Prodigal Mind, Redeemed Soul

My life has been filled with asking God’s forgiveness and <trying to> force His permission.  Two years ago, that approach to Christianity was ripped to shreds when the kingdom I had built for myself was demolished. Christianity became about Christ being alive in me; not me being alive with Christ showing up on occasion. Learning to surrender on a daily, hourly and minutely basis has been an unfathomable adventure. 
Recently in a reference letter, I was described as a prodigal. I chuckled and wiped away tears as the remainder of the letter explained why my story blessed fellow Christians rather than scarred them. 

For some reason, I never expected God’s redemption to go as deeply as it does. It’s a beautiful thing when I look at my best friend and I know he only sees scars, not seeping wounds. 

It can be a terrifying mental trip trying to protect that redemption. I often forget that though my life in Christ is my responsibility, I myself am (hallelujah) Christ’s charge. What I can’t handle, He can. What I don’t understand, He does. 

A couple days ago, as I sat haggling over whether I was pleasing God “enough,” I broke down crying. The what ifs are intimidating. As a redeemed and treasured prodigal concerned I’m not hearing God correctly for my future, it’s ulcer-forming. That particular day, I wasn’t getting the “go-ahead” I thought God and I had set up to guarantee I was doing things correctly. 

Fine, Jesus. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m done. You get the pieces of this mess. Do your thing. Get me out of the way. I…I surrender. Help me. Help me surrender. 

Believe me when I tell you I expected silence after that prayer. I expected the arbitrary reminder that God’s peace and grace were enough… As if that would silence the questions in my mind. 

Instead of holy silence, as I muttered “I surrender” God gave me the answer I needed along with total peace. 

It was as if I heard God whisper, “I just wanted you to give up control. I just wanted you to trust that I know your heart’s desire. I wanted you to surrender control, but even more than that, I needed you to surrender the idea that you have Me figured out. I love you, sweet Child. You are no longer a Prodigal, you’re a Child I treasure. You didn’t hear from Me for so long because you weren’t looking for Me, you were looking for your comfortzone.”

We talk so often of surrendering plans and “control” to God. What about surrendering the expectations of what God will do after we surrender?

Silent Screams 

Whether you want to believe I’m an introvert or not, the one thing I’m not is silent. The command to “wait patiently” infers the command to be quiet and not jump ahead of the Lord. I have yet to experience a moment where that was my first choice.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and he heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

The idea that I’ve waited patiently for the Lord is a relative statement. Waited? More like asked God to give me what I want and then clean up whatever mess I leave behind. Patiently? What? That’s a… that’s a thing?

The promise that my God has heard my cry has been overwhelmingly seen in my life. He holds the definition of my tears even when I do not. The fact that he inclined to me is proof that he understands that, sometimes, he has to fix the small, inconsequential things within my mind before I’m ever willing (or even able) to wait and be patient.

I put the cart before the horse again recently. I asked God to show up. He took too long. I panicked. I’m not very likable when I panic, by the way. {Insert horribly indecent joke about being female here.} When I went about fixing what I was fairly certain was broken, I could almost hear God mutter, No, Baby Girl. You don’t want to fix that. Stop it. Hold on. You’re heart wants more than your actions will get you. Hold onto Me. Wait for Me. Be silent and wait.

Yesterday as I watched God answer my heart’s cry before I could even understand its need, I almost laughed at the beauty. Despite my shortsighted assumptions, He stepped over what I thought I wanted and gave me what I needed. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but within the pain lies the glory of God’s faithfulness.

When Psalms 40 is quoted, often time it is only quoted as an encouragement that God will hear us and we “simply” need to wait patiently. The reality is, that’s not where the Psalms’ deepest beauty is found. The deepest beauty is found when we come to terms with the fact that God inclines to us and hears more than just our prayers. 

He hears our hearts no matter how silently our hearts may be despite the words we shield it with.

Living Beyond Assumptions

All he did was asked questions over an article. 

His eyes got as big as saucers as I explained the medical journey behind the 1,800 word synopsis being offered to a publication company. One explanation led to another… And another… And another. The questions were painfully typical and mundane. I felt as if I was answering the curious questioner in my sleep. My writing had led me towards this type of impromptu interview before. 

But then, he said it:

“Wow. I guess you’re really not that frightening at all. Listening to your story, hearing you explain it, everything that made you super uncomfortable (to be around) makes so much more sense. I never would have guessed… Like, geez, you’re great.”

He smiled the smile of a man who wanted to be applauded for a gracious compliment. I smiled a smile that threatened to whisper, “Because I love Jesus, I won’t break your nose when I punch you.” I’m 26-years-old and people’s fears over my disabilities still make me crumble to the ground in tears. Being afraid of my disabilities is understandable.

But if you suffer silently through those fears, all you’re saying is that you’re afraid of me

I can’t say I’m much better than this poor man who has become a victim of my sarcasm. I giggle at the differences within the disabled community because, even though I may feel uncomfortable at times, I feel accepted. But don’t you dare ask me to be open in other areas.

My biggest fear and struggle is learning how to talk to an addict like an equal. They’re my equal? Wait… You mean they can hold a conversation?

This isn’t a discussion about right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Our society has become such a culture of hiding behind assumptions we have become our fears. 

My young friend saw my differences the moment he met me a year ago. He was too afraid to ask.

I have reasons to be afraid anytime I’m around a person who abuses drugs. I’ve been at the mercy of certain addicts’ evils before. But believe it or not, when you can get them talking, they simply want to be seen and reminded of their value. I often forget that because I can be too afraid to write an exception to my self-righteous rule.

I learned a long time ago that God never told me my comfort was His first concern. His command is to love those around me no matter the cost. 

If I live in fear of the unknowns, I’ll never experience the joy of living fully by loving those I don’t understand.

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Speaking Unknown Languages

This morning, I found myself reliving the past and cherishing the present. 

I laughed at the blessing of what I have surrounding me this Christmas Eve. I’ve been given memories I’ll never forget, loved ones I’ll always cherish… I can’t thank God enough for all these things. My worlds have officially collided. Every time I see strangers becoming family around my parents’ dinner table, I can hear God whisper, “This is both a reminder of eternal redemption you can’t run from & a gift of absolute love.” 

But still, in this quiet morning where memories can flow without interruption, I found myself missing Ohio. Last year, I was a guest in a friend’s home; a cherished stranger-made-family. I could have easily felt like a fish out of water, but I rarely did. 

Hearing German, Korean and Japanese happened often during that Christmas. Every once in a while, I’d throw in some Sign Language just to make my friends giggle… At times, my surrogate German-Mama would forget to speak English when addressing me and the kitchen would erupt in laughter at the confusion. 

Last Christmas Eve, in four different languages, we sat down and told the Christmas Story. As Jesus’ birth was celebrated simultaneously in each language, I laughed for fear of crying. 

It was a minuscule taste of what I can only imagine Heaven to be like. Voices raised with confidence, speaking the Truth of our Redeemer in our respective heart language. We shared knowing smiles as we let each other express our Jesus differently, knowing our bond would always hold some mystery. 

I’m surrounded by English speakers this year. Each time I hear snippets of the Christmas Story – Holy God coming to Earth as a baby to save His people – I smile. Jesus is so much more than a story.

He breaks down language barriers, cultural differences & economic struggles and creates family out of strangers. 

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself. 

No Longer Beautiful?

As an epileptic teen, I had a body that made the models jealous. When you have a seizure 20 times a day for 5 years, fat doesn’t have time to accumulate on your frame. My parents tried everything. There was a season where my daily diet included potato chips and a large strawberry milkshake. (To this day, my mother harkens back to how bad of an idea that was because she had to get a milkshake, too.)

No luck, though. I was 18 years old, 85-90 pounds and I had muscle in places that made people talk. I loved it, to be honest. I thought it was funny. In secret, it became my identity — My claim to fame outside of the doctors and blood draws.

 Now though, in my mid-twenties and relatively healthy, I read off those stats and I get that beautiful glance that says, “It’s not polite to tell you you’re lying, but there’s no way you… Yeah, no.” Whereas once upon a time I felt as if I could lift anything, now I’m thankful when my arms are free of anything.

I cried when I put on a size 2 jeans my freshman year of college at 19 years old. Cried. As in, oh my word, my world is over. I’m a frikkin’ size 2. I was always told my size made me beautiful. Maybe the well-intentioned souls that uttered those words meant it made me more beautiful. Who knows. That sentiment ends depending on the number of your jeans and the letter in your shirt, apparently?

When I put on a size 6 at 22, I’m fairly certain I had the fleeting (not acted upon) thought, “Jesus, 5 seizures will make me lose a size; whatdya say?” Needless to say, I never got my wish (halle-frikkin’-lujah). A size 6, to be fair, would be heavenly these days. Just sayin’. 

I hate to admit it, but after 18 years of not having to work at turning heads, there are days it’s all-consuming to realize I’m not someone who stands out in a crowd. Americans have completely re-written the definition to “beautiful.” 

I’m not saying it’s wrong to work towards being healthy. By all means, dang it, do it. But someday soon, can we stop only reserving the word beautiful for the women and men that look like they belong in a fashion show?

 As Christians, it’s very easy to see what the world has done to beauty and stand around critiquing the critique of the critique. Why do what we can to change things when we can just put our 2-cents in and walk away without any responsibility in changing what’s wrong with our world?

I challenge you, I challenge myself, to live with the Biblical definition of beauty written on our minds.

Love for others and love for God. That’s it. That’s all beauty really is.