Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I'm Not Racist, but..."

I looked at the pictures plastered on the news today of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and so should you. It's a memorial for murdered Black slaves and lynching victims. But be warned...it made me sick to my stomach.
Because it’s true. It’s history.
But, more sadly horrific… it is RECENT history.
I know people who are alive today who were alive when segregation was a law.  People, it was practically yesterday.

I’ve often thought over the last few years, with the BLM movement and all the recent news, that we treat America’s Black population like slavery and segregation were hundreds of years ago! It was not!
It was between 50-60 years ago that we, Americans, were heavy in the middle of it.

I have an elderly friend who said several things about her Black neighbor that were shocking to me. I really wanted to look at her and tell her that she was so racist…but, I remembered that when she was a young adult, in her 30’s, Black people were not allowed to be her neighbor, or drink from the same water fountain as her, or poop in the same public toilet! When she was a middle-aged person, that was her reality.
It makes me incredibly sad that THAT was EVER anyone’s reality.
That we, as people, thought it was okay to treat other people that way.
It makes me sadder to know that we have not come that far, really, in 50 years. On the outside, maybe. But on the inside, those old historical prejudices still simmer.

It was a reminder to me that how I teach my kids to treat other groups of people, especially people who look, act, think, or believe differently from us, will steer the course of their feelings about those things as an adult.  My elderly friend is mostly racist because of how she was raised, and because of lack of true and honest exposure to “different” than her, and because she has conditioned herself to react certain ways to certain groups of people.  The very word to describe that is “prejudice”. Her parents probably said and acted far worse than she does. Our culture DOES shape who we are, and who we become.

I can identify with that, to a certain point.  The town I grew up in has a very, very small Black population. Caucasian people make up the vast majority of the town, with Hispanic probably being the next highest.  I never, ever had a Black kid in my classes at school.  I didn’t really even know anyone who had a Black friend!  I heard an older person say once that until around 1980 there was a sign posted on a bridge of a neighboring small town that warned “Don’t let the sun go down on your n----- ass here”. Speaking of the “N” word, I didn’t even know that was an unacceptable word. I grew up hearing people say it. I had never heard it called “the N word” until I was 23 years old, and my husband was the one who schooled me on the fact that it was derogatory label.

I would say most people in my hometown would say they are not racists. But, really, they just don’t realize they ARE racists because, to them, they are like everyone else around them, and probably also because they aren’t outwardly aggressive about it. But the feelings are there. The preconceived feelings about certain groups of people are there, simmering in their hearts. I know. Because I lived it, too. I grew up listening to most everyone make racial jokes. And laugh. And sometimes say things that were not jokes. And they thought it was okay. I realize now that most of those people in my hometown are a lot like my elderly friend…it’s mostly through lack of exposure.  You’re like everyone else you know, so it can’t be bad, right? It’s normal. It’s YOUR normal.
I didn’t realize how abnormal it was until I moved away and experienced something different.

My husband is originally from Michigan, and has lived in several towns in various states since then that had a much larger racial diversity. He had friends that were Black growing up.  He had church members who were Black. As an adult he has often worked side-by-side with more Black people than White people. When he would come visit me in my small hometown before we got married, he would get honestly excited when he saw a Black person in the town. He noticed almost immediately how non-diverse my town was. In the beginning, I scoffed at his remarks, and thought he was just making a joke. But then I would go visit him in his military town in a bigger city, and I very quickly felt out of place. I noticed I felt uncomfortable when I realized in certain situations that I was actually the minority. When I would go back home to my small town after being in his bigger town for a few days, I would look at my surroundings, my everyday life, a little bit differently.

I had lived in this same small town my whole entire life. It, and the people and groups represented in it, were all I knew. It was my culture. It only took me a short time, traveling back and forth for several months during our engagement, to make note of a few hard things about myself.
In previous years, I don’t know how many times I said, or heard someone else say, the phrase “I’m not racist, but…”
I try not to ever say that now.
I began to notice that I DID feel, and react, differently toward a group of Black people. Isn’t that the very definition of racism? I realized one day that if you are racist, it’s because you are first prejudice. Prejudice is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”. Most people in my small town had never spent real time with a Black person, or a Gay person, or an Islamic person. But they sure had strong, mostly negative, feelings about them. They were personally prejudice about things that they had not actually experienced.

The true test of that new awareness of mine came about 2 weeks after my husband and I got married. I had to go to the DMV and get my Drivers’ License changed to this new state and with my new name.  The room was packed with at least 100 people. I took my number and sat down. When I began to look around, I quickly noticed something…I, as a Caucasian person, was clearly the minority in the room. There were so many other Ethnic groups present.  The majority of them were African American, and then there was also Hispanic, and several Asians and Middle Eastern people.  I felt a lot of things sitting there that I had never experienced before in my culturally bereft life.

That moment of sitting in that room as a minority has stuck with me over the last 15 years. I only experienced a brief synopsis, a mere glance, into what it feels like to be the one who’s different.  And that was under normal and mild and peaceful circumstances! I mean, I simply can’t fathom how it would feel adding other strong emotions and situations into the mix. Speaking of which…can you even imagine what it is like right now, in today’s world, to be of Middle Eastern descent and walking around in America? Every single day must be a challenge for them. I CANNOT imagine what a normal day for them is like. Hatred for them because of preconceived thoughts and ideas and feelings about a whole entire Ethnic group of people.

Over the last 7 or 8 years, there have been numerous different ways that God has brought me face to face with my own prejudice attitudes. I have said this before, but I say it a lot because I believe it to be one of the most self-changing and self-LESS prayers you can pray. A few years ago, after listening to a convicting message, I felt challenged to pray a simple prayer every day for a month. It was this prayer: “God, help me love you more today than I did yesterday, and help me love and see others the way that You do.”  That was a painful month for me. About 3 weeks in, one morning, I sat in the chair next to my bed where I prayed that prayer each day, and literally had to gather up my courage to say those words. Because now I knew, after 3 loooong weeks, I KNEW it meant letting God change me and prune back some of my rough edges, some of my preconceived feelings.

Racism and prejudice attitudes have existed since almost the very beginning of time.  People just have this thing inside of them (depravity) that wants to convince them that they are blessed, or better, or more deserving than others. In Biblical times, the different groups of people were so harsh to one another, like the disciples to the Samaritans, jews and gentiles, religious and pagan…it’s a human problem, a depravity problem.
And, mostly, a “fear of different from me” problem.
In 1957, nine Black students who'd entered Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas were forced to withdraw because of a white mob outside. People were so angry that these students, who looked different, would dare to go to school with their students. That is the most un-Jesus-like attitude. I wish I could say attitudes like this mob of angry people don’t exist today. But they do. You have them. I have them. We all have them from time to time. History is hard to undo. We all have thoughts and feelings of other groups of people that were planted in various ways, often outside of our doing, but sometimes because of the thoughts we feed our brains. How we react to those thoughts and feelings IS within our power.

Want to change?
It starts with you. And me.
It takes humility and courage and compassion.
It takes humility because we have to be willing to admit, first, that we have been wrong.  And that we do not understand what someone different than us feels and thinks. It takes courage because you have to be willing to get up close and personal, to be willing to move from “prejudice” to “experience.” And it takes compassion, because you have to see people, ALL people, as people just like you, with a different story.

My story is not like anyone else’s story. Similar? Yes. The same? No. My story, all of it combined, has made me who I am. And so has yours. And so has the Black person’s, and the Asian person’s, and the Gay person’s, and the Straight person’s, and rich person’s, and the poor person’s, and the Christian and the Athiest. We all have stories, because we have all lived lives, and we are all persons that God put on the Earth.
And we are all a little nervous of “different”. It’s hard to understand what you do not know.
When we see statues like these in this historical monument, our hearts should break. Somebody REALLY lived that. A flesh and blood person just like you, was tortured and beaten and murdered for daring to act like a person… Thousands of them were. The dehumanization this group of people experienced makes me weep.
And it was practically yesterday and happened in my backyard.  You’re grandparents went to a segregated school. Their grandparents could have owned slaves.
We are not too far removed from it.
I want to break the cycle. In that step of humility, I think I also must admit that I am privileged. Because of what I did not earn, and did not choose…my ethnic origin. I was born into privilege.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a Black person, or a Middle Eastern person, or an Asian person. And I never will. Because I can’t change my ethnicity.

But I can change my attitude. I can have friendships and relationships and conversations with people who are different from me. I can show compassion to my fellow human.

I CAN love God, and love others. And that is a FANTASTIC place to start.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fumbling with Forgiveness

I’ve been struggling hard the last few weeks with something that I don’t like.
Specifically, forgiving “enemies”.
It’s hard enough to forgive someone who you felt wronged you when they are close to you, a friend or family member. But we’re not only called to forgive the ones who we feel deserve it, or the ones that we like.
We are just called to forgive. And keep on forgiving. A whole bunch of times, even if they do the same thing over again.

I think I just vomited in my mouth a little bit…

I’ve learned this lesson before, but I have to keep learning it. Probably because I LIKE to forget it!

When I was 16, God allowed me to go through a couple good, hard, heartbreaking things in one year. In desperation, I clung to promises of God. I read my Bible like a starving person. And the overwhelming push from him throughout that time was for me to rest in God, let him take care of it, and to try my very best to forgive the ones who had hurt me.

That forgiveness didn’t happen overnight.

Emotions are a crazy and turbulent thing. We can’t control them, but we CAN corral them. God took me on a year-long journey of learning what real forgiveness was, and truly embracing for the first time what God’s forgiveness of MY wrongs to him really cost.

A favorite song of mine right now says, “When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.”
Take that in for a minute…
I was a foe, an enemy, of God.
I actually told him out loud once that I hated him.

And, still, he ran after me, he fought for me. He fought through my anger, and rebellion, and stubbornness, and he never stopped.  
He died for me.

Ephesians 4:32 is what hit me the hardest… “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

As a 16 year old baby Christian, I read that verse and had to ask, So, how did God forgive me?
The answer was hard to swallow then, and it’s hard now.

He forgave me when I hated him.
He forgave me when I did things wrong against him.
He forgave me when I did things that hurt other people.
He forgave me when I tried to fill myself up with everything except him.
He forgave me BEFORE I ever asked for it, and when I definitely did not deserve it.
And…he keeps on forgiving me. Every. Single. Time.
His love, and his forgiveness, never run out.

Take a big gulp, because...that’s how we are supposed to forgive others: before they ask, or deserve it, before they act nicer to us, or change, and even if they do it again!

So, here I am now, 22 years later, having to re-learn that same thing. People have hurt me lately. But people always hurt other people at one time or another. Because we’re people! I think that’s why, in Ephesians, we were admonished to be kind and compassionate to each other! Because we ALL have been hurt and will hurt others. 

You’ve probably heard the saying “Hurt people hurt people.” Meaning, of course, that, like a wounded animal reacts defensively, so do hurt and wounded people.
But, not God.
God reacts by fighting FOR us. He offers up himself as a hiding place for us. He offers to heal our wounds. He forgives.
And so must we.

It is, honestly, one of the truest representations of God’s love shown in human form, to love and forgive those who do not love and forgive us.

Jesus’ own words, recorded in Luke 6 verse 27 say it perfectly:
“But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek also, and from one who takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt either. If love only those who love you, what benefit is it to you? For even the ungodly love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Oh, I cannot tell you how that equally rips my heart and is a precious, healing balm to it!
I’ve spent weeks, maybe months, roiling in my mind and heart over injustice and hurts and pondering how I can make it right. I’ve said things in response that I shouldn’t have (…ie: wounded animal!), and I just knew the day would come when the wrongs against me would be righted.

But, maybe, maybe this whole time it was an opportunity to see God’s merciful love and forgiveness.  To live that out in front of others?!

I WANT to show that.
It’s hard. It is definitely a wrestling point and it takes so much effort in our human hearts!

But, much like that 16 year old girl learned a long time ago, the payoff is so much bigger and better than our own fumbling actions could ever produce!
So, corral those emotions rumbling around, and offer them over to God, and ask him to help you forgive...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

When Somone You Love Behaves Badly...

Plastered all over the headlines this morning is the shocking announcement that beloved news anchor, Matt Lauer, has been fired due to some serious sexual harassment allegations from a co-worker. While watching the other anchors announce it on live TV this morning, this one question they asked snagged my attention. I rewound it and listened again. The newswoman and co-anchor of Matt’s said this:
“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”
She replied to her own question that she didn’t know the answer to that.
But I do.
It’s a hard, seemingly impossible thing.
But it IS possible.

There have been a few times in my life, unfortunately, when someone I love has “behaved badly”, and I have had to work through that very question. People I loved and admired and respected, close friends, people in my church family, and people in my own family. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult things that we, as people, are asked to do. Primarily, because it calls for several actions that go directly against our humanity and sense of self-worth. What that reconciliation requires is a complete and honest examination of self, and then a humbling of the self you just realized. Here are 4 things that I believe are required to answer the news anchor’s question of “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”
  1. You must first dig deep inside yourself, and look at all the junk there, every hidden part, and be honest and realize that we are ALL completely capable of behaving badly. And that we do it a lot. You must see the bad inside you, too.
  2. You must, MUST, realize and accept that your “bad behavior” that you just acknowledged, and the things you struggle with, and the ugliness inside your heart, is not any less “bad” than anyone else’s. It just shows up in different ways. It puts on different costumes, but underneath it is the exact same “bad”. This is hard. It’s maybe the hardest thing. Because it is at this moment that you realize you are on the same level ground with the person you just moments before thought was worse than you. It takes absolute self-honesty and humbling of yourself.
  3. You must examine if you really ever loved this person to begin with? Did you? Did you really? What is real love? Ask yourself how you want others to love you? Do you want them to stop loving you if you make a mistake? Do you want to have to earn their love? Do you want people to only love you when you are good? If you have kids, is that how you love your kids? Or do you still love them, even when they behave “badly”?
  4. Once you look honestly at yourself and your heart, and put yourself on the same level as the other person, and ask yourself if you really loved that person before, then comes the real action part of this reconciling of bad behavior...forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice. You don’t earn forgiveness. And, it is my opinion, that true forgiveness only comes after true love. You can’t really forgive someone you hate. Because, why do you hate them? Because of what they did? Because of who/how they are? Well, then you didn’t really forgive them. Forgive means “to cancel”, it means treat them as if it never happened. So that completely does away with the widely held premise of “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” Forgiveness is a choice. A hard and painful choice. But it is also the beginning of healing, and the first intentional step toward reconciliation.
So, in light of those 4 things, “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”
Well, we must also understand that the word, “reconcile”, basically means “to check for accuracy, restore, account for”. And that is exactly what you have to do to to handle the those moments when people disappoint you by choosing bad behavior. It takes actions on your part. It’s not based off of emotion. You check yourself first for accuracy. You examine YOU before you examine them. You account for your own bad behavior, and admit to it, before you bring into account theirs. You restore the depth of love you have for them that is not based off of their behavior. And you choose to forgive them.
In the best words of a very old, very true, well used passage, you reconcile it by practicing this:

Love is patient (long-suffering) and kind (desperately wants the best for them);  
Love does not envy or boast (is not jealous, and does not brag);
it is not arrogant or proud  (not self-righteous, or power-hungry)
It is not rude. (is not blunt to wound, does not want to tear down or dishonor others)
It is not selfish; (wants NOTHING for self, is not stubborn or demanding, gives without return)
it is not easily angered or resentful; (not quick to anger or be offended)
It keeps no record of wrongs (does not hang on, or remember, keep tally of, bad behavior)
It does not delight in evil things, (does not want vengeance or unrighteous things)
but rejoices with the truth. (is joyful at the presence of the Truth of God’s Word)
Love bears all things, (bears=Greek word to cover or protect, 1Peter 4:8 - Love covers a multitude of sins. It protects the heart & character of the other person, no matter what.)
believes all things, (always, ALWAYS, believes and thinks the best first...cause it keeps no record and is not selfish and is patient and covers a multitude of sins, it chooses first EVERY SINGLE TIME to give the benefit of the doubt, is chooses to trust)
hopes all things, (there’s a reason this follows believing...this is loves way of refusing to take any failure as final, it’s sincerely hoping in God’s plan)
endures all things. (holds the line at all cost, it perseveres in face of adversity)
Love never ends. (it abides, it is there, no matter what)
    (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Basically, love is an action, not an emotion. When someone hurts us, or disappoints us, we want to react based off our emotions and based off what we think they deserve. But real love CHOOSES to do neither of those things. Real love reconciles itself no matter what.
I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Real love is always there. Even after “bad behavior.”
What the real question should be is: How do we show grace after bad behavior? The answer?
By continuing to show them real love.
Which is...how God loves us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

An Open Door to My Closet of Skeletons

Lately, I feel this bubbling up of "stuff" inside me. It's like an over-full closet that you can barely close the door on. Some of it's my junk, some of it is my family's junk, and some of it just showed up and really doesn't belong to me at all, and I'm not sure how it got there! But the same thing is true with all of it...to get rid of it, I have to deal with it. I have to touch it and look at it and ask myself honest questions about whether it deserves to stay or needs to get the heck out and quit using my space.
Here's the thing. Things are real. Struggles are real. Life is real.
And it's also really tough.
Too often, when tough things come along, we shove them in the closet and close the door.
Sometimes, it's because they make us sad. Sometimes, it because we are ashamed of them. Sometimes, usually, it's just because we are not sure how to handle them and we don't want anyone to know that! 
Well, I'm tired of doing that.
I just want to always be REAL with people.
I feel like for the last 10 years or so God has had Peter and I both on a journey of learning how to leave the closet door open, of letting God direct certain people towards us and being willing to share all our hidden realness with them. It's very scary, but also very freeing.
There's something truly amazing about saying, "Hey, this is what makes me, me. Take it or leave it."
Peter is much better at this than I am. Part of it, I'm sure, is that he really is confident in who he is, and he looks at it like life is too short to spend time with people pretending to be something he's not. He's a "purger" by nature. He NEVER wants clutter or junk or unnecessary items taking up space. The same is true with himself. Sometimes he OVERshares (I apologize, Small Group people, because it may get awkward sometimes!). But I love the fact that, if you spend any amount of time with him at all, you will see that he is exactly who you perceive him to be.
The last 15 years living with Peter have been a constant lesson in decluttering! Yes, sometimes it is extremely frustrating and I am like, "I don't have time to deal with this mess, why can't we just close the door? No one will see it!" And he's all "I'll know it's there and then it will just pile up and I'll get frustrated every time I see it!" Ya'll...he puts his shoes away neatly in drawers every single day. He is ridiculous.
But, he's also pretty smart. (If you tell him I said that, I will deny it and delete this post!).
I, on the other hand, am a slight hoarder. I keep things. I worry that I might need something later. I hate to get rid of stuff. Also, I kind of grew up in a religious setting where you always had to look like you were the perfect Christian. You did not admit faults, or struggles. You hoarded them away in secret. You kept the door on that closet full of junk closed tightly and woe to the one did not! (insert "church discipline" here.)
You know what I'd like to do in life? I'd like to swing my closet door open. I'd like to have an EMPTY closet. Wouldn't you? What if I got rid of the stuff that was useless and then all my "me" stuff was on display in my living room instead? Wouldn't it just look LIVED IN?
But what holds us back the most is each other. We are so worried if someone see inside my closet, they will treat me differently, see me differently, not be my friend, etc.
Or, the advice. Sometimes, if I share my junk with you, I am only trying to help you know me better. I am not asking for advice. Especially when you have yet to clean out your own closet!
So. My word this year is "courage". And it would definitely take lots of courage to swing that door wide open!
If I do...would there be anything that would change how you feel about me?
I have a friend who is currently in jail for confessing to some serious crimes. I loved this friend for most of my life. I feel like I probably never knew him as well as I thought I did. But, at the end of the day, I asked myself this question: Did I truly love him as a friend? Because if the answer is truly yes, then I am still his friend, and my heart can break for him, and I can still love him.
After all, God's word says, "A friend loves at ALL times."
Even when your closet door is open...

Thursday, August 3, 2017

When God Points...

I was in the car alone with my husband. We had just dropped our kids off with my parents and were driving back the hour and a half home as the sun went down. I had already determined earlier today that I would use this alone time, free of kids and distractions, to share a dream of mine with him that had been brewing in my soul. I was nervous about starting the conversation. It is hard to share a seemingly impossible dream...even with someone you know loves you. I hesitated. I thought about waiting till later. But then God (isn't that how the best things begin?) bolstered my courage by painting a breathtaking sight in the sky. Peter knows I love the sunset and suddenly, while I sat silently gathering my courage, he veered off the main road, and down a side street. I asked him where he was going just as he crested a hill and turned into a parking lot and stopped. Before me was the most breathtaking view, free of power lines and street signs and tail-lights. Free of distractions.
The most beautiful sunset.
There was a very distinctive bright ray pointing straight up surrounded by a splash of color at the bottom. I thought, I want to be like that...I want to reach up for God so hard that His light falls down and bursts out all around me. For about the millionth time in my life, a sunset brought tears to my eyes. A gift from God, pointing me and encouraging me and making me feel safe with the one he had given me to.
We pulled back onto the road...and my husband asked a simple innocent question that was the perfect lead in to what I wanted to share. And the words burst out of me! We talked the rest of the hour home. And all the way the sun rays chasing along the edge of the sky changed and the colors changed. We would turn a corner and I would catch my breath and stop mid-sentence and say "Oh, it's just so beautiful!" I thought how scared I often am of change, but how, often, change just makes us better. Peter would smile and squeeze my hand and keep driving. Keep going. He often keeps me going! One of Peter's comments led me to look something up online and I stumbled upon this perfect phrase for this perfect moment:
"The finger of God never points to a place where His hand has not already made a way." (A quote from Mandisa!)

Where is God pointing in your life? Where, to what, or whom, is he compelling you, and drawing you? He is patient and loving. And he has already made a way.
The thing is, we have to be willing to change and to go chase the rays. We have to be willing to veer off the safe main road to see the way better. We have to trust the ones he has put in our lives to walk the path us. We just have to follow the light where it points and obediently step in his direction.

Monday, June 5, 2017

How to Get From Here to There

Sometimes, I feel like I’m drowning in the mundane minutes that make up my day. Lately, I feel even more bogged down every second by this feeling that something in my life needs to change. I feel plagued by the thought that I am not doing what I should be doing. It’s like there’s something way over THERE across this great chasm of every-day life and I know I need to be There, but I can’t seem to find the bridge to cross to get There. Then I start thinking, maybe I need to build my own bridge? But when I think that, I feel even more anxious and overwhelmed. Because if I have to stop and build my own bridge, it’s going to take so much time and I’ll have to quit what I’m currently doing and I have things I need to get done here too and who knows how long it could take and how much it will cost to gather the stuff necessary to build the bridge to get There?! And on and on and on my anxious thoughts go.
Where do I even start? It feels impossible.

But then I see people building bridges to get to their There! I see people trudging happily across their own bridges to their own life things. And I start to think, well they are doing it, so I just need to do it! I need to get There…
Maybe I am just scared. Maybe I am just weak. Maybe I just don’t want to put in the effort to start the bridge-building process?  Maybe I just don’t want to think about what it might cost me Here to get There? Maybe I am afraid I will fail?

Or maybe I am afraid that I am wrong and that over There is not my place at all and that I am supposed to just stay Here on this side and be happy over here, and stop counting the minutes Here as mundane! Or, maybe… maybe the problem is that I’m trying to carry too many things with me to There. My load is just too heavy to even think about adding the building materials or the extra necessities. Maybe I just need to learn to manage Here before I can even begin the process to get There?
Ouch. That last sentence struck a nerve.  The great Bridge Builder isn’t going to give me bigger things to manage if I can’t even take care of the little things in front of me well.   

So, back to my question: where do I even start? I guess my answer is, I start Here. Right here where I am. And I do Here the very best that I can before I even start looking over There.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How God Guides Us - Part 4, The Surrendered Moment

After 5 years spent in a relationship that I knew was not where God wanted me, I had finally surrendered and stepped away from my direction, and into God's path for me.
If you think surrendering is the hard part and life gets easy after that, think again! It get easier, but surrendering is usually just the beginning!

We left off last post with my broken prayer of apology to God, and officially breaking up with my boyfriend. Also, I felt like God was saying three things to my heart based off Psalms 37:5 (Commit your way to the Lord, trust him, and IT will be done): God was asking me to:
1) Commit to not dating again. Ever.
2) Trust him to bring my husband to me.
 2) Believe that "it", MY WEDDING (gasp!), would happen before my 24th birthday! I cannot explain this to you, except to say it is often God's kindness and love to us to reveal things to our hearts when we are in a posture of submission, or, when there are no "clips of iniquity" blocking our heartstrings of hearing his voice (see Part 2 for explanation!). Honestly, I laughed at this last part. I had a sort of Sarai (Abram's wife in Genesis 18) moment at laughing at God! (See! The Bible is not too crazy after all!) I remember laughing to myself one day when I thought of that whole "before I'm 24" thing, since I was almost 23, and boldly telling God, "Well, you've got a year!"

Why do we put such limitations on God?!

A few weeks later, the day of Youth Camp 2002 dawned and it had been one year since the white-haired Pastor had first said "Well, you're not married yet!" and wanted me to meet his son. (See Part 1) Well...guess who came to camp this year with his church as a Leader? His son, Peter. The blonde-haired, green-eyed Youth Pastor who had spoken that profoundly simple message to our youth in April. We hadn't spoken much then. But he did tell me that his Dad told him about me! (see Part 3)
Now, though, since our last conversation, something had changed...I had a secret.
I didn't have a boyfriend anymore.
It was a secret because my ex and I had agreed not to tell people just yet to avoid certain situations. As soon as I got to camp, I was glad of that decision! Other people had found out that Peter's Dad was trying to set us up and they made joking comments or I felt like they were watching us to see if we talked! I was SO glad none of them knew that I was now single. Throughout the week of Camp, Peter and I talked very little, mostly in groups, around other adults or when working with the teenagers. It took me two seconds to see that his Youth Group kids adored him. Mostly, I watched him from afar all week, observing how he worked with the kids...sort of like his Dad must have secretly watched me the year before. I noticed that he laughed a lot. And he served others even more. In the mess hall, once he finished eating he would gather everyone's trash around him and clean up the table. During activities, he was always the first one to offer to help set up, or take stuff down. Most of the adults sat together at one table during meals, but Peter always sat with his kids. During our Thursday evening meal we always had steak at camp! But I have never been a big meat eater and so I didn't get the steak. Peter's Dad was sitting close to me that evening and he asked, "Do you not like steak?", pointing at my meat-less plate. I laughed and said, "Oh, I'm just not a big meat eater. It's a texture thing, I don't want to touch it or chew it." He smiled and, with a twinkle in his eye, said "Peter's a vegetarian."
I glanced over at the table where Peter was sitting at the end facing me, and he looked over at me at the same time. He smiled, and my heart flip-flopped and I quickly looked down at my plate.
I was confused. My heart was being stupid!
I frustratingly told my heart, "Stop it! You are not the boss of me! We are not doing this!"
Worst. Timing. Ever.
The last day of Camp came and everyone packed up and pulled away and headed back to their homes and their states, and we waved them all off. Then, like every year, we cleaned the now-empty camp. As I cleaned the girls' bathroom and threw away forgotten shampoo bottles and loofahs, I tried to also throw out the thoughts of Peter that were invading my head. I felt like I was only days, a few weeks, into my commitment to God not to date again and my heart was already messing things up! And, even though my boyfriend and I had broken up, I still felt like I was betraying him. He had stopped by one night during camp and had come to chapel with me. (Funny and ironic side note: I found out years later that my ex-boyfriend had ended up talking to Peter's Dad that night and asked him for relationship advice! Peter's Dad told me he had to pray really hard to give him honest advice and not just tell him he should forget about me and move on! ...I'm not completely convinced he did NOT tell him that?!) Anyway, these two guys were at camp and I remember looking at my ex in his boots, and then looking over at Peter in his orange flip flops and thinking how different these 2 guys were! I got kind of mad at God and thought, Maybe this is a test? Or, maybe this is a trap? Will I pursue it, will I fail, will I give in to the temptation? Troubled with my thoughts, I moved into the girls' cabin and began sweeping the concrete floors. As I swept under one of the beds, a piece of paper flew out with the broom and landed on my dirt pile. Someone had written a question there based off our lessons that week. Written on the paper, these words glared up at me:
Immediately, I thought about my list. A list I had made long ago of the desires of my heart, of things I desired in a husband (see Part 1). For the last few years, those things, those desires, had sat much like that piece of paper I was looking at, piled on top of the dirt of my life, or buried under furniture and forgotten. Where WAS that list, anyway? I needed to revisit it!

When I got home from camp, I looked for my list. I finally found it folded and hidden away in the back pocket of my Bible cover...waiting for me to come back for it.  There were 24 things listed there. As a gazed down at this list written by my own hand seven years earlier, I felt a pang in my heart. I had written this list with good intentions, with a heart that honestly wanted what God wanted for me. Or I wanted that at that moment, anyway. But another moment had come along and my resolve had been tested. I thought about how, in Genesis 3, it introduces the enemy by talking about how subtle he is, and then his first recorded action is to try to confuse Eve about what God really said, about what God really wanted for them. This is a proven and effective method of the enemy of our souls...and I had spent five years swirling in the same trap. My enemy had whispered in my ear, "God doesn't really expect you to hold to your list. Why be alone when you can have this good thing over here?"
I had almost said yes.
As I read the 24 things on my list that day, I felt a renewed fervor spring up in my heart. I LONGED for the things written there. No matter what anyone else said, I knew these were things God had whispered to my heart as a sixteen year old girl who was desperately seeking him. Some were serious things, about religion and ministry, purity and spiritual leadership, and some things were playful, like a love of Disney movies and the ability to laugh at himself. Others were deeply personal, things that were only important to me. I held the list to my chest and cried. Then I dried my eyes, folded the paper back up, and held it in my open palm. I closed my eyes, raised my open hand in an offering, and whispered a prayer to God, simply saying, "This is yours."
I felt like God hugged me and told me gently to stop worrying about it then, and let him do it.
...Psalms 37....
Then let him do it.

All God wants is for us to let him shine through us. He wants us to surrender and commit to him, and let him do it.
Sometimes...usually...that means we have to surrender anew every day in a thousand different ways.
But often it is the simplest things that we make the most difficult.

I'm listening to music while I write this. The song that just came on is one that I wrote about when I was 17. I guess if I could have a "life-song", this would be it! It's by Sierra, and it's called When I Let it Go.
The words just made me laugh while I was writing last statement above!
This time I've got to trust you,
I've got to accept your plan.
I have tried to guide my circumstance,
but there's just no way I can.
When will I learn this lesson?
Your ways are not like mine.
Lord, help to surrender the control
I try to have on my life.
When I let it go,
You take my hand and gently lead me,
Then you let me know,
Just how peaceful my life can be,
When I let it go,
Your never ending blessings like a
river start to flow,
When I let it go.
Too many times I'm searching,
For the things I think I need.
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give you less of me.
Lord, help me gain the wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks.
'Til I find a way to let go of the
part of me I'm holding back.
(Repeat CHORUS)

You take my hand and gently lead me,
Then you let me know,
Just how peaceful my life can be,
When I let it go,
Your never ending blessings like a
river start to flow,
When I let it go, When I let it go.

Never ending blessings start to flow when we let it go.
It SHALL be done.

We can trust God's promises.
After more than 5 years of thinking I was doing that, I was finally learning how to surrender and let go.
Three days later, I got an email from a cute, green-eyed Youth Pastor...

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