Sunday, January 20, 2008

Somewhere in the Middle

Dave bought me the new Casting Crowns Cd for Christmas. It is awesome - they are my favorite! As I was in the van the other day (by myself which was unusual), I caught the chorus to one of the songs, called "somewhere in the Middle". It wasn't the first time I had heard the song, but for some reason the Chorus stuck out to me and I had to go back to the beginning to hear the whole thing again. The reason why this song was so awesome on that day was that it completely wrapped up all the thoughts I had been having over the past several weeks. What a battle my flesh and the Spirit within me were having.

I'll backtrack a little. In several of my posts, I talked about surrender. The Lord has had this word on my heart for probably a few years now. I knew that there were things I needed to surrender to Him, but wasn't quite sure how. (I am sorry, I can feel a long post already - but then again, do I really know any other way to do it) : ) I could LITERALLY feel the battle within. the Bible talks about this battle in
Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I felt this battle going on inside, and if you have never felt it, it is completely overwhelming. Your mind cannot rest. Your soul cannot know peace. Your heart cannot know joy. That frustrated me because if I do not feel rest, joy and peace, then there is something wrong in my Christian journey. The Lord promises only these things. He does not promise life to be easy but He promises peace and joy. I felt in bondage to something I could not figure out. I know the lord disciplines those He loves as He says in
Hebrews and I count it joy to know that I am one of His, that He loves me enough TO discipline me. I know all hardship is for a purpose, so I embrace hardship. I don't question God for the whys I just accept there is a reason. One particular area that I felt in bondage to was in my parenting. particularly with David, as there are still so many behavioral issues to work on. This has been an area of struggle for over 10 years. Yes he is getting better and I am getting better but there was still a missing ingredient I was not getting.

Back about 2 years ago, I e-mailed my sister who was living in Ecuador at the time. I shared my heart with her as to how I was feeling. I felt at that point in my life, I had known Spiritual growth, I had known God better than I had ever know Him. My desire to know Him and please Him was at a place it had never been all my life. yet there was something more. I knew the Lord was working in my life; I saw the places He was working and I felt His presence so many times. he gave me comfort during times no one else can, and spoke so clearly through His Word on so many occasions. Yet there was still something missing - I knew there was something missing. I shared with my sister how I knew what I was missing was the
Power of the Holy Spirit. I knew the Spirit lived within me, but I did not feel I was moving in the power of the Spirit. I felt so many things I was doing was in my own strength. As I type this, I am rejoicing over those tough times where I sat and cried, as it was because of those times that brought me to where I am today.

As I continued in the Word, to get to know God - the only thing I knew to do, I kept sensing the same thing from God. Over and over it came up. I know I have a post on this somewhere, but I kept hearing the Lord tell me to sow to the Spirit if I want to reap from the Spirit. While all along I would continue to question what I was doing wrong that resulted in the frustration that I felt in my heart over these issues I felt I had no control over. I wanted so badly to reap form the Spirit and did not know how to get there - how to surrender myself so the Spirit could work through me. I cannot tell you how many times in my quiet times in the mornings I just camped in Galatians. The one verse that jumped out at me every time was
Galatians 3:1-3

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

As I took this seriously and continued to sow to the Spirit (by prayer, reading the Word, and making choices that would invest in eternity as opposed to the world), I continued to ask myself the question (at times) "What am I doing wrong?" It wasn't everyday and it was oh, so subtle. It usually popped up in the area of parenting because, well, when you have a child with a disability of some sort, the problem doesn't seem to really fade that much on a day to day. You have good days and bad ones. You can even have more good ones than bad ones, which is how it was for so long. But that nagging in the heart that tells me on those bad days, my responses are only getting better because the circumstance is getting better. I learned not to be so angry, so I guess I looked at that as growth, but I still did not fell
free from the anger altogether. I wanted to be free. I wanted to enjoy homeschooling as opposed to just saying "This is what I am called to do, so I'll do it until God leads me elsewhere." I did not have joy in homeschooling. I wanted joy in homeschooling.

Over the past year, another struggle became very apparent to us and that was in the area of finances. We've had our struggles but we always pulled through. We had bad weeks and good weeks. The only debt we ever incurred was due to our own mistakes. It was never an issue of lack of provision on God's part. When we went through those periods of struggle we accepted that as the Lord's discipline and once again looked at "What we are doing wrong" and try to "Work on it". Well for the first time we have gone through a season where things did not seem to be "Working out". For awhile it was so easy to trust God, and simply say, "We'll catch up - God will provide". But the provision wasn't there. Week after week, we would not receive a paycheck. Week after week we would borrow from one bank to pay another. Shifted debt. Is this the Lord's plan? "What are we doing wrong?" The question would eventually come. We have known hardship so we don't get bent out of shape easily, but one year of struggling and going into debt was starting to get annoying.

About a month or so ago, as I was praying, I literally wept with joy as I realized for the very first time in my life I wanted to
know God more than I wanted something from Him. That was good - that was a good place to be. I felt I was learning a big lesson here. Almost a kind of "Surrender" I felt in my heart. That I didn't need to worry or control the money thing because God had bigger things for me to learn. Maybe I felt at that time the money would come. Maybe I learned the lesson God wanted to teach me. But I didn't. The money still did not come, and debt continued to incur. I kep thinking "Is this really God's will? I don't think God really wants us to be in debt. I think He wants to provide for us. So we MUST not be getting something here."

Last Friday morning I woke up at 5am (I normally go walking with my neighbor at 5:30, but chose not to that morning because we were going out of town that day and needed the rest for the long drive). I felt awake, so I thought I would go to the computer and see if we got a paycheck. We did, but it was $160.00. The week before was $4.24, the week before $100.00 and such has been the pattern for awhile, with a big check every once in a while. So that morning, I kind of had my own little meltdown. I was so frustrated with not being able to have money to pay our bills each week and shifting debt. I cried and prayed and cried some more. Finally I decided my anxiety was not very beneficial so I would stop thinking about it and go back to sleep. I did. When I woke up again I had a flood of thoughts and I felt the urgency to spend some time with the Lord and journal, but I did not have time. The boys needed to be home schooled, I needed to pack for our trip and leave our house by 1:30.

Our trip was just an overnight field trip with the boys to Sea World in Orlando, so we came back the next day. On the way home, I had an incident with David that really made me angry. I confessed my feelings to my friend who was in the car with me. I was even more frustrated with myself for the way I was feeling
towards David.

The next morning I asked Dave to take the boys to church so I could have some time alone to pray and journal. I knew the Lord had given me thoughts on that Friday morning and I knew I needed to meditate on them, but I honestly couldn't remember what they were. So I began with prayer, and then just started journaling asking the lord to reveal as I write, what He wanted me to know. I wrote
TWENTY SIX pages in my journal that morning. I don't journal often, and I never journal that much, but God had some things for me to see. As I wrote, the Lord reminded me of some things I had been reading in a book that Dave bought me for Christmas called "Dangerous Surrender" by Kay Warren. Just not to reiterate what I already wrote in our January newsletter,(If you don't receive our newsletter you can get it from our website on the side bar, "Cooke Family Website") the abbreviated version is that God convicted me of my legalistic view, that some how I can incur His blessings based on my performance. He reminded me that when I say things like "What am I doing wrong", the focus is still on myself and not on Him. Isn't that what I learned from the verses in Galatians? But I didn't think I can earn my salvation, but my actions were proving that I thought I could earn His blessings.

What God wanted was my heart. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had taken up my cross, and I had followed Christ, but I had not denied myself, in many areas. Even the motives of my heart were exposed. So much of what I do is wrapped up in what others think and I didn't even realize it. I allowed myself to be burdened by others thoughts, ideas and opinions without even being aware of it. When someone would give their opinion of someone else's parenting, blaming the parents for there children's behaviors, I would feel more pressure. The problem with me is this is how my flesh thinks. So as the Spirit began to work and steer me away from this thinking, I could go right back to it with one simple comment from someone else. I knew it was not right, but then you get with people you respect, and they feel the same way my flesh does and I pick those thoughts back up again. I felt I was on the verge of surrendering this area for some time, but was afraid that I would appear to be not doing my part somehow. What would others think?

This Friday morning, for the first time in my life, I felt I surrendered these areas to the Lord in the only way I knew how. My first commitment was to deny myself, second was to take up my cross (to embrace my circumstances, not just accept them) and follow Jesus. My prayer was, "Lord that is all I have to offer you and I pray it is an acceptable sacrifice." I actually even wrote in my journal that I was not fully convinced that what I was doing was right, but I knew since these thoughts kept coming up, that I must try this route. The other way was not working for me, so I will give it up, and knew if I was not on the right path, that the Lord would steer me back on course.

So as I am driving in my car the other day, I hear the chorus to this Casting Crowns song, and it hits me again like a ton of bricks:

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control...

I went back to listen to the whole song again. It so summarized how I have been living my life.

Somewhere between the hot and the cold
Somewhere between the new and the old
Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me

Somewhere between the wrong and the right
Somewhere between the darkness and the light
Somewhere between who I was and who You're making me
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control

Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle
Are we caught in the middle

Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves

Somewhere between a whisper and a roar
Somewhere between the altar and the door
Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more
Somewhere in the middle You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control

Lord, I feel You in this place and I know You're by my side
Loving me even on these nights when I'm caught in the middle

Wow! that is how I have lived my life. Somewhere in the middle. i always wanted to be sold out for the Lord. that is my hearts desire. But I was so caught up in a legalistic mindset. And if I wasn't fully convinced of my surrender last Sunday, I am today. Not only did this song confirm that "My efforts" were just a way to keep control, I went to a women's conference Fri. eve. & Sat. that confirmed everything so beautifully. I would love to write more on the conference, but I will save that for another post - I think this one is long enough.

In the past couple of journal entries I have written, I have mentioned how I can taste Freedom. Today I can honestly say, I
feel freedom. How can you feel freedom when you've lost all control? I fully admit I don't have a clue in so many areas, and I thought having the answers proved my maturity somehow. If not having answers makes me immature, then that is what I am. But I feel free. And I believe that is how God wants me to feel. I actually feel more energized to serve Him, and more equipped to serve Him, because now, I no longer rely on the resources that I have, but on what He does through me. This next verse will remain my motto for awhile.

Galatians 5:1
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Oh, Lord, I am overwhelmed by your grace. it is so hard for my sinful flesh to accept that you love me like you do, and expect no duty to perform any task to earn anything from you. What a gift. All you ask for is me. I give you all I've got. Do in me, what only you can do!

To the God of grace who is able to keep me from falling........


Anonymous said...

"Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty you're Free at Last! Just Be! Thank you for sharing your spiritual journey with all of us, what a blessing! I'm right behind you and praising right beside you! I love you my dear friend!
love always, KK

Toknowhim said...

This is not my official comment for this post.. I am still thinking about it :) However, you better always participate in my "Know & Tell" meme.. I loved your answers, and there were things I did not know about you that just made me laugh, or at least smile... I think we could have a whole phone conversation about your answers to the meme... Love ya bunches... P.F.R.

Ron and Nicole Cook said...

Oh Stina . . . my heart so resonates with the "in between!" How frustrated I get my self, when God teaches me 26 pages worth og a journal entry! : ) and then I finally taste the freedom as I walk out on the water, only to all too soon, climb right back in the boat! Cling to that freedom! Taste it, know it, enjoy it! And stay out on the water! Thanks for sharing your heart. We love you and praise God for you!

Toknowhim said...

Still not my official comment :0, but our little bloggy friend Shelly just wrote a wonderful post if you get a chance to read it...

Toknowhim said...

If you read this comment, stop by my blog to see a Happy Birthday Video I made for my great Fwend... Happy Early Birthday!!

Profbaugh said...

Oh my goodness, what a thoughtful, well written post. I could actually sense the Holy Spirit smiling as I read it!

Surrender is a tough thing. Just when you think you've got it down, BOOM, an "attack" hits. So stay strong! I actually led "Breaking Free" three times at my church. Yes, sweet surrender!!

You post got me to thinking about a book I read many years ago that was a real eye-opener for me, Charles Stanley's "The Spirit Filled Life." I think it's still in print, but I might be wrong.

Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I so understand the struggle and the FREEDOM of surrender!

Much love,

Profbaugh said...

Oh and I forgot. . . I so love "Casting Crowns" The lyrics are so meaty!!

Check out Sara Groves, "Conversations" or "Add to the Beauty" both are really, really wonderful. I think from this post you'd like them.