Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up!

One of the verses that radically changed the way I viewed relationships is Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." We are living in a very conflicted world right now and I can't help but believe it would help us to understand this truth and to view conflicts we face daily in the light of it. Over time I have experienced many things that have contributed to making this truth come alive for me.

First, becoming a wife and mother allowed me to both watch and experience the human dynamics of  our family and saw how that impacted the relationships we formed. There were times my husband accused me of saying something I didn't say and there were times I did the same thing to him. The same thing was true in our relationships with our children and their relationships with each other. I came to believe early on that spirits who were acting as interpreters for our conversations or who were influencing what we assumed about each others' intentions. I sometimes felt frustrated that we couldn't always resolve conflicts quickly. I know we all have past hurts and negative core beliefs that impact our perceptions of the present. But there were times I viewed something transpiring between two of us and saw that one would get angry and hurt and say that the other said or did something. I was standing there and didn't see what they saw and or experience the interaction in the same way. It was as if at times we were ambassadors in the UN and had ear buds in our ears and either one or more were being given a very poor interpretation of what was said or done.

Second, over the years we've been involved in several different churches, some of which were riddled with conflict. At times I was a bystander and able to observe all sides of a conflict and it seemed the conflict had a life of its own. Because I was a neutral person and a good listener there were times  people from differing sides of a conflict talked to me about their perspectives of it and I was left wondering if they had even been at the same same meeting. Even when I saw the events the same way as one of the parties involved, I could see and understand the perspective of the other. I could also see their concern and was left wondering what was influencing them to hear and see things so differently. It could have been that there was something unresolved from their pasts and it was tainting what they saw. But it could also have been spiritual forces of evil influencing what they thought they saw and heard. I think Satan could use this tactic to create divisions among us that none of us really want.

There were times I was involved in conflicts that I wasn't able to resolve. One time I was out of town for a month and came back and found out a conflict I thought had been resolved was still a hot mess. Because I had had no interaction with the person, had not thought about the person, and had not talked to anyone about the person, I believed there was something else at play. Maybe something in the person's past was triggered by me or maybe a spiritual force was influencing them to believe I said, did, or thought something I didn't.

There were also times that people I was in conflict with "went for the jugular." By that I mean they said or did something that hurt me to the core. It was usually in the form of saying words that someone from my past had said that had deeply wounded me. Every time something like this happened, it was with someone with whom I had not even told my story. How would they know that those things would either silence me or hurt me, if they weren't influenced by the Enemy who does observe us and knows us. I have seen the words of others as well as my own words get twisted into something different from the time they leave the mouth until they enter the ear.

Third, I believe the Enemy can whisper into our minds after the fact. One good example of this is of a phone conversation I had with someone. My husband walked in the door and I recounted the conversation to him. But overnight I replayed the conversation in my head until I was angry. The next morning I was talking to my husband about the call again and I said something a little different than I had told him the night before. My husband calmly asked me if the person had actually said that. When I stopped and thought about it, I realized I was no longer was taking their words at face value, I was reading between the lines and was twisting and adding to their words and in doing so was creating a conflict that wasn't there. Maybe it was just me, but maybe it was a spiritual force whispering just enough words and questions to stir the pot in order to divide and separate. 

I'm not looking for demons behind every bush, but I think that because of Jesus victory on the cross that the only power spiritual forces have is in the lies and the half truths they get us to believe. We are called to be image bearers and can reflect the Lord's image through our character, our words, our behavior, and our relationships. So, it makes sense that the Enemy and his cohorts would do all they can to distort the image of our Holy God in these areas. So they stir up strife and division between couples, between parents and their children, between friends, and between church families. They twist our words and color our perceptions of which impacts our response, reactions, and our actions. To stir up strife, all they have to do is get us to believe lies and to see and to hear things differently than they really are.

We don't always recognize the Enemy's activity. After I had healed from depression, I started walking everyday as I prayed and listened to praise music. During one of the walks I became instantly overwhelmed with anxiety and depressed feelings. I remember whispering to the Lord, "I feel like I have just been knocked on my butt." When I walked in my house, the phone was ringing and I picked it up. An older gentleman from church was on the line and said, "Wendy, this is Reuben. I was sitting here doing my quiet time and I know how Satan likes to knock you on your butt, but bigger is He who is in you than he who is in the world." I thanked him and we hung up. He had never called me before and never called me after that. I had never shared with him on a personal level, but this godly man, listening to the Holy Spirit called out of the blue. It wasn't like him to say the word, "butt" to a woman, but God gave him the word I had whispered to Him so I would know it was Him speaking through Ruben. That day I was wrestling with dark forces and didn't realize it and God used Ruben to remind me the victory was already won.

I eventually learned to ask questions to clarify what others meant by their words and that has helped a lot. When thoughts and suspicious are replaying in my mind or I am suddenly overwhelmed with negative feelings and want to lash out or shut down, I ask God to silence every voice in my mind except His and His peace floods my soul. In the midst of conflicts, I remind myself that the person in front of me isn't the real Enemy and ask God to help me see the event, the person, or the interaction through His eyes. Oh, in the heat of a conflict it can definitely feel like my husband or another person has become my enemy. But I need to remember the truth and instead of fighting the person I love, I need to remember to fight for the integrity and health of the relationship. I would be easier if I could just say, "Will the real enemy please stand up." But, that isn't possible. However, I can ask God to silence the Enemy's voice and pray for discernment and wisdom so that I can navigate the conflict in a way that both honors and reflects Him.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

This is Me!

The song, This is Me, has had a big impact on our ministry leaders. We serve women who have been wounded by emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Most of the ladies that come to our groups can identify with the messages in the song. They come in to our groups as broken, bruised women, deeply ashamed of the physical and emotional scars they bear. Many believed the only way they could survive was to either run away or to hide their broken parts because they feared no one could really love them as they are. Some of them have heard or even hear now words that are so sharp they cut into the very core of who they were created to be, blanketing them in layers of shame.

No matter what stories they have lived, most of them come into the group apologizing. They  apologize for being inadequate and not giving the "right" answer to questions asked. They apologize for being crazy when the strong emotions they have been stuffing start to surface. They apologize for not being smart enough or pretty enough. They apologize for the personality the Creator gave them because they believe they are too much, too little, or not good enough. Some apologize for the space they take up in group, the amount of words they share, or for not being able to find the perfect words that describe how they feel. Some even apologize for the tears that spill over and stream down their cheeks, believing they don't have a right to grieve the loss of innocence, friendship, and the healthy family of which they each dreamed.

If ladies stick with the group, share their stories, and do their work, we have the honor of witnessing God do mighty works in their hearts, their minds, emotions, and lives. We get to see them find their voices and tell their stories, often for the first time. We get to observe them mustering up the courage to face their broken, bruised parts as they begin to allow God into those areas so He can begin to heal their pain. We get to see them observe how they have responded to their past traumas and watch them begin to replace maladaptive, sometimes sinful ways they had of reacting an protecting their hearts with healthy, more godly ways.

Sadly, some of them still have people in their lives who continue to do harm or who demand they continue to hide their broken parts to make their family or church "look better." Some of them have people who even want them to hide their personalities behind a mask as if God made a mistake when He created them. What people have done and said and what they sometimes still do or say is absolutely wrong. Some of the abusive people change when the ladies confront and put godly boundaries in place, but many more don't. Some of the gals forgive and choose to live mostly separate lives. Others set some strong boundaries and continue to try to engage with those who have the potential to continue to hurt them. Those who continue to engage have to grow enough that they can purpose in their hearts to not let hateful words and actions feed and regrow the shame they have come out of. The have to purpose in their hearts to believe what God says about them and refuse to let others' words or actions define them or shame them. As the song says the words may be bullets striking their skin, but they have a choice on whether or not they will let the shame attached to those bullets sink in.

Many of the ladies have heard harsh words over and over until those words became "truth" to them. Many were broken and bruised by the dark actions of others and those actions themselves carried ugly messages with them, that the ladies began to believe and rehearse. Some of them suffered severe neglect and that neglect had messages that were loud and clear. All the messages they received became "truth" to them and then they too began to reinforce those hurtful things. Because of this, it is hard for them to give up the lies and the shame as the lies feel more real than the truth we see and the truth of God's word.

The ladies become warriors who have to take every single thought captive and replace it with God's truth. As God begins to heal their hearts, they find themselves in spiritual battles on a daily basis because the enemy doesn't want them to find freedom from the shame they've carried for so long. Some of the prettiest women believe they are ugly. Some of the most intelligent women believe they are dumb and inadequate. Some of the most gifted gals believe their lives are not significant and they don't have anything to offer. Some of the most likeable women believe they are unlovable. Even those who have trusted Christ to be their Savior wonder if He is powerful enough to cleanse them from the stain of their abuse.

As the ladies grow, they begin to recognize and replace the shaming messages running through their heads and begin to believe the truth. And just as they begin to experience joy they face something hard and the old messages start replaying like broken records. In group when we listen carefully and watch their body language and facial expressions, we can often see the moment they hear a lie in their head. Some times it is just a flicker, sometimes they speak it out, refute it and move on. However, sometimes we see them play with the lie and begin to hold on to it as if it is more true than Gods' truth and we remind them they have the power to drown out those ugly messages with the God's truth.

Some may hold on to the old messages because they feel familiar like an old pair of comfortable house shoes. As they are gaining freedom, the freedom can feel too risky and too scary. About a year and a half ago one of our sons got a dog from a shelter. Her mother was pregnant with a litter when they were confiscated in a drug bust. They had to keep the mother dog and her puppies until the courts settled everything. So when he picked up Sweet Dee, she had lived in the kennel for fourteen months. The drive home scared her. The house scared her and she sat at his feet instead of exploring it. The big back yard turned her into a trembling hot mess. It took awhile for her to believe that she was loved and safe enough to explore her new world and her new life. It is no different for the women who grew up in unsafe homes and come into our groups. Sometimes they return to the shame because it feels safer than confronting or setting boundaries.

Helping women learn what their true identity is has become my favorite parts of the healing process we take the ladies through. That is because I remember well the words that fed my own toxic shame. Those words were invisible, ugly, fat, stupid, inadequate, dirty, unheard, week, and unlovable. Oh and that toxic shame. It felt like a hot iron searing my heart and my soul. But, praise God, I am not marching to the sound of those ugly words any more. I am now marching to the truth that because of Jesus and what he did for me I can declare that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That I am chosen and clean. That I am redeemed, reconciled, and restored. That I am gifted and my life has significance. That I am strong and brave. And I no longer apologize for being me. As the song says, "I am  not afraid to be seen. This is who I am meant to be, this is me!"

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

It Will Never be Enough

When I first entered recovery for an eating disorder I was in an anorexic phase, exercising extreme control over every bite of food that passed my lips. I had set a goal for a certain weight and had dropped way below that weight. Yet, every time I weighed, I thought, "Just one more pound." I began to hear this voice in my head when I looked at the scale that said, "It will never be enough!"

There were also times I lost control of my control and binged. I would go in the kitchen and search for the perfect food to satisfy my cravings. Each time it happened I'd eat and eat until I felt stuffed, but I kept eating hoping that something would satisfy the deep heart-hunger. And that voice would whisper ever so quietly, "It will never be enough."

After I joined a recovery group I began to see a common theme running through each person's story. The drinkers thought their next drink would be the drink that satisfied their thirsty hearts. The drug users thought their next hit would be the hit that would finally numb the pain they didn't want to feel. The shoppers thought their next purchase would be the purchase that would let them feel like they were good enough. The workaholics thought the next project would be the project that would calm their fear of failure. The people pleasers thought if they did enough good, the next relationship they had would be the one that filled their empty hearts. The controllers thought that if they could just gain enough control, they could feel safe. Even those who took charge of their health and worked out in the gym ended up thinking another hour there and another muscle built would be enough to calm their fear of getting fat or not being strong enough to stay safe. No matter what our "drug of choice" was, every one of us eventually came to the same conclusion, "It will never be enough!" I began to believe that the voice we heard was the Holy Spirit's. He was trying to wake us up to the fact that in spite of our faith, we were living in bondage to self-destructive sins.

My therapist suggested I look at the temptation to use an eating disorder behavior as an opportunity to turn to God. As a believer, that resonated with me. But when I first tried to turn to God in the face of a temptation, I was overwhelmed by the strength of the temptation. It was then that The Enemy began to mimic the Spirit's voice, speaking lies that hindered my recovery--lies like He won't be enough. He doesn't hear you. He doesn't see you. He doesn't love you enough to help you. You are so weak, He won't give you His strength. He won't really satisfy the longings in your soul. You are so needy, He won't help you this time. You are too much to be loved. You are not good enough to be loved. His love will never be enough."

There were times I walked in victory and experienced joy and there were times I was too hungry, too angry or too anxious, too lonely, and/or too tired to withstand the cravings and gave up early in the spiritual battle I was fighting. After one such failure, I walked into my therapist's office and shrunk down on her couch in shame. At some point I said that I hated the Enemy and she said, "Tell him!" She pulled a chair over and placed it in front of me and said, "Here he is! Talk to him." I don't remember what I said, but I do remember how quietly and timidly I said it. She had me move over and sit in the enemy’s chair and I spoke his familiar words with the same contempt and strength I had heard in my head so often. She had me move back and forth between the chairs. I battled the lies the enemy spoke with the truth. There was something about saying God's truth out loud that empowered me and I began to speak with confidence and authority and the enemy's voice began to grow quiet as I proclaimed God's truth. Then the enemy said, "You're such a failure God, can't love you." I became angry and cried out, "You are wrong! God loves me! There is nothing I can do to lose His love and there is nothing I can do to get Him to love me more. Christ's death proves that!" And there was this dead silence in the room and I knew I didn't need to move back to the chair to speak for the Enemy. We had gotten to the false core belief that I was unloved that was hindering me from turning to God when I needed Him the most. That core belief began to change that day.

Recovery brought God's truth to life for me and the others who attended the recovery group. We began to understand we were fearfully and wonderfully made and the needs we each had were written on our hearts by the Creator Himself. Those needs were originally designed to draw us to Him, and were not proof of our defectiveness. We began to understand that because we were living in a fallen world and had experienced trauma before we understood God and His power, we had begun to try to meet our needs and to protect our hearts in ways that were not godly. We began to understand that temptation didn't mean we were bad and instantly go to feelings of shame. Instead, we began to see them as opportunities to walk with Christ in such a way that His strength was manifested in our weaknesses. We began to accept and understand that we would be dealing with our temptations on a daily basis for the rest of our lives. In the beginning, many of us grieved that, but we soon realized that by walking with Christ and accepting His mercy and strength on a daily basis we got to know Him in ways we never thought we could. We learned that when we called on Him in our struggles, He doesn't roll His eyes and say, "Oh, here you go again." He simply meets us where we are and all we have to do is hold on to the truth until His strength and love sees us through our struggle. The Spirit's whisper, "It will never be enough" has melted into a firm belief that even when I fail to walk in victory, my God is enough! 



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!