Posture of Gratefulness

Recently as I have been praying for people, I have found myself in a posture of gratefulness. As I bring the tragedies and traumas before the throne, I ask God to let each person see at least a glimpse of the redemption and beauty that He sees at the end of it. You might say, “Yeah, that’s easy, Heather. It’s not your pain.” And there is truth to that, I understand. However, the understanding that this point in time, this moment of tragedy, is not the whole story comes from my own walking through the hard things.

And that’s really the truth of abiding in Jesus, right? There is no greater paradox than this life that we chose to live. One where the admission of depravity leads to sanctification; the surrender of self leads to the fullness of living in who you were really created to be; where death leads to eternal life. There is a fine line between grief and joy, between despair and hope. You really can’t have one without the other. How could I understand grace and mercy if I wasn’t first in a place where I was accused and condemned for my crimes?

It’s the biggest reason I am not afraid to call people to repentance – not because we are stuck in our sin and horrible people, but because I know when we repent we open the door to deeper relationships, to healing, and to peace as opposed to the destruction that comes from our refusal to do so. However, to repent means we have asked Him to truly reveal what is there; It means allowing him to put a new spirit within us and removing from us our hearts of stone. ( Ezekiel 36:26.)

Sometimes I hesitate when I pray. I see the broken darkness all around us, and I think “How long, Oh Lord?” But as I pour my heart out to him he gives the space for the grief, he allows for my words, and he weeps with me. At the same time, he is not a God who is closed into time – he goes ahead of us and prepares. He sees the way all of these things are being made holy.

Could I ever have true joy without the brokenness ? Could I really live in absolute peace without having battled anxiety? I would have known pockets of these things – a small taste of goodness, just a shadow of what could be. But like the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus because she truly understood the forgiveness she received, I realize that my own steadfastness, joy, and peace come not in spite of circumstances, but because of them. And so they become like a banquet rather than a small taste; like the whole picture rather than a tiny shadow. We settle for so much less than what He wants for us because we are so sure of our own needs.

God’s ways are not mine. He knows what it takes my stubborn heart to come to the point of willingly dying to self. As I seek him out and continually ask him to reveal my own heart and then make it like his, I can see his fingerprints all over my story. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

God on Trial

Have you ever been in a place in prayer where your own words just don’t seem to work. Maybe you don’t know what to say other than, “Help.” Maybe you have said the same things time and time again and there is something stale about the conversation? Maybe your own words just don’t seem adequate enough in the moment- not strong enough to express that longing and groaning that is happening in your heart and mind. Even as a writer I have experienced these times. These are the times that have drawn my heart into pursuing liturgies and prayers that others have written before me.

Yesterday a new friend offered up a book about prayer that immediately took me online to buy it. I have been hungering after books on prayer lately, and this one hit the mark with it’s rawness. The book is called, “Prayer in the Night” by Tish Harrison Warren. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I had to stop dead in my tracks when I read something she wrote in chapter two. She is telling a story of a friend who is sitting in the waiting room for her son to come out of surgery. This is what she tells her husband:

“We have to decide right now whether or not God is good, because if we wait to determine that by the results of this surgery, we will always keep God on trial.”

I have had a lot of conversations with people recently where I have walked away chastised (either gently by them in love or by the Holy Spirit) that I am accusing God of being someone he is not. I accuse him of withholding, of being distant, of not caring, and of playing games with my emotions. I react to a way I believe he is because I have experienced something here with my earthly relationships that I assume is true in my relationship with him. Maybe I put broken human tendencies on him rather than judge humanity against his Holy character. Maybe I did not get the answer to prayer that I desired, so I immediately named him to be a liar or I accuse him of being a dictator or tyrant. Whatever the reasons, I have found that I almost constantly have God on trial when it comes to my thoughts of him.

What would happen if I did it the other way around? If I chose to believe what his word says about him, and then looked at my life, my prayers, my answers, my circumstances, my interactions with others through that lens instead? What if, before the answer came, as I was sitting in the waiting room with my son under the knife, I chose to say, God IS good. God IS right. His ways ARE perfect. He DOES love me completely. PERIOD. Full stop – no question mark, nothing left hanging, unanswered. How different would my life be? How much more powerful would my prayers be if I prayed based on the foundation of his character and his promises rather than my own flimsy base?

Warren goes on to say this: “If the question of whether God is real or not – or of whether God is kind or indifferent or a bastard – is determined solely by the balance of joy and sorrow in our own lives or in the world, we will never be able to say anything about who God is or what God is like. The evidence is frankly, inconclusive. If the story of my short life and feelings determines God’s character, then he is Jekyll and Hyde…But we cannot divine such a sign from the circumstances of our lives or of the world. We have to decide what we believe about who God is and what he is like. We have to decide if anyone keeps watch with us. it is unavoidably – even irritatingly – a decision based on doctrine, the first principles we return to again and again, the story we define our lives by.”

I am at a crossroads. Will I choose to believe the doctrine of God’s character – who he tells us he is in his word? Or will I choose to believe what my feelings, so easily swayed, and my circumstances, which are marred and exist in a broken world try to tell me? Where will my foundational truth of God’s character come from? Will I stop putting him on trial – not because he really HAS proven himself over and over, but simply because faith in who God is is at the core of everything I believe and do?

This morning I choose to decide he is good.

Made in His Image

When we landed in Entebbe, Uganda to prepare for our trips to Sudan and rural Uganda with our mission, we were picked up at the airport by a taxi driver and driven to our guest house for the night. I had not been back to Africa since we left Malawi a few years earlier, and I was so happy to be back on the continent. I was also absolutely exhausted, already missing my kids, and unsure of and anxious about spending the next two weeks with strangers in places I had never been – essentially with it being a “job interview,” since we would find out if one or both teams would invite us to come do life with them. My mind was doing a million things and I had a hard time focusing.

But I can clearly remember driving through Entebbe and Kampala in the dark, seeing fires on the side of the roads as people hawked corn and pastries and whatever else one might want to stop and eat after a long day. Children ran everywhere – dressed in varying amounts of clothing. Some laughed and squealed, some cried with runny noses and flies buzzing. The diesel smell filled the air as the traffic buzzed and hummed all around. There were conversations being spoken in a language I was not at all familiar with. I couldn’t take it in fast enough.

As I drank it in with all my senses, I kept thinking, “I don’t know any of these people, yet they all have a story.” They have all loved (and probably lost.) They have desires for peace and family, love and happiness. They long for security, need money and shelter, do the daily tasks of living life. And, most importantly, each of them were created in the image of God, just like me. We couldn’t be from two more different worlds, yet we all had our Maker in common. God loved each of us.

The difference was that I knew this truth. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be in rural Africa – I wanted to be a part of spreading that truth to those who may not understand it yet. Yet as I sat in that taxi, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was one small, tiny, minuscule little speck in the tapestry of history. My own story and my life was important – so much so that I knew Jesus would have gone to the cross for just me. But it was not the only story.

One of our desires for living overseas was to help our kids see this. Yes, they were the most important people to US, but they were NOT the only important people in the world. Each person, made in the image of God, is unique, beautiful, and important. Each of us are also broken, wounded, and sometimes feel worthless. God knows every single person intimately. The Bible tells us he knew us before we were formed in the womb. He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads.

I couldn’t fathom that thought as I stared into the chaos of an African city street at night. Small houses with tin roofs; charcoal fires cooking foods that perfumed the air; layer after layer of houses and people and houses and people and houses and people – going far back into the darkness with millions I would never even see, let alone know.

But God does.

This year as I think about the verses and things God has laid on my heart, I want to continue to be aware of this truth: that each person I meet – EVERY SINGLE ONE – is made in his image. Whether in a developing country where poverty is in your face every day and the needs are obvious, or in a place like DC, where wealth, status, and influence seem to permeate everything in life. The truth is still that people living in all these environments are all made to have a relationship with their Creator. Nothing else can fill that void. No matter what color, culture, belief system, background, political leaning, education, sexual preference or identity, or gender. Whether or not they are “easy” to love, or if it takes a bit of intentionality. Whether I have the margin or I feel depleted on my own strength. Whether I believe it in the moment or not, it doesn’t change the truth. Each person I meet is made in his image and important to God – therefore, they need to be important to me. Their dignity, their desires, their needs are all things that I want to be conscious of. While I know I cannot impact and truly love every single person in the world, I can be aware of who He sets in my path each day and be an imager-bearer to them so they can meet Jesus where they are and truly know Love. As I set my mind on things above and surrender my heart to him each day, I believe that I will see him in ways that will make me more like him.

“Show me you in each person I meet, Lord.”

On Things Above

This morning I was cleaning and organizing around my house, burning off nervous energy. I was waiting to hear about a situation that was causing me stress, and so I was praying and taking control of the only thing I really have any control over – the closets. This has always been my go-to when I feel out of control. You would think I have the cleanest, most organized closets in the world. However, I also have 6 people living here, so that is just not true.

As I was cleaning and praying, I was fretting to God and suddenly I very clearly heard him tell me, “The only thing that changes when you take on this anxiety and allow it to rule you is the atmosphere of your home.”

Ouch.

While I know practically that it is true my worried attitude does nothing to help things, it always seemed like it was my “right” to have in the midst of struggles.

Many years ago as I was just getting to know my husband I spent some precious time with his aunt. We went through Colossians 3 and she had me memorize it. At the time I was doing it more to impress her and get in good with the family, if I’m being honest. But now, 28 years later, I find myself often repeating this chapter as I sort through how I’m feeling about things.

“Since then you were raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”

Later it goes on to say, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

No where in that (or any other place in the Bible) do I see where God says, “It’s ok. Go ahead – it is your right to be angry, hurt, worried, etc.” Even if it is the natural response, my “rights” are gone as a child of God. They were put to death on the cross. My life is in Christ. And while he did freely express his desires and feelings to God – to the point where “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground,” he circled back around to the peace that came from being in tune and in harmony with his Father. And “for the joy set before him,” he endured the cross.”

Friends, you know I’m not talking about “fake it ’til you make it.” We can earnestly and genuinely come to the Father with our fears, concerns, tears, anxieties, and everything else we experience. However, what I was doing – falling into the pattern of allowing that initial response to govern everything I did and felt for the rest of the day- that falls in to the category of idolatry. I was putting my trust in myself, in my response, in my emotions, and allowing them to rule me rather than in the one who created all of those things. Even more so, I was believing the worst about God in the middle of it. My default was to disparage the very God I professed to worship and serve. That overflowed into my actions and my attitude, and changed the whole atmosphere of my home.

So as I confess this to my Father I am so thankful that he, in return, reminds me of his great and abundant love for me. I started to speak my thanks aloud, and recounted the numerous ways over the years he has provided – sometimes above and beyond and sometimes just enough in just the nick of time, but always completely. And I continue to set my heart and mind and things above.

But God

Often in my life I find myself caught up in the cycle of anxiety and worry. I am constantly asking, “What if…?” What if this doesn’t work, or what if so-and-so thought this, or what if it’s not enough, etc. Recently as I have been navigating a particularly hard emotional issue I have found myself saying these words to my husband. He surprised my by saying two different words – “But God…”

I know those words are part of a popular worship song that constantly plays on Christian radio. Honestly, I tune it out most of the time when I get sick of the same songs over and over again. But when Shawn said those words to me a few different times recently, I realized how much the words we choose to tell ourselves shapes how we think, how we act, and how we respond to the world around us.

Yes, maybe something seems impossible if we are looking at it through the eyes of this world. But we are not citizens of this world if we have a relationship with Jesus. Our destiny is different, but so is our daily living here on Earth – we do not have to wait until Heaven. We are not bound by the laws of physics or the intentions of man – instead we are given access to a storehouse of heavenly resources and we are given the inheritance of those who are children of God. We are not limited by a broken creation because we have been chosen by the Holy Creator, who is making all things new again.

I need to stop wondering if or how or even why and start saying, “But God…” But God is in this. But God promised me. But God is for me so who can be against me? But God sent his son to die for me. But God inclines his ear to me. But God is the author of all of this. But God is good. But God IS enough.

Where are the areas of your life where you need to remember this truth today? Because we may see a limited, murky, confusing scene in front of us, but God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can’t…but God.

What’s Your Search Engine?

Anna and I faithfully watch our favorite show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, each week.  I love sitting down with her on the day after it comes out with a cup of coffee and bringing it up on Hulu.  Yesterday I woke up with the song “Mad World” in my head because I had been listening to the playlist from the show the night before.  I was humming it all day and kind of laughed at the irony of the name of the song in this time.  Then  I realized that, like many songs from my growing up years, I didn’t know most of the lyrics.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have found out that I was singing made up lyrics because despite the best efforts by my teenage self doing the whole “play-pause-rewind-play-again -and-write-things-as-I-went” process, I still couldn’t quite catch what they said. I will always remember laughing at my sister because she thought that the words “You make me feel like a natural woman” were “You make me feel like a mature woman.”  Often when I google the real lyrics now and it comes up instantly I think, “Well, that makes much more sense.”   Kids today – they don’t know how good they have it!

I guess in some ways that’s true about so many things.  The internet is a powerful tool.  Recently I heard someone didn’t own a Bible.  No worries – open up Bible Gateway or any number of other apps.  Not only do you have instant access to almost any version of the Bible you want, you have commentaries and concordances galore to make your reading more in depth if you desire. This is true of any books – unlimited libraries instantly.

I love smart phones.  I never have to wonder too long about anything, really.  My personality loves that.  Want to know what that flower is?  Google lens, snap! Do you want to know what actress played on a certain sitcom?  Ask Siri.  What’s the weather supposed to be like Sunday?  “Alexa, tell me the weather for Sunday.”  And my favorite invention  – Google Maps!  My husband hates it because he thinks it makes people not think.  But for those who get lost going two blocks away (ME!) it is the invention of the century.  FREEDOM!

But here we sit in pandemic still.  Believe me, I am still very thankful for the internet.  We were on lockdown in places before where the internet shut down when things like this happened, or power was so sketchy you could never be assured of even keeping your phone charged.  Forget streaming Netflix when you can barely pull up your emails.  But having been in this 1 year now (1 year,  people!!) we are feeling so weary.  It feels like I have watched all of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.  I have walked so many miles around my neighborhood that I could do it with my eyes closed.  The novelty of being able to bake my own bread and food from scratch in case of a real apocalypse has definitely worn off.  I miss my family and friends – many of whom I have not seen in real life in over a year!  I miss parties and gatherings without social distancing.  I miss hugs and high fives.  I miss walking around without a mask.  And I miss worshipping together on Sundays and feeling the power of so many people lifting praise at the same time.  All I want is an answer to, “Alexa, when will this be over?????”

Sometimes I try to use God like a search engine.  “Hey, God, tell me the plan.” I want an instant answer that is clear and filled with concrete data – no grey areas of faith. My mind has been trained to type or talk instantly and receive the answer just as fast.  Sometimes I am even guilty of accepting the first thing that comes up without researching a little more.  I just want something that sounds like it could be the real answer quickly so I can move on to the next thing. I don’t like waiting.

I know the end of this particular crisis seems to be coming soon, and I am so thankful for that. But there will be another thing that happens – another crisis, another trauma, another time of waiting in the unknown.  I am asking God to help me be ok with not knowing the answer, but rather knowing the One who does knows the answers.  Because I know that is the real meaning of life anyway – to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

God is not a search engine, but he does have all the answers.  I just need to trust that he will reveal in his time for my good and his glory.

God is not an Avocado

We had an avocado tree in our yard in Nairobi. It produced small little fruits because it had not been well cared for before we came, but the harvest was still plentiful and happened twice a year due to the perfect weather there. (Sigh…I do miss the weather!) You could also buy them year round from roadside markets called Dukas for about twenty cents each. Yes, you read that correctly. I know – you practically have to sell your organs to buy them here.

The thing I have noticed about avocados is that you spend so much time waiting on them to become the perfect ripeness. There’s really no choice – it’s not one of those fruits that is yummy when it is not ready. I would gather the ones that fell in the yard and bring them in. Most of the time they still had to ripen a bit, and they would sit on the kitchen windowsill. Each morning I would check them, hoping for that perfect give that in them meant I could put it on my toast with some tomato and an egg – the perfect breakfast if you ask me.

Then suddenly one day I would rejoice because after all the waiting and checking it was finally over – my avocado was ready! I would enjoy it that day! However, by the next morning the rest that had fallen and been brought inside were rotten. I hate when you cut through only to see the black rot around the pit – so disappointing. If I happened to be in a hurry and missed the good morning, I might miss out on the whole batch. All that waiting for nothing. Avocados wait for no man.

Humans do not tend to be very good at waiting. I know that I am so impatient. It is even harder when we are not waiting FOR something but rather we are waiting IN something. I have had times in my life where I have clearly sensed God telling to me to wait in the moment – don’t wish it by or fast-track things. When we are in the middle of grief or pain or uncertainty we do not want to hear him tell us to wait. We worry as we wait that the solution or the perfect thing will come and we will not be watching so we will miss out. What if I am sitting in my grief and allowing the my heart to really feel what is happening around me – will I miss the chance to heal?

I know that the Bible talks about the idea that in all things we are to give thanks. In my past this has meant “getting through” things as quickly as possible so I can get on with the business of gratefulness. More recently I have re-thought this concept. In her book, No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece says, “We are so quick to get to the beauty that we skip over the brokenness or have a hard time seeing beauty arise amidst the brokenness. This has led to some dangerous and unbiblical theology. And if we are going to recover a healthy, biblical understanding of how God meets us in our pain we need to recover the lost prayer of lament in our churches. Authentic praise flows from honest prayer, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence. And this is when brokenness becomes beautiful.” (Emphasis is mine.)

This has been a year. There has been a lot of hard, a lot of bad. I have had to give myself permission to sit in some lament and grief over many things. I’ve been aware that there are things that I can learn only in this time of waiting. I can be in that time as long as I need and I am not going to miss what God has for me. In fact, waiting with no clear answers may be exactly what he has for me.

Recently I preached on what it looks like to live in a broken heart versus a whole and healed heart. The hardest part about “guest speaking” is you have half an hour to tell everything your heart has been ruminating on. While I know that God desires to see us healed and whole, I think part of that healing comes in the sitting and the waiting. I believe that sitting in the not-quite-yet healed completely heart while waiting on God to finish the healing is a good place to be. It’s not being stuck in the brokenness. It’t not missing out or being left behind. God’s healing sometimes feels like waiting for an avocado to ripen – like it’s never going to happen or somehow it will pass you by and you will miss it. But God is not an avocado! Sometimes his healing means sitting and waiting; listening and anticipating; waiting in the murky in-between where it doesn’t always feel so good, but where the broken becomes the beautiful.

I believe God is the redeemer of trauma and brokenness and the beauty-maker from ashes. As we offer our sacrifice of praise in the waiting, we will see these truths.

Hope Silences the Dark

“The gospel gives me hope, and hope is not a language the dark voices understand.”
― Andrew Peterson

Have you felt it? Have you been in that place where the dark voices win temporarily and hopelessness prevails? I have. It is not a fun place, nor is it a place of truth. It is, however, a place that has as much power as we offer up to it.

Not long ago I was not feeling well, there were several hard things on my heart and mind, and I made the mistake of getting on the scale to see how my (lack of) calorie counting was going. All of these things combined turned into a despondent time of crying, yelling, and pouting at God and my husband until I stuck in my headphones and tuned everything out to watch the newest episode of one of my favorite TV shows. That was a bad idea, since everyone is writing Covid stories right now, and it only fed into my anxiety, sadness, and fear.

What a mess I am.

Or rather, what I mess I was in that moment. That is NOT me. A moment of despair does not define who I am or how I live. His mercies are new every morning and today I remember I am a new person. Today I fill my mind with truth and my ears with worship rather than soapy stories and fretful news. I can still see the reality of things around me, but I also see hope. I see pathways. I eat healthier and exercise to take care of my body and I guard my heart more passionately. But most of all I just acknowledge that so much of this comes from self and I repent of trying so hard in my own strength. When I turn to the gospel and I read truth, the Spirit opens my eyes and I see through the fog of heaviness and am able to rebuke the lies and fear. My heart become courageous – not because of anything of myself but because of He who lives within me. Slowly hope seeps back in and drowns out the dark voices of despair that cannot understand it and run from something so powerful.

May the God of Hope meet you today.

Did God Really Say?

Security: an idol we bow to and work for and dream of.
Security: an illusion we imagine and discuss and plan for.
Security: a gift we find here and now and in memories and in hopes.
O God of ever-present love, help us to embrace true security, fleeing from idols and exposing illusions. All things are passing, God never changes.
Amen.
Let it be so.
(Lina Toth, in Celtic Daily Prayer Book II)

Immediately these words above gripped my heart. I read this passage recently and was struck by how many times I have chased after false security because the true Security didn’t seem logical, or was too hard, or felt obscure. This false security is something that has become an idol to me in recent years. I know that there have been times before when it has overtaken my thoughts – particularly when it comes to finances. But we have made choices in our marriage about how we desired our family culture to look and that has meant we had to trust God rather than our own plans. Sometimes (oftentimes) people didn’t understand, and even those who meant well and loved us fully couldn’t comprehend or agree with the decisions made. Through it all God has been more than faithful and we have had an abundant life.

But when we were making the decision to move back from East Africa a couple of years ago my heart was going one direction only – stability. We needed it. We craved it. We longed for a place to go that would be home forever, where we could dive in and make friendships and know our place and who we are. No more foreign cultures that we loved in so many ways yet made us question every action and motive every day. No more friends that we were just starting to feel comfortable with leaving because their term was up. No more relying on people to give financially so we could do ministry and live. No more terrorist attacks in our city or stressful, dangerous elections where we need to be on lockdown. No more insecurity.

My desire was security and the idol I was relying on to make that happen was America. Ouch. As a former missionary I hate even admitting that!

All of us have seen that idol fail this year. So many of those things that I listed above are still true of our life here. We live in one of the most transient places in the US, and people leave regularly. Because of that those who are the stayers are more hesitant to open up. I get that – we were the stayers for a while. The very thing I love about DC – the international flavor and the ability to see the world in a glance – is the same thing that makes it exhausting as we try to know people and understand their reactions and our relationship with them. Diving in and making friendships has been close to impossible in some ways this year thanks to the Pandemic. And I don’t need to tell you about stressful elections! Yet we know we are suppose to be here – this is home.

Over a year ago I sat on my porch praying to God about my calling here in DC. I have always loved being in ministry with Shawn. I loved being a pastor’s wife – I still do. I feel like it is in my DNA to care for people this way. However, over the last couple of years I have found myself being drawn to be more official in that role. I wanted to see how God used me – Heather. Not Shawn’s wife (or the “preacher’s wife” as someone affectionately called me before.) What did it mean to be called as a woman, as Heather, as a daughter of the Most High? How could my life, my story, my gifts, my passions, and my weaknesses be used for Him?

This was not the first time I had prayed about that (and would definitely NOT be the last time!) But in that moment I knew – in that deep in your soul, no shadow of a doubt, truth in the core of your being way of knowing – that God told me to step into that and he would take care of the rest.

“But God, my family.” “But God, I won’t get paid. I really should find a paying job here.” “But God, I’m not educated enough.” “But God -security!!” But God, but God, but God. Still, I knew.

So I jumped into it. Well, let’s be honest – I trudged into it kicking and screaming at times. I am not a great student, and I knew it meant school, classes, papers, and interviews. But I started – I am doing the classes, doing the training, getting the licenses, and doing what He asks. And you know what? He has been faithful the whole way. He provides financially in ways we couldn’t imagine. He brings friendship and support from people in the unlikeliest of places and ways. He enfolds my children into his arms and helps me trust him with their care rather than thinking it is all me. There have been times of discouragement and what-was-I-thinking-this-makes-no-sense. Those times I hear a whisper of doing something that seems more logical or practical that speaks, “Did God really say…?” These happen when I have grabbed back the control of my life and plans from His grasp instead of letting Him lead. They happen when I demand security on my own terms rather than his.

Many times in scripture we see people falling out of the blessings of God and into a dangerous world of sin and self-reliance when the enemy whispers in their ear, “Did God really say…?” Adam and Eve are the first and most well known examples, but definitely not the last. And while I continue to push on, I am sure that I will hear those words again. Sometimes they come from frustration with people, sometimes from my complete lack of understanding of how to do a task in front of me. This week they came, over and over again, like rolling storm clouds shouting at me that I had no control over anything. In the middle of that storm I saw my orphan-ness come out and I felt myself wanting to fall back into destructive habits – ones that always reared their ugly heads when I was feeling out of control.

Thankfully this time my heart had expected this attack. I was prepared with the armor and battled back. By the end of the week I was weary and limping a bit, but victorious. Because when Satan slithered up and asked, “Did God really say…” I yelled back, “YES!” Not in my strength – we all know that. But by the power of the One living in me.

I want to encourage you, brother and sister. This is a hard time. There are so many voices out there, so many questions, so many things causing fear, instability, and chaos in our hearts. Are you taking time to listen? Are you standing in the presence of the God of ever-present love, asking him to help us embrace the true security that is Him?

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.”