12 September 2014

Thoughts on Hosea

The last four months have been a whirlwind. I have gone from the darkest valley to the highest peak and I stand amazed at the beauty of it, a beauty only God could orchestrate. I admit I mostly bought the Hosea study pack because it was pretty. That and because of one single verse I discovered a few months ago that piqued my curiosity about this strange and difficult book. Did God arrange for the artist chosen for this particular study to be "just my style"? Maybe. I believe in a God who delights in that sort of thing. God's timing is perfect and in falling love with the book of Hosea, I have learned a bit more of what it means to fall in love with Christ.

My life has been a constant ebb and flow of the cycles of depression and anxiety, loneliness and insecurity. I've loved Jesus since I was a child but I didn't realize I had no idea what it meant to be "in love" with him. And I had no concept of the depth of his love for me.

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her."
Hosea 2:14

Last winter into spring found me wandering far into the wilderness, lost and confused but never alone. Even as I ran from God, I couldn't escape him. He was always there beside me speaking words of comfort and love, protecting me from myself. Little did I know, as the waves of pain and heartache thrashed and battered me, that God was drawing me back to him.

I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.
Hosea 14:4

I don't recall how I even found this verse, only that God spoke powerfully to me that spring day as I read those beautiful words. Life-giving, freeing, healing words. When I finally stopped running and turned to face my God, I was stunned with his presence and glory at work in me.  I tasted his love and forgiveness in those sweet words and discovered within me a hunger to know him more. Cue She Reads Truth and the Hosea study.

I found She Reads Truth through a blog you might be familiar with - Jones Design Company. In true Holy Spirit fashion, I was prompted to make an impromptu purchase that, little did I know, would change my view of God. I met God years ago but now, oh but now...

"And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me husband...
And I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
in steadfast love and in mercy.
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.
And you shall know the Lord.
And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord."
Hosea 2:16,19-21 (highlights mine)

This study on the beautiful, perplexing book of Hosea introduced me to God as I've never known him. It has taken head knowledge and placed it into the deepest recesses of my heart, where I will ponder and cherish it forever. God brought me to She Reads Truth just as this study was getting ready to begin in perfect God-time, as only he can. He had things he wanted to say to me through his Word and he used the writers of this study to help me understand. 

And in another step of perfect God-time, I could not be more excited about the next study entitled "Open Your Bible". You see, the Women's Ministry at our small country church is about to begin studying the new book Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. The same theme popping up in my life at the same time. God is leading and speaking and guiding me, and I am finally ready to listen and to learn. I am hungry for as much of God as my earthly-self can take and I look forward to seeing what God wants to teach me next.

Just one final treasure from this painfully beautiful book...

"How can I give you up...?
How can I hand you over...?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender."
Hosea 11:8

31 May 2014

Crashing Waves and New Life

“Sometimes the crashing waves don’t wash you away, but wash you alive.” - Ann Voskamp

These last months the waves have left me battered and beaten against the rocks of heartache and sin and self-hatred, threatening to drown me again and again. And drown me they very nearly did. But I am typing these words as I stand safely on the sandy shore watching the sun rise on my life.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
-Psalm 18:16
The waves threatened to engulf me. But as I sputtered and wailed through the crashing pain he reached down and held me tight. When I could not get the air to breath, he filled me with the breath of his Holy Spirit. The crashing, battering waves broke me. Broke me and washed me all clean of the lies that have clung to me for as long as I have memories, living water washing away the sticky mud of my doubting sin nature.

Watching the sun rise is a beautiful thing, a gift from God to be savored. Before this winter storm of my life much of me was dead. I had no hope. But like the gardener who trims the seemingly dead vine down to the ground in order to bring about new growth, God has pruned me back and the new shoots of hope are pushing upward toward the sun. Fresh excitement bubbles like a spring deep within me and I see the buds of my dreams beginning to form as I am bathed in the warm sun and nourishing, gentle spring rain of God's love. I have been washed alive.

28 January 2014

Conditional Healing

I go through the same scenario again and again in my life.  In the midst of the mud of the depression part of my bipolar cycles I cry out to God in desperation and throw myself at his feet. He hears me. Of course he always hears me and he always loves me. He pulls me close and pulls me up to stand again in joy and gratitude and avalanche of certainty that I will keep close to his side so I don't ever have to go through this again. I'm sure you know where this is going.

This particular episode was the perfect storm. I stopped my estrogen therapy three months before and all seemed mostly well as I began to navigate menopause (I had a complete hysterectomy five years ago). Then we got a puppy. Not just any puppy, but a Goldendoodle. Her name is Misha and she is a curly little sweetheart. A sweetheart who can jump over baby gates and reach things on the counter (at four months old) and has energy to go and go and go (and occasionally she goes on the carpet). And have you seen the weather lately? Loads of fun trying to channel her energy in our cozy house when it's -2 degrees out.

None of that is the problem though. The problem is that I just stopped. Stopped reading my Bible. Stopped (mostly) praying. Stopped leaning into my God, my Healer, my Strength. Satan is never one to waste a good opportunity, but what about me? I believe the lies. I always believe the lies.

I'm not good enough for...whatever. I am a failure at this and that and everything. Without layers of makeup and five different hair products I would not be fit to be seen in public. I've let (fill-in-the-blank) down. Again.

I always believe the lies.

I fell hard this time. I don't remember when I felt so broken and empty. All I wanted to do was run. Run as fast and as far from his love as I could because I don't deserve it. I don't deserve Him. But something was different this time. Even at the lowest point I could distinctly feel his hand on me, the way a parent grabs hold of a child about to run into the street, holding me in his firm grip. Keeping me safe. I felt him, Him, clear as could be and He was not letting me go. I wanted to run but he wasn't going to let me.

In November 2012 God told me to stop praying for help to endure and instead pray for healing. Six months later I was able to go off my bipolar meds and I was completely released from treatment soon after. He healed me. So how could I fall so far so fast if I was healed? I realized today that my healing is conditional. Conditional on my staying close to the Healer. As long as I keep close to Him I am healed, but when I allow myself to wander away from his love, his protection...well, that's a different story. I brought this on myself by being careless with my soul. I let down my guard and listened to the lies.

I'd like to think I've learned my lesson, and maybe I finally have. I'm sure I will continue to make mistakes but he who promised is faithful even when I am not, and he will finish what he started in me. That is the hope I am clinging to tonight as I rest in Him.

Some of my favorite Bible verses are found in the book of Isaiah. As I hid in my pain in recent weeks these words were my greatest comfort.

"Fear not for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze;
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
Isaiah 43:1b-3a NIV (bold mine)

I am His. There is nothing more to say.

28 April 2013

Believing God

Leaving my comfort zone is a curious thing.  One minute I stand in awe of the beauty of promise and possibility, brimming with the excitement of coming alive.  In the very next moment it takes all I've got not to turn and run.  Fast.  As far as I possibly can. 

When I signed up to attend In(RL) my thinking was, being cluelessly called to women's ministry, that it would be helpful to get to know some ladies who've gone ahead of me.  Rub shoulders a bit and maybe I could learn something from these women with more experience than I.  God had other ideas.

Instead I crashed head-on into my fears and insecurities.  Smacked me upside the head and sent me into a tailspin like I haven't experienced in years.  Now, before I go further let me say that on the off-chance that any of the sweet ladies who attended In(RL) with me happen to read this, this has nothing to do with you!  Everyone was warm and gracious and I'm so sorry I let my insecurities get the best of me.  Again.  Moving on.

I'm not going to get into all the nitty-gritty details of what made me this way.  Let's just say that I do not remember a time in my life where I felt good enough.  I have no traumatic experiences to pull out of my hat to explain my insecurities, no childhood abuse or devastating loss.  Yet I have an inferiority complex like nobody's business and I've been rocking that thing since kindergarten.  Yes, I remember feeling this way as early as kindergarten.  I don't remember too much before that.

I'm going to stop right there and say, God is doing amazing things in my life.  He has been present in ways I have never known before, even back when I spent a summer in missions and thought I could not feel closer to Him.  He has been lifting me out of the muck and mire and showering me clean with his love.  I am finally beginning to understand what it means to believe the Bible, to believe God.

But it's a process.  Yesterday reminded me of that.  I left the gathering shaken to the core from the full force of coming face to face with my fears.  I realized God did not send me there to learn about women's ministry but to learn about me.  We need to face our fears in order to kick them to the curb and more than likely they'll need to be kicked to the curb more than once. 

It's a beautiful thing to hear the voice of God saying I am not that girl.  There is freedom and joy and utter, absolute peace in feeling God's hand on my shoulder.  That is what makes it possible for me to face the fear and insecurity and fight another day.  It makes it possible for me to take that next step out of my comfort zone, and the next, and the next.  It makes it possible for me to believe what God says about me.  To believe God...what a beautiful thing.

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep you away.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
Isaiah 43:1-3

05 April 2013

Stumblin' Along

I was reading over a few of the blog posts I've written so far and something jumped out at me.  Apparently I like to use the word "stumbled" when referring to a Bible verse.  As in, "I stumbled across this today..."  That struck me as funny because, you see, I happen to be rather clumsy. 

At any given time I can usually find at least one bruise that I cannot remember where it came from and I'm currently sporting matching brush burns on my knees from tripping on the steps and landing hard in the foyer square on my knees.  Amazingly, no blood was involved but the can of Cherry Coke I hurled across the hard floor looked pretty battered. 

I believe God values our little, seemingly insignificant prayers and so I'm sure he was enjoying my gushes of thanks that the soda can was intact and not gushing itself all over my floor...and walls and front door and carpeted stairs.  You get the picture.  My knees (and big toe - go figure) hurt ALOT but nothing would have brought me to tears quicker than a busted soda can.  I may or may not have cried when I exploded a can of soda in the freezer a few years ago. 

Let me give you a word of advice.  If you ever decide to stick your favorite carbonated beverage in the freezer for a quickie cool down...don't forget it's there.  You will regret the decision and I guarantee you won't do that again.  Unless you like to live dangerously.  Then, for the love of all that is frozen, please set a timer to remind you it's in there. 

27 March 2013

But what can I do?

The sun is shining today.  Snowflake (the cat) is snoring softly on the back of the sofa.  The house is quiet and peaceful.  I have so much to be grateful for.

I had the chance to have lunch with my former boss and coworkers last week and my boss's daughter joined us.  She shared about her years living in a Los Angeles neighborhood where you did not leave the house after dark.  Unless there was a problem at a nearby university, you would not see a police officer.  She lived in an area under gang rule.  What got me were the children, so many of which believe they have no alternative for survival but to join the gangs.

I did not ask or do anything to deserve to be born here.  Neither did my son.  It is humbling to recognize all we have and know that we are no more important than any of those children, yet here we are, safe in this beautiful rural community. 

Yesterday I stumbled upon these verses found in the book of Isaiah 58:9-11.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail."

When I think about it all, the suffering and sorrow of the innocent children, it overwhelms me, but Mother Teresa had a little something to say about that:  "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you."  What a great thought to remember. 

I may not be able to save neighborhoods from the cycle of poverty and violence but I can take the neighborhood children to bible school.  I can spend some of my grocery money on items for the local food bank.  I can sponsor a child through Compassion or World Vision.  There are countless little things I can do that seem to make no difference in the world but may make all the difference in the lives of an individual.  That is what we are called to do.  That and to stop and say Thank You for all of our blessings.

22 March 2013

The Promises of God

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)

I'm not quite sure how I've been a Christian for most of my life, raised in the church, attending a Mennonite school for the first 8 years of my education, and somehow managed to be so oblivious to the sheer volume of loving promises found in the Bible. 

You could always find at least one of those little Bible Promise books scattered around my house.  My Mennonite education led to a respectable knowledge of Bible trivia.  I've never read through the entire Bible, but I do read the Bible.  And yet it all seems new. 

As I've searched for Him in the midst of my emotional healing he has been faithful.  I have been overwhelmed with his presence and he has been patient with me, showing me just as much of his glory as I can take.  Thanks to my handy yellow highlighter, my Bible is flashing more of God's comfort and tender love with each turn of the page. 

It is so exciting when something that I found years ago jumps out at the most opportune time.  That is the Holy Spirit's specialty, speaking just what we need when we need it.  The above verse is an example of that.  I am so terribly hard on myself (aren't most women?).  God has been making himself known to me in new and wonderful ways yet there are days when I am convinced I will never be good enough.  I forget that I never can be good enough, not without Christ.  He is doing wonderful things in my life and only when I keep my eyes focused on him will I be able to overcome. 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!
(1 Corinthians 5:17)