what do you do when you’ve lost God?

Hey, I know the feeling.

The feeling that you’ve asked Jesus into your heart so many times you’ve lost count. The feeling of emptiness when nothing comes to fill that part of you that you thought was supposed to be for him. When no one answers back.

What even IS this?! you cry out. He’s not even meeting you halfway! What the heck, God?

Somewhere along the line, you realized that you were just talking to yourself. There was no one there listening; it was only your empty prayers, your carefully mouthed words, hoping that if you just said it right, he would hear and maybe even answer back. Or at least make it feel like he was there.

But…there’s nothing. You think, maybe it was never real. Not that moment when you were a little kid, not that dramatic moment at church camp, not even that moment you were sitting outside and thought you saw him answer you in the shooting stars across the night sky.

There is only darkness. And it’s so dark you’ve lost faith that there is a light, somewhere, anywhere.

I’ve been there.

I’ve felt the numbness that keeps you from getting out of bed in the morning, the emptiness that nothing can fill. I once lost interest in everything I loved, and questioned whether the Jesus I had seen and heard of was even the right one, or even interested at all in me. I both resented him and wanted him, but another part of me didn’t care at all. My soul was dry and shriveled up…not unlike the feeling David had when he cried,

“I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’”

I knew He had forgotten me.

For me it has been a long journey to get the kind of sight that can see behind me, but I can see now that several things contributed to how I lost God…:

  1. I became isolated from everyone and everything. People left me, by their own choice and by the choice of life, but I thought I was being rejected, so instead of bouncing back I withdrew from everyone. I got really dependent on a particular roommate, who I thought was the closest to God, and when she rejected me it was like God had, which confused the crap out of me.
  1. I had no idea how my idea of God fit into what was happening in my life. Where was God in all my friends leaving me? Where was God in my parents’ broken relationship? Where was God in my emptiness? Where was God in all the judgmental “Christians” at my school? Where was God in my grandfather dying and my friend getting diagnosed with cancer? Where was this good God that everyone talked about? I had no spiritual eyesight to see anything.
  1. I stopped taking care of myself, because back then I didn’t realize how your physical body connects to your spiritual body. I ate whatever and I didn’t sleep enough, and I was losing the ability to deal with anything happening spiritually.

IMG_4240

And when you are in that pit, it seems as if there is no way out, that even the very concept of a “way out” is so foreign to you it makes no sense for people to even speak of it. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out that I realized what had helped to get me out, these things that I’d done along that way that pulled me out of the pit little by little:

Pour out your soul – I got to the point where life felt so pointless and my thoughts were so dark they almost scared me to read over again the next day. I got to the point where I started saying things to God that I never thought I’d dare to, including curse words and all sorts of horrible doubts where I was sure my Christian parents would die if they ever read them. It was called being honest, and it was a long time coming. It was like I’d tapped into some sort of well that had been filling up for years- I was praying in my journal, I was praying my way out of bed in the morning, I was praying in the shower- and they weren’t elegant prayers that you’d hear in church. They were heartwrenching prayers. Honest ones. Yelling at God because he wasn’t responding. Over and over and over and over. I read the Psalms mostly because they understood me. I didn’t realize that much angst against God was right there written in the Bible. Somewhere in the middle of all that something shifted in the universe. Something shifted between God and I. It had become real.

Analyze your hopes– I started, for the first time, evaluating where I’d put my hope, because I wasn’t coming up with anything real. Sure, I looked forward to some stuff, I partied it up and that was nice, for a second. I started out putting my hope in “being good”- like my college and all the Christian people there- they must know what they are talking about, I thought. I’ll just try to be like them. In the process, I idolized my roommate and RA as the “perfect Christian” and that didn’t last long, let me tell ya. I made people into little gods. I became exhausted trying to be the perfect Christian. This couldn’t be what Jesus expected of me. Make sure you watch appropriate movies? Don’t talk to gay people? No way. So of course, I booked it in the other direction. The. Opposite. Direction. I started hanging out with the people my roommate hated and we would go drinking and smoking and break all the rules we could think of just to break them, because we were tired of keeping up with all the “Christian” expectations. We “put all our eggs in the sin basket,” as a friend of mine would say. We wanted freedom, but what we found was another dead end. I’d wake up hungover and empty again and again. I still didn’t feel free and my sin was starting to have consequences. We couldn’t find the happy medium. It was then that I finally realized that it wasn’t about the rules at all, that all God asks from us is faith, and in that I found freedom. I found it in my faith in the grace of God. Faith + Waiting = Righteousness (Galatians 5:5). I was a slave to religion, and then I was a slave to sin, but the only thing satisfying was this thing called grace, and I had never understood it until then. I had never understood that I could have a relationship with Jesus that centered on grace, and grace alone, and without all the religion, and the sin, which he already took care of, we (he and I) could have our own relationship.

“If you’re the problem, a better version of the problem is still a problem.”
-Matt Chandler

Remember the lovingkindness of God– I was used to thinking about God in general, hearing about him, studying about him endlessly, etc. but I hadn’t ever really applied it to my life. I hadn’t sat back and looked at my life and looked to find God in it. It turns out that if I looked, he was everywhere and I hadn’t even noticed. I thought he’d left and yet he was there the whole time. I had to remind myself of this every day that my depression reared its ugly head. My heart is bent toward the negative, to see the worst in something. I have to talk to my heart, like David did, “Why are you so cast down, oh my soul? Hope in God!”

Preach the grace of God to yourself It’s one thing to talk about the grace of God, and another to apply it to your every day. I had to preach the grace that covers all sin, and the grace that keeps me from thinking that I do anything at all to earn the kind of love that is offered to me. Every. Single. Day. Even now.

To my friends and especially my high school friends struggling with depression, know that you are not alone, and there’s hope for your relationship with Jesus…no matter where you are at or how much hope you have left.

Listen to Tim Keller’s sermon Finding God to hear what inspired this post.

the best way to spread Christmas cheer…

I always thought it was really cool that Jesus’ mother was a young teenager when she was asked to birth the Savior of the world. Just more proof that Jesus likes to do things backwards from the world. I feel like a lot of times there is a negative view of teenagers. One of my passions is changing that view, even if it’s only a few people.

There’s not a ton of Christmas spirit around here, at least not like there used to be. With the base closing, things are dying down, and events are smaller or nonexistent, decorations scarce, and it’s just not the same spending the holidays this far away from family, which many people do. Off post, the Christmas market saves our sanity, but in general, Christmas is kind of not as big of a deal.

One of my volunteers came up with the idea to go Christmas caroling this year, something we have never done in Bamberg so I wasn’t sure how many would show up last night (our kids don’t exactly adore singing), and neither was she. THIRTEEN students showed up to sing in public, in the FREEZING cold, for over an hour (some claimed they were only there for the hot chocolate…of course).

Our first stop was at the MP (Military Police) Station. As we walked in, the MPs started coming out from behind the glass, and one who was a friend of mine saw me and then looked relieved as he said, “Dang, we saw you guys on the video and we thought it was like the zombie apocalypse or something.” They took pictures as we sang.

The next stop was the Shoppette gas station, and there weren’t many people in there. Someone was checking out in the line but kept his head down while we sang. The German lady who works the register, though, stopped was she was doing and turned around to watch us with the biggest grin on her face and tears in her eyes.

We went to various houses and apartments of families our students knew on post…even though the occupied houses are now very few and far between! Little kids pressed their noses to the window, they came out on the porch to listen, and many looked surprised but pleasantly so. One guy even offered us money afterwards, even though we yelled that it was a gift about 50 times. I think it can be hard to accept gifts you’re not expecting or not used to.

We sang outside the Command Sergeant Major’s house (2nd in command of the entire post), and he came out in his PT clothes and socks and he and his wife shook every single kid’s hand.

As we walked back to chapel, I was behind one of my leaders and 2 of his guys that he was talking to. This leader almost wasn’t able to come to camp with us here in a few weeks, because he didn’t think he could get leave. Well, he got it and I found out yesterday! I teared up walking behind them, because not much gets me in the feels like seeing my leaders care for “the least of these,” the teenagers, the ones you only hear about in the context of a school shooting or the “knockout” game in the news. When in fact I know and we know that they are instead the kinds of people God chooses to further his kingdom, like he chose Mary. He chose these kids to brighten so many familys’ Christmases this year just in an hour.

We came back to chapel, had hot chocolate, and hung out with Sarah and Rachel for the last time because in just a few hours they would be on a bus to Ramstein to catch a flight back to the states. It was a bittersweet night with a lot of tears at the end, but I was feeling the Christmas spirit anyway.

I came home to discover that a friend of mine from my church in Delaware had gifted me her car. I don’t even have words right now to describe how grateful I am for everyone’s prayers and for the way God has answered them. He truly provides. Over and over and over again. He’s confirming that Georgia is where I’m supposed to be, and He’s showing me the blessings of having been here for 3 years, even through all the struggles.

My heart is full.

 

and He listened to her whole story…

Last week I spent Thanksgiving with friends on Club staff and I honestly was exhausted going into it. I had just spent a week preparing for and a weekend at Middle School Retreat where sleep didn’t really happen, and went right into Club the next day. So I was really looking forward to my 5 hour train ride, especially as an introvert, as 5 hours of reading and sleeping and listening to sermons and Christmas music and not talking to anyone sounded fantastic to me, and probably like a nightmare to you extroverts.

As I boarded the train I was listening to a sermon from a church in Georgia that I used to attend in college:

“You get out of your car, and you’re fumbling for your wallet and there’s a dude across the street, he’s scanning eyes waiting for someone to catch theirs. As soon as they catch somebody’s eyes, there’s this lock and they start coming over to you and they’re going to ask you for money…But why will you do so much to avoid locking eyes with that person? Why will you do so much to walk away quickly? It’s an amazing experiment in social psychology to watch people try to get away from people who are about to ask them for things. It’s because when people ask you for things, it’s powerful. It’s very hard to say no. Because when someone needs something and they asks you directly to address that need it evokes power over you.”

No sooner had I sat down on the train, that an obese, half-blind, mute woman smelling like urine with her tongue sticking out of her mouth sat down nearby. And I’m sitting there, only watching her out of the corner of my eye (knowing the power of eye contact) and she opens a plastic cage she’s carrying and pulls out the biggest white rat I’ve ever seen. Well, I now knew where the urine smell was coming from. She let the rat crawl under her jacket, and it was like a car accident and I couldn’t look away. I almost took a picture.

I almost Instagrammed her like a freak side show.

She turned to the teenage boy trapped between her and the window and motioned for a pen and piece of paper. The boy just shook his head, looking like he wanted to jump out the window. She asked the guy sitting behind her. He waved her away, glued to his phone. Then she turned to me. Oops. Eye contact.

I thought about pretending I didn’t see her. But she made some loud grunts in her desperation for me to understand what she was asking for and I was afraid she might cause a scene. So I gave her a pen and paper, thinking about how I’d probably have to disinfect that pen later and hoping she had something important to say, like that she needed some help getting to the next train. I couldn’t believe there was no one there helping her.

Of course, she wrote something barely readable on the paper in German, so I had to turn to the German woman behind me and ask her to translate for me. She chuckled as she translated: “Thanks. My name is Nadine. What’s your name? What are your hobbies?” and my heart kind of melted a little. She’d just wanted to make a friend.

Thus began an hour-long exchange that consisted of more translation of the paper and I pulled out my “emergency German” (the German you don’t know that you know until you’re under pressure to speak it) and my hand motion skills as we talked across the aisle. She made me pet her urine-covered rat. She motioned to the cage and handed it to me and I discovered she had ANOTHER rat in there, that she was very proud of. The whole time I was breathing through my mouth because the smell was so bad.

THEN, she got up, came over to my seat, shook my hand, and then didn’t let go. Holy awkwardness, Batman. She stood there holding my hand and looking at me for way longer than was comfortable, and then as we were trying to communicate where the other person was going, for a split second I thought about lying, just in case we were on the same train, knowing that I would have to do this for another hour. I didn’t lie, but I’m not proud of how seriously I considered it.

We were on the same 2nd train.

She made the German guy behind her carry her stuff and escort her to the next train while I followed behind. He spoke English, so we had a short conversation. On the next train, she told me an elaborate story only through hand motions for an HOUR, and if I even looked away for a second, she would grunt loudly to get me to pay attention. Not to mention, she described how the smaller rat bit her, and she would let the bigger rat lick the wound on her arm. I had to hold my stomach contents in at that one. She would get up, take my scarf off of me, and arrange it in different ways on my head and have me look in the window at myself and laugh. She did that with my hat too, and put my hat on her hat. I wouldn’t be able to wear those 2 items on my trip, I knew, before I washed them.

Then when I got up to leave, she hugged me and held on for a long time, and as uncomfortable as I was, it broke my heart. Especially when, as I told her God loved her in my broken German, she motioned with only her hands for me to pray for her (I had told her I worked for a church), waiting expectantly for me to agree. I did, and tried not to cry when I left the train.

All I could think of after that was,

“…and He listened to her whole story.”

Mark 5. The story of the woman who had been bleeding for years. I imagine she was a social outcast. I imagine she might have smelled bad. I imagine she had the same kind of desperation that Nadine had, yet she had some needs that Jesus knew that were more than just physical. She went to Him for physical healing, and Jesus didn’t stop there. HE LOOKED FOR HER IN THE CROWD after she had touched him and been healed. HE ACTIVELY PURSUED EYE CONTACT. Here I was trying to avoid it, debating with myself if I should lie to this woman about my next train so I didn’t have to listen to her. It says Jesus listened to her WHOLE story. I sat and listened to this woman’s story, but I didn’t really have a choice. Then Jesus not only healed her physically, but told her to go in peace, and blessed her for her faith. The eye contact alone was probably more human contact than this woman had in awhile. Spiritually and relationally, she was healed. One of the most important people around had sought her out and listened to her whole story. That was probably incredibly healing for her. Nadine needed someone to listen to her whole story, even with all the physical conditions, the worst condition she was in was probably loneliness. And, even in her precarious mental and physical state, she asked me to pray for her. The chances of any German stranger knowing Jesus is slim to none, yet this disabled woman with a pet rat was spiritually self-aware enough to know that she needed prayer and she bravely ASKED for it.

It’s amazing how the stories in the Bible can relate to modern life so well. I spent 3 hours on my next train trying to process how much better I knew Jesus now because of those 2 hours of awkwardness and the story in Mark 5. A friend of mine texted me, “Matthew 25 Laura…you just loved Jesus.”

Did I? She was certainly considered “the least of these.”

Maybe, maybe I was supposed to bless her, but this story isn’t about me and what I did. I’m honestly annoyed by my own unwillingness to enter into conversation with her, and maybe even ten minutes before, before I heard that sermon, I would have been one of the strangers who waved her away immediately. And yet I consider myself a “loving” person. I don’t even know.

I think God orchestrated that sermon message to come on right before I got on the train because He wanted me to know Him more. What an incredible, loving, selfless, Savior we serve…wow.

BIG NEWS!

Over the past year or so, I’ve been inviting you all to pray about what’s next for me after Bamberg’s post closes Summer 2014. Thank you so much for your prayers. The Lord has been faithful to lead me into an exciting new assignment! I can only begin to tell you all that has happened over the last several months to lead me to one big announcement: the Chattanooga Young Life area director wants me back to go on part-time (at first) staff with Northwest Georgia Young Life!

I’ve been praying for the past year or so about this possibility as soon as I found out my old area director had left and the area was struggling. In fact, one of my old Young Life girls recently told me, “Young Life has really died down around here, it’s kind of sad.” This breaks my heart! Rural Young Life is an often-forgotten, struggling, and yet incredibly needed area of ministry. I speak about this need both from my experience growing up in a small town as well as my experience as a volunteer there for 3 years and seeing the struggles that these kids talked about in our cabin times at camp. You would be shocked at the level of need students have for spiritual mentors even in the “Bible Belt.” During my stateside visit in January, I met with the Chattanooga area director and a volunteer working to keep NWGA Young Life going. We all loved the idea of me coming to help, especially as a Covenant College alumnus, and we started praying that God would work out the details and lead me in discernment. Since then, many friends and family have confirmed this as a great fit for me, and God has brought all the pieces together to make it possible, including the timing of the base closure, the gifts He’s given me, and the connections He’s kept strong even with me being overseas. I never thought I’d be able to go back to the place where I fell in love with Young Life and back to my college to tell people about the difference being a Young Life leader can make in the lives of kids as well as the leaders themselves. God writes amazing stories.

I am so excited about what’s next but I’m also going to miss living in Germany and my family at Club Beyond. Thank you so much for your support and for being part of my life these past 3 years. God has taught me more than I ever thought possible and grown me as a youth minister. He has worked in the lives of military kids and has clearly used this time in Bamberg to prepare me for what’s next.

I invite you to pray for me as I finish out my last semester of military ministry and prepare to leave Bamberg and head to the Chattanooga/Northwest Georgia area in early January 2014. I will likely be spending a month or two fundraising soon after I arrive. Please be praying for God to raise up more financial support. I will rely more than ever on donations in order to keep doing ministry, as I will no longer have the benefit of a military stipend, and Northwest Georgia YL does not have the funds to support me more than part-time yet (which is one of the reasons why they need someone like me- as I am able to bring my own support along). If you can no longer give, please know that I am BEYOND grateful for what you have already given, and will completely understand. Please let me know if you cannot continue. If you would like to give either monthly or one-time gifts to support me for the rest of my time in Bamberg and for this next ministry,  check out the Ministry Support page at the top. I look forward to keeping all of you updated on this next adventure! Let me know by e-mail or Facebook message how I can be praying for YOU! 

things to be thankful for today.

-renewing my contract with t-mobile and getting a new iPhone 4s for 1 euro!
-a great club…lots of kids I love there tonight
-brandon heath’s new album continuously speaking life to me
-amazing club beyond leaders, without them real ministry would never happen
-my adorable snuggly puppy
-the beautiful city I live in
-phone call with my best friend the other day
-learning new German words from my German friends last night
-doing National Novel Writing Month to get some writing done (working on some memoir instead of fiction)
-encouragement and words from God from a good friend
-christmas music…don’t judge
-the new issue of Relevant Magazine
-the kind of tired that comes from knowing you gave your all