Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Being Renewed

A year ago, when I prayerfully began asking for my word for 2014, I realize now I was thinking small. So small. And that God had much bigger, deeper things in store. I was thinking of so many of the difficult circumstances in life that needed change and, truly, God wasn't blind to those painful places. Looking back, though, I think that what God was more interested in was my heart, my soul, my perspective, and my place with Him.

Like I said, God HAS stepped in to some of those ugly places. Right around Remembrance Day, my husband and I were noting just how far this year has brought us. How different life is this year compared to this time last year. It was mid November last year that he had lost his job. Mine was not much better. We were alienated from both daughters. Finances were tight. We were just taking slow, painfully frightening steps into church community. Our basement was a disaster. The past was pushing into our present with painful perseverance. We had experienced loss after loss after loss and hope was hard to be found. In truth, I felt like I was drowning and wondering where on earth God was in it all.

This year, we have seen change in some of those circumstances. My wonderful husband has been provided with a new job. One in which he feels respected and challenged, able to provide for us as a family. One of our daughters has returned to us. We're only a few days work away from the basement being finished (we will never, NEVER, renovate again). And, spoiler alert, we have a baby on the way! There is a different feeling of hope this winter season, even though not all of the tough stuff is by any means fixed or "gone."

Hope is a funny thing. Rarely, if ever, does it come from circumstance. One of the biggest changes for me has been a softening of heart, a renewal of relationship with God and His church that is hard to explain fully but something I am increasingly aware of and thankful for. We have made some choices in that regard. One of them has been returning to church community.  I don't know if I have posted yet about how that all came about. Short version is this: summer vacation 2013. Colin and I were on the ferry to Victoria to visit some friends. I was sitting on the deck of the boat watching the beauty of the BC coast pass by and I knew, I just knew, that it was time to go back to church after our season of rest, if that's what its called, or at the very least, of absence. As is his nature, when I spoke to Colin about it, he was truly supportive. I think his words were something to the effect of "I've just been waiting for you. Where do you want to go?" We chose a church close to home (proximity to community is important to us) that we knew had similar values and theology to what is close to our hearts. After a meeting with the pastor to answer some of our questions, we decided to make it home. There was no church shopping for us. It was time to get back into community and this was the place. We were, or at least I was, tentative at first. I think its probably a natural tendency of the broken to be tentative and cautious. For me, this was a step, maybe even a leap, of vulnerability, not just with church and organization and community but with God himself. Let me be clear. This was not just about "going" to church. To me, its been about being open to God's timing and God's plan, which truly is perfect, even when it felt like He had completely and utterly forgotten us. We entered into His community just before crap really hit the fan for us.

God has been faithful. He has found me in my vulnerability and reluctant obedience and given me what I didn't know I needed - not the renewal of circumstance I expected but a renewal of Spirit. Through the people there He has provided community, friendship, support and encouragement. In the last year He has spoken deeply into my Spirit. He has healed, or at least, is healing, this broken heart of mine. Because of what He has been allowed to do there, more has come. I know I am different, perhaps more whole, than I was a year ago because I have allowed Him to move in me. God has taken my one step of obedience, one tentative step towards what I knew to be true, to change me. He is dragging me, slowly and patiently, out of the darkness I felt like I was in and returning me to the lightness of His spirit.

He has me doing things I wouldn't have imagined a year ago. Our church does what they call Covenant Community. I suppose you could call it membership. Just recently, my husband and I made the commitment to join community. It wasn't about being "members" for us, about whether we could vote or be on the "in" with decisions. It had very little to do with organizational church of structure to me at all. I felt like it was another important step, a building of an alter if you will, like in the Old Testament when they built alters to mark significant meetings with God. We were saying that we're here. We're not going anywhere. These people will be our family and this place will be our home. We commit to following God together and allowing Him to continue to change and shape our perspective, to continue to provide the hope and renewal He has begun. We will allow Him to use us there, in service, to do what He needs to do.

An important part of the process was reflecting on and writing down my journey of faith. This was the testimony I gave to the church that day:

I was practically born into the church. I am the oldest child of a dad who was an elder and founding member of our church, a well known teacher in our small farming community and a farmer and friend to many. My mom was a leader and servant in her own right, an integral part of our church and community. Our church became an extension of my family and I learned early that one of the joys of community is doing life together. Through that family, I learned the stories of the Bible and watched it lived out in real life. It was because of the lessons learned there that I met Jesus early, praying a child’s prayer at around 4 years old, asking Jesus into my life. I had opportunities to serve, to lead and to search out God’s will and gifting for me. 
My faith became real and truly hit home when I was about 9. I remember it clearly. I was at summer camp and the speaker was talking about just how much God loves us. He read John 3:16 and then asked us each to repeat it with him, putting our own name into the verse. “For God so loved Stacey, that He gave his only Son that she should have eternal life.” I knew that that was true and that that was a God I wanted to follow. That message of unconditional love, deep and unending, has been the foundation of my life and faith. 

It has been my goal to love and to serve Him since. I was baptized in June of 1998, after my first year of Bible College. I went on to get my Religious Education degree and have had the privilege of serving in ministry for almost 15 years, walking closer with Jesus, learning more about who God made me and having the opportunity to journey with so many dear people who were also getting to know Jesus better. Together we learned to love God and love people.

In 2010, things began to fall to pieces, making the last 4 years some of the hardest of my life. I have wrestled in my faith, moved out of ministry, struggled with my belief and trust in people and had my self esteem beaten and battered. I have wondered if God is there and wondered if there is anything good left for me. Hope has been hard to find.

Yet through it all, even though I didn’t always feel it in my heart, two truths that have shaped my life remained: God loves me and He wants us to walk in community. 

Last July (2013), I knew it was time to return to church. Even though I was afraid and even though I was wounded, I knew that was what God wanted for us. There was something there for us that was important. Our first Sunday was a timid step of obedience. Sunwest has been our home since.

Every year, instead of choosing a New Year’s resolution, I try to prayerfully choose a word. This year’s word has been renew. There are so many aspects of life that have needed (and still need) renewal. We are thankful to have Sunwest as a part of that renewing journey. 
I feel a little bit like I'm rambling and not fully getting to the depths of what God has, is doing. Let me put it this way: I feel like I am slowly climbing out the other side of a dark valley. It's uphill and has changed my perspective. It is hard work but I am not alone. He is walking with me and I'm beginning to see the light glimmering over the horizon at the top. I am learning that He who began a good work in me will follow it through to completion. If all I can is this, that God has not forgotten me, this I know, then I am better than where I was a year ago. Some days, that's what it is...still one fragile, broken step in front of the other, simply knowing I am not forgotten in the mess. Some days its more. Some days I feel like he's closer. Present. And I'm starting to see His movement in life around me again. It's not all sunshine and roses. Some areas are downright nightmarish. God is in those moments too.

That is a perspective I needed to have renewed. That is where there is hope to be found. There are so many little, circumstantial things that still need to change, so many that I need take responsibility for - habits to restore, mindsets to change, steps to take - but it all seems a little less daunting looking at it from a different perspective (someone remind me of that when I'm a tearful puddle on the floor next week!!).

Who would have thought that seeking a simple word could be used in such a way? Do I dare ask for more?

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