Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Simple Christmas

I have longed for a Simple Christmas, centered in the love of God. What I am learning, through the unexpected, through circumstances beyond my control, is that God is found in the places where my plans come to an end. Where my wants are frustrated, God desires to meet my needs. His ways are truly not my ways, and so the choice comes: let go of what I would wish for, and embrace the plans and purposes he has for me.

 Often, this requires a change in what I tell myself. Tuning into truth, speaking words of choice and decision rather than settling into helplessness. I cannot choose my circumstances, but I can choose how I respond. I can replace grumbling with gratitude. I can nestle into him and let him fill the void within me, and I can seek his direction in bringing wellness into my interactions with others.

"Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where where people despair," wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from the depths of a Nazi prison.

There are times when our ways, our wants and wishes become a prison, keeping us from the glory of God, keeping us from relationship with him, keeping us from knowing the wonders of his love. "The wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly...God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly,the excluded, the weak and the broken."

The liberating king came into the lowly harshness of a stable cave-  to fill the cavern within our hearts. What separates us from the love of God? Only our own choice to keep him out.

Amidst the pain or busyness of a season, a voice cries out,  Prepare the way of the Eternal One, a straight way in the wandering desert, a highway for our God. I wonder as I wander, is my heart prepared?

A man named John came before Immanuel, God With us, declaring the way:  admitting I am deeply flawed, in need of help, and identifying with purification, initiated by agonizing sacrifice on a man-made cross. Sometimes we create our own crosses- and God would urge us to lay down our ways and turn to a lifestyle of seeking intimacy with Him.

I ponder, struck by the miracle of the limitless Divine dwelling within me, despite my many imperfections. The person of God, alive within me. Miraculous, yes. It is necessary to stop my flurrying and recognize the presence within me, making way for immersion in the presence of the Eternal.

John offered an outward symbol to represent hearts changed within, recognizing the forgiveness of God. The One who loves us best knows the needs of our hearts, sees the struggle, understands we need a way beyond our selves. The mystery of God is that the Lord of Glory became lowly, taking on human flesh. He did not wait for us to come to him, but rather loved us first, becoming like us, so we could become like him. The secret hidden wisdom is God himself, and his presence in our lives.

The world celebrates a babe born in a manger with songs and services, displays, and elaborate events. God created a way for us to connect instead with blessed simplicity, to linger in quieter moments, celebrating the love of God within a heart.

To be still and know. To ponder... To look with awe on the wonder of an infinite God dwelling within the confines of tender human flesh.

And then, as I am still before the Anointed One, my savior, then I will have my I have my Simple Christmas, awash in the Spirit of God.

~Just Me

Sunday, December 22, 2013

More Love

I don't like drama. I was raised to avoid it, and so often, I grit my teeth and shake my head and stay silent for far too long. Frustration festers, and I preach a bit on social media, angry at the way words trample human frailty and religious right becomes a cause to be championed, rather than a safe place for the poor and needy.

My greatest fear is not relativism. It's not the corruption of the world, or persecution of the church, or attempts to silence that which offends a vocal society. What I most fear is that God's people will unknowingly turn away souls in need of rescue. I fear that those who preach their truth in anger, rather than love, will exacerbate the cycle of opposing voices vying to silence each other. All feeling attacked, each offended, and every one of us in need of healing.

I believe there are many in the church, and outside it's walls, who have met a loving God, but not come to the place of living Grace day by day. I believe there are many who still need healing in the inner places, church leaders and congregation members who are yet very broken. And I speak the truth, without shame, that I still need daily grace. I, too, need my Healer's work to go deeper still.

So my heart hurts when hostilities volley across a chasm with shouts and angry words, and I see only a widening of the man made divide. I recognize that my sins are no better than the ones listed in I Corinthians 6- in fact, I often need cleansing from 21st century idolatry  (though 'perfectionism' sounds less offensive) and I battle greed too. After all isn't it the American way- build a dream of mortar and stones and punctuate with Pinterest and gourmet crafting? Addiction sounds evil when it's drugs or sex, but what about when it's shopping? These are my sins, and they are real, and impartially destructive.

It is man who rates sin, not God. Jesus lived hard truths, likening anger to murder, and granting audacious forgiveness- even socializing with those society shunned. Did he judge the woman who'd had multiple husbands and was living with her lover? No. But he did question those who placed religious practices above relationship with God. He stunned those who considered themselves defenders of God's ways by calling them white washed walls. Let us never forget that we are each wretched without the Lover of our souls.

I'd love to see Christians who live like the historical Christ. Not the Americanized, anglicized version of him. I'd like to see followers of Jesus who are more concerned with inner wellness than making a pretty picture for the world to see. I'd love to see more authenticity, and a lot more grace. It is possible only through connectedness to the One whose very nature is infinite love.

My own journey through the healing process began when I learned to forgive. And then, there was the moment, when Love reached down into the depths of my despair and cradled me. There was no accusation or pressure, no remarks as to what sins should be stamped out of my life. There was no condemnation, only unabashed grace. 

This encounter transformed my understanding of God. I knew him, not as judge, but pure, holy, all encompassing love, and I thirst for more of him. I know that if God's people could simply reflect his heart for a hurting world lives would be rescued and hearts would be healed.

So church, Christians, seekers of God, I ask only one thing: suspend the judging of mortal flesh, and nestle in to Jesus. Seek more of Him, his indwelling, his character to shine through, especially in the way you treat those who disagree with you. Remember that "the opposition" is made up of tender hearts, real people who are flesh and blood, and the battle is not won when we wound. The battle will only, and always, be won with lavish love. Love is the only power that can bridge the aching abyss to redeem a life.

This week, Ann Voskamp wrote, "Grace is air- without it, we all die."  If grace is air, then Love is the power to transform lives, and our God would revolutionize a single soul any day. 

~Just Me 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Sound Mind

"You are making me crazy!" The words fling out in moments of intense frustration. There is a striving, a seeking to exert control over another life that leaves me exasperated and all bunched up inside. In these moments my imperfections, especially my sense of powerlessness, seem to spread like gangrene.

Again I learn the lesson that I can control only myself.

I read a letter that begins with wise counsel encouraging the recipient to own grace, mercy, and peace. One  word above all leaps off the page... Peace. Indicating cessation of struggling; leaving conflict behind and embracing harmony. Peace is the very essence of freedom. 

When my world roars chaos, and I feel cramped, powerless, how do I get to that wide open place?

The letter continues, prayer- yes, day and night- in the moment of chaos, in the moment when my heart would faint, to nestle into a strength beyond what I alone can muster. Prayer is the surrender of my own weak strength in favor of the power of God.

Bringing prayer into every moment invites peace to dwell within.  A natural and sincere faith, abiding deep. Knowing that comforting assurance that God is truthful and trustworthy, all powerful and the embodiment of love. Allowing my faith in the One who does not control, only loves, to tunnel deep, bundling my worries, and yes, even me. All I am, and all I am not, covered by his all consuming love. I read on. The author writes as a reminder to "stir up the gift of God"- not to stir up worries and a frail mind, but to embrace a powerful, loving and disciplined spirit.

Oh, how easily my mind can be stirred up by sights and sounds, by fears and frailties. Still, I have a choice: to live in the oppression of fear and discontent, or to dwell in freedom gained through self discipline. In the military, troops are trained for warfare. Undaunted discipline is imperative, for in the midst of war and chaos, self discipline can be the difference between life and death. So too in the battlefield of the mind. Do I allow fearfulness, lack of self control to reverberate within, or do I breathe deep of the Spirit of self discipline and wage war on the enemy's attempt to mire me in my own fears?

In this historic letter, "a spirit of self discipline" is sometimes translated as 'a sound mind'. A sound mind rather than a "crazy" one. A mind that is healthy, infused with wellness, at peace. A sound mind and a self disciplined mind both indicate unity and wellness. A self disciplined mind is a sound mind if God's truth is the foundation of the thought process. 

A sound mind is a mind that focuses not on the noise of this life, but on the heart of God. 

A sound mind has been set free- not from the consequences of life choices, but from the condemnation brought on by our decisions.

A sound mind is set free from the enemy's accusations through the power of God's unparalleled mercy, and the blood of Jesus that covers and cleanses.

A sound mind is created through surrender and self discipline

Jesus came as the annointed Liberating King. A sound mind is the embodiment of the liberty he empowers us to know- without a shadow of a doubt.

A sound mind sets me free.

And just in case you were wondering, how does the author, suffering in chains, get through? By giving thanks. Really! At the beginning of the letter, no less.

In light of those who have struggled and learned before, let us partner together, encouraging one another to let peace reign in our hearts. Let us not camp on the hills of pacification, but rather, create the habit of dwelling in the Prince of Peace.  In him alone we discover how to live fully in that wide open place the disciplined mind affords, how to defend the sound mind when the enemy comes against us, how to speak truth into our day to day lives and to grasp gratitude in every moment.

(Reference: 2 Timothy 1:1-13, The Voice Transaltion)

~Just Me

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hope in the Hard places

Those who know my story of loss wonder how we got from there to here. How I moved from weeping brokenness spilling across the floor to this place, where I can look life in the face again- even on the hard days. It has been a journey, and I am still learning. What has been key has been connecting to the One who has become my everything.

The question that slices deepest is how to live Hope in the hard places. I think back to the days of darkest oppression and I remember telling myself over and over that there was Such Hope to be found; training my mind to grip tight to that hope helped me put one foot in front of the other. But what changed me was not the power of positive thinking. The moment that changed everything was when God met me with unconditional acceptance and gave me freedom to grieve.

I don't know what your heartache looks like- though I know there is much to grieve in this life. All I know is how my story was changed when I fell into the arms of the One who still is my comfort on the difficult days.

Some ask, "Where is God in the midst of suffering?" Some believe he's a capricious God, showing up only when it suits his fancy. Yet the one who walked the road of agony willingly, even with thanks, is not fickle or flighty. He is faithful. The closeness we have in every season has much more to do with me.

How deep will I let his love go? What, and Who do I choose to cling to? How open is my heart to intimacy? In this life, sometimes closeness sears. Man's love can leave me wounded, gaping, and sometimes I translate that into my relations with God.

 He is not frivolous with my love, but I fear the pain that comes in confronting my wounds. There are jagged edges still in my life. Places where fear would like to rupture the tender membrane that protects my fragile places. Pain is a teacher, but what lessons will I walk out? What wisdom will I practice? Will my shrewdness keep God at arm's length, resigned live with tolerable pain, or will I make the choice to let Him open the infected wound so as to cleanse and heal? I fear the pain, yes, but I fear being trapped by my brokenness more.

So I choose to open up, to let Him have his way with my heart, my soul. For his way leads to life and healing. I know the process looks different for each wound, each indiviudal life, but my prayer is that I will not turn away from wellness,  that I would consistently embrace deeper wholeness- in spirit, soul, and body.

~Just Me


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Relentless Gratitude

Hello, my name is Rebekah, and I'm in Anxiety Recovery. You see, I've been addicted to perfectionism and control, and I need to be set free. Weekly. Daily. Hourly. I know the truth that control is an illusion. I've lived the anxiety of trying to control circumstances, people, even cats (I so get the herding cats metaphor). I like to make plans, and while my special needs family offers many opportunities to learn flexibility, sometimes I still freak out when my plans are ransacked by the ups and down in life- or sidetracked by something I missed.

Like yesterday when I learned that, despite my attempt to be thorough, I had missed a detail that could possibly alter my holiday travel plans - depending on the weather...Texas weather (where it can be 82* one day and 32* the next.) Despite having ruminated often on the point of Christmas, on God's plans and purposes to draw mankind into an intimate peace with Him here on this earth, the news shattered my sense of calm.  I rode fragmented emotions down a trail of anxiety and control as Fear sought to rob me, not just of peace, but my wellness of mind in those moments.

Grace given in the comment feed woke me into self awareness, and I had another A-Ha moment. Again, I came to a stop and remembered Who to breathe in. Where to find peace, and How to pick up the pieces and move forward to a place of wholeness, for it is God alone who completes me.  Awash in gratefulness, I nestled into Immanuel's embrace.

Immanuel, meaning God with us. The Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father, all radiating a grace so relentless He was born into a cavernous place of need and want, into a humble family that had no place to stay, and only lowly means of living. The King of Kings became a man- and not just any man, a poor one.

When I take my eyes off self sufficiency and let my heart be drawn to Him, I am in awe, for He is miraculous- and not just because He was born as a babe to die for my sins. I am so grateful He chose to show us how to live on this earth, too. Jesus was financially poor, yet rich in spirit, for He continuously sought time alone with God the father. He knew when to pour out, and when to connect with the Life Source.

What would Jesus do? What DID he do?  He resonated a lifestyle of connectivity to God and gratitude. He Gave Thanks. In all things- even the hard places. Especially the hard places. Check out Matthew 26:27- 28, where Jesus tells his disciples He is about the be crucified, and then he Gives Thanks for the shedding of his own blood.   

 Ann Voskamp has said, "Thanksgiving precedes the miracle". I would add: Thanksgiving IS the miracle. For in the giving of thanks I take my eyes off of want and find all I need is already fulfilled in Jesus; in His presence is found the only lasting Joy.

A full life, a life that has truly been saved reflects gratitude. Ann says, "Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves." 

A hushed awe transcends my soul, as I absorb this truth; a life transformed by His touch will be known by genuine gratitude, for as I dwell on how much He has given, my perspective changes. There is no room for want when I connect with Love.

To move from gaping want to overflowing abundance:
 "Count your Many Blessings, name them One by One."

I have known the abundance He gives- beyond all I can ask or imagine, in heart and soul. And I know from the depths of my heart that gratitude sets me free. Gratitude rescues me from discontent, from wallowing in my own insufficiency. Gratitude connects me to the heart of God in a simple, but powerful act of worship.  

 My chains are gone, I've been set free....And like a flood,His mercy reigns, unending love, Amazing Grace.

You can know this grace in Every Moment. Wherever you are, whatever your struggles. His arms are open; let go of your burdens. Release the cares of this world and Come home.

Thank you Jesus, for ransoming me. Thank you for reaching out through time and space to provide a way for me to KNOW you in the midst of every trial, to be Held by you in every storm. To be calmed by you in the face of fear, and to be healed from every disease in my heart and soul. I ask you now to transform me and I now give thanks for the many ways you've poured out your bountiful love for me:__________________________________________________________

Grace relieves every fear. Love fills every need. Gratitude secures enduring joy.

~Just Me