Verse of Encouragement: Hope

The sermon I heard today was about pouring our hearts out to God. Several years ago, when I was reading David’s story, I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that to God.” But God called David “a man after his own heart.” “His” being “God’s.” David had an intimate relationship with God, in part because David knew he could be honest in his feelings toward God. Why do we think God is going to be offended by how we feel? Why do we think God is going to strike us down with a bolt of lightning if we admit to him, “God, I am angry at you!”

Our God is a big God, and, as my pastor made clear this morning, “God already knows your heart.” Why hide out of a sense of reverence, respect, or fear? He already knows, and he can handle us at our rawest, ugliest, sobbiest moments, because those moments are often when we are the most honest and unguarded.

He came to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1), so why do we try to hide our hearts from him? The author of Lamentations hurt so bad that there was no holding back how he felt:

He [God] pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:13-18, NIV

Wow, says I, that is a lot of blaming God for one’s circumstances. Is the author exaggerating? Is he being literal? Or is he finding the strongest metaphors possible to express his pain in the most raw, honest way he can? There is so little hope to be found in these verses, how could I possibly post them under the heading “Verse of Encouragement”?

Because the suffering is not the whole story, nor the end of the story. The author pours out his heart, then as my pastor phrased it, “pushed through the pain to find the praise.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering, (“suffering and homelessness,” NLT),
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:19-23, NIV

Who was it who pointed out to me that the verse doesn’t say, “Nothing bad will happen to you”? It says “we are not consumed.” Life throws some dirty punches, no mistake. We might not be spared the loss, the betrayal, the illness. No matter what happens, God has got our back. Without the tragedies, the set-backs, the horrible mistakes, who would I be today? Have I let bitterness dictate who I am, or hope? Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell. Would my character be on the road to refinement? Would I ever learn compassion for others? Would I grow in my faith? Would I learn to listen to that still, small voice and be able to tell the difference between God speaking and my own imagination or desires?

I hate pain. I hate having to be patient one more day and one more day. I hate it when I screw up again and hurt someone I love. I hate it when loved ones die. But because God loves me, I am not consumed. If I let him, he sustains, he strengthens, he shapes. He has endless compassion for me, even when I mess up big time. He wants this independent loner to need him, to seek him, to include him, to grow confident in him, and I’m pretty sure he finds it utterly precious when I finally break and cry out to him.

When I have unburdened myself to him, only then I can remember what he has done for me and those I love, what he promises still to do on our behalf. Then hope pours in to replace the pain.

What is burdening you? Tell him. He doesn’t need fancy language, formal reserve, or grand gestures of reverence. He wants to hear your heart poured out, honest and true and raw. He can handle it. He’s that big. He loves you that much.

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Verse of Encouragement: Healthy Thoughts

My thought-life can get me down. It can cause me to despair over humanity. It can induce terror that has no foundation except in the rare possibility that disaster will strike. I mean, I’m a writer. I have an outstanding imagination. I can see the disaster in minute detail and feel the pain, fear, and loss involved in whatever that disaster might be. Example: I have to fly in an airplane this weekend. My imagination wants to go down the terrifying path of explosions and nose-dives and all the other horribleness of that potential reality. Another example: I read the headlines and conclude the humanity is largely short-sighted, violent, and perverse–and I know it’s going to get worse, because God said it will.

God gave human beings their amazing capacity to imagine, to empathize, to look ahead beyond the now. And he who knows my every thought, knows that this amazing capacity can be dangerous to my health, my attitude, and my outlook. I think that’s part of the reason why we are called to lead a different sort of thought-life.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Philippians 4:6-8

Does this mean we are to hide our heads in the sand, wear blinders, turn a blind eye, and all the other cliched phrases for hiding from the facts? Not at all. We are called also to lift a hand when we see injustice, abuse, pain, suffering, sorrow. See it, act on it, but do not lose focus. Facts are facts, things are bad, that’s undeniable, but what is true is that God has everything in hand. We are to keep our focus on him for that very reason. He is the only lifeline that keeps me from sinking into panic and utter despair. And it’s so much easier to despair than to maintain the faith again and again and again. Having faith is hard. Questions still rise. “Why is this happening? How can you let this happen? Where is your hand in this?”

cloud-silverliningWhen I feel the terror, the anger, the despair rise, I am learning that it is better to face the future with a prayer in my mouth than to try to handle it by myself. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I disagree. Some storms don’t have pretty edges. Some stories don’t have hopeful endings. Not that my feeble human mind can perceive, anyway. That’s when my thoughts have to turn to God. In every situation, pray and give thanks. Every situation. Not easy. But possible.

“Jesus, you are what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I have peace only when my mind is settled on you. Thank you for blessing me more abundantly that I can ever think or imagine. You have given me friends and family who I can turn to in a crisis. You have given me a mission to keep me breathing. My body is healthy, my mind is sound, my heart can be light amid all this tragedy. And I can be your hands when a friend is hurting. Thank you for loving me, so I can love in return.”

 

Theme Song: “Need You Now”

I’ll probably be posting lots more personal “theme songs” as I adopt them, but I’ll start with this one, because it was one of the first, if not the first, I claimed for myself.

Plumb has been one of my favorite bands for a couple years now, ever since I heard that this Christian singer suffers from panic attacks. It’s easy to listen to Christian artists and think, “These people must have it all together, because I mean, how in tune with God do you have to be to write and sing and tour like that?” Reality check. These people are just people, too. They’re susceptible to all the flaws, mistakes, and fears that I suffer.

I watched the interview in which Plumb discusses the story behind this song and it’s so moving to hear how this lovely woman is sometimes paralyzed socially and when in High School would hide in the bathroom stall and cry out to God for help. I find it very important to hear her say that crying out “…didn’t magically make the pain go away,” but “there was a sense of hope” and that God “never grows tired of our need for him. He always shows up.” He’s always with us, wanting to give us peace, strength, courage to keep going.

That’s why this song, this desperate prayer, means so much to me.

 

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 5

four queensI’m a week behind. So I’ll be brief, to catch up. In Chapter 5, “Our Mothers, Ourselves, part 2,” Stasi continues to explore the wounds dealt to us in our past and how we might find release and healing from them. As I stated in the post on part 1 of this topic, I choose to keep these families matters between God, my mom, and myself, so I’ll skip to …

Favorite Quotes

 “… what we receive from our mothers is similar to being dealt a hand of cards. What we received is formative and foundational, but this “hand” is not our destiny. If you didn’t get dealt a great hand, or your cards are torn and bloody, folded or lousy or even missing, this is where the healing presence of Jesus Christ can come in and wash your cards clean. He gives you the cards he intended for you to have. He restores. … We bring him the hand we were dealt and ask for his healing. … He wants to heal us! … He has the power to bless who we are and who we are becoming.

In order to receive the healing that God has for us regarding our mother wounds, we need to know what we need healing from and for. Specifically. We need to remember what happened in the story of our lives and invite the healing presence of Jesus there. For healing to come, we actually have to go back and remember and even access the emotion of the wound.

… he restores us to the truth of who we are and the reality of the life we are living and meant to live. … We are loved, wanted, seen, delighted in, provided for, cherished, chosen, known, and planned on. We are set apart, invited, valued, of immeasurable worth, and blessed.”

(Becoming Myself, p. 85-86)

Is this just a pep talk? How valuable am I, really? Through a poet, God tells me.

“all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:16

God was looking forward to the moment when I would exist, and he cares about every detail of my life:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.

Psalm 139:1-5

Of course a God like this would want us to be healed from those things that hurt us. And as far as mothers go, I was dealt an extraordinary hand. I’m pretty confident I can sweep the pot.

Verse of Encouragement: Troubles

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

Sunrise view from our cabin above Twin Lakes, CO, 2014

A road trip wonderfully interfered with routine, so I haven’t been in a place to read the next chapter of Becoming Myself or blog about it. Should get back into the swing of things next week. Until then, this poignant passage about God’s faithfulness and desire for restoration just sang to me.

Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.
You have done such wonderful things.
Who can compare with you, O God?
You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
but you will restore me to life again
and lift me up from the depths of the earth.
You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again.

Psalm 71:19-21

I guess life’s troubles have often been compared to climbing mountains. It’s so apt a description that it’s even become a  cliche. But it was illustrated quite vividly last week when I attempted to climb Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak (its lower slope is visible on the right side of the photograph). Troubles definitely look intimidating from the ground, with all that progress still to go. Keep your head down, trudge on, one step at a time. Lungs burn, legs give out, the trail goes on and on, and there is still more mountain to climb.

Sometimes the mountains even win. For a while. But they can also cause us to realize our weaknesses, where we need God to intervene and help strengthen our faith, our character, our maturity. Then, we mount the slope again, again, again, until one day we can say, “I got this,” and suddenly the summit no longer looms overhead but lies beneath your feet.

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 4

Mothers. The hand that rocks the cradle moves the world.

In Chapter 4 of Becoming Myself, “Our Mothers, Ourselves: part 1,” Stasi discusses the Father Wound and Mother Wound, focusing mostly on the latter. I know my mother reads this blog, so I need to let her know that I have identified and dealt with my Mother Wound. Years ago, actually, so exploring this chapter has been a good reminder of healthy progress, more than a painful journey of discovery. I won’t go into detail because, I feel, this issue lies between my mom and me.

Part of the healing came when I resolved to stand up for myself. Part of it came from going on an extended trip with my mother to Europe. If you need resolution on some things, take a month-long trip through a country where the only person who speaks your language is your mother, and see if things don’t change a bit.

In 2009, while we were in Paris, about Week 2 of what really was a stressful trip, I finally had an emotional breakdown. I got stuck in the subway station, in Paris’s version of a turn-style; the party I was with chose to walk from our hotel to the touristy areas instead of take the very competent and very available buses; with all the glorious food Paris offers, all I had to eat that day was a hotdog on a dry baguette; and that night, when I was exhausted, hungry, sweaty, sooty, and footsore, I got locked out of my hotel room. I lost it. My mother caught the full brunt of my rage. She saw me at my worst. She spoke to me in my language, words I had never heard her use, which aren’t clean enough to quote here, but it was like a slap to the face. In the middle of my sobbing, I started laughing. I sobbed a bit more, took a shower, and apologized. She apologized. It was stiff and awkward for both of us. For the rest of that evening, things remained tense between she and I, between the rest of our party. It was just not a happy situation.

snapshot, Mom and Me, Notre DameWe got a good night’s sleep and rose early the next morning to resume our touristy activities. I insisted we take the bus. Oh, yes, the buses in Paris are worth every euro. Mom and I still hadn’t really looked at each other after our tiff. Then when we were standing in front of Notre Dame’s iconic façade,  a member of our party asked for my mom and I to stand together for a picture. I remember smiling at her, risking, hoping. And thank God, she smiled back. A tentative smile at first, then genuine. It was like forgiveness. It was like her saying, “I still love you—with all the stuff I don’t understand about you.” In the picture our arms are wrapped around each other, and we actually mean it.

We came away from that month-long trip with a new sense of camaraderie. The kind that doesn’t have to be spoken. Our relationship just seemed … easier … after that. We had endured each other, we had connected, and gained what I hope is deeper understanding.

FAVORITE QUOTE

“Mothers bestow self-worth, and they have the ability to withhold it. Intentionally, but more often unintentionally. A mother cannot pass on what she does not possess…. Mothers have the ability to withhold acceptance, value, love. Our mothers failed us when, without meaning to, they passed on to us low self-esteem. Or based our self-worth on anything other than the fact that we exist.

God does not do that.

Our worth is not based on what we do, which life path we choose, or what we believe. Our worth is inherent in the fact that we are image bearers of the living God. Our worth is based on the fact that we are alive. We are human beings. Our worth is immeasurable. …

We are all hostages of such value that it took the blood of God himself to pay our price. You have worth beyond counting.”

(Becoming Myself, 76)

Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 3, part 2

The first half of Chapter 3, “The Landscape of Our Lives,” discussed HERE, talks about women’s hormones and the effect they have on our internal lives. The second half discusses misogyny and the effect it has on our external lives.

In my opinion, Stasi does a fairly good job of defining misogyny and summarizing how we are still bombarded with misogynistic messages throughout our culture, even in church. Too often especially in church. As Stasi writes it: “Some churches continue to teach that the fall of man came because of Eve’s wickedness and that she and all women after her are temptresses. … women can’t teach, women can speak in church, women can’t cut their hair. … cover their bodies, their faces, their heads. They should stay quiet, stay separate from men, and really should just stay home. Women can’t own property or vote or testify in court or travel alone. Women can’t go to school because they simply aren’t worth educating.” (p. 56)

I grew up in a conservative home. I thank God my mother had the opportunity to stay home to raise my sister and myself, and I’m grateful that my sister is staying home to raise and educate her children. They know that this is the frontline, the really hard job, and anyone who says otherwise is going to get “the look” and a stern talking to. But I remember during our college years when my sister spouted off something against feminists (I love my sister, and I have no wish to malign her, but it’s a great example of this deep-seated cultural battle). I looked at her and said, “If it weren’t for those feminists, you wouldn’t be studying for a Math degree. Math, according to men of the time, damaged a woman’s uterus.” Because, of course, the uterus is a woman’s only true worth. Ahem.

My husband and I were talking earlier this week about a particularly popular country music video in which the two young female singers make fun of the clothes that women in country music culture are expected to wear. I mentioned how ironic it was that the Women’s Lib Movement got women out of the house and got them naked. I think people slightly missed the point, there. To all those bare-breasted babes on the billboards I want to say, “You’re not free, you’re a sex object.” A tool to further the mindset that women are worth less than men, that their only worth is in how sexually alluring they are. It’s just oppression of a different color. Does this contribute to genuine respect for women? If not, throw it away.

Speaking of sex objects. Stasi discusses sexual assault in this chapter as the epitome of misogyny. Because of the experiences of a friend of mine, I was on the lookout for language indicating that Stasi might be caught in a web of victim blaming, her own sexual assault included. Those statements like “You shouldn’t have been wearing that,” or “You shouldn’t have been at that party,” or “You had too much to drink,” or “You knew better than to let him take you home” are all forms of victim-blaming. According to my friend, and I trust their judgment on this, Stasi writes in Captivating that she shouldn’t have been in a certain place, that she was an unwise young woman, and these things contributed to her being assaulted. But, thankfully, I didn’t detect any of that in the account of her experience as she writes it in Becoming Myself. On page 58, Stasi describes her assault in more detail than I expected. She ends the account with how the rapist blamed her for making him do this.

It’s my hope that Stasi has healed enough by now, become comfortable enough with her own worth, that these feelings of self-blame have disappeared from inside her.

The Temptation and Fall of Even, by William Blake, 1808

The Temptation and Fall of Eve, by William Blake, 1808

What I did take issue with in this half of the chapter is where she places all the blame for abuse and assault on Satan. Yes, our Enemy is a detrimental influence in the world who seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” us (John 10:10). He “prowls like a lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But in these paragraphs, Stasi echoes Adam and Eve too closely, shunting responsibility off on someone else: “The woman gave me fruit, and I ate.” … “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13) This argument takes away the burden of choice that each and every human being has been given. It even seems to take away the responsibility from rapists and abusers for the times they choose to commit these atrocious acts against another human being. Eve chose to eat. Adam chose to eat. An abuser chooses to abuse. So, while Stasi does hit on the root of the issue, that all evil ultimately comes from our Enemy, she leaps over the fact that choice still remains with the abuser.

FAVORITE QUOTES

Apparently Captivating emphasizes “beauty” a great deal. May I venture to propose that Stasi was referring more to the beauty of the soul, of a whole, healed person rather than outward beauty? While reading Becoming Myself, I have been on the alert for this red flag as well, and when discussing why womanhood is under assault, to her credit Stasi doesn’t mention “beauty” at all, in any form.

“Women are image bearers of God. Women are coheirs with Christ. Women are valued, worthy, powerful, and needed. There is a reason the Enemy fears women and has poured his hatred onto our very existence. Let him be afraid, then.”

(Becoming Myself, 61)

This is far more in keeping with what I would expect Stasi to believe on the matter. What is physical beauty when compared to the effective weapon a woman’s prayer life can be for her family? Or her hands of selfless service? Or sharing her testimony with a hurting friend? Those are the aspects of womanhood—and humanity as a whole—that our Enemy fears because they echo Christ’s influence. Physical beauty is dust, in the end, and I’m glad Stasi didn’t make that argument.

“When Jesus came onto the scene he turned misogyny on its head. A rabbi at that time wouldn’t speak to a woman in public, not even his own wife…. Even today, an orthodox Jewish man is forbidden to touch or be touched by any woman who is not his wife or a close family relation. Jesus didn’t abide by those rules. During his ministry Jesus engaged with women many times. He spoke to them. He touched them. He taught them. He esteemed them. He had women minister to him physically, touching him, washing his feet, anointing him with oil and with their tears. He had women disciples traveling with him, supporting him, learning from him, and “sitting at his feet.” If we, the church, the body of Christ, had followed the example Jesus had set instead of the traditions of men held captive to sin and the fall, we would have a much higher history here.”

(Becoming Myself, 55)

“Turned misogyny on its head.” Of course he did. Ah, I love Jesus. Freedom from oppression, freedom from fear, freedom from self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness. He wants all these things for me, and he demonstrated this to the women he encountered. What evidence do I have that this is true? I guess you’d have to know who I was ten years ago, five years ago, to see for yourself.