I don’t know how I still end up surprised that time flies, but it truly still surprises me. It’s already been a week since I visited LA and that was indeed a blessed trip.
I have a lot of photos to sort through and share, so I’d like to give them their own rightfully deserved dedicated posts. But this one will be dedicated to reflections.
I learned a lot over the past two weeks. I don’t know if this will all make sense, but I know I’ll one day look back on this once it’s all passed and think, “Yes, that was exactly what was supposed to happen.”
My trip back to LA taught me a few things:
1. The show must go on.
While I know everyone loves me and I love them dearly as family, my departure didn’t mean their worlds stopped revolving and they all had calendars hung up on their living rooms and in the church marking down the days until I’d return.
Nobody was that excited or impressed that I’d just rocked up. But at the same time, I didn’t expect them to either. What was surprising, however, was how much had changed and how much everyone had moved on, even though I’d only been gone one short month.
A lot changed already. My friends got married (I’d intended to travel back for their engagement, but they had instead been joined in holy matrimony. Thank God I did go back to fulfil my promise of returning for weddings!), my pastor had handed in his resignation and was leaving, people were moving away, people had already moved from where they were and more.
I realised that my life, should I return, would not be the same blissful routine in the same community it once was. I felt a deep sense of regret and nostalgia. But above all, it felt like all the reasons I wanted to return for were slowly disappearing one by one.
And then there were the complicated relationship issues and fellowship drama. Those I won’t go into, but damn they were complicated/messed up.
Last week I finally got a library card and instantly took out 4 books. I am half way through all of them. Returning to NYC, I had a new mindset to really give this place a go as my new home. Maybe God wanted me here longer, after all.
I rediscovered my love of reading. The weather was perfect this weekend so I coffee-shop-hopped after church and sat outside with a book or three as I re-educated myself on the written word.
I realised my heart had changed, and that was purely God’s doing. I realised how much I’d desperately tried to cling to my own plans for myself – that I’d return to LA in 6 months’ time and be in a relationship with a wonderful Christian man and we’d serve at CBC together and hang out with ‘the crew’ every week – and that through this mindset, no matter how I tried to deny it, I’d unconsciously put my New York life on pause.
But more than that, I realised that when I’d previously “prayed for faith and patience”, what I’d actually been praying was for “enough patience until God realised my plans for myself”.
Darn, I thought I’d have fallen out of that trap by now. “If you ever want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans,” was one of my favourite lines and I’d used it so many times. But this weekend, I discovered God should have been laughing all along, but in His mercy, He recognised my desperation, weakness and vulnerability and delicately brought me to understanding, and gently called me back to humility.
God gave me a good slice of humble pie to go with my iced lattes, many quiet hours for reflection, and released me from the mental prison of my fantasy future.
2. My motives were wrong.
I kept telling myself and everyone that I wanted to go back and serve. This is true. CBC was the first church I’d ever been to where I’d felt a strong sense of belonging and love for the church almost immediately after ‘settling’.
This may seem a little weird, since doesn’t settling in usually mean feeling a sense of belonging and love for the church? Not necessarily. I’ve settled into churches I still felt awkward in where I didn’t know or get on with everyone even though I’d been attending for years, and the worst part was I loved some of them sometimes, but mostly I didn’t unless it suited me to do so.
I worked hard to love in CBC, but I also wanted to love, and love more. I felt more loving, I grew more loving, I gave out more love, and that made me feel good about myself. I became proud.
However, CBC was also the first church I’d ever genuinely loved serving this much, and been able to serve in every area of ministry I’d ever felt passionate about. Serving was good. Serving was what God called us to do, and I thought all my service was making me a better Christian. CBC appreciated my service as well. I was helping out a lot in many different ways and I was loving it. I loved working with the children, I loved serving in music ministry, I took care of my brothers and sisters wherever I could and whenever they called. Everyone was loving back and encouraging me and telling me how they wished I’d be back to serve again. I felt wanted, needed. I gave myself a pat on the back.
But I’d neglected my relationship with Christ.
I am thankful God took me away to re-evaluate my priorities. It’s not wrong of me to want to serve, to want to go back and continue to serve, but if my service became a way to earn praise from my brothers and sisters, and I’d stopped reading Bible alone or doing daily devotional, my service no longer connected me to Him in a deeper way.
My service had become meaningless. I pretty much made every single mistake in the Superficially Good Christian book that I thought I’d known well enough to not make by now. So God is setting me straight.
3. Growing in patience and faith is hard, unsurprisingly, but the hardest part is burying your pride.
Patience is saying, “I know what is going to happen and I’m happy to wait for it.” Faith is saying, “I don’t know what is going to happen but I trust in You.” I knew it would be a dangerous prayer when, earlier this year, I prayed for both more patience and more faith at the same time. I basically said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I trust in You and I’m happy to wait for it.”
I’m not quite sure what I was thinking.
I know what I thought I was thinking though. I was thinking, “God, I want this to happen and I want it to happen at this time, but I don’t mind if it happens a little later than that. But since I don’t know for sure that it will happen, and I don’t know for sure how long I’ll have to wait, I’ll just say I’m open to your plans when I’m actually not, masquerading my selfish desires and personal plans as patience and faith while you carry out my ideas. But since I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty certain that’s what you want for me and you wouldn’t disappoint me, right? I can just pretend it’s me being all godly and holy by praying this super difficult prayer as if I were actually praying for real patience and faith, and actually growing in that.”
That didn’t fly very well with Him, shockingly. God grinned, took it at face value, knocked me off my high horse and put me rightfully in my place at No Idea Where I’m Going, When I’m Going And What I’m Going To Do But Waiting In Eagar Anticipation At Your Good Plan And Trying To Live Each Day In Your Word In The Meantime-Lane (with bumps, bruises and a decent dose of anxiety on the way).
I guess what I’m trying to say is… No matter how many times I’d “given up” everything to Him in the past, I think a small (large) part of me was still clinging on to what I thought His will for me would be (read: what I really, really, really wanted His will to be). Now, I am indeed walking blindfolded, arms outstretched, hands grasping in front of me, taking baby steps forward in the dark. But God has my hands in His and is leading the way.
It’s a terrifying yet exhilarating position to be in, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Please forgive how terribly cliché this entire post has been. I swear it could have come directly out of “Christianity For Dummies – 101 Mistakes To Not Make”, but despite having learned alllll these lessons sooooo many times in the past, I still managed to fall flat on my face back into the same traps I thought I’d learned to avoid by now.
Now, if I don’t return to LA or God takes me elsewhere, praise Him. However, if by His grace I do end up back in Santa Monica and at CBC, my prayer is that it will be with the right mindset, with the right motives, with me in the right relationship with God, and praise Him all the more.
The future’s a dark abyss of unknown, but in the arms of my Saviour, it is surely bright and glorious.
I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m confident. I’m lonely. I’m loved.
Please pray for me.