March 28, 2017

Embracing Change and the Unexpected in Your Life

Knee surgery and moving were not in my plans for 2017.

But here I am icing my knee as I recover from knee surgery and looking up houses to rent on Zillow.

You might not remember, but I went on my first ever getaway without kids to Las Vegas with my husband on his work trip back in January (I wrote a little about it here). Well it turns out I tore both my anterior and medial meniscus while I was there.

And you might not remember, but we found our dream home, a cozy stone cottage full of character on a beautiful lot with mature trees, and bought it less than 12 months ago thinking we would be living in it for several years, hopefully more. Well it turns out my husband will be attending grad school (at Yale!) in the fall, and we’ll be moving much sooner than we’d ever thought.

But such is life right?

We can only plan for so much. We can try to be Type A control freaks and make all the plans and map out our schedules and goals and lives as much as we want, but in the end, we know we are ultimately not in control.

And do you know what? I’m finally to a place where I am thankful that I’m not in control.

I’m thankful that God is in control, and I’m not.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

I’m finally thankful because I’ve learned to find God in every moment and seek His goodness, especially in the moments that are unplanned, unexpected, and bring change.

But I used to experience fear, anxiety, and worry in the midst of change or when the unexpected happened in my life.

Whether the changes seemed inherently “bad” or “good” (like getting married, being accepted into grad school, landing that dream job, finding out your pregnant, etc.), change or unexpected news could unsettle me.

Maybe you too?

I, like many others, had worked to build a life of stability and comfort and predictability. I mean that’s sort of what our culture believes and breeds these days isn’t it?

I mean that’s how I grew up at least. My parents’ jobs and lives allowed predictable schedules. My parents worked hard to provide for me and keep me safe and give me comfortable home and lifestyle.  In fact, I grew up and lived in the same house for my entire life only moving out when I got married. For 20 some years, excluding college, I never moved, never changed schools, never changed friends, and of course I loved this at the time. For the most part life was easy. Everything stayed the same.

We build our lives around comfort and ease. We have comfort zones we put up around ourselves. We keep schedules and calendars and routines. We like to know what to expect.  We want the latest gadget to make life easier. We want to rescue our children from trouble and pain, thinking we are doing them a favor, when in fact we’re setting them up for failure.

Give us unexpected news, change of plans, or being asked to go out of our comfort zones, we squirm, we grow anxious, we’re tempted to run away or break down. We simply don’t like change or the unexpected, especially not when it involves a trial or suffering.

When I married my husband and became an Army wife, all stability, predictability, and semblance of control in my life was thrown out the window. Talk about dealing with change for the girl who never really experienced any. With Army life came PCSing (moving), where zip codes, houses, friends, churches, jobs–everything changes. You’re suddenly at the whim of the Army. They tell you (and your spouse) when to come and when to go and where to go but never tell you for how long of course.

And then I became pregnant with our first child. Nothing like children to teach us that we aren’t in control right? But this was more than that with my first. My Type A control freak-self read every pregnancy book, did all the things I was supposed to do to ensure a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, and a healthy me. I wrote a detailed birth plan, planned the nursery, planned everything.  And then the unexpected happened and our daughter was born with a fatal disorder that took her life at one month old. Of course this unexpectedly changed everything. My family. My identity. My dreams. My perspective and understanding on life and faith. Everything. Changed.

Encountering change and unexpected events in our lives can lead to anxiety, depression, fear, bitterness, resentment, and more ugly fruit if we built our lives on comfort and control. In fact, the enemy certainly likes to sneak in and use this type of “living afraid of change” to rob us of the joy and intimacy God wants to offer us in those very moments.

For years I struggled to embrace change and the unexpected in my life. For a long time, I wasn’t thriving in my life, I wasn’t even just surviving, there were times when I felt like I was splashing and flailing out of control like I was drowning.

But through all of the change and unexpected events in my life, I have always turned to Jesus. In seeking Him first, He has been able to teach me and shape and transform my heart.

Finally, after many years, by God’s grace and power, I have learned to embrace change.

God has taught me important lessons to help me thrive when life doesn’t go according to plan.

1. My comfort and stability in life do not come from anything other than God. If I place them in my calendar, my plans, my home, anything other than Him, I’m misplacing them. The comfort and stability I seek come from God, their only true source.

2. It is a good thing that God is in control, and I am not. His will and plan for my life is perfect and good and better than anything I could ever imagine for myself. Truly. And I am free to live because of this.

3. God is always there, even when life changes and the unexpected happens. These events don’t shock Him.

4. The presence of trials, change, or suffering in my life do not equate to God’s absence nor do they equate to His punishing me nor do they mean that He is not good. Often He uses them to grow me and to share in His glory.

5. God is faithful and His promises are true always, regardless of our circumstances. Just because something changes in our lives doesn’t mean that God changes. He is our constant.

We want comfort. But scripture does not teach that following Jesus will lead to a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, it teaches the opposite.

Surely God will provide for us, but the path of following Him is one that brings us out of our comfort zones, one that pushes us and challenges us to work against the ways in which the world works, and is one that promises suffering and persecution.

Jesus will ask us to change. He will ask us to leave what we know to follow Him. Following Him can be risky and scary at times, which is why I believe He speaks the words “do not fear” to us over and over again in Scripture.

There’s no way to avoid life changes or the unexpected. We don’t have that sort of control. And if we try to create a life in which we think we do, we’re building up walls that are keeping us from the abundant life with Christ and erecting straw houses that will be easily blown down.

I have learned that the safest and best place to be is always in God’s will.

Ask me to go to Ninevah,  and I might have reacted like Jonah, I might have run away and thrown a fit. Well actually ask me to move anywhere, and I have reacted like Jonah. I’ve thrown many pity parties and adult tantrums. (Have I mentioned 7 moves in 7 years?)… Until now.

I’ve matured as a follower to finally be able to say: Yes, I will go where you send me Jesus. Because Your will is where I want to be. I don’t want to be outside of it.

When the unexpected comes or the change comes, I pray for God’s will to be done. I might not like it initially. I might pray for His will to change (even Jesus prayed this as He prepared for His death on the Cross). But ultimately, like Jesus, I say, “Your will be done in my life God, not my own.” I surrender my life to His will, and I trust it will be done. And I am free. Because I know His plan and His will are perfect and good.

So while knee surgery (a month before my dream vacation to Italy) and moving again were not on my radar for this year, I’ve prayed God’s will to be done in each circumstance, and so I find peace in them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I did throw myself a pity party and did a little lamenting one day when the reality of this next move hit me. I cried out upset and wondering why God would lead us to purchase this dream house (literally the house dreamt up in my childhood imagination) only to uproot us from it not even a year later. But after my one day of lamenting and crying and giving all my feels to God, my soul was calm and open to receiving Truth. I repented for not trusting and questioning, and prayed for His will to be done.

I prayed for God to help me trust Him and transform my heart and attitude to surrender to His will. And He has. He given me peace and excitement and joy.

As far as my knee surgery goes, I’ve had a peace all along. I’ve never had surgery before, and surgery can be a very frightening thing. I could have worried about it and maybe even delayed it, but I had complete peace over it even as they placed the mask over my mouth in the operating room to take me off to sleep.

This is one of the clearest transformations Jesus has made in my life. 

God has taken me to ends of my fears and anxieties. With change, with the unexpected, with everything. And what I arrive at every time is complete trust in His will and timing.

This complete surrender and trust give let His peace reign in me instead of anxiety and fear. Years ago I would have been scared to death of surgery. Anxiety would have ravaged me every second of the way for weeks leading up to the big day. I’m sure I would have lost sleep and been a nervous wreck, maybe even throwing myself a “why me” pity party.

Now, I’m thankful for this unexpected surgery. Yes because the surgery will fix a problem, but more so because of how I’ve experienced God throughout this little journey. His peace. His healing. And how instead of feeling frustrated and angry that I’ve been physically limited (and missing my CrossFit tribe every week), I’m thankful for the room it created in my life to slow down and create intimate one-on-one time I don’t usually get with my littlest.

And I’m thankful for this next chance to move. I never thought I would utter those words. Especially right now as we’re in this house we love, in a place I could live for the rest of my life, where I feel connected and have my people, and live happily every after. And that’s because I know if God’s will is for me to move all the way to the East coast, I know it will be for His greater purpose. I know He is there. I know His goodness waits for me there. I know there will be moments of growth and maturation there. And of course there will be more of the unexpected. But I’m okay with that now.

Are you facing any changes or unexpected events in your life? Can I speak some more encouragement for you as you walk through them?

1. Embrace the change and the unexpected.

2. Surrender the change and the unexpected to God and pray for His will to be done in them.

3. Look for God’s presence and evidence of His goodness in them. You’ll be comforted and uplifted. 

4. Find a way to cultivate gratitude. It will help you do all of the above and help you combat negative emotions like bitterness or fear. 

5. Lastly, ask God how He wants to grow you through this experience and be open to receiving a Word from Him. And ask yourself some of these questions:

What does God want me to learn through this?

How can I see God in this?

What good thing might God being doing in this?

If we want comfort, stability, and predictability, we must not look to control our schedules and plans or to our jobs or people to provide these things for us, we must look to God who never changes, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, whose promises are always true.

He is the source of all the things that we seek.

He is the firm foundation on which to build our lives.

I finished reading Steven Curtis Chapman’s autobiography Between Heaven and the Real World while recovery from my surgery this weekend, and I loved this that he shared:

“If everything in our life is simply to make things better or more comfortable in this present world, then when some unthinkable tragedy happens, we are destroyed.”

Friends this is so true. I can testify personally to this because it happened to me.

This is such a great warning. This is the ultimate pitfall and danger of seeking a life that we control and that comfort is our primary goal: our destruction.

If we welcome change and trials and struggling…

If we surrender ourselves to God’s will…

If we approach the unexpected with arms and eyes open and aimed at our Savior…

If we look for Him in every trial and in our every day moments…

He will keep us from being shaken. He will be our rock, our firm foundation. He will be our refuge. He will keep us from being destroyed. He will uplift us. We will experience His blessings and the abundant life He offers.

We can let unexpected news or changes in our lives shake us to places of fear, anxiety, worry, or frustration that rob us of our life. Or we can surrender them to God and find life.

Spring is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the changes God brings through seeds and buds that grow into beautiful blooms and how the caterpillar transforms through a series of changes in order to transform into a breathtaking butterfly.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

There’s a favorite children’s book of mine, that I mention from time to time, called It Will be Okay by Lysa TerKeurst, that shares the story of a little seed who is scared of leaving the comfort of his seed packet to be planted by the Farmer (God). At the end, it reads:

“Together they made it through the dark and scary time, and together they each learned that the Farmer was good, and the Farmer was kind, and the Farmer was always watching over them.”

It is such a fabulous children’s story (for adults too) about experiencing change. I highly recommend it.

Friends, when the unexpected happens, let’s have hearts that expect God to be there in our lives, to be our Farmer who is good, kind, and always watching over and taking care of us.

As I was editing this post at my desk, I glanced at the little calendar next to my computer. The prayer for the day was written by Renee Swope (A Confident Heart: 100 Days of Living in the Security of God’s Promises) and seemed to fit with this post:

Dear Lord, help me to trust in You, to consent to the healing power of Your Word, and to spend time in it believing and praying it for my life. Rescue me from my distress and the grave of doubt and fear. Thank You for caring about me and setting me free.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand. Psalm 31:14-15

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

More Bible verses to help you embrace change and the unexpected in your life:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone. 2 Timothy 2:19a

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. Hebrews 10:36

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

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