Friday, December 20, 2019

The Christmas Story is the Story of a God in Pursuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2019

When the Lights are Dim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 4, 2019

Are We Comfortable with Discomfort?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Sound of Perfect Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, October 3, 2019

Guilt Trips are a Trip to Nowheresville

My friend, Bill Sutton, dropped by to share his thoughts on guilt trips! 
"The scene is from a true story a few years ago. It took place during visits to a local service station. After spending my hard earned gas money, I would be guilted by the owner for not stopping by more often, or that he saw me getting gas at another station in town. It happened a few times, so the curtain closed on that scene, and I chose to buy my gas elsewhere, where a “Thank you” replaced a “Guilt Trip”. The owner got a trip to nowheresville with me.
I want to be appreciated for what I do, not guilted for what I don’t do. I think we all want that. If you want to run people out of your life, or away from your business, then put them on guilt trips. The mother who finally gets that desired call from the grown kid who seldom calls, chastises the young man repeatedly for not calling her more, then she wonders why he doesn’t call much. Or she scolds him the entire call about the lifestyle he is living, seldom trying to find out about the good he may be doing. He thinks about calling the next week, then puts the phone down. Both mother and son lose. A guilt trip tore them apart even more.
A person who goes to church every now and then, wants to feel good about getting up, getting ready and doing what they believe is the right thing. But the person is greeted with words like, “We have missed you the last MONTH” which is code for “Where have you been?” When I haven’t been for awhile, and someone jokes with me a bit about the “roof falling in” with me finally being there, I’m fine with it, and laugh right along. Others though, may take it to heart, so we have to be careful. We can prod certain people a little in good fun, and hopefully we don’t have a bit of a hidden agenda, that becomes a guilt trip. Worse yet is the person who is trying to make some changes, goes to church, but gets guilted by others because of the way they are living. I’ve always been taught to let God do the judging. There may be a time and place to talk with someone about some needed changes, but it takes wisdom to know the setting and timing to do so. Let God guide you. If you just don’t know, let God handle it. God brings conviction where needed. People can bring condemnation and guilt, is a trip to nowheresville, and will keep people away from church.
How do we handle it when it’s obvious someone is trying to put you on a guilt trip? Don’t go! When you don’t go there, you’ll find that those who love to lay guilt trips on people, will leave you alone more and more. Also, don’t take it personally. That may just be how they roll. You’re not alone. If you are up to it, you could even tell them how the guilt trip makes you feel, and that it doesn’t work. The main thing is, don’t go.
Linda knows how to handle my attempts to guilt trip her. Recently, I thought she should go to a home football game with me. She responded that she hates football, the stands make her have back problems, and that the cold night air isn’t good for her body. I said that the team and the cheerleaders need our support. She came back in a sort of humorous way, “If you think you can guilt me into going, sorry….doesn’t work.” So I went, and the game was a runaway, the bleachers were hard, and it was a bit chilly. It would have been a terrible experience for Linda. But I loved it. So she handled my manipulation in a perfect way. Just don’t tell her!! Uh oh, she may be reading this; oh well. She didn’t go along on the guilt trip, she put the (foot) ball back into my court, saying, “If YOU want to go……go.” I did, and I was happy. She didn’t go, and she was happy. The stands were nearly full, so the cheerleaders and the team were happy. Besides, there’s always next week’s game. "You're going Linda, right?"
Even though guilt trips are a trip to nowheresville, we all know that unfortunately, guilt trips do work sometimes. It is a sort of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t a good thing. Guilt trips often “succeed” because behavior can be changed because of a guilt trip. But these so called successes come with a price. And that price is resentment toward the manipulator, and it poisons relationships. It hurts places of business. It keeps attendance down at churches. Marriages built on foundations of guilt trips, can’t be healthy. Putting shame on an alcoholic, makes the alcoholic secretly turn to the bottle, to mask the shame. In the big picture, what looked to be a success at one time, became a trip to nowheresville. God can bring conviction and change. Guilt can bring condemnation and resentment. God is God, we’re not, and that is GOOD! Appreciate people for what they do well. Don’t shame them; it seldom works.
Romans 2:1-2"
Bill was born and raised in Williams, Arizona and attended college at NAU.  He has been a schoolteacher, local newspaper writer, then a judge for 20 years. He is McKeachern Award Winner as nation's outstanding non-attorney judge and  President and founder of Yes I Can, Inc.  Also President and founder of my company, Wise Choice Alternatives. There are 100 Thoughts like these in his recently released book, Thoughts for the Weekend, available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Purest Praise of All--Job

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:

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!


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!