Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Satisfied at Last!

"How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My Soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."
Psalm 84:1-2
     I am in recovery from an eating disorder that I have had for a long time. I restricted my intake of food, compulsively ate, and compulsively exercised. Looking back at my  recovery, I think the hardest thing for me was that there were times the compulsion to overeat or begin a binge was absolutely overwhelming. It would start in the middle of the afternoon. When I resisted a binge in the early stages of recovery, I found I could often resist until bed time and I would be exhausted from experiencing such a long period of angst that the desire to binge and the desire not to binge at the same time caused. When I chose to give in to the binge, I found there was instant relief from the angst even before I took the first bite of food. I felt so much shame over that until I came to understand more about the brain and realized my pleasure center was activated by the anticipation that followed my decision and not just the food itself.
     Then there were those other days that I hated the worst. I would crave something and I would choose to eat it only to find that it didn't satisfy. Then I would crave something else, only to find it didn't satisfy either. I could spend a whole afternoon looking for that thing to help satisfy me, only to find at the end of the day that there was no satisfaction in any of the foods, only a great deal of shame for not being more committed to recovery and wiser with my choices. There was shame for not being strong enough to resist temptation. And the biggest shame of all, was for not remembering God in the moment of temptation and crying out to Him for the strength and wisdom I needed to have victory. 
     I met others in recovery and found out that it didn't matter what it was that they craved, they had all pretty much experienced what I had. Oh, they may yearned for a cigarette, a drink, drugs, sex, a view of pornography, a unhealthy relationship, more power, accolades, more new clothes, to be even busier, or a host of other things any of us can find ourselves yearning for. At the end of the day all of of us were filled with the same toxic shame. Many believed as I did that we were defective for having a issue of compulsion and not overcoming it. 
     I understood for a long time my eating disorder was out of control and it was sin. No one ever had to confront me with that truth! I felt shame that my problem was centered around food. Then it hit me one day that the first sin Eve committed in the garden was driven by her lust of what was beautiful to behold, appealing to her physical appetite and tastes, and appealing to her desire for power. I began to pay real close attention to what and when I craved anything. A conversation, a binge, a compulsion to over exercise, shop, etc. and over time I realized how often I was just seeking relief from boredom, emotions, loneliness, powerlessness, or exhaustion. At other times I was trying to fill the emptiness that resided deep in my soul. 
     I paid close attention to the desires I had, but that were never satisfied and realized that they were often things that pointed me away from God. I saw that when I could spend time with people and have conversations about God, I didn't crave as much. When I had lunch with a friend and God was the center of our conversation, I didn't overeat. When it was a shallow conversation, I often left feeling unsatisfied by the encounter. 
     When I came across the above verse I thought, "What if, what if God designed us to yearn, which in today's language would be to crave? What if the fall and our tendency to sin had distorted our appetites in such away we forget it is for Him that we yearn? What if we have forgotten He alone can satisfy our deepest yearnings of which we might not even be aware? What if when we are feeling dissatisfied, we take that feeling as a sign to begin to look to God who made us with our individual cravings and acknowledge that the craving is distorted and ask Him to daily remind us that in our heart of hearts we were made to yearn for Him?" Maybe those who struggle with addictions and compulsions have been given an extra dose of the yearnings and that those yearnings were misplaced. At first glance that seems kind of unfair. But the truth is, if we understand that we are craving time with our Savior, we will be driven to His arms where there is deep soul satisfaction! If there is truth that those of us who struggle with compulsions were given an extra dose of cravings, then we have the potential to be driven to more intimacy with the Savior than those who don't experience such strong cravings.   
     Maybe, no not maybe, certainly the answer for those of us who yearn for the wrong things is to get to the place we know the Savior so well that when we let our mind go in neutral, it automatically goes to Him. If we experience enough satisfaction in Him, we may begin to recognize those yearnings we despised in recovery are really a blessing as they drive us to Him who loves us so deeply that He died for us. Oh, how I want to be that woman whose soul yearns so much for Jesus that my heart and my flesh will continually cry out for God, not the things of this world that never satisfy the deep yearning in my soul. Oh, that at times when life leaves me feeling shaky and weak I want to get to the point I cry out to the one who can strengthen my spirit and give me peace and joy no matter what is going on in my little corner of this world. The times that I have cried out to Him, I have experienced joy replacing this ugly toxic shame that often comes with disordered sinful patterns as my heart and my flesh cry out to the LORD Almighty, the Living God.           

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jehovah Shama

"I am the Lord who Hears"
Psalms 69:3
Growing up as a compliant rule follower who was afraid to rock the boat was hard! I don't know how many times I spoke my mom or teachers' name only to be ignored. One who was more assertive would have just spoken up and made sure they were heard, but not me. I had those ugly voices in my head telling me I was too much, not enough, an interruption, and a bother. 
Being a soft spoken person in a world full of loud was so hard! I am often drowned out by people louder than me and overwhelmed by crowds of people talking at the time and the sounds of movies or music that loud enough to pound in my chest. At time I suspect I might have been too soft to hear. At other times I believe that because I spoke softly, others didn't perceive the importance of my words. So, they continued on just as if I had never spoke at all. I remember, as a child, have something important to say. I called out a name and the person continued to walk by. So, I mumbled ever so quietly what I wished I could have shouted -- she came back and heard my words that day -- words that were so quietly spoken. The little girl that I was didn't understand that her presentation probably had a lot to do with being invisible, with being unheard. Sadly, her presentation came out of her toxic core beliefs. No one understands how much energy it takes for me to speak up, to speak loud. I still at times wish others would just tune in and listen a little harder.    
Being an adult introvert in a world full of extroverts is so hard! I don't know how many times I have been asked a question and as I am internally composing an answer have the person turn to the next person and begin a different conversation, leaving me feeling like my need to process internally is a defect rather than a creative design by my Maker. I don't know how many times I have been asked a question and in mid sentence have the person literally turn around and walk away as my incomplete words hang in the air between us as a rejected gift.
The belief that I had to be a compliant rule follower who never rocked the boat combined with a soft voice and an introvert personality is not a huge problem, but it is one that impacted my relationship with God. For years, I was uncomfortable with praying even though I did it on a regular basis. I could handle God's answers to my prayers when they were "yeses" and when they were "nos." But I had a really hard time with the "waits" ... you know those holding patterns that never seem to end. 
One night I walk into a Bible Study and sat down. The pastor usually handed us a handout and the good girl in me would often look ahead and have all of the answers filled in before he even got to the points. But this one night he didn't pass out a handout, he simply asked us, "What do you find hard about waiting on God?" Everyone answered the pastor and I could agree at a shallow level that their answers were true, but deep inside I knew that their answers weren't what was the most difficult for me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. He moved through the Scriptures and because there was no handout I couldn't work ahead but had to sit in the uncomfortableness of trying to name what was hard about God's waits. He got to a verse a part of which said that God had His ears turned to those who wait on Him. All of a sudden it hit me that I had put on God the behaviors of man. If the answer was wait, I had been assuming He was just walking on by me or turning and leaving while my words still hung in the air. The truth is that God has His ears turned to His people. He hears our voices all of the time, no matter what time of day or night it is.
He even hears the soft voice of the compliant child who is afraid to rock the boat. He hears the words of the introvert while they are still being formed in my mind. His waits are not proof that He has walked on by, they are His invitation for me to keep on talking...talking until all the buried hurt is poured out and replaced with joy...talking until the compassion and emotions that were shut down were resurrected...talking until unbelief is exposed and replaced with belief...talking until all of the lies are brought to the light and replaced with His truth...talking until I face my sinfulness and cry out for His mercy to be fulfilled in me...talking until the desire to know Him is bigger than my desire to be healed or experience the gifts He gives...talking until He has fully captured my heart.
A friend recently shared with me that one of God's names is Jehovah Shama...the God who hears...who hears even me. He hears the cries of the scared, the sad, and the lonely. He hears the cries of those facing huge injustices in their lives. He hears the cries of the abandoned, or those betrayed by someone close. He hears the cries of the disappointed and those with deep heart wounds left their by those who should have nurtured and cared. He hears the cries of those beaten down and trod upon by others. He hears the cries of those who have been led to believe by the Enemy that they are not enough -- not good enough, smart enough, small enough, pretty enough, funny enough, or special enough. He hears the cries of those who have born burdens way too big for their shoulders. He hears the cries of those longing for peace and freedom from both emotional and physical pain, shame, guilt, and addictions. He hears the cries of those who have questions that rise up from the soul in deep agonizing grief and understands those questions reveal tender and broken hearts more often than pride gone awry. He hears every prayer spoken aloud and every prayer spoken only in the heart. He even hears the prayers that are so deep they come out as nothing more than a groan or a whisper. 
Jehova Shama, I love that name! He hears this overly compliant, soft spoken, introvert just fine. His waits are Him giving me His full attention. His waits are Him giving me time to collect my thoughts, weed through the lies, and come back to the truth. His waits are Him inviting me to humbly trust in His goodness. His waits are Him inviting me to know His Heart...the Heart of the God who hears. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Meeting God in the Hard

Life is hard because of the losses we experience. These include people we dearly love and people we’ve spent years grieving over because some relationships are so broken. Life is hard because of long seasons of loneliness in which we reach out and beg for changes that could build intimacy with spouses or friends only to be met by anger that leaves us wounded or by passivity that leaves us feeling invisible and unheard. Life is hard when we lose relationships or friendships due to divorce or because conflicts couldn’t be resolved; no matter how hard we tried. Life is hard even when we chose to end relationships to preserve our integrity or to stop pain we could no longer bear. After all, aren’t we, as believers, supposed to make it all work? In reality, it is not always possible. Whether loss of relationship is by choice or not it sometimes makes life hard. 

Life is hard when we lose material things–things stolen, homes repossessed, or homes destroyed by natural disasters. Material losses include things we can easily replace and the sentimental items that can’t–baby pictures that burned, wedding albums floating in flood waters, scrapbooks of family vacations taken by a tornado, or grandmother’s china that shattered in an earthquake. And yes, things are things, but some things have special meanings and, yes, sometimes life is hard when we can’t replace those things.

Sometimes life is hard because we face losses due to abuses we’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter whether they were sexual, physical, and/or emotional in nature–victims experience a loss of innocence. They lose a sense of being safe in their home, their family, their community, their church, and even their own bodies. Losses are felt when we experience violence either first hand or vicariously. They are felt when we experience injustices and judgments in the face of divorce and long drawn out custody battles. Losses can be unfulfilled dreams or decreased abilities due to illness or injury, or even the aging process. 

Life is also hard because we are part of a culture that experiences violence such as Nine-Eleven, Columbine, Newtown, Colorado, Taft, churches all over the world, bombings, and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Many will grieve because of so many lives lost. Many will struggle as they work hard to physically recover from wounds. And many will struggle the impact of trauma from having been there and survived, having watched it on TV, and having been shocked to realize our sense of safety is being rocked to the core. 
When there are such big losses some will shut down and not experience their losses for a while as they struggle to come to terms with it. Yes, life is sometimes hard for a season as we face and grieve these losses.   

Ironically, the more we love, the more potential we have to experience hard. I’ve lost extended family and three friends who deeply impacted my life. I’ve lost my parents, my parent-in-laws, my spiritual Dad, and precious friends I met through church. My heart has also ached because I have chosen to walk with many through painful things. Yet, observing them courageously facing their hard and choosing to acknowledge it and move through it so it can no longer control them blesses me! Standing shoulder to shoulder with the hurting is standing on the most sacred ground there is. I’ve watched as friends, both near and far have buried loved ones–parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren. To be honest it has made me angry at death and sin and it has created in me a thirst for heaven where I know there will be no more death, no injustice, no sin, no abuse, no grief, and no tears–no hard-but for now sometimes life is hard.

Friends have just buried their eighteen-year-old son, grandson, brother, and friend. I’ve pondered a lot about how we deal with life in the face of the pain of the hard. The pat answer, of course, is in the promise of eternal life. Yet, I think we are missing something in the now if this is the only tool we use to cope. Israel was instructed to build monuments to remember who God is and what God had done for them. My dear friend Joyce, her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law have shared monuments of Scriptures that have seen them through this painful time. One monument Joyce shared was a verse that a mutual friend had preached on years ago proclaiming God upholds us with His right hand. When he preached on the verse, it impacted her so much she wrote about it in her journal and she was able to go back to that verse and hang on to it in this season of hard. The last few months I’ve experienced loss and been surrounded by pain to a point I’ve been overwhelmed. A friend reminded me it comes with the territory of being in the business of loving others-my grief has become tinged by thankfulness even in the hard.

I've been thinking about specific monuments God has given to me, many of which came through seeking God in the process of healing from past emotional pain. One of those monuments occurred after a counselor friend asked me to choose a word to describe how I viewed myself. Without hesitation I told her, “Invisible!” Several months later I was praying with a prayer director who told me she sensed God wanted me to renounce something she had never come across before. I asked her what it was and she said, “God wants you to renounce the spirit of invisibility.” I had not told her about feeling invisible and became overwhelmed at God’s goodness in revealing this to her so I could be set free from a stronghold. Shortly after the prayer time, I came across Hagar’s story. After becoming pregnant by her mistress’ husband, Hagar developed an attitude and was sent away by the slighted, bitter Sarah. Alone in the desert where life was hard, she sat down and wept. She was all alone or so she thought. God met her there in the hard of her being used, her loneliness, her invisibility, and her rejection. In an act of worship, she ascribed to God, the name El Roi, which means “The God who Sees!” This means He is also the God who sees me…even in the hard!

This name for God has so many implications for us. He sees little ones abandoned by their parents physically and/or emotionally. He sees little ones whose spirits are crushed by abusive words spoken by caretakers or bullies. He sees little ones being pounded by those who are supposed to nurture them. He sees girls and boys trying to scrub away the shame of perverted people who violated them. He sees girls trafficked by their parents and girls taken off the street by pimps and shipped to who knows where-to be used to death. He sees those displaced by natural disasters--tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and landslides. He sees families struggling to understand why loved ones were killed violently by angry people they don’t even know. He sees those struggling with flashbacks and anxiety in the aftermath of violence and abuse. He sees the parents watching children struggling with horrific illnesses and painful syndromes no one can explain or heal. He sees families wracked by addictions, infertile women sitting through sermons for moms on Mother’s Day, and women fighting down a mountain of shame for babies they chose to abort and moms who did everything they could to carry their children but couldn’t. He sees tiny babies that fit in the palm of a hand fighting to live the life God created them to live and the parents pleading for Him to grow little ones out of the womb too soon. He sees parents weeping as they bury babies in tiny coffins and parents who’ve buried, not just one child, but two, three, or more. He sees people struggling with depression so deep and dark they grasp desperately for hope and the families left in the chaos created by an unpredictable world of mental illness. He sees parents and grandparents standing before flag-draped coffins as well as soldiers coming back physically and emotionally scarred for life. He sees families burying loved ones taken by accidents too soon, families facing the ugly truth that suicide has forever marked their family with deep pain. He sees families standing over hospital beds to say goodbye and those who are too late to say or hear a last, “I love you!” He sees little ones orphaned as well as those of us who are learning to live as adult orphans. EL Roi! The God who SEES! He Sees! He Sees! He Sees! Oh, how I love that name!

God isn’t just in the mountain tops, He is in the hard. We know that because God is the El Roi--the God who sees. He is also the God who creatively acts. Many of His names reveal to us His actions in response to what He sees! In response to the pain He saw His people in He came to love by taking on flesh and rubbing shoulders with people just like us--people who were in bondage to sin, in bondage to deep pain, and those with overwhelming needs no person on earth could fill. He died a cruel, unjust death-suspended between Heaven and Earth-so our shame, guilt, and ugly sin could be placed on Him. He died so His unending grace, peace, goodness, and love could be poured out upon us. He bore unspeakable abuse so we could know He, too, has experienced the hard and know He understands our pain in the hard!

In the moments, I'm overwhelmed by what I see others going through, by what they've survived, by what I know they will face in the future, or by what I am experiencing, I can look to the truth that God is the God who sees, who loves, and who acts in ways I am only beginning to understand. I remind myself that the cross preceded the empty grave and the hope that the resurrection brings. I remind myself that the cross preceded the gift of the Comforter who leads us to repentance, gives us supernatural strength to overcome sin, helps us endure the hard, and gives moments of connection to the wounded Savior that heals hearts and instills hope and peace. 

Maybe we live in this life with the hard so we can learn to thirst for the completion promised when we are face to face with Jesus where pain, suffering, and the constant tug of sin on our hearts is once and for all removed. Maybe we live in this life where the hard is not removed so those of us who know the Savior can be used by Him to be His eyes and His ears to a world of people who have lost their way in the hard. We live in the hard so the message that His Resurrections speaks of hope and power and joy is more readily received by the hurting. We can rest in the promise of His return and the promise of life eternal, which tells us the hard in this life is all the hard there is. I will remember the monuments He has given me personally and I will cling to the truth of who He is and know He sees me all the time--even in the hard!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Meeting God in the Storms

Mark 4:35-41
     "On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.' And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great fear and said to one another who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
     I love this encounter of Jesus with His disciples. First, Jesus tells them they will go to the other side of the sea. He gave them clear cut directions and then entered the boat with them. In His humanness, Jesus who was the Savior, the Teacher, the Healer was exhausted and promptly found a cushion, stretched out, and fell asleep. Before long a catastrophic wind arose. It wasn't just the city boys that were afraid, it was the seasoned fisherman who became terrified because the boat was filling with sea water. 
     I've never been in a storm at sea, but one time my husband and I were taking a turn in a rubber raft on a small lake in New Mexico. Our children were waiting with their grandparents on the shore hollering for us to hurry up so they could have a turn. All of a sudden small summer storm rose out of nowhere. First, the wind picked up and then a small band of dark clouds headed our way and covered the lake. We knew we needed to get out of the lake because of the lighting so we started rowing back to shore. But, the winds picked up and the harder we rowed towards the kids, the further away we got. In my nervousness, I began to giggle so hard I wasn't much use to my husband who was frantically rowing. All of a sudden he calmly instructed me to lift one of my paddles out of the water and he changed the direction of the boat and we began to work with the wind instead of against it. It seemed counter intuitive to me, but I trusted him and did as he said. Soon we were receiving warm hugs from our kids who had been frightened by the sight of their parents being carried away by the storm. 
     Even with that experience, I can't imagine being on a ship in a storm strong enough to scare grown men who lived and navigated the sea on a daily basis. They are so frustrated by Jesus' napping through the storm that they asked Him, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" Ouch! That statement convicts me! How often I've assumed my Jesus didn't care because I found myself in the middle of a life storms. And some of those life storms weren't nearly as cataclysmic as the one the disciples were facing. I weathered some storms in faith clinging tightly to the Savior, but there are many more that I weathered in fear and frustration with that question on my lips though I didn't have the guts to speak it aloud. I even weathered a few with Him fully inviting me to come to Him, but was too terrified to do so and amazingly He kept inviting me to come to Him.
     I love how Jesus orders the seas to calm and then confronts their unbelief. He didn't confront them for waking Him, but because they were so afraid they had forgotten His Words stating they would go to the other side. They forgot they could depend on His Words. Had they remembered what he said, they might have woken Him up and asked Him to help bail water. Had they remembered who He was, they could have woken Him up and asked Him to calm the Storm.
   Interestingly Jesus calming the sea redirects their fear. They no longer fear the storm, they have a healthy fear of their Creator who has power over both the sea and the flesh. The flesh in me wants to judge the disciples for their fear and lack of faith, but I have to admit I am them. God has blessed me repeatedly with gifted Bible teachers, a love and reasonable command of His word, and a thirst to know Him. But, then a storm hits and I find myself a doubting Thomas, an impetuous Peter and a Daughter of Thunder all rolled up in one, wanting to demand Jesus explain to me about that appears to be His lack of care? 
     But then I realize I really don't want my God, my Savior, the Lover of my Soul, to be a God who only lives in my comfort zone. I want to see Him and His power in the Storms. I want to Hear His voice say, "Peace be still!" Not just to the storm, but to my terrified heart as well. He graciously tells us in His Word that in this World we will have tribulation...why, then am I, are we, so often surprised by sudden storms. I have to remind myself that my Jesus doesn't have to enter my emotional drama because He has power over the storms of my life. He is calm because He enters them with me. He is confident because He uses them to reveal more of Himself to me, which strengthens my faith, humbles my heart, and causes me to depend on Him which in turn fosters the intimacy my heart craves. 
     Maybe, just maybe, the next time I face a sudden storm I will cling to Jesus in faith and if I listen hard enough, I will hear His voice calming my heart and silencing my questions, "Peace, be still! I will meet with You in the Storm."


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!