Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dangerous prayers

Have you ever held back from praying a Dangerous Prayer because you knew - soul-wrenching, gut-deep KNEW - that God would answer it with a resounding YES?

I have.

Twice, in the past 6 months.

Once was this past summer. I was driving somewhere I didn't need to be going. Watched the interstate lines dart under the wheels of my car, flashes of white, my spirit begging me to ask God to intervene. To stop me.

I couldn't pray it. Because I knew He would. And I wasn't ready to let go yet.

But I wanted to. So badly, I wanted to.

My soul prayed it anyway, the urgent plea not verbally crossing my lips or even coherently forming into syllables within my thoughts...but my heart cried out in desperation just as tangibly, vividly, as a spoken word.

I halfway expected a flat tire.

I made it to my destination. And God intervened in a different way. A way that had me wishing for a flat tire. Instead of air leaking out of rubber, there were words hissing through unprepared lips. Instead of metal rims scratching gravel, there were claws of panic scratching at my heart. He was freeing me from the very thing I needed to be freed from. But I fought.

I started a game of tug-of-war with God that afternoon. Like Jacob, thinking I had a chance at changing my destiny. So, so mistakenly thinking I wanted to.

Like Jacob, I left that fight with wounds. Scars. Some that are still healing. Rope burns on my palms. Forever-memories of how God intervenes even when we don't have the courage to outright ask Him to.

But unlike Jacob - I wasn't struggling to receive my blessing. I was fighting against it. Terrified of getting it. Scared of how much it would hurt to take that free fall of faith.

Despite all of that struggle - God came, prepared for battle. Not to fight me, but to fight for me, and that battle took the form of a tangible argument that wasn't actually between me and the other person at all.

He answered that almost-prayer of my exhausted spirit that day in a way that yanked me off the path I'd been treading - that path constantly interrupted with flashes of white - and turned me around. Rope burns, scars, dirty fingernails, skinned knees and all. Turned me around, unlocked the chains from my wrists and told me to march. To walk in freedom.

But those chains had been so heavy, I'd grown numb. And when they finally fell off, all those nerves that grown immune began to ache. Tingle. Hurt.

There's always a price to freedom.

A few weeks ago, I prayed one of those dangerous, scary prayers again. The kind of prayer you are terrified to utter because you KNOW God will answer it.

This time, though, I had learned. And I had enough courage to force the words off my lips verbally, intentionally, with a pounding heart and adrenaline laced pulse. Because I knew it was for the best, even though the guarantee of receiving this answered prayer made my heart hurt.

And He's answering it. Just like I knew He would. With each passing day, He's answering it, and His way is so, so obvious. So obvious, it's halfway hilarious.

You know you're in God's will when you pray things you don't want to pray and get immediate answers confirming exactly those things.

It's easy to pray for blessings. To ask for favor and wealth and health. To ask for others in your life to receive the same. It's harder to pray the prayers of the trenches. The prayers that mean sacrificing your own heart, your own flesh, your own desires, as misplaced as they are...and yet that's why we do it. We KNOW they're misplaced. We know we need that sharp corner of ourselves softened and rounded and changed. Even if it hurts. Especially when it hurts. Even if it means letting go of things or people or dreams we've held tight to for a long time.

To wounded hearts, a bad familiar is still more comfortable than the unknown.

I opened my hands when I prayed this last Dangerous Prayer. Opened them up wide, to let go. Looked down, remembered the rope burns. Remembered His way is best. No more tug of war. No more wrestling.

What is your Dangerous Prayer? The one you know you're called to pray, to ask for, to seek God about? The one that is lurking in your spirit right now as you read this post, the one that's making your heart race at these words and causing conviction to knock loud and crisp on your heart?

Pray it. From one battle wounded warrior to another, I beg you - pray it.

We might have the rope burns, but He has the nail-scarred hands, and the price of that Freedom was worth far more than any hurt you'll pay getting back into His will. The transition can sting. Badly. Trust me, I remember.

But the only way to His kind of peace? Is to live dangerously.

Monday, October 20, 2014

For the blood-stained and weary stained by the Blood...

Grace.

A five-letter word some unfortunately deem a four.

Deemed by those who don't know the drip of red that stains as it washes clean. Those who haven't had reason to be coaxed from the shadows into the light and stand, not appalled and ashamed, but weary and welcome.

By grace. Through grace. Because of grace.

Five letters.

One for every finger on the hand.

Every finger that instead of pointing outward, curls inward, one by one, into a fist. Pointing back at themselves.

Everyone needs grace.

Some just linger more aware of their need than others.

And in those grace-needy moments, those moments where the stained cling to the crimson garment at the foot of the cross and look up at the battle that was fought on two boards... that's where joy is found. That's where circumstances fade away, worries are cast aside. That's where checkbooks disintegrate and broken hearts mend and disease dries up and prayers are answered not because of what we try to do and fail but because of Who already did it.

And the account might still be in the red and the pain may tarry and the report linger grim...it might not be morning yet, you might still be mourning - but there is joy. Joy in the waiting. In the hoping. In the trusting.

2 boards + 1 hero = all we ever really needed in the first place.

A hero we can access because of one word. Five letters.

It all comes down to, comes back to, comes full circle to, grace.

(hit play on the video to the right for a song I've had on repeat for the last year)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Day I Tried To Open a Bottle of Wine With a Hammer

I needed communion. 

It'd been on my heart for weeks, but I'd never done it by myself. Communion. At home? Alone? 

That was reserved for padded church pews. For elderly hands passing wobbly silver trays of plastic grape-juice-filled cups. For tiny fingers plucking snippets of tasteless crackers from a doily-lined dish. For grave-expressions on suit-clad pastors and ominous undertones of the seriousness of partaking with sin lingering in your life. 

Never sat well with me. It'd been ten minutes since I'd prayed last. I'd probably sinned since then. Worry. Concern. Heaviness. How did anyone do this?

No, no. Not just sin in general. You know, just the living-in-sin stuff. The constant sin you choose to dwell in all the time. 

Huh? How is that different?

That was my typical growing up experience with communion. 

Until I attended a Captivating Retreat through John and Stasi Eldredge and Ransomed Heart Ministries last year in Colorado. And I marched with a hundred or more other women to a candlelit stage, with a low table surrounded by pillows, a table laden with goblets of red wine and large loafs of bread, all crumbly, broken, flaking reminders of the cross.

And then I got it. 

Communion. 


"the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level."


An exchange with Jesus. His body and blood for my sin. His atonement for my acceptance. His death for my life. 


Not a fair exchange. And that is forever sobering. 


But that's grace. 


I needed communion. And I needed it in my house, Alone. Not on a pew. Not with women on a stage. No band or instruments softly serenading the silence. Just me and God. I needed the symbolism and the memory and the experience. Needed a realignment. 


Needed to remember.


So I dug out a single Saltine cracker from the box in the pantry, and grabbed a bottle of red wine that had been used as decoration on my counter ever since returning from a trip two years ago, where I'd snagged it from an artsy gift shop. 


There was just one complication. 


No corkscrew. 


As I'd never been particularly adept at working those anyway, I didn't worry. I'd figure it out. I tried a steak knife, at first, the idea being I could gouge a hole through the cork enough to pour out just a taste of the liquid. 


That didn't work. Flakes of cork went everywhere. 


So I tried a flat edged skinny knife, trying to wedge the flat edge between the cork and the glass, and pry it open. 


The very edge of the glass lip broke, chipped, shattered across the counter and the floor. 


(I know. This is where I should have stopped, should have realized it wasn't going to happen, and moved on. But it'd become a personal mission. I had to open this bottle. I had to have this moment and experience)


I cleaned up the glass. Went back to the steak knife. 


Then decided to Google alternatives to corkscrews. 


There were quite a few. 


I tried them all. 


Flaking cork. Frustrated words. Toolbox supplies scattered across the entire counter.  


I twisted in a picture hanging screw with a hook on one end into the cork. Tried to pry it out with pliers. 


I pounded three nails into the cork, tried to pry them out with a hammer. 


More broken glass from the lip of the bottle. 


And finally Jesus said STOP. 


(I think He was laughing) 


And I realized, then, staring at my counter littered with screws, nails, cork fragments, and enough tools to build a dog house or at least a mailbox, that I was missing the forest for the trees. It wasn't about the wine, it was about my heart. And at the moment, my heart was far from ready to "share or exchange intimate thoughts and feelings" with the Lord.


I packed up my tools. Put the busted bottle back in its decorative place on the counter. Checked once more for glass dust. Lit a candle, sat at the table with my Bible, and had communion. With a stale Saltine and Raspberry Lemonade carbonated water from a bottle. 


Nothing could have been sweeter or richer or warmer.


So often I miss the point for the specifics, the message for the minutiae, the theme for the details. I stare so hard at the speck on the horizon that I can't even see the glorious sunset around me. 


I almost missed it. I almost missed a holy experience because I spent an hour trying to open a wine bottle. With a hammer.

What else have I missed, or almost missed?

What have you?

What else have I allowed to consume my thoughts, energy, time, emotion and creativity? What else have I struggled with needlessly, when the provision was already right there, waiting for me to acknowledge it? 

Maybe - maybe - search for ways to put away your toolbox today, your toolbox full of effort and willpower and determination and indignation and just open your fridge. Get the carbonated water. Accept the provision that's already there.

Jesus' provision. His blood. His sacrifice. 

He turned water into wine once already, you know. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

For the tempted...

Temptation knocks. 

Sometimes rather politely. Tap, tap. "Won't you let me in?" Sugar, spice, everything nice. Sweetness personified. The equivalent of offering homemade cookies. The big bad wolf, dressed as grandma. 

Other times temptation doesn't bother knocking at all. Rather, it simply wafts, under and around and through the barred door, an enticing aroma promising comfort. Pleasure. Relief. Distraction. It doesn't have to knock or try to trick you into unlocking the barrier. It knows you'll willingly go to it, will remove the barrier yourself. 

And then other times...temptation doesn't knock at all. It assaults. It doesn't just wave a hint of a red flag in your peripheral, rather, it tosses an entire crimson curtain over your head and attempts to smother. Accuse. Drown. The equivalent of a battering ram beating in a door and jarring lose the lock. Bashing in the frame. Determined to gain entrance. It doesn't whisper promises, no it shouts the lies in full volume.

Oh, at times, the enemy is very subtle. Floral kerchief covering pointy teeth and "what big ears you have", lying in bed waiting to snare. Other times, the enemy is enticing, putting on the disguise of light and goodness and drawing us to him, rather than coming after us. 

And then, there are nights...there are nights when he doesn't hold back, at all. Rather, he yanks and strains and snarls until the leash snaps and he rams against our barricades and guardrails until they're right dented in. Obvious. Full out invasion. No time for subtlety, he's going for the throat. 

And we're in the fetal position, watching the door shake and quake and shudder, knowing our resolve is weakening, knowing its just a matter of time until it collapses and we're done for. 

But God.

BUT GOD.

What the enemy doesn't know is sometimes God's fiercest warriors come in semi-short packages, wrapped in friendship and toting weapons of Chex Mex. That sometimes, when our fingers ache to call darkness, we force them to call the light instead, and that light brings Coke in frosty cans and instruction and Truth. The enemy doesn't know that sometimes, when we can't pray for ourselves, we can depend on our fellow warriors to hold our arms, or even hold back our hair, and we are covered. 

What the enemy does know, because it's Scripture, is that God's most effective weapons of warfare are not carnal at all, but rather, they wage war through the tears on our cheeks and the silent prayers we can't quite make verbal  (2 Corinthians 2:10) 

AND, that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

So its okay if that door bends and contorts and dents. It's okay if the guttural snarls on the other side are drowned out only by the whimpers inside our hearts. 

That door isn't opening, in Jesus name. 

Because the Bible tells us the Word is our Sword. Sharper than a two-edged blade, piercing even to the division of bone and marrow, soul and spirit, rightly discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. We fight with God's word. 

And God's word tells us we as believers are more than conquerors in Christ. 

Psalms 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept your word.

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

1 Corinthians 10:13 There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Hebrews 2:18 For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.

Isaiah 40:29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.


Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.


Isaiah 40:31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.


Psalm 28:7-8 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.  The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.


So when you're tempted, when that door is bowing and the wolf is lurking and you know you're weak, speak Truth. That barrier WILL hold under the name of Jesus and the word of God. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Confessions of a First Time Salsa Dancer

There's moments of being found.

Do you believe that?

When you come to, or become aware, of a situation or a circumstance or a progression forming before your eyes. An awakening, of sorts. A "moment".

I had a moment like that last night. I found myself at a beginner's salsa class. Me, the girl who has less natural rhythm than Elaine from Seinfeld. Me, the girl who struggles to just do Zumba every other Thursday for exercise without keeling over, found herself salsa-dancing with a talented instructor.

One two three. Five six seven.

One two three. Five six seven.

Our small group learned the basic moves. Then there were more girls than men, so we paired off and rotated. The instructor kept calling a reminder to the other male dancer to help him remember to count. "Seven is the magic number!"

Seven. The number of completion.

Well, there were definitely moments I was certain my humiliation was complete....

We kept practicing. Kept dancing. One two three. Five six seven.

The instructor taught us to follow the man's signals as to what step was next based on the slight pressure applied to our joined hands.

Then we added a more advanced step. Then a turn.

The woman next to me panicked over the idea of adding anything more complicated to the mix. After she had tried a few times, the instructor told her with a smile, "But don't you see? You're not worried about the basic moves anymore. See how far you've come? Ten minutes ago you were still trying to count to three. You were worried about the basics. Now that's all muscle memory and you're only thinking about the turn. You'll get this too."

I think that truth blew her mind.

Because it was true. We were learning. What was hard a few minutes ago was now a non-issue. We were pressing ahead.

We kept dancing.

Basic. Sideways. Basic. Sideways. Cuban Open. Cuban Open. Basic. Turn.

I warned the instructor I might step on his toes.

One two three. Five six seven.

I kept staring at my feet. Yet my instructor kept smiling, tapping my chin. Reminder. "Eyes up."
I'd forget, and watch my feet again. Watch His feet. "Eyes up." Oops. Try again.

I stumbled. I faltered. I hesitated. Then I'd nail it perfectly. Stumble. Fail. Succeed.

We learned a new step, and this time he said the women had to close their eyes. Let the male lead do the leading and just feel it. Trust it.

One two three. Five six seven.

This morning, I was struggling in my heart. Why were some of the things I've died to still haunting me? Why was THIS still so hard and why was THAT still in the back of my mind and how come I couldn't shake free of THIS that I wanted to so badly? Why was the battle to be free so constant? What steps were I doing wrong? What was I missing?

And Jesus said eyes up.

He reminded me I've been watching my feet. Focusing on the steps. Trying to get it all down perfectly. Trying to force what should be natural and flowing. Trying to dictate a formula to freedom that didn't exist.

Sometimes there aren't steps. There's just music.

I was so worried about stepping on Jesus' toes I'd forgotten that He simply wanted to dance with me. "You're going to stumble. You're going to falter. You're going to hesitate." And I sensed Him smiling. "But then you're going to get it."

He's there, keeping rhythm. He's there, leading. When I'm weak and unsure, I can close my eyes and trust and feel it. And I can open my eyes and appreciate His nearness and the fact that He has me and lean into His signals. I can stumble and falter and hesitate or perform a flawless turn, and it's all the same to Him.

He just wants to dance with me.

Eyes up.

One two three. Five six seven.

Completion.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Learning to float...

I'm not the best swimmer in the world.

A fact which is possibly quite evident in the way my daughter (six-years-old) somehow managed to teach herself to swim underwater, yet panics and sinks when she attempts to swim above it.

The analogy there could drown my heart in equal measures of faith and doubt.


I went to the lake last Monday.

Labor Day.

Time to rest.

Spent several hours burning off deadline stress, work stress, single-mommy stress, emotional stress, creative stress.

Just me on a boat, with good friends and good food, floating under a periwinkle sky littered with cotton
ball clouds--and a little lizard stowaway we dubbed Marcus.

I realized something while swimming in that dirty lake water, the kind that splashes grit in your mouth and stains your toenail polish and squishes solid between your toes - I realized I am most at ease in the water when floating on my back.

A little odd for a not-so-strong swimmer. I can hold my own in the water, but it takes effort and concentration. I'm not naturally good at swimming. I was never taught professionally through lessons. I tend to get cramps really easily. It's not that I'm regulated to doggie-paddling only, but I get tired easily, and don't like being in over my head without something nearby to grab onto.

But when I'm floating on my back, I can relax. Cease striving. I can let the water do the work, and carry me with ease. I don't get tired. I don't fight cramps. I'm not spitting water out of my mouth or feeling anything unwanted between my toes.

I can let the water embrace me. Hold me up.

And I can rest.

When you float on your back, the most vulnerable part of a person - their belly - is face up. Exposed. Our stomachs hold life, our most important organs, the core of who we are as humans. It's considered the ultimate sign of trust when a dog rolls over and offers his belly for a good scratching.

Again, the analogies here threaten to drown me with equal waves of faith and doubt.

In the deep water of life - in those deep waters of deadline stress, work stress, single-mommy stress, emotional stress, creative stress - I can float.

If I stop fighting the tide...let it embrace me...carry me...

I can rest on top of it.

If I surrender my vulnerability and my exhaustion and my gifts to that overwhelming tide...

I can rest right in it.

Who controls the wind and waves?

I know Who.

Who controls the tide that laps and tugs and pulls?

I know Who.

I've got to stop fighting the stress, fighting the current of obligation and responsibility and duties, and consider it my resting place. Everything I stress over is actually a gift. Because that list would include my daughter, my finances, my job, my source of income, my friendships, my relationships, my home, my ministry - all gifts.

What am I even fighting?

It's time to stop fighting. And float.

As I said - I'm not the best swimmer in the world. A fact which is possibly quite evident in the way my daughter somehow managed to teach herself to swim underwater, yet panics and sinks when she attempts to swim above it...

When I try to rise above my obligation and responsibility and duties, when I try to master them instead of going with the flow of them, I panic and I sink.

When all along, all I had to do was float.

Let go. Relax. Trust.

The wind and waves still know His name.

And so do I.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alice in Wonderland, the voice of lies and telling your past where to go...

There's moments when I think I'm past it all. When all of the hurt and ache and regrets fade long in the rearview mirror and it's just a glimpse into something from another time, a far removed glance at a memory. Memories that rear bittersweet and sometimes downright ugly heads and prompt me into submission. Prompt me to tears. Prompt me to condemnation.

But they're just prompts I can choose not to respond to. Just invitations I can decline and keep moving forward.

But the other moments...

The other moments sneak and slither and don't even bother tapping me on the shoulder before stabbing me fully in the back. Don't even bother with the niceties of introduction, simply assault in full force, full color, full daylight, nothing held back. No fear, no shame, no limits. Brutal.

And they come with lies. So many lies. Hoarse whispers of guilt and death and what-if's that churn and cycle like a full load of laundry. Dirty laundry. Laundry that will never wash clean.

Those are the days I feel like a failure. Those are the days I think my progress is for naught, and that I haven't moved an inch on this dusty, curved road that God is still maneuvering straight. That I'm only inches from the crossroads where I finally screamed "ENOUGH" and chose life.

Those are the days the whispers grow long like the shadows. "What's the point?" "You're still here, see?" "You're still. right. here." "Still crying. Still affected. Still sad. Still trapped. You're always going to be right here. So stop trying."

What the enemy of my soul forgets is that on this journey down this narrow road, I've learned the voice of my Saviour. I know my Shepherd's voice, and this sheep follows Him--often quite dumbly and blindly, but oh - she follows. I know with an intensity that consumes my heart in holy fire the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart. That can't be taken away from me. The enemy can try to whisper the lies louder but that voice is ingrained so deep within, it can't be removed. We can not separate.

So I choose which voice I allow to hear loud and clear.

And I choose not to believe the lies being flaunted in my face.

I've made a rookie mistake. I've let myself believe that my bad days define me. That my moments of weakness and sadness and tears define my journey, make me somehow less than, not enough, not far along.

False.

I'm changing my perspective. I'm going to view these moments not as failure or lack of progress, but as progress itself. Because when you exercise, you're growing stronger. Yet in that meantime, your muscles are tearing. They're straining to grow and enhance and increase and that is painful. You get sore after a hard workout. But in the next session, you're stronger. And you do it again. Work out, tear down, build up. Work out, tear down, build up.

There's no building of the muscle without it first tearing.

So the tears on my cheeks are officially the ripped tears of my heart growing stronger. Growing. Enhancing. Increasing. My tears and bad days are not an indication that I'm a failure or lagging behind on my journey forward. No. Rather, they're proof that I am progressing and becoming more.

There's a quote in the book Alice and Wonderland, the Mad Hatter saying to Alice "You used to be much more...muchier. You've lost your muchness."

That's what the enemy wants me to believe. That I've lost my muchness. That I'm less than I was before this journey. But no. No more. I've gotten so much more muchier this past year and a half, and especially in these last 7 weeks of surrender, obedience, and change. 

Liberated.

Stronger.

Muchier.