Monday, November 30, 2015

And Today Marks Twenty-Five Years of Life

[**Just a few days after drafting this post, my dad passed away unexpectedly and I forgot about having written it. Tonight as I read this post for the first time since then, it is so hard to trust the Lord's timing in all of this! But, I WILL wait on Him and hope in Him and trust Him and am SO thankful for this Truth, even in this hard season.]

Isn't it funny, how a quarter of the way into this thing, I am convinced I know less then I did when I first began. As I reflected on my post from a year ago, tears streamed heavy and thick. Honestly, that about sums up this past year of life over here.

Really, really hard. And really, really glorious.

James tells us about a joy we can choose through trials that produces a steadfastness within us. The Lord has been truly gracious to supply ample opportunities to practice this in my life this year, in ways I never would have asked for nor expected.
So for a rambling snapshot of the year--

The new year began with a brokenness quite unlike any I had ever known, when the man who pursued me to the point of marriage chose to step away from the relationship quite unexpectedly. The pain and questions ran deep, and for months all I could muster up was a resounding, "And if not, the Lord is still good." It wasn't what I ever would have expected for my story, but Jesus has taught me to walk with Him in a way I hadn't before, and through that season He really has become more precious to me then my daily bread.

With the spring, sprung a new job! After two sweet and exhausting years of nannying for a dear family, I said my final goodbye as I transitioned into a job that God had been preparing me for for several years, long before it even became a "dream job" for me. A season of inviting others to partner with me in this new job both financially and prayerfully, brought the greatest joy of glimpsing the Kingdom come here on earth and deepened my faith. God provided quite boldly and allowed over sixty families & individuals to transition into this new role right alongside me!

The fall brought hundreds of new students to good 'ole Fayetteville from all the corners of the world and  now I got the great privilege of helping them transition into life here at the University of Arkansas while also casting vision for others to come join me and do likewise!

By far the absolute greatest joy of this twenty-fourth year of life has been getting to pour my life into these beloved students who have become very dear to me. As you can imagine leaving your family, friends, culture, language and all that is familiar behind and coming to a brand new place on your own can be so overwhelming. Our Monday night "Village" in the dorm and Thursday night "Supper and Seeking" at my house have become a refuge of sorts, where some of these friends can unload before one another and a Father many don't yet know--time I so cherish each week. I have learned more about God's heart through these who He's made dear to me and am so blessed to be entrusted by Him as an ambassador of reconciliation among them.

This year took me overseas again, this time to a Desert in Africa where a woman who had never heard of Jesus trusted in Him for the very first time. During that time, God solidified a desire He put in me years ago, to give my life to a group of people in this area of the world who have also never heard. Now, onto tackling the Arabic language this year!

My adopted family welcomed another miracle baby girl (and she is precious!) and next month the oldest of my "lil sisters" says "I do!" God's great grace and faithfulness has been on display so boldly in this family and I am humbled and grateful for the way He brought them into my life FOUR crazy years ago!

My own dad continues to fight his alcoholism as several serious health risks seem to be catching up to him. There's no communication between us these days, though we did have lunch when I was home this summer which further confirmed his inability to play a healthy role in my life right now. Last month (while in Africa) my grandpa passed away unexpectedly which has brought great pain for my sweet momma and our family. And even today, it's strange to think I won't be getting a phone call from him to celebrate. The sting of death lingers some, but we know those in Christ grieve as those with a greater hope.

I'm so thankful for my church body and how dear they continue to be to me. Getting to work between the church and a campus ministry has brought SO much learning this year, and I'm grateful. I'm blessed to do life with some amazing families and beloved friends. Tuesday nights have become my time of refuge, rejoicing, and realness before the Father and among some whom are more then just good friends--they are my people in this season and I praise God for them.

Another year come and gone and now here I am twenty-five and Facebook just informed that this is the year the human body begins to die. The past few weeks of life have left me continually faced with that reality, as I groan inwardly waiting eagerly for that final adoption and redemption of this [dying] body!

Of course, hope that is seen is not hope. But, if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Truthfully, my patience is wearing down. So of course, going into this twenty-fifth year, the Lord says: WAIT.

Wait for me. Wait for the pain of your broken heart to ease. Wait for the morning to come after that sleepless night. Wait for the season of darkness and oppression to lift. Wait for God to provide. Wait for the fall semester to close and a new one to begin. Wait for Him to point out people of peace. Wait for dear friends to accept the Truth of the Gospel as you share. [yes, even week after week, month after month, year after year.] Wait for the man I have set apart just for you. [and don't settle because you are MINE.] Wait for the day of raising up babies that belong to you. Wait on your call to go overseas. Wait on my provision of community and heart-friends. Wait until the day you will fully know your belonging. Wait and you will see my face. Wait, for I am still good. Wait for full on redemption. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Last year I shared God's promise found is Psalm 52, and I claimed it going into my twenty-fourth year of life.

 But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
 I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
                                   [Psalm 52]

Little did I know, He wasn't planning to use it the way I thought. But looking back now, I'm tearful over His faithfulness that even when I had no idea waiting would become such an enormous part of this year, I know I will WAIT for His name, for it is GOOD. So, I wait with eyes on what I don't yet see, the eternal, because I know this thing doesn't end with what I can see (and praise God for that, right?!) This doesn't end with me waiting forever. You and me--we're being prepared for an eternal weight of glory in fact.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. [2 cor. 4:17-18]

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Rom. 8:18-19]

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me! [Micah 7:7-8]

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. [Isa. 30:18]

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope. [ps. 130:5]

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the lving! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord! [Ps. 27:13-14]

My prayer for this year--that His Word will continue to be alive and active and I will hunger for it more then anything else. Oh Lord, help me to be so fully satisfied in you as I wait, and please be my LIGHT in this season!

And a word of encouragement from Piper--"So take these truths and PREACH them to your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Which I Share At Dad's Funeral

Below is what the Lord gave me to share at my dad's funeral on Monday. My heart is broken and grieving so many layers of loss right now, but I am learning to chose to trust and rest in the love, promises, and nearness of my Heavenly Father through these days. 

Around the time the sun began to fall over the trees he would tell me we were going on an adventure. I would grin from ear to ear, run to get my shoes on. Though there was little mystery in the destination of this adventure for me, I always loved that he made it into a big deal. Sometimes, I even pretended I didn't know where we were going. Mostly because he loved to surprise me. And I loved that he loved it—that it meant he must love me.

Windows down, hair streaming across my face. Cigarette in his hand, we were off. A quick stop at his gas station, the one where they called him boss and responded with yes Sir. Over-sized slushy in my hand, our adventure continued.

Just up the road and a few turns later we would slow down. The curvy road weaved throughout thousands upon thousands of white headstones. We weren't here to see dead people. Or to cry over a lost loved one, though I did often see people doing so. The men and women buried;/ across these grounds were all war heroes, brought home here to be laid to rest. Sort of eerie, when you think of our adventure climaxing at a place full of dead people.

I don't often remember thinking that in my little girl mind though. I remember gazing across the sea of white rocks, always attentive with my head out the window as we crept along. Sun blazing closer and closer to the ground, a little more brilliant and beautiful with each tick of the clock. Then, just on the edge of the sea of white, coming out from the tress all attentive and hungry we would see one. Then two. Then a whole herd.

I loved when there were babies. "Look at that little one!" I would point my hand far out into the air as his foot would come down firm on the brake pedal. Courtney, do you remember what we call those? He would ask. "Oh yeah, they're fawns, right dad? Baby deer are fawns." Yes, that's right. "And those big ones with the horns—those are the dads right?" I would ask. Yes, those are the bucks. he replied.

Knowing the answer didn't change the fact that I loved hearing him tell me again. It didn't change the fact that I tasted his love for me in these moments. I was starving. A rare glimpse into a life I longed to have—life with a daddy who knew how to love me. This daddy-daughter experience breathed into the depths of my emptiness, this hunger for his affection that I still struggled to satisfy well into adulthood.

You see, we are all created with this capacity and need for love. We all feel it. I have no doubt my dad loved us kiddos probably more then anything else in his life. I just don’t think that He knew just how loved He was, by a perfect heavenly Father and how such a love changes everything.

For years of my life, I, like my dad, tried to satisfy my pain and emptiness in all the wrong places. But none of it ever filled me for any lasting time. After I spent years trying to gratify that emptiness inside of me that even my dad’s imperfect love couldn’t touch, God gave me another option. There was a PERFECT Father who had created me in HIS image and made the greatest sacrifice for me because He loved me that deeply.

God is holy and perfect and fully in control. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. He even created man in His image and likeness. Sadly, man chose to turn away from God by disobeying His instructions. As a result there is now a separation between man and God. You see, all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! None of us are perfect, we have all messed up, we’ve all blown it. But a holy and perfect God can’t stand in the presence of imperfect and broken people. So He chose in His grace to intervene on my behalf, on YOUR behalf. SO, while the wage of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ!  His Word tells us we can receive that gift if we simply confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. And one day is coming back and we will get to spend eternity with Him.

All I know is that decision has changed the entire course of my life. Since that day, God began teaching me about Himself through His word and others who walked with Him. I learned He was a PERFECT FATHER even though none of our earthly dads can be. And now nothing, not even this really hard season of loss, not even death itself, can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

A couple years ago, I was driving along in the big white van with a family I lived with at the time, when all of a sudden in the back little voices began to cry out, "A buck daddy, there’s a buck! There's another one!" As the car slowed to a stop and began backing up, the boys climbed over the rows of seats to get to the front, real close to daddy, up in his lap, pointing out the open window, pure bliss in their eyes.

Watching these little ones hunger for this moment with their dad and the deer awoke that little girl in me too, even at twenty-two years old. At the time, my dad was in tough spot in life and I was wrestling hard with his decisions and their implications in my life. Upon reaching the safety of home, I ventured out into the darkening field and wept.

I think there is a legitimate and appropriate grieving that takes place when we lose something—something we were created to need, at that. This time, though, the tears weren't so painful or so personal. They weren't as angry. They didn't lead into hours or days of introspection. There was no bitterness or resent. They were simply little girl longings and adult needs finally being met by incredible grace, as I recognized just how deeply I was loved by my heavenly Father, sweet forgiveness and redemption dripping down my cheeks.

You see, that little girl searched for the love of her daddy for years. Yet that whole time, he had no ability to satisfy the needs of that little girl like her heavenly Father did, and honestly I think he knew it too.

And even as there are many tears today, I find myself grieving both the loss of a man who was my dad and the loss of what could have been, knowing through all of it that God is a good and gracious Daddy, perfectly in control, and the sufferings of this present time WILL NOT compare to the eternal glory of being with Jesus one day. Life is hard and messy but He gives us hope that truly does defeat the grave!

We weep and laugh and wrestle with much fear and trembling as we each are forced to consider life and death and eternity and love and hope.

In the days and months to come, the tears will fade but the Truth will stand unmovable. So even as we all grieve different loss, I also rejoice in this sweet memory of watching deer. I rejoice that even as we put dad’s ashes in the box tomorrow at the same place we used to watch those deer, the unfathomable grace of the Lord doesn’t change. So let’s life our eyes to hills from where our help does come, from the Maker of heaven and earth.

For today, maybe grace is simply slowing down to count the bucks and thank Him for them, as they point us to redemption and grace of our Heavenly Father, to whom we cry out Abba Father!

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
                        nor fruit be on the vines,
            the produce of the olive fail
                        and the fields yield no food,
            the flock be cut off from the fold
                        and there be no herd in the stalls,
            yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
                        I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
           God, the Lord, is my strength;
                        he makes my feet like the deer's;
                        he makes me tread on my high places.
                                                       (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Of course, when we buried dad's ashes yesterday, we were greeted by deer when we first pulled in! 

" that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." [Eph. 3]