spirituality

The Joy and Unique Torture of Family

My cousin Tasha was recently in town. She’s a wonderful young woman with an amazing sense of humor and a strong spine. It’s been interesting to have her around and to get to know her as an adult. Of all the cousins on this side of the family, I am the oldest and almost 14 years her senior. Tasha and her family live in the land of my grandparents and during my time of family vacations my cousin and I had little in common. When she was about ten I stopped making my annual pilgrimages to visit and missed out on seeing her grow up. Since marrying, I have only seen her a handful of times. I’m very thankful she loves to travel and has been curious about the part of the world I call home.

During our visit we have discussed many things: our undying love of Dr. Who (David Tennet is the best Doctor ever!); all things Firefly/Serenity (who doesn’t love Mal?), young adult books; the fantasy genre; good food; family. We have many things in common, including a love of the written word, a geeky appreciation for sci fi and fantasy, and a desire to write stories. But we diverge as well. I have a master’s degree in psychology, own a home, and am married. She is single, is motivated to self-educate herself, and rents. I have a relationship with God. She’s not sure God exists, though she does believe in past lives and the power of the universe.

I don’t judge this. She is on her journey and I am on mine. And some day, when she has questions about what it means to have a relationship with God I will be there to hear her out and ask her questions and share with her my experience. Until then, I am going to live my faith, not speak it.

There are some good reasons why she isn’t so sure of this thing called faith. Remember that my grandmother is a borderline personality and has the potential to turn into the wicked witch of the west? We share this grandmother and it turns out that Tasha’s older sister, Lola, may also be a borderline personality. The markers are there. Lola has a history of threatening suicide when she perceives someone is about to leave her. She has a history of risk taking behavior – addiction, running away from home, indiscriminate sex. There are the mood swings, including horrible rages and potential violence and an inability to regulate her impulses. She fears being alone and has never really been alone. I’ve not seen a lot of this behavior, but as a small child I do remember her being a black hole of neediness.

It is possible that Lola is a borderline. Lola has a husband who is starting to appear afraid of her and a child who is somewhat isolated from the world. Tasha has never had a strong relationship with Lola and for some very good reasons is resentful and angry with her. Lola has made life very difficult for everyone in her little world. When you live in a world that is so broken due to someone with undiagnosed mental illness, or with a chronic health condition, or who is just plain mean and abusive, what are you supposed to think? That a loving God sanctioned this? That a God who wants to have a personal relationship with us, to show us favor and grace and delight could create a world so completely broken?

I don’t know what spiritual teaching there was in Tasha’s home. I don’t know what she learned at church or youth group, but if it was anywhere near close to what I was taught, I can see why Tasha isn’t so sure about God. Spirituality, sure. But God? No, she’s disillusioned by the picture of God religion has painted and this God is distant and mean. Or at the very least disinterested. There is no way Tasha can have a relationship with that. Nor would she want to. I don’t want to. That picture of God is wrong. And it drives so many people who God wants to reconcile to Him. It gets in the way of the real message of peace and hope and healing.

I can’t answer for Tasha the question of why. Why is Lola the way she is? Why Tasha’s life is colored by the very fact that she grew up as Lola’s younger sister. Why any of the things that have happened in Tasha’s young life have happened. I can’t answer the why to my own experiences. But I do know this: Tasha is an amazing young woman who God loves very dearly. And who I love as well. I’m glad God gave me an opening to be a part of her life again. Perhaps as I live out a differently kind of faith Tasha can come to see a different picture of God. And God can give meaning to the things that have happened in Tasha’s life so she can move forward without the baggage of her past weighing her down.

One of the gifts of being a seer is that God shares with us His love for others. As we were saying good-bye to Tasha at the airport, God showed me a picture of Tasha standing on a sunlit courtyard dancing, the smile that was always on her face brighter and wider than I have ever seen it. There was such joy as she was spinning about, her face lifted toward the sun. She was dancing for herself, for her Father. She was free of the pain from her childhood. She was bold and brash and oh so lovely. That’s my cousin. This is what I pray for her so she might know her true identity. So she might be free.

You Speak of Signs and Wonders

A few weeks ago, my friend MJ and I went to a conference where the focus was on living the upgraded life in Christ. We went full of anticipation that the Holy Spirit would move over the course of the conference. The speaker was a teacher we both respect and this conference was an extension of one we attended the year prior. God moved in amazing ways, with great acceleration in growth and understanding for myself, and in new provision and favor for MJ. Over the last year God has been more present than ever in my life – or more accurately, I have been more present for God. I would have gotten to this place eventually, and perhaps with lessons that didn’t cut as quick and deep as the ones I’ve experienced in this past year. But isn’t it amazing to see how God redeems time and accelerates the learning?

We got to the conference and something seemed off. There was this spirit of religion that appeared to be filtering the words of the speaker, the worship, the words of prophecy. It was a struggle to stay engaged and volunteers seemed tired, working out of their spirit and not the Holy Spirit. We left the first session for lunch somewhat perplexed. What was going on? And was this going to be the tone for the entire conference?

Fellowship ensued, as it does whenever we are together. We discussed the words that were prophesied for us. We discussed our perceptions and experience thus far. Then we moved into more light-hearted topics. Fellowship is important on this journey. We cannot survive on an island for too long, without human contact. We cannot thrive without laughter and joy. MJ and I are very good at filling the time with both. So we entered the evening session with that joy.

Something had shifted. Instead of fighting to focus on what God intended us to hear, there was peace. The speaker’s message flowed with great compassion and amazing gentleness from that point forward. And we left the weekend blessed. I can only pray the speaker was blessed as well.

A couple of times through the conference, the speaker invited us to stand and enter into a greater sense of divine acceleration in spiritual growth and relationship with God. The past year, it was the start of something holy. This next year would see even more growth. At the first invitation I stood. I opened my hands to received and I heard water. A bubbling brook. I thrive near water. If I could live near the ocean, I would. I live near water and often spend time just meditating and praying by a creek not too far from home. The bubbling brook? I took it as a sign. God was pleased. God was going to move things in my life, as a river moves objects from one place to another. God was going to renew and refresh.  The second time we were invited to stand and receive, I felt my hands grow hot, burning, and I swear I felt a hand cover my own.

I have prayed for signs, mostly to conquer my own issues with faith and belief. Like Gideon, I have placed my fleece on the ground and stating that if the fleece is covered in dew but the ground around it is dry then I will know God is speaking. Interestingly enough, God has often told me after I have given him an “if this, then that” task, He has told me that I am limiting not only the depth of what He wished to do for me, but my own journey. Still, He has  honored my request. God is good that way.

I have not felt the Holy Spirit move in what I would term dramatic ways. I have not received visions while fully awake or heard the audible voice of God. And I have felt that I have been lacking. That perhaps God is speaking but I am too blind to see or hear.

So to feel God’s presence in such demonstrative ways was…a balm. He is speaking to me. I am listening. It may not be in the grand gestures in my secret heart of hearts I long for, but He is there, touching me in real ways every day.

I think I get so caught up in looking for the grand gesture that I forgot to open myself up to the every day.  To the little kisses from God in the form of a gentle breeze, an unexpected call from a friend when I needed it most, the joy in seeing a bird of prey in unexpected places, or the raucous laughter of song birds outside my window. I long for signs and wonders and have felt like I’m subsisting off crumbs from the table of God. How wrong I have been. God is not stingy with His revelation. Not all signs are giant explosions of fireworks or deep tremblings of the earth.

God gave me a bubbling brook and a clasp of the hand at the conference. He invited me to join with Him as an active participant in my spiritual growth. I have this feeling that if I am willing to fully enter in, this year will see some of the growth I have only imagined in my life. God has some amazing things He wants for me. My role is to enter in to the process and the relationship. To abide.

For What It’s Worth

If performance is not the marker of God’s love for us, what is? How do I know God loves me? How do I know I please Him?

I struggle with this. Intellectually, I know God loves me and is pleased with me because of who He has declared me to be in Heaven and because of the defining work of Jesus on the cross. I know He delights in me.  In my head, I know this. It’s my spirit that has a difficult time believing.

I think it’s because God’s love is so very counter to how our worth is measured in our day-to-day lives. At work, I am given assignments, promotions and merit increases based on how well I do my job. My great smile and winning personality might count for a very small portion of my worth to my company, but the bottom line is this: no matter how well I am liked for who I am, if I do not perform at or above the company’s expectations, I will be out of a job. In the professional arena, my worth equals my performance. I’m not saying this is wrong. The workplace isn’t often about relationship, it’s about outcomes. My integrity and personality, my strengths play into the measure of my worth but at the end of the day, it’s about outcomes.

In my relationships with family, I like to believe my worth is based on unconditional love and acceptance. Parents tell their children they will love them no matter what. Siblings may fight bitterly one moment and then embrace each other in spirited camaraderie the next. On the surface this can feel like worth is about who I am within my family, but when I dig deeper there are inconsistencies. I do something wrong, and someone may threaten to box up all their toys and take their relationship away. Or there’s the family member who will withhold any type of love or affection UNLESS I performed in a manner pleasing to them.

Then there is the spousal relationship. We vowed to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  And we do. I love my husband and he loves me. We don’t always like each other. When I reflect on my marriage, I see two people who keep score. Who like to be right. Who, when thwarted, instead of finding that middle ground of compromise, can pull the rug out from under relationship and lord it over the other person. Oh, how I wish I could say this behavior is the domain of my other half. Sadly, I have been found guilty of this very same behavior.

In all these relationships there are moments where worth seems to be based on performance. On how well we measure up against another’s wants, desires or expectations. We get this mixed message about what it is that makes us worthy.  People, in my experience, tend to be fickle. God is not. He’s consistently and fully in love with us. With me. And my worth is not something I have to earn. Or validate. Or prove. Not to God. He doesn’t react out of anxiety or fear. He doesn’t keep score. He doesn’t take past hurts or slights and hold them against me. His love is consistent. Constant. His relationship with me is always secure. 

Intellectually, I know this. And I feel funny asking Him to show me, to write it so deeply upon my DNA that the experience of this knowledge becomes as common as breathing. I want to experience God’s love and delight so deeply, I can’t help but see others in the same way. I don’t want to confuse my worth with performance ever again. And I don’t want my love for others to be based on performance. I want to love my husband the way God loves him. I want to delight in my siblings and my parents. I want to see my friends with great compassion. I want to look at strangers with kindness.

I can’t earn love. I can’t perform my way to Heaven. But I can be with God. And I can sit at His feet and commune with Him. I can abide with God. I can enter relationship with him. I can stand between the Father and the Son and bask in their love for me while the Holy Spirit gently holds my shoulders and helps me to stay. With God, at the end of the day it’s about relationship, which is always, always secure. Always true. Always full of love and delight.

So, feeling funny or not, I ask God to show me His great love in ways that are so clear, so fantastic I can’t help but see it for what it is. And to remind me there is not need for shame or timidity or fear. Tonight I pray for signs of God’s love. For reminders of His delight for me. I pray this for you, too. We can’t reframe how we see ourselves and have that truly stick without God.

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?

Love Me Tender

Life would be so much easier if we always interacted with others from a place of love and grace and compassion and mercy. That is who we are becoming but it’s not always how we live. We can’t treat others in a manner counter to how we treat ourselves. We can’t see others in a way we don’t see ourselves.

Who I am in Heaven and how I live my life now are often at odds with each other. When this chasm in who I am and how I behave is pointed out to me, my first instinct is to defend my behavior. And shift blame on to others. She made me do it. He made me so angry. There was nothing I could do. The devil made me do it.

Raise your hand if you’ve reacted to criticism in the same way? This reaction that we think is so normal is rooted in fear and shame. Why should we be defensive when a person or the Holy Spirit is pointing out an area in our lives that are in need of growth? Why should we be afraid of growth? We shouldn’t. But the enemy is If we grow, we become more like Christ. We become stronger and more able to resist and triumph over the the schemes of the ruler of this world.

I was reminded recently that part of the prophetic journey is not just to remind others of who they are in Christ and the great gifts God has for them, it’s for us. God wants His people to be filled with His compassion so we can be that compassion for others. We live in an age of grace. Judgement for the world was poured out on Jesus at Calvary. Jesus was judged for sin past, present, and future. He was punished for our sin. He paid for our sin. We are no longer bound by sin. There are natural consequences to our actions, sinful and otherwise. But God is not sitting up on His throne casting judgement.

God speaks to us in love. As His prophet, I need to be filled with this love. Without this love, I am prone to judgement. If God is not judging in this period of grace, I certainly should not be judging. The church shouldn’t be judging. Anyone. There’s a lot of judgement in today’s church. Heck, in today’s world. We don’t agree with someone, we judge them. Someone offends our belief system, we judge them. Someone hurts us, we judge them.

I’ll admit it, I get something out of judging other people. I feel smug and superior and for a girl who always felt less than, this can be a heady experience. This is not a helpful thing for a prophet. Or for any Christian for that matter. We aren’t better than anyone else. In God’s eyes, we are all equal. He doesn’t see castes of believers and non believers. He sees His children and He wants to reconcile the relationship with each of us. That takes a whole lot of love. He knows that most of us will reject Him and yet He showers us with His love anyway. And it is this message of love He wants to spread through His prophets. This is why the first lesson the prophet needs to learn is about love. 1 Corinthians 13 love. The way God loves us, that needs to become how we love others.

I’m not there yet. I still find myself sitting on my high horse at times. But I see things differently. 1 Corinthians 13 is taking on new meaning for me. It’s not an unattainable standard we will never be able to live up to. Turn it around. Don’t read it as though it’s a manual for us. Read it as though God is speaking to us. Read it over and over again and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the passage from God’s perspective. To show you God’s deep and abiding love for you. For us. It will start to really change your life.
It’s been changing mine.