Thursday, December 20, 2018

Expectant Waiting

A couple years ago, we took on the massive task of trimming the tree and putting up Christmas decorations. It pains me to even speak that sentence, for fear of sounding so completely bah humbug that you all write me off as a total party pooper. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE having decorated for Christmas. The twinkling lights. The red and green. The smell of a fresh cut tree. But the actual process of decorating? It really isn't my thing. I struggle with change and perhaps could be accused of being “a little too practical,” so the idea of pulling tubs down from the garage rafter, changing out throw pillows and dishes, and re-doing the mantle for just a 4-week period every year sometimes feels not worth the effort.

In so many ways, I have loosened up over the years. Like for instance, this year I’m referring to, when I agreed to run off to McLendon's Hardware at 6:30 PM to select our Christmas tree under the cover of pitch darkness. We could see next to nothing beyond the height of the tree options before us and I honestly didn't have the energy to care. I think we took home the third tree we touched. Short, sweet and simple. Those three adjectives are rarely used together to describe my typical process of accomplishing things. More often, my perfectionist tendencies weave a gnarly web of high expectations and a desire for things to be just so. It makes me a tough cookie to live with, this I know. 

Going back to my story… by the time we got the tree home and in the stand, it was far too late in the evening to begin the process of decking it, so my husband suggested that we wait until the morning and have a "nice relaxing breakfast together" with tree decorating to follow. The only trouble with this plan was that we also had family pictures scheduled at 11 AM that, after our "relaxing" time trimming the tree, we would need to rush off to, all dressed and beautiful. I bet you can guess where there is going. As it turns out, I don't really do "nice and relaxing" followed by "dressed and beautiful" within the same 2-hour window. I summarized our morning at that time on social media as follows:

"Ok all you people with kids, let's keep this Christmas decorating thing real. Despite any beautiful pictures we might post of a glowing tree or lovely mantle, let's remember that, behind the scenes, decorations were flying out of boxes in all directions, ornaments were shattering, breakfast dishes were still on the table, only 1 of our strands of lights were 100% functional, and we ended up Scotch-taping our star to the top of the tree. And all the while, mom was standing by having a panic attack in the corner."

So yeah. This whole changing out seasonal decorations thing? It's not really my jam. But as I began to ponder it all, I realized so many things are not enjoyable in the process. I don't enjoy decorating, but I love having decorated. I don't always enjoy running but I love having run. Heaven knows I don't always enjoy parenting, but I love having parented. Are you catching my drift?

The process is typically messy and confusing and even painful. It can be tempting to throw our hands up and concede - to say darn it all to the tree this year, or to slow our run to a walk or to surrender to yelling at our kids instead of finding another way. The process. It's the nit and grit. It's the part that’s excruciating.

Last week, I was asked to share some words at my Bible study’s Christmas celebration.  My first thought was, I’ve never been one to win any awards for my positivity and I worried what I had to say might bring people down. Any regular readers know I tend to be a deep thinker and that I ponder hard things – just the message everyone wants to hear at Christmas! I considered asking for a different date, maybe sometime in the spring we aren’t assumed to be full of “holiday cheer.”

But as I began to pray through what the Lord might have for me to share, it was clear that this was exactly the time of year that He wanted me to speak. And that, during this season of Advent, where we remember and anticipate the arrival of our Savior into the world, I was to speak about the idea of expectant waiting.

I began thinking about how each one of us, no matter where we are in our lives right now, have an area of deep longing, a place where we are waiting for movement with bated breath. It’s that painful part of us that we like to pretend isn’t there. Perhaps we’ve shoved that longing into hiding in hopes that it will just go away. For others of us, we wear that longing like we do our very own skin. We couldn’t hide it, even if we tried because the havoc it has wreaked on our hearts is so blatant. These longings are uncomfortable, and they bring out our “ugly.” When we spend any length of time considering the void left by our longing, we often come away with more questions than answers. We begin to wonder if perhaps our God truly is as faithful and good as He claims to be.

So, I would pose the same question here that I asked last week during my talk - what is it that you are longing for today? Where are you filled with a sense of expectant waiting? Is it for a next step or calling, a clear sense of purpose? Is it for children? Has infertility been your gaping hole? For those who are single, is it a longing for a spouse? And for those married, is it a profound sense of loneliness despite the ring on your finger? Is there a part of you that feels broken? Are you longing for healing, for yourself or for others? Are you longing for connection, to finally feel like you are welcome and that you truly belong? 

Psalm 40:1-3 says “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

How can we possibly reconcile our areas of profound pain and hurt and longing with the goodness of our God?

God has had me on a journey in recent years that I would describe as a total unraveling. The image that comes to mind is that of a carefully-crocheted blanket. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, gorgeous color, an intricate pattern, and even stitching throughout. It seems perfectly fine from all outward appearances. Why would it require unraveling?

The trouble is this: it was stitched together on all the wrong premises – lies overtaking the truth, a belief that my worth is based on what I accomplish. I have valued image over authenticity, justice before grace, and focused on achievement, success, hard work, people-pleasing, and rule-following. The stitches were, to put it bluntly, far too tight.

All the lies I’ve internalized for so long have needed to be undone before God could begin the great work of re-stitching together my blanket, this time founded on truth. The process has been so painful. There are parts of my story that don’t make sense. At times it feels as if no part of my life has been left untouched – my marriage, my kids, my work, my family. I have had to face so many of my demons. Just when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be any more yarn left to unravel, I realize there is yet another row of stitching that needs to come undone.

In these moments of unraveling, when I am sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a mess of tangled yarn, I have spent a lot of timing crying out “Why, God!? I followed the rules! I thought I was doing what you asked of me! Why is this the result? Why must I endure the heartache? THIS. ISN’T. FAIR.”

The reality, it seems, is that God wants to start anew in my life. He has a totally different pattern in mind for me. He desires to loosen the stitching a little. He is assigning me new attributes: loved, cherished, worthy, deserving. The resulting blanket will be softer, less stiff, imperfect yet wholly, undeniably accepted. Beloved. He has loving, healing work that he wants to do.

And do you know what else he is teaching me? My deep pain, my longing is FOR something. It is being used for good. Whether it is to encourage another or cause me to cling to God in times when I otherwise might be tempted to give him the cold shoulder, or whether it is to keep me fighting for healing, this process has a purpose.

Brene Brown writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Were it not for these hardships, I would never have had a reason to cling to Christ in the way I have in this most recent season. I had always been so self-sufficient; I was doing just fine on my own. Until I wasn’t.

Words like these became my sustenance: “He will cover you will his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4

So, while I wait expectantly and hold on to hope for continued healing in the broken areas of my life, will I choose to trust His hand?

Author Rebekah Lyons, in her book, You Are Free, writes, “Joy is not the absence of darkness. Joy is the confidence that the darkness will lift.”

I’ll be honest. There have been so many points in my own process where have been filled with doubt. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office one night, overwhelmed and undone, feeling hope slip through my fingers. It all felt too hard. I didn’t think healing would ever come. At that time, my therapist said something that has meant so much to me. She asked for permission to hold onto to hope for me, when I no longer felt I could, to be a buoy to help keep me afloat until I had the strength to continue swimming.

God’s answer to our longings, the things for which we are expectantly waiting, may never be one we have been dreaming of, the one we feel is best. But what I can say with full confidence is that he is with us in the waiting and he is using our circumstances to draw us nearer to himself.

Lyons writes, “You straddle promise and doubt, feebly holding onto the hope of promise. Keep holding on. You may not know the outcome, but you can rest in the tension of the waiting. It’s in the tension that the music is made.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Later she goes on to say, “There will come a moment in your waiting when God says, ‘It’s time.’ Waiting is a critical part of your anointing. It prepares you, strengthens you, equips and trains you to step up when the moment comes.”

The process often makes us question the endeavor but, it is worth it.  Romans 8:24 says, “But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

So, in the same way that we wait for the coming of our Savior to earth at Christmas, may we also wait with great expectation for Christ, the Ultimate Buoy to meet each of us, right where we are at, even in our areas of deepest longing.

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posted by kelsie