Christianity, Christmas, cruise, God, gratitude, heartache, hope, infertility, joy, mission trip, New Year's resolutions, New Years, pain, pregnancy, thanksgiving, vacation, wedding anniversary, year in review
A brown fleece blanket wraps itself snuggly around my folded legs, as embroidered couch pillows cushion my curled form. Events, decisions, thoughts, disappointments, joys, and lessons of 2011 parade themselves through my heart just as the televised New Year’s floats meander down the San Antonio, Texas, riverwalk display. Maybe, you too are snuggled somewhere, resting from New Year’s Eve festivities and contemplating the journey that has brought you to your current destination. I pray that you are able to escape the “should haves” and “shouldn’t haves” to abide in the gift of what presently is, what is going to come. As a child of the King, your destiny is far too great to be muddied by the failings and heartaches of time past.
If I am perfectly honest, then I would have to admit that 2011 was probably characterized by more striving with God than any year prior. January of last year heralded a decision by David and I to actively try to get pregnant. So much hope, so much joy, and so much nervous anticipation filled our hearts as we whispered baby names and discussed how we would share our big announcement. Spring Break of last year brought the news that it will take a miracle for conception to occur in my body. Anger toward God seeped from wounds already aggravated by previous scars – rape of a dear friend, financial stress, confusing life directions, loneliness. I found myself raging at a God who did not meet my expectations, who felt like He was letting me down, who didn’t seem to reward my innocent dreams with His blessing. I still had so much to learn.
In May I found myself on an airplane headed for Berlin, Germany. Street evangelism, college campus ministry, milchkafe (local coffee concoction), and local church projects filled two hard weeks of outreach in the midst of the eclectic culture of Europe’s music and art capital. As words of salvation left my lips, God ministered the same truths to my soul. Truths I already knew. Truths I am too quick to forget. The truth that He is faithful in the midst of tribulation. The truth that the life He offers is vaster than my limited perspective. The truth that He loves. I beheld tears running down the face of a young girl who originally professed that she did not believe in God, but was touched by the testimony I was able to honestly share with her. My testimony forged through fire. Tears mirroring hers wet my own cheeks as God spoke.
Immediately following Berlin, David and I checked off some of the destinations that we had always wanted to visit during a Mediterranean cruise booked with friends. Ephesus. Athens. Crete. Sicily. Rome. As we revelled in the luxury of the cruise ship and craggy coastline, the beauty of ancient stones mesmerized and awed us.
A new school year brought the challenges of attending grad school full-time in addition to teaching full-time. It also brought the stress of my heart’s desire – a baby – struggling with the silence from Heaven on that one wish. Yet, at the same time, God was orchestrating plans way grander than the ones I had envisioned. David finally resolved upon a new career path, involving over three years more of schooling. We now know that this coming year will bring changes beyond our wildest dreams, as we figure out how we can survive on my salary and we begin the journey of his returning to school. In the midst of everything, I finally began writing again, an outlet I had long ignored since graduating with my journalism degree years ago. Words have flowed from my heart into the pages of this blog on a regular basis, as the final months of 2011 made space for me to reconcile my disappointments with the love and life offered by my Savior. Depression, isolation, anger, fears, and many, many tears mixed with the slow dawning of hope. Emails and messages from others struggling with similar things began to increase my gratitude for the opportunities to walk hard roads along side of friends and strangers, comforting one another with the same comfort that God bestowed on each one of us. The words of Romans 5 took up residence in my heart, speaking to the hurt lingering and lurking each day.
“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
Thanksgiving Break arrived as David boarded a plane for Africa, taking with him nearly 30 chaperones and students bound for the streets of Dakar, Senegal. Praying constantly for him, I decided to do something totally uncharacteristic for me and soon found myself laughing with a friend through the streets of Disney in Orlando. I tasted God’s joy as visions of castles and dreams-coming-true filled several days. He is good. His mercy does endure. I needed this reminder.
Sometime in the changing of leaves from green to orange to brown, God asked me the greatest challenge yet: “Lauren, you are learning to thank me for the little things. You are learning to find gift in the unknown, in the mysterious manna that I feed you. You are learning to share eucharisteo – grace and joy – with others. Now . . . now, will you thank Me for infertility? Will you thank Me for the heartbreak you still grieve? Will You trust Me?”
Eventually . . . slowly . . . with great trepidation and resignation . . . I began to do just that. Praise welled up for hurt, for brokeness, for loneliness, for depression, and, yes, for infertility. Giving thanks didn’t fix anything, but it has begun to prepare my heart. Prepare me for whatever God chooses to do with 2012. Prepare me to rest. To trust. To believe that God loves me with an everlasting love. To walk forward in boldness unshackled by fear.
God’s love has filled the past several weeks of Christmas, my fifth wedding anniversary, and New Years. Now, I am not crafting a list of resolutions for this year. I am – once again – trying to leave my plans in God’s hands.
If you have made it this far into this posting, then you have more patience than I often display. The recording of history has filled my afternoon, reminded me of God’s faithfulness, my weakness, His promises, the joy of NOW, the hope in waiting. Perhaps, you need to do the same. Perhaps, you need to stop trying to fit your plans into God’s throne room and allow Him instead to fill your life with the sweetness of His throne room’s plans.
I’m reminded of my recent search for the perfect pair of boots. I have two differently sized feet that are particularly wide for a woman. Dress shoes usually cause horrendous amounts of pain. Boots are not much better. However, I did finally find a pair last week that I then had stretched in several places to accommodate my feet. They still don’t fit perfectly, though they are beautiful. As I wiggled my toes in their brown leather this weekend, I realized that I keep trying to do that with God’s will. I shop around. I request it to fit my desires. I stretch it. I don’t often just accept that His plan might pinch my toes, might be a tad uncomfortable, might cause me to want to sit on the sidelines and cry.
This year my resolution is to allow the pinching, allow the stretching of my soul, allow the pain of His plan to bring perfection into my brokeness. I want to sing this year from the sheer joy of a life bought by the blood of Christ. I am not my own. I have been bought with a price. Perhaps you will join me this year? Perhaps you too will give thanks, find grace, be filled with joy . . . May 2012 be a year of hearts fully surrendered to the passionate patience that produces hope.
Happy New Year!