Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Ready Soul

This post is a part of the Travel Stories series at Prodigal Magazine

I was ready. Four hundred forty-four miles of winding, commercialism-free road lay ahead of us. My tiny car was packed for camping along the Natchez Trace Parkway, spanning the distance between Natchez, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.

Two hours into the trip, with rain pouring in sheets, my sister and I realized we forgot something vital – prayer. So we stopped and prayed that God’s will be done on this trip. That we would be His hands and feet to all we encountered. For protection. And almost as an afterthought – that He roll away the rain clouds. Within minutes I was able to open the sunroof, marveling at the love of my Heavenly Father.

Natchez Trace Parkway after the rain

We drove this way for 170 miles until heavy grey clouds began to drop hail onto the road ahead. It took me several seconds to identify this form of precipitation since I’d rarely seen it as a child. There was no mistake when the first piece hit the windshield, sounding like a gunshot. We began to pray, out loud. I wasn’t sure how the glass roof panel of my car would hold up. The hail picked up in speed and size as we continued to drive, scanning the horizon for any kind of shelter. We drove for 2 full miles this way. At the rate we were going and the rate of hailstones falling, we should’ve been hit countless times. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of hailstones that hit my vehicle during that stretch. Five - five pieces of ice. In my eyes we were experiencing a miracle. I don’t know how the Lord protected us, I only know He did.

Finally, we reached a crossroads and followed a truck into a tiny town. The hail was reaching golf-ball size. Immediately we were aware of a deafening screech that took me only seconds to identify where I’d heard the sound before. Twister. The tornado siren turned its din on us, making my heart rate increase two fold. We needed shelter and we needed it fast. My sister pulled up to the French Camp, Mississippi post office where we dashed inside the small cinder block building.

The postal clerk invited us into the back of the building and showed us where she’d cleared space underneath a steel table if we needed to hunker down there. A radio blared gospel music, frequently interrupted with foreboding weather updates. We made nervous small-talk with the Postal Clerk while we tried to reach family and friends to let them know where we were. When the hail finally gave way to rain, we all trooped next door to the French Camp Visitors Center to wait out the rest of the storm. People of all ages milled about. Judging from the “LSU” logos emblazoned across our sweatshirts everyone immediately surmised where we were from and that we’d been traveling the Natchez Trace.

We were introduced to a couple of young ladies with “French Camp Academy” nametags who began filling us in on the day’s events. Tekoa – who is named after the hometown of the Hebrew prophet Amos – informed us that we’d landed in a town with a population of 350 that was home to a Christian boarding school for young people from broken homes. She and Summer told us about the work they did with the Academy and the teenage girls they mentored. I felt a tug on my heart, sensing they were of kindred spirit so I said, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you girls love Jesus a whole lot. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d be doing this out here. Am I right?” Smiles spread across their faces. They affirmed my suspicions and began openly sharing their passion for being examples of purity to the young girls in their lives.

Tears pricked my eyes. They were speaking our language. After several minutes exchanging testimonies and stories I was overcome by the providence of being stranded in this town with these people. It was apparent with every passing moment that God planted us there for a purpose.

By the early afternoon the storms passed and sun was peeking out. Summer and Tekoa began making plans to go back to work, preparing for a conference that evening. It was apparent from their discussion they were shorthanded. My sister and I looked at each other. We knew. This was why we were here. Our campsite in Northeast Mississippi could wait. I nervously offered our services to the girls, telling them we were available to help in whatever necessary capacity – making beds, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, or whatever else they needed. Sure, we sounded crazy. But I also knew with every beat of my heart that this is where God wanted us.

So we went to work! We shared stories while we made beds and marveled at the hand of God so obvious in each of our lives. That night Tekoa invited us back to her apartment for dinner where we shared heartbreaks and healing. My sister and I were both convicted and encouraged. We felt Jesus Christ in the flesh when they offered us hot showers and put us up for the night. The next morning we were speechless as we drove past swaths of tornado damaged trees within a mile of where we'd taken shelter. God truly protected us.

French Camp, MS at Sunrise

Prior to the trip I’d been meditating on this quote by Oswald Chambers, Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready. Think of the time we waste trying to get ready when God has called! The burning bush is a symbol of everything that surrounds the ready soul, it is ablaze with the presence of God.For one day my soul was ready – ready for God to interrupt with anything. He filled that day with miracles and divine appointments. Remembering this trip always makes me wonder; if the Lord can do so much with a ready soul surrendered for one day, what can he do with a ready soul surrendered to Him for a lifetime?

Monday, June 11, 2012

In the Hands of the Potter

I've recently encountered circumstances that have made me come face to face with things that I don't like in myself. Perhaps it's being in a new house church surrounded by new friends that has made me strikingly aware of the impressions I am making. I've seen these things in myself before. And I always assumed that if I am displeased with myself, how much more is my Heavenly Father displeased?

I think I would probably prefer that the Lord just make me into a little clone of Jesus. It's hard to imagine the Creator of the universe formed and fashioned me - uniquely - to worship Him. I find myself wanting to love Him like others do. I have the privilege of walking with some amazing women of God and I often think to myself, "If only I could be like her. I want the sweet, encouraging spirit of Hollie. I want the hospitality of Deb. I want the steadfastness of Lauren." There are so many beautiful traits in the women around me that I wish I had. I'm constantly comparing myself to others and seeing ways that I just don't measure up.

I was recently praying about this part of who I am that I don't particularly like. It's a part of my personality where it seems most of my problems, struggles and temptations stem from. Once again, I found myself pleading with the Lord, "Please, take this away! I don't want to be this way anymore. I don't want to be this person! I don't like who I am." In that moment, God spoke to my heart saying,

"Who are you to say to me, 'Why have you made me like this?' I made you this way for a reason. I am not going to take it away. I am going to redeem you.
For years my friends and family have reminded me that this part of who I am is both a weakness and a strength. However, it is only a strength when submitted to the Lord. Those reminders have consistently gone in  one ear and out the other. That's not what I wanted to hear. I wanted someone to help me pray it away. Because all I could see were the glaring weaknesses this brought to my life. All I saw was imperfection and I just wanted Him to cut it out. That's the easy way, right? Just start over? For years now I have wrestled with God over this; never understanding why it wouldn't just go away and wondering how I was failing in my pleading prayers. I was unyielding in my desire to see it gone.

The pressure of the Potters hand
As soon as the Lord spoke to my heart I saw myself as the stubborn lump of clay {of Isaiah 29:16}, refusing to yield to the hand of the Potter and insisting, "I don't like how you have made me." Regardless of my objection this is a part of who I am; a part of who He wants me to be. God reminded me of this passage in Psalm 130:5-7

 "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption." 
What does He see?
He says that there is abundant redemption - even for the areas of my life that I would've thought were un-redeemable. But the ugliness I see cannot be transformed until I yield to His will and accept this part of who I am. I have to stop fighting Him before transformation can take place. I have wasted so much time just wishing I could be someone else or have some other personality when all I need to do is simply yield myself to Him.

This concept is particularly powerful to me because my earthly father is a Potter. I've grown up alongside the potters wheel and I know that the transformation from a hard, stubborn lump of clay to a beautiful and useful vessel is not an easy one. Stubborn clay is beaten, thrown, drenched in water, sliced and sometimes re-worked several times before it becomes something useful. I know this transformation process won't be easy. But I know I can trust the Potter. Ultimately He will get more glory when I allow Him to redeem beauty from these ashes.

So I choose to hope in the Lord. With Him is abundant redemption.

Are there things you don't like about yourself? Do you believe they can be redeemed?

Pottery photographs are of my Poppie and were taken by me March 2011.