Fasting, Stillness and Celebrations

For the most part I love social media. I think it’s a great avenue to connect, learn and grow….along with sharing pictures with friends. I have made friends just from online communities that I spend time with IRL, and I have found ways to decorate and cook as well. Recently though, I was having a bit of a chaotic mind and heart that I was frankly compartmentalizing and distracting with social media.

For the first few days of November I took a fast from it all. My head and my heart craved the quietness, the space, the stillness. It was nine days of finding a heart that needed to breathe, a mind needing to settle. Honestly I needed to learn to pare down and shut down, to listen more to my self and the call to my heart from God.

heads and heartsIf I am honest with you all, it was difficult the first couple of days when it got quiet. I’d want to go to the phone for distraction, but as the days grew on I realized my dependency on noise to fill the quiet was not healthy. For me, it’s become a noise-filled culture that my head and my heart really can’t quite come to terms with living in 24/7. Even more so, as I have spent time in prayer and reading and just being still I have come to find it’s allowed me time to reflect on the seasons I have been in over the last few years and hear more from God on the one I am finding myself in.

As I was reading the last bit of my study of Esther this morning, I couldn’t help but realize that we’ve subbed out reflection and stillness, in remembering God in our midst and at our defense for quick snippets of Scripture and posted prayer requests for the masses. (I am just as guilty y’all) We quickly jump to the very next thing without sitting in the moment of God’s provision, His timing, His beauty. We can celebrate God’s great strength and faithfulness in our circumstances, but how good are we at marking them for remembrance in our own hearts and lives? How well are we doing at tuning our minds and hearts to see His providing, His rescue and His defense in our lives every single day? I’m really good at knowing what’s going on in my HOA group online, but not so much about God’s working in my heart if I’m not careful.

As I read deeper about Purim, first marked in those pages of Esther, I found that often we forget the faithfulness of the God we love and serve. We move on to the next project, next task, next circumstance without celebrating the goodness of a God Who intervenes, who wants all things to turn out for good in us, who asks for our attention and who absolutely deserves all our devotion.

For me, it’s about tuning out more of the noise and tuning my head and my heart to stillness and quiet, to reflection and celebration of God’s unwavering faithfulness in my  lives of others. That means fasts from social media, choosing time alone, and recognizing the ways in which He provides daily.

Rough Road Ahead

A few weeks back as we were traveling home from vacation, I saw a road sign stating “Rough Road.” Now, we were in South Carolina so that’s pretty much all of their roads. (Not sorry Palmetto peeps, because your roads are the worst, and that’s saying something from this Nashville gal) As we bumped along a bit I took a mental note of that sign, thinking more about it in response to life than to the physical conditions of the road.

Two years ago today, I was fired from my job with no explanation or reason as to why. Thinking back on some still fresh memories of that day and subsequent days, the road ahead that picture of the “Rough Road” sign came to mind once again. Because I started wondering if we’d appreciate knowing that a rough road was ahead in our lives.

If we could be warned of rough patches on the road of life ahead, would we want to know?

Would it make it any easier to bear? To live through and be on that road, knowing it was coming? I’ll be honest and say that no, it wouldn’t. In fact the knowledge of impending bumpiness makes it harder in many ways. We start to work in our means, (we do that anyways alot of the times) but we try to control the situation, the consequences or the people involved. The warning allows for preparation yes, but preparation on whose part? And what does that prep look like in our lives?

When rough roads approach us in life, do we grip the wheel and just endure it while we are on it, or do we lean in to see if there’s a change of course needed, or if we need to pull off and rest a bit in how we’ve been traveling that road? A rough road gives us the ability to see what’s lying underneath where we’ve been trodding, revealing to us what we are made of and on what/who we are relying. The signal of a rough road gives us false senses of reliance upon ourselves to avoid it or be able to get through it quickly.

Would I have wanted the warning of being fired? I have to say now, two years later, that while a warning of what lies ahead would be nice, I know that in it all I found that I was more trusting of God, not knowing how the road would wind and move, but I had to trust that it would move me more towards Him than anywhere else.

It was a rough road, and one that required healing, provision and trust beyond what I could muster up for myself alone. A rough road ahead doesn’t so much need a warning sign as it does a belief that the rough road is a part of our journey home.

Required Reading

required

We had required reading throughout my high school days, most of which I enjoyed. Some of which I truly did not…I am looking at you Cold Sassy Tree and Watership Down. I loved exploring the different genres and literature types, even if I struggled to write the papers on them or even to finish the book prior to summer ending.

I remember being taught allegory and theme, context and metaphorical writing. The entire time I kept seeing the true point of books, the thesis of many writers not being entertainment or story but a broader commentary on life, on humanity and the way we choose to live it out. When I finally got that, I fell in deeper love with books especially my two favorites Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby. 

When you are able to get beyond just a story, the words on a page, line after line, to see the root and heart of the author it changes so much about the story itself and how you digest it.

The same holds true for me in Scripture. When I dig in to passages that are more poetic and allude to something other than what they state, I find the beauty of God revealed all the more. That He knew we’d be a curious lot, one that wouldn’t settle for words at face value and so He gave us beautiful imagery and metaphor to describe our need, our deprivation and His provision.

I stumbled into such a passage this morning in Isaiah (Can you tell I am in the SheReadsTruth Lent study?). Where God is telling the barren woman to sing-a hard thing to do when one struggles with infertility. But when we look back in Scripture, we see the first three mothers of the Israelite nation were all barren-Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and yet they bore out a nation, fulfilled a promise set forth by God to Abraham at the beginning. Y’all. How beautiful those words of Isaiah 54 become to a heart and to barrenness.

We do not insure our own survival, we never have. God does. He brought forth Isaac in Sarah so that the nation of Israel might be born. He knew they’d turn from Him to other gods, enslaving themselves to idol worship and trusting in a king rather than the King. Then another child would be born, to usher in a new kingdom. To remind them, to remind us, that we are not survivalists.

We see from the barren woman singing that we too join her, because He provides, He makes a way. He chooses the most unlikely way to remind us that we do not do this life alone, that He is the author of our story and the focus of our song.

Maybe you’re having a hard time seeing the context of your situation, circumstances just seem to be coming at face value, but let me reassure you that God has a way of working this story into a song, the circumstances into a poem of beauty and rhyme that He is authoring. We have to be willing to honor His work and not be our own authors, we weren’t made for it. Maybe our lives should be required reading every once in a while so we can see His authorship written across it all, providing the beautiful song of joy for Him.

What’s in a Title?

When we think about terms that define us, I have a hard time not pointing to my job title. For the last 15 years or so, I think it’s been ingrained in my mind that what you do, your job, profession, career, they define you.  What that title says is who you are. It blankets your life and encompasses all that you are.

Without it, you’re not of value or worth. You don’t matter.

Job-title

That’s a glimpse at the lie I have been wrestling with these days.

That’s the idol I have been worshiping at for some years. Because it was a dream of my own making. A way and means for me to show that “I did this” and “I provide” without letting God in to much of it.

Oh there have been times and seasons where God has been so at work in me through my job that all I could do was point to Him and say “thank you.” But for the majority? I was finding provision and sufficiency coming from my own hands. I see the pride, the ego, the self muddled all through this.

I watched and built with my own hands such a faulty idol of career. A career that was for the last four years making me absolutely miserable. It was deteriorating my health, my mental capacity and my rest. And yet I worshiped it, clung to it so tightly that even as it betrayed me I tried to glue it back together.

It has taken a complete career change, life change for me to see what God had been giving me glimpses of for years. I was being consumed by the idol I had built, allowing it to define me and shape me, rather than allowing God to use me in it for Him. It brought me some unique experiences and knowledge gathering, but I chose to see it as my definer. Of who I was and the value I had. When that gets pulled out from underneath you, you are able to see the idol you’ve constructed by your own hand and not the “ministry” you said you were called to do.

I am coming to this place of seeing that my job title (or even lack thereof) has no definition to who I am. I am defined fully and completely by God. When I stand aside and fully face that He is my portion and sufficiency (Psalm 119:57) then I am able to stop building idols and worship the God who goes before, who created me for good works, and who calls me His beloved.

It’s seeing that the only one who said my worth is in my job title is me. I convinced myself that I am defined by that and I am the one who is in control of providing in that capacity. When we confront the lie of worth placed anywhere by in God’s truth, we begin to chip away at the idol which has consumed us, consumed me. An idol that does not want to die or being knocked down, but bears a significant weight in addressing and pulling pieces away that have been built over time and seasons.

Understanding that He is my portion provides me with so much more than I could ever imagine of supplying in my own weakness. The title of Child of the King far outweighs any job title I can obtain.

Spoiled, Rotten

There’s a story told of when I was a kid, mom had taken my sister and I out to dinner one night. For us, a dinner out was a big deal and especially if it was at Western Sizzlin’, because that meant Jello cubes. One night we go, and fried chicken was apparently ordered for me. I relished in the Jello cubes (and squirted them through my teeth as that is the proper way to eat said Jello). Feasting on everything but the chicken. My leftovers were wrapped up in a napkin and put in the car…then forgotten, as they chicken leg rolled under the seat.

Weeks roll by and a definite smell starts to pervade the black car my mom drove to horrifying levels. After searching high and low, the rotted, spoiled remains of a dinner I chose not to eat was discovered and extracted from the car.

I was thinking on this as I looked at the story of the Israelites this week in Exodus 16. We find them in the desert now complaining to God about their food source. Provision of deliverance wasn’t fulfilling as they journeyed. So God provides food for them, food that they are given detailed instructions on.

(Can we pause and revel in how God was specific to them in how to collect what He provides? It’s such a beautiful picture of detail and His care in us depending upon Him to provide)

Moses is intentional about pointing out that some gather much and other gather a little, but all have what they need. You miss it if you are familiar with the story or skim past it as it seems so minor but so soul-clenching good. What I need looks vastly different to what another needs, yet God provides each according to what He knows is the need. He meets me right where I am to provide-whether camped out in the wilderness or on the mountainside reveling in His teaching.

But it’s when we attempt to store up His provision, as some were prone to do even in Israel that we find our dependence is no longer on Him to provide but ourselves. We cast doubt that He will do as He said, that His promises aren’t good or sure, and that He is not faithful to complete. We question His ability, strength, character….who God is. We put our place above Him to provide for ourselves when that happens. We store up provisions that end up spoiling, because in our own minds we find it easy to pack it up and then let it roll underneath the seat of our lives…where it begins to rot, it festers and spoils. Pride, selfishness, ambition falsely founded lead to the rot. They lead to the trust being broken and provision coming from our own means and not His.

So we come back, we throw out that which has spoiled-cleansing our lives of the doubt and lies that He won’t provide for us in need, the need He knows and the need He meets, not our own definition of need. We wait for a new day, full of new mercies and the manna which He provides for that day. I know I try to jump ahead and point to  tomorrow, next week, next year while He beckons us to this day. Only this day, over and over again. Just. This. Day. It too is a provision for us, that we are given just this day before us.

Let us not spoil tomorrow with the doubts of provision when He has given us the joy of the manna of today.

I Suck at Providing

Ack.

That would be a common text I send to a select group of people. I am quite sure they truly love getting those. They often know what that means. It’s my sound of frustration. My warring of tension and strife. The resemblance of defeatism stumbling out in the only way it can.

I find I am weary and worn, when I should be rested and ready. I look around and see others just the same. In what normally is a time of refreshment and joy, we find exhaustion and doubt.

Last night I had some of the most troubling nightmares I have had since I saw The Ring back in ’03. (just another reason to hate Alabama…) I found myself in high anxiety and it spilling into even my rest. It then rolled itself into my day and overwhelmed me at every turn.

When I sent the frustrated call out I got an amazing soap box moment from a friend. While she may have meant it for herself, it was most definitely meant for me. It was a ‘how bad could it be?’ but in a kind way. It was God looking down and saying…”Well are you going to rest your confidence in yourself some more? Or are you going to finally give in and place it in me?”

I say so often that I rest my trust in Him. I place every bit of my faith in Him. And yet when the tension rises, the expectations mount, I burrow deep and cry that the walls are caving in around me. He waits for the cry for help. He comes running when we turn back towards Him. When I try to muster up the confidence and courage in myself, it just doesn’t fit.

Why?

Because I am a sucky provider. I am actually pretty bad at it. But you know what? He’s not. Never has been. Never will be. My next step requires me to put faith into Him and not myself. Not even an ounce of it. Because He is calling me to a place of utter dependence upon Him and not a lick of it on myself. To provide. To care. To work through. To lean on. That’s some pretty great provision from a pretty solid God.

You ate no bread and drank no wine or other alcoholic drink, but he provided for you so you would know that he is the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 29:6 (NLT)

Provisioning

The other night I watched Noah for the first time. While I know many liberties were taken with the script, I have to say it was done well. I honestly didn’t expect it to be all that great…maybe that’s why I found myself coming to the end thinking it was a pretty good depiction (imagery wise).

SPOILER AHEAD

But it steered off course when it came to the story of Shem, Ham and Japheth, or as we know the populators of the human race post-flood. It didn’t actually play out in the movie as it does in Scripture.  You see Ham questions why he doesn’t have a wife yet Shem has been provided for. He also points to his younger brother Japheth who will have no wife either when they board the ark. He even points to the animals being mated for re-population.

Noah lobs a whopper of a question back at his son when he points to the trees that were provided for building, and the animals as well (turning his son’s argument back on him), when he asks “Hasn’t He sent everything we need?”

God provided exactly what was needed at the appointed time. Not before it was time. He gave the wood. He sent the animals. He laid the plans on Noah’s heart and mapped them out in his mind. Here he was, a man building an ark in the midst of a drought. People mocked his choice, they doubted his sanity. They questioned his God and his use of his talents.

I can imagine that to be a difficult task for Noah. To undertake something with full dependence on God to provide. To show up and be present in every moment, every nail and every board. I can guess at the frustration Noah might have felt in building something…waiting on the promise God gave (as a judgement on the people). I wonder if in the quiet, long days Noah called out to God without a response. If he cried in the whys of this burden he now felt he was carrying. I wonder if he thought God had forgotten what he had given him to work on..to be.

Maybe God’s given you a promise that is ark-sized. Whether it is children, marriage, missions or any number of other calls for your life. To you, they are bigger than that ark, and holding all of you, your life, your dreams and hopes in it. Maybe…just maybe you (and I) are not at the point of deepest need for fulfillment of that promise. That you (and I) just think we’re at that point of most extreme need, and yet He knows we aren’t. He sees the entire unfolding of the plan and knows that His provision comes at the point of deepest need, as He defines it. Not you (or me).

 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.  At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:6-14 (NLT)