Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Vacationed In Hell And Lived To Tell About It

The Westin Desert Willow
     Well, to be accurate, Palm Springs isn't exactly Hell, but when it's 121 degrees in the early afternoon on Highway 111 near downtown Palm Springs, it's mighty close to that undesirable location. Or when it's 100 degrees at 10:00 at night and my cheerful, heat-tolerant husband says, "Hey, wanna' go for a walk? It's a beautiful evening!" I feel guilty and wimpy for saying, "No way, Jose! (or, Tim, in this case and in every case. I actually have never taken a walk, or will, with any man named Jose. Not that that's not a nice name for a man, just no man I will ever stroll around with at 10:00 at night. Boy do I digress!) Please remind me NEVER to vacation there in the late summer. My Dad and Step-mom were kind to give us some of their time share days in the brand new and lovely Westin Desert Willows, but this vacation princess can't handle the heat.
     The desert landscape, especially in winter, spring, and late fall, is actually quite magnificent. I really appreciate and enjoy some of the lovelier views of the San Gorgonia mountains and the lovely desert flowers in the Palm Springs and Joshua Tree desert areas. Just not in the dead heat of summer.
     Interestingly enough, the day (early!) we returned from Palm Springs, I had started Chuck Swindoll's biography about Moses, entitled Moses: Man of Selfless Dedication. Chuck describes how Moses, at around the age of 40, killed an Egyptian man, and then fled to the desert of Midian. (His description of the hot desert was so familiar to me!) Moses begins tending sheep for Jethro, marries the man's daughter, and has two boys. He led this quiet, humble, obscure life for FORTY YEARS. He had been schooled in the finest Egyptian schools and was being groomed to be the next pharaoh of Egypt. That is, until that fateful day when he avenged a fellow Hebrew's honor, leading to murder, and then his escape after he is found out.
     Chuck goes on to make the application that many of us are in "desert seasons" where life is not as we had hoped or would like. Life is hard, confusing, unsettling. We wonder when things will change for us. Apparently, Moses had no hope of ever leaving the desert. About 80 of his 120 years on earth were spent in the desert. God used that man in a mightily memorable and potently powerful way, though. NO doubt about it. It is quite reasonable to conclude that he was being prepared to be God's agent in leading the Israelites out of Egypt during his "desert training" which had been custom-fit for him.
      It made me wonder about a couple things, naturally. Am I in a desert season of my life? Do I wish things were different? Am I waiting for God to deliver me from trials and difficulties that seem unabated? Hmmm...
     Yes and no. At the foundational level of my faith, my desire is to be content in ALL seasons, even the hardest ones. The Apostle Paul encourages this when he says, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Philippians 4:11).  It seems ungrateful, proud, and presumptive of me to say, "God, I feel like I'm in a desert. When are things going to get better?" Does that kind of thinking mean I'm not grateful for all I have now? I've come to accept that life is not fair (my Dad was right!). This outlook is actually not depressing or negative - it's based in reality. And once I accept this reality, any pleasant circumstance, person, or turn of events is really appreciated and welcomed. I find I enjoy life more because I'm not expecting or feel entitled to ease, convenience, or comfort. I have quite a ways to go with this outlook, but so far it has been quite helpful at keeping more emotionally even-keeled and calmer with life's unpleasant surprises. This is particularly true when I go shopping now and, heaven forbid, have to return anything!
     Encouragingly enough, Chuck Swindoll cites this passage of Scripture regarding Moses' time in the desert: "He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10). How Chuck applies this to Moses' life, and the application for our lives as well, is most heartening. I highly recommend the book.
     As I was writing this post earlier, I was reminded of a "vision" I saw about 20 years ago when I was a new Christian. I was living at home, going to PCC, my Mom was sick with breast cancer, and there was the ever-present garden-variety smattering of conflicts, tension and challenges that I grew up with, and one newer challenge to boot. My parents weren't happy about my zealous, new-found faith. They were critical and unkind.
      I remember one particular day when I was in my room depressed about life and talking to Jesus about the whole thing. I was probably crying. In my mind's eye, I saw a picture of a desert that I had never seen before. This was a desert in the extreme sense - a desolate wasteland, ground so dry there were deep, jagged cracks all over the surface, and absolutely NOTHING around as far as the eye could see. There was not one living thing anywhere. This place was death personified in a landscape form. And....there I was, right in the middle of it, hovering by myself, sullen, upset, all alone. And then in my mind I see Jesus - not really his face, but a man that I knew was him in long, flowing robes and a walking stick. From out of nowhere he appeared and was walking straight toward me. When he got close to me, he simply looked at me. I had been found. He had met me in the place that I had gone to hide in my self-pity, despair and discouragement. He didn't hug me, chastise me, or even smile at me. He just looked at me with a warm look in his eyes that said: "Here I am. You can't ever get too far away where I won't find you. And I will always find you."
     To say the least, it was profoundly encouraging then and now. Perhaps you're in a desert season? The temptation in those times is to GET OUT in ways that might not honor God or benefit you in the long run. What's so amazing, though, is that He's looking for you and He will find you. He's just a heart's cry away.

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