Breaking Free from Fear

The last post I made was entitled “Fear the Evil and Corroding Thread” which describes the imagery of fear perfectly. It’s a thread at the end of a woven sweater. If you tug on it and keep pulling, before you know it you’ll be short an arm. Eventually if you don’t cut it off, you’ll be left standing with a handful of unraveled wool and an exposed torso. The remnants of a once beautiful item but a memory, just because we refused to let go.

I continue to wage war and fight this battle to let go. I refuse to blindly accept my thoughts and emotions as truth. When my feelings are clearly in conflict with God’s word I must actively choose to live in active faith instead of dwelling in fear.

Without realizing it for much of my life I’ve had the expectation that “it” all works out, but my “it” has been an external focus. The “it” that will get worked out is my spirit, the inner man. I’ve been promised that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion. I’m assured my tests and trials have purpose to produce steadfastness, maturing faith and for the comfort and encouragement of others. My expectation that “it” all works out hinges on a perspective originating from self, not the Lord. This view is so limited that I can wear blinders creating a tunnel vision effect and not even realize what I’m doing. “It” has to work out and “it” will, but it’s going to be worked out inside my spirit through the power of Jesus. My circumstance may not work out how I would like, wish or pray. That’s reality and where fear most often taunts and tethers.

When God says, “Fear not” He isn’t saying don’t be afraid because your life is going to be roses and butterflies. He wants me to trust Him even when it hurts. So many times God tells me not to fear but He’s not telling me there won’t be horrible, painful, heartbreaking trials and tragedies…no, He’s strongly suggesting I hold onto Him for dear life while everything inside screams in terror. He provides peace that surpasses all understanding in the midst of these situations, but I must chose to embrace it. He will keep me in perfect peace when my mind stays on Him because I trust Him. On my own I am not able or meant to withstand the tumultuous current of crashing waves on the shore of life. There are so many verses addressing fear because it is such a natural and common human response.

Well hold on, there are some legitimate things happening that I’m afraid of. Yeah, I understand, believe me. Some of my greatest fears have been realized, but I’m still breathing. I’m facing some seemingly insurmountable obstacles which have aroused fear. There is almost relief being on the other side, no longer in anticipation and apprehension because in my desperation I have no illusions I could go forward on my own. I must live one day at a time in reality and His grace is here with me.

 

thread of fear

 

I heard the coolest illustration this week describing faith and trust. Faith is going to a circus, seeing a funambulist about to perform and believing he will walk across the tight-rope safely arriving on the other side. Trust is an entirely different thing requiring action. Trust is climbing in a wheelbarrow and allowing the funambulist to push you safely across. I have to take action to fight for victory over fear, because simply saying I have faith isn’t enough. Victory requires effort by consistently submitting to the Lord trusting His Spirit in me to overcome obstacles arousing fear. Faith without works is dead.

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

God continually told the Israelites in the Old Testament not to fear, be frightened, live in dread or be terrified of the enemy because He would fight for them. Yet they continued to doubt Him and complain. Reading through the stories its almost unbelievable how soon they forget God’s provision for EVERY single need. But you know what, I do the very same thing. When I begin to doubt, demanding answers to questions beginning with “Why” finding no satisfactory explanation to reconcile the hurt inside of me, similarly I too forget His provision. God usually doesn’t fight for me the way I want Him to. I want Him to fix, adjust, bring justice or alter a circumstance based on my perspective and when that doesn’t happen I can slip into doubt. Does He see me? Does He care? Well of course He does, but I have to open my eyes to see how He is fighting for me. I have to surrender and take a look at my heart. This process isn’t easy, its a hashing out of emotions and tears. My friends, life can be really hard sometimes, excruciatingly painful and overwhelmingly unbearable, but God is constantly fighting for us. Some days we may just need to cry, but not with hopelessness. It’s ok to grieve what has been lost, but let us never doubt God will redeem every moment for His good. The hope is in moving forward. We must go forward to receive what God has waiting. He has gone before, because unlike you and I, He isn’t limited to today. He is the God who is, who was and who is to come.

 “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

Exodus 14:13-15

In the New Testament as Paul reminds us of the Spirit of power, love and self-control Jesus has gifted us, not one of fear. The word used for fear in this verse is “deilia” which is always used in a negative sense. It applies to a personality trait of cowardice and timidity often translated to fright or fearfulness. In my previous post I spoke of the spiritual oppression and the sense of dread that comes with fear. If my response is to do nothing and hide in comforts and habits, I’m acting out of the personality trait referenced here. We are reminded that Jesus wants us to live freely. He did not rescue us for us to live in slavery to fear. In Romans Paul offers the encouraging truth testifying we did not receive a spirit that makes us a slave to fear but God has adopted us as His own.

Fear is in direct conflict with the peace Jesus desires for us. However another word for fear “phobos” and “eulabeia” can be used speaking of deep respect and accountability to God, a reverential caution or apprehension. I think there are some things we should be cautious about. There have been moments in my life where my gut feeling, my spirit, my conscience…basically everything inside of me screamed that something was wrong. I’ve learned those are the times I must hit my knees and ask for wisdom. Lack of power is my dilemma, but only when I’m trying to do it on my own. God has gifted us with His Spirit, if we’ve accepted Jesus as the leader of our life. All power is available to us in submission to Him.

Here is what its coming down to for me. Is the object of my faith Jesus or what I believe He will DO for me? Is my hope set on Him or how I’ve interpreted His promises? Is my respect for God and desire to live accountable to Him greater than my need for success, affection, approval, relationships, prosperity, financial security, ad infinitum? Do I trust Him even when it hurts and the tears won’t stop flowing? Can I live my life today, one day at a time expectantly awaiting His provision? Perfect love casts out fear and God desires to perfect us with His love. It’s the only love that will do.

I cherish this passage and will end with this. Jesus gets it ya’ll. He lived in the flesh and experienced all these feelings just like us. He hurt and sacrificed all to offer us freedom in the midst of pain.

“While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.”

Hebrews 5:7-9 NLT

Fear, the Evil & Corroding Thread

fear

When the past comes crashing, rudely interrupting the beauty of the present it is unnerving. This happened to me recently. I was driving nonchalantly going about my “to-do’s” when the past wrecked into my today. Nothing physically happened, but a reminder of things before, not so pleasant triggered an anxiety response. I really struggle with fear and anxiety. It grips my insides and won’t let go. It clouds my perception where I’m unable to discern reality from illusion. My emotions can take over and turn me inside out faster than I realize what’s happened. I hate it. I feel out of control, short of breath and frantic. Frozen yet reeling. Grasping for anything to hold onto & regain my sense of control. But this is where I habitually take a wrong turn. I try to control. I frantically take action hoping that changing some external stimuli will settle my soul. Frequently it’s a person. If I can get another human to act the way I’d like, I falsely believe my security will be found there.

“So woeful about the past and so worried about the future, we miss the wonder of God in the present.” – Beth Moore

Anxiety can sneak in. Uncertainty created within a circumstance. Some of my personal anxiety was born out of extremely stressful and traumatic life events. Yet those events shouldn’t be allowed to alter my perspective on life indefinitely. I have a decision to make. In whom or what will I place my trust & allow to shape my perception of reality? I’m not saying that I just have to “get over” things that may have happened. I’d never so callously suggest anyone else do so either. I’m in the midst of a battle to walk through the remnants of past destruction and cling to God as He restores what has for so long lay in ruins. Many recent life events are revealing an underlying brokenness I’ve accepted as normal MY ENTIRE LIFE. I even wrote “Faith in the Midst of Fear” several years ago. I cannot remember ever being absent of the dull ache of anxiety and need to control my surroundings to feel safe. The daily dread and insecurity shadowing each day has wrecked havoc in my life for years. That is one of the main problems of fear, anxiety, dread, worry….whatever term you prefer. Pick your poison, but they all have the same cage to offer. They steal from the freedom and beauty of the present. “Today” becomes pressed upon and shrouded by “yesterday” with a suffocating dread of “tomorrow”. Fear is ever-so taunting of the “could-be” or “once-was” refusing attendance to the “actually-is”.

Andy Mineo : Anxiety is fear mixed with control…. (click for song)

One way my anxiety is created is when my devotion to something is out of proportion. I naturally associate false gods and idols with tokens made of gold, however that is much too simplistic. I easily make relationships something I worship. If I value these relationships more than the Lord, anxiety can arise. Nothing was made to hold my security other than Christ. Even good things, like my husband and children, that are gifts from God create opportunities for anxiety when out of balance. God celebrates marriage, family, friendships, community, our aptitude’s and gifts but these things are all meant to point TO Him. They aren’t for my “glory” or comfort. Recently my son was hospitalized for breathing related issues. We’ve had some difficulties in the past but have always been able to manage at home with breathing treatments. This time it was different. As my mothering instincts to protect and nurture my child weren’t enough to “fix” him, I hit the wall of self-sufficiency. Do I trust God with it all? Do I trust Him with my children’s health? It’s a question I’ve continued asking myself since we’ve been released from the hospital. Security is reality only when centered on Jesus. It is not circumstantial, because very disagreeable things happen. Life happens. I must continually make a decision to live in this truth: my comfort comes from security in God alone. My feelings or positive outcome of situations are not a sufficient substitute but a temporary distraction from the source of anxiety that still remains.

Recently I heard a person share something so simple but it was huge for me. “Feelings are not always truth. They are just feelings.” I relate. This was a sudden realization of how much faith I place in feelings, my own and others. I’ve continued mulling over the powerful effect emotions can have on life. Feelings can easily become the active driver for decisions. This can be very dangerous when operating from a false basis, not living in truth. If I allow my emotions to shape my reality, I’m in for quite the ride. Cue the playback reel of my life! I mean really, think about it. Do people make major life decisions like divorce because someone isn’t helping with laundry, one spouse works too much or financial disagreements? Would it be more accurate to say divorce stems from the emotions evoked by each of these circumstances? Some of the same emotions can be created with each situation. Perceived betrayal. Abandonment. Fear. Insecurity. Anger. Loneliness. In no way am I dismissing the true absolute damage and destruction caused within abusive & unhealthy relationships, but is it not the feelings that bring us to a breaking point? A wall we can no longer push forward.

Our journey may be different. Some paths may be similar. However one thing I’m learning – feelings cannot be the tool for navigation. There must be a higher truth that I rest in. A consistent basis to gauge life instead of the broken lens of my perception ever clouded and smudged by my emotion of the moment. I’ve accepted the truth that I’m dealing with spiritual warfare. I’ve noticed the subtle emotional manipulation within my life and surroundings. I’ve suddenly become attune to this pervasive cloud and realized I’ve accepted its presence far too long.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV

I’m meditating on the above passage as a direct approach to remove the enemy’s influence over my reality. I’m refusing to accept these all too familiar feelings of fear and anxiety. I’m beginning to see how they are a stronghold in my life. A stronghold can be a safe place offering protection from outside forces. However when I use strongholds of self-sufficiency, I’ve walled myself in from the true source of help. Fear has been my safe place. My false argument against discomfort. Fear has been a place of complacency. A place to hide & escape reality. An excuse to push others away and a desperate attempt to control people who get too close. The stronghold of fear has served as a way to refuse accountability avoiding the responsibility and charge to make changes within myself. I’m ready to take some action. I want there to be a revolutionary change , cause I ain’t done.

Change is a process. It’s not an overnight thing. Once the battle for change begins it becomes a daily grind to press on and not settle back into habits of the familiar. It’s much too easy to react in fear because that’s what I’ve always done. A different approach is to actively take my thoughts captive and ask God to show me a different way. To plead for His truth to become louder than my anxiety which may be deafening. Although my thoughts and emotions may continually default to fear-based, anxious and self-protecting norms, with God’s guidance I battle to change the status quo. I’ve begun this process over the past few months and continue to pray for awareness in the many ways I attempt to fight with the limited arsenal waging war by the flesh. One way God brings clarity is through writing and being vulnerable sharing my struggles with others. I believe this fear, anxiety and the resulting depression is something weighing down so many of us. Let us take up our weapons which have divine power and begin to demolish strongholds offering false security. Let us together wage war using the truths of scripture as our swords. I plan to continue sharing my struggle with fear and would be honored if you’d reach out to me and share yours.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV

 

*The reference of fear as “an evil and corroding thread” is a reference from pg 67 of Alcoholics Anonymous**

Wounds, Scars and Marks

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

Sometimes life has reoccurring themes. Maybe I just notice because my ears are attune to common words and ideas that are floating around in culture. Quite possibly and with much more probability I’d conclude it is the the Holy Spirit guiding my attention towards lessons I need. The symphony of life gradually orchestrates a crescendo with the featured solo stuck in a loop. You know what I mean, the same topic of conversation among different friend groups, the Bible verse that keeps appearing, that one song that keeps playing on the radio, or even just a word you keep hearing like its being shouted from a megaphone. Whatever the topic, it beckons me closer. The loops that play are hooks to something deeper. When I slow down enough to take note I have the opportunity to learn and have my eyes enlightened. To be renewed with fresh perspective. To be marked by something much greater. To be transformed, one day at a time into a likeness resembling much less of me and more of my Creator.

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NLT

Transformation is quite a word. Metamorphosis, a word that has nestled and woven itself a cocoon inside my soul. Several years ago I looked at my life and realized my values and beliefs were not translating into consistent actions. I didn’t want to be “one of those people” who said they loved God but their lives looked no different from the world and society in general. However that’s exactly what my life was. That is who I was. If someone from the outside looked at my life they wouldn’t say the foremost thing about me was I loved Jesus and He had transformed my life. To be completely honest with myself, God was someone I believed in but wasn’t my go-to. I didn’t believe Him “enough” to run to Him daily. I didn’t place my faith in a long obedience but in short term satisfaction. Remaining under His hand in the difficult times seemed too hard. I wanted relief in the “now” and couldn’t grasp how a patient endurance could accomplish that. I could talk a good game. I went to church. I knew the right phrases, but my heart was proud. My spirit was dry and my eyes were a river.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 ESV

I know I’m not alone in this. What a wreck this world is, full of the broken and wounded. We are hurt but instead of receiving healing, we turn around and hurt others. These wounds we have…gaping, bleeding, oozing sores…completely exposed though we try to cover them. If I smother enough salve on this, I’ll heal. This salve comes with variable applications of man-made options. Success. Accomplishment. Striving. Isolation. Playing the hero. Acting the victim. Working harder. Giving up. A drink or a drug. Available with a human face, a “Him” or a “Her”. All of these temporary solutions. The wound remains and festers.

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV

However there is another way. We can allow our wounds to heal. Through Christ’s redemption each wound can become a scar. Though still visible they hold a deeper meaning, a story. Scars are a reminder of where we have been. A piece of our history. Some wounds are so deep inside there isn’t physical evidence to those around us, but the soul ache holds us captive and paralyzed. When we embrace courage to share our experience the stronghold of fear, guilt and shame is shattered and replaced by the beauty of redemption. Our past is bought back with purpose for the present. Redemption illuminates my greatest fears and exposes the fallacy of my self-focused perspective. With Jesus these marks become part of the story we have to share with others.

I have several tattoos. They are my marks, my scars of journeys and moments where God has shown Himself to me in ways that have changed me forever. The pain and subsequent healing has been so profound that I want a visible reminder of the life change that took place during each season. Sure, they can be conversation pieces, but more so a reminder of lessons I don’t want to forget. Unfortunately my memory can be selective. Consequently, I must do all I can to be brutally honest with myself of who I am and what I’m capable of by my own works. God’s grace abounds.

God revealed himself to me as El Roi during a season where I felt utterly alone, completely exposed to the elements. Although there were godly people who loved and supported me, they were not with me in my valley. They weren’t supposed to be. The desert of my circumstance allowed the Holy Spirit to tend to my parched soul through Scripture and guide me to an intimacy I had never know existed. It is the reality of knowing someone for many years, spending time, and having some amazing conversations before going through a shared experience that ultimately revolutionizes the relationship. I’ve known Jesus the majority of my life, but never like this. Never so real. This season brought about by external circumstances beyond my control created a refining internal pressure pushing me towards Christ with a thirst I had never experienced or submitted to previously. There was no earthly being who could answer my questions, hold my tears or heal my wounds. Only Jesus. He isn’t just a “someone”, He became my only One. I wanted a reminder of this life changing experience where God came to meet me exactly where I was.

“I feel great pain deep down inside me. The terrors of death are crushing me. Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me. But I call out to God. And the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Psalm 55:4-5, 16-17, NIRV

Hagar referred to God as, El Roi, the One who sees me in Gen 16:13 when she was fleeing Sarai. He asked her, “Where are you going and where have you come from?” Hagar told the truth, she was running away and God told her to return. I still don’t have the answer to many questions that arose during this particular season, and to many questions that have arisen since, but He does. The tension of the question, “Do I believe God is who He says He is?” would have destroyed me if it had not been for the comfort of His Word. Many times I found assurances not specific answers, but my Spirit was calm. That peace is an answer in itself. I began learning to trust His provision. So my visual reminder is a tattoo on my back, although I don’t have a picture posted I’ll lend to the imagery by saying, “In the rocky desert of my circumstances I will flourish like an olive tree because my God, He is the One who sees. He sees me exactly where I am and meets me, covering and shielding me with wings like an eagle and lending His strength, for He is El Roi.”

I want to remember this wound and the redemptive healing because this marks the point I finally quit running away and began running to Him. This is the season I had a desire to be marked by Jesus. I didn’t want it to be about me anymore. I started participating in the battle and tension of life instead of expecting someone to rescue me. I decided to actively pursue a way of life that would honor God. I would love to say its been smooth sailing from this point on, but no, life has been even more complicated. Nonetheless, God is faithful and I wouldn’t trade any moment of suffering because its interwoven with His grace. My greatest blessings have come from His Comfort. Some nights my prayers were as simple as, “If I trust You with my life, help me trust You enough to sleep”.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalms 91:1-2, 14-15 ESV

So I ask, what’s your story? How have you been marked by Christ? If you had to sum it up in a few paragraphs or a brief conversation could you tell another human your history? Would you be willing to share your scars and marks with others? I’m curious because it was a great challenge posed this summer at a conference I attended. We were asked to find someone we didn’t know and share our “nutshell history”. There were so many amazing women with equally incredible stories. It was a rewarding and extremely encouraging experience. How often do we compare our stories weighing them based on the severity of circumstances instead of the immeasurable grace present in all of our lives? Or equally common, do we shy away from sharing because of a fear of judgement? Is my story not real enough? Have I really changed? Can I share my story if I’m currently struggling? Do I need to wait to talk about what Jesus has done to make sure its real? So many questions centered from a self focused insecurity…these are questions that circulate within my own mind. The Lord must so often remind me to risk rejection and judgement. Vulnerability does something amazing. It removes the pretense and allows us to finally take off the mask. It has to start somewhere. Will it start with you? A spirit of community is vital if we are to live in liberty and freedom encouraging one another. Each story is a miracle.

This task of sharing our stories stemmed from Galatians 1:11-24 as Paul tells his experience of coming to know Jesus and the life change that followed. Sure, there is so much more to any relationship than a few sentences, but to succinctly discuss with another person who Christ is and what He has done is so powerful. He alone has the power to effect life change in a manner that could radically transform pain into purpose. To awaken a desire to share what once we would fight to keep hidden. It becomes less about us and much more about Him. We risk it all for the sake of another because of a man who walked this earth and sacrificed all so we might live.

Do people change irrevocably and completely overnight? I haven’t. No, it’s a process. A journey of building new habits and learning to continually surrender. May we have grace in today for one another and be thankful that God doesn’t extend the same judgement that we impose on others. Instead of policing another’s growth I would do well to plead at the throne of mercy for humility. Instead of imposing some harshness of my version of truth I ought do well by allowing the Word to prove true in my own life. Rather than demanding change from the world could we instead live in liberty & freedom by walking out the gospel of love? Let us not lose sight of the completed work of redemption provided at the cross. Not by works. He said it is finished. It is done. By Christ alone. 

“But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5 NET

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A Hope Worthy of Endurance

Over the past 10 days I’ve put in some miles. From Texas to the mountains in New Mexico, to East Texas on to Louisiana and back again to West Texas. I added up the miles, because once I started contemplating the distance, I just had to know. I’ve had 1,900 miles of windshield time to think, pray, consider and chat. Some of those miles included four kids, some only two. Some included my niece and some my brother. So many conversations and so many words poured out as the tires rolled down the road on my trek from one hot summer locale to another.

I traveled to the mountains to run my first half marathon with my dad. I drove to East Texas and Louisiana to pay tribute and bury my grandfather. So many miles gave time for words to accumulate in my soul. The build-up creates an overflow and these thoughts are my spillway. I hope you can be encouraged whatever season you are in. A season of beginnings, one of endings, maybe just a season that has yet to be named.

How often in life do we face seasons that demand endurance? Circumstances that ask everything of us and more. How many times have I fallen on my face, in the mud because I try and do it on my own? Too many. However I’ve fallen hard enough and into the pit so deep that it caught my attention that there must be another way. A much better way. The way my grandparents have lived their lives and walked in the manner worthy of the calling they have received.

My Papaw, Rodney Louis Salmon, was an incredible man. Tenacity would be an appropriate term. In fact, he carried his favorite poem in his pocket entitled, “Don’t Quit”. I wasn’t even aware of this until his passing, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. He served in the Air Force and completed graduate work at University of Texas. He was an accountant by trade and very precise, yet he had a mischievous streak that ran deep. He married Nora Beth Fuller, my Memaw in 1958 and they were an amazing complement to one another during their 59 years of marriage. I have many fond memories of his dinner table story-telling and my Memaw “assisting” him in sticking to the actual events, not the exaggerated ones, reminding him of the original story he set out to tell. She did it with such tact, always respectful, a skill I recognize much more now as an adult myself. I honestly don’t think we ever finished a story because he chased many a squirrel up multiple trees in expansive forests and by then we never remembered what the intended point was. But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed him.

Health and physical fitness were important to him. He was very competitive and loved letting us know how he beat men half his age on the racquetball court. His morning sit-up routine and exercise regimen is more than the average person does in one day and he completed half of it before getting out of bed. It is quickly becoming something of legend among his great-granddaughters and may soon morph out of proportion to a fable of sorts if we’re not careful. Family was very important to him and everything he did was driven by his love for the Lord. He relied on Jesus for his strength to push on, no matter what.

This is why the onset of his dementia was so difficult. It’s not like it would be easy in any situation, but my Papaw was a larger than life man with superhuman qualities. At first it was little things that started to go, like forgetting words and facts. But it progressed to the point of him being unable to move on his own or complete any basic task. This progression wasn’t fast. It was gradual and it lasted over a span of thirteen years before he was released from this earthly body into eternity with our Savior.

With every season and situation there are multiple facets. As we honored my grandfather’s life this past weekend, a piece of this story caused me to pause. I made a short post on Instagram and touched on this, but I must go even deeper. My Memaw has loved and served my Papaw faithfully through their life and his illness. They shared a marriage that honored Christ, showing countless generations what it means to love joyfully, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health”. The last 13 years have required a strength that no human possesses of themselves. God is faithful and provides exactly what we need for each moment. My grandparents have had many “moments” and knew who to go to for sustenance minute by minute, day by day. When the day came that my Papaw could no longer communicate my Memaw pressed on. When the day came that he could no longer walk, she pressed on. When the time arrived that he was confined to his bed, she didn’t waiver. Her witness to countless onlookers holds value and weight beyond measure. On this side of heaven she may never know the impact of her joyful endurance and service, but Jesus knows….and I’m sure He will embrace her one day when she joins Him and whisper in her ear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Thirteen years. How easy it is to glance at another’s circumstance but not give thought to the internal battle of emotions waging each day. My Memaw never complained. She didn’t serve begrudgingly, but joyfully. She wanted to be involved. Dementia is a thief and steals everything while leaving the warm body of your loved one. Out of respect for my Memaw I don’t want to go into detail, but caring for a loved one who is sick is not glamorous. That never mattered, she served him with determination to do what was best for him. She prayed constantly. So many decisions had to be made and she didn’t take that responsibility lightly. My Memaw is a warrior, with a beautiful Alto voice, and she serves the King. She has always taken her requests to the throne begging for His wisdom, asking Him for His involvement. When she says she will pray for you she means it. What a legacy. What a bloodline. Ya’ll I’m in tears to have the privilege of knowing these people I call my grandparents.

A running theme of an overarching season in my life is focused around the Greek word hupomone which translates to our English words endurance, steadfastness, and patience. It literally means cheerful or hopeful endurance. I first became aware of the word when studying James about seven years ago and groaned.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ‭‭

James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It’s been such a continual lesson that I recently had some new ink applied with an equation of the Greek for “endurance + encouragement = hope” on my right arm. It’s a reminder that endurance doesn’t stand by itself. It’s not an independent external action but an internal work from God allowing us to remain under the shadow of His wing during tough, excruciating, devastating, drawn out attacks on our souls. Hupomone is strengthening through His encouragement that allows us to hold onto hope. Not hope of a person changing, situation easing, sickness leaving, loved one returning, marriage redeeming, addiction disappearing, financial burden lifting, child returning, cycle ending or any other miracle we may yearn for, but hope in Christ in whom all things are held together.

Of course we pray for all of these things, but our hope doesn’t rest in a circumstance changing. Our hope is eternal. To endure whatever season or situation we are in with patient and joyful endurance we need encouragement. Paraklesis is the biblical encouragement I’m referencing. To have hope we must be encouraged to not lose hope. Thankfully God does this for us. He himself encourages us. He is the God of encouragement. He does it through scripture, the Holy Spirit and also through the community of believers.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Life when lived for duty without passion and purpose falls stale. It’s dangerous. To do what is right can begin with the proper motive but life will wear you down. It’s whittled me down to bare bone on many occasion. One of the most painful seasons of my life, to date, is when my steadfast pursuit of enduring lost focus. Initially “Jesus loves ME” was my “why” but my focus shifted to an indignant, “Well, I love Jesus, so why me?!” I became angry and resentful and began to make the wrong decisions. Duty for the sake of duty falls short. I believe the term legalism may ring true. It is not of God and holds no encouraging power.

Discouragement is dangerous, but so natural to our human nature. God understands and that’s why He Himself encourages us. We are also called to be there for one another. Not in giving our opinions, gossiping by way of requesting prayer, or judging how others are walking according to our perception, but by sharing our experience, strength and hope. Maybe we could start by praying for situations ourselves and seeking His Word for direction so we can be encouragers to those God places around us? An excerpt from William Barclay’s “The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians” describes this relationship between hupomone and paraklesis far better than I ever could:

“Here we have two great words. Patience is in Greek hupomone, which never means simply the ability to sit down and bear things but the ability to rise up and conquer them. God is the one who gives us the power to use any experience to lend greatness and glory to life. God is the one in whom we learn to use joy and sorrow, success and failure, achievement and disappointment alike, to enrich and ennoble life, to make us more useful to others and to bring us nearer to himself. Consolation and comfort are the same Greek word – paraklesis. Paraklesis is far more than soothing sympathy; it is encouragement. It is the help which not only puts an arm round someone but sends that person out to face the world; it not only wipes away the tears but makes it possible to face the world with steady eyes. Paraklesis is comfort and strength combined. God is the one in whom any situation becomes our glory and in whom people find strength to go on gallantly when life has collapsed.”

When running the half marathon with my dad in Ruidoso we had several mountains to climb. The entire race wasn’t uphill, there were many ups and downs. Being a fellow flatlander himself he understood some of the obstacles I would face. A friend shared a tip with him years ago that he shared with me. Never look at the top of the climb, just put one foot in front of the other. Look directly in front of you, only a little ahead to see where you’re going, but never all the way up. Eventually you’ll get there without all the mental doubt of not being able to make it.

It is one foot in front of the other, one moment at a time, one day at a time. Life can become overwhelming if we try to take it all on. God never asks us to do that. He gives us our daily bread. I am not who I will be a week from today, one month from today, one year from today. Enduring our current season builds new character producing hope through the Holy Spirit. The character built enables us to face each day as it is called “today.” My Memaw pressed on a day at a time trusting Jesus and I believe she will continue doing this each day until she joins Him. It’s a way of life not just some nice tag line or cliché. Let it be the same for us, one day at a time as we trudge this road together.

 ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

 

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Lessons (being) Learned

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

I’ve gone back and forth on writing this. I struggle sharing things so publicly that bring attention, positive or negative. My struggle with pride has been the story of my life. I pray and consider my motives because selfishness is something that plagues me. Yet, what do we have but a story to share with others. Our triumphs, failures….the story of this journey called life.

Today is a significant day. It marks 4 years clean & sober, by the grace of God alone.  I was overcome with emotion this morning thinking about the life I have today and remembering the life I had. Weeping over the blessings I would’ve missed. Ya’ll, addiction and alcoholism is the name of one of my strongholds and has been for over half my life. This underlying “dis-ease” of self….the idea and belief that I can satisfy myself, my own way…it’s such a lie. An un-truth I’ve chased for many seasons.

“Take it away, I beg you, take it all away

The pain it causes, it makes me wish I could fade away

If they knew what you knew, they'd probably shun me

I'm surprised you know it all and you love me

I know I break your heart”

Cry for You - Lecrae

It’s so easy not to talk about the elephant in the room, yet don’t we all have our own mammoths? We’d like the world to think they’re extinct. We (only) fool ourselves. The struggle doesn’t have to be public for it to be reality. It can be an internal angst that causes just as much damage. We aren’t called to go through this life alone. Why do we exert so much needless energy putting on a front? I’m calling my elephant out today and hoping it encourages someone to call theirs out too. It doesn’t require that your elephant shares the same name as mine for us to relate and support one another. Let’s be authentic and embolden the next person placed in our path to continue trudging on. This life is rough enough without throwing stones of judgment at those we perceive as different….for what to make ourselves feel better?

Four years ago today wasn’t some earth shattering horrible experience. That self-imposed chaos had been occurring for years, on and off. Who would’ve thought so many shipwrecks could occur in the middle of the West Texas desert. My story isn’t about some monumental event that woke me up. Yet, four years ago today I made a decision to ask for help and a decision to surrender to God’s guidance in an area I’d tried to take care of myself. That’s what I’d consider monumental. I love Jesus, I always have….yet I wouldn’t give Him this one thing. I’d had periods of sobriety, but when things didn’t go the way I wanted, I’d trip up and be caught back up in the cycle of destruction.

 

“I promised I would die a thousand deaths 'fore I cause them any pain

But somehow I end up killing everything

I cry for you

If you feel a dark, twisted, heart-wrenching, hate-to-see-your-own-reflection

Praying for an intervention, feeling guilt and feeling shame

I just call on Jesus name

Praying daily, can you take away this pain?

Take the thorn away

Still, it remains, I

Feel the same, I

Know that I'm here, but

Still feel insane

Satan would love to see me give up and throw up my hands

He say I'm guilty but You say I'm clean”

Cry for You - Lecrae

God presented an opportunity to change the trajectory of my life and that of my family’s. To create a legacy for our children, and at the time we only had two! I cannot imagine what life would be like today had I chosen to be stubborn and selfishly held onto my anger, hurt, pride and perceived protection of myself. I wouldn’t have the beautiful family I have today, including the addition of two precious boys. I wouldn’t have the husband who struggles alongside me in this journey. By saying “yes” we have had the opportunity to break generational strongholds and begin writing a new chapter, instead of closing the book to write a new one.

Redemption is a beautiful thing. It’s raw. It’s messy. It digs up the past and makes you face it in the present. So many fears arise and scream, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS.” But Redemption prevails. One day at a time, with God’s help, He reminds me I’m not alone. He has called me blessed. I can face the past remembering who I am today, by His grace alone. He re-writes the past and allows it to be used for good. The destruction that would never dare voice a public word has become one of the strongest testaments of the miracle of freedom ONLY Jesus can bring. It doesn’t mean life is perfect, but it gives the gift of peace in the midst of pain. It provides hope and comfort propelling me continue on knowing it’s worth it. Redemption gives to life what was thought impossible. It is a intimate whisper that proclaims, “I love you.” An assurance that I was not forgotten, even for a moment. Redemption is a glimpse of His faithfulness and purpose even in the most broken pictures.

“…as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed,who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Romans 4:17b

I struggle with self…daily. It manifests itself in various ways. I’m grateful for this struggle because it helps me stay willing to ask for His help. My alcoholism wasn’t about the alcohol; it was about my attempt to fix an internal spiritual condition by myself. In all truth it’s a battle I’ll face for the rest of my life, not necessarily with a substance, but a lesson of surrender. Do I really believe God has the best plan for me? The solution didn’t come from my willpower. I really wanted to stop multiple times. If you know someone who battles addiction of any kind you’ve seen effects of addiction. You’ve seen the struggle. Rough doesn’t describe it. There isn’t a word that fully encompasses the destruction & despair. I’ve lived on both sides of it. Loving someone in the midst of addiction is impossible without God’s help. But truly loving anyone is impossible without His help. It is a struggle that requires surrender, just like any other struggle that happens to go by a different name.

“But grace is sufficient to start my mission

I'm so far from perfect, can't believe they listen

But hear a broken man tell you healing happens

And hear a liar tell you truth to bring you gladness

I could never boast in my accomplishments

I can only hope in God with confidence”

Cry for You - Lecrae

 

Addiction isn’t a special thing. I’m not “terminally unique” as is a term used within recovery circles, basically poking at the level of pride and ego the disease carries. I’m a run of the mill human being who struggles with selfishness and have found the solution of a relationship with God, through the 12 Steps, mentorship and the Word of God. I needed something simple and He provided it. If you want to know more about the 12 Steps please feel free to let me know. I’d love to have a real conversation over coffee, face to face.

I hope if you made it to the end of the post, whatever your silent battle is, you realize you’re not alone. I pray that if you have a loved one struggling through a stronghold you don’t cease to hope and seek support from others enduring the same. I hope if you’re on the other side of your battle that you will be encouraged and empowered to speak. Don’t let the enemy silence or convince you otherwise. The power of the gospel is alive in the stories of God doing the impossible. What was dead has come alive. What was hopeless has been redeemed. What was lost has been found. Only through Jesus….what does your story look like in this season? Speak.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings,  so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4,7