Looking Ahead with Joy

It’s that time of year again:  time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future.  New Year’s Day, while it should be brimming with expectation, is often wrought with self-evaluation and melancholy reveries of what might have been.  This past year has been lovely, yet tough:  tough in a we moved two years ago and opened a brand new business and are hanging on by a thread financially tough.  Yet, lovely, remarkable, even, in what my husband and I have learned about our God, ourselves, and each other through the struggle.the-road-1361700-640x480

Every year, my husband, kids, and I draw up a list of resolutions, practical goals, we believe that will improve us in some way:  read four books a month, walk three times a week, fight with my brother less (we are still waiting on this one to take effect.)  For me, resolution setting also involves a great deal of prayer, and every year, I expect God to simply speak into existence my resolution.  For instance, help me get fitter, and voila, I wake up fitter, or help me be a better steward of my money, and voila, I am within the budget every month.  This past year has taught me more than any other that God doesn’t transform that way.  I know, I’m a stubborn one, and though, I’ve known this to be true my entire life, I still pray that I will somehow be transformed into the woman of my dreams overnight, weird quirks- gone, extra weight- gone, bad habits- done.  James 1: 2-4 says, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  And Romans 5:1-4 states, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we  have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we  also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  It seems that while God could clearly transform me in an instant, He is big on process because He is more concerned with our holiness and character than our comfort.

I’ve always been a bold pray-er.  After this past year, though, I’m not going to lie; I may have called into question my boldness because God has been faithful in answering in unanticipated ways.  While it may not be the way I would have hoped He would answer, looking back, I see that prayers I have been praying for years have been answered this year in mighty ways.  Yet, they’ve all been answered through trial, and you know what, I would not trade one minute of the trial for the results.  Easy and comfortable produce arrogance and self-dependnece while struggle and trial produce humility and dependence on God.  I’ll take the second every time.

Help Me Be More Humble

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  James 4:6.  I’ve never considered myself an arrogant person, but the past few years have revealed to me that the stock I place in my accomplishments, the praise I crave for a job well done, the desire to do it all and all by myself are glaring symptoms of pride.  Recently, I heard 1 John 2: 16-17: For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride in one’s lifestyle- comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  I’ve probably heard or read this verse one thousand times, but this time conviction at the phrase “pride in one’s lifestyle” fell on me like an anvil.  I often feel a sense of pride when I look at what I’ve been able to accomplish in life, especially my academic or career achievements, as if I created my gifts and talents myself.

This past year, my daughter was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and ADHD.  Our journey has been a long, difficult one that has often taken an emotional and spiritual toll on Travis, A, C, and me.  (More about this on a later post) In context of this past year, though, God has opened my eyes to how I don’t have all the answers, I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t have to be.  While I strive to keep everything looking like Mary Poppins runs our household, there are times that I am barely keeping it together.  My children don’t always behave in the way I’d like.  I don’t always know how to help my baby girl respond to the crushing anxiety she experiences on a regular basis, and that’s ok.  Through His grace, God has used our situation to humble me into complete dependence on Him.  Where I am weak, He is strong.  Where I can’t take it another minute, He steps in and shoulders the load.  When I am foolish in understanding, He gives wisdom.  When I get overwhelmed and want to give up, He gives me the endurance to keep going.  Walking with my girl through this has shown both A and me God’s faithfulness and how His power is truly perfected in our humble weakness.

Help Me Be a Better Steward of My Finances

I’ve been praying this one for years.  I just always felt this nagging sense that I tend to overspend, usually in the form of therapy.  Y’all, I get a thrill from purchasing seasonal scented Method household cleaner, even though I have three bottles under my sink from last year.  I tend to believe if I buy a cute sweater, it will somehow mapiggy-bank-2-1241226-639x651ke me look like I’ve magically achieved the body of my dreams, but just like all the other sweaters, it’s about what’s underneath that keeps me frowning at the image in the mirror.  God calls us to be good caretakers of all with which He has so generously blessed us.

Two years ago, we moved to Nashville to open a new business.  For anyone who’s ever opened a new business, you can feel my pain.  My husband and I are both self-employed entrepreneurs, and oftentimes, that means everyone else gets paid before we see a dime. The past two years have been tough, but we never really put into motion a plan.  This past October my wise husband came to me and said, “We need to list out our priorities and focus on those things that really matter.”  A few weeks later, “We need to stop using the credit card and come up with a cash only budget.”  Internally, my stomach knotted and my heart sank because I now saw in black and white how tight money was, but I also knew he was right.  The only way to get our financial house in order was to face hard facts.  Since that conversation, God has revealed to me areas where I spend needlessly, areas where if we sacrificed temporarily, we could reap real gains that mattered later.  If we stopped giving in to the world’s call of instant gratification and said “no,” we could patiently wait until we could pay cash to purchase those things that were desires not needs.

Living with no instant credit is teaching us so much about patience; it is teaching our kids to think before they purchase, to discern the difference in a need and a want.  It is also making us more aware of how our purchases affect others; it makes us more globally aware and forces us to look outward rather than always looking in.  God is also showing how faithful He is in providing us what we need when we need it.  More than anything, financial scarcity is teaching us true dependence on God.  He has us exactly where He wants us, looking to Him rather than to ourselves for provision, and He always provides in clever, creative ways that delight us.

Grow My Husband and Me Spiritually

Another prayer I’ve been praying for years is that Jesus would truly be enough for me, that my husband and I would grow spiritually and in our separate and joint relationship in Christ.  Nothing pushes you to your knees like trial.  Not knowing from day-to-day what to expect, meltdowns from my daughter to no money in the bank, forces you to live in a posture of humble expectation.  My husband and I are learning to turn expectantly to Jesus to meet our every need.  We are being transformed from entitled, prideful, and self-reliant to humble, grateful, and patient.  Y’all this only happened through struggle.  This only came about through trial.  I’ve always said I wanted Jesus to be enough, but until He’s all you truly have then you’ll never discover that He is all you need.  My husband’s faith has grown more in the past year than in the eighteen I’ve known him.  The peace we’ve experienced in the midst of difficulty can only come from a relationship with the Prince of Peace.

I’ve been asked what it means to follow Jesus, what is the “benefit” outside of salvation, as if that weren’t enough to drive us to our knees in gratitude and astonishment.  Friends, until you’ve come to the end of yourself, it is truly hard to understand all the benefits of Jesus.  He is our Provider, Peace-giver, Sustainer, and Friend.  Walking through difficulty pushes us to the end of dependence on our feeble efforts and forces us to look up, to readjust our focus and to lean on Him.  Is trial fun?  No.  Is discomfort appealing?  No.  But how do we stretch and grow until we take that leap of faith and jump out into the unknown, where we find He’s been all along, waiting to catch us and show us that He is indeed enough.  So, in the New Year, I encourage you to embrace the struggles and challenges that God allows to come your way and to face the uncertainty of the New Year with faith.  Rather than: Why me? Speak: What are You trying to teach me?  How are you using this to transform me?  Because our ultimate resolution, truly, should be to look a little more like Jesus at the end of the year, so friends, step into 2019 with joy and anticipation, knowing that whatever comes your way, Jesus walks beside you.

We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

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