"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." - Malachi 3:10 (NIV)
I entered my 43rd year a couple months ago. I know that must come as a shock to you since I don't look a day over 30. Right?! Yeah, Will doesn't buy it either. Must be that deeply grooved worry line carved from the furrowing of my brow.
I've got to be honest, the past year and a half have been soooooo hard for this girl. I’ve internalized a lot & my stomach and my head have repeatedly rebelled. I’ve been exhausted, overwhelmed, and at the end of my rope. Yet, it's been FILLED with the miraculous. And I now know without doubt God is good, even when our finite minds and hearts think & feel otherwise. In the words of my best friend & mentor, "He never wastes our pain."
Come back with me in time a bit. Mid-December 2011, I asked God to give me a word or words for a spiritual discipline and/or character trait He wanted me to work on in the coming year (first time I’d EVER done that, but it sounded so “spiritual” so I gave it a whirl). Well, at the end of 2011, His given word appeared to me . . . SIMPLIFY - simplify my life and the life of my family. Simplify! I'll tell you, my first thought was how in the world does He expect me to "do" this gig? At the time, I was gearing up for a very busy 2012 with my political race for State's Attorney, running my law office in Mt. Vernon, leading a ladies small group, raising three kids, and learning to unconditionally love my husband, among other things. And God wanted me to simplify? Seriously?? Yes, seriously. But, prayer works and God is in His Heaven and the Spirit will make us look smart if we will just listen to His counsel. And the blessings that followed? Amazing. I gained immeasurably more than I lost.
Begin February 2012. My campaign was looking good; I had great party support and had come out well on my first two fundraisers. Then comes mid-February and so too God's mighty hand of mercy. If you've read my earliest blog entries, you'll remember this as the timeframe in which I quit the State's Attorney's race at the behest of a prophetic dream. After a helluva struggle with the Holy Spirit, I quit. I wept, I wailed, I wallowed at the "loss" of "my dream." But I did it. I obeyed...(albeit reluctantly & with much gnashing of teeth.)
Let's get reeeeeally truthful here. Going into 2012, there were a lot of realities in my life that were really difficult. I was working my ass off (yet gaining weight by leaps & bounds, how does that even happen?!) at the office but wasn't bringing home much cash. My youngest child (5th grade) was acting out BIG TIME - at school, at church, at home, anywhere & everywhere. My oldest child was attending a different church than the rest of the family & was exhibiting her own special teenage angsty sullenness. My middle child was, well, a middle child...seeking whatever attention he could get. And my marriage? We really didn't like each other. We grumbled, we griped, we yelled, we slammed doors, and we went silent with one another. We went to a Christian marriage counselor with a P-h-freakin'-D. And we still didn't like each other. (Enter here the strains of "Gloom, despair, and agony on me; deep, dark depression, excessive misery ...").
On Friday, April 13th, our house was burglarized. Gone was our flat screen, a laptop computer, a jar of change, our stereo system (swoon pitifully, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all . . . "), and 2/3 of MY JEWELRY (and bring it down with, "gloom, despair, and agony on me."). Now, I've never had fancy, expensive jewelry - no $10,000 pieces or anything. Still, why was it mostly MY stuff that was taken? I loved my jewelry!
A couple weeks after the burglary, the same sweet friend who brought me the prophetic dream in February, brought me not-so-happy news about one of our kids, the “perfect” one who had never done anything worthy of even being grounded. Naughty behavior, unrepentant, not the behavior "expected" of a raised-in-church-youth-group-leader kid. This soul-sister again came obediently to me bearing bad news, after another friend passed along the news to her, knowing my husband & I would want to know what was going on behind closed doors yet not knowing how to tell us. Hubby was in shock at the news. Disbelief. Puddles of tears. Finally, I’ve had to ask myself - how dare I ever expect perfection from my children? Perfection simply does not exist. In fact, I’m a perfect example of imperfection. Every. Day. Of. My. Life.
In early May, I began to catch on to what God meant - SIMPLIFY. I went with some girlfriends to see the movie Blue Like Jazz, which was based on the book of the same name by Donald Miller. We had been studying it in our small group for quite some time. In the movie, Penny, one of the main characters, has taken a pledge of not buying anything new for one year as her way of (1) personally protesting materialism & consumerism and (2) saving money to send to needy children and for her to travel to work with said needy children. I like to call this the “Penny Challenge.” Now, I had read the book about twelve times before seeing the movie (can you tell it’s one of my absolute faves?).
The Penny Challenge was no surprise to me. But, when I walked out of that theater, I had been convicted by the Holy Spirit. No longer did I care that a few thousand dollars of my jewelry was gone. Nor did I have any desire now to replace that jewelry. Nor did it matter if I drove a new car or wore new clothes all the time. Nor did I feel the need to own 70 pairs of shoes (yes, I’ve owned that many at one time before). I had been convicted of my excess, convicted that I was using “stuff” to fill the God-shaped hole inside me instead of seeking the real thing - GOD. So, what did I do with that? Well, by this time I had learned that when the Spirit says “do it”, my interests are best served by my DOING IT. And the quicker the better. I reminded myself obedience is a good thing & I took the Penny Challenge. Now came the hard part. I had gained a ridiculous amount of weight & nothing fit. Really, it was the onset of summer & I had a closet and drawers full of cute clothes and nothing fit. And I’ve just committed not to buy anything new to wear?? Can you spell C-R-A-Z-Y?! Let’s just say, resale shops became my friend. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to give up the awesome high of new duds from J.Jill and the sales at Macy’s. I won’t lie & tell you I didn’t backslide either & go a lil overboard on vacation. However, I learned that God didn’t let me go naked. Instead, He taught me a valuable lesson, lessons really. He taught me I’m not a princess. That I’m not “too good” to wear Goodwill hand-me-downs. That more toys don’t bring more joy. And He also made me aware of how materialism had become such a stronghold in my life. And the joy of giving all those outgrown clothes in my closet away was priceless - no garage sales. Soon, I was cleaning out closets & under beds & giving, giving, giving away whatever I didn’t need. Out the door went furniture & dishes & cookware & shoes & shoes & more shoes. FREEDOM from STUFF!!
Ah, yes, “SIMPLIFY” was definitely the word God had whispered to me only a few months before.
Then, around the end of May, around our 20th anniversary on the 30th, after a really, really, really bad couple of weeks in our marriage, the truly miraculous happened. We gave counseling another try, this time with my best friend as the counselor. Yes, she’s a “real” counselor. But always before, she had REFUSED to “touch our marriage with a 10-foot pole.” Her words exactly. Add to that the fact that my husband wasn’t real keen on the time I spent with this friend & to say he resented her . . . well, that’s an understatement. Yet, when he got honest, he really liked her. I digress. My friend & I were driving; I had just picked her up for lunch. She looked at me & matter-of-factly told me (through tears, of course; she's such a sap!) that the Holy Spirit had been working on her and clearly told her that she was to offer to counsel us. Not for money. FOR LOVE. After I picked my jaw off the floorboard, I began counting the ways hubs would never go for it. She said “just ask him.” So I did. And he agreed. Holy. Cow. I NEVER saw that coming! But God had a plan. Boy, did He ever!
I’m telling you - the summer of 2012 was a dream come true in our marriage. We fell in love all over again. Sappy with a capital S! God gave me the ability & the WANT-TO to speak my husband’s love language (Physical Touch, aka sex, let’s be honest here) and He gave my husband the ability & WANT-TO to speak my love language (Words of Affirmation – wow, that man can write awesome love texts (because we ALL know nobody writes letters anymore)). Now, is our marriage all hearts & flowers? Chocolates & roses? Hmmmm, not so much. But I have August 14, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. engraved in my heart as the date & time on which our marriage was healed. The summer ended & the kids went back to school, the winter got long. Real life happened. The scars remain and sometimes we pick at the scabs & make them bleed. But, we’re good. Really good. And we’re getting better all the time. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. And God’s got some mega plans for us!
Summer turned to Fall, the Spirit kept me on task (for the most part, when I didn’t let ADD take over). I was simplifying not only at home, but also in my work. I went employee-free, set up my office at home, and put my office building up for sale (sidenote: feel free to share that tidbit with anyone you know who might be looking for a FAB office building). I threw caution to the wind and only took cases AFTER I cleared them with the Holy Spirit, something I had been too afraid to do before as I was convinced my family would starve if I didn’t take whatever work came my way (i.e. ugly divorce & custody cases - ICK!). And know what? I have never been more fulfilled with my work. God is so much smarter than I am. And He seemed to honor my obedience in setting up my office at home by giving me a veritable deluge of new cases! God's grace never ceases to amaze me!
It gets better! On September 2, 2012, my youngest child, Matt, made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. He was baptized in our pond on October 7, 2012, by my dear friend and ordained minister, Sister Paula Clare. Woo hoo! Yay God!
Funny how back in February, I had assumed that since being in a political office was my dream for so long, it must mean it was also God's will for me. How could I have been so self-consumed to assume I knew God’s will, especially since I really hadn’t consulted Him? And did He smite me? No, He gave me Grace. Over & over & over again (as in infinitum). I am so grateful He didn’t give me what I wanted. Instead He gave me what I needed. And what my family needed.
Now, what “treasures” did I "lose" from giving up this dream? A lot of pride, selfish ambition, and self-aggrandizement. Fear of what others thought & pharisaical expectations of my children (especially the girl). Ugly cases (aka, divorce & custody representation) and searching for my self-worth in what I had (“stuff”) & what I did (“success”).
And what did I gain? The realization that I still love my husband and that he still loves me (I’m talking a deep, enduring love, people). Trust in God. Awareness of the Holy Spirit being with me ALL THE TIME. A front row seat to the miraculous. An amazing prayer posse (now those sistas can pray!). A love of thrift shopping (who knew?!). Great clients & great cases (adoptions & guardianships are the bomb-diggity I tell you). A son who now loves school (ok, maybe "love" is too strong a word - he doesn’t hate school & he even occasionally makes the honor roll). Another son who doesn’t feel compelled to pick-pick-pick at his siblings all the time just to get attention. A daughter who is finding her very own faith in God. And did I already tell you . . . a penchant for physical touch?!
So . . . here we are, well into 2013. And the words He’s given me to walk out this year? He gave me two biggies: first, “BE”; and second, “SELF-CARE.” I’ll let you know how it’s going next time we meet here on this little piece of blogdom.