Shelter-in-place

“Whether the cloud stayed above the tabernacle for 2 days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on…so they traveled at the Lord’s command.” Numbers 9:22 

Was this the first “shelter-in-place”? Ha! I read this verse on March 4, before COVID-19 was even real to me. Today our governor issued a shelter-in-place requirement for the state of Georgia which means no outings unless they are considered “essential.” Oh, and he cancelled school for the year.

Around 4:30 today, I took this information in, told the kids, and prepared dinner. My husband wanted to go for a walk after our meal but I just wasn’t up for it. I could feel a difference in my body: tired, achy, cold, exhausted. I told Chris no to the walk and headed upstairs. I wanted a hot shower, chocolate cake and my bed. This virus has taken its toll on so many. I am really not a casualty. I am just uncomfortable, bored and eating a lot more carbs. But I think tonight I could finally feel the physical impact the stress has taken on me.

As I was in my shower tonight, I remembered the verse about the Israelites, “Whether the cloud stayed above the tabernacle for 2 days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on…so they traveled at the Lord’s command.” 

We are here now, right with the Israelites. We must stay in camp. We cannot move outside the Lord’s command. We cannot move until He chooses to change things. 

How does this make you feel, to be so powerless, so vulnerable, so dependent on someone else? The Israelites hated it and complained. They hated the manna and the quail they were miraculously given and the water that came at their request from the rock. Numbers 21 says “the people grew impatient with the long journey” crying out “we are tired of this manna.”

I am impatient and tired of manna…I want chocolate cake… And I want to eat it at the cute bakery across the street…with my girlfriend.

But then Moses changes the tone and says to God in Exodus 33:15 “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.” 

“Don’t make us leave this place.” What? How could Moses pray this? Scripture tells us the journey out of Egypt to the promised land from Mount Sinai should have take about 11 days but it took 40 years! How could Moses say that he wouldn’t move without God? Even if it meant staying put for a long, long time. The Israelites camped in Sinai for one year without moving!

I believe Moses could pray this because he had a Shelter in place… he knew the goodness of his Father, and he knew how not good things were without Him. He knew he could not lead the millions of complaining Israelites without the wisdom of the Creator.

He had seen the miracles and wanted to be closer to the extraordinary than settle for the ordinary.

We see in scripture that he spoke with God face to face as a friend. He knew God well enough to tell the Israelites: “Don’t be shocked or afraid…The Lord your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you…and you saw how the Lord cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child…”Deut. 1:30-31 

Moses knew the goodness of God in the midst of his shelter in place.

Despite staying put, he still experienced the delight of His heavenly father and couldn’t bear the thought of moving anywhere without Him. 

I am hoping this season of our lives is one of a kind. I am guessing we will never be in a place of this much restriction as a country or as families. So, this is a very unique situation and we serve a very unique God who cares for us “just as a father cares for a child.” He is a good, good Father and an excellent teacher. 

I believe there is a very unique lesson for all of us in this time and I don’t want to miss it.

I want the heart of Moses, to know God as a friend and to be able to pray “If you don’t personally go with me, I don’t want to leave this place.”

What does he have for you in this place? This shelter in place? What does he want to teach you where you are, camped out, impatient with the long journey and tired of the manna?

You know, manna was the miracle bread, only enough given for each day, no extra could be consumed or it would spoil. We are here too, shelter in place, with only manna, only promised today.

There is a lesson here in your camp. There is a miracle in the manna for you too. 

He doesn’t want you to leave this place without Him either… 

This hard, hard story

 

These are crazy, trying times, like nothing most of us have ever seen before. I have been comforted lately reading of Moses and the Israelites and the crazy, trying times they endured. Theirs is a hard, hard story, an impossible story, yet I am encouraged and my faith is strengthened. God is not surprised or overwhelmed by our current circumstances. His word is alive and active and available to inform and fuel our spirits by His unending faithfulness, a faithfulness that allowed Moses to carry on. We can carry on because the arm of the Lord is not too short. (Numbers 11:23.)

Reading in Exodus 9-11 we see Moses and Aaron desperately trying to convince Pharoah to let the Israelites leave Egypt. They had become slaves under harsh Egyptian leadership and God heard their cries for deliverance. God prepared the Israelites for departure but there was something He wanted accomplished first…His glory. He hardened Pharoah’s heart…

“But because his heart was hard, Pharoah refused to let the people leave, just as the Lord had predicted through Moses.” Exodus 9:35

God hardened Pharoah’s heart and sent unfathomable plagues, so He could be glorified. “But I will make Pharoah’s heart stubborn, so I can multiply my miraculous and wonders in the land”…Exodus 7:3

If you believe in the God of scripture, then you have to know something, He will do whatever it takes to glorify Himself. This may sound selfish or hard to grasp…it is still something I am trying to understand and remember. However, the more I hang out in this sacred space…knowing it is ALL for His glory.. then it takes the pressure off. It allows me to let go. I don’t have to be seen because He shines brighter…I don’t have to figure it out because He has written the story…it allows me to celebrate others because He meets all my needs…”May He equip you with all you need to do His will…Heb. 13:21

God hardened Pharoah’s heart to show miracles and to have stories of His greatness…stories that would go before the Israelites and cause their enemies to bow in fear…stories that my grandmothers and Sunday school teachers and mother told me…stories that planted seeds of faith in my heart…

You see it’s always for His glory…the Israelites were ready to go..but God had bigger plans…He could have forced Pharoah to just say yes..but God had a river to turn into blood, frogs to send..a Red Sea to part…

It’s all for his glory…even the pain…even Corona…even death and illness and unemployment…there is a purpose..to make Him shine brighter so we can be drawn to that brightness…

So friends…we are in the middle of a hard, hard story, an impossible story that He wants to use…yep, you guessed it…for His glory. God can remove Corona at any time but He has chosen not to. Why? Because there are some things He wants to accomplish first. He may have another Red Sea to part…“so I can multiply my miraculous and wonders in the land”…Exodus 7:3

More folks are on their knees right now because of this crisis…what if when we got on our knees we had a new perspective, a perspective that Moses taught us…the perspective that this horrible awful is a catalyst to make God greater…that we can trust Him because He’s seen it all before and He never stops working…because He is not overwhelmed or afraid…because He actually wants to use us in the beautiful purpose of Him receiving all the glory…

Would that feel different? 

Would that give anxiety a rest for a moment? 

If we saw our suffering through the lense of His purpose?

Would it help?

What does He want to tell you the next time you are on your knees? Does He have Red Sea to part in your story? How can this horrible awful be used to draw you and others closer to the Kingdom? 

“Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses. Who divided the waters to make for Himself an everlasting name.” Isa. 63:12

It has always been just for Him.

The finger of God

Growing up in the south, in the Bible Belt, Vacation Bible School was always a summer experience for me and my brother. Mom and Dad were at work on summer days so we mostly stayed with my grandparents over the long 12 week break. Yes, it was 12 weeks back then. 12 weeks of watching TBS and the Braves, and slip n slide and Dairy Queen and VBS. My grandparents sent me to all the VBSs within 10 miles to keep us busy. I tried this with my kids, calling it “Church camp” but they caught on quickly that is was a free babysitting option with snacks. Boo. I don’t remember having a choice, it was VBS or the highway.

During these sweet VBS weeks between the hours of 9:30-12:30, I remember consuming lots of red punch and sugar cookies and there was always a parachute game and a felt board. The parachute was a little nerve wracking because what if you get stuck under this large piece of dirty fabric with strange kids? But the felt board was safe. The green board had all the famous Bible characters stuck to it and their strange stories were told thanks to the power of lamination. Many of these accounts involved  Moses…and sitting on the cold, hard tiled church floor…in a circle. Yes, Moses, you know, the baby in the basket, the Plagues, Pharoah saying “Let my people go” (there was even a song) and the 10 commandments. Moses and the felt boards. 

I was reading about Moses this week and these verses grabbed me: “When the Lord finished speaking with Moses, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18

“These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself.” Exodus 32:16

I am not sure how I thought the 10 commandments were written. I guess I assumed Moses chiseled them with a sharp stone…and they were legible? This was not discussed over red punch and sugar cookies or during the cold floor circle time with the green felt board. But Exodus is clear: the terms of the covenant were written by God himself. 

“Written by the finger of God.” It has stayed with me today…The terms of this covenant, this plan between God and his chosen people was not Moses’ doing. Moses just showed up, he just said yes and climbed the mountain and then God issued the law and wrote it with His finger!

Moses, the baby who was hidden for 3 months and floated down the river in a basket. Moses, the man who was displaced over and over, who left Egypt and ended up with sheep who then encountered a burning bush, only to be moved again, back to Egypt to deliver bad news and finally released from Egypt to wander in the wilderness. Moses, who was never lost from God, never out of his sight.  

Moses, who encountered God on the mountain “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:11)

Moses, when chased by Pharoah’s angry, Egyptian army, looked the at the Red Sea in front of him and thousands of Israelites behind him, and still stepped forward…Moses, full of faith, fully available…for God’s glory. 

God always made a way for Moses: the basket, the river, the burning bush, the tablets, the Red Sea…He always provided…”written by the finger of God.”

Whatever God needed accomplished, He made the provision. For His glory alone…never for Moses’. “Glory to glory” scripture says. His glory to His glory. Not ours. Never ours.

Whatever His plans, what ever He needs, He will provide. He will use His finger to write it out, to make the way. 

When our hearts align with His, when we get out of the way, the pressure is off. The pressure is off to get it all right, to be at the right place at the right time, to say the right thing, look the right way, know the right person. We just have to say yes, to climb the mountain, to step into the sea. He will find us wherever we are, even if it’s in a basket, floating down a river, or wandering in a wilderness…He will find us and He will use whatever and whoever it takes to accomplish His plans.

Because you see, Moses led us to Jesus…on the mountain to get the tablets…for the covenant…the old covenant…written by the hand of God himself….that led to our need for the new covenant…written and paid for by the blood of Jesus… 

He will find you wherever you are and will use whatever you have…if it will lead others to Jesus. It will be for his glory alone. That’s the hard part, laying down all that concerns us, laying down all our crowns, so that he will be glorified…so that everything leads to Jesus.

So…every mountain that needs climbing, every sea that needs crossing…His finger is writing, writing the story that brings Him the glory…that always leads to Jesus.

Grace for all the parts…

 

“We can mother ourselves, re-parent ourselves.” It sounds strange but that’s what I told my 17 year old client who was despising his 15 year old self – his younger self that fell in love too hard and too fast, who gave so much away. Who let the relationship define him, as he lost himself. His decisions, along with his will power failed him. The break up was devastating, as he didn’t know who he was without her. He sees this self as weak and insecure and he hates that it’s a part of him. He is angry with the part of him that couldn’t cope or maintain control, the part that turned to the drinks and the drugs to get through. 

While sitting on my couch, we offered that part of himself some grace. We put those hard places in the offering plate before God and heard what He had to say. We spent some time re-parenting the 15 year old like Abba would. Just like Abba would with mounds of grace. Mounds of grace like he poured out at Calvary. We spoke to that hated part and told the shamed, weary adolescent boy that he was still loveable despite the bad choices, despite the mistakes. We told him that his brain was still forming and good decisions are hard, especially while making them with no wise voices around and a heart that’s in the clouds. Love really is blind and his 15 year old self couldn’t see the truth. Self control is a fruit of the spirit and at that point, the Holy Spirit was not residing inside him.

During this process, there was grace in his voice, a kindness for himself he had never experienced, a deeper connection with his Savior. He took deeper breaths by the end of session, and his shoulders didn’t hang so low.  I am praying his step is a little lighter now that he let part of himself off the hook, took off the noose, loved himself a little, and allowed God’s voice to speak a little louder, instead of his own condemnation. 

Jesus is this way with us, the ever-for-us brother, the friend who sees us, despite our sin, our shame, and our self loathing. He is the lifter of the heavy head, the carrier of the one who “shoulds” all over himself and is covered in “if onlys. ” “I should have been wiser, I should have said no, if only I had behaved better….”

Which part of you needs some love today, needs to be mothered or parented with grace? Which part or season of your life do you wish would stay hidden, or do you keep at bay? You know, angry dogs don’t stay quiet long. The bark and the bite just keep getting stronger. That’s a scary thing, to face the part of you that longs to stay hidden, but struggles to stay quiet.

I know because I have just spent some time with those parts of myself. The ones that got depressed, anxious, the ones from the past that didn’t want to get out of bed some mornings, or just fall asleep forever. Yes, I have those parts and I’ve done a good job of keeping them hidden to most. But I believe they have a story to tell and they are part of my story. 

I’ve loved on those parts a little lately: The girl that was afraid to make mistakes, afraid to miss out, afraid no one would see her. The girl who so badly wanted to have the affections of others because it meant she was okay, really okay. The girl who made bad choices just to secure that affection. And then the girl who shamed herself into depression for those mistakes.

I’ve been trying to love her well, to let her know she was just doing her best and because of her, I am now closer to God and stronger than ever. Thanks to her, I clung tightly to my Savior because there were days I couldn’t breathe without Him. She forced me to eat the scripture because it was the only bread that would fulfill me. Because of this broken, overwhelmed girl inside me, I understand pain and sorrow. Because of her I know the tenderness of Emmanuel as he met my deepest need. I am thankful and grateful to her for the light of joy I experience because I know what the dark night holds.

My friend says we cannot experience the light unless we are aquainted with darkness. My client has a deeper appreciation for his emotional, spiritual  freedom because he experienced the co-dependent slavery of his former relationship. The elation of joy is more powerful if we understand the depths of despair. 

When we  face the pain of the past, we can more fully appreciate the peace of the present. We have to embrace and love graciously the wounded self, knowing it is just the inevitable part of us, yet so important to the story of who we are becoming. It is the voice of grace that makes us stronger, not the condemning lies that hold us down. 

So, I see you old self. I am thankful for all you have taught me and I know you were doing the best you could. I am no longer afraid of you and I will not continue to live in regret over you. I embrace that you are part of my story, but you can take a rest and be quieter now. Go take your position, listening to the loving, gracious voice of Jesus, my brother and God, my father.  

“Be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1

Now go friends, and be gracious to yourselves. Go, and be strong through grace.

 

 

 

Secret Speeches

My grandpa, my mom’s dad, loved to walk. We called him “Poole” and Poole was the fittest grandpa I knew. He loved to exercise, lifting weights and walking the long cement driveway to the road, then heading to the stretch of backyard grass and garden.  Everyday Poole walked, lifted weights and smoked cigars. His walking uniform was a white wife-beater and khaki pants. I spent most school afternoons and long, hot summer days with him, with Poole, my walking, weightlifting grandpa with the wife-beater. Summer days with his feet pounding the earth, rising again for the next step, worn grass, sweat stained shirt. I’d walk with him a little, run a little, trying to keep up. 

My grandparents lived on what seemed to be an acre or two, with a long, flat driveway, great for riding bikes and bouncing balls. The gate opened to the back yard. His path went beyond the back porch, perfect for stringing beans and eating ice cream, past the metal recliner swing, further than the red barn and then into the garden. That was his loop, the driveway, the backyard, the garden,  then all over again. He’d walk and sweat then lift weights. 

While he walked, he recited. He was the speech giver for his group of the Masons, a male fraternity of sorts. On his path, he whispered his secret speeches. None of us were to ever know the words he mumbled, they were just for the men, the Masons. So everyday, Poole walked, and sweat, repeating the verses over and over. Despite how ridiculous they sounded, he kept going, moving forward, saying the lines over and over again, in the heat, down the path, the same path over and over, every day. And it was a secret, the words were secrets. 

I’m not sure why I thought of him recently. I was his first grandchild, and he called me “Doll”. He drove an old red Comet and I was embarrassed when he would pick me up from school in that junky car. Just so embarrassed and I would pretend I had a headache, laying down in the back seat so that none of the kids at my private school would see me. Surely he knew I didn’t have a headache most days. From what I remember, Poole was dedicated and devoted. Dedicated to the Masons, to his routines and to his family. I remember spending many weekend nights with him and my grandmother. He always took  us to get ice cream and would hand me $5 for the toy store at the mall. 

I thought of his walks this week, his walks and his secret speeches, the ones he spoke over and over again. The secret lines he recited day in and day out. I’ve been thinking about my own secret speeches, the words I say to myself, over and over again. They seem to even be part of my routine as my mind goes down the same path. These lines emerge when my world is stressful, or sad.

These words are the ones that no one hears but me because, well, they’ve been secrets. We all have them. Some we know, are there and some we don’t even realize are plaguing us. The lines, beliefs and routine words that have made a path on our hearts, our brains. They aren’t always kind, they aren’t always true, they don’t always make sense. But we continue down the path. I’m finding this same routine to be true more and more with my clients and some friends. We are all a little like Poole, reciting the speeches over and over, despite how ridiculous they sound, we keep walking, moving forward, saying the lines over and over again, down the path, the same path over and over, every day. And some of the words are a secret…because we don’t know why or we are afraid to tell. We are afraid to tell the hard, secret words that make us sweat…

However, I’m less and less afraid of these words lately, these routine speeches that I tell myself. I’m offering more and more of them to God, sharing some with others. I’m even asking God to reveal where they started in the first place. I find that as I pray for more of Him, the speeches are exposed. They have to be because darkness can’t stay when Light has been invited in. Revelation 12:11 tells us we overcome because of Jesus and by the word of our testimony. As much as I see myself like my grandfather, walking the same path, speaking the same secret words over and over, I don’t want to continue. I don’t want to mumble any longer, or keep my speeches hidden. I want to overcome. Don’t you?

A dear friend was sharing her own journey of wholeness with me this week. She said, “The healing came when I wasn’t afraid of anything God might reveal in me.” Now that’s bravery. Would you be willing to be brave like that? To ask for God to reveal the secret speeches? And then to tell someone, a very safe someone, so you could overcome too? 

Oh God, would you unlock the secret speeches in me, the why, the darkness. You are there. Always there in the darkness, in the broken hearted parts and places. I am no longer afraid of the darkness.
Luke 8:17: “
For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

Daniel 2:22 “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”

You know, Jesus came, placed his feet to earth and walked and walked and walked. He came to replace our secret speeches for his truth and life. And before him, God walked this earth and from the earth, He breathed into dirt, from heaven to the ground, from the ground he brought life, from Breath to breath. Oh God, your Breath in my breath,  breathe on me, breathe into the secrets and their source with your breath, your life in me, heaven in me, your treasure and truth in me. Make me an overcomer. 

A Christmas Offering

I’ve spent a lot of time in church. Lots of churches. We were there Sunday morning, Sunday night and some Wednesday nights. My grandfather and brother were preachers. My uncle is still a preacher. Daddy was a church deacon and mom still teaches Sunday School. Lots of church, lots of memories, precious memories. 

I heard a country song this week, “God’s Country”, and Blake sings about thanking God for rain and grain and giving some back in the plate, cause it’s God’s country. The plate, the offering plate. I floated back to my memories of the plate. It was actually more like a bowl. I’ve seen a lot of offering plates cause I’ve been in a lot of churches. The plate, or bowl, wasn’t always the same. Sometimes it was wooden, sometimes gold-rimmed with a velvety, carpet circle in the middle. Sometimes you put your money in an envelop or just threw your cash and change in the plate. Some churches today have plastic buckets. I prefer the wooden bowl I think, Jesus was a carpenter after all.  My church has done away with the plate all together and has “giving stations”. My verdict is still out on that one. 

I was at a conference this year and author/speaker/singer Sheila Walsh gave the opening talk one night. She spoke of her home in Scotland and the sweet church she grew up in. The offering plate was being passed around one Sunday and it landed in the lap of the local drunk/misfit. She tells that instead of passing the plate to the next person, he strangely sat it on the ground. The pastor was confused and asked him to pass it on. He begged the pastor to wait for a minute and then actually placed both feet inside the plate. He stood, wobbily because his feet were large,and raised his arms, and began crying out to God, “Take me as an offering. Take me, all of me, all the broken parts, the drunk parts, the misfit parts, please God just take me as an offering.”

Wow, what a picture. That is what offering is meant to be. We sacrifice, we place money in the bucket because it costs us something. It cost this man much to offer himself in this way. It cost him his pride, his comfort, but he needed the plate. The offering plate was the catalyst for his healing. 

The way church went for me was you presented your best self on Sundays. Hair was curled, tights were white, dresses pressed and dad’s suit came out of the closet. You brought your best behavior, and smiled, and no one saw the broken parts of you. No one saw what this Scottish drunk so passionately gave to the Lord. In my church experience, your best self was offered. But what if this Scottish misfit was more right than what church told me? What if God wanted all our parts as an offering? 

Somehow, my understanding of church and my relationship with Jesus got confused and my offerings became more about what was acceptable, appealing and useful. But I am not sure that is why the Savior had to come. As I have aged and grown in my faith, my understanding is that Jesus came with grace and love to embrace what seems unofferable, unappealing, unacceptable- all our broken places.

I learned somehow to hide these parts of myself, to deny or shush them, but they have been screaming at me lately. Screaming to be noticed. As I attempt to keep them quiet, because I’ve learned to hate them, they just keep knocking. I condemn myself for even having them, because they seem unacceptable to me, to the religious part of me that learned to be presentable on Sunday morning despite what I had done on Friday night.

Over time, I somehow became afraid of these parts, the ones that are angry, undisciplined, unkind, overwhelmed, judgemental or doubtful. I believed that they could undo me and the reputation I worked so hard to establish. Instead of acknowledging them as needing love and redeeming, I rejected them and they just became angrier and louder. 

What if I quit trying to deny that the broken parts are there and acknowledge them, say “Hello, I see you” and then just put them in the plate? Well, wouldn’t that be brave? What if we even did this in front of others? Could what we put in the plate encourage others to be brave too? What if the Scottish misfit was just so right?

 I was reading the Christmas story again this year and a verse struck me. The angel Gabriel has come to Mary to give her a message. “God has decided to bless you.” he says. (Luke 1:31). Then Mary after asking some questions states, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever the Lord wants.” vs 36. 

Now that is an offering. She had to put it all in the plate. This would cost her greatly. Mary accepted this blessing from God, but with this blessing came much pain: The ridicule of being pregnant out of marriage, the scandal of Jesus’ ministry, and ultimately the murder of her own son. This was part of the blessing she was given and yet she offered her whole self, all the parts, the anxious, angry, doubtful, exhausted parts. Mary offered herself, “a lowly servant girl,” into the hands of her holy, Abba father: the only one who could take her tired, weary and human self and empower her for this hard, Holy blessing. What an offering she made, an amazing Christmas offering. Because of her offering, the healing of the world came. 

What if we did this, offered ourselves, every part, like the drunk Scot or the overwhelmed Mary? What if we just stepped in the plate, or laid on the alter, or just fell on our face this Christmas and offered it all. All the parts. What if we recognized that we needed the plate so desperately? What if we quit running from the fear of the parts that we think are unacceptable and just let the blood and the grace and the love of our risen Savior cover them? When we hide the ugly places, we put him in a box. We are saying that his sacrifice wasn’t enough to cover it all, assuming he only wants our best, dressed up self.

Jesus tells us in Mark 2:17 that he didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick, he didn’t come for the whole that need no physician, but for those who need healing, freedom and rescue from sin. 

I am not a whole. I am both. I am both scared and full of faith. I am both angry and kind. I am both selfish and giving. I am both redeemed and broken. Holy and hard can be friends.  I am not sure wholeness can happen here on this earth. I think I am made of parts and he is redeeming these parts when his timing is right. This is why he tells us creation is groaning along with us while we wait for the redemption for our bodies. (Rom. 8:23). We wait, we wait and we groan with all the parts, we wait and we groan and we step in the plate. With the offering, comes the healing.

This will be my Christmas offering, to stop running and hiding from my groaning, undesirable parts. I will show them the love and grace of the cross and place them in the healing, wooden plate.

Teenagers use to scare me…

Teenagers use to scare me, but now, I truly love them. Ages 15-18  are my favorite. I get to sit with them in my counseling office most days, and they have so much to teach me. I am amazed at what they have endured and overcome. They are the truly brave ones. 

If they have made it to my couch, then there is a guarantee something hard has happened. Many of them show up because they have asked for help. Some of them are forced by mom and dad. These kids, they are trying to understand so many adult things in their broken world and their developing brains and their bodies are trying to catch up. Many of them have been bullied,  most of them have had sexual encounters, a lot of them would say, “Parents just don’t understand.” I want to understand. I want to be the parent, the adult in the room, that understands. Don’t you? Don’t you want to be the safest place in the world for your teen? 

According to the American Psychological Association, teen stress levels were reported as higher than those of adults.  Teen depression, anxiety and suicide rates are at an all time high. They truly are bleeding hearts, and they are tugged in so many directions, emotionally, physically, spiritually. They have so many questions, ones they are afraid to ask out loud. They have so many fears and condemning thoughts. They don’t think they are enough, they struggle to find the wise decision, boundaries are tough, healthy coping skills are even tougher. They want to fit in, but stand out. They want to speak up but shrink back. Words and feelings are hard to say and identify. They are afraid what others will think so they stay silent. They internalize most things. They’re like the crock pot Jack forgot to turn off. They’re pain is brewing, just waiting to explode, injuring many. If only someone would listen, if only someone could see them, if only someone could understand. 

I get to do the easy part. I get to listen and love and send them home. Oh and I get paid. But sometimes they overwhelm me, sometimes their hurt is so deep, that I begin to hurt. I see some themes in the way I’m allowed to love them, I see themes in what we discuss, what we share. I watch as the guarded, shame covered postures in their bodies melt and they begin to lift their heads, relax on my couch and smile again. I watch some of the pain lift, not because of me, but because of safety. They have a safe place – to share the hard story, ask the impossible questions, speak the words they are afraid to say. I recognize these aren’t my children, and I don’t carry their burdens like their parents do. It will be much harder to be such a safe place for my own kids, but I want to be. I am working extra hard to be.

I thought I would share some of the themes I see in my office, some of the good words that are spoken. Maybe this list will help us all to be a little safer for these brave ,brave kids. Maybe this list will actually help us all be a little braver. 

  1. Pain can be a teacher. We all want to run from pain, to avoid the hard stuff, but there are lessons to learn. What if we leaned in instead of running away? What if we actually felt the pain instead of using something or someone to numb it?
  2. This season will end. It’s hard, especially as a teen, to realize there is life beyond high school. It’s hard, even for adults, to know life has seasons and seasons come and go. Winter does eventually turn into Spring. 
  3. Self worth can’t be stolen. Bullies and boyfriends do not determine your value. When people leave or are unkind, you are still valuable. Don’t give others so much power. 
  4. Envy will destroy you. It really rots the bones as scripture teaches. When we are envious, are eyes are only on ourselves and our lack. We miss all that we do have. Gratefulness and celebration cures a jealous heart. 
  5. Look outside your circle. The “tribe”, the circle can actually be dangerous, especially if it is an unhealthy one. Learn how to pick healthy friends but don’t let that tribe be the only voice in your life. Look for wise voices, regardless of their similarity to you. 
  6. Learn to be alone. There isn’t always safety in numbers. Really the safest place you can be is sitting alone before the Father. Learn to love yourself enough to not need the presence of others to define you or meet your needs.  
  7. It’s okay to say No, even to good things.  Guard your schedule and your heart. Rest is a requirement so make space for that. You weren’t meant to always pour out so make sure you are filled up. Boundaries are important. 
  8. Don’t stay hidden. Authenticity is a gift, even when life gets ugly. Hiding will make you lost. Broken and Beautiful are friends. 
  9. Eternity is now. Gain a perspective that reaches further than what is seen, further than today. This life is about more than you. Seek first the kingdom. 
  10. God can be trusted. Your feelings and thoughts can be liars. 

Let’s all be a little safer, a little braver…for ourselves, for our teens. They need us and we really need them.

Broken Hearts

“What breaks your heart?” Our pastor asks this many times when encouraging the congregation to change our part of the world. “What breaks your heart? Then go do that“ he suggests. He’s right. We all have a tender spot, a place that we feel called to, drawn to, a place where we are compelled to give a little extra time, pray a little harder, and invest ourselves. 

What breaks my heart? Well, I think it’s broken hearts. Broken hearts break my heart. As a counselor, I spend time with broken hearts several days a week. What compels me is helping my clients figure out what broke their hearts in the first place. Somewhere at some point, some thing, some person, some event broke their hearts and they haven’t been the same since. 

How is it that something from our past can cause us so much pain today? We can pick ourselves up and move on, but deep down there is something holding us back. I have been sitting with this for a while, feeling like something was just holding me back, keeping me from freedom. There are places I just haven’t been able to find victory in: That temper that rears it head, that envy that creeps in, the unholy thoughts that stick around, the greedy hand that stays closed. 

Broken people have broken hearts, and aren’t we all a little broken?  We try to mend or even soothe our broken hearts by sticking on bandaids: by budgeting or overspending, by exercise or overeating, by counseling or denial, by hustle or apathy. We focus on our thoughts, try to renew our minds but then, at least for me it seems, I can’t push through. Anyone else? I think we are missing it, I am missing it. I have been so distracted with trying to behave and think well, that I’ve been side swiped. I’ve missed the starting point for all change – my broken heart.  

I’ve been praying and praying to find freedom in some places, for some victory, for a renewed mind and then this verse lit up the page:  

1 John 3:20, “…even if our hearts condemn us…”

What? Our hearts can condemn us? I am really good at condemning myself, no need for help there, but that’s all in my head right? My mind and negative thought life? Or maybe it’s the devil? Well, scripture says my heart is doing this. 

To condemn means “to express complete disapproval of,  to sentence someone to death or punishment, to declare to be wrong, to express unfavorable judgement, to criticize strongly for moral reasons.”

Has your heart ever done this to you? Have you heard voices that say you are unacceptable, deserving of punishment, judged, wrong or the most condemning words, that you are not worth being here anymore? With full transparency, I confess that I have heard all of this. And the voices can be very loud. 

Our hearts are not all about love and good feelings and cupid. They are very powerful, emotional and physical organs. No wonder God warned us to guard our hearts, to “keep it with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

Life flows from it, or the absence of life. Death can actually flow from your heart. Many of my clients are wishing for death, mostly because of broken hearts. Disagree? 

Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it.”

Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

So what are we to do with these loud, accusatory hearts?  Where does the battle begin? John tells us. Even if our hearts condemn us, even if our hearts express complete disapproval of us, even if our hearts declare us wrong or unfavorable or morally unacceptable or deserving of death…even if…then what? Even if our hearts do all these things to us… 1 John 3:20 tells us we will be confident when we stand before God. Read the whole verse, it’s there! It says even if our hearts accuse and berate us, push us and condemn us, even if, we can be confident as we stand before the Lord. Why? 

“Because God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” Hallelujah. 

He is greater than our condemning hearts and we can trust him with them. He searches our hearts and creates clean hearts within us. I know sometimes it feels like He has broken our hearts. I can relate. When my dad died a most tragic death, it felt like God had broken my heart. He and I are still working through that one, but I’m choosing to trust him with my heart. Trust in the Lord…with what?  With all your heart…and then what?Lean not on your own understandings. Even when hurts don’t make sense, I can trust him with my broken heart. 

So, the question I want to ask you is “What did break your heart?” Was it a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a best friend? A husband or wife? Was it a mom or a dad or a brother or sister? Was it something you lost? 

Whatever it was, whatever hard thing broke your heart, if it’s left untended, it will inform your heart. 

The voices of our losses are loud. The voices of our losses can be louder than God’s. 

These voices linger way too long and impact the way we see ourselves, our world and others. These voices want to penetrate our hearts and guess what? Our hearts can condemn us. 

Matt 5:8 “For with the heart one believes.”

So what are we to do? All of us, walking around with broken hearts? Please remember what John tells us: God is greater than our hearts. Thank goodness. Let that one sink in to those broken heart places. He is greater than those sore spots. The spots no one sees, the spots we keep hidden. Or the spots that are oozing on everyone because we can’t keep the hurt underwraps anymore. He is greater than all that. 

He is the redeemer of our hearts. He promises to give us new hearts and new spirits, (Eze. 36:26). He makes trades all the time: ashes for beauty, mourning for joy, death for eternity and hearts of stone for hearts of flesh.

So let’s do the heart work. Let’s bring whatever it is that has broken us to the Creator of our hearts, to the one who knit us in our mother’s womb, who knows our inmost being. He’s the only one who can do it.

“For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” (1 John 3:20-24 MSG)

Bravery

“Write a good story.” I saw it on a sign at Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby with all the signs. I heard it one Sunday morning from the preacher, “Write a story you are proud to tell.” I told it to my client last night, “You are writing your story, how do you want it to read?” I want to write a good story, one that I’m proud of, one that counts.

I love words, maybe that’s why this mantra means something to me. But sometimes, it seems, our stories happen to us, they write us instead of us writing them. Sometimes our stories are hard and sad and don’t feel so good. But I am learning lately that hard and good can co-exist. Hard and Holy can be friends. 

God’s good words are a huge part of my story. They have informed how I see the hard things and the holy things. God’s words have shaped these last few years of my life in ways I never imagined. 

During a hard part of my story, I chose to begin spending more time in His word, soaking it up, consuming it. Some days his word felt like a feast, some days like a sword, some days like a balm, and others like a lie. Yes, God’s words sometimes felt like a lie. I knew his word said one thing, but my story and my feelings were telling me something else. Was I actually pondering, “Is God a liar?”

Have you ever felt that tension? We’ve been told all these years that God’s word is true but sometimes it’s just really hard to believe. Like it can’t quite make it from your head to your heart? That’s what I’ve been working out lately. Crazy, I’ve been following Jesus for over 30 years, and I am still wrestling with the truth of His good words.

It think it takes such bravery to step out, to just believe, even when you don’t feel it. I’ve been hanging out with Romans 8:15 for  about 6 weeks now. I just can’t move on, not until I believe it anyway. “So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family.”

How would my story be different if I had the bravery to believe this? What would it look like to “behave instead like God’s very own children”? The word, “instead” implies to do something different, do the opposite of “cowering, fearful slaves.” According to “wordhippo.com” the opposite of cowering is bold, daring, fearless, courageous, adventuresome, eager, BRAVE. What if we believed this verse and “behaved instead.”

Last year, one of my sons was in the pit of fear, cowering like a slave to it. It was debilitating, such a tough part of his sweet boy story. It felt very spiritual in nature and we just fought for him on our knees. That’s all we knew to do. One night during this hard season, I woke with good words just welling up inside me. I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I grabbed my computer and typed all these thoughts and prayers down, just begging God for my boy to find bravery in the midst of crippling fear.

We did push through the fear, he did overcome, but the process was one of learning to believe God for who He is, that what He says is true, that He is not a liar. These prayers have become my first children’s book, Brave Boy. This book is my heart’s cry for my son, for all our sons to know who they are in Christ, to know God can be trusted, to know He is not a liar and that our boys are called to change this earth for the Kingdom because they are truly meant to be BRAVE, they are meant to “behave instead “.

We could all use a little more bravery in our lives. We could all sit with God’s good words a little longer, wrestle with them, beg for them to seep into our souls and bones until we live like they are true. How would the world change if we all just believed what He says is really true?

Romans 3:4 “Though everyone else in the world is a liar, God is true.”

 

 

 

Multiplication

It’s that time of year. You know, the temps are dropping, the leaves are falling, pumpkin decorations are lining the shelves…it’s fall! My favorite! It has been a busy start to September with work and three kids in fall sports. In the midst of my busy, I signed up to bring a meal to a sick friend this week. As I looked at my calendar, I realized I had no time to cook thanks to our baseball schedule. However, I wanted to bring at least one thing homemade to her, so I wouldn’t be a total friend failure. I decided on my pumpkin bread. It’s quick and easy to make, I had all the ingredients and everyone loves it. Done.

I got out all my supplies and reached for the recipe box (yes, I still have a recipe box). As I pulled out the recipe page, I remembered, this wasn’t my pumpkin bread at all. Clearly written across the top of the 8×11 page, in my friend’s penmanship, was “Amy’s Pumpkin Bread.” This was Amy’s pumpkin bread recipe. Amy, my neighbor from my old hood. Amy, who lived across the street and loved me so well for 11 years. Amy, who taught me how to be a good neighbor in my first real neighborhood. Amy, who brought me pumpkin bread every year when the weather got cooler. Amy, who gave gifts and meals when all the babies came. Amy, my neighbor.

I got a little emotional for some reason looking at the recipe page. I remembered. I remembered all the years of eating Amy’s amazing pumpkin bread and looking forward to it arriving in its pretty package with a note on top. I finally asked her for the recipe and she wrote it down in her cursive handwriting. It sits in my 20 year old recipe box, pulled out every year about this time. The boys always start asking for her bread when the weather cools down. They know it’s pumpkin time, and Amy’s bread has become a part of our fall traditions. 

This recipe page has yellowed and is covered in oil and pumpkin stains and looking at it today just hit me. As I was making pumpkin bread for my sick friend, I realized something. Amy’s generosity and kindness has multiplied. I have made countless loaves of pumpkin bread. The recipe makes 3 loaves, so we always make some to eat and some to share. Every time we make it we share. My mom has the recipe and she shares too. That’s multiplication. My kids are watching the sharing.  They were watching 2 weeks ago when we made some for us and shared 2 loaves with neighbors who are in a rough spot. The boys will come home today and enjoy some bread and know the other loaves are being given away. They are seeing the multiplication. Maybe there is a lesson there for them. That’s a Kingdom lesson you know, multiplication. 

I wonder did Amy make the recipe so large so she could share? So she could multiply? I bet she did. That seems like the Amy I know. But did Amy know that she was planting a little bit of the Kingdom in my heart as a young wife and a young mother just by bringing by bread? Just by loving on me and my babies? Just by being there to listen and be my good neighbor? My friend at Faith, Hope, Love and Therapy always says “Go love your neighbor.” Now, those are some good words, Go love your neighbor. Those are kingdom words. Jesus told us to do that, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and boy, don’t we love to love on ourselves!

Loving our neighbors equals multiplication and multiplication equals a growing Kingdom. Jesus was always loving neighbors and multiplying loaves for those in need. 

I’ve benefited from watching folks work out multiplication over the years. They didn’t even realize it, but they were growing the Kingdom just by loving their neighbors. I watched my dad loan his tools out and make sure his garage was open on Saturdays for anyone that needed a repair. I watched my mom serve tirelessly as she worked full time but made sure the house was open and food was cooked for Bible studies or church meetings. I watched my grandmothers bake for and serve the sick and the needy. This is the easy part. Loving others is the easy way to bring heaven to earth, to grow the kingdom of God, to multiply His goodness.

He said others would know we belong to Him by the way we love, so…just go love your neighbors, those in your circle, those who you hear about that have a need: the friend at work, the kids down the street, the new mom at church, the tired family that just moved in, the teacher that’s overwhelmed. We all have something to offer, whether it’s time or money or just an ear to listen. Go and love your neighbor, go and multiply the kingdom, just go…you never know who’s watching or listening…you never know how God will use the gifts you have to change someone. 

Here is Amy’s Pumpkin Bread recipe. Now you really don’t have an excuse! Remember, it makes 3 loaves, some to eat, some to share. I don’t think she will care that I am offering it up. I think this was her heart the whole time…to love others…to multiply the good things God had given her. 

Amy’s Pumpkin Bread

3.5 cups Flour

3    cups Sugar

1    cup Water

1    cup Oil

2    tsp. Baking soda

½   tsp. Baking powder

3    tbsp. Pumpkin pie spice

1    tbsp. Cinnamon

1    tbsp. Vanilla

1.5  tsp. Salt

4     Eggs

1     Large can of pumpkin

Mix all ingredients together. Options – sprinkle top with mini chocolate chips or chopped walnuts. Spray 3 loaf pans and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1.5 hours. Insert knife to ensure center is cooked. After removing from pans, rub with butter.