Christian Living

Love lives differently

This week on our podcast, Epic Every Day, we’ve been talking about starting new things. As I was reading through my journal, I was reminded of this great chart Priscilla Shirer has in her Bible study on the Sabbath, Breathe. If you haven’t done it, I highly, highly recommend it!

Priscilla starts her book with a quote from Harriet Tubman: “I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.” Isn’t that the truth? A person has to know they’re in bondage before they can get free. And sometimes, the only way to tell whether you’re in bondage to something is to take a break from it. Can you go without coffee for one day? Can you go without computer games for one day? What about sugar? Or TV? Or [insert your go-to method of dealing with stress]?

So often, we are slaves and we don’t even know it. It’s an excellent strategy for keeping us ineffective and unproductive in our faith.

Anyway! Priscilla has this great chart in Breathe. Take a look (& take the time to read through it slowly and thoughtfully):

Slave hoard–Free people give.
Slaves live fearfully–Free people live lovingly.
Slaves live with closed fists–Free people live with open hands.
Slaves live from a posture of lack–Free people live from a posture of abundance.
Slaves live from a  stance of deficiency–Free people live from a place of holy expectation.
Slaves never think they have enough–Free people believe that whatever they don’t have, God will graciously, miraculously, and abundantly give in His timing.
Slaves keep going–Free people can willingly discipline themselves to stop.

Breathe, p. 76

 

Slaves live out of fear. Fear is one of the big reasons I don’t start new things. It’s scary to do something outside of my comfort zone. Uncomfortable by definition. But that’s not who God has called us to be.

Re-reading through this chart, I found myself wondering what new things I would start now if I was living out of love rather than fear. I mean, I have things on my radar to start if we ever have the finances to do it (for example, a trauma house or a scholarship for natural health). But what about now?

Maybe it would be as simple as being a little more open in my relationships. Or maybe I’d be a little more relaxed about my schedule–that’s definitely something I tend to hang onto with a white-knuckled fist. Or maybe I’d jump into something insane like actually publishing my second book (it’s been languishing on my computer). There are loads of things we could be doing at any given moment. You don’t have to do what you did yesterday–you could quit your job and join a circus. I wonder what we’d learn about ourselves and what God’s called us to do if we were a little more open-minded about how our lives could change.

There’s this great clip of Will Smith talking about fear and skydiving. He points out that so much of our fear is leading up to the thing. We wreck our lives being terrified of things that haven’t even happened–missing meals and sleep and not enjoying time with the people we love out of dread for something that we aren’t doing in that moment. And then, often, we find (if we do the thing we’re scared of) that it wasn’t as scary as we made it out to be ahead of time.

So how about you? Where are you living out of fear? And what would it look like if you were instead living out of love? What new things would you start?

Blog_ Love lives differently-2

Christian Living

Fruit of the Spirit for Ourselves

Hey guys! How’s your year going? Everybody on track to work on their goals?

Somewhere recently (probably in Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself), I read this great statement about how the Bible doesn’t address self-love in depth because it’s just not conceivable to the authors that a person could not love themselves.

It’s so interesting, isn’t it? We live in a world where a lot of people have self worth issues–and I’m not talking about pride issues or anything along those lines. I’m talking about honestly believing that you aren’t worthwhile or that the world would be a better place without you. Kinda makes you wonder what it is about our society that creates that sort of environment.

Jesus commands us to love others as we love ourselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about how intertwined those two things are: you really can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself. But you also can’t love yourself if you aren’t loving others. Loving ourselves is that whole “put your own oxygen on first if the plan is crashing and then help others”–we need to take care of ourselves so that we have the resources to love others. On the flip side, truly loving others actually creates resources in our own lives.

Anyway! I was convicted that I don’t do a good job of applying the fruit of the Spirit to my own life–so often, I focus on how to be patient with others all the while being impatient with myself or on how to be gentle with others when I’m harsh with myself. I think that the same way we apply loving ourselves as a natural yin to the yang of loving others, we need to apply the fruit of the Spirit. God is patient with us–so why aren’t we patient with ourselves? God is kind with us–why aren’t we kind with ourselves?

 

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Coming Together

So, politics…. Everybody was pretty shocked last week, eh? Still not going to talk candidates—although I agree with President Obama when he said that we should all be rooting for Trump to have a great presidency. Come January 20th, Donald Trump will be our president so regardless of how one feels about the man, we definitely want the success that comes from a good president. I’ve been praying that he (and his team) will have lots and lots and lots of wisdom about who gets appointed where.

Anyway! This whole campaign has in a lot of ways emphasized the divide in our country. I was disturbed when I went on facebook the other day and various people had posted saying something along the lines of “if you’re going to vote for/voted for (insert Clinton or Trump), unfriend me because I don’t want people like you in my life.” Kinda surprised how much of that was going on. I get that everybody was passionate about their particular candidate. They have some pretty different ideas about how the country ought to be run. I don’t see how solidifying the divide is a good thing.

If there’s anything I got out of watching such a close election, it was that our country is deeply divided and we all need to come together. Everyone who voted picked the person they thought was best for the country. Nobody’s trying to ruin the country. Nobody’s trying to destroy anyone’s lives. We need our different ways of thinking to make us better people and to grow us.

See, if we really do kick all the people out of our lives who don’t agree with us, we’ll never be confronted with different ways of thinking, different ways of doing things, different approaches to problem solving. We really are better together, despite how uncomfortable our differences can make relationships.

So, now that we’ve all seen how divided our country is, rather than letting our political differences divide us in the Church, let’s become more committed to the unity Jesus calls His Church to. No president or senator or representative can save us. Only Jesus is capable of fixing the world. Having Trump elected (or Hillary if she’d been elected) isn’t going to magically cause people to love each other, isn’t going to fix poverty levels, etc., etc., etc. It’s people going out and loving by the power of the Holy Spirit (which is way more than just tolerance) that changes a society.

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The Mechanics of Fear

A couple weeks ago my kids ended up in a ghost-story telling session–it definitely prompted some interesting discussions. One of the things we talked about is something I’ve been thinking a lot about in my own life. Have you ever considered how fear works?

As I’ve mentioned before, I love David Eddings’ series that begins with The Belgariad. It’s one that I read regularly. At the end of The Mallorean (which is a continuation of The Belgariad), Eddings’ characters talk about one of the differences between the light side and the dark side: that the child of the light is surrounded by companions who all help accomplish the task whereas the child of the dark stands alone, working with minions rather than companions, if they work with anyone.

The characters realize the dark evens out this disparity utilizing nightmares and madness, that the dark fights a mental battle–one that causes them to fight themselves. I think this is a very apt portrayal of fear. I’m not talking about caution here; we need a healthy dose of caution to keep us from doing dumb things–as Dr. McCoy says, “Fear of death is what keeps us alive.” 😉

However, the Bible says God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Or how about 1 John 5:8, “Perfect love casts out fear”? Because of who God is and who we are as His children, fear is not supposed to rule our lives. I’m sure there are various reasons for that, but fighting ourselves is, in my opinion, a big one.

Maybe it’s just having lived in a state of fear for a long time and seeing the deleterious effects spread to every area of my life… but I firmly believe we don’t have time to waste on fear–nor do we really want the consequences. My kids and I were talking about how if you stay awake because you’re afraid of a ghost coming in while you sleep, you end up fighting yourself. You keep yourself awake. You make yourself miserable. And all for something that’s not likely to happen.

Fear works well to mess up our lives, but not because of something happening. It works because it turns our own imaginations against us and causes us to self-destruct.

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Trust-fund Children

So how’s everybody doing with all this heat, eh? The heat index was above 110 a few days around here–definitely warmer than I’d like.

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary about abundance and what it means on a practical level. One of the people (I can’t remember which) defined abundance as “enough-ness.” I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with that. I feel like there’s not enough time in my day… that I don’t have enough energy to do the things I want to do or enough money to do some things that have been on our list for a while. There are lots of other “enoughs” that make it on my list regularly.

As children of God, we have a different perspective on abundance than those who don’t know Him. I’ve been reminded of this fact quite a bit lately. I have a friend who doesn’t know God and therefore, is on their own. It’s been convicting listening to them worry. I’ve been reminded of that section in Matt. 6 where Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”(Matt. 6:31-33 ESV).

You heavenly Father knows that you need them all…. What if we’re all really trust-fund children? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past week or two. What if I really believed that my heavenly Father is a billionaire (financially, energy-wise, time-wise, etc., etc.–fill in whatever your lack is)? What if I believed that He gives me a certain amount of money–not because that’s all the money He has, but because it’s a test to see where my heart is at? What if money isn’t about providing for myself but instead about being a good receiver? What if time isn’t about trying to cram as much into it as possible but instead about being intentional and wise with the moments I do have?

As I’ve been thinking about this in my own life, I’ve concluded that my lack is not the issue; abundance is about whether I believe in God’s abundance and in my daughtership. the reality of life for a child of God is that He provides for us. As I’ve said before, it’s just as silly for me to worry about whether God will provide for me as it is for my daughters to worry about if I’m going to feed them today. If I really believe that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10-12) and I really believe that I am His precious child, my lack (whatever it is) isn’t a disaster. God is 100% capable of providing whatever it is that I need, and, as His child, if it’s in my best interest to have it, He’ll give it to me. Unlike people who aren’t God’s children, we don’t need to run around like chickens with our heads cut off desperately trying to make ends meet. We just have to run after God.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

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An Internal Art Form

Do you ever get so focused on getting from point A to point B in your day that you forget even why you’re going to point B? It’s so easy to go through the motions, isn’t it? Some days I find myself doing that. For instance, I get caught up in just getting through my kids’ homework vs. making sure they actually understand the concepts.

Recently at my Tai Chi class we were talking about how Tai Chi is an internal art form, but it’s not always taught that way. It’s so interesting: because of the differences between eastern thought and western thought there are some things that are just hard to translate in a way that makes sense to our western mindset. In my opinion, Peter Ralston has done an amazing job of actually translating those concepts into a way that’s understandable. A while back I talked about the five principles–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total–and what the corresponding spiritual reality is–trusting God, surrender, living out of the essence of who God has made you to be, being grounded in who God is, and being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you (vs. what you wish/mistakenly think is happening).

My teacher was talking about how the first Tai Chi class he attended taught the choreography of the form, but didn’t talk at all about the principles–which is nuts because the principles are 95% of Tai Chi. It’s so sad. I can’t imagine taking the principles out of the form. Without the principles, the form is pretty, but it’s not functional. For instance, if you try to push something with your arms alone, you have less power than if you utilize your whole body. Tai Chi is an internal art form–95% of it you can’t see. You can’t see if someone is calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, whole and total–although you can make some pretty accurate guesses from observing them. And you can’t relax for someone else. You can encourage them to relax, but you can’t do the work for them.

Christianity is the same way: 95% of it is all the connection with God and hanging onto who you are in Christ–it’s stuff that isn’t visible. When we focus on the things that are visible–e.g., whether you attend church, read your Bible, pray, etc., etc., etc.–we are missing out on the majority of what’s important. It may look all shiny and nice on the outside, but it’s not functional. I don’t know about you, but I need reminded of that occasionally. I love that God is the power behind, um, well, everything in my life. He’s the power for me to stay calm when I’m late and stuck behind someone driving five miles under the speed limit. He’s the power for me to listen to my children and tell them that I love them the way they are. He’s the power for me to write when things are going awesome and when I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. He’s the power for me to love my neighbor even when I don’t feel like it.

I hate to say it, but if you’re focused on the 5%, you’re not doing okay. There’s so much more to life, to thriving and abundance and joy in Christ than that 5%. As I tell my kids, stop, take a deep breath and regroup. Reconnect with the 95%. Nobody can do it for you–Christianity is an internal art form.

 

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The Thin Line between Surviving & Thriving

A few months ago, in the study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians I’d been doing, I came across this idea that’s been percolating since then.

Beth Moore argued that the only difference between surviving and thriving is faith, hope, and love (Children of the Day, p.21)

I think I agree with her.

Faith opens the door to believe that God is doing something in our circumstances, even when our circumstances feel impossibly awful. Faith believes that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Faith believes that God is who He says He is and that He’ll do what He promises. Faith can look at the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil because God is with me. Faith sees the potential and stubbornly pursues presence.

Hope likewise knows that there’s something better, so it’s worth my energy to stick around–despite how my circumstances look. Hope looks for the best in a situation. Hope knows that it’s only a matter of time until we get to see the fruits of our suffering–if nothing else, we are guaranteed eternal peace and joy after we die. And hope does not disappoint because God doesn’t disappoint.

Love opens the door to deeper relationships–to depending on God and growing in community. Being loved by God means that we’re safe–that He’s always working in our best interest. Community allows others to bear our burdens and for us to exercise our calling and gifting in the process of bearing others’ burdens.

Faith, hope, and love–not whether our circumstances change or not–define whether we can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances.

 

Literature

Bookshelf Tour: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina

Growing up, we moved regularly, so, when I was a child, books were my dear friends. Every year (usually around New Year’s), I would re-organize my bookshelf–make sure that all the books were alphabetical by author’s last name and grouped into series. We recently rearranged our book area. We had four bookshelves that were double-stacked in places, so we bought another one and sorted through out books to weed out any duplicates/unwanted. Sadly, we still need to buy a sixth bookshelf to finish our project. Re-organizing the books though was like going to a reunion of old friends. Some of those books I have read regularly since I was in elementary school. My husband was quite entertained listening to me wax eloquent over my various books.

I also (finally!) moved all my fan fiction bookmarks from my old phone to my new phone. I’d never read fan fiction prior to a year and a half ago, but I’ve found quite a few gems in that time. I had about 150 bookmarks I had to copy.

Anyway! It was so fun to go back through my books that I thought I’d take you on a tour of my bookshelf so I get to talk about them some more. 🙂

Today I’d like to talk about a story on my virtual bookshelf: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina. It’s a Pride & Prejudice fan fiction posted on Dwiggie.com. I like to start my year with Pride & Prejudice and even though I haven’t read the original yet, I did read this version again.

This short story takes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 as its theme, particularly this well-known section:

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
It is an ever fixed mark
Which looks on tempests and is never shaken.

Fan fiction takes a well-known story/characters and basically changes something and then writes out the results of those changes–sort of like throwing a rock in a pond and then taking a picture of the resultant ripples. The “rock” Sabrina chose to throw is that after Darcy’s disastrous proposal and subsequent letter to Elizabeth, Anne de Bourgh asks to speak with Darcy and gives him some solid advice about how he should propose to Elizabeth. It prompts him to think back over why exactly Elizabeth had rejected him and he realizes that it was his own fault. He repents of his pride (gotta love that about Darcy!). I will say that I think Sabrina speeds up his character shifts beyond what’s realistic, but at the same time, she keeps with the logical trajectory of his repentance and there have been times in my own life when something just hits me and I’m able to see things differently–so it’s at least plausible, even if the real battle is whether those character changes play out long-term. When Darcy finds Elizabeth distraught over his letter, he comforts her. They end up having a conversation about the nature of love, and it’s just beautiful.

Sabrina also addresses something that has gradually driven me nuts about P&P: Bingley’s lukewarm behavior. Now maybe you don’t think Bingley was lukewarm. Maybe you think the poor guy should get a pass because of his temperament or the situation he was in or whatever. I personally think Jane should have made things a little harder on him when he came back. He’d proven that he wasn’t his own man–he let other people run his life. I love that Pamela Aiden addresses this character flaw in her Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy.

Yes, I do realize that it wouldn’t be realistic or politic for the timeframe if Jane had made Bingley work for her. Women were dependent on a good marriage to secure their livelihood–we clearly see this evidenced in Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins (ugh!). But then, Austen contrasts Charlotte’s more practical approach with Elizabeth’s unwillingness to settle for a marriage of convenience. Jane and Bingley are kind of the middle ground. Jane is in love with Bingley, and Bingley is in love with Jane (supposedly). But their love isn’t tested the same way that Elizabeth and Darcy’s is. Maybe it really does come down to different personality types.

I had an interesting conversation about literature and personality type the other day. I gravitate towards strong female characters because that’s my personality type. But a friend of mine is turned off by those types because they grate on her personality type. It really emphasizes how genius Jane Austen was to be able to portray multiple personality types realistically and winsomely. I find myself writing the same personality type for my main characters (my own) because it’s easy for me to do so realistically. But Austen has a broad base of personality types.

Anyway! If you’re an Austen lover, An Ever-Fixed Mark is a treat to read and, as I said, deals with some really great themes about the nature of love. You can also check out Dwiggie.com for more great fan fics. It’s a fun genre to get into!

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Fighting for Vulnerability

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working my way through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day. I’ve been ridiculously convicted by 1 Thess 2:2 where Paul says, “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition” [NIV]. The way Beth phrases it is that Paul and Silas were “one bitten, twice bold.”

I don’t know about you, but that is not me. (See that emphasis? I really mean it.) I’m the kind of person who, when injured in a relationship or situation, walks away. It’s completely contrary to the stuff I’ve learned in Tai Chi, but it’s still my gut reaction. I think anyone who’s had bad experiences, which is probably most of us, isn’t going to make the same mistakes twice. That whole “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” thing. We don’t take pans out of the oven without hot pads. We don’t do stupid things once we’ve learned that they’re stupid.

But here’s Paul, knowing that preaching the Gospel is going to result in suffering, and still doing it. With God’s help.

I finished my Lois & Clark fan fic. I’ll add a link once I get it archived (or if you want to read it a week at a time, I’m posting it on lcficmbs.com and fanfiction net). Anyway, super fun to write! Lots of angst, as I said. And one of the great things I got to explore was vulnerability, and how love leaves us exposed, but at the same time we’re better people because of it. It’s something I’ve been working on my own life. I want to be a vulnerable person–to share myself with others, the way Paul talks about in 1 Thess. 2:7-8–because I want to be a vulnerable person, not because I feel guilted into it, not because the people around me act in a way that makes me feel like it’s a good idea, but because it’s who I want to be. My relational paranoia means I am quite uncomfortable with that. I give people, even dear friends, a very  small level of trust. If they break my trust, even unintentionally, it takes me a long time before I trust them again.

Obviously–quick disclaimer–I am not advocating putting oneself in/staying in an abusive situation.

But there’s something to that whole being open thing. Community is impossible without it. In Children of the Day, Beth says “We were created for community. We thrive in healthy intimacy. We have to give fully to create the space to receive fully” (p. 59). We can’t really have fulfilling relationships without being vulnerable.

But it isn’t natural. It’s not a gut reaction. It’s something we have to fight for, something we have to depend on God for. That seems to be the key phrase there. Paul has to be determined to persevere, but he doesn’t do it on his own. He depends on God.

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Keys to Finding a Calling

In my Bible study today Beth Moore said something in passing that really hit me. I’ve been working through Children of the Day: 1&2 Thessalonians. I’m really enjoying it. Anyway! Today was on hindrances, and how Paul didn’t let his hindrances actually hinder him. He persevered despite the many, many difficult circumstances he went through (2 Cor. 11; 1 Thess 2). Beth was talking about how amazing it is to let God take the hindrance out of our past pains and she listed a bunch of equations (e.g., Heartbreak-hindrance= depth) (p.70).

One of those equations particularly struck me: “My pain-hindrance=my passion.” As I was thinking about it, I realized how true it is. Pain gets under our skin, makes us care about things we wouldn’t normally care about. And once you’ve worked through that pain, you still care about the thing that’s left. For instance, I’m passionate about natural health because I have a chronic illness and I’ve done the whole “do what your doctor says without questioning it” thing and it didn’t work for me. I’m also passionate about women in the church because I got told multiple times in high school and college that there wasn’t a place for me in the church (other than to just attend or do nursery or worship team).

Anyway, as I was thinking through all the things I’m passionate about, I realized that they’ve all come out of some painful situation that God has transformed through His love. And He’s been faithful to provide outlets for me to use that passion in various ways.

I wish, however, that we would talk about that in the church. You know, when we’re giving people spiritual gifts tests and telling them that God has something for them in a vague, general sort of way. It would have been nice to have someone say: here’s your gifting; look at whatever the most painful experiences of your life have been to figure out what you’re passionate about, and ask God to combine the two. (Or something along those lines.)

It’s definitely something I’m going to be telling my children when they ask about what God might be calling them to do.