Friday, May 30, 2014

Trust The Promise

"Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him." Proverbs 30:5

I just finished a book by Brennan Manning called Ruthless Trust. As with all of his books, I was moved and frustrated with myself and hopeful and eager by the end. The journey of life with Jesus is all about trust, at least for me and Brennan. I'm so glad he understands it too.

I read just yesterday how easily Jesus' disciples deserted him in the garden when the soldiers came to arrest him. Matthew gives them no flattering moment of indecision, he just lays it out there: "Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled." (Matthew 26:56)

One minute I think I've eradicated fear from my life, and the next I realize how easily I succumb to its miserly lies. I fail just as many times as I successfully rest in Him, but my heart is growing more and more desperate. Every time I choose to walk in fear, I hate it even more. The self-protection that used to comfort me now only smells like betrayal of Jesus to me, and I guess that's a step forward. A small, seemingly insignificant transition.

I read this verse this morning and loved it. "Every word of God is pure." In my Bible, it explained that the word pure could also mean "refined, tested, found to be pure". In the commentary, it explains the word actually means to refine by fire, as a precious metal. Every word of God has been put through the fire.

Isn't that an encouraging thought? When I am at a precipice, so close to the edge where only fear and depression rage like seas beneath, and the only hope is a ragged looking promise from God's word that I pray can bear my weight- I can take comfort knowing that this particular promise has been tested by those who went before me. The words have proven able to carry the forerunners of our faith, and what appears only a few words on a page is actually the very lifeline that others have clung to and found able to carry them out to a resting place. And we know that resting place on the other side of faith is a glorious place, according to Isaiah 11:10.

I've had conversations with a few friends recently who confess that they are afraid to lean their whole heart on God. Total surrender, in their minds, is equated with painful trials and loss and grief. It's such a slippery place, that moment before we choose to give it all to Jesus again. The enemy comes in trying to convince us that God is capricious, cannot be trusted, and has some sort of sick need to snatch away our happiness like the character Gru on Despicable Me, who makes a kid a balloon dog just to pop it in the end. Our minds start racing, asking over and over, "What will this moment cost me?"

If only we had a correct view of Jesus, we'd happily just throw everything at His feet for the joy of Him. Of His love, of His face. I love how Graham Cooke says, "He's the happiest person I know." Little children flocked to Him, prostitutes and sinners and the most hopeless of men felt pulled to His side because of the magnetic hope that emanated from His very heart. There is no shifting shadow in Him, He doesn't bait and switch. He IS True. His name in Revelation 19:11 is Faithful and True.

I had a moment this week in Psalm 84, reading one of my favorite verses about how a swallow and a sparrow find a nest for her young near God's altars, and it hit me suddenly that God's Old Testament altar was a holy place, one only priests could be near, and yet little sparrows and birds, skittish under normal circumstance in anyone else's presence, found His presence to be so restful and life-giving that they built their homes there, and He allowed them to. He is a good, generous Father. If they can build a home in Him, certainly so we can we, for " you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows!" Matthew 10:31

I love Heidi Baker. A few months ago Bethel released a documentary about her and her ministry to the orphans of Mozambique, "Compelled by Love". I watched it one morning with tears literally streaming down my cheeks as she continually talked about what a joy it was and is to give everything she has and owns to Jesus, and she knows that when she arrives in Heaven, she'll wish she had more to give, because He is so worthy. And yet she doesn't look pinched and uncomfortable, she looks radiant. She looks full, she looks ALIVE. "Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces will NEVER be covered in shame." We will not be ashamed when we make the decision to cash it all in on Jesus.

When we reach our end, and the chasm of emptiness stretches before us, where only a promise from God's word about His character can offer us a way across to the other side, we can trust it. That bridge has borne many a faithful soul before. And we do not want to miss out on being among them, on the other side. Some else's fire has tested that promise before. It will not fail us. He cannot fail us.

"Therefore since we are surrounded by SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us RUN with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Exchange

So for a few months now I've been writing with word limits on other blogs. I'm just going to admit it: today I didn't put a word limit on myself (nor did I attempt to really be linear in my thinking here). Tada. 1300 words straight from my heart to yours. You're welcome. 

One of my dearest friends texted me today to tell me she is doing much better, in general, than she was a month ago. I told her it's hard to do poorly when the weather is such a gift. And I mean that. For me, when spring finally starts to beat back the icy hands of winter something in my heart sighs in great relief: I made it through another one.
The older I get, the more plainly I see spiritual truths woven into the fabric of our daily, physical lives. Last July, I felt the Lord close a door on a winter season of my life, and I could barely believe it when He promised me, "I have loosed your sackcloth and girded you with gladness" (psalm 30:11). I can remember the way the chalk felt in my hand as I wrote that verse out on our driveway the day He said it, and I felt hope bubbling up. 
As I was sweeping our kitchen today I felt the familiar pull to fear, that temptation to fear what trial is lurking around the corner. And I had to confess it to Jesus, just like 2 Corinthians 10 says, taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ and being ready to punish any disobedient thought. But when I get to the heart of that fear, I'm not as afraid of the trial as I am afraid of my soul's inability to muster up courage to hope again in the MIDST of the trial. I am not so scared of what it is that may come, as I am scared that I'm not as resilient as I think. And to put it simply, I am afraid that as I grow older, I will let life squeeze all of the childlike wonder and hope out of my heart. 
I've seen it happen over and over again to women, and I've watched how time wears on the shores of our hope until we are depleted of it. And we end up these bitter, old women who assume that God has nothing good to give, so we keep our hands tucked into our pockets, criticizing anyone who walks unhindered and unafraid. We call our reticence so trust "wisdom", and our reluctance to try anything new "experience". But what if I resolved, at age 26, to say once and for all: everyone I love will eventually hurt me and fail me at some level. And on the flipside, everyone I love, I will disappoint and fail. What if I just lived with abandon, and knew that at some level, the peaceful homeostatic phase of life will ebb and flow, but that there is always a reserve of joy for me?
I read today about a little 3 year old boy who died. I don't know his parents, and I don't know his story. But it was enough to unearth me. What would I do? My baby girl I just tucked into bed, the one I pray gets a long life and many good days (Psalm 34). Because we live in a fallen world, we experience the ache of it. If all creation is groaning and longing for the sons of God to be revealed, we surely get our share of groaning and longing as well. There are gross tragedies. They exist. I cannot ignore them, and I do not want to, because there is no merit in singing songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20). 
As I was working through that moment, and literally had tears running down my cheeks, I turned on a song by Bethel called "Wonder", and it talked about never losing the childlike wonder of looking at the face of Jesus. And I saw that little boy scooped up in the arms of Jesus, and I realized that it's we who remain who struggle to maintain our wonder. His will never be thwarted again. But we must fight to retain joy. 
I read Nehemiah today, just the first few chapters. Nehemiah's heart is breaking over his city, Jerusalem, because it literally lies in ruins. The walls are broken down and burnt, and the temple is destroyed. And he asks God for favor with a king, and gets it. He returns to Jerusalem, surveys the state of its brokenness and resolves to build it again.
It's a hard thing to honestly look at the rubble life leaves. It's painful. It's not an easy task. But for Nehemiah, he had to know how broken it was so he could decide how to rebuild. And it took time. It took many hands and laborers, and they received so much opposition. At one point, their enemies ask, "Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble- burned as they are?" (Nehemiah 4:2)
Some seasons burn up the fruitfulness we thought we had, and scorch our most precious possessions. We feel bereft and empty. Naked and exposed and broken down. 
As they begin the slow work of rebuiling, Nehemiah has families stationed together to fight and oppose the ones who would hinder their work. For some reason, this makes me think of my job as a mom. It's my job to stand in the gap for my family and fight for joy. If I grow up and let life squash all the life out of me, it would be a sorry scene for my children to witness.
It's easy to be carefree when you have no cares. But as life stretches on, the voices of cares get louder and louder. How will we pay for this? What will you do if you get sick? What will you do if your husband gets sick? Who will be your friends? What if your children rebel? 
But I want to be less burdened as life goes on. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like little children because the little children don't concern themselves with matters too great and too lofty for them. It's a lie to think I can shoulder half of the anxieties the world tells me to carry. I love in Matthew how Jesus asks, "Which of you by worrying can add even a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27)
When Jesus rebukes Martha about her frustration with Mary He says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about many things. But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part and it will not be taken from her." Mary wasn't doing anything except sitting at Jesus' feet, listening. What if the more life screams at me to pay attention to its demands, I just sat at Jesus' feet? Listening. Hearing. Receiving back the courage the world wants to leach from my heart. Pouring out my love on Him, telling Him He is worthier than my fears. One of my favorite Grace Livingston Hill quotes says, "Better hath He been for years than all thy fears." 
Some of my favorite Old Testament stories are the ones where God has the people worship before a major battle, and how that worship either breaks down insurmountable walls of Jericho or scatters the enemy like in 2 Chronicles 20. Or the story about Paul and Silas worshiping in prison, and suddenly God causes a giant earthquake to shake the prison, open the doors, and shatter everyone's chains. There is something powerful in the weapon of worship. After Nehemiah begins to rebuild the wall and sets up families to fight, he says this incredible line: "Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water." Nehemiah 4:23 
He stayed in a constant attitude of readiness. Ready for attack, in season and out of season just like Paul charges Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2. And as I was being tempted today to anticipate what the next trial might be, I think the Lord's answer to my heart was that if I would keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, and keep my heart in a place of openness towards Him, I'd be ready. The store of courage, the vat of hope would never run dry, "even in darkness light dawns for the upright." psalm 112:4
Until we get to Heaven, our lives are a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. We experience both. But the invitation is to have the Holy Spirit, the one who has been summoned to our side and to our aid, walk beside us, guiding us into all Truth, giving us comfort, granting us wisdom, steadily pumping joy back into our limpid hearts. As one of my favorite friends Nancy says, we are constantly given the option to make an exchange with the Holy Spirit: our crusty, dry faith for His fresh hope, our depleted strength for His fresh anointing, our short-sighted eyes for His clarity and focus. Holy Spirit, I choose whatever You have in Your hand for me today. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writing Elsewhere

So I've not written in a long time, but that's not because I haven't actually been writing on occasion.

One of my friends from church owns a blog that I've written for once a week and I thought I'd link up the articles here just in case any of you wanted an occasional one thought to think about. I write every Friday, and in the next few weeks I'll start at another blog writing twice a week, and I'll post that link too.
The best news is, I have a word limit on these blogs. Which is helpful. So it won't take an hour to make it through a single post. I rarely can keep within the confines of the word limit, but I keep telling myself "the lines to me have fallen in pleasant places" in hopes that one day, 500 words will be sufficient.

With this meager income, I can now afford to pay my own gym membership, or buy a scarf and a shirt every month, or own a dog. For me, its an accomplishment.

Anyway, just wanted to put this link on here in case anyone is interested- you can copy and paste it to your browser if its not working or click it if that works!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Fight for Peace

I was debating yesterday whether or not the window for sending New Year's cards has passed. I still can't decide. But I am grateful its a new year. Ever since I had Eden I feel like years get all muddled together, and I can't ever figure out when I did certain things. I have to measure it by what stage Eden or Cade was at- and time seems to have suddenly grown wings. But I love getting to a new year. I have heard more debate this year on resolutions than ever before, and all these intelligent intellectual people writing them off. That's fine. I get it. Most of them never get kept. I'm less into resolutions too, the older I get, and more into waiting on God for what He might speak about this new year.

What's waiting on God? For me, its sloppy. Sometimes I get real superstitious about it and think if I do certain things God's voice will be easier to hear. Sometimes I stick straight to just seeing if He will speak through a verse in the Bible, rather than listening for a phrase in my mind or a word on my heart. God is so gracious. Whether I'm being a southern Baptist or a charismatic, I always run into His grace. He is good like that. I love how one pastor puts it, "Jesus is the Word of God, it's going to be hard to find a time when He isn't speaking." Oh heart, take time to listen.

I wrote a synopsis to 2012 a few days before Cade was born, wherein I confessed that the entire time I was pregnant with him, I dealt with anxiety. I'd never encountered it before. I didn't' even have a name for it. I just knew I felt this heavy weight on me that would keep me up at night, worrying about how to flee nuclear winters with Eden and how to survive an apocalypse.

A few months after that, I was invited to a Bible study for a few moms, and the opening passage we examined was 1 Peter 3, where it talks about how women should make themselves beautiful. Some verses are so familiar that I have a hard time actually reading them. They don't affect me as much as they should. But I had never read, like really read, the last portion of that scripture.

"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands,
so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves,
by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.
 And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening."

I don't understand a lot of this Scripture. Like the part about calling her husband lord. I do understand the last verse though, and it struck me almost a year ago and has been on my mind ever since. I am not to be afraid of anything that is frightening. When I first read it I had to shake my head. I was not only afraid of things there were actually frightening, I'd also become afraid of a million things that were potentially frightening, or marginally frightening. The question all last year on my heart was, "How, Lord?" If He calls us to it, then we can do it. But I see all around me the affects of anxiety and fear, especially on women, and I just don't understand how to get from where I am- to where this verse points I ought to be.

I knew step one was acknowledging I didn't know how to do it, & that I needed to admit I was living in a wasteland of fear. It's a lonely place, the sort of place where you are completely alone, under a starless night, cold, shivering, hearing the howls of distant animals and watching your own heart become depleted of joy, depleted of hope, depleted of love. I'd read Psalm 23 about my Good Shepherd leading me beside still waters, and I kept thinking, I literally need an IV of Psalm 23 to my soul.

My fear-to-rest ratio was way out of whack. Fear-Fear-Fear-Little tiny rest-Fear-Fear-Fear.

At the end of the summer 2013, one of my dear friends here came home from a five week ministry school at a farm run by Jonathan David Helser and his wife. Selah. Anything involving five weeks on a farm with two worship leaders sounds really good right about now.

One night she was over, and for some reason Cade wasn't settling down to go to sleep. I'd spent about 8 months agonizing over what to do with a baby who didn't take a pacifier. It sounds like a small thing when you don't have kids to hear about babies who don't sleep, but when you're the parent, that reality looms large and depressing. I was deliberating aloud with Nancy whether to go get my baby or to let him cry or to change his diaper, or the other million options that I could attempt-- and Nancy stopped and said, "Holy Spirit, what should Charis do for Cade?"

 I suddenly felt the atmosphere in my heart shift. God is God. He delights in the details of our lives. Why not ask Him what to do? It's so simple. But it's the hardest principle on earth to live out. Why not invite His opinion? Why not trust His voice to speak? I don't remember the outcome of that night. I just remember that I felt a little bit rebuked. Like, how much time do I waste trying to solve a puzzle I cannot solve? The other day I was getting ready in my room, where we have a giant box from a new carseat for Eden laying on the floor-- both kids are enthralled by it-- don't judge me-- and I suddenly heard Cade's muffled cry. When I walked into the bedroom, I saw his toes sticking out of the box-- he had crawled in head-first. And he was so angry. But don't I do that? I crawl headfirst into a box that is too narrow for me to turn around in and then I freak out like I should know how to get myself out. But I need someone big and strong to come and pick me up and pull me out. And maybe put the box somewhere I can't reach it again.

As I was thinking about this year, 2014, and the dreams I have on my heart for it- one of them is to fight to walk in peace. It sounds counter-intuitive. But it's the phrase on my heart. Peace is available. But it's not free. It's not just going to settle on me all the time like a blanket around my shoulders. Some days it might. But other days, its going to be a fight. I must contend for a place of peace.

I've loved Psalm 18 ever since college, when I would return to it over and over during a hard season back then. But its the Psalm on my heart for this season as well. The Lord is teaching me how to contend for my peace, and the different positions that I need to take. He does the work, yes, but He invites me to work as well. He's not enabling us to continue to be infants, just sucking on a bottle, lying completely helpless. He wants us to grow up in Him, and learn how to be a child of the Lion of Judah. Remember that African proverb, "the daughter of a Lion is also a lion".

 In Psalm 18 David says,
"You light a lamp for me.
    The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army;
    with my God I can scale any wall.
30 God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
31 For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
32 God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
35 You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great.
36 You have made a wide path for my feet
    to keep them from slipping.

I have been loving kickboxing classes lately. I might look a fool doing them, but I just can't get enough of the punching and kicking and feeling like if somebody came up to me in a dark alley, I might could hold my own. Maybe. But the truth is, its kind of been mirroring what's been going on inside of me this past year too. Fighting the fear, fighting the voices that come raging in and demanding I respond-- one more school shooting, what am I going to do about it when my kids get to school? One more failed vaccination-- one more horror story-- one more disease. All of them act like they must have a response from me. The truth is, they have no right to demand any fear from me. Fear is torment. Yes, there is a tormentor; but he is NOT my master. Jesus does not torment. He gives peace that isn't like the world's. He lays open our racing hearts and calms them, He breathes rest into our souls. "Come to me, all you who weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."

I am learning how vital it is that I take what is intimidating me to the throne of God. Lay it out before my Good Shepherd, and ask Him how to fight. The fight I am called to, I have found, is most often praying. Learning to pray, learning to put faith into action, learning to pray God's heart for my city, the schools in it, the kids in it, the people in it. Learning to pray over my kids not out of fear, but out of faith.

I think when God initiates something one place for one person, its kind of a like an open invitation for everyone else to learn it, take, savor it too. So, anyone who has been battling anxiety or fear, feel free to accept this invitation too: This year, I've been invited to continue to walk purposefully into the pasture of God. In John 10 Jesus says His sheep go in and out and find pasture. He has not left us as orphans in a crumbling, wicked world. He sent His Helper to walk alongside us. I found a verse in 2 Peter 3 two nights ago that I am holding onto as well: "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace." He isn't coming back for His church that is wigging out, running frantically away from everything. If He says we are to be at peace, than He will provide the grace for us to walk in it.
"God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging."
Psalm 46:1-3

Fight the darkness in your life with Jesus to lay hold of your peace, the peace Jesus makes available to us every day. Do not let the enemy torment you any longer and endure it thinking it's just how you're wired or its the road you are called to walk right now. Jesus says satan is the father of lies, and he cannot speak any truth. The truth is, peace has been offered to us. We can walk in it. Receive the free gift Jesus gave us:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27