Friday, January 6, 2017

How the Smoky Mountains Changed My Outlook of 2016

I think of God and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for His help.  You don't let me sleep, I am too distressed even to pray!  Psalm 77:3-4

Some of you can relate to Asaph's cry in this Psalm.  I know I can.  These two verses pretty much sum up 2016 for me.  I'm almost ashamed to even write that statement for every critical eye to read.  Almost.

The year began on the heels of a couple years of settling into some major changes in our family.  If you are in any kind of public ministry, you can relate.  I won't get into detail, but uprooting a family with three children heading into their teen years and putting them headlong into ministry in an unknown place full of major changes is trying to say the least. 

 We moved mid-2014, and I spent the rest of 2014 and all of 2015 paying very close attention to the needs of my family.  I tried to take on EVERY task at the church thinking I was helping my husband.  That's my job, right?  Wrong.  I spent a lot of time praying for my children, trying to do things that would make their transition a little smoother, even getting them pets because I know how much they wanted pets.  (in hindsight, one dog would have done the trick... there was no need for them to each have their own.  But here we are).  In all of my carefully calculated efforts to help my family adjust to our new life and all the changes that were happening, I had forgotten to help one specific individual.  Me.

2016 completely blindside me.  Now, I would use to say that I consider myself a woman of strong faith.  I'm in the Word of God daily, prayer life up and down, but definitely there.  I read through the entire Bible 1 to 2 times per year.  I study constantly, always searching for greater understanding and take great joy in teaching it to others.  I seek God's guidance constantly.  Yet, here I was in the depths of something I couldn't explain.  Situation after situation, heaping more and more stress on my already fragile state, surely pushing me to my breaking point.  I tried desperately to fix things, searching desperately for God to show me what to do.  I continued to pour myself out on everyone else, all the while desperate for someone to pour out into me.  That's the part I'm ashamed of.  I know that God is enough.  I know that God was and is pouring into me.  He wasn't giving me any clear answers, no clear direction.  So I took the hits and stayed right where I was, slowly moving forward but feeling like I was sinking.  He was teaching me that my faith is indeed small, but He is not.  He was breaking me down in order to build my character.  I don't like that too much.  lol

Then God blessed us with a very low cost trip to Gatlinburg.  We couldn't really afford it, but we desperately needed the time away and it was such a great deal that we decided to sacrifice for it.  It was my first time actually staying and visiting the Smoky Mountains.  Josh and I went for three days over my birthday.  I was hoping for rest, reprieve, escape, answers.  What God showed me in the Smoky Mountains was not what I expected.  When we arrived, I was overtaken with the beauty of the landscape.  Being the last day of October and first few days of November, the colors of the trees lining the mountainsides were absolutely gorgeous!  I couldn't wait to get in the mountains and take in all of God's beauty.  It just looked so good!  When we finally got up into the mountains for a day of driving and hiking I noticed something.  The further up the mountain we got, the less beauty there was.  Trees were sparse, dead, colorless, lifeless.  You had to get to certain stop off points to look back at where you'd been to appreciate the overall beauty of it again.  You had to really be watching for the beauty when you were in the midst of it.  Then we hiked up to the highest point of the mountains, climbing up a lookout tower to see out over every side of the mountain range.  The work it took to get up there was rough.  I had to stop at every bench along the way to catch my breath.  Many people were giving up, turning around to go back down.  I wanted to do it though.  I wanted to get up to the top of the mountain.  I wanted to see the views.

This was my life.  God spoke to me so clearly that weekend.  He has beautiful things in store for us, both here on earth and later in Heaven.  He sees the landscape of our lives, and it's breathtaking.  I was so focused on the struggles on the path that I forgot to take in the landscape every once in a while.  It was really a "duh" moment for me.  Of course I knew this!  I can look back over my entire life, all the way back to my toddler years, and see how God has carefully guided me, creating a beautiful landscape of my life to portray His glory.  That is, after all, what it's all about.  Those mountains show the power and glory of the God of the Universe.  That same God wants to show His power and glory in my life, and yours!  It is so important that we stop to look back on a regular basis.  Not looking back to hold onto something bad that God has already free'd you from.  Instead, look back to view the landscape of your life.  See where God has brought you from, be encouraged that you're making progress, be comforted that it is God's power that does the work in your life.

The second half of Psalm 77 starts in verse 11 with "But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.  They are constantly in my thoughts, I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works." 

I have been trying to process all the things God was saying to me in those mountains.  Honestly, I was afraid to share.  I feel like people expect me to have it all together, when the reality is I am just another sinner saved by grace.  The farther up the "mountain" I get the harder and harder the trials get.  Oh, but the harder the trial is, the greater the power of God is shown in my life!

A month after we visited, I was saddened to see that forest fires were consuming this beautiful landscape.  God reminded me again of how things can change in an instant.  I thought about all the people who's lives were completely changed, devastated.  I prayed that God would show them His power by comforting them, providing for them, helping them to see the same truths He showed me.  Remind us that this world is NOT our home. We are pilgrims, passing through on our way to a perfect home.  Come soon Lord Jesus!

Psalm 121:1-2 (HCSB) I lift my eyes toward the mountains.  Where will my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.