Picture it. I am living in my dream-city just a hop, skip, and a jump from Seattle, Washington. A city cut right out of the forest. Everything, everywhere, is GREEN. Tall lush evergreens cover most of the landscape with flowering shrubs, wild ferns, and thick lush mosses, carpeting forest floors. No wonder they call it the Emerald City.
Rain? Who cares. I am living in the Garden of Eden, in my dream-condo perched atop a hill overlooking the serene and picturesque Redmond Valley.
My views look down over Lake Washington with it’s myriad of sailboats, and beyond that, Seattle’s high rise’s with it’s landmark Space Needle. Towering behind that, the wall of snow draped mountains rightly called, the Olympics.
Every Saturday bright and colorful hot air balloons take off and land in the field across the road from where I live. I can hear the laughter of people walking or bicycling up and down the paths that run by my condo, to far down the valley floor, beyond my view. My small village is perfect in size; not too big, not too small, stores clean and tidy, accommodating all of one’s simple needs. Seattle’s big city lights twinkle just beyond, offering symphony, ballet, theater, and a rich night-life.
Yes, I am in heaven!
Add to all of this… I am working my dream-job at a large Eastside church. It’s challenging work with people I love and greatly respect. Friends abound, and though I am not doing the “exact” work I had always hoped to do, still it is interesting, with loads of future possibilities. Not completely perfect… but I have a plan. I am single, in my mid-thirties, but content and growing in my relationship with Christ. Yet I am about to discover I still have a great deal to learn about this “Follow Me.” discipleship thing.
I am about to learn that God’s plan and my plan are on a direct collision course.
So I guess it’s not surprising when I tell you that one lovely spring day, God barged His way in on my beautiful plan and whispered, “It’s time to go…”
“Wait a minute!” I almost shouted it, “I’m living my dream Lord. Go?”
My immediate reaction was not the “willing and obedient” Isaiah teaches us. On the contrary, my first thoughts are, “No way. I can’t be hearing this right…”
The life I had, the life I was living here and now, was the answer to all of my prayers.
“…oh no, no! This can’t be right.”
God couldn’t possibly want me to give all of this up.
So I stalled. I argued my case. I presented all my grand reasons for staying right where I was.
God’s “whispers” got louder, and I kept stalling until one day, He finally took me by the scruff of my neck (maybe not literally but it felt that way) and made it absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, crystal-clear that if I stayed I would do so on my own terms without any of His blessings to count on.
I also understood that God was all DONE asking.
I will never forget His exact words to me, “Today you will decide.”
You have to have experienced that kind of ultimatum to understand how deadly serious those moments of decision actually are.
They are crossroad decisions with choices that will frame the rest of your life… and deep in your heart – you know it.
I can still see myself standing in that “impromptu” chapel service, tears pouring down my face choking back the sobs, as I finally let go of my dreams and surrendered to the LORD. It wasn’t a golden moment filled with all the shining light from heaven. (At least not from my perspective.)
I knew where I was headed. The place I dreaded. The place I had promised myself I would never go back to.
A very BROWN place; often drought-stricken, with scorching heat and choking smog. Jonah sitting under his weed wishing everyone in Ninevah would croak had an understanding and sympathetic friend in me!
When God whispered, “We are going into the wilderness…” I wholeheartedly agreed. Not a doubt in my mind. I often thought of the Sinai when remembering that valley!
Well, I obeyed. I returned to my Ninevah just as Jonah did with broken heart and dragging feet. I was about to begin my tenure as my mother’s live-in/full-time and only caregiver.
I told myself this new assignment would last three months, maybe six at the most. Surely no longer than that. Then I would head straight back to all I had just left behind.
“Okay,” I whispered. “I CAN do this.”
God would undoubtedly let me return when this temporary job was finished. After all, hadn’t I given up everything that I wanted to obey Him and come back to this wretched place? Surely God would see all my great and suffering-sacrifice, and make this an easy trip through the desert.
I had a lot to learn about God… and myself.
My “short trip” through the wilderness was to last ten long and difficult years. My captivity was going to teach me lessons that, had I known back in the beginning when I agreed to go? Had I known where this wilderness-journey would take me? The changes and “education” God had in mind? I would have voted for less “blessing” and stayed in the land of the green!
And God and I both knew it.
But, here’s the thing.
I would have missed out on the dream God had planned for me. I would have rejected any chance for receiving answers to long-forgotten sleeping prayers. Dream-prayers I hadn’t considered for decades. Dream-prayers I had misplaced
If I had stayed in Seattle, I would have chosen a “settle-for” life rather than the ABUNDANTLY MORE God was longing to give me.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
We need to go back to our desert vineyard.
A lot of things died there in that wilderness. Lesser dreams. Shallow hopes. Illusions about others. Contradictions and self-determination. Even well-meant “Christian” certainties. All were to be surrendered to that vineyard cemetary.
What was left was confusion, disillusionment, lots of anger, and daily battles with bitterness.
You see, Habakkuk’s Vineyard is a place where you believe it’s all over… dreams. possibilities. everything. All over. Dead and buried.
It’s a soul-place. An inner place. A grief-stricken place where endings are all you see. It’s a place where all of God’s promises seem contradicted. Where you wonder why you ever followed God. Why didn’t you just say, “no thanks.”
The enemy torments you daily with the reality of how everything has turned out. With accusations of “What a fool you are!” and of course, daily slander against the God you trusted and obeyed in the first place.
You’re left in the aftermath asking, “How is this life better than the one I wanted? How is all this mess and chaos a “blessing” from God?”
In Habakkuk’s Vineyard all the things in your life that can be shaken, will be shaken, so that that which cannot be shaken might remain. [Hebrews 12:27]
But, the remains?
To be honest with you I viewed “my remains” with contempt.
I wandered through the ruins of this vineyard thinking, “…so this is the reward for obedience.”
Endless questions tumbled around in my brain. “Why was I here? Why would God bring me to a place like this? What had I done? How was this place the blessing?”
I plainly believed, “I have been ripped off!”
Max Lucado once said,
“When we’re out of options – that’s when were most ready for God’s surprises.”
Even in Habakkuk’s Vineyard?
Yep, but hang on.
I’m getting ahead of myself again.