Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Envy Card

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I'm not a rich girl. At least not in the sense of income and money. My family lives on a diet of free bread from our library and whatever chicken is cheapest at the store. (in case you haven't noticed, beef is expensive and so are fruits and veggies.) That's not a complaint, it's just reality. While people are going on vacations this summer and enjoying the beach, my family will be trying to meet the bills and surviving our lack of air conditioning. (we have central air, just no money to run it.) Again, that isn't a complaint. When you've been through trials like this, financial trials that last eleven years, you go far beyond complaining. Complaining is what you do the first few years. After that, you're too busy praying and getting through each day to focus much on your complaints. (except for those rare moments where you just have to vent to someone. Those don't count.) ;)

The truth is, most days I'm just grateful. I'm so thankful that we have food, that we have a roof over our heads, that God is providing for us. But let's face it, everyone deals with envy at some point. I've seen the green monster of jealousy come out in myself multiple times. It's hard seeing friends go on vacations and realizing you're still stuck in the house. It's hard dealing with cabin fever that is a decade old. Winter comes, you stay indoors and then comes spring. You just want to get out, be active, and go on adventures. And summertime is the time to do it. That's why it's the prime time of year for vacations.

So when I recently learned that a close friend was going to a writer's conference/book convention, I was envious. I wasn't mad at her for going. Not in the least. I was really, truly happy for her. I just wished I could go too. It would have been fun to hang out together, meet our favorite authors, talk about writing and books and random stuff, and at the end of the day, collapse on the couch from exhaustion and watch a fun movie.

I'm not proud of it, but Satan got to me a bit. It happens to the best of us. Christianity doesn't mean we strive for perfectionism, it just means we strive to live for God and to do our best at it. Which means, we make mistakes. All the time.

I think it's amazing how God works. Years ago, when I was feeling the worst sense of cabin fever I've had in my life, when all I wanted was a break from the daily grind of penny pinching, God (and some pretty special friends) provided a way for my sister and I to take a trip. We went to Texas, hung out with these amazing friends who had paid our airfare so we could come visit, and I was able to see a whole new world that I'd never seen before. It was adventurous, fun, and it taught me a lot.

That same thing happened again this weekend on a smaller scale. I was feeling envious. I loved my sweet friend, was happy for her, and wouldn't have taken away those joys of that writer's conference for anything. But I still wished I could go and still wanted to experience those joys for myself. And, I may have sulked just a bit. Not outwardly the way kids do, but still, I was sulking on the inside, I think.

Sometimes, when making it through the day and avoiding minefields is all that's on your mind, good things in your life or in the lives of others can be extremely blinding when they come along; blinding for their brilliance, and blinding in the fact that they make it harder to see what you already have been blessed with. It's like waking to sunshine in the morning. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust. The darkness is so deep sometimes, that when the sunlight streams in your eyes you have to blink multiple times before you can really tell what you're even looking at. In the same way, troubles of life can dim our perspective. And when blessings come along, however small they may be, they feel so foreign and dazzling that we just go blind for a minute. That's what happened with me.

I got the call. My friend was back from the conference and she had a surprise for me. She had bought me a book by my favorite author. And more than that, she had it signed for me! I squealed, but honestly, I could have cried in that moment. My friend was exhausted from the long day, but she still took the time to call me and tell me the exciting news and to enjoy the sound of my excitement on the other end of the line. I hadn't said anything about my feelings. Though, she is such a good friend, she may have picked up on it despite my best efforts to hide it. And it made me see two very important things.

#1 – Even though I wasn't there to participate, this amazing friend had still found a way to include me in her joy and in the experience.

To tell you the truth, I had as much fun listening to her share the stories of her day as I would have if I was actually there with her. Granted, getting hugs from her and seeing her smile would have been nice, but I still was included even though we are separated by miles and states. I can see now, in hindsight, that this was a gift that God had arranged for her and I don't at all fault her for enjoying herself and making the most of it. I'm so glad that she had fun. It was a good experience that I know she will treasure for a long time. But still, even though she was away, having fun, she was thinking of me. She talked about me to my favorite author even. And It seems, while I was sulking, God was working.

#2 – Even when we feel unseen, both by God and maybe by other people as well, that doesn't make it true.

That's where the Envy Card comes in. Satan loves to use that one. It's overlooked a lot. After all, there are hundreds of other sin issues, much bigger and seemingly more important than envy, that us Christians need to focus on avoiding, right? Yeah, maybe not. Maybe all sin is important – big or small doesn't matter. Sin is still sin. I wish I had seen it sooner. I mean, for the past three or so years, I've had a history of believing the lies Satan tells me. You'd think after all that time, I would begin to see signs of his work. But still, I'm blind to it more often then I'd care to admit. I believe lies about myself, my family, my friends, my writing... the list could go on. But the biggest one and the one that is hardest to overcome are the lies about God. It's hard when there isn't any evidence. Just like believing in God takes faith, so does believing in his goodness and love. For years I've been collecting manna so to speak, trying to get through the day and have enough to survive on. I keep begging God to provide but not having the faith to dream big anymore. All I ask for is essentials when I pray. But what if that envy, that jealousy, and the need to scrounge for meager loaves of bread is denying me a feast? Am I asking for manna, not knowing that I'm trading it, with my complaints and lack of faith in God, for the feast that He had waiting for me?

We aren't invisible. Our needs aren't overlooked. And I'm not just talking about physical needs like food and water. I'm talking about spiritual and emotional needs. God sees all. He knows our deepest thoughts. He knows what our future holds. So when it comes down to blessings, maybe the question isn't whether or not God is good and loves us, but rather are we believing it when there is no proof? Do we believe in the big faith moments that God has a feast waiting, or are we just being satisfied with the manna that He gives us because we don't have the faith to ask for more than that?

One thing I've seen over the past months is that I've stopped asking for Big God Miracles. I believe God can do them if He wants, but I'm so focused on my daily needs that I've just stopped asking. And maybe that's just what Satan wants us to do – stop asking, stop believing, and stop faith praying.

I have to laugh when I notice things like this in my life. God is on our side, remember? Even though I and my family have been through a lot in terms of life trials and struggles, I've never stopped going to God with my troubles. There have certainly been dry spells, but I always come back to Him like a wayward sheep and He always gives me just what I need, whether I ask or not. So I laugh at Satan's attempts because, he never wins. He won't EVER win against God.

The minute I see something like this, where I see the lie from Satan and the truth of God, I strive to act on it. It feels good knowing that I don't need proof of God's love anymore in order to faith pray for the Big Miracles.

We don't need proof, y'all. You don't need proof of rain when you're in a drought. And you don't need to see evidence of it to know that it exists. So don't let the dry spells of life keep you from believing in God's goodness. His love exists, even if you don't feel it; Even if you can't see it.

And most of all, be content with the manna... but don't stop believing that He has a feast waiting for you.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 Word Of The Year - "Sovereign"

Words have a lot of meaning to me as you may have guessed. This blog, my books, my own personal journals; they all help me to express myself in different ways. Words can heal us and help us vent, they can challenge us and give us new direction. Words are so powerful. And for me words also guide my spiritual walks. Each year as the new year rolls around, my sister, mother, and I pray individually and consider the new year.

What is God showing me? Where is He Directing? What do I feel him calling me to? These are all questions I ask myself as I consider what word will guide me in the new year. We've had words like journey, wait, hope... there really is no limit.

My word for 2014 was Restore. At the beginning of the year, that was what I felt God wanted me to focus on. Over the years, I've reached the very lowest point of my life thus far. My entire family reached that point actually.

When the trials come, it definitely tests your faith. But when the trials last for ten years, it tests everything.

You give up a lot of things when your family is low on money like mine has been. You give up cable tv (not that we ever kept it regularly. We used to buy it in preparation for the Olympics), you give up Internet (and with that goes connecting with out of state friends), you give up luxuries like fresh fruits and vegetables (they are more expensive than you might realize), sometimes you give up nicer clothes (because it's more important to have “practical” clothes), and if you're struggling as much as my family has, you might be forced to cut down on showers, heat, and AC. 

When you go through trials like that, life changing trials, you never come out on the other side as the same person.

That was one of many things I came to discover. And so for me, 2014 was about restoration – healing from all the experiences and finding a way back. Now granted, anyone who has ever been through the fire knows that you can't really go back. You are changed forever. You can't ever go back to the way you were. But I noticed that I had lost some pieces of myself along the way. Pieces that I felt were worth saving. For one thing, I lost my peace. Over the years, I adjusted so much to the daily turmoil and pain that I became used to it. So when the noise finally stopped and when my spinning world came to a stand still, all I could hear was the empty void. For weeks I felt lost. The silence wasn't calming, it was nerve-racking. As my sister often says, it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Imagine you are in the middle of a cyclone and when the noise subsides you think, is that it? Is it all over? And just to be safe, you stay in your safe haven longer than necessary just because of the fear of it. You think there is still more to come, so you wait. But eventually, you do come out. And when you do, the silence can be deafening. That's how I felt this past year.

Because of all that, I wanted, no, I needed to be restored. I needed to find that place where I could feel some normalcy again. But through the first half of the year, that didn't happen for me. As I often do with my word of the year, I looked it up in my bible and did a study on it. There were some verses about restoration but they didn't impact me the way I expected them to. And I spent several months dealing with that feeling of bewilderment.

Until it came. God gave me a new word. That is something that has never happened before. Normally, I pick a word and God directs throughout the year. Usually that's the end of it. But 2014 was different. Halfway through the year, a new word popped up. Then I saw it again, I heard it in a song, read it in a book, or had it enter conversations. The word was Sovereign. I'm nearly crying right now just thinking about it. The more I thought about it the more I realized what God was teaching me.

The only way I was going to find the restoration I craved was by seeking God.

Yeah, I did a double take on that one. What do you mean? Haven't I been seeking him the whole time? Wasn't I calling out to him in my family's trials? Hadn't I prayed and sought him daily for strength to make it through? I was seeking him even in my first word of the year, wasn't I? I read my bible and everything.

Then it hit me. I couldn't restore myself.

God. Is. Sovereign. That means He's the one in control. Not me.

I knew that. Ten years of trials forced me to see that. But I guess that once I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, I thought I had it all under control from that point on. I could see what direction to go again, or at least, I thought I could, and somehow I forgot that I still needed God even when I could see the path ahead.

So, if I couldn't restore myself and only God could, that meant that I needed to keep relying on God. Always. Even when I knew the way by heart. Even when the trial is over. Even in the coming years when I don't need to be restored anymore. We need God on the tops of life's mountains as much as we need him in the low valleys. We need Him every minute of every day, not just in the hard times.

By seeking God and remembering his sovereignty, I have begun to restore. And I've realized something extremely important. You can't restore yourself. But you can experience restoration. Maybe not full restoration. The scars will always be there. But you can find a new kind of peace and life. If you'll only keep looking to the one who has the power to heal.