One a Step at a Time

I’ve always been big on planning ahead and knowing what’s coming next. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible in life. My life, specifically. Just when I think something’s settled–a job, a legal matter, a kid’s plans–it becomes unsettled. It’s not a question of whether troubles will come, it’s a question of when. Of course, the last few years of my life seem to have had an overdose of woes. L. B. E. Cowman, author of one of imagemy favorite devotionals Streams in the Desert, had this encouragement:

“‘When thou passest through the waters . . . they shall not overflow thee (Isa. 43:2).’ God does not open paths for us in advance of our coming. He does not promise help before help is needed. He does not remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are on the edge of our need, God’s hand is stretched out.” (Jan. 6)

To me, this means that I need to keep moving ahead even when I can’t see where my foot will land. It’s almost like God’s grace for each moment is in his outstretched hand. I need to take a forward step so I can reach his hand and the help that he is offering. And then the next step and the next measure of grace and so on.

God has proven this principle to me numerous times over the past few years especially. Just when I think I’m about to be overwhelmed in a court case, god provides the victory. When I’m pretty sure I haven’t taught enough courses in a term to pay the rent, he not only provides enough, but gives me an unexpected overflow. When one of my girls makes me seriously doubt my worth and effectiveness as a mother, just the right word of encouragement is whispered in my ear at just the right time.

Life is lived one step at a time with its corresponding handful of grace. I was thinking about digging my toes into the cold sands of fear, but it seems I need to be stepping forward in faith instead.

What about you? Digging your toes in fear or stepping out in faith for a needed measure of grace?

 

A More Settled 2015

Ahope and grace pics my thoughts wandered over the pages of my very first journal entry for the year, they jumped from idea to idea. I’ve address hopped, church hopped, and job hopped. So many changes have taken place in all areas of my life this year that I’m not even sure where to start.

I’ve moved and unpacked, yet still feel like I’m in someone’s (very ugly, very small) guesthouse. But I chose the address; I signed the papers myself. I’ve replaced stuff that said “we” with stuff that says “me.” I’ve made it a haven for me and for my girls. However, it’s hard not to at least occasionally long for the dream home where we made family memories for 10 years. It’s time, though, to settle into my new home, even if it’s not my dream house.

About 2 years ago, I realized it was time to find a new church home for many reasons, but mostly because it just wasn’t not big enough for me and the ex. I spent a bunch of months either tiptoeing into back rows at 5 after or crying in my bed. Finally, a friend literally dragged me to her church, and it was good. It was a place of healing and encouragement, but it was not a place I ever felt completely settled. I needed more exegetical preaching and more emphasis on reformed theology. I think I’ve found those elements, and I’m starting to settle in. But my reserved nature (For real, I’m reserved in person!) has made it hard to feel completely at ease. It’s time to settle into a new church and to trust people again.

Contrary to popular opinion, full-time jobs teaching college-level English are nearly non-existent, at least here in North Carolina. As a result, I’ve spent the past few years applying for adjunct positions over and over and over again. Some are online and some are face to face. The problem with being an adjunct is that there’s no guarantee of classes from one term (5-16 weeks) to the next; there is zero stability. Stability = steady pay check. This providing for myself financially thing is scary! I’ve applied to a few PhD programs, and I’m hoping for a full fellowship, including a light teaching load. I guess I’m pinning my hopes for stability in my professional life on that, but I won’t know for several months yet.

All of this hopping has me longing for stability. I know my true source of stability comes from God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Ps. 46:1). The real problem, for me anyway, is the waiting.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:13-14).

My challenge for 2015: settle my hopes on the Lord in order to gain true stability. What’s your challenge for the new year?

Brokenness Made Beautiful

                                                                                 “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

     I’m broken. What good is broken? A broken bowl lands in the recycling bin. A chipped glass loses its place in the cupboard.

     Broken is ugly.  I kick a broken seashell aside instead of adding it to the sandy collection in my pocket.

     I’m so glad that God doesn’t have the same attitude. Instead of casting aside broken people, he lovingly gathers up the pieces and brings them into his workshop.

     Gold, on the other hand, is valuable in all its forms. It can make even ugly things beautiful. But before gold can become useful, it has to be refined. The refining process cleans away the dross and makes the gold malleable. The refining process is painful for the gold, but it’s necessary. It’s the same way with our lives. We’re a rough nugget of gold, and in order to use and beautify us, God has to refine us. The painful trials and challenges we go through in life have the potential to make us pure, malleable, and beautiful, if we allow them to.

     God then takes our broken pieces  and refined gold and turns them into something even more beautiful, strong, and useful than before. This process is beautifully illustrated in the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, which means golden joinery. The gold adds value and strength to the ceramic piece. The vessel then becomes more valuable and desirable.

He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness. ~ Malachi 3:3, NKVJ

     Life’s trials and challenges, while seeming like a hammer swinging in a china shop, will eventually turn us into vessels of beauty for God’s glory.

     Lord, help me to remember that your purpose is to take my broken pieces and to perform kintsugi with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Was Worth It

This morning during church, I heard yet another story of a guy who met a girl and gave up, on the spot, his drug addiction in order to be with her. Another guy gave up a 20-year pornography addiction–overnight–when God convicted him to do so to stay with his loving and forgiving wife. Other guys give up jobs that would take them away from home, alcohol, wild parties, bad habits, and codependent parents.

I’m thrilled for those marriages; really, I am. I rejoice with my friends whose marriages have been rescued. I pray blessings and continued peace over their families.

But I cry for myself. I’ve wondered every day for the past (nearly) two years why I wasn’t enough. Why he couldn’t/wouldn’t give up his pornography addiction. Why he had to scream and yell at me in order to relieve his stress. Why I had to feel bad so he could feel good. Why I wasn’t worth standing up for against outsiders. Why he wouldn’t ever let go of any little (let alone big) offense. Why leadership twisted into control.

In the middle of my pity party this morning, the worship team sang “Jesus Paid It All,” and I realized that I really was worth dying for. This guy named Jesus gave up his home and his life for me. Jesus made me free! I don’t have to be under anyone’s control; that’s not part of God’s plan for me. I have been rescued; it just didn’t look like I thought it would.

Stand fast therefore in liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. ~ Galatians 5:1, NKJV

 

Image

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

Death seems to be everywhere this week. I have heard of several friends of friends whose too-short time on earth came to an end recently. Does it really matter if death was expected? I don’t think so. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that you’ve said your goodbyes and that you let him/her know how you felt.

Comfort also comes in knowing that this earthly goodbye is only temporary. As believers, we can count on eternal life.

“Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.'” ~ John 11:25

But we who remain are left to grieve for the empty places our loved ones leave in their passing. It’s only natural to miss a parent, a friend, a family member. Tears are nothing to be ashamed of; even Jesus wept (John 11:33).

What comfort can we give those who are mourning the loss of a loved one? Cry with them. Sit with them without spouting platitudes. Give hugs–liberally. Bring coffee. And above all, let those you love know–out loud, before it’s too late.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4

And remember, this is just a season–one of many that make up the circle of life. This season of weeping and mourning shall pass. How do I know? I’ve been in my own valley of the shadow of death. I’ll share about it some other time, but just know for now that you are not alone in your grieving.

Jehovah Jireh

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100Tonight during our church’s women’s Bible study, my friend Karen shared about the meaning of joy using four specific examples from Scripture. Although we don’t know each other well, I felt that each and every example–including the definition–were meant for me specifically at this point in my life. That’s a God thing, y’all!

Karen’s definition: “Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives and that he will be there no matter what.”

The first thing I noticed was that joy does not equal happiness. The second thing I noticed is that joy is not dependent on our circumstances. The third thing I noticed is that God will be here for me no matter what and no matter who else is not in my life.

Because the examples that Karen shared seemed to parallel my current life so precisely, I want to share them briefly here.

1. Ruth. She left her family behind, as did I. She had no husband to provide for or protect her. Neither do I; I actually need protection from my ex. God orchestrated ahead of time for Boaz to advocate for her. God has used many unexpected people to help me over the past year and a half. The Hebrew word for provide is jireh. Just as God was Ruth’s Jehovah Jireh, so he is mine as well. The cool thing about that particular phrase–Jehovah Jireh–is that I already have it written on the memo board by my desk.

2. The widow and her cruse of oil. Elisha instructed the widow to use what she already had–oil–in a way that she could pay off her debts and still have enough money left over to live on. I also have talents and educational degrees that the Lord can, and I believe will, use for me to find a full-time job that will provide for my needs and for the needs of my children. Not only did three out of the five classes I was supposed to teach this semester fall through, but I have also not been receiving alimony for the past two months. Jehovah Jireh provided for the widow using the oil that she already had; I believe he will also provide for me financially.

3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord not only protected these godly men from being burned to a crisp, but he was also right there with them in the midst of the flames! If (since) the Lord can be present in a furnace, I believe he can be with me in the midst of a courtroom. I believe God can protect me from the flames of the enemy, no matter what form those flames take. It is ONLY through God’s strength that delivery comes! The Israelite men didn’t have fireproof suits. My ex-husband-induced panic attacks can only be overcome through the Lord’s strength.

4. Peter. He was thrown into prison, and the key was thrown away. He had no earthly hope of escaping, but that didn’t stop a group of Christians from praying fervently on his behalf. Imagine their surprise when, while they were praying, Peter knocked on the door–free!

Lord, I want to have this kind of belief and this kind of prayer life!!

My current life situation looks fairly hopeless, a lot like these four biblical examples began. Thank you, Karen, for sharing the hope and encouragement that I can have real JOY right now. It’s not about me. It’s about God and what he can do!

Who Do I Want To Be?

Snapshot_20130523

Last night, I began my first official week alone in my new townhouse. First thought: panic! Second thought: I can do whatever I want! Third thought: Wait, what do I want?

Of course, I had to mention it on my favorite social media site, Facebook. I got quite a few supportive comments, but my friend Alice summed it up best: “You will always be mom, but this week you are YOU….now it’s time to find you.”

That got me thinking. Who am I really?

My mother’s comment was along the same lines: “Decide who you want to be and start aiming in that direction.” Ok, but who do I want to be?

A whole list of what and who I don’t want to be sprang to mind immediately, but as I started writing in my journal, a list to aim for appeared.

I want to be ~

  • strong
  • confident
  • independent
  • dependent on God
  • peaceful
  • happy
  • friendly
  • healthy
  • purposeful

The last one on the list was the hard one, though, because I’m not really sure what my purpose should be yet.

As I was talking to a friend today, I realized one thing that’s not on that list is rich or anything that has to do with money. And that’s ok! Other things in life are much more important.

So, what do y’all think? What am I missing? Am I headed in the right direction?