Growing up in the Maritimes is totally different than growing up on the Prairies. Chances are, you probably know that. But if you grew up on the Prairies, you probably didn’t know what you were missing when the season of Fall came circling around as it so faithfully does each and every year. “What did I miss?”, you ask? I’ll tell you. Leaves. But not just any leaves. RED leaves. At this point, you’ve probably rolled your eyes and exited this webpage. But…on the hopeful chance that you haven’t, bear with me. I promise I’ll make a good point. 😉
I’ve lived in Saskatchewan for 16 years. And every single year, when Fall showed up, I’ve focused heavily on one thing. I’ve made it my goal: To find red leaves. They’re not easy to find in this “land of living skies”. So, every year, when I find a rare vine or bush that has produced some shade of red, I’ve honed in on it – marking my task complete for that year. Some years, I haven’t found any red. Other years, God provided a bounty of red findings. And it brought joy to this foreigner far from home.
But, this year was different. This year, God shed light on some areas of my life that have needed attention, repairs, and repentance for far too long. One of those areas, He revealed a few weeks ago as I found myself driving along the highway, subconsciously searching for the red in every grove of trees I happened upon. The voice was gentle. It didn’t scold. It reminded me of truth long forgotten.
For the past 16 years, I have been so focused on finding that one thing I miss so desperately much from my homeland near the water – the home of Maple trees turned red each Autumn – their deep maroon, burgundy, and oh-so-very-dark-wine-colored leaves. That’s when it hit me. The past 16 years of my life have been so focused on finding what I thought was missing to make a perfect Autumn, that I was actually missing the beauty of what I had surrounding me instead.
Over those 16 years of searching for what was missing, I missed the beauty in what was present.
This may sound so simplistic and elementary to you, but to me it was profound and taught me a much larger lesson that had nothing to do with leaves. What else have I missed??? What else have I missed out on because my attention was so focused on what was missing rather than on what was right in front of me? As humans, we tend to do that, don’t we? We hone in on “the missing”; the “not present”, the “not how I think it should be”, the “what God never gave me”, the “deserved reward or credit I never received”, that we miss the blessings that surround us daily!
And here’s the amazing part: When I finally listened to God’s nudging and conviction and the smack up-side my head on that drive, it was then that I finally focused on what was here, right now. The beautiful, present reality. Not on what was missing. But on what was here. I chose at that moment to stop focusing on what was absent and to genuinely THANK God for the oranges, the yellows, the greens within my sight at that very moment. And THAT’S when I finally began to see the beauty and the blessing in the now. That’s when I was floored by the amazing beauty in God’s creation. And that’s when I stopped longing for and missing what wasn’t there.
God is so faithful, isn’t He? He interrupts our longings, however small and insignificant they may be, because to Him, they’re significant.
What do you feel is “missing” from your life right now? What isn’t there that you think should be there? Maybe that thing, whatever it is, no matter how large or how small, isn’t there because God has a different blessing awaiting you. And all you need to do is look around. I don’t say that to sound trite. I know we each have longings, deep longings of our hearts that others just don’t understand. But remember this: God understands. And He cares deeply about those longings that ache inside of you. He sees that pain that nobody else sees. And He longs to draw near to you IN that pain. He wants to be a friend to you – the very best kind of friend. And that’s why, just sometimes, He chooses not to give us our deepest longings and desires. Because He truly does know what’s best for me…and for you.
Look for Him in the present, dear friend. Look for Him in the right now. He’s there – and it’s beautiful. Don’t allow yourself to miss the beauty of now because you’re still searching for the “red”.
For I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. – Philippians 4:11
It’s been a hard month. Well, who am I kidding? 2020 has just been hard, period. I don’t want to add to the ridiculous amount of discussion you’ve, no doubt, been dealing with regarding Covid-19, so I’ll just say, in addition to that, I’ve dealt with a lot of other things too…that have also been hard! I’m sure that you have as well. Because…life goes on, right? There are always other stressors, anxieties, worries, ailments, opportunities, etc., that happen on a daily basis for us humans. So, in addition to dealing with Covid-19, I started homeschooling my children (not due to Covid), started a new job in a brand new field, and have also had the incredibly frustrating experience of having my identity stolen. Trust me, change your passwords…often! Your future self will thank you. *eyeroll* *heavy sigh* Not only was my identity stolen and used to open credit cards in my name (that were maxed out) but these people also managed to change my information on my actual credit report! Is your head spinning yet? Mine sure has been. Dealing with all of that…stuff…has been a royal nightmare to say the least.
This past month, especially, has been one of many tears, short fuses, anxiety, and fighting…for the truth to win in my life. It has been exhausting. But…it didn’t kill me. And you know what they say about the things that don’t kill you… Apparently they “make you stronger”??? Hahahahahahahaha. Ok, I don’t know about that. I certainly don’t feel I can attest to that, yet, anyway. However, I can attest to something else. And that is: the nearness of God…and His goodness.
It seems that in times of trial and stress, it’s so easy to feel as if God has abandoned us, isn’t it? We assume that the pain or trial we are facing must be due to either His lack of love for us or, at the very least, some form of punishment. Why? Why do we naturally bend toward that type of thinking? Honestly? I think it’s because that’s our human nature. We don’t typically cause harm to those we love unless we want to punish them. But there are a few issues with that kind of thinking. First, we are assuming that God is the “cause” of this harm, and second, we equate pain or trial with not being the easy route – therefore, it’s not the loving route. We would be wrong on both those assumptions.
Just because bad, wrong, terrible, unjust things happen to us, or those we love, does NOT mean that God caused them to happen. Seriously, read the book of Job. You need only read the first chapter to see that God was not the cause of Job’s trials. But He did, in His rightful providence, allow them to occur. This leads us into the belief that if we allow something painful to occur, we must not love the other person. Again, wrong. If you have children, you know this is very far from the truth. The difficult truth of parenting is that sometimes, parents allow their children (within safe parameters, of course) to experience pain and difficulty – so they can learn valuable and life-long lessons they would most likely, otherwise, forget. It’s the experience of the pain that reminds us of lessons learned. It’s also the experience of pain that allows us the opportunity to speak life and truth and encouragement into another person’s pain or tribulation.
I’ve recently read that pain…in it’s truest form, is a gift. Yes, you read that correctly. Pain often represents a warning sign, a symptom that something is wrong. But that same pain, if identified, worked through, accepted, can also lead to healing. Obviously, I’m not talking about physical pain and healing here, although the same idea can be applied to some of those situations as well. But, reading through this idea that pain is a gift made me wonder: When was the last time I thanked God for the gift of my current (or past) pain? What is/was He trying to teach me in and through it? And where is He during it?
The answer isn’t always so obvious to us during that painful time, is it? But afterward… Do you remember the poem, Footprints? It was a popular one years ago and I feel that the overuse of that poem over the last many years may have caused some of the significance of the meaning to slip away somewhat, but remember with me if you will, the truth behind it: It wasn’t until after the pain, when the main character thought he had been alone all those times, when he saw only one set of footprints in the sand, that Jesus had been right there, carrying him through it. Hindsight is 20/20, right? For me, that’s proven to be true.
Dallas Holm wrote these lyrics that were released in 1993 and they still ring true today:
There’s a heaviness inside your heart
A weight you can’t describe
A feeling that you just can’t hide
There’s a weariness within your mind
The thoughts don’t come too clear
You feel as though I’m not so near to you
But remember I said I’d never leave
Trust in My Word and believe I am here
Forever, I’ll never let you go
This is all you really need to know
I’ve heard every prayer I’ve seen every tear
When I seemed so distant, I’ve always been near
And I know the future, and I know the past
So believe me when I say…This too shall pass
He is with you. When He’s seemed so distant, He’s always been near. I’m still working on not trusting my feelings and emotions that change daily. They simply aren’t trustworthy. But He is.
So if, like me, you’ve been having a rough time as of late, or even if you haven’t been, take a deep breath and let me remind you of what is true: God is still on His throne. He still has a plan for your life. He WILL see it through to completion…because He IS still good.
And on the days where you find yourself trusting your emotions more than your God, listen to the words of this song (click the link below to listen):
I talk a lot. Those that know me can attest to this. On top of that, I have a very sharp tongue. And to add to the problem even further, the words that come out of my mouth a lot of the time are anything but pure.
Lately, I have been told by a few people that I am a really great encourager. That comes as a major surprise to me. I don’t feel like I do that at all, but I can’t help but notice that it has come up in conversation not just once, but a few times – to the point where I can’t ignore it anymore and have begun to wonder if that is a spiritual gift that has been hiding somewhere deep within. So it’s no surprise that words have been on my mind lately.
Scripture has a lot to say about words and about the importance of holding one’s tongue as well as encouragement. So I’ve started a mini-study on what impact that should have in my life. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Ecclesiastes 5:3 …Many words mark the speech of a fool.
Ecclesiastes 9:17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Ecclesiastes 10:12 Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.
Ecclesiastes 10:14 …Fools multiply words.
Have you ever noticed that the quiet ones usually have the most profound/meaningful things to say?
Tongues are Powerful:
James 3:5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
James 3:8 …No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
This last verse really made me think. If we can’t tame the tongue, what hope do we have? Our only hope is Christ Jesus. He is the One that created us. He created our tongues and our ability to speak. He alone can tame a fiery tongue. We need only ask. But what if I have asked? What if I have wept over my speech and begged God to take my unholy words away from me? What then? I believe it is a conscious decision to consistently be in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17), asking God’s assistance with our speech, each day. Remembering to really think before we speak. Accepting the challenge of continually seeking to live a holy, God-fearing life. Only then can we expect change.
Guarding One’s Tongue:
Proverbs 21:23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
Psalm 34:13 …Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
James 3:10 Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Matthew 15:18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
Desiring a godly heart is a good place to start, but it is not the same as having one. Having a godly heart does not mean being perfect either. I desire a Christ-like heart; one of compassion, love, cheerfulness, goodness, self-control, temperance, (shall I list all of the fruits of the Spirit?), but do not feel that I exhibit these. And truth be told, it’s probably because I don’t – when it really matters. It’s easy for me to have compassion on the homeless person asking for money. It’s easy for me to be cheerful when I’m doing what I love. It’s easy to be good at work when I have a performance review approaching. It’s easy for me to be patient when I’m waiting for something I really want. But what about those other times? What if it’s having compassion on somebody going through a circumstance and your thought is for them to “suck it up.” What if it’s being cheerful in the midst of a failing marriage? What if it’s being good when nobody is watching and you’re aching to do X. What if it’s being patient when that toddler asks that same question for the fifteenth time and you are busy doing something else?
Having a godly heart, I believe, is:
First – having the desire.
Second – realizing our imperfection.
Thirdly – recognizing God’s perfection.
Fourthly – asking for His transformation on our lives.
Fifthly – actively working towards being like Him each day.
So for those that may find a discussion on “words and encouragement” strange coming from me, it’s actually quite perfect. As a woman who struggles with her filthy words and foolish talk, I am the perfect candidate to kneel before God in humbleness and beg for forgiveness and ask for wisdom. For my words to change, my heart has to change (Matt. 15:18 – as above), and so does my mind – Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
On understanding encouragement as a spiritual gift, I am still praying about that one. Discovering our spiritual gifts is a journey. And although I would never have considered encouragement as one of mine, I’m wondering if perhaps spiritual gifts can change as God changes us.
I want to honor God with my words, but change will hardly happen if we don’t set the right boundaries. That’s where accountability comes in. So if you hear me say something that isn’t any of the following, please remind me (gently) of this blog post.
Thanks for being on this journey with me.
Philippians 4:8 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.
Over the past couple of months, I have been working through The Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament. Specifically, I’ve been examining the responses of Jesus toward any situation or circumstance He faced. Although there are so many things to glean from those four books, I’ve been most fascinated with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Because I want to capture the full account of this story, I’ve taken the liberty of combining Scripture from Matthew and Luke so we can see a more complete picture of what occurred after the Last Supper with His disciples in the Garden.
Luke 22:39, 43-46 and Matthew 26:36b-39, 42-45
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. And He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”.
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”
When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes My betrayer!”
Before we can look at Jesus’ responses, I’d like to take some time to really zoom in on His current circumstances – what He was going through, what He was experiencing in each moment, the emotions He must have felt. Keep in mind as we examine this passage that Jesus was, at this time, 100% God and 100% human. He went through many of the same things that we go through. 1 Peter 4:1 states that “Christ suffered while He was in the body” and Hebrews 4:15 states, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned.”
So what WAS going on?
Matthew 26:37-38 – Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled”. His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow”. The word “sorrow” here refers to both physical and mental pain. We see a couple of things here – inner turmoil and dread is one, and second, the grief from bearing the weight of other’s sins…the sins of the whole world. Think for a moment about a time when you felt the most burdened about a sin you’d committed, or maybe it was just a sinful thought. Or try and remember a time of immense grief where you couldn’t eat and you couldn’t sleep. You just felt ill. The emotional agony of the situation was just too much to bear. Now imagine the weight of your one situation multiplied by the burden of the sins of the whole world! Can you see it in your mind’s eye? I don’t know if we can ever begin to comprehend the weight of the burden that Christ was feeling that night, but we’re going to try.
His burden – His cup of wrath He was to drink – was so huge that we see in Matthew 26:39, the severity of the stress he was under. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He was under so much stress of knowing what was to come that He actually pleads with His Dad to not make Him have to go through with it, to please take this horrific life sentence away from Him. Jesus, in this very moment, shows His full humanity. He knows what it’s like to go before the Father and beg for His situation to be removed from Him. We can only imagine how He must have wept privately here. He was under so much pressure and so much grief that when you skip to Luke 22:43-44, it says, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” He was in so much physical and emotional anguish over what He had to do, that an angel had to come and strengthen Him. Scientists say that when a person is under that much emotional turmoil or grief, the capillaries in the human head can actually pop, causing a blood-like sweat as we see here. Can you imagine a grief so great?
Looking back to the text in Matthew 26:40, 43, and again in verse 45, they state “Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’.” “When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.” “Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?” Here Jesus is on arguably the most difficult night of His entire life. We know He is already in severe distress and anguish – physical and emotional agony – and His closest friends, who He asked to stay with Him in Matthew 26:39 – “Stay here and keep watch with Me”, fell asleep on Him…repeatedly! Try to envision for a moment the extreme lonelinessand abandonment He must have felt. He was beyond overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. This was the time He should have been surrounded by His closest friends, comforted by them, having them be an alert, wakeful, and sympathetic presence, knowing they would be praying for Him, consoling Him, but they let Him down…big time. They completely ignored His request. Have you ever been let down by somebody who was your closest friend? The abandonment and loneliness He experienced here would have been so much worse of a blow because it provided a glimpse, a foretaste, of what was to come – from the imminent abandonment from His friends when they deserted Him after His arrest – to the cross, where even His Father would turn His face away from Him.
Looking back at Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays the second time stating, “My Father, IF IT IS NOT POSSIBLE for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it…” He prayed the first time in Matthew 26:39 asking His Father to take the cup away from Him. We can deduce from here that the reason He was in great anguish and needed to be comforted by the angels was because He received an answer to His prayer that He was not wanting. He knew by verse 42 that God was not going to take this cup of wrath away from Him. He was going to have to endure it. Have you ever received an answer to prayer that you weren’t hoping for? Maybe you just assumed God didn’t answer your prayer because what you asked for wasn’t allowed.
In Matthew 26:46 which states, “Rise, let us go!”, we see that Jesus faced his own, imminent death – literally. Many of us haven’t had to go through that just yet, but I can’t help but think of numerous friends and family members we know who have had to do exactly that…possibly through a terminal illness diagnosis or failing health. There is not one thing that we will go through that Jesus has not already experienced.
And finally, this whole story of the Garden of Gethsemane has Jesus surrounded by betrayal from one of His closest friends. Jesus called it in Matthew 26:25 at the Last Supper: “Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’. Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” and immediately following the garden’s story, we see Judas do exactly what Jesus said he would in Matthew 26:48&49 – “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.” There’s nothing quite like betrayal – but it’s so much worse when it comes from a close friend.
So how DID Jesus respond to all of these things?
First of all – look back at the very first verse of the bolded passage. “Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives…” When Jesus was in the area, this is where He went to meet with God. He had a special place set aside just for prayer. That’s actually how Judas knew where they were going to be that night…because Jesus made it a regular habit to meet with His Father there in prayer.
When His sorrow and anguish was too great to bear, when He felt the most alone and abandoned by His closest friends – leaving Him to deal with His burden by Himself, Jesus chose to pray…and he kept returning to His only source of comfort – His Father. Notice that at His loneliest time, God was still present through prayer. Jesus’s prayer life was well-established long before a difficult situation ever arose in His life. What are your prayer habits like? Do you wait until a hard time comes up before going to meet with the Lord in prayer or do you have a regular prayer life already established so that prayer is your first response to everything and anything? One other item I want to point out here is Jesus’s posture in Matthew 26:39 – he laid, face flat, on the ground. It’s worshipful. But it’s also a position of a servant’s cry to His King.
Jesus chose to receive help from the angels. He chose to not get angry with His friends even though they completely ignored His request to stay awake with Him. He choseto trust His Father totally, in full surrender. You see this through the way He ends each of His prayers: “not what I will, but what You will”. Just think about that for a moment! What is the biggest thing you have ever prayed for, cried out to God for? Did you ask Him just for what you wanted or were you ready and willing to embrace His will? If not, what was it that held you back?
He also chose to face His death with courage and obedience – with total surrender and acceptance.
When faced with these kinds of situations or difficulties in life, how do YOU respond? Is your response self-seeking? Self-loathing? Clothed in self-pity and self-servitude? Or is your response more like Christ’s? With humility. With grace. With obedience. With trust. With total surrender to the Father’s will. As we prepare for this Easter season, may each one of us surrender ourselves totally to the authority of our God. May we do as the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:23-24 and truthfully ask, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” May we daily choose to humbly and gracefully surrender our will to His, to fully obey, and to fully trust Him.
Main points to remember along our journey toward Home:
Step 1 – Ensure that you have a consistent and meaningful prayer life established before dark or difficult times arise.
Step 2 – Don’t blame God – even though He may be allowing the pain you’re experiencing. Choose not to blame. Choose to trust.
Step 3 – Go to Him in prayer and humility even though that might be the last thing you want to do – when everyone else is distracted and sleeping – go to Him…repeatedly.
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines Encouragement in three ways:
a.to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope b. to attempt to persuade
to spur on
to give help or patronage to
When was the last time you felt encouraged? What brought about that feeling? Chances are, it was probably someone who said something positive or uplifting to you or did something for you simply out of the kindness of their heart. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? To be encouraged. To have someone believe in us, cheer for us, help us, pray for us. Sometimes, the encouragement we receive can make us feel as though we’re on top of the world, as if we are capable of accomplishing any task, no matter how difficult it may be. But that’s because there’s power behind encouragement, isn’t there?
Why is that? How can someone’s words or actions impact our own in such a drastic way? I think it’s for the same reason that when another person speaks hurtful or unkind things about us or even to us, we cringe. It hurts!
We were made FOR community and to be IN community.
It’s simply a part of the divine creation and order of things. God made us to be a communal people. His design and intent was never that His children would walk alone in this world, to strive to be able to do things on our own, or to even have to do things on our own. You only have to look at Scripture to find truth to that.
So who encourages you? Who spurs you on “towards love and good deeds”? (Hebrews 10:24) Who encourages you and builds you up? (1 Thessalonians 5:11) If you don’t have somebody who can speak life into your life, what are you doing about it? Have you sought out a mentor or do you just sit miserably on your couch and “hope” someone will befriend and encourage you? That might sound harsh, but know that you aren’t alone. I was like you…for years.
“Where do I start?”, you might ask. Great question! My best suggestion is church. If you don’t have a home church, start by finding one. If you do have a home church, start by getting involved! And no, the excuse of: “I just don’t have time” doesn’t fly with me. You obviously have five minutes to sit and read this blog, so obviously you have five minutes you could spend helping out at church (granted…extenuating circumstances aside). It can be small! Maybe, for you, it looks like talking to the church secretary and asking how you can help with only five minutes of spare time – maybe that’s thinking of craft ideas for a Sunday School class, maybe it’s being an usher one Sunday morning and handing out bulletins before the service starts, maybe it’s offering to make an extra loaf of bread (or buy one while you’re already at the grocery store) for communion. Maybe you have more time and you can help with teaching a Sunday School class, leading a Bible study one night a week, or helping with the Kids Clubs at your church. When you do these things – when you “get involved”, you get to know other people on a deeper level than just your regular Sunday morning pew-warming neighbours. And let’s be honest – how well do you REALLY know the people who warm the pews around your specific, self-allotted section? Probably not that well. But getting involved opens up new opportunities to meet fellow believers who are just like you – people who love Jesus. The issue is – you can’t stop here.
Getting to know other people requires real work. It involves opening the doors of your home to others, practising hospitality (Romans 12:3), regardless of how big…or tiny your home is. Truly, the size of your home matters very little compared to the size of your heart – that, THAT is what people will see. THAT is what will attract others to you. So stop focusing on your own self-loathing and get out there! Do what you can with what you have, regardless of how little that may be. When you start to get to know people, you start to care for them, to love them – so show it by your actions. “My children, our love should not be only words and talk. No, our love must be real. We must show our love by the things we do.” – 1 John 3:18 In doing that, you may be moving mountains for others in ways you may never see here in this lifetime. But these are the things that matter in eternity. So what are you doing with what you’ve been given? Are you keeping it all to yourself or are you sharing generously with others? (My reference here is to the Parable of the Talents – Matthew 25:14-30) Are you making a “profit” for the kingdom of heaven? If not, don’t you think it’s about time you start?
“But, I thought this was about getting encouragement!?”
It is. When you invest your time, your energy, your love, your wisdom into others (not for selfish gain), you can’t help but be encouraged.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
“Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3
When you get to know some other older, wiser, godly women in your church family, consider asking one of them to mentor you. The format of a mentorship relationship can be as formal or informal as you like – you’re the one requesting it! But pray about it and make your requests clearly known, to God – He will provide one if you ask Him to, and to the person you choose to ask to enter into that mentor relationship with you. Do NOT be discouraged, however, if they say “No”. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12 If, however, they say “Yes”, don’t be a drain! Ask for that encouragement but also seek to be an encouragement to them. Ask about their life, how you can be praying for them, etc. Encouragement is not and should never be a one-way street. The Bible is pretty clear on that.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” – 2 Corinthians 13:11
“Therefore, encourage one another…” – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up…” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” – Hebrews 3:13
It’s springtime here. And it’s beautiful. We moved last September to a tiny, hamlet-style town just 20 minutes from the city. We love our new home…and neighbourhood. I have absolutely no green-thumb, but my yards are completely (and meticulously) landscaped (from the previous owners). Each time I bring the children outside to play, I’m constantly checking the shrubs and perennials that line our fence. I check often because I have no clue if I’m supposed to be pruning off the dead, stick-like stems of what were once beautiful flowers just months ago, or if I should leave them in hopes of a miraculous, life-like appearance once again. But each time I go outside, the signs of new life are everywhere. The trees are budding and tiny, green shoots are peeking through the rock beds. Each time I venture into my own backyard, I witness something new and alive. It’s beautiful. Miraculous!
It’s Sunday afternoon. The thunder rolled and the rain poured. The puddles are deep and wide. Peacefully, my children napped through the storm. After waking from her rest, my daughter took one look outside and her face awoke with excitement, eyes widened, a smile cracking, revealing an inner joy. To add to the already blossoming excitement, she saw her friend already outside jumping in the puddles on our cul-de-sac. I had the ultimate joy of sitting in my livingroom, watching the girls play on our street, running through the puddles and squealing as they chased their umbrellas which were tumbling around in the wind. For some reason my five-year-old thought that having her umbrella run away on her was the most hysterical thing in the world. I smiled, listening to the rain gently fall, and the squeals of glee, mixed with the all-out gutteral bursts of laughter coming from my daughter. Is there anything more beautiful and peaceful than the joy that comes from listening to the sounds of your child’s laughter, or to witness their pure and innocent joy and happiness?
When we witness the happiness of our children, it brings a rush of joy to our hearts and souls. Think about it. Why do parents go to the ends of the earth to find that lost teddy bear? Why do parents painfully pull out their wallets once again at the carnival when they see the pleading in their child’s eyes to play that game or ride that ride just one more time? Why do we lavish gifts on our children at Christmastime (or Easter, or Valentine’s day, or for the really bad ones…Arbour day? ;)) If you’re like me, chances are you’ve probably even thought something similar to, “OK, I mean it. This year, I’m going cheap. They have more than enough toys. They really don’t need anything! A couple small gifts each. That’s all they really need.” The next thing you know, you’ve spent $400 at Costco (on the kids gifts alone) and you didn’t actually think through how you were going to get all of your purchases home. Or maybe you’ve stood in line for hours (or days) on Black Friday awaiting the massive sales on toys – that special one your child has been eyeing for weeks. Of course, I always think it’s sad how we rush out to get more stuff after we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving – the holiday where we are supposed to be thankful for the things we do own…but I digress. Why do we put ourselves through all of that hassle? I think it’s because, sometimes, we live for that moment – the build-up – when they finally open that gift and you get to see their widened eyes, their mouths open in awe, sometimes with squeals of delight or sometimes with no words at all – that moment where joy and happiness radiate off of your child. At the core, we are selfish people. Yes, we want to bring joy and happiness to our children, but being able to witness it – that does something for us as well. It brings joy and happiness to us. We can’t help but smile. We might even shed a tear depending on the situation and we might even think, “Yup! It was all worth it.”
Basking in the moment of listening to my daughter’s joy, I had to wonder if that’s how God feels about His children. It only makes sense. Having a child tends to reveal a depth of love which I don’t think most of us know we are even capable of producing. The moment a child is brought into the world and placed into our care, instinct sets in. Regardless of the kind of parent you are, regardless if you let your kids watch too much t.v. or none at all, regardless if you let them eat only chips for supper or if you provide a full-balanced meal, regardless if you scream at your kids sometimes or are completely calm and collected all of the time (you’re a liar by the way), regardless if your baby has sat in that poopy diaper for 20 minutes longer than he probably should have or if your child was potty trained right from birth, regardless if you live with your child or only get to see them every other weekend, regardless of our failings or shortcomings, when our child is threatened or hurt, that also does something to us. We either rise up as an evil monster comes out of us to do whatever it takes to protect our child, or our hearts will break as we watch them suffer and learn the hard knocks of life on their own terms. We are connected to them because they are our own and we love them. Just like God is to us.
How He must hurt when we hurt. How He must wish we wouldn’t have made some of the decisions we did. How He must ache, draw near, and comfort us. How He must want to guide us in healthy directions, keeping us from harm. How He must yearn to take our place sometimes so we don’t have to go through the pain of learning or paying for our mistakes on our own. Oh, wait. He did. Over 2000 years ago, on a cross, on a hill called Golgotha. Because we are His own and He loves us.
Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch His only Son be tortured? Spit on? Mocked and ridiculed? To witness the false accusations against Him and sit by and say nothing?
How deep the Father’s love for us? How vast beyond all measure!
For sending His only Son to die a death that was never deserved, He sure doesn’t ask for a lot in return. As a loving Father, He seeks to steer us toward paths of righteousness – good things! He desires to keep us from the hurt that this world brings. He asks for our trust, our belief, and our obedience. If you think of God in any manner but a kind, compassionate, and loving Father, you must think Him to be demanding, cruel, and a keeper from a life full of fun and happiness.
But just suppose for a moment He is Who He says He is. Suppose for a moment that He actually is the way, the truth, and the life? What if He is good? What if He is kind? What if He is the best example of what a loving parent ought to look like? What if He actually tells the truth and means what He says? At first glance, what God asks for in return – our trust, our belief, and our obedience – doesn’t seem all that impossible. But when we take a closer look, these three little words have big implications on every aspect of our lives. But I want to look at one specific area of obedience that Christ calls His children to – an area in which God has been teaching me a lot about lately –
Do you cringe when you hear that word? Maybe you’re even thinking, “Oh, she’s going there? Nope!”, and proceed to exit this webpage. But if we haven’t fully forgiven, doesn’t it just mean that we aren’t spiritually mature enough to face that area of our lives? Harsh, I know! But nevertheless, true?
Two points I want to make right from the get-go:
Forgiveness does NOT mean that you must continue in a relationship with somebody who has harmed you or hurt you. Forgiveness takes only one person.
Forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people.
So what IS forgiveness? Forgiveness is the relinquishment of your desire for vengeance and justice against the person who has wronged you. From her book, Passion Pursuit, Author Juli Slattery states,
You must understand that the forgiveness God has called you to, for yourself and others, does not compete with justice. The loving Savior who hung on the cross is still the judge who is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is still the Righteous One who says that, “Everything done in secret will be exposed.” (Mark 4:22)
But this righteous judge has another name: Redeemer. He brings redemption for one reason – because He loves.
Forgiveness brings freedom – to you. It has nothing to do with the person who has wronged you. Extending forgiveness releases your hold of anger, vengeance, justice, grudges, and hostility – on yourself. It frees you to be at peace. It does not mean that when something unlawful has occurred, you refrain from making a report to the local authorities or don’t press charges. It does mean that you:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity,resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence].
And instead, choose to:
Be kindandhelpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and FREELY], just as God in Christ also forgave you.
Wow! What a calling! And yet…when we stop focusing on the sin of others and “look at the log (the bigger sins) in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3), we slowly come to a place of humility. Before the perfect God in heaven, recognizing our own sin, we can’t help but fall prostrate in repentance. In that very moment, forgiving others from their “debt” against us, becomes significantly easier. But in that moment of our own sin recognition, we also come to a place where we realize that we must also forgive ourselves. I would argue that, most often, forgiveness of self is the most difficult kind of forgiveness we could ever extend. Upon realization of our own sin, self-forgiveness becomes almost impossible – because there are weights attached to it. It would mean the relinquishment of guilt. It would mean letting go of the shame we are burdened so heavily with. It would mean freedom from our own personal vengeance and justice – letting go of the self-inflicted need to suffer for our sins. It means letting go of your own pride – your independent desire “to settle your own score, pay your own bill, make your own way” (Passion Pursuit, p. 142). Let me be very clear:
WE CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES.
BUT, we can, however, place ourselves in a similar posture of the woman from Luke 7, before the ultimate Savior and Redeemer. Do you remember her? This is the woman who had “sinned much”. From Luke 7:36-50 (TLB):
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for lunch and Jesus accepted the invitation. As they sat down to eat, 37 a woman of the streets—a prostitute—heard he was there and brought an exquisite flask filled with expensive perfume. 38 Going in, she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping, with her tears falling down upon his feet; and she wiped them off with her hair and kissed them and poured the perfume on them. 39 When Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, “This proves that Jesus is no prophet, for if God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman this one is!” 40 Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “All right, Teacher,” Simon replied, “go ahead.” 41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—$5,000 to one and $500 to the other. 42 But neither of them could pay him back, so he kindly forgave them both, letting them keep the money! Which do you suppose loved him most after that?” 43 “I suppose the one who had owed him the most,” Simon answered. “Correct,” Jesus agreed. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look! See this woman kneeling here! When I entered your home, you didn’t bother to offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You refused me the customary kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in. 46 You neglected the usual courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has covered my feet with rare perfume. 47 Therefore her sins—and they are many—are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then the men at the table said to themselves, “Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?” 50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Did you catch it? “She knelt BEHIND Him, at His feet, weeping.” This woman was at the lowest of lows in her town, her social class, and probably even her self-esteem. She didn’t even feel worthy to kneel before Jesus’ feet; she knelt behind Him. What sorrow and brokenness she must have brought before the Savior! This woman had indeed, “sinned much”. But where there is much sin, there is much forgiveness. Where there is great sin, there is great redemption.
In order to forgive ourselves, we must believe that Jesus really is the TRUTH. If He is true, what He says is also true. Psalm 103:
vs. 3: He forgives allmy sins. He heals me.
vs. 8-13: He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; He is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love. He never bears a grudge, nor remains angry forever. He has not punished us as we deserve for all our sins, for His mercy toward those who fear and honor Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.He is like a father to us, tender and sympathetic to those who reverence Him.
Do you believe it? If not, you are indeed calling God a liar. God longs to forgive us. “He is like a Father to us…”
Do you dare let go? Do you dare cling to truth? Do you dare believe that God forgives you and even calls you to forgive yourself? In humility, in brokenness, in repentance, dare to approach your “tender and sympathetic” Father. From 1 John 1:9,
But if we confess our sins, God WILL forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.
God is that parent to us who longs to see us, His children, joyful and happy. He hurts when we hurt; but how it must bring joy to God’s heart when He sees His children living in the freedom that He offers us, the freedom that His only Son died to purchase for us. God delights in His children! Psalm 149:4 states,
For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory.
Choose this very day to put your stake in the ground. Claim the freedom and the miraculous newness of life that comes with forgiveness. Run through those puddles and let out those squeals of glee, because you know that your tender and sympathetic, heavenly Father says to you, just like he said to the woman who had sinned much:
I must have only been 10 or 11, but I clearly remember sitting on the floor of a friend’s van (we could do that 20 years ago if the seat belts were all occupied) and one of the children wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t get it. We had just left his cousin’s house, not far from his own. He could visit anytime he wanted; he could see them again the next day. WHY was he crying? Let me re-phrase: Why was he SCREAMING? He happened to be sitting on the seat directly parallel to my spot on the floor, so my left ear received the full extent of his piercing, screaming sobs. My eyes were wide. I stared straight ahead, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this 4-ish year old wouldn’t shut up. In only a matter of, I’m sure, a few seconds, I could no longer hear my own thoughts, and I lost it.
“(Insert child’s name), SHUT UP!” I shouted. It only seemed logical to shout so he could hear me over his own screaming. Immediately, both his mother and my mother shouted my name, scolding me. It’s somewhat humorous looking back on the situation now, but it also serves as the earliest memory I have of “too much input”, a phrase my psychiatrist terms, “ADHD”.
A large part of ADHD, for me, is the complete inability to process my current surroundings/situations in the same manner or at the same rate that most people can. For example, most people I know can drive a car and listen to a screaming child in the backseat, simultaneously. Heck, some people can even do it while carrying on a conversation with another adult or listening to incessant, repetitive, and very annoying children’s music. But I can’t. No, really! I’m incapable of processing those things. My brain turns to fuzz. Imagine, if you will, using the old “bunny-ears” antenna and the channel you wanted just wouldn’t receive or come in clearly. The channel would be an annoyingly loud, scratchy sound and the screen would flicker a black/white/grey mess. That is what my brain does when more than 2-3 things are happening around me at once. I don’t “recept”, or process. I shut down. That’s when anxiety takes over.
Skip back to age 8 or 9. My head hung over the toilet bowl while I vomited. No stomach flu. Just “nerves”. I knew my dad was on his way to come pick me up for the 9 hour drive to his parent’s acreage for the week…over the Christmas holiday…yet again. It wasn’t that those visits were terrible; sometimes they were OK. But let’s just say my fondest memories of those visits were the late night cups of tea and endless games of Skip-Bo (or Scrabble) I played with my Gramma. To this day, I don’t know why I was so nervous for those trips, nor do I care to over-analyze the “why” behind it, but I believe that trip in particular accounts for my earliest recollection of anxiety.
Fast-forward to today. I have good days but lately, it seems, that the bad days tend to be more often than not. “Bad days” are the ones filled with anxiety. So much so, that the simple thought of driving to the city (only 20 minutes away) is enough to keep me at home. Even when we are out of the grocery essentials, we stay home. And what if the kids don’t behave picture-perfectly while in public? We should stay home.
Let me paint the picture clearly for you: My children do get along sometimes, but for the most part, each wants what the other has and when they can’t have it, a melt-down begins, usually by both children, crying or screaming at each other. Hair has been pulled, faces have been hit, skin has been pinched, tears have rolled. On a good day, I can process what is happening and put a stop to it immediately. But on the bad days, all it takes is for that one blood-curdling scream to be voiced, and mommy loses it. Again, the only logical thing to do is shout over the noise in order to be heard. “STOP SCREAMING! STOP PINCHING! DON’T PULL HAIR! STOP PUSHING! PUT IT BACK! LET GO, NOW!” My almost-daily vocabulary. It’s exhausting…and loud. When you stay at home all day, every day, shouting the same things over and over, you tend to get…anxious. To keep my sanity and to keep the peace (and quiet), I have allowed (too much) t.v. and screen time over the past few weeks. Let’s just call that a coping method. But you see, in today’s society, you can’t allow your kids to watch even a small amount of television without feeling some measure of guilt, because every mother knows (and has probably been told a few times) that the “American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents to strictly limit screen time…It will fry their brains, they aren’t ready to handle it developmentally”, bla, bla, bla. Yes, we know! So even in our attempt to get some guilt-free sanity, there’s still an inkling of guilt. It never really goes away, so neither does our insanity…or anxiety.
It’s been in our “too much screen time” weeks that we have had a re-surge of the movie, Frozen. Since hearing Elsa’s song, Let It Go, when first released in 2013, I’ve often wished I could be like her. For the few of you who haven’t seen the film, let me paraphrase: Elsa has magical powers. She turns things to ice. Get it? Frozen? Anyway, she can use her powers for fun and for good, but when she uses her powers (or when they escape her) out of fear, damage occurs. She kept her powers hidden for years until they escaped from her (out of fear) on her Coronation Day, in front of everyone. So she fled. When she’s leaving all she’s ever known to be “free”, she willingly uses her powers and sees what she’s actually capable of doing – creating beautiful winter-wonderlands, a magical ice-palace, Olaf (a snowman which comes to life), etc., and all the while, she sings the famous song, Let It Go. For some reason her words resonate with me:
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the Queen The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know Well, now they know
It’s funny how some distance Makes everything seem small And the fears that once controlled me Can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
Chorus: Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on The cold never bothered me anyway
I’ve always wished I could “let it go” when it comes to things that have caused seemingly unwarranted anxiety, worry, or stress, but apparently I don’t posses the same powers as Elsa, nor can I simply run away from my responsibilities, become a hermit, and do what I want, when I want…although I have certainly tried at times.
Recently, I was thinking over how I have allowed my two-year-old (who throws a massive temper tantrum the very millisecond he doesn’t get what he wants) to control my life. I don’t go into town because I don’t want to listen to the screaming fit that occurs when he drops his teddy bear, gets mad about it, so I almost drive off the highway to retrieve it and hand it back to him, he gets mad, throws it down again, and screams and cries about that fact all over again. Because…I can’t be in a vehicle with a screaming child. Therefore, I don’t go to the city. I don’t dare volunteer at my daughter’s school. My social anxiety certainly plays into that, but I think the real reason is I avoid it is, chances are, my son would have a tantrum, and we would end up leaving anyway…so why go through the hassle, have the glares or stares of other parents and teachers, just to walk out in shame?
A few days ago, while driving to the city – a situation that causes anxiety to begin with – along with my two children (who were getting antsy in the backseat), I was already incredibly anxious about an upcoming health appointment – the necessary reason for the trip. I knew I wasn’t processing well that morning and needed to focus on driving (Saskatoon drivers…they’re crazy), so I popped in the only kid’s CD that I can handle, which also happens to be my kids’ favourite (and therefore, keeps them quiet-ish). The first song came on and immediately the fighting subsided. They started “seat-dancing” to the beat, and I started singing along (it’s weird…but sometimes that actually helps me to focus on my task at hand). Then it hit me. All of my anxiety had dissipated. It was gone! My situation hadn’t really changed though. I was still driving in the city, the kids were still making noise (thankfully happy noises at this point), and I was still going to a dreaded appointment. What changed?
Take a listen. Seriously! Do it! (This is the song to which we were bouncing along.)
I love Brad’s music (and I’m proud to say we attended the same college years ago) but this song in particular really changes your focus, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, because when you start praising the Lord even in the midst of your circumstances, no room is left for anything else. It was at that moment that some of Elsa’s Let It Go played in my head, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all“. Silly mommy. My two-year-old hasn’t been controlling me, my actions, or even my re-actions. It’s been fear.
Anxiety is driven by fear. Fear of the what-if. Fear of the what-if-not. Fear of the can’t. Fear of success. Fear of unsuccess. Fear of the past, present, and sometimes, even the future.
Fear. It truly is crippling, isn’t it?
The funny part about Elsa is that, only a short while after running away to “freedom”, she found out that she really wasn’t free at all. When she fled, she left a wake of destruction. Her hometown was covered in ice and snow. Her people were freezing and starving. When told to come back and fix the problem, she refused (out of fear), stating she didn’t know how. She only knew fear and fear was her enemy.
In the end, she almost killed her sister because of her powers…because she allowed fear to take control. The only way to break the negative impact of her powers was “true love”…of course, because it’s Disney, right? But instead of a magical “true-love’s kiss”, only an act of true love was required. Even though Anna was dying, she used her last ounce of strength to save Elsa’s life…the action of true love.
John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In that moment, the sum of Elsa’s fears stopped. In that moment, the swirling snow stopped. The howling winds stopped. Everyone just stopped. And Elsa wept. Her worst fear had come to fruition. She thought Anna had died. Only in her burden of grief and despair, in the absence of fear, did Anna slowly begin to breathe, and the world around them slowly began to thaw, because “only an act of true love could thaw a frozen heart“.
1 John 4:18 (Msg) There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.
When our focus shifts to be on Him alone, the author of “well-formed love”, there simply is no room for fear. Focusing on Him creates that distance where everything else, the little matters of life, and sometimes even the big ones, become a lot more clear. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”
Philippians 4:13 (Msg)
Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
Granted, there are times when my anxiety will take over, or should I say, fear? But acknowledging the fear and asking God for His help to take a stand against it, can make a powerful and impactful difference in one’s life. So that’s precisely what I did. Even on a “low-processing” day, shortly after having the stomach flu, I was determined that fear was not going to have the upper hand in my life on that particular day. I decided to pack up the kids, drive into the city, while it was snowing, and pick up an order from the bookstore – a task I had put off accomplishing for days…due to fear. But, I did it! And the kids may have screamed at each other for a bit in the back seat, and the snow may have been blowing across the highway, and my son may have had another disastrous diarrhea diaper in the bookstore, and I may have even met my husband for lunch (around naptime), and my son may even have had a massive meltdown when I went to order my lunch, and I may have encountered the stares of fellow patrons, and I may have had to take him outside the restaurant for a stern “talking-to”, and I may have had a crappy lunch when it finally did arrive, and I may have had cranky kids on the way home. But, I did it. (Insert sigh of relief and slight smile) I acknowledged my fear. I took a stand against it, and I would say, for the most part anyway, I kept my cool. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t even enjoyable. But it was an absolute refusal to allow fear to control my life. And it was only possible with (my daily dosage of medication, and) a full reliance and focus on Him. The results were amazing. My attitude and even my general, daily anxiety had changed for the remainder of that day. I was happier, more content, more confident, more fully alive.
Anxiety will take it’s toll on me again, I’m sure, and because it is a mental health disorder, there will be days where I will feel completely incapable of controlling the fears that drive my anxiety. And on those days, I might have to stay home. But you can be sure that the next day will be met with sheer determination from the moment I awake, to acknowledge the fear, to put my foot down, and take control of it, because my focus will be on Him. And if you find yourself ever in need of a little help in that area, be sure to crank Brad’s song and get praising the Lord. It will change your focus from fear to instead, the Perfect Love, Who casts out all fear.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
Because He lives…I can face tomorrow. Because He lives…all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
My husband and I LOVE watching movies together. We started dating when we were both attending the same college, which happened to be located in a very small town. This meant that there was never much to do, except “get into trouble”…or watch movies. Brent was one of the lucky students on campus who owned a car (which, of course, was an added bonus for me!) When the papers were written (or not) and we were ready for an academic mental break (or just wanted to spend every waking moment together – because that’s what you do when you first start dating, right?), we would drive in to the nearest town and see a ridiculously cheap movie at the theater, or grab a Tim’s and walk across the parking lot to browse the never-ending, wall-to-wall shelves lined with VHS’s and DVD’s at Blockbuster – the movie rental store.
That was part of the movie-watching experience 10+ years ago, wasn’t it? Sometimes, in the bigger cities, Blockbuster even offered you snack-sized bags of popcorn that you could munch on while you slowly meandered through each aisle, tilting your head every so often to read a title, stopping to pick one up, read the plot summary on the back of the case, just to set it back on the shelf and continue the process. I find it incredibly sad that some of my younger friends will never have that experience – but, I digress.
Movie-watching, together, became a favorite past-time for us, and it still is one of our favorite “together” activities today. Don’t get me wrong – occasionally we do go out for dinner, talk to each other, visit with friends, or play the odd game of seriously competitive mini-golf, but if we can’t find a babysitter to incorporate the theater experience on our date night, we stay in, and rent a newer release online. So it comes as no surprise that we’re already thinking about upcoming film releases for this winter/spring, which of them are top priority, and which ones we should add to our “rent it later” list. (I’m already freaking out about the new Beauty & the Beast – what?!?!) But one that has been on my mind a lot lately is the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker. You saw that one coming from the title, didn’t you? 😉
I have to admit, I started reading the first book after hearing so much hype (when it first came out) and I hated it. But not all of it. I didn’t hate the story-line. I did, however, detest the writing. When the movie came out, there was even more hype – SO much hype! I normally like to let social excitement die down before jumping into whatever it is that people seem to find so enticing, so I didn’t go see it in the theater. Bu-ut, when the film became available to rent, we did. I was curious! Honest moment: Loved it. And I’m ashamed of that fact…now. I actually loved it so much, I purchased it. I know, I know. But just wait.
As someone who has to analyze everything (and everyone) in life, I couldn’t wrap my brain around WHY I fell in love with the story. I think the idea of the film played into a lot of what (most?) women, to some extent, fantasize about. Now, those fantasies probably don’t include an abusive aspect, but I do think that on a deeper level, they do include: a longing – to trust another person completely, dare I say, even submissively. Let’s get real for a moment: What woman does not fantasize about having 5 minutes in her day where she could actually take a break from the overload of her brain? I’m talking about a woman’s brain that, oftentimes, is in constant overdrive. It simply never stops.
For example: It’s 10 p.m. I need to go pack my child’s lunch for school tomorrow. I decide to do that. I go, open the door of the fridge, grab the jam and then you see it – the container of rotten left-overs from two weeks ago. You’ve been telling yourself for weeks that you need to empty that. So you grab it. You might as well since it’s right there (and you simply can’t stand seeing it anymore). You are about to empty the rotting food into the garbage can, BUT, the garbage can is overflowing. You meant to take that out two days ago. You grab the nearest paper towel and using it as a buffer between your hand and the top of the smelly, rotting pile of goodness knows what, you push the garbage in the can down (again), scrape the rotting food onto the heap – but, oh…oh that stench is sickening! You go to throw the containers into the dishwasher quickly to avoid contaminating your small amount of kitchen air with the stench, BUT, your eye catches the sink filled with dirty dishes and you realize that the dishwasher is filled with clean ones. You meant to empty THAT this morning. You quickly grab the dishsoap, squirt it in the rotten-food container to ease the stench, fill it with hot water, and that extra drop from the tap was just enough to make the tower of dirty dishes crash down, sideways in the sink. The dirty water from the soaking tower even had the audacity to splash upwards, all over your last pair of clean PJ’s. And it doesn’t take long before you remember the massive pile of laundry, still sitting in the hallway, that you also meant to do…yesterday. And at the end of all that, you still don’t have your child’s lunch made for school the next day.
Sound familiar? Or am I actually just THAT crazy? I can’t imagine that all of that only happens to me! But maybe it just has to do with my ADHD brain and if that’s the case, you can stop reading this right now. This post isn’t aimed toward to you. 🙂 But for women who experience something similar to the above example, I strongly feel that the underlying theme of 50 Shades of Grey provides just that – a mental break, whether that was its intent or not, because it’s just that – a fantasy.
While discussing my rambling thoughts with my massage therapist one day, she agreed adamantly (and maybe that’s just because she was providing a service and wanted a tip…but…) with, “No kidding! What girl wouldn’t want a mental break? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a man take care of your health needs instead of the other way around? Make YOU a doctor’s appointment! Make YOU a healthy breakfast and force you to take the time to eat it!? Sounds lovely.” (These are some things that the main character does in the story.)
Beyond that, what’s so enticing? First, it’s a captivating story-line in the sense that it consistently leaves the reader or viewer with the “what happens next?” mentality, so you tune out real life, (or at least I do with any good page-turner…maybe that’s why I’ve stopped reading books…) That, in and of itself, provides a mental break because you are so captivated with another (un)reality. There are lots of novels that provide this – 50 Shades is just one. But the second reason I find it to be popular is because it provides not only a real mental break, but also a fantasy-related mental break. Again, it may have nothing to do with the sex or abuse (or numerous other issues we could delve into), but rather, in relating to the main female character, we (I, certainly) can desire that break – to give up ALL control in any current situation, even to the point of being required to “not think”, or plan, or control, or micro-manage. It’s a break that (all?) women, to some extent, desire – because it so rarely happens in real life.
So, is 50 Shades…wrong? Other than the obvious pornographic nature of the story, how does it REALLY affect me? As a woman? As a wife? As a mother? As a Christ-follower?
About a year ago I stumbled across a Bible study…on sex; but it was a study just for women. A rare find, I had to go through it. To say it was incredibly enlightening, would be a severe injustice. Focusing on the Song of Solomon, the study scrutinized sex, within marriage, the way God had originally intended it to be. It was honest. Raw. Real. (I like those things. 🙂 ) It talked about things that the church does not normally talk about, even in closer circles of trusted friends. One of the topics discussed was 50 Shades of Grey. To be fair, the speakers for this study never said not to read the book (or watch the film). They did, however, ask some tough questions. Questions that forced me to be honest with myself about my real reasons I was so strongly drawn to the 50 Shades fantasy. Questions that demanded analysis – on the effects it was having on me, my relationship with Jesus, on my husband, in our marriage, and indirectly…even on our children.
Some of the effects I noticed (and I’m sure there are many I am completely oblivious to) were my thoughts, resulting in unintentional action. The word “fantasy” has many definitions, some of which, I found to be most enlightening.
“Fantasy” – obsolete: hallucination; the free play of creative imagination; the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need.
Whoa! That last one though! I became captivated with the film (since I loathed the book), and found myself thinking (fantasizing?) about the story-line (too) often. When something, even if “innocent”, captivates and fills your mind that you start to lose touch with reality, is that healthy? Is it God-honoring? I like the Amplified Bible’s version of this verse:
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s Word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
When I am filling my mind with something that is anything but God-honoring, it changes my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children – they learn by watching their parents, right? When you are in fantasy-land, your focus is on yourself. What do I want? What should I get? How can I better feel that way? How can I get that mental break that I so desperately long for? When you are obsessed, fantasizing – wishing we had something other than what is right in front of us – we, in a way, slap Christ’s nail-pierced hand. Where is the thankfulness for the here and now, for the precious gifts He has already given us? For that husband who loves you dearly and would even die for you? For those children who ask incessant questions because they are curious about the world around them?
When I finally snap out of it, I realize that all of my fantasizing, even if only for a mental break, has actually provided the exact opposite. I’m exhausted! It’s exhausting to be obsessed with something (take it from someone who has OCD). It’s exhausting to constantly wish for more or want for, what we think might be, “better”. It’s exhausting to choose greed instead of thankfulness. It’s exhausting to consistently justify sinful actions. That last one may seem a bit strong, but it’s something we do so often, isn’t it? We tell ourselves, It’s not really THAT bad, or It’s not REALLY affecting me. But for a believer, desiring to follow God whole-heartedly, the end result tends to be the same: on our knees, in soulful repentance. SO, is 50 Shades really wrong? Is watching it or reading the book really…sin?!? For me? Yes. From The Message:
In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.
Harsh, James! Harsh!
Dr. Juli Slattery, co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, summarizes my closing thoughts best:
“How ironic that the title of this new movie (and the corresponding book) is Fifty Shades Darker. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I care so deeply about your sex life because I care so deeply about your relationship with God.”
I am completely aware that my experiences, brutal honesty with myself, and even life-challenges will be very different than your own. You may disagree with me completely and that’s OK, because these are my experiences, realizations, and short-comings, and over-comings. It was only a year ago that February 2017 (second film release) could not arrive soon enough. Now that it’s almost here? I think I’ll see what other movies are playing. Maybe an indoor game of competitive mini-golf will be in order. Who knows? I’m fully prepared that when I see the poster ad’s going up, I’ll want to go see the film…a lot. But I also know that the pull I feel towards that film, is not and will not be founded in anything “light”. So I’ll pass by it and smile. Because I will remember that I have chosen to “walk in the light, as He is in the light”. And if I need to make it even better, that knowledge serves as a reminder that my control, my need to micro-manage, my “needs” so-to-speak, have already been relinquished. And in that, there is complete and total rest…even for my over-driven brain.
Chances are, if you are a female who was born and raised in Canada after 1985, you’ve probably read, watched, or at the very least are familiar with with the series, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. For those who have not yet enjoyed the privilege of experiencing her work, the story is about a widower farmer, along with his two young children, living in the U.S. Midwest. He writes an advertisement requesting a mail-order bride to assist with the daily challenges of farming, parenting, and his desire for companionship. Sarah, an ocean-loving woman from Maine, feeling like a burden to her brother and his new wife, answers the ad and travels to the hot, dusty farming plains to meet Jacob, Anna, and Caleb to see if she can help. In the end, as all good love stories go, Sarah and Jacob do fall in love and marry.
But there is always one part in the second film (because I don’t enjoy reading) that tends to cause a lump in my throat and I find myself fighting back unwanted tears. As Sarah starts settling into married life and learning the new “ropes” of farming, a severe drought begins. The wells dry up and long-time generational farming families start leaving all they have known, due to the severity. Sarah struggles to make sense of the desperation and eventual choice of some of the farmers to leave their homes and land. Jacob had stated in past conversation that the Wittings (his family) would never leave. “We were born here. Our names are written in this land.” And so, when the barn catches on fire, Jacob chooses to remain at the farm – his home – and forces Sarah and the children to return to Maine for a visit.
After arrival in Maine, the children’s eyes grow wide when they see the ocean for the first time, and when Sarah steps near the cliff edge of her aunts’ home, the ocean comes into full view. In that moment, a knowing smile comes across Sarah’s face – this is home. After some time passes, rain does come and Jacob embarks on the journey to Maine to surprise Sarah and the children. As they return to the prairies, they all take in the beautiful sites of the farm, the new barn, some of the animals that Sarah had named and turned into pets, the blue skies, and the miles of wheat fields that surrounded them. After the others turn to chores and unpacking, Sarah breaths deep, slowly surveying all she has come to know, picks up a long stick, and leaning ever so delicately, she inscribes her name in the dirt.
“Home” was with Jacob and the children.
Insert ugly cry. Every. Single. Time.
When I moved from the Maritimes to the middle of Canada over 12 years ago, I never dreamed that these flat, seemingly endless fields, would be the place I would one day call “home”. I originally came to Saskatchewan to complete a 4-year degree. One week after graduation, Brent and I were married. He was still attending school here and following our academic careers, we moved to the first place that offered a job – the middle-of-nowhere, northern Saskatchewan. Needless to say, although we firmly believe God called us there for that time, it was far from anything we had expected, and one year later we moved to Saskatoon – one of the two major cities in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon does have the Saskatchewan river that runs directly through the center of it, similar to the St. John river in Fredericton, NB. I found it incredibly helpful to find a similar “home” away from my hometown, as I was beginning to miss New Brunswick immensely, but Saskatoon was (is) still in Saskatchewan. And if you are as terrible at geography as I am, I’ll share this tidbit of information with you: there are no oceans anywhere near this province. Surprise!
But “home” is so much more than location, isn’t it? Home is where the heart is. Home is where the people you love, the people you have known all of your life and who have known you, reside. Home is your family, your friends, your culture. Home is what you have known most of your life. So how do you learn to be home when all you have known – location, family, friends, culture – is nowhere to be seen, even if you do search for it past miles of open wheat fields?
You stop. You observe your surroundings. You study the new family, friends, location, and culture in your midst. You ponder. You reflect. You realize that you want to return to what you know. And when you realize that you and your spouse apply for numerous job postings that are ANYWHERE near what you consider to be home. You receive no reply, no interviews, no call-backs, and ultimately, you start to lose hope.
After doing this for a few years, you then realize that perhaps the feeling of lost hope may not actually be due to a lack of qualifications or even available jobs within the entire East Coast of Canada, but rather, something more. Something higher. Perhaps it is a way that is not your way. Perhaps there are thoughts in play that are not your thoughts. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a plan; one that is vastly different from any plan you could ever have imagined.
And perhaps to be fully happy, fully content, and fully at peace, at home, you choose to stop fighting, and instead to willingly embrace God’s ultimate will for your life. And that is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do – willingly let go of all you have known and all you have so deeply, achingly desired, to be where God wants to you be and to do what God wants you to do.
As difficult and tough and long as the fight is, letting go completely, fully, and submissively of whatever it is that you hold onto so dearly, results ultimately in a peace that transcends all understanding. (Phil. 4:7) You may, at this moment, experience a waterfall of tears. I mean the doubled-over, your-stomach-aches-in-places-you-didn’t-even-know-existed, sickening-kind-of-sobs-along-with-hyperventilating, kind of tears. But they are not a result of your decision to do God’s will and be where He wants you to be. They are from grief over the loss of something you never really had, but thought you did. Grief over the loss of control over your life, which you thought you had, but never really did. Grief over the unknown, the what-could-have-been, the never-will-have, the distance from your dream, and what you think God’s plan for your life should be.
For Brent and I, this realization came over the last 6 months-ish. After applying (again) for numerous jobs that we were qualified (and even over-qualified) for, with no response, we chose to believe that God was asking us to stay in Saskatchewan…for good. After trying (unsuccessfully) to sell our house over the past two years, even lowering the price numerous times, having offers – only to have them fall through at the last minute, God miraculously sold our house with a possession date of less than 1 month! We knew that the next house we would purchase would be our long-term home. The house that was absolutely perfect for us, in a neighborhood that we could not have afforded less than a year ago, only came on the market in July – following after the decision we made to not only listen, but to embrace God’s will for our lives.
After being in our new home for less than 2 weeks, our family spent some time in beautiful British Columbia to celebrate my father-in-law’s 60th birthday. The 45 minute drive from the airport to our resort was completely parallel to the waterside. Homesickness immediately took over. But God in His wonderful mercy, made my phone ring twice and that entire drive was spent with our children sleeping in the back seat, while I answered questions and assisted my temporary replacement from work. (Oh, did I not mention that on top of God asking me to give up “home”, He also asked me to give up my job simultaneously? Perhaps we’ll review that topic another day.) Otherwise, the entire trip would have been a sob-fest. But God IS merciful. From our private patio at the resort, you could see the waterfront and even hear the waves. Just steps away from our room door, was the beach. To be blunt? It hurt. A lot. But instead of seeing what I missed, what I thought “home” should look like, I saw God, mercifully granting me a precious gift just weeks after choosing to follow His will.
Upon returning back to Saskatchewan a week later, after delayed flights, missed connections, exhausted children, and missing family from our vacation already, we had a very uncanny sense that we had returned “home”, really for the first time since returning from any vacation in our married lives.
Along this journey I have come to realize that for a follower of Jesus, there can only ever be 2 homes in your lifetime. The first home is here on earth. Regardless of location, our true, earthly home is in the will of God. Even if the ocean was within my sight for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be happy, nor would I possess peace. Because that is not where God has asked me to be. For this time, God has placed us in a very small town, with little considerable amenities, in the beautiful province of Saskatchewan. There may be things, people, views, and even cultures that I miss from time to time, but here, there is peace.
The only other “home” for a Christ-follower, is heaven. Last week as I sat in my happy place at the end of a pier, watching the boats bob in the waves nearby, and hearing the seagulls call, I had to wonder if my next home might possess something similar. I imagine seeing the reddest leaves in Fall, the clearest, crystal water, and the sounds of birds calling, perhaps even species I have yet to view, surrounded by family, dear friends, and the most wonderful friend of all – Jesus. Now that is a home worth waiting for.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
– Colossians 3:2
For today? Brent and I share a dream to one day retire on Grand Manan Island in NB. But that is all it will remain – a dream. I will not fight my way there. If God wills it, then you’ll know where to find us – just look for the old couple, coffee cups in one hand while we use our free ones to hold each other’s, sitting on a two-person bench, toes dug into the sand, watching the waves roll in.
But if that is not what God wills, you’ll find the same thing, in Saskatchewan, on the edge of wheat fields, watching the combines during the harvest season. Or maybe God will have a completely different plan by then and we will be in the slums of India, or my most-undesired place to be – Istanbul – or maybe God will have taken one of us to our heavenly home before we had the chance to experience old age, but we will be happy…and peaceful – because, regardless of sights, regardless of location, regardless of the people that surround us, we will be in His will, and not one place else.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.