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For those “Extra Grace Required” days

 

Over steaming bowls of apples and oats, Husband reads the words.

“It was good…”

Things don’t seem so good. The skies keep pouring rain and our support has run out and the bills are starting to pile up and Husband’s already gone 7am-10pm and how in the world can he ~ all of us~ take on more?

“It was good for me to be afflicted,” Husband reads. I sit up in my seat. Really? Who says that, that affliction is good? I need to tune in right about now.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.”

Husband glances over at me and smiles. He knows.

“Although He was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…”

I can’t help the breath from escaping heavy and the shoulders from stooping. I’m a child too, receiving correction.

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Oldest is looking at me now too, smiling, laughing. Everyone in this family knows this Word is for me.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you…Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.”

Was it just last night that I told God He had to break through for me, that I couldn’t do this anymore?

We finish eating Words and oats and we clear dishes and I rinse sticky bowls… and I know Words will be my staple food today.

The kids get dressed and  make their beds and I sit down again with today’s Daily Light.

There’s a purpose to affliction.

I pour over the words and make a list in my journal, all the reasons given for hardship.

Like a bride’s veil being swept back, I see the beauty beneath. There are reasons for the mind-numbing days and the never ending pain and the deep deprivation and the soul desperation.

Affliction teaches us obedience.

I meditate and I chew and I imagine. I see Jesus, driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, that harsh season of pain, need, and trial. Cold nights in isolation and dark days of testing and hunger.

This wasn’t about Him proving His worth, earning God’s favor. The Beloved Son had already been approved, accepted, and publicly validated.

No, the wilderness was not about performing. It was about power…the kind only possible through learning obedience.

And with that wilderness account, Jesus, in the flesh, set the example for us on how to live powerful, purposeful lives.

I hear Him beckon.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…”  “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.” Luke 4:1, 14

The Spirit, alive and aching to be made manifest in Him, led Jesus into the wilderness. The word for “led” means “to drive.” So intent was the Spirit to unleash His power upon Jesus’ life, He drove Him to the wilderness.

There He ”learned obedience from affliction.”

Before His first miracle…before His name became known…before He stood up in the assembly and said the time was fulfilled, Jesus learned submission. And He returned in power.

I ponder these things while I help children buckle up in the van. We drive into town to take Little Bit to her speech therapy appointment. The rain slaps hard and the wipers rush to keep up.

The children are quiet. Dark skies have us all silent.

Again, I imagine Jesus, our example to living full of the Spirit’s power. He’s crouching low to spit on the ground. Even this was purposeful. Even this was powerful.

Could the wilderness have prepared Him for that, to know when, where, and how to spit?

Yes, it’s how He knew to stop and stoop and spit on the ground and do the miraculous.

It’s how He wasn’t shaken by major disruptions and changes of plans and dangerous situations.

It’s how He could sleep in a storm.

He had learned obedience through affliction…the obedience of living in complete submission and unity with the Father and the Spirit. It empowered Him to live His life, fulfill His calling.

And I sense deep within that same Spirit urging me, driving me, calling me in the wilderness. “Learn of Me,” He says. “I am jealous for you.”

I’m ashamed of my bellyaching…what when God has such a divine, noble purpose for me.

Affliction is good. Surrender is learned, and this is how.

It is when we are returning from Little Bit’s speech appointment that the kids start to fight. I sit at the stop sign with wipers pumping and I hear it on the radio: “You want to overcome the stress in your life? I’ve got one sentence for you to pray, just one. It’s simply this: “Teach me to do Your will, O Lord.” (Ps 143:10)

The rain pours and the kids fight and I sit at the intersection in shock.

I can’t believe He would orchestrate all of this for me to get this message right. He is Spirit driving and Jealous Lover and I asked and He answered and is making sure I don’t miss it.

Preacher says it right there on the radio: “Get into yoke with Jesus. 90% of the stress in a Christian’s life comes from unwillingness in the heart to bring their lives under the control of Jesus. (Pastor David Jeremiah)

“I know what you are longing for,”  Meek and Gentle whispers. “Learn from Me. Let this affliction teach you obedience.”

“My burden is easy, there is no need to fear. Come and be a disciple; learn submission to Me. Let me teach you how to live under My control and domination.”

Affliction is good.

Yes, Lord,” my heart responds. “Teach me to do Your will.”

 

Declaration of Dependence

I’m sitting at the corner table and never would have paid mind, except for the fact that Big Momma was so confident and so…big.

“You know if you need anything, you call yo’ momma.”

“Yes ma’am.”

And I looked up to see the extraordinary people having this conversation. Big Momma stood with her back against the door, ready to push off and leave behind and her son, an 18 or 19 year old fledgling man, sat at a booth with a friend.

“You know where’da come to.” Big Momma succored with her words.

“Yes ma’am.”

Then she was gone and the young men continued with their conversation like everything was normal, but I was not normal.

I felt a pang in the heart that lodged in the throat. “What would it be like to have that kind of momma?” I wondered, “the kind of momma that nourished and nurtured with her words, built up instead of tearing down?”

“What would it be like to be that kind of momma?” I wondered that too.

I’m a mare, eyes wild, swishy tail, antsy feet. It’s inbred in me- to run. Just like the forefather’s scrawling bold names to their Declaration, I’ve stamped my heart with the word “Independent” as a warning sign to anyone who might try to capture me…and I’m real good at hightailing it.

Some people call it intimacy disorder. The inability to attach. I’ve got it.

It’s the result of trauma. Abuse. Woundedness. Or the inheritance from forefathers who never learned attachment themselves.

It’s the deadly disease my parents have and their parents before them and I can’t help myself and I’ve asked for years how do I change?

I come from a family who confuse religion for relationship; sex for intimacy; possessions for presence; a clean house for affection.

I’m deeply touched by Big Momma standing in that doorway telling her son, “You know if you need anything, you call yo’ momma. You know where ‘da come to.”

I’ve never, ever had a momma (or a daddy) like that. Mine pushed me away. They weren’t strong enough to handle their own lives and messes and inner turmoil, much less the deep and growing, seeping mess of mine.

So I learned independence and independence became my savior.

I’m un-versed in attachment. I never learned the rules of relationship. I do “independent” destructively well.

But there in the voice of that momma, I hear the voice of my Daddy. He wants those unversed in attachment to stop running and “come to yo’ Daddy.”

I don’t have to be independent.

In fact, that is a lie. After sin entered the world, the first man and woman believed they had to run and hide. They believed they were on their own. Relationship was severed. Intimacy disorder became part of mankind’s birthright.

Yet God sought them out and He still stands at the door and knocks and anyone who opens up, He will come in…and bring dinner too! (Revelation 3:17f)

In spite of what we believe about ourselves and our condition, It’s a lie to continue thinking we must live independent.

I leave my corner table and go home in time for the family breakfast table and ask myself some hard questions.

What are the ways I run from relationship?

I ponder the ways and it all boils down to not giving presence. Giving presence is the building block, one gift on top of the other,  of relationship. The more you give, the stronger and deeper the relationship.

Presence in the lovely and the unlovely. Presence when you know what to do and when you don’t. Presence when it’s convenient and when it’s not. Presence when it’s needed and presence when there isn’t awareness of need.

It is the way an infant is cared for and we consider the sleeplessness, the inconveniences, a small price for the precious life given us.

But then they get older by a year or two or ten and we expect them not to need presence. We punish them by taking presence away when they are un-lovely.

We substitute possessions for presence…just because it is more convenient and fits our busy lifestyles better.

We don’t know what to do, so we don’t do anything…forgetting that we always have presence to give.

Isn’t this how God Himself teaches us the ropes of relationship? “Fear not, for I am with you! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

We who confuse relationship. We think relationship is doing, going, buying, providing.

Relationship is mostly being. Together.

“God, an ever present help in time of need…”

So I ask how can a relational derelict like me be redeemed? It sure isn’t through independence.

The words come from the Ever-Present One: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Start investing.

Later, I go look it up because I want to make sure the principle really is there in black and white. It is:  Our hearts follow our treasure.

For a relational bum who treasures self protection and self preservation, the easiest way to change my heart then is to start investing in a different treasure chest. Start making deposits in a more lasting, more worthy account.

I can change investment plans.

I can reverse intimacy disorder.

I can give my children a different lineage.

It is Father’s words that succor me this time: “Remember, I was in the burning bush, and it burned but was not consumed. You feel that pouring out to all the needs of your loved ones will burn you clean up, dry you out, take every drop you’ve got… but where I am, the bush is not consumed.

“I’m in presence. I AM Presence. You will burn but not be consumed.”

I sit and jot down a Declaration of Dependence. It’s my new investment strategy. I’m learning the rules of relationship from Father and I need another Cheat Sheet. It’s crude but it’s a start.

4 ways to invest in relationships:

~Time: Give presence by limiting (even scheduling!) the time each family member spends on the rectangles in the home (TV, computer, ipod, DS, cell phone, etc) Replace rectangle time by drawing loved ones close instead and ask, “What do you want us to do together?”

~Touch: Set kitchen timer to chime every hour and draw little ones close for a short story in the recliner, a back scratch,  or an “I Love You Ritual.”

~Talk: Be available whenever your spouse or children want to talk. Even when it’s at 11pm and you are dead tired. Or when it is your computer time. Make it a principle of life to prioritize presence, even when the demands seem downright unreasonable.

~Throne of Grace: Daily pray for each family member; fast once a week with spouse for children. Give presence before the Throne of God on behalf of your kids.

**Will be traveling most of July, investing in relationships. Sporadic appearances around here for awhile…

 

 

Finding God on Bellevue Street

The sign reads “Bellevue Bedding” and I’ve driven by it every Wednesday for the last month.

It’s a run down warehouse with bars on the windows located next to the housing projects with the police cars out front, but still there is something about it.

It always has the “open” sign on the door when I drive by and we need a bed for youngest who has outgrown his crib. Nothing fancy is necessary, just a frame and mattress.

So every Wednesday I’ve thought to stop in, but there is always a twinge of the cultural thing, the reasoning that says a white woman alone has no business rolling down her car window in this part of town, much less exiting it.

So I haven’t. Until Wednesday.

Wednesday, after speech therapy with Little Bit was over, the open sign on the door was like a magnet and I don’t know why it ended up the way it did, only that it was God and when I drove by I saw another woman- a woman like me- sitting on the doorsteps so I swung into the gravel lot.

I stepped inside with Little Bit and it wasn’t a warehouse I was in but a tiny, one room, un-air conditioned office and there’s not a bed in sight. The woman disappeared somewhere and out stepped an elderly gentleman and asked what he could do for me.

“Um, I’m looking to buy a bed frame.” I stammered, but the man seemed harmless, so I added, “If it’s available?”

I’m aware of the fact that women like me don’t visit places like this. We do our shopping other places. I’d like to think it’s the missionary in me that is willing to go into the dark and dangerous, but that would be giving me far too much credit.

It’s the Spirit that compels.

Funny thing, I’ve learned I don’t want to miss His compelling, no sirree.

“Sure,” he says, they have frames and I tell him I’m looking for a twin and he shows me what he’s got back in the warehouse. We enter the dusty storeroom and a man named Wayne is in there, trying to pry something open.

It’s when I’m writing the check for the $37.70 that he asks for my ID and I dig in bag that carries books, diapers, wipes, notepads, and everything else a mother of 4 might have use for…only to find the id is missing.

It’s not just the id that’s missing. It’s connection. There’s some reason why I pulled in here today, reason more than a bedframe but I can’t connect with it and I’m lost, tossing, trying, missing.

I need the Spirit tether or I’m going to walk out of here missing the treasure that I know’s intended.

I dig some more in the mommy bag, assuring Mr. Jerry that I do have the missing ID…somewhere….I’ll just have to empty it to find it, and I take out my Bible and place it on the office desk.

“What’s that green book,there?” he asks me.

“It’s a Bible,” I tell him. “It’s a daily Bible which means you read a little bit a day and it’s in chronological order so you read the events of the Bible as they actually happened in real time.”

And he asks me what church I go to and I start talking and he does too and I know this is a kindred spirit and this is why that sign is a magnet and the Spirit is in this place and He is giving connection. A gift.

“72 years ago, my mama walked these streets with a baby in her womb and entered a church here for help and my mama, she came to know Jesus.”

Wayne has come in from the warehouse and he’s sitting in a chair behind me. “God’s in everything,” Mr. Jerry tells me. “You may not believe that, but He is.”

I murmur that I do agree, and he has no idea how much I believe it at the moment, this sacred moment gifted to me, this Spirit filled transendence. This thin place.

“Wayne here’s learned that. He used to be homeless.” Then with a twinkle in his eye he said, “But he’s not anymore,” and I know that Wayne has found his real Home and I rejoice at the beacon of light this place is in the midst of darkness.

“Thank you,” I tell him. “Thank you for what you are doing here, being a light in this place.” I am touched to the core for a white man who’s stayed behind to hold the torch when others moved on to nicer neighborhoods.

Sometimes you just feel so alone in the fight.

I still can’t find driver’s license and Mr. Jerry’s desk is beginning to pile up with my contents.

“Tell you what,” he says. “forget the id, just answer this question: do you believe in the literal death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and are you trusting solely in Him for your salvation?”

“Yes.”

Nothing more needs to be said. The Name fills the void. The connection has been made. We’re on solid ground.

He tucks the check into a desk drawer, hands me a written receipt, we’re done.

But I do wonder…I feel the Spirit and can’t help but take the chance, wring every bit of profit from the gift of this encounter, so I take the plunge.

“Can I ask you a question?” I pause and he stops short and looks at me straight.

I glance behind me at Little Bit, who is sitting still, looking at a book. Wonder!

“How do you stay strong?” I ask him and my voice cracks a bit and my eyes? Well they do that silly thing again, fill up out of nowhere.

And this 72 year old man, he calls me sister and gives me words I can’t repeat. Just tells me to get prostrate for however long it takes, to stay prayed up. He tells me things a stranger doesn’t normally say, but he can ’cause his gray hair has earned him that right and I did ask for it and I want to hear it. He tells me I’m selfish and want things my way, but that it isn’t about me, it’s about Him and he reminds me this world is not my home.

I hear him tell me to keep saying “Yes, Lord.”

Wayne loads the frame and Mr. Jerry walks me outside and says, “That gal in there? The one you saw on the front steps? She’s baptized last Sunday. Used to walk these streets hooking up with everything that came by. Wayne, well I found him sleeping in the parking lot 6 years ago. Homeless. But not anymore.”

“It’s not about me.” He says it and it carries weight ’cause he’s lived it. “It’s not about you. It’s not about doing what you want. It’s doing what He gives.”

“Would you pray with me?” I ask him, again wanting to receive every blessing from this visit, greedy woman that I am.

I leave there with tears falling down my face. I know Mr. Jerry thinks I’m a basket case, I know he does. But I’m not a basket case, I’m just reminded that God wants me to live out of my weakness and it starts right now.

In a world that says, “Make a name for yourself, look out for yourself, spend all your resources on yourself and your own…” here is someone who got left behind when everyone else moved on…and he choose to stay.

He chose to stay behind because he knew it wasn’t about him, it’s never about us.

And staying true to His kingdom means you’re not going to do or look like everyone else around you, even brothers and sisters who’ve forgotten whose kingdom we’re trying to build.

Maybe it means you’re the only light on Bellevue street, long after everyone else has left the place.

Maybe it means your the only one visiting that abortion clinic, the only one knocking on doors, the only one walking dusty streets, the only one determined to keep loving, keep drawing, keep casting the net.

But here’s what I learned Wednesday when I walked in Bellevue Bedding: it only looks like your the only one. The next street over, there’s another, and a block down the road, there’s yet another, and God has His faithful one spread all over this entire globe.

“I have kept 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal…” I Kings 19:18

If we can get our eyes off of what everyone else is doing and how they must be enjoying their air-conditioned places on rolling hills…and instead commit to loving the unlovable in our parking spot… the Wayne and the Connie and the child who throws tantrums and spills messes and the husband who’s hurt us…

well maybe we just might encounter the spirit and presence of God and find that’s really what we’ve been longing for all along.

Right there in the projects on Bellevue Street.

Living a “Yes, Lord” Life

A middle of the night phone call wakes me ~wrong number~ and I take it as God calling and get up to hear what He has to say.

“Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and revering Him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land…” Deut 8:6

It was next in my Bible reading plan, and I know it is Him speaking, so I pick up pen and paper and list three specific paths He is guiding me in right now, 3 ways He wants me to “observe.”

It’s the middle one that strikes me most. He’s been kneading it into my heart over the past several months, ever painting a clearer picture of what it looks like: Live a “Yes, Lord” Life.

And I jot this beside it: Practice replacing fear, stress, anger, feelings of being overwhelmed, irritation with interruptions, etc with “Yes, Lord. And thank You.” Allow all of those little things to be triggers for submission to and reverence for Him.

You see, I can sure be a Naaman. You know the story… Naaman had leprosy and Elisha sent a message to him and told him, “Go wash in the Jordan River seven times” and Naaman said, “That just sounds like foolishness! How in the world can that dirty water make me whole?”  (see II Kings 5)

And I do the same thing, say when I’m preparing dinner and a child interrupts for the 13th time and it is back and forth between the dinner and the children (sound familiar to anyone else???) and I start wondering how in the world this kind of halting life- where I can’t even finish a thought- can add any spiritual character to my roots because it sure isn’t conducive to praise and worship and peace and calm and happy feelings.

But then that is the Naaman in me telling God how to best clean me up. {i.e. The long quiet time with the emphasis on quiet. Ahem.}

But God gives me the day as it comes and yes, it’s the dirty Jordan and not at all like what I think should do the trick, but it is the foolishness of the cross, after all, that is the power of God unto salvation.

So He says, “Live a ‘Yes, Lord’ life.”

Do I really think that submission and obedience to God is primarily in the big things, like teaching a class or going overseas or adopting a child or giving financially…or in the “spiritual” things like reading the Bible and memorizing scripture and praying and fasting?

It is bit by bit that a life is lived, little by little that character is forged.

It is primarily the small things, then,  that make me the most like Christ.

Like when the quiet time gets cut short (as it inevitably does) by a child waking up before sunrise and I respond with a “Yes, Lord. And thank You.”

And when the phone call takes twenty minutes I don’t have to give and I say “Yes, Lord. And thank You.”

When the dinner burns and the children screech and Little Bit rebels and I’m not sure how to parent and the pitcher breaks and the bills pile up…”Yes, Lord. And thank You.”

Bit by bit, piece by piece, forging a life of Christ like character.

It’s what God wants of me. Sure, I’ve done some “big” things…but He’s shown me that genuine maturity isn’t in those, it is in the small, seemingly insignificant ones. He who is faithful in little will be faithful with much.

He is telling me to trust Him. He will orchestrate my day and test me to see if I’ll say “Yes, Lord,” moment by moment, again and again.

He wants me to live a “Yes, Lord” life.

It’s the way a wise woman, a noble woman, a woman of character,  builds her house. Bit by bit.

If Life Gives You a Root Canal…Yes, Lord. And Thank You.

3:15am and I’m woken by pounding in mouth.

It’s the abcess tooth I thought was simply leaky filling. “Root Canal,” the dentist told me 3 days ago.

At 3:21, I try to ignore it, attempt to cave to the groggy in my head, but the pain won’t let me.

The darkness seems a welcome retreat and I take up its mantra: “I‘m going to be so tired in the morning.” “I just wish I could get a good night’s rest.”

Immediately I feel the energy sap out of me, like wringing a sponge, and I confess to God, “Forgive me, Lord! I seem to want to live in darkness, but really I don’t. God, help me!”

And I see clearly. The thoughts are a blanket tossed my way, sourced by Darkness itself…and I can refuse the cloak they offer.

There is another way.

So I take up gentleness instead. “Yes, Lord. And thank You.”

The “Yes, Lord” part and I have quite a history. Sometime I’ll scratch it out here… But the “Thank You part?” Well that is fairly new. Because I always wondered what exactly I’m thanking Him for?

When I’m in a fender bender, or a child wakes up sick, or Loving Husband is unavailable to meet my needs, or when I’m in the wrong check out line, {which seems to be a pattern for me, and a 10 minute grocery run turns into a 25 minute one}… I’m supposed to give thanks in all things. But sometimes I’m not sure exactly where to start.

One day I was reading ~repenting my way through would be more accurate~ in Romans 1 and there it was: ” For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, nor give thanks…” Romans 1:21

I realized then that thanksgiving is linked to knowing God, to understanding His heart and intentions.

But understanding God’s heart and glory requires a response: Honor and Thanksgiving. Furthermore, if the response isn’t the correct one, it leads to “futile speculations and a darkened heart.”

My difficulty in giving thanks was, at the core, an issue of understanding God and honoring Him as God, in truth for who He really is.

Honor means to celebrate, to magnify, to esteem and lend lustre to. Honoring God is a deliberate choice to recall to mind what He is and celebrate His attributes.

Giving thanks then, is settling down on the character of God.

This has revolutionized my giving thanks. Instead of trying to muster up gratitude for a blade of grass, I can easily thank Him for His goodness that provides the green beneath my feet, for His faithfulness that sends water for it to grow, for His Spirit that sustains every form of life.

So much easier for me! I get it!

So when the abcess tooth woke me up this morning, my “Yes, Lord. And Thank You” went like this:

“Thank You Lord, for Your faithfulness to me. Thank You that You meet my every single need according to Your riches and grace.

Thank You that Your signature gifts are grace and peace and they are always mine for the taking.

Thank You Lord, for Your unfailing Love and the impossibility of it ever being insufficient.

Thank You that You’ve given me all I need to live godly ~right now~ in Christ Jesus.

Thank You that You’re delighted and thrilled to give me the kingdom…I’ll take that, Lord, I’ll take that….

Thank You for love that stretches to the heavens and a faith that overcomes the world and Spirit-breath that imparts and sustains life; thank You for Humility that washed feet, that rubbed finger in spittle, that spoke, “DO not fear, little flock.”

Thank You for eyes that see ~finally~ and for the chance to be more like all that.”

So Yes Lord. And Thank You.

When You Feel Like Quitting…

“Steve’s wife’s run off again.”

I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, its just that the old men were talking so loudly over their McDonald’s breakfast that I couldn’t help but hear.

And I thought of another conversation I overhead a few months back. “Did you hear they are divorced now? No wonder, with her being stuck at home with those five kids and all…”

I think of the array of pressures that makes us feel we’re going to implode if we don’t get. out. now.

So we quit our husbands, we quit our kids, we quit relationships, we quit God. Oh, we don’t have to leave to quit either, do we? We can be right there in the middle of it and still be quitters.

There’s another conversation I’ve been privy to. It has changed everything for me. It’s the conversation between a quitter and God. And this woman really did have it bad.

She was a slave and when her owners decided that she was useful for getting what they wanted the most… a child…they used her to get it. Then, after she got pregnant, there was a lot of jealousy and strife so as low hen in the pecking order she was mistreated and abused.

She felt so helpless and alone that she up and left. Ran off. Like Steve’s wife.

She found herself in the middle of a desert. Destitute and pregnant. But she wasn’t alone and she wasn’t without hope.

God met her at her lowest moment and revealed Himself to her so powerfully….so powerfullythat she returned to the couple who had abused her and submitted herself to them.

That’s some kind of God, is all I’ve gotta say.

And in preparing for the upcoming journey I’m taking the kids through this summer on the character of God (join us?), I’ve come across this same El Roi, the One who meets quitters and gives them what it takes to keep going.

All weekend I’ve been asking, “El Roi, reveal to me the secrets of Your name. Open my eyes to understand what about You brings such transformation.”

Has He ever answered… and my world forever tilted and the quitter in me drawn up on strengthened legs and the eyes opened to see the glory and purpose in it all.

I’m convinced that understanding El Roi, the God who sees, gives us the capacity to joyfully and willingly endure the hardships in our lives.

And as El Roi granted deep awe in understanding, as He led me to study this concept of submission, this command given specifically by the God who sees what we are going through and how it is going to turn out, He divinely sent something across my path.

“Teaching a horse to give to pressure is day 1 in colt breaking.”  A horse trainer was demonstrating a skill all horses must learn in order to truly become great.

“But not all horses are trained properly in this and they get to be five, ten year old horses and they still will not bend, will not flex. They argue, they won’t give their face; they’re like a belligerent child who hasn’t learned day 1 lessons. It is very hard to build on a horse who hasn’t learned step 1.”

And God is telling me why I can’t quit, why I can’t run. He’s letting me understand why He applies pressure. It is to lay a foundation on which He can build.

“Step 1 is to give, bend, flex, and turn a little bit when directed with the reigns. If he resists, you don’t let up. You must soften him up by keeping the pressure on him.”

And I understand why the pressure’s been kept on me, going on four years now of constant, unrelenting pressure. This mare’s got a rebellious streak. Yet her Trainer is unwilling to give up on her, and His name is also Faithful.

“When a horse has a problem and wants to argue and resist, you don’t go get a bigger bit. You don’t go pull harder. You don’t get mad and fight. You don’t go get the club. You say, “Day 1, bud. Learn to bend. I’m going to pull on your little mouth until you learn to bend and give, and when you do that, I will turn you loose.”"

“This looks boring, but you will find trainers who train colts will do this by the hours. Skilled, winning trainers will do this first thing every day…they will test that horse to see if he remembers lesson 1.”

And I understand the humble, patient, nurturing nature of our great God.

“You can do this a long time with a horse. He’s not getting tired, mad, or hurt. We are not terrorizing him in any way. We are working on his mind more than his body.”

And I understand why El Roi told Hagar, a woman who up and quit her circumstances, “Go back and submit.”

Pressure retrains our mind to keep in step with our Almighty, Loving God, who bends and writes in the dust and takes all the time in the world with us because there is not limit to His commitment to us and He knows the power of His unfailing love towards us.

He is committed to making us more than conquerors.

Abuse and abandonment teach us to run and buck and self preserve. But He takes us in hand and commits to building trust. He doesn’t give up or let go. And slowly, He retrains us, guiding us away from those self-destructive patterns.

Pressure teaches submission and submission prepares us for true greatness.

We come to Him wild, an un-cultivated olive, a bucking and kicking mare that wants to run solo. We want to do life unhindered and unattached. But God takes us on and He’s the Master Trainer and He’s a good plan. Oh it’s good! He knows that true greatness is power under control.

Gentleness is the fruit of affliction.

So He applies the pressure and He tells us to trust Him. Submit. Lower your head, bend, flex. Give to the pressure. Again. And again.

And again.

Until it is our new nature, us working in sync with our Gentle Savior, trusting Him without even thinking anymore.

Because we have learned that He lays foundation for a winner, not a quitter, and we’re the winner and this is lesson 1.

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.” Psalm 145:17


The 3 R’s of God’s Classroom

I hear his story on the radio, on the way to take oldest to school.

His name is Matt and a car accident changed his life. He lost the ability to read.

Every time he sat down to read, he just could not put the words together. “I don’t understand!” he kept crying.

They told him he’d never finish school.

But he decided to try. He submitted himself to a program in which he re-trained his brain to read letters on a page. For over a year, he re-trained.

He had four hundred and eighty something days straight of migraine headaches.

It hurt. He pushed on.

It was hard. He pushed on.

It was agonizingly frustrating, re-learning something a completely different way, when he’d already done it the easy way years earlier.

He pushed on.

He can read now. He graduated with honors. And now he’s pursuing an MBA.

The story comes on a day when I want to give up. I’m oh so tired and the grueling work confuses the mind, sweat stings the eyes.

The story concludes on the radio and the Voice speaks to me: “I told you these days would come,” and I remember nearly a year ago, when He first gave me my prognosis.

I was sitting in the audience, waiting to hear the preacher, thinking the Word would come once the announcements were over. But no, there was one who had something to say and He spoke through that one.

The one had limped down the aisle to the podium, dragging his leg behind him.

His words were just as slow, forced out of a mouth that couldn’t keep up with the mind.

He barely spoke two sentences before he ambled back down the aisle, but in the span of those two sentences our mutual Maker spoke loud and clear, with no faltering and no stuttering. “That’s you,” He told me.

It was so powerful and so out of the ordinary that I told my husband about it that evening. “Yes, I know the young man,” he told me. “He calls himself “Marine 4 Christ.’”

I was so taken by this connection God had made between me and this young injured soldier, that I googled him. “Marine4Christ.” I found the connection in listening to his testimony.

Like Brandon, I am a wounded warrior. Years of abuse and spiritual bondage left me wounded and paralyzed, in a coma of sorts… Dead weight to those who cared for me.

“You are awake now,” He said to me that day as I watched Brandon’s story. “Like Brandon, I’ve redeemed your life too.”

“Now. If you are to get well, you too will have to relearn everything.

Relearn Everything.

I knew it would take hard, agonizing work. Grueling days, hours, moments. Impossible odds. Days when I’d say, “I can’t do this anymore.” It would take a team of people around me who pushed me to do what I felt simply and absolutely impossible.

But if I was to get well, if I wanted to live again, I would have to re-learn the ways of Grace. I’d have to learn how to eat again, how to work again, how to stand up and walk.

I’m still in the classroom. Today as I wondered if I’ve made any progress at all, God showed me that I have at least learned what the 3 R’s are in His classroom, and I’m giddy with the knowledge:

1. Receive- The way to eat is to receive. Receive all of God’s goodness and grace and to do that, one must open up, let go, do the opposite of what comes naturally when one has lived on life support. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

Open up, take in, swallow down. Receive.

2. Rest- The work of God’s classroom is to rest, the cessation of self striving and self effort. To move the spiritual body means letting Him be the one to both give and fill the prescription. He is in me both to will and to work.

Resting in God’s Kingdom classroom is not passive! “Labor to enter into that rest…” (Heb 4:11) Entering rest is perhaps the most difficult work of all.

3. tRust- The walk of the godly is to trust. The just shall live by faith. Just as each step is an act of free falling, so walking by faith is learning to free fall through my days, letting God-legs catch and sustain.

This is what it means to re-gain the ability to walk.

On a day like today, I wonder if I’ve made any progress at all. I wonder if I can pick up and just. do. today’s. part. Then I hear Matt’s story and I remember Brandon’s story and I know that like them, I can do it too. My life is redeemed and my Physician won’t forsake me.

And He’s placed me in just the right environment for me to re-learn, with people in my life (especially the 4 children!) who will push me and force me to new limits. I just need submit to His plan and keep practicing.

One day, I’ll be eating on my own. I’ll have full range of movement again. I’ll be walking.

And today? Well today I’ve moved one day closer.

Have a great weekend, dear friend, you who have happened upon this place today…

American Idol: The god Named Control {The Surrender Project Part II }

 One of the biggest lies I’ve believed is not that I can “have it my way” but that I want to.

Long before Frank Sinatra…in the garden, actually… this lie was introduced to mankind, the lie that we are better off having things our way, on our terms. We are better off being the one in control.

The frightening condition of our culture today, however, is that it has become so prevalent, even among Christians, that we fail to recognize its demonic origins.

This will undoubtedly be one of the most important posts I ever write. More than words on a page, I pray for the truths here to be written on my heart, truths from God’s word that untie the cords of control.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She was a princess, the daughter of a king. Her father ~ the king of Tyre~ was named Ethbaal, meaning “with Baal”, and her name? Well her name was Jezabel. They were an entire family of souls sold to Baal.

Baal means “lord” or “to lord over” and by serving Baal, they served the god of control.

Ahab, the king of Israel, made a decision that was so distasteful to God and so destructive to the nation, that he “provoked the LORD God of Israel more than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” His decision was to marry the woman named Jezebel. In so doing, he not only became a Baal worshiper himself, but he became one “lorded over” ~by his own wife!

Get this. The name Jezebel? It means “un-husbanded” or “unable to covenant.” Here was a woman exalted by her false god Baal to the place of being unable to attach and submit to her husband. She simply refused to be under authority. She had to domineer and be in control.

She controlled her husband Ahab. She controlled the religious environment. She controlled generationally through her children. She controlled the entire nation of Israel. She lived as her own authority.

The god she served ~Baal~ gave her “permission” to be in control, to be her own authority, and to not be subject to anyone. No one was going to tell her anything and she sure wasn’t going to let anyone do anything to her.

Now why in the world should this matter to me?

For the very simple reason that Baal is alive and well today, this god of control, and so is Baal worship.

This god is demonic. It comes along and, like the cunning snake, says, “Take charge.”

“Take charge of your own righteousness; take charge of your relationships; your children; your finances; your future; your career; your body; your time.” It tells us “Don’t just trust; Take charge.”

It tells us “Don’t risk too much. Don’t give too much. Don’t trust too much. Don’t sacrifice too much. Self protect. Take care of your own…”

It tells us, “If you don’t control, protect, manipulate, manage, withdraw, domineer, etc, just imagine what will happen!”

We as women are especially prone to it’s tactics of intimidation.

In turn, we tend to clamp down, clam up, do our best to protect and manage while never recognizing the god named Control as it loops its cords around our souls.

This god of control has generational roots. It is passed down from one generation to another and blends into the background of our makeup and culture. Over and over in Chronicles, it speaks of godly kings who followed the LORD “except he did not remove the high places from Israel.” (For example see II Chronicles 20:32-33)

This is what happens when we tolerate sin in our lives: it becomes a generational stronghold.

Control has become so “normal” that it serves as the backdrop of our lives and we’ve become dull to it’s real identit. You would think that the Israelite kings would have recognized the high places- they were right there in front of their eyes! But I believe they were so much part of the culture and even the geography that they were blind to them.

The allusion of control is safety. Security. Provision. Protection. Results. Guarantees. But it fails to deliver.

Fortunately, Jesus came, told us the truth, and showed us the way out. “In this world the kings and rulers lord it over their people, yet they call themselves “Friend of the People.” Luke 22:25, emphasis mine

Yes, that is what control does. It comes as a “friend” to help, as the solution to fear and desperate, terrifying need. But it lords over. It is a master. It rules.

Jesus continued, “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” vs. 26

The way up is down. The way to strength is weakness. The way to life is death. The way to more is to pour out.

We can let go.

We can start opening palm and unclamping heart and unwinding tangles and unfolding grace and start learning that it actually is going to be alright.

 Because we were not made to live under the tyranny of control.

Listen to this verse: “When that day comes’, says the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my Baal’ (master, lord).” Hosea 2:16    Perhaps it begins with understanding that Our God is not a God who lords over us. He is a God who husbands us, tends us, woos us, cares for us, nurtures us.

We are safe with Him. We CAN trust. We can let go of control. We can start today by simply confessing our idolatry and our Husband will take us back and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 ”He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Martyred Missionary Jim Elliot

 

Q4U: What area(s) of your life and heart are you still controlling?

 

Are there any generational strongholds of control within your family?

 

Are you willing to confess these to the Lord and let Him walk you through to full surrender?

 

To be continued…

Related Posts:

The Surrender Project (Part I)

Self-Sufficiency in Christianity

**I am indebted to Pastor Rick Atchley for the title of today’s post.

 

The Surrender Project

Dear Journal,

It was raining when we left, the bucket kind of rain.

We were late enough already, got lost on the way, got slowed by the rain, and it was nearly 8pm when we reached the double wide trailer with the orange cones in the yard to prevent parking on the grass.

Her name is Felicia.  We talked for 45 minutes or so and she never did ask us in beyond the doorway, but she was giddy with Jesus.

We talked about what it means to be saved and asked when that had happened in her life.

“Three weeks ago,” she said, “That night at the ladies Bible study.”

It was the night I had talked about stumbling blocks. I had been nervous, because all that week I was working on a different lesson but 2 o’clock Friday morning He woke me up with a completely different lesson and I went with it and relied heavily on Him to get the message out.

Felicia had wept through the entire lesson.

Until finally she had burst out in loud, uncontrollable crying and we waited for the Spirit to birth something among us and she blurted out, “My mom died suddenly 4 weeks ago and I’m a train wreck.”

Jesus came to save the sick and to bind up the broken and she was in the right place.

She told me that since that night, her life has been different. She has peace. Joy. She has read the Bible every day with a new hunger, an unquenchable thirst. She said she feels God’s arms around her and wants to tell everybody about it.

Said She’s falling in love with Jesus.

After the visit, the girl with me talked, shared things I hadn’t known before. We traveled dark, rain slicked miles back to church and kids and schedules and delayed bedtimes.  Right there in that van He spoke to me: Told me how I somehow thought I could fulfill God’s plans and dreams for my life my way, and hadn’t tonight shown me that letting Him do things His way is better?

Dear Journal, Like Abraham and Sarah, I’ve had God promises breathed over me. I can point to chapter and verse. I know God has promised. The only problem is that I’ve taken those promises and tried to tell God how to fulfill them. Expected Him to do it in my life the same way He’s done it in someone else’s. And when He delayed, I thought surely it must be up to me to make them happen.

But like Abraham and Sarah learned through Ishmael, God’s plans are only fulfilled God’s way.

I’ve given birth to an Ishmael.

Or two. He pierces my heart with the truth: The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is who’s in control.

And I’ve been in control. I’ve invested time and money trying to fulfill the promises of God in my life. I’ve taken control over bringing them to pass, labored long to give birth.

Abraham did learn to give up control (it is possible, hallelujah!)…for when God asked for the greatest sacrifice~Isaac’s life~ Abraham set out to obey. He had finally realized that God’s plans are always… only… fulfilled His way.

And he surrendered.

How? I need to know how, because I’m a control freak. I’m trying to be in control of bringing about God’s plans and purposes and promises upon my life. And my children. And maybe the whole world, at least the one I live in.

That night I saw my Ishmael paths, dear Journal,  and my Isaac path and that Abraham could give up his Isaac in Genesis 22 because he had already given up his Ishmael in Genesis 21.

“She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac. And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham, because of his son (Ishmael.)” Genesis 21:8-13

Be it Arabah or Abraham, we all have a hard time letting go of our babies.

Yet I for one need to realize that ”my” babies, those born of my own efforts at fulfilling God’s word for Him…like I could ever do that… will never be heirs of the promise. 

“But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac your offspring shall be named.”

So Abraham rose up the next morning, loaded the child and woman up with food, and sent them away. This is how I am to let go? This is the answer for control freaks?

“Yes, it is,” God tells me through Galatians 4. “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through the promise. But you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slavewoman and her son for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the slave woman.”

Journal, there comes a time when we must cast out our Ishmael. We must let go of control. We must surrender all our efforts at accomplishing God’s will our way. We must come to the table with no preconceived ideas about how, what, and when God is going to fulfill His word in our lives.

I’m there.

God is calling me to full surrender. 

He is asking me to come to the table with absolutely nothing but my “Yes.”

No suggestions, no “helpful” attempts, no preconceived notions. Just a “Yes, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

Journal, you know that I have grown tired, oh so tired, of living the Christian life in the flesh. The pages here record a God who calls, moves, and invites to something profoundly different: a Christian life fully lived in the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God.

No props. No bootstraps. No jazz. No Guarantees. No Rights.

Just Him.

He has brought me to this point and dear journal, I am terribly excited.

It is no coincidence that Loving Husband is preparing for his Dissertation on the Shantung Revival, the revival where missionaries, pastors, and laity alike had Acts 2 like encounters with the Spirit of God.

Oh, I’ve learned so much from their testimonies! And from Brother Yun and from Bill Bright and others who have testimonies of walking by the Holy Spirit…and throughout them all is this one theme: full surrender.

Precious Jesus has shown me that full surrender isn’t possible for someone who doesn’t fully trust first. He has worked diligently for many years to rebuild trust, to invite me to believe and then show Himself trustworthy.

And now…now He prompts me for surrender. Surrender is never taken by force, it is always given. My spirit responds and He wakes me in the morning with words: “After you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”

I hope to somehow give words to what He is doing in my heart. Even in this, I surrender to Him. His work, His way.

To be continued…

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