Back up the mountain?

Somewhere along the road, we learn to cope with the things that knock us down, don’t we? We figure out how to do life again, maybe limping, but we keep going. We kind of have do, don’t we? Life doesn’t give you an option, but you can always figure out a way forward, even if its not what you expected.

I was was with a friend yesterday, someone with whom I have walked with for the past year or so, ever since she was diagnosed with a number of health issues. A group of us prayed for her, that God would bring healing; she has three young kids and they need her desperately. Dad’s unfortunately not very present. At that time, it seemed she’d be gone in a few months.

That was a year ago. Her health issues continue, she has more blood clots than anyone can imagine. Constant pain, a blood disease that renders surgery not an option, and failing lungs. Every day is hard. Yet she keeps going, she keeps leading her kids in faith, she keeps her home bakery business going to support her family. Doctors cannot explain why she is still here – and her answer is always “Well, I have a big God”. Yes, yes she does.

After I met with her, I kept thinking of a story in the book of Exodus (note: not because it described her, but because of the encouragement it could bring her) where Moses has just come down off the mountain and dropped the commandments God had given him, in anguish over the idol the Israelites had formed. This God that had delivered them from their slavemasters had just promised to be their God and lead them. He had spoken purpose over them – going from being slaves to being priests and a light to the world. They had agreed! But they so quickly went back to their old ways, not yet knowing how to trust in the God that had met with them nor how to follow his ways.

The description of them is as a “stiff-necked” or “obstinate” people, and Moses had the great task of leading them. I cannot imagine how frustrating it was for him as a leader. I can imagine if this happened today, his social media post would read something like:

COME ON, PEOPLE – GET WITH THE PROGRAM! Pay attention to what is being offered to you! Seriously. (#frustrated #leaderprobs #arewethereyet? #getmeouttahere)

I have a feeling that for those of you out there in leadership, or those serving in the body of Christ, or those helping your neighbors, or those raising teens – many of you get this, you feel the frustration Moses felt. You wonder “why me, God?” Why do I have to put up with this stubborn people, these kids, this situation? I’m trying to lead them, teach them, do my best to steer the Titanic away from disaster……

Maybe we can learn something from Moses. And friends, I do not say this lightly, because I need to hear this as much as you. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t need to be reminded of this very truth.

(I know I am skipping over a bunch in the text, but bottom line:) Moses asked God to show himself, after crying out for God to go with them into the promised land…. and God answered:

“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, Jehovah….”

Can you imagine what that would have been like?

THIS IS WHO I AM. Not just “el”, the other gods people speak of. I AM YAHWEH God, that speaks.

God first reminds Moses who He is, before he reminds him of his character:

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

My friend, I know – you have probably asked God to show up, and maybe He has, or maybe God seems silent. Or maybe you haven’t had the heart to ask.

Yet the question remains – and will always be, no matter what trial you are facing, what stubborn people you are dealing with – are you willing to go back up the mountain, and let your soul be reminded of the God you serve? Will you let the Holy Spirit, in that mysterious way He comforts and speaks to us, bring these words to life again in you? Let the character of the God we serve, embodied in these words, wash over your tired and frustrated heart, and give you courage

“Yehovah, Yehovah, the God merciful, gracious and slow to anger, abundant in goodness/loving kindness, and truth/faithfulness”

He has not left. You are not alone. And He goes with you. That is his promise to us!

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.

You’re a what????

Last fall, my new homegroup read (so I re-read) Ian Cron’s book “The Road Back to You….”. In case you haven’t heard of it, its a book that talks about the Enneagram – essentially a personality type, if you will… but one that helps with spiritual transformation. At the start of each chapter, the book gives some highlights of the way each “number” or “type” might think or approach the world. For some, reading the different thoughts of each type made it hard to see where they were landing. It wasn’t until they dove into what it was like as a kid or how they interact with people that it made sense.

For some, it was like opening a map and finally going “oh THAT’s exactly what I’m like” – now how do I move forward to transformation??

Me, not so much. I am a One – Perfectionist – through and through. I will admit though, between raising a family and the grace of God, I am not as much as a One as I was in college, that’s for sure. My books are no longer alphabetized and ordered by color (yes, that is how I organized my tapes… my roommate can attest to that even after all these years). I am ok if the pillows are not “just right”, or if there is cat or dog hair somewhere. Having anywhere between 2 and 7 animals in the house for the 25 years of my marriage kind of worked that out of me… trying to keep every surface clean would have been torture!

Figuring out that I was a One (where one daughter is an Eight – Challenger and the other a 4 – the Individualist – was MONUMENTAL for our family. It explained SO much about all of us – and began to shift the way I talk to the girls now as young adults. I seriously wish we had this tool when they were teens – it would have helped Jon and I both understand who they were, how to talk with them, and how they processed the world. We all came at life from some very foundational differences, and it had very little to do with what we did or did not teach them or how we supported them.

Where my “one-ness” still shows up is around wanting things to be right, namely relationships and .. life. Combined with my 9 wing – which doesn’t like conflict and can see both sides of any argument/story/theological or political discussion…wellll….. it gets interesting. Internally, I am always caught between a rock and a hard place: I want to do what’s right, but when I can’t figure out WHICH side to stand on, or which opinion to have, I don’t want to cause conflict so I don’t make any decision. Which my One side does not do well with, because the other part of a One doesn’t like to make mistakes and is extremely hard on themselves when they mess up.

Most people assume making mistakes is just part of life. A One doesn’t recover from mistakes that quickly, whether in life or in relationships. We beat ourselves up constantly. Discord in relationships is more than difficult, and I know that I tend to assume I am the one that caused the discord because I did something wrong. When Jesus talks about leaving your gifts at the altar and reconciling if you think your brother or sister has something against you — as a One – I take that pretty seriously. I have had to learn that I can’t fix everything, and I can’t make everything right. Needless to say, that’s been hard. I am learning that God’s perfection is sufficient, and that grace covers the rest. It’s been a good lesson 🙂

It’s been fun to watch Maia embrace the fact she is a 4. All the sales guy had to say when she was getting new glasses last year as “I don’t know anyone else that looks good in those frames” – and he made the sale. LOL. Maddie laughs when she reacts like a classic 8 – strong, assertive, decisive and gets frustrated when others can’t make decisions. (I hope she doesn’t marry a 9) . We all still joke about me being a 1, and sometimes they have to remind me everything doesn’t have to be perfect. There’s grace for all of us in it – and its helped as we’ve met new people to understand how to encourage them and appreciate their own uniqueness.

What has amazed me is how this has also helped me process the way I see God and see scripture, and why certain things stick out to me that don’t seem to for anyone else. Sure, we all have views and understandings of God and his word based on our own lives and backgrounds, but I am fascinated with how this study has shed light on the truths about God we struggle with personally, as well as the truths we get easily. Very insightful.

So today, my book recommendation is “The Road Back to You”. If you want something that delves more into the history of the Enneagram and touches more on its spiritual transformation aspects, look for “The Sacred Enneagram”.

Hope you all have a great weekend!!