The Joy of Choice

It’s funny how sometimes we build things up in our minds. We have our preconceived ideas of how something is supposed to happen…and then, more often than not, we watch as God completely crashes through them. The past few years have been, spiritually speaking, something like walking through a long dark tunnel; at a point in which I could no longer see the light from the opening behind me, nor the light at the end before me. Step after step I could see no end. I had supposed that when I did escape the darkness that there would be something like a dramatic symphony of revelation, and that I would see it coming from miles away to let me know I was almost there. I supposed that, upon stepping out of the tunnel, a multitude of heavenly hosts would surround me singing the hallelujah chorus and that I would emerge enlightened, and maybe spiritually elevated. I supposed.

So you can imagine my surprise then when the freedom came not through an act of grandeur, but rather a swift whisper. From the abyss of darkness I had taken one small step, the same way I had so many days before, and found myself blinking, suddenly blinded, beneath radiant sunlight; the mouth of the tunnel almost out of sight behind me. No gradual dawning or subtle prelude, but from pitch dark to fervent sunlight. Just like that. Triggered by one small blog post; a blog post that wasn’t even that profound, but that reminded me of the joy that can be found in getting back to basics. Rather than enlightened I felt reminded, and rather than spiritually elevated I felt spiritually grounded.

I believe that, over the course of the rest of my life, the Lord will continue to reveal the things He began to work in me during that period of silence and desperation. Today I want to share with you what He has chosen to show me now; the empowerment and joy that comes with choosing.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis wrote: “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Choice. It is a fiercely powerful gift.

There were many moments while in my tunnel where I crumpled to the ground in a near-hopeless heap, tear-stained and world-weary, and a voice in my head demanded that I make a choice. “Are you really going to keep doing this? You see how futile it is. There is no end. Maybe there was never a beginning. Maybe this is really all there is and you’re just being naive. Maybe you just imagined the light; maybe it was all a fabrication. You could always just quit now and stop begging for someone to answer you; someone who clearly isn’t even there. Are you really going to keep doing this?”

And when the sobs quieted and my legs steadied, against my common sense and my academic mind-frame, I whimpered “yes” and began to walk again. This occurred not just once as I had been hoping; hoping that my resolution, no matter how pitifully abashed, would result in my passing the test of faith and would be rewarded with the ending of the trial. It seemed that the test was, in fact, whether I’d continue to press on even after saying yes and still facing deafening silence. Over, and over, and over. Yes… yes…. yes. 

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord(…)?” (Romans 11:33-34)

I may never, in this world, know why the Lord chose the time He did to deliver me. Maybe He was teaching me to choose Him when all my feelings advised against it because I needed to learn that faith is not an emotion. Maybe it was because He wanted me to experience the amazing joy that comes with a solid, unmovable faith. Maybe the reason He had me endure those years of silence hasn’t been revealed yet. Maybe it won’t be for decades. I am simply trusting that His ways are better than mine, and I am reveling in the joy that has been unstopped in my heart, and putting feet to the wisdom the trial has afforded me. I am going to make my life one of intentional choice.

The enemy hates this new-found ability of mine. I know he does because he’s been pulling out his bag of tricks. He tried and tried and tried over the past week to steal my joy. Fear, worry, panic, distraction, pride (ouch), anger; one after the other he hurled them at me trying to loosen my grip on this beautiful treasure. My emotions have always been my weak spot, and so I almost expected that it would be the first place he attacked. After all, who would have thought that I would be able to look him dead in the eye and say “No. You can’t have it.” But I can. And I did. Instead of succumbing I chose joy. I choose to believe that He loves me, and that He will protect me. I refuse to allow myself to indulge in the what-if’s of life because they only breed anxiety and, for all its effort and energy, anxiety only serves to siphon life from me (and you), so I choose to love, and smile, and pray, and believe, and hope. Those choices beget joy, and joy in turn enables those choices.

So many people I love are stuck where I was. I hear the despair and desperation in their voices and their actions, and I want to cry to them “Choose Him!” No matter what the world tells you, or your emotions tell you, continue to choose. Deliberate and intentional – no matter how feeble or unstable you feel. It is our choice to continue to follow Him that will pave the road in our lives. When your soul is downcast and you begin to wonder, “what’s the point?” do not allow yourself to wallow there. Choose to act. Say yes, and then keep moving. Continue to obey, continue to serve, and continue to walk; even if the world and/or your emotions tell you not to. Though we may not see it yet joy and reward are being cultivated through our obedience; especially when we don’t feel like we want to.

Maybe that’s why it’s so dark; so that we learn that we cannot walk ourselves out of darkness, but that only our God can deliver us. And He will, because He promised He would.

If you aren’t in a season of darkness, Praise Him! Praise God for the light by which you see! All the more reason to choose a life filled with joy, and I encourage you that in doing so you will help sustain those close to you who are in a harder season. And if that’s you today, hang on, dear friend; the light is coming.

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:11-14

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Back to Basics

My fingers hovered, suspended, above the keyboard in front of me as I thought again about writing this – but only for a moment. Then with uncertain confidence came the familiar sound of my thoughts being imprinted onto page; abbreviated by the repetitious tapping of the well worn loved “backspace” button. Click, click, click, click.

I’ve been away for a while, but only in the physical realm. I think about blogging a lot. I think about what I’ve said, and what I should be saying… and decide that what I really want to say is better left clandestinely sleeping in my “drafts” folder.

Coming back to writing after a literary furlough is somewhat like reuniting with an old friend; one whom you have not seen in years. In the beginning the meeting is a little awkward, a little forced, but soon you find the familiar rhythm which you once knew, and things begin to flow like warm honey; comforting and sweet. Even if the words that must be said are not. You can have the most heartbreaking conversations, but when they are with someone you love you find they are easier to bear.

So to you I say, “Hello, old friend.”

I have come to bare my soul.

The past few years have been, at the least, a challenge. I have revealed glimpses of it through some of my words in earlier posts, and some of you who know me beyond the realm of virtual reality have heard my struggles first hand.

Where to even begin? It feels truly like a ever widening circle. I have struggled with feeling spiritually lonesome; like my God has been distant. I have struggled with finding my place as a mother, and keeping up with the inside outs of Twinderland. I have struggled with my identity as a woman, student, and writer; as a wife and lover, and even as a daughter of the Most High.  Who am I, God? Who am I to You? And, though it should be less important, and in reality it truly is of no importance at all, the question that has slipped into the place of paramount priority- Who am I to them?  Them of course being the world in general; confidants, acquaintances, and strangers alike.

Am I progressive enough for her? Am I traditional enough for them? Am I political enough for him? Am I attached enough? Am I disenchanted enough? Do I have her approval? Do they think I’m good enough?

I care so much about what everyone thinks of me that I feel I am constantly consumed with trying to prove my worth to someone, and it often results in living a contradiction. I seek to publicly define myself as a proud feminist who isn’t controlled by man-enforced traditions, but also a respectful wife who embodies godly characteristics and attitudes. A modern mom who parents with an air of blithe guidance, but an unyielding backbone of proper discipline. A Christian who understands the importance of God’s law, and a Christian who understands the importance of grace. A student focused on furthering bettering herself through academic achievement and knowledge, and a housewife who is fulfilled in her ability to run her home with class and love.

Lately there’s been a tsunami of spiritual upheaval in my life; long held traditions have been challenged and previous understandings have been overturned. In my search for truth I have walked run headfirst into a storm of chaos. I struggled with all that I thought I knew, and all, I am painfully aware, that I don’t know.

And I am exhausted.

I have stretched so thin trying to do and be everything that I am failing at all of it. I am nothing but a shadow of the person I am trying to convince the world that I am; and for all my effort I have not even begun to accomplish my goal of winning everyone’s acceptance and admiration. What a surprise.

Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and it certainly feels like insanity to me. What I’m doing, this person(s) I’m trying to be, has accomplished exactly nothing. Not only am I tired of this tail chasing, but my heart is not improved by it. I still, and somehow even more than ever, deal with rejection. I often feel unwanted in many social circles; both in one on one settings and by groups as a whole. Recently I began to realize that it was all for naught, and I could not for the life of me figure out what people wanted from me; and I still don’t truth be told. What more could I do? I was giving everyone what (I thought) they wanted, and none of it seemed to win them over.

It was in this moment of frustration and social hopelessness that I began to realize something. Despite not being able to figure out what people want me to be there are a few important things I do know about myself.

1. I love my God. I love what He’s done for me and what He continues to do for me, and even though I might not feel Him I refuse to let Him go.

2. I love my family. Hands down, without contest, my husband and my children are the most important people on this planet along with my parents and siblings.

3. I love my friends. I don’t mean what Facebook defines as friends. In reality I can think of less than a handful of people who I consider to be tried and true friends. But oh how I love them.

4. I love to write. Writing is an outlet for me; it is a deep breath in a dark sea.

5. I love to love. I am a lover by nature and I will freely give my heart away to anyone who asks.

I would come to realize that being armed with this understanding, confidently, would be all I needed to break the cycle.

Backtracking a little bit. This past October there was a conference that took place in Ohio by a group called “Allume”, who you probably have never heard of before. I certainly hadn’t. In short it’s a group focused on supporting and aiding female Christian writers and bloggers. When I discovered all that was entailed in the conference – popular speakers, workshops, and the ability to make connections with other women just like me- I was dying to go. Unfortunately the notice was just too short and the money wasn’t there so I wasn’t able to attend that time. I tried to hide my disappointment (although I don’t think I did a very good job) and resolved that I would plan ahead and would make sure I was at the next one. Consequentially I have been checking in on the Allume website and blog from time to time to watch for updates and information about the next conference, and yesterday I stumbled onto this post. The author’s intention was to encourage the future conference attendees with things they (we) can focus on to spiritually prepare for the next gathering. I found though that this was so much more than a “while we wait” list. To me it read more like Christian Womanhood 101.

” Make service a priority in daily living

-Learn how to handle conflict Biblicaly

-Begin intentional, joyful living at home

-Write truth and not false allusions

-Share in the good news of others with words of affirmation

-Model forgiveness

-Re-direct your success and accomplishments to God, and not ourselves

-Write and write more – Letters of encouragement

-Make and Take meals to those around you

-Encourage a mom with a helping hand

-Shower your family with Grace

-Show grace in your relationships

-Learn to see beneath the surface of those you mayhave before judged

-Show Joy in your life and not martyrdom

-Invest into genuine relationships

-Think beyond your walls and computer screen

-Love those that may seem “un-lovable” to you

-Allow your on-line presence to radiate His presence in your life

-Look up and beyond those you normally speak with, there is someone else going unnoticed”

While I read I felt my soul take a long deep breath. This reminder… this is what I had been missing for so long now. It felt like spring. A part of me has been so long hidden under ice that is finally melting, and there is joy ready to bloom. They’re simple words, and for a Christian such a fundamental concept. It wasn’t mind blowing or revolutionary; it was just truth. A gentle reminder of the purpose of this mission; a reminder of who I truly am.

All of this time I have spent so much energy focused on things that, at the end of the day, blow away in the wind; I have been sowing my seeds on rocky ground in complete futility. But it wasn’t always this way, and I can remember a not too distant past where I lived in joy because, zealot though I may have been (which has been gracefully tempered with age), I was at peace with who I was in Christ, and my focus was on sharing His love with others with smiles and laughs – not convincing them to love me with tears and pleading. Somewhere along the way I lost my focus, but it’s time to get back to basics. It’s time to stop chasing the masses or individuals while begging for their approval. It’s time to focus on loving and on serving; the way I once lived; trusting that my creator designed me to be exactly who I am with His leading.

I am going to love my God. I am going to love my family. I am going to love my friends. I am going to love myself.

I am going to love. Simply love.

Because He first loved me.

Amen.