Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Winding Road

I just spent two and a half hours reading back through a lot of my old posts on here. It’s so very amazing to look back and see God’s faithfulness on display in that. The last five years of my life have had a lot of ups and downs, so very many lessons learned, so many weaknesses realized. And through every bit of it, I can see the evidences of God’s love and grace. I am so very thankful to Him, and He certainly deserves all the glory J

Reviewing my spiritual journey this morning made me realize again just how little life really works as a checklist. Which is so very annoying to type-A people like me! But the things God has been teaching me about and refining in me have primarily remained the same throughout the last several years – just revisited over and over, maybe from a different angle or to a different depth.

In a lot of ways, I expected that after graduating from college, I would have reached some pinnacle. That my spiritual learning and growing would have reached completion, just as my academic learning has ended. That’s laughable, really. I hadn’t realized that I was expecting to hit some plateau……but I’m pretty sure I was. The almost three months since graduation have proved very obviously that my spiritual journey is nowhere near the end, and won’t end in this life. I will always need God’s gentle—or sometimes not so gentle—reminders to be focused on Him and trust in Him.

As a college senior and now as a recent graduate, the obvious question I get asked a lot is “what’s next?” Through a couple of ways (Ireland and SP internship), I’ve managed to procrastinate on actually coming to a solid answer on that, pushing my “deadline” further into the future by nearly four months. But that hasn’t been overly helpful. Instead, I find myself rather less certain about what I want than I did back in April and May. But that is a good thing—even if it is rather uncomfortable—because it’s been God’s leading and guiding that has been throwing a monkey wrench into what I thought was a pretty perfect plan. Things have not gone as I expected, but He is still in charge of that.

In that process, God has been reminding/teaching me a lot about living out surrender and practicing trust in Him day by day. This month has been a tough lesson in that. I currently have three options before me of what I am interested in doing next. Each one is something that God has laid on my heart in different ways, but I can’t do all three—at least not at the same time. One is more rational. One is more comfortable. One is something only God could bring about. I catch myself planning as if each one is what I’ll be doing in September. But right now I really don’t know which way the compass is actually pointing.

A couple weeks ago, I posted about that on Facebook. When I got on the next day, several of my mentors and close friends had posted comments on the status. Most of them were reminding me that God gives us free will, and that this may be an area where He would be leaving the choice up to me. That was a really good reminder for me, because honestly I’d been wanting and waiting for God to write some big message up in the sky of what I was supposed to do with my life.

TIME OUT. I should add here that something else God reminded me of the past couple of weeks is that He doesn’t “need” me anywhere. I need to have a proper perspective about this all and remember that it’s not like I am some required resource, without which God can’t do His work. Whichever choice I make, God will continue His plan in all three places. I think part of the reason I’m so tempted to stress out about where I’m going to end up comes from trying to carry WAY too much responsibility about it. As if God’s work in other people’s lives depends on me being there. And it just plain doesn’t! Sure, He may choose to use me – but I am not a required tool that will make or break any situation.

So back to what I was saying – God may leave the choice of my next step up to me. I hadn’t been thinking about that side of the equation at all, and it’s true. I may get to a point where I have three wide open doors, and I have to make a decision on which one to walk through. Right now that’s not the case…right now I’m still knocking on a couple of the doors, waiting to see if they’re actually going to open. But there may come a point when it’s all up to me.

And yet even in that moment, if/when it comes, I don’t want to make a choice based on what would be most rational or most comfortable or what I “ought” to do. God has been teaching me so much about trust and surrender over the last couple of years. And while those will both always be part of my life, it seems especially applicable now. He’s brought me to this place in my life and been teaching me these things up to this moment for a reason. My desire is to be available for Him to use however He pleases.

Four years ago, I would never have pictured myself standing where I am. The things I’m looking at really weren’t on my radar. It is amazing to look back and see how He has been leading and guiding, placing various things in my life. After the Facebook post I mentioned, one of my mentors posted a link to the next morning’s “Our Daily Bread” reading on my wall. It was called “The Winding Road,” and I obviously stole the title for this blog post. It was a really perfect reminder, and just what I needed to hear.

And so I end with the prayer that concluded that reading.

Dear Lord, sometimes life seems to be full of perilous and winding roads. Thank You for giving us the assurance that You have our course plotted and are watching over our every step.
Troubles are unknown; God's providence is certain.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What I Learned in Ireland

It’s amazing how much impact one month can have. Just four weeks – but for me it really was the capstone (thus far) of almost 2.5 years of deep heart work that God has been doing. Writing the title of this post, I knew there’s no way I can truly do justice in trying to put down everything I learned….especially because a lot of it is just the fruit of a much longer process.

So what did I gain from my time in the “emerald isle”?

First off, the overarching theme through all of this is God's incredible faithfulness. Obviously, none of this could have happened without His working - and I am so immensely thankful to Him for that!

~~I learned again my own fallenness – in my own strength, I can do nothing. In my flesh, I am a me-focused, selfish, prideful person. Even writing this out and sharing it could be done in a way seeking self-gratification – but my desire here is to share what God’s GRACE has been at work doing in my life, often in spite of me.

~~For about a year, the idea of dying daily has been rolling around in my head. Songs such as “Lead Me to the Cross” and “King of My Life” have kept coming up in my mind. And I’ve been praying that Christ would bring me to a point of consistently crucifying my old man. In Ireland, I came to understand more how truly difficult and painful that can be – but so very worth it. The seed of this was planted way back in 2008, and created the foundation for the name of this blog.

~~Related to that is the concept of control and ownership. I’m a control freak, and very dependent on MY ownership of MY stuff. But during the past year and a half plus, surrender has been an important concept that God keeps bringing back to the forefront of my mind. This has come to be signified in my mind by the phrase “I am Thine,” a reminder that the God who redeemed me by shedding His Son’s blood is the only one who has any real claim on my life.

~~Another closely connected theme is that of TRUST. This is something else God’s been working on in my life for about 15 months. Part of surrender is choosing to trust God’s plan rather than trying to make my own work. The day I left Dallas for Boone, the teacher at my church in Dallas preached a message hitting this nail right on the head. I would encourage you to listen to it here.

~~Freedom – when I do come to a point of surrendering my own will and placing my trust in God, it does bring relief. Because suddenly, it’s His work that He will accomplish in His time and His way. In some ways, that takes all of the pressure off of me! Of course, it’s not an easy process at all to trust Him so completely (though I certainly wish it were – because He’s worthy of that). But I’m no longer the one who has to make something of myself. Instead, I simply have to make myself available to Him.

~~God’s GRACE and PATIENCE are truly boundless. I was reminded by this over and over again in Ireland. All those moments when I would be focused on my ideas and on myself, and His Spirit would catch me on it, pointing my perspective back to Him. He always stood by, waiting patiently for me to let go of myself and cling to Him. No matter how many times I stumbled, He was always right there.

~~Reality of fear. This is naturally related to trust…..for quite a while, God has asked me—often at the most inconvenient of moments—“Do you trust Me?” And oftentimes, if I’m being honest, I have to say no. Last semester I realized for the first time that my willingness to trust had been deeply injured by stuff that had happened…and I feared voluntarily relinquishing my sense of control because of that. It’s a long story…one I’ve been contemplating blogging about but haven’t yet.

~~The blessing of healing: I’ve been a very introverted person for a long time – and I still am. But this year God has finally brought me to a place where I am confident enough in who I am that I am willing to open up and share with others about what I struggle with. I’m finally beginning to learn to accept my flaws and imperfections—not as in allowing them to remain in my life, but as in being willing to honestly share about the challenges God has brought me through and the ways He is continuing to sanctify me.

~~The depths of love. Two summers ago, God taught me a lot about being willing to love unconditionally, from 1 John 4. Before we ever left for Ireland, I prayed—and asked people to pray for me—that God would fill me with His love for the kids of Killyleagh. And He did – so very much. Even though I was often annoyed at their apparent lack of listening abilities, and often discouraged by the feeling that I wasn’t getting through to them, I love them. I often wished I could just find ways to show them each just how much God cares for them.

~~Lessons for me…..  I learned on the very first day of ministry in Killyleagh that I needed to learn and be reminded of the importance of the characteristics of God that we were teaching just as much as the kids did. Compassion: meeting someone’s needs, not just shushing them to do your own thing. Humility: caring about others and putting their needs above your own. And so many others!

~~God answers prayer. I’ve already alluded to this a couple of times. Another “dangerous” prayer I’ve been praying for a while is that God would break me and strip me of myself. And there were definitely times in the past month where I have felt so very broken before Him. But He doesn’t leave me there. He brings cleansing and healing, building me up into a tool for His use, for His glory.

Coming back stateside has been a whole process in and of itself. The first couple of days I was honestly an emotional wreck. So many feelings and experiences I was trying to process, plus being tired from travelling. Over the weekend I just felt full – like I’d taken in everything I possibly could, like I couldn’t hold another drop. And now I’m in a whole new place with whole new lessons to learn, and it would be so easy to stay focused on the past. But the sanctification process doesn’t stop – God just keeps on refining. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

At dinner the evening before we left Ireland, Becci asked several of us what were three words we would use to describe our time in Ireland. It wasn’t too hard for me to answer that: WRESTLING. BEAUTY. CRAZINESS. This whole post is an attempted explanation, a try at unwinding all three of those, but especially the first one. And that’s why, if you ask me how my trip to Ireland was, I’ll respond that it was wonderful and fantastic – really hard in some ways, but so very good. And if I seem reluctant to go into details, it’s because all of this whole post—or at least parts of it—are running through my mind. And I just don’t know how much you really want to know. But now you have the rest of the story. And yet even this is merely a scratch on the surface of the work God’s been doing in me. All praise goes to Him J

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Phil. 3:12-14)