Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” ~ Psalm 32:8

Every one of us is on a journey. There are highs and lows. Good times and bad times. Times when we feel hopeful and times when we feel disillusioned and alone. And even though we may feel at times that God isn't there, He is always, always, always with us.

My life and your life are different. There are similarities of course since we are all human. We compare ourselves all the time, but we are all unique. Our pain is our pain and while it may seem "less" or "more" than others...for each of us, it is the most painful thing we can experience. There is no time limit for how long we should take to go through experiences like grief or sorrow or even joy.

In my life, I've had many experiences. Times when trusting God seemed easy, as well as times when it was difficult. I've gone through things I didn't want to experience - usually involving change, which I don't like very much. But change is part of life and we all go through it, like it or not. We tend to grow the most and mature in our faith more when we go through stretching times of change.

“We don’t necessarily see any changes, but as we are walking by faith day by day, month by month, and year by year, we are being transformed.” ~ Greg Laurie

One of the illustrations that has lingered with me since my two summers as a Royal Servant is one of the very first ones. Upon arrival at training camp, there is a lot of immediate stretching going on - running everywhere, cramming 8 weeks of stuff into one (fairly large, but still!) blue pack, realizing we will be living in tents and using port-o-potties, hot and humid weather, bugs, tons of new people everywhere, etc. On that first evening, they loaded us all up into vans and buses and headed out the main road to training camp which is surrounded by corn fields. We stopped and a team leader walked out into the midst and another team leader on the bus asked us to look outside and see how tall the corn was next to that person - let's say it was waist-high. They told us we would all be growing and changing a lot in the next 8 weeks and it wouldn't always be noticeable from day to day, like the corn we couldn't see it growing. But a week later, at the end of training camp, we repeated this journey and even in a week, the corn had grown quite a lot! Like us...even though we couldn't see the immediate changes, things were happening and by the end of the summer it would be clear to our friends and family back home that we were changed.

 “…your relationship with God grows uniquely in the soil that is your journey through life. Jesus meets you at places that are meaningful to you; he speaks to you as an individual, and he grows his influence in you in unique ways. You aren’t defined by anyone else’s map of the Christian life, even if those maps might be helpful in some ways.”
~ Michael Spencer

In the past year, I've had a different kind of growing experience. I've spent a lot of time wrestling with what I believe and why I believe and determining how to "own" my faith. I've been so blessed to have a wonderful support system of Christian men and women who have encouraged and supported and blessed me along this journey. They didn't tell me what to do, but they shared their own life experiences with me and things they've learned. Through those people that God placed in my life, along with experiences learned through books read and most importantly, through reading God's Word - I learned so much and felt again and again that there must be some purpose in this journey. Obviously, one major purpose was my growth and deepened faith. But, I believe that this blog is in fulfillment of another purpose. God wants us to share our lives, to be in community with one another. And a big part of that is sharing our stories, our journeys, with each other. This blog has become a way for me to share my journey with you and I've been incredibly humbled and blessed to know that it's had an impact on you.

“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the works of Your hands.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“We’re all on a journey – each one of us. And if we can be sensitive to the person who happens to be our ‘neighbor’, that, to me, is the greatest challenge as well as the greatest pleasure. Because if you’re trusted, then people will allow you to share their inner garden – what greater gift!”
~ Mister Rogers

One of the things I've discovered is how much I love God's Word. I found that I really love and appreciate the Old Testament especially. I'd always been drawn to the New Testament in the past - focusing on the Gospels and Epistles especially and most of the verses I loved came from there. I'd occasionally see a verse from the Old Testament that spoke to me, but mostly thought it was dry and honestly, kind of boring. But, I was SO wrong!

“Your words were found, and I ate them.” ~ Jeremiah 15:16

“Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things.” ~ Joel 2:21
“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?” ~ Numbers 23:19

“I, the LORD, made you, and I will not forget to help you. I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to Me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”
~ Isaiah 44:21b-22

Verses like these, and so many others, became so beautiful and rich to me. It's like the difference between hymns and praise songs. Both are wonderful and full of worship, but hymns are so much richer and deeper and full of spiritual truths that make you think. Like everything in life, balance is the key and a mix of both is vital. How wonderful to have an Old and New Testament! It became so real and true to me as I read through the Bible. And reading the Message version just made it all come alive in a new and exciting way. I get so excited and happy to see so many references from all over the Bible in my notebooks and in these blog posts. God's Word is so amazing!!

“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.” ~ Habakkuk 2:3

“We were never made to feel that we had to be somebody that we were not, yet we were always encouraged to choose to be the best of who we were at the moment. Indeed, our development was far from overnight – we become who we are over time.” ~ Mister Rogers

Sometimes we think we have to get to a place of completion, but really our lives are about the journey. The end is not goal, the focus and important part is the process. The ways we learn and grow. The people we meet and the places we visit. The hardships and the sorrows. The joys and the blessings. We forget to focus on the now in our search and struggle for the future. It can be overwhelming to think of all that must happen in our lifetime, but if we take things step by step and give ourselves grace, it can be much less worrisome and stressful. Not that things are easy, but they can be easier at times. Like a baby - they don't worry about how they will walk a marathon, they learn to sit up, then stand up, they hold on, they let go, they fall down. But they get up again, simply focused on the next step - not the steps tomorrow or next week or in five years. I tend to get overwhelmed when I think about the future and yet when I take the time to slow down, to read my Bible, to talk to God, to be still...there is peace.

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” ~ Romans 8:15-16

I love the way that the Message interprets that verse. It reminds me of my niece and nephew and time they spend with my dad whom they call Papa. It also reminds me of time spent with my Dad when I was a kid. He would take us on adventures most Saturdays in order to give my Mom the time to sleep and rest that she needed. Sometimes it would be errands, sometimes it would be a trip to the mall to visit the pet store and the toy store, sometimes a trip to the library for new books to read. Most of all, we knew our Dad had some adventure planned and we trusted him to take us there. It's always been easy for me to imagine God as my Father because He so graciously provided such an excellent father in my Dad.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” ~ Philippians 2:13

“Relying on God has to start all over every day, as if nothing has yet been done.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I want to always trust God to be my Papa - to believe that He has adventures planned for my life and to have the faith and trust in Him to always say "What's next, Papa?" I don't always succeed, but the desire is there. As I've grown closer to God, as I've read the Bible and been amazed by His Word, as I've continued on my journey, I do see that I want more to be like He wants me to be. I do want to make the right choices and wait "adventurously expectant" for His plans. Studying and growing in faith helps to prepare me for those times when life hits and you feel alone and scared and hopeless. Scriptures are brought to mind, praise songs start drifting through my thoughts, and I know what I should do - place my faith and trust in Him. I don't always do this...I get fearful, I get worried, I get distracted. Satan tries to steal my joy and peace. But God is there, gently and continuously calling me...reminding me that He is there. That He never left me. That I just need to put my hand in His, or crawl up into His lap. To put my eyes on Him and remember who He is and whose I am.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks in song.”
~ Psalm 28:7

“Going through the motions doesn’t please You, a flawless performance is nothing to You…Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” ~ Psalm 51:16-17

Here's what I've learned - be real, be honest, be true. Share your life - with God, with others. God loves me...God loves YOU. His Word is a love letter to us, and the Old Testament is full of truth and beauty and is just as important as the New Testament. We aren't perfect and we aren't expected to be perfect. Be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Give grace...trust God...have faith. Be patient with yourself and others. Be open to what God has to teach you and live life "adventurously expectant." This life is a journey and the most important parts are along the way - it's not about the past or the future.

Here's a prayer from Our Daily Bread devotional 5/19/13:
“Gracious Spirit, use my words to help and heal. Use my actions, bold and meek, to speak for You. May You be pleased to reveal Your life to others through mine.”

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for this journey I've been on - especially for the many things I've come to learn in the past year or two. I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow in my faith and while I haven't always liked the steps that have brought me to this point, I am thankful to be able to see their importance and necessity in my journey. Thank You for the people You've brought into my life - those who have shared life with me including the ups and downs; those who have challenged and convicted me to make changes in my life; and those who have encouraged me and shared their stories with me. Thank You for wonderful Christian parents who have instilled a deep love and faith in God in me and thank You for a Dad who makes it easy to see you as my loving heavenly Father. Please be with those who might not have had such a wonderful example find other ways to see You for the loving and gracious Father that You are and come to know You as their Father. I am so grateful for the ability to share my thoughts and feelings in this space and I pray that the things I express will help draw others closer to You. I want the glory to go to You, Lord, and not me. Help me to be humble and open to Your leading. Thank You for loving us and always being there. I love you. Amen.

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