Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A new year with the same God

I couldn't help but wake up today, January 1st, 2014, with a sense of anxiety. Yes, it is a new year, free from surgery after surgery (I just finished my sixth since this whole cancer thing started,) it's past the most intense part of chemotherapy and I'm looking forward to doing things I wasn't able to last year. And with it brings pressure. Pressure that I imposed on myself somewhere in the night or early morning between these two years of Our Lord. "This year I have to be better. This year I have to do more. This year will be the year I ..." fill in the blank.



I stormed downstairs to provide a "special day" service of making brunch for the family (also my own idea) and I threw my hands up in irritation with a suffocating feeling of overwhelm (is overwhelm a thing? Because this morning it became a noun that choked my being and applied it's crazy, obese weight on my back.) The kitchen was in disarray from our relaxed dinner last night. We were out of eggs and milk. I stepped on a heavily abused toy and generally just woke up too late too feel good about anything anyway.
 If I can't start the day like Mary Poppins on the first day of the year, then how can I do better, be better, do more and be more any other day?




My ever peacemaking husband came down to partner with me in the endeavors of the day, and his first task of order was to reminisce a personal moment of clarity.
We were newly engaged and we went with a few friends to a lonely out of the way camping spot on a very small island in the middle of a lake. It was early spring, and while the weather was pleasant during the day, the water of the lake had not lost its winter chill. As dusk settled on our little two tent temporary homestead, Seth and his friend decided to troll around in the canoe that had expertly delivered us to our island.
Alone on land, my companions and I tended our fire and darkness settled all around the edges of our bubble. 
I don't know how long they had been out in the boat before we heard a distant splash and strangled cry.  I ran as far to the edge of the wet blackness as I thought I could without falling in the frigid water myself or soaking the only pair of sneakers I brought. I screamed a question of well-being into the direction that I last heard my fiancĂ© and friend. There was no immediate reply to me, only "Greg! Greg!.....Greg!" as Seth struggled for purchase on one side of the slippery boat bottom and our friend, unseen by him, struggled to hang on to the other.

I fell to my knees. I had believed in God once. And for that night I sought Him again. 

Meanwhile, God was planting a seed in my future husband, despite the fact that neither he nor I had desired a relationship with Him on a regular basis. Up until then, God was a being of our own making. One that we had created in our minds to resemble ourselves - made to do what we pleased and was "good" as long as he was making choices that we, ourselves, would make. 

But a proximity to death can sometimes change all of that.


I finally heard Seth shout out that they were both alive but that the boat had capsized. They were able to save a flashlight and they turned it on to give us an awareness of where they were located. The light helped my hope, but there was nothing we could possibly do in the night to save them - since they had our only means of transportation and it was currently floating upside down in a hypothermic, 80 foot deep lake with the two of them barely hanging on in their water-weighted clothes.
I couldn't keep track of the time as I sat at the edge of the island pleading with God and wondering how much longer it would take them to reach shore - or even if they would make it to shore - with their cold, cramped, water-logged muscles straining against the wind blown current that was pushing against their every forward thrust. It was hours. It seemed like days.
And my Seth, who didn't pray, was praying.



He wasn't bargaining with God. His strength was ebbing away but he had the presence of mind to acknowledge that making empty promises to live better would be akin to making idle declarations under duress. It wouldn't mean a thing. Instead he came to a God he hardly knew with nothing but the realization that he indeed had not one iota to offer Someone who could save his meager life.

Seth's life was saved that day. After clinging to the overturned vessel nearly three hours, the two friends finally made it to the opposite shore despite the lake's desperate attempt to suck them to its depths. They were weak with exhaustion and hypothermia, but they were alive. And a seed had been planted. A seed of what the grace of God truly means.
A person can't do more, or be more, to earn His love. He is there, loving us before we even see Him. We can't do better or be better to make Him save us from ourselves and our predicaments. We are just not good enough, smart enough, or powerful enough to save ourselves. But when he saves you, despite yourself, you can't help but be changed.

As Seth recounted his story, one that I already knew so well, my heart was guided to bow down to the mighty God of Grace, as tears flowed from my tired eyes.






This notion of doing better the next year will always end in disappointment. I just can't do better. But He can. Last year, every single thing that needed to happen, did. Things that didn't necessarily need to happen, but were welcome blessings and joyous moments, happened too. His Grace was so present in every moment - how can I do better than that?
 So for this year, I am entering it just as I am - with all my baggage, my hurts, my many, many scars and my less than perfect ways and I am not going to strive to be better. I'm not going to try to do more. I'm going to keep plodding along, reminding myself to keep my eyes on Him, who grants every year of my life with more grace than I deserve.
And His grace will once again be sufficient beyond all my expectations.




And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6 NIV)

6 comments:

Annalise Joy said...

I love this, Manda.

Jennifer said...

Love, Love, Love.
You are a blessing!

Camilla said...

Bill and I were so blessed to read this on the second day of this new year! Sending much love to you.

Amanda Conley said...

Thank you, Lise.
And Jennifer and Camilla. :) Happy New Year to all of you!

Sara Olson said...

I prayed for you back in the day - many times! Funny, but you two have walked with Christ so stoutly for so many years now that that particular season of your lives is something I'd long forgotten! Now, as a mama with her own prayers, I want you to know what a gift this post is (like so many others, of late). Your willingness to share your heart touches my life!

Blessings on your dear, sweet head, Amanda!

Amanda Conley said...

Thank you, Sara, for your prayers then and now!