12/31/14

A Reflection of 40

A mirror never lies. It’s only distortion is that you see yourself slightly different than others see you, because you see your reflection, others see as you are, not your reflection.  Every misplaced piece of hair, every wrinkle and line, the mirror shows it all.  When I look in the mirror I see my age creeping its way into the laugh lines, and crows feet around my eyes. I see a face that was once plump and soft at a tender twenty years old, that face is now altered significantly. No,  the mirror doesn’t lie. It conceals nothing, nothing except maybe the soul.

It is true when they say everything starts falling apart when you’re forty. I’ve seen my doctor more this year than in five years combined I think. From the beginning of January right after turning forty until this very last day of 2014, as I get ready for yet another appointment, I can attest to things in and on my body falling apart, hurting, tweaking, creaking and aches and pains on parts I didn’t know I had.  My mind says “sure you can play football on the asphalt with your students,” until I fall, bruise my entire right side and limp for a week! My body isn’t what it used to be.

As I reflect on this past year of being forty, I have become far more intrigued though with what has happened in my soul than how my face and body have changed and aged.  As I approached turning forty at this time last year, I was reluctant. My thirties had been delightful in many ways. I didn’t want to let that go. Now, having nearly finished this year of forty and reflecting on the journey that God has taken me on, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Yet, these past three hundred plus days have been some of    the most challenging days in all my life.

Turning forty started out with a  question…”Will you follow Me? Will you trust Me no matter what?”  My whole life long I’ve had trust issues, for reasons that may never make their way to the page. I’ve trusted  God in some areas of my life, but this question was bigger than that. He was asking will I trust Him with everything, with every part of my life? Having been a “believer” most of my life, the answer was a “yes, but…..”.  I can say I’m a believer, I can go through all the motions of churchy-ness, and serving, but following is trusting one small step at a time. Trusting is laying it at His feet, and seeing the proof over and over again. It’s coming to the place of understanding that He sees the bigger picture. He knows what He’s doing. It’s  learning that when I’m believing that anything outside of His will could possibly be better for me, then I’m believing a lie, believing that His ways aren’t good enough for me. He asked me again….”Will you follow Me? Will you trust Me?” And with a silent nodding yes to my maker the journey of forty began. On faith, trusting Him, I took His hand into the unknown where I have absolutely NO control.

After taking a step in trust, He began to teach me that being a follower doesn’t mean happiness. I can hear all kinds of uproar right now, but hang on. Most of my upbringing and early Christian teachings were founded on the idea that if you do all that God has commanded, if you live the way He wants you to, do the right things, you’ll reap happiness in the end, because He will be more than happy to bless your efforts. Smack the cymbal of the Gong Show someone please, because THAT is SO not what He says in His word. Nowhere did He promise me a life of happiness, of unending emotional, physical and material blessing and bliss. No where! Yet I have believed this lie my entire Christian walk! (Sorry I’m a little angry about the lie right now.) Somewhere I was conditioned to think that as a follower I was entitled to get my way, and be happy all the time. Instead this year, He’s taught me the truth.

I learned (am still learning) that following Him is suffering. Following Him is dying. Dying to myself, my desires, my wants, my needs, my happiness, my dreams, my wishes of bliss. Following Him is letting go of all I’ve ever wanted and laying myself at the foot of His cross. Why? Because He redeemed me there and I’m no longer my own. To redeem, one definition I read is the “buying back of something lost.”  So if I’m going to believe enough to accept His forgiveness and pardon from hell, then I must believe enough to give Him all of me, inside and out. I must lay all of me down, and follow where He leads me whether I understand it or not. Whether it makes sense to me or not.  Whether it feels good or not. Whether my dreams come true or not. Whether it leads to happiness or NOT!

Now some of you may be thinking I’ve lost my mind and that surely Jesus wants us to be happy. Let us look at the definition of happy and happiness, shall we? Webster’s dictionary defines happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.” and happiness is defined as “the state of being happy : an experience that makes you happy.”  Read them again. The key words that pop out to me are pleasure, enjoyment, life situation, experience. Those are NOT lasting emotions, because those are ever changing things. My life situation can and will change from minute to minute, so will my experiences, they will be both good and bad. And so there ebbs and flows my ability to be happy. Ahhh….but here’s the clincher. Here’s the part that won me over this year. While I may not live in an everlasting state of emotional happiness, I can in any kind of suffering or heartache have JOY! He DID promise me JOY! What’s the difference you ask? Give me a second and I’ll clarify.

Let me go back to the suffering for just a minute. I talked about dying to my needs and selfish desires; That following Christ means to suffer. This year was an internal suffering and dying to self that I have never known. This year I lost count of the nights I spent crying out to Him in loneliness, pain and heartache. The uprooting of selfish desires does NOT feel good, but it is necessary to follow Him. That is why He says to His his disciples, (to all followers),  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV).  For me this translates to a conversation in my head that goes something like this, “Becky, I know what you want, what you long for and dream about. I know the holes in your heart. I know the pain and the loneliness. But lay that here at my feet daughter. Anything you could possibly dream that you’d want will not compare to what I have waiting for you when you follow me.”  Ok so it’s more of a monologue on His part and less a conversation, but that’s what He’s teaching me. That is also why He says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39. And this then brings me back to JOY.

Joy by definition is similar in layman’s terms to happiness. But in Biblical terms it is so much more! Joy in its purest, truest sense is not something based on fleeting experience or circumstance. But real joy, the one I’ve learned about this year is something that happens in the midst of suffering that can allow you to smile at adversity. This joy is only found in His presence, which is where I’ve spent a great deal of my time this year. If I have to die to self I don’t want to do it alone, I can’t do it alone. And so in my nights of dying to self and crying and letting go, came the joy of His presence. He has proven Himself to be right there with me in the midst of whatever I have faced this year. Joy, unspeakable joy comes in His presence, NOT from an experience or situation. Scripture says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11(ESV)  and “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6 (ESV)…how about this one, “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Psalm 63:7 (ESV) But perhaps one of my most favorites is this one…”Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy! Psalm 126:5 (ESV).  True joy which I have now known with my Redeemer is hard to describe unless you’ve lived it for yourself. It doesn’t exist in my striving to make myself happy, it only exists in His presence, where I have completely died to myself.

Learning to love as He loves has been the last part of this year’s journey. I posted a blog back in June titled Under the Knife, which spoke specifically about the moment of Christ’s “surgery” on my heart. That moment in time has changed my view on what love is, forever. Love is not about me. It is not about my happiness, it is not about emotion or feeling. Love is not about what I’m going to get out of it. Love is often doing what I don’t feel like doing and many times NOT doing what I feel like doing. Love IS sacrifice. Love IS suffering. Love IS putting the other person’s needs before your own. Love IS looking past faults and imperfections to find the beauty of which God’s hand created in others. Love IS a whole lot of things I knew nothing about and I’ve never lived out before this year. (Read Under the Knife-June post to find out more about what I learned about what love IS.) 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in speaking of what love is and what love does has never been more real to me than this year. It reads, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”  His love for us never fails. If I am alive in Him, then my love for others need not fail either.

As I reflect on being forty I can see how He’s been intertwining these things in my life this year through different means, relationships and so forth. But each of them, trust, joy in suffering and learning to love His way have made their mark on my heart and have changed this soul forever. Forty was hard, but God is faithful in all things.

 

12/21/14

The Ride

My brown boots and black leather coat are zipped. Sunglasses are on, and helmet is strapped and snapped. The deep rumble of his motorcycle echos in the neighborhood and invisible exhaust fills the air and my nose. It is time for a ride.
The distance between Jeff’s back and my chest is nearly a foot, so my choices in holding on are either to lean completely forward and wrap my arms around him, or to lean back on my seat back and pressure my knees around his waist. Holding on to his waist with my hands is pointless, he’s too far away.  We take off and at first I choose to put pressure on with my knees. The freeway was tight with rush hour traffic making it difficult to open up the throttle and really ride.

Soon enough though we hit the turnoff for Red Rock Canyon. The sun falls behind the shadowed peaks with just a yellow glow behind them. All at once I realize how I haven’t been holding on with my knees. I have let go. I’ve been so enveloped in the majestic views. The feel of the cool wind on my body and blasts of cold air pockets seep through my jacket. Somewhere in the midst of the ride, my shoulders dropped, my knees loosened, and freedom, surrender have taken over. I can almost fall asleep in this relaxed state.

We wind around through the scenic drive loop of the canyon, stopping at the lookout point. The eastern sky is painted with pink and purple hues. Our stomachs rumble along with the motorcycle as we hit the road again toward dinner somewhere.

Why is it that I can be so relaxed on the back of this motorcycle, where danger is really at my every side? One wrong move of another driver and I could be done. Yet I don’t bat an eye. As I watch the road move beneath my feet at nearly eighty miles per hour, while not really holding on, I’m at peace with where I am and with all the risk and possibilities. I trust my driver.

Why is it that I can’t seem to trust God that much? Why can’t I let go with God THAT much? Doesn’t He want me to be able to sit right with Him as He drives me through this life, with all it’s risks and scary possibilities, and be at peace? YES! Yes He does want that for me. He does want me to let go enough to trust that whatever I’m going through now or may face in the future I can be at perfect peace. But most times, I just don’t. At least not with the areas that matter most. Some places in my life it is natural to trust God and I don’t bat an eye. But it is not yet complete trust because it is not in every area of my life.

Trust has always been in the “doing” for me. I’m always trying to fix the situation and trust that God will work in my fixing. Aha!  I am not doing the driving of this motorcycle, I’m just riding and resting; Yes I need to make subtle adjustments to when and how I might lean or hold on at times, but for the most part a ride on the back is not in my doing but in my resting, and trusting…it is peaceful, so it should be with my life. I’m not the driver of this life, yet I act like I am all too often.

12/20/14

Mary- A Life Surrendered

They were betrothed. They had plans. Their families had plans. It would be a beautiful marriage, because I believe Mary and Joseph were in love.
Then the Angel of the Lord came with words that Mary, young pure Mary has found favor in the sight of God. The Angel tells her of God’s plan and what the Holy Spirit will do.
I’m sure she had questions, lots of questions, more than what she voiced. Perhaps her head was spinning, swirling, as if she were in a dream, wondering if the angel were real.
“Could God really be choosing me? What will my parents say? Will Joseph believe me?” There was so much at risk. Her wedding! And she couldn’t even know how people would talk when Jesus was grown when he did not become the king people expected; The king who was supposed to save them from Rome. How he would be referred to as “the son of Mary”.

Christmas would not exist without lives willing to surrender. I suppose Mary could have opposed, turned, right then and there from God. But she didn’t. Despite her questions and longing for the desires of her heart to be realized in marrying Joseph she didn’t turn away. Surely the desires of her flesh were as real as any young woman’s…to be loved and trusted by her beloved, to have her parents approval, to keep her family honor in tact, to be respected by those in her community, and to have a beautiful Hebrew wedding. And that may have been only the beginning of her desires. I can’t get inside Mary’s head, but if I were a young girl again, pure, knowing I had the love of a good man, my desires would be that of those mentioned and I’m sure I wouldn’t want anything to stand in the way. Mary desired good things. These were all things that would honor God, yet that was not HIS plan. Could she surrender and give up her desires for what God wanted? Was God going to be enough?

She said, “yes” to God. When God approached Mary through the angel, she had a choice to make. We are all like Mary. God is asking something of us. He first longs for us to follow Him, to make our hearts a comfortable home for Him, where He may dwell to lead and guide us and show us how to love. But we must be willing like Mary to surrender. Then, along our journey at any given moment God may ask of us more than we may be willing to do or give, but the question is do we trust Him?  Do I trust him? That is how we take Christmas with us everyday. Will we trust Him with hearts of uninhibited, childlike faith? Will we allow Him to use us to further his Kingdom purpose just like Mary did over 2000 years ago? Denying our desires, and surrendering to His will and giving up dreams?

So often obeying God, surrendering our will and desires to His ways does not make sense to us, and we wrestle day after day. Not that we are robotic in our obedience to Him either. He gave us thoughts and feelings and even room for doubt and question. Yet when we examine God’s history, His faithfulness in the lives of the saints gone before us, and even in our own lives we’ll find His ways are always right and good and perfect. In the end, He will not disappoint.

Mary gave up her dreams for God’s will. She risked Joseph not taking her at all until the angel spoke to him, but then she gave up a traditional wedding to be “married quietly” by her Joseph. No celebration, but a somber perhaps confusing union for all. Not knowing the outcome, Mary wholeheartedly surrendered, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”
But I have this very strong conviction, that when the long journey to Bethlehem was over, and a lowly place was found to lay her head, that when the sweat and tears and pain of birth were over and she finally held her precious baby boy in her arms, none of what she had longed for mattered. What her parents believed did not matter. What society would say did not matter, her reputation did not matter. Losing a traditional wedding did not matter. She held that perfect, little baby so tenderly to her heart, she held the SON OF GOD, with her faithful Joseph by her side. Then, in that moment, NOTHING ELSE MATTERED! In the end for us, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS except that we follow after Him with our whole heart.
God help me to take the surrendering truths of Christmas with me everyday by bringing me to the place where nothing else matters to me but surrendering to you, because your ways are perfect. Even when I don’t understand, even when everything I desire seems right and good in your eyes; God may I deny myself and follow you, to do your will and be like Mary and bask in the joy of life with you and life in you.