Monday, December 5, 2022

At This Table

Early in life I developed an eating disorder that expressed itself in many ways. When I realized my dieting was becoming dangerous and my control was out of control, I decided to get help. When I met with my first counselor, my denial system was pretty strong, and I told him I didn't think my disorder was impacting my family. The counselor smiled and explained that if he were doing family counseling with us, the first things he would do is ask my children to draw the family dinner table. He then asked what I thought they would draw. After a long pause, I admitted that they would have drawn the table with my place either empty or with a drink only. I realized in that session the dinner table could be as much about interaction as it was about food. I soon became fascinated by Bible passages that dealt with food and meals.

I had struggled with shame because of my crazy relationship with food. I hated how often my thoughts were consumed with food, dieting, the number on the scale, or the dress size I was wearing. I was also ashamed that food itself was the source of my struggle. As I searched the Bible for answers, I realized the very first sin ever committed was centered around food and that Adam and Eve's choice to eat the fruit was more about what Satan promised than the fruit itself. I also realized Satan's temptation stirred in them a desire the fruit didn't fulfill, and they ended up miserable as they longed for their redemption to be complete. 

I could relate to Adam and Eve as I turned to food, mistaking relational or spiritual hunger for physical hunger. At times I searched frantically for the perfect food to satisfy a craving I couldn't even identify or satisfy. I could relate to them when I thought I would be happier if only I had something more--more pounds lost, more power over life or broken relationships, more freedom from besetting sin, more peace in the face of my perfection and anxious thoughts. Oh, there were momentary feelings of the "more's satisfied," only to awaken to the same cravings again and again.  

I heard a sermon taught by Louis Giglio, called don't give the enemy a seat at your table. He developed the sermon from Psalm 23 and talked about how God prepares us a table in the presence of our enemies and explained that we can choose to give the enemy a seat or we can focus on the Lord and dine with Him, while ignoring the enemy and his plans. I realized food has never been the enemy, but Satan was as he whispered temptation after temptation in my ear. I didn't have to give into his voice, tempting me to starve or binge. I could accept each meal as a gift and focus on the Giver. When I did that, eating no longer felt like a shameful act and I could eat with a grateful heart, praising God for His provision. I could even walk with Him through disordered thoughts and temptations and see God's strength in my weakness. 

A few years into my recovery I was in a freak accident that left me with a noticeable limp. Over time I came to terms with the limp by embracing the story of Mephibosheth who was Jonathon's son and Saul's grandson. It would have been customary for Jonathon to become king when Saul died, but God appointed David instead. David faithfully served Saul as he waited his turn, but Saul became consumed with jealousy over David's God-given abilities, future kingship, and David's victory over Goliath. In that state of jealous rage, he tried to kill David and David realized he needed to leave because the king viewed him as an enemy. This grieved Jonathon and David who were close friends. Jonathon helped David escape, and David vowed to show Jonathon and his family mercy when he became king.

When Saul and Jonathon were killed, Jonathon's son's nurse fled with the young boy. She fell, injuring both of his legs, leaving him crippled. After David established his kingdom, he called a servant to find out if anyone from Saul's house was alive to which he could show mercy. The servant told him about the young, crippled Mephibosheth and David sent for him. I imagine Mephibosheth was filled with fear when he was called to face the king his grandfather had tried to kill, and he humbly bowed before King David. David told him not to be afraid because he had summoned him to show him mercy. Mephibosheth offered himself as a servant, but David gave him a seat at his own table, which meant that he considered Mephibosheth a son. David gave him land so his servants could work and provide all that he needed, which gave the crippled Mephibosheth back his dignity. 

Because of my limp, I love this story and the invitation to eat at the king's table. Each one of us is Mephibosheth. We were born enemies of God and have been crippled by sin that we have committed and by sin perpetrated against us. Since the fall we have been crippled by all sorts of trauma, causing us to be crippled in our ability to do good, to manage emotions, to discern truth from lies, to love well, and in our ability to worship and honor God. Yet, like Mephibosheth, we have been invited to the palace of the King of kings and we come...limping to God's table with nothing to offer, finding mercy in Jesus just as Mephibosheth found in David. 

There are times my ankle gets sore and stiff, and my limp becomes more pronounced. There are times that something happens to trigger feelings of past trauma and I find myself walking with an invisible "limp" that feels as awkward and uncomfortable as my physical one. There are times I experience stress and old eating disordered thoughts and I find myself "limping" awkwardly through the day barely holding on to what is healthy and good, and I know I can either get frustrated and give in or I can choose to remember Mephibosheth, who came to the king's table, and cling to the truth that I, who was once God's enemy, am now seated at His table, forever belonging to His family. I am also reminded that through His divine power He has given me everything I need for a godly life through the knowledge of Him who has called us out of His goodness. 

The music group Selah just released the most beautiful song for Christmas titled, "At this Table!" (At This Table by Selah on Amazon Music - The song, written by Idina Menzer, has such powerful words and I have listened to several times this week. Each time I am filled with peace and stand in awe of God's infinite kindness. How I long for my table to reflect the table of this song--a table where everyone is welcome, everyone is seen, and everyone matters. A table where everyone is noticed, no one is judged, and everyone is free to speak. A place where everyone is forgiven, no one is invisible, and everyone feels like they belong. 

I hope, as God's crippled children, we remember each one of us comes hobbling to the table and yet we are met with lavish mercy and grace that we did nothing to earn. I hope we try our best to extend that to others for at His table we are forever covered with a love shown through Christ's brutal death and resurrection. Maybe, just maybe this is the holiday season that we can reflect that to others.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Prodigals and Pharisees Come Home

I have always loved the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It simply starts out with "There was a man who had two sons." I remember mostly hearing the story with the focus on the younger prodigal son. But the story is about two sons and there are lessons to be learned from both. 

The younger son approached his dad, asking for his portion of his inheritance so that he could leave. The oldest son in those day would be given a double portion, meaning the younger son would receive a third of his father's property. The father complied and the younger son packed up and left for a far away country where he squandered his money, spending it all on immoral, reckless living. He didn't make poor decisions or lose it in business deals, he simply wasted it on things he thought would bring him fleshly pleasure. As a result, he experienced poverty for the first time. Soon  a famine hit the land making it impossible to get food. He eventually got a job feeding pigs, which would have been a shameful position as a Jew. It was a stinky dirty job that seemed to reflect his spiritual state.  

As food became more scarce, he experienced gnawing hunger and began to eat the slop he fed the pigs. I can't help but wonder if it was then that he began to miss the lovingkindness of his dad who so faithfully met his needs. Could it be that rebellion tends to lead people away from what their hearts most want? In the midst of slurping down slop not fit for humans, he realized his father's servants were eating better than him. So, he headed home, rehearsing the confession he would make, hoping to be hired as a servant. Little did he know his father was constantly scanning the horizon, hoping to see him. And when he spotted his son, the father ran which was something dignified men didn't do. The father grabbed his son and held him in a tight embrace. When I think of that scene, I think of what my son smelled like when he came home from the pig barns with the stench of pig wafting across the room. The love of that father entered into the messy, stinky life of his son. 
I can so relate to the younger son. The Word tells me while I was still in my sin, Christ loved me and died for me. That means God loved me with the stench of my sin still on me--the stench of pride, of lust, of selfishness, of self-centeredness, of an independent heart that often chose to quietly do life apart from Him, and of trying to fill this God-craving hunger with worldly things. Yeah, I can relate to him. I wish I couldn't, but I can. 

In response to the son's confession, the father calls his servants to bring a robe, a ring, and shoes. These are not the clothes of a servant, they are the clothing of a chosen son! He has servants prepare a banquet to celebrate the son who was lost , but no has been found, the son who was dead, but who is now relationally alive. This father reflects Our Abba! Some of us for a variety of reasons walked away from God and His fold after having made declarations of faith. Maybe we were wounded by legalism or by people in the church. Maybe we simply rebelled, wanting something more. Maybe we slipped so gradually into sin that shame sent us running from God and His people lest they find out. We may at some time have believed the stench of what we have done could never be cleaned. But this parable tells us the Abba is always scanning the horizon for prodigals and He runs at the first sight of their return. And no matter how deeply the stench has been ground into our pours, God embraces us and clothes us in the clothes of His chosen. God knows we must come to the end of ourselves to recognize Him as the perfect Redeemer, Restorer, Reconciler, Healer, our Satisfaction, and Father. 

The other brother who came in from the fields to see the celebration taking place. A servant informed him that the celebration was in honor of the prodigal who had came home. The older son became angry and refused to go in. The first time I read this parable, I thought his anger was a protective anger toward his father who had been hurt by the child that left home in a manor that stated he considered his father dead to him. But when the father came out and talked to the older son, we see the state of the older son's heart. He was angry because the son who left and squandered the inheritance in an immoral lifestyle was being celebrated and while he who had remained wasn't.  

The older son's attitude makes me uncomfortable, because I see me in him and can relate to his judgments. I wish didn't but I do. There have been times I've worked hard and was not noticed, only to have someone new come along and get praised for one project. I resented it a lot. I also used to pride myself on being nonjudgmental, but a sweet lady once told told me that we all make judgments every  da and sometimes judgments help us make good decisions and sometimes they are sinful. 

I was uncomfortable with her statement, so I paid close attention to the thoughts that ran through my head for a few weeks and she was right. I made judgments about food as I classified it as either good or bad instead of thanking God for His provision. I made judgments about the hearts and the worth of others based on the clothing they wore. I judged myself harshly for having normal feelings and being human instead of perfect. I judged a parent by how she handled her kids in public and was convicted because at one time I was a mom of five littles and knew they could be perfectly behaved one day and then the next day I was red-faced, paying for chocolate bar snatched by little hands when I wasn't looking, I judged a homeless person without knowing his story, not even giving him the dignity of a smile or eye contact every human craves. I judged someone's words without letting them finish their thoughts, something I hate when its done to me. It grieved my heart to find there was a whole lot more Pharisee in me than I thought. But facing this truth humbled me and helped me come to grips with the truth that not all prodigals run physically, some of us run even in the staying. It helped me realize how desperately we (me in particular) need God's mercy and grace. 

I also realized I often chose churches because people in them looked like me. Around the time I had the above conversation with my friend, a therapist suggested I find a support group for eating disorders and there wasn't one in my community. She referred me to a ministry for those struggling with addictions and codependency. When I first walked in, judgments were screaming in my head. I wanted to run, but didn't. There I heard stories that melted my prideful heart, allowing God to fill it with compassion and love. There I saw hardened hearts softened and people extending grace while holding each other accountable in such a beautifully balanced ways. I shared my story one night and there were sniffles, the loudest being among the biggest burliest guys, who had originally scared me. I grew to love them because they were so honest, transparent, and hungry for God.

There I realized the years I had spent in church, I had been trying to earn God's love and to cover up my sinful parts and my judgmental heart. I loved the recovery group because it was there I realized God's love was freely given. There was nothing I could do to earn it and nothing I could do to lose it. The fleshly business of trying to earn love was put to death. I also bumped into a friend there who introduced me to her sister, who was covered in tattoos. At first I judged her, but over time I came to love this gal and her big heart and even got a small tatt to remind myself not to judge. 

When this gal passed away. Her funeral was exactly what I have come to desire all churches to be, and what I imagine heaven already is--a mixture of people from all walks of life. A place where addicts sit next to the "church people who appear to have it all together." A place where the poor are seated among the rich. A place where the tattooed are sprinkled among the conservatively dressed. A place where those with nose rings and piercings are scattered among those with traditional jewelry. A place where the wounded are actually tended to, a place where the vulnerable find safety, a place where differences are celebrated, and a place where every prodigal is restored and rejoiced over. At that crowded funeral filled with prodigals we had one thing in common, our friend and when a song was sung all of our eyes were leaking for the one who had overcome big, big stuff and who had loved so big. To me, the people at her funeral represent the death of the conflict between prodigals and pharisaical siblings. 

For me, moving past judgment took my recognizing my own desire to be loved, acknowledged, and accepted was something written on my heart by my Creator and then accepting that God Himself has lavishly and consistently met those needs through Christ! When I rest in this truth I don't tend to wander like the prodigal or sit in judgment like the Pharisaical brother, Instead, I am free to relate to the One who fills my heart with all it needs so I can celebrate those around me. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

From Fear to Faith

 In 2012 one of the pastors who had a huge impact on my life passed away. I wrote a note on Facebook called "From Fear to Faith" and thought I would edit it and share it here as we are living in times in which fear covered in anger is rampant. I hope that may someone struggling with fear might be comforted and find courage and peace in Jesus, just as I did.  

In January of 1977 my husband and I moved to Mississippi so he could get his doctorate from State. Oh, we were young and moving across the country while I was pregnant with our first child. The night we arrived in Starkville, it was freezing cold, and I was very sick with a kidney infection. We followed the hospital signs to get to the emergency room. The doctor kept me in the hospital for several days, leaving my husband to unpack the U-Haul. A guy he had met at a conference happened to drive and see Joel unloading the trailer. He stopped and helped him and then invited him to dinner with some guys from his church. He got there and met their pastor, who was nicknamed Nap. For a year, we attended another church that had more young student couples and forged some great friendships, but after a year most of them were finished school and left. One of the men we knew told us that because I had such a thirst for Bible knowledge that Emmanuel Baptist Church would help me find the answers to the questions I had. We to the little Baptist Church, where Nap taught verse by verse at least four times a week and stayed there for seven years.

When we first attended, I was very fearful, but if anyone would have asked if I was a believer I would have said yes. Maybe I was a believer, but if I was a believer, I was a terrified one. Every time I sinned or even thought I might have sinned, I confessed over and over and asked Jesus into my heart again and again and again. Right after we married, we had heard some preaching on the Book of Revelation, and I woke up several times crying from nightmares about end times. When I arrived at Emmanuel, I was still fearful and trying desperately to be good, thinking I could earn God's love and bet to heaven.

About the time I began to relax and enjoy our new church, Nap announced he would begin a series on the book of Revelation. I was struggling with my parent's divorce so I went in to talk to him about that and during that conversation I also told him about my fear of the Book of the Revelation and told him I wasn't sure I could handle the series. He suggested I read the little book, Come Lord, Jesus by Mark G. Cambron and then come talk to him. I began to see the grace of God in that little book on Revelation and how it matched what Nap was preaching on Sundays. We met many times and talked about the gospel and eternal security and a bunch about the love of God. Over time, I realized I believed what God said in His Word and that Christ's payment for sin was enough to secure my salvation.

I fell in love with Jesus during the time I spent at that church. I hungered and thirsted to know everything about Him and had to have driven Nap crazy with questions, but he was patient and loving and kind to this needy young believer. I loved his bear hugs as they were tight and purely given. I loved his love of the Savior. It never ever waned, no matter what came his way. I loved his love of God's grace and a pure gospel. I loved his style of teaching and answering the questions I and many others had, because his answers were never his thoughts or opinions, they were straight from the Word! I loved the consistency of his teaching; the truth never changing as he moved from book to was always grace. And he lived out that grace even in the mundane parts of his life. He fiercely protected the flock with which God had entrusted him. His heart grieved as many of his flock were moved to other parts of the world, but he still considered us a part of his Emmanual family.

I remember one time he was preaching on the persecuted church, I went up to him afterward and told him, "Nap, I don't have to worry about anyone persecuting me, because I always prostitute myself." He responded with, "I know, Babe!" but his eyes were twinkling like crazy. So, I quickly thought through what I had just said and got embarrassed. I screamed, "NO!" and he chuckled and said, "I didn't think you meant what you said." I typed the bulletin for several years and I often made him special bulletins with funny announcements he could not read to the church. But I knew he saw them when he came out with twinkle in his eye and a great big smile on his face.

The last week I lived in Starkville, I went by to see him one last time and I asked him some hard questions I had never voiced before about God's sovereignty over things like abuse. There were no glib answers give, but as I turned to leave, he called my name and I turned around, "Wendy, God is Good! Don't ever forget He is Good!" And I heard his voice say those same words over and over in my head when I went into counseling to recover from the pain in my past! Nap also listened to my pain when my best friend lost her babies then again when I lost her. I loved the sound of his voice when he taught. It was a slow southern drawl that calmed my anxious heart after someone broke into our home and comforted us as a church when we buried our loved ones.

One more thing I loved about Nap was that He never said things like, "Jesus, is coming back, you better get ready." He simply lived His life always excitedly looking for our Jesus to return. He was faithful until the very end. Nap was at a camp preaching and sharing the gospel and passed away later in the evening. That very night I was in a worship service, here in California and we sang one of his favorite songs, "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" and my heart was full of joy as it reminded me of Nap and his impact on my faith, not realizing our gracious God was orchestrating that moment in my life at the time He was welcoming him home. I love that Jesus has riches to share with His faithful servant that bore so much fruit in His life.

I have lived in California with a contentment that is still slightly overshadowed by a homesickness for people who had become a loving spiritual family for this homesick, pregnant, scared wife. This last week I have seen a lot of pictures from Ikthoos, the Camp Nap and others started. The kids who were little campers when we lived there are all adults who are faithfully filling his footsteps as they love kids and teach them how to study the Word to lift their beautiful voices in praise.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Still Showing up Differently

I recently read the testimony of a man who was talking about his struggle with addiction. He said he began his recovery the day he chose to show up differently in the world. The words, “I chose to show up differently” deeply resonated with me when I first heard them. That was because God had used several events to awaken deeply buried pain caused by unresolved traumas I had experienced earlier in life.

For years I had masked pain from the traumas in different ways. I masked it with an eating disorder that led me to sway between severe anorexia to compulsive eating. I masked the shame I experienced over the traumas with a hyper-critical spirit that served o focus others’ eyes away from the messiness of my life and soul that could have potentially bubbled over at any given moment. Third. I masked the fear of being hurt again with self-protective behaviors like defensiveness, obsessing over real or imagined offenses, shutting down, or completely withdrawing.

During an anorexic phase of my disorder, I went to get a haircut and when the stylist finished washing my hair, my neck muscles were so weak I couldn’t lift my head without using my hands. The weakness jolted me into seeing my health was in jeapordy. As I struggled, I also realized I was tired of living a life centered around diets, exercise, and self-contempt. Friends and my church community didn’t know how to help, so I made the brave decision in the face of the fear I was experiencing to seek Christian counseling when it wasn’t a widely accepted thing to do. Essentially, I was choosing to start showing up differently in my world.  

I entered counseling, thinking there would be a quick fix. Maybe it would be the sharing of the trauma that would set me free from the pain it caused. Maybe it would be the confession of the severe self-contempt with which I was struggling that would set me free. Maybe it would the acknowledgement of just how out of control my disorder was as I was seeking control over my life, my emotions, and my body. Maybe it would be the tears I eventually shed as I grieved the losses caused by the trauma and the poor decisions that I had made in response to it.

Looking back, I now realize I was looking for a magical decision like the decision to show up differently to be the “cure all.” The “cure all” would be whatever would helped me become like a person who had never been traumatized and who had never developed an eating disorder. Over the course of my healing journey, I grew to accept and then grew to embrace the truth that my recovery wasn’t about a one-time decision to just show up differently in my world. I would have to make the same decisions over and over on a daily, hourly, and sometimes moment by moment basis. I will share a few of the decisions I have made.    

I chose to show up differently when I chose to talk honestly with my therapist about the different traumas I had experienced as a child, as a teen, and as an adult, facing and accepting the real story I had been living.  

I chose to show up differently every week when I was willing to grieve the life that I had been wishing I had had instead of the one from which I was recovering.   

I chose to show up differently when I decided to face the truth of how serious the disorder was and agreed to work with a doctor and a dietician to get my health back.

I chose to show up differently when I agreed to experience and sit in the pain that I had buried instead of numbing it with eating disordered behaviors.

I chose to show up differently every week when I participated in groups with others who had experienced similar traumas and eating disorders instead of isolating.  

I chose to show up differently when I revealed to my therapist the depth of the self-contempt I was experiencing and began to choose daily to believe I truly am who God says I am.

I chose to show up differently when I began to use my voice in relationships by asking directly for what I needed, desired, or preferred and allowing others the freedom to honor the requests or not.   

I chose to show up differently when I quit trying to control everything and everyone around me through co-dependent tendencies that I used to calm anxiety.

I chose to show up differently when I began to explore and embrace emotions God created me to feel and to manage them by identifying and changing cognitive distortions.  

I chose to show up differently when I had a dream in which every woman that I passed had no mouth and dead eyes and woke up begging God to give women their voices and wrote books to help others.

I chose to show up differently when I began to ask the Lord in faith, to show me where He was in all that I had experienced and began to see how truly beautiful and good God was and is in the midst of the ugly horrific things experienced.

I chose to show up differently when I began to rest in God’s love instead of trying to earn the love that He had already sacrificially given to me.

I chose to show up differently when I realized I had been trying to elicit love from other broken people who didn’t know how to love well and began to focus more on how I can love well by letting Jesus’s love flow through me.

I chose to show up differently when I acknowledged the hard all around us every day and chose to believe our God is bigger than the biggest mountain put in front of me, His love stronger than the vilest hate swirling around us, and His spilt blood is deeper than the sin I commit.

To be honest, this list is not exhaustive and is comprised of things that I have to choose repeatedly day after day, moment after moment so that I can show up differently, hoping to reflect the heart and the character of my God rather than a wounded broken human. I remember getting angry when I realized there was no quick or permanent fix. That anger makes me smile now because I know it is in my weaknesses and in the having to choose again and again to show up differently that I have come to experience God’s love and strength the most.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Desperate Places Revisisted

As I have been watching the war in Ukraine unfold, I was reminded of a post I wrote about desperate places. I wrote it after one of our pastors preached a sermon on John 4:46-54. This is an account of an official who was so desperate to save his son's life that he walked a marathon to beg Jesus to come and heal him. Pastor Matt described the man as being in a desperate place--as we watch news stories about the people leaving Ukraine, sheltering in place, and fighting in the war, we can see that they are definitely people living in desperate places. Desperate places simply defined are the places where life, as we once knew it, has been turned upside down. The very places we sometimes find ourselves feeling like we are at the end of the proverbial rope, shocked, powerless, and unsteady. It is the place we know only our God can help. 

I shared about a few of the desperate places I've been in. One of them being the day I turned ten. My family was planning on celebrating my birthday, but an unexpected phone call radically changed our plans. My mom's aunt, with whom we were close, had a serious stroke and was in intensive care in another town. Our celebration turned into several intense weeks as we traveled to the hospital that she was in. Because they did not let children visit patients, my siblings and I sat in the car or in the lobby waiting while my parents and grandmother visited my aunt and uncle. The first night we went, my uncle came downstairs to visit with us kids and he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry and his emotional pain scared me. And each time the phone rang at our house, my mom feared the worst and ran to answer it, choking back sobs before she even answered the phone. 

I experienced powerlessness as I watched the adults ride an emotional roller coaster full of ups and downs and scary turns. As a ten-year-old, I couldn't do anything to make my aunt get well and I couldn't do anything to take the pain away the adults were experiencing. All I could do was pray the simple prayers of a ten-year-old heart. I don't remember the prayers, but I do remember wanting her well and for things to be like they were before she got sick. I also remember desperately wanting God. I remember peace flowing through me as He met me in the fear of possible loss, the anxiety of seeing my caretakers hurting, and in my admitting couldn't fix it all. 

The second desperate place that came to mind was when our son had an ATV accident. I met him at the hospital, and we were told his collar bone was broken in several places. He had told the triage nurse he felt like he was bleeding inside, and she noted it in his chart. However, the ER doctor dismissed it as radiating pain from his collar bone. They sent us home and several days later he came out of his room gray. This time an ER doctor discovered his ruptured spleen and his belly filled with blood. When they wheeled him away, we assured him we would see him when he woke up, secretly fearing the worst. I was desperate and knew there was nothing I could do to guarantee the outcome I wanted. I was drawn to God and afraid of Him at the same time as He had the power to heal him but might choose not to. I was too tied up in knots too pray eloquent prayers, but felt His presence growing bigger, reminding me He was with us. There were complications and the stay in ICU stretched to 12 days and the regular hospital floor another 4. I showered and walked during the nurses' shift changes. In the shower tears flowed and on walks the prayers flowed directly from my heart to God's and He was near. 

The third desperate place was when my daughter-in-law was put in the hospital on bed rest during her pregnancy. She and my son were on the other side of the country, making daily decisions that no parents should ever have to make to get their child here safely. As my son kept me posted, I felt the same feelings of powerlessness I had felt as a child. All I could do was listen and tell him I was available anytime he needed me. I daily poured out my heart to God, telling Him everything I longed for in regard to my kids and their daughter. And God met me there in the middle of passionate prayers. We were at the beach when my son called with the news that they had no more choices left, but to deliver our granddaughter. She was three months early and a very sick little baby. Our son's voice was solemn as he gave us the news. My heart ached for them and I stayed up all night praying, asking God to intervene and let her live. Our son called back the next morning and said the x-rays that morning showed no sign of the infection that was there the night before. There was hope even though the next couple of months were critical for her. Our granddaughter was a fighter and held on and was soon thriving. 

When I watch the news, and see people fleeing, fathers saying goodbye to their families as they stay to fight, and the bombs being dropped, the desperate place over there seems so big for those people. Even though my desperate places haven't been as big in scale, I wonder if the lessons I learned might still speak some hope into their hearts. I learned that God can always be found in desperate places, but to find Him we must choose to lean into Him through radically honest prayers. I learned that desperate places were fertile soil for faith to grow exponentially as those places bring us face to face with what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about our God. 

I also learned there is a very real Enemy and if we don't continuously pray, he preys on us, trying to convince us that desperate places prove God doesn't love us. But the truth is that deep intimacy with God happens as we lean into Him in the hard, praising Him for who He is and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do in the future. I learned that faith is purified in the hard as it brings us face to face with our human limitations against the backdrop of His pure character and His powerful attributes. I learned desperate places purify our hearts as we have to decide if we really want Jesus or if we just want His benefits. I learned desperate places expose our tendency to make idols out of the things we desperately want and that idolatry is broken when we are put in a place we have to give the desires of our hearts to the Lord.

When I think of desperate places of course the Ukranian people come to mind, but so do many others--people who have stood over child sized coffins weeping, people who have dealt with cancer that came in its ugliest forms, people who have suffered through horrendous abuses whose cries went unheard, people whose lives were turned upside down by someone's decision to drink and drive, people who watched their hometowns burn to the ground, people who watched homes being swept away by floods, and people who were suddenly laid off, wondering how they could feed their families in the face of a pandemic. I also think of people who are currently living long in desperate places--people with debilitating pain of chronic illnesses no one can see, people watching as their loved ones’ minds slip away, others watching loved ones with sharp minds whose bodies begin to cease functioning, those living with infertility and unfulfilled longings, and those who suffer in the aftermath of mass shootings with PTSD and flashbacks they cannot control. Did they lean into Jesus and find hope? 

I also thought of those who will find themselves in desperate places this next year. Maybe they will be parents who will get that call from their soldier's commander because he won't be coming home because he or she sacrificed their life on the battlefield. Maybe it will be the woman whose doctor calls to say she has joined the community of those fighting cancer. Maybe it will be the parents of a student gone missing. Maybe it will be the businessman whose auditor tells him the only way out of debt is bankruptcy. Maybe it will be the couple whose marriage begins to crumble under the weight of betrayal, untreated mental illness, or self-destructive addictions. Will they lean into Jesus or will run from the very One who wants to minister to their heart? Will they see His infinite goodness, or will they believe the lies the enemy speaks? I am praying for them because I know that as much as I care, we have a Savior who cares infinitely more, longing to reveal Himself to them in ways they can't even imagine. Will they let Him instill hope into the desperate places?

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Man Named Joseph

Our church has been going through Genesis and recently covered the story of Joseph. Even though I have written about him before, I thought I would revisit his story. Joseph's father was Jacob and his family, well they were one big hot mess. To start with Jacob had fallen in love with a woman and worked seven years to marry her. But his father-in-law substituted his older daughter for the bride Jacob had worked so hard for. So, Jacob had to work another seven years for the one he loved and ended up with two wives. For several years the loved wife was barren while the unloved wife was birthing sons. Eventually there were twelve sons in all--two from the loved one and 10 from the unloved one and the concubines the wives had given Jacob, each hoping to increase their family size in an effort to find favor with Jacob. 

So, our man Joseph grew up in a family with two mother figures vying for his dad's affection. And his dad was a man who made some pretty serious parenting mistakes. First, he loved Joseph more than his other sons and he gifted him with a colorful coat, conveying his favoritism to the whole family of boys who were all longing for their father's favor. Second, when Jacob sent his older sons out to tend sheep, he sent Joseph out to check on them and the reports he gave Jacob were not always favorable. Needless to say, the brothers didn't grow any fonder of the tattle tale. 

Then there was a matter of dreams. God gave Joseph dreams that indicated his brothers would all bow in submission to him. Being 17, he did what teens would do--he bragged to the fam. In the midst of a family with two wives competing, a dad with rotten parenting skills, a son prone to bragging, and slew of sinful natures begam smoldering as they longed for their father's favor. The sibling rivalry grew into a great big, ugly hatred. 

After the coat giving, the dream bragging, and the hatred growing, Jacob sent Joseph once again to check on his brothers. When they saw him coming, they plotted to kill him and planned to tell their dad he had been killed by an animal. But one brother with a smidgen of integrity left suggested they throw Joseph in a cistern instead. When Joseph arrived, they stripped him of his identity as the favored one by stealing his coat. They threw him into a pit and calmly sat down to eat, which showed just how hard their hearts had become and how deeply rooted their hatred for Joseph was. By getting rid of him, they believed they might get what they craved the most--Jacob's favor. When a caravan traveling to Egypt came near, they pulled Joseph from the pit and sold him as a slave. They then showed his bloodied coat to their dad and Jacob grieved the deep grief parents grieve when they lose a child they love. 

That seems like enough hurt for one person to go through for a lifetime. But there was more suffering in the story God penned for Joseph to live. Joseph was bought by Potiphar and Potiphar realized God was with Joseph and put him over his whole house. Then Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, and he ran away as she grabbed his outer garment. Angered by Joseph's rejection, she claimed Joseph had attacked her and the lie she told landed Joseph in prison. 

Joseph rose to leadership within the prison population and despite his own circumstances he ruled with integrity over other prisoners. Two prisoners dreamed dreams that Joseph interpreted. One was released and promised to remember Joseph, but he did not and the other lost his life. It was not until Pharaoh dreamed dreams that no one in Egypt could interpret that Joseph was remembered by the freed prisoner. He told the Pharoah about Joseph and Joseph was summoned to interpret the dream that revealed seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh made Joseph a ruler and told him to prepare Egypt for the famine and he did.

As I read, I wished the story were written by a woman because a woman would have told us what Joseph thought and what he felt. But initially the story makes Joseph seem almost superhuman. At first, we aren't told about the grief Joseph experienced and I wondered if it was because his grief was overshadowed by his need to survive. We also aren't told about the anger that would kindle in his human heart that had been betrayed by his own flesh and blood, the anger fueled by being falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, and the anger added by being forgotten and left in prison. Maybe he was in denial of the pain he felt or maybe he was doing his best to stay focused on the steadfast love of God and His blessings that were poured out on him in each circumstance he faced. 

Just like us, Joseph had choices to make. He could put his eyes on the injustices he had experienced and the suffering he had endured, or He could put them on God who was at work in His life. He could choose to focus on the people who did him wrong and grow a hatred in his own heart or he could focus on the God who was blessing him in a foreign land. He could choose to lie in bed at night and plot the revenge his brothers deserved or allow God to work in their hearts as He filled him with peace and grace. He could focus on the mistakes his dad made, showing favoritism and asking him to tattle or he could choose to forgive. He could focus on his dream-bragging ways and hate himself or he could focus on God's grace and the dreams that He let him interpret and grow humility that dissipated the pride that had once dwelled in his young heart. 

We eventually do get a glimpse of the pain Joseph endured. During the famine his hungry brothers came knocking on his door to buy grain. He recognized them, but they did not know it was him. Joseph devised a plan to get them to bring his youngest brother to him. When they returned, he invited them to a feast. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome by emotion that he ran from the room to weep. When he decided to tell his brothers, he was so overcome with emotion that he wept so loud the whole household of pharaoh heard him. He revealed his identity and his brothers returned home to bring their dad and their families to live in Egypt under Joseph's rule. Joseph extended them grace, telling them what they meant for evil, God meant for good.  

There are several things we can take from Joseph's story. First, God's plans will not be thwarted by man's schemes. The brothers did end up bowing to the very brother they sold. A modern story that also reflects this same truth is the Jim Elliot and Steve Saint story. God sent them to people as His witness and the people murdered them. But God wanted these people's hearts, and He sent their wives and their families back to the tribes and used them and their grace to win the people's hearts. That abuser. That user. That slanderer. That betrayer. That murderer. They cannot stop God's plans.

Second, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in God is a God who blesses. God blessed Joseph in Egypt. He blessed him in Potiphar's house. He blessed him in prison. When we take our eyes off of our circumstances, off those who wrong us, off those who hate us, off of the disease we have, off the broken relationship that pains us so much, off the jobs we unfairly lost, and put them on God we will be able to see God's blessings, too.  

Third, God may take us to some places we don't want to go, so He can bless people as He blesses us. Potiphar was blessed. The jailor was blessed. Joseph's family was blessed--all because God blessed Joseph. My friend Mary Esther was taken through a cancer battle with her two-year-old son and she kept her eyes on Jesus and experienced His blessings daily. As they sat with their son after surgery and through chemo, the medical staff, their friends, their church family also experienced the blessings with which God was blessing them. In addition, someone gave her a journaling Bible and she shares the pictures she began drawing during that dark time of their lives and her journaling has gone viral. More and more people are being blessed by their story. Just as Joseph's trust in God saved people, her trust is showing people the way they can be saved.    

Fourth, there is nothing wrong with grieving losses and expressing pain. Joseph held his pain close until he could contain it no more. I believe God brought those brothers at just the right time to force Joseph to face the facts of what had been done to Him. And it was then that he grieved long and hard right in front of his brothers. I have a hunch his pain did a lot more convicting than his anger could have ever done. His pain, the grief their father experienced, and their fear of retaliation may well have been the chisels God used to soften the stone-cold hearts of his brothers. 

Finally, there is no offense so big that a heart in the hand of God can't forgive it. Joseph was hated. Joseph was thrown into a pit. Joseph was stripped of his identity. Joseph was taken from the pit to be sold as a slave. Joseph was taken to a foreign land where he was falsely accused of rape, cast into prison, and forgotten by someone he had helped. Yet, he worked hard, rose to power, and saved lives, including his own family which was the blood line of Jesus.

Suffering well allows God to do his work in us, in our families, in our church, in our community, and even in our nation. Suffering well allows us to experience God's love and blessing even in the hard. Suffering well allows us to see how God works in and through us. Suffering well produces patience, which produces endurance, which produces hope. I want to be like the man named Joseph, who learned to walk humbly with his God whose favor mattered the most. 


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!