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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Two Shafts Of Light

 So many things can lead us down the road to personal bondage. While circumstances along can't dictate our destinations, our responses are often what drive us to either the cold of the darkness or the warm rays of eternal Light. Whatever the motive for being behind the door, flight has been the only thought of escape and freedom until this point. Detachment has been the only solution to deal with doubts and questions. The darkness has closed in, and the soul has been gripped. We have disguised our true selves. The act has carried on for a long time. We now find ourselves feeling rejected, alone, and desperate for something to change. Our mind recalls when God came and asked us, 

How did you get here?

We were not ready at the time to let Him dispel our act. We couldn't answer Him, nor comprehend His promise that our stage was meant to house an alter, that our lives were meant to be a reflection of Him. The fear of being exposed drove us the other way. 
 Now, we find ourselves at an interesting place. Having become weary of the deception and disguise, we start to ask ourselves what might be our way out. For the longest time, we plastered on a smile and vowed to, once again, hide the darkness of our inner souls. But it has lost its appeal. We discover that we are losing the ability to keep the darkness away. It has begun to permeate everything. Others have started to sense the disconnect. 
 It is at this point that we begin to notice the shafts of light coming from under the door. We are not sure if they've been there the whole time or not but, for the first time, we are now aware of their presence. Through the penetrating rays, we are enabled to catch a glimpse of the brokenness of our lives on the other side of the door. As we sit in the false security of such an existence, we wonder if the darkness is perhaps not so much the opposite of light but the absence of it. We begin the question the thought that even as strong as darkness is, maybe the Light is stronger. Perhaps the shafts of light could be the answer to our deepest longings. Perhaps they might reveal to us the way of deliverance...
 The first shaft of light that shown its beam into my darkened soul occurred on June 28, 2007. It was only the night before that I had spent the long and difficult evening at my friends' house, following my father's admission into the hospital. This morning, I had gotten to see him for the first time and was reeling from all that I had lived through in the past several hours. I couldn't absorb what was going on. All I wanted to do was escape. I was already distant from God - now this chain of events only emphasized my mistrust in Him.

What kind of God would do this?!

It was into this reality of anger, pain, and unbelief that the Light tried to break through. It came in the form of an Army chaplain who had come to minister to a gravely ill soldier and his family. As we sat in the hospital waiting room, my mom recognized him. Almost a year before, we had met him while attending an event at the chapel on the Army post. We had shared a delightful conversation upon being introduced and now found ourselves acquainted yet again. After refreshing his memory on who we were, he asked us the reason for our being at the hospital. Upon hearing the details of our last twenty-four hours, he offered his sympathy and wondered if he could pray with us. We invited him to come with us into the Critical Care Unit room where my dad was and to go ahead and pray.
 Moments later, he knelt by the side of my dad's bed, took our hands, and said in a voice full of heavenly authority, 

"Ladies, we're going to pray." 

My father had never met this man and, at this time, was so sedated that he wasn't even aware of his presence. Yet, in that small, bare hospital room, God began to move. As the chaplain spoke boldly before the throne of Almighty God, I was moved to tears. Here was this man who didn't even know my father, quoting the Scriptures and beseeching his Savior to intervene on our behalf. Amid the beeping and whirring of machines that were my dad's lifeline, the chaplain's voice echoed through the hall near the open glass door of our room:

"Spare this man's life!" he pleaded.

Upon his saying, "Amen," I became aware of the silence around us. Even the nursing staff at the nurses' station outside our room were hushed in awe. God was present.
This chaplain was certainly not the first to petition God for my father's life - we had prayer practically circling the globe for his miraculous recovery. But somehow, this prayer hit home for me in a way nothing else did. To me, it was different. I came away obviously grateful for the time the chaplain had spent with us but also blown away by his passion for the God he loved. He prayed as if he meant it. Ht talked to God as a friend - as if the Lord was near to us, as if He could be touched. That chaplain interceded for us so powerfully it seemed as though Heaven and earth were joined together in one holy, miraculous moment. It got me thinking about my perception of the One this chaplain had just brought me to. 

Could the God he seems to know and the God I don't want much to do with be different? Could I have been wrong this whole time about who this God was?

The second shaft of light appeared almost two years later on January 9, 2009. In the months prior, we had spent a significant amount of time out of the state, getting treatment for my dad, who was still a long way from being healthy. Living out of hotel rooms, restaurants, and rental cars, it was far from a normal life for a then twenty-one-year-old like me. Now, we were finally home and had tuned in to watch the BCS National College Football Championship. Just as I had been unprepared for the first shaft of light, so the second came unexpected as well.
 Upon observing and hearing about the quarterback of one of the teams, I was led to look him up on the internet the next day so that I could read more about him. What little I did know intrigued me. I will never forget, though, what happened next. As I read article after article, I found myself being drawn to the example of this young athlete: who he was as a person, what he believed, and his outward-oriented focus had me strongly captivated. I couldn't explain why, but I kept on reading. Then came the picture. I stared at this photo of him, interest peaked. There was a brightness - a light to his whole face that puzzled me. As I continued to gaze at what I was seeing, something about that radiant smile captured me. 
 Tears started to gather in my eyes. The light was streaming into my darkness, revealing my lack of something...but I wasn't sure what. Deep inside my heart, a stirring was taking place. What I was witnessing and nothing to do with sports and everything to do with the soul - my soul. Even though I had yet to see this young athlete in action outside of the football field, I knew that the unexplainable component I was seeing had roots in his spiritual faith. A broken mess, I prayed to God through tears in a way I had never prayed before:

God, I don't know what it is that he has. I don't know what it is that I'm seeing but, whatever it is, I know I don't have it. All I know is I want that for myself. I also know that where I am now is not good. I don't have a clue how to get from here to there, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

It was a prayer spoken from the cold and despair of someone behind the door. But it was spoken, too, by someone who admitted for the first time that why wanted to be free. 
 In both of these experiences, the thing I found so surprising - so mind-blowing - was the connection between these men and God. I had just been introduced through them to authentic belief. To these men, God was alive. He was active, and He was interested in the lives of average people...people like me. The Scriptures were, to them, more than just a bunch of good stories and rules for Christian behavior. It was God's love letter to them, given to comfort, encourage, and correct the willing heart. Their faith was new to me. I had never witnessed anything like it before. Here I'd spent my whole life in church but felt like I was meeting God for the first time. 
 This, for me, was the turning point. I realized that I could no longer ignore the Light. God was determined to break through my darkness, whether I invited Him to or not. He had left me with no choice but to follow Him. I wasn't sure if I could do it, and I also knew that the prayer I'd just prayed - to do whatever it took - was perhaps more than I bargained for. My life was about to be changed - radically changed. And my desire to gain what I had just been exposed to had to override my fears of being discovered. I had to lose in order to obtain. 
 Inspired by the testimony of the chaplain and the quarterback, I picked up my Bible for the first time in months. My curiosity had been aroused. I wanted answers to my questions and what I discovered, in time, made me believe that there could be hope - new life - on the other side of the door.