week four in Philly/month one;
The trees are turning orange. Enough said.
I am out to lunch with three other people from Renewal. They ask me if I’ve found a church and I reply that I have; it’s Renewal. They congratulate me and say they’re so happy for me and I lean back abashedly when something slips out of my mouth; “I just hope I can start serving soon.” One of them looks straight at me and asks, “Where?” I stare back at him, taken aback and shocked into silence. In my mind, all I can think is, “Ummmm anywhere? (Duh)” But, he continues to regard me with purposefulness and clarifies; “What ministry do you feel God is calling you to?” I blank for good and feel a flood of warm embarrassment and insecurity wash over me.
I wake up from the dream still not knowing the answer.
I have been wanting to go to a café for weeks to sit and read and journal while sipping on some chai (maybe? I don’t know, I never know what to get. Wait. Affagato. Yes, affagatos). Today, I walk out of my apartment, backpack packed with my mac, bible, prayer journal, and journal. Of course, after thirty minutes of wandering around the city, I cannot find any café with open spots to sit. Not to be deterred, I opt to sit outside in Rittenhouse Square, grateful that the weather is nice enough for me to be able to sit still in the wind and not feel cold. After about 15 minutes of staring at my computer screen and realizing that it is becoming quite chilly, I am approached by a woman. She is wearing a hijab on her head. She asks if she can ask me a question and I tell her to go ahead. She tells me her name is Michelle and that she is homeless and is looking for something to eat and if I would be able to help. I jump at the opportunity and ask if she wants to get lunch with me. She responds in the affirmative and we head towards the B&N across the street to check out the café.
As we walk, I ask her to tell me about herself. She explains that she became homeless after she left her ex-husband who was abusive. She has two kids to provide for who are living with her friend. (There is a small twang in my heart as I realize how any woman could easily be in her situation.) We get to the café and hallelujah; there is exactly one table open. I make a beeline for it, put my stuff down, and buy her lunch and some cookies for her kids. I have the feeling that she does not want to eat with me (an impression confirmed when she asks for the lunch to go) so I ask if I can pray for her as we wait for her food to be made. She agrees readily and offers both her hands to me to hold. I begin to pray for her and then stop before I hesitantly ask if she believes in Jesus. She has a hardness in her gaze as she tells me, “No, I believe in Allah,” and I nod and close my eyes and pray for her. I finish praying, her food arrives, she thanks me and leaves waving goodbye to me.
I believe four weeks ago I would have been severely discouraged by this interaction. She did not have any inclination to stay and talk with me; she was not overly open (or I suspect, completely honest) with her life with me; she did not seem to be touched at all by Jesus. Normally, I would have looked up at the sky and sighed, “Why, God? Nothing happened,” and probably decide to myself that I’d never do it again because it was embarrassing and disheartening.
But, as I stood there praying for her in public in a busy café, I did not feel shame. As she left even after my invitation for her to eat with me, I was not discouraged. My God works in mysterious and often invisible ways and He uplifts me because I am faithful. Even if it did not do anything for her, even if it will never do anything for her, it did a multitude for me. But, I will just have faith and say that what Jesus led me to do today will have planted a seed in her heart. I feel very, very blessed and thankful for her because she made my day by coming up to me and asking for help. I found a spot in a warm café I’d been craving for weeks and I found that my faith is much stronger than I had realized. And of course, that Jesus is good.
I don’t think Jesus asks me to exercise my faith so that I will perform miraculous feats or even remotely change someone’s life (but if He does, I’m not complaining). My faith is a gift from God…and He expects me to use it. And I find the more and more that I use it, the more that He gives me. God just wants me to be obedient. If obedience means faithfully watering a dead seed that will never produce crop or fruit, I will still do it. It isn’t going to be me that brings life to that seed and fruit to a tree; it’s Jesus. And if I never took any part in watering that seed and instead someone else stepped up to water it, I will regret deeply. Because, it was something my Father wanted me to do to express my love for him…because He wanted to show me something wonderful.
Tiffany tells me that three people came to Christ in RoX. I voice my happiness and excitement but in my heart, there lingers a small hint of bitterness. I had always feared that RoX suffered under my leadership. From my perspective, it seemed that people were discontent with RoX while I was serving and I contributed it to the mistakes I made and my spiritual immaturity. “No matter where I go, I always mess things up,” I continuously thought to myself. As I periodically check up on fb posts and snapchats of the little moments in RoX, I see and hear of the joy and fullness that the students experience in the fellowship and smile sadly while wondering if that was ever the case when I served them.
Of course, looking at my line of thinking, I realize that these thoughts are not from God and that they are most probably not true. I tell Carolyn about my dream and she tells me that if I do not feel a conviction from God to serve anywhere specific, then I will most definitely be discouraged and as a result, burn out if I determinedly go ahead and serve anyway. But, if a conviction comes from God, He will give me the strength and encouragement to continue serving. There was joy in my heart as I served RoX, despite the hardships and frustrations. It was exhausting, but it was the sort of exhaustion that was satisfying and fulfilling. I miss it.
Honestly speaking, I don’t feel called anywhere at the moment. Carolyn says it’s fine and that it’s wonderful. Perhaps this is a season where God just wants me to spend time with Him. Perhaps He has had enough of me doing and just wants me to be resting in His embrace. And if He’s okay with that, then so am I.
“I think that this season will be a time of healing and growing closer to God for you,” Carolyn tells me. I agree whole-heartedly and wonder what God has in store for me.
There is still a constant affliction in my spirit and I have a feeling it is God digging into the crevices of my heart and bringing the things I have buried out into the light. “I need to free you from this in order for you to be really free.” A part of me takes a glance at the junk He’s pulling out and blanches. “Uhh…Father, it’s okay. I’m good. I can live fine without ever dealing with that.”
But, He is relentless. He knows that I cannot hide forever and that I was not meant to hide. He wants me to stand free and unashamed.
I arrive at Antioch Center in a conflicted state of heart, mind, and spirit. I haven’t decided if I’m glad to be there or not and as the service continues, I oscillate more and more in my emotions. When Esther sits down in front of me and asks how she can pray for me, I struggle with my words and wonder how I can explain. I don’t know how to and she takes it all in stride and prays for me.
The Lord has many things to say to me and she conveys them all to me in a way that breaks and mends me.
“I see a tree that has gone through many seasons. There have been seasons where the leaves are black, other seasons where it pleased others to looks at. Winter had left it bare. But, the roots. The roots; they run deep, so deep into the ground; they are reaching and just soaking up all the nutrients in the dirt. God allowed all the suffering and pain in your life to deepen those roots, to give them soil and nutrients to grow. There is great fruit coming.”
At this, I completely give in to the onslaught of tears that had been steadily accumulating as she prayed multiple prayers over me. It meant the world to me that God was affirming that my suffering was meant for something; that I did not hurt for nothing. It was like He was saying, “I did not ignore you and do nothing as you cried; I listened and used your hurt to bless you.” And I look at the life I have now and nod mentally in my head. Yes, He did. He most definitely blessed me through my pain; He gave me Jesus and He is the only thing I hold on to.
I have much hope. I have so much hope. There is fruit coming; there is something redeeming coming and I will wait and rejoice.