"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Friday, October 26, 2012

It is never easy.

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It never is easy.

To forgive.

When the pain has been real, and hard, and deep... it is never easy to forgive.

My sweet girl is learning.  And, so am I---alongside her.

"I don't know if I am ready to forgive her", she responded with tears.  She was responding to my question, "Can I help you? Can I help you forgive her?"

...if I am ready.  When are we ever really ready to let it go and to lay it down?  Are you ready?

Sometimes we just have to choose.  And, that is never easy.

"But she hurt me...", she explained, not protesting as much as asking me to understand.

"Yes," I replied, "if I was in your shoes, I would be hurt too."

Forgiveness isn't needed unless it has hurt.  Forgiveness is only really necessary if injustice has been done.  Where there is wrath and judgment rightly earned, there and only there is forgiveness really forgiveness at all.

I think, as Christians, we push too many of these hurts under-the-carpet of "brotherly love".  "It isn't really that big of deal", we might say.  Or, "they didn't mean it".  Or, "I am just being over sensitive."  In this, we don't actually forgive bad behavior, instead we ignore it or excuse it.  Which would be a great tactic if it worked.  But, it doesn't.  We push it under-the-carpet and then it actually grows mold, stench and bitter roots under our carpets.  These things---even these little things--- must be acknowledged.  ...before God.

I am not talking confrontation here.  I am talking about acknowledgement---to the One who does "get-it" and the One who is perfect!

So, she did it.

My sweet girl.  She told God that she had been hurt.  She told God that what this girl had done had been painful and wrong.  ...even if this girl was totally unaware.  How common is that true?  Most those hurts we push under the carpet are hurts that the perpetrator doesn't even know they have done.  ...but, they still hurt.

Those sticks.  Those stones.  And, those words have hurt.

And, they can be forgiven.  And, they can be covered by brotherly love!  But, they need to be acknowledged and held up before the Lord of the Universe who sees all.

She told God how she felt.  And, then we asked the Holy Spirit to show her what He thought about the situation.  We asked the Holy Spirit what He would say about them... both girls... both she and her friend.  What did He think?  And, with revelation came peace and compassion.  With His Voice came release and the ability to forgive.  To bless.

We ended our prayer time with my girl initiating blessing over this friend.  "I bless her, Jesus.  Pour out Your blessing on her, I ask."

And, the heavy hurt was lifted.

It still makes her stomach churn just a bit when she thinks of it, she said to me today.  Of course it does, my girl.  Of course, it does!

But, keep blessing.  ...keep asking for His blessing on this friend's life.  And, though it isn't easy.
It is good.  It is very good.

To forgive.

Monday, October 22, 2012

His enough is enough

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I read the news.  I hear the stories from a friend.  I read that email.  I hear about this conversation.  And, see that picture.  I wonder after his health, her heart, his marriage, her walk with the Lord.  And, my heart can become heavy---filled with concern.

...In this world pain, sin, sickness and sorrow swirl around and within.  With uncertainty and ambiguity as normative, I need to be reminded of Truth... regularly.  And, I love tools that help remind me.

A while back, I started to  "require" myself to sit down periodically throughout the day... to sit, to be still and to worship.  I have it on my "to do" list (isn't that a bit silly?)  I put it there to "check off" each day--- did I sit and worship today?  Did I stop and find the quiet today?  I attempt this most days and it has become a sweet rhythm-of-quiet to a full, and sometimes, loud life.

One tool I have been using during one of my daily "sits" has been the beautiful worship moments created by Pray as You Go.org...  you really must visit and have a listen.

Today, the song used leading into worship was Bach's Cantada 82.  The words sung are "Ich habe genug"... Translated:  I have enough.

I have enough.  My cup runs over...  

Taken from the story of Simeon in the gospel of Luke, the words of this Canatada speak of a soul that is at rest in God.  They remind us that in Him we have enough.  He is our enough.  When we have taken Jesus within and walk in His love, we have enough.


Each day the struggle begins with the feelings of "not enough".  Do you ever feel it?!

 ...not enough sleep.  ...not enough time.  ...not enough energy.  ....not enough strength or not enough faith or fun or clothes.  ..."not enough" is the continual cry of our day.   "Not enough" is the mantra and the music that plays amidst the pain and sorrow and busyness of our world.  But, it isn't Truth.  

Today, I am reminded of Truth.  He is enough.  The Lord is my shepherd and I have all I need.  All that I need.  I have enough.  My eyes are lifted, my heart is resting.  

Bach's Cantada 82:
I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!

I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy to depart from here.

I have enough
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine and I His own.
In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.

I have enough.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

As Common as a Rainbow

Again, today, I saw it and it was breathtaking !  Stunning.  From the faded reds to the strong yellow and blue to the flighty indigo... a rainbow stretched itself beautifully over our town.

I was awed.

In my awe, I found my heart turning in worship to God.  Thank you, Lord!  The beauty of the rainbow brought thanksgiving.  As I was thanking Him for His Promises, I was instantly struck with the fact that all those around me, those walking with me on the road, were missing it entirely.  A gorgeous, full-spectrum rainbow was just over our heads and they took no notice, as far as I could see.  Did they see it?

And then the thought came to me, a slight whisper into my mind... It has become common place, Stephanie.  

Currently, we live in a place where it rains a lot.  This means, of course, that we have lush green and flowers and frequent rainbows!  Frequent rainbows---imagine that!  I grew up in a city where rain, lush green, and flowers were scarce... and rainbows---well, I don't think I saw but one in the whole of my childhood.   So, I am still awe-struck when I see a rainbow.  I still feel a childish sense of jubilee and I eagerly go looking for them when it rains on a sunny day!

It has become common place...  the words swam around in my head.  A rainbow.  ...common place?  How can that be??  The Promises of God... common place.

And, then it dawned on me,  My promises have become common-place here, too.  

Here in this lovely place where I live, God's promises and His Word were once primary and central.  God Almighty once awed the people of this nation.  God's Truth once penetrated hearts and changed lives.  But, now they are no longer core to my neighbors and my friends.  They are indeed just common, ordinary, and easy-to-walk-by...  All too common.

Jesus loves you...  "yeah.. yeah... whatever...  I know... I have heard it all before!"

Familiarity breeds contempt, we have heard it said.

The promises of God's Presence.  His salvation.  His death on the cross.  His resurrection.  Here all these are as commonly "known" as the rainbows, the flowers and the rain.  And, most people just walk right by them---and ignore them.  They miss them entirely.

These beautiful, deep, life-changing Truths go without notice... without awe... without any emotional or life-impact.  What a tragedy! 

And I wonder even as I write this...  Stephanie, what Truths, ...what Reality... has become common place to you?  

Father, may the Truths of You, the Reality of who You are and what You have done for me... may they awe me again today!  Father make these Truths of Your Word take my  breath away and bring deep thanksgiving in my heart.  May grace and mercy and love and holiness never become common place to me.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Where exhaustion can take me...

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There is a powerful urge that I feel sometimes... a voracious appetite.  Do you ever feel it?

In recent years, I have become more aware.  Rather than just following it without thought, I am finally becoming more conscious of this drive, this hunger.  I catch and  "see" the signs.  And, I am starting to see what triggers the feeling.  

The hunger?  Simply put, I just want to eat.  And, then I want to eat more.  Something a little sweet.  Something a little salty.  Now, I want something more that is sweet... and on it goes. The desire is strong.  The pull can be intense.  I can go (mentally or actually) scrounging through the kitchen and find myself something tasty to bring relief to the "hunger" within.

Am I the only one?

My husband assures me that I am not alone in my hunger---although his voracious "eating" doesn't include food.  He is driven or pulled toward media, he explains.  He just wants to watch, or to research, or to read random news articles.  But, he too is aware of the drive and the intense pull.  We aren't alone in this drive to numb, to relax, to calm, to get-back-to-equilibrium.  We just crave different things to fill the hunger...

What do you crave?  

I do know my triggers...  at least in part.  I have written before of my tired temptations.  For instance, I know that when I am exhausted---physically, emotionally or spiritually---I can find the lure-to-numb really inviting!  I am still not quite sure where I learned this pattern---when did I learn to go to food to feed the emptiness that exhaustion can bring?  But certainly, when I am tired... I want to eat.  And, I want to numb.  The question I have been asking is why?  and when?  

Does the food actually give me a burst of energy?  Maybe.  Or, does it give me comfort?  Maybe even a bit.  ...a learned comfort, at least.  But, does it give me what I really need in those tired moments?    Most definitely not.  The interesting thing is that my drive to food is never satisfied and if I indulge the cravings... I am never satisfied.  I never find rest, peace or equilibrium when I eat to fill that void. In fact, quite the opposite happens!  Filling this "hunger" with unnecessary food often produces a cycle of frustration, annoyance and irritation with myself.  

What do I truly need in these moments??   I need rest.  ... rest.  I need rest and peace and equilibrium.  I need Jesus.  

The very Person of Jesus is the obvious answer to my true needs.  His Presence offers me rest.  "Come to Me, all you who are weary...and I will give you rest", He says. "The peace I give is from Me...not like the world's peace", he invites me in.  He is my manna, the Bread of Life that will nourish.  In Him I can find filling and satisfaction.  In Him I have found fullness!  

This powerful urge within... may it draw me into You, Lord Jesus.  May I receive from You all I need!!  Change the "natural" and automatic response within me to run to food and other things... may I learn to run to You and find my rest in You alone.  

Where (or to who... or to what) do you go when you are tired or exhausted?  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Choose to Hope

Did you know that hope is not an emotion?

Did you know that hope is a choice, a learned skill, a cognitive process and way of thinking?*

Emotion plays a part in hope... we can feel hopeful, of course.  Or, we can feel hopeless.  But, hope is a way--an avenue we can take-- hope is a way we can choose to think or not think.  It is a choice.  It involves our will and our minds... and, even more important it is fueled by our spirits and hearts.

I am utterly fascinated by this thought tonight as I continue to read Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection.  Certainly and deliberately not a Christian book, her research and her conclusions are chalked full of deep insight and God's Truth.  This delights me!

Hope is focusing on the unseen... and believing that it will be, or that it is.  That is essentially what faith is--- a  "seeing" of an unsee-able God, a hoping in an "unseeable" but very certain future; and it is a choice to fix our hearts and minds on Him, His Truth and His victory in the now and the not-yet.  This is hope.  This is faith.  I don't have to "feel" it necessarily.  I can choose it!... "I believe.  Help my unbelief" comes to mind.  (Mark 9:24)

The feeling of hopefulness then can closely follow the choice to hope.  We strike the match, we light the candle and warmth and glow follow.

According to research, this way of thinking---and the following hopefulness---produces resilience, wholehearted and genuine living.  And, to add to the beauty of this research... is that hope-thinking can be cultivated.  

What a great word!  It can be cultivated.  It can be grown.  We can cultivate hope!  We can choose to turn our eyes to the unseen and hope in Him!

I am not  naturally a hope-filled person.  Anyone who knows me well, knows the Stephanie-mantra, "The key to happiness is low expectations."  After pondering this concept of hope cultivation---I am more and more bothered with this mantra that has ruled my life for so long.  Helpful?  Yes, of course.  It protects me from disappointment.  A coping mechanism of sorts, to be sure.  But, I am wondering how this affects my view of God---
I want to choose and cultivate hope...  I want to choose today to have high expectations and hope in God.  He will be Present tomorrow!  He will come through.  He always has!  I can expect Him to lead and to protect and to show Himself faithful to me.

And, according to the research, do you know how we seem to learn it best, as well?  We seem to learn hope best "in the context of other people" (Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 66)

We learn to hope by being with and watching other people who hope and who teach us to hope by their consistency.   We learn to hope by experiencing faithfulness in friendship, consistency and healthy boundaries within relationships.  Other people teach us to hope.  I love this!  The Body of Christ--- the church, the family, the fellowship of "two or three"--- is the perfect classroom for practicing and learning the skill of choosing and walking in hope.

You can teach me! I can teach you.  I can teach my children and my children can teach me.  We can spur each other on toward "hope"!  We can invite each other into the joy of living within the feeling of hopefulness.

So, my friends, I issue an invitation to you!  Come with me and choose to hope today.  I say to you...  God Almighty is faithful.  His love is sweet and His Presence is filling and powerful.  He is and He was and He will always be...  Come in, walk one more step forward, enter into His rest today---taste and see that the Lord is good.

 (*according to psychology and the research psychologists, C.R.Snyder)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Too Far Into Love

"I am afraid..." she said to me, with almost a whisper in her voice.  Could she say it out-loud?
"I am afraid to take it too far.  I hear all you are saying about God's love for me... In fact, I think I have heard Him say it to me.  I hear it.  ...about living-as-loved... about who I am because I am loved.  But..."  

"But, isn't it possible to go too far?!"

I knew what she was saying.  I have known this hesitation.  

I remember saying almost the exact same thing.  I remember saying it and knowing it was wrong... and still saying it!  I remember feeling the hesitation or danger in this concept of unconditional, lavished love!  

I said it.  I did.  It wasn't that long ago that I said to my husband:  "There is a hesitation to diving in.  It is a dangerous feeling.  I mean, if I really--- I mean, really and truly--- believed that God loves me.  If I really trusted in God's love for my "okayness", my everything, my security...  then... who would keep me in check.  Wouldn't I just jump off the deep end of sin?  Wouldn't I be prideful and selfish?  Wouldn't I just 'let myself go' and 'rest on my rump'... doing nothin' for good or for God??  Who would keep me in line?" 

I know the hesitation.  I was there.  

We, as Christians, do get really good at being good.  ...doing what is right.  ...living by all the "shoulds" around us.  We perfect the act and dance the dance well.  Well,... sort-of.  At least on the outside---  at least outside our homes, outside our living rooms and bedrooms.  I think, we learn to put-on "loved" that is.  

Or, I did.  For a long time...  

Not that I didn't love the Lord.  I did.  Very much.

Not that I didn't grow or even move forward in my understanding of God.  I did.  ...but, still deep within I knew the truth.  I knew that there was something big missing.  I knew that deep down I really questioned God's love for me.  

And, I also knew that the idea of abandoned to love---left alone with only His love---felt a dangerous and scary concept.  ...would it be enough?  

"I am afraid.." she quietly shared with me today.  "Isn't it possible to go too far with God's love?"  

Now, I know.  I finally know!  I reallly, truly and deeply know that God loves me.  

....and I can whisper back to my fellow-journeyer, an invitation, "Trust me, my friend, you can never---ever---never go too far into God's love!  You can never push the concept of you as a loved-one, a beloved one, too far!  You just can't!"

Dive in.  Dive deep.  Swim wide and long!  Soak up the Truth of His love for you.  May it invade your very bones, your marrow, your bloodstream!  May His love fill every nook and every dark place within you!  With His love you can never take it too far...  

Friday, October 5, 2012

What do you see?

His Word reminds me this morning that day and night, He pours forth speech.
"The heavens declare the glory of God.  The skies proclaim the works of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech.  Night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have now speech, they use no words; and yet, their voice goes out into all the earth.  Their words go into the whole world!"  (Psalm 19:1-2)
Through His Creation, my God is always speaking!  He displays His glory 24-7 and always has done since the dawn of creation.   He is faithful to show forth Himself.  He is constant in His proclamation of His deeds.  To the whole earth He is accessible... He is on display!  He tells the world who He is with no words, but with a Voice!

If we would only look.  
...and see.  ...and understand.  

I wonder even as I write, what is He saying about Himself through the rain today?  What piece of His character, or what Truth is on display through the young calf I saw grazing in the field?  ...the mud I trekked through?  ...That smile on my daughter's face, the laughter in the kitchen, that chatter of birds, that rushing wind and sunlight breaking through the clouds...  what do they say? 

These created things speak.  What do they say?  

While God trained Jeremiah for ministry, He tells him to look and see...  "What do you see, Jeremiah?"(Jeremiah 1)  He invites him to simply look... and see.  

Jeremiah answers with a straightforward answer to God's question, "I see the branch of an olive tree." 

"You have seen rightly," God coaches Jeremiah, with encouragement.  Good job, He says!  You are doing well... okay, now... moving on...  

Leading Jeremiah faithfully and gently forward  He is teaching him to see and to discern.  He asks him to look and see... then He helps him to understand what is being "said" through this vision.   

This morning while on my walk, I was mediating on Psalm 19 and praising God for His constant, faithful voice through Creation.  And, then as if prompted by the Holy Spirit, I had this quiet thought... a question, really:  "Stephanie, what do you see?"  

I looked around me and then, in prayer, I responded, "Lord, I see building after building after building.  But they all look so quiet.  So dark.  So still."

In my mind flooded the thought, "Ah... but there is life within."   Life within.

"Stephanie, I am always working, even when you don't see it."  

Day and night He pours forth speech!  May the eyes of my heart be awakened and may I see... and know and understand.  Teach me, Father how to see and how to discern.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

So, ...it's not just me!

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It is amazing the rapid speed at which lies can come crashing into my heart and my mind.  Jarring.  Debilitating.  These lies freezing my desire for forward movement.

The lies whisper and sometimes they scream, "Be afraid."  ..."be very afraid..."

I have tapes that play this fearful tune, do you ever hear these too?  Mine say, "You're too young"  "What do you have to say?" "Who are you to..."  "You're not smart enough"  "You're not spiritual enough."  "You are a mess..."  "If they only knew this about you..." "Shut up...and sit down"

Some authors writing about this phenomenon have called it, "insecurity".  Some have called it, "pride".  One author, whose work I am currently reading, Brene Brown, calls it shame.  Shame--it is such an ugly word.  And, a confusing word.  

Defining shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging", Dr. Brene Brown says, "shame is all about fear."  "We are afraid people won't like us if they know the truth about..."  Brown describes the difference between shame and guilt being that guilt says, "I did something bad."  Shame says, "I am bad."  

Shame is about who we are- guilt is about our behaviors.  Interestingly, Dr. Brown's research also shows that guilt (which I might personally re-term "conviction") can be productive and helpful; while, shame is always destructive.  Patterns of hurtful behaviors and self destructive attitudes are bred in the garden of shame.     

So, what does this have to do with me and my journey?  I was reading Dr. Brown's book and was struck with the idea that silence and secrecy breed and give power to shame.  I had been hearing some loud lies recently and it was time to expose them to the Truth-Light!  This blog post is about exposing... vulnerability...  and courage.  

To put some context to my "recent" lie-tapes...  I feel that God has been calling, inviting, prodding me forward into a new ministry.  This inviting whisper has been happening for years, actually.  But, this past week the call from God to step forward has become louder and more clear.  And, as the call has become more clear; so have the lies started ramping up their mantra:  "Who are you? Who do you think you are?"  "You're too young"  "You're not one of them..."  

To put it bluntly, somewhere deep within I have believe that my imperfections negate my ability to be used in (blank) ministry.    Doesn't really matter how you fill in the blank.  
You name it...  My call, God's invitation to me, is unique and so is yours.  But, somewhere I have believed a lie that 'I can't (blank)because of me--because of who I am.'  

I am not alone in this, I know.  And, neither are you.

Reading in Jeremiah this morning, I was struck... "The word of the Lord came to me, saying:  'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."  "Alas, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young."  
But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am too young'. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 1)

So, it isn't just me!
Jeremiah had a tape of lies playing in his head too!  
Alas, Sovereign Lord, I say in unison with Jeremiah, my brother!
And, God responds, "No!"  "Don't say that!"  ...don't you go agreeing with that lie!  ...don't repeat that tape.

"I will be with you!"

To Joshua, He says, "Be strong and very courageous... I will be with you."
To Moses' "Who am I?", He says,"I will be with you!"

These men, my brothers.  Me.  You.
It takes courage, my friends.  It takes God-given push... courage and bravery to rest and walk in the foundation of who He says I am.  It takes courage to resist and shut the mouth of the liar that says 'I can't because of me'.  Whether the lies come from without... or within.

...it takes the courage to believe and walk forward in the Truth that I can because of Him, because of who He says I am, because of who He has made me!

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