Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recounting the journey thus far...

First let me say this: I am not speaking from the heart of someone who has arrived, and who has all the answers. I am sharing from a heart that has struggled fiercely with the God given desires for companionship, friendship, the love of a husband, and the love of a child… MY child. However, God has a different plan for my life at this time. A plan that at times seemed to be more lonely than I could bear, a loneliness that just seeped into every corner of my heart and soul, that chilled me to the bone and left me feeling empty. Added to this was the pressure of my current vocation, a midwife: One who participates in one of the most intimate and joyous times in the life of a family: the arrival of a little one, a PRECIOUS gift from God. And yet, I was commanded to “give thanks in everything” to “rejoice in the Lord always” and Paul said… “ I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.” (Phillipians 4:4, 10, 11) I battled with this. I cried, I pled, I bargained, I BEGGED God to help me find contentment with my life. I read every book I could get my hands on about contentment, being single, serving God etc. I listened to sermons, went to seminars, found articles online… all the time DESPERATELY seeking for the “secret” to that contentment. I can’t begin to tell you the times that I drove home from births with tears pouring down my face, saying “Why God? What am I supposed to be learning?”

Then, I hit a different stage in the battle, a stage of being angry at God. (Gasp! Angry with God? A Christian? What?!?!?!) Yes, I freely admit it. I was angry at God. My heart said, “God… Your Word makes it clear, over and over that marriage is a good and beautiful thing. You say that children are a gift from the Lord. (Ps. 37:26, 127:3 Prov 17:6, Ps 84:11 are just a few of MANY verses that bear this out.) You say that it isn’t good for man to be alone. I know you said “man” but surely it isn’t good for a woman to be alone either. Your word says ‘No good thing will you withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ and yet, no matter how hard I try to walk uprightly, and live a life that is pleasing to You, You continue to withhold something that You Yourself have CLEARLY indicated is a good thing.”

I think that portions of Psalm 73 reflect this time in my life VERY well…

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” I truly started to think...Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning. If I had said, 'I will speak thus,' Behold I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God”

In an effort at transparency, I’m going to be really, REALLY painfully honest here. This was my thought process. “I’m in my 30’s. I’ve chosen to walk uprightly. I’ve kept myself pure for the man that God has for me. I’ve attempted to submit EVERY area of my life to God, and where has it gotten me? Well, let’s take a look at my life. To the world, I was a successful, confident, professional midwife. I smiled, I laughed, I listened to mama’s joys, struggles, problems, triumphs, and pregnancy woes with compassion, I delivered their babies, I loved on those babies when I did follow up visits, I even babysat for some of “my” babies. But on the inside, I was a 30’s something virgin, who felt like I was dying inside. I’ve never held a man’s hand romantically, I’ve never been kissed, I’ve never had a man look into my eyes and make me feel like I was cherished, loved, even desirable. I worked in the office and when evening came, I would stay at the office because I COULD NOT BEAR the thought of going home to an empty house, an empty bed, the reminder that I was alone. Before leaving, I would lay my head down on the desk and cry my eyes out because I didn’t want to go home. Sometimes, I spent the night on the couch at the Birth Center because I truly didn’t have the emotional strength to go home. Other times, after spending a day giving of myself at the office, I had a desire to be around people… anyone… just someone who didn’t “need” something from me. Well, where’s a gal like me to go late in the evening, when sheer loneliness is driving her out? I don’t hang out in bars… so I would go to Applebees, sit in a corner and people watch. I spent so much time in Applebees, that the waitresses knew me by name. I would get hugs from them, they would sit and talk to me when things were slow… and once again, I found myself ministering to others while my heart felt empty. Or, I would call up a friend, and offer to babysit. “Baby therapy” is nice, but temporary.

“…When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant. I was like a beast before You.” Ps 73:21-22 This was where I was, and in my pain, my heart said along with the psalmist in verses 13-14… I have kept myself “in vain.” I have kept my heart pure, I’ve washed my hands, and my mind in innocence… for what? I’m alone, Alone, ALONE!!!” During this time, I have NO DOUBT that the only thing that kept me from doing something foolish, something that would have left some incredible scars in my life was the prayers of my family and my friends. God was gracious to me, and kept me safe even through this dark time in my life. Honestly, He kept me safe IN SPITE of myself.

OK, more confessions… I am a proud and fiercely independent gal. I do not like to admit that I “need” anyone or anything. I like to think that I stand alone, and I can do it all. I thought that the fact that I “needed” something in my life showed weakness. Because of that, I kept even my closest family and friends at arm’s length. The more I hurt, the longer those arms got. I COULDN’T admit my weakness, I couldn’t let anyone “in.”

During this time, I knew that if something didn’t change, I was heading for a world of trouble. So, I began praying desperately for God to lead me. The first step He led me on was an INCREDIBLY difficult one. He led me to step out of my “safe zone” that comfort zone where I could continue to float with little accountability, and little fellowship. He led me to leave the little church that I had grown to love… the church that was one hour away, with just a couple young families and a lot of elderly retired couples, the church that was in the “accepted circle” where all of my friends and family would “approve.” This was a difficult, an EXTREMELY difficult step which was NOT taken lightly. As a matter of fact, I fought God on it for quite a while, because I knew what I needed… and I knew that it would be misunderstood, that I would be judged for my decision. Finally I made the step. I visited a church that had a large and fairly active single’s group. Even after visiting, and attending their Single’s Retreat as a visitor, I fought with God. “God, not THAT church. Do you know what my friends will think? My family is going to be so disappointed!” And then, God began to reveal to me my pride. Here I was, at one of the lowest points in my life, at times even wondering if life was worth living, and *I* was judging people because they attended a church that didn’t line up 100% with the conservative values which I had come to value more than I valued loving God, and following His leading. (And therein lies the problem. I HAD come to value my “values” more than I valued God, and HIS teaching.) So, after some more battling, I made the decision to join the church. As soon as I joined, I told the leadership that it was easy for singles to “fall through the cracks” and I NEEDED accountability. Then I began establishing friendships with people who were in my stage in life… single, and seeking and struggling to serve God where He had placed them. I DELIBERATELY put myself in a place where I couldn’t just “slide by” I couldn’t miss church and have people assume “Oh, she must just be delivering a baby.” Etc… (On a side note, the Lord, through this church, provided several friends that have held my feet to the fire. They have prayed for me, encouraged me, called to see why I missed when I wasn’t there, and been TRUE biblical, iron sharpening iron friends.)

Then, God in His mercy took me a step further in this difficult journey. He brought me to a point where I literally COULDN’T keep all my plates spinning. My midwifery practice was BUSY, and kept me hopping. Dad had several surgeries on his shoulder, then he and Mom went to Denver to be with my brother and his wife and 7 young children as my sister in law was entering her final days on this earth. During this time, the Lord also gave me a very brief period of thinking that maybe, just maybe marriage and family WAS in my future. I learned a LOT during that time… and DO NOT regret what happened. Even though we reached the mutual decision that the Lord was not leading us together, I learned MUCH during my time with this man. I learned about trusting another, about trusting them to seek God’s heart, and lead me with wisdom. I learned about resting in, and following the leadership of a man. A fallible man, but a man whose heart desired God’s will, and who listened to God’s leading even when it meant giving up a dream that he held dear to his heart. Anyhow, I digress…

So, a broken relationship, a brother in the hospital for 1 month with complications from his diabetes, a dad who missed months of work, and had multiple surgeries, a sister in law who was entering the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and then, Dad had a heart attack. I left work in the middle of a birth, and didn’t go back for nearly 3 weeks. During that time, my sister in law passed away, and I spent 2 weeks with my married siblings who, as loving as they are toward me, still highlight my “aloneness.” This was probably the MOST LONELY 2 weeks of my life, and I struggled with guilt. “Lord, my brother lost his wife, these kiddoes lost their MOM, and I’m struggling with being alone? What is wrong with me? Am I THAT self-centered and selfish?”

When I got home, I felt like my world was still spinning out of control. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t seem to “cope.” Finally I admitted something that I should have admitted LONG AGO “I can’t do this alone. I need help.” I sought counsel, I admitted to several friends just how deep that struggle was, I asked a dear group of ladies, who loved me, to uphold me in prayer, and I started “cleaning house” literally, and figuratively speaking. The first step was true, total and humbling transparency. You’ve NO IDEA how difficult it was for me to admit that I may appear to have it all together, but I’m a whited sepulcher, a hypocrite who on the outside has it all together, but on the inside is in utter chaos!!! It was then that I began to learn the beautiful truth of II Cor 12:10 "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses... For when I am weak, then I am strong."

The Lord began to do a beautiful and amazing work in my life. As I would gain victory in one area, He would reveal another, and another, and yet another. As this happened, I admitted, repented, and moved on. The shackles of “guilt” which were a driving force in my life were gone… I began to truly understand “There is NO, NO, NO condemnation to those who are in Christ.” I understood that while I would have said that I did not believe that “sinless perfection” was attainable here on earth, that is what I expected of myself, and this bound me to living in constant guilt. After all, “I was raised in a Christian home, with godly parents, I grew up in churches that sought after God and His leading, (even if at times there was an unbalanced emphasis on man-made rules.) so… I should have it all together, right? After all, ‘To whom much is given, much shall be required’ and I had been given MUCH.” During this time, God humbled me. He showed me that in spite of all of these “blessings” and “advantages” I am no expert, I am just a child. A child who was in my toddler stage of “No, I do it myself…” rather than relying on Him. A child who THOUGHT I knew all the answers until He in His love, rocked my world, and those answers weren’t good enough. I also began to truly understand II Corinthians 5:14 “The love of Christ constrains me…that they who live, no longer live for themselves, but for HIM” There are some constraints, honestly that are more stringent than before, and some that are less. However, I am now making my decisions for Christ, not for my parents, not for my pastor, or my friends, or for what others will think of me. It is the “love of Christ” and that "constraint" is SOOO freeing!!!

As I have put my spiritual, physical and material house in order, God has continued to lay before me ministry opportunities, and, with less chaos in my life, I have been able to accept these opportunities and serve others more.

Recently, I had an eye opening conversation with a friend. She is one of our “dating” singles. My single’s group has an inordinate amount of dating couples in it, and yet… I do not feel “left out” or like a fifth wheel. I enjoy hanging out with the dating couples, with the “truly single,” with married people, all of my friends. We were discussing this, and I said to her, “I appreciate that you, as a dating couple do not make those of us who are not dating feel excluded. You include us, and I appreciate it.” Her response astounded me. She said, “I think that it is because you are so confident, content, even happy in your singleness that we enjoy having you around.” My first response was to laugh inwardly… “Gal, you have NO IDEA who you’re talking to.” But then I started to think… and the realization hit me. "She’s right! She is absolutely right! THANK YOU LORD!!!! I am happy, and content, even joyfully serving where You have me, and I haven’t even thought about my singleness in… I’m not sure when it happened, but it HAS happened. Thank you Lord!!!"

Psalm 73 continues, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…

… But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.”

Realistically, I understand that the very nature of a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) is that it can crawl back off of the altar. I am aware that this is not a one-time victory, but… once that initial victory has been won, the ensuing battles will be easier knowing that victory IS possible, that I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13), being confident that HE will continue that good work that was begun in my life (Phil 1:6) and that HE will work in me to will and do HIS pleasure (Phil 2:13)

Praise for the LORD’S Mercies.

A Psalm of David.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;

Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;

Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

The LORD performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses ,His acts to the sons of Israel.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.

But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children,

To those who keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them.

The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word!

Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. (And might I add here… Bless the Lord you His daughters, who serve Him, doing His will.)

Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!

As an aside (To be used on the blog for singles) Here is something that I have found to be incredibly helpful for me. I have friends who complain about Valentine’s Day, who call it “Singles Awareness Day” etc. Long ago I devised a plan. Rather than sitting around pining about what I do not have, I am going to think of others. For Valentine’s Day, I usually pick a family with a LOT of children, and offer to babysit so that the couple can go out on a date. This takes the focus off of me, and keeps me busy, so that I don’t even have time to think about being alone. …and… If the children are exceptionally trying, at times I actually go home thanking God for what I DON’T have ;)