Saturday, December 29, 2012

Suddenly Bold

Back a few months ago, I did a talk on faith.  While I was preparing for this short little speech, I was so impressed with Peter walking on the waves.  His faith made me reconsider exactly how much (or more like it, how little) faith I possessed.  I loved thinking about it, pondering the emotions (or maybe it was all testosterone, who knows?) that might have completely surrounded Peter.  My emotions that morning were so amazed by the concept of Peter trusting Jesus enough to excitedly do exactly what was asked.  I was blown away by the trust, the hope and the promise that Peter could in fact do exactly what he wanted to do, because he was so intently focused on Jesus.

Matthew 14:22-33 in the Message is what brought this all about, and I really want to share it...

As soon as the meal was finished, he (Jesus) insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people.  With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray.  He stayed there alone, late into the night.  Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves.  At about four o'clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water.  They were scared out of their wits.  "A ghost!" they said, crying in terror.  But Jesus was quick to comfort them.  "Courage, it's me.  Don't be afraid."  Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water."  He said, "Come ahead."  Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus.  But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lots his nerve and started to sink.  He cried, "Master, save me!"  Jesus didn't hesitate.  He reached down and grabbed his hand.  Then he said, "Faint-heart, what got into you?"  The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down.  The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, "This is it!  You are God's Son for sure!"

The morning of my talk, the phrase in this passage that spoke so desperately to me was that Peter jumped out of the boat.  No hesitation, no weighing what the options were, no doubting the churning waves under foot, he just jumped out of the boat.  A month or so back, a dear friend mentioned this same passage, but placed emphasis on a completely different phrase.  I was struggling with something I felt God was leading me to do, and terrified that I would be out of His plan for my life.  I wanted to do what He wanted me to do, not think He wanted me to do something because I wanted it.  She reminded me that Peter had to have been terrified, too, because it says Peter was suddenly bold.  She told me that my disobedience needed to become suddenly bold and do what God had asked of me because my disobedience could be hindering someone else's obedience.  Needless to say, I tried to do what was asked.  Tried being the key word, because I chickened out.  I decided I must have misunderstood what God wanted from me.  I hate how remembering back makes me realize I pretty much told God I knew better than Him.  However, I am thankful that I see the lesson I needed to learn. 

Anyway, re-reading it for possibly the hundredth time since then, I am hit by so many thoughts and phrases throughout this passage.  First, this miracle was performed immediately following 5,000 people being fed by five loaves of bread and two fish.  And not several days later, but immediately following.  This part stuns me, because it has left me tonight with hope.  One miracle might be immediately following another.  God's timing is perfect, and He knows exactly what tomorrow holds. 

Secondly, these disciples at first assumed the worst.  These men were the men closest to Jesus, getting to know more than the typical person.  And, they assumed the worst, instead of assuming it was Jesus.  Really, though, how typical it is for us to automatically assume the sky is coming down around us and our world is coming to an end.  Instead of placing their trust in Jesus, they placed humanly fears in the explainable.  Well, as explainable as a ghost is anyway...

Jesus immediately provides them comfort and soothes their fears.  Without fail and without asking, Jesus calls out, reminding them not to be afraid or confused, He was with them. Their boat would not sink, the waves would not send them going in circles, but instead the he was there, he was in control, and they were safe. 

And, then Peter, suddenly bold, asks to walk on the water with Jesus.  First, he had to become suddenly bold.  He didn't just automatically have the nerve, he wasn't overly courageous, but instead suddenly bold.  Trusting, asking and receiving, knowing if Peter asked, Peter would receive.  And, upon being given permission, propels himself without abandon out of the boat.  Seem a little over dramatic?  Uh, yeah, however, how many of us would just throw ourselves over the side of the boat into crashing waves?  Not very many. 

And then, Peter lost his nerve.  Yup.  So like me.  I get direction, start the process, and lose my nerve.  And, just like He did Peter, Jesus rescues me, without question or hesitation every time I ask him to.  And, tonight, I feel like God is asking me, "Faint-heart, what has gotten into you?"  I know what He told me to do, and tonight, instead of doubting my ability,  I jumped in.  Instead of looking at the waves and sinking down, upset and doubting, I am gonna remind those waves exactly who my God is, and know He will have the victory, whatever it may be.  The thoughts have hit whether or not suddenly bold was enough, whether it was Peter's quick feet or his ability to remember who to ask for help that saved him from drowning.  My wind and waves will die down, and His plans for me are still the same. 

As the story plays over and over in my head, I am reminded that the very same trust, hope and faith present in Peter needs to be fed in me, and without circumstances to strengthen my trust, it will grow weak.  I gotta remember who I am walking towards, instead of focusing on the waves crashing underneath me, bringing new hope every day.  If only I could remember to quit looking down, but instead up to the one where the ultimate source of help, direction and healing come from.  That said, I gotta turn this brain off for a night...   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Miracles

You know, I am sure you know, it is Christmas.  Or almost Christmas.  Or blink four times and sneeze twice and it will be all over and it will no longer be Christmas, but a new year.  I have been in such a funk over it, too.  Not sad or depressed, just not feeling the excitement.  It is so easy to get caught up in the thoughts.  This one wants that, that one wants this, I have no idea about what to do for so-and-so...  Presents have been bought, stockings have been hung, lights are twinkling all over my house, and the girls daily remind me how many sleeps we have left before Santa gets here. 

Christmas lists keep revising, priorities changing, wishes revealed.  Sara and I had an interesting conversation that has left me in a state of complete confusion and complete amazement, that for once, I truly don't have an answer for her, and know Santa isn't coming through with her wish.  It's funny how we teach our children to become mature young people, with the goal of getting them through school and into adulthood without too much drama or failure, all the while almost refusing to allow them to do it on their own.  While it shows she really is growing up (which as an incredible gift, but also sad), it is hard for me to not just write a check, swipe a card or go get that special thing she wants so unselfishly.  This year, she asked for a Daddy who is right for the girls and myself.  Yeah, talk about a lump in my throat that just won't go away.  She gave me her list, and thank God, he was number 2.  I have never been more thankful to be able to provide the first thing, but she said she would gladly give up her toy to have a Daddy in our house, and a good husband for me, too.  Which of course, prompted a second discussion about the differences between a Daddy, a good Daddy, or the Daddy that lives 20 minutes down the road.  Luckily, we have it straightened out some, but every once in a while, I will hear her praying about God giving us someone special.  Gotta admit, as thankful that I am she is looking to the One who will provide abundantly, it tears my heart out.  I want to be able to provide the wishes and longings of my kids.  But, I refuse to step out of God's plan for us to do so.  I am hoping she can see my confidence that God will work this for our good, instead of growing frustrated that His plan isn't happening just yet.  Even more thankful, she understands the difference between bad relationships and good ones, and wants me to find someone new.  There is no anger with her about what could have been.  I am blessed.  Blessed far more than I deserve. 

Jessie asked for something, and I finally purchased it, now she wants a castle.  Yup.  A castle.  And Cassie asked for a pony.  Again.  Third year in a row.  So, we have Prince Charming, a Castle, and the horse to pull the carriage.  Good luck, Santa, I have girls who know what they want, and apparently, it ends a little like Cinderella.  Yeah, and they probably have watched one too many princess movies, so we probably don't need any more of those. 

It is impossible not to feel their enthusiasm, because they are just so innocent and sweet when they tell of an angel coming to Mary, and travelling by donkey and following stars and meeting this precious baby named Jesus.  However, every time they tell me the story, it is impossible for me not to think.  Difficult, dark thoughts of Mary and how terrified she had to have been.  While Jesus was perfect, his earthly parents were human.  So, my mind works something like this...

One: An angel visits an engaged virgin, telling her she was going to have a baby.  Okay, so to be a 14 or 15 year old teenager, and being told you are going to have a baby, and yet, never even understanding what it really takes to make a baby is beyond me.  It is so easy to just sit back and think, she must have been so excited, to be carrying God's son.  But, in my mind??  She was terrified, frantic, doubting her ability, worried about her impending marriage, and wondering what everyone was going to think about how immoral of a person she must be.  For a little while, the pregnancy could be hidden, but eventually, murmuring would begin when she had to go to the market, or when wedding plans were quickly carried out.  The angel's message of Good News had to have felt like complete and total chaos. 

Two: Joseph is a man, no offense, but just a man.  A man who had to have struggled with Mary's news.  I mean, seriously, can you imagine telling your fiance you were pregnant, and oh yeah, God is the father??  Unbelievable.  Talk about doubt, anger, and then debating on whether or not to go through with marrying this woman who claims the impossible.  All that, after she is conveniently out of town visiting with Elisabeth.  Only to be told shortly before the birth that he must marry Mary, because she was in fact, telling the truth?  Can you imagine how horribly he felt?  The guilt, then the overwhelming reality that he had to shoulder the responsibility of being the earthly father to a son who already knew the Heavenly Father on such an intimate level?  Humbling, absolutely humbling.

Three:  And honestly, one of the most uncomfortable things to think about.  This enormously long ride on a donkey.  I am sure, in the middle of this major miracle, Mary had to be thinking, "Are you kidding me???"  Or I would be thinking that.  And complaining.  And whining.  And, at some point, I am pretty sure tears and tantrums might have been included.  Nine months pregnant, balancing precariously on the back of a donkey.  For days.  Not just a ride around the block, or just a few minutes away, but a long journey.  I can honestly say, my human mind would've been seriously doubting the plan God had carried out or even maybe wondering if the angel was really an illusion, a hallucination in the middle of wedding planning stress. 

Four:  The stable.  I know that it seems really cool to think about the Holiest of all, humbling Himself to be born in the lowliest of places, but put yourself in Mary's shoes.  First, no rooms anywhere with a real bed.  Second, contractions may be starting, or at least intermittently happening.  Third, the stench that hits you in the face when you walk into any room where animals are housed.  This is where it really starts to hit me.  A teenage mom, unplanned pregnancy, unplanned "vacation," going into labor in the middle of a barn.  With animals watching.  And a man who has never "known" you that way.  First, there is a part of labor that my mom has had to give me this speech.  Every single one of my girls was born because my mom reminded me I had to keep going, despite the pain and the fear and the incredible desire for the contractions to stop so that I could go home, I had to keep going, and after all, I could do this because I had to do this.  What was Mary going to do without her mom there to keep her focused on the miracle that was taking place?  Did she lay there, smelling animals and all their nastiness, wondering where this miracle was going to happen?  Did she see the manger and dread having to give birth because that was the only place she could lay her little prince? 

Five: The birth.  You know, the Bible tells us that angels were sent to shepherds, wise men were guided by a star.  But, it never mentions angels being with Mary and Joseph.  It never says they were comforted, put at peace, or okay with any of the events taking place.  Do you think they were just so thankful to be a part of this huge miracle, or do you think they were wondering if it was even a miracle at all?  As first time parents, most of us plan and dream and just have this picture perfect plan of how it is going to be.  I am sure when an angel says, "Mary, you are going to have a son, who will be called Jesus.  He is truly the Son of God, and he will be yours," she wasn't thinking about how awesome of a mom she was going to be.  I am sure she was thinking, "Me? I can't do this.  I don't have a big enough house, enough riches or the beauty to be the mother to the Son of God."  No offense to Mary, but as a woman, I am pretty sure every single woman alive would feel those same things.  I am sure Mary didn't plan on getting pregnant before she was married, even more so, getting on a donkey and travelling any distance at all, then, to top it all off, having their reservation lost and having to bed down in a stable somewhere, because only one man out of hundreds took pity on their situation.  We don't tell stories of the angels proclaiming his birth to Mary or Joseph, and it seems as though they were alone.  Giving birth is not a modest act.  In fact, most women who give birth today have intricate birthing plans, with suites, hot tubs and air conditioning for transition.  It isn't something I would willingly do in front of someone who I wasn't legally bound to, to be honest.  I mean, rings and wedding vows sorta bind the man to the woman regardless of what takes place in the birthing room.  But Mary?  She hadn't gotten herself in this position the normal way.  They hadn't adjusted to each other, nor had they become comfortable with their spouse, they way couples do after being married for a little while.  And, here they were, Joseph having to help her in ways that Mary would've probably preferred someone else to do the job.  And, in the midst of all of this, don't you imagine, the miracle might not be so obvious?  The miracle might almost feel like you had done something horribly wrong, and were being punished in a very mortifying, humbling sort of way.

And yet, the miracle was there.  In the midst of the pain, in the midst of the fear, in the midst of it all, the miracle was minutes from being born.  The miracle, the Savior to the world, was only minutes away from being born so that each of us could experience him in ways no one previously had experienced him.  Jesus was born, protected, loved and raised to fulfill this huge miraculous plan.  God knew the obstacles, He knew the chaos, He knew the exact moment Jesus would enter the world, and exactly where this miracle would occur.  It is moments like this that I am blown away by the way God works.  Mary and Joseph were bound to feel a little clueless, frustrated by their circumstance, maybe even angry their plans were cancelled, because God called them to do something different.  Aren't we all the same way?  We all long to be a part of something bigger, but only if we can still remain in control of the how's and the when's. 

We all get up, go to work, eat, pay bills and go on from day to day.  We deal with blown out tires, batteries that won't start, bickering kids, anger at spouses, or longing for someone to eventually marry so we can be angry at our spouses, too.  We walk this life out, wondering when our miracle is going to happen.  We get so lost in looking for this miracle that we fail to see the miracle that is surrounding us on a daily basis.  Yeah, so our plans get a little messed up, our paths are completely crooked and crazy, but God still has this miracle that we, as humans, are completely blind to, because we are not God, nor do we understand how massively huge his plans for us are.  Because we, in our stupidity, think we aren't capable or worthy or enough to be part of a miracle.  And, oh, how wrong we are. 

While we sit and we moan and groan about the why's and why not's and when's and how come's, God is sitting back, probably chuckling, saying, "Hello??  Can you not see the miracles that are surrounding you?"  As I sit here, completely venting at the inability to give Sara and myself something we both would love, I realize, this is an opportunity for at least a miracle or two.  One, a lesson to wait on God, His miracles will always outdo my own.  Two, a lesson on asking, being patient and praying for His strength and courage in every situation.  And three, being thankful for the miracles I am in the middle of and yet am totally unable to see.  Wherever you are tonight, regardless of how great or how low your life is right this second, just remember, you cannot see your paths, but God can.  And I am pretty sure it contains at least a miracle or two.