Prince of Peace:  The Third Week of Advent

Prince of Peace: The Third Week of Advent

Emmanuel…God with us….

Are you? Where?

The sweet baby across the street….the one with the dark wisps of hair that curl at the ends; the one who can light up the entire room with one enthusiastic grin; the one who just took his first steps a couple months ago; the one with whom our whole church has fallen head-over-heels in love….he’s flown in a life-support airplane to a hospital three hours away.  The specialists talk of his weak heart, the layers of scar tissue, that his pace maker is just pacing way too frequently for anyone’s comfort.  His poor momma buried her first baby five years ago in October.  She sits in his pediatric hospital room, the same hospital where she painfully survived the dying breaths of her first child, holding his hand, reeling from blow after blow, holding her shattered heart in her other hand.

Emmanuel…God with us….

Where…..are you?

We ache.  We scream. We write lists of questions for you, and we have excruciatingly few answers.

We come back, as the calendar reminds us, to the Holy time, the sacred time, and we expect a vision, a touch, or maybe just a brush from you.  We would settle for an inkling of your presence.  Just a slight nod from the Creator of the universe to know that we aren’t abandoned on the careening ball of grief, chaos, and disaster.

The lights twinkle in the windows of their house, as if they are awaiting the sounds of a toddler’s squeals.  Our lights twinkle back in salute to the pain and emptiness of the fallow emblem of Christmas celebration.

The wind whistles through the unused fireplace as we all camp out on the couch watching our favorite Christmas movies. Our family hunkers down for another sick Saturday at Christmastime.  The stomach flu has entered our house, and we brace ourselves for a wave of illness to sweep us off our feet for the week leading into Christmas.  I scour over an almost-complete knitting project and unravel an entire skein of yarn to find a mistake that I made 24 rows ago, and I shudder with defeat.  My life feels like the unraveling blanket in my lap, as I search desperately, trying to locate the source of my malfunction.  Where in the world did I go wrong?  How in heaven’s name can we fix it?

The kid with the stomach bug perks up enough to slap her brother on the head, and our cozy movie-watching morning turns into germ-infested wrestling match on the living room floor.  I helplessly watch the violence, raise my voice to a pitch that matches the chaos of the moment, and throw up my hands at a loss for how to remedy any of these broken situations….

I glance out the window, and my brain keeps bumping into the reminder of that fragile life that hangs in the balance. That sweet baby should be cuddling on his couch with his mommy but instead is trying to keep his little heart in rhythm in a hospital room three hours away.   Turns out he is throwing up today too.

I glance in my lap at this blanket that I have been working on for months that seems to manifest all of my brokenness and inadequacies in the pattern of knits and purls that feels entirely out of rhythm with my ultimate goal of a seersucker pattern made of perfect diamonds of royal blue, cranberry red and charcoal grey. This is not turning out like I had hoped it would. 

I glance over at my children smacking each other on the couch next to me. They just can’t seem to be friends no matter how many strategies I use to bring peace to our home. 

My poor brain, trying to balance life and illness, working endlessly to cope with chronic pain and lack of blood flow, trying to bounce back from the destructive rhythm of anaphylaxis and epinephrine shock, mixed with the constant passing out as my heart rate doubles when I stand up. Doubles.  I just can’t stay conscious, no matter how many pills I choke down morning, noon, and night.  My doctor says that I am the sickest, most treatment-resistant patient she has ever treated. 

And peace teases us, like a distant concept on the horizon, maybe present in the houses down the road,  but not in our two little houses, blinking SOS signals out for someone to decipher, for anyone to give us answers, solutions, peace.  We need it now.

Our desperate situations feel like painful juxtapositions to the week of peace that presents itself before us.  Peace?  As we try to balance life and death, malfunctioning brains, dislocated joints, broken hearts, faulty lungs, heaving stomachs, and faltering knitting projects, we shudder at the foreign concept of peace.

If only we were residing in ordinary time, one that doesn’t tease us so painfully as we hang in the balance, dangling willy-nilly between life and death, hope and despair.  If only the lights didn’t twinkle so brightly, offending us with what feels like machine-gun fire of tiny slaps in the face as we cling to sanity in the midst of critically insane situations.

Emmanuel….God with us….Prince of peace?

Where

are

you?

We try to create a Neiman Marcuesque Christmas, with a perfectly vertical tree, the star at the top twinkling with pristine clarity and color coordinated ornaments. We decorate the piano, the mantle, and the ridges of our roof, and we convey to the rest of the world that we “have it all together.”  Full disclosure?  We are missing Joseph in our nativity.  Joseph–the adopted father of Jesus; the one who also spoke with the angel Gabriel; who sacrificially allowed his name and identity to be slandered for the sake of obedience to the call of God. He’s GONE. Our Christmas tree has crashed to the floor three times in the past week, assaulted by disorderly, brawling preschoolers.  My head feels like it is going to explode with all of the pressure of Christmas activities and the over-stimulation of seizure-inducting blinking lights.  Peace?  Where?

Maybe we are looking in the wrong places.  This Spirit of the Lord whispers, look inside.

Then I see a peace that doesn’t depend on what is happening to me.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.    John 14:26

The world is broken and shattered, and some lives manifest the dissonance more convincingly than others.  We see the chaos more clearly in mental illness, physical illness, senseless tragedy, financial hardship, abuse, and broken families.  Here we are, in this world of chaos, uncertainty, unraveling lives, infant and child death, debilitation chronic illness, divorce, sex slavery, injustice, and poverty.  And yet there is this truth imprinted on our hearts:  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you:  and it is true.  John’s not just trying to appeal to our warm, fuzzy emotions at Christmas.  He is telling us a vital fact regarding the presence of the Spirit, which is the direct result of Christ’s Advent, sacrifice on the cross, and defeat of death.

There is peace.  There is this deposit given to us:  The deposit of the Spirit.  This Spirit of God wraps us in indestructible peace as we go through the most brutal, deepest, darkest valleys of the shadow of death.  This is the peace that rules our hearts as we navigate a world that aches, yearns, and screams for the second coming of Jesus.  This is the peace that keeps our hearts pumping as they feel like they are being ripped out of our chests by betrayal, loss, abuse, or confusion.  This is the peace that allows us to laugh after a night of weeping.

I glance out the window again, and my heart resonates with the longing and pain as our lights twinkle with our neighbor’s, boldly shining in defiance against chaos.  I imagine a twinkle of the secret that is housed in the hearts of those in whom the Spirit of peace resides.  Whatever happens, however chaotic our lives, we will rest in the peace that rules our hearts and long for total restored order where there is no death, no pain, no suffering, and complete world peace.

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When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

This past week, Jordan and I traveled to Franklin Tennessee for an ecumenical conference that was centered on prayer, the Holy Spirit, and re-imagining church.  The conference describes itself as being an “effort to gather pastors together under one roof to convene conversations, curate content, call to prayer, and inspire a new generation of men and women who long to be a part of a great awakening.”  It was a gathering of clergy and lay-leaders who are passionate about a fresh spiritual awakening and revival in the church universal.  Speakers came from around the globe to share their experiences and theological insights on awakening, prayer, gifts of the Spirit, and the empowered Church.

We were encouraged that pockets of spiritual wildfire are breaking out across the globe as God’s people are stepping up and remembering the greatness of the all-powerful God that we love and serve.  God’s body is not sizzling out or dying off.  We are coming alive as we re-connect to the Vine and experience fresh expressions of church in an ever-changing culture.  This is great news!

Anyone who thinks that scholarly theological discussion is dry or boring has never experienced training under the brilliant theologians who taught at the New Room Conference hosted by Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed publishing company.  There was nothing “dry” or “boring” about the teaching that took place during this three-day conference.  In fact, as someone who has massive adrenaline dumps into my bloodstream due to my HyperPOTS,  I struggled to keep my heart rate under control as my passion and zeal were ignited throughout this dynamic three-day gathering.

I discovered something interesting this past week in Franklin:  When you attend a gathering with a focus on the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, and you are in a wheel chair, you will have many people who want to pray over you.  This is not a bad thing.  It’s a wonderful thing.  I need as much prayer as I can get, and I certainly long for healing.  When it is 11 PM, and you are trying to get out the doors so that you can get to your air b&b to sleep, however, you might have a tendency to “duck and run.”  I may or may not have whispered to Jordan, “Quick! Run now! Don’t make eye contact, just push me to the car as fast as you can.”  I was exhausted.  There was not a single prayer that was prayed over me that didn’t deeply minister to my heart, mind, and body.  I loved it all.  And I needed rest.

One might think that if you go to a conference like this with physical ailments, you are likely to make it home completely healed.  If you get home, and you are still wheelchair dependent, maybe you didn’t have enough faith.  Maybe the right people didn’t pray for you.  Maybe God forgot to listen.  Surely something went wrong, right?  I mean,  GIANTS in the faith prayed over me.  I was prayed over in song, in English, in tongues, given words of prophecy, wept over, had countless people lay hands over me, and yet……I still came home in a wheelchair, still needing the same routine of medications, still passing out,  still needing a feeding tube, still completely drained of energy and physical strength….still waiting. 

And guess what?  I couldn’t have asked for more effective prayer.  My hope is restored, my joy is restored, my spiritual and emotional strength are restored, and I recieved a better and deeper healing than I could have ever dreamed possible.

Sometimes God heals our phyiscal bodies.  Sometimes He takes away our diseases.  Sometimes He raises people from the actual dead.  Sometimes He says,  “Little girl, arise!”, and people physically, miraculously stand up.

Other times, when He says, “Little girl, arise,”  the child inside of us who has been beaten down and cast aside rises up and is healed.  And He tells our broken hearts just the things that they have always been longing to hear:

“You are loved.”

“You are not, and never have been, the problem,”

“I am proud of you.”

“My light pours through you, and shines out of you.”

“Will you trust me while you wait?” 

Let me be your Father.”

Guys, there are things more important than physical healing, and I think that I figured out what some of those things are this past week.  God wants to restore the years that were stolen from me through trauma and abuse.  God wants to fill my heart to overflowing with hope, joy, and all good things that come from Him.  God wants to pour out His light and life through me in the midst of my suffering in ways that show that in my weakness, He is sufficient.  God wants to restore my identity and help me find myself in relation to Him.

My physical illnesses are surface issues.  Yes, they suck.  Yes, they can be heavy and painful.  Yes, I desire to be healed from them.  But I want God more than I want physical healing. In the midst of my pain, suffering, and illness,  God is enough.  If physical healing never comes, God is still enough.  No, He is more than enough.  He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift because He is every good and perfect gift.

After a compassionate, Spirit-led, wonderful group of individuals prayed, sang, and prophesied over me on Thursday, one of them asked,  “How do you feel now?”  I knew that He was referring to how I felt physically.  Was I healed?  I took a deep breath, and I said, “Quite honestly,  I feel quite a bit worse now physically.  Praying takes a lot of energy. But my heart and my mind are renewed, and emotionally and spiritually, I feel like a new woman.”  I am not sure how he felt after that prayer, if those precious people who deeply interceeded for me felt like they had failed, or that I had failed, or that God had not come through.  I hope not.  Their prayer changed me.  It strengthed my hope.  God flooded me with joy, heart-rest, and spiritual strength as they sang and prayed over me.  I have never felt more loved by Jehovah Rapha, my healer-God.

I’m still waiting for physical healing.  I have a sense that it is not yet time. And I am okay with that.  I will keep asking, and I will keep readily welcoming prayers for physical healing.  But of this I am sure: God provides special blessings in the waiting times of our lives.

As I wait,  I embrace this promise from Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.  They will walk and not grow weary.  They will run and not be faint.


 

Who is my Enemy?

Who is my Enemy?

Do you ever forget what battle you are fighting?  I think that I get so angry, so self-righteous, so indignant, so flame-throwing, nail-spitting mad, that I just close my eyes and throw fists every which way I can muster, hitting innocent victims, and only accomplishing more self-hatred.

Oh my,  I’m fighting hard.  I’m fighting the people I love the most.  I’m fighting those who are trying their hardest to help me.  I’m fighting against my own body.  I’m even fighting God who loves me more than I can ever imagine.  I’m blindly lashing out because I am spitting’ mad. 

And by golly, I sure feel like I have all the reasons in the world to be mad.  So in indignation,  I spit in the face of anyone who challenges me for lashing out.

But in my anger, I am having a free-for-all flow of aggression. I have no aim, no real enemy.  Thus, everyone who is actually for me becomes the enemy.  I become the enemy. God becomes the enemy.  But the real enemy remains totally unchallenged, and I imagine that he is doing a little victory dance as I blindly let my fists fly at my most cherished allies.

Why is it so easy to forget?

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [all the people who love you and care about you, your own body], but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, additional comments my own). 

I gravitate toward the softer, sweeter ideas about God and the spiritual world.  I fail to consider the reality of evil, darkness, and dun-dun-dun….Satan.  No one wants to hear about that guy.  I certainly don’t.  Why don’t we?  It doesn’t feel good.  We can’t comprehend evil.  The nature of the unseen realm is that we….wait for it….can’t see it.  We can’t see it, and we can’t wrap our brains around it.   So it must not be there, right?

But wait….why does it feel like I am being hit from all sides?  Why does all of this fighting feel for naught?  Why does evidence show that prayer actually is effective, powerful, and meaningful?  And why in the world is the Bible (you know,  God’s own Spirit-breathed, life-giving word) so hyper-focused on these ideas of Spiritual battle?  Why do I feel like a warrior if I’m not actually created to fight a real, bonafide enemy?  (Hint:  I’m pretty sure my enemy is not other people, my own body, my family, or the medical world).

Maybe I’m the only one who has fallen for this sugar-coated, palatable, white-washed Christianity.  Maybe I’m the only one who has started cringing at any mention of “forces of evil,”  “weapons of the enemy,” and any scripture that refers to life as warfare.  So if I am writing only to myself, it is still worth it. I’ve got some major lessons to learn.  Everyone else can just read along and eves-drop on my internal conversation if you would like.  But based on some conversations that I have had,  I get the feeling that I’m not alone.

I need to start fighting the real enemy again, using the weapons that I have been gifted with from the Father of Lights, who gives wonderful gifts to His children.  He, who has filled us with perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), has called us to go forth into battle with our eyes wide open.  And the great thing is that we have a complete set of armor to wear into battle. (Ephesians 6: 14-17).  We are fully equipped, empowered by the Spirit of God, with the Son of God at the right hand of the father interceding for us.

But I’ve got to stop fighting the non-enemies.  As long as I am fighting aimlessly, I will always be defeated.  And as long as I forget who is my real enemy, I will keep fighting aimlessly.

So today, I draw the line in the sand (this may be like my 35th line in the sand–Good thing God is so patient and long-suffering):  I will put on the armor: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.  I will allow the Spirit of God to open my eyes, and I will fight the real enemy.

I don’t know what the outcome will be.   There’s no guarantee that it will result in physical healing, the absence of mental illness, complete resolution of trauma, or the absence of suffering in life.  It will result, however, in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  And honestly, I don’t think that I could ask for a better life than one filled with all of those gifts.

So watch out, Satan.  I’m no longer turning a blind eye.

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little.  That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room.  I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker. 

Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia.  I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength.  As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh. 

And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?” 


What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall? 

And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.”  So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.” 

So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak.  And, Paul, you say this: 

Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God.  And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior. 

And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace. 

Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

Answers that we aren’t looking for, but we really desperately need to hear

I got fed up with being sick.  Like totally fed up.  I decided that maybe I needed to get before the Lord on my face, fasting, like good old Jehoshaphat and his people in 2 Chronicles 20.  So I desperately laid prostrate before God this morning, sobbing, saying, “Lord,  I don’t know what the heck to do, but my eyes are on you.”  Over and over,  I prayed the names of God.  I sang worship songs.  I played Bible-roulette (where you open up the Bible to random pages and ask God to speak to you).  I doused myself with holy oils.  I prayed in English, in tongues, in song, and in scripture.  I stubbornly refused to move until I heard from God.  And I wanted Him to HEAL me.  Everything.  My body, mind, and Spirit.   I began to lament and yell at God.

I accused Him of not listening, not caring, and abandoning me.  I questioned why I was even on my face in the first place. I told God that I was exhausted.  I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.  I couldn’t handle being so sick.  I knew that He has abundance for me and that He wants to use me, but I was literally crippled.  This was when the tears started to flow freely, which showed me that this is indeed where the most raw nerve lives.  I knew that this was the point that I was building up to all morning, and the air was heavy with power and pregnant with possibility.  Knowing that it really was time to open up the Bible,  I opened to Jeremiah 15 and started reading Jeremiah’s lament in verse 18:

Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will you indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
With water that is unreliable?

Umm…didn’t I just say that?  Oh, man, Jeremiah.  I totally get you.  I knew that this was the verse that God had ordained for me this morning, because Jeremiah’s words were pretty much my words verbatim.  My eyes scanned down the page in Jeremiah, and my heart leapt that God responded to Jeremiah’s cry immediately following this statement.  I saw the words, thus says the Lord, and I knew that He had a word for me as well.  I was sure that it was the perfect word.  But sometime “perfect” is not exactly the same thing as what we want to hear.  And this was NOT what I wanted to hear.  So God responds with this perplexing statement:

“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before me, you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become my spokesperson.

Aww, crap, God, really?   Are you going to call me out on my stuff?  No sweet, fluffy, feel-good promises with no strings attached?  I wanted to hear:

“Yes, absolutely, let me end your suffering immediately.  Since you say it like that,  I see your point.  Zap.  No more pain.”

But no.  He doesn’t say that in this passage.  He beckons Jeremiah to return.  He also tells him to let go of the worthless in order to focus on the precious.

Peterson’s The Message refers to this returning as a call to stop complaining.   I’m not sure that this is God’s message to me this morning.  In this passage,  God called me out on my wandering heart.  I have been so disgruntled by my suffering that I took my recovery into my own hands. When my body failed to heal with restored nutrition and weight gain,  I stomped my little foot and said, “Fine!  If I’m not feeling better anyway, then I will not push my tube feeds and not eat what is on my meal plan!  I will hold onto my eating disorder because my body is falling apart anyway.  Why not at least placate myself emotionally while I am physically miserable?”   This has been my internal and not-so-subtle act of rebellion.  Nutrition is a complicated thing with my body, so this process is always one that requires honesty and openness about what my body can and cannot handle. Instead of being completely forthcoming, I have tried to yank they steering wheel away from my skilled providers and go off on my own course.  This can be dangerous. God is beckoning me back to the collaborative process, and even more importantly, He is calling me back to Himself.

Physical healing is not the ultimate goal.  Union with the God of the universe is.   Knowing God as faithful is ultimately more important than desperately seeking something of this world, even physical healing.

I did NOT enter into my prayer time this morning to hear that God wants me to return to a place of complete integrity and trust.  That is not fun, and it is way too practical.  I wanted supernatural wind and a tangible kiss of the Spirit on my nose, followed by total and complete healing.  But He is calling me to extract the precious from the worthless.   

The precious part is knowing Him.  That is enough.

So, no, I didn’t leave this morning’s prayer time with complete healing.   I really hoped that I would.  But I got direction, and it was pretty crystal-clear.  Really, that’s what Jehoshaphat received as well.  A member of his choir gave their army clear directions about how to proceed in battle.  They followed the directions exactly as they were spoken, and their enemies destroyed themselves.   All Jehosophat and his army had to do was show up and see the work of the Lord.

 

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

My Companion on my Time-Traveling Train

Please note:  This material may be triggering for some with histories of trauma or abuse. I am more detailed in this piece than I am in most of my pieces.  Please take care of yourself and only read it if you are in a stable place with ample support. 

I watched a child this morning, as if from a train window. A time-traveling train. I had a tour guide and a Faithful Companion along for the ride. As I looked out the window, I saw a little girl:

The sun is getting ready to set, and dusk settles over the little dead-end neighborhood street. She puts down the Barbies and says goodnight to her friends, climbs their basement stairs, and heads out their front door. She didn’t realize that it was so late. Her mother is worried sick, and it is her fault. Darkness encroaches upon her as she marches the quarter mile home, and with a shudder, she sees her mother at the top of the driveway. As the features of her mother’s grief-stricken face come into view, the child feels as if a bowling ball has been dropped into the pit of her stomach. She sprints as fast as her five-year-old legs can carry her to her mother who seems to be overflowing with equal measures of rage and desperation. Her mother reprimands her in the public of her neighborhood community, but the consequences that lurk behind closed doors remain dreadfully looming, as she grovels behind her mother into the “safety” of her house.  The child must pay, and she knows that darkness awaits. Terror grips her heart and her body as they prepare for bath time. She can’t stop crying. Her mother can’t stop crying. “I thought I had lost you,” her mother keeps repeating as she runs the bathwater. The little girl sobs. She has so much power, and she doesn’t want that kind of power. She is just a child. As the bathtub fills up, a switch is flipped in her mother’s brain, and the monster emerges. As her own power vanishes, the child surrenders to the monster. She submits to the punishment as monster-hands hold her head and face under the water. She waits for darkness to enfold her as the monster hands refuse to let up. Lungs burning for air, she succumbs to the need, and water floods her nose and mouth. As the lights fade out, she feels sensations that she assumes accompany the process of dying. The mother-monster of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde is her daily experience, but she only allows for conscious awareness of the overly attached, doting mother. The darker side lurks in the shadows of her experience, nagging, haunting, chasing her down every dead-end street. She feels the “not-right-ness” of their relationship. She feels the ambivalence that seems to emanate from a mother that she is desperate to please, out of dependence as well as terror. That, however, is the extent of the awareness that she has of the dark places that her mother takes her in her twists of character. Because she doesn’t have a clear picture of her mother’s illness, she assumes that she is evil, broken, and needs to be eliminated.

From the window of my train, I saw the root of self-hate, shame, and fear in that child. I saw her mother behaving like a monster, and as a mother, I despised the abuse. I raged with fury and indignation. I watched Jesus help the child hold her breath as she was being nearly drowned, and I watched Jesus firmly jerk the psychotic mother back into reality, allowing the child a chance to survive. I saw that Jesus loved this child  and wept with her horrific circumstances and loved the mother enough to not abandon her in her destructive illness.

My Faithful Companion sat beside me in the time-traveling train as I looked out the window at five-year-old me and my mother of whom I have so much fear. As He showed me Himself in the scenario, He revealed His power, love, and goodness. As the train came back to the station, and we stepped off into 2016, He said, “My child, I am redeeming you. I never abandoned you. And it is okay that you stepped away from your mother. I have not abandoned her either. You never have to feel like you have to take care of her again. Rest in me. Let me handle her. I love both of you.”

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you… (Isaiah 43:1-2, NASB)

Our Truth-Telling God

I have a unique opportunity this evening.  I am sitting in my husband’s office at the church, pretending to be professional.  The children are in the nursery, my husband is at the satellite campus working on technical issues for Sunday, and I have two hours to myself in a real office just to be an adult. (I am a giddy, excited, child-like adult right now.)  I am currently rocking out to the Mark Swayze band, and my mind is like simmering pot boiling over with ideas for writing.  Where to begin…

This adult time is excellent timing.  There is much to say. God is so incredibly at work, and I haven’t the foggiest idea where to begin.  Jordan (my husband) and I attended a conference last week. We boarded an actual airplane, just the two of us, slept through the night, and had the chance to finally go on our anniversary dinner (only a month late–our eyes were falling out of our faces and we were crying blood on our real anniversary–not an exaggeration, I promise!).

Jordan had to talk me into attending this conference.  I was set on attending one closer to home.  I relented after some cajoling, and I am so incredibly thankful that I did.  I knew it was going to be an awesome conference when we encountered many obstacles as we prepared to leave.  When one is on portable oxygen and has to fly somewhere, the process of flying is complicated.  The portable canisters are charged and pressurized.  They are not allowed on airplanes.  In my head, I picture massive explosions and bodies flying throughout the cabin . I don’t think that really happens, but you never know.  So instead of my normal oxygen canisters, I have to rent a portable oxygen concentrator.  If we were to purchase one, it would be thousands of dollars.  Insurance doesn’t cover these devices (they are considered a luxury, because, well, you know breathing is a luxury). So we had to rent one. Honestly,  I was not surprised that mine decided to malfunction before we boarded our first flight.  Every minute,  the blasted machine would alarm furiously until we shut it down.  Everyone around us would stop and stare.  Who knows what they thought we were harboring as we made our way through the airport.  The problem is that I need oxygen.  Thus, turning it off was not an option.  We finally found a way to outsmart the machine.  May I add that my husband is a genius?  In order to prevent the machine from alarming like it was about to explode, I was forced to push a button to change the flow about every thirty seconds for the entirety of our flights and layovers. Oh, and you can’t just trade it out at another oxygen supply company when you arrive at your destination. No.  That horrid machine has to be returned to the location where you rented it.  Thus, the process of pushing buttons every 30 seconds for six hours was repeated on our way home.  Snag one.

The other snags were somewhat expected.  My throat developed that telltale scratchy feeling that always results in a nasty cold the night before we flew out for the conference.  So began my cold that continues to this day.  Picture this:  Your oxygen is delivered through a tube that goes into your nose.  Your nose is a snotty mess.  You can’t breathe through your nose.  Bad news.  The day that we arrived I also got a stomach bug.  We are talking constant diarrhea.  I had no idea that a body could produce so much crap.  And now I know.  Totally bad for POTS.  It lasted the entirety of the conference.  True to form, however, I pushed through.  I attended all of the sessions, times of worship, and prayer meetings.  I’m not saying this is good.  It is in reality kind of crazy.  But I didn’t really consider staying back at the hotel and sleeping.  Not when I came this far and God obviously had a huge plan for this week, as evidenced by all of the obstacles that were jumping in our way. I was way too curious to stay in bed. Thankfully, He sustained me while I was being psycho.  Hopefully, I didn’t infect too many poor souls while being reckless.

So here’s what happened:

God affirmed me so beautifully.  He told me that He is proud of me.  He revealed to me more fully what I am passionate about:  Prayer, writing, and worship.  He told me that I didn’t have to try so hard.  I don’t have to try to exceed my body’s capacity.  He is using me in the here and now, in my broken body, to expand His kingdom.  He said that I am gifted and He delights in me. He said over and over again that He loves me.  I learned about what He is doing in the global church. Guys, it is MASSIVE.  He is totally at work, like all over the world.  I want to be in on it.   We can be in on it.  In order to be in on His work, we have to start with prayer.  Prayer is the starting point.  Without prayer, the church is dying.   With prayer, like true repentant, travailing, awe-filled, desperate prayer, we have hope for life.   We have to wake ourselves up.

I struggled too.  I have lived a life marked by weakness that is evident to others.  I find myself desperate to prove myself as strong and capable.  I feel chronically less than the other people around me.  It is almost like I have to look up to them from my stooped down position. This position does not lend itself well to symbiotic relationships and friendships.  I so want to feel equal to others.  I want to be able to keep up with them, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, but I have lived a life that has felt stunted and dwarfed.  We knew many people at the conference with whom we attended seminary.  I feared that they would see me this time as they saw me in seminary: limited, pitiful, not friend material.   With 1,600 people attending this conference, I was the only one walking around on oxygen,  clearly underweight, malnourished, sickly.  I got the pity-smiles, lots of sympathetic compliments on my glasses, and curious stares.  NOT WHAT I WANTED.  I wanted to scream, ” I AM TOUGH! I AM DOING AWESOME! DON’T YOU DARE PITY ME.”  People who knew me from seminary lovingly asked me or Jordan what was happening that I had to be on oxygen.  Jordan was excellent at presenting a concise and accurate story about my medical situation.  I, on the other hand, somewhat (ahem, totally) in denial, hemmed and hawed and tripped over my words, trying to minimize the situation and diffuse any concern that might arise from others. (Concern makes me squirmy).  This led to the blockage of real conversations.  I was just so desperate to be normal, for once. Not to be pitiful and weak.

So if you are tracking with me,  here I am, being loved and cheered on by my Lord while simultaneously wrestling with my core identity issues which really trip me up in my interpersonal relationships.  God obviously knows what He’s doing.  As I write this, it is clear that He was telling me exactly what I needed to hear.  I am enough.  I am complete. He is proud of me.  He is at work in me.  He loves me.  I am beautiful to Him.  I, in the mean time, am wrestling these lies that have followed me through the decades that scream that I am worthless, pitiful, and ultimately a black hole in the world.  What contradictions!  I’m pretty positive that God is a truth-teller.  I asked Jordan to fact check the messages that God was giving me.  He said that they are in line with the God he knows and with the Word.  And I got this cool book mark that also says all those things that God was telling me.  So it was legit. The bookmark proves it.

Now I have a responsibility and a gift.  My mission is to be set free from the shame.  I am commissioned to begin to believe these truths about myself as a daughter of God.  He is re-framing my personal narrative and cleaning up my resume.   I asked Him in the shower this morning if I am a mistake, and He said that I am absolutely not a mistake.  He again said how much He loves me.  I am asking Him to show me what it may look like for me to be set free from the self-hate and shame.  He is providing glimpses.  In response to our shower prayer time this morning, God sent two people to tell me today that I look like Jesus.  Yep.  He’s pretty amazing.  And I believe that He is transforming my identity.  This is the healing that He has for me.  The dawn is coming, and the night will soon be over.

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst. A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.