Back up the mountain?

Somewhere along the road, we learn to cope with the things that knock us down, don’t we? We figure out how to do life again, maybe limping, but we keep going. We kind of have do, don’t we? Life doesn’t give you an option, but you can always figure out a way forward, even if its not what you expected.

I was was with a friend yesterday, someone with whom I have walked with for the past year or so, ever since she was diagnosed with a number of health issues. A group of us prayed for her, that God would bring healing; she has three young kids and they need her desperately. Dad’s unfortunately not very present. At that time, it seemed she’d be gone in a few months.

That was a year ago. Her health issues continue, she has more blood clots than anyone can imagine. Constant pain, a blood disease that renders surgery not an option, and failing lungs. Every day is hard. Yet she keeps going, she keeps leading her kids in faith, she keeps her home bakery business going to support her family. Doctors cannot explain why she is still here – and her answer is always “Well, I have a big God”. Yes, yes she does.

After I met with her, I kept thinking of a story in the book of Exodus (note: not because it described her, but because of the encouragement it could bring her) where Moses has just come down off the mountain and dropped the commandments God had given him, in anguish over the idol the Israelites had formed. This God that had delivered them from their slavemasters had just promised to be their God and lead them. He had spoken purpose over them – going from being slaves to being priests and a light to the world. They had agreed! But they so quickly went back to their old ways, not yet knowing how to trust in the God that had met with them nor how to follow his ways.

The description of them is as a “stiff-necked” or “obstinate” people, and Moses had the great task of leading them. I cannot imagine how frustrating it was for him as a leader. I can imagine if this happened today, his social media post would read something like:

COME ON, PEOPLE – GET WITH THE PROGRAM! Pay attention to what is being offered to you! Seriously. (#frustrated #leaderprobs #arewethereyet? #getmeouttahere)

I have a feeling that for those of you out there in leadership, or those serving in the body of Christ, or those helping your neighbors, or those raising teens – many of you get this, you feel the frustration Moses felt. You wonder “why me, God?” Why do I have to put up with this stubborn people, these kids, this situation? I’m trying to lead them, teach them, do my best to steer the Titanic away from disaster……

Maybe we can learn something from Moses. And friends, I do not say this lightly, because I need to hear this as much as you. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t need to be reminded of this very truth.

(I know I am skipping over a bunch in the text, but bottom line:) Moses asked God to show himself, after crying out for God to go with them into the promised land…. and God answered:

“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, Jehovah….”

Can you imagine what that would have been like?

THIS IS WHO I AM. Not just “el”, the other gods people speak of. I AM YAHWEH God, that speaks.

God first reminds Moses who He is, before he reminds him of his character:

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

My friend, I know – you have probably asked God to show up, and maybe He has, or maybe God seems silent. Or maybe you haven’t had the heart to ask.

Yet the question remains – and will always be, no matter what trial you are facing, what stubborn people you are dealing with – are you willing to go back up the mountain, and let your soul be reminded of the God you serve? Will you let the Holy Spirit, in that mysterious way He comforts and speaks to us, bring these words to life again in you? Let the character of the God we serve, embodied in these words, wash over your tired and frustrated heart, and give you courage

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

He has not left. You are not alone. And He goes with you. That is his promise to us!

Burden of proof

Those of you who know us are probably wondering how the girls are doing in all this. Well, I’ll be honest: they are doing better than they were last winter. I know the news hit them just as hard back then, for more than a few reasons. (But they are strong and working through things, and I am really proud of them!)

Let me backtrack a bit.

When we lived in Illinois and the girls were in 3rd or 5th grade (or 2nd and 4th, I can’t recall exactly), nearly all of their friends parents were getting divorced. It was heartbreaking to watch and to see how it was coming out in their friendships. Their friends would get mad at them for no reason – and we knew it was because of the stress going on at home. All we could be was a safe haven for them at that time. Naturally, both girls came to us with questions… and so we did our best to reassure them that no, we loved each other and would never head down that road. We were honest, telling them that marriage is hard but God gives us strength. We knew it was important for them to feel secure in our love and relationship. What kid doesn’t need that? When they are young, your togetherness is often their grounding.

Nothing about what we told them was false. It’s not like things were bubbling under the surface and waiting to explode (that I know of). Jon and I were in this together and we really worked hard at being each other’s best friends and supporters. We knew we wanted to model something for the girls that was different than what they saw all around them – and show them that marriage COULD last a lifetime.

Fast forward 12 years and … well…. now we are now one of the “statistics” too.

The label I knew the kids would carry for the rest of their lives haunted me.

It exposed in me a fear I didn’t know I was bound by (how can you when they are seemingly coming out of every corner?)

I knew I didn’t want to be ruled by my fears, and I knew that facing them and finding the truth was going to help me NOT live out of them, so I tried to deal with them when they came up. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure – but what other option is there?

In a way it felt like taking apart a chain link fence one loop at a time.

One of the big fears I had in going through this whole thing was how it was going to impact our girls’ view of and desire for marriage.

My counselor thought I was kidding, that I had no friends who I had watched go through a divorce. Did I know divorced people? Yes. But did any of our friends get divorced? NO. Because in a faith community, you help each other keep your vows. You walk through the hard parts of marriage together, because that is what a covenant is. For better or worse, in sickness and in health. Through all of life. (Note: I am not saying there are not circumstances that definitely warrant divorce, just that where those do not exist, you work through things together with your community)

What had settled in my soul was a HUGE fear that somehow, in spite of all we had taught and modeled thus far for the girls, the dissolving of our marriage would ruin it all.

After talking with a my best friend about this one night, she shared some things about her own life that got me to thinking.

Her story gracefully started unraveling what I had been holding onto so tightly.

She was the product of divorced parents, yet she has been married for 30 years and she has a great marriage. Her faith in God is strong- in fact, I have had the privilege of watching her come alive to God in new ways over the past year that are just amazing! My friend shared that even though her parents split when she was a teenager, she had a relationship with both of them, and their commitment to still get together helped her through her young adult years.

I needed to hear that was possible, because it is what I was hoping for the entire time. I know relationships between Jon and I and the girls will change, and I know it will take time, but somehow I needed to hear that our actions won’t ruin their chances for a stable marriage. Yes I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have obviously let stories I have heard of kids whose parents divorced give up on the possibility of a long marriage drive my impression of how this goes in the long run.

The morning after that conversation brought to light another side of the fear.

I remember taking the girls through some of the book of Proverbs when they were in elementary school (in my attempts to do some sort of devotion with them). One I remember, which was especially close to my heart, was Prov 3:3 – “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them on your heart, write them on the tablet of your heart”. I loved the imagery of that advice, and, having found this verse early in our marriage, it had become a banner for me. To me, this was the challenge for every marriage, as I had always believed that marriage is an earthly example of God’s commitment to us and unconditional love for us – so faithfulness and love were huge in my mind (and still are, let me just clarify).

As I read the verse again, fearful that somehow the concepts of love and faithfulness would now fall on deaf ears, I realized that this verse wasn’t spoken to a son in the context of marriage. Love and faithfulness still apply – they are life choices in any relationship. Why had I limited it to just marriage?? And, as my friend challenged me last night – Jon and I can still be faithful friends. After all, we have been best friends for over 28 years, so why would that change?

I started talking with the Lord about all this, about my fear of this ruining the girls’ idea that marriage can last a lifetime, about dashing hopes that a good strong marriage could ever happen for them, and realized that somehow I had latched onto a belief that I was responsible for the burden of proof that faithfulness and marriage can last.

Almost as quickly thereafter came this one:

Who told you that was your job?

It took me a few minutes to process.

Who told you that was your job?

Slowly, as I pondered the still quiet voice that I know is the One that unearths all the hidden beliefs and deep things in my soul, I realized I had been carrying a burden I wasn’t meant to carry. I am not, and never have been, the owner of faithfulness and love – God is.

I cannot tell you how freeing that recognition was. It felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me all of a sudden, and I could breathe again.

It felt good to breathe.

So my question to you, my friends, is what burden of proof are you carrying that is not your job? We all do this at some point, don’t we? We carry the burden of being “perfect” Christians to our unbelieving families, as if our perfection will woo their heart. We work hard to provide for our families, as if it’s fully up to us to make sure they have what they need.

This is a story of the burden of proof I had to learn to let go.

I challenge you to think about whether or not you are doing this in your own life… and if you are….can you let go?

It’s pretty freeing.