Saturday, January 13, 2018

Onward, Upward ~ Pressing Ahead ~ One Word for 2018

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:14

It is hard to believe, but it has been almost three weeks since the Lord called my brother-in-law, LD, home to Heaven.
Our hearts remain broken over the loss of LD, Dad Smith, and so many other deep heartaches from 2017 and years past.

As deep hurts from the old year linger fresh in our minds, and we try to put one foot in front of the other in this new year, I find hope as the words to this dear, old hymn come often to mind.

Onward, Upward
Written by Daniel O. Teasley

Onward, upward, Christian soldier,
Bravely push the battle on;
There’s a great reward before us,
Soon the conflict will be won.

Hallelujah! shout the chorus,
Onward, upward is our song;
Crowns of vict’ry lie before us,
Boldly march against the wrong.

Grasp the sword, then go with courage,
Ever humbly watch and pray;
Never, never be discouraged,
Never falter by the way.

Go the captives to deliver,
Leaving all the world behind;
Hoping, trusting—doubting never—
Crowns in heaven we shall find.

Onward, upward is the watchword,
Till the King of saints we see;
Then before His throne in glory,
We shall reign eternally.

We will always be touched by the things that happened in 2017 and past years, 
and our lives will nevermore be the same.
BUT, this is a new day...a new year.
Untouched, except for the overwhelming grief that we had no choice but to carry into the new year.

Starting a new year always feels like turning a corner to me.
It always reminds me of a "Magic Slate".
Remember these?

I used to love to play with mine when I was a little girl, and if I remember correctly,
mine looked very similar to the one pictured above.
I loved Raggedy Ann & Andy, and I loved my magic slate!
I loved the fact that I could draw anything I wanted on it,
then when I tired of that picture, I could easily and gently lift the plastic sheet covering,
and, just like magic, the whole thing would just disappear.
After that, I had a brand, new, clean slate that was open to limitless possibilities.
This could be done countless times, simply by lifting that film to start completely over.

A new year is sort of like get the chance for a complete do-over.
You are offered the opportunity to leave the past right where it happened, and move on.
Onward to the new things God has in store,
upward ever closer to Him and His perfect will,
and forward into the future that only He can see.

At the start of a new year, we have a choice.
We can futilely try to keep reliving the past and longing for what used to be,
or we can look ahead and embrace the life God is continuing to give.
After all, at the end of the day, regardless who is no longer with us,
life does have a way of going on, doesn't it?

As we press ahead, trying to come to terms with the past and eager to grasp on to the good things God has for us this year, my heart is encouraged to know that the same God who consistently brought us through yesterday's heartaches, is the same God who leads us forward.
One thing I have learned during my years serving the Lord, is that
God never leads backwards.

As we approached this new year, Kevin, Zach, and I began to seek God's face about our "One Word" of the year for 2018.
Right away, Kevin got his word.
It was "Answers", not in a questioning sort of way, but as in he hopes that this year will hold many answers to our prayers and the fulfillment of God's promises to us.
At the same, exact time Kevin got his word, Zach was given his word, "Revelation".
(Neither of them knew what God had revealed to the other, until later.)
We were amazed at how closely the two words related and how their meanings and their individual, personalized interpretations of them intertwined.
So, that left three remaining questions....
what was my "one word" for 2018, how could we tie the three of our words into one, and would the Lord give us a word that would serve as an acronym, as He has done in years past?
I felt like I was late to the party, since all I could seem to accomplish in prayer was a lot of crying over the deep, remaining grief, and feeling too spent to dig very deep concerning one, special word that God wants my little family and me to focus on in this brand, new year.

Then, all at once, out of the blue, I realized that what I seek most right now is a sense of clarity going forward.
SO much has changed and is now in the process of changing in our lives.
To be honest, I feel very lost.
Just so bewildered and uncertain concerning things that are no longer the same and so unclear as to how we are to move forward and approach daily life and decisions that are being forced upon us.
What is our new "normal" to be, and how do I let go of what was "normal" for so long?

Just as soon as the word "clarity" came to mind, I realized Kevin's word, "answers", and Zach's word, "revelation" were all a part of the wrapped-up mystery that lies in the "clarity" we all three seek for this season of life.
When the three of us sat down to discuss it all, it just clicked, and the acronym was apparent.

C   - Clearness
L    - Leading
A    - Answers
- Revelation
I - Illumination
T       - Truth
Y    - Yearning

Clearness - lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity

Leading - guidance, direction

Answers - materialization, resolution, fulfillment, affirmation, results, accomplishment, realization, satisfaction, returns

Revelation - epiphany, discovery, inspiration, prophecy, uncovering, advisement, intelligence, explanation

Illumination - enlightenment, insight, perception, understanding, unraveling, instruction, knowledge, wisdom, awakening, vision, comprehension, interpretation

Truth - certainty, constancy, dependability, solidity, validity, reliability, stability, factuality

Yearning - fervent, earnest, zealous, eager

I think God allows new years to come, so we don't get "new" is forced upon us,
and we have no choice but to walk forward.

"Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.
And the LORD spake unto me, saying,
Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward."
Deuteronomy 2:1-3

God doesn't want us to become stale and complacent,
compassing the same mountain in our lives over and over and over again.
There comes a time when He wants us to "turn northward", up and out of our sense of "the same".

He wants to make all things new, ever propelling us onward and upward.

"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 wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
Isaiah 43:18,19

Comfort zones eventually become places of stagnation in our lives.

I learned from Dennis Rowan's book, called "Sheep Tracks", (which is a GREAT read, by the way, written by a true, modern-day shepherd and available to purchase by clicking on the highlighted link), if sheep linger too long in the same pasture, they overgraze and become parasite-infested.

God loves us too much to allow us to remain comfortable in a spiritually unhealthy environment,
so He compels us onward and brings "new" into our lives.
He knows us...intimately, individually, and fully, and He knows what is absolutely best for us.
He knows where we need to be in order for us to grow and thrive and become our best for Him.
So, He leads on, gently, but firmly, in spite of our tendency to resist change and our desire to "settle".

"I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."
John 10:14,27,28

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me."
Psalm 23:1-4

The "valley of the shadow of death" not only overwhelms and engulfs the one who is passing over, but it casts its dark shadow over all who love them and feel the weight of their absence.
What a consolation to know that Jesus is our Shepherd, and He walks the valley road with us.
Even when He sends the rod of correction, it is for our benefit,
and when His staff leads in a direction that we would rather not go, He walks before us and sees things we do not see, and He is often sparing us from something worse.

I remind myself of these facts, as we walk a very uncertain path into the brand, new year,
resting in the assurance that our Shepherd not only leads the way, but He winnows our path, leaving only what He knows will work together for our good.

He is the doing the same for you, my friend.
I pray you are feeling the comfort of His presence with you each new day,
and may 2018 be filled with many spiritual blessings.
If God spares time and life, may we all look back over this year, and rejoice together.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your many emails, comments, sympathy cards, and other kind deeds during our sadness and difficulties throughout not only 2017, but in prior years, also.
Kevin, Zach, and I are eternally grateful to each one of you,
and your presence in our lives is an enormous blessing.
At the onset of this blogging journey, I never dreamed how many amazing, precious friends God would bring into our lives through this platform, and I cherish each one of you with all my heart.
You prove to us, time and time again, what true Christian fellowship and friendship is all about.
We love you all and appreciate you so very much.

Your continued prayers for my sister, Debbie, nephew, Mark, and all of my family during the coming days are appreciated more than I could ever put into words.
Reality is setting in, and it is so hard to deal with and accept.
We lean hard on our Shepherd for healing, restoration, and strength.
He is ever faithful.