Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Clothe yourselves therefore, as God's own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper]."
-Colossians 3:12

"I'm a sinner" - Josh Thompson

"I'm a sinner;
that's just what I am.
Sometimes the devil
can get the upperhand.
But I hit my knees,
close my eyes and bow my head,
and thank the Good Lord
that when it comes to forgiveness -
He's no quitter...
'Cause I'm a sinner."

Tenth Avenue North "You are More"

There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?
I'm not who I once was.
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love"

But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?
Yeah don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try

But don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

'Cause this is not about what you've done,
But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Family Cleaning Saturdays and Lazy Sunday Afternoons

When I was a senior in high school I was debating between two universities for most of the school year.  One was closer to home, and for all intents and purposes a more "practical" choice.  In April of that year, I finally recognized and submitted that God told me to go further away where I truly knew no one except the girl who would be my roommate, and our knowledge of each other was mostly through our parents' friendship.

That university, eight hours away from everyone I knew and who knew me, required me to leave my support system and start out in a place where no one knew a thing about me.  Add to that that it is a Christian university, but being a Christian meant something dramatically different than anything I had known or experienced in all my life.  I had grown up in the church, my parents are full of discernment and have an intimate relationship with the Lord, I accepted Christ very young, and had experienced an intimate relationship with Him from about the time I was 11/12.  I knew God's voice, I had experienced following His will when it didn't make sense and seeing miracles happen, and my parents had lovingly guided me closer to Him.

But then I found myself in a place where everyone called themselves Christians, and there was definately something different about them, but they said that having a relationship with Christ included much more than what I was taught.  It was scary to me.  It was painful.  "God why did you bring me here?" was my daily cry.  I came to one conclusion - the answer had to be one of two options:

a. He brought me to this place to know what Christianity distorted looks like to show me how to hold my ground and recognize His truth from a lie
b. He brought me to this place to show me what my upbringing in the church was lacking.  He brought me to show me what an intimate, powerful relationship with Him really looked like.

I think in my heart of hearts I knew that it was the second option, but that option was far to terrifying to really might mean that my parents had been wrong or that the people I had known and respected as Godly men and women had missed some major points...I was afraid, I felt alone, and I felt trapped.  To be honest - I was almost afraid to pray, afraid of what God might be after all.  I believed that accepting the things that were being taught meant I must reject all the things I had known before and all the people too, and I did not feel ready to do that.

So, I did what any intelligent person would do in that situation...I ran.  All I needed was an "I'm not disappointed in you" from the people I trusted most, and I took that opportunity to run like hell!

I transfered universities to go back to a "comfortable Christianity", but instead I spiraled into a deeper darkness than I could have ever imagined.  Perhaps it was even worse - Christianity reduced to academia and I no longer had the power God had given me to have a vivacious personality before.  If you know me well, I am naturally a bit of a wallflower, introspective, etc, but in high school God had ignited a passion within me for His purposes that allowed me to be outgoing and joyful and touch others.  I now had none of these qualities, I was barely hanging on, and the friends I had known before now no longer were interested in this rather dull, dark person I had become.

It took nearly a year before I saw what God wanted to bring me to when He first took me to a university far from home.  Ironically I was in the darkest and lowest place when He started to reveal Himself to me, but unfortunately, I had still walked away from where He wanted me, and there was much collateral damage for my choice to run. 

First of all, my choices had distorted the purpose and seasons of different relationships in my life...painful fallout that I am just now (at 25) finding myself able to dicifer the truth from lies in the rubble.  I had hardly any life within me to pour out on others, and God was graceful to give me a few cool drinks in the dessert, but my choices left me scarred and without the grace of drive and completion I once knew.  My support system was stripped from me, my sense of truth was so blurry, and I was burdened with an anxiety so strong it threatened to take my life.

I realize now that to some degree I have always been wound up a little tight, but when walking in God's purposes I could use that angst as almost a fuel like adrenaline.  I found myself no longer able to utelize it, but rather consumed by it, drowning.  At some point I found myself able to shove it down far enough to work and complete school, but it made its way out by wreaking havoc on my body - literally, I threw up 6-10 xs a day for weeks at a time before finally seeking medical attention (I was not pregnant ;)

Pastor Joe this morning spoke from the passage in Acts 9 where Saul (who persecuted Christians) has an enounter with God and has to walk literally blinded to the place He has for him to begin the ministry that God has prepared for him.  Saul becomes the man we know as Paul - great man of God, incredible writer of His Word. 

Pastor Joe talked about how "in the city" or the place where God told Paul to be there was awakening, a future, relationships, opportunities, providence and supplication.  But the thing is, God did not tell Paul what He wanted him to do when he got there - He just told Him first to obey and move out in faith.  It wasn't until he went by faith and stayed that Paul began to see God's plan working out. 

He compared it to a game of hide and seek that we often play with kids.  We do it with Laurelei too.  Scott will hide in our closet and Laurelei will come looking for him.  Scott will make little sounds for Laurelei to get an idea of his direction and he'll listen for where she goes.  If she walks into our room but not finding him there or in our bathroom starts to walk out, Scott makes a sound again to draw her back in.  When she finally opens our closet door to find Scott we all celebrate and there is much excitement.  Then we do it again.

Proverbs 25:2 says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." 

Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  I have thought a good deal about how women, by design, long to be pursued, and men, by design, are pursuers, but when this plan is thwarted or distorted the relationship is damaged.  God created men and women in His image, male and female, and the need to be pursued is a uniquely feminine trait bestowed in the image of our most beautiful God.

I have known for a while now that many of the reasons of some of the struggle I am experiencing have to do with the moment I walked away from where God wanted me to be.  Pastor Joe said this morning when we ask, "Why isn't your presence as rich as it used to be - why don't I have the same revelation from the Word I used to?"  God's answer to us is simple, "Because you left where I told you to be." 

How can we recognize the difference between self inflicted struggle by leaving God's place for us or struggle God allows in our life to shape us and grow us?  The answer: life.  Pastor Joe's first point this morning was "In the city is your awakening".  Basically, whenever I am in the will of God I am alive - even if the situation is challenging.  Every time we walk out of that will we sense death, burden, and we leave a trail of destruction, we walk out of protection.

I can say though, that when we recongize and admit to God that we have walked away, He is faithful to draw us back to Him.  There are still consequences, but I can testify to the awesome grace of God shown daily to me through the incredible love of my husband and the blessing of my sweet daughter.

I'd also like to add, that in my situation, accepting the new things that God was showing me about Himself and relationship with Him did not require me to cast judgement on my upbringing in anyway.  Instead, it was intended to show me that I needed to lean on Him and put me in uncharted waters where I had to follow only His voice.

God has kept my mouth largely closed about all of this for many years, and I can't say I fully understand why today is the day that He has opened my mouth (figuratively obviously) about some of this.  Today, on a day when pregnancy has made me too sick and weary to actually step out of my home, so I had to watch church service on celebration livestream.  Today, when my body is weary, when I feel little effective, little purpose other than to take care of my sweet girl and try to survive this pregnancy.  Why today, for what end, I can only estimate that somehow by writing this God has given me the freedom and trust in Him to be totally honest about my struggle, and pray that in my sharing He will release other captives. 

If you are in a similar season, take heart, dear one, our God is greater, our God is stronger.  Lift up your eyes to the One who is so in love with You that He sacrificed His dear, perfect son.  You are loved more than you can ever imagine, there is hope, there is future, and yes, God's grace is more than enough to cover all of your mistakes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Few Spoils of War

This has been a challenging week, the peak it seems of a challenging season in my life.  I have long debated on whether or not to share the gory details, but I think that is best left for intimate one on one conversations.  Suffice it to say that this has been a painful season, a stripping of who I am, who I thought I was, and unearthing a very ugly picture.  It hurts; I have felt naked, vulnerable, weak - like a rotting corpse just waiting for the buzzards of life to come pick at my bones.  I have never thought of ending my life in this season, praise God he placed my wonderful husband and sweet daughter around me, but I have struggled to keep going, to move forward, to even get out of bed. 

A few weeks ago God asked me to give up something precious to me, something that has been with me for a long time, a thing that has largely shaped who I believe that I am.  The person asked to borrow it, but I know that God asked me to give it, expecting nothing in return, and it was hard. 

The next morning in my quiet time, when I prayed about where to read, I felt the urge to begin reading wherever my Bible flipped open to...a practice I have not partaken in since I was very young - this often leaves you right smack in the middle of an old testament list of family members or some other chronicle that seems little applicable to our daily life.  I opened to Isaiah 2 and began reading, but had to pray for God to help me see what He was trying to show me.  I kept reading on to chapter 3 and turned the page...there it was.  I have the Amplified Bible with notes from Joyce Meyer, and she began to unload chapters 2-3, "When God Removes your Props"...

Isaiah 2:22 God asks, "Why are you putting your trust in frail people who are only alive for so short a time?" and then goes on to tell them that he will remove their "props" out from under them.  Joyce talks about what are props are - things like our support system, things from which we derive pleasure and satisfaction (she listed exactly the thing that God asked me to give up - He has a sense of humor), and things that we believe are the measure of who we are. 
Isaiah 2:8 says, "Their land is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, what their fingers have made."  vs. 22 says, "Cease to trust in [weak, frail, and dying] man, whose breath is in his nostrils [for so short a time]; in what sense can he be counted as having intrinsic worth".  Then Isaiah 3:1 is the kicker, "For behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff [every kind of prop], the whole stay of bread and the whole stay of water."

Ouch!  And you know what - this is just what God has been doing to me, or perhaps, it would be better said that God has allowed satan to remove these things from me.  It is called "sifting" (see the conversation between God and satan in Job or what Jesus tells Peter about how satan has asked permission to "sift" him).  Satan cannot touch a believer without the permission of God - we are covered - he can only use scare tactics - which we often fall for, but in my life these have been far more than scare tactics.  I have been stripped of all that held me up and any ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps or regain control.  I am broken.

I had no idea how much my sense of self and worth even came from my appearance (ie: the color of my hair), but not being able to maintain these things certainly revealed what was inside, and it was not pretty.  This season has been a painful one, years, in fact of stripping my life of people and things that I counted as sure and part of my identity.  But God allowed it.

However, God is restoring to me a crown of beauty for ashes in ways hardly expected - let me share a few.  For one thing - because I have grown up in the church and have had a relationship with God for a long time, I know well what a Godly woman should look like and talk like (or so I thought), and even when my heart was not fully engrossed in passion with Christ, I was able to put on a persona so that no one else could see where I fell.  There where leaks and holes, as with any mask, but I could usually pull it together.  I cannot any longer, and the beautiful part is - God has taught me that I don't have to try!  Isn't it glorious!  I don't have to try to be a good Christian girl and do good Christian things, and I have no strength to try.  All I can do is be me and ask Jesus to change my heart.  That means me with the ugly parts, the sinful parts, exposed and unabridged, but the beauty in it is that when I am no longer trying to maintain my composure and am just broken before God, then He can really change my heart!

Because of this season, I have felt that surely no one would desire to be my friend because I literally have nothing to offer to anyone - I am barely getting by from day to day.  The beauty, the friendships that God is revealing to me now are friendships that do not require me to try so hard to be what I believe they want/need from me, they are effortless (I feel), and far more fruitful because my eyes are focused on the Lord (and not the friend - idolatry) and I have no time or energy to try to be nicer or funnier or kinder or whatever - all Kandi is likely to spill out pretty soon - mess that I am, and something amazing is happening - people like me for me.  Even though I am a melancholy personality, even though I do not like to talk on the phone, even though I don't know how to have surface level conversation so I can be really intense, even though I am constantly analyzing relationships and conversations, even though I am sometimes awkard or too blunt, even though...all the things that I have long felt that would be barriers to friendship.

And this week, painful as it has been, has been so beautiful, God answering our prayers in ways that are so clear and rich, that I hardly would have recognized before.  This season is not done - God is not done stripping me of my "props", but He is teaching me that those things that I have leaned on are unstable, but He is stable.

A friend shared with me some insight from Ezekiel 37 - the valley of dry bones.  Consider how God gave the dead bones first sinews (muscles-strength), then flesh (our will), and then skin (our outer appearance) then He breathed new life and put His spirit in us.  She encouraged me to consider how first we must be stripped of these things in worldly terms to then have God replace them with His. 

Mediate on this Truth, and trust that if God has allowed you to go through a painful season that while the enemy meant it to destroy you, God means it to reveal Himself to you, build relationship, and give you strength, identity, and life that you have never dreamed possible, but first, you must be stripped of your old self.  Fear not, dear heart, God is working, He is moving, and this battle has already been won - we are victorious!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Modern Friendship

Why and how do we seek friendship?  We live in such a transactional society that is always "connected", and this seems to have taken over the realm of relationships too.  It seems like people spend time together out of boredom, to be entertained or have a project, rather than the joy of one another.  There is constant calling and messaging, and expectations of being available all day via phone, email, or facebook.  It is busy, rushed, unfruitful, and often draining.
I have found that the most enriching friendships usually take place between people with full lives that are not pursuing someone to fill a need or fill up time.  There is something so much more fulfilling about a friendship in which you desire to make time to spend with one another because you simply desire to really know and love on each other. 
This truth has really come to a head for me now that I am a stay at home mom.  I do not have an enormous amount of free time, as many might assume, but rather less...scheduled time.  But I am rarely bored, and when I am, I take that time to seek the Lord, to read, to study, to reflect, etc.  God is showing me how to stop pursuing relationships, but rather to pursue Him, and allow Him to open and shut the doors for relationships that He desires for my life.  It's rather freeing, and much less exhausting.