Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Faith Feels Like

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I've just finished the first book of Chronicles.  I have found it quite tedious.  I'm fighting with all my might not be be like, "Yeah, yeah...I know all these stories!"

Do I really need to know who begat who? Is there going to be a pop quiz when I get to heaven?

And just when this feeling of arrogance had reached it's zenith, God came and pricked my bubble ever so gently and sent me reeling. 

I found a story about David that I don't remember reading in the books of Samuel. I say I don't remember reading it because maybe I did and it fell out of my brain and landed on the floor with a splat!  But God knew I needed to hear it so it jumped off the page and into my eyeballs.  It was tucked away between genealogy lists and job titles. 

In this little story God becomes angry with David because he decided to take a census of his military.  He didn't do it because the paper-pushers in Jerusalem needed up-to-date paperwork or because of any other reasonable cause.  No, he did it because he wanted to count out how awesome he had become.  Back then, Kings measured their worth by their military and since David had a pretty bangin' military he wanted to line them up and count 'em so he could feel strong and superior.

He wanted his main man Joab to come back with a report of thousands upon thousands so that he could stand tall and say, "I am awesome sauce!"

And God wasn't cool with this because of course David wasn't awesome, God was.  David wasn't the one who was securing victory, God was.  And David was starting to rely on himself more than God.

Oops.  Sound familiar?

Sorry God.  My bad!

There is a pocket of existence in which we should strive to live and that place is where we depend solely on God while being active in our faith. Any slight turn either way from this place is not healthy.  It's that great dilemma Jimmy pointed out when he said that faith without action is dead. Of course the flip side to that coin is that I have a tendency to put my hand in God's face and say, "Babe, I got this!"  By the way, if you've figured out how to remain in this balanced sweet spot of dependence and action for more than five minutes at a time, please email me with instructions because I just can't seem to keep hold of it.

This scripture was just another reminder that I've got to keep trying, constantly checking myself because I'm prone to veer into a ditch.

I wish I could say that God slapped David on the wrist and put him straight but that didn't happen.  Instead, God cut David off at the knee, literally crippling him for a long while when he gave him three choices as a consequence for his disobedience.  At David's choosing, God ended up destroying David's army and making him temporarily weak.

God has a way of knocking me to my knees as well.  Always in a loving way of course.  More and more I'm learning not what I should do but what I shouldn't do!  You know that feeling you get when all seems right, like things are going well and everything seems in place and you take a deep breath and feel all is good with the world?  Yeah...RUN from that feeling!

Run fast!

That feeling, when it comes from having enough money or just the right friends or pat on the back from someone or anything short of God himself, is a problem.  I'm slowly learning this.  I've spent my life running towards that feeling. It's clean, crisp and comfortable and I WANT IT!! 

As you probably already know, that feeling is fleeting.  There is never enough money, the house always falls apart, something goes wrong, things don't work out.  When we count our armies and feel proud of ourselves, God cuts them down.

The alternative is for me to find that security in Him alone and I'm still getting used to the feeling of it all.  The water is cold here and I'm not totally used to how it feels but I know I will adjust. 

It's so hard to imagine how everything can be falling apart around me and I'll still be able to take a deep breath and feel at peace. It's like walking in the dark, unsure whether there is secure ground under each step.  Scary!  Yet, I know it's possible.  I've experienced it first hand.

Last summer my family and I traveled to Chicago and stood at the top of the Willis Tower which has these four foot glass boxes that hang off the side of the building.  You can see over 100 stories down to the street through the glass floor and standing on those things made my stomach turn.  I got dizzy and flushed even though the attendant assured me that they could withstand over four tons of weight.

It made me terribly squirrely.

That's the feeling I should be striving for, that scary, turn my stomach, heart beating fast, flushed with sweat, breathing hard kind of feeling because that's what faith feels like.  That's what dependence feels like.  That's what surrender feels like and that's the sweet spot.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Shaky Spiritual Muscles

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I started an exercise routine.  It's laborious and tedious...yet totally necessary.  I'm no longer in the business of dieting for vanity.  I believe that when a woman reaches a certain age, she says, "I just want to feel good!" And that's just a good a motivator as any!

I want to feel strong and energetic and really, I don't want to creak more than my bed when I get up in the morning.  So here I am, breaking a sweat.  The squats are just miserable but my butt is feeling confident and looking at itself in the mirror and saying, "how you doin'?"

I went with something called Daily Burn. Mostly because they gave me a free trial and I figured why not.  Also, I was pleasantly surprised, when I did the first workout, to find out that in the beginner series of which I'm a part of, that the people working out are fat like me.  These are my sweaty, groany, wheezy people.

We squat.  We lunge.  We stretch.  I'm part of their team now and I look forward to our morning time together!

In one of the videos our instructor Justin says, "if you feel like you're starting to shake that's good, that's the change!"

As I pressed my triceps toward full blown collapse I embraced the shake, that feeling that I was going to give out at any second and tried to be inspired by Justin's words.  We only shake when we are pushing ourselves outside of our limits and each time we do these things we get stronger and stronger.

It's expected that we push ourselves physically so that we can be strong and fit.  Any trainer would tell you that you need to work hard and dig a little deeper each time you come to the mat.  I'm finding that the same is true spiritually.

Just as it's easy to pick the couch instead of the gym, it's easy to get spiritually out of shape, to pick the TV instead of the bible, to pick the peaceful quiet of solitude instead of the bustling madness of opening one's home to a mass of people.  We miss a day and then a few weeks of working out our spiritual muscles and before we know it, we get winded when He calls upon us to run towards him.

We should be challenged all the time, shaking and out of breath because we are living that hard for Him.

Am I living  a life in which I feel shaky because my spiritual muscles are being worked hard?  Or am I too comfortable? Am I giving of my time to a point where I feel a little strain?  Am I loving that way?

There are so many places where I can do better!

Still, there are areas where I'm headed in the right direction.  For example, Hal and I are hosting a life group beginning in a few weeks.  Traditionally life groups in our church have been study focused and I've expressed my disappointment with that.  Not that I don't think study is important, I just feel that too often we get together and express our fake lives instead of what's really boiling under the surface. 

With that in mind we wanted to provide a place where people can let it all hang out. What happens when Christians stop being polite and being real?  A sort of "Real World" Zion edition.

We will build friendships and invest in each others lives.  We'll get messy and all of that is wonderful but it means that we will be all up in each other's business and if I'm honest, I'm not 100% comfortable with that.  I'd much rather spend my evenings laying on the couch and falling asleep to re-runs of "How It's Made."

The idea of connecting and spending time together sounds wonderful until I'm pushed outside of my desire to be lazy and then it's not so fun anymore.  So...we'll see how it goes.  Seeing as how this will be going down at my house every week I won't have much of a choice to show up.  Someone will be at my door whether I like it or not.  In this way, I'll definitely feel the stretch. 

At first it will almost feel good, sort of like that first set of jumping jacks that feel fun and freeing.  I'll be all, "I love these people!"  Then stuff will get real and feelings will get hurt and someone will be insufferable and I'll roll my eyes, stick out my tongue and say, "Dude, this is SO not worth it!"    We'll see what happens when I get to round 3, when my spiritual muscles are aching and I'm sweating profusely.  I suppose that's when my true character will shine through.

It'll be good for me.  So will adding a volunteer gig and a morning bible study and getting up early to take care of my body and spirit and eeking out opportunities to teach the kids about Christ and praying without ceasing and showing up to church early so I can help greet others and sitting my butt in the chair and writing what I know what I'm supposed to write even though all I want to do is run away from it. 

All of it will be an exhausting whirlwind and it will push me in ways that will leave my heart beating fast and my lungs out of breath.  I'll just be a sweaty mess.  But it'll be so worth it!

I'm reading a book that says, "I think this is what we're supposed to look like when we stand before Jesus.  I don't think we're supposed to show up in glory with time to spare, a fresh manicure and perfect hair.  I think if we're really living the gospel, we're going to fall at His feet exhausted and messy, with mismatched socks, just plumb worn out from loving people as hard as we can!"


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fourth Essential Prayer

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Anne Lamott says that when it comes to prayer, it's best to keep it simple.  It's best to say, "Thanks!", "Help!", "Wow!", each one bringing us to a place of utter humility where we come out of ourselves for just long enough to realize that the earth does not revolve around us.

But she says there is also another essential prayer.  "Ok!"

"Ok" might be one of the hardest prayers because unlike all the rest of the essential prayers, it calls us to action.  We say "Ok" and  accept that we aren't going to get our way, that our beloved person or pet won't return from their death.  We have to forgive someone who doesn't deserve it.  We need to get up out of our big, squishy comfort zone and do something that makes our heart race and sweat start to pool in embarrassingly conspicuous places.

"Ok" is what people say before they board a 21 hour flight to Asia to do what they can, anything, for sex slaves.  It's what they say when they give up their lives in the states to live in Africa and adopt a dozen girls.

It's what we say to the big stuff but also what we say to the little stuff as well, the stuff that while not as exotic, is often times equally as hard if not harder.

"Ok", I'll give up my day to help someone.  I'll put the last $100 in the tithe basket.  I'll go to church even though all I want to do is roll around in these cool sheets and drool on my pillow!

This week God asked me to face ugliness about myself.  I tried to run from it because, let's face it, that's the easy thing to do!  But he just wouldn't let it go! You see, I'd had a terrible attitude and had been unkind, even hateful to someone.

I wish I could say why.  I would totally explain it if I understood it at all.  The best I can say is that I was being selfish, that I could only see things my way, that I allowed myself to indulge in thoughts that centered only around what I needed and wanted.  I basically acted like a spoiled brat.

God nagged at me though, like stood over me with his hands folded while tapping his feet and giving me "the look", the one that says, "c'mon know what you have to do."

So I apologized and that's always horrible.  Taking responsibility is not fun.  Hearing negative things about myself is not a joy ride.

C.S. Lewis said, "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

I'd been the opposite of humble for these past few weeks.  In fact, I'd been downright prideful!  If Lewis' quote is correct then I can infer that pride is not thinking more of myself, it's thinking of myself more!  And that's exactly what I'd done.

I had to rein myself in and say, "this is all very, very wrong.  Let me start over here, hands and knees on the ground so that  I can get a little perspective and only see the dust I came from and realize how in the grand scheme of things, I'm so very small.

Humility is a hard thing to live out because we live in a world that shouts catch phrases like, "You're worth it" and "Have it your way!"  I am worth a lot but I'm certainly not worth more than anyone else.  And while I want to have it my way, everyday, that isn't the life I've vowed to live.  It's really inconvenient to die to myself when I'm trying to have it my way!

Being an asshat is easy.  Following God? Not so much!

What I'm learning is that the only thing I can control is my actions.  Damn it, I hate that.  I don't control anyone else or any situation and I have to be okay with that.  In the midst of my growing up and realizing that the universe does not in fact exist to suit me, I have to put on my big girl pants and take control of myself.  Sometimes I'll do things right and other times I'll do things wrong and when I do the bad stuff, the only thing I can do is own up to it and ask for forgiveness.

That's it.

Sometimes I'll be forgiven and sometimes I won't.  If being a screw up helps me at all, it does so by teaching me to be understanding when someone else goes bonkers and acts like a weirdo too. This week I've prayed all the essential prayers.

"Thanks" for friends who are amazing, who have this miraculous ability to love and forgive me even when I'm acting totally unlovable and unforgivable.

"Help" because I've really messed things up!

"Wow", for beautiful days and butterfly kisses from seven year old eyelashes and facetime connections that don't cut out and that extra long hug that leaves me covered in the scent of that amazing woman I love and perfect words at the perfect time.

"Ok", I don't really have it all together. I mostly don't know what I'm doing and I need to admit that, like shout it across the internets lest someone think that it's all unicorns and rainbows over here, that while there are sunny days on the sand where I'm kissed by the sun, there are also rainy, stormy days in the trenches where I'm eaten alive by ravenous bugs.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Holy Cow, We're Debt Free (And by the way, so are you!)

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This morning I read an article by Crystal Paine, a blogger otherwise known as "The Money Saving Mom."  In a several part series, she shared the inspirational story of how she and her husband, both who are completely devoted to the idea of living completely debt free, pinched pennies and lived years of sacrifice in order to be able to pay for their starter home in cash.

And they did it!  She described the moment they walked into their new home and how satisfying it was to claim this space knowing how much work, focus and selflessness it took to get to that point.

I would love to get to that point as well, to pay off our house and be completely debt free.  It's such a dream to be completely without the weight of owing something.  We're on our way!  We've paid off our vehicles, are this close to paying off student loans and having no credit cards either.  But it's terribly hard when unexpected expenses crop up.  It can be overwhelming.

It made me think about the overwhelming amount of debt I owe for my sins, for that which I could never pay for if I lived to be 200 years old and worked 24 hours a day without rest.  I know this is hard for many people to understand. Honestly, it's even hard for me to understand as well.  All I know for sure is that I am not without failure.  I know for sure that I cannot live a perfect life.  I am going to hurt people or say or do or think the wrong thing.  I will have attitude problems and fall into apathy.

There are a million ways to screw up but even if I focused on just those top ten, I'd still fail everyday.  I don't always put God first, I still covet, I still lie...mostly to myself, about what I can get done and how important my needs are!

I know that I could never be without flaw and so by default that I'd have a mountain of debt if it weren't for what Jesus did for me when he got nailed to that piece of wood.

He was beaten, kicked, spit on, gouged, pierced, humiliated and murdered.  "It is finished," he said with his last breath.  He said this in Greek with one word, "Tetelestai."  Incidentally, "Tetelestai" is what people at that time used to stamp on loan notes when the debt had been cancelled. The literal meaning of it is "Paid In Full."

That's what I am, what that debt that I rack up daily is every single morning, paid in full.

And so why is it that I often live as though I still owe so much? Why do I often feel the weight of my debt on my shoulders?  I still try to make payments on something that was paid before I was ever born.  It would be as if Hal and I do finally pay off that last mortgage payment and receive a statement with a big fat zero due balance and then try to continue to make payments.

We shouldn't try to keep paying what we don't owe!

I can't pay for my covetousness.  I can't pay for my apathy.  I can't pay for the lies I tell myself or others.  The best I can do is be grateful that my statement shows a zero balance every morning, that I can walk into the world unburdened, shoulders unweighted.

I don't owe anything.  And neither do you.

You don't have to make any escrow payments.  You don't have any late fees.  You don't have a balance owed.  You are debt free!

I hope I do achieve our goals of living debt free in terms of money but I do know that today I can start living in the reality that all of my sins are forgiven!