Tuesday, 16 June 2015

My God Affair

So obviously by now, unless this is the first encounter you have ever had with my writing and my life, you know I am a Christian. 
You probably know a few more things as well.  I have a big family.  My faith is important.  I go to church. I am occasionally long-winded.
I like to share, so naturally you may be surprised to find out that I in fact, harbour some secrets.
When I first became a Christian, Brendan and I were attending the denominational church he grew up in.  We had an amazing community and I went through all of the appropriate "stages" that were expected in order to become a member of the church (I wasn't baptized and didn't attend church growing up so I had no previous "affiliation").  Our church family was awesome and supportive and I was often surprised (having grown up fairly anti-organized religion) at how normal, and fantastic, they all were.
I did everything properly.  I learned the prayers.  I learned the doctrine (well as much as was practically possible in a short time).  I'm typically a keener so I studied a lot.  We attended mass regularly and we were very diligent in our "religiosity".  Yes that is a word.
I had a few experiences with God early on while I was teaching in the school (an Alpha course we attended, some youth conferences and concerts) that I would now say were spirit filled, and although I loved them, this was not the norm for our faith.  We (as a couple) developed a very normal, predictable, and reasonable Christian routine.  It was good.  But it wasn't amazing.
Don't get me wrong, God was working some amazing things in our life but there wasn't a fiery passion deep in my soul every day.  I was still struggling so much with so many aspects of my life.  I wasn't taking any risks with my faith.  I certainly wasn't open to a whole lot of God's "supernatural" blessings in my life. This faith atmosphere made up most of the first 8 years of our marriage.
Then about a year ago something changed. 
I met God in a new way. 
Our life has been SO busy the last few years (check out the last few posts for details!). So, I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks, anything I could get to download on my phone.  I started learning about God in a new way. I came to discover that God is actually ridiculously amazing.  From the scientific support for a creator (Smart Men and God) to God's desire to be in my marriage, my parenting, and my business, I learned all sorts of amazing things about His character.  I had become a Christian but I had never really committed my life to Christ. 
Slowly though, things began to change.  Instead of learning about God (a topic which I have studied in detail), I began to meet God Himself. I began to have a relationship with God that was close and intimate and passionate and tangible.  Well, at least a kind of relationship.  In fact, when I look at where I am at now, I sometimes feel like its more of an affair.
I've been having an affair with God.
Here's the thing.  I am CRAZY about Him.  I am excited to spend time with Him.  I want to know His plans for me, and I want to follow His will to the letter. Doesn't that sound exciting.  It is. So why have I kept this such a secret? Why don't I talk about His amazing influence in my life?  Why do I avoid the topic with people I love and care about? Why have I treated my relationship with God like some scandalous secret?
In the new year, we actually made the decision to start attending a new church.  We really didn't tell anyone.  Its a non-denominational church and it is totally incredible.  I understand and appreciate the tradition and the ritual and sacramental faith we have experienced up to now.  This is something that will always be rooted deep in my heart.  This church is different though and I have found something here SO fulfilling and deepening.

We worship, we study scripture, we raise our hands in glorious praise to a God who is wholly good and merciful.  Our kids attend a Sunday school where they learn about service and God's love.  They have a strong and active men's group that meets to go clay pigeon shooting, eat steak, and then sit down and talk about the issues men face in today's world, forming bonds of friendship, mentorship and accountability.  They have women's retreats where we share and are nourished with encouragement, love and support in our roles as wives, mothers and business women.  It is everything we have been looking for in a church and worship community.  And we haven't told anyone.
At least I certainly don't talk about it.  Not with family or friends anyways.  We sneak off Sunday morning and then refer to "church" in general terms.  I don't mention the changes that have happened in the last year.  I don't boast of the miracles and love of God I witness.  I don't mention that every decision I make is run past Him and that everything I do, I try to discern what His will is for me.  I don't tell people that I think about Him and talk to Him all the time. By my estimation, it sounds like an affair to me.
If God is so important to me, then why don't I share? This "concealment" of my Christianity isn't new.  All the way along I've been selective about who I will get "spiritual" with.  Well, I think I'm starting to figure it out.
Surrender.  Sacrifice.  Fear.  Fear of judgement.  Fear of ridicule.  Misplaced motives.
I think these things all sum up why I keep my faith on the down low.  I don't want my faith journey to look "different".  What if they confront me about it?  What if they don't understand? It really comes down to one thing.

I might be uncomfortable.  People might certainly judge me.  I want all of the benefits of living in God's kingdom but I don't really want to indicate that I am a "kingdom" person. 

This is a problem though.  You see, God tells us to "Seek FIRST the kingdom of God, then all things (i.e. benefits of the kingdom) will be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).   We don't get the benefits without living the kingdom life.  All the time.  Everywhere. Publicly.

In fact, I've come to believe that the ONLY thing in this life that matters or is worth pursuing has to start with seeking God.

In the same way that "earthly" affairs are wrought with deceit and delusion, so are "Godly" affairs.  I want all of the blessing of a relationship with God while my conduct reeks of fear of commitment and half-hearted devotion.

The truth of the matter is I am obsessed.  I think of nothing more frequently than I do of God, my relationship with Him and His thoughts and plans for me.  

From my experience, when someone is in a real, functional and long-lasting relationship, they speak incredibly freely of the other person.  A relationship is based on trust, admiration, respect, and "relations".  It is publicly known that we are "Brendan and Jacquie". In fact, even if you didn't know my husband, if I spoke of "Brendan" you would quickly discern his role in my life. Everyone who knows me knows my connection to him and has a pretty good idea of the nature of our relationship. 

Alternately, an affair is secretive, covert and often consumed in dishonesty. An affair can never reach the same level of comfort, love and developmental depth because so much energy is spent just keeping it under wraps. 

So it is with God.

If I never have the courage to publicly seek God's kingdom,  our relationship will stay superficial.  I will never be able to show my true love and devotion to seeking God's plan, and therefore will spiritually stagnate.

There will be sacrifice, I have no doubt.  Remember, I used to judge those who needed God.

When you start a new relationship, not everyone wants to hear endlessly about your "amazing" new boyfriend.  Not everyone wants to hear endlessly about God's unbelievable love either.

I don't care anymore. 

God is so amazing and my life has become SO MUCH BETTER since I have begun this journey that I am willing to risk whatever it takes to show the world that this is no shallow affair.

I have to be willing to take it public.  To raise my arms in worship.  To let God's holy name roll off my lips just as easily as would the names of my family and friends. 

I have to stop seeking all the benefits of the relationship and just seek Him.  I need to acknowledge His presence, role and relationship in my life in EVERYTHING I think and do. It may take a long time.  It may take my whole life.  But I have to keep on seeking Him. In private. In public. In everything I do.

Sure this might not sound as sexy and scandalous as the affair did, but I'm pretty sure what lies ahead will blow everything else out of the water. 

Isn't that right Lord?


Monday, 1 June 2015

Surrendering, Part 2: Please Place Dreams on the Altar. Results Not Guaranteed.

Two and a half years ago I heard a speaker at a conference say, "Whenever you have a dream, especially if it's a big dream, you will be asked to lay it on the altar, give it back to God, and potentially give it all up.  If God hasn't asked you to put your dreams on the altar, either they're not big enough, or you're not listening."

Abraham was asked by God to put his son Isaac on the altar ... His son, who embodied all that Abraham and Sarah had dreamed of.  Everything that they felt God had put on their hearts.  How on earth would their promise be fulfilled (of descendants multiplying more than the stars in the sky) if their only offspring together was to be sacrificed?  Therein lies the rub though.  It seems that God frequently asks us to give up the very thing He promised us. Crazy right?

When I was 8 years old I started riding horses.  My entire life growing up involved horses.  I can remember spending almost my whole grade 10 social studies class drafting blueprints for the layout of the horse barn I would have when I grew up. 

After college, and even as a busy mom and teacher I was easily swept back into the horse world.  I started up a riding and training business on the side of my teaching and "mom" stuff.  In 2011, I decided that with our growing family I would go full time into it.  I could make my own hours and it would work for our family. It was then that I felt this dream of our own "place" start stirring inside of me. I started talking with family and friends about how it would work for us to acquire said "place". 

I would like to be very honest (people don't like to talk numbers). I am sharing details with you because I want everyone who reads this to fully understand where we were at. We weren't different or unique.  In fact I think many people will relate.

At the time when we started looking around at farms we figured it was going to be a 5-10 year plan. That was not pessimistic, just realistic. We knew we had a LOT of debt (student debt, consumer debt, mortgage debts both on our home and a rental house).  We would have to save a down payment.  Probably a large down payment, since any property worth considering was between $350,000 and $800,000 and we figured we'd only net about $35,000 from selling our current home. Here's the thing though.  Knowing how impulsive and passionate I am, I should have started getting these things taken care of BEFORE I started looking.

Once I started looking, putting on the brakes became impossible for me.  It was pretty much "normal operations" at the time for my impulsivity and drive (often otherwise known as passion) to overcome my planning and better judgement.

We fell in love.  Over and over and over, we fell in love with every place we looked at.  If you've ever shopped for a wedding dress, many folks will tell you not to try on a wedding dress you can't afford.  I bought my dress for $400 off a clearance rack.  Apparently I didn't realize that for a horse girl this phrase is more applicable to farm shopping.  Don't try on a farm and imagine walking down the barn aisle with it unless you can afford it.

Unfortunately we were going to have our hearts broken over and over as well.  Anyone who's read my other blogs have heard all about our purchasing struggles.  The bank kept shutting us down for so many wacky and unexpected reasons.  We kept feeling God slam the door in our face and we didn't know why.  We had made this perfect plan.  We had cosigners.  We had down payment money (well, our family and rrsps had down payment money, which on paper seemed like enough for the bank). We had it all worked out.

Yup, we.  Me. And Brendan (well sort of ... I was like a crazed horse dragging him along on this adventure).  We didn't pause very long to really discern God's will.  At the end of the day we thought it was good enough that we had unbridled passion for the cause.  We were willing to do anything to make this work. Willing to go to any lengths.  Willing to in actual fact, beg, borrow and steal to make this plan (that we had convinced ourselves had to be God's will) play out.

Here's a word to the wise.  God rarely endorses begging, borrowing or stealing in the execution of His will.  If you find yourself in this position, proceed with caution.

Finally, we had more or less given up. I heard that phrase again in my head saying, "Put it on the altar".  I think I knew deep down we should slow down and take a step back.  But I'd be damned if I was going to give up that easily.  At this point my sister and her husband had (of course relatively easily) acquired their beautiful dream farm.  I wanted mine.  And I wanted God to make it happen. Yesterday.   After all, He promised.  (*Please note: Within this promise was never indicated a timeline. Apparently God doesn't generally provide a best-before date on dreams.)

At this point we happened to reunite with some colleagues I knew in the industry.  They owned a huge boarding stable we'd been at in the past.  They had another, smaller place for sale.  Good location, nice house, pretty yard, outdoor arena and barn, fenced.  They were hoping to sell it but would be willing to rent it to us as well if the financing didn't pan out.  When we talked to them about our financing woes they sympathized telling us everyone was having bank issues with farm purchases.  Of course everyone was eager to help and at one point we were referred to "this guy" who could make it happen.  For a cost of course. 

I never really shared this overtly with anyone else at the time but I remember thinking somewhere deep in the back of my mind,"See, there.  It will work out either way.  If we cant buy it through our bank, we can go to the wizard and get it financed.  And if that doesn't work, we can rent it.  Either way, we, err, God, will make this happen." I was, to coin a phrase, hell bent on making it happen.

Another word to the wise... Never be hell bent on having it your own way.  You'll get what you wish for (and nothing more).  That is a promise.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, God was in this, I know He was (and praise Him for that or we'd be far worse off than we already were!).  We were able to get a conventional mortgage (with cosigners, but at least it was through our bank and no back room deal was needed).  We borrowed a TON of money from family to make it happen, but at least our home we were currently lived in sold quick and for a great price (far better than the realtor expected).  We truly thought if we could make the numbers all work out, it must be God's will.  After all, He'd shut the door so many times before He would do it again, right?  Well, I wasn't going to have that ... it was figured out.  We listed our house for sale, moved to the farm, started working our tails off and the rest, as they say, was history.

I sometimes think people consider us as somehow different than them. We must have money, we must be wealthy.  Well at least we have more than they do.  I know this because I used to look at people in our position in exactly that way. Somehow, because you've got this big business, a nice farm and you've figured out how to manipulate the system to get it, you are no longer like them. Somehow its easy for us and we don't struggle with the same everyday problems like paying the bills, affording repairs or budgeting for regular and unexpected expenses.  Like somehow we don't have those conversations about what we can afford or can't afford.  It all just magically works out because we are "in business".

That's totally bogus.  We don't have more money.  That's the lie that the bank tells you.  Just remember, if you owe money for it, it's not an asset.  We didn't have more money.  We had more debt.

When we entered this adventure we thought nothing of our debt.  We didn't feel overly worried about the amount of financing we had going into the transaction either (credit cards, student debt, another mortgage on our rental home).  We didn't blink an eye at borrowing money from anyone who'd lend it (especially our parents) in order to make it happen. We defined being able to "afford" something as being able to make the monthly payments. We thought it was God blessing us through our lenders.

We were wrong. 

And it took a "Dave Ramsey" face-slap experience (as I like to call it) for us to learn that. (*If you aren't familiar with Dave Ramsey and his get-out-of-debt strategy, you should be ... He's changed our lives.  Future finance blogs to come!).

About 8 months after we moved in (maybe even earlier if we were honest) we knew we were facing what felt like supernatural struggle.  We didn't know how much and for how long but we knew things were tighter than our original budget projections predicted. Its not that we weren't making as much money as we'd hoped.  Its just that we weren't able to get ahead, or out of the hole.  At all.  We were dealing with some upgrades, fixes and general maintenance that we hadn't predicted exactly (and we never knew the frequency or when many of these things were going to crop up).  It wasn't even just the money.  I felt like I would have endless amounts of energy and ambition.  My passion would be enough to get us through.  This was false thinking.

I cried.  A lot. It became almost uncontrollable.

I uprooted my family, had a new baby, was sick all the time, worked myself into sheer exhaustion and we were fast going broke.  All because I had to have my dream.  All because I rushed forward to make it all happen.  Passion can be a great motivator.  It can also be blinding and dangerous.  Sometimes the good Lord will "give us over" to these passions.  We have free will. He will gently guide us, but when we're hell bent He will sometimes step aside and let that determination unfold as our free will would prescribe.

Ravi Zacharias said it like this:

"If you are determined in going in a certain direction, if you are bent upon silencing the voice of God in your life, you know what God will do? He’ll step aside and second your motion. If that’s what you really want. Because He cannot violate your Will and still call you free… If I am a free being, He cannot overrule my freedom in the most ultimate sense, and still call me free. He can lure, He can rule, He can plead, He can beg, He can even put the pressure on, but He cannot violate your will and still call you free."

God "gave me over" to my dreams.  The reality is I was going to drag us forward into it whether He was on board or not.  That was ignorant.  That was a mistake.  And despite the fact that we could potentially, somehow make it all work if we were willing to continue on the current path, that "mistake" sat in the pit of my stomach like a bowling ball.  And God went silent.

Now that all said, God is pretty amazing.  He promises us He'll give us beauty for ashes.  He promises us that everything will work out for the good of those who love Him.  He promises to go before us and prepare a way. It just might not be our way.

So, we made another decision.  I have a feeling that we will look back on this time and recall it as the "great surrender".  The time when everything changed.  The decision that we made to really and truly let God's will be done in our lives. 

We decided to sell the farm. 

It's sad, but actually it's not really.  I've finally gotten to the point where I think I understand the beauty of the altar.  The incredible saving power of the cross.  The ultimate contrast.

You only gain through sacrifice.

And it's only sacrifice if it's something you think you can't live without. There is no dream so fragile, so important, so worth clinging on to that we should be willing to withhold it from Christ's altar.  This is what they mean when they say "Lay it at His feet".

Let it go.  Give it up.  Shake it off. Be willing to risk losing everything.  Be willing to actually lose everything.  Lay down your nets and follow Him ...

These things have a whole new meaning to me now.  For some it's a place, for some a job, for some it's a relationship, for some it's a loved one or a child.  No matter what it is that you are placing all your earthly stock and hopes in, be sure of one thing:

The tighter you hold on, the more God is going to call you to let it go. 

This, my friends is the meaning of "surrender".  It sounds like a beautiful and noble thing but I've come to learn it is crazy and scary and embarrassing and often times unbearable. When you decide to surrender you will be called to lay everything down, especially the things you least want to give up.  God does not guarantee that what He gives back to you will be what you left on that altar.  He does promise though that what he gives us will be good.  In fact it will be abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. 

Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Doing good sometimes means doing things differently. 

I have no idea what will become of my dreams and my ambitions now that we have made the decision to put our life on the altar.  It will definitely be different.  I love my business and my clients and we will certainly (from a business aspect) be able to regroup and pick up somewhere else.  But I am, for the first time in my life, not going to get "my way".  In fact, if the last 2 years is a testimony to getting my own way I eagerly await what lies ahead, as scary and out of control as I feel. I will stop my panicked planning and allow God's plan to unfold before me.  Not until I see that His is the path in front of my feet will I take those first steps.

I know that there will be many stories about why we're leaving.  To some it will be the money.  To some it will look like a lack of ambition or talent. To some we will appear to just not have "cut it".  Some will understand.  Many will no doubt judge.  People will talk and for the first time in my life none of that matters.

I will place my dream on the altar, and if need be I will watch it burn to ashes in front of me and everyone around me.  Then I will lift my head, hold my family tight and smile up to God, knowing that in return the beauty He will give for those ashes will far outweigh anything that I could have come up with on my own.

And that is a promise.