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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Finding my Hinds Feet – a Place Prepared

Before I could blink I’d reached my last week at work. It was a bittersweet time: packing to move and training my replacement. Only then did this start to feel real. My lease was over on the 31st of the month so weeks in advance I made arrangements for a place to stay between September 1st and September 13th, the date of my departure. But, only 5 days before I had to be out of my apartment, those plans fell through and I was looking for a place to lay my head.

This came as an unexpected hitch in my plans, but there is nothing that surprised Him about it. He was preparing a place for me.

I reached out to a couple of friends who have large networks in the area to see if they knew anyone who may let me sleep on their couch for a few days. I planned to reach out to the friends I have in town and sleep on as many couches as possible so as not to be an imposition. But, before I could even do that, my friend Maggie connected me with a family she knows that live only a few miles away who had an open guest room. I’d never met them before, they didn’t know me at all, but they were receptive and invited me to their home to meet them.

I stopped by the Cooks’ house after my last day at work. Immediately I felt the warm familiarity that is present with other believers–the witness of the Spirit. Within an hour, this mother of 4 handed me a key to their home and told me I was welcome to stay in their guest room for the full 2 weeks before I leave. I held back tears, in awe of how He was taking care of me.  I was a stranger without a home, and they have welcomed me.

This, this is what Jesus looks like. This is what it is to be a part of the body of Christ. This is amazing grace. Unmerited favor. It was as though He had this arranged all along.

BabyCuddle

Cuddling little ones

…and this is where words begin to fail me. I wish that I could communicate with glistening eyes and a lump in my throat everything that I want to say. But this part is still unfolding. My heart is being healed by holding babies, and watching parents shepherd the hearts of their little ones, and laughter between family members and words of encouragement that never cease. My room even has it’s own little writing nook! It couldn’t be more perfect. I didn’t know I needed this. But He did.

I know that my home is ultimately not on the earth. But I am beginning to find glimpses of it in His people. Someone recently reminded me of Jesus words in John 14:1-3,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He has a place prepared for me. My home is where He is.

Read part 1, part 2 and part 3, testimonies of His goodness…

Finding my Hinds Feet – a Dare and a Prayer

I was surprised that the door to L’Abri opened so easily. Cautiously, I started to line things up. I carefully calculated my finances and was surprised to find I could make it work. I bought a plane ticket. I gave nearly a months notice at work. I applied for a passport renewal. I gave notice to vacate on my little studio apartment. Everything that I needed clicked into place with relative ease, providing further confirmation that this is the direction I am meant to go.

But it was still stressful. Because I won’t be returning to Louisiana to live after Switzerland, my preparations have more finality. I’ve been grieving the loss of a way of life that has become familiar and comfortable. The good things to come certainly outweigh the little hardships, but that grief is part of the process and I made up my mind to allow myself to feel it.

I had one particularly hard day at work where it felt like everything was going wrong. I lost count of the number of times I cried. I reapplied my makeup at least twice. And by 3:00 I was done. I’d had enough of the anxiety and the stress and I wanted the day to be over already. So I prayed, halfheartedly, if you could call it that. It was more of a foolish dare than a prayer. I told the Lord, “The only thing that could redeem this day would be going home to find my passport in the mail. Jesus, if you love me, my passport will be waiting for me when I get home.” There was nothing theologically sound about that statement. Deep down, I knew that His love for me could not be measured in mail. I have to think He laughs at us sometimes with good nature.

My passport came that day. A whole week earlier than I was expected to receive it. I breathed a little easier with one more thing checked off my list, and I cried, again. Happy tears this time. I couldn’t help being in awe of the love of God. He didn’t have to answer that prayer. But He did. In that moment, His love was nothing short of extravagant. It may seem a small or coincidental thing to some, but that little booklet in the mail was evidence to me that I am seen, cared for, and reassured. God doesn’t owe us that. He doesn’t owe us anything, yet He showers us with His goodness anyway.

evidence of love

evidence of love

This is only one of the ways I have felt His confirmation. In the last several years I have learned to be so independent and self-reliant. I’m not accustomed to swimming out into unknown waters, relying on faith. While I am learning to swim He has given me these little things to keep me afloat. I need not toil and strain. He is a good Father.

If my passport in the mail were the last thing He did to affirm me, it would’ve been enough. But there are things He has set up and is doing for me that make my head spin. Stay tuned, the story isn’t over yet… 

Catch up on part 1 and part 2.. 

Finding My Hinds Feet – Desire Awakened

Once again, I am debuting my word for the year in September. Unsurprisingly, it plays a large role in this story. The Lord spoke the word “desire” over me in the first few days of the year. I knew the year of naked would be a tough one to follow. As much as I wrestled that word, would you believe me when I tell you that “desire” was more difficult to come to terms with? For as long as I can remember I have killed the hunger in my soul. Desire felt dangerous. It felt like breeding ground for disappointment or at the very least, discontentment.

heart hunger

heart hunger

My only intentions in regard to the word were to find out what the Lord desires for me and in me. I wanted to know His desire. But from the very beginning each time I asked Him what He desires for me He turned the question around on me, asking what I desired. Answering that was much more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until sometime in March, after a frank conversation with some dear friends that I finally reconciled with the word, realizing that to deny my desires is to deny my humanity. When He redeems us, He redeems all of who we are, which includes our desires. There is nothing to fear in them.

The night that I emailed L’Abri I went before the Lord and just asked, “Is this something that you want me to do?” It was a loaded question. Going to L’Abri required that I quit my job, leave my apartment, give up my independence, temporarily lose touch with all that is familiar.  His reply was simple but immediate, “Is this something that you want to do?” Tears instantly filled my eyes; desire was awakened. I wasn’t aware how badly I wanted it until that moment. I felt His smile then. He is not a fortune teller and I didn’t need Him to be. I just needed Him to be Jesus.

I saw an image of what made Him smile. I was gently holding my desires in the open palm of my left hand. I was not clutching them tightly, choking the life out of them. I was not burying them or pretending they did not exist. For the first time I can remember my desires were allowed to be. And in my right hand was the hand of Jesus, strong and sure. I knew that no matter what happened to my desires, be they fulfilled or dashed, He would not let go of me. I rested in this knowledge.

The next morning I woke to an email from L’Abri. Not only did they have the reservation dates available, they reserved me a spot and told me that they would see me in September. After the toil and stress of the previous months I could hardly believe the door opened so easily. There was nothing left to do but walk through it.

To be continued…For a little more back story, read part 1

Finding my Hinds Feet – The Shore of Decision

I am sitting at a writing desk right now in a little closet office adjoining the guest room I am occupying for nearly two weeks. I’ve been here for three nights already and it’s only just starting to feel real. So I am here to tell the story of how I got here. Because our God is too faithful not to document His goodness.

Writing Nook

Just over six weeks ago I was riding down I-10 with my sister at midnight, listening to the latest album from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. At the beginning of “Cageless Birds” Melissa recites a poem that grabbed my heart and would not let go.

Standing on the shore of decision

looking into the face of adventure

desire to abandon all I know

what pushes me is rooted somewhere between misunderstanding and knowing

knowing that what I want to understand is not within my reach

so I ponder my escape

not knowing what lies ahead

adventure in theory is full of excitement and bleeds with passion for life

but adventure in reality is full of breathless moments

silent nights, and wounds that leave scars of memory on a heart

can I go the distance?

can I give all my mind to get what the messenger is saying?

can I surrender my knowing?

will I survive the humility of ignorance to obtain a treasure that earthly gold cannot buy?

will I ask the question honestly

even if the answer convicts my soul and sends me to the land of repentance?

All of these thoughts flood my mind…

as I stand on the shore of choosing

in the distance of my wondering I see with clear eyes a flock of wild, beautiful birds

swooping in my direction

as if they see me and are coming for me

how strange it is that their eyes are full of clarity…

Song birds wake up

you’re not in your cage anymore

bound by your shame anymore

the walls that held you in prison

the gate is flung wide open

start singing, start singing, start singing, start singing

cageless birds

I’ve felt for several months like I am in a state of transition, but I wasn’t sure of the exact direction I was to go. All the doors I pushed on seemed firmly shut. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but the restlessness in me was relentless. That night on I-10 a moment of clarity came swiftly. I decided to try to apply for the Helser’s 18 Inch Journey program even though they’d stopped accepting applications months before. My age will disqualify me to apply next year and I at least had to ask if there was any shadow of possibility that would allow me to attend.

Unfortunately, the answer was no, the 18 Inch Journey was not accepting applications. But that moment of clarity was not fruitless. Asking the question was a proving ground, a test to determine if I would seriously consider leaving behind my comfortable life for a period of time before stepping into the next stage of my life, site unseen. There were other options.

I’d read about L’Abri several years ago from a blogger who attended. Studying theology in the shadow of the Swiss Alps seemed too far fetched a dream for anyone without a trust fund. But I visited the site again and after a few quick calculations realized that spending a couple of months there wasn’t as far out of my reach as I assumed. It was comparable to what I was prepared to spend with the 18 Inch Journey. So, after just a week of thinking about it and talking it out with my sister, I sent off an inquiry to L’Abri, just to see if they had a spot available for the dates I was considering. I didn’t want to dream or plan any further until I knew if it was possible. I didn’t want to want it too much.

And this is where the story gets more interesting. To be continued