I have had so many thoughts bouncing around in my head lately as we approached this new year. I am hoping that I will be able to articulate at least a few of them here today to share with you all.
Life is such a roller coaster isn't it. It's such an adventure of mountain peaks, falls from that mountain peak, climbs back up and valleys...sometimes long, hard valleys. We would be foolish to think that we will always stay up on the mountain tops of life but, on the other hand it is also wise to cherish the mountain top seasons. We also have to find the strength in God to survive in the valley. To walk through it no matter how long it might take. Seasons are a part of life.
I would say that I am in one of those climbing seasons. A season that I can't quite call a mountain top but, I am overjoyed to say that I am no longer in a valley...today:). I'm climbing...going wherever God leads me and feeling quite sure that I'm climbing out of something long and hard and into something new and much lighter. Today, I am not weighted down as much by heartache, sorrow, brokenness or financial burden as I was for so many years. I say today, because we never know what tomorrow will bring right. I celebrate this simple moment right now. Right now I am soaking up January 1st, 2017 to the best of my ability. This quieter moment carved out of my time here on Earth, that isn't so full of pain that every moment feels like drowning. I know those moments so well.
Throughout this year I saw a lot of friends walk through valley seasons. So many were dealt the blow of a very dear loved one passing on. A friend of mine just lost her husband days before Christmas to cancer. Another friend of mine just told me that she was just diagnosed with brain cancer a few weeks ago...please keep her in your prayers! Cancer took far too many lives as it so often does. I saw friends struggle with various hardships and challenges. So many marriages came to a heartbreaking end. Some friends battled health issues and chronic debilitating pain, depression, infertility heartache. And then on a broader scale I just observed the world and all the suffering in it. It's a lot of hurt. I know that hurt. Or at least I have tasted it. More importantly, Jesus knows that hurt better than anyone.
In stark contrast, I celebrated the mountain top seasons with many friends. I celebrated the miracle of life with many friends and family members as they shared pregnancy announcements or gave birth to one of the greatest gifts life can bring...a precious child. I celebrated birthdays, weddings, marital victories (praise you Jesus!), my own sister's cancer free report at the end of 2016 (Hallelujah!!). I celebrated that my own home life and marriage have come so far over the past few years. I celebrated that I was even in a place in life that I could enjoy celebrating a little bit this past year. That last revelation made my heart leap with gratitude over and over again.
For so many years celebrating felt so hollow and contrived. For so many years I was too weak to put on the mask and pretend like life is always a picnic but, I did it anyways. Every time I put that mask on to please the people I felt myself dying more and more inside In this superficial, social media driven culture that we live in, we quickly realize that going through hard times publicly is unpopular and a downer to other people. It makes people uncomfortable when someone airs their "dirty laundry," and it seems to send a silent message, "steer clear of that person! They have problems and their life is a mess. They are too emotional. They are depressed. They are a kill joy." So people hide their trouble. People suffer in silence. They pretend on the outside and break quietly on the inside.
Oh but, if you only know how close Jesus is to the broken, the lonely and the lost. He...is...so....close to you. He takes that mask that you have put on every day to please the people and he throws it in the fire and he pulls you into His arms and holds you as you weep. He holds you as you cry, for days, weeks and even years. He never lets go when life gets ugly. He understands that losing a child....or a loved one unexpectedly is not something that you just get over in a day. He knows that you might struggle with a loss for the rest of your Earthly days. He knows that watching a loved one battle cancer for years and years is not an easy load to carry. He knows that longing ache for a child doesn't get easier with each passing year. He knows the pain of loneliness as you wait for a love to share your life with. He knows that some seasons in life are long and hard and He isn't turned off by your pain. He is walking with you in it. He did walk in it...Up the hill of calvary and on to the splintered, nail-pierced cross. He is with you, always.
I may not be in the valley today but, I still know the pain of it so well I can taste it. I saw the valley pain on the faces of so many friends and loved ones this year. I don't ever want to get to a point that I have lost the ability to walk in the valley with a friend because I am too wrapped up on my mountain top bubble. Can we enjoy the mountain top seasons and still walk in the valley with the broken? Can we stop being so afraid of pain that we run from those whose lives are riddled with it?
As I approached the new year I asked the Lord what word He had for me this year. I often feel like the Lord puts a word on my heart at the start of each new year. This word often comes to me after prayer and Bible reading. One year my word was rest. This was at a time that my hubby was still very sick and battling through late stage lymes disease, medical bills were sky high and life was just very, very hard. I had literally zero strength left but, as a Christian I felt guilty if I wasn't still constantly doing something, serving and saying yes to everything. BUT God, told me to rest and told me to learn to say no. It was a hard word to submit to that year but, it just might have saved my feeble sanity. Rest....when, God says it, listen to him. He knows best.
A couple of years later I was given the word organization. Maybe some of us think of a neat and tidy house but, that was only the surface of what the word meant for me. I was meant to focus on taking back my broken life and organizing it one piece at a time. That did translate into a house wide purge, a better system for planning and keeping track of information as well as getting order back in my marriage and spiritual life. If your life is feeling especially chaotic or out of control then maybe organization might be a good word for you!
Early in December I was reading my Bible and I read a passage out of Hebrews Chapter 12 verses 1-3. I've probably read this passage a dozen times or more but, this time the words jumped off the page, grabbed my shoulders and shook me while saying, "are you listening? I'm talking to you here!" It wasn't exactly like that but, then again it sort of was. For those who have the ears to hear...the Bible is so alive it's scary (scary awesome) sometimes. Watch out. God is always talking and I guarantee He has something that He wants to say that is just for you.
Now, keep in mind that this passage was meant for me in that moment. It may be that it is not meant for anyone else right in this moment but, I am sharing anyways...well, because I want to.
Hebrews 12:1-3 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
It wasn't the entire passage that jumped out at me initially but, the simple, "let us throw off everything that hinders," part of the verse. That was it.
I sat there a little stunned by how much the words resonated with me and then read the passage over and over again. Then I started asking God why He let the passage jump out at me. What did He want me to do with the words that I was hearing as if for the first time?
I am coming out of a long season of pain and valley and I'm in the climb again. What helps us to climb again? Throwing off the things that are holding us down. I quite literally COULD NOT throw anything off last year, or the year before, or the year before that...and so on. God understands that we can't always flip a switch on our pain and climb. Sometimes walking in the pain is an inescapable part of our life process and journey. Many of us are completely re-shaped and re-made by the pain of the valley. God also knows the EXACT moment at which YOU ARE READY to climb out and up. He is with us, every single step of the way.
I had a lot of fun reflecting on these verses. What is hindering me from experiencing more joy? What is hindering me from sharing all of the things that God puts on my heart? What am I afraid of?
The truth kind of embarrassed me because, I didn't even see it.
I'm way too afraid of people and what people think of me.
Whaaaaa...honestly, it isn't something that I have ever thought of as a problem. I am a friendly, social person and I love people. I don't really have issues with people on the personal level of interaction. If you meet me...watch out, because I will befriend you...all of you. lol....kidding not kidding...
On the other hand, there is public speaking . It is literally my biggest fear....I think I just got nauseated thinking about it. Uggg...But even that didn't feel like everything that I was supposed to get out of this revelation.
I also have so many friends and family members who do not believe in Jesus and thus I am always trying to find a loving balance (and failing miserably) between respecting all of our differences but, also enjoying the freedom to be me, someone who loves Jesus and whose identity is quite literally woven in Him. I love talking about my faith and what God is doing but, I also don't want people to think that I am trying to force Him on them. That is never my motive. I just love telling stories, writing, sharing and being a Christ-follower. I don't expect everyone to agree with my faith and I hope people that know me best know that my intention is to share love and my motivation is to be encouraging to others.
I also get embarrassed that I analyze life so much and that I can be so sensitive to the pain of others. It would be great to be a super silly, light-hearted person but, I am not sure if I will ever be that person nor that I was meant to be. I am able to love on certain people because of how God made me and in the same manner you were made the way you are to love on and bless other people. And if we all walk freely in who we are in Him, we just might make a real heck of a difference in this world. What a beautiful, beautiful thing.
That is my word for 2017. Freedom.
The first step is seeing the words when God gives them, then receiving them in our hearts and then declaring and claiming them in our lives.
I wrote all of this because my heart's desire will always be to make sure that people in the valley know just how loved they are by God....and by me.
You may be in a new valley. If so, I pray that you would ask God to hold you close and give you strength for each and every pain filled day. He is with you! He loves you! He hears you! I pray that your valley season is not long and I pray that you hold tightly to the truth that you can walk through this in Him and with Him. One day at a time you can walk this hard walk through to the other side. And don't forget to put on your armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) every day, because the battle is for real.
Maybe you have been in a valley for some time. If so, I pray that you begin to see a new light shining off in the distance. I pray that your time to climb out is coming soon. Glory to God I pray it's coming soon. Keep marching. Keep pressing on. He is with you! He loves you! He hears you!
And then I felt this on my heart...loud and clear.
God's people CAN DO HARD THINGS. What do I mean by that? Well, it was a reminder to me that I serve an all powerful, all knowing, supernatural God. I think that so many Christians are discouraged (as I was for SO dang long) and need to be reminded that just like the little engine who could and who said, "I think I can, I think I can...," In Christ, WE CAN and we need to KNOW in our spirit that we can. In Christ, we are loved just as we are. In Christ, we are never alone. In Christ, we have all that we need. In Christ we are conquerors. In Christ, We are able to face tomorrow because WE KNOW who holds tomorrow and all that ETERNITY holds for us. In Christ, we can walk through the valley and trust that He can see what we cannot.
I was so sick over Christmas break but, my Momma who I have not seen in a year and a half was here with me. My Momma is amazing. She is the reason I know Jesus and she is such a great counselor and friend. She made breakfast for all of us each morning; she played with the kiddos a lot to keep them out of my hair, she folded laundry, she emptied the dishwasher, she gave me back messages and foot messages...she loved on me in my sickness and you know what...it was the most wonderful Christmas in spite of having the flu.
I reflected on that for a while too. Having someone so comforting and loving around in my suffering made it not just bearable but, possible and I even enjoyed my time a little bit too. It was a little Christmas miracle.
And so to, we have CHRIST to comfort and love on us in our suffering always. Maybe sometimes we need to be more intentional about inviting him to sit next to us on the couch for a chat. Or inviting him to hold us while we weep. Maybe we need to invite Him to speak to us by reading our Bibles or spending time with Him in prayer. Maybe we push Him away more than we realize? Maybe we choose just about everything but, Him to fill our void when we are hurting and we wonder why we don't feel His presence more. I've sure been there and I'm sure I will be there again someday as life is so full of circles.
The good news is...that is what we are all here for! To encourage one another on in our races and to remind each other of all the things that we so easily forget when times get hard.
For some, 2017 is looking like a year full of excitement and possibility! For others it is just another year of trial and heartache. Wherever you are at, God is with you and His love for you is infinitely deeper than your deepest valley and infinitely higher than your highest mountain top.
I pray that regardless of what resolutions you may have made or not made, that you feel God moving in your life this year more powerfully than the last. That you recognize His great love for you more clearly than past years. That we would all grow and throw off the things that hinder us and the sin that entangles us and run our races with perseverance.
Because Christ endured the Cross WITH JOY for us because HE KNEW what the outcome was. He knew that he could take the torture, the pain and even conquer death because it was worth what He could give us in return....eternal life and a Heavenly paradise.
"How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!"
1 John 3:1
Much love to you all. Whatever steps you take this year, take them with Him. xo