By the Grace of God, Never Again

Gentle Reader,

Oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out;
    You formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    You know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, You watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before You,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do.

If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.


– Psalm 139:13-16, Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 1:10c (MSG, Phillips, CSB)

James tells us that not many should become teachers, for teachers will be held to a higher standard. Today I wonder if that doesn’t begin here and now, with the heaviness of the Spirit’s kind conviction, when you realize that there’s a part of you that still doesn’t believe. That still doubts.

I love to teach. I can’t help but teach. Maybe that’s why I feel such soaring joy when I’m around the teenagers; they have the most bizarre questions about the Bible and I love that. I love watching them begin to learn how to grapple with the text themselves. I love passing along the hermenutical skills I learned in college because that degree was dang expensive and needs to be put to use somehow. I love their steps of faith, large and small. I love encouraging them to live boldly, to be courageous in God and who He made them to be.

Ah, teacher. Teach yourself.

Born once, on a hot summer afternoon. A body that’s never quite worked properly. Living out John 9:3 long before I understood what that meant. Born again, on another afternoon when the sun burned so brightly through the bedroom window that my crayons melted a little. Right away in love with Jesus, content to sit on the swings at recess and talk to Him.

Flesh and spirit have wandered there and back again in the intervening years.

I read the words of the Psalmist and the Apostle and my heart twists. I know that it is the Holy Hand touching the tender place. I want to run, as I often do, but this time…this time I stay. I sit with the pain. Yes, Lord. I haven’t believed. I have declared Your goodness to others but have wondered if You are good to me. I have despised myself. Not the sin that You call me to hate, but the person, the woman You made. Father, forgive me. Help my unbelief.

Wretched companions, doubt and loathing. When we hold their hands, we are unable to grasp the scarred hand of our Savior. This doesn’t mean He’s left us – praise Him for His faithful patience! – but it does mean that we can’t move forward. Can’t live as He wants us to. Can’t keep our heads up and our eyes focused on what matters.

And me, I have to do that. I have to fix my gaze on Him.

Because teaching, the thing that He has called and gifted me to do, is not a fast-track to popularity. Or at least it’s not when the message that burns inside your chest isn’t one that people want to hear.

By the grace of God, never again. No more do I wish to walk around afraid of other people. It is impossible for me to serve the Lord wholeheartedly when I’m bound up in that. No more do I wish to apologize when no apology is needed. Just as there is room for you, dear reader, there is room for me. And no more will I reach for the “delete” button, consumed by terror and moved to compromise where no compromise should exist.

No more do I wish to be anyone other than who God made me to be.

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Reorient

Reorient

Gentle Reader,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LordSix years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land.

– Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 25:1-5 (NKJV)

We all know that hindsight is 20/20.

And we all know that sometimes we choose to learn the hard way.

Last year was one of lostness, bookended by difficulty, filled with doubt.

Relationally: unexpected shifts. Deep wounds that are not yet fully healed.

Politically: exhausting. I don’t know anyone, wherever they land on the issues, who feels energized by the current state of the American system.

Spiritually: an overall sense of boredom. Dryness.

Creatively: instead of rightly celebrating a decade in this world of blogging, humbled by and joyful about sharing this journey with you, I felt shamed by it. Surely by Year Ten an agent, a contract and a traditionally published book would have materialized. Some outward, tangible sign of success.

Mentally: the darkest time in several years. Plagued by both rising anxiety and the fearful numbness of sorrow, anger and bitterness too large and heavy to step away from and objectively address. As I continue to be slow to realize and feel my own emotions, this only dawned on me recently – but it absolutely showed here, in the writing.

Simply, I should have taken the entire year off. Closed the laptop and refused to place any kind of value on comments or statistics. (Difficult to do in the wildness of the internet age, when everyone is a “maker” of some sort and is competing for a even moment’s notice from a vast audience). Trusted that people would still be there to read when I came back. I didn’t, and the writing suffered. Much of what I produced wasn’t great. Nor was it focused on what truly matters, on what I consider my calling and mission to be.

God knows what He’s talking about. Such a blunt, easy concept to grasp. God is God and I am not. Still, after many years of walking this road, I forget. Today I wonder if it’s not the forgetfulness that hurts us more than the outright rebellion. A little step here, a little step there and soon, like the man progressing toward the Celestial City, we’re off track.

Lost.

When God told His people to take a weekly break, He meant it. He understands, far better than we do, the limitations of humanity. It’s not just our bodies that need rest. Our minds, hearts and souls need space, too. Indulge me for a moment; take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. Feel your lungs expand and your ribs press against your abdominal muscles. Let that breath out, slowly.

While the admonition to control breathing to calm the brain has been around for ages, only recently has science started uncovering how it works. A 2016 study accidentally stumbled upon the neural circuit in the brainstem that seems to play the key role in the breathing-brain control connection.  The circuit is part of what’s been called the brain’s “breathing pacemaker” because it can be adjusted by altering breathing rhythm (slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit; fast, erratic breathing increases activity), which in turn influences emotional states. Exactly how this happens is still being researched…

How Breathing Calms Your Brain, And Other Science-Based Benefits Of Controlled Breathing

When God told His people to let the land rest every seven years, He meant it. He understands, far better than we do, the limitations of the soil beneath our feet.

A fallow field is land that a farmer plows but does not cultivate for one or more seasons to allow the field to become more fertile again. The practice of leaving fields fallow dates back to ancient times when farmers realized that using soil over and over again depleted its nutrients. A three-field rotation system was used in medieval times in which one field was always fallow.

Agricultural experts debate whether the practice of fallow fields is necessary in modern farming and, if it is, how often a farmer needs to let a field go fallow. Most, however, agree that the practice at some interval or another is beneficial, and for dryland farming, it is particularly useful. All other factors being equal, fields that lie fallow do tend to produce better crops the next year.

What is a Fallow Field?

God is God and I am not.

That’s the truth.

On the first day of this new year, I reorient myself. This little space and these words belong to Him. My purpose isn’t to get an agent or a contract or a traditionally published book (though I’m sure that I will always want these things). When I write, I write for Him. I seek to learn, know and share His truth.

The other words will fade away. All the positive words of famous authors and of viral bloggers. All the negative words that tear down and obfuscate.

His words, they will not.

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The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Lost

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Gentle Reader,

It’s #fmfparty time! Linking up with Lisa-Jo and all the fabulous bloggers. This week we are: lost.

Go. 

I like to joke that I’ve failed at every formal church ministry that I’ve ever been part of. I’ve led Bible study groups, headed up a library project, hosted book discussion groups, taught Sunday School, helped with Wednesday night kid’s classes and even had a board position for a (very) brief period of time. The groups fizzled out, the library never got anywhere, the book group lasted about 4 months, the Sunday School job was never more than fill-in, I recently had to step aside from Wednesday nights and, yeah, boards are NOT for me.

I try to keep it lighthearted. I try to remember that there are seasons and times.

But behind the joking, there is frustration.

The truth is, I feel lost.

Belonging is a real soul craving. Every one of us feels it. This need is one of the reasons that God instituted the Church. We need community. We need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to contribute. We need a role and we need to fulfill that role.

Purpose, really, is what we’re after.

And when you don’t know what your contribution is supposed to be…

It’s not spiritual gifts. I know I’m a teacher, because I will absolutely tell anyone and everyone what I’ve been learning if given the chance. I also know that I’m an exhorter (Chris refers to this as bluntness, but whatever). Basically, I love the God’s truth and want to know all about it so I can tell other people. Pretty straightforward.

It’s how this is supposed to work out that gets me. How are these gifts to be used in His Body when my body keeps me at home so often? When I can’t promise that I’ll be at every class, every meeting? Should I even try anything when there’s a very real possibility that I’ll have to bow out?

I’m going over the five-minute limit here, but there are some deep questions that chronically ill people wrestle with. The Church hasn’t done a very good job in helping to answer those questions. It seems that if you’re not able to be on 6 committees and attend 3 services per Sunday, plus mid-week classes, don’t bother. If you’re in a wheelchair, don’t bother. If you’ve got cancer, don’t bother.

I don’t think that this attitude is intentional. I’m sure that many assume that ill people simply can’t or don’t want to be involved. And there are definitely limitations when you’re sick. But being sick sucks. It’s boring. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I get tired of myself. I want to be part of something and get my mind off of my belly-button. I want to be asked. To be included.

That’s all anyone wants.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

The Detox Diaries, Five Minute Friday Edition: Hands

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Gentle Reader,

It’s Friday (kind of)! We link up with Lisa-Jo (but this week Tonya is guest-posting and it’s awesome)! We write about: hands.

Go. 

The Lord doesn’t speak to me in an audible voice. There are no burning bushes. No directions to build an ark. His voice is quiet. It is an impression on my soul. Yet it is authoritative. He says something, I respond. I have to. I’ve learned the hard way that ignoring Him leads to no good end.

Last night, as I was on the verge of breaking down, I opened my journal and began to pour out all my confused, twisted, rambling thoughts and feelings. I was ready to sob. Ready to scream.

Ready to cave in and give up.

“John Fifteen.”

Two words.

I flipped open my Bible and read:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. – vs. 1-8 (NKJV)

God the Gardener. God the Tender of Tender Flowers.

In His hands, He holds the shears. He knows when and where to cut. He knows what needs to be gotten rid of and what needs to be delicately cut back so that it will produce more. Abundantly more. Flowers weeping rich fragrance. Fruit full of juicy goodness.

His hands, His beautiful, nail-scarred hands, hold each green, pulsing stalk. He considers them. He looks them over. And He cuts. Precisely. Significantly.

Never to dampen the plant. Never to break its spirit.

To make it grow.

Stop.

Pruning hurts. I won’t tell you that it doesn’t. But knowing that God, the Creator of all things, knows the plan backwards, forwards and inside out; that He knows exactly what to throw away and what to cherish; that He works within, around and through me to make me into exactly the person I am supposed to be…that gives me comfort.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.