Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trusting Through the Darkness

It's been awhile since I last wrote a post.  It's not that there hasn't been anything God has laid on my heart to write about.  It's just that the last couple of months have been some of the toughest I have had to face in a long while.  And these verses have spoken to me in those dark moments:

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps."  Proverbs 16:9

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremy 29:11

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  Romans 8:28

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..."  Genesis 50:20

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."  Hebrews 10:23

"The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still."  Exodus 14:14

"Be still and know that I am God..."  Psalm 46:10

In my previous post, I talked about dancing between trust and fear.  And when I wrote that post, things were a little shaky, but I had no idea the testing my faith was about to undergo.

Back in November of 2013 I took a huge leap of faith, trusting that I was following God's leading, and moved to the coast to continue to pursue private practice.  I have had some amazing experiences during that journey and some that have scared me to death.  I won't go into detail about all of the goings on of the past six months, but now, on this side of things, I can see God's hand so intricately weaving the path for me.  Things have turned out a lot differently than I had planned or thought they would.  There have been some very dark times that pushed me to the limits of my faith - spiritually, financially, emotionally, mentally.  Times that my faith has wavered.  Times that took me into fierce spiritual warfare.  Times that took their toll.  Times that the enemy tried to use to knock me off the path God has for me.  But greater is He that in me than he that is in the world!  And I'm beginning to see that it has all been part of His plan for me and that things are coming together in my life in a way I never could have imagined and that are way better than anything I could have planned on my own.

This week I've had a lot of time to sit and reflect and think about my life and the course God has laid out.  And I have been amazed to finally have the eyes to see how the pieces are all fitting.  I still don't see the full picture and never will this side of heaven.  But I can see how God has been using each and every circumstance of the past 15 years to get me where I am today...where I believe He has meant for me to be all along this journey.  But I've had to trust through the darkness....

Corrie Ten Boom has an amazing quote that says, "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the engineer."  There have been times that I wanted to jump off the train.  Times that, if I'm being honest, I didn't trust God to take care of me.  I said it out loud and I wanted to believe it.  But there have been times when I wondered if I mattered that much to Him.  Of course, the answer to that is a resounding yes!  He sent His only Son to die for me...YES, I matter that much to Him.  But, as I've spoken of before, the enemy knows my weak spot is my mind, and he launches an attack when things get dark.  But God never wavers.  He is ALWAYS faithful...even when to my human eyes it doesn't seem like He is.

Trusting through the darkness.  Trusting that I'll make my rent payment when I barely have anything left in my bank account.  Trusting that I will be able to find a full-time job that will allow me to have a steady paycheck rather than the uncertainty of private practice.  Trusting that someone will be for me on those dark, dark days.  Trusting that what the enemy has tried to use for evil God can restore and use for good.  And you know what?  He has!  He has been faithful...because He can't be any other way.  So I have to trust Him through the darkness...

I knew when I started this journey almost a year ago that I would be pushed to the limits of my faith.  I knew it was going to be hard.  I knew that I was going to have to trust God in a way I'd never had to trust Him before.  But I had no idea how far I would be pushed.  I've had days where I just wanted to pack up and move back home.  I've had days where I questioned if I had misunderstood what God was leading me to do and had made a huge mistake.  I've had days where I questioned why God wold lead me to a place of failure and desolation.  But as I've been reflecting on all of this lately, I can see that it HAS all been part of His plan for my life.  And He has provided and will continue to provide for my needs.  Thanks to the giving spirit of my dad who allows God to use him in a special way, I did make my rent payment.  (And God will provide a way to pay him back.)  As for the job?  Yep.  God worked in a way I couldn't even imagine.  I remember driving to teach a class on a Wednesday morning, broken to the point of giving up.  And I was listening to some Christian music...trying to praise God even though I didn't understand.  And I finally just turned the radio off and asked God to show me that He was listening, to move that very day.  Not that He always answers that request...there have been plenty of times He hasn't.  But this time, I believe it was already His plan to do something that day...He just wanted me to ask from an honest heart.  The Bible tells us that Jesus told His disciples that they have not because they asked not.  And just maybe, He wanted me to ask from a place of brokenness and trust.  Anyway...later that day, after a few phone calls and a referral, I had an interview for a job that I hopefully will be starting in the next week or two...which will have me right back in the middle of working with people with intellectual disabilities.  And I have been blessed with a wonderful person who is there for me on those dark, dark days and has helped to strengthen my faith, encouraging me to keep trusting when I wanted to give up.  We have become a kind of sanctuary and place of calm and peace for each other...something I've never had with anyone else before.  And God is moving in both of our lives, unfolding a beautiful plan.

God DOES work everything for our good...even the dark moments.  There is way too much to write about in detail would take a book!  But I can see how my work experiences at two previous jobs have been preparing me for this possible new job.  I can see how it wasn't a mistake to move down here and work in private practice.  God used that to allow me to finish up my internship hours and complete my Master's degree...something that would have been nearly impossible with a full-time job.  He has led me to be part of an amazing church family who encourages me and prays for me and is an example of what God intended church to be...which is refreshing after some of the churches I have been to.  He has also brought a couple of amazing people into my life that have made my life so much more joyful and full and have helped me survive the tough moments.  I can even see, although it's taken me six years, how God has used the loss of my mother to move me where He wants me to be.  I would give anything to have her here.  But I also know that if she were still here, I probably never would have moved away from home.  I'm not saying that that would be a bad thing necessarily.  But I don't believe I would be fulfilling God's plan for my life by staying there.  And He has used that to show me how even our darkest times are being worked for our good.  And I have the assurance of seeing her again one day.  I can see how God has used every single experience to work out His will for my life.

Trusting through the darkness isn't easy.  It's some of the hardest times I think we can go through as believers.  But it is also necessary.  Part of the Christian walk is being tested and tried so that we can come forth as gold.  What good is faith if it is never tested?  I can have faith all day long that a chair will hold me up if I sit in it.  But if I never sit in it to test it, I never fully exercise my faith in it.  The same can be said for us.  I've witnessed people who have professed that they trust God, and they do, as long as things are going well....there's money in the bank, they have a job, everyone is healthy, they get everything they want.  But as soon as the money's gone or the job goes away or the diagnosis comes, they turn their back on God.  I'll admit, I've been there myself.  I've doubted and questioned when I didn't get the answer to prayer that I wanted.  But these past few months have taught me that it's not about what I want.  It's not about me.  It's about what He wants for me and about what will bring Him glory.  And one thing I believe He wants for His children is for us to develop our faith.  And that means the tests will come.  In fact, the Bible is full of stories of His children who faced famine, death, calamities, persecution, and much, much more.  Hebrews 11 is a great synopsis of those stories.  And I'm thankful that God made provision for those stories to be written down and shared so we know that we are not alone in our struggles.

While I hope that things will be easier for awhile, I know that no matter what comes, He is faithful and there is a purpose behind everything He asks us to face or that He allows to come into our lives.  While I have no desire to relive the darkness the past months have brought, I can honestly say that I am thankful for every moment.  Because without each and every trial and testing of my faith, I wouldn't be where I am this moment.  My faith has been strengthened.  I have come to have a deeper understanding of my Christian walk and what it means to die to self and live for Christ.  I have been able to experience a deeper walk with my heavenly Father.  I've learned how to worship and praise Him even when I don't understand what is going on around me.  And I have proven that He is faithful each and every time.  He may not provide or answer exactly when I think He should.  In fact, I'm still waiting on a few answers.  But I know that He will fight every battle for me.  I know that He will provide each and every need.  I know that He will bless my faithfulness to Him.  I know that He loves me more than I could ever fathom.  I don't have all the answers, and I sure know I have a long way to go. I'm just a "wayfaring stranger" trying to figure it out.  But I know without a doubt that if I keep trusting Him through the darkness He will lead me safely through this journey and on to my eternal home.

And of course, it wouldn't be my post if I didn't include music!

He Is With Us...this song is upbeat but has some amazing lyrics...lyrics that have helped me see through the darkness.

How He Loves...I have just sat and listened to this over and over and let my Father sing over me in those dark moments.  Oh how He loves us!

Bless the Lord...this has become my song of praise.  It pops in my head all the time.  And it has been happening...where on days this song is on my heart, those are the days God blows my mind with His provision.   "Let me be singing when the evening comes..."

Oceans...this song has been special to me during this time, too.  "You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail....lead me where my trust is without borders."  And oh, how He has!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dancing Between Trust and Fear

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile now, but as my life usually goes, my intentions of doing things are often stronger than the actual doing of said things.  But I'm learning that God has a time for everything and can even use my procrastination to accomplish His will.  I've also come to realize that delays aren't Him ignoring us or withholding some blessing from us.  Many times I've found that the delay is the result of Him working out some detail or working on our hearts to get us to the place where we can fully receive His blessing.  It's all in our perspective and in our choice to freak out and worry (which is my usual route) or to trust Him completely even when we can't see the road ahead.

Since moving to the coast, I have encountered a lot of foggy mornings.  Some days it can be annoying and a little scary to drive in when you can't see 5 feet in front of you.  But some days I actually enjoy driving in it.  I've always viewed fog as a kind of representation of God's presence in our lives.  Just as the fog surrounds us on all sides, so does God.  His love presses in, covers us, overwhelms us.  And just as I have different reactions to driving in the fog depending on my mood that day, I have the same two reactions to life...especially when I can't see the next step.

One morning a few weeks ago, as I was driving along the coastline, the fog was thick.  But not so thick that I couldn't see a little ways out into the water.  And it made me think of Peter.  I think Peter and I could have been BFFs back in the day.  Or either bitter enemies...depending on how our similarities played out.  Like Peter, I can overreact to situations.  I can be all gung-ho about something one minute and then too paralyzed by fear to take a leap of faith the next.  I am opinionated.  And I long to be close to Jesus.  And that is where we find Peter in the story of Matthew 14.  The disciples had just experienced the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and were now in their boat, out on the sea, being tossed about by a storm.  Jesus had gone off to pray by himself.  After He finishes His prayer time, He decides to join the disciples on the boat.  Of course, being God in human form, He takes the quickest route and walks right out on the water.  The disciples think He is a ghost at first, but He identifies Himself and tells them to be still and that they have nothing to fear.  Here's the part where I completely identify with Peter...

Now, Peter and the others had just witnessed an amazing miracle!  Who feeds 5,000 people out of a few fish and some bread?!  So Peter had just experienced the impossible.  And just like Peter, I have also seen God do the impossible in my life and my situations.  But just like Peter, I also go from the mountaintop of trust to the pit of doubt in about five seconds flat.  Peter tells Jesus that if it is really Him to command him to walk on the water towards Him. So Jesus does, and Peter steps out in faith, trusting he won't sink.  However, at some point he feels the wind of the storm, takes his eyes of Jesus and begins to sink.  He cries out to Jesus to help him, and, as He always does, Jesus grabs him, pulls him up and they climb in the boat together.  The VOICE translation tells this story in such a beautiful way:

Matthew 14:  28-33 (VOICE)
"Peter:  Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water.  Jesus:  Indeed, come.  Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus.  But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.  Peter:  Master, save me!  Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.  Jesus:  O you of little faith.  Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?  Then Jesus and Peter climbed in the boat together, and the wind became still.  And the disciples worshipped Him."  

Wow.  It's in verses like these that I find one of the main reasons God left His word for us (aside from leading us to Christ) is as a reminder that we are not alone and that we aren't the first to fail.  Like I said, Peter and I have a lot in common...

As I've written about several times, this past year in my life has been unlike any other.  It has been exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.  It has tested my faith unlike anything before.  And it has caused me to grow spiritually in ways I never knew I could.  And it has HURT.  Growth is a painful process.  But it is necessary.  We have to face the pain in order to grow and move forward.  But we can't do it alone.  During this year, I have had so many moments where I have doubted and "dance(d) back and forth between following (Jesus) and heeding fear."  I've been so excited to see what God is doing and have stepped out in faith only to take my eyes off Him, focus on the seemingly impossible situation and started to sink in the stormy sea.  It has been a constant struggle...but one that I feel I'm making progress in...until the devil places doubt in my mind again...and the cycle starts again.

But like Peter, when I sense the doubt creeping in, I cry out to Jesus for help.  In this passage Jesus helped Peter immediately.  Does He always help immediately?  To our human minds, no.  There have been times I've prayed for resolution to a situation or for clarity or for some other need and God has answered almost immediately.  There have been other times when it has taken months or even years to see an answer.  But one thing that has been consistent...even if I don't see an answer right away, I have a peace that passes human understanding that He is with me.  Just as Jesus climbed in the boat with Peter, He climbs into my situation with me and calms me until the answer comes.  Sometimes I still take my eyes off Him and start to sink.  But every single time He is there.  Every.  Single.  Time.  He never condemns me for my doubt or fear.  He never chastises me for questioning Him.  He just provides a deep abiding peace until the storm passes.  This doesn't mean every day is easy or that trusting Him makes all your problems go away.  Quite the contrary...If you look at Peter's life, he still had many trials and tribulations to face after this moment on the water with Jesus.  In fact, he ended up giving his life for the cause of Christ.  

I've come to find that as soon as I make the choice to trust God in spite of what I see around me the devil is right there with another barrage of doubt and fear.  And he always will be until I reach heaven.  But I'm learning that I have a choice.  I can either give in to those lies and sink.  Or I can trust that God is working out His best for me and that He will provide...on time.  

Another person I identify with from the group of disciples is in "Doubting Thomas."  He refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he touched the nail prints in His hands.  I can't blame him...I know myself well enough to admit that I would be the same way.  So many times I've heard people ridicule or blame Thomas for doubting.  But I choose to believe that God can use even our doubts to draw us closer to him.  A friend posted this article today on Facebook, and I completely identified with it.  One part of it that really spoke to me was this:  "The beauty of this is Thomas had an encounter with Jesus none of the other disciples did. He is the only one who touched the wounds of Jesus, because he had the faith to doubt. Nowhere does Jesus condemn doubt; rather he meets people right where they are in it."  God works through our doubt and fear and worry, meets us where we are and chooses to love and redeem us and restore to us what the enemy has stolen.  (Job 42:10)

A major weapon that I have recently found that works wonders against the attacks of doubt and worry and fear is worship and praise.  I've always heard this, but I never put it into practice until recently.  Now, when I feel those doubts and fears rising up in me, I will read Bible verses that I have highlighted that deal with this very thing.  I will listen to some worship songs that focus on God and His love for me.  I will take a few moments to just spend some time alone with God.  I have found in the past few months that when I do these things, my focus returns to Him.  And I can't worry or fear or doubt when I'm standing face to face with the One who has it all under control.  See, when we take time to truly worship Him, we realize that He is greater than any problem or issue we face.  No, it doesn't resolve the situation at hand, and there still may be difficult work we have to do or things we have to face to see a resolution.  But when we see Him for who He truly is we find the courage to forge ahead and keep walking in faith.  We learn to hear His voice above all the noise and chaos of the world.  And I'm finally learning to trust that still, small voice that speaks to my heart.  Because I've seen those things He has spoken to my heart come to fruition...not in my time or my way, but in His time and His way.  

I still don't have all the answers.  And I still anticipate I'll face more difficult days.  But I do know the "One whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day."  (2 Timothy 1:12)  

So the next time the "fog" of life obstructs your view or the next time you take  a step of faith only to find yourself sinking in the waves or the next time you request proof of His faithfulness, look up to Him.  Turn your eyes and your heart to the One who holds you in His hands.  And stop dancing back and forth between trusting Him and giving in to fear.  He is faithful.  He will provide.  He will always love you.  He is always there.  And He will always catch you.  

And as always, I have to include a couple of songs that speak to my heart and turn my focus back to God.

Beautiful Redemption (Joy Williams)

Hallelujah (Bethany Dillon)

Walk by Faith (Jeremy Camp)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Don't Forget to Celebrate

I love moments when I can just let go of all the stress and the things clouding my mind and just revel in the joy of the moment.  When I truly allow myself to do that, I am completely humbled by how much the God of this universe loves me and cares about every detail of my life.  Those moments don't come that often, sad to say.  Usually because I choose to focus on things out of my control or allow myself to worry.  But this past week, I had one of those moments.  

I love living by the beach.  The water is so peaceful and calming and just has this affect on you that nothing else does.  And I am so fortunate to get to see that every day.  I was telling a friend of mine this past week that every time I drive Hwy 90 I feel like I'm on vacation and keep wondering when it will be time to go back home.  I told her I hope I never lose that feeling.  So as I was driving to a meeting Friday, the water was so still and peaceful and I just became overwhelmed with gratitude and peace.

As I've posted many times before, I struggle with doubt and worry and fear.  It's been a lifelong struggle.  One that I've spent a lot of time and prayer working on this past year.  As I've also shared, my life has taken a dramatic turn this past year.  And to top it all off, I turned 40.  It's been a year full of excitement, new relationships, scary moments, leaps of faith, fear, doubt, joy...every emotion possible.  It's also been a year where I declared war on this constant struggle.  And I've made some steps forward in that battle.  Not to say I'm anywhere close to where I need or want to be.  But my faith has grown in a way I never thought possible.  There have been times God has allowed me to be pushed to my limit.  Then there have been times when His hand of favor has definitely been on me.  

But so often I focus on my mistakes and my failures.  I allow doubt to creep in and allow myself to entertain thoughts that I know are lies...rather than trusting the truth that God is speaking to my heart.  I get overly upset over things that aren't that big of a deal because my perception is wrong.  I get angry.  I can be passive aggressive.  I fail miserably at being the woman I know God is growing me to be.  And so often I focus on those things rather than seeing what God is doing through the struggle.  And so often I forget to celebrate the matter how small.  But if the joy of the Lord is to be my strength, I have to allow joy to reign in my heart.

So back to that drive to the meeting.  As I drove along, listening to my eclectic mix of music on my phone, this feeling of overwhelming peace and gratitude just overtook me.  And I realized that I had (with God's help) mastered a victory over my struggle.  My usual cycle is to have an expectation, that expectation isn't met, I get upset and choose to see things from my perception rather than God's, I react (usually in a not so great way), and then I feel bad for my reaction and beat myself up.  But this week was different.  This week I chose to see things from God's perception.  I chose to trust that if the God of the universe cared enough about a bird to make sure it was fed, how much more does He care for me and the details of my life and the desires of my heart.  And I chose not to get upset and react in a negative way but rather to trust God's sovereignty.   Of course, that only lasted a couple of days and then I was back in my usual cycle.  But, in that moment, there was a victory.

Sometimes, I think we can get so caught up in beating ourselves up for our failures and mistakes.  And yes, it is important to learn from them.  But in the midst of doing that we miss those little victories that we should be celebrating.  And I think that celebrating those rare times when we "get it right" may be part of the key to winning the overall battle with our struggles.  Because when we celebrate those moments, we are actually worshiping and honoring God and the work He is doing in our lives.   And that is what helps us overcome the struggle.  And another curious thing happens.  Instead of my getting all puffed up and boastful about my victory, I become a little more humbled and a lot more aware of just what God is doing in my life.  

And that is when the peace comes in.  Once I allowed myself to celebrate that one tiny step forward rather than focusing on the two huge steps backward, I opened my heart up to joy unspeakable.  And I was overcome with that gratitude and peace.  

This past year has been a whirlwind.  But as I was reflecting on all the God has done, I realized just how blessed I am.  I may not know the details of how it is all going to work out, but I can trust in the One who does.  And I am truly blessed.  Beyond measure!  I get to do a job I absolutely love every single day.  Yes, it's hard and not every day is great.  But when I see a child with Autism who refused to participate in a session two weeks ago come to a session this past week and actually participate and smile and enjoy makes my heart glad.  I get to live in a gorgeous place.  I have gotten to meet some wonderful people who have changed my life for the better.  I have been able to release a long suffering hurt that has kept me from opening my heart and have been able to move forward from that after years and years of struggle with it.  I've even lost 25 pounds.  

And for the first time I believe in my entire life, I finally feel "at home."  I finally feel that I fit in and I'm where I'm supposed to be.  I believe that He has blessed me with people in my life who encourage me to be better.  I believe I'm doing what God put me here to do. And I believe that I'm finally becoming the woman He has longed for me to become all my life.  And I'm so grateful.  And humbled that He would love me that much.  Not every day is all roses and chocolate.  There are some very hard days.  But those days serve to remind me that, though I have finally found where I belong here on this earth, I am not truly Home yet.  This life isn't the be all and end all.  There is so much more in store...more than I could dare to dream!  

So I'm hopeful.  I'm hopeful that God will continue to grow me.  I'm hopeful that I will continue to see more of these small victories over my struggles and less failures.  And I hope that I will not forget to celebrate the good that God is doing in my life.  My prayer is that you will have the same hope.  May your week be full of joy and reasons to celebrate!