Dinner dates and discussions: Is God Really Personal?

I had just gotten off of work and scurried into the restaurant searching for my dinner guest. I was running a few minutes late and he had already snagged us a table. It was in the back room of the restaurant and a table in the center. I prefer booths. They weirdly feel more safe to me, as if what you discuss over the oncoming 18 baskets of free chips and salsa will be forever hidden between the seats. Tables are more exposing. I feel like I need to whisper, except I don’t whisper. And my heart told me this conversation might need a booth. But, a table it was.

chips_and_salsa-pd

My dinner date was so handsome. He’s grown up, well we’ve both grown up, so much in the last few years. One minute running around oblivious of the world and pressures around and the next wearing the heaviness and scars of growing up in today’s lie saturated world. We were both tired, but we’re making it. And when you get older, making it is worthy of a celebration, because it feels as if daily we’re inundated with those who take the most drastic of measures because they can no longer make it.

Oh, the grief and pain that has filled this world is so evident and if we’re not careful it can become the foggy filter we allow to cover the windows to our soul. If not for the beautiful grace of our Savior, we wouldn’t be making it either.

Small talk ensued. We quickly covered the surface topics and life updates: job, school, money, relationships, family, randomness, memories, & youtube videos. Our hearts have known each other forever, yet still we’re learning how to form our words – the hard words – with each other, so we can sift through life’s hardest topics together. It’s not the easiest to acknowledge the questions / fears / doubt you have inside, but we’re happy we have a safe place to let it all out. People who are home to your heart are priceless treasures.

As our food was delivered to the table, so was the question. The one we gathered to pull out of the dark crevices of his heart and mind and lay on the table in the blaring light. I knew there was a question coming, but I had no idea what it was going to be. When he asked me to dinner, I sensed something was brewing. I had prayed already for the moment I saw coming.

“How do you know God is really personal? I know there is a God. I’m not doubting that. But no matter how hard I try, he just doesn’t seem personal to me. I did the church life, but I don’t know….he just didn’t seem personal to me. How do I know I’m not getting through because I’ve chosen to make the right decisions and doing the right thing. Where is he?” 

What an honor it will always be to be on the team of someone’s heart that pull the fears and questions out of hiding and into the light.

I was trying not to flinch or show any type of emotion. You see, I’ve been there. It takes courage to talk about what feels wrong to say out loud.

My journey with God has been just that – my own. No one else has enjoyed the entire roller coaster as I have. My confidence, assurance, and immovable stance of God I feel today has come from discovering him in seasons and over of spans of time as my provider, good shepherd, lover, teacher, dreamer, disciplinarian, coach, father, and friend. But today is new for me, it hasn’t always been this way.

I didn’t wake up one day and know him in different ways. I have and am discovering him with each bump, tragedy, and celebration I face. It’s an ongoing motion we’re making. But, with years behind me so far, these moments have become layers upon layers upon layers of God moments and pieces. I can only imagine what I’ll be typing as the decades of layers ahead of me unfold.

As I sat there and listened, I was still trying to uncover my own layers and quietly think through my answer in that moment. How do I sum up that Jesus is not a church or a religious affiliation or a fad or an adrenaline rush to me? How do I put into words what he has done that is so real and life altering for me. A seemingly impossible thing to accurately describe or explain, but I did my best.

As we bounced back and forth in conversation, I honored that he is on a journey of truth – and of all the journeys one should commit to- it should be this one for it is the foundation that your world will be built upon. There is no shame in questions and there is a road to truth. A few years ago this conversation would have left me nervous and anxious and wondering, “GOD WHY DON’T YOU JUST SHOW UP SO HE KNOWS YOU’RE REAL”. But not today, today I listen with confidence that Jesus always shows up. He is always present. We are never alone. And no one in the world loves this soul sitting next to me more than Jesus. He will never stop pursuing. He will never forsake his son. He formed him. He shaped him. He gifted this brilliant soul with a desire for a truth so concrete he can assuredly build his life upon it without turning back. And because I know him, I know he will shine bright and prove his very existence and presence in the coming days and weeks and months.

I finally responded.

My best answer, but surely not one comparable to his own experience and the one I know is coming for him…..and by all means mine isn’t the end-all answer to finding God. But, he asked, so I answered.

Life has dealt me an array of moments over the last 28 years. Some seasons I have felt like I was fully using my skills and God-given talents to be present and available and enjoy life. In many ways the walls and foundations of my life were good and are the product of my hard work and efforts and commitment. But I came to a place where my talent was taking me places I couldn’t stand to be. My personal ability to do a task was overtaken by this gross dislike of myself. I felt unhealthy on the inside despite the fact I had quite a bit going for me on the outside. The value of stuff faded so quickly as I realized accumulating things in the physical and the emotional couldn’t seep into the deepest parts of my soul. They could sink deep. But never deep enough. At that time, I did actually have most of what my heart ever wanted, and it wasn’t enough. A good life does not equate a good soul. I wanted my soul to be at peace. I wanted to be healthy from the inside out, and that was when I realized I just couldn’t do that for myself. I needed something else. My insufficiency wasn’t displayed through a lack of talent or opportunity, but through my inability to love and lead from the inside out.

I began to seek out people that I knew to be healthy from the inside out – instead of objectifying those who were just seemingly successful on the outside. I was learning to re-define success and place value on who I was first on the inside. My favorite person to talk to about this was my Granny – she is strong and lovely and her soul has tasted and seen the goodness of Jesus in the best of life moments and in the worst. She has rejoiced over eternal victories and wept over earthly losses. She has witness the miracle of life countless more times than me and buried more people than I can comprehend. When you speak to her, she doesn’t flinch at what is true. She doesn’t  wonder. She just knows. She describes her walk with God to be like an Oak tree. With years and years of him growing her roots deeper and deeper, so that as the winds of life blew – and she assured me they would – she was rooted so deeply she could bend, she could move, but she wouldn’t ever uproot. That’s what I set my eyes on. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be secure.

I found others who said the same thing. Build your life on the rock. Build your life on the unsinkable and unshakeable. They didn’t flinch at the challenge…to give it my all. God is so faithful, we can doubt and he remains faithful

I sought to find my security solely in Jesus. My journey has been years in the making – some seasons being more glamorous than others, but none more satisfying and soulfully rich as today. I pray it’s forever like that. I want two years from now to be richer than what I know to be good today.

I began to seek Jesus and ask him to be a part of my every day. To be a comforter to me. To be a friend to me. To guide me and coach me and direct me and I stopped doing things I felt made me good enough or qualified enough. I took a season to soak in the basics of developing a friendship – I spent time with Jesus, I spent time with myself, I talked to him and as emotions rose in me from moment to moment I’d bring it to him and drop it off in his hands  (I actually envisioned this). And I tell him I trusted him and expected him to help me and needed him to guide me. I realized God wanted me healthy more than he wanted me to be doing. He wanted to be a part of the process and not just a part of the end product show and tell. Include him and expect him to respond. He will.

The older the I get, the more I see so much hurt and pain in people. Being good isn’t enough. Doing good isn’t enough. No amount of talent or opportunity is proving to be enough. Our soul is searching for something more and something deeper. At some point our efforts run dry and life is just not enough to satisfy our soul. Those moments – the low ones – and hundreds steps before getting there are opportunities to seek God to be your source.

We ended dinner with some closing challenges – to not seek to prove God wrong, but to prove him right. To not live a life that is void of his presence, but to position our hearts to hear him and know him. And to begin to ask God where was he in the weeks, months, and years leading up to dinner that night. To pursue the power and awakening that comes from a personal relationship with God. It should be a pursuit we honor and treat with respect and care – because he is holy.

My peers have lost the beauty of authority. Our world and its blaring fallacies have eroded all remnants left that would honor authority and its place and purpose. People are grave disappointments. Leaders fail. Role models stumble. Public authorities are a mockery we publicly humiliate and destroy at all cost. We have communicated the only thing we can count on is that the person next to us is human and perfection is neither their gift or promise to us. It’s only a matter of time before we are hurt or disappointed. My peers have wounds that have taught their hearts to protect themselves from those above them instead of embrace or trust the years of life have taught them some passion cannot teach.  How do trust the ultimate authority when we have yet to find or establish one that our heart can take root in on this earth? God is not a disappointment though and the discovery of a trusted, faithful and honorable authority is one that should be revered. It might take us long, but we are going to get there.

Dinner ended – our hearts less heavy than before – but certainly more raw. Our bellies full of chips and salsa and our souls thankful for places and people we can be the most vulnerable and transparent with.

No doubt we’ll be discussing this many more times.

I left dinner feeling so raw. Reliving my own journey. Remembering the seasons of discovering him as my closest friend. The struggle and fight we had when I wasn’t sure I wanted Jesus to be enough …maybe if I just had a few more life desires plus my Jesus then it would all be enough.  Becoming aware of how my past is full of divine encounters I was too busy, too selfish, or just too broken to see for what they were at times and how other times I knew that I knew that I knew that God had swept into my world just in time.

It truly has been a journey for me. Day after day. Nothing instant. An evolving truth and foundation – one layer and moment at a time. But in retrospect every second, every wait and every question was worth fighting through.

What a journey we are all on. What a discovery that awaits us all to find Jesus in the mess of life. To realize he is sufficient and strong enough to handle our questions and fears and concerns. I’m not worried about if he’ll find Jesus in deeper ways, but excited about what awaits his soul when he does find him and it shapes and carves out new spaces and dreams and desires he didn’t know could be his.

Since dinner, I’ve dove head first into my past looking for the layers that cemented these new truths to me. This is the one I’ve yet to escape since dinner last week. I thought I’d share a peak into one of my first defining – there is a god – moments.

Jesus loves his girls.

I always felt loved, but due to my older brother’s illness growing up, our life was scary and hard and unstable for many years. That little girl wanted to be strong, but she had such limited strength and certainly far less than needed to hold up a crumbling family. Or so it seemed. My bedroom was upstairs and my closet was long, almost like a hallway. I was far too young to appreciate the goodness in its size. But I did find the back end as my lil God corner. If I learned anything as a child who grew up in church and in a christian family it was God was faithful and I could talk to him, so I would crawl into my closet and talk to him. Both confident and unsure if he could hear me or see me or help me, but just trusting that life felt so scary he just had too. Life got more and more out of control from my little girl perspective. But it led me into a beautiful moment – one that has carved a canyon size space into my heart. A moment I have replayed nonstop since that dinner.

I was sitting in my 5th grade class. I was as awkward as any 90’s kid middle schooler was. Chubby and unsure of my newly developing body parts and with not one clue how to do my hair or what to do with my face. I was a hot mess. Kids these days really don’t know how much better they look in middle school.  My school was old and the floors creaked. My classroom was upstairs and in the morning time we could hear someone coming up the stairs. Moments later there was a knock on the door and a pretty, blonde-headed lady was standing outside. She said she need to see Renee Hall. I thought I was going to pass out. I had become acquainted with quick life blows and wasn’t sure if this was good or bad news being delivered to me. I blushed and quickly stepped outside.

The next few moments rooted something deep into my heart. She said God told her to go out and buy me an outfit that day. He wanted me to have it. So, she had gone shopping for me and picked some things out. She handed me the bag and told me God loved me.

I can’t imagine the entire exchange was more than 2-3 minutes. Here I am 18+ years later and fully able to relive every – single – second and feeling of that exchange though.

For years, I hadn’t forgotten the moment, but just hadn’t thought much about it.

After dinner, it’s all I could think of as I searched for my own definitives. Where has this assurance rooted in me come from?

That little girl knew God was real that day because she felt invisible and overlooked and too scared to speak up because life was far too unstable already and she’d never forgive herself if she was the tipping point that made her world and family finally crumble. But God heard those cries in her closet and he brought her a reminder crafted for her.

1) Her brought her a present. The fact her love language was gifts was no surprise.

2) It was an outfit – something she really wanted. Money was tight those days and more than money there was very little time resource to go perusing malls.

3) He saw her. He heard her. He asked someone to hug her for him. She needed a hug, too.

 It’s not always easy to respect the life journey we are all on when someone else’s looks so different than ours. When we feel confident and they don’t, but we want them to just get it. But what a beautiful moment that really is to be reminded of whose we are. The weight, the pressure, the answers are not ours to find or feel. They are the creators to carry and expose and he will. As we seek him, we will find him. It is not only his promise, it has been his history with me and so many others. And that’s what the journey does for us, it gives us time to create history, one day at a time.

I pray one day I’m in my 80’s sitting in my rocking chair telling stories, not of a perfect life, but of a faithful God who wrote a story on top of an assurance and foundation only he could have laid for me.

What about you? How has God been personal to you?

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