There You Were

We had the honor of Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Paul Eddy leading  a seminar on God, Evil, and Spiritual Warfare at school this week. The following is an edited version of the paper I was assigned to write prior to the class. Greg Boyd has had a massive influence on my life, not just my spiritual walk, but rather on my entire worldview (I encourage checking out his website ReKnew.org). I have often wrote about the work of people who have had influence on me, but I tend to shy away from writing about Greg’s work for fear of undermining the weight of it’s beautiful integrity and intelligence. With that being said, I’m sure this reflection is far from encapsulating the message of living within a Warfare Worldview–not to mention my clumsy attempt to weave it together with his more recent work on how to view God in the face of things such as OT violence. Regardless, what it does contain is a vital lesson on how we view our Father when we face suffering and pain. I pray you’ll see what I have learned to see once more, the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father.

There You Were

I was driving down Hwy 169, on my way home after a visit to my parent’s house. The snow was melting, and apart from the massive amounts of sand and dirt peeking out along the roads, it was a beautiful scene. The air, not yet warm, carried on it’s breath a reminder of a new beginning. A feeling of anger welled inside me at the scent of rebirth revealed in the wind of that spring. I could hear my father’s gentle words still echoing in my mind from our visit, “Stephanie, God didn’t take Matt.” I knew that, but it isn’t what I felt. If God hadn’t physically ripped my husband from Earth—from his children, from me—He certainly hadn’t stopped someone else from doing the tearing. Regardless of who was to blame, my flesh that was once fused to my husband was now no more than a gushing, bloody wound I was forced to live with.

I have dealt with spiritual warfare in very tangible ways throughout my life, both before and after becoming a widow. The night I was attacked by a demon who was determined to keep me addicted to cocaine more then I was determined to get sober comes to mind. I think about the day I realized the person I had been listening to in the mirror for years—the one telling me I wasn’t worthy of love— wasn’t actually me. The day when my five year old daughter fearfully told me about her nightmare that contained evil beyond her knowing is my most hated of all. In light of this, it is easy to understand why the average American would rather plead ignorance than try to face the reality of the evil that lies just beyond our five senses. For me however, it was the night I lost my husband that I had to finally face my own ignorance about serving an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God in light of a world filled with pain, evil and suffering.

My husband died of pneumonia at the age of 33. He was a healthy man. The night of his death, he went to bed early due to a bad cold he had come down with that day. Before sunrise the next morning he would be dead. During therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I rewrote the story of my husband’s death in a way my brain was able to handle. For me, this process meant I had to re-walk through that horrific evening, but this time with Jesus by my side. When I now flashback to that evening, Jesus is present throughout the memory. Jesus was there and warns me of my husband’s waking and subsequent asphyxiation. Jesus cries out to our Father while I call 911. Jesus kneels beside me, snot and tears pouring into the carpet, as I hear the paddles being charged and recharged and recharged again. Jesus has become a physical part—as I believe He was—of the night my husband died, but where was God?

I knew God was there, I was certain. Why was it I couldn’t recognize Him? It wasn’t until over a year after my husband’s death that I learned I couldn’t see God because I was looking in the wrong places. I couldn’t see Him because I hadn’t fully realized the price we pay for the spiritual war raging all around us. I believe, in part, I couldn’t find God because I was only able to see a shadow of His imprint on that night. I had mistaken God’s shadow for His true self and that can be a costly mistake.

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.                                                       Colossians 2:17

If I hadn’t been sitting in a chair at Woodland Hills on July 15, 2012, I believe I wouldn’t be quite as capable to answer the question of where God was the night my husband died. Dr. Boyd’s book God at War allowed Spirit revelation into my life regarding God’s intervention, or lack thereof, in Matt’s death. But, it was through Greg’s message “God’s Shadow Activity” that things really began to click. I don’t think I would have the peace I now have regarding my internal dilemma of God “taking” my husband from me if it wasn’t for that sermon. I was at Woodland Hills that night though, and the peace that surpassed understanding for me in those first months of grief has more recently taken on an applicable peace that not only surpasses, but lies within understanding.

So as I sat there that evening, in my church seat, I began to peel away the lies I had been telling myself about God’s role in Matt’s death. I decided to think on that night one more time. This time I understood. This time I finally saw what I hadn’t seen before. I imagined that hellish night. I remember how I fell to my knees in our old hallway. I envision my face planting into the floor. I see myself crying out to my Heavenly Father with the most unearthly noise that had ever left my body. And then I remembered, Christ was there with me. So, I look up from the floor and meet eyes with my Savior as I had so many times during this re-enactment, but this time it was different.

My mouth, just barely able to move, utters in a hushed tone …. “Abba.”

God was there—right there—the whole time. It was only when I looked to the love, found on the cross, that I was able to see the true nature of God … regardless of the light (or darkness) in which I was looking through.

    

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I Am No Longer A Machine

I realized something today as I was standing in front of my oven, carefully placing eight dinosaur chicken nuggets in a row on a pan.   Both my children were at the kitchen table, happily playing with crayons and blocks.  It was almost noon on a Monday.  It was at this moment it dawned on me that I am no longer a machine.

See as I was standing there, joy in my heart, gazing over their work – encouraging them, helping them, laughing with them – I felt a pang in my stomach.  A knot of anxiety jabbed me deep in my gut.  I knew what it was telling me, why it had graced me with it’s disgusting presence.  I wasn’t producing anything for it.  I wasn’t doing anything that could be formulated into a spreadsheet to display my progress or lack thereof.

At a previous corporate position I held, we had “Our Numbers”.  Or at least, that is what we called them in our department.  I’m certain this report had an official name, something like quarterly summery progress report, I suppose.  To the people in my department though, it was the still small voice in the part of our brains – not stemming from the Spirit – but stemming from Corporate America.  It was the voice that reminded us time is money.  It reminded us that we were nothing more than the production we put out.  It reminded us that in order to get a raise, which on a good year would equal half of the cost of living increase, was determined by the outcome of “Our Numbers”.

There is joy in hard work, company loyalty, and work ethic – all of which I like to think I possess.  There is also a time for simply living in the moment.  We were not built to be machines.  We were built to create, procreate, and honor the earth we were given.

I spent almost 45 minutes with Isaac this morning doing two things; trying to get him to say “shoe” and playfully helping him pull his shoe on his foot.  I spent 45 minutes with my child in which the worth of my time could not be determined.  I spent 45 minutes in which I did not produce and no client could be billed for my time.  Isaac will likely not be putting shoes on by himself anytime soon. And when he does say “shoe”, it could have been the exact same day he would have learned this word if I had not spent those 45 minutes working with him on it.

My worth is no longer determined by my production.  It is not determined by numbers, graphs, or progress reports.  My worth, in my home, with my children, is the level at which I am able to love them … a worth that cannot be broken down and analyzed.  The deep longing I have always had to stay at home with my children, is to be given the opportunity to simply love on them more hours of the day.  I am here to love them.  Nothing I do, or don’t do, short of loving them is going to change that.

I am no longer a machine … and this will take some getting used to.

Holidays are Hard

I bawled in church today like a little girl who just got her pigtails pulled.  Jesus is risen.  Happy Easter.  Holidays are hard.  It’s hard to set out Easter eggs, watch the kid’s excitement in the morning, and not feel overwhelmed that Matt isn’t here to experience it with us.  It doesn’t help that I’m wading through my own messy depression, but reflecting on the mourning of Christ’s death just seems so much more understandable after grieving my own loved one.

Since posting last night, four things have happened that have made me decide to change directions in my writing.  These occurrences have given me a glimpse of the clarity I have been praying for.  The first thing that happened was I listened to a Rob Bell sermon from the 2011 Lent season.  I had started on the sermon series about a week ago.  When I came to this particular sermon I decided to wait before listening; somehow knowing it was going to have an impact on me.  The sermon contents, which did impact me greatly, brought me to the next thing.  I realized I wasn’t putting my trust in God as I have before, and I wasn’t doing this because I was being discouraged by lies from something ugly.  As far as I know, these are new lies, with a new message, that are being whispered to me … which I suppose is why I had so much trouble identifying them as such.  They twisted the truth so that it appeared … well, true.  The third thing?  Illumination Church this morning.  The worship, the resurrection, the sermon, my church family … the whole experience gave me the opportunity to open the flood gates I had been holding back for far too long.  And finally, a conversation with my ever gentle and loving Brad that helped me to more clearly state the feelings I was having, and some ideas on where to go from here.

I think where I am headed is to define who I am in Christ.  I want descriptive, colorful, and hopeful words on which to look to when the lies are whispered.  I’m going to the Bible, and I’m going to find and dig deep into these words.  There is solid ground on which to defeat these lies, and by the grace of God, I’m off to find it.  I want to lean on my risen Savior this Easter and remember His reply to Satan, when he quoted Deuteronomy out in the desert.  Jesus said to him “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  I am trying to live on bread alone.  I love God, I worship God, I look to God for answers, and pray to Him everyday.  But when the sunsets on another day I – far too often – think the results will need to come from me.  Nothing comes forth from me that isn’t of Christ, and I am making myself available to the Holy Spirit to write this truth on my heart.

I wish you all grace and peace on this beautiful Easter!

A Widow Step In Healing

Isaac is fascinated with the wet dish towel and cleaning motion.  It’s a simple – and fairly odd – fascination.  Each time he eats I get a dish towel, wipe him, and then he proceeds to take the towel from my hand in order to wipe whatever is nearest to him.  Today, after his lunch, he found the wet towel I had used and picked it up.  As he is just starting to take his first steps, I quietly watched him from the background.  He very carefully stood up, bobbling back and forth, dish towel tightly griped.  He began wiping his high chair … okay, makes sense.  After he was satisfied, he turned to the love seat chair in the living room … not quite right, but the effort was adorable.  The entertainment center was next, followed by the sliding glass door, and finally he sits down.  Looking around, finding nothing else, he lifts up his shirt and starts wiping his belly.

I immediately started laughing, trying to hold back as to not draw his attention.  Then, I sighed.  “Oh, how I wish you could see him.”  In that playful moment, I imagined how in love Matt would have been with his son, how proud he would of been of him, and how much they were both missing out on.  I felt sad, but not plowed over with grief.  I recognized the pain in his absence, but the pain was stripped of hopelessness.  It felt almost like a memory, as strange as that sounds.  Or maybe it felt as though he was right there with me, enjoying Isaac’s self administered sponge bath with me.  I’m not positive, but it felt like a little step in healing.

Gummy Worms and Serving Each Other

I had some moments collide this week, in a way only the Spirit can direct them to, and I’m feeling called to share.  About a week before the anniversary of Matt’s death, some friends from church asked what they could do to help ease this time for me.  I initially declined the offer to be part of a meal train since I felt it was too much of a burden on those delivering meals in light of my situation.  After some prompting I agreed, but I still felt some guilt over the service.

So last week a wonderful woman, I feel honored to call a friend, brought over tacos.  Since it takes the three of us a good amount of time to eat all the food brought over; we had our last round of Mexican last night.  As I was bringing out all the containers of toppings thinking of what a blessing the meal was upon my week. I noticed the container that was holding the chopped tomatoes.  It was a container that once carried gummy worms from a local grocery store.  I thought for a moment and then become just a bit teary.

It was about six months ago that I was feeling completely swamped down with life in the midst of grief, when I was asked by a friend to be part of a meal train for a couple at church.  At the time the couple was still in the beginning stages of grief and hadn’t shared their story with others yet, so they requested to not have their name shared.  They simply requested we bring them sweets.

There I was that day at the grocery store.  I was running late to pick up Evie and feeling rushed.  The store was filled with people and the lines were long.  I picked up a basket, instead of choosing a cart, and my arm was loaded down and becoming sore.  I was on the phone, although I can not remember with who, I do remember the conversation being stressful.  All at once I felt annoyed by serving someone I didn’t know, at a time in life that wasn’t easy on me, in the midst of a troublesome day.  I pulled myself together that day; I found my heart for serving, and followed through.  I was glad I did.  I was even more grateful when I later learned who I was serving and why.

So here I was, feeling grateful and guilty, because of those who had made the decision to take time out of their busy lives to serve my family when I caught a glimpse at the Spirit’s work.  In a fleeting moment of clarity I saw into the Spirit-lead, circle-of-favor we get to take part of on this Earth.  I had felt led by the Spirit to serve this couple friend, and despite myself, I did so.  And here I was witnessing the very source of where my service for them began, their service for me was handed back.

It was a small reminder of the huge impact the Spirit can have in our lives if we so allow Him to.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that respects and honors that impact the best we know how.  My encouragement for you is to follow the promptings of your heart.  Do not doubt.  Do not quit when your own shortcomings try to hold you back from that calling.  And when offered service?  Take it with grace and humility.