I have been pondering the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and learning more about peace over the last couple of months. A storm that terrified fisherman must have been pretty intense and Jesus slept peacefully during it.
Oh, to sleep like that. I haven't had many restful nights of sleep since I had kids. I mean, the sleep I get now is way better than when they were babies, but there are still the nights of bad dreams and puking and jumpy legs. I had to have a breast biopsy several years ago and I remember them pushing me down the hallway on my bed after surgery telling me the procedure was over and it was time to wake up. I remember saying, "Nooooo! Don't wake me up. I haven't slept this good since I had kids." I think I said a few other stupid things too. I have this vague memory of the doctor talking to me before surgery and me saying since we were all gathered together maybe a plastic surgeon could come in afterward and put back what they were going to take out and then some. She said that wouldn't be possible.
I was drugged up, people. Cut me some slack.
Jesus slept peacefully in a terrible storm because he trusted his Father completely. I have known for a while that I have trouble trusting God. I believe he loves me, but I don't think I matter to him as much as others and it's hard to trust someone when you don't think you matter to him.
I can't fully trust God when I am trying to serve God and myself. Dallas Willard said, "the greatest threat to God's kingdom in my life, is my kingdom." I think about all of the posts I have written about my struggle with people pleasing, learning that it's good to have boundaries, and not allowing what other people think of me to determine my worth. I see how God has gently removed layer by layer, taking me deeper and deeper. And I know he has further to take me. He will always have further to take me in this life. And the day will come when I will be completely free of the approval ratings of others! Oh, I long for that day!
My kingdom of people pleasing has been my way of trying to find worth and hoping I could protect myself against pain. I believed my value was in nurturing others. I fear being abandoned, unloved, and rejected and, somehow, subconsciously, I thought if I bent over backwards for people I might have a better chance of being loved and avoid rejection. And when I did get mistreated, rejected, and not loved well, I would blame myself. I'd try that much harder to be nicer, more giving, more "selfless".
In my desire to avoid rejection, I set myself up for more rejection.
Messed up much? I know. This is why I have both a spiritual director and a therapist.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat with my journal and wrote down a few of the instances in my past when I had allowed others to mistreat me more than once... all kinds of relationships, as an employee, in friendships, with people I didn't know well. And then I read what I wrote out loud. It was painful. I imagined my children allowing themselves to be mistreated over and over again, and I wept.
As crazy as it sounds, I honestly did not know it was okay for me to have boundaries until I read Dr. Cloud's book Boundaries. Boundaries felt mean and unloving, so add that way of thinking to my people pleasing tendencies and it is a recipe for being a door mat. I've been a boundary-less people pleaser.
When the scales fall off your eyes and you see that people mistreating you time and time again was not a "them" issue, but a "you" issue, it's sobering. And not that others don't have their crap ton of issues they bring into relationships because everybody has their something, but I can't control their issues. What I can control is my boundary-less people pleasing.
While my Father tenderly unwinds my tangled mess, the reality of how much of a door mat I have been is saddening. This is not what I was created to be and not what I want to model for my children. I have told my kids throughout the years that one thing I hope they remember about me is how I clung to Jesus. Not perfectly. Not without sin and mistakes. Not without doubts and questions. But I clung. And now, I hope they remember that in clinging to Jesus, I learned to put up boundaries and quit people pleasing.
How can I rest peacefully during the storms? By releasing my kingdoms, so God's kingdom can come more fully into my life.
I was on the back of the farm on Sunday. I was begging God not to leave my heart where it is; to come, to rescue, to restore the years the locusts have eaten. It was very still and quiet in the woods, and I leaned against a tree and started to cry. All of a sudden a bird began to sing. I don't know what bird it was. It sang 3 notes repeatedly and loudly from the bottom of the hill. God whispered, "I will sing over your soul." I started to sob. The bird stopped singing and the wind picked up. I was in the middle of the pines and the branches were swaying, it was a strong wind; it was surreal. The wind picked up even more, blowing hard in my face, and God whispered, "I will fill your lungs with fresh air." I stood there several minutes crying. And then I raised my arms in praise.
Oh God, I am important to you, I matter to you, you love me as much as you love everyone else. Help my unbelief.
As my kingdom crumbles and I open more space in my life for God's kingdom to come, I am more free and more peaceful. More peaceful even in the storm of relationships hanging on by a thread, the ending of some relationships, the uncomfortableness of practicing boundaries, and grieving the way I've acted.
If I could truly believe that my Father loves me as much as everyone else and I matter to him, what would I fear? It would be hard to fear not being loved when I am bathing in a pool of endless, perfect love. Diving deep, splashing around, floating in unfailing love.
"Our sins, our grief, our sorrows were laid on him. Our judgment fell on him. Our locusts swarmed all over him. The life of God's tender shoot was 'cut off.' Then, on the third day, the Son of God rose in the power of an eternal life. He offers himself to you, and he says what no one else can ever say: 'I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.'" -Colin Smith
God, I will trust you to restore the years the locusts have eaten. And when I fear and lament, I will recall your promise to sing over my soul and to breathe fresh air in my lungs. You sought me out on the back of the farm. You met me and I was in your presence on holy ground, that's how much you love me, how much I matter to you, how important you think I am. How great your love for me! Shatter my kingdoms. May your kingdom come into my life. Amen.
My friend Sheila is an artist and a fitness instructor. She used to teach some classes for my fitness business and then she became a mom. Working full time and juggling the responsibilities of motherhood prompted her to quit teaching fitness for a while. When I was opening my studio, I contacted Sheila and asked her if she would create art for my space. I just wasn't sure at the time what I wanted.
A few months ago I listened to a podcast from Renovaré and James Bryan Smith was the guest. During the conversation he briefly talked about a Japanese form of art called kintsugi. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery. Rather than throwing away the broken pottery, the pieces are put back together using a lacquer which contains gold, platinum, or silver. That same week, our pastor Matt talked about kintsugi at church. It was one of those moments when you wanna stand up in the middle of church and yell, "NO. WAY. I just listened to a podcast talking about this very thing!" But then decide that standing up in the middle of church and yelling may not be the wisest choice in the moment.
After listening to both James Bryan Smith and Matt talk about kintsugi, I knew what I wanted Sheila to create.
My broken nature repaired by God's grace.
I am broken because of my own sin, broken because of the sin of others, broken because of the heartbreak of living in a fallen world. And God steps into my broken, cracked nature with an invitation to piece it back together.
A week after Sheila had finished the painting and delivered it to me, we were in church on the second Sunday of Advent. Matt talked about 2 Peter 1:4... being partakers in the divine nature of God. I thought about the painting. A picture of my broken and cracked nature meeting and partaking in the divine nature of God.
I read earlier this week from Luke 9 when Jesus asks Peter, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answers, "The Messiah of God." In my Life with God Bible notes it says that despite Peter's flaws, despite his feet of clay, "God still poured great life and light out of him in order to bless and transform others." It goes on to say, "The same is true for us. We are only too well aware of our own imperfections and may believe that, until we get completely free of them, God cannot accomplish anything beneficial through our words and actions. But the example of Peter proves that this is not the case."
My broken and cracked nature is not thrown away. And I don't have to work at disguising the cracks. In fact, they are beautiful. Kintsugi art often looks even more beautiful than the original.
My heart is longing for Advent season more this year than ever before. Maybe in part because of the unrest, division, pain, and confusion in our country. Maybe in part because the longer I live, the more suffering, tragedy, and heartache I've seen and experienced. And my heart cries out, "Come, Lord Jesus."
And he comes. He comes in an unexpected way.
"He slipped into our world through the back roads and outlying districts of one of the least important places on earth and has allowed his program for human history to unfold ever so slowly through the centuries.
He lived for thirty years among socially insignificant members of a negligible nation—though one with a rich tradition of divine covenant and interaction. He grew up in the home of the carpenter for the little Middle-Eastern village of Nazareth. After his father, Joseph, died, he became ‘the man of the house’ and helped his mother raise the rest of the family. He was an ordinary workman: a ‘blue-collar’ worker.
He did all this to be with us, to be one of us, …The obviously well kept secret of the “ordinary” is that it is made to be a receptacle of the divine, a place where the life of God flows." -Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
He was born be with us. Born to rescue us. Born to teach us. Born to save us. Born to die.
And then there was resurrection.
I am starting now to prepare my heart for celebrating the birth of Christ. I want to take extra time to reflect on what the coming of Jesus means to my life. I was reading Genesis 11 last week. In my Life With God Bible notes it says, "The wide-angle survey of creation in disarray turns to the narrow focus on a man named Abram, in a town called Ur, with a barren wife and no child. At this juncture the story appears to have reached a dead end, but, looking back, we know the creative power of God to bring life where there is seemingly no hope for the future."
God has proven in history to bring life where there seems to be no hope for the future. This is what the coming of Jesus means to my life. Those times when I appeared to have reached a dead end and I have lied face down on the floor, sobbing, alone, feeling like everyone and God had abandoned me, begging for the heartache to end. Yet, there was a part of my soul hanging on to a thread of hope. Hanging on to Jesus. I've often imagined myself grabbing the hem of his garment and clinging to it with everything I had left in me.
I listened to a discussion between John Ortberg and Dallas Willard and I wrote this down:
John: It strikes me that to be relaxed like Jesus lies on the other side of that crucifixion. And I want the relaxation. I'm not so sure I want the crucifixion.
Dallas: Well, I think as you come to understand it, you welcome the crucifixion as the great door of liberation because it takes you off your kingdom, you see. When the cross is on you, you're free.
You welcome the crucifixion as the great door of liberation. If I were younger I would say, "I can't even" to that thought. But I'm not. So I won't. I will say, I need to let that thought marinate. I think I need to put it on a few post-it notes and stick them around the house and keep that thought in front of my eyes during Advent season.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas writes, "So it is absolutely essential to our growth into the mind of Jesus that we accept the "trials" of ordinary existence as the place where we are to experience and find the reign of God-with-us as actual reality. We are not to try to get in a position to avoid trials. And we are not to "catastrophize" and declare the "end of the world" when things happen. We are to see every event as an occasion in which the competence and faithfulness of God will be confirmed to us. Thus we do know the concrete reality of the kingdom of the heavens."
Oh, God. May I seek your kingdom. I mean, really seek your kingdom. May I live a with-God life in the heartache and in the ways I relate with my husband, my children, my family and friends, in my community, and in the world. Forgive me for the times I don't.
Frivolousness. Because a little bit of carefree in the middle of life's confusing times can be therapeutic. On our way home from our nephew's wedding in Wisconsin last May, we stopped at a Goodwill to stretch our legs. Because when you are on a road trip it is important to stretch your legs. At a thrift store. And I found this adorable shirt with birds on it. It makes me smile when I wear it. I feel like chirping and flying around. And it's Zara. Not that I care that much about labels, but it's always fun to find something like that when you thrift. The jeans are about 6 or 7 years old, my old bootcut jeans. Last year I cut them off so they fringed at the bottom. This year I cut them a little shorter. Breathing new life into something I already had.
Ahhh. Yes. Birds and being outside and breathing new life.
The other day I was on a walk around the farm and turned the corner to see the fence down for the sheep. Our neighbors have sheep and we let them graze on our property. We are kind of like grandparents to the sheep. We get to enjoy them without all of the responsibility. When I saw the fence was knocked down, I looked over to see the sheep grazing in our neighbor's side yard. Since our neighbors were both gone, I called my son and we took on the task of getting them back inside the fence.
I've been thinking about the sheep outside of the fence for a couple of days.
We wander outside of the Kingdom when we are arrogant, judgmental, sarcastic, and condescending toward others we don't agree with. Whether our opinions are to the right or to the left, if we respond in these ways we are outside the fence. We may genuinely want others to see the ways in which we believe they are living outside of the Kingdom, but when we do it in a way that drips with arrogance, judgment, sarcasm, and condescension we're outside of the Kingdom.
The world does indeed watch how Christians treat non-Christians who don't think the way we do. I don't think the world cares as much about how we treat each other, though. I think it's a turn off, but I think if we validate and agree with them on various topics, we are in. If we don't validate and agree with them, we are out. However, God really cares about how we treat each other as Christians.
Watching this kind of drama unfold on social media is like being back in high school. It's like watching the movie Mean Girls. I've never watched the movie in it's entirety, I had no desire after seeing some of the clips. I am not going to pay to subject myself to two hours of reliving high school and call it entertainment. But really, the kind of come backs I've been seeing on social media from both sides trying to prove a point are full of high school and everything, but love.
These comments and behavior are not only from the "conservative evangelical pharisees" or the "progressives who will burn in hell", it's from both. It just so happens that there are a bunch of us outside the fence way over on the right and there are a bunch of us outside the fence way over on the left. We are flipping each other off with our cutting words. And I can't imagine Jesus treating anyone the way we are treating each other.
I've always told my kids that if they could learn to love each other well and get along with their siblings, then they will be able to do that with just about anybody, because loving and getting along with family is the hardest. But we work at it because we are family.
Our pastor Louie says, "It's a terrible thing to be right, only."
The back of the farm is where I go for most of my therapy sessions. You know, the times when I am not actually meeting with my therapist or spiritual director. Yeah, that's where I am. I need both. And I am totally good with that. But when I am not meeting with them, I am on the back of the farm. A lot. It's where I go to sort things out. To cry, to yell in anger, to dance in rejoicing. The other day on the back of the farm, I was weeping about all of these hard topics that we as Christians aren't getting along well about. Out of my weeping heart came this plea:
God, what if I'm wrong? Am I wrong? All of these different voices from really smart people who have researched and studied, who have PhDs, and ooze intelligence, don't agree. People with really good hearts who want to follow your ways and love you and love their neighbor and have prayed diligently, don't agree. I am going to keep walking down this path of my beliefs, theology, and doctrine with open eyes, open ears, and an open heart to you. If I am wrong, God, I beg you to make it clear. And while I journey help me to love those I don't agree with. Help me not to take a stance of arrogance, judgment, sarcasm, and condescension because I really want to so bad sometimes. I am sorry, forgive me. Amen.