Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Purest Praise of All

I have struggled the sermons and the thoughts others have expressed in regard to the story of Job. Especially when the sermons and thoughts judge Job and/or His wife harshly for the way that acted in the aftermath of the many losses they experienced. The Bible tells us Job was a blameless and righteous man who feared God. He was wealthy and had ten children for whom he continually offered burnt offerings. Job walked so uprightly that even God even viewed him as a blameless man. Because Satan claimed Job only feared God because of the God's blessings, God permitted Satan to test Job to prove Job's faith ran deeper than the blessings he received. To be honest, I still wrestle with this part of the story. I tend to get so focused on the here and now I can forget there is a battle being fought in the spiritual realm. Today I am focusing on the lessons we can learn from Job about grief.

When I first read the book of Job, I couldn't wrap my mind around the kind of loss Job and his wife faced. So, I read it from an intellectual viewpoint, focusing on the questions that arose over Satan and God's conversation, the conversations Job had with his friends, and the conversations Job had with God. It was not until one of closest friends suffered three losses--a miscarriage, a six month old, and a twin girls at six months in the womb, that I began to look more at the losses and emotions described in the book of Job.

I remember sitting with my friend during the funeral and seeing the anguish my friend experienced as the music began. I remember sensing her spirit calm when the pastor spoke, only to realize the tears were still streaming down her cheeks. I also remember her meeting me at the drive way a few days later and falling in to my arms as sobs racked her body. After her tears were spent and we were walking back into her house she said, "I know they mean well, but some of the things people say in the cards they send don't help!" At the time, we concluded that some people just don't know what to say, so they say churchy things and quote verses, some of which were taken out of context and most of which was truth my friend already knew.

It was after her loss that I began to challenge people when they put Job or his wife down. I can't even imagine what it is like to lose one child, much less ten children in one day. I can't imagine what it would be like to also lose all my servants (coworkers) and our lively hood in the same day. In addition, Job lost his health and was covered in sore's and boils as he sat in an ash pile grieving. Because he was the one plagued with boils, his hurting wife assumed some hidden sin in Job's life had brought this devastation upon them which was a common belief in their day. Her words, as   biting as they were, were spoken in the anger of deep grief of a mom who had to stand over the graves of ten children on the same day.

Walking through grief with my friend who viewed me as a safe friend, allowed me to see raw grief in it's many forms. Sometimes the grief was expressed as a quiet sigh. Sometimes it came out in an uncomfortable laugh. Sometimes it was expressed through quiet tears gently streaming down the face, sometimes in tears shed only on the inside, and sometimes tears accompanied by shaking shoulders and sobs that could be heard throughout the house. Sometimes grief came out in loud angry words of protests followed by irrational bartering. And, sometimes grief came out in a declaration of God's goodness and love in the face of unbearable pain.

It has been over thirty years since I watched my friend bury her child. I have experienced some losses of my own and watched others bury husbands, children, siblings, parents, and grandparents. I also have learned that death is not the only cause of grief. Friends have grieved as they learned to care for their daughter who has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Friends who have lived courageously, grieve the health they once had as they repeatedly deal with cancer and chemo. Friends and family members are grieving as they continually deal with invisible autoimmune diseases and wake up tired to experience unexplainable pain everyday, These people whether they grief is the loss of a person or health or wealth, have had platitudes or unsolicited advice thrown at them.

I came to realize those who do this, do it for three reasons. First , they are uncomfortable with the pain they are observing in someone they love. Second, they say those things and offer advice because they are uncomfortable sitting in the powerlessness they feel in not having the ability to alleviate the suffering of others. Third, they offer advice like Job's friends did, because it gives them a false sense of security that by living right they could head off the kind of suffering they are observing.

Yesterday I was watching a Facebook Live by Todd Smith of Selah. He mentioned his song Broken Praise. I wasn't familiar with it, so I looked it up and found a video of Job set to the words of Broken Praise. It gave me chills, because for the first time ever I felt like someone had given honor to Job and the suffering he endured. The first two stanza's describe what my friend went through as she read the cards people sent her:

"If one more person takes my hand
And tries to say they understand
And tells me there's a bigger plan
That I'm not meant to see

If one more person dares to suggest
That I held something unconfessed
And tries to make the dots connect
From righteousness to easy street."

He goes on to say that he (Job) had the same assumptions that a man's honest life entitled him to an easy life. Then he askes God if He would hold him and stay with him so he can raise the broken praise to Him. Job also asks who else will see his suffering as an opportunity to educate and expose flawed theology and who would come along and try to tie up loose ends, hoping to sweep awkward moments from the room. Todd ends the song with acknowledging that God filled Job's cup and God emptied it and telling God that even if He never filled his cup and his story ends to just give him one more breath to sing Hallelujah.

I encourage you to go to one of the links below to see the video, hear the song, and read the words in their entirety. This song could help us all to learn to better respond to suffering. You and I will have to choose at some point how we want to respond to the suffering of others. We can either be like Job's friends, whose response was to debate and accuse, or we can do the more vulnerable thing of simply sitting with someone in their pain, holding them when they cry, and listening to their words as they grapple to make sense of the goodness of God in light of the pain they are feeling until their heart can offer praise from it's broken state. For broken praise is the purest praise of all.  

Links to Broken Praise by Todd Smith:
https://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/34529/broken-praise-the-story

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6PP-YS-FqU&list=RDl2zHk95UnsE&index=1&fbclid=IwAR0ANn9RwhUunhSQBN4Dalv_6y-mESvCJM6XN

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

When Memories are Hard

Eighteen years ago, I woke up before the rest of my family and grabbed my coffee and settled into a comfortable chair to watch the morning news. They were broadcasting pictures of one of the twin towers burning. I was sad and overwhelmed at the thought of a fire that could impact so many people. Then all of a sudden an airplane came into view and hit the second tower and I knew that what I was viewing was not an accident. I ran toward the bedroom calling my husband to come because something was terribly wrong. Soon after that the pentagon was hit and another plane went down in a field. As I drove our son to high school that morning I told him repeatedly he didn't have to go and he repeatedly told me he was wanted to go. And, I drove home wondering if I did the right thing leaving him there.

As I think about that day now, pictures pop into my mind--pictures I wish I could forget, but can't. Pictures of people fleeing the area on foot totally covered in dust and debris, their faces full of shock, terror, and confusion. Pictures of people jumping from the windows of fractured buildings, falling to their death. Pictures of first responders rushing in, risking their own lives in an attempt to save others. Pictures of the Pentagon with a great big gapping hole in its side. Pictures of a field burning where a plane was heroically forced down by citizens who refused to let the terrorists hit their intended target. Pictures of people being interviewed, with tears streaming as they described the last conversation they had with loved ones trapped in hijacked planes and crumbling buildings. And, pictures of people overseas chanting of their hatred of America and its people, realizing God had called me to love my enemies and in the face of such strong hatred I no longer knew what that looked like.

As I think back on that day, I also remember what it felt like to be a mom whose son's marine reserve unit was activated and sent to war to fight the enemy that was different than the enemies the USA has fought before. I watched as he and his pregnant wife hugged tight. Then I watched as he and his dad hugged and patted each other on the back, mumbling words I couldn't hear. Then I took my turn, trying to portray a courage I certainly didn't feel for my son's sake. I can still see him in my mind's eye, climbing the bus's steps along with the other young men in his unit. I remember waving until they were out of sight, trying to get one last glimpse of his face. I remember us slowly walking back to our car and the silence that filled the car as we rode home, each of us lost in our own thoughts and fears doing the hard work of holding ourselves together.

At the time I thought the hard was the goodbyes we said at the armory, but I was so wrong. The hard was the waking up morning after morning, not knowing if our first born was safe or in harms way, if he was dead or alive, or if he was lying injured on that desert sand with no one to help. No one told me what to do with the hurting mom's heart that daily wondered what his heart was feeling. We made it through and got to see our son climb down the bus steps into waiting arms, fully aware that many others didn't, And, it hurts my heart to this day to think about the spouses, the parents, and the kids who bravely watched soldiers leave, who got the dreaded call, telling them they were being robbed of the opportunity to ever see their loved ones come home.

Eighteen years later and these memories are still vivid and they are still hard. But along with these hard memories come memories of the intimacy I felt with God as I learned to pour my heart out to Him. At that time, I walked every morning and as I walked I prayed. The prayers I prayed weren't just everyday prayers, they were fervent prayers. I remember telling God daily about the great big fear I was feeling, asking Him to give me the courage just to face the day no matter what was in the news and what the day might hold for us. I remember telling the Lord about the hurt I was experiencing when the news showed the faces of those who hated us and asked Him to help me learn how to love the people those images represented. I told Him how I longed to see our son again and to have the opportunity to see him hold the little baby his wife was carrying in her womb. I asked the Lord to empower our son to be the kind of light he had been in his high school.

As my walks came to an end each morning, I found myself able to praise Him for the peace He was pouring into my heart daily. I praised Him for who He was and what He was doing in me, my family, and our country during that time. I thanked him for the kindnesses other nations were showing us after the attacks our nation had endured and for the extra love and care we, as a people, seemed to be showing one another.

I realize now it was during that time I began to really grasp what was meant by casting our cares on Jesus who cares for us. Up until then I had interpreted 1 Peter 5:7 to mean I was sinning when I experienced anxious feelings. So, I often pretended everything was okay when it wasn't. I had pretended I wasn't concerned about things a mom should be concerned about--things like the severe asthma that plagued our youngest, the bully in our neighborhood that did all he could to hurt my kids, the ugly obscene phone calls that came regularly to my daughter and me, sometimes in the middle of the night and sometimes every hour on the hour. I started out trying to handle the events concerning the towers the same way. I tried to pretend I wasn't concerned that my son was on the front lines of a war.  I tried to pretend the attack on our country didn't hurt my heart and instill a fear in me I had never experienced before. And before long I just reached a point I couldn't pretend any more. I could no longer portray myself as something I wasn't just because someone might disapprove and might tell me I was sinning because of the anxiety I felt.

That was when I became brutally honest with my Jesus about my fears and my feelings. I fully expected God to scold me and walk away from this hot mess that I was. But, God didn't! Instead, He met me on my walks in my brutally honest cries, and strengthened my heart to face each and every day as it came. And when the news showed nations ranting their hatred, I could rest in the fact that I was deeply loved by a Savior who had sacrificed His own life for me and I found the strength to pray for the hearts of those chanting to be turned towards God. In my raw honesty, I found my worship to be more pure and heartfelt. And, it was in that honest crying out, that I also began to see the bigness and the holiness of God more clearly than I ever had before.

I came through that time realizing that sometimes believers have the tendency to shame by hurling verses taken out of context at those living in anxious moments. Maybe our God would have us sit with them in the hard instead, gently helping them that God has His ears turned towards them, longing to hear their voices humbly crying out to Him so He can comfort and  strengthen them and provide the peace they need to survive the hard He has called them to live.

When memories are hard, I find them more bearable when I remember the memories carry with them reminders of the beautiful lessons learned about our great God and how compassionately He relates to His people as they walk moment-by-moment with Him through the hard they faced.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Bigger View of God and His Grace


I was born with a tender conscience that kicked in quickly when I blew it. Having a tender conscience was good as the discomfort of guilt I experienced often motivated me to make God-honoring decisions in my life. It also stirred in me the desire to quickly confess sin. and to apologize to others I wronged. 

However, there was also a downside to having a tender conscience. It made me prey to a few manipulators, who realized they could just poke at my conscious and get what they wanted, even when it was detrimental for me and allowed them to continue down selfish, sinful paths. It also allowed abusers to silence me, when they implicated I was responsible for their actions. It took a few years of counseling to figure out what guilt was healthy and mine to confess and what guilt I needed to let others assume and deal with themselves. 

I experienced a lot of freedom from healthy guilt when I was saved. But before I knew it, guilt began to return. Sometimes it was normal, convicting guilt that led me to confess sin. Other times it was toxic guilt that spiraled me into a pit of dark shame. Looking back, I realize the tender conscience I was born with, didn't just make me easy prey to manipulative people and abusers, it had made me easy prey for the Enemy, who used lies to turn healthy, God-given guilt into toxic shame—a type of shame that was destructive and designed to keep me stuck and afraid to turn to God when I needed Him most. 

At first, I didn't even realize the Enemy was attacking me. Then God planted us, as a young couple, in a Bible-teaching church, where I grew leaps and bounds in my faith. We had many conversations there about God and Bible doctrines that included things like the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. The more I knew about God and His holiness, the more I wanted to become like Him. Yet, the growing understanding of God's Holiness was also changing my concept of sin. I no longer viewed it as just something I did. I also saw it as things like ungodly attitudes, selfishness, sinful thoughts, and inactions. For awhile, I kept it all in balance, confessing sin and growing in my relationship with God. 

Then I found a book that a spiritual inventory in it. I don't remember what book it was or even the questions on the inventory. But it was a long one and it included a list if sins a mile long, inappropriate attitudes, a list of generational sins one might have, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I mentioned the inventory to our pastor, who suggested I bring it by his office so he could see it. So, I took it to him and as he read it, I could feel my face growing hot, imagining him seeing into the ugly garbage of my soul that I believed was listed on that list. When he finished reading it, he set it down on his desk shaking his head from side to side and quietly said, "I hate this kind of stuff" He indicated that he understood how a list like that mixed with a tender conscience could leave me reeling in shame. He also explained that he believed our God was big enough to convict us and bring to mind sin He wants confessed. He also indicated He believed our God was not a God who buried His children in shame. 

Looking back on that time, I realize a lot of us go through this as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God's holiness and our sinfulness. When we accept Christ, we understand God's grace in the moment and are thankful Jesus' blood covers the sin of which we were aware. But, as we grow in our understanding of God's holiness, the depth of our sinfulness becomes more apparent and it's easy to buy into the lies of the Enemy as he tries to convince us God's grace isn't big enough to meet us where we are really at, that Christ's death wasn't really sufficient to cover the depths of the sin we continue to uncover, or that God's love isn't deep enough to encompass the real messy us. Oh, we would say we believe God's grace is big enough, Christ death sufficient, and God's love all-encompassing, but if we are living shamed-filled lives, isn't there a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we are living? The truth is that Jesus' death was and is and will always be sufficient enough to cover sin--what we knew in the past, what we perceive in the present, and what we will uncover in the future. 

It is not God's desire for His people to live stuck in toxic, suffocating shame. But, it is His desire that we continue to grow in the understanding of His holiness. And, as our understanding of that increases our awareness of our sinfulness, He desires our view of grace and what Christ did on the cross to expand as well. When that happens, we become believers who live loved and who are filled with humility and gratefulness instead of shame. We want to remember there is not a sin so bad Christ's blood cannot cover it. Because He loves us, God convicts us. Because he hates us, the Enemy condemns us. All we have to do to silence the Enemy is adopt a bigger view of our God and His grace.  


Thursday, August 8, 2019

When Life is not Viewed as Sacred

This last couple of weeks have been tough on everybody. First there was a mass shooting at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy and then a week later a mass shooting in a Walmart full of back-to-school shoppers in El Paso, leaving twenty-two dead many more injured. The events in El Paso left me feeling heavy-hearted and anxious. That same day one of our neighbors had a former boyfriend tinker with the wheels on her car and break out her windshield. That evening I had a hard time falling asleep and about the time I dozed off, sirens and flashing lights woke me up and there were emergency personnel near the neighbor's home. I gave up on sleep and picked up my iPad and there was news of another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio and two mass shootings in Chicago that weren't give much press. As expected, talk turned political and people from all over the country began casting blame and people everywhere are on edge and loud sounds are triggering panic in this  heart and in the hearts of many others.

As I have prayed for the people who lost friends and family members, the Lord laid on my heart the story of Cain and Abel. After Cain slew Abel, God confronted Abel who tried to act like he didn't do anything to his brother. But God didn't let him off the hook. He said to Cain, "What have you done? The voice of your bother's blood is crying to me from the ground." I some found comfort in knowing my God knows and cares about each person who dies at the hand of another. Does that take away the pain of the losses incurred by so many people these last two weeks? No! People will grieve these losses for the rest of their lives. They will grieve every holiday, every missed milestone, every season of life, and every lost dream that died with their loved ones...and to be honest it just isn't fair and their hurt runs deeper than most of us will ever know. And, all of us are facing the loss of feeling safe in a country we love.

I understand the desire we have to cast blame. Because if we fix the blame on someone like the president then we could change presidents and maybe mass killings would end and we could feel safe again. But that is magical thinking. The truth is, these shootings began happening long before President Trump was in office.

If we blame the shootings on the political rhetoric, we may feel less powerless, but the truth is neither party is innocent of hyped-up rhetoric and neither party is willing to own their part in it. And a gaze back at history reveals that politics has always had a very ugly side to it that also predates these kinds of shootings.

If we fix the blame on the guns, then we may feel more powerful by trying to remove guns, believing mass shootings would then end. But the truth is, people have also carried out mass killings using machetes, knives, stones, and motor vehicles.

If we blame mental illness, we can try to keep mentally ill people from buying guns so shootings will not happen anymore. But the truth is, there are many who have struggled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD who have not and would not ever commit murder. And, isn't it true that if someone really wants a gun there are ways to get all sorts of guns illegally?

I have read a couple of interesting articles about the impact of early childhood trauma, which is something many of the shooters have had in common. But again, I and many other men and women I know have suffered early childhood trauma and we haven't done these things. And, how would we determine who has suffered from early childhood trauma that would lead to murder? As I processed the events, I realized the difference between the shooters and me and others who have also suffered early childhood trauma is that some of us have a reverence for the sanctity of life. I can't speak for everyone, but I know my reverence for life originated with my God. I believe each person was created in His image and believe He is the author of life. As such, God is the only one who has the right to decide when someone's life begins and when it ends. Even when I went through depression and had suicidal thoughts, this belief governed my decision to seek help instead of ending my life.

There are several things that I believe have played into a general lack of  respect for life, all of which are moral issues birthed our of rebellion towards God. First, it was the break down of the family unit, which happened when kids were handed off to childcare during their most formative years when their ability to form healthy attachments occurs. I realize as I write this, that some had no other choice and my heart goes out to them. But, but many did have choices and their choices lead to the destruction of their families and hindered their children's developmental processes.

"Easy divorce" has also contributed to the break down of the family unit. And, I know many who have been deserted by spouses who are picking up the pieces of a divorce they never wanted. This has left lonely, hurting children living in single parent homes, grieving a multitude of losses with which they don't have the capacity to deal. We can add to that the impact of drugs and alcohol, untreated mental illness, and pornography that is killing marriages and instilling in children perverted ideas. The objectification of men, women, and children through pornography is one of the things that kills the ability one has to have empathy for others. God's design of marriage, family units, and church families was intentional. It was designed to create in us the ability to form fulfilling attachments and to develop the ability to empathize with one another. Without empathy, there is nothing in us that tells us our actions are hurting others and that we need to grow.
 
Another thing that has contributed to the lack of respect for life is the plague of abortion. When people decided to call babies "pregnancy tissue," they dehumanized them in the minds of many. When women call abortion the "right to choose" rather than murder, they avoid the feelings that should come with having a baby ripped from their wombs. I do understand that the abortion business is built on lies and that many have been coerced into abortions they didn't want and my heart hurts for you. But many have chosen abortion for convivence sake.

I had five children and every time the doctor told me I was pregnant, I was filled with overwhelming joy. I also remember my babies in the womb, kicking, rolling over, stretching, and hiccupping. I remember how differently they each felt as their little personalities presented before they were even born. Oh, and the awe I felt at each birth and the joy I felt when each sweet newborn nestled close to my heart. My babies were not accidents, they were not inconveniences, they were not just tissue to be gotten rid of. They recognized our voices in the delivery room and looked for us when we spoke. I remember gazing into their tiny faces, looking for the family resemblance imprinted by our DNA and looking for their Heavenly Father's image woven into the fabric of their being. I don't say any of this with pride because of the choices I have made. Because to me there was never a choice to made. I believed with all that I was that God was the author of their lives and that His timing and His gift of them was perfect.

Abortion has wrongly been called a political issue, but it isn't. It is a moral issue that impacts how we view life. We either choose to nurture and protect life, starting in the womb, or we don't. And when we don't, we will suffer the consequences of living in a culture that has no reverence for the lives of people that God has created or His purpose in creating them to live the stories He has authored them to live.

I honestly can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of the permeance of death. That always made life seems fragile and in need of protection, especially when one of my kids dealt with things like asthma and a ruptured spleen and a newborn granddaughter was born three months early fighting gallantly for her life.

I also can't remember a time when I didn't view life as sacred and that it is the Creator who rightfully should reign over lives of people around me. When mankind refuses to bow their knees to the Creator and His sovereignty over life, we should not be surprised when mankind seeks to thwart God's rightful place by changing His laws and by taking lives. As believers, we are called to live aloud our faith and to remember in the midst of the hard, scary stuff happening that we are not wrestling with flesh and blood, but an Enemy whose ultimate goal is to dethrone the King of kings by casting doubt on His character and His goodness. But the end of the story--it was written in the blood of the Lamb and His Kingship proven by the Resurrection. Jesus won and He will reign forever. And in the mean time, I reject the lies of the Enemy and know that my heart is crying out, "Come Lord, Jesus!"

Thursday, July 11, 2019

There is More to the Story of the Cross

Several years ago, I was struggling with sin, unresolved pain, and a defeated image of myself. I was working with a Christian therapist, who frequently challenged lies I was believing and cognitive distortions I with which I struggled that impacted how I viewed myself. While she never down played the seriousness of sin, she did encourage me to be as gracious to myself as I would be to others. She also suggested I become more curious about my failures and to try to understand why I did what I did, instead of "beating myself up" with harsh judgements and negative self talk .

One morning I woke up feeling extremely defeated, but I decided to push past it. I got out of bed, dressed, grabbed praise music, and went for a walk. While walking, I poured out my hurt, my discouragement, and the feelings of guilt that were plaguing my perfectionistic heart. One of the songs I was listening to was about the cross. As I listened, a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross came to mind. His blood was dripping from the wounds He had received when He was beaten and nailed to the cross. Then I noticed other wounds in His flesh. These wounds were the names of the sins that I had been confessing to Him etched in His flesh. For a moment I was filled with shame, but then something propelled me to look to His face. First, I noticed the crown of thorns and the blood dripping on His brow where thorns cut deep. Then I noticed His eyes were filled with kindness and His face with love. Something in me shifted as the shame melted away and I began to grasp that the radical implications of Jesus' death went beyond the satisfaction of God's justice for sin. And that place where Christ hung bruised, bleeding, rejected, cursed, and forsaken--it became a place of healing for me.

When I saw the words of my sin etched in His flesh, the reality of His death became close and personal. It no longer seemed like something that happened long ago in a far away land, it was real to me in the here and now. That wounded part of me that had believed the lie that my abuse, my failures, the messages others spoke over me proved I was the child that was less loved by God began to change. But, seeing Him in front of me with my sin etched in His body made it clear that God had sought me, putting many in my life to lead me to Him. The visual of Christ absorbing my sin reminded me that He died so I could have His goodness imputed to me by faith. That means the Father only sees me as one wrapped up in the goodness of Christ! Grasping that helped me to quit thinking of myself as a bothersome, tolerated child and to start seeing myself as a beloved child, created by Him and for Him, who had been forever fully reconciled by Jesus. I no longer pictured God as sighing and reluctantly turning towards me when I started praying. Instead, I began to see Him as a Father whose eyes are always watching over me and light up when I turn to speak to Him. I also began to see Him as a Father whose ears are tuned into my voice, recognizing it above the loud chatter of this world.    

Seeing the Savior, bruised and flesh-torn, hanging there naked on the cross helped me believe He understood what it felt like to bear the consequences of others' sin. From the time Jesus was born, His life was threatened. He was lied about. He was rejected. His motives were questioned. He was a victim of the first birther movement. His words were frequently doubted or misconstrued. He was called crazy and child of Satan. He was falsely accused and then illegally tried while the man in charge knew and chose to do nothing. His innocence was ignored, while a known thief was set free. His works that gave sight to the blind, working limbs to the lame, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, freedom to those tormented by demons, and life to the dead were called evil. He was beaten beyond recognition and then humiliated, the crowd spitting at Him and plucking hair from His beard as they mocked Him with hate-filled chants. All of that and the cross helped me see that He truly understands the wounds we experience at the hands of others. His being a sympathetic high priest became real to me. I no longer saw God as an impatient Father, telling me to suck it up, get over it, or just forgive and move on. I began to see Him as a Father, eager to listen until all the words I needed to say were said. I began to see Him as an empathetic Father, whose empathy never diminished as He was willing to sit with me until all of the pain buried deep was released. I began to see Him as a comforter, His own scars reminding me He truly understands.

The crown of thorns that represented the curse took on new meaning when I saw blood dripping from where it had pierced His brow. It helped me see that His blood not only covers my sin, it covers the curse. The thorns had their beginning in Eden where Adam and Eve freely communed with God and each other in a perfect environment. When they sinned, they were cast from Eden to live in a desert to experience thorns, pestilence, and droughts, all of which represent what was taking place in them spiritually and relationally. And the human race was cast with them to experience pain because of the thorns of selfishness, self-centeredness, and sin that enslaves us. And, our relationships became marred as we are driven by an unquenchable thirst to be known, accepted, or approved by others who are just as thirsty and broken as us. And the fear and the chaos caused by pestilence--those things that come against us to hinder the growth of marriages, the unity of our families, and hindering the  building of God-loving churches. The pestilence is things like pornography that kills marriages every day. It is the plague of divorce that robs children of relationships with parents, leaving them looking for parental blessings elsewhere. It is the redefining of good and evil and the political correctness that calls God's truth hatred. It is the everyday business and constant technology that hinders the face-to-face fellowship of believers, leaving them isolated, starving for relational intimacy, and looking a whole lot like the world.

In seeing that visual of God's grace so personally, I began to see that through Christ, the sin within, the curse, the thorns, the pestilence, and the unquenchable thirst I was experiencing no longer defined me. It was and is in my relationship with Christ that I find my true identity and the freedom to be who God created me to be. The words and the lies that were spoken over me, the actions that were perpetrated against me, the Enemy's accusing voice in the face of it all no longer have the power to defeat this child, who has been saved, is in the process of being sanctified and healed, and will be one day fully transformed by His grace. Oh, there is so much more to the story of the cross.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Sports Car Can't do What Marriage Can

"Iron sharpens iron, and one mans sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

One night my husband and I were watching TV and a restaurant commercial came on. This company has used sex for several years to sell hamburgers. My husband surprised me by saying rather assertively, "And that is why I never go there!" His statement lead to a fun discussion about commercials and how often they use sexuality to sell goods.

We concluded that companies that use sex to sell, weren't all that creative. It is the easy go to, and in all honesty it probably works. We both realized we prefer humorous commercials, especially ones that contain spunky people in them. We also acknowledged that sentimental commercials usually can also engage and get an, "Awe...." from both of us. I especially have a fondness for Hallmark commercials. It isn't because I necessarily like them. I typically think them a bit mushy, but they were the cheapest pregnancy test on the market when I was having babies. Before I would even know I was pregnant, one of those commercials would come on and I would dissolve into tears. When the tears came, my husband would turn and look at me with big eyes and we both knew it was time to go to the doctor. It happened with every pregnancy. 

We noticed we were partial to commercials that portrayed the life stage we were currently in. As newly weds, commercials that showed engagements, weddings, or honey-mooning couples appealed to us. A few years a coffee company put out a series of commercials about a couple who met over coffee and built a relationship. The series of commercials literally told the couple's love story over time. We both would stop what we were doing to watch those commercials, especially when new ones came out that told more about the story. As we started having kids, commercials with cute kids  made us smile. After all who wouldn't be drawn to dancing kids or toddlers toddling in green socks? Then as our kids were leaving home the commercial we both liked was a coffee commercial in which a sister wakes up early to her big brother coming home for Christmas. They enjoy a quiet moment before mom and dad smell coffee brewing and come running down the stairs. Then when our sons went to war, any commercial with military families in it would tug at our hearts. Now it is the grandchildren and puppy commercials that get our attention. 

I have thought a lot about the science of making commercials.  I am not against commercials. They serve a purpose. Some are even informative and some remind me I need to write something on the grocery list, and some help me decide to try a new product when I am not happy with one I use. 

On the other hand, there are many commercial that are misleading or full of lies. The people who create commercials want to make commercials that appeal to our senses, our emotions, or our desires. As a believer I was struck that the tactics they use are similar to the tactics of the Enemy listed in 1 John 2:16--the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. It didn't really surprise me in that we are ambassadors living in a world system in which the Enemy is very active. Maybe, just maybe we could categorize commercial by these tactics and become wiser consumers. 

Recently I saw a commercial that evoked a strong angry response from me and it wasn't even a commercial using sex. It was a car commercial that started out like the sentimental commercials that I like. It showed all the cars a couple bought over the years for the different life stages they were in. Towards the end of the commercial the dad handed his car keys over to his daughter and she pulled out of the driveway. The camera then switched over to the dad pulling out of the garage in a little sports car with the commentator saying, "And the car that reminds you of you when you were you."

I admit they initially sucked me in, as we had to change cars several times as our family grew. I admit I even lit up when I saw the sports car. I have wanted a red convertible every since I was fifteen. In my mind, I pictured my hair blowing, the warm sun on my face, loud praise music playing as I sped over mountain curves. But I got married and we chose to put my husband through six years of graduate school. Then had five kids. A sports care wasn't financially feasible on a graduate students salary or impractical for a large family. And the reality is I have PTSD and being in any car, much less a sports car with wind in my face isn't really fun for me. Not getting the sports car I had dreamed about isn't what made me angry at the commercial. It was the lie that is in embedded in the comment that was made as the man drove off.

For you see, as a math major I could have gone on to graduate school and made quite a bit of money and gotten that little red sports car I wanted. But I chose marriage and marriage didn't make me less me. In fact, marriage brought out the best of me and the worst of me. It brought out in me a heart full of compassion and love for a man who had a very difficult childhood and who was told he wouldn't amount to much. Yet we got through his graduate schooling together and he graduated as Dr. Daddy, partly because I believed in him. Whenever we hit rough spots in our marriage I look at his childhood pictures and remind myself that I am married to that cute little guy in coveralls and my pride melts and my love grows.

Being married exposed the ugly selfishness residing in my heart and my tendency to be self-centered. We both had to learn a lot about compromise and setting goals together. We had to learn to look at ourselves when conflict arose, because the other wasn't capable of making us angry, it was his selfishness bumping against my selfishness that did that. Nope, neither of us became less of ourselves, we became better selves because of what our relationship exposed and the lessons we learned from that exposure. I learned that a soft answer could truly turn away wrath, that love covered a multitude of sins, that grace is experienced the most in intimate relationships, and that some of the best confrontations are gentle ones. Marriage was "iron sharpening iron" God talks about in His word! And believe me, I needed that process badly!

By the time kids came along, I thought we had grown quite a bit and life would be smooth sailing. I was mistaken. I found having five kids did the same thing marriage did--it brought out the best in me and exposed the worst parts of me. I never felt more like who I was supposed to me than when I was pregnant and carried a moving being inside. I would sit for hours and watch the movements and connect with feet and fists. I have never been able to find words to describe how full of love my heart was and is when it comes to my kids (and my grandkids.) That love gave me what I needed to get up all night with crying kids, wipe snotty noses, clean stinky bottoms, wash away blood from wounds, scrub dirty bathrooms when little guys missed the pot, cook countless dinners, wash sink loads of dishes, wash and fold mountains of laundry, pray over sick children, referee squabbles, listen to endless chatter, hold kids with ear aches and asthma all night, and sit by a hospital bed for two weeks,
waiting for our son to heal. 

But it also brought out the worst in me. The time that a knick knack got broken and brought out my wrath. The times the angry voice came out of my mouth and lectured kids who couldn't even process all the words I thought I needed to say. The times I asked the kids how their day at school went, only to realize when I pulled into the drive way that I had tuned them out and not heard a word they said. The banquets I missed as I isolated myself during the battle with an eating disorder. Believe me, I could go on and on and on. Having kids didn't make me less me. It just exposed the ugly parts of me that needed to be transformed. It exposed the immature parts of me that needed to grow up. Being a mom did not make me less of me, it made me more of who God created me to be. Having a sports car earlier in life would not have helped me be more of me. Having sports car now would not make me more me! A sports car could not do for me what being married and having children did. I confess I needed the iron sharpening iron of relationships to grow and become a better me and I needed all the grace I got in that process.

The line in the commercial bothered me because our society is plagued by broken families. The kinds of statements in that commercial appeal to our pride and resemble the temptation in the garden that implies so subtly that something is missing if we don't have something. In my eyes, there is nothing more manly than a married man loving his wife with his words, actions, and sacrifice. There is nothing more manly than a man playing with his children, praying faithfully for them, disciplining them with love, and giving grace when needed. There is nothing more manly than a man who is worn out and feeling inadequate who wants to leave, but chooses to stay. And there is nothing more manly than a man who gives up the dream of a sports car to raise a family. 

Likewise, there is nothing more beautiful than a wife who respects her man. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom feeding a baby from her own body. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom rocking a sick toddler through the night. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom taking her son on a dinner date or dancing in the kitchen as if no one is watching. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom graciously cleaning up milk spilt by two brothers proving strength in an arm wrestling match. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom hugging a child who was dumped by the boy or girl who didn't deserve them any way. There is nothing more beautiful than a worn out mom who is tempted to run from the chaos of family, choosing to stay. Nothing! 

We would do well to remember that is the stuff that real men and women are made of. They push through the hard, through the fear, and through the selfishness to embrace the iron sharpening iron process. I am, I have always been, and I will always be fully me! 

Take note car company: You might have sucked me in had you not ended the commercial on that note!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Author's Heart

For several years, I've wanted to write a story about a girl I named Gracie. It is a story about a young woman who has experienced trauma and enters counseling because a current traumatic event has stirred up a life time of pain that she had buried deep. I wanted to write this story to help people understand what it is like for a child to experience abuse and then to grow up carrying the baggage of that with them into adulthood. I also hope to help others see glimpses of what the healing journey looks like and maybe to answer those questions irritating questions that many survivors get asked--questions like" "Why didn't you just tell them to stop?" "Why didn't you run away?" "If that really happened, why didn't you tell someone?"

I hope to show how trauma can impact the way one views themselves, views others, and how it changes one's perceptions of God. I am just a few chapters into the book and am finding it both challenging and fun. Though I started writing this book to teach others something, I realized yesterday God is using it to teach me about Himself. As I was writing a chapter that described Gracie's childhood and the neglect she experienced my heart began to ache a little. As I described the impact of mental illness, her parent's divorce, and the subsequent poverty on her and her family my heart ached even more. Then as I went on to described the physical, mental, and sexual abuse she experienced, I found my heart growing strangely tender towards Gracie, this young woman I was creating as I wrote. It was not long before my eyes filled with tears. I finished the chapter, but couldn't shake the feelings I had experienced.

As I was processing the emotions I experienced in writing yesterday, several interesting thoughts passed through my mind. I had been crying for a character I had created. I had been crying for the painful things she experienced in the story I was writing for her, knowing full well I had the power and the authority as the author to rewrite her story in a different way. Yet, I am choosing not to do that for what I believe to be good reasons. As I thought about that, I began to wonder if this could be the way our Abba feels as we live the stories He has authored for us--stories that are often riddled with trauma and pain. Maybe His heart is just as tender towards us as we go through the hard stuff He has written for us. Maybe He even cries for us, while being fully conscious of the fact that He could with a word or a movement of His hand stay the trauma and prevent the hurt, but chooses to not do so.

Maybe it is because He knows that it is a grain of sand irritating an oyster that results in a beautiful pearl. Maybe it is because He know that a catastrophic natural event can form the purest and most beautiful of diamonds. Maybe it is because he knows that it is the time spent in a kiln that renders a piece of pottery both beautiful and fit for Holy use. Maybe it is because He knows the heat is what burns away the impurities in silver allowing a silversmith's reflection to shine through. Likewise, maybe it is because the painful things we experience are what we need to get us to the place we can abandon self to fully trust Jesus, who can transform us broken vessels into glorious ones fit for His Holy purposes. Maybe it is because He knows that it takes us being fully broken to be willing to allow Him to take the little pieces of our hearts and stitch them back together in such a way that they are beautifully tender, yet strong enough to love even the most unlovable. Maybe He even restrains a desire of His own to rewrite stories because He knows the most valuable and most beautiful treasures are those treasures that we find in the darkest places. Maybe He restrains His desire to prevent pain because He knows that the sweetest intimacy with Him occurs when the questions that began as statements of protest dissolve into questions asked from hearts seeking nothing more than to know His heart. Just as I know I have good intentions and a tender heart towards my creation, I think we can trust that this is a reflection of the Abba's heart towards us as He writes our redemption stories, stories that in the end reveal the Author's heart..
 

Introduction

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!