If you know me at all, you know that I am a big fan of control. I like knowing all of the things. I like having a plan, I like seeing a timeline, I like structure and order and practical thinking. If you know me at all, you also know that my emotions are big and they take charge more often than not. I feel everything to the upmost degree, I cry a lot, I am an ESFJ to the highest "F" degree possible. How all of these statements work together to make the giant juxtaposition of Alix Carruth is beyond me. I don't quite get the make-up, but every day is a fight to believe that this mixed up heart has purpose and that there is beauty in the messy, two-sided, simultaneously-left-and-right-brain I've been given. I mean sure, he could've made life a bit easier by picking one or the other, but he's the God who calls the shots. So we'll run with it.
August 31, 2016 is a day that will permanently carry weight in my heart. On that Wednesday, I showed up to Urban Christian Academy to volunteer for the first time. In that hour, I fell in love with a building and a people and a place. I found a home and called it good and I think God winked at me. I think he looked down and saw me there and called it good, too. So I trusted the wink and said yes to the weight of it all and chased after him. Full abandon, no holding back, chasing hard.
The months to follow were intense...have been intense...continue to be intense. Within a month, I was at that school before work every morning, soaking up as many minutes as possible with the little buddies. I was jumping into the deep end without floaties or goggles or any idea how deep the pool actually was. I was saying yes to tasks and digging deeper into responsibilities and grasping at straws of what the purpose was, what he was doing with me here, why it all felt so deeply emotional and intense so quickly. The speed at which my love for UCA moved was beautiful and good and purposeful, but it was also very, very terrifying. The emotions of it all proved to be paralyzing at points, and I found myself fighting to see the joy and stretch it over the weight of the other emotions and take time to breathe in the beauty of the work he was doing in the midst of it all. Shame about the bigness of my emotions flooded in quickly and the spiritual warfare was and is hard to ignore.
I've fallen in love once, and I think falling in love with UCA has looked a lot like that first time. All of the emotions, all at once. Not much practicality or making sense of it all, but a deep love and a deep longing and everything deep. Nothing on the surface, nothing light or freeing about it. Just lots of weight. Lots of emotion. Lots of tears. Lots of "how did I get here?" and "where is this feeling coming from?" and "I'm not ready for this" and "what are you doing, Dad?" 24/7. I think my tear ducts have been begging for a break since mid-October, but they'll probably have to keep waiting. Sorry pals.
I've fallen in love once, and it didn't pan out. It was the first time I boldly prayed and fully surrendered. Actually, it was the only time I've ever done either of those things. Have I mentioned that I'm a big fan of control? Praying about things that I have zero level of assurance on or handing over the reigns to someone else are two things I'm not very good at. But I did that a couple of years ago - boldly prayed and fully surrendered - and it was met with two years of heartache and direct eye contact with my Father followed by a very big, very heavy, very painful "no." Years have passed and I'm glad he said no. I'm glad that first love faded. My heart was wrecked, my slate was wiped clean and God redeemed the brokenness to start over on a myriad of things in my heart - idols, sin, habits, all of it. Who I was then and who I am now are very, very, very different people, and for that I am immensely grateful. It's hard to look back and wrap my head around all of that transformation, even now. Where there was pain, I found freedom and redemption and I'm thankful.
I've fallen in love once, and it has heavily influenced my story at Urban Christian Academy. That heartbreak created a very narrow understanding of full surrender in my heart. It became so, so easy to believe the lie that surrendering something to God meant hearing "no" and being heartbroken. That surrendering something to God meant you weren't good enough and you didn't get to step into something that you wanted and that you would be in physical pain from the depth of your emotions for the next 24 months. That surrendering something to God meant it wasn't going to happen, and that was that. So God made a symphony instead and used it to re-orient the word 'surrender' in my life and invited me to dance in the midst of the redemption. He brought in a sick percussion section and a beautifully full wind ensemble and some heavy brass instruments and rocked my world. He challenged me to take a long, hard look at my definition of surrender and - ironically - surrender it. To invite him to step into the mess that that first love had caused and invite him to clean it up, to make it beautiful, to redeem it, to deepen my understanding of walking obediently alongside him instead of fighting and fighting to run the other way. The intensity of the past few months have brought so much fruit and goodness and beauty into my life, but the deepest challenge and biggest grace has been in this "surrender" story. I discovered that it's easy for me to think that I get to call the shots, or at least call the shots on whether or not he can call the shots. It's easy for me to believe that saying yes or no to surrender means saying yes or no to God's sovereignty, that if I don't want him or trust him to have control, then I can say no and he'll be powerless. (It's okay to laugh at that because who do I think I am?). That if I want to avoid the heartbreak, then I can just avoid surrender and avoid handing the thing over and avoid giving him control over my future at UCA, and that I can rest in the "maybe" instead and avoid the potential of a very big, very heavy, very painful "no."
The thing is, that's not how life works. I don't get to call the shots. Ever.
We're called to make decisions, sure. We're called to exercise the free will we were given and say yes to things and no to things and move through life, trying our best to listen for his voice and be obedient and trust the will he has set before us. Sometimes that's easy and sometimes that's hard. In this season, it's been hard much more than it's been easy. Through the mess of it all, I've come to a point in the past week or so of seeing the "bigger picture." The weighty pieces still feel weighty and my weary heart still feels weary, but there is freedom and rest in stepping back and trying to see the bird's eye view for a minute.
I see that God and I are dancing. I see that, on August 2, God started making a mixed CD especially for me, designing an album color full of color and layered with meaning and laced with passion and pain and persistence. On August 31, God brought a boombox to UCA and led me to step into the building and then he pressed 'play' on the first track on the mix he'd mastered just for me. I'm still trying to figure out what the title of that first track was - probably something along the lines of, "You Belong Here But You're Going To Fight Me On That And Often Believe The Lie That You Don't." Or maybe something shorter - I'd like to think he's more articulate than I am. On September 21, he played the next song. It had fast rhythms and a confusing melody and the verses were kind of a mess, and I stepped on his toes repeatedly but he was gracious. On October 12, he played a bridge that absolutely wrecked my heart and ended in a minor chord with no resolve. On October 14, he resolved that chord and played the next song - all instrumental, no lyrics. On October 27, he let me lip sync while we danced our hearts out to the best song yet. On November 18, we danced a slow contemporary piece and he wrapped me so tightly in his love and I felt safe again for the first time in a long time. On November 27, he showed me how many people were watching on the sidelines, cheering us on as we dance together. On December 9, we did a fun birthday line dance and he revealed the beauty of community and newness to my weary heart. On December 15, the whole dance changed. I thought it would be the next track on the playlist but he switched the CD entirely and skipped a couple of tracks I thought I'd wanted to dance to...but this CD was better. The next choreography was better. I didn't know these songs or these moves but he took the lead and asked me to trust him. On December 21, he pulled me further and further across the dance hall and spun me around until I couldn't see straight, then wrapped me in his arms again and let me see the beautiful masterpiece our footsteps had created over the course of 4 months. And on December 22, he pulled a Patrick Swayze and asked me to jump boldly and trust him and he hoisted me up into the air and spun me around for everyone to see.
This girl? He said.
I pick her.
Trusting the dance as it unfolded was hard. Taking the step to move from the sidelines to the dance floor while grasping tightly to my Father's hand was harder. I was paralyzed by a lot of fear, anxiety, uncertainty - all of that mess. But I made the jump and I'm stepping and dancing. I'm trying to digest the beauty of the melody, the synchronization of Our steps. I'm fighting to not get caught up in the unknown of every sway and spin but to instead see the beauty of the motions and lean in closely to my Father's chest. I'm saying yes to each spin, to every step, to the next song and the next song and the next. I'm digesting the fact that a perfect Father has asked me, an imperfect mess of a daughter, to dance with him as he writes a beautifully heart-wrenching and emotionally draining yet equally purposeful masterpiece of a melody, just for me.
I think it's hard to swallow that. It's hard for me to be the dancer instead of the onlooker, to take the stage instead of cheer someone on from the bleachers. To see God's invitation and step boldly into it, giving him my hand as he pulls me onto the dance floor and twirls me around until I'm laughing to tears. To trust that he will redeem the brokenness through this crazy dance that I can't quite predict. To believe the promise that he is the alpha and omega, the grand author, the master choreographer. That this dance is better than my own dance, that a duet with him will always beat any solo I could conjure up on my own. Making the jump was hard - taking the step was hard - but it's even harder to feel worthy of the dance. Dad, you really pick me? You really choose me for this dance in this season? You want to dance with me, and not her, or him? You want to take MY hand, to spin ME around, to show me off to your family and say, look at her and how beautifully she dances?
In those moments, the doubt creeps in. What if the music stops playing? What if we mess up the steps? What if my heel breaks? What if it's not a perfect 10? What if the onlookers don't like the moves? What if, what if, what if? This right-brain-left-brain girl gets swallowed up by those what if's. They tend to run my life and create a big, weighty mess. I'm not the dancer you need, Dad. This song isn't right for me, Dad. This melody isn't mine, the beat is too fast, I can't keep up. Could we do more of a contemporary piece rather than a salsa? My feet are tired, Dad. Can't we rest for a minute?
In those moments, I have to fight to hear his voice. I have to think back to scripture that has meant so much to me in this season, like "the boundaries fall in pleasant places" or "let us draw near with confidence." I have to think back to friends who have encouraged me along this journey and said things like "He is not exhausted by you" and "your emotions aren't too big for me." Because those words are true and the lies in my head are just that - lies. "Fight" seems like such a harsh word in the context of my emotions, but it's the right word. Every day is a little bit of a fight to remember the minutes and trust in the love and believe in the promises and truths instead of the lies. A fight to keep saying yes with my chin up and my eyes on him and believe that I am worth it. I am worth this. I am made for this, called for this, equipped for this. And We dance.
My prayer is that when the day comes and your Father asks you to dance, when he asks you to step out boldly and believe and trust his lead, that you would say yes. That you would take his hand and let him twirl and sway and spin you around and around until your tears of sadness and overwhelm and exhaustion turn to laughter and back to tears again -- but tears of joy this time. That you would lean in and say yes to his strength in the face of your weakness. That you would trust and believe and say yes to his goodness. That you would listen as he reminds you of the song he wrote just for you. That you would feel worthy of that song and trust that there's purpose and power in his name, in his melodies and his lyrics. That you would dance. You won't know the steps and you'll likely trip and try to take the lead more often than not and step on his toes repeatedly, but there's grace for that. There's room for you. There's an invitation to dance. Won't you take it?