Facebook Fast

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Okay.. It wasn’t a fast. I straight up wanted out. Out of the drama. Out of the posts that were less than authentic. Out of the arguments. The back biting. The passive aggressive warfare meant to injure with wit and snark and the ever revealing emoticons. Off the breeding ground for competition.

So, I got off. No explanation. No “don’t you wish you were this pious” statements. I just left. Status hanging in mid air, comments left unmade, posts unliked and liked. I agree that originally my emotions led the choice, but my mind kept the commitment. And it was hard… At first.

I felt out of the loop.
People would text me and say “Did you see such and such?”, and I hadn’t. People would start conversations about something they saw in a status and all I could do was listen and silently agree or disagree. Articles posted would be fodder for discussion, and I wouldn’t have a clue.

I felt isolated.
Here is the sad truth of it, most of my friends stopped communicating with me. Not sure if it’s just more convenient to chat through Facebook or if it was an “out of sight, out of mind” thing regardless, my phone stayed silent.
A lot.

I felt limited.
Take this blog for instance… You either stumbled upon it by chance, saw it on Pinterest (because let’s be honest what woman can live without that!!?) or happen to already follow me. There is something about having a cyber megaphone. Those lessons become group sessions and those words of hope become anthems! But, without Facebook, my ability to project was severely limited. I felt like a lion who suddenly became a tiny mouse. Where was my voice?

But, despite those inconveniences, here is what I found.

Time to read.
My Bible Study time increased exponentially. I’ve always been a reader and studier but now I was reading and studying simply for me.. Not to share a scripture or what God was teaching me. My lessons became truly my lessons not rolling through a Rolodex of names thinking who would benefit from my study.

I found more time for my girls to play or to talk or just to enjoy a movie or show on Netflix without interruption. It is amazing how much more “quality” that time becomes when half of it doesn’t consist of scouting out “I need to put this on Facebook” moments.

I came to appreciate Silence.
I realized that without a half dozen notifications popping up on my screen every 30 minutes I could actually set my phone aside. Like, in the back bedroom, far from my sight and from my ear. I actually missed texts! Can you imagine!? Remarkably, the world did not end.

I found less need for validation.
Did you know that research has found that the endorphin rush of getting a “like” on social media is akin to an addiction? Test yourself. Do you find yourself constantly checking likes, shares, and comments and feeling extreme disappointment when they don’t show? You might have a problem. Suddenly what we liked and what we need is based on what everyone else thinks what we should like and should need. Approval is a drug. And I can be an addict.

I faced Reality.
There was no hiding behind poignant posts to mask my feelings. Talking to my soul became quiet.. One on one.. And I found my soul without the encouragement of the Body, was significantly less empowered. There is a reason why God said it isn’t good for man to be alone, and whereas Facebook has it’s major hang ups and distractions, it can also be a beacon of hope to the desperate the discouraged and the hurting. Reality bites. It’s good to have those who recognize that taste.

I will find my way back to the Book of Faces in a few more weeks, but I am wiser having released myself (even if momentarily) from it’s hungry grasp. I challenge you to try. Break free. See what you’re missing and return with a purpose for being there.. Because it isn’t there to create a pretend life, it isn’t there to take out your anger based on insecurities on those who would be exposed, it isn’t there to aid you in posting pictures and being validated and bragging on our kids (which certainly impacts them more if we SAY it not tag it), but it IS about belonging, finding a place to share your voice, to grow in faith and understanding. If you’re a Christian, it’s a place for ministry and mission work. Just don’t get lost. Because in a world of faces, we need to see more of you… Literally.

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Removing Splinters

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“I’m not one to judge… but…”

I knew what was coming, the same thing that comes anytime anyone starts any conversation with those words – judgment. I struggle with that. I think Jesus struggled with that, too. The same Lord that warned us, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Matt. 7:1) and the very God who cautioned, “The same measure that you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2), He wasn’t lax on this issue of judgment; in fact, of all the things He reprimanded the “religious” for, this was consistent.

What is in us that wants to judge?

Comparison.

That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We haven’t evolved past Cain and Able. We still feel the need to compare ourselves with one another, and lets face it when we can point the finger at a more public, more destructive sin, we will do it. Why? Because in the shadow of those failures, our gossip and little white lies don’t seem like anything that matters.

Jesus addressed judgment with the analogy of a log and a splinter:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

I’ve been there. I’ve been the pointer and the accused. But it truly wasn’t until I had to fill the shoes of the accused that I could fully understand how the logs and the splinters must be dealt with.

Jesus wasn’t saying they don’t exist or that we should ignore them. He was bringing attention to the flaw, not excusing it, to help us to see that we must first inspect ourselves before we can even begin to correct another. But that is also the mystery of it, because as you see your flaws and imperfections, when you become aware that you have something in your life that humbles you before God and man, then you are much more gentle in the splinter removal.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The other day Lily got a piece of glass in her foot. She limped around until finally I convinced her to let me look at it. Reluctantly and with great fear she grabbed her foot, letting me have only the shortest (and non helpful) look. I could sympathize. I have been there – clutching my foot, crying, begging my mom NOT to get out the needle! I got her fear. As I gently pulled her foot back to me, I told her a story, a story of a splinter in a kitchen when I was exactly her age with my mom and my grandma and grandpa. I shared with her the absolute fear I felt because I didn’t know what was coming. And something happened, in the telling, in the sharing, in the confession, she relaxed. She loosened her grip and her eyes lost that stark white stare as she relinquished her foot to my care.

And that’s exactly what removing logs to help with splinters looks like.

Compassion.

As we gently approach one another with the confession and story of a life where we stumbled and fell but found the strength in Christ to get back up again, when we tell them, and remind ourselves anew, of the love that met us when we were convinced we would be disowned, we become credible, and the difficult work of healing seems more tangible, more possible, and less frightening. I think that is the very point Jesus was making – before you point out your neighbors struggle, deal with your own, and then you will see better to help them… because empathy begets compassion, and compassion doesn’t stand at a distance and point, it reaches out.

Life is loss.

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In Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” this is her admission, her announcement, her proclamation. Life is loss… when, what, who will you lose? It’s not a matter of will I lose, but solely when will I lose.

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Suffering for Jesus

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We use this term loosely in ministry, usually followed by a stay at an all-inclusive resort or a trip to some exotic place no one would consider “suffering” at all. But, despite our quips, suffering is a part of ministry; it is a part of relationship with God, in taking on His work in the Kingdom. No one knows that better than those that have been there, and yet we use comments like “Jesus isn’t suffering, broken, ill, or misused so neither are we.” Where does that asinine train of thought come from? True. Healing is in the name of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone from everything. So if we suffer it isn’t because we do not believe on the name of Jesus.

 In fact, if you think about sovereign saints that believed whole-heartedly and passionately in the healing work of God and the manifestation of His grace, don’t you think of all people, the disciples would have been spared from suffering? And you cannot speak of suffering without bringing up Jesus Christ, a man who suffered and died a cruel death in a state of innocence so that we would forever be cleansed from the cancerous cruelty of guilt and shame. Therein you will find freedom, but we are never guaranteed freedom from suffering. If that were the case, what do we make of the words of Jesus that say, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” He didn’t say “might” or “may  have” but a definite “WILL.”

 The words that got John and Peter and countless other martyrs through weren’t based on the denial of their pain, but the Truth that got them through was the understanding that no matter what, God had not forsaken them, and any sacrifice or suffering was worth the love of Christ. It is the same Truth that gets the countless Christians persecuted daily for their faith through to the next day even as they bury their children, spouses, and friends.

 We have to stop pointing at suffering as punishment and pain as an act of disobedience. The truth is, we are all going to suffer in one way or another in the flesh as long as we are earth bound. We have a choice in how we react to that suffering, in bitterness or in joy. Let me explain, joy is not happiness. No one is happy to suffer, no one laughs through chemo or transplants, but at the end of the day, they walk through it knowing they are led by Hands that know suffering and unfair pain. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid or they do not have moments of hopelessness, but in the end, they rest in the knowledge that He sees, He knows, and He promises that there is more on the other side.

 We cannot be afraid to suffer, and we cannot condemn those that do, questioning their faith, and challenging their obedience.  If you do not suffer, praise God! It isn’t because of anything you have or have not done, and if you suffer, praise God, because He has seen fit to send a message through you. Some of the bravest souls I know, didn’t deny their pain or their suffering or their illness, they acknowledged it, embraced it, and made it a part of a lasting testimony of faith. 

Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

Directing Squirrels

God spoke to me through a squirrel.

We were coming home from a birthday lunch date with my daddy, and in the middle of the street there was a squirrel. He was pitiful. He was confused and dazed and didn’t know where to go. He’d head one way then circle around another way – going nowhere just spinning. He’d get dizzy so he would lay down his head and then twitch his tail and fight to stand up only to be dazed and confused again. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever witnessed. I wanted to cry, and I told my dad we had to help him. I was desperate to see him be safe!

We went to my house, and I grabbed an old dog kennel. I figured maybe he we could lure him in and release him into a tree. Yes. I wasn’t thinking clearly. After all, my college roommate and I had played momma to a baby squirrel for a few weeks, in my right mind I would have remembered how dangerous a scared and trapped squirrel could be, but all I could think about was the danger it was in, my own didn’t matter.

My dad and I walked over to where we had seen the squirrel, but in just those five short minutes it had taken to get him some help, he’d moved. We weren’t content with that we wanted to know where, so we walked a little and saw a tail twitch at the base of a tree. It was our little squirrel! He was slowly but surely making his way up the tree, to safety. I saw my compassionate dad getting choked up and wrapped my arms around him! My dad leaned his head to mine and said, “I’m glad he made it home.”

God spoke to me later that day. He said “That desperation, that heartache that you felt for that simple squirrel is but a fraction of what I feel as I watch my misguided children spin about dazed and confused with no where to turn. I need you to point them to safety. I need you to make sure they find the tree, the cross, and I’ll Take it from there. Just point them to Me.”

And that’s what we do. Everyday, in a million different ways.. Whether its through Teen Christian Ministries, LeadHer Academy, or writing books, We point to the cross. We are desperate at times! We want to grab them and force them into safety, not wanting to see them face the pain or heartache we have, and we forget that we can’t save them. That’s the hardest truth. We can’t save them. But He can! Only, they have to choose to fight, to shake off the confusion, and find their way to safety. But they have to walk it.. We can’t place them there.

I was pondering this very heartbreak after sharing my squirrel story with my friend, brother and writing cohort, when I was reminded of one of Jesus’ own moments of pain and desperation:

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matthew 9:36, 37, 38 MSG)

His heart broke! He saw their confusion and their aimlessness and His heart broke. The one that could save them stood amongst them, but what did He say? He turned to the disciples and basically said, “You see that? They need YOU to help them.”

That’s my same hope and inspiration! I can only do so much. I only see so many squirrels..err.. People.. But WE see many.. And if we are willing He would point out so many more! His heart is breaking still at their aimless confusion and desperation, and He addresses us, as He addressed me last week, “I need you to point them to me.. And I’ll take it from there.”

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The JOY Project

I should be editing my book, but since I’m still theoretically pouting over the pulling of the word “epic” from our American vocabulary and because I happen to be seriously elated by the amazing lavishing love of Daddy God, I decided to write a blog (and start it with a seriously long, possibly run-on sentence).

The Happiness Project. Okay, let me be honest and admit that I have yet to read the book…I’m simply stating my opinion based on what I’ve seen in the margins and what I have heard from the author which in actuality probably isn’t fair to the her but it is what it is. So, basically this lady had an epiphany on a bus that she wasn’t focusing enough on happiness and being happy, so she endeavored to begin what she calls “the happiness project” where she tests the adages of others and relates them to life. Okay…what sources does she use? Well, I am not gonna sit here and list them all but a few would be – the Dali Lama and a few Saints and Benjamin Franklin and a few other names you may or may not recognize, oh yeah, and Oprah. I mean, its the twenty first century, Oprah is BIG…(that refers to her personality, her body is of no consequence.)

And what has she found: We need to be happier, think more of ourselves, and focus on more positive things. Okay. And? The happiness that we find, this would be relative, right? I mean, if someone gave me a bowl of rice, I would be touched and smile, but if I were a starving child in a third world country that bowl would mean more than happiness, that bowl would mean life! A clean bill of health at the doctors office would be nice, but for a recent cancer survivor, that would bring elation! The birth of a child is a happy thing, but in the case of a woman that has tried and lost several, that child is a miracle! In that happiness is relative, then basically it isn’t stringent or absolute. And if it isn’t, then it’s entirely possible that what makes me happy might make someone else unhappy…and if my happiness comes at the cost of someone else’s then that doesn’t make me very happy at all.

Webster defines HAPPINESS as such: a state of well-being and contentment, or a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Okay…so if something makes me content, brings me pleasure, or satisfies me then I am happy? Then, happiness by definition is selfish. Let me say, I am a happy person most of the time. I revel in finding joy in the little things; like treasures masked in randomness, I look for meaning and happiness where others might not see it. Of course, I’m also a loving person so when finding such, I immediately long to share it with another because my contentment, my satisfaction, my pleasure requires others feel the same…but when they don’t…ahh…there in lies the rub.

Happiness is a dependent variable. It is not absolute. It shifts and changes. That which makes you happy today may not make you happy tomorrow, and that which satisfies you today might not do the same next year. So when you begin a project to live a life for your own happiness and expecting that your happiness will in turn bring about happiness in others, don’t be disappointed when your theory doesn’t meet up with your hypothesis.

I have another project worthy of reflection…I’m going to call it “The Joy Project,” and I promise I’m not gonna write a book about it using obscure and tempered sayings to prove it. My theory is this: “Joy isn’t limited to our happiness.” First of all, if you were to look up the word “happiness” in a concordance you will find but a few references. In fact, Solomon considers it a chasing after the wind… (not to be confused with the answers that are believed to be blowing in the wind). However, JOY, and I used capital letters because it is a more important word, is all over the place…It is often tied to happiness but it isn’t dependent on it. (Okay I lied, I actually am about to insert a saying or two from the Bible.) “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters..” Why? Because you won the lottery? Because you shared in the laugh of a little child? Because you ate some amazing food and traveled the country? “When you face trials and tribulation of any kind…” Wait. What? That’s not cool. Trials and tribulations do NOT make me happy. David admits “Though I was anxious and depressed, you brought me joy.” In the midst of anxiety and stress, joy? Numerous other times in so many other ways the Bible talks of joy and there is one static nature and one stable source, care to guess? I know you want to? Yes. God. Paul continues that “Count it all joy” statement with…because Jesus suffered just like this. David confesses that God is his joy in the depth of pain and uncertainty. And the Word admonishes the people time and time again to bring joy to the One that is joy, for as David calls Him, “My God, my joy and my delight.” The angels told Mary that Jesus would be the joy that they were looking for. Jesus tells us that “In me your joy will be made complete.”

Happiness can be had without a saviour. Happiness is but a passing fancy that glimpses hope but doesn’t fully claim it. Happiness is shallow and consumable. Joy is deep and strong. Joy can be seen in the eyes of a starving child without a bowl of rice when he understands the Love of his Father. Joy can be experienced in the heart of a young mother even as she watches her child slip through her fingers, because she knows those terrifying beeps and racing monitors will soon be replaced with the Father’s embrace. Joy can be cried in the tears of a cancer patient that has been told that after 5 years the disease is back, because he or she realizes that there was life lived in fullness between. Joy is abiding and rich. Joy finds us when happiness isn’t even a thought. Happiness is what feels good to me…joy contains that which IS good.

I end my project with this blessing: “May your JOY be complete” and happiness… well, by all means, enjoy it when it comes, but don’t be obsessed or depressed when it is fleeting.