The Year of the Shepherd

I wanted to take some time to reflect about the new year, but as I was thinking about that, I realized I really needed to first take some time to reflect about the past year.  In my slightly perfectionistic head, order is usually paramount.  It's hard for me to move on and set goals and change directions when I don't feel that I've properly wrapped something previous, up.  My Mom can attest to this because we have this conversation everytime she comes to my house and we cook together.  If I'm making a meal, with several dishes involved, I like to make something then clean it up, then move to the next thing, then clean it up, etc., etc.   My mom however, can just make everything at once, in the midst of a giant mess :) She has no problem moving on in the chaos but I start to twitch when the dishes are rapidly piling up!  We laugh about it and she shakes her head at me with a smile, but it's a great example of how differently we operate. 

In a similar way, entering a new year is always daunting for me.  My type A self gets all worked up about resolutions and goals, all the while dreading the feeling of imminent failure and disappointment. I know, I've never been accused of being an optimist :)  It's a lot of crazy going on in my head, but if I'm honest with you, January can be such a paralyzing month for someone like me.  But today, I'm not focusing on the fact that we're 3 days in to a new year and I haven't thought much about it.  Today I want to just look back a little bit and trace the ways the Lord has led me through 2011...

As I flash back to January of last year, I am struck by the memories of feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted.  Ava was 20 months, Carter was 2 months and I was drowning in all things baby-related.  My body was still recovering from my c-section, my emotions were all over the board, and we had 35+ inches of snow on the ground with one blizzard-filled weekend after another.  It was a draining season of simply meeting everyone's needs and yet, it was also a simple season of stripping everything away if it didn't need to be done.  I was in survival mode on one hand, confined to my little house in an effort to keep everyone healthy and warm, and yet filled with an overwhelming sense of joy on the other.  Life in that slice of time was intense, but simple.  By the grace of God he had previously impressed on me the need to back out of just about every commitment in my life, other than my husband and my kids.  I emptied my plate in anticipation of it feeling very, very full and I'm grateful that I did.  In that very simple way He made life easier for me by providing for me, months prior.  He saw what I didn't know was ahead and He told me to simplify my life so that I could not only survive it, but enjoy it too.  Thankfully, when I sensed Him telling me that, this time I obeyed. 

I didn't always respond so faithfully in 2011.  He went to great lengths to show me some other areas that needed to be dealt with over the year, but obedience in response to Him was not always my first choice.  I learned some things the hard way this year and I disappointed myself and others I loved along the way.  So I'd hate to go on and leave you with the impression that it was a year of gravy for me, void of mistakes and regrets and sin.  It wasn't.  But rather than focus on me and my flawed journey, there is something I wanted share that I learned and experienced about the Lord this year. An aspect of who He is that sticks out to me and that ministered to me...

When I was a new Mom to Ava, a sweet friend of mine encouraged me with a verse that has become a favorite of mine.  As a busy Mom herself, she knew some challenges I might face in the new season ahead and she took the time to share with me a verse that someone had shared with her when she was struggling through motherhood and juggling all that's required. She led me to Isaiah 40:11 and reminded me of who our God says He is, our Shepherd...

"He tends His flock like a Shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young."  Isaiah 40:11

I've encouraged several new Moms after me with this verse, but in so many ways it has been the theme of 2009, 2010 and 2011 for me.  In a brand new season, full of brand new ups and downs, He has helped me see that all along the way, He's been my Shepherd and I have been His lamb.  He has tended me, held me, carried me and gently led me.  On the days I didn't have an ounce of energy, he gave me just enough to get through the day.  When I stumbled again and again, convinced I'd never be able to get this "mothering thing" right, He scooped me up and pulled me close until I felt His embrace and remembered whose arms I was in.  As my strength wavered and doubt crept in over one circumstance after another, He pressed me close until I could feel His heartbeat and know that He was greater than I and He was Sovereign over all.  And when I failed Him again and again, crawling into bed feeling defeated and full of regret, He gently washed away the lies that I was believing with the truth of His Word and then poured His grace out and over me, healing those hurting places and restoring my mind with what was true and right.  I saw as only a lamb can see this year.  I focused on the temporary and the immediate, on my own needs, on the peril ahead and on the fear I felt.  As a lamb I was hopeless and head strong and foolish, often settling for less than the best and fending for myself, as if I had no Shepherd. 

But in His love and grace and patience, my Shepherd came to my rescue time and time again.  He knew what I had ahead, He saw what I couldn't see, He anticipated my needs before I could and as only a Shepherd can, He took care of me in the way that was best for me.  I didn't love everything about this past year.  There were hard days.  He had to correct me, discipline me and remove some things that were harmful to me.  He didn't fix every problem (although He could have) and He didn't take away every ache (although He could have).  In fact, there are still some hopeless circumstances that I'd love to see change, but regardless of whether I always liked it or not, I grew closer to my Shepherd this year and I learned more about Him than I ever knew.  I learned to look for Him first, before I look to myself or to others for a solution.  I learned to trust Him more, after all, why shouldn't I trust the One who has so faithfully provided for me before?  I learned to press into Him, drawing on His strength for my own, and I learned to love His Word as never before.  To hunger for it and spend time in it, not just so that I can hear it or explain it, but so that I can live it.  Embrace it.  Become it.

With 2 kids under 2 and a busy Pastor for a husband, this year could have been one that I hoped to quickly get through.  It could have been a season I would rather forget and not repeat.  It could have been a year I survived but didn't enjoy.  It could have been all of those things and a few more analogies too.  It could have been... 

But now, in the dawn of a new year and a new season, I'm praising the Lord, that it wasn't any of those things.  Because of my Shepherd and His tender care, 2011 was a year I will cherish.  I "grew up" this year in many ways and often as a result of learning a lesson the hard way.  I can honestly say that I know my Shepherd more today than I did last year and that He alone made all the difference in how I see and remember and appreciated this last year.  He gave me a gift in these trying years of raising little ones and that is to remember that I'm still his little one too.  He's never opened the door of the pen and kicked me out, He's never left me to fend for myself and He never hesitates to scoop me up and love me when I'm "good" and when I'm "bad."  He doesn't work that way.  He's my Shepherd and He loves me simply because I'm His sheep, forever in His care.  He always does what is best for me and for His name and reputation as the Good Shepherd.  As a mother who tends for little ones and meets all of their needs whether they realize it or not, I get that.  I can appreciate and relate to my Savior as a Shepherd. 

So as I look back and laugh or wince with regret over all that unfolded this past year, I do so with a grateful heart for the One who loves me and was gracious to me, no matter what. 

The Lord is my Shepherd and I've never been more thankful.  I don't know where you are in your journey or if you've thought about this new year and what you'd like it to hold.  But I do know that there is a Shepherd who is longing to take you under His care and to lead you into life everlasting.  He is greater than any goal or resolution, He alone is life and freedom and the salvation we all long for and need.  He will meet every need you have and satisfy your hunger and thirst with something you can't buy or earn.  I know that because He's my Shepherd and that's what He's done for me.  

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."  John 10:27

1 comment:

Darla said...

Love this post, Stephanie. Thank you for your vulnerability. What a great reminder that God knows what is ahead...if only I could anticipate things ahead that He already knows, I certainly wouldn't be so prone to question His trustworthiness.