July 4, 2017

Resting Today

Happy July 4th! Yes, it is America’s 241st birthday. Happy birthday, America!

It is a good day here in sunny and hot, Phoenix. Yes, it is hot today. The highs are forecast to hit 110 or higher, and well, that makes for a difficult Fourth of July celebration. As of right now, we have no real plans other than to enjoy the day indoors. I don’t think fireworks are in order. My parents are too elderly to be outdoors at night, and the heat is pretty much an energy zapper. My son might do something with his friends, but I am thinking that I will probably just stay inside and enjoy the spectacle on TV.

I am content in that plan. I mean, I’ve never been one for major celebrations, and I haven’t really even enjoyed fireworks and such since I was a child. In fact, I would say that the last time I enjoyed celebrating July 4th was when I lived in Illinois. In IL, everyone participated in the day. If the weather was nice, we all spent the early part of the day at the local swim club. Once the afternoon was wearing thin, we went home to family BBQs. Yes, in my neighborhood this meant everyone cooked out on their BBQs. We had summer corn, hamburgers and hotdogs, homemade potato salad, and watermelon. Once the sun set, the fire flies came out, and then the sparklers and little firecrackers. My neighbors across the street hosted a bar in their garage and everyone was welcome to stop by for a beer or cooler. We had music and dancing in the driveway, and for all of us kids, we either played Kick the Can or Freeze Tag until we were bitten senseless. We all had our flags out, and yes, we were patriotic. The parents, Mom’s mostly, sat on the porch steps and drank Iced Tea. The Dads hung out in the garage or sat in lawn chairs in the drive way. We all gathered together for a celebration that was about family, friends, and community.

After I moved to CA, life changed to such an extreme for me. Gone were the street gatherings, the family socials, and instead, everyone hid in their backyards. Yes, the streets were filled with cars, but no one was out front. Everyone stayed indoors or in the private spaces behind their fenced homes. It was weird for me to spend a holiday without friends. Even just sitting on the porch steps and talking about boys, cars, or dances — it was like life stopped for me. Of course, I got involved in church, and I had church friends and parties to go to, but the community spirit, that sense of community simply disappeared.

I learned how to live inside my home, in private from my time in CA. I also learned how to be selective in community, in friends. In IL, pretty much everyone was invited to the block party. Even if you were the grumbling person down the street, you were still welcome to attend the festivities. I miss that social aspect of living in a smaller midwestern town. It is funny, but I don’t remember being introverted as a child. If anything, I was extroverted as a child. I guess children are always extroverted, but I really learned how to live alone after leaving the Midwest and moving to the unsocial CA. I think I also learned to be anti-social after I suffered humiliation and betrayal as a teenager. I learned that the safest place to exist was inside my head. I could control the hurt if I simply didn’t engage with others. I could be OK so long as I didn’t have to spend time with people or suffer the insults or ill-will of others.

Now, I am a mature adult, and I have long since let go of those childhood hurts and feelings. Yet, the patterns, the habits of being anti-social continue. I still withdraw, and I still spend the majority of my time alone. It is a choice I have made to control the pain, to keep the hurt from tearing me apart. The problem is that I have allowed past hurt to keep me from being active, engaged, and socially invested in the lives of others. I have chosen to remain distant because it living at a distance is the best place to keep oneself from being hurt, from being abandoned. The thinking is quite logical, really. If I remove myself from the fray, the fray cannot hurt me. Yes, if I live in abandonment on purpose, then no one can ever leave me because I will have already left them.
Seeing Life From Another Vantage Point

Today, I woke up thinking, “yet again,” about how much I long to move from Arizona. Don’t get me wrong, I am choosing to be content, to wait, to patiently live out my time in the desert. But, I cannot help feel that I am supposed to go somewhere else, and while I have tried to figure it out, the where I mean, what has been the most sticky part of the puzzle has been the why. You see, I have believed in error, that the desire I have in my heart to leave Phoenix was simply my desire to run away from my memories here, my life here, and to return to a fantasy, a rose-colored memory from my childhood. I have beaten myself up over why I want to go to my childhood home, when in fact, my childhood home holds little to no sweet memories for me. My childhood in IL, for example, was a good one — over all. But there was much hurt and heartache, and yes, even abuse during these years. So why would I want to go back there if the only memories were painful ones.

I have felt guilty over wanting my childhood life — not the actual life — but the place of my childhood. I have felt guilty that what I wanted — to move to a four-season climate was all about me wishing, hoping, and dreaming of a life that simply didn’t exist.

No matter how I tried to tell myself to stop thinking about it, stop dreaming or imagining what it would be like, the fact remained that the desire simply didn’t POOF away. No, it just stuck with me.

So this morning, as I laid in bed and thought again about how I want a certain “kind” of life, I asked the Lord a more specific question. Instead of asking if the desire I had was His will — as in — is it your will, Lord, for me to move back to the Midwest? I asked, instead, if it was His desire for me to do so. You see, I have had desire and will connected so tightly at the hip that whenever I would consider them, I could only consider them as a couple — unbroken — as it were. Today, though, I simply focused on the desire part of the feeling. I asked the Lord why I have this desire. I mean, what is my motivation? Is it purely selfish? Is it a childhood memory that won’t fade away? Is it my desire or His desire? And, if it is mine, why cannot I let it go?

As I rolled over, I began to think more clearly about desires I have had in the past. I am not talking about fleshly desires like sex or passion or romance. No, I am speaking about desires I have had to do something — to work in a certain career or attend school for a specific degree. I have thought about the times I have had where I really, really wanted something badly. Like when I wanted to go to San Jose Bible College as a young girl. I wanted to be a teacher. I felt called to be a teacher, and while I could attend San Jose State University (and later I did), I felt this strong push — an intense desire — to study at this private Christian college instead. This desire didn’t come out of my head. No, it was a Godly-fueled and centered desire that really just landed on me one day when I was lost, lonely, and so very confused. I prayed, asked for direction, and this was the word I received, “San Jose Bible College.” In fact, it was a word that came from a friend, and not a word that came from inside of me. It was a friend who came up to me, out of the blue, and said to me, “Carol, have you thought about attending San Jose Bible College?” I didn’t know anything about the school at that time, so I said, “No.” Later, though, I learned more about it. I visited the school, picked up the information, and thought about it, prayed about it, and determined that it was the place the Lord wanted me to attend. Of course, that didn’t happen — as I said previously. I didn’t attend there simply because my parents said “No.” I couldn’t afford to go there on my own, and without my parents help, I couldn’t get any loans (Federal aid was different back then).

I remembered today how this desire just appeared to me. It didn’t come as the result of me wanting it or even thinking about it. It just happened, and there it was, just like that. The same was true when I had this desire for graduate school. I relate this story often simply to show that sometimes the Lord uses people, non-Christian people, to do His work and His will. I was a student at SJSU at the time this desire landed on my heart. I had no intention of anything more than getting my BA. I wasn’t thinking longterm, and frankly, I wasn’t even thinking about a career at this point in time. My ex-husband wanted me to finish my degree and get a good job — at Apple. He didn’t care about teaching, and he had such a hatred for the profession that he forbid me to discuss it with him. More so, he was miffed that I was not working and that I was attending school full-time. It was the one time in my life, up to that point, where I forced my will on him. I so believed that I was meant to be back at school, studying Humanities, that I refused to let him bully me into dropping out. I just proceeded to do my studies, get all As, and worry about “what was next” until I finished school.

Then, quite suddenly, my professor suggested to me that I stay on and attend graduate school so I could become a professor. I had never even thought about that as a possibility, but here I was being encouraged to go for it, to not let anything stand in my way, and to trust God to provide a way. Yes, to trust God to provide a way.

Of course, that path didn’t materialize for nearly 17 years, but my professor put the idea into my head, and shortly thereafter, I became so motivated to pursue it, that I was willing to forsake everything to do it. I’ve blogged about the long wait. The long, long, long wait to finish, but the idea came first — out of the blue — unexpectantly and then the desire was born as a result. The desire never waned, even though I had to wait for years to receive the outcome. I didn’t come up with the desire. I didn’t even think about the idea. No, someone suggested it, and I considered it, and before I knew it, I was convinced it was His plan for my life.

Now, 24 years later, that idea turned into a desire and that desire fueled a passion. That passion led me to forsake everything, to become so focused that I was willing to give up my life as I knew it simply to pursue this one path. I did it, and praise be to God, He provided a way for me to do it. I am a professor now, and I have my degrees. I followed the desire of my heart, and the desire led me to this place in time.

Thus, I wonder where this desire to return to my childhood place comes from and whether it is my own desire or His desire.

This morning, I asked Him to help me understand the desire itself and the motivation behind the desire. I don’t want to desire anything that is not part of His plan for my life. To surrender one’s life to the Lord means to surrender everything — desires included. What I have learned over the course of my time as a Christ follower is that surrendering desires is a good thing. We have many desires when we first come to Christ. Most of them, not all, are fleshly desires. We desire to be lifted up (pride), we desire to have what we don’t have (envy), we desire flesh (lust), and we desire to be first (headship). We bring all these sinful desires with us, but we leave them at the cross. These desires along with the sins deeds that were committed as a result of our weakness were nailed to the cross of Christ. But, just because we walk through the cross (figuratively) doesn’t mean that our flesh has been stripped of its neediness. No, we often carry over the proclivity (the ability) toward desiring fleshly things. The old ways are hard to let go, and while we are in the process of sanctification, we can easily be tempted to follow those old ways.

The longer we walk with the Lord, however, and the more we lean on and study His word, the more we are able to leave those old ways behind. The power that held us slave to those desires has been broken, so really our ability to walk on and to walk in new ways rests solely in the power and presence of Jesus in our life. The more we lean on, abide in, and rely upon Him, the more we are able to put on new desires, new spiritual wants.

With this in mind, I realized this morning that since my time at the cross, I have let many of the old fleshly desires pass away. I have surrendered some at the altar, but many of them, simply lost their luster, so to speak. In recent years, I have had to deal with a few desires that had a stronghold. I took care of these at His feet, and since that time, I have pretty much been desire-free (fleshly, that is). Yet, I still worry about whether the desire I have is His or mine, and since I want to live my life completely in dependency upon Him, I really need to know that I am desiring something that is of His Spirit and not my own heart-need (selfish or sorrowful heart). You see, sometimes we want things because we have a deep need, a wound, and rather than allowing the Lord to heal us, we try to put salve on the wound using people, places or things. We desire something because we know that in the past it has temporarily provided safety, security, or solace for a hurt or wound that we will not allow to be healed.

The Lord has spoken this into my heart and placed it on my mind recently, and that is that I am not to fill my heart with anything other than Him. This means that if I have a sorrow, a need, a pain — whatever the cause — I am to turn to Him first. Of course, I am not speaking of physical pain from injury. Physical pain requires professional help, and the good Lord has provided doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners to diagnose and treat ailments and injuries. No, I am speaking about spiritual or emotional needs. I am talking about deep hurts that simply will not be resolved. I am speaking about the wounds of friends and lovers that will never stop hurting us. Yes, I am talking about trying to placate an emotional or spiritual need with something other than the Lord.

As a child, I often ran away when I suffered pain. I hid in the closet. I ran to the neighbors backyard and swingset. I hid under the covers — all in an attempt — to placate the emotional or physical pain. I tried to hide it from my family, from others, and in the end, I developed coping mechanisms that were predicated on FEAR. If I became fearful, I would run. If I felt that twinge of fear, I would begin to engage in practices and behaviors that while not “flight” often signaled the tendency toward flight.

Therefore, as I considered my motivation to want to move, to leave Phoenix, and to go to a new place, I had to first deal with the desire (who created the desire) and the motivation (the reason prompting the desire) as well as the intensity (the never ending passion toward the desire). I had to, in short, consider the why, what, where, when, why, who, and how of the desire.

  • What is this desire?
  • Why do I have this desire?
  • Where did this desire come from?
  • Who gave me this desire?
  • When did this desire begin?
  • How am I to react to this desire?

If I am honest and answer these questions, I should be able to understand more clearly my motivation and my response to the desire.

What is this desire? 

This desire is to leave Phoenix and move back to the Midwest where I grew up as a child. I spent 8 years living in the Midwest, but they were 8 foundational years for me. They weren’t perfect years, and despite abusive conditions (at school and home), the climate, the landscape, and the general way of life hold very dear memories for me.

When did this desire begin?

I think I have always had this desire — at the least — for the past 38 years. I wanted to leave the Midwest when I was a teenager (15) but that was due to peer pressure and bullying at school. I wanted to go someplace else to get away from the painful conditions at my school. The Lord moved me the summer I turned 16, and while I was relieved to have moved away, I found I was dropped into a new environment where I simply didn’t fit. I just didn’t fit. The next 38 years would be years of struggle to conform, to fit in, and to adapt to a style of living that wasn’t suited to my personality or my inner world.

Why do I have this desire? 

I desire to leave Phoenix now for different reasons than before. Previously, I wanted to move to get away from the pain and suffering I had to endure in this desert place. I loathe the heat, the dirt, the hard life, and of course, because of the difficult relationships I experienced here, I really wanted to go someplace to get away from it all. The Lord, had other plans, and for the past couple years, I have been stationary, not moving, and I believe the reason was to give me time to heal, to acknowledge the past hurt, but also to help me focus on the work He had for me to do. 

In short, I had to process through the experience and not run and hide. Not now. Not anymore. So over the past four years, my reasons for wanting to go have been more about opportunity, future options, and quality of life rather than escaping the past.  Now, I believe the desire I have to move away deals with the imagining of a new place. Yes, I really would like to live in a new place, to enjoy new things, and to experience new opportunities. I would like to meet new people, and while I can certainly do this any where, I would like to enjoy the blessing of experiencing a new life in a new way.

Who gave me this desire?

While I struggled with knowing if this was my own idea or whether the Lord put this desire into my heart, I have come to the conclusion that this is His desire and not my own. I base this decision on previous experience. This desire sort of developed as a result (most recently) of my son’s visit to the upper midwest last Christmas. I don’t know why, but his suggestion that he would really like to live there prompted me to consider the idea. I had only considered moving to IL previously — when I worked for CVS — and when there was the chance to relocate for business. Prior to that time, I only considered Tennessee and North Carolina as possible relocation spots, but both of these desires waned once my son completed high school and began community college.

Where did this desire come from?

I think this answer is summed up in the “who” part of the question. The Lord gave me this desire to help me to begin to think about His work more so than my personal interest. The desire has been with me since I left IL back in high school, but as life intervened, and I took different pathways, I never lost my interest in going home. Yes, I see IL as my home, even though I was only there such a short amount of time. My recent visit to Indiana proved this to me as well. I realized that I am so comfortable living, doing life in the Midwest. In IN, everyone got me, they understood me, and I simply fit in. I didn’t have to try to be anyone special. I could just be me. It was nice, really nice, and I loved the time I spent visiting with relatives and meeting new people. It was like a breath of fresh air to me, and it reignited the desire I have had to examine going there again.

How should I to react to this desire?

Well, this has been the difficult part for me. I have tried to knock the desire down, to give it up. I surrendered it to the Lord a while ago by saying, “Lord, I will go there if you want, but if your plan is for me to stay put here, so be it.” I didn’t want the fleshly desire (the want) to take over any of His plan for me. I didn’t want to go someplace He wasn’t leading me to go, KWIM?

I spent the past couple weeks looking at “potential” houses here in Phoenix. I am not in the market to buy yet, but I wanted to see what was available, to imagine what kind of house I could buy, and how I might live in one. I looked, looked, looked, and looked, and while I saw pretty much the same type of house I am in now (renting), I never quite felt that sense of “WOW! This is it!” Instead, it was like, “Okay, if I have to live here, this will be fine.” Yes, I was resolved to live here because if that was what the Lord wanted, I would make the best of the situation. I wasn’t happy about it, even though in my heart there was part of me that was relieved to be staying put. After all, my life is here. My parents are here. My son is here. My cats won’t be stressed. You know…lots of good reasons to stay put. But, in my heart of hearts, that little desire would not go away. It kept resurfacing again and again and again. It kept coming back up, and I couldn’t shake it. I tried to let it go, to let go of it, but then the thought would pop back up, and I’d think about it one more time.

You might be thinking, well — perhaps the enemy was taunting you — and you could be right. I realize that my enemy could be stoking the fire of disobedience and making me desire something I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t feel that way at all. No, the thought gave me joy, not conviction. I didn’t feel bad for thinking about it, I just felt happy considering it. In truth, I felt more sadness and sorrow whenever I thought about staying put. I felt like I had to stay here — like I was imprisoned here — more than I was relieved (though there was some relief in the mix).

I know that all of this analysis is probably overkill. My son would say so, for sure. But, I really do want to know if what I feel inside is real, true, and aligned with the Lord’s will, and the best way for me to do that is to write down my feelings, sort through them, compare them with previous (similar) feelings, and then see if anything appears to be of the same vein. You see, twice now I have had desires planted in my heart that were given to me by other people. I had not considered them before, and then a word was spoken, and I listened. I meditated on the word, and over time, the idea became a desire, and then the desire became a passion, and then eventually when the time was right, the passion produced fruit. I accomplished or did the thing that was initially spoken to me. I achieved a goal that was not generated in my mind, but was given to me by another person who cared about me, for me, and wanted to help me.

Now, I wonder if this is the same thing — the same genus of desire. Is my desire a God-centered one? Yes. Is my desire about His work and not mine? Yes. Is my desire passing or steady? It is steady. Is my desire something that would satisfy me or would satisfy His word? It is both. I have a need inside and I believe this desire covers my need as well as His word to me regarding the work I am to do for His name. Dos this desire honor the Lord? Yes. It is all about His work, and not about my work (teaching). Thus, it appears that what I am striving for, contending, and wrestling over is a desire that God has put into my heart, a desire that will not go away, and a desire that is pushing me to leave my family and my home to go someplace else — for His Name, His work, and His will.

I guess you can say that I have come to the point of the discussion where I have to agree. I am to go to this place. I am to go there for ministry, for work, and to live. I don’t know when, but now I know why. I don’t know how, but I know that if the Lord desires it, He will provide a way for me. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but as history has been clear to me, it will produce good fruit. It will produce His desired fruit. So, I am done now. I am no longer contending with the Lord on this matter. He has asked me over and over and over again, “Carol, will you go?” I have said, “Yes, Lord, I will go” but I don’t think I was convinced that I was TO GO until now. I was so unsure that this is what He wanted for me. I vacillated back and forth until I was sick. Now, I see that in all this time to contend with His will, I was coming to terms with my life, my past, and my experience thus far. I had to divest my “going” from any sort of freedom or wanting to escape, run away, or hide from hardship. No, this time the going would be for one reason and that reason was to obey the Lord and prepare for His work in this place. There could be no other reason — no loving the climate or the landscape — both of which are good reasons in and of themselves. No, the only reason I can say I am going is for His work. 

The funny part in this is that the Lord said to me several months ago that I would not go for a job. I had always asked, “Lord, can I please go with a job offer?” I wanted to be able to tell my family, my friends, my peers that I am going because I got this great job offer. But, the Lord said this would not be. I would go because of His work, and I would have to say this is the reason. The Lord is calling me there for ministry — no other reason. I was uncomfortable with this response. I wanted the easier way, but He said, I had to say it was to do His work.

Now, I see it. I see that my feelings of wanting to go were so tangled up in my past, in my memories of youth, and in my wishful wants (farmhouses, for example). I was all confused about why I was being asked to go, and I kept trying to make the going about other things (Was it a good choice for my son? Would I find work there?) It wasn’t like that those details weren’t important, rather it was that the Lord already had those details covered. The big issue was whether or not I would go because He asked me to go. It was about obedience to His command to go. Would I go for no other reason than because He asked me to do so? I was confused. I was confounded. I kept pounding Him with the details when all He wanted me to say was “yes or no.” Would I go because my Lord, my Savior, my King, and my God, asked me to go? No other reason. No other details necessary. My answer was never clear so the Lord didn’t relent. He gave me time to think about it. Time to imagine it. Time to consider what to do. 

In the end, I made my decision. Today, as a matter of fact, I said, “Lord, I will go because you have asked me to go.” Yes, I will go without a job. I will go without knowing the details of the move. I will go without really even knowing what I am to do there. He has asked me to go, and today there is only one response necessary. Yes, I will go.
In Closing

I am settled. I am set now, and I am ready to go. The Lord has been telling me that I have been ready to move for a while, but I haven’t really been in the right head, so to speak, to do it. I have been mixed up, as I blogged previously, about going, staying, remaining, and all the language associated with movement. Today, though, I have come to terms with what the Lord was asking me — a simple question — but one that I had failed to answer fully, completely, and honestly. I am ready now, Lord. I will go where you send me. I will live where you tell me to live. I will do the work you have prepared me to do. I will do all these things because you have asked me — for no other reason — than to walk in faithful obedience to the One who calls me by name.

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