My Story (part 18)

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

I have never been fearful of the future. Like many, I have had apprehensions, questions, concerns, and desires. But, I think so many of us are so eager to see what is next, we forget to live in the moment and appreciate the “now.” So anxious to seek immediate gratification and see the fruits of our labor, that we forget to appreciate the journey.  There are massive transitional phases in all of our lives: the movement from middle school to highschool, the movement from highschool to college, the movement from college to the “real world”. Transitions from workplaces, the leap of marriage, the transition to parenthood, among countless others. All of which involve change, vulnerability, and a step into the “unknown.” A lot of times we want to execute these transitions perfectly, and I found my circumstance no different entering into my senior year of college.  I wanted to control every minute of my time–dictate my future, iron out my plans, call all of the shots when it came to planning my future. But, God had a different game plan. And He wasn’t shy to coach me…

After recognizing His request for the next level of control, I found myself humbled in thought.  I continued to pray, asking Him to make clear His plans. It was a shot in the dark, but I was hoping He would at least give me a little feedback.  Without hesitation, He flooded my heart in a sea of realizations. Realizations that, up until that point, I had refused to acknowledge and come to terms with.  I quickly came to realize that, though I knew He had forgiven me, long ago, for my sins and my dark past, I had yet to truly forgive myself.  I carried my guilt like a sac full of weights and allowed it to slow me in my pursuit of Him. He made it clear to me that what He desired was a fast. An intimacy fast. Though I knew close to nothing about the concept of fasting, He assured me that He would teach me. He simply asked that I oblige, and He promised He would make His purpose clear in time. He made clear to me that, in accepting His challenge to complete the year-long intimacy fast, I would not only grow closer to Him, but I would also grow closer to my own heart.  It was not going to be easy, by any stretch, but He laid on my heart the purpose my journey would serve and the impact it would have on others.

So, after a great deal of thought, I entered back into prayer with my King and accepted. I willingly gave Him the next level of control and I promised Him my loyalty. Promised Him that I would show Him a mere crumb of the faithfulness He had always shown me. In my ignorance, I guess, I expected that to be the end of such a fantastic moment.  I suppose I assumed that He would smile on me and I would continue on my way to Baton Rouge, left to figure out the rest in time. But, low and behold, He almost startled me when He spoke AGAIN!…

Now go. Tell everyone. Tell everything.

What?!  Tell everyone?! EVERYTHING? What kind of test was this? I had already accepted His challenge of an intimacy fast, which was going to be tough enough, and now He wanted me to tell everyone? Everything!? I soon found myself back in a one-sided argument. I couldn’t believe that He wanted me to share everything. My past, my present, my future. There was so much pain, so much vulnerability, so many embarrassing mistakes. He couldn’t possibly be asking me to share everything. Who would even care to listen?  (Again, I’m amazed at the patience of our King 🙂 ) I must have rambled on for an hour about every fear and apprehension I had in regards to laying everything out there for the world to know. Where was my sense of privacy? Wasn’t my walk supposed to be kept between myself and my King? If You are desiring intimacy, why are You asking me to open the door for everyone to look inside? After again exhausting myself in thought, I stopped. Finally just stopped and listened again. Hoping, deep down, He would change His mind and ask for something a little bit easier…

Now go. Tell everyone. Tell everything.

Well, there was no dodging that bullet. haha. So I took a moment, sat back, and reminded myself of the prayer I had prayed just a few miles back. “I love You. Help me to love You more. I know You. Help me to know You more.” He was answering my prayer. Maybe not in the form or fashion that I had envision, but, then again, our lives are not our own pictures to paint.

So I accepted. I accepted His request for the next level of control. I accepted His challenge of an intimacy fast. I accepted His request for my journey to be publicized. I knew that He had blessed me with a platform for a purpose, I just wasn’t sure how I was going to use it…

(to be continued…almost done!)

Advertisements

My Story (part 17)

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass … Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:4,7

Two hours into my drive, my mind was exhausted from juggling all of the information that had flooded over me during the new year. I had yet to take it all to prayer because, in my ignorance, I wanted to figure it all out on my own.  I wanted to have a “game plan” going into my conversation with God so I could be prepared to dodge anything outside of my comfort zone.  (I’m amazed at how patient He is with us 🙂 ) Finally, I gave up on trying to put the puzzle pieces together on my own.  Disgruntled and frustrated, I turned off my radio, let out a grunt, tossed my game plan to the wind, and dove into prayer…

What do you want from me?! What are you asking for here? I have been faithful, I have been following You, I have been disciplined. What more do You want?!  I’m trying the best I can…I’ve already sacrificed so much…what more can I possibly give?!

With all of that pent-up frustration finally off my chest, I took in a deep breath. I have come to learn, in my spiritual walk, to never expect an immediate response. That patience is key when you are searching for answers. Patience is key to a balanced sense of discernment.  That is why it stunned me when, as quickly as I had cried out, He responded!…

Give Me the next level of control…

In those 7 simple words, my heart was moved. It felt like an earthquake shook through me and the doors of a dam within my spirit burst open.  It was simple. Beautiful. A request of unbelievable magnitude, but of humbling nature.  I had been faithful, yes. And I had been disciplined in the pursuit of Him, yes. But what He was asking for was more.

You see, we live in a world where complexity is synonymous with success. Where things must be so complicated in order to encompass inclusion for all. Where there is no simple answer or definitive position, because everyone has an excuse or an exception or a reason as to why not. But God is the exact opposite. He is simple. He asks for so little. It is all very black and white. He grants us free will; grants us the right of choice.  We can choose to follow Him, or we can choose not to. If we choose to follow Him, what He asks for is simple–to give Him complete and total control.  To empty ourselves of “us” and allow Him to fill us with His light. He desires to protect us and to love us, unconditionally. He desires a relationship with us–for us to give Him the reigns and allow Him to lead us for His purpose. Though that is a request of unbelievable magnitude since we, as humans, are wired to be self-centered and in control, it is also a request of beauty. He just wants us to love Him and to trust Him. He asks for nothing without the promise of greater return. Return in our earthly lives, and return in the form of salvation.

With those 7 simple words placed on my heart, I was almost embarrassed at the ignorance I had shown in my state of self-serving frustration.  His request was so beautiful. True, I had given Him some control earlier in my walk, but He had worked on my heart in that time. He had been preparing me, slowly and methodically. And now, He had deemed that I was ready, and He had asked for just a little bit more. You see, God is not so ignorant as to think that the minute we acknowledge Him, we are all capable of turning our lives over to Him 100%. That is nearly impossible. He evaluates us, assures us that He will never give us more than we can handle, and tailors a walk for each of us.  He prepares us, nurtures us, and when we are truly ready for His next request, He asks for more from us.

If I could have fallen to my knees in that moment, I would have. My body was made limp in His moment.  It took me a while to compose myself, but when I did, I stepped back into prayer…

I am Yours. I give You control. I love You so much. Help me to love You more. I know You. Help me to know You more.

I must have prayed that prayer 500 times within the next hour. I was so humbled at His feet.  It was all I could do to express the energy in my heart.  I asked Him to reveal to me what He wished for me to know, and I promised Him I would fulfill His request.  Then, I waited…

(to be continued)

 

My Story (part 16)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Recognizing such a heavy calling on my heart was not easy, by any means.  I was confused as to why God was asking me to step out of such a healthy relationship. Confused as to whether or not I was making the right decision.  But we serve a faithful King, and though I knew I may not see the reason immediately, I trusted that His plan would be revealed to me in time.  I trusted in Christ and walked away in November.

If you are confused as to what I mean when I refer to “having a calling placed on my heart” or “being challenged by Christ”, let me break from the story for a moment to explain.  Everyone who pursues a relationship with Christ communicates with Him differently. There is no easy explanation. My prayer life is an open, running dialog with our King. He’s my best friend, so I am talking to Him and praying throughout the entire day, every day. Though I don’t hear some booming voice speaking back to me, I know that He is listening. I can feel Him, deeply. I can recognize when God is “calling me” to do something because, generally, it is an idea or a thought that comes into my mind that I would have never conjured up on my own.  A feeling or a motivation to do something that is so far outside of what our society deems “normal”, that it would be so easy to dismiss and ignore.  It takes a good deal of discernment to recognize what is True, but the more I have grown in my relationship with Him, and the more I have made sacrifices that He asks of me, the more I have been rewarded and seen the fruits of His grace. So now-a-days, I listen. (Again, however, that is something I will go into much more detail about later in the year).

Around the beginning of the new year in 2011, I suddenly found this radical thought popping into my mind. Immediately, I dismissed it, laughed it off as an impossibility, and went along my way. But this calling hung around. It continued to present itself and I continued to shoot it down.  It presented itself in different forms and fashions, different moments and phases. This challenge was chasing me and, as many of teammates know, I’m not the fastest runner (haha). Try to share not even a kiss with anyone for a year. Try to share not even a kiss with anyone for a year. Try to share not even a kiss with anyone for a year…

Are you kidding me, God? Is this some type of practical joke? I know you’re a funny guy, but I’m not really laughing at this one. I’m a 21-year old entering my senior year of college. Get real. What if I meet someone? A WHOLE YEAR? It’s an impossibility and I’m not in the mood…place that calling on someone else, but not me. What’s the point? How is that going to help me grow in my faith?

I came up with every excuse in the book. I grappled back and forth with the thought and kept trying to shake it. I refused to take it to prayer with Him, because I was convinced that if I just didn’t acknowledge it, it would go away.  But God knew who He was working with. He knew I’m as stubborn as a mule and He knew I needed that extra push. So, as I was loading up my car to head back to Baton Rouge for Spring term, He slapped me across the face with a clear sign…

As I walked upstairs into the kitchen to say goodbye to my mom, I noticed a sermon she had playing on TV. The minister was preaching on the practice of fasting.  Spiritual fasting? I didn’t know that was something that Christians practiced.  I had never heard much about it and had never come across it in my readings; it certainly wasn’t something that my family ever actively practiced.  I was captivated by this man’s words and I started asking my mom question after question about this concept. What was a spiritual fast? Where does it talk about it in the Bible? Why is it done? Is it just done with food? How long do people generally fast? My mom tried her best to answer all of my questions, but I could feel a flame of curiosity igniting inside my mind and I was hungry for more knowledge. Hungry to know what this man was talking about and how it pertained to me. I was oblivious to the fact that God was shoving a sign so clearly in my face, but I imagine He was sitting in heaven watching the whole scene with a bit of a grin on His face…simply waiting for me to come to Him with my questions.

Little did I know at that moment, that 8 hour drive back to the bayou was going to host the longest, most amazing conversation that I have ever had with my King…

(to be continued)

My Story (part 15)

“Whoever walks with the wise will become wise; whoever walks with fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Even though I was not at the pinnacle of my game due to the time spent in recovery from the accident and the immediacy of the invitation to camp, I was still able to have a fantastic showing with the National Team and was provided a platform to continue my discipleship.

The next portion of my testimony will be vague, because it is a topic that I want to climb much deeper into later during the year. A topic I feel will be most beneficial for younger adults and friends around my age.  However, I want to include a tag to this relationship within my story, because it provided more guidance, strength, and encouragement than any I have come across before. And it also plays a part in why I have taken on the challenge of remaining “Kissless ’till Next Christmas”.

A spiritual mentor of mine once taught me a lesson that I will carry with me for all of my days. He informed me that: a woman should never pursue a man. A woman should pursue a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. In turn, Christ will then inspire the man, constructed perfectly for her, to pursue her heart.  And in doing so, the man will be drawn closer to God as well.

It seems cliché to say that as soon as you stop looking to find someone, someone comes along. However, that was precisely what happened to me half a year after my accident.  At the same time that God was rewarding me with the splendor of athletic progress, he also sent a man into my life whom I will respect and cherish forever. A man I was not looking for. A man I did not plan on finding. But a man who walked so humbly into my life, that I couldn’t help but take notice.

I met Joey when I was sharing my testimony at a FCA in Louisiana. An excellent musician, he was there leading praise and worship for the group.  The minute I met him, I was entranced. He was my complete opposite. Shy, reserved, a man of few words. He was not my “type”, not my taste. But I was mesmerized. There was something different about him.  Something I couldn’t put my finger on. His eyes told a story of his purpose. He was unfazed by the standards of our society. Unamused by the earthly manifold. He was living for One–and it shined through him.

Quite commonly known, 1 Corinthians 15:13 instructs us, “Do not be mislead. Bad company corrupts good character.” In turn, there are countless other verses in the Bible that assure us of the inverse. Assure us that, in surrounding ourselves with the right people and those in pursuit of Truth, our hearts can be nurtured and our spirits can grow.

Over the course of the next 6 months, Joey and I journeyed through the most Christ-centered relationship that I have ever known.  It was beautiful. It was simple. It was pure, and it was healthy. It was a relationship of purpose and a relationship of love. Love for one another, but above all else, love for our King.  Each pursuing Christ on our own separate walks, we were able to encourage one another, challenge one another, and inspire one another to grow.  Joey was a man of conviction. He was exceptional. A man who believes every single word in the pages of the Bible and applies them, first and foremost, in every single thing he does in his life. He was a man that had a past, like many, but a man that had a future. A future with our King.

Being surrounded in the company of such conviction and strength taught me more about our Lord than any bible study lesson or church service ever had before.  Because I was not simply sitting and listening to words, I was observing a man living them out to the best of his ability. Stumbling and slipping at times, but picking himself back up and continuing his journey to Christ. He was like a horse with blinders on. He had one focus, and that focus was salvation. That focus was our King. All else in his life fell perfectly into place, because he recognized true importance and invested his whole heart into it.

You may be wondering, why then, I ended my relationship with Joey–as swiftly and as bluntly as the turning of a page.  But the answer to that lies in my current calling. The answer to that can only be described in feeling. A feeling God placed on my heart and a mission He desired that I fulfill. A mission that would impact so many more than just myself…

(to be continued)

My Story (part 14)

“The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands, He rewarded me…” Psalms 18:20

It would be foolish to believe that the moment any one of us accepts Jesus Christ into our hearts, that Satan steps back, counts his losses, and moves on to torment another.  That is far from the truth.  You see, as I said before, Satan is bitter. Resentful. And keen.  Individuals in pursuit of a closer relationship with Christ are not exempt from hardship or suffering or misfortune–in fact, they are often targeted. Tested. Tempted. Satan continues to wage war and continues to tease.  The difference? This time, those who have accepted Christ into their hearts enter battle with a new army surrounding.  An army so extensive in number, that the ranks flood the battlefield like a sea of unyielding power. With the strength of a King on their side and the love of a gentle Father picking them up when they are knocked down.  With the confidence of a warrior fighting for the purpose of good–fighting for the purpose of grace–fighting for the purpose of salvation. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather give control to the King of all Kings and fight for His cause. I would enter battle any day of the week knowing I am surrounded by that kind of strength.

Recovery from my accident was not quick, nor easy.  Physically, my body took a great deal of time to heal.  I had to take “incompletes” in my courses and remain home in Georgia, bound to a bed, for close to two months.  In that time, there was a great deal of physical pain. Complications to my condition put me back in and out of the hospital, and the mending of my broken bones was often nauseating and  debilitating.  Most severely, the bruising to my brain left me unable to put together complete sentences. Unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings into the proper words. Unable to speak without the handicap of a stutter.

However, the physical pain and the repercussions of my injuries were futile and petty.  For my heart was strong–surrounded by an impenetrable armor and overflowing with strength and grace.  I was like a young school girl enamored by a new love. I was captivated by my God and hungry to grow in my faith.  Hungry to grow in the Word. Hungry to learn more, do more, and feel more.  Hungry to be His priestess and share of His light and His power.

Returning to school for Spring of 2010, I was mending, but still  physically handicapped.  I entered into extensive physical and neurological rehabilitation.  Though I was suffering from sever post-concussive syndrome and still walking around in a fog, I was able to complete my finals from the previous semester and stay on track with my courses in the new year.  After close to 6 months of recovery and 6 months of walking hand-in-hand with my King, I was finally cleared by the neurologist and back in functioning form.  I had been purged of my stutter and only felt remnants of the after-effects from my injuries.  (Still to this day I have some short-term memory issues, but I know I will be healed of that, too, in time).  I had worked, relentlessly, with the strength of my King, to get my body back into playing form and to build myself, as an athlete, back up from my broken state.

I find it enthralling to sit back and see the works of our God. We serve a God with an unbelievable sense of timing. And an unbelievable sense of humor.  A day doesn’t pass where I don’t laugh at His splendor. He shows himself in the most terrific manners.  It was not even a week after I was finally cleared by my neurologist that my phone rang.  Confused by the unidentified number, I hesitantly answered and sat on the phone, in a state of shock, for close to 10 minutes.  When the individual on the other line hung up, I dropped my phone, leaned back in the chair in the middle of Middleton Library, threw my hands up towards the heavens and simply laughed.  Laughed and felt His grace fall like rain.  The individual on the other line was a representative from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. I had just been invited to compete with the U-23 U.S. Women’s National Team in Portland for a week. What a fantastic sense of timing our Lord has… 🙂

(to be continued)

My Story (part 13)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Inspired by a new strength, I sat up in a bewildered state.  My head was burning and my body was throbbing, but I felt nothing other than the will to move. To get out. To tell anyone with ears of the grace I had felt.

The next thing I remember, I heard a hesitant voice stab the silence. My ears seemed to perk up like a curious dog’s and I dragged my body towards the edge of my car.  I saw a light bouncing off of the shattered glass beneath me and heard the voice coming closer. I then saw a man’s gentle face pressed towards the ground, peering into my car.  He had a look of such worry, a look of such concern. A look that I can only describe as the look of a man preparing to see death.

My memory from then comes only in flashes–like photo frames reeling through my mind. The sight of his face. The sound of my voice straining to whisper words to him. The sight and feel of my hand reaching through the shattered window and touching the cold, wet grass. The sound of his voice. And then numbing darkness…

My mom spoke to that man on the phone, a few days after the crash.  Apparently, he had been driving with his wife and seen my lights in the distance. Out of curiosity, he stopped to check out the scene. That is when he discovered my vehicle and found me. Of all the people who could have possibly come across me on that night, this man was a retired paramedic and a member of the Navy (if that is not God showing off His grace, I don’t know what is!) In fear, the man had approached the vehicle with a flashlight, looked inside, and found me looking back towards him.  He told my mom that he expected to find a dead, mangled body. He told her that he tried asking me questions, tried directing me on how to escape, and tried checking to see if I was coherent. Then he told her that all I kept repeating were 3 simple words–God is beautiful. God is beautiful. God is beautiful. He said that I was smiling, proclaiming the beauty that I’d seen.

When I awoke, I was strapped in a bed. I remember looking over and seeing a paramedic..a very cute paramedic. In true Mo Isom fashion, I milked the situation and stretched out my arm, beckoning for him to hold my hand. He squeezed my hand and told me that he was just waiting to see me wake up.  Determined to make the most of the soap-opera moment, I believe I said something along the lines of, “I’ll never let go, Jack.” Realizing I was fine (and also a smartass), he dropped my hand, smiled, and left the room. That portion of the story is completely irrelevant, but I had to throw it in there for a good laugh. 🙂

My stay in the hospital was a blur. Ominous machines, tedious scans, countless x-rays. Needles, blood, IVs. Pain, fatigue, restlessness. My mom and sister’s arrival. My mom and sister revealing that they had snuck my dogs in inside of their jackets to brighten my spirits. My dogs peeing on things and barking. My dogs jumping on my fractured ribs and unhooking my IV. My mom and sister being asked to leave the hospital and remove the dogs. My mom and sister sneaking back in. It was a time of physical pain, but a time of overwhelming joy. Emotional joy and spiritual joy. Though my body was mangled and broken, my heart had been made anew.

In the wreck, I had broken my neck–fractured a vertebrae at the top of my spine. I had fractured the ribs down the left side of my body and sustained severe contusions to my lungs and liver.  I had damaged my face, my eye and my jaw. Most severely, I had contusions to my brain.  I was severely concussed and had bruising on my brain, but I was alive. And I was Saved. I was renewed in the Holy Spirit and I was unshakably, unmistakably a servant to my King!…

(to be continued)

<left: recovering in the hospital and, naturally, giving the vulcan salute 🙂 >

<below: my Jeep Liberty in the salvage lot after being turned right-side-up and towed from the crash site >

My Story (part 12)

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

(The next portion of this story is graphic, but continues to serve a beautiful purpose.  So bear with the gore and grit of the next few paragraphs if you are easily sickened or squeamish…)

I don’t know how much time passed between the accident and the moment I regained consciousness, but when I awoke, everything was very dark and very quiet. The air was as still as a placid lake and my mind was fogged and burning. I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, but I could feel. I woke myself up coughing. I could feel the seatbelt cutting into the skin on my neck and realized I was hanging upside down, dangling like a limp ragdoll. Blood was draining from my mouth and seeping into my nose, choking me and causing me to gag.  And with each cough, more blood boiled up from my chest. Unable to breath, I squirmed and writhed, trying to relieve the pressure on my lungs. But I was pinned, strung from my seatbelt and unable to wrap my head around the balance of a world turned upside down.

Realizing that my writhing was only causing more pain, I stopped and hung stationary, limp. I could still only feel. So, I started at my toes and began moving each body part slowly and methodically. Toes. Knees. Fingers. Arms. One-by-one, I moved each limb. Making sure that I was all in one piece.  Making sure nothing was broken beyond repair. But the energy it drew from me to think and to move, quickly faded into a foggy exhaust. I felt the heat of my boiling blood rising into my throat and, after taking a rasping breath, drifted out of consciousness again…

The next thing I remember, I awoke on the ceiling of my car. I still don’t know how I was able to squirm from my tangled seatbelt, but I found myself sprawled atop a field of debris and glass that had compiled inside the vehicle.  Dazed and confused, I sat up and tried to gain sight. A tight stream of light broke through my left eye and I realized I could partially see. I couldn’t figure out why my sight was so limited. Couldn’t figure out why my right eye was so numb. So, I tried making a noise. Tried screaming for help. But in my attempt to spew words, I instead spewed hot blood. I vomited and felt my throat strain and tighten.  I tried to draw a deep breath in, but couldn’t muster any power or steam from my lungs. I felt choked and muffled. Unable to utter an audible sound. Exhausted, I laid down and found my mind wandering into an unknown state…

You see, in my attempt to avoid hitting the deer, I had lost control of my car at 80 miles per hour. I had hit an embankment and flipped my vehicle 3 and a half times, narrowly avoiding a steel sign-pole and, instead, slamming into a tree mid-roll. The impact of the crash had ripped the front of my Jeep clean off and stripped the engine from the vehicle–leaving a mass of twisted steel and automotive debris, with my body trapped inside.

At that moment, I was completely vulnerable. Broken and raw and stripped of control. Fragile and accessible–at the mercy of the earth. I was completely alone. I was left trapped at 1:30 in the morning, no witnesses in sight, tangled amidst the stern tree trunks that lined the road.

And at that moment, that moment of complete vulnerability, that moment of raw and naked fear, I have never felt more at ease. I have never in my life felt more safe. I have never in my life felt more fearless, or comforted, or REAL. I felt something that I pray every single person has the opportunity to feel in their lifetime–I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I felt wrapped in the grace and the heart of our KING! I felt consumed by the Holy Spirit and completely assured of my purpose and my worth. I felt the arms of my daddy wrapped around me and the hands of God holding me. I felt GOD. I felt purpose. And I felt LIFE.

It was in that very moment, on that eerie November night, that I fully committed my life to Jesus Christ. Bloodied and beaten and bruised–I was beautiful in His eyes. Helpless and vulnerable and broken–I was comforted by His touch. I had escaped the grip of Satan and had grasped the warm hands of my King. I was never letting go. I was captivated…

(to be continued)

My Story (part 11)

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

As I pulled back onto the interstate, I noticed a heavy fog. A fog that seemed to have gained density in the short time I was filling up my tank. A fog that eerily blanketed the road’s surface and swirled up from the grassy median like a thick stew. It was foreboding, but I was re-energized–and ready to make my way home.  It was 1:30 in the morning and, as far as I could see, I was the only car on the road. I turned my stereo on and began to pick up speed, watching the small yellow road lines dash past my front tire at a faster and faster pace. I pressed the accelerator until my Jeep’s speedometer read 80 mph, and cruised into the darkness towards home.

The next portion of my story is pulled only from what I can remember. If there are gaps missing and portions that seem vague, you will understand why as you read.

With my SUV speeding down the interstate at 80, I found that my mind was falling under a bit of a spell–fatigued and mesmerized by the reflecting lights zipping past my car like fireflies.  I was traveling down the left lane, and watching the road ahead of me, when all of a sudden I saw a mass spring out from the right side of the road. As my headlights sprayed light onto the figure, I caught sight of two beady eyes, mirroring my shock and fear. A deer stood paralyzed before me, stationary in its perilous tracks.

Out of pure reaction, I swerved left and found myself bumping and pounding through the knotted, grassy center median. With my tires twisting and jerking through the rugged terrain, it was all I could do to keep my hands on the wheel and keep control of the car. I knew that I had to get back on the road, but the power and force of the jerking wheel proved to be a challenge to control.

I squeezed tight to the damp leather and pulled, as hard as I could, to steer the tires back towards the right. I pulled so hard, it caused my upper body to turn towards my passenger seat in the struggle. And when I did that, time suddenly stood very still…

In the passenger seat of my car sat a very familiar man. A man whose smile I had missed for so long. A man whose eyes were so soft and gentle, that I swore they could see through to my heart. In the passenger seat sat my daddy.

His appearance was warm and relaxing.  His eyes hung heavy, but bright. His skin took on the bronzed glow I had remembered so fondly. And strung across his face was a simple, subtle smile. A grin that curled the edges of his lips and showed a hint of that magnificent dimple. A smile that served to say, “Relax. Breath. Know that I am here. Know that I am holding you.”

I don’t know why I saw my daddy that night. I don’t know why he appeared in that moment. But I do know he was real. He was tremendous. I swear I could have reached out and touched him. I could smell his sweet cologne. I could feel his arms wrapped tight around me. I could see that assuring smile. And as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone again…

When time snapped back, I was speeding back up towards the road. The next thing I knew, my tires were slicing back across the fogged pavement and charging straight towards the right, wooded embankment. In an attempt to regain control, I tried to pull my wheel back towards the left, but it was then that I hit the deep divot.

They say that drunk drivers often survive the crashes they are in because their bodies are so relaxed that they flow with the movement of the car. (Well, I most definitely was NOT drunk, but) I realize now one purpose of my father’s appearance. He had relaxed me. His smile had assured me and his essence had put my muscles at ease. In such a terrifying, gut-wrenching moment, I found that rather than tensing with fear and adrenaline, I lost control of my muscles and tendons. My arms fell limp and my body gave way to the force that was overwhelming my car.

The next thing I remember was the realization that equilibrium was off. The realization that I no longer had control. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in, and then, was overwhelmed by sound. Crashing! Tearing! Shattering! Twisting! Pounding! Cranking! Wrenching! Reeling! Cracking! Then, a final SLAM! And everything went black…

(to be continued)

My Story (part 10)

“A righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” Psalms 34:19

No wound heals quickly. No gash is mended by freshly born skin as swiftly as we all would like.  Every scrape, cut, and burn scabs.  And many times, we find ourselves frustrated when, in our anxious movement after the pain has subsided, we tear those scabs wide open again. In our haste, we are again exposed to the slicing pain we first felt. But given time, and care and patience, those wounds scab again and eventually scar.  Allowing us to be sewn like new, but always leaving behind a mark of our misfortune.  A reminder of the pain we endured. A reminder of the lessons we learned.

Taking a stand against the spiritual warfare that was ripping me apart, I found myself scabbed.  I was tender and uncomfortable and often very vulnerable, but I was beginning to heal.  In the time that I was regaining strength, I was often too anxious. Often naive. I often mistook minor progress for complete redemption and, in turn, fell back into temptation and tore open those scabs, yet again. Re-exposing myself to the pain that had overwhelmed me before. Re-exposing myself to the fear. I was slowly rebuilding my strength, but Satan was not going to let me go without a fight…

If there is one thing I have learned through my athletics and my adversities, it is that this society tells us that everything must be immediate–everything must be done at speed. Fast communication. Fast food. Fast schedules. Fast progress. Fast relationships. Speed, speed, speed. What our world takes for granted is that things of true value, things of importance, take time. There are no shortcuts or quick-fixes. No miracle drugs or instant solutions.  Things of purpose are developed and strengthened gradually. (But again, that is another topic for another blog post for another day.)

As I was slowly gaining strength, Satan was quickly gaining fury.  As I began to deny him, he began to grow angry. I was not walking, yet, arm-in-arm again with my King, but I was trying to crawl from my captor. Trying to steal away in the night when Satan wouldn’t notice or see me leave. But he is keen, he is sharp–he is resentful. And he did notice. He was going to try anything to keep me captive. Anything to handicap my progress. Anything to keep me in his sinful snare.

I find it funny, at times, to sit back and look at the works of our God. To sit back and watch, how desperately, Satan tries to wage an un-winnable war. To sit back and watch the grace that God shows to those who seek Him. It’s amusing, truly. Amusing to watch the futile attempts the Devil makes. Painful, but amusing.

It was November 24th that Satan made his boldest effort to stop my progress, once and for all. Nearing the one-year anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was making headway. I was beginning to heal and beginning to seek my King’s face once again.  God was forgiving. Overjoyed. Like a mother welcoming home her son from the war, my God was genuinely delighted–welcoming me back with open arms.

It had been a long day in Baton Rouge. The semester was winding down and preparations for our finals exams were underway.  The soccer season had just come to a close and it was time to take a brief break for Thanksgiving. A break I so desperately needed. An opportunity to see my beautiful mom. An opportunity to wrap my arms around my loving sister. Two women that had worked so hard and so relentlessly throughout the year to pick up the pieces of my dad’s mess. To reorganize our lives and save our family from destruction. (I could write a book about the bravery and work ethic of my mom and my sister in the months following my dad’s disappearance, but that book would be colossal in size, and it is a story still being written…)

My day had been filled with distraction after distraction…task after task that arose and further hampered by departure home.  I was going to drive back to Georgia. An 8 hour drive. A drive I had made so many times before. And I was anxious. Eager…eager to leave that day. Eager to leave that moment.

By the time I finally finished everything I had to do and hit the road, it was nearing 5 p.m. When I pulled onto the interstate, one thing became very apparent–I was not the only one eager to head home that day. In fact, the entire population of Baton Rouge seemed to have their cars parked on the freeway.

After two hours, I had moved roughly 2 miles.  The traffic finally broke free and cars poured from the deadlock like salmon excitedly swimming up-stream. So I drove. And drove. And drove. I watched the hours click by on my car stereo clock and I felt fatigue setting in. Finally, I stopped for gas and saw a sign that indicated I was 100 miles from Atlanta. So close! Finally. I was rejuvenated in spirit and ramped back onto the interstate for the final leg of my journey. Little did I know, Satan had other plans. It was about to become a VERY long night…

(to be continued)

My Story (part 9)

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the Truth with your neighbor, for we are all members of one another” Ephesians 4:25

In my attempt to balance the two powers fighting within my heart, I became something so dangerous, so counterproductive, so misguided, that I left imprints of impurity and confusion along my course.  In my attempt to balance the two powers overwhelming me, I became a false witness.

For those unfamiliar, a false witness is a person who deliberately gives false testimony, or lies.  In a Christian sense, a person who proclaims to know God and speaks of His Truth, but their actions reflect the complete opposite.  Essentially, someone who “talks the talk”, but does not “walk the walk”. The 10 Commandments, in the simplest of terms, are a list of moral standards that Christians strive to live by–a list of the most important, most essential rules.  The Ninth Commandment in the series is simple, direct, and powerful…”Thou shalt not bear false witness…”

In my attempt to control my own life, I was breaking one of the 10 most important rules. On a topic of the utmost importance, I was saying one thing and doing another, likely leaving the individuals I crossed paths with confused and bewildered. Likely leaving individuals, who had the opportunity to see the light of Christ through me, exposed to the twisted maze of Satan’s games.

It’s important for me to share something at this moment. Important for me to break from my story for a minute and humble myself to you. So please read these words with care and with sincerity. Please know that what I say, I truly mean from the deepest caverns of my heart…

To those I affected along my dark journey, I am deeply and truly sorry.  For those I confused, for those I mistreated, for those I neglected…I am so sorry.  I offer up my self, offer up my pride. Whether you felt the repercussions then or have felt them in any way since, I can’t apologize deeply enough.  For the boys I gave pieces of myself to along the way, I’m sorry you weren’t able to see Truth through me. I’m sorry if I confused you, and sorry if I took anything from your heart, as well. I’m sorry I was a false witness and I can only pray, that from this day on, you see what God is doing through me. And you know that what you saw then was not real and was not pure.  What you saw then was not God.

I digress again, back to the fall of 2009.  My sophomore soccer season was not easy without my dad.  Still hosting a battle of epic proportions in my heart, stepping onto the soccer field without my biggest fan in the stands was emotional. Exhausting. Trying.  But the sport that had welded my father and I so tightly together for so many years proved to be a cathartic release. It was an escape that my heart needed. An escape that came at just the right time.

I was on a crash-course for destruction prior to stepping back onto that field.  And though it was an extremely slow and gradual process, as the season progressed and each game slid by, I could feel a layer of the numbness slowly peeling back.  I could feel hints of joy again. The competitive drive that existed so deep in my being sent sparks of hope that gradually accumulated, gradually reignited a fire in my soul. A fire that soon gave me the strength to take a stand. Take a stand against the waging forces that were tearing me apart. Take a stand against the dark feelings that were pulling at my strings like a puppet-master. Take a stand against Satan…

My mom once told me that, in life, the ways in which God reveals himself to us are often subtle and sometimes overseen.  In order for Christ to pour strength into us, we do not  have to witness a production of grandeur or divine splendor. No parting of the clouds or blinding light shining down. No resonating voice booming from the air above us. In fact, those types of experiences are few and far between, often sensationalized by a culture so entranced by only that which they can see, hear, and touch. But rather, God sometimes chooses to show His grace in the simplest of earthly things. It’s simply a matter of us taking to time to see them…

It took time, a great amount of time, but eventually I began to feel Him again. I could smell Him in the freshly cut grass on gameday. I could hear Him in the echoes of cheers that filled the Friday night sky. I could taste Him in the bitter flavor of a cold Gatorade at halftime. I could feel Him in the ticking seconds of the final minutes of every game. I could see Him in the moments that every athlete lives for–the moments of adrenaline and pressure and leadership. God was there. He had always been there. Patiently waiting for me to see Him in the stands…

(to be continued)