“what do you know that you believe about Him, friend?”
the question hung in the air between the two of us and made the space from passenger seat to driver seat seem much more vast than the reality of the actual distance. i swallowed hard and through salty tears, i whispered my biggest fear at the time,
“i don’t know right now that i believe anything– i doubt everything”
as soon as the words left my lips, there was a measure of alarm in my heart and mind– my eyes opened wide and i stared across the glistening water of the familiar pond at Centennial Park, questioning everything from why i was in this city on this day at this hour– to my own breathing. the ingrained “good” Christian in me was freaking out– how dare i question the basic truths of my faith? and was it okay to not be sure about God right now? and what was going to happen to me? what if i died tonight not being sure about what i believed, would i be separated forever from God? and what of the fact that i didn’t even know if i believed that to be real? just because i had always been told of heaven and hell, does that mean they are absolutes in life? what if someone found out i was at this scary place in my faith? did i even have a faith anymore? i’d been removed from community from so long now that i didn’t even know if it mattered at this point what i was thinking and questioning and feeling. my mind was racing and with a fever raging through my body making everything more intensified, my anxiety began to climb and i desperately wanted to jump out of the car and start walking, despite the terribly cold temperatures and my own lack of warm clothing. closing my eyes and inhaling slowly, i was especially thankful for the friend beside me and her endless iPod of songs. she selected a familiar tune that i could focus on and for the moment i was lost in the harmonies and melodies while i tried to center myself back to reality.
“you can’t trust your feelings, feelings will lie to you”
another intense heart conversation i’d had with a friend about a month and a half before this night was ringing in my mind along with the swirling of other questions. i didn’t doubt his words, and it wasn’t the first time i’d heard them, in fact i agree with them and believe them to be completely true…but on this night i wondered if you aren’t sure of truth, what does that do to feelings, and how does it affect where you find stability? i knew i couldn’t trust my feelings, and that was a serious mercy to me in this time of questions without answer. my feelings told me to walk– no, RUN away from it all. to leave the past behind me, and start new somewhere else. walking away from everything i was, ‘breaking free’ from the Liz everyone had come to know… it was so incredibly appealing to me. when i couldn’t pinpoint my identity, a fresh chance for a new one was exactly what i thought i needed. the actual truth was that i needed to be reminded of the past to get my identity back…
“is it okay if we stop at Kroger and head back home?”
the question interrupted the hurricane inside my brain and i opened my eyes and nodded in the dark, “that’s totally fine, i can’t believe how late it’s gotten.”
assuring my friend that it was absolutely fine to rejoin civilization, we started the quick journey of streetlights and merging traffic to make our way to the nearest Kroger. i suddenly had an echoing of a song in my mind and naturally, i flipped the tracks to play that tune.
suddenly, as the car filled with the sounds of promises and praise, i lost where i was– the city, the time of night, the company– i completely lost myself in that song. and i let go of my questions for the first time in months and i sang words that were harder than they’d ever been before, “You’re still good, when the storm is all around, You’re still light, when the darkness surrounds. No matter what life brings, my heart will sing of the love You have given to me, cuz i know, You’ll never leave. So praise Yahweh, always, for our God, He gives and takes away, but still we choose, to praise Yahweh, always for our God, His promise still remains, tried and true…” and the tears poured down my face, and i could barely even sing with my ratchet voice, but my soul was singing and it mattered more than anything that i keep going, “when the walls around me break, and the ground beneath me shakes, i will fall into Your open arms, so let the walls around me break and the ground beneath me shake, i will fall into Your open arms, yeah”
out of nowhere, my eyes flew open and i began laughing. it was like having the blinds opened wide with noonday sun in the middle of a dark and stormy night. it was almost 11pm, but it was like i could see clear in a crisp morning light– God was real.
even more importantly, i still absolutely in my heart believed in Him and in what He had said. His promises were true and I BELIEVED THEM.
my heart was filled with joy and i started laughing…instantly confusing (and probably terrifying) the friend who was with me. i couldn’t explain in the moment what had happened, because i hardly even knew. the only thing i knew in that moment was that i believed, and it started changing everything. explaining what was happening to me the best i could, my friend simply could tell God was moving and doing something and that was enough for her in the moment (for which i am grateful, i know i can be a scattered mess most of the time)..and i just was so happy for the first time in weeks. the moment mattered and i lived it with no distraction.
the following day i returned back to the negative temperature tundra land of Wisconsin, not drastically changed, but slowly finding the true North of my compass again. Monday morning, i received a phone call from one of my older siblings relaying to me that my brother who lives in Utah was planning to visit and surprise the family– and would i be able to visit with him? i began mulling over options in my mind, (i still had work of course) and opted to wait until the weekend, though it meant more travel and less rest. the days did not disappoint and the giggles of my nephew and niece were more than enough sustenance for the journey. Saturday evening ended with an incredibly fun drive to Milwaukee with my brother and a meal at my favorite little dining experience, the Safe House. me and my little car dropped him off at his hotel in Milwaukee (he flew out the next morning) and headed back to K-town. it was after 11 when i got home and i made the decision to not be bound by expectation (my own or other peoples) and i turned off my phone and fell asleep.
with a slow start to my Sunday morning, i ground some fresh Steadfast coffee (from Nashville, of course) and whipped up some paleo coconut flour pancakes for a late morning breakfast. the responsible adult in me reminded me, “hey sunshine, you need to do some laundry” so i threw in a load and returned to my favorite arm chair, contemplating what to do with my day and after catching up on Pretty Little Liars (judge me not!) i started flipping through Netflix, searching for something that seemed safe for the fragile place my heart had been in lately. my eyes roved over the screen and came across a film i had started several weeks prior, but hadn’t been able to finish because it was too intense and raw for my heart. something in me was like “gotta finish this” so i pressed play and finished out the 2nd half of “Ragamuffin”, which for those who aren’t familiar, is the story of Rich Mullins.
let me just take a moment to say that this film wrecked me in a real, raw and important way. i’d been searching for a way to follow jesus and this film laid out so many of the same questions i’d had myself, and many i’d been terrified to voice aloud to myself, let alone God…but here it was, raw and real- a profound truth-filled movie that lent clarity to so many things in my heart and mind. if you get a chance to watch it, i am telling you- DO IT. whether you believe in God or not, whether you’re a Christian or not, this film will rock what you believe and accept as normal and good.
SPOILER ALERT: for those of you who don’t know, Rich Mullins’ life ended in a car crash before he finished his last record- one he considered “his most important work”…this was something i had known growing up, i listened to his songs on contemporary Christian radio and was very familiar with much of his story.
what i did not know was that the car crash that took his life occurred near Peoria, Illinois back in 1995. as this fact flashed across the screen at the finish of the film, my heart caught in my throat and i stared at my screen, breathing momentarily halted.
was this a joke?
was this real life?
how could this be a THING?
and then i felt that familiar nudge on my heart, and i answered the soul-tug, with a soft, “what are You saying to me?” and in that instant, He reminded me that the night before, as i drove back to Kenosha from Milwaukee, completely exhausted, i had achingly cried out to Him, asking for Him to be real to me- to make His love real to me, but not just real- because Jesus dying on a cross was real.. but i needed Him to be personal, to make it matter to me in a way that my heart could grasp onto… and so He chose this, He chose to remind me of Peoria, IL.
now that i’ve got you all utterly confused (well, some of you might know where this is going, but definitely not all of you)… in Peoria, IL back in 2011, a scared, broken and scarred 21 year old ventured to a concert with a good friend. it was a show that wasn’t planned weeks in advance to attend, in fact it was completely spontaneous– only decided by her and her friend the night before. on this particular night, the lead singer of the band preached a long message after they finished their rock set. she was used to this, it wasn’t anything new…but this night? this night it was like she was singled out in the crowd, like he was speaking into the microphone and the words were dropping straight into her heart and she couldn’t get away from it, couldn’t get away from Jesus. leaving the show that night, i chose to let go of everything and accept the life He was offering me. i didn’t even know what that meant or what it looked like, but i chose to stand up out of the cloud of dirt and darkness that was surrounding me and choose Him back. Peoria isn’t where my story began, but it’s where my Redemption story exploded into reality. as my friend drove us away from the venue, i curled into the passenger seat and ugly cried for over an hour as the highway passed beneath and behind us. i let Jesus have me. the following day i would find out what it meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit and feel Him so deeply. Peoria meant something to me.
there may still be many questions, there may still be lots of confusion and i sure as hell know that there will be a battle– the fight of my life will continue just as it always has… but i believe Rich Mullins summed it up best when he penned,
“I will never doubt His promise though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes”