Monday, January 30, 2017

Trust, Peace, Faith...You Know, the Hard Words

I love this picture of my husband and our nephew.  I did not love the moments before this picture was taken.  Our nephew, J, is fearless.  My husband loves to exploit the fact that he’s taller than everyone in my family…not really, he just loves J and wants to make him smile.  When J approached Brian to “throw him”, he didn’t realize what that initial toss would feel like.  Brian is 6’4”, so for a preschooler, that’s already a major jump in elevation.  J trusts Brian, so he had no problem asking him to help him touch the clouds.  When Brian picked up J, pulled in his elbows, then launched him into the air, J had a look of complete shock and fear.  His eyes were wide, his laugh was caught in his throat, his arms were extended back to his uncle.  In this event that felt like hours to this slightly protective aunt, J’s eyes never left Brian’s.  He had his gaze fixed on the man he trusted, the uncle who he knew loved him.  Once J was back on earth, he laughed from down deep in his belly.  His color returned to his face, and his smile took up his entire adorable face.  The panic had passed; the fear had flown.  And, he was ready to reach the treetops again.  Over and over, J flew into the air under the strength and care of his Uncle Brian.  Each time, he laughed harder and the face of fear disappeared.  He was in complete trust mode.  He knew his uncle would catch him no matter how high he went.  He knew he was safe.  He knew he was loved.  He began to really enjoy the ride.

Recently during a church service, one of our pastor’s shared this passage, “You (God) will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You”—Isaiah 26:3.  I had been scrolling through pictures on my phone, and this photo meshed perfectly in my mind with this verse.  There have been many times in my life where I have felt that incredible, indescribable “peace that passes all understanding” that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7.  I remember feeling it after coming to terms with my Daddy’s death.  I remember that peace when I battled with myself about ending my life.  I remember the rush of peace after the realization that my first husband was not coming back.  There have been dark times where peace seemed to be a distant dream, yet the Lord wrapped me up in it. 

Seasons come where that peace is harder to find, harder to feel.  In all of the instances I mentioned above, the peace wasn’t instant.  When the hardships hit, my gaze was fixed on the circumstance…not being able to resolve things with my Daddy on this side of heaven, overwhelmed by pain that the only option seemed to be to take my life, not understanding how a 13-year marriage could be over in a heartbeat.  The eyes of my heart were set on the pain of the world.  My gaze should have rested on my Heavenly Father who loves me unconditionally.  He has proven his love and goodness to me over and over again, yet in my flesh, I look to myself or to the world when heartache abounds.

It is my resolve to no longer let the situations of life to dictate my heart’s gaze.  A few nights ago, I hit a low point where I could not turn off my brain.  I was pouring out questions to God.  I was searching for solutions in His Word.  I was crying out to Him to speak to me.  When the passage in Isaiah was shared at church, I felt as if God was speaking directly to me through our pastor.  Have you ever felt that?  That words that you had been longing to hear were given to you through someone else?  Isn’t it simply amazing?  Therefore, I am trying to rewire my heart and to reset my gaze.  I have trust God at His Word.  I have to have faith that He is going to hold me as I fall and restore me when I get back up.  I have to believe that His peace will flood my soul again when I put this into action:  God will keep Amber in perfect peace as she trusts in Him, as she fixes her thoughts on Him.  I need to be more like my sweet nephew, J, and fearlessly step into the unknown counting on my God to catch me close.  And sweet friends, He is wanting and waiting to do the same for you…fix your eyes and thoughts on Him!

*Photo credit to Brooke Parker Photography

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Are You Good For?

In our homeschooling day, I used the Magic Tree House series to put together unit studies for my kiddos.  Each book takes the main characters, Jack and Annie, through time to visit different places.  They travel to prehistoric times, to China, to Egypt, to England and all over where they meet fascinating people and complete clever tasks.  I have always enjoyed reading this series with my children and with the children I have worked with in classroom settings.  My two have definitely aged out of the series, but I hold on to my complete set so that I can keep the stories filled with both non-fiction and fiction, fact and fantasy, reality and imagination to share with the kiddos that continue to come into my life.

In one of the books, Leprechaun in Late Winter, Jack and Annie travel to Ireland where they are mistaken for servants in the house of a wealthy family where a young lady with a major attitude resides.  The young lady is appalled at the sight of the children.  She asks them what their skills for housekeeping and farming are in order to see if they are an appropriate fit to work in her family’s home.  At one point she asks Jack and Annie, “what are you good for?”  The last time I read this book was over four years ago, but that line, that question always stuck with me.  In this season in my life, I keep asking myself that same question over and over.  What am I good for?

I think we all go through valleys in our lives where we question ourselves.  We question what we stand for.  We question what we believe.  We question why we are here.  We question what’s the point of it all.  We question what purpose we have. 

There has never been a time in my life where I thought I had it all figured out.  Never.  I have always had some insecurity circling in my mind, some doubt residing in my heart.  I look at my track record, and I am honestly surprised I have made it this far in my life.  I look at the teen girls in our home and am painfully aware of where I was at each of their ages: at 13 desiring to be the smartest and prettiest; at 14 longing for attention from young men, and being only a year away from willingly giving away my purity; at 19 giving up a full scholarship to college to get married.  And, those are only highlights.  I have considered over and over again my first marriage and the contributions I made to it falling apart.  I have looked at the friendships I have lost or given up on.  I analyze my decisions for the jobs I have had.  I reflect on the current challenges of being a wife for a second time and obsessing on not making the same mistakes twice, of being submissive and full of grace while learning to not be a doormat, of wanting to model to my girls the way to be a strong yet gentle lady.  I go over every mistake I’ve made as a parent.  How many times have I lost my temper?  I can count the instances where I used sarcasm instead of patience in dealing with my children.  And, step-parenting…I can’t even begin to put into words how that weighs on my mind.  I look at my score, and I label myself a disaster.

Currently, I am in a spiritual and emotional valley.  My mind is heavy-laden with questions about my existence, my choices, my circumstances.  I fight with myself to get sleep, just to wake up in the middle of the night in tears over the dreams in my head coming from the anxieties of my mind.  I am battling my old-self.  I am struggling with where I fit in.  The sins I have fought against my whole life are resurfacing.  My selfish nature wants answers now!  My controlling spirit wants a plan.  My heart longs for peace.  I ache for rest.  I am going around and around with myself trying to determine what I’m good for. 
Because of my faith in God, in His Son Jesus, and in His Word, I am not alone in this valley.  While often I feel completely isolated in life, I am extremely aware that it is because I cut myself off.  I detach from the God who loves me.  I build up fast, hard walls against people to protect myself from further hurt.  I opt for solitude over fellowship.  This is my sinful, selfish nature at work.  BUT, I do believe several things.  Primarily, I believe that God created me with a delicate design and that He instilled a purpose in my heart that only I can fulfill.  I completely believe that God loved me (and loves me) so much that He sent His One and Only Son to take the punishments I deserved for my life saturated in sin.  I don’t fully understand this love.  I don’t understand how anyone could love me unconditionally.  I don’t understand how a parent could sacrifice a child for the greatest of sinners.  I don’t have all of the theological answers that I know many of my friends want to have.  I have a simple faith, the faith of a child.  (However, if you read this and do have questions that are faith-related, I am blessed to have many great scholars of theology in my life, and I would love to connect you to one of them). 

I spend much time in God’s Word.  ESPECIALLY when I am in the valley.  When I am wading through the mire of my mind, I read and read and read.  When I am on the mountaintop, I read and read and read for when I tumble back to the valley.  Being in the Bible is the one tangible thing that holds me up.  Isaiah 46:3-4 says, “Listen to me…you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.  Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He.  I am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you”.  The same chapter goes on to say in verses 10-11, “I say, “My purpose will stand…what I have planned, I will do.”  The book of Psalms is one of my favorite books when I am struggling.  In Psalm 71:20, the author says, “Though you have made me seen troubles, many and bitter you will restore my life again…you will bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort once more.”  I know I struggle with wanting to be in control of the circumstances of my life.  I want a plan, all of the time.  Here’s what the Bible says to that-“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).  Since I am a believer in Jesus and the Bible, there are words written for me to help me hold on.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”  That’s the key…it’s not about my plan or purpose; it’s about His plan and purpose for me.  My job is to “continue to work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in me to will to act in order to fulfill His good and perfect will” (Philippians 2:12-13).  The heart of the issue is my heart.  I am focused on my failures, my unanswered questions, my uncertainty and my insecurity.  What I need to be doing is redirecting my thoughts to align with His thoughts, and I can do that by spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in Christian fellowship, and under sound Biblical teaching.  I am taking those steps, but because I am human and very imperfect, it’s not an easy path…it’s actually heart-wrenching, but I am counting on God to bring me peace and guidance through taking the necessary steps.

I write all of this for two reasons.  1) If you are struggling with questions—why am I here?  What is my purpose in life?  Why do I keep making the same mistakes?  Why can’t I hear from God?  What am I good for?—I want you to know you are not alone…believer or non-believer.  I would love to know if you are hurting so I can pray for you.  If you are anything like me, you may want to be active in climbing out of the valley.  I encourage you to reach out to someone you love and trust who can encourage you and climb beside you.  If you aren’t currently in a church or faith-based small group, look for one and plug in.  The fellowship of believers is healing.  Pray—even if you think your words are bouncing off of the moon and back to you.  If you can’t say your prayers, write them down.  Read, read, read the Scriptures.  I recommend Psalms and Philippians.  2) If you are in the life of someone who is hurting and in a valley (and I think we all are), you can be a resource of encouragement.  Reach out to the person you love who you know is hurting.  Don’t make the conversation about you…let them talk, you listen.  Pray with that person…if you aren’t comfortable praying out loud, pray in your heart, but let them know you prayed.  Send them a note of encouragement.  Don’t try to fix the issue or compare it to your own story.  When people are hurting, what they need most is a patient ear, a kind heart, and a warm hug. 

To my friends who are reading this, and to those who I may not know who have stumbled across this, I say to you—YOU MATTER, YOU ARE OF GREAT WORTH, YOU HAVE A PURPOSE, and YOU ARE LOVED!!!

Leprechaun in Late Winter, (Magic Tree House series), Mary Pop Osborne, Random House Books 2010.

Life Application Study Bible—New International Version, Zondervan, 2011.