When the Timing is Wrong and Your Faith is Wavering

It’s easy for me to sit in judgment on the Israelites, on their lack of faith so soon after God took them out of Egypt. The splitting of the sea, the destruction of the Egyptians, shouldn’t those miracles have carried them for the rest of their days? Shouldn’t the truth that God was good have been permanently lodged in their hearts? Yet the records of their journey are filled with a cyclical lack of faith:

“They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night. He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas; he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers. But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved, they spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly. But can he also give us food? Can he supply meat for his people?’” (Psalm 78: 11-20)

I’ve often sat in judgment on them, but it’s amazing how quickly I too forget the miraculous. How one who was so recently brought to awe by His truth, her grainy eyes cleansed to see a firm path before her, is now wandering into that default ditch of faithlessness.

The rational mind swaggers in and tells me that the sharp-eyed wisdom I asked for and received was just a figment of a desperate imagination.

That the impressions I believed were from Him were just the machinations of a deceitful heart.

That it is better to be faithless and be right then to hope and be disappointed once again.

Because, you see, I know I have a heart as deceitful as us all, a heart that time and time again has almost killed me with its leadership. So my human instinct is to fight back with the logical mind to quash the deceitfulness.

But the human logic I try to fight back with while ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit is just as diseased.

“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

Both the natural mind and heart have elements of truth but are distorted by the fallen nature. And truth distorted is more dangerous than a bold-faced lie.

In a desire to end the longing, I’ve taken the directive to guard my heart as meaning to sterilize it with cynicism, stuff hope into Pandora’s box because then I won’t get hurt again. I believe that with enough analysis, I can think myself into dissolving my desires. It’s a systematic theology built on the idol of self: one where there’s no room for what I can’t understand, where the only dimensions are those I am aware of.

In her book Fully Alive, Susie Larson explains our reality is often not God’s reality; we often misinterpret the facts of our situation because of our limited perspective. When she was betrayed by a group of friends, in her reality, it confirmed a deep-seated fear that she was rejectable. As she looks back, though, she now sees God’s reality: he was freeing her from the fear of man.

And I’ve interpreted my reality concerning singleness in much the same way.

My reality goes like this:

Because I’ve been rejected, I’m rejectable.

Because I’ve never been chosen, I’m unlovable.

Because God has not answered my prayer, He doesn’t care.

And because He hasn’t answered me yet, He never will.

Over the past 5 months, God has led me straight into the fire of each of these realities and worked a painful refining. I’ve had to face my greatest insecurities and relive old wounds. But the key word here is refining: through the pain, he burned away lies I’ve believed about Him for years, about His goodness and about His love.

But now, like the Israelites, I’m tempted to exchange the truth He’s revealed for the comfortable lies. In publishing this, though, I’m publicly saying that I refuse to do so.

Instead, I’ll look back on the times that God’s timing seemed so wrong, even cruel, but the miracle that followed was so much more glorious than what man could imagine.

When God granted Abraham the long-awaited Isaac, and twelve years went into nurturing him all for God to command his death, I can imagine Abraham’s torment. But God brought a ram at the last moment, and now, as believers, we can see the prophetic picture of Christ killed and raised for us.

And Lazarus, Jesus knew he was sick, knew he would die, yet He stayed away. Why? Again, to tell a more glorious story by raising him from the dead. Before the miracle, Jesus told His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

And the most glorious story of all seemingly descended into a cruel joke before the full story was told. In Luke 24, we hear the account of two believers rehashing Jesus’ recent crucifixion, perplexed and despairing as they interpreted it through the lens of their own understanding:

“ As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”“What things?” he asked.“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.” (Luke 24:15-21)

In their eyes, all hope was lost. They had been wrong about Jesus, wrong in believing that he was the one who would redeem them. What they couldn’t see was that the resurrected Christ was standing right in their midst.

So looking back at how He’s worked in the past, I choose to trust that in my little story, God is working for His glory in the greater story, one that speaks through the millennia of a goodness that shatters human understanding.

Sometimes God works the most beautifully by making the timing seem impossible. We feel teased, when in reality, he is preparing something breathtaking.

We feel hopeless, when he is actually building us up into women and men defined by a tenacious faith that is not rocked by circumstances or the caprices of our emotions.

I’m tempted to be faithless right now, but as I publish His goodness in the past, I know it’s time to step up to a higher plane of belief.  To rest in the mystery, in the lack of logic and in the uncomforted heart, and to trust that he is indeed working. To proclaim that however the story unfolds, The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Ps. 85: 12-13).

References

Larson, Susie. (2018). Fully Alive. Bethany House Publishers: Bloomington, MN.

All Scriptures are taken from the New International Version.

 

When Your Hope is Wavering: A Story of His Faithfulness

I am not okay.

I haven’t been okay for quite some time.

The past few months have been defined by a new, sharp unearthing¹ of an old struggle, one that seeped in so deep and so long ago that it is a daily voice in my life’s narrative. I truly believe that the Lord is author of this unearthing; He has been revealing lie after lie that I believe about Him and myself. But sometimes it feels like too much at once.

Sometimes it seems that, yes, the lies have been revealed, that they have been defeated by my mind, but they will always stay lodged in my heart. Many times over the past few months I have felt that I was on the cusp of a long-awaited victory, a standing up into a strength that could not be toppled. And He has been kindling a calling in my heart, one that has been gestating for years and feels ready to be born.

But each time I stand up in seeming steadiness, each time I take a step toward this calling, my feet are swept from underneath me, my head cracks loud on ice, and the wind is knocked out of me. And at the lowest moments, I fear that there will not be a good ending to this all.

But right now, in this moment, I am thinking clearly, I am seeing through the eyes of the truth and not my fears. I am confident, that, as Susie Larson says, “There comes a point when God knows we’re strong enough to win the battle. He allows an overplayed enemy attack to position us for freedom. When we finally grasp the lie, we’ll recognize our path to freedom. The storms reveal the lies we believe and the truths we need.” ( Fully Alive, p. 79).

In this moment of steadiness, I need to remember what He carried me through, so that in a day, in a week, in a month, when the wind is knocked out of me again, I can dismember the lies. Right now, I need to proclaim in vivid detail the account of His faithfulness in similar times, when my heart failed me, but He proved greater than my heart.

So I’ll go back 5 years, to a dark place, a place where death hovered close, but my Father God shielded me, to a place where, though I couldn’t feel His presence, He fiercely protected His daughter.

                                                                           ~

On November 17, 2013, a rickety white leopard* careened through the airspace that blanketed Kazan and thudded, face first into hungry pavement. The plane had been flying for 23 years, its safety features long since neglected, the Russians’ philosophy being that if they shut their eyes and hoped for the best, if there ever was a problem, it would fix itself. But the Tatarstani president’s son had died and so had 49 others and the city would go on as usual because as their idiom goes, you can’t outrun fate.

At the time the plane came into being, I did as well, gestating somewhere between the fourth and fifth month in my mother’s womb.

23 years is a long time to go without a safety check.

What a metaphor this plane was for my own shaky frame. I was about to collide with the ground, fast and deadly, and after running for almost 23 years with no respite, it was bound to happen sometime. But I had to go on; there was no other option.

The day after the tragedy, death hung grainy in the air as I hurtled toward Kazan, that city of death, in the 5:00 am darkness. If all went as planned, (a phrase which, here, made me laugh with a cynical bite), this trip would secure me a visa for six more months.  Where did my determination come from? Why was I gritting my teeth, doing everything I could to stay in this haunted republic that had lodged a perpetual pang in my chest? It wasn’t a question of whether I trusted the two men that took me to the capital, the potato-faced driver and the handsome, self-important VIP from the university. Trust was irrelevant, because this trip was the only way, so I couldn’t allow myself to think of the possibilities of traveling along deserted roads with two strange men. In Russian, the phrase would be другого выхода нет, “there is no other exit.” The phrase struck me as particularly Russian, looking for an exit, a way out, a work-around, instead of barreling through the problem like a stubborn American. Perhaps it was that Americanness that convinced me that exit was never an option.

As we were spit through the precarious roads, we swung past a car, open and gutted, and was that blood? Was that actually the casual opening of a person into lifeless flesh? The narrow highway continued to suck me forward no matter how hard I clenched my muscles.

When we arrived, the sun was up and the university VIP gave me his number, saying that he would call me when he finished his important business. I wafted through the university like wind, not remembering that it was the one where Tolstoy had dropped out and Lenin had been expelled, such a proud institution, yet so creaky and irritable.

I reached the visa office where the woman with the gaunt wrinkles had turned me away a month ago with a yawn. And again, she looked at me like the stupid American I knew that I was and that I wasn’t.

“Of course you did it incorrectly,” she said. Subtle satisfaction flickered in her eyes at first, but I had a flash drive, and in an assertiveness born of desperation, I said we could fix it right there. Afterwards, I took to the city to wander while I waited for the VIP’s call.

Darkness snaked inside of me as I traipsed for hours, each second stinging like a venomous bite. This was the definition of alone, plodding through a city of 1 million, silent and waiting. It’s not easy to be alone when your nerves are so sunburned that a touch could set off sobbing. It’s not easy to be alone when the city is so suffocating, that you fear if you breathe too deeply, you might use up all the air.

When death and darkness have dogged you for months, the faintest light gives hope. Three weeks after the plane crash, I went back to Kazan to meet up with the Tatarstan Americans, us bewildered ones still in shock from the past three months, most in shock that we had remained whole, unharmed, and sane. Nick, the luckiest of us, lived in a new university for athletes and was able to secure us three nights in his dormitory. Unlike my Soviet-era dorm with its broken ovens, persistent dirt and peeling paint, the rooms we stayed in had a new-car smell, beds and sinks and furniture popped out of an Ikea magazine like puzzle pieces.

It wasn’t easy to gain entrance, which made it feel that much more surreal. The campus was outlined in a tall fence with wires, and we entered a metal box with security officers and a turnstile. We were smugglers, our bags full of champagne and wine, which was строго запрещено, strictly forbidden in the dormitory. But they waved us through, too bored to notice any guilty expressions, and I felt the first spark of giddiness in months. After two more checkpoints, we were in, we were safe, we were warm.

Our Thanksgiving meal was drawn out over hours. The small oven only let us cook one course at a time, so we began first with lentil soup, then the chicken that we pretended was turkey, then to hiding like a bunch of high school students when we popped the cork off the champagne. The cork had whizzed against the window, and we feared the wrath of the uniformed woman who prowled the dorm, looking for those whom she could destroy. She especially like to use the intercom to assert her reign, sending us into ripples of laughter when we heard her nasally voice whining “внимание!”

One of our days in Kazan, we found a doll resting atop the snowy street, curly blonde hair framing an expressionless face. We left it there, believing that someone would notice it, would pick it up and discard it. There was no way that she would last through the winter.

Months later, I was being ferried around the stagnant town of Yelabuga in an off-balance, bloated van on the outskirts of the city, when I saw a nineteen-year-old motorcyclist splayed out, extinguished unexpectedly. The onlookers fanned out around him and stared, but I knew they would soon disperse.

At least he would be cleaned up, unlike the muscular golden mutt that emerged, slowly, through the cakey blanket of snow that I walked atop daily, not knowing that it housed a beautiful, frozen death. The dog’s tawny hairs sprouted through the snow like grass, then with the snow scraping itself off to reveal a perfectly formed head, untouched by rot, and finally, the perfectly preserved mummy of the creature that was alive at the time when the rickety white leopard careened into the pavement. The dead dogs popped up everywhere through the snow, so much that we made it a game between our two cities, my American friend Hanna and I, counting them. Once again, Tatarstan proved itself to be a showcase of death. Death happens everywhere, but here, it was on freakish, frozen display.

Nick stayed in Kazan throughout the winter, and when the snow began to recede, walking along those same old streets, he saw that something had surfaced through the snow. He laughed when he saw the blonde curls and expressionless face and took a photo of the doll. She had been submerged and suffocated, trampled and forgotten, but somehow, she had emerged whole. The snow had covered her, but instead of dismembering and destroying her, it had preserved her.

The doll was a more accurate metaphor for me more than the plane, I realize. I would not be dismembered, but would emerge whole. I would not end violently, but begin anew. During those nine dark months, I was covered in snow that seemed to be soil on my grave, but what if that snow was really a blanket of protection?

And what if right now, the snow blanketing me is actually His protection from the elements that are poised to flay my skin and seep into my bones? I don’t know when I will emerge, but I know that I will. I don’t know the future, but His protection in the past gives me hope to grip in the present. So may I curl into His covering as a child into the crook of her father’s arm, may I rest and wait and trust that “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

References

*The airline was Ak Bars, Tatar for “white leopard.”

¹In her book Fully Alive, Susie Larson uses this phrase to describe God’s process of revealing lies and hurts in our soul to lead us to healing and freedom. I highly recommend the book!

Jaazaniah, 2003

Jaazaniah, 2003

Holding a picture and a “never, never” you were a gritter of teeth and a ram, but because you heard Him you answered yes. You stepped into a heavyset bus with orange curtains in the land of Rus, where you fell and jammed the knee to a bruise, ripening under pale skin. A bumpy endless night follows, with a skipping refrain from a silver Walkman:

And I know that someday soon, you’ll make sense of this despair, and your love, your love, will get me there.

Open the shutters and see the first summer that you were awake, drink the sparkling stars and tall, skinny pines like a shot of vodka, with shivers and burn and clarity.

Earth, rain, mud, sense and a cry, the original cry that was answered with the unexpected, longed for yes.

Through flooded showers, communal and freezing, through mosquitos feasting on flesh layered in sweat and dirt, through a shared mascara and a new friend who shared your name there was that yes,

the yes that answered the question, the original question.

You sat there, twelve and ancient, infinite and tired, tasked with tasking the children with crafts you didn’t understand, and some tasks just don’t make sense in the entropy, and the prayer pours out in all its young, eternal specificity:

“Let it rain God, a rain with drops big like I’ve never seen, but let it be for only five minutes.”

And when the sky immediately rumbles and cries your tears of relief, it is all naturalness to you, but

joy, joy, joy!

Joy in an oversized grey hoodie, running through the forest path in the giddy hope that defines you. Slick with the answer dripping off your face, through your clothes, breathless and known.

I have now seen the One who sees me.

He was in this place and I did not know it.

*Jaazaniah is one of my middle names. It means “the Lord hears.”