Friday, July 4, 2014

Leaving the Comfortable "Less than"

I've begun counseling.  I won't go into the issues that brought me there on this public blog, but I am  ready to lay everything (all my issues) on the table and stare my truth in the face, committed to sticking with this for the long haul.

My first appointment was Thursday, and I cried through most of the hour.  I don't think most people who meet me on the street would have any clue that I am almost always on the verge of tears.  If you could peel back the layers, you would know that I am crying on the inside.  Well, I peeled back the layers on Thursday, and I feel like I've opened Pandora's box.  These things that I try to live above and push down are coming to the surface, and I am left with this pervasive sense of sadness.

I've been in a great bible study this summer (Restless by Jennie Allen).  On Tuesday night, our little tribe of restless women went outside and lit sparklers against the backdrop of a darkening sky.  We were declaring our own personal Independence Days, proclaiming our freedom in Christ... free of fear, guilt, shame, regret, our pasts... free to take the leap of faith, to jump, to say "yes," to be all in, to sparkle and sizzle and shine and brighten the darkness... to be lit by others and to light the "sparklers" of those around us.

I remember how quickly those sparklers burned down to nothing, and I remember thinking, 'How apt!'  Our lives really are that short, aren't they?  It was all over in a matter of seconds.  Yes, earth is short, and heaven is long.  How I need to have my vision shifted!  My perspective gets distorted because earth can seem so long, and heaven can seem so far away and unreal.  But the truth is just the opposite:  "For our present troubles are small and won't last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" (2 Corinthians 4:17, NLT)

Here's the thing:  pain sometimes causes me to lose the story line.  I admit it.... I've lost the story line these past two days.  My focus and desire has solely been on making the pain stop.

  • Cancel counseling:  I'm not strong enough to go there yet.
  • End my life:  I'm not strong enough to handle any of this anymore!  I'm tired of struggling and hurting!  I just want to be home!
  • Take a pill:  How many Xanax or Vicodin will make this feeling go away?  Maybe there's a new antidepressant I can try.
But, though the thoughts come into my mind, I have done and will do none of these things.

I will sit with my pain... not to wallow in it or feel sorry for myself or get "stuck" here, but I will sit with it because I'm beginning to understand something that changes everything.  I don't think it's the pain itself that is so debilitating; rather, it's my fear of the pain!  I do anything to avoid it, to not feel it.  My soul cries, 'Get me out of here! Make it stop!'  However, I always end up in a much worse place when I go down that road of avoidance at all costs.  My attempts to avoid pain have only increased my pain.  What if I just enter in instead of throwing an emotional temper tantrum and looking frantically for an exit door, attempting to flee?

What if the pain is a friend?  Maybe I'm not just crazy, fragile, weak, and broken.  Maybe the pain is my truth that refuses to be silenced.  Maybe the pain is the healthiest part of me.  Maybe my pain is an indicator light on the dashboard of my soul, telling me that things are not right.  It's as if God installed these warning systems for our hearts... because He so wants us to experience abundance that He makes the lack of abundance uncomfortable!  He knows that without the indicator light of pain, we would stay in the comfortable "less than" and miss all that He has for us!  Oh, yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made indeed!

So, I will sit with my pain as with a friend.  "Hello, dear pain.  What are you here to teach me?"  I will enter in without fear.  I will trust that all things are working together for good.  

Yes, even this.  

Yes, even for me.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

thoughts on a life well lived

As an idealistic young adult (or, pre-adult), I wanted to change the world.  Where there was darkness, I longed to bring light.  Where there was hate, I yearned to bring love.  Where there was oppression, I dreamed of bringing justice.  Where there was captivity, I wanted to bring liberation.  Where there was despair, I longed to bring hope.

I wanted to take on the world with this bold, audacious, flagrant goodness...that would not or could not be shushed or quieted or silenced or covered or hidden or overcome.  I wanted to leave a big mark, to impact this globe in a positive way, to leave this world knowing it was a better place because I breathed this terrestrial air.

Now.... I wonder.  Where did all that energy and passion and drive go?  Now... I'm in my forties.  Now... I need naps.  Now... I am tired.  And, perhaps most importantly, now I know that darkness isn't just "out there."  It resides in my heart as well.  To eradicate the evil in this world, I would have to annihilate myself... and everyone else.  I now see that the line between good and evil passes through every single human heart.

Now my dreams are different.  I dream about getting through my days... of finding the energy to take a walk, to clean my house, to connect in some small way with my husband and teenage children.

I wonder... is life something to be "conquered" or something to be "experienced"?  Is it enough... to find a spot in this planet to lay my head, to ENJOY the feeling of the sun on my skin, to appreciate the gentle caress of the breeze or to thrill inside when it rushes by with a power that hints at the enormity and intensity of the God who sends it, to feel my spirit dance to the tune of birdsong that surrounds me, to alight with the butterfly on her whimsical path through the air,  to be amazed by the complexity of a flower, to watch the stars appear in the night sky as the sun dips lower and lower beyond our horizon, to gasp at the beauty of a rainbow, to laugh at the tickle of the rain on my upturned face, and to be wonderstruck at the glory that blazes across the heavens each morning and evening?  To stop, to see, to experience, to appreciate, to just it enough?

Is it enough let the light fill my soul and permeate my being? be a positive energy in my little sphere? be present for my family? be the soft place where they can fall and be attended to in this world that is so often harsh and cruel? just be there and be with and walk alongside? listen (really listen) to a friend? smile at a cashier? pray blessings? love the one in front of me?

If the sum of my life is this:  "You made this world, God, and while I lived, I saw Your beauty, I smiled because of You, I lived in AWE, I noticed, I appreciated, I enjoyed, I experienced creation, I thanked You, and I concurred with You: 'It is good.  It is very good.'"  IS THAT ENOUGH?

It won't amount to much on paper.  It won't build a winning resume.  It won't culminate in letters after my name or qualifying credentials.  I won't have "earned" a place at Your wedding feast by do, do, doing for You... no long list of accomplishments or achievements to lay at Your feet.

But... I was exhilarated by You, by the work of Your Hands!  I marveled at Your creativity!  I was wonderstruck by Your Beauty!  I was in awe of Your goodness and Your grace and Your lavish and unrelenting kindness which I saw ...woven throughout my days, ...woven across our planet. And I PRAISED YOU!  I praised You for the changing seasons. I praised You for the stunning diversity in this world.  I praised You for the uniqueness of each individual.  I praised You for Your infinite creative genius.  I praised You for Your sense of humor and the gift of laughter.  I praised You for the way You revealed Yourself and the way You remained a sacred mystery.  I praised You for Your imminence and Your transcendence.  I praised You for being the God who sees me and knows the number of hairs on my head and collects each tear I cry, AND I praised You for being sovereign and supreme, the God who holds the entire Universe in the palm of Your hand.

I have wept buckets full of tears at the love that sent Your Son into this world to sacrifice His life for mine, and I have praised You for Jesus!  I live in light of Your love that knows no limits or boundaries, this love beyond all words or comprehension, this love that satisfies my hunger, quenches my thirst, and fills my ache for MORE.  I lift my hands.  I bow my knees.  I sing my love to You.  I praise Your Name, and I never want to rise from this spot, and I ask You, Lord, "Is this all You want from me?  Is this "enough"?  Am I "enough" when I am simply lost in You?"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Becoming Like Little Children

I know I haven't written in forever.  After speaking to my BSF leader last fall, I decided not to blog my answers.  She asked me not to, and I submitted to her as onto Christ.  Life has been busy and full, with its ups and downs, and I rarely find the time to sit in front of the computer and blog.  Then there are those times when I need to say something.  This is one of those times.  

Matthew 18:2-4 has so stirred in me that it's almost become an obsession.  I've been chewing on it like a dog chews on a favorite bone:  thinking about it, pondering it, reading it in relation to other texts, discussing it with others, etc.  The question I'm trying to answer is this:  Why did Jesus tell us we had to become like little children to enter the Kingdom?
There is so much richness here, and my mind is becoming swollen with thoughts, so I have to write these down to try to make sense of it all.  

1.  According to Luke 18:17, we must receive the Kingdom of God like a child or we will not enter it.
Children receive open-handedly and joyfully.  They don't feel obligated to give a gift in return.  
Some people have a very hard time receiving:  why?
Well, there are two people involved in the gift exchange:  the giver and the receiver.  
Most people would rather be the giver because it's the "status" role, the "top dog" position.  The giver HAS something to give.  We want to be on the "+" side of life, having and possessing, with assets and resources and "enough" (no, more than enough, a surplus..."leftovers" and "extras" to go around).  Additionally, if we are givers who keep score, we can design a world where everyone owes us.  
But receivers.....receivers are the ones in need, the empty-handed ones, the "have nots" who must rely on the generosity of others if they are to have anything at all.
God, through Jesus, has opened the door of Heaven to all.  But we have a choice.  We can say, "yes" or "no."  To enter in, we must be willing to enter not as a giver but as a receiver.  There is only One giver, the Lord on High.  (Then, as His kids who have received so great an inheritance, we do get to share with others, but it's His Riches we give....we have no riches of our own to offer.)  How difficult this truth is for those who want to earn their way into His Kingdom.

2.  Faith like a child.  Children are credulous.  They lack skepticism.  They trust easily and completely.  They are not yet jaded by the disappointments and realities of life.
In the same way, God's kids trust Jesus.  They take Him at His word.  They believe everything He says, and they know Jesus can do anything.  

3.  Children know the rules and routines of their household.  They don't have to wonder how life works in their particular home.  As a member of that household, they have intimate knowledge of the daily operations of that household.  They know because they LIVE IN IT.  
I should be this familiar with my God, through daily interaction and intimate contact.  He is my Heavenly Father, and I must live in His household (His Kingdom).  His way of life must become mine because I dwell in His house.
Example:  Matthew 5:9, The children of God are peacemakers.  Shalom is the mark of life in God's Kingdom.  His kids grow up in a household that practices shalom, and they are marked by it.  They become peacemakers.

4.  Children become what they see.  They are imprinted by the model of their family of origin and grow to be like them.
Is this why we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus?  He is our model.  God gives His children spiritual eyes to see Jesus, and we become like Him in the beholding. (1 John 3, Children of God)

5.  Kids don't make the rules....parents do.  Kids abide by the rules the parents make.
He is Lord, and the Lord's children follow Him.  As His child, I obey.  I don't try to rule over my Abba.  I accept His position and authority in my life.  

6.  Kids are the learners (while adults/parents are the teachers).  
God's kids come humbly to the Word, with no agenda other than to be taught.  God's kids know that HE is the source of all wisdom, and they love to sit at His feet and learn from Him.

7.  The root of that word "converted," in the Greek means, "strengthened from the base of."  According to Proverbs 4:23, it is our heart that would need to be converted (straightened out/strengthened by God) because our lives flow from our hearts.  If your heart is pure, the whole course of your life will be pure.  If your heart is corrupt, the whole course of your life will be corrupt.  Matthew 5:8 talks about the importance of having a pure heart if we hope to see God.

Back to children:  Children are genuine.  They come into the world with no concept of "image."  They just are what they are.  When they're happy, they sing or smile or laugh or skip or jump up and down and squeal.  When they're sad, they don't hide it; they cry.  They don't hold themselves back for fear of what others will think of them.  They don't wear masks or "manage" their image.  They experience life heartily, with a whole heart.

I think of a man I know who suffered a very traumatic childhood.  Unfortunately, he had to "freeze" his heart in order to survive.  The problem is.....thirty years later, it is still "frozen."  Shame causes him to hide his true self.  As a result, intimacy with his wife, children, even God, is impossible.  He's a shell of a man because he cut himself off from his heart.  I would argue that you can't have a pure heart without a whole heart.  

God's children let Him restore their hearts.  At the moment of conversion, God's kids receive a new heart from Abba, and He teaches them to live wholeheartedly again.   (He takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of to Him, responsive to His Spirit, reconnected with our emotions.  He restores the things that we lost... our imagination, our creativity, our joy, our sense of fun and passion and energy and enthusiasm and play, our excitement for life and living, our faith, our hope, our love.  He restores the imago dei He placed in us when He created us, that image of God that has been damaged by the sin of this world.  This whole-hearted living is abundant living , and God's kids are to be known for living lives of abundance.)

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  How I wish I could have heard these words straight from Jesus's mouth, known the culture and context into which He spoke, and been able to ask Him my questions directly.  But we have His Holy Spirit to lead us in all truth, so I will press in....knowing that He gives revelation to those who earnestly seek Him.  I am desperate for revelation because I am desperate for more of HIM!

Please respond with your own thoughts or additional insights.  I would love to dialogue with you all concerning these truths.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 6

12.  What truth about Jesus and truth about yourself challenged you this week, and how may your group pray for you about this?
I see abuse.  I see sickness and disease and suffering.  I see anguish and torment of all kinds.  I see hunger and poverty and lack.  I see loneliness and estrangement and depression.  There is so much longing, so much ache, so much brokenness, so much that is not right in this world.  The pain weighs heavy on my heart and soul.  BUT, there is a deeper, greater truth than that which my eyes behold.  I cannot view Jesus through the prism of this world; I must view this world through the prism of Jesus!  The truth of who He is and what He has promised allows me to see the hard things in the light of His goodness and know that it is His goodness that will have the final say.
Please pray that I would have my eyes fixed on Jesus this week: high, holy, lifted up, seated on His throne, victorious, conquering King Jesus.  He still reigns, and for this reason, I can rejoice!!!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 5

9a.  Give at least one fact from each of the following prophecies that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ.
Genesis 3:15--God promised a descendant who would crush the enemy's head.  This promised deliverer would come through the woman.  With the birth of Jesus, that promised offspring has finally arrived!
Genesis 49:8-12--Jacob blessed Judah and prophesied that Messiah would come through Judah's line.  Verse 2 tells us that Jesus came in the flesh as a descendant of Judah.
Psalm 2:7--"I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:  He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become Your Father."  This baby, Jesus, is the only begotten Son of the Most High God.
Isaiah 7:14--The virgin became pregnant.  She bore a son, and he was given the name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6-7--The prophesied child is born!  The given Son has arrived!  The faith of many (like Simeon and Anna) has become sight.

9b.  Which one of these prophecies does Matthew quote?  Give verse in Matthew 1.
Verse 23 of Matthew 1 quotes Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means "God with us").

10a.  How did Joseph prove his faith in God's word?
by action--When he woke up, Joseph DID what the angel had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

10b.  Can you share with your group how you proved your faith in God's word at a time when your plan was not the same as God's plan?
I won't share the whole story here because it's rather long, but my trip to Honduras was the first thing that came to mind.  I had recently entered the workforce after years of being a stay at home mom.  Around that same time, my church was promoting their short term mission trips for the upcoming year.  God stirred in my heart, and I knew it was His Spirit inviting me to say "yes" and take His love to the poorest of the poor in another country.  I was so excited!  But when I shared my heart with my husband, he forbid me from going.  I was angry!  Who is he to stand in the way of what God is asking me to do?  Aren't I the one earning the money?  Why shouldn't I put a little aside each paycheck to fulfill a dream and answer a call?  I was not prepared to accept his "no."  But as I prayed, I knew God was asking me to submit to my husband's "no."  Finally, I gave in.  I surrendered my will to God's and accepted that I would not be going on a mission trip anytime soon.  But I was confused.  Why would God give me the desire only to shut the door?  It didn't make any sense.  Still, I bent my knee.  I prayed God would remove the desire, but He didn't.  "Ok, God, you clearly have a plan.  I don't understand it, but I'll play my part.  I will carry this desire.  I will be pregnant with this dream.  I trust that in Your perfect timing, this yearning will be fulfilled....but I do want it to be Your will and Your way."  I put the dream on the back burner and went about my daily life.  Long story short, several months later, there was an opportunity through my employer to apply for a spot on a work-sponsored humanitarian mission to Honduras.  I prayed, submitted my essay and waited.  A short time later, I found out I had been selected to travel to Honduras and spend a week volunteering with a wonderful organization called Casa de Luz.  Better yet, the trip was all expenses paid AND I was paid my regular salary for the week I was gone!  Not only did I not have to pay, but they paid me!  It was an amazing trip; I so knew God had gone before and orchestrated every single detail.  When I returned home and checked my church's website, none of their short term mission trips traveled to Honduras.  God knew what He was doing; Honduras is the country that has my heart, the people I fell in love with, the land that is my prayer burden.  I am so thankful I waited on God's perfect plan and timing because He proved His greatness and faithfulness beyond anything I could ask, dream or imagine!

11.  Try to put yourself in Mary's place and in Joseph's place.
a.   How do you think their faith caused them to suffer?
I'm sure most people did not believe that Mary's child was the result of an Immaculate Conception.  Logical, rational, thinking people would have had their doubts.  I'm sure Mary and Joseph were the objects of gossip and scorn, looked down upon, judged harshly and unfairly, perhaps outright ostracized by some.

b.  What do you think they gained through their faith?
Immediately, Matthew 5:10 came to mind.  "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  What did they gain?  Jesus became theirs.  They received the incomparable riches of a personal, up-close relationship with God Incarnate... intimacy with the Divine.  I just want to shout "Grace!  Grace!  Beautiful!  Beautiful!" because the same invitation exists for me (and you) today.  By grace through faith, God makes His home with me!  God makes himself incarnate (not a flesh and blood incarnation, but "manifest" or "comprehensible") to me!  This is great mystery, that the unknowable makes Himself knowable, and it's no less a miracle than the fact that God once walked our planet as a toddler!

c.  How do their rewards encourage you to suffer for your faith?
My faith is not always rewarded in this life (at least not in tangible ways), but I can guarantee you that no one in Heaven is complaining about the raw deal they received here on earth.  The glory that awaits us is such an all-surpassing glory that no earthly hardship can compare.  Galatians 6:9 comes to mind:  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  I know that when I suffer for my faith, I am only trading temporary comfort for eternal reward.  I want to store my treasure up in Heaven, not on earth, for what I see (this world) is quickly perishing, but what I cannot see (the world to come) will never end!

BSF Matthew, Lesson 1, Day 4

7a.  What five things did Gabriel say about Mary's son?
1. He will be great.  2.  He will be called the Son of the Most High.  3.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David.  4.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  5.  His kingdom will never end.

7b. (Challenge)  Of whom do both Matthew and Luke state that Jesus was born besides Mary?  How do you connect this truth with Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4 and John 3:6?
Both Matthew and Luke point to the Holy Spirit being intimately involved in the conception of Jesus.  Connecting these verses with the other three struck me in a powerful way.  I see the Holy Spirit hovering over the water at Creation, empowering the words of the Father, and bringing the world into being.  All life is God breathed, and it was His Spirit that brought my spirit to life at the moment of my salvation.  I, too, have experienced what Mary experienced!  The Holy Spirit came upon ME, and the power of the Most High overpowered ME, and I was born into God's family!  What an incredible truth!!!

7c.  How do these truths about Jesus' identity help or encourage you?
There is so much encouragement in the truth that forever Jesus reigns.  That reality brings a supernatural infusion of strength and courage.  Whatever darkness falls on the face of this earth, whatever shadows fall across my own life and heart, even if the very foundations of this world are shaken, no matter what trouble comes, Jesus is still enthroned!  My hope is in Him and His Kingdom that will never end!  In every circumstance, every rise and every fall, my Jesus reigns, and nothing and no one can dethrone Him!

8a.  How did Mary's words show her faith?
"I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."  She believed that He was and is capable of doing the impossible!  She believed that the word of the Lord does not return void; it accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent.  Mary showed her faith through her submission (her "yes").  God's ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher than our own.  Mary knew this, and it motivated her surrender.  Knowing the greatness of Yahweh, she could say, "Lord, have Your way in me!"

8b.  What lesson do you learn from Mary's response and how can you apply this lesson to your life this week?  
Is God less involved in the circumstances of my life because I am not the mother of the Messiah?  No!  My body is the very temple of the Most High God.  I, too, house His Son.  I am no more or less important to Him than Mary was.  His eyes are on me just as they were on her.  Therefore, my circumstances are no less God-ordained or God-orchestrated.  Every single thing that comes my way has first been sifted through His hands of love.  So because of my confidence in God and His Sovereignty, I can say, "yes."  I can practice surrender and submission.  All the days of my life were written in His book before one of them came to be.  Because of this rock-solid assurance in the character and absolute authority of my God, I can say like Mary, "I am Your servant, Lord.  May it be unto me as You have written, as You have ordained."  My faith grows as I choose to trust that the universe and my life have not spun out of control, but are unfolding according to plan, for my Jesus still reigns and my God is still on the throne!  Though I haven't seen His blueprints and I rarely understand His ways,  I trust my Papa.  I know Abba's plans are beyond anything I could possibly ask, dream or imagine!  When all is said and done, I know I will never regret surrendering my will to His!

BSF Matthew Study, Lesson 1, Day 3

5a.  Give the two names given to Mary's son and what each name means.  Give verses.
Matthew 1:21, Jesus (which means "the Lord saves"), and Matthew 1:23, Immanuel (which means "God with us")

5b.  What difference has each of these names made to your life?
He has saved me from SO much!  I've been saved from emptiness and meaninglessness, saved from the wrath of God, saved from the dark prison of shame and guilt and condemnation that kept me in solitary confinement, isolated and alone.  My Savior has changed my very nature and identity, from "dead (wo)man walking" to "alive in Christ!"
And Immanuel....His Presence is everything to me and has given me the strength I've needed to face the darkest of nights and the fiercest of storms with a peace that defies explanation.  My heart echoes the heart of Moses in Exodus 33:15, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here."  How thankful I am to live on this side of the finished work of Jesus!  His very Spirit indwells me, and nothing and no one has the power to separate us!

6a.  What do you learn about the word "saved" from each of the following verses?
John 3:17, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."  This verse tells me that salvation is God's heartbeat.  God's very heart beats with the rhythm of salvation.  The purpose for Jesus arriving on earth in flesh was and is salvation. It's why He came; it's the POINT of the Incarnation.  I'm also struck by the object of that verb "saved."  The object is the world.  No exceptions.  No exclusions.  God desires that "the world" (all who live in it) would be saved.  I have never met a person whom God does not love and desire to adopt into His own family.
John 8:24, He has saved me from the terrible fate of "dying in my sins."
John 10:14-16,  I have been saved from wandering.  I now have a Good Shepherd and a place to belong in His flock.
Acts 4:12,  There is only ONE who can save; His Name is Jesus (and He saves to the uttermost).
Romans 10:9, There is an internal and an external component of salvation.  external=>confession, internal=>belief in your heart
Ephesians 2:5,8,  Salvation is God's work, to His credit alone, not ours.  "It is by grace you have been saved...."

6b.  What positive and/or negative thoughts does the word "saved" bring to you?  Why?
To those who feel satisfied and strong and believe they are self-made successes, with hearts full of pride, salvation is an affront, an insult.  "Who me?  Need a Savior?  I need nothing!"
But to me, it is a priceless treasure.  I know myself to be a sinner.  I know brokenness and mess and need.  I know I cannot do it on my own.  My only hope is in the salvation of my Lord!  How very grateful I am for the saving grace of my Redeemer, King Jesus!