Transparency, Vulnerability, and why they're vital to spiritual growth.  

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For several weeks I have been visiting churches and hearing sermons on "transparency." The importance of transparency spans several aspects of life. As I've pondered over this idea of being completely open and vulnerable to life, I've searched for what it is that God has wanted me to be open with the masses about. Now ... I well know that transparency doesn't only apply to one specific notion or happening, but rather to life as a whole. What is it about transparency that might be important in regards to faith? Why do other people need to know about things that I have dealt with? What is it about the vulnerability that comes along with being transparent that helps the believer? Why has God led me to seven different churches over the past month and a half, and the looming theme in these sermons been very similar in nature? As I ran today through my new hometown listening to praise music, taking in the sights, and wondering what all the other runners and bikers were thinking ... it hit me. "Her running expertise may come in handy to you, Ryn. More importantly, your decision not to run from ME anymore may benefit her. It's your mission to use your faith struggle to strengthen my kingdom and to show non- believers and believers alike that THEY ARE NOT ALONE." It was almost audible. I've only discussed this with very close friends. Not even really with my parents. So, parents, if you're reading this ... sorry I didn't come to you. This journey had to be completed on my own. I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Biology from the University of Alabama and most (if not all) of my professors were either agnostic or atheists. As a young child and even a teenager, I had an unwavering conviction that Jesus was my savior. I was in church nearly every time the doors were open. Everyone in authority over me believed. All of my teachers went to church. I would have friends come to me and ask why I was so passionate about Jesus. I remember sitting on the beach during "quiet time" on a youth retreat, and a sweet girl who grew up in a family that was of another faith asked me to tell her about Jesus. I was completely caught off guard. The idea that someone didn't know what the Bible said seemed so strange to me. Also, atheism seemed so very foreign to me. HOW could anyone NOT know there's a God? Moreover, how could anybody ever act as though science could just explain it all? I thought of atheists as stupid people. In my mind, they were stubborn and selfish. But I didn't understand it. I didn't understand that thought process. As I started college, family as I knew it started to fall apart and fall back together in new and very different ways. It was as though everything I knew to be true and factual faded into this grey area of "maybe's." Huge life changes took place and it seemed as though all the truth I had come to know was now somehow void. I remember it like it was yesterday. It felt as if someone had stolen my heart and my breath all at once and I was left with only thoughts. "What if everything you've ever known was a lie? What if this idea of a personal relationship with God is a figment of your imagination? What if your relationships are all just figments of your imagination?" I would attempt to convince myself otherwise by repeating to myself that "this is just the devil trying to take joy from you," but not even that worked. It was as though I was lifeless. My body worked just fine but my mind was void of feeling. Now ... some of you are thinking, "Oh, you were just depressed." Well, yeah ... I was. But for the next few years this depression sent me on my biggest journey to date. I wanted to find God. I wanted to find out why I believed. I wanted to validate my faith with facts. I wanted to be able to argue my point to teachers that would have loved to disprove my argument. I WANTED TO BE RIGHT. Wrong angle. I searched. I read. I studied the apologists. I spent nights staying up listening to praise and worship music YEARNING to feel God's presence again. I just wanted to FEEL again. I had blocked Him out of my life completely. Even though I listened to worship music and searched for feeling, I had none. I would think, "Maybe it'll be easier when it gets cold outside. Then I'll realize that I can still feel things." I remember being so lost that I would even discredit conversations that I would have with best friends, family members, etc. Thinking to myself ... "this conversation is just a figment of your imagination. You don't have a relationship with this person." I had a very difficult time connecting with others. All the symptoms of classic depression. And maybe I was depressed. But I was also allowed to go on this journey so that I could understand my faith. Apologists: Lee Strobel, Francis Collins, C.S. Lewis ... all brilliant men. All went on the same journey as I did. Lee Strobel - atheist. Came to seek Christ because of what he witnessed in his wife's life. Is now a professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. Dr. Francis Collins - head of the Human Genome Project. Came to seek Christ because of a patient. Ultimately came to Christianity because of C.S. Lewis's writings. Encountered Jesus through his journey that he originally set out on to PROVE his atheism. On a sunny afternoon, he went hiking in the Cascade Mountains ... turned a corner and saw a frozen waterfall. At that moment, all of his resistance fell away. He fell on his knee's and embraced God's love. (I think Dr. Collin's story is one of my favorites.)

After years of searching and digging and longing to be near to God, about 5 years ago I had an encounter with love in a way that debunked argument. Pastor Chris at Church of the Highlands says, "God's presence is more powerful than any argument." And boy is he right. As I basked in His presence, tears streamed from my eyes almost involuntarily. I thanked God for loving me enough to allow me to seek Him out. To find out what my strong conviction was about. I thanked Him for bringing very significant scientists into my life and into my path who had unwavering faith in Him. Ultimately, it's faith. Now ... I'm not writing this to debate God's existence. In my mind there is NO debate. But there was. And I wanted to share with people who may be in the same position or know someone who is, when you seek Him with your whole heart - you will find Him. His love and presence will be revealed to you, and eventually you will be able to choose to follow in FAITH or not to. And my prayer is that you choose to follow Him because it was the absolute BEST decision of my life.

He is my stronghold. He is my shelter. He is my rock. He showers AMAZING grace over me and I'm allowed to bask in it even though I am SO unworthy. And even though this was one of the most trying and difficult times of my life, I wouldn't change a single minute of my quest for His face. Because now, the realness of worshiping a LIVING God brings me to tears every time. Guys, think about that. It's a personal relationship with a personal God and just like I can hug my baby sisters and let them know how much I love them, I can do the same for the One who holds the universe in His hands. God,

I pray for the hearts of the searching tonight. I have been there and I know how lonely it can feel. But I pray, Lord, that you would put people in their path just like you did for me that would show evidence of You and Your unyielding and unwavering love. Please let those reading this that aren't struggling with this know just how important their role as your child is in Your kingdom. God, let this speak your truth ... not mine. Let this story be glorifying to your kingdom in ways that may never even be known to me, but bring glory to You. I pray that this is how you would've had me share this story and that it doesn't bring any glory to me but to You.

In Jesus PRECIOUS name, Amen.