Audience of One

Have you ever looked back at something you experienced and realized you could have avoided the experience altogether? I’m not talking about the bad choices, stupid mistakes, “what what I thinking” kind of stuff. I’m talking about having the foresight to avoid the hard learned lesson

Don’t get me wrong, I get that hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. If we could just see where a decision was going to take us, life would be easier, right?  If we knew which fork to take, we could minimize – if not avoid – the rough terrain. Sometimes, though it’s good to take a good hard look at where we’ve been. Often, it’s in looking back that lessons are learned. (Proverbs 24:16)

For me, this self-examination resulted when I was forced to end a rather unhealthy relationship I had with someone I considered a mentor and friend. For years I saw the backlash people endured when they crossed this person, but I looked the other way. And worse, I stayed and did nothing. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

God had shown me over and over that it was time to sever ties. I knew what was happening was not right, but I was being told I was special. I saw what was happening, but I was told I mattered. I watched others fall prey, yet I continued to engage, And all along I secretly wondered if the extent of the relationship was what I could do for that person. I held onto crumbs of “friendship” that were thrown my way. It was years before I had the courage to leave, and it perplexes me why I settled for so little, in light of what God has for me. (John 10:10)

It was in trying to understand what happened, that I realized I had a part in it. You see, I figured out that it was my desire to please man instead of God that lead me down this road. It was the need for approval that caused me to overlook obvious signs that this relationship as problematic. (Psalm 118:8, Micah 7: 5-8)  Once I understood, it was not difficult to understand how I got there. The truth is that every time we seek man’s approval over God’s, we will be disappointed.

God alone is my approver. (Galatians 1:10) It’s funny though, how often I look elsewhere for validation. I have to believe I am not alone. We all want someone to say “well done.” We all hope someone will notice and find favor in us. Look around, and it doesn’t take long to spot someone seeking approval. You might find it in people climbing the corporate ladder. It can manifest in those seeking applause on a stage. It happens any time we do anything for man’s approval alone. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

I’m not saying applause or approval is bad in itself. It only becomes a problem when our value is based on the approval rating we receive from others rather than on what God says about us. It is only when we look outside God’s provision that we miss the extravagant value God has placed on us. And our worth to Him is not based on what we can give, or what we can do. It is based solely on His love for us. (Psalm 139: 13 – 16, Ephesians 2:4 – 9)

God alone has the right to determine our significance, for it is He alone who paid the price. (Romans 5:8, 1 Peter 1: 18 – 19, Ephesians 2: 4 – 7) Over and over He declares his love and approval for us! His thoughts towards us are good, (Jeremiah 29:11) and infinite. (Jeremiah 31:3) He says we are valuable. (Psalm 46:5, 1 Peter 2:9) We are His beloved treasure and precious jewel. (Proverbs 31:10, Isaiah 49:16)

So, now I hope to engrave this lesson on my heart. I ask for His forgiveness for looking to man for what only He can provide, and look forward to the next chapter He is writing in my life. (Ephesians 2:24, Philippians 3:13) Now, oh Lord, help me be approved by an audience of one. (Matthew 6: 1 – 6)

Beautiful Mess

Everything we do, is filtered through the experiences we have throughout our lives – whether good or bad. Being alive guarantees each of us a mix of positive or painful, happy or sad, gain, or loss. Intentional or accidental experiences mix together and embody who we are. It’s a road that begins at our birth, and shapes every experience that comes after.

We all know that one person who’s life seems untouched by sorrow. It’s tempting to believe there are people who escape hardship in life. But, in reality none of us is exempt. A life lived without trouble does not exist. (John 16:33)

It’s not all bad, either. Truthfully, most of us experience a mix of good and bad. Difficulty is guaranteed, but usually so is joy. We have sad times and happy times. We go up to the mountain and down in the desert. We gain and lose… and it all combines to create a beautiful tapestry of color that makes up our lives. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)

Sometimes, though life brings more bad than good. What happens when tragedy and pain are experienced in greater proportion than joy and happiness? What happens to the human heart when life is overwhelming bad? If a life begins in hardship, is the rest of life doomed to be viewed through the filter of pain? If every message says “you are unwanted, unloved, a mistake,” can there be any hope?

I say yes, there is. I know because I have experienced what happens when God reshapes the message life gives. He alone can fix the broken. He alone can change the trajectory of our lives. He alone promises to take the burned, tragic ashes of life, and replace them with beauty. (Isaiah 61:3)

In the 1950’s, while pregnant with me, my mother sought to have a back alley abortion. She wasn’t evil, she was tired and overwhelmed, and it seems like a solution to her problems. My father and his sister found out, intervened, and in the summer of 1956, I was born. My mother was stopped from making a decision that would have stopped my life before it began. Unfortunately,  it began a journey of physical and verbal abuse for me that lasted until I left home at 17.

My mother was a broken individual, who inflicted her pain on those around her. Forced to follow have a child she did not want, she viewed me with resentment. For as long as I can remember I was reminded daily that her life would have been better had she been allowed to abort me. She made it clear I was the biggest mistake of her life with words, and beatings and neglect.

I tell you this not to extort sadness or pity from you. In fact, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I tell you this to help you understand how far down I was. This beginning to my life taught me I was unwanted and unloved, and it impacted every choice I made for a good portion of my life. In short, my life was a mess. I came to know God when I was a dirty, broken, sad, and hopeless woman.

If the story ended there, it would be tragic – but it did not. All my experiences have shaped me into who I am today. (Romans 8:28) God uses my story to help others, and He can use yours too. The beautiful thing is that God chooses to use broken vessels like us to do His work. And through that work, He gets the glory. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

There’s an entire story behind the crooked path that got me from there to here, but I’ll save that for a future post. What’s important is that He changed me, and He can change you as well. He alone can take a mess and turned it into a beautiful message.

 

Hope for the Hurting

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “God only gives you what you can handle.” Seriously – I’d have a hefty savings account. It’s a comment commonly meant to provide comfort during difficult times. But is it? Comforting? I never found it so.

Let me begin by saying I get that this statement likely comes from a place of positive intent. When people witness pain and suffering, most of the time they want to provide some level of help or comfort. I doubt anyone offers this to hurt or shame anyone.

The problem though is the  message behind this statement implies that God lets things happen to you just because you are strong. This might even suggest if you were weaker things might go easier for you. This could not be further from the truth. God doesn’t choose suffering for us based on our ability to weather the storm, he weathers the storms we cannot handle. (Luke 8:23 – 25)  

The thing is, suffering is universal. Bad things happen, and there’s not enough reasoning in the entire world to explain why. We want answers! We say things like “why did this happen?” We mistakenly think if we could get to the bottom of the “why” there would be a better chance of acceptance. The honest truth is that it’s not possible to find peace in understanding. The bible says God gives us peace that goes beyond what we comprehend. (Philippians 4:7) That means that through Him, we can have peace that is not dependent on our understanding of how or why. The secret is in our focus. Who or what are we focusing on? (Isaiah 26:3)

Like you, I’ve been hurt. I began life as an unwanted burden, reminded daily that abortion would have been better option than giving birth to me. I was a sore and painful scar that I nursed for a good portion of my life. But the happy ending in this tragedy is that I learned a long time ago where to look for comfort and it is this I offer as a solution. If you are hurting and broken.. If you are looking for an answer for every wrong you’ve faced, there is a God who loves and cares for you.

He did not design you with an end goal of pain and suffering. That’s just not His nature. His nature is compassionate. (2 Corinthians 1:3) His nature is grace. (1 Corinthians 15:10) And, His nature is love. (1 John 4:8) He created you and I in love and grace and compassion. And it is on this I choose to focus.

So, when I am hurt or in pain, I focus on God’s promise to be near us. (Job 36:15, Psalm 22:24) I set my sight on His promise is to deliver us and keep us through pain and difficult times. (Isaiah 14;3) And, I keep my eyes on His promises to heal our hurts. (Matthew 4:24)

Suffering is difficult, but God is our comforter and hope. It is that experience I offer you, friends. (Galatians 6:2) God gives peace, and comfort to me, and I offer the same to you. (2 Corinthians 1: 6 -7). Focus on Him and his promises, and together we can weather storms and lift each other up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

When Hope and Fear Collided

Hope is a powerful thing. It begs us to believe what we cannot see. It has the power to make us stay longer and believe stronger. Hope let’s us dream and feeds our vision. In the extreme, the Bible says without it we perish. (Psalm 29:11)

Fear can be equally powerful. It paralyzes the strong and confuses the wise. Fear causes us to run and hide. (Genesis 3:8) Countless Bible stories serve as cautionary tales and sad examples of the impact fear has on us. (Jonah 1:1-17, 2 Samuel 11, Proverbs 22:13)

The Bible story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1 – 8)is a story where hope and fear collide and a life changes. The location in this story provides a clue. Bethesda’s meaning is “grace and mercy” – the very essence of salvation. It’s the story of man and his need for a Savior. And, it’s a story of the human condition.

The man in this story is described as being “lame” for thirty-eight years. What’s interesting is that we don’t know what that lameness is. I propose we don’t know because like him, we all have some kind of malady be it physical, psychological, or spiritual. So many times we are impeded by our lameness and just like this man we sometimes carry it for years.

I don’t know about you, but it fascinates me that for thirty-eight years he went to the Pool of Bethesda every day. The story doesn’t say how he got there – just that he did. Did he walk? Did he have friends or family carry him? However he managed it, I believe it’s another clue. Think about it. A man goes to the edge of grace and mercy for 38 years. Something keeps him going back year after year. I propose it’s hope that draws him there. But why doesn’t he get in and receive his healing?

This is where I think the story unveils his fear. Here’s why. When Jesus asks him if we wants to be healed, he has a litany of excuses as to why he can’t. Think about times where fear stopped you. Did you honestly say “Nope – I’m not going to. I’m scared.” Or, did you reason it away with excuses? Truth is, it’s sometimes easier to identify all the reasons “it” can’t or won’t work than to admit our fear.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t seem to pay attention to the guy’s feeble reasonings. Instead, he says, “pick up your mat and walk.” Wait, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t tell him he’s healed. He doesn’t rub mud on wherever the man is lame, and he doesn’t tell him to touch his robe. Nope. He just tells the lame man to walk. I think it’s another clue. I think the lame man had been healed for a long time. He just needed to get up and walk. He was laying by grace and mercy, and he just needed to take it.

There’s power in this story. How many of us have lain by our healing. How long have we stayed lame when hope was right there just waiting for us to take it.

I know I lived like that for most of my life. For years and years I waited – in my own lameness – until a loving Savior looked me in the eyes and said, “Walk!” I lived fearing what it might mean to be healed, until hope won out. On that day fear no longer ruled in my life. On that day I walked past fear in to grace and mercy. On that day I saw fear and hope collide.

Bravery or Fear?

I want to be brave. I want to fearlessly walk down unknown roads, and launch into deep waters. I want the kind of trust that goes even when I don’t know where I’m being led.

The truth though, is my brave talk is not always matched by my faith, and that’s frustrating. What I want to do, hope to accomplish, and dream of achieving is reliant on my willingness to step out of the safety and security of the boat, and that is sometimes where I sink. (Matthew 14:22-33)

There are times when I am my own worst enemy. My grand ideas of recklessly following God would be a whole lot easier if it weren’t for me. It’s not that I dont know what God’s word says about trusting Him to guide and protect me; it’s just not always easy to live that out.

So what am I to do when my faith doesn’t seem big enough to slay giants? (1 Samuel 17) How can I be brave when I am so weak? It seems insurmountable, but I promise you, it’s not.

I’m pretty clear that fearlessness does not come by my own strength. (Zechariah 4:6) In fact, the Bible says I am stronger through God, precisely when I am weak. (2 Corinthians 12:9,10) It says God doesn’t give us fear – he gave us power!

So, for me, it’s pretty clear this bravery thing is birthed in my relationship with God. In God I am strong. His word reminds me over and over not to fear. (Matthew 4:27, Joshua 1: 6-9, 2 Samuel 10:12)

What I know is my bravery is not based on my feelings of fearlessness. Braveru is not based on me, and this knowledge pushes me out into the unknown. I am confident in His promise to make me courageous. (1 Chronicles 19:13) so, this is how I fly, how I run, how I step out – in His strength and not by mine. (Zechariah 4:6)

So where do you need to be fearless? If you need a dose of bravery, I challenge you to take a step. Reach up towards whatever scares you. Go with the knowledge that God is your strength, he gives you bravery, and makes you fearless. (Romans 8: 27, 27)

Faith to Dream

What was your dream? You know, the secret longing, the sacred hope, the expectation you’ve carried in your heart for longer than you care to remember.
We all have them. Some of us have very open hopes and dreams. Perhaps we’ve been fortunate enough to experience some of them. But more than likely, there are desires we’ve hidden away, or given up on. It’s the hopes and dreams we’ve given up on that I want to talk about.
I know what it’s like to lose hope. For years I quietly waited for God to unveil a dream I’d had to share my story with other women. I was convinced God had called me to bring the incredible hope He had given me to others. I felt His calling on my life, and it was powerful and real. But, I did not walk through every door God had clearly opened in front of me. (2 Timothy 1:9)
What held me back wasn’t fear or doubt, it was the voice of those around me. I asked for permission from others and was told “not yet,” so I waited. I was told “someday,” so I didn’t walk forward. Finally I was told “no,” and I gave up. It crushed me – for a while. (Proverbs 13:12)
I was sad, but not broken, and soon I began to feel a spark of hope The dream God had given me was too powerful to ignore. The flame God places in us cannot be extinguished, and soon I began to feel it rise in me again. I began to realize I had let someone other than my creator determine the validity of my dream. Lesson learned – don’t put man’s word above God’s. (Isaiah 2:22)
The thing about dreams is they are individual to each of us. We were singularly designed by God; one of a kind, with unique purposes and dreams. God created to fulfill His purpose and He set that purpose in our heart. Our dreams are God inspired.(Ephesians 1:13)
So if God is the author of our dreams, why should we doubt? God promises to guide us (Psalm31:3) He promises not only give us dreams, but to fulfill them. (Philippians 2:13) And, He promises to give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm37:4)
Knowing this, I challenge you to give yourself permission to uncover the desires you’ve set aside. Look without fear or trepidation at what you believe impossible, and for a moment consider it possible. Why shouldn’t you? The bible gives us many examples of promises fulfilled, against all logic. (Genesis 2:1, Romans 4:18)

While We Wait

It can be a powerful thing when you hear God’s call. For me, it was exciting and frightening. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, or where God would take me. However, what I did know is I clearly heard His direction, and I was ready to move forward to whatever He had for me. So, I took off running.
But what happens when we’re ready to move forward, but God’s response is to pause? What if the direction you get is to stop with no hint as to what’s next or how long you’ll have to be there. (PSALM 27:14)
In my personal life, I am known as somone who “gets things done.” As a project manager, I am supposed to identify the end goal, and map out the steps to get there, so doing nothing makes no sense to me, and as a doer, it’s frustrating.
Waiting is not easy, and how we do it says a lot about us. The truth is, it’s not something I like doing. No one is going to pat you on the back and say “Great job sitting.” It’s not exciting or fulfilling to wait. And, waiting doesn’t get you anywhere… or does it?
Waiting simply doesn’t feel good! However, I learned a long time ago not to base my walk on my feelings (Matthew 2:10). As the weeks go by, I am begining to see beauty in what God is doing. Becoming quiet changes us.
By waiting, we are forced to be, rather than do. Without the chaos of constant movement, we begin to center on Him alone. We start to rely on God for acknowledgement, not on our accomplishments.
When we stop running things get quiet. It’s in the quietness we can best hear God’s still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:11 – 13). There in the solitude we are refreshed and strengthened. We become intimate with God and more dependent on Him to fill us.
I don’t know how long I’ll be in this place of waiting. And, I cannot say I understand fully what God is doing. What I do know is that He is changing me, and whatever the process, His plans for me are always good. (Jeremiah 29:11)