Thursday, April 3, 2014

People Never Really Change.... Or, Do They?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3: 17-18

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the saying  “people never really change”.  I don’t believe that people have the ability to change other people.  Nor, do I believe that people have the power to change on their own.  I’m convinced there is someone much bigger than us who has the power to change hearts - even the hardest of hearts.  I believe it because I’ve experienced it. I’ve seen, in my own life, what God can do with a broken spirit through Jesus.  I’ve also witnessed it in my husband’s life and in our marriage.    God has revealed Himself to me in a profound way in different seasons slowly breaking down even the toughest walls I’ve built.  I believe that as soon as we take our first breath, we are born with a sinful nature.  Where does this innate nature come from?  I believe it can only be explained through the story of Adam and Eve.  As soon as Eve ate the fruit, her decision changed the entire world.  It was the turning point for mankind, a crossroads between perfection and imperfection.  But, someone would come along who would repair what man had destroyed (John 3:16). 
When I gave my life to Christ, there wasn’t this instant spiritual transformation or understanding.  However, I felt this strong desire towards becoming a better person, a motivation to be more like Jesus.  It’s been a gradual process, a very dark one at times.  I’ve had so many questions along the way.  I’ve been skeptical trying to put my faith in something or someone I wasn’t sure I truly believed in.  I’ve contemplated whether or not the entire Bible was the written word of God.  I’ve doubted Him.  I’ve lost faith when I haven’t fully understood His will or His motives.  It took time for me to trust a Man I could not tangibly see, hear or touch.  He’s put me in many situations- some good, some bad- for my faith in Him to grow stronger, for change to come.  A change that I never thought was possible. And, I’m undoubtedly certain that those who knew me at the time didn’t think it was possible either.  I’m realizing that Christ was the only One that saw my true potential.  He was the only One who truly believed in me.  That He created me with a purpose in mind.  That He created me in His image (Genesis 1:27). That I’m special and loved more than human words could ever express (Ephesians 3:18).  I’m learning this more and more with each new day.
I’m in an amazing Bible study.  I went last year and honestly wasn’t crazy about it. I don’t blame God or anyone else for the mediocre experience. I wasn’t in a position to really listen.  I was allowing circumstances to become my stumbling block.  I lost focus on Him and turned to the world for comfort.  The one thing that I did gain through the study of Genesis was an understanding of how Jesus fit into the Old Testament and how He’s always been there even from the beginning.  I didn’t sign up for the next year but my heart felt a slightly heavy feeling because of my decision.  The next fall, I was surprised to hear from my new leader for our discussion group.  "That’s weird, I thought.  I wonder who signed me up?"  I confessed to her that I had been under a ton of stress and couldn’t add anything else on my schedule.  With gentleness and grace, she said she understood and would pray for me but to let her know if I changed my mind.  My heart felt significantly heavier after our conversation.  I knew my desperate soul needed Jesus.  I really needed to hear from Him.  The truth was that I wanted to isolate myself even from Him.  I felt as if no one would understand my loneliness, my depression and no one would want to be around my crummy attitude including Jesus.  I was being fake not feeling comfortable sharing my struggles with others.  I was giving into the lies instead of resting in His promises.  So, I got down on my knees and prayed.
Asher was about four months old at the time.  During these months, he was extremely colicky and always seemed to be unhappy or in pain.  I was only getting about 30 minutes to an hour sleep each night.  It seemed as if he cried ALL the time.  I was going through the motions of taking care of him but had little desire to bond with him.  I was in survival mode.  It broke my heart.  I was crying a lot!  I was also dealing with a toddler that was still in diapers who was adjusting to a new baby brother.  I felt I was in over my head.  I wasn’t praying and when I did, my words felt so empty.  I wasn’t sharing time or thoughts with Him.  I wasn’t gaining strength from His word and so I didn’t even bother opening my Bible.  We were rarely going to church anymore.  It was like I was walking along on a straight path and somehow fell in a deep, dark hole wondering how I got there.  Getting out is hard when you’re not prepared with the proper equipment to get you out.  The guilt of not enjoying every second of this precious time dug the hole even deeper and it spiraled me into a depression.  How in the world was I not enjoying every second of this precious time?  I would envision leaving the family for a bit just to get myself back.  But, I couldn’t run.  I had to face my “demons” head on.  My family needed me.  I know God must of used this depression to show me I needed Him.  And, He made me realize I no longer wanted to “drink from this cup”.  It wasn’t just about me anymore.  Once again, I felt an intense motivation to change.  Danny also recognized that something needed to change within himself.  He didn’t feel equipped enough to handle a wife that was so sad, so disconnected and sometimes really draining to be around.  He was tired too and in need of encouragement.  We were struggling.  He realized he needed to give this situation to God in order to help me cope better – to help carry me, to help support me, to help encourage me.  To be that amazing spiritual leader that he is.  So, we went back to the source.  The only source we knew could truly guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7) and get us back on track.
The day rolled around for the first class in this study.  Again, I was still really sad I declined the invitation.  The same day, my previous leader called on the phone (not a text, not a Facebook message, but a phone call) asking where I was and how I had been.  She said she had registered me for the class this year but was disappointed to see that I wasn’t there (so, THAT is who signed me up).  She also encouraged me to come even if I realized down the road that it was too much for me in this season of life.  Okay, between both of these women, God was pushing me.  He was calling me.  So, “I got up and followed Him”.  I’ve been going ever since. I've also dealt with obstacles along the way and “ negative forces” trying to convince me I shouldn’t go.  But, I persevered through the hurdles. I’m so very grateful that God pushed me.  He’s most definitely rewarded me with a different perspective and attitude through this experience.  My prayer had been answered.
I’m incredibly certain God has used this study of Matthew to train me and to communicate how much He truly does care for me.  And, how He believes in me.  But, what I really want to focus on is the transformation He’s made in me since studying this gospel.  How His Spirit has become real and alive in me again.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Matthew, he was the tax collector who Jesus chose as one of His disciples.  He asked this ordinary man that was a sinner to leave everything and follow Him.  And, Matthew did just that.  Scripture says, “he gets up and follows Him” (Matthew 9:9).  The author didn’t say that he went home and packed a bag or told his family goodbye.  He didn’t say that Jesus asked him to fix what was broken and come looking for Him when he got it all together.  No, Jesus wanted him right where he was, sitting in his little tax collector’s booth.  The Great Shepherd found one of His lost sheep (Luke 15).  Matthew, with very little knowledge of who Christ was at this point, picked up his cross and followed Him.  He asks us to follow Him in the very same way He asked Matthew.  His Spirit shines brightly when we seek Him with all of our hearts and with all of our souls.  Even when I’m in distress and things have happened to me, in later days, I will return to the Lord and obey Him [because I love Him].  For my God is merciful and will not abandon me or destroy me (Deuteronomy 4:29-30). 
I’ve seen His Spirit shine in me so brightly this year.  I see my transformation when I put Danny before myself.  I see it when I selflessly pray, full of compassion, for others.  I see it when I’m a gentle and kind wife, mother and friend.  I see it when I’m encouraging, effortlessly sharing God’s promises to others.  I see it when I communicate out of love instead of anger in my relationships.  I see it when I let go of past regrets and failures.  I see it when I engage with my kids by not playing on my phone or focusing on other things.  I see it when I’m free of fear and anxiety.  I see it when I’m intentional on giving my very best to others and myself.  Not in perfection, but focusing on just giving my best.  I see it when I ask a disappointed friend for her forgiveness instead of becoming defensive.  I see it when we discipline Addy with love and gentleness.  I see it when it's just me and Asher bonding.  When I can do nothing but love on him and kiss him.  I see it when I help a neighbor or friend.  Or, when I help a complete stranger.  I see it when my desire is to please God and not others.  I see it when I have self-control and do things in moderation.  I see it when I’m tempted with lies about myself and I shift my focus asking Him to help me take my thoughts captive.  I see it when I’m eager to get home after Bible study and learn more about Him.  I see it when I really don’t want to do my study but I do it anyway.  I see it when I’m self-aware of my sin or motivated to change for the better.  I see it when I talk to God, when I passionately cry out to Him.  I see it even when I feel absolutely nothing and I pray anyway.  I see it when I’m driving down the road worshipping Him through music.  I see it when I truly believe and understand what I’m singing in church or in my kitchen - I raise my hands in praise - in thankfulness and submission.  I see it when I empathize with someone hurting.  I see it when I have deep conversations with Danny, from reading Scripture together, about Jesus and how we want to change because of Him but also for each other - for our kids.  I see it when I’m feeling good enough, confident enough - when I feel His Power and Love over me.  I see it when I persevere through a challenging day with positivity and joy.  I see it when I don’t complain about mundane activities like changing diapers or washing bottles or fixing dinner or cleaning toilets or doing laundry or experiencing exhaustion.  I see it when I embrace and reflect on eternal life. I see it when I’m happy and excited for my loved ones that are with Him instead of wanting them here with me.  I see it when I feel that He is all I need in this world to feel secure and safe.  I see it when I write a blog confident in what I believe in without worries of how people may judge me.  There will be one day when I’m in His arms, in His perfection. Until that incredible day, this world will always bring trials; bring battles I will have to confront head on with Him.  I’ve realized I can’t expect perfection in myself or in others.  But, I can wait for a day that will come and I’ll truly be free of imperfections.  Where my soul will be complete in His arms.  He will wipe every tear from my eyes and welcome me home (Revelation 21:4).
I vividly remember a conversation Danny and I had a few weeks after losing Evie.  I would consider it as a defining moment.  I was having a really hard day and just couldn’t find peace.  I had a more of these days than good in the beginning of her death.  Whenever I was in one of these desperate moments, I would pick up the phone and call Danny.  I believe God knew I needed to hear His words through Danny’s voice because I wasn’t quite there yet with trust.  I admitted to Danny that I wanted to walk away from God.  I confessed to him that I didn’t even feel as if I truly believed He was real.  And, that the thought alone terrified me.  I was convinced I was done trying to understand Jesus until Danny helped open my eyes to a new perspective.  He said that by seeking Christ, he felt he would be able to give the very best part of himself to me as well as others regardless if God were real or not.  He said that if he died and God didn’t exist, worst-case scenario, he gave his very best to the people and things in this world.  Jesus’ philosophy would teach him how to live a life of hope, faith and love.  The opposite, of course, would be if he chose not to believe in Him.  If he didn’t live his life in accordance with God’s will, then to find out He was indeed real; it would be a truly sorrowful day.  That every trial he had ever faced on this earth would look like a walk in the park compared to finding out He does exist and lived a life of unbelief and dead faith (James 2:17).  I still think of this conversation to this very day.  It was a game changer in my walk.  I then decided I wanted to live the life with Him instead of without Him.  I've been seeking and loving Him ever sense.  I'm addicted to what only He can give.  I’m really looking forward to the day I can thank Him face to face.  Until then, the only thing I can do now is follow Him. 

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