He Restored My Rest.

Last night was a good night.  We had worship practice in our usual location – The Asylum Haunted Warehouse.  It’s not as bad as that, only an “asylum” at Halloween, the rest of the year the landlord leases rooms to local bands.  Since we don’t have a church base (we also rent an event center for Sunday morning services) we meet in The Asylum Haunted Warehouse for practice.  The only dilemma is that, as of early January, a less-than-average metal band practices every Thursday night right next door.  But they practice at +700 volume.  We can’t hear ourselves and truly they can’t hear what they’re doing either.

Last night was a particularly great evening, though, because we are getting closer as a band.  There are 7 of us (lead guitar/vocalist, 2nd guitar, base, violin, drums and two backup vocalists).  Not only are we trying to get to know each other personally, but our trust and comfort levels have risen since the first set we played.  I am not the only female – hooray!  And my girl partner is about my age, super chill and easy to get close to.

You know how sometimes God moves unexpectedly in the midst of your talents and limitations and your heart is left on its’ knees?  Yeah, that happened.  I got to a point in the midst of worship, while crying out in song, where I thought “God, I hate my life right now,” and then all of a sudden He moved without words and eclipsed the complaints and striving of my soul.  He didn’t say a thing.  He allowed me to sing and, through singing, He restored my rest.  My peace.  My joy.

I cannot get to the bottom of Him.  I know I never will.  But I want to go as deep as He’ll take me.

Checking In.

Time has flown since I went back to work in early January.  My days are spent arranging meetings, assisting our bankers and wealth management teams, learning to be a teller (in the event my teller is out of the office) and ordering collateral, swag and gifts for the brand, in lieu of a marketing person doing so.  I enjoy my job and the people I work with.  We’ve had two parties together, a birthday and a Broncos World Championship Parade.  The pace is about 4 times slower than my previous position, which allows me to perform exceptionally, but also provides a lot of unwanted down time.

Married life is good.  We love spending time together and we’re learning how to maintain the quality aspect and stay connected emotionally.  It does not happen automatically!

Our church commute is longer than I would like (it’s in the city – about 25 minutes from home, but somehow seems longer) – why is it that I feel comfortable commuting 1 hour to/from work, but 25 minutes seems too long for church?  The truth is I have stayed home from church for the past three weeks.  I plan to bring this up at small group tonight to get a discussion going and some encouragement.  I blame depression and other small things, but I know there will always be reasons to not go.  Obedience to stay in a body of believers does not require a feeling on my part, but I’m telling myself it does.

It could be winter, it could be my newly formed sleeping pill dependency, or it could be lingering grief from the move, but I have almost zero zest for any aspect of my life.

I am waiting.  I am talking to God.  I am trying to remember to regularly praise Him for who He is and what He has done in my life.  I am sleeping very well and waking up easily (in the early hours).  I am making time for new friends and enjoying their company.  But – yeah.

This is where I am.

You Lift My Head.

When I am in a winter I will praise Him.

When I am feeling nothing I will praise Him.

When I am aching, tired, dull I will praise Him.

When I feel so far from fullness I will praise Him.

When my soul is dry and poured out I will praise Him.

When I am being pulled too far I will praise Him.

When I am lonely I am not abandoned, when I am struck down I am not destroyed.

I am blessed beyond the curse, for His promise will endure, His joy is going to be my strength.

You are my glory. You lift my head.

On My Parents’ Grace.

Right now I’m sitting at the downstairs computer in my parent’s home in Pennsylvania. Nona is snoring in her bedroom, just around the corner. My dad is long asleep, Aunt Melody and mom are bustling around upstairs, looking at old photos and just being sisters.

On Saturday, after arriving home and spending several hours with my family, I went upstairs and made the familiar route to my old bedroom. This was my room from age 15 to 19. The walls are “ripe currant,” a deep exotic red. There’s a large antlered tree branch, sprayed gold, suspended from the ceiling in one corner, above where my bed used to live. My old photos are in their old frames, exactly where I had them, on a dark wood bookshelf against the wall. There’s a mahogany leather setee with brass studs next to my closet and behind it a tall fake palm. My curtains are sheer champagne with fake teardrop crystals hanging scalloped on the valance. I have my knick knacks. Some of my books remain. Mom doesn’t know where my trunk full of books went and neither do I, but they’ve got to be in the basement because she never throws/gives away anything of mine.

I am flooded with memories.

My parents adore me. My mom is proud of who I am and considers me her friend. My dad beams with joy whenever I’m mentioned and is at rest when I’m home.

But much of the time I wish I had been easier for them.

Less troubled. Less escapist. Less boundary-breaking. Less boy crazy. Less needy. Less of a liar. Less of a rebellion from truth.

I get it now. More than ever before.

I am forgiven. God, my ultimate parent, has parented me through a heart redemption and continues to do so. I break a little more each time I am reminded of where I’ve come from.

I want to say Thank You, but I’m not sure how to do it yet. I’m embarrassed to open the past and point to things I’ve done and say “Thank You for being [this] for me then. Thank You for loving me unconditionally. Thank You for being patient. Thank You for vacuuming my room when I held way too many secrets in there. Thank You for calling me yours even when it was probably embarrassing. Thank You for bringing me home from school on countless occasions when I had panic attacks and you didn’t know what was going on. Thank You for every time you listened to my desires and bought me gifts and poured into me when all I did was take. Thank You for not shaming me when you knew I snuck away to be with a boy, or a blunt, or some darkness. Thank You for hearing my outbursts and, mostly, lovingly put me in my place. Thank You for taking on my offenses and showing up each day to call me your daughter and show me you were beyond proud of any truth shining through in my heart. Your grace helped bring me home.”

His grace, through you, brought me home.

Holiday Favorites

ocomeletus

If I don’t talk about my favorite things right now (as a thanksgiving gesture) I might lose my mind.

  1. Putting up a tree, any tree! This year that means a $2.99 thrift store find. It’s about 30 in. tall and cute as a button.
  2. Putting up decorations – dated, tacky or gorgeous! I choose gorgeous, but when I think about it, I wouldn’t want my parents to decorate with anything but dated ornaments, Santas, place mats and the like. (Actually my mom’s decided she hates Santa now, so that’s out the window). But those special items were my childhood Christmases – my first tastes of holiday joy. They’ll probably be back in in 10 years.
  3. Thinking about drinking hot chocolate, but realizing I’d rather have coffee. Why drink chocolate when you can eat chocolate and drink caffeine?
  4. Enjoying the snow outside. This is a new one for me. I haven’t enjoyed the snow since I started driving, as it became an escape hazard for getting out of the house. But now I am back to finding it magical, peaceful and life giving.
  5. Cozying up on the couch with a blanket & good book. This one makes me happy just thinking about it. I have a favorite blanket this year (Sferra Celine throw in Slate Blue) and a good book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
  6. Exchanging gifts. I’ve got packages going to Florida and Pennsylvania and one under our tree for the honey.
  7. Christmas cards! Ours were sent at the end of November. We’re receiving them now and I’ve got a twine-and-clothes-pin display this year.
  8. Wine & hot toddies. At Chrismastime it’s more acceptable to bring out the beverages and call it “festive.”
  9. Baking. Not from scratch, I’m not that into it. But baking and not counting the holiday deserts.
  10. Living with lit candles. I haven’t been sad for an extended period of time for a while, but since moving to Colorado I have my weeks of sadness. This has provided a decent litmus test to see if scents truly elevate one’s mood. For me they do. They definitely do. It’s almost funny, because my circumstances don’t change, but if I light a candle while eating dinner, reading or watching tv with Joe I am much more relaxed and in the moment. Dare I say content…
  11. Community/town/city decorations. I just love ’em. Everybody tries especially hard to make life/houses/malls/stores/cafes/restaurants/etc. beautiful and it puts my mind at ease, because throughout the year I’m wondering how to give everything a facelift. The holidays give me a break – they just slap lights on problems and make beautiful places sing.
  12. The movies. At Christmas there is something extra special about going to the movies. If it’s a movie you really want to see, then of course you’re excited, but add to it that you might walk out to a snowy night time wonderland, crisp air hitting your face, a cozy couch and blankets waiting for you at home and CHRISTMAS around the corner. I don’t know, this makes sense to me.
  13. Christmas music. I sing it, I reminisce, I plan for the future, when we have bubbly babies scurrying around the house in Christmas jammies.
  14. Family/friends. We don’t have our families around, nor our dearest friends, but we’re thankful for the ones we’ve made so far and the relationships we have elsewhere. It is the BEST to be in each others’ company during the holidays and to experience how different families celebrate Jesus, love on each other and express joy and fun.
  15. Jesus. It’s in times of loneliness I’m reminded most that my Savior came for me… He came to save me, save me from the greatest loneliness I might ever know. You are more than enough for me.

What Matters?

Today I was in the midst of an identity crisis… again. A few recent events have catapulted me into job searching with a vengeance. It’s all I can think about. I applied for almost 30 jobs today. But am I looking for a job or an identity?

Denver is more competitive than I thought, mainly, well, because I didn’t think about it. I had an interview yesterday and it went really well. I know this because my interviewers told me so (I mean, it also felt great). But? I did not get the position. I knew going into it that I was not the most qualified, add to it that I’m switching industries. Now my thoughts are: “get a job” “get a purpose” and “get better at everything you do.” I am afraid of rejection, as anyone. But lately I fear the amount of rejection I will face. To “defend” myself from the fear I’ve been doing things like overly praising my cover letter writing, puffing up my belief in myself that I can achieve success without a degree, and the like. But I’m doing it on repeat and repeat and repeat to the extent that my heart is wandering. I am not looking for the job God might have for me, I’m looking at the circumstances and attempting to build myself up with myself.

Tonight I wrote a card to a girl named Safyre, who lives in Schenectady, New York. Her immediate family was burned alive when their house caught fire and Safyre, 8, is facially disfigured from the event. She asked for cards from all over the world for Christmas. I wrote her a card.

“Dear Safyre,

Merry Christmas! I am thinking of you tonight as I sit at my desk in my office. Have you had fun in the snow yet? Are you getting enough hot chocolate? I hope so. I wish you such a Merry Christmas, you beautiful girl. Enjoy every card you receive and know I (and so many others) are lifting you in prayer.

Love,

Sunny”

I heard the Spirit say “that’s the most important thing you’ve done all day.” And it humbles me. My past/future accomplishments, drivenness and job success are weak, at best, in comparison to all matters of the Kingdom. They can contribute to what God is doing and wants to do, but they are not what matters themselves.

God, position me where you want me, both vocationally and heart-wise.

Redeemed from the Dark Web.

Disclaimer:  This post is not explicit, but it does contain a few sentences of upsetting imagery regarding the Snuff genre.

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I have been hesitating to write or talk about this, but in one week God has used a specific wandering of my heart to draw me to Him in a big way.  It has been one of the biggest kairos moments of my year.

Let me start with some context.  When we moved to Colorado I knew I would have a lot of down time.  In much of my down time I read, watch Tim Keller lectures or follow politics.  But sometimes I get lazy and watch YouTube to fill me in on the latest conspiracy theories and “5 things you didn’t know”-type videos.

Last Monday night was no different.  However, that night I began to dive into the world of the Deep Web.  I have been fascinated by the Deep Web for a while, but only in theory.  I had only heard it discussed in social conversations, but never researched it myself.  If you do not know what the Deep Web is, it is the part of the internet that is not the “world wide web” and is unsearchable from Google or what are called “surface level search engines.”  In order to access the Deep Web you must download an anonymous search engine, such as Tor, and then type in your search for black market products/services.  The Deep Web is, estimators believe, about 500 times larger than the surface web.  It is composed of myriad web pages, from cryptic and creepy puzzles, to satanic games, black market shopping and much… much worse.

My trek began with YouTube videos depicting explorations of the Deep Web, but then it branched to include articles and sketchy sites.  Before I knew it, I was submerged in the experiences of Deep Web explorers.  I watched their surfing videos.  I heard about the Dark Web, which is the term they use for the “much worse” portion of what’s down there.  Each time I watched a darker informational video I was horrified, yet my flesh became ever curious.  Do some of these evils truly exist?  Yes, I know that to be true.  But exactly how many people are purchasing LIVE snuff films and worse with BitCoin (currency of the Deep Web)?

Thousands.  And thousands and thousands.

I have never personally surfed the Deep Web, nor have I watched the “much worse” films, but I have seen and read about the ongoing horror below, which, to me, devastatingly, makes ISIS atrocities seem mild.

I’m not able to write about the stories that I read.  I’m embarrassed and ashamed of even reading them.  To give you an idea of a type of film shown below, there are adults and children being kidnapped and the perpetrator(s) set up a live video stream, where individuals pay in BitCoin to have these people tortured in any way they desire, and ultimately, killed.  Once the live stream is over (person has died) the maker of the film will live chat “countdown 1:00 hour” until the next film.

These films are streaming hourly on the Dark Web.

The night of my researching, when I finally had enough, I put my laptop away, laid in bed and could not seem to pray.  I did not know that a night full of exploration of the Deep Web would affect me in such a way that I had a difficult time believing God is who He says He is.  My soul felt starved and dry.  And something I kept saying to myself was “God is not down there.”  Which-I don’t know how his omnipresence works-but truly it felt like He left that place to its’ own.

It felt like hell.

I was afraid.  For the first time in a long time I began to search the room, believing I had brought a demonic presence into it.  Joe had been sound asleep for hours.  When I looked over to his face for comfort-this is strange-but his face frightened me.  I heard my neighbor moving upstairs (he’s usually up all night) and I thought, could he be on these sites?  How many people in our apartment complex are?

I racked my brain for Truth, for God’s Word that I have hidden in my heart.  But at this point I felt I needed deliverance.

Somehow I fell asleep.

I dreamt I could not find peace.  I was laying on a bed trying to cover myself with blankets and pillows (security), but the darkness surrounding me was too great and I was overcome.  I began to physically yell and I woke myself up from the sound.  Joe woke up startled and, later that day, said the yell seemed like I was coming up out of the ocean.  I told him I was afraid and he held me and prayed.  I fell asleep in his arms.  Then I woke up at 3am, when he woke up to begin getting ready for work.  I was terrified because he was going to leave and he didn’t know where I had been or what was scaring me.  I kept quiet as he kissed me goodbye and left.  Then I didn’t fall back to sleep.

Tuesday was a blur.  I don’t think I had one uplifting thought the entire day.  Using my new filter from the night before I could not justify doing life apart from delivering the adults and children that were being tortured, sexually and emotionally mutilated and killed on the Dark Web.  I was allowing my awareness of the worst evil I had ever heard of to skew my view of God.  Not to mention I was angry with myself for being so CARELESS in allowing evil a major foothold in my heart and home.

Joe came home and I told him I needed to talk about last night and why I was afraid.  I told him everything.  I told him some the worst of what I had read.  He seemed shocked.  He is hardly ever outwardly shocked.  I asked if he had ever been on the Deep Web and he said no, but he knew enough to know he should never mess with it.  He prayed over me and then did a beautiful husband thing-he told me never to mess with researching it again.  I know it was a request, not a command, and I know anyone might have said that, but in that moment I knew God had given my husband specific authority to speak to my flesh and tell it “no.”

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8 is not a suggestion, it is a call to live in the light: not naively-far from it-rather because we are not naive to the darkness of this world and our flesh’s susceptibility to it.  Not only does darkness make us cower, but it warps our identity of the Father.  I can’t make a broad statement like “some evils of the world are meant for His eyes only,” because I don’t know how that works in terms of rescuing the oppressed.  But I do know that He has not equipped or called me specifically to find and aid the oppressed on the Dark Web.  And if He chooses to do so, I believe it will be clearly stated by the Holy Spirit to both Joe and me.
Okay, so what of my view of God?  What has this teachable moment taught me?  In new and deeper ways I have learned:
  1. I can be tremendously foolish.
  2. I am not God and cannot handle darkness.
  3. The Holy Spirit can reach me, speak to me and arrest my flesh even in moments of vast wandering from the Father.
  4. 1 John 4:4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
  5. My God is sovereign, I cannot fully understand Him or His ways, but He is my faithful protection.  He is even constantly protecting the trust I lay in Him.

Once again, my Redeemer saves me.

There is no resolve on this earth for many who suffer and die at the hands of the Evil One.  But I know God’s judgement is sufficient and His love is immeasurable.  I know the work He did on the cross.  I know He has overcome evil.  And so, in light of 1 John 4:4, the only thing I can do is consider the vast darkness I have seen and experienced, and imagine the weight of His glory eclipsing every inch of it.  And, from what the Bible further points to, even the comparison I just made must pale times infinity to the weight of His glory.

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Note:  Even after you read this, if you are curious about the Deep Web/Dark Web, I encourage you to watch a TED Talk on the subject, at most.  Searching for stories, depictions and experiences on the Deep Web is not a good idea.  You will not be encouraged or edified, and will likely walk away feeling spiritually/emotionally starved, not to mention, you would be entertaining evil.