begin to change my ways. I was fortunate to have a youth paster who was willing to battle through my transition into a new stage. Y’all my words had become different, they were sarcastic and cruel, but were guised as humor. Through my sophomore year, I was still in my ways speaking sarcasm and being a jerk. I was terrible. I was a mess. I find it funny now, that toward the end of high school that God would place a calling on my life to love others. To make every effort to love anyone I come in contact with.

Allowing God to do a work on our lives is a process. One that takes more time than we might imagine. Even to this day, I have to be careful with how I speak and I admit that there are times when I’ve not kept the sarcasm in check. My attempt at humor is biting, especially when it’s not intended to be so. I can, in all praise to God, look back at where I was then and where I am now as a completely different person! In some ways, I’m still the same but I’m no longer burdened with anger. I am free from the shackles of anger and hate that weighed me down for so many years. Now, I know that I cannot undo the hurt that I inflicted to people, my family, my friends, but I recognize the purpose God has placed upon me. To move from where I was then, and identify those needing love. To build up people, to encourage people, to share unconditional love to all who need it. This takes many forms, a word, a smile, a side-hug (cause modesty), a funny story, a conversation around a trashcan after dinner, and so on. We all want to feel wanted. To feel like we matter. To feel like we’re appreciated. To feel the appropriate kind of physical love (like a hug or a pat on the back). The tongue can do just that, give life or tear somebody down. I never want to be that person again, the one who tore others down. I never will be thanks to the power of Christ’s sacrifice and drawing us to a place of redemption.

So now, nearly done with college and quickly approaching my thirties, I have a purpose before me both at church, work, and at home, to share life with those I come into contact with. I have a purpose in my service to both my high school and college students, to be a source a life to them. Why? Because I know the transformative years that are high school and early college. The uncertainty of the future. The need for a foundation. The fear of what’s coming. I eagerly look forward to being a church where I find myself every week! I love my peers for no particular reason, but just because I love them! I look forward every day to to hear about their weeks, to hear about their wins, to listen to their stories, to play games together, to worship together, to share in the lives! I am endlessly grateful that I have the ability, now, to love people! To recognize those who are needing encouragement! To be a source of life to someone! Y’all, it’s all because of God! Because of Christ! I can smile again! I am happy again! I have love! I have life! I have a purpose! I have a reason for living! I am free! I am redeemed! While that smile that my parents saw as a child has never returned, it’s been replaced by a smile of somebody who has happiness, who has love! It’s a different smile! This is a small part of a larger testimony of what God is doing in the lives of people across the globe. It is my hope, that even as I write this blog for myself, that my testimony may have an impact on all who come across it. God loves you! God wants to do a work in you! He wants to give you a purpose and reason for existing! It is my prayer that through my life God will be glorified and that people will see the work Christ has done in my life! My motivation is not my own glory, because I could not on my own change from my hateful, angry ways, but to be a source of life to people just as Christ has given me a source of life!

 

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up!

Saying Yes: Being Faithful in the Small Decisions

Making decisions can be a relatively difficult task. Especially in light of bigger obstacles that seem to loom on the horizon. I have recently been made aware of things coming down the road that will have a significant impact on my life. The type of things that require decisions to be made and tough choices to be weighed. I can pivot and take a new path. I can do nothing and continue as I am. I could change everything entirely and try something new. Even now, as I sit here, these thoughts are on the back of my mind as they sit heavily in the realm of uncertainty. The unknown is scary and frustrating. The uncertain aspects of life challenge our sense of security and cause us to go into a place where we either flee or dig in. Ready to outrun or fight off whatever change seeks to come. What are we do to? How are we suppose to come to a conclusion? How are we to know what step to take next? These questions can and do go on indefinitely. For myself, a deep inward thinker and feeler, these types of situations cause lots of overthinking. 

The extent of my overthinking comes from the exploration of every possible path. There is some wisdom at looking where my actions may go and what impact they may have on myself and others. Seeing beyond the immediate also assists with seeing where potential trouble lies ahead. However, I can get hung up on exploring these paths entirely in my head till I reach a place of inaction. I’m stuck unable to come to a conclusion because all the pieces of the puzzle are not yet in place, or the time is not opportune. Like, should I take this job, should I ask that girl out, should I seek other areas of ministry, should I change schools, majors? Some of these questions are mundane in nature, but carry bigger implications. For instance, it’s easy to spend money on a video game when you’re not having to worry about gas, insurance, food, etc. Yet it is much harder when you’re justifying spending extra money when you’re thinking about dating, insurance, school fees, etc. Overthinking, at least in my case, is not anxiety or nervousness. My overthinking is an attempt to find the most ideal course of action. This in turn is also how I curate the way in which I may be perceived. I’m very careful of the images I like on Instagram, or the way I present myself on Facebook, or how I conduct myself at work. My character and reputation mean a great deal to me, and I take great care to maintain it. Like Paul, I seek to live above reproach and that requires examining how others my perceive me. So what am I to do?

My problem lies in my poor prayer life. Like many things in life, I have seasons where prayer is easy and times when its difficult. Part of my issue is my own stubbornness. Having the mindset, as a man, that I can take on any issue or situation by my own strength and determination is faulty. Why? Cause I’m poorly equipped to wage war on sin. I am loosely fastened for the loops and twists of life. My attention is pulled in too many directions, and my heart is not set in God. If I were judging my own life, I’d call myself a failure. I’m hopelessly, grossly failing at everything. Fortunately, I am not the judge of my life and I know that without God I cannot do anything. I recognize my deficiencies, I see my shortcomings. While I do not always address them immediate, as I rightfully should, I feel the necessity to do so. Inaction leads to nothing, and inaction with sin leads to more death. Additionally, not including God in my plans is like getting into a car without a steering wheel while going around a sharp turn at high speeds. It’s foolishness! I’m guilty of doing just that, trying to go through life without God leading my every decision. This is not to say that I do no make choices with God and righteousness at the forefront of my decision making, but rather that I neglect to make a concerted effort to seek God out.

Currently, my curiosity has been peeked by somebody and as I sit here weighing possibilities, which none of which have transpired yet, I feel foolish. Why? Because I hardly know where to begin. I’m weighing possibilities of changes in my college education, but as I wait for forms to be processed and financial aid potential to be offered, I laugh at myself. Why? Because nothing is happening today and I have no need to fill my mind with the potential possibilities of outcomes. I need to be praying to God, that if it is in His will that doors will be opened, that opportunities will be made available. That I may be faithful to follow when He leads. Some decisions are so mundane that God’s presence is not inherently needed, and yet I am whole needing of God’s blessing and permission to move forward in life. God is the one who guides my steps and calls me to a place of righteousness! To trust that His plans for my life are far, far better than the ones I’ve imagined for myself! And today, as I’ve mulled over a research paper that I was presenting today, I found solace in the fact that I need to surrender every part of my life back to God. See, when I was saved as a child, I did not wholly understand the implications of what that meant. When I actually stepped into my faith after living like a sinner for a good chunk my formative years (5th-9th grade) and began the process of sanctification I had not fully surrendered my life. I gave up most of it, but I continue to cling on to parts of my life that I want control over. Holding onto sin that I loved far too much than I trusted God to address. That was then, and this is now.

I’m reclaiming my life, reclaiming God as my refuge! Y’all, I need to tender my garden and at this point in my life I’m willing to hand my life off to Christ to weed and trim back the parts that are dead and not necessary. I’m willing to let God dictate how I am to live. Over the weekend, I was once again listening to a sermon from Breakaway at Texas A&M on the nature of purpose over position. In such Timothy Ateek (T.A.) explored the life of Nehemiah who saw a need and took it upon himself to rebuild Jerusalem after the years of captivity the two kingdoms endured. For Nehemiah, who was faithful to his king and to God, the need was clear. He would take it upon himself to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Due to his faithfulness to serve his king and his faithfulness to God in his actions, Nehemiah was given the approval of the king to go. Y’all, Nehemiah was faithful in every decision he made. No matter how big or small. It’s an important lesson for me to learn. Why? Because I know God’s calling on my life is to lead and teach high school and college students. To facilitate a place where all are welcome and that all make an effort to reach out to one another. Currently, I serve as a ninth grade small group leader, I serve as a media volunteer for my college ministry. I actively seek to get to know every new person that walk in our doors for college. I seek to make every effort to make everyone feel wanted and welcome to our home. While I do wish that I could work in the ministry as a staff member at my church, I recognize that I do not need a position to do so. I can lead where I am at. I also recognize that God is trying to teach me many things about ministry through my place as it stands, to prepare me for the future. Whether it be in marriage, in ministry, on the mission field, with money, with faithfulness! Y’all, God is trying to teach you something where you are placed and all He asks is for you to be faithful! To trust His timing, His perfect plan for you. I’ll admit that I fail to realize this all the time. I fail all the time. You see, no matter how deeply I think about things, how many possibilities I consider, and how many different outcomes I see, God’s plan is sufficient for my life. I accept that. I accept that God’s plan is more than sufficient and is far better in my favor than my own plans. So let me approach Him with all my needs, all my concerns, with all my hope! Let me ask of Him that if it is in His will, that it will be so! If it is appropriate by Him, that I will pursue whatever opportunity He places before me! To love every person whom He places in my life! To be faithful to every choice I make!

So instead of trying to make every logical leap and conclusion, instead of reasoning my life and choice out, I’ll hand it to God and let Him reveal what will be best for me. To place the entirety of my trust, hope, and faith on God! No matter how big or small the choice, I will rely upon my God! My hope, my strength, my refuge! So I ask y’all, where is God calling you to change? What is God attempting to take from your burden? Are you allowing Him to do so? Are you still clinging to some parts of your life and are afraid to hand it over to God? Let me encourage you, that even in my mere twenty-some-odd years on this earth, I still struggle to give things up to God. But let me also encourage you that dying to yourself everyday and trusting God will free you from the burden of overthinking. That God wants you to be faithful in all things! Trust God!

Grace and Peace,

Terren-It-Up