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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

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In which love MEANS someONE…

I’ve had some less than comforting conversations with certain people in my life lately that leave me with a pit in my stomach and a painful ache in my heart. The words spoken remind me of the devastating effect false representation and the enemy’s lies can have on God’s creation, his human creation most of all.

Ever heard the phrases, “Thanks for picking up the slack” or “If only they had been more responsible” before?

Another phrase I’ve heard a lot lately, “Love always wins.”

Without worrying about pc-friendly terminology, I have to reply to that one, what a crock.

And before I get crucified, let me tell you. I DO believe Love always wins. I DON’T believe a lot of people who say that phrase actually live like they believe it.

Let me explain. We use the word love for a lot of things that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with love. We LOVE our new car. We LOVE our presidential candidate. We LOVE our clothes. We LOVE that new movie. What we really mean is that the car, the clothes, the candidate, the movie, all give us a sensation like pleasure. We FEEL something that makes us happy when we think of that object or person, but LOVE has nothing to do with it.

In other languages, there are different words to describe various levels and forms of what we in English call LOVE. We wrap up shallow, surface sensation within deeper, more abiding context and it’s no wonder we confuse ourselves when it comes to the real deal.

We spout platitudes and tell people we’re “in love” and it leaves us with all the depth of a quick Adrenalin rush after the 100 meter dash. It’s great and it feels good, but it’s over in moments and what’s left? The come-down after a temporary high.

So what IS love?

It’s not a feeling, I can tell you that right now.

Love is:

  • giving generously without reproach
  • forgiving seventy times seven and then forgiving once more
  • laying down your life for another
  • looking after the poor and the widow and those who have been oppressed and beaten down
  • advocating for the ones who have no voice to speak for themselves
  • opening your home to the least of these, clothing them and feeding them and giving them resources to get back on their feet
  • making a vow and remaining faithful through daily, moment by moment choices to overlook the other’s faults and open your heart regardless of whether the other fully understands how vulnerable that makes you
  • making the hard decision because the easy one only leads to long term pain and no lasting gain
  • patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not puffed up with pride
  • it does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs
  • it does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth
  • it ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, and ALWAYS perseveres
  • it NEVER fails
  • it is the GREATEST virtue in the entire world and yet it is the LEAST used
  • it’s an action NOT a feeling
  • brings healing, restoration, and redemption

Every one of these definitions I got straight from one source. Can you guess what source?

“Love always wins” gets thrown around when the newest law is handed down from on high. It is spoken when a special interest group “wins” a big legal battle against the “intolerant” and “bigoted” offender. Religious leaders even use it to push their doctrinal agendas.

Love ALWAYS wins because HE already won. It happened on a wooden torture device, on a hill bathed in the blood of both innocent and guilty, when a Savior embodied the greatest example of True Love as He drew his last breath and committed His Spirit into His Father’s hands.

The greatest definition of love in the end isn’t actually a decision or a feeling.

The greatest definition of Love is the person of Jesus Christ.

And anything less than what He demonstrated on that cross and in every living, breathing moment of His existence here on earth, is a pale, poor imitation of what Love actually is.

We were made in His image, but don’t for ONE MOMENT think that makes us capable of the kind of Love He pours out on us day in and day out.

When we reach out to a sick friend to lend them a helping hand, that’s a pale demonstration of Christ’s Love. When we offer our services for a hurting family who is broken and desperate for a way out of the mess, it’s just imitation and a pale one at that. When we give our time, money, and selves for a ministry that serves the poor and downtrodden, we are just barely scratching the surface of what Christ’s love looks like.

When we accept that everything we have to give in the name of love is NEVER enough, then we can accept that the only one who can is the One who defines and lives it perfectly.

And when we accept that, then He is free to infuse us with Himself, to love others through us, and to represent His love to a world that is dying without it. Ultimately, that is the greatest form of love.

Loving us enough to give us Himself in our place. When the world sees me, I don’t want them to see my paltry excuse for what I define as love.

I want them to see Love (in the form of Jesus Christ) in all HIS glory.

1 John 4

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In which prayer is my most powerful and unused weapon…

Having spent the last two weeks in almost non-stop prayer and worship, I can safely confirm that I do NOT pray nearly enough.

There’s a story that’s told of a man named George Mueller, a minister, evangelist, and the man who took care of over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime with faith and prayer as his foundation. He began each day very early in prayer. Sometimes for hours before the sun rose, he would be found on his knees in supplication to Almighty God and this continued without fail until his death.

The story is that one day, he was interrupted by one of his assistants who, stressed about all that needed doing that day came to ask if they could shorten their morning prayers in order to make room for the expanded schedule of events. George Mueller took one look at his assistant and said very calmly,

“Absolutely not. In fact, BECAUSE of all we must get done today, we will need to pray LONGER.”

And he did, adding at least one more hour to their prayer time that day. At the end of the day, the assistant was amazed. Not only did they get all of their assigned tasks completed in record time, but they ended the day at rest and at peace, instead of frazzled and hurried. Their focus had been on God from the beginning and He was big enough to handle all their burdens.

I did not quote the story word for word, but the essence of it is there. When I first heard it, I puzzled over how “losing” ANOTHER hour of time to prayer would help them complete their tasks with time to spare, but the answer was so very simple. Did you see it?

Their focus was on God from the beginning and He was big enough to handle all their burdens.

Prayer is the greatest weapon God has given us in our arsenal and it is sadly the least used. Without prayer, faith cannot thrive, because it has no focus and no line of communication to the Author and Perfecter of said faith.

I was recommended a book to read by one of my dear friends and a woman of faith I have looked up to as an unofficial mentor in my life.

It’s called Prayer & Spiritual Warfare

I’m only 2 chapters in and BLOWN away by the fact that in spite of my almost 3 decades of claiming to be a Christ-follower, I have absolutely NO idea what prayer is all about. I mean, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, memorized the Lord’s prayer, read through the Psalms dozens of times, and just two chapters of expounding on the Scriptures has proven how very ignorant I am of the greatest weapon I have in my possession. I’m eager to read more, but it’s 11 at night and I really need some solid sleep. I’m pretty sure my eyes are bugging just writing this post.

If you EVER want a great read on what prayer is and how it works in your life, read E.M.Bounds book.

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Be aware that it will transform your thinking in regards to your walk with God and the power of prayer. Like my friend said, “Be prepared to be rocked, lady.”

My favorite quote so far is this one:

Prayer.jpg

Just imagine what the world would be like if prayer was used the way it should be, and faith was more than just a trite word we throw out there to impress no one. If we truly “prayed without ceasing” and prayed for each day instead of worrying about tomorrow’s cares.

“The EFFECTIVE prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16

I’m just learning what that means.

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In which I discover the art of war…

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I’m not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. My husband might even insist I thrive on conflict and battle. He’s called me his warrior wife enough times for me to get the hint. I’m not a pacifist.

However, I wouldn’t say I am pro-war either. I’ve seen the aftermath of many a bloody conflict in my thirty plus years of life and not all of them were in some god-forsaken desert in a never-ending campaign against a faceless enemy.

No, the wars I am thinking of now are the ones against an enemy far more insidious and destructive.

An enemy that comes dressed in light and so subtle a twisting of truth and good, that you don’t realize you’ve been pierced by his poisoned blade until you’re left bleeding and dying on the battlefield. More often than not, he takes out your loved ones right along with you, leaving a trail of wounded in his wake.

I watch this enemy rage on in a war that very few are even willing to acknowledge anymore and I wonder why that is. What happened to this world that makes our greatest enemy triumph over and over an over again, meeting little resistance along the way?

The answer is both deceptively simple and horrifically complex.

The enemy is winning in simple terms because we’re letting him win.

The complicated answer? This world is his stronghold, a kingdom stolen from its True King, many thousands of years ago. A stolen kingdom that the True King has already victoriously won back in one fell stroke of ultimate sacrifice and triumph.

The reason it’s complicated is that the True King’s warriors are living like that AMAZING victory NEVER took place. His warriors carry on as if they are living a sedate, civilian life, untouched by the horrors of the war they keep perpetrating through their complaisance and denial. All the while, the enemy is right within their camp, watering and tending the seeds of division, deception, and doubt, until the warriors cannot tell a truth from a lie, reality from fantasy, right from wrong.

All the while, the True King grieves at the chaos and discord, desperately wanting his warriors to experience the victory he paid SO high a price to win. Begging them to accept the freely given gift in exchange for total submission to His benevolent, just, unconditionally loving authority. All He asks for is their everything.

Stupid, selfish, blinded creatures that His warriors are, they refuse time and again, accepting instead, the deceptive, destructive promises of the Enemy, completely blinded to the fact that they’ve signed their names in blood to a contract that is High Treason to the True King.

We lay down our swords and shields for empty promises of peace and happiness, and we have yet to fully understand that TRUE peace and happiness are merely byproducts of a life given over to complete obedience to the True King. The temporary drivel that we cling to in our selfishness and vanity is eating us inside out like acid, destroying everything that made us warriors and victors.

We walked away from the war, raising our white flags in surrender to the enemy. But here’s the thing. We LOST. We weren’t just assimilated into a new order and given a free pass to live as we please.

NO.

By laying down arms and taking up the colors of our Enemy, we’ve LOST. Lost our lives, lost our freedoms, lost our happiness, lost our humanity, lost our identity, lost our purpose, and lost our reason. We’ve won NOTHING. We’ve gained NOTHING.

EVERYTHING in this life that is worth gaining is worth FIGHTING for. It’s not a victory because we chose the easy way out. We just handed ourselves over to the enemy on a silver platter and he’s laughing his ass off in hell. Because God’s people are proving to be cowards and deserters, not men and women of valor. And the Devil is counting heads as they walk through his gates willingly.

Christ may have won the final victory when He willingly walked to the Cross. But He’s still waiting for His soldiers to act like soldiers and take up arms against the enemy who hides like a coward in the shadows and teaches his recruits to do the same.

He’s waiting for Men to stand up and lead their families with passion and conviction, teaching their children to obey ALL the commands He’s laid out for a successful battle strategy. To equip the next generations to stand firm on their convictions, even willing to die for the cause of a Kingdom NOT only of this world but the next.

He’s waiting for Women to stand firm as shield bearers and women of valor, fighting bravely to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy aiming to destroy their families and their homes. To stop picking up selfish and fatal causes and to stand for what’s right and true.

He’s waiting for His people to rally around HIS standard for marriage, for family, for the sanctity of life, for the defense of the helpless and oppressed, for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the least of these.

He’s waiting for His warriors to live counter-cultural and willing to face death for HIS cause. To stand up for Truth and Justice, to give Grace and Mercy, to stand as victors and not cowards.

To believe that He is who He says He is and to LIVE and LOVE in that belief.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am the worst sort of coward. I talk big, but when the line is drawn in the sand, I’m the first to lay down my arms and give up the fight. But I am ALSO the first to admit that this cowardice is NOT acceptable in my life.

I just made a promise to my children and my husband tonight that until my dying breath, I will fight my worst enemy and I won’t back down ever. Because to do so would spell destruction for my marriage, my children, and my place in God’s army.

My worst enemy?

Myself. Oh how I shudder in fear when I face me.

But by God’s grace, I will face that fear and remember whose warrior I am and what war I am actually fighting.

And the first weapon of defense is Prayer.

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Posted in discipline, Finances, Healing, hypocrisy, Impossible, laziness, lessons, life lessons, Obstacles, Pain, Possibilities, Random, soul surgery, Tattered and Mended, Telling Stories, Transparency, Uncategorized, Whining, Winning, Writing

In which I realize I play the victim well…

It’s insidious, dangerous, and damning.

Most of the time I don’t realize it and when I do, the cycle tends to repeat itself because I find myself blaming its presence on my circumstances, my events, my past…

Playing the victim is EXTREMELY easy for me. I do it well.

Doesn’t mean I WEAR it well. It’s NOT a pretty look on anyone. It’s ugly, it’s petty, and frankly, most of us, if not ALL of us have worn it at least once in our lives. Human nature. From the Garden in Genesis when God asked man where he was and man (woman and serpent as well) replied with the victim card.

Because that’s really all it is in the end, right? A place to hide, a shroud to mask us, a blanket to cover up the truth that would stare us in the face otherwise.

The truth?

We’re NOT the victims. We’re the perpetrators of the crime.

I’ll give you a GREAT example in the interest of transparency.

My college years were spent in financial disarray. I had a part time job that paid JUST about the minimum wage, and that job changed rapidly for various reasons. I attended school full time, taking out loans because my grades slipped to the point that grants were no longer options. I depended largely on the kindness of friends to feed me anything close to three square meals and at one point, I subsisted on rice and cheese. My rent, utilities, and other sundry bills were often late and I rarely had money for gas, which meant the bus lines and walking were my sources of transportation. I lost a ton of weight, about the only bright side to the whole screwy situation.

I spent evenings working my crappy jobs, late nights poring over textbooks (or writing BS papers on a procrastinator’s schedule), mornings attending classes with my eyes half shut, and afternoons in clinicals. At least, that was what I told myself I was doing.

It’s funny looking back on the situation I used to lament loudly to anyone who would hear, my perspective has changed and brought with it a lot of regret and shame.

Because in spite of my cries to the contrary, I did not give my absolute best during that period of my life. If I had, I guarantee you, I would have been working two steady jobs, studying my ass off, and graduating with High Honors and a whole lot less debt.

As it was, I still managed a social life, high-priced frou-frou coffees from Starbucks, and frequent restaurant visits. All while “mourning” my financial distress, my family dysfunction, and my dropping grades as if had absolutely NO idea why I was failing so spectacularly.

All while my bills went unpaid, my friends pitied my poor starving college self, and my grades dropped like a rock.

I graduated with the BARE minimum passing score and that, only due to the mercy of my adviser, who felt my pitiable situation to be the reason for my lack of excellence in my work. I’m not certain I should be thanking her for that.

It’s a pity I actually managed to pass my boards and with flying colors. In reality, all that tells me is that I can take a multiple choice test.

The best part of this whole story is that I look on it now without wearing my victim’s shroud and I can see myself for exactly what I was then, and in this present time.

I was and am the decider of my own destiny. I decided back then that I would not thrive and so I didn’t. I decided that I would fail and so I did.

Of course, the whole time I was deciding this, I was vehemently denying that decision and whining about why my life seemed so painfully, awfully bent on mediocrity.

It’s a wonder ANYONE liked me at that time of my life. Looking back, I can’t say I really like who I was when it’s all said and done. Who I oftentimes still try to be.

I ended my college career with the distinct feeling that I’d wasted five whole years of my life (actually six given the gap year I took to TRY to get my debt under control). I still wonder what might have happened had I chosen wisely and refused to be the victim in my trumped up scenario.

I still struggle with making the wise choice even today. It is SO difficult to acknowledge my position in my own story. I’m either the villain or the hero, but I have NEVER been, nor will I EVER be, the victim. I have to stop telling myself that role is even available for me to fill. Because that particular role has NEVER been part of the story. Not for me or anyone else.

You are either the villain or the hero. You don’t get to play the victim in spite of your best efforts to try.

EVERY decision you make WILL make you the villain or the hero in your story.

So which is it?

 

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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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