I am Here

When one of my children was younger he struggled a lot with anxiety and fear. He comes by it naturally. Both Shawn and I have struggled with these things. It has come out differently in each of us – Shawn tends to shut down and internalize while I talk myself into a frenzy and speak the lies out loud. Neither way is helpful if you continue to sit in them and allow them to shape you and the way you react. When I realized this child was on the verge of a full blown panic attack I knew I had to get him back to reality as soon as possible. I physically grabbed his face, put it right in front of my own, and said, “Look at me, son. I am here. I am right in front of you. I love you. Nothing will ever change that. You are my child.” I kept speaking these truths to him and slowly he started to breath at a more normal rate. As I held him in my arms I continued to pray over him. This didn’t stop the fear from creeping in again later, but in the moment there was peace. He looked at me. I looked at him. Truth was spoken and the power of that changed both of us.

I’ve spent years (decades) in counseling all over the world. Some of it was not so great, but the counselors that I connected with changed me from the inside out. They knew the words to say and the questions to ask to help me see truth. I am all for counseling. But now as I am older I see that it doesn’t help just to know the roots of my issues, or even to pull them out, but I need to replant in this soil that has sat empty. I need seeds of truth to sprout so I can be a person who not only survives in this world, but thrives in the love of my Father.

I need God to grab my face and point me to him.

Isaiah 43:1 says, “But now this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I’ve called you by name, you are mine.”

God will always love me. I am his. No matter what happens or how I feel, nothing changes this truth. I am sealed with the Spirit, redeemed and covered under the blood of the lamb. When hard, or even unthinkable, circumstances come my way, I can stand firm in this truth that is stronger than and brighter than any fear, circumstance, or trauma I face. Even when I don’t feel it in the moment, this truth is still truth. Thankfully my faith is not defined my me but by the one whom my faith is in.

When I feel like I am being swallowed up, consumed by the things of this world me and brokenness is all I see, I can look back to this truth and know that God – the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, unchanging from everlasting to everlasting, the Papa who calls me to crawl up in his lap and will cover me in the shadow of his wings, the warrior who defeated death once and for all already – that God love me, Heather. He knows my name, the number of hairs on my head. He knew me before I was formed in my mother’s womb and already had my days planned out. My name is written in his book of life.

When everything around is out of control and I am dizzy and nauseous with uncertainty and fear, I can find this truth and focus on it alone. I can picture the Father grabbing my face and saying, “Focus, breathe. I love you, daughter, Heather. You are my beloved. Be still and know I am God. I am singing a love song over you that more beautiful and healing and whole than you can ever even imagine. I am fighting your battles. I am weeping with you. I am here. I am here. I am here.”

Chosen

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.” Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

All of us have an innate desire to know that we are chosen, loved, wanted. We think of it often in the sense of a romantic relationship, and that certainly is an important one. But we only feel real fulfillment in any of our relationships if we don’t feel like we are a burden or we were forced upon someone, but that they chose us and want to be in our presence. My birth father never made me feel this way. I don’t ever remember having that type of relationship with him. There were times where he was filled with guilt and apologized, but it was very apparent quickly that it had more to do with easing his conscience than actually having relationship with me. My mom met my stepdad when I was in 1st grade. He and my future step brothers moved next door. By the time I was 8 they were married, and I really don’t remember my life without this man being in it.

As with most step-families, ours was complicated. I often refer to our family as the dysfunctional Brady Bunch since my mom had three girls and my dad had 2 boys, then together they had my sister. But one thing I always knew – though I was not his by birth, I was his by choice. I was never just a tag along or an addition because he loved my mom. As I sat on his lap around the time of their wedding I clearly remember the conversation about how he was my dad and I was his daughter. He was adamant about the fact that one day he would be the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away. I don’t know why that was so important to him – certainly an 8 year old wasn’t thinking in those terms. But the conversation stuck with me, and I equated it to meaning I was his to give away. Maybe an “old fashioned” notion by today’s standards, but one I was happy to live in. And he did give me away – all the while joking as we walked down the aisle that, “It’s not too late to turn around, kid!”

It wasn’t just Dad. His family welcomed us in with open hearts and arms. They are a large family with their own chaos and craziness. But there was never once a feeling of being on the outside. His nieces and nephews became my cousins and my best friends – the kind where every time you are together you plot to stay over night and be together as long as possible. I spent countless nights with all my new Aunts and Uncles, and never questioned their love for me.

I was chosen. Invited in.

I wasn’t just acknowledged, begrudgingly accepted or tolerated. I was wanted, loved, and immersed. My family tree suddenly had new roots grafted in deep and permanent.

It was healing to the soul of a little girl who didn’t feel wanted and loved by her birth father. But here’s the thing…If I had not chosen to allow myself to be loved and choose to love back, it would not have been a relationship. If I did not believe that their love for me was real, I could not have grown up with my huge group of family members and love and laughter and friendship. I had to choose back.

Despite the fact that my step father was far from perfect, and my new family and I all made mistakes, their choosing of me opened the pathway for me to think about the love of my heavenly father more. He also chose me. Before I was formed in the womb, before I existed. I was his. My name is graven on his hands. The Spirit lives inside of me. I am his masterpiece – wholly and dearly loved. He gives me good things, he knows what I need before I even ask (or I even know!). He took me out of slavery and fear and bought me with the price of his son’s life so that I could be his daughter, a co-heir with Jesus. I am adopted, wanted, desired, pursued, and loved.

My mother went to be with Jesus 12 years ago. My stepfather just died last week. Tomorrow we will celebrate his life and I will be with the family that took me in and loved me well. I am aware that in a physical sense of the word, I am an orphan. But I have family that loves me, and – even more so – a heavenly father who promises that he does not leave us orphans, but that he comes to us and makes us his. He has chosen us – we just need to choose back.

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.