Friday, October 31, 2014

Give Thanks...With a Reluctant Heart

I love October - have I mentioned that before? I've been a part of a great October tradition for a number of years now, and it's never failed to enhance the joy of the month for me. Since 'way back in October of  2007, I've made a daily list of some things I'm thankful for and posted it on my Facebook page. I've tried hard to keep them honest, not just mentioning the good and shiny and happy things, but the harder things, too, since I've been working at intentionally living out the "give thanks in ALL circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" thing (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Several friends have participated with me over the years (maybe even some of you reading this?) and it's been a very good thing.

This October, however, has been a little different. In many respects, it's been the best October ever! So much natural beauty and the time to sink my soul into it - this rare combination has been a blessing beyond price. But in other ways, it's been a hard one - hard to look up, hard to stay positive, hard to keep the faith... (I think maybe I've been more aware on a deeper level of both joys and challenges this year, which may possibly be indicative of a little bit of soul growth? One can only hope.) In addition to the difficulties that have been more or less consistently present over the years, it seems that some new, unexpected, more complex challenges have been added to the pile. Hopefully an indication of increased threat to the enemy; possibly due to my own laziness and inattention to sin's sly infiltration - likely a combination of both. Whatever the reason for this extra pressure, it's had an effect on my gratitude lists this time around. As I've sat down to make my list, night after night, I've found it to be something of a challenge. I discovered that beyond my family, good food and the beauty of the season, nothing came to mind right away. (Apparently, there's a limit to how many ways one can declare Autumn's surpassing gorgeousness!) I was ashamed to discover that I, who have carefully cultivated a thankful heart over the years, was reluctant to give thanks! I've had to learn all over again how to be thankful for everything God chooses to allow into my life - even when it makes no sense, even when I don't understand, even when it looks like God has abandoned me and I can't see how He could possibly pull me through. Everything.

And that's been a very good thing. As my faith is tested in new and more rigorous ways, it's a constant temptation to give in to despair and discouragement, to doubt and blame. It's harder to trust than it's ever been. But as a muscle grows stronger the more it's used, so has my faith. Instead of resorting to tears first, I turn to prayer more often. Instead of allowing my feelings to steer the ship, I remember the facts more often. Instead of letting a toxic whispered lie of the enemy fester and decay in my mind, I'm quicker to recognize it for the lie it is and replace it with the truth. Instead of letting the enemy steal and distort my identity, I am able to remember more often who I really am. 

Wow, that sounds really good, doesn't it? Alas, I certainly don't get it right all the time. I'm still prone to discouragement and fear and unbelief. I still, maybe more now than ever, need to be reminded on a very regular basis just how big my God is and just how much He thinks of me. Like today, for example. I was minding my own business, working my way through washing my never-ending mountain of dishes, when my mind was bombarded with memories of my past failures (oh so many failures). I didn't even realize my thoughts were drifting into that dangerous territory until I started telling myself, "You'll never be able to pull off this ministry - maybe you should just give it up and try something more normal." That thought certainly caught my attention, and I was surprised to discover how much I'd let those memories affect me - just like that, I was ready to throw in the towel, to turn my back on months of work and preparation, not to mention the calling and vision I'm sure I received from God, and walk away from it all, just because I allowed those memories free reign for a bit.

Thanks be to God, I am a work in progress! Hallelujah! And I have this promise to hold onto today, and everyday:
...being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Looking Up

Thankful! There have been so many gracious moments of deep joy and great delight along my path in this most wonder-filled of months, this golden and crimson and glorious October. The season has never yet failed to call forth in me profound joy and profuse gratitude. The simple pleasure of walking through autumnal woods is a gift I've had the privilege of unwrapping over and over again this year, and it has unquestionably enhanced every aspect of my life. My perspective shifts, my spirit soars, my physical self is refreshed...

But lying just below the surface, sometimes alleviated but never quite lifting, is an elusive heaviness... Bogged down...that's the best way I can describe this stuck-in-thick-mud, unable-to-move-forward, overwhelmed-by-too-many-details feeling. I've been fighting it, refusing to acknowledge it - it seems a crime against gratitude to express such a sentiment in the face of so much for which to give thanks. But God, of all people, called me on it yesterday - smack-dab in the middle of one of my wood-walks.

As I was walking along, breathing deeply of Autumn's intoxicating scent of fallen leaves, I happened to look up. Way up. And in the highest branches of a huge golden aspen poplar was perched (what I firmly believe was) an eagle. (Are there eagles in Alberta? Well, it was a huge bird with a black body and white far as I'm concerned, it was an eagle :) ) Whatever it was, it got my attention - the simple beauty of its bold outline against the gray sky, the graceful way it held its head, the marvel of being so high and free... As I stood gazing up at the wonder, it occurred to me that I haven't been doing much looking up lately. On the whole, I do a fair amount of looking up - probably more than most, just by virtue of the fact that everything is literally over my head. (Just today, I was reminding myself, in the presence of my husband, that Thursday is a shorter school day, as the kids get out an hour early. His response? "Every day's a short day for you!") I consider it a gift - we miss so much by not looking up! And I think that gratitude, which I've been deliberately incorporating into my days, is simply looking up, and recognizing the blessings that are constantly and continually being poured out into our lives.

To be truly genuine, honest, authentic, transparent - as I aspire to be, as I believe God desires - is to agree that everything in my life is allowed entry by the hand of my loving Father, and that everything He permits is for my good and His glory. The combined heaviness of all the start-up details of getting a ministry of the ground and resulting financial strain, in addition to the everyday  pains and pressures of family life (lots of pleasures interspersed, to be sure!), have been keeping me from looking up. The moment I take my eyes off of Jesus and start to focus on my problems and issues is the moment this heaviness begins to set in, stealing my joy. And since the joy of the Lord is my strength, this is something I want to start consciously avoiding. (I love how God reveals things to me one-at-a-time; He's so gracious that way! He's so patient with me as we walk this path together! How great is our God?!)

Friend, thank you so much for journeying along with me! This process is so very valuable to me - I do pray that you may receive some bit of encouragement, as well. I leave you with two verses that come to mind - be blessed!

  I lift up my eyes to the mountains;
   where does my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-13

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

God Answers Prayer...Right?

I have never assumed to comprehend the mystery of prayer - I've been at it a pretty long time and I still don't really understand just how it works. I've studied what the Bible has to say about it, I've read books on the subject and heard many sermons on the intricacies and complexities of this spiritual communication, and I've prayed. Sometimes lots, sometimes not so much...

And I've seen many, many answers to prayer - both my own and the prayers of others. I think we mostly only count answers that line up with what we've prayed for - and I've experienced tons of those! Current example: my brother was rushed to the hospital not too long ago with severe abdominal pain. He's no sissy; anyone who knows him well can just imagine what it would take for him to voluntarily seek medical attention. There was morphine, there were x-rays and a CT scan and disgusting drinks and uncomfortable tests - it was pretty scary for a little while. The evidence coming in wasn't conclusive; could've been a blockage, a growth, a disorder, and a variety of other frightening possibilities. And what's our family's first reaction? We mobilize our pray-ers. And they pray. From all over the country, they petition the Father for a favourable outcome, for peace, for healing. And it would appear that our cries were heard. After about 36 hours in hospital, we get a best-case-scenario diagnosis, a clean bill of health, some buttered toast and the much-desired release papers. Yay God...right?

But what about all those other times - the times we don't talk about, the desperate prayers we offer up that, by all appearances, go unheard and unanswered? I know I've prayed my share of these - I'm guessing you have, too? Requests large and small, personal and for others, for finances and family and friends and the future...I've often wondered if it was me - was there something I was neglecting to say or do, was I not using the right words, not adopting the proper prayerful position, not praying often enough, praying too much, was there something in my life that was blocking the communication pathway, did I not have enough faith? And on and on, until it would drive me crazy with the wondering, but I'd be afraid to approach God with the question, not wanting to bother Him even more...

It wasn't until I got to know God in a whole new way that I had any peace at all about this particular conundrum. I prayed lots but I also doubted lots - could I really, really trust this God that seemed to arbitrarily bestow or withhold favour? For the longest time, I thought getting my prayers answered depended on my own worth, my value, my efforts. And so, because I thought so little of myself, I could excuse God's supposed lack of response. It was understandable, I figured, because I certainly was not deserving of any special attention from God. When I did get the answers I was looking for, which did happen, even in this long period of silent doubt and questioning, I saw it more as a fluke than anything else, a positive but random blip in the universal management system. I was very grateful, no question. But I guess I figured if I kept my expectations low, I'd be less likely to be disappointed, less likely to fail in the art of prayer.

Thanks be to God, I've made considerable progress in understanding and accepting God's love for me. It has changed how I look at a lot of things, including prayer. I've come to see that it's less about convincing God that I need a particular thing and more about cultivating a friendship - with a Friend who is both intimate and ultimate, completely caring and completely capable, passionately precise and profoundly powerful. It's less about seeking to have my needs met and more about finding out, in ever-increasing measure, that I already have everything I need in Him. It's less about finding answers and more about finding a Person. Maybe it's a little cliché by now, but it's true that prayer doesn't change God or my situation, necessarily; it changes me, my perspective. Prayer is acknowledging that my life is not in my hands, that I'm not the one at the wheel - and that this is a good thing! The act of praying tells God that I trust Him to do (or not do) as He sees fit, for my good and His glory.

I know there's so much more I could say about prayer - but this was not meant to be an exhaustive (nor exhausting) essay on what prayer is or how it works. I needed to remind myself of the truth today. I'm in the middle of a rather difficult situation right now, in which I am completely powerless (which is quite likely at least part of the point), and am waiting to see what God will do - and waiting is so hard sometimes. Sometimes the effort to trust and not doubt is pretty tiring. But I am trusting, imperfectly for sure, but I know in Whom I'm putting my trust - and I know He will not fail me; not now, not ever.