Rending Hearts, Beating Breasts

DSC_4884.jpgThis semester I’m excited to be participating in a Bible Study at my church on the Sermon on the Mount. For today’s devotions, we focused on the first two verses:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:3-4

What was most fascinating to me was the study on what it meant to mourn. The workbook had us look at passages in Joel and James which talk about mourning in the context of repentance and grieving over sin.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. – Joel 2:12 – 13

In of itself, that is a powerful image. But this morning I also read from Luke 18 which gives the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. After giving a very unflattering portrait of the Pharisee’s prayer life, the Publican (ie. the supposed bad guy in the story) is cast in a much different light.

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ – Luke 18:13

Accident it was not that I read both of these passages this morning. While the imagery in Joel is very powerful, it is a bit removed from me, staying in the realm of theory. Where as the passage in Luke tells a story and shows what rending your heart looks like in action. But it does more than that, it shows us how we can think that we are “rending our hearts” when we really aren’t.

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ – Luke 18:11 – 12

Jesus tells us that it is the Publican (someone who would be considered the worst of Jewish society) and not the Pharisee (someone who would be revered as the best of Jewish society) whose prayer was answered and was justified in the sight of God.

What was helpful to me about reading these passages back to back was the reminder of how often I am like the Pharisee, how I compare myself to others and act like I’m better than everyone else and that God owes me something for my performance. Jesus’ parable in Luke helped me to see how I need to the Lord’s words in Joel seriously. I need to rend my heart and not my garments because Jesus is not interested in showy religion, but a faith that recognizes that I am a sinner and that I need the mercy of God.

It’s so easy to live my life as the Pharisee but I trust that as God continues to reveal to me my tendency towards self-righteousness and arrogance that He is going to shift my heart more and more towards the posture of the Publican who beat his breast and rent his heart.

 

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Walking the Talk

I’ve been to several different Bible Conferences in my life– French Creek, Pinebrook, Lehigh RUF’s Summer Camp, even England’s Greenbelt– and as impactful those different events have been in my life, I don’t think any conference will ever match the impact of spending a week at America’s Keswick.

It’s not because of the the preaching, although that was very convicting and inspiring. It’s because I’ve never been to a conference that had both the elements of retreat and refreshment for the believer while at the same time practicing the call of Christ to follow after Him and love the least of these.

My experience was a bit unique right off the bat as my Mother smuggled me into the “Young at Heart Conference”, geared towards Christians 50ish and older. While I didn’t get to interact with the other attendees as much as I would have liked, it was such an encouragement to me as a relatively young believer to see a conference filled with believers who had persevered in their faith despite the hardships I know they must have faced. Almost every session started out with jokes about how their bodies were failing, sometimes even laughing in the face of the death which is likely to come in the next few years for many of them.

It sounds like it would be morbid, but it wasn’t, because they knew this life is not all that they have. They put their trust in Jesus, knowing He waits to receive them when they die, so their death not only loses some of it’s terror but also it’s sorrow.

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“Light in the Darkness” at America’s Keswick

But as encouraging as it was to witness the perseverance of the saints in action, getting to observe, and in a very small way partake in, the way Keswick lives out being the hands and feet of Jesus.

In addition to being a conference and retreat center, America’s Keswick runs a very successful addiction recovery program for men and women. The two branches of the ministry are woven together in having the men and women work on site in different areas assigned to them by their counselors as part of their work therapy. Nearly every session was accompanied by a testimony of either a current member or a graduate of the addiction program. This allowed us as attenders not only to be blessed by hearing about the healing that God was bringing about in their lives but also by having opportunities to interact with them as they helped serve us meals or organized games and activities for us.

The most special part though was Wednesday when the evening session was dedicated to hearing the testimonies of many of the men and singing their favorite hymns. Afterwards, each of the men were matched up with a prayer partner from the conference and ice cream was served.

I don’t know if they do this at the family conferences, so I’m glad I got to attend the Young at Heart where they definitely do it! Seeing a room full of elderly believers sitting down and sharing sundaes and stories with men who are often the outcasts of our society (both Christian and secular) was such an amazing experience. I got to sit with my Mother and the man she had committed to pray for and hear some of his story, which was really awesome too.

But I kept being struck by the mingling of the groups. This is what the Church is supposed to be doing. Ministering to the needs of the lost and loving on them, seeking them out and engaging with them, instead of keeping them outside of our community so that we can maintain our own sense of comfort or entitlement.

It’s hard to describe, but part of what made it so beautiful was that everyone of the staff and the conference attenders were so respectful of the men and women who are at Keswick to seek after freedom from their addictions. There was no haughtiness of the superior spirit, no feeling that these people were just projects, no…they were treated and interacted with on the level playing field all being made in the image of God.

The best part of it for me was this is very conservative Christian ministry, not the group of people you would typically associate with seeking out the broken with such dignity and grace. But they do, all without giving up the tenants of scripture and the call of Jesus to follow after Him and submit every aspect of your life to Him.

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“Wooden Rays”. At America’s Keswick

It was so encouraging as a young believer who wants to remain in the conservative branches because I believe in the doctrines of it, but I rarely see those truths being lived out in a way that is not at worst judgmental and cruel or at best just kept to oneself, content to talk about reaching the world while at the same time, hiding away from the messiness of the world.

And I am guilty of that as well. I struggle with being judgmental. I struggle with not seeking others and investing the time needed to a build a relationship where another person would feel loved and not preached at by the sharing of the hope I have in Jesus.

 

I am guilty of what the Church often appears to do: bunker down and try to keep the blessing of Christ to ourselves.

To be at Keswick, to see the attendees, the staff and their children, purposely interacting with and allowing themselves to be ministered to men and women who can be written off in pride because of their addictions and sin, was really encouraging and really challenging to me about how I live my Christian life.

Now, I know that there are many Christians and ministries that are actively walking the talk and ministering to the broken within and outside of the Church. My theatre group raises money each year for ministries that are taking Jesus to the front lines of homelessness, sex-trafficking, and women in crisis and providing refuge for those who are suffering.

But it’s not often that you can see that work in process.

 

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“Tree Scream” at America’s Keswick

So if you are looking to go to a Bible Conference next summer, or a retreat in the fall or next spring, while I love French Creek and Pinebrook and the others I’ve attended, Keswick is special in giving you a chance to see the Church ministering working hard to restore the broken.

It’s a powerful reminder of how we are to be living our lives and I strongly recommend you going at least once, not only to sit under the teaching of the godly speakers who come, but to be ministered to by the testimonies and service of those who are at Keswick seeking the freedom of Christ from their addictions. Something all of us need to do whether our addiction has a recognized label or not, we all need the freedom that is only found in Jesus.

For more information and to reserve your spot for a retreat or conference check out their website!

(As an aside, it’s a beautiful property to practice photography at…. I wish I could have had more time to just walk around and take pictures.)

 

 

 

“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley

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It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted. Life has been full but without providing me with clear things that I wanted to write about. Over the past several weeks, I had been thinking about missing blogging–I find the processing helpful–and wanting to get back into it, but I needed the right inspiration.

This past weekend, I got it with Players of the Stage’s production of “Doubt”.

Now, I could give you a review of how the show went, but that would be rather biased since my amazing sister was the director and had to step in as one of the nuns, and I was involved in many of the aspects of the show. If you want to review you can go here: Lehigh Valley Stage.

Instead, I want to say thank you to all the wonderful people involved in the production. It was such a privilege to get watch the staff and actors grow through working on this piece. There were a lot of stresses and disappointments along the way, but I marveled at how everyone pressed on and fought to do their best.

In my opinion, the hard work more than paid off.

It was also a growing time for our theatre. This was not our normal POTS (Players of the Stage) show. It was our first true *PANS show.

(*If you have a good acronym for this, please let me know. I’ve been trying to come up for one for years. I have yet to think of one, but I just love the idea of having a POTS and a PANS branch of our theatre company)

We got to work in a new place, with some new faces, with a different type of material than we had before. We tried some new ways of doing things; some worked, some we didn’t get to figure out in time.

It was exciting to get to watch audience members, who were used to our family productions, get to taste how powerful theatre can be when it asks, and leaves unanswered, difficult questions, and stand around after the show discussing it, or hearing from them later that they were still thinking about it.

It might be some time before Players of the Stage can put on another PANS production (our next show is a POTS run), but it was a good first stab at it, and it was nice to get to see a little hint of what it can be.

And in addition to the practical life lessons learned, I just loved working with the thematic material of the show and seeing how the different characters grew, or perhaps took a step backwards, in the text.

But my favorite part of the rehearsal process was getting to work on the opening monologue of the play. I just love Father Flynn’s homily on doubt and how it tends to make you feel isolated but in reality you are not alone, even as you struggle. As a follower of Jesus who often struggles with doubt, I loved getting that powerful reminder.

Thank you to the staff, crew, cast, advertisers, Relevant church, and audience members who made “Doubt” possible. I hope it was a growing time for all of us!

 

 

 

 

The Impact of Art

Last Monday I got to speak at a homeschool conference about why art, in particular theatre, was important. Since one of the main things theatre has done for me was help me find myself, I wanted to share some of those thoughts here as well.

The impact that theatre has on my life goes way back, twenty years ago, when I was a withdrawn eight-year-old girl.

My older sister, Anna, was very theatrical. She was always acting. One year for a Christmas present, my parents signed both of us up for drama classes. I don’t remember much from that first class, but I do remember the recital.

Our drama instructor had put me in a scene (debating whether cats or dogs were better) and given me an Aesop fable to perform. The scene went fine, but the fable….

It was a lot of words for a shy, dyslexic girl to memorize and speak in front of a crowd of people. So many words in fact, that I wasn’t able to do it. So I performed it with script in hand, not at all disguised by the pretty paper we put on the back of it to look like a book.

Ashamed of my inability to memorize, I ran off stage crying before I had finished reading the fable. No moral for that tale.

After that day, I was certain I would never do theatre again. Obviously, I have since I now help run a theatre company. For one reason or another, I kept returning to it. Through the years of performing, I came out of my shell and found a confidence that I did not have.

Self-confidence is probably one of the most obvious ways that theatre can impact children’s lives.

But there are others. As an adult, when I think about why art is important to me it is not because of the confidence it brings, but because it is a mirror.

In Act 3 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark says of acting “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere a mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time his form and presence.”

We use mirrors to see ourselves. We can’t get an accurate picture of our face without outside help. Art can be used to reflect a picture of our core being, our soul, our humanity. As I have been exposed to art in its many forms, I have found that can it challenge me, comfort me, affirm me, and give me hope.

I’ll start with a challenging example. I’ve talked about how I am working to change the subtle ways that I struggle with begin racist before. One thing that I did not immediately recognize when I first realized that I needed to repent of that sin was how dismissive I was of the extent of racism that minorities face today. It was easy to buy the line that the “mainstream media” was “exaggerating” things.

I gained a different perspective when I watched the movie “Dear White People”.

(As an aside, I have been upset by the controversy swirling around Netflix’s remake of it. Nothing about that movie was “anti-white”. Personally, I found it to be very fair and balanced. I fear those who feel like the movie was an attack, went in with the goal of being offended.)

The movie was a very eye-opening and disturbing look at how disrespected and diminished minorities are. In watching that movie, I had to wrestle with how easily I dismiss others pain “because I didn’t mean to offend them.” and realized that if I truly value a person, I am going to take their hurt seriously and do my undermost to understand that pain and seek to learn how to interact with them in ways that communicate respect and dignity.

 

Art can also provide great comfort. I’ve mentioned before how I lost a very good friend to suicide. In the first several months especially, I struggled with so many emotions that I didn’t know what to do with them, and I often pushed them aside and ignored them.

A few months in, I got to watch a one-act based off of a Greek play, “The Trojan Women”. In it, a mother is grieving the loss of her family and home. As I watched the actors go from tears to cold horror to screams of pain, I thought about my loss.

The tragedy of the play took on my tragedy. I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

Art can also be a great affirmation of the beauty and hope that is in the world. The other weekend, I went to see the “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performed by Northampton Community College. In the final scene, Jesus travels to hell to visit Judas whose appeal for release has been denied. Jesus goes to reassure Judas of His love for him, to offer him a way out if he would only take Jesus’ hands.

But Judas refuses. He instead accuses Jesus of abandoning him to his fate and literally spits on His face, screaming and swearing at Him to leave.

There’s a lot going on there to think about, but as I watched this struggle between the characters, I thought of my own relationship to Jesus and how I often scorn His love and help because I feel that He has abandoned me to my fate. When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me

When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me and His continual offer to free me from my doubt and bitterness that I struggle with if I would but accept His love and take His hands.

It was amazing to watch because though it looks different, I betray Jesus all the time. Yet He still loves me. He died for me. And He comes to me in my darkness to rescue me.

The reflective nature of art is why I think it is so important. It is why I wanted to keep my theatre going after my older sister stepped down. I want to invite others to have their own experience of seeing themselves more accurately because of a show, or a drawing. I want to encourage others to wrestle with the beauty and pain of life that we can often push aside.

Art often gets dismissed as unnecessary, an extra activity that can be removed if there is a lack of money or time. I strongly disagree. I know everyone is different, but in my life, art has been one of the most powerful tools to help me bloom into the person God made me, either in giving me confidence or giving me understanding.

Have you had similar experiences with art? What about it is important to you?

 

 

Uprooted

“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, but that statement has always run true for me. I’ve been a homebody all my life. There is something about home. Here I mean more the feeling, the sense of security and belonging, of home than a physical house.

Over the past four months, my idea of home, security, and belonging has shifted. To help process it all, I’ve been compiling a Spotify playlist which acknowledges one or more of the myriad of emotions that I’ve been struggling with. One of those is “Lost at Sea” by Jimmy Needham. There’s one line in particular that I belt out with him.

(The whole verse is so good, I’m going to quote all of it.)

Ride the wave, wave goodbye, by the way did I mention today
That I don’t know the way home
So could you take me by the hand and lead me to the dryer land
So I can finally breathe again instead of sinking like a stone
And now I will diligently and not religiously but affectionately come
Before the throne of your grace in this place and seek your face
For all eternity and then some
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“Reaching”. Carving. 2008.

 

Sometimes, the home there is earthly; sometimes it is a longing for the heavenly one. Either way, this song captures so well how lost it can feel to navigate a difficult time. The last month I haven’t been able to blog because of the upheaval of my life.

One of my more recent posts was about the process of pruning that sometimes happens in our lives. In the last month, in particular, I have felt that a more accurate description of my life right now would be being uprooted.

Or being uprooted and pruned at the same time.

(I take great pleasure and pride in my ability to be melodramatic.)

As I’ve been trying to settle into my new normal, the idea of putting down roots has been often been on my mind. I think the typical process involves becoming sure in your place, joining a community, and impacting your sphere of influence. For me, I have been realizing the need to put down roots in something more stable and lasting than any of those things.

I need to be rooted in Jesus.

The cynic in me shouts that that is not as simple as typing seven relatively short words.

It’s not. But I believe that it is the only hope I have in this world and the next.

What does it look like to be rooted in Jesus? For me, it is the cross and the empty tomb. Two years ago, when my mentor killed herself, I nearly gave up on following God, but Jesus kept putting the cross in my way.

One of my many struggles as a Christian has been the issue of God’s sovereignty in the face of evil and suffering. I like to describe my relationship to Jesus as a wrestling match because I feel like I am always fighting for the right to run my life my way.

When my friend died, I could not understand how God could abandon her to such a dark place when He said He loved her.

God never really answered that question. Instead, He pointed me to the Cross.

If anyone has been uprooted, it was Jesus. God became man, transplanted from the glories and splendor of heaven to the squalor of grief of earth. God the Son came to bring restoration to the world. The cost of restoration was His death.

On the cross, an innocent man hung in a criminal’s place. More than that, Emmanuel, God with us, died in my place, taking the punishment of my sins.

It is a horrific scene, an evil scene, an unjust scene, a scene that has Jesus calling out “My God, my God, why did you abandon Me?”

(If anyone had the right to ask God the Father that question, it was His Son.)

But the cross is also a beautiful scene, a scene of love, the place where mercy and justice kiss, a scene that allows God to pull us in His embrace.

That moment in history is one of the greatest clashes of all time. Horror and beauty. Evil and love. Justice and mercy.

And God ordained it all. He ordained it so that He could rescue me.

I wish that truth impacted me more emotionally. Maybe I’m too tired. Maybe I’m still struggling too much with believing in His goodness. But regardless of my emotions, the cross keeps me clinging to Jesus, allowing Him to take me along life’s journey (or even carry or straight up drag me at times.)

If the Trinity had devised a means of saving humanity that did not weave together the allowance of evil and the victory of love, I don’t know if I could even attempt to trust Jesus.

As I look to Good Friday and think about how Jesus was uprooted for me, as I get overwhelmed by the waves that crash around me, as I feel lost and uncertain of where I belong, I take a deep breath and pray “Jesus, restorer of my soul, help me to find my home in You.”

I’ve lost a lot in the last four months. But not as much as Jesus gave up to be able to “prepare a home” for me. Why did God need to make me feel like I was “Lost at Sea”? Only He knows, but I am striving to believe that no matter how dark the situation seems, love is in, underneath, and around all of it.

Some of it is a matter of perspective. Some of it is a matter of trusting that no matter what God might take away from me in this life, I will always have my home in Jesus, and everything else is inconsequential compared to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”.

Is it easy to believe and trust? I really wish I could say, but that would be a lie. I think sometimes, Christians feel like we have to make it seem like being a Christian is a breeze, but it’s not. At least not in my experience. Paul the apostle compared it to a race, a fight, a war.

I like to compare it to a wrestling match.

One that I know Jesus will win. Because he loves me, even when I don’t love Him. Because He died and rose again and is coming back for me one day to take me Home.

Surviving Pruning

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They say pruning is good for the health of the plant. I bet the plant feels differently.

Despite the glamorous alternate reality that is sometimes hailed as possible from the big and small screens, the truth is that life is hard. I find myself remembering the words of the great Dread Pirate Roberts:

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. – From The Princess Bride

Not that life is only pain. Far from it. But there are definite periods where it seems like the only reason you know you are still alive is the pain. People, especially those in religious communities, call these periods by different names.  The last several months as I’ve been going through a painful phase of my life, I’ve been thinking of it as pruning.

When I repurposed my blog I decided to focus on encouraging others to pursue blooming in all areas of their life. Unfortunately, in order to promote the growth of new blooms you’ve gotta prune.

Why? It helps prevent disease, allowing for better circulation which reduces the risk of black spots and powdery mildew. Things we’d all like to avoid.

It’s easy to justify the need to cut dead and diseased branches off a rose bush. The need for drastic action is clear to us. It’s harder to understand when life cuts something, or many things, from your life.

I know for many Christians, the belief in God’s sovereignty is a constant source of encouragement. For me, the doctrine of His sovereign will and care is more a mixture of confusion and comfort. Sometimes the one is stronger than the other.

Even though I know in my mind, and often believe in my heart, that God is using the pain He has allowed and/or brought into my life for good, I can’t help but ask the questions:

Isn’t there another way? Couldn’t you bring out about whatever good you are working to accomplish with something less difficult? Or maybe even something pleasant?

I got reminded by my brother that Jesus asked similar questions of God before He went to the cross.

Holy week I plan on writing a blog post devoted to the importance of the Cross in my faith, but here’s a sneak peak:

God told Jesus “No” in order to recuse us because He loved us. A “Yes” would have meant ease for Jesus but judgment for us. Knowing that God has used great suffering to bring about immense good in the past helps me trust that when He says “No” to me, He has my good in mind, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Why is pruning necessary? Isn’t there another way one could promote growth?

I don’t have solid answers, but I have experience. While pruning is far from fun, I’ve seen how it has shaped me. It’s much easier to say when the experience is past and you’re basking in the glow of new growth.

It’s harder when you are in the midst of things. If you’re anything like me, it’s especially hard when it seems like everyone else around you is flourishing.

With this pruning session, I’ve been finding myself asking less of “Why did You let this happen?” and more of “How do I survive this?” These are some of the things I’ve learned from family, friends, and counselors.

1) Reject labels

It’s easy to feel as though my particular struggle is written on a sticky note and posted to my forehead, demanding attention every moment from everyone I interact with. And while some of my well-meaning friends are tempted to operate that way, for the most part, my community has encouraged me to remember I am more than what I am struggling with.

It’s taken a while to believe that, and while there are still times when I feel like all I can focus on is which branches God is cutting back, I’ve had days when I’ve been able to focus on areas that are particularly strong right now, like my desire to draw.

2) Take the work of recovery seriously

The last several months have been very difficult for me and the process of working through things has brought about a period of depression. Since I struggle with putting my identity in how much I accomplish in a day, it’s been very discouraging to experience weeks where I feel like I get nothing done, or to consider a “good” day when I get a couple solid hours of work in.

My depressive episodes are better or worse depending on my to-do list. This can cause massive spirals if I am feeling down and then have a less than productive (by my somewhat excessive standards) day.

The other week my counselor told me that recovery is work. I’m not a master gardener (or really any kind of gardener) but from what I understand, rosebushes typically don’t get pruned when they are in the height of blooming. They are cut back when they are finished with their season and can rest, get stronger and grow.

Even though they aren’t producing buds or blooms, they are still working.

In periods of sorrow, trials, and difficulty, sometimes the greatest thing you can accomplish in the day is pressing on. That takes work and tenacity and is being productive. I don’t need to compare myself to what I was able to get done before or to what others are accomplishing now. With God’s help, I can push myself to do what I need to do and trust Him enough with everything else if I need to spend my time journaling, or resting, or talking.

3) Live moment by moment

Try as I might, as I gaze into the future and try to plan my life or guess at how the issues I am facing will resolve themselves, I cannot know how God is going to shape me.

That often frustrates me. I wish God would just tell me: “This is what life is going to look like. This is how I am going to bring something beautiful out of this pain.” But He doesn’t.

That gives me two options: I can worry and fret, or I can trust Jesus with my future and focus on one day at a time.

This is probably the one I’m struggling with the most right now. I am a fast results gal. Waiting around is not my style. What I’m learning, and trying to remember, is that I don’t have to wait around. Even in the face of uncertainty, I can be proactive throughout my days by focusing on what I need or want to get done that day, living moment by moment instead of getting lost in the face of the unknown.

When I do that, I get writing and drawing done, compose e-mails and grants, read books and take naps, or some combination depending on my energy. The amount of writing, e-mailing, and reading is still less than what my peak was before, but at least I’m still making progress, instead of wallowing in worry.

4) Encouragement from others is vital

My sister has written a very honestly about mental illness on her blog The Doctor DancesShe has been such an encouragement to me. In particular, she pointed me to this TED Talk video “How to get stuff done when you are depressed”. I’ve never met this lady, but listening to her speak was extremely helpful in figuring out how to even attempt to function at this difficult time.

I strongly recommend it.

Whether it comes from a youtube video, a sister, or close friends, getting support and encouragement from others is vital.

5) Pruning as a way of thriving

As I said, I don’t really know why God chooses to allow difficulty to come into our lives to teach us things. The typical reasons don’t satisfy me. But I am trying to embrace the reality that pruning is a good thing, even if it hurts.

Even if I don’t understand it, I can survive it, and with God’s help, I will even thrive in it.

I hope that this post is an encouragement to you if you are in the midst of difficulty and feeling overwhelmed by it. None of these lessons have changed my situation, but they have helped to change my mindset and attitude which has made the pruning more bearable.

Here’s to when spring (or summer, depending on the variety of rose) comes in its fullness and brings us back to a season of blooms!

 

 

Easter and Loss

Some of you know that I am a closet NCIS fan. I watched it mostly during season 8 – 11. Even though I was heartbroken when Ziva left, and I still think Bishop is a sad replacement for her, I occasionally watch the free episodes posted on CBS to keep up with what was happening with the team.

Providentially, (It’s amazing how God can move and work through anything) on Wednesday of last week I watched “Scope”. It followed a marine sniper, Davis, who was recovering from serious wounds, both physical and emotional. Gibbs, the team leader, was charged with trying to get through to Davis and in so doing Gibbs ended up dealing with some of his own wounds as well.

At the end of the episode Davis thanks Gibbs for his help and says:

You know, the thing is, I was fighting myself. Trying to be some empty version of what I was before. But I think I need to try and find a way to be who I am now. You know what I mean?

That simple statement sent me off crying and by the emotional end of the episode I was sobbing. It felt good. I’ve been thinking for over a month that I needed a good cry, but it didn’t happen. Probably because the times that were sad and I was expecting tears I kept my guard up. But this caught me by surprise, hitting me deep in my soul.

I am that marine. I have been fighting myself, trying to be some empty version of what I was before.

The last six years of my life have been filled with wonderful blessings and joys, but also of things that were traumatic for me personally or for my community. In 2010 I contracted Lyme disease, from which my body has never fully recovered, in 2011 I had the joy of getting married but our first couple years were a hard transition, in 2014 I nearly cut off my hand, and in 2015 I lost a dear friend to suicide.

All of those things have taken a huge toll on who I am, and I often struggle with trying to go back to who I was pre-lyme. I miss things about who I was before I cut hand. I am weary with the weight of loss. And the fight to return to pre-all these things can be exhausting.

It was providential to watch that marine struggle with accepting his mangled and scarred body as part of him. It helped me to realize that I don’t have to go back. Who I have become as an outcome of those struggles is not a bad thing. It’s been a hard journey, it’s been a journey full of loss, but God has used those things to shape me, to start humbling me, to make a tad more compassionate, and that’s good. I don’t have to let trauma define me and cast a shadow over my life, but I can embrace the ways that God has used them for good.

Since Wednesday I’ve been thinking about loss a lot, especially in conjunction with the Resurrection. Jesus left the glory of heaven and took on human form. (If that is not loss I don’t know what is.) He died for our sins, paying the debt we owed to God, and then rose again. But when He rose he was still the God-man. He did not throw off His humanity. He became the firstborn of the dead, the first to have that glorified human body.

Jesus suffered great loss for us but He never reverted back to pre-incarnation. He’s returned to His glory, but even more glorious. He didn’t reject His loss, rather He embraced what He had gained, and amazingly, what He gained was us. Reconciliation between God and man was accomplished because Jesus lost much, because Jesus trusted His good Father to turn that loss into something beautiful.

So as I think the big things and the small things I have lost, I am trying to keep it in the perspective of the empty grave.

I may never have as much energy as I used to, and I may always have a twinge of Bells palsy. I may never like wearing skirts again. I may never play the piano or sign again. Maybe drawing will always be a bit frustrating because I can’t feel my pencil. Maybe the 22nd will always a sad day.

But whatever I have lost from these traumas, and whatever I am going to lose in future trials, I know that they are for my good and that my Heavenly Father is going to use them to make me more like Jesus. Will it be painful? Yes. Will I experience loss? Yes. Will I struggle to believe that God is good and faithful? Oh, absolutely. But I hope that I will be better at trusting Him in the process of healing, and that I will not fight so much to return to pre-whatever; that I will rather embrace the loss as a part of God’s shaping of me, as a part of my story.

Happy Easter all. Glory be to the one who accepted loss and considered us to be worth that loss so that we could gain heaven and fellowship with Him.

N is for No.

It’s been awhile. I’ve been finding other things that are more interesting to write about then my journey with food. But it’s time to come back to it. As a general update: right now I am concentrating on staying away from foods that make me feel ill (such as dairy, too much sugar, too much wheat) and losing the weight that I’ve gained through bingeing. But, to try and balance that out, I am also working on enjoying the food that God has made. For a time I am going to viewSunday as a feast day, not a eat whatever I want day, but a day where I can relax and eat some foods that I wouldn’t normally eat through out the week. We’ll see how that goes.

N is for No.

Am I able to say no to this food, even if I know that I can eat it without sin? “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27

This is a hard one for me and the one that shows the extent of control I have given food. I sometimes struggle to say no to foods I don’t even like! Most of the time I choose to say “yes” because I am more concerned with pleasure than with obeying God, but there are times when it feels impossible to not eat that cracker even though I’m stuffed.

Elyse Fitzpatrick suggests occasionally denying yourself food even if you can eat it to practice self-denial. I thought it was a great idea when I first read it, but honestly, I haven’t tried it very consistently. Usually if I am at all convinced that I can eat something I eat it.

I’ve tried fasting as the obvious way of saying no, but I struggle with fasting for the right reasons- learning to focus more on Christ. Fasting can be a form of penance for me. “Whoops. I overate. Therefore, I must fast to make up for the extra calories and prove to God how sorry I am.”

That’s not a great reason to say no.

But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t say no.

It’s easy in America to always indulge. We have so much abundance and luxury, even those of us who are only moderately well off. Self-denial is not a often talked about Christian virtue in our culture even though Jesus made a big deal of it.

Food isn’t the only way we can deny ourselves, but it’s an area where I seek to fulfill myself instead of going to Christ, so fasting, be it from a particular food group, or meal, or day, with the intention of using the longing for that food to point me to Christ would be a valuable way to “buffet my body”.

Anyone have suggestions on how to fast? Every time I try seems to end in disaster.

 

 

 

I and L (skipping over P)

It’s been a month since I’ve blogged about the questions from Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book to help with food addiction. I would much rather stop this series, to end the reflection about the heart issues behind my eating habits.

Part of my desire to be done is because I am a quick results type of girl. I don’t like things that take time. I’m your typical American woman who is used to instant gratification. And this is stretching on a long time. (I am going to speed it up by combining a few letters together, because I don’t know if I can’t take it much longer!)

But I’d also liked to move on because by God’s grace I am doing better. I have been experiencing victory. Not every day. This weekend has been a emotional food binge fest, but most days I am able to have a more balanced relationship with food. It’d be easy to pat myself on the back and decide I’ve arrived, and I can move on.

But.

I know that the heart issues that fueled my drive to binge or starve can seep into other areas of my life. That’s why I love these questions from Elyse: a little tweaking can make them apply to any idol you are fighting.

The only reason I am continuing the think through these questions is because I said I was going to on my blog. I want to keep my word. For those of you who follow and read this, thanks for keeping me accountable.

Alright, enough ramble. Time for I and L. (We’re skipping over P, but we’ll come back to it. I and L combine better together.)

I is for Inroad

If I eat this will it create an inroad for sin?

Romans 13:14 “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

I see this question as a pre-emptive strike, a good one, if such a thing is possible. It’s the type of question that goes requires absolute honesty and humility. The question of doubtidolatry, stumbling, and covetousness can be wiggled round with a mixture of legitimate and illegitimate reasons. But the question of an inroad goes straight to the heart. It is basically asking me “Will eating this (whatever it may be) make the lusts of my flesh stronger?”

It’s a difficult principle because it requires me to own my weakness and realize that even though I want to be strong enough, I may not be. Even if I am able to control the physical actions after eating a trigger food, will I be creating an inroad for the sinful attitudes of idolatry and covetousness? That is probably the biggest struggle.

In trying to root out inroads in my life I have been practicing abstinence from trigger foods. For me those are starch and sweets (and for me sweets are anything that are more than 5 grams of sugar because my body cannot handle sugar). It’s not that I never eat them, sometimes I make exceptions, but as a general principle I abstain.

Yesterday I was really craving toast. I had shoveled a lot, and I wanted something hearty to eat. So I decided that it would be an okay treat, which it was. I had absolute freedom to eat that toast. But afterwards I found myself struggling with desiring more, obsessing over having more toast, or chips, or brownies, or anything that would satisfy my need for pleasure. It was not sin for me to eat that toast but it made the rest of my night a struggle with idolatry and covetousness.

Maybe a better way to phrase this question would be: Is it worth it to eat a food that will create an inroad for sin?

L is for Life.

Would eating this food harm my life or health in anyway?

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13 (Elyse holds to the broader understanding of what this commandment demands in that it is wrong to do anything that harms your life. Hence the reference)

L relates really well to I for me because they are both questions that keep in mind one’s health: spiritual and physical. I deals with spiritual, L deals with physical. I am fortunate that the foods which create inroads for me are also the foods that harm my health.

Wheat/starch makes me feel bloated, exhausted, achy, gives me brain fog, and packs weight on me.

Sugar gives me piercing headaches, fatigue, stress and packs weight on me.

Dairy is a food that I can eat without creating an inroad, but it almost always causes me muscle inflammation and digestive issues when I eat it, so I refrain- usually.

This principle sometimes causes me frustration. I get angry that God has given me a body that responds to such delicious foods the way it does. Not that I don’t have desserts and treats that I can make which don’t cause me physical pain, but they aren’t “those other” desserts which “everyone else” can have, so I get jealous (ie. I covet.).

But this question hits on the fact that my body doesn’t belong to me and God can do whatever He wants with it. Also, that life here on earth is about service, not gratification. The question challenges us to do everything within our power to preserve our health so we can serve God to the best of our ability as He allows.

(That last part is important. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle is rapidly becoming an acceptable idol within Christian culture. It’s based on a good desire, but if we lose sight of the fact that God is in control of our health and life span then our healthy pursuits are meaningless.)

I don’t think the principle of eating for your health rules everything out all the time. The Bible commands feasting. We should feast and enjoy the wonderful foods God has given us. I think the tricky part of living in American culture is that we could feast every day of our lives. When do we feast? When do we fast (either in part or in whole)?

It’s a difficult question, one that needs to be answered on an individual basis, but I know for me it means that for most of the time I am going to need to refrain from starch, sugar, and dairy, not only to resist temptation, but also to stay healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

#FightforBeauty

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First #FightforBeauty tweet: In the midst of death and decay there is a stubborn beauty that holds to the very end.

If you follow me on twitter (@RoseofGerdes) then you’ll occasionally see a tweet about the #FightforBeauty. At first I wanted to tweet something about it everyday, but my twitter skills are still being sharpened, so I thought it would be more realistic to try for once a week. This week’s tweet:

#FightforBeauty: Remember who I am. Sharon, one who God has saved. Not my weight, not my success, not what others think of me.

Sometimes the tweets are about the fight to find beauty in the world around me, sometimes they are about the fight to find the beauty within me. This hashtag campaign came about from a conversation I had a long time ago with my sister about something her college professor had told her: Fight for the Positive.

It stuck with me. The idea of fighting for the positive was, well, a positive one, especially in the context of the theatrical community which can often get stuck in the drudges of darkness. The problem is that I am a more pessimistic, melodramatic, minor key kind of gal by nature. Fighting for the positive is hard for me. Swap joy for positive and the fight becomes almost a guaranteed defeat.

I used to be a more joyful person, or at least a more exuberant person. But as I grew up and experienced the hardships and doubts that God allowed in my life joy became an elusive concept. The times that I tried to exude joy made my soul feel even more joyless because it felt fake, forced.

What was joy when your father gets hit by a drunk driver?

What was joy when got bitten by a tick who threw you into depression and fatigue and distorted your face with bells palsy?

What was joy when your drawing hand was immobilized and you spend most of your days lying face down on your carpet crying out to God to help you push through physical therapy exercises and to give you patience until someone showed up to help you get dressed?

What was joy when your dear mentor killed herself?

Even though there were gifts of joy and hope in all of those situations it was hard to see it. You all have stories of dark moments, days, seasons, where joy was the enemy and not something you desired. If you are like me, you focus on the darkness and refuse to acknowledge the light even if it’s blazing round you.

When I was recovering from my hand accident, I Facebooked moments, events, and people I was thankful for, things that gave me joy. That helped me keep perspective. I’ve tried it a few times since, but not with regularity. For whatever reason, joy is tough. I think partly because we assume that if we have joy we must also be happy. I don’t know if that’s true, I don’t think it is. Regardless, I find it easier to have a feeling of joy and thankfulness when I fight to find the beauty that is in the world, situations, and in me. Beauty is a language I can understand.

That’s why I’ve started the #FightforBeauty. I invite you all to join me and to share the beauty that is in the world with your communities. When I set my mind to it, I have joy and thanks, remembering that God did not leave our world in darkness, but that He broke through time and space to take up the fight for us, winning it at the cross, and brining it to completion upon His return.