Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And Then There Was Hope

Sitting in church on Sunday morning, I was glancing backwards through the notes I had taken.  It's funny, because sometimes, I will just jot down an idea, or something that comes to me totally unrelated.  I remember last year, as the team was preparing for Encounter, God really spoke to me about fear.  It was something I was battling over, trying to fully surrender.  Fear is one of those things that so easily creeps in, disturbing your thoughts without you really realizing it.  I remember writing down the words He spoke to me one January night last year.  Where your biggest fears are also lies the areas of your greatest freedoms.  I remember feeling totally awestruck.  It made sense.  Total sense.  But, almost too simple.  I think I vaguely remember jotting down a few thoughts about that here...  (and let me say, those words totally kicked my tail this morning!)

What I don't remember is writing any other thoughts down.  It really was a personal challenge.  One I felt strongly about sharing on Sunday and just never stopped to do it. 

What areas are you hiding?  What areas do you keep locked inside, knowing your secrets are safe within you?  Because those areas we hide the deepest within us, those areas we cover up with excuses, those are the areas we are bound to.  Forever.  The chains are stronger than anything we can carry, much more, break out of.  Guilt.  Poor choices.  Shame.  Regret.  Fear.  Disappointment.  Frustration.  Lack of trust.  Doubt.  Maybe just one area.  Maybe all of them.  You know what these are?  These are the areas Satan wants to use for your defeat.  Yes, he wants to use your own emotions, your mind, your heart to defeat yourself. 

I am my own worst enemy.  Instead of speaking life over myself, I often speak discouragement.  Defeat.  Doom and gloom.  Why?  I don't know.  It is so easy to just know I can't do it.  Remind myself I am not capable.  Knowing that I will fail is easier than having the hope that I can do it.  It isn't right.  It is something I go through seasons of overcoming, and letting it slowly slip back in.  It is something I choose to hide, because not hoping is not something I want to become used to.  I don't really want to admit it.  So, instead, I trudge along, carefully, in the pit of hopelessness.  It's dark.  It's lonely.  And I'm tired of it. 

After finding freedom filled words Sunday, I opened my devotion up yesterday.  And wow.  Straight to my heart.  Hope filled words.  It's how I know that the connection to my Savior is far more vital to my existence than oxygen.  Seriously. 

I was reading in the YouVersion devotion series Good News of Great Joy by John Piper.  While I won't copy the entire day (God's Most Successful Setback), I will share a few key highlights.  The devotion is centered around the birth of Christ, and all of the pieces that fell into place for Christmas to happen.  I mean, miracle of miracles.  But, it encourages you to really think about it.  It is hard to do.  It doesn't make sense.  Anyway, this devotion talks about Joseph and Jesus, and their similarities.  They both suffered tremendous adversities.  And yet, overcame.  "The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks.  They will always look and feel like failure." 

Failure.  The way I have been feeling for months.  It is mostly all just me not hitting the goals I really believed were going to happen this year, but the word failure resounds in my heart.  Deep.  Chained up.  Not ready to believe anything else.  Until yesterday.  When I started thinking about defeat.  Failure.  What defines defeat and failure?  Man.  Those at work.  Those around you.  But for me, it is me.  I define myself often as defeated.  I feel like I have failed so many times, at so many different things.  And yet, this word piercing my heart specifically says success is going to feel just like failure.  Divinely appointed setbacks.  How many times do I get to fail something before I throw in the towel, determine myself as a failure? 

This is what hit me:  Jesus, walking down the streets.  Condemnation written across faces.  People spitting on him.  Throwing things at him.  Being called an impostor, a fraud. Definitely not the Messiah we'd all been waiting for.  The crowd slinging insults, unbelief in their voices.  A cross being drug behind him.  What were the thoughts going through Jesus' mind?  Was he wishing he could've done his job differently?  Possibly thinking he had been given one task, and that he failed at it?  Knowing he had come to fulfill prophesy, performing miracles, bringing the earth His goodness and peace.  I wonder if He was weighing the cost.  Determining if the price He was paying was really going to be worth it.  He was a man.  Did He know the millions of people He was dying for would eventually come to know He really was the Savior, or did he walk those streets defeated? 

Jesus was without fault.  No question.  But did He feel as though maybe His mission wasn't as victorious as He had imagined it would be?  Do you think He knew beforehand the pain and heartbreak He was going to experience? 

The world's biggest setback right there.  That cross.  Also the world's biggest success.  Be careful how you view your situation.  Being human, we can't see how it will end.  All we know is that a divinely appointed setback saved our lives.  Walk this day out knowing that.  Our situation may feel like a failure.  A setback.  But tomorrow, we may realize the cost was so incredibly worth it. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Story Does Not Define Me

At some point, you get tired.  Fed up.  Weary. Just over it.  Ok, well, maybe it is just me. But, honestly?  That is where I am.  In the last several weeks, I have found myself so incredibly sentimental.  Looking back, wondering what I could do differently.  Several relationships I could've held onto for just a little while longer.  For some reason, I keep thinking back to where I was four and five years ago.  Comparing years four and five to two and three.  And then looking at last year and then, today.  Who I was then, who I am now.  And it truly amazes me.  God is just good, guys.  Seriously good. 

And yet, some days, I sit back and feel so incredibly defeated.  Here I am, so incredibly close to 30 it makes me wanna throw up.  Not exactly what I expected 30 to look like.  Makes me want to cry, honestly.  Divorced.  Mom of three.  Barely a college graduate, still not able to own my own house.  Not married.  Not even dating.  Part of me knows that is all okay, part of the plan.  I sit back and remind myself again and again, none of those things really tells you who I am.  All it does is tell you what I have done and accomplished, or what I've not accomplished.   Maybe it is the emotional mood I am in, but days like today, I feel like what defines me is my single status.  Not that I withstood pure hell for almost a decade.  Praying for God to fix my incredibly difficult marriage, only then praying for him to fix it in a way that didn't break up a family.  I can tell you God gave me a way out, but that he didn't give me a map, an estimated time of arrival, or even an itinerary.  He also didn't do it the way I thought he would.  His ways aren't always like our ways. 

As I was recounting highlight moments tonight, I am in complete awe.  I lived in terror for an incredibly long time.  Never knowing what I would go home to, or even if I would wake up the next morning.  But you know, something that none of that can express is how deeply my hope is for my future.  That the hope that lies within is far greater than my fear of history repeating itself.  That I am willing to overlook the wrongs done so that I can see a story that redeems marriage in my heart and mind.  I can also tell you that my room is a mess.  Like, I have had three loads of laundry waiting to be folded for what may or may not be the third week in a row.  While that makes me feel pretty crappy and not very good at the whole mom job, I will still tell you I am a (pretty stinking kick-butt awesome) single mom to three little girls, who all belly laughed today, ate three full meals each, and had clean, unwrinkled clothes to wear to school today.  That laughter keeps me going when I just want to run away.  What that doesn't tell you is that I am a multi-tasking, money managing, overwhelmed, praying for strength 99% of the time, mom who is almost at the end of her rope.  I can tell you I am a college graduate.  What that doesn't tell you is the times I wanted to quit outnumbered the steps I took across that stage as I accepted my diploma by at least 5 times.  I can tell you I am a Christian who believes God's promises to her remain true.  What that doesn't tell you is that every morning I pray to God that he gives me the hope I need to keep believing, because this might be the last morning I can keep believing in something I can't see.  That there are so many millions of times I screw this walk with him up and question the promises and peace he gives me daily.  You know, those moments something tells you to make an extra sandwich and then see that poor guy standing in his spot on the corner of the intersection literally begging for food.  I miss His voice completely.  Those moments I gain strength from an incredible portion of scripture, only to turn around and not believe when He says good is coming from this.  I will rise from these ashes into beauty.  That every single day I have to pray that this incredible word He has given us isn't lying when it says His grace is sufficient and made perfect in my weaknesses.  Because looking at the chaos that I feel my life is, I need some serious grace.  Wonder if I am putting all of my trust into something that will never happen.  The laughs, the crazy looks, the mumbles.  Those that you just know think you will die alone, an old maid.  Surrounded my fourteen cats.  You know, that horrid voice that says "You sure that was God?  Not just you wanting it to be God?" 

So, why is it that we allow a chapter or two in our story to get the better of us?  I just don't get it.  I allow who I was, the decisions I made, that one (ok, well, who is keeping count?) time I lost it at Target and snapped at my child, or the fact that I ate altogether too much today to determine how I feel about who I am tomorrow.  The number on the scale.  The pants that don't zip.  That lady who can't stand me at work.  The child angry that I didn't wash the right pair of pants.  The parent who is disgruntled because their child didn't get the helper job he wanted.  It doesn't matter how many times I read Lamentations 3:22-23, " The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning."  I go to bed thinking God is going to be angry or disappointed in me because of the way I acted at Wal-Mart, or at the ball park, or on the way to school, or because I got tired and frustrated, or because I didn't meet my expectations of what I was supposed to do.  I forget about the glorious beauty in the sunrise.  The unending mercy and grace He longs to pour over us.  I forget He doesn't want my perfect house.  He doesn't want my perfect kids.  He doesn't want my perfect run.  Or those perfect pants to zip.  This is the thing.  We can have the perfect marriage, 2 children, a perfectly behaved dog, and two goldfish and still not realize who you are. 

Do we not think that the God who created us doesn't know what our story is, how it will end?  A few years back, I will never forget the gentle words He spoke to me, reminding me He created me the way I am because He had already written the ending.  As I sit here completely wide awake at well past when I want to be asleep, I try and figure out all of the answers to the things bringing chaos to my world, forgetting all that stuff raging around my head will not determine who I am, how my heavenly Father views me, or even what my tomorrow will hold. 

We forget He created our whole lives before a single day had passed.  These days we are walking out may not seem like the happily ever after we imagined, but they are the story He created us to walk through.  Something that gives me great hope is the fact that He created me knowing the things I would need to make it through His plans for me.  He didn't create me to long for a Godly, secure marriage to be left alone and divorced my whole life.  He created my desires to line up with the plans He already has worked for me.  Not really sure that any of this is making sense.  Guess that's what I get for being up when I should be trying to sleep.  I might be a single parent today.  But that doesn't get to be who I am forever.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Moments

I could say today was a typical Monday.  All those typical Monday things happened.  Hit snooze too many times.  Rushed out the door.  Snapped at kids.  Made it to work to get snapped at by someone who has no right or reason to snap at me.  Drive home.  Dog is really nasty, disgustingly sick.  Still.  After cleaning up the mess for the upteenth time this weekend (now week).  Spent Christmas money to make him better.  Innocent words of a child that make my heart sad.  Laundry to fold, laundry to fold, laundry to fold...  Nothing catastrophic, but not a simple day.  Definitely one of those days that would be easier to focus on all the junk, that is for sure. 

I won't say that I think God doesn't hear my prayers.  I know He totally does.  But today, throughout my day, there were just so many incredible reminders of the ways He doesn't leave us.  I have been out of my classroom for three weeks.  I had an on the job fall that has put me slightly out of commission for the last little bit.  I have two weeks to go, and have been feeling a little out of sorts about it.  It is tough to watch someone else be you in your classroom - tweaking this and that, talking and laughing with the kids you talk and laugh with.  Okay, or just yelling at them.  I digress.  Anyway, as a teacher, I am supposed to say I love all of those kids equally, that they all mean the same to me.  But, I would be lying if I said that.  There are 13 kids in that classroom I am fairly certain don't need me, don't want me there, and I do not feel as though I am changing or touching their lives.  But the other seven...  Those seven need me.  And I have missed them.  On a totally twisted turn of events this morning, those seven got to come upstairs on a field trip.  I got to love on them, read to them, and make them laugh.  I got to see their faces light up when they realized I wasn't gone, I hadn't left them.  They just couldn't see me.  But I have been there, planning, getting ready, and talking to parents about curriculum and implementation. Brainstorming methods of connecting and creating a meaningful atmosphere for them to let go of their home chaos.  Oh yeah, I call this God moment number one.  I can't see Him.  I don't always hear Him.  But He is there nonetheless.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  Because of aforementioned injury, I have to go to physical therapy.  And, oh, it hurts.  It is not fun.  It is not easy.  But, I laugh.  It hurts.  Then there are those people right next to you, hurting with you, making fun of the way you are grimacing over the most normal activities.  They challenge you.  I am on the same rotation as two others.  We come in at the same time, we make fun of each other, and I find myself almost dreading the day when these sessions will be over.  Healing isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be miserable.  I call this God moment number two.  Healing is a process.  One that might just be looked back on with bittersweet memories.  Cherish the ride. 

Picking up the girls from daycare is always an interesting part of my day.  I typically find three tired, cranky, whiny kids who are just as ready for their day to be over as I am for my day to be over.  We were laughing about our favorite parts, and the light went on.  I am one seriously blessed Momma.  My youngest said everything was her favorite today.  Four months ago, I had to literally peel her off of me, kicking, screaming and sobbing for me not to leave her.  And suddenly, everything was her favorite.  My normally unhappy child said this was her best day ever.  That she really loves the way her teacher believes in her.  Gives her tasks that she gives no one else.  And the last one said her favorite part of the day was knowing Sassy (our elf) was finally back to spread Christmas magic.  It's hard to see the potential for beauty when you are living in the ashes.  So incredibly thankful for this day of rosebuds.  May not be totally there yet, but we are on our way. 

Skipping ahead, tonight at dinner, Jess decided she was really an elf, and was just separated from her elf family.  So instead of using her syrup to coat the pancakes, she opened a small bottle of maple syrup, and drank it right out of the bottle.  Said all she was missing was the spaghetti.  I'm thinking we may have seen Elf one too many times.  Lol, said no person, ever.  I love that movie.  And I've done a great job helping them love it, too.

And this most awe filled moment of the day...  Funny how God uses kids - especially those that are driving you the craziest - to speak straight to your heart.  I was pulling clothes out of the dryer, trying to just get the essentials completed, Cass walks up to me and says, "Hey, Mom...  Can I have something different for Christmas?  At this point, dinner needed to be made, I had a dog kennel that needed a bleach bath, that I needed to bleach myself afterwards, and trying to just fold the laundry.  I looked at her, trying to be gentle, and said, "Cass, first, you are whining.  Second, please just let me get what I have to get done before we talk about Christmas."  She said, "Momma, I need a Bible for Christmas.  A real one.  With verses.  Like this one.  I can read it, really I can!  Look! 'This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham.'"  And, slap.  Yup, God, you've got my attention. 

This year has not been the easiest.  It has been one of the fastest, but what has felt incredibly difficult.  Last November, God laid Ephesians 3:18-20 on my heart.  This was supposed to be my year of exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask, think or imagine.  I would love to say that I see the exceedingly abundant all around me.  But, truth is, I don't.  Work is harder than I ever could have imagined.  I walk away most days feeling so defeated.  My goal of home ownership is still not within reach.  It will be next year, instead.  Special promises God made me have still been sitting on the shelf, covered in dust.  Kinda hard to see why God gave me such an incredibly powerful verse.  Trust me, I can imagine more than this.  Much more than this. 

But, as my middle daughter, in her sweet voice read this phrase, "...Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham..." I was hit so hard I literally had no words.  Exceedingly, abundantly above it all.  Abraham.  Barren wife.  Way too old to have a baby.  And yet, a promise of a lineage as many as the stars in the sky.  His wife laughed.  That's how impossible it sounded.  And yet, right there.  Jesus, descendent of Abraham.  I've read it at least a hundred times.  Never, ever has it sunk in the way it did tonight.

When God promises you big things, He doesn't walk away.  Even after waiting 25 years.  Even when everything else seems lost, no possible way.  Hope is drifting away, people are laughing because you still believe.  You hear the thoughts in your own mind telling yourself you didn't hear right.  And yet, He's still there, your story sitting in the palm of His hand.  A smile contentedly sitting on the lips of the Creator.  He knows how this is going.  While I long so much to turn a few pages so that I can see how this season comes to a close, I am so incredibly thankful for moments when He just so lovingly blows my mind.  Jesus, descendent of Abraham, the man who gave up and tried to make it happen in his timing.  The man who had to lay his own son down to be sacrificed.  The man God made an incredible promise to.  And He loves me just the same.  Pretty sure this story is already written.  May not have a fairy tale ending, but I know He's gonna be with me the whole time.