Friday, December 30, 2016

Reflections on 2016

Originally shared at my church's Christmas Eve service.

Good evening. For those who don't know me, my name is April, and I have been attending this church since I was born—I'm what you might call a "lifer." No, but really, I am proud to call Presby home and this year especially I am grateful to be a part of this community—because I could have gotten into some real trouble if not for the grace of God in my life.. I almost made a mistake that could have seriously harmed me and probably would have changed my life forever.

This year I had planned to move to South America to do what I thought would be missionary work: entering into full-time ministry with a local church in Bolivia evangelizing, interceding and teaching. I had a lot of hopes and dreams to glorify God there.

However, a couple months before I had planned to leave, I found out from a couple of friends who were serving that that "church" that the "church" was actually a pretty psychologically and emotionally abusive cult. My friends were not allowed to leave the "church" (where they lived) without supervision, were bullied aggressively by pastors whenever they questioned the way things were run, and my one friend was even locked into the kitchen alone without promise of release. It was a horrific time, and thankfully my two friends left the Bolivian "church" shortly thereafter, around the same time I decided not to go down and join them.

As you might imagine, I spent much of this year coming to terms with this whole fiasco. The main question I had for God was, of course, "Why?"--but also the immediate question of "What now?" I had quit my job! I had been hurtling toward what I had thought was an international ministry opportunity "from God" and now needed to, in many respects, turn on a dime and change course.

I was disappointed and hurt, and felt very confused about God's direction in my life. I didn't know what to do, and God wasn't giving me epiphanies on how he wanted me to "recalculate," as it were. I spent time in reflection and prayer to God, pouring out my heart to him as it's written in Psalm 62. To be fair, though, I also spent a lot of time trying to be numb and trying to survive, in an attempt to ignore my pain and anger towards God for how un-glamorous and stuttering my life had become.

One theme from this year is pretty clear: God has invited me again and again to trust him—to believe he is everything he says he is, taking into full account my painful past, my present shaky circumstances and even my own negative feelings, no matter how strong and all-encompassing they may be.

There were many days this year when my alarm went off in the morning and I just did not want to get out of bed. I didn't feel like I had the energy or the will to face another day. To get motivated, I would sometimes listen to my gospel playlist, which has a song by James Fortune called "I Trust You." The chorus deeply resonates with me and I wanted to share it with you tonight: "I'll trust you/ Lord it's not easy/ Sometimes the pain in my life/ Makes you seen far away/ I'll trust you/ I need to know you're here/ Through the tears and the pain/ Through the heartache and rain/ I'll trust you."

I still don't know a lot of the "whys" behind the whole Bolivia debacle. I'm not yet at a place where I can genuinely thank God for that trial which has tested my faith significantly this year, and brought a fair share of heartache and despair.

However, there are a few things I can say with certainty and conviction:
  1. God warned me and protected me from going to Bolivia; he loves me.
  2. It's not over; God is still writing my story.
  3. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus Christ is Lord. This truth has helped me a lot this year and comforts me greatly.

For me, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult things get, no matter how little things may make sense in the moment, no matter my own helplessness or God's seeming silence—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

In the midst of failure, embarrassment, mistakes and crippling self-doubt—
Jesus Christ is Lord.

When I am lost and don't know what to do—
Jesus Christ is Lord.
"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5).

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