December 28, 2014

Following Jesus

It has been an interesting day so far. It is December 28, 2014 -- the last Sunday of the month and the year. WOW! It is hard to believe how this year has just flown by so quickly (it always seems to be the case). I feel like so much has happened this past year, so many new adventures came to pass, and so many new opportunities and open doors gave me pause to think and to consider. In all, it has been a good year, a very good year for me.

This morning, I wasn't feeling so chippy, so confident, and so convinced that the year had passed by well. In fact, I was feeling rather down, a bit blue, and a bit off (just saying) as I considered whether or not to get myself up and dressed and out the door in time for the second service at Scottsdale Bible Church. In fact, I was feeling so uncertain about what to do that I prayed about whether or not I should return to my old church, Paradise Church. In truth, I have been feeling uncertain about my decisionto leave Paradise and return to my former church, SBC. I made the decision to switch churches in late October, shortly after my son started playing every Sunday as part of the Venue worship band. It wasn't a quick decision really, considering that I had thought about returning to SBC on numerous occasions during the past seven-eight years. However, my reasons for staying at Paradise, and my feeling that I was where the Lord wanted me to remain were solid. So I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed. Until, that is, I felt the Lord's hand releasing me to attend another church. I had been in prayer over this decision for about a year, and each time the feeling would bubble up, I would ask the Lord for permission to return to SBC or another church in the area. Each time I asked, I felt the answer was to stay put for a while. I also wasn't sure that SBC was the right place for me to go to, especially after my divorce, and the chance encounter of running into my former husband during Sunday services. Still, I rested in the knowledge that wherever the Lord wanted me to fellowship, He would show me when the time was right.

So today I was feeling that uneasy feeling and wondering if I had made a mistake leaving Paradise for SBC. I have to say that the past 5-6 weeks have been wonderful at SBC. I have enjoyed the worship and the preaching, and I have felt at peace during the services. My concern for whether I was in the right place surged to the forefront a couple weeks ago when I sat in church waiting for the service to begin, and I saw my ex-husband and his girlfriend sitting several rows in front of me. I struggled to keep my focus during the service, and thanks be to the Lord, I stopped looking at them and thinking about my past, my present and my future life, and started to concentrate on the pastor's message.

I dealt with seeing my ex and his new person well. It is not as if I am still hoping we will get back together nor do I have issues with the fact that he is bringing her to church. My hope and my prayer for the both of them is that they place the Lord first and foremost in their lives, and that they seek Him diligently to guide and to direct their steps. Still, it is a weird feeling to see part of what was your life sitting there with another person. More so because so much of our life here in Phoenix was centered on SBC, it seemed so odd to see him there with her. I mean our family spent a lot of years at SBC. We were a family, the three of us, and this was our home church. Now, the three of us are at the church again -- my ex, me and our son. It is just that we are no longer a family. At the least, not in the way we once were a family.

I asked the Lord for understanding today. I asked Him to help me know what to do. As I prayed to Him, I heard His voice saying to trust Him, to let this go, and to rest in the sufficiency of His will for my life. I thought maybe I should not go to church today, but I felt the Lord pressing me on, so I gathered up my gusto and I drove over to church.

While I was waiting for the service to begin, the thought came over me again: this is not my home church, this is not where I belong. It used to be my home church. It used to be where I found a home, a family, and where I loved to fellowship. I pushed those feelings down as the music began to play. It was when we were singing that I realized my ex and his girlfriend were sitting there in front of me again (this time, I sat on the other side of the worship center). The pang of feelings came back especially when I noticed that his girlfriend had brought her grandchildren to the service (two boys about aged 12 and 14). As I watched them, my heart sank for a moment. I thought "they are a family." My ex always wanted a large family. He always blamed me for not being able to have more children. I wanted more children too, but it certainly wasn't my fault that the Lord closed my womb and chose to give me one child instead of many. Still, my heart was sad for a moment. I thought "now he has what he has always wanted." You see, it was difficult to accept the fact that my ex wanted to end the marriage -- not that he didn't want to be married -- but that he didn't want to be married to me. I struggled with that for a long time before I let it go, and accepted the truth and made the difficult decision to move on with my life.

I should add that yesterday evening while I was praying, the Lord pressed upon my heart that something significant was going to happen. I say it this way because it is the only way I can really articulate it whenever He does things like this in my life. I get these impressions and feelings that seem to say to me "be prepared, something BIG is going to happen." I prayed for clarification as I drifted off to sleep, but nothing came to me. Even as I drove to church today, I wondered about that feeling, and I thought what might be "waiting for me."

It wasn't until about halfway through worship that I realized what the Lord meant when He said that "something significant" was going to happen to me. I had assumed it related to teaching or to school. Instead, it was the realization of the path I was on, the life I had chosen, and the direction I am currently moving in. Let me explain...

I was sitting in church by myself, as usual. The worship band was playing (my son was on drums) and I was looking around the center thinking back to when I used to lead kids in Awana games (so many years ago). My life was different then, so very different. I started to think about where I am today, what I am doing with my life, and why I am working so hard to earn a PhD, etc. Then this thought popped into my head: You have closure now. You have come full-circle. You started here at SBC when DJ was 3. Now he is 21, and you are preparing to leave AZ for a new life, a new job. The circle has closed.

It was at this point when these words flashed on the overhead screen:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus--
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me--
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, I still will follow,
though none go with me, I still will follow,
though none go with me, I still will follow,
no turning back, no turning back.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?--
no turning back, no turning back.

I couldn't help but feel that the Lord was speaking to me directly. In that moment, I realized that I made a decision a number of years ago to follow Jesus. Yes, I gave my life to the Lord as a little child. I recommitted to Him when I was a teenager. I followed the Lord in baptism as a young woman. I lived what I thought was an honoring life as a wife and mother for many years. Then I found myself single. In between, I received His call again and I accepted it. I began the process of following Jesus as a devoted believer -- seeking His Kingdom first and foremost -- and pledging my life to His service. The past 8-9 years have been all about me learning what it means to follow Jesus. I have come to accept my calling, to understand my role, and to find myself walking in very different pathways than I ever anticipated before. My life was upended one day in 2007, and now in 2014, I am following Jesus with my whole heart, my whole mind, and all of my soul and my being. 

While my ex-husband is seeking a new family, I am seeking to go where the Lord sends me, to do His work, and to honor Him with all my effort. My life is moving forward in a new direction, and it is all because I decided to follow Jesus. I realized that what the Lord was saying to me last night and early this morning was this:

"Dear Carol: You made a choice to follow after me. I have never let you down, and I have never left your side. You are well on your way to accomplishing my will for your life, but you must let this old life go. You must let it go so that you can continue to walk where I am going. You are ready, you can do this, so let this go and come walk with me."

The service ended with a great message that helped to confirm to me that I am right where the Lord wants me to be. SBC, for all intents and purposes, is a good church. I like the preaching and the worship, but it is not my home any longer. My home is with the Lord, and that means that wherever He goes, I go. I am home so long as I continue to follow Him.

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