The Deepest Depths

Tonight I’m listening to “Depths” by Hillsong Worship, and it reminds me of listening to it over and over and over again just two, short years ago. That song was one of a handful that saw me through the roughest 1+ years of my life.

I know I’ve eluded to that year in a few posts, but as I am far enough removed from that time, I feel much freer to share about that dark season.

For much of my childhood and young adult life, I thought God hated me. No one knows how many times I cried to him, “Why do you hate me so much? If you hate me this much, why did you ever make me? And if you hate me this much after creating me, why don’t you just kill me?”

2014-2015 had all of those years beat by a longshot. While I may not have been as mentally absent as I was as a child, teen, and young adult, I very well could have been, for as awful as I felt. No matter what anyone said to me, I was convinced God loathed my life as much as I did. I was immersed in church and ministry, and yet, the very place one would expect to find God the closest was the place where he was the farthest.

The verses about God being near to the broken-hearted and keeping all our tears in a bottle mocked me. In the deep sorrow of my heart, I did not feel God anywhere. And if he were keeping track of my tears, I was surely well on my way to reaching a record for crying the most consecutive nights in a row. It seemed that he peered at that giant blue bottle, squinted at how close to the “full” mark the liquid had reached, and set it back down. Pushing it away, he sighed and said, “Let me know when it overflows. Then—and only then—will I do something about it.” Then he turned away and went back to more important things.

I poured my very life into ministry and service and it amounted to nothing. God didn’t love me anymore. Worship wrenched my soul. How could one honestly sing of an awesome, magnificent God when he was that to others but not to you? Words that were attempts at comfort and counsel were empty, hollow, and fleeting. No mortal in my life truly knew the depths of despair, desperation, and heart-break that characterized my life in that long, dark season.

During this time, I lost my two best friends—my 17-year-old cat died the day after Christmas and my then best friend’s and my relationship simply ceased to exist. Life couldn’t get much worse. But it would have been bearable, if I’d known in the deepest depths of my soul that God loved me—that he wasn’t against me, even when it felt that way.

This time of greatest darkness lasted a good year and a half. Sure, there were moments when the thick cloud would crack open to let in a shaft of light, but those times were all very short-lived. I just didn’t want to live anymore. And for someone who had a fairly strong theological foundation to sink my heart and mind into, this was a new, scary thing to go through.

There really are no reasons or explanations I can give for why the darkness finally lifted. I simply believe that sometimes God allows us to go through extreme “dark nights of the soul” (as Mother Teresa and John of the Cross referred to them as), to force us to trust in a God we can neither see or feel. There is no better way I could explain the theological belief commonly known as the Perseverance of the Saints than to actually walk through a darkness so thick, you are a hairbreadth away from cracking…but Jesus is stronger.

And while I may have emerged from the darkness stronger in my trust in Jesus, it is unlikely I’ll ever be who I used to be before that season. That time aged me like nothing else ever did, while also giving me a greater empathy and insight into the extreme depths of sorrow and depression people drown in. Also, some of my deepest writings and reflections came out of this season.

And now, more than ever, I believe every believer in Jesus needs to have a rock-solid foundation in the sovereignty and goodness of God. The thick darkness requires a level of faith and trust that can’t be fully test-driven until the storm comes. You have to believe in something—Someone—you can’t see, when all reason and all feelings tell you the exact opposite.

Dear people who read this, please don’t attempt to put all seasons of darkness into neat, spiritual categories that you can wrap your minds around. And if you feel compelled to speak into someone’s situation, please ask first. Don’t assume you know what the other person is going through or that you can even help them in this season. It’s very likely you will hear some very bitter, broken words—and instead of answering them in the way Job’s friends did, just listen and don’t attempt to “set them straight”. Sometimes silence and a shoulder squeeze are the best medicines.

And to all the people who have or will go through incredible seasons of darkness and doubt—I love you. You are not alone. Jesus has not left you. You will sing again. It may not be for a very long time, but you will rejoice in Jesus again. One day, you will again see, feel, and taste that he is good.

The Fellowship

hope-2015Three years ago, life as we knew it changed. But we had no idea how it would change us in the process. We went into this next journey open-eyed, hearts full of optimism, and dreams as wide as the Virginia sky.

With a vision far bigger than ourselves, we saw God’s kingdom breaking in on the earth as we knew it. And we were eager to have a part in seeing this kingdom realized in the hearts and lives of ordinary people in our city.

We had a small team comprised of some of the best people you’d find anyway. All of them had hearts of gold and sacrificial spirits to match. It was a deep honor to be in the company of such an amazing group of people.

With this group, we studied, planned, dreamed, and prayed and prayed and prayed. In varying degrees and in many different ways, we all set aside certain dreams, plans, hopes, and comforts. Our very souls were united to a common cause—a church for the unreached in our community. Jesus had our full attention.

Amid times of questions, uncertainty, and exhaustion, God birthed his church from the ashes of lives consumed with his glory and the new bulbs of life and hope that sprang from his life in us.

Much effort, many tears, and multitudes of prayers watered and nurtured the sprouts of this fragile plant. Others joined the effort and shared the load—in much the same way that the elders helped Moses in days so long ago.

Like a family, we have deeply loved each other. We have cried together. We have shared stories. Laughed over jokes that probably weren’t even all that funny. We have created things from next to nothing. We have eaten more meals together than we’ve probably ever eaten with any other group of people (besides our immediate families). We’ve had communion together. We’ve prayed together. We’ve done preview services together. Done outreach events as a family. Served meals together. Celebrated together. Shared sorrows with each other. Together. All of this we have done—together.

And as we come to the conclusion of our three years together, it feels as if the Fellowship from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is coming to a close. Only God knows where each one of us will go in the coming months and years. We carry within us the same deep awareness that we have been on a sacred journey—together. We look into one another’s eyes and there is the shared realization that we “get” this whole process in a way that someone looking on never could. We have been through the trenches, crossed rivers, survived deserts, and gone over mountains–together.

We have been changed. Jesus has changed every last one of us. This process has broken us in some ways and mended us in other areas. We have seen God in ways we probably never would have if we hadn’t gone down this path. He has become more real, more solid, more trustworthy, more precious. We have depended on Him to show up and do his thing—time and time again.

We were simply his jars of clay, carrying a great Treasure. It feels like an ending. But it’s also just another beginning.

It has been a privilege, an honor, and an adventure to help plant Hope Church. God is incredibly faithful and incredibly good.

To the Advance Team “fellowship”—I love you all. I could never forget you, even if I tried. Our lives are forever entwined, and we can’t help but look at each other and see the same memories reflected back to us in each one of our faces. Thank you for loving Jesus most and loving each other so well. I look forward to sitting on Heaven’s front porch with Jesus and you all someday—looking at a Hope Church photo album, and remembering all the places we went with God over the course of just three years. No matter where life may take us in the future, a piece of my heart will always belong with all of you.