November 23, 2012

Black Friday

I don't know about you, but I have never been one to hit the after Thanksgiving Day sales. I never had any money to spend, so it seemed like a waste of my time to stand in line for hours, just to browse through crowed aisles and to fight off other people so I could wish for some particular item. No, for me, I never was able to participate, and so I left the craziness up to those folks (and family) who liked this shopping ritual.

My brother and family had this holiday ritual, and every Black Friday, would get up at the crack of dawn (or before) and head out to their local Target store. It was a tradition for them. I am not sure if they are observing it this year or not. The whole family (sans newly married nephew and wife) are back in Cedar Falls, Iowa visiting my niece who works for Northern Iowa University. I'll have to ask if they even have a Target in Cedar Falls! LOL!

As I sit here today, part of me is feeling blue over the impending Holiday madness. Last year at this time, I was resolved to move from my home, and I had just rented a nearby townhouse. It was difficult for me, but I was thankful for the change of house. I had been in my old home since 1999, and while it was not always a struggle for us to maintain our life there, most of the time I felt burdened with the upkeep of a home, and with the escalating payments and other homeowner issues. Moreover, we were at the point of separating, and the house was the last thing holding us together. We had been foreclosed on by our lender, and the time was coming (looming forward) when we would all have to be out of the house. I chose to go early on, and so my first Thanksgiving was here in my new place. My first Christmas was as well.

Christmas was good last year. I was working at University of Phoenix, and I was so glad to have a full-time job. I was happy to be out of the old house, out of the dirt and grime, and untended maintenance items. I was glad to be in a place that was new, freshly painted, and afforded us so much more space. I had invested quite a bit of money into decorations, and my home was just the way I wanted it to be. After so many years of living with old, broken, and dirty items -- my new home was filled with all things new (and some used, but repurposed). I was blessed to be here, and I was relieved to be out from under that burden of debt.

Christmas was good. I spent money on gifts, and I gave freely to my family. I hadn't been able to do that in years, and it felt so good to be able to buy special things to let my family know how much they meant to me, and how much I appreciated their support for me and my choice to leave my home.

So much has changed between then and now. I just signed a second-year lease on my town home, and I am prepared to remain in Phoenix through the duration of my son's education (now thinking ASU instead of North Park in Chicago). I am working as an Analyst at CVS Caremark, and while not pleased with the Welcome Season hours, I am enjoying the work, and I like the shorter commute. I am also blessed with a little more money each month.

I am getting ready to decorate for Christmas 2012, and part of me is feeling nostalgic for the past. I remember writing someplace (probably on this blog) that the last good Christmas I had was in 1982. I was 20 at the time, and working full-time at NuTech Engineers, Inc. in San Jose, CA. I was unmarried, though dating my husband. I was unattached for all practical reasons, not committed to anyone, and at a crossroads in my own looming adulthood plans.

I wasn't happy in my work, but I was glad to be out of school. School then was Evergreen Valley College. I wasn't doing well in classes, and was lost as far as what I wanted to study. My parents didn't want me to drop out of school, but I knew that I couldn't continue to get D-F's without some consequence. I decided to take a break, and that meant working full-time for a while. I liked the money, and it helped me to pay for my then Triumph Spitfire. I liked being an adult, but there was a part of me that wanted so much to remain a child.

I had wanted to study Art, but I didn't like the focus on nudity that was so prevalent in my courses. I was a Christian then, and the Holy Spirit was working hard to keep me pure (Thank you, Jesus!) I changed my major to Audiology, thinking that it would make a good career, but after a horrible experience in Sign Language class, decided it was not the path for me. I considered Psychology, which I greatly enjoyed. However, a bad course in Child Psychology (a weird teacher - very weird), made me reconsider that path as well. I was stuck, and I was lost, and I wasn't listening to that still quiet voice whispering to me, telling me to go into teaching, advising me to become an elementary teacher.

I heard the voice loud and clear one day when I met a friend who was attending San Jose Bible College. This was a friend of a friend, and she was telling me how much she loved SJBC and how she was studying to be an elementary teacher there. She loved the small classes, and the focus on Bible. She encouraged me to check it out. I did, and though the cost was more than what my Community College cost, I was so strongly drawn to this school.

I took the leap of faith and I talked with my parents about it. They were not willing to help me attend this school, and because my Father made so much money, I couldn't qualify for financial aid. My parents said, "Go to San Jose State and become a teacher." Yes, they were correct. SJSU (my alma mater) had a very good teaching program. I was devastated that my parents wouldn't help me go to SJBC, and I couldn't understand how God could be calling me to a school He knew would be off-limits to me.

I ended up staying in my job, and getting involved in relationship in the hopes of feeling better, and no longer feeling lost. In truth, I only made matters worse. My job went bust the next year, and my relationship began to become more involved. I took steps towards adulthood, that now I wish never would have been on my horizon. I did enroll back in school, and I did eventually complete my Associates Degree. I ended up graduating in 1984 with an AA in Liberal Studies, and wedding plans for that fall.

My life was forever changed. Twenty-eight years later, I am blessed with an amazing son, and a good life. It is not the life I imagined, and it is not the life I had hoped. It is what it is, and today, I sit here thinking about the past, and wondering "what if?" Of course, there are no what-if's in God's economy. There is only "been there, and done that"--OR--choices to be made and choices that have been made. With God, all things are possible. With man, all things are possible too. The big difference is that with God the possibilities are blessed and are always for our good. Human possibilities are unknown, and while they can be for good, there is just the same amount of chance, that they will be for ill.

I cannot think back on the past twenty-eight years and wish it away. Like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," wishing your life were different only means that you wish CERTAIN PARTS (the bad) of your life were different. If you wish is all away, you wish the good and the bad. You cannot make the mistakes in your life go away without losing blessing that may have come as a result of those mistakes.

I know that my son is one of the best things that happened to me personally. His life, his presence, makes the past years worth it all. I also know that of all the mistakes I have made, I have learned great life lessons from them. I am able to use my mistakes to help others from making the same kinds of choices. I can use my experience to bless others -- the good and the bad -- I can be a blessing to others through my life testimony.

Therefore, Christmas 2012, marks a turning point in my life. I am no longer going to look on the past with regret. Yes, the memories of mistakes will be there, but with time, they will fade, and no longer be such a strong reminder to me. Instead of thinking nostalgically on the past, I am choosing to think about all the open opportunities and possibilities of my future. I copied this quote to add it to my signature line in my email, and I think it really sets this whole idea in motion:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~Søren Kierkegaard

It is important to be self-aware, to understand your past choices, your past options, and your past mistakes. Life, however, must be lived in the present and with the intention of moving forward. God is a God over all of time, over the past, over the present, and over the future. He wants us to press on, to move forward towards the goal of His Kingdom and of Christ Jesus. He knows that we need to understand our past so that we can learn from it, learn how to handle situations in the present, and learn from our mistakes (to keep from repeating them). He doesn't want us to get stuck in the past, though.

Jesus, in Luke 9:59ff, was the one who said:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The Kingdom of God is moving forward, and while we live in the present, we are also to have a mindset of moving forward to follow after the Lord. We are not to be stuck in the past or even the present time to the point where we become immovable.

I have done this for many years. I have lived with past regrets and with the shame of past mistakes. Jesus paid the price for all my sins and all my mistakes. I know this, I know that His Blood covers me completely. Yet, often I get stuck, often I feel as though I am cemented to this timeline, to this way of thinking.

Jesus paid it all, and that price of freedom means that I am no longer stuck, I am no longer lost, I am no longer required to stay in one place. I can move, I can go, and I can follow after my Lord -- with no regrets, no sorrow, and no shame.

Dear Lord,

Today is the day that I choose to follow after you, and that I choose to no longer live in the past, and to think back upon the past. The past is buried in that tomb of the old man (old Carol). The present is active and it is alive with the new man (new Carol). The future, my future is filled with bright hopeful promises and opportunities of blessing. I receive your blessing today, and I think upon all the blessing in my life, and the way in which you choose to bless me each day. May your Name be praised today and forevermore. I thank you, Jesus, for your life. I thank you for your sacrifice, and I thank you for saving me yesterday, today, and every day forward. I praise the Name of the Lord today. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah! (Pause and calmly think about that!!)

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