Sometimes it’s just hard…

 

 

This following Jesus thing is hard.

I used to think that at some point I would reach a place of spiritual maturity and it would no longer be hard to follow Jesus. That I’d wake up one day to sunshine and blue skies and skip through the remainder of my days because I’d figured out the magic formula and was now immune to “hard”.

It seems as if my daydream is nothing more than just that, a dream.

The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize… the hard isn’t going away.

I’m not the first person to find this following Jesus thing hard. There’s a really crazy passage in John 6 where Jesus’ disciples are faced with hard. That’s not the crazy part. The crazy part is what happens next:

“On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’… From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” (John 6:60, 66)

When confronted with hard, they turned back and no longer followed Him. These weren’t crowds of people who had gathered to hear Jesus for the first time. These were disciples, men who had left homes and jobs and families to follow Jesus, turning away and returning home. Because following Jesus is hard.

The even crazier part? Jesus let them go. He let them leave. He didn’t follow them and beg them to come back. He didn’t reason with them and offer compromise if they would just stay. No. He presented the hard truth and then let each individual decide what to do with that truth. Keep following or turn back.

After many left Him, He turned to the twelve and asked them a simple question:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (vs.67)

I don’t think He was being harsh. I don’t think He would have stopped them if they had said yes. He’s simply asking, “Has this gotten too hard for you too?” He never forces anyone to keep following. He only offers a choice. Stay or go? Believe or doubt? Love Me or leave Me?

“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’” (vs. 67&68)

I’ve learned something about following Jesus. The longer you follow Him the more opportunities you’ll have to turn back. But if you don’t, if you choose to answer like Peter, then something changes. Something deep inside of you. It’s still hard. It’s still confusing at times. There will still be questions. But there’s also something more. There’s a “worth it” that overrides every “hard”.

Yesterday I received news that was hard. Life altering kind of hard. Not going away anytime soon kind of hard. This morning as I was praying about it I fully expected to have a good cry. Because my pain is real, and my sorrow is real. And God can handle it (actually enjoys it, I believe) when I come to Him with my pain and sorrow and tears. I was right about one thing, there were tears. But I was wrong too. My tears weren’t because of the hard. They were because of the good. Because HE is good. And He is near. And He never leaves us or asks us to walk alone. Instead He comes and He comforts and He promises (and His promises are always true) that there is a place where hard doesn’t live and pain doesn’t exist, but until that time and that place He is HERE. And here, in the middle of the hard He holds and He guides and He is enough.

He is enough. Just Jesus. He’s all I need.

The house, the car, the job, the dog, the clothes, the food, the comfort, the friends, the family, the kids, the 401K, the vacation package, my reputation, my health, my dreams, all of it… it’s just extra.  Take it all, and leave me Jesus. Because those other things… they bring me joy, they bring me comfort and a sense of security. But Jesus? He alone has the words of life. He alone.

Today I’ve had a song stuck in my head. It’s a song I learned in the early 90s when I first fell in love with Jesus.

You are the love of my life,

You are the hope that I cling to,

You mean more than this world to me.

I wouldn’t trade You for silver or gold.

I wouldn’t trade You for riches untold.

You are, You are my everything

Singing about Jesus being everything is abstract. And it’s easy to sing about a hypothetical idea of wanting Jesus more than anything else in this world. It’s just words, and we sing lots of words we don’t mean. But what happens when the song is no longer an idea, but a real decision we must make? When the marriage falls apart, or the bank account is empty, or the diagnoses is life altering? Is He everything then? In the moment when your whole world falls apart, and you’re faced with a choice do you walk away? Doubt? Leave? Most of us would say no. We would never leave Jesus. But we do. We may still act like believers, but in our hearts we don’t trust Him. We still play the role of being a follower, but deep inside we pull back. When life comes crashing in and leaves a gaping whole we look to other things to fill it instead of Jesus. We pursue a new job, new relationship, new shoes, new hobby.  We dive into parenting or volunteering or working. We turn back. We leave. I know. It’s how I’ve dealt with hard my whole life.

And He lets us. He lets us leave when it gets too hard. Just like He let the disciples leave in John 6. Just like the father let the Prodigal son leave in Luke 15. It’s our choice. To stay or go. To trust or doubt. To love or leave.

I’ve decided that while I may question, I may wrestle with how sovereignty and free will co-exist, I may be perplexed by the disconnect I sometimes see between scripture and my circumstances. I will not leave.

Where else would I go? Jesus is everything. 

 

Broken & Restored: Alexis Goring’s Broken Girl Story

“God takes the broken pieces that Satan leaves behind and makes MASTERPIECES.”

— Pastor Pranitha Fielder

I never fit in.

I always stood out.

When you’re in high school, standing out can become unbearable, especially when you do not have anyone standing out with you.

I had friends but they would always pair up and leave me out- whether it would be a group of female friends or couples, whatever the equation, I was always the “odd girl out” as I had been since cliques and couples started in middle school. Standing out has its benefits but when you’re young, it’s hard to see the benefits. Especially when it’s recess time and you’re the last one picked for the team and of course the team you’re placed in doesn’t really want you on their side—if they did, they would have picked you. It’s not easy when your peers reach the dating age and the boys are asking the girls out but never ask you. By the time I reached high school, years of rejection in social situations were weighing heavily on my heart. Being alone as I walked the halls and having people who called themselves my friends whisper to each other about me and exclude me was painful.

At the age of 16, over summer vacation, I had a breakdown— a complete nervous breakdown of which my doctors could not determine the root cause. My family took me to the hospital and I was transferred to an institution that cared for at-risk teens. Even there I did not fit in. The usual clients were ones who were sick because of a drug or alcohol habit. They also had clients who had behavioral problems. Here I was, a girl who simply didn’t fit in, painted with the broad brush of people who fit in to society’s perception of at-risk teens.

I stayed in the institution for about 2 weeks, during that time, I was given several different medicines as the doctors tried to properly diagnose me and find the best treatment. By the time it was time to go home, they had documented their final diagnosis of me and given me a medication that I am supposed to be on for the rest of my life. The medication made me ravenously hungry. I went from a size 6 (only got there because I starved myself since age 14 in order to “fit in” with how society says teen girls should look) to a size 16 as I gained 100 pounds in less than 6 months.

When I returned to high school to begin my junior year, I was still recovering. The medicine made my eyes unfocused and my mind was in a daze. But I begged my mom to send me to school. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to miss a day and have people wondering why. I remember one of my friends rushing to meet me and then jumping back in surprise telling me, “You’re not focused!” I remember walking the hallways by myself. My body was there but my mind was in a whole other world. I heard the teachers give out homework, lots of homework but I couldn’t even write it down. I spent the day in silence. When it was time to go home, I sat on a leather couch in the lobby of the high school, arms holding a high pile of books and homework assignments, looking listlessly at the entrance, seeing people passing by me but not able to register the reality of being back in school. I remember a friend of mine stopped by and sat next to me. He was concerned. He tried to get me to talk. I still remember him telling me, “Alexis! Talk! That’s what your mouth is for!” I don’t know why, but I wasn’t able to speak. I looked away and out of the corner of my eye saw him stand up and leave, shaking his head.

My grandmother picked me up from school and took me to her house as she would for me and my brother. We’d wait at her house until our mom got off from work and took us home. I think I may have eaten some food as I waited for my mom to pick us up. By the time I returned home, I laid out all of the books and homework assignments on my bedroom floor and began opening the books and picking up assignment after assignment. I didn’t know where to start. I was completely overwhelmed and not acting like I’d always been—a star student. When my mom stopped by my room, I looked up at her from where I was seated on the floor and admitted. “I can’t do it.” My mom went to her original plan- to homeschool me until I got better.

The medicine made me sleep like a log at first as it was a part of the recovery process. So in the mornings, my mom would wake me up and I would eat breakfast with my mom and brother and then my mom and brother would go to work and school and I would return to my bed and sleep like a baby for at least 4 hours. When I woke up, I would eat lunch and my dad would drive me to my grandmother’s house where I stayed until my mom would pick me up in the evening after work.

During my time at my grandparents’ house, I would do my homework from the company in which I was enrolled as a homeschooled student. The homework aligned with the requirements for the standards of my high school’s curriculum so even though I was doing the work at home, I was still able to complete it and pass. As time marched on, my mind became clearer and more focused. By December, I had gone from barely knowing where to start in my schoolwork to having made a daily study/work schedule and breezing through my assignments. By January, I was beginning to get bored. My mom spoke with the school’s Guidance Counselor and Registrar and made a way for me to return to school as an enrolled student.

When I returned to school to finish my junior year, I met a mixed set of reactions. The same friend who saw me in August when I was still in a daze and she called me “not focused,” ran up to me and gave me a hug. “Alexis! You’re back,” she said, “The circle is complete.” I never asked her what she meant by that statement about the circle being complete, but looking back, I think she may have been referring to either our circle of friends or the learning community as a whole. Nonetheless, she made my day as I was happy that there were people who were happy to see me.

Not everybody was all smiles. There were people who treated me according to my new figure—as a morbidly obese girl. I grew up fat so I was used to the territory and issues that come with it which is why I had starved myself thin from age 14 to until I got sick at 16. Not that my “thin” figure mattered because in my mind, I was still fat and undesirable and working out daily to achieve the airbrushed beauty I saw on magazine covers. Many of my peers only saw my new, bloated size. The fun and games began. People isolated me. Whispered about me. Laughed at me and one time one of my friends’ friends threw grapes at me and laughed.

Now the difference is, before I became sick and was given medicine that made me eat like a pregnant woman, I was depressed, sad and angry at being the “odd girl out” in social situations and feeling alone and unfairly judged. During my hospitalization and times as a homeschool student, God changed my heart and life. He birthed compassion within me, forgiveness and renewed my outlook on life. After my sickness was out of the crisis stage and I began to recuperate, nothing could upset me like it did before. I was happy and I wanted to share the love God showed me with the world. I attended a private Christian school and I found myself loving being in Bible class more than I ever had before. God started to equip me with the tools I needed to share my story. I rejoined the Journalism and Yearbook staff and wrote with new fervor and skill. God placed me on a steady path to restoration.

By senior year, I was restored to star student status. During the class picnic, the students had time to sign each other’s white t-shirts. One of my friends wrote something on my t-shirt that made me want to keep the shirt for life. She drew a beautiful picture of a cross with a symbol of Jesus Christ’s robe draped over it and wrote, “God takes the broken pieces that Satan leaves behind and makes MASTERPIECES.”

I graduated from high school with honors and was given a Presidential Scholarship for college. Five years later, I graduated from college with a degree in Print Journalism. Since graduation, God has blessed me with my own column called Growing Up which is about discipleship. He’s also given me experience in working with children as I was a teacher for the past 2 years. And now as my teaching career has ended, God is giving me the opportunity to pursue my calling to write full-time.

Recently, I was cleaning up my room and I found the t-shirt with the quote about God’s masterpieces written by my friend Kitty Pilli who since then has grown up to become a pastor. When God restores, the healing effect ripples like a stone skipping over water. He restored my mind and renewed my heart. And God continues to restore my body to good health. While I still struggle with my weight, I know that one day, I will achieve my goal of a healthy weight and toned figure. Through it all, I’m learning to trust God’s timing and rest in the blessed assurance that God is taking the broken pieces that Satan caused in my life and making masterpieces as He transforms the pain into beauty.

God is restoring me into the masterpiece He created me to be and He wants to restore you too.

Alexis A. Goring

Standing Stones

The fan spins round as the house settles in for the night and I lay here on my bed waiting for sleep to come. As I wait I am overwhelmed. For He is here with me. His presence, His peace, is almost more than I can bare.

The children whisper to one another from their beds. One makes a last trip to the bathroom, then to get a drink. Slowly quite comes. Breathing slows and steadies. A hush falls all around as laughter and chatter fade to silence. And He is here with me, with us. His presence, His comfort, overwhelms.

I am no stranger to the sounds of night. The sounds of settling down at the end of the day. No stranger to the fan going round; to the still, deep silence. No stranger to feeling overwhelmed.

Many nights I’ve laid here on my bed overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with cares. As the fan goes round so do the thoughts in my mind. Thoughts of ends not quite meeting and hearts not quite mended. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only”. Thoughts of “what now” and “why”.

Night after sleepless night… overwhelmed, anxious, afraid.

And now, once again sleep alludes me as my mind spins round with the fan. But this time different thoughts occupy my mind. Thoughts of faithfulness. Of promises kept. Of His constant, persistent presence.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12 NIV)

And He has.

And so here in the dark I raise a stone. A stone of remembrance. A stone for every sleepless night that He stood patiently by my side. A stone for every bill, somehow, someway, paid. A stone for every bound up, healing heart. Every confident smile. Every comforting Word. A stone erected in honor of His faithfulness.

And I am overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by His goodness. Overwhelmed by His mercy. Overwhelmed by His presence.

His presence isn’t something that comes and goes. It’s only our awareness of His nearness that changes. He is steady. Constant. It’s our hearts that waiver. Doubt. And in the dark valley it’s oftentimes hard to see Him. So He calls us to stop. To pause. To ponder. To reflect on the journey. To see His goodness. To set up a standing stone of remembrance. A solid rock to cling to in the dark night when the fan goes round and the thoughts threaten to take us round with them.

The thoughts are still there. The “what ifs” and “what nows”. But standing here, on this Rock of remembrance, they hold no power over me. For the One who has brought me “thus far” is the one who holds my tomorrow. And He can be trusted, no matter what comes my way.