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Every year seems to pass more quickly than the last…a by-product of aging.  Reading the posts and texts wishing Happy New Year to family, close friends, Facebook friends, and such, I started thinking about the different events we’ve all experienced over the course of a year and yet all that we have in common as we close out 2013 and ring in 2014.

Lessons learned is a common theme.  Whether good or bad has occurred, we’ve all learned something about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our actions, reactions and behaviors, the people in our lives and our relationships with them.  We’ve learned what we can and can’t live with, what we will and won’t tolerate, what we choose and deny, and how it affects both us and others.  Be the lessons hard or filled with pleasant surprise, we’ve grown closer to knowing who we really are and how that knowledge can help us become who we want to be.  Our faith may have been tested, honed, and strengthened through trials we didn’t expect and we may still be in murky waters but somehow able to push through, moment by moment relying on God.

Hope for something better is another commonality.  The numbers that change the year whisper in our ears, “maybe this is the year…”  Hope renews and rises as we think through the possible paths and goals, the milestones we want to accomplish even if that means walking through a minefield.  Our dreams are suddenly more reachable than they were a few short hours ago and we’re energized to keep on moving forward, knowing it’s three steps backwards for every half step forward.  Alive with hope, we press on into the new year as if against a strong wind…determined, focused, our eyes squinted purposefully on the prize.

Renewed commitment to the Lord Jesus is another common theme for Christians.  We know that with God nothing is impossible and with Him we can do all things. I love these promises and believe them with my whole heart.  If it weren’t for my faith in Jesus, well, I just can’t imagine the whats and wheres and ifs.  This life is hard enough as it is…can’t imagine going through it without knowing God.

Wishing all who read this a 2014 filled with reliance on God’s promises…and if you are one who doesn’t know a relationship with the Lord as opposed to religion made up of rules and regulations and criticisms and judgments, I pray you find that this year and feel the freedoms that come with knowing Jesus as a your Father, Friend, Savior, Provider and Comforter.  This could be your best year yet.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”  Matthew 19:26  

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

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I watched a demonstration of putting this safety wire through bolts to keep them from slipping or loosening during vibration.  It was really cool to see the funky pliers that I’m sure have an actual name do their work of twisting this thick wire together to strengthen its purpose.  These bolts go on airplanes and that’s not something we want to come loose a thousand feet up in the air.  Falling parts just don’t work for me.  I was fascinated by how hard it was to try to twist the thick wire by hand yet this tool did the trick in no time.  The students who were learning the art of this safety wiring were practicing again and again, cutting and puncturing their fingers again and again.  They were critiquing their work and coaching one another, cutting out what was bad and starting over from scratch.  There was a method that had to be followed to do it properly and they memorized it.  Their persistence to get it right and tight was dogged; there wasn’t another option.  It was either right and tight or wrong. No kinks and no extra wire.  No missing a step of the method.  They knew what they did made a future difference – safe or not safe.  Life or maybe not life.

As I watched I thought about the times in life that I wish I had been that dogged and persistent.  Times I wished I had realized that to keep on twisting a kinked wire weakened it. Times that I skipped a step and hoped it didn’t matter.  I didn’t make sure the bolts were tight and in the vibrations of life, they loosened.  A thousand feet up and out they came…and parts started falling.

As I thought of these things I also thought about how even though I hadn’t done my bit as well as I should, God did His.  He stretched out His arms and opened His hands to catch those falling parts, loose bolts, wires and all.

Safety.

Amazing to me how people can go through this life with all the bangs and falls and not turn to the Lord.  He’s there, patient, waiting, ready…with outstretched arms and open hands.  Nail scarred hands.  Hands that did no wrong but took the fall for us all.  That’s a wow in my book.  And because that’s such a huge wow, it makes me sad to think of those who reject His gift.  And it makes me wonder why, why is it so hard for some to give their hearts to God?

I think the why is because we don’t want to accept that someone is sovereign over our lives,  that there is someone greater that we cannot control, that we can’t shape and mold to our own way of thinking, that we can’t influence and we can’t charm to get our own way.  God comes with boundaries and clear lines drawn in the sand and I think we feel that when we accept God we will feel compelled to bend and change our thoughts and actions, that we lose who we are, that we lose control over our own lives.  Flash – we don’t have it anyway.  We can make decisions and choices and try to control our own destiny but when it comes right down to it, we are at the mercy of things outside our scope of influence all the time.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean perfection or rose-strewn paths; there is hardship in our lives and pain and grief and sorrow and mistakes and mess ups.  We’re human. Being a Christian isn’t about rituals and rules, either; it’s about a relationship between God and the believer, a relationship based on faith, a relationship based on trust and love.  And it means when we haven’t tied the wire right, when we’ve let the bolts fly off, that His Word grounds us, His voice whispers words of forgiveness and hope, His peace fills our heart, His strength holds us up, His comfort never leaves us, and His hands catch us again and again when we fall.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

“For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.  I will create rivers in the dry wasteland!”  Isaiah 42:9

Do you know that wilderness?  Confusion, hopelessness, despair, and even pain?  From where you stand, there’s not a hint of a way out, much less a road sign.   Everywhere you turn you find more questions than answers and every step you take seems to lead you further and further from a solution.  You pray and pray, yet the answers don’t seem to come.  There’s no text messages, no mapquest, not even a ribbon around a twig to let you know what to do next.  You feel utterly lost and you flounder, miserable, with no clue of what do to get out of the mess you find yourself in.  Are you there, Lord?  Can you hear me now, because I surely can’t hear you!       

Guess what?  You may not realize it but your GPS tracking device is ON!   Jesus is indeed there and He also knows where you are!  What’s more, He sees the pathway that will lead you out of the wilderness and has already begun clearing the way!  While you are wandering and wondering, while you are biting your nails and building SOS fires, He’s already knocking down the forest that stands between you and your next great adventure. 

My husband and I refer to life’s changes, challenges, and hardships as wilderness adventures.  During our twenty eight years of marriage, we’ve had some adventures we’d rather have skipped at the time, but what we learned from them has strengthened us and bolstered our trust in the Lord to bring us through the next one.  Because we know there will always be a next one!

It’s amazing that no two wildernesses look alike yet the solution for each is the same.  That’s where faith comes in.  That’s where you have to know that no matter how bad it hurts, how awful it seems, how much is at stake, or how horrible you feel, Jesus will not desert you, will not leave you, will not hide from you, and will not ever give up on you.  Your role is to keep praying, keep looking for His solution and the clearing of the pathway that will lead you out.  You can’t just hide in a closet and hope when you come out it’ll all be gone.  You have to physically, emotionally and spiritually present your heart, your motives, your dependence entirely to the Lord.  And that can hurt, because maybe He lets you go ever deeper into the wilderness before He knows you’re ready to come out.  Ouch!  Sometimes our pride, our need to be in control, our physical image, our business relations, our desire for material things or recognition, or to have our own way even if it means compromising our beliefs or allowing harm to come to others, is greater than our faith in God.  Aaak!  We’re aren’t perfect…just saved!

When Sam was four years old, we vacationed in Laguna Beach while my husband attended a seminar.  One day after enjoying the sand, sun and surf, I gathered our gear, diaper bag, and baby daughter then called to Sam that we were going.  We three started toward the path leading up to our hotel when Sam suddenly broke away making a beeline across the beach toward a stranger yelling, “Daddy!  Daddy!”  My heart froze!  I was burdened with a baby and bags that kept me from running after him, so I screamed, “Sam, Sam! That’s not Daddy!” My voice was carried away by the loud roar of the oean waves crashing.  In his excitement of what he perceived to be true, Sam ignored me and grasped the legs of the stranger who looked absolutely appalled.  As I struggled to get within hollering distance, Sam recoiled in confusion, looking blindly around while the stranger went back to whatever he was doing.  Before I could get near enough for Sam to see me, Mike came from nowhere, racing toward Sam, scooping him up and cradling him as our frightened, disillusioned son sobbed uncontrollably.   Safe at last in our room, Sam told us, “I thought it was my Daddy and I wanted to see Daddy, but it was only someone I didn’t want to see at all!” 

None of us want to see the wilderness.  We’d all rather have detailed maps that lead us uneventfully through our crises.  But, like Sam, we sometimes rush toward a solution before really considering its wisdom, we go for a goal without weighing the consequences, and when we do, we find ourselves in the midst of a wilderness where we don’t want to be at all.  Or perhaps we are tumbled into circumstances not of our making, but nonetheless involved and unable to find our way out, and no place at all we want to be. 

Stay put, my friend.  Though it’s hard to rest in the wilderness, just try to stop thinking of solutions, stop looking for ways out and stop getting yourself into a deeper mire by spinning circles around your problems.   Instead, get on your knees and pray.  Praise Him for what He is already doing.  Praise Him for what you will take from this.  Praise Him for being with you, holding you, strengthening you.  You will not languish there indefinitely no matter how it seems at this moment.  

He has promised to create rivers in the wasteland and that means you will be nourished, you will be refreshed and you will be clean, able to start anew!  How awesome is our God!

See, He has already begun!

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