Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Counting on a Tuesday...

Just when I believed it could not get any hotter and muggier outside, it did.  A couple of weeks ago now, our little family of three loaded up and set out driving across the state of Kansas in hopes of making it to the cool (but smokey) mountains of Colorado for bedtime.  When we left our home it was 102 outside.  Gross.  And with the humidity, the heat index read 109.  Would our weather ever change? Even a little bit?   As most of the nation knows, large portions of our country have been blistered by heat wave upon heat wave coupled with months and months of drought.  Where we live, we have been straight in the middle of it all.  But I digress...

As we gradually made our way across the plains of Kansas, with each stop the temperatures were creeping higher and higher.  It felt almost unbearable outside.  Close to Lily's bedtime, we pulled into a McDonald's in Goodland, Kansas ( it's a very nice one by the way, in case you are thinking of traveling along I-70 through Kansas any time soon!).  And as we pulled up, the clouds that had been in the distance seemed to be rolling ever closer toward us. Rain was no where near our radar of expectations, but stepping out of the car, we could feel the energy in the air that is present before a really good thunderstorm breaks free.  It was lovely and completely unexpected!

As some gentle rolls of thunder grew gradually louder and closer, we fed Lily her dinner (don't worry, it wasn't McDonald's) and her bedtime bottle.  Everyone inside McDonald's was talking about the storm and seemed to be in a lively, smiley and friendly mood.  We got everything organized in the car and set back out onto the road and within minutes we were engulfed in a downpour of rain like we have not seen with our eyes for months!  It was beautiful, unexpected (have I mentioned that yet?) and refreshing. Most startling of all was that literally within minutes of driving into the storm front, the temperatures outside went from 106 to 67 degrees.  I kid you not.  I tend to be a pretty big weather geek and in my entire lifetime, I have never experienced a temperature swing that rapid or that complete.  God was bringing relief, and we drank it in with full and thankful hearts.  I remember thinking at the time as we watched with incredulity as the numbers on the temperature gage of our car just started falling, that this was God showing up- reminding me as I wallowed in my own "pit" of discouragement about our house, that He is able to change circumstances in an instant- and usually when I least expect it.  

Nearly two weeks later, I was reminded of this storm on the plains, when right in the middle of my haircut last week, I received a phone call from our realtor saying that a young couple had made an offer on our house!  Huh?  Seriously???  I literally could not believe it...all of the sudden things were different.  We went through several rounds of negotiations with them and finally late Thursday evening, we landed on a number everyone could agree upon.  WE HAVE A CONTRACT ON OUR HOUSE!!!   Unexpected total relief.  Again, God seemed to bring the "rain", and the relief just when it was needed the most.  Of course we still have inspections and appraisals to pass, but if things work out, we will be moving in September.  

Back to our road trip, we made it to the mountains later that night after driving for nearly 12 hours (especially long trip for a 1 year old little gal!)  and enjoyed a week of relaxation and refreshment thanks to my parents who were there with us as well.  At the time I still had no idea how much longer we would be waiting for our house to sell, so my spirit was still feeling heavy and in great need of some mountain-assisted relief (not to mention a break from keeping the house scrubbed down all the time!).  

Now back home, we are neck deep in inspections, appraisals, loan pre-approvals, house hunting and trying to survive this incredible heat wave outside.  Looking back, I feel like God blessed us with those lovely days in the mountains because he knew that when we arrived back home, we would experience some relief (a contract on our house), but would also still have many more proverbial mountains to climb before this whole story is over...

368.  Safe, protected travels

369.  The incredible break in the weather a thunderstorm can bring

370.  the beauty of sky over mountains reflected in a placid lake

371.  long, gentle afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains
372.  an afternoon date of mini golf in the rain with my sweetie
373.  the river walk in downtown Estes Park, Colorado

374.  watching Lily love and be loved by her grandparents for an entire week

376.  a signed contract on our house

377.  sunset over the mountains

378.  a sundog in a cirrus cloud over our road back home

Thursday, July 12, 2012

pride, humility, our home and my ebenezer - part 6 - The Conclusion

At last we arrive at the part where I finally get to tell you about my ebenezer.  If you look up the word, it means, "stone of help."  I'm not a fan of that particular definition per se because it harkens my thoughts to crystals and mystic-nature-y worship of stones etc.  That is NOT what I'm talking about here.  I am getting my reference to ebenezer from 1 Samuel 7: 12, which still references a "stone of help," but I love how it is explained also as a way to remember how so far, on the journey, the Lord has helped us.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[a]saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  
                                                               - 1 Samuel 7:12.

  Back when I was pregnant with Luke, I participated in Beth Moore's Believing God bible study at my church.  And it rocked.my.spiritual.world.  I learned the difference between just believing in God and believing God.  In the study, her teaching focused a lot on God's leading of his people to their much talked about promised land.  She spoke of how when the Bible was written, there was a literal piece of land that was the Israelite's promised land.  However, for us today, the spiritual seed of Abraham, we have our own spiritual promised lands that God is leading us to over the course of our life.  She spoke about how in different seasons of life, we may have different promised lands, but with absolute certainty, we all have them and to arrive in them requires submission, obedience, prayer and willingness to God and HIS plans and timing for our lives.  (Please check out her study and listen to her teaching on this topic.  I promise I am no where CLOSE to doing it justice with my brief summary here.  It is incredible and filled with so many lessons I continue to re-listen to and re-learn to this very day).

Anyways, in one part of the study, she taught from Joshua about the Israelite's crossing of the Jordan river (Joshua chapters 3-4). In this story, the Israelites were, crossing the Jordan at flood stage and God had parted the waters for them to pass through on dry ground.  A miracle that only he could accomplish.  With the waters raging on either side of them, God told his people to cross over and for specific people to take up a stone from the middle of the river that they would use to build a memorial altar to God on the other side.  Their own ebenezers if you will.

The 'middle' is a dangerous place to pause while on a difficult journey, because you are neither close to where you started or close to where you are going- you are right in between.  A lot of crisis can happen in the middle of things...and isn't it interesting that God chose the middle of the Jordan as the place he wanted them to pick up stones- I like to think it is because he wanted to remind them in a place of potential crisis, that He was still with them, helping them, and wanted to remind them that they were going to live to tell the story about their journey someday.  It is like God wanted them to really sear their memory of this particular challenging moment in their journey by taking up a stone from the middle.

God wanted these stones to be used as a prompting to remind them to tell their children about how God showed up BIG and delivered them safely to their promised land against all odds.  Beth taught that God is still in the business of delivering his people to their promised lands.  We just have to yield to His voice speaking in our hearts.  In my experience, it is not only sometimes difficult to hear his voice, for he often speaks in a whisper, but often times, the reality of capturing our promised lands feels impossible because we have to wage battles against doubt, fear, opposition from ourselves and others as well as lies the Enemy whispers that cut us to the quick all along the way. This "impossible" view of our promised land is exactly how Satan wants us to see them- seemingly impossible to possess.

However, God's word tells a different story.  His word is filled with stories of people trusting Him, yielding to him and surrendering to His will and in exchange for their faithfulness and obedience against all odds, their God sized dreams became real.  To God be the glory....not man.  For God, nothing is impossible.

So returning back to my story here, (thank you for still reading it by the way! I know it is crazy long!) One day a few months ago,  Lily and I were on a walk through the neighborhood of beautiful mansions I mentioned way back at the beginning of this series.   Along one of our favorite walking routes, I noticed that one of my favorite homes we regularly pass was getting ready to go on the market..it had the familiar "Coming Soon" sign in the yard.  Feeling neck deep in our own home-selling saga, I secretly wondered how long it would take for these people to sell their beautiful home.  Not more than one week after it finally went on the market, a "SOLD" sign went up in the yard and I could literally feel my sinful, prideful, human heart sink when I saw the sign as we approached.  While I could feel glad for the people inside that they were not having to struggle the way we were, it was simply another confirmation that homes were selling and people were moving on with their lives, just not us.

Fast forward a few weeks later, while passing again by the very same house, I noticed a sign in the yard that said they were having a moving sale that day.  I felt a little nudge in my heart to stop in, and to look for a "memorial stone" of my own to commemorate this difficult season of waiting.  I felt that the Holy Spirit was telling me that I would recognize my "ebenezer stone" when I saw it.  It seemed fitting to get it at a moving sale from a home we had watched be bought and sold within a matter of a few days...our own still-unrealized dream for our little place...so much the same, yet so very different from our own story.

Lily and I headed in, and not only were the people who owned the home lovely (as I imagined they would be), but so was the home (they actually had part of the sale inside their house! Wow!).  I wandered around looking at all of their beautiful things (but sadly, pretty pricy for your typical yard sale) and kept my eyes open for what I was supposed to be looking for, confident that I would know it when I saw it...and I did.  There tucked toward the back of a large table in the corner was my "stone."  It was little, shiny, simple, pretty and I loved it.

I was excited to discover it, happy that I had obeyed the nudge from God to go in and find something to commemorate this journey of refinement and total dependency upon Him.  I brought it home and filled it with water and put some flowers in it and said to myself, "Thus far, the Lord has helped us."   It now sits on the little table in the front room at the end of my couch.  I pass by it probably a hundred times a day and each time I catch a glimpse of it, I am reminded of God's faithfulness to not only the Israelites all of those centuries ago, but also in my life like this summer when forward progress has seemed near impossible.

He is the same God as he was back then.  He is the same God on days we have two showings as he is on days when we have none.  He is a loving God and he is faithful.  That is where we are today.  I purchased this little ebenezer about eight weeks ago now and it still reminds me of His faithfulness and that is what I'm choosing to focus my heart on these days as we wait with wonder and expectancy.  His faithfulness...through the generations, through the years, through the months and in each one of these days.  My heart is open and my soul is watching.  He is faithful.  He is faithful.  He is faithful. Praise Him, he is faithful.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; 

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
-Psalm 100:5

Saturday, July 7, 2012

pride, humility, our house and my ebeneezer - Part 5

Our beloved little house has been on the market now for more than a few months and I have the heavy, discouraged heart to prove it.  These past few months have been extremely difficult for me, despite the smile I may give when asked about it.  I have felt discouraged, sad, depressed, hopeful, energized and defeated over and over, day after day throughout this journey.  I have struggled with how to pray about it as I feel all prayed out on this topic, yet I know that is the only thing I can proactively do and I know that at times, my prayers on this topic have been less than compelling or surrender-y.  Much to my difficulty, this process has been one giant lesson in humility and servanthood as I continue to clean, wait and practice good stewardship of this home we have been blessed to call our home.  (* I realize that these lessons are not "bad" lessons per se- but they have just felt less than great to me....*)
The number of hours I have spent trying to figure out what we are doing "wrong" is straight up embarrassing.  I know we are not being punished.  Refined, sifted, strengthened, remade- yes, but punished, no.  I know that God has HIS timing for all of this.  He has HIS purposes for this season.  He is working all of this for HIS good and HIS glory.  He waits patiently for me to surrender, bow low and bring him glory through this.  He is worthy, no question.  However, there are just days when it feels easier for my heart to acknowledge that than others.  I hate admitting that, but it is true.  I feel like a toddler throwing a tantrum sometimes- just sitting down on this path and beating my fists into the dirt with tears running down my cheeks in anger and frustration.   He is patient with me.  He is kind to me.  I must fully surrender to him and to acknowledge He is Lord in this -all the time...not just when I'm feeling good, things are going my way or when I'm feeling especially humble or weak.  I know and believe He holds so much richness for me in this season, yet I am struggling with a stubbornness born of unbelief and revealing lack of trust which is preventing me from experiencing it.  And I hate it.  My faith tank feels empty and is in desperate need of refilling.

The question that keeps coming up for me is, do I believe God is good and working events in my life for good even when things are not going my way yet again?  My answer is of course, yes.  I do.  I just have to keep reminding myself because it is so much easier to be depressed, negative, cynical, complain, be frustrated, disappointed, wallow, cry, indulge in self-pity and turn inward offering superficial "fines" to those who ask.   I am seeing a lot of selfishness bubbling up to the surface in my life and it is far from the woman I know God desires me to be.  I have a long history of examples in my life of things not going my way or the way I had hoped.  However, along with that long list of examples, I also have a parallel list where God has stepped up and revealed His faithfulness and majesty in ways that have far surpassed my wildest imaginings.  

I am a girl in desperate need of remembering God's faithfulness to me through the years, over the mountains we have climbed together and down the paths through refining fires where he has led me.  I am on one of those paths here in this season.  I have been in denial, not wanting to face the refinement that God holds for me in this season.  I have been trying to hide my heart here because my ugly pride is being revealed in a real and pubic way through the non-sale of our home.  Such a simple, normal experience for many, yet for me it has been a HUGE stumbling block.  One God is gently letting me know He wants/needs to deal with- I must submit to his creative mending ways.  He wants to hold me close, reshape and tenderly remake me- reminding me who He is in my life...my creator, the giver of all good things.  

God is the one who provided me with this lovely home so many years ago.  His provision, His gifting, His lovingness toward me in a season when I deeply needed it.  In my examination of my heart here in this season, I can see how in a way, I was secretly hoping to be able to brag about and maybe even (horrifyingly) taken credit for the quick sale of our home. (...It was my decor, paint selections, how clean it is that sold the buyers etc).  I was trying to take credit for what would truly be God's work and I am so ashamed to confess this.  It is the ugly truth I have been hiding in my heart and how I came to recognize that this whole process has turned into an idol in my heart.  Until now, it has been all about me, not about Thee.  He is faithful- always has been.  I'm sad to say, I have fallen far short on returning the affection.

What I can tell you with certainty is that God is in control here.  Not me.  His ways are at play,  not mine.  His timing.  Not mine.  He is the same God on days where we have multiple showings as he is on days when we have none.  I know that seeking Him and Him ONLY is where I need to train my focus.  I do not know why God has held us here for as long as he has, but I know He does.

  ...to be continued....

Friday, July 6, 2012

pride, humility, our house and my ebeneezer -part 4

Winter came and went with its weeks rolling into months.  Spring arrived and we were back on the market at the beginning of April 2012.  My spirits were high, and my hopes even higher.  I was more ready than ever for people to come and see our place and to get moving into our new home- wherever that might be.  I felt confident that perhaps now was the right time- springtime in the Midwest is beautiful and typically the best time to buy and sell homes.  Like I said, I was ready, only this time, I was reluctant to ask God if HE was ready for us to move.  I prayed, but to be honest, they were half-hearted and guarded prayers when it came to the subject of selling our house.

I increasingly found myself surrounded by well meaning friends who each had a story of someone they knew selling their home within days of it being on the market.  In a secret part of my heart, I so desperately wanted to have that kind of story to tell- a God story.  A miracle story of how everything just fell into place and worked out, or a bidding war transpiring, or somehow in this dismal housing market, we managed to make money on our house.  I wanted to be able to speak of our experience to others with a wisdom of experience, easily sharing kind compliments given our home by all of the potential buyers who raced in upon noticing it was for sale.  I wanted to just not have to worry.  I wanted to have the confidence that God was in this with us... Aside from some kind compliments from former potential buyers, I have experienced none of the above.
There is no question in my heart that God has been using this experience of trying to sell our home teach me humility.  It is now nearing the middle of July, and while we have had lots of traffic in, no one has fallen in love with our little place.  All of the feedback has been positive about the house itself and its appearance, but there is always just one little thing (basement, school nearby etc) that brings people to their decision to continue looking elsewhere.  And every time that feedback has come in, it has broken my heart a little bit and in a small way, my spirit too.  Trying to keep a house semi-picked up, ready for a possible showing at a moment's notice with a one year old naturally bent on mess-making in the house is exhausting...both physically and emotionally. 

Waiting for a phone call that someone wants to see our house and trying to keep the place semi-ready has slowly become my day's work-  and each day that passes without movement toward our goal of moving causes me to feel more and more discouraged, purposeless and frustrated.... 

...to be continued....