Saturday, February 28, 2015

Find Your Voice

Apparently, my blog post on Thursday--"Tell Your Story"--has a sequel. And this is it. I assure you--none of it was planned. I'm just living on a wing and a prayer here and doing what I feel led to do, which is rather this inexplicable glory of taking dictation.   It's really best anyway...for me to just be clicking the keys and letting the words spill from what I think the Lord wants to say through this blog. That's what my heart beat is for this space. To just be the pen in the hands of the Writer, offering to you whatever he wants you to hear.

So listen up.

Because this is indeed, the unintentional sequel to my bossy directive to tell your story.

You see, silence isn't always golden. In fact, sometimes silence is deadly. Sometimes inaction and quiet and a refusal to speak out or speak up is actually the WORST thing you can do. Although it's usually the easiest thing to do.  

Gotta say it again...I'm on a roll here with fresh revelations from reading God's word and all that I am learning for the FIRST time about who God really is, what his character is really like and how he wants us to live out our relationship with him on our time here on earth.

This is the zinger from today.

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed.
Luke 11:14

While I can't recall this being a story we focused on in Sunday School at any point in my life, I'm quite sure that I've read it before at some point. But I must've glossed on by, seeing little application or relevance.

Not today.

There, in black and white, tagged on to telling your story, Jesus is saying to find your voice.

You see, sometimes evil is silence. Sometimes the enemy works against us by silencing us. He works against us by stealing our voice, killing our boldness, and destroying our words before even one is spoken.

Sometimes, it's not what the enemy is trying to make us DO that's the biggest threat. But in fact, it's what he is trying to keep us from doing.  It's how he holds us back to keep us silent and ineffective and not moving ahead. It's how he keeps us from taking a step forward or uttering a word. These tactics can be his best weapon against us. Against change. Against new things. Against the movements of God that we might be invited to be part of.

If he can only keep us mute.

But when we dare, through the power and the boldness and the authority of Jesus...when we dare to find our voice, the crowd might be amazed.

The people around us might be in awe. They might be moved. Impacted. Inspired. And the ripple effect could be, it just might become a tidal wave stirred by the smallest pebble of our words. Our voice. Our action.

Luke 11:15-16 goes on to tell us about the speculation and confusion that followed, just after the crowd was amazed. As people often do, they quickly went from AWE to questioning and naysaying and criticizing and judging. The words we dare to proclaim and declare--the stories we dare to tell--well, they may be well received initially and then misunderstood. 

This was true for this man who suddenly spoke after being mute. 

The people questioned motives and the source of the words and the intention. They pushed for proof that it was really God behind the words. 

But here's the thing. The crowds around us are often amazed one second and skeptical the next. Just look at the news stories and celebrity gossip and public opinion that changes so quickly it causes whiplash as we watch it all go back and forth. People are fickle. People are our biggest supporters one minute and our biggest critics the next.

Even so, we must find our voice. Even so, we must allow ourselves to be freed to speak. Even so, we must see where silence is actually an evil we are allowing because we are refusing to tell our story. We must dare to be a voice where only silence currently reigns.

What if Martin Luther King junior had chosen silence and the easy way? Scared of opposition and the crowd's response. Surely, he was a man who was most loved by some, most hated by others. 

But he found his voice.

What if Paul was silenced by the opposition instead of boldly proclaiming the truth and penning most of the New Testament? What if he cared more about how he might be perceived than he did about being courageous enough to do what he felt God called him to do?

What if Joseph hadn't spoken up to interpret dreams back in Egypt? What if he cowered in the prison he found himself and did not tell Pharaoh the bad news of the impending drought and famine? He would have missed his opportunity to be part of God's bigger story to save his people from destruction.

What if Anne Frank didn't write in her diary? What if the persecuted church world wide decided to shut their mouths and quit taking their stand for Jesus? What if they feared the oppressor more than their Defender?

Luke 11:17-20 goes on to tell us how Jesus knew the fickle minds and the critical thoughts of the crowd...the ones who were initially amazed. And he defends the voice of the freed man and declares his own Lordship.

Jesus answers for the man.

Jesus will answer for us.

And his opinion is the only one that matters.

So let us not have our mouths muzzled by the crowd or our speculation of the crowd when Jesus is freeing us, calling us, asking us, encouraging us, equipping us to speak up. He is releasing us to say what he intends for us to share with a hurting and desperate world.

We must not stay silent for fear of being judged or misunderstood. We must see that our silence...our inaction...might actually be the the evil that the enemy desires. It might actually be the way that the enemy is holding us back from what God is intending us to do.

I don't know what your story is. I don't know what your voice needs to declare. But if you feel a pit in your stomach because something is coming to mind and it scares you to death, it is likely the very thing you are supposed to do. 

Perhaps you are to read this and to find the courage through Jesus' authority to tell your story. To someone who needs to hear it. To someone who would be helped by it. 

Maybe you are to just share your story initially with one person. Maybe you'll have a bigger platform eventually. Maybe you start by journaling it out first. As a carthartic way to begin to find your voice. 

Maybe there is an injustice or a cause that you cannot shake. It just eats at you and you don't know what to do about it. You may or may not be the next Martin Luther King junior and you may or may not be given a grand audience. But maybe you can figure out how you can get involved. 

Because there is so much suffering in the world and God clearly calls us to be the voice for the oppressed. 

Orphans. Homelessness. Human trafficking. Poverty. Government corruption worldwide. The persecuted church. Slavery. The marginalized. The victimized. The hurting. The hungry.

So don't be mute. Don't allow silence to fill the void where action is needed.

Maybe you take the weight of what you can do and what you're skilled at and what your sphere of influence is and then you completely throw it all behind that cause that tears at you. You can use social media or your own blog or this blog or your free time to volunteer for that cause. 

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to be a great leader and contributer to the cause. There is much kingdom work to be done. And every last one of us have a part in it. You can find someone doing good work and lend your time and talents to them. 

I haven't been to Africa, but my friend Cyndi has a non-profit working there to feed and care for orphans and vulnerable children. I'm good at planning things and organizing, so I plan an annual Swap & Shop to be a voice and fundraiser for the cause.

My friend Jen is going through some hard places. She so eloquently updates her sister's Caring Bridge to convey how God is working and how their family is doing and to give words to their situation.

My cousin has spent time in India and had first-hand experience with the company employing the marginalized women in that area. As the mom of two little ones now, she stays involved by helping to sell the products that those women make, as her way to being their voice in her own home town.

Another friend went through a trauma years ago. It was hard and brutal. She has recently found that the time is right to start helping others in that same situation. And I am awed as I watch her, so courageously, begin to find her voice and even share her story on a very large stage. She has also begun to be part of some after care support groups.

Yes, we all have stories to tell. And there is value and comfort and worth in every one of them, even the hard stories. Other people need to hear them. We need to ask the Lord to help us find our voice. To help release us from being mute and to find avenues to begin to speak. 

We can often be paralyzed into staying silent because of our preconceived notions of what this might look like. We think no one will hear or we don't have a stage or we don't have the courage or we aren't some huge social activist and we can't possibly make an impact on issues of the oppressed and hurting and marginalized.

But we are so wrong. Because we can sign petitions and lend our Facebook statuses and find time to volunteer and send a bit of money to help make huge changes. 

About a year ago, I heard Rebekah Lyons speak, addressing the issue that many of us have with feeling restless.  Because we aren't sure what we were made to do. We don't know what to be when we grow up.  We are silent and feel unfulfilled somehow. She expressed that we can find our calling in the intersection of where our passions and our talents collide.

If you are not sure what your voice is, then pray. Ask the Lord to reveal to you what you are passionate about, either because of how it has impacted you personally or because it just stirs something up in you that you cannot ignore. Think about where your talents, gifts, skills and natural strengths lie. Jot it all down and ask for wisdom to see how it all intersects, how it all comes together.

Indeed, Jesus has freed us from silence. He is calling us to not remain mute. He is asking us to tell our stories and to find our voice and to be part of the bigger work that he is doing in this world.

Sometimes, the crowds might be amazed. Sometimes, they may pick us apart.

But always, when we bravely say yes, even with great trepidation, God will equip us for those places that are farther than our feet could ever wander. When we are willing to say yes, even timidly, to trust without borders, then he will give us the words. He will equip us. He will free us from our silence and use us to speak loudly for that which he calls us. 

We will find our voice with our words, our actions, and our very lives.

And there, we find our callings. There we see our place in the bigger picture. And we step into the parts that we can fill, and we feel the joy of giving words to that which we are called to do.

May we all be unleashed to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tell Your Story

We sat on the couch, discussing the loss of someone she knew. As she described the circumstances, I told her part of my story. She nodded as we found solace in the common ground of loss. I shared my story because I thought it might encourage her. Because I know the comfort of shared experiences. I know the loneliness born from walking a hard road where others are too timid to join you. I know the only thing worse than suffering is doing so alone.

She has a story to tell also. When she stated that she isn't ready to tell her the full story yet...that she lacks the courage to do so...I tried to encourage her. I reminded her that she tells her story every time she shows up at a friend's house with a letter, a gift, and her presence. She tells her story every time she sits in the silence of suffering alongside her friends and her family. 

For that is the greatest gift we can give the hurting. To just sit in silence, sharing their pain. Staying by their side. Words are not necessary in the moments of sharing someone's grief with them.

The truth is that we all have a story to tell. The truth is that we all, somewhere along the road of life's journey, hit a pot hole. Sometimes we fall into a sink hole that seems to consume us. No one escapes unscathed in this human condition of walking through our days. We all get broken and scarred and battered and bruised.

And we all have a story to tell.

Some of us overshare. I think I tend to fall into that category. Sometimes I feel badly about that. But mostly, I remember the pain of suffering in silence because others let me clearly know that I needed to stop talking. Others were uncomfortable with my burden. My pain was too much for them. So either the subject was always changed subtly, or I was flat out told something that clearly conveyed--"stop talking."  

I hungered--I was desperate--for someone to just sit and listen. Someone to share their own story. I longed for someone to have a story to tell that was similar to mine. Not that I wanted people to have pain, but I needed to find a community with similar struggles. I needed to quit feeling like I was hanging out to dry, all alone. Because it made me feel like a freak.

So I started a group for others in my situation. And for the short duration of our gatherings, we found solace in the sharing of our similar stories. Because it reminded us we weren't alone.

For others, the pain is too raw or too hard to share. To retell the story brings life back to it, and it reignites the emotions and the struggles. In the telling, the burden is multiplied. It's simply too fresh.

But still, I encourage you to tell your story. When the time is right. To ask God to help you tell your story. Perhaps to begin by journaling. Or some other safer way to express your story. Maybe you are an artist and you can create something from the place of your emotions. Or maybe you tell your story by supporting causes for others with your story. Maybe you find solace in rocking babies at a hospital, like someone I know. Maybe you tell your story by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or by training for a 5K or a Fun Run supporting the cause that has become personal to you.

However it looks, in whatever way it feels right, I want to encourage you to tell your story. For though the words are hard and the reality is harsh and the retelling means you are reliving it all, your story is exactly what someone else needs to hear. Your words and your experience validates the suffering of someone else. Your openness and your transparency and your honesty is a balm to the soul of someone with a similar story. 

Your story tells them that you have survived. And they can too. Your story tells them that you get it. It eases the loneliness and the feeling of being the only one suffering in silence. 

Your story welcomes them with a huge hug of understanding. It says, "We have a common ground. Our stories are not so isolated. We can welcome others here, too. Because there is strength in sharing the load together."

So tell your story. Know that it has worth and value and in the retelling--in the welcoming extended when you share your story and invite others in--something amazing happens. Because as you say, "I've been there, too," you find purpose. You find meaning. You find that it was not all a loss because your story gains significance when you can comfort others with it.  Your hard roads somehow find redemption when you can offer your story as a consolation to encourage others who are coming behind you. 

And a miraculous thing happens for yourself, too. When you tell your story and reflect on where you've been, you gain eyes to see where you are now. You have vision to grasp the progress made. You begin to see the incremental, tiny baby steps forward and that your story didn't end back at the point of suffering and loss and pain. In fact, your story suddenly has a beautiful epilogue when you consider the "what happened" with the "where you are now."

So, tell your story. 

And listen for the stories of others. Because no matter the battle you face, you are not the only one. There is a kinship, a club of sorts, made up of others who have been where you've been and who have survived.

If you're not sure where or how to tell your story, let me make you an offer. I've recently asked some dear friends to share their stories here. When they are ready. To guest blog. Anonymously even, with no identifying details if they'd like. Because their first hand accounts have so much more power than my musings.

So, if you need a platform or a venue to tell your story, let me know.  Leave a comment and I'll be in touch. If you know me personally, email or message or text me.

Because your story has meaning and it has the power to impact others. Positively. Your story didn't end at the point the suffering began. In fact, it is still just getting started. Because God is always doing a new thing. And the seeds that died in the soil of your life--whatever that hardship was--they can grow into tiny greet shoots that bloom into a tree that provides shade for others.

So tell your story.

And know that no matter what it is, what was meant for evil, God can use for good. What was awful and insufferable and inexcusable can still find purpose and significance in the hands of a Heavenly Father who says he's never left us and he has never forsaken us. He was there all along. And he will be there forevermore.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pulling Threads and Puzzle Pieces And Dreaming Big Things

The weather has matched my mood this week.  The dreary cold and sleet that shut us in. I must admit that I've felt moody. Tenative. Appropriately introspective and lazy and unsure. 

Just sitting in the warmth of my home with my people. Contemplative. A bit undone, honestly. Tired and worn, ragged around the edges.  I'm not really sure about it all, but I think it's because of this glorious unraveling that's been going on in me. I really can't pinpoint where it started or how it started. Perhaps it's always been in the wings, slowly playing out within me, just below the radar. For all that I don't know, I am quite sure the why of it.

Because it's high time I quit playing around with religion. It's time I quit doing the right things with a performance mentality. Perfecting the art of legalism. It's time I quit living safely, in my holy huddle. Doing the same things. Getting the same outcome.

Because, I'm learning, there is so much more to life. There is so much more to living out our faith. There is so much more to discovering the depths of God's grace.  There is so much more than being Martha. Who was busy and distracted with "all the preparations that had to be done." And all of it--all of her doing and busy-ness led to one result. Jesus said she was "worried and troubled about many things" (Luke 10:38-42).

I'm tired. I'm tired of being worried and troubled and busy and distracted.

I'm tired of being Martha. I'm tired of living up to some expectation, either expectations imposed by others or simply from within myself. I'm tired of living behind a facade of goodness and achieving and impressing.

It's exhausting. 

To keep trying to be someone who has so much to do and people to impress and preparations and tasks, fueled and filled with self-importance.

I'm tired.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, I've begun to appreciate the beauty of Mary. Sweet Mary. As in Martha's sister. The one I've previously considered as, well...lazy. The one who didn't help out when guests showed up. Because she was just sitting around.

Except she wasn't just sitting around.

I'm beginning to see that.

She was sitting at the feet of Jesus, as students of that day did for their trusted Rabbi. Getting dirty from the dirt of the teacher's feet, in such close proximity so as to not miss a single word. A single pearl of wisdom and insight.

To be perfectly frank, I used to resent Mary.

But I've learned to envy her. And I'm still learning how to emulate her.  To put down my striving. To lay aside my agenda. To embrace my absolute brokenness and inability and inadequacy and be comfortably uncomfortable with it. 

I'm learning.  I'm learning how to be perfectly imperfect.

And I think that the last few days I've just felt such a weight for one very good reason.  Because I can sense it.  I can nearly taste it. I've caught some foggy glimpses of it. I'm on the verge of some freedoms. Some break throughs.

There, just ahead, like a vague shadow behind a fog. 

The new things that call to me.  Learning to bask in the applause of heaven instead of seeking the applause of fickle man. Asking, indeed begging at times, that God would help me to fear him properly, asking him to teach me how to do that. Because I'm seeing that if I could properly fear God then all other fears lose their hold on me.

I'm realizing that if I could fear God and perceive his BIGNESS, all else will shrink into proper perspective. Including my own sense of self-importance.  Because I see how my self-importance gets in the way. It leads me to bow up continually, asserting my rights and my agenda and my timing and my ideas. In the line at the post office. With the small inconveniences and delays in daily life.  With the bigger things as well. All too often I flippantly exchange joy and peace for the temporary fleeting problems that all fall firmly into the category of first world problems.

And that. THAT is perhaps where the unraveling first began. When my eyes began to be opened to the true suffering in the world. When I began to see beyond my little first world Americanized puny faith. I've struggled to articulate it. But then, I heard Jen Hatmaker use the term "pulling the thread" to describe the journey from sitting safely on our church pews to learning to live out the gospel with passion and boldness. When God messes with you big time. Interrupts your easy-go-lucky life to bring you through a brutiful reckoning.  A breaking of your mediocrity and your apathy.

To give you eyes to see what we were made to see. To break your heart for what breaks him. And in the undoing, somewhere along the way, a freedom has begun to take hold. A sense of realizing that there is so much freeing truth that I have never grasped. 

My husband and I were in the car the other day, driving during an amazing sunset. And I was humbled. A sense of peace and joy bubbled up as I silently prayed and finally admitted, "Lord, what if I've never really gotten you? I think I've had you all wrong. All this time. All my life. I've seen you as some demanding God, controlling me like a puppet, requiring my performance and rule following. But I'm beginning to see. I'm beginning to grasp that you are indeed a God bigger than I could ever comprehend. With a joy and delight for me that I cannot fathom. And all you want is ME. To say yes to whatever adventures you have for me. To take me to new places. And to do new things. I do believe. Help my unbelief! Keep teaching me." 

I don't even know if I'm making sense here. I'm trying to put into words all that he is teaching me. The way my eyes have been open to things I've never seen or learned in a lifetime in the church. To the blessings and favor he has for me when I dare to say yes to new things. To dream with him instead of trying to convince him to say yes to my dreams.  It all leads me to just keep pulling the thread. 

It finally dawned on me to quit describing these random dots that I can't find the connection between and to ACTUALLY write them down in a note on my phone. And there it was. The random parts of pulling the thread--those things that have begun to burden me and to capture my attention and my heart. Coupled with my talents and gifts and bents that maybe, just maybe will all fit together toward something God has been doing in me all along. 

What if? Just what if God actually has a master plan all along to use my bents and my passions and my time and talents to impact his kingdom and the problems I'm beginning to see? What if it all fits together somehow in some new thing he has in mind?

And so, here you go. Deep breaths. As I throw it all out there. To the entire world wide web. I'm letting you all in, bloggy friends. To the deep and wide and wild thoughts in this journey of pulling the thread.

My career in adoption. My heart for the fatherless. After all, I am fatherless myself. My own grief leading to such a tendering for others who grieve. Knowing birth families and adoptive families in domestic adoption. And then international adoption work. Seeing orphans worldwide. Meeting orphans who aren't orphans because they all have families who cannot raise them. Who have abused and neglected them, perpetuating horrendous family cycles. And orphan prevention by equipping families in poverty to be the parents their children need. A growing heart for seeing families who are whole. For seeing solutions for children in third world country where they can live in a family setting, be educated, be fed, and be equipped to reach into their own culture, into their own nations, and be empowered to evoke change for their own people. A fresh awakening recently for the plight of refugees and those who have previously been rather invisible to me, in my own backyard.  

My own experiences as a social worker. My passion to write and to create and to design and to make something from nothing. My desire to speak and to teach and to give and to be a world changer. My natural abilities to organize and to plan and to lead.

I don't know. I don't know where all this beautiful undoing and unraveling and rebuilding is leading me. But, I do know that I don't want to be the same. I don't want to be left as I am. I'm growing ever more uncomforable with the status quo.

All I see is puzzle pieces. Jagged, unclear. Random.

And sometimes, I am tired. Sometimes, it feels exhausting.

But then, I remember who has the final picture on the puzzle box of how it all fits together.

And I am learning that for all I think I know about God, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

He is so much more and so much deeper and so much grander than I can begin to grasp.

Life is indeed a journey. 

And I'm ready for the new paths.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Everydayness of Life

Like everyone else, life happened this week.  The usual chaos of shlepping my kids to and fro and attempting to keep pace with the laundry from a family of five and cooking dinners and paying bills and going to soccer games. Blah, blah, blah.

The usual. The rhythms of life that often feel as though they are on hyper drive and I get to Friday and try to remember if I've had meaningful conversations with my three kids or my husband. It's all rather a blur, and I am desperate for my pajamas and bedtime by 4:00 pm on Friday. 

The everydayness of life. It can feel exhausting and demeaning in its demands.  It can push us to a place of standing precariously on the precipice of a cliff. When we are tired and worn out and ragged around the edges, by the wear and tear of just the daily grind. And we begin to think we might be losing our mind. 

Signs you might have arrived there include losing your cool when the website you are using suddenly kicks you out. And life as you know it feels as though it is OVER. Or when you feel a rush of accomplishment that you booked that flight. Only to realize you did so for the wrong day.  And you schedule something on your calendar, contentedly crossing that off your list. Before it's brought to your attention that you just booked that at the same time as a family wedding. And this would be the wedding for which you are currently assembling the invitations. The invitations that are piled on your table, yet somehow that date mix-up thing happened anyway. All of it leaving a feeling of drowning in the flood of the mundane and the tasks and the work and the needs and the fast pace of life.

All hypothetically speaking, of course.

This was not a red letter week for me. I was tiny little push away from losing my cool. All week long.

And I read this on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth....
Numbers 14:21

His glory fills the earth. The certainty that the awe inspiring glory of the Lord fills the whole earth.

It feels rather like a pipe dream when life kicks in to high gear and all that fills our world are the worries and concerns that press in on us. The deadlines and needs of each day. His glory feels elusive, like a flowery fairy tale alive in our imagination only.

Because our eyes are just tunnel visioned on the less than glorious daily routines of work and family.  We may snatch a quick word of Scripture, glossing through someone's Jesus Calling post on Facebook. Or sing along with a favorite praise song, feeling a slight warm fuzzy before it slips away in our rush of the day.

But yet, there it is. In black and white. The factual statement that the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth. Not sometimes, like an occasional sighting of some distant planet. Not possibly, like a weather forecast whose predictability is questionable. And not far away, requiring some lengthy ritual or trying requirement in order to snag a glimpse of it.

No. The verse plainly states that God's glory fills the whole earth.

I scratched my head and thought, "if this is true, then why does it feel so hard to believe?" I've lately been challenged to consider the difference it would make in my day-to-day life if I could begin to grasp his glory and truly feel the awe and fear of how big he is. 

Because I'm realizing that if I could really GET his majesty, then the stuff of earth would lose it's grip on me. The worries and fears and strivings would melt away. If I can learn to fear the Lord with awe and reverance and humility. It could change everything. It WOULD change everything.

So, how?  HOW do I stay focused and gain eyes to see this glory that fills the earth?  How do I begin to truly believe that all that worries me in this life is temporary and fleeting and nothing compared to the glory to come? How can I live every day with the wonder that I've felt in those mountaintop moments when I've worshipped and listened to teaching that seems to cut away the bindings of the chaotic life that distracts me?

How do I bring the experience of those moments into my mundane so that I can live above the frenzy of the circumstance?

I don't know. 

Oh, I'm sorry--perhaps you were thinking this blog post had the magic formula.

But I don't have it. I'm just wrestling away here, asking the Lord to bring the foggy and unclear ideas of grasping his glory into a clearer focus.  I'm asking him to show me how to live like those regular people we read about in Scripture who did amazing things. Like stand off against a giant and take a step onto the waves and go willingly into a fiery furnace. Because I think the reason those common men and women did uncommon things is because they knew.

They knew that beyond their chaos, beyond their trials, beyond their circumstances...God's glory was filling the earth. They were hanging on to the wonder of it and it made all the difference in how they could take one step at a time in this life. No matter what.

I think that the 21 men who were martyred by ISIS recently were able to sit on their knees and hold their heads up because they KNEW that God's glory filled the earth. And it was brighter and more magnificent than the threats against them. It was the brightest light and tangible reassurance and nothing on this earth could possibly compare. It beckoned them to endure. It challenged them to look beyond. It encouraged them to press on. It called to them that God was biggest. It strengthened them beyond their own abilities.

Because they saw it. They knew it. They felt it.

The Lord's glory fills the whole earth.

Hidden behind our stacks of laundry and piles of dirty dishes and overcrowded schedules and long tasks lists.

We can see the glory of the Lord.

It's always there. 

It's always been there.

It will always be there.

But first, we must ask for eyes to see it. We must ask for a heart that craves it. We must intentionally take time to dig into his word, like an incremental investment into our soul knowing that it will pay dividends if we just keep doing it. We must boldly proclaim to the Lord--I do believe! Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24). So that we can learn to take him at his word. 

So that on our darkest and hardest and most trying days, we might be anchored by the certainty that God's glory fills the earth. And it overshadows all of the things that seek to distract us. It satisfies us as nothing else on this earth can. Because we were created to bask in it. To seek it. To hunger for it. To be changed by it. To magnify it with our very lives.

God's glory.

The awe and wonder that our God is infinitely beyond our understanding. That he is too much for our feeble minds to grasp. That his love and his grace and his mercy are deeper than any shame that plagues us. That his strength is mightier than any challenge we face. That he is the same God who spoke the world into existence, telling the ocean when to swell and when to retreat. That he knows the name of every star. That he knows the number of hairs on our head. That he is not bound by time and he knows what all has happened to us and he knows what will happen to us. And he knows all of our mistakes and sinful thoughts and hidden missteps. And he loves us still. 

That is God's glory.

That we might beg him to help us catch even a glimpse and to continue to feed our appetite for his glory. To chase it rather than the things of this earth. To choose, even in our exhausting mundane, to believe that there is something bigger. Something better that makes it all worth it.

Give us eyes to see your glory, Lord. Every single day. Through the house work and the job and the family and the friends and the car pools and the busy pace.

To pause long enough to be still. And realize that the blue skies and sunrise and the draw of each breath and the tasks we've been given and the simplest of things all point to one thing.

His glory. That fills the earth.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Tricky Thing about Worry

Confession time.  About ten days ago, I had a major meltdown. I mean, complete freak out.  My heart began to race, my palms felt sweaty and I was working myself into an emotional frenzy. My poor husband and children, unfortunately, had a front row seat to my crazy.

It's a gift. I come by it naturally.

Anyone else relate? Anyone else get a text or a call or an email or have an epiphany and suddenly you go from zero to sixty in 2 seconds flat.  And you just know. I mean, you are now convinced that the world is coming to an end. And no one and nothing can talk you off the ledge. The worry and the stress take over. I mean, big time. The storm clouds gather and swirl about you and without a doubt, all is coming to ruin.

Life is coming to an end as we know it.

Are you feeling me?

Turns out nothing really is new under the sun. Because the Israelites--those people who God called his very own--they are just like us. 

Funny thing that three days after my latest freak out, I HAPPENED to be reading Numbers 13 and 14. It was like holding a mirror up to my face.  It's a good news/bad news scenario.  Good news--I'm not alone. Bad news--I see myself for what I am. And I gleaned some important insights on the tricky things about worry.

So let me set the scene. In Numbers 13:21, Moses had sent the 12 leaders of the 12 tribes to go scope out the Promised Land that God had clearly stated he was giving these people.  You know--the people he has just miraculously freed from slavery in Egypt through the masterful use of ten plagues and that little thing of parting the Red Sea.  Next on the agenda...take the land God said was theirs for the taking.

These obedient twelve spies indeed went into the land for forty days. They brought back the enormous fruit and reported how amazing the land really was--that it really did flow with milk and honey.


...and this was a big "but."  There was a problem. The people there were powerful and the cities were fortified and the descendents of all their enemies lived there.

And this is my verse 29...the spies report that the Canaanites live in Canaan.

Can you even believe?

Just call them Captain Obvious. 

One man spoke up at this point.  Just as the wailing and gnashing of teeth is set to begin. Caleb said, "We should GO and possess the land. For certainly we can do it."

Not so fast, Caleb. Because ten of the twelve spies suddenly have a freak out moment. They melt down in grand fashion. They begin to lament how they cannot attack the people because the people are stronger than they are.

Which leds me to three key insights into how worry and fear and anxiety begin to creep in. It's pretty universal, I think. How the enemy fires his arrows of doubt and worry within us, stirring us to meltdowns.

1. Where we begin to stumble and become defeated is when we compare ourselves to the opposition or situation, instead of the all powerful God we serve. We see the giant. And forget God is bigger. We turn our eyes from the Lord to our doubts. And we then begin to feed our fear and starve our faith. It can be the point of no return.

2. We forget God's promises. Plain and simple. We forget what God's Word says. We don't take him at his Word. We don't believe that what he says, he will do. Again, starving our faith and feeding our fears. The thing is that God had audibly spoken to these people and TOLD them he was giving them this exact land. There were no questions marks or clauses in that promise.

3. And we forget what God has already done. These fearful men suffer from spiritual amnesia, JUST LIKE WE DO. They seem to have completely forgotten the locusts and frogs and bloody water and the Passover and the angel of death and the sudden freedom from 400 years of slavery where their captors actually gave these former slaves plunder. These people had walked out of generations of captivity, arms full of plunder, and found the ultimate freedom when they walked across dry land with a sea piled up on either side of them. 

But they forgot. Completely. They saw only the obstacles ahead, forgetting the victories from before.

Aren't we the same way? We get so twisted up in our tunnel vision with our perceived obstacles that we totally forget the past victories. 

And this is precisely why we should keep record of said victories. When we are struggling and melting down, we should sit with a piece of paper and ask the Lord to bring to mind all the ways he has shown up in the past. It's a great way to feed our FAITH and starve our fear.  If we would only not forget to remember.

The next few verses in this Numbers passage reveal some more startling truths about worry. The tricky things about it--the very things that allow it to take us over.

You see, these fearful and forgetful men began to spread a bad report (Numbers 13:32). The fear mongering went viral. Because the truth is that fear is a wildfire of epic proportions. And it spreads so fast that it burns up all of our faith, if left unattended.

When we allow fear and worry to shrink us, when we begin to cower and be dwarfed by our feelings...then the circumstances grow bigger than they really are and we assume everyone sees us as inadequate. We certainly see ourselves as inadequate. Like these Israelites who say that the people in the Promised Land were of great size and that they themselves seem like grasshoppers in their own eyes and they looked the same to the opposition.

I wonder. How big were these people, really?  I mean, historically--do we have prove that everyone that lived in the Promised Land were some sort of amazon gigantic people? And did those people really even SEE these twelve men? Because I thought they were the spies on a covert operation. So, was there really some widespread observation and declaration among these enemies that those pesky Israelites are like grasshoppers?

But this is what happens with worry. When fear is spread, when our inadequacies take precedence over God's promises--we forget the places he's rescued us from. And we lose sight of the places He's taking us to. We have spiritual amnesia about His faithfulness. Suddenly, the plagues and Passover and parted seas fall completely off our radar. They are overshadowed by fear, current circumstances and our own inabilities. And we begin to believe the worst things about ourselves and our situation.

Fear is contagious. It is indeed a wildfire that spreads so fast after even the tiniest spark that it burns up our faith.

As a result, we see in Numbers 14 that all the people raised their voices. Not in praise, but in despair.

All the people weep aloud, instead of shouts of battle cries.

All the people grumble against the very leaders who have rescued them and led them out of captivity.

And here's the trick--the dirty, low down trick--that worry tries to play on us.

These people were freaking out.

AND NOTHING BAD HAD HAPPENED. Nothing had actually changed. 

It's all borrowed trouble, accepting defeat fed by fear--before there's even a weapon drawn.

The result of the freaking out is that all these people were then quickly carried by fear to a wish to have died in captivity or have perished in the desert. A death wish settles in rather than face... well, face something that hasn't even happened?

While they are still drawing breaths and being fed and safe from harm in the situation that was actually the exact same before the wildfire of fear blew through.

Fear clouded their perspective and it skewed their vision so that all the promises of God were forgotten. All the possibilities for new things were abandoned. And instead of looking forward or up--they are looking back.  Looking back to a disaster that didn't happen and a doom that hasn't happened.

And the truth is that nothing has actually changed but their perspective. 

Then, they do what we all tend to do when worry creeps in and settles hard on us. They blame God. They pin it all on God, as if they are being punished. When the only thing that has actually changed is their perspective.

Because they let fear burn up their faith.

Because they let the pessimism of the ten people blind them to the revealed and spoken promise of the Only One. 

Because they let the fear of ten men evoke spiritual amnesia. And they blame God now. Suddenly. Because of the opinion and unbelief of ten men. 

Ten men who were actually NEVER asked to be decision makers. They were never asked to offer their opinion on whether or not they could take the land. They were only asked to explore the land.

And this is how the enemy traps us in the grip of fear and worry.

He plants a seed of doubt. He gently blows on the little spark of fear to cause a wildfire of fear to rage. And we are suddenly caged in a vision for the fear alone.  And the fear paints a deceitful picture of what has happened and what will happen.

And these deceitful pictures replace the masterpieces of what God has done and what he promises to do.

And the only thing, typically, that has changed is our perspective.

In a camp of what we presume to be millions, these ten men fan a flame of fear.  And suddenly, the entire camp is convinced of their impending doom. They say they will fall by the sword...when not a weapon has been drawn. They say that their wives and children will be taken as plunder...when there is no enemy in sight. They listen to the frenzied voice of fear when the promise from God had been audibly spoken to them. They stirred up certainties that had yet to happen instead of remembering the miracles that had actually happened.

These people chose to listen to the fear filled voices of ten men who believed that the enemies they saw were stronger then they were. Instead of remembering the God who was stronger than anyone. And he had proved that in front of their very eyes by breaking the chains of a powerful Egyptian pharoah.

Just like us, these people become downtrodden as if the worst has already happened. So they want to run to the familiar captivity and bondage rather than jump off the cliff of taking God at his word.

And their solution is to choose a leader who will take them back to Egypt. 

What they are seeking is validation of their misplaced fears. And a choice to return to captivity rather than dare to experience freedom.

Don't we do the same? Some new piece of information comes our way and we forget. We forget God's goodness and his faithfulness and his character and his promises. We lose sight of the actual situation because we are fixing our eyes on the possible outcomes. 

And before we know it, our minds have spun into a place of feeding the wildfire of fear. Starving our faith. Feeding our fears. We look to the opinions of others to validate our fear. Our imaginations run wild while our belief becomes stifled.

Listen, bloggy friends, the truth is that the Promised Land is just ahead. The truth is that God has shown up before and he will show up again. The truth is that maybe--if we just take a step backward--we can see that actually nothing has changed but our perspective. We might see that we are listening to the wrong voice.

We've allowed our worst-case-scenario mentality to evoke spiritual amnesia. We make assumptions that we are but a grasshopper when we are actually children of the Almighty Father who knows all the stars by name and spun the planets in motion.  

We forget that we aren't asked to be the decision makers. God has a plan. We are only asked to explore. And trust. We are asked to take him at his word.

Oh, that we might see ourselves in the mirror of Numbers 13 and 14. That we might see that we actually can choose to be the Caleb and Joshua who believed in the God they had seen perform miracles and who had promised more for them.

That the next time we feel the wildfire of fear burning up our faith, we could stop and pray. We could ask God to help us be Caleb and not be the crowd when worry kicks in. That we could ask God to help us starve the fear and feed the faith.  We could ask for eyes to see what has REALLY changed that has brought us to our meltdown.

And believe that no giant can stand against the smallest stones in the feeble hands of a faith filled little shepherd boy. Because those stones are launched by a faith in the Big God who is on our side.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sleepwalking Through Your Faith

There's been a question burning in my heart for the last week or so. It's been rolling around in my head and I've been seeking to answer it authentically and genuinely, truly pondering it for all of the ramifications of the answer.

And that question has just skyrocketed with importance and significance and urgency. With the news of the martyred Coptic Christians. 

The question now no longer dares to be answered.  It begs to be.

Am I...are you...truly awake in your faith? Or are you dead in it?

It's a question first raised to me through the transparent honesty of Lynne Hybels as she and her daughter Shauna Niequist spoke at the IF Gathering. Lynne is the wife of Pastor Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Church in Chicago. She spoke of a dark time in her life when she was all but dead. Dead in her faith. And dead in a suffocating depression that was stealing her ability to function and to live.  

She was full of questions and lacked answers. Eventually, she sought counseling, which led her to put to death the "toxic God of her childhood." She recognized that she must kill the idea of a taskmaster God and the unforgiving and demanding God that she had served her whole life up until then.  And then she would see what happened. Where she landed on the question of God.

It sounds like a scary endeavor.  A leap of faith.  To recognize that your concept of God is so off course that you actually must put it to death and start over. Rebuild your understanding of God in light of the truth of who he really is, sacrificing all misconceptions in the process.

Her daughter, Shauna, described that season as watching her mom come to life from a place of being dead.  She spoke of watching her mom doing the brave and difficult thing of wrestling through who God really is and what that truly means. Lynne described the tiny green shoots of hope that began to grow.  Because for the first time, she was able to think and know the truest things about God and faith and God's word. She began to discover her own giftedness and her own callings, aside from her husband. She came to realize her own talents and passions and she says that as she did, she did indeed come to life.

I was challenged by the way she spoke so candidly about the toxicity of her faith when she believed God to be a God of demands and laws and performance. And the way it literally was killing her. Stealing her very ability to function. But with the bold support of her family, she was allowed to jump off the cliff of rediscovery and face some huge questions, demolishing the falsehoods that she thought may very well kill any semblance of faith.

The end result was a resurrection and a rebuilding and a life of such abundance and a faith of such certainty and passion that she was unrecognizable to whom she had been.

The question is this.  Am I dead in my faith? Are you? What do you really think about God--how do you really view him?  And how is that shaping how you live out your life?  How you live out your faith, and also how you live out every part of your life and relationships and daily tasks?

As I considered Lynne's story and her descriptions of the struggle and the new birth, I realized something.

I've spent most of my life sleepwalking through my faith.  I wouldn't say I was dead in my faith, although I completely relate to Lynne's forthright description of a toxic God.  It felt like a description of my long held view of God as someone I must perform for and impress and please and jump through hoops for in order to gain the slightest advantage or favor. 

For the last seven or so years, I've been wrestling through the harsh reality of my unbelief that God is really FOR me. Without having to be convinced or coerced. That God truly delights in me, not just when I perform for him. That God's grace is real and deep and his love is boundless. And his gospel is GRACE, not law or ritual.

Oh, yes, as I've mulled over the words of Lynne Hybels, I've come to grips that I've been sleepwalking through this lifelong faith of mine. 

I have been lulled into a numbness and indifference by a view of God as a legalistic, judgmental and toxic God who demanded my performance in order to earn favor.

And the end result of that sleepwalking is a faith that lacked vibrancy and passion and vitality and breadth.  It's a faith that is bound by ritual and rote and laws and must-do's or should have's. It's also somehow a comfortable faith, requiring little challenge and allowing one to live-on-the-surface. As long as you live out the rules and the letter of the law, then the demands of the spirit of the law can be ignored. 

As long as you do the right things then the thought life and the attitudes beneath the actions can go untouched. Look pretty on the outside. Say the right Christianese terms and learn the vocab. Help others by offering to say a prayer for them, even if no such prayer is ever said. Meld this sleepwalking faith with the culture and it's perfectly acceptable to look out for number one and put yourself first.  Wear your plastic smile and keep up your facade and we can all ignore the mess underneath.  

The trick is how to keep the sleepwalking going.  When something confronts it head on that might just demand more of you. 

Something like someone's real traumatic experience that requires you to do more than pray for them with a quick little prayer at meal time. But you see the need to enter their mess and stand with them in the trenches.

When you hit the wall of feeling like this type of half-faith just isn't fulfilling. There must be more to it than this?

When you hear a story behind a statistic and you realize the real suffering going on in the world. Suffering that demands your attention. That makes you realize just how comfortable your brand of First World Christianity really is.

It demands more of you when you hear someone tell of putting their false ideas of faith to death and coming to LIFE to do huge things because the Truth has indeed set them free.

When you catch the tiniest glimpse of God's glory and you realize how off track you really have been as you've been stealing that glory for yourself.

It demands more of you when you see the news. And people are dying for their faith. Actual people in this day and time are being asked to renounce the gospel of Jesus or die.

And they choose death.

And it haunts you. Because it highlights the burning question.

Are you dead in your faith? Or are you sleepwalking in your faith? 

Or might you be coming alive to realize the grace and the love of Jesus that is scandalous? Are you coming alive to realize that the glory of God is so incredible that it puts the highlights of this life to shame? Are you coming alive to realize that the applause of heaven are far more desirable than the applause of man? Are you coming alive to realize that there is indeed a hunger and a thirst for Jesus that can make you feel as though you cannot get enough of him?

And it's not the God perhaps of your youth.  It's not tidy and neat and for Sundays only. It's not one dimensional like the Jesus on the feltboard of your Sunday School room. 

And it has nothing to do with religion and the traditions of man. Instead, it has everything to do with a relationship that changes everything. 

It's not about you and your gain. It's all about seeing the value of every man, all of whom are made in the image of God. And their worth requires you to pay a price to help them. It might even require some losses to you. 

And you'll think it's so worth it. To reach into the life of the hurting. In your neighborhood or even your house. At the grocery store. And globally, in the persecuted Church and the orphans and the starving and the victims of human trafficking and the refugees. 

Oh, yes. Once the alarm sounds and you decide to quit hitting snooze, then your eyes are open. And your heart is broken. And the wrecking is beautiful and necessary. And you welcome it on some strange level. Because it makes you feel alive as never before. To recognize that you are invited to be part of how God is moving all around the world. 

And it's not a dead religion. It's not a crippled faith. It's not sleepwalking or being chained to a toxic God.

It's a loving exchange of being freed and fed by the Word of God. And desiring to give it all back to him--all of who you are and all of what you want and all of what you have. All of it surrendered. 

As the chains break and you see him for who he really is, you want to be changed. You actually welcome the breaking of your heart for what breaks his. You long to be part of kingdom work and world change. And your vision somehow becomes more clear.  You see the temporal as fleeting and the eternal as so worth it. And you begin to see God more and more.  

And you begin to look at stories like those martyed Coptic Christian, and you feel a twinge of jealousy.

Because they lived until their dying breath with such passion for the Jesus who welcomed them into his arms and said, "Well done, good and faithful servant." And you know they felt no regret at all that they offered their very lives for the One who did the same for them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Creative, NOT Boring Approach to Studying the Bible

I'm a doodler.  When I was a little girl, I used to doodle in a little note pad to keep myself occupied in what felt like the eternally long "big church" sermons where I was expected to keep quiet and not be distracting. (Apologies to my childhood pastors for saying they were boring). 

I doodled in the margins of my papers at school. I doodled when I was bored to keep myself awake and I doodled for a creative outlet, filling little sketch book after sketch book. When I was dating my husband in college, I'd say that 99% of all my note taking involved exploring all the ways to mix my first name with his last name in all different fonts within my note margins. I even doodled him a page of cartoons on notebook paper with all our inside jokes as a gift one time, framing it even. We were poor college students--what can I say?  (By the way, we still have that masterpiece somewhere).

Basically, I've always been artsy fartsy.

Bear with me.  This will now seem like a sudden change in topic. It'll all come together, I promise.

So in the last year, I have dug into the Word of God as never before. It's been pretty radical. I've actually begun just reading the Bible. For a girl who has always been dependent on a Bible study book to keep me reading the Bible, this is pretty crazy stuff here. To just start reading the Bible. All by my big girl self. No Bible study books to guide me.  It started after the IF Gathering last year, when I began to go through the daily IF Equip online readings on their website. 

And it's like I've struck gold. Like I've finally hit my stride somehow, discovering new ways to treasure hunt out of the Word of God. Learning to customize my own approach, by filling a basket with a Bible dictionary, using the tools on, and writing my own thoughts in my prayer journal, verse by verse. 

(Bonus bloggy tip about the Bible and growing spiritually--try writing out your prayers in a prayer journal. Writing them out as letters to God. And then, sitting with a blank page and writing out what you think God is saying to you. Jesus Calling style--like the popular book. This is how I keep my mind focused in prayer. And it's pretty amazing to go back and read how God has changed you and been faithful).

Oh by the way--nothing against Bible study curriculum AT ALL. I'm just saying that I'm in a different place right now. And it's pretty awesome.

Okay, I'm all "squirrel" in this post. Sorry!

So there really is a point to my sudden jump from how I'm a doodler and how I've been reading my Bible in the last year.

Because when you combine those two things... MIND BLOWN.

I sorta stumbled on it. What I call doodling out Bible verses. I bought a pad of 4"x6" paper and a 4"x6" mini photo album at the Dollar Tree.  I decided to take a verse from each day's passage that I was reading and doodle it out. I just use the ink pen I have for writing in my prayer journal.

Listen.  Turns out it's a thing. I feel validated and then again like my idea was ripped off all at the same time.

It's more formally known as hand lettering Scripture, apparently. OR, as I more recently discovered, Bible journaling. There's even a journaling Bible you can buy.  Yeah--who knew? That's a thing too. It has extra wide margins so you can doodle out verses in them. 

It's pretty awesome.

So, this spring with the fifth grade God's Girls, I was showing them my little album of Bible verse doodles as we were discussing various tools to Bible study like a concordance and Bible dictionary.

The doodles got their attention. They apparently had their minds blown too that they could combine doodling and Scripture as a creative way to meditate on the Word.

And because this afternoon I am going to answer their request to guide them through doodling Scriptures, I decided to share with you, too, what I'm going to tell them. Also, sometimes a room of a dozen tweeners don't always hear what I'm saying. I thought I'd put it in writing for them, too.

Drum roll.  For all inquiring minds. Here's my approach. I'm no expert. But I am LOVING this new art form.

1. After I've read whatever passage I'm in for the day--which is usually only a few verses that I really dissect and consider--I look back through it and think about which verse stands out.  Which verse just hit me hard or seems to summarize what I think the passage is about--summarizing the central theme?

2. Then, I read through that verse a few times.  I look through it to consider, which WORDS in the verse seem to emphasize the point and meaning?  Which words are key to the verse? These will be the words that I make the largest or boldest in my doodle.

3. I cheat. Just so you know. I have a Pinterest board with various doodling fonts. So I pull that board up and look through the fonts to see which one I might like for the main word or words. 

I've done calligraphy and as I said, doodling, for decades now. Who knew that trying out my new last name would actually become a new spiritual discipline to help me meditate on Scripture?

But for my tweeners, I want to start them simple. So I am suggesting they consider a few basic handwriting styles.

--Bubble letters
--Bubble letters with a shadow
--All caps (slanted, or wide or tall)
--Cursive (again, slanted, or wide or tall)
--Regular old handwriting with upper and lower case letters
--Lettering with curly cues at the ends of the letters

4. I write out the BIG main words as I think they should be spaced. Then I go back and use smaller letters to write the other phrases in between.

5. I add in any flourishes or frames or arrows or such.

And you're done. Really. That's it. The thing is to be writing out the Scripture and thinking about the words as a way to help you memorize the verse, too.  Especially if you are a visual or kinesthetic learner. So have fun. Don't feel any pressure about how it looks or comparing it to others. 

This is not an art competition. 

It's just a new idea to combine doodling and the Word of God as a spiritual discipline or practice, like I said.

And if you love it and want to play some more with it, you might buy a bigger sketch pad and some black thin sharpies or microcon pens at a craft store. You could add another layer to it and buy cheap watercolors or colored pencils or twistable crayons to add color.

My recent doodle in my sketch pad of a quote I heard at the IF Gathering.

Some Miss Fancy Pants from the internet who is quite artistic and obviously about to add WATERCOLOR paints to her ink doodles.

I love that this idea of doodling and Scripture is capturing the imagination of my God's Girls. That these girls are fired up about God's Word because we've hit on something that speaks to them. And, I love the teenage girls I know who have a quote wall where they are basically doing this already.

I also love that we can think outside the box and consider new ways that speak to us to help us hide the Word of God in our heart. I love that after 40, I'm still learning so much and discovering new art forms and new things about my creative God who wove creativity into my DNA.

And I think I may be asking for a Journaling Bible for my birthday.

Because underneath it all, I'm still that little girl who sits and doodles to pass my time. And now, to also feed my soul.