Christian Living

Fighting for your life

The week in our podcast Epic Every Day we talked about living on the verge. The verge is when you feel like you’re a house of cards only one move from collapsing. I think most of us are familiar with the feeling in our society, unfortunately. As I was doing my Bible study this week, I was struck by how we have a choice.

We can live on the verge in that frantic, trying to control, trying to do thing in our own strength—or we can live God’s way.

Living God’s way is very different. I’m doing Ruth right now in my Bible study. I love that book! I love how God sets Boaz up to be the perfect kinsman-redeemer for Ruth (his mother was Rahab, a former Canaanite prostitute, so he’s understanding of the plight of foreigners). Chuck Missler talks about how the book of Ruth is a type of Christ because Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer. Obviously, it’a not just a type; it’a also a story about real people. Reading through chapter 2, I’m amazed both by Ruth’s actions and Boaz’s.

Ruth leaves her family, her home, her culture, etc., etc. and accompanies her widowed mother-in-law. Once they reach Bethlehem, Ruth provides for Naomi by working in Boaz’s fields. God provided for the poor during that time by commanding the Israelites to leave a part of their fields (the edges) available for the poor (Lev. 23:22). Anyone could come harvest. I’m always in awe of that system. It gave power to the poor by allowing their work to matter, allowing them to provide for themselves. They had dignity and purpose even though it was a societal method of providing for everyone. But I digress.

Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields and he commands his workers to leave extra stalks for her to glean. He also allows her to eat with the workers and provides water and roasted grain. In other words, not only is he making it easy for her to gather food, he’s also making sure she’a got the energy to do that work.

Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (NIV).

One of the things I regularly pray is that I will build where God is building. That I won’t be off doing my own thing because that means that I’m wasting my time 100%. I was reminded of Psalm 127 reading Ruth. Because of Boaz’s kindness Ruth was able to gather more grain when she followed along after Boaz’s harvesters than if she had been harvesting in someone else’s field. God is the same way–when we align with His design for our lives, we are more fruitful in less time. He provides fruitful labor and the energy to engage in that labor.

One of the analogies I really like that I mentioned on the show this week is the ocean current in Finding Nemo (or Finding Dory). I love that idea that following God is like jumping into the current. It takes you places more quickly and with less effort on your part.

Aligning with God’s way isn’t necessarily life or death. I’m not saying it never is–just look at how addictions can destroy your body–but I think we get lulled into a false sense of security. Moving through our days, we get numbed by the sameness and we forget that what we do does matter. We forget that we are fighting for our lives–what they’ll be like, what legacy we’ll leave, how we’ll spend ourselves. Following our callings matters! Just like Naomi couldn’t see what God’s doing in Ruth 1 when her husband sons died and she ended up going back to Israel, talking about how God had afflicted her. In reality, God was paving the way for David and for Jesus and had plans to bless her again (Ruth 5).

Don’t doze off. You’re fighting for your life! You don’t have time to get swept away in busyness and complacency.

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Cues of Despair

A while back, I talked about despair as absence. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week–mostly because I’ve been having some mattress issues. It’s amazing how hard it is to stay present and upbeat in my day when I’m seriously lacking in sleep. Yes, I know that sleep is a huge factor in emotional health. Lord willing, the latest mattress fix will work!

Anyway, one of the things I have written in my journal about hope is Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future, NIV). It’s a well-known verse, but in the Psalms of Ascent study, Beth Moore talks about flipping the verse. We know God’s plans for us: to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. But we can also look at this verse and get a pretty good glimpse into what Satan’s plans for us are–the exact opposite:  for us to fail, to harm us, for us to be hopeless and without a future.

Even if depression isn’t something you struggle with, we all struggle with sometimes feeling hopeless or like we’re failing. We can entertain those thoughts–in other words, we can let them hang out in our brains all comfy-like, rather than kicking them out when they show up (or working to make sure our brains are hostile environments for them in the first place). But after looking at the flip side of Jer. 29:11, those thoughts have actually become a sort of cue for me–a reminder that when I entertain hopelessness or feelings of failure or fear of the future, I’m falling in line with Satan’s plans for me. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather position myself to follow God’s plans for my life.

Note: I am one hundred percent a fan of re-examining one’s life to determine where you can do things better–that’s not what I’m talking about here when I say we shouldn’t entertain thoughts of failure. I firmly believe in figuring out how to do things smarter rather than working harder at the impossible.

 

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Applying the Principles

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that sleep is… a struggle for me. The things that messed up my sleep happened so early on in my life that I honestly don’t remember ever not having it be a fight. I’ve struggled with nightmares and insomnia my entire life. In fact, sleep itself used to be something that triggered me–I’d get panic attacks every time I tried to go to sleep. Sleep and I have not been friends in the past, although that is definitely changing (thank the good Lord!).

So, various times I’ve talked about the five Tai Chi principles (here and here)–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole & total–and how they translate into spiritual reality–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). After having a few folks ask about how I use those principles in my life, I thought I’d share an example of how I apply them–in this case, how I apply them to my sleep issues.

Now, I am 100% not saying that you should ignore the physical causes of insomnia–e.g., lack of magnesium, not eating enough calories, exercising too close to bed, blue light near bedtime, certain insomnia medications, various chemicals, etc., etc., etc. I firmly believe that God has designed our bodies to work a certain way and when we align with His design, we’ll thrive–for example, we can’t expect Him to give us healthy bodies if we ingest poison every day. Please, if you struggle with sleep issues, address those things. Sleep is huge to a person’s mental and physical well-being, so it’s not the sort of thing one should just let slide. My current favorite book on these issues is “The Sleep Solution: End Your Insomnia Naturally” by Emily Benfit (and no, I didn’t get a free copy or any referrals, etc., etc.), so if you have sleep problems, go check it out!

Additionally, I’m not trying to downplay the emotional component of sleep issues. I spent a fairly large amount of time in therapy dealing with why I had nightmares all the time and have done cranial-sacral therapy to release the stored trauma on a physical level.

So, yes, applying the principles doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re not just spiritual beings–we’re bodies too.

Okay! Now that I’ve put all those disclaimers there, let’s get into the principles. I’ve already talked about Psalm 127 and how burning the candle at both ends is not a good idea. I’ve had verse two percolating in my brain: “In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves” (HCS). Yes, some translations talk about how God gives to us even while we sleep vs. giving us sleep itself, but it makes sense to me that God gives us sleep. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how if God gives me something and I don’t get it, I’m the problem. So, as I’ve been trying to be in a place where I can receive sleep (which includes addressing the physical and emotional stuff), I ran it through the principles recently.

  • Being calm/Trusting God–I realized that I have a scarcity mentality about sleep; I don’t actually trust that God will give me sleep or even that He created enough sleep for everyone in the world, as though if some people get plenty of deep sleep, it won’t leave enough deep sleep around for the rest of us. Yes, I realize that’s weird. I’m just sharing where I’ve been at. This lack of trust results in anything but calmness about sleep. My brain goes a million miles per hour when I start exhibiting signs of insomnia, instead of being able to stay chill and try to problem solve. So I’ve been working on changing that–on trusting God to take care of my sleep instead of trying to provide for myself.
  • Being physically relaxed/surrendered to God–Um, if I’m not calm, I’m not relaxed; it’s kind of a given. This is similar to what I just said, but I realized I’ve been trying to force sleep. Sadly, going to sleep is kind of the opposite of forcing something–it’s more about letting go of consciousness rather than grabbing onto unconsciousness. I’m working on letting God be the one to provide sleep and on letting go.
  • Being centered/living out of the essence of who God’s created you to be–in my mind, this is about making sure your sleep habits match your personal quirks. For instance, I’m pretty picky about my pillow and I can’t sleep unless I have a foot out of the covers. Applying the principles doesn’t mean ignoring who you are. It involves embracing who you are.
  • Being grounded/remembering who God really is–obviously, this one is an issue. As I said, I tend to have this belief that God withholds sleep or didn’t make enough sleep for the world. So I’ve been working on changing that belief. As I said, Psalm 127:2 has definitely prompted me to pay attention to what I actually believe about God’s character in this area. I actually had no idea that I had such a wonky view of God until I started thinking about it–isn’t it so interesting that we can compartmentalize that way?
  • Being whole and total/being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you–I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of laying in bed and then sending my brain somewhere else. I think about what else is on my to-do list, what I’m going to be doing the next day, something that happened in the past, a story that I read, what I’m working on in my writing, etc., etc. I’ve been working on trying to be fully present in my bed when I lay down–to feel the bed, feel the sheets, hear my husband sleeping, feel my body relaxing into the bed, etc., etc. I’m also working on not making assumptions about what’s happening. For example, I don’t need to assume that it will take me x amount of hours to fall asleep or to decide when I first lay down whether I’m likely to sleep or not that night.

So there you go! As I said, a couple people have asked about actually applying the principles. This is how I apply them. And they work great for every area of our lives!

 

 

 

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The God Who Fights

As I’ve shared, I’m working my way back through Beth Moore’s study on the Psalms of Ascent. One thing that’s been really hitting me lately is something out of Psalm 124. I’m going to post the whole thing because it’s really beautiful:

If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say—if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

I don’t know what your upbringing was, but I am in awe that anyone would be on my side. Joshua 23:10 talks about how God fights for Israel so they were triumphant. Romans 8:28-39 talks about how God is on His children’s side. In the past, I’ve read these verses and though about how nice all that is, but somehow it hit me differently this time.

Imagine these two scenarios (we’ll use parents/children because God images Himself as our Father). Scenario one: A boy bullies you at school. You come home and tell your father about it and he says, “Man, that sounds really rough. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m sure someday that boy won’t be in your life and then things will get better.” Scenario two: A boy bullies you at school. You come home and tell your father about it and he holds you and allows you to express your feelings. Then he teaches you healthy boundaries and how to protect yourself, reminding you that you are precious and don’t need to put up with someone treating you otherwise. He also calls both the boy’s parents and the school and talks to them about how to resolve the situation.

The second scenario involves your Father bestirring himself for you, rather than just commiserating. A lot of us have people who commiserate with us about problems in our lives–and I’m not downplaying the benefit of having someone truly listen and be with us in our misery; it’s a powerful thing–but how many of us have had someone actually fight for us? Someone who has the power and authority to change the situation and then actually uses that power and authority on our behalf.

I have to tell you that it’s the sort of thing that gives me goosebumps when I think about it. God has a lot of power and a lot of authority, and He brings all that to bear in my life on my behalf. Sometimes I feel really alone and/or unsure of how to even begin to fix various things in my life. But that’s not reality. I’m not alone. God says that anyone who touches His people, touches the apple of His eye. He’s not just going to let things slide. And He knows how to fix things. After so many years of people commiserating without ever bringing their ability or right to help me, I’m amazed that the God of the universe intervenes my life.

So let me remind you: God is on your side today, now, whatever your circumstances are. He fights for you.

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Intentional Seeds

So how was y’all’s week? Mine was weird, but good. My kids were in Camp Motion at our church (it’s sort of like VBS, but it runs from 9-5) all last week. I spent a good number of hours working on my book about women in ministry. I’m trying to get it done in time for my oldest daughter’s twelfth birthday (2 years from now). We’ll see if it happens. I have to admit it’s both something I love working on and hate at the same time. I find myself regularly wanting to tear my hair out because I’m frustrated with the lack of basic good scholarship–it seems like common sense that using circular arguments, straw men, and defining terms one way but using them a different way should really be out, right?

Anyway! That particular project always makes me more determined to be wise about how I use God’s Word. In her chapter on Psalm 126, Beth Moore talks about the difference between eating the seed and planting it (Stepping p, 81). Her example came from a conversation with an aid worker in a third world country. He was talking about how one of the hard things is watching people be so hungry that when they’re given aid in the form of seed to plant, they eat instead. There’s a disconnect (and desperation, I’m sure) between being able to eat today vs. planting it and getting a harvest that will last for months. It’s got to be hard. I was reading Robinson Crusoe to my kids and thinking how hard it’d be to plant corn over and over for 11 years without eating any of it, just so you could be sure you had enough to plant the following year AND eat some.

Beth Moore talks about how we treat God’s Word the same way. We get the seed, and we get all emotional about whatever it is. We hear it and think about how awe-inspiring it is, etc., etc., but we don’t take time to plant it. By plant it, I mean apply it to our daily lives. If we apply God’s Word, it reaps a harvest every day. If we get emotional about it without applying it, we’re changed in that moment, but then the feelings (and change) fades.

I know I’m guilty of that. There have been plenty of times when I hear something and think how life-change it is, but don’t actually do the work to let it change my life. For instance, I know that putting stillness and time to process into my day every day is key for my emotional health. Do I actually do the work by putting it in there? Some days, but more often than not, no. At least not lately.

What things in your life are you eating instead of planting, and what would it look like to actually plant them?

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The Trial of Busy-ness

June has been so busy. Like, ridiculously so. For some reason, summer tends to be that way for a lot of people. You’d think we’d have less to do since it’s sort of “vacation time”–but sadly, no. Although maybe it’s just a different busy. I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t think their lives are busy during the summer and busy during the fall as their kids go back to school and busy with the winter holidays and busy with spring break and spring yard work, etc., etc., etc.

I talked last time about how being in a hurry precludes our loving anyone. I’m realizing that anyone includes myself. I’ve been too busy to sleep enough many days. Because of my chronic illness, I really need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. But I feel like I just don’t have time for that. Sadly, I’m starting to get sicker again–pretty sure I need to re-think the whole only sleeping for 8 hours thing. I’ve been so happy that I have energy to cook and clean and write and school my children that I’m running myself ragged again. It’s made me think about Psalm 127:1-2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (NIV)

I’ve been thinking about how, in a lot of ways, busy-ness is just as much a trial as suffering. It’s exhausting. I love in verse two, where the Psalmist says “in vain you rise early and stay up late”–how often do we Americans do that? We’re always burning the candle at both ends.

In my Bible study last week, we covered Psalm 123: “I lift my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God, until He shows us favor. Show us favor, LORD, show us favor, for we’ve had more than enough contempt. We’ve had more than enough scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.” (HCSB)

I love this Psalm, for lots and lots of reasons. It hit me in a new way though as I was thinking about how nuts June has already been and how busy the rest of it is shaping up to be. Beth Moore has this great little chart in her section on Psalm 123: Where I look–> What I hear–> What I feel–> What I expect (Stepping Up, 43).

I’ve been thinking about that with my busy-ness this past week. Being busy typically is not a trigger for me to think: “man, I’m going to need extra time with God.” Or even to think: “Is this really what God’s calling me to do or am I trying to force something?” (a la Psalm 127).  But I want to be the kind of person who consistently keeps my focus on God. I want to have expectations that are in line with who God is and what He’s doing in my life.

For instance, I’ve noticed I’m getting a little overprotective of my writing time. Part of it is because I have goals: I want to finish the first 300 pages of my fantasy novel (or series if it gets too long) by the end of this year. But when I’m stressed and rushed in my writing, I actually write less. It’ll take me an hour to an hour and a half to write the amount of pages I aim for daily vs. half an hour. It goes back to that “unless the LORD…. you labor in vain” thing. I’m convinced it’s what I’m supposed to be finishing next in my writing projects, but if I’m overexerting, it doesn’t mean more results–it means tireder Liz.

And overexerting is always a waste anyway. Isn’t that so interesting? I was raised that the essence of success is trying harder and if you fail, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough–not because you didn’t try smart enough, not because you were trying the wrong thing, not because maybe it wasn’t in God’s plan for you. But I’ve since learned that that is a lie. In my Tai Chi class, we talk a lot about the less relaxed you are, the less results you have–i.e., the more tense you are when you do something, the more likely you are to fail.

If we’re God’s children, we’re already favored by Him. Stop. Think about that. We’re already favored.  There’s no reason to overexert because God is the one building the house. God is the one watching the city. Faithfulness means working hard, but it doesn’t mean burning the candle at both ends–or rushing.

Which brings me back around to what my expectations are. I am already favored by God. I am doing what I believe God is calling me to do. But because I’m focused on all I’ve got going on, my expectation is that I can’t do everything I need to do and still have time to sleep. Pretty crazy, huh? If God made my body to need a certain amount of sleep and the responsible thing to do is to get that sleep, if I really believe that God is faithful and can smooth my way through all the things on my to-do list, I think my expectations would be quite a bit different.

Book update: We’re looking for folks to be guinea–er, testers for the Bible study that goes along with my book “To Push on the Rock.” It’s designed for small groups, but we also want some people to test it individually (mainly because that’s how I utilize my Bible studies because of my health issues so we want it to be useful to individuals as well as groups). The homework is fairly flexible–it can be as much as a daily study or as little as a once a week study. If you’re interested, please let me know.

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Physical Rest

So this post you get to listen in to me preaching at my own soul. I need this message. I struggle in this area. And frankly, the past couple of weeks, I have done a particularly wretched job of applying these principles.

Several posts ago, I talked about how rest isn’t optional and mentioned how God gave Elijah food and sleep to rest and Jesus gave his disciples time away from the crowds to eat and rest. These are good examples of physical rest. By physical rest, I mean giving my body the things it needs to thrive. I tend to be a go-go-go, push-your-body-to-the-wall-until-it-collapses type. Or at least when things are busy, you should just push on through, right?

You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. Exd 34:21 NASB

Plowing and harvest time are the major push seasons in a farmer’s year. God still commands them to rest even when things are busy. I’ve often wondered if somehow adding rest into the equation when things are nutso would give me the stamina to perform to a higher standard (this doesn’t mean I’ve practiced it much though!). I know that not resting drains me and adds to my stress level. I used to work in an office where my boss required ALL my time. He would literally send people into the bathroom/break room/etc. to tell me to hurry up because he needed me right then. Two years of working there did a whammy on my physical and emotional health.

Our bodies are designed to need breaks. Not enough sleep and a) our bodies don’t have time to do self-repair and b) you end up with the symptoms of drunkenness–the lack of judgment, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to walk straight–and then whatever you’re working on is done poorly anyway (not that I would know that from experience *ahem*). Anyway, after years of believing I can manage quite well on 6 hours of sleep, I now have adrenal fatigue and feel like I am dragging my way through much of my day. Statistically, Americans skimp on sleep. So, in the midst of my own auto-immune issues, my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves to get 10-12 hours a night for the next month (i.e., to start our bedtime routine when the kids go to bed rather than spending a couple more hours tidying or watching a movie, etc., etc.). We’ll see how it goes.

Not enough eating and your body goes into starvation mode (which mimics adrenal fatigue). I’m bad at this one too. I get in the middle of something and figure I will eat when I finish and somehow it’s the end of the day and I still haven’t eaten. Or my kids will be fussy and I don’t want to eat and listen to them fuss so I wait until they’re busy and suddenly it’s mid-afternoon before I have breakfast. Or in previous years, I’ve been on a diet and don’t eat enough calories for my body to properly function. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of all the emphasis on weight loss. I know we’re not supposed to be gluttons, but is it really ok to deprive our bodies of certain vital nutrients (e.g., carbs or protein) or to cut calories as a shortcut to looking like we’re healthy on the outside?

Physical rest, i.e., taking good care of my physical body also involves things like making time to wash my hair and sitting down sometimes. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to skimp on stuff like that. My to-do list is never, ever, ever done–someone always needs something else, like fed or their owies kissed, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway! A couple years ago I did Beth Moore’s Psalms of Ascent study and she really put her finger on why I struggle with skipping physical rest.

A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. – Psa 127:1-2 NASB

I don’t stop to rest, because I believe I am responsible to get the thing done. I don’t ask God for help with the every day tasks. And, as I’ve said, I’ve believed the lie that my job is to complete my to-do list, rather than faithfully stay at it.

So, self, rather than going non-stop all hours of the day, take time to nurture your body. God gave it to you as a stewardship, so it’s not laziness–it’s obedience.