In My Failure

By Heather Spence

Every Sunday I feel like I’m bringing a knot of something with me.  It sits in my chest.  Like a lead ball, suffocating life.  Sometimes I think I can name it.  At other times I can’t.

Today I’m calling it failure.

The list in my head that I think I’m failing at is long.  It’s pretty brutal as I tally up my perceived shortcomings, my past successes with current changes.  I’m in a boxing ring with myself.  And I feel paralyzed by it…bloodied and paralyzed.

If I can’t have a little mercy with myself then how can anyone else?

Growing up in a performance based environment it’s hard to live in one’s emotions for long enough to break the cycle of the over-expectation of perfection.  I mean…come on…buck up and get on with it!  Right?  (did you catch the sarcasm there?)

Just the other day I finished The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom’s story about her time in a concentration camp.  Okay, that sentence doesn’t do the story justice.  Not one iota.  This is a story of personal triumph in a God so big he manifests himself over the tyranny of Nazism which consumed nations.

She shared how during the cold winter she would figure out how to get herself and her sister Betsie to the warmest part of the group during roll call.  She would use all sorts of reasons in her head for the action but what it boiled down to was that it was still a selfish act.  That God required selflessness even in the midst of these miserable conditions.

But then, the selfishness started working itself into other things and soon she became dull to the wonders and workings of our Lord.  Only confession renewed her!

And here’s the thought…if she struggled with selfishness in the midst of a concentration camp under inhumane neglect and abuse then how do we, who live so very differently, overcome it??

The other thing she shared near the end of the story was after she was released from the concentration camp and returned to her home she resumed the work of hiding Jews.  At least she tried.  But it came apparent very quickly that what the Lord had gifted her before was no longer available to her.

Here is where I stand…weighted with failure and fear, paralyzed that I’m not meeting up to the idea of success, that I’ve disappointed people.  Looking square in the face all that makes me feel insecure.  What am I going to choose?  Selfishness that withholds from myself and others?  Or will I choose to speak and say out loud, “I feel like a failure!  Someone hear me and tell me you understand then hold my hand while I bawl like a baby.”  Will I choose to believe that the Lord has a gift that will meet my needs in the place that he has led me to right now?  Will I accept that just because it’s different doesn’t make me a failure?

A few weeks ago, while waking up, I had a dream that I was out to dinner with a man (not my husband).  We were talking and eating and laughing…I still remember the feelings in my body were total and complete.  Sheer acceptance of my person.  When I realized what I was watching (because dreams are in third person, right?) my initial response was, “No!  That’s wrong!”  Then when I looked again I suddenly knew that it was Jesus that I was having dinner with.  Not just some ordinary man.  When I fully woke these words echoed across my mind, “Jesus, lover of my soul” and I was at rest.  Every angry feeling that had been surging through my body simply melted away.  I felt deeply loved.

Our counselor told us this last week that we can know something in our heads but our limbic system may not know it.  It’s a young place.  I’m in a young place right now.  Jesus still loves me deeply in this young place where everything feels like it’s spinning out of control.  It takes me more time to think and work through all the waterfall of emotions…the defunct coping mechanisms I’ve used my whole life…one can easily feel like failing.

I’m so thankful that the God Corrie ten Boom discovered in the Nazi concentration camps is the same God I’m discovering in my failure and fears.  That he is a God who is bigger than…a God whose arms are wider than…a God who loves deeper than…a God who went to the cross so that I could be free in the midst of the hardest things life throws at me all in the same day.

Living out of being loved by God…it’s the gift for me today regardless of how I feel.

Dollar Bin Delight

By Bill Bedell

“Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous 
delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

— e.e. cummings

I read Cummings in junior high and high school, a beautiful poet who was unconventional in his ways of expression. He freely risked making up words like “puddlewonderful” or using punctuation and arrangement to create movement within his poetry. He wrote A Leaf Falls on Loneliness, a poem that inspired me during a dark time of pain and abuse as a young boy. Even in my youth I could sense delight in his words, a playful imagination amidst powerful things, death and beauty mixed together. His words ignited a hope, a reality that already existed deep within me,  but I felt scared to grab it, to risk truly living. I needed to know delight existed, and without Christ his words seemed to remind me that perhaps it still did.

As a child, delight strained under the force of chaos and harm, yet it did not die. Vigilantly I protected myself from others and their agendas, trying to figure out the angles so as to avoid harm. I worked even harder to stay away from my own wants and needs which seemed far more risky and exposing. Living in a fallen world means we all experience harm on some level, some more than others. In response we can settle for blaming ourselves or others in an  attempt to hide from our suffering and to avoid the pain and shame we may carry. It makes sense that we begin to lose sight of certain things when we are lost or in pain. We fail to hold onto hopes and dreams we once believed in, telling ourselves they will never become a reality. We can make up that hope or delight isn’t coming, and that if it is, then we will only be let down again by relationships.

Fool me once. I quit expecting delight because it seemed easier than being hurt. Even if it wasn’t true,  I felt delight had potential to expose me and leave me a fool. I came by that belief honestly and was terrified to the point of incapacitation of ever leaving myself open again. Yet, deep down I needed delight, I was made for it.

Delight is woven into the very fabric of our being, intrinsic to creation, it is an exuberant artistry of enjoyment and celebration. Somehow, God saw fit to make us a pinnacle of His creative work and enjoys us because air goes in and out of our nose holes.

True as this may be, this amazing reality is not meant to be experienced in our minds alone. Logical acknowledgment does not embody a passionate relationship made to be entered, to be received and experienced within our hearts. If that’s true, it muddles our plans of protection, performance, and hiding that we prefer at times. Embodiment requires vulnerability. Many of us equate vulnerability with harm, shame, and pain…it does not always mean that.

I found this out in Target of all places. I was wasting an hour standing in front of the dollar bins filled with fun and useless products. Nothing profound was running through my mind, in fact I was enjoying a glorious gift that most men can accomplish with little effort, the ability to be thinking about absolutely nothing.

That moment is when I experienced a sense of being deeply enjoyed, as if someone was smiling at me because they just loved me. I did not look around because I knew it was not another person, it was God delighting in me. His love seemed to fill me up from the inside and brought tears to my eyes because it felt so good and strong, and familiar. Even though it was brief, it shifted the way I felt about God and myself. Maybe I am lovable and worthwhile? Not just intellectually, rather knowing it and feeling in my heart. What made that moment even more profound is that I wasn’t working hard, or being intentional, or “spiritually minded”. I was simply being.

I am grateful for this experience because it invited me out of my pain and into vulnerability, out of my head and back into my body. Sometimes God is in the places that you are running from the hardest. He is looking to redeem us from the inside out simply because we bring him tremendous pleasure and he delights in the people he has made us to be.

I know well depravity and the base things of life and how to navigate them, however, the questions that delight ask us are far more compelling, beautiful, and scary. Is God truly good? Is the gospel really true in my life? If so, am I free to create and cultivate all kinds of things? Am I free to live in a way that is truly passionate and connected? Could I possibly take these risks and be enjoyed while I am doing them?

One of the greatest strenghts that we possess is the ability to receive and accept things from others. To receive from others requires vulnerability and trust. Pia Mellody was a mentor of mine and once told me, “Truth precedes trust, and trust precedes love.” Perhaps as we learn and grow we are afforded the space to slowly open the door to a deeper love and delight, a passion beyond what we have ever known. Maybe then we can begin to live out something quite a bit more than what we have dreamed or imagined, solely because His love makes it so. As hard as that may be it is what I long for and pray that we all can live out more and more in our everyday lives.

Peace,

Bill

A Little Help from Keith

By Kenney Coffey

I have struggled with this concept of “living out of being loved by God”.  I understand the words just fine, but it’s been difficult to wrap my brain around the concept.  It seems like such an ethereal notion.  An abstraction that floats down from the pulpit and settles into our vocabulary for a time before a new breeze blows through the doors.  I wanted to embrace it, but it evaded my comprehension.  So, I’ve listened and continued trying to figure out how to fit this into my life.

The explanation of a parent’s love for their children caught my attention.  I have children.  I love them more than I could ever imagine.  It seemed like an easy fit.  Unfortunately, as it wound its way around inside my head I realized that it wasn’t sticking.  I can relate to loving my kids.  I know how it feels to want everything for them, and to be ready to sacrifice for their well-being.  However, that’s not what we’ve been discussing.  Using all of my deductive reasoning skills I am able to discern that the point is to start from a position of receiving and accepting God’s love.  It is to open ourselves to a position of vulnerability and allow that to be the focal point of our existence.  I am the child.

This whole scenario would be so much easier if I could function from the perspective of the parent.  It seems so surreal to say this, but I know how to do that.  I know how to love my children whether they fail or succeed.  I know how to pick them up, brush them off and send them back out when they fall down.  I’m comfortable in that role.  The reversal is challenging.  My relationship with my parents is… complicated.  So, this is where I get stuck.

My wheels have been spinning in this rut for weeks.  Occasionally I think I’m finally starting to gain some traction, but then I settle back into that well-worn pothole.  So, I turned to my long-lost friend Keith.  He typically says the same things every time, but the words always seem to apply.  He reminds me to look for the answers on my knees.  He gently directs me back to the One that this is all about.  He points to Jesus and says, “Ask, then Listen”.

The problem is that I’m not even sure where to start.  So, I use Keith’s words as a launching point.

“Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.”– I need you God.  I need your guidance and discernment.  Without you I feel like such a failure.  I feel so weak and useless, but I know that you can change all that if I open my heart to you.

“Renew a right spirit within me.”– I have lived out of anger for as long as I can remember.  I have spent most of my life fighting it and trying to smother it on my own.  At least that’s what I tell myself.  If I’m honest, I don’t know what I’d do without it.  The truth is that I need you to show me how to live out of being loved.

“Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord.  Take not Thy holy spirit from me.”– In my mind I know that you will not abandon me.  I know that in your Word you have explained your love, grace and mercy.  I know the doctrines and scriptures and teachings.  In my brain I know these things, but somewhere else there still lingers the doubt.  Or, is it fear?  I don’t know.

“Restore unto me the joy of thy Salvation.”– Sometimes I forget.  I get so overwhelmed with the things going on in my tiny universe.  I wrap myself in the certainty that I understand how things are and should be.  Then a little reminder comes along and I wonder how I could overlook the fact that You are in control.

This is where I start.  As I listen to my friend Keith singing these words over and over through my headphones; I think I may finally be starting to comprehend.

Difference

love

By Bill Forbes

As New Day has been thinking about our new mission statement, I have been encouraged and lifted up by the reflections on God’s love for me and for us, and the profound implications of the greatest force in the universe being Love – and not just a vague theoretical love, but a personal love for me and the people in my life.

And while I have found this to be inspiring and comforting, at the same time, I have felt a deep questioning rumble in my gut…something is gnawing at my sense of comfort in this message. And I think that uneasy feeling  is related to the implications of God loving EVERYONE this way.   If God LOVES everyone like this, everyone I walk by, everyone I see on the news, everyone I drive by….what does that mean for how I live my life?  If this is true, then the state of the world should make more than just uncomfortable. It should somehow stir me to live profoundly differently than the norm.

What does this mean in a society that seems to be increasingly shaped by division and fear?  We are constantly force-fed a diet of news and memes and blogs based on fears of other groups’ agendas, fears of potential threats and harm, and the importance of sticking together with your own people –people who think like us, look like us, act like us, and vote like us…so we divide ourselves and start by putting our group first—claiming that this is our right, this is the way the world works, this is how it must be.

But as I think about the truths of God’s love for everyone, I know in my heart that I have to think and live differently than this. If God truly loves everyone we see and hear about and blog about and shout about – then there are profound implications for me, and for us.

God, I think, declares that this is NOT the way the world needs to work, NOT how it must be. Jesus says our neighbor (love your neighbor as yourself) is the Samaritan (someone the world said should  be feared based on ethnic, religious, political and grounds) who we can look to for love and help, rather than threat or harm….Paul says again and again that one of the first and most fundamental implications of the Gospel is that these dividing walls have been destroyed, and that the Christian community needs to demonstrate a different way of living—in which man and woman (gender differences), slave and master (economic differences and historical oppression), Jew and Gentile (ethnic and cultural and religious differences) all now look into each other’s eyes and call each other sister, brother.

And Paul does not say we should just BELIEVE this, and worship God for it. He says we need to LIVE it. He challenged his congregations that how they ate, how they used their money, how they hosted, how they lived—needed to demonstrate that because of God’s love, they were different. As followers of this God who is love, fear and division do NOT define how we spend, how we vote, how we socialize, how we love, how we serve. God’s love for everyone around us does. Paul, I think, recognized that this could be one of the most compelling signs that Christianity is more than just another competing social or political club, not terribly distinguished from every other group which exists to serve it’s own. But we are community that knows that something far more fundamental exists than unity based on loyalty and sameness. Instead, there is the love of God for everyone, which redefines everything.

This is all very inspiring to me, until I start to wrestle with what does it really mean for how I live? Where is my life demonstrating this to the world? And how is New Day an actual living sign that we live by a different ethic, a more fundamental truth? Do I go beyond believing that God loves everyone, and actually demonstrate it? I fear that while I BELIEVE differently, my real, actual life is more like the norms we see in the rest of the world—mostly hanging with (and worshipping with) people who look, think, feel and act pretty similar to me.

I know some of you are heroically reaching across boundaries in your work, in your schools, in your neighborhoods. I know that some in New Day are living this out every day. But I struggle with this myself. I have dedicated my entire adult working life to serving the poor and oppressed, but still feel this sense that my life does not demonstrate that the love of God has “torn down the dividing walls of hostility”.

So out of our reflections on these things, Heather and I are starting a couples group in our neighborhood, of churched and unchurched, coming from different backgrounds, with different understandings of Christianity and even of marriage.  Because this is what our neighborhood looks like,  these are our neighbors. And we hope that through this we can in a small way learn about and demonstrate God’s love for all of us.  This is one small step in a lifetime of pressing forward to discover and demonstrate the truth that YES God does love me profoundly and intimately. And he also loves everyone else the same way.

Cinnamon Rolls

By Lisa Johnston

cinnamon

He delights in us;
He provides for our needs;
He forgives our sins;
He cares about our pain;
He disciplines us;
He desires our true good.

“Pick one that is the easiest for you to believe, and one that is the most difficult for you to believe,” says the pastor.

OK, piece of cake: ‘True good’–  check; ‘disciplines me’– maybe a check; ‘cares about my pain’– check; ‘forgives my sin’– check; woohoo! feeling pretty good at this point. Cruising through the list; I got this; ‘provides for me’– double check; ‘delights in me’– uh, uh, think I’ll go back to the others…. which one is easiest…. hmm…I’ve so got this I’m debating between which ones are easiest, ‘cause, shoot, I’ve believed this for a long time….

‘He delights in us” …. HE delights in ME?????? My mind won’t even let me go there. Before I can even really begin to process my inability to “go there”, I’m rescued- the service moves on, and the music minister comes up. What does he immediately begin to say: his one that’s toughest is, you guessed it, ‘He delights in us’. Fortunately, we have a song to sing, and folks to visit with before we all head out.

My mind starts to hit the black ice of this thought on the ride home, and just skids away again- so much so, I almost went to the store to go buy cinnamon rolls.  I want “comfort food” rather than consider this: that my God loves me so much He takes JOY in me??????

Off and on throughout the day my mind keeps encountering and sliding away from this lack of my ability to even face that He delights in me. Along the way, I realize that it was so easy to say “check” to all the rest of the list was because I know those things to be true. And, at least for me, the revelation today is that knowing and believing are not actually synonymous.

So, what does it truly mean ‘to live out of being loved by God’ when being loved by Him is not something you know, but believe?   For one, it means not really being able to blithely say, “check,” to any of those. How would I live if I actually, truly, deep-down believed each one? Add to the list “He died for me.”  How about THAT one?

It’s quite a journey we’re all on at New Day. One I know AND believe I can’t do on my own. I find myself praying, “Please forgive my unbelief.”  I also know AND believe He’ll answer that prayer in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

Just the same, cinnamon rolls won’t look the same anymore…

 

 

 

 

Learning to Love Myself

By Laurine Decker

When Jeff asked  me to share about living out of being loved by God, specifically, learning to love yourself, I felt profoundly inadequate because words can’t begin to touch what it means to be loved by God and to love yourself.  This is where the Spirit has to come in.  The Holy Spirit is the only one who can give the revelation that allows us to know and be known, loved and be loved.  I pray the Spirit gives you and me deeper revelation into the depth of love that’s there for us through Christ alone.

My life Psalm is Psalm 107, and I as I write those words, I begin to weep.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For his lovingkindness is everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary, and gathered from the lands,
from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region;
they did not find a way to an inhabited city.
They were hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.
He led them also by a straight way to go to an inhabited city.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men.  For he has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul he has filled with what is good.

My life has been one of desperate longing, isolation, and a deep hunger that felt like it could never be filled.  I have been the wanderer in the desert region without an inhabited city.  I have been the hungry and thirsty soul; distressed, alone and untouchable.

Jesus promises that streams of living water will flow from us (John 7:38).  Jesus promises abundant life (John 10:10).  Jesus promises a remaining and full joy (John 15:11). Psalm 63:5 promises we will be fully satisfied.

About 10 years ago as I began to wrestle with the reality I was living in in light of some of those scriptures,  Jesus gently let me know there was more. He showed me that although I was pouring out, I was not able to take in.  I was empty and desperate and dissatisfied because I could not have my needs met.  My receptors were broken.  From a psychological standpoint, my neuronal pathways were totally wired to look for my needs to be met by things my needs could never be met by; performance, people pleasing, and ultimately when those things didn’t work, to wall myself off through using food or other coping mechanisms. My flight mechanism was finely tuned, and I was incapable of receiving a love that could truly satisfy by God, by myself or by others.

I want to take a minute to define love as I have now by God’s grace found it to be.  I have experienced this love now.  I am a work in progress, but I am experiencing it with more and more frequency.  It used to be I could only occasionally feel it with Monte, but this month alone I have experienced it with my mother, a dear friend from our church body, and through my twin sister.  This love feels like a sinking in. It feels like warmth surrounding every part of my being.  It feels like a deep saturation of my soul.  It feels like I am being lost in God or another person’s being.  It feels like comfort and beauty and richness,  It feels satisfying to the depth of my being. It feels like knowing and being known.  And by this I don’t mean understanding and being understood, I mean on a soul level being known, being accepted and being LOVED!  I don’t feel desperate in those moments, and I know deep satisfaction.  I have been brought to an inhabited city.

The Bible AND psychology say that we need to love and be loved, know and be known in order to be happy and satisfied.  Because I did not love myself, I couldn’t receive being loved by others. I couldn’t accept anything short of perfection in myself which made me constantly empty and the subject of a harsh critical voice.  It is so crazy, because as obvious as it probably is to you that perfection is impossible, I truly was chasing perfection.  I remember the moment in my living room five years ago when I realized that perfection was unattainable (really? and that somehow shocked my soul?) and I went into a depression.  It has taken some years of digging in, counseling, and the ministry of the Spirit to believe that there is satisfaction outside of perfection and to really taste the hope the God has promised.  I’m still a work in progress as my husband can definitely attest to, but there is the promise of more and I now know in my soul that it is for me!  I am meant to be known, I am meant to be loved, I am meant to be satisfied.

Praise be to God, we have Savior who walks with us.  When we, by His Grace, and His Grace alone, enter into His presence and take His yoke, He walks with us.  In His presence there is peace, rest and fullness of joy.  In His presence there is attachment, love and being known.

And after all that, that is the bottom line;  PRESENCE.  His presence first and foremost, and our presence in the reality and discomfort and stressors and agonies and irritations of our lives.  Our presence in the joys, the fun, the relationships and the ins and outs.  His presence and our presence.  Being grounded in His reality even when our flesh is screaming escape and distracted by the always pressing demands of our culture and ourselves.  Coming back again and again to drink from His well.

I would invite you to pray with me for the ministry of His Spirit and for His presence and our presence as we journey.  That we will allow ourselves to know and be known, love and be loved by God, by ourselves and by others.