Time to Heal

Surgery is painful. Maybe you’ve gone under the knife, so you’re aware. But I’m saying this because I want you to be prepared if you don’t already know. I want you to know it’s going to hurt.

Here’s why I say this – just about a year ago I had my own experience – I had a total knee replacement. I’ve heard those in the medical field say it’s one of the most painful surgeries you can have. Well, I can tell it was for me.

I had needed the surgery for about 10 years. During that time, I couldn’t walk without pain, and it got to a point where my life was pretty limited. In addition, because I waited, the surgery was more complex. Walking around with an injured knee caused more damage. Because I waited, there was more to repair, and my recovery was more painful than it had to be.

That experience taught me a lot, though. Damage had limited my life and waiting to fix it had caused a long and difficult recovery. Hmmm…I think this happens in our spiritual lives too. There are times when our souls are broken and need healing. But for whatever reason, we live with it – we tough it out because we don’t want to go through the pain of getting it fixed

You see we all have wounds and lameness, (Mark 2:17) and no one is exempt from hurt. Nope… pain is common to all of us. I’m talking about the internal stuff we know needs to be dealt with. We need a “spiritual procedure” but we avoid it at all costs. (John 5: 5) We’d rather walk around living a limited life than go through the pain of surgery – even at the hands of a loving physician. (Mark 2:13-17, Psalm 147:3)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, lately. There was a time in life that I resisted the cure only to limp around in brokenness – just like the man in John 5:5 who laid at the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. The Bible doesn’t say what his issue was, it just says he was lame. I personally believe the diagnosis is vague for a reason. Lame can mean a lot of things. Physical, spiritual, and mental limitations are all a type of lameness, and can hold us back. And lameness can cause us to live lives that are less than God’s plan. (Jeremiah 29:11)

For a long time, I was lame. My early years had inflicted so much hurt that I was paralyzed spiritually. The resulting damage lingered and grew and nearly swallowed me whole. I lived that way well into adulthood and lay in brokenness until an encounter with a loving God changed my life, healed me and changed me forever. (Isaiah 61:3)

The healing of my heart was a painful process and sometimes and the process seemed like it would never end. The experiences that shattered my soul had infected so many areas in my life that recovery was long and difficult. But, I did heal. And as hard as it was, the pain slowly faded and I began to walk in freedom for the first time in my life. The healing allowed me to move the way God had planned all along for me. (Acts 17:26)

But I’m not done. Even though there was a huge spiritual healing through that experience, it’s not the end of the healing process. Throughout my life, it will be necessary to go back to the great physician for more surgery. I know it’s likely going to be painful, but I also know the Lord can and wants to heal. (John 5:6, Psalm 107:20, Jeremiah 30:17)

And that’s where things have changed for me. I no longer wait years before looking to God to heal those broken things inside me because I’m fearful of the pain that sometimes goes along with healing. Just like most people, I don’t like to hurt. But, just like my experience with my knee, I don’t want to let the wound to fester and grow and cause more damage. I don’t want my life to be limited, so I willingly choose to allow God to reach in and heal the broken places.

So, I ask you. What lameness are you keeping? Is it holding captive and preventing you from moving through life as God intended? I pray you will be brave enough to go to the one who can heal it. Please don’t let it linger and cause further damage. Don’t be afraid – the pain of the surgery will give you new life. (Isaiah 41:10)

A Higher Perspective

One thing I’ve always loved about flying is the view from thirty thousand feet up. From that vantage one can gain clarity; what you lose in detail, you gain in perspective. Dirty streets, shabby houses, brown and dying lawns all turn into a beautiful tapestry, unrelated to the reality the world below.
When I think about it, we need that perspective in life too. There are so many challenges. Difficulty is around every turn, and no one is exempt from the hard stuff. In times like that we can become stymied by our situation, because all our eyes can focus on is the chaos around us.

I’ve been in that place more times than I can count, and I believe there’s no shame in it. I’d go so far as to say that as humans distraction is a common thread. We tend to focus on what’s closest to us. And, when we experience difficulty or when hardship comes our way, we are even less likely to see anything but what requires our immediate attention.
Like some of you, I’ve tried several approaches as I’ve walked through trials in my life. In my human attempt to get through tuff times, ” I’ve tried the “grin-and-bear-it” approach. This is when you take whatever you are feeling and experiencing and drive it down into your psyche as deep as humanly possible. It often wreaks havoc on your physical, spiritual, and mental health, and is often the root of depression.

Another approach I’ve used is “masking.” You’ll recognize masking because it often involves the use of an outside helper which may come in the guise of alcohol, relationships, substance abuse, and other forms of self-medication. But this one is tricky, because all forms of this device are not what we’d think of as bad or unhealthy. One might find distraction through work, or sports, or – dare I say it – church ministry. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone who works or play sports, or volunteers is masking. I’m just saying these can become a way to escape pain.
So what are we to do when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death? If our coping devices are removed, what’s to keep us from falling into a pit that we can never climb out of? The Bible clearly points to God as a way through difficulty. There are many scriptures available to serve as examples of what we should be doing. (Psalm 23 , Hebrews 4:16, Matthew 6: 6-8)

The Bible has a lot of examples of suffering. For example, the Psalms are full of David’s struggles as he journeys through difficulty. It’s always intrigued me that he often goes from despair to hallelujah with barely a hard return between them. I wonder at his gift of praise in the midst of tragedy. But I also wonder if the ability to move through circumstance is part of his make-up, or if it’s something acquired along the way. (Psalm107, Psalm 88, Psalm 73, Psalm 69)

My relationship with the Christ has not spared me from hard things, nor has it prevented me from whirling around in the chaos that often accompanies difficulty. Nope. What I’ve learned on my journey is that I own a lot of how I react to difficulty experiences. I believe the ability to rise above is not something we are born with. It’s not built into our DNA – it’s a skill we gain as we walk through experiences with our eyes firmly fixed on the one who provides perspective.

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Isaiah. There are so many gems that speak of redemption and restoration. One In particular speaks of perspective in a way that matches our view from thirty thousand feet; the verse that talks of “mounting up on eagle’s wings.” What imagery! What promise! What a directive.(Isaiah 41:30)

Wait… What? Did I just imply that scripture was meant to tell us what to do…land not a picture of a divine lifting out of our trouble? Yep… I did.
Think about it. What fool is going to find peace when they are dragged up by the scruff of their neck by some large taloned bird of prey. Maybe you would, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. If I were in that picture there’d be a lot of screaming and likely a fair bit of struggling. It seems to me that in order for this to work there has to be some willingness on the part of the person being lifted up. I would imagine it involves trust. It would mean making a choice to ride along despite fear. It means we make a choice to be lifted.

I’m not saying it’s a simple decision. I mean, there are obvious perils in this scenario. The eagle could drop us, for one. And where are we landing at the end of this journey? Good questions, and all answered with one word – faith. Yikes! This is where the rubber meets the road, my friends. It is where we put into action all those lyrics we sing and verses we quote. Not easy… I get it… but, it is worth it. When we set aside our fear, and let go of controlling the outcome, something amazing and spiritual happens. With altitude, are able to raise high enough to get perspective. The view from above minimizes distractions and gives a clearer view of the landscape. When you are high up, the thing that seemed so looming becomes a spec in comparison to everything else.

I’ve learned this approach with time and through trouble. Difficulty is not the most fun training ground, but often the one that drives us furthest into a trusting relationship with Christ. And it is through that lens that I encourage you today. When you are discouraged by dirty streets, shabby houses, brown and dying lawns, look for an eagle and willingly ride to higher ground.

Filling the Hole

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself looking at people or things to fill the empty places in my heart. In my defense, I don’t think I’m completely alone in this. As humans I believe we are born with a hole in our being that must be satisfied, so we look around for something or someone to satisfy where we feel empty. For most of us, it’s a deep ache and drives many of our decisions.  

As Christians, though, we likely know that God alone is capable of truly satiating that empty spot. (Ephesians 3:19, Numbers 14:21) We were meant to find life through God. But, even if we believe that’s true with every fiber of our being, we often still look for something tangible to furnish happiness.

It’s not that we don’t want what God offers, it’s just that we want our desires filled with something palpable. There is something in us that always yearns, so, we grab onto whatever solid thing is in front of us. We look to what we can see, rather than set our hopes on an unseen force – even if that unseen force it what’s best for us.

I’m no different. You’d think I’d know better, but I often forget that what God offers always surpasses anything I can come up with on my own. (James 1:7) Often, in my haste to find relief for the emptiness I feel, I fill up with people or things. And the feeling I get never lasts because even the best people or things cannot sufficiently fill the bottomless pit in my soul.

We don’t just look to people of things, either. I know I’ve tried to find life in some good and not so good ways. I’ve tried respectable things like sports, a career, motherhood, marriage. Unfortunately, I’ve also tried some destructive things like drugs, alcohol, and sex. Maybe you’ve tried different fillers too? There’s a whole gamut of things you may have attempted. Or maybe you are still trying them? Whatever it is, these things may seem to work, but, the effects are usually temporary. Usually, these devices require us to return for refilling at frequent intervals to keep them working.

Anyway, good or bad, acceptable or not, nothing but God can plug that deep, empty place. It really doesn’t matter what it is – it will never really give us life because only God in us works. What we find on our own, is never going to adequately furnish what He alone can. (Psalm 81:10, Ephesians 3:17 – 19) Our only hope of filling the void is looking to the one who created us in the first place.

You see, we were designed with an empty space that only God can fill. CS Lewis said: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  So our only hope of plugging the hole is through God. He alone is capable of filling the place He created.

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.