The Value of a Discerning Spirit

In my early days as a believer, I didn’t understand the value of a discerning spirit.  Especially when it came to sharing my heart with others.  I pretty much put it all out there, not giving a whole lot of thought as to how much information was divulged.  I also didn’t use much discretion, opening up to anyone willing to listen.  Believe me…there were a lot of willing participants.  Which I can’t entirely blame them because I definitely had a juicy past.

Let’s just say it didn’t take long for me to realize two things.  One, not everything is meant to be shared.  There are parts of our past that should stay there—buried, never to be resurrected again.  But there are also parts that in the right time should be shared.  Which brings me to the second realization, not everyone is the right person to share with.  Yes, even if the person shares our faith.  Because the reality is that we’re still human, so that means we’re dealing with people who may be unreliable, untrustworthy or uninformed.

I learned this the hard way, early on in my walk with God.  The freedom I felt in baring my soul to Him carried over onto others.  I used little, if any, discretion.   That left me vulnerable.

Proverbs 2:11 “Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you.”

Discretion serves as a protective measure.  If we don’t use it, we risk all kinds of problems.  Some of what I shared in confidence was blabbed all over the place.  And while one person was sympathetic to my face, she talked about me like a dog behind my back.

My expectations that people in the church would be different seriously impacted my ability to trust.  I put my own guard up, instead of allowing discretion to be my guard.   As a result, I felt let down by the church and oftentimes suffered in silence.  What made it worse is that trust had already been an issue for me.  Events from my childhood and past experiences caused me to put up a wall that made forming relationships difficult.

Although it took quite a few years to get to this place…I now realize the importance of discernment.  Just because it happened doesn’t mean it has to be shared.  In fact, most things are better kept between me and God.  I find comfort in being vulnerable with Him.  He understands me in ways that no one else can.  He knows the whole story and He is ultimately the source of all healing, restoration and reconciliation.

If I am to share with someone else, I trust God to show me who that person is and how much information should be given.  We need trustworthy people who sincerely care about us and will pray for our needs, but we also need a discerning spirit.  If this is something you’re lacking, just ask God, who gives generously to all (James 1:5).

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What You Did Is Not Who You Are

I recently shared some thoughts on how “what you do” doesn’t define “who you are,” and how sometimes we allow our roles to cloud the truth about who we are in Christ.   Yet there’s an even bigger danger we face when it comes to our identities.  It is basing “who we are” on “what we did”.

I don’t get many opportunities to tell my story on how I came to know Christ.  My hope is that it helps to lay a foundation for why I think it’s so important we don’t allow our past to identify who we are right now and who we are yet to become.

I’m not aware of any church history in my family.  What I do know is we have a history of mental illness, addiction, suicide and yes, even murder.  When I was just two months old, my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Of course, growing up I didn’t give much thought to my family’s history.  I certainly didn’t understand the impact it would have on me.

Needless to say, my childhood wasn’t ideal.  The result was an insecure, scared little girl who didn’t understand boundaries.  That turned into an attention seeking, reckless teenager…which then turned into an angry, promiscuous, controlling woman.

You can probably guess there were some struggles with finding my identity in Christ.  Coming to know Him was the most wonderful, freeing experience of my life.  Yet the “who I was” seemed to overshadow the “who I am” in Christ.

My initial response to the gospel message was like a kid in the candy store.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  The realization that all of the icky stuff I’d done was forgiven—nailed to the cross—began the process of finding deliverance from shame.  Long “churchy” dresses replaced short skirts.  A fun night no longer consisted of a brandy and coke at a bar but coffee and sweets at a Bible study.  My speakers now blasted the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace, instead of Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi.

Maybe it’s not glaringly obvious—but as “good” as these changes might have been in my life—they did little to address the deep-rooted shame that laid the foundation of who I was.  In my head I could say I was new in Christ.  But in my heart, I still felt like the old me, especially when I continued to battle with some of my past struggles.

Despite ongoing years of Bible study, church teachings, and doing my best to be the right kind of Christian wife, mother and friend…”who I was” continued to be “who I am.”  I wasn’t living in the freedom of being a new creation in Christ.  When I looked in the mirror I still saw the unredeemed me.  The broken, messed up, lost soul who yes, was saved by the grace of God…but just couldn’t believe I was loved and accepted.  How could One so holy accept the likes of me?!

There is a danger in identifying ourselves as “who we were” rather than “who we are” (in Christ).  On the most surface level, it keeps us from reaching our potential as a believer.  But on a deeper level, it chains us to the past.  That eliminates freedom of movement in the things that God has for us.

One of my favorite bloggers is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t allow “who she was” to identify “who she is.”  At “Beauty Beyond Bones,” you will meet a young lady who overcame her eating disorder and now offers hope and encouragement to others.  While I have never struggled with this particular issue, her blog feeds my soul.  I can relate to the journey she has taken in learning to love herself.

No, we can’t erase our past.  We can’t pretend it never happened.  Nor can we deny its impact on our lives.  But we can embrace what’s in front of us.  We can learn from the struggles of our past.  And we can finally find freedom in Christ.

What Is the Answer to Evil?

I don’t have words to adequately convey the deep sorrow I feel about the state of our nation.  Las Vegas was rocked by the greatest mass shooting in U.S. history.  This at a time when the country is at odds with one another regarding the appropriateness of protesting during the National Anthem.  Mix in with that threats of war and terrorism.

Everyone is looking for “answers.”  Talking heads believe they have them.  Opinions permeate our Facebook newsfeeds.

The world is losing hope.  Even those who know to find their hope in Christ are struggling.

There are no easy answers.  More gun control sounds like an obvious solution.  Yet those bent on evil, individuals with severe mental illness, people intent on hurting others…will find another way.  How many lives have been lost by a maniac behind the wheel, plowing into a crowd of people?

The passing of new laws, the demanding of rights, the disrespecting of our flag…these will never cure the sin-sickness of this world.  Jesus is the only answer.

But here’s the thing about declaring He is the answer.  Some misinterpret this to mean that He has the ability to stop evil and so it’s in His hands to end mass shootings…to stop violence…to ensure equal rights and fair treatment.

Believers declare that Jesus is the answer…but the world wants to know if that’s true, why is there still so much evil?  Why are people treated unfairly?  Why is there so much violence?

Unless those who commit such atrocities surrender their lives to Jesus, there can’t be healing of mental illness and a bent toward evil.  He is the answer because He is the One who cleanses us from sin.  He is the One who can help us find freedom, deliverance and healing from the sin that imprisons us.

Jesus being the answer doesn’t mean He holds the puppet strings of this world.  He is Ruler of this world but unless He is made ruler of our hearts, sin will prevail.

I can understand the struggle with hopelessness.  Yes, even for the believer.  What took place in Las Vegas is senseless and absolutely heartbreaking.  But I don’t have to park my thoughts there.  I know that Jesus is the answer and that means regardless of what happens on this earth, a day is coming when all wrong will be made right.  When all sin will be washed away.  When tears will no longer fall and gravesites will no longer exist.

We need to share the hope of Christ with a hurting world.  But we can’t do that if we start to lose hope.

Our agendas and opinions can’t make a difference.  What we need is the Difference Maker.  What this world needs is a Savior…yes, Jesus IS the answer.

What You Do Is Not Who You Are

Last month my daughter moved out.  Two down, one to go.  Yahoo!!!

I have to laugh at myself, though.  There was a time when the thought of my children moving out was unimaginable.  I didn’t want my babies to leave…ever.  Even as they began to enter the teen years, I didn’t think I’d ever be ready to let them go.  And I always thought any parent who couldn’t wait for their child to leave was cruel.

Ask me if I feel the same way today…go ahead…ask.

Here’s the thing about the way I used to feel…yes, those feelings were based on my love for my children.  But they were also rooted in how my identity was so connected to them that I couldn’t possibly imagine being someone other than a mom.  Don’t get me wrong—not that I thought my mom title would be taken away.  I just knew it was going to be different and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

It’s interesting how the “what we do” becomes the “who we are.”  The way we sometimes place our identity in the doing and not the who-ing (yes, I made that word up).  The idea of my role changing as a mom was quite honestly, a bit frightening.  Trying to imagine a house no longer filled with noise but silence.  The thought of no longer being needed, when all I’m used to is meeting needs.

Who would I become if I wasn’t mom?

Getting to the place of realizing I’m more than mom hasn’t been easy.  I don’t need to become anyone because I already am the person I’ve always been.  My role as a mom is just one facet of my life.  There is so much more to me than that.

And really, this is a chance to celebrate a new season of life—not mourn for what will no longer be.  I will always be a mom but the way that looks is going to be different.   Different isn’t bad.  In fact, different can become something quite wonderful.  And that’s exactly what I’m discovering in this time that I once dreaded.

I’m relishing in the near empty nest season of live I’m in.  It’s not only rediscovering myself but there is a revival of my marriage, friendships, interests and passions.  Life has slowed down and I’m learning to enjoy its leisurely pace.  There’s more time to pursue those things I’ve always wanted to do and unearth new interests.

Children aren’t the only way our “what we do” becomes “who we are.”  This can happen with our jobs, relationships, interests and anything else that becomes our identity.  It’s not really a problem until that thing (or person) is no longer a part of our lives.  When that job ends, the relationship deteriorates or the thing we most loved doing is no longer possible…it can stir up uncertainty, fear and unrest.

The only way to truly avoid this pitfall is to remember that our identity as a follower of Christ should be found in Him.  Not in our spouse, our children, our pursuits, or this world.  When “who we are” is wrapped up in Christ, we won’t be shaken by the negative events of this life.  Fear won’t have a place in our hearts and we won’t have to be concerned about the future.    We will always know who we are when we’re in Christ.

It goes back to the beginning in Genesis 1:27, when God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.

The “what we do” is the outward, earthly stuff that we get to enjoy on a temporary basis.  The “who we are” is the spirit of God inside us, the heavenly blessing that lasts an eternity.

So…do I feel the same way I once did about my kids leaving home?  Oh, heck no!  Do I better understand my identity?  Yes!  It’s not what I do but who I am in Christ.

It’s Not Our Job to Fix

I’m a problem solver.  For almost all situations, I believe there is a way to fix it.  Whether it’s something tangible that’s broken or it’s something much more complicated—such as a relationship—repair is possible.  In many ways, a desire to fix things is good.  But it can also get in the way of my faith when God really doesn’t want (nor need) me to “fix” that broken situation or person.

Unfortunately, I’m not always cognizant of my “need to fix” efforts.   That lack of awareness prevents me from doing my real job…which is to seek God for guidance, listen carefully to His voice and follow His directions.  As a result, I’m prone to seek wisdom from others or within (what little bit there is), my ears are closed to God’s voice and I do my own thing.

There was a long season in which my daughter was like a “fixer-upper” project.  Her foundation was cracked and in great need of repair.   Ignoring the Master Builder, I attempted to do the work myself.  We were dealing with some issues that no mama, even one with all the love in the world and every best intention, could fix.

It was a long, heartbreaking journey.  Coming to grips with the reality that I couldn’t fix her wasn’t easy.  But God had a different role in mind for me.  It was to show her love and grace through that difficult time.

My role was also to not only trust God to do the fixing, but trust His timing and means of doing it.  This is important because it’s easy to say we trust God…until His way doesn’t make sense (or we have a better idea in mind).  It’s easy to trust until it’s taking too long.

What do you find yourself trying to fix?  A crumbling marriage?  A loved one’s addiction?  A wayward child?

Whatever broken situation you’re facing, whatever broken person you’re struggling with…know that it’s not your job to fix.   Our faith doesn’t grow based on what we think we can accomplish but on what we know God can accomplish.

The Beauty of Being Messy

This past summer I tended to what had been a longtime neglected part of my yard, a “garden” on the side of our house.  My enthusiasm quickly turned to dread when I realized the mess it had become.  Weeds so high they went up to my waist.  A rose bush that had grown out of control.

I needed something productive to do while I was off work for a few weeks, so it seemed the perfect summertime project.  It was painstaking work…and I mean literal pain.  Being a novice gardener, it never crossed my mind to use gloves as I pulled weeds.  My vigorous pulling and tugging must have numbed my hands.  It wasn’t until I saw blood running down that I realized there were cuts all over both hands.  Blood mixed with dirt.  Messy.

With time, patience, dedication (and yes, the purchase of gardening gloves), the mess became something beautiful.  I didn’t think to take a before picture, but at least my family can appreciate the transformation.

That messy garden was a reminder of my own mess…those parts of me that my inner circle sees and those parts that only God can see.  I saw potential despite the weeds.  I envisioned something beautiful.  God is the same way with us.  He sees beyond the mess to the beauty deep within.

I spent years agonizing over the messy me.  I didn’t like who I was, and I was convinced God was running out of patience with me.  All the focus on what was “wrong” with me stood in the way of not only recognizing but enjoying the process of change.  While I certainly enjoyed the transformation of my garden, I hadn’t done the same with the transformation of my heart and mind.

There’s a line in one of my favorite movies, “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” in which John Candy’s character says, “I like me.  My wife likes me.  My customers like me because I’m the real article.  What you see is what you get.”

I’ve learned to adopt the same kind of mindset about myself.  It’s not that I have a cavalier attitude about my messy parts.  God knows there’s still a whole lot of work to be done in me!  But I don’t dwell on them as much.  I have hope because there’s a history of transformation in my life.  God has done and continues to do a work in me.

Oftentimes when I seek God’s forgiveness, I give thanks according to Philippians 1:6:  being confident of this, that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

I’m so grateful that He continues to pull the weeds in my life.  I’m so thankful for the mixture of dirt (my sins) and blood (His poured out for me) that is working toward something quite lovely.  A day is coming when all that is messy will truly become beautiful.

 

A Holy Interruption

My firstborn, Type-A personality doesn’t do well with interruptions.  When I’m in the middle of doing something, I’m on a mission and want to get it done.  I greatly dislike what I see as an intrusion on my time.  That doesn’t fit so well with my job as a secretary in a K-8 school.  Because if I had to define my job using one word it would be:

INTERRUPTIONS

Constant interruptions from a ringing phone, front door buzzer, and people.  Staff.  Parents.  Students.

  • Questions
  • Needs
  • Wants
  • Complaints

Needless to say, this job has been a huge growing experience for me.  I haven’t always done it well, the whole acceptance of constantly being interrupted, but I’m growing in this area.

I’m reminded of Someone who dealt with interruptions on a consistent basis.  Jesus.  Fully divine, yet fully human as He walked this earth.  People  surrounded him all the time.  They had questions.  Needs.  Wants.  And yes, even complaints (remember Martha complaining about her sister Mary not helping?)

Just when He would finally get away to pray and to seek His Father, people would show up. Crowds of people.  Jesus never got frustrated.  He met the need with grace.

As difficult as my silly interruptions at work can be, an even greater challenge is when it happens to your life.  When plans or dreams are interrupted by an unexpected (and oftentimes unwanted) circumstance.

What if the thing you see as an intrusion is really a holy interruption?  My definition for a holy interruption is one that appears to be inconvenient, unwanted, or frustrating and yet becomes something quite sacred.

One of the best examples I can give are the circumstances that made me a grandmother. Definitely an interruption and not in my plans was my 17-year-old daughter getting pregnant. That was just the start to what would become a fairly long season of interruptions to my life.

My granddaughter was born the day after my father died.  I can’t even tell you how “inconvenient” and disruptive that was to my grieving process.

Fast-forward a few months…all plans for my daughter and the father of her child to have this big happy family (including moving out) came to a halt when he decided to back out of the relationship.  Oh my.  It was not in the plan to help raise my granddaughter.

The next several months would include a lengthy and expensive custody battle.  Mixed in with that was a lot of drama and stress involving the father of my granddaughter and his new girlfriend.  Frustrating is not a big enough word to describe these experiences.  I remember thinking often how I just wanted my life back.

These snippets of interruptions to my life don’t appear to be holy.  Oh, but they were…because the culmination is a little girl that has completely changed my world for the better.  What’s more sacred than life?  Not only that, but God did a whole lot of work in my heart.

This little girl was most definitely a holy interruption to my life!

I’ve seen other types of interruptions to peoples’ lives become something so sacred.  It’s in those moments when things are uncertain and we feel afraid and it seems nothing makes sense that God is behind the scenes putting together something quite wonderful.

Holy interruptions come into our life and sometimes turn things upside down.  They oftentimes don’t make sense.  In the moment, we may not see the sacred but in God’s timing, He will reveal it.

The next time your life is interrupted, consider that God may be doing something deeper than what’s on the surface.  You just might be in for a holy interruption.

I’m Not Controlling…I Just Wish You Would Do Things My Way

My only comfort in writing this post is knowing I’m not alone.  Any fellow Type A personalities out there???  Firstborns?  Structured Germans?  Or just someone who spent her formative years having no control over her life experiences, that she determined she’d never be in subjection ever again?

It would be easy to justify my struggle.  To blame my personality, my place in the family, my nationality or my childhood.  Yet there comes a point when you have to take a really hard look at yourself and stop making excuses.

There was a time when I denied being a controlling person.  The newlywed years when I threw a fit every time my husband wanted to do something without me.  It wasn’t because I was controlling…he just wasn’t doing things my way.  Or when my children were younger and I lashed out at them.  It wasn’t because I was controlling…they just weren’t doing things my way.

If everyone would just cooperate with me (family, friends, coworkers, even strangers), it would all be fine.  Looking back, I’m embarrassed by some of my behavior.  The need to control became greater than forging or maintaining relationships.  It became greater than other people’s feelings.  And it most definitely ruled my emotions.

God has brought me really far in this struggle.  Part of that included healing from my past.  It also meant learning how to release my grip on people and circumstances, allowing Him to have full control.

Sometimes I will find myself sliding back into those unhealthy patterns.  But I’m quickly reminded of the consequences in being a control freak, which I would like to share for others who may struggle.

The first consequence is that it hurts you.  I’m the most stressed when I’m trying to control others or what’s going on around me.  As a result, I’m short-tempered, easily irritated and constantly frustrated.  Stress can literally make you sick.  Migraines and depression have been some of my worst enemies during these times.  The ironic thing is that in our attempts to control, which we’re convinced will bring contentment, it does the exact opposite.  As a result, we lack peace.

The second consequence is that it hurts relationships.  Marriages can’t survive very long with a controlling spouse.  Children with a controlling parent will pull away.  Friendships won’t last when based on control.  The need to control others creates friction and sometimes, irreparable damage to the relationship.

Lastly, another consequence in being a control freak is that it diminishes your faith in God.  In fact, it becomes more about faith in yourself…as a wife, parent, etc.  If we truly trust Him with our circumstances and the people in our lives, we won’t find it necessary to seek control.

I’m guessing there are others out there who have denied having control issues.  You’ve reasoned that if only people would do what you want…or circumstances would go the way you want…there wouldn’t be a problem.  It’s time to admit that the only real problem is your need to control.  But you don’t have to fight this battle alone.  The more you trust God…the more you release people and circumstances into His hands…the less need to control.  The greater the realization that God is in control, the more peace.

Dear Depressed Christian

Everyone else seems to have it together.  Why can’t you just get yourself together?  It doesn’t even make sense to feel this way.  You have no real reasons for feeling down but no amount of praying takes it away.  That induces guilt.  Because isn’t prayer supposed to take it all away?  Sometimes you even question if your faith is real.  Because if it was, then you wouldn’t be struggling so much.

The truth is that you’re not alone.  There are others silently suffering as well.  Not sure it will make you feel any better but know that depression strikes people from all walks of life…yes, even those who have faith in God.  I bet it’s an even bigger problem than you think because the enemy has people right where he wants them—feeling alone.

Church almost makes it worse.  You know you should go, even those days you don’t feel like it, but then you have to pretend that everything is fine.  You paste on the smile and respond with “Great!” when asked how you’re doing.  What would be the worst thing to happen if you finally got honest?  There’s that fear of rejection and of judgment, I get that.  Yet what if by sharing your struggles, it opened up the opportunity for someone to pray with you?  To show they care?  To be that person who stands by your side?

Then there’s the whole shame thing.  How can you even call yourself a believer?  Where is the joy of the Lord?  Yet our faith isn’t based on our strength.  In fact, it’s in our weakness that God makes us strong.  Shame is a lie.  The truth is that you are an imperfect person who is being sanctified day-by-day.  Becoming holy isn’t an event…it’s a process.  Don’t let shame become bigger than God’s grace.

Remember that while your struggle might be depression, others have their own vices.   We’re all sinners.  We all face challenges.  We all live in a fallen world.  Your issue isn’t worse than someone else’s.  You’re not any less a Christian than the person sitting next to you in the pew.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  You might feel depressed but God hasn’t counted you out.

Depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  You can gain freedom.  Jesus is the key that unlocks the prison door.

You Have to Let Go…to Be Let In

One of the most difficult parts of parenting (at least for me) is letting go.  When my children were younger, each new stage of their lives brought difficulty in loosening the apron strings.  In the teen years, it was learning how to cast away fear and truly trust God with their lives.

I’ll be honest…it hasn’t gotten much easier now that my children are adults.  Add to the mix a grandchild and another on the way, well, let’s just say I’ll be learning how to navigate this tricky terrain of letting go for quite some time.

While this may not be the case for every parent who struggles in this area, I’ve come to realize that for me it’s an issue of needing to be needed.  It had actually become my identity, so it was a frightening prospect to lose that part of me.  Yet the reality is that the more we try to hold onto our children—yes, even with all the right intentions—we risk our child pulling away from us.  And if we’re not careful, to the point we lose him completely.

We can’t barge our way into our children’s lives.  We can’t demand they invite us into their world.  Instead, we have to let go before we can be let in.

Coming to discover this about myself and then trying to break free from it has been a downright gut-wrenching, painful experience.  One made more complicated by seasons where my children have lost their way spiritually.

While my instinct is to thump the Bible over their heads and voice my thoughts on all that is wrong in their lives…I’ve had to restrain myself.  Experience has taught me that when I do those things, the door gets slammed in my face.  My child stops sharing.  Our relationship starts to deteriorate.

Instead, I have to remind myself that my children know the Word.  The seed was planted.  It’s in their hearts.  They were raised in a home and church that taught truth.  No matter what they do, their choices are never more powerful than what God can do in their lives.   Isaiah 55:11 is a verse I hold onto:  So is my word that goes out from my mouth.  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

See?  I don’t need to thump the Bible over their heads because God’s Word is already in their hearts.

It also doesn’t do much good to constantly voice how I feel about choices being made.  As parents, we have a responsibility to correct our children when sin has become an issue.  But at the same time, we have a responsibility to point them toward the One who can break that sin in their lives.

I’m not advocating to stay silent.  Our children must know that we’re not okay with their wrong choices, but we have to leave room for God’s conviction.  We can’t cajole or convince our children to change their ways.  They need a transformation that can only come through the work of Christ.

Letting go means putting our faith in God’s purposes and plans and not our works as a parent.  Letting go is trusting God to do what we’re unable to do.  Letting go is showing grace in spite of their choices.

I would much rather stay close to my child in his state of sin.  There is a greater chance of being invited into his struggles.  Our children are more likely to let us in when we have learned to let go.