Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Standing

Notice the difference between the leaves at the bottom
of the tree and those at the crown.
I was sitting on the back deck a few days ago, reveling in the lower-than-usual humidity and the thanks-be-to-God cooler temperature when I noticed it. A tree that had, for most of the summer, looked like it was on death's door had produced a new crop of leaves in its crown, a long way from the ground. I grabbed the binoculars from my blue table just to confirm that my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. Trees don't produce new leaves in August, do they?

To this point, there had been no evidence whatsoever, and really more to the contrary, that anything productive was going on. The tree had stood there silently all summer, giving me no indication that anything of this magnitude was happening. In fact, its spring leaves shriveled and browned as they hung there, lank.

This summer my life has, in many ways, looked like that tree. I haven't written anything since June, even though my mind has been awhirl (the first week of July just about sent me over the edge). The days just kept whizzing by and I couldn't keep a thought in my head long enough to ponder it, let alone ruminate on it for anyone else's benefit.

It has appeared as though nothing of consequence has been transpiring.

There was unseen industry going on inside that tree, although I'm not sure the tree really had much say in the resulting leaves. It did what trees do--it stood with its face to the sun and drew nutrients and water from its roots. Without those, no amount of will or desire could've made anything happen.

Like that tree, I've done all I knew to do: stand. No amount of understanding, processing, and analyzing made anything happen. All I could comprehend was that those efforts were a futile waste of resources, a squandering of "nutrients" and "water" that was being drawn by Someone other than me from somewhere deep inside me to perform a work I couldn't even envision. I struggled mightily with the lack of productivity, but I couldn't do anything else.

I'm still not sure if any leaves have appeared (could you check my backside?) or are going to appear. But I'm realizing it's not my job to forecast the results. It's my job to stand.

What has your summer been like? I'd love to hear about it!



Monday, June 6, 2016

Details

Details. I love them. I like to collect them and roll them around in my mind like a handful of marbles. Around and around and around. It's mesmerizing and engrossing.

Details create stories.
Details frame events.
Details evoke feelings.
Details solve mysteries.
Details foster order.

Six lovely questions--who, what, when, where, why, and how--help me manage and organize details. Those questions generate more questions, which translates to more details to keep track of!

In May, three solid weeks of rolling marbles created detail overload. You could say I momentarily lost my marbles. There were so many details I wanted to understand so that I could make sense of what was coming. What I really mean by that is that I wanted to know what was coming so that I could manage my response to each situation.

My rationale was this:
1. If I could manage the details, I would be know what to expect.
2. If I could know what to expect, I could anticipate how I would feel.
3. If I could anticipate how I'd feel, then I wouldn't be helpless.

After 21 days of crazy, God sat me down one Monday morning. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) or I wouldn't get my marbles back. Our conversation went something like this:

Be still and know. You need to know Who I am more than you need to know details.
But I want to know. Why can't I know?
You wouldn't be still if you knew.
What do You want me to know?
That I am God.
Why do You want me to know that?
Because You can't control Me like you think you can those things you want to know.

I worked on the "be still" part by studying what it means. (Yes, I was looking for some kind of loophole.) In Hebrew, the word for that phrase is raphah. Raphah means to slacken, to cease, to let alone, to stay. When I pictured what it would look like for me "to slacken" my hold on details, I immediately imagined my hands slowly releasing the deeply wrinkled lapels of a man's suit, smoothing the fabric in an attempt to apologize for seizing it so tightly. Guess that was a clear indication of how tightly I was wound, huh. I needed what God had for me in this exercise.

Raphah also means healing. Somehow by being still I thought health and balance would return. It wasn't working. I wasn't experiencing relief or healing like I thought I would. I had a feeling it was because I was avoiding the second part of God's prescription: know that I am God.

I took some time to think about how I would embark on yet another earnest quest to know God. I've been trying to know God for as long as I've been in relationship with Him, which is about 45 years. I've tried gathering up all the details about Him I can find. I've rolled them around and around and around in my head, trying to make sense of Him. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. The only way that seems to work is to let Him make Himself known to me, let Him take control the process. Like He was doing now. Oh.

I still felt like I was back to square one. How was I going to be faithful to the second half of that verse? When I talked this through with my husband, he pointed out that the verse didn't say "know God." It said, "know that I am God." The rolling marbles slowed and my frazzled mind was soothed a bit. I already know that and believe that. Perhaps what I need to acknowledge is that He knows and manages the details better than I ever could. Probably has something to do with Him being sovereign and omniscient.

I'm still wrestling with my desire to know all the details, but I'm learning to let go and trust God with the marbles.




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Got Pain? Finding God in the Ruins

I've been on a reading kick this year, and this is the second of three non-fiction book reviews. You can find the first one here. Enjoy! --Jenn
In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers (and me) something disturbing: "In this world you will have trouble." He wasn't kidding. What He says next has always been something that has heartened me: "I have overcome the world." I've believed that all my life. As I've aged, though, I've wondered what to do when I can't reconcile that statement with the evil I see in the world.


Matt Bays has personal experience with evil. He too has grappled with what to do when the cliches of Christianity didn't mesh with his reality, leaving him to wonder where God was while he lived through things he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

So Matt put God on trial to see if he could find Him and retain his faith in the aftermath of his agony.

Originally, I bought this book for a friend of mine who is walking through an incredibly difficult season. Before I gave it to her, though, I thought I should be familiar with the content so that we could talk about it later. 

I had no idea how this book would resonate with me.

I have long had the need to, as Matt describes it, "know the why" of everything. Then when I couldn't, particularly in light of the challenges I had faced and the predicament of evil in the world, I told myself that His ways are not my ways, and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I didn't know anything else to do when that didn't satisfy my need to know.

My own brokenness was also a challenge. I didn't want to embrace it; I wanted to remove it. When the Apostle Paul boasted about his weakness because it allowed Christ power to rest on him, I thought, "That's nice for you, but I don't want to boast about my weakness. Any other way I can get Christ's power to rest on me?" Then I read this by Matt about that very passage:

"The word glory is often defined as 'the silent existence' or 'the unspoken manifestation of God.' The Greek word for glory is doxa, which is also used to convey God's intrinsic worth or his core value. So not only is the glory of God revealed in our brokenness, in the ruins of our lives, in those things we can't figure out, get right, or seem to overcome, but his core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest. The silent existence of God is alive in my brokenness, where his power is not simply present but 'made perfect.'"

Wow.

Through this book I found an invitation to search for God's presence in the midst of my irreconcilable differences. Matt's heart for those who have felt they had no other option but to walk away from faith, still holding their unresolved pain and questions because they believed their only choice was to swallow their disbelief beats loudly. Matt almost did the same. He describes his church experience as a child this way: "The dominating message was that God wanted me to say yes no matter what and that the more difficult questions of life were unnecessary."

This book is so needed today. Many have never believed and many have walked away from belief because they didn't think they had permission to question, examine, or rail against this God they couldn't square with their circumstances. Matt understands our difficulty and has done what most wouldn't in order to give others hope: he has gone first.

In Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain, Matt stares God down as he works through every single question he has about his twisted childhood, daring God to show Himself real and present. One of his most powerful discoveries answered one of my questions too: Where is God in suffering? Matt found that while God allows evil, He is not absent while it is taking place. Not only is He present, He is experiencing our pain, the violations, the injustice WITH US. 

I had never before thought about what Jesus' suffering on the cross for the sins of all humanity for all time entailed. Matt explains what God showed him: Somehow, while He bore the weight of all those sins once for all that day two millennia ago, He also chooses to bear them with us as they happen. 

Matt describes it this way: "God wasn't staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on a dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn't leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised, and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me. It was him, the same as it was me." 

That's the God I want to--and do--believe in.

In the end, Matt shares this about his process: "We will never know what makes him God. We can make our guesses, but in the middle of our pain, the answers wouldn't matter anyway. We need more than answers. We need the love of God, no matter how awkward or fumbly."

Matt doesn't advocate blind faith or acceptance of the mysteries of God for God's sake. He invites anyone who has questions, doubts, pain, or unresolved irreconcilable differences with God to bring all of that before Him, out in the light. He's giving us permission to stand nose to nose with God and ask every single question we've ever had, show Him every single wound we've received, and ask for, demand, an explanation. He promises God can take it. 

I'll leave you with this final quote: "...I walked away from the faith I knew, and I'm glad I did. I closed the door until I was ready for something more--for something greater. Passing through darkness will always be a part of life because trouble will always be with us. But as I strain my eyes amidst the shifting shadows, I find Jesus in silhouette. Every detail of his face is not recognizable, but his form is unmistakable."

Matt has created a seven-day Bible reading plan to accompany this book. You can find it here: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1809-finding-god-in-the-ruins/day/1 

You can find his book on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Finding-God-Ruins-Redeems-Pain/dp/0781413834/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460558864&sr=1-1&keywords=finding+god+in+the+ruins

What pain haunts you or has you in its grip? Are you mad at God because He doesn't seem to be offering any purpose for it? I invite you to share in the comments.






Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Transform Your Broken Crazy by Looking for Lovely

Ever have a conversation with a friend and find yourself saying, "Me, too!"? This book felt like I was having that conversation with someone I didn't really know, but felt like I did. After reading Looking for Lovely, I'd like to find Annie, give her a hug, and do life together, and I'm pretty sure you will too.

Annie's honest, transparent look at a hard season of her life--which she calls the "broken crazy" (I can relate)--gave me the courage to do more than just say, "Me, too."

Looking for Lovely gave me ways to look for what's lovely in the midst of my struggles, and showed me that in those beautiful moments I would find hope. Annie's theory is that beauty discovered in the midst of hard ignites hope, making it possible to persevere to the other side instead of quitting.

Who doesn't want to persevere and not quit? I know I do--more so now that I've seen how "lovely" can be one of the gifts of a difficult process. 

Don't miss this book. It'll change how you view your "broken crazy" for good.

Have you read Looking for Lovely? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it! If not, you can find it here:  lookingforlovelybook.com

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Good Friday Conversation with Jesus

I'm conflicted every year on this day. On one hand, I like contemplating what You accomplished on this day. On the other, I'd like to skip over it to Easter morning. I know, though, that there'd be no Easter without this day, so I need to consider--try to feel--what my part was in Your crucifixion.

I like to think of myself as not all that sinful. As soon as I entertain that notion, I'm deceiving myself and in need of another rehearsing of my Lenten prayer. The truth, even if I can't get in touch with all the feels, is that I am sinful. I was sinful in my mother's womb, sinful from the day I first drew breath, doomed like all mankind from the moment Eve and Adam bit into that apple.

Yet it's not just inherited. I have willfully done what I knew was wrong. I still do. I have gone my own way. In spite of what I knew, I chose. Mine was just one of billions of decisions like that which made your death necessary.

Forgive me for being so flippant. It's hard for me because for as long as I've been aware of my sin, I've been aware of Your offer of salvation. I accepted it on its face as soon as my mind would allow me to comprehend the gift. Having accepted it so young, though, is like getting a gift from someone that I didn't fully understand how desperately I needed it. It's hard to be appropriately grateful because I don't know exactly what I've been saved from.

image courtesy Viziblee Different Design
I mean, I know the affects of my sin. But the suffering I've witnessed others experience because of their sinful decisions has not been my experience. Not that I'm any better. I'm not. All sin is equal in Your eyes. But You said when you were here with us that those who have been forgiven much, love much, while those who have been forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47). I feel like I fall in the latter category because I can't fully grasp the depth of my depravity, the immensity of my sin.

Still, I want to push through the intellectual assent that affords me the level of detachment and try to express the gratefulness I want to feel.

Lord Jesus, I deserved eternal separation and days without peace filled with endless struggle.
I deserved torment from the enemy as he led me about by the nose, thoroughly deceived and damned.
I deserved never to experience supernatural, unconditional love but only its earthly facsimile and broken relationships.

Instead, because of Your death on my behalf, in my place, this day:
I have a restored, right relationship with the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God of the universe and a secure eternal destiny.
I have the hope, the assurance of heaven and the knowledge that this life is not all there is.
I have peace in the midst of circumstances that surpasses understanding.
I have protection from and victory over the enemy of my soul because the Way, the Truth, and the Life was made known to me, and I've been set free from sin and all its eternal consequences.
I have experienced unconditional love that will never fail and can offer that love to those you've placed in my life.

For all that and more, I say, hallelujah, what a Savior!

Monday, March 14, 2016

When Desperation Trumps Fear

As I lay on the table, I asked Emily, my massage therapist, if it was just my imagination, or were there less knots in my shoulders than last time I was there.

She agreed there were.

Huh.

Last month, I shared how uncertain I was about participating in Lent. I was scared to listen to what God wanted to tell me, but too desperate not to.

I wasn't really sure He'd speak to me. In fact, I was pretty sure He wouldn't. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I began to hear things.

First, He told me to lower my shoulders. They were residing by my ears, and I was a hot mess of anxiety. The words "be still and rest" came to me over and over before I could accept that I was hearing correctly. Still, I squirmed with fear at the idea.

Second, He told me to lower my standards. Turns out, I'm harder on myself than God is. While I wrung my hands, wondering if I was measuring up and doing it right, He reminded me that I don't have to fear being examined. I am accepted.

Third, He told me to lower my shame. I cringed at what I imagined God would show me when I invited Him--every single day for 40 days--to "see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." While He did show me myself, God didn't open my eyes to my self-preserving behavior to give me the full picture of His condemnation. Instead, He gently and lovingly revealed my worth in spite of my sin and guided me to seek forgiveness of Him and of others. It has been freeing to see myself as I truly am.

As I've prayed the same words day after day, slowly--ever so slowly--I'm realizing that what looked like something I initiated was really a response to His relentless pursuit. God initiates relationship. With me, with you, with everyone.

Are you scared or desperate? I hope my experience will help you see that you don't have to be either. God knows your heart and wants to lead you in the way everlasting. Trust Him.

How would you describe your relationship with God?