Thursday, September 4, 2014

Preparing For The Last First Day

Here we are again.  Labor Day has passed and school is starting up again.  This school year is different again here in the Burtis house.  Our oldest son is now done with school forever.  Drew has married, moved away and begun his adult life.  Scott just drove our Ben back to the mountains to start his second year of college.  Ally will begin her senior year of high school this morning. It's impossible not to wonder, where did the time go?

I heard a good answer to that question recently in regards to the season of parenting - the days are long but the years are short.  Ain't that the truth?

I can easily remember the long days of nursing babies for what seemed like neverending hours. The countless nights of interrupted rest wondering when my crier would ever sleep through til morning.  The days, weeks, and months of battling with a strong willed child.  The endless days of sports practices and nights eating dinner from a drive thru.   Man, that went fast.

This September of 2014 is even a little more emotional than usual because it is Ally's last first day of school and the first of many more lasts for her and her parents.

Here she is getting on a school bus for the first time.  I mean seriously.
And now. Give me strength.
We've been busy this week getting ready.  She's already started volleyball, earned her driver's license, had senior pictures taken and picked out clothes for the first day.

I've bought lunch snacks, hung the Back to School flag outside and located the book that I have read the night before every first day of school since Drew went to Kindergarten.  Last night I read it for the last my baby girl.  I offered to read it in her room but she declined saying, "it is tradition to read it on your bed."  (Yay!) There were less bodies on the bed but when we all three prayed and committed this year to God, the room was full enough.

I also worked on this in her room.  These are old hospital closets my dad gave me years ago that I painted to surprise Ally one summer while she was away at camp. I figure if I write it all down it will cut back  on reminding (or as the rest of the family puts it, nagging).  Chalkboards, lists, colored chalk.  Could I have missed a calling to be a homeschool mom?  No.  Probably not.
In an effort not to dwell on the potential sadness all these changes can bring and as a last hurrah/farewell to summer, we travelled out to spend last weekend with our newlywed kids in Elkhart, Indiana.  This was our first opportunity to spend extended time as a new family of six.

We had a glorious weekend.  It could not have been more enjoyable for Scott and me. (Except for the disgusting humidity.  Thank God Drew and Brittany have air conditioning. Without it things could have gone a lot differently.)

While together I hoped to have two family meetings (a.k.a. intentional conversations over dinner) allowing the rest to emerge naturally out of the ebb and flow of our ever-changing family dynamic.

The first was to present them with the familar, often-asked, "What are you learning about God from your quiet times spent reading His Word and praying?" 

Because they never disappoint, the kids initially responded in their usual sassy fashion, a quick eye roll, a mock putting on of imaginary seatbelts, glancing at their pretend watches - preparing for a looooooong conversation.  This is not their first rodeo.

Spurred on by some recently heard sermons, this time I upped the ante and probed deeper.
"What have you repented of lately?"
"Based on what you are reading how is God asking you to change?"
"How are you growing in Christlikeness?"

These are important things to discuss. How else can we really know how closely our kids are (or aren't) walking with the Lord?  With discussions like these comes the accountability within families which is a must. This is also a good reason to insist on regular, not occasional family dinners with everyone present.

Eventually, because intimacy takes time, the most honest, real, vulnerable answers were revealed and rich conversation followed.  There may or may not have been some croaking by an unnamed party or two as we shared the good, the bad and the ugly. 

The second round of questions (saved for our last meal together) was planned in advance by all but one of us.  Why you ask?  Because if I had sprung the questions on them without warning I would have gotten simple, probably even dumb answers, not at all what I was looking for.  And after chastising them I'd get the deer-in-headlights look that screams, "Seriously Mom, I don't know what to say. I haven't thought about it."  Nope, I couldn't take any chances so I prepped them before we ever left home.

I asked my sons and daughter-in-law to think about and be willing to share with Ally advice for her senior year.
  • What would help her
  • What she should focus on
  • What she should ignore or not get sucked into
  • What they regretted
  • What they would do differently (knowing what they know now)

It started out lighthearted, the boys shared some of their favorite and ridiculous high school memories (that they can laugh at now).  Again, after awhile they went deeper.

I was surprised when one of them said he wished he had not traded weeks of youth group every winter to play basketball.  (Shocked, I was to hear this.)  He recognizes now the importance of Christian friends and staying close to them year round, not just around the sports calendar.  He wishes he had chosen different school friends to spend the majority of his time with as well.  The kind that would last.

Another regrets choosing to be a spectator in school rather than a player when it came to getting to know new kids.  Perhaps he missed opportunities to share his faith and wasted time. If he could go back, he would use his voice and words to share the hope of the Gospel with friends.

She held back for a while but when she spoke, our darling Brittany brought out the big guns.  She had given this some thought.  (Have I mentioned that she is not only Drew's gift - but mine too?) She gave Ally a charge that only a young woman not too far removed from high school could give.  She shared stories, relationships, regrets, and her heartfelt concern that Ally live wiser and pay close attention to the fact that her future that still lies ahead will trump high school experiences.

I'm not sure when or how the idea came to initiate this chat just days before Ally starts this final year of school, but I can tell you it is consistent with a goal Scott and I have long shared to relentlessly put godly Christian examples before our kids to guide and influence.  For example, books we had them read, music they listened to, concerts attended, missions conferences, sharing meals in our home with missionaries  and listening to testimonies and stories from many other dynamic Christians.  Potential heroes we hoped.

As Scott and I sat back and let it play, suddenly I realized that because they have been out on their own for a while it's their time to speak up.

The three big kids  - ok ok, young adults - volleyed back and forth all sorts of their own time and hard-won wisdom for Ally to consider.  They didn't just focus on the negative (mistakes and regrets) but also the positive, giving her practical ideas on how to finish high school well with good motives, intentionally and God-focused so that she would not share their regrets.

I believe they sent a strong you can do it message.

And glory hallelujah - someone even said, "Listen to your parents - they have your best interest in mind"!  I didn't plant that either, I swear.

In summary, their message was to not wait until you are older to give God every area of your life.  Start now.  Put Him first in everything, read His Word, grow by being obedient to it, love others and avoid worldliness and high school drama. There is a much bigger picture at stake that you can't see yet. 

I'm so thankful to God for that and so much more.  I'm thankful that Ally has so much support behind her as she begins what could be a time when the enemy of her soul will pull out all the stops to distract her from God's will for her life.

I think she knows this now and feels the weight of the love and concern for her and the intensity of the advice, urging her to learn from what they've learned.

Makes me wonder if I would have made better choices had I heard even half of this from people who cared enough about me to be honest and open about their experiences.  I'm so glad that God is a God of second chances, always inviting us to come back and try again.  New mercies every morning. Remember, it is not who we were or have been, it's who we are becoming - how Christ is being formed in us.

Witnessing this exchange between our children makes me less sad about the fact that they are indeed growing up and out.  Instead, I'm grateful and excited for who they are becoming, how we now interact with each other and how they will influence the world around them for God's glory. 

I can't help but remember what they were like when they were little (so cute!) so the lesson for me is to only be sad for a momentThen shift to celebrating and encouraging them into the natural process of maturing (not too quickly) into a Christlike adult, prepared for the future He has planned for them.

If we can send our kids courageously into their schools year after year, we can courageously embrace their growing up.  We can do it!

I saw this quote on a blog I love the other day "September 1st is the new January 1st". 

So whether this is your kids' first day of kindergarten or 12th grade or even college, why not take this opportunity of a new beginning to remind them that the Christian life isn't just for when they are older?  With effort and intention they can have God's blessing on their own lives right now.

Here's my not so little girl in front of the flag one last time on this - her final first day of high school - go get 'em Ally!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Keeping It Simple

As I was thinking about the blog this morning and what I could write for you to read that would be valuable, the thought came, 'keep it simple'.

While I was away in the beautiful Adironacks, I sat in on fourteen hours of Bible teaching, read two books and enjoyed several important, life-giving conversations.  That's a lot of listening.  Listening is receiving.  Much of the best of the content came through simple yet powerful statements or questions.

As I furiously and excitedly (in my usual nerd-like fashion) took pages of notes (the older I get the less I trust my memory), I hoped for the opportunity to share them with someone else because of what it was stirring up in me.  So here goes.  I am praying that they speak to you today and you receive something meaningful. (Quotes are in bold.  The rest are my comments.)

The Bible is the Voice of God.  I mean seriously.  We know this.  But do we know this?  Wouldn't we all like to hear the voice of God?  We can.  We have no excuse not to.  All we have to do is pick up His Word and read it.

Give God's Word your full attention.  It's the only book that matters.

Every time we are in God's Word we are getting a better picture of who God is.  This means we can better describe Him to others.  So good!

Nothing in the Christian life works without God's Word.  Could this be why we are exhausted from trying to 'work it out' ourselves with no results?

Stop viewing yourself as the focus of life.  We exist for the Glory of God.  Ouch.  I wonder if we should change our common statement for ourselves and wish for others from, "I'm looking forward to what God has for me" to "I am eager for God to show me how I can best serve Him with my life."

 My life is the autobiography of Christ.  This is going to take some examination.  Is that how I live?  Do others see His likeness in me?

Cultivate a spiritual awareness until it takes over your life.  Sit with this one a while.  We have all the power here - how much of Jesus do we want?  We can have as much as we want.

The presence of evil will never undo or destroy the work of God.   In light of today's world events, this is the greatest time to proclaim Christ.  That is good news.

There is no such thing as private sin.  To be a follower of Jesus means we live in community and our sins have repercussions.  Our choices matter to others.  This is not a curse.  It's a gift - to live in such a way that it helps others to live well too.

Stop making excuses for your condition.  Call sin sin.  Sin multiplies when you make excuses for it.  Own your sin.  You can't get victory over that which you don't own.

 Love Jesus more than anything. 

Peace comes through acceptance of - not removal of - suffering.  Not easy, but true.  Suffering builds character too.  We can't remove it all (or beg God to) and think we are going to grow.

God wants us to reach out to Him.  He allows in His wisdom things to happen so we will.  What a beautiful way to look at the hard, painful things that come into our lives.

The Christian life is an intentional life.  It is focused on a relationship with Jesus - becoming Christlike.  This statement is so huge to me.  It's going to become the main theme beneath the questions I periodically ask my kids.  In what ways are you becoming more Christlike?  How is God asking you to change?  What verses are you applying to your life?  Because without transformation into God's character - what's the point?  THIS is what it's all about.

We have erased holiness from the Christian life.  Our fellowship with the Father is defined by holiness.  Ask these questions:  Who are we trying to be like?  Christ?  The world?  Everyone else?  More excellent questions for my kids (and myself).

None of us are naturally usable to God.  We all require preparation.  How are you and I being prepared to do ministry?

Everyone needs discipleship from older, wiser followers.  We need to ask "How do you study?  How do you grow?, etc."  We have no business trying to live this life on our own when we have others we can ask to show us the best way.  I like the way Andy Stanley puts it, "Wisdom is not learning from our mistakes - that's experience.  Wisdom is learning from other people's mistakes."  And not just their mistakes - their successes too.

From two women I spent time with:

God would not lead you through a dark valley if there wasn't something of great value waiting for you on the other side.  Good motivation to wait patiently and expectantly.

We have chosen (for our family) to live according to the standards set by God in His Word so that we can enjoy the blessing of God on our lives.   Honestly, friends, when I heard this I thought, "That's the perfect mission statement.  Following Christ isn't about rule keeping. We don't have to over explain.  It's simple - we're living God's way so that He will bless us."  Boom.

And that was just the first week.  HA!  All of these statements (and so many more) made an impact on me.  They gave me occasion for confession, repentance, motivation to change AND also encouragement to continue putting my hope and faith in Jesus because He is so good.  So worth it.  And because His love for me is so big.  Not to mention also because there are younger ones coming behind me who need to know these things.

I so hope you found something here to challenge you, encourage you, cause you to make some intentional decisions for your life and the well being of your family as well.  I know there's a lot here, but even if we grabbed a few of these simple statments and gave them attention in our lives I wonder what would happen. 

What do you say we make this a conversation instead of me doing all the talking?  (I bet you're thinking, I thought she'd never think of that.)  How about for fun you copy and paste something above that most resonated with you and post it in the comment section?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's Good To Be Home

So, assuming you read this blog regularly, follow me on Instagram, am friends with me on Facebook or are just a plain old-fashioned real live person I talk to face to face, you might know that I left home for two weeks in August.  

I try to do it every year with my family's company but this year was different.  I was invited by some girlfriends to share a cabin at one of my favorite places on earth, the Word of Life Family Campground.  This was our 2nd annual trip because last year we decided if something is very fun or a good idea, it should become a tradition.  I couldn't turn them down.  I didn't want to.  God always meets me up in the Adirondacks and I knew He was calling me to come spend some time alone with Him.  I was not about to miss that.  (Please notice I have a great husband who is never selfish when it comes to letting me go when I need to.)

After I made those plans months ago, some new friends offered us a free stay in their year-round camper just a few feet from that cabin.  Well, yeah,  If one's good, two is better, right?  This was the week I really wanted to be there anyway, because it would lead up to a very important event (Ben's graduation from Word of Life Bible Institute) and his subsequent homecoming (he will be home for just over two weeks - woohoo!) which required him to be picked up.

Unfortunately, Scott and Ally couldn't join me for the first ten days because of work and volleyball commitments.  They did come for the last five.

In the meantime, I spent the first week juggling time and meals with my friends, my mother who was also vacationing nearby and Ben, of course. We went to the beach, appreciated the beautiful Adirondack landscape, found fun places to eat and even watched a movie outside on movie night.  It was fun and relaxing.  That's how I envisioned the first week to be.

The middle four days were to be my alone time and I planned how I would spend so much time by myself.  I declared them my own personal spiritual retreat. 

I came asking God for three things.  Not three things you'd ask a genie for after rubbing his lamp but three things that I was wrestling with.  Three things that were bogging me down and keeping me from experiencing peace and contentment.  I needed the One who knows and loves me best to speak to me, to reveal what's been going on in my heart that up to that point was frustrating me.  

I brought my Bible, old journals to read, books and new journals to write in.  I planned to listen to great preaching, pray, read, listen, walk and wait. I knew it would take my focused attention, cleared schedule and hours of solitude to get me in a place where I could receive and I was prepared to stay in God's face until He addressed my three requests.  I was not disappointed.

As usual, just as continually promised in His Word, He shows up when we diligently seek Him and in many ways like through the Scriptures I was reading, the messages being preached and even the gift of time with a spiritual mentor of mine.  You may remember I went to visit her at her camp last summer too.  (You can read about that here.)

She asked me what the three things I was asking God for were.  As I spilled my heart out on her beautiful screened patio, she managed to carefully pick up the random pieces and wisely put them in order in a way I couldn't do on my own.  She deciphered the puzzle and God used her to set me free. She gave me permission to make some hard decisions for my own well being.

He released me from wrong thinking, mangled emotions, lies I was treating as truth, and He wrapped me in a warm blanket of His love and attentiveness.  I found what I was desperately looking for and hopefully came back changed. 

Can I just stop a moment and encourage you to go directly to God and ask Him for what you need?  Don't hold back. He wants you to come to Him because He has the answers you're looking for. He loves you and is here to help. Don't wait another minute!

By the time Ally and Scott arrived, I was ready for them.  We had a good few days together.  We even climbed Mt. Severence.  I can't believe we have been camping in Schroon Lake for more than 10 years and never have.  It was worth all the huffing and puffing to get to the top and see that glorious view. 
While it was wonderful to have the four of us reunited, we all missed our other two.  So we FaceTimed Drew and Brittany one night which was super fun.  We loved seeing their happy faces, watching them interact (she's showing a new sassy side that I particularly enjoy) and listening to them giggle.  I noticed when we were about to hang up that Drew had pretty much monopolized the conversation.  The camera was always on him with occasional glimpses of Brittany.  He even took us on a tour of his garage where he showed off some new purchases like a hose that shrinks when not in use.  It was the cutest thing. (Drew, not the hose.)

I'm getting to the best part - about ten minutes or less after we ended the call, I got a text from my sweet, funny daughter-in-law that went something like this:  "Not that we don't love Drew's company, but maybe next time we can just have a girls only FaceTime."  Does she know how to speak my language or what?

By the end of the weekend, I was ready to come home.  Because no matter how much you need to get away - and should - there's no place like home.  Or your king-sized bed.  Or your shower.  Or carpet under your feet.  Or your favorite comfy couch on which to sit and pray in the morning.  Or your husband and daughter saying, "We're so glad you're home." And it's always good to bring home a college boy and all his stinky summer camp laundry.

I have so much more to tell you about that happened while I was gone (stuff that will benefit you, not just this family drivel), but for today, I just wanted to say hi and I missed you and bore you with some pictures of the main event.

Another happy milestone in the Burtis family. We seem to have had more than our fair share in 2014. I know I may have said or written this when Drew stood in this very spot - but it's a tremendous gift to have God write part of a parent's story (He changed my life for good at the BI in 1987) into their children's stories.  He's done it again and I am overwhelmed.

I like to joke that when you attend the WOLBI, because the only curriculum is the Bible, you get it pumped through your veins for a year.  (Who wouldn't want that?) Students are also simultaneously given all kinds of opportunities to serve the Lord (snow camp, sports, open air evangelism, singing, drama, summer camp, mission trips and so much more).

It's the best foundation for any one of us before we become adults and have to figure out how to live as a grown up out in the real world.  I'm so very grateful that my sons have had this experience and that next Fall it will be our daughter's turn.  Two to go!

Thanks for indulging me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

I've got another good story for you today.  It starts with a word.

Vulnerable.  Yeah, I know.  Doesn't really make you jump up and down, does it?  I looked it up (because that's what nerds do) and here's what I found.

Vulnerable - capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; open to assault, criticism, temptation; difficult to defend.

No wonder we don't like it.  I think sometimes it can be a good thing, maybe when we're young.  Babies are completely vulnerable to their moms (dads too).  They are dependent for every need to be met by someone else.

Through childhood and adolescence, we open our hearts and lives to some we would consider our best friends because we enjoy the thrill of being known and loved.

When we first fall in love and step into marriage we don't mind being vulnerable to our new life partner.  At least I didn't.  I eagerly turned over my whole life, finances, and secrets to Scott in full trust.  I didn't feel threatened at all.  Still don't.

But then we live life for a while as a grown up. We get hurt. We are betrayed. We acquire enemies, intentionally or otherwise.  Vulnerable is something we avoid like the plague as if it signifies a weakness or failure.  Maybe it's because we don't trust what we can't control or when. We rarely intentionally place ourselves in this position anymore if we can help it.  It can make us feel unsafe, needy and possibly high maintenance.  Who wants that?

Not me.  Yet I found myself staring into the face of it just a few weeks ago. 

It was wedding week.  I know.  I know.   I said I wasn't going to write about the wedding anymore but this isn't about the wedding itself.  This is more of a what was going on behind the scenes.

Thursday morning we packed up our van and our daughter and Scott began the drive to Connecticut with me by his side.  I had been bored all week and couldn't wait to get where all the action was.  We weren't too far down the road when my mind drifted and next thing I know tears are rolling.  These tears were different from what had become my usual.  I wasn't even slightly sad or emotional about the wedding and all that goes with it.  This was new and unfamiliar.

Suddenly I was weaker than I have been in months and I felt afraid, unprotected, unable to control myself, defenseless perhaps.....vulnerable. 

Glimpses of what was troubling me came to mind.  My thoughts, feelings and emotions were complex and unorganized.  I was trying to assign them categories where I could name and file them away until a later date when I would deal with them appropriately. (Is there no end to this control freak/type A personality defect?)

If only that would have worked.  I became nervous when I couldn't tidy this up.  What was I going to do?  I don't have time for this.  My son is getting married in two days and I want to be fully present to experience every bit of it.  I knew this wasn't about the wedding itself.  It was about my junk, the stuff that follows me to sidetrack me from appreciating all the good.  It's probably the closest I've come to a panic attack. 

I cried harder desperately trying to hide it and not dampen the mood of the occasion.  Scott squeezes my hand and gives me that sweet it's-going-to-be-alright smile.  He thinks I'm all weepy because our little boy has grown up.  Isn't he cute?  I wish that's what the problem was!

I prayed and asked God what was going on.  Of course, I don't believe He speaks audibly, but I do believe He knows and directs our thoughts when we invite Him to.  I realized quickly that this was a spiritual attack. 

This is not my usual go-to conclusion during difficult situations because I don't like to give Satan, the archenemy of every Jesus lover, so much credit or attention.  But sometimes we need to recognize that he is the one behind our trouble and he only has our destruction in mind.

God told me what to do.  I resisted.  How can making myself vulnerable to someone deal with these vulnerable fears already in progress?  I didn't want to.  He and I could handle this together.  All He had to do was clear my mind and give me happy thoughts. Seemed so simple.  He said no, we're going to do this His way.

He nudged me again.
Him:  "You need help. You have friends that can help you. It's time to call on them."
Me:  "I already have friends who pray for me regularly.  I can't ask them for more.  They've got to be so sick of me.  I hate being so needy."
Him:  "This is different."
Me:  "Isn't there another way?"
Him:  "No.  Humble yourself (again) and ask them for two things. Trust Me, they will do it."

I knew I could ask any number of family or friends who would be at the wedding but I also knew that wouldn't work.  I couldn't risk them being worried for me and looking at me throughout the weekend with kind eyes saying, "How are you doing?  Are you doing ok?  I'm praying for you.  You've got this".  It might even backfire.

This had to be someone far removed but totally plugged in to the Spirit.  Two names appeared in bold print.

Next thing I know, I am writing an email.  It reads something like this:

Hi there! I know we haven't spoken in a while and hope you're doing well. I'm writing today because I feel like God has told me to. You are sensitive to the spirit and wise in His Word and I know you can help me. 

Right now we are traveling to CT for Drew's wedding. I am excited to get there and for the festivities to begin. We are thrilled and can't wait to help.  Still, and this is why I'm writing, I need to ask you for prayer AND some written truth. I feel so vulnerable to the enemy's attacks right now. He's got me on the ropes and it's scaring me a little. 

It's so strange. I am truly grateful for all of the blessings surrounding this wedding weekend but am suddenly tormented by and tempted to doubt and worry. So many things I didn't realize I was worried about have popped to the surface and are strangling me. I can see they stem from my insecurities, fears, etc. You name it! 

My emotions are all over the place and I'm exhausted trying to manage them. I've been fighting this battle for a long time now which is ok but am desperate for relief if only for a few days but they won't release me. I feel like a mess on the inside and I don't dig it! 

When I read God's Word I am calmed and hopeful and challenged to believe God for big things as well as trust Him but sometimes it's like I forget as soon as I get up and go about my day.  The peace I crave eludes me.  I know so much of God's truth deep down but I'm worried I won't be able to bring it up to the surface when I need it. I know I won't have long extended periods of time to read and pray myself.  This is where you come in.

Clearly, I can't do this by myself and God brought you to mind specifically.  I need you. Would you pray for me?  Also, if you have time today or tomorrow could you write me a note from your perspective on the outside reminding me of what I need to hear to have peace?

Yeah, imagine getting that letter.  Why is it so hard to say 'I need you'?  Because it makes us vulnerable and takes us out of the driver's seat.  We could be made fun of or worse, rejected.

As soon as I hit send I began to calm down.  Instinctively I knew that should they accept this assignment, my burden would be transferred and they would carry the weight for me.

Not to sound eery or mystical, but that's exactly what happened.  Within hours, they both responded with a resounding "Yes, I've got you."  I was touched by their sincerity and enthusiasm.  By the next day I had received long notes filled with Truth that God gave them in prayer.  I would stand upon these for the rest of the weekend and I will keep them for the rest of my life.  I read and reread the letters allowing each word to strengthen me.  I felt increasingly lighter and unbound.

Peace is an understatement.  I actually could imagine them picking up the weapons and fighting my war for me for the next few days while I stepped out to a party and celebrated something good.

And boy did I have a tremendous weekend.  Back up a few posts if you missed the photos.

I was given a generous and beautiful gift of freedom.  It may be one we don't necessarily receive if we won't get honest, swallow pride and ask for it. What an amazing thing to experience. Intercessory prayer.  Someone willing to fight in your place.  It is something I hope to give in this capacity to someone else when asked.

They say the first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem.  I knew I was weak and didn't have what I needed so God sent help.  He is always there for us with what we need even if we don't know what that is

Can I encourage you today if you are feeling vulnerable, out of control and susceptible to attack to call someone you know who loves God, loves you and will seriously go to battle on your behalf?

You might be surprised by how quickly they say yes and for a relief that hasn't come any other way.  If you have no one to call - call me.

Pride has no place in the Christian's life.  We need each other and were never meant to live this life alone.  Type "one another" in a Bible search app and see what shows up.

It's not just for them.  It's for you too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Night I Won't Soon Forget

Well, it's Sunday afternoon and not humid, so I am spending it out on my back patio.  I'm still basking in the glow of Drew and Brittany's wedding.  Every morning when I'm out sweating around the neighborhood at least one song from the wedding playlist comes on my iPod and I relive it all over again.  I love this.  Yesterday the one Drew and I danced to played and I almost did the ugly cry.  Not cool.  Scares the neighbors.  Still, I was happy even though it didn't look like it.

This is why I haven't written lately - how much more wedding talk can you stand?  You're welcome.

So I've got something completely unrelated on my mind that I just can't shake.   A sweet, younger friend of mine is allowing me to walk through a serious crisis alongside her.  It's a privilege to listen to, pray for and try to support her though the burden is heavy.  The further we go, the more ill-equipped I feel in some ways because I have never personally experienced what she's going through.

As I prayed for her, I asked God to show me what I can do to help.  He whispered a name to me.  The name of a young wife and mother who shared her similar story with me not too long ago.  Brilliant!  God always has the best ideas.  I hoped if I could connect the two, a friendship would be born and my friend would know she's not alone and that maybe just maybe she could see light in the middle of her darkness.  I wanted to give her the gift of hope.  I knew she would benefit from meeting someone in the flesh who has been through the same thing and made it to the other side - where beauty rises from ashes.

As you can imagine, I knew this could be tricky.  I needed one to be willing to meet and trust someone new and be open to listening (not always easy when your pain level is so high).  I needed the other to be vulnerable and willing to risk sharing her tender, painful, but triumphant story with a stranger.

Of course, because it was God's idea to begin with, He had already prepared each of them for my call.  I explained the goal to each and they both said yes.  One was a little hesitant, but trusted me and the other was 100% ready to do anything she could to help a woman, any woman in need.

The meeting came and I was expectant that God would show up.  As Beth Moore says, "He never comes small because He is so BIG."  This was never truer.

I sat in that booth for an hour or so observing something breathtaking.  I was in the presence of:

Truly it was jawdropping. We listened to this young woman whose life had seemingly fallen apart into total ruin but refused to leave it there or accept it.  She did the hard work of fighting for what she knew to be God's best.  She also knew she had an enemy who was pulling out all the stops to get her to quit, walk away, or take the easy way out. She had to sort through good and bad advice and she chose not to run toward what seemed like the quickest and least painful path out.

Astoundingly, even in the church she found no one who had walked this path before her or stuck it out to the end or was willing to share their story with her.  She was desperate for someone with first hand experience just to tell her she would make it.  She never received that but refused to give up or give in.

At one point she said, "I knew God would bless me if I waited for Him". She said it with such confidence.  It blew me away.  I may or may not have gasped.

Wait.  She's not here to talk to me.  Get a grip, Angela.  Friends, God is not stingy, He let me get some good stuff that night too. 

I looked over at my hurting friend who was listening intently.  She was crying.  God was speaking to her too.  She could identify God's presence in these moments.  It was huge.

When there were awkward pauses, I prompted questions I thought would be helpful.  Soon it was no longer necessary.  A Spirit-connection was made.  Guards were dropped.  We got down and dirty as one put it.  Neither one cared what the other thought of her.  They just gave in to honesty.  (I so love this but mustn't chase that rabbit trail.)

It was one of the most memorable (women's ministry) experiences of my life.  As only God can do, pain and despair turned to hope right before my eyes.  We even laughed.

A question was asked, "Can I contact you again?".  The answer was, "Of course".  Numbers were exchanged.  I high-fived God (in my head, naturally).  That's what I wanted so badly.  Later when our new hero left, my friend wiped her face and said, "If she can do it, I can do it."  Yes.  She can.  Hallelujah.

That's the whole point, ladies.  There is power in the telling of our stories.  We don't have to have gotten it all right.  We can have made tons of mistakes.  But, when we have the want to and presence of mind to let God write and rewrite our stories and He does, we have to tell it!  We have to.

I know life can be super messy.  To be completely honest, I don't like messy.  I prefer neat and tidy.  But let's be real, whose life is neat and tidy all the time?  Nobody's.  I'm slowly getting used to this.  I was told recently, "God can and will walk right into the middle of our messes and take our hand to walk us out." God is not apalled by our mess.  Can I get an Amen?  Please let that be the good news you need today.

My wise friend told me that oftentimes when she tells her story it's like having an old scar removed and wound exposed. Likely this is why few tell theirs.  But I know this.  While still in the midst of her own storm, she once told a friend, "No matter how hard this gets, don't let me forget that I'm not going through this just for me, but for the women coming behind me who are going to need to talk to someone."

Just take a minute and let that settle on you.

This is a young busy wife and mother, my dear readers. Incidentally, I hope you've noticed how many times I've mentioned these are YOUNG WOMEN going through hard stuff.  It's intentional.  I rarely place myself in their category anymore for obvious reasons. 

Older women, we've got to sit up and pay attention here.  She didn't have years and years of God proving Himself to her to draw on as some of us do.  She had almost no support when she needed it most and when it was taking too long. Don't miss that.

But she had God and His Word and prayer and His promises.  And that.was.enough.

If it was enough for her, it is enough for me.

We have no business keeping what we know to ourselves.  It's always been meant for someone else.  When did we become so reserved and private and afraid?  We don't have to figure out someone else's problems and come up with a solution - we just have to tell them how faithful our God is and how we've witnessed it!

What if Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Mary and Jesus and all the others hadn't told their stories?  Who would we look to for help?

Our storyteller has been living in the blessing of her obedience for several years now and it is contagious.  You should hear her describe her life today.  You'd smile.  You might even respond the way both of us listeners did.  "I can do this too.  I want to do this so I can get to that."

Resolve - to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine to do something.*

I walked away from that dinner full to the top and it wasn't because of the veal francaise.  Two lessons will stay with me for a long, long time.

1.  Ask God for the resolve to live the life given me to glorify Him even when it's not what I plan and not what I want.  I would rather wait for the blessing of hard won obedience than rush down the road that makes the pain stop and puts my needs and wants ahead of waiting for God.

2.  Share my stories.  No matter how messy they were, be willing to get real and be transparent and help someone else, no matter what it costs me. There are women coming behind who will need me (us) to open my heart and my mouth to tell them how God got me through.

God has done great things.  God will continue to do great things.  Let's remind each other because let's be honest, no matter what our age, we sometimes forget.

Reminds me of some verses that I usually refer to as my life verses:

"But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all Your works." Psalm 73:28

Well, and these just previous:

"Nevertheless, I am continually with You (God);
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will receive me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever."  Psalm 73:23-26