The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

“Now I know I’ve got a heart, ’cause it’s breaking.”

-Tin Man

Have you ever seen Sedona, Arizona in the winter? The first snowfall of the year leaves you with a breathtaking view of red rocks dusted by silver sparkles. I was actually blessed enough to grow up there for 18 years! The street I grew up on was called, “Back O’ Beyond Circle.” And let me tell you, the street is indeed “beyond.” It stretches a mile back from the main street of Sedona.

As a child, I would dread the walk home from the bus stop; It was a treacherous journey down the winding, unpaved road, that forced me to trudge through a wash, and then ascend up a hill that seemingly led into eternity. But now after living the last 17 years in Phoenix, I would give anything to take that scenic journey each day…the journey that leads to the only house in the center of the circle, number 141. The home my parents sold their wedding rings for and built from the ground up out of a horse stable.

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At the base of the hill is a wash, holding not just rainwater from the most recent monsoon, but so many precious memories. After a week of heavy downpour, I would take one of my best guy or gal pals down to it and we’d swim in the muddy, red water and catch tadpoles and frogs. On a drier day, we’d venture down to defend our invisible kingdoms under the canopy of trees. In later years, my older sister Joy and I would visit it to soak in the majesty of Sedona without being disturbed by tourists.

So, when Joy passed away in June of 2015, it only made sense to lay some of her ashes to rest there.

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A few winters back, I took my family on a day trip there to take advantage of the snow. We played in patches that hid in the shadows of the trees, making snowmen and throwing snowballs. We toyed with a stream that had been frozen over, cracking it with our feet and shattering it into tiny pieces. It gleamed like solid glass, as living water was exposed by our rock grenades. I tapped a toe into the stream to make a little crack and see how far it would go. Then, I used a whole foot. Finally, with full force! Crack! Watching the ice dissolve into the moving stream was mesmerizing! The more cracking I heard, the more I wanted to break it!

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When we were finished feeling omnipotent, we made our way up to Joy’s sweet little pine tree that sits neatly on the side of the hill. We paid our respects for a few minutes and said goodbye. As I walked back to our car, I felt restless. Seeing “her” didn’t give me any resolve. It wasn’t her, it was just a tree. 30 years of memories with my best friend had been reduced to literal specks of dust; yet she feels just as alive to me now, as if we were still binging on episodes of America’s Next Top Model together.

This makes me think that grief must be a temporary insanity. It makes me unpredictable to myself and others. It makes my heart ache the way a body would for a phantom limb. Love pours out in waves, but there is no shore for the tide to reach. Where does the love go? Where do I send it?

Never have I felt this kind of pain before. I honestly don’t know if I have felt this much, ever. There was an entire decade of my life where I could barely shed a tear. I was under the delusion that numbing myself was a form of protection; and with each pain inflicted on me or by me, another layer of ice would appear.

The day I was in the ICU with my sister and realized that she was really going to die…CRACK! The ice was shattered and streams have been flowing ever since. But you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would rather feel the pain of love than feel nothing at all.

(I found this in one of Joy’s journals after she passed away)

On the drive home on the I17, somewhere between Sunset Point and Rock Springs Cafe, I was granted a moment of clarity: the love that I feel, that I am so overwhelmed by, needs to be given… to those who are still here. The pain and regrets that have been hiding under the ice need to be exposed…to help others!

There is a Japanese form of art called Kintsugi, where the artist takes broken pottery and fills the cracks with powdered gold or silver. They treat the fractures and repair as part of the history of the object, instead of something to be disguised!B8BCB4D9-EF2B-4B36-B685-46076794B411

And that is my goal for this blog, to journey to the dark corners of my heart and pull out the broken pieces to see what art I can make out of my scars.

I encourage you to do the same!

What fractures could you make art out of?

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What Do I Do With A Diagnosis?

I have wanted to be just like my big sister since I can remember. She was eight years older than me and was the sun to my solar system. When I was three years old and learned that her favorite color was green, my favorite color was green. She told me her favorite animal was a frog so naturally, my favorite animal was a frog. While she was at school I would sneak into her bedroom and snoop through the mystical belongings of a teenage girl of the 80’s. I would go straight for her fuchsia Caboodle box. It was a treasury of Strawberry Lip Smacker, blue mascara, roll on cherry red nail polish, and Wet n’ Wild’s most relevant products. I felt like Ariel in her secret grotto admiring her gadgets and gizmos a-plenty!

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When Joy and I were in our twenties, we were roommates.  On one occasion while she worked a late night bartending shift, I did the same thing; I went straight to her closet, found her most coveted $75 shirt and wore it on a date. I returned it in just the right timing and meticulously placed it back from whence it came. As far as I knew, she was none the wiser of either of these offenses.

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(Said $75 shirt being borrowed here, but with permission…it was my 23rd birthday.)

These less finer moments of mine came to mind as I stood in the closet of her apartment, a week after she had passed away. Feeling overwhelmed by all of the earthly possessions that she had left behind, I realized that her highly coveted belongings were now mine for the taking; it was a little sister’s fantasy and simultaneous worst nightmare.

There was no joy in my sisterly inheritance, because all I wanted was my Joy.

I kept a lot of her things at first, but through time and healing I now hold onto only a few prized pieces. Take for instance, this ugly green sweater below. It was her favorite and she practically wore it year-round. It is now my number one winter go-to in spite of its booger-esque shade of green.

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Although it is now October, it is not quite sweater weather. As they say, the only way you know it is Fall in Phoenix is by the changing colors of the license plates.

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And today, I find myself not wearing her sweater, but her diagnosis.

Joy had an inherited blood disorder called Hemochromatosis that caused severe damage to her liver. Someone with this genetic trait has an overload of iron in their blood that stores the excess in their vital organs, beginning with the liver. In so many words, it is like someone rusting on the inside. Mixed with some other complications, she was led to an untimely death.

Although I was tested for this disorder when she was diagnosed, I was told that I didn’t have it. Eight years later, after months of testing, we come to find that I actually do have it. And it has also severely damaged my liver. I have some complications of my own which are going to make treatment for it risky and complicated.

This news has inspired many feelings… fear, confusion, grief.

I had just gotten to a place where I was able to notice Joy’s absence less frequently. Now I am being reminded daily of not only her, but of her illness. Remembering her is usually in small, sometimes silly moments. Like, when I stir my son’s yogurt before I hand it to him, I think to myself,

“Joy only liked yogurt with fruit on the bottom… she liked to control the ratio of plain yogurt to the fruity goodness.”

or

“Wow, Joy would have loved that sunset!”

But now the thoughts are,

“I wonder if Joy got anxiety from the MRI machine too?”

and as I look in the mirror,

“I remember Joy getting these spots on her chest.”

I’m not even that bothered by the physical illness (although it is at times painful) as much as the mental gymnastics that it puts my brain through. There are so many unknowns and new lifestyle adjustments. There are unfavorable circumstances to choose between. Do I risk this? Or do I risk that? I am constantly “Googling” in spite of being told by my doctor not to. (Has Google ever given anyone peace of mind?) There are endless tests to have done and even worse, so much WAITING!

So what do I do with this diagnosis? What do I do with the waiting?

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No!

What I can choose to do is steward it.

I can take it a step at a time.

I can stop Googling.

I can focus on what I DO know…

And what I do know is WHO God is and what HE tells me.

God is my Father (Matthew 23:9), who is many steps ahead of me. (Psalm 139:5). He hears my prayers (Matthew 6:8). He will never abandon me (Psalm 94:14). I can trust Him because He is faithful (Psalm 73:26).

These promises are not a guarantee that I am going to enjoy or understand the journey ahead of me. They don’t mean that my problems will just disappear and everything will go the way I want it to. But what I am confident of is that God is going to be with me every step of the way.

The words of Charles Spurgeon bring great comfort for someone in the midst of uncertainty;

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances…Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to work to the glory of God.

I believe that God does give us more than we can handle, and that’s ok, because He wants us to hand it right back over to Him. And anything that nudges us towards a closer dependence on Him is something to be thankful for, not something to be afraid of.

So, what do I do with a diagnosis?

I hold on to hope as I wait for sweater weather.

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The Ugly Truth of the Law of Attraction

“Come now, let us reason together.”

-Isaiah 1:18

Are there any “Friends” fans out there? I think that I have seen every episode a minimum of four times each. My husband and I still watch the whole series every year. If you are as diehard a fan as I, you will remember the first scene of the very first episode; newly divorced Ross, forlornly speaks his thoughts and says,

“I don’t want to be single, I just want to be married again.” 

Before the words can even finish leaving his mouth, the beautiful Rachel Green bursts through the doors in a wedding dress.

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And in his usual, snarky bemusement, Chandler exclaims,

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And I just want a million dollars!”

If you are wondering what “The Law of Attraction” is, you have it right there. It is the belief that thoughts become things. So, if you think positive thoughts like abundance and success, that is what you will receive. If you think negative thoughts like sickness or poverty, then that is what you will draw to yourself. There’s a Rachel Green or a million dollars for whoever “manifests” it.

A more popular example that you may be familiar with would be with the bestselling book and 2006 documentary film by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret.

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These publications were popularized by Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Larry King. The film includes interviews with “Secret Teachers” who include professionals in the fields of quantum physics, psychology, metaphysics, and personal development.

The Secret and the Law of Attraction have come out of the New Thought” movement that developed in the 19th century in America. Various religious denominations, philosophers, and individuals share the New Thought core beliefs;

  • “God” or “Infinite Intelligence” is supreme, universal, and everlasting.
  • Humans are inherently divine.
  • “the highest spiritual principle is loving one another unconditionally…and teaching and healing one another.”
  • “our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.”

Doesn’t sound too sinister, right?

Let’s first look at where these teachings originated:

The first person who coined the term “The Law of Attraction” was Russian Occultist and medium, Helena Blavatsky. She was the first to put it in print, in her 1877 book, “Isis Unveiled”; in which she gathered a number of themes central to the occult tradition. Some of the doctrines in this work were later significantly altered, confusing her readers by the seeming contradictions. Blavatsky was also accused of plagiarizing Isis Unveiled from earlier occult works. If you don’t already know her, you can learn more about her in last month’s blog.

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Although Rhonda Byrne popularized this concept through The Secret in the early 2000’s,

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the credit should really be paid due to Esther Hicks, whom was edited out of the film version.

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Esther has written several books and hosted many workshops on the law of attraction. How did she become such an expert? According to her, she has tapped into an infinite intelligence and translated it from a self-proclaimed group consciousness from a non-physical dimension” that refers to itself as “Abraham.” These non-physical entities teach that people create their own reality through their attention and focus.

I’m trying to think here for a minute, where else have we heard about a group of non-physical entities speaking? Oh ya, in Mark 5:7-10 when Jesus cast the demons out of the man!

“And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For He was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

So, what is the foundational worldview behind the Law of Attraction?

PantheismAccording to Webster’s dictionary, it is a “doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe.” Essentially, God is just another word for the laws of nature and the material world. The wind is God, the trees are God, you are God, and I am God. There is no personal deity outside of time and space; God is the innermost essence of every individual thing in the universe. You will know someone is a Pantheist when they say, “All is God”. To a Pantheist, all things in the universe can be reduced to a single substance, known as consciousness. Consciousness is not just simply being awake, but it is what the universe itself is made of. Since all is God, then man is inherently divine; and it is man’s task to attain enlightenment or to awaken to the state of consciousness that remembers its divinity.

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This worldview may not be a problem for most, but for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, it is completely contradictory to core doctrine. Man is not divine, he is sinful. Made in the image of God? Yes. Divine? Not so much. (If you want to watch a great video that explains being made in the image of God, click here.)

Steven Bancarz observes that,

“Pantheism is not just a false theology, it’s a symptom of moral rebellion against a holy God.”

We see in Romans chapter one that God has given mankind a general revelation of Himself through creation, but man suppresses this knowledge through unrighteousness.

“…For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” vs. 19-20

We are shown this in Psalm 19,

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”

The Bible begins with a distinct Creator, who existed before all things and spoke all things into existence, holding all things together.

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We cannot claim to be followers of Jesus and at the same time subscribe to Pantheism.

So what about the science behind the law of attraction?

Proponents of the law of attraction often use “evidence” like quantum physics or the quantum field theory to support their beliefs in a collective unconscious. They suggest that we communicate with these fields through our intentions and our minds. But if we are to be more precise, our bodies are actually made of these quantum field(s) on a subatomic level. Since we are made of particles and a particle is a fluctuation in a quantum field, you could say that our bodies are made of fluctuations in quantum fields. This implies nothing supernatural.

“The minute you look at a scientific discovery as supporting New Age theology, you have went from the realm of scientific to the realm of religion. It’s not that science can’t make discoveries with theologically rich implications, it’s that we need to know when the implications are warranted and when they aren’t, and the difference between observation and interpretation.”

-Steven Bancarz

These implications are presented by religiously biased “experts” who use metaphysical pseudoscience to support what they suggest. In what once was my favorite movie on the law of attraction, “What The Bleep Do We Know” theoretical physicist and P.H.D Fred Alan Wolf was featured for his scientific expertise.

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Although presented as unbiased, Dr. Wolf’s field of specialty is in how science intersects with spirituality. He attributes his moment of spiritual awakening to a time when he was in a Buddhist monastery, and a fly landed on his foot. He claims that he and the fly had a shared moment of consciousness, where each of their consciousnesses became one consciousness. 

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He also believes that through yoga, one can move forward and backward through time. When asked about religion, he says that people who practice it “don’t get out of it what it is supposed to do for them”. (Because apparently God is a genie?) When inquired of if he prays, he said he doesn’t, except for “in times of stress” like when his dad was dying. So God only exists when we’re absolutely desperate?

Although the law of attraction is supposed to be a law of the universe, it sounds an awful lot like what Aleister Crowley defines as “magick”;

“the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will…it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature.”

Some scientific claims of the law of attraction are:

  • Electrons have positive charges
  • In physics “Like always attracts like.” (So, forget about magnets then??)
  • Thinking burns up brain matter
  • Higher altitudes have more oxygen, and thus better air for breathing. (So, forget about Mt. Everest??)
  • “The Universe” only hears nouns, not adjectives or qualifiers, and only sees pictures of your thoughts.

You would think something responsible for making something as complex as the human brain could understand adjectives and qualifiers?

Rhonda Byrne uses law of attraction logic in her health advice;

If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them…If you think or talk about diseases, you will become sick. What you think or surround yourself with-good or bad, is what you will bring upon yourself.”

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Even as I write this, I am painfully reminded of how I once subscribed to this level of reasoning. My son pulled a coin jar off of a book shelf in my room and I as I put it away, I cringed as I read what I had written on it years ago. On one side, I used a quote from a branch off of the law of attraction tree called “money magnetism” and put a Bible verse on the other side. I have had this jar for three years and this is how full it got. Guess I should have used different nouns?

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Needless to say, the coins were transferred to a different jar and this one was thrown away.

I’m sure there are those out there with “evidence” that this actually works; but people often publish successes rather than failures. There is a psychological phenomenon, “Apophenia” where people believe that there is meaning behind random data. In other words, we may focus on a coincidence more than on how many times we did not experience a coincidence. I thought about many people today, and many of them did not call me. Of the 2000 people I thought of, 2 of them called. That is a percentage of 0.1 %. By using this rationale, I could think to myself, “Wow, I thought of Suzy and she called me- that’s 100%!”

You know where I think we first really see the principles behind the law of attraction presented though? We see them in the seductive words of the serpent in Genesis chapter 3;

“Did God actually say that…?” 

“If you…you will be like God…” 

From the very beginning, mankind has been influenced to question God’s wisdom and goodness. We have swallowed the tasty trifle of a lie that we could create and enjoy a world apart from him and be like gods, ourselves. In the garden of Eden, we lived in such a way that Heaven and Earth shared the same space; we were able to walk alongside our Creator. But that apparently wasn’t enough…so we got ourselves expelled from paradise. The result? Hell on earth. Literally. Sorrow, sickness, and death. That is was people manifest. We did that.

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God, the person, not the universal force in His mercy and kindness has provided ways for us to dwell in His presence once again. He first bridged that gap through the building of the first temple and the offerings and sacrifices of Moses’ day. Then eventually, for all time, through Jesus. Our Father who desires a personal relationship with us has thoughts, has a will, feels, loves, and suffers just like any one of us does. If we are in need of being consciousness of anything, it is of Him and His presence.

“The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His presence.”

-A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Do science and religion intersect? Absolutely!

Science observes how the power of God operates, discovers a regular pattern somewhere and fixes it as a “law”. The uniformity of God’s activities in His creation enables the scientist to predict the course of natural phenomena. The trustworthiness of God’s behavior in this world is the foundation of all scientific truth…

Religion, on the other hand, goes back of nature to God. It is concerned not with the footprints of God along the paths of creation, but with the One who treads those paths. Religion is interested primarily in the One who is the source of all things, the master of every phenomenon.”

-A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

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Church, let’s for one moment consider that there is indeed a universal law that allows us to manifest our reality. If we choose to follow this logic (and not Jesus), then we can no longer address poverty or illness or someone in need. How then can we love our neighbor? When Jesus talked about clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, and feeding the hungry, did He finish His parable with the King saying, “unless you don’t want to become poor too, though. If not, don’t worry about it and make sure not to look at them.” No! He replied,

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.

-Matthew 25:40

The law of attraction encourages us to turn a blind eye to the “least of these”.

Do I believe we should think positively? Absolutely! I understand on a personal level how dangerous negative thinking can be to a person’s well-being. I know that the enemy of our souls loves nothing more than to feed us destructive thoughts. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know the “think” verse in Philippians 4. It begins with a beautiful promise of how God will exchange our anxieties for peace and then goes on to list what thoughts we should replace those anxieties with. Let’s take it a step further and replace the word “whatever” with the word “God”;

“Finally brothers…God is true, God is honorable, God is just, God is pure, God is lovely, God is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anyone worthy of praise, think about Him.”

I don’t know if there could be a more positive thought than of the One who gifted us our minds.

“Only to sit and think of God,

Oh what a joy it is!

To think the thought, to breathe the Name 

Earth has no higher bliss.”

-Frederick W. Faber

We don’t need to make vision boards or be careful with our adjectives when through prayer, we have a direct line to the true Creator of the Universe. He is the Creator, not a genie who is awaiting to deliver us our every earthly desire;

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Dr. David Burns observes in his book “Feeling Good” a phenomenon in which he calls “entitlement syndrome”. When life throws certain people its inevitable obstacles, they go into a frenzied state of panic and rage. I know I have been afflicted by this at times.

“You feel and act as if you were entitled to success, love, approval, perfect health, happiness, etc.”

Just because we are followers of Jesus, we are not promised an easy life. In fact, we can expect to experience hardship and suffering because we are followers of Him.

A.W. Tozer observes that when God divided the land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel, Levi didn’t receive any share of the land; “God said to him simply, ‘I am thy part and thine inheritance.‘ and by those words made him richer than all his brethren, richer than all the kings and rajas who have ever lived in the world…The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.

There is so much more that I could say on this topic, but if you receive nothing else I say except for this one thing, let it be this; there is no reason that a follower of Jesus should or want to employ the law of attraction; for,

“…everything comes from Him, and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.”

-Romans 11:36

Christians, Are You Practicing the Occult, Unaware?

“Are those pearls real?” Can I just tell you that I love buying jewelry from Goodwill? I know what you may be thinking, but often, I find strings of real pearls mixed in with the less valuable jewelry! Although my parents owned a crystal shop in Sedona which exposed me to beautiful and rare gemstones, that is not even how I learned to discern between real and faux pearls. I simply did my own research.

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(You’re welcome!)

Growing up as a Christian in what is considered the “New Age Capital,” I was presented with many alternatives to my faith. Things like tarot cards, psychic mediums, aura readings, and aliens were as commonplace as a McDonald’s or a Walmart.

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But it wasn’t until I moved to Scottsdale Arizona at 18 years old that some faux pearls had caught my eye. And since they weren’t as blatantly obvious as the drum circles and chakras that I was used to, I was easily deceived. It turns out that growing up in a Christian home wasn’t a guarantee that I would not fall prey to deception.

These pearls that I discovered were seemingly innocent books on ways to reach enlightenment and living in the “now”. And in the same way as I intend to only have a few M & M’s and then find that I have eaten the whole bag, I was practicing lucid dreaming, visualization, and the law of attraction. I still considered myself a Christian, I just viewed myself as more “open-minded” than other believers.

Like an addiction, I itched for hidden knowledge and supernatural experiences. My hunger ran rampant until a day came when I found myself not just dabbling anymore, but having joined in with the rival team; the playbook written by Anton Lavey. Although I don’t believe everyone who reads New Age books will eventually practice Satanism, I do believe that deception is a progressive disease of the spirit. Tragically, this disease has crept its way into the Church, causing believers to participate in the occult, unaware. How is this possible? Because the New Age Movement is one and the same with occultism; and when the Church participates in its practices, we might as well be blatantly practicing witchcraft.

To clarify, let us first explore what the New Age Movement actually is; it is a blanketed term that covers a wide range of Eastern-influenced thought systems. It is a compilation of various religions, values, and beliefs. Some that you may be more familiar with are ones like Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Witchcraft, Necromancy (talking to the dead), Visualization (the Law of Attraction), and Crystal Healing. Their chief end is to bring enlightenment, tap into the divine self (often referred to as Christ-consciousness), and accelerate the evolutionary push into spiritual realms. It is a movement that is open-armed and welcoming to all schools of thought…all except for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“But wait!” You may say. “I have heard New Age teachers refer to Bible scriptures and even quote Jesus!”

Yes, that is true, but these teachers take scripture out of its context and twist it to fit their teachings. As for Jesus, they contradict who He says He is; the Son of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To them, Jesus is merely an “ascended master,” a “good teacher,” or even a “universal state of mind.”

Some of you may already know some of these, but let me introduce you to a few of the teachers who established the New Age movement.

First, we have Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who co-founded the Theosophical Society and was also considered “the mother of the New Age Movement.” A medium who was overtly racist and openly commended Satan for what he did in the Garden of Eden, she believed that he delivered free will to manAdolf Hitler is named among some of her admirers; it has been reported that her book, The Secret Doctrine was one of his favorite works. She has been quoted to say that,

“Satan, the enemy of God, is in reality, the highest divine Spirit.”

Next, we have Aleister Crowley, a magician and occultist who coined the philosophy;

“Do what thou wilt.”

Although he followed Satanic teachings and principles, he did not consider himself a Satanist. He did, however refer to himself as “the Beast 666” on occasion. A founding father of the New Age, He was once considered the most evil man in the world.

Finally, we meet my former companion, Anton LaVey; the founder of the Church of Satan. Although he admired Crowley, he was not a fan of the New Age; seeing how he viewed it as “thinly veiled Satanism“. Hear it from him, yourself;

“But in truth, all ‘New Age’ labeling is again, trying to play the Devil’s game without using His Infernal name.”

These are just a few people. If you do some research, you will find that the list goes on with New Age founders who were involved with the occult.

So what is the occult? The word itself means hidden knowledge. It is any attempt to seek spiritual wisdom apart from God. This sounds a lot like what we hear about in Deuteronomy 18:10-12; “…And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”

Or in 1 Kings 21:6; “He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing His anger. 

Needless to say, God is not a fan, and He also considers consulting with psychics and mediums to be “spiritual prostitution.” (Leviticus 20:6) If you look at New Age practices through a Biblical lens, you will see them for what they are, occult practicessorcery (harnessing the power of intention paired with the demonic), divination (uncovering hidden information by supernatural means), and idolatry.

“Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God who has revealed Himself in the Word.” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 95)

But some of you out there may say, “I have found help from some of this knowledge!” “Crystals have healed me!” “I practice these things for my health!”

I don’t deny that some people may have had supernatural experiences or have found healing down some of these avenues. But just because we can find healing in these ways, does that mean that we should? Where is the source (or really the spirit) of that power coming from? (1 John 4:1-3) Is it worth perverting our walk with the Lord? My brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our innocent motives, engaging in New Age practices puts us in dangerous territory. It not only makes us vulnerable to attacks of the enemy, but it causes us to walk in disobedience.

It is not just in the Old Testament that these grievous offenses are mentioned either, check out Acts 16:16 or Galatians 5:19-21 for example;

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatrysorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

It is imperative that we learn how to discern these “pearls” for what they really are. We would be wise to heed what former New Agers, Steven Bancarz and Josh Peck advise in their book “The Second Coming of the New Age”;

“If something does not line up with the Word of God, we should leave it outside the Church, not Christianize it to become more inclusive and seeker-friendly to those with a different spiritual orientation…if a practice clearly belongs to another religion, we are wise to hold fast to God’s warning that seducing spirits lead to apostasy.” (1 Corinthians 10:20-21)

I no longer consider it “open-minded” to adopt occult and New Age traditions as a follower of Jesus.  I now define open-minded as accepting the truth for what it really is, regardless of how it makes me feel or how inconvenient it may be for me. Inconvenient would be when I had to figure out what to do with my many beloved New Age books, artwork, and jewelry from that season of my life and my most enjoyed way to work out. Although I had already renounced my occult ties, I was still in need for some even deeper house cleaning. Obviously the book by Anton was long gone, but what about my Tao of Pooh? Or my Eckhart Tolle books? He taught me how to  let go of resentments and recognize the ego!

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Sigh…I guess that settles that. Bye Eckhart.

By God’s sovereignty,  I came upon a You tube video by Steven Bancarz that confirmed the way that I was feeling; that holding on to my pagan and occult belongings were a way that I was opening myself up to oppression. (Click here to watch it)

So, I decided to go Acts 19:19 on them;

“A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars.” 

It definitely wasn’t several million dollars worth but probably a couple of hundred! And let me tell you, I soaked in this sight the same way that I do when I admire the glow of freshly mopped floors!

In the midst of this conquest however, I had sensed that I still wasn’t quite finished. For over 15 years, I have possessed a beautiful labradorite* necklace that was gifted to me by my sister, long before she passed away. She had wanted to keep it for herself, but in an act of love, selflessly gave it to me. In spite of that, for years I had not been able to wear it; not because it reminded me of my grief, but because for a long time, I had used it as an amulet when I was a Satanic witch. I held so many occult associations with it that I didn’t even want to put it on.

So, I took a hammer to it.

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“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”

-Phillipians 3:8

(*I don’t believe crystals are inherently evil. As a part of God’s creation, I still enjoy them as decor in my home. If they have been used for occult purposes, however, it is not wise to keep them and that will be a blog for another day.)

Regardless of if something has “helped” me or means something to me, nothing is worth compromising my walk with God. And to make sure that I don’t fall into deception again, I err on the side of caution. If I am given spiritual advice that has a source apart from scripture, I am instantly wary of it. If it blatantly opposes scripture, I reject it. If I’m not sure where it falls, I research…scripture.

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In closing, friends, I encourage you to inspect these pearls for yourself. Regardless of if we have been believers for two months or 20 plus years, we must be vigilant about spending time in God’s word and yielding to the Holy Spirit‘s leading. The more time you spend with the real pearls, the easier you will recognize the faux. 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, in finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

-Matthew 13:45-46

Happy pearl hunting!

 

 

Motherhood, the Ministry of the Mundane

When you walk in the door of your home after a long day, what is the first thing that you do? I take off my shoes. Before anything is set down or dogs are greeted, the shoes come off. This daily ritual that may seem insignificant can be seen in Exodus when Moses encountered the burning bush; God tells Moses to take off his shoes because he is “standing on holy ground.”(3:5) As a Christ-follower, have you ever considered that your home is holy ground? If you look up the definition of “holy” you will find many descriptions,

  1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated
  2. dedicated or devoted to the service of God

or in plural form,holies

  1. a place of worship; sacred place; sanctuary

My home is where I spend my quiet time with God. It is where I talk with Him, study His word, and sing His praises. My aim is to make it a safe haven for my husband to come home to after a long workday. But those activities aren’t necessarily what make it “religious” or “consecrated”. I also wipe butts, fold laundry, and scrub toilets. Bear with me here, author Jen Wilkin observes the following,

“Jesus taught that providing shelter for the shelterless, food for the hungry, and clothing for the naked are sacred acts. They’re also the hallmark activities of mothering. When we do them from the right motive for those in our homes, it’s as if we’ve done them for Christ Himself. (Matthew 25:31-45)”

Could it be that the monotonous jobs of dishwashing or picking up toys off of the floor for the 100th time are just as sacred of tasks as giving communion or preaching a sermon?

Perhaps motherhood is the ministry of the mundane?

In the past when I heard a sermon that mentioned the Great Commission like in Mark 16:15, I would literally cringe inside.  “Go into the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” The same goes for Matthew 28:19, “…go and make disciples of all the nations.” I have never gone on a missions trip to Africa or built an orphanage in a third-world country. I have never gone out and made disciples. I am just a mom standing in front of her children asking them to eat their veggies. The longest journey that I’m taking today is the ascent up the mountain of laundry that has accumulated on my couch over the past week. I would have done it sooner, but who am I to disturb the nests that my dogs have perfectly carved out for themselves?

What if simply by being mothers, we ARE making disciples?  Maybe our disciples are the precious little sponges that follow us around and say what we say and do what we do? Isn’t that what the disciples of Jesus did? Maybe obedience to this commission doesn’t necessarily mean to fly to foreign lands (although it does include that), but it can be carried out here, at home, in simple acts of faithfulness.

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As a Christian woman, I have considered Proverbs 31 to be the roadmap to being a godly wife and mother. Each time that I read about the “Virtuous Woman” however, I dissolve into a sea of inadequacy:

  • “Her husband has full confidence in her.” (vs. 11) Well, not in my driving…
  • “She does him (her husband) good and not evil.” (vs.12) So I am NOT supposed to plot against him when he leaves his socks on the floor?
  • “She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.” (vs. 13) So, does the undone crochet blanket that I’ve restarted three times count?
  • “She is like merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.”(vs. 14) I do drive to two different grocery stores to get the best ad prices. Double ad Wednesday at Sprouts is my jam!
  • “She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household.” (vs. 15) Although I get up early, I do have to hear my oldest scream ”We’re hungggrrryyy!!” at least two times before I actually move.

It goes on and on describing what I can only imagine being an incredibly exhausted woman.

Straight as an arrow!

If this passage was written for the millennial mama, Pinterest-worthy parties and perfect hair and makeup at school drop off would add to this recipe for discouragement. Reading Biblical text through a modern-day filter, however, is what causes us to take it prescriptively like a to-do list instead of descriptively like showing what has been done. In order to understand scripture as it was intended, it needs to be interpreted through the original cultural context. Part of that includes understanding the Jewish culture. Rachel Held Evans (who recently went home to the Lord) looks deeper into the context of Proverbs 31 in her witty and thought-provoking book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”. She notes that in Jewish culture, it is the men, not the women who memorize Proverbs 31.

“Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in a song, ‘Eshet chayil mi yimtza v’rachok mip’ninim michrah,’ they sing in the presence of their children and guests. ‘A valorous woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls.’ Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing-one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally.” (page 88)

Essentially, “Eshet chayil” means “Woman of Valor“! It’s not about living up to some impossible ideal but an acknowledgment of this attribute in even the smallest task that we do. 

Just changed a gnarly blow out of a diaper? Eshet chayil!

Just got a promotion at your job? Eshet chayil!

Put food in the tummies of your children even though it consisted of chickens nuggets, french fries, and possibly high fructose corn syrup? Eshet chayil!

Am I saying that we shouldn’t aspire to keep our house clean, feed our family healthy food, contribute financially, or be crafty? Absolutely not! What I am saying is:

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.”

-Colossians 3:23-24

Angela Perritt states it so perfectly when she says that, Proverbs 31 isn’t about being perfect, but about living a life that is focused on the One who is… Jesus.” Jesus confirms this when He visits the home of the sisters Mary and Martha.  Martha is hustling and bustling stressing over a meticulously set table and a perfectly timed meal and complains to Jesus that her sister isn’t pulling her weight. And in His usual fashion, Jesus surprises us with the reply that the only thing to be concerned about is spending time with Him. 

Maybe He would rather us let the dishes soak a few extra minutes so we can soak in the presence of our savior?

I know many women of valor. Some are CEOS, some are stay-at-home moms. Some feed their kids macaroni and cheese every night and some hand-make their baby food from local, organic produce. In the midst of these women I have found that whether we’re crunching numbers or walking over crunched goldfish crumbs, there is one thing we all have in common…the dire need of a nap. Seriously though, we have been given the sacred task and privilege of being someone’s mama. Day in and day out we have the opportunity to exercise absolute selflessness, a hallmark of Christlike character.

If that sounds overwhelming to you, remember that we have also been given the Helper, the Holy Spirit to empower and sustain us. You don’t have to try to do this on your own strength.

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

-Corrie Ten Boom

So, the next time you’re daunted by the drudgery of your day, remember that the floors you are about to mop might as well be the tiles of the temple.

As you scrub tiny toes in the bathtub, you are washing the feet of disciples.

And although motherhood is a job that gets no glory, it is a job that most definitely gives glory to God.

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A Holiday Roadmap From Grieving to Gladness

“The only way around is through.”

-Robert Frost

It is November in Arizona and fall is in the air! …Well, kind of. I’m still wearing flip flops and tank tops but at least I need that extra blanket on my bed at night. Although I am thankful for the respite from a seething, Phoenician summer, I sense a distinctive chill in the air that is blowing through… grief. 

It is not even necessarily a conscious thought or direct result of anything; I can only describe it as a muscle memory. As soon as the “essence of fall” settles into my heart and home, what comes with it is that familiar ache. I can’t even tell you why! That is just how mysterious, sneaky, and frustrating grief is! If you have experienced it, then you know what I am talking about.

This will be my third holiday season without my sister. I have handled it differently each time so far.  One would assume that as time goes by one would handle them better…but not necessarily. Last Christmas, I had two nervous breakdowns and one major temper tantrum. Granted, the flu swept through my entire household and we had to take a kid to Urgent Care on Christmas morning. I exclaimed “Merry Christmas” but inside, I was saying, “Bah, Humbug!” This year, I am determined to not let my inner Scrooge out again.

Grief is commonly described as a journey. So this, year, I’m considering my passage of grieving through the holiday season as a road trip. Perhaps you will to? The first thing that we will be needing is our roadmap. I have learned from a very helpful website called OptionB as well as from several grief counselors that writing a “Holiday Bill of Rights” is a helpful way to navigate through the holidays. It is a way to make the holidays what you need them to be and honor them by doing what works best for you. Frankly, this can apply to anyone who gets extra stressed out by the holidays. (Shout out to all you mamas out there!) You can write your own, borrow this one, or do a little of both? So here we go!

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1. I have the right to choose how I want to spend the holidays.

Seeing how we’re not the greatest at predicting how we’re going to feel in the future, it is best to leave yourself room for flexibility. Although our loved ones and friends mean well, they may not understand that the simplest holiday routines or traditions can actually be burdensome and stressful. Talk to them ahead of time about how you’re feeling.  Give them a heads up that you may change your mind or just prefer to play it by ear. And it is ok to say, “No!”

2. I have the right to do only what feels right.

If you don’t feel like celebrating a holiday…then don’t. If old traditions comfort you, then do them. If they don’t, then don’t. Maybe consider doing something different? Is there a meal you have wanted to try cooking? Or a new activity that you have wanted to try? This is the time to do it!

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For those who choose to celebrate the holidays, some prefer to honor and remember their loved one in the quietness of their heart. I personally, find it helpful to acknowledge my sister by making a little vigil in the corner or lighting some candles. These are some of the things I have done so far:

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IMG_5643.JPG(My sister’s name was Joy)

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(This is her tree in Sedona that we visit)

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My next goal is to do something charitable in my sister’s honor.

3. I will allow people to help.

It may be uncomfortable at first, but you will be so thankful once you have done it! I remember when I was being trained as a bartender years ago, I was told that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means that you have enough self-awareness to understand that the task at hand is more than your capable of handling momentarily, and that you’re willing to put your pride aside for the sake of achieving a better result. I have already communicated with my extended family that I am seeking to make the holidays effortless by pot lucking food and making gift exchanges simple. They have not only agreed but I think are relieved to have less pressure as well!

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4. I will allow myself to feel however I feel.

“As children we believe

the grandest sight to see

was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree.

But Heaven only knows 

that packages and bows

can never heal a hurting soul.”

-My Grown Up Christmas List, Kelly Clarkson

People who tell you how you “should” feel or act may mean well, but they often don’t know what’s best for you. There is no one right way to be. Surround yourself with people who will accept you as you are. Go easy on yourself, especially if you are one of those people telling yourself how you “should” feel. Just make sure you’re not taking out those feelings on others. Communicate to those closest to you if you’re in a little extra need of space or often in my case, in need of grace. I recently have said to my husband, “I know this is ridiculous but even the tiniest things that I have to do feel overwhelming to me today.” And you know what, he was more than happy to help! He ran an errand for me, and the burden felt lighter!

5. If I want to talk about it, I will. If I don’t, I won’t.

When people ask how you are doing, try to be discerning about how much you want to share and with whom. There may be people you feel comfortable telling how you’re really feeling and others with whom you may just want to keep the conversation light. For the latter, have a “go to” subject of conversation to use in those moments, like asking them what their holiday plans are? Or talking about something special you have planned.

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6. I WILL TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!!!!

The holidays are already exhausting under normal circumstances, but when facing hardship, they are exponentially more stressful! If you are the main caretaker of your loved ones, it is especially easy to forget about your own well-being. Eat well, take your vitamins and probiotics! Go outside! Release some endorphins by exercising! Make time to do whatever relaxes you when you have the opportunity. Consider writing it into your schedule a “Day To Do Nothing” and add in a “glorious nap”! For me, taking care of myself includes setting time aside to spend with God in His word and in prayer.  When I am swimming in deep waters, Jesus is my oxygen tank! static1.squarespace.jpg

7. I will hold on to hope.

Holidays may not look the way they did before, but in the same way that you have had to create a “new normal” after the loss of your loved one, be purposeful in creating the “new normal” for the holidays. Don’t fall into the mental trap of permanence-thinking that things will never get better. If you feel yourself falling into it, try replacing words like “always” with “sometimes”.

Make a bucket list of activities you want to enjoy and memories that you want to make, but make the list simple. A lot of our pressures of having a picture-perfect Christmas are self-imposed.  I am realizing that with all of the expenses of the holidays,  compromising my mental health is definitely one of them I cannot afford!

Ask yourself, “Ten years from now, what do I want to remember about this Holiday Season?” Is anyone truly going to remember (or care for that matter) if your cookies weren’t “Pinterest worthy”? Do I really want my kids to remember their mom with furrowed eyebrows and short responses because she was so stressed out by trying to make Christmas “magical” for them? Of course not!

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So, dear reader, I hope that even if you don’t stick to this roadmap entirely, that you will at least commit to what you consider to be the most important pit stops. Let’s commit to each other right now to be proactive and not reactive this holiday season. If we keep our eyes on the road, we won’t be caught off guard when there is stormy weather heading our way! In the meantime, I will be praying that those who are new to grief and who are well-acquainted with it, will experience the comfort and peace that only Jesus can truly give.

“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is His faithfulness;

His mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance;

therefore, I will hope in Him!'”

-Lamentations 3:20-24

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Forget You

I remember the first time I watched Mary Poppins.  One of the most impacting scenes on my six-year-old subconscious was the part where they jump into Bert’s chalk drawings.   It inspired in me such a faith in the power of belief that I was convinced that I could make anything happen if I just thought hard enough.  I once made an attempt where I opened a page of a Disney storybook and tried to jump into the scene.  It didn’t work, it just ripped the page a little.

“Well, maybe it only works with chalk?”  I digressed and went outside to play.

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Growing up in Sedona was “magical” all on its own.  I woke up every day to the view of Cathedral Rock  directly outside of my window. I was surrounded by acres of glittered powdery red sand perfect for building tunnels for Hot Wheels, digging for little blue crystals and for making mud pies.  My mom even let me have some of her old pie tins.  One day as I was swirling my muck to perfection, I thought to myself,

“Maybe if I use my imagination, this mud pie would really taste like chocolate?”  

Well, you can probably guess how that hypothesis was solved…with a big sandy mouthful of disappointment.  It’s sad to say but I carried this delusion well into adulthood.  Don’t worry, I stopped eating mud.  But some of my mind-sets were still just as absurd.

14 years down the road and I found myself in a toxic relationship, living with a guy who was 10 years my senior.  He was pretty much a parent’s worst nightmare; from the tattoos and motorcycle to the narcissism and unfaithfulness.  Just when I would get the backbone to leave him, he would charm me into a false peace and I would stay.  Three years into the cycle of manipulation, we found out we were going to have a baby.

As you can guess, when I confided in some loved ones closest to me, they were less than thrilled.  They were angry, in fact.  They pleaded with me not to keep it and made their cases for why keeping the baby would be to my detriment.  I would be disgraced.  It would have a bad home life considering the father I would be parenting with.  They formulated scientific arguments for why it wasn’t technically a “baby”.  But since I first knew of what an abortion was as a teenager, I firmly believed that a baby is a human being at conception and that human being has rights.

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalm 139:15-16)

The majority of their concerns were very legitimate and quite frankly I would have indeed been embarrassed. But I would also be violating my own personal code of ethics if I were to follow their advice. This bargaining went on for two or three weeks. And as each day passed I knew that it would get easier to resist their appeals.

It turns out that I didn’t have a backbone to do that either. At seven weeks pregnant, I was filling out paper work in a “family planning” clinic.  I looked around the room at the other girls and couples avoiding eye contact, also trying to pretend that we weren’t all there for the same reason.  I got to the last page of the forms:

“Are you sure you want to have an abortion?”

Yes [ ]        No [ ]

I lied.

After an examination and ultra-sound with the screen turned away so I couldn’t see, I was put under a mild anesthesia and the nurse told me to squeeze her hand.

After the procedure and in a daze, I was brought into a dark room to recover where some other girls were laying down.  I caught eyes with a young girl who was hooked up to an I.V., crying and telling me what they “did to her”.  She had been further along than I was and required a more extensive and barbaric procedure.  I felt a huge wave of nausea. I didn’t know if it was the lingering morning sickness or the reality of what I had just done.

“Maybe I can just make myself forget that this happened?” 

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I thought that I had made myself forget for years.  I busied myself with school, working, and eventually got married and had kids.  There were brief moments where it would resurface for a moment, like when I had my first OBGYN appointment while pregnant with my daughter and was asked if this was my first pregnancy?

I lied again.

I thought the lies were deceiving the doctors, but the truth is that I was deluding myself.  I had become so acquainted with denial that I had hardly noticed the heaviness pressing down on me. As time passed, the weight started to make me feel like I was going to suffocate. For years I have lived under the atmosphere of depression. In trying to protect myself from the truth, I actually created MORE suffering.

I am a follower of Jesus, and as such, I have been expected to surrender my life to Him completely, which is easy when you hand over simple things like your future plans or the well being of your family. But I came to find that He especially wants the things that we want to hide from Him. I also learned that He can handle it. 

“But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) 

So why do I hold onto these things?

I hold onto them because I am a usurper: I tell the Creator of the Universe that my life belongs to Him, but when it gets uncomfortable or too real, I wrestle it right back out of His hands.

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

-C.S. Lewis

In holding onto my shame, I’m truly holding onto disobedience and pride.

I have never acknowledged to God what I did, until a month ago.  I was loaned a compelling book called “Intimate Issues” by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus. It essentially tackles all of the things concerning sex that Christian women are uncomfortable talking about. I opened the cover and my eyes immediately fell to the chapter “How Can I Get Rid of Guilt over My Abortion?” At that moment I knew that this book finding its way into my hands was not an accident.

In the chapter, the authors observe that it is common for women to deny the experience in an attempt to avoid facing what they have done. Gosh, that sounds familiar.  They warn that, “As long as we cover up, hide, excuse, and rationalize, the guilt of abortion will haunt us. If we want to be healed, we must remember what happened.” Gulp.

They provide four steps to healing.  (They acknowledge that some ladies may require additional counseling.)

1. RememberingI started the process by allowing myself to go through the detailed events of the day, as uncomfortable as it made me feel. From what I ate for breakfast to my recovery.

I acknowledged that what had been take out of me was a baby. My baby.

2. Asking forgivenessI said a prayer to God confessing what I had done.

I leaned into the promise in His word that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John1:9)

3. Accepting forgivenessIt is a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than to receive it. This was my opportunity to face the shame head on and receive the grace that God generously offers. And in receiving this flood of grace, I felt empowered to offer forgiveness to anyone who was involved.

4. Releasing your child to God: “Releasing a child into God’s care is not about following prescribed actions, rather it is an acknowledgment in a woman’s heart that her child was real, that God cares about the child and will watch over him or her.” (page 139) 

They mention that some women say a prayer acknowledging the baby and imagine it under God’s care. Others find it helpful to do something concrete, like naming the baby or even having a memorial service. The authors mention that this last step is not a part of receiving forgiveness, if steps one and two have been followed, forgiveness is complete.  This last step is merely to promote healing.

The whole process took me about a week and a lot tears…but many of them from overwhelming gratitude. Since then, a lot of the heaviness has lifted. I have experienced firsthand the joy that comes from being loved by a God who loves me in spite of how well He knows me. 

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

-Timothy Keller

I did not write this to make a political statement or to condemn anyone, I am merely sharing my story.  It is my hope that it can encourage someone to start the process of healing or perhaps inspire someone else to think twice before making a decision that they are bound to regret. It is incredibly uncomfortable to share, but I consider it a necessity in the process of stepping down as a usurper and giving the King back the throne that He is rightfully due.

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is Yours, O Lord, and this is Your kingdom. We adore You as the One who is over all things.” (I Chronicles 29:11)

~For River~

 

 

Unfinished Busin…

“We are never in greater need of humility than when we are confident someone else is wrong.”

-Beth Moore

Is there someone in your life who rubs you the wrong way?  Or a person who has caused you great pain?  I’m pretty sure everyone would answer these questions with a resounding “yes”!  There’s the lady in the line at Starbucks who doesn’t use the 5 minutes she stood in line to decide what kind of coffee she will be enjoying but opts to slowly deliberate as the barista is anxiously awaiting her order.  Or the guy in the grocery store who parks his cart in the center of the aisle, blocking all traffic, unaware that you are in a desperate attempt to acquire groceries before you are thwarted by the screaming banshees in the cart that you call your children.  These are just daily irritations, but the unfortunate truth is that the majority of pain we have been dealt in life has been delivered to us by those we are closest to.

I by no means am under the delusion that I have experienced more pain than any other.  What I do know, however, is that I have not handled my pain appropriately.  I regretfully have caused pain to others; and even worse, the pain I have inflicted has been on those whom I love the most.  And I have come to find that nothing quite shines the light on the mistakes you have made in a relationship with someone like the moment when you realize that you’re about to say goodbye to them.

My sister, Joy had been in and out of hospitals on a monthly basis for five years, starting from the day she had her first diagnosis.  She found out that she had a rare blood disorder called hemochromatosis that had caused her to develop Cirrhosis of the liver.  This weakness in her immune system caused her to contract Valley Fever which spiraled into Spinal Meningitis.  The combination of these afflictions created a whole other set of health issues.  It had become such a frequent occurrence that there was no longer weight to the words “Joy is in the hospital”  because we knew she’d be out in a few days and life would go back to “normal.”  Little did any of us know that this time she wouldn’t be coming out.

The sobering moment I walked into the ICU and saw her on the ventilator, I was smothered in an avalanche of our unresolved issues.  In the moments I had alone with her, I just started pouring out apologies.  I didn’t even know where to begin.  Anything I could think of that she would be mad about, I apologized.  There were some of the bigger issues that were more obvious, but after that, I repented of anything that I possibly could.  “I’m sorry I didn’t clean the litter box as much as you did when we were roommates.”  “I’m sorry I didn’t wash the dishes more often.”  “I’m sorry for borrowing that shirt without asking you first that one time.”  You would be amazed at the ridiculous things that go through your mind in those moments!

After a week of her being unconscious, we discerned that she wanted her breathing tube out and I am thankful to say that she was able to confirm that and even talk a little for a day or two. Some of the things she shared with us in those final days were beautiful and life-changing… and I look forward to sharing those things some other time.  But of the most memorable things she said, there were eight words spoken that will haunt me forever; “Why are you being so nice to me?”  At this point, we were in her room at the hospice.  I had spent days with her before, feeding her ice chips and pretending they were different flavors of icees.  I played her favorite music for her on my phone, read her scripture, rubbed her feet, and continually told her how much I loved her.  All of these things I did for one week, not for five years like I wish I would have been.

For 30 years of my life, I had looked up to Joy as my big sister.  When I turned 18, I moved out of the house and right in with her.  We were best friends and roommates, just like I had always dreamed of when I was little.  Everything I did with Joy felt like an epic adventure, maybe even a little too epic sometimes.  And after so many excursions together, I felt it was time to pack my things and venture off on my own.   I was convinced that some of the most important possessions I took with me were my resentments.

In the background of any get together with Joy, was the subtle buzzing of my anger.  It was rarely confronted or brought up, but we were both aware that it was there.  I had shut her out emotionally.  I bottled up all of my love and affection for her and dispersed it to her accordingly when it was “deserved.”  When she was diagnosed, my heart softened towards her…but then I created new resentments.  She had accepted her new fate, but struggled to give up her old lifestyles.

During the last five years of her life, she called me several times out of the blue apologizing for things that happened when we lived together.  I would give the obligatory “it’s ok” but I didn’t truly let it go in my heart.  And I know that she felt that.  It couldn’t have been more clearly confirmed than when she asked why I was being so nice to her.

The night before she passed away, as I was getting ready for bed, I asked God “What do I need to tell her before she goes?”  I had sensed the entire week that she was holding on for something, but I wasn’t quite sure what.  I had never before heard so clearly from God until I did this night… I immediately heard “YOU need to forgive HER.”  She didn’t want my apologies, (although she deserved them) she needed me to accept hers.

Three hours after I went to bed, my mom called me saying that I needed to drive down to hospice as soon as possible, because she was fading quickly.  At four in the morning, I was racing down the 101 to see my sister one last time.  At this point, Joy was back in a dreamless sleep, but my mom and I sang her a church song about Heaven that she had sung when she was a little girl.  In a moment of quiet, I said to her, “Joy, I forgive you.”  And with those words, she shed a tear and took her last breath.  That is what she was waiting for… my forgiveness.

The first month of grieving my sister was a blur, but what I mostly remember is the panic attacks and remorse that would onset without notice.  I felt like I was suffocating with guilt.  I truly did forgive her when I said those words.   And now, all of the love and affection I held back from her was blasting through the floodgates that I had built in a pathetic attempt to protect my heart.  But now, she wasn’t here to receive it.

You know what materials I used to build my selfish little dam? Anger and pride.  My anger was truly a symptom of another emotion.  And what was directly beneath that was pain.  Anger gave me the illusion of empowerment because it was less vulnerable than my other emotions.  Larry Crabb observed in his book “Finding God” that, “No emotion creates a more satisfying illusion of noble strength than anger.”  Let me tell you, I don’t feel noble now.  I used my anger for comfort and protection.  I wanted to treat the symptom, not address the problem; and I fell prey to anger’s seduction.  

Anger also manifests when a perceived “right” has been violated.  I feel like this type of anger tries to lure me in on a daily basis.  With anyone and anywhere.  Remember the lady at Starbucks? At the root of this type of anger is self-love.  And a less flowery word for that is pride.  And I am in a continuous battle with it. “Every ego is a master of selective perception and distorted interpretation.” (Eckhart Tolle) It is ok to want to solve our problems and have self-respect, but when feeling better becomes a priority, and when it is at the expense of others, then there is the danger.  C.S. Lewis profoundly states it when he says, “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”  If pride is spiritual cancer, then humility is the antidote.

So how do we get that? Through people who irritate us of course!  God is gracious enough to help us deal with our self-love by bringing people across our path who annoy us!  Remember the screaming banshees?  If I do not humble myself, God will keep giving me the opportunity to get it right!  Larry Crabb advises us once again when he says that, “Christ offers HOPE, not RELIEF, in the middle of suffering, and He commands us to pursue Him hotly when we’d rather stop and look after our own well-being.”

 

IMG_3997.jpgDoes knowing this mean that I no longer struggle with anger? No!  As I am writing this, I am approaching the third anniversary of my sister passing away.  I feel the wave of grief rolling in; the atmosphere is getting heavy and the simplest daily interactions feel burdensome.  Idle chit chat is painful.  I’m in a constant state of anxiety and agitation.  But now is my chance to either ride the wave or get caught up in the undertow.   Each irritation is an opportunity to humble myself and surrender to God.  And I know that the trials of this week are coming through the filter of His love.

Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7 tells me how to do this, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

So in closing, friends, let me ask you once again; is there someone in your life who rubs you the wrong way?  Or a person who has caused you great pain?  Is it possible that anger or pride are preventing you from having a loving relationship with them?  I implore you to consider these things.  Mark Twain offers us this insight, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”   If you are feeling ill with anger, then I encourage you to take the antidote.

Scandal of Grace

RUnknown

The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”

Morton T. Kelsey

As someone who has gone to church since I was in the womb (literally), I have heard “grace” preached on, sung about, and spoken before supper. Yet, I have never really understood how it pertained to me.  I figured that grace is for people you hear about in a Johnny Cash song, certainly not for a church-going kid such as myself.  Grace was for the “major sinners.” As a teenager, I could race you to Ephesians 2:8 with lightning speed in a “Bible drill” at youth group. I was in a ministry at church, played in the band for chapel at my Christian high-school, and answered everything with “Bible”, “God”, or “Jesus”.

I didn’t need grace…I wanted love; and I believed that as long as I did everything that I was supposed to, God would love me. When I felt a teenage impulse, I was to deny that I had it. If I felt sad that my Grandpa died, I was to hide it. If I had any human emotion, I was to suppress it. I “knew” that God was right there keeping tabs on every thought, word, and deed, waiting for an awkward fumble so He could jump out with a pointed finger and yell “AHA!”

Amazing grace, right? I don’t know where this distorted way of thinking came from, but I can sure guess. From since I can remember, I was told that I was an accident; or as it was jokingly expressed to me, a “surprise”. Then, when my parents got divorced and I worriedly asked if I was going to have to choose a parent, it was made clear to me that the choice would not be necessary because I was only wanted by one of them. And that was the birth of the lie that theorized that I didn’t deserve love, but maybe I could earn it?

That Bible drill verse in Ephesians told me that it was “by grace you have been saved through faithnot by anything you have done so that nobody can claim credit…”(2:8-9), but the words of the scripture fell on my heart like water on a duck’s back; making contact and then rolling off.  I wanted a guarantee that my relationship with my Heavenly Father was “secured”. So I did what I could with my good works and piety.

High school came to a close, and after years of striving to be pious and failing miserably, I called it quits. I moved to Scottsdale, Az and was prepared to get a taste of all of the things I was told I had been “saved from”.  In what I thought was my new found freedom, I was offered “party favors” and escapes. Working in the restaurant industry opened up even more doorways for an opportunity. I could show up for a shift, ask the right co-worker for the right drug, and it would be accessible to me within days or even minutes. But the most damaging substance presented to me was a book, written by Anton Lavey. It had a simple orange cover, the title just three simple words, and the contents caused me more suffering and shame than I could have imagined.

This book promised anyone, even an awkward church girl such as myself, the ability to charm and manipulate a guy if it pleased me to do so. It was as simple as a carefully chosen outfit, strategically chosen words, and an accurate psychological assessment of the easy mark. It trained me to adjust myself to whomever I was trying to charm, to play a role, and get what I was seeking by doing what I was supposed to. Here, I was striving once again, trying to earn love.

I became addicted to the pursuit. I had no regard for who ended up in my path of destruction…including myself. I put myself in situations that resulted in my feeling worthless and used. I did things I said I never would. There were no restrictions. I indulged in whatever I pleased; and yet I felt more bound and burdened than ever.  

Until a day came when I was brought to my knees before the porcelain throne and had an awakening.  I was fearful that consequences of my actions were beginning to catch up to me.  I remember praying and pleading with God that if I could be given mercy from these repercussions, I would forsake my witchy ways.  He did.  And so did I… for the most part. As much as my heart was genuine, it would take years for old ways and fallen mind structures to be deconstructed.

About a year into my “recovery”, I fell in love with my best friend.  And although I used no manipulation or bewitching, I still fell prey to old habits.  A few months later, a little pink line told me that I was pregnant.  I awaited the wrath of God to descend down upon me in a massive deluge… but it never came.

My boyfriend and I told our families the news and after he had talked to his mom, he informed me that she wanted me to call her. I pushed the send button on my phone with head bowed in mortification and heart beating. I prepared myself for the voice of angry reprimand, but what I heard on the other end was a voice of love and acceptance. Grace.

In my eight month of pregnancy, I was bartending one night and a regular customer of mine was interrogating me about what I thought the cost of diapers per day would be. He was really getting on my nerves! I finally said, “I don’t know, Brad! I’ve got other things to worry about right now!” Little did I know that two days later he would show back up to my bar with a year’s worth of diapers in the back of his car. He was trying to calculate how many diapers to buy us. Grace.

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At 3:28 a.m., New Year’s Day, 2012 the beautiful Eva (new life) Jane (believer in a gracious God) made her debut. Grace.

My best friend became my husband and then in May of 2014 we were given a son, Zane (The Lord is gracious).  Grace.

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Thomas Merton said, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” God doesn’t use intimidation. He doesn’t use condemnation. He  certainly doesn’t jump out and yell “AHA!”. He knows that I am going to make mistakes… before I even do! C.S. Lewis confirms this when he says, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

The first time we see the word “grace” in the Bible, it’s in Genesis 6:8. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The word grace is composed of two Hebrew letters, “chet” and “noon”. Hebrew is a picture language, each letter is a picture. The letter chet is a private place of refuge, a fenced and protected sanctuary. The noon is a picture of a fish which represents activity and life. Essentially, God produces life in us and then puts a fence or wall of protection around that life so that it may not be destroyed or removed.  

For a more in-depth look at grace in Hebrew, click here: https://youtu.be/3UvRmxVtpa8

I depend on this grace daily. This does not mean, however, that I do whatever pleases me and then ask for forgiveness later. But in my inevitable moments of human weakness, I know I have Him to cry out to for help in my time of need.  Hebrews 4:15-16 gives the promise that “This High Priest of ours (Jesus) understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come BOLDLY to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Let us come boldly!  There will be no angry voice of reprimand on the other end of the line.

I don’t obey His laws to earn His love or serve Him to gain brownie points; I do it out of gratitude for the freedom I have been generously given! A.W. Tozer articulated it best in his book The Pursuit of God; “The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of sins that rule his members…while the man who surrenders to Christ exchanges a cruel slave driver for a kind and gentle master whose yoke is easy and burden is light.”

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t still struggle with perfectionism from time to time.  But Brennan Manning affirms in his Ragamuffin Gospel that “Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop-psychology.  It is an act of faith in the God of grace.” My parents may not have planned me, but God did.  Psalm 139 tells me that before I was born, each day of my life was written… before I even took a breath!

I may not be someone from a Johnny Cash song, but I do have a new song in my heart;

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.  My God, my Savior has ransomed me.  And like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.”(Chris Tomlin)