Friday, August 30, 2019

Hard Stuff








The last time I wrote on this blog was in April.  It's not the last time I wrote altogether.  I've written in my notebook, in my heart, in my mind.

I keep thinking I need to have something profound to share.

But, here it is.  I'm in a dry place.  I've been in a dry place this year.

Actually, that's not entirely true.  There have been moments of clarity and growth.

But, there's also been  discouragement, weightiness,  struggle, failure.

I was watching the Kara Tippetts story again tonight.  It's my second attempt at watching the documentary that brings us face to face with her and her family as they prepare for her death, as they learn to say goodbye.

And, I keep getting stuck right about halfway through.  I'm not sure why.  Is it too raw?  too real?

Does it raise questions I'm not prepared to answer?

I'm struck over and over at the incredible peace and grace that exudes from her and her family in the midst of very great suffering.

May I be honest?  It's a reminder of how deeply I fail.  How I fail to remain peaceful, gentle, and full of faith in the midst of my own minor sufferings.

What can I call suffering?  Certainly nothing like what so many around me are enduring. Sickness, death, divorce.

Certainly not anything as devastating and life altering as those things.

Yet why do I feel devastated?  Why do I feel so completely shattered at my absolute lack of control over my life?  Why do I feel like it's all too much?

What has left me so crushed?

We have been having one of the most difficult years we have ever had.  That's for sure.  Leaving a family business.  Feeling the hurt and loss associated with that.  Starting a new direction for John's career.  Financial stress.  More financial stress.  Did I mention financial stress? 

Struggling to know which direction we are meant to go.  Wondering... questioning if we heard God correctly in choosing to leave everything that was comfortable and secure.

Change after change after change.

And it's more than I can handle.  So much more.

Yet.

Yet, I know God's hand is on us.  We've seen his provision so many different times.

And still I question and wrestle and fear and worry.

When I see God's hand at work I feel good... reassured.  When God seems to be silent, I lash out.  Angry.  Are we being punished for choosing wrong?  Are we on the wrong path? 

Will God punish me for not being grateful enough? 

I mean, my initial response is 'no'.  But, isn't that what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness when they worried and complained?  When they lacked faith in what God had promised them?  Weren't they punished?

How am I any different?

I long for answers.  For encouragement. For a balm to soothe me in the deepest places.  I long for peace.

And, can I be honest?   I'm not finding that at church. Instead it feels like.... Performances.  Striving. Emotional gymnastics. Promises for prosperity when in reality I just feel drained.  It feels like this is modern day American Christianity across the board.

Does that sound harsh?  Negative? Does that sound like I need a little more faith?  Like I need to adjust my attitude?

I don't want to mock.  I truly don't.

But, why are we so afraid to walk through the hard times and acknowledge that they are a very real part of our Christian walk?

Why can't we hold each other's hand?

I need my fellow Christians to assure me that even in the darkness..and there WILL be darkness....God is still there.  That nothing....NOTHING that can separate me from the love of God.

It's not that I need to try harder.  To be better.

God meets me...meets us....regardless.  He knows we are but dust.  And, still He loves us.  He chooses to work in and through our lives.  Our messes.

Even when we don't understand what He's doing.

Even when He feels distant.

He is there.

There is no where I can go from his Presence.  No where I can go from His Spirit.

I don't need to work myself into a frenzy trying to have an 'encounter' with God.

Every day is an encounter as we see Him in our joy, in our sadness, in our fear, in our anger. He meets us in all those places.

He is reminding us of His Goodness, His Sovereignty, His Love.  In everything.

Even now.

Even now I am reminded. 

And to this I cling....

He is enough.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

But The Cannibals, Part 2

My word going into 2019 was 'expectation'.  We had thrown off a lot of things that were familiar and gave us security.  We had made a really big leap.

And I believed, with wholehearted expectation, that the game plan....our big picture would reveal itself relatively quickly once we obeyed the call to set those things aside.

Instead, our expectation is being drawn out in a process much longer than I anticipated.

It's been a couple months since I wrote the first part of this story  - But the Cannibals, Part 1.  So much has happened, and yet not a lot has changed.  For some reason I couldn't quite bring myself to write the second part of that blog post.  The words were escaping me to explain what the title I chose meant to us. 

But, I need to finish that thought because it helps to explain how we got to where we are. 

In the book 'Radical' by David Platt he challenges the reader to examine the Christian status quo and ask ourselves if that's really what Jesus meant by taking up our cross and following him.  He reminded us that Jesus calls us to a radical worldview that dramatically changes the way we relate to the world around us. 

In Chapter 8 he tells the story of John Paton (1824 - 1907) a promising young Scottish pastor who felt the call to the New Hebrides - Pacific islands with known cannibalistic people.  Many people tried to dissuade him.  One older man in particular would exclaim, "The Cannibals!  You will be eaten by the Cannibals."

This was John Paton's reply, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms: I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by the Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeneess of our risen Redeemer."

What faith! 

Shortly after reading this story, I came across two other stories that in some way involved cannibals. 

The next one was something I saw on Facebook... a video called "Never the Same" based on the book "Peace Child" by Don Richardson....another story of missionaries who were trying to reach a cannibalistic people group with the Gospel.  They found an opportunity when they became aware of a practice where two warring tribes would exchange a peace child as a sign of their promise to keep the peace.  This was an unexpected opening to sharing who Jesus is and how He came to reconcile us to God.

And finally, one of our pastors shared something during a sermon about the true  story behind the novel Moby Dick.  The whaling boat, The Essex, had been severely damaged by a whale and was slowly sinking.  The crew had no choice but to leave The Essex and take three 20 foot boats to land. 

The closest land was a group of islands.  But, they were convinced that these were inhabited by cannibals.  So, they chose a different route to land further away.  Starvation and trouble followed them.  And, as crew members died, the survivors themselves resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. 

So why did I find these three stories significant in our process?
Well, the simplest analogy is that in each of these stories I could see how cannibals represented fear.

Fear is something with which I am well acquainted.  And I have to admit that I've allowed fear to rule many of my decisions over the years.

But, here's what I saw in each these stories.
In the story of John Paton - he didn't let fear hold him back.
In the story of the Peace Child - fear isn't what it seems, there is a way through the fear
In the story of The Essex - when we give in to fear we can become what we fear. 

It didn't seem an accident that these were the messages I was getting in the midst of making some of the biggest decisions of our life. 

But now what?
(More to come)

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Growing Pains

There is a strange calm uneasiness, a numb restlessness that has settled on my soul. 

I know those words don't go together, but I'm not sure how else to describe it. 

In any other time of my life I might have described it as a cautious hope.  But, in my current mindset, I can't help but look at it through a slightly negative filter.

Maybe this is what coming to the end of yourself looks like.  Maybe this is the absolute inability to see the way forward that precipitates surrender.  True surrender to God and His will.

Maybe this is good. 

I'm just not sure.  And, I don't know exactly what to do with it. 

It comes with a certain sadness....like I've lost a part of myself.  But, maybe it's to make room for something new. 

Ah, see...maybe I haven't completely lost the ability to look at this through a positive lens.
Maybe there is still hope deep within these bones. 

Maybe these are growing pains.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

But The Cannibals! Part One

John and I are in a major transition in our lives right now.  We made a decision that, on the surface, seems incredibly reckless, rash, and irresponsible.  But, it involved years of prayer and a really intense season of prayer and seeking God within this past year.

John left his job.  And, he doesn't currently have another one lined up.

He is essentially the sole breadwinner for our family.  I bring in some supplemental income with my hobby business of buying and selling vintage/ antique items.  But, it's not much.  Sometimes it's enough to cover the groceries or the gas.

So, why would we decide to do something like this?

It's so hard to put into words everything that has led up to this.  John has been feeling unsettled at his job (a family business) for a long time.

A recent personality profile that he took defined him as a 'Maverick'.  He's a risk taker, a problem solver, someone who works well in high pressure and unfamiliar surroundings.  He's got a sense of adventure, someone with broad vision, someone driven.   But he can be bogged down by details and rules and tends to color outside the lines/ think outside the box.

He once envisioned himself in the mission field...not necessarily in an evangelistic capacity...but rather as the guy who could go in and fix what needed to be fixed, get done what needed to be done, to support the missionaries on the field and their communities.

That desire to accomplish the things that God made him capable of accomplishing has been reawakened in John.  And, he's been looking for ways to make that happen.

I am the complete opposite of him in many ways.  Where he thrives in change, I dread it.  I am not the risk taker, I am the risk avoider.  I like the safe places - the familiar and secure.  Even for John, Mr. Adventure, the familiar and the comfortable became a safe place....an easy place to stay.

So, it's even more strange that I'm the one who first suggested to John that perhaps for God to open the next door in our lives, he was asking us to shut the one to the familiar and comfortable first.  That He wanted us in a position where we had to trust Him completely and fully.

There were other factors in our decision as well.  I don't need to detail them all here.  But, John found himself growing increasingly stressed, irritable, and bitter over situations he felt powerless to change.  That stress was spilling over into our family.  And, we had to take a good hard look at what we valued the most.  On one side was stability and security - but at a price that was constantly rising.  On the other side was our family and the ways God is leading us - but with an incredible jump of faith.

We chose the jump of faith.

There is always resistance to faith.  You can count on it.  The enemy loves nothing more than to plant seeds of doubt, confusion, and fear in the freshly tilled earth where we are growing our faith.

Fear has always been a huge factor in my life.  It has been at the crux of so many choices and decisions.  I naturally seem to look at what could go wrong, ways to fail, the worst case scenarios.  And, I have held back from opportunities and choices where the risk seemed too high.

Fear paralyzes.  It keeps us from moving forward and facing the unknown.

I've been re-reading a book that I came across years ago.  It's called Radical, by David Platt.  The tagline is Taking back your faith from the American dream.  In it, he hits hard on some of the things that we as American Christians have assimilated into our faith that are not necessarily Biblical principles, but more so American principles. 

Some of those things include the theology of comfort and prosperity.  He challenges that by reminding us of some of the very radical things Jesus said about dying to ourselves, suffering for His sake, and giving of ourselves sacrificially.

It's not exactly easy stuff to read.

But, it also has been stirring something in me and making me ask myself how I can best serve God with what is left of my life.

(To Be Continued)


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Expectation

Happy New Year!

I woke up this morning still carrying weight from 2018.  Yes, I know that life doesn't magically change from one moment before midnight to one moment after.

But, I also see the New Year as a fresh start - one where I can adjust my attitudes and perspective.  And I want to look at things differently this year.  I want to look at them through God's eyes.  And, I want to look at them through a lens of joy and confidence ( my words for the year).

The thing that weighed so much on me this morning is knowing that we have burned a bridge behind us.  It's hugely scary, especially since we haven't found where we are going to land yet.

But, I felt like God said to me, "Do you trust in ___________ or do you trust in me? (I left a blank there because some of this is still too personal and raw to insert specifics.  But, you too can fill in that blank with whatever is specific to your life).

We are now in a position where we will need to rely fully and completely on God.  There is no Plan B.  It is simply to trust Him.

And I suppose the opposite of dread (that feeling that follows me relentlessly and that I feel so often almost as soon as I wake in the morning) is Expectation.  Maybe that's what my word should have been for the year.  Perhaps the joy and confidence I seek are the result of expectation.

Expectation:  A belief that something will happen in the future  

In secular culture we are often warned not to set our expectations too high so that we won't be disappointed.

Or expectations are seen as a set of pre-suppositions that can hinder actual growth or relationships.  For instance, if we go into a marriage with expectations of what the other person should do or should be like, it can actually hurt the relationship.

But, it's also a word that is used a lot in our church recently....in a totally different context.  Expectation is seen as looking ahead, looking forward to God's goodness - knowing there are things in store for His people......  expecting to see Him work in and through our situations.

And, as I looked up the definition of expectation online I came across the 'archaic' definition, which is "one's prospect of inheritance".

Yes!  Now put that into spiritual terms.  We look ahead to , we long for our spiritual inheritance.  This is the object of our expectation.

And, how can I infuse expectation into my daily life?  I'm not sure.  But, I'm going to ask God to give me a spirit of expectation.

Perhaps one of those ways is to rewire our neural pathways (This was mentioned in Sunday's sermon at church).  My pathways have been so trained to go directly to negative thinking.  It's become a lifestyle for me.

In fact, this morning when I woke up I immediately felt the heaviness of that negative thinking.

But, by sitting down and fleshing out those thoughts in written form and reminding myself of what God is saying, I am strengthening new pathways.

Pathways to Expectation, Joy, and Confidence.


Monday, December 31, 2018

A Year in Review and Looking Ahead

What was your word for 2018 and what is your word for the coming year?




My word for 2018 was 'Stronger'. I began the year feeling as though I was on the path to being physically fit. And, I believed that the word 'Stronger' was going to reflect a growing physical strength (and mental strength as well).
As it turns out, 2018 was a year that put me face to face with my weaknesses. I fell off the bandwagon of physical fitness & gained back all the weight I'd worked to lose.
2018 was also a year of battling extreme mood swings - courtesy of peri-menopause and stress.
2018 was a year that I acknowledged that it was time to let go of some things as well. I hung up my hat as coordinator of a vintage market I'd done for the last 5 years. Also my husband and I made a pretty radical decision regarding his work...resulting in him leaving his job of the last 18 years at a family business. It was a hard and painful decision...one that we may be feeling the repercussions from for a long time. And, that has gutted me, left me feeling very vulnerable and tentative.
Despite all this....facing my weaknesses was actually a good thing. I was reminded that I can not grow stronger in my own strength. Willpower isn't enough. Determination isn't enough.
And, I've been forced to come face to face with why some things - lack of self-control in eating and over my emotions, fear, anxiety, need for control, and a tendency toward negative thinking - have become patterns in my life.
I don't have all the answers to getting victory in these areas. But, I know our entire life is a work in progress as God shapes us and molds us into who He has called us to be.
I hold fast to 2 Corinthians 12: 9 - 11. " “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."


So, in retrospect, I do believe the word 'Stronger' was appropriate for 2018 as I looked my weaknesses in the eye and came to rely more fully on the One who is my strength.

So, what is my word for 2019? I actually have two.
The first is 'Joy'. Somewhere along the way I have lost my joy. I've allowed circumstances and disappointments, and the mundane to weigh me down to the point where sometimes I dread the day as soon as I wake up. This is not how I want to live.
I want to rediscover laughter and hope and that feeling of expectation as I look to what's ahead.
The second is 'Confidence'. This is an area in which I have always struggled. And, I have allowed my lack of confidence to hold me back, to paralyze me. In fact, I wasn't sure if 'confidence' was actually the right word because I see 2019 as being a year of Doing, of making things happen.
I no longer want to sit back and wait for approval or the opinions of others before I move forward or choose to DO something. Yes, there are situations in life that will require the wise counsel of others, but I don't want to base all my decisions in life on what others will think. I want to be confident in the words I speak and the choices I make.
So there you have it....my words for 2019. Let's face this New Year with great expectation!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

What Do I Have to Offer?

What do I have to offer?

At the age of 48....no longer a fresh young thing.

No longer confident or strong.

Weak in my failings and my lack of motivation.

Overweight.  Brain under stimulated.

No idea what to do or how to do it.

The things I love and enjoy do not make money

At least not enough to garner respect.

I sometimes think I should be harder.

More ruthless.

Or at least more assertive....self assured.

I've always wanted to be special.

Special in some way that others recognized as well.

Don't we all love a superhero.

I want to be super at something.

Once I thought that was my ability with children.

Having my own humbled me.

Not as talented as I once thought I was.

But, I still felt as though I was finally fulfilling my purpose in some way.

Is there more?

More purpose?

Do I have more to offer?

Or am I done?

At our church they are often talking about destinies.

Our God ordained destinies.

Discovering our destiny.

And, it sometimes seems they are speaking to the young.

They are the ones with destiny.

What about us middle aged souls?

Do we still have destiny to discover?

Or are we a day late and a dollar short?

What if....

What if the things I longed for (a bigger house, more recognition as a writer... as a person, more standing in this world, more money, more fun, more....)

What if God is saying 'no' to those things and 'yes' to something I can't yet see.....something I can't understand.

What if God wants me to surrender my dreams.

All of it.

What if what I have to offer is my heart.

What if.

What if just offering God the little I have to give was enough.

What if my destiny is being small

Small for the glory of God.

I must become less.  He becomes more.

John said that.

And, I guess so do we all.

We are less

He is more.

It's so counter intuitive.

It goes against the grain of the American dream.

Work hard.  Strive.  And, strive some more.

Not that working hard is bad.

But, when we do it to fulfill ourselves...

we fill a bottomless pit,

impossible to satisfy.

But when we do it to serve God,

nothing is too small to bring glory to Him.

Our meager offerings,

our widow's mite

become a treasure

countless as the stars.

More brilliant,  more enticing,  more satisfying

than we can imagine.

What do I have to offer?

Not much.

But, it is His.


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