If only we can walk a bit farther…

20130423-111919.jpg

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” 2 Corinthians 1:8a-10

Shame. Intensity. The flood of emotions that can overtake a hurting heart and mind. It seems as if it will never stop. As if today, as if this moment, will never end.

It beckons and breaks a heart to be still no longer and rather seek refuge in scandalous acts of self deprecation motivated by emotions and escapism. It seems the only thing that could cut deep enough is flesh ripped open to start over again. A fresh start with fresh blood leaning upon the notion that once the cut, the wound, is opened…we can start again.

No longer at peace with ourselves, this desire to seek refuge in self-inflicted pain squelches out grace and peace, and seems to grasp at something far beyond our recognition. Unwilling to seek refuge in anything other than our own destruction, self-hatred breathes its lies into the hole of our hearts.

Although I have never used a knife to wound myself, years ago I would use my words and thoughts to slice my soul to shreds. Believing the lies that I was worthless and filled with self loathing, I wanted nothing more than to disappear. Or at least to make my emotions disappear. I couldn’t bear handling them one more day, one more second, one more hour.

I have great empathy for anyone struggling with mental illness. I have been there myself and am aware that all too easily I could fall into depression again. These types of illnesses are hallmarked by an intensity of emotions that cannot be fully understood unless you have felt them yourself. I remember wanting to and looking as if I wanted to crawl out of my body, filled with shame and hurt, and into a safe place…no matter what that meant. So many women I talk with who have attempted suicide did not want to die, they just want the pain to stop. And that is why I think the verses listed above from 2 Corinthians are so powerful.

Paul states not that he was possibly facing death, but rather he felt as if He was already sentenced to die. A man alive, walking dead. Nothing to me is more descriptive of living with overwhelming emotions than that of walking through life as if you are already dead, defeated, a helpless victim of the waves that would come on you as you fall deeper and deeper until you act out and drown. And as Christians we ask for what? Why must I be so miserable…

I feel Paul would say, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”

So you consider death to be an appealing option. Or perhaps you are the dead walking. The world may have given up on you. You may have given up on yourself. You cannot save yourself, nor can someone else, these things are correct. But you can choose to access the One who can. God. The One and Only powerful enough to raise the dead. He has shown His deliverance powers before, and He will show them again.

If this is you today, if you are in this difficult place…I do not have a one stop shop cure for you. I do not promise you instant healing by simply reciting a verse, using some theoretical technique, or waving a magic wand. What I do want to tell you is not to give up. The cure for the broken heart is hope. Hope that is willing to step out in confident expectation that something better lies on the other side. You may need counseling, you may need medication, you may need a mentor, and a Bible Study, and hours of face-time on the floor with Jesus – my healing necessitated all of these and more. Is it work? Yes! Will it be difficult at times? Yes! Will it be worth it? YES!!!

The biggest lie Satan can sell you is that you are worthless and beyond help…that there is no hope and healing on the other side. He may have shrouded your eyes in such darkness that even the slightest bit of light burns or seems impossible to obtain. But please don’t give up sweet sister or brother. Seek out only the healing He has for you. Only the healing He can offer. He is still in the business of raising from the dead.

Too many cornbread muffins…

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. James 4:8-10 NLT

Cornbread muffins are delightful. Delightful that is until you realize they are 5 weight watchers points apiece. But did that stop me? No! I ate not one, not two, but three cornbread muffins last night. And then I sat there feeling guilty. In that moment a had a choice – let the guilt consume me, or figure out what motivated my lapse in self-control. I thought for awhile, and then it hit me, self-pity.

I felt sorry for myself. Other people get to enjoy cornbread muffins, so why can’t I? I will eat all the cornbread muffins I want! It’s not fair that I have to watch my weight so closely. I’m just going to eat until I am happy. And I did, and then I felt bad…bad…bad.

I’ve learned a few things about what to do when I feel bad. Sometimes I distract myself. Maybe I go for a workout or spend some time playing games with my kids. These are good distractions. They are healthy. But I have also learned that there are genuine times and reasons for downright grief filled sorrow. And during those times, there is no need to distract myself, I need to accept it – feel it – and learn from it.

While I didn’t stop to feel sorrowful over my muffins, I have learned to feel sorrowful over other things. The thing about a tearful deep grieving process is that these kinds of emotions can be deep motivators for change. The grieving James is speaking of in the verses above is grief over sin. I can’t say that I have or should sit in deep grief over every sin every day, but there was a period of my life where God let me experience great depression so that I might choose to come out of sin.

Now we have to be careful with depression, because many times depression can also be biological, as was mine. In fact, I still take medication for anxiety and depression. But I would be cheating myself if I didn’t acknowledge that the sin patterns I had chosen played a great deal into my feelings of sorrow and self-hatred. I was lying to my husband, I wasn’t taking care of my family and putting them first, I didn’t spend time with the Lord daily or even weekly, and I made shady choices like accepting employment cocktail waitressing at a bar.

And the Lord loved me…

Enough in fact to bring me to my knees begging for Him to take me home to heaven so I could abandon all this baggage on earth…

And although the Lord didn’t take me to heaven, and I am so grateful He didn’t, He did show me how to abandon my baggage while here on earth. He taught me how to grieve my sin, repent, and move forward.

Negative emotions aren’t always there just so we can escape from them, they are present as indicators that something might need to change. If we use those emotions as indicators rather than trying to run from them, God will use them to draw us in closer to Him. And while feeling ourselves through the sin grief process we must be careful not to fall victim to self-pity. Maybe everybody else does what you are trying to stop doing – and they get away with it! And that’s okay! Why? Because you are not everybody else!

You are a daughter of the King and He has drawn you to a higher calling…a higher freedom…freedom from the bondage of sin. He has called you to blessing.

Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” NLT

The grieving of sin lasts only a season. So rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, let us use these moments to motivate us forward into the blessings. To the blessings that are free of sorrow…blessings that come when we choose to follow His will and way.

Staying in the shelter…

The God of Heaven~Shaddia

Our shelter and rest.

A place to dwell and find protection from danger.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Part of my job is helping teens seek shelter. Teens that can’t stay in their parents homes. Maybe the parents passed away, or the teen chooses to leave, other times they are abandoning parent’s ways of drugs and violence in hopes of a better life. Countless reasons to seek shelter from the storm. To get away from it all. And yet a shelter is never where they want to stay.

It looks cold and stark. It’s not their space. It is a borrowed plot of safety offering protection and little more until they can make it on their own. I wish I could take them home, but I can’t. They face danger and strongholds I can hardly imagine. Yet I watch them conquer day in and day out. A privilege many people don’t have. I have the best view in the world. Their strength inspires me. Hearing the word “shelter” as an 18-year-old girl would have chilled me to the bone. I would have been terrified. But somehow they muscle through. Perhaps when it is the only option…your viewpoint changes.

I suppose as an adult it would be the humility of it all. Having to swallow my pride and admit that life had finally risen beyond the brims of my capabilities. Vanity, self-confidence, conceit shattered.

And what if the very same fears we have of earthly “shelters” also keep us from seeking the true everlasting shelter…

Pride, shattered vanity, conceit, unfamiliarity, uncertainty…

Oh yes Lord, I want your shelter, but please don’t make it evident. I don’t want anyone to know I am staying here. Can’t we just make it look like I could handle things on my own? We will keep these prayers and silent sorrows just between us. I would rather plaster on this mask of a smile than for anyone to know I can’t handle it on my own.

It seems like seeking shelter with God would be an honor but I smolder, even at times with anger, over my fragile humanity….as if living a life dependent on him is somehow something I never desired to do.

And a heart shattered, knee bent soul says,  “I want to dwell with you Lord.”

Arrogant flesh declares, “You are so weak. You are unstable. Why can’t you do this on your own. You are a failure.”

God of Heaven, Commander of the Angel Armies, how could You even invite me to dwell with you? My cold hard heart swims away. But yet I call again, and You still reply. What kind of love is this? The love a Father has for His daughters and sons. Shelter in the Most High. Amidst the God of the Heavens. Yes, I will seek shelter with You and will not be ashamed of my address. My once temporary safe spot now made a permanent dwelling. Infiltrate my heart and mind so less of me becomes more of You. In You alone God…that will be my only shelter…my only trust. My hope found. My stable place, the only place I will stand.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf-0sr8axwg]

Courageous feet walking out dreams…

20130415-060323.jpg

I have dreams. Crazy wild dreams. Dreams many would say are impossible. But not with God. Nothing is impossible.

I once heard someone say that if you give something away, people won’t value it. That a free gift can’t possibly be worth something. For a moment I ascribed to this theory until I realized the greater truth. A free gift can be worth something depending on the heart of the giver. If the giver only values giving something away to get it off their hands, well then yes it likely isn’t worth much. If the giver gives with confidence and haste it leads us to question their motives, as true giving often requires sacrifice. But if a giver gives hesitantly but without reproach, willing to sacrifice something of great value to help someone else, well then the gift is worth much and freedom indeed can come attached to such gift.

Such is the gift of the cross. Given freely, the greatest gift of all. The salvation of humanity. A free gift can indeed be worth something depending on the heart of the giver.

I want to give away counseling in my hometown. Sound Biblical theory based Christian counseling to those who cannot afford it. Not that I do not want an investment from them. I do. But I want to offer the option of paying whatever they can pay. Whatever their current circumstances will allow. Which may be different from week to week, and I am okay with that.

I am okay with that but my bank account is not. It says I need a steady paycheck and in order to keep the lights on in my own home I should require more of said people, as a service valuable is worth charging for. And on so many points I agree, yet my heart disagrees. I can’t stand to see one more victim of human trafficking or domestic violence or sexual abuse writhe in pain because she cannot afford to pay a therapist. A gift I want to offer her is the gift of freedom through Him, offered freely indeed.

And so the lines of counseling and religion and freedom become blurred and yet in certain cases I think this is good. Theories get you far and are vastly useful when dealing with mental health issues but there is only one heart freedom setter. If The Lord sets you free you shall be free indeed. That’s my Jesus.

And so Lord willing I place my feet where he would have me go. Darkness lies before me as I cannot see the path he has planned, but I do know one thing. One small verse filled with gigantic truth. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Joshua 1:3.

Every place I set my foot has been pre-ordained by Him as preparation for the next phase of living. For His ministry. For His will. He knows the logistics. The wheres and the whens. My job is as simple as this. Daily obedience, and being still enough to listen. Having ears that are open and available to the promptings of His Word. My freedom based counseling center may or may not come to fruition but I believe God has His hand in it. And in His time, I will see His will done.

And maybe you are a dreamer too. And though the ground you walk on seems unsteady at best, it is God who makes the ground manageable. Who blesses each and every step your feet take in His will. And as we trust His timing and seek Him in the midst of waiting and misunderstanding, He will lead us to the fruit if it all. The promised Holy land. On earth and in heaven. His will is and will be done. May we seek it Lord, and may every place we set our feet be promised to You indeed.

When you want to run away from home…

20130413-091713.jpg

Sometimes the world gets to spinning so fast it seems there is no way to make it stop. Soccer practice, ballet class, dinner preparations, work, bellowing babies, a needy husband, and just when will there be time for me? And oh yeah, I’m supposed to spend time with you Lord. Just how do you expect me to do that?

There are no easy answers to living real life. Maybe because real life isn’t a question to be answered or a puzzle to be solved, but rather a life to be lived. We can get so wrapped up in looking for answers to our questions and finding reasons to justify our circumstances that we miss the very lesson The Lord would teach us in the midst of it all.

I remember feeling highly overwhelmed by my home life. My husband and I were fighting. My oldest child was struggling in school while my younger child was in a screaming tantrum phase. I thought, “This must be my new normal.” And I was terrified.

I began to feel like I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to escape from home. I did anything I could to get out of the house because in the house I felt ineffective and awkward. At least at work I could get things done and I knew what to do. At home I felt like a lost wandering puppy and I just wanted to hide in a corner blanket and whine.

I remember my counselor during this time telling me to control what I could and let go of the rest. A truth I still live by today. I could control the words I spoke in my home. I could control my attitude. I could do everything within my power to make our home a safe and inviting place. And the rest was up to God.

I began to feel empowered as I realized I wasn’t a helpless victim of family dynamics. As a mother, God had given me the power of influence. My words could be used to build others up. I had the power to hug and snuggle my children even while they were upset and hurting. I didn’t have the power to heal their hurt and circumstances, but I could love them in the midst.

I also realized it was within my control to spend time with The Lord. If my schedule was screaming, all the more I needed His Word to scream louder. I began getting up before anyone else in the house woke up. It was a sacrifice, but well worth it. As I began my day with God’s Word, He prepared me to face the challenges that would come my way.

Regaining this sense of empowerment helped me learn to enjoy my family again. I began choosing to love them rather than run from them. I didn’t have to fix them, that’s not my job. My job was to love them no matter what. A selfless act. And spending time in God’s Word taught me how and strengthened me to love them well.

Are family dynamics and life in general overwhelming you today? I encourage you to sit down and take a good look at what God has placed within your power and what is not. Even simple things within your power used for the glory of The Lord over time will make a huge difference.

The Great I Am…

isaiah 41

 

“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

Have you ever had that moment at the restaurant? The one where your frilly little girl loudly and proudly belches and then declares to her father, “That’s a good one!” Oh girl, I have. It happens more often than I would like to admit. My husband thinks its hilarious. I crawl under the table in embarrassment.

But I must admit, that’s one thing I love about my husband. He may not be the best at teaching my children proper etiquette, but he always has fun with them. He makes them smile and laugh and when they are down, he lifts them up. He is proud of them. And He loves them.

Aren’t we glad we have a Father in heaven who lifts us up like that? You may have had an earthly father who hurt you. He may have given you ten put downs for every put up. Imagining The Lord as loving is difficult for you. How could a father love you no matter what? The only kind of love you know is the kind you have to earn. Or maybe you never earned it, and you have now stamped yourself unloveable. How can you trust your Heavenly Father to lift you up, to strengthen you, to help you, if your earthly father never did?

Learning to trust the Lord is first an act of the will, and second a response of the emotions. An act of the will born not of our own strength, but the strength of the Lord. If we wait until we feel like trusting God, we never will. Rather we ask Him to help us put our faith in Him and continue to do this until our hearts have enough evidence to follow.

I love what Charles Spurgeon writes when meditating upon this verse…

“And shall it ever come to this, that God’s own children shall say that they cannot believe their God? Oh, sin of sins! It takes away the very Godhead from God, for if God be not true, he is not a God; and if he be not fit to be believed, neither is he fit to be adored, for a God whom you cannot trust you cannot worship.”

If we cannot trust our God, we cannot worship our God. If we cannot trust Him, He cannot be our God in the first place. For God cannot violate who He is. He is love poured out. He is love that does not have to be held up to glory, rather He holds you up and let’s you shine in His glory. He is proud of you. He lives in you and He strengthens you. He is not a father whose love is to be evidenced by our own examples and expectations dictated by our past and present circumstances and emotions. He is God, and He is the I AM. The I AM who is not just with you, but within you. And so He declares, moreover commands, Do Not Fear…I AM.

 

Seeds and depravity weeds…

20130409-110013.jpg

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1

As I looked out my backyard this morning, I couldn’t help but be proud of the raised bed garden my husband and I have created. There isn’t much there yet. Just some seeds. Right now it looks like a big pile of dirt. Not to mention the holes in the dirt my dog continues to dig. He seems to think the dirt needs his daily visit.

We planted carrot seeds, corn seeds, and lettuce seeds. Although I’m not sure what will sprout up first, I can’t wait to see the first tiny green shoot protruding from the soil. And I began thinking about what we plant in our hearts.

We have our quiet times daily and plant God’s Word in our hearts. We go to church and sing songs of praise as to plant thankfulness in our hearts. All the while, Satan the roaring tiger circles around us with his pea shooter launching seeds of doubt.

He’s so sneaky that sometimes we don’t even notice a doubt seed has infiltrated the soil beds. After all, a seed remains hidden until it begins to sprout.

I wonder what it is that you doubt. Do you doubt His provision? His wisdom? His understanding? The promises of His Word? Do you doubt that He can heal you from the wound that seems to fester throughout the years? Do you doubt that he can heal you from mental or physical illness? Do you doubt that He has risen from the grave?

There are so many opportunities to doubt the Lord. And yet deeper still are the opportunities to trust in Him. In every situation and circumstance we go through, we have an opportunity. An opportunity to trust in the Lord or doubt His promises are true. Which will you choose?

Seeds of doubt grow into depravity if we let them. They deprive us of the peace and blessing of God. They corrupt what He would do in our lives. Perhaps the biggest seed of doubt ever sown was in the Garden of Eden when Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say?”

With a seed of doubt, Satan was able to convince Eve that what the Lord offered her was not enough. That she needed more and the world was not perfect unless she understood the reasons behind her circumstances.

Sound familiar? We often doubt because we do not understand. In pursuit of knowledge, we leave the one true source of infinite wisdom, God’s Word. We hope we will find something “better” on our own. But God knows all the while that the best we can find is when we trust in His Word, perfect will, and timing.

Take a look around the garden of your heart. What are you anxious about today? Where is uncertainty beginning to spring? Before stalks of depravity make their mark, ask the Lord to help you weed the doubt seeds out.

When you do this, you may be looking for God to give you a tangible response. We want to hear, see, and touch the Lord. Let me assure you that you can find all the evidence you need in His Word if you choose to let it penetrate your heart. Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Doubt is shattered when His Word is spoken over your heart and mind. And so when Satan asks you, “Did God really say?”, you can be ready with a big ‘ole “YES HE DID!!!”

Unshackled by praise…

20130407-091517.jpg

As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 2 Chronicles 20:22

There are thousands left shackled in their own personal prisons. Waves of anxiety and depression seeking to steal away The Word and its power. Finding themselves ill prepared to do battle with a song of praise as the praiseworthy things seem to have vanished long before now.

Shackled armies spending time in the prison of their own thoughts. Thoughts that torture far more than anything man could design. And what an indignity a song of praise would seem in a time such as this.

And yet, Almighty God is on our side when we choose to praise. Almighty God who has wiped out single cities with the sweep of His hand and the touch of a single sword. And here we are, shackled remnants of His faithful army. Heirs to the throne. Sons and daughters of the King of Kings. Called to action yet lying motionless in our own pits of sin and lack of praise.

Praise that lifts Him on high and summons an army of angels tenfold greater than the forces we face. Surely if we want to do battle in the field of our minds, it is necessary to have Him on our side. And yet so often we are afraid.

Afraid of what complete surrender would look like. Pits of sin abandoned in acts of prayerful defiance against a system of self-righteousness that has failed us over and over again.

Unshackled by praise we must rise and defend what is rightfully ours. The right to freedom and new found joy wrapped tightly in the arms of Jesus. Even the most tightly held captive can find freedom in the exaltation of His glorious name.

And yet how does freedom singing reclaim water in a desert? How do we move from our own indecencies and beds of anxious sorrow to a place of all praise? It’s a journey thats very beginning asks us to abandon ourselves.

And yet the battle must begin by winning independence from ourselves and depending upon the faithful hand of God. The lifted praise extended higher than my right hand on its own power could lift me. Lifted high to my King of Kings.

We can find the way home as bondage burdens are lifted amidst gracious praise. Songs lifted in seasons of captivity that end in broken chains. Oh the joy when we have abandoned ourselves and sing out of His glory and fame rather than our own dirges echoing loudly in the minds grave. Freedoms gates opened with the simplicity of a song found on a treetop in the last glimmers of day.

Book and Conference Call giveaway winners…

hammock

Happy Saturday Morning! Are you as excited for the weekend as I am?!?! I love those weekends when we have nothing to do buy enjoy family and spend time together. Today we will be taking my daughter to ballet class, going to eat a quick lunch, and then shopping for hammocks! I can’t wait to curt up in my new hammock and read “Stressed-Less Living”!

If you haven’t signed up for the Online Bible Study yet, there is still time! The study takes place at www.melissataylor.org and right now she has an awesome video up that explains Online Bible Study and welcomes you to get started. If you haven’t signed up yet, go there now!!!! And the winners of a copy of the book “Stressed-Less Living” and the Conference Call series to go along with the Online Bible Study are

Janna Wagner

and

Janine Benavidez 

Email me at stephkevinryan@hotmail.com with your mailing address and we will get the book sent out to you and email you the conference call information!

Have a wonderful weekend!!!

glad

When hope peels away like a rotten banana…

hope1

If I know one thing about waiting, it is that waiting can peel away my hope.

With each day that passes by…a prayer seems to go unanswered…and my heart decides it wasn’t worth Him listening to in the first place. Silly me…why did I ever think God would listen to my measly meanderings. How could He care about my childish unimportant requests? Prayer was pointless. I should just move on.

Surprised that I have these thoughts? I’m not. Because it doesn’t matter who we are…counselor…Bible teacher…preacher of a mega-church…social service worker…fast food cook…teacher…physician…homeless man on the corner…we all have doubts. And in doubting our wandering heart leaves it’s home.

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24 NIV

My heart’s home is in a place of fearful reverence. Not a terror based fear, or a painful fear, but a fear that knows I best get down on my knees and prepare for His confident blessings because I cannot hold them standing up. I must get close to the ground, face on the floor as to stabilize myself for the flood that is to come. I fear His greatness will overwhelm my sorrow and that I might not be able to take the passing by of His glory. That is the place of a heart at home.

Waiting does its job on peeling away my hope, but impatience and uncertainty stop dead in their tracks when faced with the goodness of our Lord. The things He has done in the past and the things He will do. The greatness of His sacrifice on the cross begun in a hay filled manger. Humble sacrifice of royalty risen before death ever brought the sting. The One who took my place, suffering, and bringing me to such fearful abiding love that I cannot yet take it in.

I do fear the Lord. I do fear that He does not hear me. But when I think about what actually happens if He does hear, I can barely move. The impatience and irritation of unmet expectations are more based in my fear of what His will might look if I let him completely have control.

Anxious impatience leaves me feeling sorry for myself. Uncertainty drowns out the meaning and purpose that could be learned from a time such as this. And so I choose to wait in different ways.

My heart need not wander in places where it will not find a home. Places of fear based in irreverence rather than trusting the mighty King who overwhelms me with the answers I cannot see. If I were to see each answer I could scarce take in the magnitude of His spotless plan. Selfish impatience desires to impart a rift between my hope and the greatness of our God, but I will choose hope in the Lord even when I cannot see.

His love is far too wide and deep for me to understand. I could not if I tried. And so I will lean whole heartedly into his unending mercy and grace. Trusting that his lips are never far from mine, speaking sweet mercies and blessings upon my heart and mind. He hears everything that springs forth. He sings blessings over me, and I sing blessings, honor, and glory back to Him. His hand with perfect timing embracing the wholeness of my heart with His majestic stream of knowledge…and hope is reborn waiting fearfully for the blessings far beyond my expectations.