July 11, 2017

Thinking Tuesday

It is a good Tuesday here in sunny and hot, Phoenix. I woke up this morning around 7 a.m., but after getting up briefly for a nature call, I settled back into my bed and read my phone for nearly two and a half hours! Oh my goodness! You may be wondering what could hold my attention for that long, and I hate to admit it, but really it was more about Pinterest than news or world events.

If I am being 100% honest (and I am), in that 2.5 hours, I also prayed, spent time in conversation with the Lord, and generally, meditated on the new day. Yes, I lazed, lounged, and laid about until I couldn’t stand it any longer. My back began to yell at me, so I roused myself up and headed down the hall to the kitchen for a good strong cup of coffee. I am now back in my room, at my desk, drinking said coffee while nibbling on some toast with grape jam. It is a good morning to be alive, and it is an even better morning to do little to nothing but rest.

I am thankful today. I spent the morning thinking about my life, about choices I have made, and also about opportunities for future change, and in and through it all, I simply realized that my life is blessed — uberly blessed — and as a result, I live in this very special and wonderful place. I take heart today because my life, not so long ago, was miserable, intolerable, and headed nowhere. I was in a relationship that was one-sided. I was committed to making the best of my marriage, despite the fact that my ex-husband wanted out. I was committed to keeping my family in tact, yet with every attempt to do so, my actions were thwarted and my outcomes and hopes were dashed. I longed for change, major change, and after praying for change for 25 years, but not seeing anything good come to pass, I can say now that I was relieved when the relationship ended, when my ex-husband decided to walk away from the marriage, and when I found myself suddenly set free. Yes, I can say it now. I was relieved when I found myself at the end of the road, single, and with no real power or provision because it was then that I knew my Lord loved me, and that He had a plan for my really messed up and miserable life.

In hindsight, it was in those long and awful moments, especially when I knew that I had hit the skids, so to speak, that I realized that what looked like the end of my life was really just the beginning of His life for me. I believed that He had me well-covered. Moreover,  I knew that my life was not over (as in ending), but I never imagined that He would give me a “do over,” a chance to start again. As I think back I remember how hard it was for me to see all the possibilities, the opportunities, the outcomes that could come to pass.

Thankfully, somewhere deep inside of me, I believed that God had something wonderful planned for my life, and I believed that He was working behind the scenes to bring His good will and His good plan to pass. Furthermore, I believed that God wasn’t done with me yet, and that in time, He would turn my mess into a beautiful mess (as the saying goes). Yes, I can say today that when I look back on all that mess, at what looked bleak and hopeless with no possible improvement, I can now see how God intervened in my life, and how He called me to a new way of living and of being.  As a result, I can see how He remade me (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) and how He remade my life (material, financial, and professional). God turned my life into something amazing, wonderful, and as such, I am truly blessed.
Remembering His Faithfulness

It has been 7 years since that moment in time, since the day I moved out of my shared home and into a rented town home. In the interim, I have collected some new things, but mostly, I have learned to let go of all the old left-overs that I brought with me, all those little things that I held onto so tightly. I have very few possessions today, and in many ways, I have about what I walked away with — my life, my son, and my cats — among other things such as computers, cello, and clothing. Yes, my life in a nutshell is small. I have just what I need, and I am thankful for the gifts, provision, and protection that the Lord has graciously made available to me.

Now, though, as I look forward in my life, I realize that my future is so wide open. There is no “place” that is off-limits to me. The other night, my Dad mentioned again that neither he nor my Mom would “stand in my way,” as I look for full-time work. He was telling me that they didn’t want to keep me tied to this home, to caring for them, to living in Phoenix simply because they don’t want to move away. It was nice to hear him say this, but the truth is that I am not free to move as I desire; no, not at all. I am dependent on the Lord, His timing, and His open door, and in that respect, I am where I am until the Lord says, “It is time to go! Let’s move!”

Yesterday, I considered all the places I have looked at for relocation, and of them all, I feel not settled on any of them. By this I mean, I don’t feel like the Lord is overwhelmingly saying, “Go here” versus “go there.” In truth, I simply feel like all the places I have considered are equal in that sense. They are all good places, good cities and towns, with good opportunities for a good quality of life. Some places are colder than others, but overall, they are about equal — all things considered. So as I laid in bed today, I started to think about Phoenix and whether Phoenix is “equal” in the same way. As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that despite the tight housing market, the fact is that Phoenix is just as good as the next place for life, prosperity, ministry, etc. I mean, it is nice here. Sure, it is blazing hot right now, but in a couple months, it will be beautiful again. Six months of the year, it will be beautiful. Six months it will be hot — intolerably hot — but the rest of the year, the temperatures are blissful.

Thus, as I considered my way, where I am today, where I may be going tomorrow, I came to the conclusion that staying in Phoenix is no better or worse than moving to Virginia Beach. Yes, there is a beach at the end of that town’s name, and there is a physical beach not too far from Regent University. But, VA Beach, is just as nice a place as Phoenix, and the weather, while nice whenever I have visited, has its ups and downs too (tornados, snow, sleet, ice, and hurricanes). Phoenix has dust storms, monsoon rains, and lots of sunshine. We have no earthquakes (like CA), tornados (like the Midwest and East), hurricanes (like the South and East), blizzards (like the Northwest, Midwest, and East). In short, Phoenix has a lot of heat, sunshine, and dirt.

The cost of living here is modest when compared side-by-side to another major metropolitan area. It is not fair to compare the cost of buying a house in Phoenix (mid-300s) to a rural place because that is like comparing apples to oranges. They are both fruits, but of a different kind, know what I mean? What is more is the fact that I am so used to living with high speed Internet — like fiber optic — that the thought of living off Satellite Internet or DSL or Cable with speeds under 300 mps, just does me in. My work depends on access to high speed, and not every place in the US has fiber yet. Phoenix is a major hub for Cox, so the places with comparable speed are few and far between.

More so, I am content to remain here. I am happy to stay put, even with the heat and the sun and the dirt. I would like a pool, though. I would like more space to actual live in, but I am content to teach where I teach, live where I live, and well, not strive for more. I am content.

As I think about my life, and my future as the Lord leads, guides, and provides for me, one thing is sure. I have been slow to be cheerfully content. I have been content, but not with a happy attitude. What I am saying is that I have said to the Lord, “Okay — I will stay” as I sighed and harrumphed. This was not the right response. I was agreeing to stay as a result of losing a battle to go. I was willing to stay because I felt I had no other choice in the matter. Rather, as I started to think about my attitude, I realized that the Lord loves it when we are cheerful. The word, cheerful, means “noticeably happy and optimistic” (Dictionary.com). Merriam-Webster adds, “full of good spirits” and suggests that the word stresses an attitude that is able to “dispel gloom or worry.”

Oh my! Cheerfulness suggests that one’s attitude is such that they are hopeful, optimistic, and filled with a sense of merriment (pleasing, delightful, gay). Yes, as Christ followers our attitude in life, in our circumstances, and in our outlook should be cheerful. The Word says that God loves a cheerful giver, but also we are strongly encouraged by the Apostles and the Old and New Testament writers to be hopeful, to be positive, to remember in who we place our trust. If we trust in the Lord, then our attitude and our actions should show the world that we are happy, content, joyful, and filled with a high sense of gaiety (festive activity).

This morning, I realized for the first time in a long time that my attitude did not match my words. I was saying to the Lord, “Lord, I am willing to go wherever you send me. I will live where you tell me to live. I will do the work you have prepared for me to do;” but in my heart, I was not happy about it. I was not agreeable in spirit with high hopes and expectation, with joyous and gay appreciation for the possibility of what the Lord was saying He wanted to do in and through my life. I was acting like I had lost the battle, and as such, I was wimpering, simpering, and basically, saying to the Lord, “Okay, so you have won. I will do what you say.” Yes, and you can add a stomp in there along with a slight turn away motion. Imagine your child, if you have one, giving in to your request with this attitude. What would you do? How would you feel? I can remember when my son would do this to me, and I would send him back to his room to “think about it some more.” There is repentance, an attitude of humility, and a true willingness to surrender that is involved. I had given in to the Lord’s command, but not with a happy heart. I wasn’t cheerful about it. I was passive-aggressive, and the Lord was not ready to let me off the hook just yet.

On Sunday, I surrendered to Him all that I had left inside of me. I confessed my need to be rescued, and in doing so, I let go of my striving, all my attempts to control my life and the outcomes associated with it. But, my heart was still simmering. I didn’t want to give up my way, my wants, my wishes, even though I understood that I couldn’t go any further. I was figuratively and literally standing before a closed door, and the only way through that closed door was to submit 100%, to humbly acknowledge my dependency and utter helplessness to the Lord. I had to leave all of me behind, but because I was still harboring some resentment toward the Lord for winning His way, the Lord said I needed to sit and think a while longer about my attitude before He would let me cross over. Yes, in short, He sent me back to my room to think about my choices, my actions, and my words.

Today, after I spent some time on Pinterest and looking at houses in the Phoenix area, I said to the Lord, “Lord, I have to give up my preferences. I may WANT farmhouse, but it is not realistic to try to make a Phoenix contemporary home look like it is sitting out in the midwest!” Sometimes, I amaze myself with my own commentary. What I was saying to Him in essence was what He had been saying to me for months: “Carol, you cannot have what you want.” I have spent the past 6-7 months decorating homes in my head. I do it as a hobby as I am a frustrated designer at heart. In truth, I always wanted to study interior design, but that wasn’t the direction that Lord had for me to go. Still, I really do love designing, working with colors, fabrics, and styles. So, pinning pictures to Pinterest is a hobby for me, but it also is really relaxing. I have been pinning quite heavily this past winter as a de-stressor for my hard semester finishing my degree. I digress.

The problem in all of this “pinning” business was simply that I really got into the groove, and I realized what styles I like more than others. I got really, really into the design choices, and as a result, I came to understand my likes and dislikes — for the first time ever. But, as the Lord is the One leading me, I cannot force my way. I cannot have what I want. He may keep me in Phoenix, provide a big box contemporary home for me or He may relocate me to some little town in the Midwest and give me an antique home with a really funky and weird layout. I have to be FLEXIBLE. I have to be cheerful whether He provides a little hovel or a mansion. I have to be agreeable with a cheerful heart, and not miserable and miffed because I am not getting what I think I need.

Granted, I try very hard to be flexible, to be agreeable, to be cheerful — but lately — I have been tired, worn out, and well, as a result, my attitude has been grumbly, bitter, and sort of pessimistic. The Lord has called me out on my attitude. He has told me that I am good when it comes to being agreeable to His will, but my attitude and my heart are not always truthful. I am sometimes disagreeable on the inside even though I am putting on a good face for the world. The Word says that the Lord judges the intentions of our heart — He looks on the interior rather than the exterior. He knows when I am dissatisfied, and when I am happy and content. He knows me well. Thus, to hide from Him is futile, and even though I know this fact, I still do it. I still try to hide my displeasure. My  nature is more like Cain than Able. Sigh!

Owning My Displeasure

So, to borrow a phrase, I am “owning” my bad habit, my attitude, and my preferences. I am owning the fact that I need to watch my attitude, and that I often do want my own way. I have confessed my heart to the Lord. I have relented (submitted), and I have chosen to stop being demanding about what I want. It is hard for me, especially because my entire life other people have told me what to do. I have had to relent, yield and submit to others in order to survive. As a free person, the Lord asks me to willingly submit to Him, to choose to submit, and there are times when I simply do not want to give up my free choice. I don’t want to give up my say in the matter.

I know that in order to walk through this door — the door He has for me — I have to give up my free choice. I can no longer have my way. I have to accept all — every provision. The covenant He has made with me includes an “all or nothing” catch. I must surrender, submit, and yield ALL in order to receive what He has promised. I cannot have my way AND His way. It is all or nothing. I said that I was all in, so to speak, but my attitude has been inconsistent. I have been “watchful” rather than accepting fully His authority and His ability to lead, guide, and provide. I have developed a bad habit, and now is the time to replace that bad habit with obedience. I must obey. I must pay my vow, as David said, and I must agree cheerfully to go where He is sending me. End of story. It is all or nothing.

In closing, I have decided that I don’t want to stand at the door knocking forever. No, not when the King has bid me enter. I want to walk in, to boldly go where He is sending me. But to do this, to walk on and into His promised land, I must leave all others, all things, and all possessions behind. I must walk on without anything. I must go through the door with a cheerful — hopeful and optimistic — heart and mind. I must trust Him to provide for me. I must trust Him to bring to me everything I need to be satisfied, successful, and settled. He will do it. I know He will, but I cannot keep holding onto the past, wanting my way, and hoping that He will relent and let me skim by with second best. It is all or nothing, so today, I choose ALL.

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