Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

Hope for Abbey

I’ve been volunteering with the One-on-One Visitation program at the Tennessee Prison for Women here in Nashville, TN for just over a year, and my husband and I made a site for the young lady I’ve been visiting with.  I’m basically just posting here what is on the site, so if you would rather go to it there, or if after reading this, you feel led to donate, you can see the site at http://hopeforabbey.com. The woman I have been visiting with and getting to know is named Abbey Leavitt, and this is my plea for a little help and hope for her new start. She is up for parole in May of 2013. I’ll tell you a little bit about the program, so that you have a little background for Abbey’s situation.

One-on-One Visitation is a Faith-based group that provides a mentor to incarcerated women. It is significant that they only partner with women who receive no visitors, and have submitted an application to be in the program, so the women in this program are very alone, but they want to learn, want to be mentored, and want to change their lives. The expectations of the program are that you will visit them once a month and write letters, faithfully, in between. These women have no one who is able or willing to be there for them while they are serving their sentences. As you would imagine, it follows that many of them also have no one who can help them when they are released.

Though justice is served by their punishment, unfortunately, it doesn’t end for them when they have completed their sentences. They often have no legal identification, no money to start out, nowhere to go or no way to get there, and obligations, such as child support, that are almost immediately back in effect upon release.

This is Abbey’s situation. Abbey is a young mother with three young boys. Two of them live in Washington State with their father. She dreams of returning and making a life there, but will have to stay in Tennessee long enough to regain custody of her other son, who lives with her brother in Memphis. This puts a strain on an already difficult situation, as her brother struggles to get by financially and will not be able to offer her much. Jobs will be tough to get with her criminal record, and legal obligations are imminent. She is considering a halfway house to help her get back on her feet and employed, but even halfway houses usually require an up-front fee.

Abbey is a beautiful and funny young woman, and her honesty will sometimes take you by surprise! She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and wants other people to do the same. She has a ready laugh, but you can see the concern for the future in her eyes. She loves the Lord and wants to live her life differently than she did before her imprisonment. She tears up when she talks about how much guilt she feels over not being there for her sons. Please read Abbey’s story and pray about whether giving her a helping hand is something you are able to do. Nothing is too small, and everything will be appreciated, and I know that God will put it to your account!

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:20

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

ABBEY’S STORY

My name is Abbey Leavitt, and I am 24 years old. I have 3 boys, and was born in Michigan. Although I might not look like it, I’ve lived a life way beyond my years. The elder people in my life call me an “old soul.”

I must let you know that I’m a far cry from an angel. I’ve done drugs, sold drugs, stolen, and lied to satisfy the hole that couldn’t be filled with earthly gifts. Let me tell you my story:
It started when I was about 2 years old. My little sister’s father would put me to bed and I would scream. Of course, everyone just thought I didn’t want to go to bed, but I was being fondled to pornography, and he would lay me on top of him and hump me until he was satisfied. That went on until age 6, when one night he decided to molest me in my anus. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I remember like it was yesterday. He called me his favorite. (I wonder why!) I did tell one of my brother’s friends the next day.

To make a long story short, we moved to Colorado. That didn’t last long due to racist shootings, high prices and extremely cold weather. We stayed about six months. We brought a couple of people back, though. Momma always had a way of adding folks to the family.

Now, most of the molesting from not only my step-dad, but my girl and guy cousins occurred in Michigan. That started when they would make me play house or hide and seek, or simply give orders for sexual favors. As I look back, I’m not angry with them. They were only children, too, and were learning the behaviors somewhere!

At age 4, I witnessed my big sister get killed in front of me. She asked my mom if she could go to the store to get the movie E.T. My mom said, “No,” and my sister said, “I hate you.” Then she went and told my brothers that my mom said, “Yes.” Well, they jumped on their bikes and headed to the store with my oldest brother leading the way. My sister took her time while I cried out at the window, watching, wanting to go. As she was crossing, a man driving a truck with a boat attached sped up and hit her! Her bike went under the truck, crushing instantly as she tossed in the air like a beach ball, hitting the boat on the back of the truck and almost dismembering her entire leg. The driver kept going. My brothers screamed and pulled my sister out of the road as she took her last breath in his arms. I lost my mother that day. She was there physically, but mentally she wasn’t for years, and all the while I’m being sexually abused and it was becoming “my normal.” If my mother wasn’t getting beaten and chained in the basement or we weren’t in shelters getting molested by the “battered women,” it was by our closest family members.

I became pregnant at age 15, living in Washington State with my eldest brother and his family. Life was rough. I couldn’t find happiness or fill a huge void I felt in my heart. So, I would play men and women…lots of them…trying to use them like they used me. I became involved in drugs and hacking computers. You name it – I was involved in it. I became pregnant with my second son at age 18, and my mother passed when I was 9 weeks. Needless to say, I died with her.
I chose to stay in Washington and do the family thing. It worked for a while until my immaturity and bitter heart tore my family apart. I ended up on the streets with two kids and no hope. I sold drugs and got back into using them again. After being pistol-whipped in front of my children by a meth addict, I threw in the towel and called my other brother. I jumped on a bus with my two kids and as much as I could carry for a 3 day ride to Tennessee.

When I got settled in Tennessee, I became bored with the slow pace an began to commit small, petty crimes and do city crimes in a small town that eventually led me to state probation and three violations, and eventually prison. Here I have been for almost three years, and it is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It is in here that I have found who I really am and what beliefs I want to instill in my children. I have taken parenting classes, anger management, and completed an intensive rehab program.

I’m starting over, but I need help. I have no clothes, no money, no identification – nothing but the willingness and determination it takes to achieve my goals. I want and will go to college, but I am at ground zero. I have a struggling family who cannot help me, but they do the best they can with my children.

I look to be making parole in May of 2013. I struggle every day, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful for my past, my trials and my pain. It has molded me to be the woman I am becoming every day. I am not looking for a handout, just a helping hand. I am willing and ready for a change – the kind of change that will pay it forward to youth in my situation. If my testimony has touched and moved your heart to help me, you will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
Abbey Leavitt
“Never ask for a lighter load, rather, a stronger back.”
You may contact me at:
Abbey Leavitt , #436394
3881 Stewart’s Lane
Nashville, TN 37218

Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

If Only I Had an Enemy…

Lately I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my lack of concern for other people.  My husband and I have been talking a lot about all of the times the Bible, often through Jesus, says to be kind to the strangers, to show hospitality to them, to visit the sick, to care for the orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to love your neighbor as yourself (expounded on in the story of the Good Samaritan), etc.  There are a lot of them.  Here are a few:

Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8-9: If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself,” you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

John 15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.

John 15:12-13: This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17: These things I command you, that you love one another.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.

Mark 10:42-45:  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James 2:14-18: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?   So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart fro your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I could keep going, but the point is, I think that I have somehow overlooked the radical nature of what it means if I actually DID this consistently in my daily life, and not just as an occasional “act of kindness” in order to make me feel good about myself.  Right here, my flesh really wants to defend myself, and tell you that I do sometimes do nice things…and I do, but I think I recuse myself from this responsibility far too often.  Sometimes it is time-related: I say I am too busy, but I still manage to fit my favorite TV shows in.  Sometimes it is comfort: I feel that I need some sort of embossed invitation in order to make sure that putting myself outside of my comfort zone is what God wants of me.  Sometimes it is pure laziness: I just don’t want to.  Sometimes it is fear: what if I try to reach out and it is not welcomed, appreciated, effective?

I was kind of down a few weeks ago; I was (and still am) feeling convicted about how little of my time is spent intentionally reaching out to others in distress.  I was reading in the Bible and came across chapter 58 of Isaiah.  I was stunned…we had been discussing all of the Scriptures telling us to help others, to love others, and I was in a sort of spiritual funk, feeling like I didn’t know how to get out of it.  And then I read this:

Isaiah 58: 3-12: “Why have we fasted and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not THIS the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your  healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy YOUR desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It’s a lot like some things Jesus said in the New Testament as well, that acts of “religion” are not regarded by him:  Matthew 6:16-18 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  And also as it says in Psalm 51, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

He doesn’t want us following a list of rules; he doesn’t even want us (per Isaiah 58) to pray and fast and mourn and cry out to him if we don’t plan to act on his words about helping those around us.  He wants our hearts.  He wants them because he wants them to love…him first because that enables us to do the second, which is loving one another.

As I said, I was feeling pretty down before I read Isaiah 58, but it literally gives you a cure for depression.  It says (paraphrasing), “Care for these people, and your gloom will lift.  Meet the desires of the afflicted, and the Lord will meet your desires.  Where you felt disconnected from him (the Lord), he will show up.  Where you were feeling empty and destroyed, you will begin to bloom again.”  Wow.  Depression is caused by selfishness?  It actually makes sense.  We are depressed largely because we are wanting something for ourselves, which we are not getting, feeling, experiencing.  Even if those things are good things, i.e. the presence of God as it discusses in the chapter, we are depressed over them because we are self-focused instead of others-focused.  It’s like all of the things the Lord asks of us, He asks for us to give up self, to die to self even (Galatians 2:20), but it is all because that is what, in the end, will satisfy our deepest longings.  “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

There is a song by Mumford & Sons with one single line that has run over and over in my head since the first time I heard it…”if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”  I often think that our battle would be more easily won if the enemy were like David’s.  As he was speaking to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”  At least in our American culture, our enemies are much more subtle: 2 Corinthians 11: 14-15 – “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  My enemy is indeed a master of deceit, he is Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44) disguised as my own feelings of laziness, apathy, selfishness – if I were to see those things as they really are, even my flesh would rail against them.  I would be appalled at their ugliness.  I watched a video recently about reaching out to the poor and hungry, though I can’t remember what it was from.  At one point in the video, there is a man, clearly starving and malnourished, on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to a man walking by…but the man doesn’t stop.  He doesn’t even look.  That image has also run through my mind over and over since I saw it.  I am the man who is just walking by, not looking.  One hundred years ago, in our world, we had the excuse of ignorance, the excuse of the logistical difficulties of helping, even if we learned of an issue around the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  Even if there were no hurting, no starving, no poor, no sick around us (which there are), it is so easy to send aid to anyone anywhere in the world.  We have no end of information about those who need help, and no limit to the ways we can help them.  My enemy has become more clear, as I have pictured that man, reaching out to me as I walk out of my house to my car, as I walk into church.  I cannot escape him as he stretches out his arm, pleading for aid.  My enemy is my self-absorption…my desire for a smart phone, though with the extra $ I would pay on my monthly bill, I could probably feed that man each month; my desire for a vacation that, even on a budget, would probably cost more than that man has ever seen, because I “deserve” it…as if that man does not deserve to eat…to live.  If there were a starving man outside my door, even one starving man, I would be callous and cruel to walk past him each day, living comfortably in my relative luxury, but taking no notice.  But there is not just one starving man, there are 15 million children dying every year, and they are all reaching out to me.

So, what will I do?  I am not sure, specifically.  But I know that I MUST cease pretending I am obeying Christ’s words while only nominally reaching out to others who need help.  I must view my apathy as the enemy that it is.  I must take the Scriptures I have included and am including below to heart.  Here’s an interview that my husband did with a man who has done just that, transforming his Christian life from what he acknowledges was just going through the motions, to a life that reflects Christ and his power: Victor’s Story.  Please listen, and note how he embodies the precepts in the texts below:

Matthew 25: 31-46: When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did  see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they will also answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 10:25-37: And behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Since then…or “The Luckiest Girl”

…that’s me…the luckiest girl…God has done so much in my heart and life in the past year, I couldn’t even begin to spell it all out.  But I’d like to try.

The biggest earthly change in my world is that I got married last August.  For any of you who previously followed this blog, I married the former boyfriend, whom, last you heard, I was no longer dating.  I say “earthly change” because, there have also been (and continue to be) a lot of spiritual changes, and for the better.

The restoration of my child-like faith is one…I can’t really explain what I mean by that, except to say that I had slowly had been descending into a very “grown-up” cynicism and simply resolved to the way life was/is instead of being able to live day-to-day in the joy that God promises us even while we are still here on this earth.  I guess I still felt His peace, but had lost His joy.  And as it says in Nehemiah 8, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  I believe that is why, in large part, as you could read in my former post, I had very little perseverance…I had let the joy die, and therefore my strength was faltering.  My prayer was as David says in Psalm 51:  “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

God has done that, and I can hardly impress on you how much!  I guess for one, I will say that the “joy of my salvation” is never so strong in me as when I recognize my need for it most.  When I am sorely aware of my failures is when I am most greatly in awe of my salvation, most grateful for it, and most amazed at its power.  That (as opposed to when I am feeling self-satisfied) is when I truly feel the joy and wonder of Jesus sacrifice, when I am less obstructed by thinking of myself, when I am resting wholly on Him.  And it brings a joy I cannot describe!  When I am most aware of my lack of deserving His grace, is when I am able to most revel in His love!

And this has restored to me, not only the joy of my salvation, but the ability to feel wonder, to feel love, and, I hope, to reflect those same things to others.  In this, I do feel like “the luckiest girl,” but I know that God offers it to each of us to feel like “the luckiest;” to live so deeply in His presence that circumstances are most aligned with this particular definition: “an unessential or secondary accompaniment of any fact or event; minor detail.”  The FACT is based in our relationship with Christ and our eternity with Him, and that is the thing determining our outlook, not the secondary events of this fallen world, though they may be disabling, disheartening, disjointed.  We are never promised comfort on this earth, and to live expecting it is to live in disappointment.  Romans 8:23-25 says, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”  Hoping for what we do not see, but have been assured of!

What does this have to do with getting married?  I don’t really know how they’re intertwined exactly, to be honest.  Very poor writing, to jumble them up if I don’t plan to connect them, I know.  But somehow it doesn’t matter to me.  I’ll just let you readers analyze as you like.

I’ll tell you a little about our life…God really worked a miracle in our relationship, completely eradicating the past hurts and bringing out the best that it could be.  I can honestly say that I could not imagine a better husband or a person I would rather go through life with.  I have never known someone who, when confronted with truth, is more willing to commit their whole being to following it.  Chris is a learner, a diligent seeker, and, as such, when God shows him the way something should be, he diligently chases after it.  And, in so doing, inspires me to do the same.  He is exactly what God knew I needed.  When we started dating, a lot of people had reservations…he was an alcoholic in a rock band with not a lot of apparent commendations.  Now, he is a tireless evangelist, and the best spiritual leader I could hope for.

It’s hard to explain what Chris does when asked, but a friend of mine summed it up for her family when we were asked last week, “He answers really big questions about God.”  That’s in summary, but it’s basically it.  Through the internet, he releases videos and podcasts that answer big questions about God, and thereby receives many personal e-mails with more big questions about God, which he is then able to answer one on one.  He probably spends between 3-6 hours a day answering these e-mails, and the rest of his work-time studying for new projects or creating them.  Less than a year ago, he was still doing all of this part-time, and received no earthly compensation for it.  He was feeling the Holy Spirit compel him to spend more time on it, but needed also to have an income, as we were planning to get married soon.  Around the same time, his part-time job flooded, so a change was going to have to be made regarding his employment.  I called him soon after this happened, and he told me he was doing a job interview with God.  He had looked up job interview questions, and was answering them as if God were asking them.  I talked to him later, and he said he felt like he got the job…and that is when the current adventure began, somewhere in June of 2010.  He went full-time in his ministry, and added a donation button to his websites, believing it was God’s will for him to dedicate all of his time to it instead of just the leftover time.  God has provided faithfully ever since.  We have always had enough, and often had excess.  Being in the position of constantly relying on God for our collective income has put us in a position of active faith that we, as Americans, rarely experience, being so well-prepared, and unaccustomed to risk.  We are trained to live in such a way that we are prepared for everything, financially and physically…so that disaster is averted through our preparation and earthly assurances.  I would not, in contrast, say that we should live frivolously with no preparatory thought whatsoever, but I would assert that where God calls us to depend on Him, we should be willing to live in uncertainty from an earthly perspective.  Chris has no worldly assurance of a next “paycheck,” but we have God’s promises.  And every time things start to run a little thin, God hits us with a big present, as if to say, “Trust me!”  He is able, as it says in Philippians 4, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Living in constant awareness of not only our spiritual, but our physical need for God’s provision is one of the biggest blessings I can imagine.  It builds your faith like you wouldn’t believe, because He DOES provide.  If we would only give Him the chance more often, and trust Him long enough to see it before scrambling to do so through our earthly methods.  I will close with words from Ephesians 3: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Politics of Love

A friend of mine received an e-mail forward that greatly grieved her.  I wrote a response below; original text in black, my response is in red.

(Forgive the poor formatting – wordpress does not like things pasted from Word!)

I’m The One You’re Talking About

 

With all of the hurt I recognize from those labeled “left-wingers,” I decided to respond to the following e-mail post in order to show that there is a difference in those who consider themselves Christians first and Republicans later and the reverse.

 

With all the vitriol I’ve been hearing from the right-wingers of late, I can’t help but recognize myself as the target of their obsessive hatred. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to out  

myself, just so they know who it is they’re spending so much time talking about.
Yes, I’m that American-hating broad who believes in life, liberty and equality for all Americans, not just those of a “socially acceptable” color, religion, address, pay scale or political affiliation.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes that I could make up for all of the anger, hatred and fear that is displayed in the name of Jesus Christ – all of the fanaticism that states that if you are not like me, you are not a worthwhile person.


I’m that baby-killer who thinks that every child should be a wanted child, and that the ultimate decision to give birth is the domain of the woman whose body is involved. I also believe that people who really care about saving babies might want to think about the ones who are already born – especially the ones born in places our government is currently blowing off the map, or might plan to in future.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that if more believers would put down their arms about an “issue” and take up the cause of the already fatherless, there would be far less of a need for abortion in the first place.  I am sad that Christians demonize the results of failing our duty to humanity.

I’m that godless whore who believes that if the government wants a say in how I conduct myself in my own bedroom, they’d better be prepared to lay down a lot of cold, hard cash – because if I’m going to screw according to someone else’s specifications, it’s only right that I be paid handsomely for satisfying the john.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that I am not God’s police.  The greatest of the commandments, from Christ’s own lips, is that we love God and love others.  We have failed to show anyone a reason to love God, and have no right to ask anyone to live up to standards that we ourselves cannot and have never been able to meet.
 

 

I’m that infamous anti-Christian who actually believes that I am my Brother’s Keeper – and that includes supporting social safety-nets that provide food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, care for the sick – you know, all that yadda-yadda stuff that Christ used to preach about back when people who called themselves Christians had a passing familiarity with his teachings. I also believe that just because Christ was tortured to death doesn’t mean he was promoting the idea as something we are free to do with his approval.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that the government has only to take up this responsibility because we largely fail to do it as the Body of Christ.  We were called to be an extension of His care, and have chosen instead the easy road of militant cause – lending us falsely free consciences when we turn our backs on those who we have decided are living “in sin.”

I’m that unscrupulous libertine, apparently devoid of any morals whatsoever, who has deluded myself into thinking that if the gay couple down the street get married, they’re not  going to destroy every heterosexual marriage in the neighborhood – and by the way, I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument as to how that would happen if they did.

 

 

And I am the Christian believes that we have destroyed marriage ourselves by treating it with such flippancy.  Marriage is about commitment and who are we Christians to bark about its sanctity when we divorce as often as those around us?

I’m that unpatriotic bitch who thinks that sporting a flag pin in your lapel doesn’t mean shit if you’re wearing it while supporting pay-cuts for the troops, or budget cuts to veterans’ care – or, for that matter, calling anyone and everyone who disagrees with you “unpatriotic” because you really have nothing of substance to say, but just love the sound of your own meaningless rhetoric blasted over the airwaves.

 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that disagreement does not equal hatred.  If we could re-learn to look beyond issues and labels and groups and see humans, perhaps we could learn that those humans have hearts.

I’m that blatant sexist who thinks that if someone like Sarah Palin has nothing more to offer than a pair of tits while seeking the office of the vice presidency, she’d damned well better have something more in her training bra than a wad of Kleenex – like actual knowledge of the responsibilities of the job, for starters.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes to apologize for our lack of faith in God – for the fact that we feel the need to press on everyone else and force them to fit in to our mold, like the school bully, instead of showing God’s love and trusting that He can work it out if we would just obey Him ourselves.

I’m that socialist commie who thinks people should reap the financial rewards of their own hard work while the CEOs of the corporations they toil for share the resulting profits, rather than pocket them all while throwing crumbs to those whose labor created those profits in the first place. Yup, that’s me – another anti-capitalist, spouting my big mouth off when oil companies earning record profits get tax subsidies, as though they don’t deserve them.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that capitalism is the life-blood of our economy, but for the fact that it has been hi-jacked and subsidized by a government seeking to attain its own ends and fill its own pockets.  The corporations receiving government payouts because they have run their companies into the ground with poor business practices are the same corporations that put Mom and Pop’s Hardware Store out of business, though they were possibly the most honest, hardest working people in the town.


I’m that big city chick, who couldn’t possibly share the same values of the kid from the suburbs, or the mid-western farmer, or the small-town librarian – or anyone who, unlike me, was raised in the right pocket of Americana – wherever that may be.

 

And I am the Christians who wishes we could do away with all references to “right” or “left” and learn to see the things that we hold in common – to protect the innocent, to bring hope to the weary and food to the hungry.  We are all in this together – who cares where the “pockets” are?

I’m that no-good Bush-basher who had the gall to notice that an idiot who couldn’t string two words together without getting both of them wrong would inevitably lead this country into an unwinnable war (or two), financial ruin, complete moral failure, and global disgrace.
 

 

And I am the Christian who does not turn a blind eye to disgraces from anyone just because they are in power, and I definitely do not make an exception just to make myself feel better about it if it is someone that I helped put there.


And while I’m at it, I may as well come completely clean – because, let’s face it, you’ve got me dead-to-rights: I’m also a tree-huggin’ environmentalist who believes in such outrageous ideas as upholding the Constitution, equal treatment under the law, and civil rights – and the hypocrisy of you people who call ME un-American makes me want to retch.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that our Constitution has been trampled on from persons of all political parties whenever it best suited their needs at the time, because politics is no longer “by the people, for the people,” but it is a selfish grasping for power and agenda.

So now that you know who I am, please feel free to rant about me all you want. I’m proud of who I am, what I believe in, and what I stand for – a feeling you’ll never know.

 

 

And now that I hope that you know we do not all hate you.  Some of us are saddened by the mis-use of our God’s name to try to manipulate the world around them so they can feel comfortable in a controlled moral environment instead of worrying about the hearts and souls of individuals.

But don’t be embarrassed by not recognizing me in a crowd – you see, there are tens of millions like me, and you know what they say: All those damned anti-Americans look alike.And we’re all about to vote alike – which means voting your asses out of office.

 

 

I hope that you also can see that I think it is completely irrelevant who is in office, because I believe in a God who loves – a God who is not threatened by man and our selfish, confused attempts at running a country, a business, a family or our own lives – a God who will be working in the hearts and lives of those who are seeking Him regardless of the political climate.  I am not threatened by political change, because my God is not a God of politics.  He is not trying to “win.”  He only wants to love.

See ya around, chumps. And the next time you think about calling me or anyone like me anti-American, you might want to look back at what this election has been all about – and who the REAL Americans truly are.

 

 

And along the same lines, I am not trying to be more American than you.  I do not want to compete with you.  I want all competition to be put aside so we can work together, live together…together, though not identical; in harmony, though not the same.

 

Thanks for taking the time to learn who we are, too.  We’re out there, I promise.

The Everything Sale

There’s been a lot going on in my life for the past little bit.  I don’t really think I’ll be getting into all of it, at least not in this post.  Maybe soon.  But for now, I just want to tell you about the everything sale.  Trust me, this post will be long enough with just that as the subject.

Circumstances in my life recently have been causing me to desperately seek the face of God…to seek what He would have me do at every juncture.  I knew there were things that I needed to change and do that I was not being proactive about. 

Well, if you don’t know me, you probably also don’t know that I have a history of moderately drastic actions, like quitting jobs with no idea of what I’m going to do and moving to places where I don’t know anyone and breaking up with fiances (yes, that’s multiple), etc.  Some of these things, I really felt like God wanted me to do.  But some of them, I just did because I got bored with things they were, felt that I couldn’t handle another minute of the status quo.  And so, in this last season of desperation I’ve been going through, I was trying to be super-cautious about what actions I took.  If there was drastic action to be taken, I didn’t want it to be just because I was bored, I wanted it to be because God called me to that action.  However, I was considering a few different types of action.

Drastic Action #1) Changing jobs – which I’m actually kind of doing.  I think my Play-Meter has run down on the whole nanny-ing thing.  I can’t seem to engage with the kids anymore.  I just want to look at them and make sure that they are still living and breathing when the parents get home.  That’s not really a super good nanny trait.  So, I’m slowly phasing out that season of my life.  (Although, right now, I’m kind of sad about it because last night one of my girls asked me if I could bring my cat and a business card with me the last time I come.  So sweet!)

Drastic Action #2) Moving to a tent – Yes, I seriously considered this.  It would have been temporary because I am no good in the cold, but I was thinking it would give some time to pay off the already minimal, but seemingly impossible to pay off debt I have.  It would give me freedom from the responsibilities of living in a structure, namely cleaning and paying rent.  The Lord’s Prayer does ask for our “daily bread.”  I’ve been wondering if having my “bread” for a month to come is an extravagance that we just take as the norm in our society.  I was thinking that living in a tent would force me to only have my daily bread, literally.  You can’t store food in a tent unless it’s in an impenetrable container.  The animals would rip your tent up.  Living in a tent would also minimize distractions so I could do something useful, like write a book or work on my art or spend more time getting smarter instead of working so much and taking care of stuff.  However, ultimately, I didn’t feel good about this option.  I felt like it catered too much to my desire to spurn resposibility and my sometimes unhealthy desire for solitude.  It would be a temporary fix, because as soon as I was faced with the reality of responsibilities, the same challenges would arise.  Living in a tent would have been my version of running away.

Drastic Action #3) Selling all my stuff – And we have a winner.  Sort of.  See, I already did it.  But not really.  Haha.  Confused yet?  I’ll start at the beginning.  For the past 3-4 years, at various points, I have felt like God was telling me to sell all of my stuff.  A couple of times, I have half-way done it.  Sold a few things on Craig’s List, told my friends they could buy anything of mine when they came over.  I even sold a few things that I really wanted to keep.  That’s good enough, right?  I guess I just never really looked at it like disobedience when I “sort of” did it, but that’s what it was.  I don’t think I ever fully acknowledged that when God said “everything”, He meant that He did not want me to put any limitations on it.  But I did.  I always said things like, “OK, I will be willing to sell everything except for my keyboard and my favorite mirror.”  It’s a really great mirror, all right?  And, in addition to putting limitations on it, I never went out of my way to sell anything.  Never advertised everything as being for sale…just kind of told friends and stuff.  In other words, I didn’t really leave it in God’s hands.  I was sort of passively willing to do what He said.  And so, when I was seeking Him out, God kept bringing all of this back to mind.  Reminding me of places in my journals where I have written down that I felt like God wanted me to sell my stuff.  It’s written down multiple times over the past few years.  I can’t deny that I have heard it.  I never wrote that God wanted me to sell some of my stuff.  So, God had been reminding me of all of this.  And then I went to hear John Eldredge speak about his new book, Walking With God.  His book is about listening for, recognizing and obeying the voice of God when He speaks to you.  (The Eldredge’s keep cropping up in my life, don’t they?)  After leaving his talk, I couldn’t ignore the voice telling me to sell all of my stuff.  I tried to ignore it.  And I tried to argue with it, and I tried to pretend I thought it was just me trying to do something stupid because I was bored again.  But I couldn’t convince myself of that.  Every time I prayed, “Do you REALLY want me to do that, God?”  It was like God was screaming (not audibly), “YES, I told you that a long time ago.”  It still seemed a little silly to me, like I was trying to prove myself or something; honestly, I was somewhat worried about what people would think…that they would think I was trying to be special or get some sort of award when it wasn’t like that at all.  I wanted confirmation.  And so that night, I tried to go to bed without doing anything about it.  I thought I was justified in wanting confirmation.  But I couldn’t go to bed.  I was uncomfortable.  I knew what God wanted me to do.  Finally, I got up.  I went to the computer.  I posted an ad.  “Everything Sale” it said.  That was a Sunday night, so I knew I would have to re-post it before the weekend came so it would pop back up on the list, but this was sort of necessary for me.  I couldn’t back out once I put it out there for everyone to see.  I was still hoping for a little confirmation, though. 

So, the next morning, I was talking to my mom on the way to work.  She was telling me that she had bought herself a laptop.  (This is related, I promise.)  She was giving me all of her reasons, and I could tell that she was still sort of justifying it to herself…that she felt a little bit guilty for buying something moderately expensive and also pretty much unnecessary.  I should insert here, that I have never, once in my life, seen my mom purchase anything large that was just for herself and completely unnecessary.  My mom was excited when she got to buy a new washing machine.  She sent me pictures of it, if that gives you an idea of her purchasing history.  She always ends up doing practical things with any extra money she gets.  So, although this is NOT related: Mom, when you read this post, I give you permission to NOT feel guilty about buying yourself a laptop.  You deserve it. 

Anyway, so we were talking about that, and she said something about spoiling herself.  Or maybe I made that up.  I don’t want to lie.  Maybe I just thought something like, “Sometimes you have to spoil youself.”  When we got off the phone, I continued to think about this, and I thought about how I spoil myself all the time.  Not that I necessarily buy big things, but I do buy myself just things.  And I thought about how the reason for this was because I feel like no one else is going to do it.  If I don’t spoil myself, no one else will.  So, I wasn’t really thinking about that in conjunction with God.  I was not particularly listening for His voice at that exact moment.  But after this thought, I immediately felt like He spoke: “You’ve never given Me the chance to spoil you.”  And I knew that was God.  He was telling me why He wanted me to sell my stuff.  I have been so busy acquiring things for myself that I have never let Him have a crack at it.  This was confirmation #1.

Then, that night when I came home from work, I was cooking some supper and I stuck Alias in the DVD player.  I have the boxset and I just watch them in order.  It’s not quite as mundane as watching a movie over and over because it takes so long to roll back around to the beginning.  But I still don’t stare at it, so I was more like listening to it.  Anyhow, I put in the DVD where I was in the series…I didn’t look for a particular episode or anything; it’s just where I was in watching it.  Well, if you don’t know Alias, there’s a point when she disappears for 2 years, and when she comes back, all of her stuff has been destroyed in a fire.  She has nothing.  And she’s talking to someone and says something like, “You know, there are benefits to losing all of your stuff…all the paper…and sweaters I was never going to wear….”  This was confirmation #2.  Some of you might think it’s a little out there to think God was talking to me through Alias, but what are the chances that I would be on that episode out of all the discs from all the seasons…and that I just happen to watch it the night after I put all of my stuff up for sale because God told me to? 

Well, I was a little more settled about the whole thing after that.  I did have moments of half-panic, thinking, “What if this sells?” (Specifically my keyboard.)  And I thought maybe I would just have an exception and say I would sell everything except for that.  But as I thought that, I felt God clearly impress, “Trust me.  Trust me with what sells.”  I did make an exception for my computer, just because it has personal info on it that I didn’t really have time to take care of, so it was not for sale.  Just thought I should list that to be truthful…but I felt like God was OK w/ that.  God wasn’t OK with exceptions on the keyboard, though.  Or on my favorite mirror.  After the keyboard, I didn’t try that one out on Him.  I figured He was pretty much set on “everything”. 

I had two ideas of what God was trying to do, with Biblical examples to back them up.  One was Abraham and Isaac.  Maybe God just wanted me to be willing to sacrifice everything, like He just wanted Abraham to be willing to sacrifice Isaac. 

The second example was a little more frightening.  Gideon’s army.  You know, they were completely outnumbered already, but God told them their army was too big, and through a series of events cut it down to basically nothing so that He could show them His power.  I thought maybe God wanted to show me just what He could do if I was cleaned out.

So, Friday came, and I re-posted my ad.  But I still had the issue of what selling all of my stuff was supposed to look like.  I didn’t feel like I was supposed to walk around my house and price everything I own.  I kept feeling like God wanted me to tell people to pay what they wanted to pay.  And I kept thinking, “Surely not.”  I mean, “Take what you want and pay what you feel you should” is like an invitation to be taken by the opportunistic, right?  Some Joe could decide to pay five bucks, come back with a truck and load my house up. But it was the only thing my spirit felt comfortable with.  I got a grocery bag, stapled the top shut where there was just a small opening, and put a sign on it that said, “Pay what you feel led to pay.”  And I made a deal with God that I wasn’t going to look in the bag until the sale was over.  I kind of think God wanted me to do this so that I could be sure my obedience was not dependent on what I thought I might get out of it. 

Pretty soon after the sale officially started, some people drove up.  There were 4 of them all together: a man, his wife, a friend of theirs and their six-year-old daughter.  They came in and asked, “So, why are you selling everything?  Are you moving?”  I told them why.  They didn’t seem shocked or weirded out by it.  They seemed nice.  They also seemed hesitant to purchase anything – like the idea made them a little uncomfortable as buyers.  I told them not to be hesitant…that’s why I was doing it.  The lady said her sister had been looking for a futon for her son.  I had a futon.  So, they decided they’d buy it.  The husband and friend said they needed to go to the store and get change, though.  I offered for the lady and her daughter to stay here while they went, so she did.  We probably talked for 30 minutes, at least.  It was more like someone came over to visit than like I was having a sale.  I’m not very good at community; it reminded me, as I have been reminded so often, that when I am doing what God asks, He opens the doors of communication with those around me.  The guys came back, and they asked me more than once if I was sure about this.  I said yes, so they loaded it up, dropped something in my bag, and went on their way. 

I was kind of like, “Wow, first shot was my couch…I wonder what else is going to go?”  And then the day went on.  And on.  And on.  And that was it.  All day.  No one else even came.  It’s kind of humorous, actually.  I’m calling it the “sacrificial couch”.  It’s like I just had to have a token of my willingness.  I guess God was after the Abraham/Isaac effect.  I looked in the bag at the end of the day.  Fifty bucks.  So, I’m down one very ordinary futon, but I’m up $50 plus a level of obedience that I didn’t have before.

There is also something freeing, even though I still have my stuff, about knowing that I was willing to walk away from it.  (Or let it walk away from me.)  It’s kind of good to know that if I had to, I could.  Or that if someone steals something from me, maybe I can still be loving to them, because I don’t have that thing in a place of priority that takes precedence over seeing a person who needs Jesus.  And I realize that if I am willing to get rid of all of my stuff, then why should I worry about my stuff? 

Someone told me today that they were impressed by what I did…that it says something about where I am in my relationship with God.  I almost interrupted them with saying, “I don’t think it does.”  We both started laughing, and she was like, “Explain how it couldn’t.”  I said, “Well, if God has told you to do something multiple times over three or four years, is it so great when you finally do it?”  She said, “Well, I see your point.  It could be looked at as three or four years of dis-obedience.”  Exactly.  And, is it so great if I finally do it, only because I am at a point where I finally feel such a desperate need for God that disobedience does not seem like an option for me, because I know it would take me out of His plan?  I didn’t feel capable of handling being out of His plan right then.  Like, sometimes, when things are going pretty good, I think I can handle a little bit of disobedience.  “Oh, I’ll just deal with the consequences.  Everything is mostly going smoothly.  I can probably deal with whatever problem it brings up.”  What a ridiculous attitude.  The truth is that I am NEVER in control so much that distance from God should seem like an acceptable option.  I don’t guess that very many people learn this before they get desperate, though.

This has also taken me back to an example from a book that I’ve mentioned in my posts before.  I’ve stolen the excerpt from my “Rebellion” post, so as not to have to re-explain the situation here:

If you’ve ever read Prince Caspian of  “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis, you will recognize the upcoming reference.  (Although classified as children’s books, the spiritual truths conveyed in these books are relevant and applicable to people of any age.)  In the story, the children are on a difficult journey…no path seems easy and some seem virtually impossible.  They are at the crossroads, if you will, possibly lost, and they all know it is imperative to take the quickest route.  They are having a bit of discussion (actually more like an argument) about which is the best way.  Lucy, the youngest of the group, suddenly states that she has just seen the lion Aslan (the allegorical representation of God), and that He wants them to go up.  The others do not fully believe her, thinking perhaps she saw a lion, but not necessarily Aslan, and, besides, Up is, in this instance, seemingly the most difficult and impassible direction.  Lucy is the only one who has seen Him, but she knows, without a doubt, what Aslan wants them to do.  However, she is out-voted, and they go the logical way…the way that makes sense, practically and responsibly.  Soon enough, they are attacked by the enemy and must re-trace their steps.  Lucy sees Aslan again, and He tells her that even if no one else will follow Him, she must.  She is the only one who can see Him at first, but this time, they have no option other than to believe her.  There is no alternate route to take.  Aslan leads Lucy, and the rest of them behind her, down paths they would’ve never seen, paths that they presumed were absurdly dangerous and that seem at any moment they will cause them to dive off a precipice.  He does not lead them down the “safe” roads, although with Him leading, they are safe. 

I wrote in the other post that I felt a certain kinship with Lucy, and I still do – like God is always trying to make me walk off of cliffs.  Only they’re not really cliffs at all.  But today, He reminded me that if I walk off of cliffs when He asks me to, others will follow me there.  Just like in Prince Caspian, when Lucy saw Aslan again, and he tells her that they must go his way now, this is how the conversation goes:

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy.  “I saw you all right.  They wouldn’t believe me.  They’re all so….”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl. 

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods.  “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others.  But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” 

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy.  “You don’t mean it was?  How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I?  Don’t look at me like that…oh well, I suppose I could.  Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.  But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy, rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow?  But how?  Please, Aslan!  Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan.  “No.  Nobody is ever told that.”

And so that is where I am.  I don’t get to know what would have happened if I had obeyed without three years of disobedience first.  But I get to know what happens now.  And I’m pretty excited about that. 

Now, aren’t you glad that I limited this post to one subject?  Is anyone wondering if I know how to write a short post? 

Thoughts

Lately, I’ve been trying to evaluate why I seem to be so unproductive in the way of anything with eternal value.  You may have noticed that I’ve still dropped off a bit in the way of posts about my relationship with God.  I’m not ignoring Him…just having a little trouble with what it needs to look like.  And as I’m not good at sharing what I haven’t figured out, you don’t get to be a part of that.  You usually get to hear (read) things when I have mulled over them enough to think I already have them all figured out. 

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things.  One is this: my boyfriend was trying to encourage me recently and pointed out how David just walked out to face Goliath; he didn’t hesitate or seem iffy on whether it was God’s will.  He just did it.  In considering this, I realized he was right.  So, I read the story again.  My issue with it was that it seemed to contrast an idea that I held based on the story of Abraham.  I mention this in my “Ambition” post.  I say that I have determined we are to wait for God’s hand befor we take action in a direction, even when the outcome seems impossible if we do not take matters into our own hands, because when Abraham took matters into his own hands (think Ishmael vs. Isaac), he totally screwed up the rest of history.  So, when I was considering David’s situation in context of Abraham’s, I realized quickly that the stories were not the same at all.  Abraham took his OWN dreams into his hands.  That is why it was a mistake.  He was acting on selfish motives simply because he wanted a son.  David was not chasing his own desires.  There was no earthly desire in David appeased by going against Goliath…only the desire to defend the True God and make His name greater.  The conclusion is clear, and I have said and recognized this in myself before, but I don’t think really managed to change it yet.  I am still in the place Abraham was, where I think I have to manage my desires myself in order for them to come to pass, instead of David’s state of mind, where my desire has ceased to be for my own glorification and is instead only for God’s.  James 4 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  That was Abraham and that is me.  But chasing your own desires is not the way to receiving the promises of God.

Psalm 37 says it like four different ways: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.  Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

I don’t think that can be very much more clear, and as I also stated in my “Hope, Take III” post, it says the desires of your heart and the promises of God come to pass when our hope is in Him, when our first thought is Him…not when we are out trying to make our own destinies. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about needing people.  I am not good at needing people, if you were wondering.  I don’t think I really know how.  When there is someone who I think I ought to be able to need, and they are not coming through, I get angry and it shows as anger, which does not make that person more likely to come through, but it makes them push away.  I’m realizing that because of this inability to need, I feel like I am always the needed one.  This might not be true.  Or maybe it is true, and it is because of my self-sufficient aura that I attract people who are more needy than I am.  When I am around others, I feel constantly “on”.  I feel like super-responsible, together me has to kick in for me to be any use to others.  And so it does…but to the detriment of my own psyche.  I don’t know how to relax in front of other human beings, especially if I am at a particularly weak state myself…because I don’t know how to show that to anyone.  I only know how to be strong.  And so it creates in me this sort of resentment towards other people…like it is their fault that I cannot relax and be weak around them.  And in contrast, when I am alone, it is such a relief that I feel I have nothing at all left to give to anyone, and God becomes one of those “people” who needs something from me.  So, I rebel and do pointless things as if to say, “I deserve some time to be free of the demands of society, of You.”  But God is not those people.  And even if my feelings of always being needed and having no one to need in humans is true, my responses to it are flawed and sinful.  This feeling is not where God wants me.  It’s the lie that Satan tells me in order to render me ineffective.  God does require things of me, but they are things that will teach me how to properly interact with others so that these feelings are countered.  They are the things that will allow me to relax in life and be who He wants me to be, not who I want other people to see.  They are the things that will teach me how to chase His dreams and not my own.

Disturbed

That’s the word I used to describe my spirit the other day in talking to my boyfriend.  Not like mentally disturbed.  Disturbed like if I was a lake, there would be lots of ripples.  There has been a lot inside me that has just been sort of heavy for a couple of months now.  Somewhat to the point that I chose escapism by keeping busy with mostly mindless things and not trying to work on it.  Just letting it gurgle and churn and fall in whatever pattern it chose without taking a good hard look at it.  So that’s where I have been, as evidenced by shallow (but hopefully amusing) posts as of late.

For a while, I was not even sure what was working on me.  Probably because I chose not to, but when asked, all I could say was what I told you above:  my soul was disturbed, my spirit heavy.  If you could get a spiritual/emotional illness, that’s how I would have described it.  The Flu of the Soul.  Tired, aching.  You might think I’m saying I was depressed, but it was different than that.  It was, I now know, God urging me to change.  And although I am not yet sure what or how exactly He wants me to change, I am more ready and more prepared to change when faced with whatever He has in store because of finally paying attention to the stirring.  Tension, my pastor would call it.  A call that makes me uncomfortable.

If you’ve not read my post on Ambition, you probably should before you continue or you’ll be starting this journey at its apex.  Despite the fact that the apex of a journey is usually its most interesting, and the only thing our fast-food culture has the patience to hear, the meat of a journey cannot be grasped without the whole struggle from start to finish.  It means nothing when watching the Lord of the Rings to see Frodo fighting with Gollum and watch Lord Sauron’s ring fall into the fire if you have not seen the treacherous journey before.  I guess that this may not actually be the apex.  I thought I was finished with this revelation before, but this could very appropriately be called “Ambition II” if I chose.

My mind is still pretty jumbled about how all of the various things I want to share are connected.  I’m actually hoping that in writing it down, it will become more clear, even to me.  This is usually what happens, to be honest.

I guess I should start with the fact that there were various moments during this disturbed phase when I was acutely aware of my shortcomings.  There are plenty of them to choose from, but the one that kept coming up was my individualistic nature.  I have always flown the flag of my individualism with much pride, heralding it as a virtue which the masses did not possess.  This might be true, but in doing so, I allowed its virtues as well as its vices to take hold in me.  Unfortunately, this is possible with any quality.  Though good, I placed it on a level higher than it deserved, giving it the chance to root too deeply in my soul.  Individualism came to mean alone.  Not in the lonely sense.  I have not been lonely.  But in the sense that very little I did was done with any intent for it to affect another person’s life.  I was quite responsible and quite creative and quite busy with various and sundry daily things.  But none of these things meant a darn thing in anyone else’s life.  I’m sure I will have some say it was not so bad as that.  I have friends that tell me they were inspired to do something outside of their comfort zones because they watched me do something similar.  The problem is that those things that I did were not outside of my comfort zone.  I was doing things that I knew others would think daring and brave, but that to me were not by any means scary.  Normally, I would just rush madly into the next thing so as not to have a moment where I had a need to trust God or wait for His guidance on where He wanted me to be and what He wanted me to do.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration as well.  There was some trust in God required, but not nearly what might be perceived from the outside.  The decisions I was making (often regarding careers and jobs or lack thereof) did not require the same kind of stretching of my faith for me as for others.  I’m not sure why. 

OK, I kind of glazed over a couple of important points in that paragraph.  One is that people would look at my life and say that I have done many brave things (not in the sense of soldier brave, but in the sense of life direction brave); things that those people say they would not have had the courage or fortitude to try; new jobs, new cities, etc.  I already explained above how to me, that is not necessarily brave.  The actions those people would point to were, for me, mostly an attempt to create a little excitement because I was bored.  Or an attempt to get out of something I knew I didn’t like into something different.  Or, here’s the embarrassing one, an attempt to cause those same people to look at me in awe and say, “Ooooh, look how brave and daring she is.”  I like it when people do that, because I can shrug casually and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal,” and those people just think I am more brave. 

Newsflash: I am not brave.  Is it bravery to do the things that create no fear in you?  It is simply because I do not value career for its own sake or money for its own sake, that I am willing to toss them both away with no hesitation.  There is no bravery in that.  See my Thirty? Really? post to see thoughts on different kinds of courage.

Do you want to know what I fear?  People.  I am terrible with people.  I am scared that I will not know enough to help people or to show people the true God.  I am scared that people will not like me.  I am scared that people will let me down and not live up to my expectations.  Mostly I am afraid that I will look like a fool.  Or that I will make God look like a fool by proxy if I try to be His servant.  In this fear, I have no stories of bravery to share with you.  I have only ever been a success with people when those people pursued me as a friend or confidant or advisor.  What I am after is making an impact for Christ, which you cannot do when you live life as a hermit(ess?).  In this, I am terrified.  And to hide my fear, I substituted flashy things, i.e. my semi-dramatic life choices, that made me look fearless.  I faced another man’s fear to hide the fact that I could not face my own.

All of the perceived risks I have taken were never once done for the purpose of, or with any ideas of impacting another person’s life.  It was always about me.  And this is what I have been looking at, since I did finally gather up the courage to look the tiger in the eyes.  I am all wrapped up in selfishness and fear, and until I get over it, I am hindering God’s ability to work through me.  I say hindering because I know that He can use even the lowliest vessel, and that no matter what, all of my “righteousness will be as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)  However, even the lowliest vessel is more effective if it wants to be used and tries to make sure it is prepared. 

I guess I’ll tell you more about the process of this, which consisted of my being constantly inundated with messages and situations that made me feel this sense of inappropriate individuality more greatly.  At one point, I was sitting at dinner with three friends, one of whom was saying that she has been influenced by watching me.  I don’t remember the context prior to this, but in stating that, I think she thought about it conversely and said out loud, “I don’t think that I have influenced you very much, though.”  This is a person who is worthy of influencing me.  She has been through some tough things and come through them with a big heart for God.  When she said that, it was one of those moments of “tension” inside of me.  I knew that her inability to see any way she had influenced me was because of my determination NOT to be influenced by anybody.  Apparently, I had taken this to both extremes, meaning that I would not let anyone (or at least very many people) influence me for bad OR for good.  I can give you further evidence for this attitude from my “My Space” profile page.  The profile asks you to list your heroes.  My statement ends with this: “I’ve kind of always been antihero. I want to be myself.”  What do you read here?  No one else has anything to offer me that is worth emulating.  This is a wrong and arrogant attitude when exaggerated to this point.

Another situation was that which I wrote about in a recent post, My Journey to Vegetables.  In itself, it would not mean very much, but as a symbol it is very indicative of the way I operate.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, basically, in lieu of asking a friend for a favor, I spent 4 hours of my day off to do something it would have taken someone else 30 minutes to do on its proper day, rendering me quite unproductive.  Such is my life.  I have mentioned this desire for self-sufficiency more than once.  In my desire to grow my own food (Letting the Cabin Out of the Bag) and in my desire to know the “basics” of many different facets life (Gettin’ Down to the Roots), there is this underlying message that says to everyone, “I don’t need you.  And I don’t want to need you.” 

So, now we have, “I am completely self-sufficient” and “You cannot influence me” coupled together in a neat little package.  Inviting, isn’t it?  I really did not realize how deep this problem ran until I saw that it really goes through EVERY aspect of my life.  I have had friends and relationships in the past where people complained that they wanted me to “need them,” because they felt disposable.  I knew that I did not exude an air of even comfortable reliance on people.  I just did not realize that it was so strongly to the opposite extreme: rather, I exude an air of defiant self-sufficiency that runs so deep I don’t even want to “need” a grocery store.

I am sure that you could call me enterprising or handy or something because I try to do everything myself.  And I’m not saying it cannot be an asset in my life to have this quality, as well as the part of me that does not like to be notably influenced by others (which renders peer pressure virtually impotent).  Let me just state again that I have taken it to a ridiculous extreme, causing others to be excluded from my daily walk…keeping them at arm’s length so that they can neither help me grow nor harm me.  I am so encased in this mindset, that even as I write about it here, I have to keep reminding myself that I am trying to tell you it is negative.  I am teetering, virtually by the minute, on the fence of falling back into being proud of this quality.

Follow my relevant journal entries to see how long I have been mulling this:

November 19, 2006:  “Ineffectively busy?  I do things, but not with people.”

February 18, 2007: “Do I have love?  Where are the people who feel my love?”

September 2, 2007: “Stop being individualistic – trying to be innately self-sufficient.”

October 21st, 2007: “Fought fear by being self-sufficient and not needing anything or, rather, anyone.”

I’m not sure how long this has been going on.  I have a poignant memory of a conversation I had when I was away at college for a couple of years, and came back home to visit.  I ran into my uncle at the mall.  He asked me if I missed my family.  I remember shrugging, nonchalantly, and saying, “I don’t know.  Not really.”  He asked me if I missed my friends.  I gave him basically the same reaction.  I remember saying something like, “I mean, I love them, but I don’t really miss anybody.”  I remember him looking at me quizzically and saying, “You’ve changed.”  Even then, I knew there was something wrong with how I was interacting with others.  I went away from that conversation feeling the same “tension” I mentioned above.  There was something wrong with how I was interacting. 

That was over 10 years ago, and I haven’t fixed it yet.  I didn’t even acknowledge that there was a problem.  I even embraced it as a protection…a shield.

My pastor’s message on December 2 brought it all home.  It was the first time I have ever seen him broken up through the whole service.  I’ve seen him get choked up before, but this was continually throughout his sermon.  It was obvious God had really made this apparent and important in his life.  I’m not a sports fan, but he was basically telling us to get off the bench of Christianity.  I’ve heard that before, and it means something…but what he said that really got me was something like this: “Christians are mostly life-long students, never engaging in the real world applications of what we learn.”  Analogies about sports are one thing.  Analogies about knowledge and learning are another.  I shouldn’t have to hear an analogy pertinent to myself in order to enact it in my life.  But, I guess it never hurts.  I like to learn more about God, about His word, about spiritual growth.  But it is pointless if I never use it.  My pastor actually said another thing a while back that is applicable here.  He said, “If you never learned another thing about Christianity, you would know enough.”  I am inundated with knowledge.  There are people in countries where Bibles are not available who build monstrous ministries and only know one verse.  I know enough.  I SIT on what I know…letting it work in me, trying to become a better person…that’s all well and good, but it is not the goal.  It is the means to the goal, and it doesn’t mean that you get to pretend the goal does not exist along the road.  Just because you’re not the best player on the soccer team, doesn’t mean you run around practicing during the game and not trying to make goals because you are scared you won’t make it…if it is during the game, you try to make goals, i.e. effect people’s lives for Christ.  I’m not talking about chalking up souls so you can get a gold star.  I’m talking about showing people the love of Christ.  And to do this, I have to get over my fear of being affected by people.  Because if I am interacting appropriately with people, I will be affected.  I will care, and it will hurt. 

I think I have had this revelation before.  I remember about 7 years ago, realizing how open Christ made Himself to being hurt.  He loved freely and was rejected over and over and over.  That rejection will be a natural part of following in His footsteps.  Loving someone is giving them the opportunity to reject you.  Saying, “I will love you, but I do not need your love in return,” is not valid.  I don’t mean that the love is conditional based on the response…I just mean that a response is called for.  He wants our love in return.  He is asking for it.  He does not hang it out there, and then walk away from it for us take it or leave it, no worries for Him.  He embodies it, so when we accept or reject it, we are accepting or rejecting Him.  In other words, it is not love if it means nothing to me.  If I say I love you, but am not affected in any way by your actions, it simply is not love.  It is some mind-manufactured system that I somehow feel can fulfill the manuscript written out for me – some rote method I have concocted so I can feel OK when I read, “though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2 – NKJV) 

I am sorry for trying not to love, and for trying instead only not to get hurt.  If that is my goal, then Christianity is not my game.  (I Peter 4:12-13)  If Christ suffered it, it is not a thing that I should avoid, for “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (Matthew 10:24 – NKJV)

Now that I have worn you out explaining my desire for self-sufficiency, I have another issue to discuss before I get to the answers God has been giving me.  This one is back to that whole “Ambition” thing.  It’s all related in my mind.  I know that at this point, if you went and read my initial Ambition post as I requested earlier in this one, you are now thinking, “Why did I have to read that?  Exactly how is it related?”  Well, it is.  The problem is that my two major issues seem different, but they have one answer that is all jumbled up together.  So, I have to go through both things in order for the answer to make any sense.  Here goes.

I have also been feeling the same desperation that I used to feel regarding my music, and how, then, I felt that I was lacking something if I did not succeed in it.  Only this time, it was much more generic.  I was back to feeling overwhelmed with the mundane, and how it seems to take over your life…back to feeling that my existence was uselessly consumed by every day circumstance and necessities.  In other words, back to that fear that I would never do anything “important,” and somewhat consumed with this ambition.  

If you did, indeed, go back and read my “Ambition” post, you will know that I went through years of desperation, and even depression because of this fear, only then it was specifically attached to the success or failure of my musical endeavors.  It was a fear largely based on the need to satisfy my own ego, and put in front of my love for God.  It consumed me.  It has been a little over two years, probably, since I wrapped that package up and threw it up into God’s arms.  It has been the most free-ing two years I have had in my entire adulthood, because I was just trying to become a person and not a persona.  But somehow, I let that fear creep back in.  It was wearing a new cape this time, though, and I did not recognize it.  It was not clothed in my desire for musical acclaim, but only in a general desire to be someone or do something important, and stop the mundane cycle of work/sleep/cook/clean/errands/laundry, etc. which I, obviously, think I am above. 

The thing is, I thought I was done with ambition.  Like I said, I got rid of that burden a couple of years back.  I thought.  Now, I can recognize that I only got rid of it in one form.  My ambition was a cancer, and I only cut out part of it.  I still, in the back of my mind, had this vague notion that if I gave up that ambition, that God would grant me some bigger, better thing to do so that I could feel good about myself.  I really just told Him that it was OK if He did not use me in that way.  So, now, over two years later, the problem is that I am still here.  Still doing unimportant things.  No big break-throughs or obvious paths He wants me to take.  I was getting antsy…thinking He didn’t come through on His promise that if I would lose my life for His sake, I would find it.  (Matthew 16:25)  I didn’t figure that out, though, until I was talking to my boyfriend one day.  I was telling him that I was feeling frustrated with feeling like I was stuck doing unimportant things all of the time (in many more words than that).  He said something to the effect of, “You just need to give that up and trust God with it.”  And I said, “The thing is, I thought I did that two years ago.”  That was when it hit me that I didn’t really do it.  I only kind of did.  That fear was still fully alive and well in me, just focused in a new vein.  The fear of being nameless.  I want to be recognized.  I thought I only wanted to be recognized musically.  Turns out, I didn’t really care how as long as I was.  And THAT is what I need to give up.  The need for others to look at me and say, “Look how cool that girl is, and look at all the cool stuff she’s done.” 

Here is where the two meet…my two biggest fears. 

1) Being rejected, hurt, disappointed by others

2) Being a non-entity, ineffective, unimportant

When I look at it this way, I kind of think they are all mixed up together.  To get beyond one, I have to get beyond the other.  I have a feeling that until I learn how to interact with people in a Christ-like manner, i.e. opening myself up to hurt, rejection, disappointment, I will remain ineffective, a non-entity and unimportant to the Kingdom of God.  If there is such a thing.  I realize that God loves me just as much regardless.  I don’t mean that He will love me more.  I mean that He will be able to use me more effectively.

The answers started coming in, oh wonder of wonders, when I started studying my Bible diligently.  God has this way of putting in my mind exactly what I need to read before I even open the Bible.  It just pops in my head, “I’m supposed to start reading Jeremiah.”  And this is what I read. 

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’  Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’  But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.  Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth….'”

My first fear of people was immediately addressed when I opened the Word of God.  God has called me, because He has called all of us who follow Him, to share Him with others…to BE Him to others.  I cannot do this until I let my fear go.  God basically tells Jeremiah (and me) not to give Him any excuses.  But, He then tells him (and me!) that there is nothing to fear because God would give him the words.  If God is giving me the words when I am faithful to speak them, then I truly have nothing to fear.  All I can do is speak, and the rest is up to Him.  Sort of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? 

Immediately after this, I resumed reading a work by G.K. Chesterton on St. Francis of Assisi.  He first discusses how Francis’ emerged at the end of the Dark Ages, and was part of the beginning of the reintroduction of poetry and nature love (not nature worship).  In this section, Chesterton contends that the Dark Ages were, at least possibly, necessarily employed by God.  The Dark Ages are known for their lack of any great literature, art or really anything of any beauty.  Chesterton theorizes that the culture prior to the Dark Ages was so inundated with paganism in any of its artwork, literature and in its nature worship, that God was forced to remove those things from an entire age of people in order to “purge the system,” as it were.  That, at that stage, humanity was so conditioned that it could ONLY view beauty in conjunction with its paganistic connotations, and had no capacity to enjoy it purely as God created it to be, as a reflection of Him and His goodness and power. 

Whether it would be necessary for God to plunge whole civilisations into such a void for hundreds of years in order to cure a spiritual sickness or not, I do not know.  I DO know that the concept is applicable and validated in my own life.  I have even imposed this type of treatment on myself at times, although I did not connect it quite so largely as a broad method at the time.

One example of this was when I ceased praying and reading my Bible for a time, because I realized that the only reason I was doing it was because I knew I was supposed to.  Based on II Corinthians 9:7, which states, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver,” I recognized that I was only “giving” grudgingly or of necessity.  I made the conscious decision that if there was no love or true desire for Him in my actions, that there was nothing really to give.  I needed to “un-learn” the religiosity I had associated with those actions so that I could regain the purity of them and enact them with their real purposes as my motivation.  My friend at Zephaniah 3:17 discusses this same topic in his “Ought” post.

Another, less spiritual application of this concept has to do with black coffee.  I am a coffee-drinker, to say the least.  There was a time, in the past, where I put an inhuman amount of sugar in my coffee.  I made a decision that I needed to significantly reduce the amount of sugar I put in my coffee if I was going to continue to drink it at the desired quantity.  However, of course, I didn’t like it with less sugar.  So, in order to train my senses, I made myself drink only black coffee for two weeks.  Amazingly, when I began putting sugar in it again, I required less than half of the amount I had before in order to enjoy my coffee.  I’m sure you have seen this employed in some way in your own life.  You want to regain a sense of the meaning of Christmas, so you do not give gifts one year.  I’m sure there are other common examples, but I have not thought of them yet.

The point is that censorship of some good is sometimes necessary if it has become associated with only perversion and/or done with wrong motivations.  When the good is all mixed up with the negatives, maybe the good needs to cease for a season in order to regain its innocence.  I could not regain my love for reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer or understand the value and meaning of those things until I lost the idea that I had to do them in order to earn His love.  I could not learn to enjoy sugar in its appropriate quantities until I ceased using it altogether for a time. 

The point is that I believe whether THE Dark Ages was a mechanism for this or not, I believe we must all go through our own personal “Dark Ages” if God is to use us.  I have mentioned this somewhere else in some post, but you can also see this in artists of all kinds, who often report a desertion of their creativity after they come to believe in Christ.  If your gifts or your dreams have an inappropriate place of importance, or if they have some perverted motivation, or if they are strongly associated with some sin in your life, God must remove them if you are to put Him in that place of importance, or re-evaluate your motivations or cut out the associated sin.  How fast you get them back, or if you get them back at all, is, at least according to my theory, dependent on how readily you allow God to fill the void they have left.  Unless we are super-smart and wise, and then God doesn’t have to do that, because we give up all of our dreams and attachments willingly to Him.  “Giving up” sounds so negative to us in this world of “take charge.”  I don’t mean it in the sense of quitting, and I think most who have gotten this far in this insanely long post will understand that.  But on the chance that someone else made it this far, what I mean is that we let God be in control of our lives in their entirety, which means that we are all right with whatever decision He comes to.  If we truly believe that He is good, knowing, loving and all-powerful, then that is the best decision we can possibly make.  And we claim to believe that.  Or, at least, I claim to believe that, and I think most other Christians would as well.  Our human natures are hesitant, though, because we are trained to want to be in control of our own destinies.  The fact is, we are not in control of them anyway, so we are better off letting Him worry about it, since we don’t know what in the world will hit us next.  It is quite free-ing when you actually manage to apply it, which is what Christianity is supposed to be about.  Unfortunately, some never manage to apply it at all, and some, like me, only manage to apply it in fits and spurts.

In other words, I believe the “dark ages” end when you let go of trying to control the things you fear, but then will start up again if you start trying to control it (or another fear) again.  Jim Palmer who wrote Divine Nobodies (which I have not read, but seems like it would be great), spoke at my church a couple of months ago.  He stated, “What you fear is where you have put your misplaced dependency.”  So true.  I fear being unimportant, because I have placed my dependency and identity on hoping I become important.  I know people who fear never marrying because they have a misplaced dependency on the institute of marriage and family.  Again, I hope you can see that I am not saying these things are bad.  Marriage and family are great.  It is when the desire for them (or anything else) becomes a desperation because you do not trust God with whatever outcome He has planned that there is a problem.  Along this theory, possibly God withholds those things until people are capable of putting them in their proper level of importance, which is always, necessarily below Him.  This, by the way, does not diminish their importance in any way.  On the contrary, it increases it, because I guarantee that God’s rules and recommendations for marriage and family (or, again, anything else) will bring about a better situation than any personal or earthly precepts will, however good the intent.

Let’s go back to G.K. Chesterton, and his discussion of St. Francis.  He tells another story about St. Francis that magnificently illustrates the whole process I have just been discussing.  St. Francis is sometimes viewed as a gloomy character because of his known penchant for asceticism.  The stories about his life do not represent a gloomy man of some sort of sad discipline.  They represent a man of passion and action.  He was just passionately ascetic.  This story actually begins before his true “spiritual awakening” if you can call it that.  I do not call it his salvation, because he was possibly a Christian before that, I am not sure.  It is said that his initial goal in life was to be a war hero.  He had a certain thirst for glory which caused him to boast, upon leaving for war, “I shall come back a great prince.”  Francis had apparently even had some dreams which made him believe he was to be some sort of lauded warrior.  This dream came crashing down around him before he even made it to the battlefield.  On the way to the front, he had his second bout with an illness which made him unfit for a soldier.  Apparently, he was very much rattled by this, and had no idea what he was to do at this point.  It was the only plan he had.  And now I shall quote the story from Chesterton, as I do not think I could illustrate it better.

“It was his first descent into a dark ravine that is called the valley of humiliation, which seemed to him very rocky and desolate, but in which he was afterwards to find many flowers.  But he was not only disappointed and humiliated; he was also very much puzzled and bewildered.  He still firmly believed that his two dreams must have meant something; and he could not imagine what they could possibly mean.  It was while he was drifting, one may even say mooning, about the streets of Assisi and the fields outside the city wall, that an incident occurred to him which has not always been connected with the business of the dreams, but which seems to me the obvious culmination of them.  He was riding listlessly in some wayside place, apparently in the open country, when he saw a figure coming along the road towards him and halted; for he saw it was a leper.  And he knew instantly that his courage was challenged, not as the world challenges, but as one would challenge who knew the secrets of the heart of a man.  What he saw advancing was not the banner and spears of Perugia, from which it never occurred to him to shrink; not the armies that fought for the crown of Sicily, of which he had always thought as a courageous man thinks of mere vulgar danger.  Francis Bernardorne saw within and not without; though it stood white and horrible in the sunlight.  For once in the long rush of his life his soul must have stood still.  Then he sprang from his horse, knowing nothing between stillness and swiftness, and rushed on the leper and threw his arms round him.  It was the beginning of a long vocation of ministry among many lepers, for whom he did many services; to this man he gave what money he could and mounted and rode on.  We do not know how far he rode, or with what sense of the things around him; but it is said that when he looked back, he could see no figure on the road.”

This is so parallel to what I feel is going on in my own life, that I almost do not feel the need to explain the parallel.  Almost, but not quite.  🙂  Just pretend I am talking about myself when I expound on this section and use the name “Francis.”  (Not that I am pretending I am half as far in my commitment as Francis was, but for illustrative purposes and brevity.)  Francis had this grand life dream of being a noted public figure, praised for his important deeds.  This dream was destroyed, plunging Francis into “these dark and aimless days of transition that followed the tragical collapse of all his military ambitions, probably made bitter by some loss of social prestige terrible to his sensitive spirit”.  I can relate to “dark and aimless days of transition….”  This initial dream that was wrecked did not cause Francis the same fear that it caused others.  Apparently, he was full of bravado at the thought of fighting in mortal combat, as I am full of bravado at things that other men fear (mostly financial security and career stability).  But that was not what God called him to.  He did not call Francis to do the things he did not fear.  God made him face his REAL fear, the leper (for me, taking risks in forming real relationships with people).  His secondary fear (not doing anything important) turned out to be ludicrous.  Can you imagine us knowing more about St. Francis if he had been some war hero in the 12th century?  Whether the leper did disappear when Francis looked back or not, the allegory is superb.  The fear was a sham fear.  It was not even real.  He just had to face it full-on before he could move forward in God’s plan.  And he did.

I guess that is where I must break off from Francis.  I have not yet embraced my leper.  I feel that God has been preparing me to know what I must do in order to move ahead and grow.  He didn’t give Francis as much of a warning.  I feel that I know I must be open and vigilant in watching for the moment God tells me, “Here is your fear.  Embrace it.”  I do not know exactly what that means, but I am strongly compelled to believe that it will mean I will have to be face-to-face with a human in a very uncomfortable situation saying things that my human self probably does not want to say or at the very least, feels foolish saying.  I must take an interactive risk with all the possibilities of failure and rejection that I have been avoiding.

God has not left me hanging in the meantime, though.  A couple of days after I read this story and acknowledged all of its portent, I was studying the Bible again.  I was looking for something completely unrelated to this, and ran across Luke 21:14-15, which says, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate before hand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”  I’m being told, straight out, not to worry or stress about the coming trial.  Again, that God will give me the words.  And the wisdom.

God is amazing when I am not running from Him.

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