Saturday, November 10, 2018

the waiting and believing

"My hands hold safely to my dreams,
Clutching tightly, not one has fallen.
So many years I've shaped each one,
Reflecting my heart, showing who I am,
Now you're asking me to show what I'm holding oh so tightly.
Can't open my hands, can't let go-
Does it matter? Should I show You? Can't You let me go?

Surrender, you whisper gently.
You say I will be free,
I know but can't You see
My dreams are me?

You say You have a plan for me,
And that You want the best for my life.
Told me the world had yet to see
What You can do with one that's committed to Your call
I know, of course, what I should do,
That I can't hold these dreams forever.
If I give them now to You, 
Will You take them away forever, or can I dream again?"

I can't tell you how many times I listened to these lyrics of Surrender by Barlow Girl during my high school years. For some reason, my 16-year-old-self felt like I was surrendering a lot by not getting to date guys I liked, or do 'cool' teenager stuff. Then, a few years later when I returned from my semester abroad in London (very much against my will... I should never have agreed to round-trip airline tickets), the lyrics resonated in a new way. Living in London and teaching there became a dream that I held dear and begged God to fulfill, but eventually had to surrender as well. Then, of course, there was the time Casey and I broke up. That was an entire castle of dreams built up that I had no choice but to surrender. Since we got back together all those years ago, there hasn't been much surrendering of dreams. Everything came pretty easily, and while my job was definitely a challenge, life didn't require much surrender. It continued like that for a long time, until this summer. 

When Casey found out he got accepted to USM's Sport Management grad program, we started praying for God to lead us to the right home, church, friends, and jobs. The home was a pretty clear and easy decision. Church has taken a while, but we've finally been going to the same one regularly (whenever we're in town on a weekend, which is not much). Friends are still a process. The job part came simply for Casey, but has felt so convoluted for me. We were blessed when Case was offered a grad assistantship- it was such a miracle, and made me feel so sure that God was preparing such a miracle job for me, as well. I had a couple really hopeful interviews, but nothing ever turned out well for me. 

Naturally, I got angry. Casey started work, then class, and I was still sitting at home every day bringing nothing to the table but occasional baked goods. I gave up on a full-time option and started trying to sub. August passed. Then September. I was waking up every morning at 4:30 trying to check subbing availability, and nothing was coming my way. I subbed two days total.  It felt like God was intentionally keeping me from steady work, and I was struggling with it more each day. We were (slash are) majorly poor, surviving only off the savings we had wisely accrued while teaching, and generous wedding gifts (prepaid rent and a lump sum of cash) from our parents. My emotions and heart condition varied from day to day. Some days I was borderline depressed. Some days I could ignore it and pretend I was ok. Only occasionally was I actually trusting God and at peace with this waiting He'd forced me into. Casey, of course, has been so loving and supportive through every bit of this, but I have struggled to accept it much more than he has. 

Finally, in the beginning of October, I was offered a long-term sub position at one of the best elementary schools in the state. It has truly been an answer to prayer, in more ways than just financially (though that has been the most pressing one). Somehow, though, I have still felt unsettled and am concerned about the rest of this year, and next school year. I worked so hard for my degree, and I love teaching Music so much, it's hard to accept that there may be a chunk of my life where I just don't teach Music. I've always felt and believed that God led me to Music Ed for a reason, and that He placed me in the schools I've taught in so far. This season has worn me down so much, and made me question even those beliefs in God's plan for me that always seemed so logical and steady before. A few days ago, 'Surrender' played on my drive to school, and touched my heart all over again. I don't think I'd even realized how much I had tied my self-perception to these dreams I've had of growing into a better Music teacher, and someday getting to be that teacher who's been at the same school for 25 years. I felt like those dreams WERE me, so I felt like this season not fulfilling them meant that I was losing part of myself, or not being who I'm supposed to be.

A few months ago (a bit after Easter), our pastor shared a beautiful analogy of how God reveals things to us, which I frequently think back to. He first shared a video of his grandchild hunting Easter eggs. In the background, you could hear the dad, behind the camera, saying, "Look over here! Do you see that egg?". When the toddler couldn't find the egg that was hidden in plain sight, the mom would go stand beside it and point down to it, saying, "Look, buddy, what's this?" until the child waddled over and gleefully grabbed the egg to show to his dad. 

You can probably see the analogy coming. He remarked that we often feel like God is hiding explanations or plans from us, when really He is standing over some Easter eggs saying "Look over here! Open this up and look what I have for you!". The 'eggs' are hidden in plain sight, but sometimes our infancy keeps us from recognizing what God has put before our eyes. 
I love the way Amanda Cook references it in her song Pieces:
"You don't give Your heart in pieces.
You don't hide Yourself to tease us."

God's delay to lead me where I think should be led says nothing at all about His sovereignty or ability to bring good to me, and says everything about how He wants me to stop questioning and trust Him. Recently, I saw a post from one of my favorite writers + instagrammers, Sara Hagerty, that felt like it was made especially for me. Every day she posts a "daily adoration" recognizing a Scriptural attribute of God. This one was based on Psalm 62:1- (You can find the full post here)

And man, if He hasn't been delaying and growing my belief these past few months. He's been leading me to surrender some old dreams that maybe aren't lifelong dreams, or maybe they just aren't for this season. He's been doing a lot of uncomfortable things- things that cause me to be vulnerable, needy, and dependent on Him and my family. I'm not going to tell you I've liked it, or that I'm happy with it all the time... but I am telling you that the waiting and believing God is a good place to be. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

new shoes

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about being in a weird phase of relationship with Casey- we were very emotionally and spiritually serious, but still "just" dating- which we called "outgrowing our shoes". If you missed it, this post will make a lot more sense if you go back and read it now.

That post was written in February 2017. Little did I know that 9 months later, we would get engaged, and 15 months later, Casey and I would be married. The outgrown shoes season was very difficult for me, especially as the months ticked by and we still weren't engaged. I was dead set on a Spring wedding and a 6-9 month engagement, so I felt we "had" to get engaged between June and November 2017. I loved dating Casey, and I loved being his girlfriend, but the longer we were together, the more I wanted to just marry him already. When each month ended and we got closer to winter, I started getting sad that my dreams of a Spring wedding would have to be put aside for a Summer or Fall wedding, or worse, put off for another year. I cannot tell you the multitude of times I begged Casey to give me some hope of an engagement-- and in true Casey fashion, he wiped my tears away and asked me to trust him, without giving me any details or surety.

Looking back now, that was a really sweet season. It was the beginning of me learning to trust my (now) husband more than my doubts, my fears, or my own plans. At the time, however, I resented it.
Finally one night, at the end of October/beginning of November, I sat on the couch beside him and said: "Look, I know we aren't getting engaged anytime soon. I'm trying to be fine with that, but it's really hard for me. The hard thing for me is I'm keeping my hopes up for a Spring wedding and I just need you to tell me we're not having one. I just need you to say a Spring wedding is out of the picture, just so I can get over it."
So he did.
I cried. A lot.

Thankfully, he was lying. He'd had the ring made for me, picked the diamonds himself, and was waiting to pick it up on a day I wasn't with him.
Less than a month later, he proposed to me on Thanksgiving at his grandparents' house. Their 60+ year marriage has been such a blessing and inspiration to us, and we've always talked about how much we want to be like them, so I'm sure you can imagine the tears, giddiness, and relief that came with starting our story there.

We were engaged for 6 months and 4 days (HA! God and His impeccable timing! He gave us a 6 month engagement AND a Spring wedding)- which I mean to write about sometime, but not today.

We've been married for 2 months. Just typing that makes me stop and go- WAIT. WE'RE MARRIED?!
Yep, it's cool.
Anyway, we've been married just a few days, and already I'm finding the 'new shoes', as perfect as they are, are much different than I imagined them to be.
Though they don't bring the pains of wearing shoes that don't fit, they do bring the pains of breaking in shoes that no one has worn yet.
Everything is new. Everything has a learning curve. Everything is a little bit fun and a little bit scary and a little bit "what if I totally mess this up?"

Please don't take this as ungrateful or unsure of my commitment- I couldn't be more thrilled to be Casey's wife. It's just different than I expected. My perfectionist tendencies REEEAAALLLYY don't like having to figure married life out and get some stuff wrong along the way- I liked knowing what I was doing dating Casey and having a pattern to our minutes and days. Right now, it's weird trying to figure out our new patterns. The shoes definitely need to be broken in.

I can't tell you how many miscommunications we have had. How many times I've taken offense at a tone I thought he was taking with me. How many moments we have been so frustrated with each other, only to talk it out and realize we're aren't good at being married yet. Not good at understanding each others tone's, reading between the lines, knowing what tools or words will help the other person feel more loved or calm down or feel settled. We just don't know how to be 'married people' yet.

I definitely didn't see that coming. We dated for 4 years, I felt I was pretty good at reading between his lines and not getting offended at his introversion but GUESS WHAT? I knew nothing.
I think marriage is really just Revisiting Every Discussion You Have Ever Had 2.0 (not in the rehashing old arguments way, but in the spiral curriculum way {sorry that I only know how to make teacher analogies}). It's deeper and sweeter, but the hard stuff is harder, and the ugly parts of us are uglier- it's like marriage just gave us magnifying glasses for each other.

Casey and I have frequently referred to our relationship as if it's a college degree we're working on. "I think you're a Senior in Becca Studies by now," and the like. If getting married was graduating undergrad, then being married is pursuing a Master's. However, there are no online classes for this- it's a 24/7 internship. As frustrating as it is to have magnifying glasses for each other, what a sweet gift it is to be able to study and know and understand Casey Key that deeply. Deeper than any other human ever will (eventually. I do not claim to be there yet.)

So yes, I'm working on my Master's of Knowing and Understanding Casey Key. The new shoes are hard to fill, the learning curves are trying, and every.little.thing. feels like an experience that grows me, which is awesome, but uncomfortable. I strongly recommend marrying your best friend, it's a lot of fun, and a dose of reality at the same time. However, let's not turn this into a Becca's-life-is-better-than-yours session. Don't think I am better off because of who I am, who I'm with, my relationship status, or any way my life appears to be in this post or on social media.
My life sucks sometimes too.
The other night I got irrationally mad because I fell asleep while Casey was playing Words With Friends.
go ahead, laugh at me.

I suppose if I'm trying to boil all of this down to one thing, it's this:
you can be thrilled and terrified at the same time. you can be satisfied and frustrated at the same time. you can hate change, but also embrace it. Life is, for me currently, a lot of contradicting thoughts and feelings and events that happen at once. Most of the time I really like it, but sometimes I really hate it. That's okay, and normal, and part of this season of transition, and part of breaking in the new shoes I think.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

through my weary eyes, You're giving vision for Your Kingdom.

Let me start by saying I don't feel that these words are eloquent or edited or polished enough, but for some reason I feel the need to share them raw, so here they are.

     They say every person sees colors differently. If I pointed to a leaf, we would both recognize it as green, but your eyes will see it a slightly different shade than mine will. Of course, we don't have language complex enough, or adjectives specific enough, to differentiate the exact differences we see; however, I think we could all agree that this seems like a truth to us. We can't prove it, we can't explain it, but we know it must be true.

     This morning, as I was driving down the interstate, I started thinking about spiritual sight. From out of nowhere, I realized there has only ever been one human who had 20/20 spiritual vision. Only Christ was naturally able to see absolute truth, because only Christ was fully God and fully man. The rest of us, with God's power and Spirit at work in us, are walking around with glasses and contacts. We don't just see varying shades of the same spiritual activity- our eyes are blind to God's heart and spiritual truths until we choose to see through His vision. We are born blind, born into darkness, born into sin. It is only through the Light of Christ that we are able to see.

     Some of us are lucky enough to have been raised around people who had seen the Light and were able therefore to cast Light into our lives. Some of us are more like those Isaiah refers to when he says, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone." (And, sidebar: I love the wording of that second phrase. We dwelt, were comfortable staying in, a land of deep darkness. Yet He shone His light on us.) Just as we all see varying shades of the same colors, we all come from various shades of darkness. Some come from deep darkness, and some come from dusky, there's-a-lamp-on-in-the-next-room darkness. No matter the shade of darkness we come from or currently reside in, we all need a remedy.
If you've ever walked from a cozy, dark house into the brightness of midday, you know what it feels like physically to go from 'deep darkness' to 'great light'.  Maybe you've been deep asleep in a pitch black room and had a flashlight shone straight in your face. It hurts your eyes, they might water, you have to squint or shield your eyes for a solid minute until they adjust. The only remedy is to stay in the light, because once your eyes adjust to it, it stops hurting. If you go out into the light, realize its brightness, then say "Nope, going back inside," the only thing that does is delay the discomfort or pain. At some point we each have to face the light.

     For each of us, the Holy Spirit becomes the vision correction we need. Whether He is correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, or anything in between, the beautiful part is that He isn't just the go-between for us to approach the Father, He is our teacher. He isn't just our 'glasses', He is our eye surgery. He teaches us, slowly, to see everything in the light of God's truth. To see things in the light of Christ. As He teaches our eyes how to see, He is healing them. With each opportunity to see our world and our lives God's way, He is giving us an opportunity for our impaired vision to be redeemed and healed a bit more. Each time you and I choose to step out of our darkness and filter our lives through the truth and light of God's Spirit, we become a little less impaired, and our spiritual eyes see things a little bit more like He does.

     The problem is, sometimes I don't want to do that, because that is when I see myself most clearly, and I don't like that self a whole bunch, especially in comparison to Christ's unblemished perfection. I'm realizing, however, that seeing my attempted 'righteousness' as filthy, excrement-covered rags is really good for my puffy, prideful heart. We all need that dose of humility from time to time (for me, from minute to minute). When I see my flesh and human heart as they truly are, it makes me incapable of puffing myself up above others or against Christ. It flattens me, and pushes my teary face down to the foot of the Cross. What's insane is that God is more good-filled (is that a thing? Does that make sense? I'm making it a thing) than just that. He doesn't leave us crying at our own filth. He washes us and clothes us in His true righteousness. He give us His eyes. Thankfully, just as God gives us the ability to see the things around us with His vision, when He saves us, He also gives us the ability to see ourselves as He sees us- washed by the blood of the Lamb. By His grace and sacrifice, we too stand unblemished but humbled by His goodness.

     I love that His vision makes it impossible for us to take Earth too seriously. You know how when you get self-focused, it's easy for everything good to puff you up with pride and everything bad to make you wail, "this is the end of the world! It has never been worse than this!"? I'm noticing that when I see with His eyes, it balances out the highs and lows. Keeping my eyes focused on eternity and Christ's absolute truth keeps my heart and spirit stable. When I'm viewing my life through the eyes of Christ, I see just a few things that are truly meaningful, genuine, or worth anything. It's like that old hymn says, "The things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." I wonder if seeing with God-vision is part of the easy yoke Jesus mentions in Matthew 11. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” When I look around at this world with my self-vision, it weighs me down. It makes me feel heavy- do you feel that sometimes, too? Yet when I 'put on' God-vision, it is so much easier to rest. To see and react with gentleness and meekness and calm, soul-rest.

     My eyes and yours may see things differently, but when we view life through His eyes, all the shades and variations don't matter. His view of sin, of sorrow, and of joy don't change. He is always giving His children good and perfect gifts, like the gift of His vision. He is "the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change," James 1:17 says. The world around us may change, may bring us to our knees, may knock the air from our lungs, but He is constant. We may not like or understand the way he's working in us- that's how you know it is good and true work, when it is agonizing and uncomfortable. But the bottom line us that He has given us the ability to see clearly if we choose to. "God doesn't give smog, He gives clean air," as J. Vernon McGee says in his commentary on this passage in James (which I highly recommend listening to.)  It is up to you and me if we want to see the world through the smog of humanity or the the clear vision of Christ.

music that inspired these thoughts:
Mighty by Commune (from which I got the title for this blog. AND the band is some of my incredibly talented friends! Search them on iTunes!)
Today by Common Ground Band
Reckless Love by Cory Asbury
You Are My One Thing by Bethel
Be Thou My Vision by Ginny Owens
I Will Lift My Eyes by Bebo Norman

Sunday, October 15, 2017

I'm learning how to trust You more

hopefully, by now anyone reading this knows that I'm a teacher. And, as He has many times before, lately God has been using my students to convict and speak to me. I have this one fifth grader, we'll call her "Lucy" (that is far from her name, which is kinda fun). Lucy, I've come to find out, is rarely pleased with what is given to her. Not that she's ungrateful, it's just a "the grass is greener over there" scenario EVERY TIME she comes in my room. If we are doing group work, she wants to work independently. If we are working independently, she wants to be in a group. If we are learning a new song, she wants to go back to an old familiar one, and if we are reviewing an old song she wants a new, exciting one.
Lately she has been fixated on whether we sit on chairs or the carpet. As a third-year elementary music teacher, I feel like I'm finally finding my sweet spot of when to have students sit in chairs and when to sit on the carpet, what grades do best in what type of seating, etc. Sounds weird, but it takes a long time to figure your students out (turns out humans are complicated, go figure). Anyway, Lucy begs me, every time she enters the room, to sit on the carpet when others are sitting on chairs or vice versa. I have gotten to a point where, when she asks me "Miss Stovall, can I please sit on the carpet?", I just tell her: "Please trust my judgment."

Here's why:
I know Lucy is easily distracted, tends to be disengaged, and as I said she's rarely pleased with what is given to her. I've let her sit separately from the group a few times to test it out, and EVERY time she either disengages from class and is in her own world the whole time, or gets in trouble for distracting other students/talking during instruction. What I've found is that Lucy does best when she sits in the middle of a row of students, doing exactly the same thing everyone else is doing.
And she hates that. She hates having to go along with everyone else (psychologists, help me out here, is it just nonconformity?).
But in order to keep her from getting herself in trouble, to help her better understand my instruction, and to keep the students around her engaged, I have to make Lucy unhappy every Tuesday. She shows up at my door and asks hopefully to sit away from the group. And I tell her, every Tuesday, "Please just trust my judgment."
She doesn't like that answer. Finally this week, she asked me, "What does that mean?" I tried to explain to her that I'm doing what is best for her, even though she doesn't like it.

Are you starting to see where I'm going with this?

A lot of times I get road rage. The one thing that really bugs me is when the car in front of me is going really slowly and I can't get around them, especially if we are in the left lane. And somehow every time I get frustrated by it, something happens farther along down the road that makes me grateful for that slow car- usually a state trooper sitting with his radar gun, occasionally a crazy driver on the road that makes me realize if that slow car hadn't been in front of me, I might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and been involved in an accident.
Every time, I hear that little, "See?" whisper from God.
"See, don't I know what's best?"

He's doing for me, in the big and little things, what I have to do for my students many times each day- make them unhappy so I can do what's best for them, because I can see it and they can't.
This season of life is one that I'm finding myself trying to just get over with. I want to rush past it and get on with the next, more exciting things. Get past the job that is exhausting and toilsome and has so little physical reward. Get past the dating-for-three-and-a-half-years-and-watching-everyone-else-get-married. Get past the renting a house and having to deal with a landlord that never really fixes anything. Get past the never cooking and always eating unhealthily because I'm so out of energy at the end of the day. Get past the not really feeling plugged into my church because I'm in that weird limbo of not-college-not-singles-not-married.
These things and many others fill my mind each day and make me want to rush forward to what must be greener grass on the other side. Rush forward from behind this slow phase so that I can accelerate down the left lane and enjoy the view.

He may be teaching me to be more engaged and invested in the present, He may be protecting me from trouble or future hurt, He may be simply teaching me to trust. I don't know the purpose. I'm not going to say I don't ask daily "WHY?" because a lot of days, I do. I'm not sure why this season feels so slow and tedious, and I don't know when it will stop feeling this way. But I am beginning to trust His judgment. I am beginning to be a little bit better of a student of His, and trying to accept that He has a wonderful reason why He's leading me this way. If I love my sweet, constantly displeased fifth grader so much, how much more so does God love me and love to do what is good for me and what brings good to me and glory to Him?

If you are with me trying to rev down the left lane and feeling stuck behind the slow car, let's thank God for providing for us in ways we don't see. Let's thank Him for caring enough to make us slow down, stay where we are, and be involved in where we are each day.

"how sweet it is to trust You, Lord
I'm learning how to trust You more.
Oh, I will trust in the name of the Lord my God." -Christy Nockels- Leaning on You, Jesus

these thoughts brought to you by the following songs:
This We Know by Vertical Church
Leaning on You, Jesus by Christy Nockels
Jesus, Rock of Ages by Christy Nockels
You Don't Miss a Thing by Amanda Cook
Unpredictable by Francesca Battistelli
King of My Heart by John Mark & Sarah McMillan, sung by Bethel

Sunday, July 23, 2017

all the things, part 3- new promises

God woke me up Tuesday morning. I know because I was startled awake and immediately heard in my heart, "Meet Me."
I don't know about you, but I rarely talk to myself in my heart. I talk to myself in my mind, but I would never say to myself "Meet me," you know? I use first person when I talk to myself, but I don't say "me". I've never really thought about that until now, and I'm suddenly getting distracted with the exact term for that, because I know there is one, but I am sadly not a grammar savant and I have no idea what it is.
ANYWAY, He said "Meet Me," and I knew it was Him. And (as much as I wish this were not the case) I am not one of those people who wakes up at 5 AM on my off days to spend hours with God. I would love to get to that point, but for now I am too undisciplined and love sleep too much for that. I can count, probably on one hand, the number of times God has woken me up with the sunrise simply to spend time with Him (though I will say He REGULARLY wakes me up when I oversleep on school days- and can we just go WOW THANK YOU! for that because that's honestly amazing that He cares enough about me and my sweet lil school to wake me up in time to get there, even when I am selfish for more sleep).
Tuesday, I didn't know where to begin. I knew I needed my bible and some paper and a pen. I knew I needed to leave my phone behind. I sat out on the deck by the lake and had no clue what passage to turn to. I'm reading through the Bible with Casey right now, and felt strongly that I didn't need to pick up where he and I had left off. So, "where to?" was my question for several minutes. I pulled out a piece of paper I'd been scribbling on yesterday, flipped it over, and started jotting down thoughts.
The one that kept coming up was "You have only begun to believe Me!"
Again, the "Me" clued me in that this wasn't MY thought.
I suddenly remembered that at the end of the school year, I had started reading Isaiah on my own and never finished, so I flipped to where I'd left that little piece of paper, and found myself in the middle of a chapter. There was a very obvious line on the page where I had stopped reading in the middle of chapter 30 because the top half of the page was underlined several places, and past that there were no markings.
"Are you sure I'm supposed to start in the middle of the chapter?"
And here's what I found:

"He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."

There, in the middle of the chapter, I found a passage, or 'word' if you will, that felt so made for me right now. Just two days ago, my Sunday School teacher mentioned this passage and what a beautiful picture of the intimacy of Christ and the Holy Spirit it is. Not only is Christ one with us in our sorrow, but the Holy Spirit whispers guidance to us throughout it! And I hope y'all know how much I love it when a verse comes knocking at my heart over and over again. I love how personal that feels, and if that doesn't prove that the Word is living and active, then I don't know what does.
So even the simple fact that this was the second time I had heard this passage made me dewy-eyed.

And I think I had begun to forget how tender God is/can be. I know that working with the type of students and families I work with each day, it is too easy to feel like God isn't interested in us individually. It's easy to think that He is moving at the nice, mostly-white church across town that has money for cute children's musicals and a food pantry, and that He cares very little for a neighborhood you don't want to be in after dark. I know that is a lie, and that Satan is working hard to keep my eyes shut... but it's easy to feel like that's the way it is.

So many times these past two years, I have called, "Unfair, unfair! How could you let this be, God?" and felt like there was not much of an answer. Doubt and bitterness try to build up in my heart when Satan whispers in the silence after that question- "He must not care. He must be too busy somewhere else. I must be doing this wrong."

Somewhere I missed the part where He is being GRACIOUS to me at the sound of my cry! Not only does He hear it, He feels it. (I am a mess as I type this and realize how much He cares.) He pours grace on it. And IMMEDIATELY, as soon as He hears it, He answers it.
I don't know what that answer is or even what it sounds like, but the simple fact that it has already been uttered is such a relief.

And though my only food may be adversity and my only water may be affliction, He will not hide Himself anymore. He will not seem far off. On the days when I have nothing but tears to offer, He will be there, teaching me. He will be there, to be seen and noticed beside me. He will be there, to whisper guidance in my ear.

In the footnotes of my Bible, this verse is explained by saying, "Isaiah foresees the internalized law of the new covenant and the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit."
Y'all, Jesus wasn't even ALIVE yet, and God gave the word to this prophet that someday, our Teacher would be inside us. We wouldn't have physical stone commandments anymore, we would have His Word and Spirit within us.

As if all this wasn't enough of a promise for the upcoming school year, there is more! In verses 23-26, Isaiah describes many ways in which God will give bountifully.
"He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous."
He has promised me plenty.
He has promised me growth. 
He has promised me roots. 
He goes on to say there will be lots of livestock that are healthy and keep the land healthy, there will be an abundance of fresh water in the mountains, and "the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun".
He has promised me light. 
In verse 29, He promises a song, and gladness of heart.
He has promised me joy and a song. 
In verse 30, He promises His voice will be heard and His arm will be seen. At the end of the chapter, He promises a fight against evil, and ultimately, victory.
And I love what it says in verse 32, that the Lord will strike his enemies "to the sound of tambourines and lyres." Guys, wouldn't you know that I use tambourines in my classroom regularly? Lyres not so much, since they're an ancient stringed instrument (similar to a harp)... but I find it HILARIOUS that He promised these things thousands of years ago, already knowing that in 2017, a little music teacher in Jackson, Mississippi would just cry her eyes out at the thought of His victory being to the sound of her little babies trying to keep a steady beat with a tambourine. My footnotes also comment that this means: "The role of His people is simply to celebrate."
I don't have to do any fighting or toiling. I can just celebrate the victory He already has!
He has promised me His victory.
Finally, in verse 33, Isaiah states that a "burning place has long been prepared" for his enemies to be destroyed. Once again, my footnotes give an astounding fact here that was the final nail for me, proving that this is the exact word God had specifically for me this morning. This 'burning place' is Topheth, "a location in the Hinnom Valley where Judeans had burned their children in sacrifice," that would ultimately be used to destroy those against God. 
He has promised me justice.
And, guys, I know this is a brutal word I'm about to say. I do not wish harm upon any of God's children, lost or found, but I believe in His justice and His purpose, and this verse makes it clear to me. 
For too long, these parents have been sacrificing their children. 
I wish I had a different way to put that, but I don't. 
This is not to say that every parent in Jackson or at my school is a terrible parent, an enemy of God, etc. What I mean is that our generation in general, and my school specifically, cares so much about making their children 'happy', or making their children 'like' them, or their own personal comfort, that they forsake basic spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs. Our parents sacrifice their children's well-being for their personal happiness, whatever that looks like- drugs, sex, money, notoriety, less busyness, etc. 

There are so many things wrong with their priorities, and so many ways their children suffer because of that. I could point fingers all day and list examples for pages on end, but at the bottom of all of that, our struggle is not against these parents. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." 

I am tired of this generational curse of parents who sacrifice their children. I am so ready for this to be burned away. I am so ready for these demons' and evil spirits' temporary dominion over this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, this world, to be over. 
And I know God is promising that this year, that victory will continue. People will continue being freed! I may not see it firsthand yet, or ever, but I BELIEVE THAT THE FIGHT IS WON.

When I look at all the things He has said that morning, my first reaction is to draw back a little bit. It seems like too much to believe. It seems like too big a promise.
But I go back to what he said at 5:45 AM- "Child, you have only just BEGUN to believe Me!"
And here He is, offering a huge chance to believe Him and feel a little crazy and giddy for it.

I have these promises as an opportunity to continue believing God, for bigger and crazier things than I've seen yet. Pray with me. Believe with me.

(rewind to all the things, part 1 or part 2)

Scriptures and songs on my heart today:
"You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed." -Joshua 23:14

"Because of Your promise, and according to Your own heart, You have brought about all this greatness, to make Your servant know it." -2 Samuel 7:21

"You will say in that day: 

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my songand he has become my salvation."
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: 
“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exaltedSing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriouslylet this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” -Isaiah 12

"Pull me a little closer, take me a little deeper- I want to know Your heart, I want to know Your heart.

Your love is so much sweeter than anything I've tasted- I want to know Your heart, I want to know Your heart." -Closer, Amanda Cook

"Your love's not passive, it's never disengaged, it's always present, 
it hangs on every word we say.
Love keeps its promises, it keeps its word, it honors what's sacred, cause its vows are good.
Your love's not broken, it's not insecure, Your love's not selfish, Your love is pure.
You don't give Your heart in pieces.
You don't hide Yourself to tease us." -Pieces, Amanda Cook

"Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in the waves, oh He is my song.
Let the King of my heart be the fire inside my veins, the echo of my days, oh He is my song.
You are good, good. You are good, good. 
And You're never gonna let, never gonna let me down." -King of My Heart, John Mark McMillan

"You are who You say You are.
You'll do what You say You'll do.
You'll be who You've always been to us, Jesus. 

Our hope is in You alone.
Our strength in Your mighty Name.
Our peace in the darkest day remains- Jesus.

This we know: we will see the enemy run.
This we know: we will see the victory come.
We hold on to every promise You ever made: Jesus You are unfailing!

...We trust You, we trust You. Your ways are higher than our own.
-This We Know, Vertical Church

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

all the things, part 2- Gilgal

I don't know about you, but for a long time it has been difficult for me to piece together the stories and meaningfulness of a lot of the Old Testament. Sadly, but thankfully, I am just beginning to really comprehend a lot of it. I've always LOVED the book of Joshua (maybe because it starts out with God telling him like 17 times not to be afraid and I've always felt like that must mean Joshua wasn't too different from me). So bear with me here as I wade through some huge truths in Joshua, and hopefully you'll grab some along the way!

A lot of Believing God (see first post) hangs on scriptures in Joshua, which has made it come alive for me and I am soaking in so much more than I ever have before. In Joshua 4, when the Israelites first crossed the Jordan River (from Egypt/wilderness) to Gilgal (the Promised Land), the Lord gave them some interesting directions:

"When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.... The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever."

I love this. I've always been a fan of setting up 'memorial stones' in my heart (I first got the concept from Hinds Feet on High Places), and I knew it was scriptural but hadn't done much research into instances of it. I think my favorite thing about this whole Joshua/Gilgal story is the meaning of the word Gilgal: it means 'circle' or 'rolling'. They set up their circle of memorial stones there, and God started bringing His work in them full circle. They had set out on this journey out of slavery, had doubted and stopped believing God, and then had to live in the wilderness for 40 years. Finally, the years have passed, they have Joshua in charge, they have made it to the Promised Land, and God can finally finish the work He started when he brought them up out of their slavery.
In Joshua 5:5-7, we find this: "Though all the people who came out [of Egypt] had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way."

I don't want to give away too much, but bear with me here. The Israelites have just crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and now, finally, they were where God had intended for them to be long ago. BUT since they'd lived in the desert so long, those who had been born while they were there had not been circumcised (as God had already commanded). At this point in the Israelites' cycle, they are no longer slaves, they have their own Promised Land, yet they still look like the people of the land they came from. God tells them to circumcise those who were born in the wilderness so that they can once again be consecrated to (set apart for) Him.

I love the way Beth related this to our life- she talks about wearing a label of reproach from your past (I'll get to this terminology later). Beth brings a few volunteers to the stage and has them wear some letters- think Scarlet Letter. There were several, but there are only a few I remember:
One is a D for Divorced.
One is a TP for Terrible Parent.
One is C for Crazy.
That's the one that hit me. 
Many many days, I find myself thinking, "I must be crazy". Or, in the darkest moments, "What if I am and always will be crazy?" First, I dislike that language because I have many friends with mental illnesses and "crazy" puts such a negative connotation on that. Second, I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness. I have always been an anxious person (much more so as a child/pre-salvation), and a very emotional person (thank you, ENFP tendencies and artistic temperament), and "crazy" has always been my fear. I know I am frequently irrational, illogical, and overemotional.

Somewhere along the way, I let myself label Rebecca Stovall as "CRAZY".
It was the shame I liked to pull out and put on when I felt low. Because how could any 'crazy' lady be used by God? (but like, how did I forget Ezekiel in those moments?? Ha!)

Anyway, as I got further into that session, I realized this was a real problem in my spiritual life, and was a way I was giving Satan victory in my life and, consequently, my relationships. It was a way that I was living like a slave, that I looked exactly like the world that I live in- whereas Jesus calls us to be IN this world, but not OF it. We are OF Him! We are consecrated to him and it should be visible to those around us that we are different because we are His. Our hearts are circumcised. Yet I was living in my anxiety and 'crazy' as if my heart was not circumcised.

"I must be crazy" ended right there. No longer would, or could, I wear that "Crazy" jacket. The only way for that to happen was to let God do what he did to the Israelites once they reached Gilgal- circumcise my heart. I understand that can be kind of a weird/freaky thing to see as spiritual, if you don't know much about God's purpose for it, etc. but I believe it is such an image of Christ's ongoing sanctification. He cut off the outer layer of me, cut off my jacket of shame and 'crazy', so that I could look more like Him. I realized this was no small thing. In my heart and mind, I did what the Israelites had done and set up some memorial stones.

I think my favorite thing about this whole Joshua/Gilgal story is that Gilgal means 'circle', 'rolling', or even 'to end'. They set up their circle of memorial stones there, and God started bringing His work in them full circle. Then he started rolling away their reproach, circumcising them, and healing them.

"When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day." Joshua 5:8-9

When I realized the reality of my 'crazy jacket' and allowed God to remove it, my cycle started over. No longer will I go from a promise, to miracles, to unbelief, to "crazy", to repentance, and back. Yes, I will still fall and still need to repent daily and hourly. But this lifelong cycle of letting Satan hold me back so strongly has ended. Now my cycle can be promise, belief, miracles, belief, and back- with repentance throughout. I'm done with disbelief and disobedience.

I know this because I've had opportunities to exercise it and I have already seen the miracles.

During the process of Casey looking for and accepting a job, there were some people who spoke doubt over him/us. I know they didn't do so maliciously, and for the most part they meant well. But no matter their intentions, the "Maybe you should just ___," and "Are you sure ____?" almost wore us down. Other people were pouring unbelief on us, simply because they wanted us to be safe or sure or whatever it was. There was one specific night, shortly after I listened to the Gilgal session, where we just sat on his couch and held each other and cried and prayed because it looked like nothing good was coming. It looked like God wasn't working, or hadn't heard us. I remember so vividly the moment that night when His Spirit whispered in me, "No. I'm believing God." I felt like one of those guys on American Ninja Warrior going up the Salmon Wall. Like everything was trying to push us back down, to keep us from getting to where God wanted us, and I just had to keep pushing upwards, saying "NO!" to the doubts. "NO, I'm believing God!"

Not 48 hours after that, Casey received a call from one of the dozens of schools he had emailed and applied with- one of only a couple to respond to him- and was offered an interview. A week later, he had the job. Not only is it *A* job, it is *THE* job. He will be in the Jackson area. At his new school, he is surrounded by other God-lovers, one of whom is the head coach he will be working closely with. And although it wasn't in the job description, he has been offered additional opportunities to assist in coaching high school in addition to junior high! It is truly our dream come true and prayer answered better than we knew how to ask for. It is nothing short of a miracle.

Oh, and a hilarious little tidbit- the apartment complex he will be living in is the one I lived in two and a half years ago, where he broke up with me. He will be in an identical apartment, just one building over from where I lived without him in that dark season. TALK ABOUT A GILGAL! What a hilarious, amazing full circle that has become!!

At the end of the Believing God study, Beth quotes Ephesians 3:17-19 in a cute little chant. I can't find the exact translation, but in the ESV, the verses say:  "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

As I listened to that chant at the end of all those sessions, tears filled my eyes. Not just at the goodness of God over the whole study, but at the particular chant. I learned it when I was 9 years old. You see, when I was 9 years old, everything happened in my life- I came to Christ, I started piano lessons {and am now a music teacher}, I started gymnastics {and coached for seven years}, I went to MC for the first time {where I obtained my undergrad degree and met Casey}, and I attended the Great Kingdom Caper VBS {which sparked my love for England, and led to me studying abroad there and falling in love with it and hopefully one day returning}. That year, my Sunday School teacher Ms. Cathy taught us that chant. I realized as I listened to it that she must have learned it from doing the Believing God study and that 15 years ago, she believed God for me. When I was so young and knew so little, she did what she could with what she had and prayed for a room full of fifth graders. And even if she did that whole study and learned the chant for no other purpose but to bring Becca Stovall's 24-year-old heart to its knees on a sunny Friday, it was worth it. It means so much to me that she, along with so many others, have believed God for me along the way, when I was unable or unwilling to. What a beautiful Gilgal that is, for someone else to believe God for me until I came full circle and was able to myself.

I've always loved the number 24 and believed that somehow God meant for it to mean big things in my life. He told me at the beginning of my 24th year that this would be a big one. That it would be full of miracles, and it certainly has been so far. If nothing else, I think God knew this whole time that this would be the year of my big Gilgal. That this would be the year that I clung to Him tightest and believed Him for the smallest and biggest and deepest things.
I cannot thank Him enough for that, for being a God who finishes the circle.

(go forward to all the things, part 3)

the waiting and believing

"My hands hold safely to my dreams, Clutching tightly, not one has fallen. So many years I've shaped each one, Reflecting my...