Thriving, Faith, and James

This morning, I was listening to Casting Crowns’ song “Thrive” on the way to work. I love the way the music makes you feel joyful. And I realized that, yes, I am thriving now, and life is good.

Then I realized it’s now been 10 years since my ex-husband met the other woman. (Or at least when I met her. He said, “There’s someone I’ve been wanting you to meet.” Which I figure means I was still his best friend. Unfortunately, that changed.) As my marriage fell apart, I NEVER would have guessed how thoroughly I’d be thriving now. God is SO good! And I guess I can trust Him if things in the next year or so don’t go as I hope they will!

I can’t emphasize enough how dark that time was for me. I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again. Yet now life is very, very good.

I wouldn’t be a Librarian, wouldn’t live in my own lovely condo in Virginia, wouldn’t have a son who’s graduated from the best high school in the nation, wouldn’t attend Gateway Community Church, wouldn’t be up for my dream job if all of that hadn’t happened. God can bring good out of even horrible things.

And God also used it to show me how MUCH He loves me. Our pastor said once that great faith comes from desperate need. No glory to yourself, but when you’re desperate, God comes through.

And that gets me thinking about Faith. Our church has been going through James this summer, and Faith is a big theme in James. In fact, they’ve titled the sermon series “Faith That Works.”

I think when I was a kid, the “double-minded man” passage in James 1 kind of disturbed me. Were you supposed to ask for something and then screw up the ability to believe that it would happen, and if you doubted, then it wouldn’t? When my marriage fell apart, I prayed earnestly, for years, that it would be restored, and that my husband would come back to me. And I thought God was telling me that would happen.

And when I did file for divorce, I was afraid I was lacking in faith. But when I was praying about it, asking for direction, God’s answer was in Hebrews 11 — “By faith, Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar… even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'” I felt like God was saying to give Him my marriage and my hopes for the future. I was still hoping, like Abraham, that the end result would be resurrection. But I had to make the offer genuine, either way.

Abraham believed God had promised him abundant offspring. But he didn’t cling to his own view of how God would do that.

And I noticed that the double-minded man passage in James comes right after the verse about “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” That’s what we’re supposed to have faith about. And faith in James is always about what we do. So I really think that James is saying, “If you need direction, ask God. And then do what He tells you, or you don’t really trust him.” I don’t think it’s about holding onto your own ideas of what God will do, but trusting God enough to do what He tells you.

This actually fits with the study of Psalms I did last Spring. I noticed that David pours out his heart to God and tells Him what He’s feeling. He is bold about asking God to act — but he just doesn’t tell God what to do, like we tend to do.

So a better way to pray for my marriage is to tell God how my heart was broken and that I’m lonely — and trust Him to figure out what to do about that.

And when I look back at what I thought God was telling me as I prayed — everything I thought He was telling me to do was good advice. Okay, maybe He wasn’t telling me the future. Maybe the promises about my ex-husband are that he’ll come back to God some day, not to me. Eventually, I felt that God was telling me that I shouldn’t be yoked together with someone who wants nothing to do with God.

A year ago, I started thinking about dating. I prayed about that as well. The pastor was doing a sermon on Abraham, and I thought Hagar would come up, and I’d hear about “Plan B living,” and I was afraid no longer hoping to remarry my ex would be lacking in faith and going for second best.

But the pastor brought a chalkboard up on stage and drew a diagram. He made a line across the board which he said represented a continuum. On one end was just letting things happen. On the other end was trying to completely control everything. He said where we want to live is right in the middle, on the Path of Trust.

I realized that “Standing for my Marriage” and trying to pray my husband back was trying to Control things. If I couldn’t have the perfect marriage, well then I’d be the perfect little martyr and pray until he gave in. But that was all my idea. I decided it would take a lot more trust to start dating again. (It still took me six months to actually do it. But that was when I decided that doing so would take more faith rather than less.)

In Hebrews 11 again, the author summarizes what, to me, Faith is all about: “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” You have to believe that it’s worth it to follow God.

And that means doing what He tells you. When you ask for direction, don’t ask for advice, which you can take or leave. If God really knows best, then do it.

And the really cool thing? He works all things together for good for those who love Him — even truly horrible things like divorce can bring great good things in your life.

Isn’t He amazing?

Sunday Songs

Our pastor is doing a series on Finding Jesus, and today’s topic was Simplicity of Identity.

Alyssa got up and talked about all the different ways we find our identity — from our physical qualities, our job, our hobbies, what our friends say, to quizzes on Facebook. Then they showed this music video:

Pastor Ed’s sermon was from John 6. When we read John 6, we can see how secure Jesus was in his identity and how firm he was about it. And Jesus’ identity is firm and secure because of his connection with the Father.

But the point of John’s biography isn’t to help us identify Jesus. It’s to help us find our identity in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t ask for us to understand him — He wants us to come to him, to eat and drink of him.

In our lives, we have identity indicators and identity anchors. My identity will be secure if my anchor is my connection to Jesus.

The only way to get free from the crippling identity messages that come at us is to find our anchor in Jesus.

I was especially touched by this sermon because before and after they sang a song that was sung at my wedding — “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

But my marriage ended badly, and many messages were flung at me that I was unlovable, a failure, and a cruel person.

But I had honestly prayed on my wedding day, “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.” Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, but what a nice reminder that God considers me His Beloved.

Beloved. We are beloved by God. He will never let us go.

Sunday Songs – You’re an Overcomer

Recently, I finished a headache that lasted for 30 days. It did vary in intensity during that time, but I did have at least some head pain every waking moment of those 30 days. I’m super super happy that it’s over. In the middle of it, several times this song by Mandisa came on the radio, and helped so much.

No, the pain did NOT last forever. And yes, I overcame. Thank you, God!

Sunday Songs – Bluebird of Happiness

My birthday was Friday, and I received an amazing gift from my friend Lauri Ann.

I woke up with a vestibular migraine, which I’d had more than a week. I was feeling rather down. Lauri Ann’s gift was the only thing I had to open. (No offense to my family — I am always late with their presents, too. And this time, I didn’t get my new address out to people.)

It is an antique locket, owned by singer Jo Stafford. It was given to her by Gordon MacRae when they recorded the song “Bluebird of Happiness.”

Lauri Ann included the words. What a nice reminder that I have so many things in my life to be happy about now!
“Remember this: Life is no abyss. Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.”

In fact, I remembered that I’ve been enjoying seeing lots of birds from my balcony. I thought it would be nice if soon I’d see a bluebird.

But I didn’t end up reading on my balcony Friday, like I’d planned. People (not me! Yay!) were doing noisy yard work. So — I went to Great Falls National Park. And had a wonderful hike along the River Trail. And my migraine left before I got there.

And you know what? I saw many, many great blue herons. Now that I know what they look like, because of the one that lives on my lake, they were easy to spot. One was right below me when I looked down from the overlook.

So you know what I decided? I’ve got not just a bluebird of happiness, but a Great Blue Heron of happiness! Whenever I see him — and I spot him almost every day now when I walk by my lake — I get a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. And the locket is a lovely reminder as well.

“Hold your head up high,
Till you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind
Knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you,
Though you’re deep in blue,
You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss,
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.”

Sunday Songs – Forgiveness, by Matthew West, with Jonah 4

This song, Forgiveness, by Matthew West, has reached out and grabbed me when it plays on the radio lately. I do believe that Forgiveness is the key to living a joyful life. It’s the opposite of bitterness, which eats away your life. I believe that forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving more than anything. As he says in this song, “The prisoner that it really frees is you.”

Here’s the song:

Today’s sermon was on Jonah 4, and it struck me that Jonah 4 is a story of unforgiveness.

When Jonah tried to run from God, God went after him. Jonah repented and did what God told him to do — but his heart was still bitter.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites, and they repented. He should be happy, right? Instead, he tells God, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

What do you suppose Jonah had against the Ninevites to hate them so much? We know they were barbaric conquerors, and we also know that they conquered Israel’s northern kingdom. We know they fully deserved total destruction from God.

No mention is made of Jonah’s family. What if Assyrian soldiers killed his children? What if they raped and murdered his wife? That would certainly explain his bitterness, hatred, and anger.

My first reaction to those “what ifs” is to think, God would never send Jonah to the Ninevites if that had happened.

Wouldn’t He?

Jonah was so angry with the Ninevites, when God forgave them, he wanted to die. He sat outside the city, hoping God would change His mind and blast them after all.

What if, besides wanting the Ninevites to repent, what if God wanted to free Jonah from his bitterness?

You know, it’s easier to be forgiving when the person in question is suffering for their sin. If everything you hear from them sounds like complete misery, what’s to be angry about? They’re suffering as they deserve. But what if they repent and God forgives them? What if things start going well for them? Why do we feel like it’s up to us to remember how awful they are and all the punishment they deserve? Why do we feel we have to carry the torch for their wrong-ness, to make sure it’s never forgotten?

God put Jonah into the belly of a whale. Jonah had to beg for God’s mercy and face his own need for forgiveness. In chapter 4, with the vine, God tries to make Jonah see those he hates as people, too.

God asks Jonah, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

I love this quotation from George MacDonald about why God cannot forgive those who don’t forgive:

“When we forgive our neighbor, in flows the forgiveness of God’s forgiveness to us. For God to withhold his forgiveness from the one who will not forgive his neighbor is love as well as necessity. If God said, ‘I forgive you,’ to a man who hated his brother, what would it mean to him? How would the man interpret it? Would it not mean to him, ‘You may go on hating. I do not mind it. You have had great provocation, and are justified in your hate.’ No, the hater must be delivered from the hell of his hate, that God’s child should be made the loving child that he meant him to be.” (Wisdom to Live By, p. 162)

What if this is why God specifically sent Jonah to the Ninevites?

I’d like to think Jonah indeed learned from this, that the message of God got through in the end. And I do have reason to hope that: After all, how else did that chapter get into Scripture? Jonah and God were the only ones who were there. I’d like to think Jonah was the one who told people about the aftermath of his preaching. He had some time to think about it, and he added to the story, “Here’s what God taught me in the end.”

And in the process, I’d like to think Jonah stepped out of his prison of bitterness.

And maybe that’s a greater miracle even than God sending the great fish.

Sunday Songs – I’m Not Who I Was

I know, it’s a few hours early for Sunday Songs. But today I got back from leaving my son at his dorm as he starts college. I came back to an empty home. And then the radio (WGTS 91.9 FM) played this song, which I’ve long felt expresses what I’d like to say to my ex-husband.

“I’m Not Who I Was,” by Brandon Heath

I’m super happy for my son. William and Mary is a great school, and they presented us with a weekend celebration, and I’m convinced it’s a great place for Tim.

But I was sad my husband couldn’t share it with me. William and Mary was his idea — He took Tim to visit years ago. We are both tremendously proud Tim is going there. And I wish we could come together on that common ground.

So coming home to an empty house was hard.

However, at the same time, the day before I left, I learned that I’d gotten the promotion I’d wanted so much — I’ll be Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library. I feel this job is right for me in so many ways, and it’s a calling other than a job.

And that’s one more way I’m not who I was.

After grad school, I got married and had kids right away. I happily moved wherever my husband’s job took us and worked part time so I could be the primary caregiver for our sons.

Now I’m a librarian, and I feel called to be a librarian. I’m excited about life. Like he says in the song, I found out I could sing — sing about all that’s happened and all that’s happening.

I am so glad Steve was part of my life for so long. I am so thankful for my two sons, and I love them so much and am so proud of them. But for this next phase of life, I have the privilege of focusing on my job, my calling, and also on the things that interest me.

But it’s a bittersweet weekend. So hearing this song in particular today struck a chord. I’m definitely not who I was, but I like who God has made me to be. And I’m excited about this next stage beginning.

Sunday Songs – “Psalm 23” – Peter Furler

Today I just want to post a song that feels joyful. So here one is:

Our pastor’s been preaching in Malachi. The passage about divorce reminds me what a horrible, rough place I was in just a few years ago. But God promises to be a Witness for a woman who’s left by the husband of her youth. And God has been so faithful. On top of that, a year ago this week, I had a stroke, and it’s been a rough year, healthwise. But for that, too, God has been faithful.

One of the pastor’s main points was that an antidote for discouragement is to remember who you are: Someone loved by God. And that God is with you.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me!

So it’s been an incredibly difficult several years. But right now? All kinds of possibilities are opening up. I’m soon going to be interviewing for not one but two versions of my dream job — Youth Services Manager at a regional library, in two different counties.

I’ve been praying for months about direction. When I came to Virginia, I moved to be near my lifelong friends, figuring I’d stay a couple years while I licked my wounds. Then my son got into the Number One high school in the nation. I got a job as a Librarian as soon as I finished my MLS degree.

Now that my son has graduated, I wondered if I should stay in Virginia. I thought about moving back overseas to another base library, this time on my own steam. I thought about moving to the Pacific northwest, where I have lots of family, and my older son as well. But my church here has become like family.

Then, not one but two Youth Services Manager positions have come open. Both have great things about them. Mind you, I don’t know if I’ll be offered either one, but I’m super excited about the possibilities.

And it makes me think of my favorite verse from Malachi, which I read in church today during the sermon on Malachi:

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.

— Malachi 4:2

What I love about that verse is from my experience living in Leithoefe, Germany. Here’s a picture of the place we lived (front and center). This picture was taken in the summer, and the cows were one pasture further up the hill, but you get the idea: There were cows directly outside our back windows.

The cows in the picture look staid and boring, and that’s the way they almost always looked. If they moved, it was slowly and leisurely.

But that’s not the complete story. During the winter, the cows are kept in the farmer’s barn down the hill. In mid-Spring, once the pasture won’t be a sea of mud, the farmer puts the cows back into the pasture. One year, we were looking out the window when the cows returned.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The cows frolicked. They leaped! They danced around that field! Not just the calves, either, but the old, calm, staid mama cows, too. I still wonder if I imagined it, but the sight burned itself on my eyeballs. Those cows were joyful. They were so glad, glad, glad to be out of that barn!

So, I was happy to be reminded of that Malachi verse right now. I’m hoping for a Springtime season in my life for a time.

And I intend to be joyful.

Sunday Songs – God Is Still God

My most recent discovery, again from WGTS 91.9, is Heather Williams and the song “God Is Still God.”

Like “Stronger,” it includes the reminder that “Nothing lasts forever.”

Truly, “We’ve all been lost, and we’ve all been hurt, where our hope is thin and our faith don’t work.”

But also true: “God is still God, and He holds it together.”

So hang on, now!