Beautifully Losing Control

Sometimes real living, true abundant living is in the torrent of the waves. All too often, we spend our time working to build a safe haven from the waves of life. Family support surrounding us, a nice house, a reliant car, a nice savings, and retirement waiting for us in the end: the American dream. Or is it? God’s economy just does not work the same way ours does, and sometimes He calls us off the safe shore into the crazy, torrent of waves. And, we would find, that in Him, even in the waves it is most safe. Why? Because He said, “come”…

We go to Maine every summer at least once. It’s the best place on earth and don’t ask me why I haven’t moved there. Because I have seriously begged God to send us. We have thought of many fantastic ministry opportunities. Church at the Inn, Church/Candy Store, RV Chaplain (that’s a thing, right?)…

Sigh…to no avail…He is not listening.

Back to my point, the sea is my favorite place to be. Mostly on the shore, though, especially in Maine where the water temp is 50 degrees or less. I watch kids and adults frolic in the water as if it’s warm and cozy, but I know the truth. It’s not. My kids are just now getting brave enough to go to the edge. And, Cavin actually now does go all the way in. Yet, the waves still unnerve all of them a bit.

The cold and waves keep me out. I stay just where it’s calm, right at the waters edge where the tide is coming in.

Yet, I always think that the water looks so refreshing and the waves look fun…exciting.

Our most recent vacation, I decided I was done gazing. I wanted to run in, just go for it. (I know, this is my pathetic – exciting life. Humor me, please.) I made Brad promise to go with me. But we didn’t do it right away. The kids needed this and that. I didn’t want to get soaking wet right at first, because then I would be uncomfortable and cold.

Brad kept asking me through the day, so are you ready, you still want to do this? Um sure, maybe in a little while.

Finally, I realized I couldn’t back out, because well, I don’t back out.

I got myself all geared up again and we went running as fast as we could. The cold hit me, seeping into my skin and dropping the overall temperature of the air. Brad leaped in…and I, well, I came to sudden halt as soon as I felt the cold on my waist and the first wave begin to hit. I am seriously a wimp.

After dancing around for a minute or more, I realized how ridiculous I was acting. I took a deep breath and just went under. It was freezing – 40-50 degrees freezing. It took my breath away. However, I relaxed and begin to get a little used to cold. Until each wave hit me again…

My point is, though, it was invigorating. Refreshing. And a whole lot of fun.

Sometimes, the best place to be is in the middle of the waves. Even when it’s cold and uncomfortable, and each wave that comes knocks you off your feet and seems to take a little control. Where nothing is safe, everything is uncertain, and the hit of each wave chills you to the bone. If God says step out-rather-leap out of this boat, wouldn’t the waves be better than the calm and safety of the boat or shore?

When he calls us to step out, like Peter, we call out, “If it is you Lord – I will come – if it is you I will go”. We get so hesitant, we doubt. Sometimes, sometimes He wants us to throw doubt to the wind and just dive in. Trusting that the miracles and all that we need will follow.

Still He says come. If we step out, we are stepping out into waves-fog-maybe even a storm or two. Yet, we are also stepping out into of the sun on the sea, vastness of open spaces, a wild and invigorating ride on the waves.

You see it’s not always fog and storm, sometimes there are clear skies and radiant sun. But, when you step out of the safe boat, there will always be waves. Sometimes small, sometimes big. Waves are a certainty.

There comes a point when God will call us away from the shore. He will lead us to the water, not away from it. There will come a time where He calls us to step out into the torrent of the waves. Do we trust Him enough? Will we keep our eyes upon Him, not falter or waiver, just steady trust?

This level of trust, the courage to leap – it does not come easily. This requires us to dig deep, and acknowledge our insecurities and fears. Which will reveal our lack of trust, and in the end, surrender. How much in our life have we not tried, done, or accomplished because of hidden insecurities and fears? What comparisons have held you captive? How many relationships went undone because we just couldn’t take the risk? If we become inwardly healthy, we will find we now have all that we need in Him to take a dive-to take a risk.

Our Spirit is willing, yet our flesh is weak. We become convinced that safe is better. When Christ says it is better to lose your life in full surrender to Him, we unintentionally squander our time, talent, and resources trying to save it.

There is a favorite song of mine by Bethel Music that says this:

“And further and further my heart moves away from the shore. Whatever it looks like, whatever may come I am yours. Then you crash over me and I’ve lost control, but I am free. I’m going under, I’m in over my head. Whether I sink or whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.”

Do we desire so much of Him, His path for our lives that we will allow ourselves to be “in over our head”? The waves are not always bad, sometimes they represent the beautiful adventures of following Christ.

When we follow God in abandoned surrender and obedience, He will overwhelm us with how He responds. I hear too many people (myself included) insisting on the safety of the shore when God is calling them into the waves.

Is He calling you to step out of the boat or to move away from the safety of the shore? What “safe” place are you clinging to? What is He calling you to do? Where is He calling you to go? Have a little faith and step out.

For the Sake of Peace, Rock the Boat

Romans 12:9-10, 17-18:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other…

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

In efforts to keep peace, we stay silent, we clinch our teeth and determine to better love that person who rubs us raw. And although there may be times where God whispers, “Be still, be silent”, we miss other opportunities to speak the truth in love.

When we avoid conflict, is it because we are afraid we will hurt the other person? Is it because we just feel too awkward, so awkward that it can make us physically ill. Or, do we simply feel it is not worth our time or effort?

We will go to many lengths to avoid a person or situation.

But is it really about them and is it more about us? In what ways have we rubbed a person raw? How have our words, our actions, our facial expressions wounded another person?

Better yet, maybe we think we have put on a great face and clenched our teeth tight enough-but our deep rooted hurt and anger is beginning to leak out all over our interactions with that person.

No matter how hard we may try, covering our ugliness towards a person or ignoring the pain experienced by another person will never offer real peace. In the end all that will produce is a false peace shrouded by false love and intentional avoidance.

God’s Word tells us in James that our quarrels and fights come from the “passions at war within us”.

We must deal with our own brokenness and we must name the pain caused by others. Whether this leads to a full confrontation will be up to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the other person’s willingness, and our determination to grow in the process and seek or find forgiveness.

To truly love, to love well, is to be willing to go the hard way of acknowledging disappointments, failures, and hurt. It requires us to see the other as God would. Eyes with mercy, clothed with compassion, hands offered in grace and forgiveness. Sometimes this is done quietly with God alone, in those moments He says “Be still and silent”. And, many times, it comes when we are willing to lay down our pride, ask God to help us, and go share truth in love. Or it comes when we humble ourselves, acknowledge our wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness.

Why we do cheapen grace and mercy for others by living in ways of false peace and false love? Why does it seem that it is actually a good thing to self protect when that usually only results in pain and broken relationships?

If we could pull our eyes off our neighbor long enough to take a good look inside, judgements tend to slip away. Our eyes become so full of our own mess that we flinch to think we had a right to remove another’s mess. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Always. Truth in love triumphs over passivity. Always. Does mercy always mean silence? Does mercy always mean simply walking away? I don’t think so. If our walking away is not sensitively led by the Holy Spirit, it inevitably results in avoidance, passive aggressive behavior, manipulation, and more.

How do you know when to stay silent or when to speak? Listen to God’s voice. He leads, He whispers move or stop. Ultimately, if you find yourself in conflict or needing to confront, consider this, I read this once somewhere in a biblical counseling article and took note of it:

“Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.”

I am learning this over and over again. If someone has wronged you or offended you, share truth with the right purpose…

  • It’s not your role to change character or to help a person become self aware. That is God in them. The extent to which a person is self-aware is usually the extent to which they are able to receive truth of offense.
  • Is there trust and respect?
  • Are there ears to hear and a heart to respond? Most times there is if only we approach the person with humility.
  • Ultimately, what are you trying to accomplish or gain?

Finally, if you know you have offended or wounded a person – even if you may not understand it completely – humble yourself and go share love and request forgiveness. Don’t let it go dormant, don’t avoid.

Our living in peace with one another will not mean passivity and ignorance. It means we strive to live in peace, actively seek peace. Search for it and work for it as the treasure it is. Listen tenderly to the Spirit. Take the necessary inside look to discover your brokenness. For the sake of peace, rock the boat, say only what is necessary, love deeply and truly. Then watch our faithful and merciful God work.

Failing as a Parent…

Every day is not a great day. It’s not always a family fun day. It’s a 11am and I am done with the day. The first Saturday after school has started. I have genuinely missed Cavin. I had grand plans in my mind to have a great family day full of fun and quality time together. And I am done. We are back at home and I am in survival mode.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. If I were to be honest, for me, it is the hardest feat in my life (right now, maybe forever). I do not find it easy, and there are some days that I want to escape. I have found a lot of grace in this as I understand myself and so much of why it can be a challenge. BUT, there are days like today…

I began the week teary eyed that Cavin was starting school. He is getting so big. I felt mournful in my heart that the two little ones would be starting preschool and they would be gone in the mornings Tuesday-Friday. I ended the day thanking God for the opportunity to send them to a great preschool, and I realized I was now anxiously awaiting their first day of school next week.

It’s just the way it goes, I get it. Parenting often rubs against all of my weaknesses. It can take festering wounds in my heart, throws salt on them, and increases the heat of the pain. It feeds the anxiety I am always battling and causes clouds to swallow the sun.

On the worst days, in my weakest moments, I want desperately to blame them. If they weren’t so selfish, spoiled, demanding…and the list goes on. Yet, at the back of my mind, rationally I know that they are children. They are innately selfish and demanding – and somewhat innocent. All of the demanding and selfishness that stirs in my own soul, God by his grace prunes and cleans. Through the pruning, Christ in me controls and tempers this demanding nature. Yet, in their little faith journey – they just are not there yet.

More grace, patience, and understanding is called for these little guys.

I KNOW this. Yet, I get exhausted and weary. I become weary with the arguing, the ignoring, and the demanding that what I have given or done is NOT ENOUGH. And it causes deep pain and a mourning for my lack of grace and patience for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are days where the battle within my mind and soul is overcome by grace. I can kiss their sweet cheeks and say gently, your behavior is not okay and it hurts others – let me show you a better way. On other days, however…

Ignoring their behavior is not an option. They WILL know boundaries, standards, and limits. Always. Tempered in grace and gentleness is the goal, yet it does not always come out that way. Why? Because I am human and I get tired. As if I didn’t already feel inadequate to meet their needs – their demanding little nature adds fuel to that fire of insecurity.

I get a little sick and tired of those that say enjoy it while you can, because you will miss these days. It takes grace just to smile and put the comments in their rightful place – down the toilet where they belong. Pardon me for the attitude, but all that does for me is fuel the natural guilt and shame of motherhood when in that infuriating moment with your child – you think I don’t enjoy this now and I won’t miss it later. I will miss those cuddles, kisses, and sweet conversations, the silly jokes, the willingness to be crazy and goofy, the easy delight of simple runs in the park, and more. However, the pain of demandingness and never enough – I will not miss. I will not avoid the pain and weariness I feel simply by telling myself it’s okay because I will miss this stage when they get older.

My sweet children cannot feed the need for peace. They cannot satisfy the depths of my soul or my deepest longings. Therefore, using them to do as such will bring heartache for them and for myself. When surrendered to my heavenly Father, I feel the freedom to acknowledge the pain they unintentionally cause me. I can acknowledge the moments they have broken my heart and my expectations. And then I can run to my Father – the only one who meets the deepest needs of contentment, love, and appreciation. It’s this, I find, that gives me the grace to temper my discipline.

I have a deep gratitude that on days like today when I fail miserably, I can run to my Father and fall on my knees. In my mourning for my failures, in repentance for my lack of control – I find comfort. I receive the promise that He redeems and restores and makes all things new. I feel badly because I know that they don’t always understand the pain and weariness I am experiencing. Some of it is a result of their behavior and other times (a lot of times) it is a result of the battlefield that is my mind or the stress of my exterior world. However, I believe it is still necessary to, with boundaries, explain some of that pain. I truly believe this is part of discipling our children to acknowledge themselves as whole people created by God – body, soul, and spirit. We should be discipling them not just spiritually, but emotionally. And if we never reveal our pain to them – they will never learn to acknowledge or understand their own.

I can vulnerably and transparently explain to my children (and I have many times) that I am so sorry for the way I spoke to them. I can explain the hurt and frustration I felt. From my own examples of failure, I can share that their behavior affects others and that their words have power to harm or build up. I can teach them an appreciation of limits and boundaries.

And sometimes that is enough to provide the deep breath I need to continue and sometimes it eases the anxiety and brings relief. However, sometimes I still feel anxious and broken and exhausted.  Like today. And, in these moments, I have to evaluate why. What is happening in my soul, my body, my spirit? I learn something new every time – every episode – every bad day.

I have to recognize my limits. It’s painful when we don’t recognize our limits. When we realize that even in our best efforts we fail, that in our strive to be gracious and God-honoring as parents – we realize we are just imperfect and broken. It becomes simple to love other broken people (children) when we face our own brokenness. Oh what grace we can offer when we acknowledge our own imperfections and we accept the limitations they offer.

That grace we find extends to others and extends to our self. And sometimes we just accept that grace today will mean not locking them in their rooms or just running away. And sometimes that just has to be enough. It will be enough to insist that they will find a way to play on their own. They will work out their own problems – and barring any emergencies and with the exception of food and drink – they will be self-sufficient today. And I will wait as patiently as possible until I can pull away, unplug, and sit broken in the arms of the Father who sees beyond my imperfection and failures. He will tenderly lift my head, and say:”You are not enough, but I am enough through you. Take comfort in my peace and forgiveness, and move onward”.

Us Vrs. Them

I have struggled my entire faith journey with the “outsider” mentality. You know…those inside the church and those outside the church. We desire to reach, to win, to save – those people. I have found myself feeling that, although unintentional, that mentality creates those who do not follow God into objects rather than people. Or even suggests that we are pitted against one another. It’s as though we think, “I have to find a way to win you to my side”.

There are differences between those who believe in and follow Christ – and those that do not. Of course. But I think our response to those differences is vital to the core of Christ’s message of redemption and love. I read this passage today.

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.

2 Corinthians‬ ‭2:14-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

When I read a passage such as this it causes me to ask why would we, for one moment, think that if we do something perfectly right that our message of Christ will be well received? The message of Christ to those that do not believe is difficult to accept, to engage with, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit in that persons life that will cause them to become engaged or receptive.

Nonetheless, we work tirelessly to come up with engaging, “attractional” ways to share the truth and love of Christ. I just believe it is better for us that we center on the message itself, the why behind what we do, and the how will flow out of that.
When we become too engaged with the how, our priority and purpose begins to blur and you have to wonder, to reflect whether it has become less about sharing the love of Christ and more about a personal gain of triumph for “winning a person to Christ”. We share Christ’s love with confidence and purity, and He will cause it to take root and grow. We build real relationships with the world without agendas of a hopeful outcome, with only the purpose and call to love as Christ loves us. We live, speak, and share truth. But, we must remember, we water, we plant-but God alone causes the growth.

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

If we are not careful, “winning people to Christ” becomes nothing but a phrase that helps build our religiosity pride. Can we simply be sincere in love and care for all we encounter, believing that as we authentically display the fruit of Christ, sharing the reason for the hope that we have, He will work in and through each person that we encounter? Is it enough for us to be the one who plants or waters?

A person is not my prize for doing good, for speaking the gospel. People are not prizes to be won, they are not something to be triumphed. It is not us vrs. them, and it is not “those people” or “outsiders that we work to make insiders”. They are creations of God and, with or without us, He is working through the Holy Spirit to redeem and restore. We do not provide or create the result. We are only a piece of the process – of their journey – meant to be a tangible example of God’s love for you and me.

We must be intentional and purposeful in how we speak truth, and how we share the reason for the hope that we have. We must be sensitive always in hearing the voice of God as he leads us to people, to moments-as He opens a door to share. We must purpose to not avoid being around those that are not of the same faith as we. We must care for a person’s soul. Yet, it must not become an overworked strategic game where we are so focused on the outcome of our winning that we miss the truth of our place in the process.

I don’t pretend to have the answer for this wrestling. That’s the beauty of the redemptive God that we serve, he invites us to wrestle…to engage in questions and to keep wrestling until we hear His voice. Here is what I know to be true: the more I allow God to transform me on the inside the more I am able to engage with, love, and care for others. The more He reveals my own brokenness, my propensities to stray, my own struggles and weaknesses, the more the thought of us vrs them breaks down and does not work or exist. In the end, I see our God who holds the WHOLE world in His redemptive hand and I see His children, some who are embracing His love, some who are resisting His love, and some who are unaware of His love – different yet the same treasured creation of a loving Father full of grace and truth. This different perspective increases the desire that all will know the truth and love of the Father who created them. It becomes less about accomplishing a goal to win and more about love, truth, and hope.

Shameless Anger

“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV

Anger tends to be a bit of a monster for me. Anger is my contender, my opposer – my nemesis. I battle anger more than most emotions. It’s a thorn in my flesh that although God has broken the stronghold in my life – it remains a fight.

I fully believe some are prone to anger. Whether it be by temperament, experiences growing up, nurtured as a child and teen…we all face it at times, but some are prone to it.

After much self discovery over the years, I have learned that I am quite prone to it. Anger was a constant enemy in my home growing up, and it takes regular work to pull out those roots.

In addition, I discovered my temperament lends itself towards anger. I am a melancholy with a brain that doesn’t stop thinking, a perfectionist that not only has high expectations for herself but fights to impose them on others, and someone who feels everything deep in my soul. That combination of things can create an anxiety that leads to fear and anger (which are typically related).

I have had years of counseling, I memorize scripture, pray often, I balance my schedule, I unplug and rest often, and the list can go on. I have learned wonderful coping skills and have a somewhat keen self awareness. Yet, I still struggle with anger.

What is someone like me (or you) supposed to do with a verse like in Ecclesiastes or other verses that regularly address anger.

Is there hope for someone like me (or you if you are similar)?

Well, in short answer, yes. However, it is not simple and neither is the answer to avoid or pretend that anger doesn’t exist. The answer is not found in quoting away your anger by repeating a scripture over and over. And, no, just mentally deciding “I think I can” doesn’t cut it. That theory will always eventually self destruct. That approach causes one to clench their teeth, dig in their heels, “force” positivity towards a person, thing, or situation. And, in the end, it will leave you more broken and finding your anger has taken root and is turning into resentment and bitterness.

His Word tells us that although our flesh may war against our spirit – sin no longer is master over us. That, although, I may never find perfected life of no anger – the hold it had could be released and that I could regularly overcome it’s power. I may stumble and fall – but it does not need to be my master and it would no longer be a pattern of behavior. His grace would be sufficient in giving me the strength I needed to overcome the weakness and grow in the fruits of patience, kindness, gentleness, and love.

Then, pray tell, what is the answer?

In looking closely at this verse, we can consider a few things:

The phrase “Be not quick to become angry” is quite important to reflect on. What this phrase does NOT say is “do not become angry”. The focus is on the phrase “be not quick”.

My counselor once said that when you feel angry it’s like the check engine light on your car telling you to look under the hood. You see, it’s never just the anger. There will always be feelings, events, experiences, expectations, and more that trigger that anger. I have found that the less work I am doing on my inner life, the less attention I give my soul – the quicker and more often I become angry. If I am taking effort to deal with all of the things under the hood that cause or trigger the anger, I am slower to anger. Then, God actually has the space in me to work and move and produce the fruit of self control and peace. In the end, it’s Christ in me that keeps those branches prunes, so that I bear fruit in a way that slows anger and lessens its impact. That leads to the second aspect of this verse.

“Anger is lodged in the heart of fools”. When I consider “lodged” it speaks of something that has gotten stuck. It has taken root, it becomes difficult to get out. It takes time, and extra tools. It potentially causes the breaking of the contraption that it got stuck in. Once anger has become “lodged”, it becomes quite difficult to remove. I think that might be why the proverb uses such a harsh word as fool. We are fools to allow our anger to take root, and then think we can just remove it on our own by a few simple prayers or quotations of scripture, add a little nice thinking, and we are all set. It just doesn’t work.

Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry, yet do not sin.” You will become angry, some will regularly fight anger. The pain of living in a broken world with imperfect people and events will call for and cause anger. No amount of avoiding will prevent the pain of anger. God is with us in our anger. He created us with these complexities and our anger does not overwhelm Him or chase away His grace.

The key is for us to not sin. When we allow it to take root, to become lodged-we will inevitably act on it causing sin. Our brokenness will surface, we will hurt ourselves and hurt others. We will say and do things we regret. We will lose our joy and peace.

However, the more we face our anger head on and we allow ourselves to stop and ask why the anger-the slower we will be to become angry and the less we will allow it to become lodged or rooted.

It’s painful to take that inside look and have God reveal our own brokenness when we would rather put the blame on our situation or the offense of others. Yet, in the end, our anger is our responsibility alone. We have the power, through Christ, to bear the fruit of self control, of peace, and love. However, it does not come without the cost of bearing and acknowledging our pain, disappointments, hurts, losses, failures, and more. Nevertheless, the reward will be great. We will find an otherworldly ability to bear grace, peace, mercy even.

It is in our power to love, to show love. We must let Christ do the inner work of revealing those anxious ways, those triggers, and those blind spots. When we make this a pattern of living, a preventative measure rather than reactionary, we will find we are slower to anger and less likely to allow our anger to lodge. And when we have discovered that the anger has become lodged, it will not take a full excavation of sorts to uproot it-it will be a smaller event of pulling weeds.

Our goal, then, should be not avoidance of the anger but positioning ourselves to deal with the anger, and then surrendering so that God is able to break the stronghold of anger. Thus, when we do experience and feel the pain of anger – we work to understand it and it’s source and then we find solace in the only One who can produce the peace we need to love instead of rage.

I have learned to have a healthy respect for the anger that I feel as it signals me when I have become distracted, despondent, ignorant of my pain. Just as the check engine light on a car is necessary to tell us there is a problem under the hood, God uses our anger to alert us to a need inside. Yes, be angry. Feel the pain of this imperfect world, then allow that anger to lead you to a deeper-inner work from Christ that leads to surrender and peace.

In the end, it’s less about the justification of our anger and more about the purification of our anger. It’s less about shame for our anger, and more about respect for the anger. It’s less about avoidance, and more about exploration of why anger. Anger dealt with appropriately will and should end in grace, peace, and surrender.

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