Shannon Dittemore
  • Bible Stuff
  • July21st

    4 Comments

    This morning while lying in bed, listening to my children roar at one another from their separate sides of the room, God spoke.

    To me.

    He does this from time to time and I’m so very grateful.

    And humbled.

    Wanna know what He said?

    Just four little words.

    “I have a plan.”

    That’s it. That’s all He said. See, God’s not into flowery talk. He knew what I needed to hear. And these four little words completed the puzzle my mind’s been grinding away at for the past couple weeks. And while I’ve been feeling a bit distant from my hopes and dreams–distant even from Him–God knew that the hitch in my spirit has been a lack of faith. Not that I didn’t believe, but that I’m so very human and I forget.

    I forget that God has a plan. I forget that I’m part of the plan. That my life–my successes and failures–have a purpose. I get all caught up in logistics and the “how to” and the “what next,” that I neglect to sit at Christ’s feet and listen to Him, to His heart. To His plan.

    And I’ll be honest, God having a “plan” doesn’t mean life’s going to be easy.

    After all, God had a plan for Jeremiah. You remember Jeremiah? The “weeping prophet.” The guy who was called to prophecy destruction to God’s chosen nation. The guy God said this to, “Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.” Yeah. God had a plan for Him.

    God had a plan for Job. Ah, Job. We sing about Him on Sundays. “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering.” Job: The guy who lost absolutely everything. The guy God allowed Satan to attack. Uh huh. Say what you will, but Job’s suffering was part of God’s plan too.

    Christians pray against plans like these in our prayer meetings.

    And while I won’t try to convince you (or myself) that my daily life includes persecution like the kind Jeremiah suffered, or Job’s brand of unearned tragedy, my spirit, dependent upon the same God they served, learns from the courage they brandished.

    There’s comfort in knowing I’m right in the thick of it. Right in the center of God’s plan and purpose for my life. It may be hard. It may not make any sense, but the minute God whispered, “I have a plan,” the pieces fell into place. The masterpiece God’s creating of me and my life is not complete, but I have this assurance: God has a plan.

    You know what’s funny? My first response to his quiet reminder was to sit up and begin to scratch out my own plan. “Okay, God,” I said, “you have a plan! Woot! So, here’s what I’m gonna need you to do.”

    Hmmm….

    You ever try to tell God what His plan should look like?

    After laughing at me (cause God likes to laugh), He brought verse after verse to remembrance.

    Matthew 6 says this about our worries: Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.

    In all our anxiety, we must not toil or spin.

    Matthew 6 also says this: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

    God and His kingdom come first. That’s a BIG part of the plan. No wonder suffering has a place. No wonder pain and endurance have value. The plan isn’t all about me.

    And, one of my favorite verses, Philippians 4 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

    Take your requests to God with a thankful heart. Prayer! What a novel thought!

    So, if you’re like me, and you often forget that God has a plan, I’m here to remind you, just as the Holy Spirit reminded me: God has a plan. And if you’re seeking God, if you’re aiming for Him, you’re not going to miss it. Don’t buy into that kind of lie. We serve a big, sovereign God. A God who thinks His plan is awfully important. So, stop worrying! Be of good cheer!

    God has a plan.

    And you are a part of it!

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  • July11th

    7 Comments

    I’m an information junkie.

    When making a decision, I want options and I’d like to know just what they are.

    Quickly.

    In an age where computers are assumed vital, this is easily accomplished. Each morning, I fire up the thinking machine on my desk and within seconds, Fox News is dumping information into my lap. More information than a soul could possibly need. I scan the headlines while a cup of caffeinated-something-or-other keeps me chugging along just like the hard drive whirring within the plastic box at my side. The tower, it’s called. Just one of the many stops the daily news makes on its way to the nesting place between my ears.

    But, Fox News isn’t my only source of info (some of you just heaved a huge sigh of relief).

    I read ten or fifteen blogs a week; Google and I are fast-friends; there are RSS feeds that slide right into my email inbox; and Wikipedia is a frequent stop of mine. I don’t even (much) mind the oft-biased opinions threaded into the commentary spewed at me from the world at large. I’m smart enough to weed out the opinions. I’m well read. I know what I believe.

    And yet, my moderately intelligent, sponge of a brain has a limit.

    Like that line on the Bisquick Shake ‘N’ Pour container: You can keep adding water, surpass the recommended measurement. Fill it right up to the lid, in fact, and be darn proud of yourself for squeezing so much in. But, I’m not quite sure you’ll get what you’re looking for. For starters, I think you’ll have an awfully hard time getting the pancake mix and the water to successfully meld. To get full value out of your “shake,” the water and mix need a little elbow room. They need a place to dance around in. Without some empty space, you may just end up with a bloated tub of water and powder.

    But, let’s say you’ve got the Paula Dean anointing and do get that itty-bitty handful of mix to blend with the oodles of water you’ve added. My guess is you’re going to have nothing but a slew of sad, thin, little pancakes. No substance. No yum-factor. Nothing for the chocolate chips to melt into. Just wafer thin, useless carb carriers. No one’s gonna want to eat ’em and all your effort will have been for naught.

    Often, when I’ve been on an information binge, I’m just like that pathetic Shake ‘N’ Pour container. I somehow exceed the recommended dose of global, situational, and social advisement, and there I sit: a bloated, good for nothing info-hog unable to successfully process the junk crammed into my head. These days are anxious days. Impatient ones. The cogs are hard at work trying to force too much info into the saturated sponge that has become my mind.

    At times like these, when I’ve thoroughly gorged myself, it becomes necessary to unwind a bit–make room for the new facts and opinions to dance with the old ones. But, even this is only moderately successful, and it can take days for me to return to a sane place where thinking things of substance trumps regurgitating good-for-nothing bylines.

    Advice from here. Advice from there. Tips on how to be successful. Testimonials from those who’ve failed. Tragic news stories from across the globe. Sports scores and The Fashion Police. “How-to” books and the like. While information technology can be a very liberating tool, I am finding that it can also handicap me. Too much, too quickly and I’m toast. I’m a walking sound bite–a billboard for the latest news I’ve ingested.

    And that can’t be the way God intended it.

    Perhaps it’s the difference between moderation and excess. Maybe it’s understanding the difference between the information I need and the information I want. Or it could be that while I’m craving knowledge, I should really be seeking wisdom.

    James, the brother of Christ, talks a lot about wisdom. He says this, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

    Maybe before sidling into the computer chair, I should open my Bible. Maybe filling my mind with a morning foundation of God stuff–pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable wisdom from above–will remind me that collecting information will not make me wise.

    I’ll say it again: Collecting information will not make me wise.

    It will not make you wise.

    The only way to redeem knowledge for wisdom is to apply the lessons of the Word to our busy, info-inundated lives. And to apply the Word, we must know the Word. And we will never, ever know the Word if we are spending our day searching computers, newspapers, or televisions for more information.

    While extricating ourselves from a routine of intelligence gathering may be painful, I’m betting it pays off in dividends. I’m betting we’ll be more productive and more reasonable. We’ll be less anxious and less busy. If we swap out half the time we spend searching for meaningless information, trading it instead for time digging through the Word, I’m guessing our daily satchel of cares will be a little lighter and our heart a lot happier.

    We may know a tad less, but we’ll have a direct line to that wisdom from above.

    And that sounds like the kind of junkie I’d like to be.

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  • June24th

    6 Comments

    I like to be entertained. I do.

    My first job–if you don’t count folding the church bulletin–was at a lazer tag facility. Birthday parties, tournaments, video games, all-nighters. One of these days, I’ll do a post on the life-altering days of marshaling lazer tag games full of sweaty grown men, shooting their hearts out while the likes of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” fills the black light arena with techno craziness. Fun stuff.

    My second job–if you don’t count the short stint I had at a law firm during college–was at Hollywood Video where I worked my way from customer service, to management, to a Senior VP’s Executive Assistant. It was, by far, one of the best learning experiences of my life. And, I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about the management, perception, and marketing of entertainment.

    During both of these jobs, I acted, performing in such shows as “Our Town” and “The Crucible.”

    Like I said, I like to be entertained. And, apparently, I like to entertain.

    Nowadays, I write. It’s my outlet. My expression, if you will, of the creativity screaming inside me. And I maintain that imaginative characters had better find a way to puncture their soul and let ingenuity run free. Because creativity hates to be trapped. Really, it’s a monster. A viscous, life-sucking beast that will claw up your insides if you don’t find a way to let it out and play.

    My guess is that you’ve got a raging creativity monster inside of you as well. Some are smaller than others. Some are fluffy pink things who are satisfied with dissecting the intricacies of handbag construction, and some are slimy reptilian creatures sitting heavily in your gut, refusing to leave you in peace until you hand them a brush and canvas.

    I’m a fan of creativity. I’m a fan of entertainment. I’m a fan of using the gifts we’ve been given to enrich the world around us. I like amusement parks and movie theatres. I crave bookshelves and well-written stories. I enjoy fireworks displays and art shows. I’m a sucker for galleries and community playhouses.

    Yes, I’ll admit it.

    I like eye candy.

    Now, go ahead and say it.

    Come on…

    Let’s all be real.

    You like eye candy, too.

    It’s okay. I understand. Entirely.

    Disclaimer: Candy consumed in mass quantity is a bad thing. And some candy will kill both you and your creative soul. You should stop consuming that kind immediately.

    But, I deviate.

    My point is this: Creativity, and the appreciation of it, is not a bad thing, but we do not exist to be entertained.

    Can I get an “Amen”?

    The Christian community is full of creative souls, and I am incredibly grateful. There is nothing more precious than our creativity being used to worship the ultimate king of creativity, the creator Himself. We don’t exist to be entertained by Him. We exist to know Him. To worship Him. To spread His good news–that we were all wretched in our sin and that even in our spiritual deadness, Christ came and was crucified. He died taking the penalty of sin with Him and then three days later, He rose from the dead, conquering death and its hold on humanity forever. That’s why we exist. That’s it. Him.

    But oftentimes, this “entertain me” mentality rides the laces of our shoes and lands on the floor of the church. It worms its way up the legs of church-goers until what we have are pews and pews of dissident souls waiting to be entertained. And this, my friends, disturbs me.

    I like a rockin’ worship service. Skits while they pass the offering bucket are welcome. And, funny preachers can be endearing. But let me say this: Worshiping God does not require a single instrument. It doesn’t require a cool worship leader or a tattooed drummer (love you Jordan!). It doesn’t require candles in the corner, or prayer stones. To worship God the Father, you don’t need a witty preacher or a Starbucks kiosk in the foyer.

    “Then what does worship look like?” you ask.

    I give you Romans 12:1: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

    My body. A sacrifice. Holy. Pleasing to God.

    Twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the preacher to convince me to come back next week is not a sacrifice. It does not make me holy. And it does not please God. Offering ourselves up to God to be used for His purposes–that’s worship. Doing our darndest to keep ourselves pure and holy before the Lord–that’s worship.

    And the mind-boggling part is that when we’re genuinely seeking to be used by God, for His glory and not for our own… When we’re striving for a lifestyle of holiness, God often challenges us to use our creative gifts and abilities to bring honor to Him. To enrich the body. To draw others to His kingdom.

    When we choose worship over entertainment, God cracks us open and the giftings He’s placed near to our heart pour out onto others. Our creativity has an outlet. Our God is lifted high.

    When entertainment is our goal, we’re often let down. When worship is our goal, we choose humility and allow Christ to lift us up.

    It’s almost like He created it that way…

    Your creativity in the hands of the creator.

    What an amazing thing.

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  • June1st

    4 Comments

    My sixth grade teacher royally offended me once.

    Let’s call her Mrs. X.

    The bell rings for recess and my peers file out. All except me and the popular girl. I stay back to collect the papers strewn about (yeah, I was that kid), and Popular Girl stands at the teacher’s desk, reviewing a homework assignment.

    “You need to focus, young lady,” Mrs. X tells her, exasperated. “Be more like, more like… Shannon!”

    I am flattered. And mortified. Popular Girl hardly ever lets me play double-dutch with her friends. I’ll never get the invite now.

    “But, she’s soooo smart!” Popular Girl whines.

    “No!” Mrs X says sternly, slapping her hand down hard on the desk. “No, she’s not!”

    I told you she offended me. My bottom lip quivers. I drop the stack of papers and Mrs. X catches sight of me.

    She sighs. “Well, yes. Yes, she is smart. But that’s not why she does well. She does well because she listens. Because she pays attention. Because she wants to learn. That’s what I mean. Be like that. Now, go. Recess is almost over.”

    It’s a horrible cover-up, and earns me no points with Popular Girl. She cuts her eyes at me and walks out the door in her brand new jelly shoes. Still, I gather up the papers and take them to Mrs. X. She smiles her apology and I shuffle out of the classroom. I pass right by the girls playing double-dutch and make my way to the dodge ball court. Everybody’s welcome at dodge ball.

    It’s a silly little story. But, one that has stayed with me through the years. I’ve always had an interest in the way things work, always enjoyed learning new things. So, really, the teacher was right. I’m not some brainiac with the answers to life’s biggest problems. I’m just a kid in worn-out sneakers who likes to learn. That’s who I was in sixth grade and that’s who I am now.

    Though, at times, my pride takes a hit.

    It’s nice to feel superior. Nice to feel smarter than everyone around me. But, it’s not a truth. It’s not reality. And, it’s humbling when someone comes along who actually KNOWS more than I do.

    Now, I have no problem admitting that there are things I can’t do. Things I’ve never been any good at: Math, hula-hooping, ice skating, to name just a few. And it doesn’t pain me in the slightest to hand my crown off to those who excel in these areas. It’s when I feel I have a skill mastered that I get the most touchy.

    With the exception of God, my family, and my church, writing has been my chief focus of late. I spend time reading, studying the craft. I pray about it. I meet with a writing group. I write whenever I possibly can, and I take pride in the work I pump out. And when someone corrects me, when someone is brave enough to make a suggestion, I become that sixth grade girl again. My lip quivers and I’m tempted to drop the work in my hands. Tempted to run from the room, back to the dodge ball court where everyone is accepted.

    But, it’s vanity. It’s pride that drives me to that place.

    When I’m there, consumed with self-deprecating thoughts of worthlessness and failure, the words of James, the brother of Christ, bring me back to a firm foundation.

    And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. –James 1:4-5

    We must endure through the things we see as trials. Through the things that cause us to question. We must ask for wisdom and we must never, ever assume we know all there is to know. We all need wisdom, and God often uses the people around us to humble and teach us. We must allow ourselves to be teachable. Learning, even the hard way, leads to growth.

    The apostle Peter is also a great inspiration to me. Read what he says:

    You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. –1 Peter 5:6-7

    The writing industry, while unique in its own way, is like most other businesses. Everyone’s trying to get ahead. Everyone wants to come up with that one great story, the one that will speak to the masses, that will earn them kudos and back slaps. Everyone is looking for advancement. When I find myself swept up in the hysteria of the whole thing, I remind myself of Peter’s words: HUMBLE YOURSELVES under the MIGHTY HAND OF GOD, that HE may exalt you at the PROPER TIME.

    It’s all in God’s hands. We can be nothing but the Potter’s clay.

    Pliable. Teachable. Accessible.

    And when He’s ready, He will lift us up.

    At the proper time, friends.

    At the proper time.

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  • May13th

    4 Comments

    Until today, I knew only one thing about the stock market: If it plummets, so do my plans to visit the moon.

    (Sidebar) See, Matt and I think it would be awesome if, for our 50th wedding anniversary, we could book a condo on the moon.

    “Earth-view, please!”

    If for some reason, the condo’s not a possibility, then we’ll settle for a trip into space on one of the privately owned spaceships they’re building these days.  By 2052 this really shouldn’t be a problem.

    Unless of course, the stock market is more of a bear than a bull. See, our retirement is all tied up in stocks and such, and this brings me to the knowledge I’ve gained today about the market.

    The phrase “bulls and bears” has always confused me. I thought it was some sort of math thing which immediately throws me into a tizzy. But, today, curiosity overwhelmed me. I gave in and Googled it. And guess what. It has nothing, NOTHING, to do with math.

    According to Investopedia, there are a few theories about how the terms came into existence. Here’s one of them:

    First of all, let’s remember that bears are sluggish and bulls spirited and burly… The terms “bear” and “bull” are thought to derive from the way in which each animal attacks its opponents. That is, a bull will thrust its horns up into the air, while a bear will swipe down. These actions were then related metaphorically to the movement of a market: if the trend was up, it was considered a bull market; if the trend was down, it was a bear market.

    Cool, huh. Now, I actually laughed a bit when I read it the first time. I mean, seriously. If a bull or bear attacks you, it doesn’t really matter HOW they do it. You’re still a goner. But, it’s just a metaphor right? So, I thought I’d steal it. And since I pin only one hope on the stock market–the moon, people, the moon–it got me thinking about Christianity.

    Funny, huh? I read “bull” and “bear” and I think church. Hmmm…

    But, seriously. Parallels can be drawn. Check this one out:

    Some of us attack life like a bull, spirited and burly. These people focus all their energy on lifting up, up, up. I like these people! They make me tired sometimes, but they encourage me. They lift me up! And then there are those of us who use every bit of our strength to shove others down. These people are miserable so they make everyone else miserable. I’m not really a fan of this population.

    There’s a bit of a problem with this metaphor. Do you see it? Yup. Me too.

    The original “bulls and bears” metaphor could relate to a single stock, but often these terms are used to describe the market as a whole (e.g., “It’s a bull market.”).

    Like the market, people have the potential to be both a bull and a bear. We all spend time as each of these metaphoric beasts. It’s not a fun thing to admit about ourselves, but it’s true.

    Some of the time, we’ve got our priorities in order. We’re preferring others above ourselves. We’re lifting our neighbors up instead of tearing them down. Some of the time, we remember the reason for our existence and we do our Creator proud.

    And then there are those other times. You know, when we’re more concerned about ourselves and our own problems than the well being of those around us.  We have things to say and we’re going to say them, regardless of the fallout. Regardless of the damage we’re bound to cause.  Maybe we’re being stretched and it’s our way of relieving the tension. Maybe we’ve held it together for so long that we feel entitled to a breakdown. Or maybe we’ve simply taken our eyes off the prize.

    Maybe we’ve forgotten that it’s not all about us.

    Maybe we’re a grumpy old bear because Christ is no longer in our cross hairs. (Imagine that! A bear with a gun!) In any case, we’ve lost sight of Him. Which means, we’re no longer aiming for Him. No longer trying to emulate Him.

    It’s no wonder we rage at others. It’s no surprise we’re jittery and unsettled. We’re focusing on the trials, on the tribulations. On the very things that should be tugging our attention back to Christ. Back to the One who is saving us, who has saved us, and who will ever be our Savior.

    So, while my use of this metaphor is intrinsically flawed, I’ll never hear the words “bull” or “bear” without wondering just which one I’m being. Like the stock market, am I trending up or am I trending down. Am I being sluggish or spirited?

    Are my eyes on Christ? Or are they on the world around me?

    If I’m being honest, my eyes drift from the prize quite often. It’s so easy to forget our purpose, so easy to hurt others in the midst of our pain. But I come with encouragement today. We can turn our eyes back to Christ at any time. When I find myself trending down, the chorus of this old song inspires me. I hope it does the same for you.

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
    Look full in His wonderful face,
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
    In the light of His glory and grace.
    –Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, by Helen H. Lemmel.

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  • May6th

    4 Comments

    Mankind is selfish. It’s in our very nature.

    And this is how I know: My son, Justus, cheats at marbles.

    I didn’t teach him to cheat. His Dad didn’t teach him to cheat. He understands that the game has rules. He knows cheating is wrong. But man! He just wants that shiny green marble so much!

    “It was kinda on the line, Mom. I didn’t nudge it, really!”

    Ahem.

    Of course, the Bible has some things to say on the subject as well. Take Romans 7:18 for example:

    “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.”

    The willing is present in me, but the doing of good is not. That’s intense!

    Think of Adam and Eve. They get a bad rap, but really, the first truly selfish act is seen in the Garden of Eden. God tells this naked couple to steer clear of a single tree. ONE STINKING TREE! And what do they do? They eat of it. Eve first and then her husband, Adam. Of course, the snake was there. A little temptation. A little deception. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the snake.

    But, blame can only be shifted so far. The Bible tells us in James that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” So, Adam and Eve, the first humans to walk the face of the earth, were, at one time, sinless. But, according to Scripture, it was their own lust, their own desire that carried them into sin.

    God says, “Do not eat of the tree. Don’t even touch it. Or you will die.”

    The snake says, “You’re not going to die! In fact, eat that shiny apple and you will be like God!”

    The minute we believe the lie, the very second we give credence to our own selfish desires, we’re in trouble. Only complete denial of our flesh can keep us from sin. It’s only by walking in the Spirit that our selfish nature can be overcome. But how do we do that? How can we walk in the Spirit? It is only through Christ and Christ alone that such a feat can be achieved. Read Galatians 2:20:

    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

    We must die to ourselves. When our own selfish desires dance before our eyes, when they fly in the face of the Creator’s commands, we must resist. James 4:7 says,

    “Submit therefore to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.”

    I’ve noticed that Justus has a harder time cheating when he’s looking me in the face. It’s when his greedy little eyes are on the shiny marble that I have cause for concern. When his eyes are on me, he remembers just why we’re playing. He remembers that it’s our time together that’s important. Not the marble.

    In the same way, we must keep our eyes on the Creator. We must remember just why we’re living this life. When we take our eyes off Him–when we let our own desires dictate our focus–we’re sure to screw up. It’s in our nature. Our sinful, selfish nature. We must choose Christ, everyday. Every decision. And just why should we do that? Why should we care more about His purpose for our life than the shiny marble we can reach out and grab? The answer’s right there in Galatians 2:20.

    When you’re tempted to lie, cheat, steal… When that ripe, luscious apple is within your reach… Turn your attention to Christ. Crucify your flesh. Submit your will to the Creator’s. Remember it is no longer you living, but Christ in you.

    Because He loves you. Because He gave Himself for you.

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  • April26th

    4 Comments

    I have Fibromyalgia.

    Or so they tell me.

    “They” includes my primary care physician and a handful of specialists. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with strange, wide-spread muscle pain. After the birth of my son, Justus, the pain intensified and my body didn’t recover nearly as quickly following a flare-up. When Justus was about two-years-old, I thought it was high-time for some answers.

    Only, there really aren’t any.

    It took a while for any diagnosis to be given. After x-rays and blood tests, chiropractors and physical therapists, came Dr. Thelen: The expert. He ran his own tests, of course, eventually attributing my pain to the disorder known as “Fibromyalgia.” For months I’d been looking for some sort of peace, some answer to the riddle, some name to put to the ugly face of my pain. When, finally it was given, I felt no peace, no weight being lifted. Instead, I felt only frustration.

    Fibromyalgia doesn’t really have a treatment. There are pills that may help. May. There are anti-depressants I can take. I won’t even get into my discomfort with that. I’ve done pressure point injections and a variety of muscle relaxers which don’t do a thing. In fact, there are tons and tons of doctors who don’t even believe it’s a real disorder. I don’t have an opinion on this assertion. I just know that it hurts. Oh, it won’t kill me. It’s not that kind of thorn. If I really do have Fibromyalgia, it’s most likely due to an over-active nervous system sending pain signals to my muscles. Fun.

    Now I know there are lots and lots of people who suffer more severely than I do–some within the Fibromyalgia population and some without. Though, if I am being quite honest, there are days when it’s hard to imagine. Not because I can’t believe it, but because when I’m in the throes of a particularly viscous cycle, it’s all I can do to focus on the day to day, much less consider the pain of others. I am lucky–those days are few and far between. But, Saturday was one of them. For the longest time, I felt horribly sorry for myself when I’d have a flare up like the one I had on Saturday–when some muscle, usually in my neck or back, would seize up. I’d lay with ice or a heating pad and sob while others helped me with menial tasks, while my friends and family carried on with life, while my husband took care of the kids.

    Now, both resting and sobbing are part and parcel of the whole Fibromyalgia experience, but it was the deep, dark state of my heart that came to concern me.

    I hate weakness. I hate the feel of it, the smell of it, the rumor of it. I hate the idea of someone focusing on the “disorder” of my life instead of the good stuff, the God stuff. That’s what I want to shine. Good, excited, wonderful, happy, God things. Noble, pure things. Not sweaty, grunty, heating pad, ice-pack, balling-my-eyes-out-whenever-I-adjust-my-pillow kind of things.

    But this is my reality. Sometimes those things are mine too. I could lie to you. I could tell you that, in Jesus’ name, I’ve been healed. But, I haven’t. And that’s not a lack of faith. That’s reality.

    Let me clarify. I absolutely believe God heals. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He can. I’ve seen it. And to be real, it sometimes makes dealing with the pain quite difficult. To know that God has healed others, is healing others, but hasn’t chosen to heal me. That’s a tough one. But, for me and for Job, and for many, many others, it is a truth. It is reality.

    It was also a reality for the Apostle Paul. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, he says this (verses 7-10):

    Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

    Paul knew, just as you and I know, that God can and does heal. How hard it must have been, being one of the Apostles, to have to deal with such a thorn! But Paul came to a good place, an inspiring place. I don’t know what Paul’s thorn was. He never specifies. Different opinions have been thrown about: an illness, an injury, even a person (don’t over-think that one, friends). But, whatever it was, he begged and pleaded with God, asking Him to remove it. Still, God refused. We don’t fully understand this either. We don’t know to what purpose God allowed the thorn to remain, but we get a glimpse of God’s nature here: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

    Let me just say that I have no idea how power is perfected in weakness, but like Paul I know it’s not perfected when I’m exalting myself and boasting. Something I probably do far more than sobbing in weakness. My guess is that it has something to do with our utter dependence on God during that time, during our weak moments. I know how humbling it is to depend on my family and friends for help when I’m in pain. It is even more humbling to throw my sinful self at God’s feet and say, “Help, please. I hurt and I need relief. I need you, here and now. I’ll take you however you come. Will you take me? Will you take this sinful, selfish, boastful, disorder of a person and strengthen me?”

    It’s been said that God will never give you more than you can handle. I disagree. He constantly gives us more than we can handle. If He didn’t, would we ever run to Him? I’m learning, as Paul did, that the thorn in my flesh keeps me from thinking too highly of myself. More importantly it reminds me that it’s His grace that is sufficient for me. Not my successes, not my visions, my writing, my prophecies. Not my goodness and my purity. Not my religious piety. It’s His grace and His grace alone that leads me through the dark times.

    Does it lead you?

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  • April1st

    4 Comments

    As an eager Sunday-schooler I knew all the moves to this song.

    God’s not dead. NO! He is alive.
    God’s not dead. NO! He is alive.
    God’s not dead. NO! He is alive.
    I can feel Him all over me.

    There’s more to it, of course. Lyrics about feeling God in my hands and feet. Feeling Him in the air. We got to really feel God all over the place in that little Sunday School classroom.

    As I got older, though, this juvenile song stirred up quite a bit of confusion in my mind. There are times, you see, when I don’t feel God at all. Not a lick. Not a tickle. Definitely no goosebumps. And there are times when I feel unloved, unwanted, alone, and abandoned. Those certainly aren’t attributes of God as listed in the Bible. So, what does that mean? Does that mean God’s dead? Is God’s aliveness based on my ability to feel Him? Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If there’s no one there to see it fall, does it make a sound?

    That sort of thinking is ludicrous, right? Of course the tree makes a sound, and of course, God’s not dead. But, so often we live our lives as if He were.

    For whatever reason, we each spend time walking through life feeling very much alone. Sometimes our own actions have led us to dark and silent places–places we wish God would just whisk us away from. Sometimes the very season we find ourselves in requires solitude, and we interpret our distance from others as distance from God. Sometimes, God speaks to us ever so softly and we must learn to quiet the world around us long enough to listen.

    And then there are times when I wonder if the God of all Creation–the God who made you and knew you before you were born–knows that you depend too much on your emotions and not nearly enough on the Word. Don’t mistake me. God is the one who created our emotions and God is the one who, so often, allows us to feel His presence. But, our feelings are not to be depended on to the detriment of Scripture.

    Like you, I feel lots of things in the course of a day. Love, hate, fear, resentment, sadness, pain. I feel anxious and lost. I have disappointments that drown me tears, and passions that turn my vision red. If salvation… If God’s existence was based on the feelings of humanity, we’d have killed Him long ago.

    Oh wait. We did.

    Just over 2,000 years ago, fear and anger reigned supreme in Jerusalem and an innocent man was crucified. I’m sure He wasn’t the first innocent man put to death, but this time hatred and confusion killed God. Emotions ran untamed and godless hands nailed our Savior to a tree. Oh, Christ wasn’t surprised. Not by any means. He knew the innate frailty of our human state. Our ridiculous dependence on how we feel. He knew the assertion the He was the “King of the Jews” would incite a rebellion. He knew some would believe–some would feel His Lordship–and He knew that some wouldn’t. Still, He came. He came because without His sacrifice we would be eternally separated from Him. All the warm fuzzy feelings in the universe can’t change that fact.

    It isn’t our emotions that are bad, friends. It’s our utter dependence on them. Sheryl Crow croons loud and clear over radio waves the world-over, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” To that I can only repeat what Proverbs tells us twice: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” So often we bank on what seems right. On what feels good.

    And unfortunately, the Sanhedrin thought the same way. It seemed only right to them to turn Christ over to the Roman authorities. Their eyes were blind to the true nature of Christ: completely God, completely man, and wholly able to carry the wrongs of the world to the cross and there defeat sin and death forever.

    That’s right! He defeated death. Three days after a city dominated by their emotions murdered Christ, that same God-man rose from the dead. See, your fear and hate, your sadness and desperation can convince you that God is dead, but history tells us a different story. Whether you feel it or not, God walked out of that tomb and is alive and well today. Your feelings are neither here nor there on the matter. And though God often fills us with happiness, peace, and joy, the absence of them in our lives doesn’t change the truth that the God of the universe–the God who created you and me, the God who died at the hands of angry people, and defeated death in spite of all our feelings on the subject–is still in control, still calling your name, still knocking on the door of your heart.

    Believe me, friends, God’s not dead. He is alive. Not because I can feel it, but because it’s true. The Bible tells me so.

    Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. –Acts 2:22-24

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  • March26th

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    I have to brag. My five-year-old is a fantastic reader. Fantastic. In fact, his kindergarten class is going to be performing “The Three Piggy Opera” and Justus has landed the coveted role of “Narrator.” To prepare, we’ve been reading tons and tons of books.

    Oh, alright, that’s just an excuse. We’d read tons and tons of books anyway. We practically live in the children’s section of our local Barnes and Noble. In case you mistake my tone, I say that proudly.

    This morning, we were finishing off one of “The Magic Tree House Books” (which I highly recommend, by the way). In this particular chapter book, “Afternoon on the Amazon,” Jack and Annie are being chased by a rather persistent monkey. At one point, the monkey claps his hands together and screeches with laughter. As he swung away from the siblings, Justus interrupted the narrative.

    “I can see it! Mom, I can see it all in my mind.”

    He jumped off the couch and reenacted the scene. He scratched his pits and banged his chest. He “oo-oo’d” and “ee-ee’d.” He clapped his hands and pantomimed swinging away. If Justus is a fantastic reader, he’s a downright perfect monkey!

    His enthusiasm got me thinking and the mere recollection of his declaration, “I can see it!” evokes all sorts of emotions.

    Oh, how we need child-like faith!

    We need to emerge from our fig tree–from our time alone with God–with the kind of faith that says,

    “I’ve read it, Father, and I CAN SEE IT! You know that part, Jesus, the part where you fed the thousands with five loaves and two fish? I can see it! And that time, Lord, where you came to Peter walking on the water, the storm tossing and turning, the little boat thrashing about. I can actually see it! And what about that last night Lord? The last time you dined with your friends? Do you remember? Well, today, as I read it again, I could see it. I could see the pain on your face as you identified the one who would betray you. I could see the disbelief on Peter’s face when confronted with the truth that he’d deny you. I could see the love you had for each of them. The pain you felt at their impending loss. The love you still have for humanity.

    As I read your Word, it came to life, and I could see it!

    And then, Jesus, as you withdrew into the Garden to pray–as you submitted yourself to the will of the Father–I could see it. I saw the sweat, like blood, running down your face, falling to the ground. I saw your despair–your resolve–as one of your own betrayed you with a kiss. I saw you, The Prince of Peace, taken into custody. I watched as evil men lashed out, angry. I saw the self-awareness of your own humility as they turned you over to be beaten. I saw the Roman’s face as he washed his hands of the matter, as he released a murderer in your place, and your own people cried out for your crucifixion.

    I saw the cross upon your back. The crown of thorns cutting into your skin. I watched as they nailed you to that tree–your hands and feet pierced for their sins. For mine. I watched as the thief begged for mercy. I saw the pain on your face, the forgiveness you extended even then.

    And I cried.

    For the first time in a long time, Jesus, I understood that these weren’t just verses to be read. This was your life. Is your life. This is you, here in my hands, in the form of a book. Your life. Your death. Your resurrection recorded so that I could understand. You are the Word become flesh, and today, Jesus, I can see it.”

    These are the types of declarations I want to come back to. I want to dig into the Scriptures craving to see the world as Christ saw it–As He still sees it. I want to read because I’m hungry for the truth buried between the pages. I want to cry because it moves me.

    But mostly, I want to jump off the couch and reenact all that His Word shows me. Not like my son. Not in a theatrical way. But, I want to love just as He loves. I want to enact that. I want to pray just as He prays. I want to forgive just as He forgives. I want to be the Christian–the Christ-follower–that I was created to be.

    He’s shown me how. He’s given me the guidebook. I want to open its pages, not because I have to, but because today, like every other day, I need to see it. I need to know just how it’s done. Just how He did it.

    I need to see it so I can do it too.

    For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them–Acts 28:27

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  • March17th

    8 Comments

    Manna

    Posted in: Bible Stuff

    I’ve always had a heart for missions. Always. A prayer to spend my life in the trenches–albeit slightly glorified trenches–made its way to my lips at a very young age. I wanted to spread the Word. I delighted in the idea of scraping money together and depending solely on the Father for sustenance. This bit alone excited me to no end: working away for the Father while He provided. What could be more fulfilling than that? Testimony of missionaries the world-over had made a life of sacrifice seem ideal, Utopian almost. To my teenage sensibilities, anything but a life of foreign outreach seemed inadequate.

    Imagine my shock when, several years later, God handed me a shepherd’s staff and planted me firmly in the church I’d grown up in.

    IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA!

    Not really the kind of mission-field I had in mind. I thought I’d be in Brazil or Peru. Maybe even Africa. But, at God’s command, suburbia refused to release its grip on me.

    My husband and I dug in, determined to be hardworking and support the pastoral team. We weren’t officially on staff, so we struggled to find employment and grow our little family. We refused jobs that would require us to work on Sundays, and God was faithful. We were able to work, to serve, and we were able to eat. But things were tight. We weren’t incredibly careful with our income, and wasted money out of ignorance. There were times when I was overcome with our perceived need, and began to understand just how much faith I was lacking. The idea of suffering for the kingdom in a foreign country was nothing but a romanticized childhood fantasy. I didn’t even have what it took to suffer in Roseville!

    The idea of going paycheck-to-paycheck in a town abundant with successful twenty-somethings–buying this house and that car, investing in this boat and that property–was overwhelming. We deserved those things, didn’t we? We were serving people that had them. Surely, God wanted us to have them too. At times, our “disadvantage” made ministry uncomfortable.

    It was during these years that God taught me about manna.

    You see, there was a time when the nation of Israel was provided just enough sustenance for one day. Every morning, God would rain bread down on the people: manna. And every night, he’d send quail for meat. If the people tried to store the food for later days, it would breed worms and become foul. God would not allow them the comfort of knowing they’d gathered enough to provide for tomorrow. They were dependent solely on Him. Most found this uncomfortable.

    And while it sounded an awful lot like what I’d always professed to want, I found it uncomfortable.

    I may have fantasized about depending solely on God, but I wasn’t prepared for it. Even in a place where all my needs were met, I found myself wanting. A bigger house for my kids. A better car. Wanting to travel. Wanting to know we’d be taken care of down the road. And there really is nothing wrong with any of those things. But the idea that I deserved it–that God must WANT me to be comfortable–that was very wrong. I don’t even know where it crept in from, to be honest. One minute I’m craving to be a poor missionary happily scraping by, and the next, I’m drooling over my neighbor’s spacious house.

    It’s amazing how we learn to covet something we never really wanted.

    One night, I stumbled upon this passage in Exodus 16–the passage about manna–and I broke down. Manna symbolizes different things in the Bible, but in that moment, I knew God was speaking to me about my ungrateful, unfaithful attitude. After all, everything I had was His. Everything I’d ever have would come straight from heaven, just like the manna. Instead of being thankful, I was growing bitter. Instead of reveling in the day-to-day excitement of depending on my Father–like I’d always hoped to do–I was grumbling.

    God was providing for me both physically and spiritually, but I had been too ungrateful to receive it properly. And this is where I knew that the only real “needs” I had were spiritual. I needed forgiveness. I needed faith. I repented, then and there. I asked God to make me a person who is both unafraid and unashamed to depend on Him for everything. God took me at my word and has continued to refine my faith. He tests me. He instructs me. He uses His Word to illuminate the path before me. And I’m learning to depend more fully on the God who provides, daily.

    In a way, I’m learning to appreciate my naive assumptions about the mission-field and ministry. I’m learning that while I was woefully ignorant of all that it would require, it wasn’t wrong of me to desire a life of utter dependence on the Father. And now that I have a better idea of what it takes, I’m better at depending on Him. It seems I have run into a bit of child-like faith. And, like a child, I’m grateful that all I have to do is close my eyes at night and know that the next morning the desert will be covered in spiritual manna. More manna than I could ever want or consume, but nothing that will keep for tomorrow. For that, I’ll have to close my eyes again, and trust that my Father will provide.

    And today, with a few years of trusting under my belt, that sounds like something I can do!

    At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.–Exodus 16:12

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