Thursday, October 16, 2014

Looking Up

Thankful! There have been so many gracious moments of deep joy and great delight along my path in this most wonder-filled of months, this golden and crimson and glorious October. The season has never yet failed to call forth in me profound joy and profuse gratitude. The simple pleasure of walking through autumnal woods is a gift I've had the privilege of unwrapping over and over again this year, and it has unquestionably enhanced every aspect of my life. My perspective shifts, my spirit soars, my physical self is refreshed...

But lying just below the surface, sometimes alleviated but never quite lifting, is an elusive heaviness... Bogged down...that's the best way I can describe this stuck-in-thick-mud, unable-to-move-forward, overwhelmed-by-too-many-details feeling. I've been fighting it, refusing to acknowledge it - it seems a crime against gratitude to express such a sentiment in the face of so much for which to give thanks. But God, of all people, called me on it yesterday - smack-dab in the middle of one of my wood-walks.

As I was walking along, breathing deeply of Autumn's intoxicating scent of fallen leaves, I happened to look up. Way up. And in the highest branches of a huge golden aspen poplar was perched (what I firmly believe was) an eagle. (Are there eagles in Alberta? Well, it was a huge bird with a black body and white far as I'm concerned, it was an eagle :) ) Whatever it was, it got my attention - the simple beauty of its bold outline against the gray sky, the graceful way it held its head, the marvel of being so high and free... As I stood gazing up at the wonder, it occurred to me that I haven't been doing much looking up lately. On the whole, I do a fair amount of looking up - probably more than most, just by virtue of the fact that everything is literally over my head. (Just today, I was reminding myself, in the presence of my husband, that Thursday is a shorter school day, as the kids get out an hour early. His response? "Every day's a short day for you!") I consider it a gift - we miss so much by not looking up! And I think that gratitude, which I've been deliberately incorporating into my days, is simply looking up, and recognizing the blessings that are constantly and continually being poured out into our lives.

To be truly genuine, honest, authentic, transparent - as I aspire to be, as I believe God desires - is to agree that everything in my life is allowed entry by the hand of my loving Father, and that everything He permits is for my good and His glory. The combined heaviness of all the start-up details of getting a ministry of the ground and resulting financial strain, in addition to the everyday  pains and pressures of family life (lots of pleasures interspersed, to be sure!), have been keeping me from looking up. The moment I take my eyes off of Jesus and start to focus on my problems and issues is the moment this heaviness begins to set in, stealing my joy. And since the joy of the Lord is my strength, this is something I want to start consciously avoiding. (I love how God reveals things to me one-at-a-time; He's so gracious that way! He's so patient with me as we walk this path together! How great is our God?!)

Friend, thank you so much for journeying along with me! This process is so very valuable to me - I do pray that you may receive some bit of encouragement, as well. I leave you with two verses that come to mind - be blessed!

  I lift up my eyes to the mountains;
   where does my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-13

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

God Answers Prayer...Right?

I have never assumed to comprehend the mystery of prayer - I've been at it a pretty long time and I still don't really understand just how it works. I've studied what the Bible has to say about it, I've read books on the subject and heard many sermons on the intricacies and complexities of this spiritual communication, and I've prayed. Sometimes lots, sometimes not so much...

And I've seen many, many answers to prayer - both my own and the prayers of others. I think we mostly only count answers that line up with what we've prayed for - and I've experienced tons of those! Current example: my brother was rushed to the hospital not too long ago with severe abdominal pain. He's no sissy; anyone who knows him well can just imagine what it would take for him to voluntarily seek medical attention. There was morphine, there were x-rays and a CT scan and disgusting drinks and uncomfortable tests - it was pretty scary for a little while. The evidence coming in wasn't conclusive; could've been a blockage, a growth, a disorder, and a variety of other frightening possibilities. And what's our family's first reaction? We mobilize our pray-ers. And they pray. From all over the country, they petition the Father for a favourable outcome, for peace, for healing. And it would appear that our cries were heard. After about 36 hours in hospital, we get a best-case-scenario diagnosis, a clean bill of health, some buttered toast and the much-desired release papers. Yay God...right?

But what about all those other times - the times we don't talk about, the desperate prayers we offer up that, by all appearances, go unheard and unanswered? I know I've prayed my share of these - I'm guessing you have, too? Requests large and small, personal and for others, for finances and family and friends and the future...I've often wondered if it was me - was there something I was neglecting to say or do, was I not using the right words, not adopting the proper prayerful position, not praying often enough, praying too much, was there something in my life that was blocking the communication pathway, did I not have enough faith? And on and on, until it would drive me crazy with the wondering, but I'd be afraid to approach God with the question, not wanting to bother Him even more...

It wasn't until I got to know God in a whole new way that I had any peace at all about this particular conundrum. I prayed lots but I also doubted lots - could I really, really trust this God that seemed to arbitrarily bestow or withhold favour? For the longest time, I thought getting my prayers answered depended on my own worth, my value, my efforts. And so, because I thought so little of myself, I could excuse God's supposed lack of response. It was understandable, I figured, because I certainly was not deserving of any special attention from God. When I did get the answers I was looking for, which did happen, even in this long period of silent doubt and questioning, I saw it more as a fluke than anything else, a positive but random blip in the universal management system. I was very grateful, no question. But I guess I figured if I kept my expectations low, I'd be less likely to be disappointed, less likely to fail in the art of prayer.

Thanks be to God, I've made considerable progress in understanding and accepting God's love for me. It has changed how I look at a lot of things, including prayer. I've come to see that it's less about convincing God that I need a particular thing and more about cultivating a friendship - with a Friend who is both intimate and ultimate, completely caring and completely capable, passionately precise and profoundly powerful. It's less about seeking to have my needs met and more about finding out, in ever-increasing measure, that I already have everything I need in Him. It's less about finding answers and more about finding a Person. Maybe it's a little cliché by now, but it's true that prayer doesn't change God or my situation, necessarily; it changes me, my perspective. Prayer is acknowledging that my life is not in my hands, that I'm not the one at the wheel - and that this is a good thing! The act of praying tells God that I trust Him to do (or not do) as He sees fit, for my good and His glory.

I know there's so much more I could say about prayer - but this was not meant to be an exhaustive (nor exhausting) essay on what prayer is or how it works. I needed to remind myself of the truth today. I'm in the middle of a rather difficult situation right now, in which I am completely powerless (which is quite likely at least part of the point), and am waiting to see what God will do - and waiting is so hard sometimes. Sometimes the effort to trust and not doubt is pretty tiring. But I am trusting, imperfectly for sure, but I know in Whom I'm putting my trust - and I know He will not fail me; not now, not ever.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Change is Good, Donkey!

My number one favourite movie of all time is "You've Got Mail". (Did you think I was going to say "Shrek"?) You know, the one where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks fall in love online while hating and bating one another in their "real life" business rivalry? I love it for so many reasons, but most of all for its' honesty - albeit behind the anonymity of ambiguous screen names. (Hmmm, a little like blogging, perhaps? Nevertheless...) One of the lines from that movie has been playing over and over in my head this week, (for reasons I will soon disclose): "People always say change is a good thing. All they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all - has happened." Kathleen Kelly then goes on to lament the closing of her charming little bookstore and the inevitable life-altering consequences on the horizon as a result of the change.

I haven't been shut down by a "multi-level, homogenize-the-world, mocha-chino land" mega-bookstore. But there has been significant change in my life over the past couple of weeks; the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another, to stick with the book analogy :)  It's not a very obvious change, and will likely ever impact only a few others than myself - but to me, it's huge. Life-altering, world-shaking, mind-boggling change. It's a change I made on purpose, that I chose to embrace for the greater good, that I knew was coming, and I don't regret it for a second. But to be perfectly honest, I've felt like a drug addict going through withdrawal. The first few days were horrible - tears, depression, fatigue, loss of appetite (!?), mood swings (my family can testify to that one!) was just awful.

But now that I've been able to get a little distance from it all, I'm thinking I'll survive. Sometimes, you have to let go of the old good (even the very, very good) to make room for the new good. It's the changing of my mindset and thought patterns - my heart and mind's allegiance, you might say - that has been the most challenging. You think in a certain way for such a long time, it becomes habit. (And oh, habits are so hard to break!) And instead of mentally preparing for this change (that I knew was coming), I chose to cling to my old way of thinking for as long as possible. (Note to self: bad idea!)

However, it is what it is (not a fan of this phrase generally, but it fits here). The old has gone, the new has come - hmmm, that sounds familiar...I've been working on this post over a few days and already it's getting a little easier, less heavy; there's less pain and regret and more hopefulness about what's to come. The painful moments are getting fewer and farther between, though they still come. Why, oh why, do we insist on returning to our old ways when the way ahead is clearly the right path to follow? Is it the warm comfort of the familiar, the usual, the routine? The past is safe, known, recognizable territory; the path before me is the opposite of all those things: unsafe, unknown, unrecognizable - I've never been here before. I like to think of myself as a brave, bold explorer of the foreign, the uncharted - but I'm not, not really. I want to make my way into this new world with confidence and grace, with my head held high, ready and willing to take it on and be a part of it all. And once in awhile I'm able to achieve this. There are moments, however, when I feel more like many analogies come to mind, I can't pick the one that fits best. A puppy with her tail between her legs, a cat in a strange garret, a fish out of water, invisible, alien, unneeded and unheeded, unwanted and unwelcome...

There's no good reason why I feel this way - the residual effects of a life of misplaced shame, I guess... And most days, I can acknowledge that, I can fight against it and replace the lies with truth and hold my head high (as high as a four foot nine-and-a-half inch person can, anyway). New doesn't have to be bad, doesn't have to be scary, doesn't have to be threatening. God is always making things new, renewing our strength, encouraging us to forget what is behind and press on, to get out of the boat and walk on water - and I want all that. I want whatever God is doing, I want to keep in step with Him and be where He is and follow where He leads.

But - I also want to get in the habit of allowing myself to feel what I feel, knowing that it's not necessarily right or wrong, good or bad - it's just how I feel. And not to sweep those feelings under the rug or bottle them up so they can suddenly and unexpectedly explode out of nowhere one of these days - been there, done that!  To know the real Joy, I have to acknowledge and become acquainted with every aspect of her, not just the positive, pleasant parts, but the good, the bad and the ugly. And so I must admit to myself that I just miss the old, the known, the loved, and that the effort of embracing the new is just hard; and that that's ok. It doesn't make me wicked or corrupt or ungodly - it simply means I'm human, normal (whatever that means).

I've come across several wise sayings lately (God bless face book) that pertain to my current situation, such as "the greatest chapters of your life have yet to be written" (Joyce Myer) and "race to Him instead of running back to your old ways" (Karen Ehman) and "you can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one" (unknown) and "there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind" (C.S. Lewis). Honestly, there are days when I have a hard time believing that anything can be better than what I've left behind. Not because it was particularly good (there were parts that were very, very good and part that were very, very not good - you might have picked up on that if you've been reading this blog for any length of time), but because that was what I knew, that was my identity, my "normal".  When I examine the situation objectively, however, I catch glimpses of the glory that is to come, and I am filled with joyful expectation and hopeful anticipation - I can hardly wait to see what God will do!

And so, the moral of the story is: whether we choose it or whether it just seems to happen to us, change will come and change can be a good thing. But what I'm most thankful for in the midst of all this is the changeless, unchangeable love of God. Even as the waves of change crash all around me, He is my anchor.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
(Hebrews 6:19)