It’s been a difficult year for me. This year will mark the second year after my graduation from Eastern Illinois University and I still have not found work. I have no income, and so far my attempts to seek help through the local branch of DHS have not amounted to much.
Winter is usually the time when I feel most alive, partly because I was born in December, partly because I have a higher tolerance to cold than heat. But this winter has proven a challenge for my spirits. I’m torn between hope and despair on a regular basis.
But God is still with me. I know He’s with me because this last year has marked an exponential spiritual growth in me. I find my patience for other people growing, I find myself with a much greater capacity for love than I’ve ever had before. And some of the things I find myself able to do with God through prayer are simply amazing.
The most recent example I can think of happened only a week ago from the time of writing this article. A friend of mine, Metta, was worried about a friend of hers who’d been abducted by an unstable boyfriend. No one had any idea where he had taken her, the police hadn’t found them, but were thoroughly searching. So I prayed with her, had her participate in the prayer with me. We prayed for her friend’s safety, that she would be returned home. I checked in with Metta the next day and discovered that her friend had been found, that the boyfriend was in jail, and that Metta was being a source of comfort for her friend as she recovered from the trauma.
Metta was very grateful that I had prayed with her. And this wasn’t the first time I’d done so either. I’ve prayed with her many times for troubles she was having in her own home. Each time I’ve prayed with her, something amazing has happened. It’s cemented a strong friendship between us that did not exist prior to the last few months.
And yet, panic and doubt are still my most common companions. Not long after I prayed with Metta for the safety of her friend I found myself panicking, fearing that she would be found dead or that she wouldn’t be found at all, that my prayers would prove useless and that the experience would drive a wedge between Metta and God, perhaps even our friendship.
I began asking other people to pray for her, so that she would have a greater chance of coming home safe. This in itself was not a bad idea, any prayers prayed out of love are always welcome to God’s ears. The more the merrier. But when the motivation is a lack of faith in the strength of your connection to God, this not so good.
God prevailed in spite of my doubts, revealing my need for a stronger faith.
I’ve accomplished many things in my spiritual journey this year, but my faith still lacks a degree of confidence. I am tormented on a weekly basis by fears and anxieties about my present situation and how it might affect my future. I often feel stuck, useless, even blocked from better things. Most nights out of any given month I go to bed feeling spent, broken, and weak, not sure how I’m going to get through the next day.
But God is with me and is working something in me. I can’t say what it is, but I can always feel His hands working inside me. Sometimes this brings me comfort, sometimes this makes me angry. I look forward to the turning of the next year with mixed feelings of anxiety and anticipation. Where will I be by the time 2013 comes around? What awaits me in 2012? Where am I going? Where is God leading me? Is there a reason to follow? Should I continue?
I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, emptied, broken. I’m desperate, discouraged, unsure. I feel like a dying woman asking for a drink with her last breath.
Believe it or not, this is not the article I had originally planned to write for this issue. I had intended to write a more cheerful, exalting article, singing the praises of the need for transformation. But the more I poured my thoughts into the challenge, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to a more honest approach.
The truth is this: I do think continued renewal is necessary. I do think constant transformation is necessary. But not because life is so happy and cheerful all the time.
In fact, for many of us, whether inside or outside of the LGBT community, things are often not so happy or cheerful. Even in the best of times. But God is still there, working in each and every one of us. His plans for a brighter future do not always come in a way we recognize and He does not always work in us exactly the way we want Him to.
God is not the one who put me in the desperate situation I find myself in, nor does He take pleasure in my suffering. If not for the presence of God in my life, I don’t think I’d have survived this year at all. Often, when I go to bed feeling broken, spent, empty, drained of everything, I look to God and speak very frankly. Sometimes I cry out, sometimes I weep, and sometimes we just talk.
He is always there. He always listens. And He’s always very quick to remind me of the things He has done for me. Sometimes He even reveals to me areas I hadn’t recognized him in.
Sometimes none of this is enough for me. Sometimes I’m just so burned out, I’d rather curse God and be done with it all. Once or twice I’ve even confessed to God that I hated Him a little bit. Sometimes I just feel like I’ve got nothing left to give and I don’t want to try anymore.
I’ve discovered a solution for this: I pray for renewal.
Not just “renewal” in the most common, symbolic sense, but complete re-newal. I pray for God to break me apart completely and rebuild me again. To destroy the used up vessel and make a new one from the same material.
But perhaps this metaphor is too extreme. I’ll try a different one.
Consider thinking of yourself, spiritually, as a song, as notes written on a page. Now consider what happens to that page when it’s exposed to the elements for an extended period of time. The paper has now become so tarnished and worn that the notes are too faded or obscured to read. You still love the song, but the carrier is used up. Imagine tearing the paper apart and rewriting the music on a fresh page, only this time you think of a few new notes you can add to the song. Now the music has been restored once again to its full beauty, only now its beauty is greater than the original. It’s still the same song, but it’s been renewed; the new notes have not altered its original beauty, they have simply transformed it, made it greater than it was before.
Picture this happening at least a dozen times, the song becoming more and more beautiful each time it is refreshed. Each renewal of the song does not keep it from eventually wearing out again, no matter what sort of paper it is transcribed on, yet the original author of the song can’t bear to part with it so each time He writes it again, seeing fit to add a few new notes each time. The song was never ugly in any sense, but by now the beauty of the original copy pales in comparison to that of its present form. This then is what I mean by my stressing of the need for continued renewal.
This is what I ask God for each time I come to Him bleeding from my anxiety and hopelessness like open wounds. I do not ask for “the strength to endure,” because gaining the strength to endure in a feeling of hopelessness is no victory at all. Not for me. I ask to be made new, for my spirit to shine with beauty once again, just a few improvements made. Perhaps some more patience here, perhaps a little greater compassion there, or whatever the case may be.
I want to be ready for what lies ahead, but God’s sight is greater than mine. He knows at what pace He must grow me. Though I may wish for everything to come at once, God knows better than I how soon I can be made ready.
The Christian group DC Talk once wrote a song that included the words, “I will sing, sing a new song,” words no doubt taken from Psalm 144 in the Bible. I think both DC Talk and the original psalmist were onto something, but I don’t think they took the concept to its full potential. We all sing a new song when we open our hearts and minds to Christ, but the greater transformation comes when we allow Christ to sing a new song in us. This song may change from day to day, but it will never alter our original beauty. God didn’t forget to add a few things when He made us originally, He merely gave us what we needed at that time. He has so much more to offer us, things our Enemy, The Devil, doesn’t want us to have. Things our Earthly enemies may not want us to have either.
Not one of us goes through life never feeling weak or defeated. Perhaps instead of asking God for the strength to endure through our suffering, what we should really be asking for is a blessed renewal of the spirit he put in us. He will never change who we are, He’ll only make who we are that much more beautiful.
Since the start of 2011, I have prayed for this blessed renewal of my song more times than I can remember. I am still a transgender woman, but more importantly I am still here, seeking God and what He has in store for me.
I would like to have greater confidence in my relationship with God in 2012, I would like to not need to seek renewal from Him quite so often. I would like the passing of the old year and the coming of the new to mark a turning point in our relationship. But no matter what, I plan to continue seeking that blessed renewal from Him as often as I need it; as long as I do this I know I can expect to be restored to a place of greater beauty each time.
My time of action is soon coming, but until that day God will continue refinishing me with the qualities I’ll need when it arrives.
That, I think, is God’s greatest promise for all of us in 2012.