Monday, January 6, 2014

2013, and a hope for 2014

We are only six days into this new year, but I don't want to forget 2013. I thought I did at one time... but as every woman does, I've changed my mind again and have decided to write a post reflecting on the past year. My hope in doing so is to stoke in me (and encourage in you) a heart of thankfulness. 

"When we bless God for mercies, we usually prolong them. When we bless God for miseries, we usually end them. Praise is the honey of life which a devout heart extracts from every bloom of providence and grace." Spurgeon

The last days of 2012 were spent on the beach in San Diego, wondering what the next year would bring. The first days of 2013, much different than I had imagined, ended up being some of the most difficult of the whole year. As quickly as it started, a relationship ended, a friendship changed and my heart went through a lot of pain. Yet, that still small voice grew and grew - and my heart knew that God's love would never change. With the additional help of very patient friends and a supportive family, the rehearsed truths became life-lines -- whether by text, email, real mail, visits, sermons, songs, books, etc. - my friends showed me God's love by suffering alongside, and saying a timely word, when necessary. 

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God's refusals are always merciful -- "severe mercies" at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart's desire except to give us something better.” Elisabeth Elliot

One thing I knew from the beginning is that my heart's posture, with anything, should be open hands. God is free to give, and he is free to take. My responsibility is to trust him by opening up my hands and trusting his good heart in all things, and to thank him whenever he chooses to give or to take. The Elisabeth Elliot quote above has been one of my favorites for many years, and looking back God has marked my life by the many things he has taken away from me. Each and every time I have praised him for doing so because I realized what he took away, he replaced with something better. I was determined that this part of my story would be yet another item to add to the list because of two reasons - God is always faithful, and he loves me a ton. So, I began to say, "He loves his girls," to help me remember this. It's no coincidence that my Dad, to this day, will embrace me and kiss the top of my head and whisper "Daddy loves his girl." I imagine the Lord doing the same. 

Psalm 66 summarizes my thoughts perfectly: "Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!"

"Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays the most or fasts the most... but it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it." William Law

A key take-away for me this year was the realization that God does not get sick of me. I remember a season of what seemed like months, and I would blow-dry my hair every morning, look in the mirror and talk with God, and tell him that my heart was still in the same place. I sincerely asked him if he would ever change it and help me heal. I remember realizing one day that God was not pushing me away. He was not sick of me. I could tell him the same thing 'till the cows come home and he would not tire of hearing from me. That changed everything. I wonder if the Lord brought me through all of it just to learn that one amazing fact. Wouldn't that be so like him? I think there was joy in the midst of pain mostly due to God teaching me that I was secure in his love, and free to thank him for the trial.

"An evidence that our will has been broken is that we begin to thank God for that which once seemed so bitter, knowing that His will is good and that, in His time and in His way, He is able to make the most bitter waters sweet." Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Visits from friends throughout the year included Kari Wright, Jenee, Allison Tirjan, Kalani, Krystan L. and a few more. Trips to Texas, Cape Cod, North Carolina, Philadelphia, West Virginia (for a wedding), the Outer Banks beach, and a birthday trip to New York City were highlights. Getting away from the city is like taking off a tight pair of pants - and everyone needs to do it! So thankful for the friendships that take me in and out of Washington, DC.

"Those blessings are sweetest that are won with prayers and won with thanks." Thomas Goodwin

Work has been a consistent blessing in my life. The challenge and environment make for interesting work, and the people are precious to me. At the beginning of the year, I received an answer to a long-time prayer. These changes plus an encouraging review helped to lift my spirit! During the summer, three Christian friends left within weeks of each other and I felt very flat afterward, and prayed God would send more Christians to work with. In his perfect timing, he did just that. He knows we need encouragement. Also there have been many opportunities to have conversations about the Gospel. Please join me in praying that there would be many more!

"Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay from his own fullness all He takes away." Katharina von Schlegel

My church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, continues to keep my heart firmly planted in DC. This past year, I most enjoyed the sermon series from my pastor, Mark Dever, on the book of John. I was struck by Jesus' rejection from everyone, and reminded that a life following him will mean rejection and persecution in a variety of ways. But, verses like John 16:27 gave the greatest comfort, "the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." 

My favorite 2013 sermon (which I listen to repeatedly) was by Zach Schlegel on discontentment (Numbers 11, text). He reminded us that we are created for eternity - God put it on our hearts from the beginning. And that for the child of God, no trial is wasted. 

Another highlight was my Tuesday night small group with members, married and single, of various ages from our congregation. We've been studying the Gospel of Mark and I have been struck by Jesus' gentleness and humanity. In chapter 7, he heals a deaf man that the crowd brought to him. The text says Jesus took him away from the crowd and privately healed him. A lady in my small group, who works with the deaf community, commented how tender this was of Jesus. Imagine if he healed the man amidst the crowd, where it the sheer volume of regular discourse would have overstimulated him. The story really touched my heart and made Jesus so real to me. 

In closing, my prayer for 2014 is best said by George Herbert:

"Thou has given so much to me. Give one thing more - a grateful heart; Not thankful when it pleaseth me, as if Thy blessings had spare days, but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise."

No comments: