window into the soul

A Window Into My Soul

Please welcome volunteer staff member and guest blogger, Kim Gray.

Recently I was challenged to look in a mirror. This wasn’t a usual look in a mirror. Not like the casual one I do every day as I am getting ready. This look was meant to look past the surface and look deeply into my soul. They say our eyes are the windows to our soul, so this shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong! It was painful.

Why was this so hard for me? I realized I had used my eyes for years to critique what I saw when I looked in a mirror. My mirror would tell me “Wow, look how tired you look.” Of course I am tired, I am busy “doing” all the stuff that needs to be done! I mean who wouldn’t be tired in my shoes? “You looked better ten years ago.” Dang, why didn’t I appreciate what I saw in the mirror ten years ago? “Might be time to switch to an unwrinkled cream.” Do they even make an unwrinkled cream? It’s obvious the anti-wrinkle stuff isn’t living up to the hype. I saw what I went looking for. Validation for all the things I have believed about myself. Validation for what my culture tells me beauty is all about. Validation for all the things I didn’t hear as a little girl. Painful.

At that moment I caught myself. I stopped and drew that mirror close. Really close, till it nearly touched my nose. I heard a voice deep within me say,

“Let me tell you who I see. I see a loved woman. I see a woman of great worth, one who is worth being known. I see a woman who I delight in, one who is worth a Holy Son. My Holy Son.”

Could this really be true? Of course it’s true; but, could I really embrace it? What would it be like if I actually allowed myself to believe what is true and not all the lies spoken and unspoken that I have bought into for years? What if I could see who I am?

I wish I could tell you at that moment my whole world changed. I wish I could say some incredible transformation took place, that the clouds parted and the sun stood still. No, I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that my perspective changed. Instead of looking in that mirror and having it reflect what I’ve seen for years, I looked at “who” I am.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My beholder is the One who created me. I choose to immerse myself in that truth. I am a worthy, loved, and known woman. Nothing I do creates that. My creator created me to be loved, to be worthy, and to be known. Each morning when I look in the mirror I remind myself of that truth. Do I still look tired? Sometimes. Do I still wish for that miracle unwrinkled cream? Occasionally. Am I loved, worthy and known? All the time. Every day. Every moment.

Photo credit: Kathie Slusser

A Seat On The Bus

Photo credit: Kathie Slusser

I travel around the world as part of my missionary career. I love it and I dread it. I love seeing new things and tasting new things; I get to practice keeping a straight face when scenes don’t look familiar and when my taste buds experience flavors far different from what they are accustomed.

There are deeper challenges and opportunities, too. Many times, those challenges are to my sense of identity and worth, which for me are closely tied to my need to “get it right.”

On one trip, an old woman offered me her seat on a local bus in Southeast Asia during a bright morning ride across town. After interpreting her gestures and smile as insistence that I take her seat, I finally acquiesced when she stood, refusing to give in to my return smile and head shake of what I hoped communicated “No, thank you.”

As I slid into the seat, I was warm with embarrassment and worry and failure. I assumed I was doing something culturally inappropriate or foolish in my standing on the bus and bracing myself with the hand straps. I thought I had been quiet and polite, standing where I was supposed to and not giving offense. My heart sank, since clearly I had blown it and this woman was trying to get me to stop being so stupid.

My friend and travel companion, a woman who was raised in this part of the world, sensed my disappointment. When I apologized to her that I must have been doing something wrong because a woman much older than me made me take her seat, my friend explained to me it was local hospitality. Age had nothing to do with it; I was clearly a visitor in this part of the world and this woman was caring well for me, as her upbringing taught her.

Then, another familiar sense overwhelmed me; once again, I had assumed the worst of me.

The bus ride was a crash of cultures and my own fallen heart. In my home culture, it’s polite for me to stand and make sure anyone older than me has a seat, especially a senior citizen. Here, it’s polite for anyone of any age to give up their seat for a guest in their country. With a moment’s reflection and a little more information, my mind can process the difference and appreciate the experience. But by then, my heart has to be resuscitated; inside, I always first process anything uncomfortable or unknown as failure on my part. My fallen inner voice tells me all the time that I am not enough and if I want to be loved (at most) or not a disappointment to God or anyone else (at least), I need to get every step and every interaction and every choice just right. When things don’t go precisely the way I expect or I don’t know what to do and there is the slightest chance I might stumble, I always first interpret the situation and my feelings as my failure.

It hadn’t crossed my mind that the elderly woman was being kind. It hadn’t crossed my mind to simply experience the moment with open eyes and heart, willing to observe and enjoy and learn. I was in full self-protection mode, only watching and processing my own actions, guessing at the impression I was giving others, striving to make sure that impression made people like me.

Granted, it was just a brief bus ride with people I will likely never see again, but it tells me something about my instincts and inner habits; when I live in self-protection mode, I miss good things. I miss relaxing in the warm smile of a woman’s kindness; I miss seeing others and their real intentions, obsessed instead with myself; I miss learning in real peace and trust, clinging instead to whatever I think will keep me most acceptable to people, a false peace.

Gratefully, I am gaining a better sense and habit of my already-complete acceptability in Christ. If I believe I am already wholly acceptable, it gives my heart space to process new information and new moments … and receive God’s sweet smile and generosity in the gift of a seat on the bus.

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The Message Of The Arrows

Reading this excerpt from John Eldredge’s book, “The Sacred Romance” got me thinking…is Eldredge overstating the impact of our negative experiences? Do we really carry wounds from our pasts that impact our current lives? It’s easy to for many like me to think about all the many wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon us and sweep the rest under the rug. However, I have concluded that ignoring our wounds from the past, whatever they are, limits our ability to connect with each other and even limits our experience of connecting with God. Take a moment to read this excerpt and share your thoughts.

At some point we all face the same decision—what will we do with the Arrows we’ve known? Maybe a better way to say it is, what have they tempted us to do? However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart. Divorce it, neglect it, run from it, or indulge it with some anesthetic (our various addictions). Think of how you’ve handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the Arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?

To say we all face a decision when we’re pierced by an Arrow is misleading. It makes the process sound so rational, as though we have the option of coolly assessing the situation and choosing a logical response. Life isn’t like that—the heart cannot be managed in a detached sort of way (certainly not when we are young, when some of the most defining Arrows strike). It feels more like an ambush, and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again. The result is an approach to life that we often call our personality. If you’ll listen carefully to your life, you may begin to see how it has been shaped by the unique Arrows you’ve known and the particular convictions you’ve embraced as a result. The Arrows also taint and partially direct even our spiritual life.

Photo Credit: Deveon-Photography

Shipwrecked Souls And Intimacy

“Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy.”

Every Breaking Wave, Songs of Innocence – U2

There are a lot of shipwrecked souls out there, including me. There is a beautiful irony in admitting that my soul is ship-wrecked. It unlocks the door to intimacy with others, and ultimately with God. I become far more relatable when I admit my weakness and failures to others, particularly those who are closest to me. Conversely, when I am unable or refuse to openly recognize my short comings and weakness, it stunts my ability to connect with others.

It’s frustrating that I often operate in a “self-protective” mode that inhibits intimacy, the deepest desire of my soul. If I wish to fulfill the deepest desire of my soul, I must confront my instinctual fears that activate this “self-protection” and choose to take calculated risks with trusted people. I know that the fear is real, because relationships are undeniably painful. However, pain can be endured and isn’t actually the worst case scenario. It can stimulate growth in relationships, especially the most life-giving relationship available: the relationships with my heavenly Father.

Contrary to what many believe, the Bible lists only two simple prerequisites for an intimate relationship with God:

1.       Admission of brokenness

2.       Trusting him

Really, these are the same prerequisites for intimacy in any relationship. We must be willing to trust the other person with at least some of our brokenness. This means that we need to be in touch with our brokenness (A.K.A. “baggage”). For me, getting in touch with my baggage has been a terrifying experience at times. Much of who I wanted to be and how I wanted others to view me is threatened by the exposure of my baggage. As you can imagine, chasing a fictitious identity is like chasing a wave that breaks as soon as you get close to it, but it seems to be a very common experience.

Finding the courage to dig into our baggage

The more convinced I am that my baggage doesn’t actually define me, the easier it becomes to look inward with an honest, more objective heart. This convincing is no small task. We are all fighting a lifetime of overt and subliminal messaging that flies in the face of the idea that our baggage doesn’t define who we truly are. When we discover (or rediscover) that God isn’t going to be surprised, put-off or angry when we admit our vulnerabilities, we experience tremendous freedom and intimacy with him. He sweeps us off our feet and pulls us close to his chest in a loving embrace, not because we’ve corrected our issues, but because we’ve invited him into our mess. That is intimacy; being met in your vulnerable state with a loving embrace. Yes, the mess usually begins to get sorted out, but that’s not the ultimate objective. Walking in an intimate relationship is.

In light of these thoughts, I would encourage you to ponder another line from the same song:

“Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?”

mouse trap

Don’t Take The Bait – Randsomed Heart Ministries

I enjoy reading the daily devotionals sent out by John and Stasi Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart Ministry. Today’s seemed to strike a sensitive nerve in me. Holding on to hurt leads to death. I am seeking his help to identify and release the hurt that I have experienced. That’s not to minimize it, but to recognize it and simultaneously recognize that I also am, at times, a perpetrator of wrong, hurting others. May you find deeper connection to our Lord and Savior through this message…

The only way is love. Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). In loving relationships, we want to throw away the list in our heads of wrongs done to us and ignore them when they raise their indictments yet again. Too often we keep those lists, ruminate on them, and nurse them like a wounded animal. We say we forgive—and we may even believe we have—but when the list presents itself again we entertain it with a sort of sick satisfaction. “See what they did? Remember what she said?” We have taken the bait of offense. We are inside the trap.

The word used in Scripture for offense actually means “bait,” the bait that is placed inside a trap to lure an animal to its death. 

Offenses need to be forgiven quickly, or they will fester and poison the relationship. The poison seeps out and affects our own souls as well. Offenses that are held on to lead to death. 

People will hurt us. We will hurt and offend as well. We all will do this with intention and without, with our thoughts bent to wound and with no thought at all. Jesus took all our offenses into his broken body when he died for us, and he took everyone else’s as well. All that he suffered—the beating, the scourging, the mocking, and finally the crucifixion—was more than enough to pay for it all. Our offenses and theirs. 

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Can We Trust Our Emotions Or Are They Wild Horses?

I have often heard it said in Christian circles that emotions can’t be trusted. I don’t like things that can’t be trusted. Imagine a fuel gauge in your car that is giving accurate feedback 50% of the time, but you have no idea when it’s right and when it’s wrong. Basically, it becomes 100% useless.

For most of us, our emotions don’t always line up with our core values and beliefs. We sincerely desire to experience and display emotions that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), but frequently we find ourselves inwardly (and outwardly) experiencing and displaying the opposite (Romans 7:15).

What the heck?

As a result, many of us have concluded and have even been taught that we should work hard to suppress negative emotions. And if we are going to have any emotions at all, we need to work on conjuring up the positive ones. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked for me or those closest to me.

If you study emotions in the Bible, it is apparent that God has emotions and that the key characters in his story experienced them too: sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. So, if God made them, they must be good for something, even though they seem to behave like wild horses at times.

How useful would it be if God gave us a gentile pin prick every time we began to take action or think in a direction that was based on a lie that we unknowingly adopted as truth? How about a whisper of encouragement in our ear when we are taking action or thinking in a direction that aligns with his truth? I believe God uses emotions to give us helpful cues. If we pay attention, these cues are incredibly useful. They are still very complex and challenging to manage, but these “wild horses” can be bridled and ridden. They can take us to an often mysterious destination: a place where we see what we actually believe at an instinctual level. We can then focus on challenging our false beliefs and affirming the beliefs that are true.

Example: My three-year-old son begins to defy me. After several attempts to reason and negotiate, my emotions begin to “rise” (read: unhealthy anger). My attempts to gain compliance and control only seem to drive my son further into rebellion. I know that I should not be disciplining in my anger and that yelling, threatening, and even physically restraining my son are not recommended strategies listed in any respectable parenting book; however, I am compelled by my deep emotion of anger. In retrospect, I discovered that the intense emotion was not the problem, but an indicator of a false belief. I believed that my dignity depended on my three-year-old’s respect and compliance. That’s a ridiculous belief, but keeping my dignity is not. Time to reject the lie that ties my dignity to a three-year-old’s behavior.

I would propose emotions are not something to be ignored or shut off. They have important purposes, including uncovering what we actually believe about ourselves and God. The process of bridling and riding these “wild horses” to their destination (our hidden beliefs) takes some humility and introspection with the Lord, but it’s a ride well worth taking. Remember, our negative emotions are not the problem; it’s our instinctual beliefs that drive them. It’s been said that emotions do not validate truth, BUT they do validate what we believe the truth to be.

Tullian

God’s Grace: The Door To Lawlessness Or Freedom?

I wanted to share a excerpt from Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Tullian Tchividjian (Grandson of Billy Graham). It is a fantastic interview with several insightful and thought provoking discussions. I have only listed the first question and response, which is chalk full of valuable thoughts to ponder. I would suggest reading it through the lens of examining your own stance on grace vs. obedience, rather than exclusively focusing on the church’s stance, especially since you and I are critical parts of the church. I hope and pray that this compels you to run more aggressively into the arms of our loving father.

JM: One criticism that has been leveled against the church is that we’ve been more concerned with behavior modification than with grace. Am I correct in saying that you believe this is a valid criticism?

Tullian Tchividjian: There’s no question that for far too long the church has been primarily concerned with external change. Preachers are afraid of grace because they think it undercuts obedience and encourages apathy. If Jesus paid it all and it is finished, if the judgment against us has been fully and finally taken care of, aren’t we opening the door to lawlessness? This is what Judaizers were afraid of: they didn’t like Gospel of free grace because they thought people would get out of control. If God is not mad at me and if he will never love me more than he does right now, then why can’t I party my way through life? The underlying fear is that unconditional grace leads to licentiousness.

While attacks on morality will always come from outside the church, attacks on grace will always come from inside the church because somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that this whole thing is about behavioral modification and personal moral improvement. We’ve concluded that grace just doesn’t possess the teeth to scare us into changing. As a result we get a steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons; we get a “to do list” version of Christianity that causes us to believe the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. So we end up hearing more about “Christian living” than the Christ.

We think this will be what gets people to clean up their act, to fix themselves, to volunteer in the nursery, to obey, to read their Bibles, to change the world–but it actually has the opposite effect. A steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons doesn’t cause people to do more or try harder…it makes them give up. Legalism produces lawlessness 10 times out of 10.

The fact is, that the solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God. Only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The route by which the New Testament exhorts sacrificial love and obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home. Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I beat my breast to think I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good.”

Enjoy the entire interview HERE.

Memorial

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: A 9/11 Tribute

In an effort to acknowledge the tragedy of 9.11, I would like to talk about mourning. The Beatitudes give us the phrase, “blessed are those who mourn”. This doesn’t really jive with the American way and the selfish desires of my heart, but I’m sure it’s true. In my understanding, the idea of mourning is centered on an acknowledgement of something that is good that is missing. This acknowledgement can often be painful to the person who is admitting there is now a void of someone or something in their lives. Unfortunately, in an effort to minimize personal pain, I might ignore or diminish this acknowledgment. This can have significant long-term, unintended side effects. In short, by not acknowledging the good things that are now gone, we can unknowingly close off those areas of our heart and prevent them from ever being healed. You see, we cannot selectively shut out pain. The door we are shutting is the same door that healing and love need to enter our hearts. So, if you are like me, you may have closed many doors in an effort to avoid pain, but you also stunted your ability to love and be loved. Part of the GOOD NEWS is that God can help you re-open those doors, mourn, and heal.

I pray for the families and friends of those who died on 9/11, that they would be able to re-open doors that may have been shut and experience God’s healing touch.

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Four Valuable Lessons On Spiritual Blindness

I came across a great blog by Paul David Tripp recently that provides great insight into our spiritual condition. As we embrace these lessons, we grow closer to the giver of life. I love to be reminded how God’s economy is different from this world’s economy. Enjoy!

Blindness

Do you know anyone who is blind? I’ve acquired some life-changing information about spiritual blindness from people who can’t see the physical things I see everyday.

1. Seeing With Two Pairs of Eyes

First, I’ve learned that the eyes of my heart are far more important than the eyes of my body. I could be physically blind yet have very accurate spiritual vision, and conversely, I could have 20/20 eyesight while I’m blind to my own sin and the glorious things of God.

In fact, I’ve found that…

 

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Putting God In Our Debt

It’s outrageous to think we could actually put the God of the universe in our debt, but at times I have pursued exactly that without even realizing it. At times I have thought that if I performed well and did what he wanted, somehow, he would “bless” me. Which is code for: give me what I want (the selfish desires of my heart). I came across a blog post from Tullian who also wrote some insightful thoughts on this subject. I hope it’s as freeing to you as it is to me to consider that we are totally and forever in his debt. Enjoy.

The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment

resized_creepy-willy-wonka-meme-generator-oh-you-can-t-pay-me-back-yet-i-see-you-got-your-nails-done-and-is-that-a-new-outfit-3df07fOn an episode of the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) discovers that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has gotten him a Christmas present. Angered, he reminds Penny that the “foundation of gift giving is reciprocity,” […]