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.

Wait Training

“Hurry up and wait” seems to be the protocol for most Americans today. We can’t wait to start school, then we can’t wait to graduate, then we can’t wait to be an adult, get a great job, get a better job and get a raise . We can’t wait to get married, have kids, go to their wedding, become grandparents, retire…and the waiting goes on and on. Once we get what we want we move on to waiting for something else. Are we forever doomed to this treadmill of waiting?
The other night I was thinking of how tired I was of waiting when a question popped into my head…
“What are you waiting for?”
And I sat there thinking…yeah, what am I waiting for? It was a light bulb moment for me – I had just discovered counterfeit waiting.
“Well”, I stumbled clumsily over my thoughts, “I’m waiting for God to do this in my life. I’m tired of waiting and I want to start living. Yeah…that’s it! I want to live purposefully and do all this stuff for God and He’s just making me wait.”
“Don’t wait your life away. Start living now. Today. This minute. What are you waiting for?”
I realized this waiting – my counterfeit waiting – was actually just a cover-up for discontent and covetousness. Horizontal waiting, as I call it. I’m “waiting” for the something, anything – just the next thing in life to happen, which means I’m discontent with this thing in my hand right here, right now.
God put me here and He said “Live” and here I am, this little Pinocchio, saying, “But, God, I can’t live like this. I want to be married. Or I want to have children. Or I want a better job. I’ll just wait God, I know You’ll make it happen.” So we close our eyes to what is right in front of us – to the miracle staff in our hand – and we “obediently” wait. And we wonder why God isn’t giving us a spouse, or a job, or children. And we start to fret and wonder some more. And we really aren’t waiting at all, we’re just wanting and wanting and wanting something else.
But wait a minute, you say! God tells us to wait in His Word!
And you are right. You are so right! God tells us over 30 times to wait on Him. So what on earth am I getting at?
Every time we are told to wait in the Bible, it specifically says to wait ON (or sometimes FOR) Yahweh. Vertical waiting. In other words, we’re looking up and saying “What, Lord? I’m here, I’m ready, I’m listening. And I will wait here for as long as You see fit for me to wait.”, as opposed to looking at our situation – on our level – and “waiting” for God to “make it better”. He’s here and now and He put us here and now. Don’t you think that’s kinda where He wants you?
Webster’s dictionary has this definition on wait
    To watch; to observe; to take notice. To stay or rest in expectation; to stop or remain stationary till the arrival of some person or event; to rest in patience; to stay; not to depart. To stay for; to rest or remain stationary in expectation of; to await; as, to wait orders. One who watches; a watchman.
That’s the kind of waiting I’m talking about! To observe our God. To rest in expectation of His ways, to remain stationary in Him, to await His orders with patience, to notice God, to be in attendance to Him – at His feet, to stand in stick-to-it-ive-ness where He put you, to wait on Him. Forget ourselves! Forget what we want out of life, what we are waiting for in life, what we think should happen in life and just rest and hope in our Powerful, Amazing, Omni-potent, Almighty, Omni-present Creator!
“And now, Yahweh, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.” Ps. 39:7

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” Ps. 27:14