Weary

It’s been awhile.  It’s especially been awhile since a non-For the Journey post.  It wasn’t my intention to completely quit my regular posts when I started those.  It’s just sort of what happened.  Maybe I still remember how to do both though…

Weary.  Exhausted.  Bone-tired.  Spent.  All are appropriate descriptors for how I’ve felt lately.  The causes:  being super busy all the time, when as an introvert I love, crave even, peace and quiet; stress, all kinds of stress; storms, like the kind that just when you think you’ve weathered them, or at least almost weathered them, BAM—torrential downpour again.  It’s great…just great.  (If you were hoping for positive and uplifting, you should probably look elsewhere.  Just kidding…I’ll try my best to get there.)

So, for probably a couple of months now, Isaiah 40:28 has been my verse:  “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?”  I’ve reminded myself countless times of late that when I’m tired and weary, my God’s not.  This doesn’t magically make me less tired.  It doesn’t make the rain from those storms I was talking about stop falling.  Yet, there’s still great comfort in it.

Comfort in knowing when I’m running out of strength, I can rely on His endless supply.  Comfort in knowing when I feel like I’m losing all control of my life and circumstances, He’s still in complete control.  Comfort in knowing when I have no clue why things are working out the way they are, why my lot in life seems to be one disappointment after another and endless waiting for things to get better, He knows both what He’s doing in my life and what He’s allowing, which means just because things aren’t the way I would have them if I could have my way, doesn’t mean they’re not the way they should be.  Comfort in knowing, even when God feels distant, He hasn’t abandoned me for a month-long vacation.  He simply doesn’t work that way.

The remaining verses of Isaiah 40 contain further comfort, particularly the very popular Isaiah 40:31:  “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  We’re going to grow weary and weak from time to time in this life.  We simply can’t handle all the twists and turns, disappointments and frustrations, heartaches and sufferings that accompany life in a fallen world on our own.  That said, the God who is never weary gives strength to those who wait on Him.

So, today, Isaiah 40:28 is still my verse.  Today, I’m still pretty weary.  But, I’m also waiting, trusting that, even though I may not know how or when, someday Isaiah 40:31 is going to be my verse, trusting that at exactly the right moment the Lord will renew my strength.

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For the Journey: Times of Sorrow

May has not been my month.  It’s been one of those months where it’s one bad day after another.  The kind where you just wake up wondering what terrible thing is going to happen today.  If it’s not work stress; it’s home stress.  If it’s not home stress, it’s this major disappointment here or that major frustration there.  Added to all that has been the constant string of bad news.  This person we know is going through this horrible situation; this person we know is facing this health crisis; this person’s family is dealing with a devastating loss.  Then, just don’t turn on the news because the whole world’s gone nuts.  It’s been the kind of month that makes your heart ache, the kind that leaves you filled with sorrow, if not for yourself, for others, the kind of month that leaves you searching and longing for comfort.

I guess that’s why as I thought about what I would do after I finished Ephesians and it came time to start a new Sunday School project, I didn’t feel led toward a particular book or section of a book.  Instead I longed to revisit some of my favorite passages of Scripture, passages I’ve gone to again and again for comfort or passages that spoke to me at just the right moment and left lasting impressions.  I call them my comfort texts, and I certainly hope you have your own collection.  I started by writing out a list of the passages I wanted to look at, and I didn’t really know why, but I decided to start with the call of Moses, which was actually very close to the bottom of my list, but is a favorite passage of mine because I can certainly relate to having trouble speaking publicly, and I think we’ve all been guilty at times of making excuses, feeling like we aren’t up to the task, and wishing someone else could do the job when we feel God leading us to do something new and challenging, perhaps even frightening.  But it was a different portion of the passage that caught my attention as I was studying and writing out a lesson from it.

After God calls Moses by name and tells him to take off his shoes because he’s standing on holy ground and introduces Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (verse 7).  The Children of Israel had been in bondage for years.  Exodus 1:13-14 reads, “And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:  And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field:  all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour,” so we know their sorrows were great.  Their lives were filled with little joy and great fear and hardship.  After all, Moses’ own parents had to hide him to keep him from being thrown in the river, such was the power and cruelty of Pharaoh, and I’m sure other parents weren’t so fortunate.

The Children of Israel were only human, so I’m also sure as they prayed and prayed yet still found themselves waking up day after day to the same tasks and the same cruel taskmasters, they must have wondered where God was and whether He even heard them.  We know He did, though, because He tells Moses, “I know their sorrows.”

And still today, God knows our sorrows.  He sees each tear, hears each prayer we pray in anguish, and He knows; He truly knows and understands the way we’re feeling, the depth of our hurt.  Others can say they know, but He knows. 

If you remember, things got worse for the Children of Israel before they got better, so the fact that God knows our sorrows doesn’t mean He will instantly act to ease them.  Rather, He will act in His time and in His way.  He loves us too much to act too soon and deny us the blessings and strength of character that come through hardships.  In the meantime though, we can take comfort in the simple fact that He knows.

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For the Journey: Marriage??

When I was trying to decide where to write lessons from for the next Sunday School quarter, I couldn’t get Ephesians off my mind, so that’s where I went.  I was clicking right along; everything was going well. Then, I reached the last section of Ephesians 5.  You know, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord … Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church …”  (Ephesians 5:22, 25).

I know it was probably wrong of me, but when I sat down to work on Sunday School literature and read those verses this week, my immediate thought was, “Seriously?  I’m getting asked, ‘Are you still single?’ and hearing about how my clock is ticking and consequently becoming very practiced in the arts of biting my tongue and grinning and bearing it.  I DO NOT want to write about marriage.”  Added to that, the literature is for adults, mostly married adults.  Yeah, what could I possibly have to say to them on the topic?  And the thought that Paul wasn’t married either was little comfort because I am certainly not Paul.

So… I reread the passage.  Then I reread it again.  Thought about skipping it, but since I hadn’t skipped anything else, I thought that might be a little odd.  Got slightly frustrated with myself because had I just thought about this particular, very familiar passage while considering Ephesians, I probably would have prayed a little longer before jumping in to it.  Throughout this process, I was very honest with God while pleading for His assistance because I had nothing.  Not a thing.

Finally, I decided I had to just buckle down and write something, so I started scribbling out something about the role of husbands and wives, nothing too profound, but all I could seem to come up with at any rate.

Then I came to verses 31, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh,” which is a well-known verse and is a quote from Genesis 2:24 when God ordained the marriage covenant.  I was struck by the verse that immediately follows it:  “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Though, yes, Paul was writing/teaching on godly marriage, he directly applies verse 31 to Christ and the church.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around that.  The church is born after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Acts records the birth and growth of the early church.  So, when the words of verse 31 were originally spoken by God in the context of the first marriage between Adam and Eve, the church didn’t exist.  That means marriage was divinely designed at creation, before the church was even born, to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church.  In other words, He loved His church, He loved us, that much then.  Before we were, He was giving us a beautiful picture of His love and care for us through the institute of marriage.  His desire for His church, for those He gave His life for, those He cleanses and sanctifies, those He nourishes and cherishes, is for them to be one with Him:  “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (verse 30).

I started writing about Ephesians 5:22-33 moaning and groaning and wishing there was some way to avoid it, yet I really think, as much as I’ve enjoyed working through the letter, I was blessed more from this passage than all the ones before it because I left it standing in awe all over again at how deep Christ’s love for us is, in awe that as imperfect and unworthy as we are, those who’ve accepted His salvation get to enjoy the privileged position of being part of His church, the bride He’s loved from the very beginning.

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For the Journey:  Waiting with Purpose

Sometimes I feel like life is simply endless waiting.  From about the second day of fourth-grade to my last final exam in college, I was eagerly and impatiently waiting to be finished with school and able to just work.  Then, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity (I don’t care if it really wasn’t that long.  It felt like it.) to find a job.  Now, I’m waiting and hoping there’s more to adulthood than just endless working to feel like the only thing you’re accomplishing is exhausting yourself.

I recently started writing lessons from the book of Acts, and probably due to my own impatience with waiting, I couldn’t help paying extra attention to the manner in which the disciples spend their time as they wait on the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has given them this incredible task of reaching the world.  But, knowing there’s no way they can accomplish it alone, He tells them to first wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1:14 reveals, rather than sit around with their arms folded just waiting, they “[continue] with one accord in prayer and supplication.”  The disciples had no control over the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Only God did.  But, they could still be praying; they could still be seeking God’s direction to be ready when the Spirit fell.  So that’s what they do.  They make the choice to wait with purpose.

Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of things in life that we can’t do anything about.  For instance, we can’t force a speedy answer to our prayers.  We can’t snap our fingers and have what we want when we want (even when what we’re wanting really does seem like more of a need than a want).  Sometimes we just have to wait.  In the Bible, David waits years between the time he is anointed and the time he becomes king of Israel.  But, if you study 1 and 2 Samuel, everything that happens to David in those years prepares him to be a good king.  Joseph also has to wait years for his dreams to come true, but through the events that occur in those years, he is able to save the lives of many, including his own family.  David and Joseph both trust God and His timing.  They both wait with purpose, spending that time growing and maturing in the Lord.  When we’re waiting, whether it be for an answer to prayer or for something to happen, or both, we should choose to wait with purpose.  We should be effectively working through prayer as well as striving to respond in a godly manner and grow from the events that occur in our lives while we wait.  If we choose to just wait, all we’ll accomplish is wasting time.  If we choose to wait with purpose, we’ll most likely find ourselves looking back on that long, tiresome waiting period someday and praising God for it.

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For the Journey: In the Darkest Moment

Though it seems like 2017 started just yesterday, in reality, Easter is fast approaching.  So, as I was writing last quarter, I wrote Easter lessons as well.  While studying and writing those lessons, the Roman centurion’s cry, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” in Mark 15:39 really stood out to me, and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.

What amazes me is he cries out expressing his faith that Jesus is who He says He is at the very moment Jesus appears the most defeated.  Jesus’ faithful disciples have fled.  Peter has denied—all three times.  This Jesus they and so many others believed was the Messiah wasn’t restoring the kingdom to Israel; He wasn’t ruling on the throne of David; He wasn’t even alive.  Yet, this Roman centurion, after watching Jesus endure the mocking, the beating, the agonizing death, and most likely even taking part at first, confesses, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Maybe it was the humility Jesus endured it all with; maybe it was the darkness; maybe it was something Jesus said in the midst of His pain.  Whatever it was, faith was born in that moment, a moment when so many had to be thinking, “We must have been wrong about Him,” a moment when it looked like His incredible ministry had ended in utter defeat.  In this moment, quite possibly the darkest of all time, faith was born.

God is always, always at work.  So, when you think you won’t survive if things get any worse, when you’re going through your own darkest moment, don’t lose hope.  God does some of His best work at unexpected times, in unexpected ways.

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Change is Not My Thing

I do not like change.  Period.  End of story.  I don’t like it because my track record with change and dealing with change is impressively terrible.  In fact, it’s sort of a running joke between my Mom and me that things just don’t come easy for me because we might as well laugh about it.

Let’s recap a little:

Transition from high school to college:  Nightmare.

Purchase of first car:  I still don’t want to talk about it.

Transition from college to working:  Most miserable five months of my life, and that’s saying something since this transition followed the transition from high school to college and purchase-of-first-car incident.

Purchase of second car:  You’ve got to be kidding me!  There’s no possible way this can be happening again.  Oh, yes, yes it can…if you’re Sam.  (When people ask me if I like my third and current car, I’m always very tempted to look at them like they’re stupid and say, “It runs.”  Okay, so sometimes I can’t resist.)

I could go on, but I’d rather not.

Needless to say, change both scares me and stresses me out.  But, whether I like it or not, whether I handle it with grace or just grit my teeth and bear it, it’s an unavoidable part of life.

Lately I’ve been praying about, stressing, and fretting over some next steps in my life, things I want to pursue, things I actually would like to see change, etc.  I realized I have a bad habit of trying to play out in my head every possible outcome for any decision I make.  I want to know the worst-case scenario and more importantly whether I can survive that possible outcome; I want to know the best-case scenario because, hey, a girl can dream; and everything in-between the two.  And a lot of times, those worries and fears and all that processing keep me from doing anything at all, which is not exactly a trusting, faithful, Christian approach to living.

I don’t usually share song lyrics (that’s more my sister’s kind of thing).  But, Tenth Avenue North recently released a song called “I Have This Hope,” and it’s ministered to me so much over the last several days that I just had to share:

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?

I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

But sometimes my faith feels thin
Like the night will never end
Will You catch every tear
Or will You just leave me here?

But I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

So, whatever happens I will not be afraid
Cause You are closer than this breath that I take
You calm the storm when I hear You call my name
I still believe that one day I’ll see Your face

And I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

God used this song to remind me that even when change is hard, even when I have more questions than answers, even when I’m tired of feeling like I’m pushing as hard as humanly possible and getting nowhere, I have a hope that’s sure and steadfast, and I’m not alone, so there’s no reason to fear.

So, while, sure, there’s a small part of me that wonders where I would be right now if some of those transitions mentioned earlier had gone a little smoother, and, yeah, I’m still hoping some future changes are a little easier, God knew what He was doing then and still knows now.  My job is trusting and holding on to the greatest hope there is.

“For he [God] hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  –Hebrews 13:5

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Beggin’

Clarksville First Free Will Baptist, where my Dad pastors, hosted the District WAC meeting today.  The theme was M&M (Missions & Money), and my mom asked me awhile back if I could come up with something that would go with that theme.  So, long story short, the following monologue was born.  My sister requested I share it.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  She actually wanted to share the video she took of me performing it, which I nixed.  I mean, I had a blast, but let’s just say, I’m a far better writer than I am an actor, and my nerves showed just a bit.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the monologue, but more importantly, I hope it challenges and encourages you to pray more and more specifically for those who are carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Beggin’

Alyssa:  We’re all adults here, so we all have jobs, right?  Or, if you’re enjoying spoiling grandchildren and bingo at the senior center in blissful retirement (in which case, I hate you—just kidding), you at least had a job at one time.  My job is…well, interesting.  I don’t really think of it as a job; it’s more of a calling.  You see, my family and I are missionaries to France.  Yes, I said missionaries.

There are lots of things I love about my calling and one thing in particular I really hate—coming home.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Seeing the family is great, even if our distant relatives think my bilingual, French-American kids are a little abnormal and don’t quite understand what in the world would possess my husband and me to live the way we do.  But, coming home means reporting to churches, also known as beggin’ for money.  Yeah, fun times…

The last time we came home, we met with the missions director almost first thing because he had a loaner car for us to use as we “reported to churches.”  It was a brand-new, shiny, white Ford Explorer.  My husband and I immediately exchanged are-you-kidding-me looks.  “We’re supposed to go begging for money in little country churches in that!” is what we were both thinking.  Jake, my husband, cleared his throat and said, “It’s…nice…too nice.”  The missions director explained that the towing and repair bills were killing them, so it was actually cheaper to just buy new.  It seems trusty clunkers are hard to come by.

We figured out a way around the snazzy, new rig though.  We just started making a habit of getting everywhere right on time instead of a good 15 minutes early.  That way, most of the congregation was already there and didn’t see the snazzy ride until after the service—and the offering.  Oh, don’t judge us; I’m sure you’ve pushed the boundaries of ethical behavior a time or two yourself.

I guess my biggest pet peeve when it comes to reporting to churches is after discussing how things are going and our financial needs, we always say something to the effect of, “What we need most is your prayers,” and we mean that in all sincerity.  We really, really do.  What gripes me, though, is the number of people who use that as an excuse to throw five bucks in the offering plate because, let’s be honest, they just don’t want to give any more than that and because they’ll pray for us.  And they do—sort of.  I mean, they say, “Lord, bless our missionaries” fairly regularly, or when they see our family photo on the prayer card on their fridge, they might say, “Lord, be with the Shaws in France,” but that’s not the kind of prayers we need.

I need you to pray that my children who are literally the only kids from a Christian family in their school won’t decide that surely everyone else is right when they reach the age of accountability.  I need you to pray that they won’t come to my husband and me someday angry and resentful demanding to know why they didn’t get to have a normal childhood or prayers that we’ll have the right answers for them if they do.  We need prayers that the Holy Spirit will empower us and prepare the hearts of those we come in contact with so that precious souls will be saved and our little corner of France will be forever changed.  We need prayers that our parents and siblings will understand as our parents age and their health starts failing, and we can’t be there to pull our weight because we’re an ocean away.  We need prayers that the money will come through.  We need prayers that truly touch Heaven.

I guess what I’m really saying is:  I need you to pray for me and my family the way you would want me to pray for you and your family if the roles were reversed.

You may think it’s silly, but I believe if people prayed for us and all other missionaries like that, reporting to churches might become one of my favorite things about my calling.  We would have no shortage of amazing stories to share, and I’m silly enough to believe our financial needs would be significantly reduced—so, less beggin’.

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