a messy, complicated, beautiful story.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Majesty, majesty
Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed but alive in Your hands

Majesty, majesty
Forever I am changed by Your love
In the presence of Your majesty

~ Majesty (Here I Am) - Delirious


Let me tell you about the first time I went to church.

It wasn't the first time I ever, ever went to church. My parents were involved in the Canadian Veterans Association when I was a kid, and that involved a lot of memorial services in some beautiful, draughty, huge churches (my childhood was totally enriched by my parents' involvement in the CVA, by the way. I have many fond memories of our time with them).

I guess I really mean the first time I chose to go to church.

I was either seventeen or I had just turned eighteen. I don't really recall the conversation that led Chris to invite me, or the morning itself, I just remember feeling really nervous when we walked through the door.

To be honest, my first thought was that they were just way too happy and bubbly to be allowed. I wasn't used to being welcomed into a building. I wasn't used to being cheek-kissed and hand-shaken by people waiting in a line to do just that.

Not sure what to make of that, I just about recovered when it was time for worship.

And that's when I thought, right, that's it, I'm in a building full of weirdos.

I knew that Chris had faith and that it wasn't easy, black-and-white, and that he wasn't perfect. I knew this because he told me. I asked him a million questions when I first realised he wore a cross around his neck for a reason, not just for decoration. I just couldn't comprehend it. Why would you believe in something like this? The fact that I happily and readily admitted to believing in ghosts, karma, the supernatural and a vague idea of God existing in some form or other didn't seem to matter - this just seemed completely alien to me. A real, church-going, Bible-reading Christian, only a few years older than me. It was just a whole other world.

But goodness, the worship. First of all: how beautifully talented our worship band is. I'll never forget the first time I heard them and I realised that not all churches were all about organs and tambourines (although they have their place). We had people on guitars, drums, we had beautiful singers. And we still do. Every Sunday I'm thankful for them. And I was totally surprised by them on that first day.

Second of all: what the heck were these people doing waving their arms in the air?

Every Sunday for a good while, I watched as people flung their arms up and mine seemed to lock into position by my sides, and I felt my mouth go dry as I became paralysed with worry and self-conciousness. Would anyone notice if I didn't raise my hands? The first few times, I felt myself going red at the sheer passion and emotion on their faces as they closed their eyes and sang. I was in full-on, self-protection, barriers-up, image-to-maintain mode at the time. I couldn't imagine not caring what people thought about me in that way.

But it bothered me.

Because as cringe-worthy as I found it to see them acting, to be honest, a little bit mad, I also found it incredibly compelling. There was something so beautiful, freeing, and somehow haunting about it. It gave me the shivers to see these people obviously overwhelmed with love and joy and ... something I couldn't put my finger on.

I'm not easily swayed. Especially back then. I first attended church at one of the happiest times of my life (falling in love) and yet ironically I was at my most broken. My relationship with Chris may have been wonderful, but I unfortunately came with a lot of baggage. Yes, even as a teenager. By the age of seventeen I was worn out, I had been heartbroken, I had seen almost everything that you could get up to as a teenager (and participated in a lot of it), in some ways I was cynical and world-weary. Nights of hanging out on the streets and in people's houses dressing up in clothes that made me uncomfortable and drinking will do that to you. And I was considered the good one out of all of us. I guess being short and looking young and innocent had something to do with it.

A little bit hardened, I suppose you could have called me. And quite fragile.

I had so many doubts. I didn't trust it. I didn't trust God, not initially. I felt like I wasn't nearly good or innocent enough for Him. Why would God be interested in me? And if He was, why didn't He tell me so before?

After years of being bullied for being different, I can tell you right now that I wasn't that interested in anything that would mark me as different or weird. I would have been quite happy spending the rest of my life trying to fade in to the background. I didn't want to embark upon something that would make people judge me or look at me differently.


Fast forward a few years and I'm getting married in that church and, in front of everyone I know and love, I'm waving my hands in the air and singing my heart out.

How on earth did that happen? How did I go from heartbroken and cynical to healed and whole and rescued?

A miracle, I guess.

Today I sat cross-legged on the floor in my living room. My baby rolled around on the floor in front of me, chatting and showing off. Her BFF, Baby V, was enjoying a quick snooze upstairs. Meanwhile, myself and two friends were reminiscing. How did we first meet? When did we first start going to church? It made me smile to look back on our short histories so far, and to remember how we had (separately) prayed to make new friends, and how God brought us together.

I felt blessed. There's something holy, I feel, when three people sit in awe and just bask in the goodness of what God has done. Even though we're not thanking Him outright - we are marvelling at His work. Two of us with babies. One friend about to embark upon an entirely new adventure as well. Another in the midst of settling roots deep into a new city, making new connections, finding her place and flourishing in her new role.

As I get older, I find other people's faith histories much more exciting than I used to. Because when I first became a Christian, it was all so overwhelmingly about what had happened to me. I was so amazed by it all, by the huge changes that were happening in my life, that I barely gave a thought to what was happening to anyone else. Surely, I thought, surely every single little thing about my life is going to completely change, right from this moment.

I didn't see God's work as I do now. I think, then, I saw it all as a huge sudden tornado, sweeping through my life and (sometimes awkwardly) rearranging it all. I didn't see it as a long game. I didn't see life with Jesus as a steady walk with lots of dips and swerves, ups and downs. I didn't see that God might teach me things by allowing me to go through difficult times; I didn't see that through sad or stressful circumstances, He might be tempering my character, helping me to grow. I didn't see that not everything would work out perfectly and magically, that every prayer wouldn't be automatically answered.

I didn't realise that I wouldn't just magically become good. It wasn't like flicking a switch from 'sinful' to 'holy'. That some habits were (and remain) very hard to break. That there are things in the world that are very tempting. Sometimes more tempting than God's awesome promises. That sometimes I'd be weak. (Alright, a lot of times). That sometimes I would let Him down.

I didn't understand that it would be like this, this crazy journey of falling madly in love, but also sometimes falling scarily away. I didn't understand that sometimes He would ask me to do things that I don't feel ready for (and have realised since that sometimes you just can't be ready for everything. The only way to prepare is to experience). I didn't understand that not every conversation with future friends would be praising God; that we would also share tears, confusion, pain. That sometimes I would dare to ask 'What is God doing with this?'

And yet. I didn't see how beautiful life would be. I didn't see the miracles that would come, almost dropped casually into the fabric of my life as though they are perfectly normal. I didn't see that I would have friends with whom talking about the presence and power of God in our lives would follow naturally on from conversations about what we had for breakfast. I didn't see how perfect God's timing would be, down to the last millisecond; how beautiful it is that we have free will, to do what we like, and yet still He knows and understands us. I didn't understand that yes, while there would be times of darkness and attack and falling away, there would be times of reconciliation more beautiful than anything else I've ever experienced. I didn't know that there would be nothing too deep, painful, or dark that can't be not only healed, but transformed - and used for His good purposes.

Joy. Breathtaking joy. That's what I've felt. And although I might not feel it as keenly every day, or express it every day - some days, there is nothing else to feel except that joy unspeakable. And no matter what my emotions might be saying, no matter what life might be throwing at me, the truth of God and His love for me always beats steady, the same.

I didn't realise how real it would be. Not just a concept or some sort of insurance policy so that I'll definitely get into heaven. But real. Life impacting. Life transforming.

It wasn't an easy decision for me to make to continue coming to church. I was very stubborn. And it's been a long journey. If I could put it into a picture, it would be this:

Journal after journal spilling over, expressing it all. Awe and wonder and confusion, hurts healed, love above all else, and a small person in a huge world, trying to capture my tiny role in God's grand plan.

So now, I love hearing from other people. I love listening. I love asking questions. How did you feel? Did you ever doubt? What was that miracle, that struggle, that moment like for you? What did God do next? Sometimes I long to just sit at the feet of people that have walked this path before and pepper them with questions and ask them for wisdom.

I once wrote a little note on Facebook, something along the lines of Ten Things I'd Tell My Sixteen Year Old Self. All good points - don't worry, everything will work out okay, you'll meet someone wonderful, this problem will fix itself, you will grow, etc. But really, when it comes down to it, if I could meet the girl I once was, the girl who looked at the beautiful church looming ahead of her, heart in her mouth and butterflies in her stomach, I'd say something like this:

You won't believe who's already working in your life right now. Who you will encounter when you step into this building.

Run at Him like your life depends on it.

You won't regret it.


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