The Dream

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I was at a wedding by the gulf. Nobody looked familiar. A freak hurricane rolled in and everyone at the wedding died in the storm. We were floating in this humongous flood. Then, the flood died down and we were sitting in a dark, damp, dungeon of a room with several other people. There were bars on the windows and outside it was very dark and bleak. I don’t know how long we were in the dungeon but we all remained quiet and we were thinking about our lives, praying, and wondering what was going to happen. The next day the sky was bright and sunny and these rays of light entered the room and broke the bars on the windows as they entered. The rays of light turned into stars that touched each of our bodies. Immediately, all our wounds had been healed and the scars that we had gotten throughout our lives disappeared. We could feel God’s presence and power and all the hurt, both emotional and physical, that we had experienced throughout our lives seemed to melt away.  Then, the dungeon gates opened and we were greeted with a beautiful paradise that I believe was Heaven. My face lit up and my smile became permanent. I didn’t get to see my dad, but was handed a note written by him that said, as best as I could remember when I woke up….”Don’t get discouraged and keep trusting God.”

That dream was God’s message to me to NOT LOSE HOPE, and his love song to me that despite how much I had failed or struggled with life that I would be RESTORED, my family would be restored, ALL would be restored.

Life got even more difficult after that dream. Our family was deeply grieving dad’s death. He was so young and his battle with cancer so brutal.  My precious little girl developed a seizure disorder and hospital and doctor visits became our normal for a few years.  Life seemed like an endless storm and I just could not seem to get my act together financially, emotionally, spiritually. But…God never left me. He is always right beside me even when I can’t feel him. He loves me. He has shown me over and over again this is true. I do get very discouraged at times (sorry daddy) but if I take the time to BE STILL and know that he is God, as Steve Brown says, “I can hear the soft sound of sandaled feet.”

Community by Henri Nouwen

Jasmine Tree

“Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.

So often we are inclined to keep our lives hidden. Shame and guilt prevent us from letting others know what we are living. We think: “If my family and friends knew the dark cravings of my heart and my strange mental wanderings, they would push me away and exclude me from their company.” But the opposite is true. When we dare to lift our cup and let our friends know what is in it, they will be encouraged to lift their cups and share with us their own anxiously hidden secrets.

The greatest healing often takes place when we no longer feel isolated by our shame and guilt and discover that others often feel what we feel and think what we think and have the fears, apprehensions, and preoccupations we have.

Lifting our lives to others happens every time we speak or act in ways that make our lives lives for others. When we are fully able to embrace our own lives, we discover that what we claim we also want to proclaim. A life well held is indeed a life for others. We stop wondering whether our life is better or worse than others and start seeing clearly that when we live our life for others we not only claim our individuality but also proclaim our unique place in the mosaic of the human family.

Lifting our cup means sharing our life so we can celebrate it. When we truly believe we are called to lay down our lives for our friends, we must dare to take the risk to let others know what we are living. The important question is, “Do we have a circle of trustworthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?” Just as we lift up our glasses to people we trust and love, so we lift up the cup of our life to those from whom we do not want to have secrets and with whom we want to form community.

When we do want to drink our cup and drink it to the bottom, we need others who are willing to drink their cups with us. We need community, a community in which confession and celebration are always present together. We have to be willing to let others know us if we want them to celebrate life with us. When we lift our cups and say “to life,” we should be talking about real lives, not only hard, painful, sorrowful lives, but also lives so full of joy that celebration becomes a spontaneous response.” Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?

Jesus is a Giver

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It all started with a pit of despair so deep, I didn’t want to go on. My previous blog posts tell that story.

One day about 2 years ago, after I received a little glimmer of hope and as I was slowly starting to heal from depression, I was reading a blog post by my friend Josie. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about or the title (sorry Josie), but I scrolled down to the comments. I clicked on the Gravatar (profile picture) of one of the commenter’s for some strange reason, and ended up on his blog. On the sidebar of his blog was a picture of a book titled Glorious Ruin, authored by some guy named Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian Tchividjian? Hmmm, interesting. The design of the book really captured my eye, but the name intrigued me even more. So, I clicked on the icon of the book and ended up on the book’s Amazon page. I read a little bit about the book and then read a little about the author, who I found out was Billy Graham’s grandson. I googled Tullian and somehow read something that spoke about his rebellious past. Rebellious past? I have a rebellious past! Right then and there I decided I needed to hear this guy’s sermons. So, I looked up his church and found the media page.

I can’t even tell you what sermon series I started on. It may have been the Jesus + Nothing = Everything or The Glorious Impossibility. All I remember is feeling this tremendous sense of relief, like my cage door had been opened. I found out with each sermon that this Christian life isn’t riding all on my shoulders. I discovered that once I became a Christian I didn’t have to leave Jesus behind at the starting line so I could concentrate on becoming a better, stronger, more victorious Christian. I realized that I didn’t have to live a life of pretending and performing. I found out that God is not an angry mob boss who loves me on my good days and scratches me off his list on my bad days. I learned that the checklist version of Christianity wasn’t working for me…and isn’t ever going to work for me…because that’s not Christianity.

I listened to a few sermons everyday for months. I passed the sermons along to friends with “Amazing Sermon!!!” in the subject line. I found out Tullian had a blog, so started reading that regularly and my chains loosened a little more.  Then I found LIBERATE. LIBERATE is like an oasis in a very dry desert. Through Tullian I found out about Key Life, Dropping Keys, and Christ Hold Fast. I found out about others spreading the liberating truth of the gospel – Elyse Fitzpatrick, Steve Brown, Nick Lannon, Jessica Thompson, Kimm Crandall, Scotty Smith, Jono Linebaugh, etc. (forgive me if I missed you). I found out there was a LIBERATE conference. I knew I had to be there one day.

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Now I have to share the really awesome part, because I can’t hold back any longer (well, I’m sure you’ve guessed by the picture) – I got to meet Tullian 4 days ago at the LIBERATE Conference!! Just about two years after social media first introduced me to him and his messages that have saturated my heart and soul with gospel truth. The story of how it all came together amazes me. It was a wonderful weekend. I met some of my friends in the #GospelPosse that I found on Twitter not too long ago (why oh why don’t I have pictures with them?) I experienced a sanctuary full of people who are dropping the pose and letting their masks fall off. I met The Chief Sinner and his beautiful wife Susan. I hugged Sarah Taras, whose blog posts remind me that I’M NOT CRAZY. I got to meet my Twitter brother Shaun who reminds me that I am a Fierce Sister for sharing what I am learning about the Gospel. I met Erik Guzman, whose posts on Key Life have inspired me so much. I was able to soak in the eloquence of Steve Brown on the LIBERATE stage (and really wanted to meet him). I was introduced to other speakers who are sharing this message. I had a sweet moment with my new friend Melissa in Panera Bread.  I made new friends!!! I had a wonderful roomie. I laughed A LOT! The gospel does that. I experienced all of that and so much more.

I am blown away at God’s amazing grace. I don’t deserve any of this – not a single thing, but as my friend Denalyn said “Jesus is such a Giver! I’m so thankful He’s doting on you, His cherished daughter.”

Psalm 40, The Message

 I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God.

 Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God, turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,” ignore what the world worships; The world’s a huge stockpile of God-wonders and God-thoughts. Nothing and no one comes close to you! I start talking about you, telling what I know, and quickly run out of words. Neither numbers nor words account for you.

Doing something for you, bringing something to you— that’s not what you’re after. Being religious, acting pious— that’s not what you’re asking for. You’ve opened my ears so I can listen.

 So I answered, “I’m coming. I read in your letter what you wrote about me, And I’m coming to the party you’re throwing for me.” That’s when God’s Word entered my life, became part of my very being.

 I’ve preached you to the whole congregation, I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that. I didn’t keep the news of your ways a secret, didn’t keep it to myself. I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough. I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth For myself alone. I told it all, let the congregation know the whole story.

Now God, don’t hold out on me, don’t hold back your passion. Your love and truth are all that keeps me together. When troubles ganged up on me, a mob of sins past counting, I was so swamped by guilt I couldn’t see my way clear. More guilt in my heart than hair on my head, so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out.

Soften up, God, and intervene; hurry and get me some help, So those who are trying to kidnap my soul will be embarrassed and lose face, So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable will be heckled and disgraced, So those who pray for my ruin will be booed and jeered without mercy.

 But all who are hunting for you— oh, let them sing and be happy. Let those who know what you’re all about tell the world you’re great and not quitting. And me? I’m a mess. (oh yes I am!) I’m nothing and have nothing: make something of me. You can do it; you’ve got what it takes— but God, don’t put it off.

#liberate2016

What Not To Say by Christyn Taylor

Guilt

The following comes from a Bible study based on the book of Job taught by my friend Christyn Taylor at Oak Hills Church in 2013. The Taylor family has had to endure many Job-like trials over the last five plus years. Christyn and Rebecca have spent more time living in the hospital the last five years than they have at home, as Rebecca has been fighting for her life. In the following journal entry Christyn shared with Bible study participants, you will read that the Taylor family also lost their precious Annabelle.

The night Christyn shared this lesson to well over 50 women, there was not a dry-eye in the house. I believe we have all been on the receiving end, and most of us on the delivery end, of “what not to say” moments in times of suffering. 

If you would like to read more by Christyn, please visit http://www.womenofvictory.wordpress.com

Audio: What Not to Say 

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”  Henri Nouwen

When I grow up I want to write a book – and that book will be titled, “What Not to Say.”  The purpose for the book would not be to shame any unwilling characters from its pages, but rather to give clarifications of words which are most helpful and most harmful during our intimate struggles.  I am ashamed to admit that in my pre-trial, unempathetic life, I was the number one offender in my actions toward those in crises.  I desperately needed a guide to provide insight into this mine-filled path.  I would regularly repeat the dreaded phrases those in pain hope to never hear such as, “Don’t worry, you will be just fine, God will provide”, or “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle”.  I wish I could go back in time and glue my mouth shut – especially now that I realize first-hand the hurt my well-intended words caused those I loved.

Job’s friends were well-intended as well, they “met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job2:11).  At least they showed up.  Notice, during all of Job’s afflictions, this well-respected government official was visited by only four friends.  Only four.  While most of his friends bailed – these four cared enough to be there when Job’s world fell apart.

As the friends saw the virtually unrecognizable Job, they were kind and compassionate as “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).  They saw their friend in pain and they suffered with him.  There is a lot to be said about friends who “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).   Good friends, right?  And they were – attentive, thoughtful, empathetic, and dedicated……until they opened their mouths.

The old adage ‘stop while you are ahead’ would have applied perfectly to this group of holier-than-thou men.  Upon opening their mouths they unleashed a flurry of insults toward the character of Job, hurtful lies about the Lord’s will for his life, and accusation upon accusation which included Job being the cause of his ten children’s deaths.  Wow – with such fine friends, who needs enemies?  Job was already battered and beaten before his friends’ entrance and yet somehow their plan of comforting him turned into an even worse nightmare.  No wonder Job responded to their diatribe with, “If only you would be altogether silent!  For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:5).

Silence – the key to all comfort.  So many times we fill moments of solitude with words in order to make ourselves more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, or to make sense of a nonsensical trial.  Yet those in pain do not need words of advice – they need the touch of a tender hand, the warmth of a cup of tea, or the tears of a compassionate heart.  Such simple gestures illicit powerful gratefulness from the victim of a bleeding heart.

When my husband and I lost our baby, Annabelle, I realized how unprepared I was for the onslaught of painful statements I endured from those I loved.  With my reserves down and my sensitivities up, I felt like a continual punching bag for those well-meaning friends who were just ‘trying to help.’  The irony was, my Christian friends seemed to cause the worst infractions.  So many presumed to know God’s plan for my damaged life and used that ‘knowledge’ to help reform me.  My agnostic friends never assumed God’s role because, to them, there was no God.  In order to cope, as statements were made, I journaled an on-going list of ‘What Not to Say to Someone Whose Baby Has Died.’  After each statement, I wrote down my immediate, inner response in parenthesis.  Here are a few, tame examples:

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“It is all in God’s plan.”

(I don’t want to hear that my baby dying is a part of God’s plan)

“Just remember – God’s timing is perfect.”

(No time will ever feel perfect for my daughter to die)

“You are going to be fine – don’t worry, you are just fine.”

(I don’t feel fine and, for once, why can’t I feel really sad – my child just died)

“There was probably something wrong with your baby anyway.”

(Regardless of whether my baby was sick or not, I still loved her and wanted her.  Did I want Rebecca any less because she was sick?)

“You already have such a great family.”

(Yes, but wouldn’t our family be even better to have the little girl we prayed for and loved?  And wouldn’t I still be sad if one of my other three children were missing from this family?)

“Looking back and seeing how hard your year was going to be, aren’t you thankful for God’s grace in taking your child?”

(Never under any circumstances, no matter how hard my family’s life became, would I be thankful my child was dead.  And don’t you think the God of all creation has the strength to empower me to take care of my children through all circumstances?)

“Have you considered the fact your family may be under a generational curse?”

(Are you kidding me? Now I have to worry about being punished for my great-great-grandfather’s sins on top of everything else?)

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I was able to learn from these statements by writing them down and studying how these words made me feel.  I, like Job, needed silence and quiet service, not rationalizing and justifications.  If Iwas unable to make sense of God’s plan in the middle of my circumstances, what made someone else feel they could presume from the outside?

A grief counselor gave me my best piece of advice on how to respond to what can be sheer nonsense.  She said, “View unwanted statements from loved ones as an awkward gift – their intentions were kind yet the gift itself, entirely unwanted and altogether unhelpful.”  So, what do you do when Aunt Betsy gives you that ridiculous looking reindeer sweater that is three sizes too big?  Do you yell at her?  Do you lose your temper?  Do you tell sweet Aunt Betsy to jump off a bridge?  No, you smile and say thank you while thinking of a way to get rid of this never-to-be-worn garment.

Although there were many times I wanted to lose my temper, yell, and tell my friend to jump off a bridge, I knew they were attempting (in their own misguided way) to show compassion.  Thinking of the awkward gift analogy, I learned to smile and nod my head as they dispensed their faulty advice.  And the second they left, I ran as fast as I could to my journal to write another entry that will one day be included in my bestselling ‘What Not to Say’ book!

Christyn Taylor

Religious Masquerade

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google images

At an early age I knew that I was a screw up. Don’t get me wrong, no one ever told me I was a screw-up.  I grew up in a nice family with a roof over my head and parents who provided for me and my brothers and who loved us very much. Our family wasn’t perfect – there were problems just like any family living on this earth – but I knew I was loved by them. The perception that I was a screw-up was somehow deeply ingrained in me. I was making mistakes all the time. I couldn’t live up to the rules of behavior I was learning about at church. The guilt and shame were intense. I was sleep-walking, I was anxious, I was shy, and I often wanted to run away from the world. I did my best to get good grades and stay on the straight and narrow, but I always had the feeling that I wasn’t “making the grade” with God, at least not the God I learned about in church.

I encountered a different God in church than the God who would meet me in the dark of the night and comfort me from my fear of the shadows on the walls and anxieties about death. The God that I learned about at church was what I perceived to be an angry mob boss. I couldn’t talk to him. If I wanted to really communicate with him, it had to be done through mediators. I wasn’t taught to have a relationship with him. I was taught the rules of behavior. I perceived that when I was succeeding at following those rules my name was at the top of his list. When I made mistakes, he scratched me off his list and hell was in my future. I also didn’t see Jesus as being resurrected. I was reminded of his death every week and knew that I had put him on that cross. I never really understood why he volunteered to go to the cross. My perception was that he went to the cross to show me that I was bad.

In high school, my life of rebellion was born and continued well into adulthood. After an out-of-wedlock pregnancy (that I now realize was God’s saving mercy), my dad’s death, and some other crises, I looked at the total train wreck that was my life. I was raising my sweet daughter alone. I had just gotten out of a complicated relationship. My finances were a mess. I made a huge, albeit unintentional, mistake at my new job. I was lonely. My hope was very dim.

I walked into the mega-church that Sunday morning, not because I loved God, but in all honesty, to get my act together. I was greeted at the door with big smiles, friendly hellos, people that looked clean and nearly perfect, and the thought that these people really have it together…maybe this place can really help me. The worship music was electrifying, the sermon was beautiful, the people were all so happy (or so it seemed). It was so different from the atmosphere of the faith in which I grew up, where most everyone looked quite somber and didn’t look at all like they really wanted to be there.

I signed up for the new member class right away. I was ecstatic that soon I would be clean, shiny, and nearly perfect too. I was sure God was proud of me after years of staying away from church. Surely he was proud that I was finally going to get it together. I was finally going to start “making the grade”.

I was handed a set of rules in the class, a covenant with God and the church, per se. A little twinge of anxiety caught me off guard when I was handed the notebook, and in the back of my mind I wondered if I would be able to keep up with this covenant. The covenant addressed behavior, holiness, tithing, church attendance, service etc. That day I added a new mask to my collection. I was going to live up to what the covenant instructed, or by golly, I was going to pretend till my dying day.

So, I started trying to present an image of myself to my church family and the world that was a far cry from the person I was behind closed doors. I started doling out the “necessities” of the Christian faith to the single moms in the support group I was in. I started trying to listen to only Christian radio…and if I listened to classic rock (my favorite) or another genre, the guilt trip would ensue. I distanced myself from friends who weren’t living the faith. I started looking down on “those” people. I started presenting the “rules” to my daughter and handed her a shiny set of masks. At work I would try to stay away from the “worldly” conversations that had nothing to do with faith. I filled up my schedule with churchy things sure that I would balance out the scales to please God and win the approval of my church.

My friends and I would have conversations about what behaviors were acceptable and unacceptable. The list seemed to grow with each conversation…and I had to add a few more embellishments to my mask. Something inside me wondered if we were complicating this faith thing. Those few hours I spent at church on Sunday and Wednesday started to become really lonely. Yes, I had lots of friends, and I was grateful, but none of those friends knew the “real” me. I wanted to confess so many things to them. I wanted them to love me like the God who kept visiting me in the dark of the night loved me. I wanted to tell my friends that I thought we were missing the point – Jesus. Yes, Jesus was a part of conversations…but our behavior, our performance, the ways we were serving him, the amount time we were spending in prayer and quiet time, the big things we were going to do for him, not his sacrifice, became the meat of our conversations.

Behind closed doors, I was falling apart. I knew I was a total phony. I knew I wasn’t living up to the requirements. The guilt and shame were debilitating. My perception, though, was that if I didn’t present a certain image to the world that I would “ruin my witness”, cause others to stumble, my daughter and I would get kicked out of the place that was going to make me better if I could just try harder, and that eventually I would lose all the friends I made there.

“You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known.” Luke 12:2 MSG

But God, in his grace and mercy, started pulling the masks off.  It may seem cruel to those who haven’t experienced it, but I see it as the greatest gift – God handed me a special mirror. He showed me that what I believed about myself as a little girl was true – I wasn’t “making the grade”. I mess up every day in a thousand different ways. I hurt people. I lie. I cheat. I don’t love like I should. I don’t work as if God is my boss. Not a single day on this earth have I lived up to the covenant. My sin did make Jesus volunteer to go to the cross. Yes, it was excruciatingly painful to see my heart through that special mirror, but absolutely essential.

The God who used to meet me in the dark of the night as a little girl got me all alone in my dark night of the soul. He shut out all the other voices. He coaxed me into his lap. He told me the truth about the cross. The cross is his love letter to me. He’s not the angry mob boss. He is a loving Father. I am his beloved daughter. He lovingly showed me that I have been adding exhausting burdens to his finished work (Matthew 11:28). He reminded me that Jesus rose again. He is ALIVE!! Death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). IT IS FINISHED!!! (John 19:30) He has set this captive free (Luke 4:18).

I’m back to listening to classic rock without the guilt trip and associate with “those” people, fellow grace addicts, all the time. 

LIBERATE

We believe that Christianity needs to, once again, be known by its core message: the forgiveness of sins. We want to introduce God’s good news of grace to a broken and burned out world by announcing over and over again that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18). Liberate

I don’t think it was any accident that I found LIBERATE at a time when I was defeated, suicidal, exhausted, and nearly ready to run away from the Christian faith. God got me alone and showed me my diseased heart. Then, in His mercy and loving-kindness He revealed to me, through the message that LIBERATE proclaims every day and written in His Word, that Jesus came for my diseased heart. I finally started to believe, as Steve Brown says, “God’s Not Mad at You”…at me. For most of my life I lived as if He was…and it took me to some pretty dark places.

LIBERATE published a post I wrote about how God delivered me from a dark place. I won’t say that I don’t struggle anymore, but because I understand God’s Law & Gospel in a way I could never seem to grasp before my time in that dark place, I know that Jesus is with me in my struggle every moment of every day.

I would like to share a sermon with you that Tullian Tchividjian preached, that will give you an idea of the message LIBERATE extends to the weary and heavy-burdened every day…the message Jesus extends to every single traveler in this broken, weary world.

This captive set free hopes every single person reading this finds hope and healing in the truth that It is Finished!

http://liberate.org/