Tuesday, October 30, 2012

corner-cutting, a looking-glass, and true love

Friday morning last week I hit the snooze button.  Then I hit it again.  And then maybe once more.  I woke up a little flustered and hurried through my quiet time with God.  Checked my email.  Showered.  Dressed.  Facial routine.  Blow-dried my hair.  Ate breakfast.  And so on.

As I turned over the morning in my mind on the way to work, I got to thinking.  "How come the only thing that gets shortened or cut out of my routine in the morning when I oversleep is God?"

That made me uneasy.  How does blow-drying my hair somehow have greater importance than the One who knows how many hairs are on my head?

Where I cut corners shows where my heart lies.

I'm ashamed to say, my desire on Friday morning was to look presentable and not stink like a greasy animal.  I'm not saying that isn't a worthy goal that we all should strive for in the morning, but maybe there is something more, much more.

What if Jesus (our time with Him and just Him Himself) really was more important than anything?  I want that so badly and yet I have to keep working at it and remind myself to work at it.

When I was in high school my parents sent my brother and I on wilderness backpacking trips with a camp in the North Woods.  Their goal was to toughen us up, I think.  For nine days we didn't have deodorant, soap, or toilet paper.  We didn't have phones or watches, and the counselors only let us see enough map to get where we were going each day.

On the last evening of the trip, my group camped close to the main camp.  We were next to this old, abandoned looking cabin-shack.  It had a dirty glass window and as I passed by it with my handful of sticks for the fire I saw my reflection.  And for the first time in my life (since I was an infant I guess), I didn't recognize myself.  I hadn't seen myself for days and the faces that I really knew well were the faces of my counselors and the other girls in my group.

I think about that whenever I think deeply about the face of Jesus and what it would be like if I truly lost myself in Him.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we were in the Word and prayer so much all we could think of was the face of Jesus?  What if we forgot ourselves in our love for Him?

Love is like that.  When you fall in love with someone you lose your mind.  You stay up later than you should just to spend more time with them or one more minute on the phone.  You spend all your extra money buying them presents or saving up for cool dates.  You think about them every minute of the day... writing their name everywhere and counting down the minutes until you get to be with them again.

And it's awesome.  You wouldn't change it. You are in love.

What if Jesus really consumed us, what if we fell in love with Him?

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."  2 Thessalonians 3:5

God is love.  Deep, strong, passionate, jealous, tender, holy, perfect, forgiving, unending love.  Are we willing to say yes to it?  Are we willing to lose ourselves in His love?

Can we commit to this love even when it is difficult?  When it calls for an early morning, a stressful day, or a lifetime of sacrifice?

I guess you could ask the same question to a young couple as they say their wedding vows.  Do you think this is worth it?  Do you think it's worth the imperfections, trials, and heartaches?  And as they look their loved one in the eye, they say "I do."

I'm saying yes to Jesus and I'm choosing to say yes everyday to His love.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

longing, heartache, and the north wind

Several years ago, fifteen to be exact, I was a young girl and my family had just moved from Illinois to Southern California.  Many tears were shed in the days leading up to, during, and after that move.  We left our extended family and close friends behind...and at 10 years old I didn't think that I could recover until we moved back.

I clung hard to the memories.  I kept a box of things that reminded me of my best friends from Illinois.  There were letters mailed and phone calls.  There were visits from Grandparents that were always wonderful and always too short.  There were tears shed before bed and dreams that I fought to stay in as I awoke, dreams that had magically transported me back to our old home... which were strange and unlike the real thing, but a part of it nonetheless.

I couldn't understand why God had moved us away, and struggled with that for a long time.

My family moved again, this time to Fresno, California.  Gradually, as we made friends and grew to love the beautiful state we lived in, I became more accustomed to the idea of being there... even as my heart longed to be back with family once again.

By the end of my junior year of high school, our family faced another change.  We were finally moving back to Illinois.  Our stay in California was over.  A wide ranging storm of emotions came over me at that time and felt I would drown in them.  By the time I had really grown to love where we were, it was time to go.  Those years in California, though challenging at times, were full of wonderful memories, a very sweet time in my family's history.  Many lessons learned, many experiences shared.

As I look back at that time, do I wish that none of the changes had happened?  Would it have been easier to have never moved, never have felt the heartache in the first place?  Or to never have moved back from California and stayed there the rest of our lives?

In the past I would have said yes to any of those questions.  "Spare me the pain, please" would have been my response.  But removal of pain isn't always this answer.  Think of the famous quote... "Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."

I was thinking about a variation of this to fit my experience, "It is better to have lived and missed than to never have lived at all."  Less poetic, but you get the idea.

I think we need to allow ourselves the freedom to miss things and then challenge ourselves to be content if things never return to their former glory.  It doesn't mean that the glory and joy of life have passed away, it has simply changed.  And you will miss the now when it is gone too.

Looking back now I can see God orchestrating all things for good, and I'm so thankful that He is in control.  So many good things would never have happened if I had had my own way and been able to spare myself from pain.

Living to protect ourselves from hurting is a good way to hurt ourselves.  We are going to have heartache and sadness, we are going to miss things and wish for different circumstances no matter where we are.  Why not find a way to love the here and now?

Find a way to live fully.  As Jim Elliot once said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  A simple little quote, but a challenging one indeed.

But what about when the pain is too great?  When the people that we have lost were so dear we look to heaven and like Job wish that we had never seen the light outside our mother's womb?  The deep and abiding missing of things leads me to thoughts of heaven.  To the day that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more longing, no more aching of separation but peace within the arms of God.

I look forward to heaven knowing that the God who made every good thing here, and there are many good things here despite the fallen nature of our world, has created an eternity that is beautiful and perfect and good.

The God who made the roaring ocean, sunsets streaked with purple clouds, soft velvety puppy ears, chubby baby fingers, blinding lightning, fiery red autumn leaves, musical notes that make us cry, joyful laughter, breathtaking spring wind, and dew covered grass knows how to create a pleasing, magnificent existence.  How much greater will forever be than now?

I just finished reading At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald last night.  Early on in the book a little boy named Diamond is befriended by the North Wind.  She takes him on adventures and one day she allows him to visit her back.  At the back of the North Wind there is no suffering or pain, but beauty and glorious music.  Diamond comes back from the North Wind and is always trying to remember the song that he heard sung by the brook.  He hears things on earth that remind him of it, but nothing is quite as beautiful.  You learn that Diamond was very sick while he was at the back of the North Wind, that it was a near death/heaven experience.  He longs to go back, and has no fear of any earthly thing... to the point that people on earth find him silly and think he has a screw loose.

I love that picture and the idea that once you have had a taste of something so beautiful, you won't be afraid anymore.

C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Missing things can steal joy from the now we have been given, and distract us from the longing we have for our resurrection.   

I want to find ways to live in the balance, to not live in fear of heartache but to remember, to live fully, and live in expectation of the coming One. 

""Surely I am coming quickly."  Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"  Revelation 22:20

Monday, October 22, 2012

don't worry about tomorrow

Life is often a mess of worry and stress.  I started a new job a couple months ago.  I'm still working with adults with disabilities.  Same building, new programs, different non-profit, schedule change.  Now I work after-school programs and a Saturday program.

I underestimated the amount of stress I would feel with all the changes and the added responsibility of being a supervisor.  I find each week my stress level goes higher and higher until it reaches its peak on Friday evening as I feel unprepared for my biggest program on Saturday, and it slowly comes back to normal by Saturday evening.

I allow too many worries to flood my mind... worried that my class plans stink, that the staff think I'm ill-suited for the position and disorganized, that there is going to be a behavior I can't handle, that a parent is upset with me for a phone conversation that was confusing, and so on.

Despite all this anxiety, every Saturday night, even when the week had some hiccups I look back and say, "I didn't need to worry that much."  The stress that I allowed didn't make me more productive, more secure, more confident, more anything but unhappy and sick to my stomach.

On Wednesday evening last week I randomly decided to read from Matthew 6 before I went to bed.  I usually choose something from the Psalms but felt lead to the gospel.  I read the section about the birds and the lilies... and came to the final verse.

"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  Matthew 6:34

As I read that passage and felt its comforting truth seep into my soul I realized that what I deemed a random choosing of a passage was a divine moment from the Father.  There were the words of Jesus, speaking into my life what I needed at that very moment.

It is so easy to be anxious and worry.  I think I mistake it at times for planning ahead, but there is a difference.  Planning ahead shouldn't make me feel sick in the morning and weepy at night.  Anxiety is an absence of trust, and I felt convicted.  I hadn't been trusting that God was going to take care of me.  I didn't trust that He could take care of me when I inevitably made mistakes and didn't handle things the right way.  When I didn't have things planned perfectly or when I just plain failed.

Thursday morning I re-read the passage in Matthew 6.  I felt so much better, and drove to work without worry.   As the day rolled on I was amazed to see how many things I was able to accomplish, but more than that my heart was at peace and free from anxiety.

"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3

I write this with an understanding that I am terrible at it.  Even as last week improved there were times on Friday and Saturday that I was tempted to revert to my old, well-worn habits.  It is almost humorous that it is so tempting to make ourselves feel so sick with worry about things we can or can't control.

An inner focus can only lead to sadness, anxiety, depression, doubt, and other unpleasant and downright awful consequences.  I've experienced these things and I don't want to continue the cycle.

I pray that the following verse would be a reality for me everyday, no matter how great or small the obstacles may be.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation."  Isaiah 12:2

an excuse of absence

In case you are one of the 14 people that read this blog and wonder why I haven't posted for the last six months... there is a reason.  I have been focusing my efforts lately on fiction, poetry, and finishing some projects.  So I may be posting some of those stories soon. :-)  Thanks for reading!