Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Quarantine Queries, #1: Let Patience Make Room for Peace

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart…
And to try to love the questions themselves, 
as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.
Don’t search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then,
someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

During this global pandemic, the whole world seems to have turned upside down. The city I live in has issued a "shelter-in-place" through April 30th. People everywhere are figuring out how to deal with something no one living has ever experienced before. As we all fumble our way through this temporary but drastic challenge to business-as-usual, we have so many questions. As a 6 on the Enneagram, I am an expert question-asker. I thought I would start a blog series based on some of the big questions that arise during this uncertain time.

Question #1: What do I do with my anxiety?

Last night, during our virtual gathering with Greater Love Collective, my dear friend shared this quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and guided us through the practice of lectio divina, which involves repeated readings (or listening) of a passage accompanied with meditation and response to the words. On the second reading, the phrase “have patience” leapt out at me. I sat there at my tiny desk, before a computer screen full of 16 other participants on the Zoom call, my eyes closed. I allowed myself to be enveloped by the love that is expressed through having patience with myself during this hard, weird time when I am not always responding to anxiety and (appropriate) fear as I would like to do.

I had been lamenting the difficulty of trying to steal a moment alone to make space for my thoughts and feelings without being interrupted by my children. Today, between interruptions, I felt God leading me to a particular page of a devotional called Jesus Always, by Sarah Young. I opened to the passage for March 4, as I felt directed, and was shocked when I saw that the very first sentence spoke about waiting patiently on the Lord. I was so relieved to find that when I stopped and paid attention, I knew that I knew deep in my spirit that God was paying attention. 

How interesting! I thought. I had assumed that I needed peace in the face of my anxiety, but God is inviting me into patience. And then I realized that peace does not come when I am impatient, scrambling to fix, move on, plan, and make things happen. Peace is not a thing to go get, but rather a thing to allow. It is ever available, though we often need help receiving it.

I am a little rusty on spiritual lessons in crisis, but I am remembering from my postpartum depression days that God can do a whole lot with the briefest of moments when life does not provide the time I wish I had to linger in God’s presence. So for now, in the midst of homeschooling, teaching classes online, mediating conflicts between my children, and generally trying to figure out how to carry on my regular duties during “shelter at home,” I am seizing these brief moments to notice, in the words of the wise Reverend Joseph Stabile, the secular infused with the sacred.

For the first time in the past week, I was able to quiet my mind long enough to relish unhurried time outside with my children, read a book, and lie on my back to look up at the trees. I noticed the shades of green tinted by sunlight and shadows that created a watercolor palette of spring colors. I closed my eyes and listened to the wind rustling the branches above me, felt the breeze move quietly across my face, and let myself be supported by the ground beneath me. Patience with an unprecedented global crisis, absent the need to do anything to fix it in this moment, made room for peace.

When the whole world is telling us that we must scramble and panic and “go get,” may we remember the sacred, ancient practice of allowing. When we allow, we release the temptation to make ourselves responsible for even knowing what we need in a given moment. Instead, we open ourselves to receive the very best that God has to offer us in that moment. Grace and peace to you, my friends.

*I'm much better at updating social media than I am at blogging! Find me over at:
Instagram: @shamelessbibliophile
Facebook: Rooted in Love
Twitter: @LindsayLOconnor

Friday, September 20, 2019

why lament?: how suffering precedes joy

Photo by nappy from Pexels
Great joy often accompanies birth and resurrection. I find it interesting that birth precedes death, and death precedes resurrection. Joy and grief, or life and death, are inextricably tied together, and we can’t fully appreciate one without the other. Expressions of greatest joy in the Bible are often found in stories with themes of birth and resurrection: the resurrection of Lazarus and the little girl in Mark 5; the birth of babies, particularly to barren women (barrenness is like a death that precedes birth); and then of course, the birth and resurrection of Jesus. To be joy-filled people, we have to reckon with death. When we have a joy problem, we likely also have a grief problem. 

Last night I attended an event put on by a local organization called Threaded. Threaded helps people, churches, and other organizations with issues related to racial reconciliation. Once a quarter, they have an event called “Reconcile,”where people from all different churches, denominations, races, and ethnicities come together to practice listening to and sharing diverse perspectives. They provided guiding questions that we used in our table discussions. Among other principles, they have a step based on the ideas of lament and confession, but the goal at the end is that it would all lead to rejoicing. Rejoicing is a natural byproduct of reconciliation done well. This is an example of lament as a necessary precursor to rejoicing, just as death is a necessary precursor to resurrection.

We usually think about grief and lament as the result of a loss of a loved one or the loss of some thing, which is certainly not wrong. However, we also need to make space to lament that life is not as it ought to be.* In the case of racial reconciliation, this is an important idea — the acknowledgement that things are not how they were meant to be or how God intended. The book of Genesis describes the garden of Eden, before sin. Revelation 21:1-5 says, 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 

With Genesis and Revelation, we see these bookends in the Bible of the way things are meant to be. The world started out the way God intended and will eventually be restored and made new. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. Deep down, we have a sense for the way things are supposed to be. It’s easy for us to be aware, even if subconsciously, that the world is broken, along with other people and ourselves. Lament is the appropriate response to the discrepancy between the reality versus the picture we have in the Bible and in our own hearts of how God intended for things to be.

As Christians, and especially in the western Evangelical Christian world, we focus heavily on salvation. Individual salvation is exalted as being more important than anything else in the Christian life. This is problematic because it leaves out a full, wholistic picture of the Gospel: way God created the world to be, the fall and the brokenness, and then the eventual restoration when God creates the new heaven and earth.**

Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven and says that it is not some distant future but is now:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
--Matthew 4:17

I used to be confused about what that meant. Even in the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I’m realizing that the Kingdom of God right now points to our work as believers: to allow God, through us, to restore things to the way God intended them to be. That restoration won’t be complete until God creates the new heaven and new earth. However, God uses the time we are born into, our experiences, resources, talents, strengths, and weaknesses to position us in a place where we can be restorers here and now, in very specific ways. That might look like restoring relationships, broken and oppressive systems, physical health, mental health, the environment, or restoring dignity to people who have been marginalized and oppressed. 

The specific ways we are called to be restorers are often tied to the areas of our lives where we have experienced the deepest pain and lament. The things that grieve our hearts the way that they grieve God’s tend to be the areas where we get to be restorers for other people. These are the places where we have the greatest empathy and compassion for others. 

Consider when we hear testimonies from people who have been in really hard places. Maybe they have experienced compete healing and freedom, or maybe they’re still in hard places but have learned how to walk through it with Emmanuel, God with us, and have learned to find joy in the midst of suffering. Sometimes the greatest joy we’ll hear these people speak about is when they get to a point that they are healed enough spiritually (maybe circumstances haven’t changed but they have been healed spiritually) that they get to be restorers and compassionate helpers to other people who are walking through similar trials. Ultimately, acknowledging and working through our own deep pain and suffering can lead to the greatest joy and fulfillment because that’s what we were made for. We were made to be reconcilers, just as Jesus reconciled us to Himself.

*...and yet, undaunted by Paula Rinehart and Connally Gilliam is a brand new book that explores this idea further. You can preorder it on Amazon here

**The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons was hugely instrumental in walking me through this idea and what it means to be a restorer.

Questions to consider:

  1. Where have you been? Think about times of your greatest joy and greatest pain and notice the timing. Do joy and grief seem to go together or is it more of a cycle? Do you see any patterns?
  2. Where are you right now? Are you experiencing joy, grief, apathy? What has put you in that place?
  3. How have you experienced healing, if you have?  
  4. OR what’s hard about right now? If you’re in the middle of it and it’s still raw, make space for yourself to be in that place.
  5. What is the healing that you have experienced and desire most for other people to experience?
  6. What do you notice in the world that grieves you the most?
  7. What are some specific places where you see that? In yourself, a friend or family member, a community? How have you been or could you be a restorer in that situation?
  8. What has given you or would give you the greatest joy with regard to this pain?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Guest Post by J.E. Berry: Why is Identity So Hard?

I am so excited to introduce you to my guest blogger for today, J. E. Berry! We know each other through an online Christian writers' group, and J.E. shares my heart for mothers. She is the author of a brand new book called Set Free to Be Set ApartYou can order it on Amazon here, and you can check out her website at JEBerryspeaks.com. You can find her on social media @jeberryspeaks The issue of identity is near and dear to my heart, so I am pleased to share her thoughts about why it can be so hard for us to grapple with our true identity. 

Why is identity so hard?

Who we believe ourselves to be, is the jumping point for everything we do. It determines what we do, how well we do it, and why we do it. However, if we have no grasp on who we truly are or are meant to be, no matter what we do we will lack fulfillment.
As a kid and young adult, I was so busy managing feelings and trauma that I had hardly any time to figure out who I was. I was recovering from childhood traumas as well as self-inflicted traumas. My identity was based on how I coped with life. It was so unstable. I couldn’t focus on finding who I really was because I was so busy just trying to maintain life in general. Though I had met Jesus as a child, so many things led me away from who I was in Him. Trying to name myself and live by my own rules simply kept me swerving off the path to truth.

Knowing who we are seems to be more farfetched for most of us than we would like. For the first third, half, or even most of our lives we can spend grappling with truth and lies of who we are. Growing up we tend to spend a lot of time imitating and feeling our way through life. Wondering through traditions, habits, what we have been taught, and examples set for us. It can take a life time for us to figure out exactly who we are if we are searching in our own right. The problem with the search for identity is that we usually start in the wrong places to begin with. We typically look to ourselves, and sometimes others. Both tactics are a waste of time and irrelevant when we take into consideration that our identity can only be found in the One who identified us in the first place. The Father. He created us and identified us as His own from the very beginning of it all. Without Him, we have no identity at all. We were made in His image and for His purposes. God knows who we are. We’re the ones playing catch-up. 
But, why is identity so hard?
It’s hard because we are inundated by an adversary who actively wants to label us everything other than what we have been called in Christ. When we struggle with identity, there is only one culprit who has anything to gain from us not knowing who we are. Our enemy, Satan. He knows that when we are unsure of who we are and whose we are, we lack the confidence we need to be effective in the Kingdom of God and in our personal lives. He knows that once we are sure of our heirship in Christ, we are certain to take the authority that comes with our re-born birth right. Identity is hard because we have an enemy with a distain for who we are. He wants to chain us to deception. He has a permanent assignment against our life. However as much as he pushes to keep us wrapped in false identities, we have a God who is an issuer of grace, revelation, and security. He is where we start.
Just like when we are born into the world, our birth in Christ comes with an issuance of identity. Not a job title, not a talent, but a declaration of who we are. Before Christ we are identified as lost, sinners, slaves to sin. Upon relationship with Christ we are identified as heirs, children of God. Everything we consist of is a continuation from that truth. We are who God says we are. Not what people say, the enemy says, or even who we say we are if it doesn’t align with what the Father says about us. We can only be found in Him. All else is a striving for the wind.
We combat false or confused identity by way of an infusion of the Truth. An infusion and continuous meditation on the Word of God. Scripture is the sword that cuts down every lie and strong hold that seeks to separate us from our identity and purposes in Christ. In Scripture, we are equipped with everything we need for us to walk in confident identity and fully purposed. However, if we do not intentionally devour and apply God’s word to our lives, who we are will be a continuous wonder. 
We have no need to wonder. 
Grab a hold of the Truth. Be freed in your redemption through Christ. Walk with your shoulders back, head high, chains off, crown on.

J.E. Berry
J.E. Berry is the author of Set Free to be Set Apart Now available for purchase !

Meet J.E. Berry

J.E. Berry is author, speaker, and singer/song writer. She is a beloved wife and mother of five children. J.E. has a heart for missions, mothers, and seeing people come to know freedom and purpose through a relationship with Christ Jesus, specifically those who have yet to see their God given destiny because of lingering bondage. As an author and speaker, she explores things that hinder us from moving forward in our walk with Christ. She carries this same passion into her worship.

Friday, May 31, 2019

something to hang your hat on

If you’ve been reading my writing or had any in-depth conversations with me lately, you know that I am in the wilderness territory of deconstructing and decolonizing my faith. This can mean different things to different people. For now, I’ll just say that I am trying to learn how to separate out my culture from my faith and am re-examining long-held beliefs. I feel so assured of Jesus and His love for me because of the undeniable ways He has broken into my life, but everything else is up for re-examination. I have thoughts and opinions, but I’m learning to hold them all loosely in order to leave room for growth and transformation. 

At first, it felt like the bottom fell out. Feeling unsure of things I thought I knew for so long was a bit unsettling. I felt like I shouldn't let go until I knew I had something else to hold onto. However, I don’t feel anxious about being in this place anymore because even in the middle of it, I see the richness of the treasures that can only be found in the intimacy of a God who condescends to wrestle with us. He is my solid ground when everything else is shifting. Sometimes it’s a lonely place to be, though. It feels like I woke up one morning and all the furniture was suddenly the wrong size. Nothing quite fits anymore, but everyone else around me carries on as though nothing has changed. Though God has provided people along the way to serve as oases in this desert of not belonging, I still struggle sometimes to know where I fit. 

All of these feelings were particularly strong one Sunday at church. After the service, instead of going to Sunday school, I found a place to sit by myself. After a meditative sit (centering prayer), I came away with the question, “What DO I know?” When things feel uncertain or challenging, sometimes it helps to start with what I do know.

After journaling on one side of a little card I had found to write on, I flipped it over to the back. I asked God, “What do You know about me?” Immediately the answer came to me: “You are Mine.”

I asked myself, “What does it mean to belong to God?” The first thing that came to mind was this passage from one of my very favorite books, The Little Prince. In this passage, a fox is speaking to the little prince:

“But if you tame me, my life will be filled with sunshine. I’ll know the sound of 
         footsteps that will be different from all the rest. Other footsteps send me back                            
         underground. Yours will call me out of my burrow like music. And then, look! You see 
         the wheat fields over there? I don’t eat bread. For me wheat is of no use whatever. 
         Wheat fields say nothing to me. Which is sad. But you have hair the color of gold. So 
         it will be wonderful, once you’ve tamed me! The wheat, which is golden, will remind 
         me of you. And I’ll love the sound of the wind in the wheat…”

I thought about God loving me like that. In the book The Creator Revealed, physicist Michael G. Strauss explains how, despite the vast size of the universe, “our universe is about the smallest a universe could be and support life.” God created all of it—the planets and stars and sun and moon, all of it— to prepare a home for us, like a mother who is nesting in joyful anticipation just before the birth of her baby. He is so taken with us, with me. I felt as though He were enfolding me in His embrace as He showed me that everything reminds Him of me.

This made me think about how many times the Bible uses the word “remember.” I researched and found from Bible scholar Chad Bird, who says that the Hebrew word for remember, “zakar is to employ your hands and feet and lips to engage in whatever action that remembrance requires." The concept of remembering in the Bible is a body activity, not just a head trip. Bird goes on to give example after example in the Bible when “God remembered” someone and then immediately followed the remembering with a saving action on behalf of that person or community. Bird says, “We are those remembered by God. We are the object of His active, saving, incarnating, remembering mercy in Christ.”

So many issues in the Bible are more complex than I used to think. Gone are the days of comfortable, easy faith. Sometimes I grieve those days when I thought I could just read the Bible and come to an immediate, clear understanding of something nuanced. A responsible interpretation of scripture requires an understanding of the cultural context and language, as well as an awareness of the cultural lens with which I am reading the passage.

The not-knowing can be overwhelming, but this is what I do know: God is absolutely smitten with us. He can’t get us out of His mind, and for Him, remembering employs a perfect balance of mind, body, and heart. His affection, thoughts, and actions toward us are in perfect alignment with His great love for us. In a world that seems so topsy-turvy, that truth is something I can hang my hat on. I feel at peace not knowing where I land on all all the hot topics up for biblical debate when I am centered in the truth of His love for me. This peace opens me up to hear from Him more clearly about the things He wants me to know. I must trust my own experience of God before I can tackle the other issues, and He is faithful to show up and be to me exactly what I need.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
—Matthew 22:37-40

Thursday, April 18, 2019

the unbearable love of Jesus

Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “mandate.” In this case, it refers to Jesus’ commandment in John 13:34:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The portion of this verse that keeps leaping off the page at me is “as I have loved you.” Before we can fulfill the commandment to love one another, we must have an understanding of how Jesus has loved us. 

When you grow up in the church, you are likely to hear many teachings on the commandments of Jesus and the importance of obedience. As small-minded, imperfect, dualistic-thinking humans, we often reduce Christianity to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” I think Jesus’ desire for us is much simpler yet more difficult to carry out than what we tend to make it out to be. In Jesus’ statement, I see a commandment to let ourselves experience and know how Jesus has loved us. “Loved” is past tense; His love for us is already given and available before we have done a single thing to deserve it. 

When my now-husband and I started dating, we were completely smitten with each other. Sometimes when he would catch my eye, his adoration radiated so intensely from his gaze that it felt like looking into the sun without sunglasses on. After a few seconds, I had to look away. William Blake says, “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Jesus chose to physically bear the weight of the wooden beams of the cross because of His love for us. Perhaps one of the most difficult commandments for followers of Jesus is to bear this unbearable, unconditional, unending love while we are painfully aware of our inadequacy. We are conditioned to hustle for worthiness, but God commands us to simply receive the love that has already been given. The act of receiving and experiencing this unconditional love is radical and transformative. It is an act of resistance in a world that tells us that we must be accomplishing and achieving in order to be worthy of love.

Jesus is certainly a man of action, as we should be if we are His followers, but the action must flow out of a deeply rooted sense of our belovedness. Otherwise, our actions become hollow, self-serving, and unhealthy. When we don’t believe and, more importantly, haven’t experienced love apart from anything we have done to deserve it, our actions flow out of a desperate desire to prove our sense of worth. On a recent podcast interview with Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr discusses the difference between finding Jesus’ love when we try to be “a good little girl” versus coming to the end ourselves and finding that we are still loved, despite our imperfection. Crisis positions us perfectly to discover the great depths of a love that never runs out.

How do we move from an intellectual understanding of Jesus’ love for us to a transformative experience of that love? Though God reveals Himself to us in many ways and contexts, the simplest discipline I know of is to sit quietly before the Lord with no agenda but to learn to “bear the beams of love,” as Blake says. When I sit quietly, asking for nothing but expecting God’s goodness, I learn to receive His love apart from anything I am doing. In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “…the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. …To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing — that demands real effort.” 

This “listening prayer,” as I call it, has become vital to my spiritual life. Over time, I can see transformation taking place in my heart. I can enter into worship more quickly without having to wade through as much insecurity. I can more easily trust that God is welcoming me into His presence, even when I’m a mess. When I am about to do something that feels vulnerable, I find myself naturally taking a moment of silence beforehand to let myself be reminded that nothing I do or don’t do will change God’s overwhelming love for me. Relishing even one minute of God’s delight in me can shift the tone for my entire day.

Loved people love people. The amazing thing about “as I have loved you” is that the depth of love Jesus has for us is vast, rich, and multi-dimensional. We can spend our whole lives learning different ways that He loves us and still never come to the end of it. As we learn to let ourselves be cherished, we no longer need to hustle for worthiness. We can more easily believe in abundance, shedding the scarcity mentality that says more for you = less for me. We find rest for our weary souls, and we learn to delight in loving others the way we have been loved.

This Maundy Thursday, may we be people who learn to delight in God’s delight in us. What practices help you to “bear the beams of love?” I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, March 18, 2019

#momand : Bethany, author, foster mom, & parent of a child with Down Syndrome

I’m so pleased to introduce you to Bethany Douglas! Bethany is a #momand author, foster parent, and mother of a child with Down Syndrome. She is a past flight nurse and has spent the majority of her life either in school or in the medical field. She has three biological children, ages 7, 5, and 3, and a foster son. Jesse, her firstborn, is smart, witty, charming, and strong-willed. Bethany and her husband will not be surprised in the least if Jesse ends up ruling a country some day. Jonah is 5 years old and is like a big teddy bear with a heart of gold. Anna is 3 years old and has Down Syndrome. Bethany describes Anna as the light of their family.

Bethany and her husband Gabe began having children a bit later in life. She believes they were more mature and better equipped to be parents because of their age. Her experiences as a flight nurse and a mother have given Bethany a unique perspective on parenting. She had been a nurse for a long time before she became a mother, so this helped prevent some of the typical fears and helicopter parenting that often come with becoming a parent. She began to observe that many mothers were victims of the pervasive culture of fear in parenting. As a flight nurse, she had had a front row seat to a parent’s worst nightmares. 

Though she had never planned to pursue a career in writing, God used these experiences to give Bethany the idea for her book, Helicopter Mom. In the book, she used her knowledge as a flight nurse to create a metaphor for the proverbial helicopter mom. She helps mothers consider a spiritual perspective that can alleviate their fears in the light of God’s truth. Bethany has several manuscripts in progress, but she has less time for writing in these days of raising young children. Though this can be frustrating at times, God has been gracious in revealing that her main purpose in this season is to raise her family. She expects her writing ministry to grow in the coming years. Currently, she writes a weekly blog for an international women’s ministry called Holy Beautiful and blogs on her own website, as well.

Bethany says, “I always told people you never realize how selfish you are until you get married. I think I’ve found that any ounce leftover is quickly taken care of by children.” She says that motherhood has intensified both her positive and negative emotions in every way. As a mom, she experiences more anger and frustration than before, but also greater awe, contentment, joy, and love. The most challenging part of the early years of motherhood was deciding to have a second baby because she loved her firstborn so deeply, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to love her second son as much. God used Jonah, her second son, to show her that love doesn’t have a maximum capacity; it simply multiples with each child. Once she made this discovery, she knew she wanted to have many children.

Bethany met her husband when they were working together at Camp Barnabas, a camp for children with disabilities. They had worked extensively with this population prior to Anna’s birth and had discussed adopting a child with Down Syndrome. They were surprised and delighted to welcome Anna into their family. 

More recently, in the spring of 2017, Bethany and Gabe had what she describes as “this bizarre meeting about how we felt God had put fostering in our hearts—individually… with no knowledge that God was working in the other’s heart, too. It was crazy.” They began pursuing a license for foster care, but these plans came to a halt. That summer, they lost more than half of their income when Bethany felt God calling her to quit her job as a nurse, and fostering was quickly forgotten. 

In August, two former co-workers called Bethany separately to tell her about a baby with Down Syndrome who had just gone into the foster care system. One of the co-workers was the ambulance driver who had taken the baby to the ER, and the other was an ER nurse who had taken care of the baby. Bethany and Gabe took the necessary classes and were licensed in January of 2018. Though the baby girl did not end up having Down Syndrome and was adopted by someone else, Bethany said that God used her to nudge them into preparing to become foster parents, despite their recent loss of income. They have been fostering for a year now and currently have a one year old foster son with special needs. He has significant delays and an undiagnosed syndrome but is blessed with impressive social skills and a wonderful personality. She is extremely grateful for this unexpected, beautiful experience!

Bethany says that having children has shown her much more clearly the father heart of God. Loving and parenting her own children has helped her develop a better understanding of God’s love for her, including the need for discipline and obedience as well as the way He is always rooting for her. In parenting and fostering, Bethany encourages parents to pursue God through it all, as in everything else in life.

You can find Bethany’s blog and information about her book on her website here 

The Holy Beautiful Ministry she is a part of can be found on Facebook here

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

why I'm grateful for panic attacks: anticipating rescue

“For thus says the Lord GodBehold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness."
--Ezekiel 34:11-12

Panic attacks feel like I'm leaving myself, like my rational mind has flown away and the anxiety brain has taken over. When I first started having them on a regular basis, I began to anticipate the predictable rise and eventual fall. The fall feels like a slow returning to myself. My whispered prayer, repeated over and over, has been, "Return me to myself." Though I know God is there in the middle of it, it's very hard to feel His presence at the height of an attack.

When I read the words in Ezekiel, they felt like a description of my anxiety: "scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness." My mind starts to feel scattered, on warp speed with unproductive, irrational worrying. My very self feels scattered, as though one part of me has left and another part has remained, my anxious body waiting for the Self to return.

I recently heard Lauren Daigle's "Rescue" for the first time and have not been able to get it out of my head. This morning, as I felt my anxiety beginning to rise in response to circumstances, I sang "Rescue" quietly to myself, praying for the Lord to settle me. As I prayed, I felt Him answer me:

I'm going to rescue you a thousand times, in a thousand small ways, over and over until you just come to expect being rescued. It won't be a big event, but many times over again.

Any on-going suffering, be it anxiety, grief, depression, chronic illness, or any number of things, gives us the opportunity to be rescued again and again until we come to expect the rhythm of distress and comfort. I'm reminded of my dad's foster parent trainings in which he explains that healthy attachment between a baby and caregiver happens through the cycle of the baby experiencing distress and then being comforted consistently and appropriately. This cycle repeats itself many, many times, occurring each time the baby is hungry, tired, overwhelmed, sad, in pain, or afraid. Every discomfort is a chance for the baby to develop a healthy attachment to the caregiver who is meeting her needs. Over time, the baby learns that the world is a safe place where her needs are met. Once she feels safe, she can begin to take the necessary risks to learn new things and mature. 

Most of us don't want to be in a position where we need to be rescued. By definition, it means we are uncomfortable and suffering in some way, possibly even in actual danger. But maybe those of us who are weak and in need of frequent saving have been given a unique gift: we are given a thousand opportunities to call out and be rescued by the Lord, developing a healthy dependence on Him that eventually leads us to expect Him to actually be there every time, all the time. Then, maybe instead of anticipating the hardships that will surely come in life, perhaps we can begin to live our lives anticipating rescue. We wish that we didn't need help so desperately and so often, but if we're going to be vulnerable in this way, let's milk it for all its worth. Let's not miss one bit of the treasure hidden in the secret places of suffering. Suffering can be so isolating, but it allows us to have those life-altering moments where we look around, see that we are in a place no one else can go, and then find Jesus there.

Then, one day, as we are singing the love song that only pours out from one who has been rescued countless times, we will find that we are in good company. Many others who have gone before us, will come after us, and are currently standing by us are singing the same song to the same good God. We are the rescued ones. We will find ourselves in deeper and deeper intimacy with Him until we realize that had we never needed saving, we would have missed out on the relationship that has come to mean more to us than anything else in the world. 

When He spoke to me those intimate words this morning, painting a picture in my mind of Jesus coming to save me many times, day by day and moment by moment, I found myself overwhelmed by His completely irresistible love for me. So today, I find myself in the odd place of thanking God for panic attacks. The next time you see me taking deep, calming breaths, don't worry. I'm just anticipating rescue.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

dreams deferred

Two years ago, almost to the day, God completely changed my life. In November of 2016, I remember talking with a friend and telling her that I felt like something was coming, but I didn’t know what it was. As we sat together in her car in the parking lot, she prayed with me and helped me spiritually prepare for I-didn’t-know-what.

That same month, my mom sent me an email about a conference she thought I might be interested in. I was just coming out of haze of taking care of a new baby. She had just turned 1, and I was finishing up breastfeeding, still praying for her to sleep through the night. I had battled postpartum depression, anxiety, long-term sleep-deprivation, and illness after illness due to a weakened immune system. When I read the email about a Beth Moore conference for women who were felt called to ministry through speaking, teaching, and/or writing, my own future was the furthest thing from my mind. I was still trying to make it through one day— sometimes one moment—at a time, riding the waves of hormonal shifts that accompanied the rapid process of weaning my baby.

In February of 2017, through a series of unlikely events, I found myself sitting in a room with over 700 other women, worshipping God and then waiting expectantly to hear from Beth Moore. She wasted no time in getting started, talking a million miles an hour like she does, and began to take us through the processes she follows in preparing for speaking, teaching, and writing Bible studies. I sat there in shock, thinking, Is THIS what I’m going to be doing?? I felt like I didn’t belong, but at the same time, I was strangely certain that I was supposed to be there.

As we stood worshipping the Lord together, I prayed that God would let this be a turning point. I didn’t even know what I meant, but looking back, “turning point” is the most accurate description I can think of for that weekend. I had a powerful encounter with the Lord and left there trying to make sense of it all. My two goals after leaving the conference were to get back into the habit of reading my Bible every day and to dust off the cobwebs of my brain and start writing regularly again.

When I read the Bible, it became alive to me as never before. Bible study became an interactive experience. For the first time, I practiced sitting and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit and then acting on what I sensed Him saying. As I read scriptures, my mind exploded with questions and new revelations that overwhelmed me again and again. I had an insatiable hunger and thirst for learning and began absorbing everything I could from books, conferences, workshops, podcasts, and people. I began a deep-dive into the Enneagram and then began learning about issues related to racial justice. I was thrilled with the new sense of purpose, overwhelmed by God’s goodness as He revealed Himself to me in new ways. I felt an undeniable need to share everything I was learning, so I wrote and wrote, started a Be the Bridge group, and began finding small opportunities to teach other adults for the first time.

Everything happened so fast. 

Until it didn’t. 

Last summer, my daughter and I battled chronic illness, and I found myself in survival mode again. Everything I had been working on came to a screeching halt. It felt like such a loss, but underneath the sadness, I worried that I had messed up somehow and that everything God had lavished on me in the past year was going to be taken away. I lost momentum on some projects and felt discouraged. Even the weather has mirrored a state of dormancy. This winter has been so grey and wet and dreary. My continued struggles with health issues and anxiety have left me wondering if I just need to accept this new reality.

Then. On Sunday, our pastor preached about worship, and we had extra time to worship freely after he encouraged us to let go of our inhibitions. We talked about worship as a way to fight battles. Sunday morning, I fought hard. I raised my hands, knelt to the ground, and shouted declarations of truth as we sang together. I prayed and heard from God and cried through nearly the whole service. I left feeling emotionally and spiritually spent but hopeful for a breakthrough. 

Yesterday, the fourth day of February—our coldest month in Texas—was sunny as the temperature climbed to a balmy 80 degrees. I took my children to the park and we basked in the sunshine, and the whole day, I felt hopeful again, like maybe everything that has been hard wouldn’t last forever. My spirit felt lighter and happier. This morning, I woke up feeling energized, grateful that for the first time since I can remember, both children slept though the night. I woke up early, relishing the dark and the quiet. Then the Lord showed me Isaiah 43:19:

Smack in the middle of the verse, the question came at me over and over again, as though the Lord Himself were standing before me and asking, “Will you not be aware of it?” 

Suddenly, I knew He was telling me that He is at work, and I thought of the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the Beaver says, “Aslan is on the move!” I have seen the Lord “on the move” before, and I could never have predicted where He took me. I am ready and expectant, reminded yet again that His plans are so much better and bigger and more adventurous that anything I could dream up. Today, in answer to His question, “Will you not be aware of it?”, I pray that He will give me eyes to see what He is doing and where He is leading, though I suspect it will be hard to miss. 

If you are in the space of dreams deferred, languishing in an eternal winter like in Narnia during the reign of the white witch, don’t believe the lie that the Lord has forgotten you or the dreams He gave you. Ask Him to give you eyes to see the new thing He is beginning. Look around for signs of new life breaking through the cracked soil. Though everything may seem quiet and dead, He specializes in resurrection. Dormancy allows the death of the things that needed to go. God always takes the death of things He prunes and turns them into rich soil for the birth of something new. 

Oh God, give us eyes to see You breathe new life into our dreams deferred! 
Will you not be aware of it?