We've been visiting church's around Starkville each Sunday since we've moved here, but just haven't like we've found what we're looking for yet. We had decided to check out a church in Columbus, so we headed to bed a little early. However once we got in bed we started talking. Lately I haven't been feeling great. I had tried to figure out what was going on with the help of Google, a.k.a. diagnose myself, but all of the searching had only left me unsettled and wondering if I had some dreadful disease. As we were laying there talking about it, Andrew brought up my past battle with anxiety. I laid there thinking, I don't have anything to be anxious about... But as we talked, I found many things that I hadn't been able to really admit or hadn't even realized I was worrying about, were definitely each adding to the load that was slowly overwhelming me. I've been worried about the health of my grandfathers, I just left an amazing church and some terrific friends, and probably the most surprising that came up, was my eternal battle with confidence. I'm very outgoing; I love people! But at the same time, it takes a toll on me to meet new people and to put myself out there. I never really fit in growing up. Especially in grade school and middle school. I always felt like the odd duckling. Some of that has stuck with me and I find myself overanalyzing situations, especially new situations, and worrying about what people are thinking about me. Andrew was very encouraging and after talking to him, I felt better. So we fell asleep.
Then about 4 a.m. I woke up... I prayed for awhile. Praying about the things Andrew and I had talked about. I prayed about our families. I prayed for Albany and Andrew. I prayed about my future. I prayed until I couldn't think of anything. Then I tried to go back to sleep, but at 5, I knew it wasn't going to happen, so I got up and went to check my email. The computer was off and I felt amazingly awake, so I went to the living room and picked up a book that my mom lent me, Nice Girls Don't Change the World by Lynn Hybels. It's a short little book, so I finished it in about 30 minutes. I was blown away as I turned the pages.
So much of it dealt with what I had just been talking to Andrew about. She talks about having confidence to do what God had called for her. She also hit on another subject that I've been thinking about since this summer. When we took our kids to camp this summer, we had Chad Norris as our speaker. He spent time talking about how often we view God as an angry, spiteful God. Whether from childhood teachers, or from Old Testament stories, so often we have a hard time getting past this image of God. I remember a Sunday School teacher telling us when we were little, that we had to be very careful how we prayed. And we had to be very specific. She told a story of some person who prayed for money and shortly after his mother died and left him a lot of money. I think what this taught me as a child, was that God was looking for some kind of loophole to get you! I have to admit that even as an adult, I've had a hard time seeing God as someone who really cared for me. I knew Jesus did, but I guess I always imagined kind of a good cop, bad cop scenario. Anyway, Chad Norris talked about how much God loves us. He broke John 3:16 down in a way that I had never seen it. God used Chad to speak to me and show me that God didn't just create us so that we could live with Him in heaven, but that He loves us so much, that He wants to have a relationship-an intimate relationship-with us now. Lynn Hybels also touches on a similar situation in her journey. She says she realized that the God she had been following didn't really exist, that God was totally different from how she had imagined Him. It was cathartic to see someone express so much of what I had been feeling. I do have to add that as a children's pastor, I never taught these views. I guess what is so odd for me, is that I've always known in my head that God loves us tremendously, but I don't think it ever fully got through to my heart.
So after I finished the book, I sat on the couch for awhile, pretty much in awe. It was about 6 and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to get up in time to get ready and make the 30 minute drive to Columbus. I really wasn't even feeling tired. I checked my email and looked up the start times for a couple of local churches. But before I logged off, I went to the website of the Real Life Church, the one we had planned to visit in Columbus. I checked out the site again and decided that if I could fall back asleep and get myself moving in the morning that this is really where I wanted to be. I had no idea that it was where God wanted me to be...
Surprisingly I fell back asleep easily. And I woke up pretty easily. We made it to the church in plenty of time and got Albany settled in her class. We visited with a very friendly member for a little bit before the worship started. A couple of songs into the worship, I could honestly feel the presence of God there. I prayed that God would speak to me. And that I would listen.
The pastor talked about how much God loves us. He said, "If God has a refrigerator, your picture would be on it." He talked about God genuinely caring for us. He talked about self esteem. And I sat there wondering if this was some huge cosmic joke. The pastor mentioned part way through his sermon that it was taking a different turn than the first service, but that he thought someone needed to hear it. I wanted to yell, "I do!!!"
At the end of his sermon he had us all stand. He asked if anyone was dealing with self esteem issues to raise their hand. Since I had just had it brought to my attention 3 times in less than 12 hours, I lifted my hand. Then he had everyone look around the room and find someone lifting their hand to pray over them. He said, I want this to be a break through for you. As several people gathered around me, all I could do was cry. I walked out of the church and I was convinced God was trying to tell me something. He wants me to see Him the way He truly is. He wants me to know that He cares for me so much. He wants me to know that because He loves me and adores me, who cares what anyone else is thinking.
I was sharing this with my mom last night and she brought up a great point. She asked me how incredible it is to know that the God who created the universe had something He wanted me to hear something so much, that He brought it to my attention through a conversation, a book, and a sermon. I think it has finally sunk in. I'm not saying that I will never ever be self conscious. That all of my life will be hunky dory. But I do know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me deeply. That He has great plans for me. And I can't even begin to describe the peace that this gives me.