life in christ

The Vampire Finch is Landing

This is the code name I’ve given my mother-in-law. Vampire finches are a subspecies of ground finches that live in the Galapagos Islands and are known for poking holes in other birds and drinking blood from the wounds. They do eat other things, but these innocuous looking birds will actually draw blood in order to ingest it. This feels like my mother-in-law. She doesn’t appear to be unstable or cruel or mentally ill. She’s this older woman who has a great laugh and who looks delicate, almost frail. Tired. She has a sense of humor that starts funny but turns biting and if you’re not looking, you don’t see her slip into a waif-like persona that draws people in to her world like flies to honey.

I’m not trying to demonize her because I have a poor relationship with her. She is a borderline personality and if you’ve ever lived with a borderline, you know they can suck the life right out of you if you let them. There is a borderline fantasy of complete and utter attachment, of two people merging to become one entity. I have seen this in action with her children. And I have seen my husband subconsciously fight this merger. His independence actually works to his advantage.

My mother-in-law does not like me. Some of this stems back to a huge disagreement we had years ago that I have since confessed and sought forgiveness for. Some of this is because I see through her and have seen the truth of the spiritual miasma that is part of the borderline. There is something else with her all the time, and I pray for it to be leashed and muzzled and like Gandolf, I draw a line in the sand that this spiritual ooze will not cross. I will not have my privacy disregarded any more. My space, time, and belongings will not be used without my permission. And I will fight for my husband so he can be brought out from under the yoke of being the son of a borderline mother who is not under the care of a mental health professional and who appears to want nothing more than to keep him her little boy at her beck and call.

She called this morning and is on her way to our city. She has other family in this city – another son, some step children. She has friends here. But…she calls my husband first. Some might think this is a compliment. It’s not. It’s difficult to explain, but trust me, it’s not. This is an out of the blue request. She was going to be in town next week and she had made plans to stay with someone else while she was here. However, this morning she called while she was on the road. Driving from half a continent away to here. Asking to stay overnight with us. Complaining of an ailment. Coming from somewhere that is not her home and coming ahead of schedule. Way ahead of schedule. No other explanation given except she wants to go to Urgent Care when she gets here.

I have a bad feeling about this. Not that she will be in our home. The Holy Spirit resides in my home and my home, the people in it, they will be safe from harm. I have a bad feeling because my mother-in-law has made a male friend over the internet and I think she was visiting him and something went very wrong. I have a bad feeling because what went wrong may be twisted in the mire of her expectations and the truth may be difficult to tease out. I have a bad feeling because even should this be an awful crisis, she carries around with her generational sin and curses and these are nasty and made stronger through her pain. I have a bad feeling because in crisis, she has this way of sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to help her. It’s her nature. Much like the vampire finch. It’s not an evil bird, it’s simply evolved to nip at other birds and drink blood from the ensuing wounds. My mother-in-law isn’t evil. She has an untreated mental illness and is bound up in generational sin and spiritual oppression.

So, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. For the truth to be revealed. I pray for compassion and for boundaries. I pray for protection – mine, my husbands, my mother-in-law. I pray for that which is oppressing her to be muzzled and leashed while in my home. And I pray for healing. I pray for an absence of fear.

As I have been praying, one of my inheritance words has been rolling around in my brain so I claim this promise as well. For my mother-in-law, for my husband, for myself.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

~ Isaiah 41:10

 

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Faith and Works and Ramblings

There was a huge thunderstorm on Sunday so instead of going out and taking care of the yard, my husband and I spent the afternoon snuggling in front of the TV catching up on some of the television shows we’ve accumulated on our DVR. If you’ve read my previous post you know my husband is a task oriented man. Taking a day off of doing in order to exist and relax may not seem like a huge deal to you, but for him, it’s a monumental accomplishment. I swear, he does not feel like he’s worthy of being called an adult if he’s not doing something at all times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people become focused on doing instead of balancing that with being. Some people call it the Martha and Mary syndrome. Others call it being an adult. Yes, we must do things so our bills are paid, so our homes are not hovels,  and so we contribute to the good of our families and communities. I’m not suggesting we stop doing everything right now and lock ourselves away in meditation rooms so we can commune with the Holy Spirit 24/7.  What I am suggesting is that somewhere along the line, many people of faith have bought into the lie of a religious spirit and have started to equate doing with salvation and identity in Christ. That they must work for happiness, or at the very least for the worthiness of being happy.

There is this thing Claire and I discuss, sometimes tongue in cheek, called the protestant work ethic. We live in a part of the world where this is alive and well. Basically, it’s taking James chapter 2 to an extreme and equating my salvation, my faith with works.

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

One of my aunts had a working goat farm. Her family raised goats for milk and meat. They also raised Angora goats for the hair. My favorite time to visit was spring when there were baby goats. The babies would scamper and skip and prance. They were a joy to watch and in my young mind, nothing in life beat time spent with a fun-loving baby goat. Not even the chores necessary to keep the babies happy and healthy were a burden to me. I would feed them, clean their hooves, clean their pens. It didn’t matter if it was the ass crack of dawn or evening, I was there with pleasure taking care of the baby goats who gave me such joy.

My cousins couldn’t understand my willingness to assist with the chores. For some of  them, it was a drudgery. They were expected to get up before breakfast to milk and feed the goats. After school, there were more goat related chores. It didn’t end for them until the evening, when the goats were herded into their pens for the night. This was their life, day in and day out. One cousin told me that he thought the reason his parents had children was to have free labor. He felt his parents put the workings of the farm ahead of him. He was also ashamed of how his family lived. This was a farm. No matter how hard one would try, the house would smell like goat. There wasn’t money for name brand clothing. Or for long vacations. Who would watch the goats?

My cousin confided in me that he felt he wasn’t worthy of his parents’ love. He was not going to follow in their footsteps and had informed them on several occasions that as soon as he could, he was out of there, living a life in the city. And he did. But he mistook the look on his parents’ faces for judgement instead of the grief and pride parents feel when their children grow up and go on to do the things they are called in life to do.

I think we often look at God the way my cousin looked at his parents. We read the bible and we hear in sermons that we are here to work. Doesn’t the bible tell us that the fields are ready for reaping? Didn’t Paul and Peter and the apostles go out and do great things? Didn’t James write that faith without works is dead?

So we work harder and we rely on our own strength. We get tired, we burn out. But we don’t stop. Our Father will be very disappointed in us if we take that break we need. And if we want to be worthy of heaven, we work harder – we volunteer at church for committees and bible studies and work projects. We go on mission trips, or guiltily throw money at others who are doing the work we feel we should be doing. We work hard at having a good reputation and “living Christ” for everyone we meet. We pour our efforts into working hard at our professions, in our homes, at church. And we lose so much along the way.

We work to obtain what God has given us so freely – His favor. His blessing. It’s funny, but I often think we work because we don’t believe God’s promises. Or because we don’t believe He is here, present and active in our lives. How many of us picture God up there in Heaven, distant and uncaring? No wonder we work so hard at earning our way!

Hey, there God, look at me! Look at what I’ve done! I go to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I bring my family. I teach Sunday School and I mentor young women. I give 20% of my earnings to the church and mission organizations. I volunteer at the homeless shelter. I have a fish bumper sticker on my car and I talk about you to everyone I meet. Aren’t I doing a great job? Oh, and I have instilled a strong work ethic in my children. You know, idle hands are the devil’s tools. We have chore charts and memory verses and they are in all these programs to keep them busy. We have filled our lives with doing all these things to honor You. Do you love me enough now? Or do I need to do more?

I’m reminded of the Greek and Roman mythologies, of gods who are mercurial and capricious, and who demanded every sacrifice from their people. If there was one misstep, one threat of insult from those people, the wrath of the gods would our down on them, in some cases destroying them. I fear this is how too many people see God. They see wrath and vengeance and capriciousness and fear that at any time He could destroy their lives. So we must be on our best behavior and work very hard to be pleasing in His sight.

But God isn’t like that, people! He’s not. I haven’t studied James in depth, but I believe what he’s saying here is that faith isn’t just belief. Even the demons believe in God. Faith proves out by what we do and who we are. If you look at the beginning of the passage about works, you see James writing about seeing someone in need and walking past them telling them to be blessed. If I believe that God has blessed me and has compassion for me, why would I in turn walk away from someone I know who is in need? Why would I not look for a way to ease that need? If I am living in relationship to God and have my arms open to receive his favor and blessing, why would I not allow that to pour out onto others in my life? Why would I horde it? I think this is what James was speaking about. Our faith, what we truly believe, is lived out in the actions of our lives. It’s not about doing more or working harder. It’s about authenticity in faith and identity and letting the spill out to the world around us.

I could be wrong. I’m not a bible scholar. But I think of the difference in my experience with the goats and my cousin’s. I took care of them out of joy and, yes, novelty. But it was a joy to care for them when I would visit in the spring. My cousin did so out of duty. There was no joy, only heaviness and resentment. I took care of the goats so I could get to know them and enjoy being with them. He took care of them because it was expected.

Then I think of what I’m learning about relationship and God. I don’t need to work to be worthy of His love. I already am. I don’t need to strive to live a faithful life. I need to receive from God, to stand between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in first love, and that will pour out as a blessing to those around me in all I say and do. The “works” in my life, that’s a result of the relationship. And it will never be a drudgery because I have to. It will be a joy because I get to. Because of my relationship with God.

I hope my husband can come to learn that. It was wonderful and refreshing to watch him rest and relax and learn to be himself. Even if just for a little while.

We Can Work It Out

I am a recovering performance-aholic. Having grown up in the Evangelical church, raised in a work obsessed North America, and having done a stint in a religious focused college, it’s not surprising that performance became the foundation of my spiritual journey. In recent years I’ve come to discover that God doesn’t care about our performance. God loves us on our good days and God loves us just the same on our bad days. God doesn’t change. His love for us is just as potent, just as full and real today as it was  yesterday and as it will be ten years from now. His love is not based on what we do or even how we do it. It’s based on our position in Christ. This is a heady concept to grasp.

While I am sure I heard snippets about this concept through out my 40+ years, it didn’t start to really sink in until my first Graham Cooke conference in 2011. Graham was speaking on favor, a topic I’m still unpacking, and the Holy Spirit took the opportunity to niggle my mind and spirit and start to whisper truth to me. I wonder why he didn’t just hit me over the head with the truth, it would have taken less time. I’m a slow learner. I wish I could say I took what the Holy Spirit was showing me and ran with it. Alas, I did not. Claire can attest to this. I’m sure I drove her crazy at times with my bull-headed and stubborn clinging to performance based christianity. I’m blessed with a patient friend and mentor.

The shift from performance to position happened gradually. I started to hear sermons at church and performance based language started to stand out to me. I started to become uncomfortable with the “make hay while the sun shines” and “be strong and do the work” messages I was hearing from church, from a money management class we were teaching, and from my husband. On of the strongest voices of the performance message is indeed my man. It’s how he was raised. It’s embedded in his work ethic and his spiritual world view. He would say it’s who he is, but I’ve come to learn that’s a lie.

Performance is all about working to be worthy of favor. It’s about proving I am worthy of God’s love, of blessing, of heaven. And it’s a heavy millstone around the necks of christians everywhere because it’s a lie. We can’t work our way into heaven. We can’t please our heavenly Father enough that He will overlook our sinful nature and grant us salvation. We can’t buy our way into forgiveness. We can’t continue to nail ourselves to the cross because, you know what? Jesus already did that.

It’s okay to work hard. I’m not trying to knock a strong work ethic. But we need to remember the Mary to our Martha. There is work to do, and God does want us to live out the life He has put before us. Part of that is being. Abiding. Relationship. Mary showed us about relationship. And this, my friends, is where God wants to bring us. Into relationship with him. Performance based faith tells us to do. God wants us to be with Him.

God wants to have a relationship with us. How…different. I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot lately. One of the most precious relationships I have is strained. It’s broken in ways I don’t know how to fix. This brokenness is illuminating to me just how much God wants to be for me. He wants to expand within me and fill the hurting places in my life. He wants to comfort me, rejoice with me. He wants to be my hiding place. He wants to fill me with passion and give me impossible dreams that He will fulfill. He wants me to live my life in outrageous joy. And He will do whatever it takes to get me there. He’s tenacious. He loves me. Me. With all my warts and faults. Why? Because He doesn’t see me the way I see me. He sees his perfect creation, covered in Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary. He sees me through the eyes of Heaven.

I can’t get all of that from working harder. The working out of my salvation, it’s not going to speed up if I do more. My faith, it’s not going to grow larger if I lead more people to Christ, join more committees at church, attend or lead more Bible studies or memorize more scripture. My life isn’t going to right itself if I do more at home or at work. God’s love and delight in me isn’t based on outcomes.

I have wondered why more people don’t seek out an actual relationship with God. And then I recall the God of my childhood and the performance based christianity I lived under for years. Why would anyone want a relationship with a God who is fickle and will only deign to love us if we sacrifice ourselves over and over again on the altar of works?  But, if we know God would love us no matter what we did or who we believed ourselves to be, wouldn’t we want to get to know Him? A God who delights in us and sees us who He has declared us to be in Heaven, that’s a God I want to spend time with.

I am still recovering from my performance based upbringing. And I’m praying the Holy Spirit reaches out to my husband and shows him just how much God delights in him.  He’s burning out from performance expectations – internal and external. And I’m praying to learn to abide. It’s a dangerous prayer, but one I must pray. If I am actually going live the prophetic, I must learn to abide in relationship with God. Everything with God is relational, and that includes the prophetic. Without relationship, without compassion, all I am is a chaotic noise that is adding to the problem, not the solution. Besides, isn’t a deep and abiding relationship with the God of the universe is a beautiful thing?

I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down

I was anticipating an opportunity to practice love with boundaries this week with a visit from my MIL. We knew she was planning on coming to town over her spring break (she teaches at a community college down South). We had discussed whether to invite her to stay with us or not, and to make a long story short, because my husband does love his mom and want to spend time with her, and because he feels a strong sense of family obligation, he wanted to extend the invitation. I was less excited about this proposition but after prayer, felt the Holy Spirit tell me to say yes. That in order for the family to truly understand her mental illness and how it impacts their lives, they need to see her. Truly see her.

So, we extended and invitation when she requested to spend a portion of her stay with us. I was cleaning like a mad woman, knowing that while she is here, she wouldn’t say anything about my particular brand of housekeeping but she would judge it nonetheless in looks and sideways digs. Never in front of her son. Always in front of me, or directly to other people who she knows will repeat her words back to me.

How difficult it is to see someone like this through the eyes of love. Or to treat someone with compassion and gentleness when they treat you in the opposite spirit. As I cleaned, I started to feel dread bubble up within me. Scenarios based on past experiences played themselves over and over in my mind and I started to feel paralyzed. My eyes, they weren’t on Jesus. They weren’t on who I am in Christ. They were on the dread I felt every other time my MIL visited in the last twenty years. I forgot about the freedom I have in dwelling within Christ.

I cried out to God in that moment. I couldn’t live in a world of what if. I couldn’t walk on eggshells in my own house just because my borderline MIL was here. I couldn’t live through another visit where I felt like we were playing tug-of-war with my husband, his mother against me, may the best woman win. I couldn’t handle being reminded in direct and indirect ways that I was a disappointment of a daughter-in-law. And I couldn’t extend grace I didn’t feel. So I prayed. I asked God to stand before me. To protect me where my husband either could not or would not. To expand in me enough to fill the hurting, betrayed places and to start to heal them. To give me a vision of my MIL, something to help me see her not with my own judgement, but how He sees her. I asked that the words of judgement be left outside the door. Not just her words, but mine as well.

I don’t know how God is going to ultimately answer that prayer. You see, my MIL decided at the last minute she would stay down South for her spring break. The relief I feel is almost a living thing, beating strong and bright in my body. She’s not coming. I have a reprieve.

But the issues, they remain. Even if my MIL is out of sight, the issues she represents are not out of mind. Nor should they be. You see, while my MIL is a source of pain in my life, she is but a symptom. The real issue is within my marriage – which is another post or series of posts entirely.  It doesn’t take one gifted in the prophetic to see that when we don’t see an issue in our lives, over time God will use different messengers to illuminate the issue until we can’t ignore it anymore.

This isn’t God’s way of shaming us or being the cruel man up in the throne room of Heaven. God doesn’t shame. God doesn’t want us to live in situations that are hurting us, either. How He is going to resolve the situations and behaviors that are damaging to our growth and well-being, that will be unique for everyone. But I know in my heart of hearts, He doesn’t want me to live in fear and pain. He doesn’t want me to see myself as undervalued and less. He doesn’t want me to continue to live in the old nature, the nature that died on Calvary.

My MIL, she reminds me of who I was, and I forget

 “This is why we are not to be caught out dealing with the old nature. We are not pastoring someone who God has already deemed to be dead (Romans 6:11). That would be like babysitting a corpse! “If we have died with HIm we believe that we will live also with Him” (Romans 6:8). We are walking in newness of life learning to be alive only to God (Romans 6). We are therefore not declaring what we are not, but proclaiming who we are in Jesus. No one can be ordinary when they are in Jesus. It is not allowed. Heaven comes to us because of our placement in Jesus, not because of our performance as believers.” ~ Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

So, my MIL is not coming to visit but the issues her presence, or the threat promise of her presence, those remain. And I give them power because I declare who I am not, rather than who I am.

“Take a few moments to really imagine what it feels like to have Jesus reside in you. Ask for his perspective on that part of your life that needs an upgrade. Ask Him to show you what He is seeing and thinking about you in Him. Relax into a place of thanks and rejoice in His presence.”–Keys to Brilliant Focus, Graham Cooke

Jesus will answer my prayer, to expand within me, to stand for me. He’s reminded me that my MIL is not the enemy. He’s reminded me that my marriage is a three-way partnership and that if any part of this relationship is neglected for too long, the foundation will do more than crack. But He’s also reminded me that He holds great things for me, for my husband, and yes, for my MIL. To see that, I need to find that place of thanks and rejoicing. That upgrade. That future. No more focusing on what was. How simple. How difficult. How very much like God.

Just The Way You Are

Sometimes God talks to me through my radio. I know that sounds strange and may have you running for the hills, wondering if I’m unbalanced or mentally ill. I get it. I know how that statement sounds. God, speaking through the radio? Seriously? Does he, like, take over the airwaves and speak to you? What happens if you change the station? Honestly, do other people hear him when he “talks” through the radio?

I see how this can look like I’m living under a grand delusion. Let me reassure you, it’s not like a voice starts to talk to me over the airwaves. It’s more that God knows a message I need to hear and He shares that message through a particular song that is playing on the radio at a particular time. This has happened to me on several occasions that when I start the car and turn on the radio, the same song will be playing. Or I’ll be driving along feeling really crappy about myself or my circumstances and I turn the station from talk radio to music and a random but totally appropriate song is there, revealing to me something about God’s character or about how God sees me.

Along with my identity issues, I have an image problem. I look at myself and I don’t see a beautiful woman. I often see someone who is overweight, plain and unremarkable. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way about myself. Many people, especially women, have body image issues. It’s epidemic and it’s so very sad. This is not how God sees us. He doesn’t create unremarkable. He doesn’t care what the current fashion is or how the world sees us. He looks at me and He sees a woman who is beautiful, who is talented, who has a great laugh, gorgeous eyes. He sees Himself in me, and God loves Himself completely. He can’t love me any less. He can’t see me as anything less.

I was feeling rather down about myself, feeling ugly inside and out, so much so that as I was driving to work I was crying. I forget the reasons why, I only remember swiping tears from my cheeks as I drove toward work, wondering if I had anything in my handbag that would allow me to mask the redness that would surely be in my eyes. There was a stupid commercial on the talk radio station I usually listen to during my commute, so I changed the station rather than endure the commercial break. Then God’s message to me poured out of the radio through the unlikely voice of Bruno Mars.

Her eyes, her eyes, they make the stars look like they’re not shining…

I remember I continued crying, so hard in fact I had to take an exit ramp and pull off the highway to a parking lot while the song continued to play. God was telling me that He loves me. He was telling me how He saw me. He was reminding me that I am amazing. Loved. Beloved. I felt touched in a way I hadn’t before. I felt humbled, and I also felt cherished. I hadn’t felt cherished in a long, long time.

I know, I know, when I compliment her she won’t believe me
And it’s so, it’s so sad to think that she don’t see what I see
But every time she asks me, “Do I look okay?” I say…

For a month, this song would be playing every time I turned on the radio. Every. Single. Time. I could be at home, in the car, or at work, and there it would be. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Sure, it was a popular song and received more than it’s share of airtime, but really, what are the odds that song would play every time I turned on the radio? No matter what time of day or day of the week? God was making sure I understood how He feels about me.

When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, because you’re amazing just  the way you are. When you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while, cuz girl you’re amazing just the way you are

~from “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars

Does this mean there aren’t things about my character that need to grow and develop? Or that God won’t touch parts of my life and tell me, “Now, let’s look at this, shall we? Is this in line with your identity?” No, He will still do those things. He sees me as I am in heaven and He’s working with me to become that person in the here and now. But I needed to know and believe that God loves me with great abandon and that I am beautiful. Loved. Beloved. Cherished.

God was using popular music to help change the narrative in my head. I can’t help but smile now when I hear that song and know God is so happy with me. I don’t see myself as beautiful all the time. I’m still learning about my true identity and I’m still becoming who I am in heaven. Now, through that song, I have another piece of the picture of my present future self, a piece I didn’t have before.

Isn’t it amazing the lengths God will go through to show us who we are to Him? Nothing is beyond His reach. Nothing.