Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In the Days to Come

It has been a while since I've been so eager for a year to end. Maybe not so much for the year to end, but for a new year to begin. I'm not one to wish my days away, but as the calendar closes on 2014, I would be lying if I didn't say that I may be up doing the happy dance when the clock strikes midnight and 2015 makes it's entrance.

2014 kicked my hiney. I'm just gonna put that out there. As with all of life there were SO many good things that happened this last year. But if  I learned anything in 2014 (and trust me, it was a learning kind of year) it is that good things don't always come easy. Sometimes good things happen only when we've been pushed and pulled and stretched 95 ways out of our comfort zone. Sometimes they come during times that feel so overwhelmingly not good that it is hard to appreciate them. And sometimes things seem good when they normally wouldn't because they are framed in a new light of perspective that only comes from the hard things. 

This last year could be described in words such as bizarre, exhausting, stressful, and frustrating. I had my wallet stolen, dealt with some really stressful situations at one job, started another job, my (new) vehicle was in the shop 7 out of 12 months of this year, and I was in a car accident. Did I mention my car being in the shop didn't even have anything to do with the wreck? A lady was arrested in my yard (long story) and I had two kidney infections in a two month time. I started my Christmas vacation with a visit from Animal Control thanks to my yappy dog and I was also served with legal papers for my accident. Those are some of the high (low?) points. All of these things happened in a year that my life has changed in a way that is difficult to explain. I started a job working in child welfare and my eyes have been opened to situations and people that make me cry and get angry and see the world in a way I've not seen it before. Sometimes I wish I could unsee it, but I can't. And my heart has grown heavy and at times I feel weary. 

I don't share this to be a bummer. I'm sorry, I know so far it is. But, I share it because this long, bizarre, hard, wearisome year has brought with it some important lessons. It has made deep, soul changes in me. It has also provided some of the most rewarding, feel good moments of my life. I recently read the quote, "The darker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God." (Corrie Ten Boom) That quote sums up my year. There were some dark times. For me and for many around me. But I came to appreciate that the brightness of God's Word and His people most in those times. Important lessons this year. I want to document them so I will remember them. And hopefully I will have learned them and not be revisiting them this time next year. :) Emily of 2014, here are the words of wisdom for you:

1. Some things are beyond your control. They just are. It doesn't matter how much sleep you lose, how many phone calls you make, how much you stress, it's just not in your control.You can only pray and put it in God's hands.

2. Kind words are never wasted.

3. Learning is exhausting. But you should do it anyway. Invest the time and energy to learn new things and do new things.

4. Making mistakes is exhausting. But sometimes it's the only way to learn.

5. It's better to do hard things now and  imperfectly than to be satisfied with an ideal of how you might do things one day. 

6. Make the most of your time. Work hard at work, love hard on your family, help people who need help. Put the kids to bed and watch The Office on Netflix. Promise you'll do better tomorrow because you'll probably feel like you failed in at least one of these areas on a daily basis.

7. You can't do it all, but you can become the grumpiest person to walk the face of the earth trying.

8. It's ok to cry if you miss your child's school party or sporting event, but not in front of them. You are the only one having a nervous breakdown over this. They're fine.

9. Occasionally go out for lunch with friends even if you don't think you have time.  Face it, your social life could use some work. 

10. Yes, you are always going to be tired.

11. Complaining does not change things. Whining does not change things. Stop doing them and stop spending all of your time and energy on people who do them. Focus on the fixing and the praying and the people who work for answers.

12. It's okay to ask for help, and you will be pleasantly surprised and blessed by people who go above and beyond.

13. Appreciate it all. The hard times that teach you, the happy times that you sometimes miss because you're obsessing over the hard times, and the down time that is rare. Be so super thankful for your health to be so busy and overwhelmed and the health of your husband and kids. It is such a gift that you are all able to do all of the things you do. And when you get a chance to sit and snuggle on the couch, do that too.

14. It's okay to laugh.

I added number 14 because anyone who knows me knows that laughter is my coping mechanism. And sweet tea. Unfortunately I've depended a lot more on the sweet tea this year. :)  December is always a hard month for me. In addition to the normal craziness and busy schedule that comes with the holidays, grief seems to always sneak in when I least expect it. It was worse this year. This Christmas Day was five years since I lost my Daddy. This last year was the kind of year when I found myself really needing him. I had to face the fact recently that I have lost my joy. I've had lots of happy, fun moments this last year. I really have. But I realized that what has been even worse this last year has not been all of the crazy things that have happened. It's that somewhere along the way I decided to give in. To let the dark days hide the light. To hide from the world when things got hairy. To question if it is ok to be happy and to laugh when there is so much pain and heartache in the world. 

The other day Josh prayed with me and he prayed that my joy would be restored. And that is my desire for 2015.  I have 430 resolutions I need to make. For real. I need to get my life, y'all. But first, I want my joy restored. That joy that comes from His Spirit, not the aligning of the stars in heaven or everything going right. I think I'm on my way. I think that kind of joy grows in dark places, on hard days. When we let it. When we let challenges make us better instead of bitter. That's what I'm working on. I've been counting down the days until this year ends, but I know that a new day on the calendar will not guarantee brighter days or trouble free times. I can't control the circumstances 2015 will hold, but I can control how I receive what comes my way. Josh made this sign for me for Christmas. It is from the book of Proverbs talking about the Proverbs 31 woman. The verses before this one say, "She will be clothed with strength and dignity." These verses remind me that it is okay to laugh, but it doesn't always come easy. It requires strength. This tells me that the Proverbs 31 woman was the real deal. She didn't live in a cushy, bubble world protected from darkness. I'm pretty sure she was all up in it. But, her strength allowed her to face those things head on and laugh at the days to come. I plan to laugh at the days to come. (Proverbs 31:25) I pray you will, too!

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's a Mess

Growing up we are told stories and watch movies of fairy tales. And in those fairy tales there is usually a princess who starts out in raggedy clothes cleaning and serving other people. And the magical, fairy tale part happens when suddenly she is swept away by her prince charming, she is adorned with a beautiful dress and a crown and as far as we know, somebody else is cleaning up the messes now! Whether we are greatly influenced by these stories or not, there is no denying that we all have a strong desire for a "Happily Ever After". Not just in relationships, but in life in general. We have the idea that someday everything will be neat and clean and pretty.

That was my plan. If I could just become the person I was supposed to I would have a picture perfect family with a picture perfect house and things would always go smoothly because we would always make good choices and be good people. Truth be told, I think I gathered this idea in church more than from the movies. You see, I think for a while that has been the message we've sent as the church. Make good choices, be a good person, live in a bubble with other good people. Sounded like a plan to me! For a long time I had such a desire to live up to a certain standard and eventually one day maybe God would use me to teach other people. We would all be perfectly groomed and beautifully dressed and say the right churchy things and I would finally feel good enough.

Turns out, things don't always go the way we plan. In fact, I wouldn't begin to know what to do if a plan I had came to fruition. Because life. Because people. You see the longer we have been in ministry the more God has opened my eyes and tugged at my heart. I've learned that ministry is not so much the classes taught or the songs sung on Sunday morning. It is the late night phone calls and unexpected knocks at the door. It is brokenhearted people, confused people, and honestly sometimes downright mean people. It is unscheduled, inconvenient, and messy. It is questioning how much to help, how much tough love to give, how to answer hard questions. It is feeling that there is never quite enough time or of you to go around. It is feeling that no matter what you do it is never enough. It is a downright battle between the Spirit's leading and self. 

Because what I have learned is that while God calls us His heirs and that means we are royalty as the child of the King, it looks a little different from Cinderella. It is true we are adorned with new clothes, His robe of righteousness, but our task is so much more than appearances and productions. He saves us from our own mess so that we can be equipped to go right back into the mess. Sometimes He literally leads us to be the sweepers and the moppers and the builders. Sometimes He leads us to be the listeners and the huggers and the comforters. Sometimes He leads us to be the voice of wisdom and grace. Wherever it is He leads, I assure it's probably not going to be easy. 

Last year I felt that God was telling me "Do hard things."  I think I have. I think this last year has hands down been one of the hardest years I've had. I wish I could say I've always handled it well, but I've often found myself saying, "I didn't know the hard things would be so hard!" Insert 2 year old tantrum. And I guess if I'm honest I thought that would be my word for one year, and maybe this year would be "Do happy things!" :)  But as time passes and I am continually brought to a place of complete reliance on my Savior, it becomes more and more clear to me that the mess is where it's at. Have I thought, "I didn't make this mess"?  Yes, yes I have. Have I thought, "Why can't someone else clean up this mess?"  Yes, yes I have. And then I've been gently reminded that I've made plenty of messes myself and I had a kind Redeemer, a gracious God. And also, people. I had people who loved on me, put up with me, prayed for me, and supported me. They were real. They were tangible. They were the hands and feet of God. And that is what we are to be to those around us. Even those in messes. Especially those in messes.

Let me be clear that I'm not talking about supporting bad habits, throwing money at problems, or trying to put a happy face on things. I'm talking about real, let's do this, we may get dirty, too, kind of caring. The kind of loving and caring that stretches us, tries us, tires us, and moves us to action. The kind that teaches us good boundaries but sometimes leads us to work around them. The kind of caring that brings us to the point where there is no way to do it without Jesus because His, "strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

I share this because I just have such a burden. A burden for people. A burden for the church. I think sometimes we forget that while it is important and valuable to have opinions on things, one day we will be accountable just as much for how obedient we have been in action. We are told, "Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22)  I am so thankful for the many teachers and writers who have poured their words into others. I know I am blessed by them daily. But sometimes I think, there are so many voices, but where are the hands and feet? Where are the workers? How do we put these things we've been taught into action? And the answer I find is that we have to be in the mess. 

People often bring up that Jesus hung out with sinners. He did. He wanted to help them out of their mess. He preached on hilltops, but then he personally invested in those people's messes. He was in their homes. He ate with them. He washed their dirty feet.  He gave them time and attention. He had his reputation and his sanity questioned. 

A few Sundays ago Josh painted during his sermon. We weren't sure how that was going to go. At one point he almost knocked over an entire can of paint on the carpet IN THE SANCTUARY. Mine was the gasp heard round the world. Thankfully it stayed put but I immediately thought about how worried I was about the carpet. It's always a joke about carpet in the churches, but it is so true that we often stress and worry over things that have no eternal value. We get all kinds of bent out of shape about messing up God's house (don't get me wrong, I believe in taking care of God's house!), but we destroy people through our words and actions and apathy. By the way, God sent Jesus to save the people, not the carpet.

As Josh finished painting he came forward to offer the invitation. I was taken aback as I noticed red paint all over his hands and arms. It was such a visible reminder that we are able to stand before God only because the blood of Jesus covers us. Because He was willing to come be a part of the mess. 

I only share this because I want to encourage you. I know God is calling people to do hard things, and I know it is scary. I know it is exhausting and challenging and sometimes you don't know if it's worth it. Do it anyway. I promise, the mess is where it's at. You never appreciate a clean room until you've helped pick up the mess. It's a gift God gives us to be a part. To walk bumpy roads and to cry important tears. I recently came across Psalm 126:5 that says, "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the idea  that it is truly a blessing to care about something or someone enough that your prayers are tears. Those are the kind of prayers that lead to joy. And we can be in the mess and never be alone. "The Lord your God in your midst, The mighty one, will save." (Zephaniah 3:17) He's in the midst. In the middle of the mess.