From the Basement

November 5, 2010

In the face of discouragement, He is my Refuge

Right now, it’s a struggle to remain encouraged. As many of you know, following my turning down of the full-time university job, I switched my focus to the metro area where I’m currently staying. I’ve applied for three jobs as a leave replacement middle school English teacher, I’ve submitted my resume to a temp agency, I’ve visited numerous retail outlets and applied both in person and online, had several on-the-spot interviews, visited restaurants in our neighborhood only to find that they’ve just finished hiring or aren’t hiring or have some strange hiring practice…

Y’all, even with applying for administrative, retail, and restaurant gigs, I am still having trouble finding work. I do have a sort-of outstanding offer with Barnes & Noble downtown, but the pay is only $7.25/hour. Not much. They’re calling me on Monday to confirm whether or not they’ll hire me.

I’m starting to feel frantic. I know I haven’t applied to a ton of places, but I’ve applied to quite a few, and have heard nothing. Or been outright rejected. Or have them tell me, we’re sorry, we can’t work with your schedule.

I still ask: God, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I changed my focus! I’m looking for retail gigs! Am I not humble enough yet? I could always be looking more and be out there every day all day, but I also have grad school apps to work on. And on Wednesday, I stayed in the loft all day, because I walked so much between Monday and Tuesday that by the time I was on my way home Tuesday evening, I was limping. I limped… a dozen city blocks?… back to the apartment, where I proceeded to almost collapse upon arrival. So Wednesday, I bummed around because I couldn’t walk more than five feet without needing to sit down.

Again, I have no idea what God is doing.

Yesterday was a reminder that He provides in unconventional ways. I want a job. Have I said it loudly enough yet? I want a job! And even the easy ones – I can’t get even the easy jobs! OK, there is the Barnes & Noble offer, which I will take if nothing else comes through. $7.25/hour, 25 hours a week? That’s it? Okay, God. Okay.

But I digress – yesterday, He provided in a cool way. My future mother-in-law’s boss has a friend who is an OXO rep (OXO being a line of kitchenware, for y’all who don’t cook), and future MiL’s boss must have told him about my fiancé and I, and so the OXO rep, out of the blue, gives us almost $200 worth of FREE items from our registry. The measuring cups, measuring spoons, can opener, swivel peeler, salad spinner, the three mixing bowls… everything. What generosity. What a blessing.

God provides. His methods are unexpected and unusual and most of the time, I have no idea why He’s doing what He’s doing. How hard should it be to find a retail job that pays more than $8/hour? Even a seasonal temp job? (Which is what the B&N gig is.)

This week I’ve had my dad’s downtown loft to myself as he’s out of state training with his company. And honestly, my quiet time has sort of diminished. I’ve been frantically applying for jobs and working on grad school apps and, frankly, flipping the eff out over both. Worrying that no matter what I do, it won’t be enough. Worrying about whether I’m doing the “right” topic for my writing sample. Whether my statement of purpose is focused enough. Whether my cover letters – my freaking awesome cover letters for RETAIL jobs, people – are good enough.

I am worrying whether they’re good enough for the eyes of humans rather than trying to please my heavenly Father. And what pleases him is not a perfectly worded cover letter or a perfectly constructed 25-page writing sample. What pleases him is my heart. My attitude. Whether or not I trust him. And frankly, I haven’t been acting like I trust him this week. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?

And even in the midst of trust, he somehow puts it on a guy’s heart to offer my fiancé and I some much-needed items for our kitchen. Even when I’m not trusting. Even when I’m worrying. He provides. In his own way and in his own time.

I wish I knew his mind. I wish I knew what he was planning right now. If I let myself, it’s very easy to feel like a failure. The on-the-spot interviews I had all took one look at my resume and asked what exactly I was doing and is there a reason I’m not employed?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

But so too is He our refuge, the God who sees, the God who is accessible to his people because he loves them.

As for God, his way is perfect:

The LORD’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

For who is God besides the LORD?

And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength

and keeps my way secure.

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;

he causes me to stand on the heights.

He trains my hands for battle;

my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You make your saving help my shield,

and your right hand sustains me;

your help has made me great.

You provide a broad path for my feet,

so that my ankles do not give way. — Psalm 18:30-36

My mom says that when I was a little girl, verse 34 was my absolute favorite verse, that I would walk around quoting it: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze!” Something in me clung to that fighting imagery, that the fight was in my hands, in my fingers, in my arms. Given that I’m a writer by vocation, it’s decently prophetic. But these verses still inspire me today. They give me strength. Everything the Lord gives us, every situation Jesus allows us to walk through – it’s preparation. These verses are reminiscent of putting on the “armor of God,” as Paul writes in Ephesians 6, but what I love about this is that David is talking about how God trains him, how God gives him the strength. “You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me… you provide a broad path for my feet.” Mm. I love that.

“He shields all who take refuge in Him.” It doesn’t matter what we need shielding from. Unemployment. Alternately, the job you’re in. A relationship. Doubt. Discouragement. Fear. Feelings of unworthiness. Abuse. There is no difficulty or hardship in this world that our heavenly Father cannot shield us from. He is our hope when we are discouraged. He is our strength when we have none. In Him can we boast. He is our delight.

Psalm 37 exhorts us, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But I want to focus on the first clause: take delight in the Lord. Delight yourselves in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. These commands permeate scripture. In every situation, we are to delight in Him.

I don’t have an eloquent way to end this post, but to proclaim Christ’s sovereignty over my life. I am so thankful that my imperfections and shortcomings are filled up with his spirit, that my sins are covered by his blood, that he is my refuge and my rock, my Redeemer in whom I take all delight.

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October 25, 2010

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”: On Discouragement, Hope, & Faith

Discouragement can come out of nowhere. It’s a truly sneaky bastard. It can be a thought, a little thing, small and even funny from an outside perspective, but with what you’ve endured for the last few months, it can seem like the world is crumbling. Or it can be a shock that knocks you on your feet.

For me, it was realizing all the mistakes I made in two cover letters for jobs I want, for jobs that I have told God would be ideal. They’re teaching jobs, second semester replacements, and in light of a variety of things (including a one-line, incredibly rude response from an HR director at one of the schools), my confidence is in the toilet. And with it, my hope.

So often I lose hope the minute I doubt my own abilities or situation. And since I doubt my own abilities or situation a lot of the time, I seem to doubt my hope, as well.

I’m trying to figure out how to have hope and confidence in God while not having any in myself. I’m trying to figure out how people can survive ethnic genocide or sexual abuse or lose their husband while they’re pregnant or go through any number of horrific ordeals, and keep their hope in God. Or how my future in-laws, called to ministry in a dying church for 14 years, kept their hope. How my friend whose husband just lost his job is keeping her hope. How we keep our hope when life in all its ugly blackness happens.

One of my greatest abilities is to constantly be spinning possibilities. But it’s a double-edged sword, because sometimes, I get caught up in dwelling on the negative (“what if my fiancé died a few months into our marriage”, etc.). I lose sight of where I am, where God’s called me to be, and what he’s given me for today. I start doubting whether turning down that job was the right decision. I start wondering whether any plan I form for myself is a godly plan, since so few of them have worked out. I question whether God is just going to disregard everything I want and send me somewhere else.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – is so tricky. I firmly believe that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, our desires become conformed to his heart and his desires for us. But that begs the question, how many of my desires are my own and how many are his? And what desires has he given us so that he can bring them about to his glory?

When I am lonely, when I am disappointed, when I think about the trials of others, my possibility-driven mind spins into a very human mode, pulling me deeper into the depths of sin, bringing me to doubt all of my choices, even the ones that were such good gifts from God (e.g. my relationship, my choice of college).

Today, my discouragement stems from both my job situation as well as worries about graduate school. But it is almost as if the Lord has surrounded me in memories of past mercies to comfort me – all day long, my thoughts have been turning to the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference that the women’s bible study attended seven months ago in March.

Let me paint the scene for you: it was mid-March in the Midwest and I was barely two weeks away from finishing the last class of my undergraduate career. And the icing on the cake? I had received rejections from most grad programs by this point. Now, for those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to this blog now, that had been The Plan. (I hadn’t really talked to God about The Plan, which was to enroll in an English Ph.D. program). Well, by the time the conference rolled around, The Plan was crumbling before my eyes. This top of the class, triple major, summa cum laude, Honors in English academic all-star was officially plan-less.

I walked into that weekend knowing I wanted to meet God but also knowing that I didn’t really feel like a woman of great faith. I had the faith of a mustard seed… maybe half of a mustard seed. Suffice to say, I was definitely not in the mountain-moving mood.

Saturday morning, the girls and I headed to the convention center, coffee in hand, ready to worship and learn and laugh. And I had my game face on – “Okay, God. I’m here. What do you want from me?”

Sandi Patty was one of the morning speakers, and she came on stage and started singing the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. And I started to cry. My dream, I felt, was being crushed right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams, you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams, and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving,

If you keep on believing,

The dream that you wish will come true

As it turns out, her story of God’s “over the top” love was one of a dream denied and then a dream given. Her dream as a little girl was to sing at Disneyland. Once she was of age, she auditioned, and she waited for weeks to hear back. When she finally did hear back, it was that, while they had been impressed with her voice, they were unable to offer her a job because of her size. To say she was crushed was an understatement (her struggle with weight and body image is an enormous part of her testimony). She ended up going to college in the Midwest, and she gave music lessons on the side. As it turns out, some of her students were the children of Bill and Gloria Gaither (big gospel singers particularly famous during the ‘60s and ‘70s), and one day, Bill Gaither invited her to tour with them – and God used that start to take her dream further than she ever anticipated.

I just went and looked for my notes from the conference, and I didn’t write much down during her talk, except that she stressed how we are not enough… our abilities, our dreams are never enough – but He is enough. And sometimes, he says no to our dreams in order to say “yes” to the dream he has for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was a wonderful conference, but it is Sandi’s message that I’ve taken with me in my heart and treasured as a reminder of the Hope and Future he has for us.

She also performed this song at the conference, and today, it is renewing my hope and reminding me of the greatness of our God. I hope it encourages you, too.

(I love how you can see Mandisa praising and raising her hands along with Sandi!)

Praise to the Lord, the almighty

The King of Creation

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy help and salvation

All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near

Joining in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord,

Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth

Shelters thee under his wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth

Hast thou not seen?

How thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth

Praise to the Lord,

Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee

Ponder anew what the almighty can do

If with his love he befriend thee

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Praise to the Lord,

O let all that is in me adore him!

All that hath life and breath,

Come now with praises before him!

Let the amen sound from his people again

Gladly forever adore him

We adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Praise to the Lord!

“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the one who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:25

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

And the foundational verse of the “Over the Top” theme: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God?” – Romans 11:3 (MSG)

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