Thorns in My Flesh: Foot Pain and Anxiety

“Foot pain Sucks!” There I said it. As a person who has suffered with foot issues and pain all my life, it kind of feels relieving just letting that out. My earliest memories of heading to the big city from my very small rural hometown was for the very purpose of visiting a foot specialist. My parents saw my need and did their best to provide the best they could for their flat footed child. Which meant orthopedic shoes. They were kind of special when you are 7 or 8, but by the time I hit my teen years I was fairly certain I would rather hurt than wear anything so ugly, bring on the Nikes and Adidas! But as time went on and the pain increased, my willingness to see pediatrist or orthopedic surgeons that specialize in feet increased. It gets old trying to decide if you would rather stay seated or stand on up and work on through the pain. So began my love for Birkenstock anything, Feet Fleet Shoe stores, orthopedic shoe inserts, ankle stretches, an overnight foot splint to help with plantar fasciitis (takes a little getting used to), etc. It’s amazing the lengths I go to so I don’t have to slow down, sit down, and live with a ton of pain… All this being said, The battle against foot pain still goes on and due to pain in both of my feet, I’ve got an appointment with a specialist this week to see if there are any other tricks up his sleeve that can help…

Being a person of faith, and one who believes that God does answer prayers, and that He still heals today, I’ve brought this issue up to God more than once. I’ve asked for the elders of the church to lay hands on me, anoint me with oil, and pray for me more than once as the Bible talks about in James 5:14. I know God can heal my feet, but for now I tend to view them as Paul did his affliction he mentions as his “Thorn in His Flesh”. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul asked for God to take it away from him three times and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” and there is no record of Paul’s thorn ever being removed.

This all came to mind this morning as I have contemplated another couple of “Thorns in my flesh” That seem to stick around, Anxiety and depression. Once again I have found myself going to great lengths to try to keep up with my “self care” regimen of exercise, eating right, prayer, meditation, medication, rest, fresh air, daily confessions of who I am in Christ, etc. Plus the appointments with a counselor… It’s uncanny the parallel between my foot pain and my struggle with anxiety and depression. Probably the thing that sticks out the most is to what lengths I would go to get some relief for both of them. Because whether it’s pain in every step you take or pain in a majority of the thoughts you think, both are uncomfortable and therefore worth being treated the best way you can, self care, spiritually, and with help from the professionals. And just as I have taken my physical foot pain to God and asked for healing, I have done the same with my mind, but I believe part of the reason my struggle has not been totally relieved isn’t because I am doing something wrong. It’s more a matter of God helping me to get a perspective I never had before.

My youngest son has some of the same issues with his feet that I have, sorry son… If he complains of his feet aching, I automatically empathize with him deeply. I’ve been there, as a matter of fact, I’m there now… I can also say that my accepting where I am in my struggles with anxiety and depression, has given me compassion for those who struggle in their mind. I can tell you what little I know that works the best for me to get relief and I can point you to the One who ultimately makes sense out of all the ins and outs of life- Jesus. I know that looking back through the years and seeing the path I’ve walked that His presence and His help is what has made the difference for me, and although I haven’t seen Him come in and zap my mind into always thinking happy thoughts, I have found Him more than enough when I was unable to see straight or find the will to keep getting up and keep going on. In fact, it is in my growing in knowing Him more that I can take the time to stop and appreciate the little things like the changing leaves, my grandson’s smile, laughter with my kids, or the embrace of my husband. All of these are gifts He has given me to show me that it is true, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Whether the weakness be the aching of my feet or the struggles in my head, I can confidently say, “God and His grace is enough for me.” and “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13. Because the Evidence of God’s goodness is there, even in our struggles. It’s whether or not we chose to open our eyes to see it.

Orphan No More

Back in the early 90’s the world became aware of the Romanian orphan crisis. I remember, as a college student, surfing channels late at night on my parents TV and stumbling across a news report about it. In 1989 communism fell. Things hidden in the darkness came to light as the world watched news reports of hundreds of abandoned children left in orphanages that were poorly staffed. The bare minimum was done to keep these babies and children alive. I was captured by images of one year old infants in institutionalized baby beds rocking themselves back and forth. There was no one to hold them, no one to comfort them, no one to sing to them, tell them stories, or even call them by name. They had adapted to such cruel circumstances by soothing themselves the only way they knew how. Rocking back and forth with a blank stare on their face.

This morning as I spent my quiet time with Jesus, the image of these children came to my mind. So I open my YouTube app and did a quick search of the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. The first link that caught my eye was a short BBC report of a young man who survived the Romanian orphanage. He was adopted at the age of 11 by an American couple from California. What struck me about his interview was a quote that he said, “I could not adapt to a family environment. My mind was just so used to living in an institution. I was desperate to go back to Romania…” Institution, abuse, neglect… that was all he had ever known. A loving family with his needs being met was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He talked about how easy it is to spot those who had survived the orphanages. “When you see a grown adult, sitting or standing rocking back and forth or doing something only an institutionalized person would do, you can instantly recognize that person grew up in an orphanage.” The final phrase that stuck with me, “I miss the orphanage. It was my home.” The young man in the report went back to Romania to visit his birth family and he had found that his mother wasn’t able to be the mom he was looking for and he went back to the United States.

Everyone has a past. Everyone has things they wished had never happened or that they had never done. We all are very much like the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. Due to the condition of our hearts, before Jesus, we have become used to the methods to self soothe that we developed through the years (addictions and coping mechanisms), and unfortunately we have let the conditions we came out of become our home, where we feel we belong, deep inside of our hearts. The labels we were given, engrained in us, are what we believe we are. So much so that we find ourselves searching back in where we came from trying to find the missing piece instead of embracing the “New” that Jesus died to give us.

I’ve spent the last week reflecting about my own identity, who I am. It’s not an easy task. Because just as that Romanian man looks at himself as an orphan, at times I tend to view myself as a spiritual orphan, left to my own devices. God speaks to me in His word about how I am to renew my mind, my thoughts, by thinking about the truth of the Word. I am not what I’ve felt like I was. I am who He, God, says I am. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people…God’s special possession…” or as the Passion Translation puts it “But you are God’s chosen treasure…” When God came to my Spiritual orphanage and found me in deplorable conditions, rocking back and forth trying to feel some kind of comfort for my broken and lost soul, God picked me. He took me out, He cleaned me up and put medicine on my wounds, changed my filthy, sin stained, rags out with His beautiful, righteous garments, and in that very moment Zephaniah 3:17 says the One who Delights in me, God, my Heavenly Father “sings” over me, His chosen treasure. God sings…

It is at this point, the truth of us being His treasure, that you and I have to make a choice. Will we accept the gift we have been given, new life, new identity in Christ, or will we wander about unable to take it all in because we cannot shake the image of ourselves that we have seen for so long? Only to find that what we thought was our “home”, our lives without Jesus, was nothing more than a cold and lonely place far from where God, the one who loves us, wants us to be, with Him, held closely by Him.

Anxiety vrs The God Who Fights for Me

Sometimes life is bigger than me. Actually, a lot of times life is bigger than me… My problem is admitting that little fact. Admitting weakness is not something that comes easy for me. I guess I come from a long line of the “never let them see you sweat” type. So not letting you see me sweat is my specialty. Not asking for help is one of my mantras, not necessarily a good one, but definitely one. So laying this out there is a little uncomfortable, but needs to be said. Mainly because I’ve been stewing on it for about a week. So someone probably needs to hear this…

You’re not alone. I know I need to hear that from time to time too.

A few days ago, I hopped in my car and opened my Amazon Music app. I figured I needed to find something new to listen to and one of the suggestions was Bethel’s new album, “Revival’s in the Air”. As I was listening, I was struck by the song “Egypt” with Cory Asbury. I’ve found myself listening to it over and over. As one who struggles with anxiety, I found the words comforting.

“You’re the God who fights for me
Lord of every victory
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
You have torn apart the sea
You have led me through the deep
Hallelujah
Hallelujah”

I’ve tried a lot of different things to try to bring peace while fighting the war inside of me through the years. Not that I don’t ever experience the peace, but the fears, the feelings, the thoughts, sometimes become more than I know how to fight. As an outspoken lover of Jesus, this seems to be a contradiction to some to admit that there are times that what I fight becomes bigger than my ability to see Him clearly in all my situations. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I fear. Sometimes I hide. Sometimes I struggle with guilt over things beyond my control. That’s why these lyrics resonated so clearly with me this week. I am clearly weak, but “in my weakness He is made strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 God is not surprised by my struggles, or yours for a matter of fact. He is the one who steps in where we are at and fights for us against the foes that are stronger than us, even if that foe is waging war between your ears- in your mind. The battle right now may feel greater than what you are able to endure, but He does not leave us alone in it. God assures us that “His grace is sufficient for us”.

Looking back over the years of my life I can see that God truly is the one “who fights for me, and He is the Lord of every victory.” He’s done it time and time again, and He will do it many more times. He’s not in the business of leaving us alone in disgust, because of struggles. He is the one who sees, hears, and moves on our behalf.

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 40. Especially verses 1-3, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him..” More than once, I’ve found God faithful to take me out of situations beyond me and set me in a place of security. He did not fail me then, and He will not fail me now. His faithfulness extends beyond what I’ve experienced. He has abounding Grace not only for me but for you where you are against your foe that is bigger than you. He will step into your Egypt!

Pour Out Your Heart to Him- He Already Knows What’s Inside

I’ve often thought that the Psalms of David in the Bible are perfect examples of how God does not expect us to live in denial for the sake of “Faith”. David had this way of taking the good, the bad, and the ugly to God. At times, his writings were gut wrenchingly honest. He told God about his fears, his doubts, his trials, his anger, etc…and still God commended David not for how perfect his faith was, but how in all things David pursued Him and was “a man after God’s own heart.”

This morning I have been contemplating Psalm 62:8.

I am a “stuffer”. I’ve been one for a long time. Adversity hits and I try my best to push down the feelings that arise from dealing with it. I’m not British, but the whole “stiff upper lip” thing would be my mantra if I could only achieve it, but quite honestly, that isn’t working so well for me. Apparently “stuffing” oozes out after awhile, whether it be in depression or anxiety, or both. After awhile it begins to take it’s toll. It’s the little things, like lack of sleep, loss of interest in activities, etc. that start to add up to the big things and boom, you’re overwhelmed. That is where David’s words written thousands of years ago offers wisdom for a “stuffer” like me. “Pour out your heart to Him”.

I’m not sure what makes the proposition of telling God exactly what you’re feeling so scary. He already knows it. He’s God. Letting it out and leaving it in the open gives Him the opportunity to work with it. Stuffed away it is held on tightly by ourselves and He’s not going to barge in and rip it from our hands to work with it.

Mark 9:14-29 is an account of a man who brings his tormented son to Jesus. He had brought the boy to Jesus’ disciples prior, and they were unable to deliver him from the demons that haunted him. The man says something that does not fit comfortably in the circles of some schools of thought regarding faith. He says, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” to Jesus. Jesus responds with, “If you can?… Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man then says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” I don’t know how many times I have sat in this man’s shoes. I’ve tried everything I know to fix a situation on my own. I find myself at Jesus’ feet, wanting to say “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us”. All the while, I know Jesus can do anything. I believe, but I need help to overcome my unbelief. The comfort I find is that in this man’s honesty he did not find Jesus turning him away saying, “You didn’t believe right. I cannot do anything for you.” Instead, Jesus cast the spirit out of the boy and brought wholeness and healing to a seemingly helpless situation. The man “poured out his heart” to Jesus. He did not hide what was inside, and Jesus responded.

The words of Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 have been rolling around in my heart as well this week.

The Passion Translation really struck a chord in me, “Tell Him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.” “Tell Him every detail…” that includes the areas of struggle, fear, anxiety, anger, bitterness, etc. Letting God in on everything, letting the “stuffing” out is the key to peace and answers for the struggles and questions we face.

Tough times are upon us: Nationally, Spiritually, and the daily stuff as well. To be honest, tough times are upon me. Denying the struggle does not make it go away, but taking every aspect, “every detail” to God and telling Him is the key. Letting the feelings out so I can let Him in: His answers, His peace. It is only at that point that I can experience God the way David did, as a “refuge” from the storm and the winds of adversity that blow and rest in His peace.

“There Was Jesus”

July 2nd 1984, 36 years ago at a small church camp, Camp Sharon, was where I had my awakening. It was where I suddenly became aware of God’s desire, not just for me to give my life to Him, but my awakening to His desire for me to be close to Him. It all started when He began calling to me to let Him have everything, my plans, my life, my hurts, etc.

For an 8th grade girl, I’m sure I had become quite a surprise to those around me. I wanted to do this relationship right, and I wasn’t sure how to get there. I went to the local Christian Bookstore and bought a book that talked about how to have a relationship with God. It covered praying and reading the Bible. It said I should read 10 chapters of the Bible a day. So that is what I did. I wanted to experience God. Not just know about Him. I would spend hours in my room reading the Bible and praying. It was such a surprising response that my mom, a faithful Christian, was worried about just how much I was reading and pursuing. She was afraid that I would burn out on it. I was just HUNGRY. Hungry to know more of that feeling of peace and love I felt kneeling and uncontrollably sobbing in the sawdust near the altars of an outdoor church camp tabernacle. I remember telling God, “If you really want me you can have me.” It’s funny how much I didn’t understand. “really want me”?!?! He wanted me so much He walked the lonely road of Calvary and died on a cross to make a relationship with me possible. He tugged at my heart so heavily that night at camp that no matter how hard I tried to walk away, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I’m so glad I didn’t! I left that time of prayer new and free and filled with joy!

Through the years I’ve had my “hot on fire, so close to you” relationship with God, and others I’ve had my “It’s getting cold, where are you at God?” relationship. I’ve had my times of feeling like I had it all together and understood it. I’ve had times when I understood that I will never have it together and I won’t ever understand life. 36 years that Jesus was right there. His Holy Spirit living inside of me gently speaking to me which way I should go even when on my own I couldn’t figure out the way.

Lately I’ve been listening to Zac William’s album “Rescue Story”. I kind of have a tendency to get stuck on a song that speaks to me. Surprisingly to me, the song that sticks out to me the most off that album is a duet with Dolly Parton. “There Was Jesus”.

It hits where I find myself as of late. I’ve been looking at where I am in my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. The thing about the lyrics of that song that sticks out to me is that no matter where we’ve been, no matter where we are, no matter where we go, “There Was Jesus”. So the days of blessing that I laugh and smile through, He’s there enjoying the times of joy with me. The days that I struggle to understand and see, He’s there holding me up showing me the next step to take. He’s there with me when I feel nothing. He’s there with me when I feel it all.

I’ve been pretty open on this blog about my struggles and questions. It’s kind of the outlet I’ve chosen to let what I’m think about on the inside come out. You all get a little picture of what I’ve been contemplating as you take the time to read my thoughts. Most of the time I am able to lay out “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, but somehow take the turn back to the only answer I’ve found that resonates inside of me, Jesus. Struggles that we all face, whether they be depression, anxiety, addictions, PTSD, abuse, disappointment, etc. only find meaning and healing when looked at in the light of the presence of the only one who has been there for it all, Jesus, the love of our souls. The only One who is able to speak peace into storms of life, bring the dead things that we’ve given up on back to life, take a broken, wrecked life and make it a masterpiece is Jesus.

I can analyze my hurts, categorize my issues- give them names, and get understanding. These aren’t altogether bad things to do, but I shouldn’t stop there. I need to take the tools I learn to deal with the things I struggle with, and go to Jesus asking Him to heal what only He can heal. Do my part and let Him do the rest.

He has proven Himself faithful. I can trust Him where I’m going, even when I cannot see.

“There was Jesus”.

Jesus is there. Jesus was there, Jesus will be there.

Reset 2- New Beginnings

This Sunday morning, just like every Sunday morning, my husband and I got up and ventured off to our local Church congregation for the weekly service. It’s something I appreciate all the more since the Covid 19 outbreak. I sorely missed being “in the house” for a time of worship with the worship band and time in the word. The message today has been percolating in my heart. Probably since it reinforced my ponderings on “The Reset” I’ve been pursuing as of late. The ending of the service was a time of reflection on the times God has stepped in. You know when life appeared to be going one directions with a certain expectation of a bad outcome, and then God changed things. It may have been a time of financial uncertainty, emotional unrest, relationship turmoil, etc. Most certainly it has been a time of great darkness, sadness, pain, etc. The kind of time when there really was no way out. That’s the time the “reset button” of “New Beginnings” is pushed. God has a promise that has brought much comfort to me through the years. His promise is that He “makes all things new”. Revelation 21:5. That is a promise that I have had to dig my fingernails into and hold on with all my might at times. Because as one who has struggled with the monsters of the past lurking in the closet of my mind, that promise assures me the closet they have occupied has it’s light turned on, monsters evicted, and the New Beginning begun.

A few years ago I went in for my first session with a Christian Counselor to aid in my fight against anxiety and depression. The first thing she was quick to point out was how the battle in the mind has it’s rubber hit the road in the thoughts we think. It’s hard, but totally possible to change our focus from all the fear, pain, sadness, etc. to the things that are “True…Noble… Right… Pure… Lovely…Admirable…Excellent… or Praiseworthy.” and for us to “Think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 Then with a reassuring smile, she handed me a sheet of confessions of who I am in Christ, and assigned me with the task of speaking these truths out loud every morning. It has been a daily reminder of the “Reset Button of New Beginnings” I pushed so many years ago as a teenager at a Christian youth camp. When I asked God to take what little I had to offer, my life, and do whatever He wanted with it. The New Beginnings began. Looking back I can see that the hard times were the times that pushed me closer to Him, and the reminder of all that I wasn’t, brought the truth of all that He is and wants to be for me.

The “Reset Button of New Beginnings” starts with the first push “Salvation”. It’s the time when we see just how much what we are doing isn’t working, and just how much What He can do in us we need. It starts with an honest talk with God, an offer to give Him all of you, and watching Him do what only He can do, “Reset” your life.

Psalm 40 has been one of my favorite Psalms in the Bible. Verses 1-5 stand out the most to me. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” The New Beginning I have found has been when God saw where I was, heard my cries, and pulled me out. But He didn’t stop there. He set me in a good secure place and gave me a new song to sing about Him and His Goodness! I Am Not There Anymore!! That is the Philippians 4:8 stuff I am to think about. The Truth is I am His! The Noble thing Is I am the Kings Daughter! The Right thing is I have been made right with Him- righteous! The Pure thing is Me after He cleansed me from my wrong doings and sin and made Pure. The Lovely thing is Me, His master piece! The Admirable thing is the Miracle of New Beginnings He gives! The Excellent thing is His work in me! And the Praiseworthy thing is that He has done all this because He loves me, period.

That is the “Reset Button” He has given to me. That is the “Reset Button” He has given to you! Hit activate! He longs to bless you with “New Beginnings”!

Memorial Day- Forever Changed in My Life

Originally written 5/23/2014. It’s been almost nine years now. Matt is Never Forgotten

When I was a kid, I was a “June Bug” in the Girl Scouts. I remember on a Memorial Day we put flags on the grave stones of the veterans. I had no idea what the fuss was all about, all the flags everywhere, and a day off that, for me, marked the beginning of summer. Really the holiday, throughout the years, sadly, hasn’t meant that much to me. Not until almost 3 years ago when I got the call that my nephew Matt, who was serving in the Navy as a linguistic interpreter, had been lost at sea. There was a search for him for a few days and then all hope for his return to us was lost and we were left with just our memories of a boy who turned into a man and followed hard his passion to serve our country.

Miss you Matt. You’ll always have a special place in my heart.

I didn’t get to see Matt a whole lot throughout the years. He lived in another state. On an average, I saw him once or twice a year, but that kid was always the sweetest to me. He always greeted me with a hug and excitement to see me, and when our time together passed, he would always give me a warm hug and say, “I love you, Aunt Janet.”

I have many fond memories of him. He was the cutest ring bearer in our wedding. One time during a winter storm, my brother brought him and his sister to our duplex and sledded in front of my house, just because in the the south, where he lived, there wasn’t enough snow to sled like we always got to do as kids. We went camping together in family camp outs, and there was Christmas time eating goodies and playing games with Great Grandpa.

Matt at my wedding. Such a cutie.

    The last time I saw Matt was at the celebration of my parents 50th anniversary.  He was excited about his first time out to sea, in the Navy.  When we had to leave to go home, he made a point to get to me and give me a big hug, and as always he said, ” I love you , Aunt Janet.”  

     It was surreal going to his military funeral.  It was the first military funeral I had ever attended.  We arrived and the Freedom Riders were there, because of a threat of the possibility of Westboro Baptist showing up.  When the family walked in they representatives of the Navy saluted us, and then the 21 gun salute and the sounding of taps all that in the memory of a someone I think the most of as a kid with a big smile, blue eyes, and a warm hug. 

Matt’s Gravestone

This will mark the second Memorial Day since we have lost Matt. The meaning of the day has changed a lot for me. Now one of the white memorial stones represents someone I love, and the day of remembering has went from an excuse to barbeque to another day, like his birthday and the day he died, that sticks out as a reminder that he is gone. Now the statement, “Freedom is not Free” means a lot to me, and when I see a young man or woman in their uniform I appreciate the sacrifice they are making in putting their life on the line for my freedom.

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” was the verse that was emphasized at his funeral. It is so true. Matt loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved his country, and most important, he loved his God. Knowing this gives me hope that He is waiting for me to finish my race here on earth, and when I finally make it home to heaven, he will be waiting there with that same big hug and greeting, and once again I will hear him say, “I love you , Aunt Janet.” In the meantime, know I will never forget you Matt. You are in my heart forever, and I love you too.

Pain into Pulpit

 

Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick.  We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma.  Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.”  In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her.  Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.

Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good.  She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared.  You’d have to know my Mother in Love.  She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit.  She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all.  She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.  Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”

I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life.  Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message.  It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus.  Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ.  Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.

For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry.  Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground.  People from many different denominations of the Church come.  There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled.  I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives.  Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.

I’m certain that life in Jesus  is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face.  I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life.  I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain.  I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today.  Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?”  My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain.  My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.”  Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.

I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late.  It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”.  The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing.  You give beauty for ashes.  You turn shame into glory.  You’re the only one who can.”  This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us.  He’s the only one who can!

“ProcessME” vrs “InstaME”

 

A life with no struggles, wouldn’t that be awesome?  Somehow a segment of the Christian world in America has adopted this view.  If you do struggle, you lack the faith you should have to overcome the obstacle that presents itself to you.  That’s hard news for people who struggle with addictions, anxiety, depression, and other mental issues or even physical issues that have not yet been healed.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t ever set you completely free from the challenges you face, but I am saying if He hasn’t it’s time to let go of the guilt of not being good enough to overcome and trust in a God who may slowly refine us, mold us, and change us into the image He has created us to be.

In the midst of a struggle that I have fought against most of my life, I’m slowly getting an understanding of this.  A friend recently pointed me back to Paul’s quote on his “Thorn in his flesh.” I was talking about my struggle with anxiety and memories of bad times.  She encouraged me to look at these times as an opportunity to praise God for the struggle because it is the very thing that has driven me to my awareness of how much I need Him throughout the years.  As 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 puts it in the Message, it is the very thing that has “pushed me to my knees.”  Had I felt no pain, I would not know the need for God’s healing.  Had I not struggled, I would not know the need for God’s help.  Had I not seen all that I lack, I wouldn’t understand how I am only complete in Jesus.  It is in my understanding of how broken I am that I find my need for Jesus to make me new, and I am able to allow Him to do just that so I can live the life of freedom, peace, and joy He has promised.

Sometimes the process of being chiseled into the Masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 NLT) that God makes me  uncomfortable, and I cannot in my own strength produce the change that needs to be.  But God Is here with me He doesn’t leave me alone or unfinished.  He completes the good work He begins. (Philippians 1:6)

There’s a skit by The Skit Guys called “God’s Chisel”  I have thought of it often through the years since I saw it first.  I’m kind of fond of “InstaME”  instantly I am everything I wished I could be, perfect teeth, hair, mood, etc.  But that simply isn’t reality.  I am “ProcessME”.  One lesson at a time learned, one battle at a time fought and with Christ won, One area of struggle resolved at a time as I learn to walk in victory.  “ProcessMe” is began when I begin my life in Christ and He begins to slowly change me and strengthen me to make what I was meant to be all along.  It may take time and involve struggle, but as I learn to turn these things over to Him one struggle at a time, I find myself free.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 MSG “Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

 

His Choice, His Desire, His Love

Right off the bat I want to put a personal plug in for “The Bible App” or “YouVersion”  It’s a game changer if your looking for a way to get into the Bible more and understand it better.  There are all kinds of nifty little details that it covers: making pictures with Bible verses on them, open your app daily for the daily verse streaks, devotions, and reading plans to mention a few.  My husband and I picked “The Bible Project: New Testament in One year” almost a year ago to do together.  We don’t really have a time we actually sit down and read the Bible together, but we are reading the same passage and on occasion we have struck up conversations on it.  It’s good to grow Spiritually together.  It’s been a joy.

As I mentioned, we’ve been at this for almost a year.  Which puts us in the book of Revelations.  Not really my favorite book of the Bible.  It has good stuff in it. They all do, but if there is one thing I’m not, an end times scholar is one of them.  So far we’ve made it to chapter 4 and so far so good.  In fact, what I read today is what’s been rolling around inside of me today.  Probably because I need it.  I would venture to say most people do.

Revelations 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” NIV

My first read of this verse it kind of stuck out to me.  I thought, “Oh yeah I think some worship song in the 80’s quoted that verse or something.”  But it kept sticking out to me. So to satisfy my curiosity, I figured I’d check it out in some other versions.  I’ve got my go to list of versions I like to compare verses to.  One of them is “The Message”.  Sometimes I read it and think, “That couldn’t possibly be what the Bible was trying to say.”  But most of the time I come away looking at things a little different.  This is one of those times.

Revelations 4:11 “Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! the honor! the power! You created it all;  It was created because you wanted it.”

Shazaam!  That last little bit struck me.  God didn’t just willy nilly wake up one day and decide that just for funzies He was going to create everything.  No, He created everything “Because HE wanted it.”

It’s turkey season in our neck of the woods.  My husband and son have been hunting most mornings this week.  They get up, excited at 5 am, and go sit out in the woods/ field near our home for hours on end.  So far after 5 days of trying, no Turkey.  My husband put a selfie of himself and my son from the first morning, with the quote “Gotta love the outdoors” on Facebook. He has told me more than once how much he loves just going out and sitting in the outdoors and enjoying creation.  I get it.  I’m fond of an occasional nature hike, trout fishing, and camping.  I love the peace I feel when I look up at the sky at night and see the stars quietly shining in the sky and hear the frogs and crickets singing in the background.  It’s beautiful.  So in reading that verse, I told God, “I get it.  You wanted all that so you made it.  That’s really cool.” But then it hit me… He made me. He wanted me.”

When my kids we little and I held them on my lap, I wanted to convey to them how much they were worth to me and to God.  I would say, “Do you know who loves you?”

“Yeah Momma, you do.”

“That’s right who else?” “Daddy”

“Yep, who else?”  (The list could go on for awhile with Grandparents, cousins, friends.) But I always ended it with this statement. “That’s true, but Jesus loves you the most. More than any of us can or could.”  This usually wrapped around to the final statement I would say, “You know, God wanted a sun. So He made one.  God wanted our dog Jack so He made him. But more than anything, He wanted you, an Andy, so He made an Andy.”

That is all fine and good when you’re talking to your precious child, but it’s hard to apply when you turn the table and apply it to you.  Especially if you struggle with self esteem/ self worth issues. If God made me, and I am certain He did, that means He wanted me…

If God made you, and I am certain He did, that means He wanted you…  Let that sink in.  All the things that are right, all the things that are wrong.  He looks right at us and “wants us.”  Things I want I don’t throw away.  Things I want I take care of.  Things I want I look at with affection.  Things I want I would fight for.  Things I want I would pay the price to Get.   Hmmm… The picture comes in clearer and clearer.  I’m not a thing, but I am His creation, and everything He has made was made by His choice, His desire, and His love.

Maybe, like me, that makes your mind go “tilt” like an old pinball game.  But I’m sure if that truth is applied to my heart and mind enough, the crooked will be made straight, and my value will become clearer and clearer.  The same for you.

It’s probably time to break out the old conversation I used to have with my kids and just fill in the blanks.  “Who loves you?  Yeah yeah, but Who Really Loves YOU? Yes, Jesus.  He wanted a (your name goes here) so HE made one. That is why you are here.”

https://www.youversion.com/the-bible-app/