Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No Longer Walking Dead

I have a friend who is an avid reader who often mentions books that she has read and by which she has been impacted. She recently told me about a book called, Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman. I started reading it on vacation and realized that the book has brought me back to my roots. By roots I don't mean my family of origin, I mean church roots--the church I first felt like I  became a part of a spiritual family. This church also happened to be the first church I attended that used expository teaching. The pastor taught through whole books of the Bible. Yet, when he would get to a passage on a topic like marriage he was so thorough in handling the topic I learned more about the topic than most people do whose pastors teach only topical sermons. It was a great place for a young believer who had a lot of questions about the Bible to be. As I have been reading through Freeman's book on grace, it surprisingly echoes the teachings that came out of the pulpit in my church thirty years ago. It also echoed some of the things the pastor said to us conversationally. 

I must say that I was in my baby making years during the time we were at that church. I had a handful of babies and toddlers and was learning so much at the time that I didn't have a chance to reflect on all that I was learning and how it was supposed to impact my life and my thinking. I guess it would be accurate to say that at the time we left there I had a headful of great Bible knowledge and was trying really hard to be good, to earn love from God and man, and to live a life that pleased God.

During our stay there, we had a guy break into our home during one of my pregnancies and I didn't sleep the last half of the pregnancy. This set me up for a good case of post partum depression. My answer to the ambivalence and sadness that filled my soul was to work harder at church and home, to compulsively serve, to read more of my Bible, and to listen to as many tapes of great Bible teachers as I could get my hands son. The extra activity helped for awhile, getting me through some tough days and sleepless nights. However, now that I look back on it, I realize I was wearing a "good girl" mask that was hiding the real me--the scared wounded child living inside who felt invisible, the young wife plagued with a mountain-sized insecurity, the young mom who was struggling with a deep sea of inadequacy, the woman with a core of shame that came from a past of abuse, and an eating disorder that had at its core control that was so out of control that it scares me to even think about it now.

Long after I left that church I still carried my work-hard mentality with me. If I had a conflict with someone at church, I worked extra hard to overcome it and win the person over. When some one seemed displeased with a job I did, I took the person's opinion as gospel and worked even harder to rectify it even when I didn't know what it was I was to rectify. When guilt followed my sinful actions, I confessed it over and over and over and then white knuckled it so that I didn't mess up again, which only seemed to lead to more failure. When the monster called shame grew so big it took a hold of my heart in a vice grip, I worked harder to live down the shame of being too much and not enough at the same time. On days I didn't feel pretty enough or thought I ate a bite too much, I wrote out another diet plan and set a longer course to run the next morn. On the days I felt overlooked and ignored, I tried harder, cleaned more, smiled bigger, all in attempt to get someone to notice I existed.  To be honest, completely honest, I was totally physically and spiritually exhausted. I was too tired to feel and became emotionally numb.  It was like being a walking dead person.

All the while the sermons and advice of our former pastor rolled around in my head never landing in my heart. Especially the verses from Colossians 2:6-7,  "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
After I entered the world of counseling, one of the counselors gave me a book and asked me to look it over and to let her know what I thought. The next week I let her know I liked the book and I apologized for not finishing the book. She laughed and smiled and informed me we were going to work through the book at a much slower rate and process it over a period of time. Around that time I also went to a women's retreat where we were asked to spend some time reflecting on a short passage of Scripture. We were to read it, observe it, chew on it, ask God questions about it, and then ponder what difference those truths made in our lives. For over an hour I sat in silence with the verses as instructed. All of a sudden I felt the Martha in me take a nap and the Mary in me come fully alive. I came away from that quiet hour with the sense that God enjoyed spending time with His people, that He enjoyed spending time with me. I quit trying to read the Bible rapid speed and began to think more about what I read. I wrestled with the truths in prayer through out the day.  I began writing more and all of a sudden new-to-me truths just seemed to pop out of  the familiar Words like never before. Those words that were so familiar to me that I had been glossing over them, contained truth that I was again finding exciting and impactful.

During the time I spent in counseling I was also taught the art of becoming more self aware, which I found to be the way out of the self-centeredness that I hated so much. And as I read the Word I began to not only asked the "who, what, where, how, and why" questions of the Word,  I also began to ask them of myself in regard to what I read. I began to notice my thoughts and my emotional reactions to what I read. If I wanted to race by a passage, I became curious about why I was avoiding it. If my heart quickened, I would pause and take note of why I felt excited about it. If I felt shame I took time to discern why and if I was looking at it as a Pharisee or a graced believer. If I felt convicted by something I read, I examined my life and my heart and put into place a plan to overcome revealed sin. I found that when I felt convicted, I felt a sense of being deeply loved and I knew that conviction  was from God, not the condemnation of the enemy. When I felt pervading toxic shame, old tapes were playing in my head that were based on human words, lies, or distorted teachings of the Word. If I had a negative thought ("That might be true for others, but not for me") or a disbelieving thought ("Like that will ever happen!")  run through my head, I paid attention to it to try to understand why I didn't believe what I read that day. It gave me the chance to identify areas of unbelief and the unresolved pain underneath. I guess in essence, I no longer wanted a shallow belief, I wanted the Word to permeate into the deepest parts of my heart where real transformation takes place. 

I also began to notice what I felt when I read. That felt risky because many of the messages I had gotten in church about feelings were that they could not be trusted and should be ignored. Yet, when I listened to the messages of the feelings as I read the Word, I gained so much more. For example, when I read about the woman at the well, I noticed I felt judgmental because I figured she was either a runner or just didn't try hard enough. I confessed it and then I sat in the story for awhile. As I sat in the story, I researched the culture that she lived in and I grew sad. She had gone through five very public divorces, experiencing powerlessness of being in a culture that did not value its women. She got water at a time of day that indicated an avoidance of others so she was alone and lonely. At first glance I was confused by the Lord's questions, and the enemy whispered in my ear, "See how He toys with her?" But as I meditated on the passage it became obvious that Jesus cared less about her divorces than He did her unhealed heartache and her unsatisfied thirst for love. That was something I could relate to. As I read through story after story slowly I began to see just how gently and lovingly God dealt with sinners like me and how He dealt with people in pain. Sometimes stories would trigger some hurt in me that was similar to theirs and I would allow it to surface and found the Lord faithful to heal it. As I read about attitudes of those who followed, I found if I took the time to process it was often like looking in a mirror. In my self awareness I could identify with their impulsive actions, their insecurities, their sinfulness, and their clamoring for love, acceptance, and power.  I began to recognize the "good-girl" mask as being a fleshly bondage that needed to go. It kept me from seeing the truth about myself and sometimes the truth about others and about God. It kept me from acknowledging internal sins and the idols of my heart. It kept me from accepting my humanness, kept me from fully adoring my God, and kept me from resting fully in His grace.

So, for the many years I have been away from my "home church" I have slowly and surly been learning to apply what I was originally taught. Ironically, I am finding that so many of the answers to life's problems and painful emotions were taught faithfully to me long ago. But until I was invited to remove the good girl mask in the counseling office, I said I believed one way, but lived another out of fear and misunderstanding.

I really wish I could have one more conversation with the pastor who told me, "Just as you received Jesus, you live in HIM--by faith." I would love for him to see the joy and the freedom I have found in giving up working for God's love and acceptance--two things that I already possessed. I would love for him to see the woman who has become more comfortable outside of the mask, living more honestly and truthfully. I would love for him to see me resting in grace, not groveling in shame. I wish he could see me living free. He would be thrilled to know I finally get that the Christian life isn't working towards perfection, it is trusting God to be who He says He is, and that I am who He says I am in relationship to Him. It isn't about a pulling myself up by the boot straps and trying harder and harder and harder, it is about resting in Him, receiving His grace, and allowing His presence and His goodness to fill this God-thirsty heart with His love and His acceptance. It's about resting in His presence and letting Him transform my selfish heart into a loving heart that beats in tune with His--there I feel fully alive, I more easily trust Him, and my desires, decisions, reactions, and actions all fall into place. Those things flowing out of my relationship with Him promote life, give me health, foster love, and fill me with an abundance of joy--joy that flows naturally into an attitude of thanksgiving that attracts others to Him. I would love to tell him how good it feels to be walking by faith and no longer walking dead. I bet He's probably telling Jesus, "It's about time she got it! We told her that for years!" 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

God's Perspective--An Easter Post

As I read the gospels, I imagine I am an observer of the stories being played out. When I do this, I realize the disciples were limited in their knowledge of the significance of the events they were observing.  As the disciples walked and talked with Jesus, they were human who were not omniscient. They understood only from what they observed and what their human finite minds could grasp. In the short time span they were with Jesus, they saw Him perform powerful miracles--the blind received sight, the deaf were able to hear, lepers had their skin made new, and the dead were raised to life. In addition, a bleeding woman was healed by touching His hem, a legion of demons was cast out by a spoken command, and common water was turned into extravagant wine. Because of Him, crowds were fed on a couple of fishes and a few loaves of bread with baskets heaped full of the leftovers. His disciples also saw Him walk on water, speak with such authority that the seas and the winds obeyed, and cast nets at His bidding into an empty sea and saw them fill to the brim until the nets broke.

The disciples also heard Him speak many sermons, some of which were filled with hope and encouragement. Some sermons explained deep theological concepts and others contained prophesies about the future. Some were strong, assertive confrontations aimed at the Pharisees who enslaved people with their do's and don'ts and others contained blessings spoken over the hearers. All heard Him claim to be both God and man and His actions certainly verify that truth.

During what would be His last week on earth, He entered the city riding on a donkey as people waved palm branches and shouted Hosanna--an entrance certainly fitting for the upcoming King. But soon things began to unfold in ways the disciples weren't expecting. They had the Passover Meal with Him. He picked up one of the symbolic loaves of bread and He broke it, saying it was His body broken for them and then He took one of the cups, saying the wine in it represented His blood that would be shed for them--words contradicting a coming Kingdom. Then the Master, The Messiah, The Son of God, The Son of Man, washed their feet, showing by example the leaders He called them to be.

Then there was the late night visit to the Garden with a few close friends. There He prayed so fervently and was so full of ambivalence that He began to sweat drops of sweat tinged with blood. And, His friends slept as anguish filled His soul. He prayed and prayed and prayed, asking His Father to remove the cup of suffering, while at the same time proclaiming His father's will be done.

Soon after He prayed He was arrested, tried, flogged, dressed in purple, and crowned with a crown of thorns--the very thorns that symbolized the curse. The disciples had to wonder in those moments what had happened to the power He had shown before. His country men rejected Him and they yelled for Pilate to crucify Him. Betrayed by a friend, denied by another, and deserted by those who had loved Him best.

The same God-man who had commanded the seas to calm, the demons to leave, diseases to flee, was hung on a cross. The long awaited Messiah hung between heaven and earth and the sky grew dark. As He breathed His last breath, the curtain of the temple was torn clean in two, leaving nothing between sinful man and a Holy God. How I wonder if they understood the significance of that or if in the moment they feared it meant God was angry with them and was departing from their midst. What did they think as the earth shook, as rocks split, and as tombs, once sealed, were open wide?

All seemed hopeless as the Messiah was laid to rest. Dark were the days that followed as His disciples were filled with grief, disappointment, and shame. No Kingdom came. No Messiah reigned. No Teacher remained to teach, so back to their fishing they went.

What had happened to the man whose words alone conveyed power enough that the universe came to be, that diseases fled, that dead bodies rose, that demons pleaded and obeyed? What happened to the man who was courageous enough to speak strong truth that tickled the self-righteous pride of the  Pharisees? It seemed as if the disciples hope for a messianic kingdom died as they laid Him in the tomb, struggling with their own failures, grieving their unmet expectations, and their hope for freedom so far away.

Then three days later, the tomb was found open and empty except for His grave clothes. The risen Savior began to appear to those He called His own. He called His disciples back to the work He wanted them to do. They didn't understand during those bleak hours when their hope ran low--the hours that Jesus hung suspended between heaven and earth--that the greatest victory was in the making. That was the moment the sinless God-man took our sin in His body--every sin imaginable--the lies, the murders, the adultery, the pride, the hatred, the gossip, the gluttony, the acts of violence, the sexual perversion, the unbelief, the withholding of love, and the hiding. And as our sin was taken He gave us His righteousness in its place, reconciling us forever to God--the God who created us, the God who loved us, and the God who laid down His life for us.

I don't think the disciples understood in the moment the full significance of the cross--and I am not sure that we do either. The dark hours belied the fact that the love of God was being poured out on mankind as Jesus bore our sin in His body. In the darkness of that day the disciples didn't see that the righteousness of God came face to face with the sinfulness of man. They didn't see that their was a spiritual battle waging in the background and the enemy was being completely, forever defeated and that the curse was finally lifted and man could be set free. They didn't have the knowledge to see that in Jesus' death they would be given life--spiritual life--life that would transform them and allow them to overcome evil with good. 

I love that many churches revisit the passion of the cross through Good Friday services. For it is in remembering the pain of the cross that we are reminded of the deep love of God. It is in remembering the Lord's death that we realize again and again that the grace He extends daily to us didn't come cheap. The grace that is free to us cost God the price of His Son--the Son in whom He was well pleased, the Son whom He loved, the Son who by His own choice was obedient to the death on the cross.

I hope I never forget that at the time the world seemed most hopeless, irrevocable hope was being birthed and the darkest times are those times when God's light shines the brightest. From a human perspective things can look bleak, but our God is the God of the resurrection power. When life seems hopeless and confusing from our vantage point, God sees it from the cross and the open grave and He uses those things to bring about His perfect will. A God who loves so radically is surely a God we can trust.       


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!