All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Deliverance: My journey through Psalms (91)

There is something truly poetic about the language used in Psalms. After reading this particular one, I was a little…salty. Verse 10 assures us that if we call on the Lord, who is our refuge, “then no harm will befall us and no disaster will near your tent”. But literally speaking, that is simply not entirely true. Disasters happen to everyone. Even the most devout God-lovers experience harm and destruction from time to time. So what on earth is going on in this Psalm? It’s the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?

I have my phone set up to give me AP release updates. I like the Associated Press because these updates are usually one-liners. I get the gist of what is going on in the world and then can click on them individually if I want to know more. In the past week, I’ve gotten updates about several hurricanes and the various destruction caused by each one, an earthquake, a school shooting, a terrorist attack, and a massive deadly fire. That’s a lot of disaster for one week, and I am certain that there are devout believers in these areas. So I’m left to wonder and question the validity of such a claim.

Being an English teacher, I am well-educated in the figurative. So because this is written in verse, I did a little digging. I’m amazed at how similar reading poetry is to the science of archaeology. First, you dig. Then you dig some more. And just when you think you will have to go dig somewhere else you uncover a sliver of something. What is it? A pottery shard? You’re not sure, so you just keep digging.

I looked up the word “fortress” first because it was one of the first words that indicated some kind of conflict. Fortress is a great word, with strictly military origins a military stronghold, especially a strongly fortified town fit for a garrison. I love the diction in this definition. First, you have the idea of military, which means a battle or war is likely, but having anticipated this you are prepared. Then, we’re strongly fortified, which means we are prepared for an attack. If God is our fortress, then that means our towns are fit for garrisons–or housing for troops ready to defend against an attack.

In other words, we are going to be attacked.

We are going to experience a disaster and, sometimes, loss.

This is war, after all.

Awesome. So why does it say that no harm will befall us?

Maybe this is cliche, but again, it’s poetry, so I’m not sure this is entirely literal. Sure, sometimes God does deliver us from the attack. He football punts our enemy right out of our world and we are left without damage. This week alone, I know several people who really should have experienced disaster–flooding, loss of property, maybe even loss of life–because of decisions they made, others made, and natural disasters, which, let’s face it, no one can truly avoid. But they called upon the Lord and were literally delivered.

But I also know people who weren’t–at least not literally delivered. Having lost a husband, a woman experiences disaster and grief to a degree that I can only imagine.

So did God abandon her? What happened to her fortress? Was it destroyed by the enemy? Did her garrison abandon her when she needed it the most? And was it her fault? Could her faith have been stronger?

Questions fire more and more intense the more painful the disaster.

But God did not abandon her, or her husband. She did nothing to ‘deserve’ this fate because the fact is we live in a sin-stained, fallen world. Because of this, we all deserve destruction and disaster. It’s the price we pay for sin. And living in a fallen world.

Wow, that’s depressing. Why would God do that to us?

Well, He didn’t. As with most consequences, we bring it upon ourselves.

No, I’m not blaming the woman for the death of her husband, but humanity for the sins accumulated over the past millennia.

Which brings me back to the verse at hand. If this disaster is inevitable, why isn’t deliverance granted every time we call on his name.

The fact: it is.

Deliverance doesn’t always look the way we think it should. But even in the midst of tragedy, God is delivering us–either from the trial or straight into His arms, where we exit the fallen world and enter the eternal. And if we call on Him, this is really the best deliverance we could ever experience.

Beth Moore said it best, and I’m paraphrasing from her Daniel study here, but she essentially said that God will deliver us one of three ways: From the fire, Through the fire, or Out of the fire Into His arms.

I love prepositions. These four give me such hope:

From the fire: we don’t experience whatever trial it is we are praying to be delivered from. This is only one way he will deliver us, but it’s often the way our brains think must happen to be ‘delivered’; if I’m not healed outright, then God must have abandoned me, right? Not quite…

Through the fire: we sometimes experience disaster and trials, but we are refined when this happens and if we call on Jesus, we’re better on the other side. Stronger. More beautiful.

Out of the fire and Into his arms: as mortals, we will die. Somehow, someway, someday. But those who call upon Jesus…well this is really what true deliverance is. The best deliverance. Rest. Hope. Peace. Finally.

So the psalmist is right: “he will call upon me and I will answer Him…and show Him my salvation” (15a; 16a). One way, or another, God is always there.

Moving into the New

Can I just be a little vulnerable here for a minute? I’m really not too good at this, so bear with me.

I have always viewed my mind a little like a filing cabinet. I’ve been really good, most of my life, at compartmentalizing. This part of my life goes in this nice, tidy little box (it’s me, of course, it is nice, tide, color coded, and labeled). And that part of my life goes in this box. Home, School, Work, Church, Friends, Family–each in its tidy little place. For that matter, I have file folders and dividers for each part of my life. All carefully and prudently cataloged.

Yes, I am aware that might sound insane, but that is what my mind has always looked like. It’s how I function. To respond to someone, I have to dig through to the right file, so it takes me a little longer to process than the average person. And sometimes, it drives people around me insane. Sorry…well, not really. It’s who I am.

Lately, though…and this is where my heart moves to my sleeve now, people….my filing cabinets are in disarray! Especially things I thought I had carefully filed and archived, they’re on the floor of my nicely ordered mind and, to be frank, it’s a hot mess. I went out to dinner the other night with some really great friends and just burst into tears–twice. These friends are amazing and made me feel loved and not like a total geek for having a slight break down. If you don’t have friends like these, you are seriously missing out. The point, however, is my nicely controlled world has turned into chaos.

But you’d never know it just by looking at me. On the surface, I’ve got it figured out. I’m pretty put together and I really own my…quirkiness.

Yeah, I do. I own who I am, but I do not have it all figured out. Bless! I doubt I ever will, and that’s okay, but it got me thinking about a lot of different things. How people present themselves to the world, but their minds are still a mystery. God knows us, but sometimes, we hold out our hand and say, “Hey God, I know this is a mess, but you don’t need to worry about me; I’ve got this” and we frantically try to gather up our loose ends and stuff them back in filing cabinets or…shudder…under beds and in closets. If you can’t see it, then it ceases to exist. Right?

God’s standing there like, “Really, dude? You’re going to try to clean this all up yourself?”

And we do. Or we don’t. Either way, it’s still a mess.

And then, I had this really cool experience during GraceLife’s week of prayer and fasting this year.

When we started, I wasn’t really sure what I was praying and fasting for. I felt compelled to do so, but I didn’t really know why. Maybe it was peer pressure. Maybe it was guilt. But definitely, it was God. I spent most of the week praying for others and that was great! I really got out of that mess in my mind and focused on others’ and their needs. On the last day, I read Isaiah 43 as a part of my daily reading plan. Really, there was nothing special for me while I was reading, but then I started praying—it was a very specific prayer for something I want. Something that kind of is responsible for that mess in my mind (but only kind of). And then, I heard it. A whisper from God. 

For I am about to do something new.

New is good…but maybe a little earth shattering. Okay. Very earth shattering and new definitely screws with my nice little filing cabinets. A few years ago, I thought I really hated change and new, but then I came to the stark realization that I NEED change and new in my life. It disorganizes me and forces me to grow. Yeah, it’s painful (sometimes excruciatingly so), but I need it. So this whisper was not unwelcome, but it was surprising, especially when He continued with:

See, I have already begun! Do you not see it, dummy? 

I know what you are thinking. God did NOT call you a dummy. Well, actually I swear that’s what I heard–but it wasn’t insulting it was just kind of a push on the shoulder with a sly little smile. And maybe a wink. And that image of papers fluttering to the floor around my filing cabinets burned itself to the back side of my retinas. Like it all had to be laid out on the floor for me to see and wade through with HIM before I could truly see what He was doing for me and in me.

Whoa. And then he finished with: 

And then he finished with:

I will make a pathway through the wilderness [or, rather, chaos]. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

A few more papers might have shot from filing cabinets with those last few words. And there I stood, watching them flutter to the floor at my feet.

But instead of frantically trying to gather them all to me, I am now sighing.

And crying.

And healing.

It’s beautiful. It’s painful. It’s a mess. And I don’t really understand it at all (hey, I’m smart, but I’m kind a dummy sometimes too…I hope that doesn’t offend anyone; I’m just being honest).

Fortunately, I don’t need to understand it all right away, I just need to keep moving forward. With Him. Into something NEW.

Because He makes all things new.

Even you.

 

House Cleaning: My journey through Psalm (90)

They say that life is short, so you should play hard. While I believe there is a lot of value in that aphorism, I’m not sure that’s what God wants us to glean in the 70, 80, 90 years we live on this Earth. Lately, I’ve had to come to terms with that hard truth in more ways than one.

This past week was my first full week back to work. I mean real work. Not workdays, but work work. As in for 8 hours every day I have to be at the top of my game, I have to smile when I feel like screaming; I have to listen when I want to nap; I have to stand when all I want is a nice bubble bath and a glass of Cabernet. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love my students (more than they even realize), but the first week always feels like…the first week. My feet hurt. My back hurts. My brain hurts. And I love it. In my English 4 class, we read part of The Things They Carried, a fabulous book that chronicles the young protagonist’s time in Vietnam. It is painfully honest, and I focus on the chapter “On the Rainy River” with my students. These are seniors, who come to school this last year thinking they have it all figured out. Thinking they’re going to slack off and still walk across that stage. Thinking they’re done.

They’re not. And this short story helps me to prove it to them.

Let’s be honest, most our students know squat about the Vietnam war. Hell, I know only what I have researched. Even if you fought for (or against…) the Vietnam war, often there was so much confusion about WHAT you were fighting for that the reasons and logical sense of it got lost in the propaganda and manipulations. On both sides. Whatever sides those were. What my students DO know and understand is that no one, especially not 18-25 year olds, wants to be told what to do (side note, I know this from experience. I made some epic mistakes the past few years when it came to honesty and advice giving to this age group. I didn’t do it well. BUT I’m learning…). So, when a young man receives a draft notice, life comes at him quick in this short story and he’s left standing at a crossroads. What I particularly love about this story is the way that the protagonist addresses the paradox of decision making. For him, going to war was cowardly because he didn’t believe in the war and the only reason he went was that he was embarrassed by the possibility of people looking at him as a coward. Our society sees him as a hero for going to war and not running out on his patriotic duty, but he sees himself as a traitor to his own morality.

And life is like that.

It is short.

It is hard.

It is filled with decisions that will change the course of our entire reality; with peer pressure; with internal conflict that sometimes, will never be solved.

My seniors understand this.

I understand this.

I didn’t want them to just understand it. I wanted them to embrace it. Make it their own. So, the assignment was simple: make a map of the choices you have made over the past…4-5 years. It can even include choices you will make (like, after graduation). But you have to include the alternatives. You chose a path, follow that around, but reflect on the path you could have taken and how that might have made your life different. They don’t love this assignment. It forces them to reflect on things they may not like reflecting on. What they produce though, is pretty cool.

None of their maps are the same, but all of their maps show one thing: life is short. Our decisions matter.

I wish someone had given me the courage to look at my life this way as an 18-year-old, but it’s a lesson I am still learning to this day. And I think God wants us to embrace this. To understand that our decisions matter, so we should seek Him. Not so our journey can be easier. Nothing worth doing is easy, but so our journies matter. They become meaningful when we make purposeful decisions. When we ask God to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), we make our lives matter. We make a mark.

So, yes, life is short. Don’t just play hard. Don’t just take risks. Be wise. Make a mark.

Starting the Journey: Self-Publishing

By an overwhelming majority, it looks as though the final book title will be Secret Scars. Thanks to everyone who voted, emailed and discussed this title with me. It’s been quite a process. This particular book is the first I ever wrote, and I started when I was 16…that said this book has undergone quite a facelift since the first time I began to write it. I’m really

excited about where it ended up and hope you’ll be too.

So the million dollar question is…when will it be published? Great question! I have never self-published anything, so I thought I’d chronicle that process on the blog and get your opinions and feedback as I go. That way, I’m not in it alone. There are many reasons why I decided to go the self-publishing road, but at the forefront is because of a vision God gave me last year. This is just one step in that vision and I will keep you posted as I continue down that path!

In the meantime, my current goal is to have the book PUBLISHED by October! So mark it on your calendars–we will see where it ends up.

My next step is to set up the LLC for my self-publishing process. If anyone is familiar with this process I’d love to buy you coffee as  I pick your brain a bit. Just send me a shout out :). I’ll be tip-toeing my way through this process because 1) it’s new and 2) I want to do it right.

The second step is to design a book cover. Again, not in my storehouse of skills, so if anyone has suggestions for the cover, I’m HAPPY to hear them! The original design I have doesn’t work for the title or for the final content.

Thanks for joining me on this journey! My next “write it” post will be all about my process of setting up the LLC.

Home Again: My journey through Psalm (87-88)

You know the old saying, you can’t go home again? I don’t actually know who came up with that, but it’s a depressing thought. I mean, no offense to Thomas Wolfe, but the idea of not being about to return to your roots is quite disheartening. One of the things I love about humanity is the idea of our past and our present being a large part of who we are and who we become in the future. Though sometimes we may want to, we can’t divorce our past from our present or future self–and really, despite the sometimes horrific circumstances we experience, we shouldn’t want to. Being able to return home is, honestly, what separates humans from the rest of creation.

In Robert Burns’ famous poem, “To a Mouse”, the farmer apologizes to the mouse for destroying her house, but then marvels how despite this, the mouse is lucky because she doesn’t have to worry about the past or the future, but stays in the moment just working at whatever she needs to survive.

That doesn’t sound lucky to me.

To me that sounds like a depressing way to live.

There is a lot to be said for ‘living in the moment’ but planning for the future and learning for the past is, in fact the reality of what makes us function as humans.

And what connects us to God.

You see, Burns didn’t destroy the mouse’s home. He destroyed her house.

Home is not just a building. Home is more than that. Home is a state of being, a feeling, and a surrounding. It is people, not places. Going home again isn’t about reliving the past, it’s about a community–where you are learning and supporting one another from one point in your life to another.

 

God understand this. In Psalm 87 and 88 the psalmist reflects on how God ‘goes home again’ just like we, as humans, are apt to do. Only God’s home is perfect–and the best part is…it can be our home too.

So, no offense to your genius or blatant criticism of capitalism, Thomas Wolfe, but you are wrong. You can, in fact, go home again, and when you do, you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been.