In with the new?

As believers, we might easily quote verses and pictures proclaiming “Beauty for Ashes”, holding to the image that God can bring anything good out of something hard. Or, we find encouragement in a song like “God’s not done with you” – clinging to the fact that our unfinished stories can still hold purpose and promise in the years ahead.

I honestly believe this is true, yet the reality is that until you have had this truth tested, it only feel so real to you. It’s not “yours” – until you walk it, own it, and come out the other side. Then… its no longer just a cute little picture. Its a deep truth, burned into your life, built into your theology.

I will share this as a precursor to the post: I look back, and have to admit there was a day where I once felt like a piece of my heart died with my marriage, and I wondered if it would ever return. I trusted God would bring me back to life. I thought for sure all of my heart would be resurrected…. Then I would hit a day every now and then and wonder if I could ever experience delight and joy in a relationship like I had before. It was on a day where those feelings were right on the surface that I wrote this.

I share this just as a testimony to how much the Lord heals our memories, how much he can shift things for us that need to be shifted, even when we seem stuck. Because in reading this over again – I guess I was stuck. I hope it will be an encouragement for some of you that may be stuck in your own way.

P.S. In case you’re wondering.. Joy has returned and I am floored at quite a number of things right now 🙂

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Today I ran for the first time in a while. Spring finally in full display, from the trees to the flowers blooming, to the scents that mark a holiday weekend floating in the air (everyone was grilling out for Memorial Day cookouts). It was beautiful. It reminded me of when life was simple, and all I cared about was life and loving Jesus more and more. Sometimes I wish I could go back – back before the scars, before the hurt of life marred the way I see the world. Before I had to start over all again.

I keep thinking of a verse the Lord gave me a while back:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing; Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” Says the Lord (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)

It’s hard for us as people, not to look back, isn’t it? Back to before when we were younger, or when we were single or married, or before we lost our job, our loved one, our whatever we built our life around before it got so complex. Before we gave into the addiction, before our body started breaking down, before we left the life we had and moved across the country. Before we started asking questions or …. before whatever.

You know we’re not alone in thinking that way, right?

The Israelites did the same thing. Over and over, when God was bringing them to freedom in the wilderness, they longed for the things of Egypt. They longed for when they had meat in abundance and luxuries, obviously forgetting their great slavery. They forgot that the idols they worshipped were powerless, that the gods they served were but figments of their imagination.

I’m not saying things in our past were idols necessarily. After years of fearing anything I enjoyed was an idol, I have set down that way of thinking, and I’m not about to take it back up again. Yet what is it about looking back and longing for things that were?

Sure, sometimes its because we are afraid of change, but that’s not always it.

More often, I can’t help but wonder if its because its what we know, and the new seems unfamiliar and strange. There is no map, there isn’t a pocket guidebook for what’s next or what to do when we get there.

Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the Lord reminds them that the foundations of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. He will move on their behalf, even though they don’t remember him

Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)

“I will go before you

and will level the mountains;

I will break down gates of bronze

and cut through bars of iron.

I will give you hidden treasures,

riches stored in secret places,

so that you may know that I am the Lord,

the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Poetic. Mysterious. Something to make them wonder. He never tells them what the “hidden treasures” will look like, or how He will move, but he says He will.

Even though they still forget him.

Maybe we are more like them than we realize, unable to see or even perceive what He is up to in our years to come. Maybe we wonder, how could what is to come ever be better than what was?

Oh… but if we remember the heart of our God… He is a God that always keeps His promises. His love is true, it is faithful and never gives up. It was offered to us over a sacred meal with a cup of wine, a new promise.

We question how the new could ever be better….yet if we are able to dwell in the mystery that is the Lord, and swim in the love that He offers us, somehow I think we will find it that the new – however different – is still just as full of joy and delight in ways we could never imagine.

Are you willing to keep pressing into the One who loves you, to let Him do this for you? I hope so my friend….I am praying for courage for you for the journey forward!

Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

A new take on Ephesians 2

June is Pride month, for the LGBTQ/ queer community, and usually I don’t post much. Not to ignore it, but more because I can’t quite figure out what to say or how to say it. This year, I have been ruminating on a few things. Specifically….I have been reading Ephesians…. and yesterday morning I was stuck on chapter 2, specifically verses 14-18:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Let me just start by saying I realize not everyone is going to track with where I am going, and that is ok. I have to be faithful to the heart God has given me for the LGBTQ community. If you are open at all, I’d encourage you just to listen. Not judge, not condemn, but listen. That’s all I ask. I’ll trust that if it’s something the Lord wants to teach you about now, he’ll do that. I’m not here to argue or debate. Just share…and plead.

I know we all see this passage in Ephesians and read it literally, that yes, we who are not Jewish by heritage now have access to the savior promised to them. We are grafted in. Having been married to a Messianic Jew for 25 years, I get that so clearly. I used to joke that I am about as gentile as they get (haha!) But I am trying to put myself in Paul’s shoes, at how revolutionary it might have been for early believers, to include the Gentiles in all the promises of God. After all, for generations the Gentiles were people who they just knew were outside of God’s favor. God didn’t love them, they were just sure of it. Heck, the honesty of Psalms shows they prayed for God to smite them and bring judgement on them. Granted, they were worshipping another god, bowing to idols, I know. But still.

I can’t help but wonder if here, even in a country full of such richness of culture and heritage, we get stuck in reading this as Jew/Gentile and we forget it has such larger implications. Could we (shouldn’t we?) begin to read this that Jesus has brought peace to us, between those who are “same sex oriented” and those who are “opposite-sex oriented”?

Call me heretical, but what if we could, in grace and mercy, read Paul’s words to us like this instead:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united queer and straight into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us….Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”

Isn’t that what this passage really means? In Christ, people who were at opposite ends were brought together to reflect the goodness and richness of the glory of God. In times of election, I could say the same for Democrats and Republicans, frankly. At the cross, we are supposed to be equals. Yet somehow…. this seems a bigger bite to chew.

Back in Paul’s time, I’m sure some Jews thought “but those Gentiles are not holy! They do things/think things we aren’t supposed to as Jews”.

Hm. I thought Jesus made us holy and that settled the score. Holiness, sanctification, being made whole and complete into who we were created to be, to reflect God’s glory in all its fullness, to a world that thinks there is no hope – isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t that what happens to all of us when we submit our lives to Jesus and walk out his principles? More than than that, sure it feels risky but we have Peter right there in Acts arguing for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promises of God in our sacred text. What if this became us, arguing for the inclusion of those who are LGBTQ in our own churches?

Too often we shut the door at even considering and asking questions. We tout verses “The Bible says THIS”! I know what it says. I have done the research on original language, original usage, passage context, and read things on both sides of the argument. But do we ever enter into conversation to see their humanity, ask their story, see that they too bear the image of the one we claim? Or do we stay away because we don’t know how to start? All it takes is an invite to lunch and a humble heart willing to learn.

If they are seeking Jesus, they are part of the body of Christ – just a part too afraid to bring their whole selves to church because they fear how everyone will react. If you have reached a place of trust with someone so they actually TELL you this is part of their story – LOVE THEM. They have not “changed” who they are. You are just now seeing a part of them they don’t show too many people. Defend them. Include them. Have them to dinner. Help them grow in the gifts God has given them. Pray for them. Then help others get to a place of compassion and understanding too.

The larger LGBTQ community needs the life of God just like the larger straight community, people. We all need Jesus. We all have massive glaring inadequacies, we have all failed, we all want better for our kids, our communities, our families and the world. Can we make it more about that than their sexuality? They are SO MUCH DEEPER than that. We all are.

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!