Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Bad Stuff

I had the first somewhat quiet night tonight in a little bit of time.  It was a much needed break, with many moments to sit back and realize how quiet three little girls are compared to six amazing, but spirited, kids.  There is a huge difference, but in the quiet, I have realized I am capable.  I can care for more kids than I can ever imagine having - and be good at it.  The house (while not spotless, by any means) is not thrashed.  Dinners have been made and cleaned up.  Kids have rested, played hard and made memories.  They have fallen asleep whispering and giggling with cousins, concocting more fun for the coming day.  Seeing their smiles, hearing their laughter, even breaking up a few fights has really given me an exhausting boost.  This is the stuff that makes life worth living. 

I haven't really had much time to process the stuff happening here lately.  Not that there is anything horribly bad happening, just stuff that is so much easier to overlook, sweep under the rug and just pretend it isn't happening until that day comes when it finally seems easier to process.  That day for me was today.  I put the girls to bed, read a little bit of connect group material, then turned on a movie.  I fully anticipated falling asleep prior to the end.  This movie was at the bottom of my Netflix queue, not because I didn't want to see it, just that there were other movies I would have rather seen.  It turns out I got pretty much exactly what I bargained for.  A Christian romance, while not quite child friendly, but definitely not The Vow (thank God, because there aren't enough tissues in this entire house for me to see that movie again).  Ten minutes in, I was ready to turn the movie off.  I was frustrated by the lack of acting skills (which is funny, because I don't usually notice stuff like that), and by the way the words were spoken, with emotion, but not in the right places.  I told myself I was going to finish my bowl of ice cream, shut it off, and go to sleep.  By the end of my ice cream, the plot made itself clear and I decided to hang in there, at least for a few more minutes. 

The movie was a Christian movie, and so I anticipated some preachy message intended to drop subtle hints about what being a Christian is about.  I was pretty wrong.  There wasn't much mention of the sinful ways of the world...  :)  However, there was one line that just keeps going through my head.  Not exactly sure how the line went, but it was something like this: This life is full of good stuff, great stuff, even.  But you have to fight through all the bad stuff to get to the great stuff.  While those are not immediately life changing words, for me, in a quiet house, those words were enough to provoke some major thought processes.  By the time the movie was over, I knew I had to sit down and write for a few.

Do we only cherish the good after the bad because we know how bad the bad is?  Does the human perspective change because of the bad, or does the bad change us?  When we are presented with unfortunate circumstances, are we allowing those circumstances to completely forever change us?  Is it possible for us to remember that God's plan is bigger than our circumstance, regardless of how massively huge that circumstance feels?  It is so easy for me to sit and type these thoughts that are flowing so freely tonight, but when I wake up tomorrow morning, what am I going to remind myself?  Am I going to remind myself that God is in control of these feelings that are tempting to take control but allow them to take over anyway, or am I going to remind myself those feelings are a fight to the top, to what God has planned for me?  It is so easy for me to quote Jeremiah 29:11 over and over.  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Sometimes it seems so simple.  And then, wham.  That unforeseen situation.  The sudden change in plans.  The hurt that cuts deep.  The betrayal of someone you love.  No matter the circumstance, it is so easy to give in, saying, "Okay, God, yeah, these plans of yours?  Really helpful.  Thanks.  A lot.  I am not really feeling the prosperity, the future, the hope.  You said it, but obviously, you didn't see this one coming..."  It could be any mixture of words.  I have a feeling I am not the only one that has had this (or a similar) conversation with God.  I have this feeling that so many feel like this one day or another.  While studying a while back (I can't even remember when this part grabbed me), I realized that this verse is amazing and powerful, and holds so much incredible hope and promise.  But, only when you realize that it isn't the only verse in the Bible.  It has some warm up exercises, as well as some post-run stretches.  Starting in verse 4: "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."  Gonna pause for a minute.  Exile?  Uhh, funny that word should be mentioned.  Don't know if many really understand what this means.  Exile is the prolonged separation from one's country or home, as by force of circumstances.  Hmmm....  Yeah, this is totally making me think even harder.  So, God's people are being reminded that even in the midst of being kicked out of their own country, being banished from their homes, if this land prospers, so will they.  No one is going to convince me that the force of their circumstances was a nice stroll in the park.  It was probably the most uphill, grueling marathon ever known to man.  Definitely not the good stuff.  Picking back up, "Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you.  Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.  They are prophesying lies to you in my name.  I have not sent them," declares the Lord."  Again, more circumstance.  More unforeseen junk being thrown in their path.  I feel like I don't know which way to go so many times.  Every time I make one decision, it feels like twenty more are being tossed in my way, expecting my time, attention and wisdom to make the perfect choice.  Picking the good from the bad.  Or maybe just realizing this is just the bad stuff.   "This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place."  Seventy years.  Seventy.  Not seven.  Not days, weeks or months.  Seventy years.  I feel like my heartache is bad, I feel like I want to give up hope?  Can you imagine how grim these people must have felt when they heard God say after seventy years are completed?  Only after that seventy years was God able to fulfill the verse we know so well, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  This is where my imagination kicks in.  I see myself, after completing my seventy years, sitting back in a lounge chair, warm sand between my toes, a nice tall glass of ice-cold sweet tea in my hand, the gentle sound of waves crashing along the shore.  Yup, these are definitely plans to prosper right?  Yeah, but those aren't God's plans.  Well, hopefully at some point, for a week or two, they will be God's plans, but that is a whole different story for a different day...  This little section continues on, it doesn't end.  God reminds us there is one more teeny tiny clause to the verse.  A little challenge at the end of a difficult run.  "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." 

I am sure I am taking this slightly out of context, or probably a lot out of context, but can you imagine, this verse almost sounds like only after we suffer and God pulls us out do we turn to him and seek him out.  Why is it so simple to pray and be joyous when things are going good?  Why can we not see that there is good waiting for us, right on the other side of the bad?  Why can we not just trust that God has it all taken care of?  This bad that we see or feel or worry about is for our overall good.  He wouldn't put it there if it weren't going to prosper us or someone around us in some way, at some point.  Kinda seems to me, that maybe if we would turn to him first, instead of stressing and worrying about our circumstances, that maybe his ability to prosper our lives wouldn't be so difficult to see.  That maybe, just maybe, we could just know that God is way bigger than this, and he knows way better than we do what he is doing, as well as the things he is preparing for us.

For a long time, I was so terrified of who I was, the stinky choices that I made, the past mistakes, so many nights I pretended God wasn't there and didn't exist.  I am just now beginning to realize that without all of that, I wouldn't know who God is, how he can love someone pitiful and pathetic.  How he can see me, with every single one of my faults, and think countless good thoughts about me.  I saw a picture somewhere online, and saved it.  Every once in a while, my screen saver will turn on, and I will catch myself reading it just when I need it.  It is supposed to be a memo from God.  It says, "You are beautiful.  I know, because I made you.  God."  Every time I see it, I am reminded that regardless of the things my past holds, today, this exact moment, God sees beauty.  Not because I am perfect, or that I am pretty or fashionable, not because I am so talented and confident, but because he made me.  He desires me to have every single thing I need.  He desires it for every single one of his children, too.  Its like a parent, holding their child's hand as they are getting kindergarten shots.  The poor child is sitting there, wanting to be doing anything but that, and the parent can only hold their hand, reassure them that it won't last forever, that they aren't leaving them stranded, and it really is for their prosperity.  I am not really sure where any of this came from, but it seems like exactly what I needed to be reminded of tonight.  Once again, good stuff from bad stuff.  God is so amazingly awesome, and honestly, I am pretty happy to have experienced bad stuff, because I have realized that there really is good and bad, and everyone, regardless of how amazing they appear to be, will experience both.  It is how you handle it (your strength or God's?), and who you look to for help (do you look to those around you, or do you just stop and look up?) that makes all the difference in the world... 

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