Bones, family and a small step back

Hey all!

So, one month into my adventure in London, and I have officially survived the Notting Hill Carnival, which for those of you who don’t know, is the second largest street carnival behind Rio. YWAM staff, students, interns and campers for Bones (an arts camp that ministers specifically to the carnival each year) all went out on the streets to evangelize, play drums, walk on stilts and more, and I–despite anything I would have believed had you told me so a month ago–was there doing some of the same.

There were three main revelations or observations I had during Bones and Carnival.

One, I was amazed to find myself doing these things. Covered in face paint and with a drum I’d only picked up a week ago, I was startled to find myself not only parading through the streets, sometimes through literal mobs of people, but also enjoying myself, banging out rhythms I’d only just learned with a confidence and joy I would never have imagined I could feel doing these things. Pretty much everything we did for Carnival was out of my comfort zone to some degree, and not only did I do it, but I had fun. It was awesome.

Two, I was surprised by God’s faithfulness throughout. The Carnival has a lot of roots in witchcraft and negative spiritual influences, and to be honest, as they prepared us for the two days of Carnival itself, I found myself dreading it coming. I’ve never really done well with spiritual things like that, never had the experience, been terrified of it, and this wasn’t much different. People had nightmares leading up to the camp and a lot of people said they could feel “heaviness” or “oppression” as they went out. I was so scared I was going to experience that, was going to have people with jet black eyes charging out at me from the crowd trying to kill me or put a spell on me, I really wanted nothing more than to go home before it started.

Then something changed. Sometime around Friday or Saturday, I started feeling excited. Seeing some of the floats we had made (you can check out bonescamp.tumblr.com for pictures and videos) of creatures from Revelations, I started getting pumped. “Yeah, these creatures have power,” I thought. “God has power. I have power.”

And throughout the entire Bones camp, I only had one minor sleeping problem that I wasn’t even sure was a spiritual thing. When we went out, I didn’t feel heavy or oppressed (to be fair, I felt fairly intimidated before going out in a lot of ways that I felt were spiritual attacks, though they stopped pretty much as soon as we’d go out), I felt fierce. I knew where our power came from, and I knew we had already won. In fact, I got righteously indignant, got angry at satan for even trying to have a foothold in that place, in our place. We had claimed those places and those people for Jesus, and he no longer had the right to be there, in places that God was moving, in places that God owned. This also was awesome.

Observation three was at first less encouraging. It was the second day of Carnival (the first day is family day, the second is not) and a smaller group of us had gone out to do some drumming. Then we heard more drumming and realized that people from the other spiritual side of things were having a parade. On one of our evangelism sessions we had had someone explain to us a bit about the Rastafarian side of Carnival, which at its deepest levels involves some pretty spiritually heavy and evil things, and this was (at least for some of the people in the parade) one of those things. Watching it pass, somewhat startled not to find myself feeling anything spiritual (which was awesome. Thank you for the protection Jesus!), I was struck by the physical difference between our drumming styles. A lot of their parade members had sunglasses on so you couldn’t see their eyes even if you wanted to. All of them looked straight ahead. They marched in complete sync, drumming the same parts, and none of them smiled. They looked like they were dead, and in some ways (as, to be fair, in some ways Christians also can be before Jesus reaches those places), I suspect they were.

We, on the other hand, encouraged each other to smile. We improvised, we marched out of order, we lifted each other up and engaged the crowd around us. We had joy, true joy. The difference was amazing.

It was a discouraging thing to see in some ways, to see waves of people blindly run to that parade, to watch them blindly follow, but in other ways, it encouraged me too. Because even when that parade was passing, we were there too. We were praying to break any spiritual darkness in the Carnival, that the darker elements of that parade would be broken, that people would be free, and once they were gone, we were able to play more. We were able to bring more light, and even when I was most discouraged, I knew that Jesus had already won, that the war is already decided with God coming out on top.

The other thing that amazed me about the time of Bones, besides finally seeing some of the fruit I’d been begging God for for the last month, was to see how much these people are becoming my family. I’ve known that they’re my friends and that I love them for a while now, but this made us feel like family. I realized for the first time that when this is over, I won’t just feel relief to get back to my “old friends” or family, though of course I’ll be happy to see them again in person, I’ll feel sadness and grief too, I’ll be sad to leave these other people I love behind. Who will I pick on in this or that way, who will share my digestives (biscuits), who will share my inside jokes or sleep in my room or know me in so many of the ways you can only get when you live with people like this?

It’s strange, really. I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do after my DTS, whether I should come back for an internship, go somewhere else, go home and get a new job. I have certain inclinations towards some things, certain thoughts that are starting to float, but honestly I’m not quite sure. All I know is if I go or stay, I’ll be missing family of some kind, and that’s entirely strange.

Lastly, unrelated to Carnival in some ways, is my step back. So, when we were trying to think of movies to watch during Carnival, one of my suggestions was Stardust, a movie based off a book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The idea was vetoed based on the fact that the movie involves witchcraft. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but since Carnival has roots in it, they explained that by not watching things like that during that period, we could “walk in the opposite spirit.” The staff and others don’t drink during Carnival (which has a lot of alcohol) for the same reason. I thought that sounded reasonable and let it drop.

Then this morning I realized I had some time to read. I had picked up some books from the library a few weeks ago, and thought I would finish some before heading to a museum. And what did I read?

Hellboy, which for those of you who don’t know, is a comic series revolving around a demon who was essentially raised by a mixture of the church and military and rejects his supposed fate as a fairly significant apocalyptic figure to work for the military fighting evil, most of which I had forgotten since watching the movie years ago.

Talk about not walking in the opposite spirit.

Now, to be fair, it is fiction, and I had forgotten a lot about some of the heavier stuff, as I usually do. On the other hand, I had just had this kind of conversation a few days earlier.

I felt terrible. What if I had opened doors in myself? The church? The other people on my team? I felt awful for not having stopped myself sooner. After just having such a powerful weekend, how could I have done something so stupid?

And yet, God is faithful, and to be honest, I’m a human. Most of my life is comprised of mistakes. This morning, I did feel heavy. I felt bad for finishing the book, I felt bad for having started it, and I felt bad for reading it where others could see that’s what I’d been doing. I felt worried, disappointed, and sad.

But, since then, I’ve told people about it. I’ve repented, I’ve asked God for forgiveness and to close any doors I may have inadvertently opened in me, the church or others. I’ve also forced myself to remember that when I repent for mistakes, God is faithful to forgive, and that when He has forgiven, our mistakes are washed clean. I still feel bad for making the mistake, and I wish that I hadn’t, but I am glad to know that God has forgiven me, that He still loves me and wants to encourage me not to fall back too hard when I take a step back. I have also learned a valuable lesson about being more careful about what I take in to my life, and know that I will do better in the future.

God has been so faithful during this time. Please pray for me that I will see more of what He sees in everything and what His will is, for our team that we will do the same and for our church that it will be safe and protected. I believe any doors I might have inadvertently opened this morning have been closed, but if you want to throw a few extra prayers in my or the church’s direction, feel free to do so as well.

Thanks everyone! Love and miss you!

Abby

P.S. What do you think about this post? Are there times you’ve walked in the opposite spirit or failed to do so? What do you think about that idea in the first place? What about other times you’ve failed and needed forgiveness? How has God been faithful in places where you’ve made mistakes? I would love to hear about them either in the comments or a private Facebook or Twitter message if you’d rather not publicly share. Let me know!

The ultimate question

Last night I had a meltdown.

In all honesty, I had been expecting it for some time.

It’s been about three and a half weeks since I left for London, and though things have gotten easier, God is still doing a lot of work in me, and as is so often the case when that happens, that means growing pains. The last near-month has been way harder than I could have imagined, and honestly, had I known what it would be like, I’m not sure I would have come, even knowing as I do now that goodness and fruit will come out of it, though I hope once all is said and done I’ll be able to say differently.

But the point of this post is not to complain, but to worship and point to truth.

See, as much as I am in emotional, spiritual and even physical pain here on a fairly regular basis, I am also realizing a lot about myself that I wouldn’t have been able to see if I had stayed where I was. For example, I’m learning more about how I hear God, communicate, love and learn. I’m fighting spiritual battles in ways I didn’t imagine I ever would, and learning new skills I didn’t think I would ever pick up.

I am also realizing that I still have a lot more identity, trust and–related to both–anger issues than I knew I still had.

One of the most important things I’ve been learning about is control, especially just how much I need to give it up.

For the sake of a reasonably-sized post, I digress.

I’ve spent a lot of my time here questioning whether or not I can actually do this, how I could get home (and if I should), and whether or not I’m meant to be here at all. There’s been a lot of self-doubt and questioning, but what I’ve slowly been realizing (or re-realizing, I suppose) is that it ultimately comes down to a single question, the final question, the only one there ever really is.

Am I going to believe God or am I going to believe myself?

Because in a lot of ways, I don’t want to be here. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t have the strength, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.

And yet God says I do and I can, through Him. He will give me strength, He is all I need, and He has called me here. Further, He loves me, He’s chosen me, and I’m not just weird or broken, but created by a loving God who loves me exactly the way He created me.

What’s strange and a little scary is that I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live without the anger I have. Heck, I’m even a little scared to find out what that would be like. And it’s not like I’m an overly or overtly angry person. I am actually pretty calm on the exterior, and even when people do make me angry, it’s exceedingly rare for me to fly off the handle.

But the hard fact of the matter is, when things get really hard, the thing I fall back on is anger, and the idea of swapping that out for God, for someone I have no control over whatsoever, who I am afraid will let me down even though I know in my head He never could, is terrifying. How much safer, even if it is worse, would it be to stick to what I know? Mistrust, guarded-ness, self-protection, control?

Except that’s not how God wants me to live. He wants me to do things with Him, to be open to Him and other people, to have faith that His word is true and that the promises I read in His word apply to me.

So, ultimately, who am I going to believe?

Thankfully God is graceful enough that I already have my answer. I know God’s will is true, that it is perfect, and I know that eventually, with His help, I will believe it in my heart too.

I just hope that it will be sooner than later.

 

Learning to trust

Hey all,

I’m coming at you two weeks in to my five month adventure, and I’ve gotta say, though it hasn’t always been easy, I’m already learning a lot, primarily related to trust.

Lesson one? I did not trust God nearly as much as I thought I did.

One of the biggest tensions I felt when I came here was whether I was going to resist God or surrender. I had decided to go on this trip for a lot of reasons, a change of pace (or kick in the pants) to figure out what I was going to do next, to learn what God’s voice sounds like for myself, and, in some ways, to finally really say yes to God, no matter what He asked. I had long felt that this trip was going to be a “point of no return” for me, a turning and commitment towards God that would take me to a new level of understanding I couldn’t come back down from (or at the very least wouldn’t want to), but once I arrived, once I was really feeling the pressure of what that kind of surrender would mean, well, I found I wasn’t quite as ready to take that step as I’d thought. I’d given God things before, my family and friends, finances, dance. And where was I now for all of that? Halfway around the world, about to spend most of my money, and oh yeah, not dancing. Worse, the more I talked to people, the more I felt certain if I surrendered my writing too, it would turn into something I didn’t like. It would get “Christian-y,” something I never really wanted. I’m not into straight allegories and my characters don’t just face Christian problems in Christian settings. What if I gave my work over to God and suddenly Cog became some allegory for suffering and Rick became some struggling Christian (not that I wouldn’t want all of my characters to be Christian in the end, obviously, but that’s never really been my purpose in writing them) working through some Christian-ese crisis of faith? Worse, what if God took them away entirely? Maybe blogging and poetry were the only ways I really could serve God. Maybe short stories were as long as I should go.

Thankfully, God has been faithful, and having decided to follow Him anyway, I’ve been pleased to find that none of that has been true. I’m always way more inclined to think God wants me to have to suffer for Him than He is, and this has been the case here as much as anywhere else. God wants me to enjoy my life, to have peace and joy in Him. Furthermore, He’s the one who’s given me all of these desires, dreams and stories. Why would He do that and then ultimately call me to toss them aside? I was so scared of enjoying anything when I first got here because I was afraid of falling in love with London, with being called to live here as a missionary, writing nothing more than blog posts and interviews for the rest of my life. But having been here for a couple of weeks, seeing what this lifestyle is, I know that barring some large and divine intervention from God, this isn’t for me. I am glad I’m here for this season and excited and open to live it and see what He does with it, but I also feel more confident that this is just a season. I feel more peace about being an author than ever before and, more importantly, I know that I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t been willing to actually hand that stuff over. Had I never been willing to go to God and ask Him what He wanted me to do with my writing, I never would have found out that He really does want me to use it, that He doesn’t want to take it away. I am also more free to love London now, because I know it isn’t permanent, at least for now.

Score one for faith.

The second lesson of trust, though less hard to realize, is likely going to be harder to walk out, and that is being able to trust God for this season, particularly in regards to people.

One of the strangest things I’ve noticed about my time here is how quickly I made the change from noticing differences to criticizing them. The first week I was here, I couldn’t escape how different things were. My environment, housemates, situations and duties were all different from what they’d been back home, and the strangeness of it all, to say nothing of the fact I’d be living this way for five months, was so overwhelming, I thought my head would explode.

Then, by miraculous intervention, week two started and I adjusted. I wasn’t sick anymore, I found confidence in the way things are run, and I felt to a certain extent, “I can handle this.”

That, of course, is when the criticisms started. Now that I knew how things were run, I knew what I would change. More this, less that, more doing things “my way.” It’s disgusting how quickly it started, to say nothing of how stupid, unfounded or conflicting most of my reasons were.

Thankfully God has once more been faithful, in teaching me about authority, submission and ultimately that He uses all types.

Because the fact of the matter is, I came here to serve, to work under and alongside different people in a different culture and community for a set period of time, and though things might be run differently here than I am used to, that’s not my decision or my place, and if I fight that, by complaining, arguing or even simple obstinacy, I’m going to lose out on a lot that God has for me here that is different, things I couldn’t or wouldn’t learn if I only worked my way. I’ll create unnecessary conflict,  disrespect my leaders (leaders God Himself has put in place) and ruin unity within the body, to say nothing of the lessons God has that I just won’t see.

God uses all types to do His work, and sometimes that means people, personalities or cultures that are different than mine. I can resist that and lose out, just like His plans for my life, or I can trust that God is the one leading and stretch and grow. I want to grow.

So bring it on, God. I will trust You.