Monday, December 13, 2021

Christmas Hope for Anxious Hearts Revisited

 "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 4:6-7) This is one of my favorite verses even though I realize it often gets misused to shame anxious hearted people. With the holidays and covid looming in the background anxiety is increasing. So, today I am revisiting this post first published in 2020 on the topic of anxiety, hoping to speak encouragement into anxious hearts. 

As I have shared in the past, a few years ago we were given a small maltipoo from our kids who moved oversees. Harley is a well-trained dog, who believes she's human. She was pretty anxious when she was dropped off. But at the time I had a viral infection that caused extreme fatigue, which meant she could spend the better part of a year sitting in my lap. This helped her attach to me, my husband, and a son who was staying with us at the time. Then movers came and once again she watched stuff get carried out the door and another person disappeared from her life as our son moved away. She once again grew anxious and wanted to be in someone's lap 24/7.

When I put her down to clean house, she followed me from room to room and there were times I sat down with her and could feel her trembling, which is what she does when she thinks we are about to leave the house without her. Her anxiety still grieves my heart because she gets so anxious anticipating a possible abandonment that she doesn't enjoy the great amount of time she spends on my lap. In watching her, I realized I had a lot in common with her as I spent many years living with the same type of anticipatory anxiety that prevented me from fully enjoying my relationship with God. 

Let's be honest, anxiety is an experience common to us all. This is especially true during the holiday season, especially with Covid 19 numbers rising again. In the past rising numbers caused lockdowns, which has means we had to isolate more, increasing loneliness, depression, and anxiety. There is anxiety in the face of rising numbers and no lockdowns as we fear spreading it. There is still anxiety as people face job loss, devastating storms, closing businesses, and evictions right before the holidays. There is anxiety for those who are in the workforce who know they might be exposed to Covid and carry it home.  

There is also anxiety caused by biased newscasters and social media where key-board warriors spew hate-filled words. There is a higher threat of violence in my neck of the woods and a homeless population who step out into the roads in dark clothing at night. There is anxiety for those who have family members working in law enforcement who know spouses, parents or grandparents on the force may be targeted by violence for wearing a uniform.  
There is also anxiety that comes from wanting to have perfect Christmases with perfect gifts and perfect responses to the gifts we're given. There is anxiety in anticipating family dysfunction and family drama that can erupt when people with unresolved baggage come together. For believers, anxiety often leads to toxic shame as we tend to believe we aren't supposed to experience anxiousness. Yet, we do. We may try to either deny or hide it. When we do this, we are choosing to live a lie. It is more honest to acknowledge the hard that comes from living in a fallen world. 

Believers experience anxiety for many reasons. First, we live in a fallen world and may have experienced painful or traumatic events. A normal healthy response to early trauma includes anxiety. Think of a child who experiences trauma at a young age who doesn't have the mental or emotional capacity to process it. Their body responds as it is designed to respond--surging chemicals flood their little systems and they flee, freeze, fight, or play dead to stay safe. Because they are too young to know how to use effectively use that energy, the anxiety of the experience gets imprinted in such a way it recurs when it gets triggered by things the mind remembers subconsciously through a smell, a sound, a season, holiday lights, etc. As they experience triggers as an adult their anxiety rises of its own accord. 

There are also anxiety-provoking things going on in the here and now. I think of those diagnosed with cancer. These people face mortality daily in ways most of us don't. They face difficult decisions about therapies that can potentially poison their bodies as they kill the cancer. They also face soaring medical bills and do battle with insurance companies who refuse to pay. Anxiety can also come from not being sure one can tolerate chemo, from wondering if their faith is strong enough to endure the illness and its painful treatments, and from wondering if they will suffer well and be a light to others or be able to sense God and His love, knowing full well that He can heal, but may choose not to. 

There is compounded anxiety when families deal with sick children during holidays. I follow the posts of mom's whose children were born with heart defects. A little girl named Charlie was born with half a heart and has gone through several open-heart surgeries. The road they travel is long and death will always be a very real possibility. They walk closely with God and the song they sing over her continually declares yes to God's will and yes to His ways. But there is anxiety to be reckoned with when Charlie faces the possibility of new surgeries or life-threatening bumps in the journey and fights to survive with half a heart that loves big. 

The other child is sweet Caleb who has already been given a new heart. But the new heart didn't stop the anxiety for his parents when drugs preventing rejection left his immune system compromised and vulnerable to both blood and eye cancers with which he's battled brave. I know his sweet mama personally and am a part of her tribe. I know she is experiencing even more anxiety this year with Covid numbers rising. She makes healthy choices for her child and trusts God in ways I can't even imagine. 

There is a lot of anxiety felt in families who have someone struggling with addictions, which often raise their ugly heads in holidays. Each person walks on eggshells, fearful they will say or do something that will cause a relapse...and the drinking, the drug use, or visits to porn sites will start up, leaving the house in chaos as wounding behaviors follow in the aftermath. There is also anxiety for the addict because holiday stress can trigger them and if they do not work their program they may drink, snort, shoot up, or return to the darkness of his or her infidelity through internet porn--the fixes that leave a family open to dark spiritual influences that can pass to future generations.

There is anxiety in families in which mental illness dwells. Will this be the holiday depression gives way to suicide? Will mom, dad, or siblings be calm and happy, agitated and angry, depressed and unavailable, or on a mania high or a catatonic slow state?  Will the fear instilled by the paranoid come to fruition? All the while the children are left trying to figure out if there is something they did to cause the confusing behaviors of those they love or if there is something they can do to bring stability to the instability--a responsibility way too big for little shoulders, birthing a debilitating storm of anxiety in a child's soul.  

There is anxiety in homes where marriages are broken as family members wonder if the next mistake made, the next thoughtless word spoken, the next problem experienced with the kids, the next financial setback might be the final trigger that ends the marriage, fracturing a family into two hurting pieces. Anxiety also comes to the children overhearing arguments and assuming responsibility to smooth things over so neither mom or dad leave. There is anxiety in kids whose families have already split as they travel between homes, hoping they won't be the source of conflict and discomfort.

There is anxiety caused by core beliefs developed at an early age--beliefs that impact thoughts, actions, reactions, and feelings. Some of my anxiety-inducing core beliefs were: "I am responsible for everyone's happiness." "My being loved depends on me being a perfect size, a perfect wife, a perfect mom, perfect daughter, or perfect believer." "My value and worth as a person comes from what I do." When I held those beliefs as true, my anxiety was tied to wanting to find the perfect present for everyone and wanting to respond perfectly to every gift received, which is hard for a reserved introvert. That perfectionism was complicated because having the perfect marriage, perfect family, and perfect holidays depends not just on me being perfect, but on others being perfect as well. I learned I've no right to project perfectionism and am simply called to love well, to extend grace, and to lovingly speak truth. 

I've learned things that have calmed my anxious heart. First, I learned God doesn't demand perfection. He desires us to be humble and to express anxious thoughts to safe, nonjudgmental friends. I am graced with such friends who listen well and friends who remind me they hear me and see me. This reminds me that my heavenly Father sees me as well. Sometimes my friends share truth about God's goodness, bigness, and graciousness in non-shaming ways, but most often they just listen, knowing I simply need to bring it to the light. Sometimes they offer to pray with me and give me the opportunity to cast my cares on God, because He cares for me.  

Secondly, I learned to choose wisely with whom I share my struggles. This was a hard lesson learned when I shared with people who were quick to judge and admonish rather than listen and encourage. I now share only with those who understand God's love and grace and who are more about transparency than appearances. They are the ones whose gentle encouragement reminds me to continue believing our God is bigger than Covid, this conflicted world, and family dysfunction.

Third, I've learned that when I feel panicked and anxious, I can talk freely to God about it because He isn't waiting to strike me with lighting because of a feeling I am experiencing. He's always inviting me to remember who He is and who I am in Him. Remembering God's character, strength, love, and grace helps me stay calm today just as it did through other anxiety evoking life events. 

Fourth, I have learned I can dissolve or manage anxiety that is caused or increased by lies I believe. I learned the lies from others who were misguided, from misinterpreting things I saw, and from The Enemy who seeks to squash faith by whispering lies in our ears in the face of the hard. His lies made me feel shame and stirred anxiety when he whispered things that caused me to doubt God, His character, His love, His goodness, and His faithfulness. My anxiety decreases when I confront lies with boldly declared truth. 

The Enemy wants us to forget we are chosen, accepted, redeemed, beloved children who have been bought with the blood of God's own Son and sealed into His family by His own Spirit. Satan wants us to believe our circumstances prove we're bad, forgotten, unseen, or abandoned by God who calls us His own. The Enemy shames us because shame causes us to hide or deny our reality instead of casting it on God through prayer and thanksgiving. The Enemy uses shame to stir this form of pride that drives us to look "all together" while quaking at our core. It causes us to miss out on care and comfort of the God who gives it freely. The Enemy also uses shame to isolate us because he knows when we engage with others, we get out of our own heads and see the lies for what they are. The Enemy wants us to feel responsible for things over which we have no control--things like others' feelings, attitudes, choices, beliefs. and actions. He prompts us with the should of shame, the seduction of power, and reminder of sin already confessed.

I write all of this to remind us that Christmas is a Holy holiday, commemorating the birth of our Savior, the birth of our Shepherd who loves and seeks His sheep, and the birth of our King who had made us joint Heirs with Him. The Enemy wants us to take our eyes off Jesus and put it on anxiety-provoking things like that impossible perfect Christmas, Covid, and unrest. Let's not buy into the lies he tells so we can rest in God-given peace and joy that come through knowing Him who died to redeems us. May our holiday goals be connection, loving well, acceptance of our perfectly imperfect selves, sweet conversations, and simple gifts that remind us of Jesus. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

As Advent Begins, Let's Remember

 This last Sunday was the beginning of the Advent Season; the season in which we all begin to anticipate Christmas. It is so easy to get focused on planning holiday meals, and decorating the house, shopping and gift wrapping. It is also easy to get focused on both the good and the hard of getting extended families together as we deal with different personalities, values, and dysfunction. And as we repeatedly hear the phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season," we all try to contemplate the  meaning of Christmas. 

We find ourselves thinking about the angel telling a young girl she would bear the Son of God and the beautiful words she penned in response: 

 "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring."

We find ourselves thinking about the virgin bride and the man betrothed to her, traveling far to pay their taxes. We think think about the virgin, heavy with child, being turned away and directed to rest where animals rest, giving birth in the dark of night. We think about the newborn babe lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. We think about the irony of shepherds being surprised by an angel announcing the birth of the Lamb of God and their trek to Bethlehem to the beat of the angel Choir singing praises to God and we can envision those shepherds kneeling before the Lamb in the manger bed. 

We think about the star-gazing Magi who believed in prophecies, recognizing the Christmas Star and following it all the way to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh worshiping at the feet of the young King. 

But the truth is, these are just part of the beautiful story we call Christmas. There are many other stories in the Bible which are just as much a part of the epic redemptive saga. The stories are like chapters in a book where each individual chapter is needed to grasp the fullness and the richness of the story.

Christmas is also about God fulfilling the promise He made in Eden to destroy the Enemy. We all know the Enemy for he is the one tempting and taunting us with blatant, ugly lies. He is the one seeking to destroy us through addictions, pornography, and other strongholds of sin that never satisfy and have a deep grip on the soul. He is the one trying to destroy our relationship with our Creator by drawing our attention away from the One who loves us completely, purely, and sacrificially. He is also the one trying to cast doubt on God's goodness by twisting His truth so it looks like rules of deprivation rather than the carefully crafted protection. He is trying to cast doubt on God's faithfulness by by convincing people that the hard we face in this life is proof of God's lack of care. He is trying to cast doubt on God's grace by adding all sorts of legalistic man-made rules to the gospel of grace.    

Christmas is also about God being a keeper of covenants. It is about Him keeping His covenant with Noah, promising to never again destroy all life with flood waters. It is also about God keeping his covenant with Abraham, promising to give him a son, land to call his own, and enough descendants to make a great nation through which all families of the earth would be blessed. Christmas is about God revealing and then fulfilling the dream of Jacob's ladder, providing mankind a gateway to the courts of heaven. It is about Him changing Jacob from being a deceiver and manipulator to one who wanted nothing more than to be blessed by God.   

Christmas is about preserving the life of Joseph while he was living in Egypt so that He could preserve Israel through a famine. It is also about God then freeing Israel from the slavery that they were forced into. It is also about God walking them all the way back to the promised home land, drowning Pharaoh's army that was in hot pursuit.

Christmas is about the prostitute Rahab being saved as she clung to the hope promised in a scarlet cord hanging from her window as the walls of Jericho came crumbling down around her. It is about her being taken from the life of prostitution and being placed into the family line of the Savior.  

Christmas is about Ruth finding grace in her mother-in-law's family, enabling her to give birth to the grandfather of David.

Christmas is about the covenant God made with David, promising that through David a King would come whose throne would never end. It is about the King who would reign in righteousness, love, power, truth  and grace unlike David who, though passionate in his pursuit of God, stumbled and fell. 

Christmas is about the fulfillment of prophesies given by the God who wants us to know His Son. He told us Jesus would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem. He told us He would be from the tribe of Judah. He told us He would be from the family of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, which in all honesty is a family as messy and dysfunctional as any one of ours. He told us Jesus would spend time in Egypt and Nazareth, while the enemy would slaughter many children in an attempt to kill Him. He told us Jesus would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty Prince, and Emmanuel. 

The Father told us Jesus would be tempted by Satan and not give in. He told us Jesus would be rejected by His own country and He was as they accused Him of being crazy, the Spawn of Satan, and a liar. He told us Jesus would speak to crowds through parables and would heal the brokenhearted--the lady at the well, the woman with a bleeding issue, the adulteress cast at His feet, the lepers, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the demon possessed, the harlots--all people separated and marginalized by sin, deformities, or illnesses were made whole and brought into His fold. He told us Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, falsely accused, illegally tried, spat upon, hand-slapped, mocked, hated without cause, and crucified between criminals. His hands and feet were pierced and His side stabbed just as God said it would be. God also told us Jesus, the forsaken One who prays for His enemies, would be a sin offering and bear the wrath of God for each of us so by faith we could be imputed with His righteous.
    Christmas is also about future prophesies. Our Jesus will return for His bride, the church--not as a the Lamb--but as the Lion of Judah. He will come on a white horse and be called Faithful and True. He will make war on evil as He judges in righteousness and truth. His eyes will be like flames of fire. On his head will be many crowns. He will be clothed in a robed that is dipped in blood and He will be called The Word of God, the King of kings, and the Lord of Lords. From His mouth will come a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and He will rule them with a rod of iron. As He reigns, He will make all things new and there will be no more sickness, no more death. He will be the ultimate Comforter as He wipes away every tear from our eyes. Things that are evil will no longer be called good, lies will not longer be viewed as truth, love will overcome hate. Those made righteous by the blood of the Lamb will rule and reign with Him forever and ever. Death will be nor more. Sin will cease. Relationships will be ruled by love, not power and abuse. And addictions will be nor more. 

    And, this, all of this and so much more is Christmas. 

    Wednesday, November 10, 2021

    Craving a Father's Blessing

    Our church has been going through the book of Genesis and I love it. It is full of people's stories--people just like you and me. They displayed both strengths and weaknesses. They had moments in which their faith shone bright and moments when their their unbelief is on display for all to see. Their lives were a mixture of good deeds and moral failures. And in all of that are some very valuable lessons for us. 

    One of the stories I have meditated on is Jacob's story. The name Jacob means supplanter, which has been interpreted as one who deceives, seizes, circumvents, or usurps. When Rebekah became pregnant her tummy was so active that she asked the Lord what was happening and He told her she was carrying twins and the older would serve the younger. Jacob was given the name supplanter because when Esau was born, Jacob had a hold of his heal as if he were trying to supplant his brother's position as the first born. Esau was favored by his father because he was a man's man who loved to hunt and provided game. Jacob on the other hand was favored by his mom as he liked to work around the tents. 

    There came a day when Jacob was cooking stew and Esau came in from the countryside famished. He  demanded Jacob give him some of the stew he was cooking. Jacob saw an opportunity and told him he could have some of his stew if he would sell him his birthright. Esau who gave into his catastrophic thinking said, "Look, I am about to die, what good is the birthright to me?" He then swore an oath to Jacob granting him the right of the first born--all for a bowl of lentil stew. 

    Several years later when Isaac was old and his eyes were weak, he called Esau to him and told him that because of his age he didn't know when his death would occur. He instructed him to go hunting and to make him a tasty stew from the game so that he could give him his blessing before he died. Little did he know that Rebekah was listening. She devised a plan and instructed Jacob to bring her two goats so she could prepare a tasty stew for Isaac to eat so Jacob could receive the blessing. She helped him dress so  Isaac would think Jacob would was Esau. A lot of people think that just Rebekah and Jacob were wrong because they were deceptive. But I also think Isaac was culpable too for being deceptive. I can't imagine Rebekah not telling him what the Lord had told her about the twins she was carry and I can't imagine that the family hadn't at some point discussed the fact that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Another question that troubles me is how Isaac lived twenty more years after claiming he was on his deathbed. 

    Jacob takes the food into his father, claiming to be Esau. When his father questions how he was able to find the game and cook it so quickly, Jacob told lies, telling him God gave him success in hunting. Isaac asked him to come close so he could feel for the hair on Esau's hands because he knew the voice sounded like Jacob's. When he felt the hair Rebekah had applied to his hand and arms he asked him if he was really Esau and Jacob claimed that he was. After eating the stew Isaac spoke the blessing of the first born over his second born son. 

    When Esau returns he is enraged to find Jacob had received the blessing and threatens to kill him as soon as his dad dies. So Jacob flees to his mother's family and there he experiences deceit and manipulation for twenty years at the hand of Laban, who had become his father-in-law. Eventually he leaves with his wives and children and livestock he had accumulated to return home. Fearing his brother's reaction, he sends gifts ahead and puts his family where he thinks they will be safe. All alone he enters a wrestling match with a Man. They wrestle all night and as day was about to break the Man touched the socket of Jacob's hip and displaced it. That touch revealed that the power in the Man had been held back with restraint until the Jacob was at the end of himself. The Man tells him to let him go and Jacob tells Him that he won't let Him go unless He blesses him. The Man asked Jacob his name and Jacob has to admit aloud that his name is supplanter, deceiver, seizer, circumventer, or usurper. I can't help but believe that as he experienced Laban's treatment, he realized how he lived up to his name and how his actions had impacted others. 

    The Man ascribed a new name to Jacob, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." When Israel asked The Man his name, The Man simply asked him why he asked, indicating that Israel already knew who He was. Then He blessed him and through that blessing Jacob realized he was face to face with God and that God had chosen to spare his life even though he, like all of us, deserved death.        

    In our culture we don't often talk about a father's blessing, but I think most of us can relate to wanting a parent's approval or favor. In our support groups women often share the deep pain they have experienced when they have perceived that either one or both parents has failed to meet their physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. Some of them became extreme perfectionists trying to earn their parent's love and words of approval. Some of them hid horrible secrets of abuse, hoping that someday the parent abusing them would begin to love them love, approve of them, or favor them over a job, a sibling, a step family. Some of them acted out in all sorts of ways believing the negative attention they got was better than no attention at all. Others have shared that they were bullied in school and that they so longed for acceptance and approval from friends.

    Even though we know our women by their given names, we know there are other names they are hearing in their heads. Some of our women have shared the negative nick names they received from bullies, harsh parents, cruel siblings, unkind teachers, or neighborhood kids. All of them eventually share the negative words, messages,  or negative beliefs they have ascribed to themselves in response to early childhood neglect, harsh words spoken to them, abuses of all kinds they have endured, bullies actions and attitudes towards them. Oh, those words are heartbreaking in light of the beauty we see in the women sitting in front of us--words like dirty, ugly, stupid, inadequate, invisible, dumb, not good enough, too much and too little, trash, and unworthy. Some of them also carry shame because they, like Jacob, did all sorts of things they are not proud of to gain love and approval from anyone who would give it. 

    Over time, our women begin to understand, like Israel did, that the blessing of an earthy flawed and deeply wounded parent could never heal the deep wounds or satisfy what their heart craves like the blessing of the Savior who suffered in the ways they have suffered and who has died for their sin in their place. They begin to grasp that they are healed by Jesus stripes and that it is by faith that they have been given the Father's blessing and they, too, have had new names ascribed to them--names like Cherished, Beloved, Beautiful, Redeemed, Restored, Empowered, Gifted, Rescued, Qualified to receive His Inheritance, Sealed, Without Blemish, and Reconciled, Seen, Heard,  And, there are so many more names to be discovered in His Word. 

    It is funny that as many times as I have read Jacob's story and as many times as I have heard sermons on his life, it was not until now that I really grasped that the father's blessing Jacob thought he craved did not satisfy his heart like he thought it would. It was only in the wrestling he did with God to reconcile what he saw in front of him and what He knew God had promised his mama long before that He realized the blessing He truly craved all along was the blessing that only God Himself could give. That's true for you and it is true for me. We don't have to manipulate, lie, supplant, to get what the heart really needs...for all all it really needs is Jesus.        

    Tuesday, September 28, 2021

    God Didn't do It!

    Over the years I have had many conversations in which people have said something like, "Why did God do this to me? "Why did God cause this to happen? Or, many different versions of these questions.  Sometimes the person has been simply stating these types of questions as a protest for something difficult she is going through. I always want to be really sensitive to the pain being expressed and be available to process the grief she is feeling. . 

    At other times someone is asking these questions because she is upset at God because she is experiencing discomfort, which is the consequences experienced over choices they or their loved ones have or are making. At those times I have wanted to shout, "God didn't do this!" 

    God doesn't cause unplanned pregnancies. He doesn't cause people's addictions. He didn't lead someone to have an affair or to view porn. He didn't cause someone's divorce or a host of other things that are the result of the choices people are making. Some of these choices were made out of willful disobedience, but sadly some were made while trying to fill legitimate needs through illegitimate ways and some were the result of taking the bait Satan put in front of them during lonely, vulnerable, or difficult times. 

    I have always wondered what the best way to address these types of questions until I recently heard Gary Thomas speak at a conference. He said he was astounded at the things of which God is accused. He suggested we have them study the character of God and the character of the Enemy and then come back and talk about it.  

    So, today I thought I would explore both the character of Satan and the character of God. This is by no means an exhaustive study, but hopefully it will give us enough information we can better discern who is really behind some of the things coming at us or who is behind the behaviors of those who are hurting us.

    The Bible tells us pretty specific things about the devil who is also called Satan or the Enemy. Satan: 

    • Was a murderer from the beginning and continues to be so
    • Is the father of lies whose native language is the Lie
    • Is the enemy of everything that is right
    • Is full of deceit and trickery
    • Perverts the right ways of the Lord which means he puts ugly, sinful spins on holy truth and ways  
    • Holds the power of death, prowling around looking for someone to devour
    • Has people imprisoned and persecuted 
    • Is filled with fury, knowing his days are numbered
    • Attempts to keep people from hearing, believing, trusting, or obeying God's word
    • Keeps people bound up for years in all kinds of infirmities
    • Tempts God's people to lie and hoard money
    • Masquerades as an angel of light
    • Torments believers in an effort to destroy their testimony
    • Blocks believers from going where they want to deliver the gospel 
    • And uses all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that really serve his lies

    By contrast these are some facts about our God revealed through His names and His attributes that I read from Praying the Names and Attributes of God--a free E-resource available from Navigators. He is:  

    • Jehovah the One who possesses all authority
    • Jehovah-M'Kaddesh the One who sanctifies and sets us apart
    • Infinite, beyond measure, limitless, with no beginning or end 
    • All-powerful and spoke all things into being and is now actively sustaining them 
    • The embodiment of perfect goodness and kindness, continually pouring out His favor on us
    • The embodiment of perfect love, continually loving us in deeply personal ways as shown by Jesus's Sacrifice 
    • Jehovah-jireh the One who provides more than we could ever ask or think
    • Jehovah-shalom the God of Peace that surpasses human understanding birthed in redemptions and sustained through learning to trust Him and live out our identity in Jesus 
    • Immutable, ever perfect, and unchanging
    • Holy God who is utterly and supremely untainted, unique, and incomprehensible
    • All-knowing with knowledge that encompasses the past, the present, and the future
    • Omnipresent fully present everywhere and will never abandon us 
    • Merciful with mercy that never runs dry, having taken the judgment we deserved 
    • Jehovah-nissi is our banner, signifying our victory over sin and death through Jesus
    • Perfectly wise, always acting for our good in His perfect time
    • Faithful, always keeping His word, honoring His covenants, and fulfilling His promises 
    • Wrathful though He is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable, and His wrath governs the right and necessary reaction to moral evil 
    • Full of grace, granting value where it is undeserved and forgiving debt that is unrepayable 
    • Comforter in all circumstances 
    • El-Shaddai, the Lord Almighty sufficient and bountiful, the source of all blessings
    • Abba Father is the Creator who chose to relate intimately to His creation as if we were each the only child 
    • Intercessor who ever prays for us, fully knowing us, our trials, and our temptations 
    • Elohim is the God of strength and power, jealously guarding  His covenant relationship with us
    • Never tempts us with evil* 
    When I look at these two lists side by side a thousand thoughts run through my head. But, I will only point our a couple of things. First, I think it is important to look back at the Fall and notice how Satan approached Adam and Eve because that is how he still operates. He still uses questions, half truths, and lies to cause us to question God's rightful sovereignty, His provisions toward us, and His love and goodness and favor He has towards us. We would be wise to view the thoughts we think and the choices we have before us through the lens of these two lists so we can be sure we are not being enticed, baited, or entrapped by the Enemy, keeping in mind he is the master of doubt-casting questions. 

    If we are hearing in our heads: Does God really care? Does God hear me? Is God really good? Why doesn't God want me to have fun? Satan is actively trying to turn our hearts away from our God. When we find our selves questioning God's authority, power, goodness, presence, mercy, faithfulness, love, care or any other attribute, we can be sure Satan has planted dangerous thoughts and those thoughts are not life giving, they are destructive. He can whisper these things subtly, causing us to believe the thoughts originated within us or he can use a person to speak his lies aloud.  

    Second, He will use the hard we face in this fallen world full of broken and needy people to try to entice us to turn our backs on God. He not only causes us to doubt God's character, He also tries to use our flaws, weaknesses, and sin as opportunities to shame us with a shame so toxic we begin to believe God can't really love us, save us, or change us. We would do well to remember it is Satan's voice that says God's mercy and grace are not big enough to cover all our failures--past, present, and future. 

    I have spent a lot of time reading and rereading Paul's epistles. The first half of his letters always tell us who our God is, who we are in Him, and what He has does to cultivate a living, loving relationship with us. In light of these magnificent truths, the last half of the letters call us to words, deeds, and actions that reflect those truths and protect us and our relationship with Him. 

    I hope as we navigate this life, we remember the differences in the Lord's character and Satan's.  Because our great God is immutable, He will never ever act outside of His perfect moral character. On the other hand, Satan looks like a Saint one day and an hateful entity the next. He entices with all sorts of empty promises and then venomously shames us when we take his bait . God's perfect will and His directions always lead to life, and Satan's always lead to death. I hope we have the courage to gently remind a person struggling with hard stuff or hurtful people that our God was, is, and will forever be good and those things being blamed Him--He didn't do. 

    Wednesday, May 26, 2021

    Why do we Judge Emotions so Harshly?

    A friend recently posted that his daughter had to go back into the hospital and as a result he was experiencing some anxiety, My heart cringed when I read his post because it read like a confession, and I drew the conclusion that he thought the anxiety he was experiencing was a sin. I thought back to other similar posts and conversations I have had with people over the years who felt guilty because they, too, experienced uncomfortable emotions like fear, jealousy, anxiety, sadness, grief, or anger during difficult circumstances, on going trials, hurtful relationships, huge losses, traumatic events. Their guilt is conveyed through statements like: "I know I shouldn't feel this way," "I know I should be over this by now." "I know what I am feeling is wrong." 

    There are several reasons we tend to judge emotions or the people who experience them so harshly. First, our western culture tends to down play the importance of the emotions we experience. From early childhood on, we are told things like: "Oh, don't feel that way." "Oh, don't cry, just think happy thoughts!" "It's time to move on." Isn't it weird that we can bury parents, spouses, siblings, children, or best friends and then be expected to be "fine," feel happy, and go back to work asap. When we experience trauma's like rape, domestic abuse, and betrayal, everyone wants us to pick ourselves up by the proverbial boot straps, forgive, and move on as if nothing happened. It doesn't matter how big the losses, the trials, the hurt, or the trauma we are often admonished for the emotions we experience, causing us to experience guilt that comes when we have emotions lying just beneath the surface that we are expending enormous amounts of energy to push down. 

    Second, many churches demonize the uncomfortable emotions we tend to view as negative ones. These are emotions for which people are most often shamed. I have heard pastors even say things like, "We confess our sin, ungodly words, unkind actions, and feelings to you." I have heard people shamed in Christian circles for sharing they are experiencing fear in the face of a cancer diagnosis, grief a week after they buried a loved one, anxiety after someone broke into their home, anger experienced over the abuse of their child, hurt experienced in the betrayal of a spouse, or disappointment as dreams go  unfulfilled due to infertility, job losses, broken relationships, or accidents or illnesses that leave us struggling. The shaming statements come in the form of: "Haven't you ever heard of forgiveness." "Good Christians don't feel anxious." "If I weren't so controlled by the Holy Spirit, I would be crying, too." "Christians are supposed to be joyful!" "Fear is wrong!" "If you trusted God more you wouldn't feel that way."   

     We, as humans created in the image of God, would do well to understand an emotion is simply a chemical reaction to an external stimulus designed to be messengers that can help us navigate life. For example, fear can tell us we are in danger and need to take action, freeze, or flee. Anger can tell us something harmful is in a relationship and needs attention to safeguard the relationship. Grief can tell us how much we love and /or value God, people, things, dreams, or concepts. Loneliness can tell us we need to reach out to others. Jealousy can motivate us to put boundaries in place and do the work necessary to safeguard our marriage. 

    It is also important to know the experience of an emotion is neither good or bad, it just is. However,  since the fall, we have the tendency to misuse, misinterpret, and over think the emotions we experience. If an emotion rises and we simply observe it it will wash over us and quickly dissipate. But we often view an precipitating even through distorted lenses that cause us to magnify it or minimize the experience or compound it assumptions or with a ton of guilt. The experience of an emotion is not a sin, but the we use distorted thinking to interpret them and fuel them may lead us to sin.  

    It also is important to know the Enemy is continuously prowling around seeking who he can destroy. He is not a gentleman who sees us go through trauma, broken relationships, disappointments and thinks, "Poor thing, I will let her recover from this before I tempt or taunt her." Nope, he goes for broke, planting his lies and half truths in our minds when we are most vulnerable."   

    As I read through the Scriptures, I often wonder what the enemy was saying to people and what emotions were evoked. We know what Adam and Eve heard from the Enemy and I believe his words stirred dissatisfaction in their souls. That feeling didn't become sin, until they chose to eat and seek something apart from their God. They could have taken that dissatisfaction and the lies they were being to the Lord and worked through it with Him. That would have reminded them that the satisfaction they felt in God's presence was enough. 

    In the same way Cain's jealousy could have driven him to obey God's directive for worship the way Abel did so he might the same intimacy with God Abel had.   

    Twelve spies went to scout the Promise Land and saw a land flowing with milk and honey. They also men who were as big as giants. I bet all twelve felt an initial jolt of fear when they saw the men. In this case God had given them specific instructions and promised He would deliver the land to them. Ten forgot God and His promise as they nursed their fear and refused to enter the land and got the whole nation to agree with them. But there were two who remembered God and His promises and believed God would go before them and fight on their behalf, they tried to get people to follow them in, but no one would go. In the face of our emotions God can grant us godly wisdom to know when fear is legitimate and needs to be honored and listened to, when it is irrational and to be reframed through Truth, or when it is rational but something to be worked through fostering the growth of courage which enables us to do what God has instructed us to do in His strength.

    The story of Naomi and Ruth gives us great insight in how two people can experience great losses and respond so differently to grief. Naomi, as a lifelong Jew, seemed to believe if people are good, they are blessed and protected from hard things. She feels deserted by God when she loses her husband and both of her sons. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, new to the faith didn't have those misconceptions and she leaned into God and leaned into love and had compassion for Naomi and walked her home, embracing Naomi's God with all that she was. She then walked in faith into a loving relationship with a man whose own mother had been a foreigner, placing her into the direct, lineage of Christ. Later on we see Mary and Martha tale their grief over losing Lazarus directly to Jesus and he didn't reject them. They poured their hearts out to them and He wept with them. 

    We can look through Scriptures and see that Deuteronomy describes God as a jealous God, We also see that Jesus experienced frustration and/or irritation as the Sons of Thunder vied for the right to sit at His hand the ire He experienced motivated Him to confront them. When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, He wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even  you, had know on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes!" And as Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane to pray he said to His disciples, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death!" 

    So, maybe instead of judging others or ourselves for the emotions we experience we should be curious about them. What has triggered the emotions we feel? Is the emotion rational or irrational? Is it magnified by hyper-focus or minimized by denial? What does the emotion tell us about our hearts, attitudes, and beliefs and do any of these need correction? Am I looking at the triggering events or people through Scriptural lenses? Am I letting my emotions drive me to my knees and the heart of my God or am I listening to the Enemy and running away? Is there something in another's story that will help me understand, validate, and empathize with their experience and how can I participate in walking them back into the Savior's arms? 

    Some of the deepest intimacy I've experienced with God occurred when I was radically honest with God about the emotions I was experiencing. When I was honest about the raging anger inside over the abuse I had experienced, He took me to the pain running under the anger and showed me His love was big enough to heal it. When I feared the potential loss of my two and a half pound granddaughter and cried out daily on her behalf, He was the source of peace that saw me through the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with loving a premie and her parents and feeling powerless to help. When I got honest with God about the fears I experienced when our sons went to war, I woke up daily wanting to talk to Him about them. living in the awe of the fact that prayers on this side of the world were being answered on the other side. By letting go of the tendency to harshly judge emotions and the people who have them we could form deeper heart connections that satisfy our souls and strengthen our faith. 

    Thursday, May 13, 2021

    How do you Measure God's Love?

    I recently viewed a clip advertising a sermon in which a pastor asked, "How do you  measure God's love?" The question stirred my heart and lead me to reflect on how I have measured  God's love over the years. I must admit that there were were different times that I doubted God's love a lot. There were several different reasons for the doubt I had. 

    First, some of the doubt was connected to traumatic events I had experienced. At the time of these doubts I believed God would want to protect someone He loved and yet there were several times I experienced trauma from which He didn't protect me.  

    There were times that I doubted God's love because I had prayed important prayers and God did not answer with a "yes" or "no." Instead, He seemed to go silent at the times I believed I needed Him the most. Sometimes those prayers were about difficult situations I was facing, sometimes they were about the hurt a loved one was experiencing, or they were about very difficult relationships I had and I  begged God to resolve or to heal and the silence along with the hurt seemed to never end.  

    There were other times I believed God loved me a little, but not as much as He loved others. At the time I had a habit of comparing my life and how God worked in it to the lives of others and to the way He worked in their circumstances. I also compared the blessings I noticed God bestowing on others, but not on me. Of course I realize now that I didn't really understand a lot about God and how He relates to His people. Because of that I had developed a nice neat little box that I tried to put God in. Now, I am so thankful that He refused to operate in the limited way I thought He should. 

    There was also a period of time in which the Enemy had convinced me I was unloved and unlovable. He whispered that in my mind every chance He got and over time that belief became a stronghold in my life and skewed my ability to see and recognize God's love, His blessings, and His continual work in my life.

    Several years ago I heard a sermon on loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, I asked God to teach me how to do that and for the next year He bombarded me with sermons, music, and unsolicited notes of encouragement all speaking to the radical love God had for me. Towards the end of that year I realized I would never be able to love God the way I wanted to without believing in His immeasurable love for me. 

    Not long after that I was struggling with a besetting sin and was so discouraged. I confessed that sin and remember saying something like, "Lord, I want to get rid of this sin so that you can really love me!" As I was walking and praying I was listening to Christian music and a song about the cross started playing and in my mind I saw Jesus hanging on the cross with my sins etched into His skin. My eyes filled with tears and I glanced up at His face, expecting to see the same condemnation I was feeling towards myself. But instead I saw love and compassion in His eyes. That was when the truth of Romans 5:8 moved from my head to my heart. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

    I began to understand that the measure of God's love wasn't found in His protection from the hard we experience in this fallen world I so badly wanted to be paradise. It wasn't found in the timeliness of answered prayers as the waits themselves were an invitation to keep pouring my heart out to Him. The measure of God's love wasn't even in what I perceived as blessings at the time. For I have since learned that there is as much blessings in the wait as there is in the prayers that are answered with a "yes" or a "no." I have also learned that blessings come in many forms. They can be material, they can be relational. They can be timely words spoken that are like honey to a hungry soul. They can be loving confrontations that redirect me back to the path that God has laid out for me. They can be the Lord's words, jumping from the page to my heart in His perfect timing. They can be prayers answered yes, prayers answered no, and they can be prayers that are met with God's silence--a silence that drives me to my knees and into deeper trust with Him.  

    The measure of God love was, is, and always will be the cross. While I was His enemy, steeped in sin, selfish, and unloving, He sacrificed His life, taking my, rebellion, and selfish ways in His flesh so that  He could impute to me His righteousness. When I understood that truth, it totally changed how I viewed my my relationship with God. I no longer spent enormous amounts of  energy trying to measure or to earn God's love. Instead, I started looking for Him and His love in every situation I encounter. If it is a happy situation I find that He is there in the midst of it celebrating with me. If it is a hard and painful situation I find Him there with me, revealing more about Himself to me and He walks me through the hard. If it is a trying time, He is there lovingly stretching me so I can walk through it with my faith strengthened, my sinful parts exposed and whittled, and my my character molded to be more like Him. 

    Can I encourage you today to honestly look at your thoughts, actions, and reactions to life? Then ask yourself what these things reveal to you about how you are measuring God's love. If you have distanced yourself from God, it could be a sign that you are measuring His love by a faulty measuring stick. Acknowledge the disappoints and pain you have experienced and express to Him the confusion you may have over unanswered prayers and then camp on Romans 5:8 and let the truth of it sink into your heart. Then you can view those things through the truth of a Heart-shaped lens, which will free you to live loved. 

    Sunday, May 9, 2021

    When Mother's Day is Hard

    There are times that holidays like Mother's day are hard. I remember the sadness I experienced on Mother's Day after moving across the country. I was so used to spending it with my mom and I found myself overwhelmed and lonely in a new place. I felt a sense of loss even though she was still alive. 

    When I became a mom, my husband did his best to make it special, so I hid the sadness I experienced being so far away from my mom. It was years later that I faced the holiday with my Mom truly gone. It hurt as I realized I would  no longer be able to hear her voice, buy her a card, or send her flowers. I was a bit more prepared because I had some friends who had shared the grief they experienced with me on Mother's Day. They had lost their mothers so early in life. Sadly, some of them were so young they had to tell teachers they didn't want to make a card because they didn't have a mom. They felt different and hated feeling that way. 

    This morning I still feel a sense of loss, especially since my sister passed away yesterday. My grief carries with it a feeling of compassion because of the painful stories others have shared with me and it drives me to my knees as God is the only one that can help those who hurt. 

    I pray for those for whom this holiday stirs up longings for relationships with moms that they know will never be fulfilled. It doesn't matter if their moms have died, if their moms have abandoned them, if their moms are too dysfunctional to relate to them in healthy ways, or if their moms betrayed them and didn't protect them. The pain of longing they feel is a pain that runs so deep. Some long to hear their mothers' voices speak words of affirmation, knowing they know most likely will never be spoken. Some long to hear much needed apologies for harsh words spoken in fits of rage, for loving so poorly, for failing to protect, or for leaving when life got hard. Some are longing for one more bear hug or for the hugs that will never be given. Some long for one more conversation or long for a conversation they know they will never have. Some long to hear their moms' laugh again or are left wondering what their laughs would have sounded like had depression not stolen them. Some long to hear their moms say they understand, realizing their moms won't hear their words and respect their perspectives. Some long to have moms who would have protected them from perpetrators instead of choosing to protect their family's reputations, their church, or the delusion that their families were healthy and happy. Some long for moms who were  stable enough to calm fears instead of being the source of the fears. 

    I pray for those whose hearts feel empty on this Mother's Day. Maybe it is because they can't remember a time that they didn't long for a child and live with the realization they will never conceive. Their hearts grieve monthly, but even more on this day. They hurt not only for the unfulfilled longing, but because of the lack of empathy and the people who tell them to get over their grief or who admonish them to trust God more. What do they do with the longing the Creator has written on their hearts?

    I pray for the ladies who were able to conceive but who lost children before they could breath their first breath. They grieve the loss of the baby they wanted but will never get to hold. And they grieve the loss of hopes and expectations they had for their child and themselves as parents. Many suffer in silence because those around them didn't recognize their loss and  those that did are impatient with the grief they express. 

    I pray for the moms whose memories include abortion. No matter what their reasons were, they were deceived into believing it would make life easier. Yet, every year they remember and feel the loss that is shrouded in shame. They find themselves wondering about the child whose life ended because of the choices they made. I am thankful for those who have experienced God's grace and have been given a safe place to grieve and repent. And I pray for those who haven't repented, hoping they will do so, so they can freely grieve and confess the decision they made and learn to cling to the assurance of a heavenly reunion.

    I pray for the moms who were fortunate enough to birth children and enjoy them for a season only to lose them way too soon. They have walked a grieving journey many of us will never walk. When this day rolls around, their hearts are both heavy and thankful as they remember past Mother's Days filled with and hand made cards, expressing  childish sentiments. Even those with other children are painfully aware of the empty chair at the table. 

    I pray for the moms who have children who are incarcerated or who have run away. The shame of wondering where they went wrong is sometimes too much to bear. The worry that comes from wondering if children are alive, safe, cold, hungry, or in harm's way is constant. They not only grieve the choices made by their children, they grieve the holes left in their family and the dashed hopes they once held dear for their kids.

    I also pray for the moms and the children who lost their relationship through suicide. That death is a hard one to grieve because of all the unasked and unanswered questions. "Was it my fault?" "Could I have prevented it?" "Why did they want to die?" "Why did they prefer death over life?" "What signs did I miss?"

    One of my friends suddenly lost her mom several years ago in a tragic accident. She has shared that on the Saturday before Mother's day, she takes time to acknowledge, remember, and grieve the losses she experiences because of her mom's death--losses like her children never getting to know their grandmother, the words and notes of affirmation her mom was so good at giving, the godly wisdom she shared, and the hours she knew her mom was on her knees praying for her and her siblings. Setting this day apart for remembering her mom, has helped her be able to stay present with her kids and enjoy her mother's day. 

    I don't share this post to take away the celebration of this holiday as it's a holiday that deserves to be recognized, honored, and celebrated! My goal is simply to remind us that it is not always easy for others. I hope we can be empathetic and gracious as we rub shoulders with those whose experience today is not one of joy. Empathy might mean writing a note to a friend struggling with infertility. It might mean planting a rose bush with someone who's lost a child or a mom. It might mean having coffee with a friend and allowing her to talk about her loss without admonishing her to move on. It might mean doing something creative with a friend who has suffered a loss and wants to bless another. It might mean having lunch with someone spending their first Mother's Day alone, reminding them through your presence that you remember their loss with them. It might mean being willing to listen to a process letter written to a mother who was absent, distracted, unloving, or abusive and then helping them figure out ways to release the pain they feel and to forgive at a deeper level. The possibilities are endless, for when Mother's Day is hard, it offers us so many opportunities to love those who hurt in tangible ways.


    Monday, March 29, 2021

    Look for the Grace

     A couple of weeks ago our pastor covered the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. When he first started teaching the passage, I felt an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach just like I had every other time I read the story. As a mom of five children, I could not imagine being asked by God to sacrifice them on an alter. I began to pray as I listened to the sermon and God impressed upon my heart the words, "Look for the grace." 

    To see the grace that lies in this story, I thought back on Abraham's life and put it in its context. Abraham and Sarah had lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods. While there, they struggled with infertility and any sacrifices they might have made to the stone fertility idols didn't result in any children. When Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 God called them to leave this culture and promised them a son and many offspring through him. They left for a new county, hoping in the child God promised. 

    On their journey Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife on two different occasions. He did this because he was afraid He would be killed rulers who might want to take Sarah as their wife. He justified the lies and his lack of protection over Sarah by pointing out that she was a half sister. Both times God extended them grace by stepping in to protect Sarah from the men who took her into their homes.  

    On their journey they grew tired of waiting on God to provide them with the promised child. First, Abraham wanted to adopt his nephew so his children could become his decedents. But, the Lord stepped in and graciously affirmed His promise again. The waiting grew long and Sarah, fearing she would never bear a child, took things into her own hands and offered  her handmaiden to Abraham to conceive a child for them. Then when Hagar got pregnant, she treated Sarah with contempt. Sarah dealt harshly with her and had Abraham send her away. God graciously intervened for Hagar and sent her back to Abraham and Sarah and then once again affirmed His promise. 

    After eleven more years of waiting, God sent messengers to again affirm His promise to them. At this point Sarah was in her tent when she heard the promise spoken aloud. The post menopausal Sarah laughed in unbelief as she thought, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" The messengers confronted both her laughter and her thoughts, telling them within a year they would have a baby. She denied laughing because she was afraid and yet God showed them grace in the face of their lies, their missteps, their manipulation, their unbelief, and their denial>> He brought Sarah's body back to life and she conceived Abraham's child and birthed Isaac when she was 90 years old. 

    The waiting, as hard as it was had been God's grace at work. It had exposed their ungodly ways and had allowed them to become apart of God's story as He revealed that He alone is the author of life. He did what no stone idol could do, He created life in an impossible situation. 

    That brings us to the uncomfortable part of their story. God told Abraham to take his beloved Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering. The request may not have seemed all that odd to a man who had deep roots in a culture that offered children as sacrifices. Yet, we know they deeply longed for and waited a lifetime of years for Isaac. To be honest, the first time I read this story I was a young mom and a part of me wanted Abraham to stand up and argue with God or to at least come up with an alternate plan as he had done many times before. But Abraham was now a changed man and he quietly and firmly resolved to obey God. Abraham and Isaac leave the next morning and travel for three days. 

    During that three days Abraham had lots of time to process and change his mind, but with every step he took he remained resolved to obey his God. Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us insight into his mindset, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead." It still had to have been a difficult journey.

    When they came to the place to which God had instructed them, Abraham built the alter and took the wood from Isaac and laid it out. He then bound Isaac and laid him on the altar. He took his knife to slaughter his son, but the Lord intervened and said to Abraham, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." As Abraham lifted his eyes he saw there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns and he took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. The Lord then tells Abraham, "...because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surly bless you, and I will multiply your offspring as the starts of heaven and the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." 

    I think the first time I read this, it seemed harsh, but as I look for the grace in the story, I find it a sweet and tender story. I realize that God was testing Abraham and that the test not was set to prove something to God. It was set to prove something to Abraham, to Isaac and to us. By having Abraham go though this test, God graciously showed Abraham that his once floundering faith that tended to disappear in the face of fear had now matured and stayed strong in the face of this hard task. Abraham's faith was now based firmly on the words of His God. He had grown a deep resolve to honor and obey God who had given him a son. This faith trip was also an opportunity to grow Isaac's faith. Isaac who was big enough to carry the wood could have pushed back when it came time to lie down on the altar, but he, too, had a firm resolve to obey. When God had Abraham's story written, all of the missteps, the unbelief , and the lies were written for all future generations to see. But, in the telling of this part of the story, God shows us Abraham's strong faith and the resolved will of a man who now deeply loved his God.

    There is a grace that runs deeper still. And that grace is a glimpse of the Father's heart towards us. This story foreshadows Jesus's story as He lived a perfect life we could not live so that all of our lies, our missteps, our manipulating ways, our denial, our self-protective ways, and our sin could be covered by the blood of Jesus. It was the Father who showed Abraham what it felt like to sacrifice a Son and it was Jesus who stood in the place of Isaac as He lay down His life for us. That day so long ago at the altar God showed us His grace is relentless, flowing from a heart that continually pursues us until we are brave enough to lean into the hard that we face and look for the grace, 

    Thursday, March 11, 2021

    He is Not a Cookie-cutter God

    A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a ministry known as People and Songs and have followed many of the musicians on Facebook and Instagram. Recently Crystal Yates who is one of the women in the group shared her testimony and a song she had written. I loved it. With her permission I will share her story in my words, but this is the link if you want to take a moment to stop and listen to her story in her own voice. Crystal Yates- Leave Me Alone To Die - YouTube 

    In her testimony she shared when she was five she often spent time with her granny who lived a couple of doors down from a little store. Her granny watched her as she walked to the store and picked out a treat and walked home. One day she went to the store for a jump rope and there were not any ropes. A stranger approached her and asked her what she was looking for and then offered to take her to another store to get one. She went with him. He snuck her out the backdoor of the store and headed to the woods with her. As they approached the woods, the man was beginning to disrobe and she sensed evil like she never had sensed it before. She became fearful and and remembered something her granny had taught her, "If you are ever in trouble or scared, say the name of Jesus." That little five year old girl began to cry out, "Jesus, help me!" The man immediately stopped and angrily said, "Do you want to go home?" She said, "Yes!" He immediately walked her to a clearing where she could see her house and she ran home.

    I love Crystal's story. It shows her granny's faithfulness to teach her to call on Jesus and His power when she needed help. I love that the little girl spiritually discerned the evil presence guiding the man's actions. I love that she had the fortitude to cry out loud to Jesus and that he honored her plea. As I was listening to her testimony and the song she wrote I read through the comments people left on YouTube. Several women told her how much they appreciated the song and asked her to write one for those who weren't rescued. As a survivor I loved it that other survivors saw the beauty and the power of Jesus portrayed in this part of her story and as a result were drawn to it, even though their own stories were filled with trauma that wasn't stopped.  

    I direct a ministry that serves adult women who were victimized as children. As they begin to share their stories, we come across similar situations in group. Some women cried out to Jesus and were rescued in similar ways. Some cried out to Jesus and were still victimized. And some either didn't know Jesus at the time or felt too afraid, too dirty, or too ashamed to cry out. We try to begin our groups by asking participants to draw a picture of where Jesus was when they were being abused. Those pictures give us insight into how the group members interpreted the action or seemingly inaction of God towards them during their trauma. Some of the pictures show Jesus as a defender, some show Him watching with tears streaming down His face, some show Him as a distant being without arms, without eyes, or without a mouth. Some have drawn Him with His back turned towards them and said they did it because they believed God could not look on evil or that they were too dirty to be close to Him.  

    As stories are shared and women begin to talk more freely about their thoughts and feelings, they begin to uncover how they interpreted the events that took place in their life. Many of them assume that the evil they sensed and experienced was within them and that it caused the abuse to happen. They didn't realize the evil was attached to their perpetrators. As they do their work they begin to hand back the responsibility for the evil to those who harmed them and begin to more accurately interpret what has happened to them. Some of them assumed when they either asked Jesus to protect them or to stop their abusers that His lack of intervention proved they were guilty or were less loved by God than those who experienced God as Crystal and some of our ladies did. 

    When we first started the ministry, I was still doing my own work and found myself struggling to trust how God works in our lives. I questioned why He seemed to answer some prayers and not others. In that wrestling I reached a place that I told Jesus I was choosing to believe He was who the Scriptures said He was and I would no longer let my experiences, my feelings, my misinterpretations about my trauma define who I thought I was and who I thought He was. I began to accept that I am deeply loved and treasured by God and that what happened to me in no way proved I was less loved. I began to fully trust that Jesus was good and I became willing to accept His sovereignty over my life meant there was not anything that wasn't filtered through His love-scarred hands. 

    I saw a shift in my thinking, experienced my shame melt away, and I saw myself trusting God more with my life. I no longer believed I was an invisible second class member of God's family. The questions I voiced also changed. They were no longer protests disguised as questions, but were heart-felt questions driven by faith and a deep desire to know Jesus and His heart. Sometimes He answered questions though Scriptures, sometimes through spiritual insight during prayer times, and sometimes He answered them through people He provided to help me and to encourage me. Sometimes He answered questions right away and sometimes He waited to show me Truth and I learned to be comfortable with His timeline of answering. 

    I also began to ask Him where He was in the different traumatic events I experienced and He filled my mind with pictures of the events with Him there--each one different and unique to the situation. Now, when I think of those traumatic events, I think of Him there with me and those memories no longer bring the fear, the shame, or the terror with them. They bring peace and joy and a sense of being deeply loved through some really tough stuff.   

    One of the most important things I learned from the traumas I experienced was how deeply Jesus loves. As I worked with a counselor, I also studied Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The more I studied His arrest, His trials, and His crucifixion the more I connected to His story and the more I believed He truly understood mine. Satan wants us to continue to believe we were so bad we caused our trauma, that we are still unlovable, and that God doesn't care about our suffering. However, Isaiah 52 and 53 reveal we have a traumatized Savior. He understands our pain, because He went through similar pain for us. He not only took on the sin of all men, but also God's wrath against it. He was stripped of His clothes and had people cast lots for them as He hung naked and exposed. He understands the pain of being physically wounded through violence and the emotional pain of having others blame Him for things for which He wasn't responsible. He understand heart-wrenching grief and sorrow of rejection. He understands what it is like to have those closest to Him turn their backs on Him when He was facing His worst pain and His greatest fears. He understands what it feels like to be misunderstood. He understands the feelings associated with being oppressed and suffering the pain and consequences of another's sin. He understands the feelings we have had when we say we feel forsaken by God who could have protected us, but chose not to, for on the cross He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Growing a Passionate Heart, by Wendy J. Mahill and Nancy Keller, LMFT, Available on 

    During the beginning of my trauma work, I stayed busy so I couldn't feel the emotions and the presence of God in that area of my life. Then a freak accident caused me to be housebound with a severely broken ankle for most of a year. As I was on the way to the hospital, I sensed God saying the accident was for good and felt His love and peace wash over me. I spent time praying over my life story and reading out loud things I had written for my counselor. My tears began to flow freely and the love and peace of God overflowed and out of that overflow the Passionate Heart Ministry was born. I also learned when God, in His sovereignty, allows deep pain He invites us into a deeper knowledge of the fellowship of His suffering where we can begin to grasp that His love runs deeper than the pain residing in our hearts. I am so thankful for what the healing journey has taught me about God and HIs love. Trauma no longer controls me, my thoughts, my emotions, or my life. It is merely a tiny portion of the redemption story God has written for me to life. I have grown more comfortable and more excited to see all the different ways God works in the life of those He has called. He is not a cookie-cutter God. 

    In closing, Natalie Grant sang a song that impacted my healing journey. I hope you will take a listen here: Natalie Grant - Clean (Performance Video) - YouTube 

    If you have suffered sexual trauma I hope that you will lean into Jesus and keep getting help until you find peace, hope, and joy returning for it is by His stripes that we are healed. Please check our page and our Facebook page Friends of Passionate Heart Ministry | Facebook. We have resources and videos about our ministry at both places.   

    Friday, February 19, 2021

    Those Red Sea Moments

    Recently as I was reading Leviticus, I was reminded of some really cool things. First, I noticed that as Israel was fleeing from Pharaoh, they were not haphazardly fleeing in a random direction just to get away from the Egyptian leader and his army. With every step they took, Israel was being led by God in a specific direction for a specific reason. Leviticus 13:18a says, But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Then Lev. 14:1-4 gives us even more information, Then the Lord said to Moses, "Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, "they are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in." And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

    I had not read Leviticus in awhile and I had forgotten some of the details of this story. As I reread this chapter in particular I realized I had mistakenly formed a vision of Israel fleeing, wandering aimlessly, and getting trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, leaving God in the position to have to step in and rescue them. For some reason I remembered verse four where God told Moses He would be glorified, but I had forgotten the verses that described God purposefully leading them to the Red Sea and putting them into what looked like a hopeless situation. The Scriptures tell us that when the people of Israel saw the Egyptians approaching they were fearful and cried out to Moses, telling him that they wished he would have left them alone in Egypt as it would have been better for them to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.

    Moses told them not to be afraid because they were going to see the salvation of the Lord that day. He also told them they didn't have to do anything as God, Himself, was going to fight for them. All they had to do was be quiet and behold the Lord's work. The Lord then instructed Moses to lift up his staff and stretch his hand out over the sea and when Moses did, the water divided and Israel was able to cross through the Sea on dry land. The Egyptian army pursued them and at just the right time the Lord closed the sea and drowning the army. As I read this story, I realized when I have faced hard things, I had at times doubted my ability to follow God. I at times took the hard to mean I had failed, that something in my life was wrong and caused me to deserve the hard, or that I had misheard or misunderstood God's leading. 

    As a newly growing believer, I remember having a conversation about my struggle with sin as a believer with a pastor. He reminded me of God's grace and mercy encouraged me to keep short accounts. By that he meant that when I sinned, I was not to run from God and wallow in shame, but to run towards Him in faith, confessing my sin and praising Him for His forgiveness and HIs grace. If I was doing that, I realized the hard isn't about punishing me for sin. In addition, if I remember the hard I experience is filtered through God's loving sovereignty then the hard is about strengthening my faith by giving me an opportunity to learn about God watch Him work on my behalf. And, because there is no hard that is too difficult for God, I can be sure that the hard is about God having the opportunity to display His glory in ways that I can't even imagine. 

    I have had a few "Red Sea" moments in my life, where I knew I was totally powerless and the only place I could look for help was up. Sometimes the moments were relational where conflicts were unending and could not be resolved. Sometimes they were within the work place when jobs were threatened and bosses were abusive. Sometimes they were health issues like being housebound with a severely broken ankle for a year, severe asthma attacks our son experienced as a little guy, the surgery and complications that occurred when our son's spleen ruptured, our granddaughter's three month premature birth, and my mother being put on hospice three states away as I was recovering from a broken knee. 

    I can't help but think of things that others have faced that seem like they would be "Red Sea" moments. Maybe it was persistent infertility, multiple bouts with cancer, losing a spouse, children who walked away from their faith, abuses of all kinds, betrayal by someone we thought we could trust, or being rejected by those in the body that we thought we could trust. 

    I hope when we are experiencing the hard and feeling pressed in on all sides that we will remember the Israelites plight as the Red Sea lie in front of them and the Egyptian army closed in from behind. What looked like an impossible situation wasn't an impossibility for God. It was an opportunity to show both the Israelites and the Egyptians army that Israel was God's chosen people and that He went to great lengths to reveal Himself to them as their protector, provider, and salvation. I hope we will lean into Him and in faith ask Him to display His power and His strength in the hard. I hope that in the hard we will be so focused on Him that we won't miss seeing His work and His glory on display. 

    Can I encourage you to think back on you life and identify "Red Sea" moments that you have experienced. Take time to notice how God intervened and reminded you that you were chosen. What did He reveal about Himself? Ask Him to show you what He was doing through the hard. We would do well to remember that God 's glory shines the brightest in what seems like the darkest and most impossible situations. When the hard comes, consider them a "Red Sea Moment" and remember our God is good. Let's run towards Him and behold His glory.   

    Tuesday, January 26, 2021

    Life is Sacred

    This time of year many churches talk about the sanctity of life. We take time to acknowledge the number of babies being killed by abortion every year. I have shared several times in this blog that when I read the Bible 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 when Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill Jewish babies and then with Christ's time when all boys under the age of two were to be put to death to make sure the new born "King" would not rise to power. 

    I discovered this verse when I was having my own babies and I found myself frequently meditating on it. I could not wrap my mind around the brutal orders given by the men in authority that were responsible for the deaths of so many little ones. It became even more disturbing when I stood over a baby-sized coffin, weeping with my friend as she buried her six-month-old. My heart ached for every child lost and for every mama standing with like my friend, with empty arms and engorged breasts, weeping for a baby wanted. It hurt my heart to know those mamas could never hear their babies cry again. Never hear cute little belly laughs. Never hear them call, "Mama," after bad dreams. Never hear them sing or watch them dance. Never see them play tag, catch balls, or swim races. Never celebrate the milestones we often take for granted--first steps, birthdays, graduations, holidays, and marriages, and grandchildren. As my friend's baby was laid to rest, I could hear Rachel weeping with all the grieving Mamas.  

    As I read through the Old Testament, I saw some other things I believed might have caused Rachel to weep as well. As Israel moved into the Promised Land, some made unholy alliances with people who were steeped in pagan worship. Pagan religions were fear-based religions centered around idols representing angry gods. To appease angry gods people sacrificed virgin daughters who were taken to temples to be sexually abused and trafficked by temple priests. Some parents even offered babies to be burned before stone idols. It was common enough that God forbid the practice in His Law and required the death penalty for those who did such things in Israel. I believe as young daughters were taken and left with priests and when babies were placed on altars that Rachel could be heard weeping. 

    Its easy for us to judge those who sacrificed babies in pagan worship, but we are just as guilty of sacrificing children. Some sacrifice children by letting godless schools and daycare centers raise them and indoctrinate them with perverted confusing ideologies. Some sacrifice them by spending time on technology, leaving children feeling invisible, unheard, and unloved. Some sacrifice them when we vote for legislatures to go easy on those trafficking our sons and daughters. Some sacrifice their children when they protect families' or churches' reputations by covering horrific abuse going on. Some sacrifice children to the god of lust by bringing pornography into the home, leaving it in the bathroom or on computers where it randomly pops up for little eyes to see. 

    Some sacrifice their children by having them literally sucked and scraped out of the womb for convenience sake. Our culture covers up the atrocities of abortion by blocking stories that talk about it in a truthful way. They cover it by calling abortion by different names. They call it "women's health care," but it has nothing to do with a woman's health. They have labeled it as "a woman's right to choose," while refusing to acknowledge that there are plenty of choices to be made before a child is conceived. They cover it up by calling a baby "a clump of cells." We may not be offering our children to gods of stone, but we are offering them to gods of ease, unbridled pleasure, selfishness, addiction, pride, and convenience. I believe Rachel can be heard weeping for children who need to be loved and protected. And when Cain killed Abel, God told Cain Abel's blood was crying out from the ground...if we could see the blood of all the aborted babies crying out, we would be swimming in it.  

    I have heard the reasons women give for being proabortion. Some say it is needed because a pregnancy interrupts the education and careers of women. But I know women who have been moms and judges, and nurses, and teachers, and business owners, and architects, and Bible study leaders, and authors, and artists, and dancers, and musicians, and a host of other things. Some have stated that it is needed for rape victims, yet the abortion industry doesn't often report sexual abuse of minors that resulted in a pregnancy. And the number of abortions performed everyday and the number of women marching and saying they are proud of their abortions shows that abortion is no longer a somber decision, but a matter of birth control. I have seen posts where women were in favor of abortion they knew women who had more children than they believed they could handle or who were pressured by husbands who wanted to continue to have children until they got a preferred sex. Those are both very hard and serious marital and spiritual issues that can never be resolved through abortion.   

    When Judge Barret was nominated for supreme court, women came out in droves wearing handmaiden costumes in protest of Barret's nomination and lifestyle. This showed how intolerant some are. My mom told me that as early as I could talk I wanted baby dolls and when asked me how many kids I wanted, I always wanted six. As an adult I still wanted six kids. When I got pregnant with my third, fourth, and fifth babies, some were happy for us but others made us the brunt of jokes and rude questions and comments. We chose to stop after our fifth baby, because I wasn't sure my body could carry another child and because I had suffered trauma at the hands of a brutal doctor during birth of my fifth child. It was a hard decision and one that I grieved deeply. Some don't understand that some women desire and enjoy children and want large families. The handmaiden's costumes, the media's judgmental posts, and those crying that her appointment sets women back a hundred years and the jokes and rude comments made to me and my husband prove proabortion people are not prochoice when the choice a woman or a couple makes is different than theirs.    

    I pray government will reverse laws that allow abortion. As I have prayed the period in which legal abortions can occur has been extended to the point that in one state it is up to full term and babies surviving are left to die. It hurts to see women who God made to be nurturers smiling and applauding the lives that have been brutally terminated. 

    One year our church put up crosses on its lawn to represent lives lost every day to abortion. I know some people believe it is shaming, but I don't know any better way of making people aware of the number of babies that lose their lives and the number of women who are often left grieving with no help and support in the aftermath.  

    As I look at all of those crosses I can hear Rachel weeping for the children, can you? 

    As I sat by the incubator of our granddaughter born at 26 1/2 weeks, I prayed for her as I observed how perfectly she was formed. She had a head full of golden curly hair, was super active, fought hard for her life, and showed her spunky little personality when she would be woken up from a sound sleep for tests. I knew I was given a glimpses of life as it is in the womb and wondered how anyone could terminate it. They say that babies don't feel, but the NICU nurses gave us very careful instructions on how to touch her with out causing her pain. Those nerves in the thin skin of a premie are fully alive and near the surface. . 

    Children of church-going people have been sacrificed as well. It occurs when abuse is covered up to protect the abusers' and the churches' reputations. It occurs when church going women and teens get abortions to cover shame they feel over unplanned pregnancies. Sadly, terminating a life will never solve a sin or shame issue. In fact it increases the guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and regret, causing grief over a lifetime. I am so thankful that churches in our area provide safe groups in which women can confess to one another the choice they made to obtain an abortion. They can come out of hiding and grieve openly the babies they terminated, and they can experience God's lavish grace in the context of real relationships. I am sure every year in those groups Rachel can be heard weeping 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." We must understand our God is the giver of life and not equate choice with terminating life. God at times revealed his plans for people's children before they were even born. Issacs's parents were told. Samson's parents were told. Mary was told about Jesus role. John the Baptist's parents were told and amazingly, John recognized the Messiah Mary was carrying in her womb while in his own mama's womb. I believe he leapt for joy when Mary approached. 

    Sarah Purcel, who was on TV when I was young shared in an interview that she gave the birth mom of her adopted child a tape of her singing songs so she could play the music while pregnant. The birth mom complied and played those songs daily. When Sarah sang those songs in the delivery room, the baby quit crying and looked around for the one whose voice was familiar. Babies in the womb are not clumps of tissue growing that magically become babies after birth. They are humans fashioned by the living God. 

    I long for the day that Jesus reigns in perfect love and righteousness and all living beings consider life as sacred. I also long for the day that He will he wipe away every tear every "Rachel" has wept. 


    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!