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.