Ears in the Dark

Most of my grade school years took place on a tiny island off of the Malaysian peninsula. My missionary parents were unable to secure permanent visas into India, the land to which God called them, but were able to acquire student visas for my brother and me and tourist visas for themselves to Malaysia. Every few months, we would have to leave Malaysia for at least 24 hours according to the stipulations of my parents’ visas. As a result, we spent the school term in Malaysia and every school holiday we could visiting Bible colleges and churches in Chennai (then Madras), Bangalore, and Secunderabad, India. 

After our first two-and-a-half year term in Malaysia, my family returned home on furlough for a year. On the weekends (and sometimes on Wednesday nights) my parents traveled to churches that supported us monthly and shared about the work to which God had called them. My brother and I enrolled in public school and endeavored to adjust to life in the United States again. 

Near the end of our year “home,” my brother (who is an extraordinary musician) competed in a statewide fine arts festival. The judges at the competition recognized his talent and extended to him an invitation to compete on a national stage. The only drawback was that the national competition was scheduled for late in the summer, after our family was scheduled to return to Malaysia and set up housekeeping in our new home before the start of the next school term. My parents discussed options and agreed that my dad and I would travel on our originally scheduled departure date and get settled, and my mother and brother would join us after the competition. 

I do not remember much about the trip with my dad other than that we had a layover in an airport hotel and my skinned knees had bled and stuck to my tights (why do we most often remember the unpleasant things?). My first coherent memory of the trip takes place the morning after we arrived in Malaysia. My Dad and I were sharing a small room in a building I knew as “The Office.” We were preparing to lease a house in another part of the island, but we had to wait to move in for a few months until the end of the current lessees’ lease. We spent the intervening months in an office building/dormitory, sharing living space with a few YWAM students. On the morning after Dad and I arrived at our temporary home at the office, I awakened early in the predawn hours—a victim of the jet lag that accompanies traveling halfway around the world. 

I tried to rest on my cot without making a sound, aware even as an upcoming fourth grader that my dad was weary from travel. Then a weaving motion on top of a nearby bookshelf caught my eye. 

Let me pause to insert here that a few years before, two weeks after we had moved to Malaysia for the first time, I found a baby viper coiled behind my bedroom door. I was five years old. The experience had left a marked terror of all snakes within me. 

In the dim, early morning light, the gentle bobbing that had caught my eye from the top of the bookshelf looked like the serpentine twisting of a snake. My eyes began telling me that said snake was making a slow path off the shelf and would be on the floor soon. I resisted the urge to shriek and felt my limbs freeze to my little cot. For what felt like hours, I watched and waited for the moment that I would find myself face to face with my most feared enemy. 

Finally, fear mastered all attempts at reason. In my tiniest voice—”Daddy?”

My father’s voice cut through the half light with an immediate response from across the room. In retrospect, he was probably fighting the effects of jet lag also, but my young mind only grasped that now I had someone bigger and stronger to face my foe and keep me safe. I hesitantly explained what was frightening me, and Dad rose to flip the light switch without question. Brilliant fluorescent bulbs illuminated the face of my terror—a lone plastic bag stored on top of the shelves. Dad never protested the inconvenience of sleep disturbed or told me I was being silly. He calmly removed the bag and cut the lights again so that both of us could try to get some more rest before beginning the day. 

—- 

Psalms 34:15

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.

I love Psalm 34:15, and I think of my experience with the snake/plastic bag when I read it. I spent long moments in abject terror because I had convinced myself that my father was sleeping and I should not bother him. The mixture of relief and gratitude that flooded through me at hearing his voice is hard to describe. He validated me with his instant response and unquestioning support. My tiny fear mattered to him. 

In the same way, God’s ears are always opened to those who love Him. Our tiny heart issues still elicit a response from Him when we call Him. We waste copious amounts of time fearing shadows in the dark, but our Father is always there with ears straining to hear the smallest cry and turn on the lights. He is invested in the little things as much as He is in the larger issues. There is nothing too inconsequential to bring before Him. 

Speak. He is listening. 

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A Teaching in the Teacup

This one’s for all my fellow introverts/ambiverts. I would tell you to wave at me, but—let’s face it—drawing that much attention to yourself is embarrassing; so feel free just to break eye contact and give a quiet nod to yourself. You know who you are. 

My introversion as a child was extreme, and attributed to shyness. It carried into heartbreak as a teen when I would attend youth gatherings and no one would initiate conversation. Over time, circumstances (and my mother) began teaching me that hiding behind introversion can be a form of selfishness—I was consumed with fearing what others thought about me too much to share the love of Jesus in me with hurting people. I began forcing myself to make contact and learn the art of small talk (something I still hate and struggle to master here in my thirties—let’s not even mention the number of times I’ve recalled a conversation and thought, “Could you have been any more awkward?”). 

Becoming a stay at home mother has developed a new layer in my tendencies toward introversion. I’m in a season where I don’t always get the tranquil hour to recharge after social contact. Instead, interruptions fill my days and incessant chatter punctuates every thought. I live in the tension between trying to show interest as my babies’ personalities develop, and feeling emotionally spent after a three minute monologue devoted to telling me that their older cousin is, in fact, older than they are. 

I was feeling sorry for myself this morning, and ruminating on how much I wished my workday had set clock-in and clock-out hours, when the Scripture inside my breakfast teacup caught my eye:

He fills my life with good things. ~Ps. 103:5, NLT

Hello perspective, old friend. 

Those interruptions? They’re a good thing. That fostered longing for quiet time away? Still a good thing. The boredom in listening to my children prattle about things I feel are unimportant? A good thing. 

It goes beyond the simple expression of gratitude for a safe home and healthy, happy children—though a thankful heart for the little things is crucial. This morning, I sense Holy Spirit prompting me toward renewed perspective on my innate response as well. The Father who fashioned my personality knows it well. He is attuned to my longing for quiet places because He fostered it within me. A God who inspired David to pen, “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2b-3a,ESV) understands introverts. 

So where is the good in the interruptions, the boredom, the inner turmoil, the angst, the desperate need for ten minutes of silence that never come?

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. ~Psalm 62:1, ESV

Quiet time and drawing away are vital and necessary. I’m fortunate to have a husband who champions my time with the Lord, and often sends me to our room to rest and pray when he arrives home at night. However, Psalm 62 struck me because of the distinction the psalmist made. He could have written, “For God alone I wait in silence,” but he chose the words my soul. I feel the distinction is significant because David must have found it difficult to draw away in his later years. He learned the value of quiet introspection as a youth in the fields, only to have God thrust him into court life, exile, and kingship—none of which offered him much privacy or uninterrupted quiet time. David learned to keep his soul quiet, even in the turmoil that surrounded him. 

The chaos of life with small children will not always be my portion, but it is one of many good things given to me by the Lord. My children are my training ground to develop a quiet soul. I can embrace the season of learning to have open spiritual ears even while my physical ears ring with the exuberant playing, endless curiosity, and impassioned outbursts of my children. 

You quiet my soul. 

You satisfy my soul. 

I am content. 

He fills your life with good things. Ask Him today to show you how the little annoyances you face are His disguised blessings. 

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So Now What?

It’s been a month since I received the news of my book’s publication, and about two weeks since my first shipment arrived. 

The last few weeks have been a mix of a steady stream of decisions (“Should I offer a book signing? Would anyone actually come? Do I want to make any changes to my author website? In which cities do I want them to target my press release?”) and the gradual acceptance that I’m not dreaming. Holding my book and reading my name across the cover has forced an internal tension where I’ve struggled with the exchange of titles—”author” instead of merely “person who scribbles in her spare time.”  Calling myself an author still feels pretentious, like I’m wrapping myself in someone else’s overcoat. 

I always knew there were books to come, but I always thought I would feel different when the time came. I envisioned wrapping myself in soft cardigans before a crackling fire in a pristine, secluded cabin somewhere artfully crafting jeweled sentences that lifted my readers to ethereal planes of literary bliss. Instead, “But Who is Jesus?” came in fits and spurts over several months at a blinking living room computer surrounded by tumbleweed dog hair and a toddler tugging at my elbow. A writer cam at my house would have most often displayed a frizzy haired, sleepy mama sporting yesterday’s eyeliner smudging the bags under her eyes and pajamas in a dubious stage of cleanliness. Surely authors should look more dignified, my inner monologue is quick to state. 

But the reality is that I couldn’t have written, “But Who is Jesus?” in a secluded cabin. So much of the book sprang from Holy Spirit whispering the character of Christ in my daily interactions with my family. Jesus didn’t reveal Himself while on earth in seclusion; He displayed His heart and His nature across the gritty, authentic panorama of the human experience. The Jesus secluded on the mountains, praying to His Father, is one to whom we don’t have much access. We know He drew away to pray, but Scripture veils almost all of the details of His conversations. Jesus unveiled had dinner with friends, cuddled sick children, attended weddings, showed up at funerals, and napped in boats. Two thousand years later, He’s still choosing to show Himself through weak humanity in prison houses, checkout aisles, office buildings, and (in my case, at least) surrounded by three rambunctious children and an oversized coat-blowing husky in small-town Mississippi. 

The question I’m currently asking the Lord is, “What now?” Is there more for me to write? I confess, it seem unthinkable that any subject could compare to the revelation of who Jesus is. So, do I stay in this theme and keep researching? Or is there another facet He wants me to explore that will exalt the name of the Savior I love? At this point, I have no answer. So I rest, and I wait, and I keep looking for Him in the small places of daily life. 

Further up and further in. 

-Chrystal

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Still Here

This is going to be a vulnerable post for me to write— perhaps the most vulnerable one I have ever written. I have struggled with a spirit of rejection for my entire life. It started early in childhood—the fruit of a transient lifestyle that living in ministry necessitates. We moved houses once every two years or so. It is difficult to maintain lifelong friendships with sand in your shoes, and was especially difficult when technology was not what it is today.  We moved overseas when you still had to schedule a long-distance telephone call in advance with an operator.  Texting, Skyping, and the like were not even a thought. 

Beyond the instability of my childhood, I was often the third wheel in my friendships. I tended to play counselor, helping other girls patch up their squabbles with their best friends, and then would consign myself to a book when the two inevitably ran off to play together without me. I often felt like I did not measure up and could not relate to people my own age. The “being the third wheel” feeling was a pattern that continued into my adulthood. I longed for relational stability, but it felt like my life was a series of upheavals.

The enemy likes to take the natural inclinations of our personalities and exacerbate them. Rejection often manifests in fear and in a tendency to try to hurt before you can be hurt. To this day, I am acutely sensitive to perceived unfairness, and I am prone to taking it personally when individuals get busy and fall out of contact. Rejection often will spiral into fear of being rejected, which then manifests as the conviction that everyone hates me. 
A few weeks ago, my feelings began to escalate due to a perfect storm of unrelated events. The final straw hit when I realized I was allowing myself to feel neglected when Facebook friends interacted on others’ posts but never mine. You know it is bad when you get caught up in the Facebook drama. 🙂 Believing that the Lord was allowing some things to come together in order to bring change in my life, I removed myself from Facebook in order to accept His invitation into some serious self-reflection and growth. He did not leave me waiting long. 

The Sunday of my break offline, my pastor spoke a powerful message on growing pains that seemed to confirm the fact that the Lord is wanting to bring me out of victimhood and into empowered freedom from rejection. Doing so requires a change in perspective on a lot of events in my life. The following Saturday, I was honored to be able to lead worship for an incredible group of ladies who had come together to listen to some teachings by Christine Caine on getting past your past. I have found a portion of this teaching on YouTube, and I am sharing the link below. I highly recommend anyone who follows my writings to listen to the truth of her message. This is not a blanket personal endorsement of her ministry. I have not yet heard any of her other teachings. However, “Moving Past Your Past” is powerful, and a good weapon to have to be able to pull out and hear again regularly. 

Soon after, I took my husband to the TobyMac Hits Deep concert in our city for an early anniversary present (this man has shepherded my heart for six years already—can you believe it?) and heard Mandisa tell a crowded arena of strangers that she had relapsed into food addiction. She shared how the devil began to whisper how much of a hypocrite she was for getting up in front of people and singing about being an overcomer when she herself was failing. Our stories are rarely pretty, but there is beauty in the journey. Then she threw back her head and belted out a single from her newest upcoming album as a challenge to the enemy who wants to silence her message—”I’m still here.” I am looking forward to that album. There is power in the vulnerable places. 

Where does that leave me now? I will be the first to admit I am a work in progress. My knee-jerk reaction in the face of perceived neglect is most often to withdraw and analyze all the reasons the other party must not like me. When individuals have conversations or choose to spend time without me, my immediate thought is still to believe they are purposefully excluding me, that I am a bother, and that I am too much for them to handle. I am still too caught up in what other people think of me. The fear of man is a nasty stronghold to try to escape.

Why am I sharing this? 

One of the most powerful truths that came from the Christine Caine teaching was this: you measure your degree of freedom by your ability to turn around and set others free. I know I am not the only one who has struggled with a spirit of rejection. I know I am not the only one who has had thoughts of self hatred. I know I am not the only one who has reacted in fear and feeling left out of things. I am so thankful that I have some godly friends in my life who do not struggle in this area and who have been able to pour into me over the last few weeks. So I share where I am now to invite you into my process. I feel my Jesus standing beside me and asking the question He asked of the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be healed?” 

I do. I long to be healed. I do not want to be in this place of focusing on my lack of self-esteem rather than on how I can continue to bless those the Lord has entrusted to me. I do not want to live my life magnifying my self-worth rather than His glory. And I want to have the privilege of looking at other young woman trapped in the pain of past rejection and saying, “If God did it for me, there is no way He is not able to do it for you too.”

It is a twisty journey. It isn’t pretty. But I’m still here. 

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“You Don’t Question the Teacher During the Test”

God has abundantly blessed our family this February.  About two weeks ago (on February 1), we received the news that a hole in her heart that had been there since birth, closed.  The very next day, sitting cross-legged on my bed with her older brother bouncing on the floor nearby, Tirzah offered that same heart as a home for Jesus.  I have marveled over how He filled a physical/literal hole in her heart one day, and then filled the spiritual hole in her heart the next.  When He comes into a situation, He always improves it.

February 13 marks a significant anniversary in our family.  I posted about it this morning on my author Facebook page, but I will share the text of what it says below as well.

Today is a special day for our family. On this day, three years ago, our two-week-old baby girl’s heart would not start beating again after a heart cath procedure. Three years ago today, the head of pediatric cardiology–who had maneuvered scheduling so that he performed her heart cath personally–worked to save her life. And three years ago today, God gave her back to us.

In her honor, here’s a brief snippet from the chapter of “But, Who is Jesus?” that shares her story:

“I was not prepared for how Tirzah would look when the recovery nurse arranged her in my arms. Her head slumped against me, and her unfocused eyes twitched across my face, like those of a dizzy child who had been spinning in a chair for too long. I studied her unnatural grin and tried without success to get her to nurse for the first time in twelve hours. The memory of her screaming into the anesthesia mask gnawed at me; and I could not help wondering if I would ever get my baby back from the dream-place she now inhabited. I could not help wondering if I would ever be able to explain to her why we allowed her to scream for us without intervening.”

I have almost forgotten the terror of those early days–a testimony to our Father’s redemptive faithfulness.  When I look at Tirzah, I find myself picturing her as a mother with her own home to run one day without pausing; I was not always that confident, however.  It is so easy in the dark places to wonder if life will always be a struggle.  Walking from a miscarriage to an unexpected, potentially fatal diagnosis in immediately successive pregnancies made me wonder if I was broken.  When I was sent in for a Level 2 ultrasound with my most recent baby (our fourth pregnancy, and first after Tirzah) and the doctors began speaking of a ventricular septal defect in his heart (a hole between the lower chambers) and a choroid plexus cyst on his brain, I almost made peace with the conviction that there is something wrong with me.  Panic welled in my heart.  Then, I heard Him.

“She laughs at the days to come.”

I wrote the following after I left that appointment:

I heard You there today,
When my heart careened,
And adrenaline twisted through;
There, where breathing shallowed and
Each muscle balled,
Bracing for bad news.
It was a whisper—
A mere fragment out of a thousand things
You could have said.
—”She laughs at the days to come.”—
Funny how proverbial observation can
Become command
In the voice of the Master.
The disaster of
The scheme of a man,
Unfulfilled before His higher plan.

Be still, my soul. Rejoice, my heart.

Be glad, my emotions.
He is good, and He delights in being good to His beloved.

It is so easy for me to look at my healthy, happy babies (my youngest is fine, by the way), and offer a complacent smile.  When God is visible, when you press into victory, when faith proves reliable, and when you find some meaning to attach to your struggle, that frantic place inside settles and you find yourself forgetting how fiercely the battle raged.

My pastor made a powerful point in his message yesterday, stating, “You don’t question the teacher in the middle of a test.”  When children take an exam at school, whining about a test/disrupting the class when the test is ongoing brings disciplinary reactions from school staff.  Most of us learn that it is counterproductive to complain to a teacher about how hard a test is or the purpose of the test when the test is on the desk in front of us.  However, we do not extend the same respect when God leads us through tests that build character and sharpen our faith.  We cry and complain.  We wail about how much harder things are for us than for anyone else.  We demand to know the purpose for our struggle rightnow.  And He remains patient, kind, loving, and unmoving, because He is trying to grow us up into spiritual maturity.

I am learning that God very often answers our “why” questions, but very rarely will He do so when we are in the middle of the trial.  More often than I would like, His test is to see if we will remain steady even when we do not hear His answer.  If you have not found at least a partial purpose in response to–“God, why?”–then chances are your test is ongoing.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Instead of pressing for the answer to “why,” invest your energy into the Answer–Jesus–to how to make it through.  Cling to His faithful love, and know that in His timing you will receive (at least in part) an answer to “why” as well.

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