Journeying the Unknown

I don’t necessarily like New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I think the growing process and the urge to better ourselves is a constant, always-changing process that requires focus, attention, and discipline more than just one time each year.  The calendar changes once a year, but that doesn’t mean that our internal forces only shift once a year.  I can remember some definitive moments when my heart or my mind have been transformed. I find myself feeling like the wind; a slight change in my inner compass changes my path in life, and I’m suddenly agreeing with something I never thought I would or taking a liking to an idea I’d promised never to consider..

However, there is one “resolution” I made last year and am continuing this year.  There is a site called ‘myoneword.org’.  Many church circles and non-church circles alike are using this idea in place of resolutions.  The idea is simple – choose one word for the new year that defines something you want to change, something you want to experience, or a word that will transform your relationship with God.  Last year, I chose the word (a phrase, really) “godly spirit.”  I come from a past of unfortunate losses, negativity, pain, and battle scars.  It is so easy for me to worry, fear, and become anxious about my circumstances that I find myself in that place without even noticing.  So, last year I really wanted to experience the “peace that passes all understanding.”   I wanted to be generous and loving without hidden agendas.  I wanted to really know patience and grace.

In 2013, my “first pet” died in a horrific dog park attack.  I watched the entire thing and continue to replay those moments in my head.  It was like the cloak was removed and hell came to visit my world for those horrifying 4 ½ minutes.  I say “first pet” because she was just the first dog I owned all by myself.  I got her for my 18th birthday and high school graduation and she traveled with me, moved into my first apartment with me, sat beside me when I cried in depression, and leapt for joy with me when life was blissful. She was my little companion and nothing hurt so bad as the day I lost her.

Also in 2013, my husband and I tried to start a family (2 legged) with no avail.  We bought our first home, we shared a few fights, and we survived another year of marriage.  Actually, this second year of marriage, in 2013, we thrived a little more in marriage.  (The first year was unexpectedly difficult, and my negative self handled that very poorly). In all, 2013 was like every other year.  We had bumps and bruises, and great memories with laughter and hope.  However, even in those bad times, even when Phoebe died, I found I was growing deeper into a person who had immovable faith.  I more openly extended grace and forgiveness, and I was more often peaceful and hopeful.  My “one word” was seeping into many areas of my life.

This year I decided my one word should be “trust.”  Last year, in the midst of my growing, I still held tight to those things I thought I could control.  I don’t understand it, really, but we humans like our control. We like things that we think we can handle—things that are less unpredictable and more moldable.  I thought I had control over my 7 pound puppy, control over my body and pregnancy, and control over a lot of things in my life.  Perhaps one of the scariest things to me last year was seeing how little control I have in this life.

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I’m also turning 26 this year, in just a few days.  At the beginning of the year, I received a list of all the books that will turn into movies this year.  The book Wild by Sheryl Strayed was one of them.  Sheryl was 26 when she decided to solo hike the Pacific Coast Trail.  Her mother had died and her marriage had ended.  She stumbled across this idea to take 100 days and journey across an unknown terrain, trusting in her own abilities—physical, emotional, and spiritual abilities.

I just liked the idea of another 26 year old woman journeying into the unknown, trusting that she could endure.  I also liked the thought of a person willing to try something new, simply to be better. So far, I’m enjoying the tale.  Sheryl is 100% human—no super woman here—who cursed in frustration, cried in desperation, and struggled to find hope or light in the circumstances of life.

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Each new year, any given week or day, is an unknown journey with God.  With our lack of control, we become completely dependent on God.  In fact, He asks us to do so.  Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me,” John 14:1 (NLT).  God doesn’t push us in the deep end and say, “good luck!”  God says, “I know you can’t do this alone, so trust in Me.”  This struggle, though, isn’t new.  Our struggle for control and dependency has been raging through humankind since the beginning.  Even the Israelites fought for control and feared the unknown journey;

The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. Deuteronomy 1:30-33.

Regardless of what your calendar says, each day is a new journey and, typically, an unknown one.  Whether you are a 60 year old male, a 26 year old female, or a family or tribe, the journey is daunting.  Trusting in God is our only hope, but it’s a good one.

This year, what will you learn?  What will you learn about yourself, your strength, your God?  How will your life be transformed by the goals and journey set before you? All you have to do is look through a few news articles and you’ll see an inspiring story.  Maybe it’s the man who cut off his own arm to survive.  Maybe it’s a fireman who saved a young child from the flames.  Maybe it’s a random citizen who helped out a mother in need.  We are destined for greatness and our days are not numbered simply by the dates of a calendar.  Follow God on the journey He has set before you, so you can do great things for Him, and don’t be afraid to lose control but grow to trust more deeply in the One who makes you capable.

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Giving Up

My husband and I recently went on vacation in Door County, Wisconsin: a whole week of camping and biking and kayaking. The kayaking was my husband’s idea, but it sounded fun. Lake Michigan was still a lake, right, so how rough could the water be?

The answer: really, really rough.kayak3

If you’ve never kayaked before (like us), you find out that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks. In a two person rig, the person in front paddles to provide forward movement to the boat while the person in the back is in charge of ruddering with his or her paddle to keep the nose pointed in the right direction.

I took the front, while Jeremy was in the back. And we found the limits of trust and patience in our marriage.

Jeremy didn’t know how to steer, so every time we tried to go straight the wind would push us in circles. The waves were breaking over the front of the kayak, a terrifying sight as I tried to paddle as hard as possible with the nose of the boat tipping first up into the sky and then down into a deep valley of ominous blue-green water.

After five minutes, I was yelling. After ten minutes, I was threatening divorce (if we survived). After twenty minutes, I propped my paddle across the prow out of the water and just cried. We were going to die during our summer vacation, 200 yards from shore.

Eventually, Jeremy figured out how to steer and we had a nice day feeling pretty bad-ass as we crested the massive waves with growing skill. But my initial breakdown revealed something ugly I didn’t want to realize: the very shallow level of trust I had in my husband.

I should have remembered all the things he’s done, and then I would have known that if it meant jumping out of the boat into the freezing water to pull me to shore, he would have done it. He’s always sacrificed his own comfort for mine, faced down his fears so I don’t have to be afraid. But I was afraid. And I blamed him for it.

It made me realize how bad I am at trust in general. I can’t trust my husband for twenty minutes in lake-sized waves. And I can see him. I can touch him. But God is mysterious. He’s invisible. How could I possibly trust Him?

Lately I’ve been reading in the Old Testament, specifically the Pentateuch or Torah, or the first five books that detail the creation of the nation of Israel, God’s covenants with them, and His leading them into the promised land. Sounds like a great positive, happy story, right? But over and over again the Israelites complain. And rebel. And want to turn back.

If they were in the front of the kayak and God in the back, they would be putting up their paddles and crying.

Whenever I read about Israel, particularly when they tell God right to His face that they would be better off in Egypt, I just want to smack them up-side their collective head and say, “Don’t you remember the ten plagues? Don’t you remember the Red Sea?” I think to myself that if I had manna every morning and a pillar of cloud over my church every day that I would have no problem trusting that God was awesome and powerful and had everything under control. That if I had a God who gave me water in the desert and food from the sky, I would never doubt His good intentions and ability to carry them out.

But if I’m really honest, I don’t get upset with Israel because they’re stupid and I could do better. I get upset with them because they’re me.

God has come through for me time and time again. He’s saved me from staying put in bad situations, He’s given me material things I’ve needed right at the last moment, He’s plucked me out of what I thought I wanted and put me somewhere even better, fulfilling my wildest hopes and dreams. He’s showered me with blessings and love and goodness.

But all it takes is one big wave, one look at how far away the shore is, and I start yelling. And threatening to leave. And then just giving up.

Just like I do with the Israelites, I mock Peter when he fails to trust Jesus even after he has already taken several steps (!) across the water of the Sea of Galilee (which is just a lake, if you didn’t know). Just like them, Peter has seen the power and the awesome faithfulness of Jesus over and over again, but when he looks down at the waves, they just seem more real than God, and he sinks.

peter1Israel, Peter, and I all struggle(d) with the same thing: sometimes the scariness of the physical situation around us just seems stronger than God’s power. And we cry out to go back to Egypt. We start sinking beneath the waves.

But the Old Testament, the New Testament and personal experience all tell us that though we may try to give up on God, God never gives up on us.

God sticks with the Israelites through the entire Bible, thousands of years, and even incarnates Himself as one of them in order to suffer and die and offer grace to the entire world through them. If He has been that faithful to them despite their failures, think of how faithful He must be towards us who have been marked with the blood of the Son as His children.

So while sometimes I want to hate myself for just how faithless and pathetic I can be, I try my faltering best at remembering not just God’s power, but also His love. Yes, it would be better if I could just trust Him all the time no matter how big the waves are, and I should always be trying to improve my faith, but when I fail, I have God’s amazing character to fall back on.

I’m seeking to grow in double trust: faith in God’s power to lead me through what seems impossible, and faith in His character to never leave me even when I deserve to be left.

My husband didn’t push me out the boat and leave me to float in the middle of Lake Michigan, though he had good reason to. If he as a human being can be that patient and compassionate, I’m pretty sure I can trust God to get me safely back to shore.

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