Friday, February 7, 2020

We Come Limping to His Table

In high school I developed an eating disorder that expressed itself in many ways over time. My kids were in high school and college when I realized my dieting was dangerously out of control and I decided to get help. When I first started counseling, I was in denial about the impact my disorder had on others and said something like, "At least it's only food and doesn't impact my family like alcohol or drugs might." The counselor smiled and explained that if he were doing family counseling with us, the first things he would do is ask my children to draw the family dinner table. He then asked me what I thought they would draw and I had to admit that they would have drawn the table with my place empty as I seldom ate with them. I realized in that session that the dinner table was as much about family interaction as it was about food. In recovery, I also became more and more aware and fascinated by Bible passages that dealt with food and meals.

I had struggled with deep shame for a long time over my relationship with food. I hated how often my thoughts were consumed with food, dieting, or the number on the scale. I was also ashamed that food itself was the source of my struggle. After I entered recovery I realized the very first sin committed was centered around food. I also realized Adam and Eve's choice to eat the fruit was more about what Satan promised than the fruit itself. Satan's temptation stirred in them a desire that the fruit didn't fulfill and they ended up miserable.

I could relate to Adam and Eve as I turned to food when I mistook relational hunger for physical hunger.At times I searched frantically for the perfect food to satisfy a hunger I couldn't identify--a hunger food could never satisfy. I could relate to them when I thought I would be happier if only I had something else, which for me was usually a low number on the scale. I restricted food intake so I could feel more powerful when I felt powerless over life, only to realize it was a vicious cycle.I could relate to them when I thought certain foods would calm my anxious heart.  And, when I ate to calm my anxiety, I could sleep the sleep of a food coma, only to awaken to unresolved issues that had stirred my anxious heart, now coupled with the shame brought on by my choices. I eventually realized food wasn't the enemy and it didn't have power over me unless I gave it power. I also realized that eating wasn't a shameful act when I did it with a grateful heart, praising God for His provision. In fact it was an act of worship, resulting in God being ever present. I could walk with Him through disordered thoughts and temptations and see them as an opportunity to know God better.

A few years into recovery I was in a freak accident that left me with a limp. As a result, I embraced the story of Mephibosheth who was Jonathon's son and Saul's grandson. It would have been customary for Jonathon to become king when Saul died, but God appointed David instead. David faithfully served Saul in the interim, but Saul was filled with jealousy over David's God-given abilities, future kingship, and David's victory over Goliath that resulted in popularity. In a fit of jealous rage, he tried to kill David and David realized the king viewed him as an enemy. This grieved both Jonathon and David who were close friends. Jonathon helped David escape and David vowed to show Jonathon and his family mercy when he became king.

Then Saul and Jonathon were killed, leaving behind Mephibosheth. When Mephibosheth's nurse heard of their deaths, she fled with the young boy and fell, injuring both his legs. After David established his kingdom, he remembered his promise to Jonathon and called a servant to find out if there was anyone from Saul's house alive to which he could show mercy. The servant told him about young crippled Mephibosheth and David sent for him.

I imagine Mephibosheth was filled with fear when he was called to the palace of the king that his grandfather had tried to kill. And, when he arrived, he humbly bowed before David and David told him not to be afraid because he had called him to show him favor. Mephibosheth offered himself as a servant, but David gave him a seat at his own table, which meant he, the king, considered Mephibosheth as a son. David also gave him land so his servants could work it and provide all that he needed, which gave the crippled Mephibosheth back his dignity. 

I love this story because of my limp and the invitation to the king's table. Each one of us is Mephibosheth. We were born God's enemy and have been crippled by sin that we have committed and by sin that has been perpetrated against us. Since the fall we have all also been crippled by all sorts of trauma, causing us to be crippled in our ability to do good, our ability to manage our emotions, our ability to discern truth from lies, our ability to love well, and our ability to worship and honor God. Yet, like Mephibosheth, we have been invited to the palace of the King of kings and we come limping to God's table with nothing to offer. Just as Mephibosheth found mercy because of David's love for Jonathon, we have found mercy because of the Father's love for Jesus. Like Mephibosheth, we who don't deserve to even be servants, have been made joint heirs with Christ.  

There are still times that my ankle gets sore and stiff and my limp becomes more pronounced and walking more awkward. There are times that something happens to trigger feelings of past traumas and I find myself walking through my relationships with an invisible "limp" that, too, feels awkward and uncomfortable. There are also times I experience stress and old eating disordered thoughts raise their ugly heads and I find myself "limping" awkwardly through the day barely holding on to what is healthy and good. At those times I know I can either get frustrated and give into shameful thoughts that shout in my head, "I should be over this by now!" Or, I can choose to remember how Mephibosheth, who was David's enemy came to be seated at the king's table and then choose to cling to the truth that I, who was once God's enemy, am now seated at His table, forever belonging to His family. I am also reminded that through His divine power He has given me every thing I need for a godly life through the knowledge of Him who has called us out of His goodness. Over time I've let go of the shame I associated with my different "limps"--physical, relational, and emotional--and I am thankful for this Biblical picture of my reconciliation to the King of kings. 

I know that as we, God's crippled children, each come hobbling up to His table, we are met with lavish mercy and grace that we did nothing to earn. I know that at His table we are forever covered with a love that has been shown through Christ's brutal death on a cross. You  and I may come limping to His table, but the Father welcomes us without hesitation, seeing each of us hidden in Christ becoming the person He created us to be. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A New Point of View

Several years ago, I read John Fisher's book, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), and it was an eye opener. After I read it, I tried to overcome Pharisaical behavior's and correct my attitude to be more like Jesus. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn't. I recently read Michelle Cushatts' book, Relentless, The Unshakeable Presence of a God who Never Leaves and realized I have not only looked at my family and peers through a Pharisaical lens, but I have also looked at people whose stories were told in the Bible that way, too. The reason I did this is because I didn't consider the trauma humans have experienced since the fall, whether it be because of our their choices, the choices of others, or simply living in a fallen world. When I didn't  consider the impact of trauma on people in Biblical narratives, I often judged them, amd was impatient and frustrated when I read about their actions, reactions, words, emotions, and attitudes. 

There has been a lot of research lately on the impact of trauma and it has shown people who experience trauma often struggle to trust each other and God. This is because trauma changes the human brain, impacting our ability to form secure attachments. In addition, the Enemy tells us trauma is proof that God is not loving or trustworthy and that we are too bad to love. People with unhealthy attachment styles present in all sorts of ways, but one way is that they are trusting one moment and unable to trust the next. The deep needs that didn't get met due to trauma, can be triggered, causing all sorts of emotional responses long after a traumatic event is over. I will share a few of the Bible characters we often judge. Michele talks about them in her book.

First, there was Adam and Eve who represent those whose trauma was caused by their own choices. Before the Serpent, they lived in a protected environment in perfect communion with God and each other. Afterward, they experienced a break in those relationships and for the first time experienced fear and shame and they hid. They were expelled from the Garden that was filled with all they needed and had to work hard to survive. Their lives became messy and dysfunctional and they struggled with conflict and trust, living with the knowledge that their actions had impacted all mankind. Yet, God in His grace promised them a Savior, covering their nakedness with animal skins, He, Himself, killed. 
Second, there was Abraham and Sarah. When I first read their story, I was confused by their strong faith being interrupted by doubts. That is until I learned more of their story. They lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods, which would have been difficult for a barren couple. It would have been assumed that their infertility was due to moral failure and that their infertility was the result of the gods displeasure with them.. I imagine Sarah was judged harshly and mocked as she tried to fix what was wrong in her life. Yet, she couldn't identify what it was she needed to fix. She and Abraham answer God's calling to leave for a new country, receiving His promise of a child. Years later, Sarah was still barren and beyond childbearing years, so she took things in her own hand as she most likely had done before. She tried to help God by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a child for her. The handmaiden mocked her and Sarah treated her harshly, which is understandable in light of the trauma of having lived in a land that idolized fertility and treated her with the same kind of contempt Hagar had shown her. Even though life got a lot more complicated, God was with them and kept His promise, raising their reproductively dead bodies to life and giving them a child. He even made a covenant with Abraham and in that covenant, God assumed all of the responsibility for keeping it, walking alone walked through the sacrifices, His actions telling Abraham that even if he messed up, God would keep His covenant. 

Third, we skip to the Israelites living in Egypt. Exodus tells us the Hebrews were oppressed, forced into slavery, and their lives were made bitter with hard work. They were a fertile people and their numbers grew, causing the Egyptians to fear them. So the Egyptians increased the Hebrew's labor and eventually ordered midwives to kill their children when they were born. The Hebrews cried out to God, whose ears had always been turned towards them and He called Moses to lead them to the Promised land. After witnessing the plagues, Moses lead them out of Egypt, which had its own set a problems. I used to wonder why they so quickly vacillated between belief and unbelief, questioning God's purpose and Moses's leadership. But in the context of trauma, their story of faith followed by anger, fear, and doubt makes sense. They questioned God, because they had previously felt abandoned by Him, wondering if He was hearing their cries when they lived as slaves. It also makes sense that they would have a hard time trusting Moses's leadership as the generation leaving Egypt had never experienced benevolent leaders, only brutal and oppressive ones. They had wanted to be rescued and cried out to God, but in waiting on Him to answer, the story they began telling themselves was that God brought them out to abuse them, too. It makes sense they would wonder if God really would take them through the sea, provide food for them,  and keep them safe. Would life in a new land be better? Would Moses be fair as he dealt with them? When I look at them through the lens of trauma, I have more compassion and understanding. I wonder if maybe God put their story in the Word, not to make an example of them, but to show us what lengths He will go to save His people traumatized by living in a fallen world.  

Forth, we have Elijah. I always loved the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was a prophet who lived in perilous times due to God's discipline, a severe drought, and ungodly leaders like Ahab and Jezebel, who killed God's prophets. In that social climate Elijah confronted Ahab and set up a challenge between God's true prophets and Ahab's false ones. They both built alters and the false prophets called on Baal to ignite their sacrifices, using all sorts of passion and antics. Nothing happened! Then Elijah and his prophets poured water on their alter and prayed and God came down, igniting their offering, proving He is who He says He is. They slayed the false prophets who were leading people astray, igniting Jezebel;s wrath. She plotted to kill Elijah and he ran, he feared, he hid, and he doubted. He even asked God to take his life. I judged him harshly, but God didn't. He had compassion on Elijah and met his physical needs of rest and food and gently met the traumatized, depressed prophet in a soft whisper, showing him the lie he believed that he was all alone was false. 
Fifth, we have Job and his wife. I have had several friends bury children and had already grown more compassionate towards them. In fact, at times I get angry with believers who  judge them harshly. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose all of my children, my home, my resources, and my employees in one day, especially in a culture that assumed everything bad experienced is because of moral failure. The reactions the couple had to the relational, physical, and financial losses they experienced were appropriate. The grief of a child runs deep and is cyclic and remains a shadow for a lifetime in both times of trust and times of doubt. As a child when I read their story, I mistakenly thought when God gave them more children and more wealth that their life would return to normal and their pain would end. But, that is not the case! Even after people work through grief and their joy has returned, there is an empty place in their parental heart. God wasn't put off by their emotions, their struggle to make sense of their losses, and the questions they posed. So, why are we? Maybe God met them in their pain, to show them and us that the way through pain is to say the questions ruminating in the heart out loud so Satan can't use those questions to plant seeds of doubt. Maybe it was to teach us to make room for the truth that suffering helps us understand the love of God and the suffering Jesus experienced when He lay down His life for our sin. The fellowship of suffering reveals the deepest parts God's heart to us. 

Sixth, lets briefly discuss the disciples of Jesus. They walked with Jesus, heard Him preach, saw Him heal, saw Him cast out demons, and watched as He confronted Pharisees who had painted God as a hard task master never to be pleased. They ran when Jesus was arrested and denied knowing Him at the crucifixion. I judged their actions many times. But, viewing them through the trauma in their story allows me to be more empathetic. Their country was being controlled by other nations and God had been silent for 400 hundred long, hard years. They heard Jesus's words through that lens and probably heard a few lies the enemy planted along the way. All of a sudden the Messiah they loved and hoped in  was taken, illegally tried, beaten beyond recognition, and crucified between two thieves. They emotionally weren't prepared for what they saw, the grief they felt, and the confusion of faith the events brought about. The fearful disciples returned home, lost in their hurt...until He rose again! Jesus wasn't judging them like I was. He went straight to them and reestablished their callings to be His disciples and promised them the Holy Spirit who would increase their understanding of Spiritual things. God met them in their pain so they would understand the cross was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. That even in their failure to be faithful, Jesus alone paid the price. They would need to know this grace when they served Him enpowered by the Holy Spirit who would come. Jesus understood their fear of abandonment and He clearly conveyed to them that He would not leave them alone, but would give them a Comfortor who would bring to mind what He had taught and enable them to understand and empower them to do what He called them to do.   

This new perspective of looking at the Bible characters in the context of their story and the trauma they experienced makes me want to reread every story again to see the relentless love and presence of God more fully in their lives. It also inspires me to look for that in my own life and in the lives of people around me. A trauma lens helps me have more empathy and compassion. As Michele so eloquently said, "God doesn't condemn our questions, doubts, and despair but actually pushes further in, drawing closer still. And to discover, to our deep relief and lasting delight, that God's greatest desire isn't to browbeat us into obedience but to woo us with His relentless nearness." I can't help but wonder how differently our lives would be, if  we grasped this concept and became totally and radically transparent with Him, expectantly looking for Him to be near. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Legacies We Leave

I watched the celebration of life held for Lois Evans, who was the wife of Pastor Tony Evans. The service was long and filled with lots of speakers, which gave me an opportunity to see glimpses into the life of a lady I wish I have had the opportunity to know. As I watched thoughts about what a legacy was began floating around in my brain.

I saw Lois's legacy when women talked about their friendships with her. As they shared parts of conversations they had had over meals about their children, their spouses, their ministries, their churches, and their relationship with God. Repeatedly I heard people say how their lives were drawn to the Savior by the conversations they had with Lois.

I saw her legacy when women spoke about Lois as a mentor. These women moved to Dallas when their husbands went to Dallas Theological Seminary. They were young brides who had moved far from family and were facing early years of marriage to men who were students at a seminary that demanded a lot of their time. Lois took them under her wing as a mama hen would her chicks. She encouraged them in the Lord, drawing them into the Word. She taught them to love their husbands, gave them wisdom in how to parent their children, and taught them how to relate to the churches their husbands pastored. She shared recipes, enabling them to feed their families on a student's budget, taught them to manage their house holds well, and to become women of dignity and grace. She not only mentored with her words, she mentored by living out a transparent, godly life in front of them.

I saw her legacy in the words people used to describe her. They used the word humble because she wasn't one to draw the limelight to herself. She was more about helping others become who God wanted them to be.

She was known as a loving woman. Lois loved her husband. She loved her children. She loved her friends. She loved those she mentored. and she loved her congregation. Someone told her children she had saved her life by taking the time to have an after-church conversation when she was feeling suicidal and had told Lois she didn't think she was supposed to be here anymore. Lois listened and responded with, "Oh honey, we need you here!" That mama of two is still alive and serving God. 

She was also known as a kind woman. I looked up kind to try to understand just what kind actually means. I found that it meant Lois's behavior was marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It means that she helped others in need without expecting anything from then in return. It meant that she stopped to listen, stopped to speak truth into hurting hearts, and stopped to offer compassionate care to those who needed it.

I saw her legacy in her children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren as they took the stage. Every single one that spoke did an eloquent job. They were confident in who they were because Lois had taught them about their identity in Christ. They can teach, preach, sing, and share the gospel in such a way that one would want to know their Savior. They shared a bit about their last days with her. Even during her final days she was showing them how to embrace the end and how to trust God through her transition. She loved Jesus to the very end. They will miss her, but she left them with hope!

And, as I was contemplating legacy one of the speakers shared that one of her favorite things to do was to view sunsets, especially at a lake. She said that as they were watching the sunset together her mom was picking up stones and casting them into the lake, causing the water to ripple. She said watching that, she realized that legacy making is like casting stones into a lake. Each action has a ripple affect. It was then that I realized, that legacies aren't just in the big things we do, but also in the everyday things we do in front of families, friends, and congregations.

I realized today that the legacies we leave are not always just the big things that we do. They are the small everyday things, too. They can either be good legacies or bad ones. When we build up someone, speak healing words into their lives, or remind them gently of God's truth and love it not only impacts them in a positive way, but it impacts those in their sphere of influence as well. However, when we speak harsh, judgmental words, tearing someone down, it will not only impact them but also those around them as well. In the same way when we do something kind without expecting something in return, it, too, will have a positive ripple effect or when we know to do good and withhold it, it will have a negative ripple effect.

While watching people share about their interactions with Lois Evans, I realized that her goal in life never had to be about leaving a specific legacy, it was about living a life deeply connected to her Savior. It was about loving Him with all of her heart, mind, and soul, and a lot about loving others as she lived loved. Her legacy was simply the fruit of making a daily commitment to trust and obey the Savior who died to give her life. It was simply a lifetime of choosing daily to trust His heart towards her and obey His instructions given in His Word. Her legacy was the fruit of a commitment to trust God's sovereignty in both the good and the hard. Her legacy was formed one word, one conversation,  and one act of kindness at a time, each rippling outwardly from the intended receiver. Her amazing legacy is reflective of what God wants for us all.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Christmas Story is the Story of a God in Pursuit

When I was a child, Christmas felt magical to me. People were kinder, happier, and friendlier as they took time to greet one another and to stop and engage in conversations and wish each other, "Merry Christmas!" It also seemed magical because we had extended family visit and traditional holiday meals around elegantly decorated tables. I loved gazing at the Christmas tree lights as I sipped cocoa in front of a fireplace and loved listening to the garbled sounds of adults talking as I drifted off to sleep, thankful more of the people I loved were all under our roof.

When I began attending church, Christmas took on a more important meaning to me and the feeling of it being magical was replaced by a feeling of deep awe that continues to grow. I used to think the Christmas story began in the gospels. But, I have since come to understand the story didn't began with an angel visiting Mary or with angels singing to shepherds in the fields or the Shekinah Glory in the east--it began in the garden God had planted for the people into which He had breathed life. It began with something so sinister we don't like to  include it in the story, but we must because without the bad we can't grasp the loving goodness of God and the significance of His pursuit of us and the Promise He made to us.

The story began with temptation which started with a slithering serpent and the sound of his smooth voice whispering lies and half truths to God's people. It began with Eve forgetting she were created to be God's image bearer. It began as she became dissatisfied for the very first time, believing the serpent's lies over God's truth. It began as she saw God's command not to eat as a deprivation rather than a protection. Her dissatisfaction grew as her desire for the God-forbidden fruit inflamed by the feeling of deprivation and grew into a belief that she deserved more. It began with a bite and then a sharing of her sin with her man--her ever so silent man standing by her side as she engaged in a conversation with a serpent. It began with the overwhelming shame that grew in their hearts as the reality of what they'd done sank in and in their futile attempts to cover it with clothes of leaves proved inadequate. It began with their hiding from the Creator when they heard His approach and for the first time had to call for them.

But there was no place big enough to hide the shame they felt from the God who knows all and yet, still relentlessly pursues those He loves. He met them where they were and He clothed them in animal skins that He, Himself, sacrificed--a sacrifice that was a physical picture of His loving Promise. The one He made in the aftermath of the ugly choices man had made. The promise was that the Promised One would one day take God's wrath for sin committed, would overcome the death they were dying, and would destroy the enemy seeking to destroy them.

Since that day in the Garden we, who were meant to behold God, fellowship with Him, and reflect His glory have been sinning and forsaking our Creator just as Adam and Eve did. As a result, we, too, are shrouded in debilitating shame and hiding from the Creator and each other. We may not hide behind leaves and bushes, but we hide behind masks that portray false selves better than we are. We hide behind shameful behavior like name calling, addictions,  cursing,  deception, abandonment, and abuse. We hide behind vows of not needing the love, approval, and acceptance of God or other people. But the masks, the  shameful behavior, and the vows we make--they can't dissolve the shame that flourishes in hiding.

The solution of shame resides in persistently pursuing God who transforms shame with the blood of the Promised One. The Promised One being Jesus, His Son. The Promised One born shamefully to an unwed mother, lived in the shameful region of Nazareth, and shamefully walked with women, shamefully blessed children, shamefully touched lepers, shamefully cast out demons, shamefully forgave adulterers, shamefully supped with sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors, shamefully confronted religious leaders who were shaming others. The Son fulfilled the Promise when He was shamefully sold for the price of a slave, was shamefully arrested, was shamefully insulted by the crowd calling for His death, shamefully flogged, shamefully face-slapped and beard plucked, shamefully stripped and crowned with earth-cursed thorns, shamefully nailed to a cross to die a criminal's death, shamefully faced His Father's wrath, and shamefully placed in a borrowed tomb.

We often fail to see, He chose to lay down His life, not just as a payment for sin, but because He despised the shame that's tendrils have been suffocating the life out of us. I wish we could understand He has never despised us; He has despised the shame with which we've been plagued since the fall. And as Diane Langberg so eloquently pointed out in her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, He did not let the shame people and His circumstance heaped upon Him define Him, diminish Him, or destroy His work and His purpose--He looked it fully in the face as His Father turned away so that He could transform our shame into glory.

As we remember the Babe born to a young virgin, laid in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, and visited by the Magi, may we never lose sight  that the Promised One humbled Himself, taking on the form of man, being obedient to death, was the very One who defeated sin and death so we could behold Him and have our shame transformed into glory as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "We all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory."

The Christmas Story without the backdrop of the Garden looses its ability to show the true story God has penned--a story that is both messy and beautiful-- messy because it includes our sin and shame and our failure to love and obey God and beautiful because it includes the loving God radically pursing fallen creatures, and a promise that was fulfilled in the Promised. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us of the glory of which our sin stripped us. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us that by faith in Christ we have been provided a way to enter His presence, which is the very place we need to be to have shame transformed into glory. Oh, that we would never forget that the Christmas Story is a Story of a God in pursuit! 

Monday, December 2, 2019

When the Lights are Dim

A few years ago my husband replaced our light bulbs with energy-saving lightbulbs. When we bought them, we didn't realize they take awhile to "warm up" and give off all of the light they are designed to give. The first time I turned the bathroom lights on and glanced in the mirror I thought to myself, "Hey, not so bad!" However, as the light bulbs warmed up and gave more light, the image staring back at me changed. She had bags under her eyes, wrinkles around her mouth, crows feet around her eyes, and "sun spots" gracing on her cheeks. For a brief moment I felt a twinge of disappointment and wished there was a way to dim the lights and turn back the clock to see the younger version of myself again. Then I realized the face looking back had been imprinted by the story I've lived and I wouldn't change it for the world, not even the bad parts like my failures and sin that has been so graciously covered by the Lamb's blood. I would not change the traumas experienced that added lines through the anxiety they produced, because they have been so beautifully healed, the scars reminding me of God's healing touch. I wouldn't even want to remove the lines put there by the messy relationships God has provided to encourage growth in my life. The wrinkles, the scars, the bags under eyes, and the sun spots that come with aging, they all tell a part of the redemption story I'm living.

As I reflect on how the Scriptures call Jesus the light of the world and on my life I realize there have been different seasons. In some of those seasons I've felt deeply connected to Jesus. One such season was the time spent in Mississippi in a little Baptists church. The pastor taught at church 3 times a week and in the community twice a week. He always taught the Scriptures verse-by-verse and gave the gospel each time. He frequently encouraged us to search the Scriptures like the Bereans did. Every Sunday school teacher also taught that way and as a result the church was full of believers who loved the Word and talked about it in everyday conversations. The light experienced in that environment produced a body who loved each other, who quickly confessed sin, and who had a desire to live in a way that honored God. I felt close to Him and lived in close communion to Him, experiencing loving conviction and encouragement daily from both the Word and those around me.

We have lived in several communities and have attended at least seven churches since then. Over the years churches have started having less church services and the expository teaching isn't always as in depth as what we experienced in Mississippi. The culture is also busier and accountability is often forced by joining small groups rather than flowing from relationships that have developed naturally over time spent in Sunday school classes, fellowship dinners, and invitations to join others for Sunday dinner, all of which provided time for questions about the sermon, stimulating conversation about how to apply it, and to catch up on each other's lives. I knew the Light was Jesus and that He shines through the Scriptures, but those conversations and discussions helped the light sink in. In that environment I felt safe to confess sin and ask other to pray for me to overcome it.

After we moved from that place, I learned not every church is the same. Soon after we moved, I asked a new pastor a question about the sermon and he got defensive instead of excitedly opening up the Word and showing me the verses he used to reach his interpretation. From then on I have been hesitant to ask questions and have resorted to trying to find answers by looking in commentaries and listening to additional sermons on line. In one church I shared some ongoing painful things my family was experiencing in Sunday School and a man I didn't know said in a harsh tone, "Have you ever heard of forgiveness?" I was shocked and didn't respond. The truth is I forgave everyday the pain my kids experienced by kids who bullied them in our neighborhood. I needed wisdom as a mom on how to navigate the situation and God to begin to heal my kids' hearts. I needed to not feel so alone in this new community we were in where southern accents and homeschooling were grounds for rejections.

I also remember asking for some accountability for an eating disorder with which I was struggling. One lady agreed to meet with me and in our first meeting she confronted me for wearing make up and asked me if I was trying to draw attention to myself like a "floozy." If you know me, you know I am a minimal makeup kind of gal and very modest and don't like to be the center of attention. I felt so shamed I never met with her again. I asked a few other ladies I met in Bible studies at different times to be accountability partners. One shoved the a Bible across the table and told me if I only knew more of the Bible I wouldn't have that issue, one told me all I needed was Jesus, and the third used that information to try to convince the leadership I didn't belong at the church. As a result, I became a lot less real in church and quit seeking accountability relationships. And the light grew a bit dimmer for me during that time and in the dimmer light flaws I was developing went unnoticed and unaddressed because I, like everyone else, have blind spots and don't always see myself accurately.

I eventually sought accountability and healing in the offices of Christian counselors who were Spirit-led believers who, like Jesus, were filled with both truth and grace. I could be real in their offices and know I wouldn't be shamed. I would be given new insights that could help me move forward. At times I was gently confronted when words and actions didn't match and I once again began to grow more and once again was experiencing God and His work continually in my life.  

I believe the little church in the south was on to something. It was a church centered on the Word. It was also a relational church, reflecting a relational God. There we experienced loving relationships and conversations that began to change the distortions I had about God and Christianity. There I experienced more growth because I not only spent a lot of time in the Word, I had conversations about what I was learning and discussed how to apply it to my life. I was surrounded by people who didn't shame me for experiencing postpartum depression, who didn't shame me for experiencing PTSD and fear after a break in, and who didn't "kick me" when I was down about sin or broken relationships. I was surrounded by people who also noticed and acknowledged growth in me and asked questions about how I had worked through some of the issues I had experienced.

It wasn't a perfect church. There were times we misunderstood each other, assumed somebody meant something they didn't mean by a question asked or a statement made. There were times we had to confront sin in the body and it was doubly hard because we truly loved each other so much. And for the most part we had a committment to God and to each other to get through the messy hard parts of relationships. There I was gently confronted by mentors who didn't wound, because they loved well and didn't use the Word of God in a shaming way. Because people discussed the Word in such positive ways people had more sensitive consciences and were more continuously confessing sin and turning from it, literally working out salvation as the Bible tells us to. I think that no matter how good preaching and teaching is, when there are no relational conversations about the Word and the teaching there we are prone to not let it take root in our hearts, resulting in lives that don't reflect the process of sanctification to which we are called.

I have come to realize I am at a place in my own life that I passionately long for the time that I will no longer live where the light can be so easily dimmed, but will be at Home where the sun and moon will no longer need to shine because the Lamb will be the light there of. And His Light will always shine Bright.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Are We Comfortable with Discomfort?

Every so often I come across a book in which an author gives words to the thoughts and feelings I couldn't find a way to express. Such words were penned by Chanel Miller in her book, Know My Name. She is the young lady who was raped while unconscious on the Stanford campus. A couple of years afterward Stanford decided to make a park in the spot her rape took place in honor of her and other victims of sexual assault. The school claimed they wanted it to feel like a safe sanctuary, which sounds nice when one first hears about it. They asked her to provide a quote for a plaque to be placed in the park. She gave them one which contained powerful words from her victim impact statement. They denied her choice and offered as an alternative, "I am right here. I'm okay, everything's okay, I'm right here."

Chanel refused to let them use their suggestion. She explained that those were the words she had used in the aftermath of her assault, but the truth was she was not okay. She went on to explain, "I struggle with how I am supposed to live as a survivor, how to present my story and myself to the world, how much or how little to disclose. There have been numerous times I have not brought up my case because I do not want to upset anybody or spoil the mood. Because I want to preserve your comfort. Because I have been told that what I have to say is too dark, too upsetting, too targeting, too triggering, let's tone it down. You will find society asking you for the happy ending, saying come back when you are better, when what you say can make us feel good, when you have something uplifting and affirming." 

As a survivor, her words described what it felt like the 40 years I kept the secret of my abuse, which contributed to the development of an eating disorder, which I learned to hide as well. I kept my secret, because I believed it was such a bad secret it could tear our family apart. I kept my secret because I thought it was too dirty for my friends to hear. I kept my secret because I was afraid it would upset my spouse. I kept my secret because I thought it would embarrass the people with whom I attended church. I kept my secret because I felt dirty every time I thought about it and assumed that anyone hearing it would view me as too dirty, too messy, and to defective to be around.

In addition, I internalized the comments and insinuations of others that it must have been because of what I was wearing, because I didn't tell the perpetrators to stop, or because of the size of my chest. But, the truth is I was only four the first time it happened. I didn't dress immodestly. I was too fearful, too trusting, and too confused to tell someone older to stop. And, as a flat chested preschooler, I am pretty sure now that my body wasn't responsible for what happened. (If you are stuck on it being about one's clothing google the "What Were You Wearing?" Exhibit.)

Many survivors do not tell their stories! They don't tell because they don't want to make waves, they fear that no one will believe them, they know that many will place blame on them, and they feel responsible for the feelings of those around them. Many who have told said they have noticed the discomfort it caused others and assumed it must have been wrong to speak their story. So the secrets get pushed down deep where the feelings smolder inside to the point they consume one's life without them even knowing it.

I wish I could say I found it easier when I became a believer, but I didn't. I trusted Jesus around the age of 10 and soon embarrassed a Sunday school teacher by asking what a virgin was when he was telling the Christmas story so there was no way I would share my story. I quickly came to love Jesus and was clinging to Him with everything I was. And some years--they were pretty good, but then every so often a new traumatic event would occur and the shame and the anxiety of the past would rise up strong and ugly and mix with the feelings of the current event until I could manage to push them all back down.

Many of the women who have told someone in the church were say that they were quickly silenced with admonitions to forgive. And, the first people I told about the eating disorder were just as quick to point out that I just needed to take it to Jesus and believed I sorely disappointed them when nothing changed. Unknowingly the church often validates the lessons learned in society--our job as survivors is to tell happier stories that are full of victory. And, I tried to do that until I just couldn't do it any more.

I did everything I knew to heal myself, only to realize later what I was doing was governed by distorted thinking and self-contempt that I thought would lead to holiness. I kept trying until God opened doors for godly, gentle, patient, and wise counselors. It was there that I realized that some trauma is just too big, too hard, too scary, and too painful to visit alone. Safe counselors provided a safe place to do that. They also provided interventions and guidance that helped and they encouraged me to be curious and creative and showed me recovery wasn't about shaming oneself into perfection, it was more about telling my story and identifying how the things I had experienced impacted me--physically, emotionally, cognitively, and relationally. And, all of those things were so intertwined.

Overtime, I grew to trust my caregivers with more and more of my story and became willing to try the things they suggested that felt foreign to me. I even got to the place I could pray and asked God to show me how to heal parts of my story and He would lay some creative thing on my heart to do and I would take that in and show it to my counselor and experience freedom as a result. I leaned that for me personally to heal, I needed people willing to both enter my story and to witness the healing taking place.

As I read and reread Chanel's words and thought of them in light of the church, I realize there is all sorts of pain that people believe they are to hide or stories to sanitize so others feel more comfortable. It might be the woman sitting in the pew who has suffered five miscarriages, who smiles and says she is fine. But the truth is she doesn't want to tell all of her story because she doesn't want to hear any more thoughtless words or admonitions to examine her life and trust her God more. She smiles, but longs to be real and have someone to simply sit with her and bear witness to her grief.

It might be the woman whose marriage is crumbling under the stronghold of addictions that are taking their tole on someone she loves. She is smiling and telling everyone she knows, "I know God has got this," but is secretly longing for someone to realize just how deeply her hurt runs, how overwhelmed she feels making decisions she never thought she would have to make, and how lonely life feels right now in the boundaries needed to stay safe and invite the other to live in the light. She may be smiling but she longs to have other bear witness to her struggle.

It might be the wife struggling with years of infertility who is always smiling and saying she is fine. Yet, she is still living with the longing God placed in her heart and trying to make sense of the truth that the One who could fulfill the longing is choosing to not do it at this time. She believes she can't give words to the grief she experiences every month as it makes those around her uncomfortable. And she lives with the reality that there are those who think she should be over it by now. Since there is no switch to switch of the desires, she longs for one to witness the struggle and remember her monthly grief.

It might be the mom of a special needs child who smiles and says she is fine when she isn't. This is because she has learned the hard way that when people offer to pray and then follow up with her that they will become uncomfortable when she tells them the truth that things are about the same, which reveal that the prayers they prayed didn't result in some miraculous change. She longs for someone to bear witness to the long term struggle she faces and feels powerless over and to believe with her that her child's life matters greatly in kingdom life.

It might be the mom of the child that an accident, a war, an illness, or a mental health issue took too soon who is smiling and saying she is fine when she isn't. It might be the anniversary of the child's death, the birthday celebrated in heaven, the empty chair at the holiday table, or the missed milestone that will never be met that renews her grief with a vengeance. Only this time it is harder because she feels alone in the realization that her grief makes others uncomfortable. She longs for others who will understand that grief she experiences has its own ebb and flow and to give witness to the fact that it speaks of a love that runs deep.

It might even be the couple sitting in church, feeling isolated and alone due to a moral failure of one of them. Their has been real repentance and healing in their marriage, but no restoration in their church. So they quietly move to new churches and sit on back pews. They are quick to smile and say they are fine if asked, but they have learned their kind of messy makes others uncomfortable and that people don't forget confessed sin like Jesus does. They long for people to bear witness to their messy story and to see all the beauty of grace and restoration in their marriage and the love that grows out of such testing.  

The questions I want to lay out there for us to all grapple with is, "Is it the job of those who have or who are suffering to protect the church from the truth of life as it really is with all of it's messy, hard, and painful parts? What if there are valuable, healing, and sanctifying lessons bound up in those untold, unsanitized stories we are so quick to silence?"

We don't have all of the answers, we just have to be brave enough to sit in the discomfort of another's difficult story--fully present, leaning in, listening intently, and saying honestly, "There are no words I can say to make this better for you, but I see you, I hear you, I care, and I will let you be real with me and maybe we'll find people who can help and if we can't I am still here." I have come to believe that God truly can turn sorrow into gladness, fear into courage, and despair into hope and maybe He is calling His people to be conduits for this work by sitting in the uncomfortable with each other.

I began counseling because I was sick of pretending to be somebody I wasn't, I was sick of hiding things to make others feel better, and I was sick of hurting. I also went because the deeper intimacy with God that I longed for seemed so illusive when I pretended to be fine. Intimacy with God deepened in the counseling office where God was invited into my broken parts. It was there I began to more fully grasp how to apply Scripture to my healing. An example of this occurred when I entered the counselor's office so filled with shame I wanted to curl up in a ball. She asked me if I was okay and I responded that I hated the devil. She pulled a chair over and said, "So, talk to him." At first, I quietly addressed him. She then had me sit in the devil's chair and say what he was saying in my head. His voice was loud and hateful as he hurled accusations, shaming words, and lies at me. She directed me back to my chair and asked me to take those thoughts captive and I sat up a little bit straighter and spoke a little louder as I began to speak God's truth. I moved between the two chairs until the accuser said God couldn't love someone like me. This holy anger rose in me and I loudly proclaimed that the proof of God's love was the cross and Christ death on it. I then proclaimed that there was nothing I could do to make God stop loving me and nothing I could do to make Him love me more. She pointed to the Enemy's chair with a question on her face and I just smiled and said, he is gone. Truth will always win out. But, maybe truth is more powerful when we quit slapping people with it and get comfortable with discomfort to witness to another's wrestling to make the Truth fully their own. So, are we willing to get comfortable with discomfort?  

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Sound of Perfect Love

God created us to experience our world and our relationships through our senses. It is fun to think about how love is experienced through our senses, especially the sense of hearing. As I think about it, I realize it is a bit hard to distinguish the sound of love from sounds that evoke feelings of love within us and maybe that is okay as love seems to begat love. 

When I was a child, love sounded a lot like my mom's voice reading to my siblings and I. It sounded like her singing to us on long car rides. It sounded like her whispering, "SHHH...." in my ears as she rocked me back and forth in the aftermath of  nightmares that woke me up. 

It also sounded like my dad laughing as us kids wrestled with him in the evenings or when he instructed us on how to ride a bike or ice skate. 

It sounded like my grandmother's voice calling us to tell us dinner, asking if we wanted hot lemonade to sooth a sore throat, and telling us stories about hers and my mom's childhoods. 

When I started school, the sound of love included teachers' kind voices, affirming words about completed work, or patient explanations of difficult math problems. It included band director's voice cajoling me as I played a hard run on my oboe as one by one the other students gave up, leaving me to play alone. "I didn't stop you!" he said as he grinned from ear to ear. It included the sound of the teacher's voice who knew my mom was really sick, encouraging me to talk to his wife who was the school nurse. 

The sound of love was the sound of my friends voices as we laughed, as we sang together in talent shows, as we talked late into the night on sleep overs, as we confessed our struggles, confronted one another during arguments, and cried together when we lost students in car wrecks. 

I realize now, that the sound of love also included the angry words that masked my parent's fear when they realized how little food I consumed in my disordered state, believing my 100 pound body was fat. 

When I started dating my husband, it was the words, "I love you" being spoken for the first time. It was the words, "I do!" being vowed before our God, family, and friends. It was the words "I am sorry!" spoken earnestly after an ugly fight. It was the sound of his foot steps running up the sidewalk because he couldn't wait to tell me he had passed his biochemistry test. It was the words, "You did amazing," spoken just after childbirth. It was my husband's stern voice reminding the boys their mom is a girl and they must wrestle with her more gently than with him. It was the sound of my husband's voice praying over his family. It was his words, "I want to do this for you. I see it as a diamond need!" It is the sound of his voice singing in church beside me and always encouraging me to go even during the rough times.  

After my babies were born, it was the sound of laughter that erupted during peekaboo games. It was the sound of nuzzling and gulping as they drank from me. It was the sound of their voices calling from the crib, "MAMA! MAMA! MAMA!" It was the sound of little ones saying, "I wuv you, Mama!" as their little arms enveloped my neck! It was the sound of my daughter's voice whispering that it would be okay right after we dropped my best friend off at the airport. It was the sound of laughter filling the tent as the man next door snored like a bear and drunk college kids on either side of us made incoherent stupid statements as they argued back and forth. It was the sound of the kids praying together as we homeschooled. It was the sound of my youngest singing, "My God is so Mighty!" as he flexed his little muscles and my daughter busting out "This is my Story," in the grocery story.  

The sound of love was also the voice of the stranger, stopping by our restaurant table to tell us she thought our family was awesome. Little did we know she was observing the seven of us interact, order, pray, and eat together. She never knew how her words blessed this insecure Mama's heart. 

It was the sound of the principal at one of our kids school greeting me at the door by name. It was her telling me what she enjoyed about each one of my children as she walked me to one of my kids classes. Her words were a soothing balm for the wounds caused by an abusive situation at the previous school. 

It was the sound of my kids' voices expressing their concerns over hurting friends whose parents were splitting, whose houses burned, whose grandparents had passed away. 

It was the sound of sobs that filled the air of our own home when one of their cousins died and the sobs that erupted when one of our kids was ordered to quit giving the gospel by a local on the Indian reservation.   

The sound of love has also comes from pulpits in the form of prayers, in the form of sermons that encourage, exhort, and teach.   

Sometimes the sound of love has come in the form of music, especially when the music is saturated with God's truth. 

It is the sound of the body of Christ encouraging one another and comforting those who have suffered loss and trauma and rejoicing with those who are celebrating weddings, births, and accomplishments.

For me, it also came in the form answers to the many Bible questions I have asked, the calming prayers prayed over me after a man broke into our home, and the pastor's reminder that God is a good God in the revelation of some pretty hard and yucky stuff. It was the sound of sweet conversations and tears shed when we gathered around a friend who lost a child. 

The sound of love is written throughout the Scripture. It was in the words the Lord spoke to Adam and Eve when He called them out of hiding. It was in the words the Lord spoke to Abraham and Sarah promising them a child. It is the words the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush, instructing him to lead his people out of bondage. It was in the still small voice whispering to Elijah that he was not alone. It was in the voice of the prophet confronting King David and inviting him to repent. It is the voices of angels announcing Jesus' conception and birth. It is the sound of Jesus' voice teaching the crowds and confronting the Pharisees. It is the sound of Jesus revealing himself to those he healed. It was the sound of silence He kept in the face of false accusations and illegal trials. It was in His cries from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" and "It is finished!" It was the sound of His voice inviting doubting Thomas to touch His side, inviting Peter back into ministry, and turning Paul's life upside down on the Damascus road.  It was the sound of the apostles preaching and teaching after the Jesus' ascension.  

Recently Amy Perry of the music group Selah shared she has written a song about the sound of love. The idea for the song came from this passage: 

"They shall go after the Lord; 
He will roar like a lion; 
when he roars, 
His children shall come trembling from the west;
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, 
and like droves from the land of Assyria, 
and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord." (Hosea 11:10-11)

As I read these verses, this gal who has been fearful of loud roaring voices was amazed that people would be flocking to the Lion of Judah as He roars. That is the opposite of what happens in nature, for when a lion roars, everything in its path flees. But when the Lion of Judah roars, only his enemy flees, but His children will flock towards Him because we will recognize His roar as the sound of protective, perfect love, which casts out fear. 

As I think of the future I get so excited because we will be able to experience God's love in person! Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save, He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing." Can you imagine the Creator, the Mighty God, the King of King,, the Lion of Judah quieting us by singing love songs over us? It gives me chills to just think about it. His voice, whether it be encouraging, comforting, teaching, exhorting, singing, or roaring is the purest sound--the sound of perfect love.    




Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!