Monday, November 11, 2013

Jenna: Wrestling Through What Doesn't Seem Fair

Today I’m wrestling with the goodness and justice of God. There is a girl who lives in my house. Her name is Jenna. She is a dear sister and friend. She makes me laugh. She loves to paint. She drinks large amounts of Dr. Pepper. She’s often quiet, yet when she speaks her voice is strong and determined. And every time I witness a glimpse of the way she walks with Y’shua I am struck with awe, my heart is challenged, it makes me want to reevaluate the things I stoop to complain about, to press myself closer to the Lord.

Jenna’s story is not mine to tell, but let’s just say her childhood has not been easy. And yet despite everything she’s endured she looks to Y’shua with dogged resilience and declares it all good because it brought her to the Lord. He plucked her out of a type of hell and gave her a home and a surrogate family. Her journey of healing has been long and full of hard work, but she has kept coming back to the Lord over and over, trusting His surgical care of the tenderest places in her heart. In the midst of this journey she has been slammed with more pain. The loss of a sister. The loss of a mother. The hospitalization of an aunt. She has experienced more grief and trauma at twenty-three than most people ever have to face in a lifetime. And now the war of cancer rages within her cells.

This morning the doctors told her the cancer has taken over her entire body. So she faces a choice. Continue treatment in hopes of reducing the tumors or stop treatment so she can come home and feel better in what time there is while praying for a miracle. It doesn’t seem just or fair. I look at her life and cry out, Y’shua where are you? Why aren’t you moving, storming in to cleanse her physical cells of the long years of abuse and wipe out disease? Hasn’t she suffered enough? Fair would be for me to have cancer. I look at my life, my family, the doors to opportunities God has flung open for me, the good man who has begun the process of tying his life to mine, and I think it’d be more than fair for the cancer to rage inside my own body. I’ll take the next shot. Give Jenna a reprieve.

But I don’t have the power to make that choice. So I shed tears and cry out in prayer for God to let Jenna live, to come through on the promises He’s given her. She has dreams of ministering to abused girls, of traveling and speaking, of writing children’s stories for children in impoverished countries. And I try to sort the justice of God out in my brain. But I can’t. And I don’t think I’m meant to. I can’t reason this one out in my soul. I have to trust the Spirit. All I know to do is stand upon the fact that God is good. I don’t understand how exactly in this situation, but I have to trust that it’s so. If I don't I won't be able to face whatever comes next. And I know it’s what Jenna would tell me to do. She’d say it’s all good because it comes from the Father, because it brought her to this point of knowing Him. She looks at her sickness and believes she has to go through this because it will help her minister to people in the hospital who need to be touched by Y’shua. I’ve seen her talk to Him—curled up in a chair with her blanket—crying and expressing her fears one moment, yet lifting her voice in gratitude to Him the next. No matter what it feels like, it’s good. It’s good. It’s all good.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Fight for Grateful Surrender

Yesterday I began my day reading about gratitude in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. She writes, Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father’s heart.

At one point she quotes from Habakkuk 3:18-19: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hind’s feet, and makes me walk in high places.

Later in the afternoon I was sitting outside with Y’shua reading and listening. I told Him I wanted His River of Life within me to be so full it is like a plump gusher, filling a room with His presence anywhere I go. He told me, if you want that, then get down and surrender, not just one knee but both, and raise your hands in gratitude. And I did. I told Him He could have whatever it takes to make me like that. I saw a bare patch of grass that looked like a giant footprint heading towards an un-mown field. I felt the Spirit tingling through my body and Y’shua whispered, I will make a way. Follow Me into uncharted territories. It was a sweet time and my heart was full as I walked back to the house.

So how was it that forty minutes later during dinner in the kitchen my heart was grumbling with complaint, indignant about an extra meeting we had to go to that would take two hours out of the evening, indignant about the fact that I was going from there to spend the night with two other girls on the farm to give a friend the night off and my day had been so full I hadn’t found time to pack, indignant that I had no choice in what to do with my time, indignant over the words you must that made me feel more like a micromanaged child than a mature contributing adult? So I showed up at the meeting in a roomful of people who I’m supposed to be reading the Word with and praying and my heart was resentful.

But somewhere in the midst of that time the Lord made me remember how recently that sweet time in the afternoon with Him had been. He reminded me of the proclamation I had made that He could have it all. Surrender. And suddenly I can see how this is all just a ploy from the enemy to steal the gratitude and surrender out of my heart. Of course this evening would be hard. The enemy of my soul is mad. I scribble in my journal—How the enemy fights hard to steal my joy, to plant a grumbling seed in my heart, to tempt me to pick up my self-rights and indignation at them being ignored. Y’shua fight for me. Help me ward off this darkness, to choose life and surrender, obedience and joy. Because it is a choice. Ann Voskamp states, “God does not give rights but imparts responsibilities—response-abilities—inviting us to respond to His love-gifts.”

And it’s a love-gift to be on this farm. No matter how difficult it gets I know that. It’s a daily battle here—gratitude. In some respects it’s so easy because the Spirit of God is walking with me and, well, there’s just so many things about God and His goodness to be grateful for. And in other respects it’s not so easy because the days are long and I’m tired and I constantly lose or have to lay down the small pieces of personal space or time I think I have. But in the end it is a choice. Last night I fought and when a song began to play at the end I made myself stand and raise my hands and belt out the words.
            Bless the Lord O my soul, O my soul
            Worship His holy name
            Sing like never before, O my soul
            And worship His holy name.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

John 14:16-17

Y’shua has me on a journey of searching the scriptures for an understanding of the Holy Spirit. I keep being surprised by places the Spirit is referenced that I’ve never noticed before. The following is one verse I’ve landed on recently, followed by my paraphrase of it after I picked it apart and studied it in the Strong’s.

John 14:16-17
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”

I have determined (and therefore it will happen) to beseech and interrogate the Father, and He will commit to bestow and bring forth in you an Intercessor, Consoler, and Advocate who will come between you and any attack, that He may be joined together with you in companionship forever; that is the unconcealed breath of God whom the world with its orderly arrangements and decorations cannot accept, be amazed by, or get a hold of, because it does not look closely or gaze with wide-open eyes upon Him. But you are aware of the Spirit and gaze with wide-open eyes as at something remarkable because He dwells and tarries, staying in one place with you, creating a union, resemblance, and possession of you (you are His) in a fixed position (He will not leave you) and relation of rest.

Monday, October 14, 2013

That Thing Called Dating

From the time I was a child I remember dating being established as something taboo. It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t godly. It wasn’t something I was going to do. And it wasn’t something I ever did… until two months ago.

I’m in a relationship. I’m dating. I have a boyfriend. I’m twenty-six and it’s taken me nearly two months to let those words roll easily off my tongue, and it’s not because my boyfriend, Aaron, is not a good man. He is. A very good man. It’s because when Aaron said I want to pursue you, I ran smack up against a wall—a towering, fortified wall labeled DATING.

I’m an adult. Rationally I knew that dating wasn’t wrong, that I was free to make whatever choice I wanted to make, that I didn’t even need anyone’s permission. Yet emotionally, something about it still felt off, still felt taboo. Aaron waited for days without hearing from me while I tried to find the edges of this wall or a crack I could chisel my way through. So many times in the past two months he’s been gracious and patient, honoring me and my need for space while still telling me I’m worth the wait. A lesser man probably would’ve given up and walked away, and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But he hasn’t, and this is what I’ve discovered thus far.

That wall was a wall of self-protection. From a young age it built itself up around me like a fortress, promising me safety, but the truth was it was a false protector. It kept me boxed in and isolated. It whispered lies that said love isn’t safe and it’s easier to do everything on your own. It made me afraid of becoming an inconvenience. It convinced me I liked being independent and that with my strong personality and vision I would be too much for anyone to handle. It told me love may be for other people but it wasn’t for me. But God’s been smashing through those lies and slowly carrying away the rubble.

This wall was reinforced by my own pride. Other girls outside the wall date, but I’m not like them. One brick stacked on top of the lies. I don’t want to be like them, to sink down to their level. Slather on the mortar. Girls that need boyfriends are needy and insecure. Plunk goes another brick. Like the Pharisees I added rules beyond God’s original intent. I got caught up in a religious spirit. I became judgmental and critical and decided what manner of living was holier than another.

But here’s the truth: I was wrong.
Truth: All these beliefs were just my rationalization for why that wall should be there.
Truth: I was scared of being vulnerable, of tearing that wall down and being exposed.
Truth: With the wall gone I’m not exposed because Y’shua is my strong tower, my protector.
Truth: Even if I offer my heart to another (any person in any kind of relationship), Y’shua still holds it in His hands.

I’m not all the way there. I’m still hesitant. It can still feel scary to keep moving forward. I often make Aaron wait on me while I figure out if I’m ready. But I’m also learning to step out in faith and take risks, to open up my heart and be known bit-by-bit. And what I’m discovering is that dating—that shallow, flirtatious, emotionally-driven pastime of our culture, the kind that is motivated by self-seeking gratification and bails at the first sign of trouble, the kind I was afraid of taking part in—that is nothing like what Aaron and I have chosen. We use the word dating because it’s easier than having to explain, but we’re not really dating. Maybe we’re courting, although that word can carry a wide range of connotations too. In some ways whatever we use as a label doesn’t matter. We are pursuing relationship intentionally. But it’s not like what I feared. I haven’t lost myself in the midst of it; I’ve become myself more fully. I haven’t been distracted from the Lord; I’ve been pressed more fully towards Him, compelled to trust and surrender in new ways.

Our relationship is long distance, so most of our time together is spent over the phone and writing letters. And while that has it’s inconveniences and won’t be ideal for long, I do like the fact that it forces us to be intentional about communicating. We’re not just caught up in activities and physical attraction. We have to hear each other’s hearts or we have nothing to go on. But that’s a good thing. We listen to each other and we come back, clarify, and listen some more. We discuss values, family history, theology. We open the Word and pray, continually surrendering ourselves back to Y’shua, asking Him to orchestrate and lead, because nothing about our relationship has been conventional. But then again I don’t like convention. In a way, even in the midst of God rooting out my pride and pushing me to join the ranks of the daters, He still surprises me. He takes something conventional and rewrites it into something that’s not. He puts together a story that I couldn’t write or even know to ask for. But it’s a good story, because everything that the Father gives is good. So without knowing the end I’m grateful. I’m grateful for Aaron, for his friendship and for his more-than-friendship, for being known by him, for the way that dating has been healing for my heart, and for the way he tells me I’m worth it. I just might be starting to believe it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Holy Spirit Beginnings

When I was in high school and early college, Yeshua pursued my heart and I came to know Him as a jealous Bridegroom. In the past few years I’ve been in a season of healing and restoration of brokenness within my soul. In the midst of these years I’ve found myself caught up into the unconditional love and arms of God the Father. Now I sense it’s the Holy Spirit’s time to draw me out, sweep me up into His wild playfulness, teach me to hear and respond to the quiet promptings of His voice. So in the snatches of time I can steal here and there I’ve launched into searching the Scriptures for the Holy Spirit. I’m hungry to learn. The first verse I began with was Genesis 1:2-3. After delving into the Strong’s and picking the main words apart this is the paraphrase I landed on:

The earth was lying waste, a desolation, a worthless wilderness, an undistinguishable ruin, utterly empty. Light was withheld from the surface of the abyss, keeping it in obscurity. Yet the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, was brooding over the surface of the waters, completely relaxed, fluttering , moving, shaking with what He was about to do. Then God said, “Let there be illumination,” and there was light all at once in all its forms—lightning, clarity, happiness, sunrise—and morning came.

This is so much what the Spirit does, not just with the earth at creation, but now in each one of our hearts. He sees what is hidden, broken, lying in ruin. Where others see a worthless waste, he envisions potential and beauty. He is not overwhelmed by the fractured filth, by the emptiness of our being. He breathes and light comes in our spirits. What was dead comes alive. What was dark is illuminated. Morning dawns. Healing spreads. Life begins.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pitchforkfuls of Grace

So today was hot, and for chores I was assigned to empty a dump truck load of mulch into the garden using a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. Scoop, dump, scoop, dump, until my muscles ached. I was covered in sweat, and dust from the mulch stuck to my skin. One of my housemates was helping, but she didn’t have as much stamina, and I ended up doing most of the brunt work. But somewhere in the midst of working I decided I wasn’t going to complain. It wasn’t going to change what I had to do. So between pitchforkfuls I started singing.

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart
I will enter

Stab. Lift.

His courts with praise.


I will say this is the day


the Lord


has made. I will rejoice for He has made me glad.

And another pitchforkful slid into the wheelbarrow. Gratitude is a choice, and it changes things. I began to take pleasure in the work. I realized I had things to be grateful for, like the chance to work with my hands, to feel the satisfied ache of muscles capable of rising to the challenge of a dump truck full of mulch. I wasn’t in school. I was out on a farm, getting dirty, and I’m convinced that God created the human spirit to enjoy labor in this way, that when we sit in offices behind computers all our lives we miss something of what it means to be human. Using a pitchfork made me feel alive, hearty, legit. And there was beauty even in the dirt and sweat, evidence that says this day is real, not fake, that I’m living it, and that I’m grateful to be alive, to be healthy. This is the day the Lord has made. I had a thousand moments when I could’ve complained in the next couple hours when the sun grew hotter, when I had to sit in the shade gulping water and catching my breath. But I kept pulling my heart back to gratitude. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Now, sitting at the end of it, I can say it’s been a great day. The shower after working was amazing, lunch tasted wonderful. I was on my feet in the kitchen all afternoon canning dilly beans, jalapeno jelly, and salsa, and have enjoyed listening to the pop of the jar lids as they seal into place. The stovetop is cooling, the dishes are washed. Falling asleep is going to feel so deserved. A day well-lived, well-worked. A day full of grace to accept good things from Yeshua, in whatever form they take—even mulch and pitchforks.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Last Bedroom on the Right

So yesterday one of the women in charge of my internship told us this year is going to be a year of stretching, that however much we thought it was going to challenge us, it’s going to do so even more. She said it’s not her intent to make us uncomfortable, but it is her intent to help us become Christ-like, which means discomfort is going to be part of the package.

It made me think about how I probably landed in the hardest bedroom in my house. First it’s the only bedroom in the house with two extra beds in it, which means whenever there are extra visitors our room occupancy grows from two to four, something which could be in flux for a while. Secondly, I don’t deal well with drama, and God gave me a roommate that screams at bugs and spends a half hour trying to work up the courage to dip herself into the pond when we go swimming. Drama Queen with a capital D.

I know the truth, that she is a daughter of the King, that she’s in desperate need of extravagant love and the chance to mature in a safe environment, one her parents probably never provided. I know in a lot of ways she doesn’t know better. She’s never had any other way of living modeled out for her. I know she can’t change all at once, and if I think hard I can recognize small ways she’s already changing. However, knowing the truth still doesn’t change the fact that sometimes she’s hard to live with. On the way to the pond this afternoon I heard her say that she’s never heard me complain about anything, and I wanted to turn around and say, well why don’t you give it a try?

But I didn’t. Instead I’m writing this and becoming very much aware of my own sense of pride—pride that I don’t dwell on the negative, pride that I’m not as shallow as she is, as paranoid, as insecure. If I’m brutally honest, I’d have to admit that I’ve thought I’m better than she is, which is an untruth of the highest degree. Because the real truth is that I’m only the way I am because of the abundant grace of God. We’re both on a journey, and it just looks very different for both of us right now even though our paths are intersecting to use the same dresser and bathroom. And my immediate journey is that God is going to use her to strip me down again, to reveal another layer of selfishness in my heart and ask me to surrender. And that’s a gracious thing for Him to do, because I want to be a part of her story, to live in a way that brings her life and not death, to be compassionate and show her there’s a different way to view life than the way she’s been taught. Abba, fill my heart every morning with eyes to see her as you see her and the grace to surrender my will to your Spirit, because I know, if let on its own, my stubborn heart is going to kick and buck for its right to freedom and a pasture all its own.