spirituality

Knowing and Believing

For years God has been trying to get my attention regarding some specific weeds that are choking the life out of my spiritual garden. For years I’ve either dismissed Him or haven’t been listening for Him, and the weeds have been allowed to continue to grow and flourish. But God is full of second, third, tenth chances and this time I heard the message loud and clear. Maybe it’s because Claire and I spent some time last year doing some work that humbled me while at the same time preparing the ground. Maybe it’s because I’m not currently working and have nothing but time right now to talk with God. Maybe it’s also because God has a quirky sense of humor and decided to use a deceptively simple line of dialogue from one of my favorite fictional novels to drive His point home. Either way, as I was laying in bed rereading some of my favorite scenes, this line set off a clanging in my head complete with noisemakers and flashing lights.

Knowing isn’t always believing.

Deceptively simple, isn’t it? In the context of the story, the line is meant to point out that knowing something intellectually doesn’t equate believing it, of trusting it to be true. In the case of the book, the heroine knows she wasn’t responsible for the death of her fiancè, even believes it most of the time. She knows she doesn’t have to carry her burden alone, doesn’t need to protect her loved ones and friends from the trauma of her life, but her current actions point to knowledge with a lack of belief. Knowing without believing.

As I was reading this exchange, the proverbial light bulb when on in my head – I know many things about God, about His nature, about what He says He wants for us and His immense love for us. I know about the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. I KNOW and I fully believe this deep love of God, the relationship with the Holy Spirit, the redemptive love of Jesus…for other people. I only believe some of it for me. When I told Claire of my revelation, one I’m sure she had already deduced, she asked me one question that I’m still mulling. Do I know why I don’t have expectation?

What a good question. I’ve been sitting on that question for a long while and all I can think of is that deep down I’m not sure I’m worthy. And deeper down I’m afraid that all this goodness of God will be snatched away and I will be left broken and bleeding, alone and cold and that voice in my head that tells me that people like me, people from my family, good things just don’t happen for us, that this voice will be right. I’m not at the bottom of why I don’t have these expectations. There’s something else there, something that flirts with the edges of my conscious mind and disappears when I try to focus on it. The thing is, now I’m angry. I should be able to expect good things. God didn’t say He loved only some people. He loves the world. Every. Damn. One. Of. Us. Just look at the oft quoted verse that we all love for it’s validation that we are special to God but seem to forget when we interact with Him and with everyone else.

God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.John 3:16, Amplified Bible (AMP)

If this love is mine, why shouldn’t I have expectations of God? Why shouldn’t I want something different, something more from my life? Why should I simply know and not believe? Claire once told me that she holds God to His promises. She actively reminds Him of what He promised and let’s Him know in no uncertain terms that she EXPECTS Him to fulfill them. She may not know what that fulfillment looks like, but God promised and He must follow through.

I admire that in Claire. That chutzpah. I have stood before God and held Him to the promises He has made other people. I haven’t done that for myself. It never felt right before, but lately knowledge and belief have been merging. My husband and I spent a long weekend at a lake a few hours from our home. While he was out chopping firewood,  I stood at the water’s edge and I argued with God. At first, tentatively. Who was I to engage the Creator of the Universe in such an irreverent way? I’m His daughter, that’s who. And daughters argue with fathers, even while they love and adore them. My conversation became more intense. I reminded God of some of the promises He spoke to me. I told Him I didn’t see the outcome of these promises in my life. I demanded He remember these promises, the same way He remembered His promises to Israel. I have been trying to uphold my part, now I need to see Him uphold His. I expect Him to uphold His.

I don’t know what my future will look like. But I know, I believe it has to be better than it is now. I have an expectation.

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Who Needs Sleep?

I can’t sleep. I would love to blame this on my husband’s propensity to snore, but alas, this is not the case for tonight. My mind is full of other things. Not spinning out of control in a spiral of self-doubt as I am wont to do. No, I’m reflecting on my experiences over the last few weeks, encounters I have had with a woman who is called to spiritual warfare. Marji is a spiritual counselor, one whom I had heard of prior to last month, but not someone I thought I would ever see in a professional capacity.

Each of us is the product of two people joining their DNA. Within that genetic mapping are things such as eye color, bone structure, body type. Personality traits are in there somewhere, though personality is also molded by environment and experience. I believe we are also given familial curses and blessings of a spiritual nature. These can pass through to us from generations of ancestors past or from the very people who donated chromosomes for our own development. Ever wonder why tragedy befalls certain families generation after generation? Could it be that they are just unlucky? Perhaps. Or perhaps there is a curse on their family line, some agreement an ancestor made with a demon, wittingly or unwittingly. Legal ground is given and passes through the family for generations. A spiritual entailment, if you will.

Generational curses on a family line. I buy that. I struggled with this concept several years ago. Why would God punish me for something one of my great-great-great relative did so very long ago? But what if it isn’t God punishing us as proxies for another’s sin? What if generational curses are something else entirely?  What if one of those greats gave consent for evil and made agreements that allowed for legal access to all those who came after? What if God wants to do a good work in us but until we recognize the generational issues and break those agreements, we have reached a plateau in our growth?

I had reached a plateau. My mind knows so many truths about God, about my identity, about what a relationship with God can really look like. Yet I was stuck, unable to move past the knowing to the being. Nothing I tried worked. And I continued to feel as though I was living under a fog. Something wasn’t right. When somethings isn’t right with our bodies we see the doctor. When something is wrong with us spiritually, who do we call? I called Marji.

After two sessions with Marji I know something has shifted. I’m thankful for Marji’s part in starting me on the process. But I am in no way carrying around the illusion that after some prayers and renunciations I am finished the work. Life is a process. There are going to be seasons of growth and seasons of rest. I am in a season of growth.

I’m not sure how I feel about everything Marji said or did during our time together. I don’t think anyone person has an absolute picture of God and the grand scheme of His plans, so I try not to discount others when they say or do something that feels contrary to my experience of God. There is this one thing that is niggling at me, and it doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t know if it’s because Marji’s knowledge is a bit more expanded than my own, but when we spoke of chronic illness I was taken aback with her view.

If I understand Marji correctly, her view of illness chronic illness and disease is that it is a physical manifestation of a spiritual issue. Not necessarily sin per se, but oppression of our spiritual nature. I walked away from our sessions feeling like she believed that my chronic illness should now be healed because I have taken back legal ground in my spirituality and that part of my being is no longer being influenced by negative agreements.

I’m not sure where I stand on healing. I know people who have been healed of epilepsy, fibromyalgia, chronic pain. And not through medical intervention. So I believe there can be complete and total healing of the body. I also know people who have prayed for physical healing and their cancer was not put in remission, but their inner lives were strengthened and emotional wounding was healed in astonishing ways. Do I believe in healing? Yes, absolutely. Do I believe that illness in the body is a manifestation of what we believe or of our spiritual health? I’m not going to say no to this. I’ve seen too many things to say no. Read too much on epigenetics to say no. However, I do not believe that our physical afflictions are so easily addressed through spiritual means.

In a perfect world, in Eden, there would not be sickness, mental illness, relational dysfunction, poor self-esteem, abuse, greed…any of the things that impact and afflict us today. We do not live in a perfect world. Our bodies degrade as we age. Our genetic stew can predispose us to certain ailments and issues. And some of these may follow us to the grave. Does this mean we have done something wrong, made a misstep somewhere in our spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental journeys? I don’t think so. If that were the case, then the small child who has cerebral palsy has done something wrong to deserve such an affliction and God is a capricious God who doesn’t look at us with love and care, but with judgement.

I feel like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth with this. What I can say is I don’t have the answers and I am not comfortable with a world view where sickness and suffering is always because something is wrong in the spiritual. I feel like that world view doesn’t look at people as holistic beings, but wants to separate out the spiritual and the physical. Wants to always look for cause and effect.

I’m the first to admit it’s nice to be able to put things in neat little boxes, label them, tape them up, and put them on a shelf. I don’t know that life can be reasoned through this way. I wish it was that easy. Good and bad. Black and white. The world is full of shades of grey. Mystery. Unknown. It’s the human struggle to bring meaning to our world. To struggle through the unknown and explain it. Many good things have come from this. And I know in this period of growth that’s part of the process – the struggle. And admitting what I thought I knew and believed, well, maybe I didn’t have the full picture and need more information. And maybe I need to let some things go and have faith that if it’s really important for my salvation, for my health and wellbeing, the answers will be there. Eventually.

These are the thoughts that can keep me up at night.

Who Are You, I Really Wanna Know

Confession time. I’m not trying to be cute with my blog post titles. The vast majority of them are lines from songs, titles from songs or plays on lines from movies. This is not to be cute. This is how my brain draws parallels between what I’m learning in the spirit or the abstract and how it applies in the natural. Said differently, it’s my own personal mnemonic device.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately. Claire and I seem to be on similar paths in this season of our lives. Our conversations seem to always circle back to identity. The dreams I wake up remembering all have this component that relates to identity. We even attended a seminar this past weekend where the focus was on identity from God’s perspective. I’ve decided to go with it. If this is the area God wants me to focus on right now, that’s where I’ll focus my time and effort.

I’m not new to the idea of identity. In my graduate work in psychology we discussed theories of personality and core identity. How when behavior deviates from how a person presents themselves you have a window into where there may be hurts, distorted beliefs, mental illness, or potential gaps in a person’s development and internal integration, or a window into what that person really believes. For example, if I say I love and respect my parents, but am always mocking their decisions or putting down their beliefs, then I either have a very distorted and disturbing view of love and respect that needs to be addressed, or I’m showing you my true colors and I really don’t respect my parents at all. Or something in between. Either way, something needs to be addressed so my beliefs and my behaviors can align.

It’s similar in the spiritual. What I believe about myself, about God needs to align with what is true about God and how He views me. It’s sifting through the stories I’ve told myself about who I am and letting go of anything that isn’t reality. It’s being willing to shed the labels others have placed on me so I can find out who I really am underneath all the labels I’ve accumulated over the years. And being willing to reclaim parts of myself I’ve allowed to diminish over the years.

After Saturday’s seminar, I had a dream that I was a superhero with a benign every day persona and a larger than life superhero persona. Then God reached down and ripped off my mask. He told me that when I wore the mask, I only wore the parts of myself I thought had value, that were accepted and admirable. The parts I considered strengths either because they were needed by others or because I believed they were what other people wanted from me. Everything else about me faded and became so very small no one could tell they were there.

When I wasn’t wearing the mask, those larger than life parts of myself diminished and these other parts of myself started to grow and develop. People who saw me with my mask didn’t recognize me without it. I didn’t recognize myself.

So when God took away my mask, I was devastated. I need it! In order to be what everyone else was telling me I was, I needed it, otherwise I was lost. No one wants to be lost.

Just before I awoke and the dream started to fade into the misty memory it is today, I remember God whispering in my ear as I was panicking. He said it was time to reclaim myself, to be reacquaint myself with the parts of myself I’ve let go in order to live up to these other expectations, including expectations I’ve heaped upon myself. It’s time to meet the me God created me to be.

I figure in order to grow as a prophet, or to grow in any of our spiritual gifts, we need to really know who we are. This takes work. Sometimes difficult and trying work. But always rewarding work. Identity is the next step for me. It’s time to mine my inheritance words and the prophecies I’ve received and layer by layer dig and sift and dig some more to learn all about who God has already said I am. The answers are there, waiting for me.

It’s there for you, as well. Who are you? Who does God say you are? Don’t you want to know?

Of Tea and Solitude

I’m sitting on a deck overlooking a lake while I sip my tea (chocolate purerh, if you were curious). The wind is light and it tickles the leaves in the trees above my head and carries with its puffs and gusts bird song and the lap of the waves as the hit the dock below. The sun is bright and the sky is a brilliant blue shot with streamers of light grey and white clouds. My faithful dog is running around, looking for a chipmunk or bird to chase. He has no care other than to follow the scent in the grass that beckons him.

There is no one else out just yet. The family is still eating breakfast inside the cabin. The neighbors either aren’t up at the lake this weekend or are also enjoying a leisurely morning inside. Right now, I feel as though it is just me and God enjoying a morning moment together. I pray in worship and gratitude for the weather, the sunshine, the quiet. For the funny yellow birds that flit in and out of the young pine trees. For the robin who fiercely guards her nest filled with eggs. For the whisper of the wind and the lap of the waves.

It is so easy to worship God in moments like this. And so easy to forget that these moments are gifts. I’ve been coming with my family to this cabin on the lake for eighteen years and many times I have been caught up in the frenzy of activity or the politics of extended family dynamics to see the gifts God has so openly and freely offered us here. I have let life get in the way of God.

My husband saw me out on the deck, sipping my tea and smiling. He asked me what put that look of complete contentment on my face. I think he hoped it was a carry over from the look of contentment he put on my face last night. I told him I was thinking about God and thanking Him for all the gifts He has given us in this moment. I started to list them off and my husband waved his hand in surrender. To him, worship is working. Sure, we can worship while we work, with our bodies and our labor. We can thank God with gratitude that we can provide for our families or use our bodies in ways that are pleasing to Him. Still, there’s something about stilling ourselves in a moment, for a moment, and breathing in our surroundings and meeting God there.

Why do we shut ourselves off from the favor of God? Why do we not bask in the glow of His delight in us? What is it that causes us to think of these moments as frivolous whimsy instead of a necessary part of relationship?

My husband is gone now, to sit down with his brother and make a list of things to be done today, both chores and fun things the nephews will enjoy like the energetic boys on the cusp of adolescence they are. I remain on the deck, sipping my tea and delighting in the moment. God will enter into relationship with my husband in His own way, in a way that will touch my husband’s heart. I pray for that day of revelation. For my husband’s heart to be made ready. For the Holy Spirit to move in whatever way my husband needs from Him. I see in my husband immense goodness and talent. He has stores of creativity ready to burst forth from him. He has deep wells of love God is just waiting to tap into. First, God and my husband need to have a discussion on identity, on forgiveness, on who God sees my husband to be, and on who God wants to be for him. I know because God has to have similar discussions with me.

Well, my tea cup is empty so I guess it’s time to partner with my husband and his brother on some of the things on that list for the day. I enter into this time with joy and peace in my heart. All because of a moment when I sat on a deck overlooking a lake while I sipped my tea.

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.