Build the Cities

Have you ever read something many times and then something suddenly jumps out at you? And changes the way you think about things? I began reading a Beth Moore book this last week and the main passage is Isaiah 61:1-4. I wrote it out and highlighted the parts (italics here)  that she pointed out were part of Jesus job description, thinking that would be key to focus on, the things that God is going to do for me.

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness

instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

a planting of the LORD

for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins

and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

that have been devastated for generations.

Isaiah 61:1–4

 

I taped it to my mirror and started reading it. But after several times through what jumped out at me were not the highlighted portions, it was the plain black section at the bottom. The parts that start with “they,” meaning, our part, not Gods. It doesn’t say God will rebuild the ruins, it doesn’t say he will restore the devastation. It says we will.

God’s part is to comfort and heal our broken hearts. God’s part is to set us free. God’s part is to give us joy instead of sadness. Once he has built us up, it is OUR job to build up the rest. We will be the ones to take the ruins and rebuild something new and full of life. We will be the ones to change the generational devastation. This is our job, not God’s.

Now don’t get me wrong, God plays a part. Obviously. He frees, and heals and strengthens us, without Him we would not be able to do a single thing. But once he has done his work in us, in our hearts, it is then our job to go out and do the work in our lives, in our families, in our world. To build the cities and bring him glory.

As this just hit me while reading the passage this week, I am still working out what exactly this means for me. What it is God is trying to teach me. But it seems, on the surface, that I should do less waiting for God to drop the perfect life in my lap and more creating of a life that will bring glory to Him who healed my heart and set me free.

 

 

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Resolutions

I am not a big fan of New Years Resolutions. Probably because I hate introspection. It is hard to think about what you should do, when you don’t want to think about where you are.

Twenty-thirteen was an interesting year. Full of high hopes and deep disappointments. The best of friends and hollow loneliness. The end of one chapter, but no start to a new one.

I find it hard to resolve to do anything except keep on living and taking life as it comes. The things I want the most aren’t things I can resolve to do. They are things that I have to let come to me. Things I can do nothing to make happen.

I am tempted to resolve to give up hope, so that I will stop being disappointed. But what is life without hope? So I guess I will just resolve to keep doing the next thing and keep hoping.

Sameness

I write when there is something I need to get out. A thought, or an idea that just can’t be kept in, that has to be shared. Something that is real. Something that might help someone else. Not because I have all the answers, but because knowing you are not alone is half the battle.

I have had multiple thoughts and ideas lately, but when I start to think them through, I realize I have already written about them, and I have nothing new to say about them. This seems to be the story of my life right now. Sameness.

I had big plans for this year. I was going to graduate, find the perfect job as an OB nurse, save a little money, and move into a place of my own.  You know with a real kitchen, separate bedrooms, and (dare I dream) a bathtub. I was going to get my things out of storage and decorate for Christmas with ALL my decorations. Then I was going to have all my friends over for a dinner party for my 30th birthday. It was going to be wonderful.

But, as they say, life is what happens when you are busy making plans. I graduated. (YAY!) I got a job as a caregiver for my grandma. And I am still live in my tiny “studio” apartment. I can almost taste the disappointment. I can feel the walls closing in. The apathy of depression seeping in around the edges.

Change can be difficult. Sameness, when you are expecting change may be even more difficult. I am finding it hard to be grateful. I know in my head that I am so blessed with what I have. But in my heart I just want to be somewhere else.

Thanksgiving came and went, and I tried to make my November thankful posts on Facebook. But I only made a few. I know I have lists and lists of things to be thankful for, but I just couldn’t make many heartfelt spontaneous declarations of thankfulness. Now Christmas is upon us, my favorite time of the year, and I am just not feeling joyful. Yes I am aware that joy is a choice, but sometimes feeling it is good too.

My pastor taught on generosity last week, (If you think you have heard every sermon on giving that you ever need to hear, you haven’t.  Listen here. 12/1) and he drove home the point that even the poorest of us here are SO rich. Point taken. Then we started this Advent for Orphans calendar, where you put specified amounts of change in a jar for things such as: # of bibles or games you own, # of eggs in the fridge or cans of food in he pantry, or # of carpeted rooms in your house. I may only have one room, but it is carpeted, and heated. Has lights and running water, hot water even.

Nothing like perspective to make you feel like a ridiculously selfish spoiled brat. Perspective may not immediately change how I FEEL, but changing how I THINK is a start.  I may still want something different, but I can also be content with what I have.

In the midst of all the disappointing sameness I need to remember that there is a comforting sameness. The same God who has gotten me through the last 7 years, is the same God who is going to get me through the next 7 years. I have believed steadfastly that he has a plan for me, that he has the perfect job waiting, that he brings good things to those who wait. He stays the same, even when he doesn’t do things in MY timing. He stays the same.

Holes

“Time heals all wounds”…but time doesn’t fill the holes.

Driving down the road, suddenly I feel a tangible emptiness on my left ring finger. Where once there was something, emptiness, a hole. I have been acutely aware of holes lately.

Until lately I have been able to ignore the fact that something is missing in my life and my son’s life. Life has been good, and he has never known anything different. (of which I am grateful)  But as he gets older things have gotten harder. His behavior is out of control. I am at my wits end. And that is when I notice it. The gaping hole. The hole where a father should be. I have tried to tell myself all along, that we will be fine, that he will turn out just fine, that I can do this. And while all those things may be true, I am left to wonder how things would be if the hole was filled. I can say with certainty that things would be different. How? I don’t know. That is the thing about holes, you never know what could have been. You just know that it would have been different.

I have prayed for this hole to be filled from the day it was created. And yet it is still empty. And I have to stare down the disappointment. It is hard to keep praying for something through disappointment. It is hard to keep praying for other things, and people, when the disappointment of unanswered prayer is staring you in the face every. single. day.

Contentment. Something that I thought I had figured out. But then the disappointment swells up. Today in church we talked discontentment. How it is really a way of saying that God’s way is not good enough. We want God’s will, our way. But it doesn’t work that way. If we want God’s will, it has to be His way.

I want God’s will, more than anything. Because outside of it, life is just a purposeless mess. Not to say my life hasn’t seen its fair share of messes, but I can see his handwriting all over it, and I can see purpose growing from the pain. But it is hard to be patient when more seems to be falling into the holes. I know that he will fill them; He has given me assurances of that. But I feel like a ticking time bomb, that if they are not filled soon, it will all cave it. I have to want His will HIS way, not my way, because He understands why, and I don’t.

How do I go about keeping the disappointment at bay? I need to focus on the daily expressions of his love. The little things that happen all the time that show me his Love for me. I cannot and will not let those things be swallowed up in the holes.

Doesn’t God Care?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend that went something like this: “Doesn’t God care that I could be homeless for Christmas? What else can he take from me?”  Before I could respond this was quickly followed by  “And don’t tell me he wouldn’t do that to me…Because he would!” And I had to answer, “yes that is true…but I don’t think he wants to.”

What do you say when the pain is so real and the reality is so grim? The answers seem so cliché. God loves you. He will never leave you. He will take care of you. He will provide. He has a plan for you. I will be praying for you. Time heals. It will get better. These are all true, but they sound so hollow. So what do you say? I am sorry, that sucks.?

I remember hearing all of those things, and thinking, that was all well and good for them to say, but they weren’t walking in my shoes.  Until you have been torn apart and put back together those words are just that, words. The only way that they have any meaning is if you can back them up.

Every time these words come out of my mouth I cringe inside, because I am painfully aware of how they sound. So when they do, I always try to qualify it. I say: I know how it feels. Everything you are saying I have said before. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t easy. And yet, I KNOW these things to be true. I KNOW he loves, I KNOW he provides, I KNOW he has a plan, I KNOW time heals, I KNOW it will get better. Not because someone told me so, but because I have been there.

I don’t have easy answers, magic prayers, or 10 step plans. But I know that God is good and he loves you, and if you cry out to him from the depths of your hurt and your pain, he will be with you. While I can’t promise that you won’t be homeless for Christmas, I do know, that even in that, he will provide for you. I can’t promise he won’t take anything else away from you, or give you exactly what you want, because he will do what he needs to do, to get your attention and change your heart, but if he wants your attention and your heart, he has to have a plan for you.  I know what it feels like, to feel like nothing will ever be “normal” again, and but I also I know that, with time, it will.

It is weird being on the outside looking in., seeing the pain and the devastation, but because I am not in the middle of it, I can see God’s fingerprints all over it. And I can honestly tell my friend that “It is going to be alright,” because, in the end, it will be. I wish I could just push a button and make the end magically appear. But it doesn’t work that way. We all have to walk through our own trials; we have to do the hard work. We have to surrender ourselves to the work God is doing in us. We have to wrestle with the why questions, even if in the end we realize we may never know why. We heal, we move forward, we come out the other side, stronger and more of the person God wants us to be.

We also come out being the kind of person who can say these words and mean every one.

And even if we never talk again

“And even if we never talk again, please remember that I am forever changed by who you are and what you meant to me”

This quote hits home and has inspired me to write about something very personal.

This time last year I was in a relationship, my first (and only) one since the divorce. I had told God that if he wanted me to be in a relationship with someone he was going to have to make it very, very clear, because I was too afraid to trust myself to make a decision like that. Of course being God he came through, and not only did he make it very clear, but just so I couldn’t talk myself into thinking it was coming from me, he made it someone I would not have chosen on my own. And in the process, taught me a very important lesson that He “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at outward appearance (and circumstances), but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16: 7)

So knowing 100% that this was a relationship that God wanted me in I entered into it with my heart open, not holding back.  I have never known anyone who probed so deep into my heart and required so much honesty from me. As a result deep places of fear, scars, and confusion that I didn’t even know were there, were opened to the light of day. God taught me so, so much and I had a period of very concentrated spiritual growth.

Then it ended. I was confused, hurt, and angry, not with him, but with God. Why had he put me in this relationship, just to take it away? Had a misread the signs? What was the purpose? It took me a while to wade through the emotions. But I came out the other side with a better understanding of God and of myself.

A bit of back-story: I was raised with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and was taught not to give my heart away. I married my high school sweetheart. It was what I always dreamed of, I didn’t want to give pieces of my heart away; I didn’t want to have a broken heart. After less than a year of “dating” I told him I didn’t want to be in a relationship, if it was just going to be a short-term thing, he agreed and we decided that our intention in dating was to develop a relationship that would lead toward marriage. Heavy stuff for a 16-year-old. Fast forward. After 5 years of marriage, we separate and eventually divorce. And here I am, single for the first time since I was 15. Never having “dated” and left to sift through my previous thoughts and convictions on relationships and dating. Talk about baggage.

Based on my previous “dating is bad” and “don’t give your heart away” ideas, I never would have opened my heart up the way I did, if God hadn’t been very clear from the beginning that I was supposed to be in this relationship. My problem was, based on these ideas, I assumed that because God led me into this relationship that it was going to be a permanent thing. I assumed I knew what God’s purpose was and it was only my assumptions, me trying to be God, which caused me hurt.

As I sorted through things, God was very clear with me, the relationship was exactly what it was supposed to be. He used it to bring things to light that needed healing that I didn’t even know were there. He used to test me, and grow me. He used it to make me a better person. He used it to change my assumptions. And most of all He used it to show me how much he loved me. Based on my old view, by loving this man, being emotionally open and vulnerable, I would have somehow lost something. But I didn’t lose a thing; I gained so much!

He also used it to change my views on relationships. There is no “right or wrong” way to go about “dating,” as long as I follow His lead I will be doing the right thing. If God brings someone into my life, he has a plan for that person, for that relationship, and for my heart. I have learned to have an open heart, that there is nothing to fear. I don’t need to fear loving, and I don’t need to fear losing.

Again it comes down to “do I really believe what I say I believe”. If I believe that God loves me and has a good plan for me, how can I not trust him with my heart? If I open it, it might get hurt, but if I keep it closed I will miss the opportunity to learn and grow.

God Gives and Takes Away

“Do you believe that God is a giver or a taker?” “Is what holds us back from the wild ride, the fear of what He may take from us?” And “ Do we fear how much He will have to take from us to get Glory from us?” These are the questions Beth Moore asked tonight in Bible study. These are hard questions, we may say one thing with our mouths, but in the deepest parts where fear hides, we may believe the other.

I used to believe God was a taker. I remember standing in church with my big pregnant belly and singing, “he gives and takes away, my heart will choose to say, blessed is your name;” And being terrified that God was going to take my baby from me. Because I hadn’t suffered loss yet in my life, and somehow I thought in order for God to work in and use me for His Glory I would have to suffer. What a twisted view of God.

Fast forward a few months, I am kneeling at the side of my bed, (because if I kneeled God would hear me better) sobbing, and crying out to God to give me my husband back.  One month later he would leave for good. Loss, with a capital L. Did I have it coming because I had never lost anything before, because I hadn’t suffered yet, was it was just my turn? Is God like that?

God did not cause my divorce because he wanted to test me, or grow me, or get Glory out of me. All of those things have come from it, (at least the first two, and I hope the last) but he was not the one who caused it. God hates divorce; he would never cause it. Sin causes it, plain and simple. And sin is the absence of God. But that does not mean that he can’t take the results of sin and use them for his Glory.

I always believed that God could do a miracle, and answer that sobbed out prayer. But he didn’t. He allowed the sinful choices to play themselves out, and there was never the change of heart to bring about restoration. Does this mean God didn’t care, that he “took” my marriage from me? Does he take more than he gives?

No. He chose not to restore the relationship (even while asking me to consider the possibility, see Belief Part 1) that much is true. But in that process he gave me so much more. I had a realization last semester that floored me. For school I had to attend three AA type meetings. For one of them, my friend and I chose to go to an Alanon meeting, which is a meeting for the families of those with addictions. During the meeting they read from one of their pamphlets a list of the crazy behaviors and things that people do when they are living with an alcoholic, just to try to get through to them and to try and change them. Now my husband was not an alcoholic, but he had some unconventional addictions that seriously affected our relationship. As the list was read, I sat there realizing that I had done every single one of the things on that list, as it pertained to my situation. I realized how crazy those behaviors were, how desperate I was, and how hard it was. And this weird little thought, that had been bouncing around in my head for a while, even thought I tried to press it down, came to the surface. “I rescued you from that.” God didn’t give me my husband back, but what he gave me was sanity, he gave me strength, he gave me peace, he gave me stability. I may not have seen it while I was going through the pain, but in that moment, he gave me the tiniest glimpse into the big picture.

So tonight when the question was asked, “Do you believe God is a giver or a taker?” I can honestly say I believe he is a giver. I may still struggle with fear, but if I recognize it for what it is, I can confront it with the truth: God wants to give good gifts to His children. It may not always look like what we think it should look like, and yes sometime he has to take things in order to give better things. But He gave his SON. How much more proof do we need that God is a giver?

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things” Romans 8:32