Friday, October 13, 2017

you belong.


I recently finished reading Brene Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness. Perhaps for that reason, I have been thinking a lot about belonging. I remember having a conversation with my brother, years ago, about how in any given group of people, I felt like an outsider in one way or another. I’ve wondered since then if that was unique to me or if, as I suspect, most other people feel the same way. 

I’ve been reading the book of Ruth this week, and the word “foreigner” stood out to me. As the Moabite widow of an Israelite, Ruth made the surprising decision to forego returning to her homeland after her husband’s death in order to remain with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. Together, they returned to Bethlehem once the famine there had ended. Soon after, Ruth met Naomi’s wealthy relative, Boaz. When Ruth first met Boaz, who offered Ruth food and protection, Ruth asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10). 

The land, people, and God of Israel were all foreign to Ruth, and her question seems to indicate that her identity as a foreigner was at the forefront of her mind, as something that should have disqualified her from Boaz’s favor. Ruth’s identity and situation made her vulnerable several times over—as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner. The Bible speaks over and over of the Lord’s directive for His followers to care for the most vulnerable people in society: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner, among others. Jesus Christ, Himself, seemed to go out of His way to spend time and build relationships with women, children, sinners, tax collectors, outcasts, the sick, the poor, and the unclean. He loves all of His children, but I think it’s safe to say that He has a soft spot for the most vulnerable. 

Boaz’s acceptance, praise, and blessing of Ruth eventually turned to his willingness to redeem her through marriage. This meant that her first husband’s line would continue, and provision would be made for Ruth and Naomi. After Boaz praised Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi (Ruth 2:11-12), Ruth began to refer to herself as “your maidservant” (Ruth 2:13) instead of “a foreigner.” Through his kindness and acceptance, her identity shifted from a foreigner to one who belonged. The son they had together would be the grandfather of David, and ultimately, part of the lineage of Jesus. As I thought about this, Brene Brown’s phrase from Braving the Wilderness kept coming to mind: “No one belongs here more than you.”

We are all misfits in one way or another, caught up in our own messes, each with our own vulnerabilities. Some of us are vulnerable through our very identities — our age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or physical or mental differences, among other things. Like Boaz, the rest of us have a responsibility as followers of Christ to really see these vulnerable ones and to do what we can to notice them, to build relationships with them, to show them kindness, to educate ourselves, to listen to them without judgement, and to learn from them how we can be truly helpful. Psalm 85:3-4 says, 

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

This takes active, intentional work on the part of the privileged. Boaz, privileged as a man and as a wealthy person, saw Ruth, noticed her, inquired about who she was, and initiated conversation with her. He honored and elevated her with his kindness. He helped her with his offer of food and protection, but he also listened when she communicated what she needed through what was basically her very bold proposal of marriage (Ruth 3).

I’m not sure what parts of your identity, past, experiences, shortcomings, failures, etc. make you feel vulnerable, but God sees these parts of you clearly, knows them intimately, and cares deeply. He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the weak (Psalm 68:5). I believe that an important step in helping others is to experience our own healing so that we have the courage and security we need to take the risks involved in loving others well. When we are coming from a place of security, we can see others more easily and show compassion more readily. We are freed up to move beyond our own pain and enter in to the pain of others. We can listen openly, without offering judgmental or defensive responses. 

To be human and alive is to be vulnerable and capable of being hurt. Whoever you are, whatever identities you hold, the same thing is true for each of us: in the words of Brene Brown, “No one belongs here more than you.” You are the reason Jesus came. If you have any doubts about how He feels about the vulnerable ones, be encouraged. He came to defend, heal, bless, save, protect, and restore you. This passage from Isaiah 61 mentions just some of the groups the Lord came to defend, as well as His glorious plans for them:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

--Isaiah 61

Thursday, August 17, 2017

the big deal about encouragement



I often think of encouragement as a nice thing to do, a little something extra that people appreciate. Today as I read Deuteronomy 1:19-46, I was struck by how many times I saw words relating to "encouragement." Apparently, God thinks it is a big deal.

In this chapter, Moses is telling the story of the Israelites journeying through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. When Moses gave the command for the Israelites to go into and possess the land that God gave to them, he told them, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (verse 21). The people responded by proposing a plan to send spies into the land in order to determine the route they should take. After spying out the land, the report brought back was basically, "The land God has given us is good, but it's too much work and we are too afraid to take possession of it," (my paraphrase of verses 25-28).

The Lord has a very good inheritance for His children,  but sometimes we are distracted by the obstacles that appear to stand in the way of His promises. When we focus on these instead of on the Lord's promises and faithfulness, our minds begin to believe the lie that we are not able to take hold of all that God means for us to possess. This leads to toxic unbelief that sabotages the original battle plan. Unbelief, a sin in itself, results in further disobedience. Ultimately, our disobedience keeps us from entering the Promised Land, the inheritance of abundant life that the Lord desires to give us.

Deuteronomy 1:26-28 says,
“Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; and you complained in your tents, and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’


Wrapped up in the Israelites' discouragement was rebellion, disobedience, complaining, unbelief, fear, and despair. They say that, "Our brethren have discouraged our hearts," (NKJ version), which is translated as, "Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear" in the NIV version. Discouragement is enmeshed with fear, and heavy doses of it can be debilitating, especially when it comes from those we love and respect the most (i.e., "our brothers"). 

Moses exhorts the people in verses 29-31, "Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’"

I keep writing about and studying these verses because I seem to find no end to their depth and implications. Moses responds to the fear, discouragement, and outright lies ("Because the Lord hates us...") with powerful encouragement that I believe can serve as a model for how we can encourage one another and ourselves. We can remind others (and ourselves) to:

1. Calm down! What, that wasn't in your Bible? Seriously though, Moses begins by saying simply, "Do not be terrified." Sometimes the first step in helping someone (or ourselves) is to help them calm down. Stop the tailspin and breathe.

2. Shift your focus off of the problem and onto God. The second part of verse 29 says, "Do not be afraid of them." This doesn't mean we live in denial, but we need to quit idolizing our problems by making them bigger than God. `This is easier said than done, and sometimes we need someone who is outside of the problem to remind us that God is bigger.

3. Remember who God is. Verse 30 starts with, "The LORD your God..." "LORD" in all caps indicates the name "Yahweh," which is the name He used to reveal Himself to Moses when Moses first asked who He was at the burning bush, and it means, "I AM WHO I AM." God is "I AM," existing in His own right, independent of space and time, and He is also "your God" (if you are a believer). He is big, and our problems, no matter how great, are eclipsed by the Lord our God.

4. Remember that God is for us (see linked post for more on this). Moses tells the Israelites that God is going before them and will fight for them. When we are weary of fighting, He fights for us, undeserving as we are.

5. Remember what God did in the past (see linked post for more on this). We need people in our lives who remind us of the difficulties God brought us through in the past, and we need to be that person to others. Even when God doesn't "fix" a problem in an obvious way, we can ask Him to open our eyes to see His provision in times of adversity. The Old Testament is full of stories of ways that the Israelites were commanded to memorialize the good things that God had done for them. We forget His wonders quickly as they fade into the rearview mirror and a new set of struggles is looming in the distance.

6. Reflect on God's tenderness. My favorite part of this passage is when Moses says, "There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son..." The picture of a father carrying his son is a beautiful combination of tenderness and strength. Our Heavenly Father loves us and carries us tenderly and with strength when we are suffering.

7. Remember that God is long-suffering. The toughest problems are often long-term, drawn-out ordeals. Moses reminds the Israelites that God carried them "all the way you went until you reached this place." In His great compassion, God is with us and for us for the long haul.

Encouragement is not just made up of nice words that we say lightly to someone who is upset. Biblical encouragement involves speaking truth to confront the lies we hear from others, from culture, and from our own destructive self-talk. In a world where we prefer to prepare for the worst rather than hope for the best, encouragement is an invitation to vulnerability. Brene Brown, a researcher of shame and vulnerability and author of Daring Greatly, talks about the concept of "foreboding joy," which is the idea that when we are on the brink of experiencing joy, we often begin to imagine all the things that could threaten that joy. We try to protect ourselves by preparing for the worst. In her book Rising Strong, she says, "Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they're choosing to live disappointed."

When we are poised to take hold of the joy and the inheritance we are promised in Jesus Christ, we may find ourselves discouraged, afraid to hope for fear of what could go wrong, and tempted to believe the lies that contradict the truth of God's Word. In His wisdom, the Lord often calls us to places that require victory against impossible odds, but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). 

Encouragement is an invitation to hope, to try, to believe, to lay down our coping mechanisms and the destructive things we do in our attempts at self-preservation. Encouragement is an invitation to pick up the three things which will always remain: faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Our minds are powerful and influence our behaviors, and when we align them with the truth, we can move forward with hope and courage.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

covered


Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”
-Deuteronomy 1:29-31

Different scripture passages stand out to me in different seasons of life. Lately, Deuteronomy 1:29-31 is one that keeps pulling me back in like a magnet. I cannot get over the tenderness of it.

I came back to these verses to share them with someone who is struggling with depression and was looking for encouragement. When I was in the thick of postpartum depression, I remember sitting in church while the worship music played. I felt like I was in a fog; I was so tired, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that everything seemed hazy and I could not seem to pull myself out of it. God seemed far away, like I was at the bottom of a pit and though I knew He was up there somewhere, He seemed very, very high up in the distance. Then the band started playing this song by the Newsboys:


The idea of God living within my exhausted, numb heart, life and wholeness and power amongst the dust and the ruin within me, made me feel as though I had suddenly come to life. It felt like one of those dramatic deathbed scenes in a movie when the camera is showing things from the sick person's point of view, a blurred picture of doctors and nurses hovering and buzzing busily over the patient, who can't make out what the doctors' voices are saying. Too weak to fight for herself, the patient is completely dependent on others who are hard at work doing everything possible to bring her back to life.

The idea of God fighting for me is a powerful truth when I am too weak to fight for myself. When we are sprawled out on the battlefield, exhaustion taking over as our minds become confused and our vision becomes blurry, He rides up on His white horse and takes over. (After all, He has such a soft spot for the vulnerable.) 

Part of the beauty of the Lord fighting for me, beyond the fact that He is saving me, is that He believes that I am worth saving. Sometimes suffering is the result of external forces over which we have no control, and sometimes it is a direct or indirect result of our own sin. I tend to assume that my suffering is my own fault, which I'm sure is true much of the time. My old pattern, and the worn path I have to fight against going down out of habit, is to allow my shame to keep me from running to Him for help.

However.

Even when we are experiencing adversity due to our own sin, even then He is compassionate. I had not noticed before the part of Deuteronomy 1:29-31 that says, "The Lord your God will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt...and in the wilderness." When the Lord fought for the Israelites in Egypt, He heard their cries and freed them from their oppressors. In the wilderness, when the Israelites were wandering around due to their own unbelief, even then the Lord fought for them. He provided manna and water and direction. Even when they sinned again and did not trust in the Lord, He warned them not to proceed with battle against their enemy because He would not be with them and knew that they would be defeated.

When we are wandering around in the mess we have made because of our own sin, God is still for us. We often experience consequences for our sin, but He still pursues us. The sin of the Israelites, over and over, was their lack of trust in the Lord (Deuteronomy 1:29-33). I believe that the reason this was the sin that God seemed to focus on is that trust is directly tied to relationship. He is more interested in our trust, our relationship with Him, than He is in our perfection and good behavior.

When I am floundering, fighting my sinful flesh at every turn, my spirit willing but my flesh so frustratingly weak, He is for me. The enemy, the accuser, would have us run away in shame, but the Lord is ever for us, ready to clothe us with dignity and strength. Just as He responded to Adam and Eve's sin by creating clothing for them, so He clothes us when we run to Him instead of hiding. We are clothed with righteousness because we are clothed with the most righteous one of all: Jesus Christ, Himself:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 
Galatians 3:26-27

Oh, what a Savior! May we accept the grace extended to us because of who He is, not based on our own merit, that we may live the abundant lives He desires for us.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

reflections on Embody Love Movement



Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend an Embody Love Movement workshop. It was better, more intense, and more personalized than I had expected.

At the beginning, as we established ground rules that would help us feel safe sharing and being vulnerable, I already knew I was in trouble. What will I have to share and be vulnerable about?I wondered. Thankfully, the other women who attended summoned up the courage to do the hard work of sharing and being vulnerable as they confronted the negative self-talk that we all seem to battle.  Their vulnerability and courage made me feel safer, though it was still challenging.

We talked about body image and the effects of culture and the media on how we view ourselves as women, as well as the negative messages we tell ourselves when we look into the mirror. We also talked about how to turn those negative messages into positive, true, empowering messages about who we are as women, not just what we look like.

The workshop tied in perfectly with what I have been learning about shame and vulnerability. The messages we tell ourselves often stem from a lie that runs rampant: "I'm not _____ enough," or put more simply, "I am not enough." In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown asserts that the feeling of "not enough" is at the very heart of shame. The workshop provided practice for me in living in what Brown calls "wholeheartedness."

As I left, feeling drained but filled, I invited God into my thoughts and thanked Him for taking me through an exercise that provided practical application for the truths He has been teaching me. I am amazed over and over again at where He is taking me on this journey that was (and is) clearly His idea.

I will close with my personal reflection--a sort of manifesto--on shame and vulnerability.

I am beloved. I am enough.

My weakness opens me to compassion, awareness, vulnerability, and growth.

My body is beautiful and powerful, carrying out all the beauty my heart and mind want to act upon.

My vulnerability is brave, regardless of the outcome.

I need the support of others who love me and also need my support.

Healthy boundaries help me to keep out the bad and let in the good.

God is glorified in me and in my life and growth.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

as you are






I have noticed that my eyes are sometimes so drawn to the sub-headings in my Bible, I forget to read one section as being connected to the next, which can greatly impact or deepen the meaning. Recently I read two familiar, consecutive sections of Hebrews and realized that I had never stopped to notice the significance of linking them together.

Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

These two verses make me uncomfortable. My first instinct is to hide the things of which I am ashamed. The fact that "no creature" is hidden from His sight, all things are naked and open to His eyes, and He discerns the thoughts and intents of my heart immediately brings up all the things in my mind and heart that I would rather leave alone, hidden in the dark spaces. The problem is that even when they are hidden, they still manage to slip out in my words, actions, attitudes, and priorities, but those things are easier to brush aside than the darkness that lies beneath them. We are so good at pretending, and others mostly don't want to deal with the awkwardness of these dark places in us, so they are often just as happy to look the other way or make excuses for us as we are happy to pretend that the darkness is either non-existent or not that dark.

In order to enjoy real healing and change, we must deal with the dark places. We certainly can experience suffering due to circumstances outside of our control, but our own imperfect responses to adversity may stem from areas that need healing. The problem of shame remains, though-- assuming that we can move out of denial and confront our own brokenness, how then do we deal with the shame of it? The exposure of the darkness necessarily reveals our inability to fix the problem on our own, but our shame often keeps us from showing our brokenness to others.

The very next two verses in Hebrews, which my Bible organizes into a separate section under a new sub-heading, provide a solution to the problem of shame. Hebrews 4:14-16 says,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in a time of need.

God doesn't deal with our brokenness the way we do. We tend to either minimize it or become crushed under the weight of it when we get a glimpse of just how broken we are. The Lord neither ignores the darkness within us nor despises us for it. Just as an injury must be exposed before it can be treated, our brokenness must be laid bare before the one who sees all things, including our thoughts and intentions. This would be a terrifying reality if it were not for the truth of Hebrews 4:14-16-- the perfect One who sees all is also able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He Himself was tempted just as we are, though He did not sin. He does not view our darkness with hatred towards us, though He is perfect. "He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14) and knows from experience what it is like to be tempted. He understands our pain and suffering and has great compassion for our brokenness.

In Abba's Child, Brennan Manning discusses how we often project our feelings about ourselves onto God, assuming that He has the same hatred towards us that we sometimes have towards ourselves. Just as we do not know how to bear honestly facing our darkness and sin without being crushed under the weight of it, we also have difficulty fathoming the depth of His great compassion for us. He is perfect and sovereign, in control of all, but He is good and kind and compassionate, ready to draw out the sin and pain in order to heal us. He desires to heal our hurts, to make us whole, to bind up our broken hearts, all because of His love and for His glory.

I have tried the denial and the hiding and the ignorance due to my own immaturity. I have tried to work really hard to be really good. When I came to a point in my life where I was confronted with how not good I was, despite all my efforts, I went through a season of feeling crushed under the weight of it and was wracked with guilt and shame. If this is the place where you find yourself, you are in the perfect position to receive His love, healing, and compassion and to experience the immeasurable joy of knowing His goodness as you never have before. 

Whether you are a perfectionist like me who is realizing that not only will you never be perfect, you will never be "good" on your own, or someone who has stopped taking risks and given in to a life of sin, pain, and self-destruction because you are so filled with your own shame, God is ready to meet you where you are. I believe that He allows us to come crashing down so that we will be confronted with our desperate need for Him, which is the only way to get the healing and wholeness we crave. If we take small steps towards bringing our hurt and sin and shame to Him, we will find that He is infinitely more patient and compassionate towards us than we are towards ourselves.

He is the God Who Sees, and He sees you. This can terrify us until we come to know, in a personal way, that He is also the compassionate High Priest described in Hebrews 4. Come to Him, you who are weary and carry the heavy burden of sin, shame, and hurt, and in Him you will find rest. Take one small step toward Him, and just see what He will do. I am overjoyed to be joining the cloud of witnesses who have exchanged their songs of hurt and shame and despair for a song of His goodness that plays like an undercurrent running through my veins. If you haven't already, I hope you will join the chorus of the ones He has redeemed. Wherever you find yourself, He says to you, "Come."






Friday, May 26, 2017

carried



In one of his sermons, our pastor talked about how we should be compelled to share the Gospel because, as the word means, it is good news. Sometimes in my fear of making other people uncomfortable, I forget that the news I have to share is good. Today after I was studying Joshua chapter 6, which sent me back to Deuteronomy chapter 1, I am so excited to share with you what I learned because this is very GOOD NEWS!

In Joshua chapter 6, the Lord gives Joshua instructions for how the Israelites are to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days in a procession that is to include the armed men, the priests holding the ark, and the rear guard. On the seventh day, they are to march around the city seven times, and then blow horns and give a great shout after the seventh time, at which point the Lord would cause the city walls to come crashing down. When the Lord does this, it is the long-awaited fulfillment of His promise to the Israelites as stated in Deuteronomy chapter 1. After the Lord had delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, Deuteronomy 1:21 says,

Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.

In Deuteronomy, after the instruction to possess the land, the people sent spies into the land, initially with the stated purpose to scope out the land and the best route. However, the Israelites then refused to take possession of it, saying,

...'Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven..."
Deuteronomy 1:27-28

Sometimes after the Lord delivers us from something terrible and difficult, the next trial that looms in front of us can bring up painful memories of past difficulties.  It can be easy to allow the greatness of the adversity to overshadow the miracle of the Lord's presence and deliverance. We must learn to shift our gaze to the Lord so that we will not fall into this trap of unbelief.

My firstborn was not an easy baby. She did not have any serious health problems but had great difficulty with eating and sleeping due to acid reflux and food allergies, was premature, and had colic. A dear friend recently said that when my husband and I became parents, it was baptism by fire. I have never entered a season with so much shock as I did during the transition to motherhood. 

A couple years later, when she had blessedly grown out of all the problems she had as an infant, I was driving by the hospital we had gone to so many times to see the GI doctor. Driving the familiar route from the hospital back to our house triggered a memory of a very stressful appointment my daughter had when she was about 4 months old. She had been in the middle of one her her terrible colic episodes where she was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs as though she were in terrible pain, and nothing I could do made it stop. She screamed as I took her out of the car and carried her into the building and continued screaming during an awkward ride in the elevator with one other person who must have wondered what on earth was wrong with my baby (welcome to the club!). As I remembered that day, I felt the stress and anxiety of it wash over me. Suddenly I felt Lord quietly reminding me that although that event had indeed happened, I was remembering the drive to the hospital, not the drive home. Through my memory, he took me back through that day, which was a snapshot of a season full of anxiety.

My husband had left work to meet me for the appointment, which my daughter screamed through, making it difficult to hear the doctor. By the time the appointment was over, I was so frazzled, I felt like I could not face the drive home with her screaming in the back seat. My husband offered to miss even more work so he could drive her back to our house, giving me a much-needed 20 minutes of silence alone in my car. You were remembering the drive to the hospital, the Lord seemed to say, not the drive home. The drive home was blessedly quiet and gave me the chance to calm down and gather myself because the Lord had graciously provided me with a husband who was so involved and engaged as a parent, he came to most of our daughter's many doctor appointments, and he was so in tune with me, he gave up even more of his time to help out when I needed it most. Sometimes the Lord's provision looks like a sudden miraculous deliverance, like when He parted the Red Sea, and other times, it looks like His gentle reminders of the people He divinely placed in your life to help you in the midst of your struggles. Either way, we need Him to help us fix our gaze on Him and on how He provided in the midst of our distress because it is so easy to become distracted by the circumstances. 

Though the Lord had done a miracle in delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians, I'm sure they still had memories of the suffering they experienced when they were enslaved. Perhaps the memory of the suffering had eclipsed the memory of His deliverance. Deuteronomy 1:29-31 is the beautiful response to the Israelites' complaints about their enemy:

...'Do not be terrified, nor afraid of them. The LORD your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eye, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.'

Though God's people complained and did not believe Him when He said He would fight for them, the battle of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6 is a miraculous fulfillment of His promise, delayed by their unbelief but fulfilled, nevertheless.

When I had my second daughter, she had many similar problems with acid reflux, eating, and sleeping, though most were not as severe as my firstborn's. When I took my second daughter to see the same GI doctor we had seen before, my firstborn came along. Though I was frustrated to find myself quite literally back in the same place, I gazed with joy on my healthy, happy, joyful 4 year old, my beautiful reminder of God's grace and provision, and I suddenly knew the peace of one who has seen the goodness of God in the midst of adversity. He did not make the problems go away immediately, but regardless of how He would handle it in His wisdom, I had a living, breathing testament to His goodness. Now that I am again past a second round of that difficult season, I can say two things with honesty and certainty: the suffering was significant and unpleasant, but He was faithful to provide.

When we are in the midst of the suffering, I pray that the Lord would open our eyes to see that "He carries us, as a man carries his son." When everything around you is falling apart, may you rest with the peace of the one who is carried by the Lord. We do not have the promise of an easy life, but may we cling to the promises we do have, as stated in Deuteronomy 1:29-31-- the Lord goes before you, He will fight for you, and He will carry you, His precious child. You may have a difficult road looming in the distance, but rest assured that as a child of the Father of compassion, you will be carried.

Monday, May 22, 2017

made for surrender



I've heard it said that the areas of our lives over which we find ourselves grasping for control are the areas where we feel the most anxious. My tendency to over prepare for any new situation is how I deal with the anxiety of the unknown. However, like many things, God's wisdom in this matter is the opposite of my human tendencies. Trying harder has never been an effective solution for me spiritually; my coping mechanism of creating the illusion of control actually adds to my anxiety because instead of being present and taking hold of whatever joy is to be had at the moment, I'm busily preparing by thinking of all the things that could potentially go wrong. Paradoxically, I have experienced the greatest peace when I stopped trying so hard and leaned into the strength of the Lord. When we let go of the belief that we can or should be in control, we leave room for the only One who is ever really in control to come and fight our battles for us with perfect wisdom, strength, and goodness. Though we think we want to be in charge, we cannot experience true joy, peace, and fulfillment when we are living for control; we were made for surrender. 


Sometimes I want to go back to "past Lindsay" and take hold of her hand and bless her little heart. If I could talk to her, I would gather her up in my lap and say, "Bless your heart, you are so weary from striving. Don't despise the many weaknesses you see in yourself but lean into His strength. He loves all of you and is infinitely more patient with you than you are with yourself. Let Him do the work that you are trying so hard to do on your own."


At the end of Joshua 5, after the Israelites obeyed the Lord by circumcising the adult males and then observed the Passover, it was time to prepare for battle. Joshua was near Jericho, where the battle would begin, when he looked up and saw a man dressed for battle, holding a drawn sword. Joshua 5:13-15 says, 

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

I think it is possible that Joshua was simultaneously courageous and in need of reassurance in this passage. The Lord had commanded him to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9), and anything He requires of us, He is able and faithful to bring about when we submit to Him. Thus far, Joshua had shown courage in following the Lord's instructions (including religious observances in the midst of enemy territory) and preparing for battle. Many times when people in the Bible ask God a direct question, His response seems odd to me at first glance. I have come to believe that this is because He listens to whatever is at the heart of our questions, rather than what is on the surface, and speaks directly to what we are really seeking to know. Perhaps Joshua's question demonstrated both a submission to the Lord's instructions to be ready for battle as well as a need for reassurance that God was with him. His response to Joshua is a reminder that God is sovereign over all, always on the side of truth and goodness and justice. Instead of inviting Him along to help us as we forge ahead, we do much better follow wherever He leads. He loves us and is for us, but we benefit most when we go beyond inviting Him to be on our side and instead make the decision to be on His.

Joshua's response (worshiping and asking what the Lord's message is) shows humility and reverence. As he humbled himself before the commander of the army of the Lord (believed by many to be the preincarnate Jesus), he was told to take off his sandals because he is on holy ground. Holy ground is made holy by the presence of God; this is a reassurance to Joshua that God is with him. The similarity of this instruction to God's instruction to Moses in the burning bush incident indicates a confirmation that as God was with Moses, so He would be with Joshua. God has such great patience with our fear, doubts, and insecurity. Though He had already called Joshua and given him instructions, He provided the reassurance of His presence on the eve of battle. Perhaps Joshua struggled with feelings of insecurity as the leader of the Israelite army and needed the reminder that the Lord, the greatest and most perfect army general, was the One who was truly in control. 

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we do not turn a blind eye on our weaknesses, nor do we idolize them as being greater than what God can redeem. We allow our faults and imperfections to come to light, trusting that God will work in us and through as just as He said He would. Those He calls, He equips, though the equipping may look different than we would imagine. We are best equipped for spiritual battle when we have relinquished control and come to a place of complete dependence upon the Lord, who was always and rightfully the One in control, in the first place. 

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.

--1 Chronicles 29:11-12