A Place of Training

It’s been a rough week.

After two years of orthodontic torture and enduring near constant discomfort in order to get my adult tooth pulled down where it should be, I was told that the tooth had died in the process.

This journey has been a roller coaster of eager hope crashing down around me, only to be carefully pieced together and revived again. After all, what is life without something to hope for?

The latest news sent me spiraling, numb, into gloomy disappointment and disillusionment.

Why hope? hope-2

I thumbed the pages of my Bible indifferently. Did it even matter? My brain felt calloused. I didn’t want to feel this way…but I couldn’t help it. In the past, I’ve wrestled through times like this by being thankful, grudgingly at first, but gradually moving out of the bog into grateful living.

I tried to thank God for my dead tooth, for the rest of my strong, healthy teeth, but it was forced, fake.

The pages fell open to Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”

“Truth”, I thought. But it wasn’t comforting in the slightest. If anything it made me sink lower into my despondency. My hope had definitely been deferred, leaving my heart ill with worry and confusion. So how on earth do you stay strong in the faith – believe with all your heart that everything is for the best and trust, trust, trust – when your heart is impaired because of hope that never happens?

I hit a new low the next evening and felt like I would burst from the burden of, what I later realized was, unsurrendered pain. My dear parents prayed for me and we talked it out until late.

The next morning I turned to my daily devotional titled, What Do You Expect?

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you will find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” C.S. Lewis, God in the Docks

Ah, that’s my problem. I think I’m entitled to certain things in this life – marriage, health, good food, good friends, a decent amount of money, a job I like, fun things to do, and the opportunity to travel – among others, I’m sure. While it’s not something I’ll readily admit, that’s just what it is – expectations I have of life. When one of these gifts fail to meet my expectations I feel cheated. I doubt God’s goodness. I get heart sick because my hope is deferred.

“Sometimes we expect that life should be happy and pain-free. But that is not what the Bible teaches. For the believer, this world is a place of spiritual development through both good and bad times. Jesus was realistic when He explained what to expect out of life. He told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation…” Dennis Fisher Our Daily Bread October 9, 2014

Why do we think we deserve more and better from life? It truly isn’t the Word of God that gives us this impression! The Bible is filled with warning us about a life of trials and encouragement to get through them.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building.”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable.”

This keen illustration left me thinking about how I perceive life and what I am expecting from it. Quite a lot to be honest. I want a grand hotel where I’m pampered and waited on. But God has different plans.

Christ continues His dialog with His disciples, “But be of good cheer, I have over come the world”. (John 16:33) The devotional ends with these words…

In facing life’s blessings and bruises, we can have the inner peace that God is orchestrating events according to His sovereign plan.

This life is a place of training. It’s not a 5 star resort where we can kick up our feet and vacation on the beach. Truly, trials make us stronger. Pain surrendered molds us to be the people God meant for us to be.

There really is no reason to hope… in things of this world. But hope in God is not futile.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord.

Life Lessons 2011

It snowed last night. Not much,  just a dusting over our very dry Oklahoma ground. I think the howling winds blew most of it away before it could land. Just 24 hours of winter, then the sun comes out and melts it away. Nearby waters reflect blue skies and sparkling droplets drip from the eaves.
I sit here musing about time and space. Past memories and future ones. About lessons learned and those that continue. I’m a stubborn one I think. When I’ve finally grasped the concept of a lesson, I find myself back at Page One: Lesson One; Problem A.  Review time…again.
I’m so thankful for this last year. God has been patiently teaching me throughout my life, but this year there was a breakthrough that even I could see – if only dimly through my earthy perspective. I know I’ll have to review these lessons over and over and that I will fail them over and over, but I also know that my God is gracious. That even though the way seems long and hard and it feels like we’re walking backwards most of the time, He still perfects us, growing in us His Kingdom and His purposes.

 But the God of all grace, 
who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, 
after that ye have suffered a while, 
make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, 
settle you. (1 Peter 5:10) Being confident of this very thing, 
that he which hath begun a good work in you 
will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)
Contentment –
Oh, this has been a struggle! It’s incredible how strongly our dreams and desires fight for fulfillment. I went through childhood having no doubts about my future. I would grow up, get married between the ages of 18 and 22 and have six children of my own by my 30th birthday. Until then, I’d simply learn the skills I needed for that worthy calling. 
Other than growing up and looking my 30th birthday squarely in the eye, things didn’t pan out like my child mind anticipated. God’s ways are not always our way that is for sure.
It took me almost 30 years to learn this, but this lesson is invaluable – “Dreams come true” does not equal fulfillment. I see it everyday in my life or in the lives of people around me. Always searching for the next thing, for the something more that will take away the gnawing hunger that we never seem to appease. We can have the best job, the best marriage, the best children, the best life, but none of these make us happy if we are not content with where we were before.
 Be content with such things as ye have: 
for he hath said, 
I will never leave thee, 
nor forsake thee. 
Hebrews 13:5
This lesson was engraved into my mind this summer. I was living a dream, I had a great job that I liked, I was in a place I loved and yet I still found myself laying on my back next to the river and wondering what my purpose was and why I was here. I talk to friends who are happily married and they are asking the same questions I am. They too, are restless. I see people stressing themselves out over business. They barely have time to breath because there must be more. 
Husbands and wives don’t fulfill. 
Jobs don’t fulfill. 
Possessions don’t fulfill.
Only Christ fulfills.
That yearning we feel? It’s not really for more stuff. We are really yearning for a deeper relationship with Christ. We think (the adversary wants us to think) getting what we want will make us happy and we can deaden the throb,  but it wont. Ever.  
I think that ache deep inside will always be there while we live here on earth because it is our innate yearning to be forever with Christ.
However, He can and does satisfy our yearnings if we surrender daily to Him. Surrender our life,  our plans, our dreams and desires, and choose to take joy in the trials, in the mundane, in everything.

 Not that I speak in respect of want: 
for I have learned, 
in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content. 
Phil 4:11
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. 
~ unknown

Joy – 
Ann Voskamps book One Thousand Gifts impacted me more than any other book I read this year. (Elizabeth George’s book Finding God’s Path through Your Trials is also a gem of a read for those seeking joy.) Finding joy in the little things. Choosing joy. It’s an amazing concept. We can choose to be joyful? Really?
Working in a drive thru coffee shop requires a happy face and attitude 100% of the time. 
“I don’t care how bad we are feeling, we have to be happy for the customer”, my boss said. I wasn’t too sure about that at first…after all, wasn’t that being fake? I hate fake. Fake people annoy me and being fake annoys me. And here my job description included “be fake.” Hmm…
I didn’t have to act much on the job, but I thought about this a lot. One work day, I was nearly in tears over something (no need to go into details here. :D), and in that struggle to “look like you’re happy” I realized it wasn’t being fake at all, it was choosing to be joyful. Choosing not to dwell on the negative,  but to give thanks for the little things and move on into Joy.

 Rejoice evermore.

 In every thing give thanks: 
for this is the will of God 
in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thess 5:16 and 18

It also dawned on me that showing, or acting out on, my bad attitude (aka – being “real”?) wasn’t doing anyone any favors (No brainer there, right? :). I remembered, back in the near past, my frequent “bad days” (we’re all allowed to have them aren’t we?)  – moping around the house just being a grouch in general because life wasn’t going my way. (Ties right into contentment doesn’t it!) If anyone asked me what was wrong my mumbled answer would be the all too overused, “Nothing.”.  Here in Idaho I lived with friends for four months on my best behavior (Umm… don’t verify that with them, okay? :) I was ashamed. So friends deserve better treatment than family? 
“Why?”, I hear God asking.”If you can control your attitude around friends, why can’t you control it around family too?” Ouch.  Lesson learned. At least I try to practice that one. :)
Joy is a choice. Happiness is a choice. We can choose our attitude. It’s not how we live, or what we do, what we’re going through, or what people do to us. It’s letting the Holy Spirit in us create Joy. 

Count it all Joy! 
James 1:2

Being –

Life is more about being than about doing.

Abide in me, and I in you. 
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, 
except it abide in the vine; 
no more can ye, 
except ye abide in me. 
John 15:4
In order to do anything for Christ we must first abide in Christ. And actually, that’s all we can do is abide! We can’t grow the fruit, we’re just a branch. It’s Christ in us – it’s the Holy Spirit – that grows the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s not our fruit- it’s His fruit. 
We can toil and sweat and talk all we want, but if Christ isn’t in it, it is worse than purposeless – It is contrary to Him.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him.
Ps. 37:7
Wait on the LORD: 
be of good courage, 
and he shall strengthen thine heart: 
wait, I say, on the LORD. 
Ps. 27:14

I read this quote on a blog the other day and loved it –

“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”
John W. Gardner

We can’t undo our past mistakes, but God can create a masterpiece in spite of them.