Tuesday, September 10, 2013

August and Everything After- Part 4 - Aspen- (Where the Beer Flows Like Wine...)

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story with God, even though it started in my childhood, really began one August, just a few Augusts ago....

dumb and dumber photo: dumb-and-dumber dumb-and-dumber.jpg

Does anyone else like the movie, Dumb and Dumber? I swear, it never gets old, and somehow only gets funnier to me.  In case you have somehow missed this masterpiece, the main character, Lloyd Christmas describes Aspen and the place "where the beer flows like wine!"  If you need a good laugh and are in the mood for some crazy antics, its a good one.  Anyways, I digress....  

The last time I wrote about my story, Joe and I were sitting on the bench outside of church.  We had decided not to be friends any more.  Well, I had decided and he had agreed.  The timing could not have been worse, because we were leaving on a trip with a bunch of friends two days later- heading to Aspen. 

I don't know if you have ever traveled with a group of twenty or more people, but things can be a little bit chaotic at times.  We had reserved lodging and planned (some) meals, divided travel expenses and coordinated activities such as rafting, hiking, shopping, eating and biking for folks while we were out there.  For most of us having traveled together before, the hardest part is always getting everyone to coordinate on the timing for all of the departures and events...that can be like herding cats.  You just have to tell people that you want to leave about 30 minutes before you actually need to leave...that is the key to traveling with large groups. (In case you were wondering- ha!)   

No, everything about this trip was awesome, except for the fact that everywhere I went, everywhere I turned, every mile down the highway across two rather wide states, I felt like I was either bumping into or having to observe Joe with his girlfriend.  Over and over and over and over and over and over again I was reminded that he had picked her, not me.  I was reminded that I was easy to walk away from, that again, my gut had been wrong to think there was a connection or a spark between us.  That part of the trip was decidedly NOT awesome.  

This reminder's constancy in my life during those initial days and then weeks following our talk on that bench fostered a deep reliance upon God for my peace and recognition that I needed to surrender to His 'no' in my life for this relationship I had hoped would develop with Joe.  God had shut the door very clearly.  It erased any possible "I wonder-s" from this spinning single girl's mind.  I knew and our boundaries were very clear.  Joe's answer was "I'm not interested."  I had been obedient to what I felt God had asked me to do by having that conversation on the bench, and now, I had to be obedient with the answer I had been given. It was a hard knowing and I had to let Joe go.  Not my plan, but His plan here.  I had to trust that God had someone else in mind for me, even though whomever he was, he was no where near my radar.  I had to force my hands to be open when I wanted to cling so tightly to what I wanted....even though I never held it to begin with. 

Luckily for me, our group on this trip was large enough that we did not have to actually hang out together and pretend to be cordial all the time.  We ate in different restaurants in the evening, participated in different activities (he went biking while I went shopping etc), we spent time with different friends and rode in different vehicles. Part of the same larger group, but very far apart. What made it even more of a challenge was that on this particular trip, only Jessica and Joe knew what had transpired personally between Joe and I and how awkward so many interactions on the trip actually were despite our efforts to show the contrary.  And of the two of them, only Jessica was aware how hard I was working not to let my broken heart cloud over the blue mountain skies above me.  Joe was too busy having a blast while hanging with his girlfriend... it was VERY easy to see I was not even on his radar.  Jessica helped me breathe and push forward.

Joe was pretty gracious toward me and honored our private agreement not to talk or spend any time together even in groups.  All well and good until I realized how much I missed him and getting to talk with him about little stupid things while everyone stood around waiting for others to arrive to leave for some activity.  I just missed how easy things used to be and how happy even simple little smiles would make me.  He gave me the social space I said I needed which really, really sucked.  He held up his end of the bargain by not playing any games with my heart and sending mixed messages, and quite honestly to make matters worse in my heart and mind, he made it look easy.  

I tried my best to be fully focused on the friends around me and tried to force myself to have a fun time.  And for the most part, I did- we floated down a river in rafts and I remember screaming with my friend, Ginger as we got drenched in cold river water, laughing and having so much fun.  We ate at many delicious places, enjoying meals outside and good conversations.  We wandered through Aspen, shopped a little bit, ate ice cream in the park, explored and stayed up way too late talking and eating in our little condos and it was a great time.  In fact, I have TONS of photos documenting all of this fun...but what I remember most about this trip was not all of the fun we had.  

No, what I remember the most was how visceral and challenging it was for my heart to want something so badly, and to know God was saying 'no' to me....for reasons I could not understand and made no sense to me.  What I did not know then, was that this was just the first of MANY times in the coming years that God would use this tactic of saying 'no' to what I perceived to be a natural 'yes' type of situation to draw me closer to Him.

At the time, I could not imagine anything harder than taking this 'excellent' way of guarding my heart and making intentional hard but good decisions for myself.  I was trying to honor Him with the way I was living my single life, and it did not feel like it was a path filled with rewards...it felt like a path of challenge, resistance, despair, struggle and endless uncertainty.  I knew I was doing the right thing and going about this whole awkward relationship/friendship situation the proper way, I just didn't know if I could survive it... it felt too hard.  Too unfair.  Like it was too much to heartbreak handle....

I felt sorry for myself.  I felt unloved and unlovable.  I was on a roll with my negative self-talk.  I was pretty certain that things could not get much worse.  What I did not realize was that I was about to survive a life-changing experience that saw my view of myself plunge to an all time low (in front of everyone no less!) in order for God to teach me a powerful lesson about how HE sees me...all within the span of twelve hours.  This experience I was about to have would forever shape how I viewed challenges in my life...and trust me, I had NO idea what challenges were ahead...then or now!

My school of life had not even started...God had merely set the scene.....

Thursday, September 5, 2013

August and Everything After - Part 3 - The Family God Makes

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story with God, even though it started in my childhood, really began one August, just a few Augusts ago....

This photo was taken around 5am after a night of all night caravan driving across Kansas.  We still had hours of driving to go, but we had finally made it to the mountains and we all stopped to stretch our legs.  I love this photo because it takes me right back to that early morning of slap-happy laughing, treat eating fun.  Sara Groves and Jem were our tunes of choice and of course, I laugh every time I see what we now call 'the claw.' (my hand over her shoulder which appears in so many photos of us through the years). 

Before going any further with my story, I need to introduce you to someone.  Her name is Jessica and she is quite simply, beyond amazing.  Not only is she beautiful inside and out, she has an incredible heart for God, she is crazy talented, hilarious, generous, smart, wise and super kind to name only a few of her qualities.  She is someone in whom I sensed an immediate kindred spirit when I first met her and we sat on opposite sides of the room in a book discussion group we both were involved in at our church.  Now to be clear, I'm absolutely not saying I possess all of these qualities...- AT ALL- but I'm talking about just that knowing sense of, "I think she's my friend" before even really knowing someone...that beautiful recognition that happens every once in a rare while.  I just knew we were going to be friends.

She was, at this point in the story, and remains to this day one of my accountability partners in life.  She has witnessed, encouraged, stood beside and been there with me at my best most happiest moments, and also at my absolute lowest and saddest moments.  She has listened, held my hand, lifted me up, prayed, shared, given, laughed and held my deepest secrets for years.  I absolutely love this woman and am beyond blessed to call her my friend.  I mention her today because she plays a critical role in the story that is about to unfold.  The girls in this photo above had no idea of what was about to happen, but we both acknowledge now that both of our lives have never been the same since.

When I look back through the lens of perspective on my single days, I see the friendships that grew out of that season, and my heart is humbled to realize that if I had had my way, my plan, I would have missed all of these people, these faces, these stories, these adventures, these hearts, these moments, all of the fun.  All of it! Seriously! I would have missed all of it.  I had no idea all of the beauty, life and love God had in store for me with these incredible friends.  

The years of my singleness, of taking the risk to put myself out there and meet other people in my same life stage and to invest in their lives and to allow them to invest in mine, are some of the richest and best years of my life.  I know that and am able to clearly see that now.  At the time, before this knowing and being known, I did not think it was possible to be happy and be single in my 30s.  It was the one area of my life that I was miserable.  All of my college friends and high school friends were dating seriously, getting married, having babies and settling down.  I love all of my friends, but it became difficult to spend time together the way we did when we were in school together.  As much as we cared about each other, our lives were diverging on the path and going in different directions.  Life was just changing.

As everyone (it felt like) was getting married, I was barely meeting anyone new, let alone dating.  I had the choice to be alone and sad, or I had the choice to adopt a positive attitude, take a big risk and possibly find some new friends...I had to hope that my life could look different.  It was a big choice to make for anyone, but especially for an introverted gal like myself whose idea of a good time is being at home by myself with a good book and my journal or having a few friends over for dinner.

Don't get me wrong, I was blessed to be settled in a job I loved, I was anchored in at my church, I had purchased a cute little house I called home and delighted in decorating.  I had a lot to be thankful for - and I was grateful.  I just was not living the social life I wanted. I honestly wanted to be married and have babies.  But that was not happening for whatever reason.  The single friends I had at the time, were great people, but they primarily liked to go out to bars and drink...a lot...a college mindset and empty lifestyle I felt I was being called to leave behind...but for what? A lifetime of Friday nights at home alone? 

If you have never struggled with being single-- good for you! Count yourself as one of the lucky ones. And just to be clear here, when I talk about being single, I'm not talking about being single during your college years and early 20s when practically everyone you know is single and finding their way in life.  Or you are seriously dating, just not married. Those don't count.  I'm sorry, but it really doesn't where this topic is concerned. Not to say that if that was your story that you did not have your moments of doubt, struggle or wonder, but it is just not even close to the same kind of singleness that I'm talking about here.

I'm talking about those thin years when you realize that you are slowly being left behind by everyone else as they settle down, start families of their own and you just aren't even close to that.  The endless stream of wedding invites, bachelorette parties, shower invitations and holiday cards reminding you over and over again that everyone else's lives are moving forward in the area you want, just not yours.  Those hard years when you search your heart deeply wondering if something is wrong with you, and wondering if you will ever be moving forward toward marriage and family, if that is going to be a part of your story...if that right "someone" even exists let alone if you will ever met them.   Endless setup dates, blind dates wondering and waiting.  And even more painful, pondering what if it never happens? What then?- That is what I'm talking about when I refer to being single. For many (myself included) it's a dark, difficult and often painful season of life no matter when it happens or for how long it lasts.

That is where I had been a year before meeting Joe that summer -lost and very lonely.  But that all changed as I began to receive the gift of new friendships that God lavished on me when I opened my heart. To be blessed with a big beautiful family of friends to love, care for, travel with, celebrate with and lovely new, rich friendships to nurture- well it was a gift beyond measure to a lonely and thirsty heart....a gift best appreciated by someone who knows life without it. God knew this and held this unbelievable gift for me...in His plan.  I just had to practice the courage to step forward with open hands, accept and treasure this gift of a different kind of family he was giving me.  Not my plan, but his- and trust me, he knew waaaay better better than I what I needed then and would need in the years that would follow...including today.   I could not fully see it then, but I completely realize it now.  

 God had gently and graciously led me to two avenues where I met some amazing single people who became like family to me, BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and Fusion (our church's thriving singles ministry).  Being an introverted person by nature, the thought/idea of meeting a bunch of new people exhausted me (and often still does) before even leaving my house!  The idea of attending social gatherings where I didn't really know anyone and making small talk scared the daylights out of me.  But I knew I wanted community and friends, so I faced my fears and stepped forward into the unknown and was greeted by more love, friendship and fun than I ever imagined.  God gave me a family of friends who were just like me: looking for fun, friendship, adventure, spiritual growth, accountability, and most importantly, people who were single and wanted to honor God with how they waited for marriage and family ... plus, as an added bonus, they were having a blast together in the meantime!

So I eased in...slowly. Like I said, I'm an introvert, so it took me awhile.  But soon, it became easier and easier to go to social gatherings because faces became familiar, stories became shared adventures, I joined a small group of amazing women, and opened my heart.  God blessed that effort (and it was an effort for me at times!) one hundred-fold.  As I became more and more involved in the singles community and started serving, roots began growing and before I knew it, I was anchored.  I was missed if I did not show up somewhere, I was asked some hard questions because I allowed access to some deep areas of my heart where I wanted to change, I was invited places and welcomed no matter the kind of day I had had. People who were once strangers became my friends and those friends then became my family.   

I share all of this because it was friends like these who were with me on this particular trip to the mountains and who still add color and love to my life today.  God was so gracious to me as all of my college and high school friends married, and started families of their own.  He gave me a new family of friends, friendships anchored in Him, with roots that go deep and continue to grow deeper today.  It was a family he made.  He knew I would need these women, these men, these friends, these laughs, these adventures, these life lessons often learned the hard way to see me through not only those days of being single, but far, far beyond as well.  

He knew I would lean heavily on their shoulders and they on mine both then and now. He knew these amazing people would carry me and hold my hand breathing encouragement to me when I did not think I could go one inch further on my journey.  I continue to carry so many memories and remain boueyed by so much love from these amazing friends of mine.  I cannot see my life today without their precious faces, and it is hard to believe that if my life had been according to my plan, I would have missed them completely.  I shudder to even think of my life for one minute without their beautiful faces.  I'm so thankful that I did not give up on my life when I was lonely and depressed in my singleness.  Even though it felt impossible at times, I'm so, so glad I risked and got involved and opened myself up to being known by community. If I hadn't, I would have missed all of this... and by 'all' I mean everything my life is today.

I share this today because telling this story of God's faithfulness in my life is completely impossible without mentioning these people who were around me then and who continue to surround me today. I look back and see the simple daily choices I made to take the road less traveled because it was the right road, not the easy one.  The decision to keep my heart open when I wanted to hide and close it down.  How each little choice toward courage that I made took me down the path toward all of this...I didn't know it then, but I see it now.

My friends are absolute treasures in my life.  I had no idea what I was missing before.  I knew what I thought I wanted, but God knew what I truly needed and in his faithfulness, he gave me a family of friends in a season when I needed them most.   

He knew better.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August and Everything After... Part 2 - On the Bench

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story with God, even though it began in my childhood, really began one August, a few Augusts ago....

Oh my goodness, where were we? Oh yes, I was going to have to "break up" with Joe as my friend.... if you forgot the story because I stared it almost a month ago, (good grief, sorry about that btw!) Here is a link to the first post.

....I was learning so much in these days of my life- about friendship, about God, about setting healthy boundaries for myself, about learning to say 'no'- even to good things....these days were full and I realize now, looking back, I was feeling more alive in my life and in my faith walk than I ever had before.  I see now, it was the beginning of a deeper, richer walk with God.  I felt like my faith was in vivid technicolor.  I felt like every book I was reading was speaking into my season of life.  It felt like every sermon on Sunday morning was being spoken directly to me.  You know how that goes, where you feel like somehow, your pastor has overheard your prayers, or read your journal. 

So after a lot of prayer, continued stealth "research" by my friends, and about 25 more confirmations that Joe was indeed seeing this other girl, it was time.  I was not trying to be dramatic.  I just knew myself.  I had a lifetime pattern of being friends with guys I had secret crushes on, (or maybe they were not so secret...) but anyways, not once in this well established pattern of my life had things worked out the way I had dreamed or hoped they would.  So along with the pattern of secret crushes on a few of my guy friends through the years, I also had a well established pattern of my heart being broken.  It was time to change.  I wanted to make a good choice for my heart- even if it meant breaking it, I knew and God really was affirming that it was the right thing to do.  He was calling me to trust Him with my singleness- a shaky subject with me, but I was determined to break my long standing pattern, and do something different.  So I took the leap of faith...and jumped, trusting that God would catch me....

My church used to have their mid-week services on Tuesday evenings.  I loved these services, not only because of the contemplative aspect of them, but it was also a rich social scene for the singles at my church.  So one Tuesday, after standing around talking with several friends including Joe, people began saying goodnight and drifting away for the evening.  Joe remained and I asked him if we could speak privately outside.

We sat on a bench near the parking lot and I remember two things: my heart was POUNDING, and I was so thankful that it was dark outside so he could not fully see my face. Exact words and phrases of that conversation escape me today (which is strange because at the moment, I swore I would never forget a single word)- but I know I told him what was on my heart.

I told him I liked him as more than a friend.  I told him my feelings were deep and real and that I could not guard my heart any longer and still be his buddy.  I told him I knew that even though he was spending time with me, he was also seeing the other girl - and that I knew things were romantic between them.  I told him something to the effect that I wanted to be respectful of his relationship with her and did not feel that was possible if we were spending time together.  There were awkward silences, I'm sure a few tears, quivery voices (mine) and just a real, heavy sadness in my heart.  I was making the choice to step back from the guy who had surprised me with his friendship and with the ease I felt while being around him.  

I don't remember exactly what he said that night on the bench, but I do remember him confirming that he was seeing the other girl and that he wanted to see where that was going to go.  He was respectful of what I was sharing and what I was choosing to do.  I remember we talked about how things were going to be socially between us.  We did not want things to be awkward, but they needed to be different.  We decided that we would only share this latest development with our closest accountability people, that we did not want it to be socially awkward or weird for our friends.  (Our singles community was close and tight-knit and very active socially).  We agreed that we would no longer spend time one on one, and would not spend time talking or hanging out at social gatherings.  We would be cordial in those awkward moments, but that was it.  It was going to be weird and so, so hard, but it was in the long run, going to be good for my heart.

The true test about how all of this was going to work was just around the corner.  A group of us were getting ready to leave in two days to go on a trip to Colorado.  At the time I signed up, my heart was hopeful that things with Joe could possibly be real.  It was going to be a fun adventure, in a beautiful place with my friends and with a guy my heart had grown to care deeply about.  But now, things lookd very different. I now knew he did not feel the same for me.  I knew he cared for someone else.  I had not been chosen, and now I had to show up, put a smile on my face, hide my tears and have fun.  I was less than excited.  I just wanted to hide out, cry for awhile and come back when I felt stronger...but God had other plans about teaching me about strength in difficulty.  I was about to meet Him on the side of a mountain.

It was the beginning of August 2006 and it was going to be five solid days of togetherness ...me, Joe, his girlfriend and 20 of our closest friends heading to the mountains.... and I had absolutely no idea it would change my life.