Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Do You Want to get Well?

February is eating disorder awareness month, so I decided to share a bit of my journey with you. Looking back, I can't remember a time in which food wasn't an issue for me. In my preschool years I developed a mild preoccupation with food and asked at the end of each meal what would be served at the next. By second grade, I had already begun to believe I was fat, ugly, and defective. I believed I needed to lose weight, even though my childhood pictures tell a different story. By junior high, I was trying one fad diet after another and soon developed a legalistic perspective about food, causing me to categorize all foods as either good foods or bad foods. Every new diet had it's own restrictions and when I put them all together, the list of acceptable foods became quite small.

The summer after eight grade, my family was in the process of moving and I stayed behind with my mom to finish my summer job as she finished her graduate classes. I didn't like the feelings of anxiety and grief that I was experiencing over the impending move and found relief by focusing on my weight and whatever diet I was currently on. After all, I didn't want to be rejected in a new school for being too "fat." During that summer I started fasting for weeks at a time and I exercised obsessively late into the night. It was easy to get away with the behaviors because I worked in the evenings and my mom assumed I ate at the restaurant I worked in and didn't know I was exercising after she was asleep. After the move, I spent a year overeating and then as I adjusted I began another cycle of rigid dieting.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my maturing body and, as an introvert, I often felt inadequate navigating relationships. So, I hid behind by disorder. During that time I remember not wanting to grow up, while at the same time I took on many of the adult responsibilities so I was too busy to just hang out. At the end of tenth grade, we were involved in an accident in which a woman died and the trauma of that event threw me into a full-blown eating disorder. The rest of my high school years were plagued by stressful situations--three adults in our family having major surgeries in the same year, dysfunctional unhealthy relationships, having a boyfriend who nearly died after accidently shooting himself, and having a friend's mother die from suicide. I was spinning with emotions I couldn't process and to calm the internal chaos I took even more control over my diet and exercise program. When I was successful at keeping the food rules, I felt powerful and believed I was a good Christian for having such great self control. However, even one bite of something not on the good list would throw me into shame and self-contempt so deep that it was paralyzing at time. I often found myself confessing to God what I had labeled as my sin.

When I first entered counseling I thought all the painful emotions I experienced were only about the food I ate, but as I began to eat healthier, I realized those feelings of shame and self-contempt were also tied to other things not so easy to control. They were tied to the desire to be perfect, which I thought necessary to earn God's love and approval. They were tied to sin that I had confessed, but had had a hard time believing God had forgiven. And, they were tied to the sexual abuse for which I was wrongfully been blaming myself.

At one point in my recovery my counselor gently asked me, "Do you want to get well or am I the only one who wants that for you?" The question felt familiar as I processed it with her. Later that evening, I realized it was familiar because it essentially the same question Jesus had asked the man laying by the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem. The paralyzed man had been laying there for thirty eight years, waiting to be healed. I knew Jesus healed that man on the Sabbath to draw attention to the ugly legalism of the religious leaders and soon realized the legalism Jesus was confronting was not all that different than the strict legalistic rules about food that I had created for myself. I think anyone who has struggled with any type of besetting sin, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or thought patterns that spiral them into despair can relate to the paralytic's struggle and to mine as well.

We try in our own power to stop doing something and then fail. That failure leads us to eventually give up, believing we are powerless to do anything about it. As believers we may even hide our sin and addictions for a season, but when we do that we live under a shroud of shame that God never meant us to live under. Sometimes, we even excuse our sin, saying boys will be boys, girls will be girls, or everybody does it. At other times we redefine sin as I did with my food rules and end up beating ourselves up for something God never said was wrong.

We don't need a list of rules to follow to defeat whatever it is that cripples us. We need Jesus. I know that sounds like a platitude, but hang with me for a few moments and let me explain what I mean. I needed Jesus with skin on in the form of other believers. I needed someone to hear my story and sit with me as I experienced the pain from my past that I buried deep for fear that if I felt it I would crumble into pieces that no one could put back together. These people were people who were willing to weep with me and rejoice with me. I needed them to enter the dark places of my mind to help me see that I had wrongfully defined eating food as sin and help me see that God intended it for both nourishment and pleasure. I needed them to help me realize that the traumatic events I had experienced weren't proof of God's displeasure with me. I needed them to help me recognize the lies I believed so that I could learn to replace them with God's truth. I needed people who could help me learn how to starve the monster called "Shame" by teaching me that I could worship God as I ate the food He provided with a thankful heart and that I had the power, as an adult, to give the shame of my abuse back to my abusers.

I needed Jesus in the form of His truth. That truth sometimes came in the form of the written Word that I digester during quiet times--truth that helped me to learn to walk with God through the recovery process. Sometimes His truth came in the form of sermons I heard in church, on the radio, or watched on the internet. Sometimes it came in the form of form of encouragement notes others graciously wrote to me. Sometimes it came in the form of music that other struggling saints had penned--music of people like Michael Card, Dennis Jernigan, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, and many others. Sometimes it came in the form of processing verses through conversations I had with friends, allowing me to slow down and contemplate how Gods' truth impacts me daily.  

I needed Jesus in the form of accountability partners who were willing to take calls from me when I was struggling with eating-disorder behaviors. These were nonjudgmental people, who understood the process of overcoming strongholds is a battle that begins in the mind. One night I called one partner because I had struggled with the desire to binge and over-exercise all day and I was exhausted. I called her and listed the things I was tempted to do and told her I was choosing not to do them. I asked her, "If I don't do those things, what can I do?" She laughed, which made me laugh and the laughing broke the miserable feeling of angst with which I had been experiencing all day. She reminded me of a couple of healthy behaviors I could do to process my emotions and then we just visited a few minuets about our lives often dissolving in laughter. I realized later that the healthiest thing I did that day was to choose to connect with someone who loved Jesus and was willing to simply be there. She didn't shame me. She didn't have to hear all of my garbage. She didn't throw verses or platitudes at me. She didn't even try to fix me or scold me for being weak. She just simply reminded me she cared.

There were also times that accountability partners were unavailable and I simply needed to sit at the feet of Jesus, confessing to Him the struggle I was experiencing so that I would come to know that He would meet me there. During these times, I chose to be like Jacob wrestling with God by crying out to Him in radical transparency. As I cried out to Him, I also reminded myself of His truth and chose to meditate on verses that reminded me of His love and His power, and His faithfulness. I committed to staying in a constant state of prayer, holding on to Him for all that I was worth until He provided the relief I needed. It was in those times I came to understand that intimacy with God doesn't come out of denying myself of food, out of being a perfect Christian, or out of having a perfect recovery. It came out of minute by minute decisions to fully trust and obey God in the face of powerful urges that are a part of eating disorders. Intimacy with God became a reality in my struggles, not something I hoped might attain in the future. How cool is that? It came from hanging on to Him as hard as I had to, for as long as it took. God faithfully rode those waves of temptation and empowered me to stand firm when everything in me wanted to cave. It was freeing to come to grips with the truth that God never expected perfection, He simply desired me to trust Him enough to invite Him into the struggle.

I know from God's word that I am not alone in the struggle for there is no temptation that is not common to man. That means every reader reading this is struggling with temptation of some sort. Some may have even made a list of their own rules they think will help them overcome sin, only to be filled with shame again and again because they fail. Let me ask you the question Jesus asked the man and that my counselor friend asked me, "Do you want to get well?" I wonder what might happen if you give up the rules you have devised and let Jesus join you in your struggle. I wonder how your life might be different if in the middle of the struggle you reached out to a safe person who can help you get out of your own head and help you remember that your Jesus is near. I wonder what might happen if the next time temptation hits, you were to hold on to the Savior for dear life and let His love, His grace, and His strength wash over you. I believe that you, too, will find that Jesus will provide all you need to have the victory you desire. Starve the shame monster that tries to tells you different for the cross, itself, points to the faithfulness of our God in the face of our sin. Do you want to get well?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Rachel Weeping for her Children

When I read the Bible all the way through for the first time, Matthew 2:18 left me feeling unsettled. "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." I first associated this verse with Moses' time as  Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill Jewish babies in Egypt and the time when Christ was born and all boys under the age of two were to be put to death. As I held my own babies in my arms, I often thought about those verses and was unable to wrap my mind around the brutal orders given that were responsible for the deaths of so many children. As I stood over the baby-sized coffin weeping with my friend, my heart ached for every child lost and for every mama that has stood with empty arms and engorged breasts, weeping for the child she has had to lay to rest. Those Mamas would never hear their babies cry again. Never hear them laugh cute little belly laughs. Never hear them call for her after a bad dream. Never hear them sing or watch them dance to music. Never watch them play tag or catch a ball. Never celebrate milestones those miles stones we take for granted--those first steps, birthdays, graduations, and future marriages and grandchildren. I couldn't help but believe that Rachel could be heard weeping with all grieving Mamas.  

As I read through the Old Testament, I saw some other things I believed might also cause Rachel to weep. As Israel moved into the Promised Land, some of them made unholy alliances with people who were steeped in pagan worship. The pagan religions were often fear-based and centered around the worship of idols that represented angry gods. To appease the angry gods, sacrifices were made and sometimes these sacrifices were humans. Daughters who were coming of age were taken to these temples to be sexually abused and trafficked by the temple priests so that a family could find favor with an angry god. Some parents offered babies as human sacrifices to be burned on the alter of idols made of stone. It was common enough that God forbid this practice in His Law. He cared so much for those babies that He required the death penalty for those sacrificing children. I can't help but believe that as young daughters were taken and left in priest arms and babies were placed on altars to be burned that Rachel could be heard weeping--weeping for the horror those precious children experienced for religions sake. 

It is easy for us to judge those who sacrificed babies in pagan worship. But, aren't we just as guilty of sacrificing our children? We have sacrificed them when we let godless schools and daycare centers raise them so we can live more comfortably while all the while they are being indoctrinated with perverted, confusing ideology. We sacrifice them by spending so much time on our phones and computers and watching TV that we leave them feeling invisible, unheard, and unloved. Some sacrifice their children by trafficking them to pay for the drugs they need to calm their addiction. Some sacrifice their children to protect their families' reputations and cover the horrific abuse going on in their home. Some sacrifice their children to the god of lust when they bring pornography into the home, leaving it in the bathroom or on computers where it is easily access my little ones. Some sacrifice their children by having them literally sucked and scraped out of the womb for convenience sake. We may not be offering our children to gods of stone, but we are offering them to gods of ease, god's of unbridled pleasure, god's of selfishness, god's of addictions, god's of pride, and god's of convenience. I can't help but believe that Rachel can still be heard weeping for the children who need to be loved and protected..

For years I have prayed that our government would reverse laws that allow abortion. But instead, the period in which legal abortions can occur has been extended to the point that in one state it is no longer 24 weeks, it is up to full term. And what hurts the heart most is that when the law was signed into being, people applauded--applauded the lives terminated by abortion in the past, those being terminated now, and those that will be terminated in the future.

Our church put up crosses in its lawn. Each cross represents the lives lost every day to abortion.

I can't help but believe as I look at all of those crosses that we can hear Rachel weeping for the children and you and I should be weeping with her..

I sat by the incubator of our granddaughter who was born at 26 1/2 weeks. And, as I prayed for her, I observed she was already perfectly formed with a head full of golden curly hair. She was active, fully showing her spunky little personality. I realized that we had been given a glimpses of life as it is in the womb and I wondered how anyone could terminate a life that so precious. I have also wept with loved ones who lost their babies to miscarriages and with those who were never able to conceive. All wanted babies they could not have and struggled with the idea that others were aborting their unwanted babies. And I believe Rachel understood and was weeping right along with us. 

I know the sacrificing of children has occurred within the walls of churches, too. It has occurred when abuse has been reported and covered up to protect the abusers and the churches' reputation. It has occurred when church going women and teens get abortions to cover the shame they feel over pregnancies conceived outside of marriage. Those in the church who choose abortions are filled with guilt, shame, depression, regret, and grief. And thankfully, churches in our area provide safe groups in which women confess to one another, grieve the babies they terminated, and come to fully believe that God's grace is bigger than the shameful choices they made. I am sure every year in those groups Rachel can be heard weeping along with the ladies who have the courage to attend. 

The psalmist wrote, "For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me in my mothers womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them." Oh, that we would understand that our God is the giver of life and that it is not our right to terminate it. God at times even revealed his plans for people's children to the parents before they were born. John the Baptist was one of these people. He was to prepare the way of the Lord. Amazingly, he recognized the Messiah that Mary was carrying in her womb and he leapt in his own Mama's womb as Mary approached her. One Mama who was adopting a baby gave a tape of her singing songs to her baby's birth Mom to play against her belly. And when she sang those songs in the delivery room, the baby quieted and looked around for her. Babies in the womb are not just clumps of tissue growing. They are babies fashioned by the living God. Oh, how I long for the return of Jesus. He will destroy our sick laws so He can rule in perfect love and in perfect righteousness, wiping away every tear that every "Rachel" has wept. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Shame on You

As a young woman,  I heard so many negative things said about emotions I began to think they were God's little "whoops" as far as to how He created us. I even heard people say painful emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear were either sin or the result of sin in our lives. This caused me to feel guilty every time I experienced one of them. I believed most people preferred others be thinkers rather than feelers, especially when I heard things like "Don't feel that way," "Just be happy," or "It is sinful for you to be afraid." I was okay with that view until I went into a recovery group for an eating disorder and learned we are prone to "stinking thinking," which ironically impacts our emotions. I soon realized I was ashamed of my emotions and so afraid of feeling them that I subconsciously refused to feel them. I had developed the disorder to numb fear, anxiety, anger, and powerlessness. I spent a two years researching and writing a book about emotions so I could bemore comfortable with them and so I could understand how to use and  manage them in a way that honored God.

I came to believe emotions were given to us as messengers, telling us something about our hearts, our lives, and our relationships. Sometimes the messages are affirming and sometimes they are corrective. For example, grief tells us we care deeply about something or someone. Fear tells us we don't perceive ourselves to be safe. Hurt feelings tell us we need to either address hurtful behaviors in a relationship or adjust our expectations. Guilt tells us we have sinned and need to confess to God and make amends.

Emotions that are shared by two or more people about a common event can create emotional bonds between those involved. It has been said that if we want our families to become close, we should take them camping and pray that everything goes wrong. That camping trip and the common emotions surrounding it will forever bond our families together. It is important to understand that our emotions, like everything else in the world, became skewed during the Fall, and as a result, they are greatly misunderstood, misused, and mismanaged.

One of the most interesting emotions I studied was shame. Shame was originally designed to show us we are less than God and need Him. This carries over into our human relationships as well. Children experience shame when they see parents or older siblings able to do things better than them. For example, when I am at the store I see parents in a hurry who have children in tow. The healthy parents notice their child is having a hard time keeping up and alleviate their frustration and developmental shame by saying, "I am sorry I am rushing you. Lets slow down so you can keep up. Someday your legs will be long enough to walk as fast as me." This developmental shame reminds a child they need their parents. Unhealthy parents will turn normal developmental shame into toxic shame by saying something like, "What is wrong with you? Why can't you keep up?"

When Adam and Eve sinned, shame no longer served to remind us God is God and we are not because Satan whispered his lies into our ears. It became a ferocious, overwhelming, debilitating emotion that is driven by the fear of being exposed and the belief that because of our sin and shortcomings we are not worth redeeming. Healthy shame is associated with conviction, which leads to confession and correction. On the other hand, toxic shame is associated with condemnation, which leaves us feeling disgusted with ourselves. It tells us we are the mistakes we have made, the sins we have sinned, and the failures we have failed. It is the reason so many of us wear "look-good" masks and put on facades to deceive others into believing we are better than we are.

Healthy shame is good. It shows us we need relationships and helps us avoid the worship of self. It also reminds us we have the potential to fail and do harm to ourselves and others. As we acknowledge healthy shame and accept our humanness and need of grace, shame dissolves into God-honoring humility, which enables us to come out of hiding to develop true intimacy with ourselves, others, and God. This happens as we allow ourselves to be fully known and accept the grace we so badly need. It also allows us to recognize and accept the commonality, differences, and limitations we experience as humans.

As believers, we experience godly shame when we sin and do harm. In healthy people, the more harm we've done, the more sharply shame will be experienced. We may find ourselves thinking, "I can't believe that I did that." This discomfort reminds us even in our restored state we're not God. It reminds us that mistakes and sin are a part of our human experience. It reminds us to separate our flawed behavior from who we are in Christ. It reminds us that we are in need of the Savior's continual grace. It also serves as a deterrent to repeating the same sins over and over, (Chip Dodd, Voices of the Heart)

A healthy understanding of shame allows us to live with two opposing truths at the same time. The first truth is that we are created in the image of God and in that truth we find dignity. The second truth is that we experience shame because we are depraved and that shame is relieved when we turn to Jesus for our redemption and worth. Shame turns toxic when we permit Satan to attack our dignity by buying into the lie that we are hopelessly flawed, having no hope of redemption. (Dan Allender) We wills stay in toxic shame until we believe we still have the propensity to bear his image. Because shame is painful, many continue to deny its presence, numb it, or keep wearing look-good masks. This is because we believe the lies that we are too defective and too bad to receive God's grace.

It is normal to feel embarrassment regret, sorrow or guilt when we have done something wrong. But it crosses into toxic shame when the shame is way over the top for the offense committed. It is toxic when we can't shake the feeling that we have done something unforgivably wrong, but can't figure out what it is. It is toxic when we are feeling repulsed by ourselves and are sick and tired of being us. It is toxic when we feel deep shame for small infractions, mistakes, lapses of judgment, blunders, oversights, slips of the tongue, lack of knowledge or capability, for things for which we are not responsible, or for the weaknesses we have.

Some who have experienced trauma and abuse have, at the very core of their being, deep toxic shame. Everything they experience in the present, every thought they think, and every emotion they experience is experienced through that shame. Because shame can be attached to our trauma and because it is in itself a shameful topic, we often don't acknowledge it or do the work necessary to be set free from it. We can be sitting in church, smiling, serving, and praising God and still believe in our heart of hearts that we are second class citizens who don't matter to God.

Shame, in its toxic state, keeps us from the relationships for which we were created. It causes us to hide from God. We may go to church, but we struggle secretly with sin too powerful to overcome alone. We hide the sin and pretend its not there. We keep our distance from others so they can't see it. To overcome this sin, we must realize there is healing in the confession of our sin to one another and to God. To face this shame, we need to realize it will intensify at first and then will dissipate as we experience Grace.

In addition, toxic shame causes us to hide the questions we have concerning His sovereignty over hard things like abuse, natural disasters, violent crimes, and unmet dreams. It also causes us to hide the emotions we feel rather than listening to them and resolving them with the Lord's help. Finally, toxic shame keeps us from praying, especially when we don't feel like we have the right to ask Him for something.

Toxic shame can cause a strain in the relationship we have with ourselves. Abuse caused me to hate myself so much that I continuously thought self-depreciating thoughts. I could be listening to a sermon, reading with my children, talking to a student in our youth group, singing a praise song, or on a date with my husband and simultaneously be thinking about how much I hated myself. And the more I hated myself, the more I doubted God's love and the love of others. I even skipped a wedding shower of one of my favorite gals, believing I would keep her from having fun if I went. She later asked me later why I had not attended and I told her why. She explained she had wanted me there because she knew I was the one person who would make it fun for her. I realized then that I didn't see myself as others did and it was time to change.

Toxic shame can also harm our relationships in several ways. First, when we experience toxic shame, we have a tendency to hide from people by withdrawing, by pretending to be something we aren't, or by withholding our hearts from those to which we are closest. Not letting others know the real us leaves us feeling unloved. Another way we respond to the toxic shame is by developing a poor self image. When we do this we are super hard on ourselves so no one will criticize us. This hurts relationships because others fear they will crush us if they are truthful with us and that prevents intimacy from growing. Third, we can become pharisaical and hypercritical of others. This happens when we are full of shame and believe if we point out the faults of others, eyes will be averted away from us and our faults. This creates a unsafe, ungracious atmosphere in relationships, which again keeps intimacy from forming.

It is important to know the only way out of shame is to acknowledge it. This is hard because it is an emotion that intensifies as we acknowledge it. We deal with it by identifying whether or not it is beneficial shame or toxic shame. If it is beneficial and caused by sin, the way out of it is to confess it to Jesus and to trusted friends who will commit to praying with us. The fear of being found unworthy goes away in the experience of grace.

If it is toxic shame, it is important to try to identify it source. It could be shaming words spoken over us. It could be legalistic believers hounding us with "should of''s." It could be the messages of abusers who put their shame on us. It could even be that we, ourselves, are doing things that are perpetuating the shame we've experienced. Perhaps we're failing to take our stinky thoughts captive to God's truth. Maybe we're letting others continue to abuse us. Maybe we're avoiding confronting someone who could treat us with the dignity an image bearer deserves. Maybe we need to forgive ourselves for sin already confessed or trust that the relationships that expose our shame have the potential to heal it.

If we are stuck in shame, we need to figure out if we are holding on to it for a reason. It could be that holding on to it allows us to avoid taking risks in our relationships so we don't have to face the fear of rejections. It could be that holding on to shame gives us an excuse to not try something new so we don't have to face our fear of failure. It could be that we are using shame to avoid asking for what we need in our relationships, because vulnerability scares us. It could be that it allows us to be lazy in our relationships rather, avoiding the hard work of growing them. It could be that shame is simply more familiar than humility and easier to bear than the pain of acknowledging our inadequacies. To overcome toxic shame we have to be willing to face it, feel it, and find the roots of it.

In closing, one of the most significant ways to abolish toxic shame is to grab ahold of the truth that God loves us with an eternal, sacrificial, indescribable, and irrevocable love that doesn't depend on our performance. His love flows out of the very essence of His being and is freely and lavishly given to His children. The truth is that, as believers, we are given purpose, significance, power, strength, mercy , and grace. God has removed our sin and the shame of being depraved through the cross. May we never forget that Jesus died to silence those pain-inflicting words, "Shame on you!"

Friday, January 4, 2019

When Faith Confronts What we Believe about Pain

When I was growing up, televangelism was just beginning to become popular. Many TV evangelists promised health and wealth in exchange for obedience and pledges of money. This prompted me, as a baby Christian, to begin to barter with God, saying things like, "I will do this, if you will do that." The "this" was things like tithing, never missing church, or telling friends about Jesus. Ironically, the things I promised God were things He had already instructed us to do. The "that" might be a healing I wanted for someone, a job for which I had interviewed, or provisions needed to for tuition. The things I asked for weren't bad, but the way I asked implied I was asking God to prove His existence and His love to me over and over again. As I grew in my faith, I began to do things simply because I loved Him, not to gain His benefits.

I remember televangelists saying if one had a problem, all they had to do was come to Jesus and He would fix it. Many even gave the impression the abundant life was a pain-free life. For a while I bought into that lie and ended up obsessively looking for hidden sin that caused my pain. I lost sleep, replaying each day in my head, examining words spoken and actions taken that might have been sinful. Every trial and temptation I faced were proof that I had messed up in some unknown way. I began to think even others' unkind words or hurtful actions indicated some darkness in me. The lie I had accepted as truth lead to some pretty stinking thinking.

As I spent more time in the Word, I realized God never promised a picture-perfect, painless, or sorrow-free life. The author of Hebrews says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." These verses and many others make it clear that the Christian life is not trouble-free. Pastor Brent Van Elswyk shared in a sermon that the original word for race implies struggles, pain, and suffering. It’s the word from which we derive our word "agony." I love that! It is more in line with what we see from Eden on.

Abel's race included offering a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. But it also resulted in Cain going into a jealous rage and striking Him dead. His faith that led him to worship in God's way is still speaking to us today.

Noah's race included being born at a time when every thought and intention of man was evil. It included years of reverent fear motivating him to build the ark on a bone-dry land to save his household from an impending flood. It included the knowledge that his obedient faith condemned the world and the world included people he knew. His faith that saw God as Savior is still speaking to us today.

Sarah's race included years of infertility while living in a culture that worshipped fertility gods. It included living with a fearful husband who put her in compromising situations to save his own skin. It included trying to help God fulfill His promise and the messiness of giving her servant to her man to bear the children she could not bear. It included a long wait between the giving of God's covenant and its fulfillment in little "Laughter." Her faith that matured beyond her doubts and allowed her to see Jehovah as God of life is still speaking to us today.

Jacob's race included his own deceitful heart and the resulting shame and consequences. It included a deceitful father-in-law who substituted the bride of his choice with her less desirable sister. It included the conflict between two wives who competed for his affection. It included the long trek home with large family in tow to meet a brother who may or may not kill him. It included a long night of wrestling with the Lord over His sovereign plans, resulting in his walking with a limp for the rest of his life. I
t included the humbling that comes with repentance and the need of forgiveness. His faith that is balm to all who have stepped out of God's will for a season is still speaking to us today. 

Joseph's race included being sold by brothers, being falsely accused of rape, and being cast into prison and forgotten. It included coming face to face with the brothers who had betrayed him and facing the painful grief he had buried deep. It included having to struggle through the practical side of forgiveness to help the very brothers who had hurt him so deeply. His faith that said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good," is still speaking to each of our wounded hearts today.  

Moses's race included a lonely ride in a river as an infant that resulted in him being raised by an Egyptian princess. It included being called to lead a nation of stiff-necked people out of Egypt. It included a steady diet of manna and a dry walk through a riverbed, waters heaped high on either side. It included forty years of desert wandering because others didn’t believe. His race included harsh, unwarranted criticism by the people God called him to rescue. His faith that shows us how to persevere when the race gets tough is still speaking to us today.

Daniel and his friends had races that included being taken captive and carried to a foreign land. It included having their identity changed by captors training them to be leaders in a foreign land. Daniel's faithfulness landed him in a lions' den and his friends' faith landed them in a blazing-hot furnace. They didn't enter these races knowing the results you and I know. They entered them only knowing in Whom they believed. The faith that preserved their lives is still speaking to us today.

And there were others who ran similar races that resulted in premature deaths. Because they faced death in faith, their deaths were not in vain. Their faith that said I am willing to die because I believe speaks just as loudly as those who believed and lived. Their dying faith is still speaking volumes to those of us who know death is imminent.

Even the disciples who walked and rubbed shoulders with Jesus ran hard races. They lost their lives, were disowned by families, and suffered under brutal persecution. Some were run out of the villages they evangelized. Paul, in Second Corinthians, tells us he endured countless beatings, hard labor, being stoned, being shipwrecked three times, and being adrift at sea for a day and a night. He tells us on his frequent journeys he was in danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, Gentiles, city dwellers, wildlife, exposure, and people posing as believers. He endured poverty, got little sleep, and was often hungry, thirsty, and cold. He endured anxiety as he felt burdened for the churches he started. He suffered with an affliction he called a thorn in his side. And his faith that kept him going is still for those of us that take  great effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As Pastor Brent put it, the diagnoses just received, the struggle with pornography, the addictions slowly killing us, the broken marriages we want fixed, the struggles we have with "extra-grace-required" people, the besetting sin that cloaks us in shame, the abuses experienced in the past that are still impacting us in the present, the chronic illnesses that leave us exhausted and dealing with constant pain, the memories of bloody wars served in, and the grief experienced over the loss of dreams, possessions, health, and loved ones are the races you and I have been called to run. As Brent said, "Welcome to the race!"

As believers, we need to understand how we see the Christian life will determine how we run the race set before us. Satan wants us to believe hard races prove God has forgotten us or doesn’t care about us. But the Word tells us God is a God who sees, a God who hears our cries, and a God who understands pain. We know because Jesus left glory to take on flesh to endure rejection, hatred, being misunderstood, being called crazy, being accused of being demon possessed, being arrested, being betrayed, being deserted by friends, being beaten beyond recognition, being mocked, being spat upon, being stripped of clothing, being crowned with thorns, and being nailed to a tree. His race included having the weight of all of our sin placed on His shoulders. It included experiencing the wrath of God we deserved for sin. God never promised us easy, He promised to never leave us and forsake us.

It is important to understand pain we experience is a tool in the hands of a loving God who desires to strengthen faith and mold character, which in all honesty needs molding. We respond by complaining about the unfairness of the race we’ve been called to run or about our God not doing what we want, or by going to Him to complain the “not-fair.”

I wonder what might be different if we choose to trust God and look at the race we’re running as an opportunity for God to do His perfect work in us. It is important to remember suffering came through sin, it is not the work of God! Our faith grows as we stand on His promises in the face of the hard--promises like He will work all things for our good, He will never leave us or forsake us, He will return for us, and He will ultimately destroy all sin and death and will wipe away every tear we have shed. The hard we live is being used by Him to mature us.

Our God desires us to confront our pain with faith because that gives us the opportunity to see His faithfulness and allows Him to weed out sin and turn unbelief into a firm confidence that He will do what He says He will do. When pain is met by faith, God accomplishes His perfect work, preparing us for the eternal weight of glory that far outshine the painfulness of the races run now. We grow the most when faith confronts what we believe about our pain.


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!