Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Beginnings: by Leigha Balchus

January is the month of new, of beginning fresh, of change.  But right about the third week or so, I remember that new is overrated, beginning is hard, and change is uncomfortable. My dear friend, Leigha Balchus, is sharing her story of starting new. Be encouraged as she reminds us that the God of the mountaintop is also God of the valley.


By Leigha Balchus

When we think of new beginnings, it can bring excitement to our souls because new is good.  New is beautiful and fresh and shiny.  There are many new beginnings that call for great celebrations, such as weddings, the birth of a child and even a new year.  

New is good…until it isn’t.  If we live long enough, we are bound to be faced one day with a new beginning that isn’t all that exciting; one that wasn’t planned and for which we never asked.  A new beginning that makes us long for the days of long ago because suddenly our past looks way better than the present or even the future could ever be.  We begin to think that maybe our best days are behind us.  But then there is God, and He meets us in our quiet moments with Him, right in the middle of our mess, and he whispers His Word into our hearts. 

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This is exactly the kind of “new thing” God has been doing in my life recently and is still working on today.  It started last spring as I sat on the front porch of our Missouri home, reeling and feeling sick over news we had received.  My husband and I had been entrusted with running a business, a Christian business, nonetheless.  Four years earlier, we felt God’s calling on our lives to pack up everything and move our family far away from our Texas home, so we left everything familiar behind and started over. During those four years, we poured our hearts and souls into that business, often canceling family vacations and working weekends to try to make it successful, only to be faced with the words no one ever wants to hear, “We have decided to move in a different direction.  You guys are just not a good fit.”  It was excruciating!  We struggled with the lie that we had failed God; that He was displeased with us and now we were being punished.  I remember thinking, “Not again God.  Please, not again!”, because we had been here before.  We had experienced job loss in the past.  It had been horrible, and I was sure I couldn’t survive it again.  

That’s exactly the moment where God met me, right in the middle of my distress, the ugly mess life had dealt me, and He whispered to my heart, “This is a gift.”  I was sure it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me because in that moment that is the LAST thing I was thinking.  I was suddenly filled with peace, and my body stopped trembling from the fear.  Our circumstances hadn’t changed, and I had no idea what it meant, but I knew in that moment there was hope and that was enough.  I shared with my husband what God had spoken to me, and we prayed together that day that God would rescue us and that this time wouldn’t be like it was before.  Little did we know, the God of the universe was rewriting our story and making it His.  This time would be nothing at all like the last.  It would be greater than we ever asked or imagined!

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Just three days later, there were already three job opportunities in the works!  It was so refreshing and so soothing to our souls.  We were in awe of God’s provision!  Each time we would start to panic, God would bring scripture to mind that would squelch the fear.  One that really made a huge impact on us was, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:14)  And, boy did He ever! Three different interviews and two months later brought three job offers and our heads were spinning!  As we prayed, the one we knew God was nudging us toward wasn’t the choice for which we had hoped.  The job God wanted us to accept required bold faith and much more sacrifice than we ever anticipated.  It required saying goodbye to a home we loved with wonderful friends and neighbors, a great school for our kids, an amazing church family, a LIFE that we had absolutely fallen in love with, to move halfway across the country to a small town in West Virginia and…Start.  All. Over.  AGAIN.  

It was a new beginning we hadn’t asked for and really didn’t want.  I thought we must have heard God wrong. This couldn’t possibly be what He wanted.  I wrestled with God and with myself and my faith.  And, just as the Israelites had done while wandering through the desert, I got angry and I grumbled and complained and doubted His promises along the way because, well, let’s face it, unwelcomed change is NEVER pleasant and walking in blind obedience in a direction we don’t want to go can nearly break us in two.  Even the most faithful of believers can fall victim to fear, doubt and uncertainty when we are handed a new beginning that feels so much like the end.  It’s hard to see anything good, anything new, at first, when everything around us looks like an ending.  Our life suddenly becomes unrecognizable and fear sets in. Darkness surrounds us and we feel trapped like we will never see the light again. Suddenly, we find ourselves walking in a dark valley. 

Change.  There it is.  That word.  Oh, how I despise it, but life has taught me that change is what gives birth to new beginnings.  Always.  It is impossible to begin anything new without first saying goodbye to something old, something familiar, something comfortable.  Comfortable feels so nice, but there is no growth in the comfortable, and our Heavenly Father wants to grow us to become more and more like Jesus.  It is our number one calling, and we can never be all we were created to be if we stay in our comfort zone.  So, we must TRUST.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

We must trust God with all our hearts, even when we don’t understand.  When circumstances look nothing like anything we ever wanted for our lives and all our plans and all our dreams have been smashed and we feel lost and alone, we MUST keep our eyes fixed on God and His Word.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He never changes. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  And, when we feel like giving up, like we have not one more drop of faith left to squeeze out, we must ask God to help us overcome our unbelief because nothing is impossible with Him.  This will help us to keep HOPE alive.  

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)

Following hard after God isn’t easy.  No one ever promised it would be, but I have walked in the valley enough times to know that He is most definitely faithful and His Word has the power to get us through even the darkest of times.  If we will saturate ourselves in it as often as possible and hide it in our hearts, he will use it to speak to us in our darkest hours, if we will only be still and listen.  Through His Word He will give us hope to sustain us until the storm subsides.  And, through it all, we can rest in Him knowing that we are covered by His grace and His mercy.  He understands our hearts because He created them.  He knows our thoughts and our feelings before we ever have them.  So when we feel lost and afraid, angry with God, like our best days are behind us, like giving up, when everything feels upside-down and inside-out and it seems as though God can’t possibly know what He’s doing, when we are unraveled and undone into a million little pieces that can’t possibly be put back together again, there He is with His arms wide open waiting to embrace us, catching every tear that falls, loving us through it all and swallowing us up with His amazing grace.  He is the glue that will put us back together and He will create a masterpiece with all those broken pieces that is far more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. He knows the plan, so why do we worry so much?  Instead, he wants us to find rest in Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  

As I sit here today typing this post, I look out and see the mountains of West Virginia surrounding me in every direction, dwarfing me in their majestic presence, and I am reminded of the One who created them.  I am reminded that these mountains are a part of my story and that there can’t be mountains without valleys in between.  Although, the beauty of the valleys may be lost while we are in the middle of them, it is the valleys that make the mountaintops so breathtaking.  It is only from the mountaintop that we can look down and see the amazing beauty of the valleys in all their wonder.  It is where the sun shines bright and casts away the darkness.  Only then can we see how far we have come and the paths we have taken to get there. That is when it all makes sense. 

So as I walk in the valley today and it’s hard to see where I am going, I am reminded that I’m on the most beautiful path of all, one forged by my Heavenly Father just for me, and it’s a gift.  I am praying and waiting in great expectation as I continue to put one foot in front of the other.  Even though some days still feel like the end and I find myself longing for days passed, I give myself grace and remind myself that there is a new beginning just up ahead, a glorious mountaintop where I will look down at the beauty of all the pain and the sacrifice, and I will thank my God for where He has brought me.  

Yes, the mountaintop is coming and it’s going to be good!  So, if you are walking through a valley today, no matter how dark and lonely it may feel, know that you are never alone.  Cry out to God in prayer.  Ask Him to reveal Himself to you as you spend time in His Word.  Keep hope alive, and then watch Him make a way out of the darkness, and follow wherever He leads, putting one foot in front of the other.  And, when we finally stand on that mountaintop, the sun shining bright and warm on our faces, let us all rejoice and bloom where we’re planted!

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)