God’s Version of Show and Tell

show and tellThere’s a woman whose daddy has been praying for her for years. All he wanted was to see his precious daughter healthy again, strong, fertile, free. How he longed for God to just tell him a little bit about the future, “Please God, just tell me that she’ll be okay!”

Now, she’s praying for him, “Please God, just tell me he’ll be okay.” Last week, her daddy’s hand was mangled in a workshop accident with a saw. He’ll live; the doctors did good work. But his heart is achy. All he wants is for God to tell him that he will still be useful and effective and capable.

Other hurdles have mounded in front of this godly family. A beloved elderly grandmother makes full days into over-full days, exhausting the daughter she lives with. An uncle suffers from unexpected heart problems. It’s wave after wave. Won’t someone just tell them it will be okay?

God, can’t you just explain the map a little bit? Can’t you point out the hope on the horizon?

I’ve been pulled into prayer lately. It’s magnetic, irresistible. More than the needs to pray, I feel compelled to know the heart of prayer.

God, I want to know how this works. I want to know why it works and why sometimes it seems like a crapshoot. God, I want to know why you care at all when our feeble voices wind heavenward like wisps of dissipating smoke, and why sometimes the floor heaven seems made of iron—impenetrable.

The only thing I know for sure, when my words seem worthless, God must attend His own Word. He is all truth, the essence of what is, the imaginer of all we believe real, so He simply cannot betray His own Word.

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:4-5.

I pause.

Remember “Show and Tell” in kindergarten? Who would have cared if all we did was describe our dearest treasure? Who wants to merely hear a story when the option exists to reach out and touch the subject?

As a writer, we are constantly schooled to, “Show, don’t tell.”

A familiar phrase echoes the halls of literature, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

So I hear God say, “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.”

Why is it I want God to tell me the future, to reveal the fearful mystery of what I cannot yet see? Why do I implore God to inform me when all He really wants is to show me?

Colorful fingers tug at my own, “Come here, Abby! I want to show you something!”

Why disillusion her by insisting that she should just tell me what it is? Why pretend I have better things to do than follow that precious girl and praise her painting, such as it is—the full palate of colors splattered on paper?

What I would miss if I chose not to follow her! She wants to see my expression, behold my admiration of her creativity.

Maybe God is the same way. “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.” To show us, God must walk a half step ahead.

To show requires present and presence. When we arrive at the future, hand in hand with our Shepherd, we behold those terrifying unknowns in the present and are comforted by the presence of the Prince of Peace.

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Reasons for Seasons and Rain

Heavy rain

Sometimes, when we go through difficult times, we call them “storms”. If you ever watched Winnie the Pooh, gloomy old Eeyore was often pictured with a storm cloud hovering over his head. We say things like, “I’ve got the blues” or “He’s under the weather”, or we try to encourage people by saying, “The sun will come out again soon.” These are called “figures of speech”, ways to describe something that have become so common that everyone understands.

You can think of figures of speech as tiny parables. The dictionary says that a parable is, “a story or phrase that uses familiar things to explain something.” Jesus told many parables in the Bible. He used things that his listeners understood to teach them about God whom they could not see.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the story about a wise man who built his house on a rock. Another man, a foolish one, built his house on the sand. Then, mighty storms came. The wind blew and the rain pounded on both homes. The wise man’s house stood firm. But when the storms came and the water washed away the sandy foundation, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Jesus used this story to explain that when we build our lives on Him, on the truth of His Word, we can stand strong and the sad and difficult things in life will not destroy us. However, if we set our hopes, dreams and future on a worthless foundation—like wealth, popularity or faith in a false god, when the storms of life come, we will fall apart.

Storms are usually used to describe the bad times, but there is value in the storms and rain, too. Another phrase we often hear is, “April showers bring May flowers.” We know flowers, plants and trees need rain to grow. Streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans need rain. We depend on the rain to fill these bodies of water so that we have water to drink, shower and swim in.

When it comes to the storms of life, there is a benefit in them too. When storm passed, and the wise man’s house was still standing, he knew that he had built in the right place. He knew that foundation on which he built his house was strong.

It’s the same way for us in life. When we go through sad and hard times, God proves Himself to us. He proves that He is strong, faithful, wise and loving.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs him down, but a good word lifts him up.” The word for “weighs down” actually means “to bow down to someone greater”. When bad times come and we are sad or anxious, they cause us to bow down before God and seek His help in our troubles.

Just like in nature, we face seasons in our lives. There will be sunny days and rainy seasons; times of happiness and joy as well of times of discouragement and sadness. Remembering the purpose of rain in nature can help us look for God’s goodness and purpose in the hard times of our lives. Our struggles help us to see God’s faithfulness and strength for us and they help us to remember to bow down and trust God.

When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

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.”

In the Wake of the Storm–Protecting Our Own

I write as one blooming in puddles the aftermath of a tempest. In the wake a horrific storm—the kind that turns the sky sallow, rips roots from the ground, lifts homes and drops them in strange places, I am watching it. I am watching the clouds recede but know they are merely bearing their cruel chaos forward to other homes and lives.

My readers here know my story. For more than a decade I was caught up in the storm of anorexia. Some could see it happening; those close enough could see the toll taken by, even feel the gusts of metaphorical winds. Others, a bit farther way saw the storm as one watching it on the horizon. It looked menacing enough that some took shelter, took precautions to guard their daughters and loved ones from this tsunami.

It finally dropped me. A bit ragged—worn, but whole. And in it’s wake, there are huge puddles, inches of water and the sun has come up and a rainbow welcomes me to life again. And so it’s from this place of awakening, this place of stretching wide in the clear blue of freedom that I now watch the receding clouds and wonder of the havoc they will wreak on someone else.

Storms have varying impacts. Growing up in Oklahoma, on more than one occasion we saw side-by-side homes—one left the other taken. Winds vary and shift; what struck from the north may swing wide and assault from the south next.

And so when I read this story, my heart shook. The memories of shame, fear, confusion, anxiety and loneliness are fresh enough that I empathize with a broken heart.

I was 14 when insecurity and shame overtook me. In response, I constricted my entire being hoping to control at least what remained of me. But this little girl, this little Fern, hasn’t yet taken first steps. She has not yet said, “Mama” or beheld her own face in a mirror. She hasn’t picked a favorite food or color or experimented with a hobby and already the vicious storm that is our world is assaulting her. Already, the cacophony of personal opinions, thoughtless remarks and ignorant stereotypes are pounding on her tiny doorstep. Already the mold has been cast into which she will never fit.

The storm against identity, individuality, sacred life and undefinable beauty was already raging when she arrived—has been raging for all time. From the day Satan persuaded Eve that she was not created with all that she needed for a full, God-intended life—since then we have been searching, sure that God’s design of and for us is deficient.

Let this not be our legacy. We cannot control the weather; no more can we control the ebb and flow of societal opinion and cultural paradigms. But, within our homes, beginning within our own hearts, we can practice, preach and promote the truth that God has done all things well, every one of us is exquisite in His Creator-eyes. Who is the world to say otherwise?

I love the words of Fern’s mother:
“She is not abnormal. She is not normal. She is individually her and as she grows into a girl, a teen, a woman, she needs to always know to her core that she is exquisite and indefinable by the words of people and by the standards of this world.”

Welcome to Clarksville!

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Hello Lovlies!

Welcome to Clarksville! It’s my plan to be more spontaneous with our posts again here very soon, now that life is settling into its new, “normal”.

As I peeled my heart away from Columbus, GA and the friends I’ve made there and reacquainted with, the hobbies I’ve begun, my chair at church, the park that I frequented on sunny days and the one more conducive to rainy ones–as I gently wiggled my heart like a well-stuck sticker and tried to loosen it’s adhesive, I realized something. I mean no offense to friends, but I think I grieved the loss of routine more than anything. Does that make sense?

Of course, that routine included dear ones. I am sad for the end of weekly coffee visits with Johanna, for true-southern hospitality at Nanny and Katherine’s house. I am sad for Tuesday/Thursday visits on regular floors at TMC–for smiles with Mailey, Shanna, Nancy, Barbara, Megan, Penny, Daisy, Alex and Amy and others.

But here’s what I’m learning:

God has recently been speaking to me of exposure. My favorite therapist of all time (how many people can say that?) once told me that recovery would become easier with time, that walking in freedom would become my “new normal”. Stacy explained, “When water flows down one side of a hill over and over it creates a channel and nothing will divert it, unless the water is forced down the other side of the hill enough times. Then, it will create a deeper, more compelling channel on the other side. Over time, the water will naturally flow down that opposite side.”

Stacy was right about recovery. Today, healthy feels normal and right to me. But her lesson applies to so many other aspects of life, too.

The day after we arrived in Clarksville, Brave and I ventured to the Upland Trail, their version of a riverwalk. My heart sank. The trail is less than two miles long. Our home is lovely, but it’s situated in a neighborhood with no safe places to walk the dog. There’s more traffic than I expected, no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or farmer’s market.

When our furniture didn’t arrive as early as I hoped, I felt my mood slipping and along with it a half dozen tears down my grimy cheeks. (Did I mention that it’s every bit as humid as Georgia? That leads to grimy cheeks quickly!)

Quietly, my Father started speaking to me about exposure. 

Lord, what can that possibly have to do with me, here, now and this achy sense of loss. I have no routine here, no way to plan or expect what happens next. I have no friends to call for coffee or familiar parks to stroll. What does exposure have to do with it?

One week later, from Thursday, May 29 to Thursday, June 5, I understand. You see, in one week I’ve been exposed to spectacular Tennessee thunder storms, friendly neighbors, a new state park with a few miles of trails that emulate a rain forest. I’ve been exposed to new patterns of streets and today found my way home without the GPS. I’ve been exposed to “camping” with my husband for (too many) nights and the welcome hug of a comfy bed again. I’ve been exposed to
wide—–open—spaces that remind me of Oklahoma–ranches, farms and fields of wildflowers between every building, bridge or street. I’ve been exposed to new accents and a different version of southern hospitality. I’ve been exposed to a new side of the hill.

The course of my life has been redirected. In only seven days I’ve begun to wallow out a different bed for my stream. My life is bubbling over new stones, around mysterious curves and tumbling down unexpected bluffs.

Are you getting this?

Exposure is what makes normal. Exposure is what makes familiar and acceptable and good. How does a child know that the neighbor’s mom can’t make chocolate chip cookies? Because they don’t taste “right” like the ones that Grandma makes.

So, I’m discovering our new town, our new home and forming new habits. They will feel deliciously comfortable and right, until it’s time to move again. Then, with a gentle nudge, God will redirect the course of my life again, expose me to what only He foresees and I’ll fall in love all over again.

Painful Possibilities

This week I got the chance to flip back the chapters of my life and re-read some painful pages. At the time, those pages hurt. Quite literally, the lines in my journal are smudged with tears. I don’t re-read them often.

A few days ago, a young girl approached me about personal training. I don’t have many clients yet, so I was thrilled. We sat down at Starbucks to discuss her goals and expectations. Halfway through the conversation, she admitted that she struggles with bulimia. My ears perked up and I listened even more intently to her from that point.

I heard sad things. Things like, “I just want to lose a ton of weight.” Her eyes dodged mine when I asked how often she purged. She couldn’t tell me what she normally ate – if she normally ate. I had hoped that my certification as personal trainer would enable me to foster a healthy body image in young clients. I want to instill a love of exercise in women and a sense of amazement at their body’s abilities.

This young girl doesn’t know Jesus, either. I want every relationship in my life to attract people to Jesus Christ. Perhaps God had brought her to me to be a witness and to lead her gently away from an eating disorder. When we parted, I continued to mull over our conversation – wondering where it would go, if I could help her, and feeling not a little nervous that I was getting in over my head.

I took my concerns to the Lord, and then asked my mom and best friend to pray with me. Nervous or not, it would be a blow to my ego to turn down a potential client since I’m not exactly a busy personal trainer. And if I told her no, how else could I help her? Would training her even be helping her?

At the final conclusion, I am surprised at how God chose to use my painful years of anorexia to minister to this young girl. He chose to use me by not using me. Does that make sense? Maybe it will after you read what I wrote to my potential client.

This is hard for me to write. I’d like to tell you in person, but I know you’re gone this weekend and Monday will be here before we get a chance to talk.
I’m sorry. I can’t in good conscience train you. Coming from a background with an eating disorder, I know exactly the thoughts that are racing through your mind. I know that if someone jumped on board with me, when I was sick, and agreed to help me lose weight, without addressing the cause of the bulimia, I would have spiraled downhill and out of control. I know you think that working out will help you to control the purging, but 15 years experience tells me it won’t. It makes sense that it would, but it won’t. It will simply reinforce in your mind the conviction and drive to lose weight any way possible.
Please understand that I say this out of love. Getting help for an eating disorder is the hardest thing I have ever done. I was a minor the first time I went inpatient and I HATED my parents and preferred to die. Then as an adult, it was just as hard, but because of Jesus, I have always had the strength to keep living. And I promise you, that even if it seems manageable now, to continue in bulimic habits will make your life a living hell.
If you want any suggestions on where to find help, I will gladly help you find the resources, counselor, whatever you need.
So that’s it. No new income. No monumental breakthrough in her life because I heroically shared my story and walked with her through the flames of her eating disorder. But I’m confident that I spoke the truth to her and was obedient to my heavenly Father.
Please keep her in your prayers.
“Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24