Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When God Uses the Desert to Quench Your Soul's Deepest Thirst. (A "see you later" post for my 29 Palms Family)

Blazing sun in a cloudless sky. Parched ground, cracked and thirsty, crying out for the heavens to open up and pour out refreshment. Brutal winds sweeping across the terrain, stirring dust and tumbleweeds. Snakes, scorpions, coyotes. These are all images that would realistically come to mind when thinking of the desert. Desolate. Dry. Hot. Barren. Lonely. But, what if I told you that the desert can be a beautiful oasis? What if I told you that, in spite of the harsh weather and terrain, the desert is teeming with abundant life? What if I told you that even in the loose sand and rocky soil it's possibly to grow roots deep and strong? 

Yes, roots. Roots are a hard thing for this nomadic soul. I've never been good at growing them for long. My mode of operation has always been to flee. To move on. Or, at least, to spend so much time thinking of fleeing and moving on that I've missed out on life right in front of me, often blaming others for my own hurt and discontentment. Growing up, I faced many obstacles and difficult circumstances. Some were heartbreaking. Some were terrifying at times. Others seemed utterly hopeless in the moment. During those times, I willingly, yes, even eagerly, dumped all the hard stuff into a big backpack, and proceeded to carry the obnoxious thing around with me, making it nearly impossible at times to remember anything good. And there has been plenty of good in my life. You see, sometimes we enjoy having an "out" for our sin. Pushing the blame onto other people or our circumstances and/or holding on to hurt, refusing to forgive seems easier than taking responsibility or simply letting go. Simple does not equal easy, by the way. Concepts and ideas may be very simple but implementing them can be very difficult. Putting these things in action takes a daily surrender that can leave us feeling exhausted and defeated. I can tell you with confidence that the enemy would love nothing more than for us to live in our past and wallow in insecurity, anger, and self pity.  But when we do so, we miss out on so much life has to offer. Here is part of my story and how God used this desert to satisfy a deep longing.

Two years and 8 months ago I entered this chapter of our life, STILL carrying the backpack of hard around. We had endured some pretty brutal trials in the months before and God had brought us through the fire in a  mighty way. Some of the hurt came from our own sin, struggles, and lack of maturity and some came from things we experienced in church ministry and life in general. Needless to say, we were excited but wary of what to expect. Military life was new, shiny, uncertain and scary at the same time.  In the past, my role in church ministry was pretty defined from the get-go. I worked alongside my husband and took care of our kids. At our best, we were very much a team. Chaplaincy was a bit different at first because of the nature of the ministry/job. Because confidentiality is a big deal in the military, much of what T does cannot be talked about. He is dealing with sensitive issues in the lives of Sailors, Marines, and their families and so it's not like I can just deliver a meal or provide support to anyone who needs it, unless I know them directly. There are chains of command and protocol and other things that are very different from church ministry. I was a bit lost when we first came into this world, but with the help of a wonderful Family Readiness Officer (FRO) I was able to find where I fit in. I was able to help start a meal outreach for our battalion and a bible study for some ladies who were interested. A lot of my personal ministry ended up really being one on one type of stuff, just getting to know individual ladies and learning about who they are, praying for them, etc. I learned a few hard lessons along the way about trusting others and being very careful about the words that came out of my mouth because, in this world, perception is reality in many ways, like it or not. Also, Travis and I were still very much a team. Even though we were not always serving side by side, our goal was unified in one Jesus-commanded goal: Love the Lord our God and love the people we were sent to serve.

With joy, I can say that EVERY fear and uncertainty I had about this lifestyle was completely unfounded once I really let go and allowed the Lord to work. I never imagined the community He would surround us with. In the midst of the harsh climate and terrain, my Jesus rained down an abundance of love, grace, joy, and mercy through the people I met in the desert. Even deployment, though hard, was a time of struggle, growth, and learning the hard lesson of allowing people in to love on us. We got plugged into the base chapel and that body of believers, of fellow desert dwellers, they became our family. We joined the worship team, became active in ministry within the chapel as well as within the battalion and we made a home and a life there in 29 Palms. We joined a bible study and became bonded together forever with some most amazing people. Our neighbors and friends were the best we could ever hope for and they became our family. Every dinner shared, fire pit chat sat around, s'more cooked, playdate, impromptu get together, every household item borrowed or exchanged, every heart to heart talk, tear cried together, every celebration, every adventure, each bore its way into my heart and I am forever changed by my time in the beautiful Mojave. That metaphorical big bag of hurt I had carried for so long, it is no longer there. In no particular order, here are just 10 (though I could list 100 more) important things I learned while in the desert:

1. The desert, though harsh, dry, and seemingly barren, is actually teeming with life. And it's beautiful. 

2. Sun shades for the car are necessary. Trust me.

3. Community can be sweet and life-giving. There really is no community I have found that compares to that of my military family. 

4. Lake Bandini is not, in fact, a lake. REALLY trust me on this one.

5. Flash flooding in the desert is for real, y'all. I'm not even joking.

6. There really is nothing like a homecoming. I still tear up any time I see the white buses, people waiting for their loved ones, and pictures or videos of people celebrating the return of a service member. Doesn't matter if they are complete strangers. Tears. Every. Single. Time. 

7. It's true. Military spouses don't do spring cleaning. We do, "Oh-crud-my-spouse-comes-home-in-five-days-and-I-still-have-one-hundred-and-seventy-three-items-on-my-to-do-list!" cleaning. Somehow, though, it all comes together, and by the time that big day comes, you don't care if it all got done, you just want to see your love :)

8. Learning to receive can be a hard lesson. During our stint in the desert, my family was the recipient of A LOT of love. God provided in so many ways via that precious community. We had meals given, maid services gifted, even friends who cleaned my house, including the toilets. There was hildcare provided, coffee delivered, hugs given and ears that would listen during rough times. During deployment a neighbor mowed my grass almost the entire time. Oh, and the lawnmower was given to us. Even as we prepared to leave last week we had so much help freely given without any expectation or strings attached. It was hard to accept such love sometimes, but it was the greatest gift and much needed. I pray those precious people each know how much they are loved and appreciated!

9. Having a family, be it blood family or an extended family of sorts, means accepting people for who they are, where they are at, and loving them no matter what.

10. Semper Gumby is the only way to survive this hurry-up-and-wait kind of life. Always flexible. Always bending :)

To say I miss my desert family would be a drastic understatement. I believe I left a part of my heart there in 29 and will be forever grateful for each lesson learned and each relationship forged. God used the desert to quench my soul's deepest thirst. I used to think that the thirst was for community and though that need was indeed met, I have learned that the true thirst was for love. For true love, pure and perfect. He showed me through His beloved people just how loved I am and renewed a hunger and thirst for the Word. For LIVING water. The kind only Jesus provides. The only kind that truly satisfies. He showed me that HE is enough, even without community, while simultaneously providing the community and friendships I longed for. Now, our journey takes thousands of miles to the south and I look forward with great expectation to what lies ahead. Fair Winds and Following Seas, 29 Palms! We love you!

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