What Happens in the Normal Life, If You’re Lucky, Maybe…

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“I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf.” ―Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Jim Cymbala captures the heart of every soul seeking something more, yearning for significance to rise from all of life’s heartache, desiring the God of the universe to show Himself strong. While living a normal life, you find yourself hard pressed on every side, cast down, even perplexed, and if you’re lucky, the glimmer of hope in the goodness of God will shine brighter than the burdens you bear. Maybe this is the trajectory most often traveled in bringing God absolute glory. Perhaps, our problems equally beckon us to either “slip by” relatively unscathed by the clamor of desire or to embrace the center of our suffering with a heart still anchored in hope, still searching for miraculous intervention in the middle of life’s searing storms.

How unfortunate it is to go through life untouched by tragedy. Not that you must intentionally familiarize yourself with trauma, but wholehearted living requires embracing both beautiful and bitter morsels of your journey. In the normal life, trouble will darken your doorstep, and how unlucky you’d be if sorrow never swept your way between stretches of deep satisfaction and great achievements. That’s right. Unlucky if you remain unchanged by the pain that daily surrounds you and implores you to purpose it. Unlucky if you haven’t a single problem or unmet need that keeps you ever seeking our Sovereign Savior, ever stretching to reach beyond your grasp.

What a terrible waste of unlimited potential to skate safely through the life experiences that change so many others at the core, to never be transformed by loss, or heartache, or practicing to delight in the minutiae of seemingly mundane events. In the normal life, distance from Eden’s untainted perfection will ravage your soul and scar you deeply. If you’re lucky, you won’t be too rushed to “keep calm and carry on” or too willing to hide your heart at the first pinprick of pain. If you’re lucky, your agony won’t be invisible. Others will see your broken places, and maybe catch a glimpse of God shining from the cracks you refuse to conceal.

In the normal life, you’ll chance upon conflict. If you’re lucky, you’ll engage in loving confrontations that bear lasting fruit of deepened friendships, and maybe you’ll grow from the thing you didn’t avoid. In the normal life, doubt will visit your toughest decisions. If you’re lucky, repentance will swiftly follow the heels of remorse, and maybe you’ll choose your regrets more wisely when chasing second chances with those you love. Cruelty and cynicism swirl all around us, mingled with joy and generosity, and if you remain unaffected by it, you’ll miss the beautiful ways you were meant to reveal God’s glory. So, this is an invitation to open your heart to the things you’d rather avoid, to embrace every part of your story, especially the seemingly nuisance interruptions, to acknowledge the pain wrought by living a few thousand years past paradise, a summons to live with your whole heart expecting to be awed by God in the intricate details of your story, a request to open your heart to both the tragic and transformative nature of a normal life.

A Box Full of Darkness

box full of darkness

There’s a gift in the box.

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~Mary Oliver, The Uses of Sorrow

I hate having to admit how long I tightly clutched my box, opening it several times, somehow wishing its contents would change. Are you stuck? Are you still peering deeply into your box, wishing the past were different, unable to make progress because you refuse to accept what life has sent your way? The writer of Jimmy Needham’s “Clear the Stage” said, “Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.” Pain, too, can be an idol; the darkness can consume you if you let it. Have you given the box its own pedestal in your life, allowing yourself to act and react out of anger, hatred, or fear? Will you wrestle with God in the dark? Will you praise Him in it? Will you place your hope in Him despite the darkness? Will you so deeply desire He change your box that you miss God changing you? Have you let God open the box with you? Have you immersed yourself more with the contents of the box than you have with Him? Have you passed the darkness on to others because you’ve failed to let God in, to let Him handle your darkness, or let Him handle you? For years I handed out boxes of my own unresolved trauma, boxes of rage, of unrepentant disdain, of bitter criticism that crushed, and scorched, and scathed. To whom have you dealt your unresolved darkness? Have you discarded it, never learning the gifts that it held? What have you done with your box? [Click Here to READ MORE]

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The Pain to Push

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Don’t exchange Godly suffering for earthly comfort.

I’m not a fan of pain. It’s not even that I’m unable to manage the pain, so much as I’ve nurtured a fear of experiencing pain more than I’ve nurtured the fact that I’ve overcome pain. In a brief lapse of judgment, I attempted to birth my oldest son without pain medications. Please note this is not at all to divide those who opt for pain meds and those who do not, but considering my fear of experiencing  such intense pain, it wasn’t wise for me. In fact, for our next child, I asked when the epidural would arrive, and I wasn’t even in labor yet! I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

The most refreshing aspect for me was that I could actually fall asleep and not have to worry about contractions or, you guessed it, pain. The nurses asked me not to push, and I gladly took a nap until the doctor arrived. On the other hand, I’ve heard many women share their “natural” birth stories, and once the baby is in position and that pain to push hits, there IS no holding back! You see, while I was numb, while the pain had been taken away, I could make the choice not to give birth to the child I’d dreamed about holding in my arms. Oh, but when there’s pain there’s a persistent pressure to give birth to your dreams! Thank God for the pain!

As pictured above, the devil will always try to talk you out of Godly suffering in exchange for earthly convenience. Don’t fall for it! Make a commitment to stop looking for the easy way out, stop looking for the smooth, easy road where you can be lulled to sleep instead of birthing your dream. Your path will be filled with pain, but once you’re in position, the pain will get you to push! The pain will actually lead to your deliverance, it’ll lead to you birthing the dream! As the enemy sends fire your way, let it cause your purpose to burn within you even more. Below, I’ll share a relevant vlog on exactly that. Also, visit and follow the uplifting new blog of my friend ((You Can Shout Now)) who inspired this post by reminding me that some things are so pressing you just have to get it out!

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The Two Halves of Life

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I’m greatly enjoying a book by Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, which holds the premise that life’s “necessary suffering” is not an obstacle to be surmounted, but a pathway to be journeyed, a pathway to the second half of life. In the first half of life, we are driven by our ego, our need to achieve, to build something for ourselves, to discover and be discovered. I would summarize, however, that in the second half, we are more propelled by empathy because we have tasted defeat. In the second half, we embrace a deep desire to join others in their joys and sufferings, a desire to see justice, but only through a lens of grace, a desire to be certain of less, tentative of more, and ever decreasing in our resistance to change.

As I absorb the many delineations of first vs. second-half-of-life relating, I see my old self as having operated out of many of the first-half-of-life issues, such as searching for and finding my identity. It’s with some apprehension that I proclaim I’m now fully embracing the second half of life, only because I know my ego would love nothing more than to convince me I’m better than “those people,” those still journeying through the first half of life. But, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the first half of life. In fact, we need the first half of life if the second half will ever be sustainable. We need the roots of our tree; we need motivation, achievements, suffering, winning, and especially failing. So, I haven’t become too entangled in the notion that I’m not right where I believe I am and right where I believe I should be. The second half of life has also come with a firm sense of acceptance, both of self and others, of our individual and collective experiences, a sense of belief in that thing called intuition, which the first half of life threatened to consume. I see second-half-of-life indicators in my life and the lives of some around me. I see it when a friend questions why she’s okay with the fact that human beings will sleep outside tonight, or when I question why I allowed the slightest bit of my initial outrage to wane after seeing impoverished children eating dirt cookies for sustenance. I see the second half of life emerging when a friend said that for her, getting older has meant accepting the parts of her that have been beneficial to others but detrimental to her and acknowledging that without being bitter about it. I see it in my life when I realize I still have anger for some of my first-half-of-life experiences, for the loss, for what was willfully destroyed and stolen, but that my anger isn’t vindictive; it’s redemptive. I see second-half-of-life living in a friend who recently prayed to become like a child, not for the purpose of shirking adult responsibilities, but for the purpose of loving with reckless abandon, for the purpose of wholeheartedly living out the beliefs we’ve collected throughout the first half of life.

I believe that in this second half of life, we begin to feel a righteous indignation for societal wrongs that we know we may never completely correct or even address in our lifetime, but we find it worth our tears, our anger, our voice, anyhow. In this half of life, I’d rather regret standing up at the wrong time than regret not standing up at all. I think it’s an impossible ideal to live life without regrets, but I’m rather determined to pursue life with such purpose that I prefer my regrets. All of these issues are merely foundational, though, merely questioning whether one is living from the first or second half of life. The book further discusses the unintentional, upward fall into the second half, and I look forward to the other directions it will carry my mind.
falling upward

The Two Halves of Life

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What a Mess!

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The Messy Foot of the Cross

“This place is a mess!” My mother pointed that out to us when we were kids, and now that I have four active children ranging from preschool to teen years, I frequently point it out, as well. But the messy place I’m referencing today isn’t my home. I’m continually struck by the messiness of another place, a place called grace. Grace refuses to be bound, refuses to be neatly packaged, refuses to land on just me or just you. It’s messy, overflowing onto everyone, getting all over everything. The same grace that is enough for you and me is sufficient for the most heinous of criminals, the most wretched of souls.

No matter what you’ve done and no matter what’s been done to you, God’s grace covers you, the ones you’ve harmed and the ones who’ve harmed you most. This comment is not at all to diminish the reality of suffering you may have experienced or the scars you may still bear. I’m simply sharing what I’ve come to believe, which is that those who’ve wounded me the deepest are living under the same grace by which I stand.

The most concise description of grace is: unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. There’s nothing we can do to earn grace, and bless God, nothing we can do to be unworthy of it. Grace refuses to have an exclusive target, yet is determined to never miss its intended mark. A friend recently wrote a blog post, Grace Like Snow, and I had the thought, “Indeed, grace is like snow.” It’s not neat; it flutters on down, falling on everything around.

After revisiting a detailed description of the physical death of Jesus Christ, I remain convinced that Golgotha was a terribly messy place and that anyone physically involved in the death of Christ left covered in the same blood that paid their price. Those committing the worst crime against Jesus were the most covered in His precious blood. It’s amazing how the worst circumstances and worst offenses make grace all the more incomprehensible and all the more invaluable. As Christ hung on the cross, He begged for forgiveness of those same, unrepentant sinners who were yet causing His death. They were covered and didn’t even know it, covered by His blood, covered by His grace. What a mess the cross surely was. What a mess His grace surely is. It gets everywhere!

There’s a place exhuming every depth

Climbing every height, spanning every breadth

And this place has covered every cost

Still covers the saved, still saves the lost

Messy grace moves us to love the unlovable.

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Wounds Of The Spirit

The reality is: some wounds we may live with until Christ returns, and He wants us to continue crying out to Him, ANYHOW, with absolute faith that He’ll answer (Luke 18:1-8) and that whatever His answer, it’s for our good (Romans 8:28)! I pray you all are blessed by this quote: Wounds Of The Spirit.

There are wounds of the spirit which never close and are intended in God’s mercy to bring us nearer to Him, and to prevent us leaving Him by their very perpetuity. Such wounds then may almost be taken as a pledge, or at least as a ground for a humble trust, that God will give us the great gift of perseverance to the end. This is how I comfort myself in my own great bereavements.

John Henry Newman

wounded heart

Some wounds are meant to draw our hearts closer to His.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Girl Face Woman Carved Fig Madonna Pretty Wood

I turned 33 this month. I began experiencing life’s brokenness at 3 years old, and ever since then, I’d always felt exactly that. Broken. About four weeks ago, I reread the story of the woman with the issue of blood in Matthew 9:20-22. I remember reading that “instantly” she was healed, and I paused my reading to say, “Lord, Jesus! I want that! I want to be instantly healed! I want this pain to be gone! I know You CAN do it. Why don’t You?” I kind of forgot about that prayer and continued along with life (Update: I found the YouVersion note I wrote that night: Immediate Healing). The next week, I went to worship in the quiet sanctuary of my childhood church. As I left, a beautiful sister in Christ who was cleaning the church stopped me and said God told her to tell me that whatever it is, He’s bringing me out of it, to just keep doing what I’m doing, keep worshiping, keep praising, and know that He’s bringing me out.

The very next day, I had a moment of absolute protest. I was so emotionally drained and didn’t want anything else to do with this healing journey God had me on. I adamantly told my husband, “I quit. I’ll heal more, later.” I couldn’t even look him in the eye because I knew that I hadn’t consulted God, and further, I didn’t want to. I was done, and that was that. Thankfully, we had friends over that evening, so there was no room for my pity party. By the time I reflected on that afternoon, I recalled the life-giving words God spoke through His servant the preceding day: “He’s bringing you out; whatever it is, He’s bringing you out of it!”

Fast forward to two weeks later, last Thursday night, when I again found myself reading about the woman with the issue of blood, but this time, from the gospel of Mark. That detailed account indicated the woman had sought many physicians “and was no better but rather grew worse.” I exclaimed, “No, Jesus! She went to all the doctors and got WORSE? No thank you, Lord! Don’t let that be my story!” The very next day, Friday, God realized His promise to bring me out of that lingering emotional pain. God answered the prayers I’d forgotten I prayed, prayers to be instantly healed.

I wish I could more clearly articulate what happened last Friday. But I simply felt myself changing. The hollow feeling in my chest began to fill and just didn’t feel so heavy, the vibration inside of me became calm without me having to take deep, soothing breaths. Fear was gone; sorrow was gone; pain was gone. By the time I could even second-guess this new feeling of peace, the sting was completely gone. Just as Jesus knew that power had gone out from Him, I knew, without a doubt, that God’s power had come into me and made me whole.

You have to understand that at 33 years of age, I had never been able to utter the words, “I am whole.” I didn’t even have a framework for what experiencing wholeness would be like, and yet, as I type this, I assure you I am whole! Think about the lame man in Acts 3. He was lame from birth, so he had no neural networks for what experiencing walking actually felt like, yet, he left jumping and leaping with praise. I immediately began walking in wholeness exactly two weeks after I was ready to give up! I’m convinced the enemy senses the finish line long before we do. I believe he sees the angels coming alongside us to bear us up in their arms, and THAT is when he increases attacks to discourage our faith. When you feel like giving up, know that the words God has spoken over your life will NOT return to Him void. See the warfare for what it is! Never give up, never despair; though the vision may seem slow in coming, it will not be delayed. The brokenness is gone, and I am whole. If Jesus would do this wondrous thing for the woman with the issue of blood, if He’d do it for me, if He’s risen with ALL power in His hand, won’t He do it for you? He WILL do it; just persevere!

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“God is more powerful than anybody’s past, no matter how wretched. He can make us forget – not by erasing the memory but by taking the sting and paralyzing effect out of it”
~Jim Cymbala

“The nature of the enemy’s warfare in your life is to cause you to become discouraged and to cast away your confidence. Not that you would necessarily discard your salvation, but you could give up your hope of God’s deliverance. The enemy wants to numb you into a coping kind of Christianity that has given up hope of seeing God’s resurrection power.”
~Bob Sorge, Glory: When Heaven Invades Earth

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