Monday, November 28, 2011

It Is Well With My Soul 2 - The Only Way is Through the Storm

My last post ended with a pulled muscle. What happened next?  I spent three years visiting doctors around my state, but no one knew what was wrong. As soon as I tried to start exercising again I’d pull a hip muscle.  Eventually, I went to a big clinic in Seattle and they told me that I was in the bottom 5% of all athletes in flexibility. They also said that if I didn't stretch and exercise regularly I’d wind up functionally cripple by the time I was 40. 

Well I never was able to sustain any type of exercise program.  I’d get started but then I’d have muscle trouble. Over time I got all caught up in the busyness of job and family and stopped doing my stretches, too.  That was plain foolish… my tight muscles caused back trouble. I had back surgery in 2000 and missed a quarter of the school year.  At this point I thought I was “all better” and was able to walk for exercise.  Even though I was faithful with walking, in 2005 I started having hip trouble and was diagnosed with an autoimmune that attacks the connective tissues and joints of the body, Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS.  At least we found the source of all the muscle problems! My real relief came in the form of a physical therapist. She was the fifth one I’d tried and she was awesome! With her help I was able to become active! I could actually walk for an hour, bike, ski, dance.  I’ve continued to have stiff and challenging muscles, but I’ve made incredible improvements.

I thought I was home free until June of 2010 when I pulled my hip flexor (same one by the way) and it just wouldn't heal.  I spent the summer trying to rest it. My poor daughters, they spent the summer fetching and carrying for their mother!  When the school year began I still couldn't walk on it so I had to start in a wheelchair! I’ll never forget the day I wheeled into the school office, looked at the secretary and my teaching partner who were standing there and burst into tears. I couldn't believe it had come to this.   

“This is not my life!!!” Have you ever said that? Have you ever demanded a refund? “This is not the life I picked!!” That’s where I was at. I was an active, athletic person--not a cripple! I’m determined, but all the determination in the world wouldn’t help me. I couldn’t tough my way out of it. The only way was through.  I desperately needed God.  This is when I learned to embrace the old hymn, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”  It’s the moments when we are desperate to change our circumstances, but are powerless to do so, that we find out who our God is.
More to come……

“It is Well With my Soul” by Horatio Spafford
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It Is Well With My Soul

I cooked my turkey and baked the pies.  We spent nine wonderful hours at Thanksgiving parties; I even ran the Black Friday gauntlet from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with my good friend Anita. We did Thanksgiving Big! Before I move quickly on to Christmas, I want to pause a moment and truly BE thankful.

When I think about thankful, one word flashes across my mental screen: walking. I will never take walking for granted again. It’s amazing how much one appreciates something when one has lost it. And I lost my ability to walk last year. I actually started the 2010 school year in a wheelchair!

My physical struggles began years ago….isn't that how all good stories start? Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away and all that. Well, this isn't THAT cool of a tale, but it will take more than one post. I’ve always had trouble with my muscles. They are tight and inflexible. I have one unfortunate childhood story of the time I tried to do a back flip into our swimming pool, but I hit the edge with my head because I couldn’t bend far enough backwards.  I wound up with a cut on the head and the conviction that I would never be a gymnast.

I was a serious distance runner in high school, logging 40-60 miles a week year round. I won multiple state championships and set the state record. I even went to the Olympic Development Training camp. My senior year I trained like a maniac, wanting to break my own record and set it back so far no one could touch it. I ran through one of the worst winters ever--the roads were covered with snow for six weeks! I can remember jumping into a snow bank every time a car went by on the small track the plows had carved out. Not exactly the best environment for record smashing behavior. In the end it didn’t really matter.  I tore my hip flexor two weeks before state. I won at state but my time was slow and my scholarship prospects gone. I never really ran competitively again.

In the 30 or so years since that time I’ve gone from struggling over losing my running career to struggling over losing my ability to walk.  It’s amazing how life’s circumstances change one’s perspective.  As I take a moment to be thankful for walking, I am also very thankful for the road I’ve traveled. It’s made me who I am, a woman who knows that it’s God who makes the world good, regardless of my circumstances.  

Psalm 100 NIV
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God.  It is he, who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Exceedingly Above All We Ask or Think 8 - The Rest of the Story

And so today we come to the end of a rather long tale.  At the conclusion of the last post Nick had just bought a sedan I hated. I didn’t want to admit to Nick how upset I was about buying the sedan because it felt so materialistic and ridiculous. I wasn’t saying anything, but he knew something was wrong, which made him upset too.  It was a mess. Finally, when I realized I couldn’t keep silent with grace I told Nick how I felt. Poor man, he got an earful!  I will always appreciate his response.  He looked at me and said, “I am so sorry this happened. We are going to fix this. There has to be a way.”  

The next day Nick called up the dealer, told the man the whole story and asked him if he’d let us out of the contract and give us our deposit back. To my utter amazement, the dealer agreed!  It would never have occurred to me to go back to them and try to get out of the purchase!  I was deeply touched that Nick was willing to swallow his male pride and admit the whole ridiculous story to a guy he didn’t know. But he did it for me. That’s some serious love.  Sometimes I wonder how that man loves a passionate and opinionated woman like me. It must be a special grace.

Anyway, at this point we were back to having money to spend and a car to choose.   After much discussion and some more shopping Nick decided that he wanted a red Prius.  It was, you guessed it, the fuel efficient car that I really wanted. And it was on sale! Halleluiah!  We’ve had it for a month now and everybody loves it. What a relief. 

Now to debrief:
Lesson #1: It’s bad news to turn the volume down on God.  Never stop trying to understand what the Lord is saying.  He wants to speak to me and He wants to be close to me. 

Lesson #2: God loves me. He gives good gifts to His children and that includes me. I can’t earn it and I’ll never deserve it. I realized that was part of my wrong thinking. I thought that when I was sacrificing by paying a huge tithe like we did when we were younger, then somehow I earned His blessing, whereas now I am on my own.  Crazy! My thinking is sometimes just plain crazy. It isn’t a matter of deserving.  God’s good, that’s just how He is.

I’m SO ridiculously imperfect. It’s like I’m stumbling around trying to live a life that honors God but I fall so short!  I keep trying though, because He is worth it and I adore Him.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Exceedingly Above All We Ask or Think 7 - We Have No Idea

Have you ever gone through a time in life when everything seems to go wrong, break down or fall apart?  That’s what we went through over the last six months.  There were state budget cuts, thousands of dollars of repair for the princess car, my health issues (that’s another story), not to mention small things that added up like the plumbing, the prongs on my wedding ring…you name it! I could have been a walking advertisement for financial adversity!  Because of that we didn’t have the cash for a car that we expected to have by this fall.

I wish I had done what God asked. I wish I had thought about what car I wanted and waited to see what He might do. Then, when my dad called and said, “We’re giving you $20,000” I would have known what I wanted and once again seen the miraculous workings of the Lord manifest as the money seemingly came out of nowhere. That would have been a great cause for celebration and joy!

Instead, I ignored God and decided that we just needed to be economical and get a Honda Fit. “Car and Driver” has placed them in the top ten cars for the last 5 years. They get great gas mileage and aren’t that expensive. It wasn’t what I really wanted but it was a logical, practical solution. Unfortunately, Nick really doesn’t like them and I couldn’t stand the idea of getting a car Nick didn’t like.

So one Saturday we went to look at cars, trying to find one we both agreed on.  Even though we’d been given money at this point, I was still stuck on a “buy economically” focus, trying not to think about what I wanted. Nick fell in love with this very practical sedan that was on sale and a great deal. I hated it, but I was trying to be a good economical wife and let my husband get what he wanted. I told him I didn’t like it, but when he pressed, I caved.  He bought the car before it had been inspected so we left it at the lot and went home without it. The farther we got from the lot, the more upset I got. We’d just had this miraculous financial gift and I got a car I hated with it! I didn’t realize it until it was all over, but I really cared what car we got. I didn’t want to care. I wanted to be a non-materialistic Christian whose head was in the kingdom and not in the world.  But I couldn’t. It wasn’t until the dust settled that I realized how much the whole thing bothered me.

On my next post I will bring this tale to a close and tell you what happened, but I want to end today’s with the following outrageous reality:  God knows me so much better than I know myself.  He knew I’d get money from my mom and dad. He knew I’d care about the car we chose. He tried to help me by asking me to think about what I desired.  He could have told me not to care because it’s so “of the world”.  Don’t we expect God to tell us not to care? God didn’t. He told me to choose what I wanted knowing that the money would be there when we needed it. He gives good gifts to His children. He loves me so much. He loves us all so much. And we have no idea how much. 

Matthew 7:9-11 (NKJV)
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Exceedingly Above All We Ask or Think 6 -- Lessons Learned and Unlearned

Now that my stories have caught us up to the present I can finally describe the recent circumstances that transpired in a way that will make much more sense—and the good, the bad, and the ugly will be clearly obvious.  Life has changed since the trailer days. We are making more than twice the amount of money we used to and are tithing a different amount.  Nick bought a cool but dilapidated 75 year old house that was twice the size of our original small home and he’s fixed it up beautifully.  

The wolf is no longer at the door financially, so when we decided about a year ago that we were going to buy a car this fall it was simply part of financial planning.  At several points in the process I felt God speak to me and say, “You need to think about what you want.” After all of my past experiences, you’d think I’d zero in on that comment.  But here’s the heartbreaking truth.  Instead of turning up the volume and really listening to Him, I put Him on mute.  It makes me so sad to face this.  I didn't even realize what I’d done until the dust had settled and the whole thing was over. The big question is, why? Why, after all God had done for me did I quit listening?   I've spent the past several weeks answering that question and here’s what I discovered.  

It’s true that having more money made me less needy.  We haven’t been praying for our wants/needs for several years. However, not only did I not feel like I needed divine intervention, I didn’t think I deserved it, either. God had been there for us when we were desperate, but we aren’t desperate anymore. After all, I am a big girl now and it’s time for me to take care of myself. We have a nice house, the princess car….we even have a boat! People around the world are starving for God’s sake.  What right do I have to want something as extravagant as the car of my choice? I need to be practical and economical.  It’s wrong to even expect to get what I want in light of all the needs we have with two teenagers about to enter college and the world in such a financial state.  And so I tuned God out and moved forward with my own plans.  They didn’t go so well… be continued….. J

Whether or not I've believed this lately, it's still true: 
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Exceedingly Above All We Ask or Think 5 -- The Gold Chariot

And now we come to (almost) the end of the car stories. It’s fall of 2002. One day I’m driving down the street thinking of nothing in particular and I distinctly hear the Lord say, “I’m going to get you a new car and I’m going to get you exactly what you want, so you need to decide what you want.”  It didn't make a lot of sense at the time because I loved our Explorer and it was running great. We expected to drive it for several more years so we weren't even thinking about another car.  Nonetheless, it was such a clear direction that I believed it was Him and I started looking earnestly. It took me several months, but in the end the car I most wanted was a Gold Chevy Tahoe (SUV), a 2000 or newer.

Since it was still distinctly possible that I was hearing things, I didn’t tell a soul. But when I asked Nick what he wanted, if he could in fact get any car, I was delighted to learn that he wanted the same vehicle, color and all. I had talked to God about cars several times, but in January I gave Him my final answer. His response was, “If that’s what you want, then you’d better start shopping.”  Again this seemed strange as we were still very satisfied with our Explorer, but I obeyed Him anyway. I studied SUVs until I knew features, prices, everything.

June arrived and the Sewells went on vacation to Yellowstone Park. We were towing a large tent trailer that we were considering purchasing from a neighbor and in the middle of Montana our transmission went out on the Explorer. Fortunately, the car died less than 30 minutes from condominiums our friends just happened to be staying at and they rescued us, providing a nice place to stay and comfort in our distress. Unfortunately, the mechanics told us that our Explorer was done, scrap metal.

Nick and I needed a car and we needed one fast. Not just any car, but one that would successfully tow our neighbor’s tent trailer over the Rocky Mountains.  Right after the meeting with the mechanic we returned to the condo. My friend Karen had been looking through the paper and showed me what she’d found. In the middle of the page was an advertisement for, you guessed it, a gold 2000 Tahoe.  We bought it that day. I knew prices and features so we were able to shop with knowledge. It was an amazing deal, and the car only had 25,000 miles on it.  The government was giving out tax rebates that summer and the money helped us with our purchase.

Whenever I see that car parked in front of our house I smile. To this day. I call it the princess car. After all, it’s gold, beautiful, and given to me by a king.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Exceedingly Above All We Ask or Think 4--The Pink Rollerblades

Of all the things that God provided for us during our “poverty” years, one of my favorites was a pair of Rollerblades. They weren’t just inline skates; they were Rollerblades (the cool brand), black with bright pink laces and wheels.  I’d put them on my “desires list” because Nick had a pair and I thought it would be fun to skate together. Nick grew up playing hockey and he was pure poetry on any type of skates…..I’d go skating just to watch him and be able to say, “That guy is my husband!”  Bragging rights aside, I knew we couldn’t afford them so I put them on the list. 

During the summer of that year we went down to southern Idaho to visit our families. While we were at Nick’s house, his mom offered me her Rollerblades. Now that doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? What makes it funny is that Nick’s mom was 65 years old at the time! She was a real character who lived life to the full. She started rollerblading right when it first came into fashion, but over time she knew some good friends who had really hurt themselves.  She was afraid she’d fall rollerblading and ruin her golf game so she offered them to me. She had no idea I wanted some.  What shocked me is that they fit! I wear a whopping size 10 and she was several inches shorter than me. They looked brand new.  Oh and one more thing, hot pink was my favorite color at the time.

I know that life can be disappointing and painful. God does not come running in and solve all of our problems or “make it all better”.  I don’t believe that things will be “all better” this side of heaven. But the God I got to know during that time of my life wasn’t capricious or indifferent. He loved. He cared.  He cared enough to find me some great Rollerblades with bright pink wheels!  My rollerblades were a small thing that meant a great deal.  I didn’t have to have them, didn’t need them to survive. But my God who loved me provided them anyway. That’s just the kind of God is He is.

Ps….I still have them. J

Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.