Labels & Percentages

Labels and Percentages

I met an old friend for breakfast the other day, one that I hadn’t seen in person for over 25 years. We had followed each other on social media some, so we knew in general how each of us were doing, but man… was it good to catch up!

Seems that both of our lives have taken some unexpected and similar turns recently. The details – vastly different. But who we are finding God to be for us in the midst? Very similar. It’s amazingly crazy and yet so very… normal, when you think about who our God is.

One of the things that we both talked a little about was how we and our kids were now percentages. Statistics…… ones we never intended to be part of. It reminded me how much I had to face that reality at the end of last year, that I would now be labeled as a “divorced woman” and my kids from a “divorced” family. Internally, I was determined to fight to NOT wear that label for myself. I refuse to let it define me. Sure, that means my marital status will be single for quite a while, but it was the whole broken-home-and-I-couldn’t-fix-it definition I had to fight internally.

The reality is, we have all at one time or another worn labels in our own heads, or had a label slapped on us by someone else, haven’t we? As a kid they are ones like teacher’s pet, jock, stoner, geek, beauty queen, wall flower.. or maybe closer to home like good-for-nothing, idiot, worthless, ugly, invisible, unwanted, weakling – or any other plethora of things said to us or put on us by others. We ingested them, we may have fought them, or we may have leaned into them.

As adults sometimes more labels get tacked on, don’t they? Like being from a broken home, having a messed-up childhood, being an addict, having bipolar/OCD/depression/ODD (or any other diagnosable mental illness) or have an anxiety disorder. Then there are of course mom or dad or abandonment issues. Someone could be a workaholic, an absentee parent, a divorcee, widow, or single parent. Oh – and of course there are good labels too, but we wear them much less often.

Why do I bring this up? This is not news. We all know this. There are songs about it, pastors preach on it, magazine articles and blogsites are full of discussion about this reality, all the time.

Because we need to be reminded. Because so many of those labels do nothing but bring shame into our lives, and they say NOTHING about where our identity should come from, and we so often think that is the ground we have to build on. Yet our God is a God of redemption, one that enters the broken places in our world and our lives, and longs to bring something different to our understanding of our lives. You may have become something, or you may have coping skills because of your ‘label’…. but you are so much MORE. There is ground to still be staked in your life to take you out of shame, out of hurt, out of broken places. It can take a lifetime, but it’s worth fighting for.

Isaiah 51:1 has always been a favorite verse for me:

“Listen to me, you who pursue justice and rightness, and you who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn”

You were made from the stuff of eternity, the stuff of love, the stuff of beauty and goodness and what is right and just.

Do you get that?

You are not your label or statistic

Sure, it may have changed how you see and operate in the world. Yes, it probably gave you scars. Yes you may have to take medication to deal with it, and you may need others to help you through the crap it left you with. But your label doesn’t define you, and it certainly doesn’t define how much good your life can have in it or what you can become.

This is what our God-in-the-flesh came to do – as Isaiah 61 speaks about:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve….

Please don’t just gloss over the truth of this. I know we hear it all too often. Stop reading this as just as captivity and darkness = sin.

We are captive to our labels, we are prisoners to our addictions and the things we do to hide our hearts. Can you see that? Can you hear how determined our God is in this passage?

Isaiah says he came to crown us, trade our mourning and despair into joy and LIFE.

In verse 7 he says “instead of shame, to receive a double portion… instead of despair you will have an inheritance” . Think of areas in your life where you have felt shame or despair. Can you hear the heart of God, that this is not the way it will always be for you?

Part of the work of redemption in our lives is the vengeance of God on all the stuff this world has brought against us to cause pain and hurt in our lives that has tried to, and continues to try to rip away the image of his goodness in us.

Dear one.. I hope that when you are in a season of challenge, or when the past comes calling, you can remember this:

God is FOR YOU. You are not your label, you have a greater defender than you realize, and you are made of the stuff of eternity.

Start carrying THAT label in your heart!

For the love of… what?

This is Oliver, our Maine Coon. He’s about 21 pounds, looks like a little lion when we have him trimmed, and he’s a “spiritual cat”….. Haha, just kidding – he lays pretty much on any piece of paper or book around :-). Yesterday was the day I dropped Oliver and our youngest off at CSU for her second year of school – and his first. It was hot, and because he doesn’t like traveling, he decided to poop in his crate half way to Fort Collins. Needless to say, Oliver got a bath the minute we got to school. He smells like coconut now, Maia is moved in and happy to see her friends again. All is well.

Me, I’m taking a few days to explore the northern part of the state that I always drive by on the way to and from Fort Collins. Benefits of working from home mean that you can pretty much work from anywhere – so today and tomorrow my office is a quaint Airbnb with great wifi and not too far from Estes Park and Boulder. Oh, and the house has this KILLER bookshelf with a ladder that leads to a loft!

Can you get any cooler than that?? I want one!! Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a book nerd…but if you have read any of my other posts you saw my bookshelf. This would definitely be a nice upgrade – with room for growth! (Hey, a girl can dream, right??)

So today after work I decided to head on up to Estes Park. The drive was gorgeous – although the down side is there are so many turns I couldn’t sit and just watch the scenery because, well, I was the one driving to make sure I’d get there. Side note: If you visit Colorado, do it with a friend. Or me. Or someone to drive FOR you so you can enjoy it all.

Anyway….the town is darn cute. Who knew you could fit that many taffy shops and ice cream shops in a 1/2 mile stretch? I found a great photographer’s art gallery, one that takes pictures all seasons – this guy can actually capture the purples and pinks of the sky. He’s amazing. I wanted one of his prints for my house but the $750 price tag was a bit steep. I treated myself to a small 4×6 matted one instead.

On a riverwalk behind all the shops you can just stroll and listen to the mountain spring that rushes through the town. There are benches every few hundred feet for you to sit and relax, so I chose one away from much of the crowd and closed my eyes for a bit just to be quiet. It was one of those times where I realized I had set these days apart for searching, for seeking, and my soul was definitely longing to hear from the Lord.

What I need, I don’t really know. I’m not asking a particular question, there is just this sense that I’m … waiting. Ever have those times? Those times where the something bigger in the universe, the something bigger in God calls out to the well of deep in your own soul, and just won’t leave you alone.

“Deep calls to deep….” the psalmist says (Ps 42:7)

It’s one of those moments when you know that no matter the noise in your life, no matter the chaos swirling around you, no matter the mundane things, the ridiculously bothersome things, and the unanswered questions…..your soul KNOWS it was made for more. It cries out for its creator and there is no stopping it.

I think sometimes we forget to stop and listen to that longing, even maybe unconsciously without realizing why. Yet the longer we push it aside, the more our heart starts to justify maybe it was just our imagination, or we’re just being too sensitive, or we tell ourselves why would God want to just sit with us anyway? I know, I talk about this a lot…. listening to the very voice, seeking the very presence of the One we call God. But how can I not? This is where LIFE within life is found. And when we can tune and re-tune our hearts, minds, and souls to that presence, we begin to see Him everywhere.

I love how Audrey Assad puts it, in the chorus of her song “For Love of You” (2010):

You are my deepest longing

and so I see you everywhere

It’s you I’m chasin’ after

‘Cause I am captivated by who you are

and how you move

I’ll follow you forever

So that would be my question to you tonight .. What is your heart and mind captivated by lately? Is it leading you to life, or away from it? I know there are seasons of faith, my friend, and I know that some of them can seem dull, too long, too difficult. Some of you may be ready to walk away or give up because of the pain. But God is so more faithful than you realize. Know that HE is captivated by you… so take the time and let your soul breathe!

Burden of proof

Those of you who know us are probably wondering how the girls are doing in all this. Well, I’ll be honest: they are doing better than they were last winter. I know the news hit them just as hard back then, for more than a few reasons. (But they are strong and working through things, and I am really proud of them!)

Let me backtrack a bit.

When we lived in Illinois and the girls were in 3rd or 5th grade (or 2nd and 4th, I can’t recall exactly), nearly all of their friends parents were getting divorced. It was heartbreaking to watch and to see how it was coming out in their friendships. Their friends would get mad at them for no reason – and we knew it was because of the stress going on at home. All we could be was a safe haven for them at that time. Naturally, both girls came to us with questions… and so we did our best to reassure them that no, we loved each other and would never head down that road. We were honest, telling them that marriage is hard but God gives us strength. We knew it was important for them to feel secure in our love and relationship. What kid doesn’t need that? When they are young, your togetherness is often their grounding.

Nothing about what we told them was false. It’s not like things were bubbling under the surface and waiting to explode (that I know of). Jon and I were in this together and we really worked hard at being each other’s best friends and supporters. We knew we wanted to model something for the girls that was different than what they saw all around them – and show them that marriage COULD last a lifetime.

Fast forward 12 years and … well…. now we are now one of the “statistics” too.

The label I knew the kids would carry for the rest of their lives haunted me.

It exposed in me a fear I didn’t know I was bound by (how can you when they are seemingly coming out of every corner?)

I knew I didn’t want to be ruled by my fears, and I knew that facing them and finding the truth was going to help me NOT live out of them, so I tried to deal with them when they came up. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure – but what other option is there?

In a way it felt like taking apart a chain link fence one loop at a time.

One of the big fears I had in going through this whole thing was how it was going to impact our girls’ view of and desire for marriage.

My counselor thought I was kidding, that I had no friends who I had watched go through a divorce. Did I know divorced people? Yes. But did any of our friends get divorced? NO. Because in a faith community, you help each other keep your vows. You walk through the hard parts of marriage together, because that is what a covenant is. For better or worse, in sickness and in health. Through all of life. (Note: I am not saying there are not circumstances that definitely warrant divorce, just that where those do not exist, you work through things together with your community)

What had settled in my soul was a HUGE fear that somehow, in spite of all we had taught and modeled thus far for the girls, the dissolving of our marriage would ruin it all.

After talking with a my best friend about this one night, she shared some things about her own life that got me to thinking.

Her story gracefully started unraveling what I had been holding onto so tightly.

She was the product of divorced parents, yet she has been married for 30 years and she has a great marriage. Her faith in God is strong- in fact, I have had the privilege of watching her come alive to God in new ways over the past year that are just amazing! My friend shared that even though her parents split when she was a teenager, she had a relationship with both of them, and their commitment to still get together helped her through her young adult years.

I needed to hear that was possible, because it is what I was hoping for the entire time. I know relationships between Jon and I and the girls will change, and I know it will take time, but somehow I needed to hear that our actions won’t ruin their chances for a stable marriage. Yes I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have obviously let stories I have heard of kids whose parents divorced give up on the possibility of a long marriage drive my impression of how this goes in the long run.

The morning after that conversation brought to light another side of the fear.

I remember taking the girls through some of the book of Proverbs when they were in elementary school (in my attempts to do some sort of devotion with them). One I remember, which was especially close to my heart, was Prov 3:3 – “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them on your heart, write them on the tablet of your heart”. I loved the imagery of that advice, and, having found this verse early in our marriage, it had become a banner for me. To me, this was the challenge for every marriage, as I had always believed that marriage is an earthly example of God’s commitment to us and unconditional love for us – so faithfulness and love were huge in my mind (and still are, let me just clarify).

As I read the verse again, fearful that somehow the concepts of love and faithfulness would now fall on deaf ears, I realized that this verse wasn’t spoken to a son in the context of marriage. Love and faithfulness still apply – they are life choices in any relationship. Why had I limited it to just marriage?? And, as my friend challenged me last night – Jon and I can still be faithful friends. After all, we have been best friends for over 28 years, so why would that change?

I started talking with the Lord about all this, about my fear of this ruining the girls’ idea that marriage can last a lifetime, about dashing hopes that a good strong marriage could ever happen for them, and realized that somehow I had latched onto a belief that I was responsible for the burden of proof that faithfulness and marriage can last.

Almost as quickly thereafter came this one:

Who told you that was your job?

It took me a few minutes to process.

Who told you that was your job?

Slowly, as I pondered the still quiet voice that I know is the One that unearths all the hidden beliefs and deep things in my soul, I realized I had been carrying a burden I wasn’t meant to carry. I am not, and never have been, the owner of faithfulness and love – God is.

I cannot tell you how freeing that recognition was. It felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me all of a sudden, and I could breathe again.

It felt good to breathe.

So my question to you, my friends, is what burden of proof are you carrying that is not your job? We all do this at some point, don’t we? We carry the burden of being “perfect” Christians to our unbelieving families, as if our perfection will woo their heart. We work hard to provide for our families, as if it’s fully up to us to make sure they have what they need.

This is a story of the burden of proof I had to learn to let go.

I challenge you to think about whether or not you are doing this in your own life… and if you are….can you let go?

It’s pretty freeing.

Blessings!

Tama

Hidden glory

…..

There are three horizontal windows in the front of our house. They are about three feet wide and 12 inches tall, and they are stacked on top of each other. From the outside of the house, they provide some pretty cool visual detail on the 2nd story (as you can see above the front door). From the inside, they are at the landing where the steps turn from the kitchen and living room open space to go to the third floor bedrooms.

I have my cedar chest sitting there on the landing, mainly because… well… its a huge landing and it seemed to be the right piece of furniture to set there. Because it has a padded top, it is often a resting place for Oliver. Other times, its a barking perch for Gracyie as she surveys her domain for the neighborhood watch.

One morning recently I decided I would sit there for a bit and watch the sunrise as it crept over the horizon. The colors I could see were going to be just brilliant.

There was just one problem.

The other houses in the neighborhood blocked my line of sight. Pretty badly. All I could see was some of the pink and tangerine hues peeking out on either side of my neighbors houses. Bummer.

But, eager to have some peace before the busyness of the day started, I sat there, hugged my knees, and started praying. ‘I wish I could see the whole sunrise,’ I thought. It would be so much better.

Then quietly I heard a whisper, as faint as ever:

Sometimes my glory is hidden by the things of earth

And although I knew what the Lord was saying, and although I had a very visible example of what He was talking about, I felt immediately like Jesus’s disciples, just like in the gospels where they would pull him aside after a great parable or analogy and ask him what the heck he was talking about. Have you ever felt like that?

All I wanted to do was ask ‘Can you explain it to me better, Lord? What do you really mean, and how does that relate to life in the real world?’ The house blocking the sunset is perfect. I get that. But you know I have trouble thinking outside the box, Lord. Help me understand what you are trying to get me to see.

I find myself coming back to this question often, especially when I am with people. I find myself asking the Lord to open my eyes to see His glory at work in their lives and what they do

It has made me wonder if its because I tend to dwell in the practical that

I struggle to see the glory.

I know I can’t be the only one who has that struggle.

Scripture is full of verses about the glory of the Lord, and most of them probably make us think of His beauty in creation, His beauty in the cross and his self-sacrificing love for us. Maybe they make us think about stories of how He has held us in the deepest, darkest times in our lives. Those are all beautiful examples, and those I get.

But a book I have been re-reading lately has made me remember this:

God’s glory is ALSO like fingerprints of his work in the world to redeem and change lives.

Like … when people work together in a community to save children being taken for sex trafficking, and bring down the systems that facilitate such injustice. Or when someone figures out, even if they aren’t in church, (or, even if they are of another faith) that forgiveness is a good thing. Or when people work to have an honest conversation about difficult topics like prejudice and bias, or do the hard work of healing relationships. Or when people overcome addictions through groups like AA, or rally around their friend or neighbor with a mental illness.

The more I look around, the more I am convinced of this fact: God is not limited to working or showing His presence, his reality, and his impact in the world to just people who claim Jesus as their Savior. Does He use those who call him Lord to show his Glory? Absolutely! That is part of God’s call to us as believers, as reflected in two well know verses in both the Old and New Testaments:

Isaiah 43:12 “You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘That I am God’”

1 Peter 2:9 “….you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”

But for those of us know know the Lord, my question is this: Can we see and call out the truth, maybe even the fingerprints of God, that are sometimes hidden….

Behind the things that dazzle and steal our attention

Behind a religious facade or a theology we might not resonate with

Behind people we don’t understand

Behind a wall of fear, in ourselves or in others

Behind a mountain of insecurities

Behind hurt and pain that seems too difficult to let go of?

Or are we too afraid?

Is our understanding of God too small?

If God’s glory is to be found in the hidden places, maybe we who know Him still need to ask for our blind eyes to be allowed to see.

May you see the glory hidden by the things of the earth in your life around you today!

A confession

Tonight, I struggle to write this blog. Why, I ask myself? I know a piece of it is because I have had a hard time putting it into words myself. It has taken a few weeks to even understand exactly what I have feeling … or “wrestling” with, if you will. So what do I do? I pack up my backpack and head to the newest coffee shop I found, about 20 minutes from my house. I have become a fan of lavender lattes as of late, and they make some pretty darn good ones! My hope is that somehow the atmosphere and getting out of the house will help me craft what I want to say…. so here goes.

As some of you may or may not know, I moved to Colorado just last year after having been planted in northern Illinois for almost exactly 13 years. Me and the family left a wonderful little church in Plainfield, one that will always hold a special place in my heart. I knew coming to Colorado Springs would afford us a plethora of churches to visit, and I am thankful that God helped me find the one I am at now. I have a great home group and am growing in relationship with them. I am helping with something small every week, and I am gradually getting to know people. Yet last week the very last thing the youth pastor said in his sermon on Jonah hit me harder than I wanted to admit:

What are YOU running from?

That question sat in my soul like the ones that do when you know the Holy Spirit is speaking to you oh-so-very-directly. The kind where you might want to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la-la-la-la-la-I-cant-hear-you!” — but you can, of course, because, well, it’s the Lord and He is pretty gentle but persistent when there is something He wants you to pay attention to.

Sigh.

Yes Lord, I’m listening. What AM I running from?

The more I sit and think, the more I become very aware of the fact that I am running from diving in and getting more connected, and I hate that recognition. I know that here, the best way is to join one of their book studies, and that is the LAST thing I want to do. I frankly have no desire to open up and share my entire life with strangers right now. The 8 friends I have made are keeping me connected just fine, thank you.

Yet the sense that is no longer sufficient for me is relentless. I know I am in a phase where I have a lot to learn, and my argument that school starts in the fall so of course I won’t have time – seems petty. Somehow I realize that sitting on the sidelines is no longer going to be an option for me if I am to dive in and find the life here that I want….

And suddenly I realize I have to face something I have not wanted to face. Maybe you’ll get this, if you’ve been there, or you know someone who has:

Because of other peoples’ hurt and pain over the church, I fear what they will think when I dive in again. How can I go back to the church (big C) when she sometimes gets it wrong, when she has hurt and caused pain and brokenness in so many lives, lives I have had front-row seats to watch?

I certainly have been the recipient of some of those wounds. I have had to keep secrets and hold my tongue for the sake of showing respect (or out of fear); I have seen hurts be perpetuated and felt helpless to make a difference. I hear the voice of the critics and those who have walked away … and sometimes all I can say is… I know.. I hear you.. and I am so, so sorry… how I wish I could take away your pain…

With so many of her flaws, why could I ever go back?

I know that is probably a question some of you have asked as well.

For me – my answer is this, no matter how much it might not make sense to some:

How can I not?

Because I still think the Church is beautiful when she gets it right. I can’t give up on her. God is doing new things in her, every day, and yes it takes a long time to move mountains but I can’t let go because the deep love of Jesus is so much more than we have ever understood. I want to be part of what helps fix the wrongs and mends the wounds, if that is even possible.

Because I know this thing of faith is still a treasure in a field that is worth selling all I have. This kingdom where everyone has a place – old and young, Republican and Democrat, black and white, native and immigrant, rich and poor, gay and straight – they all belong.

Because this project God started is still a good one and the world still needs to be transformed by radical acts of love and mercy. The poor still need Justice, the forgotten and ignored still need to be lifted up and told they are beautiful and made in the image of an amazing God who loves without limits. Because we still need to learn how to look someone we don’t understand in the eye and give them the respect they deserve, and I firmly believe it is the work of God in someone’s life that can make that kind of lasting change if we will submit to it.

That is the kingdom work, my friends, and our world is crying out for it.

So wherever you are – if you are in church, if your relationship with church is tenuous at best, or if you have given up – know that the treasure you once found is still in that field. Push past the fights over land rights and ownership crap, close your eyes to everyone picketing around the piece of land that say its not for sale and you can’t buy it because you aren’t worthy or because its not going to matter anyway.

The treasure is still worth holding onto, and your Jesus is still there waiting, just for you. I’m pretty sure he is hurting for what you have had to put up with too.

The Gospel and the Sunrise

[Hi all… This weekend I am stuck inside with a bout of food poisoning (ugh) – so pulling one out of the archives that I never posted.]

When we first started visiting the church we went to in Illinois, our pastor would ask a question: What if the gospel was meant to be more like the sunrise than a religion?

I have to admit, I didn’t get it at first. It sounded beautiful, but you see, I am not the poetic type, so analogies often get lost on me. I am sure he explained it at some point, but I just always assumed he meant what if the gospel, the good news Jesus came to bring was meant to be beautiful and not one that laid a burden on our backs? After all, Jesus is the one that said “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

I’m not really sure how or when the gospel that started out so beautiful became a burden to me. Somehow over the years, my need for perfection, my fear of failure, and my incessant need to keep people happy, combined with teachings on leading holy lives and letting God reveal everything in you that wasn’t good led me down a road that made what was once a beautiful path into feeling like I was always missing the mark. I would read verses in the Psalms that talked about pure hands and pure hearts, and verses in Philippians about thinking only of good things, and all I remember feeling was that I would never measure up. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”, Jesus said (Matt 5:48). I felt like I was failing miserably.

Slowly and subtly, the message I began to hear (not that this was always what was taught, but we hear things and take them in based on our own experiences and understandings, keep in mind) was that yes Jesus died for my sin. I was “saved” and my eternity secure, but no matter what I did – how much I served, loved, gave – I would never measure up to what He asked of us here. Rather than the bible being words of life, they became words of condemnation for me. Every time I read them, I would hear criticism of my own life and how I never measured up. I would find things I had never thought about and prayed God would help me try harder to remember that new truth I had to watch out for. Underlying guilt consumed me, guilt that I would never be good enough for what God had done, never be a good enough example, a bright enough star to “shine in this dark universe” and reflect what I was supposed to, showing people God was real.

What boggles my mind as I look back on who I was then is that it never occurred to me that underneath it all, a subtle shift began to occur. The sense that I could never meet God’s holy standard covered my life. I loved God with all my heart, and yet I lived with this deep sense that I could never, ever, ever do all that he asked of us to be his example on this earth.

I remember the first time I really heard about grace. Not that it hadn’t been talked about before – but the first time I got it. We lived in Ohio and were attending a huge Vineyard church known as the Dayton Vineyard at the time. The pastor that was preaching that morning was talking about God’s grace and how full and how covering it was over our lives. He put it this way (and I’m not sure of his exact words, but this is how I heard it): “Imagine if God had this huge paint roller, and he dipped it in a big 20 gallon bucket of paint, and then just slathered you with it. Thats how much God’s grace covers our lives.”

I cannot tell you what that started in me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still have a picture of a paint roller in my journal, next to those two words.

I remember driving home that day from church in silence. I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. I remember standing there, hands on my kitchen counter getting ready to make lunch and realizing it was the FIRST time I had ever walked away from church without feeling guilty.

It blew my mind. You would think I had never heard of grace before. Little did I know that would only be the first of many steps towards finding freedom in who I really was in Christ. And this – this is what I love most about our God. You see, without warning, without my asking for it, my Jesus had come searching for this lost little sheep of his, to pick the burrs out of my coat, give me fresh water to drink, and to teach me for the first time what he really thought of me.

It was life-giving. I was finally able to believe in the deep love the Father had for me, and it began to shape me in a way I never expected. Gone was the fear, gone was the shame, all replaced with this glorious knowledge that I was loved. Finally I began to believe what Jesus said, that when I remained in Him, and he in me, that together we could do great things.

Whether you call it deconstruction, or a crisis of faith, or even just a season in your walk, letting the Lord shake off ways of thinking that push you away from the life He offers is critical. After all, that IS part of the transformation of our lives, our faith, isn’t it?

Now, I get the sunrise analogy. Waking up early in the midwest, watching the fluorescent pink and mango brilliance of the sun start small and spread across the whole breadth of the park near my house and the fields nearby, I get it. The goodness and love and grace of our God often starts small. But when it breaks into our lives – whether through tragedy, kindness, curiosity, or sundry other ways – it is meant to grow, to spread out and melt out over the entire expanse of our lives…. until all of it is swallowed up by His radiance.

My friends, wherever you are on your walk with the Lord, my prayer is that you, too, would know this grace, this love and light that longs to pour out over your life like the glory of a morning sunrise!

Who does your thinking?

I have this little post-it note sitting on my standing desk beneath my monitor, mainly so that I can see it front and center. Right now, it’s about as close as I am going to get to God hand-writing a note to me… but lately it’s something I have needed to remind myself of more than I’d like to admit.

In case you can’t read it, it says “Who does your thinking for you?”

Have you ever had a season in life where maybe you were in a rough spot, you were working through things, and eventually you get to a place where you are feeling ok, and then something happens and your mind gets thrown out of whack?

Yeah.. I just caught myself in that place this past weekend. You see, I would like to think I am a pretty positive person, always looking on the bright side of things. Even when life gets hard. I dig in, trust God will get me through, and keep plugging. I guess you could say my default thinking kind of runs like this:

  • Default: I’m doing well!
  • Default + hard stuff = I’m doing ok, keeping my head up and believing for the best
  • Default + hard stuff + outside voices = well maybe I shouldn’t be ok? Am I missing something here?

It’s this last part that I want to talk about today. Somehow I have this weird guilt feeling that I shouldn’t be doing so well when things get hard because everyone expects certain types of reactions from us when we hit hard things in life. Sure, sometimes we DO feel the “expected reaction” – like if you lose someone you love, you are going to go through some serious loss and grief that only others who have been there get the depth of. Or if you are betrayed by a friend, or you lose a job or house, or you are diagnosed with an illness of some kind. Anger, denial, numbness, hopelessness, disillusionment…. you name it, any of those would be considered “normal” in cases like this, right? So you work through them. You process with people, with counselors, with God.

Eventually you start to see rays of hope, pieces of joy that seemed just a bit too far at the start. Then maybe you start to feel better – like really better!

At some point, voices will surfaces that will lend their thoughts, wanted or unwanted: people who didn’t know what was going on, social media rants or blog posts, books or articles or songs that speak to whatever hard thing you are dealing with. Now, sometimes voices can sometimes be good and help you along – challenging you with hope, kindness, patience, forgiveness….. or they might give you permission to feel something you were afraid to feel.

Then there are the times that these voices might make you question how well you are doing. You sure you are ok? You’re not just hiding/avoiding/ignoring? (Which sometimes is totally ok, don’t get me wrong!)

The reality is that when you serve a living God, whose very breath fills your lungs and spirit lives inside of you… there is something that is net different as you walk through difficult seasons.

A few weeks ago I was reading again in Isaiah and ran across this verse, which I had not read in a while:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….”. (Isa 41:10)

And I sat and thought about that for a minute. This doesn’t have a qualifier on it like “I’m with you only in the big stuff”, or “ I’m with you when you don’t know what to do”.

Iam with you, so do not fear, God says. Period.

What about God being with us should make us not afraid? The easy answer is that, well, he’s big and he’s God so … there. But the reality is that we have to dig pretty deep to be aware of that presence and let it change our experience, don’t we?

Just knowing this in our heads doesn’t necessarily crowd out the voices that tell us we should be afraid, or make us recall the past, or that what others think makes more sense, or even a zillion other things that our mind might concoct to instill fear….. because to just tell ourselves “don’t listen to that voice” is like saying don’t look at the elephant in the room. Sometimes it makes us think about it more!

We have to move beyond head knowledge alone to more of a deep knowledge in our soul, one that is born of His Spirit, reminding us of God’s actual presence and power with us to get us through.

As I have been studying the Old Testament, the very presence of God is one thing that we keep coming back to. Every battle, every hard thing – God always reminded them “I’ve got this”. It didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight or chase the enemy to keep or capture land. But God being with them was huge. His presence was the deciding factor on whether they won or lost the battle. For us today, our battles are different. Often we don’t know the outcome, and what we want isn’t always what happens – but God’s presence with us SHOULD change how we experience whatever we’re going through. It’s time to stop thinking just “yep, I know God’s with me BUT…. “

No. “God IS with ME”. Not just the world, not just everyone when they are together in church. Me. You. Personally. Right there as you walk through whatever you walk through.

Are we still going to go through seasons and have hard times? Of course. Jesus says we will have trouble, but that his peace is real for us in the midst (John 14:27) of whatever we face.

Dear ones, this active knowledge of God with us takes practice. We don’t always get it right, but we have to start somewhere. I challenge you today, to ask the Holy Spirit to make you more aware of the truth that God is with you, so that His presence changes how you experience what you are going through.

After all, if he can hold the world together, don’t you think he can hold you together too?

What is freedom?

My new routine in the morning has me up, pets fed and out, by about 5:15 in the morning. Still dark, and pretty cold in the lower level of the house, I then like to curl up in a really fuzzy blanket, hop on the couch, and pray for a bit to start my day. Now granted, not every morning starts like this (especially NOT the ones where I forget I have a 6am meeting and have decided to “sleep in” til 5:30. Those are a bit more rushed!)

Anyway.. this morning I grabbed my daughter’s old bible and flipped to Corinthians. The verse they had circled and highlighted to focus on was one that brought to mind an old worship song:

2 Cor 3:17 “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”

I thought… yes… how true I have found that to be.

But my next though was how I could say that only because I had experienced it in my own life. How would someone who had never experienced the freedom of God read this? Yet I know we do this sometimes, don’t we? Its easy to read a verse you have read before and maybe mentally acknowledge it, yet never really GET it.

Kind of like the treasure in the field that Jesus talked about. You have to dig. You have to want it and set out to find it, and when you do, its fully your choice to find yourself back at that place.

So what was Paul talking about when he said there is freedom where the Spirit of the Lord is? Freedom from what? I’m not sure he was talking about strictly salvation.

In this same passage Paul is talking about how people can often have veils over their eyes or their hearts to understand the message that God wants to share with them. He is specifically speaking about the Jews hearing the message of Jesus, but think about this in your own life: haven’t there been times when you have just felt blind to spiritual truths or things about God that you didn’t get, and then something happened or you went through an experience and all of a sudden you feel like your eyes were opened to understand something new?

So think about the idea of freedom in this context. Whether its a veil over our understanding of God, or a wall we put up holding him at arms length – it’s to this place I think what Paul said made the most sense:

When you are in a place where God’s Spirit is, there is freedom:

– freedom to admit you don’t have it all together, and let Him hold you and bring His peace

– freedom to let go of an image you feel you have to uphold for other people

– freedom to ask questions you are too afraid to put into words

– freedom to set down burdens and guilt you have been carrying, and receive His mercy

– freedom to not have to be the one in charge any more, and breathe in His strength

– freedom to be who you were called to be, without any competing voices

– freedom to laugh and find joy in the face of circumstances that shout “you can’t have that now!”

– freedom to climb up into the arms of One who loves you no matter how big your daddy/mommy/abandonment/identity issues are, and no matter who thinks you are nuts for still believing in a God that is able to love this deeply

The most beautiful truth about this? God’s spirit is ever present. Yes, there are times when it might be more evident, like in a time of worship or silent reverence, but its also found in those deep conversations between friends. Or in places of natural beauty that iPhones and cameras strain to capture.

This time of year, as all sorts of voices shout at you for all sorts of reasons, I hope that you take time to remember it was a pretty dark and ugly world that Jesus stepped into… kind of like ours today. I also hope you can believe that part of His purpose was to bring your heart and your soul out of the darkness that it might find itself in from time to time.

So let his light shine for you today, and welcome His Spirit, as much as you can grasp, that you might be able to find some places of freedom this season!

Pea Soup

IMG_4694Earlier this week, I woke up one morning at 4:30. I had not planned on waking up that early, but I was wide awake – and for some reason I could not wait to get out for a run.

It was a cool morning – in the 50’s – and still completely dark, save the few street lights in our new neighborhood. As I turned the corner and headed out towards the new high school being built nearby, I realized it was foggy. Very foggy. It was so dense that all I could make out was the muted glow of the lights around the high school.

It was glorious.

Silence, all around, save the sound of the wind whipping the flag on the flagpole as I ran by.

I felt like I had entered sacred ground in a way, because across from the new high school was a huge plot of land that was not yet developed. There was a sidewalk on the outside edge, but behind that – nothing.

I had to stop and look at it for a minute, and stare into the thick nothingness that I could not see. This is the perfect picture of where I am and where I am headed, I thought. Fully confident of the presence of God, yet fully unaware of what waits beyond the next few steps in front of me.

I have come to love fog for that very reason – because it is such a perfect visual of what the presence of God is like – what it can seem like, I guess I should say – at different times in our lives, or even just at different times in worship. It is a reminder that we can breathe him in and stand in His very presence. It’s beautiful, mysterious, satisfying…and promised to us, if only we will pursue Him and do the work of waiting.  

The only thing I could see in the midst of the fog was the white line of the bike lane on the road, so of course I kept my eyes on it the whole time. It kept my footing sure and my path going the right direction, even though I still couldn’t see much.

Isn’t that just like faith? There are times in our lives where things get foggy, and the next steps are not always clear. Maybe we can barely see the road in front of us – or maybe we cannot see it at all – but as we all know, life doesn’t just stop. Neither does faith.  In fact, that’s the point of faith, to keep walking with God, knowing he is your plumbline, even when you don’t have directions and can’t see where you are going or what’s up next.

I like how The Message puts it: “… this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living…” (Heb 11:1) Other translations use words like “evidence of what we hope for” and “substance of things unseen”.  But you see, this isn’t just vague faith that eventually things will get better, or that things will work out.

Faith, grounded in the work of Jesus love for us on the cross and his ability to raise our lives from the dead even as we still walk this earth – that kind of faith is trusting He will never abandon you, even when things seem foggy. It’s holding to promises God has made of his provision, ability to comfort and counsel, even when evidence might seem to speak to the opposite.

Faith sometimes involves walking forward in the next thing without the daily reassurance that you made the right decision… but resting in the One that called and promises to go before you.

So today, I leave you with one of my new favorite songs, it’s called “Steady Heart” by Amanda Cook….. (but you can search for it yourself on YouTube or Spotify) 🙂