Changed

It is impossible to be looking into a new year without looking back into the past one.  This time of year often stirs us to take a look at our lives and ourselves, which in turn prompts us to make attempts at changing.  Our attempts may be well-intended, but studies show that about 80% of all resolutions are broken by mid-February.  That seems surprising, but it really isn’t when you think about it.  I mean, after all, where do these resolutions come from?  They are like short-term relationships that are doomed to fail from the beginning.  But why?  I believe it’s because of the manner in which we enter into them.  Like most things in our society, we start off great but lose the ability to follow through when things get tough.  It’s easier to just throw in the towel and revert back to the familiar because it’s what we’ve always known.  As they say, “Better the devil you know that the devil you don’t.”

shutterstock_446732614True changes don’t come easy.  They are uncomfortable, even painful at times.  They come at inopportune moments or cause us to lose things we really, really don’t want to let go of on our own.  Those of you who have read my posts this year will understand when I say 2019 was a challenging year.  I’ve caught myself saying a lot lately that I hate 2019 and can’t wait for 2020.  The truth is, 2020 isn’t going to change anything.  It isn’t a new year that changes us; it is we who change the new year.   As the new year got closer, I noticed my perspective on last year starting to shift.  I actually started to see things differently, and my heart softened to the experiences in 2019 that left me curled up in a ball, crying myself to sleep so many nights, thinking I just can’t get through another day.  Every day brought tears and pain, but as I looked backwards,  I began to see through those times to the incredible experiences and growth that has happened as a result of them.  It really has been amazing.   I am not the person I was a year ago, and for that I am grateful.

When looking back at the past year, most people talk about life events, changes, gains and losses, and other things that have taken place.  It is easier for us to talk about what has happened to (or around) us than to talk about what has gone on within us.  Looking inward requires us to strip down and be honest with ourselves about what we see.  For me, this past year has brought so many of those moments that I’ve lost count!  Maybe it’s because life in general was so full of loss and griefs that I didn’t have the energy to keep pressing on in the same way I had for most of my life.  Was it a brutal year?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it wasn’t without purpose.  Through the difficulties, I’ve learned to let go a little more.  I still struggle with it, but I’m finding peace in the liberation when I do.

If I were to articulate the long list of events and how they’ve changed me, I’d be writing all night.  However, if you were to ask me to name the single most life-altering thing I’ve experienced in 2019, well, that answer is easy.  It wasn’t leaving the church I belonged to for over 20 years, the loss of my husband’s parents, or even the fact my dad had to move into a memory care facility due to dementia.  Those things certainly altered my life in huge ways, but the biggest reverberation in my life came from the teaching and study I have been a part of in the home church to which I belong. shutterstock_1234835116 It happened totally organically a year ago, and I could not have dreamed how amazing it would become.  The teaching our pastor has continually shared with us has been the most liberating of my life.  Some of that impact comes from the fact he is real and vulnerable with us, while some of the impact is the way we are challenged through our discussions to live life differently.  It is certainly not a traditional format, but I’ve been changed more in the past year than I can ever remember being changed in the past.  It’s just different, and as a result, so am I.  In the middle of the worst year of my life, God brought me through it by first using a man who was willing to answer His call, then surrounding me with a group of believers who have all been called to come together to be real in this journey of learning and following Christ’s example of who we were created to be.  It is this realness in every aspect of life, the sharing of our struggles and truly bearing each other’s burdens that has only deepened our desire to learn more, and to be changed more.  It is this unique experience that has changed my life forever.  What I’ve learned has been gut-wrenching at times, but it is amazing what God will show you about yourself if you will just get your eyes off of everyone else.  I’ve been liberated from old perspectives, of myself and others. I’ve even been liberated from some specific chains that have held me captive my entire life.

2020 begins a brand new year, and i’s a great time to tackle something new or set goals for what we want to accomplish.  It’s a good time to reflect on the past year, or longer, and appreciate the difficulties we have come through or even the ones we are still trudging through.  But it is also a good time to look deep within and start focusing on the things that bring lasting changes.  I don’t want to make a resolution, or several of them.  I don’t want another task in my life to complete; I have enough of those.  I want to continue to truly change.  It isn’t easy to do, but there is some truth to the phrase, “no pain, no gain.”  If any of us want to learn how to live with peace, joy and strength even in our toughest times, we must be willing to turn our eyes honestly inward through the truth of God’s word and see what we really need to change.  It may surprise you what you find.  A year ago, I thought I knew who I was, but I have learned I wasn’t nearly the person I had hoped.

shutterstock_257497339Life can, and will, beat you up.  I don’t want to spend 2020 with the pessimistic mindset that crept in over recent years, but rather with the peace that comes from knowing God will always be working in the lives of His children.  I don’t want my inner dialogue to keep telling me things won’t work out, or that things aren’t “fair.”  I don’t want my “justice gene” to cause me to look down on others or take things personally.  I want to continue to be open to God revealing those things in me that I have chosen to be blind to in the past.   In doing so last year, I’ve experienced a liberation I did not see coming, and it changed my life.

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a new year that changes us; it’s we who change the new year.  We can choose to keep doing the same things we’ve always done.  We can choose to hide behind our despair or lash out in anger.  We can choose to focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye instead of the log in our own (Matthew 7:3).  The reality is that we can just keep on trucking and wonder why the abundant life keeps eluding us, or we can choose to be changed by the One who created us.

It is impossible for us to know what the new year will bring, but if we open ourselves up to what can change us far longer than any resolution, we can weather any storm because we know the master of the wind.  It’s up to us…choose wisely.

Happy New Year and blessings to you and yours.

No Way Out

shutterstock_57395806Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have no control and it feels like everything in your life is crumbling around you?  Welcome to the club, and welcome to my week.  In the story of the great Exodus in God’s word, there is a place called “Pihahiroth” where the people ended up at a dead end with no way out.  (Exodus 14:1-30) It seems that Pihahiroth has once again become all too real in my life.  Most people are familiar with the story of the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Red Sea.  It was a truly miraculous event where the people had been told by God to follow a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but in doing so, God led them to Pihahiroth where they found themselves with absolutely no way out.  There they stood with Pharaoh and his army closing in behind to slaughter them.  To the right and left of them was impassible terrain, and in front of them was a sea they could not cross.  They had nowhere to go and could do nothing but sit and wait.  They knew what was coming.  They knew the end was inevitable.  What they didn’t know was there was something amazing just around the corner.

Life can really get us down sometimes.  We spend our days trying to do the right thing, for the right reasons, only to find ourselves feeling as though it doesn’t matter.   For me, I’ve always tried to do what I believed God was leading me to do.  I have not always been successful in that endeavor, as my humanity has sometimes gotten in the way, but since the age of about 17, I have been “all in” with my commitment to living a life of love and service – not just to God, but to others.  I have served the professional organizations of which I have been a part, whether as a career or volunteer work.   I have tried to love and serve others, to build them up and to create bridges instead of walls.  I have sought to take the high road when others wanted to drag me into the mud or when it would have been easier for me to retaliate against injustice.  Am I a great person?  No.  Do I always do the right thing?  No.  I don’t think anyone ever really does, but that doesn’t mean your heart can’t continually be turned toward the things that are right and just.

shutterstock_110043062When times are going well, it is easy to say you are a “person of faith” but what exactly does that mean?  God’s word defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen “  (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is NOT easy.  Faith is believing God is in control even when the circumstances around you are spinning and crumbling.  Faith is knowing that God is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Even Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  But it is hard not to faint when you’ve been so let down by friends or family, churches or companies.  There is scripture after scripture that mentions these elements of faith, but how do you hold onto faith when you find yourself in situations for which there is no recognizable way out?  How do you stay calm and maintain your peace and joy when everywhere you look, you see nothing but impending doom or destruction?  What do you do when you are faced with the very real circumstances of Pihahiroth?

As I pondered these and other questions, I went back to the story in Exodus.  I thought of how all these people had been slaves in Egypt and how incredible it must have felt when they were freed.  I thought of how God led them in a way that was absolutely unmistakable.  It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant person to follow a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud.  Today we sometimes struggle with discerning which way God would have us to go or what decision He would have us to make.  We pray and ask for guidance but then we have to listen to that still, small voice within that actually confirms we are in the will of God.  It isn’t always easy.  It would be much easier if God said, “I’m going to put a pillar of fire in front of you and all you need to do is follow it because it will lead you EXACTLY where you need to be.”  Following a physical sign that magnificent would not require any interpretation or planning on your part.  Your only decision would be whether or not to follow.  There would be no question which direction it was going.  iStock_000058072678_SmallSo I think about Israel and how it would have been impossible for them to doubt they were going the right way or doing the right thing.  IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND VISIBLE.  So they did exactly what God asked of them and then ended up in the worst place possible – a place in which they had no control and all hope was shattered.  I truly believe at that point that even the smartest and most faithful among the people would have begun to doubt.  I can see someone scratching his/her head and thinking, “I don’t understand. It was perfectly clear where God was leading and there was no question about what was right.  So how did we end up HERE?  I must have missed something somewhere or we wouldn’t be trapped.”  How confusing it would have been to have seen God work in such amazing ways to bring you out of slavery but then PURPOSELY lead you to a place from which you could not escape.  Did He make a mistake?  Did you make a mistake in following?   The things the Israelites must have been thinking are questions we still ask ourselves today.   Did I do the right thing for nothing?  Did I follow where God was leading only to end up in a situation from which there is no escape?   Is my situation hopeless?   I can tell you the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO,” because the story doesn’t end there.

God had a miraculous plan for Israel just like He has a plan for you and me.  It was an amazing plan but no one knew the outcome except Him.  All He needed for them to do was to trust and follow the obvious direction in which He was leading.  He wasn’t leading them to a boxed canyon of death; He was leading them to the place where they would finally see there was nothing He was incapable of fixing or changing.  He led them to a place where the only resolution to the hopeless situation was the magnificence, power, and love of God.  He led them to a place where when deliverance did come, there would be no doubt whatsoever that it was ALL God and not anything else.

A number of years ago I left a situation that had been very difficult for quite some time.  When I made that change, it felt much like I was leaving my own Egypt.   It had gotten to a point where I felt enslaved and then seemingly out of nowhere God brought me out of it.  Things transpired in a way that it left no doubt it was Him moving in my life.  I look back now and think it looks a lot like Israel.  God said, “I’m going to deliver you out of this situation, and I’m going to promise you some amazing things.  All you have to do is follow.”  I believed that was true and that he had great things in store.  I believed strongly in the path in which God was taking me, and have continued to believed it all these years.   I have been focused on doing what I believe God has called me to do, and to do the right things for the right reasons.  His leading has been as unmistakable as a literal pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet I am now standing here in my very own Pihahiroth. shutterstock_331837391It doesn’t feel good.  It feels hopeless.  I feel like that Israelite standing there thinking, “I was doing the right thing, but I must have been wrong because look where I am now.  I’ve got an ocean in front of me and an army closing in behind me.  I look to the right and left and there is nothing but impassible terrain.  I’ve got nothing, no control.  I can’t make anything happen and I’m stuck.”  A few nights ago, as I couldn’t sleep, I literally cried out to God through my tears, “There is no way out of this!  Too much has already happened and it can’t be fixed.  It is impossible!”  And as I heard myself in my despair, I remembered Pihahiroth.  It really isn’t just pretty lyrics to say “God will make a way,” or that Pihahiroth is the place of freedom.   This actually IS Pihahiroth, where God can and will provide a way.  As a matter of fact, He has already made the way.  The question is: Am I willing to follow even when He has not revealed it yet?

We’ve all had Pihahiroth experiences in our lives.  These experiences that are so painful and difficult when you are at a total loss, are the same experiences that build your faith at the deepest level.  We know what God can do because we’ve seen in our lives and the lives of those around us.  We’ve seen it in the things we’ve experienced and lived.  We should remember them but we often don’t.  We should remember the times we stood at the sea crying, “There is no way out,” only to watch the sea just open up before us.  We need to remember the path it creates is not filled with mud that we have to trudge through, but one of dry, easily walkable ground.    When God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he then basically said, “I’m going to lead you.  Just follow me because I have great things in store for you, and I’m going to make it really simple for you to know the way.  It’s not going to be complicated.  All you have to do is follow that big pillar because I’ve got your back.  You don’t need to worry about anything as long as you follow.”  When God makes it that clear, it does no good whatsoever to sit back and say to yourself, “Maybe that wasn’t the right direction.”  Because the truth is, it wasn’t a mistake then and neither is the situation in which I find myself in today.  It was purposeful for Israel and it is purposeful for me today.

I know if my situation changes, it will be only at the hand of God.  It will be a result of prayer and letting GOD do the heavy lifting.  In my faith, I know I did not simply wander into this place by accident or mistake, and when I am finally walking through on dry ground, I will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could only happen because God did it.  In my humanity I am confused, hurt and discouraged.  In my humanity I want to just sit down and give up, but then I catch my breath and remember that God can fix what cannot be fixed.  He can heal what cannot be healed and change what cannot be changed.  That pillar of cloud and fire does not mislead or confuse;  It clarifies.

shutterstock_181128083So as we all live through times of difficulty that appear hopeless, remember the truth of Pihahiroth and the ultimate freedom it brings.  Wait and let God move, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.  Then follow where He leads and do what He is calling you to do.  Do not give in to your sight, but hold to your faith for we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Do the right thing even when it hurts, but take heart in knowing nothing escapes the eyes of Heaven, and God has promised to reward those who are faithful.  There really is something amazing right around the corner.  He has promised to always make a way, even when that way seems impossible when you find yourself staring at the sea.  .

Blessings!

Declare YOUR Independence!

shutterstock_131890916Today is July 4th, and for the USA our “Independence Day.” There will be BBQs, celebrations and, as always, lots of fireworks!  Most people are off work and even if they don’t celebrate, they at least get to enjoy an extra day of rest from the normal routine.  But tomorrow is July 5th and most people will wake up and simply go on with their lives as they did on July 3rd, with no different sensation or without a new (or renewed) perspective.  We simply clean up the mess from the celebration and don’t think twice about our independence again until another year goes by.  I can’t help but think how much this mirrors so many other things in our lives.

Life presents us with so many challenges and struggles, and there are days when we feel like we are at the end of our proverbial ropes!  We tend to think all these struggles are a result of outside forces but most often it is a result of our choices in how we deal with those forces.  We make choices to continue to live under the oppression of our circumstances because it is easier to stay in the familiar rather than to step out into the unknown and make a change.  These changes can be something major like moving to a new place, ending a bad relationship, leaving a job that is sucking the life out of you…or it can be something smaller like changing your diet, keeping your house clean or following through on a commitment to take a few minutes of every day to be still.  The point is that changes are never easy, and if you want to declare your independence from your circumstances, you must be willing to pay the price.

shutterstock_52266859Many of you may not enjoy history, but stay with me for a few moments.  Trust me; I have a point in relating this to you.  There are some very interesting things about our Declaration of Independence that most people overlook.  It was not a document that was drafted and signed in one day.  It reflected a period of time that was complex and challenging.  The Boston Tea Party revolt happened in 1773 when people finally had their fill of the oppression they were under.  They got angry and rose up in a very symbolic manner and said “We’ve had ENOUGH!” The tensions, however, continued to exist and in 1775 there was the “shot heard round the world” that started the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord.  The Declaration of Independence was drafted in 1776 and adopted on July 4th though it wasn’t signed on that day.  The signing ceremony took place almost a month later on August 2nd, but it still wasn’t completely signed by everyone at that time.  It traveled from place to place during the years of the war, being rolled and unrolled each time it was needed to be referenced again.  It wasn’t until 1781 that the last person signed his name to the document, and it wasn’t until 1783 that Britain officially acknowledged the United States as a sovereign and independent nation.

The reason I share that with you is because I see a similar pattern in our lives today.  Circumstances can be powerful if we allow them.  Whatever problem or circumstance is oppressing us in our personal lives, we find it easier to just keep “drinking the tea” than to take a stand against it.  It may be a miserable existence, but at least it is familiar.  shutterstock_181343867We do this constantly; we stay in situations or patterns in our lives that we say we want to be different, but we just aren’t willing to do what it takes to make it different.  We become victims not out of powerlessness, but because of cowardice.  But then there comes a time for many of us where we, too, have “had enough,” and we rise up within ourselves, committing to make a change for the greater good of our lives.  We have that moment (often by ourselves) where we hit bottom and decide the pain of staying where we are is greater than the pain of fighting and risking it all in order to gain freedom.  We are energized and full of purpose.  We may even feel like heroes for a moment, but then the moment fades and we must make a choice.  We must choose to be committed or forfeit the cause.  Just look at these parallels:

  • It took one year and four months from the night of the tea party for the “shot heard round the world” to ring out and officially begin the Revolutionary War.  For almost a year and half there was tension and escalation of anger at a situation that we knew needed to be changed, but just didn’t see happening. Similarly in our own lives, we often rise up initially from a place of strong emotion at the things weighing us down. Over time, that frustration and despair may increase as we fight and try to change things, but it feels like nothing is really happening.  It is this frustration and sense of purpose that drives us forward toward a greater commitment.
  • From the start of the war, it was another year and three months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted, though it was not completely signed until 1781.  In our lives, when we start down a path of change, we often have to fight for a while before we can even articulate our “declaration of independence” from what is oppressing us.  Even though we may have an underlying purpose, we fight first from a place of desperation or anger but over time (if we continue), we are able to reach a point where we can actually articulate that purpose.  And sometimes, that “declaration” of what we are fighting for isn’t finalized for a while.
  • It took almost seven years from the adoption of the Declaration to the point where Britain officially recognized the USA as a sovereign country.  Just because you make a declaration of independence from something doesn’t mean it will instantly be recognized.  The declaration is your purpose, but your commitment to seeing that purpose or calling to fruition may be a long and difficult journey.  It may be years before you (or other people) can see validation of your declaration but that validation only happens if you don’t give up!  And remember, the document travelled around for years, being unrolled any time it needed to be referenced.  During your fight, you may need to go back to your own “declaration” from time to time to remind yourself of the reason you are fighting.
  • It was 10 years from the time of the Tea Party to the time the war was finally over.  During that period, there was great loss of life and property, but the purpose and mission was so important that we pressed forward with our eyes on the final result.  Did we know for certain things would turn out in our favor?  Of course not, but we BELIEVED it would!  It is that belief that kept us fighting.  It is that belief that made us willing to sacrifice whatever necessary to obtain freedom.  The same holds true for us in the battles we face.  We may not have the certainty of victory guaranteed to us, but if we believe our calling is true – or that our purpose of change is a worthy one – then we can fight on in the face of whatever comes!

shutterstock_188948975Life is not easy and liberty comes with a price.  If you want to escape the tyranny of your circumstances, then the underlying key is to believe!  Our Heavenly Father tells us we are already “more than conquerors” over whatever is thrown at us in life.  So what do you need to do?

  1. BELIEVE
  2. Reach a point where you’ve had enough and rise up
  3. Fight for your purpose, even if you can’t yet find the words to explain it to someone else.
  4. Declare your independence from your circumstances
  5. Fight for as long as it takes, even if the world does not yet recognize your freedom or autonomy.

We do not have to live under the tyranny of our oppressors – those things we need to change in our lives.  We can be FREE, but just as with our nation’s history, freedom comes with a price.  Let us rise up and be committed in our lives to paying the price…because when we are willing to believe and sacrifice, then we are already free!

Blessings!