Tears and Trust

After a particularly difficult day that included a multitude of tears and confusion about what God was doing with my life, God sent me to Psalm 56. It’s a beautiful passage written by David at a point in his life when a 29-year-old David’s life was falling apart. David had been secretly anointed king by Samuel almost 20 years earlier and had been serving King Saul for about the same period of time. He had a bright future but now King Saul had decided to kill him and David was forced to flee the country. He went to Gath which was the home of Goliath the giant he killed just 14 years earlier. The people of Gath recognized him and David was so afraid for his life that he acted insane (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David wrote a beautiful song while there about his fears and tears.

“To the chief musician upon Jonath-Elem-Rechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.

Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, for there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?

All day they twist my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather together, they hide, they mark my steps, when they lie in wait for my life. Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God!

You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me. In God (I will praise His word), in the Lord (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, for You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?”

–Psalm 56, NKJ

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Fashion and Professor Personality

I spent most of my time today in class because I’m a good student and don’t skip classes (yes that’s a joke, really I’m a perfectionist and I don’t have the guts to skip). The first thing on my docket was voice lessons. My instructor’s clothing style isn’t up to date and it’s gotten me thinking about the how much students try to keep up with the style. Back home, at my community college, fashion is easy, jeans, t-shirt, and boots. I know that’s because it’s a farming area and that’s what’s most comfortable for us. We still have those legging things with weird patterns, but they aren’t worn by a whole lot of us.

Also, I’ve noticed that down here, there are a lot of girls wearing a certain type of nose ring. The majority of nose rings I see are that type and good bit of girls wear them. I asked my roommate about them (she’s from about an hour away) and she said that they’re pretty popular in Knoxville.

I love the distinctions between the professors in different departments. The way they pray and the way they run their classes are different. My anthropology and theater professors are more on the quirky side. Their prayers are personal and fun-loving. Their classes are subject to change and they don’t stick to a strict schedule. They love to tell stories and will often get off topic to chase a rabbit that’s funny or just plain interesting.

My professors in religion, language, and music are polite but more reserved. They are more predictable. Their prayers are reverent and to the point. Their classes are also to the point. They don’t show a lot of personality or tell stories. Classes start on time and end on time. I don’t not nearly as comfortable around these professors, but I do learn quite a bit from them.

I wonder if certain personalities are drawn to specific types of studies or if it’s the study you choose that sort of shapes your personality.

A Plan

I recently started a new adventure. I’ve transferred to an university about five hours from home. As much as I’ve always wanted to advance my learning, I haven’t had an easy time adjusting here. Usually the first thing people ask when you tell them you’re at a college is “what’s your major?” Well people. That’s tricky answer.

You see I don’t know. I have a declared major, but I don’t understand why I’m majoring in it. It’s not that I don’t like my major (I really like it), it’s just that there aren’t many jobs available after graduation. And isn’t the whole point of getting a degree to get a job? So I really don’t know why I’m going to college. Also God isn’t really speaking much about what he’s doing with me right now so really I’m just having to trust. Believe me when I say I’m trying to trust…through my confusion, frustration, doubt, and complete meltdowns (sorry mom).

As much as I keep trying to convince myself that I should pack up and go home, God keeps stepping in and saying “trust me a little longer.” So I’ve come up with a plan (because if I can’t make a plan of my life I can make a plan about not having a plan of life, right?).

Step one. Admit that I’m no okay with not knowing. As the old saying goes “before you can fix a problem, you have to admit you have one.” Not only am I admitting this to myself  but I’m telling God. Obviously He already knows this, but somehow talking to God about my problems ends up with us being closer and His voice being clearer. And really God is a fantastic listener.

Step two. Praise Him for this mess. Radical move, I know. Here is the thing: no matter how hard it gets, something fantastic is going to come from this. It sure doesn’t feel like it and I for sure don’t want to thank God for difficulties, but when I give praise for a situation that I don’t understand and don’t like, I am saying that I God knows best despite my doubts.

Step three. Take the next step. There comes a time when I’ve just got to do it. And God has been so good to cut the steps into baby step and the baby steps into shuffles…actually, we are probably at the point where He’s carrying me while I freak out.

Step four. Repeat as often as needed.

So that’s it folks. My plan about not having a plan. Now my plan is to finish my instructors’ plans for homework (which I really think is a secret plan to see how far they can go without exploding my brain).

Great-Grandma Edith

I knew my great grandmother for 21 years. I thank God for that. Few people are blessed enough to make a statement like that.

I would often drop in and visit with Grandma and our conversation would generally lead to a story. Grandma told me that her father immigrated to America from England by boat and she would tell me how her little sister, Ethel, died as a child when she ran across the road and was accidentally hit by her older brother’s friend. Grandma would also talk about the time older brother died of diphtheria on the kitchen table and she heard the doctor say “We need to get Edith next.” At this point in the story Grandma would always say “Honey I thought they were gonna kill me next! I took off a runnin!” Her grandpa caught her as she was flying out the front door. He sat on her as she screamed and squirmed while the doctor simply gave her a vaccine.

Grandma’s seemingly favorite story to tell me was when her family moved out of town. She stayed in town with her grandmother to finish the 8th grade and attend high school. Grandma and her friend would tell her grandmother that they were going to the library to study, but instead they would sneak down to the dance floor where Long John Sliver’s is now because she absolutely loved to dance. One night as she was twirling around the dance floor, she caught sight of her brother-in-law who caught her by the arm and said “your mother is outside in the car.” Grandma knew her town days were over.

She also liked to tell me of the time her and Grandpa Wayne were going to a church event. When they pull up in the church parking lot, Grandpa just said “you want to get married tonight?” And of course she was “yes!” so they went to Kentucky where she lied about her age on the marriage license. When they came back that night they pretended they had went to the church event. They didn’t tell anyone of their marriage until a week later.

A lot of times she would end these stories with “Honey, I was a wild child. The Lord didn’t get ahold of me until after Wayne and I were married.”

Once their families found out they were married, Grandpa Wayne and Grandma Edith moved into a little one room house where both my grandpa Larry and great-aunt Sharon were born. She told me more stories about living there and her fear of the animals they kept as well as digging the well that is still right outside her back door. Through the years they added on to that one room house until it became the little five room house I knew as Grandma Edith’s house.

My favorite memory of Grandma’s house was Christmas. Yes, all nearly all 50 some odd of us would squeeze into that little house for one evening in December. There would be food, wrapping paper, toys, laughter, and family everywhere.

Speaking of family, Grandma held the Evans family close to her heart. She could tell more about the Evans family tree than she could her own.

Then there are the others. You may not be related by blood or by marriage, but you were family too.

If anyone ever helped Grandma Edith with anything, from washing her windows to taking her to her Friday hair appointment, you didn’t have to ask her if she was ready or what to do next cause she would tell you. From what I heard, Thursday night at the hospital, she was telling people to go home and the nurse what to do. As a matter of fact. Grandma was still giving orders after her death. She had this funeral pretty well planned out.

Grandma was stubborn and determined. In the last 15 years or so of her life had heart surgery, a broken wrist, and a broken hip. She pulled herself through each one because she was determined to be independent and live at home. So, Thursday (February 11th), when she fell and broke her other hip, I didn’t think much about it. Her death shocked me. Honestly, I thought If anyone could live forever, it would have been Grandma Edith. But I know this: Grandma was ready for heaven. She those who had already passed on. She wanted to go home and run those streets of gold. Several different times, I can recall her saying “I don’t know why the Lord still has me here on this earth,” but I do.

As I watched her keep her door unlocked to anyone wanting to come in, I learned that an open heart and home is never a lonely. I watched as family and close friends felt free to rummage through her kitchen and how she would make sure there was a good stock of our favorite snacks in her cabinet and fridge, I learned that sharing what you have brings more joy to yourself than to others. As she told me about her wild days and ended the stories with cautions and warnings not to do that myself, I learned that the mistakes I make in life can help others. I watched her go though each one of her broken bones and surgeries and learned that stubborn determination through pain and doubt is what will get you through it. I also heard her when the wondered at the Lord’s plans in leaving her here on earth so long yet I saw her stubborn determination to stay here until Friday afternoon when she heard the call to go home. And I learned that though you may not understand what God is doing in your life, you continue to do what he has you doing with all the power in you until He says otherwise.

You see Grandma, all those years I was watching you and I was learning. Thank you for sticking it though and being such a great role model.

Where to Look

The journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness and a Christian’s walk with God have a lot of similarities. They’re both traveling to a Promised Land through a wilderness where God is leading them through trials to bring them closer to Him.

But I feel like we have a bit of an upper hand that Israel didn’t. You see, we can look back and learn from Israel’s mistakes. There is one mistake in particular that had deadly consequences. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find a horrifying story.

Aarron had just died and the children of Israel were traveling from Mount Hor to Edom (Numbers 20:29). This means that they were in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt and probably the sixth month (Numbers 33:38). The sixth month, Elul, is equivalent to our August/September—not the coolest time for traveling. They’re traveling “by the way of the Red Sea” which was a rocky, sandy, sand-stormy route that lead they away from Canaan (Pulpit Commentary, 2010). No wonder they got discouraged.

But they let their discouragement get the best of them and we find them complaining and  speaking against God and Moses (Numbers 21:5). They even go so far as to despise the manna God was miraculously sending them every day. Miracles we see everyday will become normal to us and no longer seem like a miracle unless we take an active part in thanking God for them.

God’s response to Israel’s complaining was to send venomous snakes among them (Numbers 21:6). That seems like a hard punishment for such a seemingly small offense, but we have to look at this from God’s perspective. When we complain about where God has us in life, we are saying that God is doing it wrong.

It wasn’t until after the punishment was sent that Israel realized they had done wrong. How sad it is that we often don’t realize our mistakes until after God sends the consequences.

“And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7). Remember, just two verses before, this the same people Moses is praying for here were speaking against him. It takes great humility to have compassion on difficult people instead of holding bitterness against them. Had is not been for the humility and forgiveness of Moses, I wonder if Israel would have ever made it to the Promised Land.

So God made a way of salvation for the people. Moses was required to make a snake statue on a pole and if a person was bitten, if they looked at this brass serpent, they would live (Numbers 21:8-9). This brass serpent is a symbol of Christ on the cross. In life, we can often get  focused on trying to fix our problems and avoid others (looking at our snake bites and avoiding the other snakes) instead of focusing on Christ (looking at the brass serpent). You have to look up to be saved. It’s terrifying to do that when your ankle is swollen to five times it’s size and another snake is slithering it’s way towards you. The poison in your ankle is already starting up our leg towards your heart. You don’t have much time. You have to decide. If you suck the poison out, the snake will bite you. If you kill the snake, the poison will be too far up your leg. Will you focus on your situation and try to save yourself in your own power? Or will you let go of control and trust God by looking up?

When God Doesn’t Answer

Sometimes in life, it seems like God doesn’t answer. I know He’s watching (Job 34:21 “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings.”). I also know He’s listening (Psalms 24:5 ‘The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”). But so often, God just takes His sweet time in answering.

Perhaps it is because I’m spoiled and I’m so used to having everything shortly after I first conceive the idea of having it. In other areas of life, if I get hungry, I can run through a fast food restaurant and have food in less than 5 minutes or I can pull a prepared meal out of the freezer and have it ready in the microwave in just about the same amount of time. If I want to buy something from someone on the other side of the nation, I can have them overnight the package to me and I’ll have it the next morning. Or if I want to know some information, I can Google it and know the answer in about a minute.

If I’m being honest with myself, I expect God to work like Google. I go to Him when I have a problem and expect Him to answer instantly. Not only is that unrealistic, but it’s also unfulfilling.

You see, it’s the things that I’ve invested time into that I enjoy and treasure the most. The meal that I’ve spent hours preparing is the meal that tastes the best and I’m willing to share. The package I wait in anticipation for is the package I’m excited about opening. And the information I invest time researching and studying is the information I remember the best.

Waiting makes things more valuable. It takes two days of good weather to make good hay, three weeks for a seed to sprout, nine months for a baby to be born, and two years for an apple tree to produce fruit.

When I look at scripture, you find that there is a lot of waiting going on. To start with, the world waited four thousand years for Jesus to come and when He did, there was another thirty years of waiting for Him to grow up (Luke 3:23). I was born about two thousand years after he rose from the dead and the world is still waiting on His return.

Just about any story in the Bible you’ll find that someone is waiting. Noah waited forty days for the flood to be over, The New Testament Church waited weeks for the Holy Ghost to come down, and Joseph waited decades for his dream to some true, Israel waited centuries for the Promise Land to be given to them. Look at Psalms. It’s full of times where David is waiting.

Psalms 40:1, “I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.”

Psalms 25:5, “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalms 130:5-6, “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.”

Jeremiah tells us in Lamentations 3:25-26 that “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” When we wait on the Lord, He gives us strength (Ps 27:14; Is 40:31), mercy (Ps 123:2), salvation from evil (Prov. 20:22), and an inheritance (Ps 37:7-9). In Isaiah 64:4 we’re told that “for since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor received by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.”

When God doesn’t answer and forces you to wait, be happy. Rejoice. As one hymn says, “It’s for your good and for His glory.”

Spare Time

“Most of the world’s great men have achieved their true life work, not in the course of their needful occupations, but in their spare time.

A tired-out rail splitter, crouched over his tattered books by candlelight at the day’s end, preparing for his future, instead of snoring or sky-larking like his co-laborers—Lincoln cut out his path to later immortality in his spare time.

An underpaid and overworked telegraph clerk stole hours from sleep, or from play, at night, trying to crystallize into realities certain fantastic dreams in which he had faith. Today, the whole world is benefiting by what Edison did—in his spare time.

An instructor in an obscure college varied the drudgery he hated, by spending his evenings and holidays in tinkering with a queer device of his at which his fellow teachers laughed. But he invented the telephone—in his spare time.

You, too, have spare time. Why not use it in this kind of research which pays wonderful dividends in this life and the next?”

—“Research Unlimited,” Mr. Jones, Meet the Master: Sermons and Prayers of Peter Marshall.