Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Finding Hope

It's hard to believe another year has almost come and gone.  Another calendar year, and, for our family, another year without Mom and Dad.

Some days, the victory of making it through another day--another moment--is exciting enough.  The holidays still brought an extra twinge of pain, a few extra tugs on our heart strings, and a sharper awareness of what we no longer have.  I still thought of how strange it must look for Chase, Jordan, and me to be road tripping to Indiana without parents along.  Opening presents without Mom and Dad just didn't feel right.  The dinner table, though packed elbow-to-elbow, was a few elbows short of full.  I can tell I'm a little less patient and a little more tired than I have been in a while.  The loss is still great, and still real...but God really is so much greater. Tonight, God reminds me that His grace has brought us so far beyond just being "okay." 

This past year has been quite the discovery process.  I've learned that sometimes God strips away what we always thought provided our hope and joy and security to show us that He is the only sufficient One.  In His grace, He has gently shown me how adulteress my heart is so that I am beginning to cling more tightly to my true Provider rather than running to temporary fixes.  God is slowly, patiently, faithfully revealing to me the fact that the things I chase and long for in this world--even good things!--are simply not Him. 

He alone reigns forever.  His love and grace, faithfulness and provision, joy and hope are infallible. 

So this Christmas season, the reality of loss is still inevitable, but the power of hope is stronger than the pain. 

Tonight, as we opened Christmas presents, I received an ornament that was a cute little teddy bear holding a sign that simply says, "Hope."  I smiled, and Aunt Beth leaned towards me and said, "I got you that because I've seen you really seeking out that hope this past year." 

Hope.  Hope brings encouragement and the will--no, the desire--to go on.  "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." (Hebrews 6:19-20).  So hope and Christmas go hand-in-hand. 

Our God in His kindness decided He didn't want us to have to spend eternity away from Him as we deserve.  And so, the Christ child Jesus was born.  In the form of a baby, so small and dependent, God delivered the most thought-out, enduring, powerful gift He could have given.  He brought us a Savior.  The gift is there, and though we don't deserve it, God longs for us to chose to open and embrace the gift of His Son. 

So I have hope.  And I'm realizing how much more lengthy my "Thankful-for List" is than my "Wish List."  Each day, God reminds me to trust Him through my insecurities and to look for the blessings He's planted.  There really is power in counting blessings! 

This Christmas night, here is part of "My Thanks-A-Million List"

1.  I am a child of the King, placed here for a reason.  He promises to never abandon me as He helps me discover and fall into that plan. 

2.  I have true friends who love and support me.

3.  The Lord grabbed the hearts of my grandparents, and they became first-generation believers.  Since then, they have not been perfect.  But they have remained faithful and, after 91 years, continue to enjoy life as they pray and seek the will of God. Their choices have made all the difference in the lives of our family members.  I don't want to imagine what the process of grieving the death of Mom and Dad would have looked like without their faith showering years of prayers and wisdom on us. 

4. I have a warm bed, new Josh Turner CD's :) , and yummy food to enjoy on this rather chilly night.

5.  My family, though crazy and sometimes a bit much to handle, brings so much laughter, joy, and good goofy memories into my life.

6.  God promises to have my back and go ahead of me as I step into whatever new adventures He has in store.

Yes. Tonight, I'm thankful for hope.  Because who wants to go through life in fear?  I've tried that route, too, and I don't recommend it. 

My Christmas prayer is that God would become so undeniably real to the widows, the fatherless, and the broken-hearted.  I pray for strength, peace, and joy for those who aren't able to be with their families over the holidays.  Whether a loved one has gone Home, was a no-show to start with, or has chosen to go so they can defend the freedom of loved ones left behind, my heart goes out to the lonely and hurting hearts this season in a way it never has. 

The beauty of hope lies in its reality and availability.  Don't lose heart when hope seems out of sight.  Give yourself some grace, make the choice to keep seeking and taking hold of God's glorious promises, and know you are loved.  May hope in our eternal God restore your weary spirit and bring a special depth to the joy that already exists.

Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beyond Contentment

I usually avoid posts about relationships and self-image and all that, for several reasons, really.  One of those reasons is that there are sooo many of them!! Post after post is about one more person's opinion or status in the whole matter.  I think the reason for this is because God created us to be in intimate relationships, and our world is so thirsty for the commitment and life-long love that many believe is only a fairy tale these days.  But that's a big ol' soap box for a whole other day. :)  The other reason is 'cause it just makes me feel silly and a bit uncomfortable.  I've always been a hopeless romantic, but I've never really liked to flaunt that side of me.  I like being independent.  I don't want to come across as desperate.  And most of all, I guess there's a part of me that thinks, "If you avoid displaying the subject, it'll go away."

Yet here I am, about to share my heart on some of my most personal thoughts that may seem to contradict those above statements.  You should know in advance that I only share this post to be real with you and myself.  Life is a crazy ride. And let's be honest, for most of us girls, this relationship/self-image stuff is not something easily avoided.  It's the stuff we either broadcast or hide and try to deny.  It'll drive us crazy, yet there seems to be no lasting remedy. So, if you get confused, it's alright--join the club! :)

Most of you know I dated a guy, kind of off and on for the past two summers, but we officially ended it before starting school this fall.  Our time spent together was great! I learned so very much about God and His love through Jason.  I learned about the hope that was still available to me.  I also learned about parts of me that I'm not so fond of...they say relationships will do that, you know.  Our relationship was a blessing, but it was only intended to last for a season.  It became clear to us both that that season was up, so we parted with a hug, grateful for the time we'd spent together, yet knowing that God must have someone else in store for us somewhere down the road. 

So down the road I've gone.  Needless to say, some days have been better than others.

On my best days, I'm so grateful that I'm single!! I love looking forward to the adventures I'll get to take without trying to schedule around some guy's life.  I look forward to sister dates when I'm home over breaks.  I have no problem dwelling in the love and presence of Jesus Christ so that I can get to know Him better.  Those moments are great--so full of joy and contentment.  I find myself thankful just to be alive and to go out into the world to discover another part of the woman God intends for me to be.  On these days, sure, guys are alright, but singleness...that's where it's at! Not 'cause guys are overrated, but because each day is a blessing in itself, and I don't need a significant other to be fully aware of that fact.

However, other moments are not so full of sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes, Satan attacks with gloom and doom thoughts, and I let him win.  At my worst, I'm left insecure, doubting that who I am is anything significant or lovely.  I become fearful of the future and wonder if I'll ever find that man I'll get to call mine.  Or even worse than never finding one (girl translation: being chosen by one who I want, with all of my heart, to say "yes!!" to), what if I accidently pick the wrong one?!  Or what if I'm left with someone who's alright, buuuut, you know.... Or what if who I am is simply incapable of attracting the type of man I want?? And then I turn right around and question the very person I see in the mirror.  I wonder if my lack of being asked on a single date is my personality or my looks or maybe my laugh or my interests or outfits or this or that or blah, blah, blah.... And I just get sick of it all!

So then, I do my best to reign it all back in rather than staying in a place where loneliness and doubts seem to rule.  God has taught me a lot about how to handle these moments, and I'd love to share them if you don't mind reading through them :)

  • Sometimes the greatest comfort comes from reminding myself that this life isn't about me, anyway!  Rather than that being one more depressing thought, it is so very freeing!  My very existence is not about my own glory.  I am here to please God, not man.  I am here to reflect God and to remind the world that His greater plan is why we're here on earth.  I was born to show the world how very beautiful God's story of redemption is, rather than on spending all my energy trying to measure up to an impossible standard of outward beauty.  So, if some people think I look alright, you know I'll gladly take it :) But that's not where it ends.  Even on bad hair days, or those days when not a bloomin' thing in the closet is workin', I can shine like the stars by focusing on my heart.  When I just don't feel pretty, I remember that it's a gentle and quiet spirit that make God's heart smile.  It's genuine love for those around me that creates the most attraction.  It's the fact that I am created in His image and by His plan that makes me drop-dead-gorgeous, able to face the world with confidence, and more precious and desirable than I could ever imagine.  Am I pouring out the love and blessings He's given me, or am letting the significance of them evaporate before I let myself be used by God?  Am I letting my insecurities cloak God's majesty?

  • I remind myself that I'd rather be single than dating the wrong guy or missing out on the mission God has for me on this day. 

  • I tell myself to just suck it up and smile because I am a daughter of the King, fully known and deeply desired.  Nothing else compares to that.

  • I find comfort in the fact that there is no one "right" type of woman.  I recently thought of all the women who have made the biggest impact on my life, and I was blown away by how different each one is.  Some are servants, others are leaders.  Some speak softly while others struggle to use that filter.  They have chosen to do so many different things with their lives, and, of course, they all look entirely different. But there's not one of them that I would hesitate to call absolutely stunning.  My favorite thing about each one is that she has a deep love for the Lord and for the people around her.  So that's my goal.  To be a lady who is encouraging and lets the next generation know that Hollywood's standards are not the goal.  The goal is to be content in who and how God has made us.  But let's not stop at contentment. Let's embrace the choices God made while designing us so that we allow ourselves to be a blessing rather than hiding behind insecurities.  

  • When all of this is weighing heavy on my mind, I have committed to praying for my future husband rather than worrying about the logistics of when and how we'll meet and who he may be. 

  • Lately, God smacked me with one of those "Oh, duh!" type of thoughts that has become a favorite.  As we (God and I) were walking along one evening, I realized that I was so scared I would never be able to make a man happy.  I get scared that every guy will lose interest or get bored because I'm really just a simple girl who finds the most excitement in living daily life with the people who mean the most to me.  So God addressed this, too.  I've always known that no guy is flawless, so I must look to God as my primary source of completion and perfection.  Well guess what? The guy is supposed to do the same thing!  I'm scared I won't be enough, because I won't be.  It's that simple.  And that is why it is crucial that our men love God above themselves, and especially above us.  If we unmarried women ever become priority number one, we'd better get out 'cause it can only go downhill from there!  It will be my job to support and respect my man in a way that makes him want to be all that he can be, but it will never be my job to make that happen or to be his primary source of satisfaction.  God must already have that place in his heart. 

  • Returning to scripture is always a good thing, too!  That book holds so many beautiful promises of joy, laughter, better days, and a hand to hold when the going gets tough.

Nothing makes me more excited than seeing a man who adores his woman while she stands behind him and helps him chase his dreams. No doubt, I still look forward to committing myself to a warrior of God who will cherish me and pursue me for the rest of our lives together.  My hearts desire, cliché as it sounds, is to be a wife and a mother.  So, God is gently showing me how to become that woman.  He reminds me that these days are not just meant to be spent waiting for Mr. Right to snatch me up!  Each waking moment is an opportunity to go hard after God and to embrace the simple blessings He sends me.  I get to use this time to become the Biblical woman I want my Prince to fall for, and I get to spend extra time getting to know the Godly women God has placed in my life. 

Of course, it never hurts to remember that when Prince Charming finally crashes our #foreveralone party, we will be so glad that we're not busy dancing with a dud :)  Yet we are His daughters, designed to recognize the adventure in each and every day.  Let's not spend so much time worrying about how we get to the next step that we miss out on the music God has playing for us right now.  As women, we are called to a beauty that runs so much deeper than the perfect figure, hairstyle, outfit, or complexion.  The beauty we should seek is the joy that brightens a smile and the love that brings comfort to an embrace.  May we trust His perfect timing as we laugh, cry, twirl, and crawl our way along the path He has set before us this very day.