#YesIamaChristian

Yes, I am a Christian.

But would I really be able to say that in the face of fear, with a gun pointed at me?

Yes, of course I want to say yes. But would I really be able to do it? Or would fear paralyze me? Would terror take my voice? Is my faith really strong enough to say that yes, I believe, and live that out, even in the very last moment of my life. Would I be strong enough to choose to be a martyr? Would I be able to speak it, especially after watching those before me murdered for their “yes”?

This violence happens far too often, here in our country, and across the world. Evil reaches its hand out and snuffs out a life, or many lives, all for it’s own twisted delight.

Evil finds us in every corner, in every place. The darkness of the world seeps in and soils our lives, and right and wrong become murky and twisted.

We mourn with those who have lost, those whose loved ones were brutally murdered. Our tears fall, and our prayers are raised.

We hold our children a little tighter as we send them off to the bus stop, off to their school. Fear creeps into our hearts, and our faith is tested.

I’m reading the articles, watching the news footage, all with tears in my eyes. The senselessness, the madness, of such an act of violence makes me weep for those who were lost, for those who have lost loved ones. My heart aches with grief.

As more information comes out, it is sobering to hear that the gunman asked his victims if they were a Christian. If they said yes, they were killed, a bullet to the head. If they said no, or did not respond, they were still injured, but not murdered.

Dear, sweet Jesus. Why?

Every time something like this happens, I have to ask why. I wrestle with God, and will admit that many times I become angry with Him, why He did not intervene, change the trajectory of the gunman’s life, why He didn’t protect the innocents. I question, I rage, I weep. And God tells me it is okay. I can challenge Him, I can question Him. Because in all of my questions, I don’t question that He is God. And that He is ultimately the one in control. And that He sees and knows far more than I ever will, than I ever can fathom. And that is what ultimately brings me comfort in the midst of the grief and tears.

My soul is challenged by this shooting. The fact that Christians were targeted, martyred because of their bravery in saying yes…

I am challenged because I do often wonder how I would react to such a situation. It is easy for me to sit here at a keyboard and claim, #YesIamaChristian. It is easy within the safety of my home to proclaim that “Yes! Of course, I would say yes!”

But would I really? I like to think that I would be strong enough to make that decision for myself, that I would grasp martyrdom with both hands, and let my faith buoy me in any circumstance. But the “what-ifs?” plague me. What if my children, my beautiful family, were right there? What if they too would be killed? If I could sacrifice myself to save them, then yes, a million times yes, but what if that wasn’t assured? Would I want them to see, to experience, the pain, the torture and have to live with those memories burned into their minds?

The questions are far more numerous than any answers I have. And I honestly hope that I will never be faced with such a situation, such a test, and I pray that the rest of my family will never either. But I also pray that we are living our life as an example to our children that yes, we are Christians, and yes, we will face the trials of the world, the persecution, the hardships that may come our way and that yes, we will lean not on our own understanding. We rely fully on a faith in Christ. We live in the knowledge that this is not our home. Our souls will carry on past this time, our faith, our hope and our security is not found here, in this world.  I pray that we show a strength, not of our own, but in the One in whom we rely, and my deepest prayer is that each one of my children will also learn to lean in to His strength, often and always.

As we mourn those souls who lost their lives in Oregon, let it stir us to a deeper faith.  When evil raises it’s hand to crush, let us retaliate with prayer, putting our faith in the One who triumphs over death. When we weep, let the God who knit us together comfort us and wipe away our tears.  When we question, let us trust not in ourselves, but in the God who put the cosmos in motion.

And it is hard, sometimes seemingly impossible, to do such things. But as found in Mark 10:27

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Let it be so.

Inadequate

I have been slacking in my writing as of late. I feel inspired and then, by the time I sit down at the computer, I’ve either forgotten what I wanted to write about, or have decided against what I thought about.  I find that inspiration hits me when I am out running, the only time I really have to be by myself and to think in peace. But that inspiration disappears by the time I’ve showered, re-dressed, and plugged back into life. I’ve also been so busy with work, the start of the school year, and just trying to get back into a rhythm of life, that writing, pouring myself out upon the keyboard, has been low on the priority list.

Today, I’ve decided to just write. It may not be good, it may not have any redeeming qualities, and yet, I feel the need, the desire to throw thoughts out into cyberspace. To place my thoughts onto a screen, hit publish, and just be satisfied with whatever comes of it.

As I think about it, it is much the way my prayer life has been lately. I have just thrown things up to the heavens, not really giving much thought to it, not giving it the time it deserves.

Not giving God the time He deserves.

My prayers, when thought or said, have been selfish, focused on me or my family.  They are said as I am dozing off in the evening, if I even remember then. The only times I have spent recently in intentional prayer is when friends and family have laid bare their souls, asking for prayers, for healing, for God’s interventions. Then, and only then, have I laid aside my pride, my selfishness, my own desires, and cried out to the Lord on their behalf. Then, and only then, have I taken time to really offer up time and energy, thoughts and love, to God.

And is that enough? Am I enough? I know that my prayer life lately has been inadequate. I know that I have not given God my time or energy in worship, in praise, in prayer. I know that I have allowed the life I have been blessed with to distract me from the life I am meant to live. A life of praise. A life of thanksgiving. A life of prayer.

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Easier said than done, if you ask me. Oh, there are days. Those days when life is hard, when every moment is a struggle. Those are the days that are easier for me to pray, and to pray without ceasing.  When I have to rely on God in every moment, just to make it through the day, those are the days that it is easier to pray. The days when all I can do is fall to my knees and give all that I am, all that I have, up in prayer, those days are easily spent in prayer because I have nothing else.

But a regular, ordinary Tuesday? Or Saturday?

When life seems to be going swimmingly, when there is just enough money in the checking account to pay the bills, everyone is healthy, work is fun, and everyone is getting along?

Those are the harder days to pray. Those are the days where I put too much faith in myself, the days when I rely on my own strength. Those are the days when time slips away easily, and the day is over before I realize it began, and I end the day without so much as an utterance of praise or thanksgiving.  Those days when I get so wrapped up in the details of the life I’m living that I forget to thank the One who gives me life….those are the days that I think of in this moment, the days that I feel the need to ask forgiveness for, the days that make me feel inadequate as a Christian, inauthentic as a follower of Christ.

But, thankfully, even that can be redeemed. Even that, in my failings and faults, I find love and forgiveness.  I know that when I feel convicted over such things, it is only Christ reaching out to me, drawing me near to him.  That is the loving relationship that I have found in Christ. That, rather than shame and condemnation, there is this abundant love that pours out over me, pulling me in, comforting rather than damning.  Even when I pull away or ignore Him, He is ever-patient and waits for me to return, waits for me with open arms.

And so I pray, in this moment, at this time. Let the words that flow out from me now be a prayer, a breath of new life into the dust that has settled into my spirit. Let this be a prayer of joy and thanksgiving, for the words given, the soul stirred, the forgiveness granted and for the love that covers all.

Can I get an amen?

Tethered

There is a story I’ve heard many times about an elephant. During the earliest stages of a baby elephant’s development they are fastened to the ground by a rope and stake. Since being tethered is not in an elephant’s nature, they continuously attempt to free themselves. As time goes by, the elephant realizes that is cannot free itself, and relegates itself to being held captive by the tether. As the elephant grows, and becomes stronger, it could easily break free from the bindings. But, the elephant doesn’t even try, remembering the futile attempts of his youth.

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I have been tethered. I have been bound by the sins in my past, restrained from living into the fullness of life by the shackles of shame.

I made many, many mistakes in my college years. I gave myself away to others, allowed them to use and abuse me, and cast me aside. I cared so little for myself that I expected no one else to care for me either. I numbed myself with alcohol, blamed it for my poor decisions, used it to escape reality.

For over 15 years, I have lived with a heavy weight on my soul. It had become so much a part of me that I didn’t even realize it was there, it was just a part of who I was.
Last fall, in different healing academy trainings, my soul felt restless. My mind kept turning back to the mistakes of the past, and the sins that I thought I had buried deeply began to resurface. Nothing felt right, nothing felt easy anymore. My world was tilted upon its axis and I couldn’t re-align.

I finally set aside time with a pastor for a healing session. I knew that I needed to unburden myself, to confess, to seek absolution. I can’t say it was easy, admitting to the mistakes, taking responsibility for my sins. I can’t say that I liked sharing the dark parts of who I am, who I was.

But I can say that hearing the words “You are forgiven” has been life-changing. I can say that there has been a weight lifted from my shoulders.

Freedom did not happen immediately. I left the healing session feeling disoriented and exhausted, and my mind still swirled with regret and shame. Peg really stressed the importance of forgiving myself. God had already forgiven me, but I struggled with forgiving myself. I begged God to help me to do that , because I knew I’d never be able to do it on my own.

And He did. Slowly, over the next few weeks, and then over the course of the following months, I thought about the past less and less. When I would think about it, my heart was not as heavy, not as pained. Earlier this summer, I realized that I had not thought about the past, had not had those feelings of shame and guilt for several months. Suddenly, I realized that I felt lighter. I felt unburdened.

I felt free.

No longer was I tethered to my sins. No longer was I held captive to the enemy through unforgiveness, through anger, through shame.

There is a freedom in my soul now that was not there before. I am no longer restrained by that which shackled me to the past, and I am so thankful for the opportunity that I found here to find that freedom. Had it not been for this season in my life, I am certain that I would still be weighted down, held fast by the chains of sin and guilt.