Despite the Dark Cloud

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©2015 PurePurpose.org

I sat on the beach the first full morning of vacation. It wasn’t as warm as I expected. In fact, it was cloudy, windy, borderline chilly (although it would have seemed balmy, even steamy, if I had been home in central Illinois). Despite the feel, it was beautiful. I was able to sit outside, bare feet in the sand, no coat. The waves lapped the shoreline. The trees gently rustled. The birds chirped. The sun intermittently shined despite the looming cloud.

I had a choice. I could focus on the dark cloud and chilly breeze or the sunshine and warmth. It’s a choice I have to make every day…multiple times every day. I can focus on the inconveniences or blessings. My choice doesn’t mean I ignore reality. A cloud can hang, but it’s not the only thing in the sky.

I looked at the cloud and felt the chill, then I changed my focus. I felt warmth. I saw a peek of sun. I thought of someone close to me who chooses to look at the sun every day despite the looming cloud. It’s a dark, depressing cloud, but the sun peeks through. Even when it doesn’t, the sun is still there. It doesn’t go away.

What dark cloud is looming over you? Keep it in the context of the entire sky. Do you know someone with a dark cloud in his or her life? Acknowledge it but don’t focus on it. Talk about other things, too. A dark cloud doesn’t define his or her life…or yours.

Soak up the peeks of sun, listen to the waves, see the big picture. The sky is vast. So are the possibilities, not just for tomorrow but for right now.

Lesson from Nature: When Smooth Is Just Our Imaginations

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

It’s easy to get tripped up, even among the beauty of life. Even when we’re savoring where we are, we need to pay attention to the details. We can get so caught up in our own journey that we forget to consider the trouble spots.

It’s like that for Christians sometimes. We stand firmly on the assurance of God’s truth, yet our familiarity creates a bubble around us that causes us to forget how to relate and reach out to others. We imagine things are going smoothly and are shocked when we trip over others’ questions or confrontation. Or perhaps we’re not shocked. We actually expect it, but we don’t really invite it. We don’t engage with others; we get defensive and give pat answers that satisfy us but isolate others.

You don’t need to have all the answers. You need to follow the One who does. Jesus wasn’t hesitant to answer questions. He didn’t answer with arrogance. He challenged with respect and taught with love. He was bold. He went where God led, not just where He was comfortable.

If we keep focusing on what we’re against instead of who we’re for, we’ll isolate ourselves from both.

 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-48)

Lesson from Nature: Stronger than You Think

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©PurePurpose.org

Just because something looks precarious doesn’t mean it is. Just because it looks strong doesn’t mean it has a lasting, dependable strength.

We’re usually taught to rely on our own strength. If we have to rely on anyone else, we’re seen as weak. At least, that’s been the predominant cultural message for quite a while. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Stand on your own two feet.” “Make sure you can provide for yourself.” Responsibility is a good thing, but self-reliance isn’t. It will get us into trouble, because we’ll begin to believe that we’re in charge, that we control what will happen next because of our own efforts. But, think about it, how much do you truly do with absolutely no influence or assistance from anyone else? People are interdependent. We need each other.

And we need God.

If we believe we have the strength to withstand everyday pressures, what happens when one day’s pressures become too much? We think the ledge beneath our feet will hold us up, because it has, day after day. But one day, we don’t realize how the ledge has been weakened over time, and a large chunk falls beneath us. On the other hand, if we believe we have no strength, we don’t step onto the ground that gives us the best perspective. We don’t fully enjoy what God has planned for us. We let fear and insecurity guide our steps instead of God’s assurance.

Strength isn’t ours to muster. We get it from somewhere. And that means we have to go to the source of it.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song. (Psalm 29:7)

Lesson from Nature: Secure on the Edge

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

I looked for a quiet place to read my Bible. I stepped onto the ledge of rocks and could look to both sides and see the coastline for quite a distance. I heard the waves lapping the shoreline and felt the cool breeze and sunshine on my face. It was “my” spot. I sat down and settled in.

After reading for a while, I looked down and decided to snap a photo. It looked as if I was precariously sitting on a dangerous ledge, but I felt secure. I wasn’t uncertain, teetering on top of a slippery, unstable ledge. My feet dangled in air. They weren’t on solid ground, but that was okay.

I went back to reading God’s Word and thought about the security yet uncertainty of God’s Word. By uncertain, I don’t mean I’m not certain about it, or even more so, that God is uncertain in any way. It (and He) is unchangeable. However, I am changed every time I open it. It’s as if I feel secure as I settle into it, yet I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I don’t know exactly where God is going to guide me. With each word, God might guide me into exploring a new path, challenging me to change, weeding through my thoughts, changing my heart. I can certainly rely on Him…including relying on Him to guide my next steps.

I can be secure in God’s will without being certain about everything it entails. I don’t have to understand everything. My life might not be safe at times. God doesn’t promise me safety. He promises me security, and that doesn’t depend on my surroundings. Security is about my heart. It’s about eternity. I’m okay with my next steps being uncertain because of the certainty I have in eternity. I want my next steps to make a difference, inviting God to change my heart along the way. I don’t want to focus on the “someday” with Him. I want to live today, right now, for and with Him.

I don’t really mind that my feet are dangling over the edge, as long as I’m standing firmly on His Word.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Lesson from Nature: Moving On

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

“Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites…This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:5-7,24)

I don’t know what each person intended by stacking his or her cairn on the beach. Some might have simply thought it looked fun or challenging. Others might have done so in remembrance of something or someone. Each stone, each stack was different. But to me, they meant something. Despite not knowing the motivation behind each and every one, they were a reminder of the lesson God taught me about setting standing stones for Him. Not literal stones, but certainly spiritual stones. As I wrote in Pure Emotion. It started with a painful experience, signified by a large, unavoidable stone…

I dealt with it the best I could (which looking back, seems like not dealing with it at all), and I moved on. A few years later, I could feel it poking at me again. I felt like I was right back at the rock even though time had passed. I felt as if I hadn’t grown or healed with the passing time. So I worked it out again, a little differently, hopefully a little more deeply…and I moved on. Again.

A few years passed and it started sticking out again. I trudged back to the rock. Repeated coping and healing. Fast forward. Trudge back. Repeat. Fast forward. Trudge back. Repeat. It was an exhausting process. I didn’t think about it much in the “in between” times, but each time I trudged back, the effort and pain caught up with me. Each time I thought I was ready to move on. Each time I was caught off guard with the pull back to the rock.

And then, several years ago, I’d had enough. I felt the sharp poking, and I knew what was coming. The exhaustion set in, and I wasn’t happy about it. I was downright angry and said, “God. Why do you keep pulling me back to that place? I thought we’d dealt with this!” I clearly heard his answer in the depth of my soul: “Susan. I’m not taking you back there. You’re trudging back there on your own.”

What?! Why would I put myself through the agony? Yet I wanted to learn and grow, and I was tired of the weariness, so I listened. And God taught.

Consider the trauma like a burn. I’ve never experienced a severe burn, but I understand it’s excruciating. When someone suffers a severe burn, the focus isn’t on reconstruction. It’s on easing the trauma and stopping the burn. No reconstruction can immediately take place. The swelling has to subside. Tissue has to heal. And then reconstruction can take place…after some time.

From what I understand, the reconstruction can be more painful than the original burn. I’m sure there are some similarities. Just as I felt the pull back to the original pain and trudged back to it, a burn victim might feel that initial trauma. Similar pain, but different. The healing that’s taking place couldn’t have taken place at the time of the trauma. But it feels similar enough – and might even feel more painful – and it brings up all kinds of excruciating pain.

After the reconstruction, time must pass in order for the swelling to subside and tissue to heal…in preparation for yet another reconstructive procedure, at which time the process cycles yet again. Feels like the same pain as the trauma. Perhaps worse. But it’s another stage of healing.

And the process repeats itself. Perhaps a little different each time but part of the same journey.

I thought God was pulling me back to the original trauma. But he was healing me a little more along the way. He knew I needed rest in between. He knew it was best for the healing process – and still is. My journey of healing isn’t over, but now it looks like a series of standing stones. You see, each time God worked on me, there’s a monument to commemorate it. I move on from the stone. If I were to camp under it, I wouldn’t need the monument to remind me of the journey. Instead, the stone reminds me of the relationship I have with God. He works on me, and I set a stone of remembrance. And another and another. I keep journeying. Instead of trudging back to an earlier place along the journey, I can stand right where I am, turn my head, and see a line of standing stones as a testament of the dependability of God. I can see and declare, “God was there for me. And there and there and there. He brought me here. And He is here with me, too. I can depend on Him for everything at every place along the journey.” Praise God!

Emotions are moments, not monuments.

We can be pulled back to monuments we’ve erected when we’re experiencing emotional responses. Current pain reminds us of past pain, and we return to the monument. Current frustration reminds us of a pattern of frustration, and we return to the monument. Current fear reminds us of past fears, and we run to hide behind the monument.

But today’s emotion isn’t yesterday’s emotion. Similar? Yes. But if you’re growing in your relationship with God…if you’re asking him to reveal His godly emotions to you and reveal the discrepancies between Himself and you…if you’re drawing closer to the center of His will, your emotions of today only have hints of yesterday’s emotions – an aftertaste. And today’s emotions are a mere appetizer of tomorrow’s emotions. God has a feast planned for you!

Are you ready to move forward, assured in His presence and provision, and savor what He has for you, right now?

Lesson from Nature: Interruptions as Reminders

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

I was surprised to see trees in the middle of the road. I laughed at the signs, directing drivers to go around. I assume very few would run right into the tree. Perhaps they just wanted to make sure everyone knows which side of the tree to go around. Wouldn’t it have been easier to take out the tree when they made the road? But then I thought,

…if only we allowed more interruptions to be reminders.

We don’t have to clear everything out of our lives just because it’s convenient. We can get so determined to get from point A to point B that we want as straight a line as possible. But when we focus on the horizon, we don’t take the time to notice what’s around us. Slowing down to avoid bumps, debris, or even trees in the road helps us notice what would otherwise be a blur. It certainly might be easier to create a straight line, but what would we miss along the way? How might we “zone out” and reach our destination without experiencing the journey.

We easily become results-oriented. We consider what we need to do, then attack it (or sometimes, we avoid it). Accomplishment is revered as a strength. The farther we get, the more kudos we get from others and the better we feel about ourselves. But what are we missing in the process? Just because we feel good about something doesn’t mean it’s something good.

God isn’t content with good enough. He has the best in store for us…if we’ll trust Him along the journey. He’ll give us moments when we speed down the road, perhaps even faster than we want at that time. He’ll give us seasons in which we feel stuck but learn patience and perseverance. Then, there are the times the road seems to be straight but has a little swerve in it. As we avoid the tree, we notice something beside the road: a glimpse of beauty, a warning sign, or a hidden trail.

Pay attention. It’s our journey, but His road.

I know, Lord, that a man’s way of life is not his own; no one who walks determines his own steps.

(Jeremiah 10:23)

 

Lesson from Nature: The Invitation to Savor

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©PurePurpose.org

There’s always an empty chair, waiting for you, inviting you to savor God’s presence.

We often settle into our routines and drive right by, perhaps glancing at the view but not seeing the chair with our name on it for that moment. We miss out.

We long for time in that chair, a moment to breathe and look around at the beauty and feel the breeze. Yet, sometimes, we don’t get the time we need…the time God extends to us…because we rush by. We don’t accept the invitation. We either ignore it or reject it. And we miss out.

God misses us, too.

Sure, He is always present, so in a sense, He can’t miss us because He’s with us. But haven’t you ever missed someone while sitting beside or across from him or her? When someone isn’t fully present when you’re together, it’s as if you’re not really together. It’s that way with God. Just because He’s with us doesn’t mean we’re with Him.

Maybe you don’t believe God is calling you to sit and savor right now. But maybe you need to open your ears and eyes. Take a breath. Wait a moment. Listen. Watch. Pay attention. If you’ve gotten used to ignoring or refusing God’s invitation, it’s not quite as easy to hear.

I will listen to what God will say; surely the LORD will declare peace to His people, His godly ones, and not let them go back to foolish ways.  (Psalm 85:8)