Sunday, February 26, 2012

Decisions and Provision

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God. 
But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: you will lie down in torment.
-Isaiah 50:10-11

I love the above verses. The thing is, God specifically asks us not to worry about anything. He offers us incredible peace under the shadow of His wings, the guarantee that He'll be there fighting for us...yet we still choose knowledge over peace sometimes when we're afraid.

The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still.
-Exodus 14:14

Some of the decisions and situations in my life recently have stretched my capacity to trust, as more of my heart has been put to the test. I am walking in the dark, with no knowledge one way or another what lies just ahead. And the implications of several of those decisions have deep ramifications for my heart, and for one of them, possibly the entire course of my professional life. Fear or sadness occasionally seize me, but giving in to them is a choice. Fear is a reality, but so is Yahweh. I am choosing to walk alongside my Savior and trust that whether I sacrifice heart or career, that the Lord provides.

There is another verse that has been incredibly pertinent to my life recently. Isaiah 43:19 says, "See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Tucson was a place I did not want to come, a place whose spiritual climate and professional opportunity both appeared bleak, and a 'home' that I could only herald as a practical 'next step' in life that I wasn't excited about. But I look at the people who were placed in my life from the very beginning, the friends I fell so deeply in (sisterly) love with, mentors who strengthened me, situations that stretched and grew me, and yes, professional experiences that fell into my lap...I see that God literally provided a way in this desert, and streams in this wasteland. I know that had I gone to any other more 'sensical' place, I would not have found the healing and the strength that I found in this strange small town. Perhaps against all odds, I have thrived here. And I know that whatever God calls me to next, whether it "makes sense" or not, he will continue to pour out his provision and faithfulness. So in the meantime, I am content to walk in the dark and let the unknowns be unknown, for my God is good.

Think of Isaac...just when all was lost, God provided the ram. But it was really about the walk up to the mountain, that slow and probably deeply painful march that proclaimed Abraham's deep love and trust in the Lord his God. I am choosing that walking with my God in the dark is better than trying to seek out the "right" answer quickly to end the tension.

So, I don't know what's going on in your life today. I don't know what doesn't make sense, or what seems an impossible set of cards stacked against you. I don't know what rends your heart, or what you wish you knew. Or maybe, like me, you just don't know what to choose. But let it be dark today, and let God be your protector and provider. God has asked you not to fear, and He cannot be unfaithful to himself. I promise you won't regret trusting Him. And neither will I.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Sovereignty of the Heavy Heart

Hallelujah (Acoustic) - Bethany Dillon

And the same sun that rises over castles and welcomes the day
Spills over buildings and to the streets where orphans play
And only you can see the good in broken things
You took my heart of stone and you made it whole
Set this prisoner free...Hallelujah...
Whatever's in front of me, help me to sing Hallelujah...
Whatever's in front of me, I'll choose to sing Hallelujah

I got some news yesterday that was really heavy for my heart. This song had been playing not long before  I received that news...and even though I could say a lot about this situation, I think the only real response is worship.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
-1 Peter 5:7

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
-Isaiah 53:5

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever
-Psalm 73:26

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lily's Valentine

I was surprised to realize today that Valentine's Day is already next week, which means that time is flying by so incredibly fast. Every holiday has snuck up on me this season, and this latest is a fresh reminder that Time's wings are getting swifter. I don't know about you, but I don't put much stock in Valentine's Day. For me anyway, it's just a day. I suppose that it's a special time for many people, it's just never coincided with any special romance for me, so I don't tend to think much of it. I certainly don't think ill of it, nor do I get super-giddy about it...I just don't think of it. I have no expectation of advances from secret admirers, and, as I reflected just earlier today, life's so much freer without strange expectations anyway. 

Not hours after my thoughts from above, I went to a local coffee hub to get some work done, ordered a cappuccino, and had scarcely sat down when a small voice from the neighboring table said in my direction, "I'm making Valentines for my class today. I have to make twenty-three of them!" I looked over and saw the exasperated yet adorable face of a little girl, striking up a conversation with me about her woes. It was a very big task, she emphasized, to make valentines for her whole third-grade class and her teacher. She then embarked on what became a 40 minute (or so) conversation about her life, her hobbies, why she's allergic to food coloring, how she's good at art and has very good handwriting but her cursive is better. When I asked to see her cursive, she slowly scrawled her name, began to write her last name but then bashfully glanced at me and erased it, telling me she wasn't allowed to tell her last name to strangers. In the way of little kids, she was completely oblivious to any necessity of adults to do important things, or "get things done", and was perfectly happy to commandeer all of my time (and I was perfectly happy to give it to her). I observed that she sometimes spelled her first name with one 'L' and other times with two. She had overtaken the table she was at with bright colorful paper, and for all her purported stress about her Valentines, did not seem in any hurry to get them done (she had completed one and a half when I met her). 

After awhile, she said, "I would really like to make you a valentine. Would you like one?" (Who wouldn't?!) I expressed my delight and she set about making me the best one she could. ("Pink makes the best flower," she said, bending over her work. Then "I have watermelon lollipops," as if it were obviously the best choice.) I was so endeared by this sweetheart and cute little chatterbox. "Here you go!" she said, handing me my prize. "Sorry the writing is covered up on the leaf," she added, indicating the From: Lily M. that was glued in such a way as to be only partially legible. What a cutie! 

Her aunt was at the next table, apparently having some kind of meeting. When it was time for Lily to go, I shook her hand and told her it was very nice to have met her. She walked a little ways away, then came back and gave me a hug. How can your day not be brightened by something like that? Her bright shining, precocious little attitude made me reflect on how I had been so blasé and unconcerned about the holiday earlier the same day, and to reflect that God is always giving us better things than we expect. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Suspense and Surprise

I have a confession: I deal terribly with suspense. I remember one particular instance as a young teenager actually hiding behind the living room couch while watching a particularly nerve-bending movie! (Don't worry, my brother has already made fun of me for this.) I used to tease my mom for gasping at surprising things on TV shows, but Irony gave me the same periodic tendency. In life, I like honesty, clarity, and knowing what I'm dealing with. I constantly analyze, sift, sort, and adjust accordingly. (It's actually my top strength: strategy. Arguably it is also a weakness.) I am always looking ahead, playing out the card game before the first hand is dealt, like a cat always arranging to land on my feet. For the sake of knowing, I would rather someone confront me with terrible news than mislead or confuse me with niceties. (My interpersonal calculator is good, but it's not that good.) I don't particularly crave conflict, but my desire to face an issue usually overcomes any desire I have avoid it. I seek resolution when it is appropriate, clarity when it is not. In a single phrase, I just like to know what's up.

It's exactly like expectations. I do all of this analyzing, planning and rearranging so that I can know what to expect. That way I can react accordingly. But I am more and more convinced that expectations ruin almost anything. Quite faithfully actually. (The blighters!) And surprises aren't nearly so fun when you really like your plans. With that in mind, and with the way that God is always surprising us...why be such a killjoy?

To give an example, I've been learning a lot about specialty coffee lately. It doesn't taste like your average dark-roast cup of joe. To be sure, it's quite good: complex, intricate, and pleasant. A distinguished palate can detect far more distinct flavors in quality coffee than in wine. But if you go in with a dead-set expectation of commercial black coffee, instead of being delighted by the high-quality cup you've just been served, you're going to be disappointed that it's not what you wanted.

Or what about movies? How many times has a friend raved to you about a book or a movie and gotten you all excited about it, only to be disappointed when you realize that it doesn't meet the expectations you cultivated for it? Being bad is not what made it unforgivable, but being different than you'd hoped.

How many times has God overwhelmingly blessed my life - yes with surprises - and I turned my nose up, been completely ungrateful or otherwise completely oblivious, all because it just wasn't in the range of things I had made plans for? In an honest moment, I don't want to be the kind of person too narrow to let God be and do amazing things far outside my expectations. This is the box I put God into: not that I don't give Him license to do impossible things, but that I don't give him license to do the things I haven't prepared for.

I mean, does that just hit you? The truth is, God is going to do what God is going to do, and my best laid plans have never seemed to change that. So rather than asking God to change, I should change my posture to receiving these things. And you know what? When you peel your fingers off of the things you grasp so tightly, the fictional things scatter in the wind and suddenly your palm is open to receiving a lot more that you might never have seen before. By pre-ordering the things in life that I think will make me the happiest, I only set myself up to completely miss everything else. Literally: killjoy.

Truth be told, life is a lot more fun when surprises are good things....and sometimes - sometimes - things are much better than we expect.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Filling Our Minds

Clarity. Who doesn't like clarity? Some of us, myself included, probably like clarity a little too much, but that's for another day. :) Maybe a better word is focus. What do you focus on? And how do you think about focusing on those things?

A lot of us grew up hearing at one point or another the phrase, "garbage in, garbage out." For anyone who managed to miss hearing this catch phrase, it's the idea that when you watch, listen to, and otherwise mentally assimilate bad or dark ideas, those are the things that you will begin to think about and do yourself. And it's true. But beyond the obvious, I want to pause on the idea that it's not just the bad things that we find ourselves repeating. In essence, we really choose what we think about by what we study, and this doesn't always have to be a bad or "scary" thing. It does, however, bear being aware of.

There are a lot of TV shows out there, a lot of books, movies, articles, and even a lot of people who basically stand behind various ideas or schools of thought who we can interact with. In our society, there are an infinite number of things to be engaged in, to entertain ourselves with, and many of those things are perfectly good or otherwise neutral things. But regardless of whether these things are good, bad, or indifferent, I think it's worth noting that you will naturally think about the things you engage yourself in. And then it just comes down to the question: what do you want to focus on?

I have found for myself that I love thinking about relationships. I love people, I love friendships, I love thinking of ways to be a better friend, or refining my character for present or future relationships of consequence. I love observing how people interact and logging away new reflections on people. I love to learn, and this is something I love to learn about. Maybe it's a female thing, maybe it's an extrovert thing - whatever kind of thing it is, it is something that is very easy for me to focus on. And I'm a knowledge hunter: I seek out wisdom on the things that I think about, and have a constant desire to be right and well-grounded in my thinking. I read articles, I look up sermons from trusted sources, I pick out those things from other conversations. And seeing that, try as I might, I can't get people to stop reading my now quite old entries on dating (far more than any other Jesus-y thing I write about), I suspect other people are not entirely different. And you know what? That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's good to refine your character in how we relate to others because it defines a lot of our life and our faith. The alternative of remaining purposefully ignorant would be, in a word, foolish. But, there is a better thing to focus on.

That is, of course, Jesus himself. I find that I so much more love to read about faith, leadership, and godly wisdom. There are a lot of very wise people who have themselves been walking with God for a long time, and I love wrapping my mind around the things they have learned in that time. I have this year been dedicated to reading scripture every day, just to read it, whether I "feel like it" or not. It is a discipline, sure, but it has been so rich for my soul. Every day I walk away with a new reflection. Even without trying to grow in any particular way, I find myself softened, more attuned to God's voice, and all the more desirous to know Him. These are the things I want to think about, and these are the things that are so much easier to think about when this is what I fill my head with. Not that the other things are bad, but that this thing is best. And I am infinitely more alive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by setting my whole focus in Jesus. The rest just falls together, because Jesus is the center of every good thing in our hearts and our lives.

Am I saying never read a book that isn't about God, or never watch a TV show that isn't holy? No. That would be arguing for Christian bubble-hood. But I strongly encourage you - as I have myself been challenged - to ask yourself where your focus is. Ask yourself what you want to focus on, and whether you are getting in your own way by filling your head with other things. Because it's just true, you're going to think about what you expose yourself to. (Spiritual things can become idols too.) It's exactly like nutrition: your body is going to respond to what you put into it. There are bad things, decent things, and excellent things. And then there is the most excellent thing. Focus on Him, and be mindful of how you might be sabotaging that focus elsewhere in your life, even with very "good" things.