Exposed

Have you ever felt … exposed?  I’m talking where your conscience is screaming at you and it feels like your flaws are simply … out there … as though everyone else can see your flaws too?  Of course, I attribute much of this to having the Holy Spirit which is like having a conscience that is magnified 100x.  Having been through some things, I’ve learned to appreciate that hypersensitivity, but other times, it leaves me feeling pretty … vulnerable.

There’s always those times when we mess up, right?  Oddly, those are the moments where it’s easier to just shoo the voice away.  You simply fess up, repent, and move on.  But then there’s those other times.  Those other times when maybe stress has been mounting and time and time again, you have really done your best to do it God’s way and you’ve done pretty well, but are getting pretty fatigued from the battle.  It seems as though there is no end in sight to the endless barrage.

Then … BAM!  It happens.  The straw that broke the camels back.  You find yourself in a situation where you just give in to the battle.  These are the moments where you are tired of trying to do it right.  The moments where you are tired of the fight.  The moments you are tired of missing the victory.  The moments where you are tired of taking the short end of the stick and giving in and seeing the enemy win.  The moment where you are just tired of being tired.  So you cave.  You cave to the anger, the hurt, the pity … to all the ugly emotions that have been pounding to get into your dwelling place.

Ugh!  I hate these moments.  These are the moments that sneak up on you and make you deal with stuff that you have been doing a pretty good job at dodging.  These are the moments that make you … gulp … fess up and confront how you really feel about stuff.  The anger, the resentment, the mounting bitterness .. it’s all swimming around in your head now.  If you are one of the lucky ones, Jesus keeps you from acting out on those feelings.  This is the very place that Satan has been trying to take you and now, you’re there.

I’d love to tell you that there is a magic formula to get out of these situations, but unfortunately, there isn’t.  All I know is that when God has gotten me in these moments, I can’t always say that I’m proud of how I respond.  It’s in those moments where I feel like Paul … ‘oh wretched man that I am.’  It’s like being in a current of ugliness that even though I know I’m wrong, there’s no simple switch to flip and turn it off .

Up until that time, I felt like, ‘Cool!  I got this.  I’m good.  I know God’s brought me through some things, but that’s okay … it’s all good.  I know it’s gonna’ be okay.’  But now, it’s like, ‘This sucks.  I was trying to do it HIS way and now THIS?’  I could go on, but if you’ve had any Christian walk at all, you get what I’m talking about.  And the worst part is that you feel like you can’t say anything because you KNOW you are in the wrong spirit.  UGH!!!  The insanity of walking the walk!

For me, this wrestling continues until finally, I break and begin to puke all over God.  NOOOO!!  This isn’t what I wanted to do!  But out it comes … all the hurt, the anger, the mounting bitterness, and list of unfair things you’ve been dealing with.  Some people feel better after puking.  Not me.  I feel sick for the next 3 days.  Man.  I just gave a bunch of crap to God.  I don’t think I blamed Him, but honestly, I was angry with Him and I’m not even sure that’s allowed and now .. Great!!  I’ve messed up again.  Sigh …. ever feel like you just aren’t going to get it right?

My  husband, he’s different.  He can get mad, blow up, then 5 minutes later he has a smile on his face like nothing ever happened.  Me?  I’m a woman.  If you know anything about women, we just don’t work that way.  Ugh!  So I walk around humbled and pretty quiet for the next several days.  I know Jesus’ blood covers my sins, but this is different.  I’m not always the best at just picking up and getting back to ‘happy’ so quickly.  I feel like a jerk and I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He lightning bolted me for my behavior.  ….. But He doesn’t.

Somehow, He just lets me be and then, slowly, He gently finds a way to let me know He still loves me.  How could He do that?  I mean .. after all I said and did, He’s taking time to minister to me?  He’s taking the time to let me know that no matter how mad, angry, and ugly I felt that I was, He STILL thinks I’m worth something?  Okay, it’s all over ….  I’m undone.

Only God!  Only God can do this.  Only God can allow us to be such jerks and then take the time to not only allow us to pound on, scream, and even blame Him and THEN take the time to whisper …. I still love you.

When this is the God we serve, how can we not be totally devoted to Him?

And we think we have this figured out?  Ha!  We haven’t even scratched the surface of what He has planned for us!

Yep … that’s right … exposed.  And still … Satan can’t snatch me out of God’s hand.

You don’t belong here.

Before I knew Christ, I spent a couple of years as a bartender.  I never really felt completely comfortable in that environment.  Honestly, it was an odd place for me to be because I was never much into drinking.  However, I had gone through a divorce, was a single mom, and had started a new business.  I seen it as an opportunity to help me support my family and my new business.

I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I was there though.  I remember the emptiness I felt inside as I’d watch people coming in to have a good time.  It wasn’t just the fact that they were drinking though.  I didn’t see alcohol as an evil unless it was in excess.  Watching the people come in having such a good time, and there I was … working, serving, and something inside me just didn’t feel right.  I felt like I needed to be home.  Like I needed to be with my kids.  But then, I was divorced, so there weren’t any kids to go home to anyway.  There wasn’t a relationship at that time either.  It was a very lonely time in my life.

I tried to make the most of it.  Somehow, I recognized that there were many other people in my same predicament.  They didn’t  have anyone at home and had this intense loneliness so it seemed that this was the gathering place to run away from the emptiness.  Oddly, when these lonely souls walked in and I had a chance to lift up their spirits with my friendly conversation and a smile, it somehow made my nights working there bearable.  Of course, those conversations were always early in the night.  As the night progressed, the scene would change to something very dogmatic and ugly.

As I look back, I remember a comment made one night by one of my local patrons.  He was a regular and his comment stuck  with me.  This was a young man who could have been my little brother.  I could tell he drank a little too much, but I really liked this kid.  I could see that he had a lot of potential.  I would often spend my time encouraging him like I was his big sister.  On this particular night, he was a bit toasted.  He had just been telling me his troubles and out of the middle of nowhere, he stops and looks at me and says, ‘You don’t belong here.’

Somehow, in the middle of his misery, he recognized something in me that I was really feeling.  I didn’t belong there.  I knew it, but my circumstances were such that I didn’t have many options.  It wasn’t but a year or so after that I was finally at a point where I could walk away from that environment.  Shortly thereafter, I had my encounter with Christ.

But this isn’t a story so much about me as it is about this young man.  I don’t know where this young man is now, but I’m fairly certain that he doesn’t frequent the bars anymore.  I know that by the time I quit, he had stopped coming in.  In hindsight, I believe that night Jesus stepped inside this young man’s soul and spoke not only to me, but also this young man.  I’m fairly certain that those words he spoke to me that night resonated within himself.  How could he recognize that I didn’t belong without seeing that he didn’t either?

I know now that this was a stirring in both our souls.  A stirring and a drawing from Jesus.  A stirring and a drawing to come out of the darkness and towards Jesus.  This is what gives me so much confidence in our God.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He shows up in our lives when we least expect it.  He teaches us the way of love.

He will never lead you astray.  It’s us who get ourselves lost along the way.  He knows just when to show up and tell us, ‘you don’t belong here.’

Jesus Wept: A love story

The deeper my relationship with Christ gets, the more I appreciate what He’s done and IS doing for me.  This weekend, I was reminded of how there are times, I don’t always respond in a way that is pleasing to Him. It’s interesting because when I mess up, I know it.  If it’s a mistake, I fess up, clean up, and move on.  I take responsibility and understand that mistakes will happen.  Jesus still loves me.

Well, there are other times when, it isn’t so much a mistake that I make; I would categorize it more as negligence.  Admittedly, I am at times negligent to my responsibilities as Christ’s bride.  Times when I get caught up in my own selfish reaction or feelings.  Kind of like Mary and Martha did in John 11, when they lacked faith and blamed Jesus for Lazarus’ death.

Ugh … not an easy thing to admit .. but there are times when perhaps, I react selfishly .. when I feel my needs aren’t being met by a loved one .. or overreact to something that really isn’t that big of a deal .. maybe not watching my tongue because I’m ‘having a bad day’ .. or perhaps even not being careful of what or whom I share with.  Sigh .. there really is no justification for my behavior in those moments.  I’ve literally just given over to my flesh and am creating a mess.  A mess that literally, only Jesus can clean up.  Often, I’m not even aware of the damage I’m doing because I’m too focused on ME.  After reading this particular passage this weekend, I have a better understanding that Jesus really does get upset with us when we do things like this.  It’s something that I have to come to grips with, I’m not always at a place where I am going to be pleasing to my bride-groom.

Oh how I realize my need for Him!  How did Jesus react to the unbelief He encountered?  The Word tells us He was troubled in His spirit and groaned within Himself .. but how He chose to handle it … He Wept.  I can only imagine how it must feel for Him to not have His disciples on the same page.  Here, He spends time loving, healing, sharing, caring, and even letting these ladies in on what He has in store and how do they react?  Disbelief .. lack of faith .. negligent .. completely contrary to what He’s trying to accomplish .. yep .. we do a pretty good job of mucking up His plans.  Yet still, He loves us.

What amazes me …  He doesn’t freak out on Mary, Martha, and the Jews that lacked faith.  He dealt with His spirit by weeping .. showing us how to seek His face in times of trouble or frustration .. then He continued on His path and completed the miracle.  His reaction was nothing but pure love!  He gave Mary and Martha room to grow.  The good news is, He really is all about mercy and grace.

I can’t help but feel that the stories we read are constantly Him talking to His bride trying to get her to see that He really is all about mercy, if she would only look in the mirror and realize just how much room He gives her to grow.  If we could just realize that He would like us to give the same in return, to others.  If we could just realize how much He withholds His wrath from ALL of us because He wants to include ALL of us!  Will He have to draw the line some day?  You bet.  But today, it’s mercy .. it’s grace .. it’s Love.

And even when we don’t ‘get it’ … still, Christ loves us.  He continues to draw, continues to gently correct, continues to withhold His wrath, continues to teach, continues to lead .. continues to love.

If only we truly understood how much He really loves us ..  All of us.  The Bible .. it really is the greatest Love Story ever written.  The best part, you and I both play an important role .. and Jesus is going to show us each how to play our part.  He really is an awesome God!

A higher calling …

I am in awe of Jesus!  I am truly in awe!  Recently, He has impressed upon me to study holiness.  Truthfully, this is a revisit for me.  But this is the wonderful thing about God, He knows our understanding, He knows our circumstances, He knows why we make a particular decision too.  He knows us!  The cool part is that He takes us where we are at and will open our understanding along the way based off our own lives.  In the Good News Version of the Bible Isaiah 28:10 tells us, “He is trying to teach us letter by letter, line by line, lesson by lesson.”

As I was studying, I recalled some of the things that had been taught from the past, but this time, there was something that changed my understanding to what I was researching.  The thing that changed my understanding was … my own experiences of trying to walk with God.

As I studied the word holiness, I recalled how I’ve acted and responded over the past several years since I’ve known God.  While my intention is always to do right by God, truth-be-told, I have failed over and over again.  Not always, but certainly enough times to make me realize that I’m kind of, well … a mess.  The place that He’s called me to work most is in my home, with my own family members.  This is the very place where it seems that I am the messiest.  We tend to put our walls down and let everyone see the ‘real’ us at home, don’t we?

Anyway, as I was studied this, I recalled distinct moments where I knew how I should respond, but I didn’t ‘feel’ like responding the appropriate way.  Maybe I was mad or hurt and perhaps even justifiably so.  In those moments where I felt justified, I have to admit that I was hell-bent on doing what was right for God; using my circumstances to justify my sour response as taking a stand for Christ.  Thankfully, God’s grace covered me through all of this because my heart was truly in the right place of doing what was right for God.  However, it was time to open my understanding because ultimately, God does expect us to grow and change and produce fruits of peace and gentleness, humility and love, to name a few.

I have certainly felt those things a time or two through the trials I’ve experienced, but not quite as often as I would have hoped.  This study helped me understand that something was missing in my equation.  I was trying to accomplish something for Christ, but I’ve been doing it all on my own.  I’ve been working hard, really hard, and it’s resulted in me feeling run down, wore out, and wondering when the peace is going to get here.  I’ve been a slave for Christ.

At this point, I can’t help but recalling a sermon in which a woman stood on stage and shared that, ‘she chooses to be lovely for Him.’  I realize, that this is what it means to walk in ‘holiness.’  It encompasses our thoughts, our actions, our words, our clothing, and especially how we respond when things are difficult … everything!  I thought I understood this before, but I thought simply living my life for Christ meant that He would accept me the way I am and correct me along the way.  After all, He knows me and created me.  And you know what, He has.  However, He’s now calling me to something higher .. He’s wanting to deepen my relationship with Him.

Walking in holiness encompasses taking an active position of making changes He reveals to me.  It’s taking the understandings He’s giving me and acting on them.  It’s taking the work out of relationship and making it an act of love instead of merely an act of obedience.  I love Him and I choose to do my best to paint a picture of loveliness for Him.  Certainly there are times when it’s harder than others.  Certainly at times, it goes against what I want or feel like responding.  Certainly there are times when I know I appear to be hypocritical.  And certainly, I will fail and not produce the picture of loveliness that I wanted to paint for Him.

But that’s the beauty of holiness.  It’s a process.  I’m certain there are things that He has yet to reveal to me regarding my understanding even now.

The beauty of holiness is that out of love, I want to be pleasing to Him.  I want to be lovely … for Him.

After all, Jesus is coming back for a bride, not a slave.  🙂

The other side of Christ’s Love …

It seems that we all know about how we are supposed to turn the other cheek, give up our coat, and forgive seventy times seven.  However, there is another side to Christ’s love that we don’t hear as much about … I’m referring to the tough side of love.

Believe it or not, I’m not talking about my children .. although as a parent, these things certainly apply.  I’m actually talking about people who Christ has put in our path that need not just another hand out or just another body to enable their dysfunction, but rather, they need a hand to help hold them accountable.

I had a situation recently that I had to be one of those hands.  At first, my attempts to assist were eagerly accepted and there seemed to be a direct change for the better.  However, the change was short-lived.  As I began to hold this person accountable, the scenario began to reveal a self-defeating ‘victim’ status that seemed to plague this person.  This was the hard part for me.  Certainly I wanted to help this person .. I wanted to see this person succeed .. however as time continued, it seemed that rather than climbing out of the hole, it was just getting deeper.  It got to the point where I had to make a choice.  I could either continue to enable defeat or do my duty and say .. enough.  How do you help someone who is simply not willing to help themselves?

Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t like this part of being a Christian.  Truthfully, I’m a sap for someone who has a ‘bad’ story.  I literally feel their pain and can understand why they are the way they are.  But this situation really made me understand the importance of doing my part to stop enabling the ‘I’m a victim’ cycle.

So the other side of love is this .. sometimes we have to be ‘tough’ with people.  Not mean .. tough.  The difference is all in the heart.  I really did feel for and understand how this person had gotten in the pit.  However, I also realized that victory would never be achieved until this person looks in the mirror and stops blaming today’s problems on yesterday.  Can I tell you?  I hate being the one to say that.  I know it’s supposed to be a blessing, but it doesn’t feel like much of one.  At least not yet because I don’t see any change.

Maybe that’s the reason it’s so hard for me.  Despite all MY efforts, I didn’t see anything change.  At least not yet.  I’m just another random hand reaching out to someone who’s not quite ready to climb out of the pit.

Sigh …

Not that I’m going to stop being compassionate, because if anything, this situation just increases my desire to help others.  I just feel like I had a visit from a vagabond and really really thought … there would be change.

I guess the tough side of love is realizing that not all the people Christ puts in your path are at a point where they are ready to change.

Ugh … what a different world it would be if they were.

 

Yeh, it’s valid ..

Do you ever wonder what your purpose in the church really is?  Truthfully, this is something that I’m always thinking about.  I’ve always got Jesus on the brain and over the years, I would say that my witness as a Christian has certainly evolved.

It started like the big bang theory.  I was explosively witnessing just out of sheer excitement for the things that God had done in my life.  I didn’t worry about doing things right or wrong .. I was seriously … excited!  Like a child exploring a new world.  I wasn’t even trying to witness.  It just happened.  I didn’t worry about where the other person was coming from or what their beliefs were.  I just lived, breathed, and acted on the new-found hope that I had found.

When reality hit that life was still just that … real … it changed my witness. I went through an evolutionary process of ‘deliberately witnessing’ to ‘learning to let God lead.’  And still, my process continues to evolve.  But along with my evolution is not just my witness, but a constant debate in my mind wrestles where my purpose lies.

I’m just being honest here, but I’ve one of those personalities that ALWAYS hears ‘you can DO more’ when I sit in on a sermon.  Sometimes I hear ‘you aren’t doing enough’ … depending on where my psyche is for the day.  Delivered with love, I know the pastors preach the right message.  It’s my filter that I wrestle with .. i.e. me.

Do I put more time at church?  Do I spend more time in bible study?  Is my intention that putting time into my family and being a witness to my family really a valid intention or am I making excuses because I’m not doing enough?

I think we’re supposed to wrestle with these things.  Not to a level that debilitates, but certainly to keep driving us forward.  At least I hope so.

Today I had a revelation that building a church is just as important at the family level as it is at witnessing to complete strangers.  I know that God has laid on my heart to prioritize my family in my witness.  Truthfully, that witness doesn’t always look like bible studies or preaching baptism and the in filling of the Holy Spirit.  But now that I consider this, it ALWAYS involves preaching repentance .. interesting.

I can’t help but see the correlation of a preacher and his wife building a congregation with that of my own family unit.  Here, my husband and I are often the ‘pastors’ if you will.  We spent some time putting out fires, building up, edifying, teaching, preaching, but mostly, loving .. even when it’s not easy to love.  Teaching forgiveness, hopefully offering wisdom, guidance and always pointing towards righteousness.

And just like in church, we .. the leaders .. make mistakes and our ‘congregation’ gets to watch us fall, get back up, evaluate our integrity or seeming hypocrisy, and in the end, it’s usually us who seem to learn the most.  We find ourselves learning the very things that we thought it was our job to teach.

In a world where there is so much work to do, it’s easy to feel as though we aren’t doing enough.  Today however, after the Connecticut shootings, I was reminded that my work in my family really is important.  We are in such a hurry to be witness to those that are hurting or those that need help that maybe we miss the strangers that are crying out for help in our own homes.

Yes, I can do more.  There’s always more to do.  Yes, I can do a better job.  There’s always things to improve on.  But in the end, I heard the voice clearly .. witnessing to my family is valid and just as important as witnessing to those outside of my home.

Sometimes it may take horrendous crimes to wake us up to this fact, but remember … despite all Noah’s preaching .. it was only his family that made it aboard the Ark.

Yeh, family as a priority .. I’m certain .. it’s valid.

The risk of investing everything

The other day, I made a comment to a young lady telling her that her boyfriend was worth the investment.  I didn’t put a lot of thought to the comment, it just came out because I believed it.  After I said it though, it really made me think about relationships between a man and a woman.

The young man I was referring to is someone very near and dear to me and someone whom I have always seen great potential in.  From the very start, I have seen the man who God wants him to be.

Of course, this is a young couple who are both growing and maturing, figuring out who they are in relation to themselves, each other, and I would venture to say, even God.  As I watch and pray for them, I can’t help but see the importance of investing in the person we are with .. not just the relationship.

I’m amazed as I watch this young man grow and see him maturing.  I have watched him grow from almost indifferent towards his girlfriend to being just that .. invested.  No longer is it just a relationship for the sake of relationship.  It’s something more.  It’s a realization that the other person has taken hold of a place in your heart that no one else can or ever will fill.

What a hopeful thing to see!  When we are invested, we are willing to go through a thing or two.  When we are invested, we have something to fight for.  When we are invested, we allow God to show us the person we love through His eyes instead of our own.  When we are invested, we are willing to bear our hearts, even when it hurts.

I believe this is one of the key factors to really good marriages.  Marriages shouldn’t be just a matter of convenience or filling financial and physical needs because it’s some sort of contract.  Marriage should be an investment in a person that God chose for me.

Unfortunately, I’ve been through divorce and didn’t realize these things in my previous marriage.  I fell into the trap of believing that marriage was about our individual happiness.  Mostly, I didn’t have God focused eyes to help me see the things I could not see.

While I’m not proud to say I’m divorced, I am thankful the situation ultimately led God to open my spiritual eyes.  I’m also thankful that God had someone in mind for me because, being the gracious God He is, He would give me a second shot at marriage.  God would teach me the importance of not just being committed to a marriage, but being invested in the man He has chosen for me.  What a difference investing in the man versus the marriage makes.

Why?  Because now that I invest in my husband versus my marriage, I’ve been given a glimpse of the bond that God truly intends between a man and woman .. and I realize just how valuable that bond truly is!  It is something to desire and strive for.  It’s beautiful and it’s worth every bit of effort and ugly thing you have to go through to get it.

When you are truly invested, you have everything to lose .. yes.  But on the other hand, when God is the one leading the investment, you have something that is priceless to gain … a type of love that only God can create.

I love my husband.