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?)

The Promise in a Name

Feb. 2015

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Today I spent several hours with some Cici and Maria and their families here in Mundri.  As I sat in the shade of the huge mango trees, I felt as at home as I ever do in Moruland.  Even more so as a soldier walked by and called me “Kawaja” (White person) and Maria told him I was not a kawaja, I was Moru, this was my home, and I was her sister.  This made sitting in the 108 degree heat worth it. I have been out of sorts since we got back from Uganda last week.  On our last leave I was ready to come home.  I looked forward to being back in our house and seeing familiar faces and jumping back into language.  Not so much this time.  I knew we would be coming into 110 degree heat each day, and nights that could be 90-100.  We live in a place where there is not a lot of control over our environment.  We cannot control the temperature of our house – there are screens and no window panes, so whatever heat is outside is also inside.  We cannot decide to take a cold shower, because we have have no hot or cold controls – it all comes from one big tank sitting in the sun all day.  (Which I am thankful for – don’t get me wrong!  I can’t imagine having to walk to the borehole all the time.)  We have inches of red dust on every space of the house every day and I have given up trying to control it.  We can never know what foods are available in the market, and even if they are there -are they good?  We bought bread that was moldy and eggs that had been fertilized, so there were big red blobs in them.  It was all too much and very overwhelming.  Even visiting friends on Tuesday felt like a disconnect as I couldn’t communicate well, and it all felt so very frustrating. So today, after I got the kids and Shawn off to school (he teaches them on Thursdays – I love this man!) I sat in the quiet house and prayed in tears.  “Lord, please – give me something – anything – to feel connected today.  I need this from you.”  I prayed without a lot of hope that it would happen.  Then I got in the car and left. And I’m so glad I did. After much laughing and a crazy mixed up lesson in English, Arabic, and Moru with Maria where we got off on some crazy tangents that I am not sure how we got to (“How do you say this in English?” she says as she points to her breast) I had lunch, ate tea and Mandazi, tickled the kids, watched Cici do some sewing on my outfit that she is making for me, and got quizzed some more on Moru questions by Cici.  When someone came by and asked my name and mentioned how difficult it was, Cici and Maria finally gave me a Moru name.  (Heather seems to be impossible for people to remember and usually gets changed to Helda!)  So, Ovuru Maro Riya/Heather.  My name is Happy.  Because apparently I laugh a lot. This was a gift I needed today after having a week of very little laughing, except in bitterness.  Moru people give very practical names, so I was expecting something about my height or weight or white skin or something.  There are many people named war because they were born in the war or right after.  Many are named things like the day of the week they were born, etc.  So while Riya is not very rare (there are many Riyas here, or a variety of it) it is a good name that makes me smile.  And I feel like it is a promise. nullI’m thankful today for the gift of happiness, friends, laughter, a name, and a place that just might someday be home.  Even despite the heat.

Anxiety Wars

(originally written Nov 1, 2018)

Yesterday  I was having a conversation with Shawn about a particular situation we have been working through that went something like this:

Shawn: “How are you feeling?”

Me:  “I feel good.  Like, I actually don’t have any anxiety.  I feel like God truly is going to work this out in a way that tangibly us shows his love for us and he will get the glory.  This is a strange feeling..” (Long pause, overthinking, deep gulp of breath) “And now I have anxiety about not having anxiety!”

Oh, Heather of little faith.

I can chuckle about the whole conversation, but the truth is that it really isn’t funny to be that familiar with stress and so unfamiliar with the peace of laying that at His feet.  I was (over) thinking about it again later and had to start really ask my self some hard questions. How did that brief moment of peace feel, and why is it so foreign to me ? Why is it so uncommon and momentous that I want to write about it?

Let’s be real for a minute here.  Having a moment of panic or anxiety pop up is NOT a sin. It is a natural by-product of our new selves in Him constantly fighting our old selves of the flesh. Add to that the brokenness of this hurting, chaotic world and we are bound to have it attack us sometimes.  I am also not talking about an anxiety that requires medication.  There have been times that I have been on meds for these types of things. The only thing wrong in that case is feeling too embarrassed or weak to seek out help because of it. Those are lies.  However, with the daily, normal stress of everyday there is a problem with allowing oneself to wallow in it, or to jump in head first and whole-heartedly because it feels familiar and – dare I say – safe.  It is easier than the fight.  It is “normal.”

This is where I know some of you are saying, “But what about…” or “You have no idea…”

I understand, friends. I truly do.

You can see from my opening conversation how “normal” anxiety is for me.  As a matter of fact, many counselors all over the world could retire from what my family alone pays in counseling services.  I  second guess myself and my decisions about every little thing. I remember once when I was pregnant for Andrew I had debate within my mind over whether it would be better for our family to have another girl or another boy to add to the crew. I got seriously stressed over it, feeling on the verge of a panic attack before allowing the Spirit to actually breakthrough and give me His peace about the fact that I had ZERO control over the whole situation anyway and – oh yeah –  if the God of the universe, who created every single person and family was in control, then maybe it was ok for me to trust him rather than waste precious sleep time having that debate.

I’m a mess.

I’ve experienced panic attacks in the car on a regular basis since I was a child.  I can think of probable reasons for this beginning, but after 40+ years I somehow had talked myself into believing that this was just who I am and I gave up hope of ever feeling victorious over it.  I made myself believe it is just a part of who I am.

Then I watched my youngest suffer through debilitating panic attacks.   The kind where there is no reasoning, no talking, no loving  that can bring him out of it until he is removed from the situation that brought him into it in the first place.  My maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and I started to do everything I could to help him overcome and find peace.  My hope and celebrations for RJ as I see victories, and the soul-crushing hopelessness that comes when it often seems more like one step forward, two steps back drove me deep into the Father’s arms in ways I had given up on for me. My glimpses of peace made me long for that for my little boy – and for me, and a new type of war began.

Today as I sat in the counselor’s office she was asking me about this very thing.  She mentioned that when you live with something for so long in your life, you don’t know what to do without it and even welcome it back.  I told her about my conversation with Shawn, and she smiled knowingly.  Suddenly I felt a sense of freedom the promise that I am not the only one dealing with this, as well as the reminder that it is not something I always have to hold on to and be “ok” with.  I will do what it takes to be free – whatever that is.  Freedom comes in different ways for each of us, and in each situation. There is no shame in that. 

So today I begin again.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”