Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Uncomfortable Grace

The last straw probably had to have been the lightning that struck the imposing giant of metal scaffolding that had obscured the front of our house, casting a dark shadow into our torn up dining room for 6 long weeks... 

Check out that curbside appeal! ;)
It had been 3 years, almost to the day, since moving into our beautiful, new home.  While we had built a house before and understood the unforeseen issues that can arise after moving in, nothing had prepared us for the ensuing months and years following our move into our house in Virginia.  What began as seemingly just a small leak, stretched on into the span of 3 full years of our house being in a constant state of repair and construction.  If you know me, you immediately also know that this presents a major problem for me.  When it comes to keeping my house in order and free of clutter, I jokingly refer to myself as having CDO tendencies.  Generally, the same as having OCD when it comes to needing a certain sense of order in my surroundings, but I just prefer to have the letters in alphabetical order.

I might have survived, unscathed, the first flooding of our fully finished basement had it not been for the second flooding of our basement.  And I might have survived, maintaining a certain modicum of grace, one rebuilding of the entire front wall of our house had it not been for the 2nd...and 3rd thru 8th rebuilding of the same wall.  In hindsight, both issues pointed to a relatively simple fix involving proper drainage from our gutters and adequate flashing for a small section of our roof where it met the wall.  However, without the proper attention from someone who understands these kinds of things, relatively simple things can turn into major issues.  Let's just say that when we moved in, our builder moved on.  (Maybe I do still maintain a certain modicum of grace.) ;)
Talk about open air living...this was the night we spent w/ nothing but a sheet of plastic between us & the coyotes, snakes & whatever/whoever else.  I told myself we were camping.

The drama that unfolded around us as our house seemed to rue the day we ever moved in, was only eclipsed by the drama that unfolded from my own heart.  Please, all of you who read my words, offer my husband your deepest sympathies for experiencing the latter of his "for better or worse" promise for most of our 3-year house saga.

My need for order comes from an unhealthy tendency to think that if I can control the inanimate things around me, it will help bring order and control to that which I cannot control, whether it be situations or people.  When my perceived ability to control my surroundings by keeping order in my home was taken away, there were some ugly tendencies revealed in my character.  Worse, it became apparent that I was foolishly placing my trust in and gaining security, albeit a false sense of security, from a source that would never prove trustworthy.

It was late at night on a long drive that it became abundantly clear to me that my focus was all wrong.  A song entitled "Blessings" by Laura Story, that I'd probably heard a few dozen times, was playing on the radio and I was caught off guard by the immediate perspective the simple lyrics gave me:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

 'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

I had been asking God to send someone to fix our house, just PLEASE!  Once and for all, fix our house!  Complaining to Him, and anyone else who would listen, about all the things we were having to deal with as a result of the carelessness and lack of concern of someone else.  All the while ignoring His gentle whisper of, "It's YOU I want to fix."  When all was said and done, the house was the easy fix.  The ugliness of the areas needing refining in me had been proving more difficult.

Each time it rained I would run to the areas of the house we were having trouble with, desperate to see exactly where the problem was originating from and hoping to alleviate any further damage that would undoubtedly come from the rain.  I found myself in the most precarious of positions, perched atop the "do not stand or sit" rung of a ladder that was never tall enough to see what I needed to see.  Balanced on the tippy-toes of one foot while the rest of my body clung to our roof line, one arm outstretched with my phone trying to get pictures and video of exactly what was happening...all during a wind and rain storm.  The scaffolding that sat outside our house for weeks on end at a time became my jungle gym as I would carelessly scale up and down it, trying to understand what I couldn't see.  Rain woke me up at night and I couldn't sleep until it stopped.  If I was away from our house and a substantial rain storm came through, I needed to rush home to make sure nothing was leaking.  I hated the rain.  I cursed the rain.  I certainly wasn't thankful for it. 
Who needs a water-tight wall when a towel will suffice?!
Who wouldn't pay for these views!

It's funny what a simple change in perspective can do for our sanity.  God knew I was allowing myself to trust in a false sense of security that would never bring me to a place of complete peace despite my circumstance.  Having my house in order was of least importance when it came to making it a home for my family and a place of refuge or warmth for anyone else who might enter.  God was trying to loosen my grip on what was of least importance in order to allow me to cling to what was of greatest importance.  He needed to get my attention in the area of where I was finding my security.  He knew my security in "things" and having them in order would never help me weather the storms in life that would undoubtedly arise.

The spirit of grumbling that had become a dark cloud over my life dissipated as an attitude of gratefulness took it's place.  It had been tempting for me to view our difficulties as a possible lack of faithfulness on God's part, rather than a sign of His love for me.  I don't know what the future holds for our family.  God does.  He also knows that placing my security in anything other than Himself will not serve me well in any situation.  He loves me enough to address my foolishness amidst times of little consequence, like a leaky house, in order to prepare me to better weather times of greater consequence when they come.  These moments of difficulty were exactly where God wanted me to be.  Not because He was toying with me or had any ill-intent...but quite the opposite.  Only He knows the extent to which I can be focused on what I think is important rather than the big picture of what truly is important.  In His love for me, He allows me to go through difficulty in order to fully develop the character in me that He knows I'll need to fulfill any calling He places on my life.

On the same late-night trip that I finally allowed the meaning in the words of the Laura Story song to take root, I also heard a sermon on the radio given by pastor, author and speaker, Paul David Tripp. His timely words gave me a glimpse of what God had been giving me all along.  "Between the already and the not yet, God will take you where you haven't intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.  It's called uncomfortable grace."

Given the choice, I would rather ask for the kind of grace that will magically pluck me out of any difficulty and somehow manage to mold me into the woman God intends for me to be, than this sort of "uncomfortable" grace that demands personal refinement.  How short-sighted of me to think that this sort of refining could come without difficulty.  When precious metals are refined, they are done so through fire.  It is the fire itself that removes the impurities that if left alone would devalue the precious metal.  So it is with us.  If we allow God to use our difficulties for His purpose, He can produce in us such a thing of value and beauty that we could never achieve on our own while trying to stick to things that we embrace as familiar, comfortable and safe.  He loves us too much to allow us to settle for a lesser version of our God-designed intended selves.

"So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.  These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.  You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.  The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls."  1 Peter 1:6-8

 "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

If I am going to experience trials, troubles and heartaches as a fact of this fallen life, why not allow the Creator of the universe, the One who sees the end from the beginning, to lovingly assign purpose and worth to those things in order to better equip me for what may come tomorrow?  Not all of the tough and sometimes heart-wrenching things that come my way are directly from His hand, some are a result of my own or others choices. But when those difficult things are placed IN His hands, not a single one is wasted or without a redeeming purpose.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
When life gives you lemons...let the kids pretend it's a playground. (Kids, don't try this at home.) ;)
Too quickly I forget that God's priority is not to change my circumstances so that I can be happy.  Instead, He desires to change me through my circumstances so that I can be holy.  Becoming more like Him produces in me not just happiness that can come and go depending on what's happening, but an unspeakable joy that is unshaken by mere circumstance.  I want what's easy.  God wants what's best.  

In his book, "Broken-Down House", (ironic?...maybe, ha!) Paul David Tripp states, “The fact that you live in a broken-down house in the midst of restoration makes everything more difficult. It removes the ease and simplicity of life. It requires you to be more thoughtful, more careful. It requires you to listen and see well. It requires you to look out for difficulty and to be aware of danger. It requires you to contemplate and plan. It requires you to do what you don't really want to do and to accept what you find difficult to accept. You want to simply coast, but you can't. Things are broken and they need to be fixed. There is work to do.”  

More important than the restoration happening in the house around me, was the restoration that needed to happen inside of me.  I was allowing my circumstances to produce in me something that was ugly, rather than something of beauty.  I am broken.  I will always be broken until the day Christ returns and restores to wholeness all that was broken when we chose to leave the path of what was truly best, for what seemed best in our own eyes at the time.  Because I am broken, my tendency will always be to want what is easier over what is best.  My prayer though is that when difficulty comes, as it surely will, that I will quickly recognize it as an opportunity for growth and refinement, accepting the grace that my Heavenly Father so lovingly extends, uncomfortable as it may feel in the moment.  

May my "broken-down house" always be progressing toward a thing of beauty that more closely reflects the wealth of grace I've been given.  

Look closely for the house plant placed atop the scaffolding in a moment of obvious insanity.  My attempt at sprucing up the place. :)

The scaffolding became a makeshift aviary of sorts on which birds of a feather would flock together, dive-bombing our windows and making (more of) a mess of our front entryway.  You can see how well my attempt at scaring them away with a rubber snake worked...

"It is beautiful when the Master chisels.  God doesn't allow the unglued moments of our lives to happen so we'll label ourselves and stay stuck.  He allows the unglued moments to make us aware of the chiseling that needs to be done.  So instead of condemning myself with statements like, 'I'm such a mess', I could say, 'Let God chisel.  Let Him work on my hard places so I can leave the dark places of being stuck and come into the light of who he designed me to be.'  God is calling us out-out of darkness, out from those places we thought would never get better, out of being stuck...He knows best how to prepare in us the character we need to fulfill our calling."   
(from Ch. 3 of "Unglued" by Lysa Terkeurst)

“It is a sweet thing that we serve a dissatisfied God who has destinations in mind for us that we would never choose for ourselves. It really is a good thing that he will not be satisfied until he has gotten us exactly where he created us and re-created us to be. Most of us would have been satisfied to stay at home, and many of us would have quit the journey long before it was completed. But our heavenly Father won't give up until each one of his children has completed the journey.” 
(from "A Quest For More: Living For Something Bigger Than You" by Paul David Tripp)