We Who Are Strong

We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this.

We must not just please ourselves.

We should help each other do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

Romans 15:1-2

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My family is made up of unusually strong women. We have extremely strong convictions and are not afraid to state them or fight for them.

Being a strong female is hard. It means we have incredibly high expectations (and are equally hard on ourselves). We expect the best out of people and will call one another out if we feel there’s been a mistake or an issue should be addressed.

That’s probably why this verse jumped out at me this morning.

We are dealing with a difficult situation this week- full of black and whites, but sprayed with just enough thinner to make some ugly grey areas. And the strong woman in me wants to jump up and down and scream “STAND UP! BE STRONG! LIFE ISNT EASY! DEAL WITH IT”

Thank goodness God is working in me to provide a filter on my mouth. Because, while strength is good and honorable; it can also be harsh and uncompassionate- even if its coming from the heart.

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive”

My husband calls me Taz from time to time. As in The Tazmanian Devil, you know the one who whirls about all crazy taking casualties every so often. I can admit I do whirl about sometimes, being strong and getting stuff done, and yes, taking casualties every so often.

Its taken me a long time to slow down and question my approach before I act (not after the fact)

Being strong, taking action, saying the hard (necessary) words comes easily to me. Confrontation doesn’t make me uncomfortable and I don’t necessarily care if everyone agrees with me. So sometimes I come off as cold or too harsh.

“We should help each other do what is right and build them up in the Lord”

If my approach is off setting then my strength is pointless and doesn’t honor God at all because I am not using this gift to share His love with others.

By no means am I saying to stay quiet or to not take action when difficult situations present themselves. I’m just reminding myself to first take into consideration who I am dealing with. Then use my strength to show love and support in the appropriate way.

True love requires more strength than any other emotion. Jesus is the ultimate example of this and time and time again he tells us to love:

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them” Romans 12:9

“These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” Romans 13:9-10

So maybe God didn’t give us strength to be strong and to ‘fix ‘ situations, or have high expectations and be hard on ourselves.

Maybe He gave us strength to love better, love more, love free-er.

– J

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Warning: I’m on My Soap Box

Elections are a week away.  I grew up in a house where voting was important and it has continued to be important to me as an adult.  However, it is important to be educated about the issues.  The problem is what issues?  By the end of October, I am always narrowing down what are my main issues that I care about.  For these midterm elections, there are two issues determining the way I am voting: education and immigration issues.  My heart is dedicated to urban youth and these two issues intersect in many of their lives daily.

All too often I hear people belittle or judge people who live in poverty and/or are Latino immigrants (whether documented or undocumented).  I admit I am dumbfounded when this happens.  There is an all too common criminalization of both parties in popular discussion.  “People live in poverty because they are too lazy.”  “People cross the border because they are gang members and/or selling drugs.”  “People are playing the system.”  “People are taking advantage of us/me.”  I interact with populations that fall into both the categories of living in poverty and immigrants on a daily basis.  All of these statements are categorically untrue for the vast majority of people in the U.S. who fall into these categories.  That is not to say there aren’t individuals for whom these statements are true, but these statements could equally be said of people in other categories.  How many wealthy people do we hear about/know of who are lazy and don’t work, simply living off the wealth of their parents/grandparents?  How many white collar Americans sell/use drugs that support the influx of illegal substances into the U.S.?  How many wealthy Americans take advantage of the system to increase their wealth, power, and influence?  So, why do we continue to characterize all people of poverty or all immigrants based on statements that apply to the few?

For me this goes beyond these issues, God calls us to care for the poor, weak, and downtrodden.  He doesn’t say create a system, develop a process, and then care for the least of these in a way that makes sense and is sustainable.  He says to give our last penny to Him.  For me, that means giving everything to those He cares about and are often neglected by general society.  I am not saying the government needs to be giving out money without any care to everyone who needs it.  I’m saying we need to make sure we are taking care of the least of these WHILE we find a system that works, not after.  For example, I think Jesus would have a problem with us letting kids sit in immigration detention centers like prisoners while we figure out a system (check out a friend’s blog for some context: http://myweekinartesia2014.blogspot.com/2014/10/whats-in-name.html).  I think He would have a problem with us sending people back to the violence, war, and gangs they are trying to escape.

“I will come to judge you.  I will be quick to testify against … those who oppress widows and orphans.  I will also testify against those who deprive foreigners of their rights.  None of them fear me,’ says the Lord of Armies.” – Malachi 3:5b

I think He would ask that we show love and compassion.  For me, faith is sometimes illogical.  I can see where this idea of helping people without knowing where it’s going is illogical.  However, I have never stopped my beliefs or actions because someone else may think they are illogical.  I act with the conviction that it is right.  If it is right, does anything else matter?  To me, it doesn’t.  So, I will continue to give more time than I have and more money than I can afford in faith that God will make it all work because I am honoring His commands.

‘“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”’  – Matthew 25:40

– S

The Woman He Loves

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,

whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.

So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I’m my own worst critic. Its borderline bullying really.

As females I think this is true of most of us. Society puts unreal pressure on us. Then we put it on ourselves and those around us and it becomes this vicious, unrealistic, and judgmental cycle.

I’ve battled an eating disorder my entire adult life, it manifested in middle school. Right when physical appearance and the need to belong are #1 on a young girl’s priority list. I’ve done some permanent and severe damage to my body and logically I never want to go back to where I was when it was all consuming. But honestly, in the secret of the morning, I wouldn’t mind losing another 10 lbs and being a size 2 again. (and I can even talk myself into thinking that’s perfectly fine because its 2 sizes up from the 00 I used to be…yes they make pants in size 00…no, its not healthy).

Those who know me know that I am thin already. I can logically admit that size 4 is enviable and losing weight isn’t healthy for me. Especially since we are trying to make a sibling for Nici.

Bit I often wonder, will I ever be satisfied?! Will I ever like what I see in the mirror? It’s going on 15 years of self-loathing my physical form, and I’m tired of it.

I’ve spent many years in counseling and can spew the right words: I’m healthy, have a great family, a healthy happy little boy, I can run, laugh, love, swim, play, reproduce…my body allows me to do so much (and I am grateful the years of severe restricting is mainly only represented daily by Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Which is why I finally (after becoming pregnant) came to the point of truly respecting my body and taking better care of it. But the question remains: will I ever like it?

A few weeks back my mom was a having a bad hair day, which led to complaining about her body. My dad stepped in and said:

“hey, you’re talking about the woman I love”

(its no wonder why they just celebrated 30 years together in September)

His comment made me smile ~and think~ Jesus feels the same way!

I don’t know that I will ever like my body, that’s part of my disease. But we are grown, intelligent women and all know the power of words…and I can control the negative self talk.

Jesus made me exactly how He wanted. Yes, its important to take care of ourselves, we are His temple after all. Eating fruits and veggies, moving our bodies, these are important things.

But so is eating the red velvet cake, so is dancing like an idiot, so is laying on the floor eating cookie dough while staring at the ceiling entirely too long.

God made our bodies for a purpose so by all means take care of it, but he also made them for pleasure. So try not to restrict yourself to the point of misery (yes, I am talking to myself)!

This is where my focus needs to be. Enjoying the temple God made me to be. I get way to obsessed over how the temple looks…instead of how it works.

And when the negative self talk comes back (which it does…every morning when I get dressed and every evening when I get undressed). I will concentrate real hard and hear Jesus say:

“ Hey, you’re talking about the woman I love”

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:31 

– J

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Revisited

If you grew up going to church, chances are you have heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego many times.  In case you haven’t, let me give you the very condensed version:

Sometime around 600 B.C., Babylon had taken over some Israelite land.  The Babylonian king of the time, Nebuchadnezzar, has some of the most talented young men taken to serve in his court.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three of these and they were eventually put in charge of “all the affairs of the province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:49) – at the suggestion of Daniel, by the way (and, yes, I mean the “Daniel and the Lion’s Den” Daniel).  King Nebuchadnezzar made a huge golden statue and ordered that everyone in the land bow down at certain times to worship the statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship any false idols/gods.  Some of the king’s officials found out and told on them to the king.  The king gave them one more warning, but still the three refused.  As a result, the king ordered them to be put into the furnace (with a fire so hot it burned the soldiers who threw them in).  The three were not afraid, though.  When the king looked in the furnace, he was amazed because he saw four men walking around unharmed.  Yes, I said four.  The king threw three men in, but there were four men in there and he exclaimed that the fourth looked like a god.  So, the king told them to come out and not a even a hair was burnt on their bodies, nor a thread on their clothes.  God had saved them.

 

Like I’ve said, I’ve heard this story several times before.  As I was reading in the book of Daniel this week, though, a new verse stuck out to me – a nuance of the story that had always been overlooked in my encounters with the story.  This section comes at the point where the court officials have told on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the king is about to throw them into the furnace.  It is the men’s response to the king:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue that you have set up” – Daniel 3:16-18

At first glance, this has the overall message that is usually stressed in Sunday School lessons about this story.  These men followed God despite being threatened.  They were faithful in their belief of his ability to save them and, in return, God saved them.  The important nuance I latched on to in this reading were the first 5 words of verse 18: “But even if he doesn’t.”  My mind kind of started reeling at this point, to be honest.

First, they believed, without a doubt, that God was capable of saving them, but that didn’t mean He would.  They recognized that just because God can, doesn’t mean He will.  Whether or not God does something, does not determine whether He can do something.  This then begs the question, why would they think God might not save them?  They recognized that God had a bigger plan that extends way beyond just them.  They realized it was not all about them.  They were also talking from experience, just as you or I could.  I mean I firmly believe God is capable of ending any war, curing ebola, etc.  That doesn’t mean He will.  In fact, my experience tells me, He won’t.  We live in a world of free will and sin, which causes most of the problems of this world.  Despite people’s decisions, God could still clean up all our messes, but where is the learning, growth, faith, justice, etc. in that?  In the meantime, often it is innocent people who die as a result of decisions of the powerful.   I don’t always understand why he can’t just save the innocent, but I believe this isn’t an indication of His ability.  I think if we look closely, though, we see God’s hand in individual stories – even if He doesn’t just make a situation just disappear.  There is also another larger issue at hand that I think maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were aware of.  After a sermon about Job last week, my dad and I were talking and came to an understanding.  Sometimes, we get wrapped up in how could God do this to me?  We forget that there is a greater war being fought. The war has already been won, but Satan is still fighting.  So, sometimes, it doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes, it is unfair.  We are not promised understanding, nor fairness, only spiritual salvation through Jesus Christ.

So, for me, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is no longer a story of believing that God will reward our faithfulness. Now, it is a reminder that even if God doesn’t respond in the way we think He will, or even should, it isn’t a reflection of His ability.  Rather, we have to trust that He has a greater plan than what we are aware of (even if, like me, you would like to be clued in).

– S

My Darkness

Too often as Christians, we hide the darkest parts of ourselves.  There are various motivations for this, but I think the biggest is self-preservation.  Preservation of the image others have of us (and sometimes we do this to hide it from ourselves).  However, I think this can do serious damage to God’s mission in the world.  This leads to one or more of several potential outcomes: skeptics see Christians as self-righteous people who see themselves as perfect, nonbelievers see Christians as so good that they themselves are not worthy of God, skeptics see the perceived lives of Christians and come to the conclusion that it must be easy for them to believe in God because their lives are easy.  None of these are true.

So, in light of this (and my sister’s inspiring honesty with herself), I wrote the scariest blog for me yet.  Here I am being honest with myself and you about struggles I face on a regular basis:

I came to a jarring truth in a conversation the other day.  One of those things you don’t even realize is true until you say it outloud.  Here it is: If it wasn’t for God, I would have killed myself six years ago.  Not in a melodramatic kind of a way, but in a cold and simple truth kind of way.

I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 15.  Although I wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20s, I’ve battled general anxiety and social anxiety my entire life (my parents can trace it back to when I was a toddler even).  This is easy to say and people think they understand, but I don’t think you can unless you’ve experienced it.  It is irrational, life impacting, and can be consuming. It is not always a daily battle; it comes in phases.  I’ve learned to control it (with prayer, medication, and counselling), but it’s still there.  If you know me and interact with me regularly, you may not even know that this is an issue I face.  However, when these phases are coming, I feel it physically before I can recognize mentally what is happening.  It is like living with a pit in your stomach that radiates outwards, while also feeling something wrapped so tight around your chest you can feel it.  Sometimes this just lasts for moments and sometimes the fight lasts a few days.  It never quite goes away though.

Six years ago, it hit me the hardest and didn’t leave for several long months.  We’re talking barely functioning, lay on the floor in the fetal position crying because you don’t have enough strength to sit up and cry.  I knew if I died I would go to heaven, which had to be better than the emotional turmoil I was living on a daily basis.  However, what kept me going was God.  I don’t mean in the general, but true, “God is stronger than this” type of way.  I have been blessed with the gift of faith.  I have known and accepted God my entire life without question.  This means that I have to trust Him and his intentionality.  I KNEW that God put me on this earth for a purpose.  I KNEW God made me who I am for a reason.  I KNEW God had me experience this for a reason.  This kept me going.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.  One tear at a time. One breath at a time.

This is what continues to motivate me and guide my decisions.  I kept returning to my mom’s favorite verse – ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”’ Jeremiah 29:11  This knowledge is a safe place to live.  God is in control. He knows and loves me.  He made me for a purpose.  This keeps me going.  Sometimes the battle against darkness may be internal and sometimes more difficult than others, but I am equipped with the knowledge that God made me this way intentionally; thus, I must live my life to intentionally serve Him.

What is served by me hiding this from everyone else, though?  I get to bask in the knowledge that no one sees this part of my darkness.  I get to create (on some level) the world’s perception of me.  However, how much more could God use me in all my glorious imperfections to reach others than a perceived version of myself?  We all live with different struggles, different darkness.  Some people have it easier than others.  However, God never promised life would be easy.  Growth and faith do not grow in easiness.  They grow through pain and discomfort.  When I am brought low before the Lord, when my perceptions, my shell, my perceived reality, shatters – there am I most reliant, there am I most vulnerable,  there is where God speaks to me the loudest if I let him.  God’s power is best visible when He works through our pain and devastation.  If we are perfect (or perceived as perfect), we get the glory.  When we are fully honest about our struggles and pitfalls, God gets the glory of our growth, our success, and our conquests.  So, my goal is not to be perfect.  My goal is not even to strive for perfection.  I know that is an impossible task.  Instead, my goal is to be woman after God’s heart, a woman who is honest about who she is that I may better serve Him and bring Him glory.

“But He [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

-S

The Incredible Hulk

“And don’t sin by letting anger control you.] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

In this passage Paul doesn’t say don’t ever get angry (thank goodness). He says do not sin because of your anger!

Anger is my go-to negative emotion. I’d rather be angry than sad, hurt, discouraged, etc.

I had convinced myself that anger kept me in control…’if I’m angry I’m nobody’s victim’ (And, no I didn’t have a troubled past, I was just born with a temper and a need for control.)

Anger comes easily to me, I’m an emotional person (And that’s putting it lightly). I’m fairly certain I gave my husband emotional whiplash this weekend (luckily he already had a scheduled chiropractor appointment)

Yesterday, this verse was not in my head. It’s ironic that it even came to me today considering just how little I tried reining in my wordy rage. I’ve said a lot of mean, hurtful, unfair things in my furies (and in hunger). I’m not proud of it, it’s simply the truth: I identify 100% with the hulk.

My heart is gold though. I am imperfect; a work in progress. I am a broken vessel, gilded in His gold. I surrender my pieces to God, all broken and angry, and He works miracles in me.

But every time I let my anger run wild I open up space, a foothold, for the devil to create bigger brokenness in me and those I love.

I’m not saying stifle your feelings, I’m SO not capable of doing that (and don’t think God wants that either, he made me this passionate.)

However I will be trying harder to follow the advice of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, to “restrict the expression of your anger to the incident that provoked it.”

In conclusion: don’t let anger control you…

Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19

And when you fail, like I often do when it comes to controlling my emotions, try and rebound back to gratitude as fast as you can…and maybe apologize to whoever the victim of your wrath was.

– J

Overwhelmed, Delighted, and Captivated

The song “Overwhelmed” (by Big Daddy Weave) keeps catching me on way to and from work this week.  I’ve probably heard it before, but I really noticed it this week.  I have this experience with songs sometimes.  It can be a song you’ve heard a thousand times, but it hits you at the right moment or you hear the lyrics in a specific context and it all changes.  That is how this song has been.  Here is the chorus:

I delight myself in You

Captivated by Your beauty

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

I love the intentionality of the first line.  It is not I am delighted by you, but “I delight myself in You.”  To me, this suggests a pursuit of God.  How am I going to to delight myself in God?  I love when I heard it before work yesterday, because it was a gentle reminder of what my focus should be every day.  I need to chase God.  When I reflect on how I’m going to delight myself in Him, I can’t help but think back to a couple times when I’ve been totally and completely delighted, and overwhelmed, in him.

One is from a night when I was in high school and my family had just gotten home from some sporting event (probably).  We all went to the backyard and climbed on the trampoline and laid there to look at the stars.  We lived in northern Michigan and the sky was beautiful.  The magnificence and magnitude of it seemed overwhelming.  God’s work is overwhelming.

Also, I went to college at Michigan State University – one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve seen (even if I am a little partial).  I loved my walk to my 8 o’clock classes on crisp mornings in the Spring (not so much during the negative zero, walk through a blizzard mornings).  I was consistently overwhelmed by the new life, by the beauty all around me.

So much of when I am overwhelmed connects with the first couple lines of the song:

I see the work of Your Hands

Galaxies spin in a Heavenly dance oh God

All that You are is so overwhelming

When I am most delighted in Him and find His majesty so overwhelming is often when I stop in awe of His work in creation.  His majesty is amazing!  His precision and care astound me.  There is exactly enough water in our bodies to keep us alive.  The earth is exactly the right distance from the sun so that we neither burn nor freeze to death.  Ecosystems have the exact combination of vegetation and animal life to sustain all of their existences.  Every snowflake is completely unique.  The list of His perfection and majesty is limitless. (This list is also part of why I can’t help, but believe in His existence; I just can’t buy that all this happened by accident…but that is a different post for a different day.)

YET, He took more care and deliberation in making me than any of these things.  I don’t think I can fully comprehend this.  He knows me beyond even what I know about myself.  He not only knows my name and the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7), but He has a purpose for me (Jeremiah 28:11).  He designed me specifically: a compassionate worrier, an intelligent overthinker, a pushover warrior, equal parts silly and serious.

He sees me, understands me, and accepts me.  It’s more than that though.  He designed me this way intentionally!  He could have created me any way He wanted.  This is how He wanted me.

Next time, I’m feeling insecure I want to remember His overwhelming majesty and remember I’m His purposeful combination of imperfections.  I want to delight myself in Him and be captured by His beauty -so that I see the beauty He sees in me just as I see it in the world around me.

– S