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.

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?

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.