Elbows Up

I smile when I think of how many times God has worked on my soul in unexpected ways. Just when I think I’ve reached some sort of completion in my spiritual maturity, He sneeks in a side door and SURPRISE! He reveals Himself by nudging my soul toward further growth.

My husband and I are currently in the midst of a free month of membership at a local crossfit gym. We’ve attended several classes and we’re feeling it! That’s to be expected. A change in exercise regime is bound to prompt physical growth (and soreness!). But it was on day two of our little fitness adventure that I realized God was going to use this to work in my soul more than in my body.

You see, for many years now I have exercised according to my own plans. I haven’t had any coaching and next to no input regarding my form or technique when lifting weights at our local commercial gym. And I’ve been fine with that. I’m a pretty independent and intrinsically motivated person. I don’t NEED a coach or a class or whatever to keep me going. I tend to take pride in this fact.

But something new and strange and troubling has been happening since I’ve been at crossfit. There’s an instructor. He’s pointing out my bad form. He’s telling me what to do. I’m hearing things like, “keep your elbows up,” and “straighten your back,” and “thumb under, not over, the bar.” And it’s kind of ruffling my feathers. Even after day one, my flesh inwardly revolted against being coached. The exact words that came to mind were, “Don’t tell me what to do, thank you very much!”

Yikes! Am I really that arrogant and unteachable!?! Surely it’s just in this instance, right? Lord?

But my Heavenly Father has gently revealed to me that my pride and resistance to coaching extends to many other realms besides fitness. He has been using this rather inconsequential example of pride in my fitness to dig deeper into the pride swelling in my soul. He’s lovingly showing me how often my inner monologue sounds like, “Don’t tell me what to do!” no matter what the situation.

God is confronting me with this truth about myself and I’m beginning to see how deadly it is to my soul. My resistance to heed instruction actually sets me up for destruction and failure.

The crossfit coaches aren’t pointing out my flaws just for fun or to ridicule me. They genuinely want what is best for me: to avoid injury, to gain strength, to be healthy. If I don’t listen to them, I only hold myself back from growth and set myself up for pain and failure.

It is good, valuable, and downright VITAL that I accept their coaching.

It’s true of my soul, too. It’s true of all our souls.

A crucial component of our soul’s growth is ‘coaching.’ This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. It’s also a role of the body of Christ. We need each other to tell let us know when to “keep our elbows up” and “straighten our backs.” In other words, we need to be lovingly urged to keep our eyes on Christ when our circumstances overwhelm us. We need to be gently rebuked when we are unkind to family or friends. We need soul correction.

Most importantly, we need to accept the correction for what it is: Love. God disciplines those He loves not in order to unleash His anger (Christ has already taken care of that), but in order to lead us in the paths of righteousness and life for His glory and our good!

In order for our souls to be healthy and hopeful, we must be willing to accept and heed truthful correction.

“For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 3:12

So, I’ll be working on keeping my elbows up, all the while remembering to let my soul be coached, too.

The Accomplishment of Rest

Transitions can be messy. New boss, getting married, new neighbor, becoming a parent. These events can be awkward and punctuated simultaneously by loss and hope. Transitions can be beautiful – like the slow turning of summer into autumn.

September has been a month of transition in our home and in my heart. I’m afraid it’s been a bit more ugly than beautiful. As all my kids began school and sports, I was left with unusual amounts of time to myself. Some of you would probably do most anything for days like these. But, I somehow managed to twist this gift into a curse.

I failed to rest, or appreciate that I even had opportunity to rest. Instead, I worked my inner world into a frenzy of trying to figure out my new purpose and calling and life. I recognized the transition, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t have a map. Something ended and I wanted something else to begin, but I had no idea what. And God seemed so silent.

God, who knows all and holds all things together, wasn’t giving me even a trail of crumbs as to what good works He had appointed for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). I was ready for action. Heaven forbid I take time to relax. Rest is NOT an accomplishment. Is it?

So I filled my days with household work and worry. Wondering if I’d wandered too far to hear the Holy Spirit’s leading. Meanwhile, my soul was a turbulent mess. I felt like I was losing purpose and meaning – like God was silent and had stepped away. For someone who has tendencies toward depression, this is NOT a healthy path to trod.

So what’s a soul to do?

I’m learning, yet again, that there’s only one option. Believe. Trust. Have Faith. In the Biblical Greek language, it all stems from the same root word. But believe what?

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:6 NASB

I want to please God, to know that my Maker doesn’t look at me and shake His head, but looks at me and nods approval. But, I mistakenly believe that in order to please God I have to DO something: make meals for people, go to Bible Studies, win souls, care for my neighbor, be a better wife, be a better parent, change the world. But no! God is pleased simply with my belief in Him and my seeking after Him! My flesh and fallen mind cannot begin to comprehend how such a thing is true, and yet there it is in God’s Word.

So I am willfully choosing to believe. Regardless of feelings. Regardless of knowledge of His plans. Oh my soul, believe in God and believe that He is pleased as I seek! What a pleasant place to dwell.

Belief is ushering me into rest for my soul. Rest from the striving and yearning. Rest from seeking to achieve. Rest from comparing my life to others’. Rest from trying to earn God’s pleasure.

The nation of Israel struggled to enter into God’s rest too. And similarly, their issue boiled down to belief.

So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Hebrews 3:19

How often God beckons me to rest in and with Him, and how often I fail to accept it. I believe lies of self-sufficiency, of purpose outside of Him, of worldly comparisons, of self-imposed expectations. All the while, God is only desiring that I believe in Him and in the sufficiency of His Son, Jesus, with whom He is well pleased. Jesus Christ, in whom my life is hidden and protected. So I can rest. That is an accomplishment!

Perhaps there’s a transition happening in your own life that is sparking tumult in your soul. I offer a simple prayer for us all.

Lord God, Creator and Sustainer, we recognize You as the One who holds all things together, even our souls. We confess our default setting of unbelief. We confess we often strive when we ought to be still, we often scheme when we ought to surrender. Thank You for Your faithfulness, even in the midst of our unfaithfulness. We need You. We need Your rest. Help us to believe You and seek You as the world all around us is changing. Amen.

How Getting Away Can Bring You Home

We added 456 miles to our minivan earlier this week. We traversed the Cascades and settled in Central Oregon, with dear college friends, for two nights.

Even before we left, I had a gut feeling that this would be a monumental trip, in an understated sort of way.

It was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the life God has given me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, getting away for a couple days was just what my soul needed. Leaving home, work, neighborhood, and responsibilities proved to be more than just a break.

Our getaway to the center of our state helped center my soul.

The more self aware I become, the more I realize how travel – whether across town or across the world – can bring health to my soul.

When I don’t spend time away, I start becoming dangerously myopic. All I can see is me and the people and possessions that I think orbit around me. I become the center. I become the hope for my soul. I deceitfully begin to think and feel as if I am the one holding my world together.

I go. I get away. I step out of my life. And everything changes.

This recent trip was no exception.

Reconnecting with old friends reminds me of that intangible bond we have with each other in the Body of Christ. Seeing differing topography and the myriad beauty of God’s handiwork reminds me of His vastness and my comparative smallness. Brief intersections with unknown (to me) humans – the fellow hiker or grocery store checker or gas station attendant – remind me there are billions of stories being written in this moment and billions more that have gone before and are yet to unfold. My story, but a single star in the night sky. So small, yet significant and loved by the Creator.

Each of these small reminders, the friends, the hills, even the strangers, are like stepping stones back to Reality. They usher me into a perspective more in line with Truth. Getting away brings my soul back to my true home, back to an earthly life lived in light of eternity.

The Painted Hills

Is Self-Awareness Selfish?

I inwardly cringed at the question. She asked me: What are you passionate about in life? As a logic driven individual, I try NOT to be ruled by ‘passion’, because ‘passion’ can be dangerous – unpredictable, illogical, potentially damaging. Following ‘passion’ feels like losing control. I know it’s not always the case, but there you have it, a glimpse of my fear of emotions.

I understand my fears, desires and motivations more now than ever. But, as I pursue greater self-awareness, a few questions haunt me:

Is self-discovery simply self-centered?

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption?

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself?

I recall how the Lord has dealt so gently and lovingly with my soul. He has brought me through valleys and put praise in my heart in the midst of darkest nights. He has tenderly formed my heart, shaped my soul. A significant part of His process has included my growing self-awareness; bringing what was hidden in the darkness into the exposing Light of truth.

Yet I am still haunted by these questions. I feel a sense of guilt as I pursue personal growth. Is there really any benefit to understanding myself better?

I’ve taken all sorts of personality profiling assessments that claim to tell me who I am: a melancholy-phlegmatic, INTJ, Thinker-Doer, Blue-Green-Red, Rosebush-PineTree, 5 wing 4, etc…

You’ve probably got a long list of personality labels too.

Personality profiles attempt to give us a language for what can never be fully expressed. The writer of Proverbs describes our inner-workings this way:

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out.

Proverbs 20:5 (NASB)

Deep water is dark, difficult to plumb, potentially dangerous. Our motivations and plans are often hidden so deeply that grueling work is necessary for anyone, even ourselves, to draw them out. Ultimately, such a task requires supernatural wisdom and understanding. To plumb the depths of the human heart and soul, we must turn to the Maker of all, “for He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21b)

The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way,

But the foolishness of fools is deceit.

Proverbs 14:8

No, self-awareness isn’t selfish. Quite the contrary. Self-awareness helps us walk in truth! Unless we seek God’s wisdom to understand ourselves, we live in deception. Yikes! That is not the path I want to take. Give me truth. Give me self-awareness, no matter how revealing and painful it may be. Do you feel the same?

So….

Is self-discovery simply self-centered? No. It is a necessary component of growth in all areas of life.

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption? No. Rather it can lead to the beautifying work of God within us.

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself? No … and Yes. Our ability to love and serve others well correlates directly to our own level of health. (More on this to come!)

Self – Awareness is a crucial initial step toward partnering with our Creator in caring for the one, eternal soul with which God has gifted us. I’m chasing it; I hope you are too.

Back to my cringing inducing question. What am I passionate about? More and more the Lord is stirring in me a longing to care for souls and partner in God’s work of healing and growth. Growth in my soul, the souls of my family, my spiritual family, and you! I pray that the words I offer here provide even a smidgen of care for your soul.

I suppose soul care is the emphasis my blogging venture has always orbited, even though it’s just now that I am beginning to put words to it all. I write my heart and soul for you as a way of caring for my own soul, in order that in some way I might help care for yours, too. I write to bring my dark things into the Light, and maybe, just maybe, help shine a light on your dark things too. If my handful of words can somehow help usher you into the Light of Christ, praise God! It’s how I’m Aiming at Heaven.

If the pursuit of soul care resonates with you, wonderful! I’ve got a lot more to share on the topic. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss what’s to come!

Behind Pulled Curtain and Through Torn Veil

I do not write this post for the sake of self expression. I write it because I know so many of you are familiar with aching loneliness. In my darker moments I was certain I was the only one feeling so utterly excluded. But this is a lie. If you think you’re the only one who feels alone, this too is a lie. Let me tell you the truth. You are not alone. You are loved. There is One who has died to be close to you. When you join Him in the Light you will have sweet fellowship with those who are in the Light too!

*******

I woke from surgery very sore and weak, but experiencing longed for relief. No more vomiting. No more excruciating pain. The needle pokes for IVs didn’t even bother me much – not compared to the pain I’d been in a few hours before. The pain of a poisonous appendix.

In my recovery room, I occupied the windowed side of the room while my roommate was closer to the hallway door. I was glad for the view of summer outside my window.

My parents made sure I was doing well and was settled. Then they left. They returned from time to time, but mostly I was alone.

Three days I stayed. Many of those hours were spent alone in my recovery bed. The days felt like an eternity of emptiness; waiting achingly for my family to visit. I was only eight. Lonely. Recovering from emergency surgery. Scared.

True, I wasn’t completely alone. I had a roommate, though we didn’t speak much. Nurses and doctors came to check on me, have me breathe into a strange plastic apparatus, take my blood pressure and pulse and temperature, and bring me food. But, I still felt alone and abandoned.

The most piercing pain of loneliness came one afternoon when my roommate had at least half a dozen visitors. One of her guests turned my way, glanced at the room dividing curtain, and pulled it shut; cutting me off from any connection or tenderness or even a friendly smile. I was shut out from their attention, compassion, consideration. And I was shut in. Shut in, trapped, within myself. The curtain blocked my view of the hallway door. I was utterly alone. But I could still hear the kind and doting words of my roommate’s family and friends on the other side of the curtain. I could see their shadows through the thin fabric, but couldn’t participate in their activity. I could hear their words and laughter, but couldn’t speak or be spoken to. I was, as I had already begun to feel before the surgery, separate from the rest of humanity. Not necessarily despised or loathed, but excluded and non-existent.

So long these feelings have lingered. Through the teen years such feelings were understandably overwhelming. But even now they haunt me at times. My hospital experience as a child epitomizes what I have felt for nearly my entire life. I feel as though the curtain is pulled between me and the rest of the world. Like I’m an outside observer, never an engaged participant in relationships. Like I’m shut in, shut out, bound up, constrained.

Lonely.

Several months ago this childhood scene splashed upon my memory afresh. I sobbed as I recognized those same feelings and wounds in my soul even now. I still feel like my eight year old self sometimes.

In agony of heart, I poured out my feelings and thoughts to the Lord as salty tears streamed down my face. I cried out to Him about the depths of my pain and loneliness. I cried out from behind the pulled curtain. Desperately, I cried.

In that most gracious and healing moment, God the Holy Spirit implanted in my mind a new scene. An ancient original. History, deeper than my own, was rewriting my memory. As I gazed in agony upon that closed curtain, I noticed something different. Starting from the top, the curtain began to tear. And what a brilliant tear it was! The whole curtain tore in brightest light from top to bottom. And through the tear, though I didn’t see Him in my mind’s eye, I knew with a knowing beyond sight that Jesus, my crucified and resurrected Lord, was there in the light.

“Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

Mark 15:38

His presence there, beyond the torn veil, silently spoke to my heart. Because of the eternal sacrifice and resurrected life of Christ, I am no longer shut out or shut in. I have acceptance and access to the most precious of all relationships – a relationship with my Creator. I have the right to fully participate and enjoy involvement in His work because of the purifying blood of Jesus.

Whether others have pulled the curtain or I have pulled the curtain on myself, God showed Himself to me as the One who tore the veil, who removes separation, who invites me into relationship and participation in His Life. He pursued and continues to pursue me. He tore the veil so He could come close to me and I can draw near to Him. Any perceived exclusion is a lie. Any destructive sense of loneliness is a deception from the Deceiver Himself.

Not only is there now unity in my relationship with God, but as a member of the Body of Christ, I am supernaturally knit together with my brothers and sisters in Christ as well! As I am beginning to comprehend the reality of this truth, fellowship fills me up and scatters loneliness. Praise the Lord! He has done marvelous things!

“…but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another…”

1 John 1:7a

The veil has been torn. It is up to us to step through it and into the Light!