Friday, July 21, 2006

Above All

I've just finished watching a documentary on Dietrich Boenhoeffer, who was a central figure in the Protestant church struggle against Nazism. He was unflinching in his faith, even in the worst of times, so sure was He that God had called him to that purpose, and that all things were in His keeping. Before it was over, these convictions would cost him his life. Yet even in this, he found God's blessings, and celebrated God's leading. The final moments of his life were not spent in despair and anguish over what was happening, but in the peaceful realization that the freedom he sought was finally going to be his, and the people who had been commissioned to end his life were only ushering the beginning of his eternity.

I would like to read his work. I am amazed by the boldness of his faith. All too often, I settle for a meek, mediocre, fearful faith. The kind of faith that one would question if it is really faith at all. I am inspired by those who live their faith in the realization that it is the only thing that truly matters.

One of the men who was part of Boenhoeffer's execution commented that when he went to retrieve him from his cell to prepare for the execution, he found Boenhoeffer kneeling in fervent prayer, praying with a certainty that God heard him. I very often find myself praying with the hope that God hears me, but little more than that. As if I pray, "just in case" God is listening.

I have been very mindful lately of the temporal nature of so many things we assign value to...The things we use to identify ourselves in this world are just that--meant for this world. Our jobs, our homes, our hobbies, our possessions, even our dearest relationships, are all fleeting and temporary.

Over the last year or so since I began this blog, I have been through a process of experiencing ever deeper loss in the way of what I use to identify myself. I walked away from a good job that paid me well and gave me some status insofar as working in a professional environment. From there, I lost many of the possessions that job helped me afford, to the point where I needed to sell more of those possessions just to buy groceries and pay a few bills.

These challenges to my identity continue, as I've recently left behind yet another job that initially held a lot of promise, but did not keep its word. I am now back to processing cherries, a job that can be very profitable, but not without its price.

When I got home from work yesterday, I peeled off my cherry-juice stained clothing, every muscle aching after a long day of lifting bucket after bucket after bucket of cherry stems, leaves, etc...and cerrying them to the waste bin, over and over again for eight and a half hours. I turned on the shower, and washed away the day. As I dressed for Oasis--which I was far too tired to go to, but could not bring myself to miss--the resentment began to set in. I looked in the mirror and put on my makeup, and began wondering to myself why I ever left my nice job with a good paycheck...I left that job, to do THIS??

I began to feel angry. I thought...God, where are You? I left that job because things were happening that were not right, and aren't You supposed to reward me with something better? Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

Then, just that quickly, the Holy Spirit showed me something (and this is not something I say at all loosely, because I generally hate it when people say that, as it's become so cliche). In that moment, it became crystal clear...It was not a matter of my leaving that job because of things happening that violated my moral and ethical convictions. It was a matter of God GIVING ME A WAY OUT of a job that would forever stigmatize me, never letting me make peace with my past, never allowing me to be free from the bondage that earned me that job to begin with.

You see, the position I held within the agency I worked for was a position that could only be given to someone who had recieved services at some point. My ticket into that job was the fact that I had been hospitalized, and had received rather intense therapy afterward, for several months. The fact that I had recovered was not a consideration. It was the fact that I had been sick that earned me my good job with excellent benefits, and that fact was not one that I would ever be allowed to forget as long as I worked there. I was a staff member, yes, but the official term for it was "consumer provider"...a consumer of mental health services providing services for other consumers. This is all I would ever be. It was not a question of whether or not I was currently receiving treatment, or even how long it had been since I'd been in treatment, but how long it would be before they would see me in treatment again. In their minds, I was and always would be a consumer, and it was only a matter of time before I showed them why.

When I realized this, I was forced to begin looking at things a little differently. While I may have had very valid reasons for leaving, my departure was as much as matter of God's grace and provision as it was a matter of me taking the high road. God used the events leading to my departure as a means to move me forward into freedom. I am certain of this now.

So what's next? I have no idea. But, it does help me look at my present circumstances a bit differently.

This world is a temporary place. So what does it matter if I have a job that is less than ideal? As long as I'm not processing cherries for all of eternity, what real bearing does it have on anything where my identity is concerned? Certainly, there are those who will think less of me for having this job or that, but what can they do to me that is going to impact eternity? I think that when we begin to look at things from the perspective of the eternal, there is very little in this world that matters anymore.

I am forever amazed by God's grace. The Lord has been faithful to convict me of a few things lately...In gentleness and truth, showing me the ugliness I've allowed to take up residence in my soul, to the point that I've become flat out disobedient in some areas. As I usually do, I try to make up for it, as though I can make up for lost ground by being doubly good and well behaved. I can almost hear God laughing, as I might do when my niece spills her juice and attempts to clean it up without help. Her attempts only make the mess bigger and stickier, but you can't help being both touched by the effort, and a little amused by her determination to do what she cannot do. Finally, my niece will realize that she can't clean it up herself, and will turn and say "Auntie help me!", and hand me her juice-soaked cloth and step aside so I can finish (or start) cleaning up the mess.

I think it's a lot like that with God, when we try to clean up our own messes. When I was faced with the disobedience in question, I thought, "Well, I just pay twice as much tithe as I owe, and it's all good." Do you see the initial problem here, with the world "owe"? But that's another story. At any rate, when I realized that my intended plan was going to leave me severely short for the week, I began to fret, wondering how I would get through. I could almost hear God, laughing gently, saying "Stephanie, do you still not understand My grace?"

When God forgives, He forgets, and we move forward with a clean slate. We need only do what He asks of us, and we do not need to attempt to make amends for the past. If we could, the cross would have been unnecessary. Why do we seem to struggle with that idea?

I must go to bed, as 4 a.m. comes awfully early.

But, I want to end with this quote, or a rough estimation thereof, by Dietriech Boenhoeffer:

"May God in His mercy lead us through these times. But above all, may God lead us to Himself."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Good morning, Princess!

I've just finished watching "Life Is Beautiful". I've watched it a few times before, but that has not diminished my enjoyment of the movie. Every time I watch it, I cry for different reasons, and it touches me in a whole new way.

I can't quite put my finger on why that film moves me like it does. Maybe it is the idea that the beauty of life is not comprised of circumstances, ease, or comfort, but rather something more transcendent than all of that...Faith, hope, and love. It sounds so trite, and yet there is something in the simplicity of it that resonates for me.

Perhaps this film is so moving to me at this time in my life simply because I do not have the circumstances, ease, or comfort that would make life seem beautiful.

Recently, I experienced the pain of the love that I ache for eluding me once again...though, I am happy to report that this occassion was not met with anywhere near the grief I would have felt a year ago. I think that is a sign of personal growth, to be able to acknowledge your sadness, but not be consumed by it. In fact, I briefly resorted to a couple of my old coping mechanisms, only to quickly realize that these did not give me nearly the satisfaction they once did, and I might as well just lay them down again. I was actually amused by my own stubborn refusal to be healthy, before finally being forced to acknowledge that I am not nearly the mess I used to be.

Work is not going well. My income is going to take a $100 a week cut, starting the first week of August, if I don't sell 15 cars between now and August 1st. Given the situation with the lot I am working at--a situation which is fully acknowledged by everyone in the company, but is not dealt with in any effective manner--it is highly unlikely I will meet the quota. Therefore, it is highly unlikely I will even continue working there, as fuel is so expensive it would hardly be worth it to drive to work with what I'll be making.

I have applied for several other positions, but nothing has come through yet. I'm not sure why that is, but I am sure that it is getting very frustrating. It seems as if the more I try to move ahead in my life, the more I find myself spinning my tires. I'm sure God is up to something in all of this, but I have absolutely no idea what.

A friend from Oasis mentioned that she is looking for a housemate. This could be a very good thing. If I can swing the rent, this could be a tremendous blessing for both of us. It would get me considerably closer to the things and people I love, and it would give her the financial means to stay where she is. All in all, a good thing.

Now, if only I could find a good job...

I know God knows what He's doing. I just wish He'd let me in on the secret sometimes.

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