Friday, April 17, 2015

157: give me a fish

In Matthew 7 Jesus says, "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"

This year I wanted a certain kind of "fish" (please bear with my metaphor). I wanted it really bad. But the fish weren't bitin'. So I asked the Lord to take away my hankerin'. And you know what He did? He gave me a hankerin' for a different kind of fish, and I was able to move my fishing pole to a different stream. All was fine.

But then I started looking over at my shoulder at that stream over yonder where that old fishkind (rainbow trout? catfish? salmon?) was still swimming back and forth, whipping its tail. I didn't know if I could be satisfied with my new fishing hole, the one God provided, because, goodness, the sunlight sure glistened nicely off those ol' shiny scales.

One morning, I woke up to find a "For Sale" sign posted right next to that old stream. I didn't know what to think. I had my own fishing hole now. And that ol' fishing spot hadn't brought me any fish before. But why, oh, why did it have to available for more trying now?

So I prayed. I was going fishing again that very day, and I prayed, "Lord, You are a good Father. And You say you will not give me a snake or a stone when I want a fish. That's not in Your heart. I pray for a fish. I believe that You give good things to Your children."

I took my bait and tackle, and I trekked down to my own little fishing hole. And you know what?

I came back with a string full of fish!

Ok, it's a metaphor, a parable. It's a fish tale. But this happened to me lately (minus the fish), and God proved to me His Word when it says "how much more will your Father . . . give." His heart is to bless us, not to give us cursings. If He withholds, fine, He knows best. But He's not asking me personally to settle for something I don't care about. He never has. Instead, I need to ask for His super blessings, believing He can do what I might not think is possible. I need to remember that, instead of a stone, His heart, my own Father's heart, is to give me a fish.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

156: hands open

So recently I embarked on a relationship. No, not with my dog. With a real, human man. Because I have had less than successful experiences previously, and because those experiences included not listening to the Lord and not always enjoying my relationships, I have been praying a word picture the last couple weeks.

Lord, my hands are open to You. I am willing for You to take this away if that's Your will. But I also pray that my hands would be open to receive from You the blessings of this relationship.

Well, this weekend while I was heading to a singles retreat in Oregon (I know, I know, not "exactly" single, but I signed up for this before I knew things would change!), I struggled with worry. Thankfully the girls I was going to carpool with had got a late start from Portland, so I sat in my car in Corvallis, eating an amazing spinach florentine bagel with chive and onion schmear and spending much needed time with the Lord.

This is what I learned.

When I begin to worry, my hands close into fists. I try to cling to the relationship, fearful that the Lord will take it away (which in the past has always been my greatest fear). Simultaneously though, I am worried that it might not work, so my hands close and keep me from receiving fully from the Lord the pleasure from being in relationship with another person. I walk the line--half in, half out.

In other words, when I worry, I don't get any benefit at all! I lose out on blessings, and I am less surrendered. It's a lose-lose situation.

Lord, keep my hands open to You!
Devil's Churn, Ore.
"I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is, or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair,
I would choose to refer all to thee,
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there."
--"God the All," Valley of Vision

Monday, March 30, 2015

155: a letter from someone who is there

Several weeks ago I messaged one of my college teachers for input about how to do the long-term singleness thing well--what she had learned and what God had taught her. What she wrote back blessed me so much. She gave me permission to share it with you all!


One encouraging thing I can say is that singleness doesn't feel as "heavy" and hard at every stage of life--at least, for me it hasn't. (In case you're wondering, I'm about to turn 45 tomorrow.) I feel like right now the Lord is pouring His grace into my life, and I feel stable and happy with where He has me. But I haven't always felt that way, and I know that when I was your age, I tended to think about it a lot more because it suddenly "hit" me that the timetable of my life wasn't moving exactly how I'd thought it would. It has also been especially hard at times when a relationship I had hopes for didn't work out. So, I don't know if it will encourage you to know that you're in a particularly hard season in which to be single. Perhaps your singleness won't last like mine has, but if it should do so, I can honestly say that you won't always struggle with it to the same degree! That doesn't mean I no longer have a desire for marriage (I do), but just that singleness doesn't seem as painful and burdensome to me as it used to.

But to at least scratch the surface of the answer to your question, I think there are a couple really important lessons the Lord has taught me through those harder times. A big one for me has been gratitude. Having a thankful heart does wonders, not only for my relationship with the Lord, but also for my own emotional well-being. It's for our own good that He tells us "in everything give thanks." I find that when I make a conscious effort to notice and thank God for all the good things He is and does and gives me--even the little, everyday things like hearing a bird singing, or a beautiful sunset, or an unexpected free coffee, or help with a problem I was having--it sweetens my whole outlook on everything. It brings me true joy in having a heavenly Father who loves me and cares about my smallest needs. It makes me really LOVE Him. A couple of books that have helped me with this are "Choosing Gratitude" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. I'd recommend them if you have some spare reading time.

Another big thing is prayer--not just praying in general but the way I pray about singleness. I have done my share of "begging" God for marriage, and there really isn't anything wrong with that, because He does tell us to ask whatever we wish as long as we can honestly ask in Jesus' name (John 15). But I think there also needs to be a recognition when I pray that the will of God for my life might be different from my will. I need to pray with submission to whatever, and however, He answers. Jesus prayed this way in the garden--He asked God that the cup might pass from Him, and then He said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done." When we pray with this spirit of submission, it enables us to rest in God's sovereignty. We're not insisting on our way or desperately maneuvering circumstances to try to get what we want. Everything is left in His hands. And those hands are utterly trustworthy, even when they wound us.

On the more practical side, I think it's good to develop close friendships with other women, both single and married, that you can talk to and pray with and fellowship with. Being friends with married women does lend a little perspective. From the single side of things, our vision can get a little skewed and we can think that marriage is our ticket to happiness and satisfaction in life. There certainly are happy marriages, and God intended marriage to be fulfilling and satisfying in many ways, but nothing can ultimately make us truly happy except God Himself. There is so much peace in submitting to that truth. On the other hand, I think solid friendships with other single women are important too, because it's good to be able to mutually encourage others who are in the same boat.
I reached a certain point where I realized I didn't (and maybe never would) have a family of my own to pour my life into, and it was kind of huge and devastating at the time. It was a genuine grief and a loss of what I'd always imagined my life to be like. But gradually God has helped me realize that there are other ways to glorify Him than having a family, and there are other things and people He might want me to pour my life into. Some wives and moms are so busy with their families that they might not have time to reach out to the needy woman down the street, or go on a mission trip, or minister to children in a Bible club. It has helped me to look for those opportunities. I Corinthians 7 has not always seemed like a helpful passage to me (especially when I was feeling sad about my single status), but the older I get, the more thankful I am for it. As one of my single friends put it, "It justifies our existence." If God has singleness for you for a little bit longer, or even a lot longer, He will enable you to use your singleness to serve Him in unique ways that a married person couldn't.
And one other thing is that He promises in our trials that He won't give us more than we can bear. (I Cor. 10:13) He will provide a "way of escape." For you, that might mean marriage pretty soon. Or it might mean extra grace--just what you need for each day--so that you'll be able to endure, grow stronger, and bring Him glory by the way you live as a single woman.

. . . All I have to give you is God's Word, but nothing else has ever helped and strengthened me like that has. . . . Keep looking to Jesus, and keep trusting!

Eileen

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

154: ping! ping!

Sometimes I get this mental picture of me standing tense on a narrow ledge. I am braced. I walk slowly. Inching. God, hold my hand. If I can keep myself controlled, and use all the will-power within me, maybe, maybe I will not topple forward. I am walking along God's narrow path.


Lately I've started to think maybe going along God's path for me is more like a pinball in a pinball machine. Here's His path, similar to one in a Pilgrim's Progress movie, sufficiently wide, but with a definite border on each side, the road bumpy with dirt clods and rocks. And here I am pinging against the sides as God closes this door, PING! and I ricochet off a closed window on the other side, PING! and I roll forward, God correcting me as I head off in one direction, or the other, always faithful to keep me on the path.


That seems a lot more practical than the precise tightrope of God's will vs. falling off into the flames of ruination. I only have a certain level of self-control--and control in this universe--to move myself along a self-determined trail of safe and perfect bliss. Then emotions sweep in--WOOOO!--and I start ping-ponging.

But, does God's Word tell me to brace myself for disaster? Is His path portrayed as treacherous and deadly if I hit a bump or dirt clod?

No. Instead He says that His rod and His staff will guide me. Oh! There goes a sheep! Bring ya back in, darlin'. Oh! You're stuck on your back. Let me pick you back up. Oh! You're going around and around in circles eating the same patch of grass and don't realize that you're eatin' nubbins now? Let me lead you beside still waters and make you lie down in green pastures. Let me restore your soul.

Ping! Ping! May God direct your path as you bump along the road of life.

Because there's grace in God's hand.

Monday, March 23, 2015

153: the pressure of one

"And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea . . . of one's happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant -- it is not fit -- it is not possible that it should be so." (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 37)

Bewitching indeed! How many hopes and dreams have I at times pinned on THAT one person? "He will _____," and fill in the blank, depending on the cavity of my life at that moment.

I had a realization the other day. Really, it's pretty obvious, it just has taken me awhile to get there. I realized I can actually appreciate another man for his talents or his personality without it being a love interest or hoping my future husband has the same qualities. (Duh, right?) Like, my husband doesn't have to be all things from all men. He can be himself, and I can enjoy the diversity of other people in the body of Christ.

I marvel at all the people God has put in my life, and the many happinesses they bring me.

I look forward to spending the day around my coworkers, one a woman married for many years, the other a woman a few years older than me who is engaged. They are not only my fellow teachers, but my friends. I open my classroom door to go make copies before class, and my little Ethiopian boy with the cutest personality ever has just arrived and offers me a hug. Later on, my socially-aware Chinese girl strides into the classroom late, smelling of perfume (she's only 8).

At the end of the day, I heft my school bags through my parents' front door and two little dogs (they're kinda like people, right?) greet me like they haven't seen me in weeks. My Bella wiggles her behind with her "baby" (stuffed animal) in her mouth, jumps on my bed, and whines happily as I scratch her ears.

My phone dings with an absolutely random text message from a crazy pal. A friend from out-of-state calls me for an update. I get an e-mail from a friend from out of the country.

And then, on top of all these and much more, God gives me Himself. In HIS presence is fullness of joy and at HIS right hand are pleasures forevermore. Joy dims to grasping for a feeling if I am not first hidden under His wing.

I have many blessings through  many individuals.

Can a dog or students or coworkers replace the place of a husband? No, that's not God's design.

And yet.

I cannot pin all my happiness on one person. I know me. I know it would end in disaster. It puts too much pressure on the one relationship.

One man, even the most important man in my life, even the man with whom I share everything and for whom I vow "til death do us part," is not supposed to fill the place of my parents or my girl friends or every member of the body of Christ.

So I thank God for the many relationships in my life. I thank Him for the happiness I get from all the little instances around me. I put Him first in the order of where I derive peace of heart. And no matter if a man be in my life, I want to remember to balance that relationship with the other valid relationships in my life.

I am blessed.


Excerpts from two of my students' recently finished make-believe stories:

"Mmm," said Michelle as she sniffed her cup of coffee. She went in the kitchen to get a snack. But when she saw a cat at the window. "Pss," said Michelle. The cat jumped into the house and bumped over Michelle's ring on the ledge. Michelle got angry and the cat jumped out side.


"Oh no," cried Michelle. She went to see the mess. On the ledge were scattered diamonds. It was her favorite ring because her boyfriend gave her it . . . . 


When Michelle woke up her boyfriend was at the door with something behind his back. Then her boyfriend showed her what was behind his back. When Michelle saw the ring she was soooooo surprised that she hugged and squeezed him. "I love you and you're the best," said Michelle. The End.



~*~

Jake is a polar bear that lives on Polar Bear Island. Jack is a person that went to Polar Bear Island for the summer. On the plane ride to Polar Bear Island, Jack thought he was talking to a kid. But... he was really talking to Jake. Jack did not know. Then Jake put his head in to the water to get fish. Jack said "a talking polar bear! I will capture the polar bear to be rich!"


. . . Jake said, "Why are you trying to capture me?" "Why do I want capture Jake anyway? What a fool am I," Jack said. Jake said, "Yup you are a fool." The moral of the story was it doesn't matter how much you have."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

152: no change, guaranteed

"You really don't like change do you," my good friend texted me last night.

My church community group re-started after a several month hiatus. After a long day that left me wanting to crawl into bed, I instead dragged myself to the church couple's living room and looked around. Not a soul from my community group sat on all those many chairs and couches. "Where are Matt and Muffy?" I asked, not even picking out the leaders of my group. "Where is everyone? Where are Matt and Muffy?"

I kid you not, I left the room and almost started crying.

Granted, I was exhausted. And the main reason why I had gone was to talk to MY community group about something they had prayed for me about, but now they weren't even here! This was like walking, bedraggled, into what you think is going to be home, and finding a bunch of staring stranger's eyes looking back at you.

Well, I survived, left early, came home and went to bed.

But my friend's assessment stands true: I don't really like change all that much.

A casualty of having never moved maybe?

And yet as I was journaling a prayer tonight, a theme lifted its head and roared like a lion:

MY LORD IS WITH ME ALWAYS.

Maybe that's why I came home today singing, "Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me."

Through all the dispensations of life, You will stay with me.

That's not even a question. God's desire is for me to abide in Him and He promises never to leave or forsake me.

That is the glorious thing about our God. Yes, He gets elbow deep in the grime and drama of our individual lives.

But He also reigns above it all, declaring that I am a child of the kingdom of light and that no one can snatch me out of His hand. He reigns above it all saying that His plan and purposes stand firm. Saying that whether you are being attacked in the Middle East for your faith or sneaking to a house church in Asia or being media-saturated in the West, He is still God and He does not change and His kingdom cannot be suppressed.

Neither death nor life nor angels or demons nor things in heaven nor things on earth nor anything in all creation is able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord.

My life might go wonky, or not, but God won't.

No change, guaranteed.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

151: when speakers mention singleness

This is kinda weird. But you know what really blesses me? Enough that I would write a post about it?

You know when a speaker is preaching about God's character and they quickly list different life scenarios--the widow, the single mom, the couple with a rocky marriage, the parents with a child going astray, etc.?

Well, lately, I've heard a couple speakers add lonely singleness to the list.

That blesses me! I'm not sure if it should or not, but it blesses me that my demographic is being recognized.

I don't necessarily need a sermon on prolonged singleness. I certainly don't need to hear a radio speaker "humorously" compare singles wanting marriage to wanting cheesecake for dinner but being content with salad (true story, folks). But, well, it's nice to have a hard situation acknowledged and to be more personally included in the application of how God's character applies to wherever we are.

So thank you, Angie Smith (If: Gathering) and Chip Ingram (Life on the Edge radio), for recognizing this current cultural trend and exalting Jesus above every, even this, life situation!

Happy (Pizza) Pi Day!