Sunday, January 19, 2014

What is my story?

Throughout our lives we each have many stories. Stories of events, stories of funny or sad experiences, stories that help people understand who we are and how we think.  Telling our stories to others helps them know and understand who we are.  The stories we tell about ourselves define who we are, who we think we are.

Lately I have been thinking about the story I have been telling.

This fall and over Christmas I had a very painful relationship problem.  I was treated poorly, accused of things I didn't do, attacked when I got upset for being falsely accused.  Treated with extreme disrespect and humiliated in front of friends and family.

It wasn't pretty.

And I have been telling the story.  To friends who ask, friends who don't ask, and mostly to myself.  Over and over I would tell my story and reach out to God.  Finally God answered me, "Melanie, that isn't your story."

It feels an awful lot like my story.  I was there, I experienced the attacking words and the behavior, fielded the questions and condolences from the witnesses, was crippled by the pain of being hurt.  This definitely feels like my story.

But immediately I knew God was right.  This isn't my story.  I certainly found myself tangled up in someone elses story, but God is right, this is not my story.  It is their story.  

However, the more I told the story, the more it was beginning to define me.  Poor Melanie who has been so terribly mistreated. How could this happen?  And people would look at me with sympathy and sadness, the same sadness I was feeling because of everything that had happened.  So I kept praying because I wanted to be rid of my sadness and I didn't like seeing my pain reflected back to me on the faces of those I was sharing with.  However, the more I told the story both to others and to myself, the deeper it was settling on me.

"Melanie, that isn't your story."

I do have a story in all this.  But it isn't a story of how I was attacked and hurt. It is the story of how God walked with me through a difficult journey.  The lessons he has taught, the lessons I have learned.  My story is of learning to trust God with relationships you can no longer be a part of and experience his protection when you are.  Because there are some relationships you can never get out of and no matter what happens in them you wouldn't want to.  So God protects you.  And you trust God.  And you believe that God will redeem your relationship someday.

I am starting to heal, I feel stronger each day. My hurt is slowly disappearing. And God has blessed us with many good things this month.  I think my husband and friends are all a little worried that I will start to feel so strong I will forget my hurt and try to re-engage in the relationship.  Honestly, I am a little afraid I might do that too.  But if I do that I will have forgotten my story, the story where I have placed this relationship in God's hands and am trusting Him to bring it back to me when it is safe and I am ready.  That is the true story, that is my story.

What is your story?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Joy while promoting peace

The other day I read, "There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace." Prov 12:20

Relationships are hard and not all the people we are in relationships with are easy to get along with.  If you are struggling with a relationship, especially a relationship with someone close to you, it can be a real joy killer. As I sit in a particularly hard relationship right now this verse was a little reminder that I can have joy despite its hard because I know that while I might not be perfect in my heart I work to promote peace not plot evil.

Since joy is a choice rather than something that does or doesn't happen, you have to spend some time thinking about how to have joy.  In this case I can experience joy when I remember that I am trying to promote peace and I see God applauds that behavior.   I can let go of guilt or responsibility for the relationship which holds me back from joy. I am not perfect but I know my heart.  And I remind myself that the battles before me are for God not me.

So I can look out the window and have joy because I can see the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow.  I can have joy when I see my daughter sitting at the table working hard on her homework, I can have joy while laughing at my 5 year old nephew who has discovered how funny it is when he says, "Awkward!" in the middle of a conversation.  And I can let myself step away from my stressful and at times difficult life to go help a friend with a church decorating project we both love to work on, the joy we both get from doing it together.

Where did you experience joy today?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Middle

Traditionally when you read a story or watch a movie there is a beginning, middle and end.   We mostly focus on the beginning and end but don't spend much time dwelling on the middle.  Because the middle is just the middle.  There is no significance.  Nothing happens in the middle, and yet a lot happens in the middle.

The middle is the time where they are learning, growing, becoming.  In a mystery, the middle is where the clues are gathered.  In a love story it is the time where they are getting to know each other.  We learn details about characters and their lives in the middle.  Sometimes the middle is where tragic events occur that cause our hero or heroine to grow and examine the choices of life. Everything that happens in the middle is vitally important to what happens next but not always the part of the story we talk about.  When you think about the Matrix, do you remember how Neo struggled to believe he was the one and had doubts or do you remember how he confidently walked through a security gate and the epic series of action scenes that followed.  We remember how he came to believe and did things that they didn't know were possible, but before that, he was just a guy on a cold ship, wearing old clothes and with serious doubts about who he was.

The stories in the bible have beginnings, middles and ends.  Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac, brought him up the mountain to do so and at the last minute God stopped him and provided an alternate sacrifice.  God's people were rescued from Egypt, wandered for 40 years in the desert and then were given the promise land.  The prodigal son was given his inheritance, was gone many years and then returned. Mary was told she would give birth to God's son, 9 months of pregnancy passed and then Jesus was born.  33 years later he was crucified on a cross, 3 days past and then he rose from the dead.

What happens in the middle?  What was it like for Abraham to walk up that mountain not knowing God would save his only son?  What did the Israelites do for 40 years wandering the desert wondering what the purpose of their life was?  What was the father of the prodigal son thinking when he sold half his stuff, gave it to his son who he loved and watched him walk away unsure he would ever see him again?  What was it like for Mary to spend all those months being judged?  And then all those years raising Jesus and watching him grow and be part of their lives.  He didn't launch his ministry at 18 after high school, when he was an adult, he continued to live as a regular man learning and listening well into his adult life.  What was Mary thinking about the fact that she was raising God's son and yet he was doing nothing significant?  What were Jesus' disciples thinking during those 3 days Jesus was in the tomb?  How they all must have suffered.

We know the stories, know how they end, the beautiful way God redeems, works out situations.  He has a purpose for everything he does.  So when we see someone in the middle or we are in the middle we tell ourselves God will work it out.  And He does!  No doubt about it. Eventually.  God does not make random decisions, he is not surprised by anything that happens.  God does not go about reacting to what pops out in front of him.  He didn't leave the Israelites in the desert for 40 years because he forgot about them or was busy with something else.  There is deep purpose in the middle.

In the middle we grow, learn, listen, believe.

I imagine Abraham walking up that mountain praying, telling God he trusted him, reminding himself of God's promise and power to fulfill it.  Reminding himself of God's sovereignty and his commitment to Him.  But I also can't imagine the walk up the mountain without also hearing Abraham's doubts, fears.  Why are you asking this of me God?  How can you fulfill your promise if I sacrifice Isaac to you?  I don't want to do this Lord, please don't ask me to do this.  And I imagine a deep sadness settling on him as he got closer and knew he must obey the Lord.  The full gamut of grief.

I imagine the Israelites wander the desert, day in and day out.  The routine can become comfortable and familiar.  Life happens.  Manna and quail show up every day to feed them.  They walk, set up tents, build fires, sleep.  Wake up, break down camp and move again.  They marry, have children, celebrate, learn, grow, listen.  But they wonder what they are doing, how long must they do it.  They get tired of all the same, see other nations building buildings, building wealth, setting down roots, having a place to belong and yet they just wander.

I imagine the father of the prodigal son.  The grief he must have felt when his son asked for his inheritance.  I imagine him selling half of all he had to give his son the money he desired and then watching him walk down the path away from him.  I imagine what it must have felt like to not know if he would ever see him again.  And I imagine all those years the father spent, rebuilding his wealth, taking care of his land, enjoying his other son yet knowing someone was missing from all their celebrations.  Always remembering the son who left.  I imagine him wondering what he did wrong.  Wishing he could go back and be a better father.  His desire to go find him and bring him back.  Tell him he is wrong and make him understand how much the father loves him.  And how much more valuable that is than all of his wealth and any inheritance he might receive.  And yet, he waits patiently at home.

I imagine Mary going through a pregnancy, trying to convince people she did not cheat on Joseph, being judged, hiding, being scared of what was happening to her.  Trusting God and yet, wondering, so much wondering when we are in the middle, Mary wondering what will happen to her.  Why did God chose her?

I imagine Mary's pain as her son is killed, crucified.  As she watches him die.  And his disciples who gave up families and livelihoods to follow him.  3 days of wondering, why they did that?  Do they have anything to go back to?  What is next for them?  I imagine a real crisis of faith at that moment.

Maybe it is just me but when I am in the middle I tend to get wiggly.  Sometimes the middle can be OK. We are in the middle of John's educational journey.  It isn't fun but I can practically taste the thrill of victory that will come when he is finished and has a job in hand.  And the success will be sweeter because of all we did to get there.

However, not all middles are the result of a clear goal or plan.  Sometimes you are in the middle of something you don't want to be in, sometimes you get put there by someone else and you have no idea when or if it will ever end.  Being in the middle of something you didn't choose, no fun.

Still, the stories give us hope. Keep us going.  Abraham came down the mountain with his son, the Israelites settled in the promise land, the prodigal son came home, Jesus was born and had a ministry, he rose from the dead and is reining to this day.  Knowing all that doesn't make the middle difficult, a big pain in the butt, a place we want to run from but, it does remind us on those days that there will be an end and God's purpose is always so much more amazing than what we had planned for ourselves.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Back to working mom

This is just a random update post.  I don't know if anyone else likes these play by plays of my life but sometimes it is nice to write it out just for my own ability to review and reflect on experiences.

So last spring I got my real estate license and have been busy not making money ever since.  Everyone assures me that it takes at least a year to get up and start making money.  Since I am still several months from that year it stands to reason that my lack of income over the past 8 months is not that surprising.  Not that have done nothing but what I have done won't be keeping us housed and fed.

So this fall I started looking for a part time job to supplement my income.  I considered full time as well and had one job that I actually would have taken if they had made the decision in the last couple months (I appear to be their number one candidate but they haven't decided yet to fill the position).  Other than that one job I was basically ignored by the world of human resources.  I was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong when responding to Craig's List postings.  Maybe they weren't actually getting my resumes.

To be honest the stress of the fall made me slightly grateful I didn't have a "real" job.  However, the stress of not having any income did not help the other personal stress at all.  But in the back of my mind on really bad days I did wonder if maybe God just knew I could not be working at that time.  Finally as the year ended and the big burden moved off to the side I sat down in front of Craig's List ads once again.  The Monday before New Years I sent out resume's to 4 or 5 jobs.  All of which were very different positions but sounded interesting in their own ways.  I had gotten in the habit of doing this every week or two so I didn't really think much of it but on Jan 2 I got an email asking to set up an interview!  And then I got another, and then another!  By Jan 3 I had 3 job interviews lined up for this past week and ended up having a follow up interview for the full time job as well.  4 interviews in one week after months of crickets.  God knows.  We do the work, but always he brings in the harvest at just the right moment.

After many discussions with John I narrowed it to a first and second choice, prayed and waited to see what would happen next.

Great news!  My first choice offered me a job!  At the same time I have been helping out a realtor at my office that asked if I would be interested in joining his team.  Initially I wasn't sure I wanted to give up my total independence but realized the benefits outweighed the negatives and decided to go for it.  And here I am back to work!  Part time assistant manager of a mini storage facility and part of a successful real estate team.

This has been a weird few months for me.  After years at home I had just started getting into a comfortable routine as a working mom when I quit my job to do real estate.  I had gotten comfortable with a schedule that did not allow me to spend a day organizing cabinets or being free to meet friends at a moments notice.  And then this year happened and I found myself feeling confused.  Am I at home?  No, I definitely am supposed to be working.  But I have very little to do and I am not making any money.  The least I could do is clean the house and organize a closet.  And I like my friends.  But if I do that am I wasting time I could be doing something that might produce money in the future?  How do I spend my time?!  It felt like a year in which I wasn't a homemaker or a working mom.  I was limbo woman.

Now with that limbo time drawing to a close I will say I am not looking back fondly feeling I didn't appreciate the time I had.  I think confused was the only place to be.  However, knowing this time will soon be coming to a close I am madly spending this weekend cleaning, organizing and preparing our home and schedule for the return of working mom and the need for a plan and system to keep myself sane.

My first return to work didn't go so well but I think this second return is going to be just right.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

More than I can bear

I had a little time and thought maybe a blog post or two was in order but wasn't sure what to write about so I did what I always do when I have time and no thoughts, I go to facebook.  There I came across other blog posts on a topic I can totally relate to right now.

"God won't give you more than you can handle"---MYTH!  Not in the bible, not even biblical.

Luckily in the past several months I don't recall anyone saying that to me but I am familiar with the phrase and I can testify to the truth of the other posts which assure us that God can and does give us more than we can handle.  And as evidence you can ask any number of my friends who will all tell you that I did not handle what God gave me this fall at all.  Smeared across the living room floor is how I described myself.

But, God was there, he walked with me, he picked up my burden and picked me up and helped me walk through my big trial.  That is what God promises.  I am probably years away from being fully on the other side of this trial but God has gotten me to a place where I can stand upright and move forward.  I do so because I know if any little thing comes my way he is right there for me to lean on.  I can shrug whatever comes my way right off my shoulder and onto his without skipping a step.  I hope I am done being smeared across the floor over this, God has taught me many great coping skills over the past few months, but if I do find myself there again, undone by far more than I can bear, I know he will be there to help me through it once again.

Since several people have already written well on this topic here are a few links to the ones I like:  Here and then this one HERE and this one HERE.

New year and on the other side of a big hurdle in this trial I am trying to move forward.  My mind is slowly starting to work again and I am dreaming of having interesting thoughts and ideas soon!  For now I am just so happy to be in one piece again and functioning like a regular person.  God is good.

"Then the nations will say about them, 'The Lord has done great things for them.'  The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with JOY". Ps 126:3

Thursday, January 2, 2014

We are filled with Joy

I just reviewed all my posts from 2013.  And I am struck by two things:  #1-I really am a good writer.  I totally inspire myself. (I feel a little like Castle, "I really am ruggedly handsome"), #2-this was sort of a depressing year.  And what is more depressing is that clearly last January I was feeling relieved to be at the end of 2012 and was looking forward to 2013 being a better year.  And yet this year...So much I haven't even written.

The good news is that a lot of the hard things from 2013 have had some sort of resolve at the end of the year.  Good or bad they are all on a path and off my plate.  Some problems will be ongoing but, we have finally learned this fall how to interact with the stresses of our life without letting it affect our ability to live life.  And I can focus on areas of my life I can control.  Like my need for a part time job.

I love, love real estate but need at least a little regular income.  I have had some good interviews but so far no offers.  Another interview for a job just a mile from home on Monday.  Would love your prayers.

Whether 2014 ends up to be a great year or a continuation of the stress of the past 2 years, it never hurts to start off with a little optimism.  And I really do think this will be a good year.  Great? I don't know. Good? Definitely within my grasp.

As I was reviewing some recent posts I noticed that I have already written a little about my word of 2014.  This year I didn't have to sit down and contemplate what it should be.  God had been presenting this to me for the last couple months and it seemed silly to even pretend I was going to focus on anything else.

Ps 126:2-3
Our mouths are filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy.  And it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."  The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with JOY."
My word of the year is JOY.  Joy is not something we have or don't have, it is something we choose.  Joy is not determined by circumstances.  My sister said, "joy is void of circumstance".

For Christmas this year I printed up this and framed it for family and friends:

This picture was taken in Kenya when we were visiting Kibera which is one of the largest slums in the world.  There, as we walked by garbage, rivers of sewage, dirty children and desperate people, was a blue window contrasted against a cracking clay building.  I was struck by the beauty of it in the middle of such poverty.

Joy is like that.  Whether this is a great year or turns out to be another year of struggle we can look around and see beauty, see God working and choose to experience the joy.

I have found about a dozen verses on joy and we are going to try to memorize one a month as a family.  So far so good on the first one.
Ps 126:2-3Our mouths are filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy.  And it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."  The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with JOY."