Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Welcome to the Wermel's Apartment
The little silver dish was a birthday gift from Lacy :)
Finally gave in and bought some gold plate chargers.
Probably the only snow I'll see in Texas ;)
Mom sent us some gifts to open on Thanksgiving Day- this Nativity scene was such a beautiful surprise! Thanks Momma!
Doggies are tired from decorating all day Friday after Thanksgiving- they're catching up on their rest today.

Our beautiful tree comes from West Jefferson, North Carolina!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Even if

It's a little too quiet in my apartment. My turkey is thawing in the fridge, and I've vacuumed everything twice already. Andy cleaned the bathrooms last night. I don't need to start cooking until tonight. Andy's gone to work. I'm sure there's school work I could do, but my mind wants a break from all that.

I got up and started thinking about my Mom. She'll be busy as a bee today- cleaning, prepping for the big meal at her house tomorrow. Last year, I was home with her- dusting and polishing and arranging live branches I'd collected from the yard in the vases that only get used when I come home. When I think about not being there, it's easy to get sad or even angry, so I decided to come into the study and spend some quiet time with the Lord.

We're beginning to learn about the life of Abraham in BSF Genesis study. I've always sort of dreaded learning about Abraham- because his story begins with leaving. Even when I was younger, and wasn't so inclined to stability, I wasn't nuts about the principle of following God wherever He asks you to go. It was always costly. But it got harder, a lot harder, as I got older and the cost seemed to go up and up.

I studied Genesis probably seven years ago in BSF, and it's funny how life has altered my interpretation of Abraham's life story. Seven years ago, it was the initial call on his life that stood out to me. Here in Austin on the 21st of November, with my family in North Carolina, and an undetermined amount of time here ahead of me- I am most impressed by Abraham's choice to continue to trust in God throughout his entire life.

I am beginning to understand the meaning of faith "without sight." I think that I've often let my mind be tricked into believing that true faith- big faith- is accompanied with some sort of major action- like moving to the mission field or adopting orphans from Africa. That's not true. Faith is accompanied by action. James made that abundantly clear, but what precedes that action is true heart change. Faith cultivates the heart, so that genuine action can follow. If all we do is pursue the action, then it's not the real deal. I've found myself tempted to do just that at times here in Austin- I guess to try to make sense of the emotional mess that I've lived in here. But God is too clever for that- and good for Him. I've come to really appreciate that God is not a liar, nor can He be lied to. It might be my favorite thing about Him at this point in my life. That, and His persistence with me. Rather than letting me pursue my actions and get further entrenched in my own self-righteousness, He keeps on after my heart- and allows the circumstances that create a need for Him to remain in my way until I realize that what He's doing is better than just making everything okay, or allowing me to feel like some super-star Christian. I think that's what was going on with Abraham. He moved, but what was really even the point of moving? He didn't set up a mission or start some sort of ministry. He just did what God told Him to do when He told him to do it. It was Abraham's heart that God was after- and his changed heart eventually affected an entire nation.

I am learning this- slowly but surely- God is after my heart, not out to please me or set me into continuous action so that I can feel good about myself. He wants my heart to be devoted to Him unconditionally. Who can blame Him? How cheap would it be for me to just want what He can do for me (though I confess that has been my heart attitude toward Him a lot of the time) Why He wants anything to do with me, I do not really understand, but I do understand needing to prune the spoiled, self-centered nature that resides within me so that I can truly enjoy Him for who He is. All of this is "too lofty for me to attain" but I catch glimpses of it, and He is God, what can I do but eventually submit to Him?

In that vein, I've started to begin to ask God for Himself again- just Him- a prayer I haven't prayed in a really, really long time. I've wanted Him to fix things, to give me things, and that kind of faith isn't the kind of faith that Abraham had- it's not the kind that really pleases God. I don't think He minds if I ask Him for things. His Word says that I should. But I do think that He's hoping that I'll want Him more than the perfect set of circumstances. And I think He's been working on my heart to help me actually desire that for a long time now.

So this quiet morning, though I'd actually really love to be at home with my mom, cleaning bathrooms and collecting leaves from her yard, I chose to sit in my study and ask God for Himself- no strings attached. North Carolina or Texas, understood by others or misunderstood forever, riches or poor- let's just be together. I need You. You are good.

This song by Kutless came to mind and I wanted to share it.

You are God and I will bless you as the Good and Faithful One. You are God and I will bless you, even if the healing doesn't come.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From above...

I'm on Thanksgiving Break, which means I don't have to spend my afternoon grading papers or  trying to get everything prepared for the busy week ahead. This rest is needed, not just on a physical level, but a spiritual one.

Andy's at the Formula 1 race having a great time this weekend (his 30th birthday present from me!)  I've been home catching up on sleep. I woke this morning as physically rested as I have been in a  long time. Andy left for the race early, and I found myself with several hours of alone time before having to get ready for church. Almost always, when I'm left with such time, I start some sort of project. This morning, I decided to open our Christmas decorations and sort through them. I wasn't going to put anything up, but I LOVE decorating for Christmas, and I wanted to sort of develop a master plan for decorating the apartment the Friday after Thanksgiving. I also wanted to see if there would be anything I needed to pick up to fill in any "decor gaps" while I'm on break this week.

I had a Christmas DVD playing, and I thought that I would be put in a very Merry mood by the work. But by 10AM, I was on the sofa with Gatsby in my lap, feeling sad. This surprised me because I'm very excited about Christmas. Especially since we're not traveling home for Thanksgiving this year, I'm so happy about preparing for our Holiday trip to North Carolina, as well as trying to enjoy the December days that Andy & I will spend in Austin before school lets out.

The movie ended, and I switched to TV mode, and was delighted to find myself with a front row seat at "First Baptist Atlanta." I love watching Charles Stanley. My parents watch him on Sunday mornings as they get ready for church, so listening to the wisdom in that very Southern drawl reminds me of home and brings comfort to my soul.

Charles Stanley was talking about adversity being a bridge to the heart of God. He said that God allows adversity to come into our lives so that we can grow into a more intimate relationship with Him. I've heard this before, I've even written about it before. I've walked that bridge in years past and found joy in my Father's embrace. But that was years ago. And this Sunday morning, as I sat with my best buddy on my lap, I realized that there's an adversity bridge before me that I have refused to walk. I knew this because of the Christmas decorations. There I sat, three new decorative trees from Hobby Lobby sitting on the coffee table before me, Santas and candles strewn about- proof positive of my ongoing submission to my own desires to control my circumstances.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with decorative trees or Santas. God has spoken to my heart about this before- there is nothing wrong, in fact, there's a lot of right in wanting to create a comfortable, happy home for your family. But it is wrong- dead wrong- to use something as simplistic as decorating to try to control my circumstances. And I do this all the time. But it's not just decorating- it's work in general- it's the drive to achieve, to accomplish, to perfect. I follow that drive into exhaustion in an effort to escape a truth that Charles Stanley was making painstakingly clear- all things.... ALL THINGS... come from the Lord above.

And there's the problem for me. Because there are a handful of things in my life that I have absolutely refused to have seen as being from the hand of God. They are things that have hurt me deeply- a pain that I avoid by trying to accomplish other things. Things like sorting through Christmas decorations and working too hard at school. Charles Stanley said that on this adversity bridge, the railings on either side are each of the following:
1. That God is in control of our circumstances.
2. That God is working those things out for our good.
These two basic Sunday school truths sound easy enough, but when something comes into your life that you just really, really do not want, it's hard to stand still and believe that thing is coming from God. Instead, I want to say that it's the fault of other people, and I think that if I can just avoid those people, then I can get away from the circumstance all together.

I am recognizing that the root of my false belief is this- I have believed that God will only bring pleasant things into my life. I don't know why it is that I believe this, or even when it started. I think perhaps it was sometime in my mid-twenties. I suffered heart-ache from my own poor choices in my early twenties, and then, I though that as I began to more faithfully follow God, that God would start to reward me with good things because I was, in my own thinking, a much better girl now.

But God has made it abundantly clear to me that was not His plan. He did give me one of the greatest desires of my heart- my sweet Andy, but with that, He gave me a life far from my home and my family and that has always been so hard. Other deep heartache has also always been associated with our marriage-  and so it was that this sweet, good gift- came with strings that I did not want to be attached to. Those strings are my adversity bridge. They are meant for my good. They are from God and meant to help me draw closer to Him. But I don't want to walk across to the Father. I want to run away to Pottery Barn. Because walking through the adversity means facing the painful things that are not under my control and giving thanks for them. Accepting them. Submitting to the Holy God who chose them for me.

I went to Hill Country Bible Church after First Baptist Atlanta and was encouraged again by the message there- it was about thanksgiving in prayer. The minister said that as we give thanks to God for all things- all things- especially the things that we find it difficult to be thankful for- that we find our gratitude in the character of God, and not our circumstances.

When Charles Stanley closed his sermon, he thanked God for not giving us fullness and joy in our circumstances- so that we could find fullness and joy in Him. Wow. I spend so much time trying to get my circumstances to work out perfectly so that they will bring fullness and joy, and I am so frustrated and sad when they don't. When I got home from HCBC, I still felt sad, but I got on my knees and cried out to God. I am sad. I'm sad in my heart about how some things have turned out, but trying to cover it with Christmas decorations isn't going to help- wallowing in self-pity isn't either. Giving thanks to God, and walking over this adversity bridge into His arms is the only right thing to do.

I am praying that God will help me to truly believe that these things that I fight and want to run away from or be angry at, are ultimately from Him, and that He is indeed currently working them out for my good. My heart still aches with the truth of that, but aching is better than numbness, and maybe, if I just walk forward, I'll feel His arms sooner than later, and I will see that it has all been for good.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father... James 1:17a