Dear Bible Study Teacher,

I put you on a pedestal.

I wanted to please you at all costs. I wanted you to acknowledge I was spiritually growing at optimal pace, even if I knew you would only be acknowledging a mask. Your opinion of me became more important than God’s.

You said you struggled, but it was hard to believe it was true. You always looked so put together, so stoic, so ready to handle any challenge life threw at you. I thought you had a special Bible study teacher armor that your students could never have…until they reached Bible study teacher status.

I thought you had the tools to fix me – that if I just reached out to you all would be well soon. I hung on your every word.

I scanned your face for traces of praise. When you asked for my help, my ego would soar.

You represented the epitome of holiness for me. I wanted to be like you.

It wasn’t till I suffered great pain and loss that I saw that all the things I once thought were true about you were an illusion.

Though it was painful to let go, to finally see the truth…there is only one savior, and I see it’s not you.

There’s no denying I learned from you, and you helped me in many ways I didn’t deserve. I know what you do is far from easy – teaching God’s word to hurting women in hopes that the Gospel message shines through.

I’m so sorry I put you on a pedestal. That I placed that heavy burden upon you. I finally see that you’re human, and that I’m free to be human too.

Please note: I have been through many Bible studies in my lifetime and I have encountered several online Bible studies as well. If you are a Bible study teacher, please don’t let this post discourage you from what you have been gifted to do. It is not specifically about you. I am just aware of my capacity to be drawn to worship people who seem to have a wisdom about God’s word, and I recognize the danger in that. This could apply to pastors as well. 

Christ alone

 

Hugging My Cactus

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I woke up at 4 am last Friday morning in what has been my default wake-up mode for the past several months – total panic. I was grateful I made it to 4 a.m. though – that means I got, at the least, four hours of sleep.

I lay there for a few moments trying to catch my breath, trying to not let my mind go to all the familiar places that add fuel to my panic. Sometimes all I can muster in the form of prayer is “Jesus, help me.”

I grabbed my phone in hopes of reading something that would calm me down….some good news. I have some scriptures and quotes saved in my Notepad app to read on these all-too frequent mornings.

For some reason, as I was scanning through the titles of the individual notes, the words “One Way Love” entered my mind, so I clicked on the Kindle icon and opened up Tullian Tchividjian’s book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, and landed in Chapter 6 – “The Unexpected Benefits of Hugging A Cactus. I’ve read this chapter several times before and a part of it was even a blog on Tullian’s site at one point, so for a moment I was tempted to scroll through to another chapter. Whether it was laziness or divine intervention, I went ahead and read right where I was.

I want to share the whole chapter, but I’m guessing that would be a big copyright violation, so you might want to get the book. You won’t be disappointed. It’s $1.99 on Kindle today.

The following, as shared in the book, is a part of Robert Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech in which he asked his friend Mel Gibson, who had tanked his reputation in the few years prior to this awards ceremony, to present him with the award:

“Actually, I asked Mel to present this award to me for a reason, because when I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope, and he urged me to find my faith—didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. And he kept a roof over my head, and he kept food on the table. And most importantly, he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings, and if I embraced that part of my soul that was ugly—“hugging the cactus” he calls it—he said that if I “hugged the cactus” long enough, I’d become a man of some humility and that my life would take on new meaning. And I did, and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume that at the time he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him. Or that someday was tonight. So anyway, on this special occasion …I humbly ask that you join me—unless you are completely without sin (in which case you picked the wrong …industry)—in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you have me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough.” [And then they hug]

Hmmm, hug my cactus. I remember reading that before, but this time it really got my mind going. How is that even possible? How can I embrace the ugly part of my soul? Does God think it’s ugly?

I’ve had zero compassion for my ugly side – that part of me that always messes up, that part of me that does everything in her power to screw up my life. All I ever want to do to her is tear her apart, silence her, suffocate her, hide her away, kill her…do anything I can to make sure she never screws up again. But I recognize, she’s not ugly…she’s the filled-with-fear little girl inside of me who is desperate to be fully known, fully loved, with acceptance, understanding and affection.

A peace came over me and tears flooded my eyes as I thought of my little cactus girl. I knew Jesus was there hugging me, filling me up with his love, telling me it was okay to love her, to be compassionate toward her, to see all the mischievousness and screw-ups are her…no, MY ways of crying out for love from a world that won’t ever provide me with the unconditional love I truly crave.

I thought of my daughter. She’s 17 now, almost 18, but I still see her as my little girl. I don’t ever want her to live with the shame and depression I’ve lived with for years. I don’t ever want her to feel the little girl inside her dying. I want her to experience being fully known and loved but I know, as Tullian has said “We are broken people living in a broken world with other broken people.” I’ve already done my fair share of breaking my little girl’s heart. This world has done its fair share of breaking her heart.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying about what it would mean to hug my cactus.

I’ve tried so many self-salvation projects that have only caused me deeper pain and even more chaos in my life. Most of those self-salvation projects tell me to embrace my good and hate my bad. So I end up in these seasons of deep despair where I am convinced there’s so much ugly that I wonder why in the world I hang around. But the thing about those seasons is they bring me to my knees, desperate for a hug from Jesus. I’m so desperate to be loved as I am, not as the more “together” people think I should be, not even as I think I should be.

After years of doing everything but hug that part of me, it’s not easy to stir up that love.

My hope for myself, for my daughter, for all the people I love, is Jesus and what he has accomplished for every single molecule, even the cactus parts, of our souls.

My mind goes there sometimes (a confession)

“Sometimes…the truth is harder than the pain inside.” Erasure

My mind sometimes goes there…to that ugly place where it tells me “if it gets too bad, you know what you can do.” The truth is that it wasn’t just doing this during that excruciatingly dark night of the soul three years ago…it has been going there for years…since I was a teenager, maybe even before that.

You see, sometimes I really screw things up. I go through seasons where it seems I’m getting my shit together – not even close to perfect, but life seems somewhat stable. Then, I go through seasons like the one I’m going through now where it seems I can’t even go one hour without screwing something up, and things just build and build until I feel suffocated and I can’t see the light. When I go through these seasons, my mind goes there. It’s like my mind is at war with my soul. My soul knows that nothing that happens on this earth is worth taking those measures, but my mind just has to keep freaking reminding me…”if it gets too bad, you know (wink wink).”

When the future looks like a road full of endless trouble, my mind goes there. When I fear I won’t be able to take care of myself, much less my daughter, my mind goes there. When rejection feels like death, my mind goes there.

I’ve never come up with a plan or written a letter, but my mind goes there.

Why am I sharing this? Because I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the stigmas those who struggle with mental illness have to face day in and day out, most especially within the church. Because I’m hoping beyond hope that someone out there will say “Me too” and “You’re not crazy” and maybe someone will sit and listen, really really listen, without looking at me like I’m possessed….to my heart, my fears, what I see as dire straits (but in reality are probably things a lot of people go through but are afraid talk about too), and maybe just maybe that would open a door for more of such conversations.

I’ve always hated the word – suicide. It sounds so violent, so final, and it is. I know people who have ended their life and I always wonder…what if they just had one “unblinking” friend who would’ve sat and listened to their worst fears for as long as they needed to release them? What if I could have been that friend?

I find myself wondering if any of my friends battle this monster too. It’s not something that even close friends talk about. There is such a horrible stigma surrounding it, it’s a wonder people get help without having a major breakdown. If I so much as mention sadness or depression with many, not all, of the people in my life, the platitudes, quick fixes, self-help and spiritual warfare strategies start spilling out….or some friends just disappear. Maybe, like a friend on social media said “only Jesus can handle that much honest.” I am in endless conversations with Jesus, but sometimes it helps to have someone “with skin on”, who I don’t have to pay*, sitting across or beside, holding my hand, loving me where I am.

My favorite scripture over the past several months has been 2 Cor 12::9 – “But He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power my rest on me.”

So, I guess this is me boasting about my weakness.

Deep in my heart, I know the Gospel. I know that no matter how dark, scary and messy this life gets, Jesus is “close to the brokenhearted and he saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) I know that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench…” (Isaiah 42::2-3)

I’m praying that what I know in my heart will go to my head and this battle will end.

I went to a beautiful Catholic funeral this morning and I heard a song I haven’t heard in years…

“Be not afraid, I go before you always….come, follow me, and I will give you rest.” -Bob Dufford

Lord, please help me to not be afraid, no matter what fiery trials may come my way. Thank you for the unblinking friends you send my way.

*I am in therapy and recovery

 

 

 

 

The Peace That is Not of This World by Henri Nouwen

Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn’t cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who says, “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness” (see Matt. 5:3-11); the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.
Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.
In Adam’s name I say to you, “Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected.”
Henri Nouwen, via The Henri Nouwen Society

I’m ALOT worse than you think I am

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:15

I came face to face with the many demons that lurk in my soul 3 years ago. There was no question in my mind that I am bad (and that nothing good lives in me). I came to the realization that many of the “good” things I’ve done were, for the most part, born from evil, selfish motives. I grieved that I was so damn wrong, and that I would never be right.

After months of life in the deepest darkest pit of despairing of myself and wanting to end it all, the light came back into my life. The light came not because I got better, found some new formula to improve myself, or checked all the items off the Christian to-do list.

“The Evangelical industrial complex has done its part to escort the gospel to a pre-Reformation level of darkness. Time to turn on the light.” Zachary James Cole

Light came because He came. Jesus came for broken, messed up, n’er do well Christina.

Tullian Tchividjian says “Until you first realize how bad you really are, you cannot know how good Jesus really is.”

I’m not saying I didn’t know Jesus before or desire a relationship with him, but I was still hanging on to what I’d been told for years, to what was so obviously not working – that if I worked hard enough, dug deep enough, I would tap into some goodness buried deep down inside of me and make things right – live a prosperous, victorious, happy Christian life.

The first step of recovery is: “I realize I am not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.”

That’s quite the opposite of what evangelical Christianity taught me. Yes, I did hear about surrending to him, letting go of my agenda, seeking truth in His word…but that message got muddied with self-help theology, a culture of denying or minimizing pain and suffering, and exhausting sin-management techniques.

I confess that I have not moved past Step 1. Every. Single. Day. I have to return to Step 1.

I cannot find within myself any sort of anything to make myself right. I am alot worse than you think I am. I am a lot worse than I think I am. I don’t even have to dig anymore…every day I get new insights into my depraved broken, sinful nature. I still have days where I’m surprised with just how broken. Sometimes I’m surprised I have any friends at all. It’s lonely living with that brokenness, one day hoping people would find out the truth about how messy I am so I can be free, the next day, using every worldly tool available to cover up my sin.

I know I deserve death. Death by firing squad. The worst possible death.

But….

I continue down this road with Jesus, and a few good “non-blinking” friends who are allowing me to be more real than I ever imagined. His light shines into my darkness, and I can live another day knowing he’s not leaving me, no matter what trash he may find in the depths of my soul or what messes I make in my daily life. My sin is no surprise to him.

He came. He lived. He died. He rose. – for me, for you.

“Cheer up; you’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but in Jesus you’re far more loved than you could have ever imagined.” Steve Brown

 

Despite how I feel, He loves me still

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Learning to live honest when you’ve lived most of your life in moralistic dishonesty is hard. Real me always fighting the me I “should be”. Marci Preheim

I confess I’m having one of those “I hate myself” weeks. If you say you don’t have those days/weeks, I’ll wonder if you’re human or will assume the prosperity gospel has you in it’s clutches (if neither of those are the case, I’m sorry for making those assumptions). The days between my birthday and Christmas have historically been hard. Every year I tell myself “this year will be different”, but every year – HARD!

I had a great birthday. I got to see some of my high school best friends – they spoiled me with pina coladas, a good lunch, dating advice (its been over 10 years..as if a date is on the horizon) and tons of laughs. The day after, though, like a ton of bricks, I felt my desperation. No, I didn’t have a hangover from the pina coladas…I have my doubts there was any alcohol in them.

My life is an absolute mess – a mess that I can’t clean up. You might say (because I’ve heard it before) “Well, at least you don’t have it as bad as so and so.” Truth be told, I’m tired of that comparison crap. Life is hard. You don’t live under my skin. You don’t know the thoughts and demons that I deal with on a daily basis…and I don’t know yours. As Tullian Tchividjian said in a sermon “You are not acting super-spiritual and demonstrating some heroic strength by pretending life is not hard.”

Often on these days those ugly thoughts return. I don’t want to kill myself, but I have thoughts that tell me I don’t deserve to be alive, to have breath in my lungs. Usually there are faces associated with those thoughts – faces of people who have hurt me, shut me down, minimized my pain, or rejected me. I know who the real accuser is, and I know those are lies, believe me I know, but that is how I experience the dark days.

But…despite how I feel, He loves me still…

“He knows me. He knows what satisfies my heart. He knows what gives me peace. He knows all my fears, my suppressed financial worries, the haunting sense that I may have missed what I was supposed to do with my life, that I’ve failed Him and DON’T KNOW WHO TO TELL. He knows I don’t believe fully what I claim to believe.” John Lynch

There are a handful of people I feel safe enough to share my brutal truth with. I shared this with a few of them yesterday:

“I’m struggling to believe it (that He loves me)…today. I know He does…but there are just days when it’s nearly impossible to believe.”

If you come from a legalistic, prosperity gospel frame of mind, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking of all the things I need “to-do” to get out of this funk. That was my frame of mind for years. Moralism was my drug of choice for too long and it really screwed me up.

Escaping legalism, seeking freedom and learning to trust in “Christ alone” is hard, but it is worth the pain, the dark days, the confusion, the lost friendships, etc. etc.

My friend Marci shared her family mantra with me yesterday, and I love it – #livehonest. That’s how I want to live, because…

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9