What does it mean today, in 2014, to be a Christian? A lot of things, depending on who you ask. Exclusivity. Inclusiveness. Intolerance. Tolerance. Love. Judgement. Truth. Ignorance. Blind faith. Educated trust. And the thing is, there's at least a tiny grain of truth in most of these descriptions. That's why an unbeliever, someone who hasn't accepted Christ as their personal Savior, can get so confused about what true Christianity is. That's why, at least in part anyway, that in 2014 fewer people than ever are dedicating their lives to Christ in America. Well, let me tell you about one lady's retreat. One woman's encounter with God in the wilderness. And maybe it can shed some light on what it means to be a Christian. How you can spend eternity in Heaven. And a joyful life in this broken world serving a loving God.
"The wilderness" is talked about all throughout Scripture, usually in a literal sense. God takes [Insert Bible Character/Civilization Here] out into the wilderness and teaches him to rely solely on Him rather than his flesh. I mean even Jesus, the pinnacle of all Bible characters, spent time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. Dun Dun DUNNN!! (Side note: In my head when I think of Jesus being tempted by Satan, I always hear that in my head. Dun Dun DUNNN!! So I thought it only appropriate to include it here, in this highly theological interpretation of wilderness experiences. Ahem....I digress.) 40 days in the wilderness. Hungry and thirsty and tired, all the while knowing he was about to embark on the final three years of His life. Jesus experienced the ultimate tempting by the enemy, so that we could read about Him later and know that he felt everything that we feel. He, when He became flesh, endured all of the hardships that we would have to endure in our time here on Earth. (For more on Jesus' time in the wilderness, see Matthew 4:1-11.) God takes each of us through the wilderness in our lives. The times I have described above were literal wilderness experiences, like when God took the Israelites wandering for 40 years. Many of us in today's time experience figurative wilderness experiences. We are in a time of desert in our lives, where we feel like God has forsaken us. Times when we are hurting and sad and lonely and seem farther from Him than we have ever been. But is that true? During desert times are we farther from God, or is he right there next to us? A friend holding our hand, someone catching us when we stumble backwards. A waitress smiling at us from across a cafe counter. A loving stranger handing us a hot cup of coffee. Isn't it true that he's there, even stronger Even closer?
I'm a wife and a mom. I've carried those titles for 8 1/2 and 7 years, respectively. Not too long in the grand scheme of things. But what I also am is a woman. A woman who is not ashamed to say that I needed a break. I don't think there's any shame in me telling you that over the last decade or so, I have gradually come in and out of myself. I like to think of myself as a strong, confident, self assured woman of God. But sometimes....well, I'm human. And sometimes I just get lost. No matter how strong I am, how hard I try....sometimes a girl just finds herself a little lost. Lost in the people she loves and spends so much beautiful time taking care of. Lost in the lists of things she has to do. Just lost. And my sweet God whispered in my ear and told me I needed to take a break. I needed to go and be alone and listen to Him, listen to what purpose He had for me. Purpose I had lost sight of. So I did. Last weekend I packed my bag and headed to a hotel. All by myself on a road trip for the first time in my life. Waiting expectantly for the things God would show me on this weekend alone with Him.
My time in the (literal) wilderness this weekend was a little different than Jesus' and the Israelites. For one, I wasn't hungry. I had just had the complimentary breakfast at the Hampton, and I had packed myself a little shack for the trail. I wasn't thirsty. I carried a conveniently bottled Dasani water in my Adidas backpack....which, I should add, had padded shoulder straps for comfort in my wandering and super cute pink and purple piping around the edges. And I wasn't tired. I had just had a pretty good night's sleep at my hotel, complete with freshly washed sheets and duvet cover. But I was spiritually hungry. And thirsty. And tired. So I listened intently and asked what he wanted of me. I knew that He wanted me to be outdoors. I could feel that deep in my soul. So I drove north where I knew I could find some hiking trails on what promised to be a weekend of absolutely atrocious weather. Torrential Texas thunderstorms and tornado chances, to be exact. But I was obedient. I bought rain boots and a poncho to keep myself dry and set out. It rained my entire drive to the trailhead. I was listening to the songs on my phone as I drove, and in my shuffle came the song Washed by the Water. (Please take a few minutes to listen. Here are lyrics if you're a better reader than a listener.) I was suddenly so thankful for the rain, for how it was washing everything so clean. And I was also thankful for that song, that in a way describes a lot of how I've been feeling and how I had come to that place, on that road into the wilderness. When I parked my car the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I put on my backpack, strapped on my mace (because let's be real, I'm a blonde girl alone in the woods), and donned a red poncho. After about half a mile the trail split. The North Wilderness Trail continued straight, and the Lone Star Trail turned to the left. The day before and that morning as I studied the trail maps, I had the distinct feeling that I was supposed to go straight at this intersection. But on Saturday when it was decision time, I went left. I walked about 40 feet and turned around in my tracks. I was going the wrong way...I was supposed to go straight. I went back to the intersection and headed the direction I was supposed to have gone in the first place. I walked and prayed, asking Him to open my eyes and my heard to what he wanted me to learn from this time alone with Him. I was getting tired (I'm still just 7 weeks or so out of surgery) and needed a clearing to stop and rest. I came to the top of a little hill and saw a bunch of fallen trees below me in a dry creek bed...the perfect place to have my snack and write in my journal. And mind you, this entire time I had been walking (about an hour by this point) there was still minimal rain on a day that was supposed to be a soaker. I sat down and ate my snack and then took out my journal and poured out my heart to God. Told Him where I was, what I needed. Asked Him what He needed from me. What He wanted me to keep the same and how He wanted me to change to become the type of woman that He needs me to be. [Side note: I want to take a second to make mention of this: there is a lot more I could tell you. I could bare my soul and lay it all out there. All the details of my struggle and what's in my heart. But then, what does it become? Is it still a story of one woman's walk with God, or has it turned into a place for you to read my dirty laundry. The details aren't important, because we all have our own unique details. What is important is that the solution is the same.....the answer to all of these unique details is in one unique God.] As I sat and wrote I listened to the sounds around me, the sounds of nature that are hard to hear in the loud suburban world I live in. At one point I heard the wind pick up behind me, bringing big fat rain drops. The rain hit the autumn leaves and knocked them off the trees as it approached my back. I felt two of these fat drops hit the top of my hat and then they stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief that my journal and I would stay dry. I kept writing, and as I did this same thing happened two more times. The rain would approach and then stop right before it got to me. I said a prayer of thanks as I packed up my backpack and began to walk back to my car. I was so thankful for the day, for the beauty of the wilderness I was in despite the clouds. I took off my hat so I could see even more of the beauty around me and enjoyed each minute of that walk in a way that I can't describe in words. I felt light and free and even sang a little as I walked. When I came to the intersection of the two trails, I decided that I wanted to keep walking. I wasn't ready to go back to the car, so I went down the Lone Star Trail that I had left so quickly earlier. About .25 miles down the trail I noticed puddles. It was so wet. Much more wet than the trail I had been on most of the day. And then I realized....all of the rain that had been behind my back, it had been falling on that trail. The trail I had turned around from, the one God had guided me away from. When I realized this I stopped and smiled and a tear came to my eye when I remembered this scripture:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
Just like the scripture says, I wasn't supposed to turn left. I was supposed to go straight. But when I turned I heard Him. I heard him tell me to turn around and go back the way he had been telling me for two days to go. Almost like He said "Come on K. Listen to me girl. I'm trying to meet you here. Trying to guide you. Just let me." And when I did, when I listened and let him guide me, he protected me. He kept me dry and warm and he spoke to me. He talked to me in that clearing in a way that he may not have if I had kept going left. He let me feel guidance and protection and direction that I hadn't felt in a long time. And because he loves me (Isaiah 43:4), he was patient with me and nudged me back in the right direction when I turned off course. Just like I (try my best) do with my kids because I love them.
So after all this....all this that I've told you....what is a Christian? A Christian is a person. A person who has a personal relationship with a living God. A God who speaks to your heart. A God who lives deep inside your soul. A God who absolutely adores you as if you are the only person in the world and wants nothing more than for you to love and serve Him with all your heart. Have you ever experienced that kind of love? Well, I can tell you how to get it. I can help you find it. Just ask me. I would be so so happy to tell you how. Because something this sweet, I just can't keep to myself.
Taking this all into consideration, for the sake of transparency, I will tell you that my retreat into the wilderness didn't cure all of my problems. I am still hungry and thirsty and tired. But I know that there is an end to my wandering. He promises me there will be an end. I just have to keep walking with Him a little longer until I get there.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
'He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4
Here are a few pictures from my weekend.
What does a city girl wear hiking? Well lemme showya. Comfy knee high socks, rain boots with a gold zipper up the back (eeeek so so cute), some Nike Pros and a Columbia vest. Done.
Some of the scenery
The creek bed where I stopped for my quiet time.
The famous intersection. Rain to the left, but dry as a bone straight ahead.