Thursday, February 28, 2013

Anxious Hearts

When life throws a curve ball, it is natural to be overwhelmed with emotions. This time, it was not a trip to the hospital or a 911 call, but for a mother's heart, it was just as urgent. News came of a life altering development; a decision now required to move forward. As parents, we all want what is best for our children, and I found myself grasping for information, desperately seeking knowledge to help direct the course of my son's education.  A meeting has been called to discuss the changes, and now all that is left is to wait.

I have a lot of questions, but the one that weighs deepest on my heart is this: What is best for my child?  I reached out to other parents in an attempt to glean information, initiating conversation through social media. Many of us are upset, confused;  emotions ignited by the pressure of choices to be made. As I shared my own fears, the voice of a friend caught my attention. A simple reminder of the power of prayer... and my perspective shifted.

The choice was clear; worry and wait, or pour out that gaping anxiety into the hands of the One who holds tomorrow. Change is not always negative, really. The unknowns are certainly frightening, yet here's a truth worth clinging to:
The same situation that shocked me into an emotional tangle does not alarm the One who knew our future before my son was born, before I was knit together in my mother's womb, and even before time was measured. God has a plan and a purpose for my son, intentionally implemented in order to shape my child into who he was created to be! This wider scope reminds me that shifts in my plan are not just about me, or my son, or his needs and gifts. The divine design interweaves our lives with others, with those who will influence our growth, and those who God intends to draw to himself through us. Maybe it seems like it's all about logistics, but through His creative eyes the purpose is life infusing relationships. 

Answers will come, yet for now, the task is to wait.  To place every worry in God's capable hands, walking that well worn path to the altar, in the moment, as each concern comes up. I may go back to that place of surrender hourly, but the hope I have in the midst of change is the assurance that I can trust in God's perfect love for my son, and for me. Perfect love casts out all fear, enveloping each of us in His tender loving care. His ways, though not my own, are best because He is self-less, and  He loves me enough to liberate me from my plans, bestowing instead those plans which give me- and my son- a hope and a future. (1 John 4:18, Jeremiah 29:11 )

So my prayer as we move forward is this: that we can cast off all fear and hear God's voice CLEARLY. That we will remember to trust in God's plans and purposes for our children. That we will remain confident in God, who orchestrates all things to work towards what is good and beautiful, as we move deeper into relationship with Him.  As we accept God's invitation to live according to His plan, not our own,we can trust the One who pursues and explores the human heart intimately. For He holds our future not just in his hands, but in His heart. He seeks to build up, giving beauty where we see only ashes. Our hope in Him is always secure.

~Just Me

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Great Expectations

Sometimes life does not line up with our expectations. God himself is above and beyond anything that we, in our finite existence, can imagine- and sometimes we wonder at his ways, even his motives. His own son defied the expectations of the most devout, particularly the pharisees. This religious movement was made up of lay people, not priests- average, everyday citizens that were deeply committed to the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. They were waiting for a Rescuer, one who would free them from Roman oppression. It was a dangerous and volatile world they lived in, and they coped by clinging to the law. They believed that the Messiah would not come until the Jewish community cleaned up their act, casting off all tolerance of sin. Their hearts were tuned towards a return to the Hebraic law, and they hoped that if they could just get the sinners to change their ways, then God would send the One who would free them.

Then Jesus came, proclaiming forgiveness, touching the unclean, healing the dregs of society- even eating with them, demonstrating his complete and total acceptance of all who came to him. The pharisees were shocked, then furious. They were anxiously awaiting one who would destroy sinners, not one Who would wipe out past sins. Here was a man who claimed to be of God, but reached into darkness with healing hands. Here was One who defied all expectation. And they could only tolerate Him so long.

While the religious leaders questioned and plotted, Jesus sought out the sick, the brokenhearted, the world weary souls in desperate circumstances. In a time when disease was dangerous, here was a man who risked touching people with weeping sores; he placed his hands on the infected, the dirty, the ones that others turned away from. Jesus invited those everyone else shunned. He drew near, and healed.

In Luke 5:17-25, we find an extraordinary story. Some men brought a paralyzed friend to see Jesus, but the crush of crowds prevented them from getting through. Yet they did not allow disappointment to defeat them. With tenacity and creativity, they found a different way. Up to the rooftop they went, removing tiles, throwing off every barrier to Jesus. They created an opening in the roof and lowered their friend so that he came to rest right before Jesus. And what did the great healer do? He looked past the outward ailment to the brokenness within. "My friend," he spoke with love,"all your sins are forgiven." I can hear the tenderness and compassion in his voice. Oh, how great, this gift of being set free! And yet the man was still paralyzed. The pharisees (lay people) and religious scholars were offended. "Who does he think he is? This is blasphemy, only GOD can forgive sin."

Ah, but they missed the point, didn't they? So blinded by tradition and self importance, they had forgotten that we are all sinners. We all fall short. Every one of us, even those who affect a pious exterior have hidden places of sin below. Places of destruction, places we try to squelch, and can even hide rather well if we work at it, but sin simmers in every one of us. And what kind of savior would heal disease, but leave us rotting in our brokenness? The fever might break, the limbs be repaired, but the soul would still be separated from the love of God. So Jesus, in his wisdom, offers what we need most of all. We cry out for physical healing, but we need deliverance on a deeper level. Lasting restoration takes place within. And we have a tenacious Healer, one who longs to break everything that keeps us bound, one that desires to reach into the darkest, shame filled places of our heart and soul and pour out his healing light.

Healing takes tenacity. It takes commitment, a willingness to throw off every barrier that keeps us from coming to rest in Jesus. And I say with all my heart, and every ounce of belief within me, that He can be trusted. No matter how people have failed us, regardless of disappointments or shattered dreams. God's ways may defy expectation, but His ways are higher, greater than all we can ask or imagine, and his heart? His heart is for our healing.

When looking into the Hebrew meaning inherent in Jeremiah 29:11, I find hope:

For I know the plans I have for you- mahashavah,  plans to create something new and unexpected

Declares YHWH, the breath of Love, the One who gives air to the soul. 

Plans for peace and not calamity- shalom, purposes for completeness and well being,  for fulfillment, to keep us from self inflicted harm
Plans to give you hope (tiquah) and a future (aharit) -
 Tiquah indicates hope, measure; aharit indicates where we can not see, including our future.

Our expectations for this life only leave us empty and broken. He longs to give us something beyond ourselves, beyond our circumstances- no matter how devastating. His measure of hope is for lasting wholeness, even in the places where we cannot imagine possible. We can trust in our plans, which leave us inevitably disappointed. Or we can choose to trust YHWH, who is love and who calls us beloved.
He purposes to give beauty for ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)

~Just Me

(Special thanks to Skip Moen.) 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What We Tell Ourselves and The Truth that Changes Everything

I'm learning that what I allow to linger in my mind takes root and shapes my attitude, my decisions, even my daily life. I want to pursue what is true and right and noble and pure, yet I find myself distracted by murmurings within. Distortion of truth can be almost indiscernible if lies oppress long enough. Allegations can be mistaken for authenticity. Words can become weapons, as self-reproach and derision pummel away at the inner life- the true life that makes up who I really am, behind the mask. It's a struggle, this truth seeking.

Reckless words spoken by loved ones in jest or anger can worm into the tender places of my soul, becoming daily poison, marking the deepest corners of my identity. And the enemy uses these words to pierce my mind with accusation, guilt, and self loathing.

Every evil that has come against me originated with the enemy of my soul. So, yes, he knows my fragile places and still schemes to deliver subtle but annihilating blows. Yet there is resounding hope! The one who speaks only lies holds no power over me, except what I give him- and the Voice of truth stands ready, not only to defend, but cover.  When I see clearly, past untruths, past wounds and disappointments, I see the heart of God for me. He is not some distant or cruel master turning away from heartache. He is the lover of my soul, who embraced pain and death so I could be close to him in every season. 

 When war invaded my home, words became the ammunition of the enemy. My husband returned altered after his second deployment to Iraq. He had been a loving family man and committed Army chaplain, yet his anxiety and anger began to drive a wedge between us. Almost overnight, the man I loved became alternately withdrawn or spewing emotional abuse. After six months of chaos, symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were recognized and he self admitted to a VA facility which specialized in treating PTSD.  I was left alone, again, to care for two little ones with special/medical needs. I was relieved to have a break from the barrage of rage and depression, yet my mind was still entrenched in a battle for truth.

During weekend visits, my husband gave our boys and me pottery he had crafted himself. I was struck with the cold hard facts; this was not the  average hospital stay. Life became surreal, like a scene from a movie; a family visiting a loved one in a mental facility, art scattered all around. In that moment, my dreams shattered. How could I ever have a stable life again? I believed the lie that we were damaged beyond repair. I felt helpless. And utterly broken.

From that pit of  heartbreak and despair I cried out to God, and I remember well the moment that changed everything. I was at the end of all I knew, all I ever wanted, and I reached out, weeping, "I can not do this!" And then, a presence covered me, tangibly. I was cradled in light and love- and unconditional acceptance. It was as if God was saying: "Cry it all out sweetie. I am here with you. It's OK, you can be where you are, in all your grief, with me."  And then I knew these truths: He is safe. He does not judge. He longs to hold me through the heartbreak, if I will let him. It's OK to lay down in his arms and weep.

This was not the first time I had endured a life crushing blow. But it was the first time that I turned to my Comforter with every bit of my broken heart and learned what it really meant to be held. To be everything I was and everything I wasn't, and still be completely and totally accepted.

This experience radically transformed how I understood God. 

Dear ones, if we can learn to pray past lies that bear down on our hearts and minds- if we are willing to open ourselves to a new understanding of God's heart for us- we will find His surprisingly boundless grace. Guilt and shame are hurled towards us mercilessly, sometimes even by God's own people. But His ways are not humanity's ways. And when we get a glimpse of Who he really is- untempered by those who have failed us, we will know His grace, even in the darkest depths of our souls. He offers undeserved favor, and liberation from the lies we tell ourselves
, not because of anything we have done, but because of who God is and his great love for us. Do you know what it means to be totally and completely accepted where you are, who you are, no matter what? I found this miracle in the arms of God alone.

Beloved one, you are invited to move deeper into his immeasurable love, to walk free from the chains of guilt and shame. You can know that though you feel you are 'not enough', He is. And he loves you, now, just the way you are, flaws and all. There is no need to hide, no need to cower, for He is your covering, and his grace is all encompassing. You can ask him into every moment, every wound, every loss, and learn for yourself his true nature: Unconditional Love.

With all your heart, you can speak these words to the One who longs to hold you through the worst of times:

 I invite you in to heal the broken places of my heart and soul.  Teach me to turn a deaf ear to the enemy, who only seeks to destroy. Open my ears to hear your voice, speaking life and love into my heart and mind, replacing the lies with your truth.  Open my eyes to see how very precious I am to you!  I speak the truth that my worth is immeasurable, and you have spoken volumes of your all surpassing love for me. Your love caused you to endure even the torment and pain of the cross, so that I could be re-claimed into a day by day relationship with you. I am ransomed  in order to be healed, whole, restored.  And you have declared that I am worth it!

Thank you God, for accepting me just as I am. Hold me, teach me to trust you to set me free.

~Just Me