For Those of us still processing

It’s like this. We fell asleep one night and we’ve woken up in a dark cave full of unknowns and uncertainties. We’re crawling on hands and knees, slowly moving hands up, down, around, searching for boundaries to this rocky walled cave. How high is it? Does the floor slope? Are there dangerous stalactites and stalagmites jutting out ready to bruise heels or gash scalps? We’re searching for a safe alcove, maybe some debris to spark into a fire. All the while, some are shouting out, “Turn left!” “Move faster!” But no one is in another’s place, so it isn’t all that helpful. A few will call out, “You’re doing great, keep going!” or “It will all be ok.” Mildly and temporarily comforting. All eyes are still adjusting to the darkness. We’re feeling around for the from of our new world.

Less than 24 hours after schools and businesses began to close due to Covid-19 I felt the pressure of ‘figuring life out,’ of having a full map of the dark cave emblazoned in my brain. It seemed like so many others already had one. My in-boxes and social media feeds were already filled with advice – cute daily schedules for kids, work from home tips, fitness resources, inspirational quotes, recipes for homemade soap, etc… Before I could even define what was happening in my family, community, and country, so many people seemed to have this ‘new norm’ packaged and ready for delivery.

I felt rushed to adjust; and still do.

So the message I’m delivering is a simple one: It’s ok to still be searching. It’s ok to still be processing this new world shaped by pandemic. It’s ok to move slowly and carefully through the darkness. Maybe it’s even healthy for our souls to be slow to process.

I can’t offer you a map of the cave because I don’t have one, but I can offer a glimpse of how I’m moving through it.

Some of you are pro’s at quickly processing changes and developing an action plan. I envy you. I often need a little more time to process in a healthy-for-me way with the Lord. Here are a few points of process I’m finding incredibly valuable as I feel along the walls of the cave.

I’m allowing myself to Grieve. We have all incurred loss in the midst of this pandemic. My losses are minor compared to some, I know. But I’m just beginning to grieve the loss of things like travel plans, being face to face with family and friends, alone time (5 kids at home all day now!), goals for the future, routine, control, freedom. Grief is hard for me to admit, let alone walk through. I’d much rather just brush it under the rug as ‘no big deal.’ But that rug is becoming a sore in my soul. Loss is loss, no matter how big or small. Greif and lament are not foreign to God, neither should they be to me.

I’m naming my feelings. My actual experiences and feelings are often out of sync – like when the audio and visual don’t match up and the lips move before the sound comes out. I live life, and then later the feelings come. I am a very slow processor of my own feelings. But, I’m attempting to invest more in this area by purposely focusing on awareness of my feelings every day. There’s this great color of feelings chart that I’m using to help my process. Feelings must be identified before they can be processed. I’m learning that avoiding my emotions has actually been a rift in my relationship with the Lord. He made us all to have feelings. He has them too! Part of intimacy with Him, or anyone else, is to be honest about emotions. I know some of you are very emotionally intelligent and already have this figured out. But, I’m still in process in this way. And this unprecedented time of pandemic is providing me plenty of opportunity to practice processing feelings! The most profound thing I’ve recognized is that the lingering tiredness I’ve been experiencing is in the “sad” category of feelings according to the color of feelings chart. I often get upset with myself for feeling inexplicably tired. I’m now coming to realize that it’s probably often a sign of sadness in my soul. I’m learning to admit that sadness to God, myself, and others, even if I don’t completely know where it’s coming from. I hate not having an explanation for my feelings, but it’s a reality that cannot be ignored.

The logical and structured part of me thinks I should have a third point now, like a well-rounded three point sermon. I actually wrote one. But I was only fooling myself. There’s still so much I’m processing; so much I don’t understand about what’s going on in the world and inside of me. There’s the truth.

Each day one hand inches forward through the cave, feeling and fumbling in the darkness. Then, I remember there is a Light. Not the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but a true and guiding Light named Jesus. He hasn’t told me what exactly to do or feel in these times, but He has offered His Life and Light to flow through me. He has promised His presence and He has promised to bear fruit through my life – even in the dark. His is the only fruit that flourishes and shines in the dark.

As I make my way slowly through the cave, ever so slowly processing the little I can perceive and understand, I hear the echoes of Jesus’ words to the disciples: “It is not for you to know times or epochs…” Neither is it for us. It IS for us to follow Him, to yield to His Spirit, moment by moment.

Lord of all creation,

We are profoundly shaken. We have lost our earthly bearings, our human made structures of time and purpose. As we grieve these losses, help us to begin to build on the one true Foundation. Realign our hearts to prioritize what you prioritize. Help us to neither seek for hope in controlling as much as we can, nor lose hope because of all we cannot control. Instead, help us to fix all hope upon you. Help us to rest in the process rather than in answers. More importantly, help us to process WITH You, so we may be firmly rooted in Your foundation. Shine Your Light on what is necessary for us to see. And for all that remains unseen, Lord we believe in You, help our unbelief!

God has made it imperative in the design of life that we become willing to trust beyond ourselves. Walking by faith means to follow Someone else who knows more than we do, Someone who is also good.

Ravi Zacharias

If you’d like some more encouragement in the middle of navigating all our current uncertainties, check out this short video Cyrus and I put together through our church!

Guest Post and a Giveaway!!!

I’m so happy to introduce you to my friend, Erin Mullins! She has graciously accepted my request to share how God is developing her soul. I know you will enjoy what Erin has to say. Be sure to read to the end for a special Christmas Giveaway!!

Unshaken

Guest Post by Erin Mullins

When was the last time you shivered from being cold-to-the-bone? For me it’s those drizzly Pacific Northwest days when the air is damp and I feel chilled and unsettled.

On these days  I want a cup of coffee most, a hot mug cupped between two hands, the heat of ceramic radiating onto my fingers. The nutty-bitterness of coffee mingled with a bit of sweet and smooth creamer seems to comfort and satisfy.

I gave up coffee about six weeks ago. Obviously, I miss it. 

Why did I give up coffee? One morning as I was pouring my regular cup, I felt a spiritual nudge to give it up.  This invitation seemed to come out of nowhere. I ignored it for about three days. Maybe it was just the fog of sleeplessness talking. Doubt creeped in. My desire for coffee in the morning was too strong.

But I couldn’t shake the idea. What did I have to lose? If I believe God is good, then there must be something good to gain by trusting and obeying. Do you know what I discovered? It wasn’t just about giving up something to drink. It was about giving up my first comfort of the morning and the thing I look forward to. It was disrupting my routines. 

Drinking water has never been my strength. I often confuse my body’s cues for thirst with being hungry. So I often grab a snack when I’m actually thirsty. In letting go of coffee, I found my thirst cues coming through more clearly. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, I reached for a tall glass of water, reminding me that Jesus Christ is the only one who satisfies my thirst.

My tastebuds started changing. Honey now tastes sweeter. Sourdough bread tastes more sour. Was I imagining these things? I looked it up and coffee does impact one’s sense of taste!  Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was quite literal in my case.

But the biggest thing I came to admit was that coffee had become an idol. Intellectually, I would tell you that God is my strength. Of course, I can survive without coffee. Functionally, I believed the coffee culture lie that I couldn’t make it through the day without it. In the early morning I would think, “Oh my, I didn’t sleep enough last night, I need coffee in my system ASAP.” Later in the morning, “I am dragging today, I need another cup.” And on especially tiring days I would scrutinize the clock between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. deciding if it was too late for another mug.

Recently Psalm 62:1-2 began popping up in various places in my life. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

My soul finds rest in God alone. Soul. What is my soul exactly? I was led to a word study series produced by The Bible Project. This team developed a video that takes a closer examination of the word soul. What I learned fascinated me.

The ancient Hebrew word for soul is “nephesh.” On a basic level it translates to mean throat. However, it doesn’t just mean one’s actual throat, but takes on a larger meaning that one is a living nephesh. Initially that sounds strange, but it makes more sense when you consider that  our whole physical being depends on what goes in and out of our throats: breath, water, and food. Nephesh represents our entire living being.

Now I can see God’s sense of humor at play here. Coffee is the thing I want to chug down my throat on tired days. Here in the midst of giving up coffee, He teaches me about nephesh. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” My throat (my entire being) won’t find rest in coffee, but in God alone.

In the morning, instead of my first thoughts being for coffee, my first thoughts are tending towards God. He is renewing my mind and I can see that it is good. Coffee consumption is so minor in the grand scheme of things, but I am impressed by the big lessons in such a small cup. 

I am learning to surrender to God’s best for me. Practicing faithfulness in small ways is preparation for faithfulness in bigger ways. Exerting discipline over something small like coffee is developing my spiritual muscles. Trusting God in small ways will strengthen me for the greater things God is preparing me to do.

By doing so, when greater things unsettle us, we can respond with an unshakable faith. There will always be cold, rainy days that cause us to shiver. Undesirable things are always going to happen. We are going to encounter a social media post that ruffles our feathers, a car accident that jolts us, or a relational conflict that causes brokenness. Let us practice now, before deeper troubles come, trusting in the unshakable God.

Tapping into the joy of art and the lessons I’m learning, this art-prayer was created: “Her soul’s truest rest is in God alone. Planted by the stream of Living Water, her roots run deep. She will not be shaken.”

Not only did Erin create this beautiful piece of meaningful art, but she is offering to give it away to one of you!! How sweet is that?!? So here’s what you need to do to win: Simply follow this link to subscribe to Aiming at Heaven and you will be entered into the giveaway. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you! Your name will be added automatically so there’s no need for you to do a single thing :). All entries must be in by Monday, December 9, 2019, 12 PM PST. The winner will be selected that same evening.

Merry Christmas! And a huge thank you to Erin for her generosity!

If you’d like to connect with Erin, you can find her on Facebook (@Erin Mullins) and Instagram (@emullinsphotos).

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.

POTUS, the Bride, and the color Purple

 

Now we know. Trump’s the one we have chosen. The decision between the two candidates has been one that, unfortunately, has brought out far more of our nation’s ugliness than its beauty.

The division of our “One Nation Under God” is painful to witness and experience.

But, what pains me even more, makes my heart ache, is the division I witness and experience among the Bride – the Body of Christ. And this election season has only served to intensify the division.

The divide in our nation politically is nothing new. In fact, it’s this very divisiveness that serves as built in accountability for our leaders.

The divide in the Bride, too, is nothing new. But our division is our destruction; and it’s the destruction of the image of God on the face of the earth.

Many believers on social media have been soothing themselves and others with the reminder that God is sovereign and in control. I’m about to sound heretical, but I don’t believe it’s enough for us as the Bride to simply cling to the truth that God is in control as we wade through these waters.

Yes, God is ultimately in control of all nations.

However, the question of supreme control also begs the question of intimate, personal control. We, the people of the mystical union in Christ Jesus, need to ask ourselves, “Is God in control of me?” Or to state it another way, “Am I submitting to the authority, supremacy, control, and sovereignty of God?” An affirmative answer to this question day by day is the ONLY answer to remedy divisiveness in the Bride.

Call me crazy, but I am one of those people who believe that the Word of God is pertinent to any and every circumstance.

It’s full of wisdom on the topic of unity.

Just a few days ago, I was reading Psalm 133 which starts by saying:

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!”

My soul resounded with an emphatic, Yes!

But how do we get there?

I’m convinced it’s all in the mind – the mind of Christ, that is!

Paul says this:

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,” (Romans 8:6-7)

And Paul again:

“but we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16)

And again:

“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (Philippians 2:2)


We stumble into disunity when we stray from the mind of Christ.

But.

We abound in unity when we ascend to the mind of Christ.

There is no other way.

We must lay down our heart, soul, mind and strength and unite ourselves in love to Christ and as a result to one another.

“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27)

 

The world needs us to be what we are meant to be – not a particular political regime or agenda – but an example of heavenly unity on earth. The world needs to see the results of the gospel!

So, what does it take? It’s the question I keep asking myself. I know I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few things I’ve been ruminating on:

It takes humility, knowing that we are flawed and don’t have all the right answers. (1 Peter 5:6, Philippians 2)

It takes practiced discernment between God’s economy and the world’s. (Is. 55:8; Rom. 12:2)

It takes seeking His way, rather than the world’s – even if that means the world condemns us. (Matt. 16:23; 1 John 2:15; Col. 3:2)

It takes loving and hoping in God more than we love and hope in the world and it’s schemes. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It takes a personal pursuit of holiness. (1 Peter 1:15-16)

It takes constantly abiding in who we are and Whose we are. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

It takes disciples and disciplemakers. (Matt. 28:18-20)

It takes forgiveness. (Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32)

It takes living as Christ lived. (I John 1:6)

If the triune God exists in perfect unity, then we have every reason to hope that those of us who are in Him can walk in unity! I am hopeful! This is our greatest testimony to the world!

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Cor. 1:10)

The beauty of this supernatural unity is that it has potential to exists, and does exists, regardless of Obama, Trump, or Clinton, or any other government.

This is the path I choose to pursue.


So, the color purple?

Well, red and blue make purple, right?

Unity.

And purple is the priestly, kingly color, right?

Unity, in the truest sense, is then the rule of the one true King!

And it’s possible here and now.

Ok, I realize this argument is not exactly airtight, but just a fun little thought nonetheless.

 

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus”

(Romans 15:5)


Where Hate and Love Collide

I hate the evil in this world.

I hate what happened in Orlando, and Paris, and San Bernadino, and New York.

I hate the fact that there are false religions that preach death when the true God is the Creator and Sustainer of Life.

I hate that millions of voiceless lives have been snuffed out before they’ve had a chance to take their first breath.

I hate sex trafficking.

I hate substance abuse and addiction.

I hate the fact that foster care is needed because families are so dysfunctional.

I hate that there are parents and grandparents in this world who would sell their young children for a few dollars.

I hate that friends of mine have been victims of violence, abuse, rape and crime.

I hate loneliness.

I hate political corruption.

I hate hypocrisy and greed.

I hate starvation.

I hate bullying.

I hate the shadow of depression that has fallen on so many of us.

I hate apathy and inaction.

I hate disease, sickness, and cancer.

I hate hurricanes and earthquakes.

I hate hatred.

I hate death.

I hate the evil and fallen state of this present age.

And I hate that the same evil without, lurks within.

I hate that I yell at my kids.

I hate that I’m judgmental.

I hate that I struggle with selfishness and pride.

I hate that I’ve lied and cheated.

I hate that I’ve hated another.

I hate that I don’t love like I should.

I hate that I know what is right but I still do what is wrong.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. Romans 7:15

 

It’s sad, yes. It hurts, absolutely. But is it ok for me to hate?

What if there is a time to hate? To hate all that is evil and it’s source, Satan? Our love for the Holy God should result in hatred of what He hates. Wickedness, evil, sin. If we don’t hate these things, maybe we are loving the wrong things. And maybe misplaced hate is just as dangerous as Misplaced Love.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:20

Of utmost importance is this: God never tells us to hate another person. We are only to hate the evil that resides in us and in this world.

But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:11

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:15

Hating others is sinful and hateful toward God and His creation.

But we can’t stop at simply hating what God hates. We have to follows His steps toward a solution. We must walk in His steps of love. In the steps of Jesus, who, while the whole world loved darkness and was lost in sin and evil and hatred toward Him, loved. Loved unto death.

He set the pattern for how we as His disciples can deal with hate.

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… Luke 6:27

And we know that the world hates those of us who choose His light over darkness, who choose life over death, who choose to love Him instead of loving the world.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. John 15:18

Let’s not fool ourselves; we can’t love and tolerate and accept everything, as the world would have us believe. We cannot serve two masters.

I pledge allegiance to the Light, Life, and Love found in Christ alone.

And because of that, there is a time to hate. More certainly, there is a time I, we, will be hated.

A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:8


In a response to a newspaper’s question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” G.K. Chesterton replied:

“Dear Sir,

I am.”

All of us are bound to answer in the same way.