In Which I Learned Something about Myself

And there is still another layer to the riveting drama in my Winn Dixie post earlier this week. When I sat down to write that post on Monday, I had been really thinking about it and talking to the Lord about it for the better part of a week. The revelation of God’s profound demonstration of love for me in the midst of my brokenness and how he moved heaven and earth to show me that love was very overwhelming for me. While I am prone to exaggeration for comedic effect, I do mean literally that He moved heaven and earth because Popey had just been transferred back to the US after being stationed in Egypt for a while.  In fact, his poor lips were still scarred from the middle eastern sun and he had white lines around his eyes from squinting.  And we met at exactly the right time.

Anyway, as I was processing all of the emotions that welled up over the extravagance of God’s love, I wanted to share that with the man God used so wonderfully. So when he came in from work on Friday evening (now remember, I had been thinking about this A LOT and even shed a few tears) here’s how that conversation went:

Me: “Thanks for chasing me down in the Winn Dixie all those years ago.”

Him: (smile) “You’re welcome.”

Me: (my heart was full and my mind went completely blank and nothing else came out)

I was so frustrated with myself for not being able to say what I was feeling and actually have a conversation about it. And then I couldn’t even say that I was frustrated with myself.  But then we had ice cream and it was all good.  We deal with a lot of things over ice cream.  Which by the way is a tradition that started back in my Winn Dixie days.  Popey would drive home from Fort Bragg just to see me on my 15 minute break at work and we would go to the little frozen yogurt shop around the corner from my store.

Soft ice cream

Fast forward to Saturday morning. One of my daughters shared with me a particularly painful situation she is walking through and how her heart is broken (Just know there is a future post I am developing about how hard it is to watch your kids struggle and that Jesus really is enough for them too). On the inside I had a lump in my throat and a heaviness in my own heart, but when I tried to say something my mind went completely blank, AGAIN. I felt terrible for her. She poured out her heart and I went blank.

But I realized that I actually feel this way often, when my emotions well up somehow words don’t flow from my mouth.

Later on Saturday I apologized to my daughter for not being able to articulate my feelings earlier and she said, “It’s ok Mom. I get it when you write. I cry every time I read something you write, whether it’s a blog post, a text or an email. That’s how you communicate your feelings. You write them.”

Study

And that’s what I learned about myself…I am pretty good at verbally communicating thoughts, ideas, information, even instructions, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t say what I am feeling.

So to everyone in my life who has ever shared something painful, joyful, heavy or crazy and I just stared back at you like I had no idea what you meant, I would like to offer my most sincere apologies. Please know that I heard your heart, I felt your pain, I shared your joy, I was grateful for your gift, but my emotions closed off my throat and I was literally at a loss for words. Next time I will write you a note. 🙂

And if you are asking yourself, “Does she know herself at all?”  The answer is definitely no, but I know the One who does and He’s revealing it to me every day.

Amen.

And Still More Beach-iness

In my last post I shared about how much fun being at the beach with my teenagers was and how we actually enjoyed the beach itself.  During one of my people watching breaks in my week-long Sit Still and Do Nothing But Read-A-Thon, I spotted a little girl, probably less than a year old because she could sit up but not walk, with her parents about ten feet away.  She was the inspiration for my thoughts on vacationing with little ones versus teenagers.  That little one and her parents also inspired this post.

I first spotted Little One (I don’t know her name and I don’t want to keep calling her “Her”) on the second day of my world record mission.  Little One’s Mom brought her down to the edge of the water where her Dad was hanging out.  After hugs and kisses Mom sat her down in the sand right where the last vestiges of waves would roll onto the sand.  As the thin layers of water would gently kiss the sand as far as they could, Little One got splashed.

What really caught my attention was that when Mom sat her down on the sand, before the first wave rolled in and nothing had happened yet, Little One threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy.  It was like she was saying to God, “Go ahead and WOW me!  I can’t wait!”

For the next fifteen minutes I watched her and every single time a wave rolled in, no matter how rough or gentle, she had the exact same reaction – she threw up her arms, turned her face upward and laughed with expectancy, as if to say, “Do it again!”

Obviously as a mom myself I realize I probably witnessed her celebration of God’s creation immediately following a nap, a diaper change and a snack (in other words, her little universe was in order during those fifteen minutes), so I don’t want to take this too far. However, the tide was starting to come in, so some times the waves would gently tickle her toes and sometimes they would flat-out knock her over.  She experienced everything from a refreshing splash to sand in her mouth and salt in her eyes, but EVERY single time she righted herself (with Mom and Dad’s help), celebrated with a round of applause and invited another one.

The other mesmerizing thing about Little One’s party was that everyone around her was totally caught up in her celebration.  It was captivating and contagious.  For a brief second it made me want to get up from my chair and join her, but I was having a celebration of my own.

We are God’s children, what if we lived with that kind of expectancy?  What if we celebrated God’s goodness and love even when we get knocked down, have sand in our diaper and salt in our eyes?

God is good no matter what our circumstances.  He is good all the time.  He is love all the time.

What if instead of looking for our circumstances to be perfect, we looked for the perfect God in all of our circumstances?  What if we expected Him to reveal His love all the time?

What if instead of gritting our teeth and resigning ourselves to just getting through the next crashing wave, we threw up our hands in praise of the God Who is with us in ALL things, Who works all things together for the good of His children?

How would those around us be affected if we chose to live in celebration instead of defeat or resignation?  Would light actually dispel darkness?

In the interest of full disclosure, I did see Little One in less impressive moments that week, so she was in fact a real baby, human just like the rest of us.  But I appreciate the invitation I received to her beach party and am grateful to God for glimpses of pure, unadulterated joy and His invitation to enjoy not just a few moments, but an abundant life of joy.

Thank You Father that You invite us all to celebrate You and the abundant life Jesus offers.  In Christ, we reign in our best circumstances and our worst, when we live in expectancy of Your goodness and Your love.

Another Transition

ADT

Speaking of transitions, I am getting ready for a big one…I think I may have mentioned a couple of times in this space that I’ve been in an eight-month advanced discipleship training course (or ADT for short) since last October.

(Just between you and me, they should really drop the advanced part from the title.  I think that was just to make over-achievers like me feel better about the fact that we are really just beginners when it comes to the gospel and the truth of the grace of God.  You just don’t realize it until about a month into the course.  It should probably be titled “Do Over for Slow People Who Missed Some of the Most Important Parts of the Gospel the First Time and Have Tried to Live in Their Own Strength.”  I realize there are drawbacks…like that title won’t fit on a t-shirt or a tote bag, but I think it will catch on.)

This post will go live less than 12-hours after our last ADT class.  I started to get nervous today and I kept picturing that Sandra Bullock movie “28 Days” where her character goes to rehab for an alcohol addiction.  While she is in rehab other patients graduate, but when they get back out in real life they immediately do drugs again and wind up back in rehab.  Eight months ago I entered the ADT program for a flesh addiction, I guess I am subconsciously worried that after I leave ADT (my spiritual version of rehab) I am going to crash and burn, do flesh-crack and wind up back at the facility.

Things I learned in ADT that I pray God will never let me forget (and when I do, I pray He reminds me quickly!):

  • First and foremost, there’s good flesh and bad flesh and it all profits nothing and bears the fruit of death in our lives, no matter how good it looks.  You can dress it up, you can even bedazzle it, but flesh is still flesh.  It stinks and it’s dead.  The Pharisees had a lot of really good, really religious flesh, but Jesus was harder on them than He was the prostitutes and tax collectors.
  • Jesus died not just to save us from our sins, but so that we could LIVE.  He wants us to live abundant, full lives unencumbered by sin, free from the shackles of religion, and from our union with Him.  We no longer live by simply a moral code.  It’s about relationship with God and that relationship can’t be reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts.  We are united in Spirit with the Creator of the universe.  We are one with Christ.  He is in us and we are in Him.  We are to live, here and now, from that union. (Just to connect the first two items – God’s not looking to strengthen our good flesh or help us be good or live better lives.  He wants us to live in relationship with Him, in moment by moment dependence on Him).
  • Living from our union in Christ is uniquely expressed in every single one of us.  Christ expresses Himself differently through me than He does anyone else on the planet.  I am free to be myself and God doesn’t expect me to be like anyone else.  Even more good news is that you are free to be yourself too and I get to enjoy how Jesus expresses Himself through you.
  • Because of Jesus, and absolutely NOTHING else, I am loved, accepted, valued, and totally secure.  It’s not based on what I do or don’t do.  In Christ, these things are true, ALL. THE. TIME.
  • In spite of my best efforts (that’s code for Kim’s flesh), I am never going to fully understand all of this.  After eight months, I am really comfortable knowing I will never understand it all.  In fact, it’s been very freeing to say there are things I don’t know and things I will never know.  It’s not my job to figure it all out.  I just need to receive what God chooses to reveal to me.
  • Being real and vulnerable is the only way to have true relationship with God and with others.  Hiding and wearing masks is deadly in all kinds of ways.
  • Expectations kill relationships.  When we tell people what we expect of them, it places limits on how real and open they can be with us.  It keeps them from sharing their hearts with us and erects walls and barriers.  Enjoy who God created them to be and allow Him to transform them.
  • Finally, Jesus is enough.  It’s not Jesus plus anything else.  It is only Jesus.  Which is why I realize that while I may feel like an underdone cake, in Christ I am complete.  I don’t need to go to ADT every week to finish baking.  I need to walk in total dependence on Christ.  He is the Author and Finisher of my faith (not me and not ADT) and until I see Him face-to-face, I will probably feel like an underdone cake, and that is perfectly ok.

I apologize for the length of my list, but after all it was the most transforming eight months of my life.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

I would also like to say thank you to everyone in our class who so openly and vulnerably shared their lives.  It took me a while to understand, but I finally got it.  The ugly parts and the struggles are where we really see our flesh for what it is and learn to live as Christ.

Finally, thank you to my family for freeing me up one night a week to make this happen.  And thank you for loving me and my brand of crazy, I am a blessed woman.  I love you all and love how God created each one of you to uniquely express Himself to the world through.

It’s Being Vulnerable

As I was re-reading and editing my last post, Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us, the thought kept floating through my mind that for God to truly love us (versus controlling us like robots) there is an incredible amount of risk involved, our ability to choose.  He has exposed Himself and made Himself vulnerable.  He has, in some sense, given us the ability to actually hurt Him.

He could have created Adam and Eve without free will, but He didn’t.  Not only did He give them the ability to choose, He created the choice itself.  He created the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Not only did He create both trees, He pointed out both trees (as a parent I would have just camouflaged the tree I didn’t want them to eat from so they would never know it was there).  And might I add, by saying, “Don’t” there may have been some provoking involved.  He almost seems to have forced a choice early on in the relationship.

He made Himself vulnerable over and over throughout Israel’s history.  Even when He, God Himself, the One who had just rescued them from Egypt, tried to speak to the people at Mt. Sinai they threw their hands over their ears and told Him to speak through Moses.  They couldn’t handle it.

His people rejected Him over and over, but God kept loving, kept being Love, (See 1 Corinthians 13) kept extending Himself to us, reaching out to us.

God made Himself vulnerable by giving us the ability to choose, but He wasn’t afraid of our choices.  He wasn’t terrified we would choose poorly and forever wreck things.

Why?  Because Jesus was already part of the plan.  In fact, Jesus was The Plan from the beginning.

Jesus gave us a new commandment, to no longer just love our neighbor as ourselves (old covenant), but to love others as He has loved.

How did He love? By controlling our every move and giving us a sure-fire, mistake proof, how-to manual to achieve prosperity and pain-free living? (Some would argue that the Bible is that mistake proof, how-to manual, but I find it interesting how little detail the Bible actually gives us for day-to-day living and in fact guarantees us suffering and tribulation in this life).

He made Himself vulnerable to us.  He gave all of Himself to us.  He squeezed all of Himself into a tiny earth suit and arrived here on planet earth in the most vulnerable way possible, as an infant.  In the womb, in a manger, on the run from Herod, at home (His brothers weren’t always nice to Him), in ministry (one of His closest friends was the betrayer), at His trial and on the cross.  He made Himself vulnerable in every possible way.  He gave us not only the opportunity to hurt Him, but to kill Him.

But that’s how He loves.  He took the risk.  He allowed us the opportunity to embrace or reject, to love or inflict pain.

Jesus made Himself completely vulnerable to us.  He risked pain and suffering to love us.  He freely loved, and still does, while giving us the freedom to choose our response.

If we are to love as He loved, can we do that without making ourselves vulnerable to others?  Is there a safe way to love?  Can love possibly be pain-free?  And can we truly love anyone if we place expectations on how they are to respond to our love?

Jesus, I don’t understand it and I can’t muster it up on my own. Love others through me.  Tear down the walls of fear, self-protection and control.  As I abide in You, abide in me and bear much fruit. 

Well, It’s A Little Bit About Us

In my last post, It’s All About Him, I talked about how abundant living is believing and trusting God is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  And I also said, “…even though God includes us in the story and invites us to partner with Him in the story, IT’S NOT ABOUT US and the outcome does NOT depend on us.  It all depends on God, His infinite Love, amazing grace, and His Sovereign plan.”

I wanted to follow up on this a little bit because while all of that is true, I don’t want to create a sense of God being distant.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s the upside for God?”  Well I have.  My close friends know that for the last couple of years I have said this many, many times.  And while most of the time I was being sarcastic and funny (I know, you are shocked) I truly wanted an answer.  I truly wanted to find the purpose in all of this for God.

Back to my question…do you get my point?  I mean really, from the very beginning, Genesis chapter 3, our story is one of disobeying and rejecting God.  Even in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden, we rejected Him and His plan.

This is our story, Love reaches out to us and we reject Love.  So what does He get out of all of this?

If you back up further, I think there’s a question that comes before, “What’s the upside for God?”  I think the first question is, if God is Omniscient (and He is), “Why did He set all this in motion in the first place?”

I think Jesus told us the answer when He met Nicodemus…God so loved.  The God who is Love, the Triune God, who lived in perfect community with Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) loved so much that He wanted to express that love and multiply it.  Love created us to love us and for us to be so loved that we would multiply that love in all the earth.

Love creates, Love expresses, Love needs an object.

We were created to be loved by Love Himself and to express that love.  And that is how it becomes about us.  We are the creation and object of His love.

But He knew we would reject Him.  He knew we would reject Love instead of receiving it and living it.

So again, why?  Because He is Love regardless of what we do, whether we love Him in return or not.  He continues to be Love and to Love.  He is the definition of unconditional Love.

As believers in Jesus Christ, reigning in life is allowing the Love of God in us, that Love that created us, saves us and transforms us from the inside out, to reach out to others.  It’s exactly what God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  It’s the same thing Jesus said to His disciples, us, “Go make disciples.”  Jesus also said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

How did Jesus love us?  Unconditionally, fully and completely.  He gave all of Himself for us, knowing not all of us would receive it.  Knowing in fact that many would reject His expression of love and refuse to be the object of His love.

For those of us who receive Him reigning is receiving Love and then in turn loving.  It’s allowing Love, Jesus in us, to create through us, that same Love in us to express itself, and that same unconditional Love in us to love others, the objects of His love, even if they reject Love.

And that, I believe, is how it’s about us.

Jesus Is Reigning in Life

I haven’t written much about our study on Jeremiah recently.  The truth is that this study is hard.  The message is heavy and sad.  And the more I learn the more I realize just how difficult Jeremiah’s life was.  I’ve talked about it before, but even now after being in this study since January, I have tears in my eyes thinking about what he endured in this life in order to serve his God and serve His people.

Not only did he share virtually the same message for well over forty years (he probably not only sounded like a broken record, he probably felt like one, too), but he was hated and despised for it.  People tried to kill him.  His own family members (the men of Anathoth) plotted against him.  God told him not to marry or have children, so he was devoid of seemingly even the smallest human comforts (no wife to hug him or little Jeremiah’s or Jeremina’s to jump in his lap after a long day of prophesying).  He often had to hide.  He was held prisoner in a cistern and almost starved to death.  There are many parts of the book that indicate he wrestled with his emotions (anger, fear, grief, and intense loneliness) and suffered with doubt and confusion – just like us.

All he truly had was the Lord.  And while we might not like to think about it this way, Jeremiah the Prophet reigned in life.  He reigned in life because all he had, everything he hoped in was all wrapped up in El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.  He needed no one and nothing else.

God hasn’t called many of us to the type of ministry that He called Jeremiah to.  But we all face challenges (if you don’t and your life is seamless and perfect, email me, we need to have coffee so I can find out what kind of meds you and/or your family are on):  difficult jobs, health crisis (what’s the plural of crisis?), financial challenges, marriage difficulties, rebellious teenagers and 10,000 other possibilities.  I have been in seasons of my life where I have experienced several of them at the same time.

The question for us is, if nothing about our circumstances improved or even if they actually got worse, is Jesus enough?  Is the All Sufficient God of the Universe, Maker of Heaven and Earth enough for us?  Or are we willing to say that anything (pick one or pick five above) has the power to undo us?

When we stop fighting our circumstances and start embracing our Savior, we have abundant life.  When Jesus is enough we are reigning.

Elf Yourself

Just as a follow-up to my snack food post, Guilt Free, I wanted to let those of you who may be wondering, the expensive snack I tried was good, but not great.  But since I realized I had built it up so much in my mind over several weeks that it never could have met my expectations, I did ask my husband what he thought about it.  He agreed it was good, but not great.  As further confirmation, there is still a partial bag in my pantry which means no one in my family was thrilled.

My point in that post was simply that living the resurrected life, on this side of the cross, means that we are no longer constrained by guilt.  We are in fact guilt free and that is where I would like to pick up and continue.

The reason that we are guilt free is that God so loved the world.  As believers in Jesus Christ, He set us free from the law of sin and death.  We have been crucified with Christ and have died to the law.  The law is what used to convict us and pronounce us guilty.  As believers in Jesus Christ we no longer live by the law, we live by the Spirit.  In Christ, the law no longer has the power to convict us.

We are well-loved people.  God is love and out of His divine nature He beckons us to live in that love with Him, through the blood of Jesus – or to put it another way, to put on our tiaras and reign in life and live abundantly.  Often though, we choose much less than God’s perfect love.  When I allow guilt or fear (residuals of the law) to keep me from embracing all that God has for me, then I am living a “less than” life.

So as I was thinking about what it meant to live well-loved  (e.g. embrace all that God has for me, to receive His love, to live in expectancy) and what that would look like in day-to-day life, I got this mental picture of Will Ferrell’s character Buddy the Elf.  Yes, from the movie Elf.  I really am not trying to lose all credibility here (if I ever had any), so hang in there with me for just a little longer.  By the way, Elf is one of my favorite movies and once again I have to ask you not to judge me and not to email me, I am simply sharing my heart here :).

BuddytheElf

I LOVE how Buddy moves through almost every scene in that movie expecting good things to happen.  He never self-protects, he never shields his heart, or erects walls between himself and others.  In fact, he isn’t even aware of the walls others have built to protect themselves.  He just pushes right through them.  He opens himself to everyone he meets, he celebrates even the smallest things (that “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” scene makes me laugh until I almost wet myself), he enjoys every second of his life (the “The Revolving Door Scene”).

He fully embraces other people for who they are, not what he wants them to be.  Even when his birth father rejects him at the beginning of the movie he never loses hope.  He lives well-loved (by Santa and Papa Elf) and out of that loves other people.

I realize the analogy could start breaking down at any second here so I’m going to restrain myself from going further with it.  But the truth is, I smile every time I think about it.  I could go on and on about Buddy the Elf, but by the time I elaborated on all the examples of living expectantly and well-loved, then I would really have recounted the entire film.  So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it.  If you have…well I think you get my point.

I am not advocating wearing a Happy Mask every single day.  Real is better than well-behaved.  God can deal with real, fake…well that’s just hiding and being dishonest.  Honesty, even if it is ugly, is one of the characteristics of the abundant life.

When I talk about Buddy the Elf, I am talking about living from who we are, not developing a formula for how to live.  We don’t need to all go buy elf costumes and pour maple syrup on everything we eat.  That would just be exchanging one law for another and every time we reduce living the Christian life to a formula we are cheapening the gospel.  It is so much more than a formula and a set of rules.  And yet it is simple, living in dependent relationship with God.

I am going to pause here and leave you with one more thought that I want to talk about next time:  Love transforms us from the inside out, while the law conforms us from the outside in.