Peace Giver

I’ve kept journals on and off most of my adult life. For whatever reason, I haven’t journaled much at all in the last couple years. But I go through my old journals sometimes and today I found this one copied below. In it I’m recounting an experience I had with one resident in particular at an addiction facility in Nashville where I served as “spirituality teacher.”

In group today I was talking to the residents about peace. It wasn’t my plan, but it happened and I felt like I should stay with it. “The peace of God,” I explained, “surpasses understanding because it is not congruent with our circumstances. God’s peace can be experienced despite the turmoil or trials we may be experiencing in any given season of our life.”

After several minutes on my rabbit trail I asked for questions and feedback on what they were feeling. Two of the girls raised their hands and said they did not have peace; any peace. It was a foreign concept. One of the girls started to share. I’ve known her for a couple months now, and I know she’s endured much more than most, seeing her mom murdered, experiencing ritual abuse at the hands of a cult religion that actually claimed God was commanding the abuse, and much, much more. She wanted to be clear, that under no circumstances was she experiencing peace, nor had she ever. Not peace with her circumstances, not with her recovery, not with God, not in relationships, not with herself, nothing. My hand went to rest on her arm. This vulnerable honesty was not something that came natural to her and it was more than she’d said in group in weeks. Most addicts have to work very hard to open up and say what’s really going on inside. They’re used to masking their innermost feelings of pain and brokenness with drugs or alcohol. Her voice started to get very shaky, her face and neck blotchy, and the tears started falling as she struggled to get more words out. She told me that she didn’t know how to have peace with God when God was one of her triggers. She said she questions whether God could ever forgive her for praying while she was shooting up, for His help to find a vein. She said she used to pray for her mother to die, and then her mother was murdered. How could God forgive her for that? The tears fell. And fell. And so did my heart, breaking in a million pieces all over the floor.

That was the end of the entry. We became very close, that resident and I, and I was able to have a front row seat as God graciously and lovingly honored her desire to know the real Him, and experience His peace. Over a relatively short period of time I watched God flood her spirit with His, pouring out His Love and Light and Grace into her darkest places of pain.

I am still in awe as I recall the Sunday morning I had taken a group of residents to Cross Point church as was our usual practice. But that morning, after the message she leaned over and said, “I think I’m ready. Can we talk after the service?”

So I found an empty office and all the ladies, now friends and supporters of one another, joined together as she quietly vocalized that she wanted Jesus to take His place Savior in her life, and she wanted to know and experience God as the good, loving Father she had been learning about.

She asked me to pray, and I asked her how she felt about doing the praying, just expressing to God what she was feeling and desiring. Bravely she spoke out, eyes closed, talking to God through shaky tears, giving Him her heart, declaring Jesus to be her Savior, receiving Him as her closest friend and confidant, and choosing to follow Him with her life.

Praise God, faithful and loving, patient and kind. He knows what we need. He knows what our roadblocks are. He orchestrates moments of deliverance for every heart that aches for Love.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“For He will deliver the needy who cry out. The afflicted who have no one to help.” Psalm 72:12

 

 

I Can’t Make You Love Me

Growing up the 2nd oldest of five kids, I mostly remember lots of noise. Screaming, yelling, laughing, fighting, crying; Noise. Loud noise.

But car rides were different. In the car somehow, some way, we finally shut up. I guess it was like the DVD affect. When we piled into that old station wagon, the radio would go on and we go silent.

Well once in a while it was a cassette tape from the library. Carly Simon, Kenny Rogers, Bonnie Raitt.

In fact I’ll never forget the first time I heard I Can’t Make You Love Me. I must’ve been in 6th or 7th grade. I was staring out the car window listening to the lyrics thinking,

Oh my gosh. This is so horribly sad why won’t he just love her? And why does my mom keep rewinding such a sad song?

Just kidding I don’t remember if she kept rewinding it. But I sure do remember that song well. I should ask her. I digress.

Nine times out of ten she turned on the radio. WMBI, 90.1, Moody Radio in Chicago. I heard a lot of preachers preach and a lot of teachers teach. This went on for years. I think a lot of what my mom was too exhausted to teach us herself, she trusted we’d learn in the car from that radio station.

I loved hearing Dr. James Dobson talk. I loved the sound of his voice. I always believed what he said. One unforgettable phrase he had on parenting always stuck with me: “Relationship before rules.”

In the Old Testament, not to over generalize, but an overarching theme with God is obedience; reverent obedience, diligent obedience, careful obedience. Obey, obey, obey. Be careful to obey. 

One of the things that used to trip me up in talking to people about God’s love was when they would start going off on God’s rules.

Most people like to believe they’re in control of their own life. That they set the parameters and make the rules. That they have the power to make things happen, and they’ll find the resources or solutions to fix things when they fall apart.

‘I don’t want anyone telling me what to do Evie. Especially not God.’

‘I’m a grown up Evie. I can take care of myself.’

Um, so how’s that been workin out for you if you don’t mind my asking?

I won’t lie, rules overwhelm me, they always have. I get easily burdened by my inability to follow all the rules all the time. Sometimes so much so that I just go in the exact opposite direction. But that’s another story. Probably just the human race story.

This morning in our alone time, God brought that Dr. Dobson phrase back to mind just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by my shortcomings and overcome by my inadequacies.

Then He spoke this reminder to my spirit:

Focus on our relationship Evie. When our relationship is operating simply out of my careful pursuit of your heart, you won’t see any rules. All you will see is that I love you and I want the absolute best for you. 

When I focus on God’s continual initiation of heart to heart conversations with me, it’s impossible to be burdened by commands. Because all I sense is His love.

Just like good ole Bonnie couldn’t make dude love her, God can’t make you love him. Well he could if he wanted to but he never will. It’s not who he is. It’s not the way he designed the human race. He will never force himself on anyone.

What he does desire more than anything though is to have a personal relationship with you.

And what you experience once you step inside that relationship is actually real deal freedom.

The kind of freedom your current freedom is petrified you might find.

Don’t let a few rules scare you. Those disappear as soon as you let him wrap his arms around you.

And if you need a reminder down the road like I do, that’s what the Holy Spirit is for. To guide you back into relationship.

The relationship where love rules.

“I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.  Psalm 119:14-16

Time Out

I was catching a friend up on how I’ve been spending my time recently since stepping out of full time ministry. Besides traveling the world, relaxing at exotic resorts and getting daily massages on the beach, I explained that I’ve been catching up on a whole lot of lost time with God right in the quiet of my own little Nashville home.

Although I spent the best hours of my days working in a phenomenal church for the last 16 months, my relationship with God actually felt like it was on life support. I knew He was asking me to take some time in this next season to really examine what happened to cause this, do a major heart check, and get back into spiritual working condition.

Have you ever gone through a season in life where you poured everything you had into something that just wasn’t turning out the way you though it would? I think it’s safe to say most of us have. In fact, you should read this book if you’re looking for clarity and guidance in this area, or know someone who is.

Whether it’s a job or a relationship or kids or a family issue, ever so slowly your own personal walk with God slips to 3rd or 4th place and your very identity becomes like a faded photo. One day you look in the mirror and can’t even recognize your own reflection or recall who you once were.

Regrettably, in the last year and a half, more often than I care to admit, I was like a hamster in a wheel running myself ragged and never getting anywhere. Through no one’s fault but my own I was in a position that was stifling my creativity and expecting things of me that I just wasn’t designed for. All along I allowed myself to be drawn into the thought that,

this isn’t brain surgery, just keep trying harder. You have to do this. You need to love this. You have to live up to everyone’s expectations and get this right.”

At the end of the day, whenever we try to be something we’re not, we just end up cheating ourselves and the world of something very special.

There will never be another you, so recover who you are and then be the best YOU you can be. I’ve learned it doesn’t do anyone any good to try and be the best someone else you can be.

I’m so thankful for amazing friends who surround me with love and support and who are there for me no matter what. There’s always a reason for the season’s we go through and I do not in any way consider a single moment of the last 16 months to be a waste. I learned more than I ever have about people, about God, about myself, and about love. I’m a better person having come through this experience.

I hope if you can relate to any of this, you will do two things:

  •  Remember that this too shall pass and give yourself forgiveness today. Forgiveness for whatever it is you’ve been holding onto, thinking you don’t deserve to be happy because you screwed things up so badly. You don’t need to make yourself suffer for something Jesus already died to free you from. If God doesn’t expect perfection of us, who are we to set a higher expectation of ourselves than God? Let it go and move forward into the abundant life He has for you.
  • Dream. Recover what it is about you that makes you unique. Take a personality test, do an exercise. Read a book. Allow yourself the time and the freedom to get back to who you are. You were born an original. Don’t die a copy. (I don’t know who made that up but it wasn’t me)

A Praying Mother: Priceless

My mom sent me a Christmas card this year because I wasn’t able to make it home for the holidays. Inside it she wrote the prayer she prays for me every day. I was moved to tears when I read it. Telling someone you’re praying for them is one thing. Telling them what you’re praying for them is another. I hope you might take this and make it your own prayer for someone you care for.

“May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ help Evie to live her life to the fullest. God promote her and cause her to excel above her expectations. Lord help her to shine in the darkest places where it is impossible to love. May You protect her at all times and lift her up when she needs You most, letting her know when she walks with You, she will always be safe.”

This simple mother’s request has no doubt released God’s love and power in my life, impacting my journey more than I will probably ever realize this side of heaven.

Reflecting back on the last year especially, I see so many instances where God was answering this prayer on behalf of my mom who tirelessly prays for all five of her kids on a continual basis.

Thanks Mom. You’re a shining example to our entire family of what it means to be a praying mom, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I pray God blesses your socks off in 2012, above and beyond what you could ever dream, imagine, or ask for.

Love,

Evie

Colassians 4:2  2Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving.

Shhhhhh….

“The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it’s good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” Lamentations 3:25

I think it’s funny that God showed me this verse today because the way I live sometimes, you would think the second half of this verse actually reads, “So it’s good to run around like a chicken with your head cut off.”

When I’m waiting on God, the images that come to mind aren’t necessarily “quiet.” I more or less picture:

  • Arms crossed, toes tapping as I nervously look up and down and all around wondering if I’ve been forgotten.
  • Clawing around in a forest at nightfall panting, searching desperately for something or someone or a way out, sure if I just tried harder I wouldn’t be waiting so long.
  • Sweating in desperation and anxiety while a clock is ticking in the background as I wait…and wait…and wait…

What struck me about this verse and gave me incredible peace about what God desires for me is that it’s okay to take a breath. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m somehow not doing enough to pursue God and stay close to Him. But God teaches that I can expect to revel in His goodness even while I’m waiting, simply because I search for and depend on Him.

God gives us permission to remain calm in difficult circumstances. He never gives us a list of things to do, He gives us a way to be: Assured of His presence, standing in His grace, not dependent on circumstances, or a job, or a relationship, or a paycheck to satisfy us, but rather on Him alone. Now that’s something to get loud about!

I often hear people say, “God helps those who help themselves.” But that’s way too broad a statement for me to embrace. It insinuates that you have to, or God won’t.

I think God allows us to be in helpless positions so He can teach us how to wait on Him. After all, His power is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)  I think helpless and hopeless are prime “God-helping” times. I think helpless is helpful. And I can wait on Him, in my helplessness, quietly.

Getting Away

Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation.  To remain constantly at work will diminish your judgment.  Go some distance away, because work will be in perspective and a lack of harmony is more readily seen.   – Leonardo DaVinci

I think we all know intuitively that rest is good. 

It Replenishes

It Revitalizes

It Restores and Redeems places inside us we’ve let get choked by the weeds of life circumstances, mistakes, or just plain stupidity.

And if we think about it we can all agree that distance, removing ourselves from a situation for a period of time, is definitely wise.

It brings Perspective

It Shines a Light

It Breathes Life

It Calms a Weary Soul where once anxiety ruled and near-sightedness stole our big picture view.

We may know these things.  It may sound nice to hear because it justifies and validates our longing for a time-out.  

But knowing it and doing it are two very different things.

Delaying distance and refusing rest can be costly and dangerous.

Every time I’ve ignored my need to to retreat and replenish, I’ve suffered.

These days, as I try to navigate my way through some heavy transitions and spiritual battles, I find I’m constantly on the defense in my mind, just trying to shield myself from negative thoughts, looming deadlines, a haunting past, and a shaky future.

Because Jesus is my prime go-to person when I’m lost and losing it, (and a ticket to the beach doesn’t look too promising), I’m taking His lead and studying what He did.  Lord knows what I’m dealing with is nothing compared to the trials he endured, but I know He cares deeply about every tear that falls from my eyes and every fear and doubt that clouds my judgement.

A very wise and godly mentor is helping me see the pattern Jesus practiced, time and time again.  What I’m trying to imitate is this process:

Retreat.  Meet.  And Kneel.

This is the distance and rest I need right now.  To quiet the world in all its noise and clutter and just be with the Father.  Daily.  Hourly. Whatever it takes.

It can seem awkward at first.  To be still and quiet.  Especially to kneel.  But sometimes we get too accustomed to seeing God as an arm around our shoulder.  He is, but we also need to physically submit to His holiness and rightful place as King and Lord of our lives. Something deeper happens when we physically kneel before Him, and stay there.

I hope you’ll make time to retreat, meet and kneel as well.  I hope it becomes a habit we cultivate as we seek after Him; not what He can give us,  just Him.

Me ‘n Tay Play

Football in hand, Tay backed way up.  I said a quick prayer asking God to, A) Please make him stop going out so far what does he think I am, and B) Please don’t make me look like a complete idiot in front of this precious boy who so deserves a big manly man to play catch with and may very soon regret speaking to me.

This whole scenario is pretty embarrassing.  I went there thinking, “Who will I help?  How can I serve these people and make them feel comfortable and secure and not looked down upon or less than?”  And yet there I was in the thick of it feeling totally insecure, lame, self-conscious, uncomfortable and totally incapable of doing something worth anything.

Suddenly an 8 year old homeless boy was helping me and God was using this experience to expose my insecurities shouting, “Evie!  Quit trying so hard!  Quit thinking you know what you’re doing and just be!  Just live.  Stop thinking about yourself and what you think you’re qualified or not qualified to do for me and let me be God!  If I ask you to play football with an 8 year old boy from the streets, just throw the damn football!”

(Okay maybe He didn’t say damn)

So that’s what I did.

(And I caught the ball every time. And no one ever laughed at me.  That I could see.)

After we played catch we colored.  On paper and each other.  He wrote “I love You” in the exact place I would get a tattoo if I got a tattoo. Naturally I did the same for him to really take the relationship to the next level. 🙂

The only other name Tay wrote down was “Rodney.”  He quietly told me his dad Rodney was in jail and he doesn’t know when he’ll see him or why he’s in there.  The confusion in his eyes mixed with a too grown up sense of reality made my eyes well up and I was speechless.

I took the marker and wrote, “Jesus loves Tay” on some paper.

Tay smiled and took the marker. “Jesus loves you too Evie.”

At that moment I sensed God’s presence right there in our midst and it became so clear.  He was using us, this unlikely pair, to express His identical love and affection for the other.

I asked Tay if he wanted to talk to Jesus with me and he nodded.  So we held hands and bowed our heads.

“Lord, I don’t know if I have the right to do this, but I dedicate Tay’s life to you and your will and your plan and I fully expect you to use him and use his story and let it all be for your glory.  Fill him with peace and wisdom beyond his years even as he endures hardship and pain beyond his years.  Instill in him great insight and a great dream to fulfill in your name Jesus.”

Saying goodbye to Tay that night was hard and his little face staring up at me holding that football is a memory I won’t soon forget.

My friend Morgan told me she never saw Tay engage with anyone at the bridge before.

This was a Divine appointment.  Not a silly game of catch or a night serving a meal.  God taught me a lesson.  A lesson in waiting, resting, listening, and loving.

I hope you’ll choose to listen today to something God may be asking you to do but for whatever reason you keep saying “But, but, but…”   Just do it 🙂