Lessons from the Valley and the Mountaintop

Take control of me, Jesus. The current management is woefully incompetent.

Almost 6 years ago, I went back to school to change my career. To say I went back to school is incorrect, because I’ve been in school now for 52 years. The school of life is always in session. Life lessons are a moment by moment occurrence. If we’re aware, we’ll acknowledge the lesson, learn from it, and be changed for the better. If we go through life on autopilot, never recognizing what life is trying to teach us, we may IMG_8308someday regret our inattentiveness. Just as in school, there are some lessons we want to learn. We lap them up, like a parched dog slurping noisily at a water dish. We apply ourselves with every ounce of our time, concentration, and giftedness. Other lessons, we must push ourselves to learn. I have a friend who received a grade of 62% in one of his high school courses. Worried that this low mark would affect his chances of getting into university, he went to the trouble of taking the course again only to end up with 63%. I do find this humorous, but also baffling, because I get it. It’s true, some things we can only learn the hard way.

I learned a lesson recently. I’ve calculated that it took me roughly 40 years to learn this lesson. I know. Can my skull be any thicker? Life has been steadily knocking on my fortress of a forehead, but I’ve been disregarding, believing that this lesson didn’t apply to me. I’ve shared before that I struggle with self-care. You can read that post here. I blame the looming shadow of low self-esteem that I’ve allowed to hang around and cloud my judgement. For years, I’ve been going to bed without conducting any sort of self-care; just peel off the clothes, leave them where they fall, and fall into bed without another thought. In the morning, my makeup is smeared and scary, ground into the precious skin of my poor, undeserving face. I’ve been warned. My husband, in the last year, told me about a woman he read about who admitted to not taking her makeup off for 25 years (sadly, I have her beat). The reward for her negligence was tiny, hardened, jagged bits of mascara imbedded in her eyelids that were scraping her eyeballs! I was alarmed enough IMG_8311to take off my makeup for a few days, but, because it wasn’t my lesson to learn, it didn’t take and I went back to my slovenly ways. I’ve even had a number of eye infections over the years, but chalked it up to a strange occurence, like a UFO sighting, rather than identifying the problem which was me and my total disregard for my health. Then, a few months ago, I got a stye. If you don’t know what a stye is, according to Miriam Webster, it’s “an inflamed swelling of a sebaceous gland at the margin of an eyelid”. My eyelid went from slightly red and swollen to a ghastly, pus-filled tumor, the shade of expired Miracle Whip. It actually blocked my vision slightly. It didn’t seem to matter what I did with it, antibiotic ointment, hot compresses, lancing it myself at one point, it just wouldn’t get lost.

I’m vain. I like makeup. I look better with it on and, in turn, feel better with it on. This wretched stye hung on tenaciously for a grueling month, a month of naked eyelids and unenhanced lashes. Since my recovery, I’ve been meticulous in removing my makeup. I wish now that I had taken a picture of that purulent lesson at the height of its IMG_8315gruesomeness to remind me, because I hope I never forget. It concerns me that it took suffering to get me to change. I read a book that says so much of what we do is habitual. I have other unhelpful, damaging habits, yes, even perpetual pet sins, that I desperately need to ditch. Have I become a malfunctioning robot, glitching from one bad choice to another? Is there no way off this not-so-merry, merry-go-round? Am I doomed to mindlessly go through these detrimental motions till I seize up and die?

I have the same problem as Paul, as you, as every believer in the whole of history. I don’t do what I should do, what I need to do, what I wish and pray that I’d do. No, I do that which I shouldn’t do, which I loathe myself for doing. Paul has the only answer to this perplexing, vexing behavior in Romans 7:24.

“What a wretched man I am!” he says.”Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Jesus is the answer and rightly so. He shares his reason for coming  in John 10:10, that we might have a meaningful life, not an ineffectual, bitter existence marred by disappointment and failure, not a life where we toil and despair until we finally keel over. NO! A life blossoming, bursting with the ripe, luscious, life-giving fruit of his Spirit, a life so big and full of so much good, it can’t help but impact others.IMG_8320

If he came for this reason, surely we’re not left alone to put the puzzle together. 2 Peter 1:3, says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” This is why he sent his life, the Holy Spirit, to live in us. I read 1 Corinthians 6:19 and I’m sobered by the thought that my body is his temple, the place where he dwells in all his glory. I’m coming to the notion that neglecting myself is sin. My shoddy treatment of this extraordinary vessel supplied by my maker, meant for his abiding presence, is abominable. It’s like inviting the queen to live with you and not scrubbing your toilet, another thing I do only under great duress. The body we’ve been given is a blessing to be cherished and treated with respect and loving attention. If we don’t care for ourselves, how will we ever be capable of keeping the second greatest commandment, of loving our neighbor as ourselves? If I treat myself with indifference, what are the chances I’ll treat you any differently?

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not just lazing around inside of us, binging and watching Netflix. God is in the business of transformation and no matter how hard or boring it may be, self-control is a virtue, a sign that this same Holy Spirit who lives within us is doing his work. Romans 9:11 says, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”. Think about what this verse is saying! We have the power that raised Christ from death to life living inside of us! What a breathtaking, IMG_8307extraordinary reality! Knowing this, I’ve often wondered why my self control has always been in such short supply. I’ve come to the conclusion that God does not transform people against their will. I have to want to be transformed. I have to immerse myself in God, praise his name, bask in his presence, feed on his word, run hard at his will, confess my sin, and petition and thank him. I have to live out the greatest commandment and love God with every beat of my heart, every breath, every thought, word, and deed. Only then will I experience the lasting, positive change I long for. It seems ironic that in giving up control, I’ll gain some in the end, but that’s the way God works. He doesn’t do things the way I do and with my lacklustre record, I’m so grateful for that!

Last year, I climbed my first mountain. I’ve lived somewhere in Alberta, the land of the Canadian Rockies, for almost 40 years. I thought about hiking, I wanted to do it, but like so many things, I never got around to it. One year for my birthday or Christmas, my husband bought me books filled with awe-inspiring pictures of mountains that listed and described in great detail all the hiking trails in Alberta and British Columbia. We never used them, not even once. I don’t even know where they are. Last spring, I met some folks on Instagram, of all places. They chronicled their adventures hiking up mountains every weekend. Their tales were inspiring, their pictures, glorious, and that old itch resurfaced. I started training my body, mainly to improve my level of fitness, but also because I wanted to achieve that dream, to climb a mountain. These people were welcoming and last summer, I bagged my first peak. With their guidance and encouragement, my count is now up to six. Why am I telling you this? Because I believe God put this desire in me to show me he has something better, something far grander in store for me. He’s always wooing me into the light and the fresh air, onto the solid rock of his presence. He’s calling me to leave behind my weakness and the squalor of sin, my baser, destructive self which is only capable of causing harm and to venture onto a higher plane, to dwell with him in radiant Christ-likeness on the pristine mountaintop of his love and to share in the fullness of his joy. Oh, there will still be struggles, thigh-burning, lung-busting, lean in and cling to the rock kind of moments, but he promises never to leave me. Just like my friends who lead me up to some of the most incredible places I’ve ever experienced, God wants to lead me into a life of self-control, patience, and faithfulness, and a life brimming with gentleness, kindness, love, joy, and peace, the life he had planned for all of us from the beginning of time, the best life one can live. I leave you with these verses. First, Psalm 121:1. “I lift up my eyes to the IMG_8319mountains–where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” And then the passages I chose to mark my wedding day, Hebrew 12:1-2a, as they are so appropriate here. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Now, I exhort both myself and you. Let us let go, my friends, look to the Lord, to the mountains, and run!

 

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