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:
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!

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