Sunday, December 28, 2014

77 Miles Later...

     Sometimes God teaches us a lesson. And then sometimes after we learn the lesson...He gives us a trial to make sure we really learned it.
      And that means really stretching us. Stretching us until we feel we cannot bear it anymore.
      And this is where I found myself this past week.
      Lately God has been teaching me about submitting. To His will for my life.
      It was hard to learn...and I was slow. But I hit an "AHA!" moment, where I was like, "I've finally got this."
       Note to self #4,907: We never 'got this'. Our faith is constantly being tested.
       Through a series of events, Saturday( come it feels so far away?) afternoon God gave me the biggest test on submitting that I have ever had.
       And let me tell you... I was upset. Hurt. Confused.
       Tears streaming down my face, I got in my car and just drove. I didn't have a destination in mind, just needed to be alone to think. Cry. And pray.
       The entire time I had one verse I couldn't shake from my mind, "*If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
       77 miles of driving and praying later it became all too clear that taking up the cross of Christ meant laying down everything and everyone in my life in order to do so.
       And to know that doing so might mean losing more than just my will and pride... but friends whom I hold dear.
       To give literally everything and submit to His will for me.
       Am I totally chill with the situation now and 'oh happy day my problems are solved because I've learned to submit'?
      Far from it. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm struggling, a lot, with this.
      Submitting to things I don't agree with... but know that right now God is calling me to submit to these things.
       God is always teaching us. If we don't have trials in life, how else would we grow? He gives us trials to prove our faith as gold. To grow us in Him. To strip us of everything that consumes us in the world and show us that following Him...and Him what we, as believers, are called to do.
      And that training, learning; it hurts. So much.
       But if we press on. Eyes on Christ. Joy in Him.
       It'll be so SO worth it in the end.

In order to take up our cross and follow Christ, we must leave behind all that we think we need.
We must deny ourselves. Our desires. Our wants.
To do anything less is to disobey the God of yesterday, today, and forever.

*Matthew 16:24-26, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forgets his soul?'" 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Different This Year

     *note: though this story is completely fictional, the emotion behind it stems from actual experiences in my own life.

     I shifted my arms to keep an armful of packages from spilling all over the ground.  
     Another year. Another Christmas. 
     And a sufficiently smaller bank account to show for it. Also a New Years resolution to never again to wait until Christmas Eve to finish my shopping.
     The bus doors opened in front of me and I stepped inside, desperately searching for an empty spot to set my gifts down. 
     The only empty spot was next to a woman with matted hair and downcast eyes. Though it couldn't have been any warmer than 40 degrees outsides, she wore only jeans and a t-shirt. 
     My heart softened. I always tried to help the homeless when I could. Setting my packages down, I pulled off my own coat. I had a thick layer underneath, but still the stale, cold, air in the bus caused me to shiver. 
     "Excuse me, Ma'am?" I tapped her on the shoulder.
      She looked up, her eyes red and puffy. 
      I held the coat out. "You look like you need this more than me."
      No smile. No 'thank you'. Instead she looked at me blankly for a moment, then turned away. 
      Annoyed, I tried again. "It's really cold outside, please take it."
      She shook her head.
       Not the reaction had expected, I turned away and checked my phone. I need to get home and put the turkey in the oven. 
       A sniffle caused me to face the woman once again. Her shoulders were shaking slightly. 
       I picked my packages up and sat down next to her. "Are you alright?"
       She glanced at me briefly, fresh tears falling down her cheeks. Still, no words.
       "Do you have anywhere to go for Christmas?" 
       "Not anywhere I want to go." Her words were mumbled, barely audible.
        I pictured a homeless shelter, filled with filth. I wouldn't want to go their either. 
        "Anything I can do to help? I have extra food..."
        "Not unless you have a stairway to Heaven."
        I blinked. "I don't understand."
        Another sob. "I don't want to go home. Not when he's not there anymore."
        Reality began to sink in. She wasn't homeless. She was grieving. 
        I remained silent, hoping she would continue. 
        "Why didn't God take me instead? Why would someone so young be taken away?"
        "I'm so sorry." I didn't know what else to say.
        "He was my son. My son."
        "Can I ask...what happened?"
        She was silent for a moment and I thought she wasn't going to answer. But she took a deep breath and said, "stage four cancer. We only found out a week before he died."
         I swallowed. "I'm so sorry," I repeated.
         "How could we not know until a week before? How did I miss the signs? He's gone now. Just like that. One day I'm kissing my beautiful boy on the forehead and the next I'm planning his funeral. I can't go home. Everything there reminds me of him. His sweet laugh. His blue eyes."
          I felt tears well up in my own eyes. She kept going, spilling out her heart.
          "There's no way I can live with this pain. I just want to be with him. I want to be in Heaven. I want to hug him. I want to tell him I love him. I just-" she choked back more tears, trying to get her words out. "I just want him to be alive." 
          The bus stopped and the woman got up. 
          "I'm so so sorry for you loss." The tears in my own eyes flowed freely now. "I can't imagine the pain, but I will pray for you."
           She let her eyes lock with mine for a moment, a silent 'thank you', then stepped off the bus and melted into the Christmas Eve crowds. 
           Minutes later the bus stopped once again and I got off. It wasn't until I had walked the mile from the bus stop to my house that realized I had left my coat on the bus and cold rain was pelting down on my neck. But still I felt numb to the cold. 
          Seeing a pain so real and deep, tugged at my heart and kept my own tears falling. If just seeing her pain caused this own pain in my heart, how much more was she hurting?
          I stepped into the house and a blast of warmth hit my face. Warmth and thankfulness. 
          For this Christmas I had my family. Such a precious gift that so easily I took for granted. 
          Another year. Another Christmas.
          Another moment to be thankful for the ones I hold dear.

Praying for all those who are celebrating Christmas with an empty spot at the table this year. <3

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
May the name of the Lord be praised.