Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Beautiful In Its Time!

            Yesterday, it started snowing.  It’s barely mid-November and it’s already snowing.  Everyone says it’s going to be one of the worst winters.  And after last winter with its endless piles of snow, many people are already groaning at the sight of more flakes.  But you know what?  I’m actually looking forward to winter.   
            Of course, I do not like bitter winds, freezing fingers, and being shut up in a house for months on end.  But I have an odd sense of peace about this winter, like I’m going to find it enjoyable and comforting.  And it really has more to do with my spiritual life than it does with the environment.

            Last year at this time, I was an emotional wreck.  I was neck-deep in depression over the fact that my closest friend had stopped calling me back, that our house was still under construction but nothing was getting done, and that no one wanted to read the book I wrote about my life.  I felt so invisible, like I just didn’t matter to anyone, and like I was destined to fail at everything. 
            But this year, after struggling all summer with trying to work through all the discouragements, I can honestly say that I am in a good place now.  And this wonderful sense of peace hit me just a couple days after my last post, “Just Keep Falling.”
            I guess there was something about writing out all of the trials that I have gone through over the years.  While it almost sent me into a panic attack, dredging up years of emotional trials, it also helped me.  It helped to get it out of my head and see it all on paper.  It was like all of the heartache became tiny little non-threatening words on paper, instead of these lingering, looming shadows in my mind. 
            As I wrote them down, I noticed that many of them didn’t have any hold on me anymore, even if they were very upsetting and life-changing at the time.  I even forgot to add some of them at first.  They were so crushing to go through at the time, yet I forgot to add them because I had come through them so well and gotten stronger and healthier because of them.  What a blessing, seeing how God used them in my life for good!  I guess seeing them all listed made me appreciate how they helped make me who I am.  And I made my peace with them.
            Of course, I still struggle often with unanswered prayers, spiritual questions, feelings of failure, and negative self-views.  But I realize that because of the trials, I have such depth of character and emotion and such a deep, complex (yet sometimes bittersweet) spiritual life that I wouldn’t trade all those trials and struggles for the easy life. 
            I wouldn’t want to have a life free of trials because that would result in a shallow person, shallow faith, and simplistic pat answers about God and life and the way things “should be.”  I like knowing the heartache, pain, and confusion that trials create because I know that it leads to a deeper, richer, more complex knowledge and wisdom and faith. 
            I would never want to be one of those people who says to hurting people, “Well, if you would just do X,Y, or Z, then your prayers will work (or God will bless you abundantly).” 
            The thing is, I am one of those who tried to” just do X, Y, or Z” and yet my prayers still haven’t worked the way I wanted and God still didn’t bless the way I thought He would.  But in this, I am learning to allow Him to be God.  I am learning to praise anyway.  I am learning to have real compassion on hurting people.  And I am learning that I am in the same boat they are.   
            I am not some super spiritual giant who has earned God’s special favor or who has some “in” with God that I can get what I want.  I am a struggling, confused believer who falls regularly, who loses faith at times, who hasn’t figured out some secret “formula” to “make faith work for me,” and who regularly falls down at the feet of the Lord acknowledging that I can’t do it on my own, that I need Him, and that I am willing to let Him sit on the throne, to take the steering wheel in life.  Because of the trials, I have been humbled.  And I’m okay with that.  I am making my peace with my humanness. 
            A couple days after that last post, I was still lamenting the sense of failure and frustration I felt about no one wanting to read the book I wrote.  I was thinking about how many years I have struggled with this feeling.  I finished the book about 3-4 years ago and asked dozens of people to read it.  And no one did.  And for years, I have had to deal with the crushing rejection I felt, the deep sense of not mattering to others, and the pain of feeling like I failed God.  I had such hopes that it would spread His love and truth and healing, that it would help others in their pain and bring God glory.  All that time and effort and excitement wasted.  (I always hated getting excited about anything because of the inevitable let-down.) 
            But as I was thinking about all this the other day, I realized that I have continued to try to share this book in many subtle ways (leaving comments on people’s blogs with my blog address, weaseling in the words “my blog” into a conversation with the hopes that someone would ask, etc.) because deep down I believed that someday it just had to be noticed by someone, that someday it would catch on and many people would begin to read it and be touched by it.   But then the thought hit me, What if it really is God’s Will that this book be a failure?  That it simply fades into oblivion and no one ever reads it?  What if this is God’s Will?  Could I really accept that?
            I made a decision in that moment.  I would stop trying to fight God’s Will.  I would stop trying to force my own ideas of what “should be.”  I have tried and tried to get that book out there, and every attempt has been blocked.  And so now (even though I have tried to accept this before), I’m going to fully accept the idea that this may be God’s Will. 
            And so I did something that I have been wanting to do for a long while.  I removed my email address from the blogs.  Deep down, I kept hoping for some sign of encouragement from someone that they liked what I wrote, that they would send me an email about the book or ask a question that I could help them with.  And I secretly hoped that maybe a publisher would read what I wrote and contact me about publishing it.  And then I would get some sort of acknowledgement for what I did, proving my worth to all those who didn’t bother to read it or give it a second thought.  (Update: In Jan 2015, I put it back again.  I just can't make up my mind about this one.  But I really do want to be available in case any reader has a question or comment.  Not that I have the answers, but I can try.) 
            But this hope was more discouraging to me than anything because it never happened.  And this hope, I think, prevented me from really accepting the fact that God’s Will may just be that this blog and my book never get noticed.  For whatever reason.  Maybe it’s better for me that it doesn’t become successful?  Maybe the things I say are actually not helpful or glorifying?  Maybe I wouldn’t like it if others did read these very private things about me?  Whatever the reason, maybe it’s just “not meant to be.” 
            And with the deletion of my email address, I decided to fully embrace that idea.  To let go of my own idea of how things should be.  To give God the complete and total right to do whatever He wants with it.  To be okay with receiving no encouragement about it.  To be at peace with life as it is.
            And today, by the tender mercy of God, I am actually at a point where I deeply feel that it doesn’t matter to me anymore if anything comes from it.  I am content to know that I poured my heart out before an audience of One, that I did my very best for Him and Him alone.  Whatever happens or doesn’t happen on this side of eternity, may any and all glory be to God. 
            As I write this, I am reminded of a “vision” I had last year that really touched my heart about this same issue.  I wrote about it back in one of my first posts, “Valuable Depression.”  (I guess this kind of brings my blog full circle.)  And as I reflect back on it, it still touches me just as deeply.  I had just gone through a four-month funk, severely depressed about all these issues I’ve shared here.  (Just goes to show how long it takes me to work through things and come to terms with them.)  And God helped me out of that depression in a few ways.  One of them was this vision.  Here’s what I wrote about that:

            “God gave me a very healing “vision” that made all the difference to me.  A picture in my mind that made me feel like I mattered.  I had been depressed that no one wanted to celebrate this joy with me, the book that I took years to write.  I never asked anyone more than once if they wanted to read it.  I didn’t want to make them feel like they had to care about me or like I was breathing down their necks, fishing for compliments.  And I also never let anyone know if I was hurt that they didn’t show any interest.  I’d rather just nurse my wounds in private, instead of making people feel bad about hurting me. 
            Anyway, I felt like I was an artist that had sent out a ton of invitations to invite everyone to the opening night of their art display.  And yet, no one showed up.  In my mind, I was standing there by myself on a stage in an empty room, waiting for anyone to show up and care about what I had done.  But no one did.  And it hurt to feel so alone and overlooked.
            But as I talked this pain over with the Lord one day in prayer, He gave me this picture in my mind that really helped heal the pain.  I was still standing there on an empty stage.  The bright lights were shining on me, and no one was in the audience.  Except for one person now.  I looked out and realized that there was one Person in the audience, sitting in one of the chairs.  Someone cared enough about me to show up. 
            And the thing that really meant something to me was that He didn’t even seem to notice that there was no one else in the audience.  His eyes were completely on me as He leaned forward in His chair, looking at me with eyes full of love and delight.  This image only lasted a moment, but it meant the world to me.     
            Well, with that “vision,” I knew that He was delighted with me.  And that was all I really needed!  I can’t tell you how healing that was to me, to know that I mattered to the only One whose opinion really matters.  And it really doesn’t matter that much to me now whether others read it or share in the joy of it with me.  Because my heart has been filled with the joy that comes from the Lord, with knowing that I matter to Him and that He is pleased.” 

            Just remembering this vision really warms my heart again.  It reminds me that as long as I did my best for the Lord - as long as I poured my heart and my all out for Him – it mattered.  Even if He is the only person in the audience of our lives, what we do and how we do it still matters greatly.  And that’s enough for me! 
            And now, being content with that, I need to put these feelings of “failure” behind me and get on with life.  There are other areas to glorify God in now, other priorities to pour my heart into.  I am done complaining.  I am done with my pity party.  It’s time to start living again. 
            And I guess maybe that’s why I’m looking forward to winter.  It feels like a nice deep rest before busy-ness starts again.  And I could use that.  I need to have a nice long “soul’s rest.”  I need to stop struggling and fighting and trying so hard, and I need to simply pause in life and be still.  And winter seems like the best time to do this.  It forces a rest.  It’s a time of stillness.  It’s a pause before the new, frenzied growth of spring.  It’s a good night’s sleep before a busy day.  It’s a time to purify the air from all that has accumulated over the past year, giving you a fresh, pure start to another year.  And I really, really need that.  I’m ready for it.  I’m going to love this winter!
            Yes, there will be trials and heartache and daily struggles.  Yes, Satan will find new ways to attack me spiritually and steal this joy, so I cannot let my guard down or drop my armor.  Yes, God still seems very silent.  (But I keep talking to Him all the time because I need to talk to Him.  And I'll be ready to listen when He's ready to talk.  At least, I hope so.)
            But I’ve been able to let go of some of the things I have been grasping onto too tightly this past year.  And I feel like I can breathe easier now, like I can relax and let God take the wheel, and like I can really live today to the fullest.  Whether it’s enjoying a moment cuddling with one of my kids, focusing my energies on the task I need to tackle today, or really listening to someone else instead of thinking of how I can turn the conversation back to me, I’m beginning to feel alive again.  And like God is taking the struggles and disappointments and weaving them into something eternally beautiful.      
            As Ecclesiastes 3:11 points out, God makes everything beautiful in its time.  Even a messy life!  And I’m okay with that.  Yes, life sucks sometimes and my heart is broken, but I know God is still good and so life is still good!  Today, I’m at peace with life.  And I am joyful!  Thank You, Lord!  Thank You!