Independence Days

“With great power comes great responsibility…” Who said that? Winston Churchill? Someone during the French Revolution? Maybe it was Uncle Ben in the Spiderman movie? Opinions vary; but they tell you in Sunday school, when in doubt, just say “Jesus.”

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  -Jesus, Luke 12

img_9424Today, July 4th, is Independence Day. And in the wake of a worldwide pandemic, violent, unpredictable rioting, political upheaval, a volatile social storm, and general worldwide uncertainty about the future, I am thankful for today’s freedom. It is a valuable, weighty gift that should be handled like a piece of fine china or priceless work of art; because once it is trampled upon or broken, it is often tossed aside and forgotten.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…  -Psalm 33:12

My family loves history and can recite all the important dates, people, battles, and declarations. I just appreciate it, enjoy it, and walk in it. Freedom as a nation is an incredible blessing. As I see civil unrest, hatred, and division,IMG_5322 I don’t take it for granted. I am thankful to be able to think and write and speak and read and travel as a free American. But freedom is so much more than a declaration written on old parchment paper and filed away in the archives under watchful guard. Freedom  begins in the quiet corners of the mind and bursts forth in the heart and spirit like shadows of the painted reds, whites, and blues showering the sky.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  -Galatians 5:1

The apostle Paul wrote those words to a group of believers who were battling confusion and societal attempts to confuse or strip away their spiritual freedoms. We would be wise to tend his words:  Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

People have short memories and are easily swayed at times. Why would anyone choose to give up freedom and return to bondage? I have to wonder: Have people always been so angry? So confused and uncertain? Hopeless? Insufferable? I’m no psychologist. Or sociologist. I’m a fellow traveler but also an observer. And a learner. And someone who cares.

b2475e78-316c-433f-9fc2-cdc8fce01328If there were a battle flag to represent emotional and spiritual independence, I propose that it would bear three stars, representing hope, identity, and awareness. I believe true freedom grows from those tended, nurtured, well-watered places.

Hope that there is more than the day to day struggles and battles with our own, and other’s, fragile emotions and faulty lives. Hope that we are not alone. Lack of hope breeds futility.  You’ve heard it: Why bother? Who cares? Whatever! When people have no hope, they have no direction. They don’t care or commit. To anything or anybody. Like a drowning person often flails and inadvertently pulls their rescuer under with them, they simply struggle to keep their head above water and fight for the next breath. Lack of hope kills life, motivation, purpose, and direction.

Identity: An inner knowing and resolve that we are more than just a fleeting breath that passes through the earth and then returns to dust. People are confused and don’t know who they are, who they are meant to be, what good and life-changing purposes they are capable of. People desire to be loved, accepted, and fulfilled. Their lives to have purpose and meaning.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  -Declaration of Independence

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…  God, Jer 1:5

Lack of identity creates confusion and lack of direction. It mars the identity of and importance others. People become nameless, lifeless faces. Violence and disregard of life often follows.

Awareness that there is more than what we see, hear, feel, and touch: a fragile, temporal world filled with fragile, broken people. And that our cb86c896-68cb-4ec8-ac6d-4cdcff778412thought and actions affect more than the moment. They potentially have a ripple effect that can affect generations and alter history. Beliefs matter. Choices matter. Actions matter. It all matters.

I suppose the three could also be summed up in 1 Cor 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Faith instills hope, hope clings to purpose, faith clarifies identity, love kindles awareness, and awareness fosters love, identity encourages purpose, purpose gives hope, and on and on. It’s a beautiful circle of freedom.

Today I am thankful for American freedom and for those who have sown their time, efforts, prayers, and very lives into the fabric of our history. I am also thankful that, no matter what happens in society, there are inner, God-given freedoms that no one can take away. I am thankful to be ever-growing in hope, identity, and awareness of myself and others.

True freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we want; it is the strength to do what we should. That is also true bravery. May God grant us that strength.  -Ravi Zacharias

IMG_5320So many freedoms, opportunities, and blessings. Free country: I have freedom to speak and eat and read and go and do most anything I feel led to. Free will: I have the capacity and the gift to choose whom to be with, to love, and to serve. Free to _______ and free from _________. You fill in the blanks. I am thankful for the freedom to be, the freedom to do, the freedom to want and work and gain. I am also thankful to be free from condemnation, guilt, shame, and sin. No longer a prisoner. I am thankful for today: another Independence Day.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  – 2 Chron 7:14

I Didn’t Go to the Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429Is that what I was really hearing? With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. Like the sometimes long journey to forgiveness. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves. Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and deep tracks left behind. Are there imprints that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day…words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read while lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

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Broken Pieces

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Cor 4:8-9

The sound of glass shattering broke the silence of a very still, quiet morning alone at home. I somehow knew what it was the moment I heard it from the other room. There in the floor lay the pieces of a small decorative plate that had been propped precariously on a bathroom shelf. It wasn’t an IMG_6233expensive relic and it didn’t hold any special sentimental value, but I cringed when I heard it hit the floor. A small thing really, but I had bought it as a little token of encouragement and remembrance: What sets your heart free? As I held the broken pieces, contemplating whether to glue it back together or to discard it, it mysteriously seemed both strong and fragile at the same time. Encouraging and inquisitive, yet humble and broken. There was one clean, well-defined break where it could have shattered into a hundred pieces. For a brief moment that humble little plate reflected the lives, circumstances, and expressions etched on a dozen different faces and places in my mind. My own heart included.

My mind flashed back to a circle of a dozen godly women who introduced themselves and then proceeded to lay their hearts and their hurts open and vulnerable within the confines and security of the huddled group. Each described various losses she had recently experienced. IMG_6238It had been months since I had heard their words and seen their faces but it felt brand new as I remembered how through tears, sighs, clinched fists, shallow breaths, and faithful prayers came testimonies of devastating losses: loss of home, loss of spouse, loss of security, dream, or direction, loss of job…and then what I initially thought was the ultimate loss: the loss of a child. They were each walking through various stages of loss, grief, healing, and restoration.  Today as my hands held the broken pieces of plate and my mind rehearsed the broken pieces and echoes of so many lives, I realized none of my precious friends had really suffered the ultimate loss: the loss of hope. Even through pain, lack of understanding, or brokenness, each faithful friend expressed faith in a God who sees and the hope of complete healing, restoration, and purpose in all the pain..

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.     -Lamentations 3:21-23

Looking back over the broken pieces held in my img_8598open hand…I almost missed it. One word  wedged rather nondescriptly between little ink blobs that appear to be butterfly wings: “surrender”

Surrender. Why do we make that seem like such a bad word? Like it means weakness or giving up? Surrender = cease resistance.

Cease resistance. Quit fighting. Be still. Maybe brokenness and surrender go hand in hand? Surrender = the action of yielding one’s person or giving up the possession of something especially into the power of another.(Merriam-Webster)

But choose wisely what and who you surrender to. Surrendering to hate, fear, anxiety, worry, addiction, discouragement, or denial will cement your heart in darkness and bondage. Surrendering to faith, hope, love, and the God who sees and cares and loves brings truth, hope, and freedom. Maybe what sets your heart free is to recognize there is beauty in brokenness, power in surrender, light in the darkness, healing in affliction, hope in despair.

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..  Is 42:3

Well…It’s still just a small broken plate which many would have discarded; but it has found its new home on my foyer table: a reminder that we all have broken pieces and broken places, but also strength, beauty, and purpose. Even if it is simply to remind others that there is beauty and hope in each day. So today I am thankful that my life has intersected with others and, in our losses and brokenness, we have found common ground, connection, faith, and hope.  Let me ask this: What sets your heart free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   – Jesus, John 8:32

IMG_5426My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Ps 51:17

Remember…

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers. -John F. Kennedy

There was another leader thousands of years ago who urged us to remember. King Solomon also challenged us to reflect and to remember:

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Today is a time to remember…but what does it mean to remember?

It’s a verb…showing action or intention: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).

Memorial Day… Is it more than a day off work, a picnic in the park, time together with friends, the beginning of Summer, a day at the pool, and some good food on the grill? All those are great, but is there more?

Decoration Day was first celebrated (unofficially) in the few years following the Civil War, the deadliest. most close-to-home, war ever affecting the United States…dividing communities and tearing families apart. It was a day to remember, to pray, and to adorn graves with flowers to remember the sacrifice. Memorial Day wasn’t  officially recognized as a national holiday until 1971…more than a hundred years after people began the tradition of remembering all those who had lost their lives serving their country.Arlingtonandoldpic 011

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

I remember…I grew up in an Army town. Young men with crew cuts, tattoos, fast cars, and fast lives were ever-changing parts of the backdrop. Seemingly ordinary lives and faces, they were such an familiar part of daily living that I failed to see the glory and sacrifice played out in everyday encounters. I was totally unaware of the tremendous sacrifice and the risks involved in being a soldier. I failed to understand the scope of service and depth of their commitment. Practically kids, they were torn from their families and relocated all over the world. Driven and treated harshly, often viewed with suspicion and contempt, they were armed, equipped, and sent to the front lines to wage wars that would never end and could never really be won.

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,Washington, D.C 205

Strong and courageous, creative and daring, bold and fearless, fragile and broken…this human life and condition present varied experiences, challenges, opportunities, and chances for pain and wounding; but “a time to heal” and “a time to build” offer the promise of hope. We remember the past to honor sacrifice and to build a better future.

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

cellpixJuly2014 163I remember… Washington D.C.  is one of my family’s favorite cities to visit. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and remembrance, the city is built upon two hundred year old stories, legendary history, and extensive monuments that surround it like soldiers guarding their charge.  They stir us to remember.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

The streets, the shadows, the monuments shout echoes of patriotism, pride, loss, regret, and what should or could-have-beens.Washington, D.C 085

So many conflicting feelings and words: united, one nation, under God, liberty, justice for all…but also: division, anger, hatred, death, loss of hope. We are fearfully and wonderfully made but we are also needy and broken, We live, we love, we laugh, we lose, we hurt, we wound others. We remember

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

My family loves history. We travel to former presidents’ homes, Civil War forts, museums, and scattered landmarks. We gaze on old relics and tattered pieces of history with awe and admiration and reverence. We remember

 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,flags

Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the tattered flags, the eternal flame, the cold grave stones… They are silent. They are somber. They remember.

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace

Love and hate. War and peace. I hate war. I love peace. War within, war without. War is costly. Peace is costly. Today we remember the toll that both have taken on our country, our communities, our young people, our family, our friends. Will we really remember?

IMG_3883Will we remember to train up our kids, to tell them of God’s faithfulness and the sacrifice of generations who have gone before? Will we talk about it with our children and impress it on them when we are walking down the road, when we are at home, when we lie down and when we rise? Will we write it on our doorframes or on our very hearts? For what beliefs, lifestyles, and freedoms have our sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers laid down their lives?  Mindfulness demands thankfulness. Count your blessings, count your freedoms, know that freedom is bought with a price, and be thankful. Remember..

Memorial Day… Maybe it really is all these things:  Summer, new life, bountiful blessings, a safe place, time to play, laughter of children, a splash in the pool, a trip to the beach, cherished time with friends and family. But it was bought with a price. So remember its value. Enjoy blessings and safety, being aware that the price has already been paid. Remember and be thankful.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.       John 15:13 

Will you remember?

Washington, D.C 077

Forgiveness Is Cake…

“It’s a piece of cake.” How many times have we said that about simple math, riding a bicycle, or learning a new task? How could I even suggest that such an important, often monumental, usually painful, task as forgiveness simply be a piece of cake?

I’ve heard forgiveness, or lack of, compared to various tangible items and situations: drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, chain2carrying heavy rocks around in a backpack, being chained to another, laying down a heavy load, cleansing your hands, burying a hatchet…and so many more.  But this week I heard a whole new spin on forgiving…it’s like cake!

I like cake.. but a good cake can be really complicated. The right ingredients and measurements, containers and preparation, altitude and preciseness all factor in to the final outcome… the appearance, the taste, and the satisfaction. And if you want it to look really good and appealing…that’s a whole other story!

As I sat with a trusted friend discussing the intricacies and fallacies of forgiveness, she said it:

Forgiveness is like cake. We can say we have forgiven and cover it up and push it to the side saying ‘there, that’s done’; but it’s better to cut into each piece and see what’s in it…deal with and really be done with it.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

My friend says: Cut the cake.

c5b7b73f-72e1-4e8e-ab79-14c28703affeI like word pictures. To me that was an incredibly practical piece of advice. How many times have I forgiven someone…just like throwing a blanket over a virtual plate, or crate, of offenses and shoving it off to the side. Out of sight, checked off my spiritual to-do list, a temporary respite from the heaviness, and presumed guilt and shame? Or felt like a good girl, doing the right thing and forgiving as Jesus commanded… Until something rose up in me again…a face, a memory, another offense.

Cutting cake can be messy…scattered crumbs and icing clumps can be annoying, sticky, and hard to clean.

Relationships can be messy too. Just like cake…the result of improper ingredients, faulty measurements, broken containers, poor preparation, attitudes, expectations, and simply being broken humans in a broken world.

Cutting it open means exposing it. What’s really inside and behind 76b26c41-036b-4ea0-b62f-9e787045eb9bimg_8611and under? It can be messy, painful, hard…but freeing. It means naming it: the offense, the hurt, the pain, the injustice, the whys, the why nots, the what-ifs, the never-going-to-be. It also means uncovering truths, lies, fears, expectations, hopes. It doesn’t mean we will get all the answers. It simply means we will really be able to see the full scope of our hurt and know that we  are intentionally, specifically forgiving the offense and all that it has meant to us. It is emptying our plate and starting fresh, expectant.

Three of the biggest challenges I have heard about the difficulty of forgiving are:

  1. It’s letting the offender off the hook
  2. It’s not recognizing the depth of the hurt /or saying it really didn’t matter.
  3. It’s too painful to remember.

Oh, but it matters. It deeply matters. You matter. And you will remember…consciously, subconsciously, in your patterns of behaviors and responses…you remember. And you can live out of that place of woundedness, pain, and unforgiveness; or you can be healed to remember and live from a place of deliverance and freedom.

Mark 9:42 says Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

Romans 12:17-19 says Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

I love the Old Testament story of Joseph. Hated, rejected, betrayed, sold into slavery, misused, falsely accused, forgotten. He knew exactly what had been done, what he was forgiving, and most importantly how God had given him the resiliency and faithfulness to be able to proclaim in Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”  He cut the cake. He recognized the evil intent, the mistreatment, the unfairness… but also recognized that God had used all the mistreatment, all the detours, all the pain and suffering to bring him to a place of growth and purpose. A place of freedom. I believe He still does that in our lives today.

So if you’re reading this, maybe you’re just curious or maybe you have a need. A hurt, an unhealed tender spot, a nagging dark shadow, an offense to forgive. 56629803-26a9-4966-a3d4-ea47fe65f090So pull up your cake plate, a knife, and your willingness. Find a trusted friend or counselor  and cut the cake. Inspect it. See what’s inside, what it’s made of…piece by piece. You’ll be glad you did. Then frequently consider, what’s on your plate?

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.         Proverbs 11:14 NASB

Fully Alive

Once in a great while a book comes along that grips you, challenges you, encourages you, and changes you. It grabs you and makes you shout a resounding “yes” or “me too” or “I understand” from the comfort of your favorite reading chair.  A book that you wish you had written. A book that will remain on your shelf of favorites indefinitely. I recently read a book like that.


fully  \ fo͝olē/  (adverb)

1. completely or entirely; wholly; to the furthest extent

alive  \ ə-ˈlīv(adjective)

1. having life; living; existing; not dead or lifeless

2. in a state of action; in force or operation; active

3. full of energy and spirit; lively; having the quality of life; vivid; vibrant

So…being fully alive means: living a vibrant life, full of energy and spirit? Being whole, complete…to the furthest extent?  Jesus said it like this:

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, til it overflows].   John 10:10 amp


Fully Alive by Susie Larson arrived in my mailbox at the precise time I needed it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to walk through a hard struggle, a dark valley of a very emotionally trying time. I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe God has perfect timing. One of the first quotes to jump off the page was this:

What happens in our souls happens in our cells.

Wait…did I read that right? “What happens in our souls happens in our cells.” She went on to say “A distressed soul creates a distressed body.”  That’s it! FAsetfreeThat’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself and my friends and my patients for years. I’ve said it in so many different ways but none as direct and easy to understand as that. It’s cellular…foundational, a building block on which everything else is built.

cell – the smallest structural unit of living matter capable of functioning independently

Do you see how important that is? The very building block, the blueprint, the structure woven within us responds to comfort, love, peace, and joy…but also to pain, anger, unforgiveness, shame, fear, grief, anxiety, and so much more.

People are resilient. They can go through all types of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and FAwholeevery imaginable adversity; but why do some thrive but others  stay stuck forever? Always wounded, always a victim, never an overcomer? In the Old Testament, after God had delivered the young men from the heat of the fiery furnace, it was noted that:  the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! (Daniel 3:27)

They didn’t even smell like smoke. What does that look like in our world? To not have any lasting, contaminating residue from our fiery trials, afflictions, and wounding from others? “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god.” To be walking around, even in the midst of trial and adversity, unbound? Unrestricted in our walk with God and others? Fully Alive. I see people so wound up,FAiknow stressed out, frazzled, and going in so many different directions that they never consider how everything brewing beneath the surface is affecting their current physical and emotional health.

Autoimmune disease, obesity, poor nutrition, chronic pain, addiction, depression, anxiety, despair, and suicide are at an all-time high: physical, emotional, and spiritual sickness, injury, and disease. I think Susie may have tapped into so much more than she realized with that simple phrase: “What happens in our souls happens in our cells.”

So…what’s the next step? To identification, to healing, to restoration?

We cannot and must not keep grinding our gears through life while ignoring the physical and emotional toll that our hardships have had on us. Neither can we ignore the mental and/or emotional symptoms that are trying to get our attention.

Susie describes FAuneartha gentle “unearthing” process…like a farmer carefully preparing his field for sowing seed and new life, like the gentle strokes of artist creating a timeless masterpiece, or the life-saving hands of  skilled surgeon.

Discovery takes work. Healing, renewal, and restoration take work. Each chapter of the book concludes with opportunity for soul-searching, prayer, reflection, spiritual resetting, and digging deeper. It’s a good work. A life-changing, healing work.

Part of our healing process involves resetting our perspectives around our suffering and the sufferings of others.

I studied Genesis last year and couldn’t help but be reminded of Joseph’s words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Not that the author addresses that specifically; but she does address the battle we’re in, peace in the storm, trust, and rest for our bodies and souls.

In the midst of the specific storm I was facing a few weeks ago, I had an unexplainable peace. As I sat in my cozy chair with the book, I read these words:

There’s a time to engage and contend for the promises of God, and many of us know how to war on that front. But in the midst of the battle, so few of usFAfight know the warfare power of a heart at rest. Jesus modeled this when He slept in a boat that was about to be capsized in the storm. He didn’t worry. He didn’t panic, He didn’t feel an impending sense of doom. He took a nap. And when He got up from his nap, He took authority over the storm.

He took authority. His mind, body, and spirit were at rest. Fully Alive. At that point I realized what “a peace that passes understanding” meant and what it felt like to be walking, and resting, in it. To be Fully Alive is to feel: joy and pain, but hope. Heartache and victory.  But being Fully Alive is also to fight…sometimes with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith; sometimes with rest, trust, and dependence.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Is 30:15

There is so much more I could write about the book img_9377and its encouragement and impact on my life during this season. But maybe it’s your turn to explore and dig and unearth and walk in rest and freedom…to be Fully Alive.

But message me if you want to study it together!  🙂

All quotes from Susie Larson’s book Fully Alive: Learning to Flourish-Mind, Body & Spirit

#FullyAlive

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Go To The Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429Is that what I was really hearing? With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. Like the sometimes long journey to forgiveness. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves. Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and deep tracks left behind. Are there imprints that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day…words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read while lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

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Together Is Better

heal  

verb   [heel]

1. to make healthy, whole, or sound; restore to health

2.to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups,usually with the strong implication of restoring

 3.to free from evil; cleanse; purify: to heal the soul.
 Working in health care for almost thirty years now, the idea of physical healing is nothing img_9058-3abstract or new. There are some who search and commit to healing at any cost: the best specialists, the most rigorous testing, intentional planning, and conscientious living. Others ignore warning signs, isolate, deny their needs and symptoms, and continue to experience a slow steady decline and loss of vitality. But there is so much more to balanced health and wellness than stable vital signs, a good report on an annual exam, and routine scheduled procedures. Obtaining and maintaining good physical health involves a day by day, one foot in front of the other journey. What about good emotional, mental, and spiritual health? Are they any less important or demand less intentional thought and attention? Are there short cuts, quick fixes, and magic elixirs and oils to soothe a troubled mind, bind a broken heart, or set a spirit free?

So…what do the title Together Is Better and the term heal have in common?

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“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matt 18:20

I recently found myself in the midst of a small circle of women exploring and recounting stories, struggles, truths, and lies learned in the murky depths of life, loss, hurt, and healing. Anytime a tightly woven circle of believing women gather to go deeper into matters of the heart, not only is there coffee; invariably there are tears, prayer, hugs, words of encouragement, and usually snacks. 🙂 Where two or more are gathered, there is great potential for depth, accountability, searching, support, confrontation, and sometimes conflict. But there is also life and love and lessons that are not learned in text books, television, or self-help videos. Somewhere in the midst of the searching and sharing, words and images from a book I had read years earlier found their way into the conversation.

That’s why you’re here…I want to heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us…there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away…life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.

img_9068The Shack, by William Paul Young, was released to both raving accolades and scalding controversy. Different, edgy, imaginative.Yes, it’s fiction, but as God, yes God, met with and spoke those tender words to the struggling, hurting soul in the story, I was reminded of a phrase that my pastors frequently quote: Together is better. I attend a contemporary church that emphasizes the importance of small group ministry. I suppose it’s a phrase that I’ve heard at least a thousand times: a catch phrase, a cliche, a buzzword, good advice? More than that, it’s a direction, a building block, and a ministry. People matter. Words matter.They have meaning and consequence. Sometimes a few black and white words on a page can breathe the hope, healing, and breath of God to a hungry, hurting, searching people.

I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing…
Penned in the introduction to the book, those simple words explain much of life, love, loss, and restoration. They also foreshadow and frame the impending story: not only the fictional story in The Shack, but parts of our own stories as well. Too often people are wounded and subsequently withdraw into solitary shells and lonely retreats; or they build protective barriers that may quickly become fortresses with thick impenetrable walls… more like prisons, that eventually harden their paths, their choices, and ultimately their hearts.
img_9084People are imperfect. They fail. They’re messy, inconvenient, and burdensome. Sometimes they unintentionally neglect, wound, scar. Other times it’s not so unintentional. Sometimes it’s deliberate, calculated, evil, and unrepentant. There is no sorry, forgive me, or I was wrong.  In the book, Mack experiences a Great Sadness that is totally out of his control. He did nothing to put himself in the position of helplessness and wounding. Someone else’s hurtful thoughts, ruthless actions, and destructive sin choices thrust him into the depths of unrelenting pain and anguish. Loss and life change. In the pain, he recoiled reflexively, as if scorched by a searing flame and, in time, his scars grew thicker and colder. They created a solid exterior, tough and protective . At the same time forming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle dividing him from God and, in some ways, others. Then he had a choice. We have a choice.
Getting head issues out of the way makes the heart stuff easier to work on later…when you’re ready…I can set you free, but freedom can never be forced…you don’t even understand that freedom is an incremental process.
Freedom is an incremental process? Gradual? Progressive? Little by little? There is freedom in that alone! It’s permission to relax: to stop the striving, comparison, judgment, and the whys: Why can’t I get over it?  Why can’t I be like __?  Why can’t I just __?  In an era of quick fixes, easy answers, and temporary solutions, it’s easy to walk in discouragement and self- condemnation when easy or sudden healing and transformation don’t happen. Guilty. I’m guilty of great, speedy expectations: A drive thru breakthrough rather than three steps forward and two steps back. Cliches, but real struggles when discouragement threatens to separate us from God or others, when we feel like we will never get over it, we’re all alone,  or  just not good or strong enough. Maybe “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” Maybe together really is better.
That’s just a tiny glimpse into the story. Just enough to raise questions and start conversations, but maybe that’s enough. Some may want to dig out their old copies of the book and re-explore; others still claim it’s heresy. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor 1:27)
img_9090Together is better. Yes, people can be messy; but people can also be the hands, feet, eyes, and words of Jesus to extend hope and healing in the valley of our Great Sadness, our daily struggles, or just our steady trodden paths.  The term, the Great Sadness resonates to something deep within me. That’s a whole separate post, or ten. It doesn’t have to matter what The Great Sadness is in someone’s life: an event, a loss, a lack. The goal is healing: recognition, reconciliation, and restoration. As I’m finishing up here, I realize that this post isn’t deeply theological, philosophical, or even anything new. It also seems rather incomplete… Like I could write for days and there would still be many corners, avenues, and deep wells to explore. Some people write to entertain or to influence. I write to process. Still processing.
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Friendship is born at the moment 
when one person says to another:
“What? You too?
                 I thought I was the only one.”                     C.S.  Lewis

When It’s Cold Outside…

 

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routineimg_8361 daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

Our home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow. So much to think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less img_8358tangible than measured inches or levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my accusing thought processes. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait… The kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

It isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into sickness and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of theimg_8301 lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

Did God really say..?

Who told you that..?     apple-273839_1280

Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up..I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? snowmenWhat would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, and to strengthen? What does it mean to take every thought captive? Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? Who or what do you concede the power to define you?  And a support inventory: who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8

Books and Bombs

I like to read. And I like to write. IMG_7565So when I was offered an opportunity to read and review Elisa Pulliam’s soon to be released book, Meet the New You, I jumped on board expectantly and wholeheartedly.

But this is not a review. I actually haven’t started it yet…at least not on a page one, left to right continuum like a compliant, conformist reader. I did, however, skim the chapter titles, speed read the planner, and glance over pertinent quotes.

By ” pertinent quotes” I actually mean words that pierced the heart, stung the conscience, opened the eyes, and fell in my face like a cold, drenching rain. Why did I read those particular words on that specific day at the precise hard place I had just found myself sitting in anger and frustration? I don’t believe in coincidence, happenstance, or luck. I choose to see “coincidences” as divine appointments, purposeful encounters, connecting crossroads, or meaningful words and events in due season.

“Forgiveness Frees Us from the Chains of Pain”   -Elisa Pulliam

That was the first quotation from the book that jumped off the page and into my conscience. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about forgiveness…about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. Back then it was merely a little obstacle, a tiny bump in the road, but the struggle this week had been chain2very different: deeper, more hurtful, less easily released. Okay…not released at all, but held firmly between fingers clinched so tightly, for so long, that I couldn’t remember how to open them. Just as old friends, old songs, and old photos often bring back the warmest feelings and happiest memories, old hurts and offenses are often embedded in the deepest, darkest places and forge the most pain, anger, and confusion. They inflict invisible wounds to the heart and soul.

This isn’t about confession. Or scandal. Or grungy details of sin or hurt or loss or betrayal. It’s just about humanity. About feeling. About living, loving, hating, and believing. It’s about guilt and regret and confusion and trying and succeeding and failing. About falling down and getting back up. It’s about emotion and expression and repression…and sometimes even a little regression. At its core, it’s about struggle and chains and wires and bombs…and freedom.

“Unforgiveness wires our soul to the past yet causes explosions in the present.”    -Elisa Pulliam

That was it! That one sentence explained the pressure that had been building in my mind and body until I thought I might explode. It was linked and wired and crisscrossed like a complex circuit board. Or maybe it was more like a pile of dynamite. I’ve heard that one potential sign of harboring unhealed hurts or unforgiveness is having an unusally tender spot that we hide and cover and push people away from. I’ve also heard it compared to a thorn that we adapt to, wrap scar tissue around, and sometimes forget it’s there…until someone or something touches it and then we recoil in pain, confusion, or shame. So…unforgiveness may manifest as a tender, unhealed wound? Makes sense. But a bomb?

This really isn’t all about me. I talk to lots of people. It’s what I do and I love it. But I frequently witness the consequences of unhealed hurts, repressed feelings, and unforgiveness. I counsel people who are confused about seemingly unexplainable anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, tension, and lashing out: “I just snap.” “I can’t control it.” “Something just comes over me.” Sometimes there really is no obvious present-day trigger. Sometimes it’s not situational or chemical or hormonal. Sometimes it seems as if a hidden remote control or detonator button is pushed and they have very little control.

But what is about me is this: I had a bad day. I snapped IMG_7563at someone for no legitimate reason. Snapped? Okay…I exploded all over someone. Not just any someone, but someone I have a long, deep, hard history with. I said very hurtful things…words and expressions and tones that I didn’t like and don’t typically use. It was hurtful. It was hateful. There was no love, no grace, no mercy. Truthfully, the worst was not even said to the person directly, but to the four walls of the room I retreated to as a private sanctuary…an asylum. But I heard my tone, my words, my intent, my heart. Who walked away with the greatest pain and regret? I have no doubt that I did. I was the bomb. Unresolved conflict was the detonator. Unforgiveness was the catalyst. Explosion was inevitable.

“It is only through forgiving others that we become unchained and able to really move on.”    -Elisa Pulliam

Does knowing that there’s a distant, remote trigger for what we say, do, or feel today make all the hurt, struggle, and guilt disappear? Probably not, but it does give IMG_7561more focus, direction and new weapons to engage in the battle. It’s difficult to fight an unknown, unnamed enemy. What will you call it? Anger? Hurt? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? By naming it, we see the potential battle lines, mine fields, and obstacles and will be better equipped to grab hold of a live wire and trace it back its point of origin and unplug it. Diffuse it. Disconnect it. Purposefully. Prayerfully. Vigilantly. Is it easy? No, but we walk it out one step, one breath at a time. Pray for wisdom, patience, guidance, discernment, and willingness. Pray, cry, talk to someone, learn and speak truth. Fall and then get back up. And be willing. Willing to love, willing to share, willing to forgive or at least willing to be willing to forgive. And then forgive. And forgive. And forgive. Forgive those who hurt you and forgive yourself. In doing these things, we snuff out one fuse, one fire at a time; and we snip one link in the chain….and then another, and another, until the chain snaps and falls and we are finally loosed.

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“Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Forgiving is about remembering and releasing.”   -Elisa Pulliam

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  -Jesus, John 8:36

For more information and encouragement, please visit  http://www.thenewyou.elisapulliam.com  #theNEWyou