Category Archives: Learn it

Spiritual Struggles : My journey through Psalms (94)

I have, like many people, struggled with anxiety and depression for a good part of my life. It is where the enemy targets me—especially in moments where I am basking in the glory of God’s light. This time of year, November-January, is always the hardest. The days are dark and long. The stress is high. Each day is a battle, a spiritual one.

A few nights ago, around ‘fall back’ time, I had a dream. To the average person, this dream seems mundane at best…stupid at worst, but here it is:

My good friends got together. They did not invite me, I just happened to stumble upon them at a park where they were gathering. They greeted me with smiles and told me the plan. Of course, I was invited, they were glad I was there. But I knew I was an afterthought. 

I walked away. 

A couple of them followed, but wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t return. Instead, I watched the gathering like an omniscient ghost. Every good friend I have ever had, met, or spent time with was there.  Illogically they were together and having a great time without me, even though most of them didn’t know one another. 

Later, I flooded the bathroom–I’m not really sure how that fit into the dreamscape, but I woke up startled and confused, breathing in the anxiety of my dream.

My friends. My Family. The people I do life with. I know they love me. Intellectually I have no problem accepting this. Yesterday I had an amazing time hanging out with some of the people who have been with me since elementary school–clearly not a place of anxiety This dream was stupid, yes, but it also is very telling about my fears. 

But then…

I had dinner with a friend of mine and I said something pretty stupid. My extemporaneous delivery in conversation sometimes is terrible, and my comment was meant as a joke, but based on her reaction I realized it was not life-giving, it damaged hope. I felt bad. I’ve obsessed over it for a few days now, even though I know she immediately either forgot or forgave my insensitivity, I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that one wrong move and all my relationships might just crumble.

 

I fear many things, but rejection is pretty high on the list. Even when I’m with people I love and who I know love me, a part of my mind is always battling against the whisper that I am unwanted–that I don’t fit in and I should stop trying to.

I fear being an afterthought. Forgotten. And worst of all, being isolated in my own head because I allow these fears to become realities.

Because the fact is, sometimes I do allow it.

Psalm 94, of course, spoke to me after a night of restless dreams. Verses 18-19 read:

When I said my foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, Supported me. When Anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy.

The fact is simple. We all have a choice–to lean on God or let the world support us. The world will always let us down. No matter how much our friends and family care–they are only human and they make mistakes. We simply can’t count on them to sustain our life force the way that God alone can.

Don’t get me wrong. Friends and family are important! Jesus had 12 BFFs that he did life with, but even Jesus asserted that we must leave them and trust only in God.

Only then will we find consolation for our weary, fearful souls.

I found this graphic to be simple, but effective. It helps me, so I’m sharing it in case your spiritual battles are equally mind-blowing.

I can’t control every subconscious fear, but I can put God in control, and listen only to his voice. When he is my foothold, then the fears can never control me.

Lift (My journey through Psalms: 93)

Last weekend we had our second annual “Chosen” girls night at GraceLife. We gathered the middle and high school girls together and pampered them with worship and wisdom. I had the great honor of speaking to these beautiful girls who received me with such grace it was easy to forget to be nervous and let God move. The next morning as we were processing together over eggs and bacon, we discussed Lisa Bevere’s advice I shared that as women we should

LIFT

ENCOURAGE

CORRECT

SPUR

The girls asked good questions and one stumped me in my post-sleepover haze. What is the difference between lifting and encouraging? My words escaped me. I did my best and the other leaders picked up my shattered explanations and we moved forward in our discussion. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when, in my morning devotions Sunday, I read in Psalms that word ‘lift’ again.

3 times to be precise.

Psalm 93 verse 3 says: The seas have lifted up first their voice, then their waves. A quick dictionary turn yielded the definition of this word, lift: to move to a higher position.

Now, this psalm is using seas as a representation, a symbol of the chaos in pagan religions that surround the psalmist’s words–juxtaposed with the firmness of the earth in verse 1 and God’s statues in verse 5, I begin to understand the beauty of this word–LIFT.

Lift out of chaos.

Lift into the heavens

Lift onto the firm ground.

Moving from the lower position to the higher position requires strength.

Encouragement does not require strength. When you encourage someone you are giving hope or confidence, telling them they are on the right path. It requires faith and kindness. Maybe even empathy.

But lifting requires backbone..and humility. It requires a willingness to move beneath someone and lend them your strength till they are higher than you.

I lift my niece.

I lift my students.

I lift my friends.

As Jesus lifted me. Lifted us.

We don’t stay lower after we lift someone, but it requires a certain amount of denial of self to lift someone into a higher position.

The seas lift their voice to praise God to a higher position–out of the chaos.

And we do the same.

We lend our strength to lift others out of the chaos and into the presence of God.

Rest in the Lord (my journey through Psalms: 92)

This morning, out of habit, I pulled up my weather channel app. I like to know what the temperature is like (hot, always hot) where I am and what I should wear that day. Other than the typical SC weather (hot with 1000% chance of humidity), there are always videos–usually of whatever weather event has occurred in the past week or so. Given the current status of things, there have been a plethora of videos. Usually, I glance at them and then pull up the news app on my phone for real details. But today, this video caught my attention.  A tree caught on fire, but from the inside out.

Now, I know this wildfire has been catastrophic from beginning to end and believe me, those affected have been in my prayers.

But this image of a tree burning from the inside out is hauntingly beautiful.

And an incredible picture the human soul.

Seriously. Check out Psalm 92: 12-15a:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; 

When our soul is right with God, we are like planted trees that flourish; our roots run so deep that we can endure harsh conditions and still bear fruit.

But when we are not right with God, we become hollow inside. Dead. Rotting. Susceptible to fire and wind. All it takes is an ember and suddenly we are engulfed in flames. Burning from the inside out until we collapse as ash.

I don’t want to burn from the inside out.

I want to flourish and bear fruit. I want my roots to run deep.

This week I was told I needed to rest…or rather Rest. She said with a capital R. I am always trying to go, do, see–so active–that I have forgotten what it means to just…be. To be a tree, lifting to the heavens even as my roots drink in the beauty of the earth and all God provides for me. Don’t get me wrong, theologically I’ve always known God’s grace is a gift…but in my heart, deep down I have a hard time with the concept.

I don’t simply exist well.

Somewhere in my past, I equated love with action. Success with productivity. Acceptance with accomplishment.

But you can’t earn God’s love.

Honestly, I’m not sure you can earn man’s love either.

All you end up when you try is…empty, exhausted, and burnt out. From the inside out.

The psalmist knew this. He encourages us in 92:1 that

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High

Even as he is speaking he shifts from third to second person. From doing to just being with the LORD. From giving advice to taking advice. To simply praise and be grateful for all the LORD did because he loved us, not because we did something to earn it.

Not to simply DO worship, but to BE it, as my associate pastor at GraceLife Church (Brett) encouraged our youth recently.

To rest in the LORD.

To Rest in the LORD, with the LORD, and for the LORD. Action is important–but sometimes so is your state of being.

 

 

 

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.

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.