Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Landmarks on the Journey

This illness flare has been a strange experience for me.  The onset of symptoms was as rapid and dramatic as sliding down a mountain.  Once the doctors unraveled the various issues involved, the recovery began.  To continue the metaphor, the healing has resembled ascending the same mountain on a winding trail that only gains a yard in elevation per week and sometimes levels off or dips back down for a while.  It does seem that my health is improving, but it's as slow as sanctification.

As on any trail, there are mile markers and geographic landmarks along the way.  In this journey, for me, those are taking the form of special events on the calendar or activities resumed.  Going to church for the first time in six weeks: mile marker.  Going to church and being able to stand for the hymns even though I couldn't sing: mile marker.  Leaving the house for a date night meal: mile marker.  Video night at my parents' house: mile marker.  Doing laundry by myself: mile marker.  Changing the bed linens almost independently: mile marker. Driving the mile to the library book drop and back: mile marker.

Other landmarks have been more disappointing.  Family events, holidays, church opportunities rise into view ahead on the trail, and I think, "Maybe by [my nephew's birthday, my sister's move, Labor Day, the women's conference, our vacation] I'll be strong enough to participate and enjoy it."  Then the path winds around again, and the landmark turns out not to be straight ahead after all.  We were able to eat at a restaurant instead of at home for our anniversary, for which I give thanks, but otherwise these hopes may as well have been heat mirages on a Texas highway in August.

One of those landmarks, a Beth Moore simulcast at my parents' church down the street, came and went this past weekend.  I marked it on the calendar in May or June, but it was not a good idea to spend my limited energy on attending even part of the day's teachings.  Another marker lies ahead next week, the time off from work Al scheduled back in May.  We have stopped thinking, "Maybe by vacation I'll be strong enough to go for long walks, attend a concert, travel, visit the botanic garden, . . ." but we still plan to enjoy the time with each other and away from schedules, alarms, and as many chores as we can manage to avoid.  All three Lord of the Rings movies are ready for the player, too.

Looking back to the missed women's event and ahead to a vacation different than we'd expected, I am remembering last year's Living Proof Live event, "The Heart of Your Desires."  In a number of ways, I was in transition, and I arrived at the conference anticipating that something in the message would meet me at the point of my need.  I knew God had brought me to that place and had a purpose in that time.

Through the course of the messages, Beth talked about how, when God says no to the desires of our heart, He may be taking us deeper, to the heart of our desires.  Sometimes the desire we're most aware of is only the surface desire and actually masks something deeper that can only be revealed and satisfied by stripping away the superficial longing.  She also regaled the listeners with a story of her grandson becoming so obsessed with the chocolate sheet cake to end the meal that he refused to eat a single bite of the supper which was the prerequisite for the cake.  After the laughter died down, she challenged us to examine our unfulfilled desires to see if there were some "vegetables" we needed to eat first.

These ideas applied to me in two ways then.  First, I looked at the renewed desire to finish the seminary degree put on hold when we left for the mission field.  Did I want to learn Bible and theology, or did I mainly want letters after my name and a new line on the resume?  The peeling away of a layer of that desire prompted me to work out a study schedule for the fall as a way to focus on learning, the more important desire that was in reach already.  The intentional, disciplined pursuit of growing in understanding also served as eating my vegetables, in a way.  Beth's story showed me that even if every obstacle to further schooling were removed in an instant, I was too out of practice at intensive study and had forgotten too much Greek to take advantage of the opportunity.

Second, I looked at the desire to share writing with others again and realized there is a difference between the desire to testify in words of God's work in my life and the desire to be a Published Author.  One was well within reach, and the other not so much.  That's when the blog idea started to develop, but it took some more no's to more desires to shift the idea into action.

As I was thinking this weekend about missing the conference, I prayed for the women who did go, that they would hear what they needed as surely as I did last year.  I also rehearsed the lessons of that conference last year and listened to see if they still spoke to me today.  They did.  The Lord is still sifting and purifying my desires, saying no to the superficial ones to grant the better, deeper ones.  I'm still seeking daily grace to eat my vegetables faithfully, too, because somewhere farther down the trail, there will be cake.

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