Author Archives: jenni

The BIG Answers

So on and off Friday evening and most of the day Saturday I studied, I worshiped, and I prayed. I was seeking God in a way and with an intensity that I never had before. I wanted His answers, not mine.

But nothing was happening.

Saturday evening, I took a break to do some laundry. While I was waiting for the dryer cycle to complete, I flopped down on my bed and asked God, “What am I doing wrong? If this is a gift that You want to give me and I want to receive, why isn’t it happening for me?”

I wasn’t actually expecting an answer. But I got one. “You can’t be fully surrendered and guarded at the same time.”

And I was guarded, because I wanted to be sure that whatever happened was God, not me. But God wanted me to trust Him with that. My guardedness was actually keeping me from being truly surrendered.

And I cried. And I prayed. And I finally surrendered everything. And I experienced His presence and power and peace in a new way. I prayed in tongues. There was even healing of some of those old wounds from past churches.

By the time all this had happened, it was late in the evening Saturday. I was starting to think about what I needed to do for Sunday. I was going back to BR to visit Resurrection Life, and I prayed that when I was in service with them that next morning, God would give me direction on whether I was really supposed to be moving there. But I felt like God said, very clearly, “You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You’re going to Baton Rouge.” But… I hadn’t even been to a Sunday service yet. How could I know that for sure? And God told me, “Do you want this to be your decision or My decision?” And of course, I wanted it to be God’s decision.

I had no idea how any of this would work out.

It had to look absolutely insane from the outside. Everything that I’ve described from the blood pressure scare to this post happened in less than a week! I started the week shaken to the core, wrestling with dark things I’ve never wrestled with before. Not exactly the picture of spiritual maturity 🙂

Then came the prayer meeting, where God used things that I was drawn to, but yet still afraid of.

Then I spent much of the rest of the week asking myself if my theology in certain areas was truly based on my best understanding of what the Bible taught (exegesis), or was it tailored to fit my experiences or lack thereof (eisegesis).

And now I was ending the week feeling an almost missionary-like call to a city I hardly knew, where I had no invitation or guarantee that I’d be welcome. And I was ready to walk away from a very secure and comfortable situation to go there.

If someone else was telling me this story, I’d think they weren’t playing with a full deck. And yet, I’m convinced this is God.

How would it all come together? I felt like God told me that I tend to either run ahead and try to force things, or drag my feet and try to delay them. And He was calling me to walk in step with Him and trust Him with the details.

I still didn’t have a timeline. And I hadn’t told either Bro. Nathan or Pastor Cody what was going on yet. I just knew that the next morning, I’d be attending my new church for the first time.

(To Be Continued…)

The BIG Questions

Could I really go back to a Pentecostal church again?

I had walked away from all of that years ago. I had done everything but literally shake the dust off my feet.  And yet, over the previous few months, I had been questioning whether I had “thrown out the baby with the bathwater” so to speak.

But when I left that unhealthy church I described earlier, I had also been warned that I could never come back to that kind of relationship with God again, because of Hebrews 6:4-6. I didn’t want to think that applied to me, but part of me couldn’t help but wonder if that was possible.

I was drawn to what I had sen at the Resurrection Life prayer meeting. And before I left Baton Rouge that week, I had the opportunity to ask Pastor Cody a LOT of questions about it. And most of those questions were about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I had been a part of churches before that believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it seemed like there was a lot of emotional stuff and manipulation, and I had written them off. In one church, I had been told that I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit – but it was a kind of coached / repeat-after-me thing. The initial experience was the whole focus, and there was no expectation that it would continue. And for me – the introvert who really didn’t like to be touched and have folks crowd around me – I was just grateful that I didn’t have to go up for another altar call!

So whatever did or didn’t happen in the past… I certainly didn’t have the kind of experience described on the AG website. Unlike Oneness Pentecostals, the Assemblies of God doesn’t believe that it is a requirement for salvation, but that it is a second experience after salvation, and something every believer can have – and it’s not just about tongues or a one-time experience, it’s an ongoing thing that has just as much to do with being empowered for ministry.

By the time I left Baton Rouge on Friday morning, I knew I still needed to do some studying and searching for myself just to settle things in my own mind. I knew that I had no business being a part of a church if I couldn’t get behind what they believed. But I had already shifted from “not wanting to believe” to “wanting to believe.” If the baptism of the Holy Spirit as Pastor Cody described it was the real thing… I wanted it.

(To Be Continued…)

The prayer meeting

If you haven’t already read them, this story starts here and continues here. It’ll make more sense if you read those posts first 🙂

So I went to the prayer meeting. That was my first time visiting Resurrection Life.

Pastor Cody had preached on prayer at Jubilee, but I still wasn’t exactly sure what a prayer meeting at Resurrection Life would look like. In my mind, the phrase “prayer meeting” described something kinda boring. The image in my head was a bunch of old ladies sitting around a table praying for Aunt Mabel’s cousin’s wife’s nephew’s roommate’s bunions. In flowery King James language. For hours.

I knew that their meetings probably weren’t going to be like that 🙂 But still, this was brand new to me.

When I got to the church, I asked Pastor Cody if they’d pray for me before the night was over. He told me they would. He also explained how they prayed for folks and why they did it that way, and made sure that I was comfortable with them laying hands on me and anointing me with oil. I was grateful for the explanation. I also appreciated that no one was trying to push me into a situation that would make me uncomfortable.

The meeting began with recorded worship music playing and a handful of folks in the sanctuary praying and worshiping. Some were very quiet. Others were very expressive. Some sang or prayed out loud. Others prayed in tongues. Some were sitting, others laying on the floor, some kneeling, still others walking around.

It was… interesting. And weird. Not terrible. But different. Definitely out of my comfort zone and “not my style.” And if I had been there as a casual observer – the way I had planned this visit originally – that probably would have been the end of the story. I would have kept myself at “a safe distance” and smiled said I enjoyed it and left exactly the same way I came.

But I really needed something from God that night, and I had an overwhelming sense of His presence, that He was there in a special way. So much of what I would have initially described as “weirdness” began to look more like a kind of freedom that I almost wished I could have as well.

At the end of the meeting, they prayed for me, just as Pastor Cody had described. Afterwards, one of the women from the church was waiting to talk to me. She began to share some things that she felt God was showing her. She started with a couple pretty obvious/generic things – things that were definitely true, but didn’t require any special insight. But then… she talked about my struggle with suicidal thoughts that morning. In specific detail.

I had not shared that part of the story with anyone at that point. I didn’t tell Pastor Cody, I hadn’t even told Bro. Nathan – no one knew.

Needless to say… that kinda got my attention. And it led to some great conversations with Pastor Cody and others at Resurrection Life in the days that followed. I started feeling like I was supposed to move to Baton Rouge – like maybe this was what God had for me next – but that didn’t make sense. I still had some pretty big questions. Resurrection Life was a Pentecostal church, and they believed many of the things that I had rejected years ago. I would have to settle those questions for myself before I could commit to a church like this.

Driving back to Pineville that Friday, about the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to visit Resurrection Life on a Sunday. Looking at the Christian Challenge calendar, the best option was that very weekend – if I didn’t go then, there was a solid month and a half of Sundays that I just didn’t feel comfortable asking off because I had committed to help with different things.

I went to Bro. Nathan’s office that Friday afternoon to ask permission to miss that Sunday. But before I could even ask, he asked me when I was moving to Baton Rouge.

Um…

Wasn’t really expecting that question. I wasn’t going to bring it up at all. But I had to answer honestly that I was praying about it. And knowing that Bro. Nathan already felt like this was a God thing gave me even more motivation to pray & get my big questions answered!

(To be continued…)

When God is the planner

I like to have a plan. And a backup plan. And a backup to the backup plan. And I hate it when things deviate from the plan. I’m a planner. Which is really just a nice way of saying that I can be quite the control freak. 🙂

But God is a better planner 🙂

Christian Challenge’s anniversary celebration, Jubilee, was in March – and the guest speaker for 2017 was someone I had never met before: Pastor Cody East from Resurrection Life in Baton Rouge.

I knew a little bit about Resurrection Life Church. Christian Challenge supported them as a missions outreach. They were an inner city church doing some great things in their community. Ever since I learned about them, I had wanted to visit, maybe even do something for their children or help with an outreach… but I never pursued it. I also knew that Resurrection Life was a Pentecostal (AG) church… something that I was both drawn to and a little afraid of at the same time. (I had some bad experiences in churches that called themselves “Pentecostal” before.)

But Jubilee was wonderful, and getting to meet Pastor Cody and his family there definitely renewed my interest in visiting them.

A couple of weeks later in April, I applied for a two-week contract job in Baton Rouge. I shouldn’t have gotten it. They could have filled all the positions with local people and saved some money. But somehow, it worked out for me to get the assignment. As soon as the plans were finalized, I contacted the Easts and made arrangements to visit Resurrection Life for their Tuesday night prayer meeting.

But the night before the job was to begin, I stopped at an Urgent Care for a relatively minor thing – I had an annoying allergic rash on my arms, and over the counter stuff wasn’t making much of a dent. When the nurses took my routine vitals, my blood pressure was 225/125. They tried a couple more times to make sure the reading was accurate. It was.

Needless to say, everyone was quite alarmed. I was given the “I’m trying to scare you” talk, which most definitely scared me! I was told how dangerous this was, and how it would kill me if I didn’t take action. They wanted to send me straight to the ER, but since I had no other symptoms, they sent me off with a prescription for blood pressure medication.

That night and the following morning, I had a struggle with depression like I’ve never had before. I started thinking about an abusive church situation that I had left many years before. The pastor told me that I was out of God’s will because God hadn’t told him that I was supposed to leave. He told me that someday I’d get sick and die because there’d be no one to pray the prayer of faith for me. I wasn’t just walking away from a church, I was turning by back on God.

And even though the rational side of me knew it couldn’t be true, I began to wonder… could that be what was happening to me now?  As I drove to Baton Rouge before sunrise that morning, I wrestled with some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever had. I began to think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be dead. Maybe I just wouldn’t take the BP medicine. Or maybe I’d just take it all at once. Or maybe I’d become a story on the Louisiana State Police FB feed: “Single vehicle crash claims life of Pineville woman in XXX Parish. Toxicology reports pending.”

This was the first time in my life I’d ever seriously wrestled with thoughts of suicide. It was intense. By the time the sun began to rise and I was approaching BR, I had managed fight back those thoughts. I was exhausted, but never so grateful for the distraction of a full day’s work.

By the end of the day, I just wanted to go to the hotel and get some sleep. I picked up my phone to send a message to the Easts, intending to apologize and excuse myself from the prayer meeting. But when I looked at my screen, the calendar was open, and I could see the notification for “Resurrection Life” starting in 60 minutes. And I thought to myself, “I need that. I need some resurrection in my life about now.”

(To be continued…)

A lot can happen in six months

It’s been a while again since I’ve shared a blog here! It’s certainly not because nothing has been happening. A LOT has been happening! And it’s not that I haven’t written anything… it’s just been hard to finish any of it 🙂

So here’s a quick update!

I was a bit vague in my last post here about the “difficult conversation” I had back in November, but in January I had the opportunity to share it in a lot more detail on Bro. Nathan’s blog.

Ever since I had the “painful conversation” in November, I’ve enjoyed healing in relationships that I had given up on. I’ve also been given opportunities to build new relationships without the complications of the panic attacks and social anxiety… because they’re just gone! And it’s not that I’ve been shielded from the things that used to trigger the attacks. I’ve been in plenty of places since then that would have been too much for me to handle before. Some situations are still uncomfortable, but they don’t cripple me anymore. Only God could have done that!

The freedom I’ve enjoyed has been amazing. But this journey wasn’t just God “fixing” that broken part of my life. My relationship with God was also changing. I had been in such a dry, dead place before November. By January, I felt thoroughly alive again. My relationship with God was in a better place than it had been in a very long time. Such a good place, in fact, that I would have been content to stay there.

But I kept feeling drawn to things that I had previously rejected. Styles of worship that I had dismissed as too shallow / repetitive / emotional. Prayer was becoming more important to me. Reading the Bible every day wasn’t just something I did to satisfy some sense obligation. Part of me wanted to pursue some of those questions I was afraid to ask. And part of me didn’t want to go anywhere near it.

And I lived in that tension for several months.

(To be continued…)

Thank God for Answering the Prayer I Wasn’t Praying

It’s Thanksgiving! And this year, I’m especially thankful for an answer to prayer that I wasn’t expecting because, frankly, I quit praying for it a long time ago. It began last week with a painful confrontation that felt like anything but an answer to prayer. It was something that completely blindsided me.

I didn’t think that anything was wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I thought that a lot was wrong… with other people. With systems and cultures and practices and traditions that I didn’t really care for. But me, I was fine! There was nothing in me that I couldn’t excuse or ignore as insignificant.

It’s not that I had never been confronted before. But my default response was a bristling defensiveness: The accusations were  unfair. It wasn’t my fault. I was the injured party. Why were people talking about me instead of talking to me? What about so-and-so? They’re not perfect either. And THEY hurt ME…

A good illustration of that comes from this post, which I wrote a little more than two years ago. I was frustrated and trying to explain what it was like for me. But when I read it now, I can see that I was paralyzed by fear. I resented those who didn’t understand. I was making excuses. And I was really bitter.

I had become “nose blind” to my own stinky attitudes. Looking back now, I can understand why people were afraid to have difficult conversations with me. It’s no wonder I’d wind up burning people out without even realizing it.

But last week, I was still in defensive mode. And I still didn’t see anything wrong with that. Until in one excruciatingly painful conversation, I learned that I had burnt through someone’s final reserve of grace towards me. I was stunned.

My first instinct was still to lash out, to deflect the blame. But this time… I knew it was my fault. It cut deep and it absolutely tore me up inside. It exposed things in my heart that needed to change… things that I felt helpless to change on my own… and it drove me back to God in a raw, desperate, genuine way.

I didn’t care about saving face anymore. I didn’t care about protecting myself from the pain anymore. All I wanted was for God to fix what I had so selfishly broken.

And thank God, He is answering that prayer!

I’m not saying that things are “fixed.” But when I cried out to God to fix what I had selfishly broken… He started by breaking something I had selfishly “fixed.”

I had built walls to hide behind, to protect myself, to make myself appear stronger. And the more I felt threatened, the more I re-enforced them from within. I built it with fear and distrust and negativity. The walls thickened until there was almost no room left and my fortress became prison… or a trap. I was stuck.

I justified the walls in a lot of ways. And I called them lot of different things. An introverted personality. Privacy or protection. Being task-oriented. Cultural differences. Panic attacks. Over-committing. Exhaustion. Social anxiety.

But you know what I call them now? Gone!

God hasn’t just given me a much-needed attitude adjustment, He’s torn down the walls and given the kind of fresh start I never imagined possible. It used to be a tremendous struggle, trying to “fake it until I make it.” Now it’s not a struggle. And I’m in awe of what God has done.

I’m now free in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. And I don’t say that lightly or to boast. I understand now perhaps more than ever why Paul had to remind the Galatians to stay free. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1, NASB). I have to stand firm. I can’t go back. The walls of my prison were built from cheap and abundant materials, but I know can’t afford to lay a single brick again.

So as I sit here on Thanksgiving night, I can’t help but thank God for answering the prayer I wasn’t praying and using the situation I never wanted to be in to bring me to the place where He needed me to be.

The subway singer

Last night, for some reason, I wound up with a song stuck in my head. It’s actually a pretty well-known Mexican song from the 1940s, Besame Mucho. It’s been recorded by a lot of famous singers over the years, but the version playing in my head was never recorded. I first heard it on a subway platform ~25 years ago, when I was a teenager attending college in NYC.

The singer was a homeless man who’d sing at one particular station I passed through frequently. It wasn’t one of the busy ones downtown, but it was a transfer station where passengers would get off one train and wait (usually at least one song-length) for another train, providing small but captive audiences at regular intervals.

I can still remember his face. He was an African American man with a salt-and-pepper beard and weathered, leathery-looking skin. The whites of his eyes were noticeably yellow.  His huge smile revealed more than a couple bad teeth. He wasn’t much taller than I was. It was obvious that he’d lived a difficult life.

But his voice was amazing. In a way, he sounded like he looked: bluesy, raspy, gritty, real. He’d set his hat on the ground in front of him so passersby could toss in a few coins, and he’d stand there and sing a cappella, probably for hours. He had many songs in his repertoire, but the only one I really remember is Besame Mucho. I didn’t know that song before I heard him sing it, but something about beauty of the melody, the emotion in his voice, and the expressiveness of his face made it unforgettable to me.

I would drop whatever change I had into his hat. I don’t think I ever asked what his name was. I know I never asked him to tell me his story. And now, looking back, I wish I had, because there must have been a story behind a man who could sing such beautiful love songs, but always seemed to be alone.

I wonder if he ever imagined that 20+ years later, someone would still vividly recall his voice singing Besame Mucho, and still consider it one of the best renditions ever sung.

Add New Post

I’ve been to this page on my blog many times over the last few months… only to be stopped cold at that line: Add New Post.

Well, not that line, really… it’s the line right below it, the one with the ghost text prompting me that I need to “Enter title here.” I tentatively enter a few words and then delete them. Then a few more, and backspace again. I’m stuck.

emptypostCrickets.

I want to write something. Anything. I wouldn’t be looking at this page at all unless I had some seed of an idea, some thought that I wanted to get out. And just an inch or so below that irrationally intimidating title line, there’s a big, open, empty, inviting place where I can just write. But my do-things-in-order brain won’t let me skip the title line and dive right into the body.

So I stare. And ponder. Then open another tab and move on to something else.

I like to write. And I hate to write. So today I’m adding a new post. It’s not perfect. It’s not pretty. But it’s here, because I need to write again. And even if all I can write about is the frustration of trying to write… at least it’s a start.

Because you ask not…

Headache health medicine woman pop art retro style

Does she have a headache… or is she trying to blow up your head?

Six weeks ago, at the beginning of October, I had a horrible, painful, concentration-breaking, sleep-depriving, nasty sinus headache. In the grand scheme of things, not really a big deal. I knew I’d get through it soon enough, I was just going to have to “tough it out.”

Unfortunately, it would appear that I’m not really that good at “toughing it out.”

By day three of my headache, I was getting pretty miserable. Over the counter stuff didn’t seem to be helping. I must have looked about as bad as I felt. My pastor (who is also my boss) noticed and asked if he could pray for me. I gladly accepted, but I wouldn’t have requested prayer myself. Pastor Nathan had just gotten back from visiting with several families in local hospitals. My silly little headache was so trivial and insignificant compared to what those folks were facing.

But right there in the front office/reception area, he prayed for me. And just as he was finishing, his next appointment walked in.

Even if the story ended right there, it still would have been a wonderful, positive experience for me. But it got even better, because the congestion and pressure that had been causing my headache broke up and the pain went away. I could breathe again. I could think again! And apparently, I looked a lot better too.

Even now, a month and a half later, I almost hesitate to write this phrase: but I was healed. I hesitate because I’ve been in churches where there’s a whole lot of bad doctrinal baggage around sickness and healing. I hesitate because in so many church circles, that’s a really loaded statement. And I hesitate most of all because I just have this fear that if I come out and say “I was healed” but then the next day I’m sick again… what then?

I’m not talking about a fear of looking bad in front of people. Lord knows I’m perfectly capable of that without any intervention, divine or otherwise! But here’s the thing: if I step out and tell others that I’ve had God answer a prayer, and then it somehow seems to get undone, how do I process that internally? Was I mistaken, perhaps caught up in the moment emotionally? Or did I do something to undo it? Does my failure to be healed (or some future illness) make God look bad to those who heard my story?

It’s easier to just not say it. So I didn’t.

This was my Facebook status from that afternoon:

Sometimes, when so much “big” stuff is going on around me, I almost feel guilty or even petty for bothering God or others with my “small stuff.” But today, I was reminded that God is big enough and cares enough to handle the big stuff AND my small stuff 🙂

The truth is, I hate intentionally vague statuses like that. I shared something significant without sharing anything significant at all! No one outside of my immediate circle had any idea of what I was really talking about.

I intended to blog more about it back then, but then, you know, life happened, and…

Fast forward to the last 10 days or so. The rest of October was a blur, preparing for “Hallelujah Night,” a carnival-themed Halloween Alternative event. It was a lot of work, but a huge success!

And then I got sick… again. A few days after the event, my stomach started giving me trouble. Nothing serious, I figured I had a bug or it was just all the activity of the previous month finally catching up with me. I dealt with it by trying to be careful about what (and when) I ate. Then this past Sunday morning, it was bothering me enough that I had to leave church as soon as worship was over, and I continued to have issues with it this week.

In our Wednesday evening services, we’ve been working through a series called Gospel Shaped Worship. This week’s topic happened to be prayer. Pastor Nathan shared that he had gone through a period where he was praying mostly general prayers instead of praying for very specific things. And while there’s nothing wrong with general prayers, and we do have to be careful to make our prayers more than just a laundry list of needs and wants, Pastor Nathan found himself challenged to pray more specifically again.

Sometimes we avoid praying specific prayers because we’re afraid we’re not going to get the answer we want. There are examples in the Bible of people who prayed fervently and did not receive what they prayed for. King David prayed that his baby would live (2 Samuel 16). Jesus has even prayed prayers that were not answered the first time he prayed them (Mark 8 / John 17).  When we realize that it’s OK to pray for things, even if we don’t get the desired result, that’s a very freeing thing. Prayer is supposed to be conversational, taking real issues to a real Father who really cares, regardless of what His answer is.

Bro. Nathan also used the story of praying for me with my headache in early October as an example of why we shouldn’t be afraid to bring everything, even the seemingly little things, to God. I had almost forgotten about that day. (How quickly we forget!) As he shared the story from his perspective, I was encouraged and convicted at the same time. I had been dealing with these stomach issues for a week and never once asked for prayer.

At the end of the service last night, Bro. Nathan asked everyone present to pray for him for a foot pain issue, then opened it up to anyone else who wanted prayer. More than half of those present asked for prayer, including me. It wasn’t a huge service, many folks were out of town, but I will probably remember it as one of the “biggest” Wednesday Night services of the year in terms of it’s significance. It was “healing” in more ways than one. It was authentic, genuine, laid back, raw, sweet. It was “church” in the truest sense of that word.

So how’s my stomach? I am feeling better today. I’d love to say it was 100% better, but it’s OK that I’m not there yet. It’s not about a result. It’s about a relationship.

Just As I Am

A minister (whom I respect) likes to say that he won’t have his quiet time until he is showered and dressed for the day. While he believes that this is a good practice and encourages it, he doesn’t teach that everyone has to do it that way. He just feels that being showered and dressed is proper and respectful since he is meeting with the King.

Coming from a background that puts a high value on respect and propriety, especially in ways that are externally measurable, I can understand that perspective. But it also kinda bothered me, even though I couldn’t quite articulate why.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized why that idea never really sat right with me.

I don’t shower before my quiet time. I don’t get dressed for the day. I don’t fix my hair, brush my teeth, check myself in the mirror, or do anything to make myself more presentable. Sometimes, I don’t even crawl out of my bed. Part of that is my desire to truly start the day with quiet time. If I do all that other stuff first, it’s too easy for me to get sidetracked by all the other stuff on my to-do list.

But I realized this week that there’s more to it than that.

In every other interaction I have, I need to get up, shower, get dressed, and at least reach some minimum level of “presentability.” I have to put on my shoes, find my keys, and try not to leave the house without my phone or my ID. I have to perform, to follow a protocol, to try to meet or exceed expectations.

When I have a quiet time, I’m not meeting with the King.

I’m meeting with Abba.

And that’s the only relationship in my life where I don’t have to clean up, play a part, or pretend to be OK even when I’m not. I can come just as I am, no matter how I am at that moment. Yes, I’m meeting with the Maker of the Universe, the King of kings… but He’s also my Abba. I can go to Him without fear in my PJs or in my finest, with tears streaming down my face or the biggest smile in the world. After all, it’s not about me. All the preparation in the world could never make me worthy anyway 🙂