On April 8, 2015 at approximately 11:30pm, my dear friend and brother, Danny Canales told me that i was going to face some really really hard things this year. That i was going to be forced to find my strength in the joy of the Lord and that only.
It was a Wednesday night. A group of us had gone to a church we liked to visit for inspiration and filling in LA. We had come back and gone to Danny’s apartment. We had a spontaneous worship session, followed by over an hour of prayer and encouragement. the Lord was speaking through Danny to everyone in that room. Heart on fire. We stood in a circle, praying and meditating on Jesus. Letting our hearts poor out, and Danny’s happened to pour out in encouragement. I am so thankful it did. I am so thankful for brothers and sisters who are so in-tune with the Holy Spirit’s leading and follow no matter what.
That night i got home probably around 2:30am. exhausted, but so stoked on Jesus i couldn’t sleep, nor did i want to. Once you enter the presence of the Lord, you never want to leave. So i wrote in my prayer journal. This is what i wrote:
“Lord Jesus, you are all. You are Father, Lover, Friend. You are everything. I need you more than i need air and food and water. I need you more than anything. Lord, you are moving. You spoke through Danny today. Lord, he said to me ‘You need to find joy in the salvation and the cross. This year you have a lot coming. It’s going to be really hard. You need to find strength in joy. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength, Let the joy of the Lord be your strength. God uses you so much even in your quiet servitude on Sundays and your quiet humility you are being used. God is taking you places. Tough places where the joy of the Lord will be your strength and you HAVE TO rely on that.’ or something to that effect. Lord, i don’t know where you are taking me, but i know that it is going to be difficult and depressing. But your joy will be my strength. I want to go where you are leading me. I love you. Thank you for being my best friend. Thank you for moving and loving the way you do! i love you. I ask for forgiveness for my pride. For my lust, envy, greed, jealousy, hatred. Lord, i ask that you would continue to grow in me so that there is no longer any room left for any of those things. I desire you. I want to only desire you. Take me where you will and make a radical change in this world, in my life, in Jake’s* life [thats a different story, ill fill you in later], and in all lives, Lord. You love deeper and more intensely than i can say. And for you I am unequivocally thankful. I love you, Lord, Father, Lover, Friend.”
At the time Danny was speaking, and i knew he was right, but i was unable to imagine it. I was exceedingly happy and my life just felt so right and so perfect (obvi it wasn’t but thats how it felt). I had a home church that i was growing in faster than i could imagine and that inspired me daily and pushed me to follow Jesus entirely. I had friends who were so incredibly action-oriented and Jesus-minded, people who still inspire me daily. I had just left a job that was suffocating me. I was out of school for the summer and loving the free-time i had. I had a crush on this really rad guy who was beginning to pursue me, and i was loving every second of it. I was great. My brother was safe, in jail but safe from the temptation of acting on addiction. Trials? I could hardly fathom them.
Not two months later my home church was closing, my friends felt distant, and money troubles were crushing me. My brother was getting released from jail the next month and it terrified me. My nana was getting worse and worse on the daily - her memory slipping along with my sanity.
I had been attending the college group at Rocky Peak semi-regularly, not really understanding why. I didn’t need the community (and it was hard to break into, not gonna lie), i wasn’t really learning anything, the messages were things i had already heard and learned and put into action in my life. The worship was good, but nothing compared to Vital Cross. I didn’t really get it, but the Lord kept calling me back every Sunday night anyway. So i went. And then when Vital closed, i realized He was calling me there all along (I wouldn’t have gone if Vital hadn’t closed). I felt Him calling me to bring the revolution that Vital had started to Soma, to Rocky Peak. I felt Him saying that He wanted to use me there.
Knowing your purpose doesn’t usually make fulfilling it easier. I actually found it more difficult. Nor do i know if that truly was my purpose, or if it was accomplished or not. "How am i supposed to do that? I am 5ft and 1/2 an inch tall. I’m an introvert. I know maybe 5 people at Soma. My heart is completely shattered and i don’t know how to be useful to others when I’m broken and barely breathing myself!” I kept going. I stopped thinking about being used and just went where the Spirit lead. Letting Him speak. Letting Him move me. Letting myself get to know people. Sharing my heart and how i felt with the people i was most afraid of letting in because i barely knew them, and thats scary. Bringing myself, and all i learned at Vital Cross with me to share with others. Listening intently to the messages, because there is always something new to learn. I participated in the All-Serve the church did, the first time i had served since Vital closed. It was healing and awesome, but hurt my Vital wound more than i can say. The whole time i was being healed. Stitches being removed. Scar forming and softening. It still is. I didn’t feel like i was doing anything. Who was i encouraging? How was i starting a revolution there? Am i doing either of those things? Does it matter if i know its happening or not?
Over and over again, the Lord has shown me, even the littlest things i have done, simply showing up to Soma or to main service, going to life group, letting people in and sharing stories, has been an encouragement. Maybe not to the masses, but to individuals who needed it. And that is enough. And even if i didn’t see or know that i was being useful, that wouldn’t mean that i wasn’t. I don’t need to know. All i need to know is that i am being obedient to the God i love and his word never returns void. That is my purpose, to show people Jesus. I’ve learned that, often, the more broken we are, the more useful we can be. Because we won’t be afraid to hold back, because we have nothing to lose. Something that has been on my heart a lot this season, and I’ve shared before, is this: If i have nothing to give, then what do i lose by giving it? Nothing. But i have everything to gain.
My brother is struggling with addiction, but fighting hard. I have never given up on him, and i never will. He is worth so much and loved so deeply and no matter how many times he falls, or hurts me and our family, we will never stop loving him or helping him seek truth and freedom. My Vital Cross family is struggling, but we are healing together and apart. I miss worshiping with them EVERY Sunday. They continue to challenge and encourage me. I’ve been savoring, and learning in a very real way, the truth that the church is people. Some days are harder than others, but it never doesn’t hurt. The really rad guy is still super rad, but i let him in, i let myself care a lot about him, and it didn’t work out. It sucks, a lot. But I don’t regret it. I never will. And i certainly do not blame him, nor will i ever. If you do not risk your own comfort and safety to love then you will never love, and people will never get the kind of radical, selfless love they need, romantic and otherwise. But it still hurts. I have a new job that is amazing and challenging all in one, but has been a huge blessing in so many ways. I have an incredible opportunity that i am about to apply for in another state. It both thrills and terrifies me. I have family, Brothers and Sisters in Christ from all different churches and all walks of life, that i cherish.
I have no hope except for Jesus. People let you down, churches close, school sucks, jobs end, the World is in chaos, pain is everywhere, people die, and satan likes to mess with me while I’m trying to sleep. Everything good in my life still hurts me in some way. I am not still living for anything or anyone but Jesus. I am running to Him full speed because He is the Joy that gives me strength to get through the day. My strength is in the joy of the Lord. Danny was right. I HAVE TO rely on the joy of the Lord for my strength, because if i didn’t i’d be more gone than i can say. Sometimes just being alive is so painful i don’t know if i can do it anymore. I am weak and broken and the punches aren’t about to stop anytime soon. I can’t wait to be united with Jesus in eternity. I can’t wait to leave this world.
Lately, I’ve noticed i can’t stop dancing. I get all full of joy and just can’t stop. Despite the battles waging and my heart being heavy, i have so much joy that it just bursts out, most commonly in the form of dance. Something I’ve always found joy in and one way I’ve always found to be natural to praise Him. I just want to dance CONSTANTLY.
There’s a weird juxtaposition that happens when you mourn. When you experience what feels like the worst pain you’ve ever felt. When your heart is ripped out and thrown on the ground and then repeatedly stabbed, trampled on, spit on and mangled beyond recognition. Recently the phrase “joy in the morning” has been popping up all around me. People have said it, I’ve read it, and it won’t leave me alone. It’s honestly been annoying me. The first time i heard it, instead of hearing “joy in the morning” i heard “joy in the mourning.” And that’s what i hear when its said now. It’s a lot less annoying to me. And it’s true. I have found the most Joy, and strength in that joy, in the times i mourn most. So if mourning means i get to have the Joy of the Lord as my strength, then i wouldn’t trade it for anything. I refuse to sacrifice my faith for my comfort. I find joy in the deepest, raging waters and the most uncertain of times, because i know that Jesus is helping me walk on those waters, that i am not alone, and that He has perfect timing.
Joy in the mourning. Joy, not only hope, but JOY. Until this year, i didn’t know what that meant.
The best way i can explain it is what i wrote the day after we found out Vital Cross was closing:
“I have gone through a lot of trials in my 20 years on earth. I can tell you that in all of them i felt grief and sorrow. I can tell you that in all of them i have seen a light at the end of the tunnel and His name is Jesus. Until yesterday i couldn’t have told you that i had ever felt pure joy and immense sorrow at the same time. Until yesterday i didn’t fully understand what it meant to rejoice in pain. To praise God in the midst of what feels like the worst thing you’ve ever experienced; to offer everything when you have nothing to give except hurt. The feeling is indescribable and wholly healing. Our hearts were made to praise our maker, and in the midst of trials is when that desire and need is most present and the true worship of our hearts is most restorative. My heart still hurts, but it will still sing His praises. As i sing and as i hurt, i grow."
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. // I Thessalonians 5:16-19
I have so much turmoil in my heart, but I have so much more to be thankful for. I feel so alone, but I am surrounded. I feel so lost, but I am right where the Lord wants me. Here. Now. Finding Joy in the Mourning. Meditating on the Truth. Resting in Him and allowing Him to take me farther out to sea so I can dance all the more.
Yesterday the weather turned stormy. I love storms, i find them invigorating and i feel alive. The air feels new. Every time the weather gets stormy, i to run to the sea. Yestserday, as i was sitting on the beach, watching the stormy sunset and breathing in the glory of Jesus, i was thinking about how very odd it is that all i want when its stormy, is to sit on the sand in the rain. It's only fitting that the call i feel to go to the sea in a storm is representative of the call i answer to walk on the water in faith when Jesus calls. It's scary, but i know if i don't do it, i'll regret it. And i know the fear is no match for Jesus.
*Jake, the guy in my prayer from my prayer journal, was this guy I met at Midweek at Mosaic that night. I only met him that one time. He said that was his second time at Mosaic ever - i got the impression he was new to church in general too. I didn’t learn anything else about him, i’ll probably never meat Him again, but i could feel the Lord telling me that He was doing something big in Jake’s life and that i needed to pray for Him. I still do.