Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reality has a lot of buts

by Steven

The last several months have been really challenging to us in a number of ways, but...
(reality has lots of buts, and so does this post.)

After I wrote my last post, it dawned on me that during this season Sarah and I have written several posts that have a rather glum tone about them.  True, they are honest, transparent and reflect our feelings and circumstances well.  Also true is the fact that we've gotten comments that indicate our vulnerability is refreshing.  Many of you can identify with our doubts and disappointments, and somehow our expression has brought encouragement to you.  We are grateful for this.

...But this blog isn't meant to be a whining station.

Somewhere outside the boundaries of Grief, Honest Self-assessment, and Humble Prayers of Sorrow, there lie uglier plains of Despair, Self-pity, and Bitter Pleas of Woe-is-me.  Though family, friends and even casual observers may travel with a person through the former, they will quickly abandon the caravan if they feel they are being led to the latter.  It is certainly not our intent to drift toward or drag anyone else across that line.

...But we are in a transitional season that, up to this point, has prompted more doleful feelings than cheerful ones.

What is it about us humans that cause us to be interested in and even attracted to a story that is full of struggle and heartache.  Every book and movie has some sort of conflict and without one, you don't have a story at all.  So for Sarah and me, this blog is our reflections on our current personal struggles.  And even though I know that observers can only handle so much,... (Please pardon the use of this over-used phrase.) It is what it is.

...But there are a lot of blessings going on too.  (Thank GOD!)

Since April of 2011, here are some of the really cool things that we've experienced.  I earned a long-awaited for Bachelor's degree. (Did I mention I graduated Cum Laude?)  Sarah completed a year of teaching High School Geometry with a lot of success and favor from co-workers.  We moved out of the small apartment to a big house, from the hood to a quaint community.  Moreover, our landlords have been extremely gracious and understanding during this season.  We were given, yes GIVEN, hundreds of dollars worth of nice furniture, as well as a refrigerator, washer and dryer - all from different sources.  Sarah has lost nearly 30 lbs.  Granted, the birth of Levi was the primary dietary action, but still, weight loss is weight loss.  And Oh yeah, Levi was born.  The joy and blessings of having another life in our family far outweighs the trials of having a newborn. 

I know that our story is far from over,

...But this season will eventually give way to a different one.  In the meantime, we will anchor ourselves to the Rock on tethers of His word.  Here is one such tether found in Philippians 4

"Rejoice in the Lord always... The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  ...For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have leaned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

May we all keep growing and going until this is true for us personally.  To God be the glory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

But like the fickle Israelites of old...

by Steven

Let's face it: sometimes this journey sucks.  For me, it is tempting to associate the cause of the difficult seasons with God.  Nevertheless, when I think of it like a father leading his family across the U.S. frontier in the 19th century, it helps give me some perspective.  The wife and children must have at times resented Dad for the trials they were dealing with.  After all, it's his fault for bringing them west.  "Why couldn't we have stayed in Virginia like all the normal people," the family whines.  But the father knows (at least, our Father knows) what joys, riches, and beauties lie ahead.  He knows that rest will come, along with the security and peace the family longs for.  He also knows what they are leaving behind and how, in the long run, those things will not serve them best.

There are a lot of reasons why the journey is downright unpleasant at times; for some folks it is unpleasant most of the time.  Here again is why we need to be reminded that God never promised an easy path; He only promised that He would lead us and be with us.  I wonder if so many of the disappointments we endure come about because of having wrong expectations and not being satisfied with His presence.  We so quickly doubt that His presence is near and then blame Him for leaving us.  

However, one of the foundational and paramount claims of the Christian faith is the truth that God is near -- "God with us."  Of course, this reality is always easier to grasp when we sense or feel His presence, or when we can see some sort of manifestation of it.  There's nothing like a miracle or an internal wave of holy bliss washing over our soul to assure us that God is indeed nearby.  But like the fickle Israelites of old, we panic and doubt not only His presence, but sometimes His very existence, when our journey becomes seemingly unbearable.  Meanwhile, He just keeps loving us and sticking around in spite of our doubts.

Honestly, back in the Spring I thought for sure that by now, October 2011, I would be happily employed, serving in a vocational ministry position.  I would verbally assure Sarah that by Summer's end, we would have a steady income and be settled in a house and location that we'd call home for a while.  I was confident that God had good things ahead of us and that those good things would be materialized by now.  It saddens me that my assurances to Sarah have not yet become reality.  I am sad for her sake.  I hate how hard this is for her.  I'd be lying if I said I don't feel like I have failed her.

All the predictable questions have gone through my head many times.  Where did I go wrong?  Is this happening because of sin in my life?  Which sin? Am I over-spiritualizing this whole thing?  Have I prayed and fasted enough?  Am I waiting on God or is He waiting on me?  Is this just our lot in life and cross to bear?  Will things ever really change?  Would things be better if I had been born with a monkey tail? (A little comic relief was needed.)

But our current circumstances and status is not the end.  Heck! It isn't even real - not compared to the reality of His presence and Kingdom.  Sure, it feels real and I'm not suggesting that our debts are only in our heads.  Certainly, our lenders and utility companies don't think it's just in our heads.  But there is a greater reality, a greater "circumstance" that encompasses us -- GOD, our Heavenly Father.