Growing Pains

landscape-2073508_960_720 I've been thinking a lot about the changes that have occurred in the past four years. Changes in my character, changes in my faith, changes in my physical body, changes in my family. My marriage has changed, my dreams have changed, my passions have changed. My whole life is vastly different from what it used to be.

I don't look at any of the changes as bad. The changes and the growth that have taken place are good - really, really good. But sometimes when I look back at the old me I don't even recognize myself. The connection is lost and it makes me feel uneasy.

Have you ever run into someone at Target, they say hey and give you a big hug, but you cannot for the life of you remember who they are? It's totally embarrassing. We nod our heads and smile, acting like we know them, and as we wave our goodbyes we think hard and try to figure out where we've met them before.

That's what it feels like when I look back.There are many parts of who I was before that I would never want back. I have thrown those pieces out in the garbage and am fine with them staying there. But some things were harder to let go of. Some things I almost mourn the loss of them. Maybe you can relate.

When we choose to follow Christ, it comes at a cost. In Matthew 16, Jesus said that anyone who wants to follow Him must leave the old behind. We must deny ourselves, our wants, our desires, our habits. We must "pick up our cross" and let God lead the way.

There is a promise, though. When we fully let go of the old and trust God with our futures we find true life. We find our true identities and we become more fulfilled than ever before.

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT)

Giving up the old and denying ourselves is only the first step of a long journey. It's a process we will go through our whole lives, shedding a little here and there to make room for the new. But sometimes the process hard, almost painful. Sometimes as God renews us from the inside out He asks us to let go of things that seem good.

Those are the things I look back on and shed a tear. Those were the things so closely tied to my old identity that when God asked me to let go, it felt like I was losing a part of myself.

Birds go through a similar process called "molting". Some molt once a year, some two or three times, but in order to stay in top flying condition, a molt is necessary.

Feathers, like our hair, are dead structures and over time get damaged. They cannot heal on their own (they're dead remember), but through a molt, the old is completely replaced and the bird is restored.

While molting, some birds become flightless and must seek a protected habitat. They'll choose a habitat that has plenty of food because if they don't get proper nutrition, their new feathers are poorly formed.

Not all feathers are lost at once, so the bird's general shape is sustained, but each stage they go through they tend to look a little different. At the end of a molt, however, they have new colors and patterns, looking even more beautiful than they did before.

Isn't this a perfect picture of what we go through? In order to stay in "top flying condition", God continues to strip away our dead structures and completely replaces them with new ones.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

Some molts are quick and easy, but the seasons where we feel "flightless" we can seek a protected habitat under God. We can stay connected to Him, through prayer and through His word, keeping up proper spiritual nutrition, so that our new feathers form properly.

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. (Psalm 3:3 NLT)

Our general shape stays the same, but each stage a part of us changes and we start to look a little different. Eventually, we come out at the end looking more beautiful and more like Christ.

He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5b MSG)

So for all who are going through this process, for all who are feeling those growing pains, I want to encourage you with a big "me too". Change isn't easy. Sometimes the losing part of the process wears me down.

But the promises we have from God are what keep me pressing on. I look back to the previous moments in my life where God has come through and trust that He will do it again and again. When the growing gets tough, the tough get growing.

Keep growing, dear one. Don't give up. Resist the enemy when he tries to wear you down. Find refuge in the safe habitat God offers. I'm right there with you, every step of the way, cheering you on as you persevere.

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NLT)

"That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day." (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT)