Stop. Sit. Listen.

Sometimes, situations come up which elicit responses that seem a little inappropriate – it’s in these times it might be good to stop and take inventory with the Lord, so to speak. 

For example:

Yesterday, I was so frustrated at the way my morning went. Early on the sun was out, the forecast showed sun all day long, and I planned to find a ray of sunshine on the Starbucks patio in which to bask, as I read a book and did some journaling. 

It was to be my day of rest for the week, because I was alone all day and I’ve got two field trips the rest of the week. 

Instead of having this time of rest, reflection and prayer, I ran errands which seemed necessary at the time, but turned out to serve no purpose. And then the clouds rolled in – but just to my part of town. I could see the line where they stopped and it taunted me all day. See…

I was already irritable when I decided to just go to Starbucks and maaaaaaybe the sun would come out. I set my book and my notebook on the table and ordered a decaf Americano. I knew that if I had any more caffeine I might hurt someone. 

There was only one guy ahead of me who ordered a cup of drip coffee and had them grind a bag of beans. It was not busy. I ordered, went to the bathroom, washed my hands, came out and waited. 

And waited. And waited. 

It seemed like 15 minutes of me waiting and standing there and sitting and then standing there again. I was like

I even had the tears brimming – they were angry, frustrated ones, because the clock was ticking and I only had a little time left to myself. 

There was a barista behind the counter, only kind of busy, but totally ignoring my presence. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get his attention. 

Finally, I walked back over to the cash register and found another guy to pay attention to me (eventually) and I told him, with my shaky voice, that I ordered an Americano a long time ago and it hasn’t appeared. After some back and forth, he placed my order again and I finally got my coffee. My blood was boiling and it was all I could do not to cry.

I was irritated well beyond what the situation called for. Obviously. Generally, I’m really patient, but yesterday I just was not okay.

When things like this happen, as Christians, we might be tempted to think, oh, I need to read my Bible more…that must be what’s wrong. I should memorize a verse about patience. I should repent and ask God to forgive my frustration because there are people in the world with actual problems. 

And all of that might be fine and helpful.

But, what if the first thing we did was stop and listen? What if we sat down, and rather than push aside the negative feelings which we aren’t “supposed” to have, we told God how we felt? What if we used it as an opportunity to connect with Him?

What if I said, “I’m angry and frustrated and I feel like nothing is going my way,” and then just sat and waited? 

If I were to do that, I might hear, “You’re angry about your coffee because the barista made you feel invisible. As you stood there, you felt ridiculous and ignored, and that touches on the deeper wounds you have, which are still tender. You simply felt unimportant, unseen and discounted.”

Then I might understand the deeper issue, and then find a passage of scripture that will actually help. One that reminds me that He sees me and will never leave me or forsake me. 

I might also get some understanding about why I was frustrated about all the errands and the sun – that my soul is desperate for rest and it’s so hard for me to sit still. When I finally had the chance and set my mind to do it, it didn’t work out. The truth is that I feel overwhelmed. 

Jesus offers me an easy yoke and a deep rest, and so instead of berating myself for wasting time and getting angry, I can ask Him to teach me how to rest – not just my body, but my mind – and what to do with my burdens.

And then, after all of that, maybe peace would come, because I’d feel seen and loved. 

It’s a much better approach than finding something to do, or memorize, to fix it and prove myself – which would be a joke, anyway, because God sees and knows what’s in my heart.

Doing this doesn’t eliminate the need to apologize, or seek forgiveness or make things right with people, when necessary. It just allows you to get perspective and get your heart and emotions settled first.

When you’re having a bad day, or your emotions run wild, invite Him into your circumstances and negative emotions – He can handle it. It does no good to simply remind yourself that you “shouldn’t feel that way.”

Come out of hiding – lay it all out. Let God speak into it. There’s no need to hide what He already sees. 

Salvation: Process and progress 

​This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:2‭-‬3‭, ‬5 ESV

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:1‭-‬3 ESV 

Okay, admittedly, I just lifted these passages from their context, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine, so if you want to study their full meaning I encourage you to do that. 

However, I wanted to draw something out of them. Both of these reference a spiritual birth, an infancy, and I don’t think it’s without meaning. 

Something I feel is often lacking in Christian understanding is that salvation involves a process. We know the word, sanctification, but we don’t always allow ourselves to live it.

The original language of the New Testament doesn’t speak of salvation as an event that is one-and-done. The idea is that we have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. 

It’s about process. We’ve made it about a place we are going instead of a people we are becoming. 

That might make people nervous – I’m not saying you’re salvation is shaky, I’m saying your salvation is ongoing. That should bring freedom, especially if you’ve ever been frustrated at your lack of “fruit.” 


Where is that patience you’re supposed to have? What about the peace? Why does your love not seem as mature as it should be? Where is the Christ in you, the hope of glory? Why is your marriage struggling? What about your insecurities?  
Let’s think about the spiritual infancy idea for a minute. 

Paul tells a group of believers that he had to feed them with milk because they couldn’t handle the meaty, or weighty, things of the faith. Yes, he was correcting them, but it paints a picture for us. They weren’t developed enough to digest more than milk.

Jesus told Nicodemus one must be reborn. We begin our Christian lives as infants. 

Think about it: when babies are born they are as fully human as they will ever be. If everything develops as it should, they are fully equipped to one day become functioning adults. No parts are lacking, though not all parts are ready to be used. 

That takes a long time. Babies must grow into what they are. They begin with milk, then progress to soft foods, they roll over, they crawl, they walk, they speak basic syllables, then words, then sentences, and on and on for years.

There are so many skills which must be learned in order to use their bodies and minds to capacity. 

We are so much like that, as followers of Jesus. We have been given everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter) but we have to learn to use it in increasing measure. 

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s one of the best I can think of. If you are progressing in faith and trusting Him in the process – if you’ve set your heart and mind on Him – cut yourself some slack in the places you still struggle. 

I guarantee there are other areas in which you’ve grown and changed. (If not, then take note and see whether you’re still following Him.)

We have everything we need, but we must learn to appropriate it all. We must learn to be “supernaturally human” beings.

Let’s cast aside impatience and enjoy the process and knowing Him in it. Its so much better that way. 

Out of, but not into

Last night I went to listen to Sara Hagerty, author of Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet, speak to a group of women. She was talking about renewing our minds and learning to surrender our thoughts to God.

In a sense we live in two worlds: the one around us and the one inside us. It’s the one inside us that God most wants to change and restore.

As she spoke she said something that stopped me: in God’s timing and process, it can take just as long for us to heal as it did for us to break.

Those words were like water to my soul. Not because I hope it takes forever for some of my painful places to be healed and changed, but because it already is taking forever. At least, it feels like it.

Her words felt like freedom.

If you’ve ever been around what I call idealist Christians, you’ll understand that sometimes it seems like you’re expected to just be better. All you have to do is pray one prayer and keep saying your fine, and you are. If perfection is the ideal, then just hurry up and get there.

There isn’t much understanding, or allowance for, process, and the value of it.

Over the years I have felt crushed by the weight of expectations, coming not from myself or from God, but from people – from some of my Christian family. It’s this push to be the ideal – just hurry up and get there. 

This way of thinking seems prevalent in more name-it-and-claim-it kinds of circles, where God is expected to do things quickly, instantly, in response to our commands prayers.

And sometimes, He does. But usually, it seems, deep internal change happens slowly, over time, and it builds intimacy with God. There’s value in the slowness of it all.

I also sense it in other places, too, where people want to keep up appearances – just get your crap together, okay?! This mindset isn’t limited to any one group of people. We probably all do it to each other, now and then, when we grow impatient.

But I am on God’s timetable, here, taking each step as it comes. I can’t rush it. We often think of sanctification as this lifelong process which happens to us, that changes our external behaviors, so we look like Jesus on the outside.

But, the external bleeds out from the internal. And our internals have a history and a life of their own. So the sanctification of the inner man is the lifelong process.

Thankfully, I do have some friends around me that understand the slow and steady nature of faith, growth, healing and change.

I am reminded that Israel was delivered out of Egypt in a moment, but they were not completely delivered.

They were brought out of, but not into.

That part took 40 years. They came out of Egypt to an in-between place, of their own making, mind you – because the effects of Egypt weren’t out of them, yet. It took 40 years of wandering the wilderness, and God’s faithfulness, to bring the nation fully into the promise He made to them.

That’s the story of Israel and it is typically the story of us. If you find yourself in an out-of-but-not-into place, be patient with yourself. Be patient with the people around you.

God is faithful and He doesn’t give up on us. If you’ve been hurt in a deep way, or you’ve hurt someone else, it might take a long time to really be healed. But, it’s an opportunity to know God in a deeper way. That’s what will change you. That’s the goal.

All the externals will begin to catch up along the way, little by little. Or maybe in a moment – only God knows the way He will work with each of us.

Just keep going.

 

Jesus, restorer of dignity and humanity

Yesterday at church, as we were singing, I began to think about something. We think of Jesus bearing our guilt and shame on the cross, but in a sense he was doing that throughout his entire ministry.

What he did goes much deeper than what I’m about to say, but I think what we see him doing in the gospels, is a foretaste, a seed, of what will happen in full. 

Everywhere he went, he touched the unclean, the sick, the guilty and the demon possessed. All of these people were the outcasts because of their conditions or lifestyles. His association with them brought their shame upon himself.

When he healed the demoniac, who was chained up outside of town, who day and night howled and bruised himself with rocks, how did people respond? One version said they demanded that Jesus leave the neighborhood. 

At another time he was accused of casting out demons by a demonic power of his own.  

They were afraid of what kind of man could wield such power. The demoniac is set free and Jesus takes on shame.

When he healed the guy with the withered hand on the Sabbath, he took on the ire of the Pharisees. Jesus does a good deed, brings life, and receives death in return.

He shares space with a woman of ill repute, lets her sit among his disciples to learn from him, giving her dignity and status, and in return he takes on her shame. He receives the dishonor she “should” have worn. It was guilt by association.

But he never minded being associated with the untouchables. With him it was this constant trade-off.

Jesus did no wrong that should bring shame upon him, yet he brazenly walked into any and every situation willing to trade one person’s shame for the dignity and freedom that belonged to him.

We know he did this so much and so often, that eventually he ended up hanging on a cross, naked and scorned, having been brutally beaten. There he stayed – an innocent man bearing the public shame of the guilty. He was mocked for claiming to have the power of God within him, yet he “couldn’t” save himself in that moment.

Of course, we know that it wasn’t that he couldn’t, it’s that he wouldn’t. Nevertheless, the shame would be unimaginable. Have you ever been misunderstood or labeled wrongly?

We hate that feeling and we are far from innocent. Imagine being totally innocent and not only feeling the physical pain, but becoming a public mockery.

I just found it eye-opening to think about how everything he did, either directly or indirectly, removed shame. He removed physical infirmities but, I think, more than that much of his ministry was about restoring dignity, as ones created in the image of God. He restored people’s humanity.

He is still doing that for us. When we choose to believe and follow him, when the Spirit of God takes up residence within us, our shame is, in fact, removed. Our problem is that we often don’t live like that, or really know it.

Any shame we carry is simply that which we won’t, or don’t know how to, put down. 

Let’s invite him in to continue to restoring our humanity. To be human isn’t bad – it’s to be fully formed into what he had in mind at the beginning, when we were made in his image – and fully human.

When Crisco is our biggest fear

Yesterday I was listening to Annie F. Downs’ podcast (it’s called, That Sounds Fun). She was interviewing Barnabas Piper (son of John Piper), and they were discussing the fear many Christians seem to have of asking hard questions, listening to different perspectives, reading books by people they may not totally agree with or spending time with non-Christians. 

We fear the arts. We don’t want to embrace the mystery of God – we explain everything. We want to give people the 5 things they have to do to be a Christian or the 4 easy steps to solve any problem. We love rules.

Then Barnabas dropped this gem of a statement:

“We live believing everything is a slippery slope.”

I would have given a standing O for that, had I not been driving. I’ve lived this way and so many people I know have and do live this way.

I cannot tell you how often I hear the phrase, “that’s a slippery slope.” It’s so overused.

It’s like we imagine ourselves standing at the top of a glass mountain, and all around us, the world has greased the slopes with Crisco. One step in any direction and we are on our butts, sliding to hell. No turning back.

It’s a fear-based Christianity.

And then I thought about Jesus. Did he live like he was surrounded by slippery slopes? Was he afraid of sinners? Was he afraid of even the demon-possessed? Was he worried that whatever they had would jump on him? Was he afraid to be seen with lepers, prostitutes and, (gag) tax collectors?

No. He was a scandal because he didn’t care what people thought. He was here to reach people, to restore them, to save them, and that meant getting out there in the world – the good, the bad and the ugly of it. 

As it turns out, however, he actually was on a slippery slope.

But, who was holding the can of [proverbial] Crisco?

The religious leaders. Those people who were such good rule followers that they not only followed the Law, but they even put a fence around the Law by adding extra, more detailed laws, so people wouldn’t even come close to breaking the Law.

They placed laws around the Law as a protection, which is why they were so mad when the disciples grabbed some grains of wheat as they walked through a field on the Sabbath. And when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, they lost it. He broke through their fence.

And, so, he was on a slippery slope which would lead to the cross. Those who so feared breaking God’s law, that they forgot what it was for (loving God and loving others), demanded Jesus be killed for his crimes.

They had him beaten, tortured, stripped, shamed, and hung on a cross to die a brutal, shameful death.

Because he loved people enough to risk the slippery slope.

We do have to be careful and wise and know our own weaknesses. There absolutely are limits based upon things to which we might be susceptible. We do need to protect our young children and expose them as gradually as we can (and it’s a luxury if you’re able to do that). 

All rules are not bad. Don’t put yourself in the way of temptation.

But I’ve begun to wonder if we, conservative Evangelicals, are guilty of building fences. Maybe we’ve turned our preferences (and fears) into laws.

We have to learn to trust the Holy Spirit to lead us. We need to learn to listen to His voice and trust that He will lead us into truth, just like Jesus said He would.

Let’s not fear looking around to see where God is in the world. Where is He working? Where do we see truth? Where do we see evidence of His presence and creative power? 

We can’t be afraid of people. We can’t be afraid of different ideas or of hearing another perspective. We can’t be afraid of finding out God is different than we thought he was. We don’t have him all figured out. 

The Pharisees refused to see that God was different than what they thought, so they crucified him. 

Get back in your box where you belong, God.

That’s the slippery slope I’d be most worried about. Am I so convinced I know everything that I’d miss him if he was right in front of my face? 

Am I suffocating the people around me with my preferences and choices, out of fear? 

Remember, 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

When envy and insecurity turn you into a mean girl 

Can I admit something?

I’ve often struggled with envy. And comparison. I’m sure you never have, but it’s dogged me my whole life.

I think the middle school and junior high years are prime time to develop this vice. That’s when it happened for me. I wasn’t popular by any stretch of the imagination – I was picked on, called a tag-along, rejected by boys, talked about behind my back by friends and people who ought not have had any interest in my life whatsoever.

That drove me to not only feel less-than, but I also discovered that one way to defend myself was to point out something wrong with somebody else, or use sarcasm to subtly put someone down. I didn’t do it often, but enough that I can remember it happening.

I did something especially heinous in 9th grade that I won’t discuss in detail, because you’d all unfriend me. Just take my word for it. It was Mean Girls worthy. Basically I made a terrible joke out of a hard life circumstance another girl was facing – behind her back, of course.  

One of our mutual friends kind of encouraged me to do it, then went and told her and it was truly awful. To this day I wish I could beg her forgiveness.

I’m sensitive to people’s emotions and empathize with their pain, typically, but my insecurities turned me into something wicked that day. That’s what envy and insecurity do to us.

In addition, the envy I felt toward those who had what I didn’t have, or seemed to, caused me to resent them. In my later years I was unable to celebrate another person’s victory. I felt like I needed to ignore it or try to one-up them.

My senior year of high school, I was talking to a teacher when a classmate came to share that she had made a good enough score on her ACT to be accepted to college. I casually mentioned my score, which was a good bit higher than hers.

Total jerk move. And my teacher looked at me like, “Whaaaat the heck?”

I cringe whenever I think about that. It was a really big deal to the other girl because scholarships were probably the only way she would be able to further her education. 

She worked hard for that score and I tried to steal her moment of happiness.

The jealousy and insecurity continued into my adult years, and since I never felt like I was hitting the mark in my own life, or getting what I wanted, I refused to be happy whenever someone else did. 

It didn’t matter whether she was having new wood floors installed or a had great new job opportunity – I didn’t want to hear it. In my mind I’d belittle it or tell myself she shouldn’t be doing whatever it was.

And when something didn’t work out for her, I might even feel a secret sense of satisfaction. Because it turned out she was no better than me, after all.

Don’t I sound wonderful?

The good news is that I’ve finally learned that we are all better when one of us is better. Your success gives me strength and encouragement. As women, we need to support one another and cheer each other on.

I can’t be you and you can’t be me. Nor should we try. If I’m trying to run my race in your lane, I lose. That’s the rules.

The more I’ve learned to see my sisters as unique and gifted, the more free I am to be who I am. Funny. We are tall, short, big, small, funny, serious, smart, creative, artsy, organized, disorganized, married, single, and a multitude of other things.

Rather than being eaten alive with envy, I’ve determined to encourage my friends in their hopes and dreams. When one steps out to try something new, I want to give words of support and belief that she can succeed. If she receives recognition for a job well done, I want to congratulate her. Even if she’s succeeding at something I wish I could be doing – especially then.

Friends, the bottom line is that we need each other. We need to set aside comparison and envy. I can’t say that the thoughts never come into my mind any more. I just don’t give them airtime. Instead, I open my mouth and speak encouragement or type it or text it or whatever I can do to combat negativity.

It works. I’m genuinely happy about the successes of my friends and I’m able to celebrate them honestly. Their wins don’t diminish me. They inspire me.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.               – 1 Corinthians 13:3‭-‬7

Where are y’all in this? Do you relate or am I alone here? 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lion and the Lamb

Several years ago I was struck by something about Jesus. I was struck by the fact that He is described as both a lion and a lamb. We would have very different feelings in the presence of each of these animals. One would elicit fear and the other something closer to, “Awwwwwwwwww!”

But, yet, He is both. And as we approach Easter, my thoughts turn to the cross. And, there, He is still lion and lamb.

We have to understand that Jesus was meek – which does not necessarily mean weak. It’s something more like strength which is kept under control. It’s power wrapped in humility.

Jesus isn’t some kind of hippie prophet, like from that crazy Saturday Night Live movie, “Superstar.”

Sorry, Will Ferrell. Not hardly.

On the cross –

He was everything, but made Himself nothing.

He was king and servant, ushering in a new kingdom, while reaching for the lowest people.

He was truth and grace.

He was strong and meek.

He was lion and lamb.

Power wrapped in the weakness of humility.

Those things cannot be separated when we think of who Jesus is and what His heart is toward us.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of a future time in which wolves and lambs dwell together, leopards and goats and lions and fattened calves lie down together and they can be led by a little child. The lion will eat straw like the ox.

The times, they will have changed.

I think the cross is a looking ahead to that time. The lion and the lamb met together there, truth and grace, and together they laid down their lives for their friends.

May truth never be parted from grace – never again. What God has joined together let no one separate.

 

 

 

A holistic approach to wholehearted life in Christ

One of the things I’m working on is changing the way I think. I’ve found that there’s often a negative narrative scrolling through my mind, at a baseline level, where I almost don’t even notice it. It’s the assumptions I live with about who I am and the things I am focused on.

It’s just too easy to see my flaws and forget that they aren’t the whole picture. Everyone is flawed – even those people who look perfect and check off all their boxes on the checklist each day. It’s what it is to be human.

Yes, I have the spirit of God living inside me. Yes, it’s the same spirit that resurrected Jesus. Yes, it’s the spirit that empowers me to overcome every obstacle. BUT it’s still housed in my frail, human flesh. Both of those things are at play all day, every day.

I still have a mind and a body. Both need tending to. One thing I have warred against, been stubborn against, is this teaching, or idea, that when God is present in our lives and hearts, we have this freedom that should instantly manifest itself. It’s not usually said quite so blatantly, but I have heard it stated that way.

It goes like this: when abundant life isn’t manifesting itself, we must simply speak to it, say some words, or the right prayer, “bind or loose” something, and that will fix it right up. It’s a simplistic view of what some Christians call spiritual warfare (I know not every sector of the church uses that particular language). It’s a war that is mostly waged with our mouths.

I believe that we do, indeed, live in a war zone, of sorts – our world is filled with good and with evil, life and death, and we all get caught in the crossfire, in one way or another. Some ways are blatant and heartbreaking and some are more hidden and subtle.

It’s those subtle things that get us, sometimes, because we ignore them, or think they ought not need our attention. Why can’t we just get over it? Was it really that big of a deal?

If it changed the direction of your life or traumatized you or altered your thinking in a deep way, then yes. It was a big deal. If you can’t see or hear or trust God because of it, it’s a really big deal.

I don’t want to get too far into that, at this point. I’m just saying, maybe we need to broaden our definition of “spiritual warfare.”

For many, it’s a focus on darkness, evil and the demonic (which is real, y’all – just look around), and praying against those things. And let the record show, I do believe prayer is essential. Really, really, essential.

What I’d like to do, though, is broaden the scope of our thinking and our strategy. As I heard someone say recently on Dan Allender’s podcast, if we think we can do spiritual warfare without doing the work of actually tending to our hearts, we’ve set ourselves up to lose.

I am a body, a mind, a heart, and a spirit, with a history – every one of those parts has been affected by this fallen world, and every part needs my care and attention.

For me, spiritual warfare has become about doing whatever it takes to live a wholehearted life through Christ – to love God with every part of my life; to love my family, my friends and my neighbor, selflessly and with humility; to live a life that qualifies as worship, because all things are done in his sight and for him – not to earn a single thing, but in love, as a response to who he is.

To do that kind of battle, I need to give attention to each part of who I am. The Bible is full of practical instruction. Much of what Paul taught the early church had to with behavior – how to live in community and how to live toward a god who is worthy of our best. I see every bit of it as a kind of spiritual warfare.

He absolutely told them to pray in all things, to pray without ceasing, but he also told them to forgive, to be mindful of others, to care for those of weaker faith, to carry one another’s burdens, to live in truth, live a righteous life, to use restraint, to hold back expression of certain spiritual gifts to make room for strangers, to be on alert for false teaching, to submit to one another in everything.

He taught them so many practical things and I see all of it as a means of warfare on behalf of ourselves and our friends. A breakdown in any of those areas has spiritual consequences.

Tending to the heart, body, mind and spirit might require different things for each of us. You might need to change your diet and habits. And really, don’t we all? The food we eat and the amount of exercise we get directly impacts how we think and feel.

It might mean getting good counseling. I don’t believe it’s wrong to seek out someone who understands both psychology and scripture. We are physical beings and science is not our enemy. You have a brain and a mind (two different things) and sometimes we get a glitch that needs attention. Our minds need to be renewed and our thinking changed.

If you’ve experienced trauma or tragedy or abuse, you might need to do some work to heal your heart. It’s one thing to forgive the offender. It’s another to take back territory and address the ways we’ve responded to the situation.

There are coping mechanisms that help us get through, but often, when they are no longer needed, we still hang on to them, and this prevents us from maturing and developing healthy relationships.

It might, and probably will, mean finding people to pray with you and for you. Sometimes we can’t pray, or don’t know how or what to pray, so partnering with someone who loves us is good and helpful. We aren’t meant to live this life alone, unknown by others.

It might mean carving out more time for prayer and the word of God. If we imagine we can do the above things without feeding our spirits, we are mistaken. The spirit is the part that goes with us when we leave these bodies behind (along with the mind – but who can determine where the lines of separation are drawn, though?).

Paul said to keep on being filled with the spirit. This is, by far, the most essential element of our battle. The spirit was given to us to empower, guide, comfort and teach us.

So…

I’m laughing because this is not where I thought I was going when I began this post. I just started typing and this is what came out. I’m going to roll with it and I’ll share what I planned to share later in the week. Maybe. It was about the importance of our words, ironically.

What I’m campaigning for here is a holistic approach to our lives in God. And since God never used the phrase, “spiritual warfare,” himself, I think I have the freedom to expand it if I wish.

This isn’t about using natural solutions to solve spiritual problems, as I’ve heard it said. It’s about understanding that you are a spirit being trapped in a natural context, and they interact and affect each other in ways we cannot fathom.

Everything you do to move toward him and toward wholeness, is war on behalf of your spirit. It’s making way for his life to flow in you and through you, so that those living waters Jesus talked about can flow freely through clean conduits.

It clears the way for joy and peace and love and patience and kindness and all those things that will be evident when the holy spirit has full access to our lives – body, mind, heart and spirit.

And that’s a really good thing. Jesus came to give us life. He said it was for freedom that he set us free. We actually are free and whole, we just don’t know how to act like it yet. That’s what we are talking about here. Becoming what we already are.

The journey IS the beauty

I’ve been thinking. And questioning myself. Should I be writing here about the middle part of my journey? Should I be writing in the midst of brokenness?

There’s kind of a “rule” I’ve heard when it comes to writing about our struggles. The rule is that you don’t write when you’re still in it. You wait until you’re through it and then share your neatly wrapped testimony.

I get why they [whoever they is. Or are.] say that. You don’t have the perspective you will have when you get to the other side. And you might say some messed up stuff. Or have the wrong motive.

And sometimes, due to circumstances, you have to keep things quiet. 

But, I’m not really following any of the rules of blogging around here. I don’t post on a schedule. I don’t have a single topic, or focus. Well, I’d argue I do, it’s just very broad – and broad isn’t what you’re supposed to do.

I’ve wondered if I should shut up until I’m through this difficulty; wondered if I’ve done something wrong.

Do I have any business writing for you to read if I’m kind of messed up?

But here’s the deal. I’m not looking for sympathy when I write [I don’t think – God only knows the deepest motivations]. I don’t want your pity. I’m simply sharing experiences in order to relate. And, to be honest, it helps me when I put things into words this way.

I feel called to share things that I sometimes feel embarrassed about. Why?

I can’t say for sure, but I feel like it’s about sharing a journey that isn’t complete, that’s messy, that’s in progress, but is one in which I’m still loved and cherished and being empowered by God.

And, while neatly wrapped up testimonies are encouraging, and we need to see what God can do, I think the beauty is in the journey.

It’s not just in the snappy one liner and the “I used to be [fill in the blank] but now I’m  [fill in the blank].”

It’s in the becoming.

It’s watching a life transform.

It’s being able to say, oh my gosh she was really messed up, remember? But, God is moving. He is healing. He is restoring.

I just can’t fake it til I make it. Some people can and that’s great.

This isn’t an advice column. Or a how to manual. It’s just me walking with God, sharing the hard stuff and the good stuff. And maybe laughing a little here and there.

Beauty isn’t about perfection. Or maybe it is…just not our perfection. It’s His. All beauty belongs to Him and comes from Him – and sometimes He lets it shine through us, in the better and the worse.

I just want to share life in this space. You’re welcome to join me and maybe feel less alone.

It might be messy sometimes. But that’s life. It just is. But we’ll get to the other side.

 

When you’re not a “real” woman

I remember in my college Psychology classes, discussing the nature vs. nurture debate. Are we born blank slates waiting to be filled or are there inborn things that we will become no matter what?

I think it’s both. There are natural, genetic and God-given parts of us and then there’s input from our environments that impacts the expression of those things.

That’s why I think it’s a bad idea to hold too tightly to stereotypes – especially related to gender. Part of what feeds the current gender debate, in my view, is the hard and fast expectations we have of men and women.

When a man or woman doesn’t seem to live up to the standard, or exhibit the “right” characteristics, we think they are broken.

A boy who is emotional, sensitive, soft spoken, has his masculinity questioned, and today it might be suggested that perhaps he’s not a boy at all.

A girl who’s a tomboy, hates dresses, and likes to climb trees, is seen as exhibiting male behavior.

In both of these cases it could be nature or it could be nurture. It’s hard to parse out what things that are innate and what we’ve learned from our environments, or what we’ve just adapted to.

Why do I care about this? Because I’ve always been a girl who didn’t live up to the stereotype and it’s been hard.

Look at those curls! This is me and my dad, 1977-ish

I was a tomboy as a child, not into dolls at all (except for one that I named after a favorite babysitter), didn’t get into Barbies, preferred G.I. Joe and Transformers. 

I wore jeans and t-shirts and played tackle football with the boys. I was faster and had bigger muscles than some of them, at the time. I loved stupid physical comedy.

I didn’t dream of wedding dresses and plan how that day would play out, as a little girl. Doesn’t mean I didn’t want to get married, I just wasn’t one to daydream about it.

I was messy, disorganized, hated baths and bows in my hair. The messy traveled with me into adulthood. Becoming a homemaker exposed my extreme weakness in that department.

As a mom I had no idea what to do with babies. I’m nurturing in my own way, but in the ways I’m expected to be, not so much. I had no clue how to play with babies and toddlers, but didn’t want to ask because I felt stupid.

I’m a highly emotional person, but very uncomfortable sharing emotional space with people. Especially just one person.

I laugh too loud and still love physical comedy [and, hello, my last post was related to Napoleon Dynamite – who does that?]. I’m not a hugger or squealer, when I see my friends. I do hug but it’s because I’ve learned to, not because it’s my nature.

Isn’t all of that supposed to be programmed onto the X chromosome? If I were a man, those things would be expected and forgiven. It would make me the source of sitcom humor.

But as a woman it leaves me feeling exposed and broken, and a large part of that is the loud expectations of society and the church and books and movies. A woman should be…fill in the blank.

We need to make space for exceptions and redefine what it means to be a woman. And bring back the role of the older woman, who teaches the younger woman how to be a wife and mother.  I think nurture plays a bigger part than we think. I wasn’t raised around babies or young kids, had an older brother and boy neighbors. That probably made a difference for me.

I do think there are some general differences between males and females and the current attempt to erase gender distinctions is asinine, to say the least.

Having said that I think we can broaden our thinking on the spectrum of male and female behavior. And drop the word “should” from the conversation because telling someone they should be something they clearly aren’t is harmful.

I think doing this would cause people to feel safe enough to ask questions, ask for help and look for healing for brokenness – because sometimes we are broken. I know I am, but I’m also wired a certain way. It’s both.

Can we set people free to be themselves?

My counselor has me working on changing the negative narrative I constantly tell myself, replacing it with truth, with what God says.

I’ve decided that part of that will be to stop operating according to shoulds, because who defines that? In matters of morality, we can use should: you should not murder. But in matters of personality and behavior, it doesn’t work so well.

This is me processing out loud. I know I’m not alone in this. God has made each of us and we each reflect him in different ways. I hope we can all learn to relax in that, as we learn to follow Him and become what He wants us to be. Not what the world tells us we should be.