When I look back at 2012, I am amazed at all that God taught me. I can honestly say that 2012 was the year that I did Bible studies, but I didn't just do Bible studies. I encountered God in a real, tangible way. I felt His presence. We went beyond a Bible study to an intimate relationship. Since we just moved, I can't find all of my journals from the year. I think there were 5. I've got two of them but the other three must be packed away still in the attic. I look forward to unpacking them and remembering all the daily things God showed me in His Word and in just walking and talking with Him. There are a few things though that stand out in my mind whether I have my journals as reminders or not. I wanted to share them with you and maybe they will encourage your heart.
The first really vivid encounter I had with Him came during Boot Camp last winter. If you read the other posts, you know that I was LOVING this Boot Camp thing at the Y that really challenged me and shaped and sculpted me physically. I thrill at physical challenges and love being whipped into shape. But I kept hearing this voice inside me, doubting whether I should be doing it or not. Because honestly, it took a lot of time out of my day to get kids ready for the Y, get them all in the childcare areas they needed to go, do the class, then get everybody back home and back into the school routine. It was a big piece of the pie of our day. But I could always justify it as, This is good for all of us. It's our health! It's a good thing to be healthy and strong! As I was running one of the sprints one day I saw Jesus. Really. He was smiling at me. There was absolutely no condemnation in His eyes. But He said to me in almost a laugh, Child, what are you doing here? Is this what I asked you to do? I love how He asks those penetrating questions in few, simple, but poignant words. I also love how His voice is never condescending, never exasperated, never condemning. Only loving. And I knew what He was saying: This isn't what I have for you anymore. Let go of what is in your hand right now so your hand will be ready to grasp what I am about to give you. So I did. It was scary, but in obedience I not only quit the Boot Camp class, but we gave up our Y membership as well. Because another area God was talking to me about was financial priorities. The Y was one unnecessary monthly expense we could let go. Now you have to understand, this girl has had a gym membership, no matter what the time or financial circumstances, since I was 16 years old. At one point I had three gym memberships just so that I had plenty of options. But God said it was time to let go. After 17 years, let go of the gym. Okay, God.
And as usual, God was up to something way better. Because as we learned from the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland into the Promised Land, when God calls us away from something, He calls us to something else. What He calls us to is always better. I've already told you that I started running in the mornings instead, before everyone else got up, so that their day was not disrupted at all. We didn't have to rush out the door to get to the Y anymore, and we could truly concentrate on school and other priorities. And boy oh boy, those times in the morning were exhilirating. I decided to get up a little earlier so that I could have coffee and time with God while it was still dark, then go out for the run as the sun was rising. Much thanks to Pandora :), I had praise and worship and hymns to listen to most mornings. Sometimes it was Coldplay or Mumford and Sons instead, which I found I could still glorify God in, but that is another lesson to tell you about. :) Anyway, as Eric Little said in the movie Chariots of Fire, "When I run, I can feel God's pleasure." I totally get that. I felt His pleasure. He met with me as much out on the roads and the sidewalks as He did at my kitchen table with my Bible open. One day I ran past a bunch of honeysuckle that smelled so sweet. I stopped running and just stood there and breathed it in, eyes closed, just enjoying the fragrance. Again I saw Jesus. Again He was smiling, love in His eyes. He said, Child, isn't this delightful? Smell it again. If you can imagine, I am even sweeter than honeysuckle. My ways are better and sweeter and higher than anything on this earth. Just like that honeysuckle is a more lovely fragrance than any manmade perfume, my plans for you are infinitely better than anything you can imagine.
One particular verse that God showed me over the summer while Allie was gone was Psalm 138:8- "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me." There were times when Allie was gone that fears would overtake me and suddenly I couldn't breathe. When I finally got my breath, all I could let out were uncontrollable sobs of grief. I missed my daughter. I grieved that she was not in my care, that she was so far away and I literally could not see her or touch her or care for her. God kept bringing that verse to mind and promising me that He would not only do something about all of my concerns, He would perfect them. Bring them to perfect completion. That I and Allie were under His sovereign, loving control and He would perfect it all. Another one is Psalm 38:9- "You know what I long for, Lord, You hear my every sigh." Some versions say, "My sighing is not hidden from you." Some days my grief and sadness were only sighs. No one knew them but me. Or so I thought until God showed me that verse. He knew every sigh and all the longings that were behind them for my sweet daughter. He cared so much that even my sighs were not hidden from Him. Oh, how those thoughts comforted me over the summer.
One book that I studied in depth this year was the Song of Solomon. God showed me so much from that book that I could write another book just about it. :) A few things that I will never forget: 1) the book follows Ecclesiastes, which means "vanity of vanities". Then Song of Solomon is also frequently called "song of songs". God always wants to bring us from the vanity of vanities which is everyday life, into the song of songs which is life with Him. 2) This book is all about surrender, from the first verse to the last. The Bride cannot find full joy and contentment until she completely surrenders. Almost all of the word pictures used are things like spices and oils which can only be extracted by being broken and bruised or crushed. Beautiful, fragrant things can only come out of our lives when we are broken and spilled out for Him. When we completely surrender to what He wants to do. One of my favorite verses came at the end of the book, the climax, when the Bride had finally surrendered, and the virgins say, "Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?" (8:3).
You can go here to download this amazing Bible study and go through it yourself because really, I don't have time to expound on all the truths from this study.
All this realization that God loved me and had the most amazing plans beyond all comprehension for my life, made me want to respond with a deeper level of holiness. Towards the end of the year I found myself searching the Scriptures for how I could be holier, how I could bless God more, how I could go deeper and be, well, holier. That just kept coming into my mind. The beauty of holiness. I thought maybe if I dressed more holy looking. Maybe if I gave up this or that and denied myself this thing or that thing that brought me pleasure. I kept saying, Whatever it is, Lord, I will do it! Really! Just tell me what to do! I'm ready to give up anything for you! But the odd thing was, the closer I got to God, the freer I became. He showed me that the holiness He longed for in me was not in areas that I could say one time, okay I'm giving this up, and please Him forever after that. No, that would be too easy. He was looking for something more daily. A walking with Him so closely that the Spirit could just lead me day by day and tell me what to do next. He wanted an acute awareness of His presence. He revealed to me that what pleased Him most was the walk. Enoch pleased God because He walked with Him (Genesis 5:23-24). "Your ears shall hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it.'" -Psalm 30:21. "Walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8 This daily walk with Him, this daily awareness of His presence, frees me to delight in beautiful music that's not necessarily "Christian" and see His glory reflected in it. One night recently I was listening to one of my favorite songs, "Yellow" by Coldplay, and I closed my eyes and said, "Thank You so much Lord, for this song. It delights my heart. Thank you for the pleasure of good music." And I felt his joy over my delight. I had a glass of red wine as a celebration the night before Allie came home. I relished and enjoyed that one delectable glass of merlot more than you can imagine. And I thanked God for it. And I felt His pleasure. Now if I had asked the "holiest" person I knew what I should stay away from if I wanted to be holier, two things listed might have been secular music and wine. But being aware of His presence showed me that He delighted to see me enjoy those things. 1 Timothy 6:17 says that God gives us all things richly to enjoy.
In beginning a new year, I will admit that there is a little fear associated with coming off such a spiritual high kind of year. Of course, there is the fear that this year will fall short, that somehow God won't show me as much or I won't have the desire as strongly or we just won't connect like we did. I give those fears to God, knowing that He desires to meet with me and speak to me as much as I desire to meet with Him and speak to Him. I just keep coming to the table and He will feed me. I have to remember that every day of 2012 wasn't "off the charts", that there were many mundane days where I just read my portion of the Bible for the day and nothing earth shattering came from it. But those were the days that made me ready for the days He did show up. I love that Mary Engelbreit quote, "Life is just so daily." Indeed, it is. That's the way God designed it. So He must intend for us to live it that way. One day at a time. I must trust that God is at much at work behind the scenes in the dailyness of life as He is when He shows up in miraculous ways. The second fear is, Wow, with all that God showed me, what must He be preparing me for??? :) I will admit I've thought this more than once. Is He preparing me for something horrible that I could only endure because of His proven faithfulness this past year? And I have to embrace that that could be the case. But instead of fearing it, I can face it confidently, knowing that God works ALL things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Everything, even our suffering if it comes, is under His sovereign and loving control. God is sovereign and He is good. What should I fear?