Woe to You, Dear One

Well, there’s no way to start off the New Year than with some good ol’ fashioned conviction…

I left Ft. Bragg a few weeks ago, and have been living in The Sticks for almost a month now. Before I left Ft. Bragg, however, Jesse (one of my mentors) and I met up one last time. During that conversation, we talked about my need for what I will refer to from this point on as a “wisdom valve.”

In 2 Peter 1:5-8, there’s a list of character “traits” that seems to progress in the life of a believer.

“…add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (v. 5b-7)

What I’ve noticed here is that as I’m gaining knowledge, the next thing I need to be gaining is self-control. But why self-control? Well, for people like me, it’s really easy to not know when to not know something…In other words, I need to have discernment and wisdom (or self-control) in how I use the knowledge I now have. If knowledge is a city water tower, then wisdom is a kitchen faucet.

Growing up (which is totally still happening…), I had trouble with being a serious know-it-all, as in, I was so blinded by my own desire to be right that I pretended to know things that I really didn’t, and it got me into trouble all the time. God has very graciously and gently shown me how much I just don’t know (there’s so much…), and is continuing to help me practice being humble about knowledge, and learn when to show knowledge and when to hold it back.

When I first arrived at Ft. Bragg, I was introduced to this novel idea of setting spiritual goals. Obviously, God is the one who brings about growth in, sanctifies, and transforms people. But He desires me to ask Him for things…So, why not ask Him to accomplish certain things in me that He’s already brought to my attention? Anyway, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I wrote down three spiritual goals that I want to prayerfully accomplish during 2018. One of these goals is to acquire a wisdom valve.

This morning, day one of 2018, I was reading through Luke 11, and verses 46-52 hit me really, really hard…The context is after Jesus has chosen the twelve disciples, sent out the seventy (or seventy-two, depending on your translation), and taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. In this particular passage, Jesus goes on a bit of a rant of “Woe to yous”, first speaking to the Pharisees, then, in verses 46-52, speaking to the lawyers. These two, along with the Sadducees and a few other groups, are often grouped together as both the keepers and enforcers of the law, full of knowledge, but lacking in godly love. Jesus’ message in Luke is to a very specific group of people, but it felt very much like He was speaking specifically to me.

As I read through Jesus saying, “Woe to you, lawyers,” I realized that I tend to internally expect people to meet perfect standards that I’m both not doing myself and that are also not humanly possible, which lines up with “Woe to you…lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

So then, I was wondering if I’ve ever outwardly asked someone to do something spiritual that I hadn’t been doing myself, and I concluded, after some evaluation, that outwardly I’ve been okay about not doing that (I think), and making sure I’m doing things before challenging other people to do them, but it’s in my heart and mind that I judge and criticize people for not doing what I think they ought to be doing…which related to a passage directed to the Pharisees earlier in the chapter, when Jesus says, “‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness…” (v.39). And I know that Jesus’ explanation of the Law is that it’s the heart that matters, and so if I’m criticizing others in my heart, and judging them as if I am God, then it is just as if I am acting it out.

The final blow was this one:

“‘Woe to you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (v.52).

So, this particular verse, within its context, seems to be referring to that “full of knowledge, without love” situation mentioned before. These men do not know Jesus, and they are not part of His family for this reason, even though they and the Pharisees stand firmly on the fact that Abraham is their father and therefore God is their Father. But Jesus says clearly that no one can come to the Father except through Him. So, these lawyers are not with the Father without first going through Jesus, and they have yet to go through Jesus. This verse seems to be about Jesus explaining, quite passionately, to the keepers of the law, that their knowledge keeps them from knowing anything, and prevents both them and others from fully entering into the presence of God and being a true part of His family.

Upon reading that, I thought about all of the times someone told me that they felt condescended upon by me, or judged by me, or put in a box by me because of whatever questions I asked or whatever knowledge I shared or believed that I had. And I wondered how many people had stumbled in their walks with Christ because of it. In other words, the knowledge I think is helpful can actually be detrimental to the growth of those around me.

And so I felt like, as I read this gospel, Jesus was saying “woe to you, Hunter…”

All of this shed a whole new light on why I need to acquire a wisdom valve and figure out what to do with knowledge, and it seems like God is already answering the desire to acquire that valve by showing me the reason for it in the first place. He knows that I do genuinely love learning and gaining knowledge, and one of my biggest focuses and desires is to actually know God and know what He means about things. But this gets all messed up when I let myself get in the way…

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2-8)

I feel a bit small, and I need to pray some more, and figure out what God wants me to do with all this…

I feel like this blow falls right in line with what God has been showing me about the reality of His grace, and just how much it really covers…Oh, His grace! It’s so much greater than I ever imagined…And it’s so much more powerful than any knowledge I think I can offer, or any experience I’ve ever had. It’s so much bigger than wisdom, humility, than family and commitment, even. Without grace, there is no wisdom, no family, no commitment, no love, no humility. It all starts with grace. And God wants me to extend the grace He’s shown me to the people around me! Oh! What are the possibilities? What would this look like? Who could be healed? Who could be reconciled in their relationships? Who could be saved? Who could be transformed?

You guys, it’s only day one of 2018, and I already feel like I’m losing my mind as I consider the reality of this God I serve, the position of His Son over me, and my identity as His daughter. This is good.

“‘No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)

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Review #5: Stones of Remembrance

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“DISCOVER THE HEALING POWER OF SCRIPTURE MEDITATION AND MEMORIZATION.

There is a reason the Bible calls us over and over again to remember. Remembering God’s acts, promises, and guidelines for living is essential to a healthy spiritual life. And such practices as Scripture meditation and memorization can contribute to a healthier mind and body as well—reducing stress, increasing brain capacity, and even helping to reverse problems like memory loss.

Stones of Remembrance includes:

  • Key Scriptures to memorize and meditate on so they’ll always be with you when you need to be inspired, challenged, or comforted
  • An introduction to the biblical and biological basis for remembrance as a healthy life habit
  • Tips for incorporating Scripture meditation and memorization into your life and increasing your memory capability

Whether purchased as a gift or as a practical spiritual follow-up to Dr. Daniel Amen’s groundbreaking book Memory RescueStones of Remembrance is a wonderful resource to help cultivate the healing power of God-focused remembering.”

The devotional Stones of RemembranceHealing Scriptures for Your Mind, Body, and Soul, written by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, is a book written within the Christian Living genre, threaded together by themes of different disciplines: the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory, the mental discipline of exercising your brain, and the physical discipline of taking care of your brain by taking care of your body. Dr. Amen uses his research to engage the reader with encouragement from the Bible as well as practical application.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

I really appreciated the way Dr. Amen incorporated physical health into the process of Scripture memory. In the first few chapters, he walks through the elements of rest, exercise, and healthy eating, and how these things are important to building up discipline in Scripture memory. This made Scripture memory seem much deeper and more holistic, and challenged me to think about how my own habits of rest, exercise, and eating, might be affecting this spiritual discipline in my own life.

Another thing I appreciated was Dr. Amen’s encouragement for those who struggle with memorization or remembering in general. He did not write this book only for people who are good at memorization; he wrote it for everyone.

Following the last element, Dr. Amen also included his own research on the brain and used this to back up his encouragements to those who struggle with memorization. He briefly explained the functions of the brain and how he’s found that our memory is a muscle. This was an extra element that (in my vast experience taken from my extremely long life on earth…yes, this is sarcasm) I’ve rarely seen in similar books.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

Many of the Scriptures were taken very much out of context, and while they were intended to be encouraging to the reader and a starting point of memorization, the categories under which these singular verses are placed deny the original context of the verses, and can therefore dangerously miscommunicate their original meaning.

Along these same lines, there was a section at the end of the devotional titled, “The Twelve Verses Every Christian Should Know.” I struggled with this section because it seemed more like a list of Scriptures that are popular in American Christian culture, though not necessarily necessary for Christians to know throughout the world. These are Scriptures popularized through interior designers and souvenir-makers, but there is little to support that these twelve verses are the verses that every Christian should know.

While one of the things I appreciated about the book was Dr. Amen’s use of science, I also felt a lack concerning it. There were several chapters in which Dr. Amen touched on the science of the brain, but in a way that made the message I think he was trying to communicate convoluted.

Despite the criticisms, however, it seems that this would be a good place to start for anyone trying to build up the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory. It takes the reader through memorizing meaningful Scriptures, one step at a time, to start exercising the muscle of their memory, and I would recommend this to those who are beginning this endeavor.

About the Author:

Dr. Daniel G. Amen is a physician, a double board-certified psychiatrist, founder of Amen Clinics, a 10-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international speaker. Together with Pastor Rick Warren and Mark Hyman, MD, Dr. Amen is also one of the chief architects of Saddleback Church’s Daniel Plan, a program to get the world healthy through religious organizations.

“Dr. Amen has written, produced, and hosted many popular public television shows about the brain that have aired across North America. He has spoken for the National Security Agency, and his work has been featured in outlets including Newsweek, Time magazine, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Men’s Health.” 

*A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by Tyndale Publishers.

🙂

 

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Called Not to Defeat

It was Saturday morning, and behold, a day of Christmas baking and shopping lay before me. I jumped out of bed and spun about in a flurry of preparation, throwing on clothes and hair things and jackets and schtuff. Downstairs, I started to make cinnamon rolls to take for brunch at the home of one of the ministry ladies, which was the location of the bake-off of the day. The plan was to bake all day with some of the other ladies, then Hannah, Anna, and I would run around doing some Christmas shopping.

I coveted the talk time with Hannah, and felt I was getting better at “friend” time with Anna. My and Anna’s relationship started with it being solely spiritual conversations, and I realized, during my time here, that I was really weak in the area of what’s called “relationship-building.” So, relationship-building, as I understand it, is basically just making sure I’m actually caring about the person I’m discipling and encouraging, that I’m actually taking steps to be their friend, their sister in Christ, not just their mentor. I’ve found in the past that I too easily fall into teacher mode and can come off as condescending and judgmental, especially if I don’t deliberately build a solid relationship with the person I’m mentoring. Needless to say, I very much feel God’s patience and graciousness as I figure out how to do this, and it has been easier to actually be friends with Anna and others this way. I’m looking forward to getting better at this.

After talking with the lord and lady of the house in which I lived, I raced out the door and into the freezing rain, which would’ve been snow where I’m originally from, my arms full of baking ingredients, backpacks, a breakfast smoothie, and those cinnamon rolls.

A struggle I’ve faced since Jake left for deployment, particularly in women’s ministry, is a feeling of want for control and reading into things. I had to stop by Wal Mart to pick up some ingredients, and I was struggling with suddenly feeling preemptively perceived disapproval from the very women with whom I was about to bake because I would end up being late. But God quietly reminded me as I left Wal Mart, paid-for ingredients in hand, that He loves me, that He has designed me for fellowship, for relationship, for living life with these ladies at this time, and that wanting to control the responses of others and failing to believe the best of them was directly opposing the principle of Philippians 4:6-8…

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

I’ve observed over the past year that this is a consistent tactic of the enemy, and I think particularly with women, to divide the body. If he can get us to believe the worst of each other without giving each other a chance, then he can divide us without having any of us even speaking to one another…I didn’t want that to happen. I do, however, want to figure out the difference between wrong, fleshly perception and right, spiritual intuition, if that makes sense…To be continued.

When I arrived at what we will call The Bake House, I was warmly welcomed by several wonderful ladies, one of whom was Hannah, a play room full of children, a kitchen saturated with the scents of cloves, ginger, chocolate, and vanilla, and the sound of Christmas carols reverberating through the halls.

During the hours of baking and coffee-drinking and eating, I sought to know these ladies and ask them questions, laugh with them, tell stories with them, and just learn these ladies who were my sisters in Christ. And it was wonderful 🙂 The baking ended around nap time…I mean, not my nap time, but that of the children, though, after everything we’d eaten, I very much desired a nap…

So we all exchanged what we’d baked over a dining room table covered in Oreo truffles, crock-pot candy, snicker-doodles, peanut butter blossoms, and Swedish almond cake. And I realized, as Hannah and I helped clean up and said goodbye to everyone, that this day was what I’d hoped and imagined Christmastime would be like as an adult…I feel like God has been blessing me in waves concerning friendship, and has been directly instructing me in the ways of meaningful fellowship and intentional time with others.

Hannah and I drove to her house to drop of her own goods before heading back out into the grayness of the day to meet Anna at Barnes and Noble.

One of the really weird things about living here and not living in the Sticks back in New York is that the mall and all of the big shopping chains are only fifteen minutes away from my house. Back in New York, my mom and I used to have to drive forty-five minutes to Utica or Oneonta to do any kind of serious shopping, and the nearest Wal Mart was half an hour away. Going to Barnes and Noble at least three times a week is a bizarre luxury that I hope I never get used to.

Our trio went first to Lifeway, then to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and then to Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was a fun time. We accomplished much, I dropped Anna back off at her house, and then joined Hannah and Matthew for dinner.

Another weird thing about living here and not living in New York is that Hannah lives in the same town instead of a town two hours away. This was God, I think, setting me up for some solid success during deployment, by providing me with Hannah as a kind of relationship-building safety net: I do not have to spend the whole nine months building new relationships and being initially known by nobody, but I get to build new relationships while also being deeply known by at least one person, and that’s really, really cool, and has allowed me a freedom to vulnerably build up my relationships with other ladies that I don’t think I realized I had until now. Go God!

At Hannah and Matthew’s house, Matthew made sausage patty melts…they were so good…and we talked ministry and worked on a world map puzzle. Hannah asked me about how I planned to stay encouraged in my walk with Christ while I was in New York for Christmas and New Year’s. Jesse had asked me this same question the other day, and I was excited to have the opportunity to externally process my thoughts a second time with Hannah as well.

It was through this conversation with Hannah and Matthew that I was reminded yet again of the differences I’m experiencing in this phase of my spiritual life: I have women in my life who prioritize praying for me, challenging me, encouraging me, checking in with me, and training me to follow Christ and to help others follow Him. And just because I’m not here doesn’t mean I can’t still connect with them and use them as safety nets and prayer partners while I’m gone.

And so it seems that the theme of the past week has been that blessed message of Proverbs 27:17, Hebrews 10:24-25, and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12…God created us to be part of His team, together, whether we’re physically with each other or spread out over the face of the earth. And the best part? He answers our prayers, so if we pray to be surrounded by believers, if we pray for an older woman or, if you’re a dude, an older man to pour into us spiritually and help us figure out this life with God through their wisdom, or if we pray for God to give us a guy or a gal to help follow Christ, He will answer that. He certainly has for me..And that’s really cool.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

 

 

 

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The Truth is That the Trust is Worth it

In the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, there’s a scene where Elizabeth (Knightley’s character) is spinning around on the family barn swing as the seasons pass before her. The scene is soaked with the weighty rain of emotional residue from her best friend Charlotte marrying Elizabeth’s ridiculous cousin Mr. Collins, who’d originally tried to propose to Elizabeth. On top of that, Elizabeth’s sister Jane had a sort-of-flame Mr. Bingley who just up and left, and then Elizabeth is thinking about the lack of propriety concerning her family in general, particularly her mom and three younger sisters, though she loves them…There’s just a lot going on, and something inside her knows that this is just the beginning of how the relationships in her life are going to evolve.

This is the scene and the feeling that came to me as I stood outside of the home in which I now lived, eleven in the evening, with a cold, winter rain coming down on me. My thoughts lived in the emotional residue of the past few weeks, and anticipated the emotional roller coasters to come, both as I left the new familiarity of North Carolina to return to the Shire in New York for a time, and as I prepared for and embraced Jacob’s homecoming in the spring. I felt like I rested in the quiet of a storm.

The day had been long. I spent four wonderful hours of the morning talking with Kathi, one of the ladies discipling me…Jake had been praying for deeper friendships and encouragement with the women around me while he’s gone, and his prayers have been answered evermore. The time with Kathi had been like medicine, and God settled me once again in His love and grace, and dispelled much of the shame I’d been struggling with. This is the first time in my life where I have people who are dedicated to discipling me, and prioritize challenging me and encouraging me and helping me walk with Jesus through this world. I’ve realized that if both Jesse and Kathi are committed to discipling me, then I should really take advantage of that and let them be my designated “externally processing” people and “asking all of my questions” people. Since realizing that and deciding to exercise boldness in asking them questions and sharing my life with them, God has really used conversations with them to reassure me of His trustworthiness, sovereignty, justice, and power.

After spending time with Kathi, I drove over through the cold and windy weather to The Coffee Scene. I’d experienced a burden and I had been challenged by Kathi to pray for Jake and for those couples struggling with infidelity in the army (not that Jake has ever done that or that I believe he would, but the enemy is crafty and a tremendous foe, and it would be ignorant for me to not pray for that area of our marriage, and infidelity is particularly rampant in the military).

“God shapes the world by prayers. Prayers are deathless. The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them, and prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world.” —E.M. Bounds

“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:30)

The familiar hodge-podge of a playlist, including Ozzy Osbourne and Echosmith, serenaded me as I took in the warm atmosphere of this coffee shop. The deep reds and browns of its interior enveloped me as I prayed for Jake in my mind and ordered some hot tea. I was introduced by one of the regular baristas to a barista-in-training. The barista-in-training’s name was Bree, and I memorized her face and assigned it to her name so that next time I came I could talk to her more in depth.

I sat at a high table and read my Bible, praying through the reassurance God gave me in Psalm 34. Sometimes I subconsciously believe that by trusting God I’m somehow missing out on something, or that He just expects me to trust Him whether I receive or am reassured of anything or not…To some degree the latter is true; God deserves my trust. But it was good to read Psalm 34, where it says “Those who seek the Lord lack in nothing” and “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” I think I’ve heard that concept so much that I forgot what it meant, and didn’t quite get it until now. Trusting in God offers the greatest “return”; the only way I miss out on anything is by not trusting Him.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” (Psalm 34:8-10)

Before leaving The Coffee Scene, I had a conversation with the older gentleman at the table next to mine after he’d asked me what I was reading. I stopped at Hannah and Matthew’s house to catch up with them, since they’d been out of town for some time. After time with them, I headed back “home” to get some homework done and eat dinner before heading out to Berean Baptist Church for the Christmas program.

And now I was back here at “home,” post Christmas program. I thought about maybe taking a walk around the neighborhood in the rain, just to think and pray aloud to the God who’d sent the rain in the first place. But I went back in my memory to middle school—yes, middle school—when I was stuck in worshiping my emotions and being a slave to their power…Man, Jesus went through puberty and did not sin! He was clearly the Son of God. When was in middle school, I would walk in the rain to gain attention from the guy in my life who didn’t care, to feel like my life was worth something. I shuddered at the thought of where I used to be.

How do people really change and get out of the ever-deepening pit of selfishness and fear without Jesus?…On a somewhat related note, how do people stay married without Jesus?

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:15-18)

I fought the desire to follow the spiral of my emotions and walked inside, continued to pray, started settling down for the night, crawled into bed, and fell asleep praying.

“Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.” (Psalm 73:13-17)

“The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.” (Psalm 34:22)

 

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Battle Buddies

It was as I was driving to Khalida’s house, after spending some time at the Starbucks off Walter Reed Rd. praying for Anna and for the people God desired to reach through her, that I became overwhelmed by yet again another attack on my emotions.

So, I’ve realized that words mean things (what??? yep), and specifically that the word “attack” is a pretty strong word to use depending on the context. The word is defined as “to set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive way, with or without a weapon; begin fighting with.”

That definition is what I mean here.

The week prior to this point in time, Jake and I reached a pretty serious and difficult time in the deployment. We both felt very disconnected and wounded, struggling with deep shame, and fear. The issue that came up in our relationship with each other was not one on which we agreed, and I was hurt and felt deeply betrayed, and how this issue was resolved would determine the nature of the rest of this deployment. I spent about five days fasting and praying and trying to figure out what God wanted me to do, since Jake and I were at odds with each other. The phrase that kept coming up in my thoughts was “It’s not submission until you disagree.”

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

And so, even though I wasn’t settled on how I felt about the issue, I chose to obey God by submitting to Jake, trusting God to protect and preserve me, despite my emotions and anxieties…I can’t expect God to lead Jake in our marriage and in his life if I’m not trusting God to lead him by submitting. I can’t refuse to submit and thus take control of the relationship. I can’t stand in the way of God leading Jacob. I can’t expect Jake to obey God as his ultimate Leader if I’m not submitting to him as God has designed…that just doesn’t make sense to me…

My submission dispelled shame for Jake, set him free to lead, and empowered him to move forward in loving me, if that makes sense. But, you guys, this was SO hard…When military wives told me that deployments suck, I didn’t realize that this is what they meant, and while I knew marriage would be difficult, and even prayed for difficulty and the ability to withstand it, I never knew just how dark things could get. Submitting to Jake in this area, in this way, felt like this: I was standing on the edge of a high cliff in the dark, my back to the open space below, and someone walked up to me and told me, even though I couldn’t see it, there was a net below that would catch me, and I turned and free fell off the cliff.

Almost immediately after I’d talked to Jake about this, confessing my submission to him and trust in his leadership, and after we were okay and were rebuilding intimacy and trust, I spent the next few days being overwhelmed by lies from the enemy.

“You’re being used and taken advantage of.”

“This obviously isn’t an equal partnership if you’re expected to just go along with everything.”

“You are only worth what you can give, and you are set up in a life where you will constantly give and will never be loved in return.”

And I wondered, as these attacks came, and I took the piercing sting of the lies by the Shield of Faith (Ephesians 6:16), if the enemy pushed against me particularly because I chose to obey and submit, in a world where “submission” associated with women is taboo. In other words, was the enemy pushing back hard because of my obedience?

As I drove to Khalida’s, I sobbed over the steering wheel, my emotions assaulted by lies that pierced my deepest fears and insecurities about being used and taken advantage of, and I cried out to God, and prayed, and took the attack.

Khalida and I had planned on meeting up with Sarah, one of our friends, at the Metro Diner on Skibo for dinner before Bible Study that Tuesday night. But I wasn’t emotionally ready to be steadfast and strong for Khalida.

“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

“…we were well pleased to impart to you…our own lives.” Right, I thought as I pulled into her driveway. God had been challenging me through those who were discipling me to be more transparent with the people in the body, as Paul and his guys had been transparent with the Thessalonians. This was the very vision my and Jake’s marriage was built on. Jake had already had opportunities overseas to use this same issue to be transparent with the guys in his squad.

I remembered a car ride in which Jake and I had talked about what was appropriate to share with others about each other as we sought to follow Christ and encourage others to do so as well…We’d established that our testimonies, struggles, questions, points of growth, insecurities, and relationships with Christ were completely open and available to use to help others grow. And I had been praying as of late for God to give me security in Him so that I could be truly transparent with others without being afraid of, you guessed it, being taken advantage of.

As I walked into Khalida’s house, she was getting ready to leave, and the two of us immediately started working through and talking her girl Olivia, and my girl Anna, those ladies in our lives that we were trying to disciple, mentor, encourage in their walks with Christ. We talked vision, we rejoiced with the fact that God desires to use us and the other ladies in our lives to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that [He has] commanded [us].” (Mt. 28:18-20)

In my car, Khalida observed that I was anxious, and God reminded me that I wanted to be deliberately transparent with her, and so I was. I told her about the spiritual attacks, about my struggles with Jake (without dishonoring or disrespecting him), about struggling with submission, and about what God was showing me about myself through all of it. I didn’t realize what it meant to really trust God until now. We eventually talked about marriage, about how to love others, and about how grateful we are that, despite our messiness, God is still willing to associate Himself with us.

We arrived at the Metro Diner and met up with Sarah. I’d never been to this diner, but it reminded me of a place called Bill’s in Norwich, NY, and I felt oddly comforted. As Sarah, Khalida, and I sat at our table, all I could see was the three of us wearing Armor, sitting around a large wooden table covered in maps and compasses and books on battle movements, our hands on our Swords, strategizing with our Commander the best plan of action to move against the enemy in our respective areas: Sarah in her classroom and in the lives of the girls she’s praying for, Khalida in the life of her roommate and in her workplace, and me in…well, everything.

It was there in the diner, as our waiter, Rob, bustled about with his coworkers, as Christmas music played over the intercom, as customers came in through retro glass doors and walked over the green and white tiled floors, I realized that I had real friends, including Jake, that these friends were fighting in the same war as me, and that they were on my side. And that was enough.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, so you ought to love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

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Let You Down

Ah, yes, there I was, yet again sitting in my car, crying. It’s in these moments I wonder what my emotions think they’re doing, just spilling out of my eyes like that.

So, there’s a song from Glee (I was pretty obsessed with this show during my BC time) that has been coming into my mind over the last few days. I’ve just generally felt like I kept giving and giving, and kept getting hurt, or worse, unintentionally hurting others. It climaxed in the parking lot of the Westwood Shopping Center, as Jake texted me and asked how I was doing.

Earlier in the morning, I’d sat down with God and poured my heart out to Him, unfiltered…I asked Him so many questions, trying to speak like Habakkuk in chapter two of his book, when he says, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected” (v. 1), and tried to avoid asking as Jonah asked things of God, to whom God responded, “What right do you have to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). And found no respite, no rescue, and no healing. I was once again stuck on a spinning wheel of confusion.

The thought, “I just want to go home” came into my mind over and over again, but I couldn’t discern the meaning of it. It didn’t mean New York, because the world seemed like it was falling apart up there as well. It didn’t mean Jacob, because he’s human, and it didn’t mean our home together, because that too was temporary. It didn’t mean the house in which I was now living. It didn’t mean Florida, where I was originally born.

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland…now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-14, 16)

As I cried, I thought of missing God. But how could I miss God if He was always with me? Oh, right. The past week had consisted of very little quality time with Him, as I worked through pressing assignments, tried to be there for all of the girls God put in my life, tried to spend time with the family with which I lived, and also virtually catch up on my marriage to Jacob, since the majority of the deployment thus far has been our disconnection. My mind was worn down by the constant staring at a screen for online homework. Persisting indulgence in staying up late for homework or reading strained my body. And I had, to my own detriment and to God’s mistreatment, placed my relationship with the One who can heal, revive, and humble me, on the back burner.

“Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.” (Psalm 119:37)

I had cut myself off from my source of oxygen and prioritized other things, so it was no wonder I felt like I was drowning in relational failure. Melodramatic? Oh yes. Irrational? Probably. Feeling real in the moment? Unfortunately, also yes.

“Why does this keep happening to me?” I asked. Every time I tried to love someone the way I naturally loved, it felt like it accomplished the exact opposite of what I desired and intended, and then, when I tried to figure out how to love them better, I would execute even that poorly, and would fail yet again. What was wrong with me? What was I not understanding? What truth was I missing? Why did I keep hurting people? What did I need to fix?

“Oh, God…” I said as the sun shone through the sunroof. I groaned as I realized I’d turned off the car without closing it. “I have no stinkin’ clue what I’m doing.”

My friend Christie pulled up behind me—we were meeting up for lunch at the Fayetteville Pie Company (it’s exactly what you think it is). I became angry with myself for being such a wreck, but my relationship with her had grown enough that it didn’t matter if I was a mess in front of her; she loved me anyway. We would spend the next hour or so talking through all of my hurt, confusion, and feelings, and she would lovingly speak the truth I needed and clear up thoughts that I couldn’t conquer and clarify on my own. I was reminded of how God uses the Church to check me, change me, challenge me, and cherish me.

On the way back home, I would cry more, thinking I was emotionally tapped out, but realizing I wasn’t each time I cried—I cry about everything, just in case you didn’t see that. And I just thought through everything with God as I drove into the sunset (no, there was no awesome Western music full of velvet strings playing in the background, and I drove a black Civic instead of a Stallion). I didn’t speak directly to Him, but I knew He was listening and working through the thoughts with me. I was spent, needed rest, and knew where to find it.

Things are not perfect, and I’m still struggling with a bit of exhaustion and confusion, and I still don’t think I know where to start. But God appointed this time…He appointed the time justly, anticipated the confusion, and has the clarity prepared for prescription. When it seems like, in my emotions, the foundation of the earth shakes, it is God who holds its pillars firm.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

 

 

 

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Looking for a Hero Who’s Already Come

I’ve experienced a pertinent itch to write lately…Though not really about life, and more about things that are made up, about fantastical things and realistic stories with people who’ve never actually existed, because it’s fun to write about a world outside of your own.

Whenever I think about writing, I think about a day when I sat in the dusty corner of the Pratt Institute library, the second floor, at a wooden table staged with a green reading lamp. It was mid-afternoon, and I’d opened up Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I’d recently been taught about the word “archetype,” and how my writing often revolved around steadfast characters, happy endings, war, triumph, love…all of those grand themes that seem almost cliche to the modern writing world, which had grown stale with the bitter taste of cynicism, politics, and self-dependence; one could not say, “I love you,” without the taint of sarcasm, and I was ignorant to believe I could write a hero, without making him fail in the end.

Revelation 19 seared my mind, and a picture of Christ riding in on a white horse, his cape dripping with blood, wielding a sword long enough and sharp enough to face the Armageddon to come was the scene playing out in my heart as I read Campbell’s introduction.

The author briefly traced the footprints of the hero archetype throughout culture and history, and asked the reader, “Why is this the story that we seek to tell over and over again? Where did it come from? How has it become so much a part of our very souls?” There’s Gilgamesh, all of the Greek and Roman gods and demi-gods, Odysseus, almost every single Disney princess story, and so many more.

Campbell proceeded to compare and contrast and draw themes and motifs from hero tales throughout the world, all of which he used to contribute to his psychoanalysis of this existing archetype.

And as I read, I knew. That’s why I’d started following Jesus in the first place…He’s the ultimate, original, hero. Goodness, He certainly rescued me. The hero archetype exists because God prepared the hearts of the nations to long for Him, for His redemption, for His rescue of them from their peril…When it comes to hero tales, we are all damsels in distress, and Jesus is always the hero.

I recently went to Anna’s all-day debate tournament, in which I was a judge for some of the kids competing in the Apologetics category. Each kid would come in, pick one topic out of three, take four minutes to prepare a speech about the topic, and then deliver the speech in six minutes or less. It was pretty intense.

One kid picked the question, “Do all men long for God?” In his speech, he’d mentioned that, just looking at the millions of world religions that exist, there is absolute proof of men longing for God, enough to want to bring Him to themselves. I hadn’t thought of that. It made a lot of sense.

…And yet, He’s already come to them in Jesus Christ! God has made Himself known, and yet we’re still looking for Him…

“…because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)

How do I write this theme into the lives of others? How do I draw them in with what God has given me, and train them in the spiritual discipline of courage, triumph, adventure, and heroism? How do I convince the world around me that their Hero does exist and is not merely legend, that He’s come, and that He’s everything we imagined and more? How do I call up to the top of the tower to the damsel of this earth, ask her to let down her hair, that her Prince may prove to her what He has already done in slaying the dragons of the reality of our sin, the desires of our flesh, and the distractions of this world?

…Do I live like Christ is the Hero? Or am I, as I try to convince others of this truth, denying it with my own self-dependence?

*Sigh*

My Hero has come, my dragons have been slayed. I don’t have to live in the tower anymore, and can come down. Don’t worry, He’ll catch me. The night is gone, and the Son shines forth in the dawn.

“For Christ died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

 

 

 

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