Confessions from the Prodigal’s Brother

193

 I have spent too many hours concerning myself with others. True, godliness demands looking outside oneself in love and serving others, but there is a difference between service and true humility.

My brother was a squanderer. I was faithful. My brother left. I stayed home. My brother was careless. I was careful. I’ve always been “the good one”. Surely, fairness would dictate that I would reap the rewards of my labors and he would reap the shame of his. Yet, here I sit, watching the party in his honor, feeling alone and slighted.

A father’s love is a beautiful thing. It is not predicated on good behavior. A lost son is loved and longed for just as a present son is loved, appreciated and cherished. Still, in moments of celebration it’s easy to feel lost and forgotten. If one is not careful, those feelings turn to bitterness, an equally grievous evil.

 Years ago, I found myself in my closet weeping. The closet became my only place of solitude where the kids wouldn’t look and the husband didn’t care to follow so I spent too much time there hunched on the floor feeling sorry for myself. My husband (at the time) was addicted to drugs, sex and pornography. He would disappear for days on end binging on whatever he could get his hands on. I wish I meant that figuratively. The infidelity and repeated betrayal took its toll on my fragile heart. I blamed him for all of our problems. I hadn’t yet learned to take responsibility for myself and not allow myself to be treated and abused. I hadn’t learned proper boundaries. I hadn’t realized my true value.

Still, I took the blame upon myself for his actions. If I were better, surely he wouldn’t do these horrible things. If I were more attractive, surely he wouldn’t feel the constant need to look elsewhere. If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t run. I wrongly believed my actions dictated his and consequently, his actions dictated mine. I worked hard!

I began to believe that God must love him more than he loved me. When he would return home, everyone rallied around him in support. Forgiveness was freely offered and readily available whether or not his repentance was sincere. He was celebrated as brave and heroic for his perceived effort of coming back to the Father’s house. I knew forgiveness was essential for me to survive and felt I’d be chastised if I didn’t pursue reconciliation.

It took years for me to figure out that forgiveness didn’t mean removing consequences. It took many years for me to learn that it was right to establish boundaries and not allow myself to be mistreated. It took years for me to turn my backbone from jelly to solidity. I finally made a stand and got out despite the criticism of many. I couldn’t be more thankful for the freedom and peace that decision brought me.

Being a godly wife doesn’t mean ignoring the misdeeds of others. It involves taking a stand for righteousness. It involves looking inward and finding God’s love and grace in ones’ own life and acting in accordance with right principles and Biblical truth. Never has God demanded his little ones to accept abuse as a part of submission. In fact, scripturally, we are not to keep company with a man who is “called a brother if he is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. With such a one [we] are not even to eat.” 1 Corinthians 5:11. Such scriptures can be difficult to reconcile in the midst of a marriage though sexual immorality is clearly a justifiable cause for divorce biblically. (Matthew 19:9)

Divorce is a horrible thing and though I had the support and love of many, I was heavily criticized by many also. Well-meaning brothers and sisters would tell me I needed to be more forgiving and just stick it out. Vicious believers even got in my face a time or two to try to convince me I was in sin for choosing to leave. Despite what anyone else said, I am responsible for my own actions. I am responsible for my own freedom. I am responsible for my own destiny.

As the prodigals brother (or sister in my case), we have a choice. We can allow bitterness to take root in our hearts and grimace at the celebration around us. Or we can choose to take responsibility for our own happiness. Life and joy require active participation. I was notorious for being a victim. I allowed circumstances and other people to drive my life. Now I’ve learned that I am in control. Dr. Henry Cloud has said that no one can control us. We are responsible for allowing others that power. We can take control of our own lives and say no to abuse, no to self-pity and doubt. We can actively pursue God’s love for ourselves and understand that it is vast and endless. When we do, we will find that our rewards are ours and no one else can take them from us.

I am the keeper of my own destiny. I refuse to be driven by the recklessness of someone else. Rather, I will make choices based on the word of God and what is right for me. This may seem selfish to a heart that has spent years in codependency, however, the truth remains. No one has the power to steal the joy set before me. No one else can make me do anything. I decide.

When we take back the responsibility, blame disintegrates. When we take back our happiness, no dart fired from an enemy can quench it. When we decide to walk with our heads high and our eyes fixed on the infinite love of our God, nothing external can steal our peace and our focus. We become warriors!

Spin

I confess that I was the prodigal’s brother. Today, I am free to love without abandon because no one can hurt me. My hope isn’t in the approval or disapproval of anyone else. My hope is in The Lord and in the promise that he sees me lovely. And now I see myself free!

 

The Beauty of Revisiting

IMG_1334

I am a bit of a book hoarder. I’m in recovery these days since I’ve found my overwhelming large book collection drives my husband bonkers. Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve read every book in my book collection. There are some I’ve picked up over the years either as a gift or at a conference, that I picked up and began, only to find that they just didn’t speak to me. So after drudging through a few chapters and capturing nothing of substance I could use at the time, I retired them to the shelf for future reference. Surely, someday I’d pass them along to someone or actually read them. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who does this.

This week, I came across a book I my collection that just wasn’t relevant to my life when I purchased it. But this week, it called from the shelf and begged to be revisited. The words jumped off the pages and into my soul. The time for this book was most certainly now. Meanwhile, going through boxes still lingering from my recent move, I ran across another book I hadn’t thought of in years. This one I had read but it was long forgotten buried beneath years of life and experience. I began to read and the words sang to me. Their importance, timely and fresh for today.

I’m not advocating hanging onto every book or article that’s ever passed through your fingers. What I am saying is there’s a beauty in the timely leading of the Spirit who leads us to the right source every time we are in need. There’s a beauty in being able to wait on the shiny new books Amazon dropped on the door step a few days ago while I drink in life wrapped and waiting for me in my own collection. The beauty of grace brings us what we need when we need it and all we have to do is listen and drink in the wonder.

I have been changed this week, not by my dusty book collection, but by a God who brought me beauty when I was falling to ash. I’ve been changed by inspired words that convicted me and woke me to remember who I am and who I am to become.

Writers, keep writing. Your words mean so much and someone needs them desperately. Readers, keep reading.There is life hiding in stacks just waiting for you.

There is power in the written word and I am thankful for it.

Give me Back my Keys!

IMG_1625

I woke up this morning and realized I’d given someone else my keys. Carsick and reeling, I’d been riding shotgun through my life, driven there by my own complacency. Like Dante, I was lost in a dark wood. A spectator barely gazing at the circumstances that brought me to this place, suddenly awake to the fact that I was so far from the path I’d started upon.

The first step on the journey back is waking up, then begins the regaining, the takeover of myself in that moment when the fog has lifted and so have my eyes. Happiness comes from the deliberate life in which I take the wheel and follow truth, peace within allowed freedom from the choking vines of fear. I had no one to blame but myself for allowing them to overtake me.

Hope springs from accepting where I’ve been and deciding to move forward. Hope flows from deep within, the place where the glory dwells. Today I choose to embrace it and fight. Tomorrow I’ll be a little closer to home. In the end, I will win.

The Problem with Church

church clip

I have been in church most of my life. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’ve been around church people long enough, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “I’ve been hurt by the church” or “I’ve been hurt in church” at least once. It’s almost epidemic. The church, the place where people should flock to feel loved and welcomed, appreciated, needed, and safe, often times has become a source of pain or contention. This was never God’s intention. Yet , we are mere mortals and churches, though good intentioned, cease to be perfect the moment we walk through the door. Church was never intended to be a showroom full of the perfect and sinless. Church is a gathering place for the wounded. Church is a hospital for the broken. Fallible, imperfect men and women, join together as one body, with one united purpose, to glorify the Lord and draw closer to Him.

This morning I was thinking about King Josiah. His story is recorded in the Bible in the book of II Chronicles and also in II Kings. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and at that young age he began to seek after the Lord. The real turning point for him happened 18 years later when one of the priests found the Book of the Law and read it to him. He saw himself there in the words. He realized the only hope for his nation and his people was change and he decided to act. Here’s the thing, Josiah had faithfully been serving God for 18 years by this time. Our current system of belief so often states that we are to follow after God ourselves and let others deal with themselves. Up to this point, that’s pretty much what Josiah had been doing. We cannot change anyone and we shouldn’t butt into anyone’s business. It sounds so good. But we are missing the point entirely. Our faith isn’t just about us. It never has been. Our faith is about serving others and helping them to reach the fullness of the life that God intended for them as well. In our self-absorbed culture, this seems so contrary but I contend that it’s just fundamental.

Josiah “set the priests in their duties and encouraged them for the service of the house of the Lord.” (II Chron. 35:2. Then later in verse 6 he tells the priests to “prepare them [the Passover offerings] for your brethren that they may do the according to the word of the Lord.” After they had served each other, they were encouraged to prepare for themselves. Verse 7 says that his leaders gave willingly to the people. You see, Josiah found that the key to leadership was equipping and encouraging others to operate in the fullness of their calling. In Verse 16, the Bible says the singers were in their places. So here they all were, in their place of utility ready to serve each other: a gathering of people focused on the person next to them rather than on themselves.

Maybe if we as a church would spend more time focusing on the person next to us than we do on our own problems or even on what we think we have to offer, things might be different. Maybe if we quit waiting on the Pastor or church leadership to do all the work and instead we step up and fill in the gaps, the ministry would be more effective.

Josiah found himself in the book of the law that day and it changed him. It caused him to realize his utility was not just as a ruler, but as an encourager. He led a nation to repentance through service. Perhaps it’s time we follow his example. So often, we’ve looked at all of the things we think exclude others from ministry rather than finding their gifting and encouraging them in it. As we encourage and equip them, they draw closer to Christ and the negatives often fall away.

We all have rough edges that need to be sanded down over time. Let’s stop focusing on the edges so much and start advocating for the heart. Let’s stop condoning sinfulness in church while casting stones at the folks outside. Let’s restore true worship again where we lose ourselves in wonder at a God who sees us, broken and fallible, and adores us anyway. Let’s follow his lead and radically love those we deem despicable. Maybe we can begin to see their hearts instead of their actions. Maybe we can find the person, whom God loves unconditionally, instead of focusing on the outside appearance. We believe God saves us through faith and not through our works, yet we judge the works of those who haven’t yet come to know Him and forget to love.

If you want to change the world, do it…one word of encouragement at a time.

Masterpiece

There’s a canvas where purpose meets potential and I find myself painting there.
Blank before me the beginning of yet another chapter…one I didn’t ask for.
I sit on the edge of now, waiting, breathing in, breathing out, feeling the quiet as substance filling the caverns of fear.
I take in my hand and my heart what you give and set to work. There has to be beauty here.
Every stroke with the brush reminding me that you see me.
You paint me lovely even when my eyes cease to see the wonder.
All I am is yours.

IMG_2938.JPG

Why I Still Hang with the Crazies

If you’ve spent any time on social media recently, you’ve probably noticed a few quotes such as these:

quote 2

quote 1

Those were just two such statements I ran across this morning, but everyday I see a new version of the same basic statement. It sounds great on the surface right. Maybe I would have, at one time, completely agreed and gave an enthusiastic “like” or “amen”, but lately, something has seemed unsettling about that idea. The ideology is simply that our own health and happiness is the ultimate priority. Therefore, we shouldn’t tolerate anyone of anything that stands in the way of our own inner peace.

There are two flaws in this logic. The first is that anyone else has the power to take our peace in the first place. True peace doesn’t come from anything in this world. People, possessions and wealth are all trivial. True peace comes from knowing who we are and from the author of peace and our relationship with him. True peace is a gift that no one should ever have the right to snatch away. Sure we all struggle to hang on to it from time to time when life bears down hard and pushes every button we have. Still, the decision to let it go is totally ours. Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Secondly, our ultimate aim should not be our own happiness. I know, I know, not a lot of people will agree with me here, but let me explain what I mean. If we are believers, our aim is to become more Christ-like. “He must increase, I must decrease” John 3:30. You’ll never see Jesus cutting off the crazies. Instead we see him embracing the broken. We see him lay down his life for others time after time. He was never shaken by those who criticized him because he knew his purpose. Even in the face of Judas’ betrayal he ate dinner with him and didn’t cast him aside.

We are called to do the same. We should be so sure in ourselves that the drama around us can’t shake us. No one enjoys criticism or being gossiped about and lied to but that doesn’t mean it should knock us over. I for one, refuse to allow anyone that kind of power over me. Our lives are not our own. They are given to others. We do this naturally to a point. We give of ourselves to our friends, children, spouses, and families daily. We give until it hurts but that doesn’t mean we stop giving. We give as unto the Lord because we love him and we love others. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Matthew 12:30-31

Let me clarify, that I don’t believe we should put up with abuse. God may call us to be martyrs for sake of the gospel, but I believe there are situations where lines are crossed and healthy boundaries exist. I don’t spend hours on the phone with my ex husband allowing him to treat me the way he did when we were married. I am a firm believer in balance. Any extreme situation is unhealthy. Pray for wisdom there. I’m more talking about “drama light” if that makes sense. Being loving to others even when they are annoying. Reaching out in love to the person who talks about you behind your back. Being a friend to that person who always has something going on and bearing with them in love even when you want to shake them or slap them upside the head.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:1-5

It is our reasonable service to lay our lives down for the un-loveable. Our mind may tell us to take care of us first but the gospel tells us to crawl on an altar and serve. Dead men don’t have rights.

So maybe I’m crazy but I will not “un-friend” the crazies in my life. I will take time out of my day to answer the phone and love someone through a crisis. I will not waiver in the face of disrespect or cower when attacked. I won’t be swayed by gossip but rather, I’ll refuse to listen to it even when it’s about me. As Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” My security comes from a higher purpose and my peace will not falter. So to all my crazy peeps, I’m not going anywhere.