Wednesday, October 19, 2016

He is there

I've found myself pondering this question recently: How do I best prepare for difficulty?

Any way you slice it, difficult times are ahead.  I've already passed through a few, and Jesus summed it up when He said, "In this world you will have trouble."

Sometimes when big and small things happen that create a storm in my life, I act surprised and even offended which is a tell that I have been believing that my choices are going to protect me from ever facing a challenge. When I stop and analyze my reaction, I notice a self-sufficiency that creeps in, dominating my thought life with an increasing reliance on myself to avoid things that are hard. 

It's a tell that I have been spending time thinking through every possible worse-case scenario, imagining loads of conversations where I'll say this and you'll say that and he'll answer with this so then I'll come back and say such and such…building internal walls and creating plans for the what ifs and the outcomes I predict…

None of those things have ever protected me or truly prepared me for any difficulty I've passed through. Certainly it's never stopped an outside force from wreaking havoc on my "well-ordered" life.

That's not to say that planning is bad or thinking through scenarios can't ever be helpful, especially when there are some pragmatic things to do for physical preparedness. And we definitely need to do some mental and emotional preparedness. 

What I'm realizing, however, is that my way of preparing emotionally in the past has not really served me well when an actual hard time has come because my habitual line of thinking has led me in circles trying to figure out how I would solve the problem, fix the problem, and protect myself from the problem with no real effective answers.

So what to do?

I think the key lies in what Jesus says next: "Take heart.  I have overcome the world."

In The Forgotten Way, Ted Dekker says this:

 "The eternal realm of heaven has come into all darkness as the Light of the world.  This Light does not stand beside darkness, or around it, or in one small corner of it.  This Light has come Into all darkness, as John writes.  Paul makes it clear when he wrote, In Him all things hold together.  Every atom.  All.  Show me a place where you think Christ isn't, and He will show you only your blindness to Him there, because He is there." [p 113]

If I want to prepare for hard times ahead, then I need to take heart.  Partnering with worse-case-scenario imaginations don't, for me at least, lead to finding powerful solutions to problems that may arise; rather it leads me down a path of hopelessness and despair and self-reliance which creates panic, fear, worry, stress, anxiety.

Taking heart means imagining Jesus present in every single scenario I can come up with.  And then trusting that He'll be in the ones that I haven't thought of.

Taking heart looks like trusting that no matter what's ahead, the final outcome will bear the mark of Jesus because He has overcome the world.

It shifts something deep within me when I allow the truth of the Gospel to sink profoundly into the marrow of my bones and set my thoughts to marinate in the truth of His Presence within and all around me.

I confess my blindness to that Presence.  I see and hear of things going on around me.  I struggle with the news of atrocities here and across the globe.  It's easy to see only the hard and the evil that oftentimes causes it, but I'm called to a different way of operating.  I'm called to take heart and to look for the Presence of Christ in every situation.

So today I'm preparing by practicing the Presence of Jesus right here and now, imagining Him present with me here and present with me in the future and in every situation I will encounter.

I'm taking heart.  

Will you join me?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I am a habitation

I opened an email this morning by Graham Cooke titled "God is not a visitor" and as I began to read how God came to dwell with us, within us, these thoughts began running through my head:

When I wake up anxious
I'm am a habitation
When I'm tired and weary
I am a habitation
When I feel depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and afraid
I am a habitation
When my walls are up and I'm guarded and reserved
I am a habitation
When I'm critical and harsh
I am a habitation
When I'm short-sighted, have forgotten my way, and get bogged down in fruitless activity and unholy ruminations,
I am a habitation

There's a mixture of feelings as I type these out.  On the one hand I feel a degree of shame, as in "Shame on you for having those struggles and tainting presence of God in your life. How will people know Him if you have these things that don't reveal him?" which is really code for "don't you know people can't see God if you aren't living a perfect life?!?"

Maybe no one has ever come out and said those words exactly to me, but the truth is that I do struggle with a measure (smaller now than before) of perfectionism, so when I see my mistakes - however big or small - they loom large enough to mask the presence of God... in my mind, anyway.

But is that really possible? To taint or mask the presence of God? Are my mistakes and sinful patterns truly that powerful?  Deep down I have believed that they were.

There is a shift occuring, however, even this morning as I write.  The shift started happening as the realization came that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, God still inhabits me.  My mistakes and frames of mind and straight up sinful behaviors do not in any way shape or form push Him away.  He still inhabits me.  I am still a habitation.

What kind of love and mercy is that?

I confess I've viewed God through small eyes, expecting Him to run and hide when my ugly comes out. But He doesn't.  He shines on anyway.  He inhabits me always.  He never leaves me or forsakes me.

And that gives me great hope.  Instead of spiraling down into a cesspool of guilt and shame which can set me back for days, I can be reminded that He stays, He dwells, He inhabits this frail body of mine even in my worst moments.

Don't you feel the beauty of redemption rising up within you even now?  He has chosen me, chosen you, to be His habitation.  His light and His power and His work are still going on even in our messiest moments, our most diabolical days, and if we can lay hold of that truth and begin to really believe it to be true, then whatever fears and worries and faulty thinking that drives those misaligned behaviors….well, they lose their footing…they lose their power over us so that we begin to not only know that we are His habitation but we get to fully experience what it FEELS LIKE to have the living presence of God within our very bodies.

Guys, I am a mess most days.  It starts around 5 a.m. and continues until I fall back in bed around 11 p.m.  I am regularly on the ferris wheel of never enough which sometimes trips me up into a sea of messy emotions and interactions with my family.

I am still a habitation.

And that truth is growing and expanding and taking over old mindsets of shame and condemnation and transforming my thoughts and renewing my mind.

Knowing that I am a habitation and that He never leaves does not make me want to go out and sin all the more. God forbid! The other teaching that says my mistakes can cover God's goodness is built on a fear that God's love and mercy are not motivators enough to do justly and to love mercy.

I am here to tell you that shame is not a reliable motivator, in fact it often feeds the behaviors we so passionately try to avoid in order to shine forth the light that's within us. But if we secretly believe that we can somehow hide the presence of God that inhabits us or somehow cause Him to go away, then we have made ourselves more powerful than He and reduced Him to a god driven by whim and offense.

That isn't who inhabits me. 

Emmanuel lives within me, more powerful than all of the sins I can commit, bigger than any mistake I can make, and more faithful than I can ever imagine.

And knowing that, both in my head and in my heart, gives me strength to make powerful choices to be the best version of myself, the one that God sees when He looks at me…the redeemed one, bought by His blood, washed white as snow, the place where His glory dwells.

I am a habitation.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thoughts are like slippery toddlers

I want to be nurturing, comforting, loving and kind.  I don’t want to fail or to feel like a failure or to hurt the people I love in my brokenness.  Who does?!?
I simply want my brokenness to serve as an opening for the Treasure to shine through, to give others a window to the One.
The thoughts of anxious wonderings stir my soul to wake and get to task.  Does this also wake my children?  Have I passed it on to them? An anxious recounting of tasks to do and tasks undone and tasks to be redone and those simply done poorly and deserving up recrimination…
What a dismal way to wake day after day – to an overwhelming sense that no matter how hard I try, it won’t all get done, there will be mistakes, and I will miss important opportunities.
The shortcomings and failures magnify themselves through the lens of “not enough” like grandiose paupers with puppet power to control and manipulate through fear and anxiety.
But all these vapid emotions do is suck the life from my day, usurping Peace and Trust with “oh no!” and “what if?”
And who wants to even wake, especially when the list is impossible and overwhelming?  No wonder I’d rather sleep.  No wonder.
Yet, I know that this is not my inheritance, that I really have the right to stay in a perfect peace.  It’s my mind that is undisciplined and unruly, taking thoughts and imaginations exalted and inviting them in to drink and dine instead of taking them by the horns and wrestling them to the ground to show them who’s boss.
But have you ever successfully wrestled a toddler slippery from the bath with more energy than is legal in a single substance?
Yeah, me neither.
I’m not certain, and there doesn’t seem to be a perfect formula, but I’m finding that sitting and opening my arms and inviting those thoughts to come near for comfort rather than for a lecture is, in fact, a better way of capturing them and reshaping them with truth rather than bludgeoning them with facts.
This particular morning, I do a combination of both until finally these words surge from beneath the pile:
The Lord is my Shepherd
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not…
Be anxious for nothing but in everything give thanks
Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you
He works all things together for my good
and finally…
These light and momentary troubles are working for me right living as a default mode.  Amen and amen.  May it be soon, Lord.  That default mode?  I’d like it to be Peace and Rest and Trust. 

May it be so.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I'm done with the box.

The conversation blindsided me.  I was expecting an encouraging chat about the past gathering, but instead I got a reprimand and a message to get back in my box.

We'd clarified and clarified again the expectations on us for the gathering, explaining and re-explaining our unorthodox style, tendencies to go "off road" and follow the Spirit train as we were seeing it.  The structure for the gathering was pretty tightly woven together, so we knew that we weren't perhaps the greatest fit.

But we were assured multiple times that "yes, we want what you got, so please bring it."

And bring it we did, only I don't think they really knew what they were asking of us or, rather, what unleashing us would ultimately ask of them.

I don't think they knew the embedded fears and desire to have control and to not be surprised that would be uncovered by our flow.

I don't think I did.

I tried a couple of more times, to be all me out there with my heart bursting wide and long and high in the glory of the Father's love, but the conversations kept happening and I was left bewildered and torn and uncertain how to explore the glorious adventure I'd grown to love so deeply with Holy Spirit, experiencing His sweetness and His laughter and His thrill that made my heart come alive in so many ways...

So I walked back to my box, and asked Holy Spirit to please not ask me to get too far out of the box during those gatherings because I didn't know what else to do.

Little by little that heart bursting wide and and long and high went flat.  Come to find out, even small periods of compartmentalization can have far reaching effects beyond the scope of a 2 hour gathering.

In asking Holy Spirit to not ask me to leave my box during those times, interestingly enough the rest of the week was affected too...somehow, and I haven't quite figured it out, there was a link from there to every other part of my life.

And I shrunk a little bit each time, but I thought it was just that one day, but looking back I can see a shrinking and a shriveling and a deadening that spread slow, but steady, over every other creative endeavor I was pursing at the time until I was almost completely and utterly flat.

I don't know how I could have done that season differently.  I don't know what path would have been the better path.  Perhaps I just had to walk that path to get an education on how shutting myself down in ANY AREA OF MY LIFE will impact all of the other I can think I'm just compartmentalizing for these few moments in time and that that's all that will be impacted...but no. Emphatic NO!  Any amount of box-hiding, small-playing, keeping myself "presentable" for the comfort of others will, if left unchecked, lead to death of the creative self which is ultimately me diminishing God's glory within.

This realization comes in a string of revelations I've been having on self-protection and the ways I use these tools to keep me "safe" which really equates to "free from pain" because who likes pain anyway!?!

But what I'm learning (and was so clearly illustrated to me this past week as I pieced together a puzzle I've been looking at for awhile now) is that I'd rather face the pain and be fully alive and fully who I've been created to be than hide in a box trying to avoid and/or numb the pain.  Because truth is, that box does a poor job of protecting me from pain and goes a long way towards actually catching and holding onto painful, identity-wrecking patterns of behavior that do not serve me well.

It's frightening as heck to not self-protect, to not shrink down and become small and disconnect emotionally (because that's what I do but your self-protective tendencies may be something else).  I mean, what if I get hurt?  What if I fall flat on my face?  What if I experience rejection and betrayal and abandonment?  What if I'm misunderstood? What if I'm abandoned?

I don't know the answer to my what ifs this morning, but I'm done with self-protection and I'm looking to God's protection and trusting that the vulnerability and wholeheartedness that Brene Brown writes so eloquently about is worth all of the risks. (*Y'all go read her books if you haven't yet.  Rising Strong hits it out of the park and is so worth your time to read and effort to process and apply)

And you know what else?  That self-protection doesn't serve the people around me at all either.  They are better off having the authentic, messy, out-of-the-box me even though experiencing her may be a bit uncomfortable and downright weird at times.

I'm scared, but I need to feel alive again, to have my heart beating wild and free, bursting long and high and wide and deep in all of the places and in all of the ways it's meant to be.

I'm ready to be free.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Kickboxing, gratitude, and love.

I went to Body Combat class this morning with my daughter. It's the first time I've been in a martial arts-styled exercise class in over 10 years, and it was nice to be back, although I'm definitely not quite as intense at it as I was back then.  My daughter makes up for that

Back when I was attending regularly, it was called Kickboxing.  My friend Susanna would email me the list of classes she was going to attend that week at our local Y, and I would join her.  Susanna is super at organizing and scheduling. I was so blessed in that season by her workout structure because it gave me something to shoot for and someone who would know if I didn't show up to work out which gave me accountability.

She probably scheduled three or four classes a week to attend, so we got to experience several different instructors.  I liked most of them, but there was this one that rubbed me the wrong way.  We'll call her Amy.

Just seeing her in the hallway, my spirit would recoil.  I had no interaction with her or basis for my reaction, but the last thing I wanted to do was attend her classes.

However, she taught the afternoon kickboxing class, and Susanna decided to try it out.

I was in a season of learning a lot from Graham Cooke, a British guy that teaches on the prophetic, and had listened multiple times to a teaching called "Messing with the Enemy's Head" (Go ahead and click on that link.  You can thank me later.)

One of the main points is to operate in the opposite spirit.  So if you are encountering someone who is irritated and frustrated, instead of responding in like manner, I get to be calm and kind.

Since it was so obvious that I had no real reason to dislike Amy (and even if there were...), I decided that it was an opportunity to operate in the opposite spirit, so I went to her class with Susanna.

I really, really didn't enjoy the class.  It was a struggle for me to focus on the workout and not on my negative feeling towards her.  But I wanted to be faithful to the lesson, so I continued to attend.

One afternoon during class, the Lord told me: "I want you to go and thank her."

A surge of panic rose in my chest.  Thank her?  For what?  I couldn't come up with anything about the class I was grateful for, so darkened were the lenses I was viewing her through. I could hardly concentrate on the moves Amy was directing us through as my mind whirled through the possible things I could honestly say thank you for.

Finally, I hit on the one that I could truthfully say.

So after class was over, I dutifully walked over to her and said, ""Thank you for teaching the class."

That was it.  She said, "You're welcome," and as I turned to go out the door, the negativity towards her that I had been experiencing was suddenly and completely washed away by an intense love and compassion for her.  I was astounded and moved to extreme gratitude.

God had taken my darkened perspective, empowered my very small step of obedience, and shifted everything in a moment.

My negative reaction to anything/anyone is always an opportunity for me to grow. I'd like to say that since that time, I've learned how to embrace that growth every time.  Truth is, it usually takes several times before I realize that I'm listening to and agreeing with the enemy's broadcast about that person.  I'm partnering with his plan instead of pushing back and agreeing with God's plan and perspective.

Truth is, God's love runs deeper/higher/wider than I'll ever be able to grasp for every. single. person.  So when my reaction/response isn't love, there's work to be done, and gratitude is a powerful tool in this process.

Have someone difficult in your life?  Try finding one thing you can be thankful for about him/her, and if you have the chance, verbally thank him/her for that.  Become aware of when you are experiencing negative emotions towards someone and then ask God to show you how to operate in the opposite spirit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Ugly Struggle

Sometimes I'm shocked at myself at these seemingly unholy attitudes and emotions that get triggered unexpectedly.  Why am I shocked?  I don't know, truthfully, but I do my best to reason them down, remind them that they don't belong and shouldn't be around and should know better than to feel that way.

So far, that hasn't actually been very helpful.

The feelings are still there, except for now instead of being more sedate and holy, they've multiplied into feelings of injustice, hurt, fear, pain...magnified by my (or other's) lack of understanding, acceptance, They wrestle around inside, pushing me to run and hide while simultaneously fighting to get outside.  The struggle is ugly and messy and fraught with danger for this recovering perfectionist who is fighting to let go of masks and enter into humanity more authentically than my less-than-perfect defense mechanisms have allowed.

When I fight to hide and win, there's no real victory because I pay in other ways - increased anxiety, heavy stress, debilitating depression- that wreak havoc on my natural body creating toxic overload, a prime environment for sickness and disease.

What I'm finding in my journey is that I need a safe place to allow these thoughts, attitudes and emotions to surface, be processed, learned from, respected, acknowledge long before they are corrected, disciplined, changed.  I'm not very good at doing that with myself, but I'm trying because I think that deep down we all need love and acceptance to come before discipline and correction is effectively possible.

If correction and discipline come first, my walls and my defenses deflect anything that might actually be helpful and constructive.  Love and acceptance are what's needed, a space that says "It's ok to voice your ugly thoughts and emotions here, to let them see the light of day, to cry your ugly cry and say things that you might not otherwise say because, baby, when you leave it all inside, pressed down in the dark recesses of your soul, it boils and festers and stinks and didn't some wise one once say 'out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks'?"

Pretending I'm not really feeling those feels and thinking those thoughts is denial.  Fighting with them only strengthens their hold.  Acceptance and love and bringing them into the light over time actually diffuses their strength and means less stink in the dank dark places and more light and hope and freedom.  Otherwise I'm left with a tightly controlled balloon that always seems to peek out behind the walls at inopportune moments, in the moment when that word or that phrase knowingly or unknowingly slings out a razor sharp rock that slices through the thin veneer and out comes all of that stored up mess I thought I was hiding so well.

I think love and acceptance looks like me being ok, as in I'm not freaked out, when there's some errant child running around inside my head.  I've learned this phrase: "Even though I have this __________ (thought/emotion), I completely love and accept myself."  This is usually used with tapping, but even just saying it to myself brings me to remembrance that I am deeply loved and accepted by God in this moment and He wants me to practice the same with myself (see Romans 5:8)

I recently learned a new journaling "technique" called Immanuel Journaling (you can find the journaling prompts here and the book here).  Following this flow of writing has helped me to better learn to sit with myself in these moments, allowing Jesus to be more present to me, to the real me (not that He isn't ever not present but if I'm not aware then I don't believe I receive the full benefits of having Him here), and to receive His healing comfort and experience His healing presence.

It's in the moments when I hear Him say: "I see you struggling with all of that guilt and shame and pain.  That's a pretty heavy load. How about I help you with that?" when the balloon deflates and the walls collapse and instead of pain and remorse and shame I feel hope and healing and release.

And it's really great to go straight to Jesus with all of that mess because He can handle it.  But I also think we are called to do this in community (which can be built into Immanuel Journaling).  Hosea says that He leads us with cords of human kindness and Paul that His kindness leads to repentance. Sometimes I can't get out of my triggered state on my own and need the kindness of a friend to help pull me back to a state of relational connection where I can receive the new thoughts that I need to think via the correction and discipline of God that is also so vitally important.

But first things first: kindness, love, acceptance leads to relational connection which then can lead to repentance which brings a state of openness to discipline and correction...(I think...My rational mind is coming up with all sorts of exceptions to that principle but I think it's safe to say that at least for me personally, if you were to approach me in this way when I'm struggling with thoughts and emotions that may not seem very holy and righteous, I'd come out on the other side of that conversation more healed and whole than if you handed me the list of why they are wrong and what I should be doing instead which I have been SO GUILTY of doing. Ugh. And I also think that there are quite a few others out there, too, that would do well with this approach, particularly children.)

So, practically, what does creating a safe space in community look like?  I think it starts with conversations that demonstrate an honest curiosity into what is going on by saying something like "You seem frustrated" or "I hear you say that you are frustrated.  Can you tell me more about that?"  And then practice reflective listening.  Another thing would be to start an Immanuel Journaling group with a few safe people in your life.

I'm far from walking this out consistently.  There are plenty of days when I hide and portray a convincing picture of someone with it all together inside.  But there are more and more days when I take the ugly struggle out into the open where it can get some fresh air and sunshine.  And as uncomfortable and unsightly as that often is, it's where the most healing and hope takes place.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I don't feel like it

I really don't want to write today.

But I made this commitment to myself and told a few people that my goal was to write daily.  This is the best way for me to stay accountable to the process.

Today my heart feels a little worn, a little haggard, a bit tattered.  The same 'ole same 'ole come back around again to poke and prod at tender places, hurting places, skittish places.

I'm trying to sit with them a little bit and listen to what my heart is saying, processing with God these complicated matters of memories and mistakes and things I cannot change.  It's not an easy place to sit for long because I'm vulnerable and exposed without my walls of self-protection carefully guarding my heart.

Although my allotted writing time is far from up, I'm going to give myself some grace today.  I've also committed to a few other daily habits-to-form like painting and guitar-playing, so I'll give extra time to those today.

Or maybe I'll just take a nap.