The Forgotten Prayer (a short story)

blue-city-ice-new

I watched from the crystalline platform suspended across the rift. Veils of space and time swirled for ages and fathoms beneath My feet. Through the sheer and shifting curtains of mist, I glimpsed the lab room, and the girl studying My creation with all the childlike wonder of discovery I’d planted within her. Those seeds had borne fruit. And what a joy to observe her steady self-awakening.

I felt His warmth behind me and spoke—though I need not for Him to know My thoughts. “For the first time in her life, she’s beginning to sense her place in the world—to see she’s not an extraneous part, but to realize she fits.” I strolled along the glassy bridge. My resplendent robe trailed across vapor and ice, swirling around feet that had trod the sands of time.

I glanced back over one shoulder, with human eyes that shouldn’t have been capable of beholding such brilliance—yet they did. “When I draw near, she’s beginning to sense my presence. She’s actively seeking. Her toes are to the threshold.”

clouds-light

A voice emerged from the light, bursting with greater force of power than a hurricane’s crushing clamor. “Our enemy has plans to ruin that. But we put it in her heart to pray that prayer. He will do what he does—try to rewrite her story—and think he’s rendered her ineffective.”

“While we pen a different ending.” A pang of bittersweet joy consumed My heart. She would soon forget the prayer, but as for Me, it would be My guiding hope for her life—My map for her future. A future destined to take ten-plus years to sculpt. Ten dark years in which she would muddle through—essentially—as if I didn’t exist. “She won’t understand for a long time, but she will,” I muttered, returning to the exact moment in time when she’d recorded that prayer in her journal.

January, 17, 2006. Ten years and one day until her first child’s birth, and three years more until she would shed the blinders of fear and doubt. This was her prayer to Us.

“Father, breathe Your life on me…cleanse me from within. As an unclean pot needs to be broken…break me and reform me again in Your image…” And it went on—but the heart of the prayer was there. My heart was there too, ready to be crushed alongside her—whether she sensed Me or not.

female-865110_1280

But I knew she wouldn’t sense Me again for a long time. Her prayers would falter. Her light of hope would dim, flicker, and expire in a puff of smoke and cinder. She would think I had abandoned her—or worse—that I’d never cared at all.

O, how wrong she was.

A few weeks later, she wrote in her journal again.

01/24/06: “Father, You nudged me back to church because of a crazy movie! You have not let go since. I am here at this point in my life because of You. When I say, “Lord, it will be very hard, but I know I need to change,” You replied, “Lara, can I not do with you as this potter does?” You have told me that You are going to do it! All I need is to trust You and believe in You…and You will do the rest! Thank You, Father…Thank You, Jesus!”

My lone tear slipped along one cheek and dropped to the glass as hissing steam.

One day, she would thank Us again. But before then, the enemy of her soul would shatter that youthful idealism into dust. He would shake every pillar on which she attempted to stand.

And there I stood, knowing the intense anguish that had been stored up for her, unable to keep those pillars from collapsing beneath the burden of her misplaced trust. Those pillars—degree, career, husband, and passions—they were never meant to carry such a weight. Not even one such pillar had the power to sustain her. There was, unfortunately, no other way for her to learn. We—and we alone—had the power to bear up beneath her desperate search for significance.

woman-fire-prayer.jpg

“The idols must fall,” My Father uttered in a whispered voice nearer yet than my own breath.

“Indeed…” And I knew the prayer’s answer would soon begin to unfold with greater intensity, even smothering the other desperate prayers she would weakly offer up—seemingly without any answer. The trials of her doctoral studies would graduate into what would feel like the greatest failure of her life. Three years hence, she would finally “give up” on that career—would consider herself a fraud with a degree worth less than nothing. “But before then, let’s send her a gift to look back on. A treasure to be unearthed from her journal at the glorious conclusion of this journey’s end.”

I sensed My Father’s approval. Moments later, the veil shifted, and We watched it unfold. A little vignette in a lab room. A visiting scientist with a story—an atheist even, telling a parable from My own creation. How wise he felt—and clever. A man who believed I was a lie as he uttered the words I gently coaxed from his lungs. And My Lara, she and I chuckled together at how I slipped her that message she later recorded in her journal…

01/26/06: A visiting scientist came today. In a conversation with my then advisor, I heard this visitor talking about something he’d learned from a wine connoisseur. Apparently the best grapes are those produced from a crummy-looking sandy/gravely soil because they have to “struggle.” The grapes in this environment have been documented to grow roots as deep as 10 meters! The visitor said that if you plant them in good soil and keep them well watered, you will produce a lot of grapes…with no taste! My advisor said, “Do you think it’s the same for people?”

Mans-eyes

“That, my beloved, is not just a parable,” I whispered to her heart. “It’s a picture of the beauty and depth I’ll be working into your soul… Though you won’t believe I love you for many years to come, I’ll prove myself in a way you can’t ignore.”

Advertisements

The Root of Every Arc

Root-Header

Character Arcs, Trials, and Transformation, O My!

One of the most satisfying elements of good fiction is the character arc, the dynamic inner changes our favorite characters undergo from beginning to end.

Like Errol, who—in Patrick Carr’s The Staff and the Sword trilogy—transforms from an underdog drunk to a self-sacrificing hero.

Or Abramm, who—in Karen Hancock’s Legends Of The Guardian-King Series—shifts from spiritual darkness and weakness into a destiny forged in light, truth, and strength.

Or Haegan, a formerly paralyzed and bedridden prince, who—in Ronie Kendig’s Embers (Abiassa’s Fire Book 1)—is unexpectedly thrust out into a dangerous world he never expected to face, relentlessly pursued by his king-father’s lethal forces. Under such strain, he can’t help but change. In fiction and life alike, this is the formula for character transformation.

External Conflict (PLOT) + Internal Conflict (CHARACTER WOUNDS & WEAKNESS) = Internal Change (CHARACTER ARC)

In the books and series listed above, each hero faces grave trials that challenge his notion of himself and the world around him. Given enough time and pressure (and an author determined to make them better), each one emerges wiser, stronger, and kinder. Why?

Just as exercise builds muscle, suffering builds character—good or bad. Or—if it doesn’t build character in the traditional sense—it proves character. After all, how do we know what’s really in us until we’re tested? How do we know we’re patient until our patience is tried? How do we know we’re selfless until we have to sacrifice what we most want for the good of another?

Our Hero of heroes Jesus, being in very nature God, didn’t need refinement and yet—just like us—His suffering showed His true character. Unlike us, His suffering proved a purity of love no human being before or since has shown. What He suffered both proved His character and also served as a light for humankind (Luke 23:34, see also Luke 6:32-36). Furthermore, those trials enabled Him to empathize with humanity’s plight (Hebrews 4:15). “He never sinned,” Camp’s song Overcome, expresses, “but suffered as if He did.”

compassion-and-suffering

As for us mere mortals, the first-fruits of our suffering are usually rotten, dredging up from the heart all manner of emotional garbage. In this way, suffering either builds character—or it plunges us deep into the valley of the shadow of death, paved with misery, fear, bitterness, self pity, and every other rotten fruit imaginable. I know because I used to LIVE there.

The Root Problem

For over ten years, I lived in a spiritual wilderness, unable to accept God’s love, find my purpose, or discern any real meaning in life. My career derailed. My spiritual lifeline frayed. Emotion gripped me in a chokehold.

Why was I so miserable? What was the root of my problem? Should I have shifted into a new career? Like the writing that also floundered? Should I have settled for a simpler career—one at odds with my God-given desires and natural talents?

When the anxiety and depression worsened, I took medication for a time, though it didn’t truly help. Should I also have sought a psychiatrist? Gotten more exercise? Eaten healthier balanced meals?

In terms of my spiritual life, should I have studied my Bible more often…even though the vast majority of scripture would trigger acute anxiety? Perhaps if I’d served more—prayed harder?

blindfolded-158204_640.png

My point in raising all these questions is to provoke thought: What kind of advice do we usually give to others currently immersed in emotional misery? What do we tend to perceive as their root problem? During the course of my struggle with anxiety and depression, I’d received platitudes, suggestions for vitamins to take as well as an exhortation to exercise. The message the world offers includes the following kinds of advice:

Do something for yourself. Try a new hobby, get a pet, go on vacation. Make yourself happy—whatever it takes. And while none of these actions are inherently bad (“whatever it takes” notwithstanding), they only ever serve as a distraction to the root cause.

The fact is, the world’s advice leaves us flailing…like blind men shooting crossbows in random directions, hoping against hope to hit a target we’re not sure is even there…

Because the external problem isn’t usually the root problem.

Root-problem

Digging to the Roots

My own experience has convinced me that every emotional trial I’ve faced is rooted in one thing: perception. In other words, I’ve always found the root cause for every emotional trial to be—not something I do or fail to do, but rather—(1) what I believe and (2) how well those beliefs align with God’s truth.

If I were to generalize this observation, I might say it like this: The problem—and, therefore, the solution to every emotional trial we face—isn’t somewhere out there in the WORLD, something to be attained or achieved, some universal tangible fix-all. The problem is in the mind, in the inner man—within our WORLDVIEW.

In the midst of every outward trial, what we believe will determine whether we overcome the emotional pain—or else sink down to the depths. Believing God’s promises—that He’s working all things for our good and using every trial to build character—gives us hope in hard times. In contrast, depression and hopelessness characterize those who believe their struggles to be pointless and their efforts futile.

lens-perspective

Clearly, pondering whatever is noble and lovely and pure (Philippians 4:8-9) is good, but there’s a subtle distinction between faith in God and the world’s generic positivity.

Believing a pleasant lie (that is, positive thinking) may satisfy for a time, but only those beliefs that align with God’s truth will stand the test of time. Just as there are physical laws we dare not break (step off the cliff and you will fall), spiritual laws hold serious consequences for those who pay them no mind. Breaking those laws may seem harmless at first, but we always reap what we sow.

My false beliefs, for example, reaped years of anxiety and depression as well as a deficit of peace. No external change brought relief—only a revelation of God’s truth.

hell-girl-chair-fire-chain

A Word of Warning to the World

Based on my experience, the first step to inner healing and growth would seem to begin with the recognition that what we believe holds power—power to bring either inner peace or emotional pain. However, it’s not only what we believe that matters, but also, whether or not it’s actually true.

Relative truth is one philosophy society offers to bring comfort to the world. “It’s okay,” they say, “We can hold mutually exclusive beliefs. What I believe is true for me; what you believe is true for you.” But is it? I think we can all agree science only works because truth is fixed and not fluid. Natural laws and constants—like gravity—are surprisingly, um, constant. In the same way, the rules of the road aren’t “each to his own.” Most people accept the absolute truth signified in a red light, whether or not they absolutely refute the existence of absolute truth.

Put another way: Disregard a stoplight at your own risk.

Likewise, any who disregard spiritual truths will suffer the consequence.

alignment

A Warning to Christians

If the previous section was a warning to the world, this next section is a warning to fellow Christians, and the warning is this: Knowing the truth isn’t enough.

I certainly don’t mean this as a judgment on those who struggle. This warning comes from a place of compassion as one who struggled so long with the results of deception. I’d attended church almost all my life. I knew the Bible inside and out. I “knew” the truth—so why wasn’t I free?

Because I didn’t really accept the words as being true. My mental assent wasn’t enough; I didn’t receive the truths I most needed on a heart level.

Here’s the crux of the matter: Truth is a powerful tool that does us absolutely no good if we don’t lay hold of it through faith. Even for Christians, who generally know the truth, it’s not how much Scripture they memorize, but how deeply they believe.

Even though the victory is ours through Jesus, we won’t experience that victory in our daily lives unless we know and stand upon the truth. God’s word is described as a sword, but a sword only has power insofar as it’s used.

Victory-Sword

This applies to everyday life as we encounter situations—experiences or memories, any attitudes, feelings, or thoughts—that run counter to God’s Word. Whenever this happens, we have a choice what to believe. Will we elevate our emotions and logic over and above God’s truth? Or will we catch the revelation that the perceptions that sprout from life experience are often perversions of the truth?

The Inner Journey

One of the revelations that inspired this post was the clear parallel between my own transformation and the inner journeys our characters face. Why I should be surprised at the similarity?—I’m not sure—but it drove home a critical truth about the nature of human change: Whether in fiction or life, every upward character arc hinges on some fundamental lie being exposed, which empowers the hero to finally embrace some transformative truth.

Perceptions

Within this discovery, there’s a critical “aha!” worth pondering: No matter how in control we feel, we aren’t ultimately in control of our outward lives. Yes, we make decisions; we take actions. Then along comes a plot twist to derail our careful plans. In this way, our control over the external plot of our lives is limited.

However, even when plans go awry and our goal is thwarted, we still have some choice in how we’ll react. Will we be like Jesus, forgiving the soldiers who nailed him to the cross? Or like the Israelites in the desert, grumbling against God?

The answer depends—as stated above—on what we believe to be true. For example, do we believe suffering is random and pointless—or that God is sovereign and in control? If the latter, do we really believe He sees the beginning from the end and works all trials for our good? To the extent our understanding of God’s truth is skewed, our perception of His character is also skewed. If we think He enjoys our misery, we’ll never see Him as the good Daddy He truly is; we won’t believe His plans for our lives are infinitely better than anything we could ever plan for ourselves.

 

Frustration

 

So, just as Weiland discusses on her blog and in her book Creating Character Arcs, “The Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.”

In a future post, I’m hoping to expound on my own journey of transformation and the lies I unwittingly embraced. Until then, I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts and insights about how truth has shaped your particular journey. If you’re still enmeshed in emotional struggles, can you pinpoint the root as a lie—or is your struggle an exception to the rule? There’s no judgment here—only encouragement to press on. Sow a comment and you’ll reap a prayer. Until next time…

An Abiding Peace (of mind)

On a recent trip to Florida, while staying at a hotel the night before my flight home, I found myself in a hot tub alone. There, the thrumming jets transformed the clear green water into a foaming white froth. I had been seeking God’s will for my life—in particular, hoping to learn to hear His voice better: Devouring every resource I could find. Striving to discern that little voice in my mind (or through my reading) that may or may not be God. Constantly questioning if I was doing all I could to hear—and hearing right.

seaside-hottub

Amidst the solitude, warmth, and the bubbling hum of churning water commanding my full attention, a clear thought crystallized: “This is your mind.” Immersed in the boiling jets with turbulent currents buffeting my skin, the meaning was clear.

This-is-your-mind-sml

Tarássō / Troubled

My mind. Always in motion. Rarely settled.

Always studying, questioning, striving, reaching. Ever searching for another glimpse of God’s work in my life—or a hint of His direction for future action. Always striving to be proactive. Even when my goal has been to abide in Him.

My mental norm, in a word: Restless. The Greek root tarássō (from John 14:27, to be discussed below) adequately conveys this state of mind, which according to HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) can mean the following:

“properly, put in motion (to agitate back-and-forth, shake to-and-fro); (figuratively) to set in motion what needs to remain still (at ease); to “trouble” (“agitate”), causing inner perplexity (emotional agitation) from getting too stirred up inside (“upset”).”

Though I crave pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), it seems I often churn it into butter! I turn God’s Word (and my walk with Him) into a sticky, viscous mess that’s hard to navigate. In lieu of the simplicity of trusting in Him, I revert to complex rules and regulations that stretch my intellect to the max. While my flesh tries to divine the exact ways to act and the exact prayers to pray under a diverse multitude of circumstances, God gives me this simple equation: “You + Me = Success.” 

Eirḗnē / Peace & Wholeness

Clearly this hot tub analogy bears a negative connotation. Surely it’s not the state of mind God intended for His children. After all, what did Jesus say in His parting speech to His disciples just prior to His arrest?

PEACE [Eirēnēn] I leave with you; My peace [eirēnēn] I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be TROUBLED [tarassesthō], nor let it be fearful [deiliatō].” John 14:27

PEACE-scenes-sml

Rather than allowing our minds to be stirred up in agitation, Jesus calls us to manifest the same inner peace He Himself displayed (Mark 4:35-41). The Greek word translated as peace in this verse (eirēnēn) can mean “one, peace, quietness, rest.” HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) says it like this:

“eirḗnē (from eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole”) – properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace (God’s gift of wholeness).”

Wholeness? I don’t know about you, but that’s not the definition I expected. Nevertheless, even the well-known Hebrew word shalom connotes “completeness” along with soundness, welfare, and peace. 

Furthermore, if peace is wholeness, then surely it has no place apart from Him since, from the very beginning, man was made to live in communion with God. Jesus says in His pre-arrest speech, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But when we’re joined/married with Him (Ephesians 5:31-32)? Then we merge our meager resources with His. Our blindness with His sight. Our weakness with His strength. When our very being—like a branch to a vine—is linked to Him, we’ll find we have all we need.

But what’s the caveat? Remember my thoughts from above? Gods-math

That simple equation (“You + Me = Success”) paints a picture of wholeness, BUT… it requires humility and trust. The humility to recognize our deficiency as compared with His power. The honesty to recognize our inadequacy apart from Him.

The Path of Understanding?

It seems human nature to equate uncertainty with stress. An uncertain future. Our plans up in the air. Confusion over the path ahead. Or maybe we’re stuck in circumstantial discomfort. This manner of logic presupposes UNDERSTANDING to be the ultimate pathway for finding peace. Isn’t this the way our human brains think? 

In ignorance (or arrogance), we believe we can orchestrate our own lives, but Proverbs 20:24 says, A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, we often think we need to scrutinize our choices before we take that first step, but Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Path-of-Understanding-vs-Proverbs

In my early graduate school days, newly acquainted with the idea that believers can actually hear from God, I struggled and strived to make His voice a reality in my life. Most of those efforts ended in frustration. In the book I’m reading now about hearing God’s voice, the author expresses his belief that God is always speaking but we don’t often recognize Him as the source.

This reminds me of a time a few months back when I was praying on the way to church one Sunday, interceding for the service and asking God to prepare our hearts for Him—to shake off what could be shaken so we would see Him more clearly (paraphrase). For some reason (in part because He’d unexpectedly prompted me to prophecy in church on a previous Sunday—something I never would’ve imagined myself doing in the past), I asked Him to give me a clear sign if He wanted me to share that prayer with the church. To my surprise, one of the church leaders began the service by announcing we would have an open mic up front for people to share anything God might’ve laid on their heart!

flow-with-the-Spirit

Knowing I would go up, I worshipped for a time in preparation. As sometimes happens, I felt His Spirit with me—a confirmation like a tightening in the gut and a shaking beneath His power, though I wasn’t shaking in fear. For me, He often brings His words in a flurry of fresh writing, but not this time. This time, the writing was a flurry of recollection, remembering the prayer I had prayed in the car. That written message is what I shared. After the service, a number of people told me they believed what I spoke was a genuine word from God.

What amazes me about that experience is that I had no idea those words I was praying were from God. Somehow, I’d been so in touch with His heart that He spoke His words through me without me knowing it. Later, in the midst of my more recent struggles to hear His voice, I wrote this in my journal: I’ve been so concerned about hearing from God, but hasn’t He shown me that He can so insert Himself into my thoughts that I pray His heart without knowing it? Am I so powerful I can keep God from getting through to me when He knows I WANT to know and do His will?

Trusting Our Thoughts or Trusting His?

The point in this story (tying it back to Proverbs 3:5-6) is that God didn’t need my intellect and understanding to be engaged at all in order for Him to steer me. Indeed, a reflection on my past proves that God was guiding me all along.

Is it wrong, then, to try and understand our own path?

Isaiah_26-3

In general, I would say no—except when our search for understanding leads us to stray from His peace. After all, there will be times in our lives when He hasn’t given us to understand the reasons behind our day-to-day struggles. In those times—even in the fog and seemingly senseless trials; even in those seasons when we’re not confident we’re hearing His voice at all—He wants us to trust in Him because of who He is: All-powerful. Faithful. Merciful. Kind. Always working for our good. (More on His attributes here.)

The real question is this: Do we spend as much time pondering who God is (e.g.worthy of awe) as we do trying to discern our purpose and our future? Do we meditate on our own thoughts and logic more than we meditate on His (John 15:7)? Are we focused more on pointing our compass toward success than aligning our life with His person—His character (Psalm 103:7)?

His-logic-or-ours2

Interestingly, the word translated as acknowledge” [yada] in Proverbs 3:5-6 means “to know (by experience); to perceive, see, find out, and discern; to recognize, admit, acknowledge, and confess.” John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

When we know God, truly know Him as He is, we’ll have no difficulty entrusting our lives to Him. Even in periods of silence, though we desperately long for a word from Him, we’ll be able to let go and rest in the knowledge that He is bigger than our concerns—that His presence far surpasses our need for answers. In the silence, as we read His word, obeying Him to the best of our understanding, His peace overcomes our restless thoughts in the knowledge that we’re not alone as orphans. Rather, we have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father in Jesus’s name to teach us all things and to remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14:26).

In short, peace of mind doesn’t come from reasoning out the logic of our life circumstances while determining the safest pathway ahead; it is born in a relationship of simple trust summed up in this equation: God + Me = Success. 

Success-relationship

How about you? What topics tend to trip you up? What situations send your thoughts spiraling into a turbulent tailspin? Share in the comments or contact me here for prayer.

If you’re currently stuck in a bubbling-hot-tub mentality, consider making this your prayer:

Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. Interlude

Rest-in-Him

Visit these links for songs about peace and rest:

Mini-Devotional Collection

river-and-hearts-doodle

heavenly-realms-book-300x450

The last few days, I’ve been reading “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” during my morning devotions, feeling the weight of the Spirit and being injected with inspiration and faith for prayer. Almost every morning as I was reading, a spark of inspiration would strike and I would begin furiously typing my thoughts into my phone, pausing to search for Scriptures that came to mind, until I sensed the flurry winding to a close.

The devotions below are the very ones written during this time. I first published them on Facebook as individual posts, but I thought it would be fun to anchor them in a more permanent post and to share them with some of my friends who aren’t on Facebook. So, here they are:

If you need recommendations for recharging a stagnating faith-walk, check out the first mini-devotion below: 1. God is the Source

If you’re struggling to believe in God’s personal love for you, consider reading the second: 2. Nobody’s a Nobody.

If you’d like a meditation on Philippians 1:21 and on what it means to be dead to sin and alive to Christ, check out 3. To Live is Christ.

If you’d like a distinction between happiness and joy and how earthly treasures can never bring permanent satisfaction, skip to 4. Where Your Treasure Is. (This and the next one are geared toward writers, but just replace the word “writing” with “passion” and you’ll still likely find something to glean.)

Finally, the last mini-devotion (5. God Owns His Creation) is meant as a pep-talk for writers (and probably other creatives) who find themselves tempted to place their value in their writing (or art).

However much or little you read of these mini-devotionals, I pray you’ll be blessed.


1. God is the Source

I remember how I used to feel, reading John 3:16 and thinking, “Sure, God loves the world generically, but me, personally?” I wonder how hard it is for others to accept God’s personal, individual love for them as well.

God’s work in my life has filled me with an experiential knowledge of His perfect personal love for me. Not only that, it’s flooded my heart with love for Him, which is a total game-changer. When you really grasp the nail-pounded, blood-lashed, mocked-to-death love of Jesus for YOU, and when you can dwell in that beautiful place—in His loving presence—YOU. WILL. BE. CHANGED.

Gods-personal-love

As one who lived so long in a wilderness of powerlessness, I’ve come to understand one very important thing: God is the Source. We can listen to worship songs and read our Bibles, but we can’t make ourselves feel God’s love. We can’t make ourselves love God. And we certainly can’t remake ourselves into the people He wants us to be.

So, if we ever feel stuck in our faith walk, the very VERY first step is to ask God to give us what we need, which could involve prayer, finding and confessing the promises He’s given in Scripture, or worshiping His sufficiency, goodness, power, and love.

Here are three quick things to try:
(1) Pray Ephesians 1:17-22 for yourself.
(2) Read 1 Thessalonians 5:24 and the prior verses.
(3) Listen to “Best News Ever” by MercyMe

When we can’t find the strength or inspiration, we need only lay the burden back on God, acknowledging that He is the Source of all good things and that we’re utterly helpless without Him. This is true in every moment, whether or not we feel it.


2. Nobody’s a Nobody

The Bible says of Jesus that “for the joy set before Him, [He] endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2.

And what was that joy spurring Him on? Only the privilege of being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God”? Somehow, I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Not for the man who would leave the 99 sheep safe and sound in their pen to go after the one (Matthew 18:12).

Not for the man who defended the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or who paused His plans to personally acknowledge the woman with the faith to touch His hem (Matthew 9:18-26).

Jesus singled people out, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24-25) and loved them anyway (Matthew 23:37): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

And He forgives them at their worst (Luke 23:34-43): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” … Then one criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Nobody-is-a-nobody

I want to finish with a quote from a book I’ve been reading: “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” by Kevin Zadai:

“When Jesus was standing with me after I had died in the operating room during my heavenly visitation in 1992, I remember looking into His eyes and seeing something amazing. He remembered the day He thought of me and spoke me into existence and sent me to my mother’s womb. This is extremely important to understand because I could hear Jesus’s thoughts when I looked into His eyes. When He realized this He smiled. He saw that I had turned out just as He desired when He spoke me into existence. I had turned out the perfect way that He intended me to be…

“It is profound how much He loves people. God’s purpose is actually injected into us when we are created, along with the gifts and plans that He has for us. His purpose for His Kingdom has been placed inside of you, and this earthly life is just a journey of discovery. There is an unfolding of the gifts of God and the purpose of God for every person on the earth. He does not wish that any should perish.”

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13).


3. To Live is Christ

I died. That’s what the Bible teaches. I died and now I’m only alive by this new work God’s doing in me. Whenever we die, we’re free from sin. I died with Christ and it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I died to sin and I’m free. But without Jesus’s sustaining power, I’d be nothing more than a walking zombie.

To-live-is-Christ

I’m already dead—already experiencing the gain of living in vital union with my Savior. Yet I haven’t been so blessed as to meet Him face to face. What a gain that would be! What a blissful reunion with the One who’s been helping and sustaining me. The longer I dwell in His presence, the more like Him I become, the more I like myself—perhaps because I’m thinking of myself less and Him more.

So many people live in fear of death, but what a beautiful moment that’ll be for those of us who have staked our lives on Jesus. Truly I long for that day when I’ll finally stand in the presence of the One who loves me most, with nothing between us.


4. Where Your Treasure Is

Treasure-heart

When I made writing my treasure, I swung uncontrollably between anxiety and depression… and elation. But the elation could never last. It was based on a worldly hope of success that could never be perfectly met in every instance. When circumstances favored that hope, I was happy. When they didn’t, I was devastated.

Had I been published during this time, I know in my heart that this emotional roller coaster would’ve persisted—in spite of any apparent success. When reviews were good, I would be up. When bad, my mood would swing down. And having been published, I would want to be published again, so that—in spite of achieving—I would never arrive in that happily ever after destination. Because… it’s a myth.

The very word “happiness” contains the root for chance, circumstance—happenstance. Happiness based on a particular worldly outcome is never a constant and unchanging thing, for we know “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Bestsellers are forgotten. Yesterday’s successes rarely satisfy on the morrow…

But when we “use the things of this world as if not dependent on them”? When we make Jesus our treasure? Then we’re taking the “hap” out of happiness in exchange for a lasting joy that can never fail. Then our “happiness” is guaranteed… Because our Savior is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Jesus came that we would have and enjoy life to the full (John 10:10). He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13), who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23). One with the Father, He does not change like shifting shadows—and how quick we are to forget that He is the Source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Yet we miss the greatest gift of all—unspeakable joy in our intimate restoration to the only Father who could ever love us perfectly, and our beloved self-sacrificing big brother, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)—for us!

When we put Jesus first, making Him our foremost treasure, only then can we truly enjoy all the other beautiful gifts He’s given. Praise God!


5. God Owns His Creation

Can I just say, your value as a person goes way, way beyond your abilities as a writer. God has shown me freedom in placing my identity in Him rather than anything we might do or accomplish on this earth. I suspect creatives are particularly susceptible to the lie that they’re only as good as their latest creation.

When we get negative feedback, aren’t we tempted to devalue ourselves? But think about this: You are God’s creation. Every time anyone has mocked you—your quirky personality, appearance, and unique if somewhat bizarre gifts—or anytime you’ve laughed or rolled your eyes at anyone else for that matter (no guilt here, just grace!), God doesn’t devalue Himself on account of those insults.

God-owns-His-creation

You are God’s creation. And He owns it—owns and claims YOU as His special creation. He absorbs the insults against you. He’s even got your name engraved in the palm of His hand like a picture in His wallet. You might be struggling (and I hesitate to use Job as an example), but God was bragging on him, wasn’t He? “Look at my son, would you? Just look at him! Is there anyone so grand?” And how about that prodigal dad, just waiting for His son’s return? That father gave the young man freedom to make mistakes in order to bring him home changed and ready to face the world because Love—always hoping and persevering—sees the potential in others.

The truth is, each one of us was fashioned with His special care and personal touch. Our names and even our future good deeds were planned out, and all our days inscribed in Heavenly books. God made you the way you are because He wanted YOU to exist. And He came down to earth and died because He didn’t want Heaven without you in it.

Inspirational Authors: My Testimony, Part 2

fantasy-child-dream-future-artist-sml

We all have childhood dreams, don’t we? Some of us pursue them. To some of us, they seem more like a childish fantasy to be put aside at the proper time. Adulthood and fantasy don’t mix in the real life. We’re not princes and princesses, but paupers pursuing paid work—or else we’re starving artists.

Isn’t that the way of things?

No wonder then that my dream to write—which seemed both to peak and peter in high school—turned out to be a foolish hobby to be set aside.

Instead, I pursued science. I rode a rocky rail through graduate studies at RPI, stalled when it came time to edit my first paper, then finally made it through—by the skin of my teeth it seemed.

Mediocre-Failure

If “mediocre” was my word in high school, then “failure” was my label as a post-grad.

That label fused into my soul as I began teaching, airing my inadequacies for every student to see. Dumped into the deep end, sinking, I felt like the biggest fraud that ever lived—with an audience of witnesses in every classroom.

underwater-sml

I thought the first year would kill me. It didn’t. Another year, another move fulfilling another sabbatical replacement. The second year was better—I was improving—but I never made the cut in my heart. Three years and three states later, I looked for university positions in my field and found none.

Just like that my 12-year pursuit (4 years to get a bachelors + 5 for the PhD + 3 as a professor) came to a timely end.

I didn’t really want to continue on that path anyway… which was good since that train had derailed. That rocket ship had flown. But without the train, the track, the rocket—I was like a floating astronaut, stranded—once tethered by my job… now bound to vacuum.

space-1392565.jpg

All my life’s pursuits had lead to this moment, crystal clear in retrospect: I was finished. I didn’t want to teach anymore. I didn’t want to do research or work in industry. There was, in fact, nothing I could imagine wanting to do with the PhD I’d been so eager to earn in my own strength. Nor could I imagine anything I either was able or wanted to do with my life, period.

Game-Over2

Thus began the years of emptiness. I lived in dread of a single question from strangers—“what do you do?”—and another from friends—“found a job yet?”

I shudder to think what my life would’ve been if I hadn’t been married then. As it was, I became a stay-at-home wife, pursuing meaningless hobbies like brewing beer… and writing a novel.

In all these pursuits I was searching for significance—for purpose… or else just hoping for distraction.

As time passed, I began placing all my worth in my writing, growing happy and hopeful when all was well… only to feel the weight of mountains crashing down at the tiniest snag, the smallest setback. Any whispered suggestion that I could do better—even well-meant critiques from friends—amounted in my mind to utter failure and hopelessness.

Cue the identity crisis that prompted these words:

“As the prodigal son attempted to transform his father’s fortune into joy, so I use my Father’s “talents” in hopes of earning satisfaction. And yet…my talents aren’t enough. I’m mired in emotional squalor, feeding—starving—on the deficit of my own futile attempts to find meaning within.”

During this time, my prayers were pathetic and desperate. I knew I needed steady devotions, but with much of Scripture triggering the very angst I fought desperately to escape, I barely summoned the nerve to face it.

Nevertheless, with the tiniest seed of faith, I searched for verses that fed my soul rather than shredding it. Instead of passages urging me to do more and try harder to be good, I drank in every verse proclaiming God’s power and strength… like Isaiah 46, which prompted one of several blog posts on my journey toward the light.

insect-399407_640

If you catch nothing else, catch this:

Since about halfway through grad school until the summer of last year, I struggled off and on with anxiety and depression. That’s over ten years of struggle. More than a decade living with an Ecclesiastes 1 mentality, just ready to be done with this strange experiment called life.

Was there anything I could’ve done to have shortened this period? Perhaps. We can never know what might’ve been, but here’s what I’ve learned from looking back:

  1. Anxiety and depression aren’t things one just snaps out of. Studying the Bible can help, but when our understanding is skewed because we’re blinded by life-long misperceptions, it can also hurt. Which leads me to my next point…
  2. Whenever I felt condemned for not living up to the Bible’s standards, that wasn’t God’s voice in my ear. Unlike me, He knew I was on a transformative journey that would take some time to manifest. (Conviction is another matter, but when God bids us change, He promises to walk beside us as our guide and aid.)
  3. Even when the Bible seems to be a burden, seeking God Himself is always the right path. However, it does take faith to press into Him when our emotions keep telling us God’s not interested. (I assure you, He is.)
  4. When a person is struggling with anxiety and depression, they generally don’t need to be EXHORTED (urged to do better); they need God to be EXALTED. Whereas exhortation presses us down and aims our focus on ourselves and the shoulds and oughts of future action, exultation fixes our gaze on God—His sufficiency, power, and strength to deliver us from whatever ails. Worship is a powerful weapon, my friends! If you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, try reading through these enemy-shattering bombshell Scriptures.
  5. For my type of anxiety and depression, renewing the mind was critical. Note, however, that the burden of our transformation is not ours to bear. We can read resources that will help to change our mindsets, but only God can initiate transformation. As such, the journey is inherently a cooperative partnership—not something we can do by ourselves, which is a bit of a relief really. Ultimately, the heavy lifting of our transformation is on God’s shoulders, not ours. What I’m trying to say is—unless we think the weight is ours alone to carry (so that the other side of the yoke is left empty)—His yoke is indeed easy and His burden light!
  6. Not everything which is good advice in general will be good for every individual in any given moment. God knows we’re all different. He speaks our language even when others—even well-meaning people—don’t. As such, not everything spoken, written, etc—even those things that are spoken to us with an intent to help—should be taken into our spirits. For that reason, also, it took me a while to find the right resource to aid me in renewing my mind. In the timing and manner I found this particular book, I know God brought it to my attention. Then He used it to heal me of my anxiety and depression.

Here’s the bottom line: God was working in my life, even when it felt like I’d been abandoned. He took the most painful parts of my story and turned them around for His glory. As I said in an earlier post about these struggles:

God wasn’t hiding Himself, you see? My skewed perceptions—the same ones that turned God’s word against me—they were the culprit. The truth is, our reality is shaped by what we truly believe, which means some of us are living in Hell even while the kingdom of Heaven looms near.

For each one reading this post today—each person out there who’s still struggling beneath the weight of their anxiety and depression—I pray God would guide you to the resource that speaks to your heart—and heals your hurts. For me, that resource was, without a doubt, Ted Dekker’s Forgotten Way Meditations. I’m so grateful to God for leading Ted to write that book, for guiding me to read it, and for using it to heal me.

Perceptions

If you’d like to read more about my transformative journey, check out these earlier posts:

How about you? How has God shown Himself powerful in your life? What’s one book, novel, movie, or other resource that God used for your spiritual growth or transformation?

Not on the upswing yet? Don’t fret. We’re all a work in progress. If you have prayer requests or just need to reach out to someone who understands your brand of pain, feel free to write to me through my contact page. Seriously. I believe God let me suffer with these issues for so long in order to instill in me a heart that hurts for the mentally and emotionally distraught. I love you. God loves you. I pray He’ll help you lift your eyes to see Him smiling down on you.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Biblical Fiction: My Testimony, Part 1

Young-LaraSome people “come” to Christ in a spectacular moment of revelation. For me, that’s not how it was. I grew up in a Christian household. I attended church from birth. One of my earliest memories recounts a time in Sunday School in which I scribbled my thoughts on a scrap of paper: “I hate myself.” Naturally, the Sunday school teacher’s face showed her shock. I’m sure I confounded her (and maybe even myself).

It seems the enemy had a grip on me even then—but where was God? He was a concept. I knew all about God, of course—through my years in the pew, in Sunday School, and, later, as confirmand in the Lutheran church—yet I somehow missed knowing… Him. Or maybe I knew Him as well as an infant knows anyone.

Whatever the case, I lacked the living, breathing faith that presses into God daily. I tried devotions for a while, of course…in my own strength. But the fervor didn’t last. How could it for a concept?

caver-lara.jpg

In high school, I started caving, which led to an interest in geology. After earning my BS at my hometown university, I never wavered in my intent to attend graduate school; I wanted a PhD like my dad. Furthermore, I knew which field most piqued my interest: Volcanology. I was so sure of this decision, my mom and I visited several west coast colleges. (Where else would one go in the US to study volcanoes?)

Geology-sml
Geology Field Camp out west near the end of my undergraduate studies.

But—after spending all that time and money… after freaking out from my mom’s crazy driving in San Francisco before giggling our way twice down Lombard Street in a much needed release—I woke up one morning back at home with a very different certainty: Rather than studying volcanoes, I wanted to understand metamorphic reactions.

Lombard-and-rock-cycle
< Lombard Street zig-zagging down  |  My graphic of the Rock Cycle >

At this point I should note that, as a Geology undergrad, I learned almost nothing on this particular subject, since the professor who taught hard rock petrology—which is the collective study of igneous and metamorphic rocks—was, in fact, a volcanologist who focused mainly on what he knew. As such, roughly 75% of class time was spent on Igneous rock processes and identification with the last 25% glossing over the metamorphic equivalent. Suffice it to say, the logic in my sudden change of mind—to pursue a field I didn’t know enough about to really know why I should pursue it—was minimal.

igneous-metamorphic-with-text-sml

It wasn’t a logical decision but, rather, a deep inner knowing.

And from that knowing, the landscape of my future suddenly changed from a steep-sided volcano—the source of rocks born in a violent reincarnation of molten material—to a graveyard of mountains, sheared by erosion to expose old rocks transformed from a slower subjection of heat and pressure. And in so doing, I would undergo my own slow metamorphosis… in upstate New York instead of California.

So there I was, my first real time away from home. I met my future husband almost immediately and connected with others through the outing club. I traded caving for whitewater kayaking and indulged my scientific curiosity. My graduate studies began with a vibrant enthusiastic hope and ended in disillusioned depression.

Whitewater-sml
< Posing with my dad by our recent whitewater conquest  |  A whitewater slide >

During my first years at RPI, I didn’t attend church. There was no platform for God in my life besides the former knowledge of my upbringing. My would-be husband was agnostic, saying, “I believe in God, but I’m not sure about Jesus.” To which I replied, “But it’s all about Jesus!” My upbringing spoke, yet God was still silent.

with-Collin-wide

During this time, my would-be husband began reading The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Sometime later, we discovered the first few movies in the discount bin at Walmart. I never read the books, but I did watch the movies and found my soul gripped with emotions I can hardly put to words.

81xrn3cckwl._ri_sx300_It wasn’t the theology that won me (whether the theology in that book is flawed or not). Or the production quality or acting (which some have claimed is not up to Hollywood standards). Instead, it was the fervor of the persecuted church. It was the thought that Jesus could be so real His followers would risk anything to remain true to Him… Like Stephen the martyr looking to God instead of the stones hurtling toward his head. The idea of a peace that truly passes understanding. Of beauty and truth and a love beyond what any of us can fathom in this life except in a brush with our risen Savior.

That’s what captured my imagination and whispered to my heart, “This is how it could be.”

God used those books and movies—used fiction—to inspire me (and my husband) to start going back to church, but—in retrospect—His tender luring began long before that. You see, my home church was good, but God knew I needed something different. He knew I needed to leave my father and mother and be joined to His Son, no longer relying on the faith of my parents but—with His help—coming into my own. He knew I needed to hear the whispers of His Spirit… to be exposed—for the first time—to tongues and prophecies and the Spirit of God Himself.

I wanted to study volcanoes, but God had a different plan.

Read part 2 of my testimony here.