Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm back . . . and I'm a little angry!

     It has been several months since I last blogged.  Of course, all the normal excuses apply:  life got so busy once school started, there are so many other projects to be worked on, etc., etc.  But the truth is I have let the old thought patterns have free reign again – the ones that tell me that God’s promises of freedom and abundant life somehow don’t apply to me.  And if they don’t apply to me, how dare I write about them?  I would get a nudge to write.  But there would be a whisper that said “Nobody is really interested in what you have to say.”  I would try to fight the whisper and follow the gentle nudge to write what is on my heart.    But the whisper grows louder:  “No one will notice.  You can let your blog just die quietly.” 
     So days go by and I don’t write.  Worse than not writing, though, is that I start to forget . . . . I  forget how desperately I want to live freely and abundantly.  I forget that this is my Year of Jubilee.  I forget that my Savior loves me and woos me and invites me to dance.
     Forget really isn’t the right word though.  I can’t forget what He has promised me and how real that felt a few short months ago.  But I bury it.  I bury it because I am afraid. What if I decide I’m “all in” and nothing changes?  What if I talk openly and transparently about wanting to be free of these chains and still remain imprisoned by them?  WHAT IF . . . God doesn’t show up like I am trusting Him to in my own tremulous way?
     How much of my life I have spent in fear about the “what ifs”.  Fear that God’s promises don’t apply to me.  Fear that I am just “too unworthy”.  Fear that God is not going to show up.  When the reality is I don’t even need to ask Him to show up.  He is here, as close as the air I breathe.  He didn’t leave me when things got hard, He didn’t turn His head in disgust when I messed up.  If anything, He has held on tighter during those times. 
     I know this is true . . . so here is where the anger comes in.  Why do I let my fears and insecurities, which I know to be untrue, overshadow God’s promises, which I know to be true?  My conclusion:  I have a very real Enemy who is very much alive and wants to rob me of my security, my joy, and the abundant life God wants me to live.  “A thief is only here to steal and kill and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  (John 10:10, The Message).  I am not usually one to talk a lot about Satan, or to blame things on Satan.  But this internal battle I am fighting is strong enough and intense enough that I can’t come to any other conclusion.
     You see, he can’t rob me of my salvation. He knows that.  So what’s the next best thing?  He can keep me ineffective, paralyzed, and incapacitated by fear and insecurity.
     This began to come more to light for me in recent weeks as we were challenged in church to fast from something for a 5 week period leading up to Thanksgiving.  A couple things crossed my mind. . . I could fast from Diet Coke . . . but those headaches would be killer and I don’t want to be cranky and miserable.  (And I could quit Diet Coke anytime I wanted to.  . . really I could).  I could fast from Facebook . . . but that is my only way of staying in touch with some of my friends.  (And I could quit Facebook anytime I wanted to . . . really I could.)  Nothing I considered fasting from seemed meaningful to me.  Until I felt God nudging me.  “Fast from your negative, condemning thoughts.”
     “Oh yeah, God, that’s a real sacrifice. Do you realize how crazy people will think I am if I say I’m fasting from criticizing myself?  That doesn’t even make sense.”
     I was pretty sure I was hearing wrong.
     Until I realized how pervasive these thoughts had become.  How they interfere with my ability to relate to God and others authentically and transparently.  How comfortable, believe it or not, these thought patterns had become for me.  And what hard work, and, yes, sacrifice, it would take for me to battle them.
     So, I began writing Scripture verses on index cards that I keep with me throughout the day.  And when I catch myself with a fearful, negative, critical, or worrisome thought, I grab my index cards and hear God whisper to me.  (I have paraphrased some of them so that they are God speaking directly.)
     “I will keep you in perfect peace because you trust in Me.”  Isaiah 26:2
     “I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your head held high.”  Leviticus 26:13
     “I will not abandon you and I will never forget you.”  Deuteronomy 4:31
     As you might imagine, my battle has intensified the more I actively try to fight the lies of the Enemy.  Sometimes I want so desperately to just “get by” and not rock the boat.  I didn’t know it was going to be such a hard fight.
     While driving home the other night, I was feeling particularly discouraged.  I was tired, physically and emotionally.  My prayers had felt kind of empty lately.  God felt distant.  Tears welled up as I began to pour my heart out to the One who knows me best.
     “God, things just feel so hard right now.  I know that you are calling me to walk away from my fearful way of living.  I know that freedom doesn’t come easy.  But I get so tired.”
     Somewhere along the way, I stopped talking to God and began directing my comments to Satan (Oh, please don’t think I’m crazy as you read this.)  I’m not sure why.  Like I said, I’m not the type to usually pay him much attention.  But I found myself telling him that I was not going to give him another minute of my life.  That he could go after me all he wanted, but that I was secure in my Father’s love for me.  That I had seen him try to go after my daughter in the area of insecurity and that it would be over my dead body that he gets a foothold in her life.
     When there seemed to be no more words to be said, I knew what I needed to do.  I pulled out my index cards, already rough-edged and a little tattered, and began reading Truth.  Truth about me and Truth about my God.  (Don’t worry, I had pulled over at this point.)
“I have not given you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”  II Timothy 1:7
“God can do anything – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working with us, His Spirit, deeply and gently within us.”  Ephesians 3:20-21, the Message
     When I was ready to get back on the road, I was still tired.  Still a little discouraged.  Nothing magical had happened.  But I felt the teeniest twinge of . . . . what is this unfamiliar and strange sensation?  Could it be hope?
     I don’t know what you are battling right now, but I do know we all have a battle to fight.  Mine is currently with fear and insecurity.  Yours might be with a relationship struggle, a physical illness, grief, or pride, or countless things in life that tend to throw us a curve ball.  Whatever your battle is, know that I am side-by-side with you in the fight.  God intends for us to live fully and freely in His love and grace.   I intend to get to the place where I can do that without reservation.  I may have a few bumps, bruises, and scars when I get there, but I will get there.
Choosing a Jubilant Life one minute at a time,


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fear Cripples; Love frees

Fear . . . perhaps it is going to be my biggest obstacle to overcome during this year of Jubilee.  It has been my constant companion for so long.  Usually it's just a subtle, nagging, recurring thought that I am somehow not good enough, not measuring up to some standard that, in my mind, everyone else seems to measure up to.  But sometimes it's not so subtle; sometimes, it screams.  Sometimes it tells me that if you really knew me, you would not find anything loveable about me, nothing of value.  Even as I write this, there is the fear that says "You are a basketcase. No one else is ever going to be able to identify with this."
But my year of Jubilee is about facing my fears, hearing God's voice, and sharing what I hear from Him with others who He puts in my path.
Back in May, I wrote the following during a journaling exercise with my writer's group:
"As I rush into the sanctuary a few minutes late, downing the last sip of my morning caffeine, something prompts me to slow down for a minute.  I hate being late, I hate missing even a minute of worship, but I deliberately slow my pace and ask You to please speak to me this morning. Really, what I should have prayed was that I would hear You, because I know You are always speaking to me.  I smile to myself . . . why don't I remember to pray these words every morning . . . "Lord, I know You are speaking. Help me to hear you." (In other words, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." Mark 9:24)
As I settle into my seat, these words are being sung: "You are peace, You are peace, when my fear is crippling."  Tears form in my eyes, threatening to spill over.  You have already answered my prayer and it is not even 5 minutes into the service. 
"You are peace when my fear is crippling".  I see a picture in my mind of someone who is crippled.  Everything is more difficult for them.  Even the simplest tasks take an inordinate amount of time.  There is so much they cannot do.  I hear You gently whisper:  "That is what you are allowing fear to do to you, my Daughter.  It interferes with everything you do.  It slows you down.  It prevents you from experiencing the abundant life I have for you, prevents you from using the gifts I have given you, and it holds you captive in a place where it is difficult for you to experience My love."

Part of the adventure of my year of Jubilee is going to be refusing to let fear cripple me anymore.  This is a moment by moment choice for me.  The voices of fear and condemnation are always perched at the doorway of my mind, waiting for the slightest crack that would allow them to enter.  But God's voice is louder, and stronger, and by His grace, I am learning to listen.  Here is what He says:  "I am calling you to lay down your fear.  Let me heal you from its crippling disease.  My perfect Love casts out fear."
I John 4:17-18 in The Message version of the Bible says it this way:  "God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.  This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on Judgment Day -- our standing in the world is identical with Christ's.  There is no room in love for fear.  Well-formed love banishes fear.  Since fear is crippling, a fearful life -- fear of death, fear of judgment -- is one not yet fully formed in love.  We, though, are going to love --  love and be loved.  First we were loved, now we love.  He loved us first."
I am so thankful that He loves me and that His love, well-formed in me, will banish every fear.  I am in awe of that kind of love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Choose LIFE

We get many opportunities to choose between life and death.   Although we tend to think of the phrase “choose life” in terms of big, major life issues, I think we also get the chance to choose life or death each day.   In each waking moment, each decision, each word spoken, I have a choice – am I going to embrace life, savor each moment, use my gifts and talents to encourage others? Or am I going to let my worries and insecurities keep me in a defeated, lifeless, state, almost by default choosing “death”?
In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 30), God, through Moses, told the Israelites:
15 Look at what I've done for you today: I've placed in front of you Life and Good. Or Death and Evil. . . . .: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live, really live, (live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess.)   And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, He is life itself . . . (Deuteronomy 30, the Message)

Here’s an interesting thought:  I bet some of those Israelites chose to stick with the familiar and comfortable, even if it meant “death”.  I wonder if, even with life and prosperity and blessing set before them, some of them said, “No, thanks. Change is scary. Choosing life involves too much risk. At least with the old way (death), I know how things work, what to expect.”  Some of them no doubt  chose to stay with the familiar comfort of their former life . . .  even though it was a life of captivity and bondage  . . a life of death, if there is such a thing.

Once again, I can relate to those Israelites who may have chosen the old and familiar.  My life was good pre-Jubilee . . . but there was that nagging sense that maybe it could be better.   Is God calling me to make a conscious choice toward life . . .  abundant life, free life?

This daily choice toward life and away from death has a sense of urgency for me lately. You see, I’m not the only one with a milestone birthday this year. My daughter became a teenager this week.  And she will need a Mom who is as free from emotional “bondage” as possible.  It is hard work to face down your fears and insecurities and whatever it is that keeps you from living life to the fullest.  It can be scary.  And there are days when I’d much rather just stick my head in the sand and say “Things are pretty good the way they are. Why rock the boat?”  And if it was just me by myself, I’d probably be able to live with that.  But there is a wonderful, beautiful 13 year old in my life who calls me “Mom”.  And she  deserves a Mom who is not afraid, who is not held captive by worries and insecurities.  A Mom who is fully alive, who faces each new day with reckless abandon.  Even when some days the most reckless thing I can manage to do is paint my toenails red! (I am using the word reckless here in its most positive connotation).

There is a song I love called “In My Daughter’s Eyes” by Martina McBride.  The line that has completely captured my heart is this:  “The truth is plain to see, she was sent to rescue me.”  You see, I may not have had the courage and boldness to embark on my year of jubilee if it were not for my daughter. So in a sense, I feel that God is using her to rescue me from a life of complacency and ineffectiveness.  Being her Mom and wanting to be the best Mom I can be is giving me the courage to say “Set me free, Lord. It’s okay if it’s hard.  It’s okay if I end up with a few bumps and bruises from the journey. I want You, Lord.  I choose life.”

When we were on our girls’ trip last week (a group of moms and daughters who get away for a few days every summer), my sister-in-“love” was reading my first blog entry to her Mom.  Amidst my discomfort while hearing my own words read aloud by someone else, I had forgotten that my daughter was getting ready in the bathroom of the hotel room. (Now that she is a teenager, “getting ready” has reached a whole new level of intensity!)  When Debbie finished reading, Allison peeked her head out and said “Mom, you wrote that? It’s really good!”
So I will keep putting one foot in front of the other on this journey, even when it’s hard and scary, if for no other reason than my teenager thinks it’s “really good”.

Allison was at church camp the week of her birthday so I sent a letter to arrive (hopefully) on that day.  I so often tell her I’m proud of her because of the different things she is doing.  In this letter, I wanted to focus on who she is as a person.  I’m sharing it for two reasons:  1) it’s her birthday and I want to honor her.  2) I hope it might inspire you to do something similar for your loved ones.

Dear Allison,
I know I tell you I’m proud of you a lot. Maybe sometimes you even get tired of hearing it.  That’s okay. But I wanted to take a little time on your 13th birthday to tell you in a little more detail why I am proud of you.  So here goes—
You are such a caring person. I see how deeply you care about people – your friends, your family, people who are hurting.  You do such a good job when you are working with young kids.  At VBS a few weeks ago, I watched you play with a little girl.  All of a sudden she wanted to tell  you something important, and you immediately got down on your knees so  you were looking in her eyes and were on her level. You wanted her to know you were listening and you cared.  I was so proud of you in that moment.
You are such a giving person. I have seen you be unselfish over and over again.  You are willing to sacrifice for others.  You have a heart for people who are hurting and you are generous.
You are forgiving.  It broke my heart that you went through the difficulty that you did.  But I have watched you be willing to deal with the pain that it caused you.  I am in awe of the way you were able to offer forgiveness and grace to the people who hurt  you.  You are allowing the hard times you went through to make you stronger and better.  And you are using what you went through to help other people.  Alli, God can do AMAZING things through someone who is willing to let Him use the hard times for good.  You are doing that.
I could go on and on because there is so much to be proud of: your musical giftedness, your perseverance when learning something new, your volleyball playing, your good grades, your love for God. I am proud of all of that but am even more proud of who you are – your heart, soul and mind. You are beautiful inside and out. You shine – you always have.
People say the teen years are difficult. But, believe it or not, I am looking forward to them – because it is a joy to be your Mom and God will be with us.  And "if He is for us, what could ever stop us? And if He is with us, who can stand against us??”
13 years ago my life felt complete when I became a Mom. And it has only become more complete with each day since.
You are a gift and I love you with all my heart. Happy birthday, sweetheart.
Love. Mom

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barefooted Freedom

Somewhere along the road of life I decided my feet were ugly. A random comment became an internalized thought that repeated itself in my mind until I decided I had no business showing my feet in public. With no specific reason or evidence, I just decided they were ugly. From that point on, I never wore flip-flops (back in the day we used to call them “thongs” but now that just seems wrong) or sandals, or even open-toed pumps. If we were going to the beach, I would wear tennis shoes and socks until we reached the sand. Then I would slip my shoes off and promptly bury my feet in the sand so no one would have to look at my feet.
Bottom line? I became ashamed of my feet based on some random and probably inaccurate information. How often does shame play mind games with us?  We think there are parts of ourselves that we have to hide from others and from God. We think if others really knew us, they would not like or approve of us. Sometimes we might even picture God as being ashamed of us. Of course, we would never say it in so many words, but do you know what I’m talking about? That vague feeling that somehow God might be disappointed in you. That He “has to” accept you because of Jesus but that deep inside, He feels some sense of disappointment with you?
I think the Israelites might have felt their share of shame.  After all, it has been the ugly inheritance of all humankind since the beginning of time. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the one tree He had told them not to, they immediately felt shame. They wanted to cover themselves and they wanted to hide. Oh, how I identify with their reaction. “Maybe if I pretend hard enough, no one will really know how badly I messed up, how badly I feel about myself. Maybe if I build enough walls around myself, around my heart, no one will ever find the real me.”
But God came looking for Adam and Eve . . . and He comes looking for us. I used to read that story in Genesis 3 and picture God kind of hunting Adam and Eve down, wanting to “call them out” about their sin. But the more I get to know Him, the more I think that is not His heart toward His beloved children. I wonder if maybe He was sad that they felt like they had to hide from Him. Yes, He was heartbroken over their sin, and yes, there were going to be consequences for their sin. But He also ALREADY had in mind a solution for their sin. A remedy for their shame and pain and helplessness.  For OUR pain and shame and helplessness.
Maybe that’s why the Israelites needed their Year of Jubilee. They lived so many years in actual physical bondage. But I’m sure they also experienced the emotional “slavery” that comes from those feelings of doing the wrong thing time and time again, disappointing the one Person you most want to please.  And God, knowing His people better than they knew themselves, offered them a time, a Year of Jubilee. when they would be set free from their bondage.  And He knew that there would come a time when we could all be set free by His Son.
How much time do we spend hiding? Ashamed of what we’ve done, or even who we are? Thinking we don’t want to see the look of disappointment on God’s face if we come out of hiding? When all along, He is waiting there with the remedy. He doesn’t  want us to hide.  He seeks us out and whispers to us    “It’s okay. I already have the solution. You do not need to be ashamed anymore. You have received Christ’s righteousness and all I see when I look at You is my precious, beloved child.  I am singing over you and celebrating you and you do not have to hide! You are free!”
So, back to my feet for just a moment . . . .Last week, my daughter and I were getting ready to go on our annual girls’ trip with dear friends. I walked by the living room and saw her painting her toenails with a flourish. I went in the other room, grabbed a bottle of bright red polish and painted my own toenails . . . it is my year of Jubilee, after all. And when we went to pick up last minute supplies, I picked out a pair of flip-flops for myself.  When I put them on before heading to the beach with our friends, they all said I had cute feet! And the amazing part was I don’t think they were just saying that to be nice. I looked down at my own feet and decided maybe they aren’t ugly after all. And if I can believe that, maybe I can also believe that God really does see value and worth in me. That He is not ashamed or disappointed in me.  That He rejoices over me with singing. And if that thought doesn’t set me free, I don’t know what will.
So, if you see me at Payless during the next “Buy One Get One” sale, it just might be a few pairs of sandals I will be purchasing. And I just might be caught wearing them more often during my Year of Jubilee.
"He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing."  Zephaniah 3:17

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A New Beginning?

I’m turning 50 years old in a few short months.  Until recently, I was dreading this milestone.  After all, my life is, at this point, most likely more than half over.  Have I accomplished enough?  Have I done what I was meant to do in these first 49 years?
I have definitely noticed the not-so-subtle signs of midlife . . . the print on labels and in footnotes has gotten so much smaller than it used to be. And sometimes I can’t help but heavily sigh when getting out of bed or getting up from sitting on the floor.  Some people might call it groaning, but I prefer “heavy sighing”.  Join me in my delusion, won’t you?  Maybe I should just be glad I can still sit on the floor. Anyway, I am facing more and more reminders that I am not getting any younger.
Compounding the everyday anxieties of growing older, there is the battle with ongoing insecurities, fears, and worries.  To be honest, I don’t know how many of these battles that I fight are universal and how many are unique.  I only know that I am constantly struggling with these issues, and I know they are keeping me from experiencing the abundant and free life Jesus is offering to me with every new day.
So all of these thoughts have been floating somewhere around in my brain as I am also contemplating the fact that my next birthday is a “big one”.  And I happen to listen to an interview with Paul Young, the author of The Shack.  He talks about the tragedies, struggles, battles, and poor choices that made up the first part of his life.  Then, after a crisis, when everything comes to a head, he is forced to deal with all the “junk” in his life and he comes to understand God’s grace and love in amazing new ways, which led to his writing the book, which he actually only meant to be a gift for his family and close friends.  And this happens somewhere around the time he is turning 50.  He talks about the fiftieth year being the year of Jubilee for the Israelites, the year when freedom is proclaimed to everyone (more about this in future blogs . . . for now, if you want the Scripture reference it is Leviticus 25 . . . and, as a sidenote,  if anyone had ever told me that a major turning point in my emotional and spiritual life would have revolved around a chapter in Leviticus, I would have laughed in their faces.)
I started to think . . . “What if ... just maybe . . . God wants to use my 50th year (which I randomly defined as the six months before and six months after the day I turn 50) to get me to a place where I can more fully understand and experience His freedom?”   Because I have walked with Him for most of my life, but I have often wondered if I am missing something . . . and I so want to know His love, power, and grace in all its fullness.  (By the way, this means my Year of Jubilee began on July 4th, our country’s Independence Day.  Just a coincidence . .. . but it made me smile).
So I am embarking on a journey . . . I am considering it my own personal Year of Jubilee.  I want to look at the fears and insecurities that have held me captive and kept me enslaved for these first 49 years, what the Year of Jubilee meant for the Israelites and what it might mean for me, and how I can more fully experience the freedom Christ has to offer.
I realize these topics have been dealt with by people infinitely more qualified than me. But I feel like God is calling me to write about my journey.  Maybe only because writing it down will help me to process and reinforce what I am learning.  Or maybe, it just might help or encourage someone else. 
So I invite you to join me on this journey toward more of His grace and freedom.  Doesn’t a Year of Jubilee sound kind of exciting???  I’m in the mood for an adventure . . . and I fear I may have missed a few adventures along the way.  In my first 49 years (pre-Jubilee), that thought would have made me sad and defeated.  But I am getting to know the God who specializes in redeeming and restoring things that were lost or missed. And I think He just may be offering me a new adventure . . . I am trusting Him for the courage and faith to follow.
Let me know what you think. --

“You will experience for yourselves the Truth, and the Truth will free you.”  John 8:32, the Message 

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