In the Wake of the Valley

I actually wrote this some time ago, but find myself wading through these emotions…again…in the face of another challenge of change. It’s curious that change, instability and loss–no matter what the cause–evoke such similar emotions. Be it a death, a move, a deployment, an addiction, a fear, unmeasured loss, an illness, we humans are so predictable–our God is not.

But then, perhaps He is. God tells us over and over that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. A little known verse, in a little known book, Hosea 6:3 speaks of God’s constancy. Find hope:

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

I’m staring down the muzzle of a move—another move. I’m married to a career military officer and this pluck-up-and-go routine is becoming familiar, though never easier.

Swamped and drowning under a load of pending stress, I fled to the only place I know for comfort—my back porch, Bible straddling my knees and my journal opened, pen poised. I flipped to Psalm 16, my go-to passage for transient times. I needed to hear God remind me that my only good is found in Him, that I have chosen Him as my portion and cup and that the shape of my life is pleasant. My inheritance is beautiful.

Those words help to put in perspective the loss of one home, the seeding of another. They warm me from the inside, calling to mind the fresh beauties that God has unearthed in each place we’ve lived.

In North Carolina, He introduced me to the first best friend I’ve ever had. Then, He seasoned my life with a few more, a vibrant church body, a fun job, three years of firsts. When He led us to Georgia, He pressed my soul more deeply into Him than I had experienced before. I felt pressed down under a weight of loneliness, the seed of my life sinking heavily into fertile soil.

Next, He led us to Washington. Exquisite! In the northwest, God brought me my second best-friend of all time. He colored the horizon deep blue every morning and punctuated it with Mount Rainier, glowing effervescent pink. He fed me with Honeycrisp apples, fresh, flaky salmon and blood-red wine. He tightened the bonds of my marriage and snipped the frayed ends in that relationship. He taught me to write there. In Washington, I worked at a busy Starbucks and everyday, He peppered my hours with smiles, momentary confidences and encouraging winks.

After that, God led us to Virginia, barely outside the bustle of the beltway. Full circle, He walked my best friends across my path again. He opened the first window to give me a peek at what He intends as the hallmark of my life—He blessed my pen and my page. He swept me quickly through a church body where He cultivated leadership skills and deep humility through failure.

And then He brought us here. I’m in Georgia again, and again staring down the muzzle of of a move. I understand the boundaries; I see the pleasant places where God has led me. I am overjoyed to know that God is all my good, He is my refuge and preservation. But my heart still aches. Goodbyes still hurt. The stab of loneliness that lingers for a while in each new location can for a moment feel like shadow of death.

Psalm 23 also talks about the places God leads us. David opens with peace, following his Lord beside quiet water, green pastures and in paths of righteousness. Suddenly, there’s a sharp turn. Though David still follows the Good Shepherd, he finds himself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I wonder if that was a valley filled with loneliness as he dodged the pursuit of King Saul who was bent on David’s demise. I wonder if it was a valley filled with fatigue, tired of defending himself, tired of living on the run. Whatever it was, it broke his heart.

As we keep reading, David staggers out of the valley. While there, he found protection in God’s rod and staff—used to continually guide and direct even in the darkest of places. In that terrible place, David remained confident of God’s election, expressed as God anointed his head with oil. And on the other side? As David walked out of the shadows, the cast of his own shadow breaking with the foreboding one behind him, goodness and mercy flowed after him.

I folded my journal, the page still blank and stared at the pretty little, yellow-topped weeds in my backyard. I have walked through shadowy valleys before. Reflecting on each, I can see the wake of goodness and mercy widening behind me.

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What We Do as American Christians in the Face of Ebola

If Ebola hadn’t singed the edge of my own world, I doubt it would have dramatically altered my prayer life.

Sure, there have been global crises, that for a window of time, like a blip on a radar, interrupted the usual, “Father, please take care of my family. You’re so good and loving and gracious. Thank you for Jesus, Amen.” I don’t mean to intimate that my prayer life has been inconsequential or entirely trivial, but I do write this article from a humbled heart.

Late September, I got a call from my husband while I was visiting my sisters several states away. Out of the wild blue, he told me that his unit, the 101st Airborne, had received orders to deploy to Liberia, Africa, with very short notice. For the first time, my interest (read: fear) was piqued enough to read past the blaring, redundant headlines and ask, with empathy, “What is going on?”

The Ebola virus is named for a river in the region of Central Africa where it was first discovered. It is classified as a hemorrhagic fever, meaning that victims exhibit flu like symptoms along with bleeding and bruising from places like the eyes and the gastrointestinal tract. Approximately half of those who contract Ebola die. Due to the gory symptoms and the startling fatality rate, Ebola has sparked pandemic fear. Or has it? What is your response? How do your neighbors and your church congregation feel?

Reactions run the gamut. In August, Ann Coulter called a courageous, Christian doctor living out his faith through mercy and caring for the poor in Africa, “idiotic”. Others clamor for a travel ban on people wishing to enter the U.S. from infected countries. Casual conversations now veer from the economy to ISIS and on to Ebola. We’re concerned most definitely. But is the collective body of Christ alert, compassionate and Christ-like enough to really do something?

To be honest, I’ve lost some sleep over the idea that my own husband will be breathing African air. And yet, at the same time, I haven’t changed my habits. Yes, my prayers now include a new variable when petitioning God for my husband’s safety and wellbeing. Most often, I tack on a few lines asking for God’s mercy on the ailing continent and protection for North America.

“All we can do now is pray.” We’ve all said that with the best intentions, but what do we mean? Do we mean that prayer is our final resort, as if God is the last ditch, cross our fingers, cosmic good-luck charm?

In this situation, quite literally for most of us, prayer is our only option. In truth, it is always our only real hope, but it should also be our first resort. And while we’re always praying and not losing heart (Luke 18:1), we should employ our compassion, our abilities as the hands and feet of Jesus in the ripe fields of wounded souls and broken bodies all around us.

Recently, Dr. Hinthorn, Professor of Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, wrote an article for the Focus on the Family blog, called “How Should We Respond to the Ebola Outbreak?”. He offered an interesting and relevant perspective:

“There are currently fewer than 8,000 cases of Ebola, with just over 3,400 deaths worldwide. Those numbers are tragic, but it might be instructive to compare them to the effects of influenza in the U.S. The CDC estimates that between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu each year, resulting in well over a hundred thousand hospitalizations. Thousands of flu-related deaths occur annually, with more than 48,000 in the 2006-2007 flu season alone.” (October 8, 2014 Focus on the Family blog)

2 Timothy 1:7 gives specific instructions to Christians as to how we personally should respond to Ebola, “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

The Greek word for strength is dynamis, meaning: “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth”. The only one with such inherent power is the God who has placed His Spirit in those who believe in Jesus Christ. We are uniquely equipped to respond to Ebola effectively.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

So, whether we are physically equipped, as my husband, to offer hope in Africa through healing hands, or whether we have the distinct honor and responsibility to pray like never before, or whether we have family and friends, neighbors and colleagues to whom we can simply bring a cup of soup, let us not be afraid or discouraged (Joshua 10:25), grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9) or lose heart in our prayers.

Newest Issue of My Daily Armor–FREE

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There are delicious stories of faith, courage, hope and humor this month on My Daily Armor’s Christian Digest. Additionally, you can listen to free, streaming Christian music (click on the icon in the sidebar).
Don’t miss Edith’s letter to her son’s birth mother or Frances’ moving story of her father’s funeral. There’s also a story to challenge your expectations about marriage. This month is rich!

Don’t Miss It!

Why I NEEDED My Anorexia

rural-decay-1429230-mI needed my eating disorder.

Shocked? Good.

Now stoke the flames of confusion for a minute because I’m not going to answer that question right away.

Remember game days in high school? On the day of a big basketball or football game, the halls buzzed with fervency. It was the only day in most public high schools that anyone wore a uniform. Football players wore ties and button-downs. Cheerleaders wore their skimpy skirts all day long.

The night before, Coach had informed them of the dress code. Following those rules gave each member of the team or squad a sense of identity and belonging.

That’s why I needed my eating disorder.

One of the most obvious ways that anorexia manifested itself in me, was a long list of self-imposed rules.

I must never run less than I did before.
I must never workout for less than 90 minutes.
I must never have more than X fat grams in a day.
I must eat only X calories.
I must never eat restaurant food.
I must never let people see me eat. 

That last one was a biggie and in effect was the king of rules. By rigidly keeping that rule, I set myself apart from everyone else. My private list of do’s and dont’s gave me shape in this world, carved out my unique niche and proclaimed to everyone that I was not just one of the crowd.

Growing up in a godly home, I was told “you’re special”. I’d made paper snowflakes in Vacation BibleSchool and memorized cute songs about how no two snowflakes or people are alike. “God so loved the world,” was part of my earliest vocabulary. But I needed so much more than John 3:16. For me, the critical turning point from self-starvation to life was coming to not only pay lip service to my individuality, but to internalize that truth.

It doesn’t always help me to believe that God loves the world, because I don’t want to be lost on the globe. I don’t want to be one of the crowd. I need a God who counts hairs (Luke 12:7), I need a God who calls one single Chaldean out of the masses (Genesis 12:1), I need a God who selected 12 uneducated men to be his best friends, I need a God who knows my name (Isaiah 43:1). I don’t only want to only be loved. I want to be seen!

I needed to believe that I am special, unique and exceptional outside of my tightly structured cage of rules, that I wouldn’t disappear when I relinquished the disorder I called my own.

I love the story of Hagar, a little, despised, slave mother who had been thrown out by her jealous mistress. And as she lay panting in the desert, watching her only son wither away, God found her. God did a miracle that day. He provided for Hagar and her son. But after, she didn’t rejoice so much in that He loved her, she rejoiced that God had seen her. (Genesis 16:13)

That’s the a God I needed. That’s the God who found me. That’s why I don’t need an eating disorder anymore. I am seen!

Loved, Wrested, Lost…By the Giver

I’ve watched a lot of heartbreak in the last few weeks. It makes me feel almost guilty to say that, because it hasn’t been my loss. No, I’ve felt pain as a ricochet, a blow bounced back, only slightly less forceful. I have watched loss strike violently at the hearts of my friends and I wonder if my comfort is sufficient or cheap.

Two have lost babies before birth. One knows her husband likely won’t be there to kiss her on January 1, 2015. Another lost her best buddy, a pup she’d loved from before she found her own husband. One buried a treasured aunt.

What do you say to loss when you cannot literally sidle up alongside and bear the brunt of it with the loved one pained?

You pray.

Unfortunately, even in Christian society, maybe especially in Christian society, that assurance has lost its power. It comes across as weak, timid, cursory and half-hearted. It’s the same feeling of resignation that births the statement, “I’ve done all I can. All that’s left is to pray.”

But this post isn’t intended to resurrect your passion for prayer, your conviction that it is the single most important, effective thing you can do for loved ones in pain, in the throes or on the precipice of loss. (Though it is.) If a renewed respect for prayer is a side effect of my words, may God receive glory.

No, this post is my own reflection on loss. It’s what I hope I recall the next time a beloved is wrenched from my hands.

Job 1:21 says, “…“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I wonder about God taking away. In truth, there’s a vast difference between something being lost or stolen, and something being gently tugged from clutching fingers by a loving Father.

When I was little, I recall my sister getting into the medicine cabinet. After watching Mom dole out vitamin C tablets to her older siblings, she wondered about the orange-colored “candy”. Why couldn’t she have some?

So, this little one climbed up on the counter, popped the child-proof cap and downed the rest of the bottle. When Mom found her, she was mauling the final “candies”. Hastily, Mom snatched the poison from little fingers. My sister cried.

The pain a child feels when a parent takes something away (even a bottle of vitamins–innately good but harmful for a child at that age) is when tiny fists grip it tightly and sting when the object is finally wrested away.

Though my experience of these recent pains is only an echo, I marvel at the strength bearing up my friends. I pause and take notice of their valor and humble submission to the God of “every good and perfect gift”.

It is vastly different to lose something, have it stolen or to understand, even welcome, the loving hands of a Father who takes it away.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

The 3 “P’s” of Shame

It all started with shame. I was ashamed of who I was. No, I wasn’t a terrible person and I never endured much of what other women have that evokes shame. But I wasn’t super smart or super pretty or super athletic or super funny. I was simply plain, run-of-the-mill average. And I was ashamed.

For fourteen years, anorexia allowed me to excel at something. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their head and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic.

Finally, I surrendered. I quit trying to make myself into someone I could be proud of—someone with a strong self will, a perfect figure and uncompromising strength. I finally relinquished the my pursuit of “excellence”. But then, shame reared its ugly head again; this time, he had a double-edged sword.

You’re still average—average weight, average strength, normal temptations. Did you just have seconds? You’re pathetic.

I can’t believe how much of your parents’ money you wasted. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your sisters and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian and you couldn’t even summon the faith to get “healthy” in less than 14 years. You’ll always be pathetic.

Henry Cloud says that shame has three characteristics that distinguish it from God’s gentle correcting voice. He says shame is always personal, permanent and pervasive.

I ran the diagnostics on the voice that kept accusing me. You are pathetic. Pretty personal. In 1 Corinthians 6, even as Paul points out the Corinthians’ shortcomings, he also reminds them whose they are. “Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Pervasive. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your family and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian. The enemy’s accusation encompassed my whole life, my faith and all of my relationships. However, Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” If sin and shame pervaded my life before, they do no longer because I have Christ’s life.

Permanent. You’ll always be pathetic. But the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” No sin or mistake is permanent. God holds nothing against me.

Today I walk free of those specific lies, but I know that times will come when I feel ashamed again. But I have learned to recognized the voice of truth and I choose to listen to what my Father says about me: “You have made [me] a little lower than the angels and crowned [me] with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5

(This was first published at http://www.findingbalance.com)

Just the Appetizer…

business-graphics-1428656-mFriends, bear with me–allow me to share a bit more borrowed wisdom. This piece by Desiring God ministries speaks precisely to some of our current conversation about dealing with unknowns, finances and even idolatry. I would love to hear your thoughts!

“Because of what the Bible warns about wealth, Christians quickly become some of the most vigilant about their incomes, investments, and donations — and that is a good and right trend as a whole.

 

Perhaps a love of money has less to do with its presence or absence, and more to do with its hold in our hearts. Maybe it has less to do with whether we have more or less money, and more to do with whether our thoughts, conversations, and budgets are excessively focused on it.

 

As an illustration, the same warning can be applied to people “stewarding their bodies” by being obsessive about counting calories and running miles. How easy it is to take “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and make the place for worship (your body) the prize of worship (your god). The body becomes god and God is forgotten.”

These are only delicious morsels of the full article my Marshall Segal. Please, go devour the whole thing!

 

From Riches to Reliance

This is a guest post supplied by my precious sister, Kelsey Gunderson. Any questions will be directed to her and she will reply as quickly as possible.

Kelsey Gunderson is a wife and mother of two living in the Dallas, Texas area. Hesitant to consider herself a writer, she shares from a vulnerable place of obedience to the God who loves and leads her.

Budgets. Whether spreadsheets, cash envelopes, budget programs, or monthly allowance methods, we all try to obtain (or say we do) some kind of budget—some kind of organization for the few dollars that pass through our hands that supply our families with everything from toilet paper to tools, from groceries to gifts. But what happens when you don’t have enough income to budget, when budgeting no longer makes sense? When you don’t have the extra 5% to put into an emergency fund, or 10% into savings, or when you don’t have enough to purchase the bonus-size box of diapers even though it really is a better deal? Well, that’s is exactly where my husband and I have found ourselves the last 16 months.

The change was abrupt, which by no means was an accident. When God wants your attention you can be sure He knows how to rock your world and bring you to your knees in an instant. My husband had been gainfully employed by the same company for 4 years and had already been able to obtain a promotion that most thought was out of his league. The pay was great, the hours were good, and our little family of 3 ticked right along quite self sufficiently. Which, on a side note, I believe is the where the problem started. God doesn’t intend for us to live out our lives “self sufficient” with little reliance on him. He wants us to not only need Him but to want Him as well. In March of 2013 we had a huge wake-up when my husband, through a sequence of unfortunate events, lost his job. If that wasn’t enough to get our attention God also decided to expand our family. One month to the day of him losing his job, I found out I was pregnant with our second little miracle. By “miracle” I mean just that, I had been told on multiple occasions that a second baby wasn’t in our future, but nothing is impossible with our God. He will go to great measures to bring His children to him.

With my husband looking for a new job that would support our family and allow me to stay home with our not only one child but second that was rapidly headed to her debut, the walls seem to slowly start closing in. Fear and anxiety seem to be the only emotions I knew. I had never had to face financial instability quite like this before and at first it was down right terrifying. The smile covering up the panic wasn’t going to cover for long, but God will never give us more that we can handle and He always provides (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is’t until we reach a complete state of instability and uncertainty that we truly began to see God’s active hand in our lives. Over the course of the next several months, we saw God’s hand in so many undeniable ways, anonymous gifts, HSA contributions that shouldn’t have been, mortgage refunds, guilt free/unprompted family assistance, and tax reimbursements that came just in time.

My husband was able to land a local contracting job several weeks after being let go from his job. The contracting job was an answer to our prayers, but was hardly the end our journey. Contracting jobs by nature are flakey (at best) providing a paycheck but nothing more and very little promise of continued employment. So the search continued, and still continues to this day. We have had our hopes rise with phone calls, interviews and follow-ups only to drop with a rejection, job “fall-throughs”, and no callbacks. We’ve seen financial stability on the horizon only to have a storm blow in.

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy to trust God when what you need is something real and tangible and it feels like God is anything but tangible; however, I can tell you that this last year has been a year that I would never change. God has brought me to my knees worldly speaking but at the same time has picked me up and placed me in His lap. I have never felt that peace and confidence in Christ that I have felt this past year. Handing over finances to God is one the hardest, yet most rewarding, things we have ever done.

The past year plus has been hard, financially wearing, mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing. It has stretched our finances, our marriage, and our trust, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The thrill of seeing God at work and knowing it’s for the best out weighs everything. I even said at one point that even though I long so much for financial stability again I have also learned to love the instability because it allows me to see the active hand of God. As I look back on the past 16 months and remember the up and downs, the tight weeks and financial gifts that made things possible I realize that this whole situation never was about money or employment, it was about trusting God to provide. Every tight week feels worse than the last, but ever gift is sweeter. I have learned through these gifts that it’s not a coincidence or an obligation on someone else to help us; it’s the hand of God at work. Working through someone else to make sure he provides for his children. I often thought back to the Israelites and their escape from Egypt and how many times they doubted that God would provide, how each situation felt worse than the last, and how they missed out on beauty of trusting God. I don’t want miss out! Even this very day I look at our bank account and wonder how we will make it to the next paycheck and if I will be able to buy diapers before we run out; the problem may still there, but the fear is slowly diminishing. Fear is being replaced by fascination; the fascination of what God will do next.

 

In Your Light, I’m Glowing

untitled-1430946-mMalachi 4:2 “”But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

I was about twelve years old. The neighbors had asked me to feed their pets while they were on vacation. Eager for an extra few dollars to call my own, I agreed and stubbornly refused the help of my sisters or parents. The neighbors’ house was only one door down from ours; we lived in the country without the felt threats of boogymen or busy streets. They had a young German shepherd, a gerbil and two fish—pretty easy.

One night, I put off making my evening visit to let the dog out and turn on the porch light until the sun had set. Undaunted, I pulled on boots under my nightgown and traipsed across the lawn. I finished the chores quickly, turned the key to the right and headed home. Goodness, it was dark.

We lived several miles outside a small, Oklahoma town. There were no street lights to cast guiding halos, only a stray firefly. For some reason, it hadn’t seemed this dark only 20 minutes earlier. Taking a deep breath, I struck out.

It wasn’t the dark itself that scared me. My nemesis was a 12-inch high, brick planter that ringed the solo tree in our backyard. My shins tingled. Just recently we’d studied the eye in science class. I knew the planter was real, but without the sunlight to bounce its revealing rays off the surface of those fierce bricks, it might as well have been imaginary to me—unless I struck it with my shin.

I held my hand up in front of my face. With pupils gaping, just enough moonlight filtered through to reflect the shape of my fingers. But that cursed planter loomed invisible, transparent in the night. Waiting.

I considered turning around to borrow the neighbors’ flashlight. No, if I simply hurried, pressed on quickly toward my goal, I’d soon find myself safe in the welcoming glow of our kitchen.

Crack! Pain sliced through my shin. In my haste, I hit the planter with force. Tears sprang to my eyes and a whimper escaped my lips.

It may seem a stretch, but my long years in recovery from anorexia remind me of that night. Mired in addiction to food restriction and compulsive exercise, I felt only half-human. Conversations were a loss on me, as I stood face-to-face with a friend and their words seemed to slip right through me—transparent. I couldn’t see my physical self with objectivity. No light filtered through my mind to illumine the damage I was doing to my body. So I pressed on.

Fear gripped me. Counselors, friends and family who stood but a short distance away, safe in the light of truth, saw me clearly. They urged me to seek the light. They struggled to explain the dangers ahead. But I only hurried faster. In my blindness, something told me that if I just worked out harder, ate less, stayed in control, sooner or later I would come out on the other side. Sooner or later, everyone would realize that I had been right all along—I was stronger, wiser, in control, enviable.

But I was scared too. I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t rightly govern myself. I couldn’t change my behavior and doing things my way wasn’t working. In a downward spiral, I became more and more miserable. All I could see was this tiny section of my life—food, thinness, exercise. The rest of me disappeared—no light. I failed to see the full spectrum of my life; confined only to this addiction.

I was about 30 years old. After nearly fifteen years of blindness, light spilled through my atrophied retinas. Turning my face to the light of Jesus Christ, glory erupted on my vision. Now in health, the full spectrum of light reflects off of my body, soul and spirit. In Him, I see who I am and have been able to address the true physical needs of my body, feed the actual hunger of my heart and the experience the richness of real relationships.

You see, for so long I searched for the end point. I longed for relief from my eating disorder, but couldn’t see the direction, could not navigate the perils before me, could not understand the truth of my body’s needs. But when I began to seek not the destination, but the light of Jesus Christ, everything became clear.

All of the things I feared between me and the life of freedom and purpose I longed for, were suddenly easily seen. The truth about my own beauty became evident; the reason for my unique and precious life was no longer a distant hope but a biblical promise.

I mourn the lost years sometimes. “Real-me” needn’t have been shrouded and transparent for so long. The Bible, my companion from youth, tells over and over that Jesus is the light that makes our lives, my own life, real, visible and tangible. It cannot be seen, embraced or experienced fully without the light of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:14 “This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Psalm 36:9 “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”