Sunday, April 29, 2012

No Take-Backs

When I hear the word "surrender," I tend to think of pirate invasions or something else equally dramatic. Surrendering is seen as crying "uncle." Giving up. Quitting.

About five months ago, God called me to surrender. He said, Hey, Sarah, I need you to stop trying to control everything and just trust me. I'll take care of it. And I said, Sure thing, God! You've got it! Let me just take care of these eight million tiny little details first...

Because I've always thought of surrendering to be synonymous with weakness. I like to be in control and to know what's going on. My husband has always insisted that I hate surprises; it only recently occurred to me that he is right. I say I want to be surprised, but really I want everything to go a very certain way. I am, perhaps, a bit of a control freak about certain things in my life.

Sure, I like to be in control of the details. But it's the big things in life that I love to take charge of. Examples would include: what my job is; what my family looks like; where I live; money. And five months ago, these are all the areas that God told me just to give up trying to control and turn them all over to Him.

Of course, I resisted. I didn't want to be weak and just give it up. I can quote all the Scripture verses about how in our weakness, He is strong. I can tell students all day long about God's master plan and how He knows things we don't; how His plan for our lives is far greater than anything we can ever imagine. I know all of these things in my head. I even thought they were in my heart... until I was tested.

Here's how God tested me:
1) We got pregnant (yay!) Even though this was supposed to not be possible, it happened and that's awesome. Thank you, God, for miracles.
2) I became convicted that I am supposed to stay home with the baby. Full-time. And leave my awesome job that I love. Ummm... Okay, well, D was looking for a full-time job, so surely we'd have something soon. No problem! This is around the time that I accepted God's will for me and surrendered my future to Him. Whoot, mission accomplished.
3) D needed to have surgery again. And would not be able to work for at least two months. He would be home-bound for much of that time, without a reliable computer from which to apply for jobs. And this is the point where... I took it back. I unsurrendered. My spell check is telling me that "unsurrendered" isn't a word, but I am convinced it is - because it's exactly what I did.

With the baby due in two months, and with just over a month left at my job, I have taken back my surrender.  We are on this journey (adventure?) towards parenthood and have no idea where we will be living or how we will be paying our bills come July. And for someone who likes to plan, this is excruciatingly tormenting.

(I should take a moment here to insert that God has been providing. We have financial provisions and health insurance through the end of June. We have supportive family. And D has been given an "all clear" on his bill of health and no longer has any restrictions on activity. These are all tremendous blessings, and I am thankful for each and every one of them!)

The last month has been difficult, to say the least. I have been an emotional wreck. It has been difficult to plan for a future with a baby when I can't even picture where she'll be sleeping, or nursing, or laughing for the first time. This last week, without any good news on D's job search and interviews, we have decided to accept the likelihood that we will not be staying in this area, and this acceptance has been extremely hard (especially since we have no firm idea yet of where we will go!) And so, in true human fashion, I have felt distanced from God. I have questioned why He's given up on us, why He's not providing the way that we want Him to, and how He can just sit there and be silent about all of these upcoming decisions. And I think about all of the people who love God with all their hearts and still suffer. Why should we be any different? I have lost the faith that God's provision is ever present.

And then, in church today, we sang a called "The Stand." These lyrics really stuck out at me:

So I'll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe, of the One who gave it all
So I'll stand, to You Lord, my soul surrendered
All I am is Yours

First, the thought of an abandoned heart really struck me. When I think of "abandon" as used here, I think of running wildly barefoot down a hill in the summertime, or laughing so hard with a good friend that your stomach hurts, or jumping off a tall rock into a cool, crisp mountain stream in all of your clothes. With a heart burdened by a need to control, the thought of an abandoned heart means freedom. I want to be free from this weight and worry.

The part that really got me, though, was "the One who gave it all." Every week at camp, we tell the students about how Jesus made the decision to die on the cross for us. He truly gave it all - His life! He suffered immensely at the hands of his persecutors, even though He was God. But the most amazing part of that story, at least to me, is not that He died on the cross and then rose from the grave (although thank the Lord for that!), but that He made the choice to do so. In the garden of Gesthemene, He asks God three times to take this burden away from Him. He knew what physical torture He would have to endure. But He finished His prayer with "not my will, but Your will be done." I believe that at any time, Jesus could have backed out of the crucifixion. He could have hidden or run away. Could you imagine Him just jumping down off the cross and saying, "Sorry guys, this is too much. Surrendering to God's will is too painful, and I just can't do it." I know it might seem silly, but really think about it. Jesus made the decision to surrender it all to God, even to the point of death. And He did this because He loves us and wanted to fulfill God's will! If that doesn't inspire some sort of awe, I'm not sure what will.

To You, Lord, My soul surrendered. If Jesus can surrender everything to God's will - why am I struggling so much? I am not being asked to give up my life, or the life of my husband or child. I am not being asked to endure persecution or torture. Instead, I am being asked to surrender my pride. Because that's what the need to be in control is - pride. D constantly has to ask "When will you just trust me?" because I always have to verify what he says. It's not that I think he's wrong; I just need to prove that I'm right. Obviously, this is not a good pattern of behavior in a marriage, and it's even more destructive when it enters in my relationship with God! Yeah, sure God, I know you've got it all figured out, but let me just check on this...

Ever since I took back my initial surrender to God's sovereignty in this situation, I have been broken and burden. I have felt weighted down, and unable to stand. I have become weaker in lack of surrender than I ever was when I turned it over to God. And yet it is here, only in complete surrender, that I can free my heart and find God's strength to help me stand.

I debated for a long time whether or not to write this post. It has been sitting in my "drafts" folder, in some form or fashion, for over a month now. I know that, once I post this, I cannot go back to my state of "unsurrender." I will be held accountable by anyone who reads this. But I am tired of trying to do it on my own. I desire the freedom that comes with complete and utter submission to God's will (as counter-intuitive as that may sound). So, here is my public proclamation: I am surrendering to God. Whatever He wants for me, I will accept. Wherever He leads me, I will go. Whatever He calls me to do, I will do. This time, no take-backs.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Shields Up!

Lately, Sunday mornings destroy me. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'll be mostly fine all week and then as soon as I wake up on Sunday, I'm completely overwhelmed. All of my fears, discouragement, anger, and disappointment come to the surface and I can't hold it back. I start crying long before I even get to church. For the last two weeks, I've been hesitant to even go to church because I know it will only get worse. And I've been right. Last week, I spent the entire service with my head in my hands, my eyes leaking uncontrollably, for no good reason. This week, I worked very hard to stop the tears before we even walked into the building, but to no avail. Both weeks, the messages were spot-on, were encouraging and uplifting, and exactly what I needed to hear. But still, I couldn't stop crying.

And both weeks, an outpouring of compassion from women I hardly know has been shown to me. Last week, in the offer of a hug. This week, a woman I have only spoken to once or twice came over and said, "I don't know what you're broken about, but I have seen it the last few weeks and I just wanted to let you know that I'm praying for you." 

First off, let me just say, I go to an amazing church. The kind of church where people do reach out and help, even if you're a stranger sitting in the next pew over. The kind of church where women you hardly know from your Bible Study class throw you a surprise baby shower when your husband is in the hospital, to cheer you up. The kind of church where phone numbers are written down to call during your husband's surgery, because people truly want to know how everything is going - even if they've only met you both in passing. The kind of church where prayers are offered freely, where transgressions are quickly forgiven, and where love is poured out to anyone who needs it.

As in the case above. I have been feeling "broken." And I love that people from this church family are reaching out to me. I think there would be nothing better than to sit down with someone and just talk it all out - the fear, the discouragement, the unknown. But instead, when these women offer to console me or pray for me, I just smile and thank them. I make excuses about "pregnancy hormones."

I don't reach back.

I think that sharing your burdens with someone who cares is a lot like kissing, as described in the movie Hitch. "You come 90, I come 10." Okay, maybe kissing is a bad comparison for this, but the practice is the same. These women are coming 90% of the way to meet me where I am broken. They are seeking me out. All I need to do is go the other 10%, share a little, open up a bit, and I know they would be willing to commit to helping me in any way possible. And yet, I don't do it. Why??? In a loving, supportive, non-judgmental environment, where wisdom and faith abound, why can't I open up just a small amount to share the cause of my burden with others?

I think, in general, we have two opposing practices for sharing pain and burdens. One is, apparently, the way I have chosen: to close up and put up the shields. Don't share anything, because it will be passing your burden onto others. (I'm sure other people might have other reasons, such as not feeling secure sharing personal details with people they don't know very well, but that is not an issue for me with these women.) The other, completely opposite method is to share everything. Literally, everything. Thanks to Facebook and other social media, we are now free to share every moment of discomfort and annoyance. We are more public than ever before. Want someone to talk to? Simply post a vague status stating, "Really angry right now," or "This really sucks," and dozens of "friends" will start inquiring as to the reason. You can share everything! Have a fight with a loved one? We can tell the world every nitty gritty detail. Feel mistreated at work? We can share that news with all of our friends (and their friends, and their friends, and their friends...)

And yet, between these two methods of coping with difficult times, it is impossible to find satisfaction. Why? Because we are called to fellowship with others. We are called to share our life experiences with a community. I've written before the benefits of having strong relationships with other women, and I guess this is just an extension of that idea. For the record, I have many supportive people in my life - both friends and family - who would also be willing to sit down with me and listen to my cares and worries. And I have these loving women at church who would do the same thing. But still I refuse to take that step into the community, to share openly why I'm a crying mess every Sunday morning. Instead, I become embarrassed by my public display and want to hide out in the back row.

Thinking about it, there are several reasons why I might not be willing to share. Besides not wanting to cast a burden upon someone else, I think I also feel like my concerns aren't quite the big deal I'm making them out to be. People have suffered tremendous losses, experienced unbelievable pain, and I'm crying because I'm anxious about the future. It doesn't quite seem as important as some of the other things going on in our church, and especially not as important as all of the things going in our world! Why should I waste the time of these women by sharing my silly concerns with them?

And, to be completely honest, these feelings have become a crutch. I am letting them define who I am, and if I share them with others then they might be taken away. And even though that's what I want more than anything else... I have also grown dependent on them. If I am not spending my emotional energy being worried about the future, what will I spend it on? (A rhetorical question, of course - a thousand ideas come to mind, and I think "if only I could get free of this so I can commit my spirit elsewhere," but instead I keep myself chained down.)

Today I listened to one of the best Easter sermons I've ever heard. It focused on a few people to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection. Mainly, to Mary crying outside the tomb, to the two walking down the road Emmaus, and to the disciples who were fishing. Jesus came to them in their despair, discouragement, and feelings of failure and revealed Himself. But even though they saw Him, it took a while before they recognized Him. How true is that in our own lives? God is at work through all things, but we don't always recognize that. And when I think about the emotional place all those people were in when He returned to them, and how He went to each of them in their time of difficulty, it's an encouragement to know that He does the same for me. He sees me, He knows my concerns, and He's with me - regardless of how petty I feel my burdens are. Something that just occurred to me while I was writing: Jesus is revealing Himself to me through the compassion of these women at church. And I see Him, but I haven't been recognizing His invitation. He is working through them to let me know that I need to let go. I need to open up and just fall into His grace. Because my issues aren't petty, and they won't be a burden on these women, and they are just becoming a crutch for me to slip farther from God's love. In the gospel of John, when Jesus appears to Mary, he asks her, "Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" (John 20:15). Who are you seeking? What a powerful question. Because the truth is, God is always with us. No matter what we're going through, or how big or small it may seem, He is with us and He cares. And when we put our shields up and don't accept His invitation to share our burdens (with Him, or with others in fellowship that He has provided), we are missing one of the most vital lifelines that will ever be offered.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Our Unconventional Dream Vacation

Three months ago, D and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary. We originally had grand plans to go somewhere warm, as a belated honeymoon, but with D's impending surgery and the discovery of the pregnancy, we decided to do something low-key and low cost.  We only live an hour and a half from Gettysburg, which is a really interesting place to go if you have any interest at all in history (or shopping, since there are outlets there - or at least this is what I've been told). We've both done the battlefield tours before, so we decided to try something different: we went geocaching! Most of the caches there are virtual and around the monuments, but it was still a lot of fun and a good way to get outside, see historic sites, but not be bogged down by a schedule or a list of "must sees." We learned a lot of interesting information about the monuments, battle, and town that isn't in the tours. We also went on a ghost tour one night, which was my Christmas gift to D as I really don't enjoy things like that (although this one wasn't bad; I am just a skeptic in general). Anyway, I do have the say the highlight of the trip - at least to me - was where we stayed. We "splurged" on a cabin at the Lodges at Gettysburg. The good news is: this awesome cabin cost no more than your typical decent hotel room! It may have helped that we were there in January, and the rest of the place was practically deserted, but it was cozy and romantic and secluded and didn't make my wallet scream. I fell in love with the place and took pictures to share:

The outside of our cabin: "Michigan." (They are all named after states that fought in the Civil War.)

The view from the front door. To the right is an electric fireplace and flat screen tv, to the left is a comfy chair. Straight back to the right is the door to the side porch and the kitchenette, and the door behind the bed is to the bathroom.

The view from the bathroom door.
The most comfortable bed I've ever slept in.

The surprisingly well-stocked kitchenette.

This may be silly, but I fell in love with this bathroom. The tile shower was HUGE and stocked with all sorts of earth-friendly shampoos, lotions, etc.

The shower head was heavenly. I spent a lot of time in the shower just enjoying the pampering!

The Lodges also included continental breakfast, which was really nice. They have a large lodge area that can host lots of people, as well as a beautiful banquet area. I wish I had known about this place when planning our wedding! There is also a gazebo down by the lake... it was all gorgeous, even in January.

I'm not normally one to take up blog space promoting another business, but we both absolutely loved our accommodations and will probably spend future anniversaries or special occasions back here again! I wanted to share in case anyone was looking for a relatively inexpensive getaway with a rustic feel:-)

So even though our vacation wasn't as grand, warm, or exotic as we had originally hoped, it ended up being the perfect get-away! We had adventures, learned cool things, ate good food (although at that phase in the pregnancy I was into my Cheetos craving, so I think D enjoyed the other food more than I did... if it wasn't fake and orange, I wasn't that interested), and then had a beautiful, restful setting in which to relax at the end of the day! Oh, and of course, we spent it with each other - which is what makes any trip fun. :-)

Here are some pictures of us that weekend, just for fun: