Confusing Righteousness With Perfection

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The other night I was praying over my kids as they slept. A passionate prayer for the growing and deepening of their faith, and for the protection of their eyes, ears, hearts and minds in this world so full of darkness and lies that sound like truth. When I finished, the second half of James 5:16 came to mind – “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” No sooner did I think of that verse then another thought replaced it, “Well, not that I’m righteous.” It was that voice that whispers, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Don’t be proud and think you’re so good you deserve to be labeled righteous.” “Maybe you’re not righteous enough for your prayers to be really powerful or effective.” Ah, that last one is the crux. And the gut level response… doubt. Thankfully at that moment a different voice spoke, and I felt the Spirit of God say, “That’s the lie you’re believing and it robs you of your power. You are righteous because the blood of Jesus has made you righteous.”

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I realized that I have been confusing righteousness with perfection, and believing that in order to be righteous, I must behave and perform perfectly. To acknowledge that I fall far short of perfection, not in a self-flogging kind of way, but in a realistic accepting-of-my-limitations kind of way, is humble. I am human and flawed and I accept that I am not perfect. My righteousness, however, does not hinge on my performance, but on my willingness to surrender my life to Christ and accept the atonement that He offers me through His blood. It’s actually HIS righteousness that covers me. One definition of righteousness according to Merriam-Webster is: acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin. Jesus is the only person to ever walk this earth who was free from guilt or sin, but the amazing thing is that He offers to wash away our guilt and sin with His blood so that we may be restored to righteousness.

The truth is that believing we are righteous is not pride. God wants us to stand in that power. His Son died so that we could be offered His power, authority, and righteousness. To look at that offered gift that cost Him so much, and say, “Oh no, I couldn’t.” isn’t humility, it’s actually a painful rejection of Him and what He did for us. I need to claim and own that I am righteous. It’s true that I’m not in and of myself and my own virtue. But by His grace I am righteous, and He doesn’t want me to shrink back from that. He wants me to go and to be powerful and effective.

 

Why Achieving Success Doesn’t Equal Living Well

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It’s natural for all of us to focus on finding our place and role in this world. We each have a part to play. Our society, our mentors, our families all seem to have expectations for what we can and should contribute. So we make up a definition of success and striving to attain it becomes our focus. There’s nothing wrong with accomplishing great things or earning accolades, but I’m realizing that living for these things doesn’t add up to living well. We might hit the target we’ve set for ourselves, or that others set for us, but are we truly fulfilled by it? The target seems to be ever shifting and elusive. Haven’t we all set out to accomplish a goal, finally succeeded, felt an exhilarating high for a couple of days, and then said, “Huh, now what?”

The high doesn’t last. The praise of others doesn’t last either. They applaud for a moment, then get on with their lives. We then assume we didn’t have our target set quite right, and we need to aim a little higher to truly be “successful” and fulfilled. We rarely stop to ask ourselves why we think we have the authority to define success in the first place. We just assume that we need to, or in some cases the definition of success seems set by our culture and we feel powerless to change it.

A few years ago when I was in the deepest, darkest days of battling my chronic illness, I felt called to write a book about the beauty God had brought out of the ashes of my suffering. So naturally, I took that calling and proceeded to define what success of that calling should look like. I also promptly jumped into trying to figure out the “how-to” for writing a book and getting it published. You want to talk about being overwhelmed, try looking into publishing, book proposals, agents, editors, marketing, etc.! I got so intimidated and bogged down by it all! I couldn’t figure out how to structure my experiences into chapters in a way that would capture the interest of publishers and readers alike. In short, my inspiration didn’t fit well into the parameters I was trying to force it into, and it paralyzed my ability to move forward.

Now, a few years out, the passion and intensity of that calling has faded as I’ve enjoyed reprieve from suffering. I’ve gladly put distance between myself and the reality of what living every single day in a severely broken body was like. Yet I’ve wrestled with a lingering guilt that I never wrote that book. I feel as though I can’t move forward with other writing until I go back and check that box, but all of the same overwhelming roadblocks to that target have not changed. So on New Year’s Day I sat down with my journal and asked God if this is still something He wants me to do, or if I’m released from the calling. I told him how I feel stuck and shackled by the “shoulds”. Those “shoulds” encompass not just writing the book, but also finding “success” as a writer in general. It’s a common sentiment among writers to feel that getting published is necessary in order to really be able to call yourself a writer. We don’t really have any other credentialing that validates what we do in our culture. And we all want to be validated, don’t we? If we’re not, then we haven’t achieved success as we’ve defined it.

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried to figure this successful writer thing out. I’ve attended webinars by New York Times bestselling authors. I joined an online writing community. I listened to the advice of top gurus who all have achieved what I felt I needed to achieve to really meet my calling and have the impact God wanted me to have in this world.

As a writer, this is what you’re told…if you want to maximize your impact, you need to build your platform. A large platform will help you capture the interest of publishers. To build your platform you need to know and serve your audience. Write the content they want to read. Engage your audience through several social media outlets. Master the art of writing a book proposal. And the list goes on and on as we try to map out the pathway to “success”. None of these suggestions are bad in and of themselves, and in fact, some may very likely be necessary in order to be published. The problem is, none of this has ever really resonated with the calling that is deep in my heart, which is simply to share hope and encouragement through my story. Naturally, I do desire to have impact and to serve my readers well, but shifting my focus to how to achieve those goals leads to striving toward a target of my own making. I take that calling from God, and promptly get bogged down in doing it “right”.

 

In that early morning quiet on New Year’s Day, God answered my question about writing a book by showing me that success is not mine to define, it’s His. The following is an excerpt from that journal entry.

This is your journey and your history. You need to remember all I’ve done in your life. You need to remember where you came from, and how you struggled and grew. This battle was yours – for your benefit – your perseverance, character, and hope. You need to remember for you. Write about it for you. Write from that framework. That you’re doing this to commune with Me, to grow, to remember. Then it has value no matter who else it reaches. You write it for yourself, for our relationship, to bring glory to Me in your own heart. Then what you have created just for us, you can share with the world. When you remove the burdens and expectations of trying to meet some made up need in the world and plaguing yourself with questions of what “they” need, and what “they” want, and what “they” will buy, and what will help “them” grow, then you’re free to write the way I intended. Just between us. That’s where the power is.

Before journaling you read my words in Matthew 6:33 when I say, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  This is how it applies to your writing – seek Me with no agenda. Seek whatever I have. Seek your own growth in Me. When you write that way, and simply share it with the world, then all those other needs and wants of the world that paralyze your writing will automatically be taken care of as well. It’s not for them, but it will serve them all the same, and truly with even more power. It’s not fabricated to try to hit a target. It’s just authentic from the soul, and that’s what truly hits the target. So I want you to stop worrying about getting published, building a platform, or serving your audience. I want to be your only audience as you are writing. But then, as I direct, I want you to share these things written in private. Just put them out there as an act of obedience and praise, but return then to the secret place with Me. Don’t chase the end of the path where those words might land in the world. They are released. You release and then return (to Me). And so I will unleash my power through you. The impact you have ceased striving for will be given to you naturally. It will be a blessing, but it will no longer be your focus. If you seek a specific end result – impact, platform reach, publishing, etc., then your eyes have shifted to be wholly focused on a goal that will shift and move and never fully satisfy. When your focus is on remaining in Me, obedience, sharing hope, and praising Me publically in writing, then the fulfillment and impact you crave will be truly fulfilled. Me at the center is where fulfillment comes. Not chasing an accomplishment. So now you’re free. Vulnerable, yes, very much, but free of set expectations and the confines of serving others. You serve Me and through that they will be served. As you write your colitis journey, do it to remember, to praise, to commune with Me. Don’t do it to catch the eye of a publisher. Share your story with yourself. The part of you that has forgotten and will continue to forget.

So living well this year means drawing yourself into Me. Reviving your morning journaling times, but also taking the next step to share with the world what transpires between us, what I’m teaching you, how I’m growing you, what I’m laying on your heart. Just share with no expectations. You’re not striving for a reaction and response. When you dwell and remain in Me, My light will fill you and spill out. This is how you shine brighter than the dawn. This is how you live well. Be intentional. Days quickly pass. Don’t miss what I have for you by neglecting time with Me. Your fulfillment lies in this time. You cannot find it without it.

What definition of success have you been striving toward? Who defined success for you? Are the hoops you’re jumping through on your way to that target God ordained? Has He called you to them? I truly believe He is the ONLY one who has the authority to define success for each of us. It often won’t look the way we expect, or even the way our ego hopes it will. All of our definitions will look a little differently because all of our giftings and callings are a little bit different. But at the core, I believe our definition of true success is the same. To commune closely with God. To be grafted into Him. To remain in Him. And out of that closeness to be obedient as He calls us. Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Obedience is ours, outcome is God’s.” For me, trying to figure out the outcome, stalled my obedience. We don’t need to define the outcome. We need to release the outcome to Him and focus on being obedient to what He calls us to do.

When we are faithful to living fully submitted to Him, using our gifts as He intended, then He is faithful to provide for us and to complete the good work He began in us when we were created. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to figure out our calling that we lose sight of the One who is calling us. He calls us to love Him and to follow Him. And so, loving well and following well are the foundations for living well.

I pray for each and every one of us, myself included, that in this new year, we would return to loving and following God with renewed passion. That we would shift our focus from our own definitions of success and restore our focus back to the One who already has a perfect plan for our lives. And as we embrace His plan and release our own, I pray we’d experience the joy, fulfillment, and freedom of truly living well.

Live it Well

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What does that mean? Live it well. What would that actually look like in real life, on a day to day basis? It’s a question I’ve been rolling around in my mind for several days. This past week while running errands I heard the song of this title by Switchfoot on the radio. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, but this time, it riveted me, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe this needs to be my theme song for the new year.

I’m not typically one to have a theme for the year, or even any true resolutions. Yet something in the lyrics struck a chord inside me. A longing for the calling I’ve felt strongly yet somehow vaguely for so long. I don’t want to just go through this life one routine day after the next feeling like most things are going pretty well, but I’m still not really hitting the mark.

So this morning, in the midst of a quiet house, and the new beginnings of 2017, I sat down to ask the Lord about this question I just can’t quite seem to answer. What does living well look like for me? How do I actually do that?

I know my calling involves writing. Most of my writing happens in the privacy of my journal – a dialogue between me and God. It’s an untainted process. I don’t need to edit, I can just write the flow that He gives. But I also feel called as a messenger, which is why I started this blog in the first place. This blog is named Inspired Encouraged because that is my goal and heart’s desire – to inspire and encourage you as live out the story God has for your life. But more times than not, I overthink what I post on here, trying to figure out how to best serve all of you. I’ll never even meet many of you, yet I have held ideas about what your expectations and needs are, and I’ve worried whether I’m meeting them. I feel acutely that there is a purpose God wants to birth in each of your lives, and I’m burdened by trying to figure out how I can in some small way be a catalyst in that process. It’s not always a clear path though. I hesitate when I’m called to vulnerability. Will I be judged? Will you understand my true message? Will you hear God through me? Will you really know my heart?

As I came to the Lord this morning with this question about living well, and writing, and how I’m supposed to move forward, He did what I didn’t expect. He changed my perspective and He set me free in the process. In my next few posts I want to share more from my journal, and explain how God is unraveling this question for me. But for today, I pose the question to you. What does living well look like for your life? What next step is God calling you to this year? What would it mean to embrace the calling?

As you ponder those questions, listen to this song, Live it Well.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Giving Way

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Giving way is resting in the provision of the Lord. The time He has given me. The circumstances, challenges, and tasks He has placed in my life. Everything about this season of life works together to make it this particular season in my particular life. My story. My experience. My family. My home.

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Sunrise in Sleep Hollow by James Jordan

I often find it hard to rest and relax when things are undone, I didn’t accomplish the to-do list, or we didn’t keep up with the chore/project schedule I created. But God commands me to be still. To rest. To trust Him. To find my peace and refuge in Him. To trust that His provision will always be enough, and that all I have and what I’m capable of doing are sufficient. I search for peace in the complete and the orderly, but that’s not where peace is found. My peace is found when I am submitted to an almighty and loving Father, when I rest in the shadow of His wings, and know that I am enough because He is more than enough to fill in all of my gaps and shortcomings. I can rest in His sovereignty, in His goodness, in His provision. Life isn’t orderly and the world will always be full of chaos. The inbox will never be empty and there will always be another item on the list, another project, another dream yet to be fulfilled, another load of laundry, some new trial to navigate, but this is the raw beauty of life.

Giving way is accepting the reality of what life truly consists of. Giving way is submitting to God and letting go of an illusion of control. It is recognizing that things aren’t perfect and things aren’t done, but that’s ok. It’s standing in the sea of mess, releasing the frustration, and realizing it’s small stuff, this mess. It’s in everyone’s life. Like a little annoying distraction. But I can’t allow the distraction to hold my attention. There is much that is great and beautiful and “big stuff” to look at. Refusing to stay focused on the small stuff and the negative is giving way.

 

Why I’ll Never Discount the Power of Prayer

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I don’t know what was more broken, my body, ravaged by disease, or my spirit, spiraling into hopelessness. I was several days into a long hospital stay for ulcerative colitis with little to no improvement thus far, and frustration and fear mounting over the treatment options looming before me. I was overdue for my next dose of medication, and my weariness was quickly turning to impatience and irritation. It had been nearly 2 hours since shift change, and the current shifts’ nurse had yet to make an appearance. I disliked her already and I hadn’t even seen her face yet. My husband and I were griping to each other about the situation when suddenly the door burst open and in bustled a small, older woman. She apologized for not rounding sooner, explaining she had another patient with a difficult case. She began scanning my chart on her computer screen and asking questions about my condition, which only increased my annoyance.

In my mind I was thinking, “I’ve answered the exact same questions for every nurse, tech, and doctor to walk through my door for the past several days! What’s the point of a chart if it doesn’t tell you all of this and I have to explain everything Each. And. Every. Time?! Just get me my meds already!”

Thankfully she couldn’t read my thoughts, but I’m sure she clearly read my pain and desperation as I failed to hold back frustrated tears. Looking from me to my chart, she started slowing shaking her head, and half talking to herself, she commented in disbelief about how I was so young and yet so severely ill. Suddenly she turned, and with a commanding voice stated, “Enough is enough! Medicine can only do so much. It’s time for prayer!” At this she abruptly sat down next to me on my hospital bed, grabbed my right hand in her left, firmly placed her right hand across my abdomen, and proceeded to pray boldly and with unapologetic authority for my healing.

I’ve been a Christian all my life, and even attended what could be considered a charismatic church for a time, yet I was completely stunned, SPEECHLESS! Tears spilled down my cheeks. When she finished I cast an astonished look toward my husband who met my expression with his own eyes awash, and I wrapped my arms around that precious woman. Glory, Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! The nurse had come, but this one had brought medicine for my soul. A new hope sprung up within me. New peace. Renewed faith to keep pressing forward. And after 6 years of futile treatments, within a week of her prayer, I began the treatment journey that has finally led to my healing. I’m more than 2 years into remission and still going strong! Miraculous!

This woman had entered my room, and in less than 3 minutes, done what many Christians dance around doing even within the walls of their own church. With no regard for the possible consequences, she prayed with the door wide open to the hospital hallway for all to see and hear, having no idea if I was even a believer or if I “wanted” her to pray for me – None of that mattered. God called her to pray, and she obeyed, BOLDLY.

Every afternoon for the remainder of my stay, this nurse assigned herself to me. She fought battles with doctors over medications on my behalf, she lingered and chatted when her schedule allowed, and she even insisted on wheeling me out of the hospital herself when I was discharged. As I sat in the wheelchair on the curb that last day waiting for my husband, she stood next to me holding my hand. She prayed for me one last time as our truck pulled into the circle drive. This time, not only for healing, but also that I would write. I hugged her tightly, whispering a thank you that could never be enough. She planted a kiss on my cheek and helped me into the truck.

(Rebecca, if you ever read this, please know that you’ll always be my Daisy [which is an award the hospital gives to exemplary nurses]. But beyond that, thank you for knowing who your true master is, and obeying Him at all cost. Your courage and faithfulness have made a lasting impact in my life, and those prayers you so unashamedly prayed in faith, have been answered.)

Throughout my years of illness, well meaning friends and relatives have often asked if there was anything they could do to help. And while meals, house cleaning, and babysitting were huge, practical helps, and definitely made me feel loved, there was one thing I always asked for most earnestly. Prayer. Please, just pray, pray, PRAY! I do believe that many did pray faithfully for me, yet often I had nothing but speculation to assure me of that. I’ll never forget one friend though, who showed up unannounced during one of my worst flares. I was 3 months postpartum, ulcerative colitis flaring out of control, and a wicked case of shingles to boot (strong doses of steroids will do that to you!). You can imagine how I looked! I was embarrassed by my appearance when I first opened the door, but swallowed my pride and invited her in to my messy house nonetheless. She didn’t bat an eye at any of it. She visited with me, and before she left, she prayed with me. I wish I could put into words how comforting it was. Like a hug times a million!

I have prayed with many friends through times of crisis in their lives, and every single time I’ve been told that they immediately felt much more peaceful. That’s what laying our trials in the capable hands of God does for us when we trust in His sovereignty and come to Him in earnest prayer; it releases to us a peace that surpasses understanding.

Sadly, many times people say, “I’ll be praying for you.” or “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.” but we have a sense that they don’t actually intend to pray, or if they do it is a canned, half-hearted attempt hastily cast heavenward as they rush to their next to-do list item.  A scripted and hollow utterance that holds no power and no promise. I understand the current sentiment in the media against such empty words. But don’t let the cliché rob you of the truth that true prayer, powerful and effective prayer, is just that… POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE! True prayer is a soul cry. A deep and sincere appeal, or a genuine and overwhelming gratitude for the grace of God.

As we are confronted by anguish and fear over the violence and suffering in the world, may we not make the mistake of turning away from God, but instead press into Him more deeply and with renewed resolve. Pour your heart out to Him. Pray for victims and their families because you know on a heart level that the Spirit of God can and does minister to us in a way that no human is capable of – peace that truly does surpass understanding, a hug times a million. He can bring comfort, peace, and strength that are completely beyond our power to attain without Him. Let us meet their practical needs as best we can, but let us not neglect their deepest soul needs. They need our prayers! Don’t rob them of this incredibly powerful gift! Sending “good vibes” will get them nowhere! If anything is trite, hollow, and powerless, that is. There is nothing trite about saying you’re praying, when you actually are! Pray for the nation, for the world. This isn’t a gun issue we have on our hands, it’s a heart issue, and the Spirit of God convicts and changes hearts. Refuse to let that truth be diluted!

It’s time to stop giving lip service to prayer and start giving knee service to prayer! When we seek God wholeheartedly, we will find Him. He will hear our cries when we humble ourselves and pour our prayers forth from sincere hearts. His answer is not always the ease that we hope for, but sometimes a strength and a peace to sustain us through the trial.

To echo Rebecca’s wise sentiment – Enough is enough! Government, policy, laws, and our good vibes can only do so much. It’s time for prayer!

Lord, we believe You are who You say you are! You are Almighty. You are the One and Only true God! You are I AM! And we believe that what You say is true; that You hear our prayers and they move You to action! We are broken, Lord. Our land is broken, our world is broken, and our hearts are broken. We need You!!! Please, Lord, reach down and touch the hearts of the grieving as only You can. Draw them near in Your embrace and surround them with a comfort and peace that completely surpasses their understanding. Reveal Yourself to them; Your immense love for them, how You are holding them in the palm of Your hand. Provide for all their needs, and sustain them. Bend low and kiss away the tears from our cheeks and scoop us up that we may rest our weary hearts in your capable arms. Let us not forget that You are both our loving Father, and a fierce and powerful God! Lord, we don’t understand the evil and darkness in the world and why you allow certain things to happen, but help us to rest in the truth that You are sovereign; that you see so much more than we see – all of eternity played out together. Our inability to understand doesn’t change the fact that You are in control, and You are good, even if everything mankind does isn’t good! Help us to not push You away, but to run to the only true hope and help we have – You! We believe that You will bring justice to the evil of this world. We believe that You rule over the nations of the earth and can cast down rulers and confuse the schemes of the wicked. God we pray for an unleashing of your power in this world. Overthrow the wicked and defend Your people. Bring righteous leaders to power over the nations. Give our leaders humility and wisdom as they govern and create laws. Direct their decisions and bring them to unity in leading the people according to Your ways. Turn the hearts of the people back to You. Shake us awake from our everyday, mundane faith! Let us not be content to go through the motions when You have sacrificed so much to make Your power accessible to us! Give us renewed faith to pray with boldness and power! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Where Do I Look When Fear Consumes Me?

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At times the world seems to be made up of a suffocating darkness. Anxieties press in from every side. War, terrorism, school shootings, cancer, and the list goes on and on. If there is a common thread among us, it is that at some point we will face fear. Some of us live with it daily, like a heavy cloak we can’t shake off. I have struggled with anxiety and fear all my life. I know what it feels like to be completely and hopelessly overwhelmed by fear. I also know that pit-of-the-stomach feeling of going through each day with a vague sense of anxiety. Sometimes I know what I’m anxious about, and other times I just feel unsettled by a thousand little things that in themselves don’t seem to warrant my worry, but they’ve somehow banded together, determined to take me down.

God didn’t design us to live with anxiety and fear. Over and over He tells us not to be afraid, but we just can’t help ourselves. We don’t know how to stop! One of my go-to verses is 2 Timothy 1:7.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)

Here’s another translation that gives a little more detail.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and a well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” (AMPC)

Not only does this verse tell us that fear is not something given to us by God, but more importantly, it tells us what is given to us by God. Power. Love. Calm. A well-balanced, sound mind. Self discipline and self control. Only one thing is highlighted in this verse that we have not been given. Fear. The focus then shifts to all we have been given, which is our ammunition against fear. Specifically, I believe that self discipline and self control are inextricably linked to having a sound mind as these are interchangeable among several translations. So in what way do we need to be self disciplined? Lord knows we’ve already got a laundry list of areas where we want to work on our will power! What God has been speaking to me through my battle with fear is that I need to be disciplined to remain in Him. By this I mean, I need to prioritize my time to allow quiet space to commune with Him through reading my Bible, praying, and journaling what I hear Him speaking to my heart. I need to keep my eyes fixed on Him as I go through my day, constantly in conversation. Thanking Him for blessings as they come, telling Him I’m tired or anxious, asking Him how He wants me to handle a situation with my kids. When I feel panic begin to rise within me, I must bounce my inner “eyes” and thoughts from what is troubling me, back to God. Instead of focusing on what scares me, I turn my focus to the truth of who God is and what He has promised me. In my mind I recite Bible verses that speak the truth about God being with me, about Him having a good and perfect plan, about His power and His love. I give spiraling thoughts over to Jesus’ authority. I cry out for help. In short I practice disciplining those out-of-control fearful thoughts by disciplining my focus and what my “eyes” are looking at (the thing I’m afraid of vs. God).

Today I want to share with you an entry from my journal. Over the last year God has been calling this stubborn, night owl to get up early and spend my first moments with Him. When I am faithful to do this, I spend a good portion of the time journaling. First I quickly write whatever is on my heart, and then I ask God to speak to me about whatever He wants to say. On this particular day as I closed my physical eyes and tried to focus the eyes of my heart on Jesus, a scene came to mind. I was standing on the edge of the sea, my side turned to the water. My right foot was near the calm lapping waves, and my left foot was in the sand. It was a sunny, and beautifully breezy day. Jesus was on the beach with me. I looked over my right shoulder out to sea and could see a terrible, dark storm raging many miles from where we stood on the shore. The storm represented everything I wasn’t currently experiencing, but was so afraid of and trying desperately to avoid. In the midst of that scene, this is what I heard the Lord speak to my heart.

Here on the sand we look out over the churning water covered with dark clouds. You can see the storm and the fury out over the water, and its danger and magnitude bring fear to your heart, and yet here you stand with Me in the sunlight on the shore. Even when the storm is far from you, you are still afraid. You can see its fury and you are powerless against such wind and waves. And yet, you are not in that storm, so why do you fear it? Would you get into a boat and allow Me to take you out on those waves and directly through the eye of the storm? Would you choose to trust that I can calm the storm even though you are powerless against it? Would you trust me to get you safely through it even if I didn’t calm it? Would you trust me to meet you in the depths of the sea if you were to drown? Is death apart from me in some way that I am not with you there? If I am navigating your way, and always in control of not just the boat but of the very storm itself, will you trust Me to bring you through even the blackest and most turbulent of times? Child, right now you are on the shore with Me. You are living safe in the sunlight, but your eyes are focused on the storm – the evil and danger and pain of the world all around you. You feel afraid as you look on all of the possible dangers that might come against your family. Your eyes are not on Me. You’re afraid that I will require you to actually go into and through the raging storm instead of allowing you to stay on the beach in safety. Would you feel safe here on this beach if I were not here with you? Would you rather cling to the sand and the hope that the sun in this place never leaves and that the storm doesn’t come ashore, or would you rather follow Me wherever I go, even if that is into the eye of the storm? Your hope and faith is sometimes more in the sandy shore than it is in Me. You cling to the sand when you look to your own vigilance to protect you and your family; when you look to financial security, or a particular safe neighborhood or community. The sand cannot save you from the storm. It will be washed out to sea if the waves crash upon it. You cling to an illusion of safety. Your only safety is in Me. I am your safety. Nothing else can save you or hold you fast. You spend your energy desperately trying to avoid a storm whose direction you cannot control or anticipate. Yet I am He who has authority over every wave and every wind. You hope to be able to stay with Me, clinging simultaneously to both Me and your sand. You believe that these two efforts together will ensure greater safety and peace. But you can’t cling to Me with both hands if you keep one clinging to the sand. If the waves come upon you, you will need both hands clinging to Me in order to hang on. Why do you seek to control things you can never control instead of seeking the One who controls all things? Look at Me, not the storm. Cling to Me, not the sand. I will never leave you or forsake you. If you face even the greatest storm, I will hold you fast. I will show you which way to go when you have no sense of direction. The only safe place is in Me, and with Me. My dear child, when will you stop looking back and forth between the waves and the “safety” of the sand? Your focus goes from fear and back to maintaining your safety and then back to the storm (fear/trials) and then back to your own strength and vigilance. You will never have peace, even on the sandiest and sunniest of beaches, when you live like this. Follow Me and you will always have peace, even in the darkest depths. I love you. Won’t you turn your eyes to Me and take hold of Me with both hands? I am your safe place.

When I shared this with my husband his comment was that you can’t hold onto sand because it will always run through your fingers. I hadn’t thought of that! Yet how often do I try to seek freedom from anxiety by grasping at the illusion of control. It’s nothing more than sand.

I certainly have not conquered fear and anxiety, but the more I practice using the power, love, and self discipline that God has given me, the more I rise above it. I need this reminder daily. Where do I look when fear consumes me? I look to God and fight to keep my eyes on Him and not on the storm that the evil one would use to distract me from the truth. God is not afraid. I am in His hand. I needn’t be afraid either.

Friends, some of you are in the eye of the storm right now, and some of you fear it from a distance. Wherever you are, I pray that you would be encouraged today that God is mightier than the storm, and that no matter the outcome, whether you find yourself in safe harbor on the other side or on the bottom of the sea floor, He is with you there, and He will never leave you.

 

 

When Deception Is Good For A Marriage

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Ok, ok, calm down! I’m obviously not suggesting that deception as we typically think of it is ever good for any relationship, but today I’m going to share with you a true story of “deception” that will melt your heart.

First of all, I need to give you some back story about my amazing and creative husband. This is a guy who once managed to buy me flowers while we were shopping together at the grocery store, and then surprised me with them when we got back to the car. I’m still trying to figure out how he managed this. He must have gone to “look at the deli counter” or something. Honestly, he’s either smooth, really, reaaaaally smooth, or I’m incredibly oblivious… most likely it’s a little bit of both! 😉

He’s managed to build a bit of a reputation for himself for pulling off extravagant and thoughtful surprises. When he proposed he chose a location where we had carved our initials when we were first dating, memorized my favorite Shakespearean sonnet (trust me, this guy does NOT read any Shakespeare let alone memorize it!), created his own song by splicing together bits of about 20 different songs to form a coherent message (this was in the days before iTunes, so this was quite a feat!), and threaded the ring with fishing line through the stem of a rose that he hid up his coat sleeve. It was pretty elaborate!

As elaborate as the proposal was, it was nothing compared to our first 10 wedding anniversaries. Each year he planned a surprise trip, and each year he told me where we were going in a different way. For our first anniversary he created a scavenger hunt around our town, hiding clues inside orange balloons. I had to drive all over, following the clues to find the balloons, and collecting all of the clues to figure out our destination. Another year he sent me flowers at work and the card was simply all of the letters of the location scrambled (it was a long and unusual name, so it took awhile to figure it out!). Another year, I had to play the alphabet game with license plates as we drove toward our destination several states away. The whole way, I was asking, “Is there a G? How about an M?”

The icing on the cake was our 10th anniversary. He actually convinced me that he hadn’t planned anything, and I was soooo upset I was in tears! He jokes that he got himself into trouble on that one! Darn, deception! In actuality he hadn’t planned a trip, but he had put together a slide show of the first 9 anniversaries as well as their hints and locations, and much to my surprise, all of these “random” places he decided to go weren’t so random after all! The first letter of either the place or main activity from each anniversary was used to spell D O N T F O R G E T, with the “T” for the tenth anniversary standing for “The choice is yours” in terms of where we would go for our trip. “Don’t Forget” is a phrase we made up when we were dating to encompass many sentiments including, “I love you”, “Jesus loves you”, “I care”, “I miss you”, and “All I want is you”. I have it engraved on the inside of my wedding band. He even took the Hi8 recording of our wedding to a special AV place to have it transferred to digital format so he could isolate our Best Man singing a song during the ceremony that he had written just for us. He then used this special song as the background music for the slide show! You can imagine I cried a different kind of tears when I realized he had just pulled off a surprise 10 years in the making!!!

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We haven’t done anything quite so elaborate since #10. We still try to prioritize our anniversaries as a time for us to get away, even if getting away just means sending the kids away for a night and us taking a day trip and coming home to a quiet house and dinner in the crock pot. I’ve helped plan the last few trips, and they have been pretty low key. Part of me definitely misses looking forward to the surprise each year, but I mean, good grief, the guy needed a break after a decade of planning, and honestly, I can’t expect that he could continue at that level for our entire marriage!

This past year we celebrated our 13th anniversary. About two months before our anniversary, I was driving in the car by myself and I heard this song by Dave Barnes. As I listened to the lyrics I started tearing up thinking about my man, and what a gift he is to me from God. “God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. For when I think I’ve lost my way, there are no words here left to say, it’s true, God gave me you” “On my own I’m only half of what I could be; I can’t do without you. We are stitched together, and what love has tethered, I pray we never undo.” As I listened to the song an idea came to me, inspired by interview videos our church has made to tie into sermon series. Wouldn’t it be cool if I made a surprise video for my hubby with this as the theme song, and did interviews with a bunch of our close friends talking about our marriage, and what we’ve meant to them? There would also be footage of me talking about all of things I love about my him, and what his support has meant to me through the years. The real kicker – I wanted him to be a part of the video too, so he could share his thoughts on our marriage. It would be awesome if I could pull it off, but I almost immediately dismissed the idea. It would be WAY too big of an undertaking! First of all, it would require coordinating multiple people, not to mention somehow tricking him into being part of his own surprise. Add to that the fact that I’m a terrible liar, honest to a fault, and extremely tech challenged! I knew it would be a very tech heavy project, incorporating filming, video editing, scanning of hard copy photos, manipulation of digital photos, etc. This is NOT my skill set! I would definitely need to hire someone to help me, which could be expensive, not to mention the giant question of “Who??!”  Great idea, Heather, but not exactly feasible. Plus, I only had two months! For the next week or so I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. He’s put so much effort into showing me he loves me, I would love to reciprocate and do something for him!

I rationalized that maybe I could save the idea for another year when I have more time, or when it was a milestone anniversary. But I couldn’t shake the nudge saying, “You have the inspiration now, so you should act now!” Hmmm… yes, he certainly won’t expect a surprise for #13! Ooooh, and it’s been 20 years since we first met, so that’s a cool, and less obvious “anniversary.” Finally, I decided to go ahead and pick up the phone to see if I could even get a commitment from the friends I wanted to participate. I called each one, explained my idea, and they all loved it and were eager to contribute! I had to create a new, secret email account to communicate about interviews and details because my husband and I are very open. Our email accounts are always open on the computer and my phone is always on the counter! It’s commonplace for him to pick up my phone when a text comes through to tell me who it’s from, so all of my usual contact routes were a no go if we were going to keep this a surprise! I hit a bit of a roadblock trying to find someone to help me with the videography until God stepped in, as only He can, and gave me further confirmation that this whole crazy idea was, in fact, a good one!

Racking my brain for anyone who might have the skills and the time to take on my project, I suddenly remembered a friend of mine had posted on Facebook a photo of their family that her college-aged son had taken. I got the impression that he was the creative type, but had no idea whether he had the tech skill set I needed. I rarely see this friend, but figured I’d keep an eye out for her at church in the off-chance that I might run into her. That very same week, I actually saw her, and didn’t have my husband with me! She said she’d ask her son if he thought he could handle the project, and got back to me quickly that he could. He was home for the summer and working part-time at the church. And wouldn’t you know that his studies in college include video/photography production and editing! Perfect! Only God could orchestrate such an ideal scenario exactly at the right time, not to mention bring a guy to mind whom I’ve never met, simply because of a photo that he had taken! I love the way God works!

Operation trick husband into participating was one of the first steps. Since I was inspired by videos our church had made, I figured the easiest thing would be to have this guy send an email to my real email account asking if we would be willing to participate in a video the church was making for an upcoming marriage series. Since this wasn’t a guy we knew, other than that his family attends our church, and since he actually was working for the church, it was pretty convincing. My husband agreed and didn’t suspect a thing. The majority of our friends involved also attend our church, and miraculously were all available to do filming on the same day (seriously, this truly was a miracle!)! I was constantly worried about the surprise being blown by someone in some way. One day I was in the church office to sort out reserving a room in the building for filming the interviews. Our pastor walked by, and a conversation started. It went something like this:

“Hey, I’m just here scheduling a room to make a surprise anniversary video.” I gave him a short explanation of the project and why my hubs is so awesome that I’m inspired to make it, etc, etc.

Pastor laughs and says, “HA! I LOVE it!”

Then I comically, yet trepidatiously admit, “I may have woven the church into my web of deception by telling him that the church is making a video for an upcoming marriage series and that’s why we’re filming. Soooo, if he asks you about it… if you could just, ya know, play along, or play dumb, that would be great.”

“Oh, I will totally lie straight to his face!!!”

And this, my friends, is how you know when deception isn’t of the sinful kind – when even the pastor thinks it’s a great idea! LOL! 😉

The next couple of months were a lot of work! The project pretty much consumed my thoughts and my entire summer! We ran into technical difficulties on multiple occasions, our out-of-state friends ended up having to mail a DVD of their video to my parents’ house, I tore the house apart looking for pictures which we have in different photo albums, file cabinets, and hard drives here, there, and everywhere around the house, and I sorted through approximately 100,000 pictures from the last 20 years (No exaggeration! We apparently need an intervention to get our photo-taking habits under control!). Between managing all of the details, plus all of the sneaking around, special trips up to the church to exchange flash drives of content with the tech master, and worrying my husband would figure it out, it was STRESSFUL! It was also really exciting though, and I could hardly wait until I could actually surprise him with the gift!

Finally the time came to give him the completed project. I was so nervous about everything going perfectly. I filled a box with mementos from the 20 years of our relationship – a wooden plaque he’d made for me in wood shop in high school, a drawing of the two of us I made for him on our 3rd dating anniversary, a receipt from the bed and breakfast where we spent our wedding night, an airline ticket stub from our honeymoon, postcards we’d sent each other from trips we had taken separately while dating, a newborn onesie I had specially embroidered for him to tell him we were expecting our first child, notes folded like houses and footballs from high school (back in the day when people still passed skillfully folded notes on lined paper and texting hadn’t even been invented yet!). Each item he carefully removed from the box, taking the time to remember the significance of each item and to read each post card and note, folding them back into their original shapes. He thought this little time capsule was the gift, and honestly it would have been a wonderful gift in and of itself! On the bottom of the box was the wrapped DVD with a tag that said “Watch Me!”.

“Did you make me a slide show?” he asked surprised.

“Just watch it.”

The video starts with the first few notes of “God Gave Me You” and three pictures of us in slide show fashion, then it transitions to the two of us introducing ourselves for the marriage video.

“How did you get this footage?!”

“I have a small confession… the guy who filmed the video is an employee of mine.”

He is puzzled while this sinks in. “Soooo, wait, does that mean there’s no marriage series?”

I smile and slowly shake my head. He playfully grabs a pillow from the couch and swats me with it. Then I can see his wheels turning again as he remembers that a bunch of our friends were there to be interviewed also.

“But what about…”

“Just watch it!!!!”

The video I had initially intended to be about 10 minutes long, ended up being nearly an hour. Five other couples contributed segments, there were two clips from our wedding video, a clip of the proposal song he created, and a slide show of pictures from the last 20 years playing to the entire song of “God Gave Me You”. The video ends with a self-recorded video of me in front of the building where we met, telling him how much he means to me, and of course, “Don’t Forget”! We even included a gag reel of outtakes! As the video ended, I looked over at him and his eyes were full of tears, but he had a huge smile on his face! It was EXACTLY the reaction I was hoping for! He LOVED it!

“That was amazing! You got me good!!!” he exclaimed. All the effort was so totally worth it!

I think the thing that surprised me most about the process is the effect it had on my own heart. Part of me had been bummin’ that he hadn’t done anything really romantic in a few years, and wishing he’d reignite that spark in our relationship and help me feel really in love again. While making the project I spent two months focusing on all of his good qualities and everything we’ve been through, talking to everyone involved about the surprises he’s planned for me in the past, and how he’s been my rock through my battle with ulcerative colitis, and listening over and over to “God Gave Me You” and being so thankful for him, and… WOW, don’t you know I came away so incredibly in love with him! People always say that the best way to start to feel love for someone is to serve them, or to pray for them. I’m here to tell you that it’s true! When your focus is on showing love and appreciation for someone else, you really do grow your love and appreciation toward them! I always felt special and loved after the efforts my husband made for me in the past, but I never felt the love as strongly, or with such a lasting effect, as I did when I made him the recipient.

In the past when we’ve told people the stories of the elaborate surprises my husband has pulled off, guys will inevitably say, “Don’t let my wife hear that story!” So let me just say, I’m not sharing all of this to make you feel discontent in your relationship or to focus on what may be lacking. Frankly, gestures don’t have to be grandiose to be heartfelt and genuine. But I do hope that this will help you think about the blessing that your spouse is to you. Maybe spend some time thinking about all of their strengths and good qualities and what you appreciate about them without giving mental airtime to their weaknesses. Sometimes I think we focus too much on what we want to change or what isn’t going well instead of fixing our eyes on the positive. I’m not saying to ignore issues, but simply to take a break from focusing on them, and instead focus on what you DO have.

Maybe a few of you will even be inspired to actually plan your own surprise for a loved one. If this is you, I understand it’s easy to be overwhelmed, and no, you certainly don’t need be as elaborate as we have been, and surprises don’t need to break the budget! Your time, effort, and thoughtfulness is what will touch their heart. With all the chatter out there about how “you only live once” encouraging us to take foolish risks and make stupid choices, can I just say to you in this context, “You. Only. Live. Once!” Show that person that you love them and that they’re worth the effort! Reignite that fire inside yourself by making sacrifices to serve the one you love instead of placing the responsibility for your feelings on their shoulders. Love extravagantly!

What have you and your significant other done for each other in past to show love for each other? C’mon, don’t be intimidated by my story, we’d all love to hear about even the little things! Leave a comment and join the conversation! We could all use some fresh inspiration to get our romantic wheels turning! 🙂

A Love That Endures

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In the last post, Addicted to Love, I touched briefly upon the idea of “soul mates” and the unrealistic expectations we often take away from fictional stories. Today we’re going to take a closer look at the difference between reality and fantasy in our search for true love. A love that endures.

Seasons, cycles, mountains and valleys, every life has ups and downs, and so too does every relationship. We’re all familiar with the words “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and we know that these words are almost always promised from a mountain top in a relationship and not from a valley. When we pledge to love, honor, and cherish our spouse until one of us breathes our last breath, we all hope that our love story will have the longevity to last the better part of a century, and that death will truly be the only thing strong enough to separate us. In that honeymoon phase we think we’ve already found true love. The truth is, we’re only just beginning on the journey to discover it. True love is something that is proven over time; something refined and strengthened by the fires of life.

Think right now about the most powerful and inspirational real life love story you’ve ever seen. I’m going to guess that there was likely great adversity overcome; adversity so great that only true love could withstand it. These are the stories that move us to tears. These are the stories that restore our faith in humanity and in love. I have seen relationships that have withstood life altering accidents that forever change the way one of the spouses looks or acts. I have seen couples stick together through tragic loss, financial bankruptcy, and crippling illness. Have you ever been to a wedding where they get all of the married couples out dancing and then slowly have them sit down until only the couple that has been married the longest remains? They inevitably receive resounding applause because we all know that a marriage that survives for 50, 60, or 70 years is something worth celebrating. Nothing lasts that long without seeing its fair share of hardships. So how can this change the way we view our own marriages?

"It's all about love" by Candida.Performa https://flic.kr/p/6ZWzRB

“It’s all about love” by Candida.Performa
https://flic.kr/p/6ZWzRB

As discussed in the previous post, we see “soul mates” being portrayed in a relationship that is blissful and easy. I wonder that we ever confuse this with true love when the most poignant examples of true love are those that are proven through endurance not ease. How many of us have hit dry seasons and valleys in our relationships and felt like maybe it just wasn’t meant to be? Sadly, we’ve all seen loved ones separate when the pressure and tension of life reaches a breaking point. What makes some couples stick it out when others throw in the towel? And how can we have our marriages beat the odds and someday be the last couple standing at our great-grandchild’s wedding?

My husband and I have been married for 13 years. It may not seem like a lot when the end goal is 70, but even 13 years has been long enough to throw us some real curve balls. My battle with ulcerative colitis has by far been the longest ongoing stressor on our marriage, and one we certainly didn’t see coming on the sunny, August afternoon when we said our vows. There have been a lot of tears, a multitude of days filled with just getting by, and way too much of getting to know the not-so-beautiful parts of me (It’s a bowel disease… enough said!). We’ve been frustrated. We’ve been tired, really, REALLLLY bone-tired exhausted! We’ve gone through the motions and had long stretches of time that weren’t particularly lovey dovey, blissful, or easy. Nine years of battling illness takes its toll, but through it all we were committed, we were a team, and at the end of the day we were a family. We didn’t see chronic illness on the horizon, but my husband has definitely honored his “in sickness and in health” vow. And you know what? Our love is deeper and more true than it was on that August afternoon 13 years ago. We’re more a part of each other with every new chapter written in the story of us.

If you’ve found yourself in a marriage with some rough patches, take heart; you’re in good company. Every great love story has been tested in the fire. Challenges are an opportunity to grow together in trust and in faith. When we see the weakest and most raw parts of each other we can begin to know and understand each other more deeply, and we find our most honest acceptance in those places. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you’re not soul mates. After all, the true soul mates are the ones who keep on fighting until only death parts them. The true soul mates are the ones who have found a love that endures.

 

Addicted to Love

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Butterflies, goose bumps, the jolt up your spine, ecstasy, and agony, there’s no question that love is a powerful thing. Anything with the power to awaken such a strong response in us can be downright addictive! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? We start our fascination with love at a very young age. Girls especially are drawn to stories of “true love” and the princess finding her prince. Disney’s go-to story line is cliche for a reason; it’s the happily ever after we all crave on a soul level. But like every good and perfect gift created by God, Satan has cunningly designed a very close counterfeit. Counterfeits mimic the original, and distract us enough to make us miss or at least corrupt the real deal. So what is love’s counterfeit? Lust. And a truly cunning counterfeit it is indeed. So much so, that I’ve recently started upon a personal journey of trying to tease these two things apart in my own head and heart, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lust has so corrupted love that sometimes we think good things may actually be evil, and that evil things may actually be good. You may well wonder what the big deal is. If we’re not engaging in adultery, viewing porn, or committing assault, is the difference really that important? I didn’t used to think so, but the more I tried to figure out what was pure and what was lust, the more I realized how pervasive lust is in our culture, and I started to see a true battle unfolding. Lust has an insatiable appetite. It is the very definition of an addiction. It wants more, and then more, and then more still, and this is the slippery slope than can sadly lead to the more overt sins like the ones listed above. It twists our thoughts and our desires and instead of leading us to love, it leads us to destruction. But before I lose you completely, let me take you on a little journey through my battle zone. It may be more similar to your own than you realize.

Like many little girls, I loved happily-ever-after fairy tales. I never outgrew my love for these stories, I simply matured into a self-professed chick flick junkie! Frankly, if there isn’t at least some romantic plot line to a story, I’m not likely to be all that interested in it. My growing collection of cheesy romantic comedies sure seem like pretty harmless entertainment. No one at church would judge me for my choices in movies, well, except maybe to roll their eyes at the predictability of the plot lines. By and large, I have for years convinced myself that my media habits are perfectly acceptable. Then recently I started to see how the common themes among my media of choice were eroding the clarity of my moral compass, infiltrating my thoughts, and even impacting my marriage. It was so subtle, I didn’t even recognize the cause at first. In fact, I had actually convinced myself that viewing romantic themes was beneficial for my marriage by fueling my desire to be romantic! But just like Disney plays the same plot lines out over and over with different characters, so also does Hollywood.

Girl and Boy are in an ordinary, ho-hum relationship. Girl or Boy meet someone else. It’s love at first sight, the chemistry is electric, no ho-hum here! We find ourselves cheering for the breakup, and even excusing a little adulterous behavior, so the new couple can live happily ever after. After all, they’re soul mates, right?! They were meant for each other, so the death of the prior relationship is simply a little necessary collateral damage. Sound familiar? I am sorry to say that I own at least a dozen DVDs with this “grass is greener” theme, and many of them have at some point been on my favorite list. How about this one…Boy meets Girl, their attraction is so intense that they can’t resist the passion and quickly and casually hook up. They don’t start out with any intentions of a committed relationship, yet somehow, building on the foundation of sex and attraction alone, their relationship transforms into true love. This theme is becoming more and more prevalent and it downright terrifies me for the message it sends our young people! Last, but not least, the common thread of so many love stories is the “soul mate” theme. A soul mate is a truly mystical concept that transcends time and space and is deeply rooted in the idea of destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God designs people to compliment their spouse and that He can lead us on a path that brings us together. What I don’t like about the soul mate theme, as it is often depicted in fictional stories, is the impression that when one has found their soul mate, that love and life and relationship will be blissful and easy. It also conveys the idea that the soul mate has the ability to complete the other person and fill all of their deepest needs. So when we find ourselves in a real life marriage, two broken and imperfect people that need to work at love, and who can’t fill each other’s deepest needs, we’re convinced that we missed it. This leads to frustration and disillusionment, and where do we go from there? How about eying that grass on the other side of the fence? Sure looks green from here. I love a few quotes I’ve seen floating around lately. One states, “The grass is greener where you water it.” The other says, “The grass is greener on the other side because it’s fertilized with bull sh!t.” We chuckle, but seriously, both are so very true.

Beyond the etching away over time of our belief systems, the other major danger of any addiction is desensitization. This is how it played out for me… That adrenaline rush, that tingly feeling we get from the first kiss; we all love that, don’t we? A little embarrassing to admit, but I would find myself playing videos I’ve seen a million times and fast forwarding through to all of the “good parts”. The good parts, of course, are the ones that bring about the emotional response. Those parts in a movie where the chemistry is tangible. I’m not even talking specifically about sex here. I’m talking about eyes locking for the first time, the acute awareness of fingers brushing up against each other, a slow dance, a meaningful conversation or laughter-filled moment where you can see the relationship deepening. These are all good things!!! Things God designed to bring us together and give us joy. But for me, living through media and chasing the thrill of this feeling over and over made the feeling harder to accomplish. I found myself trying to conjure the feeling when I was with my husband by replaying the movie in my head instead of being present in my reality. I’ve even realized my real relationship is pretty darn movie worthy at times, and yet somehow, I’m not always experiencing the full joy of it. The edge has been dulled and I’ve become desensitized by living too much in fantasy. Maintenance of the “thrill” becomes more and more elevated in importance and things begin to shift out of balance. The focus becomes passion and the sexual side of love instead of the steadfast friendship and partnership of love. One day I got tired of constantly doing battle with my thoughts and actually started to look seriously at what was fueling them. That’s when I realized I was being a passive pupil, allowing media and culture to instruct my worldview.

Silhouette Kiss by Christian Schulze https://flic.kr/p/7M9MzN

Silhouette Kiss by Christian Schulze
https://flic.kr/p/7M9MzN

It’s frankly pretty scary and humbling to put myself out there like this, yet I feel compelled to do it because maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one feeling this tug. And maybe just maybe someone else needs to know they’re not alone (me included!). The private battlefields of our minds and hearts are lonely places. We don’t want to invite anyone else to help us in the fight because that would mean admitting the thoughts and habits we’re ashamed of. In a culture that gets the formula of love, joy, and fulfillment all wrong, we can have a hard time finding God’s way.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been careful not to list specific titles that I think cross the line, and yes, that’s intentional, and no, it’s not because I fear the backlash of calling specific titles out on their bogus messages. It’s because this battle can never be won by following a set list of dos and don’ts. It’s a heart work. What culture accepts, even Christian culture, should never be our yardstick by which we measure what is acceptable. As I said above, depending on the state of my heart, my mind could twist even the depiction of pure love into something lustful. What we need is a renewing of our mind and a surrender to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That amazing and true love we yearn for – it’s the love God has for us, and it’s the love He wants us to have for Him and for each other. A love that is committed and unconditional. I think one of the largest errors we make is feeling conviction and confusing it with shame and guilt. This makes us defensive because we experience shame and guilt as cyclical negative emotions that lead to bondage. But conviction is very different. Conviction sheds light on our errors, so we can genuinely repent and turn from them, and this leads not to bondage, but to FREEDOM! If you feel the Holy Spirit convicting you, welcome the conviction. He’s not trying to punish you, He wants to set you free.

Whenever I feel God speak to me through a scripture I underline it in my Bible. Years ago, I underlined Psalm 101:3a, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” It is the only verse underlined on that page, so naturally if I turn to that page, it is the first thing my eyes land upon. I kid you not when I say there have been at least half a dozen times in the last several years when I have contemplated watching or reading things I knew were crossing the line and God has led me to this verse or brought it to mind. Not knowing what to read at bedtime, I’d randomly open my Bible to exactly this page and read just that one line – I will set before my eyes no vile thing. We’re not alone in our battles. God knows every thought and every struggle and He longs to give us the ammunition to win. Time and again He would show up with this gentle reminder when I knew what I should do, but really didn’t want to listen because, let’s face it, lust seems fun and enticing and temptation can be powerful. Whether I surrendered to the conviction was always my choice, and sometimes I didn’t choose wisely. Sometimes I chose to feed lust and its grip grew stronger, and my eyes captured images I later wished my mind could erase. By God’s grace, often times I chose repentance and freedom.

So as you think about what you put before your eyes and your ears, don’t look at those around you for validation about what is acceptable. Consider whether you would watch, read, or listen to this with Jesus physically sitting next to you. Would you watch or listen to it with your children if you believed they could actually understand it and that it was instructing their value system? Ask yourself how media is impacting your expectations of life and relationships. How is it impacting your contentment? Really ponder these things and let the truth of them land in your heart and mind.

John Wesley’s very wise mother once instructed him:

“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Lord, you designed attraction and passion and true love for us to enjoy as part of an amazingly abundant life. Help us to recognize counterfeit when we see it, and help us to refuse to give into the temptation to accept the cheap substitute. Give us a revelation of the beauty and fullness of your original design. Convict us out of your immense love for us to draw us back to freedom. Safeguard our marriages, bond us together, and help us to love each other with a love that is true and pure, committed and unconditional. Bless us with love that endures. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If this is an area of struggle for you, I encourage you to pray that God would bring a godly friend to your mind who you can ask to be your accountability partner. Broaching the subject initially can be extremely difficult, but you’ll then find that silence was your prison. The struggles may still remain, but much of their power is lost simply by speaking them aloud to another and allowing light to be shed in the dark places. Trust me on this, it is worth the risk. I haven’t found very much literature on this topic, especially that is written for women, but I have read and been encouraged by “Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)” by Joshua Harris. The book is useful for both men and women, and specifically discusses the misconception that lust is something only men struggle with. I also highly recommend “The Fantasy Fallacy” by Shannon Ethridge, and another of her books titled “Every Woman’s Battle” (There’s a version for men as well called “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker). I hope this post helps you to feel like you’re not alone, and encourages you to take a step toward freedom. Please feel free to leave a comment, even anonymously if that’s where you’re at, and I will most certainly pray for you.

The Gift of 2014

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As the first day of 2015 draws to a close, I’d like to share with you the miraculous blessing that 2014 has been for me. No year is perfect, and 2014 certainly had its share of trials as every year inevitably does, however, what stands out most to me about this past year is HEALTH! 2014 is the first full calendar year since 2004 that I have not suffered any symptoms of ulcerative colitis! PRAISE GOD!

The journey has not been easy, and I’m never fully assured that it’s over, but 16 months of remission after battling flares on and off for the better part of a decade is certainly reason for rejoicing! People always say that hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes that can be so frustrating. We wish we could see clearly as a situation unfolds, or better yet, before it is even upon us. Other times, only having clarity when looking back can be inspiring. We see that in our times of lacking faith and being consumed with worry and stress, that God really was working. It would be so much easier to see His hand in the thick of our struggles, but since that isn’t always possible, we need to document the times that our 20/20 hindsight clearly reveals His work. We need to document them so that we don’t forget the next time we’re in a dark place and we’re wondering if He’s there. We need to document them so that other people who are currently in that dark place can be encouraged that He’s with them too.

Sunrise From English Boom - Camano Island, WA by Chris Parmeter https://flic.kr/p/oj8QVL

Sunrise From English Boom – Camano Island, WA by Chris Parmeter
https://flic.kr/p/oj8QVL

Two and half years ago I was in a hospital bed in the darkest pit I’ve ever been in. Treatment for my illness wasn’t working the way it had for previous flares, and I was facing some extremely scary medical decisions. I felt hopeless. I felt defeated. I felt afraid, and angry, and downright weary. The despair was a suffocating darkness. I shook with sobs, and knew they wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon. I willed myself out of bed, wheeled my IV pole across the room and behind the safety of the closed bathroom door. I didn’t want the nurse to see me so distraught – she’d surely call a social worker and then I’d have to talk to someone when all I really wanted to do was crawl inside myself. Completely depleted I sat on the shower seat, clinging to my IV pole for support, and weeping. “God, where are you? Why are you allowing this to happen? Are you really counting my tears? Do you even care? I feel forsaken. Please speak to me. Please give me peace. I need you!”

Silence.

The silence was like a heavy weight, crushing my spirit. In that moment, I hit bottom. No more tricks up my sleeve. No energy to pursue a new avenue. No will to continue to fight. Complete despair.

About a week after I was discharged, my sister gave me a copy of Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall which outlines the Specific Carbohydrate Diet that I’ve been following for the last 2.5 years. When she gave me the book, she told me how she had heard about it. She had committed to help her best friend who had just started a new job and needed a “client” to train with. While helping her friend, she met her friend’s new manager. Her friend (who I’ve known since I was three!) was concerned and asked how I was doing, which sparked her manager to ask what was wrong. My sister explained that I was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis. The manager said she had previously suffered from Crohns, but had cured it using the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. My sister, who is a doctor, was understandably skeptical. Yet, before she left that day, she asked again what the name of the book was, went home and looked it up on Amazon, and was blown away by the hundreds of reviews from people claiming that the diet had given them their lives back. She ordered it, and didn’t say a word about it to me until she actually placed the book in my hands. She told me she wasn’t offended if I decided not to follow what the book suggested and that she had been skeptical, but was impressed by what people had to say about it. She suggested I read some of the Amazon reviews and see what I thought. As you know, the rest is history!

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the light bulb turned on and that 20/20 hindsight kicked in. You see, my sister didn’t come to visit me that horrible rock bottom day in the hospital. She didn’t come because she had a previous commitment to her friend; an appointment that had been scheduled prior to my even being admitted to the hospital. An appointment that overlapped the EXACT time I was locked in that bathroom asking God if He was really counting my tears. He may have been silent, but He wasn’t absent. Little did I know that in that very hour He was bringing the pieces together to lead me on a new path. He didn’t need to show me that He was there and working, but I’m so glad that He allowed me that glimpse. And I do believe it is just a glimpse of how He is working and present in our lives all the time.

As you know, my health and faith journeys since starting the diet haven’t been pothole free. But as I look back on 2014, I am so amazed, humbled, and thankful that I serve a merciful God. It has been a year of freedom and beautiful normalcy! What a gift! It’s not a diet, it’s not my will power, it’s Him! He deserves all the glory!

A new year brings new hopes, dreams, and goals, and if we’re honest, new worries and fears as well. I pray that in this coming year our faith will be strengthened and our hope and joy multiplied! “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Happy 2015!

~Heather

I’d love to hear what 2014 has meant to you! Leave a comment and share your story!