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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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The Other Side

So I started doing Beth Moore’s Psalms of Ascent study again–it’s my third time through. I actually really love using the same bible study book over and over. I use a different colored pen and date when I’m doing the study, so I can really see how what was stressful or important has changed. It gives me the sense that I’m growing, that life is moving forward.

Anyway! This morning I came across this little note that jogged my memory. It was about emotions and what’s on the other side. My example was fear of spiders–it’s a nice generic emotion, right? When you’re facing the fear, all you see is the fear itself–how gross or scary spiders are or maybe there’s something deeper, like some trauma you experienced as a child (e.g., in Harry Potter where Fred and George turn Ron’s teddy bear into a spider when he was young).

But what’s on the flip side of that? Spiders are actually a testament to God’s creativity and can be a reminder that God protects us all the time, that He’s sovereign and present. When you add in faith and love and surrender, there’s a whole different side to the fear–one that shows us more about who God is and who we are.

I believe that all the rest of our emotions are the same way. When I’m feeling overwhelmed without how busy I am, it can remind me to slow down and that God is really the scheduler of my day so there’s no point in freaking out.

I love the idea that we’re not just stuck with our emotions–that emotions exist to change us, to move us, to draw us closer to God, rather than to exist for themselves. It’s fascinating when you start studying the neurobiology of emotion and all the neural pathways and chemical composition of emotions. Every emotion does something to us on a physical level, but it also changes who we are and how we respond to a situation (both in the present and in the future). And once we allow the emotion to sweep through us and transform us, it goes away. This is incredible to me because I spent a good chunk of my life suppressing things over and over and over–shockingly enough, when you do that, the emotion never goes away.

So, challenge for the week: At some point, when we’re feeling something, let’s stop and think about what the other side of the emotion is. What does it tell us about who we are and who God is? And is that accurate or do we need to broaden the information our emotion is based on?

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Standing Firm

Evan and I are writing a companion Bible study guide to my next book, To Push on the Rock. I was test driving my way through the first week’s exercises, and this verse stood out: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:21a NIV).

I needed to hear that today. It hasn’t been an awful week or anything, but I’ve had a lot of insomnia, and I’m tired. Being tired makes for a crappy perspective… It’s hard to hang onto what’s true, to remember who I am. Plus, this week it feels like a lot of our friends are going through rough times–really brings home the whole living in a broken world thing.

Coming from a Tai Chi perspective, standing firm involves hanging onto your balance–which is only possible if you’re calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total. There’s a lot wrapped up in the idea of standing firm.

So it was really nice to have this reminder. It’s not circumstances that help us stand firm or even our own ability to stand firm. It’s God. That doesn’t mean we don’t persevere, we don’t work hard to be faithful, but instead the key is to work on our connection to God first, rather than trying to change circumstances.

And it’s not our ability to help people that makes them stand firm–it’s God. I really love looking at it that way. It’s like in Tai Chi–it’s literally impossible to balance someone else because it takes a ton of internal adjustments. If they’re not relaxed or calm or centered or grounded or being out of the entirety of themselves, they won’t be balanced, and you can’t do those things for someone else. You can encourage someone. You can listen. You can’t live their life for them. It’s God who helps them stand firm, just as much as He helps me stand firm.

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The God Who Sees

Last time, I wrote about how we have a choice–to view things with faith, love, and hope, or not to. They really are a game-changer. But this is the flip-side of that. Sometimes things are just hard–often, actually, since we are broken people living in a broken world.

Last week was crazy for us, like a lot of weeks are. I’ve been overdoing it and have been paying for it. My husband had the flu, which is practically unheard of in our house. Our kids were so stressed they couldn’t sleep at Grandma and Grandpa’s, despite the fact that they’d been looking forward to it for weeks.

Anyway, my husband and I were talking about how sometimes it’d be nice to tell people what’s happening in our lives and have them actually realize how rough things are. A lot of that comes with the territory of a chronic illness–unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult to understand how stressful it is to be sick (or to care for a sick loved one) for years and years. Plus, people expect you to sort of adjust, so they stop asking or offering help, which I get. It’s not that we want a pity party–we just want someone to listen and understand, to recognize on the days when we’re at the end of our ropes.

I’m sure you can relate. Everyone has hard things in their lives. Everyone has days when they feel like they’re at the very end of their rope.

Fortunately, there is someone who knows and understands. Someone who even steps in with help. I’ve been thinking about Hagar. If you’re not familiar with her story, she was Sarah’s maid (as in Abraham and Sarah in Genesis). Sarah convinced Abraham to impregnate Hagar so that she could have a child. Hagar obeyed her mistress, but once she became pregnant, she began to despise Sarah, and so Sarah began to mistreat her (Gen. 16). I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been. I mean, she didn’t choose to bear Abraham a son–she was a servant who obeyed. And later on she loses her home and is forced to watch her son sicken to the point that she knows he’s dying, not to mention that she herself doesn’t have water either (Gen. 21).

But then God intervenes. Both times He comforts her verbally, and, in Genesis 21, He provides for her physically. And after God comforts her and encourages her, she calls the God she speaks to: “the God who sees me.”  I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder. Yes, I’m working to view my circumstances through the lenses of faith, hope, and love. Yes, I want to hang onto the fact that God is working all things for my good. But some days I just need to know that someone sees my pain and exhaustion and stress and cares.

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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.

 

Movies

The Beauty of Brokenness

I love Star Trek. I grew up on Next Generation. I remember when the first episode aired, back in 1987. It was like a holiday in our house because my dad had been quite into the original series. I’ve never been much of an Original Series fan myself, but I’ve been sucked into the Star Trek realm for all the rest of the shows and movies and my husband and I have made our way through TOS after watching the reboots (what is with the “Spock’s Brain” episode??–really, that’s the sort of thing that would make me feel like I had egg on my face if I’d written it). My kids have seen both Tribble episodes–the TOS and the DS9. They loved Into Darkness.

Anyway! I’ve been thinking a lot about the TOS characters lately–mostly because I LOVE the movie reboots (AOS). Star Trek and Into Darkness were top drawer, cream of the crop, all that jazz. I love the characters. The plots were both fine, but the characters just blew me away. And, as I’ve been reading AOS fan fiction pretty much continuously for the past few months, I’ve found myself pondering the differences between the AOS vs. TOS characters.

Let’s just talk about Kirk and Spock because we know most about their backgrounds and it’s easy to see what I’m talking about with them. So, in the original series, Kirk grows up in a loving, stable home. His father inspires him to join Star Fleet. He goes through some serious trauma in his teen years on Tarsus IV–basically, if you’re not familiar with the story of Tarsus IV, some kind of fungus that killed all their crops and for some reason Star Fleet didn’t come right away (or wasn’t aware of the situation) and so Governor Kodos used the crisis as an opportunity to put into practice his theories on eugenics and killed half the colony so that the other half could survive (see TOS The Conscience of the King). Kirk does have this great line in Star Trek 5 (yes, I realize it’s pretty much the only redeeming part of the movie) about how his pain makes him who he is. And we do see him with an awful lot of alien women, although I’ve read someone who made the case that he genuinely gets emotionally attached to them vs. the one night stands AOS Kirk indulges in. But on the whole, this Kirk is confident, stable, and uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights.

Spock from TOS suffers from trying to reconcile his two halves, and he doesn’t have the best relationship with his father–although there’s not a lot of insight as to whether that’s simply because he went into Star Fleet or if it’s of longer standing than that.

In AOS, Nero’s advent does a few things. For Kirk, obviously, Nero results in the death of his father even as Kirk is born (and if you look at the star dates, he’s born prematurely; unless of course AOS just forgot when Kirk’s birthday is). Kirk’s mother is off-planet, what seems to be frequently, judging from Kirk’s delinquent tendencies. I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that Winona Kirk probably had issues dealing with Jim simply because her husband died as Jim was being born. I’m guessing that messed up a lot of that early mother-child bonding. Jim also has an uncle/stepfather? (Frank) who is at least verbally abusive to the point that Jim’s brother runs away while Jim is young. And we don’t know about Tarsus IV, but personally, I have no problem with the idea that it still happened and he still went. Hence, you end up with a Kirk who is brash, spoiling for a fight, clearly broken… he still uses his genius and charm to captain the Enterprise to great heights, but there’s an edginess there that’s not present in TOS.

For Spock, we don’t know exactly what Nero’s advent did. The movie shows Spock being bullied on account of his mother’s heritage. Fan fic authors speculate that xenophobia increased after humans learned from Nero that Romulans and Vulcans are cousins (something that didn’t turn up in the original series until part way through season one), resulting in deteriorated Vulcan-Human relations, and thus the bullying and his path to Star Fleet. He’s not accepted by the Vulcans. Obviously, after the first movie, Spock is dealing with the loss of his planet and the loss of his mother. She doesn’t die until much later in his life in the original series. Spock too is broken.

Guess which series has more fan fics?

If you answered AOS, you’re right! On fanfiction.net alone, there are more than twice as many AOS fics as there are TOS. I realize that there are more factors at work than just the characters–TOS is TV and the fans may tend to be older and perhaps less likely to write fan fic, which is after all a relatively new phenomenon; AOS is a movie series and has garnered fans from across the age spectrum.

But looking at those facts really brought something I’ve been thinking about for a while into focus for me. As an author and a reader, I love watching characters develop, and the reality is that character development takes angst. People don’t change when life is full of fluffy happiness–there’s no reason to. If I were going to write a Star Trek fan fic, I’d write it in the AOS universe because there’s more room for character development.

As Christians, we often go to great pains to look like we’ve got things together. We think that if non-Christians see how messed up we are, it’ll somehow put them off the Gospel, or if fellow Christians see how messed up we are, they’ll judge us for it. But the reality is that brokenness is winsome to people. People like the gritty, messy reality of brokenness because they can relate to it. Nobody’s perfect. If we pretend that we are perfect, we are in effect telling people that they don’t belong in our churches (or coming across as hypocrites, since everyone knows that nobody’s perfect). If we pretend that we’re perfect, we miss out on the opportunity for true community within the Church. And everyone else misses out on seeing something beautiful as God takes our brokenness and redeems it.

I talk a bit about this in my new book, To Push on the Rock, but I love Kintsugi–the Japanese art of pottery repair where they would fill in the cracks with lacquer mixed with gold dust. Kintsugi pieces are beautiful to see. And that’s how I feel about reading/writing a story where you watch the character go through angst that changes them or talking to someone who’s in the middle of a difficult time in their lives–there’s such beauty in the brokenness.

So why hide it?

 

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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.

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Pushing and Reflection

This week I’ve had the distinct not-pleasure of sleeping about every other night. I hate when my insomnia/ptsd kick in hard core. It’s hit the point where I actually feel a little drunk from lack of sleep–you know that the-room-is-spinning kind of sensation? Yeah… good times.

Anyway! Said insomnia was precipitated because I decided last week that I should really work harder on getting to bed earlier (and on some of my other health regimens) so I spent the week trying to force my body to cooperate and then this week it rebelled.

I’m reminded of Newton’s Third Law–the whole whatever force you put into something, an equal and opposing force comes back. Sort of like bouncing a ball: the harder you force the ball down, the harder it bounces back up.

It’s easy for me to think gritting my teeth and forcing my way through/past whatever may be going on in my life is the best way to handle things. I was raised to believe that no matter what is going on in your life, you just push through it. But over the past few years I’ve begun to realize that may not be the best response. In fact, I think it’s rather counter to the way God designed us to work. We’re supposed to be overwhelmed with life and then to depend on God–not be overwhelmed and fight our way through on our own.

Trying to do things on my own means I’m like those comic book heroes who find they’re actually fighting themselves when the villain simply reflects their powers/strength back onto them. Much better to let God be the one fighting on my behalf. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough junk going on in my life without adding fighting myself.

Literature

The Hawk and the Dove

If you’ve never read Penelope Wilcox’s triology, The Hawk and the Dove, well, you should. It’s one of those books everyone should read, especially anyone who has ever suffered or struggled with the problem of evil. I just happened to be given a copy of The Hawk and the Dove in college and it changed me. The book is comprised of a series of short stories that take place around the 15th century in a monastery. The main character, Father Peregrine, comes on the scene as a self-possessed, capable monk with strong hands. He is artistic, does beautiful illuminations, intelligent, able to debate theology…. yet somehow in the midst of this, his very self-sufficiency keeps him at arm’s length from the rest of the monks. Shortly after becoming the Abbot, enemies of his family find him and beat him, shattering his hands and kneecap. He spends the rest of his life as a cripple. Initially, he tries to maintain his self-sufficiency, to deal with his grief and fear alone. One of the brothers breaks through to him and beholds his suffering. The rest of the stories are about how the Abbot becomes the hub of the community. His weakness enables him to relate to the brothers on an intensely deep level, to soothe their fears and their weaknesses. He becomes truly a father to them all. And in the midst of his suffering, he falls in love with Jesus as the suffering savior.

I could never understand why the Catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross, until I read this book. Yes, I want to continue to celebrate His resurrection as verification of all He promised, but beholding Jesus as the suffering Savior has changed me in ways I can’t even explain. The Gospel is Christ crucified… God’s love revealed through sacrifice and suffering. He is not unfamiliar with our pain. He is not putting us through hoops, as though we’re rats in a maze. His suffering can comfort us in the midst of ours. Our suffering can connect us with Christ. Stop and think about that for a moment. Just turn it over a few times. Jesus is the suffering Savior and our suffering can connect us with Him.

He has empathy, not sympathy, for us in the middle of our suffering. As we suffer, we have empathy, not sympathy, for what He went through for US. for us! Jesus went through suffering for us. As I suffer, I come to a greater appreciation of God’s love for me–the cost He paid for me. This is the answer to the problem of evil–the cross.

Our suffering can connect us with others. This also blows my mind. I love how Wilcox shows the transformative power of suffering. Before his infirmity, Father Peregrine is self-sufficient and is able to command the respect of his brothers. Afterwards, he is broken and needy and earns their love. Before, he is able to guide them on an intellectual, surface level. Afterwards, his brokenness opens doors into their hearts and there is deep dealing experienced. It’s so easy for me to gloss over this concept. Maybe it’s the performance-oriented, perfectionistic part of me. I don’t know. But in my weakness, my first reaction is to conceal it, and when I can’t hide it, I try to minimize, and over the past few years, when I can’t even do those things, I feel isolated and like dead weight, dragging everyone around me down. Father Peregrine doesn’t hide his weakness–he can’t. And he’s a better Abbot because of his weakness, not in spite of his weakness. Just as Christ is a better high priest because of his weakness.

What would it be like if we all lived with our weaknesses and brokenness in the spotlight? Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But maybe we would be more intimately connected with God and with others, maybe we would have healthier souls. Maybe we would be better tools for the good works God’s prepared in advance for us to do. Maybe I am a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter because of my illness and brokenness, not in spite of it. Maybe you are too.

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Intrinsic Strength

So, I’ve blogged about this before and probably will again, but it’s what I needed to hear this week. I had a rough week. Despite (or maybe because of) our goal to get more sleep, I’ve been exhausted–insomnia, added health issues, hormonal things. It’s been rough. And I’ve done a wretched job of getting up in the morning and having my quiet time. Normally, my children will protest and/or suggest I go spend some time with Jesus when I haven’t done my Bible study (they know “mean mommy” comes out if I haven’t spent my time with Jesus). This week they didn’t for whatever reason and I just ran from one thing to the next or spent my time being ill-er than usual.

This morning in my Tai Chi class, we talked about intrinsic strength. We talk about this fairly often. Basically, it’s the strength we all gain when we align with gravity and ground ourselves on the earth. It’s the thing we take advantage of when we relax and lift with our legs. One way I’ve gotten in touch with this feeling is to pick up something (~5lbs or more). Try tensing your muscles. Now try relaxing them. Lean to one side or the other. Lean back. Lock your knees (briefly! you don’t need to pass out). When your body is aligned with gravity and your muscles are relaxed, the weight passes through your body and into the ground. You can feel it pushing your feet into the earth.

This is what our spiritual walk is like. I so often get tensed up, whether it’s out of fear or the belief I need to DO something. When we’re tensed, the stressor can’t just pass through us into the One who is holding us up. My Tai Chi instructor likes to say it’s like a kink in a garden hose. When I try to carry my problems with my own energy, it’s exhausting. When I simply allow them to pass through me to the ground, and allow the ground to bear their weight, I can still feel them, but they aren’t overwhelming me. Can the ground handle all the weight of everything on the earth? Obviously–it already is. So that’s half the equation.

The other half is staying connected to the ground. This sounds simple, but it’s really not (at least for me). It means not focusing on my thoughts, my plans, etc., etc. It means putting my full weight on the ground and relaxing into its strength, rather than trying to carry myself. God is our ground. He’s our firm foundation, our anchor. When we don’t spend time being still before Him, we forget who He is, we lose touch with Him. He’s always there–just like the ground.

The beauty of this approach is that it doesn’t matter what circumstances throw at us–God is more than capable of handling them. He already does carry them.