Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Power of Words

I am learning to really value the power of words. It may sound hokie, but I really believe the words we speak about ourselves either strengthen the Spirit's work, or quench it. God created the world by speaking it into being...and I believe He highly values words because He knows the power of words.
In the New Testament, the majority of Jesus' miracles take place because He speaks healing to a person, or deliverance. He doesn't get on the ground and wrestle demons out, massage sicknesses from a person's body, or do a dance to raise someone from the dead. He uses His words. I think this is also why God puts so much emphasis on calling Satan the father of lies. The devil speaks lies to us, and his words have the power to enslave us if we're not listening for the Good Shepherd's voice, and dwelling on His word, and words about us and who we are. If I've not convinced you that words are powerful, go read for yourself, and if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.
Over the past few months I keep finding so many verses that emphasize the power of the spoken word.
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit" proverbs 18:21

"if any of you love life and desire to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies." psalm 34:13

"If anyone does not stumble in what he SAYS, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity, the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets fire on the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell." James 3: 2,6

And so I've been praying about and trying to apply this lesson in large and small instances in my every day life.

Exhibit A: When Chad asks me if I want a Dairy Queen Blizzard, instead of just saying yes, I've been trying to say, "Actually Chad, I am not really a sweets kind of person. Sugar and desserts just aren't for me. I actually don't enjoy blizzards." Inside, my innerself is gawking at me in disbelief. She's reminding me that I drink sugar in the morning, with a few scoops of coffee...but I keep trying to talk myself out of my sweet tooth. Okay so maybe this isn't the best example, as I have yet to really break myself of a sweet tooth.

A better example is trying to speak against insecurity. Chad and I spent the better part of our engagement collecting marital counsel from every godly couple who was willing to share with us. Some of these couples listened to me cry my eyes out about a bunch of lies I had believed about marraige, about Chad, about myself. One man in particular began to always address me by saying, "Charis, because you are insecure..." and he would go on from there. A few months into marriage we were still hanging out with this couple a lot, and he would continually tell me how insecure I was. One night, on our way home from their house, I was feeling really bothered by it. And I felt like in my heart the Lord just said, "You're bothered because he is not speaking the truth about who you are." Jesus did not die so that I could waver back and forth between insecurity and security. I turned to Chad and announced, "I am not insecure." He was suprised, and laughed a little bit, and then agreed with me. I started to really take care to not call myself insecure, even if I felt a little insecure every now and then...because in reality, insecurity is not who I am. Its probably been a little bit over nine months, and I can't tell you the last time I spent even an hour wasting my time over insecure thoughts. Praise God.

This whole emphasis on the power of words has really been taking a toll on my wit, sadly. I can't be as self-degrading as I would normally. I can't call myself lazy, untalented, unathletic, flakey, a terrible friend...etc. I actually have to really watch my tongue. And guard my mind. But what I've noticed is that I really feel better most days. When the laundry has piled up around the house and I am sitting with Eden on the floor thinking about how little motivation I have to actually work, I say out loud "I am made to be productive, and I am not a lethargic human. I love to work hard and be diligent." And the funny thing is, no lightening strikes me. In fact, I feel more motivated. Maybe its because my words become little cheerleaders, rather than little doom-bringers. (And I probably sound insane to anyone who happens to be listening to me, but if anyone is listening to me talk to myself while I am inside my own home, they probably are a little cooky too)

Taking my words captive has even helped me in relationships: A few months ago there was a situation in my life that was so difficult for me, that even the mention of someone's name brought up so much emotion in my heart that I had to literally stop talking about it. I began to just tell the Lord when I was bothered, and I started trying to speak life back into my heart towards this person. I started saying how much I enjoyed this person, how much I valued them, how I wanted to love them. And in just a few months, I began to realize I really did love them. My heart had changed. My words had paved a way for my emotions to follow. My dad always told me when I was younger that God's word at work in our mind should be the head of our train, and our emotions should be the caboose. We don't follow our feelings, we follow the reality of God's words and basically turn our back on emotions until they line up with what God says about us and towards us. Its amazing how effective positive words are.

Someone once suggested that the enemy can't read minds, but he can hear our words. If that's the case, I am going to walk around telling him exactly who I want to be in the Lord. Shouldn't we all? Speak a little bit of life back into our lives.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"How would you treat someone who has lied to you as many times as your fears have?"

I spent this afternoon attempting to breathe life back into the limp branches and flattened needles of our fake Christmas tree. Half way through arranging Chad's childhood ornaments (most of them some sort of candy icon) I remembered my experience putting up this same tree last year, albeit it was less limpid and neglected at the time. I was alone in our house, a week before Thanksgiving, watching Father of the Bride 2 on TV and blubbering like a lunatic. When Chad got home and found me, most likely mascara-streaked and covered in fake pine needles (the genius of having a fake tree is that it mimics a real pine's uncanny ability to lose as many needles as possible in the shortest amount of time). I told him I was just really touched by the movie. A week and three pregnancy tests later, I was a crumpled mess on our bathroom floor...so much for movies touching my heart.

The Sunday we found out we were pregnant, a man got on stage at the church we were going to and said he felt like he had a word of encouragement for someone in the congregation. "There is a door that is opening in some one's life, and it is going to be ushering in a whole new season and circumstance in that person's life. And this person is going to feel like it cannot be of God, and will be tempted to believe God is not in the situation. The truth, however, is that God is right behind the door, and this new circumstance is part of His perfect plan for your life." With those words, the man sat down. And literally I heard in my heart, "You are pregnant". I rebuked the voice, went on listening to our pastor, and spent the rest of the day unsuccessfully trying to repress this strange sense in my heart that perhaps that word was for me. At about eight that night, I asked Chad if we could go get a pregnancy test...you know, just for fun. He indulged me, rolling his eyes the whole time. I didn't mention the feeling I had in church, or the strange urgency I felt to see if I had heard correctly. The minute I saw those little blue lines appear, I slumped to the floor, and felt a huge weight of fear fall onto my heart. What would happen to Chad and I? Where would my youth go? How was I supposed to be someone else's mom when only a few years ago I was sobbing about going to college on my mom's bed, begging her to read me Green Eggs and Ham just once more?

The minute all of those memories flashed into my mind today, I turned around to see Chad carrying my little brown-eyed nugget down from her afternoon nap, and she was staring right at me like she knew what I'd been remembering. That tiny little bundle of life and joy is last year's greatest fear, incarnate. I almost laughed out loud.

Of course, a few days after taking those pregnancy tests, the Lord basically told me that whatever I had fear about, I had permission to believe the opposite would be true regarding having a baby. So I spent the next nine months believing the this baby would bring joy, intimacy, peace, youth, and new life into our home. Eden is all of those things and more. The day she was born, after the tests were performed, the nurses had checked in for the last time, and the family had gotten their fill, Chad and I were finally alone in the hospital room just looking at Eden. Out of nowhere, Chad said, "God knew something we didn't. I wonder how many other good things God has for us that we're just too afraid to say yes too."

What is ironic about the timing of all of these memories, and the haphazard way Chad and I decided to just put the darn tree up today rather than when we get back from Texas, is that I was sitting in church today and felt the Lord start to address the things I am afraid of now.

Lately I have been realizing how much of my life I live in reaction to things I am afraid of, rather than in response to God. I have an audience in my mind that I consult (in my imagination only) about nearly every decision in my life. (if I'm alone in this, I may or may not be outing myself as insane) They are a particularly dreary bunch, full of criticism, cynicism, and bitterness. They represent all of the people who I assume are judging my life. And with their rather vocal opinions on my every decision, they keep me walking a very fine line. At the end of the sermon today I felt like the Lord asked me to just hang up the proverbial phone on them. I gasped and grimaced and second-guessed. I feel badly, really I do. I am ditching some of the finest critics in the world by doing this, but I guess the Lord knows better than I do. With that said, I am going to be keep this blog updated more frequently. (The voices in my head are shaking their heads, raising their eyebrows, sighing those deeply disappointed sighs.)

Nearly every day, I feel like writing about something the Lord has laid on my heart or convicted me of, some sin area I have just realized is in my life, but the audience in my head reminds that most people might assume that I'm writing because I'm pretty impressed with myself, or that I'm pretty super-spiritual and arrogant, and that I think everyone wants to read my blog, or that I'm really a shabby writer and nobody has time to entertain thoughts from a person who spends her days entertaining a three-month-old. And in fear of seeming this way to people, I usually just let those urges to write slip by.

But for some reason today I thought about the people I love in my life, and how much I want them to walk out into their callings, not matter what they are. I want Jackie Blankenship to decorate and be crafty as much as possible, and dance her heart out on stage because it blesses me all the way to my toes. I want Meredith Smith to make as many friends as possible, and be the sweetheart of every fraternity because she is so good at making people feel at home. I want Alissa Mazzenga to keep painting, because every time I see something she's done, I want to pass on to Heaven and Glory. I want Shaylee Simeone to keep singing, because there is something about the liquid clarity of her gift that makes me want to die. I want Jess Graham to keep taking pictures because she manages to photograph the life in a moment. I want Morgan Pilcher to keep travelling and loving every minute of a new life, because I somehow vicariously go with her. I think you get the idea. Everyone brings something to the table, and some people bring a lot more than others. I am not sure if writing is what I bring, but I do know that stuff gets put on my heart and when I don't share it I feel like I am word-constipated...(lovely Charis, just lovely). I feel like I have to get it out somehow.

And so, instead of being afraid of myself, of how I might seem, of how others might hate it, I just want to let you know that I will be trying to be obedient to overcome those fears, and just write when it comes upon me. And whatever you do, just go do it. Don't sit in fear, wringing your hands over every one's opinions and worrying about your own self-concept. So what if there are nineteen million people in photography already? Be the number nineteen million and one. Even if you're not the best, just offer it up anyway. And God isn't the voice in your head. He never asked you to be the best, He just wants you to use what you've got to whatever capacity He asks. Fear never keeps you safe. It keeps you stuck.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the waters, and Your footprints may not be known."

I had a friend once tell me that when God is doing one thing, He is doing ten thousand things. There are sometimes in my life where I feel like I can't discern the activity of God in my heart, but I know He is working. If I've agreed to let His Spirit inhabit me, than I can rest assured He never rests. He is working on me every day, every minute, because His delight is in finishing the good work He started. But sometimes the theme of a certain season in my life isn't really clear until I'm out of the season. It's like a murky pool of thoughts and verses and words that are carving out a greater space for God in me, and I'm not really sure how to label what He is doing. Maybe part of that is due to my own inability to sit still and ask Him, but sometimes I think He loves gigantic surprises, and once a season ends, He likes to map out for me exactly what was going on while I was unaware.

Other times, though, its almost like God announces to me before a season even begins that we're going to be learning a very specific lesson. (Before I go making myself sound like a perfect prophet, let me clarify: walking with God for me is sometimes like driving through an area where a radio station is coming in and out...the impressions on my heart, random recurring thoughts in my head, someone else's words are all ways that I believe God speaks, and sometimes I think He spoke something and I am way off...the beauty of grace. But other times, the most encouraging of times, I grab hold of an impression and circumstances prove that I did in fact "hear" right.) A few months ago, while listening to a sermon, the words "renewed mind" fell like a ton of bricks onto my heart. And suddenly everyone around me was talking about, debating about, looking for the definition of a renewed mind.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you my prove what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:10

"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16

"For the mind set according to the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:6

These are just a few of those familiar verses, ones my mom used to make me memorize in song-like cadences, that over the past few weeks have been circulating over and over in my head. But what is the mind of Christ? What is the renewed mind? Why, if I have the mind of Christ, do I not always experience life and peace? And those are some of the questions I had over the past few weeks.

I was standing in my closet the other day, contemplating some of my own shortcomings, and I heard the voices of people I love telling me, "Charis, don't believe those lies." As much as I appreciate the people who want me to walk in security and peace, I've always been frustrated by that answer to my own insecurities because sometimes the things that I am thinking aren't necessarily lies.

Exhibit a: When I talk about how I don't have Charlize Theron's legs, I can't really rebuke that thought as a lie, because its true. I actually don't have mile long legs.

So I'm standing in my closet, realizing this root to all of my frustration, and about to throw in the towel on trying to renew my mind when all the sudden the Lord sets this thought in my mind: "It's not whether or not the thought is true or false, Charis, its just that the thought isn't worthy of your attention."

Ok, wow. Why does a thought have to be worthy of my attention in order for me to dwell on it? Because I have the mind of Christ. And His mind is pretty stinking special. It's pretty controversial. It's pretty supernatural. And it's a mind that is holy-- set apart--kingly. He's given me the ability to have His mind, and whatever isn't worthy of His attention isn't worthy of mine. He is calling me up to His level, not asking to sit in the corner while I pour over facebook, magazines or celebrities' pictures, feeling worse and worse about my God-given body, ability, etc. To think that I subject the Holy Spirit to such ridiculous things kind of makes me want to gag. Certainly, He has better things to do.

A few days later I was sitting in our computer room, sipping hot chocolate, watching Eden stretch and coo on her special little mat, and I started contemplating life and the different people in it. All of the sudden I started having jealous thoughts. And the Holy Spirit was waving His arms in my head saying: "Please say goodbye to this thought." But I kept it circulating, and I even justified it: "It's natural for me to feel jealous of this [insert jealous thought here]." And with that, I turned around, and started my quiet time. At the very end of it, I decided to do the random open-up-the-Bible-to-see-if-God-is-speaking act, and the Bible fell to James 3. "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic."

I nearly fell out of my chair. What is natural for the human heart is to rage against the things of God, and jealousy is just one of those oh so beautiful attributes that I find most becoming when I'm indulging my flesh. But in that moment I paired natural with the words demonic, and I shuddered. And asked God to forgive me. He began to iterate to me how obsolete the idea of a neutral thought is. There is no middle ground, no "no-man's land"...if a thought isn't for God, it's against Him. Over and over again during these past weeks, the Lord has been helping me to stop before I indulge in what I think is "natural". When it comes to drawing a line in the sand, I will not ever be caught on the wrong side of Life. He has been too good to me for me to get lazy.

We're not even halfway done, I have a feeling. I think this is a life-long season, and having a renewed mind is a full-time job. I can't afford to be lackadaisical about it. Its amazing how the more I clear out of my head that isn't of God, the more open space He has to fill with things that are of God. And the best news is, God doesn't hold grudges. So if one day I'm really bad at renewing my mind, we're still on speaking terms the next morning, and He is just as willing, wanting, that I might have the mind of Christ.
"...you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." Ephesians 4:22-24

Friday, August 27, 2010

August 6th: The day my heart was ruined.

Our house looked completely ready. Crib decorated, two strollers by the front door, car seats installed in our cars, bibs in the bottom drawer of our kitchen cabinets next to the oven. Binkies, nooks, pacifiers, whatever else they may be called neatly stacked on the counter near the fridge. Tiny little pink clothes were hung in her closet, and piles of precious little onesies were tucked safely into her drawers. For my last-minute, procrastinating self, I had done a very decent job of preparing everything I possibly could for Eden's arrival. The only thing I hadn't known how to prepare was my heart. "Everything will be different," I'd tell Chad. He'd nod, and grin and act like he couldn't imagine anything negative could come out of her birth. I had no idea what I was talking about. Now that everything IS different, you couldn't pay me enough to go back to when she wasn't around. My heart literally exploded the minute I saw her for the first time, and I think all the tiny pieces of it are still littered all over the hopsital room floor. I couldn't pick it up and repair it even if I wanted to.

It was a little bit before one in the morning on Thursday, August 5th. I woke up, thinking I had to go to the bathroom for the gazillionth time, something that I'd gotten quite used to in pregnancy, and realized I was awake for another reason entirely. Contractions. I laid back in bed and stared at the ceiling, "Do not get excited Charis." I had all of the stories I'd heard about false alarms running through my mind. For the next six hours I drifted in and out of consciousness, and all the while I was aware that something was going on inside of my body and it wasn't quitting. When Chad woke up and I told him I thought I might be contracting regularly, he pulled out a piece of paper and pen. We spent the next hour tracking them...every 12, every eight, every seven minutes. Chad leaned over to kiss me before he left for work at seven, and he suddenly was beside himself. It took a few minutes for me to rally him back to reality, and we decided he'd go to work and I'd keep him posted. Once he pulled out of the garage, I gave into my own nerves. I made a phone call to my mom (notoriously not the most calm person in the world- and in this particular situation, she was sure not to dissapoint).

Two hours later, Chad and I were driving to the hospital. Naturally, I hadn't packed a bag in advance, (spurning the advice of every midwife, OB, and mother I ever met) and so I spent the half hour before running around the house throwing random paraphanelia into backpacks.

After telling the doc my symptoms, she told us we'd check into labor and delivery and spend the next few hours walking. And so we walked. And walked. And walked. Around a tiny little labor and delivery area that got smaller with every lap we made. By the end of it, I'd officially dislocated my right hip, broken a a small but necessary bone in my left foot, and decided labor was not for me. Chad, meanwhile, had gotten to eat a Jimmy Johns, visit with a friend, and read as much ESPN off of his phone as he wanted. This was just the beginning of the day.

Finally, at six in the evening, after not eating all day and only drinking elf-size portions of apple juice, the doctor gave us the option of going home to labor or staying in a therapeutic rest suite, where I'd be given copious amounts of morphine and hopefully sleep the contractions away until active labor started. I insisted we leave. We ate at McAlisters, naturally, and then went home, where we (ironically) walked three more miles around the neighborhood. This time I was stopping every two or three minutes, insisting Chad "breathe with me". At 11 that night, Chad fell asleep. I watched him for a few hours, and continued to breathe and sleep between contractions if I could. I couldn't. So finally at three in the morning, I left the bed, and started walking around our living room. Over and over and over again. I think I burned holes into our carpet. I read verses to myself, I tried to prophesy painlessness over my womb-- and nothing seemed to work. Finally Chad woke up an hour later, and we made the final call to the hopsital.

At this point, I couldn't walk through contractions, and I decided the whole idea that epidurals save the day seemed ludicrous- here I was nearly 24 hours into labor and still no epidural. Who wants to go through any part of the labor process? I started reciting all of my bitter thoughts toward anyone who thinks going natural is better. I was daydreaming about the little epidural fairy. And all the while, Chad is gloating. Beaming. So excited to see his daughter. It was all I could do not to injure him.

At seven we were admitted into labor and delivery, I was four centimeters dialated, my parents were in Missouri, and Chad was bouncing off the walls. At one point I told him he was worthless. He just kept videotaping and alerting me how much bigger my contractions were getting. Thank you captian obvious.

As soon as we were in a room, and an iv had been stabbed into my wrist, (savage little I.V.) I asked about the epidural. And in he walked. The man with the goods. It was the kind of moment that ought to have been accompanied by the hallelujah chorus or something. And within minutes, life lightened.

Mom and Dad showed up around 12, and four hours later, the nurses laid this little bundle of warmth and dark, Lebanese hair on my chest. And Chad and I both just stared at her. Little nose, little eyes, little everything. And she is ours. This is Eden.