Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"It takes a long time to grow an old friend" ~ John Leonard

"Just as lotions and fragrance give delight to the senses, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul." 
Proverbs 27:9
In recent weeks I have reflected many times on the irreplaceable gift of the friendships our family has been blessed with over the years.   Countless times we have benefited from others living out the verse in Galatians 6:2 that reads, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."  Our lives are assuredly more full when we open ourselves to sharing it with those who can celebrate with us in our joys and mourn with us in our heartaches (Romans 12:15).  I've never been one to want to seclude myself from others, although I do admit that at times throughout my life, even from my earlier memories of childhood friendships, it has been easier to withdraw to surface level relationships rather than put myself out there at the risk of being hurt.  However, if I had let the fear of getting hurt always trump God's desire for me to open my life to others, I would have missed out on the refreshing of my soul that can only come from dear friends and the timeliness of a good friend's much needed advice.

In a previous blog post around this time last year, If home is where the heart is...when will my heart realize my body has already moved?, I wrote about what it felt like to live in the balance between the friends we left behind after our move and the ones yet to be made here in our new home.  A little over one year later, God has indeed proven faithful to give us more than we could ever ask or imagine when it comes to the people He has put in our path (Ephesians 3:20-21), but that's another post for another day :). Today, I want to share just a small glimpse of the kind of friends God has blessed us with in the transition from one home to another, our "middle-of-the-way" and "in between" friends. :)

"For they have refreshed my spirit and yours.  You should recognize the value of people like these."
1 Corinthians 16:18

Scot and Dee are the kind of friends you long to be with.  And when you're with them, there isn't a thought given to how late it's getting or what might need to be done in the morning.  In simple conversation, they have the gift of making you feel like whatever is going on in your life is the most important thing of the moment.  Their home is one that's warm and inviting and one cannot help but be drawn in by their hospitality and humbled by how easily they seem to share their lives with others.  Scot and Dee may not even have known it, or been purposefully mindful about it, but for Matt and I, they were a lifeline to the familiar after we moved.  Each month after our move, for 4 or 5 months in a row, they came to visit us for a weekend.  While we loved our new home, our hearts still ached for the familiarity of friends that knew us well.  I felt as if I marked time with "Before Scot & Dee's Visit" and "After Scot & Dee's Visit".  :) After a weekend with Scot and Dee, Matt and I both felt our souls had been refreshed.  We were reminded anew of the blessing that comes from opening up our lives to the people God puts in our path.  Our excitement grew over what God would be capable of doing in the future when we were reminded of how He'd blessed us in friendship before.  It couldn't have been easy for Scot and Dee to have planned so many weekends away from their own home...but we are more than grateful that they did, as they were just the bridge we needed across our "middle-of-the-way".  

Elise is just as much a part of my story today as she was 8 years ago.  No one who knew me 8 years ago would have EVER pictured me living here in Lynchburg and not wanting to be anywhere else.  Eight years ago, Matt and I were in the middle of a period of many months in which the mere mention by him of the town of Lynchburg would make me angry.  I can remember times when I'd be in the next room and hear a snippet of a conversation he was having with someone else about Lynchburg and I'd call out, "I heard that!  God may have told you that we're supposed to move there but He hasn't told me yet, so forget about it!"  I felt as if I'd married a man of many plans when all I wanted was to stick to MY plan.  I had let my fear of change and my need to be comfortable crowd out any dream that Matt might have had to follow a desire planted in his heart by God.  I can remember one night sobbing in the corner of the bathroom in a restaurant in the middle of New York City because Matt had chosen an inopportune moment at dinner during a weekend away to broach the subject again and I fled from the table in tears.  I briefly considered leaving the bathroom and leaving the restaurant entirely and wandering the streets of New York City until Matt really understood the level to which I disagreed with his leading.  :)  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately..., the fear that I might've still been wandering those streets today, waiting for him to understand, kept me huddled in the bathroom trying to erase the tears as they continued to pour down my face.  It was in the midst of this period of disagreement between Matt and I that Elise and I went together to a Beth Moore conference in Richmond, VA.  Somewhere in the jumble of memories leading up to our move and after, the significance of that particular weekend and it's testimony of God's miraculous answer to a desperate prayer of mine got lost in the shuffle.  Just recently, Elise asked me if I could find my notes from that long ago weekend for something that she was doing.  I dug through all of my old journals trying to find them as a favor for her, having no idea that what I would actually find would be my biggest reminder yet of God's faithfulness surrounding our move to Lynchburg.

As I flipped through the pages of my scribbled notes, a small piece of paper fluttered out from between them and fell to the floor.  I picked it up recognizing Elise's familiar handwriting:

"Ok, you're not going to like this, but here's the thought that came to me.  Perhaps you are to wrestle this out with God and find your peace, your confirmation apart from Matt.  I will stand out at the edge of your 'further still' place and pray for you as you go there to fight it out with God.  And I'll be there to rejoice with you when you come out." -E

I can remember leaving for that weekend away and desperately asking God to show me some way to convince Matt that he was wrong and I was right.  My spirit was so opposed to the idea that I thought surely Matt had to be wrong in his desire to come to LynchburgI felt imprisioned in the midst of the turmoil caused by Matt's and my conflicting ideas over the future, unable to convince Matt that he was wrong, and unable, or worse...unwilling, to allow myself to hear God above the roar of my feelings.  Beth Moore spent some time talking that weekend about how when we're stuck in difficult circumstances, we are not stuck there without purpose.  God is most assuredly completing something that is lacking in me when I'm in the midst of a situation that I cannot control.  She talked about the idea that it's these kinds of situations that bring out the worst in us, and for good reason.  It is God's refining of us through fiery trials that brings out the worst in us so it can be acknowledged and then done away with.  When we are refined, we can have a new response to an old situation.  Though the situation or circumstance may never change, God's priority is my response to the situation.

"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."  1 Peter 1:6-7

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4

As I struggled that weekend to somehow conform God's word into what I wanted it to say for me in my situation, Elise heard the truth of what God was really saying and loved me enough to be honest with me in her note, jotted quickly on a scrap of paper.  Eight years later, as that note fluttered to my feet and I read it again, I had that feeling from within that can only be described as a bubble of joy bursting and overflowing out of my mouth in the form of praise for what God has done in my heart through these years.  Elise had no way of knowing where I'd be today.  Our friendship had been the kind where each of us could easily end up on the others doorstep in tears or in laughter, just wanting to share whatever it was on our mind.  If God were to confirm for me His desire for us to move, there would be a lot more distance between her doorstep and mine.  Yet still her prayer was that I would cast my fear and anxiety on God, rather than Matt, and her promise was to rejoice with me in the outcome whether it put distance between us or not.  Between the pages where I had tucked Elise's note, I wrote these words during that weekend eight years ago:

"Matt doesn't need to change, I need to change.  God is trying to teach me through Matt, 'the man with the plan', that my security lies only in You, God.  Give me that security, God.  Don't let me walk away unchanged from this trial.  Remind me daily that you are always accomplishing something in  me in the 'wait'.  Refine me God, get rid of my old, sinful response.  Give me a new response to the same situation.  I am here, at this point, for a reason.  Complete what is lacking in me so I may be fully used of You wherever, whatever that may be.  AMEN."

Below these words I had written a note to myself to find scriptures that spoke truth about the desires of my heart reflecting God's desires, & the trustworthiness of God to give me the desires of my heart when I hand them over to him and to then continually pray through the scriptures I found until my thoughts reflected God's own. 

"For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.  But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."  Matthew 13:15-16

This was exactly the condition of my heart eight years ago.  I had become so wrapped up in what I wanted and what made me feel comfortable and secure that my heart had become too calloused to even be aware of what God was speaking.  I had squeezed my eyes shut tightly and covered my ears like a child having a tantrum and expected that I could continue to be content while not seeing or hearing.

"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, and your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him..."        Psalm 37:4-7

Everyday that I witness the beautiful rising of the sun over the mountains from the deck of our home here in Lynchburg, I am reminded anew of how faithful my God is.  He didn't just bring us here and leave me longing for what I left behind.  He opened my eyes to see and my ears to hear so that I could accept His gift of bringing us here.  He replaced my selfish desires with His desires for our family.  He knew the blessing waiting for me here and patiently held my hand through my tantrum, knowing all the while that when I got where He was leading me, I'd see the silliness of wanting to stay where I was simply because it was "safe".  He has given me the desires of my heart even when I had been willing to settle instead for my limited view of what was best.  

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord...'You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.'"  Isaiah 55:9,12

Never underestimate God's ability to change your heart and give you true joy in the midst of what you feared the most. When I compare the calloused heart beating inside me eight years ago, to the one that pounded loudly in my chest six years and two months later as I told Matt that I had a peace about our move, I can no longer doubt God's ability to accomplish what concerns me when I give myself completely over to His care.  I need to continue to challenge myself with this truth in other areas of my life.  I was reminded this week, in a Bible study by Angela Thomas entitled "Brave", that "God is always plotting for our joy in the unseen."  Was He ever! :)

"He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me...For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.  For by You I can run upon a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall...The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of my salvation."  Psalm 18:19, 28-29, 46

God's gift of Elise, with the right words for the right moment, is a constant reminder to me of the blessing found in a friend who is willing to speak truth to you, no matter the cost.  She pointed me in the direction of God's best for me, not even knowing herself what it would be or what it would cost her.  The result has been one of the grandest displays of God's faithfulness in my life to date.  Elise has surrounded me in my "in between".  Having known the full story of our family's journey to Lynchburg that began seven years before we ever got here, she stuck to her word and has rejoiced with me as I came out the other side. :)