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In which the “gospel” sounds a lot like me…

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now for various reasons. I’d thought about writing it from the first conversation I had about the subject, but held off for a time. I was sick and in my first trimester, not a good combination for forming coherent, cohesive blog posts, if I’m honest. Then it took me a while to realize there was an overarching theme to various conversations I had over the month and I wanted to formulate a good, solid post connecting the dots. For myself and for my readers.

My first conversation was about marriage. My second about parenting. The third was about modesty. The fourth about homosexuality. And the fifth dealt with heaven, hell, and atheism.

Yeah. I know. Broad topics and really? I’m going to somehow find a connection between all of them?

That’s the beauty of the particular worldview I adhere to, rather imperfectly though hopefully on a solid growth curve. The one that says God is in charge, I am not, and if I want to see fulfillment and joy in this life and the next, it’s not MY will I want to be following. It’s His.

So I’m not going to go through EVERY specific conversation and it’s conclusion. That would take me too long. I’ll focus on two of them, because at the time, they hit me hardest and were the first two I managed to connect together.

Marriage. In the last two years, I’ve seen roughly half of my friends and a few family members end theirs in divorce. A couple of those friends hadn’t even signed the papers before they were already “choosing their own happiness” with another person. I’ve seen another solid number of them struggling to stay afloat in the midst of infidelity, pornography, depression, miscommunication (or the lack of it all together), dishonesty, and the worst one, apathy. I’ve been an active part of marriage mentoring and multiple conversations with couples I know who just want to throw in the towel and are looking for the first, “Biblical” excuse to do so. Marriage, when done on our own terms, ends in disaster as the world seems to prove more and more every year. The sad thing for me is that Christian marriages, where we have an even greater reason to thrive and find blessing and joy on our journey together, seem to struggle worse than the secular unions. We could blame it on the Devil and his desire to destroy anything God creates and calls beautiful, but we’d only be partially correct. In the end, Christian marriages crash and burn for the same reason the world’s version does. We make a mockery of the sacredness and symbolism of marriage (Christ and His Bride) when we choose to pursue our own happiness at the cost of all else. The world might have an excuse. Christ Followers don’t.

Modesty. I had a couple of these conversations with people I love and this is a difficult one. On the one hand, I talked to a fellow parent who is struggling with her almost adult daughter and the lack of modesty, even in her own home. Her own brother had to get up and walk away from the dinner table because her dress style is closer to hooker than wholesome. In her eyes, it’s her brother’s fault for looking in the first place. Men are perverted and disgusting pigs, and she should be free to wear what she wants, when she wants it. So how does she explain my six year old son who sees a pretty girl and gets a physical reaction that terrifies him and makes him think something’s wrong with him? Is he a perverted, disgusting pig because his body’s been biologically wired to respond to a sensual visual?

I talked  to another fellow mom who thinks more like that daughter does. Her own seven year old daughter is wearing bikinis and she thinks nothing of it. It’s for the guys to turn away from lust and sin. Confronting a girl for wearing less than modest clothing is considered shaming and degrading.

It’s getting more and more difficult for me to find appropriate clothing for my eight year (going on pre-teen) daughter. If it’s not midriffs, butt-baring shorts, and sexy little polka dot bikinis, it’s advertising for the latest fads and unrealistic body image expectations. I’ve contemplated making her clothes myself, but even patterns nowadays are either Puritan in nature, or would need some major modification for an 8 year old with a 12 year old body.

I remember those growing up years. Nothing fit and everything pretty and decent went to my sister who’s growing form seemed to fit the typical female body type. I’d end up with baggy overalls and too-big shirts because anything in my size wouldn’t accommodate the fast-developing lumps on my chest. It was frankly humiliating and led to years of self-esteem issues. The first time I wore a (modest) cleavage baring dress, I wilted with embarrassment and swore it would never happen again. But it didn’t matter really. Even in sweatshirts two sizes too big and cargo-style jeans, I still got wolf-whistles and dirty jokes. It doesn’t take much to imagine what’s under my clothing, because I’ve got a lot of it. I ate junk food to compensate, and filled out my belly too, thinking if I was fat all around, guys would stop looking. Of course, my health suffered and it took me years to lose the weight.

I still struggle to this day with the issue of modesty. I mean, is it really MY fault that guys look at my chest? Who cares if I wear a shirt that sells my assets rather than hides them? Where’s the middle ground? What IS modesty anyway?

Seeing a connection yet?

No?

Okay. Here it is.

The Christian life is about centering OUR lives around GOD’S good and perfect Will. The two greatest commandments: Love God and Love our Neighbor as ourselves prove this. It’s about surrendering OUR will and fully giving ourselves over to be used by and up for God. It’s about Christ filling us with HIMSELF so fully, that there’s no room anymore for our selfishness and our sin and our will. It’s about spending ourselves for the sake of Christ and His gospel and taking our eyes OFF of our own petty, human wants and desires.

The gospel I see played out in my life and the lives around me doesn’t look a bit like Christ, but it looks a hell of a lot like us.

Marriage is a symbol of Christ and His mystical union with us, His Bride. The Body of Christ joined with the Son of God to form a union so beautiful and so absolutely pure. Not on any merit of ours, but through the blood of Christ shed for us and covering us in HIS righteousness. It’s ALL His work. While we were His enemy, He offered us salvation and called us by HIS name. Made us in His image, but we are NOT God. Our marriages, if they are to reflect that beautiful, wonderful, terrible story, MUST include us dying to ourselves, daily, hourly, sometimes moment by moment.

Given this Truth, it should be in the moment of our greatest woundings (at our spouse’s all-too human hands) that we demonstrate best the agape love of Christ. If Christ can forgive us, who made ourselves His worst enemy by rejecting Him over and over again, is there ANYTHING we cannot forgive our spouse, who was created in the image of God and is a co-heir with us in His kingdom?

Does this negate the terrible wounds we can inflict on one another? By no means! Physical abuse, sexual infidelity, pornography, deceit…the list goes on. None of these are light offenses and sometimes DO require us to walk away (at least for a time) until God can get ahold of the wretched sinner and change him or her. Many of these issues require counseling and mentors who can walk alongside and pray for and with you as you struggle to love and honor and remain faithful to the vows you made before God. My husband and I went to a godly counselor in our first couple years of marriage because of sin issues that we both struggled with and it was the BEST thing that could have happened to us. There is NO shame in bringing sin to light and letting others walk with you through the journey. The shame is when you hide it or hope you can deal with it on your own…or in the worst case scenario, you just give up and walk away.

What kind of a God do we represent when His first human institution, marriage, becomes a joke. What are we telling our children when we file for divorce and break up our family because we’re no longer happy or we’ve fallen out of love or our spouse has done something unforgiveable? Aren’t we telling them that God drops THEM like a rock when they make Him unhappy or when they commit what they believe is an unforgiveable offense? Do we not demonstrate that God gives up on us when we screw up and are all too human?

The hardest lie I see nowadays is when someone tells me they prayed and feel like God is releasing them from their marriage vows. Really? The God who HATES divorce told you that you’re an exception to the rule? I’ve seen friends reach ROCK BOTTOM in their marriage with NO HOPE left that their spouse will EVER repent and turn back to God. They broke their hearts weeping and praying for reconciliation, sometimes for YEARS. And their faithfulness was rewarded at long last when their spouse finally came back. Did that make all those terrible months or years go away? No. Did they have to build up trust again and fight to love the person who wounded them so bitterly? Of course. But they also found out what exactly Christ meant by the mystical union, because through Him, they found restoration and redemption in a situation that the world (and many “Christians) would have written off as hopeless, unresolvable.

Who’s Will is being done here on earth as it is in Heaven?

Modesty has the same roots, although it might not seem that way on the surface. I mean, really. Who are we hurting by wearing sexy clothes and dressing to please ourselves? And there’s such a wide range of definitions when it comes to modesty, right? This culture is open for interpretation, so we should have the freedom to express ourselves and find our own happiness, regardless of what the opposite sex thinks or how they act.

Love God and Love Others. I don’t see that in our culture today regarding modesty, marriage, or anything else, to be honest. And Christians are just as bad as the world on this issue. Because it doesn’t REALLY come down to what we’re wearing on the outside. Or how unhappy we are in our marriages. Those are surface symptoms of a deeper, and far more dangerous, root issue.

What I see more and more is us saying to God, “Not YOUR Will, but MINE be done.”

Instead of raising our daughters to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, meekness, patience, and love, we teach them to sell themselves under the guise of “confidence” and “happiness”. Instead of teaching them to be shield-bearers  and warrior maidens for the men in our lives, we teach them to wear the cloak of victimhood and blame the other gender for lack of “equality” and for what we like to call the “rape culture.” We dress to please ourselves and whore our bodies in order to feel beautiful, desired, strong.

Instead of teaching our sons to use the gifts and desires God gives them for the good of others, to bear the Sword of Truth, to defend the weak and powerless, to look after the oppressed, and to stand in the gap for the widows and orphans, we emasculate them. We tell them their biology and make-up is wrong and perverted. We shame them for their natural reactions to the beautiful and pure things in this life and tell them it’s their fault when they can’t take their eyes off the assets we’re so “generously” displaying.

Where is the Gospel of Christ in these and other issues? Where is the dying to self and seeking the good in and for others? Where is the taking up our cross and following after Christ? Where is the sharing in His suffering and the suffering of His people? Where is the Radical Generosity that pours ourselves out until we have NOTHING left to give and then continues to pour out long after that?

When do we FINALLY lay down our own lives at the foot of the Cross and say, “Not MY will, but THINE, Lord Jesus?”

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In which I realize we ARE more than conquerors…

No, in all these things, we are MORE than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Romans 8:37 (NIV)

Romans 8 is going to be my favorite passage of scripture soon. Mostly because I will be reading and RE-reading it over and over and over again until it actually sits firmly rooted in my heart and mind. I would post the entire passage here, but for brevity and clarity’s sake, I will restrict myself to the most poignant aspects that hit me recently in a cherished conversation with a person who grows ever more beloved to me with each passing year of my life.

A little background before I dive in…

It’s my 33rd birthday today and I woke up after a crazy few weeks of sleepless nights, physical pain and suffering through a miscarriage, fog brought on by a nasty head cold, and other sundry craziness, to a dreary, gray day made absolutely BEAUTIFUL through the restorative and healing power of my Savior. I got a phone call from my mother at 7:33am, the exact time I came into the world kicking and screaming (at least I believe I was kicking and screaming given that’s how I usually deal with shocking situations. As beautiful as a birth is, it’s also so very traumatic for both mother and child and I’m positive that’s the truth given my own three beauties who showed up after nine months of pregnancy…my thanks to the fourth baby who decided to bypass that and just enjoy life at the feet of Jesus, waiting for me to join her)

Shortly after the phone call began, my beloved children jumped into bed (yes, I did sleep in this morning…sue me.) and sang a beautiful and slightly off-key rendition of Happy Birthday. My husband gave me his birthday wishes right around midnight last night before he conked out and snored his way through the rest of MY sleepless night, so I know I am FULLY and COMPLETELY loved…

Anyway, the conversation with my mom was a perfect reminder to me why following Christ MUST be shared in a community, because not only was I blessed by her call, I was blessed to be able to bless her with some words of encouragement that God laid on my heart. What an AWESOME way to begin my birthday celebration…with eyes FIXED on my Creator, the one who knit me in my mother’s womb and called me fearfully and wonderfully made.

Romans 8 came afterward, but it fit in SO well and was once more a reminder of what happens when our eyes are fixed on Christ. My mom told me to write down the words I spoke, so I will try to do so, and hope that I do them justice. I know full well that I am not the first, nor am I the last person to realize an important truth about Christ and the cross, but I do hope that this can serve to encourage others in an area I know is a common human condition.

A situation arose recently where our first reaction was anger and hurt. It’s amazing really how often situations like that arise. My husband, my children, my extended family, my friends and acquaintances…all have the power to wound me in many ways and more often than not, they don’t even realize just how deeply wounded and hurt I have been by their words or actions. The tendency to anger and bitterness when wounded is so very easy to fall into and I am guilty more times than I can count. It’s a reaction, like a wounded animal cornered, with no other recourse to defend itself and protect the wound, except to attack. Instinctive, immediate, and often with long-lasting repercussions.

The problem with this reaction, this protecting of our wounds through anger and clinging to the hurts inflicted by others, is that in the end, the only one who bears the consequences is the one wounded and bleeding out. As I stated before, we cling to wounds that the one who wounded often does not even realize a wound was inflicted. While we are cursing and calling down judgment on them in our pain and anger, they remain oblivious and unaffected.

But a bitter root takes hold in US, the wounded, allowing poison to seep in to every crevice of that wound, reopening old wounds, and creating new ones as we focus on the source of the wound. It is often an insidious and creeping thing, insinuating itself into every aspect of our life and coloring everything with its bitter, dark hue. Soon enough, our relationships suffer, our physical bodies suffer, and we cut ourselves off from the very source that can come in and heal any wound inflicted, no matter how deep or devastating.

This is such a difficult concept for me to grasp, and this morning, Romans 8 indirectly influenced my perspective and I read it with new eyes after my conversation with my mom.

Before I get into that passage more, I want to address the direct influence that started the revelation.

A few days ago, I was listening to several of my favorite apologetics teachers, among them, Michael Ramsden, Ravi Zacharias, and a new favorite, Nabeel Qureshi. I believe it was the last one I am referencing today, but each man has, in his own way, been a revealer of this particular truth to me. Forgive me, because the next little bit is going to delve into a not so pretty picture, but it illustrates the point so beautifully, that I cannot NOT write about it.

So Doctor Qureshi was describing exactly WHAT Christ went through leading up to and on the cross and I wept through his entire message. I don’t think we in America really have a solid grasp on exactly how HORRIFIC his crucifixion actually was. Even The Passion, a particularly gruesome visual, cannot come even close to the reality and part of me is thankful for that. The other part feels that lack of reality gives us license as Christians to downplay the work on the cross to a fortunate byproduct of an unfortunate tragedy. Thus we also downplay its full effect in our own lives, to our detriment.

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the basic rundown. Crucifixion was one of the most torturous and pure evil forms of punishment the Roman Empire thought up to get rid of their enemies. Only the WORST of criminals were sentenced to death this way and no Roman citizen was ever allowed to suffer its abject humiliation. It was reserved for the ones Rome most desired to use as a devastating example of what happened to those who opposed them. The story goes that the Emperor Nero lined his gardens with crucified Christians and torched them, to light the way for his macabre dinner parties. I’m not 100% certain on the veracity of that particular story, but given his madness, I can believe it to be true.

Even before the convicted criminal MADE it to the cross, the Romans ensured the condemned would not make it out alive. It puts the Resurrection into even more poignant perspective because in all of Roman history, not one crucified person made it out of the ordeal alive. Not ONE. When people make claims that Jesus MIGHT have survived the crucifixion through some sort of divine intervention (downplaying the power of the cross and its redemptive work) that claim is categorically untrue.

The condemned Christ suffered the humiliation of jeering, spitting, mocking crowds, but that was just the beginning. When the soldiers took him to be whipped, they did an even more thorough job than usual. Often times, their victims died on the whipping block because of the depths of their depraved torture. Blood loss, broken bones, entrails exposed. Somehow, he had no broken bones, in spite of the worst attempts by the guards to do so, but he fulfilled the prophecy through that miracle. By the end of the 39+1 lashes, the person resembled nothing remotely human. Their skin hung in shredded tatters, bloodied and misshapen, bones and muscles exposed. It was called the predeath, if they didn’t make it to the cross alive, but that never stopped the Romans from finishing their grotesque work.

We’ve seen pictures of the holocaust and shuddered at the reality we are exposed to in those grainy images. Do any of us actually imagine that Hitler was the first or most creative executioner? Through the millennia, the utter depravity of tyrants and despots only changes location and time period. What Hitler and Stalin and Mao Zedong, and Lenin and Hussein and others did to millions, the Romans perfected in their own despicable way in the broken body of our Savior.

By the time Christ was forced to carry the cross, not only did he not look human, but he was naked and barely strong enough to stand, let alone carry the weight of those heavy wooden poles. Some speculate that a crucifixion cross weighed around 300 pounds. I can’t imagine bench-pressing that on a GOOD day. Imagine carrying that weight about 650 yards uphill, from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha. Naked, dehydrated, and resembling a bloody side of beef. It was no wonder, Simon of Cyrene stepped in to carry it the rest of the way, once Jesus collapsed and was ministered to by the women who loved him best.

I took care of a patient once who had a GI bleed so bad, she painted her room with it. Unintentionally. She died shortly after, but I remember that day like it was yesterday. The horror of walking in and seeing her covered in her own blood. I was a teenager still and recoiled, gagging on the smell of death in her room. It took everything in me to go and tend to her, to wash her clean and push away my own instinct to run away screaming.  I still smell that and see it in my mind’s eye just writing it.

(I did warn you this would not be pretty)

I cannot imagine Jesus’ mother seeing her son in such devastation and not being horrified by his image, yet tradition indicates she tended him on the Way of Suffering and offered him water to drink. And Jesus even managed to preach to the women who followed him, weeping over him. If there was ever a sign that Christ truly was fully GOD AND fully MAN, we see it right here in this picture painted in Scripture.

At the end of the Via Dolorosa, Jesus was placed on the cross and nails were driven with great force through his hands and feet. The word, hands, was a bit of a misnomer. He would actually have been nailed right between the two major bones on his forearm, the radius and ulna and directly through the median nerve that traverses the arm. My husband had his ulnar nerve moved after a surgical procedure following his life-threatening car accident. Unfortunately the nerve was shifted in such a way that it sits on the outside part of his arm, a bit unprotected. He has described the excruciating sensation that occurs when that nerve is struck by anything. I might say it’s a bit comparable to childbirth or getting hit in the family jewels depending on your gender, but it leaves quickly once the source of the pain is gone. Jesus didn’t get that relief. He had nails, 7 inches long, driven through the median nerve and the fiery pain must have forced agonized cries with every jolt and shudder. The nails through his feet created their own form of torture, for while it offered him something to push against so he could breathe, it also prolonged his death because the very real will to live that every human body instinctively battles would have forced Jesus to push against that agonizing, horrifying pain to take just one more breath.

I’m weeping just writing this.

Without the nails in his feet, he would have suffocated, unable to draw up to pull air into his lungs. It would have been excruciating, but over far more quickly. Jesus lingered for SIX hours in this state. They offered him bitter gall, a vinegary, sour beverage mixed with myrrh to make it go down a little easier. It was the closest thing to a narcotic, according to some commentaries, but nauseating to consume. He refused even that small, mocking mercy. They posted a sign above his head, claiming him King of the Jews and they jeered at him, casting lots for his clothes.

If the Roman guards wished to entertain themselves further and end a crucifixion that cut into their meal times, they would break the bones in the legs to initiate the afore-mentioned asphyxiation. By the time they got to Jesus, he had already died, so instead, they pierced his side. Blood and water gushed forth. How he managed to have any body fluids left after six hours of this torture, I have no idea.

All of this to state one thing: In the hours before he died, Jesus prayed. He did not curse his tormentors. He did not condemn those whose sins sent him to this final excruciating death. (hint: that’s all of us) He didn’t even curse His Father for sending Him to take our punishment upon Himself. He had no words of condemnation or bitter anger toward all who had wounded and destroyed Him. What did He say instead?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

And in the FINAL moment before He took His last, excruciating breath, he absolved every ONE of those who sent Him to the cross with:

“It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30 (NIV)

Do any of us realize exactly how significant these final words were? Still are? Absolution, forgiveness, and redemption. In the midst of the worst form of humiliation and suffering any man could possibly endure, Christ took every last wound onto Himself, carried the weight of our sin, and released us to freedom through the power of His blood shed on the cross.

It makes my suffering from the wounds of others look paltry and petty in comparison doesn’t it? If I want to be truly honest with myself, most of the wound is inflicted by my own refusal to release the bitterness and anger and forgive as Christ forgave me.

Oh but, Christ forgave and forgot it all, we say. He’s divine and the cross was nothing to him, we claim. He went willingly and He’s God. Surely, it’s NOTHING to what we suffer when someone intentionally or unintentionally wounds us. Why would we WILLINGLY take on the burden of someone else’s sin and forgive them? That’s Christ’s job.

It’s amazing to me how much I love to pick and choose the character qualities of Christ I want to emulate. I don’t recall that particular passage in the Bible. You know. The one that says, “Choose one or two of Christ’s character qualities and imitate Him in those areas where you are stronger. Ignore the rest, because, hey, we’re only human, right?”

No. I DO recall the verse that says,

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Luke 5:1-2 (NASB)

And the one that says,

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:27

And this one,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18 (NIV)

Of course, our present sufferings more than likely referenced persecution and trials experienced by Christians in Paul’s time, but the concept stays the same. The wounds inflicted by others no matter how severe or how petty, are NOTHING compared to the glory that Christ will reveal in us, as we choose, daily (and sometimes hourly or moment by moment) to walk as the redeemed and restored image bearers of our Savior and God.

The beginning of Romans 8 expounds on the differences between living according to our flesh (and subsequently dying because of it) and living according to the spirit of Christ in us (and facing eternity, fully and completely alive). Paul speaks in another of his awesome letters about the light and momentary afflictions that trouble us here on earth preparing us for bigger and better things, and eternal glory basking in the light of Christ Jesus.

Light and momentary afflictions?

This from the man who was jailed, beaten, bruised, threatened, mocked, tortured, whipped, and eventually decapitated for his faith in Christ. I’m beginning to think that my definition of wounding and suffering are SLIGHTLY skewed.

I’ve carried the offense of wounds long scarred for YEARS before finally releasing them into the Father’s hands. My light and momentary afflictions are more often self-inflicted, if I choose to be honest about it. I CHOOSE to prolong the pain and bitterness by rejecting Christ’s example and withholding forgiveness. I’m being as gentle as a bull in a China shop when I say with all respect,

How arrogant of me. Of us. Did I ignore that command to forgive as Christ forgave us? When He forgave, he didn’t half-ass it. (pardon the French, but I’m going for emphasis here) He said, IT IS FINISHED…

And He meant EVERY LAST WORD.

Yet I hold on to offenses, both real and imagined with the iron will of a wild animal who grips its prey in jaws so tight that only death can pry them loose. Only, I find, I am the prey AND the predator. I bit down hard and now am bleeding out around the wound, all the while accusing the original offender of the crime. Am I truly willing to give up eternal glory for a temporary offense? Is my momentary affliction, given by another, TRULY justification for my continued clinging to an offense Christ already called FINISHED two thousand years ago?

Romans 8 is my new favorite passage. And if you stayed with me through this rather long-winded exposition, I pray that it will soon become yours as well.

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In which God is on the Throne…

I could post my initial thoughts on waking this morning, but they would sound like the results of a hangover and hardly reliable. And I wasn’t even drinking. Okay, I’m going to preface this part with, I’m human and these are my very first human thoughts for the morning. Then I’m going to speak as a human made in the image of God and hope that it comes out all right.

I woke up this morning, feeling my heart racing, my mind tumbling, and my gut clenching. I wanted to vomit because the panic and worry was SO great. I’m human and an American. The uncertainty and hatred and fear in our nation is so great this morning as we welcome a new president and close out a very fear-inducing presidential race.

As I said, I’m human. It’s okay to face those human feelings and emotions head on.

I’m also a child of The King. Bought by the Savior’s blood, redeemed at the cost of His life, and forgiven while I still bore the mark of His enemy.

And my King is STILL in charge.

My stomach is still a bit queasy, my heart is still racing, and I’m still a little “hungover”. But the overwhelming panic I experienced this morning is gone. And you want to know why? Three things:

  1. GOD is STILL on the THRONE. No government built by the hands of mankind can take away that truth.

    “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” ~ Revelations 1:8

  2. God ALWAYS keeps His promises and He promised to: meet our needs (Philippians 4:19, Psalm 34:9-10, Matthew 6:31-34), work ALL things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), give wisdom to those who lack it (James 1:5), grant salvation to those who believe in Him (1 John 2:25), do the impossible (Luke 18:27), Forgiveness (1 John 1:9), give the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), heal us (Psalm 103:2-3, Jeremiah 30:17), give peace that passes ALL understanding (Isaiah 26:3, Philippians 4:6), grant victory over temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 4:7-10), deliver and protect us (Psalm 91:4-6, Proverbs 18:10), Come Again (John 14:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
  3. I trust in the God of my Salvation and the One who promises ALL of this to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

And then I had another revelation, although I’m not sure it’s a revelation so much as a reminder.

I am a child of the King. I am called by my King to love Him and to love others. To look after the orphans and the widows, to advocate and care for the oppressed and the poor, to bind up the wounds of the broken and offer Christ’s hope and light for the broken-hearted. To forgive as Christ forgave me, to train up my children in the way they should go, to teach them, by example, what it means to follow Christ, and to count the VERY HIGH COST of following Christ.

Because in spite of the “charmed life” we Christ followers live here in America, the majority of the world’s Christ followers know EXACTLY how high the cost of discipleship is. And if there is ANYTHING I can say after this election that will make an impact it would be this:

Christ followers are called to go against the culture and preach Christ to the nations, giving up EVERYTHING, including their own life, to follow Him. We are called to speak the truth in sincere love, to honor one another above ourselves, to bless those who persecute us, to hate what is evil and cling to what is good, and to not repay evil for evil.

My children, husband, and I have been working hard to memorize Romans 12:9-21. After that initial panic this morning, THESE sweet and precious verses poured into my soul and I reminded my kids of the words as we ate breakfast. It goes like this:

Romans 12:9-21 NIV

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge,my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Because I have a God who DOES NOT CHANGE, I have a purpose that DOES NOT CHANGE! Governments come and go, life moves on, and good and evil continue to war here on earth’s battlegrounds. But I trust in the promises of God and one more promise He makes is that the WAR is ALREADY WON. God is Victorious in the Past, the Present, and the Future.

REVELATIONS 21:6-7

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Being creatures bound by time, it is understandable that we respond with fear and uncertainty about our future here on earth.

Being creatures bound by eternity, we also have hope beyond the bounds of time and in THAT we must trust in God’s promises.

This earth is temporary. At the appointed time, it will pass away and God will restore and renew ALL things (A new heaven and a new earth). What He asks of us as His followers is this:

That we live in the light of His victory and not be afraid at the days to come. That we love Him and love others. That we honor His commands and obey His instruction. That we celebrate life in ALL its forms and reject the false teachings of this world. That we teach our children and children’s children of these truths and train them to test the spirits of the age against the Holy Spirit and the Word.

And whatever the future holds, may GOD heal our nation and our world.

joshua

Posted in Creating Art, faith, Family, Freedom, God, grief, Healing, Healing a Wounded Soul, Hope, lessons, life, life lessons, Love, Made to Crave, Pain, Passion, Possibilities, Random, Transparency, Uncategorized, Writing

In which loneliness hits hard…

I was the awkward, unsocial kid growing up. It wasn’t for lack of trying to build friendships, because lord help me, I was also the obnoxious one on the playground begging for friends and clinging to them until they realized how needy I was and shook me off. I don’t blame them. It’s not pleasant being on the other end of that connection either.

I don’t think I ever “gave up” trying to make friends per se. It was the keeping them that I couldn’t quite figure out.

So I made friends and lost them, contenting myself with my literary friends in the between times, until the next unsuspecting victim crossed my path and I threw myself at them with all the grace of a 2 ton bull in a tea shop. Delicacy has NEVER been a strong suit of mine.

It’s funny? Ironic? I’m not even sure which word to use actually. In all my “personality” tests I’ve taken, some of the top character qualities I have are loyalty, honesty, and friendliness. It never fails. Of course, that’s always followed by some variation of, “makes friends easily and usually has a large social circle, but her deepest relationships are rare and hard-won.”

I’ve assumed it’s because I’ve just got a handicap when it comes to making and keeping friends. That maybe the tests are wrong and I’m not “friend” material. After all, literary friends are SO much easier, less messy, and they don’t shy away from my overtures. It’s part of the reason why I wanted to be a writer actually. Writers are kind of given carte-blanche to be reclusive and eccentric, and keeping friends at arm’s length is just part and parcel of their hermit-like existence.

I am an introvert by nature. I get my energy and restoration from silence and solitude and my weakness is that I use that as an excuse for laziness and isolation on occasion. I can easily lose myself in quiet and peaceful alone time and not feel any guilt at all the relationships I’ve neglected in the meantime. I have to work harder at keeping in touch and connected to others because I LOVE my own company so much. If that sounds a bit narcissistic, it probably is. I never said I was perfect. I’m deeply flawed and heavily faulty in many areas.

However, in spite of my introverted personality, I deeply care about the friendships I DO build and maintain. Going back to the loyalty, honesty, friendliness factor. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you gain my trust and my friendship, you’ve got it for life. No matter how messy it gets. Because that is the hardest part.

It’s SO messy to be human. It’s messy to build relationship with any one else because relationship implies something deeper than acquaintance or brief knowing. It’s trusting that person with your heart and with your deepest darkest places because if you are friends long enough, they WILL know everything about you. It might take years and years, but you can’t truly be in relationship without letting yourself be fully vulnerable. That’s like giving just a part of yourself to marriage, but keeping the majority back for safe-keeping. It won’t work.

And therein lies my main problem. Because our culture tells us that the individual rights and freedoms are the most important. It tells us that guarding your heart and staying “safe” in relationships are more important than letting someone in. Letting others see who you really are. We selfie, post social media updates about our “happiness”, give everyone the illusion of our “perfect” lives, and inside, we’re dying because no one actually knows all the burdens we carry and the wounds we bleed.

And I cannot do that. I was raised to abhor deceit in any form. If I have a fault in that regard it’s that I might be TOO brutally honest, especially in fledgling relationships where full disclosure might actually frighten someone away, especially if they aren’t used to that kind of connection.

So I don’t have a lot of deep, abiding friendships. I do have some very close friends and my husband is the one person who probably knows me better than I know myself. But it’s painful on my end to try and build friendships because I don’t do closed off and “safe” and that makes me vulnerable to a different type of hurt. Friendships that only stick around until they realize that my transparency is terrifying and they want nothing to do with either receiving or giving it. It’s easier for me to spill all to my journal and burn the pages, than it is for me to form a relationship with someone who enjoys surface-level discussions over wine and a good meal, game nights, and the random text message saying they’re fine when they really aren’t.

It’s easier for me to bury myself in my latest literary interest than give someone my heart and watch them hand it back to me because they have no idea what to do with it.

I cannot be the only person in the world who feels like that. And it’s uncomfortable when the rare exception happens, because sometimes it’s awkward and feelings are hurt and life gets messy and we’re oh, so human. We want something deeper and more meaningful because it actually exists in the One who Created us. We want that hole filled, but have no idea how to go about filling it. So we muddle through and get as close as we dare before we wall up the darkest parts of ourselves, KNOWING that if you saw that part of us, you couldn’t love us, couldn’t stand to be around us. If you knew the real me, you would run away screaming.

It makes us introverts cling even more to the rare friends who actually can and do reciprocate such deep, abiding vulnerability. It makes us crappy counselors though, because we tend to be fixers and we want so badly to make everyone experience those rare, beautiful friendships like we have. If we have.

It also hurts like the dickens when friends we thought could be that rarity in our lives turns out to be unable to handle the beautiful mess  we are.

This post doesn’t end with easy answers and loose ends tied up. Life isn’t like that really. We like to pretend it is though. But sometimes, we just don’t have answers and we don’t know what else to say and we just live in the middle of the mess and that’s okay too. Because fortunately for me, this life isn’t all there is and it’s far from over. So I continue in the muddle and appreciate those rare friendships all the more for their rarity.

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Posted in BeachBody, benefits of exercise, Carpe Diem, Celebration, discipline, exercise, Freedom, goals, Gratitude, Healing, Healthy Eating, Humor, Impossible, laziness, Pain, Passion, Uncategorized

In which I run a marathon and feel disappointed…

LastBurst

This was me after 26.2 miles. Putting that last burst of speed on so I could cross the finish line just ahead of my sister. Sorry, Laura. I really did have to. Not for the competition, but because every race I’ve run ends like that and I can’t stop my feet from moving faster.

Although the competition part of it is DEFINITELY what kept me running the whole race. Intervals. PAH. What’s an interval? We ran a darn good race and it only took us 5 hours. Every time I wanted to slow down, I looked at my sister and she kept running. So I did too.

At the end of the race, I cried. Just like I said I would. It wasn’t big, fat, ugly tears that blotched my cheeks and snot dripping down my nose kind of a cry. It was more like, heaving, gasping, sobs without tears because all the salt was on the outside of my body dried as sweat and I had no more water to shed.

Later, I walked like a 90 year old woman with arthritis and massive bunions. Took a shower and just about cursed when the water first hit those chafed areas on my back and between my legs and breasts. Bit back another curse when I tried the stairs for the first time after arriving home.

Then I took some Recharge from Beachbody, went to sleep, and woke up with a pleasant, aching sensation all over my body.

The stairs still hurt like the dickens, but I felt an overwhelming wave of disappointment.

Not at running the race and finishing a little later than I wanted. It was only 5 minutes, no big deal, and I didn’t have a PR time to beat. This time.

No. It was the sensation that I’d somehow been shorted on the whole marathon experience. Why?

Because aside from the stairs, I wasn’t hurting enough to make excuses for the next two weeks. I didn’t have a reason to be lazy because my body felt fabulous, stairs notwithstanding.

Yes, this disappointment just goes to prove that I am something of a masochist. And lazy. Let’s not forget that one.

I ran 26.2 miles for goodness sake. The masochist in me protested that I had a right to be lazy and feel horrendous pain for a little while longer. The lazy in me wanted to curl up and pretend I HADN’T just told half my family and friends that I had no excuse to be lazy, so I could actually pretend I had an excuse to be lazy.

I mean, not even a toenail fell off. Aside from the stairs and the slight chafing parts, I had no complaints. Did I mention the stairs?

Even that has gotten easier as I’ve continued moving and stretching. One week post-marathon and I feel like I never ran it at all.

I cannot decide whether that’s the best thing I could have ever hoped for or I should be pissed because I have to jump right back into life and not force everyone else to baby me.

Maybe it’s a little bit of both. I am going to go with the fantastical idea that I’m part Amazon woman and running is in my blood. It sounds a whole lot better than masochist.

Now, when’s the next marathon?

Posted in Abundance, Age, BeachBody, benefits of exercise, Carpe Diem, discipline, Entrepreneur, exercise, faith, Freedom, goals, God, Healthy Eating, Hope, Humor, Impossible, laziness, life lessons, Obstacles, Pain, Passion, Possibilities, Spiritual disciplines, Transparency, Uncategorized, Why, Winning, Writing

In which I shed tears during corpse pose…

Last night, I did a Yoga session as part of my cross-training for the marathon in June. Before anyone asks, it’s not Grandma’s Marathon. 🙂 And yes, it’s my first.
 
Anyway, I tried the 30 minute X3 Yoga session with Tony Horton, thinking: “I’ve done yoga before. It’s 30 minutes. No problem.”
 
It’s not called X3 Yoga for nothing. By the end of it, I was sweating and praying just to get through the last few minutes alive. Apparently, there is a WHOLE new level of yoga, I’ve never experienced…until just then.
 
So I’m in the last pose, which is definitely my favorite one now. It’s basically a resting pose and it felt AMAZING.
 
But as I lay there, breathing and feeling the sweat and stretch of muscle groups I THOUGHT I had been adequately working out, I started crying.
 
My mantra throughout the workout was Psalm 18. At least the part that says,
 
“The God who arms me with strength
And makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

Usually my workouts don’t make me cry. I mean, I’ve shed tears of joy when I crossed the finish line after a half marathon, but no matter how painful or crazy hard they are, I don’t usually bawl like a baby. So I had to wonder why.

I’m lying on a yoga mat, trembling like a newborn baby, and crying.

It hit me then. Because that Yoga session reminded me once again of my WHY. My balance sucked, my joints protested every move like I was making them do something they had no desire to do, and my resting pose was the only “successful” pose I’d done the whole 30 minutes.

I hate the thought of aging. The first time I found a silver hair, I was in my early twenties and I cried, after plucking it out and throwing it away. I’ve never had the best balance, but in college, I could do sit ups, push-ups, and a 4 mile run with a 40 pound rucksack on my back, wearing BDUs and combat boots. I even managed 5 pull ups in a row a few times.

After having kids, my abs didn’t support me anymore and my posture suffered. My tendons and ligaments loosened, which is natural and part of motherhood, but I’ve had hip and knee problems ever since.

One of my greatest fears is ending up in a nursing home bed, fighting bed sores, obesity, and a degenerative brain disease. NOT the way I want to exit this world.

Stories of 90 year old men and women who cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon, 50 year olds who can rock climb with only a rope and their two, muscled arms, 70 year olds who look like they’re 50 because they’ve eaten healthy and taken care of their bodies well. THOSE are the people I aspire to be as I age.

At one point, the fear paralyzed me into inaction. I figured it was inevitable, given my health history, genetics, and a host of other excuses I kept throwing up until I actually believed them to be true.

I may not EVER be able to hold a Tree Pose for longer than 30 seconds, but I for SURE won’t if I keep up that attitude.

Someone posted on my Facebook wall that they were so proud of me for sticking with my program and accomplishing my exercise goals. Then they ended it with a line that makes me sick to my stomach, no matter how many times I hear or see it:

I could NEVER do that.

That phrase makes me simultaneously want to strangle the person and vomit. Mostly because I’ve seen the results of those words on a person’s life and it’s ugly and heartbreaking and devastating.

We have ONE shot at this people. ONE shot to live a life that THRIVES and OVERCOMES and SUCCEEDS in whatever we do.

We don’t GET a second chance at life. We won’t all be Olympic Athletes or Marathon Runners or experts at Sayanasana.

Shyasana

Heck, as impressive as that pose is, I have NO desire to ever try it. I’ll leave it to Yoga enthusiasts with killer balance and a strong equilibrium. ♥

But I don’t ever want to say I could NEVER do it.

What a horrifying word.

NEVER.

I’ll NEVER be healthy. I’ll NEVER get that scholarship. I’ll NEVER cross that finish line. I could NEVER be a mother. I will NEVER be a coach.

How limiting. How devastating. How utterly untrue.

The only time I can make that true is if I say it over and over and over again until I believe it. Which I have done. A lot more than I want to admit.

In my brief sojourn on this earth, I have seen the absolute LIMITS of the human capability. I have also seen what happens when someone BLASTS through those limits as if they never existed in the first place. And those are the people I want to strive to emulate. Not the person who publicly declared for the world to see (or at least my corner of the world anyway) that they had no desire to strive for what they deemed impossible.

So as I cried like a baby on my yoga mat, I realized the tears were because I was once again telling myself NEVER, when I should be telling myself,

WHY NOT?

Our culture is a culture of CANNOT and NEVER. What that really means is we’ve lost our focus, our WHY, our purpose. So we choose instead to see our limitations and not our possibilities. Because what good are possibilities if we have no purpose, no focus, no WHY?

I beat my body into submission, NOT because I have a sadistic need to feel pain. I do it because I REFUSE to be that obese, disease-ridden, aged beyond her years person in a hospital bed when I’m 90 years old.

No one needs to tell me my limitations. I already know them. They were my best friends for many years.

What I am determined to discover is how fast I can leave those limitations in the dust as I focus on THRIVING and SUCCEEDING.

The only NEVER I want to hear from my mouth is, “I will NEVER let my limitations define and devastate my possibilities.”

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Posted in Abundance, BeachBody, Carpe Diem, Entrepreneur, Home Based Business, laziness, life lessons, Marriage and Family, Memory, Obstacles, Passion, soul surgery, Transparency, Uncategorized, Why, Winning, Writing

In which I quit with the quitting…

I have about 20 manuscripts of all shapes and sizes. Out of that 20, only three are considered completed first drafts.The rest of them are in various states of unfinished.

I have five cross stitch projects. Of the five, only one is complete, and it wasn’t even framed. It’s a tiny little beaded ornament on foam backing, with no frame. The rest are in various states of unfinished. The first one I started was before my youngest brother was born. He’s now fifteen.

I have a basket with some beautiful fabric, all cut out and ready to be sewn into a medieval style dress and over dress. It was for a project I was supposed to complete my junior year of high school. I had gotten a sewing machine and in a fit of inspiration, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to sew an entire costume to accompany my oral report.

The costume is a heap of fabric that’s beginning to fray on the edges. The oral report never got presented.

My history of starting a project and not finishing is legendary. My mom would tell you I have quitting mastered. And she would be correct.

I quit 3 different home businesses, 7 jobs (to be fair, some of them were because I was moving), and various friendships throughout my lifetime.

Looking back on this rather incomplete list, I shamefully wonder how on earth I’m still managing to keep a blog going after 4+ years. Although even that has been done sporadically and not with the determined dedication of a motivated blogger.

I could make excuses. My manuscripts are a work in progress, I didn’t know how to sew anyway, and at least one of my jobs was dangerous to my health, my license, and my patients. I’ve got enough excuses to write my own book on reasons for quitting.

It’s not a book I desire to write.

I’ve tried to analyze my penchant for quitting over the years and failed. I’ve blamed it on others, blamed it on circumstances, blamed it on a lack of passion.

The one place where the blame SHOULD rest is on me, but I find myself reluctant even now, to go there.

Sure, people in my life HAVE influenced my character development and therefore, I can legitimately claim their part in my failures. It makes me a coward and a jerk though. I’ve still seen and experienced people in my life who never give up and live by the motto, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” So this excuse is cheap, unflattering, and too easy.

My circumstances HAVE contributed to my quitting. Some of my jobs really were dangerous enough that I refused to put myself and my patients at risk anymore and I walked. I couldn’t change the policies and procedures that led to this situation, so it’s a legitimate reason to quit. At least one of the companies I quit is now involved in lawsuits and I cannot really regret leaving when I did. It still doesn’t explain MOST of my quits. Again, weak and flawed. A coward’s way out.

I have jumped into something, thinking, “Oh, this is cool. I really want to do this. It’s fun, it’s an adventure, I can make some money on the side.” Hobbies are expensive and I cannot justify some of them as businesses when I choose not to put the time and effort into making money instead of losing it. Again, I could justify this excuse.

Then again, I really need to quit justifying my quits.

Because it’s not the quitting that bothers me the most. It’s the mentality that I’ve held for 30+ years. It’s the concept that when the going gets tough, this quitter quits. And that, quite frankly, scares me.

I’m not advocating for staying in a job you despise or going back and finishing a high school project you didn’t know how to finish anyway. I’m not advocating for restarting those failed businesses or NEVER giving up on something. Sometimes, giving up one thing allows you to experience something else far better.

What I AM saying, is that my quitters mentality is far more dangerous and insidious than just walking away from a really bad job or not finishing a manuscript. It’s my mindset that I need to change. I can be wise about WHAT I quit, but that means having a stronger reason than, “It’s just too hard, so I’m giving up.”

I need to change my way of thinking so that quitting is an exception to the rule and not the normal MO. For some things, I shouldn’t even offer myself an out. The cost of quitting has more to do with the damage I do to my thought process and the results that I live out for those who are watching me. I’m thinking of my children right now, but I also want to count my coaches and customers in that sphere of influence.

SO. List of things I haven’t quit and CHOOSE to stay the course:

  1. My marriage. Divorce is not an option. It’s not even in our vocabulary and I’m thankful to have a husband who chooses to fight FOR us, not against us, every day.
  2. My parenting. I get exhausted and my kids are all still young. One thing I CHOOSE to never do, is quit being a parent. Some days are easy. MOST days are NOT a walk in the park. If I want my kids to grow up principled, morally upright, valuable contributors to society, I can’t use my exhaustion as an excuse to stop parenting.
  3. My Beachbody coaching. I AM a coach. I have a long way to go to make this successful, thriving, and big enough to prove myself, but this last, lazy week has proven to me more than ever that I WANT this. I have a HUGE why and I’m not going to give up the opportunity to change lives, change families, and change the world. The cost of quitting is greater than the cost of continuing.
  4. My Writing. This blog and all my other works in progress. I’m not finished yet. I DO have something to say and I am a writer. It’s non-negotiable. I will continue writing.
  5. My faith. It’s last on the least, but that is NOT because it’s the least important. Technically, it should be at the beginning of this list, but I am not always writing chronologically. However, as the culture grows increasingly hostile toward Christ followers, I CHOOSE to walk the walk. No matter what. No apologies. No regrets. The cost of walking away is FAR too high for me to even contemplate.

It’s a mindset change. In keeping with my recent lifestyle changes, I’m finding the inspiration to press on, worth the cost.

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