The Choice

Lately I’ve been watching a rather iffy show on Netflix called Paranormal Survivor.  Guests on the show recount their brushes with “ghosts” (*ahem*demons), often with tears and visible emotional scars.

My husband is more skeptical than I but we both see the element of truth to these stories.  These people are not actors.  They are regular people who, for whatever reason, had these unexplainable experiences with forces of spiritual darkness.

I’m inclined to believe them because of my own experiences.

As a young woman I came to God from a place of intense spiritual darkness.  I had opened myself up to all kinds of junk.  I think at various times I had been all but taken over.  I was plagued with feelings of intense paranoia and rage along with audible manifestations.  I was diagnosed with depression but prescription medicine couldn’t come close to curing the spiritual tomb that was my heart.

When Jesus called me out of that darkness there was an intense struggle.  I felt those forces trying to keep me in their grip.  I threw myself deeper into the things of God.

In those early days I had a lot of demonic nightmares.  Dreams I’ve never shared.  I would wake up soaked in sweat and terrified.  There was one time where I was being suffocated and in my dream I was trying to call out the name of Jesus and I couldn’t because it felt like my face was being smothered.

I finally broke lose from that and the effect it had on me was to further solidify my faith and push me even closer to God.  I believe that is why the nightmares stopped.  Satan saw that it was backfiring.

Also, around that time my husband and I started praying together every night.  We always pray for protection over our family and our home.

There are these very real forces that I believe attack every single believer.  It may not be something as frightening and blatant as what I experienced, but real, nonetheless.

More often we get hit with a spirit of complacency.  We’ve heard the gospel a thousand times.  We get numb to the horrifying events that seem to occur with ever greater frequency.  We get bogged down with daily life.  We get lukewarm.

But when we encounter evil- whether it’s a mass shooting or a spiritual attack on our family- we have to make a choice.  Are we going to be ambassadors for Christ in this dark world?  Are we going to let the Holy Spirit sanctify our hearts?  Are we going to live lives worthy of our calling?

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My daughter, because it’s so cute but also because this is how we need to operate.

 

The Bible says that we are all slaves.  We are either slaves of God, leading to righteousness.  Or slaves to the forces of evil.  While we are technically free moral agents in that sense we don’t get to choice.  Why?  The Bible says are hearts are desperately wicked and we can’t begin to understand.  We deceive ourselves.  We fall under a spirit of deception.

“The coming of the lawless one will be accompanied by the working of Satan, with every kind of power, sign, and false wonder, and with every wicked deception directed against those who are perishing, because they refused the love of the truth that would have saved them. For this reason, God will send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie,…” 2 Thessalonians 2:11

This is a powerful warning.  If we aren’t allowing the spirit of God to work in our hearts and minds we will fall into this great deception.

I believe we are standing at the end of the age.  The man of lawlessness will soon be revealed.  The choices we make now matter.  The prayers we pray in faith matter.  Our daily walk with the Lord matters.

“Lord Jesus, help us to shake of any spiritual complacency and follow you fearlessly in this dark age with passion and holiness.  Work in our hearts to make us worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus.  Give us discerning hearts.  We thank you that in you, we already have the victory.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

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Irrevocable

Today I put the final entry in my journal of over 3 years.  It wasn’t a big journal.  It was something that I wrote in sporadically.  As I filled the final page I reflected over the past three years and changes I want to make.

I felt a general feeling of sadness.

I haven’t been as close to the Lord as I could have been.  I wasted a lot of time.

I wrote out my last entry with some pretty basic goals/hopes for the coming years.  I want to see my baby healed.  I want to be closer to God.

I opened my Bible to Romans 11 and read “….for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29  I love the word “irrevocable”.  The Greek word here is ametamelétos which means “about which no change of mind can take place”.

The call on your life, the gifts God has given you- those things are irrevocable.  Does that give anyone else a tremendous sense of comfort? 20170712_130709

“For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined He also called, those He called He also justified, those He justified He also glorified.” Romans 8:30-31

Foreknew.  Predestined.  Called.  Justified.  Glorified.

I can’t type these words without tears welling in my eyes.  There is a destiny on your life that supercedes the things that bog you down, the pain that leaves you crippled, the sin that separates you from your Father.  His call, his choice…it’s irrevocable. 

“Lord, fan into flames again the dreams you put into our hearts.  Work in us the will, the desire to obey you.  Help us, Lord, to be courageous and to be more than overcomers through Christ Jesus.  Thank you, Lord, that you knew us before the dawning of time.  You chose us and your banner over us is love.  We love you and we trust that you are working all things out for our good, because we love you and are called according to your unshakeable, irrevocable purpose.”

 

 

For the Joy

I realize I’ve blogged a lootttt on the topic of suffering.  I write from where I’m at.  I write what is on my heart and what God speaks to me.  I write because I feel called to (and heck, I like it) and to hopefully encourage people.  I’ve written a lot on hardship and I feel like it’s a good thing because people can relate.  I certainly don’t think we should (or need to) minimize our pain.

Suffering is an undeniable part of life.  If you are walking this Earth with feet of clay you are going to have to contend with pain and difficult trials.

But I believe that suffering has an expiration date.  We are not here to suffer.  We are here to enjoy intimacy with our God and live in victory and freedom.

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” Romans 5:17

Suffering is always a means to an end.  The end being that God is glorified.

As I was getting ready for church yesterday I was thinking about the story of Lazarus.  Lazarus was a very close friend of Jesus.  Lazarus had two sisters that were very close with Jesus as well; Martha and Mary (who have their own story, but for another time).

Lazarus had gotten very sick.  A messenger ran to get Jesus.  Jesus waited 2 whole days before leaving to come see Lazarus, the text says he waited until he knew that Lazarus had died.

Martha and Mary are understandably upset.  When Jesus does show up, Martha runs out to meet him.  “Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died!”

Jesus looks deep into her eyes and makes this powerful statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

They were just hoping that Jesus would heal him.  Jesus had different plans.  He went to the grave, where he had been buried 4 days prior.  He comforts Mary and Martha and even weeps with them.  He knows our pain, because it’s his pain.

“Roll the stone away.”

“But Lord, there will be an awful smell…”

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they roll the stone away and Lazarus is raised from the grave.

I got to church and what was the pastor preaching on?  The story of Lazarus and how it relates to us.  It was a God-thing.  We brought our son up to have him prayed for after the service.  This morning he looked a good 50% better with most of the redness and swelling gone and months-old wounds showing signs of dramatic improvement.  We know he got a special touch from God and we are believing that he will receive complete healing.

We serve an awesome God.  rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-c

There is a powerful message in this story.  We may suffer, yes.  But we know that at some point Jesus is going to come into our situation and command some stones to be rolled away.  When Jesus shows up, he brings life with him.  He is our healer.  He is 100% good.  He is 100% for us.

Ultimately, for us who believe, we will be completely healed.  We don’t know the time table, but we know the one who does.  Jesus triumphed completely over death and the grave.  One day, death will be swallowed up.

In life we will always have an element of suffering.  We live in a fallen World.  I have my own share of suffering, as do you.  But I also have so much joy.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

Suffering doesn’t get the final say.

 

Your Song, His Song

I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a couple days.  Don’t feel bad for me because the song is pretty epic-ly awesome.  It’s 80’s, it’s melodramatic and not a bad song to have stuck in your head.

I think the only way to get it unstuck is just to go with it.  I found it on youtube and decided to play it to wake my husband from his sweet slumber this morning.  Two birds, one stone.

I sashayed into the bedroom and dramatically belted out, “Take…these broken wings!  And learn to fly again!”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1M80Z7zTjo  You’re welcome.

I think he appreciated it.

He’s used to this sort of thing because I love music and I love singing (and dancing) and my home is my stage.  I didn’t say I sing well but whatever I lack in talent I make up for in gusto.

Seriously though, music can touch us like nothing else.  I recently read the book “Finding God in the Ruins” by Matt Bays and he talks about the song, the music of our lives.  Jarrod Drawbaugh also speaks beautifully of letting out the song of our lives in this blog- http://www.infjwriters.com/dear-infj-advice-recently-deceased-philosopher-author/ and as a person of faith this got me thinking of how my song is inextricably connected with His song.

As a follower of Christ there have been many times where I’ve felt utterly defeated.  Times where; I fell hard into an old sin pattern.  I fell hard into depression.  I fell hard into feeling worthless.  As an INFJ, I see things very symbolically and the image I had of these times was that of being cast down into the dust while the enemy of my soul sneered triumphantly over me.  While he hurled insults and accusations.  Many of which had more than an element of truth to them.

But at times like that when I felt the darkness closing in, I would hear something else.  Quiet but unmistakable.  An ancient song, the kind that leaved you with goosebumps as it awakens pangs of hope and images of Heaven.

His song.

My song.

I think of the women caught in the act of adultery, recorded in the book of John, verse 8.  She had been humiliated and thrown into the dirt.  Surrounded by her accusers.  Too ashamed to lift her head.  I can imagine her accusers in breathless anticipation awaiting Jesus’ verdict, as their eyes darted from the woman to the Christ…The Bible says that Jesus stooped down and began to write in the dust.  Theologians argue about what he was writing and why.  But I wonder if maybe he was tracing out the lyrics to an ancient melody.  Maybe he hummed quietly a song that only that woman could hear.  The same fingers that set the stars in place wrote out this lowly women’s redemption. “He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support… You give me your shield of victory, and Your right hand sustains me; You stoop down to make me great.” Psalm 18:17-18 & 35

There are two voices, two messages we can listen to.  The ceaseless voice of the accuser or the quiet hum of God.  We can sing along with the voice of defeat or belt out the song of triumph.

I find in my own life that God is always speaking.  It is up to me to have my internal settings tuned to his frequency.  Whether I’m bopping through life to an upbeat 80’s tune (ah yiss) or immobilized in the dirt, God is always singing over my life.  He always has and He always will.

“He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

My God is the God that stoops down in the dirt with us, to lift our tear-stained faces.  This is the God that rejoices over us with singing.  This is the God that puts a song of hope in our hearts, a song unique to each and every one of us.

Woman Singing
Woman Singing 2003

Unredeemed Brokenness

I happened to hear Pastor Matt Bays on my favorite radio show yesterday (Live the Promise with Susie Larson) and was really taken with what he had to say.  He spoke with shocking honesty about the wretched pain of his past and his turbulent path of faith- fraught with doubts and addiction.

His pain spoke so much to my pain.  I (being the impulsive sort that I am) bought his book, Finding God in the Ruins, with amazon one click.

Tonight I sat down and read through a third of it in one sitting.

It really speaks to where I am, the dilemma I face.

I’ve loved and followed God (not always well, but I’m still here) for ten years and yet I still feel broken in so many ways.  My son still deals with daily pain as we struggle to keep the eczema and resulting staph infections at bay.  I still deal with so much internally that never sees the light of day.

I, like Pastor Matt, got to a point where I just couldn’t pray and believe anymore.  How could I tell people about a Great God that loves them and has a great plan for them- when I found those promises so lacking in my own life?

The truth is that so many of us struggle with a disproportionate amount of pain.  A quick, pretty verse isn’t going to bandage wounded hearts sufficiently. The faith formulas don’t always add up as they should.

I went to a MOPS meeting recently and… felt awful the whole time.  The women there were really nice, they were genuine believers.  But I got the sense that these were the type of women that came from great families.  Women that have never labored under the shame of utter brokenness.  Women that knew how to match boot socks to their purses.  I felt so horribly out of place.

See, there are those of us who don’t come from the best families.  Those of us who deal with the anguish of shame.  Those of us who need much more than an inspirational service or two to get us out of our funk.

I think my theology has been woefully inadequate to address my reality.

God is good but a significant part of our journey here, our walk of faith, is going to be hard and at times, agonizing.  Much more so than we’d prefer.

Early on in my faith journey I was a good faith-filled believer and believed 100% that God was going to quickly and miraculously deliver me from my emotional pain.  That definitely hasn’t happened.  For years I thought it was because I was falling short somewhere.  The teaching I listened to had me worried that there was some hidden sin or offense lurking in me that was keeping the tidal wave of healing and deliverance back.  Maybe that wasn’t it at all.

Maybe there are just things that got broken so badly and profoundly early on, that healed so wrong, that they only way to get it right again is to re-break it.  To wrench away what is wrong before it can be set right and begin to truly heal.  Not a bandaid but a surgery.

So I am embracing the pain in my life and looking for God’s purpose in it.  I still believe.

 

My Power Source

I haven’t written in a while.  Summer is always a busy and chaotic around here!

I also switched jobs.  Now I work part time as a barista at a Target Starbucks.  Honestly, the job I’ve wanted for a long time.  I love Target and I love Starbucks!  I also love getting a discount, yay!  13626415_10154249884502429_8547029261097152568_nMy friend snapped this on my first day.

My husband’s brother and his family visited for the first time from Virginia a little over a week ago.  It was incredibly special.  We had a blast, hanging out and doing tourist-ey things with them.

Tomorrow is a big milestone for me.  I’ll be turning 30.  I’m kind of sad to leave my 20’s behind, but older = wiser, right?

I watched the movie ‘Miracles from Heaven’ a few nights ago.  At about 20 minutes in I started crying and couldn’t stop.  It just touched so many nerves for me.  The child in pain, the mom losing hope- it’s definitely been where I’ve been at for a long time.

My 7 year old son, Gabriel, has had severe eczema for years now.  It has been so tough for him.  Lately we haven’t been letting him play outside because he reacts so strongly to the allergens.  His eyes are always bright red lately.  There’s times where he can’t sleep because the itching or pain is so intense.  And all of this with daily anti-histamines and steroids and expensive lotions.  It feels like a never ending nightmare.

Watching him suffer, day after day, had really hardened my heart towards God.  Gabe had asked me, “why did God let me get eczema?” and I’m at a loss for words.

No, it isn’t as serious as what the Mother was facing in the Miracles movie.  But his condition has been devastating for him.  To the point that when we went to meet his cousins (in 90 degree heat) he cried because he wanted to wear a sweatshirt to cover up all the redness, bumps, and open sores.  He is also limited in his daily ability to just be a kid because the itching and allergies make him so miserable.

We’re still going through it.  There’s no end in site.

I think most (if not all) Christians face a make or break trial.  Something devastatingly hard, something that never seems to end, something that hits home.  Those times test what we know to be true.

God was speaking to me through that movie.  I realized I’ve been ‘under’ the trial and the devil was running roughshod through my life.  In my pain and sadness I was distancing myself from God, my power source, and leaving myself very weak and vulnerable to attacks from the enemy.

“Now if we are children, we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17

I have resolved to hold tighter onto Christ through this.  I believe in miracles.  Especially the quiet ones, where God uses tough circumstances to do an incredible work in us.

My sweet boy, with his Daddy….

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Growing Pangs

I feel like that best describes where I’ve been at spiritually and emotionally.  I want so much to be real and transparent in my life.  I want to reject the vestiges of religion that keeps me wearing a mask and living in fear.  What does Christianity mean to me?  What does Jesus mean to me?  I guess I want to feel to really be me and authentic and not even remotely perfect but someone who has a real, living faith in the One who is perfect.

I feel like so often Christians feel like they have to represent the faith well.  They have to act like everything is ok.  That they know all the answers.  I feel like we really miss the point.  God doesn’t ask us to perform, but to be. 

I guess I am still trying to find my own voice, my own balance between the grace and love and discipline and chastising.  Like you know what?  I love Jesus and he is real but my kid got into a fight this week.  I have faith but I am still waiting on some answers to prayer.  I go to church but I also enjoy wine and laughing my head off at a semi-inappropriate joke.

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that face says it all!

I’ve never had so much on my plate.  Michael, my oldest, has been acting out something terrible this year.  😦  He is very bright and they put him in a tougher program for gifted kids.  But he is really not doing well and acting very disrespectfully and angry towards staff and other kids.  In a lot of ways we just don’t know what to do.  I do know that God does miracles and life-change is his specialty.  Michael does have faith in God and I’m hoping and praying that God is going to do some transforming work in Michael’s heart.

Gabe is doing so much better.  We saw a pediatric dermatologist last week for his eczema and she got him on a new steroid cream to get the raging infection under control.  We are also doing bleach baths, wpid-20151006_164607.jpgVaseline all over his body, and wet wraps over night.  He has gotten like 60-70% better in just 5 days.  He is really happy and much less miserable.  So that is a huge relief!  We are praying that the skin stays healed when we stop using the steroids.

And my youngest, Shiloh, is such a delight to me.  She is just so happy and full of life.  She is my constant companion, my little buddy.  She definitely keeps me busy! wpid-20151006_113856.jpg

Meanwhile I am waiting to hear back about a possible auto-immune issue.  I am really just taking it easy, not doing killer workouts for now.  I think I can control about 80% of how I feel with diet.  So I am just thankful that I can do that, even if it means a very limited diet.

In my early 20’s I had tons of time to devote to reading the Bible, worship, and prayer.  Now I just don’t.  I stuggle with feeling really guilty about that.  But I am growing in finding God in my very imperfect circumstances and with my ever-imperfect self.  Still figuring it out.  Still hanging in there.  Still catching glimpses of God’s glory peaking through.