I watched my brother’s roommate, BJ, zip up a backpack stuffed with a water bottle, snack, bible and a few other little things. “Where you going?”
“Just driving out to the parkway to spend the afternoon in solitude and hike.”
“Really? By yourself? How come?” says 22-year old me. The Kelly that couldn’t stand to be alone in thought for more than a millisecond.
“To spend time with Jesus, be in nature, slow down for a little bit, pray, get some exercise, hear from the Lord. You should do it Kelly. It’s so good.” Off he went and there I sat.
GO ALONE…..TO THE WOODS….FOR SOLITUDE??? A dueling battle between fear of aloneness and yet a strong desire to understand solitude began to rage inside me. Can fear and curiosity coexist together? They seem to be at odds.
I don’t think BJ will ever know that he was the one….the one that gave the final shove to the boulder of Kelly that had been sitting on a spiritual plateau. A safe, perfectly manicured, legalistic, narrow minded, swiss cheese theology little cliff. He pushed my rock off and started it rolling in a direction I could never have imagined.
I went to a pretty famous Christian (read Baptist) University back in the mid/late 90’s. Maybe you’ve witnessed my awesome profile and my adorable third born on one of their commercials.
Oh yes…that’s me picking up Rhett from the crib and playing peekaboo at the end. We’re adorable. Also my beautiful sister-in-law is the lady on the couch with the laptop. Our five minutes of fame was a family thang! Seriously, after all the filming they did that’s the part that made it. One of my major insecurities…my profile. It’s like Jesus made me accept it because it was playing on ESPN, FOX, Food Network and all sorts of networks daily. YOU WILL ACCEPT YOUR CHIN KELLY!!!!
Anyways, I’m not bagging on any denomination or my crescent moon profile in this post. The fact is I had heard the term “spiritual disciplines” somewhere along the lines of getting my religion degree but I had no idea what it meant and that it was an expected and GLORIOUS part of the believer’s life. I was SO missing out.
I’m incredibly thankful that starting my sophomore year of college I began attending a little church plant, about 7 years old at the time, called Grace Evangelical Free Church. It’s really where I got my spiritual sea legs. It’s also where I was introduced to authors like Dallas Willard. He is one of the most gifted men of our time on teaching “kingdom living”. Did you know the greatest and most often taught message of Christ in his three years of ministry was on the Kingdom of God? Did you know that it is here, available, and begins at salvation? We can live in the reality of heaven on earth by being disciples of Christ, by taking steps to live our lives as Jesus would if he were in our shoes. MIND BLOWN. This took me many years to truly understand what kingdom living really is but I can go back to certain tipping points in my life and nod my head up and down and say “YES…YES that’s when I started to move in the right direction in understanding.”
Solitude was one of the first disciplines I ever stepped out in a conscious manner and executed all because BJ said “Do it.” It wasn’t BJ though, it was Jesus readying my heart to go the next level with him. So I did it. I grabbed my backpack, (gotta look the part of an “outdoorsy” person after all) put snacks and drink, bible, journal, fun pen, camera and drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is before I had a cell phone (can you EVEN imagine??? The depravity) In all honesty I was terrified and if my mom had known I drove to the woods alone I would have probably been made to watch some horrible 48 Hours episode about girls being abducted. I’m not making light…these things happen but still… I was heading for a very public, park-like setting. Baby steps to solitude in the woods.
I made sure I was in screaming distance of the visitors center but I remember doing a little bushwhacking to get to a flat rock that overlooked the James River. It was a warm, sunny and gorgeous fall day. I carefully laid out my journal, bible, and pen (at perfect space intervals like a good OCD person would) and there I sat. I was waiting for my lightning bolt to strike. Maybe God needed a little more time to show up. I grabbed my disposable camera which happened to be a B&W roll because I was SUPER artistic and nothing says artistic like B&W. I’m embarrassed to say that I took a picture of my hand on the rock with the river in the background…hahaha. I’m dying laughing even writing about it because I probably thought it was so DEEP at the time. Eeesh…Kelly!
After my little photo shoot was done I sat on the rock and let myself finally just think. I honestly can’t remember what I started thinking about because this is literally 16-17 years ago….but I do remember just staring at the water below and my mind slowly started to clear and I began to journal. This was at a point in my life that I was struggling deeply with past wounds, in a very sinful relationship with a guy, had a paper thin theology on who God was and what life was about, was thoroughly confused on what I was doing now that I was a big, bad, college grad. The gentleness of the Lord is astounding to me. No matter where we are at, no matter how infantile our theology, our misunderstanding of His character, our poor choices and secret sins…God is there, meeting us where we are at, communicating, wanting to be found, standing like any parent does when their child is hurt…arms wide stretched with love and compassion in their eyes. My Abba, my heavenly Father…he was with me on that rock and he dipped his finger into my soul that day and like a paint can that’s settled and separated he began to stir me round and round. My no substance, no depth, no color paint can. God had plans for me, plans I could never dared dream of. Round and round I needed to go. A little light was ignited in me and I tasted and I saw, like Psalms 34 tells us, that the Lord is GOOD and I wanted more.
I think I spent a few hours just sitting, praying, thinking, journaling, reading my Bible and then I got this WILD thought. I mean it was WILD because Kelly at 22 was packing some serious extra weight on herself. I was a good 40 lbs. overweight and I did not exercise. All of a sudden I wanted to run. RUN I SAY. I still don’t understand it myself. I don’t know where the stamina came from but I got up, put my back pack on and I started running down a trail, then another trail and another trail. Soon I was well in to the woods (sorry mom, it just happened), drinking in the colors of the leaves, exploring a cool little cave, another small stream, an old wooden bridge, on and on it went. I felt alive.
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Eph. 5:14
I wish I could say that that was the day I turned my life around but it wasn’t. In fact it was another six dark, heart-wrenching years before my true emancipation from sin and my past happened. What did start that day was me taking steps towards truth and light. Just one practice of a discipline led to me trying the next discipline. Regular scripture reading and memorization, worship…like REALLY worshipping (my hands were up baby!) tithing, fasting, etc… I wanted more of Jesus.
My favorite area that God blew the doors open on was missions. I went on my first missions trip to the slums of Nogales, Mexico in July 1999 as a senior high youth leader. Everything changed, all bets were off on what I “thought” I wanted to do with my life after that trip. After I went to Mexico the next year was Kazakstan for a some total of about six months of my life. I also served on a short term team to North Cyprus and have since visited multiple other countries. I got the bug to go and serve out of the US and it was the greatest gift the Lord could have given me. The photos peppering this post are from a return trip back to Nogales, Mexico last summer with Ryan.
Fun fact…did you know that the United States makes up just 4% of the world’s population? That means 96% of the world lives VERY differently than us in America. NINETY-SIX percent, people. Get out of your own way and realize that we are a minority. If you only experience God and church in the US then you are missing out. I learned more about the Lord from watching other people in 2nd and 3rd world countries abandon EVERYTHING for Jesus, than I ever could have learned in the wealthiest nation on earth; my country. God LOVES the world, He loves diversity, He loves hearing his name sung in every language. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. It has been my PRIVILEGE to hold hands with people from all over the world and listen to them sing from their toes worship songs to the Father. There are not enough words to describe that honor. It is my picture of heaven that I have tucked into my heart.
This post comes from a fire in my belly. It’s long…I’ve just resigned myself that all of my posts are going to be long. This topic of service in the kingdom is my greatest goal and passion while I live and breath on this earth. I’ve misunderstood it and overcomplicated it for far too long. Let me give you a little taste of Dallas Willard.
The enemy in our time is not human capacity, or over activism, but the enemy is passivity – the idea that God has done everything and you are essentially left to be a consumer of the grace of God and that the only thing you have to do is find out how to do that and do it regularly. I think this is a terrible mistake and accounts for the withdrawal of active Christians from so many areas of life where they should be present. We all know that Jesus said, (in John 15) ‘without me you can do nothing’. We need to add, ‘if you do nothing, it will be most assuredly without him.’
We are a glutinous people group. We are consumers and takers of “stuff” and this translates just as much to the church as it does to people, places and things. Our churches are full of metaphorically fat, unhappy, overly-critical, self-indulgent, pessimistic, lazy, takers. Am I being too harsh? I’m not trying to be, I’m really not. The most available statistic on church MEMBER giving is from 2011 where members give on average 2.3 of their annual income. Chew on that. Does that make you sad? It makes me sad.
To quote Ghandi. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
There is hope and it comes from living in God’s upside down Kingdom. This is for Part Two.