Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It's Already Here

Oh, I've missed you! So many stories to tell, and never any time to tell them. I have a few minutes tonight, and I'm not sure yet which stories will make the cut.... 

In my last entry, I shared my one-word goal for 2014: Forget. In the last few weeks, God has been showing me the secret to attaining that goal.

In late January, I started a new Bible study called Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow. It's been well over a year since I've done a ladies' Bible study, and I'd forgotten the sweet anticipation of cracking open a new study for Day One. But it all came back to me.

I read these great tips on finding contentment:

  • Never allow yourself to complain about anything--not even the weather. (Upon reading this one, I immediately felt convicted over complaining about my severe allergy attack, both in my words and in my very grumpy thoughts.) 
  • Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
  • Never compare your lot with another's. 
  • Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise. (How?)
  • Never dwell on tomorrow--remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours. 

I was simultaneously inspired and discouraged. How could anyone attain these goals?

Day two's homework gave me a clue. Our assignment was to memorize Philippians 4:11-13:
...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Being the compulsive rule-follower that I am, of course I immediately began memorizing the passage. But a tinge of disappointment shadowed my excitement over learning a passage that so clearly fits in with my resolve to forget my disappointments.

Over the last few months--many months--I'd been idly asking God what my next memory passage should be. I've lost track of how long it's been since God revealed a new passage for me to memorize, but I'm sure it's been at least two years. I hadn't been praying fervently, just asking and forgetting about it and then asking again.

So here was my next memory passage, and it was a great one. But... In the past, God was the one to give me the assignment, not a stranger named Linda Dillow. And in the past, my memory passages came with one or more external confirmations, what I now call sacred echoes. My shoulders slumped just a little as I studied verse 11 on its little scripture card. So this time, I wouldn't get any confirmations. It would just be a homework assignment, nothing more.

Still, I couldn't help feeling a thrill as the first phrase began imprinting itself on my heart: "for I have learned." I can learn contentment! It's not impossible to attain.

That evening I had five minutes to read over my solitary dinner, just before rushing off to Celebrate Recovery. It seemed rather pointless to read for five minutes, but I felt almost compelled to pick up Boundaries, a life-changing book that I hadn't read in several weeks.

I read about Paul's unanswered prayer for God to remove his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Although God did not grant all of his wishes, "he met Paul's needs to the point that Paul felt content and full."

Guess what the next paragraph was? A block quote of Philippians 4:12-13. "Cool!" I thought. "Neat how Cloud connected the passage on contentment with boundaries." He said we shouldn't give people everything they want, but we should try to give them what they need, which may lead them to contentment.

Now wouldn't you think I'd have recognized that God had just given me my beloved Scripture Memory Confirmation? Yes, but you'd be wrong. I was so busy contemplating how contentment fit with boundaries that I didn't even notice it.

At Celebrate Recovery, I sheepishly confessed that my struggle that week was trying to be content despite my allergies. "Every time I sneeze," I said, "I say, 'Thank you for the mountain cedar, God!' But so far it isn't working very well." We all laughed, agreeing that if my deepest struggle is dealing with allergies, I've come a long, long way. But I was serious. I wanted to learn to be content in any and every situation, even my allergies.

By some miracle, I was ready for bed by 10:00. But as I slipped into my fleece jammies, I remembered that I needed to look up an address so I could get my in-laws' Christmas cards in the mail the next morning. (Yes, I was sending Christmas cards in late January. That's my life these days.)

So I got onto Facebook to look up a message with my sister-in-law's address. And you can guess what happened next. At 10:40 or so, I shut down the browser window and literally slapped myself upside the head. "Sarah Louise!" I scolded. "For once you could have gone to bed early, but no. You had to waste 40 minutes on Facebook."

While I was at it, I decided to check my email, another risky move. But I'm so glad I did! My friend Kynna had sent me an email at 10:24 PM, apropos of nothing as far as I could tell. It was a Chinese legend about how only God knows whether anything that happens to you is for good or bad. At the end of the story was someone's commentary. My sleepy eyes opened wide when I read this in the second to last paragraph: "But the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4 that he had learned to be content, even happy, in all circumstances."

I broke out in goosebumps. That made three times in one day that I'd come across the same passage from Philippians 4! And this last time was in a message I wasn't supposed to have seen because I'd wanted to be asleep.

I fired off an ecstatic response to Kynna, explaining that God had just used to her to confirm my latest memory passage. In her response, she replied to the burning question that I hadn't asked: what had made her send that email to me? She said she'd been telling a mutual friend about the Chinese legend and had promised to look it up and email it to her. And just when she'd been ready to hit Send, she felt God telling her to send it to me, too.

I laughed out loud, and I had the distinct impression that God was sharing both my amusement and my joy. Just because my new memory passage had been given as a homework assignment instead of through some mystical revelation, I had assumed that He wouldn't confirm that this was the passage He'd chosen for me. But even though I hadn't asked, He did confirm it. And when I didn't notice it the first time, He kept me up (on Facebook, of all things) long enough to see the second confirmation that He'd prompted Kynna to send.

How does he DO that? I smiled in the darkness for a long, long time. Oh, how well He knows me. And oh, how He loves me. Truly, I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine.

Since then, I have meditated several times a day on the new passage, and I can already feel the Word bearing fruit. You know how I've written over and over about something good just around the bend? Just last week, I realized something that made me weep for joy. I'm no longer waiting for something wonderful to happen that will make happy, though I'm sure God has planned many wonderful things for me.

No, I'm no longer waiting because my joy is ALREADY HERE. And here's the coolest part. Nothing has changed in my circumstances. But I've changed. Hallelujah! This is what contentment is about.

The great thing about contentment is that, although it doesn't depend on happiness, it tends to bring happiness along with it. I guess contentment opens up your eyes and your heart to all the little joys around you.

For example, recently the kids had a day off school due to icy weather conditions. I let Allyson sleep ridiculously late because I was working. In sharp contrast to our typical school mornings, I woke her slowly, mainly by raining kisses on her face and arms and running my fingers carefully through her tangled hair.

As she slowly opened her eyes, she gazed up at me with the same look of adoration that she'd had back when she was nursing. Just like she did back then, she reached up and touched my cheek.

And I was filled with such a sweet joy. Ahhhh! I felt my heart stretching with it.
June 2006

It's not only Allyson. More and more lately, Ethan has been doing something shocking. He's been... talking to me. As if I were a regular person and not just his mother. It's very enjoyable! We talk about unimportant things like Arwen's antics, and about deep things like the meaning of time. Yesterday he astonished me by comparing the present to zero on the number line. He said the present, like zero, doesn't really have a quantity, that it's just the transition point between future and past. It made my head spin, and I loved it.
Ethan Back When He Always Enjoyed My Company
First Day of Kindergarten - 2002

So there you have it. I think that's enough for one night, though I haven't even told you about the hermit crabs yet. That will have to wait for another day.

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