Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28

This morning I woke up (praise God) from a not so peaceful night. However, even though still confused and worn out from a restless night, I got up seeking to find out the truth behind it all.

Even though I love the Lord and do my very best to serve Him as He deserves to be honored, I am, without question, the greatest of sinners. Even though we can use expressions like such and assume exaggeration, last night, as I restlessly attempted to close my eyes, I truly felt like that a sinner without forgiveness. But how did it all began…

I was heading back from youth group, at Grace Church of Chapel Hill, when suddenly this depression/terrible sadness came over me. It seemed weird because I had been perfectly fine at church, co-leading my small group with David, a few minutes ago. However, the reality was that something had changed. Something at some level of human reality (emotional, physical, chemical, spiritual, etc.) had been altered and I was now feeling the consequences.

I made it home, around 10pm, where I would hang out with my family right before heading back to Raleigh (and hoping to get some sleep for my 0430 wake up call for Army PT). But still, even in the familiarity and peace of being surrounded by those who love you, by inner anxiety, stress, and sadness become stronger and more violent–leading me to anger as I failed to understand the source of my suffering. My mom, through her Godly mother instinct, realized that something was wrong in my expression and asked if I wanted her to pray for me. Before she could finish asking and sudden “yes, if you may” came out of my mouth, as if the little mental freedom I had left were begging for deliverance.

I got my stuff, checked my email, got in my faithful steed, a 2001 Toyota Camry, and headed to Raleigh–the awesome city I get to call home from Monday through Friday. But the entire 25 minutes from my home in Durham to the Chi Alpha Ministry House in Raleigh, where I lived, became a living nightmare. It seemed as if the beautiful lyrics of Tenth Avenue North, busting through my car speakers, weren’t loud enough no matter how much I raised the volume on my radio. I wept and cried small random tears as I knew, now for certain, that what was at work was beyond this world–beyond what my senses, primary and secondary could ever perceive.

In my desperation I tried to use weapons of this world to fight my suffering, which now felt like a growing ball of fire burning deep inside by torso. The faithful psychological tool of introspection proved futile to forces beyond our psyche’s understanding–so much for Wilhelm Wundt. Then I tried to rationalize my pain: I miss my wonderful girlfriend in Maryland, I hate saying goodbye to my family, I hate getting up for ROTC PT at 4:30am, I miss my friends, etc, etc, etc. But no. The Kingdoms beyond this reality would have none of that. Even though these thoughts and emotions were intensified by my situation, they weren’t the source–that would have been way too easy.

Around 11pm I made it to the Chi Alpha House and in anger pushed myself, with my clean laundry and bags of groceries through the doors barely noticing or saying hi to those present in the living room. For the next hour I attempted to block out the forces assaulting and besieging my mind, body, and spirit. I attempted to distract myself…but now. It was all futile. I called my girlfriend, texted my mentor, texted friends for prayer, and texted my bested friends as if I were some sort of ancient hero summoning all the forces of good to rally to me to fight.

Around midnight my body began to fall asleep but not out of a sense of inner peace but out of a natural, physical and biological need for rest. Tears moved like streams down my face and then the words came…”God, what do you want from me?”

Could it be possible? Could it have been God all along? The suffering and agony? The pain and the frustration? The feeling of border-psychotic (not because I hate life but because the pain of being conscious was so intense that the most random of thoughts crossed my mind)? I turned to my “Dagger” (a name I borrowed from my buddy Jeff, referring to a “small Bible”) and opened up to the Book of Psalms. I knew exactly where God was leading me.

Psalm 22: “I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death…”

“But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save  me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.”

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This morning, as I woke up, one word was delivered to my mind: Israel. And  by this I don’t refer to the mini-power house of a country in the Middle East. No. I refer to the man who was present at UFC 001 when God dropped kicked Jacob in the face. Israel…he who struggles with God.

If you asked me whether I now know what it is that God wanted from me last night, my answer would be that I’m not sure. I feel like I have an idea, but it is typical of God to let us walk on faith trusting that eventually He will lead us in the right direction. I believe that there are issues in my life that, for many years, I have refused to let God take control–maybe this is the beginning of something God is trying to work on. Nevertheless, I find myself dwelling on the thought that sometimes, when we decide to be stubborn for long enough, God is willing to scare the crap out of you with His angels to get us to listen…and at the same time scare the little demons we like to chill with.

In truth, whenever we struggle with God and He wins…we actually win too.

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