April 13, 2015

Moving Ahead and Then Waiting

Have you ever felt like you were moving forward, and then all of a sudden, you stopped short of your destination? It is like when you are in a car, driving down the road, and all of a sudden you hit the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of you. For a moment, you are jarred into the reality of the situation. You realize how close you came to plowing into the back of the car in front of you. You are thankful for your brakes and your braking power.

Today is one of those days for me. I feel like I have been moving along this path of transition for a long while now. I am cruising along out on the open highway with no end in sight. It seems like I am moving at a good speed and so far I have encountered little to no resistance. I am driving on without much attention to the bumps in the road, the small potholes, that seem to be here and there. Then all of a sudden it is WHAM and I swerve to avoid a major collision. I stop to catch my breath and to collect my thoughts. I whisper to myself, "Oh my, I almost lost it there," and I thank the Lord for His provision and grace to keep me safe. I rest for a bit, but rather than putting my car back into drive and moving forward again, I sit. A momentary fear comes over me -- "Wow, that was a close one," and I begin to think perhaps I should turn around, I should go back to where I came from because the road up ahead looks bumpy and filled with more pot holes.

Moses, the Children of Israel, and the Wilderness

Bang! The story of the Children of Israel, Moses, and the path from Mount of Horeb to the promised land enters my mind. This story is told in Deuteronomy 1, and it picks up where Moses tells the people that he can no longer bear to carry the burden of serving as arbiter between them. He tells them to choose wise men to judge their needs, to decide cases, thus keeping only the most serious of cases for himself. It has been a long time of managing the needs of the people, and Moses is tired. I mean it has been 40 years since the story began back in Exodus, and here the people are -- still unwilling -- to move forward in God's plan for their settlement. They are literally STUCK in transition, stuck in this place of desolation, and they are unwilling to move forward. Let me explain...

The story in this first chapter speaks directly to Israel's refusal to enter the land the Lord is giving them. Moses recounts their journey from Egypt, and the 40 years they tarried in the wilderness. According to the story, Horeb was 11-days journey to Kadesh Barnea or the land of the Ammorites. The Israelites were supposed to go in and take possession of the land the Lord was giving to them, but they refused. They didn't want to go up against the Ammorites. Moses says that they grumbled in their tents, complaining how God hated them, and how it would have been better to leave them in Egypt (as slaves).

Verse 8 says, "See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give to them and their descendants after them."

The Lord had given the land of Canaan to the Israelite's for their possession. It was part of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord had moved the children of Israel from Egypt, rescued them, and brought them to the land of promise. Yet, before they could take possession, they had to clean it up and remove all the foreigners living in the land. The children of Israel wanted the land to be empty, to be free from inhabitants so that they could go in and take hold without any work, without any hardship or without any difficultly. But the land was inhabited, and the Lord said they had to go and do work, specific work, before they could take possession of it.

This story is important because it reminds us that the Lord's work always comes to pass regardless of how long we may stop along the way (remember the story of Jonah?) In the case of the Israelites, 40 years passed before they entered the promised land. In those 40 years, a lot of hardship, suffering, and difficultly took place. They chose to be disobedient, to not follow the Lord's commands, and as a result, the Lord kept them in this wilderness until they were ready, until all the people who disobeyed His commands were dead. Still, the children and grandchildren of those released captives hesitated to enter the land.

Verses 19-21 say, "So we departed from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the mountains of the Amorites, as theLord our God had commanded us. Then we came to Kadesh Barnea. And I said to you, ‘You have come to the mountains of the Amorites, which the Lordour God is giving us. Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged."

Yes, even with this great testimony from Moses, their leader, the people still refused to go in and possess the land the Lord had promised to them.

Sigh.

As I read this story today, I thought to myself, "What an awful and desolate place to be stuck in...why didn't they want to leave the desert and go into a more fruitful and beautiful land?" As I pondered this thought, I imagined what the land looked like, and how awful it must have been for them to camp there for 40 years. I mean the desert of all places! I happen to live in the desert, and while it is tolerable in Phoenix because it is well-watered and somewhat green (and we have air conditioners), life in the ancient world's desert would have been miserable and inhospitable. Consider living in the dirt for 40 years without running water. Even with tents for shelter, the heat, the dirt, and the sand would have been difficult, downright miserable (our summer dust storms are awful, but they are nothing compared to the dust storms in the Middle East). No wonder they cried out to go back to Egypt. Egypt was desert watered by the Nile River. It was fertile and green. Not so with the land around Mt. Sinai. It was brown, all brown.

In some ways, I feel like I share an affinity with the children of Israel. I have been living in the desert for almost 20 years. I came here in good faith, believing that it was a good decision and that the choice to move would better our family situation. This was not the case, of course. Rather than improving our life, it made matters worse. I came here thinking that living in Phoenix would provide more opportunity, a better quality of life, and a blessed future. I was wrong, so very wrong.

I left a good life in San Jose, albeit a poor life, to move to the desert thinking that I could put the difficulties of my life behind me. Yes, I was running away from the hardships in San Jose, and I was looking to greener hills and fertile valleys (figuratively) associated with "starting over." My ex-husband promised a new life, a new way of living and working, and I saw the potential for home ownership as a plus. I believed that we would come to Phoenix, get settled, and start over again. It was going to be a fresh start for us, but instead it turned out to be 20 years of living in the wilderness, the desert.

I left everything to come to Phoenix. I left my home, my family, and my life in order to re-establish myself in this new place. Don't get me wrong, Phoenix was and is a beautiful place. It is very nice in the winter months, but it is inhospitable in the summer months. I came here thinking that I would find peace, rest, and blessing. My old life in San Jose would be put behind me, and my new life in Phoenix would be bright, shining, and full of hope.

The past 20 years have been a challenge for me. I would say that I have had little happiness since moving here. I struggled to get along with my in-laws, and I suffered depression over leaving my family behind (almost suicidal depression). I lost my marriage in the end, my home, and my identity -- all in thinking that this was the place the Lord had in mind for me to go. I was dead wrong, and so off the mark. The disobedience of the first 10 years of marriage continued through the next 20. Finally, the end came, and I walked away from a shattered life. I have been sitting at the foot of Mt. Horeb (figuratively) now for five years. I have been resting, recuperating, and yes, restoring my life (new identity in Christ, new career, new level of education, etc.). But now the Lord is calling me to go, and I am acting like the Children of Israel and suggesting that we slow down, stay a while longer, sit a spell, so to speak. The Lord has told me to go, to go and possess the "land" He is giving to me, and yet, I linger and think about staying put. Why? Why do I do this?

I have wanted to leave the desert from the moment I got here. This is truth, and I admit it finally. I loved living in San Jose. It was beautiful, it was so lush and green. I was happy there, so very happy! Sure, I had teenage angst, and I had a broken heart from a bad relationship (my first). I wanted out of my parents home something fierce, and rather than consider the plans the Lord had for me as a young single woman, I chose instead to marry a man who represented everything I thought I wanted (Godly, from a good family, hardworking, dedicated, etc.). I chose poorly, and I married a man who was not in love with me. He liked me (he admitted it), but he never loved me. He was in love with someone else, and he wasn't able to marry this person, so he took the next best thing -- me. It is hard to be someone's second best, very hard. It fills your head with thoughts that shout "you are not what he wants...you are not the one he wants!" I was young, foolish and naive. I fell for his smooth words, and his family ties, and I married him. Now, I don't regret my blessing -- my son -- but I do think my choice led to a boatload of hurt, a wilderness experience, and a very hard and very difficult existence.

It has been five years since my life detonated, and I found myself single. In that time, many wonderful things have happened to me. I came through the hardship, the toil, and the strain with my head and my heart in tact. The Lord provided abundantly for me, and I have recovered the shame of being a divorced woman. I am renewed, reformed, and ready to tackle whatever the Lord has in mind for me. I just need to get going...I need to keep on moving down the road. I cannot stay in the wilderness any more. I have to move. I have to go. I have to leave the comfort and the safety of what I know for the promise of good that exists over there -- over the river -- on the other side of the desert.

What does this mean for me today, in practical language?

I think it means that the Lord intends for me to go, and that I cannot remain where I am any longer than necessary. He has sustained me in the wilderness, but this is not my final destination. He never intended me to be here, this was purely my choice, and He is ready to open the door and move me out. But, I have to go. I cannot stay where the Lord doesn't want me to be. I must go, and I must go today.

What I know today is this...
  • The Lord has a great plan for my life. This plan includes ministry work, a good solid career (job), and the promise blessing of a home of my own.
  • The Lord has offered me an olive branch, so to speak, a way to leave behind my life as I know it and to go to a new unknown place to live.
  • The Lord has promised provision and resources to enable me to go to this new place.
  • The Lord has provided friendship and love for me in this new place.
  • The Lord has assured me that this is His plan, and that He will never leave me alone along the way.
  • The Lord's timing is perfect, and He has been calling me to go for a while. He is ready for me to move, but I have been hesitant to go.
  • The Lord is saying that I must go now, not later, not in a year or two, but now. The time is now, and I must let go of the past, the comfort of the wilderness, and embrace the new land, the new life He has waiting for me.
I am ready to go, so ready. Yet, it is difficult to leave behind the life you know, have known for so long. Twenty years is a long time to be in one place, and even though I want to go, begged to go, I still am unsure about "the going" part. How will I do it? How will I survive? How will I live?

The Lord has all these details in His capable hands. I just need to trust Him, rest in His sufficiency, and let go of the last remnants that I cling to, the last bits of the old life. I have to let the old life go -- all of it -- so that I can embrace the new life with open hands and arms.

Yes, Lord, I will go. I am ready to go. I don't want to remain in the desert any longer. Please take me to the fertile green valleys of this new place, this land of promise, and fulfill your word to me this good day. Selah!

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