Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Easy Path vs. The Difficult Path

There are a number of things I know about God in my head that still don't seem to get all the way through to my heart all the time. Much of the time, I think I've got a pretty good handle on who God is (dangerous, I know), and it even seems like I can feel it for the most part. But, then these moments come along when I realize that there's something I'm missing. I'm in the middle of one of those moments right now (or maybe it's more than a moment...more like days or weeks).

I can't get into too much detail, but there are some very concerning things regarding my daughter, Vespera's, immigration process looming on the horizon. It'll be another 9 months, most likely, before the whole thing is ironed out, and, in the meantime, I get to practice deep breathing and anti-anxiety techniques. This isn't my point, though. My point is that I always get this niggling feeling with regard to huge things like this that they aren't going to happen the easy way, that I can't even ask for them to happen the easy way because God doesn't give us the easy way. This is such a jumble for me. I believe, honestly, both in my head and my heart, that God isn't about taking the easy road. Really. That should come as no surprise to anyone who knows God. This isn't about smooth sailing and sunny skies. And, yet, I believe that God deeply and truly loves us and doesn't *wish* the more difficult path upon us. Really, in my head I know this. God isn't trying to make life difficult. God doesn't give us the hard road just because it's hard. And God isn't trying to make a point. God gives us the *best* road, which is often difficult anyway.

I'm really not saying this very well, but here's where I get hung up. My mom is praying for all of Vespera's immigration stuff to fly through with no trouble and in the quickest possible manner so that it doesn't require some additional travel, time missed from school, time of separation for our family, etc, etc... I am convinced that it won't be that easy. I mean, I hope that it might be that easy, but I don't even dare to ask God for it because I don't really believe that it's going to happen that way. I believe that it's going to happen the hard way, that there's going to be some bitter-sweetness, some heartache, some headaches and negotiations.

Why do I believe that?

That's my question. Why do I believe that God won't answer the prayer for calm waters, for sunny skies, for smooth sailing? I even cried about it the other night and begged for God's mercy. "Have mercy on my, Oh God, according to your unfailing love." I beg for compassion, for leniency. My head knows that God can move mountains, that, according to scripture, our faith can move mountains. And I think that I even believe this in my heart....that God can do that, I mean. But my heart doesn't believe that God will do that.

I also believe in my heart that we don't know the best way, and that God leads us in the best way, though it isn't always the easiest way. I have trouble letting go of the idea that it isn't always the most difficult way, either, though.

My good friend in Montana says that she's recently been connecting with God's sense of humor and God's desire to give us wonderful gifts and surprises. I found myself wondering what that feels like. I've been connected with that part of God at other times in my life but not recently, and I don't know how it even relates to my life right now.

I feel so schizophrenic about God. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I really don't.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Small Hopes

I was sitting, thinking about my life... having one of those "is this all there is to life" moments. When it struck me, I completely have made God small. Or basically, I am lacking the faith to believe that God can still do big things. Lately, my prayers have become small, my hopes have become small, my faith has become really small. I think i used to believe that God could do anything. Then somewhere along the way, I have become one acquainted with disappointment. When the things you have hoped for, for so long never seem to come to fruition, you start wondering if they ever will. So your hopes become small and your faith just shrinks. I really want to believe that God can still move mountains, that He can do big things in my life. But i have been so disappointed in the past, I just have stopped asking for God to do anything.
This morning, I was struck by how futile that thinking is. Of course God can still do BIG things, he is the God who parted the Red Sea, collapsed a wall just by having people walk around it and yell really loudly. He is also a God who can send his son to the earth, to die for our sins and then raise him back to life. These aren't small feats.. these are big feats done by a great big God. Of course i am foolish and forget all the big things he already has done in my life. My memory often fails me, until i am reminded of all the times that God has moved mountains in my life, broken down walls and brought me back to life. I forget so easily. But I have become complacent with just settling for small. If you don't get your hopes up for anything big, then you will never be disappointed if it doesn't happen. But then i guess I'm missing out on the longing and expectation and faith that accompanies hope. I read this quote recently, "The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." ~Allan K. Chalmers
So my goal this week is to believe, to pray and to hope for something big from God. I don't expect it to happen immediately, but I just want to for one week, put aside my small faith and have BIG faith for a little while.
I really love the verse Proverbs 13:12, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Most of the time my heart is a bit sick, but i think its time i start holding out for my tree of life.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Want to be One of Them

While looking back over the posts I've written here, I was struck with this thought,

"What a bunch of silliness. If only I could keep the big picture in mind."

I had a conversation with a friend today about the inevitable questions that arise when we look at evil in the world. "Where is God and why is He allowing all of this?"

In the dark times of my past, I did have to wonder a bit on the reality of God. Where is He? Why isn't He helping? Why can't I see Him working? Why am I not convinced of His love? The answers were few and far between, but they came. I still struggle with a lot of questions, but I've been realizing something that is a challenge to me. That is, had I seen the love of God exemplified in the lives of people who claimed to know and believe in Him, I may have believed more fully in Him and myself. If people would have taken time for me and loved me unconditionally, I'm sure I would have found that contagious, maybe even tangible proof that God still had room for me, just as his people did. Instead I experienced people basically walking away, confused as to how my life could be such a mess, leaving me to believe that must be how God felt about me too.

I am in no way saying that the mistakes I made can be blamed on other people. I just wonder how different things would have been if I didn't feel that people's disregard for me meant I was not valuable. Because what ended up happening was that I lived out what I thought I was worth. And I thought I wasn't worth anyone's time, patience or understanding.

There is a messed up, crazy world out there that appears to have been abandoned. But I wonder, are we abandoned by God at all? Or have we simply abandoned each other, leaving most people feeling so unloved, that they lose faith in a loving God? As Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission says, "it's not a matter of asking where God is, but rather, where are God's people?"

I feel challenged by these thoughts because I forget to do selfless and loving things for someone else. Even just something small, keeping a hurting person or place in mind and doing something to help them see that someone remembers them, and considers them valuable. I get wrapped up in my own life and I simply don't take time to do what matters most.

"...the one thing, on which we can all agree, among all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and the poor...God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house...God is in the debris of wasted opportunities and lives, and God is with us if we are with them." -- Bono

We may see the reality of God more clearly if we would rise to the challenge of fighting for justice in our messed up world, exemplifying God's true nature. To love even the most frustrating of people. What if we did that? If we let someone who feels lost into our lives and hearts, loving them fully? What if we didn't expect someone to change overnight and put aside all their old habits and ways? What if we simply loved them, and taught them about God's unfailing love for them? I wonder if all the baggage they carry would fall away in the face of a radical acceptance they never knew could exist.

If we could do that, I have doubts that we would need to ask the questions we struggle with. We would be seeing God in action through His people, unable to say that He has abandoned us. In reality, more than likely, we would probaby have to admit that we had abandoned each other.

There are a lot of people who live out exactly what I'm talking about. I simply want to be more like them. I simly wish there were more people like them. They are true saints. That word can be used so flippantly, but the word brings to mind the idea of someone fighting to love people, disregarding themselves and focusing on the needs of others.

Sara Groves says it for me, "...and when the saints go marching in. I want to be one of them."
I'll keep working on it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Plan B

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 New American Standard Version (a most literal, though difficult to read translation)

I’m going to begin by quoting myself from my other blog. On May 9th I wrote:

“I believe in free will, which means that I believe that people have the ability to mess with God's plan. Sort of. Mango & I both believe that he was supposed to be at his current teaching position for at least one more year. We have been saying since Vespera came to us that he would stay until she graduated for sure, and then he'd reassess his career plans. He knew that he wasn't going to be in the same position forever, that there was some possibility that the school would be closing...or shrinking. Well, the school shrunk a year too soon, and he was "excessed," meaning that he still has a job in the district but not at his school, Vespera's school. The smaller size of the school has a lot to do with mismanagement, ridiculous short, fallen people living imperfect lives. Since I don't believe that God wills the bad things in the world to happen, I have to believe that people choose these things of their own free will. If people choose things of their own free will, they do things outside of God's ideal for them.”

“…having said all that, I think we're in front row seats this year seeing how the plan we really felt we were following has been messed with by people outside the plan. And now we're waiting to see what GOOD God will bring of this. Because we also believe that God works all things together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to God's purposes.”

That’s what I wrote May 9th. Since then, Mango was re-hired at the same school for next year. It’s interesting that we made a whole bunch of other “plans,” thinking he would have to work somewhere else next year, but each one of those plans was thwarted. Then the call came that he’d be right back in the same school, just as we had firmly believed was God’s plan to begin with. God sure knows how to lead when we’re stumbling along.

I have a number of similar stories I could tell. It seems that we (and God with us) are often operating out of “Plan B,” something different from the original, ideal plan. For example, I don’t really believe that adoption is part of God’s perfect or ideal plan because I don’t believe that God predestines children to be abandoned, orphaned, abused, neglected, or left in hopeless situations with little possibility for future success. I really cannot reconcile those things with a God who is self-described as “love.” If God is love, then God doesn’t predestine these things. But I do believe that since the ideal doesn’t always happen, God can orchestrate a second plan, a Plan B. This is why our family adopted Vespera, and she is a beautiful part of our lives. Because we choose to love and follow God, God can use us to bring about something good and beautiful, even if it wasn’t the original plan. In fact, the way that our family has connected, the way that little pieces of Vespera’s life fit so perfectly into our lives, the way that her interests and experiences match ours, and the way our previous lives fit like puzzle pieces into the gaps in her life makes it seem as though this was all part of God’s plan to begin with. I don’t think that, though. I think only that since things didn’t work out for Vespera’s family of origin, God took us, two people who were willing to follow a calling and matched us with her. And the whole thing has benefited us every bit as much as it has her. It’s so perfect, but yet not perfect.

Let me give another personal example. I think it’s totally outside God’s plan or God’s will that I experienced sexual abuse as a child. If I had to believe that God willed these things, I’d have to walk away from God right now. Since my experience was so far from God’s perfect plan, though, I honestly believe that God guided me to Mango…someone who had heard enough stories and witnessed enough of the pain and trouble in the world that he could help me heal and bring “good” from absolute evil. I believe that since we both had experiences outside of God’s “will,” God brought us together to find healing, and to, in fact, create something beautiful – a relationship that mirrors God’s tremendous love for people and a family that has the depth and strength to love people and serve others in ways we’d never have dreamed. God can take the broken pieces of our lives and create something good if we are willing.

Of course, this also means that we, as God’s people, have more responsibility than I want to contemplate. The idea that I, myself, can screw up God’s perfect plan is enough to make me want to lock myself in a closet for the rest of my life. But then I REALLY wouldn’t be following God’s plan. So, I muddle through. My only hope is in God’s grace. When I deviate from the plan, God’s grace is sufficient. God’s love is eternal, unconditional. This is what keeps me out of the closet. God can work with the messes I make if I keep my heart open and willing to follow. I really, honestly believe that what God cares about is our hearts. God is always able to intervene in the lives of people when those people are willing to follow…whenever we’re willing to follow. I think that this is what interests God the most – not the particular things that we called to do, but the fact that we do them. God is interested in our love and our willingness to follow the calling.

In answer to your own questions Heather, all I know is that it’s totally possible for God to use the experiences you’ve had in between that chapel time in college (I never particularly enjoyed chapel, either) and this moment right now to make something so “good” that it doesn't matter if it's Plan A, B, C or D. Yes, I believe people can mess with God’s plan. But I also believe that, if we’re willing, God can guide us into the “good” that is promised for those who love God and are called by God. God can turn ALL THINGS to good. I don’t even believe that God brings us along some arduous and difficult path just because we didn’t follow the first time. I believe that God really, really loves us and wants desperately for us to experience that love. God is ready to use us whenever we’re willing. Maybe your calling is different now. That isn’t what matters. What matters is your willingness to follow.

I have a whole lot more I could say, but this is all I have time to type out at the moment. I talked this all through with Mango, and he’s got some great analogies and ideas I might try to type out in the next few days.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Still On It? Or Might It Be Gone?

This whole idea of getting off on a detour, outside of the highway you were meant to travel? What is the real, biblical theology behind all of that? Are there clear-cut answers to this question? Or is it another thing that we won't ever know for sure, especially because different theologians, pastors, etc. seem to disagree on it, seeing what the Bible has to say in differing ways? (Sorry about the run-on sentences, but I'm really good at those.)

I used to think that if I was disobedient and didn't follow the directions I was clearly given for my life, that was that. No more perfect plan. No more dreaming. I thought I lost my chance.

For example, in my third year of college, God clearly "spoke" to me about a certain country. I was to do something with my life in regards to this place. A speaker came to chapel (I never really liked chapel) and I expected not to get much out of it, to be honest. But then it happened. I was shaken to my core, brought to complete and utter attention. My body was literally shaking, I couldn't stop the tears, and I knew full well God was speaking to my heart in love. He was saying, "go." But I didn't know what that meant fully and I like to have every detail mapped out so I don't have to worry (totally feasible right?). So I ignored Him.

Ever since that day it's been in the back of my mind that I left God's will for my life on purpose. I have lived with a lot of guilt over that. I have floundered because I figured I wasn't on the right path anyway, so I might as well just...not care. I thought, and sometimes still think, I lost my chance and was now living some other life I was never meant to be living. A life that would bring me far less peace and joy. I started to wallow in depression over all of those thoughts. I started to give up hope that my life meant anything at all.

At one point I asked my sister what she thinks happens if you "miss," in all your glorious free will, God's plan for your life. She held her arm up, running her finger along it as she talked. She said that if her arm was my predestined road and I (her finger) went veering off that path (she slowly drove her finger away from the path of her arm, God's grace and mercy would one day bring me back. It would just be the long way. More painful, possibly. More tiring, surely. But my "finger" would somehow head toward home, and get back on my "arm," my original purpose. At the time, that felt like truth to me. I'm pretty sure I still agree.

Because God is stirring something in me and I've known for awhile now that His love never changed. But I changed. I grew. Maybe I wasn't mature enough to handle whatever was speaking to my heart that day in my college's chapel. No, I know I wasn't mature enough and I know I still struggle with maturity and faithfulness, I've only taken baby steps. But I would not have been this version of Heather. I would have possibly tackled a dream head-on only to be surprised by how ineffectual I was, if I was that twenty-year-old girl with no real life under her belt.

Because I took a detour I experienced some things that stretched my heart beyond it's previous capacity to love. There was endless heart-break, pain, lessons, and trials, many due to my own very serious mistakes. But without those, I wouldn't see people and life the way that I do. Which begs the question, did I really get off on the wrong exit? Was God's plan actually to let me "prodigal it" for awhile? Did He possibly even ordain it?

Or is He now just picking up the pieces despite what my will has done? Because He's forgiving?

Midnight Cafe? Are you there? Wanna discuss this a bit? Is it all just super obvious? Do I just think too much? What are your thoughts? (anyone else? feedback?) I'd love it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Slow Change

The "other man" in my life (dad!), and I were talking about how hard it is to make the things we learn a real part of our lives. I mean, you can get all excited about something you really "get," and yet it's really hard to make it stick. Really hard to carry it with you in all your years. Really hard to be disciplined and obedient.

Maybe it's just us? I don't know. But I've experienced it over and over. I have these light bulb moments where God is really revealing something profound and I finally grasp it. And then.... gone. Two days, two weeks, two months, whatever it takes, it disappears. It's so frustrating.

I wish I had a super-human capacity to with-stand the distractions and frustrations of life enough to truly live what I know. I can know so many things with both my head and my heart, and still I'm unable to truly live it.

Live what? Patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.....

That's just the truth.

I suppose this is why Paul said all that stuff about doing what he didn't want to do and never being able to do what he wanted to do...

It's hard.

The only thing I know for sure that works is being in the Word of God. Really in it. Seeking His face in the midst of the stories and poetry. Really studying what it means to me. Really opening myself up to the Holy Spirit's ability to teach me something that would have appeared boring if left to just me and an old Book.

So why can't I stay in the Word like I'd like to? There are so many things I do instead. So many things I would rather do, if I'm being perfectly honest.

I've fallen for a lot of lies in my life. The most devastating one is that seeking God's truths from His very mouth is for the more earnest of heart. Most of the time I believe that I must not be that earnest. I falsely believe that the believers I compare myself to are closer to God than I could ever dream to be. People who cannot give up their time with God, they live for it and breathe it. I compare myself to them and then the guilt and shame come. The questions rise and I wonder how I could be so far from where I would really like to be.

Then I remind me (or dad reminds me) that it's a process. Sometimes I think the difficult and long road I'm on is serving a purpose. Because if it came really easy for me too, I wouldn't be able to relate at all to those who struggle.

If life is a highway and I got off on the wrong exit (more than once), that means the grace of God makes more sense to me than it would if things were always cut and dry, always peaceful.

I don't want to stay here forever, living with this belief that I may never change. The beauty is that I know I won't stay right here. I will continue in this process because God has not forsaken me. He can't. Because His love is too radical for that kind of disregard.

So I keep thinking and praying and calling out for change. A change that will last. Because without the belief that I can change, I would be truly lost. And I'm not.
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