Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Dream, A Purpose

A few days ago, I was on Instagram, and I saw this post by Jon Acuff. (If you don't know who he is, you're living under a rock. And also, you should really find out who he is, because he's stinkin' hilarious and also really smart and a Christian.)
I was intrigued. I had no idea what he had posted, but I wanted to find out. When I went to his blog, I saw another post that simply said that if you were up for an adventure, email your name. address, and phone number to Jon. I was standing in the halls of CCA while Jorie was in VBS, and I quickly went into my email, filled it out, and then I... hesitated. What kind of adventure? What would this entail? I hadn't even read his latest book, Start, yet, so maybe I wasn't even qualified for this journey. But I felt a strange nudging from the Lord, so I sent it.

And then I forgot about it. Hey, it's been a busy week. That was four days ago, and since then I've driven to Collinsville six times, ran errands in Fairview, inventoried books, finished a yearbook, and started planning Jorie's birthday party. Jon who?

And then yesterday, I received an email back. It simply said, "The adventure is a go! Join this secret Facebook group to get the details." And anytime Jon Acuff emails you, you don't say no. Without giving too much of the secret away, here is what's happening, in Jon's words:
Welcome to the Start Experiment. 
Do you know what fear, fears?
Fear fears community.
Fear always tries to isolate you and put you on an island as if you’re the only one on the planet bumping into challenges. 
But how do you build community in a rapidly disconnecting culture?
That is the question the Start Experiment seeks to answer.
And it starts with an adventure. 
We’re picking teams of 24 people to risk 1 new thing individually for 24 days.

The group goes on to explain the logistics of it. And in the 24 hours since I've joined, people (there are 675 in the group so far) have been introducing themselves and connecting with others. I've already met another GC alum and someone else from the StL. There are college students looking to begin life even before graduation; there are people in their 50s and 60s looking to rectify regrets. And there are those of us in the middle who are ready for God to shake things up. 

I'm reading Start now. It's great. You should read it, too. And it's got me thinking. I'm a wife, a mom, a teacher, a friend. But am I average, or am I awesome at those things? Are there unfulfilled dreams in my life? Is there a purpose I haven't yet grasped? 

So to think aloud, here is what brings me absolute contentment, in no particular order (excluding relationships): reading, writing, music, and learning about the Holy Spirit and its power. 

I haven't defined any dreams. I don't know if I want to build an orphanage in Haiti or travel the country as a Christian speaker. Do I want to write a best-selling book or dig wells in Africa? Do I want to travel with missions teams to Indonesia or market Christian singers? What is my purpose? What's a dream that I've been too scared to start? 

I'm not sure. But I think that by embarking on this challenge, I'll get closer to discovering all that God has in store for me. I'm ready to live with purpose, even before I've defined it. In the roles already defined in my life, I want to be awesome.

What are your unfulfilled dreams?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Strangely Dim

There are a lot of things I could be freaking out about right now. First of all, it's summer. That means I don't get my regular paycheck from CCA, so money is always a bit of an issue during this season. Second, trying to sell a house is superduper stressful and hey, guess what? It costs money. Third, I'm about a week and a half behind on my yearbook, because that's how I roll with stress (I ignore it), and I'm hoping they continue to extend grace to me. Fourth, staying at home with a kid is HARD. I don't know how you full-timers do it. The three months in the summer wears me out. And finally, you know. The whole miscarriage thing. I should be in the fetal position under my covers without coming out for days at a time. 

But I'm not. I can't quit repeating these words to people who extend sympathy (which has been so appreciated): I'm okay. I really, really am. All those things weighing on me? Sure, they're big. Some of them are important and some are urgent and some are both, so I can't pretend they don't exist. But they're not my life. 

In fact, my life isn't really even about me. If you've known me awhile, you may be shocked that I've finally come to that conclusion. But, truth. If you need proof that life isn't about me or you or even your family, I saw this picture on Facebook the other day that puts it into perspective. 

We're a speck in the universe, a speck in time. But Jesus is forever. The creator of everything that exists, the author of life, the eternal God. He is the center of everything. 

A friend was listening to the new Francesca Battistelli song the other day called "Strangely Dim," and she texted me the lyrics as an encouragement:
But when I fix my eyes on all that You are
Then every doubt I feel
Deep in my heart
Grows strangely dim
All my worries fade
And fall to the ground
Cause when I seek Your face
And don't look around
Any place I'm in
Grows strangely dim

And it's so true. Fixing my eyes on Jesus doesn't mean that problems don't exist or that I shouldn't take care of them. It means that He is so much bigger than everything that I have going on. I think I prefer the old hymn that says it so concisely: 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

If I live from an earthly perspective, I would be completely overwhelmed right now (well, most of the time). But I am choosing to look at life from a kingdom perspective. Ephesians 2:6 says that God "raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms" (NIV). When you're seated in the heavens with Jesus, your perspective changes. We have no choice but to view it through kingdom eyes. And the Bible makes it pretty clear that we cannot earn that seat in the heavens. Once we are saved, once we have trusted Jesus, we are called saints. We have the authority of Christ in us. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul prays for all believers the following: "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms" (1:18-20, NIV). 

Wow. Just, wow. The same power that RAISED CHRIST from the DEAD is IN US. And I'm worried about what, again? 

If I want to be more than a speck in the universe and a speck in time (and I think we all want to have significance), then I'm going to start walking in that power that is in me. I want to see life spring forth where there is death, destruction, and desperation. I want to see diseases healed and hope burst from people's hearts. I want to see young people walk in their own destinies and callings that God has laid before them. I want to see people who call themselves Christians (because they attend a church, occasionally give money, and maybe serve charitably) start embracing that same power and walking in the Holy Spirit in order to effect change in our homes, communities, organizations, schools, and nation. 

What can I do, what can YOU do, to start turning our eyes upon Jesus? To look at life from His kingdom perspective and let the things of earth grow strangely dim? Let's rise up, friends. Haven't you been searching for more? Let's walk this out. I'm so ready. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

In His Time

I should have picked digital. No idea what time this is.

I get really frustrated with people who are notoriously late. My boss might say that's ironic, because I arrive between three and eight minutes late to work most days. But when it's an event I should be at, or if it's anything not at the crack of dawn, I'm always early (or right on time, so as not to be the dork that arrives early). However, my in-laws (love you guys!) can run up to an hour or two late. Drives. Me. Nuts.

Punctuality is courtesy, to me. I understand emergencies, and I understand the difficulty of getting dawdling kids out the door. But if I'm throwing a party that starts at 7, and everyone arrives at 8, I'm going to feel a little slighted, like no one bothered to spend that first hour with me. Lesson for you all: be on time. 

But I think the Lord has a different sense of timing than I have. No, I know He does. For instance, it did not make any sense to me that my miscarriage last week would happen: 1. on a Saturday, when the main hospital desk is closed and I would have to go through ER; 2. when I was at my first shift of work; 3. when many of my Greenville friends were out of town at a conference; and 4. at the start of Deedra's two-week vacation, when she had no signal to even call me (for people who aren't as familiar with me, she has been with me each step of this process). 

But over a week later, I can see how God's hand was at work in all of this, including the timing. Maybe especially in the timing. 

Last Monday, after I'd been up all night, practically in labor with a child I'll never meet this side of heaven, I wasn't sure that I could do this alone. I texted as much to Deedra, and she sent me a text that impacted me greatly. It said: "You know that part of the old lies you believe is that you're not old enough to do it. Combat it with the truth. You are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus. He is your strength where you are weak. You are able." And it was a revelation. I could do it. More than that, I had to.

My husband is great, but let's face it. He'll never understand the attachment that can form quickly to a baby in the womb, nor could he understand the hormones and emotions that were swarming through me. Plus, he works every afternoon and evening, so Monday through Thursday stretched ahead of me, lonely and difficult. The times when he left for work were my hardest part of the day. And yet, like I said in my last blog, I made it through, each day stronger than the day before. 

I know why I'm okay. I explained that earlier. It's because I have a faith and hope in Jesus Christ and the promises that God has a redemptive plan in every situation. But now I understand that much of this was in the timing. Because I couldn't rely on people around me, which was my standard MO, I had to rely solely on God. (Disclaimer: I had dozens of texts, Facebook messages, and a wonderful talk with a couple close friends during this, so I recognize I had support. I just was cut off from the normal dependence on others that I could have fallen back into.)

For my birthday, a colleague gave me a Bill Johnson book called Strengthen Yourself in Lord. As I started reading it yesterday (yes, I'm slow), I found a passage that spoke directly to me. It said:

"For the sake of becoming mature and growing in favor so that we can bless those around us, God brings moments into our lives when we have to stand alone in difficulty and testing. God will even blind the eyes and deafen the ears of our closest friends in those moments so we can learn to minister to ourselves."

Whoa. While I didn't feel like friends were ignoring me (the ones I could talk to have been great), I did feel let down that the one person who's been by my side on several difficult journeys this year was literally out of my reach. And though several people in my life had pretty much already told me that maybe God wanted to show me something out of that, it didn't sink in until I read those words by Johnson. The timing of this was exactly how it needed to be. 

I finally got to talk to Deedra today. And I see how much more beneficial this conversation was than it might have been if it had happened a week ago. I'm on the other side of a process that I've had to cling to God for, and as I told her all of this, she confirmed that the timing was right. She even mentioned that maybe this was less of a "test" of how I could survive, and more a way for me to see how much I've grown lately. Either way, I know all of this has only strengthened my trust in God. 

His ways are ALWAYS better than mine.

Friday, June 7, 2013

My Story

This isn't a blog I anticipated having to write, especially after the one the Lord prompted me to write about speaking life over my new son or daughter. But life doesn't often make sense, and here I am writing about the death of that child that never had a chance to live. As an introduction to what's been happening, I want to share part of the lyrics to a song by Plumb called "Need You Now (How Many Times)" that I keep hearing on the radio. 

Well, everybody's got a story to tell
And everybody's got a wound to be healed
I want to believe there's beauty here
'Cause oh, I get so tired of holding on
I can't let go, I can't move on
I want to believe there's meaning here

How many times have you heard me cry out
"God please take this"?
How many times have you given me strength to
Just keep breathing?
Oh I need you
God, I need you now.

I thought I would have to write a disclaimer about how I realize that what I'm going through is small business compared to other people's tragedies and problems. But a few weeks ago, a really wise woman told me that "everyone is on their own journey." So mine doesn't have to read as easier or harder or better or worse. It is simply my journey. And no matter our journeys, I'm sure that we've all related to those Plumb lyrics at one time or another, because we all have a story to tell. 

Two weeks ago, some complications arose in my pregnancy that concerned me. Because it was a long weekend, I tried to find most of my answers on Google instead of from my doctor. I decided that I probably had partial placenta previa and that everything would be fine once I was diagnosed. However, when I finally went in for an ultrasound a few days later, I learned that although my baby was moving around like crazy and had a strong heartbeat, he (gut feeling that it was a boy) wasn't growing as fast as he should be. The next day, my doctor confirmed that I was at a high risk for a miscarriage. 

At that point, I already felt like it was a sure thing. I texted this to a friend: "I know nothing bad has happened yet, and God is in control, but I feel a little like I'm just waiting for my baby to die. Helpless." Call it mother's intuition, but a part of me had already been feeling like I would never hold this child. 

However, that night, I opened my Bible to Matthew chapter 8. It happened to be the next chapter for me to read, and verses 2 and 3 say: "A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy" (NIV). I felt like God was telling me that He was willing to heal and that I shouldn't be waiting for death. I should be praying for healing and choosing life. And so, in faith, I began speaking life over the baby, much like God had told me to do earlier in the pregnancy, before any complications were even known. 

That was Wednesday night. Saturday morning, I discovered a lot of blood, and I knew it was the end. I was running on shock (and a little anger that this was happening on a Saturday and would require an expensive emergency room visit). After an agonizing wait in the ER, I had my final ultrasound. As soon as I saw the screen, I knew there was nothing to see. My baby wasn't moving at all anymore. The tech quietly confirmed that there was no longer a heartbeat, and I went home to wait for the natural miscarriage. 

So far, I had been fine emotionally. It wasn't a big surprise. Everything had happened quickly, so I hadn't had much processing time since everything had been confirmed. In fact, for the rest of Saturday and Sunday, I had to keep reminding myself that I was no longer pregnant. 

All that changed Sunday night. If my night in labor with Jorie was one of the most physically demanding times of my life, this past Sunday night was the next. I essentially gave birth. Contractions, pushing, the whole nine yards. Keep in mind that I was twelve weeks along when I passed the baby. Around 2:00 in the morning, I fell into bed, sobbing. I woke poor Ronnie up and I cried, "It's not fair that I'm delivering a baby that I will never see or hold. The last time I had contractions like this, there was movement and excited anticipation. THIS. ISN'T. FAIR." And bless him, he agreed and stayed awake while I popped in and out of bed for the next two hours. That was the first time I'd cried. And it wasn't the last. 

Monday, I wasn't sure if I could drag myself out of bed after Ronnie left for work. Tuesday, Jorie asked for lunch, and I looked in the refrigerator, almost too overwhelmed to scrounge something up for her. But each day, I made myself leave the house. Jorie and I spent time at the library, at the park, at the grocery store. And each day got a little bit easier. I was fully present with Jorie, fully functional. And though each day brought more physical issues as everything was running its course, I marveled that I felt, miraculously, okay. 

No, it's not okay that I never met my baby (which I've decided, and Ronnie agrees, is a son named Carter James). It's not okay that I've talked to over thirty women in the past week that have experienced their own miscarriages (side note: ladies, why isn't this discussed more?). It's not okay that a friend of mine lost her son at the age of seventeen. It's not fair that other friends are struggling with loneliness, depression, and loss. Those things are not okay. God never tells us that they're okay. They're the opposite of okay. They are a result of a living in a fallen, sinful world. This world is broken. It has pain, loss, crying, rejections, abandonment, and fear. 

But that's not the end of the story. 

John 16:33 says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." That's our promise. And that's how I can be okay. I'm okay because God redeems what the enemy intends for evil. I can already see facets of redemption in my story this past week. I'm not healed yet, but I'm growing closer to my Healer. If that's the only good that comes from this, it will be enough. But I already know that there is more. More that I've seen already, and more that I may never see. Every life has a purpose, and Carter's twelve short weeks in the womb will accomplish that destiny that God intended. And so, even now, I speak life over Carter and over the plan that God has. Like the song above says, I believe there is beauty and meaning here. And even while I wait to see it all, which may not happen until I'm on the other side of eternity, I can continue to cry out my need to the Lord. That's all we can really hold onto in this life, anyway. And it will always be enough.