Saturday, November 16, 2013

the beauty of the wasteland

Wherever your treasure is, 
there the desires of your heart will also be.

Sometimes, God gives us a glimpse at what life might have been like if He had allowed something to change our course. He has been giving me those glimpses lately, to shake me from months of moaning discontentment. And my world has been rocked.

My husband and I used to be pretty materialistic. Ok, really materialistic. We loved Jesus, but we found our joy and hope and pride in what we had, how much we had, how much it cost, and where we could go to enjoy it. We were the perfect yuppies - loved the city, the nightlife, good food, travel, and shopping. Trouble was, we were yuppies who were not yet professionals. Ben was in dental school, I worked odd jobs until I launched a short-lived and shockingly low-paying career in teaching. But, they told us, don't worry. Don't sweat those mounting student loans and the soaring credit card debt you need to live on. You're going to make so. much. money. Three years out, you'll be out of debt and ready to live large. You'll be the elite. And we bought all of it, ate up those promises like Gospel truth. Rarely did we stop to consider what we would do if the pot at the end of the rainbow turned out to be fool's gold. We were just so excited to be living on a trajectory towards being wildly successful and wealthy, having everything we thought we'd always wanted. 

We were foolish. Unwise. Immature. Unanchored in Christ. We neglected the maturity of our walk with Jesus but expected His favor to pour out on us the moment Ben graduated.

Instead, the bottom fell out. In the blink of an eye, we found ourselves with nothing. Drowning in debt, barely making ends meet. Dreams of shopping sprees and fancy boots and exotic vacations and our kids in all the best clothes and all the best sports teams and and and... all began to shrivel up. Our expectations were violently upended. Ben's career did not take off. He started his career in a poorly run company in a recession market, and his income was nothing like the dream. Month after month, year after year, we have waited for Ben's job to turn around. For doors to open. For God's hand to move. But, six years later, we are still waiting. 

But I have to let you in on a little secret. A surprise from God. 

This season of our lives, this season of interminable waiting, of dead ends, of burdens so heavy they threaten to crush, of discouragement and discontentment and depression...

This season is the best thing that ever happened to us.


Don't get me wrong, it often sucks. It's painful to be broke. Painful to have to downgrade and downsize and pick between gas or groceries. It hurts to hear of others' trips to Disneyland and giant homes and weekly massages and to tuck those dreams away further and further until it feels pointless to even bring them up. It is humbling and sometimes humiliating.

But, in the midst of the struggle and stress and heartache, God has been doing the most amazing thing. 

He is rewriting our story.

See, somewhere along the line, Ben and I got off course. We saw something shiny down the trail, and without pausing to ask the Master if we should follow it, we barreled forward. And that became our pattern of living. And seeing that we were destined for destruction, God oh-so-lovingly let us crash. He allowed us to walk into this desert land. Wooing us, speaking to us, staying close to us until we finally began to get it. He brought us to a church family where wise men and women came alongside us to help us see what His Word had for our journey. These saints poured into us with so much love and compassion and grace and truth, and through them, God began to transform us.

To renew our minds to think like He does. To reshape our values to fall in line with His heart. To reconsider our treasures. To learn what it means to surrender, to die to self, to become satisfied in Him.

This is not to say that we don't still struggle with want. We do love things. We love nice things. My husband's brand-new BMW can attest to that. We still struggle to live within our means. Our week-long journey through Europe can attest to that. Certainly, we make mistakes.

But we get it now. Stuff is just stuff. Period. It doesn't last. Success and wealth are lovely, and I still ask God for a measure of both. But they don't produce joy. They don't produce perserverance and its sisters, maturity and completion. Not to mention that little matter of the crown of life at the end of the road. Only trials bring these qualities to life in a person. Desert places. Wastelands. Those are the places where God is doing the new things.

The past few months I found myself back in a familiar cycle of discontentment. Questioning all that He has taught me through this season, I grumbled and complained about all of the things I still don't have. May never have. That everybody else has. Resentment and bitterness became my companions. And you know they are never up to any good. 

Then one week, I had three glimpses at the "could have beens." I sat with a few people who are my version of "have it all together." Beautiful, immaculate houses. Every room furnished to the tiniest detail. Perfect nails. Perfect highlights. High-end clothes not necessarily purchased at The Rack. Makeup from Sephora. I can sniff those things out because, remember, I used to have those things too.

I sat through these conversations that week, and for awhile all I could hear was my own insecurities echoing back at me:

"You've really slimmed down!" sounded like, "Man, you were chubby before. You had really let yourself go. Too bad you don't have my freakish lack of body fat and rock hard abs, but I just have SO MUCH MONEY and a million nannies so I can work out all day long and anyway calories don't count once you reach certain tax bracket."

"I love your boots, where'd you get them?" sounded like, "Clearly, those are the boots you had to have a garage sale to pay for and still agonized over whether to buy them... at a discount store."

"Yeah, we're excited for our trip to Disneyland, but airfare is just so expensive!" sounded like, "Totally kidding, the tickets were absolutely no big. A week in a four-star resort and six Disney parks is a little tough on the wallet, but you can't skimp on Disney - it's the ultimate dream trip for little kids and yours are almost too old to enjoy it and hurryhurrytimesrunningoutohnevermindit'llneverhappensendthemtotherapy."

You get the point. But here's where God got all God-like on me again, and turned my worldview completely upside down. The more I listened, the more I began to see the cracks in the facade. Underneath these picture perfect women were stories of brokenness and baggage, heartache and hopelessness. Families that were splintering. Women who felt so much pressure to keep that perfect image that you could see the weight of the burden in their eyes. Women who would trade it all to see their husbands finally come to Jesus.

God used those women, who had stirred in me such burning envy and resentment at my life, to open my eyes to the beauty of my story. My story has a husband who chases after the Father's heart, who is passionate and intentional in raising up our children to know and love Jesus, and who is crazy about me after all these years. My story has a woman who is utterly flawed but gifted in ways that He can use, who is able to encourage and lighten hearts with words and wit, who gets on her knees in powerful prayer, who has a soft Mama's heart and a deep, intimate love for her Savior. My story has three beautiful, healthy, smart, hilarious children who love their lives and their mommy and daddy and couldn't care less if soccer and gymnastics just aren't in the budget. My story has family and friends who are a rich heritage of faith, who come alongside us to encourage and equip us in every moment of our walk.

My story is gorgeous. My story is perfect. My story, is His story for me.

My story is not better than theirs. They are also beautiful women on the inside, who love Jesus and love people and pour out their lives in generosity to others. But our stories were never meant to compete. They were always meant to complement. To build up the body. To usher in the Kingdom.

And had we not fallen from our ivory tower, I would never have seen the amazing grace of His story for me.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful. Seth and I read it together. I feel like it's been my story too, just substitute kids for money. I had dreams and assumptions of what parenthood and family would/should be like. Then I had kids with needs and issues that I was not equipped to handle. And it has broken me and ground me into dust. But (hopefully!) i'm far less judgmental and critical and unloving
    and you name it, than I would other wise have been. And life is sweeter for it. God is good. And (so I hear) he will hurt us, but never harm us. We are in such good hands. xo