We Are Okay

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There have been critics.  It’s a challenge for me to go on and write anyway.  I know I’m flawed, but Christ has declared me free.  I admire the female authors whose works I’ve been reading recently.  They are brutally honest and allow others to see their struggle, women who think outside the box but might not be accepted because they are too “out there.” Yet they are part of the body of Christ, and they reach people who would never be reached otherwise.  These women encourage me to continue asking questions, to search the heart of God and drink from His infinite well of truth, to think and to reason with the good mind God has given me.  So I pick myself up, dust myself off, and begin again.

When the Holy Spirit led me to write “Closing the Rule Book,” I immediately felt lighter, as if chains were broken off.  I felt free to become a lover of people and not their judge, according to the greatest commandments of loving the Lord and loving others as yourself.  Yet putting legs to it and walking it out—that’s the hard part.  I often joke with Mark as I’m waiting for him to make my latte each morning (yes, I’m spoiled!) that I’m going to my quiet time “to talk myself off the ledge.”  It’s wonderful having a husband who understands what that means!  The question that puts me on the ledge, though until now I didn’t have words for, is “How do I make myself acceptable today?”  

Here are some questions to ponder honestly—do we say what we are feeling, or do we say what we’re supposed to feel?  How much of our behavior is actually self-protection, but we’ve become so good at it that it seems normal to us?  Yet there is that undercurrent…a persistent though faint hum in the background that says “You are not okay.”  How do we make this interference in our thinking go away?  Only by the Holy Spirit and only by complete honesty with ourselves.  Do we have the courage to believe “I am okay just as I am?”  To believe “I don’t have to perform to be acceptable to God or people-please to be loved?”  The courage to take His nail-scarred hand and hold onto it for dear life, to believe He is always enough?  This is the first step—awareness.

You and I are acceptable just as we are.  Are there imperfections? Yes.  Are there areas that need growth?  Of course.  Mindsets that need to be changed?  Definitely.  Wounds that need to be healed?  Absolutely.  But is it in our power to “clean ourselves up”?  NO.  Coming to the realization and embracing the truth that we are loved just as we are frees us to hear His voice, to know Him, to walk with Him, the Righteous One.  And by the power of the Spirit working within us, we become a little bit more like Him day by day.  As long as we try to do it on our own, the more defeated we feel.

Religion said to me “You are not okay.”  Jesus said to me, “It is for freedom that I have come to set you free.”  Just for freedom’s sake—God gave us that.  If we had to clean ourselves up before we entered a church, the pews would be empty.  And if we had to clean ourselves up before we prayed and sought the presence of the Lord, we would never encounter Him.  How sad it must make God to see His Son hanging on that cross and then so many of His children walking away because they don’t feel worthy.  Once we embrace that He died for us because we are valuable to Him, we will see others as valuable too.  When that truth sinks into our hearts, we can “stay off the ledge,” whatever that looks like for you.  I’m leaving judging to the One who is perfectly just, merciful, and good.  And I’m asking Him again today, “Lord, help me love myself just as I am so I can love others the same way.” 

Color Wheel

My place at the table was reserved just for me.  The Lord knew exactly when I’d be ready to stop striving and come in and rest.  In my eyes I’m late, but in His eyes, I’m right on time.  Change isn’t automatic, even when you know you’ve been set free.  But the new wine is beginning to flow, a few drops at a time.  I feel a shift—more peace.  I don’t seem to be carrying around the I should list in my brain and am able to be present in the moment more often.  

As the homeschool volunteer art teacher for my daughter, I had my little grands—Emma, 7, Ethan, 5, and Myla Grace, almost 2, at my house for art and some play time.  We learned about the color wheel, painting the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow on paper plates.  I gave Myla Grace markers to use instead of paint, and of course, she colored on her paper plate…and the table…and her little belly.  Luckily, they were washable!

Next I let them mix the primary colors, and presto!  The secondary colors appeared—orange, purple, and green.  After teaching them about which colors are warm and which are cool, the lesson was over.  Then we had cookies and hot chocolate, half milk and half whipped cream, followed by play time in the toy room.  As they joyfully laughed and played, I was content just to sit on the floor with them and savor the moment, fully present.

I was thinking about those primary colors this morning, the three colors from which all other colors are created. And I wondered, since everything in creation reflects attributes of God, do the three primary colors represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  These three colors blend uniquely to produce an infinite number of reflections of their source, all containing nothing but pieces of the original colors. I thought of the imagery that Mark has written about, that we each uniquely reflect a piece of God’s heart.  And the color wheel with its infinite shades is another way of looking at how each of us express our Creator with our own special hue that was given to us when He designed us.

With the pressure building through this crazy and complicated year, I’m finding it’s a good time for me to go back to the basics, the simple truths that have always sustained me.  The Lord knows that for years I’ve chased simplicity only to find it elusive.  But with a new perspective from my view at the table, I see it’s not elusive.  Christ is offering it, arms wide open.  There is time for finding my truth and expressing it, my “color.”  But I know I will only find it when I am resting in Him.  

In “Late to the Table” I asked the question, Is it easier to follow rules than to walk in freedom? To be honest, I think we have to admit that in some ways, it is.  It’s often easier to do something than it is to be someone.  I believe that my true “color” has been hiding in plain sight all along.  I just haven’t been listening to the right Person.  Jesus is the only One who can tell us who we are and enable us to live our own truth. It’s time just to sit at God’s table and be with Him, the triune God, the Great I Am, to listen and to receive from the One who knows me best.

Closing the Rule Book

Last week I wrote about being “wired for compliance” and the “deconstruction-reconstruction” process that I’m in.  I’ve been meditating on Mark’s words, “Previous roots of emotional security have to be torn down, deconstructed.  Only then can you reconstruct with your truth according to what God is showing you to be truly yours.”  I’m hopeful that uprooting the things that have given me false security and letting God replace them with my truth as He gives it to me means freedom at last!  

Sitting with the Lord and inquiring what this looks like for me, I heard the familiar passage from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus is asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” I know I’m God’s child, but I won’t resemble Him unless I love like He does.

Show me what my truth is, Lord.  How do I love a broken self and a broken world?  We all stand equal at the foot of the cross, all completely dependent on His sacrifice for us.  Equally guilty, equally loved At the cross there is only One elevated, He who hung on the tree. I began to draw a picture in my journal, a cross with a stick man on it and a row of stick men under it.  Of course, the man on the cross is Jesus.  But then, without aforethought, I began to label the row of stick men with names: different Christian denominations, Republicans, Democrats, people of all races, LBGTs, and individuals with personalities that are opposite of mine.  

The Scripture floated up from my inner being:  Little children, love one another as I have loved you.  And then I wrote, “When you look at your brother, see him as I see him, equally loved, equally deserving of grace.”  I, too, am standing at the foot of the cross.  But as I look at the sin of someone else, I need only look up at Jesus and know that He died for that sin….and that sin….and my sin.  He who knew no sin became sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  How can I judge my brother when He has taken that sin upon Himself?  He died for the broken, and He told us that the way to reach them is by love.

So often men want to take the Bible and break it down into a “rule book” by which they can have some system of control, telling us who is one of us and who isn’t, who is right and who is wrong, and who fits the profile of a Christian according to their rules. Freedom means the ability to see God and encounter Him without human constraint. He is infinite and cannot be contained in the boxes that man has tried to put Him in. God’s Word is the story of a Father who loved His children so much that He sent Jesus to die for us all.  He died because we are valuable, not to make us valuable. That’s how He sees us and how He wants us to see each other. 

God gave us the gift of free will, and what a gift!  The gift to change our minds.  The gift to close up our rule books and find the way of love that Jesus deems as most important.  I’m feeling a huge burden lifted.  I’m no longer “playing by the rules” that constrain how I see myself and others.  And I’m falling in love with Jesus all over again.  I don’t know if this is the first step in my “reconstruction,” but I believe it’s the foundation for which all else with follow.

Living Outside of the Box

The Box
I cannot find me.
And I don’t want to look inside the box anymore,
For I know now that I don’t belong there.
But I’ve tried so long to fit in it.
Sometimes stuffed in it.
Sometimes very small in it.
What if I walked away from it for good?

I’m thinking about how our miniature schnauzer Calvin steps out of his crate every morning so slowly, yawning, stretching his cramped hind legs that have been tucked under him all night. And I realize this is how I am coming out of the box. It’s like I’ve been asleep, on autopilot for a very long time. So when I come out, I have to stretch myself as I try something new, like saying no or responding differently or giving myself permission to do the things I really long to do—giving myself permission to be me, but not sure exactly how to go about it.

Calvin hesitates. Does he go to the door, ready to go outside and do his business, or does he jump on the chair and go back to sleep? On a rainy morning like today, the effort was too much, so he went back to sleep on the chair. That’s me. Many days the newness in living outside the box seems like too much, so I find a place mentally to curl up and numb out. But other times I rush out to meet the day, welcoming life and eager to discover more about who I am and what God has for me. I know this is a process. In getting off the merry-go-round, I’m doing a lot of floundering. But I know in time my weak legs will get stronger.

When I wrote the poem “The Box,” I didn’t have a label for it, but Mark clarified it for me. The box is false identity, not living as God created me to be, using the unique gifts he put in my hands to fulfill my purpose and bring his light to the world. Inside the box, I was governed by expectations others had put on me, or more often that I had put on myself—needing to please people in order to feel loved, self-protecting mindsets to avoid pain, believing lies about myself that are rooted in wounds. 

The enemy wants to keep us in a place of captivity, where we’re afraid to move from status quo. Life with the Lord is lived in a spacious place where we are free to breathe and move around, freedom to live as God designed us. Why has it taken me so long to get to this place, Lord? But God sanctifies time, and he is faithful. I’m making the choice to not look back and to stay out of the box. I know it’s okay if I stumble and fall and even occasionally go back to sleep. But by his grace, I will get back up! 

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
 Psalm 18:19.