the path is narrow
my heart is hard
guide my feet
break me, God,
for i will not bend
and i’m not shaped
as i should be anymore
-steven james, “story”
When people talk about Jesus, I try and observe their individual expression and body language as they do so.
Mom, especially when emphasizing His provision of unyielding grace, raises her fingers slightly as if she already knows her words will fall short in description. You know there’s something real though, at least as her daughter I do, because when her eyes widen and her lips tighten I know there is truth. On Sunday, attending an English-speaking church in Kigali for the first time, I gazed at the pastor as he worshiped and simply threw his hands in the air freely, haphazardly, shouting “Yesu” and “Jesus” as the congregation hootered and hollered at this demonstration of conviction.
Jesus tends to do this, you know. He moves people. Literally, figuratively, metaphorically. Yeah, when they speak His name and share their love for Him, but also when they truly, willingly submit to His callings, desires, calls, and plans.
Why it took 25 years of my life to reveal myself to Jesus – I don’t know. I mean, baptized at 18, profound service experiences throughout college and my extended travels, a regular church-goer since an early teenager….I talked about Jesus all the time? …..Didn’t I? Good gracious, my two best friends come from Southern Baptist backgrounds. What else more could I do?
Y’all. When it gets real, you’ll know it.
About two weeks ago, I was eating like 2 or 6 bananas and peanut butter straight from the jar (no shame) while watching a documentary. I am kind of a docu-freak (my personal term for the documentary obsessed population). So, this wasn’t particularly unusual. Throughout the short film, my body felt weird. Odd sensations, tingling…it was really strange. On top of that, the documentary really resonated with me. I felt perturbed, bothered, and disturbed. The documentary itself was weird in that it was about this woman faking her identity on a multitude of levels and fooling people, blahblahblah, (it’s kind of hard to describe) but it shouldn’t have sat with me that deeply. But it did. Why?
I tried distracting myself with work emails for about 20 minutes, sending off some new marketing material for the loan product, but ultimately felt consumed by this sense of confusion, doubt, and fear. What in the world was happening to me? All from a frickin’ documentary?
I laid myself gently on my bed. I wrapped myself in the blue blanket and silky green sheets, closing my eyes, nervous, and unsure. God. What is going on right now? Why does my heart feel like this? What am I keeping inside of me? What do you want me to see?
I asked that question. And maybe for the first time, like, ever, I listened. And I got some serious answers.
I don’t know how long I was like that. Or when tears came. Or really, when they left. Time became irrelevant and it was like hearing the clearest commands in the world. The noises in the background – screaming children next door, the birds chirping in the trees, and the dogs sipping water downstairs – faded. I started to believe it. This was the Holy Spirit speaking to me. I shook my head. No. What the Lord was asking me to do was something I had carried with me, privately, for a great deal of time. Give it up? But why?**
Just like that I had my answer: because I have to shift. I have to move from admirer to follower. I have to move from fan to player. From bystander to activist. From loved to lover. I have to follow Jesus.
Just because I have spent a good chunk of time away from my home and family doesn’t mean I am somehow good enough. Sacrifice, even of the familial kind, doesn’t end there – Jesus demands it all. FOLLOW. ME. Not to follow the ways of our friends, our parents, or society. Even harder, we shouldn’t really be following the ways of our dreams, our visions, or our desires. I know, I know. I’m not saying don’t set dreams. I’m not saying rejecting a vision or goals for your life; absolutely not. But there’s something very different from prescribing to the Oprah worldview of living YOUR life as you see fit and following Jesus and setting goals and dreams that honor that. You see? And hey, I love Oprah. But she sure ain’t Jesus.
I couldn’t believe what Jesus was asking me to do. So, in the two weeks since this has happened, I have been actively trying to stand by that, in good faith and obedience. The crazy part, you guys? Not one week later was I consumed with intense anxiety, doubt, fear, guilt, and frankly, what I think is worst of all: apathy. I hadn’t felt something like that before. I was never that afraid of my own personal emotions. Dark images, nightmares, a spinning mind. Visions of evil. I swear. Some of the things that flashed through my mind – in a way, I literally felt like I was going crazy.
Turning to Jesus isn’t the end of the story (even though His battle has indeed already been won!) because the reality of our earth is that evil resides in nooks, cracks, and corners where we least expect it to be.
Adorned in beauty and in light, we are fooled. We fall victim. The festering evil spirit not only can attack but pervade.
So you’ve reconstructed your life
Submitted to Jesus
Confessing your shortcomings
And this happens.
In Rwanda, the spiral downward-effect begins almost immediately and all the weariness of being an outsider, of cultural confusion, of contradictory development, and the distrust of trust takes the fertile, vulnerable seed and grows.
Maybe the best part of being a Christian and what I might say the best thing about Rwanda itself is the chance for redemption.
Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered
Nor will they come to mind.
Rwanda was made anew despite the painfully obvious discretions, and the continual effect this has on the land, the people, and the culture.
You are made anew.
And so am I.
We are made up of our past and our woven stories. Yet, the mistakes and misguided beliefs are forgiven. The evil will lie to us – Satan will tell us we are guilty. Over and over again. But more than that, he will push us to believe that hope is an allusion. There isn’t a purpose. There is NO CHANCE FOR YOU. But Satan is the father of lies. Jesus completely takes this off the table and we move from lies to truth.
That kind of grace doesn’t make sense to me. Really, it shouldn’t.
Jesus is amazing.
All I know, is that even though my pride has to die, I want more. I want to rid myself of me and fill up on Jesus.
I am a present-progressive verb. I am shifting.
So now, when I talk about Jesus, I tend to sigh heavily, finding it hard to capture what that move has really been like. It’s trumped every spiritual experience combined to this point in my life. As if it’s all been building towards this. Moving towards a saving-faith. I now firmly believe I didn’t come back to Rwanda this summer for a joyride or an experience to gain professional development at a microfinance bank. I came back (unknowingly) because God knew I would listen here. For some crazy reason. All the elements had to be in place just as they are. Believe me. 6 months ago, my ears were not attune like this. I was doing MY thing.
God put me here currently so I could be redeemed. Finally. I’ve been redeemed all along, but you have to realize it for yourself to make it real. You have to accept redemption. You have to change. You have to shift.
**It’s funny to note how frequently the question of WHY enters our minds when talking with Jesus. Whenever I reflect on my prayers and worship, this seems to be the greatest buzzword. Certainly, I thinks this speaks to the nature of our human ways. Always wanting to do our own thing. We must serve in obedience. Fully, trusting, and giving up what we think we know. Talk about a formidable challenge.