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Through A Glass Darkly

I have an image problem. I have a faulty image of myself. And a faulty image of God.

As I stated earlier, the God of my formative years was a harsh task master. He had exacting standards that no one except Jesus could ever meet. The message that was repeated over and over again was that we would never measure up. We are sinners. Defective. God pitied us.

How can a child even see a clear vision of God when all she is taught is that she is not good enough? That she must work harder to be deserving of her salvation? This message was repeated not just by well meaning teachers and leaders in my church, but by family as well. Most notably, my grandmother. The other borderline in my life.

Her message to me was harsh and unforgiving. I was, and continue to be a disappointment.  Not worthy of her love or favor therefore I will  never receive it. Oh, she encouraged me to try and try again, slapping me down with every attempt I made to be the person she said she wanted me to be. I didn’t know there would never be any pleasing her. I saw my mother bow to the same pressure. Watched her sense of self erode every time we were around my grandmother. And somehow as a young child I equated my grandmother’s treatment of her family as how God must treat us. We could try, but we would never, ever please Him.

Many people have warped images of God due father issues. The emotional triggers we have about our earthly fathers are transferred onto our Heavenly Father. I’ll admit I have father issues, but nothing like my grandmother issues. Then there’s my paternal grandfather. We’ll save him for another day. I transferred my view of my grandmother onto God. This image I carried around of Him was a combination of faulty, works based Christianity and my borderline grandmother. This god was manipulative. Removed. Wanted everything from me, sucking me dry like an incubus. He didn’t care if I was hurting, lonely, used, abused, happy, sad. He didn’t really care about me. Any of us. Relationship? With God? Not going to happen.

Jesus, he was personal, but even with Jesus I had this picture of an impotent but compassionate older brother. He cared but wasn’t really able to do anything to ease my suffering. He was the source of my salvation. He had died, after all, for the sin of the world. But I still had to atone for my sin. It was all so very abstract and convoluted. As I write this I wonder why I even remained a Christian. There is no hope in the picture I carried. I lived a life that was driven by fear, hard work and a lack of hope. How dismal. How…sad.

I survived adolescence and went off to college. Where I learned more about how theologians viewed God. But I also learned that the god of my childhood was not really God. Through therapy and some spirit deep crying out I started to replace this faulty view of God with something more true. More real. The Holy Spirit started to woo me in ways I couldn’t see then but can see clearly now. This kept me from walking away from a faith bruised and battered by life. It gave me something to cling to when I married and moved over 2000 miles from everything and everyone I ever knew.

I still have an image problem. I have learned in the last two years more about who God is, who the Trinity is and who God wants to be for me. I still cling to some of my religious misconceptions like a child clings to a security blanket she no longer needs and is no longer useful. It’s familiar. To let go means to let go of the false sense of security it brings. But I am learning to let go.

Right now I am fasting and seeking God’s face. He’s slow to speak, or else I’m slow to listen. I am relearning about gratitude and thanksgiving. Two critical elements in the Christian life and the life of the prophet. I am learning what it is to be myself. Who I really am in Heaven so I can live the life God has been wanting for me all along.

It’s not easy, letting go of resentments, fear, false pictures of a false god. But if I’m going to move forward I must.  I need this if I’m going to live in peace and joy and with compassion.  I want to know God, truly know him. I can’t do that with my past hanging like a milestone about my neck. Can you?

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Dream Until Your Dreams Comes True

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Jesus at the temple dream. What does it mean for me? What is God trying to tell me?

My world has spinning layers of complexity. My MIL is a borderline and the family dynamics are shifting. Some acknowledge her mental illness and others in her family do not. My husband acknowledges it but doesn’t always put me, his wife, ahead of her. Or ahead of the rest of his family for that matter.

My husband is likely depressed and is burning himself out. He is grumpy and prickly and not the laid back man I married. He hates his job, but chooses to remain where he is due to benefits that are allowing him to finish a very important degree necessary for his line for work. He does not engage easily in relational intimacy right now, which puts a strain on our relationship and on my desire to pursue intimacy with him.

Work doesn’t fulfill me. I have a chronic health condition that makes keeping up with everything challenging. In this moment I feel as though hope has been deferred and my heart is breaking. I hold things together because someone has to and I often feel I cannot be my true and authentic self. I’m not even sure who that is any more. I don’t speak of my prophetic gifting except with a very very small circle of friends. I am unlearning misinformation about the prophetic and being taught anew what the prophetic is to a new testament world.  These are not easy lessons because they strip away layers of my beliefs and understanding of who I am.

When I had this dream of Jesus watching the shenanigans of the temple money changers, I had had a particularly nasty fight with my husband about his mom and some boundaries I needed to put in place. I was called a shrew and accused of transferring some of my experiences with another borderline in my life onto his mom. This wouldn’t have hurt like it did if just a few weeks prior my husband hadn’t acknowledged some things about his mother’s behaviors and I had this sense I was no longer trying to cope alone.

In that one fight I felt as though our hard fought unity had been shattered and he was going to revert back to excusing her behaviors and leaving me out in the cold. I felt as though I would always be on the losing end of this battle for our marriage. Exhausted, alone and licking my wounds, I crawled into bed and cried. I think I told God I couldn’t fight any more. That I didn’t know what else to do. Then I had THE DREAM.

Claire had a similar dream around the same time. She has her own reasons to cry out to God. I thought at the time I was dreaming for her. Giving confirmation that Jesus had her back, was watching the money changers in her life and was going to turn the tables. Jesus is glorious that way, and I see that so clearly for other people. And he has turned tables for Claire in real and wonderful ways.

Little did I know that this dream was a message for me, as well.

Only recently do I see Jesus standing for me. I am letting go of low self esteem, inaccurate beliefs and false humility and my eyes and heart are beginning to open to the realization that Jesus has my back and that it his desire to help me. He has a plan. He sees my hurt and frustration and he wants me to know he stands before me. He will clear the temple just for me.

What does God want me to know? That I’m not alone. That He sees and acknowledges the truth of my situation. And that He will not let injustice stand. He has my back. I can trust Him to not only stand for me but to also give me what I need to rise up and over my challenges. That He is in the middle of my marriage, my relationships with my MIL.  He has always been and has never left.

I hope it doesn’t take me too long to learn from this new insight. I have a feeling this is just the leading edge of the storm.

Who is Jesus?

I was having an insightful conversation with my friend Claire about the evangelical church in general and my church in particular. Comments shifted, as they do, to the heavy heart I have for my pastor and his wife. They are wonderful people. Gifted. Talented. Both have a strong desire to serve God and to shepherd His people. Both are under a yoke that is not from Jesus. They have a picture of Jesus and it is not the true Jesus. It is something false and it is sucking the life out of them.

So many people have a false picture of Jesus. And they are loathe to let go and embrace a clear, truthful picture of who Jesus is. This runs rampant not just in Evangelical Christian circles, but everywhere. My BIL is an atheist and he rejects Jesus because all he sees, all he had been shown growing up, is a false Jesus. He is right to reject this false Jesus. What he’s not willing to do is seek out the true Jesus.

I understand. I almost walked away from my faith because of the oppression and the false beliefs of who Christ is that I had been taught and modeled. I attended a faith based college and if you ever want to see the faith community in action, check out a campus at any faith based higher education institution. After putting in my four years, I was turning cynical and questioned everything my younger self ever believed of who Jesus was and what it meant to be a Christian. The instructors, staff and students at this college  may have been willing to accept legalism, false humility, the subjugation of women, and a works based faith, but I wasn’t. There had to be something more, something different. I needed it to be different.

I married and moved to a new state. I attended bible studies and joined a sunday school class with my husband. I did my devotionals. And I cried every day because none of these actions felt as though they were leading me to the God my grandmother introduced me to. Instead of feeling love and compassion and acceptance, I was judged. If I spoke an opinion or asked a question that caused someone to think (gasp), I was shut down. I was told I needed to be more like the Proverbs 31 woman. I needed humility. I needed to encourage my husband to be the head of my household and essentially think for me. When I discussed my desire for a career, I was shut down and told a good Christian woman and have babies. Make a home my husband would long to come home to. Pray, study, serve.

I was not attending a cultish church. This was a very mainstream, very large church in my community. There were professional women in this congregation, but the overall teaching was to do, to follow a model someone decided was the one size fits all answer for every married woman.

Initially, I did pray that God would remove my longing for a career, to help people in a different way. I prayed my husband would make enough money I could stay home and be a homemaker. I prayed for the desire to be a homemaker. Which is really funny in retrospect because anyone who knows me knows I don’t love to clean house and cook meals. I’m not fond of my vacuum cleaner and doing dishes gives me a rash. Laundry? A necessary evil. I would do really well with a maid. In one sense, those prayers did help me see the value in those acts, but they didn’t remove the desires that were imprinted upon my heart.

I felt called to be in the workforce so I was. I sought out God in the “secular” world and believe it or not, it was there and not in church that I found Jesus. You see, Jesus does not live in an ivory tower. Jesus embraces the masses. Jesus is unafraid of getting his hands dirty. He meets needs. He loves. He laughs. He lives. Jesus became real to me when I stepped outside of the teachings of my church and stepped into life. My prayers took on a conversational tone. Here was someone who wanted my questions, my opinions, my fears and my joys and didn’t care if they were all a messy tangle of need and longing. He just wanted me to be real.

I am still learning who Jesus is and am learning to distinguish between what Jesus asks of me and what false spirits masquerading as Jesus want to take from me. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, but I’m learning.

What does this have to do with the prophetic? I need to know whose voice I’m listening to. If it’s not Jesus then I need to shut it down. How do I know I’m hearing Jesus? In the words of Graham Cooke, if the words are full of the fruit of the spirit, then it’s God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Love is a Battlefield

I’ve been thinking about love and prophecy and marriage and people in general. As a follower of Christ, I believe Jesus gave us a new law and covenant. It’s easy to remember as it only has two parts. Love God with everything and love others as you love yourself.

As easy as this is to remember, it’s difficult to live by. Why? In all my study of human nature, I think it boils down to this: humans look out for themselves first. There is no judgement in that statement. We have this internal drive to survive, even thrive so we put our needs and wants first. It is part of the foundational way we are taught through experience and observation. We don’t want to be hurt in relationships, so we insulate ourselves somehow, holding something back from others. Or becoming cynical and expect to be hurt so when the big let down happens, we tell ourselves we weren’t surprised therefore we aren’t hurt that badly. Of build a wall between ourselves and others through shame and judgement.

This is a simplified explanation, mind you. It doesn’t explain how deep or repeated trauma impact a person’s ability to love and trust. And again, I’m not judging. I live with this subconscious mindset every day. I hold back parts of myself from people because I want to feel safe and to put myself out there, I feel unsafe. I lock onto views and impressions of people and hold those beliefs close to my heart because to bring them out and examine them in the light of true unconditional love, I may be wrong. And being wrong hurts.

To truly love someone else, to be unconditional, we need to step outside this propensity to put ourselves first. I want to get something straight here – I’m not talking about not taking care of ourselves. I’m not talking about not doing the work to be healthy so we can enter into healthy relationships. To be healthy people who are capable of loving others as we love ourselves, we need to do the work. And sometimes doing the work may mean we deliberately put our need for wholeness ahead of nurturing others. I’m also not talking about putting others ahead of ourselves. Though sometimes love shines through sacrifice, this is not where I’m going.

Where was I? Right, loving others as we love ourselves. Engaging in self-growth allows us to put others on the same playing field. As we grow we see others differently. We open up ourselves to others. We learn to see others without cynicism or the baggage of our past. We aren’t swayed by the opinions of others as we once were. We seek out the truth because we are finding the truth within and around us.

Love others as we love ourselves. I can’t love someone if I don’t love myself. I can’t give love if I don’t know what love looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like. I can’t be healthy in my relationships if I don’t have a true view of myself as beloved by God.

Without these things, I, we, judge. And we do it well. We compare. We resent. We open up ourselves to bitterness and anger and cynicism and capriciousness.

I can’t be a prophet if I don’t have a foundation of love. The visions I receive, the whispers from the Holy Spirit about others, they could easily lead me to feeling superior. Better than the person the Holy Spirit is giving me words for. I definitely wouldn’t be driven to pray and speak with humility and compassion. Mercy would not have a place in my vocabulary.

Love is so very key. I’m not there yet. I’m a work in progress. Take my feelings toward my MIL. I resent her. I find it difficult to think kind or loving thoughts about her. I want to clench my jaw and tell her all the things God is showing me, not to edify or build her up, but to show her just how awful she has been and to shame her. Yeah, not very loving.

God is using my MIL to help me see some of these very difficult things about myself. Oh, he’s patient. So very patient. And he has a sense of humor. Amidst the pain associated with lancing the poisonous bile of judgement from my spirit, God shows me the funniest pictures of my MIL. Not to shame her, but to help me understand her motivations. They make me laugh, but they also drive the point clearly home. My MIL is a hurting woman with a mental illness. She is responsible for the consequences of her actions, but she is also worthy of grace. She is beloved by God. Cherished. We have that in common. We have my husband, her son, in common as well. I can start here, with the Holy Spirit showing me just how loved she is. And reminding me of how loved I am.

Love is a battlefield. Not because love itself is war, but because there are so many things out there that want to kill or warp the perfect love of God.

Without Love

When I first ran up against the spiritual gift of prophecy I had this image in my mind of the prophets of the bible. Or my Americanized version of grizzled men who were at turns angry and depressed. Men who beat their chests and ranted at the people, spouting words of judgement. Who wants that? Not I.

This is part of what I was running from when I ran from myself. I was already a melancholy soul. I didn’t need visions  of destruction and despair driving me deeper toward depression. Never mind that when I “saw” people, while I might not always see their best sides, I always saw them with a layer of grace. I can only attribute that to God because my nature was to judge and to use what I saw to build up my own self esteem. Looking back, I wasn’t secure enough in myself and my relationship with God to truly embrace the prophetic. I didn’t love myself. I couldn’t fully love others. And without love, all the other spiritual gifts are just noise. That’s what I Corinthian’s 13 taught me.

One of the first lessons I learned from Claire was that a seer must love people. It took a while for that to sink in and wasn’t really put to the test until I had to apply what I was learning to my mother-in-law. Isn’t it funny how it’s usually from our relationships with family that we truly start to see our own growth points?

I don’t have an easy relationship with my MIL. I wish I did. I do love her and she has her strengths. I have learned about dreaming big and a strong work ethic from my MIL. But there has been something that has never been quite right between us. She is different around me then she is around my husband. Passive aggressive. Laying claim on my husband and all that she perceives belongs to him in subtle and not so subtle ways. I’m never restful around her. And yet she presents a very different face to my husband and his siblings. To everyone else.

For the longest time I thought it was me. That I was the one who was off in our relationship so I tried harder to love her and to see only the good in her. I made excuses for her behavior. She was lonely. She had been hurt, likely victimized growing up. She had low self-esteem. I compensated. Some of this compensation was to allow my husband to stay stuck in unhealthy patterns and to put pieces of my marriage on the line.

What I didn’t realize was that the nudges and the unease was part of my gift. I was seeing her true self and God was telling me there was something wrong. He was urging me to pray, but I had numbed myself to the prophetic so that all I knew was that I saw someone very different than everyone else did. This is a risk I’m learning about this particular spiritual gift. I see the world through a different lens.

When there was a death in the family I was filled with an unease that bordered on panic. I did what I usually do. I prayed. And I called Claire. I prayed for love and to see clearly. God spoke to Claire and gave her a vision of a hen trying to be a peacock. A woman who wanted to be the center of attention, to be the epicenter of her family. We both got the sense that there would be bad behavior from my MIL the weekend of the funeral and we both felt strongly that the most loving thing to do was for me to pray for eyes to be opened so her children could start to see her true self. See the bad behavior that has always existed in a way that they could no longer ignore it or overcompensate for it.

This doesn’t sound loving, but it is. I’ll tell you why. My MIL has borderline personality disorder. She has not allowed her children to differentiate from her. She has in a sense brainwashed them that certain behaviors are acceptable in her relationship with them. For her children to heal, they needed to see so they could ask questions, see her behavior superimposed against normal, positive behavior. For her to heal, she needs boundaries set by her children. They love her. They want relationship with her. But they won’t be able to grow to their full potential in their marriages, in themselves, if they do not address their mother’s mental illness.

So I prayed. I asked for grace and mercy. For eyes to be opened. For my mouth to be kept closed and my inclination to protect my husband to be numbed. I prayed for my MIL, that she would allow herself to be truly known by her children. That she would see God’s love in a new way. I prayed for God’s vision of her to replace my experience.

And in the end there was a breakthrough. There was bad behavior. There was questioning. There was a turning in my relationship with my husband.

What does this story have to do with the prophetic? It was time for a family to start down the road to acknowledgment healing and God needed me to hear this so I would take the information He gave me and hold my family in prayer. A prophet doesn’t always speak, but a prophet needs to have a relationship with God so she can discern a clear interpretation of the information God is sharing with her. And she needs to feel God’s love for people. If I hadn’t had that, I would have been so smug when my MIL starting behaving in such an outward manner no one could miss it. I would have felt self righteous. I may have even held this over my husband.

I was tempted. Oh, the times I was tempted. Instead, I prayed for a vision of love for her and her family so I could see what God sees. Without love, I wouldn’t care about the relationships or the pain. I certainly wouldn’t care about anyone’s journey of healing.

There may have been easier ways to learn this lesson, but as usual I’m pretty sure I was deaf to the more subtle messages God was giving me. So, instead of waiting any longer, God threw me into the deep end of the pool. Thankfully, I had a good friend and the Holy Spirit to help me swim.