Sunday, August 26, 2018

when Jesus passes you by

Have you ever had the feeling that Jesus is passing you by as He is on His way to perform a miracle for someone else? Have you ever seen someone receive the answer to the very prayer that you have prayed for a painfully long time? What a confusing, difficult, and painful experience this can be for those who know and love Jesus!

After I had a miscarriage, I was ashamed to admit the ugly but plain truth that it was painful for me to see others enjoying healthy pregnancies and healthy newborns. A friend’s complaints about the normal discomforts of pregnancy highlighted a root of bitterness in me. I would love to have a pregnancy to complain about, I thought. I felt a deeper sadness with the approach of what should have been the due date for my baby, and other babies born close to that time were a reminder of what I was missing.

In Acts chapter 3, we are introduced to a man who has been paralyzed for over 40 years— since the day he was born. Every day, his friends would bring him to the gate of the temple to beg for money because he was unable to work for a living. Because he was over 40 years old at this point in the narrative, we can surmise that he was a contemporary of Jesus. Surely Jesus passed by the paralyzed man more than once while the man sat begging at the temple gate. It seems likely that the man would have heard of and perhaps even witnessed Jesus healing others who were blind, lame, and deaf. I wonder whether he ever spoke to Jesus or asked for healing.

When we are in the midst of painful circumstances, our pain is sometimes exacerbated when we see others receiving and even taking for granted the thing that we are seeking so desperately—a healthy body, a joyful marriage, a successful and fulfilling career, a healthy child, healing from mental illness…the list goes on and on. 

Sometimes when we have been hurt deeply or our prayers have gone unanswered for a long time, we stop asking God for a miracle because the possibility of disappointment is too painful. Depending on our unique circumstances and personalities, we find ways to cope and learn to live our lives with something missing, broken, or unfulfilled. The paralyzed man in Acts 3 was unable to work for an income, so he learned to cope with his disability by begging for money. He sat there day after day, completely dependent upon the generosity of others, possibly even watching Jesus pass by multiple times throughout his life. How unseen he must have felt! With each baby shower invitation and each pregnancy complaint spoken to me during my time of grief, I felt unseen. Doesn’t anyone care or notice that I’m hurting?

Perhaps the man continued to hope for healing until the death of Jesus. When Jesus no longer came (physically) to the temple, maybe the man resigned himself to a life of begging, if he had not done so already. After more than 40 years of being paralyzed, he carried on with his routine of asking for money when Peter and John approached the temple. Verse 4 says that Peter and John “looked intently” at the man. After being passed by countless times for decades—for his entire life—this man, his suffering, and his present condition, were seen. Then, Peter said, “Look at us!” I wonder if the man, so unused to being noticed as anything other than a permanent fixture at the temple gate, could hardly bear Peter and John’s direct gaze. 

Let’s pause the story for a moment. If this narrative is uncomfortably familiar to you, if you are in the midst of suffering that has gone on for far too long, if you have been waiting for your miracle so long that you’ve ceased asking for or expecting it, if you are hurting because Jesus seems to be passing you by on His way to answer the prayers of others around you, listen carefully. 

Look at me. 

If you and I were sitting across the table from each other, I would look you in the eyes and tell you with all the conviction that I have, 

God has not forgotten you. 

You are no less precious to Him than the friend who just had her healthy baby while you continue to wait for a positive pregnancy test. You are no less visible to Him than the co-worker who got the promotion that you worked and hoped and prayed for. You are no less worthy than the person who got the “cancer free” report while you are gearing up for your next chemo session. 

God. Has. NOT. Forgotten. You.

Isaiah 49:15 says, 

[The Lord answered] “Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.

You matter to Jesus.

He sees you.

He has a plan for you that is unique and beautiful. 

Let’s return to Acts 3. After Peter told the man to look, the man gave them his attention. Peter responded by saying that he had no money to give but would give what he does have:

…In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 
-Acts 3:6-8

After over 40 years, this man was healed immediately. Forty years of disability disappeared in one miraculous, holy moment. The temple gate, where the man’s weakness and disability had been on public display for decades, suddenly became a platform for the public display of his healing, and people noticed. Verses 9 and 10 say:

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Because the man had been there so long as such a permanent fixture at the temple gate, the people recognized him and were amazed at his healing. His weakness had been on display for all to see, but so was his miraculous deliverance.

He followed Peter and John into the temple, where Peter pointed the onlookers’ gaze to Jesus, the author of the miracle they had just witnessed. Peter used the miracle to help reveal who Jesus was (and is) and to encourage the people to repent and turn to Jesus “so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). In Acts 4, we see that as a result of the miracle and Peter’s message, many who heard the Gospel message believed, and the number of the men was about 5,000. The paralyzed man’s physical healing was the catalyst for 5,000 people’s spiritual healing.

I don’t know where you are, but I can say with confidence that God does. He hears your prayers, and He sees you even as He may seem to pass by you while you sit, paralyzed, and wait on Him. He knows your weakness and hurt, your vulnerability when your lack seems to be on an embarrassing display for others to witness. 

If that’s you, I have good news. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, our suffering is not in vain. I don’t know what His plan is for you, but I know that it is better than anything we could imagine on our own. The answers to our prayers may seem to be greatly delayed or may come in different ways than we asked for or expected, but He sees you and He is faithful. If you are still waiting for your miracle, your healing, your deliverance, keep holding on. He may just be lingering to wait for the crowd of 5,000 to gather and bear witness to His glory in your life as you rise up on those paralyzed legs and dance in His praise. Keep asking, hoping, and trusting, and get your dancing shoes ready.

Friday, August 17, 2018

the 5-letter word that no one wants to talk about

I was at a coffee shop one night, enjoying the luxury of catching up on some adult conversation with a friend while our children were at home. I told her I was writing my first book, and being the supportive friend that she is, she asked eagerly, “What’s it about?” I answered, “Shame.” 

I was caught off-guard when her smile faded, her eyebrows crinkled into a look of concern. “Oh, Lindsay. Why? What’s wrong?” This was the first of several conversations with other people who responded similarly, as if they wondered, “What terrible thing happened to make you feel ashamed?” 

Shame is the five letter word that no one wants to fess up to.

I had had no idea that shame was a problem for me until the Lord revealed it through scripture study. Then, as I studied the work of Brené Brown, I began to understand that though we may not like to admit it, we all experience shame (with the exception of sociopaths).

Shame is the fear of losing connection with others due to our perceived unworthiness. Guilt results from a discrepancy between our values and our behavior (i.e., “I’ve done a bad thing”) and motivates us to change. Shame is when I feel that I am a bad person and am unworthy of love. This feeling is so devastating that it is difficult to move from shame to a change in behavior. Our instinct is to cover up rather than lean into the pain of allowing our shame to be revealed. We use various coping strategies to protect ourselves when we feel ashamed, such as people pleasing, deceit, boasting, feigning apathy, defensiveness, withdrawing, and hustling for worthiness as we place our self-worth in accomplishments. When shame prevents us from dealing openly and honestly with sin, we can’t experience the abundant life God offers. 

Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11 says:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Four truths from this passage can help us deal with shame in a healthy way.

1.    God is good.This is so simple and overly familiar to seasoned believers, but many of us perceive God as waiting to catch us misbehaving so that He can retaliate. Verse 7 says that He is treating us as his children when He disciplines us. We need to know and believe, deep down, that nothing we can do will cause us to lose favor with the Lord once we belong to Him. All discipline from the Lord is for our good. When we struggle with this, we can ask God to reveal His goodness and we can study His character in scripture. He delights to reveal Himself to those who seek Him.

2.    You are not the exception. Verse 8 says, “…and everyone undergoes discipline…” (emphasis added). One of the lies shame tells us is that we are the exception. Other people may experience God’s love and forgiveness, but shame tells us that we cannot or will not, that our sin is worse, our shame runs deeper. Shame does not want to be spoken, so one of the most effective ways to deal with it is to connect with someone you trust who will listen without judgment and say, “Me too.” When we connect with others who are open about their struggles, shame loses its power to isolate us.

3.    If you want the inheritance, you have to have the discipline. Verse 8 also says, "If you are not disciplined…then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” A true son or daughter has inheritance rights. When God reconciled us to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we (believers) became coheirs with Christ. We have an inheritance of abundant life that God desires us to experience here and now, but the way to accepting the inheritance comes through the refining chastening of the Lord.

4.    Shame does not lead to righteousness and peace. Verse 11 says that though discipline is painful at the time, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. Shame keeps us from taking an honest look at our sin and bringing it before the Lord. As we are refined through trials, God allows us to experience the painful process of having our sin exposed so that He can heal and forgive us. This process sanctifies us and moves us toward our inheritance of righteousness and peace.

Though shame is part of the human experience, we can learn to move more quickly to bringing our shame to Jesus for healing as we grow in faith and trust in His goodness.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

-Hebrews 4:15-16

Thursday, June 14, 2018

FREEBIE for tired mamas of sleepless littles!

Hey to all the tired mamas out there! I am very familiar with the havoc wreaked on the entire household by sleepless night after sleepless night. Sleep affects our mood, energy level, patience, physical health, mental health, emotional health... all the healths. Need I go on? You know what I'm talking about. There is no tired like mama-of-kids-who-don't-sleep tired. One kid who doesn't sleep well makes life tough, and when you start adding multiple non-sleepers, it just gets crazy. It's hard to think about anything else except how you are going to survive the day on so little sleep. I knew things were going downhill today when I kept saying, to myself, "It's fine. It's fine. It's fine..."

Fellow tired mama here with something that might help you out! Our girls are now almost 7 and 2.5 years old, and I'd say at least one of them is up at least one time in the night about 2/3 of the time. On bad nights, which occur far too frequently, both girls are up at once or tag team so that I am awake for most of the night. I could (and did, actually! ha!) write a book about the reasons they are up, but I don't want to get into that now. For now, I want to share with you something that I am hoping will be helpful. As a side note, this is not intended to help you with infants, who are wired to be up in the middle of the night, or for children who have legitimate needs which need to be addressed. This is for your run-of-the-mill kiddo who is in the habit of waking frequently at night and wants you to join in the slumber party.

After another rough night last night, I decided we needed a better battle plan so that grumpy, incoherent, middle-of-the-night-Lindsay isn't the one trying to figure out how to handle it. In an effort to be proactive, I sat down with my almost-7 year old and we brainstormed all the things we could think of that she could do (instead of coming to wake up Mommy and Daddy) when she wakes up in the night. We came up with 27 ideas (if my counting is correct... my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain is difficult to trust) that she wrote and illustrated on sticky notes (pictured above). I decided to make a printable chart to share in case that might be helpful to other desperate, sleep-deprived parents. She enjoyed coming up with ideas, and I'm hoping this will alleviate her tendency to panic when she wakes up while everyone else is sleeping. I made one chart with words only and lots of ideas for readers/elementary-aged children, and then a simpler chart for pre-readers that has just a few words and room for them to draw a picture underneath.

You could cut these out to make cards, leave it as a chart, have your child create a poster or book, or do anything your wild, creative-mama mind can imagine. Here is the chart I created with some of our ideas to get you started. If you try it, let me know how it works! Hang in there, super moms! Praying for sweet sleep for you and for strength, patience, creativity, and endurance in the mean time! Maybe a girls' night out, too.

Monday, June 11, 2018

the unexpected path to delight

Do you ever feel like you are full of contradictions, all wrapped up in one body? I am both a people-pleasing conflict avoider and *at times* a stubbornly argumentative aggressor, which can be confusing but makes more sense in light of my Enneagram number (6). I want to please others but sometimes just cannot seem to stop myself from getting into an argument about something that’s important to me. I inevitably feel embarrassed if not ashamed after these encounters and feel a bit like my evil twin took over my brain, upset some people, and then left me to deal with the fallout. Because I know this about myself, I’m working on showing better restraint and giving myself time to think before reacting, which has proven difficult but beneficial. In my anxiety, I feel an almost uncontrollable need to be in control (of myself and my environment, rather than be controlled), which expresses itself as scurrying about, preparing for the worst case scenario, and letting myself feel like I am doing something about whatever disaster awaits.

Recently, I had been fretting over an upcoming situation that was going to thrust me into uncomfortable proximity with someone with whom I have a challenging relationship. The clash of the other person’s unhealthy boundaries with my unhealthy boundaries can make for an unpleasant, unproductive time together. I find myself trapped in a pattern of trying to please the un-please-able and then feeling angry that all my efforts to behave well have been ineffective. I have trouble asserting myself in a firm but healthy manner without the motivational nudge—ok, shove— of anger. Lord, help me.

So. Now that you can see what a picnic I am, I want to tell you about what happens when God enters the picture. In order to appreciate the greatness of the Lord, you have to appreciate the imperfection He has to work with in yours truly.

I’ve prayed often about this relationship and asked for God to change my heart. As I was anticipating the upcoming situation, I woke up a few days before the Big Day and read Exodus 14:14:

The LORD will fight for you while you [only need to] keep silent and remain calm.
-Exodus 14:14 (Amplified version)

I had been so focused on praying about what to DO, I guess I forgot a little that God is doing something, unseen and unbeknownst to me, without my help. I was asking for help so I could do something about all the turmoil I anticipated but had forgotten that He might already be doing something.

I am crazy in love with Jesus, but I still sometimes have an underlying, quiet, subtle belief that He doesn’t care too much about my silly affairs because He has more important things to tend to. How easily I forget how smitten He is with His children!

Certainly, some situations call for action, while others call for waiting quietly and expectantly on the Lord. However, even when a situation does call for action, I no longer want to be a slave to my impulses and personality—the default settings that are programmed into my brain. I want my responses—whether they include action or restraint— to be chosen, intentional responses, not thoughtless reactions. So often what seems good to me in the moment is actually detrimental, and what seems harmful at first glance is sometimes wise and mature boundary setting in the long term. Because I can’t always count on myself to choose wisely, especially when emotions are running high, I need to cultivate a holy dependence on the Lord for direction. When He doesn’t give a clear answer, I can rely on what I know about His character, His word, past experience, and a healthy dose of common sense. Sometimes when I pause and listen, though, He takes me down a very different path than I would have chosen on my own.

I decided to trust that He is fighting for me, that He sees and knows and cares and has it under control. I chose to keep silent and remain calm when I wanted to speak up, assert myself, and get all worked up.

That decision, which I felt peace about only because He said He was fighting for me, freed up my mind and energy to enjoy the delights that were right before me: my firstborn’s newly toothless grin and the way my two year old scrunches up her nose, crinkles her eyes, shrugs her shoulders, and beams at me whenever we make eye contact, love oozing from every part of her teeny tiny being.

I finished the day feeling deeply grateful, fulfilled, and delighted as I sat in silence in His presence. More often than I’d like to admit, I have hard time being present with Him and with those whom I love, but this day, it felt easy and good. He pulled back the curtain and gave me a glimpse of the delight that awaits when I follow His lead, which in this instance meant keeping silent and remaining calm, trusting that He is fighting for me.* The scurrying, worrying, and mental chatter dissipated, and the joy that was set before me was almost more than I could bear. 

When I lean on His wisdom, I am actually in more control than when I clamor for control that wasn't mine in the first place. When He leads the way, my reactions become thoughtful responses, which gives me control over the only thing that is mine to control: my own wild self. All of that previously wasted energy spent trying to manage what is not mine to manage (i.e., situations and the feelings and behaviors of others) becomes available to enjoy a quiet mind, a calm demeanor, peace in relationships, and the beauty the Lord has set before me.

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
-Psalm 25:4-5

*I want to emphasize that “keeping silent and remaining calm” is absolutely NOT the right thing to do in every situation. We must ask the Lord for discernment and courage to speak up, stand up, and take action when He leads us to. In this particular situation, my speaking up would not have added anything beneficial to the situation.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

the welcoming prayer: how (and why) to welcome pain

One of the most comforting pieces of encouragement I ever received was from a friend who came to visit me in the hospital. I was wrestling with grief after a miscarriage, recovering from an emergency surgery, and still waiting anxiously for the doctor to figure out what was wrong in my body, which stubbornly refused to let go of a failed pregnancy. I was sad, angry, bitter, envious, emotionally exhausted, and afraid as I lie uncomfortably in my hospital bed. I remember watching nurses, doctors, and visitors walking quickly and effortlessly about the room while I felt envy creeping into my heart. I was envious of their healthy bodies, allowing them to perform normal, every day tasks while I was in too much pain to get up and walk across the tiny room. Pain has a way of freezing time so that it’s hard to remember what it feels like to be pain-free or to even imagine that a day without pain will come again. 

On top of all the feelings, of course, was the shame. I felt ashamed for feeling bitter as I listened to the cries of newborns coming from the rooms nearby. I imagined the other mothers on the postpartum floor counting the tiny fingers and toes of their healthy babies, smelling that sweet newborn scent. I felt ashamed for feeling envious of the healthy people who came in and out of my room even as they worked so hard to keep me comfortable and take care of me in the midst of my doctor’s uncertainty. I felt ashamed of my unwashed, unkempt body as each new visitor arrived. I surveyed their makeup, attractive outfits, and washed and styled hair as I pulled the sheets of the hospital bed up higher over my pregnant-but-not-pregnant, recovering-from-surgery body. 

Perhaps most of all, I felt ashamed of my anxiety. I was ashamed that I didn’t have more faith in God to take care of me while the doctor seemed to fumble her way through trying to figure out what to do with me. If I had more faith, surely I would be able to rest in the peace of knowing that God’s will would be done. But alas, the anxiety overwhelmed me, and I could not get past this cocktail of negative emotions. It could have been a chance for me to minister to others by showing how peaceful I remained in the midst of adversity, but clearly, I was failing. 

Then this friend came. I knew her from church but hadn’t spent a lot of time talking with her before. She shared with me about her own experience with miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. She shared in my grief and then said the thing I didn’t know I was desperate to hear: “Sometimes, well-meaning people will tell you ‘It’s going to be ok.’ Sometimes, it’s not ok.” The flood of relief overpowered every other emotion and I felt validated and free— free to grieve, free to hurt, free to be angry, and free from the shame of it all. I had had no idea how healing it would be to give myself permission to have these feelings without attaching shame to them.

In the beginning of the book of Job, we meet a wealthy, godly man who very suddenly loses everything and everyone who is dear to him. Verse 21 records his oft-lauded response:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
 And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

That’s the kind of response I wished I could muster up. I wanted so much to put on a brave face and be like Job, proclaiming God’s goodness in the midst of my suffering. However, as I was studying this passage recently, I realized I had not given much attention to the previous verse. Job 1:20 says,

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.

My Nelson Study Bible notes that first, Job “showed intense grief according to the accepted custom of his day.” Job did worship the Lord, but first, he allowed himself to grieve deeply. In our culture, we try to suppress, ignore, and push through grief, but God did not make our hearts to operate that way. We were created to be emotional beings and to allow ourselves to enter into the vulnerability of loving and caring so much about someone that our hearts break when we lose them. When we cover up our pain instead of acknowledging it, we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience healing from the Lord, slow though it may be.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a workshop called “Sustainable Spiritual Practices” led by Reverend Joe Stabile at Life in the Trinity Ministry. One of the spiritual practices he explained is called “Welcoming Prayer.” He talked about that moment between when something triggering happens and when we experience an intense emotional response. In that moment, we can choose to respond rather than react. The Welcoming Prayer is a tool to help us with this. It has three very simple steps: first, you focus on the way your body is responding. You notice that maybe your shoulders are tense, your jaw is clenched, your heart is pounding, or your stomach is churning. In this first step, you give full attention to your body’s response to stress. Next, you identify what you are feeling and welcome it: “Welcome, pain,” or “Welcome, anger,” or “Welcome, ________.” Rev. Stabile says that when we welcome the emotion, we disarm it so that it loses its power. You can read a practical example of a time when I learned to disarm shame by welcoming it here. Last, we let the emotion go. We may not be able to change the circumstance, but we can acknowledge, welcome, and let go of stress so that we can choose a response instead of being slaves to reaction.

Our tendency is to move too quickly to the step of letting go. These stressful emotions are uncomfortable and sometimes shame-inducing, so we try to hide them or push them down, but repressing them gives them more control over us. In that moment between the triggering event and our reaction, our bodies give us helpful information about what is going on in our hearts. After we name the feelings and allow them to reside in us, we can eventually let them go so that, despite our lingering pain, we can choose a response instead of a reaction. My study Bible says that when Job “fell to the ground and worshiped,” this was a deliberate action. After he acknowledged and welcomed his grief, he was able to make the choice to worship the Lord. Though Job’s difficulties were far from over, his ability to grieve freely and then make the choice to worship God set him on a path to healing and restoration. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s be mindful of our words to those who are grieving. In a culture that says grief and pain and anger are bad, let’s help disarm shame by showing up to hospitals and funerals and coffee shops and Bible studies and living rooms and front porches of those who are hurting and say, “Sometimes, it’s not ok.” Let’s listen and validate as we pray with them and wait on the Lord to comfort, strengthen, and heal. We never know when our presence and validation of their pain might help lift the heavy burden of shame as an important step toward healing.