Monday, September 19, 2011

He knows the plans and they're good.

Life in the meantime isn't always awesome.

I'm not trying to bring you down, but it's true.  It's not that life is terrible or that we are plagued with meantime living.  That's far from the truth.  It's just that living in the meantime, or any other time for that matter, isn't perfect.  There will be struggles and trials.  And we press on.

Yesterday, in two different venues, I heard a famous reading from the book of Jeremiah 29.  It goes like so:

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  (Jer. 29:10-14)

 The bold verse in the passage is one that is memorized, recited, and written on mugs and shirts.  It's a common response to "what's your favorite Bible verse?"

Now, I've heard lots of people talk about how ridiculous that is.  That people wouldn't choose this verse as a happy, hopeful word if they knew that the context was Babylonian exile.  God says to Israel through Jeremiah "I have good plans to prosper you....after 70 years of being in exile by Babylonians who will not be kind to you."  That's not an addendum we usually find when people use this Scripture.

Even so, I would be the last person to say that it isn't one we should be quoting and clinging to.  Sure, maybe people use it as a "feel good" Scripture.  I know a lot of people who cling to that specific word in the midst of difficulty, which is what it's all about.  The fact that context is so unbelievably difficult and awful, makes the promise all the more beautiful and meaningful.

Because, like I said, living in the meantime is rough.  Can you imagine the meantime feeling of the Israelites in Babylon?  Some had conformed and embraced the culture, but others just waited longingly to go back to Judah, Jerusalem, the Holy place where God resided.  In those times, too, we see in Jeremiah, that when we seek God, He will be found.  He won't be distant or make you stay in exile, but has good things ahead.d

I had a friend say to me recently how awesome it has been to see God refining me in the past 2 or 3 years.  She told me she could see me drawing near to the Lord more than ever.  All of this surprised me.  (It's good for people to let you know you've grown, by the way.  Sometimes it's hard to see that about yourself.)  She explained that she's seen me have struggles--people coming in and out of my life, hardships, transitions--but she reassured me that God is doing something with me.  My friend has seen me through lonely months, through spiritual and sin struggles, working through wounds, and through dealing with uncertain future.  She said, "I can see how much God is refining you.  It came with a cost, but He's drawn you near through those things and refining you for something."  What a gift for that perspective.  What excitement and hope I have for what is to come.

What's your exile today?  A relationship?  A job situation or transition?  A period of loneliness or bitterness?  Trust in the promise that through those things, God knows the plans He has for you and they are good.  Seek Him and find Him in that situation.  Let God use it as a refining fire for you and what your future holds.  That refining fire happens when we let Him have His way with us and draw near to Him and His Word.

Come have your way, Lord, with our meantimes, with our exiles, with our hardships.  You know the plans You have for us.  Draw us near for the journey.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

life: living for relationship, not refrigerator space.

As much as I've loved the court time with my volleyball girls in the past months and weeks, I must say that it hasn't been easy.  To start with, it’s taken a lot of time and energy that is usually used to rest or invest in relationships with others. 

I’ve also been challenged because when it comes to coaching, I feel a little like a scooter on the freeway.  I realized at the beginning of the season that this would not be an experience that I felt incredibly qualified for.  Minnesota volleyball is a lot different than in when I played ball in Kansas.  I saw right away that this would be a humbling experience where I would have work hard to be mediocre.  I would have to go in confident and collected even when I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  This is my regular coaching experience.  It has been a great one--humbling, uncomfortable, and breaking of my perfectionism.  God has been working on me.

I heard someone at a conference say recently, “Anything worth doing is worth being bad at for a while.”  That is good encouragement for me.  I’m not going to be perfect at anything.  Even to be good at something takes time and dedication.  To be good at something takes time, effort, and heart.  That means there will be a lot of work put in that isn’t worthy of hanging on the refrigerator.

 I love that imagery.  I had a professor say to me the other day, “Part of our job is teaching students that everything they do isn’t gonna get hung up on the refrigerator.” I laughed.  He’s so right.  We are a culture that needs to be commended.  We are raising generations that have got trophies for being on the team.  Sometimes we have to put in the hard work that nobody sees to reach the bigger goal.  As I thought about what the professor had said, I realized, I need to remember that I’m not going to get every project on the refrigerator.  Sometimes I’m going to be mediocre and nobody is going to notice.  Sometimes I’m just going to be doing the everyday things.  I don’t need a high five for that.

Encouragement is a great and important thing.  When it becomes what we run on, then we have an issue.  We find our identity in our successes, in our victories, in the stars our picture has as it hangs on the fridge.  We must be careful.  We must be careful not to wear “busy” on our sleeve as something others should honor, but repenting that it’s taken all of who we are.  To not sacrifice our relationships with family and friends for another activity or accolade.

At the end of a long week, too, realizing that it’s not really that big of a deal if I’m mediocre at most things.  If that’s my best, healthy effort, then that’s what it is.  The thing that ultimately matters is relationship.  As I’m doing my best, am I being the best person I can be on the way?  Am I taking time to acknowledge the best in others—to give them my best attention, my best ears, my best heart?  Those are things that matter more than an award, wins on a page, or names on a plaque.  To be our best at the relationships in our lives.  Not to fill up our story with lots of things that we’ll be mediocre at, just for a chance to get more attention and gold stars.  Not to be the person with the most relationships or the relational guru, but to be loving and learn how to be loved.  It’s worth doing well, so that means you’re probably going to be bad at it sometimes.  It’s probably not going to earn you a gold star or your picture on the fridge, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s grounding.  It’s lovely and whole.  It’s messy and fun.  It’s hard and beautiful.  It’s scary and safety.  We are not fully human without it.  Relationship is our essence.  To be satisfied with the ordinary, which is quite extraordinary.  To make time for adventure that may very well fail in measurement, but be a win in experience and relationship.  To see and embrace just how different God’s economy is from the world’s—that we aren’t looking for notoriety, but taking note of ways to give ourselves to others.  I’m trying to learn this as I live in the meantime.  To start embracing relationship and making it a priority right now, even though it’s not a romantic relationship or a family that I’m making time for.  Married or otherwise, this is what we were made for—relationship.  God knew this.  He calls us His and we make the refrigerator, not because of something we did that was worthy, but He calls us worthy because we're His.

Let us love one another and call each other important.  It’s the good stuff in life—better than any space we could occupy on the refrigerator.