Christmas, CS Lewis, Epistle to the Philippians, God, Grace, In-between, Jesus, Last Battle, Narnia, Peace
Once upon a time…isn’t that how all stories really begin? At some point in time, something happens, and a new story starts. Every day is a new story, a new “once upon a time”, because this point in time has never occurred before. So, today, we begin the story of A Pleasant Afternoon.
“One always feels better when one has made up one’s mind.” ~ C.S. Lewis ~ “The Last Battle”
There are few things more uncomfortable than living in-between. Most of us expect life to be here or there, but not in between. We wake up each morning with certain expectations. We will eat breakfast, go here or there, do this or that, meet this person or that person, eat lunch, do more things, eat dinner, do more things, and then it’s time for sleep. We have a plan, a somewhat predictable idea of what each day is going to look like, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in for good measure. We don’t really mind the surprises because, after all, life would be boring if every day was completely predictable.
Sometimes, however, life leaps suddenly into an unfamiliar place, where nothing looks the same. It can come in different ways. For some, it’s news of a loss: a loved one is taken suddenly and life becomes strange and unrecognizable; a relationship is broken and the once comfortable companionship is gone; a job is gone and financial pressures threaten to consume every waking breath. For others, it’s not necessarily a loss, it’s just change: a new baby joins the family; a move to a new place; a milestone birthday; a long-worked on project is finished and an emptiness settles in. I’ve come to recognize this unfamiliar place as “in-between”.
A while back, on an afternoon that certainly couldn’t be described as pleasant, I found myself on the shore of a section of the Land of In-between. It wasn’t a planned destination. In fact, I had no intention of ever visiting this particular part of the planet. Like many of life’s surprises, this journey was one in which I had rather not participate. This new place was foreign in many ways, but there were spaces that did seem vaguely familiar, however, not in a pleasant way. I felt more than a little uncomfortable. The climate was not to my liking; I could tell that immediately. The landscape seemed like Narnia, under the spell of the White Witch, where it was “always winter and never Christmas.” My wardrobe, selected for a completely different latitude, all of a sudden was ill-suited for this new environment. Changes were necessary, and I was not a happy traveler.
I quickly decided that this was going to be a temporary experience, and set out to find my way back to where I’d been, or at least somewhere I felt more at home. As the days turned into long weeks, and the weeks became even longer months, it became apparent that this sojourn was not the brief excursion I had hoped. I found myself feeling like a castaway, and homesickness became my shadow as I woke to another day in a place I didn’t want to stay.
Gradually, after much exploration, a new idea began to occur. I noticed that I was not alone in this place, and that others had learned to survive and even thrive, here. What I had thought, upon first exploration, was a barren country had more to be discovered than the shoreline I first encountered. Would it be possible to make a home here, to stop looking for a way out, but instead find a way to put down roots, even flourish?
Once the seeds of hope had the tiniest drop of water, I began to recognize guideposts and roadmaps left by others in places I had passed before but hadn’t noticed. The works of favorite authors came alive with clues I had over-looked when reading them under different circumstances. The Scriptures suddenly seemed to overflow with examples of those who had found themselves in unpleasant afternoons in unfriendly places, but who managed to flourish mightily.
For years, I claimed to live by 2 Peter 1:2 ~”His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”(NIV) I stood before dozens of people, even hundreds, and said there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome by this Truth. What began to dawn on me was how I interpreted “everything we need”. I realized that I had substituted my own paraphrase, which read more like “everything I think I need and in the way I prefer“. And like many others, I had overlooked the “how” of the verse…”through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Everything I needed to thrive in my new circumstances was to be found through knowing Him. Too simplistic? The preceding verse reads: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Would that really be possible in the situation I was in? Surely, in order to have the grace and peace I had once enjoyed it required a change in circumstances. I remembered a well-loved verse in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:”I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” and the one following: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV) Upon further examination of the word translated as “content”, I found this definition: “sufficient for one’s self;independent of external circumstances” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). Paul certainly lived much of his life in what I would describe as In-between. He was really content there? Could I know the secret he knew? I found another clue in another of his letters:”I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you many know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17) I began to see a pattern. In yet another letter, Paul explains: “…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…” (Colossians 1:9-12 NIV) And finally:”My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:2-4 NIV) Interestingly enough, all three of these letters were penned while Paul was in prison, an example of living In-between if there ever was one. Paul repeatedly emphasizes his prayer that the believers would grow in knowing God better, through Christ. Never does he mention a change in circumstances as pre-requisite for thriving. That is not to imply fatalism. Far from it. Paul’s life in no way exhibits helpless acquiescence. However, there is a recurring theme of joy and fulfillment, no matter the situation. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18. NIV) Could that apply to my stay in In-between?
Elisabeth Elliot writes in “Keep a Quiet Heart”: “The secret is Christ in me, not a different set of circumstances.” Her words are not empty platitudes, but are colored with the reality of a life filled with learning to respond to loss and difficulty with grace.
I decided that I want to live with “grace and peace in abundance” for however long my home is in the land of In-between. Psalm 91:1 reads: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, shall rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Surely the shadow of the Almighty reaches even here.
Thanks for sharing your heart here. I’m so encouraged by your journey and the beautiful way you articulate it.
It’s moving to me that God does not leave us on our own to do the impossible, like have joy in the in-between. He has given us the Holy Spirit to come alongside us, invade our space and produce in us what we never could on our own. “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”(Luke 18:27)
Can’t wait to read more. Love this and you.
Thank you, Christie, for the sweet encouragement. It is a blessing when God brings surprises like new friends to join us in our journey. Love you, too!
Jan Gray said:
Thank you for this post. Life can be quite a ride and as I look back I think I’ve spent most of my adult life in the “in between.” It is always a reminder that this is not our home. As my sweetheart says, “Babe, the party ain’t here!” Knowing your desire to serve the Lord and honor him in a difficult place inspires us all to look to Him and press on. Please keep sharing.
Thank you, dear friend. You have been such a beautiful example of finding joy and contentment in the land of In-between. I’m so grateful for you. I’m excited to keep reading your story!
Camille Cosey said:
Now this is the way I love for you to put your words of the heart and of life, down for us to share with you. You know I have always thought you should write a book- one pretty much like this! Send me some more! and THANK YOU!
Thank you for taking time to read and leave such an encouraging comment. May I ask how you found the blog?
You’re very kind to say so. Thank you for stopping by. I hope to always be encouraging!
I know of your beautiful images through IG – now I know what a beautiful writer you are. Thanks for sharing your words.
Such kind words! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. I’ve loved meeting such wonderful friends through IG. I hope this will be a place to do the same!
By Divine appointment, I read your blog for the first time this morning. I am in the midst of making a big decision and have been crying out to God for direction, confirmation of His will, and the Peace that comes with knowing I have been obedient to His commands. Reading the words that come from your heart has given me encouragement and greater insight into my own situation. I feel refreshed, as if the Father was personally speaking to me. I am so grateful for the shining example of living the Christ-centered life that you and your family have demonstrated throughout the most difficult of situations. It is both encouraging and challenging to me. God is using you in ways you may never know. You have touched my life, and I am eternally grateful. My love to you and your precious family.
How precious your sweet words are to me today! He is such a loving Father to give us exactly what we need at just the right time. Thank you for taking the time to write. The Lord continues to remind us of His mercy and grace, and I’m so grateful for so many lovely memories we have, and the people, like you, who will always hold a dear place in our hearts. I will be praying with you as you continue to seek His heart. He is Good, and always gives us Good Things.
I am blessed to call you friend and mentor. You have taught me many things in days and years past and this blog is no different. Thank you for sharing “you” and your journey with God in a way that allows others (me) to be encouraged and challenged. I love you dearly friend.
Thank you for such a sweet comment. What you wrote I would write just the same about you. I’m grateful to The Lord for allowing our lives to intersect all those years ago. You are the truest of friends. Love you !
I found this today when feeling a bit low, I too am in a new place seeking to know Him more, seeking a safe place to grieve a loss yet move forward with joy. I have trusted my father through many difficult circumstances and have found He always gives strength for the journey..
thank you for these beautiful words..
I’m so glad that you were encouraged. Our Father is so kind to allow us to share the sweet comfort He gives, which I believe multiplies our own. I’ve enjoyed your lovely glimpses of life in such a beautiful place. I will pray that The Lord continues to heal your heart and that you will experience fullness of Joy in Him this year. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Blessings!
Jessica @MyArdentLife said:
Mama, how did I not know you were blogging? So happy to find this today. Of course I am well acquainted with the Land.Much like Frodo and Sam, we struggle but are not alone, though the burden and the Journey are ours alone to bear. Thank you for sharing so beautifully. I’ll be reading! Xoxo
Happy you found me! We are not traveling alone or uncharted. Hope to be writing more now.
Love to you and your sweet ones!
Kathryn Ottosson said:
Oh how beautifully you write and encapsulate my feelings and struggles!
Thank you kindly. So glad to know you can relate to my journey!
This is a lovely post! Thank you for sharing! I found you on IG while chasing rabbits and love your pictures and quotes. Especially from Elisabeth Elliot and “Ann”.
From a kindred spirit.