Laying it all down

white flag

Surrender.

What an uncomfortable word, huh? It certainly was for me when God laid it on my heart as my word/theme for 2016. My first thought was “uh-oh…” One definition of surrender is giving up; but I’m tenacious – when I want/believe in something I don’t give up easily at all – usually not until the fat lady has sung – and even then, like a hungry dog with a bone, sometimes I still hold on. Giving up, even when things look hopeless, simply isn’t in my nature.

But God has been showing me lately that surrender, the way He means it, goes much deeper than that – it’s not so much giving up as it is laying down. Laying down my agenda, laying down my hopes and dreams, laying down the way I think things should be, laying down my plans, desires, and what I want for myself – and being willing to exchange them for HIS agenda, HIS hopes and dreams for me, the way HE thinks things should be, HIS plans, desires, and what HE wants for me.

It’s taken me too many years to count to get to this point, but even now I can feel a small part of me wanting to be rebellious saying, “are you crazy? This (particular desire/hope/dream) is right – and you know it! DON’T GIVE UP!” But I have to give it up, or rather…lay it down. Holding on is very slowly, very insidiously pulling me away from God and where I know I should be heading spiritually.

This doesn’t mean my desire is a bad thing or unscriptural or unChristlike. It’s not. At all. It just means that somewhere along the line this desire became an idol – it slowly changed places with God so He no longer occupied the number one spot in my heart and on my priority list. And that’s just not acceptable to me. I compromised my faith in many ways for a long time in order to keep peace in my home, and when I got divorced I promised God and myself that I would never let anyone or anything come between us again – that He would always be my number one consideration and priority.

Laying anything down that we truly desire isn’t easy, and it’s not a one-time deal. It’s got to be a daily decision. I know I will be tempted over and over to pick it back up and keep holding on. But more than I want that thing, I want God’s best for me. I want Him to be first in everything I think, do, and say. Maybe one day He’ll decide that He wants that thing for me too. Or maybe He won’t. It’ll be easier some days than others to say, “if I never get that thing I’ll be perfectly happy because all that matters is that I’m in the center of His will for my life.” But realistically I’m human and I know there will be (many!) days that it will be as painful and difficult to endure not having it as it would be to literally nail my flesh to the cross.

In more than one place in the New Testament we (believers) are exhorted to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Knowing this I have to ask myself: how easy was it for Jesus to do what He did? I don’t know what was going on inside His head as He went through such a horrific ordeal, but from reading scripture I know that He sweat drops of blood just thinking about it. So if it was that difficult for Him, God in human form, to deny Himself, take up His cross, and do what the Father wanted Him to do, I know I can expect that it will be ever so much harder for me. And as Keith Green was so fond of saying, it’s not a comfy, cushioned, posturepedic cross that God expects me to carry. It’s going to be rough, hard, and heavy; splinters are going to dig into my shoulders, and like Jesus, I’m going to stumble and fall repeatedly under the weight of it. But also like Jesus, I don’t have to carry it alone. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who love me and will come alongside me to help shoulder the burden.

So surrendering can be a blessing – being on the receiving end of God’s love when others help us lug around our burdens, and being on the giving end, sharing God’s love by helping others carry theirs. But make no mistake, as Christ showed us when He laid down His life for us in such a traumatic way, surrendering can also be agonizingly painful – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

So there’s no question: conviction is deeply uncomfortable, repentance is humbling, and surrender hurts. But God’s tender mercy and forgiveness has bathed me in His peace, given me a fresh start, and applied a soothing, healing balm to a raw and gaping wound.

And so it’s a new day.

Weary of the struggle to hold on, I’ve laid my agenda, all my desires, plans, hopes, and dreams at the foot of the cross, and am exchanging them for His.

I surrender.

surrender

 

 

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The Year of Living Frugally

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” –Zig Ziglar

It’s a little scary to put “out there” (what if I fail?), but I have some very specific goals for 2016. And it’s nothing short of amazing to me how focusing on my goals is changing the way I think. One of my goals is to be out of debt by the end of the year (I don’t believe in buying on credit anymore – my debt consists only of medical bills, but the pile of bills has grown by 1/3 because I was in the hospital over the summer). Since I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, decided to call on the principles I learned in Financial Peace University last spring, and got really, really serious about getting out of debt my thinking has really started changing.

For example, I was steaming veggies on the stove a couple of days ago and I got distracted so burned an expensive saucepan, ruining it pretty thoroughly…or so I thought. But instead of throwing it out and using it as an excuse to go shopping for a new pan (which is probably what I would have done even as recently as several months ago), I spent 20 minutes applying an SOS pad, some Bartender’s Friend (it’s like Ajax or Comet, but for cookware/kitchen surfaces), and some serious elbow grease to the thing and now it’s almost as good as new.

Between my newfound, fierce determination to reach my goals and reading a chapter of the New Testament every day (which is actually another of my goals – I want to read the entire New Testament this year), my mind is being renewed.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens…” —Ecclesiastes 3:3 (Yes, I know this is from the Old Testament, but it fits.) “…There is a time to shop, and a time to work with what you have.” (I totally made this part up, by the way; still…I like it.)

Technically speaking this is my year of surrender (my word for the year), but I think that privately I will wind up referring to it as my “Year of Living Frugally.”

D-Day Revisited

Five years ago today my life completely changed course.

 “I’m not happy in this marriage and I want a divorce.”

As though branded like cattle with a white-hot iron, Frank’s words are seared into my memory.

On December 13, 2010, with my stomach still stapled shut recovering from surgery, feeling that something was wrong because he seemed very distracted all the time, I asked my husband what was going on with him. He tried to joke at first, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it – so I asked again. He hesitated for a split-second then said, “we can talk about it after Christmas.” A shiver of dread ran down my spine and ice cubes quickly filled the pit of my stomach. Christmas was two weeks away; I couldn’t live through two weeks of not knowing. Could anyone? My first thought was, “there’s someone else.” And as much as I didn’t want to know, I had to know.

He sighed heavily when I gently prodded a third time. (Three times a charm?) Crouched down in front of the wood stove, he jabbed at the wood he’d just put in a couple more times with the poker. Then he slowly got up, closed the door, took a few steps looking like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, sat down at the small, wood farmhouse table across from me, looked down, and quietly said, “ok, but just remember you wanted to know…” I’ll never forget the pained expression on his face or the sad tone of his voice as he looked up at me, took a deep breath, and said, “I’m not happy in this marriage and I want a divorce.”

And just like that, less than two months shy of our 18th wedding anniversary, the only man I’d ever really loved, the man I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life with and I were suddenly on different life paths heading in different directions.

I was completely shattered – I can remember thinking, “I’m never going to get over him and I’m going to be broken forever.” The only silver lining I could see at the time was that at least there wasn’t anyone else. It was almost unbearable enough to deal with as it was, but to be betrayed like that would have made things so very much worse. For the first few hours after he dropped the bomb it almost seemed surreal, like it was happening to someone else. But the agonizing pain set in pretty quickly. We stayed up until almost 3:00 a.m. I cried and begged him to please change his mind or to at least agree to counseling. Even in my despair it was plain to see the guilt he felt was real and ran pretty deep, still, although he said he loved me as a friend, he wasn’t in love with me so he wouldn’t be swayed.

I barely ate for days. Sleep became a thing of the past – I’d drop off into a fitful slumber for a few hours every couple of days or so out of sheer exhaustion. For financial reasons we continued to live together for another six months. A couple of times very early on I started drinking around noon to numb the pain and was completely trashed by the time Frank got home from work at dinnertime. But realizing how destructive it was, I stopped before it could become a real problem.

I chose to lean on God instead.

At the time we were both backslidden, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth it was like a switch flipped somewhere inside and the connection between God and me was instantly reestablished. I have a (deeply spiritual) theory as to why it happened the way it did, but I won’t derail myself by going into it here. I think that’s a topic best addressed in a separate blog post.

Let me tell you…I never would have survived without Jesus. Seriously. Never. I was not built to withstand the depth of heartbreak and emotional anguish created by my beloved husband ending our marriage.

God started working on me right away, but it wasn’t until I moved into my own apartment six months later that my healing really started. When I was at home I was able to shut out the world. It was like I was on my own personal retreat with my Heavenly Father every day – exactly what I needed.

It took a few years of choosing to forgive Frank daily (sometimes more than once a day), crying oceans of tears, countless hours on my knees, attending Divorce Care (Christian support group) for over a year, counseling for almost two, reading the bible (a lot!) as well as other books designed to help steer someone in my position toward healing, and lots of love and support from family, friends, and co-workers, but I can honestly say that my heart has healed; and while we don’t talk often, Frank and I are still friends. I went out of my way to make sure of that. Divorce is traumatic enough without adding all kinds of negative energy, anger, bitterness, and drama to the mix. It was best for both of us and for our son to keep things friendly. I have a few friends that told me we had the friendliest divorce they’ve ever heard of. But really, how could I say “I love you” on one hand and try to take him to the cleaners on the other? How would getting angry and making things difficult for him have helped the situation for any of us? I had no control over his actions, but I could control my own.

It’s a testament to how much God has healed me that on this five year “anniversary” that I feel like He’s letting me know I’m finally ready for the next phase of my life – whatever that may be. I never thought I’d be able to love anyone else, but I know that if He has someone for me, not only will I be able to love him, but I’ll be able to love him even better and more completely than I was able to love Frank. (God has done a LOT of healing!) Whether or not there is someone out there for me though, I will serve God wholeheartedly for the rest of my life.

It may sound crazy, but I am so thankful for the last five years. Everything has changed – but they’re good changes. I’m closer to Jesus than I ever imagined was possible, I genuinely like the person I’ve become, I’ve even been healed of a few wounds that have been plaguing me since childhood (!), and He has blessed me with a good life filled with wonderful people who care about me.

All that said, I am far (very far!) from perfect and have a long way to go yet in my “becoming,” but praise God, His mercies are new every morning; and I can honestly say I’m happy. I’m really and truly happy.

Thank you, Jesus.

Changing Focus (kind of like using binoculars, but not really…)

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” –Man in Black, The Princess Bride

Both angry and hurting about something that happened a few days ago, I called a friend needing to talk and wound up being the one doing the listening. As it happens, it was better for me that way. Talking about what what had upset me wouldn’t have solved anything and it probably would only have made the internal churning worse. But listening, being there for someone I love, praying for her when I hadn’t even been able to pray for myself, snapped me out of the funk I had slipped into and served to remind me (as if I could really forget) that there is plenty of pain and unfairness in life stemming from circumstances beyond our own control, and it made me determined to do something about the few things I can do something about.

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

It can be very easy, especially when you live alone, to dwell on the things you wish you could change in your life but can’t. However, I’ve discovered that focusing my attention on others instead of dwelling on my own circumstances helps significantly. It changes me, lifts me, gives my life purpose and meaning, and shifts my focus back to where (or rather on Whom) it belongs.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! –Philippians 2:5-8

It’s not always easy to focus on someone else instead of focusing on my own circumstances, and to be honest I probably fail as often as I succeed. But I keep trying because I know that giving up isn’t an option. God put me here for a reason and that reason isn’t to wallow in self-pity. To the best of my ability I’m here to love Him, glorify Him, serve Him and others, and to shine His light in a dark, hurting, and hopeless world. I don’t know why He chose a screw-up like me, but if He can use me, I’m His to use.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20

Dancing in Public in My Skivvies

Um…no actual public skivvies dancing here. It just feels like it, you know? Every time I turn around lately I keep getting the message loud and clear that God wants me to be more transparent. And as a good friend pointed out to me the other night, that means making myself vulnerable. And making myself vulnerable means exposing my heart – scary stuff for me. Thus the public skivvies dancing metaphor. Haven’t we all had nightmares about being in public in our underwear?

Given my personal history, my gut instinct is to try to protect myself from any potential heart-trampling (from anyone – not just talking about guys here). But really, where’s the love in that? Going into self-protection mode encompasses closing myself off (to a degree) from others. But God is showing me more and more that in order to love people the way He wants me to love them I need to open myself up and trust Him to protect my heart. There will always be people who won’t appreciate, will be jealous of, or just not comfortable with my openness and honesty, but I can’t let naysayers direct my steps. God’s told me what He wants me to do, I just need to be obedient, trust Him, and do it. It’s not easy; I’m making some mistakes because there’s a learning curve here, but I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone…for Him. And I believe He will honor that – even when I mess up. And I do. Frequently.

Truthfully, my life would make a great country song. I was fat, unhealthy, my husband divorced me, had to put my dog down, lost a family I loved, I’ve been shamed, lonely, rejected, put down, misunderstood, bullied, taken advantage of…gosh, I could go on but I think you get the gist. God has healed me from a lot of that stuff though. I’m actually carting around significantly less emotional baggage now than I was even when my ex and I were still married. And the stuff that’s left? Well, all I can say is God and I are working on it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a work in progress.

Contrary to what some people may think, I see myself and my considerably glaring flaws pretty clearly. But I also know to the subterranean depths of my soul that although I was filthy inside, because Jesus paid the penalty for my sins, I’ve been washed clean; and that’s made me completely and unreservedly His. I am the beloved daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lords – that makes me royalty – a princess. His princess. (I don’t always feel like one, but that doesn’t change the fact.)

As scary as the making-myself-vulnerable-and-exposing-more-of-my-heart thing is, it’s also kind of freeing. Through this I’m learning that it’s o.k. to just let my hair down and be myself because that is exactly who God created me to be. While I don’t plan to pour out my heart and soul to absolutely everyone I meet, generally speaking my life is pretty much an open book. How can my life glorify God if I’m putting up walls – hiding where I used to be, how far He’s brought me, and where I’m at now?

Also, pretending to be someone I’m not – someone other people want me to be – is demeaning, soul-crushing, and exhausting. It just doesn’t work for me anymore so I’m not doing it. What you see is what you get, folks. I’m an extraordinarily loyal friend, a total goofball, a prayer warrior from the word “go,” enjoy nothing more than making people smile and laugh, can totally roll with the punches (“expect the unexpected” is becoming my credo), and am passionately in love with Jesus. As far as I’m concerned I was put on this earth for two main reasons: to worship and glorify God, and to serve Him and others.

As far as the potential heart-trampling thing goes, the way I figure it people are people and everyone is flawed in different ways. I have (finally!) come to a place in my life where I can accept people right where they’re at – flaws and all. But I know that in their imperfection people will trample on my heart sometimes, and even though I’m honest-to-goodness bone-weary of having my heart trampled I’m also coming to realize that it’s merely part of the journey, and because I’m His my heart is always repairable.

The thing is I have hope in Christ. That doesn’t mean I expect circumstances to change to meet my desires, it means that I have the assurance of going Home with Him to heaven one day – so I can live in this sin-saturated world with the joyful anticipation of what will come later; and it means I have His promise that He will walk with me through every trial and circumstance of my life (He really does! I may feel lonely sometimes, but I am never alone); and it also means I have the confidence that things will work out the way He wants them to because I firmly believe to my toes that even though I may not understand the “why” or the “when” (or the “if”), He genuinely has my best interest at heart with every single circumstance He engineers or allows in my life. I do slip up occasionally and try to “nudge” circumstances in the direction I’d like them to go, but I know nothing I do or say takes Him by surprise. In spite of myself, I will end up exactly where I’m supposed to as long as I keep my eyes fixed on Him. And the part that leaves me in a perpetual state of humility and awe? The fact that He understands all of this…and loves me anyway. Skivvies and all.

The One Where I Want Stuff

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who he has created us to be. In him. He is our dream come true, and the one true love of our life. But we can’t love him with our whole hearts when our hearts are asleep. To love Jesus means to risk coming awake, to risk wanting and desiring.” ― Stasi EldredgeBecoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You

A dear friend of mine asked me today what I want and how I envision my future. I answered her in part, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and, as far as what I want goes, this is what I’ve come up with (in no particular order):

I want to make people smile and laugh. I want to bring them joy. I want to show God’s love to the unlovable. I want to comfort the brokenhearted. I want to sing again. I want to laugh over silly things. I want to visit Kevin and Jill in California. I want to go dancing. I want to keep losing weight and get fit. I want to write for a living and be a published author. I want to praise Him continually. I want to help people however I’m able. I want to embrace life in all of its messy glory. I want to make my own dresses. I want to stop being irritated by trivial things like snow and inconsiderate drivers. I want faeries to do my dishes and laundry for me while I’m sleeping. I want to spend more time with my family and friends. I want to fall in love with someone who genuinely loves me back (bonus points if he’s a musician). I want a pitbull – preferably a female so I can name her Morticia (“Tish” for short). I want to always be awed by sunsets and take delight in blowing bubbles. I want to sit outside with a cup of steaming, hot, coconut coffee and watch the sunrise with Jesus. I want to be as supportive and encouraging to others as they have been to me. I want to shine (His) Light into people’s lives. I want to feed people healthy food that tastes great. I want to spread the gospel. I want to find my Native American ancestor. I want to see countless people come to faith in Christ. I want to be seen, known, and loved for who I am. I want to feel beautiful. I want to go to Europe. I want to get better at managing my time. I want to slow-dance in the moonlight. I want to smell the ocean. I want to make people feel special. I want to be wanted. I want a huge bouquet of lilacs. I want to be there when the people I love need me. I want time to clean out/declutter my apartment. I want to walk barefoot in the grass. I want to sit around a bonfire some night with a glass of wine, singing with friends while someone accompanies us on guitar. I want to get better at being on time. I want to teach illiterate people to read. I want to learn what it means to be Native American. I want to make people feel welcome – wherever I am. I want to be a shoulder for people who need one. I want a guy who’s willing to make a fool of himself for me. I want the people I care about to be happy, healthy, and have a strong relationship with God. I want to be kissed in the rain. I want to help hurting, damaged women find healing. I want to lie on a hillside and make cloud pictures. I want to come home at night to someone I can laugh and pray with. I want to love others right where they’re at. I want to be able to give more. I want to embody the fruit of the Spirit. I want to be with someone who is as sold out to Jesus as I am. I want to be the Proverbs 31 woman. I want to make God, my parents, and my son proud of me. I want to be used to show people how valuable they are. I want Jesus to come back. I want God’s will – for all of us. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I want to always be as thankful for my many blessings as I am right now. But what I want more than anything is simply to be the woman God created me to be.

The One About Men

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.” ― George Carlin

I’ve discovered something about myself. Even after being on my own for just about four years, I have trouble talking to (most) single men. There’s just way too much pressure. Married men? No pressure, so no problem. Even men with girlfriends are fairly easy-ish to talk to. But parade a single, unattached guy in front of me and the wire connecting my brain to my mouth (or fingers) magically comes unattached. I have been known to say some pretty ridiculous, embarrassing things – in person, email, Facebook…the method of communication doesn’t make a difference. That’s not to say the things I say aren’t true, it’s just that I usually mean them a bit differently than they come out. Nerves are horrible, pesky things.

“One frequently only finds out how really beautiful a woman is, until after considerable acquaintance with her.” ― Mark Twain

Then there’s the whole “how are Christian women supposed to handle dating in the 21st century?” question. How are we supposed to handle it? Honestly, I’m baffled. For pete’s sake, I need the rule book! Will someone please send me a copy?

“Our hope doesn’t rest on our finally getting it together. Our hope rests in Jesus.”― Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You

Personally, I want the guy to be the guy and do the asking and pursuing. That’s how God wired us after all (read Captivating by Stasi Eldredge and Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for an extensive, biblical explanation for this). But because of past experiences which have left many of us – men and women – leery of being hurt again, and because society has given women the message that we should go after a guy if we want him, the whole man/woman/relationship thing has gotten pretty confusing and convoluted. Case in point: if I simply wait for a guy to call me (or ask me for my phone number) I could be giving him the impression that I’m not interested in getting to know him better. And if a guy who has been burned in the past thinks I’m not interested in getting to know him better then he may not want to risk rejection by reaching out first. Conversely, if I reach out and initiate an innocent conversation with a guy, he could write me off as being too forward. See what I mean? Con-fus-ing. (And for the record, I’ve done both and neither approach has worked for me thus far.) That said, the reaching out first thing generally makes me uncomfortable – I’m just too old-fashioned I guess. I think I need to quit doing it.

“…sitting and waiting is one of the most miserable occupations known to man – not that it usually is known to men; women do it much more often.” ― Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

So what am I supposed to do with all these questions I have when I’m not getting any answers? Well after a few months of wrestling with all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply need to try to relax (“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda), go about my (or rather my Father’s) business, and wait till that guy with the same set of values I have and I cross paths. You know, the one who loves Jesus and puts Him first, genuinely cares about people, and is ministry-minded with a heart for the lost, the one who sees the Bible as a handbook for life – not just a book of interesting stories and great quotes to hang on the wall. He’s the one who will smile at me like he means it, and when I smile back at him and our eyes lock, he’ll think to himself, “Wow. I wonder what her story is.” And then he’ll come over to ask me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)