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A temporary life

At this exact time last year I was packing up an entire house in order to move, a decision forced upon us for which we were unprepared.  It was a hectic, pressure-filled week and I don’t remember ever having worked so hard.  We chose a new residence that we knew would be temporary, unsure of exactly how long we would remain.  And now it’s time to move again.  Tomorrow I will be in search of boxes to pack the few things here and I’m completely excited that the vast majority of our belongings are sitting in storage in already packed, labeled boxes just waiting to be moved to their new home.  This will be by far the easiest move I have ever made and there have been quite a few of them. To the best of my recollection, this will be #28.

I made a list this morning of all the places that I can remember having lived.  This revealed an interesting range of habitats:  small houses, large houses, a nice mobile home and an awful, old mobile home, really nice apartments and a not-so-nice one, and a room in the back of my workplace that was no wider than my queen size bed where I lived quite happily for one year.  Ten years was the longest period spent in one place.  As a child, I don’t remember having an opinion about our moves one way or the other; I suppose I thought that every family moved quite often.  As a teenager it began to be more important to me and I remember crying when the announcement was made that we would be moving out of our five bedroom home into a three bedroom mobile home.  My tears were not prompted by the idea of a mobile home but rather the fact that I would have to give up a room to myself and once again share a room with my little sister.  (Sorry, Sis…)

We’ve often joked in our family that we surely have gypsy blood.  I suppose some may think the many moves would have formed deep insecurities for us as children, when in fact they prepared us for adventures in this life.  They kept us from holding on too tightly and attaching our security to “things”.  For me, change has always come with hope – an expectation of good things for the future (with the exception of the aforementioned room-sharing transition.)  Some of the moves were simply changes in geography with no other effects on my life.  Others brought new friends and experiences and fresh, new perspectives on love and life and God.

This is a temporary life.  In the big scheme of eternity it is a wisp, a vapor.  Yet it is significant in this grand plan and we are innately programmed to make something of it.  Our lives are wisps of time that each have God’s full attention.  Without this knowledge we spin our wheels in futility and struggle to hold on to what will not last.  We endeavor to build secure lives that will protect us from the difficult, the unexpected, the unplanned, when the reality is that none of us know what will happen tomorrow.  Without knowing that God sees us and is ever ready to lead, guide, love, and help, we crumble when life deals a hard blow.  We have no real hope without Him.

I am excited about our move.  It will be the nicest house I have ever lived in and my mind has already filled its rooms with our things even though the movers won’t be there until Saturday.  It’s a lovely house in a nice neighborhood and I will be happy there.  Not because of the house, although having a pretty place to live certainly doesn’t hurt!  But because I know that I will hold it loosely.  I will enjoy this season God is leading us into, fully assured that He is with me and that He will make something significant of my life no matter where He places me.

Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and spend a year there and carry on our business and make money.  Yet you do not know the least thing about what may happen tomorrow.  What is the nature of your life?  You are really but a wisp of vapor that is visible for a little while and then disappears into thin air.   You ought instead to say, If the Lord is willing, we shall live and we shall do this or that.  James 4:13-15

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The Kick Off meetings were always scheduled as early in the new year as possible in order to present the company’s focus and to hopefully re-ignite the sales force’s enthusiasm for the potential growth ahead.  Each state organization held their own meetings and in the early years of my career the meetings were primarily planned by each of these organization’s leaders. Taking the company’s theme and tag line, they would build a presentation for their people that would be educational, entertaining, and rewarding, including the recognition of the previous year’s top associates.  As you can imagine, this made for a wide variety of types of meetings and messages.

As the years progressed, the company endeavored to get everyone on the same page in presenting their goals and directives to their representatives.  One of the things they developed was the “Meeting-in-a-box”. This file included practically everything that would be presented – the power point design and slides, the videos, and the agenda.  While saving the administrators a tremendous amount of work and making it easier on the leaders responsible for the meeting, it also limited the creative element.  Deviations from this pre-planned agenda were highly frowned upon.  The meeting-in-a-box caused each organization to be treated as if they were all the same while the characteristics of each may be vastly different.

I can’t imagine what it is like to attempt to get thousands of people to follow your dream and your business model exactly as you had envisioned. (I can’t even get everyone in my household to consistently put their dirty laundry in the basket provided!)  If it was MY company, I would most certainly want you to do things MY way, so I totally see how this was a good thing for the company.  That’s business.  But it got me thinking…

I wonder how many of us were given God-in-a-box?  A certain group of people believed in God a certain way, interpreted the scriptures a certain way, desired to worship a certain way, and brought to us a God limited by their understanding.

I had a version of God-in-a-box.  He was defined by this box of doctrine and rules and old English language, worship that was perfunctory, praise that was always the first, second, and fourth stanza of the hymn, and prayers voiced by only men because women weren’t to be heard in church.  Supposedly there was a common theme for this God – that He loved us SO much He sent His Son to save us – but the God-in-MY-box was harsh and hard and critical, ever ready to punish those in sin.  The instructions that came with my God-in-a-box were that deviations were highly frowned upon and often condemned as false teaching and heresy.

When life’s troubles came my way they didn’t fit in the box with God and I had no understanding of how to get God out of the box to help with the trouble!  What good is a limited God?  I offered my cries of frustration to Him, yet walked away as if I hadn’t been heard.  But He was listening.

A sweet woman invited me to a newly formed gathering of believers.  I watched and listened with amazement at these who worshiped and followed a God with no limits.  I saw with my own eyes the miracles this God performed, heard praise that stirred me more deeply than I had ever experienced, and met Him all over again.  I realized there really never was a box.  He didn’t come to us that way.

He reveals Himself to us as we seek Him, promising that we will find Him.  But make no mistake, He is immeasurable, limitless, endlessly creative.  He is personal and intimate in His unique relationship with each of His children, all with no contradiction of character.  He is God.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  1 Corinthians 13:12

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An unfinished friend

I was so angry when we parted ways.  My last words to her were mean and spiteful.  I lashed out from my own pain and frustration, blaming her for at least part of my misery.  Truth is, I was so hurt at the loss of her.

This had been no ordinary friendship.  Our connection was most certainly orchestrated by God for we would have never chosen it of ourselves.  We began as enemies, but God being God refused to leave us there.  He had other plans and I was sure I knew what they were…  I couldn’t blame God when all fell apart because, well, He’s GOD.  So I blamed her.  I blamed her for abandoning me.  I blamed her for not following through with the plan.  I blamed her because it was easier than looking at myself.

It hadn’t been easy being friends.  We had to work at it.  I was young and just beginning to learn how God wanted to work in my life when she showed up.  Our lives seemed so vastly different and our relationship provoked many a raised eyebrow and questioning look.  He used her to teach me so much.  I had invested much in this friendship and as I watched it crumble before my eyes, I was heartbroken.

That’s how we left it.  We went our separate ways and life continued.  Of course, once the anger was spent and joy returned I was sorry my last words to her were so harsh.  There are many things that have come and gone in my life that I was able to leave in the past with no regret and no thought of any longer.  She was not one of those.  She stayed in the back of my mind and a corner of my heart as if something was unfinished.

It’s not that I didn’t think of reaching out to find her.  I did.  But my pride and my shame won those battles of the mind and will.  Besides, I was sure she hated me after the things I had said.  Our lives continued to have one common thread yet we managed to remain completely separated for over twenty years…until this summer…

Family was in town and I desperately wanted to see them.  As we all know, it’s hard to be everywhere everyone wants you to be when you are the out-of-towners, home for a visit.  Finally we see a window of opportunity that can only be filled through the help of my old friend.  Hmmm…I must admit, I had butterflies in my stomach as I realized we would finally come face-to-face after all these years.

I haven’t asked her how she felt in those first, brief moments.  She seemed at ease, which in turn put me at ease.  We visited easily enough, although we were all talking at once, cramming everything we could into the short time we had.  When it came time for them to leave she was the last to the door.  We embraced and her words spoke to that deep, unfinished thing in me.

“I’ve always loved you.”

That dark corner of my heart felt the warm rays of relief and my soul uttered the deepest praise to God for what was to me a longed-for restoration.  I wasn’t finished being her friend.