Tuesday, June 10, 2014

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9

I don't like change. I don't like rocking the boat. I don't like confrontation. I don't like difficult situations or conflict.

I like peace. I am a people pleaser. I respect authority. I try to be the good girl.

Last year, my life got shaken up. My faith was questioned - by me and by others. Things changed. I had to rock the boat. I instigated confrontation. I experienced difficult situations and much conflict. Peace felt far away. I did not please some people. I had to question authority. I was considered the "bad sheep" and not a "good girl."

It was a scary, emotional, heart-breaking and difficult time in my life. But you know what? It was hard, but it was good. It was difficult, but it was necessary. It was life-changing, but I'm closer to God as a result and that can only be counted for good. I would not have chosen this journey, but God knows better than me and while I didn't think so last year, I am glad that this happened to me. 

I don't mean to sound vague, but I'm not sure at this point that I want or need to go into the specifics of what started my journey. But essentially it was this - What do I believe about God? and Why do I believe what I believe about God?

Is my faith based on reading the Bible? Is it based on what my parents believe or taught me to believe? Is it based on what I learned attending Christian schools all my life? What is the foundation of my faith? Is my faith my own or is it based on what someone else has told me? I discovered that I needed to own my faith and that required a LOT of evaluation, a lot of prayers, a lot of reading and a lot of tears. 

I started out angry. Partly at myself - I spent too much time being apathetic and allowing other people to tell me what to believe and what the Bible said. I was worked up about things I believed that were being questioned. But I'm not one to initiate confrontation so I was angry in my heart and in my home. I'd like to say that it was my idea to eventually confront the source of my anger, but it was my sister's idea. The hope being that by addressing the situation it would be easily resolved - no muss, no fuss. But that's not what happened. 

My faith was questioned and my heart deemed selfish...but, I felt no conviction. I'm not saying I'm perfect and that I don't have issues, but we all feel that tug of recognition or conviction from the Holy Spirit when something wrong in our lives is brought to light. As I poured out my hurt and my questions to God and my family and friends, I was more and more convinced that it wasn't from God. I was hurt and I was confused and I was questioning...but I had faith that God was directing my steps and that gave me peace. This was the beginning of my journey of change. 

I started reading my Bible with a passion...actually it felt more like devouring an amazing meal full of everything I could ever want and more. At first I was drawn to the New Testament to read for myself what it actually said and how it impacted what I believe. Then I started reading in the Old Testament. In my hurt and confusion, the Psalms were both comforting and convicting:

God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in! ~ Psalms 139:1-6

I couldn't get enough of God's Word..."thrill[ing] to God's Word, chew[ing] on Scripture night and day." ~ Psalm 1:2 Everything I read seemed fresh and new and exciting and spoken right to me. I'd read parts of the Bible before, even got through most of the books and made many attempts to read through it all. But I had never done that. But this experience just propelled me deep into God's Word and I just had to keep reading and underlining and makes notes in the margins and copying Scriptures to 3x5 notecards and sharing them with others like pieces of amazing chocolate. Over the course of the year, I finally read through the entire Bible. 

“Form your purpose by asking for counsel, then carry it out using all the help you can get.”
~ Proverbs 20:18

During this time, I also started reading a lot of books about theology. Definitely not my idea, not my interest, not my preference. But I felt called to do it - I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I read many books from many perspectives and each book seemed to lead to two more and those two to four more and so on. I started understanding what I believe and why I believed it. I had a lot of conversations with friends and family about what I was reading and learning. I had some friendly debates on several topics that helped strengthen my confidence. But I had this lingering feeling that there had to be some purpose for all this - some reason I was doing all this research and grow - some "thing" God had planned for me. 

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” ~ Matthew 6:34

“These things I plan [for your life] won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.” ~ Habbakuk 2:3

I had to let go and trust that God had a plan and eventually it would be revealed. This blog feels like a definite part of that plan. I tried to write about this experience last year, but I was still too hurt and angry and confused. I didn't know, but God knew that I needed time to read, to reflect, to percolate on all this overwhelming information and change before I could possibly begin to put into words anything about this experience. And honestly, I needed to be more open to His leading than I might have been last year. I feel like the words I've been writing the past few weeks have come from Him...I felt clear calling to speak about certain subjects and use certain Scriptures. And every time it's been different than what I thought it would be...and that makes me more certain that He is truly directing me. 

But, I'm not done. I'm definitely not perfect and I'm still learning and growing and trying to be who God wants me to be. It has been an eventful journey, and it's a journey I'm still experiencing. Thankfully, not in a hurt and confused bit for now, but I know those times will likely come again. What I do know is this: “Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

I still don't really like change and I'll still usually try to avoid confrontation and keep the peace. But I'm thankful that God knows better than I do what I really need. And I'm thankful for the opportunities for growth that this past year has brought me. In my reading of the New Testament, these verses from 2 Corinthians brought me so much peace, like a gift from God to me:

“You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from Him. The result was all gain, no loss. Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain…And now, isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart. ” ~ 2 Corinthians 7:9b-10a, 11

To be honest, I wouldn't want to go through the distress again, but I am so thankful that it drove me closer to God. I am grateful that God determines my steps and I want to always try to follow where He leads. Even when it's scary, even when it's hard - God is always with us - "...our refuge and strength, a VERY present help in trouble." ~ Psalm 46:1. Here is my prayer for you and for me:

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for determining our steps. Thank You for allowing experiences in our lives that give the opportunity to know You better and to deepen our faith and trust in You. I'm so thankful that you brought change to my life and I'm sorry for the times that I felt it was unfair and when I was whiny and angry. I thank You for loving me in spite of my weak nature and for bringing me through that challenging experience to a place where I can feel glad that it happened. Thank You for giving me the words to share and help me to always be open to Your leading and direction and give all the praise and glory to You. Please help these words to encourage and uplift others and help them to feel Your peace and Your presence in the midst of their journeys. Thank You for loving us and thank You for Your Word which is such a gift. I love you. Amen.

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