Friday, August 24, 2012

The Whole Picture

It has been a long time since I have written anything at this blog, partly because I feel like my last post and the song it contains are things God has just been working, reworking, and working into my heart again and again.  Just when I think I am getting ahold of it, I realize that I have still been banging my head against the wall about it instead of letting go.  I really resonate with the lyrics Rich Mullins penned, "Surrender don't come natural to me. I'd rather fight you for something I don't really want, than take what you give that I need.  Surrender don't come natural to me.  And I beat my head against so many walls, now I'm falling down, falling on my knees..."

Anyway, the situation we have been dealing with has been my son's (and my husband's) diagnosis of Celiac Disease; and our walk to his healing via the GAPS-diet.  I want to make it very clear that I do believe God could heal this whole thing supernaturally in one fell swoop; but we have received many words to the effect of, "You are going to need to walk this out, I have something for you in this that you would not be able to receive otherwise."

Well, recently we reached a turn for the better; the chronic digestive distress seemed to be easing for my son and that was giving me hope.  We had spoken with a practitioner who deals exclusively with GAPS, and she added a few new tools to our toolbox.  Then, we went on vacation.  Even though I was pristine with his diet, we saw symptoms every day (read: I was very glad we had made the decision months ahead of time that on this vacation we were going to take a break from our normal cloth diapers and use disposable).  He was happy, he was enjoying the time with friends and family, but being out of his routine had his system stressed and so he had symptoms every day.  This fact had me at my witt's end.  I felt like a paddle-ball, going back and forth between enjoying my time with friends and family, and being utterly stressed and heartbroken over my son's condition.  This might seem melodramatic to those who have not gone through it, but anyone who has endured the chronic illness of a loved one -- I am sure -- can understand completely. 

I did not realize it at the time, but I was so frustrated because I was not actually allowing my loved ones to share the burden with me.  I thought I was inviting those who so desired to be a support to us, but I was not really receiving it fully.  The result of this was that about halfway through my "vacation," I was beyond depressed, despite the best efforts of those who love me dearly.  We arrived at my parents' house for the second half of my trip, and I went to bed and woke to yet another horrendous diaper in the morning, and I said to God, "Please tell me there is something for us at my parents' church today; because I need to know I did not drag him on this trip just to make him sicker!"

We walked through the doors and every encounter I had till we left served to show me just how much I was insisting on carrying this on my own.  We received words from praying people who did not even know us, which gave purpose and shape to everything that we are going through.  Again, it was just impressed upon my heart that this healing journey with GAPS and through the prayers of all of those sowing into this is going to be a process.  We will see healing in our son and in the spiritual life of our family, and we will see it through walking this out.

All of that brings me to where we were today.  Another diagnosis the GAPS practitioner made was that Joshua's symptoms point to low stomach acid.  On the list of things we can do to improve that naturally, there is only two we are not currently doing, and only one of those can we do anything about.  We are adding some apple cider vinegar to some of his foods and to his water (as well as some of the juice from our homemade sauerkraut to some of his foods, too).  The other one is all in Joshua's court: he needs to actually chew his food instead of inhaling it.  As I was texting with my mother, conveying all of this to her, I said that it was the next step in the healing process, "because unless his body can break down and assimilate the healing foods GAPS focuses on, we will not see any healing -- except for supernaturally, but I really do believe God is calling us to walk this out."  She agreed and said, "There is something in this for all of us."

Well, when she said that, it suddenly occurred to me that I should ask God what that is (I know, clever, right?).  So I said, "Okay, God, what is this whole stomach acid thing a picture of?"  And the Lord brought to mind a scene I have written about here before.  Back when we were still living in Toccoa and Jeff was still looking for a job, Joshua was due soon and I was frantic because our situation just looked increasingly bleak.  And while I could not sleep one night I was out at the sink doing dishes and just talking to God.  And I ranted to Him, basically, that I did not understand why we were still in this situation.  I knew He wanted us to trust Him and I felt like we were doing that.  Instantly He answered me with, "Melody, there is a big difference between trusting me, and pulling the covers over your head and saying, 'Wake me when this is over.'"  I was instantly convicted, this morning, that we were doing that again.  "Okay, Lord, just get us through this until he is healed."  Well, if we are to walk this out, it is because there are things we need to learn along the way.  Things we otherwise might not be able to really internalize otherwise.  So we need more "stomach acid," so we can break these things down into pieces and really absorb them; pulling every last bit of nourishment out of them, so we can testify to it later.  I have said before; God is a surgeon who operates without anesthetic, so we can testify to what He has done.  If that is true -- and I fully believe that it is -- why am I sitting here trying to avoid the painful bits and just plow my way through to the other side?  Why am I not, instead, allowing the God of all Comfort to nurse us and nourish us through this, drawing us closer to Him and healing us in more ways than we even realize we need?

So I asked my mother how she thought I should "pray into" that revelation; and she said I needed to pray that God would show me His way in all of this, and help me to understand what He is wanting us to learn.

Then another thing comes to mind, and that was the fact that our GAPS practitioner had advised (because we were seeing no resolution for the chronic digestive distress) that we remove all fiber from his diet, including his much beloved broccoli.  The only "veggie" she wanted us to give him was avocado (I know, I know, it is a fruit but that is not the point).  I balked at this, inside, because of my insistence that "kids need vegetables," but really he does not need them.  He is on a very good multivitamin/mineral, and he gets plenty of calories in fat and protein during the day.  So we did what she asked, and low and behold, his digestion cleared up.  Thinking about this, I asked the Lord again, "What am I supposed to be seeing here?"  And He answered right away, "What is it that you are relying on -- that you think is absolutely necessary -- which is actually doing harm right now?"  OUCH.  Well, I have to confess that I told God it was a little intense for me and I would have to think more about that one later.  But I have not actually been able to get away from it all day.  And if there are things we are relying on that are actually hurting us, there are surely also things we are afraid of that are the best thing for us. 

So this is the whole picture: If God is bringing you through something; if He has told you He is walking through this with you, stay by His side and allow yourself to learn from every bit of it, pleasant or unpleasant.  Then, allow Holy Spirit to examine your heart, to point out things you are placing your trust in which are not of Him and are actually doing you harm.  And no matter how scary what lies ahead may appear, walk toward it prayerfully, trusting that the God who has been with you this far is going to keep you and guide you in every single step.

This is where I am right now.  I am working on digesting this word from the Lord, and let me tell you it is not easy.  But it is good.  If we walk this journey with our eyes shut tight, we miss the opportunity to witness all that our wise and wonderful Creator has and will accomplish on our behalf (and for His glory).  Not only that, but we render all of these trials absolutely useless if we refuse to learn from them and allow them to shape our faith.  I do not want to strip all of this "stuff" of all its meaning.  I need it to mean something, or it was all in vain.  On the other side of this, we are going to have a remarkable testimony, but right now, I have an opportunity to grow closer to my God, and that is even more important!

Friday, June 8, 2012

At Just the Right Time

A few days ago I found a scrap of paper that held a song attempt from when I was in college.  Most of it just felt wrong, but the chorus stuck out as salvageable, and it was found just in time to encourage a friend.  It read, "You hem me in, behind, before.  You take away every flawed recourse.  When will I see You're leading me through desperation, to liberty."

Then yesterday, while I was driving home from praise practice, the new verses came to me.  I marveled at how God must be giving this to me for someone else, because I had already gotten past this feeling of being thwarted at every turn.  Ha!  Let me just tell you that God is not without a sense of irony.

You see, in our struggle with our son's digestive issues (multiple food allergies and Celiac Disease), there was definitely a period of time when I was struggling with the futility of my own efforts.  We knew of two allergies, and found out of a few others.  We pulled those foods out of his diet, but they were foods he loved and he responded by restricting his diet even further (limiting himself to starchier, sweeter foods).  Then further allergies were discovered as his symptoms persisted, and again we pulled those foods out of his diet.  Most kids with a few food allergies grow out of them by about 5 years of age, but with Joshua I seriously was concerned that by the time we got to five he would be down to bananas and water.  Not that he would have minded, of course, because by the time we got to January of this year, that was all he was willing to eat: bananas and pastured pork sausage. 

It feels utterly helpless when the primary way by which you care for your child's needs turns out to be exactly what is harming them.  Add to that the fact that we had gone from a perspective of hoping for wellness to just doing damage control, and we felt like we were basically helpless.  That was when, by the grace of God, we discovered the GAPS diet.  We got Joshua (and ourselves) on the diet and he started to thrive: growing again for the first time in several months, talking and babbling again (also for the first time in months), persistent eczema completely gone, and personality once again glowing.  And that is basically where we've been for the last three months.  We did have to go through three almost impossible days where Joshua would not eat the GAPS food and so did not eat.  He was drinking plenty, though, and we worked very hard to remind ourselves that keeping him from bananas in order to get him to eat his vegetables was worth it and the right move.  Though those days were a harrowing ordeal, they were followed by three months of relative ease.  And I began to think of that frantic, "What is WRONG with my child??" desperation was a thing of the past.

These last few days, though, some of Joshua's digestive symptoms had returned, and he seemed to start restricting his foods again, apparently out of nowhere!  Well, I learned that a fruit tea we had allowed him to drink pretty regularly (in the last few days) had soy lecithin in it (NEVER take it for granted that you know what is in a food.  ALWAYS read the label...this is my lesson).  Then we found out that one of Joshua's medicines which had been given some prevalence in the last week or so (due to teething) contained corn, corn and soy being two of his middle-range allergies (not as bad as peanuts, eggs, and milk; not as mild as oranges).  Digestive symptoms explained, and we -- of course -- felt largely to blame.  Well all of this was frustrating, but nothing we could not handle.  We know the drill.  Nothing but his puree, meat, and juice until he was over this hump, and that should only take a few days.

Today, however, we had to make a planned trip, but earlier than planned (we were thinking Monday, originally, and that Joshua would be over all of this by then).  Jeff had to go one place while I did some shopping at a very busy market with Joshua.  This market had a food court where I planned on getting lunch, but of course I brought Joshua's food with us.  As has been true yesterday and played out this morning, he flat out refused to eat.  He wanted my food (which had things we was definitely allergic to in it) and made a decent-sized scene over that.  People stared.  Many folks even forgot to hide the fact that they were staring.  Some commented awkwardly, "nap-time, huh?" While I reassured Joshua that he had food, and my food would make him sick.

You see, a major theme in my life has been allowing God to uproot the fear of man in my life.  Always worried about what others are thinking, I struggle with wanting to make sure I do not look foolish, wanting people to approve of the way I do things, and wanting to make sure that they know if I do happen to get an answer wrong, they know it is not because I am stupid, but just some fluke.  Things are not nearly as bad as they have been.  A stronghold that was once completely debilitating is now just a haunted ruin, with a few last stones still standing.  And that is a good thing.  But today I realized God wanted to knock some of those other stones right now.  So I reasoned aloud with my son, trying to make sure he and the rest of the world knew I was not neglecting him.  If anyone gave me a hard time I would have had a million justifications for why things look the way they do, including the fact that our sons two main doctors approve of this plan.  But I realized that the process by which my son finds healing is going to make me look foolish.  The food he eats is different, and is not convenient or easily portable.  The liquid in his juice cup (a small small amount of kombucha tea with lots of water and a few drops of honey) looks different than what is in the other kids' juice cups.  He' is in cloth diapers which -- while it is not such a fringe thing, is not so mainstream -- necessitate a larger and more fully packed diaper bag when we are out for the day.  We look funny.

On top of that, I have to be one of those "hovering parents" I disdained and -- let's face it -- judged in my pre-parenting days.  My child is severely allergic to things other kids eat all the time.  Anytime we are anywhere where there are children, especially where food is planned ahead of time, I have to keep a close eye on him, and then I have to listen to one person or another tell me that I am smothering him and I can let him out of my sight for a few minutes.  If I succumb to the pressure to just let him be, he inevitably picks up something he should not, eats it, and breaks out in hives.  But even though I know this, I struggle every time someone suggests I do things differently.

I cringe when people ask "What is he drinking???".  I cringe only slightly less when they ask why my toddler is eating "baby food (he does eat several solid foods, but a veggie puree is the only way we have been able to get him to "drink" the broth that is part of his diet)."  I cringe when people tell me I need to do this or that differently.  I do not want to be so different, and I do not want to look silly to these other people who do not have a multi-allergic celiac diagnosed child.  I cringed all day long today when he threw tantrums in the food court, and again when we passed banana chips in the dried fruit aisle, and again when he saw this allergen or that which used to be a part of his diet.  I was alone, with a myriad of bags (the cooler bag we have for his food, his diaper bag, my purse) and an overflowing shopping cart, and a toddler who every few minutes (after being totally happy and fine) was suddenly screaming and wanting only to be held; and I felt so much more than conspicuous because people kept asking questions about why he was upset. For the first time in three months, I was at the end of my rope and clinging to what felt like the last bits of my sanity, when the words God had given me just the day before came to mind and showed me what God is doing in all of this...

by Melody Joy Buller

Thwarted, I've never felt so thwarted
Everything I do just comes to naught
Effort after effort is rewarded
With the loss of every ounce of strength I've got
And I'm desperate for You

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

All those greener pastures look like freedom
'Cause I can't see the chains under it all
You try to tell me I don't need 'em
But I don't see You're right, until I fall
And I'm broken again

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

I fall on my face again and again
Trying to prove to you, I don't need Your hand
But all I'm proving, really
Is that I'm poor and needy
And desperate for You

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

And I called my mom for prayer, and just let her pray for me while I bawled my eyes out.  I cannot do any of this on my own.  And I cannot do any of this if I am more worried about the opinions of other parents (and non-parents), especially if they have no idea what it is to really walk through this thing called "Celiac Disease."  We look weird.  We go through a lot of efforts that just look weird.  But God put this possibility before us when we were completely desperate, and it is working!  It is not easy, and it obviously has not been foolproof, but even the (initially skeptical) pediatrician says, "Keep going, it is working!"  So if I want my son to get better, I am going to have to look a little foolish.  And in the end, not only will I have a healthy son, but I will be free of a good chunk of my spiritual baggage, too!  But I have to be willing to look "weird."

And is that not like our faith walks?  We believe some crazy-sounding things, and sometimes our faith makes us act in crazy ways (I moved from a perfectly good life in Boston down here to Georgia because I started crying when I walked into my brother's church, and others have done far stranger things).  There is MUCH healing and blessing that we are going to miss out on if we are not willing to look a little foolish.

If you are struggling because all the "right" moves keep landing you back at the start, maybe you should consider that the truly right move is to stop striving.  God is on the throne, He is in control.  Hew knew this moment before you ever came to it, and He will see you through it to His glory.  You may look a little foolish. You may come out the hero.  Who knows?  Just know that if you can stop striving and lean on God to direct your steps, He will be glorified in your life, and that is all that really matters.

"He says, 'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'  The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress."
Psalm 46:10-11

Friday, December 16, 2011

Are We Missing the Point?

"Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."
~ Acts 3:6 (NIV)

There is a song that is often played around Christmas, The Christmas Shoes.  The lyrics may be familiar to many of you, but just in case they are not I will type them here. 

The Christmas Shoes

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line
Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe

And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say


Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years

Then the cashier said, "Son, there's not enough here"
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,
Somehow I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out

I'll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama's gonna look so great

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please

It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight


I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

The first time I heard that song, it made me cry.  The sentiment is sweet, and the circumstances tragic.  Our hearts should indeed be stirred by those whose lives are filled with heartbreak and need a miraculous touch from God. 

By the hundredth time I had heard it, though, I started to get angry.  I could not understand why, and thought that maybe it was how hopeless the boy's situation was.  Even if he got the shoes, he was still going to lose his mother, and I maybe it made me angry because I did not want to be reminded of that.  But as I sat in my living room the other day, it struck me why this song makes me so angry.  I heard them sing, "I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me just what Christmas is all about."  And everything that is in me fumed, "This is NOT about YOU!  And God did NOT send that little boy JUST to teach you a lesson, YOU had an opportunity to touch that boy's life and you MISSED it!"

Now, I realize, this song is based on a popular story that has been published all over the internet. Whether fact or fiction, every question and answer site has a different take on it; so I cannot say for sure.  So know that this is not exactly a condemnation of Newsong or any of the myriad of Christian artists who have covered the song, nor about the person who penned the story in the first place, nor the original man who may or may not have stood in the original line on Christmas Eve.  Rather, it is a call to action.

You may be thinking, "But he bought the kid those did he miss his opportunity?"

It makes me angry to think that all we have to offer the world, as Christians, is a comforting arm on someone's shoulders when they are in the midst of life's most difficult circumstances.  Or a few nickels to "fix" a circumstance.  When Peter was in this situation, he said, "Here's what I have for you, healing in the name of Jesus!"

Why, if this man was a Christian, did he not say, "Okay, I will buy these shoes for you, but after that, take me to your mother. I will lay hands on her, and pray for her healing in the name of Jesus!"  We are missing the point of Christmas if we think that comfort in sorrow is all we are here for.  Christmas is all about what Jesus was all about, right?  What did Jesus believe his purpose on the earth was?

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”e
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:16-21

According to this passage, Jesus purpose was of course salvation, but also to heal!  Yes, all those spiritual and emotional things like freedom for the oppressed, preaching the good news, proclaiming God's favor were all included, but so was sight for the blind.  Similar passages of Jesus explaining his purpose include Matthew 11:

2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosyb are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” 
Matthew 11:2-6

The lame walk, the dead are raised?!?!  That is POWER!  And that is what we have in Christ Jesus.  That is what we offer to the world!  It is true, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3 that we comfort others with the same comfort we have received; but comfort is not all we were called to give.  If Jesus said, "greater things than these," should we not be at least striving to follow in the same works He did?  Jesus called the lame out of their paralysis, the blind out of their darkness, the deaf out of their silence.  Jesus raised the dead.

Those things sound so huge and intimidating to us in our modern age.  And they are a "big deal," of course.  But it is what Jesus came to do, and what WE are called to do.  And if that is what Jesus is all about, then it is "what Christmas is all about," too.  We are not called to do anything on our own, but only in the power of God, so what are we so afraid of??

We are afraid God is not going to show up.  But, the only reason God does not show up in our everyday lives is that we do NOT invite him! We actually expect that our prayers for healing will be unanswered, and praying for the dead to be raised...well that just sounds ridiculous!

So I am realizing that The Christmas Shoes makes me angry because we have so much more to offer the world than simply kind words and kind actions, and I feel like this song (which claims to understand the point of Christmas) is missing it!  We can offer hope, and a real and tangible healing. We are offering Jesus, and everything He came to accomplish on the earth.  When the sick came to Jesus, the Bible does not record one instance where Jesus said, "actually, I am going to let you stay sick a while longer because it is going to touch so-and-so's life."  No, it says He healed all who came to him.

What would happen if we actually prayed for healing every time we came across a person who needed it?  What would happen if we prayed until we actually saw something happen (or truly felt the Spirit release us from praying, instead of just saying that because we are afraid we will not see results)?

Christmas is not just about thinking nice thoughts, saying nice words, and even doing nice things for people. Those things are the RESULT of what Christmas is about, and more than that they are only PART of the picture.  And God does not send hurting people our way because we benefit from it.  We certainly benefit from it, but that is the aftermath, not the purpose.  He sends hurting people our way because He longs for us to draw them to Him.

Christmas is about God loving us and desiring relationship with us SO MUCH that He sent His only son to earth in the form of a fragile little baby. A fragile little baby that was destined for a brutal crucifixion, no less!  But that baby grew up to be a man (who was and is also God), who touched the lives of everyone he encountered. He lived, died, and rose again to bring us back to life in every sense.  Not just "in Heaven," but here on earth.  John 10:10 says Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.  I am not saying we will not have heartache and trials, but I am saying that we should remember in the midst of all of them who God is and what He can do.  What he longs to do. 

Hearing that song over and over and over again during the Christmas season just keeps reiterating to me, "We are missing it! We are missing it!"  And, because it is a tear-jerker, many people revel in this song. In the heartbreak, in how touching it is that the man bought the shoes, in how sweet the idea is.  But where is the power?  The power of Jesus to heal, to touch lives, to make a real difference is completely missing from this song.  Where is the Jesus who said, "She is not dead, but only asleep?" Where is the Jesus who said, "Rise, and walk, your faith has made you well?"

Jesus offered real hope to everyone who came to Him, should we not do the same?  Let us not miss the point, this Christmas (or any other day of our lives).  Every day we should be looking for opportunities to lavish God's love on people, to offer tangible hope, to lay hands on the sick, to liberate the oppressed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This Doesn't Look Like I Thought it Would...

There is nothing quite like getting a glimpse of what God is doing, especially when you can see what your role is. When God calls us, the excitement is fresh, and new. We see just a glimpse of what He has for us and are inspired and elated.  When we are caught up in the presence of God, it is no stretch of the imagination for us to believe that man lives – not on bread – but on the very Word of God.

Imagine Moses, spending forty days on the mountain of God, talking with Him “as a man talks with his friend,” and watching the finger of God carve out His laws onto stone tablets.  It is too amazing for the mind to really grasp!

Imagine, then, how startling it must have been for Moses to come down from the mountain, only to see the very people he was called to lead prostituting themselves before an idol.  Not only that, but his brother – the person God gave him as his mouthpiece – lied to him about the whole thing!  After he had spent so much time on the mountain learning how to lead them – and learning from the very God who led them out of captivity – he sees the most appalling thing anyone in his position could see: People being exactly what they are, human and sinful to the core.

We can empathize with Moses when his gut (and completely fleshly) reaction is exactly as ours would be. He throws the tablets in a rage and shatters them. How could these people act so contrary to what God had just shown him?  But, as I’ve already said, his gut-reaction was wrong (and based totally on his anger at the people). When dealing with the things of the Lord, we cannot allow momentary feelings – even entirely justified ones – to distract us from the vision.

The thing about God’s plan for us is this: It really is not about us.  Not only that, but it generally involves others. Other humans.  Other sinful people, still trying to realize God’s plan in their own lives. We make mistakes, and we wrestle with our own flesh, trying to get what we want at the very same time that we are trying to crucify our flesh and give God what He wants.  In all of our learning to surrender and figuring out what it means to walk out the vision, our lives affect each other.  In Moses’ case, the people thought surely – being gone 40 days – Moses must have died; they did not know what to do without him. They panicked, and did what came naturally to them: they sinned. Big time.  Moses saw the faithlessness of these people God had just redeemed, and was so discouraged and angry he gave up (even if but for a moment)!  Don’t think that his hurling the tablets to the ground was anything other than giving up.  God had taken him to the mountain top and given His own Word to Moses, but when Moses got angry the first thing He did was throw the written Word of God on the ground! 

However, Moses had an advantage on us: He knew he was going down to confront the people in sin already, and so after he expressed his anger he rallied the people (not without separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak). And then Moses reminded God of everything He’d said to Moses, and clung to what God promised.

So what do we do when our situation does not look like we expected? What do we do when doors close, people fail us, or we fail ourselves?

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs all this. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).”
When we find ourselves in such a place that we question either God’s plan, words to us that God has confirmed through the body around us, or who we are in Christ; we need to cling to what we know, even if it is what we do not see.  Go back. Remind yourself of those words, and speak them aloud.  Pray them into existence even if we feel like we don’t even want them to be true anymore. Pray for any people who may have offended you: that God would heal your heart and that He will enable you to forgive; as well as for them to be restored to God’s plan for their life. Pray for the circumstances to come into alignment with God’s Word. Pray that God would strengthen your faith (Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!). Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. And remind yourself of who God is, of His promises (both in Scripture in general and to you specifically).  And take every doubting, accusing, or despairing thought captive to obedience to Jesus Christ.

Some Scriptures to meditate on this week:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Hebrews 11:1-2, 13-16
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Mark 9:14-29
Exodus 32:1-35

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Freedom From Accusation and Despair

Some friends of mine and I got back in touch some months ago.  We went to school together and all have felt a calling to this ministry or that, and we have been spending a lot of time (via phone and Facebook) encouraging, challenging, and strengthening each other in our walks and specifically in our callings. We are planning a women's conference together, and are just at the beginning stages. A few weeks ago, though, I was feeling quite unsettled. Every time I would sit down to try and figure out a few details here or there, I would hear in the back of my mind, "What does it matter? This is not going to happen, anyway.  You are not the type of person who follows through. This will just fizzle out like everything else."

Well, to some extent these thoughts rang true. I do have a tendency to start a million projects and never finish any of them. I will make a big meal and leave the clutter after because now I am in the middle of this other project instead. No follow through.  That is what has tended to be true.  I say it is what has been true before, rather than, "it is the truth," because I am now learning to differentiate between what is true of myself in Christ, and what the devil would have me believe.  I did not come to this conclusion on my own, however.

Almost two weeks ago, now, I was at the Encounter God Service at IHOP in Macon. The speaker had some really great things to say, but the message itself was not even what really struck me. It was the prayer time after the service. He moved from his message into the prayer time by saying that the primary tool Satan is using against this generation is "accusation and despair."

As soon as he said it, I knew in my spirit that it was right. And I knew exactly what accusation I was dealing with.The enemy has launched it at me with different words and in different forms over the years, but the message has always been the same. Unreliable. "You are flighty. You are fickle. You cannot finish what you start. You do not follow through. None of these big goals you have will ever happen. Your dreams are bigger than you are capable of, and you do not have the follow through."

I moved out of my seat and down to the front rather awkwardly and timidly, and I could hear the devil raging all the way (though, I must admit, he disguised himself in my own insecurities). "Why are you even going? He is going to pray for you, and then you still will not be able to follow through. You will still give up on every idea you start. What is the point?"

There comes a point, though, where the devil - in his own panic - gets a little too obvious for his own good (any fans of The Screwtape Letters here?). And I knew that the prayer line was where I needed to be.  I received prayer, and I was encouraged by the words I heard being prayed over me, though there were still a few lingering doubts on my end. "Lord, help my unbelief!"

I sort of tried not to think of it for a few days. Then, on Saturday, something changed. And it was big. I had some family over that day, and they had all just left. My husband and I were figuring out what the next few hours looked like (who had to do what, dinner, etc), when suddenly I started thinking of this women's conference.  All these aspects of a situation that never occur to me just began flooding my mind out of nowhere. I had started with writing things down, but after just a few minutes had gone to get my laptop up and running instead. My head started pounding from one of those, "it was just really busy here and I am tired now" headaches and I did not care in the slightest.  Ideas came rapidly, and with them, confidence! Not in myself, mind you, but on myself in Christ.  I needed to get this stuff down ASAP and send it to the girls, and that is exactly what I did.  The next day was Sunday, and I found myself up and out of bed earlier than I thought I would be, so that by the time I was ready for church we still had an hour before we had to leave.  I asked Jeff to take the baby so I could get a quick twenty minute power nap, but no sooner had my head hit the pillow when the sermon for a talk I am going to give at the conference began filling my mind.  Up I went, and to the computer, and started typing away. The whole thing was quite amazing, because by the time I was done (it was just the intro, but still), I was so energized it was like I had napped and had two cups of coffee.  I told Jeff what happened and said, "I am so excited about this, and if the devil tries to tell me I can't do it because I don't follow through, I'll just tell him it doesn't matter because God is the one doing this, anyway!"

That afternoon I was praying and thinking, when a few things were revealed to me. For starters, I have nearly always believed this lie about myself. I did not even get my driver's license until I was twenty-five because I had just always believed it would never happen, until I moved out to a remote area where I needed a car to get around and I was forced to get my license. As I prayed, I also realized that after twenty-some-odd years of listening to and believing the same lie all the time, my body had even started to believe it. I endured two weeks of prodromal labor with my son, and I now realize that it was due to this lie. All throughout my pregnancy I could not envision myself with a son. I have always wanted to be a mother, but even as my belly grew I struggled to believe that I would be a mother, and I would raise a child. Well every time contractions started, they would fizzle out shortly thereafter. And they were not false labor. These same contractions broke my water in the wee hours of the morning, and then fizzled out again (that was nearly at the end of the two weeks). Every person who was with me and every resource on pregnancy I had suggested there was some kind of mental block whose cues my body was following, but knowing that was not enough for me. In the back of my mind, I knew what it was, but I had been thinking, "Surely, going into labor will erase these strange doubts from my mind."

Well that revelation was just enough to get me angry (and finally at the right individual!), and I got moving. What are some other lies I have believed about myself through this accusation?  I have always believed that I cannot keep a house for the same reason - no consistency or follow through. "Alright, then, devil. You want to play this game? I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)."

I have been taking small steps, but they have been liberating ones. I will not be bound by this lie any longer. If God is for me, who can be against me (Romans 8:31)? It does not matter whether this trait came about because it was a simple human flaw, or from believing the lies in a systematic attack the devil waged on my life; either way, no human flaw stands up to the redeeming work of Christ. If I am bound to Christ, I do not need to be enslaved to my "personality." There is healing.  There is redemption.

I have been so joyful in this last week. Enthusiastic, optimistic, and hopeful.  While I know that feelings may fade, I also know that I have found an enduring truth, and found myself able to cling to it. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. If God wills something for me, if He has called me to a specific purpose, who am I to say that I cannot do it?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fitting In

So, as my husband and I have gotten settled in our new home and town, there has been this sense of purpose sort of hovering in the air, and we have been a bit restless as we sought to discern where God was directing us in our community.

We have found a church, and because neither of us has really done a lot of church hunting before, we took several weeks in this one community before deciding to commit. It is a little awkward to do that, because as we are getting to know everyone and they are getting to know us; we were still trying very hard not to say either, "Yes, we are staying here for good," or "We might try some other church and get back to you."  We just wanted to focus on being where we were, hearing from God, and seeing if there was a place in that particular body where our particular gifts could be of use. That said, we are both very excited to have finally decided that our new church is indeed our home church; and to already be looking into joining ministries and even pioneering one.

As if that were not enough, this last week some friends of mine decided that we needed to start asking God for the money to attend an amazing conference in Pasadena, CA. The two of them felt very strongly that we needed to be there, but I only really felt strongly that they needed to be there, to be quite honest. At first I thought it was because I hesitated to make a definite plan when God would need to miraculously provide us with about $1500 in order to facilitate the trip. So the girls and I got together and prayed.  I asked God to show me if He wanted me to go by providing what we would need for the trip.

Over the next few days, God really began to lay it on my heart that I need to live in a state of expectancy. I need to be expecting Him to act, to intervene, to direct my steps. This was really heavily pressed on me while I was making my grocery list before going shopping on Wednesday. So while I made out my list, I added an item at the bottom: Divine Appointment.  I know it seems a little silly, but for me it was taking a physical step saying, "God, I believe that you order my steps, and that you have something for me in the day-to-day that I am missing."  I knew that we were going to be out and about for the next few days, so I decided to go about our grocery shopping trip expecting a divine appointment with someone, somewhere along the way; but knowing also that even if it was not Wednesday, God would come through some other day.

Today, my husband and I were running errands in the biggest neighboring town. As were were wandering a little bit (we knew where in the city we were, but were suddenly not quite sure how to get to the easiest route home), we both suddenly saw an International House of Prayer!  Back when we were dating we used to go to the IHOP in Atlanta, and when we got married and had so many expenses suddenly to budget (and gas prices started creeping back up), we simply did not get down there as often. The model of 24/7 prayer though, is something that we both are inspired by and encouraged by, and as we saw the sign for this house of prayer, Jeff did not even hesitate. Into the parking lot we went, and headed inside. We met a couple of people there, and learned that there is going to be a solemn assembly August 5&6 (the same dates as the conference). While we were in there, we both just felt like this was the whole purpose to this trip, which -- when starting out this morning -- seemed to have so many other purposes.

We had a very encouraging talk with the director and another man, and were jubilant at finally having the divine appointment I had been praying for, and feeling still clearer direction in God's purpose for us here.  I finally knew, too, why -- as much as the conference looked amazing and I wanted to see the girls -- I never really felt a clear sense that I was to be there.

We are looking forward to our next visit -- this time on purpose -- to the house of prayer, and we are so excited to see what God does. He is always doing something.  Even when we cannot see it, we can know, God is always working out His plan for those whom He has called.

It seems a little crazy that it is nearly three months since we moved, and I am finally feeling plugged in. In the same week we are getting involved in our local church and in a broader Christian ministry; with opportunities for us to use the gifts God has given us abounding in both situations.  Praise the Lord! He truly does direct the steps of His children!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Disapproval and Insufficiency: Freedom in Disguise

Only the losers win
They've got nothing to prove
They'll be the ones with nothing to lose
I've been thinking, thinking
I've got a plan, to lose it all...
~Switchfoot, "The Loser"

Very often, we forget that we cannot earn God's affection and approval. It is not that we actually forget, but really that this knowledge makes us want to try harder to earn it. We come face to face with the fact that nothing we do in our own flesh will ever be good enough for God, and suddenly we kick it into overdrive, trying to do something (still in our own flesh) that will earn His favor.

That is not how it is supposed to work.

First of all, it is not like God is just being mean, sitting way up above us on His throne, refusing to accept that we might have anything to offer Him. That may be how people work, but it is not how God works. God made us. He knows what is in our hearts, and He knows how that flows over into our words and actions. He is God. He is wholly other than us, and He is holiness personified. He created us in His image, sure, but we were pretty quick to step away from that and try to strike out on our own. Which is precisely what we did (and continue to do): strike out.

So there is good reason why our best efforts are still "as filthy rags." Because He is God, we are not, and yet we keep trying to be.

Instead of being infuriated by the fact that our best will never be good enough, the insufficiency we exude while acting in the flesh is supposed to motivate us differently. We can never, ever earn God's favor. That being true, we are still faced with the fact that He offers it up to us. He sent His Son to die on the cross (bearing our sin and shame), and be raised from the dead (giving us victory over it). We cannot earn that, and yet...He offers it to us freely.

This fact should motivate us to humble ourselves, accept His grace, and move forward to please God by His grace alone. You see, we can please God. We just need His help to do it. Hebrews 11:6 -- while listing a long line of people whose actions pleased God -- puts it this way: "Without faith, it is impossible to please God (emphasis mine)."

When we find ourselves lacking the approval of the God who longs to lavish His love on us, the only action that makes sense is to receive His means of acquiring holiness and righteousness.

Stop striving. You cannot do this on your own. But God wants to give you the means to please Him. He wants to pour out His grace on your life in ways that will just continually amaze you.

Our inability to please God on our own is actually freedom, because it means we can stop trying to. We can stop wearing ourselves out to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God (Micah 6:8)," and start allowing Him to work that in us. This does not, of course, mean turning our backs on righteousness, but on our ever-striving flesh.

But people...people are another story...

Why not take a moment here and be blatantly honest. When people disapprove of you, it is not so much because they are so much better than you that they have a right to, as it is fear. I personally think it goes back to the fact that God is absolutely true, absolutely right, and absolutely God. Because we know that no one can be right but Him, we have this unspoken (most of the time) need to be right all the time. We (wrongly) fear the repercussions of being wrong.

Thus, when faced with another way of doing things...we usually react by stating (either through our words or actions), "Absolutely not. You HAVE to be wrong, because I HAVE to be right!"

So, there will often be times when people disapprove of us. This, too, is freedom.

You are probably thinking, "What? How on earth can that be freedom??"

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus gives the sage advice of only inviting the poor over for banquets, because there is no way we can pay them back. (Be patient with me here, this is not evidence of my ADD, this actually directly correlates).

If someone does not know how to humble themselves and learn from you, if someone does not know how to open their heart to you, or offer you their approval or respect; they are truly poor. I do not say this so that you can condescend to people like this, bolstering yourself with the idea that you are better than them; because chances are that as much as someone may treat you like this, you treat someone else like this, too.

We are all poor, in our flesh. None of us has the grace and the strength on our own to put ourselves aside and hear someone else out. And as much as we, as Christians, are inviting Christ continually into these areas where we are weak, in order to grow us into His likeness there, there is always an area or two that will still need work (and this side of Glory, that is how it will be. We are works in progress, waiting for our true completion on the "day of Christ (Phil 1:6).").

But Jesus said to show our acts of kindness to those who cannot repay us. If someone has decided that they want you to do things their way, and they will not be happy with you until you do...

If someone has decided that no matter what you do, you will never be good enough, even if you mimic their every action and word...

If someone has decided that, while they like a lot about you, there are certain things/traits/facts they will never accept....

Stop Striving!!

Accept the freedom we have in Christ to love these people completely. I am not saying that you should do everything they say (that would be striving, people!), but that you should love them.

Recklessly. Deeply. Truly. Pray for them, ask God to show you ways to pour out His grace into their lives, knowing that -- until and unless He transforms their heart -- they will never be able to pay you back with their approval, words of praise, or affection.

The fact is, there is no way you can possibly please everyone. There is a very good chance that more than one person will disapprove of you in your life, and that those people would disagree with each other on exactly what is wrong with you (or the way you do things). The odds are that you disapprove of some of these people, too. It is by no means a one way street.

This fact is freedom. If you cannot please man, then you can stop trying. Be who God made you to be. Walk in the light of His grace and mercy. Seek His approval (but only in His grace and strength, not in your insufficient and sinful flesh). Lavish His love on everyone around you, especially those who cannot return it.

He has shown you,O mortal,what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God.
~Micah 6:8 (NIV)