Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Something New

You know how sometimes a verse just sticks in your brain and you can’t get it out, and you realize that it is then the Lord is speaking to you through that verse, even though it was a different time, a different people, spoken thousands of years ago?

For me, that started happening quite frequently about 2 1/2 years ago in a deeper way than I have ever known. The harder thing was that I couldn’t hold onto them well, or believe that they could be true…. let alone that I think we Christians are often accused of “cherry picking” verses we like and taking them way out of context, and I didn’t want to be doing that just because I liked the verse.

No, this one I came across in normal reading, I didn’t go looking for and I didn’t find in a devotional to try and hold onto. I was in a time in life where everything I knew had just crumbled, and I was trying to make sense of it all as I figured out a new way to be. It was into this place in time I stumbled across the following (well known) verse:

“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?” – Isaiah 43:18-19.

Now, most of the time I have heard this verse used to explain how Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel of the messiah to come, that is, as a pre-cursor to Christ. I’m not saying that isn’t the case in the bigger picture. Sure, it could have had two meanings. Yet to the Israelites at the time under Babylonian rule, this was actually spoken about what God was doing in their present time. The new thing God was doing then was preparing to bring Cyrus, the Persian king, to take over Babylon and their oppressive way of ruling, and to bring Israel home (see. Isaiah 45:1 and 13.. it happened in 539BC). So the new thing that Isaiah was speaking about was actually deliverance … just deliverance in a very real and tangible way.

I just kept coming back to this verse. What if I didn’t want new? What if I wanted what was? I couldn’t change things, and I knew I had to keep moving forward to find my “new normal”, and so I did. I dove into things I loved to do – I hiked mountains, I went on long trail rides, and I loved on people. I read, I studied, I pressed into God when it was hard, and I hung onto things I could scarcely believe. (Lest you think it was all roses….yes I went to counseling, and yes I got angry and had panic attacks and cried and grieved and journaled a TON.)

I did what I knew would bring me back to being whole: I reestablished my identity as a child of God alone, and I chose to be content no matter what my new normal was going to be. I couldn’t see what “new thing” God was doing yet, so holding onto the verse for me was more of a puzzling thing.

I know, Lord, I know you are doing something new in my life right now. I just don’t get it yet. I guess you will show me when I am ready.

Enter Trung… the man to whom I am now engaged.

(Love the slippers, don’t you? Just admit it)

It has been a year and a half since we first started talking. I know.. much of what has been going on since we started dating has not made it to my blog, and that is on purpose. I have been protective of this entire journey except for a few select folks, mainly because I’m not the type to share some huge monumental personal things, but also because I wanted to honor him in this process, as he is a pretty personal type of guy (he’s an 5 on the enneagram).

Yet even when he came into the picture, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this “new thing” God was doing… for me AND for him. Sometimes I still struggle to wrap my head around the depth of what it has become, and as I look out at the wedding being planned for this August, I realize I no longer have any twinge of sadness when I see folks posting about their anniversaries of many years.

I am finally – finally! Leaning into the new thing God is doing, and I cannot wait to start life with this amazing guy God has given me. August can’t come soon enough. We may be streaming it on Facebook if no one can come, but we are getting married!

Ok now back to the purpose of this blog…I really didn’t want this post to be just about me. I know I am certainly not the only one who has had to find a new normal at some point in their lives. Heck, its all everyone is talking about now with all the quarantines across our country and the world.

Finding a new normal isn’t new though.

It seems to be the way of humanity whenever big things happen, have you noticed that?

—Scripturally – Israel wanted ‘what was’ after God delivered them from slavery. Somehow things seemed better back in Egypt. After return from Babylonian captivity, Israel wanted ‘what was’ and tried to figure out how to become a nation again. When they started rebuilding the temple, many wept who had been alive and had seen the prior temple built by Solomon.

— In our current day, things have shifted and changed after every war. After 9/11. After the first school shooting. After the internet became available for everyone, after cell phones became a necessity. Some generations long for the decades when things seemed “better” – but were they really? Yes we still deal with racism in our country. Yes we still hurt each other, we fail to take care of and defend those that need it, but at least discussions are on the table. It’s out in the open. Everything doesn’t have to be hidden now that was in the past in our country, and its time for healing. I’d like to think having to suffer together as the human race makes us realize our mortality and how much we need each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religious background (or none), sexuality, education or economic status.

Moving forward, whether personally or as a society doesn’t mean we automatically stop longing for what was. It’s like we get stuck, where the past can seem to have been “better” than the present. Do we realize in saying that we overlook the flaws of what was? Massive flaws that were there before and just could never be fixed, or maybe could never be seen.

That, my friends, is the challenge of the times in which we are living. Sure, we are all learning a “new normal”.. and please hear me: I am NOT SAYING that God is the source of this virus to teach us something new. I’m just asking, are we up to the challenge of LEARNING in the midst of it?

Although this wasn’t intended to be a Covid survival post, I do think it can be a time for us to look honestly at what we are learning in this time… about being alone, about being with “stuck” with family, about helping and serving others… about how much money we spent on ourselves or on things that we really do not need, about how we handle finances, where we find our peace – and make some purposeful changes about how we do life, when things get “back to normal”.

What are you learning you will not let go of when the quarantine is over?

The Curious People of God

Two days now I have woken up with a song in my head – and its not because I was listening to music the night before. One morning the dream was of maybe 10 or so singing the old hymn “How Great Thou Art”, and the next it was a more recent song “Unshackled” by Ecclesia. I had to check myself the first morning, because even in my dream I thought, “wow that guy is REALLY off-key!” … but both mornings had me wanting to dance and brought a smile to my face. Needless to say they were fun dreams to wake up to!

It got me thinking. We are living in unprecendented times here in this country (and world really) – dealing with things we have never had to before in our lives. It’s all over the news, social media, and its consuming a lot of our conversations. Some are fearful, and with seemingly good reason – peoples jobs are on hold for as long as possible, the stock market is volatile, bills are going to go unpaid, food we are accustomed to is scarce, and there is no guarantee things are going back to normal any time in the next month. Oh – and no sports, no school, and everyone’s summer plans are probably on hold, right?

Unprecendented times indeed.

What has been really neat to see in some, and hear in others, is when people are NOT fearful. Not out of ignorance or defiance, but out of confidence. They are unsure of the future, but they are settled. Why? Well I would ask why not? We are a curious people, are we not? The people of the living God, called by name to bear His image wherever we are, in whatever situation.

We have a privilege, a mandate, and no virus stops that folks. Who can explain a people who have confidence in the midst of what is going on? What I think is especially critical at this time, in this space, is JOY in the midst – joy that doesn’t depend on our circumstances but on knowing our lives are in his hands. Prayer – for our city and national leaders, our healthcare workers and first responders, and the sick. Trust. God hasn’t just up and walked out the door here. His mission to draw all to himself is still alive and well.

So what do we do? Sure, we commiserate with our neighbors, friends, families and strangers even, about the 6 feet separation we are encouraged to keep, of how we miss hanging out with each other in person (for those cities under “shelter in place” orders) , how we too cannot find toilet paper (whats up with that???), and that dinner tonight is a smorgasboard of cereal, green beans, and canned chili because that might be all you found that day at the store.

But we can laugh. We sing. We are forced to get creative. We find reasons to rejoice and remember that we know the One who is Hope. Remember the stories of Paul in prison and the songs he sang? Remember the countless Psalms of those in exile in Babylon? Hope that God is still God in the midst of all that is going on. Knowing we do not walk in fear, because His Spirit in us does not fear. I realize that is hard to say when you don’t know how you are going to pay your bills next month, how you will feed your family, or what the next 6 months will bring.

But this is where we will either rise to be the people of God and walk in his ways, in community helping each other and feeding each other and paying each others bills, or we will not. This is where we will help those OUTSIDE the family of God and do the same, as a witness to his great love and care for them too. This is where we voice the hope we have, and why we can say it is well with our souls.

So… serve….help those who need help, whether it be a grocery run or watching kids so they can work. Look for where you can let go of your comfort to help others. Don’t forget to pray! We have stories of sickness fleeing at the name of Jesus. Who knows, perhaps God might open the door to pray for a neighbor and release healing? We’ll never know if we do not offer.

I will leave you today with a Psalm I read the other day, rephrased 🙂

God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear when life and conveniences we have become accustomed to give way, and the stock market falls, though speculations of when this will end roar and confidence quakes as covid numbers surge. BUT.. there is a river – whose streams make glad the people of God!— Ps 46:1-4

Let us share the hope we have, for people are thirsty for something that can be an anchor for them in this time!

Tama

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 🙂

______ ________ _______ _______ ______ ________ _______ _______

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!

Lemonade doesn’t cut it

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I know the intention is good, and I know it’s a way to remind people that there is always a way to take something that might leave a sour taste in your mouth and look at it a different way, or change your attitude so that you learn from it, and it becomes sweeter. Most of my life, I try to live that way, so I get it.

That being said, with loss of any kind – a job, a relationship, a child/friend/parent, a dream, your health – when you are in the throws of grief – there is NO making of lemonade. Or lemon martinis. Or lemon bars. Or lemon anything. It might make you want to THROW lemons at someone, or something though….. (never thought of that. Hmmmmm.)

Let’s be honest: making lemonade when life gives you lemons might work when its inconvenient stuff, but it sure as heck doesn’t work when you feel like life is falling down around you through no fault of your own.

You see – we might all know the verse where Jesus says “In this world, you will have trouble (in Greek the word also is used to mean affliction and anguish). But take heart! I have overcome the world”

If I’m honest, that verse wasn’t helpful to me at all when Jon and I starting talking about dissolving our marriage.. and I felt like I couldn’t even say that because what would that say about me? It’s hard to admit, but sometimes, even when you love God, it’s hard to take comfort in His word. It can feel like work, pressing in and striving to get your brain to follow the words on the page.

In some ways, it felt like trying to make lemonade out of lemons. And just in case you are wondering: I have experienced my share of trouble in life. I knew that following Jesus never meant life would be free of problems. I had told others this countless times. I had prayed and fasted. I knew how to hold onto the Lord and his promises. I knew how to deal with hard stuff. Yet somehow divorce was one thing I was sure that I would escape, because with God, all things are possible. With God, marriage can get through anything. I think I kept hoping I would somehow wake up and it would all just be a bad dream, that the conversation never happened, or that Jon would change his mind. It never happened. Reality just kept staring me in the face. Suddenly it was as if the part of me that knew all I had already learned about hiding in God and believing for things was on hold. I didn’t recognize myself any more.

I had to find something to hold onto.

That verse for me became Hebrews 6:19, a verse that I have worn on my wrist ever since then:

“For we have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure….”

The truth of this verse became my banner. Nearly 9 months later, it still is.

As much as we might think we are strong, or that “we got this” – our souls need to have something to hold onto when life feels like its falling apart. Sometimes it can be hard to find that one thing – but I believe the One that knows us best knows we need truth to hold onto. Don’t give up. God doesn’t change in his faithfulness or love for you, even when people do. Cry out. Ask for what you need, ask for something to hold onto.

What would surprise me every now and then is just how much the Lord knew what I needed. You see, panic attacks (which I had never before) became a way of life for me for a while. I dealt with them the way I had always dealt with hard stuff in the past: I went running. Partly to think, partly to pray, partly to give my body a more natural reason for breathing heavy.

I’ll never forget the night I had gone on a run, feeling lonely in my pain and needing to just…..well, I guess you might say I was having a pity party, attendance: one.

I plugged in my headphones, tied up my shoes, and went for a run. I had a mix of some worship music that I had been listening to at the time, songs to remind me of God’s promises, songs that I could get lost in when I just needed to know His presence. I had just finished one of the hills in the neighborhood and decided to lay on the park bench at the top and finish listening to the song (and cry).

I am smiling just thinking about it. Why?

Because right as the song finished, the sprinklers kicked on and I got soaked. I have never jumped out of a bench and sprinted to the sidewalk so fast in my life! All I could do was laugh. It was as if the Lord said, “ok, you got your cry out – now stop being so full of yourself! Time to get your eyes back on me and WHO I AM TO YOU!”

I think I laughed all the way home after that 🙂

You see, it can be easy to get stuck in the mire of pain and grief, but it’s up to you to determine if you will stay there. You may not be able to determine the timeline or intensity of the grief process, but when you can hold onto Truth that is bigger than what you are going through, it makes a difference.

If sometimes, you are dragged out with unexpected laughter, let yourself enjoy it! It doesn’t mean you are “all better”, and it doesn’t mean things still aren’t hard. But it can be life-giving if you let it.

Oh, one last thing. A great book I would recommend for you or anyone that you know who is just starting to go through loss and grief is the book “How to Survive a Shipwreck” by Jonathan Martin. He does an amazing job helping his readers face loss, assess how to move forward, and take care of their souls in the midst of it all.

Guess that’s all for now. Blessings!!

Tama