Sunday night. Exhausted, lonely, & despondent, I reluctantly dragged myself off the couch in order to get ready for church. I grumbled to myself as I got dressed. I didn't want to go. Not because I disliked church or because I had other plans, but because I just wasn't feeling it. I was tired from an emotionally charged day, my shoulder was spasming, and lying on the couch with Amazon Prime's endless supply of movies just seemed so appealing. But something got me up. Something got me to my car. And something kept me going down the freeway. That something was knowing that my girl Bianca Olthoff was going to be speaking.
And when Bianca brings it, SHE BRINGS IT. I knew it was gonna be good and I had a distinct feeling that her words were going to help me get out of the church-funk I'd been in for a few months.I love Bianca because she has this amazing way of speaking to the ghetto girl inside me. She snaps her fingers, she gets in your face, she calls you out... but most of all she is extremely gifted in speaking to the heart of the matter.
The current series at Mariners
is called "Christian?" and it's addressing the labels, the misconceptions, the expectations, and everything else that comes along with being a Follower of Christ. Last week's message was great! Challenging, encouraging, and spot on, so I was eager to see what this week's message brought.Needless to say, it didn't disappoint. Just like last week, I found myself nodding along, engaging in Bianca's message about being the salt and the light, even shouting out an "Amen" or two.But the thing I got most out of tonight, the thing that struck me and stuck with me were these words from Bianca: "God strategically put you where you are. Where you are is where God wants you to be."Oh yes, once again, my faithful Father has heard my cry. He's listened to my disenchanted heart and has seen how close I am to leaving my church behind in search of something different, something "better."
He's seen the struggle I've had with the pain and the purpose of my walk and my journey at Mariners and tonight He communicated to me, through Bianca, that He's not finished. That I'm not finished.I honestly can't remember in what context Bianca said those words. I'm sure there was some deeper meaning behind them, but what I got was that God has more work for me to do at Mariners. He has more people for me to meet, more of my story to tell, and He wants me to continue walking out my journey amongst this community.
So, at Mariners I stay. And knowing that decision is God's and not mine has given me great peace
. I just love it when He works like this... when He sees my struggle and responds quickly. It
solidifies the knowledge that He works out all things for my good, because I love Him, I trust Him, and because I believe.
The time comes in most relationships when reality sets in and you really begin to wonder if this is truly it, the match for you.
You become easily annoyed & disillusioned. You disagree a lot & the joyous feeling that used to bubble from the surface is nowhere to be found.
This is how I currently feel about my church.
2 years ago I found my home, my refuge, my sanctuary. I fell in love the first time I set foot in that worship center. I was instantly eager to get involved and connect to a new community. And boy did I ever. At this time last year I was involved in a Life Group, leading a recovery group, volunteering at People of the Second Chance, helping out in the office, on the prayer team, and in a Beta-Testing group for the Genesis Process. I was driving the 25 miles to my church almost every day of the week.
AND I LOVED IT.
Sure I was a bit overwhelmed with the amount I was spending on gas, but I was getting connected, I was serving, I was meeting new people, and I was learning so much. Things were tough at times, but it was a very significant point in my life where I learned a ton about my own personal boundaries (how to implement them as well as reinforce them) & about self-care.
But a point came where I got burnt out and in the Fall & early Winter of last year God took most of it away. Gone was People of the Second Chance, gone was the prayer team, gone was Genesis Process. Then eventually Life Group dwindled and I made the intentional choice to stop leading the recovery group.
Life took a turn and I found myself busier with work with less time for my community & less time to serve. The desire was still there, but I needed my cup to be refilled first before I could give anymore of myself away.
Along the way, several changes happened within my church. One of my favorite teachers moved on to another church, then the other favorite moved to a different campus (I'm still a bit bitter about that one!). Two of my close friends got fired, for reasons that still don't make much sense to me. Leadership roles have been changing, the Care & Recovery ministry has been evolving, but I'm finding that I don't like or agree with the direction it is going. I'm finding myself dreading church out of fear that it'll cause more & more disappointment.
In a way it's my fault. I put my church on a bit of a pedestal. Partly because I had never experienced the feeling of home at a church before and partly because the sense of acceptance and belonging was SO strong. I would be lying if I said I didn't have some pretty specific expectations that I hoped my church would meet over time (including meeting more single men... sue me.) and I'd be lying further if I said that I wasn't slowly falling out love with my church because it hasn't met those expectations.
Disenchanted... that's the best word to describe it. I am disenchanted with my church.
And in that disenchantment I'm struggling with the following: do I lean in and continue to march to my own beat, despite the fact that my views of the church have changed OR do I begin the search (yet again) for a new church home?
I've been here many times before and I'm honestly beginning to wonder what God is up to...
Is it me? Do I become disenchanted easily? Do I expect too much from my church and then get upset or annoyed when the church doesn't meet or exceed my expectations? (In this case, I definitely think that is a contributing factor).
Or is it God? Does He want me to keep moving, to keep exploring? Is He doing something that I'm not yet aware of?
At this point I simply don't know.
I do know that I can be prideful and that when people I love get hurt, I take their side without question. And people I love have been hurt by this church & the people in it, more then once. But it is just a church, run by flawed, broken humans... so can I really base my decision on that? I don't know.
And so the cycle begins again. A never-ending journey of trying to figure out what God is doing and where He's taking me (or not taking me). I'm not giving up yet and I'm working hard to remind myself to look at big picture and to remember that it isn't just about me.
And while I refuse to let these roots that have been growing deeper over the past 2 years to be torn up prematurely because of pride, I know that if God wills it there is nothing I can do to stop Him.
Oh this tumultous world breaks my heart.
So much madness, hatred, violence, greed, and vitriol.
Sometimes I just don't understand it. It makes me question God's goodness. It makes me question my own heart. It makes me question grace.
After yesterday's events in Boston I had the very natural, very human reaction of sadness combined with bitterness. "Who would do such a thing?" I thought repeatedly throughout the day. "Who has so much hate in their heart that they would intentionally hurt so many innocent people?"
Oh right. Lots of people. Because free will applies to us all and many choose to use it to wound others.
"I hope they catch the people responsible and that they pay for what they've done." Oh yes, there it was. That vitriol. The very type of emotion that caused me such sadness was now pouring forth from my own heart and mind. And I didn't care.
My thoughts, my heart turned dark as I hoped for swift justice, for evil to get what's coming to him.
But then, a soft, gentle voice reminded me, "Lauren, Jesus has already paid that price. Whatever these people have done, they are forgiven."
"Nope God. Not buying it. Not listening. Don't care!"
I fought. I wrestled with my heart and with the distinct knowledge I have of God's truth. I didn't want to acknowledge it. I wanted to ignore the truth and give in to my sadness, my bitterness, my hatred. But He kept at it. His gentle voice would not cease.
"My son, He shed His blood for all My children, not just for the one's you deem worthy."
Ouch. "OK, I guess you have a point there."
"Jesus, covers it all and one day evil will be conquered for good. But until then, do not add to the evil. Do not give in to the hatred, the anger. Be my hands and feet. Be the good."
He was softening my heart and FAST.
And then this...
"There are no 'ifs, ands, or buts' when talking about grace."
There it was. His truth. And His ever persistent smack upside the head that brought my prideful bitterness to the ground.
There are no "buts" about grace people.
Yes, what evil sometimes accomplishes is horrible. What happened in Boston is gut-wrenchingly awful and grace in no way diminishes that fact.
But the scandalous truth is this... Grace covers it all. That's how powerful a force it is.
Grace covers those who constructed, planted, and detonated those bombs. Grace covers those who, like me, hoped for revenge and justice. Grace covers all the hate that's being spewed, all the evil that has ever been done.
BUT it also drives the good that is being done. It is God's grace, God's goodness, God's love that had those people running toward the madness to help instead of running away. It is the force that caused people who just finished the marathon, tired, distraught, and full of fear, to run to give blood. It is what motivated restaurant owners to open up their doors, to offer free food, free wireless for people to contact loved ones, and a warm place to sit if people just didn't want to be alone. It is what reminded all of us that we are one nation, under God. United. It brought the city of Boston to a grinding halt as a strong community formed, unwilling to let evil win.
Whether we see it now or whether hindsight will be 20/20, the good will always outweigh the bad. And if you believe in God's truth, you know that evil will ultimately be conquered by good. In fact, it already has.
I sit here this morning, with my coffee and my laptop, and I think about Boston and other cities where innocents have been killed. I think about those who have been directly affected by the evil and my heart goes out to them. I pray that they see the good in this world, that they see the love pouring out around them. I pray that they find peace and they find a way to forgive those who did this. I pray this for us all.
I think about grace a lot. I reflect on God's goodness and how He gifted us with this dynamic, sovereign, and shocking force. A force so strong that not even the most evil of deeds curtails it's power.
That my friends is grace. And it is amazing.
I'm honored to once again be sharing my thoughts & my heart at Single Roots... this time on Marriage, Grace & Second Chances. I'd love for you to stop by & join in on the conversation!!
You, who thinks that no one understands...
You, who thinks there's nowhere to turn...
You, who feels alone in a vast sea of life...
You, who is constantly comparing yourself to others...
You, who tries and tries and tries... only to feel like more of a failure each day...
I SEE YOU.
I see you hurting and I want you to know that you are not alone.
I see the wounds that you're trying to hide, the "you" that's working so hard to stay invisible.
I see your heart, your need to be loved, to feel loved.
I see your desperate need to be seen.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
My door is open and so is His. There is hope. I promise.
KNOCK. ASK. RECEIVE. That's all there is to it. A response will come, from me, from Him.
"so come and look for me.
i'm sorry but it's like that sometimes.
i hate to make you bleed,
unless it leads you limping homeward.
so come back to my house
and i'll give what they can't offer.
it's just blood on the couch,
we'll clean it up together."
I heard this song a few weeks ago & cannot stop listening to it. The lyrics haunt me, the sound moves me to tears. I hear this song & I imagine my Father singing it to me. Willing me to draw nearer to Him, telling me He'll make things right, reminding me of His goodness.
Lately I've been caught up in my over-analytical brain, worrying about what my next steps will be & constantly second-guessing myself. My focus has been gradually shifting away from God because I've been too concerned with worldly expectations & desires. The shift continued, until last week I noticed I couldn't feel Him anymore, I couldn't hear His voice. This happens from time to time, but it sneaks up on me & always seems to throw me completely off guard.
I don't know why it does... I should come to expect it by now, especially when I allow myself to go 2, then 3, then 8 days without acknowledging Him or intentionally spending time with Him. I suddenly find myself far from His presence overwhelmed with feelings of frustration & confusion. Logically I know the only reason this has occurred is because I have moved. Not Him.
Life gets in the way & I forget to come into His presence.
The feeling of loneliness creeps up on me, until finally it's undeniable & threatening to choke the life out of me. This time it happened in the middle of the night as I was climbing into bed. A heaviness began to set in & then an uncontrollable need to cry out in the darkness. Tears came without reservation as I realized that I couldn't feel Him or hear Him. I couldn't even bring myself to call out Him.
It's one of the worst feelings in this world: feeling utterly & completely alone. The pain & desperation are palpable. The fear is unshakeable.
But today I sit here in the daylight, listening to the beautiful words of "Penny & Sparrow" & a revelation begins to form. I see that while God yearns for me, He does not force His presence upon me. He allows me to temporarily walk in a direction that isn't in alignment with His will because He knows that I am still walking towards Him.
He is everywhere & in everything. Which means that if I willingly walk a path of destruction or rebellion, He will ultimately use that to bring me back into His presence.
And if I walk a path of loneliness, fear, & pain, He allows it to happen because He knows that eventually I will limp Homeward. To Him. Always.
Because that's just me.
And that's just Him.
This is how He works in my life. He lets me make my mistakes & lets me take a different road, because He knows that I learn by experience. People can't tell me what to do (right Mom & Dad?). It just doesn't work because I'll ultimately make my own choice & if I fall, so be it.
Mistakes are what I do. Sometimes I repeat them over & over until it finally sinks in how destructive or pointless they are. Sometimes it only happens once for me to recognize that I need to go a different direction. But always, ALWAYS, I learn.
And the biggest lesson I learn is that even if I don't feel Him or hear Him, He is always there. I simply have to turn around and there He is.
Today I'm limping Homeward. I'm humbly accepting that the past 2 weeks have been a prideful battle of me trying to take the reins from Him. I'm acknowledging that EVERY time I try to take control instead of letting Him guide me, I fall. Sometimes hard enough to hurt myself. But He is gracious, loving, & kind. He offers His hand to me & helps me off the ground & pulls me back into His arms. He shows me the way to go & reminds me of His goodness.
What a beautiful God I serve and what an ever-expanding journey He allows me to take... with Him always by my side.
"Stop being a tough girl & take 2 Advil every 6-8 hours."
I'd been talking about my shoulder pain for almost 2 weeks, had been icing it, gently stretching it & trying to rest it as much as I could. But still it ached. And still I refused to take pain relievers.
Every time I got close to taking a pain reliever I'd stop & say to myself "You're strong enough to tough it out. Your clients make it through childbirth without pain meds, you can make it through a few days with an achey shoulder!"
But today, my wonderful, long-time chiropractor gave it to me straight.
"Lauren, out of the 17 years you've been my patient, I've seen you cry once. And that one time had nothing to do with pain, but with frustration because of your Guillain-Barre. Now you're crying because you're clearly in pain. It's OK to take a pain reliever."
And at that, I cried even harder. Oh my poor chiropractor. He had given me permission to admit my weaknesses & made it OK to let go. What a relief that was.
I don't know why, but his counsel is always such a surprise to me.
It was a surprise when I beat myself up after spraining my ankle my Junior year of High School which prevented me from competing at the end of the swim season. He told me to take it easy on myself, to let my body rest & heal properly.
It was a surprise when I was going through the discouraging effects of Levaquin poisoning & the early stages Guillaine-Barre. He reminded me that if he can come back from partial paralysis TWICE in his life, then I could do it too.
And it was a surprise today, when I was pushing my body beyond it's limit, to the point that I could barely breathe through the pain. He validated my pain, told me it was OK to admit that it was too much to handle & instructed me to do something about it.
In each of these instances pride was standing in my way, keeping me from accepting my limitations, & pushing me further into a painful situation. I didn't want to accept that I couldn't compete in the final swim meets of the season. I didn't want to believe that my nerve & muscle weakness was anything more then my body needing time to recuperate after battling pneumonia. I didn't want to admit that my shoulder/collar bone were hurting so significantly that I'd actually have to take something for it.
Silly as it may seem, in each of these instances, I thought I was tougher than the ailment & I was determined to handle it on my own without help.
But I can't do everything on my own. Sometimes I need pain relief. Sometimes I need wise counsel. Sometimes I need permission to throw up my hands & say "Uncle!!!"
The people God uses to bring these humbling revelations to light are not always who I expect. I think that's what makes the counsel so effective. I often drown out the voices of those closest to me when it comes to straight talk. So, when someone involved in my life, but not embedded in my life, calls me on this stubborn pride of mine, I know it's serious. I know I need to listen.
Even though I'm in pain (a lot less of it now that I've finally taken that Advil) and even though I'm being forced to take a rest (yet again... when will I learn?!), I'm incredibly thankful for the people God uses to help bring me back to center. It's often unexpected, but like I said, that's what makes it even more powerful.
Maybe, just MAYBE, next time my pride won't get in the way.
| |I'm honored to be sharing my heart over at Single Roots today... stop by & check it out!
That's what my therapist told me as I was processing my constant struggle with sexual sin and singleness. The words hit my heart & at first I found them to be really, REALLY harsh.
Just 2 days before I had been speaking to someone else about being slow to anger and so with that in mind I held the following words in my mouth while I thought about her statement. "Hey, you're not supposed to say things like that. You're supposed to be accepting me without judgment, you're supposed to be supporting me & encouraging me. Telling me I'm contaminated is NOT helpful. That word makes me feel like crap. I AM NOT CONTAMINATED."
Pride was about to take over and I was incredibly close to letting those words spew out of my mouth in anger, but these words came out instead: "You're right."
These were not my words. I did not think them and I sure as heck didn't say them. God did.
I am contaminated. Contaminated by sin.
1. to make impure or unsuitable by contact or mixture with something unclean, bad, etc.
2. to render harmful or unusable by adding radioactive material to
3. something that contaminates or carries contamination
1. defile, pollute, taint, infect, poison, corrupt.
As I look at my life and look at the areas of constant struggle, I see this truth. I see how even the "smallest" of sins has seeped into other areas, contaminating my whole self. I see how one un-pure thought can cause an avalanche of un-pure actions. I see how one "harmless" snap judgment or snide comment can wound multiple people.
It only takes a small amount of crude oil to contaminate a multitude of God's creatures, and the same is true for sin. It only takes a small amount of doubt to give the Devil a foothold. It only takes a moment of letting our guard down to reveal a weak spot giving him the opportunity to strike.
We are most undoubtedly human and therefore we are ever-susceptible to contamination. As Believers we understand the dangers of sin, we know that it's something we should be guarding ourselves against and yet we often willingly "dive in." The reasons vary, but the foundation is the same: We are broken. The Fall opened us up to a world of sin that God never intended us to experience. Sin has caused devastation to the beautiful creation of God.
Sin has devastated me, devastated you.
And the truth is, there's nothing we can do to stop it. We are powerless against it, physically, mentally, & spiritually. Sure, we can try & try & try until the end of days, but we'll be trying in vain.
But here's the beauty in it all... even though God did not intend for us to ever experience the contamination of sin, His love for us is so deep & so wide that He has provided us a way to get clean... The pure, innocent blood of His son, Jesus Christ. That is the only antidote, the only cure to our contamination. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
And because He's God, there's even more beauty to be found... Every day and every moment in it is a chance to experience His mercies, because they are new each morning. He is the God of second chances and because He forgets all transgressions as they are covered by Christ's blood, second chances are abundantly available to each of us. ALWAYS.
Each day is an empty canvas just waiting to be filled with God's beauty and grace. Yes, the world & Satan tell us we are contaminated. That is not a lie. And that contamination, that devastation, should grieve us, but what the world & Satan forget is that Jesus saves us from it all. We have been bought with a price. A costly, costly gift from our Heavenly Father to disinfect us from our sin.
Let that sink in today.
As you do, think upon the mercies He has brought you this morning and every morning. See the empty canvas, the clean slate that He has provided for you and prayerfully consider what you will fill that canvas with today. It is my prayer that whatever it is, it honors Him and glorifies Him. For He deserves nothing less.
"Sin is soiling, staining, corrupting and infecting. Nevertheless, as if sin was contained in a pool, we often toe up to the edge of it. From time to time we splash in it or worse, dive on in and immerse ourselves in it. Would you do that with a pool filled with the dreaded Ebola virus? No way! You’d do everything in your power to not come within a country mile of that place. Yet, sin’s infinitely more dangerous with ramifications stretching into eternity." - Ben Simpson
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17
Earlier today I sent a lighthearted yet snarky email. It was all in good fun & made my friend laugh. As I was considering snarkiness I stumbled upon the following definition on Urban Dictionary
One whose snarkiness regularly manifests itself so naturally and fluidly that snarky comments could be delivered even from the depths of beta sleep.
These kill me...
Truth be told, the word snarkoleptic made me chuckle and I even quipped about "having this disease." But despite the fact that most of my snark is lighthearted, comical, and well meaning, there have definitely been times where it's gotten me into trouble. BIG TROUBLE.
I've said something that was intended as ironic or as a joke but it ended up offending or even worse wounding someone. These are the times when I abhor being a snarkoleptic, when I really begin to think about my words & humility.
And while I can honestly say that VERY rarely do I make remarks or comments that have the intention to wound, I am aware that it happens & it truly hurts my heart. As someone who preaches grace, I recognize that there are times when I don't practice what I preach.
I know this is true for everyone. I mean, we're human. Of course there are times in our lives where we'll emulate hypocrisy, judgement & cruelty. It is the result of the fall. It may not be in our character to do it often, but it does happen. But the fall is not an excuse for it to continue. If we are actively seeking God & have the desire to draw nearer to Him, we should expect to experience The Spirit's conviction at some point in our journeys.
With that in mind, I began to examine my heart & words and I started researching what God's word says. It turns out scripture says a lot about taming the tongue from topics like tolerance, gossip, lying, anger, slander, etc. But I couldn't really find where my snarkiness fit in to it all. I'm not saying I don't gossip or lie or that I'm always tolerant... but my negative, non-comical, offensive snarkiness rarely comes out in those moments.
So when does it appear??
Mostly in moments of detachment & insecurity. Moments when I'm resisting an emotion, when I'm uncomfortable or when I just want to escape. I can feel my heart-strings being pulled and the discomfort creeping in and instead of leaning into it, I snark. I make a sarcastic comment and once the floodgates open, the zings just keep pouring out.
I'm realizing more & more that it's a defense mechanism. It's a way of keeping people at arms-length. Is it a healthy way to cope with discomfort? I don't know yet, but the fact that it's bugging me, makes me think "No." Is it something that is seriously hindering my walk with God? I'm still not sure.
Suffice it to say, God has put it on my heart for reason & it's something I'm still examining. As I do, I'm praying for more awareness as it pertains to this issue. I hope that God will bring specifics to light and that He'll continue gently coaxing me down this path of being more honorable, humble, & gracious with my words.
"Ironic detachment makes me feel good because I can keep things at arms’ length. Caring about anything is just not cool, because nothing is really worthy of being called cool. When dates, parents, careers and God have failed us, it’s better to stay bemused on the outside, a nonchalant satellite in orbit, then to dig in where it’s messy. And so we josh on other people’s naiveté, clothing choices and faux pas’s from the anonymous foxhole of our living rooms, safely avoiding any true sentiment." - Jessica Misener