The Seasons and The Stages of Life

I have a love-hate relationship with the season of winter. Mostly hate. To be honest, I despise it. It’s 3 months of literal death and figurative torture and just plain miserableness. David writes that a “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” which I’m pretty sure has something to do with school not being canceled despite a chance of winter precipitation. In addition, three of my favorite things (Flowers, Skirts, and Sunshine) are not typically possible during the winter. I think Christmas must be winter’s only saving grace… Thankfully we don’t live in pre-Aslan Narnia, where it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Think of that!

What makes it worse is that I spent last winter (one of the Southeast’s most ridiculous winters in terms of precipitation) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where our temperatures were in the 100’s by late February. I spent this winter in “Famously Hot” Columbia, where our lowest recorded temperature was still in the double digits. (Now that I think about it, we might have had 9 degrees Fahrenheit early one morning.) Even though it was not actually that cold this winter, compared to my friends in New York or Canada, and despite not missing a single day of work this school year due to weather precipitation, I still hate winter.

I wonder if I have some kind of seasonal depression. Possible, but not super likely. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough for the joys of winter. Every season has joys, right? (Springtime definitely has more… Don’t tell Winter I said that.) Winter is the time for remembering the birth of our Savior, which should be joy enough. Winter also has the beauty of scarves and hats: wearing the things I’ve knitted. Winter has the sweet warmth of hot chocolate and peppermint mochas. It has gift-giving and two weeks off work. It has bonfires and boots. It has familiar songs and childlike joys. Winter is when we watch Elf, one of my favorite movies. Winter is the time of year when I get to break open a new planner… What joy! Winter houses fresh starts on New Year’s Day and free chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

Without everything dying in winter, how would we be able to celebrate new life in spring?

Switchfoot sings that the “shadow proves the sunshine,” which is completely true. If flowers didn’t die, animals didn’t hibernate, and temperatures didn’t dip, what joys would spring bring? How would we know when to celebrate?

We’re still four days out from the official “First Day of Spring,” but our high today was in the 80’s. Why am I complaining? There are joys here today and there were joys last week and last month and two months ago. Winter is just a season that is here today and gone tomorrow. It is the cycle of life, the passing of calendar months, the rhythm of hearts…

The rhythm of hearts. The rhythm of my heart.

See, It’s been a bit of a winter recently. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” like I wrote at the beginning. Unmet expectations are easily cause for complaint, depression, frustration, irritation, and all that is unbecoming to a child of God. When I’m looking for everything to go according to plan, I find myself standing in a blizzard wearing a skirt and sandals.

This is not what I had in mind, God. 

God chuckles. He’s got me right where he wants me. He’s been planning this all along. This was my Emergency Plan U, but it has always been His Number One Plan A. God doesn’t have backup plans. He doesn’t need them. Everything already goes according to his plan.

This is not what I want, God.

Oh, but it is. And God knows that. He knows that my ultimate goals are to know Him and be known by Him. He knows that my ultimate goals are to become more like Christ through everything thrown my way. He knows that my ultimate goals are to love with abandon because that can be my only response to His incredible love shown to me on the cross. Technically, this is what I want. As gold is refined through the fire, so am I refined through difficult circumstances. How can I be more like Christ if I do not have moments of suffering? How can I celebrate spring if I do not have moments of winter?

This is impossible. I can’t do this.

God chuckles again. I feel like pouting. But he reminds me, like a good and gentle Father, that he is with me. He turns my face to his, like a patient lover, and lets me see into his eyes that are full of love. He is holding me, guiding me by the hand, whispering in my ear, and sometimes dragging me (see below) along the journey. He is not finished with me yet. And He is not going anywhere. He does not send me anywhere that he did not go before me and behind me. He will never leave me alone.

Footprints Parody
Taken from http://www.diethobby.com/blog.php?ax=v&nid=878&topic=Footprints

I get a kick out of that every time.

Anyway…

Friends, winter does not mean that God has left. It doesn’t mean that He is silent. It doesn’t mean that we’ve done something wrong and now God is giving us the silent treatment until we confess the right thing.

Winter means that we are in a season of figurative or literal death. Death of unmet expectations, deferred hopes, or a very good part of our lives. Or it could be the death of a person dear to us or the end of particular season of happiness. It’s just that: a season. It will come and go. It has a reason for being here, but it is temporary.

I have been working on a new 10 year plan recently. It’s part of my personal getting-over-supposed-seasonal-depression program. I know I will have plenty more winters in the next decade. But I also know I will have springs of new life, summers of carefree happiness, and autumns of remembrance and contemplation. Because of that, I’m going to dream big. Anything can happen in the next ten years. And I’m praying I have many more decades to go after the next one. So I’m not going to settle. Winter has a way of making us settle, telling us that chapped lips and wind-burned faces and cold toes are normal and are going to last forever. God, on the other hand, beckons us to see crisp summer morning hikes and warm April breezes and sandy toes instead. Let yourself dream big, friend.

Maybe there is more to life than winter. Maybe there is more to a year than December through February.

Maybe spring is on the horizon just as summer break is inching closer, day by day by day…

So today, I’m going to eat my mint M&Ms leftover from Christmas and dream big. I’m going to look for opportunities to love today while preparing for more opportunities to love tomorrow. I’m going to buy more skirts and soak in more sunshine and smell more flowers. I’m also going to not hate winter. It made the sunshine that much more beautiful today.

All things work together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.

It’s Not About Me

The other day, I read a particularly poignant article that explained that the Gospel is worth the difficulties of missions, especially overseas missions, in which extended families are often separated. It was exactly what I needed at that point. It reminded me that no matter what God has me doing today, tomorrow, next year, or next decade, it is worth it. Following Him is worth it. And then God hit me in the face with a two-by-four of a different kind.

its-not-about-me

I realized that this is not about me. My job is not about me. My living situation is not about me. My financial situation is not about me. My friendships are not about me. My family is not about me. My future is not about me! My goals and dreams and passions are not about me. And know what?

My relationship is not about me.

I’m dating an amazing guy. He surprises me, takes me on sweet dates, spends time talking with me and listening to me, gives me super thoughtful gifts, and demonstrates strength and grace and forgiveness and gentleness and bravery in our relationship. He is funny, loves kids, has never met a stranger, and cares deeply for orphans and widows.

But it is easy for me to see my relationship with him in terms of “me.” It’s easy for me to incessantly worry about being a good girlfriend. It’s easy for me to unnecessarily doubt God’s (proven) direction in bringing us together. It’s easy for me to be afraid of being too much or not enough. It’s easy for me to constantly think about how he affects me or why he isn’t listening to me or why he doesn’t meet all 47,589.5 expectations I have for every moment. But it’s not about me. I’m thinking of myself too much.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

– C.S. Lewis

The opposite of C.S. Lewis’s statement is likewise true. It is not humble to constantly think negative of yourself. That is selfishness in another form. And if negative self-talk, unrealistic self-expectations, and the like are a part of your daily life, ditch those patterns and begin to form new ones. A Christian counselor can help tremendously with that.

Anyway, my relationship is not about me. Here’s the shocker: It’s not about him, either. And it’s not even about “us.”

Lecrae sings (raps?) two lines that resonate deeply with me:

Your money, your singleness, marriage, talent, your time
They were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine

When I was not dating, I found those lines to be a call to embrace and appreciate my singleness and to use it for good. I traveled freely in ways I would not have done if I was otherwise attached, including spending three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand for my student teaching. I also spent my time in a much more free way (which allowed me to do more things or have a more flexible schedule) than if I had been attached and would have needed to spend time on my relationship. I did things for the Kingdom of God that I could best accomplish as a single person.

Now that I’m dating (and in the future, when I hope to be married), I have a call to embrace and appreciate my relationship and use it for good. I am called to glorify God and build up his Kingdom in ways that I could not do as (or ways I could do differently than) an unattached person. A simple example: I prefer to have someone with me when I’m helping a man, particularly a homeless man, because I am a young woman and I need to be careful. When I was single, a group of friends and I offered to go in together to buy a meal for a homeless man outside a Panera Bread (he didn’t take us up on the offer), but it wasn’t something I would have done alone. My boyfriend and I came across a homeless man downtown and we offered to buy him a drink, also something I would not have felt comfortable doing if I were alone. He did take us up the offer and we were able to give him a little hope that day.

I know that’s a simple example, and many women have no qualms about helping homeless men… But the point still stands: There are some things God can use us to accomplish that are best accomplished in certain stages of life. We are challenged, by those lines from Lecrae, to use our current stages of life, whatever they are, as a means to serve others and thereby serve God.

See, when I read the article from the first paragraph that explained that a family deciding to move overseas was not about the family or the extended family, but solely about God and His directives to “go therefore into all the nations,” I couldn’t argue. I knew that when a family makes that decision, it is not about them. The same is true for me when my boyfriend and I began our relationship: it wasn’t and isn’t about us. It’s about building a relationship together so we can in turn bless those around us as representatives of God.

What makes marriage worth having is that you, your spouse, and those around you see more of God and his love for us in Jesus. If you’re not experiencing that with your boyfriend, break up with him.

– Marshall Segal

Those two sentences hit me in the face every time I read them, because ultimately, all of this boils down to love (which “just happens” to be my OneWord for 2015).

Last night, I spent time wrestling with a disagreement I faced yesterday. Just like how my relationship is not about me, the disagreement wasn’t about me either, and I knew it. I struggled with it and ended up spending some time in prayer for this person instead of getting defensive or feeling rejected over the disagreement. I was able to experience love for this person by considering their needs and circumstances instead of solely focusing on me and my concerns.

This is not about me, because while God is using me in a crazy way in his grand narrative of a plan, I am only a tinier than miniscule part of what he’s doing. I am called to take a step outside my frame of reference and see my circumstances from another perspective.

What in your life is not actually about you? How can you demonstrate love in those circumstances?

Dissatisfaction: Trusting God in Un-Ideal Circumstances

When I went to buy a Christmas present for a relative today, the cashier asked me to take one of those phone surveys by calling the number at the bottom of my receipt. He seemed quite excited about it, and I figured it couldn’t hurt. I dialed the number as I walked out of the store. It seemed as if the automated voice told me over and over again: “Press five for extremely satisfied… Press four for satisfied… Press three for neither satisfied nor dissatisfied…” And so forth. It went on and on.

I realized during the phone survey that I am not satisfied with my current circumstances. Nothing is working out the way I had planned, even the good stuff. Like, for example, the fact that I am teaching six year olds after just graduating with a degree in Secondary Education. I never expected to hold so many hands and stick so many Band-Aids and settle so many disagreements over erasers or line leaders as I have so far this year.

It’s December ninth, almost seven months since I walked across the stage to receive my college diploma alongside a couple hundred of my peers. For many of you, me included, life since graduation has not been exactly what we’d hoped. Some of you haven’t gotten the jobs you expected. A few haven’t gotten any job at all. If you do have job in a field you chose, colleagues or working conditions may not be up to par. If you’ve moved, there’s an added level of finding your way around a new place, locating the good grocery store and a local Bible-believing church. Many of you are in un-ideal living conditions, such as living with your parents if you wanted to move out or living with new roommates you aren’t quite sure you actually like. And then there’s the whole money issue, like when your car needs a new battery the same month you have to go to the doctor and get a prescription filled on top of student loan payments and car loan payments. Awesome.

It is easy at this point to give up. To give up because you are tired, because things are not working out like you’d hoped, because your plans are not coming to fruition. Or, at least, to give up on the inside. You may still go to work because you need the money, but you may give up on being cheerful at your job. You may still cook dinner for your roommates on your assigned day, but you aren’t open to having good, honest conversations with them. You may still go to church, but you aren’t soaking up the lessons from the sermon or connecting with the body. You may show up to your service commitment or help someone out of obligation, but you may not be letting it change you. You may still have fleeting moments of awareness and hope and joy but, in general, life falls flat. Life stinks. A lot.

Let me tell you this, friends: This is only temporary. This spot you’re in right now may not be ideal, but it will not last forever. On one hand, you should be open to and serious about the next step for you, whether that is applying for a new job, enrolling in graduate school, pursuing and officializing a relationship, whatever. On the other hand, keep in mind that there will always been greener pastures. There will always be a next step you are looking towards. Therefore, consider that even though your current circumstances may not be ideal, God is working in them.

The book of Genesis is full of barren women and childless couples who felt like they were in a holding place of un-ideal circumstances. Consider Abraham and Sarah, who didn’t have Isaac until they were ancient… Literally. Also note Isaac and his wife Rebekah in chapter 25: Isaac prayed for Rebekah to have children when he was forty years old. She didn’t give birth to their first children (twins) until he was sixty. That was twenty years of prayer and work and effort and wondering. However, the Bible doesn’t say that Isaac complained and gave up and blamed God for not getting what he wanted. It says that Isaac “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (v. 21). He pleaded; He didn’t doubt. And God did great things. In Isaac and Rebekah’s case, we don’t know what God did in the meantime. However, we do know a lot of Abraham and Sarah’s journey and all the adventures God took them on between calling them away from Abraham’s family and bringing Isaac into their lives.

This quote has stuck with me for a while: Never doubt in the dark what God has revealed in the light. Dear friends, have you gotten to the point where what you knew to be true in more ideal circumstances has fallen by the wayside now that you are in un-ideal circumstances? Go back to what you know. See, God doesn’t change. The way we perceive him changes, but he himself does not change. Not even a smidgen. Therefore, all the truth he revealed to you when you were sitting in chapel service after Bible class after prayer meeting in college is still true. All the truth he revealed to you when you sat by an ocean in a foreign country with your journal and your acoustic guitar is still true. Go back to that. Read your old blog posts or journal entries, Skype with a friend who went overseas with you, or revisit old places where you heard God clearly. Remember that he has not changed… The truth is the truth wherever you are.

Just as a great guy loves his girl and shows that love through his actions and his attitude whether she is near him or far away or whether she is a joy to be around or an emotional wreck… So God loves us (even deeper and more unconditionally). You have already been made holy, righteous, and redeemed before him. He loves you regardless of your current circumstances because your current circumstances do not explain or define his attitude towards you. They are, however, where he has put you for the time being. And he works in them, too, every moment of every day, even when you can’t see him.

What if God chose these un-ideal circumstances for a reason and put you in them for a reason? Sounds a lot like Esther, huh?

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?

– Esther 4:14, NLT (emphasis mine)