January 24, 2016

Next Steps and Other Things

It is a bright and beautiful Sunday here in sunny and warm, Phoenix. Yes, the weather is delightful, and the next week's forecast is for more of the same -- highs in the mid-70s with no rain in sight. What a blessing for me! I sure do miss the in-climate weather that the Midwest, South and East are experiencing, but the fact remains, there is no better time to be in AZ than in the late winter and early spring. It is absolutely DELIGHTFUL!

I am home today, suffering with some issues that required me to do "church at home." It has been a hard fought battle with me, this doing "church" business. And, in truth, I have struggled with church for the past ten years. I guess there is simply too much water under that bridge for me to go back, to find a home at my old church. My parents church is not quite right, even though I did attend there for 7-8 years. I was there for my son's benefit, and I struggled with the theological perspective presented and with the overall focus of the ministry. I looked aside for a very long time, and when the time came to change churches, I went back to my former home church. The problem was and is -- you can never go home. Yes, my home church is nonexistent, and what is there now is a good thing, a God thing, but the memories are too strong, and the personal issues too great, and well, I simply cannot overcome the way I feel. Not now. Not now. Perhaps in time, perhaps after I move away from this area. I don't know, I just know that what I feel is not going to go away anytime soon. Sigh.

I made the decision today to let this pass, to let it go. I think the reason I am feeling poorly this morning is because of something my parent's pastor said to me yesterday. He is a nice man, and I like him. But, he asked where I was attending, and it was the way he said it that bothered me. I know he didn't mean to offend me, and I am sure he had no idea of my issues with the church itself. I think he was being kind and doing the "pastoral thing." I mumbled my answer, but it didn't sit well with me. Clearly, my feelings on the matter were showing, and my answer, well, it didn't sit well with him either. Sigh.

I spent the entire night tossing and turning. My sleep was disturbed by imagery that was upsetting, and some of my dreams were clearly the kind that suggested to me that what I am experiencing in the reality of daylight (my lack of control, etc.) was crossing over into the unreality of nighttime. I could tell that my dreams were simply the result of some of the mental issues I am struggling with right now. But there was more to these images, and I know that part of what I experience last night was the stress over "where to fellowship for church." Yes, my Sundays are no longer a day of rest. I stress, I worry, and I fret over them. This has been the case for nearly two months now, and the problem doesn't seem to be going away. Sigh.

What Do I Do?

Well, I really have two choices. I can ignore the symptoms or I can go to the doctor and ask for help. I have tried ignoring the symptoms for a while now -- almost a full year -- and they simply are not going away. Every Sunday I feel the exact same way. I feel pressured to attend a church I cannot call my home. I feel pressured to go there and to look past what I see, who I see, and to put on a happy face that says "I am okay with it." I have been lying to myself for a year now. I have been telling myself that it is okay, I am the bigger person, and that I can overcome this emotional struggle. But the truth is that I cannot. I have tried, for sure. I have given it the good old college try, but I cannot do it. I am depressed whenever I cross the threshold of the parking lot. What's more...the depression has started to meet me here at home. I feel it, I sense the stress building on Saturday night, and well, what happens? I usually wake up sick, feeling unwell, and then I end up not going anywhere at all.

I know it is psychosomatic. You know, all in my head. I accept that as truth because I believe that this is mostly true. Yes, it is emotional and mental, and yes, I am unable to control my feelings on the matter. As I repress my feelings, I make myself sick. It happens. I used to live this way years ago. I know better. Still, it happens. I just cannot get over this problem, this emotional pain, and I feel like I can either hide it (which is what I am doing) or address it (trying to, anyhow) or deal with it (plan C).

I figure I can do either of these choices, but only one will bring me healing. I need to address the symptoms and then deal with them. I tried ignoring them, putting on the happy face as stated above, but that clearly didn't work for me. Now, I need to look at the problem squarely and simply deal with the fact that what I feel is OK, accept it, and move on. Moving on.

Moving on is a challenge, especially when it is choice that someone else has made for you. I shouldn't be in this situation. I mean, really, I didn't ask to be where I am. I didn't ask to lose my life, my whole life. No, I accepted that fate six years ago, and as a result, I have been on a whirl-ride trying to stand upright and make sense, some sort of sense out of what I am to do, where I am to go, and how I am to get there. It has been difficult, make no mistake, and there have been times when the ride felt so fun, so exciting, and so exhilarating. But, there have also been times when I have felt sick, so sick that I thought I would not be able to lift my head. I have worn a brave face, put on the "happy outlook," and preached the message of hope, of promise, and of trust in the goodness of God. I believe what I preach, mind you, it is just that there have been times, many times, when I was "faking it until I make it" (saying it so I would believe it).

The truth be told, I am unhappy with many things in my life. I try not to focus on my unhappiness, but sometimes the sadness just overwhelms me, and I find it difficult to keep moving forward. I know I put on a good show, always perky, always smiling, but there are days when I just feel so alone, so lost, and so confused that I want to go home -- all the way home. I don't want to play this game anymore. I want to get off this ride. I want to go home.

Today is a day when I want to go home -- to His home. I want to be with the Lord and just say "let this be over, please?" I know that is not His will, and that He does understand my frustration and my struggle. He wants me to overcome, to be tough, and to hang in there. You know, He wants me to finish this race strong. I want to do that as well, but my heart is feeling so low, and my emotional state is in flux. I really would rather give up, give in, and just get it over with. Know what I mean?

Making Difficult Choices and the Road Ahead

As I process these thoughts, one thing comes to mind. I am the product of my own making. I cannot blame the Lord for choices I made that brought me to this place of sorrow. Nope. I am 100% responsible for my own choices, the good ones and the not-so-good ones. I am 100% in the driver's seat when it comes to accepting the sum total of my past actions. I said "yes." I consented. I agreed. I didn't say "no." I didn't stand my ground, and as a result, I suffered negative consequences that have had far reaching repercussions on my life. The storms and waves that crash over me, well, they are the result of some awfully big boulders I allowed to drop right into the middle of the pond I call "life."

I'd like to blame my ex-husband for causing all the sorrow in my life, but that would be unfair. Yes, he is responsible for his actions too, but I allowed so much of what became of our life to happen simply because I was unwilling to go against him or his mother. I didn't stand up for what I believed was right. I didn't say "no way, Jose!" and mean it. I looked the other way, I gave up, and in doing so, I allowed other people to have say, to have sway, and to have authority over me. The result was a series of really bad choices that right now are causing me a lot of pain, a lot of sorrow, and a lot of heart ache. Yes, right now, with the way I feel, the deep and profound sadness I am experiencing, I know that the cause of these feelings is my past, my history, and my experiences of the last 8-10 years. Yes, all of these experiences are coalescing right now and driving these feelings of emotional un-wellness. I know it, I accept it, and now I am ready to deal with it. Let's move on.

When I look back over the course of my life, I see so many choices, so many opportunities. I had options, you know, options for my life. I could have chosen to walk a different path, and the outcome, certainly would have been different. I could have gone a different route, and frankly, while there would have been no guarantees of happiness, the result surely would have been different from what I experienced on this track. Yes, I had choices, plenty of choices, and in the end, I went the way I did because I refused to accept the Lord's will for my life. I refused to accept His call, and in doing so, I chose a way that I believed would be "acceptable to Him." I acted like Cain and I gave an unacceptable sacrifice to the Lord. The result was a life that showed me what disobedience was all about. Let me explain...

When I was sixteen, I heard the Lord's voice speak to me. I don't remember what it was like or if I really "heard" Him speak to me, but I remember the experience, and I remember how that experience changed me. I heard Him say something that made me take notice, made me listen, and made me believe (no other words fit) that He had a very special plan for my life. I heard Him speak, move me to action, and in doing so, I began to walk in a different way. My whole life was changed in one moment. I remember the details well -- I was standing at my bedroom window. I was crying about something, probably the hurt I was experiencing, the sadness over having left my friends in IL and the loneliness I felt in this new place, living in San Jose. I felt Him touch me, move me, and my heart responded. I heard Him speak into my spirit and say that He had a plan for my life, and that His plan was good. I had to believe Him, of course, and I had to obey. I remember this part clearly. I had to follow Him, and do what He was asking me to do. I responded, not audibly, at the least, I don't recall saying anything. It was more that I felt, really felt that He was telling me the truth, that God, the God of the heavens was telling me that my life was going to turn out right, and that I would come to know Him very intimately and personally.

It was not long after that "experience" that I began to make changes to my life. I began obsessed with learning His word. I became increasingly aware of my friendships, and I distanced myself from some people who weren't thinking like me, who didn't believe what I believed. I embraced the church, and I became very active in ministry. I was only 16, going on 17, but I started to teach Sunday School, and I began to immerse myself in everything related to God, to His work, and to His way.

My life changed instantaneously, and I began to see certain things. I began to see that His plan for my life would require a measure of holiness, of righteousness, and of purity. I wasn't interested in boys (well, outside of thinking they were cute). I was interested in God. My family told me I was turning into a "Jesus Freak," and I needed to stop it. I didn't care. I loved what was happening to me, even if I didn't understand how to fit in with the in-crowd or even feel like my life had purpose. I was confused most of the time, still struggling to overcome doubts and insecurities, and for the most part, trying so very hard to figure "life out."

It wasn't until I was 20 when I realized that God was calling me into teaching. I had started college, but there wasn't much happening in my life. A bad breakup had left me reeling and my grades were falling as a result. I was messed up, all over the place, and then mysteriously, I felt the Lord say to me "Why don't you become a teacher?" I remember thinking, "Lord, I would like that, I would like that a lot." But the pain of the breakup and some other personal  issues from my former church (broken friendships, betrayals, etc.) just made it impossible for me to imagine that I could do anything of the sort. I felt like such a loser, such a total loser. I tried to get advice from school, from counselors and teachers, and I sought my parents for guidance. My parents simply refused to help me, which left me all the more alone and struggling to understand what was happening to me. How could I explain to them what I felt inside? You see, they didn't believe God communicated personally to His followers. Sure, they believed He did communicate, but only through His word and the pastor's sermon. No, they didn't buy into any personal revelation. They thought I was crazy.

In the end, I dropped out of school and I went to work. This was not the best choice for me, and I floundered for a while. I went back with my old boyfriend for a short while only to find that he was two-timing me. I broke up with him, changed churches, and bam! I met my ex-husband on the rebound. My ex was four years older than I was, and well, he seemed to have his whole life together. I bought his line, and in a short time, we were inseparable. I thought "this is it," this is what I was supposed to do with my life. I could imagine us being married, having children, and living the model Christian life. It seemed so good, so good. But in hindsight, it was a lie. It was all a lie, and while I don't doubt that he was a believer during those formative years, I do believe that his faith was very shallow, and for all intents and purposes, it was put on as a mask to keep his parents from knowing the truth about what he was really doing, thinking, and feeling.

I married after two years of dating, and in those two years, I came to move farther and farther away from God's call. I knew it. I remember a pastor who came to our church and preached on God's calling. I was convicted, strongly convicted, and I had doubts about whether I was doing the right thing. I remember praying about it, and asking the Lord if I was heading in the right direction. I knew the answer, I knew it, but I refused to accept it. I talked with my then fiance about it as well, about what I thought God was calling me to do, and he flatly rebuked me. He didn't want to follow after me. He didn't want to go where the Lord was leading me. I felt so lost. How could I believe one thing, but be experiencing something completely different? My best option was to turn around and head back to where I last felt, no knew, I was in the Lord's will. But, rather than turn around, and head back to where He wanted me to be, I plodded on, pushing the doubts behind me. I told myself that I didn't believe the doubts were real, and that this "could be" His will for me.

I guess you could say that all of this early "experience" was His will for my life. It would be weird to think that way, but when you factor everything into the mix, the person I am today, well, clearly these early experiences worked together to create His will. The choices I made, I made in disobedience to His guidance and His advice. I walked in my own way, and in doing so, I experienced a lot of things that perhaps the Lord had intended for me to avoid. I suffered great sorrow, and while that sorrow almost took my life (twice), I realize now that it was all part of the way I have come to rely on Him. So while it wasn't His will for me to suffer such sorrow, it was His will for me to be conformed to His image, which unfortunately is as a "Man of Sorrows." And while the choices weren't His expressed will for me, per se, the outcome was. The Lord wanted me to be strong, to be a person of faith, and to be ready to do His work. In order to facilitate that outcome of His will, I had to learn how to be a strong person of faith. In short, I had to learn how to be established in faith, and for me, that meant experiencing situations and circumstances that strengthened, deepened, and at times, challenged my faith so that it would grow.

Where Am I Today

I am right where He wants me to be. I may not like it all, you know, like all the issues that are still left to be resolved,  but I do know that I am where He wants me to be -- for now -- that is.

As I think about this today, I realize that much of what I am still dealing with, as in the emotional issues, the sorrow, etc., is leftover baggage from my married life. It is hard to move on from a major event such as the dissolution of marriage. It is hard to pick up the stakes and move on. I have made good strides in moving forward, in heading in the direction I believe He is calling me to go, but I still carry some baggage, some small cases, that simply need to be jettisoned over the bridge, metaphorically speaking. Yes, there are some issues that are still unresolved, some tension that at times brings up my deep inner sorrow and sadness, and as a result, causes it to overflow into other areas of my life. I know this is the case. I know it, and I know that to be finally free from these things, I must move forward far enough to be distanced from their reach. I have done this already in a number of other areas in my life. I have distanced myself from my former in-laws and spouses family. I have walked away from the negative talk, the downward glances, and the stigma of divorce as best as I could, but I realized today, right now as a matter of fact, that one of the reasons why I cannot attend my former "home church" is simply because of the stigma of that label. You see, while I know divorce people are accepted in this place, the problem is that my former family ties are strong there, and there are many, many people who knew me as "married," and who simply cannot accept me as "divorced." I feel it whenever I walk on campus. I feel it when I sit in the sanctuary. I am divorced, and this is not acceptable -- not for me -- anyway.

The stigma of divorce will remain with me as a label for the rest of my life. Even if the Lord chooses for me to remarry, I will be a divorced, remarried woman. You see, I can never get away from it. I may say "single" on applications, but the truth is that I am divorced. End of story.

I knew this would be the case when the Lord asked me to choose: choose to remain married, but live singly or divorce and bear the stigma attached to it. I chose the latter because I felt like I was stuck forever in limbo land. I know that I had permission to divorce, that is not what I am saying, I am just saying that there is a stigma in the church regarding divorce, and the Lord wanted me to carefully consider the ramifications of becoming a divorced person.

Dealing with the Truth

Now, I have to deal with the truth, and I have to figure out a way to live with it. Okay, so I get it. I do. I think what has to happen is that I need to restart my life elsewhere. It isn't about running away, it is simply about starting over. I think that perhaps this is why the Lord put 2016-2017 into my head regarding relocating. I need to relocate for my health, my well-being, my good. I've been saying that I need to move for a job, but the truth is that I need to move for a fresh start. I need to move so that I can put the past behind me. I know some people can remain, live in the same place, but I have done this now for the past six years, and it is not working for me. I need to go, to move, to make a life for myself. I want this badly, and I want to go soon.

This means that while the issue with "church" started me down this road, I realize that the real issue isn't the church, but my past. My past will not leave me alone until I move away from it. The farther I distance myself from my past, the better off I will be. I need to start some place where I have a clean slate, a new and fresh life. I won't be ready to do this for a while yet, but I believe this is why the Lord has put the desire into my heart to move. I have looked at this the wrong way. I have considered staying put to take care of my parents, to facilitate my son's schooling, etc. But in all of that, I couldn't reconcile the way I felt about staying. I want to go and to experience new life. To do this, I need to make some big bold changes to my life now. I need to get a job that will take me away from here (Phoenix), and I need to move to a place where I can be settled, even if for a short time (a few years) until the Lord is ready to plant me where He wants me to grow. I get it now. I see it now. I understand.

Yes, Lord, I am ready to move forward in my life. I am ready to let the past go, to leave all that little baggage that I have been holding on to here in Phoenix, and walk on in the freedom and joy you are offering to me. I need to go, to experience new life, in a new place, and with a new attitude and a new approach. I am ready, Lord. I am ready.

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