Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"The Drama Queen" ~Jeremiah 29:11-14

     For a long period of time there was drama in my life…I don’t mean little drama.  I mean big drama.  Divorce, unpaid bills, kids rebelling, house fire, church strife, homelessness…not only big drama, but bad drama.  The gossip and pain was humiliating.  I hated it. 
     I would say the number one goal I’ve set over the last fifteen to twenty years is to achieve peace and stability, for myself yes, but mainly for my three babies.  Peace and quiet for some people is a very elusive thing.  I am one of them.  Sometimes it seemed to be one calamity on top of another.  At times, it seemed that I would just stand up from one wave when another knocked me down.  It’s a gut-wrenching way to live.  It’s exhausting to struggle through each and every day, hour by hour.  But it taught me a couple of good lessons through the years.  Lessons I am grateful for, in spite of how I learned them.
      The first is, there is nothing like a painful disaster to put you flat on your face grasping at God’s promises.  Desperation equals dependence which equals God.  When we are torn in half by struggle and hurt, without fail, we turn back to Him.  Over and over.  Again and again.  It’s when I am closest to Him.  He knows it and I know it.  I am stubborn by nature.  Sometimes it was the only way He could really get my attention.  I used to joke that I had prayed for God to let just enough trouble into my life to keep me on my knees, but I quickly gave that particular prayer up when I got blisters from kneeling!  Seriously, if I can maintain that kind of closeness to Him when I am living easy days, then I will feel like I have achieved something.  He knows me too well.  He has to keep me dependent.  So I have learned to thank Him, even for the trouble.  The trouble He allows always has a purpose!
     The second thing is when some relatively peaceful days do come along, I don’t even know how to live them.  I am constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting , waiting, waiting, for the next blow to hit.  I’ve found out that being happy, settled, and drama free is not a natural state for me.  I don’t know how to handle it.  I’m not sure how to thrive.  I am suspicious of the easy life!  I’ve noticed this in a lot of people…they seem to almost anticipate the pain of the next tragedy.  They look for the attention and care from others that trouble brings.  It becomes a cycle of emotions, almost like drug use or alcoholism.  The focus is on dealing with the drama.  They have the prayer chains on speed dial!  And I know there are some friends and family members who began to cast me as the one that lightening always seemed to strike.  They became accustomed to my struggling and couldn’t imagine me in any other state.  After a while, normal doesn’t seem natural anymore.  Which brings me to the third and most important lesson…
      That drama filled life I lived for so long is a sin.  Bottom line.  No way around it.  Those attention seeking, needy, pain-filled  days are not what I was created for.  The sobbing, middle of the night break downs.  The deep heartache and stress.  That kind of daily existence is NOT God’s will.  Not for me.  Not for anyone else.  Period.  End of story.  
     God tells me that. Flat out.  I have plans for you.  Plans to PROSPER you. Actually, I like my translation, which says it this way in Jeremiah:  I have plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.  You will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  Then He goes on to talk about restoring me (which is a whole other page I could write about!) and bringing me back from exile (which is a familiar place I've visited often!).  Now read that again.  AMAZING!  God wants me to prosper.  To be restored.  He wants me to thrive.  I used to think that meant to be happy.  But I've come to believe it means to be at peace instead.  Peace from drama, pain and turmoil.  He wants me to be quiet in my soul.  To pray, seek Him and trust Him.  He will handle the rest.  He’s a big God.  A really big God.  He's got this!  Sometimes we lose sight of that in the middle of the storm we are fighting through.
      He wants contentment for me.  Instead of focusing on the trouble of the day, He wants me to focus on Him.  Things will work out.  Trouble passes.  Time heals that gut-wrenching pain.  I've seen it happen over and over in my life.  Problems that seem impossible, insurmountable, overwhelming, eventually just become another chapter in my (rather long and interesting) testimony.  Perhaps God can use my story to help someone else through theirs.  Perhaps He can use yours.  And maybe it’s just one more step on our journey toward a land of milk and honey.  A land of prospering and peacefulness.  That’s His plan for me.  And for you.  He said so!  He promised. 
     I read once that real peace is not absence from trouble and heartache.  Peace is calmness in your heart and soul in the midst of trouble and heartache.  It is knowing that my God is a God of restoration and deliverance from exile. A God that has created that peaceful land of milk and honey in preparation- just to give us something to look forward to.  Just for the people like me.  People with drama filled earthly lives.  
     I’m going to love it when I get there!  Hope he's got me a big warm milk-filled bathtub full of peace and quiet just waiting!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"I Remember..." ~Mark 11: 23-24

     Today is a Praise Day.  I have those randomly.  Un-expectantly.  In every other way, today was ordinary.  I put in eight hours at work, dealt with all the usual frustrations of a busy weekday.  It seemed like a repeat of many others.  But it wasn’t.  It was special.  Let me explain.
     I was looking for some old pictures of my kids this morning.  Digging through snapshots of memories. And they weren’t all good.  Isn’t is funny how a photo can take you back in time.  Make you again feel a forgotten moment.  That’s where the snapshots took me this morning.  Back to a time when every day was a mountain to climb.  Mountains of bills.  Mountains of broken dreams.  Mountains of heartbreak.  Thinking back to my days as a single mom.  
     I remember plainly what it felt like to be alone.  Really alone.  Alone in every way.  Alone with a house to clean, alone with a yard to mow, alone with kids to bathe, supper to cook.  Alone with laundry for three busy kids.  Alone with all the adult responsibilities, both large and small.  Waking alone and falling asleep alone. 
     I remember sitting in my church pew alone.  Nothing is more alone than that. 
     There were days that I didn’t want to climb out of bed in the mornings.  Days I didn’t want to work two jobs.  Times I didn’t think I could keep putting one foot in front of the other.
     Days the mountains looked too big. I didn’t want to climb anymore.  I wanted to give up.
     I remember.
     My pastor said last Sunday that ministry is done in the valley.  He is so right.  The valley is where we are broken.  The valley is where the mountains look the highest.  The valley is lonely.  I never needed Jesus and His people more than those days I spent in my deepest valley.
     The valley is dark and scary.  It’s Satan’s playground.  His favorite illusion is to convince us that the sun is forever hidden and the peaks are far too high.  He uses earthly heartbreaks.  He uses money problems and family issues.  He uses divorce and death.  He uses empty church pews and late night tears.  He has so many weapons in his arsenal. The grief feels overwhelming.  The loneliness feels like a wet blanket thrown over our faces.  It makes us struggle for each breath.  
     I know.  I remember.
     Years have passed since I climbed out of my valley.  And I didn’t do it alone.  God climbed beside me.  It took time for me to realize that.  Time for me to understand how close He was the whole time.  I couldn’t see him in the darkness.  I could only call out to Him and stumble forward.  Crying until I was blinded.  
     I was blind but now I see.  And He was with me.  Every minute in the valley.
     Time has a funny way of smoothing things over, fading the worst of the memories.  Blurring the edges of the most painful times.  Hurt eases a little and tiny steps are taken.  Tiny accomplishments celebrated.  Hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, then months and finally years pass.  We make it somehow.  We breath in and out.  We put one foot in front of the other.  And all the time we are climbing higher and don’t even realize it.
     Finally one day I stood in the sunshine.   I was still a single mom.  I still had bills and laundry.  I still went to bed alone at night.  But God and I had climbed my mountain, together.  Other mountains of mine He has simply moved out of the way.   Many times.  One tiny shovelful at a time. While I stumbled around lost, praying and crying.
     “My God- He can move the mountains...”  That line is in a praise song we sing.  I love it. It brings tears every single time.   It’s so true.  He formed the mountains.  But He formed the valleys too. To teach us faith. And praise.  He has reasons for forming both places.
     Every one of us faces mountains.  Scary, dark, steep and smothering.  The valley seems too deep.  The burden seems too much.  Our issues seem too big.  We stumble and cry, searching for His arms to hold us.
      And always, unfailingly, He does.  He is there.  Right where we need Him the most.  
     Today is a Praise Day for me.  Full of memories of the valley that He and I climbed out of together.  Full of recognition that He will always either climb beside me or move my mountains.       I am so thankful that I have never really had to face my deepest pain alone.  I am so thankful that Satan’s weapons are not stronger than my Saviors love. The mountains aren’t too high.   
     I am having a Praise Day today.  Just because I remember.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"In the Trenches..." ~Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12

     Uploaded some of my son’s wedding pictures onto Facebook the other day.  I only picked the best ones.  Didn’t want the extra pounds or wrinkles to show.  Eliminated the ones that showed stressful or hurried expressions.  Set aside any that didn’t meet my high standards.  I worked hard to customize the images that I showed the world.  It looks like a perfect day.  A perfect wedding.  A perfect family.  
     I do that often.  Pick and choose what people see about me.  Don’t want the cracks in the armor to show.  Don’t want anyone to doubt that I’ve got it all together.  Even when I don’t.
     Recently I spoke to a struggling young single mother who has been reading some of my online blogs.  She told me she had known me for years and had no idea about some of the hardships I had been through.  She identified with the pain in some of my writing.  She felt encouraged to keep on keeping on after reading about some of my experiences.  To keep fighting.
     It made me remember something that my husband pointed out to me long ago.  We love people for their weaknesses.  Not their strengths.
     I have a beautiful friend in my church.  She lives in a nice home, has a fancy car, a toned body and a beautiful face.  Strong marriage and pretty kids.  I have known her for many years.  We had been casual friends.  I had admired her from afar.  In my mind she was one of those have-it-all-together-women.
     Then our relationship changed drastically.  We went to a third world country together.
     We shared a small room with a bunk bed and a cold shower.  Shared one outlet for electricity when it worked.  We gave up on makeup and hair-styling by the second day.  Mud and sweat mixed with the tears on our faces as we fed hungry children.
     We lay in bed at night and shared our life stories.  We stood in front of strangers far away from our little town in Arkansas and gave our testimonies.  We talked quietly about where we came from, how we got there, and where we wanted to go.
     I received so many blessings from my time in Nicaragua.  But one of them is that I gained a sister in Christ.  When all the chips were down, and the barriers gone, we saw each others souls.
     Coming home was a hard adjustment.  Trying to fit back into “normal” was impossible.  We were changed forever, and our daily lives became a reflection of that.  
     I occasionally see pictures of my friend with her beautiful kids on face book.  Her make-up is back in place and she is beautiful as always.  She looks the same as before we went.  But she looks different to me now.  And I’m sure I look different to her too.
     I know her story.  I know her hurts and celebrations.  I know her dreams and wishes.  I know that her life is not the perfection that the Facebook pictures show.  And she knows the same about me.  We formed a bond in the trenches.  Our lives are tangled together now. 
     It’s so easy these days to only have surface relationships.  To only show our best side.  To pick and choose the best images.  In a day when everyone has total access to each other through all kinds of communication devices, somehow we have managed very well to hide our inner selves.  I think it is a dangerous thing. 
     It’s hard to love someone who looks perfect on the outside.  Houses, cars, marriages, smart and beautiful children.  The Christmas cards paint a pretty image.  All smiles and sunshine.
      We have to learn to share our pain.  Ask for prayer in our struggles.  We have to learn to tell our stories.  Maybe that’s the purpose of us living them.  One story can inspire hope in another.  God designed the Body of Christ as a support system.  He didn’t create one single perfect Christian.  And it’s the flaws that make us loveable.  Not the pretty pictures.
     Our natural response to pain should always be compassion.  That’s how we’re created.  And maybe the reason for our story is to encourage someone else.  So tell yours.  Pass on the faith.  Lift up the fallen.  It’s what the church is for.  It’s the design behind the fellowship.  
     Today, when you see someone whose life seems perfect, dig a little deeper.  Ask a few more questions, look beyond the plastic smile.  There may be a treasure chest of faith there.
     Everyone has a story.  Everyone is lovable.  And you may, like me, make a forever friend.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"The Anchor Holds..." ~Matthew 8: 23-27

      Are you fighting through a storm?  Do you feel like a little boat being tossed around by huge waves, crashing rain?  Do you feel helpless, hopeless, afraid?  Like you have lost all control?  Have you really "given up" and feel you‘re about to drown?  I know those feelings well.  
     There were so many people in scripture who shared those frustrations.  Some oblivious ones were Jonah, Noah, the disciples in the storm.  Other, less oblivious characters, were people Jesus encountered along his travels who were struggling with sin, with disease, with failure.  Broken, hurting people.  Not the great speakers, city leaders, kings.  Jesus was drawn to the people in the storm…to rain and pain.  To fear.  To failure.  To hopelessness.
     I’ve fought the rain and wind in a boat without a steering wheel, drifting without any control of where I would land, just like Noah.  I’ve run from God, tried to hide, and found myself swallowed up in dark nasty places, just like Jonah.  Sadly, I’ve run from God more than once.  
     But the story that really speaks to me is the one about the disciples in the storm.  I’ve been in that little boat struggling to stay afloat as wave after wave crashed down on me.  I’ve felt that fear as I struggled to catch my breath before the next disaster hit me.  I’ve tumbled around, trying to get my feet under me, just to be knocked down again and again.  Day after day, month after month.  I’ve been there.  I’ve wondered if Jesus was still with me.  If He saw what was happening.  If He even cared.  I’ve felt alone.  Abandoned.  Exhausted.
      The sad thing for the disciples is they had Jesus right there with them.  Not ten feet away.  Such an untapped source of strength and peace and stability.  They had traveled with Him, watched him heal people, forgive people, perform miracles right in front of their eyes.  They looked into His eyes every day.  Saw His power.  And yet, in the middle of the night, in the raging storm, they got scared.  And so do I.
     I think they got a little angry.  A little resentful of Jesus.  Sleeping soundly as they fought the waves.  I think they felt a little abandoned out in the that dark scary place.  And I think they thought for a while that they could handle things on their own.  And waiting so long to call on Him for help almost got them drowned.
     I have watched Jesus perform miracles.  Over and over in my life.  I have walked with Him, looked into His eyes.  Watched Him heal people, forgive people.  And yet, just like these men who fought the storm, I have gotten scared in the dark waves.  I have tried to fight on my own.  Rely on myself.  And have almost drowned because of it.  Sadly, not just once, but over and over.
      At times I have turned to Jesus as a last resort, just like Jonah.  After I’ve been swallowed.  After I have run and tried to hide.  After I have caused more damage than was there to start with.  I have waited until the storm had me beat down, the waves had taken all the life out of me, and finally I turned to Jesus in despair.  And there He was, waiting for me, just like the disciples, ten feet away.  Peaceful.  Strong. My life preserver.
       My favorite thing about the storm story is His calm.  He got up and rebuked the waves, and the sea. I love the peace after the storm.  I love the thought of Him speaking quietly to the waves, the chaos, the drama, the powerful forces of nature.  I love the way the weather instantly obeyed Him.  That’s my favorite part.  His quiet and steady power.
     He’s waiting in my storm.  He’s my peace.  He can speak to my chaos and drama.  He can make it stop with just a calm word.  Why do I wait so long to go to Him about it?  Why do I go as a last resort, when I am exhausted and almost drowned?  I’ve seen His miracles, His power, so many times.  And yet, sometimes I still choose to fight the storm on my own.  To struggle in the tall waves.  To gasp for breath when I could breathe easily.  I don’t understand why.  But He does.  And He lifts me gently from the deep water and places me back on solid ground.
      Because always, in the end, he’s my Lifeguard.  My Anchor.  Always.  Oh, thank you, God, for rescuing me, over and over, from the storms.