For the Journey: Struggling

After getting home from work tonight, eating supper, and the usual, I knew I had to work on Sunday School literature, especially since I’ve been a horrible slacker so far this week for reasons I’d rather not go into.  I didn’t particularly want to work on literature because it requires focus and discipline, two things which are usually strengths for me but seem to be in short supply of late.  However, to avoid falling so far behind I can’t catch up, I decided I better.

A lot of times working on literature is easy for me.  I’m excited and eager to get to it, and the words flow as naturally as breathing.  Other times, like this week, it’s a struggle.  I’m distracted, or tired, or I can’t seem to get my thoughts to come together the way I want them to.  You name it.  This is also why if you look at my originals, some pages have whole paragraphs marked out, while others only have a word or two here and there.  (The pages with whole paragraphs marked out are usually much more prayed over, though, so sometimes the struggling’s not necessarily a bad thing, even if it is a little frustrating.)

Anyway, I sat down to work tonight, and at first, it was going about as well as it had all week.  But, before I decided to give up and table it for the night, my thoughts started flowing more freely, and a childhood memory even came to mind as a perfect illustration for the point I was trying to make.  As I read back over what I had written, I realized what was supposedly for others in a Sunday School class a couple of months from now was actually for me right now.  And, after a week of struggling and feeling a little burdened down with the responsibility of writing literature on top of everything else going on and other struggles and issues I’m not handling as well as I would like to be, I found myself thinking, I get to do this.  I don’t know why I get to do it.  I certainly don’t deserve to get to do it, but I get to do it.  And, when I’m struggling with it or when it’s the most natural thing in the world, it’s worth it because I truly believe God made me for it and because He’s with me in it.

Now, I shared about struggling with writing literature because it’s something I know and have experienced, but life is full of a wide variety of struggles, and we all have our own collection to deal with.  That said, I’m thankful that God has a purpose even in our struggles and that He steps in and encourages us when we need it most.

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Chasing Contentment

“What are y’all doing tonight?”  It was a simple question posed by my mother to my sister, who was visiting, and me at the supper table two weekends ago.  It had a simple answer, from me at least—working on Sunday School literature.  But, before I could give said simple answer, my sister pipes up with a, “She’s going to do the complete opposite of whatever makes her happy.”  To explain, she was still a little miffed at me from an earlier conversation in which my reasons for not doing something were less than satisfactory in her eyes.  Furthermore, she probably wouldn’t have said it at all had she had any idea how many times it would run through my head over the course of the coming days.  Although I was a little miffed at first, especially when my attempt at explaining how untrue that was sounded hollow even to me, I actually really like the fact that she’s never been afraid to be blunt with me.  (For the record, working on Sunday School literature makes me very happy.  In this particular conversation, though, we had suddenly left the realm of simply talking about what I was doing that night and collided with some much larger issues.)

In the week following said comment, I went a little crazy.  By that I mean, I touched my autoharp for the first time in…well, a good long while.  (I’d say I played it, but that would probably be stretching the boundaries of the truth.)  I devoured a novel in less than a week, a once regular occurrence for me.  I reintroduced myself to my poor dog.  (Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but you get the picture…)  I enjoyed a long walk.  I found a few minutes to work on pleasure writing projects.  And realizing how much I used to love watching movies and that I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I got to just watch a movie without being knee-deep in some project and only having it on for background noise, I laid on the couch and watched a movie from start to finish.  It was wonderful.  The experience I mean.  The movie wasn’t bad either.

As much as I enjoyed all of that and as much as I realized I want, no, I need more of that in my life (I’m already planning to finally sew again, to make more time for those pleasure writing projects, and to take a day-trip, hiking most likely.  We’ll see if that happens.), it was still a pretty terrible week, which irritated me immensely.  Here, I had made time to do all these things I had been wanting to do for forever in an effort to disprove my sister’s comment, yet I was still frustrated, very frustrated.  It hit me that it was the contentment thing again.  I’m pretty sure that’s on the bottom of my list of virtues, if it makes the list at all.

Part of my constant struggle with contentment is I’m really good at knowing what I don’t want.  I’m just terrible at knowing what I do want, which is sort of important.  Then, on the rare occasions when I know exactly what I want, I have absolutely no idea how to make it happen.  And, that’s why I’ll be content for three days, three months, I once made it a year, believe it or not, and then it’s gone.  So, it’s this constant chase, this constant struggle to feel content, to not feel like some major area of my life is perpetually out of whack and I can’t fix it.  Don’t forget to throw into the struggle a hearty amount of guilt because I know I should be content.  I know and am grateful for the fact that I have a pretty wonderful life; it’s not perfect by any means, but I certainly can’t deny I’ve been blessed way beyond what I deserve and have plenty of reasons to be content.  I’m just not, or certainly not always.

I have to remind myself regularly that contentment doesn’t just happen.  It’s something you learn.  (See Philippians 4:10-13).  In school, though I always carried too big a load, which meant school consumed too much of my life and I stayed discontent in my existence as a student, I was blessed in the fact that I didn’t usually struggle with the learning part.  I could generally pick up a new concept pretty fast.  I didn’t have trouble understanding what my teachers/professors were trying to get across.  However, that was not the case with calculus.  (The good news: most people, myself included, have no use for calculus.  No offence to any math fanatics.)  It was a very real struggle for me.  By that I mean just looking at the problems gave me a headache.  I’m discovering that learning contentment is, for me, a lot more like learning calculus than…learning how to analyze literature, for instance.

I wish I could conclude this post by sharing some major breakthrough in my experience of learning contentment…but I can’t.  I’m still struggling, still chasing it.  (And, I’m starting to hate the calculus analogy because the breakthrough never came in that department…)  That said, I truly believe, even if it starts with steps as small as taking time to revisit a hobby that once brought you joy or saying something that needed to be said and no one else was going to say for you when you would normally chomp down hard on your tongue and keep it to yourself, engaging the struggle, continuing to pursue contentment, and seeking God in the learning process is far better than trying to ignore the issue and somehow manage to be content with not being content.

 

I wrote all of what you just read earlier in the week.  I read back over it, decided I wasn’t thrilled with it, and didn’t post it.  But, for some strange reason, I didn’t trash it either.  This morning, after getting ready for church, I was reading my Bible and came across Hebrews 13:5, which reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:  for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  I’d read the verse before plenty of times, but I needed it more today than I guess I ever had.  We can be content with what we have not because we suddenly don’t want things we can’t seem to grasp or because our circumstances are never incredibly frustrating, but, rather, we can be content because of Who is always with us.  So, I’m still learning, still chasing contentment, and that may very well be a lifelong journey filled with ups and downs for me, but I am grateful and content in knowing God will be with me every step of the way.

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Running on Empty

I’ve had my car for going on three years, and I finally got around to testing out all the low-fuel features it’s equipped with between last night and this morning.  Said, unplanned experiment almost gave me a heart attack, but I’m happy to report they are all in proper working order.

I had plenty of gas in my car.  That is, I had plenty of gas in my car to get home from the newspaper office and then to the convenience store where I work on Saturdays, where I would be able to fill it up.  I did not have plenty of gas in my car for an unplanned trip to Conway.  No problem.  Just stop and fill it up, right?  Only, clearly, I didn’t do that.

My gas gauge has 16 bars.  When we took off to Conway, it had three.  We make it into Conway, and there’s still three, so my sister, who was driving and, to be fair, had offered to stop, but our family was traveling in two vehicles, and mine was the only one that needed gas, tells me, “It hasn’t moved at all yet, so you should be good.”  Shortly after she said that, it went down to two.  We get back to Morrilton, and it’s down to one.  It’s late.  I want to go home.  The thing gets around 40 miles per gallon, so I tell myself, “I should be good.  Mel said I’d be good.”  I get almost home, and the low-fuel light, which up to that moment had never been needed, comes on.  No problem.  I’m less than five minutes from home, and there is one gas station between my house and the store.  I’m fine.

When my parents get home, I explain where I was when the light came on and ask them whether I need to stop and put a little gas in it at the gas station I pass on my way to work on Saturday mornings.  They both tell me, quite confidently, that I can make it all the way to the store.  (I feel I should point out that all the people telling me I had enough gas in my car were not going to be the one stranded on the side of the road before daylight this morning if I did not.)

Taking my parents’ word, this morning, with the fuel light on, I go passed a perfectly good gas station, because, I can make it to the store.  At the top of the hill right before I get to the store, my car makes this noise, and that last little bar disappears, and my car starts flashing, “FILL FUEL. FILL FUEL,” which was more than slightly alarming.

Thankfully, I did make it into the parking lot, and, answer to prayers, my car did start and make it over to the pump after we had opened and had the pumps turned on.  At which point, I pumped 8.245 gallons of gas into my car that has an 8-gallon tank.  I was definitely running on empty.

This was the first time I’ve ever driven my car on empty.  Hopefully, it will be the last time I ever drive my car on empty.  I didn’t particularly enjoy my drive to work staring at a fuel light and telling myself, “I’m fine. I’m fine.  I’m gonna make it—maybe.”  Sometimes, though, we run on empty spiritually speaking.

Over the last two weeks, I worked to fill four Sunday School literature orders at one time, which was awesome considering I started out with one order from one church, so it was a blessing to see the growth there.  But, it didn’t leave much time for writing new literature.  It was all printing and packaging.  By the end of the two weeks, I felt a little off.  This week, when I finally got more than 15-20 minutes along with my regular Bible study before leaving for work or 15-20 minutes before bed at night to sit down and really work on studying and writing literature, I couldn’t help thinking, “I’ve missed this.”  I was feeling a little off because I was almost running on empty.  I hadn’t spent near the same amount of time with God in His Word as had become my norm.  I needed to take time, make time, however you want to put it, to fill up.

This is true for a lot of people who profess to be Christians but who are consistently running on empty.  They’re trying to make it through a whole week on what they get in one hour in church on Sunday morning, and it’s just not enough.  They’re passed the point of the fuel light being on and are to the flashing, “FILL FUEL.  FILL FUEL.”  All the while, they’re wondering why they’re struggling so much with temptation or don’t feel at peace or aren’t content.  Well, stop trying to run on fumes alone.  We can’t expect to enjoy the blessings and joys of a relationship with God if we’re not willing to spend some serious time with Him in prayer, Bible study, and worship.  We can’t get very far or accomplish very much for the cause of Christ in this life running on empty.

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Part of the Crowd

I read the story of blind Bartimaeus earlier this week, and it really stuck with me.  Then, tonight at the Antioch Association Youth Revival, the message, though from a different text, was very similar in theme to what I had been reflecting on most of the week, so I’m sure God’s trying to teach me something, but just maybe, someone else needs it too.

Blind Bartimaeus is begging by the side of the road, like I’m guessing he did almost every day of his life, but on this particular day someone passes by causing quite a stir.  Bartimaeus, hearing that it’s Jesus, starts crying out, “Jesus, thou son of David have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47), desperate for Jesus to heal him.  The crowd, however, tells him to hush, to stop being such a bother, basically, to go back to begging.  Now, if blind Bartimaeus, a man who had to stagger around or be led everywhere he went, had heard enough about Jesus to know that this Jesus of Nazareth could heal him, then you know the able-bodied members of the crowd telling him to hold his peace had.  Yet, no one said, “Here, take my hand.  I’ll lead you to Jesus.”  No one started calling out to Jesus on Bartimaeus’ behalf.  No, they were too busy shushing him.  Nobody has a kind word for him until Jesus Himself calls for Bartimaeus.

Perhaps the people in the crowd wanted Jesus’ attention all to themselves.  Perhaps they thought Bartimaeus, a lowly beggar, wasn’t worth Jesus’ time.  The fact is their motives don’t matter much.  They were in the wrong.

Bartimaeus, though, full of faith, refuses to be silenced, and he gets his miracle.

What convicted me earlier in the week when I was reading this passage before work one morning is that Christians, myself included, are so often like the members in the crowd.  We see hurting, broken people all around us; we see poor and needy people too; we have the know-how to lead them to Jesus, but we’re too busy, too afraid to speak up, too unconcerned (again, the motive doesn’t much matter) to take them by the hand and lead them to Him.  Some of them are, not so much with words, but through their actions, crying out for the love of Christ that we could share with them, but we might as well be telling them to hush, to just keep begging because we can’t be bothered.  If only we would start seeing and loving the lost the way the Lord does, how different our response would be…

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For the Journey: Stress and Deadlines

Time and not having enough of it has been one of my biggest struggles of late, and it seems to be one I share with the vast majority of people I know.  Everyone is crazy busy.

My biggest Sunday School deadline is coming up, so this week I reached my quarterly “How will I ever get it all done?!” moment.  (No, I’m not procrastinating…  My printer is in overdrive as I write.)  Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love writing literature.  In fact, I would just be lost without it because it’s both my passion and purpose.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes I’m fighting sleep when I sit down to work on it or the fact that sometimes trying to balance everything is quite the challenge.

Last night, I was frantically working on my last new adult-level lesson.  It was going nowhere.  And what got me about that was I had purposefully saved this lesson for last and had been super excited about it and looking forward to it all along.  It came time to do it though, and I started overthinking.  I decided there was just no way it was going to work the way I originally planned, so I tried to go a whole different direction with it, which didn’t work at all.

I finally got tired of just staring at it and started over, trusting my initial instincts this time but thinking, “I really don’t have time for this.”  Guess what?  It started coming together really well.  As I was writing it, I knew I wanted to reference a passage from Paul’s writings as an example; I also knew there were several I could choose from and didn’t have a specific one in mind, so I was agonizing over how long it was going to take me to find the right one—that deadline thing again.  (Plus, Paul did write a rather large portion of the New Testament.)  I’m not kidding; I opened my Bible toward the back where Paul’s letters are, and the first passage I laid eyes on was perfect.  That may seem like a small, insignificant thing, but for me it was huge.  I’m not ashamed to admit I immediately started crying.  It was like God was saying, “I’ve helped you with this deadline thing before.  Quit stressing and trust Me.”

So, yes, life is crazy busy, and it does seem like there’s always more things to do than time to do them in.  But, I’m thankful that God is always with us.  I’m thankful He helps in the midst of crazy schedules and long to-do lists because He truly cares about every detail of our lives.

 

Switching gears completely, in case you need a good laugh, this was my week:

Sunday night:  I get home from church, change into feeding clothes, and am carrying water to the dogs when I almost trip and fall but manage to right myself and simply pour water all over me…only to trip and fall not even five minutes later outside the little dogs’ pen…

Monday morning:  Almost pulled in at the old location.  (We moved last week.  Surprisingly, I only did that the one day this week.)

Tuesday afternoon:  I go to my sister’s house after work to kill a little time because we were meeting a friend for supper.  The power was off.  She “forgot” to warn me her security system would start alarming because of the power being off.  Miniature heart attack.

Wednesday morning:  Wet boots, slick floor, trying to hurry…  You can imagine how that one ended.

Thursday night:  I shut my hand in my dresser…  Still not sure how I managed that one, and I’ve only had that dresser forever.

Friday afternoon:  Temporarily lost my phone.  Fortunately, I’m not the sort who can’t go without it for hours.  My only real concern when I realized it was gone was wondering if I dropped it in the floorboard of my car or in the parking lot to get picked up or crushed by a truck when I switched to Mom’s car for us to go to Russellville.  I also whacked my head getting out of her car…  (The phone was in my car in case you were wondering.)

Then, this afternoon, I dropped the can of feed for the goats on my way to the pen, and not paying attention because I was trying to hurry to make up for the time spent on my hands and knees picking up the feed, I walked into a tree branch for fall number three of the week…

Looks like I won’t be outgrowing that insanely klutzy, slightly accident-prone thing anytime soon…

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For the Journey: When God Speaks

Do you ever wish God would answer your prayers in an audible voice?  I know I do—especially when I have a big decision to make.  I just want Him to say, “Choose A, Sam” or “You really don’t want to do that,” because I’m terrified of making the wrong choice.  Though I don’t usually get that kind of answer, there have been a few times in my life when God has spoken to me so clearly it was almost like He was speaking in an audible voice.

I think about the night I finally knew what I was called to do with my life.  The night I knew that meant I was going to Bible College also comes to mind.  I think of all the moments God told me to stay there and also the moment He let me know coming home was His will for me after graduation.  Then there was the night I knew it was time and how to go about starting to write Sunday School literature.  Though they weren’t nearly as pleasant to experience, I also think of all the times He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I had messed up and needed to seek forgiveness.  In all of these instances, God spoke clearly to my soul.  I didn’t have to wonder what He meant.  I knew.  There was no room for excuses; there was only obeying or refusing.

As I shared awhile back, this quarter I’ve been writing Sunday School lessons from some of my favorite passages of Scripture, some of the very passages God used to speak to me in the examples I mentioned.  The idea came to me in a revival service, and I just couldn’t let go of it.  (I like to think God was speaking again.)  As I’ve revisited texts that speak so vividly to me, it’s reminded me how precious a gift God’s Word is.  It’s both living and powerful, and it’s often the means through which God speaks just the right words, at just the right time, to His children.  In most (not all, but most) of the instances I noted of God’s speaking plainly to me, I was already taking in His Word in some form or fashion, whether that was through personal Bible study or a sermon in church.  The words I needed to hear, the comfort I was seeking, were already there for me in His Word.

I think sometimes we whine about not hearing from God, about His seeming silence when we desperately want answers, and all the while, He’s waiting for us to turn to the Word He’s already spoken, all the while, the answers we seek are right there as plain as day.  Sometimes the issue isn’t that God’s not speaking; it’s that we’re not in His Word enough to hear when He speaks.

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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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