Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stillness:How will you choose to fill it?

There is a Stillness in the wilderness.

I feel it most tangibly in the early morning hours. I feel it cover my being like the down comforter laying over me. Heavy and warm.

It is a dangerous Stillness that creeps under the surface of my whole self.
Dangerous because it is empty and begs to be filled. 
It is empty of activities, lists, to-dos, have-tos, friends, family, familiarity, normality, routine.
It is a Stillness full of time and space and possibility.

It is the Stillness we all long for!  A break from the busy, a break from the mundane, a break from the whirring spin of life, the fast steady pace of what we perceive as purpose-filled living.  It is the Stillness we all long for, yet when it becomes available, it is so foreign and unknown that the ground beneath you feels unstable, unsure. The bed I lay in feels safer than the world outside my door, but even from that perceived haven, the Stillness beckons to be filled.

In these wee early hours, I feel helpless. I feel forgotten. I look at the wide, empty expanse of my days--dry and barren--and I feel lost. I feel like purpose--the activities, the lists, the to-dos, the friends, the family--the things I always mistakenly fall back on as what defines me--they are all gone, all missing. 

And there is a hopelessness,  a uselessness, a loneliness that lurks at the edges of this wilderness Stillness. It wants to seep like a sponge into the dryness. It wants to be absorbed into my soul and take residence.  It wants to usher in depression.

Ah, but not today.

I know this enemy too well. I know the pit into which it drags. By God's grace I have learned the early warning signs--the sleepless, worrisome nights, the urge to sleep your day away, the desire to do nothing because everything feels too hard--I know these feelings well, and as the age old saying goes, knowing is half the battle!

No. Every morning, every moment the enemy tries to creeps into my day, I know now I have a choice.
I can choose Joy. I can choose Jesus. I can choose to fill the Stillness with His presence instead of my enemy's, the world, or my flesh.

I can reach for my Bible instead of the snooze button or more covers to pull over my head. (Psalm 119:105)
I can breathe deep the gift of this Stillness,  exhaling gratefulness for no time constraints,  no schedule,  nothing that God hasn't ordained. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 139:16)
I can count my blessings and enjoy them instead of counting the minutes on my clock or the number of tasks on my calendar. (Matthew 6:19)
I can believe and trust that God has a plan for my day in motion instead of believing that my day is defined by the number of accomplishments I have planned for myself. (Proverbs 16:9)

I have a choice to make.  A battle to win in those small moments. (Ephesians 6:12)  I need to capture the emotion and reconcile it to God's Word.  It's time to use the full armor of God I've been given and wield the Sword to His glory and His victory in my life. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

I choose Joy!  I choose Jesus!

And in that choice, I reach for my devotional and my Bible.  Ashamedly, I do this somewhat reluctantly.  It's not always easy to choose the better thing.

And in the words of my devotional I find a beckoning from my Lord to come away with Him, to put the world with "it's nonstop demands" on hold instead of Him, to stop buying into the world's lie that more is better--"more meetings, more programs, more activities," to choose the better thing that can never be taken away from me.  To choose Jesus, to choose Joy. (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, July 17)

The Stillness beckons to be filled, and I can choose to fill it with Jesus, but how?

I then open my Bible and read the chapter that comes after the one I read yesterday:
Psalm 143--with my sidebar thoughts as I read this....
Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!
And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, (The best and worst of us have bad days, down days, low moments, doubts, and moments of stumbling, this is me right now, Lord, stumbling....)
For in Your sight no man living is righteous. (See, even if I was busier, living more purposefully, it wouldn't make me more righteous in God's sight.  Why do we still strive?....)
For the enemy has persecuted my soul; (My fleshly mind is on a rampage....)
He has crushed my life to the ground; (I feel helpless, forgotten, and lost....)
He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead. (My mind and emotions take me to the pits of despair....)
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me. (I am weak and I know it and I feel it and I hate myself for being weak.  I hate that this flesh gets the best of me more times than I like....What to do Lord???)
remember the days of old; (Remember everything you've just come through.  Remember the Big God who parted the Red Sea.  Remember every small blessing along the way.  Remember....)
meditate on all Your doings; (Keep His word before you.  Put these verses on a card, be aware of these truths, think about them every moment you feel the enemy creeping....)
muse on the work of Your hands. (Let your mind mull over the meanings of Scripture, the truths in this passage and others.  Be amazed by the work of the Lord in everything around you.  Everything....)
stretch out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You, as a parched land. (Trust fall into God's arms once again.  He is the deepest desire of your heart....)
Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails;
Do not hide Your face from me, (Lord!  I know You hear me.  Show your grace, your favor upon me in this hard moment....)
Or I will become like those who go down to the pit. (Or this will happen....)
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; (I'm here Lord, bright and early...)
For I trust in You; (I do.  I really do....)
Teach me the way in which I should walk; (You show me what my day should hold.  I will be open and available and will just keep doing the next thing until You change my course...)
For to You I lift up my soul. (I am Yours alone, O Lord.  All of me, all in....)
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; (Crush these thoughts and emotions.  Bring them under the power of Your will, Your truth, Lord....)
I take refuge in You. (You are my safe place....)
10 Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God; (Amen!...)
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Level out my emotions.  Stop the roller coaster that leaves me anxious and edgy and unsure....)
11 For the sake of Your name, O Lordrevive me. (Give me new fervor for Your glory alone...)
In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble. 
12 And in Your lovingkindness, cut off my enemies
And destroy all those who afflict my soul, (Be the downfall of all those thoughts that plague me, so I can fully live to glorify you in all my thoughts and actions.)
For I am Your servant. (True and Amen.)

And the Stillness has been filled.  In a brief 20-30 minutes of time, God filled the Stillness with all that He planned for it to be filled with--simply Himself. (Acts 17:28)

And I no longer felt helpless, forgotten, lost or without purpose.  I felt full of His presence.  I felt Joy. And so that is exactly how God filled my Stillness with Joy instead of how I could have filled it with Emptiness.  How my day with no agenda became filled with a grateful fervor to do laundry, pay bills, cook, clean, and love on my kids.  How I ended up having time to spend 30 minutes on a phone call with a credit card telemarketer, relaying the story of our recent transition, and open and available to give God all the glory for my attitude and perspective.  How that lady expressed a longing for more of that in her life, and how I was able to tell her it's all available by having a relationship with Jesus.

A stranger got to experience my Jesus through me today because I let Him fill my Stillness instead of trying to fill it myself.

And isn't that really why we are here on earth?  Isn't that exactly what God calls us to do?  To be His ambassadors? (2 Corinthians 5:20) To be the ones that tell the stories of His love, His faithfulness, His goodness, His glory? (Psalm 145:10-13) How can I be open and available to do this when I'm too busy filling my own Stillness of soul with Busyness of day?

And folks it's really not that my day changed all that much.  I still would have had to do laundry, pay bills, cook, clean and love on my kids.  But I would have accomplished all those things just to check them off my list, to make myself feel full of purpose instead of doing them already knowing I am full of purpose. Already being full of purpose before my day ever really began.

Every day, every moment, before the onslaught of each of our enemy's attacks, we have a choice to make.  Will you fill your Stillness with the Emptiness of your own fleshly desires?  Or will you fill your Stillness with the fullness of Jesus Christ who is the deepest desire of every living soul? (Psalm 37:4)

The choice is yours. Choose wisely.  I choose Jesus.  I choose Joy! (Psalm 16:11)

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Monday, July 7, 2014

What's Next?:When You Find Yourself Staring Into the Wilderness

So the Red Sea shut behind the Israelites with what I can only imagine was a dramatic, tumultuous splash, thundering with finality.  Can you imagine how big their eyes were when the water crashed back down into place?  Can you imagine the hush that must have fallen over the crowd and the sea as the waters settled, burying their enemies at the bottom of the deep, blue abyss?  Don't you think some of those people fell to their knees in awe and kissed the ground on the other side? unable to hold back the tears of emotion in release of fear and hope and joy all at the same time?

Then what?

Well if you read the story--like I did not long after we landed our family here in California (Exodus 14)--you will see the Israelites break forth in praise and singing to God the Father. (Exodus 15)  Gratefulness and thanksgiving abound. And so they should!  And so have I.

But then what?

Well, then they're in the wilderness.  The desert.  They're in a dry, hot, unknown place somewhere between what-they-knew and what-they-were-promised. I am here.  In the wilderness, in the desert, in the great in-between of what-I-knew and what-I-am-promised.  And let me tell you, it is a dry, thirsty, weary, heavy, hot place to be.

By dry, I mean I thirst for familiarity, for friends, for family, for companionship not just for myself, but for my children.  I literally crave something familiar, something that feels routine or normal.  I thirst, and my children thirst, and my husband thirsts, and the wilderness is simply dry.

By weary, I mean that I'm pretty sure I'm using parts of my brain that have been dormant for years, like remembering to read street signs and notice land markers.  When you've lived in the same county for 30 of your 34 years of life, these are skills that you no longer have to use.  I'm learning new grocery stores, new playgrounds, new beaches, and all the little ins and outs of toting two kids through that maze of a process all while making sure they feel safe and loved and secure.  My brain is weary.  I've never slept so hard in my entire life.

By hot, I mean well, it's hot here right now, actually unusually hot according to the radio.  And I am in the wilderness.  I and my family are in the wilderness, and it hasn't taken long for the natives to become restless.

In Exodus we find it took all of three days for the Israelites to begin to grumble against God. (Exodus 15:22)  3 Days! I'm pretty sure their children spear-headed this movement of complaint because if Israelite children were anything like my children, they just wanted everything to return to normal, to be the same, to have all the same things they had back in Egypt, for everyone to act the same way, for experiences to be the same, and well, now they're not. We're in the wilderness, and it's a little harder here.  Everyone is sticking a little closer together, wary of what's around the corner or over the bend. Unsure of the terrain and their surroundings, I'm sure the Israelite mothers kept a tight leash on their kiddos.  I can relate.

Unfortunately a tight leash also means having them underfoot, all the time, 24-hours a day, no breaks. No babysitters.  No grandparents to spend the night with.  No playmates to distract them for 2-4 hours and tire them out.  Nope.  You're keeping them close, and you're holding yourself responsible for them, and they are complaining about everything and anything.  Having to help more, hold more doors, eat at new places, ride more elevators, push more buttons, walk more places for longer periods of time. There is an endless list of things for them to complain about!!!

And you, the parent, the mature one, you are doing your best.  I'm doing my best.  I'm making sure I stay in the Word, filling up with as much of God's presence and peace and wisdom as possible, so that I can manage to diligently teach the same, dad-gum, character lessons to my children every. single. day. The hope is if I don't complain, maybe they won't complain.  If I have a good attitude, maybe they will have a good attitude.  If I bite my tongue and focus on the positive, maybe I can teach them to do the same.  Trying to take full advantage of every teachable moment with a six and four year old is also very weary and heavy and hot--hot-tempered that is.

So I completely sympathize with those miserable Israelites only holding out for three days with no water before they started complaining at God, accusing Him of not providing for them, grumbling against the Great God that just parted the Red Sea three days earlier. I get it.  To be honest, I give them mad props for making it through three whole days if their little ones were as out of sorts as mine have been.

So what does that mean for me?  I'm throwing myself at the mercy of that Great God and begging NOT to be like them.  In my moments of weakness and short tempers and harsh words, I am trying to remember to stop and breath and physically take in the presence of the God who brought me here, to this place in time, to this very difficult moment, and REMEMBER what He has already done and what He promises to see me through to--the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 8:2, Exodus 6:8)

Remembrance, gratefulness, thanksgiving--these are the long, tall, cool drinks in the desert.  These are wells that never run dry.  Jesus Christ Himself is the Living Water. (John 4:14)  His Holy Spirit inside of me is the never-ending wellspring of life. (Isaiah 58:11)  I don't even have to ask for it.  I just need to breathe deep and draw Him in.  Refocus, remember, be grateful, be thankful, be a worshipper of God. Abide. (John 15:5) It's not something I do; it's a realization and acceptance of this is who I am.  His child.  He knows me; He sees me. (Psalm 139)

No, those Israelites grumbled and complained against God, either forgetting what He had already provided or taking for granted how powerful a God He was. He is.  And if you keep reading, you find they just continue to complain and grumble and whine (even though God keeps providing everything they ask Him for!), and God gets so furious He actually wants to destroy them, (Deuteronomy 9:13-14) (I too have wanted to destroy my children on days.)  But instead of destroying them, He shows great mercy once again by only exiling them to wander in the desert for 40 years. (Numbers 14:26-35) (My kids would probably describe their room as the "desert." They wander there a lot.)  I guess that's better than death, but holy cow, shoot me now. I really, REALLY don't want to wander aimlessly in the desert.

So what's next?  LOTS of gratefulness.  Lots of praise and thanksgiving for all the small victories and small moments of blessing that add up to pointing to the provision of a Big God who's involved in the small stuff.  Like when you show up to your new apartment late at night after an 8-hour day of traveling only to find the fridge and pantry are already stocked with all the staples you need for breakfast the next morning thanks to kind friends. (God's provision.) Like when that cost of living paycheck shows up, and you can breathe a little easier because stuff out here is 'xpensive! (God's blessing.) Like when you're sitting in your first church service on your first Sunday in what is sure to be many visits to many churches to find the right one, yet out of all the stories in the Bible a preacher could preach on you hear a message on the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and how they should have remembered God rather than grumbling against Him!  No seriously, that was the message we heard. And tears rolled down my cheeks because in that moment, in that church service, hearing that message, I knew that the Creator God of the Universe has His Big Eyes on little 'ole me. It was a sign for me that He knew exactly where I was and what I was going through, and He was with me. (God's grace, also translated God's favor.) Praise God!  He is with me!!!

And in those moments when I just can't take it any more?  When my entire being wants to wail at God and yell, "Now what?!? Is this all you've brought me here for?!?" Well, in those moments, I fall on my face at the feet of my Big Heavenly Father, crying out to Him that I'm weak and I'm worn out and I just can't take it anymore, and I ask Him to forgive me for leaning too much on myself and not enough on Him, and then I simply ask Him to fulfill the need, just prayerfully, worshipfully, humbly...ask.

And really, it doesn't matter in that moment if He chooses to give me what I ask for or not. All that matters is that my heart is right and clean before Him, and I know I have been heard because whether His answer is yes, no, just wait, or complete silence, the truth is He has heard my cry. (Psalm 116:1-2) He has heard, and He will answer in His perfect time, in His perfect way, and my heart can rest and trust in that truth knowing that He did not bring me out of Egypt to die of thirst in the desert.  There is always streams in the desert by His provision. (Isaiah 43:19)

So what's next?  Learning the ropes. Doing the next thing.  Buying groceries and wet suits and boogie boards.  Exploring beaches and mountains and the lay of the land. Numbering my days carefully and in the process, being fully aware that my interactions, actions, and reactions represent a Big God to the world around me.  I pray who I am brings Him glory.  I pray who my children are and who they become brings Him glory.  I pray our family represents Him well just by smiling at strangers and being kind to the clerk who checks us out at the register.

And I AM GRATEFUL.  It is a state of being, a state of the heart, a state of mind, a spiritual state of matter.

And when a friendly stranger shares the information that Orange County sees 2-3 DAYS of rain in an entire YEAR, and all of a sudden I am physically thirsty and dry just thinking about the afternoon rain showers back in Georgia, longing for it's cooling effects; it's in that moment of longing, that thought, that I must capture my thoughts and bring them into submission of the truth. (2 Corinthians 10:5)  And the truth is...

Psalm 63:
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You [b]earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh [c]yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.

My soul is satisfied as with [d]marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings [e]to You;
Your right hand upholds me.

AMEN! AMEN! and AMEN!  What is the truth to which you cling when life is dry and weary?  Will you grumble at a God you must believe to be to powerless to save you to even think about grumbling in the first place? (Exodus 16:7b) Or will you humbly seek the help and favor of the All-Powerful God who is mighty to save and quick to come to the aid of His people? (Zephaniah 3:17)  Will you humbly ask? (Matthew 7:7)  

If we would only ask.  
     Humbly ask and seek His face.  
He would heal our minds
     With His favor and grace.
             (reference to 2 Chronicles 7:14)

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