Trust & The Would You Rather Game

Sad Young Man

Would you rather die in a burning building or drown in the ocean?

They usually asked it form the back seat of a boring car ride.

Would you rather fall into a pit of snakes or have 10,000 spiders crawl all over you?

I cringed at their morbid questions but played along to keep a he touched me war from breaking out.

My answer, more often than not, would be a groan followed by, Neither one

“Gramma, you have to choose one,” they’d insist.

I have to choose one? I don’t want to accept that I have only two undesirable choices.

I’m grieved.

I’m heartsick.

I’m ashamed.

I’m grieved because the political front in America is disintegrating into a sophomoric competition of blame shifting and low blows. Where have decorum, respect and decency gone? Not to mention morals.

We’re being forced to play the Would You Rather Game and I hear myself groaning more than ever before. I honestly don’t know what my choice will be on the day my answered is required. A lot of us are groaning and getting ugly with each other as well.

I’m ashamed because our great nation, the land that I love, resembles a circus–a house of horrors if you will. This land of benevolence and generosity has become a showcase for all the ways power and greed corrupt. It has become a global spectacle. Lack of character, morality and integrity leave us all cringing and bewildered.

I’m heartsick because police officers are being murdered in record numbers. My son in law is a police officer with a wife and six children counting on him to come home at night after serving his community.

I’m heartsick because officer involved shootings of our citizens are now too common. It’s becoming harder and harder to identify the good guys from the bad guys. Heated lines are taken to the streets while hatred and fear draw lines on hearts.

Fear is being fostered in every corner of life. It pushes us inside–inside our walls and inside ourselves. An entire population resists connection so we lose the fiber of community and the strength in our camaraderie, both as a nation and as the body of Christ. Basic trust is whittled to dust and hope is scattered on the wind.

Where is trust found? Who can we trust?

We can’t trust man or man’s systems. We can’t trust what is being spoken, or promised or offered. We can’t. We never could actually.

The words I read in John remind me again that Jesus didn’t trust either. When he walked among us he always knew we couldn’t be trusted.

Because of the miraculous signs…many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.  (John 2:24-25 NLT)

Jesus placed his trust in his Father.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Pet. 2:23 ESV)

Because he trusted his Father he was able to enter into covenant with untrustworthy mankind. He knew full well that we’d never keep our end of the agreement.

Jesus entered into kingdom-partnership with us knowing absolutely that we would mess it up and get it wrong.

It wasn’t chivalry or heroics that compelled him. It wasn’t obligation that propelled him through the mire of humanity.

It was Love.

He chose to love, sacrifice for and redeem a people corrupted by sin in every possible way and  though grieved, he is never surprised at what he encounters living among us. He came knowing:

• • That his own would not recognize him. • •

• • That the forgiven would refuse to forgive. • •

• • That the healed would fail to return and give thanks. • •

He knew that his friends would betray him, religious leaders would kill him and that his bride would be an adulteress.

Jesus, Embodied-Love, commingled with sin-infected humanity offering our only hope for stability, freedom, peace and transformation. A future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

We can’t trust political parties or political candidates—our hope can’t be placed in that arena. We can’t trust justice systems or religious constructs—they fail to manage the scope of our sin and immorality and self-absorption.

Jesus entrusted himself to his Father and so must we.

We trust His will, His power and His plan. We trust the completeness of Holy Love to keep our hearts afloat in a sea of depravity.

trust

We entrust our grieving hearts and broken souls to the One who is love, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The One who is all this world cannot (and will not) offer.

For those reasons, we can live among a crooked and depraved generation without losing our love for them–without losing hope for them. We can encounter failing systems, failing governments and failing religious systems without losing hope that He contains, sustains and transforms lives.

We can look at the storms and not be shaken.

Jesus said:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 ESV)

He is our home, both in this world, and the one to come.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled! This is our choice, weary friends! We can choose this! And in our choosing we can propagate hope in a world infected with sin.

DON’T BE AFRAID, FOR I AM WITH YOU.

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED, I AM YOUR GOD.

I WILL STRENGTHEN YOU AND HELP YOU.

I WILL UPHOLD YOU WIHT MY VICTORIOUS RIGHT HAND. –Isa. 41:10

Grace and peace!

P.S. I’d like to warmly welcome my new visitors! I see you from Italy, Germany, Brazil, Norway, India, France, Mexico and the UK! Many thanks to all who visit and follow Grace Grips. In a world saturated with good blogging, I am honored that you would spend a few minutes with me. Thank you for your referrals and for passing Grace Grips along to your friends. A big shout-out as well to those who can take time to comment! It is incredibly encouraging to know if these words inspire you! Big cyber hugs from a timorous author! 

The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

Hops

He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

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Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

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I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

An Organic Conversation – Pt. 2 of 2

Heal My Wounds

An Organic Conversation, Part 1

I ended my talk with these words:

We want to be offered solutions but He offers HOPE instead. Hope goes beyond the skin-depth nature of solutions. Hope does not disappoint, despite our continuously changing circumstances.

The vivacious woman who had strummed us into worship stepped into transparency and spoke first, “I’ve been hiding in plain site.” Her ministry call and various positions had left her feeling invisible and empty. Her love for children and her desire to be a mother had been met with an inexplicably barren womb. She sits with conflict and pain while Jesus holds onto her hands that may have lost some of their grip. Her heart hangs in the balance of a life transition and faith transformation that can’t be explained but can only be lived out.

A woman with beautiful eyes and an open heart said that she had experienced the hand of God lead her out of meth addiction, restore her career and her relationships but that the marriage and ministry she saw with the recovery package had yet to materialize. She sat in undefined limbo trying to find motivation for her life–in God and in loneliness. She vulnerably expressed her disillusionment and her dry faith. She feels reluctant to continue to till ground that has not yielded the harvest of her hopes and prophetic promises. And while she hasn’t turned her back on God, she sits with the unanswered and the unfulfilled.

My heart strings were being tugged toward the strong new-to-town military wife. Her zest for life seemed to show signs of weariness as she opened her heart and spoke in tones of frustration. She’s seen Jesus in big ways and collected, in faith, big plans but still she sits with a barren womb and a pile of God-directives that haven’t come to fruition. She’s weary of pushing upstream toward dead ends. She feels twinges of cynicism that she wishes weren’t there. She holds onto God while she handles the unanswered and the unknown. She speaks with candid kindness, “Please don’t tell me that God has something for me. I’ve heard it all before.”

The sweet young woman sitting nearest me sits wrapped in a beautiful scarf and a protective layer that hints of soul-fatigue but not despair. She lives a life quietly giving herself away but dares to admit that she feels empty. She wonders if her desire to be married and have children will get lost in the many places she busies her heart and hands to serve others. How does she get her cup filled in a culture that is so needy? How does she say yes to so many and still leave room for yes to herself? She sits with weariness, longing and unfulfilled dreams. How can she frame her life around the empty spaces?

The next to speak was a single gal with beautiful eyes and thick hair. With arms crossed over her chest she spoke out with confidence. “This message, it isn’t new to me…I hear Him speaking it all over.” She’s disillusioned about the culturally current church and the way it can leave attenders lonely and disconnected. She sits with a need for community and relationship but can absolutely no longer abide the “peganite” church practices that grieve her soul. She sits with questions. She sits with disconnection. She sits with wonder about what it is God is saying to us and how to live that out in a kingdom-serving way to a self-absorbed world.

I asked questions. Hearts were primed. We actively listened. A common thread emerged and outlined each woman’s exposed heart as they shared the vulnerable realities of their lives. There was a knowing that we would not leave that room, that night with a handout of formulas, recipes and pat answers rolled parchment-style in our clenched fists.

In the end we dared to exchange transient solutions for true Hope. 

Learning to sit with the mystery, with the unexplained, with the unmet longings, with the weariness, with the unfulfilled dreams and with the dissapointment sets us up for spiritual formation that cannot be achieved otherwise

It’s in this place of the “un” that we recognize resident potential for a more mature love for God. It’s here that deep spiritual formation germinates. It’s here that we sit in the presence of a God who cannot be manipulated, formulated or perpetuated in zealous ideals, ego-centric perspectives or religious boxes. He wants us to experience Him when all the dots connect but especially when they do not.

Habakkuk records in chapter 3, verse 17:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

If God’s ways and means could be fully explained all of the time, would He not lose some of the mystery that surrounds Him?  Our willingness, and desire, to devote ourselves to Him cannot be contingent on our understanding of His ways. He is every bit God in the unanswered, in the unfulfilled, and in the not yet attained. In the disillusionment and in the silence He is the God of love and goodness, mercy and kindness just as much as when He steps into our lives in bold and dramatic ways that lift our arms and raise our voices in praise.

Is it possible to echo Habakkuk’s praise?

In pain?

In loss?

In loneliness?

In brokenness?

In the holding patterns that eclipse the view of our desired destinations?

JESUS said:

“I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jn.16:33

An Organic Conversation! Pt. 1 of 2

Mystery copy

We like answers. We need to make sense of things. We like tidy explanations, reasonable timelines and unlimited resources. We don’t like delays or inconvenience or disappointment. And if I can be candid, Western Christianity can be perceived as entitled, narcissistic and fickle.

That’s the hard bit.

The heart bit?

God longs for us!

He desires us–He desires our love.

He is saying to us what He was saying to Jerusalem as He wept over her:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

So when I was asked to share the things God had been placing on my heart, I felt a willing reluctance. What I had to say felt too much like a reprimand that I had no right to deliver. So I meandered for two weeks down rosier paths trying to collect a pleasing bouquet. In the end I agreed to let God use me, come what may.

We assembled that Friday night in a state of expectancy but without the burden of over-expectation or the knowledge of each other’s history, hurts or hangups. We gathered amid vulnerable greetings, jagged dreams and epic weariness. Five generations of sisterhood took seats and settled into the evening with smiles and unvoiced burdens resting in our laps like swollen wombs filled with the awkward combination of hope and disappointment.

The Holy Spirit was welcomed in prayer as the worship leader asked that the Presence of God would draw us into intimacy with Him and prepare our hearts to hear and finally, that He would be glorified in all that was said and done. Amen!

Holy Spirit.

Presence of God.

Intimacy.

My head tingled. Those were the only words I had in my mind when I arrived as their guest speaker. It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. The Lord knows how much I had prepared. And when two weeks of prep hadn’t yielded a satisfying package I had begun to wonder if my Yes, I’d love to! should have been an I’m sorry, I’m not available that night!

After a time of mingling we eased ourselves into the rich melodic chords that resonated from a lone acoustic guitar. We lent our unrehearsed voices to God in heartfelt worship. We lingered. There was no rush to get through the set, no digital numbers pushing us through to the next segment. There was no platform, no performer and no push to keep a tight schedule. As the last note settled into silence I felt breathless in The Presence. (That’s  what I’ve been calling the Holy Spirit lately!)

And then all eyes were on me.

Those who gathered waited for something worthwhile, I’m guessing, to come out of my mouth–something that might fuel hope. I had been praying for them, praying that each one would come away with just one something that they knew came from His heart to theirs. Yet I literally had no idea what was going to exit my mouth when my lips parted. I uttered another silent prayer of faith, fully trusting that God’s pre-emptive promise would not disappoint:

“Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.”

You see, things have been stirring in my heart. Unconventional things. Ideas that seem abstract and countercultural. I’ve spent much of my life orienting to the norm and the status quo because my lack of identity and my sense of wellbeing depended upon it. When these inklings and ideas began percolating in my soul, I batted them away in deference to insecure conformance. Who was I to speak for God?

I opened up with the Cliff Notes of my testimony. They deserved to know a little about the woman they had come to hear. I shared what brought me, after decades of self-assisted Christianity, to the absolute end of myself. I shared the arduous shame-journey that depleted me of all self and ushered in a revelation of His love.  The familiar I once was blind but now I see had become I once was caught in deceptive self-loathing but now I know His love. 

After I had talked about the person of the Holy Spirit and the role He desires to fill in our lives,

after I shared that there is absolutely no substitute for intimacy with God,

after I talked about the overlooked need for Jesus-modeled solitude in our daily lives,

after I shared some of the ways Jesus’ life demonstrated an organic relationship/ministry model to follow,

after I urged us to take a look at the idolatrous photo filters we have placed over our lacluster lives,

after I expressed the ways we embrace friendship with the world and enmity with God,

after I talked about spectatorship assembly and Church, Inc.

after I urged consideration of the many distractions that keep our attention divided and our devotion diminished,

after I had challenged an examination of our worship, and

after I observed how so many of us have unwittingly substituted time in the bible for a quick read in Jesus Calling–I closed me lips and looked into the penetrating eyes of the women who gathered to sit with God.

And then the conversation that I had come to begin had indeed begun.

To be continued in Part 2 of 2

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Thank you for reading today! Please take a moment to share your thoughts. And do, please, feel free to share Grace Grips with your friends! 

 

Intimacy, A Lost Treasure?

Phil3-10

Do you feel KNOWN?

Do you ever wonder if anyone truly sees you, the essence of who you are when all the filters are removed and the props are shoved aside? Even though we’re seen on social media I’m suspicious of our media-driven culture in that it can give us an artificial idea and sense of intimacy. It often leaves us with an inaccurate view of ourselves and others as well.

I think people are starving for true intimacy!

Douglas Weiss has identified what he terms Intimacy Anorexia. Desire for and lack of emotional intimacy is at the foundation of sexual addiction. Intimacy hunger also fuels other forms of addiction we cultivate hoping to fill our intimacy needs.

Not every Intimacy Anorexic acts out with sexual addiction but results in a lifestyle of withholding our true selves from others and manifests in a number of ways.

Our deep need is to know and to be known but we’re afraid of it–because what if we don’t measure up to the high and unrealistic bar set by standards that focus on appearances, acquisitions, accomplishments and accolades?  What if we expose the tender underbelly of our broken and flawed selves or risk revealing our hopes and dreams or dare express our truest desires and the end result is more base and painful judgment and rejection? And what if we haven’t even got a clue about what intimacy looks like, let alone how to achieve it?

We were created to know and to be known, by God first and then by others.

I spent years withholding my true self from God. Aside from my issues with binding shame, I was afraid to be in the room alone with Him. The nature of my abuse made it incredibly difficult to picture Father God as safe. Yes, He was my father but one who worked abroad and whom I never saw. I could count on Him to pay my fees at boarding school, put clothes on my back and possibly be available should I become gravely ill. But His important work on the planet made Him unavailable and uninterested in me. Thankfully, God brought me through healing and to this plumb line revelation:

Who I am is best understood in context of who He is. I was made in His image and derive my name and identity from Him. I haven’t got a clue of who I am if I don’t have an intimate understanding of who He is.

Intimacy: Into me see. Progressive: continuing, continuous, increasing, growing developing, ongoing, escalating, gradual, step-by-step, cumulative. 

God desires bi-directional intimacy with us. He sees into us and He invites us to see into Him as well. From this place of knowing and being known we experience Abundant Life and fruitful living. That takes me back to the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10:

My determined purpose is that I may know Him, that I may progressively become more intimately acquainted with Him.

God knows us and He created us to know Him–to know His heart, His plans, His ways, and His delight. Knowing Him gives us insight into ourselves and into others, it fuels our effectiveness in impacting the world with the Gospel and in helping to transform lives.

 

 

THE BEAUTIFUL MOASIC OF BROKENNESS, A Story For The Telling

Laura Harris, Mosaic Artist
Laura Harris, Mosaic Artist

I have struggled immensely with identity issues.  So, who hasn’t you might ask? Everyone has or will at some point wonder who they are or will question their purpose on this planet. As a victim—I wish there was a better word—of child abuse, my emotional, psychologically and personality development was profoundly interrupted. That’s not a cop out for bad behavior or an excuse to live by a different set of rules, but it can be the very real consequence of childhood trauma, particularly unaddressed trauma.

For years I wasn’t able to put my finger on what was lacking in my personhood, I simply knew that I was different from others. I seemed to view life rather than live it. The world was on one side of a giant window, I was on the other. I felt empty, nervous, rigid, guarded, analytical, calculating, reactive, reserved and artificial–mostly I felt disconnected. I felt like a shell that housed a reasonable amount of intelligence and a handful of natural talents but no core identity to speak of. I was in a perpetual state of confusion and uncertainty–I second-guessed virtually everything and everyone.

I filled in the blanks and gaps of my ambiguous and unanchored personality by studying people and situations. Like an understudy on Broadway, I played out the roles I had considered. I imitated, parroted and scrutinized social behavior. I did this without realizing that I was simply trying to discover what was missing inside and figure out how to install it. I not only needed a program upgrade, there were large chucks of code missing as well.

To make up for the identity and self-esteem I lacked, I focused on others. I had an ill-proportioned commitment to their good, their success, and their happiness. I jumped on their bandwagons, rode the wind of their interests and championed their causes all while modeling behaviors appropriate to the need.

I had no problem whatsoever believing in the dreams and aspirations of others. Sometimes I could spearhead their projects and ambitions better than they could themselves. I readily saw their potential, equipped them with helps and encouraged them vigorously. And it didn’t even matter to me that my name wasn’t printed on their Acknowledgement page. When it came to me–to my dreams, I needed others to convince me of my possibilities, potential and purpose–when they did, it was never enough.

Helping others was what connected me, made me feel alive–it’s what anchored me. I altered myself according to the current needs of those around me. I was brilliant at acquiescing, pleasing and placating.  It was the only way I knew to fit in and function relationally. I hid my empty self behind the ego of others. As you can imagine, it was a cheap substitution for living. It also further damage me, I had unwittingly added my own name to the list of my abusers.

All this impostership culminated into rage. A fire was being banked inside me. The tinder lay un-kindled for many years, hidden behind duty, loyalty, obligation and fear. Predictably a spark ignited and I became an angry, angry woman. The accelerant to my harsh words was deep, unaddressed pain. What others experienced was simply an angry, hyper-sensitive, reactive woman. Naturally, they backed away and I felt more rejection and disqualification.

I couldn’t articulate preferences, I couldn’t voice my opinions, I didn’t have confidence to dream or to aspire. I didn’t have personal boundaries or the ability to recognize when I was being taken advantage of and if I had, I didn’t feel courageous enough to refuse what others required of me.

It would be difficult to characterize my soul malaise in one word. The pervasive sense of emptiness and disconnect could be described as invalidity. Invalidity doesn’t dream dreams, and when dreams percolate to the surface they are disqualified. When dreams surfaced in my heart, like writing and speaking, I reasoned they were insignificant and inconsequential–why try?  Dreams weren’t permissible for someone like me. My life was better utilized by serving the dreams of others.

I may have refused myself permission to dream, but God would not allow the ember of me to be extinguished.

My sense of vagueness meant that my life, my self-esteem, and my dreams required the invitation, initiation and approval of others to buoy validity and give me permission to be–whatever that may have looked like. In other words, I couldn’t step out into my life and all its potential without the permission and approval of others; my husband, my family, my friends. Who has the energy to perpetually huff and puff at a smoldering fire?

The apostle Paul tells Timothy to do his own fanning into flame! (2 Tim.1:6).

My life unfolded in what seemed like a meaningless course on a Packman Screen (that certainly dates me). I scurried about trying to keep from being eaten, proverbially so. My purpose seemed random and chaotic at best. The rules kept changing, the path redirecting. Finally, in extreme fatigue, I hit a high and unyielding wall.

I dropped in an exhausted and frustrated heap of surrender, exactly where God wanted me—where He had been waiting for me all along. 

I wish I could say that all the pieces of broken Sherrie came together in some miracle version of Humpty Dumpty. They did not. Much like people who have had catastrophic injuries, God employed divine triage with a specific hierarchy of care.

I know a pilot who experienced a horrific airplane crash. For a while it was uncertain if he would survive the ordeal. After intensive surgeries and recovery time, it was discovered that the persistent pain in his face was from a knob from the airplane’s control panel that had lodged upon impact inside his mouth then hidden within his swollen facial tissue. The knob wasn’t initially discovered because the focus of his treatment was on life saving measures. My injuries were treated the same way, based on urgency. My recovery came in stages.

That Knob represented for me Connectedness and Purpose. While I was preoccupied with the pain of feeling invalid–disconnected and without purpose, God was focused on revealing to me His fathomless love for me.

A revelation of God’s love must be the genesis of purpose for any of us, regardless of where we came from.

God held me in the most gracious of mercies. Layer upon layer He has been reconstructing my life with the very Breath of His Own. I believe I’ll always be in the process of restoration, it’s the nature of psychological trauma in early childhood–it’s part of being human in a fallen world. BUT today I have confidence that my life matters—that I matter. I have conviction that I’m not only responsible to live my life fully, I have divine permission to do so. And I have the compass of an intimate relationship with Him by which to navigate life.

My path doesn’t look like hers and your path won’t look like mine. But if I have learned anything on this broken road it is this: each life has value and each life has purpose. Unquestionably. No matter how busted up your life may look or how bruised your soul may feel, would you just take a moment to consider something?

God does not glue our shattered souls and broken lives back together in some haphazard, makeshift fashion. He graciously handles each jagged piece, one by one, and creates an intricately designed, light reflecting mosaic of His grace, for His glory. He puts us on display, beloved! That is a story that waits to be told.

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THE CANVAS OF EMPTINESS

Sitting

I stepped onto the wood floor of my bedroom moments after waking. The morning followed a fitful night with intruding dreams. Getting out of bed was my first act of warfare against the strong urge to remain in the sheets.

I padded to the back yard with a steamy cup of coffee in my hand and a pulsing ache in my chest for the presence of God.

The sun hadn’t yet risen but I basked in the golden pink light that poured over me and whispered a simple prayer:

“LORD! I need you.” (because I am empty)

I sat in the hush of morning stillness and gave thanks for the sweet and gentle breeze that kissed my bare arms–received as nothing less than my Father’s hug. It brought an appreciative smile to my face.

Again I spoke out softly:

“LORD! I need you.” (because I am lonely)

I let my eyes rest on the beauty that surrounded me. I listened to the song of birds and neighborhood sprinklers clap and spray. I gave thanks for the tranquil magnificence of His creation and determined not to let the gift of this moment go unnoticed.

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“LORD! I need you.” (because I’m conflicted)

I opened my bible to Ephesians and began reading in chapter 1: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Grace. And peace.

The sun continued to rise uninterrupted and unchanged, as it had since the beginning of time when God first formed it and declared it’s purpose. I tapped off those two monosyllabic words in my head like a cadence for the day. Grace and peace. Grace and peace. Grace and peace.

The rhythm of their sound was as the march of foot soldiers–routing lies hidden among the careless words spoken by others, the thoughtless actions and unkindnesses born of human imperfection. These declared reasons to fear and dread and cower; unfurling their assertions that I am irrevocably flawed and unable to belong.

I sat in the morning calm with my face lifted to God; Paul’s letter splayed on my knees.

What happens when you lose what this world said was yours?

What does it mean when others reject you but can’t give you a reason why?

What happens to your tired soul when the pursuit of significance can’t be found in what you do? Or in who acknowledges your worth–because they rarely do.

What happens when you sit in the thin place between I’ll never be enough and All that I am is His?

I placed all these in the empty hands that now rested upturned on my lap. I acknowledged the sin of my self-effort, I admitted the insufficiency of my self-sufficiency. I sat with this emptiness as one sits with grief–early forms of acceptance taking shape.

Paul’s letter continued.

“…The fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

God’s words: reminders of truth, encouragers of faith and declarations of promise!

As His words filled the empty expanses with creation: the sun, moon and stars; the earth with land and seas, vegetation and humans–so His words fill all the empty and formless places still. In me. In my relationships. In my purpose. In my desire that my life have significance.

I allow the vastness of grace and peace, more limitless than the expansive, immeasurable and ever growing universe, become the framework of this day.

I let Him who fills the empty, fill me.

And suddenly, I think I see something. Undistinguishable at first as an object off in the horizon. But like the dawning day, it becomes clearer. It approaches and I sit up straighter, my breathing shallows my heart quickens.

And there it is. I see it in the clarity of morning light:

Emptiness

 “With His F U L L N E S S, He fills all.” -Eph. 1:23 

There is no place where His glory is not seen, no life where His grace is not sufficient, no words that surpass the creative power of His intensions for us.

So I offer my emptiness, not as something representing the lack of but as a vessel ready for His filling.

It’s Not a Character Defect or a Faith Deficit!

SufferingI hate–I know that’s a strong word–my battle with PTSD.

I hate the way stress can jump out of the bushes while I’m happily strolling through life and trigger a storm that leaves me feeling hopeless. Helpless. And most of all, guilty.

I recently tripped over a pile of life’s inevitable stressors and landed a five point face-plant.  I rarely see it coming so when it happens I feel betrayed, duped and terribly undermined.

There is a progression to these storms.

Initially, I forget that I have to monitor stress in my life. Unfortunately I’m not always mindful when I’m getting in over my head. Stress triggers an emotional storm that seems to have a life of it’s own. I relate to the terrified Apostles being thrashed on an angry sea. I cry out:

Save me, Lord! 

I can’t convey the gratitude I have for the crucial role my compassionate husband plays in my life. He’s learned, right along with me, the nature of this illness and how best to manage it.

For me the storm begins with feeling overwhelmed on many fronts, like waking up to a To Do list that looms like Mount Everest in front of me. As a convicted perfectionistic over-achiever this can be be fearfully unsettling.

My Symptoms: I become hyper-aroused and startle easily. I get irritable, impatient and overly-introspective. It becomes hard to focus or follow through on tasks. I find it incredibly difficult to make a decision or arrive at solutions to the smallest problems.

I become defensive and verbally unfiltered.

Everything feels like a threat in some way. I find it hard to trust, especially myself.

I can’t sleep. Anxiousness buries me. I cry easily and sometimes I can cry for days with an inexplicably deep sadness.

The storm clouds darken and I become convinced I am neither loved or wanted but simply tolerated; that I have no worth and that my life is invalid and without purpose and that I’ll never achieve my highest potential.

And then I look for evidence to support my feelings. I call it the inventory.

My relationships come into question and inevitably I’ll find myself in conflict with someone because I have overreacted to something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t even register.

I withdraw. In my isolation I can ruminate and convince myself that I have only ever been defective and I haven’t enough time left for a successful do-over.

I feel angry–born of the extreme frustration of having worked so hard for so long and still unsuccessful at freeing myself from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

While in the storm I have absolutely no grace for myself. In fact, I sometimes loathe myself.

God feels like a distant memory and I struggle to feel like a Christian. This is by far the most distressing aspect. It’s here that my prayer is simple and oft repeated:

 I belong to you, Lord!

Though I have painted a dark picture, there are rays of sunlight on this canvas as well!

God’s grace has carried me through.

I have learned to recognize and manage these symptoms. I’m quicker to suspect my thinking and to begin self-care. The emotional fallout and relational debris is significantly less than in the earlier years before I understood what was happening. Or why.

PTSD, and all mental illness for that matter, is not a character defect or a faith deficit. 

Illness brings suffering and suffering should illicit our compassion rather than our avoidance and judgment.

Understanding how trauma effects the brain, learning how to guard against an overly-stressful lifestyle and gaining skills to manage symptoms are all so vital in living with this disorder.

If statistics are accurate, you know at least 3-5  people who suffer from mental illness.

As my friend Angela Howard recently posted, we’re quick to rally around people suffering from other illnesses but avoid, and sometimes shun, those with mental illness.

Suffering is the operative word here.

We don’t have to have all the answers to be helpful. A little compassion and understanding can go a long way in bringing relief to those who suffer. And please, whatever you do, don’t suggest the sufferer has failed in some way!

Compassionate Hearts

The Settling

God of All GraceWe sit in a misshapen circle of chairs in the prayer room at church. We’re an eclectically beautiful group of women with hearts hungry for more of God–needing to be known and connect.

We share the highs and lows of our faith-walk and our humanity. It’s a safe place that invites vulnerability and imparts validation. So we circle up and open up. We offer ourselves, the best of it and the worst of it.

The high points bring praise to our lips–the hard things suck the breath right out of us.

One of us admits that bitterness and anger are rooted in her heart, how she doesn’t want it there but how she feels powerless to remove it. A few of us offer tidbits of our forgiveness journeys and encourage her to keep moving toward it.

Another testifies of the phenomenal faithfulness of God to save her son from addiction and certain death–how he now serves in his church and boldly shares his faith. There is a collective voice of praise.

The joy is followed by the pain-laden words of a mother who recently discovered her son’s lifeless body. His accidental overdose followed on the heels of a hopeful run of clean recovery. Through her barely controlled anguish she reveals his overdose may have been the end punctuation to his life ravaged by the pain of addiction but it wasn’t the end of the story or the final commentary on her son.

With bravery born of desperate faith, she confesses that she doesn’t question God in any of it.

No words are offered–what can be spoken in the face of this loss? Yet, the deep sighing groans of motherhood escape our faces etched in empathy and they lay as validation of her pain.

Amid the collective needs of provision, healing, restoration of messy relationships and salve for broken hearts we turn our hearts to the gospels and revisit Jesus’ post-ressurrection encounter with his followers.

Nail CrossAnd then it hits me all over again and I want to get on my knees and weep in adoration of Him.

He didn’t have to come back after the resurrection.

The penalty of our sin was satisfied and Jesus could have remained in Heaven with His Father. After all he’d already suffered the indignities of our humanity, traversed the mocking unbelief, extreme suffering and vile hatred. He’d encountered the betrayal of friends, survived the flesh-tearing scourge, endured an excruciating crucifixion and descended to face Satan and take the keys of hell, death and the grave.

IT WAS FINISHED! From a contractual standpoint every was dotted and every t was crossed. He was off the hook–so to speak.

We revisit the account of Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters with his bewildered and bedraggled followers recorded in Luke 24.

Is anyone feeling this with me?

Yes. The words he spoke during that time are powerful and pivotal.

“Behold my hands, my feet…it is I Myself.”

But the thing that pulls me into the swoon of this passage is that his love for us compelled Him to return and search us out.

I just imagine that extra mile walk with his followers. He returns to prove, not only that he is the Risen Savior–as he promised–but that He will forever be the one who walks beside us.

The thing that really gets me?

He returns in the reassuring form of flesh, checks up on us, settles our hearts and boosts our lagging confidence with his unfailing promise before he sends us out.

It is, to me, the equivalent of him tucking us back in and kissing us goodnight after our fears have rattled our faith and robbed our peace.

He settles us.

His parting action, as recorded in Luke 24:50, is to raise his hands and bless them–to bless us.

We then gather ourselves and our belongings and we exit the prayer room infused with a fresh reminder of God’s nearness. It bolsters our faith as we walk out the hard places.

“Behold! It is I Myself. Trust me!”