Deliberately:(as an adjective)"carefully weighed or considered, a steady movement or action" and (as a verb) "to think carefully or attentively; to reflect:"

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:
WHAT ARE THE DESIRES OF MY HEART?
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....
Delight.
Commit.
Trust.
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.
(CHORUS)
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...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How God Guides Us: Part 3 - The Do or Die Moment

It's so hard to admit we are wrong.
It was hard for me to know I was about to hurt someone that I sincerely loved because I had said yes when I should have said no. My boyfriend was not a bad person. He was not wrong. He was just wrong for me.
I drove home from the Youth Conference that night, thoughts of Peter's message floating through my thoughts, and sat in my car for over an hour, thinking, wrestling through my emotions and trying to be honest with myself. At one point, I glanced over at my dashboard, where my life verse was printed out and taped. "It is good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. Psalms 119:71". The word "might" jumped out at me for the first time. It didn't say WILL or SHALL or CAN, but "might", as in, it's not a sure thing. Some of us learn quicker than others, some of us learn easier than others. Sometime we learn by watching other people, like I learned from the lady's wedding story in my last post. But sometimes, we learn the hard way, dragging our heels. Sometimes, maybe we never learn.
This was my "might" moment.
I wish I could say I jumped right on it and ran to God! But I didn't.
It took me two more months to admit that I was afraid, terrified, of being alone, of never marrying, or even (YUCK) of starting over and dating again. I know, I was young still, not quite 23. But my younger siblings were all married. A lot of my friends were married. I didn't want to start over. I was tired. And scared to let go of my perceived control.
One day in June, a few weeks before Youth Camp 2002 (one year after the white-haired Pastor had first approached me) I was preparing for the Teen Girls lessons at camp and I came across another old favorite verse. There's an awesome book by Margaret Feinberg that calls this a "sacred echo", when verses or phrases or things continually pop up in your life and point you to Jesus. It's that echo from across the Bridge, that voice of goodness and love gently calling to you, that echo of that bell across your heartstring, guiding you to come home (see Part 2 of this post for more explanation on that!). It's the echo of the voice of a good Father who will never stop pursuing you, no matter how many barriers you put up along the way. This time, that echo was another special verse that got me through my very first heartbreak (See Part 1), Psalms 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalms 37 was our theme at Camp that year. And the next verse in that chapter hit me hard: "Commit your way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."
Three words jumped out at me.
Commit.
Trust.
Shall.
There was no "might" about this. Because this was dependent on God. I might learn from my hard things, and I might make better choices. But if, when, I do make the choice to commit to and trust God, He steps in and it SHALL be done!
Suddenly, while studying God's Word to teach these teen girls about making good choices, I realized I had not been willing to make the good choice myself. I felt this deep pressing on my soul, guiding me to make the choice. It was like God was standing on His side of the Bridge with his hands cupped and held out, offering me something, but I had to choose to let go of what was behind me and commit to God in order to receive his gift. Later, I would refer to this moment as my "do or die" moment. It felt like God was whispering, "I have a precious thing I want to give you, and it will fulfill the desires of your heart, but you are about to miss it. Trust me."
My heart broke wide open. I shed the doubt and fear and indecision and ran back across the Bridge into the arms of God. I sat on my bed that day, Bible open in my lap, and wept uncontrollably as I mumbled prayers of apology to God and thanked him for 5 long years of patience with me. Then I picked up the phone.
My boyfriend and I had the hard talk. It was strange. I felt such an overwhelming peace. His brother's wedding was that weekend and he asked me if I would still go with him. I told him yes. He asked if we could still be friends and play tennis every now and then? I said we would always be friends and told him let 's just take it one day at a time. I also decided I didn't want to tell anyone. I didn't want advice or consolation and definitely didn't want people to try to set me up with anyone. We both agreed to just quietly step away and give us time to heal.
So, I didn't burn the Bridge, or try to tear it down myself. I just kept my eyes on Jesus, my hand in his, and let the Bridge quietly disintegrate behind me while my focus was where it should be.
I hugged the promise of Psalms 37:4 tightly to my chest, and vowed to live in the happiness and delight of God...even if that meant being single! I reminded myself that I was blissfully happy those 2 years of singleness before and that I did not need to date or rush or hurry. Then a new scary thought, or "sacred echo", popped into my heart...
You don't NEED to date at all.
To me, God's voice is like a gentle thought or prodding. or gut-feeling that will not subside. Other times it feels like the loudest thought in my head, like big bold letters flitting across a page that beg for you to pay attention. That's how this thought hit me.
Remember, I was studying Psalms 37 to prepare for my lesson to the girls. Verse 5 glared at me from my open Bible, freshly highlighted in yellow, and I felt like God said directly to me from that verse: "Commit your way to ME; trust ME; and I shall bring it to pass."
I gulped. And felt with clarity two things simultaneously:
1) God was asking me to commit to not dating again. Ever.
2) Trust him to bring my husband to me.
3) That "it", MY WEDDING, 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!). Either that, or he just likes to shake us up sometimes!

God was guiding me and inviting me to step into his plan for me. So many life moments over the last 7 years had nudged me to this path. So many "afflictions" along the way had taught me more and more about God.
More than anything else, it had taught me that his promises are true, his ways are right, and I could trust him. Always.
With a deep breath, I stepped out of my "might" moment, finally, and into the "shall" shadow of God's plan. The two weeks that followed before Camp started were some of the sweetest and spiritually deepest moments of my life. So much good healing time between me and my God.
I had told my boyfriend before that I couldn't tell him "yes" to marriage/commitment because I just didn't know for sure. Once I had even asked my Youth Pastor "How do you know for sure?" He had replied, "You just do."
Now, with God, I knew. I just did.
I knew God's plan for me, his desire for my life, was I wanted.
I knew if I let him lead me, and committed to him, he WOULD bring it to pass.

I had no idea of the whirlwind of fun and faith he was about to lead me on!

To learn that fun story, tune in tomorrow....

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How God Guides Us: Part 2 - The Compromising Moment

So, we left off last post where the old guy had tried to set me up with his son whom I had never met! I said, no thanks, and stayed in my tumultuous 4 year long relationship, because that made perfect sense!
It's a hard thing to do, to get your heart and your head and your spirit all going the same direction at the same time.  I think...well, I think the one that wins is the one you feed the most. And then it pulls, or drags, the other two. For over 4 years, my heart had led, while my head convinced it that it's right, and both of them dragged my spirit along in the dirt.

Ten months later after Camp, the white-haired man's words still echoed in my mind, but I stayed busy with life and tried to bury my doubts. We are good that, aren't we? Burying things we don't want to deal with...
At that time, I was working with a few other people in my church to put on a Youth Conference and staying busy with it. I wrote a play for the kids to perform at the Conference. Ironically, I named it "The Bridge of Compromise". It was about a girl who knows she shouldn't go across the Bridge to the other side, others have warned her of the temptation and trouble over there, but one day she gets tempted to take a few steps across. And she gets drawn in. She tries to live on both sides of the Bridge, but it's impossible. She's exhausted and hurting. She needs to be rescued from her own choices...
It was me.
I only just realized this, writing this to you 16 years later, that it was a representation of my own inner battle!
I was battle weary and tired of not having peace, of giving 5 years of my life to some place I was not supposed to be. I told him, my tall kind guy, that maybe we could just slow down, take a break, ease ourselves away from each other. He didn't like that. I found out later that he had already talked to my parents about marrying me. I was blunt, and told him that I just didn't know for sure about marrying him and that I just wanted to know! We ended up getting into a big argument. He expressed anger over all the time I had spent recently getting ready for the Conference. I had poured my heart and time into this Conference and he didn't even want to come. It was the last straw. I called it quits. Or I thought I did. But...I still left that Bridge open and intact.
He told me he loved me.
He told me he was sorry, and he would be there. And I said ok.
I made the choice to stay on the Bridge.
He ended up coming to Conference, though he came late and left early. He missed my play.
And...he missed something else.
He missed another life-changing meeting.
My Pastor had invited an out of town speaker to come. And that speaker was the white-haired Pastor from camp's son! Ok, remember this is before Facebook and social media and before you could stalk people before you meet them! Honestly, I was expecting a slightly dorky guy with glasses and unruly hair, and, the summer before had thought he probably had "a great personality!" I figured if he was 20- something, single, and his DAD was hunting wives for him...well, you know! I found out that he was the Youth Pastor at his church and he had driven his Youth Group 3 and half hours to our church that day to be at the conference at 10:00 am. They left at 5:00 in the morning to be there, but they got there a little late, though, so I didn't meet him before the Conference started.
After the worship, another guy at church named Jeremy led us all in ice breaker games to get everyone talking since we had groups there from several different churches and there were lots of people there that we didn't know. As Youth Leaders we were always encouraged to participate to be an example. So, when Jeremy told everyone on the left side of the auditorium to bring their left shoe
up and place it in a pile on stage, I took off one of my shoes and piled it in with everyone else's, and went and sat back down. Then he told everyone on the right side to take off their right shoe and put it in a pile, and they all did so, and sat back down. Then he said that he wanted everyone to go to the opposite pile and grab a shoe and you had 1 minute to find the person who's shoe you had. Once you found them you had to sit down and tell them your name, age, where you're from, and one interesting fact about yourself. It was a mad dash and chaos. I had just found the person's shoe that I had (someone I already knew) when someone else stepped in front of me and said "I believe I have your shoe." I looked up into green eyes of a blonde haired guy I did not know who was smiling and holding out my black chunky sandal. I took my shoe and we all sat down and I went over the questions with the person's shoe I had, and then turned to green-eyed guy. I held out my hand to shake his and introduced myself and hurried through the other "about me" things. Then it was his turn. He said "Well, my name's Peter Sexton, I'm 22 years old, I live in Clarksville Tennessee" and he smiled and said, "and one interesting thing is that my Dad has really been wanting me to meet you."
I'm pretty sure I did some mix of nervous and anxious laughter, while my stomach flip-flopped inside me. I made some comment about his Dad being funny and that we enjoyed having him at camp. He said, "He had a good time. And he told me all about you as soon as he got home."
Ummm...what do you say to that? I don't remember much after that. I'm sure I said something moderately lame and then came up with some excuse to talk to the person on the other side of me. I do remember at one point us sitting there in awkward silence and trying to pretend like it wasn't awkward!
Shortly after that, it was time for my play and I got to get up and move! I practically ran away! The play went really well, and I was super proud of the kids! After the play, we dismissed for lunch, which was being served there at the church in banquet hall. My boyfriend showed up just as we were all getting up to go back to get in the lunch line. Peter ended up right behind us in line.
SO. AWKWARD.
He was talking to a lady behind him about his church and the Youth Group and his job as Youth Pastor and how long their drive was (that's how I knew that!), and I was eaves-dropping the whole time. I had never told my boyfriend about what Peter's Dad had said to me at camp the year before. I remember feeling guilty standing there, between these 2 guys, wondering what Peter was thinking and wondering what his Dad had told him about me...And then telling myself to stop it. I remember I got mad at lunch and decided this was just another trick of the enemy to drive me crazy! I pushed the doubts down again.
After lunch, we all went back into the auditorium and Peter was introduced as the next speaker. I remember I was kind of glad to finally have a reason to look at him, really LOOK at him for the first time. He was NOTHING like I had thought he would be. And he was a great speaker! His message was simple and profound. It was based on Psalms 66:18 "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." He told the kids that iniquity was sin and that sin was anything that was not pleasing to God or that went against what God has commanded us to do. He said that when we have sin hidden in our hearts, it makes it difficult for us to hear God and it puts up a block of sorts between our prayers to God. He called up two volunteers to help him, and asked each kid to hold one end of a long string and stretch it tight. He said one person represented us and the other represented God. Then he placed a sliding weighted bell at one end on the string and said that represented our prayers. He said "When we don't have sin in our hearts we have an open line of communication between us and God, we have nothing hindering between us and him, so when we talk to God or hear from God, it's like this," and he pushed the bell and it flew across the string all the way to other side and hit the person's hand. "But," he said, "when we HAVE sin, iniquity, in our hearts and we keep it there because we like it or we don't want to let it go, it puts a block in between how we hear God's voice, like this." He clipped a clothespin onto the string in the middle. "This pin represents sin." Then he put sliding bell back in front of the first person again, and pushed it. This time, it soared along the string but hit the pin and came to a sudden stop, clanking loudly. He said some of the sound still travels, but it's not as powerful. Then he added a second clothespin on the string and pushed the bell again. Again it stopped. He told the kids that any amount of sin caused separation, and the more sin there is, the more barriers there are between us and God, and that the only way to remove the barrier was to confess and ask God for forgiveness and God would remove it and slide it off like it was never there.

Sixteen years later, I can still see that bell sliding across the string and hitting that pin, and bouncing back a little from the jarring stop and swinging in indecision. I remember sitting there, beside my boyfriend, thinking I had spent almost 5 years trying to convince myself that clothespin wasn't there on my heart string. And the whole time it WAS there, and I felt it, and knew it, but I didn't want to admit I had been wrong, that I had compromised.
See. Here's the thing. The enemy doesn't get us across the Bridge by showing us unpleasing things, or ugly things. He gets us across the Bridge, gets us to "pick the fruit", by showing us things we think are good. He dangles things in front of us that are almost right. But they always cause us to compromise the truth because they have hidden barbs of deceit. They are really just prettied up pins on the strings of our hearts.
Like I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, my boyfriend almost met my list of qualifications that I felt were from God. Almost. It looked like a good package. He looked like the answer to my 2 year inner search. Good enough to get me across the Bridge. But, just because something looks good doesn't mean it's from God.
The nudges were there in my spirit for FIVE LONG YEARS. But my heart and my head pushed them away. The "pin" of sin that I had invited into my life was blocking me, and kept me from clearly hearing God's voice beckoning me back across the Bridge to what HE had for me, to HIS desires and HIS gifts for me.
God is so gracious with us, though.
He never stops calling. And He waits with open arms for us to let go of the sin we're holding on to, and to step back across the Bridge of Compromise to the valley of His peace.
It's hard to go back.
It's hard to admit we were wrong. It was hard for me to know I was about to hurt someone that I sincerely loved. My boyfriend was not a bad person. He was not wrong. He was just wrong for me.
That night, I drove home and sat in my car for over an hour, thinking, wrestling through my emotions and trying to be honest with myself, trying to let go of control and let my heart and head and spirit align. At one point, I glanced over at my dashboard, where I had taped my life verse (see Part 1 of this post for explanation). "It is good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. Psalms 119:71". The word "might" jumped out at me for the first time. It didn't say WILL or even CAN, but "might", as in, it's not a sure thing. Some of us learn quicker than others, some of us learn easier than others. Sometime we learn by watching other people, like I learned from the lady's wedding story in my last post. Sometimes, we learn the hard way, dragging our heels. Sometimes, maybe we never learn at all.
This was my "might" moment.
I wish I could say I jumped right on it and ran to God! But I didn't...

Tune in tomorrow for what I DID do!

Monday, May 22, 2017

How God Guides Us: Part I, The Suffering Moments

Sixteen years ago next month, my life was forever changed by the words of one older white-haired man...
I went to my church's Youth Camp as a Teen Girls' Counselor, like I had for several years prior to that hot June summer in 2001. That year, though, I came with a heavy heart. I was 22 years old and had been dating a nice Christian boy for the last 4 years. He had just asked me to marry him a month earlier. Saying yes would have been the most natural thing in the world. He was a genuinely nice guy, and had just graduated from college and already had a great job. He loved God, and even though we attended pretty different churches, we agreed on most things, and he was active in his own way at his church.
But I said no.
Or, more accurately, I didn't say yes.
I couldn't.
I have to go back a little further to explain my hesitancy.
You see, years before, as a sixteen year old girl and a baby Christian, I listened to someone's story of their wedding day. A wedding day should be full of joy and happiness, it's a day every girl dreams about! But this lady told me that as they were walking down the aisle on their wedding day they were terrified that they were making the wrong choice and that they had lived with that doubt in all the years that followed in their rocky marriage. At this point in my life I had just come out of my first real relationship, and had just gotten my first huge broken heart. I was 16 so, of course, it was traumatic! But the way it happened involved close friends, and my trust was broken by many people that I loved. But, really...it all happened because I made a choice and put myself in that position, with that guy, even though I knew for the whole year we were together that he wasn't really right for me. I promised myself that day, hearing this older person's story, that I would never be in that position again and that, on my wedding day, I would know 100% that I walking to the future God had for me, or else I would not marry.
This lady's honest story, along with my first heartbreak, served as an eye opener for me and became a moment that I consider a huge turning point in my young life. I decided to take the next two years, my junior and senior year of High School, and commit to being single and getting to know myself, and more importantly, geting to know the God better who loved me more than anyone else ever could.
Over the course of the next two years, there were two overwhelming verses that became pounding echoes in my heart (or "sacred echoes" as Margaret Feinberg calls them!).
The first one is an obscure little verse in the Bible that I have, even now, never heard referred to or preached on. God plopped it out to me one day in my quiet time reading his word. It would become my life verse, a tough one to swallow sometimes, but also a promise... - Psalms 119:71 "It is good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your statutes (or ways)."  Another version of that verse is in the picture above. Basically, it's good for me to go through hard things, because it molds me and shapes me, and teaches me more about who God is. I thought back to several things in my young life that had been hard, from a debilitating disease to family stress, and how all of it had made me into who I was. This verse helped me be thankful for some of those things because I was able to look back and see God's gently guiding hand in the midst of the hard thing, the momentary affliction.
The second verse was also a psalm, Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart." I deeply pondered and pulled apart that verse. It's a promise from God. The last part of that verse sounds great! Of course, we all want someone to give us what our heart desires. But the first part of that verse is the kicker! You have to first be happy in God, to long for Him above all else. Then, your desires become what He longs to give you. It's a cycle.
Both verses involve a process.
These verses followed me all throughout my final two years of High School. I have other regrets in High School for sure (my Freshman year was rough and a mess!), but I have NEVER regretted taking those last two years of High School and enjoying my friends, and life, and school, and falling in love with my God more every day without the distraction of dating. (Side Note: the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris is amazing and was very impactful on me! Along with the late, great Elizabeth Elliott's "Passion and Purity")
Right before I graduated High School (after reading those awesome books!) I felt convicted to make a list of qualities that I was looking for in a husband. There were 3 things at the top of that list that were very important to me personally. I felt like writing down these things would help me stay focused and not fall into a trap like my last relationship.
A month after graduation I got my first job, and ended up working with this really tall quiet guy who intrigued me. Two months later we were dating. He was different than any other guy I'd ever dated. He was shy and reserved and didn't like crowds, and I was definitely more loud and loved being around people and liked to serve with the Youth at church (which intimidated him a little!). He was a Christian and was faithful to his church. We were great friends and had fun together, and loved playing tennis or going hiking. He was truly a country boy, for sure, and the very definition of a "good ol' boy"! He met a LOT of the things on my list. And he almost met each of the top 3 things on my list...almost, but was just a little off on each one. Still, he was good guy, right? So, I stayed with him. He was comfortable. Before I knew it, a year had gone by. And I found myself willing to justify reasons to ignore the subtle red flags that I felt in my spirit. Then another year went by. And another. We dated through all of his college years. We lived life and changed jobs and grew up a little. Finally, he was about to graduate from college and he started putting pressure on me for the future.
This is where we were right before Youth Camp that momentous summer I mentioned in the beginning.
After four years with someone how do you NOT take the next natural step? Why is so difficult?
Well, throughout those four years, we mostly got along great. But, when we argued, it always somehow pertained to one of those top three things on my list. Always. Many, many times I tried to tell myself I was just being silly, and to let it go. But I couldn't.
You know why?
Because those 3 things had become deep desires of my heart years before. One of them was, perhaps, even maybe a silly thing to other people, but it was very important to me. I believe those 3 things, along with the rest of my list, were planted there in my heart by a God who loves me and knows better than I do what will make me happy. He wanted me to trust Him and His ways, to delight in Him.
If I said yes, I knew I would be like the lady who was afraid of the choice she made. I knew I would feel like I settled. I knew I would be scared on my wedding day.
So we broke up. And talked. A few weeks went by and we missed each other. And we were weak. We missed what we knew, what was comfortable, we missed our friendship. We had set a 4 year long trap for ourselves and we couldn't untangle from it easily. So we got back together right before Church Camp 2001. He always came by the night service at camp once or twice a week, but that's all. I had always begged him to be more involved and come serve with me, but he wouldn't. He said it wasn't his "thing", but I was sad that we couldn't share this passion together.
I tried to push away the unsettled feeling in my soul and convince myself.
I kept asking myself, what if I'm being too picky? Someone told me once they thought I was.
My heart was so torn.
At camp, we always had a few guest speakers for the evening chapel service. One of them was this Pastor from another state, in his 50's with a full head of white hair, who had spoken at Chapel the 2nd night. I had seen him coming and going throughout the week, often sitting in the shade somewhere talking to other Pastors. The last night of camp, a summer thunderstorm popped up, and we ended up having a game night of sorts in the mess hall to stay out of the rain. I was standing and watching a group of my girls playing ping pong when I felt a peck on my shoulder. I turned around to find that Pastor standing there. He was over 6 foot tall and I had to tilt my head back to look up into his face. He smiled and said "I just wanted to let you know that I've been watching you all week, and I've been very impressed with you and, I know you have a boyfriend, but...(Ok, here I have to inject that I had a momentary thought of "Is this old dude hitting on me???! but then he continued...) but I would really like for you to meet my son. I think you guys are the same age."
I laughed and smiled politely, and told him I was flattered, but that, yes, I had a boyfriend that I had been with for 4 years.
He smiled a mischievious smile and said, "Well, you're not married yet, though! But, I really do feel like you and my son would get along great!"
Honestly, I was a little offended that he KNEW I had a boyfriend and was still trying to set me up with his son! I thought, wow, he must desperate to get his son a wife!
Camp ended. Life went on, just as it had been. Just EXACTLY as it had been.
Except for one thing.
I kept hearing that white haired man at camp saying "You're not married yet!"
Nine whole months went by in which my boyfriend and I struggled even more through our relationship. Both of us now in a seemingly constant battle. You have to understand...we were great friends, and my parents liked him (they HATED ALL of my other boyfriends!)...it was like being in a good situation that has a cloud hanging over it and alternately trying to convince yourself the cloud would go away one moment and the next admitting the cloud is there and wanting to get away from it.
It's a hard thing to do, getting your heart and your head and your spirit aligned. They all have to want the same thing.
God had been guiding and pushing and whispering to my heart for almost 7 years in order to accomplish that very thing. The echo was a simple question:
Would I be happy with God's desire for me, or did I want to choose my own way?

Tune in next time to see what choice I made!

Monday, May 1, 2017

People Who Show You Their Scars...

I've been wrestling lately with the idea of being willing to openly show my scars to everyone, and overcome by the thought of what if we wore our ugly on the outside?
Over the last several years, I have shared my scars with safe people. And there have been numerous times when God called me to share my scars, my stories, with certain people he brought into my path. There was never a time, not once, when it was an easy thing to do. It is a very hard and vulnerable thing, especially when some of those scars are self-inflicted.
Those scars of self-inflicted choices are the ones that the enemy tells you makes you a failure. You keep them hidden away because you feel like a fraud.
Then there are the scars that come as a result of someone you love. Those are hard to show as well, because they reflect poorly on someone else and you don't want others to look at that person as capable of causing scars.
But here's the real truth...
We ALL have scars. And we are ALL able to cause scars to others.
Some are small and barely noticeable. Some are large and red and jagged and painful to even look at.
A few days ago, I walked into a store behind a woman wearing shorts. One of her legs, around her calf, was profusely scared and mangled and much smaller than the other one. She had a slight limp. I found myself wondering what had happened at the same time I applauded her for her willingness to still wear shorts on a warm day, even though it exposed her pain and disfigurement to the world. I wondered if she thought, This is me, this is who I am, and I will not live in shame.
This weekend at a conference, Sheila Walsh said "Shame tells us we ARE something wrong."
I wondered if this scarred lady decided she was NOT something wrong as she put on her shorts that morning just like everyone else.

I wish I were that free with my hard and painful parts. What if we all were?
My pressing (and scary!) thought lately is that it has to start with someone. And I am someone. (GULP!)
Would I be that brave?
Would I have the courage to bare my scars to the world, knowing that some people will look kindly at me with compassion, but many others will snarl their lip in disgust and turn away, and some people will just ignore it because it makes them uncomfortable.
Being reminded of our weakness and frailty makes us uncomfortable. But it is also comforting to know that we are not alone in our messed up places. We are not the only ones with scars.
But guess what? Our scars do NOT make us weak!
Sometimes I think I am more afraid that if people see my scars, they will think I am weak and stupid and don't love God enough. Or they will think I am lying about my life. Maybe they will wonder what other scars I am still hiding? Maybe you are reading this and wondering what in the world kind of scars I have?
Why do we do that? Well, I think it's because we all keep our scars so well hidden. We especially keep the "bad" ones hidden.
What if...what if people stopped hiding their scars? Then it wouldn't be the strange thing to see people walking into stores with exposed scars. Perfection wouldn't be the norm. It would be normal to see people's battle scars. And we would all have more compassion for each other. We would react differently to someone else's hurt, because we see evidence of past hurts. We would encourage each other more.
We would be FOR each other.
This is hard for me. Because I like to look good. Who doesn't? Having skin cancer last year and having a huge scar on my face has been sort of a wake up call to how vain I am on my outward appearance. But what about how vain we are on our souls?
I think too many people think their soul is prettier than yours.
But we are all a big ol' scarred up mess of flesh.

What if we offered to show our scars first?
It would take courage.
Am I that courageous?
I don't know...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Beef N' Cheddar That Brought Me Down


I had an appointment this afternoon during my lunch break. I got done a little early and was driving back to work to eat the healthy lunch I brought with me when I drove by an Arby’s and saw a picture of a big, juicy roast beef sandwich with delicious fake cheese oozing out of it. My mouth watered. I wanted one. Immediately, I started justifying all the reasons why it was okay for me to have it…it’s not like I eat them every day; I can always eat a healthy dinner and I’ll eat healthy tomorrow; a little bad every now and then is not too bad…

Before I could even finish all the reasons, I was in the drive-thru line. Now I was stuck in line, so I had committed to this and it would be rude to not follow through!

I bought my sandwich…my big, juicy, scrumptious sandwich.  And curly fries…because, how can you go to Arby’s and NOT get curly fries? I consumed the fries driving back to work and rushed into my office and quickly downed the sandwich because I didn’t want it to get cold!
Really, though, I did it quickly before I could allow myself to feel too bad about it.

I shouldn’t have worried about that, though, because our bad choices always have other consequences that are not so easy to ignore!  An hour later, my bloated and uncomfortable stomach was a constant reminder of what I had done. My too-tight pants might as well have been screaming at me in irritation.

I had eater’s remorse.
It happens to me a lot.

And as I was thinking about that, all of a sudden I was reminded of my Pastor’s sermon Sunday. We’re going through the book the 1st Peter and this week landed us on chapter 4 verse 1-11.  My Pastor, Adam, basically said that the first 4 verses are talking about God is constantly working to develop our character to be more reflective of Jesus.  He said God is working on us to have our desires to be turned toward him.  Something that stood out big to me was how Adam explained the difference between an impulse and a desire. He said, for example, we were created with a natural impulse to eat in order to stay alive, but we have a DESIRE to eat foods that taste good. The impulse would be to eat, the desire would be to eat cake…or a large meat sandwich that’s dripping with calories.

Anyway, Adam said that verse 3 (For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry) is talking about how when desires run unchecked, and appetites run free, is when our lives get out of control and less reflective of Jesus.

You see, God wants us to CHOOSE to live under his desires, so he gives us the choice.  We have to choose whether or not we’re going to indulge our appetites, give in to our self-pleasing temptations, or limit them. It’s easy to give in.  The enemy WANTS us to give in, so he makes it easy. When we are weak because we haven’t eaten lunch yet and we drive by something alluring, the enemy whispers “This is what you want.”  And we start to consider it, we start to justify it.

Next, you’re sitting in your office with a bloated belly and feelings of self-hatred and disgust and asking “WHY DID I GIVE IN????”
The answer to that was glaringly clear to me today.  I give in to sin, and self-indulgence, and my own desires, because of 3 things:

 1)      I want to more than I don’t want to. 

I know that sounds silly, but it’s true. I’m going to fail more when I’ve set myself up to fail. Whatever I desire the most is what I’m going to lean most towards. Honestly, one is easy, because we can basically just fall naturally into it with our flesh, and the other one, the Godly desires, is hard, it’s takes constant work and effort, because we have to OVERCOME the other one, the fleshly one, in order to feed the spiritual one. Romans chapter 6 perhaps explains this the best: “Don’t let sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your body to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your bodies to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Ya’ll, that last part is big right there…it is saying we enslave ourselves, we choose who to obey!  We have to want what God wants for us MORE than what we want.

2)      I put myself in situations where I’ve failed before, and expect difference consequences.

Today, I knowingly took out cash, just in cash I needed it, even though it was out of the budget! I thought about stopping for lunch BEFORE I drove by Arby’s. I put myself in the position of weakness.  I did this, because of the first reason…I already wanted it more than I wanted to be good.  Again, the Apostle Paul understand this and explained it so well in Romans 7: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

He is saying that he gives in to evil that he knows better than to do and doesn’t really want to do it but he does want to do it and then he does it and feels bad about it…sounds a lot like choices I’ve made in life that are worse than eating a roast beef but also caused aches and pains!

3)      I lie to myself about what makes me happy.

This is a big one. Maybe it should be number one. But it’s a hard one. I thought that big giant sandwich was what I wanted and that it would fulfill my desire, my driving impulse to eat. But it was a lie. It didn’t make me happy. It wasn’t worth it. When I make hard choices, when I deny my desirous appetites, that’s when I really feel happy, and I feel good. Why is it so hard to remember that in the moment? When I’ve spent more time wanting my own way, and I put myself in a situation in which I have failed before, and sin beckons, and that shiny thing looks so good, and I tell myself a hundred reasons why it’s okay…that is why I don’t remember that it doesn’t make me happy. 

So I eat the sandwich, and the fries too (why not, I’ve already messed up?!), and think I’ll be okay. 

But it was a lie.
Because my soul longs for something more than empty calories and meaningless worldly things.
My soul impulse, my soul DESIRES, for eternal things.
When I was single, I used to read this verse and ponder what it meant:
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalms 37:4
At first, I thought it meant if I was serving God, he would give me what I want. Then, I realized that’s not what it’s saying at all. It’s saying that when you give your soul what it truly longs for, yearning toward the Lord, you will start to desire God’s ways more than your own. So God WILL give you the desires of your heart, because you will submit to him in happiness and joy and delight.
Only then do you see that, by limiting your appetite, you set yourself free!
I enslaved myself to my appetite today. I willingly went where I should not have gone and ate what I should not have eaten (wow…that sounds familiar…ummm, Eve?).

Now that I’ve admitted it, I need to do better.
And that, my friend, is the beginning of battle!  

In the future, I'm going to try to tell myself this:
If I have to justify reasons why something is okay, it's probably not okay, and I just need to keep driving!
After all...it's not even real cheese!