(Reluctantly) Preaching to the Choir

I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I am not a public speaker. I am far too emotional for it. I get sad…I cry. I get angry…I cry. I am joyful…I cry.  I see someone crying…I cry. And all this doesn’t work too well for me in the midst of speaking to a group of people, trying to share my heart, my faith, my journey.

But God is challenging me and inviting me to embrace that which I am and that which I have to offer. I’m being taught great lessons of humility by doing that which I do not feel gifted in.

At the beginning of the year, God laid it upon my heart to step out in faith, to be more honest and vulnerable. I thought it would be through my writing, through this blog. I thought I would be more vulnerable, but with the safety net of hiding behind a computer screen. I thought I could step out in faith without taking actual steps.

HA! (…is what I imagine God said to all my thoughts!)

Opportunities have been given to me. Opportunities to share my testimony, to preach the word of God, to glorify God with my voice and not just my writing.

It was is a scary thing for me.

microphone

First, it was giving my testimony during our church’s Ash Wednesday service. Then, just a few weeks later, I (half) joked with my husband about preaching for him during a very busy week.  He took me seriously.  And, after (much) prayer about it, I did preach during a Sunday morning service.  And just a few weeks after that, I gave another testimony, this time at our MOPS group, pouring out my heart about battling depression and how it relates to parenting our children.

It was a day or two after my MOPS testimony that I responded to a friends comment on my social media wall. She wrote something about me speaking more, and my response was along the lines of “well, we’ll see what God has in store…”

The next day, I received a phone call to invite me to speak at a women’s retreat.

I guess that was what God had in store…and I just had to laugh at God’s timing.

The retreat was a spa theme and the message of the weekend was the Psalms. Now, the spa theme appealed to me immediately just because, well, I am a massage therapist. And the psalms…oh, the psalms….

The book of Psalms is one that speaks to my soul. Where other books of the Old Testament confound and confuse me with their family lineage litanies and abundance of laws, the Psalms give me peace by speaking of the Lord’s faithfulness. The psalmist vacillates wildly from hope to despair, from joy to depression. The psalmist groans in agony, shouts in anger, and dances in praise. The psalmist sings of thanksgiving and contentment, even in the midst of persecution and pain. Psalms is the book I seem to turn to when my own soul is weary, when I need to find refuge in the Lord. The Psalms bolster my faith and reassure my heart that the Lord is indeed present and is victorious, even in the darkest of days.

Though I had some anxiety in saying yes to the invitation, I am so glad that I did. The weekend brought rest for my weary soul, and filled me with some life-giving refreshment for the desert my heart has been in.

I struggled with what to focus my message on. The psalms are so rich in their wisdom, so beautiful in their songs. The vast array of emotional content all resonates with me. I knew, however, that my tune would be more of lament, if only because my heart has recently been in a season of twisting and turning and confessing and recognizing the broken bits within me. In my vulnerability, I am learning to speak of the darkness in my soul, the hurt in my past, and through that, I have found a community of those who have also traveled upon this broken road.  In pouring out my heart, I have begun to initiate conversations and confessions, and have been richly blessed by them. There is healing that can happen when we are honest about our journey, because we find brothers and sisters who have been on the same walk.  We find kindred spirits, those who can attest to the goodness of the world and the pain of broken hearts. In authentic, loving conversation we can find mercy, grace and love and experience a deeper knowledge of the Creator.

If you haven’t spent much time reading the Psalms, I would encourage you to do so. Let them minister to your heart. I will admit that I struggle with reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament. But the Psalms are one of the few places that I go back to over and over again, because it always seems to refresh and renew me. These are the songs of joy and heartache, defeat and victory. These are the choruses of praise and thanksgiving. These are the words of longing for the Lord that resound deeply in our souls.

And with every breath, I praise His name

…and I will continue to embrace the opportunities He provides.

 

For those of you who may be curious, you can find my retreat message here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Psalm of Lament

I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat recently. Though I am not a preacher nor public speaker, I said yes to the invitation. The theme of the weekend was a spa retreat (perfect for my massage therapist self) and the focus was on the psalms. The following was my offering for worship.

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
 
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
 
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
 
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

“Stop Crying.”

 “Stop complaining.”

“You are such a crybaby.”

“Why are you so emotional over this?”

“What is wrong with you?”

“Get over it.”

“No one needs to see your tears. Go away.”

I heard these types of things over and over in my youth. My parents and siblings would say it. Schoolmates would tease me. I was the emotional kid, the sensitive one, the tenderhearted child.

Eventually,  I learned to hide the tears. I learned to stuff down the emotions. Just like everyone else, I wanted to be accepted and loved, and if it meant that I had to hide who I was, I would do it, just so everyone around me would be comfortable. My already introverted self became even more inwardly focused. I trusted very few people to know the true me, and even then, I still guarded the most tender places of my heart and never let anyone in.

Had I been more open, more vulnerable, if those around me had actually listened, or paid attention, perhaps my youth would have been different. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to deal with the demons of depression. Perhaps the thoughts of suicide wouldn’t have been there. Perhaps, if I had someone, anyone, that I trusted enough to share with, I would not have had to carry such a burden alone.

But I felt alone. And it was a heavy, heavy burden to bear.

The first time I remember contemplating suicide was at age 13. That is also the first time I remember really feeling the presence of God in my life. I grew up in the church, in a very strict, traditional church.  I knew of God, but I didn’t know God. To me, God was this strict disciplinarian who was sending me to hell, no matter what, because I was a mess and a sinner.  But this day, this day that was one of the worst days of my life, is also a day that I cherish in a bittersweet way.

As I sat with a razor blade against my wrist, trying to muster the courage to end my life, I felt arms around me. In my darkest moment of hating myself, I felt the tangible presence of the Lord and I heard His voice speak the words, “ I love you.  You are more than this. You are my Beloved.”

Never before had I felt love like that. Never before had I felt wanted, cared for, or known, like I did right in that moment, when God held me on that bathroom floor. I cried like I never had before. The God who had knit me together in my mother’s womb began to knit the broken pieces of my heart back together.

And I would love to tell you that that was it. I was cured, I  was healed, I had joy again, and I never battled the darkness again.

But I would be lying.  

I have battled that demon of depression on and off through the years, sometimes succumbing to its darkness. I have spent months barely able to keep from drowning in its depths.  I have spent years teetering on the edge, sometimes fighting the darkness with medication and counseling, other times just mustering through it, leaning on very close friends and my husband.

But in all of it, I have learned to turn to God over and over again. I have learned that I cannot flee from His presence, He is there beside me in the heavens and in the depths.

Now, I grew up in a faith tradition that focused more on teaching creeds and catechism than encouraging us to read Scripture. Memorization of our religion’s rules was more important than reading the Bible, and, with the exception of the Gospel read during worship, I never heard much scripture in my early years. I wasn’t familiar with Psalm 139, nor any other psalm, other than perhaps the 23rd psalm.

I was probably in my early 20s before I read the Bible for myself. It was during another dark season and I was at a place of no hope. I had nothing left to turn to, so I turned to God. I began to read the Bible. And, like so many people do, I played a game of Bible roulette and opened the page to Psalm 6.

1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger

or discipline me in your wrath.

2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;

heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

3 My soul is in deep anguish.

How long, Lord, how long?

4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me;

save me because of your unfailing love.

5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.

Who praises you from the grave?

6 I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping

and drench my couch with tears.

7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;

they fail because of all my foes.

8 Away from me, all you who do evil,

for the Lord has heard my weeping.

9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;

the Lord accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;

they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

It was as though every line from this psalm was my thoughts, my pain, typed out across the page. For the first time ever, I realized how alive the scriptures were, how God spoke to me through the words on the page. “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Oh, how I knew that feeling. And I knew enemies, I knew the battle strategies of Satan, who used shame and guilt to wear me down. I felt battle-scarred and broken.  I felt as though the enemy had been pummeling me for years and suddenly, here were these words of scripture that spoke to the weariness and to seeking the Lord to fight my battles for me.  I found hope in the midst of this psalm, and in the pages that followed.

As I began to read Scripture, as I spent more time in the Word, I found freedom within its pages. I had always been told not to question God, just to believe what I was told.  But within Scripture itself, I found writers questioning God. I saw people wrestle with doubt. I saw fear. And I saw faith. It bolstered my faith, not diminished it, by reading of those who battled through hard times, who struggled in trusting God and yet they kept their faith. Rather than causing discord within me, it fanned a fire and a passion within me to know this God, a God of compassion and love and justice, and not just of judgement. My eyes felt as though they were finally open.

Perhaps you have had this same experience. Perhaps you have wrestled with your own seasons of doubt and fear. Perhaps you have also had the joy and the wonder of the Scriptures being opened to you, and God’s love pour out to you through the pages. I hope that you have. I pray that you have experienced the love of God and the knowledge of who He is.  

For many years, I ran from God, feeling unworthy of His love, of his forgiveness.  I realize now that though I am unworthy,  Jesus has given me worth.  By His blood I am made new, redeemed and purified. I also realize now magnitude of his mercy and grace because, even in my brokenness and sin, He still lavishes it upon me and loves me without bounds.

I wonder how many of us have spent time running from God. I wonder how many of us have spent time in hiding, shackled by fear, chained by shame.  Don’t let the enemy lie to you. You are worthy of freedom, of redemption. You are a precious daughter of the king of heaven and you too have been made worthy, have been made new. You too are loved without bounds, and are lavished with mercy and grace.  As God has continued to work in me, bringing me healing as He has showered me in his grace, I have become more bold in proclaiming my faith and belief in Him. Even in the times that I don’t get the answers I am seeking, in the time I am seeking, God has proven to be faithful in my life and i can trust that he knows what is best for me, in His timing, not mine.

As we have journeyed through the psalms this weekend, once again I realize how much beauty there is within them.  I am overwhelmed with the honesty and truth they contain.  They speak to our lives.  They run the gamut of emotions, from love, to anger, to fear, to uncertainty, to depression. And sometimes, all of that happens in the same chapter. There is pain, there is suffering, there is loneliness and anger and disappointment. But there is also gratitude. There is joy. There is celebration. There is every aspect of the human experience and, woven through it all, is the presence of the Lord.

The psalms all point to God. They show us the many aspects of His nature. The psalmist continually reminds us, as he reminds himself, that God is sovereign, God is good, God is holy and God is our refuge, our safety, our hiding place.  Every single chapter tells us how the Lord watches over us, is our shield, is righteous, hears us, brings justice, is majestic, reigns forever, protects His people, has unfailing love, saves us.  They bring us back into communion with God, by reminding us of who God is.

 The psalms speak of trust in God, when there is nothing else to trust in. They speak of obedience to the laws of God, clinging tightly to the truth of the Divine. They give praise, they cry out in despair. They express the fullness of humanity in all of the 150 chapters. The psalms remind us how we can find God in the MIDST of our human experience.

And God knows the fullness of humanity. In sending His son to live the human experience, to be born into our broken world, our God connected with us in the best way He could. We love, we serve, a God who knows what we are feeling, what we are going through, because He himself experienced our humanness.  What a beautiful gift God gave us in that!  

I know that this is a heavier message that what you may have been expecting. But God has put me in a season where I am trying to be obedient to Him as He has called me into a place of honesty and vulnerability.  Even though my personal psalm today is one more of lament, I can praise God. I turn my eyes to Him, because He has saved me from the pit. He has redeemed me. He has given me hope, not just for my days on this earth, but for my eternity living in joy with him.  

Sisters, in whatever season you are in, whether it is one of joy and celebration, or whether it is one of lament and confession, God is hearing your voice. He knows you. He knit you together, he knows your innermost thoughts. In every season of our life, our song rises to God. Even in our times of lament or anger, God hears our cries and knows our burdened hearts. His love is what softens our hard edges, what cares for our shattered souls. Our personal songs of praise, lament, wisdom, pilgrimage, confession, vengeance, and thanksgiving all rise to the ears of God, and He knows our hearts. Let us do as the psalmist did, and turn all of our personal psalms into praise. Let us worship the God of the universe. The God who has redeemed us from the pit, the God who has walked through this human experience and knows the depths of sorrow and pain, the God who loves us in the midst of it, and loves us through it. Let God be praised.

I want to end today’s message with Psalm 150.  Will you read it with me?

Praise the Lord. 
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
 
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
 Praise the Lord.