Tag Archives: patience

The work in waiting

Waiting. It seems like a passive activity. I mean the idea of waiting is that you aren’t actually doing anything. The waiting is what happens before or in between action.

You wait for the bus.

You wait in line at the grocery store.

You wait for the microwave to ding.

There are rooms built just for waiting and they usually involve magazines and/or TVs to help people sit quietly and…well, wait.

But of course assuming that waiting is always easy or comfortable is false. Just ask anyone who’s waited for the doctor to call with biopsy results. Or the 17 year old girl waiting for that college acceptance letter. Or the parent waiting for the phone call that her son arrived at his destination safely after flying alone for the first time.

Sometimes waiting is arduous, even agonizing.

I’ve never been particularly good at waiting. Patience does not come easily and waiting for big news, a decision, or even for my kids to get their shoes on can start to give me anxiety.

I like deadlines and predictability. I am a planner and need to know everything that’s going to happen and when. Back when I was a senior in college, my then-boyfriend and I had been dating for over 2 years and were talking about marriage. I knew he was going to propose, but not knowing when, where, or how was killing me! I would look for hidden meaning in every phone call or letter, trying to figure out his plans. Every time he came to visit me at school I would get incredibly anxious thinking this may be the day, only to be disappointed when the visit ended and there had been no proposal. Finally, one day I said, “are you EVER going to propose to me?” Just what every guy wants to hear, right?

Thankfully he didn’t scare easily and finally got down on one knee two months before graduation. We’ll be married 16 years this month.

Some things are definitely worth the agony that comes with the waiting. And some things just shouldn’t be rushed. I know this intellectually, but in my heart I struggle to be at peace in the midst of waiting.

When I was a teenager, God put a calling in my heart to be a writer. A few years later, God put another calling in my heart to serve Him in ministry, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. As I entered the great big adult world after college I applied for countless writing or editing jobs and got no response, not even an interview. And because I said yes to that proposal, I put on hold any plans to go to seminary or do missions work.

Being young and impetuous, I decided I had misunderstood that call to be a writer. And I thought maybe the calling to go into ministry was misheard, and I was really just supposed to volunteer at church more. I gave up waiting for God to reveal any more, and did the practical thing: I got a job in corporate communications and moved forward with my life as a wife and, eventually, as a mother. But every few years I would feel restless. I would start to think about those two callings I felt early on in life and wonder: what if?

Then, two years ago, I found myself in a bit of a perfect storm. I was finishing up grad school and thinking about the next chapter in my career. At the same time I was part of a group of people planting a church in our community. What had started out as a small group Bible study was turning into a new church, and God was working in my heart and spirit in big ways. For the first time in years I felt the familiar tug of that call to go into ministry.  At the same time, I had been writing for my University’s student blog and remembering how much I loved writing.

Suddenly, I felt so certain that God was saying: “Now! This is the time. This is what you’ve been waiting for!” Things moved quickly for the next few months. I started this blog, I met with an editor who showed interest in a book idea, I went to a conference and learned about book proposals and building a platform. The rate at which it all started to come together, made me certain God had something big planned for me, and it was just right around the corner.

But it wasn’t long before momentum slowed considerably. The editor I’d spoken to left the publishing house and no one could tell me what had happened to my proposal. While I continued to write for my blog, readership did not grow as I had expected. Inquiry letters to literary agents went unanswered, or I got the “thanks, but no thanks” email. I applied for all kinds of jobs at Christian schools and non-profits. But any leads I got fizzled quickly.

I started to question again if I had heard the call correctly. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to write, or maybe it was never going to be more than a “hobby”.

the waiting might just be the journeyBut while the things I thought were part of the plan weren’t happening, God also presented some unexpected opportunities in my life. My husband and I started to lead a small group Bible study. I had the opportunity to plan and lead my first (and second) women’s retreat. I was called to go on a mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was encouraged by my pastor to start a women’s ministry at our young church.

Then, about three months ago I was invited by some friends to join in an Experiencing God class. At first I almost declined because I felt I just didn’t have time for it. But after some prayer I decided to go forward. (I won’t go into too much detail about all the ways this class has impacted me and my spiritual walk, because it deserves a post all on its own, but let me just say I highly recommend Experiencing God to anyone seeking to know God more intimately.) A recurring theme in Experiencing God is that God will invite us to become involved with Him in His work, but it will lead to a crisis of belief, requiring both faith and action, and ultimately a major adjustment in life.

Faith and action. I’m really good at the action part, but faith requires waiting and trusting. And that is where I stumble. Because letting go of control doesn’t come naturally. And because waiting can be hard work.

I felt the call to make big changes and adjustments, and I was ready! But I couldn’t discern exactly what it was God wanted me to do. I kept waiting for some clear direction and in the waiting I grew increasingly frustrated.

Then I read something in my Experiencing God book yesterday that really hit me: “Let God use times of waiting to mold and shape your character…God’s great task is to adjust His people to Himself. It takes time for Him to shape us to be exactly what He wants us to be…The key is your relationship with God. The God who initiates His work in a relationship with you is the One who guarantees to complete it” (Blackaby, 2007).

And it finally seemed so clear. My struggle with waiting has been that I’ve always seen it as wasted or lost time, taking away from the important things, the getting on with life. Time spent in line, when I could be at home cooking a meal; time spent reading a magazine, when I could be talking to the doctor; time spent waiting to hear God’s call, when I could be out there doing His work.

In my haste to get to my destination, it never occurred to me that the waiting might just be the journey. And in the journey, there is anticipation and excitement. There is time spent with those travelling with you. In the journey there is beauty and there is joy.

Yes, there is work in waiting, but the real work isn’t mine; it’s the work God is doing in the midst of the waiting to refine me, to prepare me.

A few weeks ago I hosted the second Renew and Restore Women’s Retreat. Our verse for the weekend was Isaiah 40:31. For the retreat I used the NIV version, which says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Then last week I discovered a slight, but poignant difference in the New King James Version of the same verse, which says:

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

So, I wait. But I wait with anticipation and excitement over what is to come. I find renewal and relationship in the midst of the wait. And I look for the beauty and the joy that is unique to this journey.

 

photo credit: sit and wait via photopin (license)

 

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What love looks like to me

Two years ago I had the pleasure of travelling to Sydney, Australia for my job. Not knowing when, or if, I’d ever get back I tacked on two days to my trip to do a little sightseeing. As I’ve traveled quite a bit for my job I’ve gotten used to being bold and venturing out on my own, but this time I went ahead and signed-up for one of those pre-planned tours that would take me up into the Blue Mountians and a chance to experience what lie beyond Sydney.

I was the only solo traveler in this tour group and quickly befriended two older couples who were sightseeing for a few days before embarking on luxury cruises. Turns out both couples were quite seasoned travelers and cruise enthusiasts. Their kids were grown, they were retired or semi-retired, and had the time and means to see the world. They had a lot in common and at first I envied them the freedom of being able to travel around the world in your twilight years with the one you love.

Yet, as the day progressed and I spent more time around these couples I noticed some distinct differences. In one couple the wife was very outspoken. She was often critical and harsh in her judgement of things, and this included her husband. She spoke over him and for him. Their body language was that of two people who were used to each other, but not connected. The husband spoke little and seemed to be disengaged for much of the conversation.

The other couple was quite different. They held hands and sidled up close to one another. Their conversations had a lot of give-and-take and they seemed to really listen when the other one spoke. Everything about them exuded love.

From the outside both couples appeared to have quite an exciting and enviable life. But by the end of the tour, when I said my goodbyes, I knew there was only one couple that had my admiration and respect.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (TLB)

My husband and I had those words from 1 Corinthians read at our wedding, just as I’m sure 98% of Christian couples do. It’s the proverbial definition of love. Standing at the alter listening to those words I thought I knew what they meant. I thought I knew what love looked like and I was confident that my new groom and I would live out these words for the rest of our lives. I really, truly did.

Jelise & David wedding
So much I want to tell that young bride about love and marriage.

But, as a young wife there were so many times I forgot these words. So many times I couldn’t wait to prove my point or win an argument (love is never boastful or proud); so many times I sat with girlfriends and complained about my husband’s lack of housekeeping (love will hardly even notice when others do it wrong); so many times I snapped at my husband (love is not irritable or touchy). Too often I focused on what I needed/wanted/wasn’t getting (love is never selfish), or I pointed out the things he was doing wrong (love does not demand its own way), and brought up past deeds in arguments (love does not hold grudges).

And the worst part of all? I was ready and willing to share it with the world. I thought this is what you did once you joined the wives club. You sat around with your girlfriends, mothers and sisters and complained about your husbands. I justified my behavior as a right of passage,  a way to feel like I wasn’t alone and seek support. But really it was selfish and terribly toxic. All it did was tear down the image of my husband in both my eyes and in the eyes of those around me. And most of all it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied because contempt breeds misery.

It took me many, many years — and coming face-to-face with the possibility of ending my marriage — before I began to change my approach. On the recommendation of a friend I bought the book “Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian. I won’t say this book saved my marriage, because it’s much more complex than that, but this book completely changed my view of my role as wife and partner. It changed how I prayed (Before: “dear God, please change my husband to see things my way”) and what I prayed for (Now: “dear God, please help him to see the amazing husband and father you created him to be”).

Don’t get me wrong…I still mess up. A LOT. I make mistakes weekly and fall short often. But I look to 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, and I particularly like this translation from The Living Bible. It says, “If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.” (TLB)

It’s been nearly 15 years since we stood on that alter and this is what love looks like to me now — to stand by my husband, always believing in him (instead of questioning him), expecting the best (not looking for the worst), and speaking highly of him (instead of complaining and criticizing).

Let me be clear: this is not always easy. It may sound simple, but it’s really not. It takes making the choice every day to set-aside my pride and ego and follow these guidelines. But I do it because it’s how God has instructed me to live. I do it because it makes my marriage, my family, my life fuller, sweeter, and happier when I do.

I hope in 20 years we will look like that couple I met in Australia. Whether we’re travelling the world or sitting together in a booth at the I.H.O.P., I hope young couples will look at us and see the loyalty, the respect, and the unwavering love.

This is what love looks like to me.

1 Corinthians 13:7

It is well with my soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Do you know that old hymn “It is well with my soul”? It’s one of my favorites. I love everything about it…the responsiveness and harmonies in the chorus, the building melody, and of course the hope and promise in the lyrics. But most of all I love the story behind the song. Horatio Spafford wrote these words while mourning the loss of his four daughters, killed at sea. This tragedy was one of many Spafford suffered, including the death of his only son several years before, and the loss of his business to the Chicago fires. And yet, in his grief and sorrow he was able to say “it is well with my soul.” Oh how I aspire to affirm these words and posses the faithfulness of Mr. Spafford.

Last Sunday our amazing praise band sang this song and by the second line a giant lump had formed in my throat preventing me from doing more than mouth the words. Then the tears began to pool until they flowed over my lashes and down my cheeks. I wept for the beauty of the song. I cried because of the promise of the words. But more than anything, my heart broke because I so desperately wanted to say those words and believe they were true. To trust in my Father so deeply that even when I’m in the middle of a raging storm I can be confident that He will whisper peace to my soul. But the tears came because I knew all that I was lacking.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Stress, overwhelming responsibility, lack of sleep, lack of focus…lack of faith. I have felt like the “Jordan above me” was sweeping me into its current. And I most definitely have not felt like all is well in my soul.

It is hard to face this part of myself. This part that lacks faith and falls short. That doubts and mistrusts and turns away. That focuses on the unfavorable and overlooks the blessings. That sees adversity without opportunity and cries out “when?” and “why?” instead of “I can wait” and “I put my trust in You.” In the midst of horrible tragedy and loss Horatio Spafford was able to have peace in his soul, but I have a rough week at work or struggle with my kids and I start to fracture.

Patience, trust, faith. These are the things I try to teach my children, they are prayers I lift up for friends who are struggling, encouragement I pass on to colleagues, words I share with all of you who read this blog. Yet so often I forget them for myself.

But our God…He knew I would. He is so good and merciful; He caters for my lack of faith and meets me where I am. The living word says, “…there is one ray of hope:  his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction.  Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day.  My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB).

His loving-kindness begins afresh each day. Can we just sit together a moment to soak up the warmth of that promise?

Lamentations 3:23

He doesn’t just love me; He doesn’t just forgive me. But He is kind and gentle with me. No yelling, no losing His patience, rolling His eyes or sighing heavily and muttering under His breath, “you’d think you would have gotten this figured out by now.” Instead His loving-kindness is there, refreshed and renewed every day. Which means I get a fresh start every day. We all get a fresh start every day.

Every. Single. Day.

Yesterday my soul was weary. My faith wavered.  My trials consumed my thoughts. The river rolled over me and I struggled to keep my head above.

But today? Today is a new day and His gentle, loving kindness is pure and bright and fresh. It glows like a rising sun and I have another chance to bask in its warmth. To let it wash over me and straight into my soul. Another chance to choose trust, patience, and faith instead of doubt, worry and fear. To choose to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week that really wasn’t

It’s not been a pretty week. In fact it’s been a down-right hairy-warts, black teeth, and yellow eyes kind of ugly.

Some of you might not know this, but my day job entails managing a large network of websites for a global IT company. This past weekend we had a major deployment to the site. I’ve been through a number of these in my career and I’m here to tell you managing online systems is not for the faint of heart. Something always goes wrong! You just pray and hope it’s not something major and it can be fixed quickly.

My team had a whole weekend of fixing and testing and sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seats waiting. But finally, on Sunday afternoon it looked like the major issues were resolved and we wouldn’t have to roll back before New Zealand started their Monday in a few hours. My team and our IT engineers had been working nights and weekends preparing and most of them hadn’t slept at all in the last 48 hours. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that everyone was sent off to bed to rest up for the next morning.

Monday came and all felt good. The deployment was a success and I was beyond thrilled for myself and my team because we really wanted needed this one. You see, last year we had a crazy big project where we essentially re-did the entire website from the ground up (I don’t recommend this. Ever). To say it didn’t go well would be a huge understatement. We dealt with the fall-out for months afterwards and it almost sent me to the hospital. Seriously, I would feel sick every morning before I logged on to my computer, dreading what emails would come my way with complaints, rants, and new issues that cropped up over-night. I was a complete ball of stress and anxiety and it manifested into physical illness multiple times.

So when I say we needed this one to go well, let me tell you we really needed it. Monday felt good. I sent out emails proudly announcing the successful deployment. And except for a small handful of people (haters gonna hate) the response from colleagues was encouraging and positive.

Then Tuesday morning came and things were not good. The site was loading at a snail’s pace and crashing every few hours. Registration forms were not loading or they had error messages, and the dreaded emails started to roll in.

Thankfully I work with the best team in the world. Seriously. They are the smartest, hardest working, most dedicated group of people I’ve ever seen. Our engineers immediately started working with our developers to sort out the issues. Unfortunately, every time they thought they’d gotten to the bottom of it, the site would crash again.

I will skip past all of the details and reasons, as even I don’t fully understand all of the technical stuff and this isn’t a blog about website development. But let’s just say that it was Friday before the site was stabilized and that’s mostly due to temporary measures put into place. We still don’t have a solution for the root cause. And of course, I was in damage control mode as the angry emails from frustrated stakeholders flooded our in-boxes.

But.

Here’s the thing:

I did not breakdown and cry or worry myself sick, or cower under my covers and fear starting my workday. I didn’t attach myself to the laptop monitoring every email and update at all hours of the day and night or go into hiding from my family so I could focus only on work. In fact, I did the opposite. I smiled. I laughed and shook my head at some of the angry notes. I thanked our engineers for their unending dedication to resolve the issue. I slept. I sat on my porch and read a book. I watched my son perform his “bike show” he’d been rehearsing for a week in our cul de sac. I ate dinner with my kids every evening and cuddled in bed with them every night.

But most of all, I stayed close to God. I studied the word and prayed every day. And this. This is what made the difference, because I was able to maintain perspective. Instead of getting swallowed up in the worry and stress and making it all about me, I was reminded that it’s all about Him. Life is so much bigger, so much more important than some problems at work. I have little people I need to care for and nurture and love on. I have to care for and nurture myself, too. Because that ball of stress and anxiety I was last year? She was not pretty or much fun to be around. She was overwhelmed and a bit lost. And I don’t really care to meet her again.

Psalm 18: 1-2

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not saying I have this all figured out. There were still moments this week when I felt stress and worry. I got annoyed at my husband for something he did or didn’t do and let it flow into a full-blown argument. And I’m sure I yelled at my kids once or twice (sometimes I’m not sure if I’m yelling or my natural volume when speaking to my kids has just gotten that loud). But, for the most part I was able to keep things in perspective and know that it was all going to be OK.

So, as it turns out. This ugly, horrible, no good, very bad week…well it really wasn’t.

This was my prayer this week. If you want to write it down and use it next time you’re having a rough day or week, or even a rough season, please do.

Father in heaven, thank you so much for loving me and being with me this week. Lord, life is not always easy, and sometimes it’s just down-right ugly. But I take comfort in knowing that you are bigger than any of the stress, worry or ugliness that may come my way. Help me to remember this when I start to make it all about me. Remind me to give it over to you and lean on you when I need strength. You are my rock and my shield, always faithful even when I am not. Thank you, thank you. Amen.

What is your Goliath?

I wrote earlier this week about how my Sunday morning didn’t get off to a good start. Thankfully, with some Godly intervention, I was in a much better frame of mind once worship service started. A good thing for me because it was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. We’ve been studying 1st and 2nd Samuel this summer at GCC North, and most recently the story of David. This Sunday the focus was on 1 Samuel 17 which chronicles the well-told story of David and Goliath.

David and Goliath is probably one of the best-known stories in the Bible. It’s the original under-dog story, and Hollywood should thank Samuel for providing the plot line for 50% of all movies ever made. But honestly? I’ve never really found it all that applicable to my life. I mean, it’s a great example of putting your trust in the Lord, but I’ve just never been able to relate to the young shepherd boy who defeated the giant warrior with nothing but a slingshot and a prayer. This Sunday, though, my friend and Pastor, Lee Reams, managed to give us a fresh view of David and Goliath as well as some practical application.

Lee set the tone for the sermon by presenting David and Goliath…MLB style! Check out these awesome trading cards he made for our antagonist and hero:

goliath_front goliath_back
david_front david_back

On paper, David might seem an unlikely foe for the colossal warrior. But David never had any doubt he could beat Goliath. His faith was so strong, and his trust in the Lord so steadfast that he almost seemed matter-of-fact about the whole situation when speaking to King Saul. Lee broke it down into five things (a metaphor for the five smooth stones David picks up before going to the front-line) that equipped David to feel this way. They were: Perspective, Experience, Identity, Knowledge, and Child-like Faith.

Perspective – “David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). David’s faith in God allowed him to be able to look at Goliath with a different perspective. He saw him simply as a mortal man defying an all-powerful God.

Experience – “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death” (1 Samuel 17:34-35). David’s experience as a shepherd gave him strength and confidence to battle Goliath.

Identity – “He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:40). David rejected the armor Saul offered him. He knew he was a shepherd, not a soldier, and relied on the tools of his trade.

Knowledge – “And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:47). David knew that God was in charge of the situation and would protect him.

Child-like Faith – “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him” (1 Samuel 17:48). David didn’t hesitate, or weigh the pro’s and con’s of fighting Goliath, or try to plan out a detailed strategy. He just ran straight to the battle-line with complete faith that God was in control.

While all of the above are valuable tools that God has equipped us with, the one that stands out the most for me is perspective. How often in my life have I experienced challenges, struggles, hurt, or conflict that could have been avoided if I had simply altered my perspective of the situation?

Then Lee asked us to think about what “Goliath(s)” we were facing in our lives. What are those things that we feel are too big, too unbeatable? It could be an illness, a broken relationship, an addiction — anything really. I wrote down four: stress, lack of patience, the future, and my health. What startled me about my list is that it’s all me. My adversaries are all internal and they are things that (with God’s help) I can change or overcome. Do you know what that means? I am my own Goliath! And for at least the first three of my items, a little perspective could have a HUGE impact. So to help me maintain that perspective, I decided to create my own trading cards and keep them in my Bible as a little reminder. Here they are:

Jelise's trading card
Scary Jelise trading card

Stressed and impatient Jelise is not a pretty sight, huh? She’s my Goliath…looming large and scary, seemingly undefeatable. But the reality is that God has equipped me with all of the tools I need to beat her.

What is your Goliath? How can a little perspective, knowledge, experience, identity, or child-like faith help you to defeat your biggest, scariest struggles?

 

[A very big thanks to Lee Reams for allowing me to steal his sermon and use his trading card images for my blog!]