Category Archives: Walking in Faith

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.

 

 

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!

 

Love Thy Neighbor

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When we purchased our home 6 years ago there was no doubt in my mind that this is where God wanted us to be. The sheer number of it-has-to-be-a-God-thing scenarios that were necessary to make the purchase a reality were a testimony to the fact that this was the place. Our “promised land” I remember calling it. Well over the past few years I’ve been reminded of the fact that the Israelites were surrounded by enemies that bordered their Promised Land. Since moving into our home there have been several occasions that have left us feeling that we are living in the shadow of hostility. It’s a very unsettling feeling, and one I work hard to avoid. I like to think of myself as a likable person. A peace keeper. Someone who is kind and respectful of everyone. But what do you do when you’re hated without cause? When someone refuses to speak to you or dislikes you even though you’ve done nothing wrong? How do you love your neighbor when your neighbor sets themselves up as the enemy? It’s not easy, I tell you! In fact, I’ve determined that on my own, it’s impossible.

Our next door neighbor is a miserable kind of woman. I suspect she likely struggles with either extreme sadness, smoldering anger, or both, and possibly some type of mental illness. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone else quite like her. She is boldly rude – she’ll completely ignore you when you say “Hi” to her and she is just 3 feet away from you! She’s reclusive, rarely out of her house, and except for when her husband is home from work, no one ever visits. When she does talk, she has a propensity for flying off the handle. She has cussed me out for landscaping the side of my house that borders their lot, and yelled at the cable guy for burying new wires on the lot line (a utility easement). Most of the time she is passive aggressive, and prefers to show her disdain by setting up little flags to mark the lot line, or spraying RoundUp on her grass inches from my perennials and from where I am sitting weeding my garden. To sum it up, she is C R A Z Y!

Many of the neighbors on the street have lived in their homes for 25-35 years and have witnessed her antics before. Apparently our neighbor has always been this way, so I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but her proximity makes the hostility impossible for me to ignore. I wish I had my husband’s gift for apathy about such matters, but unfortunately I’m plagued with a deep sensitivity that I just can’t seem to shake. I know I didn’t do anything to deserve the hostility, so there’s nothing to make amends for; no way to resolve the problem. You can’t fix crazy. The result is a feeling of both helplessness and hopelessness. I hate the tension, but I’m powerless to remove it.

I wish I were writing this post to share with you the secret for how to love your enemies, or even just the annoying people in your life, but unfortunately, I don’t have this mastered. If I’m honest, her behavior has driven me to hate her back. Have I ever mentioned that I hate hating people? It’s not therapeutic at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. It eats away at you; consumes you. As soon as I think I’ve made progress with letting go, she does something that brings all of my emotions flooding back. I’ve managed self-restraint – I don’t yell back at her, and I don’t stoop to her level of passive aggression. Those are merely a display of outward discipline on my part though. They speak nothing about the true state of my heart. If I look at my heart, I’m not doing a very good job at loving my neighbor; the second most important commandment no less! The problem is, I can’t make myself love her. I’ve tried to conjure up compassion for her by thinking of how miserable her life must be living with so much bitterness. I’ve tried to imagine all of the horrible things that could have happened in her past to make her this way. I’ve tried logic and reasoning to realize that I could have worse neighbors, and that it has nothing to do with me so I shouldn’t let it bother me. None of it has worked. I have concluded that loving the unlovable truly is something that only Jesus is good at. I’ve also realized that He knows we don’t have this capacity within ourselves.

So, I’m changing my strategy. I’m trying (albeit sometimes through gritted teeth) to pray for my enemy. I’m not saying I don’t still pray for God to simply change her or to move her, but I’m trying also to pray that she can overcome her demons. More importantly, I’ve begun praying for myself. Many years ago, on a junior high retreat, I felt God put His love for other people in my heart. Way more love than I’d ever had for strangers before, or ever experienced since. I need Him to do that again. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I have the power of Jesus’ love inside of me. I just need to lay down my own hate, my own sin, my own bitterness, and ask Him to change my heart to be like His. I’m praying He will. More than that, I believe that He will if I continue to surrender because I know it’s what He wants for me. It’s what He wants for all of us. To love with a supernatural love. A love that doesn’t make sense. A love that isn’t just. A love that isn’t deserved. A love that is merciful.

Lord, I confess my anger and bitterness toward my neighbor. You have called me to love her, but I don’t know how. I need You to change my heart. I need You to give me Your love for the people around me. I need Your help to let go of the hate and anxiety I feel, and I need You to help me accept Your love and peace instead. Please God, bring peace to our situation, and let this promised land that You’ve given us be a place of joy and refuge for our family. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Tapestry

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“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This was the topic of the message this past weekend at church. It’s definitely a question that I think all of us wrestle with at times. Our pastor did a great job laying out four answers to this question. Here’s a link to the message if you’d like to watch it, which I’d highly recommend since I can’t do it justice here. 2|42 Community Church “Why do bad things happen?” (Click on video from 1/12/14 if it doesn’t go to it automatically.) The Cliff’s notes version is:

1. Bad things happen because of choices we make. For example, we choose to eat unhealthy food and end up with health problems.

2. Bad things happen because of the choices others make. This is fairly self-explanatory. Think of the impact of an affair on a family, or drunk driving, etc.

3. Bad things happen because we have a very real enemy, Satan, whose desire is to destroy us.

4. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen and broken world that has been broken since Adam and Eve rebelled and sin entered the world.

I completely agree with all of these points, but I want to expand upon them by explaining another reason that has really rung true to me as I have faced my own trials, particularly a debilitating chronic illness. After the message, we take communion. As I sat, head bowed, holding my bread and juice, God gave me a mental picture as a way to help me understand this reason. What I saw was my life as a tapestry that God is weaving. It was on a giant loom being woven from the bottom up, but wasn’t completed enough for me to make out the picture. Most of the threads were beautiful in color and texture, but the one He was currently weaving with was ugly and coarse.

“No, God! That’s wrong! That ugly, coarse, painful thing you’re weaving in. It doesn’t fit. It’s going to ruin the picture!”

“It may look ugly now,” He assured me, “but this coarse thread is necessary to complete the beautiful image. You can’t see it now, because you don’t see the whole picture, but I do. When it’s finished you’ll see that this ugly thread actually adds definition to the beautiful parts, and enhances their beauty.”

Image by blodgett esq.

Image by blodgett esq.

I have definitely faced things I thought would destroy me. They felt so big and insurmountable. Looking back on some of those times, I can see that God saw the bigger picture. All along I was freaking out, and He was saying, “Relax, I got this. You’ll see.”

He has worked a lot of beautiful things out of trials in my life that are already true and tangible to me, but I also find comfort in knowing that there are quite possibly reasons for painful things that I will never understand this side of Heaven. Let me explain what I mean.

My great-aunt has begun to show signs of Alzheimer’s. My grandfather, her brother, died of the same horrible illness. Their father, my great-grandfather showed similar signs before his death. The recent development with my great-aunt brought fear to my heart. What if this carries along genetically and impacts me or other members of my family? The grip of fear comes swiftly, and then almost immediately an article I read about Alzheimer’s several months ago came to mind. The article said there may be a link between developing Alzheimer’s and eating a high carbohydrate diet. Well, if you have read any of my past posts, you know that due to ulcerative colitis I have been following a very strict, and very low carb diet. Now this is just speculation, but what if God allowed me to suffer these past 7 years with this illness in part to get me to change my lifestyle so that I’d be protected from other devastating health issues later on? Or what if the knowledge I gain while fighting this is exactly what I need to protect my children from suffering? Let me give you another example…

I had a very difficult delivery with our first child. I’ll spare you all of the gory details, but suffice it to say that my tailbone was broken in the process, and I had a very long and painful recovery. The difficulty of the delivery made it impossible for me to ever fulfill my dream of what I thought delivery would/should be like. I barely got to hold my daughter after delivery, and I couldn’t nurse her right away. In short, nothing went according to my birth plan, and honestly I felt robbed of the joy I was supposed to have in those moments. Three years later while expecting our son, I was absolutely terrified of delivery! I was told I would likely go back to square one with the tailbone pain unless I opted for a C-section. Hmmm…being cut open while conscious, that sounds like fun! No good options here!!! After much agonizing, I opted for the scheduled C-section, and our son was delivered a week before his due date. When the doctor went to pull him through the incision, they found the umbilical cord was dangerously wrapped around his neck. They were able to unwrap it without any complications. A vaginal delivery could have been dangerous for him. Since that time I have also heard stories of people who lost full-term babies in utero, and in some cases it was determined that the baby’s death was caused by the cord being wrapped tightly around their neck. What if….. what if, God knew my son would be in danger, so He allowed me to go through the pain of my daughter’s delivery, so that I’d choose the early C-section that I never would have chosen otherwise? What if not experiencing the joyful moments immediately post-delivery with either of my children is the small price I pay for the joy I have in my healthy son?

Like I said, I’ll never know the answer to these things this side of Heaven, but you know what? I don’t need to. Frankly, whether those conjectures are accurate or not is completely irrelevant. The point is not figuring out the reason for our pain, the point is that we allow ourselves to see that God may have some greater purpose for why we are allowed pain, and to learn to trust that He sees the bigger picture that we can’t see. These conjectures are really just an exercise to train me to trust more. The goal is to recognize that if something bad doesn’t happen, how are we to know we were spared from it, and praise Him for the work He’s done? I don’t know what exactly happens when we get to Heaven. Will we suddenly see everything fully and have complete understanding of the whole picture? Will we fall to our knees and say, “Oh Lord, I’m so sorry for my bitterness and bad attitude! I can see now how incredibly merciful you really were to me. I can see how magnificently beautiful the picture is just above that ugly, coarse thread. I can see the ripples of good that came from my pain that touched other lives I never even knew about. If only I had just surrendered to You and trusted You then. My heart would have been spared much agony!”

Image by Jelle

Image by Jelle

A well known Bible verse says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) I often hear this verse shortened to “God works all things for good.” This is obviously very comforting, and we all want this to be true in our lives. The problem is that our part in the equation is lost when the verse is shortened this way. We have a job; a role to play. Love Him! Read the verse again. It says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. The next part says, “who have been called according to His purpose.” How do you know if you’ve been called? Now I don’t have a seminary degree, but my understanding of this verse is this – if you love Him, you follow Him and surrender to Him, and when you love, and follow, and surrender, you’re automatically called to live His purpose. There’s no special qualifications you need to have for this other than to love and trust Him. When we love Him and follow Him, we become His children, and He works for the good of His children.

I know many of you reading this have faced things so painful that none of these reasons really come close to helping you understand why. I have struggled with questions about why God doesn’t just shield us entirely from all evil and pain. Look at number 2 above – sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s evil or foolish choices. But can’t He insulate us from that? Can’t He make the consequences fall to someone else? In short, yes… sometimes. And I think this is why we don’t understand. We don’t understand “sometimes” because we don’t see the whole picture and we don’t fully understand how all 4 of the reasons listed above interact with God’s ability to work all things for the good of those who love Him. We don’t understand that sometimes pain is necessary to grow us. Grow faith. Grow character. Grow compassion. We don’t understand that sometimes the good coming from our pain comes as a benefit to another and not ourselves. We have a self focus, but God has a kingdom focus. Honestly, there are so many things that I don’t understand the “Why.” All I know is that the 4 things listed above are real and unavoidable. I also know that when we try to weave our own tapestry seeing only one tiny spot and trying to pick just the prettiest, and shiniest threads for each place, that the bigger picture turns into a big mess. We can’t stop this fallen world from throwing pain our way, but we can love and trust a God who is able to weave those things into a beautiful, and purposeful tapestry. Surrender is hard, but there’s peace in it. He sees it all. Relax, He’s got this.

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