Being Robbed

Have you ever had anyone steal anything from you? When we lived in Malawi, we were constantly having things just disappear. We had been warned to keep our bags close to our bodies at all times, to be cautious in handling cash, etc. But honestly I never had any time when a stranger stole something from me. We did, however, have several instances when people that we invited into our lives and home took things from us in deceitful ways. We had a housekeeper that I had to fire twice for stealing from us. We started seeing clothing, electronics, and toys that were obviously ours in the marketplace where she sold her wares and had to confront her. She gave me a huge sob story and I gave in a rehired her, only to have the same exact thing happen a week later! That time I wasn’t so compassionate.

Another time we had one of our pastors that we were working with who came in and regularly spent time with out family. He asked to see my phone one day and I assumed he was looking up a number, but when I got it back there was a notification on my phone saying I had transferred several dollars worth of airtime to him. (The phones all work like track phones there.) When I confronted him, he vehemently denied the whole thing. Transferring airtime is a three step process that requires a password and confirmation. He had not only given himself all my airtime, but had changed my password, and now was denying everything despite the concrete proof.

When you are robbed, especially by a person you have taken into your confidence and trust, you feel violated. Ultimately losing a few shirts and some airtime wasn’t a big deal, but losing the feeling of safety security I had desired to have in my own home was.

If you have ever been robbed of something bigger – a betrayal of innocence, broken vows, or a violent act done to you – you know that these wounds can change the way you look at the world permanently in a matter of seconds. The wounds turn to scars and often those scars are ripped open again and again from memories or continued situations and never heal properly. They fester and puss as infection grows and you become unhealthy in mind, body, and soul.

I feel like the Spirit has healed my heart of many wounds that have happened in my life physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am so thankful for that. But recently I have become aware of another the way enemy regularly robs me. I have walked through the last couple of weeks with a heavy burden of grief and wariness on my heart. I have felt exhausted and frustrated, and have taken that out on people that don’t deserve my sharp words. The enemy, I realized, had stolen my joy.

When we first moved here I went through a period of several months where every morning I would wake up in awe and wonder that we were here and that God had provided in so many ways. Even more so I found myself in this zen-like state of peace of contentment. I attributed it to the fact that for the first time in many years we were not looking at what was next and how it would happen with a question mark. We are here for the long haul, and we were ready to settle in to this community.

That may have been a part of it, but more than that I realized that this contentment that my heart so was unfamiliar with was a gift of God to me through the Holy Spirit. I can’t explain how my heart was able to look at the unknowns that come from starting over in a new place in our lives with a firm and steadfast peace and trust that God was for me. There were no questions marks that seemed full of anxiety and fear, only trust in the one who brought us to this place – full stop.

There is joy in not being anxious. When you have peace and confidence that God is who he says he is and I am who he says I am, you can live in freedom. But I forgot that this week. And as the enemy attacked from every direction I lost the battle. My joy was gone and the burden was heavy and exhausting. I sat in that for several days, doing everything in my own strength to feel better. Food is my biggest idol, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t turn to some Dove chocolate to make myself feel better. The problem with giving ourselves over to idols and relying on anything other than the Spirit to make us feel better and be whole again is that it leads to shame, self-loathing, anger, and darkness. I don’t know why it always takes so long for me to remember this.

Then this morning as I talked with a friend, prayed in the car, and spent some time listening to music that reminded me of who I should be worshipping, the light broke through. I could feel the joy seeping back in. I could sense the peace was right there within my reach. It came unexpectedly and swiftly – no result of anything I had done other than my constant prayer of surrender to him because I knew I couldn’t carry it anymore. I realized that peace, like a balm to the soul, was starting to flow over me. I also understood that, despite the fact I hated going through this time, nothing is wasted with God. He redeems even these dark times and shows us his beauty in them in his perfect timing.

Don’t let yourself be a victim of robbery by the enemy. Whether it be your joy, peace, contentment, confidence, or strength – it is yours from God himself and Satan has no right to it. Rebuke that in the name of Jesus and stand firm in the gospel of Christ. If you cannot do this in the moment and need some help, call your people – your friends and family who understand spiritual battle. I’ve told you before that we were not made to do this alone. Let them pray for and with you. If things don’t change immediately, don’t give up. Hold yourself in that place of constant surrender, repentance, and expectation for him to meet you at exactly the right time. Then hold on to the belief, no matter how small it feels in the moment, that God is for you. Even if your feelings don’t change immediately he is doing a continual, good work in your life. Joy and peace that comes from the Spirit are not about feelings and circumstances, but about a core part of who you are with the Spirit inside you that cannot be truly taken from you – we just live as though it was sometimes.

Guard your heart and stand firm. Take back what is rightfully yours. “For we know whom we have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which we’ve have committed unto Him against that Day.”

Splotches to Beauty

Recently I was watching one of those painting videos on Facebook. You know the ones I mean – they start with a tool that isn’t even a paintbrush and put a bunch of colorful splotches down. In a matter of minutes it goes from pretty splotches of bright color to a breathtaking painting of some gorgeous landscape full of detail and life. It looks easy, but we know it’s not.

As I was watching this particular one where the splotches turned into a maple grove in the fall I realized that one of the reasons I could never paint like that is because I can’t see it. From the beginning the artist has an idea in mind of what the final canvas will look like. I am not visionary that way. I’ve shared before that when Shawn has put the gardens in at our various houses I always start off a bit dubious but end up soaking in the beauty as it comes to fruition. So when the painter has these beautiful, bright, colors going on and then suddenly pulls out a brown and makes weird lines all over the color all I see is the beauty being destroyed. If I was in a class and someone told me to do that as the next step I would probably stop and watch others to see if I could trust the teacher enough to really lead us through what looks like a gross mistake into the finished product of unique and vibrant beauty.

An artist puts on layers, they know what they are looking for as the end result and they learn through the process how to get there. A little purple here, a streak of white here, use this sponge rather than a brush, make a stroke in this direction, etc. Many times I watch and think, “Oh no! They’ve messed up!” but then as it gets to the end everything is gorgeous, detailed, and exactly how it should be.

Often I feel that way in my life. I am making a painting and I have something in mind, but then I bump the table wrong, I accidentally use the incorrect color, or it’s too wet and it blends together and seems messy. I get frustrated and want to give up. I can’t see what it will look like, only what I thought it should look like and no longer will.

I believe that many times when these artists are painting they have this same experience. While it may seem to me like every stroke is intentional, the truth is they often roll with the punches. If something is a little too dark, they figure out how to lighten it or they change the end result in their mind and go with what they have in front of them. I’ve done that with writing. I start off talking about one thing, get on a tangent, and then decide the tangent is the actual important thing. The end result is almost always as good or better than my original intention.

This has been a rough week. There have been a lot of bumps in the road, hard conversations, and stresses – both personally and at work. I have repeatedly come to a place time and time again where I get frustrated with God – “now what?” I don’t like how that color went on. I wasn’t intending to use that particular brush. Other people have come by and commented on the way the painting looks and make me feel indignant, embarrassed, or defensive. I feel like there are layers and layers of colors and paint, yet I still can’t see the whole picture, and it’s frustrating because I don’t love what I see right now.

I’ve always thought of God as the artist and me the canvas. I know that this is true from the analogy of Him being the potter and me being the clay. But recently I have realized that many of these strokes and designs on this canvas are my own creation. Some are beautiful and good, but many are broken, angry, and dark. I have been the artist in the telling of my story on this canvas. However, he is the Master. He comes alongside me and doesn’t necessarily take the brush to fix it like I think he should. Instead, I have found that he often comes beside me and simply speaks to me about the beauty in the mess I’ve just created. He changes my view of it and redeems it into something beautiful. All of my messy, crazy life splashed on the canvas in front of me looks less dark and broken when I look at it through the Master’s eyes, and I can get a glimpse – be it ever so small – of the masterpiece that it will be at the end. It’s not what I was originally going for, but somehow that is ok because it is something that is deeper in meaning, more rich in content, and more valuable for his use. As I make the next stroke I learn from the last one and watch as splotches become beautiful pictures of real life redeemed.

This Body of Death

All month as I walked into my office I kept smelling this terrible odor. At first I thought it was the trash, but even after it was emptied the smell got worse. Then I was convinced, after checking all over the room, that there must be a dead animal in the wall. Not much I could do about that – I would have to let it run its course and rot. Yuck! I ran my diffuser each time I was in the office trying to cover up the smell.

Last week as I went in early for a training I decided to make some coffee. I hadn’t used my coffee press since switching offices, so I opened it up and immediately gagged from the smell. It looked like the entire pot was filled with mold. Oops – I must have forgotten to empty it last time and it was gross now. At least now I found the source of the smell!

I went to the bathroom, opened up the lid, and dumped it into the sink expecting to wash the mold down and clean out the pot. Instead I discovered that my “mold” had a tail and teeth! SO GROSS! A mouse had gotten into the press somehow and couldn’t get out. After he died he started decomposing – in my press! I knew I had to empty the sink, but his body was a liquidy mess and I couldn’t get a good grasp on it through the huge wad of paper towels I was using. It kept smooshing guts all over and I could barely think straight because I was gagging every time the squishy mouse remains squirted in the sink.

It must have been quite a funny sight to see me gagging and yelling and running around like a crazy person.

Finally I got most of the mouse outside. I took one look at the press and knew it had met it’s end as well. No way could I ever drink from that again! I tossed it in the garbage, sprayed lysol all over everything, and walked away from the whole dead, rotting, decomposing mess.

Even now I want to gag when I think about it.

In Romans 7 Paul writes, “Who can deliver me from this body of death?” I will never forget the illustration Shawn used in youth group when we were teaching this passage. One of the things the Roman government, who was particularly cruel, would do is strap the body of the the victim to the person who had committed the murder. Can you imagine? Being shackled to a decomposing human corpse, the stench overwhelming you and seeping into your very being for the remains of your days? Eventually the corpse would be filled with disease which would go into your own body, killing you slowly and horribly.

Our daughter had a huge rag doll – one that was the size of an adult. Shawn made one of the kids in youth group walk around all evening with that doll strapped to his body. Everywhere he went and everything he did he had to figure out how to do with this big extra body attached to him. This didn’t totally work as far as the illustration of a dead body, because the doll was pink and smiley and didn’t wreak of rotting flesh and disease, but it was cumbersome and gave a good picture in their minds.

I thought about this “body of death” as I calmed down after gagging from the mouse. I couldn’t handle that little smell – I cannot imagine the rotting, consuming stench from a person’s dead body, sitting in the heat, being exposed to all the elements for days in and days out. No escape, no reprieve. My little mouse smell didn’t even compare.

Of course, it would seem the obvious way to avoid this is to not kill someone, right? Don’t murder, and you never have to carry a dead body around. So why, then, does Paul say this? He used this metaphor because he knew that the weight of human sinfulness and the destruction of following our flesh was the same as carrying a rotting dead body around. He also knew that there was nothing in himself that could rescue him from this. Apart from Christ we are nothing. He gives us everything we need for life. The death that came in this form of punishment lasted for days or weeks, slowly tormenting the person it was strapped to and causing them to literally rot away while still alive. Our sin does the same. Sometimes it seems small and harmless, we don’t understand the effect it has on us – we might even get use to it, though others around us can tell something is wrong. As we continue in our sin it becomes worse, it seeps in and slowly takes over everything in us and kills us mind, body, and soul. Spiritually, without being rescued by God, we are dead people walking – we are dying inside and there is no way to stop it. The work of Jesus on the cross is the only thing that can rescue us from this body of death. He took all of that upon himself when he was crucified in our place.

I know after my experience of feeling nauseous from the smell of this tiny rodent for a couple weeks and reaching the point of gagging while trying to clean up that I am so thankful I do not have to carry the stench of my own sin and dead self around with me. I am free from that body of death! Instead I am whole, healthy, spiritually alive, and clean because of the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit living inside of me. And I do not carry around the stench of death, but rather the beautiful aroma of peace, love, and life.

As Paul said then, I say now, “Thanks be to God, who delivered me through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

The Cycle

Recently I started reading through the book of Judges. I have read it before, but it has been a long time. It’s not one of those books that you naturally pick up and start reading! I had been talking to a friend about Deborah and decided that I should refresh myself a little bit, so I started reading. The cycle and reaction of the Israelites in the story struck me as humorous for some reason. It’s a non-stop, “Again the Israelites turned away from God and worshipped their idols” to “But when they cried out to the Lord he raised up for them a deliverer.” It was almost comical to read those lines again and again. I literally thought, “Stupid, foolish Israelites. What was wrong with you?”

Then God stopped me dead in my tracks.

The Holy Spirit came upon me and my thoughts went to my own heart and mind. How many times have I praised him in one breath and cursed him in the next? How many idols have I worshipped when I was feeling abandoned, orphaned, and alone; when I couldn’t see the whole picture? I had to call myself a “stupid, foolish Israelite.”

As I repented and spent time calling upon him, I knew his love for me had always been there and was not conditional to my behavior. There is no condemnation for those who know Jesus! However, I did have to ask myself what was causing this cycle in my own life so often. What was happening?

Again I felt as though clarity hit as I heard, “Guard your heart and mind.” Ouch. I was so quick to judge the Israelites knowing full well my own journey from foolish, Baal-worshipping pagan to powerful, Spirit-filled daughter of the King happened a million times a day when I was not guarding my heart.

But what does that even mean? I’ve always thought about it being my actions – the way my life looks to others. And in some part that is true. The whole verse says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23). The things that happen in our hearts overflow into the way we react, the way we treat people around us, and the choices we make.

But these action are just secondary to the way my belief system is being formed in me because of what I allow in my heart. Can you see the cycle? I don’t guard my heart, I put in perverse, corrupt things or I fail to fill up on things on him, and this flows into my actions towards others. I feel shame (not from him) and conviction (from the Spirit) because I know my actions are not right, so I repent, fill my heart my things of him, allow my actions and thoughts to be shaped and formed into his. Then I get lazy and stop guarding it so aggressively. Slowly the world seeps back in and I go through the cycle again and again.

I know that it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit revealing things to me that I change. My own mind can’t seek out the things of God clearly. I need him clarify and ignite these in me. But when I refuse to listen – when my heart and mind are flooded with noisy, chaotic things that point the exact opposite direction of God and I can’t (or won’t) hear him – that is on me.

So I hear him calling…Grow up, restless child. You can’t stop training in your spiritual growth when it gets hard. You can’t allow excuses to become the rule of how deep you go. I have so much more for you than you can imagine. Wake up, sleeping church. Stop living in fear. Stop looking for any reason to not do the hard work of remaining fit enough to be victorious in battle. Look up, oh doubtful heart. You are not alone. Stop whining about where you have not seen his hand and start asking for a clear, passionate, intimate look into where he has worked and is working still. Ask him to show you the angels surrounding the camp.

I am thankful for God’s love and patience with this stupid, foolish child. And I am even more thankful that he does not see me in that lens but rather as his masterpiece – dearly loved and shaped by him.

God in the Ordinary

In South Sudan I experienced one of the hardest transitions of my life. I had heard that there would be a honeymoon period, and from my experience with interns and apprentices, that is usually the case. However, the moment our little tiny plane hit the dirt strip in Mundri, and my eyes caught sight of all the curious faces watching us get off the plane to start our new life, I started crying and didn’t stop. In that moment I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and humiliated. This was supposed to be the life I had dreamed about for three years of fund raising and we were finally there – I should have been victorious. Instead I found myself wilting in the humidity, exhausted from the extreme difference of this new culture, and not able to focus on a single thing our poor teammates on the ground were trying to say to us.

Mundri airstrip. (PC Reed family)

These guys were heroes. Two single guys who had been there on their own for a few months and were so happy to have on there with them, yet they also had to be a bit overwhelmed on how to help this new family adjust and adapt. To top that all off we were supposed to be the team leaders! What were we thinking?

We had traveled from Uganda that morning after spending the week fighting jet lag, shopping for groceries for three months (I had NO idea what I needed for three months!!), meeting new missionaries that would be our life line in the months to come, buying phones and sim cards, eating out at restaurants that we would not be seeing for a quite a while, and getting paperwork ready. In the end the 18 bins we brought from the States and the majority of groceries we bought in country couldn’t even come with us on our move to South Sudan because of weight issues on the tiny plane. Though it was coming in twice a week at that point there was no guarantee of how soon we would get our things, and though I tried to pick and choose the “important” things, I was just plain defeated by the time we landed and felt stripped of anything familiar.

The “toilet”

The first few weeks were spent understanding solar power, getting use to using outdoor pit toilets with cockroaches, figuring out how to say basic Arabic phrases so I could shop in the market even though I wasn’t even sure how to use some of the foods. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. In between I made bread, yogurt, homeschooled, cleaned, tried to find a language partner, and spent time getting to know our teammates before more came the following month. Later a friend told us, “Yeah, all the women cry when they move here. I don’t really understand why, but it’s true.” At least I was normal!

But we are amazing beings, us humans. We learn to adapt and change and (dare I say) even enjoy new things. One morning as I was praying that God would help me (a prayer that became as common as breathing to me at the time) I heard him tell me to start looking for him in the things and people around me. Find him in the ordinary. Invite him into the everyday and embrace it. Stop looking for the huge miracle of everything being “normal” and start believing that he was in even the most foreign thing and that made it extraordinary and beautiful. I had to look at my “new normal” as being something beautiful and life giving.

New teammates came and we learned to do communal meals – eating together becoming a normal thing where we could laugh and process. We had extra people to help with school so I could do something besides cook and teach, and life started to take on it’s own rhythms again. I found a language partner and spent many hours sitting at her stall in the marketplace learning words and phrases and laughing as she made me “sell” her wares to people coming by. I began what would be a beautiful friendship with the Bishop’s wife as we shelled nuts together, baked cookies, and sat with each other at the numerous church things I was supposed to attend as team leader’s wife. These friendships developed from doing the ordinary, everyday things together. I started to see Him in these ordinary things, and as I did, my heart started to accept and even like my life there.

Sometimes I want to see the big things – the miraculous. I think this is ok. God tells us that he is able to do more than we can ask or even imagine, so I believe he loves us to ask for these things. However that cannot become our only communication with him. When God told me to look for him in the everyday I started to know him better, deeper. I started to see his life in other people and even in the creation around me. I stopped feeling disappointed and scared and started seeing things with wonder and awe.

Not always – sometimes I couldn’t handle one more child pointing at me and yelling, “Hello white person” over and over (and over) again. Sometimes seeing him in my surroundings felt impossible when it was 115 and the solar power wasn’t working well enough to even run a fan. Sometimes I still cried as I went to bed wondering if we had ruined our children and committed ourselves to five years of insanity. But usually the next day, in the brief coolness of morning with a fresh cup of coffee I was able to see him again and be thankful.

Where do you need to start seeing him in your ordinary? I know for me, right now in Covid times, I have spent many days that seem to run one into another. I am in an opposite times of what I was in Mundri, as there seems to be nothing new and boredom seeps in. But I have been asking him to show me himself in these times as well. In playing a board game with my kids; in spending more time lingering over a meal together; in taking walks in the evening and greeting neighbors that I normally wouldn’t have a chance to know; in figuring out how to love others when I cannot be with them in person; in playing the keyboard and spending time writing.

Whatever the season, we need to be intentional in looking for him in the ordinary moments. When we do, we will know him in deeper, steadier ways than we have before.

PC Reed family

Hold My Arms Up

“Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

The beginning of this week was a really tough time for me.  I felt the weariness of the last few months burdening my heart and soul.  I just wanted to sleep.  Try as I might, I couldn’t conjure up any feeling of joy or hope.  I felt defeated, purposeless, and exhausted.

I write a weekly email to our wonderful women at the church.  Usually this email tells a little story from my life and I try to encourage them in some way, then I ask them how I can be praying.  This week, however, I couldn’t do that.  As I tried time and time again to write something I finally heard the Spirit tell me to just be honest.  So I did something different and asked the women to pray for me this week.  I let them know where I was at and just asked them to lift us up.  

While I know that there were some people who were not quite sure how to respond to that, for the most part I had people tell me they were praying.  And over the course of the next few days it was like a fog lifted from my heart and mind.  I could see clearly again and my energy levels were back to normal.  In the middle of all of this I spent a day with a stomach bug that left me in bed where I slept for hours over the course of a couple days – something that apparently my body needed.  Who knew a bug could be the answer to prayer?  Between restorative sleep and the prayers of my friends I knew that I had passed through this most recent battle and was on the other side, and I was thankful.

Have you ever felt this way?

As I talked with friends this week I admitted that I have been prone to times of depression in my life.  There have been times when I have been on medicine and many times of seeing a counselor regularly.  I have no shame about this – I think they are amazing resources that are available for us when we need them.  However, as Shawn and I talked about this time (because he was also experiencing it) we knew in our hearts that this was not a physical thing or chemical imbalance – this was a spiritual battle.   And we knew that we were not in a place where we could fight it alone.

Let me back up a minute.  We know that we are not truly alone, right?  When we are down and we have lost the ability to fight back because our sword is thrown off to the side and the enemy is on top of us peering down into our eyes with a look of pure hatred, we are not alone.  We are still wear the breastplate of righteousness that guards our heart from the attacks of the evil one.  We know as his children that we are covered in the blood of Jesus and that we are made righteous because of the work he did on the cross.  This is true no matter where our thoughts or emotions take us.  Once we become his children there is no one or nothing that can separate us from the love of God. So we know that while we may feel alone, we are not truly alone.

But that doesn’t stop us from living as though we are sometimes, right? 

This week I felt alone and I knew that I needed my people to fight on my behalf.  A friend sent me a text saying she was picturing the prayers of people lifting up our arms like Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17.  (“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”) When I asked the women to pray for us and for the other pastor’s family at church I knew it was because we needed someone to hold our arms up for a little while because our own strength was gone and we were shaking and feeble.  I wasn’t asking for them to fix the situation, to give me platitudes, or even to assure me that it would be ok, but just to stand alongside me and hold my arms while I rested.  I had to come to Jesus because I was weary and burdened, and he gave me the rest I needed in the form of friends who came alongside me in battle.

I am thankful for this reminder this week, even though I did not love feeling sick and depressed.  God knew what I needed, and he knew that the friends who lifted me this week needed to be a part of it.  He continues to shape us in love and compassion and make us more like him even as he pursues us right where we are at.  If you are in the place I was this week, may you be humble enough to let others bless you.  If you are doing the arm holding – thank you for battling and loving well and keeping the arms steady, even if you don’t fully understand it.

Listen and Receive

I want to be the person God created me to be, not just a shell of that person.  Before I surrendered my life to Jesus and asked the Holy Spirit to live within me I was but a shadow of the person that God created me to be.  I know that I am still being sanctified, and the finished work of that will not come to fruition until I standing face to face with Him one day in Heaven – how glorious that will be!  But I believe that He has a good plan and purpose for me here on this earth, too, and often I am just “doing life” without remembering this.

My Bible is old, beat up, underlined, and highlighted.  I have had it for many years, so there are prayer requests and answers to those prayers written beside verses and on the inside of the cover.  While I love this because it is a good reminder of the way He truly does answer prayer, sometimes it makes it hard to read things with fresh, new eyes.  My mind almost thinks that if it is not already highlighted there must not be anything there that applies to me.  This week I opened my Bible up to read the Psalms and was on chapter 81. I started skimming through it since it was not highlight already, but my heart caught when I read the last few verses.  “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.  If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!  Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.  But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  (Verses 11-16)

I read and re-read this part of the passage again trying to figure out why my heart was catching each time.  What did the Spirit want me to get from this?  The Israelites were in outright rebellion- worshipping foreign gods and refusing to listen.  I am not in that place.  I have been in my life before, but in this time there is a lot of peace in my heart.

Like the hug of a parent reassuring a child that she is not in trouble, I felt the presence of God.  I knew this was not a rebuke so much as a reminder and encouragement that He knew something about me that I had forgotten – I am His and He is mine.  In that he desires to give me good things.  Often I miss out because I am simply not listening.

One of the things I had to do with my kids when they were younger (and still sometimes) is to cup my hand under their chin and make them look me in the eye and repeat to me what I just said.  We humans don’t tend to be good listeners.  We are looking at other things, thinking about a response, getting distracted by things of this world.  Sometimes we just plain rebel and say, “No!” and stick out fingers in our ears to prove that we are not listening.

My issue wasn’t outright rebellion this time, but I realized that my heart and mind are often distracted and looking for answers and peace in places other than Him.  The beginning of this lockdown phase was a welcome relief for me in some ways.  I love hosting people for dinner and having people stay in our home.  I am an extrovert, and I am really missing my people right now.  But the slower pace of the first week, and having our daughter back in country made me take a deep breath, sleep more, bake some delicious, homemade food, and have more conversations as a family. It also allowed for my heart to be still for longer periods of time (as much as possible with this ADHA brain) and dig into His word.  My prayer times were meaningful and my heart was full.

Then life started happening again.  Like all of you, I started adapting to my “new normal.”  Suddenly, as I was immersed in trying to make it all come together – work from home, school, family, church, learning new technology, etc, – I found my heart crazy and panicked.  When I had free time all I could think about was doing something that didn’t require learning something new or thinking too hard.  So Netflix became my new god, sitting in my room with headphones to block out the world became my new temple, and snacking on easy, sugar filled things became my new sacrifice.  With this practice the peace I had known was eventually used up and gone and I was doing nothing to refill it in a way that truly life-giving.  I was listening to too much noise all around around me and not able to filter out the still, small voice that was the true answer.

That the first week or two of quarantine was a gift, but it is not what real life can look like forever.  However, the peace that I had those days is also real, and a glimpse of what is to be mine forever.  When I wake up each morning and surrender my heart to him; when I get done with a stressful zoom meeting and take just a moment to surrender that stress to him; when I am frazzled because everyone needs my attention at the same time but I pause to take a breath and say, “Father, help!” – these are holy moments.  They are the times that take my ear back to listening for His voice.  When I stop and surrender my anxieties and stress to Him, He carries the load and suddenly I am lighter and able to keep doing whatever it is He has called me to do in the moment.  Everything doesn’t become perfect or sorted out, but my ability to do look at it in peace, calmness, and   (yes!) even joy becomes a reality as the Spirit flows in and through me.  Then, and only then – when my ear is poised to hear Him and my heart is ready to respond- that is when I am satisfied with the “finest of wheat and honey from the rock.”

So I ask you today – what altar have you been worshipping on?  Many of these things are not bad- I can enjoy my favorite TV show and have a chocolate chip cookie once in a while.  But when when they become my go-to and I stop listening for Him then I can’t see the amazing and miraculous things He has prepared for me.  Brothers and sisters, He wants to give you so much more than you can even imagine.  We just need to make space to hear Him and receive.

 

Stepping out of Darkness

I have been doing the bible study by Pricilla Shirer called The Armor of God, and I have to tell you – it is really convicting me!  This month we are reading through and studying the chapter on the Breastplate of Righteousness.  As I have asked the Spirit to convict and move in me while I read through things, I have been so surprised at some of the ugliness that has surfaced.  (When will I stop being surprised at how ugly my flesh is?)

I have been a Christian longer than not.  I am a pastor’s wife.  I have been a missionary.  I have been discipling and teaching for many years.  I also like to think that I understand a fair amount about spiritual warfare and what it means to step into freedom.  But in the middle of this lesson I have realized that there is something I have fallen into the habit of doing that is not only rebellious, but just plain dangerous.

I did not grow in up a legalistic household, but I have many friends who did.  As I watched them sort through some of those things, I saw many of them swing far in the opposite direction.  We all like to do that, right?  Even when I am talking to people who do not claim any religion I hear about how no one wants to repeat their parent’s mistakes when it comes to raising their own children. It takes having adult children of your own to make you realize that no matter how you raise your kids, they will need to process through and allow God to redeem the mistakes that their parents made and speak truth to the way they reacted to them.  We are broken people raising more broken people, after all.

In trying not to be legalistic, however, we sometimes forget that we can only stand before a holy and perfect God because of the work of Jesus.  Or, at the very least, we forget that the work of Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice.  Not just because of the physical pain and the suffering on the cross, but more so because of the fact that Jesus had his Father turn away from him.  We never have to experience the void that comes from the loss of the presence of God because of that.

However, if you are like me then you forget the seriousness of that.  We love the idea of grace and forgiveness, and we live in the knowledge that once we put our faith in him we are forgiven – the old is gone, the new is here.  While living in the knowledge of this can bring freedom, I sometimes abuse that freedom and do exactly as Paul says in Romans six.  “What then, shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  We know that the answer to that should be NO!  (“By no means!  We are those who have died to sin, how can we continue living in it?”)   However, somewhere along the way I stopped taking this to heart.  Sometimes I have done exactly that – kept on sinning.  I have literally heard the voice of the Spirit, looked him in the eye, and turned around so I could keep doing what I wanted – with the full knowledge that I could repent later.  

So ugly.

Even though by the time I got around to repenting I would feel terrible, confess, and would be very remorseful about my attitude and the purposeful rebellion that played out in my actions, I knew it would happen again.  And it did – it does.  Because somehow the act of using grace for my own selfishness and gratifying of my flesh still seemed less “sinful” (or at least less harmful) than having a bunch of rules that made me feel guilty and condemned.

It can be a vicious cycle.

I know that both legalism and license are extreme, and that neither of them show a true understanding of his great love for me and the true freedom that I can be living in as a new creation.

But what I did was not as simple as acting like a child who selfishly rebelled against her parent.  When I allow myself to live by rules and regulations that I know I cannot live up to (holiness, perfection!) and I redefine those to make something that is attainable in my own strength, OR when I just keep doing what I want in the moment because I know there is forgiveness ahead, either way I am inviting the enemy in.

I may not be intentionally saying, “Here I am.”  But when I allow darkness into my life, the one who loves the darkness is drawn to it.  Whether I am relying on my own actions or ignoring the fact the work that Jesus did for me was a true sacrifice, I am telling Satan, “this part can be yours.”   Pricilla writes, “I didn’t need to personally invite them into my house.  All I had to do was create an environment conducive for them.  The environment I created WAS the invitation.” (Page 70)

I don’t want that.  When Jesus did his work, he purchased ALL of me – my thoughts, my actions, my heart.  He deserves all of me, not just the parts that are easy to give.  I want to be a woman who puts on the full armor and is ready to go into battle with the knowledge and truth that every part of my being is new in him – nothing held back or remaining in the darkness.

I realized this week that I have not always taken this seriously.  In my attempt to remember that it is NOT about my effort, I have sometimes refused to take on the responsibility and discipline it takes to be a strong soldier.   When Proverbs says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” we can see how important it is to actively and intentionally live in a way that is pleasing to God to the very best of our ability.

So now I go into a new battle, a new part of surrender to him and allow him to make his truth  – that I am new, the old is dead, I am redeemed,  I am a masterpiece, I am a co-heir with Christ, but I was bought with a price become the truth that sinks deep into my soul and transforms from the inside out.  From that I will live my life in a way that is pleasing to him NOT because of rules  but because I am so, so thankful and secure in his love for me and I trust that what he has and says is right and good.  I will guard my heart with the truth of my righteousness being found only in his.

 

 

Being Shaped

Several years ago as the we were spending some time in Savannah, GA we went to the beach most evenings.  Our family has discovered that summer sunsets on the beach are when we love to go the most.  Most of the crowds of people have gone to have dinner and do other evening activities, plus many times parking is free after a certain hour.  The weather is still beautiful and the water is nice. 

This time we were walking and looking for shells, and Anna found a whole clam.  It was washed up on shore and a pretty large size, and it was still intact.  The mouth was slightly open, and it obviously wasn’t alive anymore, so she added it to the pile of shells we found and we took it back to dry out.  Later, when we pried the top shell open, we found a surprise – a black pearl!  It was embedded in sand inside and attached to the shell,  We didn’t dare try to get it out for fear of damaging it, so we left it inside.  A few years later for Anna’s birthday we asked Shawn’s parents to take it to the jeweler (they had all our stuff in storage at their house) and see about getting it made into a ring. 

The jeweler was shocked and said they wouldn’t have believed we had actually found it that way if they hadn’t brought in the whole clam!  It is a very rare thing find one like that – especially the dark color.  The pearl was not a perfect shape – it is more oblong than round.  But it makes a very pretty ring and a special reminder of a fun treasure. 

This week as we have beach combed we found some fun shells.  The boys joked about finding a pearl, and we told them how rare it was that we ever found one at all.  As I was walking along the beach spending some time in prayer I thanked God for that gift so long ago that was still reminding me of his goodness. 

The ocean is a place where I find rest and restoration.  It puts my soul at ease.  Yet in the same vein I feel the power and vastness of it as the waves crash in and the tides change the way the beach looks any given moment.  If you’ve ever been caught in an undercurrent, you have probably felt the panic that comes from not knowing which was is up and having to surrender to trusting the water to push you back up as fast as it took you down. 

The ocean took sand and pushed it into the mouth of a very specific clam to make this shiny black pearl over time.  It has to be a certain type of clam to make a pearl, and even more specific to make a black one.  It takes time and the clam uses a defense mechanism to try to get rid of the pearl that gives it the shine.  There is nothing simple or random about any of it, yet over time a rare and beautiful thing (albeit imperfect when we found it) was formed. 

The last several years have been good in many ways, but they have also been some of the hardest as far as growing and changing me.  Many times I felt caught in that undercurrent and wondered if I would ever feel upright again let alone rooted and steadfast.  

However, as I was walking on the beach this week I was marveling at this profound sense of peace and contentment I have right now. I feel so thankful to be this place, but I have not known peace like this before, and I admit that it feels foreign to me.  It is strange, but it is changing my view of and reaction to so many things.  Instead of anxiety and chaos being the filter that I see through, I feel like I am often looking through a filter of peace and hope.  Sometimes I am not sure how to respond to this steadfastness that I feel deep in my soul right now.   I realize that I am being shaped and molded into something beautiful by the maker of the ocean  – both now in peace and before in the time of chaos.  The one who made the waters to churn and shape and move and (and some cases) destroy is the one who has made me and continues to make me more like him.  Sometimes it feels like chaos and is hard – like I can’t catch my breath and I might never breech the surface again, or like sand scratching the edges of a pearl and turning into something valuable.  Other times it is done in slow, steadfast ways where my feet feel firm on solid ground and my roots feel deep.  Both are purposeful and necessary to bring me to a likeness of him, and I am grateful for his great love for me. 

That Time God Called Me Dude

2017

Not long ago RJ got in the car after  school and asked if I had bought chocolate.  (He is so my child!)  I told him no, and he immediately sighed and said, “We haven’t had chocolate in a long time.”  I literally stopped what I was doing and looked at him in the rear view mirror before responding, “Really, Dude?  You had two buck eyes*  in your lunch box.  You ate a cupcake at the church lunch yesterday, and Saturday we had dessert because we had friends over.”  To his credit he looked at me with a sheepish little smirk, his dimple adding to his innocence, and laughed.   “Yeah, but not a candy bar.”  (He REALLY is my child!)

That was the end of that exchange and I didn’t give it a second thought until later that week.  I sat at down in my room and started  complaining to God.  Immediately I heard my words to RJ – “Really, Dude?”  Yes, God called me dude.  He’s cool that way.

I stopped in my tracks and I’m positive I gave God that same sheepish smile I received  from RJ – dimple and all.  I confessed that I was being grumpy and even a bit spoiled.  Then I started naming the many, many things that He has given me.  But again I felt like he stopped me mid-sentence.  He wanted me to be more specific.  He wanted me to go back to my complaint and find the thanks in that.  The gratefulness for the absolute, miraculous provisions that he has shown us in the last few months as well as gratefulness for the struggle.  

Stop right there.

I can thank him easily enough for the provisions.  I may forget sometimes, but when I’m purposefully looking I can see and be reminded of all the ways he really has provided.   But can I thank him for the times he has seemed silent?  What about for the things that I continue to bring to him and have yet to see the answer to?   Or the times I had to let go of my ideas of what I wanted or (cough, cough) “deserved?”  Could I be thankful in the middle of the struggle?  Could I be thankful at the end of the struggle, when I haven’t received the answer I wanted?  Like RJ in his candy bar heart struggle, could I be ok if I didn’t get it?

God is constantly teaching me through my kids.  When I looked at RJ that day I was teasing him – not angry or shaming.   But I wanted him to see the truth.  How much more does my heavenly father love me in a perfect, holy, fierce love?  I  didn’t feel shame that night – only a bit like a cheeky child being lovingly chastised by her parent.  I pictured him with a twinkle in his eye as he pointed out truth.

He is so amazing.

I am thankful for his love for me.

*For those never fortunate enough to live in Ohio, Buck eyes are probably called peanut butter balls to you. null

null(How can you resist his smile?)