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Friday, December 18, 2009

Stunted Growth

Have you ever been in a place in your walk where you know you should have chosen one thing, but instead, your flesh won out and you made the wrong choice?  Kind of like "Let's Make a Deal" --- you should have chosen "Door #1", but you went with "Door #3" and instead of the Maserati sports car, you got a year's supply of chicken feed?  Yeah. 

Right now I have a situation in my life where someone is directly attacking me and my family.  Their behavior is unprovoked (for the most part, unless I stop breathing, I can't stop the attack) - I WISH I had done something awesomely awful to deserve this person's hatred and wrath.  I wish I had yelled at the top of my lungs and told them exactly what I thought/think of them and their ridiculous behavior.  I wish I had sprung off a witty one liner that put them completely in their place.  Then, at least I would know, oh, he/she is acting this way because I did "xyz" to them last year.  I did/and will not do any of those things.  But - OH - how my flesh wants me to!

Earlier this week in Oswald Chambers (December 14th, if you are playing along at home), he spoke about the "great life."  He wrote that any problem that comes between us and God is the result of disobedience on our part.  That's really heavy.  I look at the situation that I am in right now and how I have, at times, totally allowed it to steal my peace.  How I have thought of witty comebacks and how right I am in the situation and how everything being done is wrong and unfair.  But, as I'm sitting there dwelling on that person and dwelling on the problem - that problem is preventing me from unity with my Lord and in some aspects, it is stunting my growth as a Christian.  Is it worth it?

I was driving with the kids in the car today and I was looking up at the sky, driving and praying about the situation at hand.  I looked up and I saw all these trees by the power lines that were completely shaved off on one side.  They were these tall, amazing, beautiful, alive trees - but they were completely stunted and misshapen on one side (or the top) because they were growing next to a power line.

I looked at those trees and I looked at my own heart and I realized that by focusing on the problem in my life, by letting that problem be a self-imposed boundary in my life, that I was no better than those trees.  When they first started growing, someone should have had enough sense to dig them up, to move them away from the power lines, to put them in fertile soil.  Instead, they were allowed to grow and now they are ugly, misshapen, and pathetic to look at.  But, how am I any better?  How am I any different?

Looking at the trees, I remembered what I had read in Oswald Chambers this week.  He goes on to say in the same devotional that:  "Any problem that comes while I obey God (and there will be many), increases my overjoyed delight, because I know that my Father knows and cares, and I can watch and anticipate how He will unravel any problems."  Wow. 

When I used to live in rural Alabama, I remember driving by someone's house and they literally had a huge banner hanging off of their front deck that said "Alabama Power Killed My Trees!!" (or something like that) or something like this:

At the time, I thought, "Man, that's pretty whackadoodle, get over yourself, they're TREES."  But, now, I wonder about my own walk in life.  I wonder what would have happened if I looked a problem dead in the eyes and said "You're not gonna kill my tree!"  What if I had gotten that angry about what was being robbed and stolen from me?  About the peace inside of my heart that I was voluntarily relinquishing - for what? 

No matter what, if I act out in my flesh in this situation and try to solve it myself or take matters into my own hands and let my mouth say what it really wants to say in retaliation, I am a misshapen and stunted tree, trying to grow up to the heavens, but pathetic to everyone who looks at me.  Instead, I need and want to turn this situation over to God.  I want to be happy that I have an overwhelming problem because He will do great things to unravel it and resolve it. 

Lord, please give me that faith and that trust in You today.  Amen.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)

Exodus 14:13
But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.
New Living Translation (©2007)

2 Chronicles 20:15
He said, "Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's.
New Living Translation (©2007)

2 Chronicles 20:17
But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the LORD's victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the LORD is with you!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Calling

It's hard to start this post, but I know where I want it to end. You see, it's hard to condense the last 16 years into a decent beginning without starting at the 18 years preceding that (I'm 34 and you can do math in your head, very impressive!).

I grew up in a small (and I ain't kiddin') town in northwestern Minnesota. There were three choices of religion on the buffet - everyone I knew was Lutheran, and everyone else was Methodist and Catholic. It humors me now to think how exotic I used to think it was to go to the Methodist church in Beltrami, MN every year for some special community dinner that they used to have. As a kid, I thought that they were so different, so foreign. And now, I think - for goodness sakes, they were METHODIST - how tame can you get? And don't even get me started on how naive I was about the poor Catholics. I thought they were mystical and weird and I begged my friend Valerie to teach me how to say the "Hail Mary" prayer so I would have something to say while we rode the scary rides at the annual Fertile Fair.

To some, this childhood would have been idyllic. But, I stuck out in Fertile, MN like a sore thumb that had been struck one too many times with a rusty hammer. I am, how shall we say, slightly creative --- and quite emotionally demonstrative --- and I didn't fit in so good with the "farmer kids." As I grew up and was confirmed in the Lutheran church as a pre-teen, I felt like I didn't fit in so good anywhere. I would have moments where I felt so close to God . . . but as I struggled with my self-identity and hating myself as a teenager, I struggled to get by every day and keep my head above water until I could go to college and "find myself."

The fall of my senior year, I had enough. The summer preceding that had been particularly difficult and culminated in me seeing the inside of a padded room for three days. I got myself together and managed to land a role in the school play, starring as "Honey Hotchkiss" in Woody Allen's "Don't Rock the Boat." I had so much fun and I will be forever thankful to my drama teacher, Mr. Rickey, for allowing me to end my "Fertile Experience" on a high note. After that, I enrolled at Moorhead State in Moorhead, MN starting that November. Minnesota had a special program where you could start your freshman year early and your tuition would be paid by the funding that would have paid for your senior year of high school. THANK GOD.

At college, I fit in a lot better. At the time, I was very interested in politics (barf!) and law (gag!) and was certain that I would be a high-powered something-or-other for the rest of my life. I literally - I am not kidding you - carried a briefcase to class every day at 17 years of age. I somehow managed to get elected to the student senate and even have memories of us lobbying at the state capital for lower tuition (how glamorous!). A year later, at age 18 though, life was just "there." Things just weren't going the way that I thought that they should go and I didn't feel inside my heart how I thought a person should feel about themselves. Things were much better than being back at home, but something was still missing.

One of my friends on the student senate, Matt, ended up inviting me to his "spirit filled" church - and as they say, the rest is history. I was scared out of my mind that first night - and no thank you - I did NOT want to be filled with the "Hooooooolllllllllllyyyyyyyy Ghost." But, later, back in my bedroom, door shut and candles burning, holding my Bible and praying, I knew that I had nothing else to lose. I remember Matt and I praying together in my living room soon after that, and I accepted Jesus into my heart and I felt in a way that I never did before --- so pure, so holy, so good, so accepted.

I started going to First Assembly of God in Fargo, ND and things went so fast after that. I couldn't get enough of Bible study, or of church, or of God. To say I was "on fire" would be putting it mildly. I got baptized (again, I had been 'sprinkled' as a child) --- and that spring, I remember sitting in the service and feeling God nudging me HARD as they were asking for people to get involved in the children's ministry. I had always had a heart for kids, being so misunderstood as a child and a teen, I had always hoped that I could help other kids avoid feeling like that - and help them to know God at a much earlier age than I had.

I got involved in the children's ministry and one thing led to another and I was helping out in children's church, directing the nursery for a time, teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school. I strongly felt God leading me into full time ministry and took the plunge and started looking into Bible schools (I had already quit Moorhead State in the winter of 1993 when I knew that law wasn't what I was supposed to do with my life). I moved forward and enrolled at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. And I wish, on some level, that the rest of this entry was about my amazing ministry and how God has used me from there to touch thousands of lives. Alas, mine is a different and yet, still special, story. I remind myself when I start to feel down about my journey, about Rahab, and Mary Magdalene, and other very non-shiny, very non-superstar women of the Bible that God still used mightily.

Right before leaving for Lee, I got married. I was 20 and ready to conquer the world and figured that getting married was just a part of that. I graduated from Lee, but my marriage didn't. In July, 1998 I had a shiny diploma in my hands --- and that following February, 1999 --- those same hands were signing divorce papers. I could write so many things - draw flowcharts for you of where the blame should lie - but the bottom line is, I got divorced. Here's a pointer for you - before you take out 10's of thousands of dollars (x's A LOT) in student loans for a PASTORAL MINISTRY degree, you mayyyyyyy want to actually KEEP YOUR MARRIAGE INTACT so that you can ACTUALLY BE A PASTOR.

I was so angry. So very, very, very angry. I had felt God's direct calling, followed Him to Tennessee - spent money I didn't have - and BAM! - I suddenly couldn't do what I really thought He wanted me to do in the first place. I had spent those 3 years at Lee trying to be perfect. I remember sobbing up in the prayer chapel begging God to reveal Himself to me, to let me FEEL Him again - and nothing. That pain stayed with me, and soon, as I worked as a manager in the hotel industry, I would go to church rarely and my prayers were sad shadows of my former conversations with my Father.

Things had reached an all time low in the summer of 2002. By that time, I had switched fields and was working in administration. I was living a 'sexy, single' life in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Carrie on the television show, I would often scramble for rent money after buying a pair of really cute shoes or an outfit I had to have. I went out with friends on my birthday that July, and met a guy at the bar. Note to anyone who actually reads this thing: try not to pick out dates when you are inebriated. I met someone and we started dating and as they say, one thing led to another.

By that September, I was so sick of myself it was hard to look in the mirror. I looked back on the past several years and the "yuck" I felt inside was so similar to how I had felt when I was 18 and knew I needed God in my life. After a business trip to Florida, and a terrible storm on the way back, I ended up looking out the window of the tiny plane and praying a prayer of forgiveness in my head while the CEO of the company sat across from me engrossed in his laptop. I prayed to my Father and told him how sorry I was that I had made such a mess of things, and I asked Him to make me clean, I rededicated my heart to Him and I felt Him make me whole all over again.

The plane landed, and I, never being one to not move forward on a decision immediately, called my boyfriend and broke up with him for the third time. That Sunday, I was in church, on my knees at the altar and made the prayer that I had made that Friday "stick." Again, this is part of the story where I wish I could tell you about how God used all of my poor decisions mightily for His purposes, where He reopened the door for children's ministry, and how I now have the ministry that I first felt Him calling me to all those years ago.

Instead, two weeks after I had prayed that prayer of dedication, I found out I was pregnant. Lesson #2 - If you ever have any hope of having a respectable, church-given position - it's not good to be divorced - but ----- it's really not good if you're knocked up. Also, it's probably a really good idea to not break up with anyone until you are SURE you are not pregnant. The story of my single pregnancy is a story for a different day because the lessons that God taught me in those months would fill this computer screen much fuller than it already is. Suffice it to say, God truly taught me what the words of Romans 8:28 meant: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. I felt God's hand on me during that time in so many ways and although a single pregnancy may not have been the 'best' plan, or a box that I would have ever have checked for myself on purpose, God used that time to change me permanently for the better.

Now, it's 2009 (almost 2010) and I was laying awake in bed tonight thinking about 'the calling' that God gave me so many years ago. I am remarried and have been active in my local church, but for the most part, God has kept the door to children's ministry at least partially closed. As I told you in the last post, God has been doing something unique and different in my life this past year, much like He did during my single pregnancy. He has revealed things to me that were pretty hard to swallow; and I know that, based on what He shown me, that the original calling that He gave me is pretty much gone. For years, while I was plodding through Bible classes and theology that were WAY over my head, I had counted on that calling. When I had felt fully restored and was remarried, I felt sure that calling would be likewise restored. When I quit my job and had tons of extra time on my hands, I knew just how to fill it. And yet, no.

So, as I was laying in bed tonight, praying, wondering about my future . . . I got a vision of my children in my mind. Sweet baby Trinity, who I get to see and hold and feed and change and love, every day - time I never got to spend with Emelia as a single mom. Wonderful loving Emelia, who has a heart so tender and filled with compassion that I wonder what I ever did to deserve such a beautiful human being in my life. Not to mention, my stepson Trey, who is well on his way to being a network newscaster and who keeps me in stitches with his jokes and antics. I had tears running down my face and onto my pillow as my heart was filled to overflowing with the love in my life from these kids. The gift that God has given me through their love.

And, that's when I realized (yes, I am a slow learner sometimes) - that God still has called me to the ministry of children. Maybe not in the way I thought it should be, maybe not according to my original plan, but in a way that He can bless and honor if I will only submit to it. I read somewhere, not too long ago, about a mom who felt called to the "mission field of motherhood." And that phrase has stuck with me. I don't even really know how amazing it would feel to be called to China or Africa or somewhere exotic and fulfill God's plan in a phenomenal way - how awesome to be able to call oneself "a missionary."

God hasn't called me to any of those places. He hasn't even called me to where I thought I was called when He first called me. Instead, I have been called to very small church with only 5 parishioners including myself. I am a very special missionary in a very exotic port-o-call (it even has sticky grape jelly on the countertops). I am called - TODAY - to be Jesus' hands and feet to my husband and my children. I am called to be the heart of my home and be genuinely kind and loving to all people under five feet tall and to honor and submit myself to the man in my life who is five foot nine.

I am called to keep a clean and tidy house and to have a mostly yummy meal on the table most nights out of the week. I am called to kiss boo-boo's and to read bedtime stories and to say prayers and sing songs. I am called to be a helpmate and to somehow maybe resemble something of the Proverbs 31 woman if all the stars are aligned properly that day. That's it. I'm not standing on stage doing object lessons. I'm not holding a microphone unless it's attached to the family karaoke machine. I am called to stay in proper relationship with my Lord so that my family can be in proper relationship with one another. That is "the calling" - my calling.

Growing up, my mom had a little sign with the words "Bloom Where You Are Planted" on it. For years, I thought that I had a say in the planting or where my blossoms would end up, or better yet, how they should be displayed. Now, I realize that instead, I need to be paying attention to my roots and focusing on feeding and nourishing my soul and those around me. God will do the rest. Blooming is a choice and living the calling that God has in your life - TODAY - is a choice. I can't say that every day in my house is like an episode of "The Waltons" or "Little House on the Prarie." Somedays, I think I might be starring in an episode of "The Jerry Springer Show" or "Roseanne." But, tonight, as I prayed, God showed me the heart that I have for my kids and even if that's the only children's ministry He ever gives me - I know now that it (and they) are enough.


Friday, December 04, 2009

A Decorated Heart

Before I go any further in what I am about to write, let me make a quick disclaimer . . . this is not the first year that I haven't decorated for Christmas. I am an "all the way or no way" kind of person and I either need to do something to the maximum, or not do it at all. The first year that I didn't decorate for Christmas was when my husband was in Iraq. I didn't "feel" like doing Christmas that year and the best way for me to get through that 'holiday' was to fast forward through it and act like it wasn't happening. "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt"; when you can't afford good psychotherapy, pretending like something isn't really happening can be a very effective coping mechanism. (*insert canned laughter soundtrack here*)

So, this will be the second year that I won't be decorating for the holiday. If you don't know much about me, not decorating for Christmas is pretty much the opposite of my personality. I am about as much of a homebody as there is. I love beautiful and pretty things. I love decorations. Sometimes the only way that I can motivate myself to sweep up the dust bunnies that seem to have daily conventions at my house is to redecorate, rearrange, or better yet, "reorganize."

Last November, I had an emotionally cathartic experience and went into my work and quit my job. Wham, bam, take this job and ----. (You get the drift). There were several things that went into this decision: I was working about 60 hours a week for peanuts - errrrm, I mean a "salary." My children and I were passing ships in the night. My then five year old was having to get up at 5:45 in the morning to catch a 6:15 bus. My stepson was struggling academically through the third grade. My sweet precious baby girl was being raised by her daycare teacher rather than by her mama. I was a MEAN and CONTROLLING (it's hard to admit that in black and white on a computer screen) wife who ran her household like a Nazi SS training facility. I would get up to read my Bible and pray at about 4:30 a.m. and I would promptly be drooling on the couch at about 4:37 a.m.

All of the above snowballed and snowballed until I couldn't stand myself anymore. Yuck. The words that I read in my Bible didn't match up with my heart. I was tired and I was sick and I was sick of being tired. So I quit.

One problem ---- it might have been a good thing to talk about this monumental decision with my life partner, right? My husband really is a gift of God because he meets me in the places that I am the weakest . . . one of those being financial planning. Since I was a single mom before we met, I brought a lot of debt into our marriage. A lot of which we have paid off ---- a lot of which we haven't. Suddenly, we were going to be about $1000 short a month after factoring in all of the expenses we wouldn't have (daycare, lunches out, fancy work clothes, etc.). So, in January, we made the decision for me to become a medical transcriptionist. It's pretty much the only thing that I can do from the house with my education and skill set without having to invest a lot of time and money into a regular "business."

So, since January, I have been doing an intensive online course for my future (please?) career. I have had a lot of hiccups along the way. It's really hard to go from being a bossy office manager to being the person who is only in charge of changing the toilet paper roll. It's really hard to go from seeking the world's approval constantly and becoming satisfied with only God's approval. ONLY God's approval. I'm still not there yet. Sigh. I have taken long periods of time off while I have struggled with depression and being unsatisfied with a life that should be completely fulfilling on paper.

Due to my procrastination, I now have until the beginning of January to finish my course. This requires about five hours of typing a day, seven days a week. FUN! You would think I would be typing transcription right now, but I feel like I need to say all of this before I can get started today.

You see, my house may be halfway in-between being barren and still celebrating autumn. But, my heart is strongly decorated for Christmas. God has been so good to me. Not just in taking me from my past - from a difficult childhood, a ridiculous adolescence, and mistakes made in my 20's/30's - but taking me away from myself. For taking a poorly thought out decision to "quit" --- to where I am today, on the cusp of really getting to start life with my family. God has given me a changed heart and a personality transplant. He has protected me and my children this past year through my husband's hard work physically and financially. I know that what I have right now isn't from my own efforts. The life I have now and the way I feel about myself as a person are ONLY gifts of God's majestic grace.

I wish I could invite you to my house this Christmas. I wish I could bake you cookies and serve you some mulled cider or hot chocolate (with extra whipped cream, of course). Instead, all I have to offer is me. Me, typing at a computer - every day - until January. But, I also offer you a very changed Melinda. One who is a lot more humble, a lot more quiet, and a lot more reflective. I offer you a beautifully decked out heart that has more holly and ivy than you could possibly imagine. There are Christmas carols blaring out from every corridor and I am truly celebrating the birth of my Savior in a way that I perhaps never have before. Until you have stumbled and fallen, the gift of Christmas doesn't really mean a whole lot. When you can control your life on every level and can earn your own future, salvation isn't a necessity. This Christmas, I know I need God, I know I need Christ, I know I need grace, and I know I need salvation. I can only pray the same for all of you . . .

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!