No Longer Expert

I never wanted to be an expert.

A friend called me yesterday to recount a chance he had to help a man having a seizure. My friend told me everything he did for the student seizing. Some things he said confidently… Some not so confidently. The questions he peppered me with were typical of someone who has never had their brain betray them. It made me smile, but then he said it again:

“I guess you’d know. You’re somewhat an expert in that area aren’t you?”

Michael sarcastically entitled the event exciting. Knowing the surrounding facts, that the kid seizing fell into the street and had never seized before, I interpreted it with the reality. It was bloomin’ terrifying. In all our years of friendship, my childhood friend had only heard horror stories and seen smaller seizures. We’d had so many conversations of “what to do if” though, during the years we lived closer, I trusted him more than I trusted anyone. 

“You did everything right, Dude. The kid should be okay. You did everything right.”

As the conversation came to a close, I muttered under my breath, “Lord, what if one of the only reasons you allowed me to have epilepsy was so Michael could correctly support this stranger? Even though You’ve given so many other blessings despite the curse, what if teaching Michael what to do was the only reason? Would that have been enough for my heart? Is my faith strong enough to say my epilepsy was worth it because of that one unseen show-casing of Your glory?”

American Christians have this habit of always asking God, “What’s in it for me?” Even in light of a disease, we justify having issues if we can see the benefit. Like getting called an expert and being given respect. Or feeling God lead us to sell everything and leave our home, only agreeing because there’s a rumor we’ll get a pay raise.

We face turmoil because we’re banking on the fact that it’ll pay off for us someday. The fact is, as followers of Christ, the pay-off shouldn’t matter. When we mutter, “Use me however You want” that should be enough. We have no idea what part our story plays in the grander plan of the Creator of the universe.

He is, after all, the Ultimate Expert.

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Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Stuttered Leadership

“Your stutter disappears when you sing. It’s like Moses – so cool!”

To be quite honest, the very first thought upon hearing my acquaintance’s thoughts weren’t very nice. I handle being observed a lot better 1-on-1 than I do in a Church crowd. I wanted nothing more to deny I had a stutter at all. It only made me stutter more. 

Though I somehow got through the totally unexpected comment, I walked away with only one question on my mind:

Why? 

The man was right. When I sing, you would never know I struggle with English. When I sing, no one has time to ask questions about my authority in being on stage. I always wanted to be a singer. Up until I was 19, there was nothing I wanted more.

Why couldn’t God agree to re-writing my story so my life and career could be something I’m comfortable doing like singing?

As it stands, I’m pursuing a career in writing and secondly in ministry – two things I’m highly uncomfortable doing but have been firmly called to do. (We would include the whole bit about what God has called me to in relationship here, but that’s just not gonna happen) Every time I step into ministry, I’m nervous. Every time I write, I can hear myself questioning what the heck I’m doing. 

I feel incredibily inadequate in the shoes God has commanded me to fill. The sweet congregant’s comment about my “stutter” just made me realize it in a different light.

I started pitying Moses. I mean, he was probably a blastedly good shepherd. Exodus shares that he was a shepherd for 40 years. I betcha a million dollars that man ruled the whole sheep-thing. He was probably really comfortable with his dumb animals in the desert.

But regardless of his comfort level, God, in His infinite wisdom, put the stuttering shepherd in front of the Egyptian King and in charge of an entire nation. Poor, poor Moses. The guy just wanted to be comfortable. But… You can’t challenge a king and a nation without talking, stutter and all.

Moses really wanted God to pay attention to the fact that he stuttered. God paid attention to it and made him the leader of exiled Israel anyway. Again… Poor Moses.

Again… WHY?!

I struggled the rest of the day (okay, I’m still struggling) with the fact that, according to one man, my inadequacies are out in the open but God still has me up front in a leadership role. I would love to now leap into a long, divine monologue God gave me late at night answering every deeply seeded need in my heart. But I can’t, cuz hallelujah, He didn’t give one. I was only reminded of one very hard, incredibly gorgeous truth:

When I am seen as inadequate, people are led to look at Christ who is more than adequate. 

Not a Laughing Matter

Death really isn’t funny. I’ve tried to create pithy, truthful – yet slightly sarcastic – thoughts on death. But, I… I just can’t. I’m processing the 5th death among my friends in the last 3 weeks. My humor quota is not prepared for that.

Granted, some of these individuals I know their story and their struggle more than I know them. I was brought onto the scene when death wasn’t a “someday” but a slightly certain “soon.” In some ways, my prayers and tears touched them more than my arms ever did.

The most recent heartbreak was the father of a student I had only met recently, yet somehow, myself and several others within the church felt a responsibility toward the family. As I walked home after hearing the news last night, I had to face the terror of uncertainty.

Uncertainty changes your emotions in a heartbeat. In view of this father’s death especially, there are a drastic amount of unknowns on the table. Instead of glorying in the certainty of Heaven, we’re left with a question mark. Instead of knowing we can still love on the family left here for a time, we have no idea what God has planned. 

Like many other times in the past, I could barely hear God’s Truth in the midst of my processing. I wanted answers… The question was, could I shut my mouth long enough to hear them?

Remember My Truth, Beloved. I’ve already told you, but I can tell you again. I (the Lord) will wipe every tear from your eyes. (In God’s time) there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain… (Revelation 21:4)

Oh, Death, where is your victory? Oh, Death where is your sting? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Often, my heart is only focused on the here and now. Right now, my heart is mourning the loss of 5 people. But God is bigger than Death. God is bigger than sorrow. God is bigger than my uncertainties.

In that, I can laugh… Death has not won.

Silencing the Parents

I was always that kid who moved mountains to keep things level.

I’d love to say my fear of disrupting the peace was something I sculpted into my pint-size personality over time, but that’d probably be a lie. As a 6 or 7-year-old, I heard my parents discussing finances (not arguing, fighting or crying… discussing) after they’d sent me to bed. I heard the phrase “we can’t do that right now” and took matters into my own hands.

From then on, I struggled to tell my parents what I wanted (Suzy Home Bake, anyone?) or what I needed ($15 for band supplies or fail the class…?). Now that I’ve been ‘adulting’ for a few years, I understand what my parents were doing that night. Their hesitation over the checkbook didn’t mean I was a burden as another mouth to feed. It didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It just meant budgeting would be a good idea for the next 15 days.

Sidenote: For all I know, they could have been talking about putting money towards a road trip, not some desperate necessity.

It didn’t matter what the scenario was, though. I wasn’t going to be a burden on my parents… 

Anytime I talk to my mom about my annoying people-pleaser skills (I mean ‘tendencies’) as a child, the reaction is always the same — utter frustration, heartbreak and an explanation of reality. It’s all stuff I’m completely aware of now, but the underlying question is still there: Why was letting your dad and I provide for you so hard for you to do?

I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer for her. All I know is I was fairly positive I understood life and could help my parents survive it by knowing more than they did. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. Honestly, the idea of my future child doing that makes my blood boil.

But the reality is, no matter how much logic I can pour into that misconception to make it disappear, I’m still in danger of doing it. Only now, I’m the adult-child kneeling before my Heavenly Father uttering the words, “I don’t think I should bother you with this heartache…” 

Without hesitation, I hear Him chuckle as He replies, “You know better than to think that, but since you do, come sit with Me anyway. I just want time with you.

And, just like my earthly parents, as I sit with my Father God, I start to understand He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows what I need and, though it feels life-threateningly large to me, He handles it because He can.

Wait, what was I worried about, again?

             

What Is It?

Every time I feel the chains of bondage wrap around my struggling heart, I fight equally as hard against the urge to sadistically chuckle and mutter in Heaven’s direction, “This sin isn’t my fault. Fix it yourself, Jehovah. If you can… I dare you.”

We live in a fallen world. Because of that, there are multiple sins that are results of something done to us. One phrase heartbreakingly comes to mind: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have encountered multiple loved ones with PTSD who hopelessly reminisce about actions which go against the Word of God, but they feel like they “have to” do them. They can’t remember what survival without the action in question looks like.

Men and women alike who have been sexually assaulted or abused cringe when well-intentioned people speak boldly against sexual acts as sins when the victim has a brain programmed to think those acts are needed for physical survival. 

So, the question gets posed: Is it sin? When a person’s outburst of anger is because of a flashback they could not control… Is it sin? 

There are 2 types of people reading this: 

1) Someone who has no idea what I’m talking about… sin has almost always been circumstancial rather than positional. Praise God for that. I can only imagine the rest of this post won’t make sense.  

2) Someone who knows all too well what I mean and you’ve made a game out of hiding your struggle because good sane Christians don’t have problems or dilemmas like this. 

If you come from that second group hear me say first and foremost I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve suffered. I’m so sorry you’ve been told openly fighting against yourself for the glory of God should be easy… or atleast get easier over time. I’m so sorry if you’ve been told you’re just weak and should give up trying to reach sanctification. All of those things are well-veiled half truths.

Hear this warning come from someone who has lost almost everything by coming from the position of thinking my actions aren’t my fault. “Not my circus, not my monkey” has entered my “forgive me, Lord” prayers on more than one occasion. I can look back on my past and see the exact moment when my brain changed from human being to threatened victim… so blame shifting is d**** easy.

You may be able to blame-shift. You may be able to call yourself a survivor only when you do certain things that make other Christians cringe. When that happens, you are in danger of secretly breeding a level of pride that shuts the door of your heart off from anyone else getting in to possibly help you heal. That pride can get so thick you stop hearing God simply because you’re wallowing in your own self-pity and self-righteousness. 

The “prayer” I mentioned earlier? When I’m honest with myself, my heart is actually saying this: “You may be the Creator of the Universe, but I’m the one person you can’t touch and who can’t be affected by your love, redemption and mercy. I only need you for the attributes I can comprehend. You’re too weak to love me into changing.”

Be careful of hiding your pride behind the pain of your past. You may not see the root of your sin simply because it’s easiest to focus on your pain. My friend, that is the Enemy’s greatest ploy. 

Let God fight your battles, even if it’s not the battle you expected.

Defunding It Ain’t Enough

When I hit 18, I lived my life in such a way where I got incredibly used to love leaving. I can cynically chuckle at the memories only because I remember thinking I was “all growed up” when in fact… I could have safely stayed under the leadership of my parents a bit longer. I could have sat at the feet of wisdom a little longer, rather than assuming 17 years of Sunday School was enough. But instead, I ran off (5 miles away from the front door, but that’s beside the point) and decided I knew everything there was to know.

It’s because of that approach to life that I look at the women sitting in the abortion clinics and I weep for them before I weep for their babies. Though I understand an abortion is legitimately murder and its tactics turn my stomach… I wonder.

How many of them were told they had to choose between either their baby or their family?

How many of them were told they were being merciful to the child because their baby’s father was a good-fer-nothin’ low-life?

How many of them were fed horror stories of foster care when they brought up the idea of adoption so they decided a horrific death was better than a painstaking life?

And then, I ask the questions I don’t know how to answer:

How many of them were pegged as a person who “knew better” but was never poured into? Ya know who I’m talking about… the girl who tried drugs, so we kept our distance. The girl who, to the world’s eyes, had amazing parents so obviously it’s her fault for being stupid. What if there was more pain in the family unit than ever met the eye? 

What isn’t she telling us because she knows we would rarely listen to the point of taking action?

Abortion is horrible. But defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t enough. It never was and it never will be. The women who are carrying these children need us to step up and go the extra mile. 

Defunding an organization that feeds off of naivety and convenience is an amazing idea. But what is the church — not the organizations the Church funds but the Church itself — going to do with the naive and broken that Planned Parenthood leaves behind?

America, defund Planned Parenthood. Please. But then start funding love that takes action. Otherwise, nothing will change.