Love That Will Not Let Me Go

11254053_10153406434689261_7435853901037485899_nThe view from my balcony at Chalet Bellevue

When you come to L’Abri there are 4 questions you’ll have to answer over and over:

  • Where are you from?
  • How did you hear about L’Abri?
  • How long will you be here?
  • Why are you here?

The first few are fairly innocuous, but you find out very quickly that there is an expectation of honesty if not outright vulnerability in your response to the latter. It’s rarely one-sided, and it feels safer to speak the truth when you’re not the only one doing it.

After 11 weeks here my response to the last question is well rehearsed. I spent nearly 10 years in a christian cult which I left 3 years ago. I may have prettied up my reasons for coming here in previous writing, but the truth is that I came to L’Abri to immerse myself in community after being alienated from it for several years; to intentionally learn to live with people again and prove to myself that they are safe. I wanted to find a sure foundation to stand on. Those goals are being met, but it doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

Sharing my reason for being here dozens of times has made me reflect a lot on my time with Oikos Ministries. I didn’t see it as a cult until my friends started to leave, 6 months after I did. One of them googled the word and the similarities to our church were eerie. No one wants to believe themselves or their friends and family are deluded enough to be in a cult.

It was the habit of the “apostles” to cyber-stalk people who left the church, looking for clues of their demise. The struggles they confessed in pastoral counseling were made public and any misfortune they experienced subsequently was credited to the fact that they walked away from Jesus; walked away from us, because we represented Jesus in the earth. Tongues were clicked when families experienced trial or tragedy, people divorced or jobs were lost. We shook our heads and said, “That’s what happens…” the implication being that your life would implode when you left our church, when you left the truth.

This practice made me supremely uncomfortable and increasingly mistrusting. I knew that my own online presence was under scrutiny. I analyzed everything I posted from 10 different angles before putting it online, so fearful of a confrontation. When the final confrontation came I expressed to the “apostles” my discomfort with how the stories of those who left were handled. I was told, “If they leave the church, they’re fair game*.” When I confessed that I didn’t feel I could trust them I was summarily dismissed and they moved on to address my sister.

I didn’t leave for another 2 months after that. I was so afraid of losing my family, all of my friends, my apartment with my sister. I was afraid of being struck down by the disciplinary hand of God. I’d seen families torn apart because the loyalty in them was split between church leaders and one another. I didn’t want to take anyone down with me and see my own family destroyed. So I walked out as quietly as I could, holding my breath and waiting for things to blow up in my face.

But they didn’t. At least not for several more months and by that time the explosions were controlled and deliberate. I got my own apartment for the first time. I got a promotion and a raise in my job. I was flourishing in every external way. Inside, I was falling apart and having a massive identity crisis. Nevertheless, I did not fulfill all of the prophecies of destruction spoken over dissenters. I still haven’t.

I’m sure my old church members would read this and think I’ve gone soft, cruising my way along the wide path of love and grace. They might have a point, but I don’t take it as an insult. I am softer.

Finding freedom for me was like walking on ice. With each careful step I let go of legalistic rules about daily bible reading, drinking alcohol, cussing, going to church every Sunday, “regular fellowship”. Is it any wonder that as I unburdened myself of these heavy things I found my weight on the ice still supported?

I thought by coming to L’Abri I would somehow find greater ease in restoring the so-called “Christian disciplines” to my life and thereby experience the love of God to a greater degree, one that is acceptable to all my Christian friends. But love does not come through rules. Love comes from people. The christian cult I was in taught that Gods love is conditional. My experience of His love proved otherwise quite some time ago but it is difficult to make my heart believe.

Here at L’Abri I have encountered love that is not contingent on conditions of success or failure. No one cares what my job was. I can’t earn my way into affections through favors or exchange. This love is not trying to correct my behavior or my theology. It isn’t concerned by the things I believe or scared of the stories I tell. This love sits next to me when I ask pain-filled questions that have no easy answers. It cries the tears I can’t and tells me I am loved until I start to believe it. This love shows me my worth and makes no demands.

Love that does not want to change me, has changed me forever.

In learning to be loved, I am set free to love others in the same way, without condition. My heart is opening up. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, and I don’t want to try.

I plan to spend another term at L’Abri next year. I want to study theodicy and keep asking questions about the nature of God. But when I return home for a few weeks this December, and even when I eventually leave L’Abri on a more permanent basis, it will be with the assurance of a love that has been made real through people – tangibly. Love that isn’t composed of fancy lighting, moving music, an emotional altar call and warm fuzzies. It’s real in shared wine and long conversations, freshly baked bread, kitchen crew choruses, cups of tea and mountain views, touch without fear, tears shed and belly laughs.

This is love that will not let me go. Not ever.

Oh love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths it’s flow, may richer, fuller be.

Oh joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

* I have a witness to this statement.

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The Ready Soul

This post is a part of the Travel Stories series at Prodigal Magazine
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I was ready. Four hundred forty-four miles of winding, commercialism-free road lay ahead of us. My tiny car was packed for camping along the Natchez Trace Parkway, spanning the distance between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.
Two hours into the trip, with rain pouring in sheets, my sister and I realized we forgot something vital – prayer. So we stopped and prayed that God’s will be done on this trip. That we would be His hands and feet to all we encountered. For protection. And almost as an afterthought – that He roll away the rain clouds. Within minutes I was able to open the sunroof, marveling at the love of my Heavenly Father.

Natchez Trace Parkway after the rain
We drove this way for 170 miles until heavy grey clouds began to drop hail onto the road ahead. It took me several seconds to identify this form of precipitation since I’d rarely seen it as a child. There was no mistake when the first piece hit the windshield, sounding like a gunshot. We began to pray, out loud. I wasn’t sure how the glass roof panel of my car would hold up. The hail picked up in speed and size as we continued to drive, scanning the horizon for any kind of shelter. We drove for 2 full miles this way. At the rate we were going and the rate of hailstones falling, we should’ve been hit countless times. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of hailstones that hit my vehicle during that stretch. Five – five pieces of ice. In my eyes we were experiencing a miracle. I don’t know how the Lord protected us, I only know He did.
Finally, we reached a crossroads and followed a truck into a tiny town. The hail was reaching golf-ball size. Immediately we were aware of a deafening screech that took me only seconds to identify where I’d heard the sound before. Twister. The tornado siren turned its din on us, making my heart rate increase two fold. We needed shelter and we needed it fast. My sister pulled up to the French Camp, Mississippi post office where we dashed inside the small cinder block building.
The postal clerk invited us into the back of the building and showed us where she’d cleared space underneath a steel table if we needed to hunker down there. A radio blared gospel music, frequently interrupted with foreboding weather updates. We made nervous small-talk with the Postal Clerk while we tried to reach family and friends to let them know where we were. When the hail finally gave way to rain, we all trooped next door to the French Camp Visitors Center to wait out the rest of the storm. People of all ages milled about. Judging from the “LSU” logos emblazoned across our sweatshirts everyone immediately surmised where we were from and that we’d been traveling the Natchez Trace.
We were introduced to a couple of young ladies with “French Camp Academy” nametags who began filling us in on the day’s events. Tekoa – who is named after the hometown of the Hebrew prophet Amos – informed us that we’d landed in a town with a population of 350 that was home to a Christian boarding school for young people from broken homes. She and Summer told us about the work they did with the Academy and the teenage girls they mentored. I felt a tug on my heart, sensing they were of kindred spirit so I said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you girls love Jesus a whole lot. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d be doing this out here. Am I right?” Smiles spread across their faces. They affirmed my suspicions and began openly sharing their passion for being examples of purity to the young girls in their lives.
Tears pricked my eyes. They were speaking our language. After several minutes exchanging testimonies and stories I was overcome by the providence of being stranded in this town with these people. It was apparent with every passing moment that God planted us there for a purpose.
By the early afternoon the storms passed and sun was peeking out. Summer and Tekoa began making plans to go back to work, preparing for a conference that evening. It was apparent from their discussion they were shorthanded. My sister and I looked at each other. We knew. This was why we were here. Our campsite in Northeast Mississippi could wait. I nervously offered our services to the girls, telling them we were available to help in whatever necessary capacity – making beds, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, or whatever else they needed. Sure, we sounded crazy. But I also knew with every beat of my heart that this is where God wanted us.
So we went to work! We shared stories while we made beds and marveled at the hand of God so obvious in each of our lives. That night Tekoa invited us back to her apartment for dinner where we shared heartbreaks and healing. My sister and I were both convicted and encouraged. We felt Jesus Christ in the flesh when they offered us hot showers and put us up for the night. The next morning we were speechless as we drove past swaths of tornado damaged trees within a mile of where we’d taken shelter. God truly protected us.

French Camp, MS at Sunrise

Prior to the trip I’d been meditating on this quote by Oswald Chambers, Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready. Think of the time we waste trying to get ready when God has called! The burning bush is a symbol of everything that surrounds the ready soul, it is ablaze with the presence of God.For one day my soul was ready – ready for God to interrupt with anything. He filled that day with miracles and divine appointments. Remembering this trip always makes me wonder; if the Lord can do so much with a ready soul surrendered for one day, what can he do with a ready soul surrendered to Him for a lifetime?

Snapshots

Why is it that when someone takes an unannounced blog hiatus, they feel the need to provide excuses or somehow explain the absence? It’s an unspoken pressure – and I know I’m not the only blogger who feels it.

So yes, I took an unannounced hiatus. All I know to tell you is that my inspiration fled for a time. But it has returned. My hands are itching to write once again. I can feel the fountain of words bubbling beneath the surface, and I am relieved.

But until the time that those words find their way these digital pages I thought I might share a few pictures with you – my blog followers – of what I’ve been up to for the last two months. You can actually see where my renewed inspiration comes from.

Jordan and I visited Houston with some dear friends of ours. We took a day trip to Austin, TX where the photo below was taken in this great crafty antique shop on Congress. Austin is a great city!

Me, Jordan {sister}, and Arielle

We had some grand adventures and tried new things (as always) like Coconut water that we got from a Malaysian Restaurant! Jaclyn (our friend in Houston) knows all these great places for great food! We wandered around Chinatown seeing odd sites and avoiding Durian Fruit every time we turned around. Jaclyn and her husband Orlando are as fabulous as my big sisters. And if you know me, you know my big sisters are pretty spectacular.

Jordan, Me, Jaclyn and Arielle

If you have been on Pinterest for any length of time it’s likely that you seen this idea to give 60 memories for a fathers 60th birthday. This was inspiration defined! Our beloved Poppie turned 60 years old at the end of October and we managed to gather notes and letters from friends old and new, co-workers, church members, neighbors, and family.

Jordan stamped all 60 envelopes

I was absolutely overwhelmed to see the ways my father has effected so many lives. I plan on publishing what I wrote to him here on the blog sometime soon. This project produced many tears and much laughter, and our Poppie was so very blessed by it.

Tears as they were read aloud.

At the beginning of November Jordan and I decided to take a spontaneous trip back up The Natchez Trace where these adventures happened. This time were were going camping and hiking!

Me at the Parkway Entrance 

We had a great time hiking all 13 miles of trails in Tishomingo State Park. Even though most of the leaves had fallen, it was still beautiful!

Our shadows on Swinging Bridge over Bear Creek
We did a lot of smiling

We also listened to this song a lot on this trip. I love this group. You can download it for free here.

And finally, over this past Thanksgiving weekend, I turned 23.  I had an amazing time with my family and got some great gifts (Thank you Jordan for Bonhoeffer on Radio Theatre). As an excuse to get out of the house Jordan and I took my niece, Leah, and got manicures (in pale neutral shades).

Of course we did. 

I’ve got to tell you guys that my niece is one of the most amazing teenagers I’ve ever met. It shouldn’t surprise me, because she has some great parents. I enjoyed every moment with her, as you can see from the pictures below.

A very happy birthday indeed
We got our “no evils” a little out of order

And y’all. This chick is gor-ge-ous. If my future children are even half as beautiful as my nieces, this family is going to have to take stock in the weapons industry.

Photo from my shoot with her this weekend.

I can’t tell you the last time I’ve enjoyed my family so much. And still am. We made some lovely memories.

So the loveliness continues. I love the holidays. I love cuddling under a blanket (new new fluffy, fleecy one!) with some tea to watch old Christmas movies. I’m looking forward to an entire month of these kind of indulgences. It’s the simple things…

milktea with honey #favorite

Contentment

I was just sitting here (in my apartment) trying to come up with a sufficient facebook status to sum up my weekend. To sum up how I feel right now. But I don’t want to be one of “those people” who uses social media to list every little thing they did that day, knowing you may not care what I did this weekend. You may not care about the little things that make me happy. I am known for {perhaps} being {overly} sentimental. But I can’t just let this pass me by without memorializing it somehow. I feel contentment. Better yet, I feel blessed. So allow me to count the blessings that have touched my heart this weekend.

My right eye almost closes when I really smile.
  • Balloons, helium, and the various forms of giggling they produce
  • Bright blue birthday cake (Yes, the cake itself was dyed blue!)
  • Roller skating
  • Captivating – this book is challenging me in so many ways
  • Hugs and love from my 8 year old niece
  • Having the title “my Bekah-wekah” bestowed on me in lieu of “Aunt Bekah”
  • Holding the hand of “my ‘Mara-Beara” in the grocery store (she really is the sweetest thing EVER)
  • Long talks with friends and sisters
  • Slow, rainy car rides that give me plenty of time to think, pray and worship
  • Technology, allowing me to talk to my best friend every day, despite her being several countries away
  • Naps
  • Rainy long weekends
  • Remembering that this weekend marks 8 years of fellowship with the church body I am a part of

I love the little things. I love that God made me to love the little things. I love seeing Him in them. My heart sighs with contentment on nights like this. I feel His peace washing over me, and I just want to pour gratitude back to Him for all these things so freely given, so grossly undeserved.

“O GOD, My heart is steadfast. 
I will sing and give praise…” 
~Psalm 108:1

The Ready Soul: Conclusion

I’m sorry this is so late in coming. Jordan and I hit the ground running after we got back from our vacation.
The title for this series comes from a My Utmost for His Highest devotional for April 18th that was so timely. Here are a few excerpts from that devotion:

…Readiness for God means that we are ready to do the tiniest little thing or the great big thing, it makes no difference…When any duty presents itself we hear God’s voice as Our Lord heard His Father’s voice, and we are ready for it with all the alertness of our love for Him. Jesus Christ expects to do with us as His Father did with Him. He can put us where He likes, in pleasant duties or in mean duties, because the union is that of the Father and Himself. “That they may be one, even as We are one.”
Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready. Think of the time we waste trying to get ready when God has called! The burning bush is a symbol of everything that surrounds the ready soul, it is ablaze with the presence of God.

It just so happens that the week before we left for Tennessee I’d been praying that the Lord would give me a ready soul. I prayed that God would open my eyes to see His kingdom, His people, and where He wants me to serve. Try to imagine my amazement when I found that prayer answered so specifically, so quickly. God visited us.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I have evidence of Gods’ specific answer to so many prayers – from a single day! When I see this tangible proof of my Heavenly Fathers love for me, I can always feel my faith swelling to new levels. I want to list all the ways He answered prayers, just to summarize for you:
· He rolled away the rain clouds when we asked Him to
· He shielded my vehicle while we were driving in a onslaught of hail – only 5 pieces hit my car as long as we prayed!
· He provided shelter and safety for us during severe, tornado-laden storms
· He paired us with 2 young ladies who are a part of “The Remnant” of His kingdom – out of all the places we could’ve stopped or taken shelter, He orchestrated our every step to be in French Camp, Mississippi
· He provided an opportunity to serve, as unto Him
· Most importantly, He gave us new friends that we’ll never forget
In my opinion this proves that God is intricately involved in even the slightest details of our lives, such as whether or not it rains. He hears the cries of our hearts and longs to show Himself faithful when we trust Him with everything.
Jordan made the point after we returned that if we gave the Lord just one day of our lives, and He turned it upside down for His glory – imagine what He can do with a surrendered life! This is something I need to remember daily. Just before we left for vacation I found out that the State of Louisiana is going to consolidate some State agencies. They have since submitted the bill to the Legislature, and we are waiting to see how this will play out. An estimated 300 employees will be reduced to 150. I have about a 50/50 chance of keeping my job. Yet, I know that regardless of what happens, the Lord will take care of me. My heart is completely at peace about that.
God put me in this job. My first interview here, just over a year ago, was the worst one I’d ever done. I was flustered and unsure, and as a result I cried the whole way home, believing I’d ruined any chance of getting a new job. I am assured my Heavenly Daddy saw my tears that day with a twinkle in His own eye. I’m wondering what He’s thinking now as I’ve been prayerfully considering my future. But one of my favorite things to do is stand back and watch Him prove His faithfulness while I learn to trust Him.
In my life this is not a cliché:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6
You can read the more detailed version of Gods faithfulness to us on this trip here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

The Ready Soul Part V: Here I am


After several minutes exchanging stories, Summer turned and mentioned to Tekoa that her work crew (teenage girls she mentors in an internship job setting) was cancelled due to the storms so she alone had to prepare several rooms for a convention arriving that evening. Tekoa offered her help to strip (take sheets off, empty trash bags) and flip (clean and supply fresh linens, etc) the rooms that were needed at the Camp of the Rising Son. Tekoa’s work crew for the thrift store was also cancelled. My ears perked up immediately, and I inquired about their problem, trying not to sound obvious. I knew: This is why we’re here. I was inwardly praying, “Lord if this is where you want us and what you want us to do, please let them say yes.” I said something to them like, “I don’t know if you guys need it or not, but do you want some help? We can make beds, dust, clean toilets, do whatever you need to be
done!” They just sort of looked at us for a few moments, wide eyed. I don’t know if they initially took us seriously. But I knew that we were there for the express purpose of lending a hand. We discussed it back and forth with them and they warned us that it wasn’t fun work, to which we replied, “We are two of six daughters. We are not afraid of work – our dad made up for not having sons!” Before long we were walking outside – where the rain had stopped – and piling into a van to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

We got a delightful narrated driving tour of the academy campus as we made our way to the camp facilities, thanks to Tekoa. It is this picturesque little campus with a bunch of quaint old houses and buildings. The camp lodge is positioned overlooking Lake Anne with several cabins surrounding it. Our assignment was to prepare several rooms in a guest-house with the girls. After instructing us on how to make a bed with hospital corners (ahem, which I am still incapable of – thank you Jordan – I will never again complain about your insistence in doing this at home!) we set to work for the next several hours. And we had a blast getting to know Tekoa and Summer while we worked! They are truly more kindred spirits than we ever anticipated. After preparing the rooms for the convention attendees, we took a few minutes to play around. The dock over Lake Anne was submerged a few inches due to the excessive rainfall they’d had that day. Summer suggested we get pictures of each other “Walking on Water”, so we headed down to the little beach. The clouds were clearing out of the sky and the setting sun was stunning over the water. I snapped pictures while the girls walked out across the water, submerged only to their ankles.

We continued our adventures with Tekoa and Summer by cleaning a boys bathhouse that’d been closed all winter.
Stories were told and we talked as we worked. I can’t remember when I’ve had a more enjoyable afternoon. They ordered dinner for us from the only cafe’ in town. We picked up our dinner that Tekoa graciously paid for, then made our way back to her apartment. Can I tell you their roast beef sandwich (on the locally made bread) rivaled anything you’d find in New Orleans? And that’s a serious compliment! For the next several hours we hung out talking and sharing our hearts with these girls. Each of us shared various things the Lord has done in our lives, and things He was currently teaching us. I was convicted and encouraged, provoked to love and good works.
With our bellies full, and hearts brimming, they offered us a room in the lodge for the night. We gladly accepted the opportunity to take hot showers and sleep in a bed. Our gratitude even now is unceasing. God provided for our needs so bountifully in those 24 hours. We trusted Him, and he gave us abundantly more than we could ever ask for or imagine. We would’ve been happy to pitch our tent on the campgrounds that night, but the Lord showed His hand so much mightier than that. He showered us with good gifts, and we must give Him all glory.


Jordan and I both plan on writing about how this affected us on a deeper level spiritually – and how it was a specific answer to specific prayers we’d prayed during the week.

The Ready Soul Part IV: Kindred Spirits

Slowly the hail receded, followed by heavy rain. We waited it out for a little while and Melody got calls from next door giving her updates on the storm. She decided to take us there when the rain became a heavy drizzle. My car was parked between the two buildings and we were relieved to see that the all glass was still intact, not even appearing to be damaged. Dazed, we stepped inside the next building, assaulted with the smell of fresh bread. People of all ages milled about. I asked where we were, if this was a bakery. Someone explained that the building had multiple purposes as a bakery, French Camp Visitors Center and I don’t remember what else. Judging from the “LSU” logos emblazoned on our sweatshirts, everyone immediately surmised where we were from and that we’d been travelling the Trace.We were introduced to a young lady named Summer whose smile and relaxed manner instantly made me feel at ease. The receptionist made a call to the Park Service Ranger to get
the status of the storm system. In the meantime we introduced ourselves to a Canadian
couple who were RV-ing down the Trace on their way to New Orleans. The receptionist got off the phone only to tell us that there was a Tornado Watch on until 6PM that evening and parts of the Trace were likely closed due to the weather. They advised that we detour to the nearest interstate (some 20 miles away) and find a place to stay before continuing our journey. The Canadian
couple liked this idea, and left as soon as the rain let up. Jordan and I stood there looking at each other, wondering what in the world to do. Our campsite in northeast Mississippi was already paid for. We didn’t particularly want to detour so far off the Trace, and we were fairly certain the Bed and Breakfast in town was out of our price range. We hung around for a bit, waiting at least for the rain to stop before making a decision. In the meantime we were introduced to the locals who’d taken shelter in the Visitor Center.

A dark haired twenty-something girl took it upon herself to answer our questions about the city and it’s inhabitants. She introduced herself as Tekoa (Teck-oh-uh) and I immediately commented about her unique name when she cheerily informed me, “It’s the name of Hebrew town where the prophet Amos is from.” I thought to myself, “Well this girls parents certainly know their bible!” In a short amount of time we learned that the little town of French Camp (pop. approx 350) is home to a Christian Academy/boarding school of sorts for children and young people from broken homes. I was intrigued, and asked Tekoa several questions about the academy and how she was involved in it. She runs the local thrift store owned by the academy. Summer joined us while we talked and slowly the Visitor Center emptied of the people who’d taken shelter there. It became apparent these girls worked together for this organization. They dropped hints about their passion for working with teen girls. I felt a tug on my spirit, sensing they were of kindred heart and mind, so I spoke up and said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you girls love Jesus a whole lot. Otherwise I don’t think you’d be doing this out here. Am I right?” Smiles spread across their faces as they affirmed this and Tekoa started sharing openly of her passion to show the girls she works with what walking with Jesus looks like in a practical, every day setting. She spoke of how she strives to set an example for them in purity, that there is contentment in singleness. Tears pricked my eyes. She was speaking our language. We learned that Summer ran the Bed and Breakfast and oversaw the Hospitality portion of the Camp. They briefly shared their testimonies of how they ended up serving the Lord in tiny French Camp, Mississippi – a place we’d never heard of until then. Summer asked about our testimonies, and I began to cry, overcome by the providence of being stranded in this town with these people. It was becoming more apparent with every passing minute that God planted us there for a purpose. We’d asked Him to guide us and we knew we were in the very palm of His hands… but it was about to become so much sweeter…

Continued… (I know, but I assure you it gets better.)