How Tradition Heals The World

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This year more than ever, I am thankful for tradition. Not so much the ritual of it, but what it means. It’s a coming up for air, a gasp of relief. 

During the past year, I overcame a debilitating perspective of God and the world, life inside a tormented mind, a world I had never experienced. My actual life was perfect, as much as we would all dare to wish, but I was haunted by “what if”, a gruesome fantasy land.

It is Christmas time again, and I remember that last year, near Christmas time, I was not doing well. My hair turned dirty and gray from stress, and one of my eyes twitched frantically beneath all the tension. I worried my falling-apart soul was manifesting on my outsides.

When I look back at this photo from just one year ago, the day my family ventured out for a Christmas tree, I can see and feel all the wear on my face and in my soul. Life was a weary thing in those days, but I am in a different place now.

This year, when we went out to get our tree, I insisted we take another picture in the same spot because I wanted to see it. I wanted to look in my eyes and know the healing happened, know that I am not the same. And I saw it. I saw the newness, the strength, the peace and confidence that comes with a healthy soul. 

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Tradition is the gift that reminds me I am not the same: I am growing, becoming. I could not have imagined who I am now, but that wasn’t necessary to become her. And when the earth goes around, and I find myself back here in this season, I can feel the change, the space between who I was and who I am. And it is good.

Tradition is proof there is hope for humanity, that we are not a lost race. Proof that God has not given up on us. Because here we are again, despite all the pain in the world that frightens or distracts us. We are listening to Bing Crosby, sipping wine, telling our children the story of the first gift ever given, and how we are now Father God’s children because of this gift, Jesus. And how we give gifts because we so long to be like our Dad, the papa with the belly laugh like Mr. Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol. And this year, I can tell my sons with certainty that our God is a God of extravagant generosity and he loves so big, so much, and it is a special honor we have to follow behind and try to be like him. 

I can say all these things this Christmas because my soul has room to believe them. I have been planting truth in my soul, nourishing myself with quiet and learning, bravely, to simply let myself be loved. 

If I could give us all one gift this Christmas season, it is that we would let ourselves be loved, that we would take the boxing gloves off, that we would stop keeping score of our goods and our bads – God isn’t doing it, so why should we? I would give us the gift of gentle vulnerability, the kind that isn’t too strong to let love in, to receive the only gift your heart really wants, really needs, the thing that happens to be the the thing God longs to give you. 

Let traditions, another year around the sun, heal and nurture your soul this year. May you see all the lavish grace that has been poured out on you in the past year, even when everything felt broken down and busted up. May you live in this circle of the earth, this season of warmth and quiet, and may it heal you up in places you didn’t even know you needed it. 

Love to you. 

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What Do We Have To Be Thankful For?

{via The Lulu Tree}
{via The Lulu Tree}

They are always smiling, and it doesn’t make sense. Their hips sway, their hands clap together, their eyes sparkle with a strong, resilient hope I rarely see. As the Lulu sisters gather in weekly worship, their hearts overflow.

It doesn’t seem like they should be the joyful ones, the grateful ones, not the mothers with their toes brushing the dirt, not the children who have never owned a new pair of pants. But here they are, incapable of holding in thankfulness and praise.

I always say joy and gratitude aren’t about circumstances. It’s the right thing to say because it’s true. But my heart betrays me when I let the daily disappointments and minor tragedies distract me from the abundance of goodness in which I dwell. My eyes spin wildly around as I list the shortcomings of the day, failures and missed opportunities glaring me in the face.

Instead of basking in the world’s extravagant beauty and my people who love me in their broken yet unconditional ways, my eyes have been trained to spot the lack, the gaps, the not-enough. It’s the result of unrealistic expectations and cultural entitlement, feeding myself lines about what I deserve. For a moment I believe the lie that happiness comes not from enjoyment of what I already have but the pursuit of what I don’t have yet.

I forget that gratitude is nothing more than a set of lenses through which to view the world, the constant recollection of the good that has been done for me by God and others. And that list is unending.

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Gratitude sees the goodness in the world and in others for one simple reason: it’s looking for it. Gratitude sighs with contentment, looks around pleased and says easily, “I have more than enough.” Gratitude believes goodness wins and doesn’t get flustered or defeated by setbacks and sorrows; it feeds hope and knows tomorrow will be better.

The moment I take off the gratitude lenses and pick up the lenses of entitlement, my contentment evaporates, and my quest for satisfaction turns infinite. I grow restless and despairing.

Being part of this global Lulu family is teaching me that contentment and joy are possible with little and with much, and that gratitude is a choice the heart makes and the eyes follow.

Simply put, Gratitude remembers while entitlement forgets.

Today in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday dedicated completely to the act of remembering, to retraining our hearts to let our eyes see the good things.

I am so thankful for my Lulu sisters who live the example of thanksgiving and remind me to spot the good and choose joy both in the midst of great abundance and in the face of any trial or need.

While this holiday comes only once a year, I pray our hearts take off the lenses of entitlement and relearn to wear the lenses of gratitude every day. And may we see all the goodness around us because we are looking for it.

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Looking for something to take the edge off the consumer hangover you get the next week? Consider supporting The Lulu Tree for #GivingTuesday (December 1st) you can help raise awareness about The Lulu Tree’s work equipping and educating mothers and preventing future orphans in Uganda. Check out ways to get involved here.

 

 

How To Save Your Soul

My friend, the warm-hearted and generous author and pastor, Steve Wiens, invited me over to his place to share about my practices of soul-care. You can read this post in its entirety there, or get started here. Steve is releasing his first book, Beginnings, on January 1st next year. This book is full of his kind and welcoming voice inviting us to be made new, to let God’s love and mercy begin again and again to refresh us. I am on his launch team so you’ll hear more about it, but if you want to get started reading the book for free, you can download the first two chapters right here. 

Okay, here are my thoughts on really, truly taking care of your invisible parts. Love to you.  

Sometimes I yell. It’s one of my least favorite things about myself, especially considering I am not yelling at a football game or a narcissistic political tyrant, which would be appropriate and reasonable. No, sometimes I yell at my children.

Now, it’s not like the little darlings are without fault, mind you. I only yell when their ears are broken, which is the only logical explanation why they are still not wearing pants after I politely asked them five times to get dressed.

Nevertheless, the yelling is a version of me I don’t like. It’s the strung out mom who prefers to use rage and shame over boundaries and creativity, or at least consistency. I don’t know which is worse: the pained look in their eyes when I am shrieking in frustration or the disgust I feel with myself afterward, which only fuels a new round of alienating outbursts.

Fortunately, my responses are not at the mercy of my children’s behavior. In the last year, after months in the dim darkness of postpartum anxiety, I discovered a part of myself I’d mostly neglected for most of a decade. The good news was, when I tended to this part of myself, things went remarkably better. This little known part was my soul.

The soul is a funny thing, an ubiquitous church word we all use to describe the part of us that lives forever. We say souls are lost when we see folks behaving badly, and when they find their way to church, get that glow of wholeness in their eyes, we say they’re found. But if we’re honest, we don’t even know what a soul is.

In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg recalls that he had been a pastor for several years before he learned from his friend and mentor, Dallas Willard, that the soul is “the tiny, fragile, vulnerable, precious thing about you”. Dallas elaborated to John that our souls are what make us who we are. The soul is what Jesus died for, the thing that gives each of us our intrinsic worth.

If our souls are truly tiny, fragile and vulnerable, then it’s easy to see why they are overlooked, like an introverted, wide-eyed child. And if our souls are precious, if they are the the core of our value as humans, then we can see why God is invested in this invisible part of us.

We can also see that if we neglect our souls, delicate as they are, we will have no ability to be anything but a version of ourselves that we dislike. We may behave in ways we regret, or worse, become a person we regret allowing ourselves to become.

The nurture of my soul is not simply for me though. Soul care touches every relationship in my life. Whether it is control of my temper with my children, compassion toward my patients at work, or empathy for my husband, I can only be a woman I am proud of when my soul is cared for first.

But if the soul is invisible, how can it be cared for? We can’t hold it or feed it, can we? In Soul Keeping, John Ortberg tells us that because the soul is made by God, it is also made for God. It is God who feeds our soul. Our souls, like children, are dependent on Father God for wholeness and sustenance.

When I first read John’s words, I thought it sounded right, but I didn’t know how to let God nourish me. It wasn’t until the worst days of the postpartum anxiety when, mercifully, I remembered Psalm 131 where David refers to the soul with God as a child with his mother. He said, “I do not concern with matters too complicated for me, but I calm and quiet my soul like a child with his mother.”

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One of my favorite lakes near my house

Continue reading over at Steve’s place. 

 

 

When You Pray and It Feels Like Nothing Is Happening

Sometimes prayer feels like this.

Pouring tiny drops of water into a giant bucket. No matter how late or long or loud you pray, it seems like the bucket is still empty.

All your work, your blood, sweat, prayers. You launch them upward, hot, sticky and tired, but nothing comes back down to you.

You want to give up. It feels like nothing is happening.

I can totally relate. Recently, our family thought we’d had a huge victory in something we’d been praying in for years. We thought the worst was over. I can’t share the details, but the celebration was short-lived.

If I had written this post a few weeks ago, I would’ve thought we’d had a breakthrough. An answer to prayer. But now here we are, more heartache, delay, sadness.

I can’t make sense of it. But I know that prayer works.

Revelation talks about prayer like a real thing, not just vapors or whispers that vanish as soon as they leave the mouth of the faithful.

They are like incense to God, a fragrance, and in John’s vision in Revelation, it says prayers fill up bowls in front of God. Fill up. Maybe slowly, maybe quickly, but those bowls fill.

 

And eventually…

The overflow comes. Splash. You are drenched in the magnificent answer to your prayer.

It’s not a neat process. There is no formula. Sometimes we fill bowls and buckets of prayer that won’t overflow in our lifetime. Sometimes we pray and we lose our loved one anyway. What happened to that bowl of prayer? We don’t know.

Paul even has the audacity to suggest that suffering, brokenness, short-term disappointment, can lead to hope. What? He says to the Romans, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

When we go through difficulties, painful circumstances and prayers that seem pointless, somehow God is building hope in us through this. Yes, hope, not hopelessness or cynicism as you might expect or even feel at times. No, this crazy rollercoaster of emotion is somehow designed for our hope. Believe it.

So no, prayer isn’t pointless. Something is happening. Really. The way God talks about this act of prayer, the filling of a bucket, little by little, prayer by prayer, this helps me know I am not doing this in vain.

So don’t give up. Don’t walk away thinking your prayers are merely wind. Don’t let yourself get disappointed. It’s possible your bucket is almost full, ready to soak you in your long-awaited answer.

Just one more day, get up, pour your prayer in the bucket, and wait. Your faith will not disappoint you.

No prayer is unheard. No prayer is wasted. This kind of Hope never disappoints.

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Help and Healing For The Anxious Mother

I never saw it coming. The anxiety from this past year. I’d heard of postpartum mood disorders, but knew it would never happen to me. Not with my mental health training, my pastor-husband and my strong faith. Not with my friends all around me to support me. Not me. Even my second birth itself was beautiful and empowering.

But months later, something ugly started to grow. My disconnection with my soul and my chronic self-neglect started to reveal themselves. My insides were a skeleton, a garden overgrown with weeds.

[Click photos for photo credits]
I started to feed on the most terrifying media. I always knew where to find the news, and if I didn’t read it, I could envision it in my head – all the worst, goriest scenarios. All-out war and diseased plagued me, if only in my mind.

And as the months dragged and the images magnified, just like that, fear drained the hope and life right out of me.

I felt such peace at first, rocking my newborn to sleep. It was beautiful. I thought everything was fine. I thought I would take care of myself later. But the accumulation of lost sleep, the chronic neglect of my soul and the pain of the world all created a perfect storm.

No one knew the hopelessness of my mind. The fact that over and over in my mind, I asked myself, “What’s the point? What’s the point?”

It felt so grim, so permanent. I thought I would always be this way. 

I realized it was soul neglect early enough, and I started doing all the things I knew to do, prayer and singing and reminding myself of God’s promises. I sat in the quiet with Jesus and tried to quiet my soul.

At first, it didn’t work. The waters of refreshing simply pooled on the desert floor of my insides. But after a while, it started to sink in. I started to talk about the fear, the sense that something horrible was just around the corner. I started to realize what was really happening. My husband prayed for me. I told my story.

What I thought would always be true became a memory. 

But it was so lonely, and if you are like me, you feel like no one will understand. You think no one could know what your painful world is like. No one will comprehend what it feels like to be trapped in your own mind. No one can understand why you lay in your bed with your heart racing, unable to sleep, with the possibilities of pain and death and loss spread before you in high definition.

But I do understand – it happened to me too. 

Here’s the crazy thing though: during all this time, my circumstances never changed. The scary was all in my mind. Fear, panic and paranoia, all trapped inside my inner world.

This taught me that above all things, we must fight for our mental real estate. The state of my soul is something only I can curate. My inner life is my responsibility, and I am daily inviting in darkness or light by the choices I make, what I choose to look at.

As mothers, we have to come to terms with our vulnerability. We have never loved anything like we love this tiny baby. Our bodies broke open to bring them into the world. We can’t imagine losing them. And the fear of this haunts us.

We have never been so open, so vulnerable as when we love. But unless we care for our souls well, our vulnerability, the cracks that love in, will let in the pain of the world too. And the infection will make us sick. 

But we don’t have to be ruled by panic, fear, anxiety. We don’t have to be sick and live crippled by things that are only temporary anyway.

Beauty: it’s right here in front of you, and all around you.

I love what Paul told the Galatian Church – this has been a saving grace for me:

“Instead of being anxious, thank God for all the things you can think of, then pray and ask for what you need. Then peace that it so powerful, it doesn’t even make sense, will stand guard at your heart and mind. So whatever is lovely and beautiful and good and worthy of praise and adoration, if anything is wonderful, focus and meditate on and pay attention to these things.”

We become whatever we look at. For years, I read the news, the panic-stricken, fear-mongering news. I became a junkie of fear, and I had to detox.

Now, I don’t read the news. It’s not news to me that there is pain and suffering in the world anyway. I guard my mind and heart and soul vigilantly. Whatever I listen to and watch and think about are seeds planted in my garden, and whatever I plant will grow.

I planted fear in my soul, and panic grew. I planted sorrow in my soul and despair grew.

Now I plant goodness in my soul and beauty grows. I plant peace in my soul and generosity grows. 

So what are you looking for, mama? Let me urge you with all of myself to look for beauty. Look for goodness. Look for compassion and kindness and healing and restoration.

Whatever you look for, you will find. You will see it everywhere, the thing you seek.

So stop looking for the scary, terrifying things. Stop looking for evidence that the world is unsafe and no one can be trusted.

Let me give you a prescription for soul-care, for the thing we mamas really need:

Go to museums and art shows and concerts. Take the baby for a walk and listen to the birds sing. Search for beauty in your babies fingers and toes, in the grass beneath your feet and the trees in your yard. Sit in the quiet with God until your soul quiets down. Take a break from always being mother and let yourself be a child with God. Become obsessed with finding beauty and goodness in the unlikeliest of places. I promise you it’s hiding there, waiting to be discovered.

Please, if you do anything this year as a mom, let goodness and beauty cleanse and calm you. Let them restore your faith in Father God and your faith in humanity.

You were made for beauty. You yourself are beautiful. Look for beauty, let it in, let fear go.

Perfect, whole, complete love pushes out fear.

Darkness is only the absence of light.

When we let the light in, the darkness will run, and only love will be left.

Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Father God’s house forever and ever. -Psalm 23

 Let’s be bright and whole and full of love together.

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What Does It Mean To Feel Like A Woman?

Today Bruce Jenner revealed his new female identity on the cover of Vanity Fair. From now on, “Call me Caitlyn,” the cover reads.    

The process of Bruce-turning-Caitlyn has been at the center of social support and controversy for the past several months after revealing her identity as a transgendered person. She spent months receiving treatments and undergoing what must have been a painful process, most recently a 10-hour surgery, that ultimately changed her gender. 

But can we really change gender? What does that mean?

Caitlyn has shown an enormous amount of courage in her willingness to share this transformation story. Our culture has become increasingly supportive of stories that don’t fall within the two-gender identity, but rather a gender-spectrum.

As a Christian and a worker in the Behavioral Health field, I think hearing someone’s story is an essential part of knowing them and helping them heal. Our story is our identity. And for Caitlyn, her story is one of a person who has lived in a man’s body and, for much of her life, felt an enormous amount of angst and dissonance with the male gender, which she was assigned.

I don’t know what Bruce or Caitlyn have gone through. I can’t imagine how horrible it would feel to trapped in a body that didn’t feel like yours. Caitlyn expressed feeling like a woman as far back as the 1976 Olympics, a feeling she wrestled with for the next several decades. This must have been absolute agony, and although I cannot relate to this struggle, I can relate to feeling trapped in my mind during my stint with anxiety and paranoia.

Being your own enemy is a terrible feeling – there is no escape. And for Caitlyn, I’m sure the promise of finally looking on the outside how she felt on the inside offered hope.

But there has to be more to the restoration process than simply an outward physical change. 

I want to zoom out of Caitlyn’s story for a moment and ask a bigger question that came to me when I heard Bruce say he “felt like a woman” for a long time. While I’ve felt compassion, I also felt some indignation at the fact that he said he “felt like a woman”. I mean, what does it mean to feel like a woman? 

To be honest, sometimes I’m not even sure what it feels like to be a woman. But I know that my identity as a woman is much more than dresses, bosoms and big hair. It’s something I know about myself, but it’s beyond that.

Is it my desire to be beautiful and pursued, my gentleness and strength, my longing and ability to give birth? Maybe, but it has to be more. I can’t really pin down what “being a woman” feels like.  

So how did Caitlyn Jenner know she felt like a woman?

How does anyone define the essence of the male and female genders? How can anyone know with certainty which gender he or she actually is versus who he or she feels he or she is? 

The tone here is not to be condemning. Commenting on someone else’s experience can quickly become presumptuous and unkind. I will not be a stone-thrower.

Yet I want the permission to ask my question too. I believe the feeling of being a man or woman has more to do with an internal state of heart and mind that cannot be resolved by an external, physical transformation. By saying, “If you feel like a man/woman, you must be,” we reduce the experience of gender to a feeling. And isn’t there more to it than that?

Again, how do we know who we truly are and who we are to be? Is it true that our deepest self is found in a gender or is there something in our personhood that transcends even that? Feelings are at best distorted and at worst deceitful. I would like to suggest we need something beyond feeling to determine ourselves, a source outside ourselves to help us know ourselves.

By no means do I want to dilute the transgender struggle to a trite religious sentiment. But as a Christian, I believe in a God who is still speaking, a God who adopts us as son or daughter. He knows exactly who he made us to be, and if we listen closely, I believe he will tell us. I know I need to hear it. Because without our Father’s voice, I don’t know how any of us can know the truth. 

Don’t Say No For God

When I was only five, I promised my missionary friend, Paul, who served in his native country in west Asia, that I would join him one day in his orphanage and serve in missions.

From that moment on, overseas missions was the adventure I dreamed of, a hope I could clearly see all through my school years. As long as it was unattainable, I yearned for it.

But when the time came to pursue the dream, I froze.

Instead of picking up my passport after I finished college, I took an internship, then a “real job”, got married, and the excuses never stopped. 

The conundrum is, while I believe God gave me – and all of us – a dream and a set of assignments in which to live out our calling, when the time comes to actually show up for them, we fabricate excuses like a factory. At least I do. 

Missions is only one of many places I’ve said ‘No’ for God. I do it every day in subtle but subversive ways.

I say No for God by not asking for help or provision or support for a project, allowing it to fail because I didn’t have the resources I need.

I say No for God by assuming something is impossible, so impossible that it’s not worth trying for. So I never try.

I say No for God by letting him and myself off the hook, shrinking down a goal to a measurable size that I can achieve alone, just in case he doesn’t come through. 

So it was no surprise when I was asked to join the leaders of The Lulu Tree for a first-time ever, face-to-face meeting, the excuses poured in:

  • “The baby’s not weaned. He can’t be away from me for a few days.”
  • “I don’t have $1000 sitting around for a flight. How will I get the money?”
  • “I can’t take that much time off work.”
  • “It’s not that important that I be there. They don’t need me.”
Our Lulu mothers and Lulu daughter, along with their children, and joined by our staff, Esther and Carol.

For the past nine months, I’ve held different roles with The Lulu Tree, most recently serving as the Prayer Coordinator and personal support for Emily, the founder of the organization.

My work with The Lulu Tree has opened my eyes to the beauty of allowing God to design and found an organization. From our tiny efforts I’ve witnessed him transform not only the lives of these Ugandan women and their children, but also our own hearts as we see them worship God and receive with such gratitude. 

The invitation to join the women I’ve been working with in person for prayer and vision-casting was too good to be true. So I left it there. 

Once again, I said No for God. 

But as I listened in to the conversations and plans for the gathering, I felt the anticipation of finally looking into the eyes and hugging the necks of the women who serve the mothers and children in Uganda.

Knowing the young organization has been built and run on the kinship of strangers, literally all around the world, I longed to meet them in person,  to see what God would do when we were finally all together.

As the Lulu mothers and daughter gather to pray regularly, so we will be gathering for prayer and allowing God to show us what is next.

Finally, I realized what I had done, that I had said No without even asking. I wondered if there was still time to join them. 

I had to try. 

About 10 days ago, I asked God, if he wanted to send me to Canada for the gathering, that he would provide. Days later, one of you, a fellow reader and sojourner, wrote me to ask about any financial needs our church and family had. I couldn’t believe it. I gathered my courage and shared the story and the need.

Without hesitation,  he offered to front over half the cost of the plane ticket! I was floored. 

All of a sudden, the impossible became possible. When I didn’t say No for God, he said Yes for me. 

The gathering is just around the corner in mid-June, and I still have to raise the other half of the plane ticket, along with a few other travel expenses. [Most all food, lodging and transportation will be covered for us by local church members. Check out the trip breakdown below.]

Will you contribute to this adventure of saying Yes to God and letting him say Yes back?

I would love to have you partner with me. Please contact me at scsiders(at)gmail.com if you are interested in partnering with me for the trip, learning more about the trip or about The Lulu Tree.LuluAskTo help you learn more about The Lulu Tree, I shared our goals here, as well as our link so you can get more information. 

The Lulu Tree Goals:

  • To equip single mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda to care for their children;
  • To equip desperate young women with life and job skills (preventing them from being forced to turn to a man and bear his children, for survival);
  • To end the cycle of poverty for widowed and HIV-infected families in Katwe;
  • To bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the slum’s future generations.

For more information, visit The Lulu Tree online.

I’d love to hear about your steps of courage and a story where you let God say Yes instead of jumping to No for him. I could use the encouragement. Send me an email about it, or comment below. ❤

Thank you for your friendship and partnership with me along the way.

It’s an honor doing life with you.

When You Want to Resign From Parenthood, Remember This

My friends and I are constantly dismayed at the behavior of our children. There is always someone crying, something broken, some mess being made that need not be, all because the little darlings seem to have cotton in their ears.

This inability to listen and then obey, seems to reflect on our competency as parents. Granted, most of us have only held the position of parent for a few years – as I’ve said before, I am only four in Mom Years. And my oldest is only four years old. It’s just hard not to have higher expectations for behavior when we’ve had this conversation One Thousand Times.

Look at that mom. Clearly it’s her fault her children are acting like this.

Last night, my girlfriends and I sipped chamomile tea and consoled ourselves about our children who seem to be selfish and entitled and wrong in every way – although we love them dearly, bless their hearts. But really, they do seem to think we only exist to make them happy.

And yet, we are trying so so hard to be good mothers. We are doing everything we can, and yet, they still misbehave. We reassured ourselves that, probably, we were little hellions when we were two and four years old, and look how decent we turned out to be?

The moral we landed on was we couldn’t use our children’s behavior to judge whether or not we were good parents. We would find out when they got older how it all plays out, but until then, Soldier on, good women.

When I got home, I remembered Jesus. Poor Jesus. He had those 12 teenagers to work with, and they were a mess. They were always bickering about who was the greatest, right in front of God, mind you. And even after Jesus multiplied food for a crowd, a few weeks later they were freaking out about how they would feed another crowd.

You could hear the exasperation in his voice some of the time. I used to think Jesus sounded a little mean and impatient in those moments. Until I became a parent.

I guess this is the circle of life, folks, for the children to be doubting and forgetful, and for the parents and teachers who guide them to wring their hands and wonder if everything is actually sinking in. If the children will actually become adults ready for launch.

I take so much comfort in this, knowing Jesus, who was God the whole time and who knew how the story ended, who knew that these were the men and women who would “turn the world upside down”, sometimes got a little frustrated with the children he was readying for the world.

So on the days your children make you want to submit your resignation letter for parenting, remember we all get the same human nature to work with. Even Jesus. The parenting gig is hard, and sometimes we wonder if it’s worth it or if the little ones will grow up, in every sense of that phrase.

But let’s remember not to look at the behavior of our kids as the evidence of our effectiveness as parents, or our worth as humans. Instead, remember Jesus had the same troubles too, and his kids turned out alright.

The Toxic Church And Why We Still Need Confession

Two weeks ago, my husband preached about confession and its healing qualities at church. Afterward, I was like, “Babe, that was heavy.”

It bothered me a little that I thought of confession in such a dark light. During morning prayer earlier this week, I asked God to talk to me about confession and what it was supposed to look like. Immediately the chorus of Irish songwriter Hozier’s song, Take Me to Church, started to play in my head.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 The lyrics, raw yet nothing short of offensive, made most nice, church-going folk like me squirm a little in our pews. Yet it was his lyrics about confession that haunted me.

 I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

 That morning, finally, I understood his fear. Because it is all of ours. We fear confession because we think God and others are waiting to sharpen their knives and injure us further by cutting us out of relationship, slamming their door in our face or shaming us for our acts.

Hozier’s words reveal perhaps the truest glimpse of our culture’s fear of confession. And it’s not unwarranted. The church has made a business of shaming sin in order to get the behavior to stop. But shame only brings more wounds, more pain, more disconnection. When we use shame to stop sin, it’s like trying to heal a bullet wound by shooting the person.

This is why Jesus never condemned people when they brought their sin to him. The sin had already done the punishing.

How confession feels… [Click for credit]
It’s a tragedy. For millennia, Christ’s body, the church, has prevented its own healing by handling the pearls of people’s transparency and hope with disregard and brutality. When we respond to someone’s confession with more shame and condemnation, we only make the wound of the sin worse.

James’ letter to believers urges them to confess their sins “so you may be healed”. How did we get so far from the original intent of this beautiful ritual and instead come to treat each other as the sum total of our addictions, infidelities and impulses? No wonder confession and repentance feel so dirty to us.

This condemnation and the growing toxicity of a Body (the Church) that isn’t safe to confess and be healed is a symptom of a church who has forgotten the Gospel. That while we too were still sinners, Christ died for us. We forgot that we are being transformed into his likeness. But that doesn’t mean we have arrived. We have forgotten that “she who has been forgiven much loves much”.

But what should true confession be like, I wondered to God. Immediately, I saw in my mind a picture of a man approaching someone and opening up his coat to reveal a ghastly, dark wound. This was the sin. And I saw in that moment that the wound of sin must be treated with care and dignity. There was no room, no need for punishment. That had already been done.

When we apply the Gospel’s forgiveness to someone’s confession, true healing can begin.

What confession is: healing and relational restoration. Peter and Jesus, now friends again. [Click for credit]
I understand that there are many variables to consider here. Some people are not willing to confess and repent for their sins. Their wrongdoing is discovered, and they resist changing their hurtful or destructive behavior. These people need to be called out and given choices. Some sins need to be disciplined because of legal implications or the person needing to experience the effects of their choices. But these are not the situations I am talking about.

I am specifically referring to the act of accountability and mutual confession that so rarely exists in the church today. So in regards to those who are coming to us with the pain and awareness of their sin, presenting their repentant hearts with the hope of restoration, we must understand that the shame and disconnection of their sin have already been the greatest consequences, and we need to dole out nothing more. Except mercy and reconnection.

It may be appropriate to help the person consider how they will make amends, restore trust or pursue holistic healing in their situation. But again, shame is just not an essential ingredient to this process. A person who is committed to their own wholeness needs only a radical commitment to community and authenticity. From that heart posture, he will do whatever is needed to ensure wrongs are made right.

The Bible speaks of confession as if it’s liberating and healing, and although few of us have experienced it that way, God’s response to Adam and Eve in the Garden is our model. When he discovered them, newly aware of their nakedness, God explained the ripple in the universe from their actions. They were not protected from the consequences. But because the relationship was most important to God, he promptly clothed and restored them.

And that’s what we are to do. God is in the clothing and healing business, and we are his kids. Our only job as the hearers of sin is to clothe and heal.

 Take this journey with me toward hope and healing with me. When you subscribe to the blog, I’ll send you my two eBooks on hope and calling FREE.

The Top 10 Things My Anxiety Taught Me

A few weeks ago, I confessed the anxiety I’d endured during this past summer and fall, a strange and overwhelming paranoia that choked the life out of me. It turned out my dismal thinking patterns were partly to blame, as was my insistence on ignoring my inner life. I honestly didn’t know if I would make it out of that season, or if it would always feel like a vice grip was pressing against my rib cage.

During these weeks and months, I had so many conversations with God, panicky prayers that tried to make sense of what I felt: a massive sense of doom.

I say it felt strange, but it wasn’t really. It was just more of the same. I guess I’d always felt that sense of something scary this way comes. I remember as a child, driving in the back seat of my parents’ Buick station wagon, and I secretly believed it would break down at some inopportune time and we would be stranded. I think it broke down maybe once. It wasn’t a valid fear.

I also worried our family would run out of money – that never happened. Nevertheless, the feeling that something bad was always just around the corner loomed in the periphery of my mind.

If you’d asked me if I were a pessimist or optimist, I’d have said optimist. I never thought of myself as a doomsday prophet. But when the cards stacked against me, I walked away without a second glance. In my depths, I believed the worst. That I would never get married, even though I wanted to. That I would have children long before our marriage was ready for them. That I wouldn’t be able to have children biologically after all. That God would take away my children to teach me some kind of lesson.

Yep, I’m always bracing myself for the bad and the worst. Maybe you didn’t know this about me. I didn’t know it. All the despair and faintheartedness was tucked down so deep I didn’t know it was there. I convinced myself it didn’t exist. After all, I write and speak inspirationally. I work in a community mental health clinic. I’m here to charge people up with life, to shout to them of the value of their calling. To breathe out life.

But after months of not feeding or acknowledging my soul, I was a skin and bones on the inside. I could no longer defend myself or God against the onslaught of bad and worse news. It was now inevitable.

I wrestled and argued and fought with God, and like Israel, I ended up with a limp and a new perspective.

God shifted my thinking little by excruciating little, and at times, it didn’t seem his point of view could even touch the fear and panic. But slowly and surely he anchored me with his wisdom and his aerial view.

One of the ways he did this was often during my morning commute. My mind would wander to worst-case scenarios, and I’d tell God how bad it was getting in the world, and how I mad I was at him for taking away my future. If I gave him a moment, though, he’d cut in with these incredible one-liners that totally shut up my anxiety. And for a few hours, or days, I would use his words as a soothing balm.

Other times, truth appeared to me during times of reflection, surfacing up in my consciousness, blurry at first, then clear, a general lesson or something to hang onto.

[click for credit]
I realized I had all these message of hope and faith, antidotes for my panic, just sitting in the soup of my brain, so I started to write them down. I wanted to write a blog post about each of them, or come up with a clever way to share them, but this is all I could do at this point, just spill them here with a little explanation. So for the times when you find yourself a little more anxious or paranoid than normal, or maybe anxious and paranoid is your normal, and you’ve been ready for the life raft for years now, maybe one of these will be it for you.

Here’s my Post-Anxiety Top 10, if I may be so flippant, complete with the little Tweet icon for my favorite one-liners, in case you are inclined to share them:

1. God’s goodness is not dependent upon my circumstances. God does not owe me perfect circumstances in order to prove his goodness and his character. He doesn’t have to prove anything. If my life is predictable, and I feel happy and in control, God is not better or nicer than when my life is unpredictable and I feel out of control. God is who he is. It’s my choice to believe it.

2. Lies feel like truth. That’s why we believe them. Tweet: Lies feel like truth. That’s why we believe them. via @sarahsidersGod’s word, what Scripture says, will always be the highest truth to which I must compare any messages I receive. Once I hear and know God’s truth, I have to fight to align myself in believing it.

3. God values faith more than guessing right. Tweet: God values faith more than guessing right. Acting out of fear cannot please God, and it cannot improve our circumstances in the long run. Trying to hear God and acting on what we sense him saying, even if we hear him wrong, is better than guessing he didn’t say this or that and doing nothing.

4. Soul care is essential. Nature abhors a vacuum. If I put nothing in my soul and never visit or care for it, it won’t stay empty. My soul will just grow weeds instead of flowers. I am fragile and in need of compassion and constant care, and that’s okay.

5. I used to think I could manipulate God into promising me nothing bad would ever happen to me with this verse: “You will not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day.” But this fall, I finally realized what this really said. Life is scary and bad things happen. Jesus promised it when he said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” But the promise of this Psalm is that when bad things come, anxiety and panic are not a guarantee. Even though there is a terror in the night or an arrow in the day, I won’t be afraid of them. This verse is not a promise of total safety but of fearlessness. And isn’t that what we really want, to be done with fear?

6. Satan means “accuser”, and that’s pretty much all he does. Anything negative I hear about God or myself is just him talking. If it’s not building me up or making me think highly of God, it’s him, and I need to get suspicious.

7. Anxiety is imagining a future without God. Tweet: Anxiety is imagining a future without God. But since God said he would never leave or forsake me, anxiety is a liar. God added to this, “Stop imagining the future without me. That future doesn’t exist.”

8. Whatever you pay attention to grows in power and influence in your life.  Tweet: Whatever you pay attention to grows in power and influence in your life. I will always notice whatever I am looking for, and it will become more important and powerful to me when it is in my sight.

9. Just because you can’t imagine the future doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  Tweet: Just because you can’t imagine the future doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

10. Stop trying to figure it out. You don’t know what’s going on.

Those are some of my favorites, lessons and lines I return to when I’m feeling off. What’s a perspective that you use to anchor you when you’re anxious or off-kilter?

Struggling to find your calling or your place in the world? I know the feeling. Take this journey with me, and when you subscribe to the blog, I’ll send you my two eBooks on hope and calling FREE.