Waiting For Happily Ever After

Months ago, I had an epiphany while I was sitting on my couch eating my dinner. I had just gotten home from work and settled down in my empty house. I started to reflect on some difficult life stuff. Unasked for and uninvited, some painful memories intruded my thoughts and I immediately felt a sharp sting of pain and discouragement. I think we can all agree that there are certain things we go through in life that feel ugly. I always try to look for the beauty in the midst of painful circumstances, but sometimes I’m hard pressed to find the good in the middle of the hardship I am currently experiencing. When faced with life’s difficulties the cry of my heart is to have the “beauty for ashes, joy for mourning and praise for heaviness” experience described in Isaiah 61. I’ll be honest. It isn’t always easy to hope for that when your own heart attacks you and you feel crushed by your emotions. So, there I was feeling crushed. Suddenly, another thought invaded my mind. It presented itself as a rebuttal to my feelings of despair. This isn’t the end. I was almost caught off guard. I could literally feel the heaviness begin to subside, as I recognized the voice of God speaking to my pain.

This isn’t the first time He has told me this, but trust me, I need plenty of reminders. I realize that simple thought, that this isn’t the end, has the power to lift my hopes and change my perspective. As I sat on the couch, dinner in lap, I began to think about being in a movie theater. What would happen if the reel was cut in the middle of the film and we were led to believe that it was the end of the movie? Everything would be in upheaval. The characters would be in the middle of great crisis and there would be no resolution in sight. We would be left unresolved and it would definitely fall short of a feel good experience. Everyone would leave upset and wanting their money back. I sense God is challenging me to view my life from this perspective. When I feel discouraged about my circumstances, I have to remember that I am viewing my life from the middle of the movie. Sure, things might feel like they are in a state of upheaval, but they usually are when we are in the thick of the plot line. Sticking it out and staying the course may require some tears, some pain and a considerable amount of endurance, but it is necessary to get to the point where we see our happily ever after begin to unfold. We can’t hit the pause button by putting our lives on hold…that would only stop our progress. We can’t fast forward to the end by trying to rush or manipulate circumstances…that would only lead to a less desirable alternative ending. We can’t sit in the theater and complain about the film as it plays out or try to figure it all out before we get to the end…that will take away from the joy of the surprise ending…not to mention annoy everyone else in the theater around us. We must simply enjoy the movie as it plays out and trust that our director specializes in happy endings.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

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Resting or Striving?

I am a person that loves to rest.  I love taking bubble baths and naps and curling up with a book on the couch.  I recently took a long break from several undertakings to rest and do some healthy self-evaluation.  I am realizing though that just because I’m not doing anything doesn’t mean I’m truly at rest.  I have realized a tendency that I have.  Generally speaking, when I force myself to slow down, my mind kicks into overdrive.  I worry.  I stress.  I freak out.  I start planning and plotting ten steps ahead.  I analyze possibilities, scenarios and contingency plans.  I may be at rest physically, but mentally and emotionally I am fidgety and restless.

I am guilty of always being in a rush.  I feel if a situation isn’t coming together, it’s my responsibility to fix it.  If something is broken, just pass the duct tape and I’ll try to mend it.  If something lacks resolution, I feel it is my job to resolve it and if something is in process, I’ll try to rush the outcome.

I have been guilty of feeling the need to respond to circumstances and people right away, without taking the time necessary to really hear from God and to act in accordance with His timing.  God isn’t in a rush and He isn’t under pressure.  God is teaching me that His desire is that I would always act out of a place of rest, peace and confidence in Him, and never out of a sense of pressure or striving.  This means learning what it truly means to rest, to lay down every burden physical, mental and emotional.  It means learning to take the pressure off myself and to lean on Him.  It means accepting the fact that God reveals His plan and His purposes one day at a time and despite all our striving and futile attempts to figure all this out, we will never be successful in figuring out God’s plans one second sooner than He intends for us to.  We need to shift our focus from analyzing, fixing and planning to simply loving Him with all of our hearts, minds and souls.  Any energy we spend should be spent seeking Him with our whole selves.  God is good and He can be trusted.  He won’t leave us in the dark.

We will have so much more joy in all of this, if we learn to relax in the process.  Anywhere in our lives where we feel stressed, confused, or frustrated, is an area of our lives where we are striving and haven’t surrendered to God’s control.  Let it go.

I am have made the choice to allow myself rest.  I am giving myself permission to take the pressure off and to submit to God’s will and ways.  If God isn’t stressed out or in a rush, why am I?  I am asking God in this season to train my eyes and my ears to recognize at a greater level the way He speaks and He leads, so that when this season shifts I’ll be led by the peace of the Holy Spirit, rather than by my own unrealistic expectations and limited strength.

As the Psalmist writes:

The Lord is my shepherd.  I have all that I need.  He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name. (Ps. 23:1-3)

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The Middle

The Middle. Have you ever heard the song “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World? The chorus goes:

It just takes some time. Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything will be just fine. Everything, everything will be alright.

I, recently, am just coming out of a season of feeling terribly stuck in the middle. Maybe you can relate. Not where you were, but not where you want to be. Maybe you have endured some disappointments. Maybe some things haven’t worked out the way you wanted them to. Maybe you have encountered some difficulties and delays on the road. Maybe all of this has left you feeling uncertain, unsettled and if you’re honest, even a little scared.

Every journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. We usually set out in the beginning with optimism and enthusiasm. Our hopes are high and so are our expectations. We set out on the path excited to see what the future holds and where God is taking us. We tuck away the promises of God into our hearts and set out on our journeys. Eventually, we all encounter the middle. The place of uncertainty. The place of making strides and taking steps, even though we can’t be sure of the outcomes. The place of wondering…Why is this taking so long? Why is the path taking me this way? Sometimes the middle takes so long that we even start to question…will the dream ever come to pass?
I totally get it. So did the Israelites. God delivered them out of Egypt with a great show of His miraculous power, as He parted the Red Sea. They emerged from the other side victorious over their enemies and bursting with confidence and joy. However, it didn’t take too long before the journey in the Wilderness started to weigh on them and they began wondering why they ever left Egypt in the first place. Aren’t we all so much like this?

Here are some lessons that God has taught me in The Middle.

1. The Middle is about obedience.
Sometimes God leads us to make a choice, or a series of choices, as an act of obedience to Him. Usually this requires a leap of faith, because obeying God rarely leads us to the easiest or most convenient path. It often requires enormous (sometimes painful) sacrifices and what’s more challenging is that we never know the outcomes. Obedience to God leads us out of what is familiar and requires that we leave our comfort zones. We are asked to take each step in blind faith, as the path that stretches out ahead of us twists and turns in ways we can’t foresee or prepare for. But we can be sure that God rewards obedience. He doesn’t trick us or deceive us. His ways are always intended to bring out the best possible blessings in our lives.

2. The Middle is a process that requires perseverance.
One thing I am learning is that our initial step of obedience, that initial leap of faith, is much easier than staying on course. I think of Peter who stepped out of the boat and made a few initial steps before sinking in the sea, as he took His eyes off Jesus. Our initial choice to obey God can be marked with exhilaration and excitement. But weeks and months into the journey, when there is no visible change, we can easily become discouraged. The Middle requires perseverance. We must be resolved and determined that no matter what it takes, or how difficult it becomes, we will stay the course and won’t shrink back. We must decide that we are not going to try to jump over the fire, or walk around it, but that we are going to walk through it. We can be confident that we will walk out refined on the other side. And remember, even when things don’t appear to be changing on the outside, God is changing us on the inside. This process is preparation for what He has for us. He wants to be sure that when we reach where we are headed that we will be ready. He wants to be sure that we are prepared and equipped to receive whatever blessing He has for us. I have heard it said before that this journey is more of a marathon than a sprint.

3. The Middle demands surrender.
This is perhaps the most challenging lesson that God has taught me in The Middle. He wants me to surrender. He wants me to give up control and to stop taking the steering wheel. In order to surrender, we must be willing to trust God. Easier said than done. Recently, God revealed to me some areas of my life that needed realigning. I was already aware of this, but my problem was that I kept trying in my own strength to fix things that I ultimately had no control over. I tried so hard to keep things together, to manage my own life and circumstances the way that I saw fit and to keep myself from losing that it had the opposite effect. Eventually, it seemed like my whole life unraveled. I wasn’t willing to take my hands off my circumstances and allow God to lead. Eventually, I smartened up and realized that I will never experience God’s ultimate best for me, until I raise my hands in surrender and allow Him to do the work He wants to do in my life. For me that means loosening my grip and opening my hand to the Lord, allowing Him to take over in some areas of my life that I previously held unto with a tight fist. It means trusting that God truly is good and that He really wants the best for me. And it means recognizing that I don’t need to know what the outcomes are to choose to trust Him. I guess if I knew the outcomes, I wouldn’t need faith huh?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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