Well, I've struggled with deciding whether or not to blog about what I'm about to blog about. How vulnerable to do I want to be with the folks on the internet? But really and truly, this is a story that I find myself wanting to tell everyone I meet. So I guess it's blogworthy. It's kind of a long story. But it's a great story, so hang in there with me. I promise it'll be worth it. It is something incredible that happened in chapel a week and a half ago.
The set up for the story is this:
The story has to do with the day I made the decision to go to school at Texas Tech. I know it was a long time ago, but this will make sense in a little while. In order for it to make sense, you need to understand that my life was a perfect picture of chaos at that time. My family was really going through some very hard stuff, and I felt very alone and abandoned and forgotten about by God. All of the craziness in my family contributed to the context in which I viewed God at that time. I was angry with and confused by him, to say the least.
The second part of the "set up" is that for the past 6-9 months, I’ve been struggling a bit with my faith-- wondering if God is a personal God anymore and wondering if he cares about or interacts anymore in our day-to-day lives. After a long dry period, I had come to the conclusion that maybe God was done being a personal God with me. I've had some dark days these past few months.
So last Tuesday, I got out of class. I was tired after pulling an all-nighter and was planning to skip chapel and go take a nap somewhere. As I was headed out, I ran into my friend Scott on campus, who asked if I was going to chapel. I told him I wasn't, but asked if he was going. He said he was and encouraged me to go, too. I realized that I really didn't have a GOOD reason for skipping chapel, so I decided to go.
During the first worship song, I all of a sudden began thinking about the ordinary day that I decided to go to school at Texas Tech. It was strange. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was an ordinary day in July. I had been living with my very dear friends David & Sue.But this day, for some reason, I was at my mom’s house and really and truly just said to myself, “Well, I guess I better decide what I’m going to do about school next month.” I didn’t really want to go anywhere in particular, but I wanted to start a fresh new life. And I kind of wanted to escape my old one. David & Sue, along with my family, had been working hard to encourage me to do something. So the idea of Texas Tech randomly came to me. It was far away, still in Texas, and I figured they would accept me at such a late date. There it began.
That day in chapel, while we were worshiping, it all of a sudden hit me. That decision was not a random one at all. It was actually an act of divine intervention by God in my life. What I had always seen as a decision I had made that God just happened to do good things from, was actually an act of God with purpose in meaning. That decision had MAJOR implications for the rest of my life. I realized that “my decision” was not random at all. I felt an urge to get out my journal, sit down, and write. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote in my journal at that moment:
I am overwhelmed by God’s intervention in my life. What seemed like a random decision, an escape really, I now know was divine interaction. Divine intervention. To get me to a place of wholeness. To get me even to THIS place in time. Of this I am sure. How could I have missed that this was God? This act of God got me to Billy. And brought us to a place of marriage—a calling for us. To get me to Asbury. Another calling. To get me to know and really meet Jesus for the first time. God acted. On an ordinary day. To make my life free and whole. So that Love could find me.
Are you still with me? Things are about to get good.
Then our speaker stood at the pulpit. His name was Sean Gladding. He’s from England, originally. But apparently moved from England to the US so that he could attend school at Texas Tech and work at the Texas Tech Wesley Foundation. This was in the early 90’s. I had not heard his name before, but already, just from his introduction,I was hooked. I went to Texas Tech. And I went to the Wesley Foundation... and there my relationship with Jesus changed dramatically. Sean now resides in Houston, and co-pastors Mercy Street, an inner-city ministry/church kind of thing (an extension of Chapelwood UMC) that works with people in dark places, trapped in addictions and prostitution. So he began proclaiming the word.
He talked about how our job is not necessarily to build the kingdom of God, but to go to the places where the kingdom is happening and join God in progress.
He asked the questions: How have we failed to recognize the prevenient grace of God? Where are the places where we didn’t recognize that it was God at work in our lives? How have we moved forward, gone on with our lives, without even recognizing or acknowledging that God had even moved?
What! I was getting really excited by this point. See my journal entry above. And the crazier part? One of the first things he said was this: Never forget where Love found you.
He talked about the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and breaks the bottle of perfume and how she was trapped in a life of sin, a life of prostitution. He asked “Who is this woman? What is her story? What happened to wound her? From what is she trying to escape?” But in the meeting of Jesus, somehow hope is rebirthed in her. She is coming back to life.
He talked about how Jesus asks Simon, whose house this all took place in, and who is casting some pretty severe judgment, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet…”
No, Simon has not seen THIS woman. Because he just has seen a sinner. He has not seen an individual who carries the image of YHWH within her. But hope was rebirthed in her, her faith saved, her. And that is where Love found her. In the midst of her darkness.
There was a long time when I couldn’t recognize the image of YHWH within me, either. I identify with her. Not because I was trapped in prostitution or anything. But I felt trapped in darkness. And somehow, in Jesus, hope was rebirthed. I felt like I had come back to life.
Anyway, he went on to talk about specific people in the Mercy Street ministry that have experienced the liberating power of Jesus and how in their very places of darkness, Love had drawn near and freed them.
Never forget where love found you.
In my life, I’ve always thought that Love found me that day when I first realized who Jesus was and committed my life to him.
But that day in chapel, I realized that Love found me long before that. It wasn’t that this was the first time I had come to believe in God’s prevenient grace. I’ve acknowledged that grace before and have been extremely grateful for it. But this day it became so much more important than it ever has before. And so much more profound.
And suddenly I feel so much liberation from my doubt.
God is certainly good. And in the very act of him reminding me of a previous time he had intervened in my life, he intervened again. To remind me that he still is actively persuing me and still very much a personal God.
I am grateful.