Prepared to Give an Answer


It’s been a month!? Goodness! Well, yes, it’s summer, and I’m trying to enjoy it and be productive with some goals at the same time. So here I am.

Yesterday was a very interesting experience for me. Early in the morning, I checked a Facebook notification for a friend and saw that she had posted this:

This rather encapsulates how I feel about my faith and the subject of the human sexuality spectrum. So I commented on the post: “Yep! That’s exactly it for me.” I didn’t think there would be much more to it than perhaps a comment like or two. But then another friend whom I have known for about ten or eleven years replied:

So I do have a follow-up question that is something that I’ve been dealing with lately. While there is no judgment, does that mean you still think that being gay is necessarily a “bad trait”? For example, you wouldn’t judge thieves, but you wouldn’t promote their behavior as positive and godly. Any thoughts? 

I immediately knew in my soul that this was one of those situations that the Bible talks about where Christians need to be “prepared to give an answer”. I replied that, after I dropped my little girl off at daycare, I would sit down so I could answer her question thoughtfully and properly. And I did. I thought about it all through the drive to school and during my time at the gym afterward, drafting up responses and making notes of a Scripture that came to mind. Finally, I was able to sit down and arrange my thoughts into the following response:

Okay. Here I am. Honestly…your question is something that I have struggled with thinking through sometimes. However, after thought and reflection, I cannot bring myself to a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality. I just can’t. I can’t tell someone that I love them or that God loves them but, in the same breath, call them wrong. I have done too much wrong in my own life to pass judgment. Do people do things that are wrong? Yes, we all do. But if I’m so busy judging or telling someone their faults or, as you put it, bad traits, there’s no room left to love them or for them to BELIEVE that I love them. I am not God. I don’t know His mind. I don’t know the minds of any other person on this planet. I am not called to judge. I am called to love. To love all of someone. Do I want to help people grow in life? Yes, I want to encourage, support, and help them in that growth, whatever that may mean for them. I will love and pray for them, no matter what. 

What immediately springs to mind (and sticks there) for me is John 8:1-11 and I’ve quoted it below.

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ” (New Living Translation)

Jesus didn’t condemn this woman; He didn’t judge her. He said, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t lay her sins, whatever they may have been, out before her. He doesn’t tell her what’s wrong with her or bad about her. No. He just told her that He didn’t condemn her, to go live her life and do what’s right. In the same way, I will not condemn someone. I will not lay what I, in my fallibility, think are their sins before them. I am called to love and I will love and love and love. I will do what I can to help those I come into contact with to live the best lives they can in the spaces they are in. I have been so deeply loved in my life, have met and known and loved so many amazing people from all walks of life, but I have also seen what damage and pain and separation condemnation and judgment can cause. Such things are not of God and I will not perpetuate such pain. The Church is called to love God and love others. This is most important and it is what I have built my life on and will continue to. 

To be sure I answer your question, no, I do not think that being gay is a “bad trait”. Some of the greatest people of faith I’ve ever known are gay, and I will thank God for them from the rooftops and point those who need love and prayer and counsel to them all the time as people of God and some of the deepest, strongest, and most loving Christians I have ever known. Thank you for asking and making me think, love. 

I am called to love and loving is what I will do.

Weighted on the Side of Grace


There’s a war between guilt and grace

And they’re fighting for a sacred space.

“Grace Wins Every Time” — Matthew West

My soul laid in broken pieces at my feet, cracked and smashed, shattered and bleeding. The pieces never seemed to stop falling, like the late fall leaves outside that seemed to flutter endlessly to the ground. My poor soul was in so many pieces that, if it were a vase, I would despair of it ever being put back together again. Even if it were, would it ever be strong and stalwart again? Would it ever be able to stand upright without fear of collapsing inward? Would my soul, so battered and broken by my own failures and actions, by rejection and judgement from others, ever again stand a chance at wholeness? I didn’t think so.

I could hide it. I did hide it and well. I swathed it in velvet, let it appear whole and soft when really it was trembling and fractured beneath. The pretty-on-the-outside covering was to hide the sensitive, nerve-baring cracks as much as it was to pretend at wholeness. It fooled everyone but me, everyone but those who dared to look painfully closely, and especially everyone but the One who formed my fingers and toes, my heart, lungs, and innermost being.

The One I don’t fool is God. I can’t fool God. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, that’s what I said: wonderful! No matter who I think I might be fooling, I cannot fool the God of the universe. An artist knows their handiwork. So does God. He Knows me and Sees me.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV)

God sees my soul for what it is: fractured, scarred, and scared. He sees those broken pieces of self, sees the guilt that wars with grace, and weights the scales. Gathering those pieces of me, He puts His finger on the side of grace, tipping the odds in my favor, in His mercy and love.

I am messy. I have made mistakes and had to make amends. I have gotten it horribly wrong before. Yet God still calls me wonderful.

You, dear friend, are messy. You have made mistakes. You have gotten it horribly wrong before. You have been crushed by your actions and those of others. But God still calls you wonderful. He still loves you as is. Guilt and grace war for the sacred space in your soul, too, and God still gathers up your pieces and puts His finger on grace’s side of the scale.

Do not fear your broken soul; God doesn’t. Sometimes that which has been broken and repaired is even stronger than when it first started out. Let God pick up your pieces. Watch how tenderly He handles those jagged and painful parts of you, coaxing and bringing about healing, clarity, and growth from their ragged edges.

Listen to His tender whisper: “I love you. I love your brokenness. I love your soul. I am here. You are not in this fight alone.”

Our brokenness doesn’t frighten God. Not one bit. In fact, He only draws us closer. Here, take my hand, and let’s lean into our brokenness today, you and me. Then we can see what grace has in store for us.

 

BloPoMo Day 8: What I Can Do, I Will Do.


Let me preface this by being very honest and admitting that I have not had a very good (does a quick count) almost twenty-four hours. I went to bed in exhausted tears last night (you know, the kind of tears that you don’t realize you’re crying until you’re in the middle of crying). I slept fitfully and was dream-harried all night, and then I woke up in tears, a nightmare shaking me to my core and filling me with heartache and sadness as I rose to go about my Sunday.

As I drove myself and my daughter to church, I found myself having a very candid and brutally honest talk with God. It’s been a while since I had a verbal chat with Him and was a little surprised when it just all came spilling out. If my girl was older, I probably would have kept it to myself, I think, but, as she was thoroughly occupied with her balloon and rocket drawing, the flood doors just sort of opened.

I won’t rehash everything that I talked about with God. In fact, I’m not sure I could rehash it all. But what it boiled down to, at the end of it all, was this:

While I might at times feel stressed, sad, overwhelmed, lonely, just rawr at the world, etc. (sometimes without even an explanation to be given), there is something I can choose to do. Something I have asked God to help me with especially.

“Please, help me to be what I think I need for someone else.”

Sometimes, feeling absolutely sucks! I don’t want others in my corner of life to have to slog through negative feelings or down moments alone if I can change that, even a little bit. I always have a choice in the midst of feeling of how I am going to act or react. So that is my personal challenge this week: to be what I think I need (company, listening ear, strong shoulder, comforting embrace, truth-speaker, etc.). And maybe I can make those moments and feelings a bit easier for someone else’s heart and soul.

From "Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst

From “Unglued” by Lysa TerKeurst

BloPoMo Day 7: Devotional Share – “I Want To Do Big Things” by Suzanne Eller


I will admit, over the past three years, what is talked about in the devotional below is something I have especially struggled with: the seeming smallness of my assignment, even if I am in the right assignment.

God, am I to be blogging more seriously, trying to reach more people? Am I to have a specific message? Am I to be sending out proposals and letters to agents, trying to write and publish books? Am I in the right assignment? Did I miss something big somehow?”

But, like Suzie Eller, I am always brought back to the realization that no assignment in life is “small”, no bag of silver too small to be multiplied and used well. It’s like the book that I read to Elizabeth, “There’s No Such Thing As Little”. I never want her to feel like she or what she does in life is little. If it’s for others, it’s for God.

Back in May, I watched my little two-year-old girl try to comfort a distraught little friend. When she didn’t know what to do, she ran to get Daddy because Daddy can always help. I could practically hear her saying, “Daddy, my friend is upset. Please, help.” What she did wasn’t small at all; she was thinking of her friend and acting with love, even as a toddler. That is HUGE.

What I do in life is not small. What I do with my writing, my letters and notes, gifts, encouragement, prayers, talks, coffee, lunches, etc., that is not small. And neither is what you do. I may not be “writing great books and making barrels of money” but I am doing my assignment in the best way I know how, to serve others in love and the God I believe in. And that is big. That is HUGE.

~ Melissa Snyder

T. Suzanne Eller OCTOBER 9, 2015

I Want to Do Big Things
SUZIE ELLER

“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’” Matthew 25:21 (NLT)

Every Wednesday night, a handful of women gather around my kitchen table to laugh, eat and study the Bible together.

These women haven’t had it easy. Life is downright hard sometimes, but they are feisty and fun. I can’t imagine Wednesdays without them.

Not too long ago, I read an article about several Christian women who were making a difference in the world. One raised funds to dig wells in villages desperate for clean water. Another started a school for girls rescued from the slave trade. One after another, I read these stories of brave women who grabbed these assignments from God and ran with them.

For a moment it caused me to look at my own life. God, have I missed my assignment? Is there something BIG I’m supposed to be doing?

Before the words even left my mouth, I felt His gentle rebuke.

I thought about the week before. One of the women around my kitchen table said there was a time when she didn’t know anything about Scripture, but now it was changing her.

Just the day before, one woman wanted to take a walk after our meeting. As we trekked down the walking trail, we talked about Jesus and prayed together.

My focus had almost shifted to the “bigness” of other women’s assignments rather than settling into the beauty of my own.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a story of a man about to take a long trip. He called his servants together and entrusted each with a measure of responsibility. He gave five bags of silver to one servant, two bags of silver to another and one bag of silver to a third servant.

While he was away, the servant with five bags invested it and earned five more. The man with two bags went to work and earned two more. But, the man who had been given one bag dug a hole in the ground and buried it.

When the master returned, he was filled with praise for the two who had multiplied the silver entrusted to them. As we see in our key verse “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” he said to each. “You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”

His reaction to the man who had hidden the bag in the ground was much different: “Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it” (Matthew 25:27, NLT).

It’s worth noting that this story is not really about money. It was a parable Jesus taught to convey a spiritual truth.

Jesus was about to leave the disciples. In His absence, each would have an assignment. Some would pray and watch miracles take place. Others would plant churches. Some would disciple new believers. Others would serve and love people one by one. Whether the assignment seemed big or small, it’s what they did with it that mattered.

My treasured assignment is to love the four to six women who meet around my table everyWednesday night. I get to do that by fixing dinner for them and celebrating birthdays with a cake made just for that individual. I get to do that as we dig deep into the Word of God and grow in our faith together.

Whatever our assignment, it’s BIG because every single person impacted by the name of Jesus counts.

If you are teaching teens, mentoring or putting out chairs for a Sunday morning service, let’s celebrate together!

If you’re feeding the hungry, singing sweet words over the heart of a troubled child, sending an encouraging note to a friend or praying for the leaders of our nation, let’s celebrate together!

Whatever He’s trusted us to do, let’s celebrate together as we make a difference in the world in His name.

Savior, today I take my eyes off anyone else’s assignment and I thank You for the beauty of mine. If I’m burying that assignment because of uncertainty or comparison, I hold it up to You. Thank You for showing me what to do and multiplying it for Your sake. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
1 Corinthians 12:4, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (NIV)

Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (NIV)

RELATED RESOURCES:
If you’re wondering about God’s plans for you, no matter how big or small, What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa TerKeurst will encourage you.

Join Suzie Eller and friends today in a conversation on her blog about discovering our faith assignment as well as the chance to win a giveaway.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
You can have five “bags of silver” and bury it or use it. It’s not about how gifted you are; it’s about how faithful you are with your gifts.

What is one way you desire to make a difference? How has God uniquely created you to do that right where you are?

© 2015 by Suzie Eller. All rights reserved.

Finding Refuge in the Deluge


“Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory[a] will be a canopy.  It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.”  Isaiah 4:5-6 (NIV)

The other morning, I took my daughter out into our backyard after pleas of “House? Please, house?” I had a plan, too. I was going to plant my chair underneath our mulberry tree and, from there, I would have a good view of her whether she was playing in her playhouse or climbing up the ladder to go down her slide. While I sat in this shady refuge, I was going to continue reading and journaling and had plans to write a short devotional on the refuge of peaceful spaces. It was going to be a lovely time outside.

Unfortunately, the insects had other ideas. It has been hot and muggy and raining off and on the past few days, and the dew was still on the grass when we went out so the bugs were out in force.  My backyard, which is usually a beautifully cool refuge in the morning hours, had turned into a torture zone for me. I am notorious for being bitten by insects. So much so that there are times that I just about flat-out refuse to leave the house. If there are bugs about, I will get bitten, buzzed, and, really, just all-out bugged.

How like life, isn’t it? We sit down and determine that this will be our sacred time, our time with God, when we absorb His Word and listen for that still, sweet voice. This will be our time to center ourselves in the midst of everything, to find silence and calm and peace. And then the thoughts creep in. Or, rather, they pop in, buzzing about our mind while we are trying to be still. Grocery lists, dinner ingredients, errands that need to be run, appointments needing to be kept. They buzz and bite at our concentration, threatening to draw our minds away from God, away from quiet.

Sometimes these thoughts are like annoying insects, interrupting us. Other times, it can be our emotions that interrupt, suddenly washing over us like a sudden storm. I can personally attest to this. Thoughts lead to emotions and those emotions lead to more thoughts and, before I know it, I am lost in the storm. I have no idea what I was thinking or praying about in the first place, or even what I was reading or journaling. Something that I tend to forget, however, is that, even in that deluge, God can still be my refuge. Our refuge. We can still call out to Him, call out His name, and He will meet us in that place. That place of trying and failing, that place of frustration or overwhelm. He will meet us there.

As it says in our key verse, “It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.” The “it” refers to the presence of God. It is there to cut through it all and draw us back. Back to a place of quiet, a place of reflection, a place where we meet God, where He can speak to us, and where we can hear Him with our whole heart.

So, while my backyard might not have been the shelter and refuge I had hoped for of a morning, it served as a great reminder of the God Who is, no matter what.

Refuge

For the Gaining and Gift of a Dream


Vulnerability alert! Last night, my husband asked me an innocent question: “What is your dream?” As I sat there and thought, I found myself bursting into tears. I cried. Oh, how I cried. As I thought, I couldn’t find anything that fit what I would call a “dream”.

When I was a little girl, I dreamt of being a teacher. I have done that, in some way, shape, or form, from age 16 to age 29.

When I was older, I dreamt of writing and being published. I have done that. (Though I have never quite been so Jo March to declare, “I shall write great books and make barrels of money.”)

I dreamt of finding deep, understanding love and partnership. I have found it.

I dreamt of holding a child in my arms. I do.

img_2035dreamYet, now, at almost 32 years of age, I do not know what my next dream is, what my next step or my next path in life is. And so I cried for a long time last night. It was a despairing cry; one never wants to think that they are dreamless. Soon, Elizabeth will be old enough for preschool and I will be back to work, but what work? Shall I return to the classroom, shall I search for a position in a library, or shall I try to step into something entirely new? I do not know and not knowing scares me.

It has also been suggested to me that I could make money from my writing. That is also an idea that frightens me, although I know it can be done. It would be a step of faith, a step of courage, one that would lead to some of the hardest work I’ve ever done and perhaps some of the rewarding work I have ever done. However, I’m not sure it is one that my family can afford, with what we are planning for/needing to be done in the future. Not as a sole method of breadwinning, that is. But…could it still be worth a try?

Ben asked me another poignant question then (it was truly the night for them): “Why do you write?” And so I answered honestly, perhaps the most honestly I ever have. I write so that there will be evidence that I existed. I write so that there will be a record that I lived, breathed, felt, thought, learned, created. However selfish it may sound, I write so that there will be proof of me. And maybe, just maybe, someone will find comfort, help, or encouragement from what I have experienced and shared. I did find something that I said in reply to him a touch curious, though. I told him that I do what I do in life because I feel as though they are what I must do. I write, share, post, sing, dance, and talk but I have not necessarily looked at those things as “dreams”. They are just a part of who I am.

Then Ben asked me if I had talked to God about it. When was the last time I asked Him for a new dream? I couldn’t answer, which was an answer in and of itself. And so, in the midst of my tears and clutching of my husband’s hand, I did what I should have done in the first place: I prayed. I thanked God for the dreams He has helped me to achieve and told Him of the despair I was feeling at the thought of not having a dream to aspire to, a path to set foot on. My heart cried out and I asked Him for a dream, for guidance, for light. I know and trust that He will be true to His word as I seek His dream for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

So I shall continue to pray and quieten my heart continue to listen as I look, hope, wait for, and walk towards a new dream.

Walking Through Storms


Pressing forward through the storm

This morning has been a very interesting one spiritually. As I’m sitting here listening to my Nichole Nordeman station on Pandora and reading in the book of Proverbs, I’ve noticed that a good number of the songs that come up refer to going through storms and hard times and looking to God through it all.

 

When it’s dark and it’s cold 
And I can’t feel my soul
You are so good
When the world is gone gray 
And the rain’s here to stay
You are still good (Nichole Nordeman “You Are Good”)

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise (Laura Story “Blessings”)

Rather apropos, as there are indeed some storms in mine and my husband’s lives right now and I’m not just referring to my pregnancy. In all things, I’ve been very blessed with my daughter’s pregnancy thus far. Sure, I’m on bed rest right now but she is just fine, by all reports, and I couldn’t ask for more than that. I have some time to rest and my stress level has gone way down and for that I can only be thankful.

What is a storm for me is not being able to help when someone I love is suffering or going through a storm of their own. And when I say ‘help’, I mean actually do something to actually, physically affect the situation to make it better. I know that encouragement, understanding, love, and the like all help really but I am the type of person who wants to fix things, make them better, and, when I cannot, that makes me very sad. I know that my husband is going through some very, very difficult storms right now and it’s all I can do to hold onto him and let him know I’m there, the snow and rain feel so thick and pelt so hard that it hurts beyond words. I can’t see a way out of the storm but I can practically see his spirit and soul being trodden over and broken and I desperately want to stop it, to do something that will make it stop.

But I am not the one with the power over the storm. I am not the one who can command it to be still, or, if not, bring us through it still in tact, though perhaps not minus a few cuts and bruises. I am not the one who can give my darling husband the strength to keep walking, keep trudging, keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if he doesn’t know where it will lead. All I can do is hold tightly,  to his hand, give him all the warmth and love I can, and walk with him, trusting God to bring us through and show us the next step.

It’s all I can do. But if little penguins can make it through an antarctic blizzard and keep trudging forward, then surely God can help two young people hold onto each other and make it through one of life’s blizzard to whatever lies on the other side.

God,

I pray Your grace, strength, peace, and protection be over my husband today and every day, but especially in these moments amidst the storm. May he heart Your voice, feel Your touch, and know that he is not alone, not walking alone, even though things are very hard. Speak peace and reassurance to his heart today and may he feel You lifting the weight from his shoulders, even if just for a little while, Lord.

Thank You!

Amen