Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When the Dragon Rears Its Head

I feel like writing is one of the things which comes fairly naturally to me. When I was in grade school I would spend hours plugging away as various stories. I wrote with paper and pencil, I typed on the computer, and I developed stories in my brain while I played and rested. I know some of my siblings and friends had, and may even still have, little books about puppies or racehorses or a short story about a whale which I gifted to them. For about as long as I can remember I have loved to create stories, planning the characters and the names, developing the plot, infusing the tale with deep emotions. I could spend literally days putting together a plot simply for my Playmobile characters to carry out.

But the trouble came when I started to lose footing in the real world. When I placed one foot in reality, enough to function and act as normal as possible, and one foot in a world that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

It was several years ago, possibly in seventh or eighth grade, when I began to recognize that my imagination had a propensity for getting me in trouble. For getting me lost. For starting me down the wrong path. Considering the distance of time which has transpired between then and now, I don't remember all my decision making processes but I do remember trying to control my story telling which had literally moved to consume the entirety of most of my days. I would be detailing a fictional world while I mucked my horse's pen or saddled her for a ride. If Bible time was boring, it was no problem to retreat into my internal world. Fear and intrusive thoughts, which had become normal with my obsessive-compulsive-like complex, were easier to put away when I could simply turn off the real world and fade back into a world I couldn't quiet touch but could feel deeply.

But from time to time, I decided a certain story had to go, perhaps because it was too consuming, and then I made up rules about what would happen if I resurrected that story. I placed possibilities of me randomly contracting a cancer as a consequence. But it was never good enough. The fear would die down or I would find a way to outwit my rules and start a new story line, with fresh characters and an exciting plot. My internal stories became the place where I was focused, spending a good part of any activity- whether playing, working, or doing school- vastly devoted to this past time.

Looking back, I see how long the struggle has been. Somewhere back in the past, my stories and imagination had become a place of hiding and security. But what once was innocent had become twisted and was infused with a daily struggle to fight against fear. These fears were deeply entwined with the possibility of breaking a rule or a promise I had made in an effort to control something or another, or the fear of displeasing God. And there was also the possibility that what wasn't real was real, which opened a place of logically knowing what was realistic but emotionally not being sure what was logical.

Over the years I would continue to fight this dragon of my imagination, sometimes going months without indulging in creating a fictional world, and sometimes caving into my need to create an alternate reality with people who surpassed insane odds and conquered difficult obstacles no matter what their trial. I came to simultaneously love and hate this monster. To both know it was no help to continue living through fictional characters and likewise, to crave being away from reality. It became an addiction. An addiction to fantasy. And in a world like this, there is no room to get to know God and enjoy His presence. And that is where the ultimatum lay: to follow God, to know His undying joy, or to keep walking my way.

It turns out I have had to learn an important lesson about surrendering things which might not be inherently bad but are an intense stumbling block to one's self. I've had to learn, and relearn, to be sure! that sometimes we have to surrender what we want to God and that He knows what is best. And that He can provide something that is better. And He has. Getting to know Him, to be able to rest in His presence, and more fully experience seeing His glory through His creation have all been worth while trade offs.

A life in Christ is not a life of bondage. He is freedom and life. And that which pulls us away from Him is always leading to chains and living in a box. A verse I have found encouraging is found in Galatians chapter 5, verse 1.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, 
and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

While this verse is applying to things other than my love of living in fantasy, I think it can be applied directly to my situation. I may always have a weakness for retreating into fantasy and blocking myself off from reality. But I know Christ is my freedom. And He says not to be entangled by things which we have already been freed from. Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). I no longer have to be a slave to my whims, fears, and stumbling blocks. Without these things crowding in, I can learn about and experience God for more deeply. And you know, I still believe He has given me an imagination to be used. Just not for the things which lead to fear and imprisonment and stagnation in my growth in Him. Yes, music can still cause my mind to imagine far off places or take flight to the top of a mountain. And I so like to contemplate what the new earth and heaven will be like. And I think He has redeemed my imagination in this way. Not to say "don't use it" but to use it in a way which does not draw me away from God but instead pushes me closer. 

So maybe. Just maybe if you have been struggling a long time or have had a relapse into some old habit, have courage! If you give it to God, I have faith He knows what is better for you. And since He is the all-powerful, good, holy, and perfect, we can trust that what He has is what is good and more complete than what we have fashioned for ourselves. 

And I write this for myself as a reminder. A reminder that a life in Him is always better. Turning aside is never worth it. Keep on fighting. Keep on walking. Trust in the Lord. Lean on His strength. Follow Him. It is always what is best in the long run. 

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
- John 8:36

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Closed Door

My life feels like it revolves around paperwork right now. Apply for this. Apply for that. Ask someone for a recommendation. Remember due dates. Write convincing statements. Submit. Wait.

Of course it isn't true. There was a movie at the theater. Bible study with a friend. Making dinner. There was Christmas. And Christmas break. Those seven days in Florida, on the beach, in the ocean, and under the sun. And the almost two weeks I was out of town. And even now, I am happily not in the throes of filling out MORE paperwork. But it lurks in the back of my mind as a consistent nag, which is probably why I feel it is so much a part of my life.

The paperwork falls in the usual categories- scholarships, applying to different schools, filling out forms for the current school year, and of course, figuring out my summer plans. A couple months ago I took an dive at an opportunity of working with kids for the summer. I applied on a moment's inspiration, gifted to me by a dear friend. But as the moment of inspiration passed, the idea took root. I filled out MORE forms. I asked people to be references (a task I am not fond of). I had interviews. And I waited. I prayed, talking to God about this opportunity. I texted and chatted, talking to people in my life about this idea. And I waited some more. Through it all, I asked for direction. And for the right decision for me to be made. And I waited some more. Then the phone call for which I was eagerly waiting finally came. I was fairly certain I would get in. I would be able to claim this opportunity- if not into the first option I applied for then surely the second option... And now the phone rang.

I walked quickly from the room and answered the phone. But a couple minutes on the phone yielded a different answer than I had anticipated. The programs I was interested in doing were full- I wasn't needed. Being a Christian organization which I had applied to, I gave the appreciated comment somewhere along the lines of "if it isn't what God has for me, then that is all right!" I hung up and just like that my little network of how my summer was going to go, expertly designed and planned by me, caved in.

Oh, I wasn't devastated. A little disappointed. And the truth is if it isn't what God wants for me, then it isn't what I should want for me either. But deep down a little piece of me wants to be sulky. It wants to come out as a dramatic little girl. Why didn't I get to do what I wanted? It isn't fair. I have no idea what to do now. I have to remind myself this isn't the person I want to show- because after all its better to present the attitude of "oh I guess this is God's will then," right? Well, I am not that perfect and there is still a restless feeling lying beneath the surface. Waiting for an opportunity to get out. To play feel-sorry-for-me. And that is why I have to be reminded: A Closed Door is an Answer Too.

Yep. That is right. A closed door can be an answer. If I give a request to God... if I ask Him to work it according to His will  (and not so much my own)... if I decide what He has for me is better than what I have for me... then a closed door is also an answer.

God is the sovereign one. He is the one who knows the past, present, and future. He has been around literally forever- before we were even around to recognize the concept of forever. Just last night I lay in my bed and looked up into the blue-black night sky, dotted with the stars visible in the city. It was beautiful. And God is immense. Powerful. Beautiful. Magnificent. Holding this whole universe in His hand. Oh the heavens really do declare His glory- even if only a little piece of it. It is a nice way to fall asleep. And today, under the moody clouds and the answers which aren't quiet how I imagined, He is the same God. He doesn't change. And He is still the God I want in control of my life. I don't know best. He does.

So God, even though I might be disappointed, feel a tad lost, get a bit frustrated... help me to remember that You are a good Father, an all knowing God, and a loving Savior. You got me. You know what is and isn't for me. And like all good parents, You know sometimes "no" is just as good as "yes." So here is a reminder to me. Yes, a closed door can be Your answer. And "no, this isn't for you," can be an answer to prayer too. So thank You, God, for this reminder. And thank You that I can trust You.

Downstairs in my room, on my desk, is a little collection of rocks with memoirs written upon them. Things I need to remember. Visible reminders of God's hand in my life which last after the feelings. It is time to add another. And you can probably guess the phrase I intend to write on it. A Closed Door is an Answer Too.