Five Minute Friday: Dwell

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Got to enjoy some time chatting with my fellow writers, but I confess to being distracted.

I’m worried that I’m going to forget underwear.

Headed out for a ladies retreat tomorrow evening. I’ve packed my clothes. Checked more than once to make sure that the underwear is present and accounted for. It’s right where I left it.

Still.

Kate asks us to: dwell.

Go.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.'”

– Psalm 91:1-2 (NKJV)

Dwell is defined as, “to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; to live or continue in a given condition or state; to linger over, emphasize, or ponder in thought, speech, or writing.”

Live. Stay. Emphasize. Ponder. Linger.

In the secret place.

One of my favorite hymns is Rock of Ages. Often when I’m feeling anxious, snippets of lyrics float to the forefront of my mind. Let me hide myself in Thee. Helpless, look to Thee for grace. Wash me, Savior, or I die.

God invites us to dwell in Him. Not just with Him. In Him. Tucked safely in His lap, our ears pressed against His chest so that gradually all sound but that of His lion’s heart fade away. The tears run from flood to trickle. Breaths, staggered and shallow at first, turn slow and deep. The knots in our souls unwind, untangle.

God dwells in us (John 15:4). The moment of salvation finds Him taking up residence. The King comes to sit upon His rightful throne. He promises that we will never again be alone. Never without resources. Never without a defender. Never without guidance.

This reality stabs me with the peculiar ache that arises from the inexplicable gentleness with which He convicts and disciplines those within whom He dwells. Paul David Tripp says it best – when we willfully sin, it’s not because we don’t know it’s wrong. It’s because we don’t care.

God, His Holy Spirit, dwells within me. Earth-shaking. Paradigm-shifting.

And yet still I rebel.

Tender, how tender, is His voice. He does not sugarcoat. Nor does He attack. He simply tells it like it is. Me, the wayward sheep. Me, the cranky child. God, the Lord of all.

Let me hide myself in Thee.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

A Spiritual Snit

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The preschoolers, man. The preschoolers.

They can’t sit still. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but something in their little bodies makes it impossible for them to cease all motion. They don’t pay attention. Their brains just can’t focus on anything for longer than a minute. They ask the most random, non-lesson related questions I have ever heard. They’re obsessed with their shoes and whether or not they want to even be wearing them. All the really want to do is dump the bucket of legos on the Sunday school room floor and go to town.

I want to shake them all.

And then one of them prays and thanks God for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And the pretty flowers. And dogs. Another offers to share his toy with the new kid. They scribble wildly-colored designs and dream up fantastic stories. They get excited to make little presents for people and pour equal amounts of affection and snot into the projects. They are supremely confident that Jesus loves them. It’s just a fact like breathing.

I want to hug them all.

Then someone yells or there’s a disturbance in the force and we’re back to the shaking.

Teaching preschoolers is not my gift. It’s not the thing I would naturally choose to do every third Sunday. But I think sometimes God asks us to do the thing that sets our teeth most on edge.

Because it reveals something about us and about Him.

I’m a whole lot more like those preschoolers than I’d like to admit.

The insomnia began on July 31. (How sad that I can name the day). When I don’t sleep well, my anxiety worsens. My temper gets shorter. A haze clouds my vision, so to speak, and it all seems horrible. An, “I hate everything and pants” sort of moment.

I sink into a snit. Sulking in the corner. Glaring.

I just want to dump the bucket of legos on the floor and to heck with the rest of it, thank you very much.

I don’t want to pay attention. I don’t want to do the things I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t want to put forth the effort.

A spiritual toddler, for reals.

God sure does put up with a lot from me. (From us. We can be honest). He patiently, so patiently, keeps on leading, keeps on teaching. He waits when I get distracted by the shiny. He lets me play with it for a minute and then shows me that it’s not what I really want. When I sit down in the middle the road and pout, He doesn’t kick me. He doesn’t heap condemnation on my head. His Spirit speaks to my soul with a gentle, “I told you so. But we can chill here for now.”

He knows when I get heart-weary. He knows that my mind plays tricks on me. He knows that Satan’s game is to throw temptations my way and then call me names when I give in.

He defends me.

Think about that. We’re these stumbling, bumbling people trying to run with our wobbly knees and shaky ankles when we can barely walk. We don’t have very good balance. We suffer from deep spiritual ADHD. We fall and get bruised. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes on purpose and with full knowledge of the pain to come.

We cry and scream and throw things and kick up dust. We stomp our feet and say, “I don’t care! This is too hard! I don’t want to!”

Satan laughs and says, “See, God? See how much she sucks? You should shake her!”

Christ just holds up a nail-scarred hand before the Father and says, “She’s Mine. Snit and all, she’s Mine.”

The beautiful holiness of His advocacy makes me uncomfortable in the best possible way. That One so perfect and true and good would take up for me… That He would choose to embrace me when He has every right to shake the life out of me.. That He would condescend to wipe the tears and snot from my face and, say, with a smile, “Let’s try again, shall we?”

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m crying right now.

As they say, the struggle is real. The war between the old woman and the new woman rages inside of me.

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” – Romans 7:15 (NKJV)

And so I bow my head, indebted forever,

“…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” – Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

Planned Parenthood and Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I have kept this under wraps. I can count on one had the number of people who know.

But here goes.

I am one of the many. One of the women who anxiously hoped that if “Penny” ever called, her parents wouldn’t be the ones to pick up the phone.

I make no secret of the fact that Chris and I had sex before we were married. I’m not proud of it. It was wrong. But I am free of condemnation because of the cleansing blood of Christ. God has forgiven us both, and it was in the midst of this sin that He clearly drew both of us to Himself. Though we had both made commitments to Him as children, it was during this time that we both began to understand the reprehensible nature of sin. We both began to understand our depravity and our need for a Savior.

Of course, we didn’t discuss it in that kind of language. Just after our engagement in July 2005, we began attending church together. As we drove back to my parent’s house one afternoon, I commented, “You know, we probably shouldn’t have sex on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning.”

Hashtag duh.

Thus began the process of breaking old habits and learning to obey Him. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time we were baptized together just before Christmas that year, we were committed to remaining sexually pure until our wedding day.

But there were stumbles along the way.

And so a trip to Planned Parenthood.

The chances that I was actually pregnant then are extremely low as the chances of me getting pregnant now are extremely low. We’re talking less than 1%. I didn’t know that then, however. I didn’t know that I was infertile. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t on any form of contraception at the time and we hadn’t made use of a condom. What was I going to do? How would I take care of a baby? What would people think? I didn’t want this.

Nervously, I made the appointment. We drove to the plain gray building in silence. It was a beautiful fall day, bright and sunny. I wore my favorite tan corduroy jacket.

I remember feeling like this was an out-of-body experience. Less than a decade prior I was so certain that I would never have sex before I was married and that I would never darken the doors of Planned Parenthood. I even signed the “True Love Waits” card and placed it proudly in my high school scrapbook.

I had no problem with the use of birth control under a doctor’s orders and supervision (and still don’t). I had been on a couple of contraceptive pills in my teens to try and regulate my unpredictable cycle, but didn’t stick with either one as they both made me feel sick. But Planned Parenthood is more than birth control. I knew about Margaret Sanger and her complex relationship with eugenics, racism, and classism, a relationship that cannot be separated from the organization she founded. I understood that the main service Planned Parenthood provides is not low-cost health care for women (of which I am an advocate), but abortion.

Yet there I was.

The lobby was ugly and uninviting. Plain gray walls. Gray carpet. Orange plastic chairs. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet. Chris and I sat down together. We did not look at each other. We did not hold hands. There was a young couple sitting to my left, a pair of teenagers. She had been crying. He looked afraid, bewildered.

The room was still and quiet. The receptionist worked busily behind her bullet-proof glass window.

My name was called. I don’t remember if Chris came back to the examine room with me, but he probably did. I don’t remember what the nurse looked like. The doctor was a woman. She had brown hair styled in a bob and glasses.

I won’t demonize this woman. I have no idea if she performed abortions then or if she performs them now. I’m not saying that she was right or that the organization she chose to work for is right. But she was kind to me. I told her what had happened, what I was there for. She did not pressure me to do anything. She listened to me and gave me my options: Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill, not the abortion pill) or wait and see.

She told me that the “morning after” pill wouldn’t stop the process if a fertilized egg had already implanted into my uterus, but it would prevent fertilization and implantation from happening if it hadn’t yet occurred. She told me that I should probably go to the store and get some motion sickness medicine as the high-dose hormone pill might make me nauseated. She instructed me how to take the pill, showed me some information about it and put everything in a brown paper bag. It was my choice whether or not to take the pill (I didn’t have to take it in the exam room, in front of her), but I did need to make my decision within a couple of hours.

We went back to the car, still in silence.

I took the pill.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for motion sickness medicine, which I also took.

I will never forget that October day. It is a moment that I have long wrestled with.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I discussed this at length. In addition to being a very wise and godly woman, she was also a registered nurse. She knew the reproductive system backward and forward. She explained to me that, since I did not ultimately go through a pregnancy, that the “morning after” pill did its job. It functioned just like taking a birth control pill on a daily basis does. I did not have an abortion, because there was no baby.

I understand that. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I also know what my motivation was. I know the intentions of my heart. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a baby to “mess with” my plans. I was afraid of being judged by my family, my friends, my church. Chris and I were dealing with some other very difficult and heavy things, and I did not want to have a baby on top of that.

It was a completely selfish decision.

As I said above, I am not one who believes that using birth control is wrong. While I would much rather see people, especially young people, embrace the safe and beautiful sexual ethic laid out by God, I know that everyone is free to make their own choices. If people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage, I would rather they use contraception than have abortions or abandon more children to a broken foster care and adoption system. Within marriage, family size and the spacing of children, or choosing to not have children, is between the couple and God. Scripture says that children are a blessing, but there’s nothing there that says they are a requirement.  So the “morning after” pill itself is not the problem, and I unequivocally support its use in cases of rape or incest.

The problem arises when a woman like me uses it out of fear and selfishness.

I also have a great deal of compassion for that woman, and won’t throw stones.

I don’t have that right.

Nor do I have the right to condemn a woman who has had an abortion, because that was the intention of my heart. I determined to end the life of the baby that we might have conceived. That’s the cold, stark truth of it.

It was fear that motivated me to go to Planned Parenthood, and fear that has kept me silent. I’ve seen the reactions when women share their stories. I’ve read the comments, heard the words. I know just how nasty people can be. And there’s no need for it. No excuse.

In this highly polarizing arena, the Church needs to get better at extending grace to women like me. We need to explain and live out the fact that there is nothing that God won’t forgive if we but ask in humility and repentance. When we talk about abortion, we need to remember that there are people in the room who walk through their days with this burden on their shoulders. Yes, let’s be truthful. But let’s not forget love. Let’s not forget that we, too, are sinners, even if this not our sin.

A “pro-life” culture cannot focus on birth alone. A “pro-life” culture must be one whose members come alongside single parents. Who adamantly refuse to be nasty. Who offer rides to doctor’s appointments, provide job references, give money, throw baby showers, offer to babysit and just, you know, practice that whole kindness thing. Be the support system so desperately needed.

I am so grateful to God. More and more I understand how wretched I am. More and more I am amazed at the marvelous gift of salvation. He justifies and sanctifies me. I can do neither of my own volition.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

“I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:36-39, 47-48 (NKJV)

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – 1 Timothy 1:14-15 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)

What Depression Means to Me: Exposed

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Gentle Reader,

Scholars both conservative and liberal conclude that John 7:53-8:11 was not part of the Beloved Disciple’s original manuscript. It is not found in the earliest translations available, or it is placed at other points within the narrative (or in other Gospel accounts altogether). However, it is also believed that the story of the woman caught in adultery is an authentic episode from the life of Christ, cherished by the earliest believers for its profound revelation of the limitless mercy of God.

I have so many questions.

At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NKJV)

How did the religious leaders find this nameless woman? Did they hunt through houses? Was she notorious?

Their treatment of the woman is callous and demeaning. If she had committed adultery the previous evening (which is perhaps more likely than around dawn, v. 2), then we can assume these opponents had been holding her during the night and waiting for Jesus to show up in order to use her to test Him. Her fear would have been great. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

Did they rip her, naked and scared nearly to death, from the bed of her lover? Did they give her anything at all to cover her shivering body with? Did they take perverse pleasure in leering at her?

I think of what Jesus endured during His time in prison. Did she bear the marks of punches, scratches, beatings?

Putting her in the midst of the crowd would have added public humiliation. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

She must have known who Jesus was. His fame had spread far and wide. What did she expect Him to do?

How many people were in the crowd that day, their bloodlust rising at the thought of killing this woman?

Who was she? Married? A young girl? A prostitute? Who lured whom into that bed of shame?

A certain attitude of male-chauvinism comes across in their statement that the law of Moses commands the stoning of such women (v. 5). More precisely the law speaks of the death of both the man and the woman involved (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24). (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

Where was the man? Why wasn’t he publicly exposed?

Indeed, the law makes it clear that stoning could only take place after a careful trial, which included the chance for the condemned to confess his or her wrong (m. Sanhedrin 6:1-4). The hypocrisy of the opponents is evident. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

Never before have I seen the hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus so clearly. They were ready to kill this woman in an illegal proceeding just to trap Him.

The judgment that they suggest Jesus execute on this adulterous woman is in fact the judgment that He visits upon them for their rejection of Him—the One who has offered them God’s living water (7:38-39). In rejecting Jesus, they are forsaking God, and thereby committing a most shameful act. Adultery is shameful, certainly, but they themselves are acting in a shameful way worthy of death. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

Kill her to make a point. Kill her to trap Jesus. Nevermind the implications.

When Jesus calls for the one without sin to cast the first stone He accomplishes several things: it relieves Him from the charge of having instigated a stoning; it ensures there will not be a stoning, since none of the accusers will want to take responsibility for it; and it causes them to reflect on their own sinfulness before God. (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

They’ve been tossing the stones. Slap. Slap. Rock against palm. Silence falls.

There is One left who could still execute the judgment—the only One present who was without sin and thus could throw the first stone. Is she hopeful at this point or still quite frightened?

Bewildered? Confused? Grateful?

Jesus grants pardon, not acquittal, since the call to leave off sinning shows He knew she was indeed guilty of the adultery. His noncondemnation is quite different from theirs. They wanted to condemn but lacked the opportunity; He could have done so, but He did not. Here is mercy and righteousness. He condemned the sin and not the sinner (Augustine In John 33.6). But more than that, He called her to a new life. The gospel is not only the forgiveness of sins, but a new quality of life that overcomes the power of sin (cf. 8:32-36; 1 Jn 3:4-6). (InterVarsity Press Commentary on John)

Did she become one of the women who refused to leave Jesus’ side? Did she become one who took care of His needs?

So many questions.

Secrets are best kept in the dark. The risk of bringing them into the light just doesn’t seem worth it, no matter how great the pain. To bring forth the struggle is to surely invite condemnation. I wonder what Jesus thinks of our wagging fingers and our flapping tongues? All in the name of  “correction.”

This woman would live with the consequences of her actions – she didn’t need anyone to throw a stone at her. Especially not in such a loathsomely self-righteous way. She needed to be called out of the darkness, yes – but with cords of gentleness. God woos.

Why don’t we?

I think about this today as my own sins and sufferings lay in the shimmer of God’s hands. He says that I – she who so often chooses doubt and despair, who gave away her body in an effort to grasp the love that only He can give, who nurtures bitterness, who loves judgment, who fears the responsibility of healing – is forgiven. Washed clean. Totally new. He doesn’t even remember all the things that I have repented of, the things that haunt me. He sees me through the body of Christ.

But there is a missing layer.

James 5:16 tells us to “confess (our) sins to (each other).” To share our stories and battles. This confession doesn’t become the avenue of forgiveness; only confession and repentance before God does that. However, this honesty before others provides freedom. Accountability. A moment of “Jesus with skin on” as brothers and sisters embrace and lift you up. I fear this step. God already knows my story. I can’t hide anything from Him. But what if I share with others, share deeply, and find nothing but hostile exposure in return?

I wonder what position our hands are in today. What position mine are in. Open to lift up the woman caught in adultery – or closed around a rock, ready to pound her into the dust?

How thankful I am that the nail-scarred hands reach down to lift me up!

My journey to faith. (15)

For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.