State of Limbo

So, the other day I was eating grapes and the last one I planned on eating tasted like the child of a sour patch kid and a tomato. Uck! It makes me shiver just replaying it in my mind! Thankfully, I had backup grapes to wash out the horrific taste from my mouth!

You are probably asking yourself, “Where in the world is she going with this?” Well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure, but this grape fiasco really got me thinking about life.

Peanut M&Ms are my favorite candy. Now, I’m sure you are confused about everything, except the fact that I love food! It is dangerous for me to be around Peanut M&Ms, because I can eat them like nobody’s business. But, sometimes a terrifying event occurs that catches me off guard: I get an M&M with a bad peanut inside. Anyone who has experienced this knows the soul-crushing effects. Yet, Peanut M&Ms are still my favorite candy, even with the risk of occasionally discovering a less than ideal tasting peanut. I do not eat Peanut M&Ms or grapes with the expectation that their taste will potentially give me the heebie-jeebies, otherwise I would not willingly eat or enjoy eating them at all.

This is the point God started to reveal something to me. I recently read a book by Grace Thornton titled I Don’t Wait Anymore. For any girl out there who needs a perspective shift and a spiritual challenge to embrace the incredible journey God has planned for each of us, regardless if it matches our expectations, this is a must read. For the girl (like me) who is perpetually single or is seeking to find the purpose for her life, Grace Thornton forces you to question where you place your identity and the expectations you place on God. Whether you are idolizing marriage, the perfect job, or appearance you have longed for, prayed for, and worked for, Thornton suggests that this mindset “would turn things that God designed to point us to Him into things we expect Him to give us in order to fill the holes we hold Him responsible for creating (p. 70).” This perspective encourages the idea that God is good only when life is good and it is hard to find God’s presence in unexpected challenges.

Girls, please don’t feel like I am calling you out! I am preaching to myself right now. We are not the first and will not be the last people to unknowingly place expectations on God and experience doubt and confusion when those expectations are challenged or seemingly unmet. The Israelites expected God to provide them with food in the wilderness. He did. He made manna rain down from the heavens (Exodus 16). Sounds like something you could expect the God of the universe to do, right?! But, after 40 years of manna, the Israelites expected more of God after He had continuously answered their prayers to be nourished and demanded that He give them meat (Numbers 11). They overlooked His provision and goodness for their needs and focused on their desires. This dilemma made Moses question God’s purpose for the journey in the wilderness and led to the rebuttal of all rebuttals from God. Not only did God send the Israelites more meat than they could stand, He asked “Is there a limit to the Lord’s power? Now you will see whether or not my words come true.” (Numbers 11:23)

A similar situation occurred with my main man, Jesus. The Pharisees proclaimed that since “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, And his sisters live right here among us (Mark 6:3),” that he could not be the Messiah. The Pharisees were so fixated on the specifics of their idealized version of the Son of God that they missed the power of His messages that were “quite unlike the teachers of the religious law (Mark 1:22),” that set Him apart from any and every one. Because they already had pictured what God’s blessing would look like, they were blind to the most miraculous gift God has ever given, because it was not what they expected.

In both of these instances, God provides for the needs of His people, in the form of food and a Savior (NBD!). But, these massive blessings are overlooked, because people can’t get over themselves and their precise expectations of God’s plan for their lives. Since being slapped with this realization, I have felt like I’m holding a daisy in my hand plucking off petals until I know the answer to my spiritual relationship issue. I’m not debating if “He loves me, He loves me not”. Thankfully, I am confident in that answer. But, I’m questioning “To expect, To not expect”. My heart and mind are in a limbo state. In an attempt to destruct the expectations I have placed on Him, I have found myself expecting less of Him. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde thoughts! For example, rather than expecting God to provide me with a godly husband, at times I have convinced myself that I need to get comfortable with the idea of being lonely forever. Either way, these thoughts encourage me to focus on desires I do not feel like are being met, rather than the blessings God has already provided and continues to provide everyday that may not be exactly what I expected, like my friendship with Maddie. Either of these trains of thought lead me to miss my ultimate destination: God.

“He had pieced our paths together in a way we never could’ve imagined through the seeming wastelands of failed dreams and changed plans. “I doesn’t look anything like I thought it would.”(p. 125) ” That one bad grape or peanut inside an M&M made the next bite so much sweeter and memorable (I take eating seriously!). You don’t want to anticipate the scary, plan-altering events in life, because getting out of bed in the morning would be an absolute chore. That is why we can rest in the fact that although those unexpected events or seasons may arise, God is faithful, His mercies are new everyday (Lamentations 3:22-23) and He plans to share His victory with us forever (John 16:33). Even in the bad grape seasons of life, God promises to be with us.

Ultimately, our confidence in eating good grapes has to increase and the fear of eating gross grapes has to decrease. Or in the words of John 3:30, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” His desire for my life is greater than the desires I place on my life, because Ephesians 3:20 is no joke! Now I am working to replace my specific expectations of God with an overarching one, that He is AMAZING and is working in me, giving me the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13). This process is not cured overnight, but by replacing my expectations with God’s promises, He is transforming my desires. Even though He is the only One who knows the unknown, when I believe He holds my future with plans to prosper me, I can “know the truth, and the truth will set [me] free” (John 8:32).

So, if you have felt discouraged or unfulfilled lately, grab some grapes or Peanut M&Ms and contemplate life when you bite into one that makes your tongue do cartwheels. It might make your heart do one too!

Love,

Pay

Eternal Tree Pose

It had been one of those semesters where the light at the end of the of the tunnel [Spring Break] seemed to be getting dimmer as I was drawing closer. A grueling nine straight weeks of going to school, teaching my heart out and feeling beat down emotionally and physically, I desperately needed a perspective shift, because my focus was solely on the obstacles I was and would potentially face with the students in my classroom.

No doubt, God called me to teach. But, I allowed myself to bask in the desperate darkness of frustration in the Land of “What Ifs”, more than the glorious light in the Land of “What’s Next God”. Even after two years of questioning God’s plan and sporadic moments of understanding His purpose for the pain, I could not seem to shake the dust off my soul. My default, unkempt thought process led me to view God as my personal Reward Giver, rather than my Ultimate Reward. Leaving part of my heart in cobwebs, unable to notice what God placed in front of me, right where He led me, His goodness.

For several weeks, I had my quiet time in my classroom, before students filled the desks and biology words exited my mouth. I continued to pray, “God, please let me see you, in the little things, in a student, and in me.” Yet, once the morning bell rang, it was as if I experienced short term memory loss and forgot to be on the lookout for God’s Presence. By the dismissal bell, I felt drained and uneffective. I was missing the point.

One day my legs with the flexibility of steel rods were attempting downward dogs and warrior poses, in a yoga video. It was the scheduled recovery video for the week, after breathtaking cardio and butt-wrenching leg workouts earlier in the week. All of the videos in the program include a stretch portion at the end, but I typically skipped it. I didn’t see the need to spend time on something that wasn’t burning many calories. Although I was looking forward to the easier workout, I continued to watch the clock tick down, like a hawk. Yet, it was here that God spoke to me.

I initially struggled to find myself in tree pose, with one foot planted on the floor and the other resting on the planted foot. Once I found my center, by looking at the same point on the wall, I instantly gained pride in my ability to not collapse for the past 10 seconds of my existence. The yoga instructor began discussing the importance of finding balance in life. Yada, yada, tick, tick. But, then she threw me a curve ball. “Close your eyes,” she said. Simple enough, right?

Wrong!

I was wobbling all over the place. I was losing my balance, because I was missing the point I had been looking at directly. God hit me like a wrecking ball right there. And, it looked like He did as I stumbled to regain my balance.

Everyday He has given me the opportunity to see Him in my classroom. Yet, I wasn’t focused on this point, I had no balance in this area of spiritual discipline. I was asking Him daily for a point to fix my eyes on, but I seemed to be refusing to look to Him. Therefore, by the end of the day, I was left with my head in my hands wondering why God never revealed Himself to me and why I felt like the purpose and passion God gave me for teaching had disappeared. As I contemplated the physical reenactment of my inward spiritual struggle, a verse came to mind,   2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

I was expecting God to be flashy and show up in what I my eyes were focusing on: student’s emotions, test scores and teaching strategies. Rather, He met me where I was, with my eyes closed, to show me that my focus was in the wrong place. Balancing is not impossible with your eyes closed, but it does require more intense concentration. The same is true for a strong relationship with God.

You will lean and sway, like a tree in the wind, as you learn to trust and follow Him, sometimes to the point where you almost topple over. But, when you choose to align yourself with Him and focus on His plan for your life and His kingdom, you regain your balance, your passion to be with Him and know Him more. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” This verse reminds me of when I initially asked God to be my Focus, my Savior, the Center of my life and the passion that came with that invitation. But, Paul also insinuates that this isn’t a one time decision in verse 6, but a constant choice to focus on Him and His goodness. As I stood in tree pose with my eyes closed, the instructor directed me to, “Fight for my balance and to be rooted like a tree, standing tall and firm.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the way my clever God had shown up in the workout I always skipped over and couldn’t wait to end. He was stretching my faith by showing me the importance of establishing my focus on Him. Rather than skimming for His Presence in what I can see, remembering that roots grow underground, out of view, and my faith grows out of His love and a reciprocal pursuit of one another. God used a mundane yoga video to help me grasp the divine significance of gaining rest and rejuvenation in acknowledging His Presence. There is no doubt that He is in my ordinary, but I have to choose not to skip over the commonplace and make a point to focus on Him in order to find balance in what He makes extraordinary.

Scandalous Grace

Recently, my year long bible reading plan has led me into the always unpredictable book of Leviticus. Nights of reading have triggered heavy eyelids and gag reflexes as the dimensions and specifications of the Tabernacle are outlined and explanations of sacrifices and skin diseases are provided in detail. However, the Living Word of God never ceases to amaze me at the little nuggets of wisdom that are showered throughout the pages, even in the least expected places.

I have tried to stay open-minded and understand more of God’s advice and characteristics, as well as the applicability of the practices throughout my reading of Leviticus. But frankly, it has been difficult. I have a strong stomach, but when blood is being splattered and rubbed on big toes (I promise it’s in there), I have trouble focusing. I haven’t given most of the book a second thought, especially the part about offering God only animals without defect. I mean, duh, God deserves our best, right? Even though we don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore, the concept still makes sense. But, then I stumbled across a passage where the tables were turned and I couldn’t help but stop and reread.

Leviticus 21:17-20, 23

17“Give the following instructions to Aaron: In all future generations, none of your descendants who has any defect will qualify to offer food to his God. 18 No one who has a defect qualifies, whether he is blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, 19 or has a broken foot or arm, 20 or is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or has a defective eye, or skin sores or scabs, or damaged testicles (I promise it’s in there). 23 Yet because of his physical defect, he may not enter the room behind the inner curtain or approach the altar, for this would defile my holy places. I am the Lord who makes them holy.”

Now we weren’t talking about animals, but people being without defect. What?! At surface level it was alarming. I couldn’t help but feel for the people afflicted with these conditions and wonder how hard it would be to place your hope in a God who wouldn’t let you into His presence. I would already feel hopeless from my condition, much less being physically prohibited from entering God’s quarters behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies.

I am not trying to say God changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but His relationality seems to. The Old Testament is filled with a logical, step by step way to get to God that seems to have a disconnect and a fixation on faults. On the other hand, the New Testament is consumed with an overflow of emotion as the Presence of God came to earth and ministered directly to the people this passage exiles from the Tabernacle, as He ultimately accepted them for who they are. Talk about mixed messages.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross and took His final breath, it was “at that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart” (Matthew 27:51). This is the moment everything changed. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) God’s Presence was no longer contained in a temple, behind a curtain, but entered into each of us. There is no longer physical separation, because Easter is an everyday occurrence! Can I get a hallelujah?!

But on my second glance on the Leviticus passage, I was ironically hit on a personal level. God’s spirit is within me. Ephesians 2:13 proclaims, “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.” I no longer have an excuse for separating myself from God. Even though I have never dealt with literal blindness, lameness, deformities, or severe skin conditions, that would have kept me from entering God’s Presence in the days of the Old Testament, I have spiritually had these afflictions and let them control me. I have failed to acknowledge God’s Spirit working within me, because I have been blind to the opportunities He gives me to grow, I have refused to move into His presence to vulnerably share my heart condition with Him, I have focused on my physical and personality flaws rather than how I can learn more about the character of God, and have carried shame for not appearing as I have it all together. These sound like good enough excuses to keep me from experiencing the love and life God has in store, right?

Seriously, Payton?!

“Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:24). I couldn’t bear to think of a time when people would be separated from God, but thanks to “God’s unfailing love and faithfulness [that] came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), that separation no longer exists. Yet, I constantly CHOOSE to separate myself. Why?! Because God’s grace is beyond my comprehension, but shame is so easy to hold on to. God wants you and loves you as you are. The same God I was slightly agitated with for ordering people with “defects” to stay out of His presence, is the God I can’t fathom yearning for me and all of my flaws to come be with Him. Grace is such a funny thing to me. I can’t think about living without it, but I struggle to live in it. Pastor Steven Furtick warns that the familiarity with the definition of grace can be dangerous, because we lose how scandalous it actually is.

Everyday God gives us the choice to live in His grace, to see, move, and work with His love shining through us. We have the choice! He wants us! He asks for purposeful intentionality as we embark in a relationship with Him.

Let’s get real for a minute. When I was first learning about what it means to follow God, I realized that I had never understood that He wants me to know Him like He knows me. When this switch was flipped, so was my entire world. That was 4 years ago and I continue to get frequent spiritual punches in the gut that remind me of how often I forget to BE with Him in my everyday. This is a privilege the original followers of God did not have access to, yet I neglect the opportunity when He dwells inside me.

Girls, this is a place to be real. A place to lay everything down, including the facades we put on each day. A place to break down the emotional walls we have built up and express true humility and vulnerability with one another. And a place to share how amazing, glorious, precious [and every other adjective that demonstrates the greatness of our God] is and what He is doing in our lives. I am not perfect and I will not pretend to be. I struggle with understanding and accepting God’s grace in my life. You might too. Or you might have some incredible words of wisdom that can help me gain perspective. Ultimately, this is a place to be ourselves and share our love for the One who first loved us. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this blog and I can’t wait to start learning through each of you!

Happy Easter!

With Love, 

Pay

Philippians 2:13