Out past the fear

Caeley said she wanted to swim out to the sand bar, so without hesitation I said I wanted to go, too. We walked along the beach to a place that wasn’t crowded, but decided that swimming out into the deep without other people around to scare away and/or distract sharks and rays was a bad plan.

We walked back into the crowd and found a spot to begin our swim out to the sand bar. She had been out the day before and it was covered with live sand dollars. I’d never seen them alive so I wanted to experience it for myself. It seemed like a fun adventure.

Between the shore and the sand bar was a stretch of deep water. We pushed our way past the waves in the shallows and started swimming when we could no longer touch bottom. As I swam I had a thought, a revelation, if you will:

I can’t touch the bottom.

Like, it’s not an option. If I get tired that’s too bad. Oh, and remember that video on Facebook last week of those sharks that were really close to shore? And those people who got stuck in the undertow? Yeah…what were you thinking?!

As near as I could tell I was about halfway to the sand bar. It was the same distance in either direction to a place I could put my feet down. I nearly panicked because I did not think this through at all and the distance looked much shorter when I was standing on the beach. Also, I’m not much of a swimmer and I’m out of shape.

I wondered if the two or three Barre classes I had taken would help. Ha.

Caeley said if I got tired I could just float on my back to rest. I decided to keep pushing on and breathed in a very controlled way so as to stave off the very real panic that was trying to take over.

I talked to God about my hope to survive as I swam. I floated/paddled on my back a good bit and eventually we made it out to the bar. It took a while to find a place we could touch because though it appeared shallow, it wasn’t. The water was just really clear.

Once we did, though, it was really fun to be out there. We could see lots of brown sand dollars strewn around. Caeley had a pair of goggles so we took turns diving down to look around. I haven’t just enjoyed playing and swimming in the ocean that way in years.

As a mom I’m usually busy playing lifeguard, but it was good for my soul to sort of feel like a kid again.

We stayed out til we had our fill and as we swam back in I was feeling like this was a spiritual experience. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like God was near and I needed to learn something.

It was much easier getting back to shore because we had the incoming waves on our side. I floated on my back and paddled most of the way in and thought about how sometimes we just need to go with the flow, and let ourselves be carried.

Getting back to dry ground left me with a sense of relief and accomplishment – I didn’t drown and I got to spend some quality time with Caeley.

That was a couple of weeks ago. This morning I ran across an update from Audrey Assad. She’s one of my favorite Christian artists – her music is deep and thoughtful and moving.

She’s working on a new album, which I’m excited to hear. Her story is that these new songs were born out of a hard season, in which she was confronted with doubts and uncertainty, and her faith was shaken.

She shared a screenshot of some lyrics and as I read them, my mind immediately went back to my swim in the deep waters, and the fear I fought on the way.

This is my story, not just of an ocean swim, but of my life the last few years. In the wilderness, though dry and lonely, I’ve found water, friendship with God and kinship with Jesus.

There is no death here in the ruins.

Diving headlong into my fears, sadness, questions, and even anger, I found Him. If I had turned back, where would I be?

If we push past our fear of uncertainty and choose to face our doubts, they really can turn into wonder. It’s happening for me.

I’ve been saying for a few years now that we can’t be afraid of our questions. We need to ask them, we need to ask God, we need to step out where our feet can’t touch down and trust Him to carry us.

In the same way that I had to decide whether to swim on or turn back, we come to places with God where the decision is essentially that: swim on or turn back.

There’s adventure and wonder and life on the other side, though, if we keep going. Sometimes we swim, sometimes we just try to stay afloat, sometimes we get carried effortlessly.

Trust Him with your heart – the joy, the pain, the grief, the anger. Dive out into the deep and go on an adventure with Him.

Out past the fear, doubt becomes wonder.

**FYI, Audrey Assad’s album will be called Evergreen and it will be out in the Spring of next year.

Who told you that you were naked?

I chose one of my baby pictures because it’s easier to tell this to my cute younger self, than my adult self. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  Genesis 3:6‭-‬11 ESV

This is a really familiar story for most people, even those who aren’t Christian (or Jewish), but this morning I had a thought I hadn’t really pondered before.

I’ve been trying to digest it and ask God what, if anything, He has for me in it. This is one I’ll probably need to chew on for a while, but I thought I’d go ahead and throw it out there. 

The question, “Who told you that you were naked?” is an important question. “Did you eat some fruit from that tree I told you not to eat?”

The thing that struck me was that they had always been naked. Satan didn’t lie to them – it wasn’t untrue that they were naked, they just had never noticed before. They had been naked and not ashamed of it. 

But now, they were painfully aware of their nakedness, felt ashamed and tried to cover it. The lie was that nakedness, in and of itself, was shameful. 

The act of covering is a sure sign of shame. And it’s not the fruit of the tree of life. In their case they had sinned and truly had moved into a state of disconnection from God.

But, as followers of Jesus, who have moved from death to life, who are hidden in Him, who are called righteous, we should never have the shame that causes us to hide from God and others.

Yet, we often do. 

The story of Genesis 3 is the story of humanity. It’s my story and it’s your story. 

As ones who have been restored to relationship with God, we too, at times, find ourselves hiding in the bushes trying not to be found out. But why?

Who is tempting us to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil? 

We know we have an Enemy who is called the accuser of the brethren – he’s constantly telling you that you’re failure, a lost cause and pointing out your faults. 

But, I’m afraid we do this to each other sometimes, too. There are people who are walking around carrying baskets of fruit from the tree of knowledge, wanting you to eat, and believe again that you’re actually naked and wretched before God.

Those who’ve been eating bad fruit want you to eat some, too. 

She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

I can imagine God coming to look for me: 

“Ashley, where are you?”

<leaves rustle> “Uh, I’m in here.”

“Why are you hiding? Who told you were in trouble? Who told you that I would disown you? Who told you that you are naked?”

“Well, first, ‘she’ said I’m not a good mom and that my house is a mess, and it’s my fault my kids are misbehaving, and I’m not spending enough time with you and I probably don’t really know you after all. And then…”

“So, you ate the fruit from her basket again?” 

“Uh – huh.”

“I thought we had a good thing going. We were hanging out, I was teaching you things, you were growing and changing and maturing. You were letting me tell you who you are, and who I am and that was enough. We were tracking together. I know you mess up – I’m not blind – but we were working on it. Weren’t we working on it together? How did this happen?”

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Galatians 3:3

I find myself in the bushes sewing fig leaves more than I care to admit. 

You know, the Pharisees were on every street corner handing out fruit, and Jesus had strong words for them. They placed heavy burdens and demands on the people and offered no help in carrying those burdens.

We have to be careful in making “helpful” suggestions, or offering criticism to others, and assuming we know their hearts. None of us is the Holy Spirit. 

God is the only one who knows the heart, even our own. We think we do, but there are still corners left unseen and untouched. And when he’s ready to go into them, He will. 

We should listen to input from our friends, but the final word belongs to God. We have to take everything to Him and ask if it’s true. 

And, if it is true, we need to know what He wants to say about it and about us. We need to stay connected to Him and not allow another human to take His place. 

Remember that you are covered in His righteousness, not your own. You are not naked and ashamed before Him, you just feel like you are, at times. Just as in Genesis, it is not shameful to be “naked,” before God. It is necessary.

This has been my journey for quite some time. The truth is that God is happy to be with me even when I’ve sinned. I am more important than whatever problems I am causing (thanks to John and Sungshim Loppnow for that new way of thinking).

My life needs to be laid bare before Him. There should be no shame in that.

If I remain close to, and open with, Him, I will grow and change, and my shortcomings will become cause for celebration of a love big enough to embrace me and cover me, not in spite of my failures, but because of them. 

  

Can we survive being seen?

A few weeks ago I published a post about how I sometimes feel like a black sheep, or that I embarass people. It drew more response than most things I share – I received comments and private messages which were encouraging and which basically said, “Me, too.”

There was also some negative response, questioning why I would share something so personal and painful in a public forum. There was concern for my heart, given the fact that mean people exist, but the primary concern seemed to be that I was simply wallowing in pain, not pointing anyone to Jesus, making Him look bad, and looking for people to commiserate and help me stay where I am (my paraphrase).

I get that, I really do, and I respect the right of others to have their opinions. Not everyone is wired to share openly and I don’t advocate for that, but this is what I feel I need to do at this point in my life.

Could I be wrong? Sure.

Also, let me say that I don’t intend for every single post from here on out to reveal something painful. This isn’t where I’m trying to go, it’s just where I am. 

I have been in a season in which layers of issues and pains are being peeled back and exposed – things I’ve stuffed or ignored or tried to cover for years. I’ve got some warped ways of thinking and relating that God needs to heal, and it’s not pretty.

I may be sharing more than some folks are comfortable with, but there’s also plenty I’m not saying. I haven’t detailed the situations and the people – those are between me and the Lord. 

I wouldn’t throw anybody – other than myself – under the bus publicly (well, I may have tossed out a first name of some kid from elementary school before, but 98% of you don’t even know who I’m talking about).

What I really think is at the heart of the negative feedback is discomfort with an unfinished story and with expressed pain, in general.

There’s a lot of good about the church in America, but one of my concerns is that we have no idea what to do with pain and grief. We live in a culture that promotes success, which is mostly judged by externals – money, careers, appearance, and power determine our status. Everything is steering us toward looking good.

I think some of that has crept over into the church. If we know God, if we are in Christ, then we are supposed to have our crap together. We ought to be set totally free from all the bad things – pain, grief, heartache and difficulties. If you have trouble you certainly shouldn’t talk about it. 

We don’t want to hear your story until it’s over and done with, tied up with a neat little bow.

Is that why Jesus came? To save us from pain on this earth? To turn us into shiny success stories?

If we read our Bibles – both the Old and the New Testaments – we don’t find that to be the case. What we do find is a God who is with us through everything. We see a plan for a community of Jesus followers who carry one another’s burdens, who encourage each other, who speak truth, who pray for one another without ceasing.

We see a savior who invites us to come to Him with every need, who offers to help us carry the load and teach us the way into rest. It isn’t about the elimination of pain – though that sounds fantastic – it’s about not being alone in it.

The direction of our lives is absolutely important – we ought to desire to move forward and be free, for sure. We should grow in maturity. But getting there can take some time.

If that’s the case, why would we feel the need to cover ourselves? Why put up a front? Why try to look perfect? Why try to appear as a success story?

Is the gospel about making a bunch of success stories? Is that what we’ve reduced it to? Was it written by a motivational speaker?

Jesus did come to give us abundant life. The question is, can we have difficulty and still live an abundant life? I think the answer is yes.

I refuse to live with a mask. I’ll admit I considered putting my game face back on after the negative feedback. I thought maybe I had done something terribly wrong. After asking 5 or 6 trusted mentors and friends, who have their junk together more than I do, I have decided not to do that.

I lived in fear of being seen for too long and I can’t go back.

My hope is that people will come with me on this journey. I’m not saying y’all should start spilling your guts on a blog, or on social media, but I hope you will find a few trusted friends to open up with, at least. Get counseling from a pastor, or professional, if needed. Ask for prayer, ask for help, ask for advice.

And by all means spill it out before God – that’s where I’m trying to grow the most, right now. I’m reading the Psalms and seeing how broken David was, but also, how He loved God and was loved by Him.

While I understand the concerns that were expressed to me, I just want to say that I am not afraid to be seen anymore. I know there are some who read that will judge me, or think I’m pathetic or that I’m not being a “good witness” for Christ. I’m not pumped about that, but I stand before one Judge.

This isn’t a sin issue, it’s a preference issue, as far as I can tell. I think His reputation can survive my struggles.

And, let’s be realistic. I’m not Ann Voskamp, here – my readership is small. The people who read my stuff know me and know what they’re going to find when they click. If they’re not interested, they’re not clicking.

If you are taking the time to read, thank you – even if you disagree. Much love to you – may we learn to appreciate our differences and learn to love and empathize well.

 

 

 

 

 

The Artist 

I’m dragging this over from my old blog. I was thinking about it yesterday morning – it’s a thing I wrote during a painful time, a few years ago. I’m not a poet and I’m still not totally happy with the ending – it needs something. But, here it is.

If you’re in a difficult place remember that God is able to work good out of every situation, even when the situation itself isn’t good. He squeezes it like a wet washcloth, wringing every last drop of good from it. Nothing is wasted with Him and He is always good (Romans 8).

It can be hard to remember that in the dark. The end goal is for us to be made into the image of Christ, and He endured his share of suffering. Our share, too. 

———-


I am a piece of rock
Marble to be exact
Freshly drawn up
Out of the dirt

The Artist stands back and waits

When the time is right
He blows across the surface
Wipes away the dirt
And sets to work

He sees inside of me
What He intends to bring forth

The Artist chips me away
Carefully chisels
(I do not like the chisel)
He removes what does not belong

The Artist steps back and waits

Again He approaches
Blows across the surface
Wipes away the dust
And sets to work

More chiseling
(I still do not like the chisel)

But I begin to see a glimpse
Of something taking shape,
Of whatever He’s trying to bring forth

The Artist steps back and looks
And smiles
And waits

On and on it goes –

The chiseling, the blowing,
The wiping away of dirt and dust
He removes the bits of me
That do not belong

I thought some of those bits were rather nice.
What was wrong with that one over there?
I feel exposed

And, the waiting
Why the long waiting?
Will it ever end?
What is He trying to bring forth?

But, the smiling –
That I like. It reassures me.
He must see a glimpse now
Of what it is He intends to bring forth

Finally He steps back and looks
Only a few minor adjustments remain

The Artist now has a twinkle in His eye.
He steps back and waits.

When the time is right
Carefully and lovingly
He sands away the final remains
Of what does not belong

The artist steps back
And smiles
(I think I see a tear)

He calls for His friends
To come and see what has been wrought
From this piece of rock
Once rough and covered with dirt

It now stands in completion
In perfection

It’s what He always intended to bring forth
It’s what He saw inside all along:

I’m pure white marble, made in the image of His Son.

I am perfect.

I am clean.

I am amazed.

And it was worth the pain.

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.