Monday, January 28, 2013

When I Can't See

What a blessing to share the story behind this picture with my little Olympian girls last night! Many of you are already familiar with how I reacted to this harrowing experience, but the Lord has given me even more to share as He's uncovered some things in my heart. Perhaps you will be able to do what I asked my precious Olympians to do when they went to bed last night: offer up a prayer of thanksgiving. In their case, it was because He had protected their leader. However, for the rest of us, I'd suggest that we thank Him for how He grows us through the situations that we'd never bring upon ourselves.

This snowy drive was one of the worst of my life. In actuality, this picture can't begin to capture how little visibility we had at times. There were three or four excruciating moments when there was nothing to be glimpsed except swirling whiteness. It was at these times that my mind would run away from me. What if someone stops in front of us? Where, exactly, are we in the lane? What if we're too far to the left and hit a car? What if we're too far to the right and plunge off the bridge? What if we begin spinning? What will I do? What of our children at home? How can I make this stop????

I discovered something about myself during that trip. During the times when I fought the urge to roll down my window to escape or open my door and fling myself from the car. I learned that my desire to avoid the unknown and the pain that it may bring is a much bigger problem than I first supposed. Not surprisingly, I am realizing that it is connected to one of my biggest adversaries: Fear.

Of course, the fear that gripped me during this particular drive was not out of the ordinary. I am used to such things, as much as I aim to fight against them. What surprised me was the intense feelings that urged me to flee the situation. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Not wanting the teachable moment to stop with the safe ending of that fateful road trip, the Lord has used a situation at my church to further reveal some things to me.

The situation at my church. Just writing it makes me want to cry. And I feel like such a baby because of that! Nonetheless, I have been struggling with the "shedding off" of some of our attenders to another location that will be taking place in the fall. It shouldn't be such a big deal, but it has left me grieving deeply. Mostly for reasons that are just plain selfish.

I had been at our church for about a year and a half when the first news began trickling out. Unfortunately, I had just gotten to the point where I was actually getting to know people. I was feeling a bit less like a misfit and a bit more like I belonged. It takes me a very long time to let my guard down and now some of the very people I had let in would be leaving with what seemed like a piece of my heart. So painful!

To make matters worse, we had just gone through this at our old church when it had opened another campus. It had felt like all of our best people had gone, leaving holes that were never entirely filled. All of a sudden, our Body just seemed so... incomplete. There are always intentions to stay in touch, but I've found that it rarely happens. At least, that has been our experience.

And so, I have been bracing myself for the departures that will be happening. Wondering who will go. Hoping against hope that certain dear ones would not be leaving. Vacillating between feeling guilty about how I am handling it and wanting to joyfully send these people off to do a great work for the Lord... between sorrow and excitement... between hope for the future and despair that it will never feel so right again.

Such a tug of war began taking place in my mind and heart! I became so distressed and distracted that I actually pulled out of the church parking lot without one of my children not very long ago. I'd seen one of the families I hoped would be staying, which had caused my mind to become all jumbled. Alas, I learned last night that they will, in fact, be leaving. We laughed and cried a bit together, and I sent an e-mail after getting home to say how sorry I felt for getting emotional. The gracious and timely response I received reminded me all over again why I loved this family so much. And buried somewhere in the body of the return e-mail was something that made a lightbulb go off in my head.

I am guessing that the Holy Spirit gave her insight and nudged her to share about some instances in her own life. These words, in particular, seemed to make the scales fall from my eyes: "...there have been times when I have wanted to play it safe and not reach out and connect because of the fear of getting my heart broken. But I have learned that when I can love others with the deep love that God has loved me and can share in their lives, even if it is for a short time, my life is so much richer because of it." 

And there it was. The fear of getting my heart broken. That would explain my difficulty in warming up to people. Hadn't most of the people I'd loved been taken from me? I have come to realize that for a while now I have been using my supposed introverted tendencies to get me off the hook. As a child, my mom offered a, "She's shy," to anyone who attempted to engage me in conversation while I peered out from behind her legs. At forty years of age it seems like I've been behaving like a child hiding behind her mother's legs.  I've been taking the easy way out, and God doesn't call me to easy. He certainly didn't take the easy route Himself. And so it all comes back to what He's been telling me for the past three years: He wants me to be courageous! To live and love courageously without fear of the pain that I feel is inevitable.

I see it so clearly now - why these goodbyes are so hard for me. After carefully surrounding myself with the select few that I deem "safe" - it means that I will have to take those chances all over again. I will have to give up what I know and can see for the unknown and for what I cannot see. Each and every new person comes with the potential to "get" me or not. There is always the possibilty of rejection. Some will appear to be so outstanding in my estimation that I will have to fight against comparing myself. Some will rub me the wrong way. But just maybe (and this is by far worse) some will take up residence in my heart... only to leave when God calls them away. And that will bring the discomfort, the pain, that I have become so adept at avoiding.

God is once again challenging me to love courageously. He is showing me my need to lay myself - my wants, my fears - at His feet, to be used of Him for His purposes. He is asking me to love Him enough to trust Him with the plan He has for me even though I cannot see where He is taking me. There will be holes when these dear friends leave, but I can now see how He lovingly provided me an example in them. How good He is! He has reminded me how this family loved my family in very tangible ways and made us feel so very special. And now He is calling me to love others in the same way... without fear of acceptance or rejection... or the possible removal of them from my life. And it has to be wholeheartedly - nothing less.

I praise You, Lord, and lift up my heart to You. I tell You yet again that I trust You with my future and the plans You have for me. I accept Your great love for me. I say, "Yes," to the good plans that You have for me. The plans that will make me more like You and accomplish Your will here. I know that I am not home yet, but I sometimes try to build my own little Heaven here on earth. Forgive me for that. You never meant for Your child to live a life of comfort here - that will come when I am with You. Thank You for reminding me of that. Help me to live and love courageously for You. Bless our friends who are leaving with Your peace. Show Yourself mighty in their lives! Fill their hearts with Your love and meet whatever needs they may have. Lead them to the very people that You wish them to love on just like You did for us.

Your dearly loved daughter

Monday, January 21, 2013

Flowing Down

I sit here, eyes feasting on the beauty of this picture, remembering God's faithfulness in pursuing me and making me His. How thankful I am that He is not just content to bring me to salvation. He loves me (Me!) enough to transform me bit by sometimes painful bit. How patient He is with me!

You may be wondering how in the world I can get to those thoughts just from looking at this picture. I'm guessing that you know me enough to expect the explanation to follow. And you are right in thinking that!

I recently had the privilege of sharing a bit of my testimony at an Emmaus gathering. In order to help everyone better understand what makes me tick, I shared two incidents that have largely shaped my ability to receive love. The first being my father leaving and the second being my husband's admission in the early years of our marriage that "I just don't love you the way a man is supposed to love his wife." My father never told me that he didn't love me, but his actions spoke louder than his words to me. In my husband's case, unfortunately, the words have a way of playing over and over in your mind, never really leaving you. If my dad didn't love me enough to stay and my husband had enough guts to say what my dad hadn't, then I didn't seem to have a very good track record as far as being worthy of love. Throw in my other life experiences and a girl can start to believe that even God Himself wouldn't be interested in loving her.

So that's where I subconsciously lived for a very long time even after I came to faith in Christ. If I am honest, I have to admit that I still struggle with this on a daily basis. This feeling that I am something to be tossed aside. That hardships are proof of God's displeasure with me. That I am somehow missing something and will never get "IT," whatever that it may be. That I will inevitably be rejected by those that I allow to get close to me. . .

I shared on Saturday night that I have always known that God loved me in my head. Somehow, though, I could never really believe it in my heart. The people in my life had told me otherwise. It has taken many years for me to see that my heavenly Father and Husband are not like my earthly ones.

A friend approached me after my testimony and wanted to share a thought about believing God's love in your head, but not in your heart. It was really quite beautiful. Before I tell you what he said, though, I want you to take a second and refer back to the picture at the top of this page. Now think about that rushing water as I quote him... "It's a good thing that water always flows down. You've got the Living Water that flows down from your head and right into your heart." Let that sink in for a moment.

In my case, His mighty rushing waters flowed down from my head and brought a stirring up and cleansing of those stagnant places in my heart. He knows that without circulation, the healing will not come. I am not a health professional, but I know that in the cases of frostbite and foot binding, that the circulation, though necessary, is extremely painful. It brings life and healing which leads to believing. Really believing. Whenever I see a waterfall from now on I will think of Christ, the Living Water, and how He flowed down from my head and into my heart. What a blessing!

Will I sometimes be tempted to forget that? Probably. But there's hope for me because my God never gives up on me. He isn't finished with me. He will be faithful to complete that which He's begun in me.

Lord, I know that whenever You reveal something to me the enemy works hard to snatch it from me.  Strengthen me to resist the attacks when they come. Cause me to cling to You, remembering your goodness. When doubts begin to overwhelm my resolve to believe You, flood my heart with Your Living Water. Stir up those ugly things that have sunk to the deepest recesses of my heart and move them out. Glorify Yourself through my life. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.