They’ll Always Need Me?

“You can’t leave… I love you.”

“If I had known you weren’t staying forever, I would have come out to hear you more.”

“You can’t leave… I need you.”

“I’m so sorry for messing up so much. If that’s why you’re leaving, ask God to forgive me and stay. I love you.”

All four of those lines were uttered over and over again by various men and women last night as I prepared them for the fact that I wasn’t coming to work with them anymore. Most of them had become valuable friends and siblings in the Lord. Most of them would say anything in order to get a smile and to sit next to me so we could talk. Some of them made me feel as if I was indispensible to them coming to the Lord. 

That’s why I left.

Here’s the thing about ministry: It’s incredibly easy to do godly things and yet not even realize you’ve been blinded to the fact that God has truly taken a backseat. I wrote in my journal several weeks ago, “Jesus, praying for these men and women isn’t enough. I can’t step away from them. They need me too much.”

There are several other serious frustrations that led to my choice to leave a ministry that continues to hold a part of my heart. However, the fact that I had started to believe that prayer wasn’t enough, that God couldn’t make changes within the hearts of the men especially without my knowledge… That’s terrifying. The fact that accountability and my own spiritual health and Biblical accuracy had become an option rather than a necessity was just as sobering.

What many of these men and women will never know is that obedience to the Lord in stepping away from them hurt more than I ever expected. But if I had stayed, I wasn’t loving them– I was using them. The addiction to being needed is an incredibly hidden, yet overwhelmingly strong bondage.

If I couldn’t break that bondage myself, how could I ever expect these people I have learned to love to break that bondage themselves?

Hesitant Reminders

Tonight was my last night with a two month commitment that started 18 months ago. A commitment that was supposed to be simply filling in as an interpreter for a short time turned into TTY phone calls, letters and weekly visits for 18 months.  

I loved it from the get-go. I dreaded it every Wednesday from the get-go. The look on the man’s face tonight reminded me why I never “called in sick”. The deep hug as he walked out the door for the last time reminded me why I never acted on the grumbling and frustrations I always seemed to have at the last minute.

God wanted me involved in this man’s spiritual growth. I agreed to it because “two months” sounded incredibly noncommital. Exhausted college students like noncommital things. God kept me coming even past the two month commitment date because He knew I needed that connection to the culture and language of my heart.

I learned seeveral things about ministry while loving up on this man for almost the past 2 years.

1) The more you dread the task, the more God’s work shocks you.

2) Most of what God does through you is incredibly miniscule and unseen– that’s okay.

3) The more you tell God you’re too weak to serve, the longer He surprises you with the strength to serve anyway.

4) You can go in thinking people need you and you will always leave feeling as if you needed them.

5) The second you learn to trust God with your time, resources and energy, He’ll trust you with His time resources and energy.

6) Heart involvment isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

I closed the chapter of a huge part of my heart this evening as this man and I said our final good byes. He started out as a mission of mine and ended up a friend who taught me just as much as he learned from me.

Welcome to the unsung beauty of missions, Friends. Missions isn’t always romantically beautiful… but it can stlil change your life forever.

Lesson Behind Bars

The man walked into the jail with a swagger I had come to know well and love even more. One look at my friend and most everyone knows his story of his sold innocence. 

Drug dealer. Anyone who has spent even an hour around someone who wears that authority knows what to look for. The six-foot, 265 pound giant wears the identity with a secure pride; even while in stripes.

“Hi, Sweetheart,” he mumbled as he leaned in for his typical half handshake, half hug and pat on the back. I’ve known him for two years, but because of the tears we’ve shared over his choices, I feel like I’ve known him all my life. 

He knows how to play with people, but early on he shockingly exclaimed that he felt I was better at his game than he was. I’ve never figured out what to do with that proclamation, but his misconception of my “skill” has led him to a blunt, raw honesty he doesn’t seem to give too many people. You watch your back when you’re incarcerated. You trust no one.

“Have they sentenced you yet, Bud?”

“I know I’m serving 20 years. Don’t know when they’ll send me down State. I’m here for a while, Doll. I’m just ready to get my answers.”

He half-heartedly traced the words Holy Bible on the book he held in front of him. I knew he was thinking about his kids. 20 years was long enough to be written out of his kids’ lives. 

“Does that Book mean anything to you, Bud? Or is this just a quick fix to get good behavior written on your record and five years erased off of prison time?” I choked back tears as I asked the question.  In the last two years, I’d seen a change in the man that took my breath away, but I also knew the attractiveness of saying the right things to pull the right strings. I wasn’t stupid enough to take his proclamation of faith in Jesus blindly. The realization that he could possibly still be playing me like a fiddle comes to mind every time I sit down to talk with him.

“Cass, I’m good at drug dealin’. The guy I learned my stuff from used to tell me the Golden Rule was to ‘Sell, Don’t Consume.’ I got blastedly good at knowing enough to sell my stuff and get my money, but I rarely took a hit. Jesus is different, though. I have to consume Him before I can ‘sell’ Him to someone else. This Book means everything to me; it gives me Jesus.”

It’s a humbling thing to be convicted by something a prisoner says. How many times do I try and, as my friend put it, ‘sell’ (share) Jesus to a nonbeliever yet forget to ‘consume’ His truths, love and intimacy for myself? How many times do I try my hardest to impact people like this gentleman with the Gospel without first letting the Gospel impact me?

Oh, may it never be.

 

Is Jesus Enough?

All I want to do is sleep till my world is normal again. I can’t sleep though, my brain is going a million miles an hour.

I’m stuck between overwhelmingly laughing at God’s grace and brokenly screaming at the depth of my depravity.

I had another hard episode today that started messing with my sight. I tell people these awkward episodes are starting to make me blind because there’s no other way to explain it. Technically, I can still see out of what limited peripheral I have. But though my eyes can see, my brain can’t process what I’m seeing, so I feel as if I’m looking at nothing. During these episodes, I rely almost entirely on memory and sounds.

It’s the worst feeling in the world to not know what you’re looking at. It’s even worse when you force yourself to keep a conversation going simply to make your brain track something, but you have no idea if what you’re saying is making sense. Whether it was all an epileptic seizure or several things erupting in one body, it lasted for over two hours.

Nausea is a good thing in the world of epilepsy. I knew I was coming out of the seizure when sipping water and rubbing my aching head wasn’t enough anymore. But I just kept chanting a motto to mysef:

You only have half a brain, you can’t have a grand maul.
You only have half a brain, you can’t have a grand maul.

When the episode ended, I quietly heard God sigh and whisper, You used to scream my name through the episodes that took away your control. ‘Jesus’ used to be the first word off your lips. What happened? Why was I merely an implied presence rather than actually called upon?

I trembled as I took Advil to end the pain. I knew God was right. I knew somehow I was more afraid of what God would take away rather than confident of how He could hold me through a storm and comfort my loved ones that had to watch me get worse.

I was more interested in threatening God with scientific “proof” than I was in reminding my heart that even blindness or death would be magnificent if it meant God’s testimony was magnified.

I was more interested in being comforted back into easiness than I was in being stretched into His likeness.

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus used to be the name my storm screamed. Somehow, I lost that reminder temporarily. Somehow, the science became stronger than the God that created and oversees that science. Somehow scientific logic became more important than holding His hand through my unknowns and smiling because He is always known.

Jesus. The Lord of my Epilepsy, the Yahweh of my transformation and the Father of Truth. Jesus.

The God-like Idol

Don’t worship the journey, worship the Journey-Maker.

As a Christian, I’ve found myself, many times, making an idol out of the presumed journey God sets before me.

At one time, the journey I worshipped was the idea of making it to 18. I worshipped the idea of a God who would be benevolent enough to get me there. To be honest, I worshipped the idea of being strong enough to get to 18 more than I worshipped the God who gave my humanly uncertain life a purpose worthy of living.

Now that health can be either ignored or forgotten, I find myself worshipping the idea that God is making me into something. I’m at College. I work in communications. I love Jesus. In three years, I’ll be somebody because I’ll hold a piece of paper in my hands telling others I have worth. It’s been a journey. It’ll continue to be a journey.

While spending talking it out with God the other day, I heard him ask, “If I change your journey, If all you have left is the assurance that I am with you… will you still believe I’m shaping you?”

Out of complete confusion, I gave him all the Christian answers–
* God I believe in your sovereignty
* God I know you love me
* God I surrender all… or at least I want to surrender all
Meanwhile, I was silently muttering What in the world do you want from me?!

I could almost hear God chuckle as He asked, “What is more important? Becoming more like Me or having a journey you can find identity in?”

Only then did I understand God’s question. Do I believe my journey is my identity?

Am I willing to acknowledge my pursuits in a college education, journalism and ministry as Godly things while not making them into my God-like idol?

If God Gave Up

Drunks have a soft spot in my heart. Jolly drunks break my heart but make me smile. If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew he was drunk and I knew my friend Peter had no idea; our five minute interaction with the hitch hiker would’ve been quickly forgotten.

Just another day in the life of the idiotic airhead who makes her loved ones terrified to leave her to make her own decisions.

It mattered to this guy to get picked up. It mattered even more when we discovered he knew me. Being able to drop names and relate dramas that I’ve known about for almost two years made him relax. He told me things I never would have heard from him when he was sober.

When it was just Peter and I in the car 10 minutes later, Peter said something like, “He doesn’t understand how to start over.” Though neither one of us claimed hopelessness, we understood our passenger was caged in it and didn’t want help getting free.

Just the comprehension of our friend’s hopelessness made me mentally throw my hands up in the air. “He’s unreachable, Lord. He doesn’t trust anyone he can see; how could he ever trust You?”

With a grin in His voice I could almost hear God say, “Once, you were the self-proclaimed wretch who swore she’d never be forgiven. I didn’t give up on you. You came back.

“You were just as deep in the mire of your sin as this man is. Remember the distance I ran to bring you Home.”

Dance with Vulnerability

I’m not really someone to initiate chats about pain level. People ask me if I hurt, I say, “Yep.” When they dig even deeper and ask, “How much?” something along the lines of, “Quite a lot” comes out.

Though the words were rarely spoken, my parents taught me not to become a servant to my pain. However, they never sounded that poetic, but that’s half the joy of this being my blog. Anything gets to be poetry when I want it to be poetry.

But I digress…

Pain can’t be what I think about first thing in the morning. When I walk from A to B, the random twisted ankle, pinched nerve and sore hip will often times make me grind my teeth (I know, bad habit… bad habit) and whisper the only thing I can get out prior to coffee:

One more day, Lord. Please. Just let me get through one more day.

Pain happens. But joy doesn’t have to end. Living doesn’t get to stop just because my body likes to scream for no reason. I often chuckle when an elder looks at me while they “crackle” standing up. They usually say something like, “Enjoy being young, Hun. Someday your hips will sound like mine!”
I may or may not whisper under my breath, “Sweetheart, I’m already there.” But, like everything else… That depends on the strength of my filter system.

Because I try to keep life as normal as possible despite the pain level, I rarely see my stubborn self through the eyes of a loved one. That changed the other day and I’m not sure I like it.

I’d been having small seizures off and on for a few hours. One friend started connecting the dots (annoyingly) and started doing the only thing he could do. Ask questions. Apologize for the pain. Check for the worst.

…I blew him off. I tried to be loving about it, really. But Dude, I’m fine. Tell me you’re there and change the subject. I’ll be fine. My name’s Cass, I’m in Indiana and Barak Obama is the president. See? Brain works. Change the subject, ignore the pain in my voice. I’m fine.

Instead of being impressed with my strength (hahaha!) and changing the subject, he blew up.

“Cassie! Let me love you, gosh darn it!”

Wait. What? You need… Oh.
Vulnerability. Friendship. Reality. Right… Vulnerability terrifies me. Pain gets ignored because I don’t want anyone to know when I’m really breaking down.

That night I learned a lesson I pray I’ll never forget.

Sometimes, vulnerability, with those you love, is an act of service.
Sometimes, that act is merely so a friend can feel as if they really are sharing the load you’re carrying.

In Christian community, we’re not supposed to do this alone. I’d even venture further and say that if we attempt doing life alone… We’re sinning.

The thing that hit home for me that night was after I broke down and explained my fears… My friend moved on to a different subject.

But we both understood life a bit better because we were finally doing life together.