Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One Voice

The arena quiets while the rider enters. It is a short stint in self control until the first maneuver begins. No matter what it is, there will be noise at the outset. The crowd comes to life and cheers its approval and encouragement and frankly, the louder the better! Circles, spins, lead changes or stops - they all illicit a din of response. It can be deafening to be certain. With so much noise it can also be hugely distracting.

Those competitors that have truly succeeded in the pen, the ones who have stepped out and really made an impact will often tell you that they hear only one thing when they are competing. They hear only their coach. There is no cheering crowd, no thundering applause, no music or whistling. They hear only the encouragement, instruction and critique of the one person they have tuned their ears to for their entire competition career. Everything else is silenced.

What would my life be like if I did that with God? What would I accomplish if, instead of consulting every Tom, Dick and Harry, instead of scouring Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, instead of reading all manner of self-help articles, I actually tuned my ears to listen to ONE coach - GOD?

I have been there too many times. Faced with something that I need to research and get an answer on I sit down at the computer, Google up some results and before I know it, not only do I not have an answer to the question I originally sat down to ask, but I have dozens more questions and some aren't even remotely related to the original topic! It is what happens when I cut God out of the equation on life decisions as well. I stop listening to the coach, I try to do things my way and I get confused. It can be discouraging and at the very least, distracting.

The good news is this: God is still standing at the gate. He is still speaking to my heart, but He refuses to compete with the noises of the World. God knows that to get my attention He must speak quieter than the rest, not louder. Only then will I tune out the roar of the crowd and focus on what it is He is teaching me in that moment. Only then will He have my heart, soul and ears to accomplish His means.

It takes practice, this focus I am talking about. It means shutting out the well meaning advice of a friend. It means not Googling, reading or listening to the radio for my inspiration or answers. It means developing a habit of coming to God first, instead of last. It isn't an easy answer. It isn't terribly popular or trendy. But like the wooden pencil, it's so simple it works.

My husband told me once that he could hear his riding coach speak in a normal tone of voice above the noise of a full house crowd from deep in the stands. I found it hard to believe. How could he pick out that one small voice in a sea of distraction and tumult? "I knew his voice so well," he said, "I just could." You see, he practiced listening to that voice. He recognized it in the turmoil because he'd listened to it in the quiet first. I see now that in order to hear God speak to me when the World is crashing down around me, I first have to practice listening to Him when it's quiet. I can only pick out His voice if I know it intimately. I can do this through prayer, quiet time and bible study, but I have to do it if I am to recognize it when He speaks.

Lord, let me be so close to you, so familiar with the sound of your guidance and instruction, that I can pick your voice out of the din of my very noisy world. Let me hear you and heed you, no matter what is going on around me. Let me always be comforted by the utterances of your infinite wisdom. ONE VOICE... Yours.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Not-so-Silent Night

She was pregnant. For all intents and purposes, to the whispering outside world, the baby was illegitimate. Her soon-to-be husband was branded a fool and she had to know that he had toyed with a plan to quietly divorce her. It didn't change her mind. It didn't sway her attitude. When the angel came to her and spoke the words that would alter her very young life forever, she didn't whine. She asked one single question and she accepted that God was sovereign and she waited.

She didn't complain about the nasty comments she overheard in her gravid condition. She didn't attempt to explain her situation or send back a haughty retort that she would be the mother of the Savior. She didn't have even a hint of a surly attitude when her husband informs her they would be traveling during her last moments of pregnancy. Mary just trusted. After months of carrying a child that she must have been vastly unsure of (what does the progeny of God look like?), after riding a donkey all the way into Bethlehem, silently in labor I might add, Mary lays down in the straw and dirt of an old barn and gives birth alone.

I don't think I need to tell you that I am not made of that kind of tough! I would have been screaming at the top of my lungs as soon as the pains started. (I know this because that is exactly what I did when my own were born.) I would have been clutching at Joseph's hands, trying with all my tiny might to crush his bones to dust and I would have probably broken out with some stellar phrases questioning the origins of his birth as well as this child's... (Getting a picture of what my husband went through, are you? Ya, twern't pret-tay!)

But more than that, more than my lack of quiet spirit and sweet disposition, I don't have that level of trust. Nowhere near it. I would have been questioning from the very beginning and I would have doubted. I would have attempted at least weekly to call up Gabriel and ask multiple times what the plan was, how was it going to go again and if there really was any way I could be pregnant without looking pregnant. There are no records of further questions from Mary. She asks how it might happen since she is a virgin and then simply accepts that this is what her God is requiring of her and waits for it to come to pass.

For me it isn't about whether or not I was born with Mary's quiet kind of spirit. I think I have established rather firmly that I was not. It is about what I choose to do with what I am given now. I know that my instant reactions are often way off kilter. I accept that. I also know that somewhere in the midst of what is going on I will have an opportunity to choose. I can choose to complain, whine and grouse about my situation, or I can choose to look it dead in the eye, pray for an answer to some questions, and then accept that the God who has seen me through many storms thus far will see me through this one. When it all comes down to it, it is about choosing to let my God be God.

As this Christmas season closes in and the temps drop to chilly levels, as my schedule amps up and I feel rushed and uncertain, as things ebb and flow with the way they always do, I know I will have my meltdowns. I also know that I will have a choice to make. I pray right now that in that moment, when silence penetrates my heart and I am there on the edge of sanity, that I will be reminded to choose to trust Him. I will remember that I am not riding on the back of an ass to a town without a hotel during the last moments of my intense labor to give birth in the dirt alone. I will remember that she did all that so that I can sit back and watch Him, her precious baby boy, work a miracle on my behalf - Not because I deserve it or have earned it, but because it pleases Him. Amazing, ain't it? That kind of Grace just rocks my world...

Be blessed!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Taking Chances

I watched her face contort into this weird, smiling grimace. She was distraught and it was literally taking all she had to form the words. "I don't want to change! I did it before and I was miserable, I don't see myself ever getting better doing it your way." The tears had formed in my eyes as well. Man! I could completely relate to this girl and what she was going through. It doesn't really matter what the television show was about or the context of what that lovely, over made-up beauty was suffering from. The epiphany that surrounded me at that moment was simple and ultimately universal.

We all have our suitcase full of crap, don't we? Whether we struggle from an eating disorder, alcoholism, an overbearing mother, a contentious sibling, critical spirits, etc., it's all the same. We are fallen, and (to mock an old commercial) we can't get up - at least not without some help. It doesn't matter what we struggle with, most days we have the same reaction as the girl I saw sitting on that sound stage. We fight the healing we need because we cannot imagine being happy any other way than the way we have made for ourselves. So very tragic and short sighted of us....

We look at our path, we check out the forecast of our lives as we see them, and we try to foretell the outcome. We attempt to see ahead from one scenario to the next and build a plan and a path to walk based on what we know. It isn't reality. It isn't reliable. It isn't possible because we don't have any way to know what comes next. Only the Lord knows those things, and He's not ready to share them with us. Our only job is to trust Him when He shows up and tells us we must change, that it's time to lay down our old ways and move closer to what He wants for us. He isn't asking us to devise the plan, He already has that in the bag. Besides, if we could do it without Him, what is the point of a Savior? He is asking us to lay down our own agenda and follow Him to greater, more glorious lives, whether we think we deserve it or not. We seem to have this weird tally system in place and we assume that God is frustrated with us. We tell Him we certainly don't deserve a second chance.

I have heard the saying that our God is the "God of Second Chances." That's wrong. God is not limited in what He is willing to dole out. In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells us He isn't the God of Second Chances, He is the God of Another Chance! God delights in seeing us come back to Him, over and over and over again. He never turns us Prodigals away because we deserve to be punished. He doesn't waste His lectures with us when He can see a repentant heart and He doesn't hold it against us when He knows, in His omniscience, that we will indeed turn away again. God simply opens His arms wide, wraps His love around us and whispers, "Welcome home, Child!"

The next time I am tempted to cry out to God that I cannot possibly do it His way, that changing who I am is impossible and too painful to bear, or that I simply don't want to change, I hope I can be reminded of her face. Her twisted smile reminded me that I am not capable of that kind of miracle - Only God has that power. I am reminded that I am not being asked to do it alone, just to lay back in His arms and trust that He will bring me through it in perfection only He could arrange.

God wants me to forget all the chances He has given me in the past. God asks that I don't count the chance I am on right now. He knows He will grant me others. God asks only that I fall deeply into His embrace, bury my face in His love and breathe deeply of His forgiveness once again. "Welcome home," I hear Him say in a whisper to my heart, "Let's celebrate!"