The Frightening Freedom of Being Known

Do you ever build walls to protect yourself? I occasionally notice that the view has gotten more restricted around me and discover I have erected yet another wall.

Recently, I have begun to realize these walls are rarely to keep dangers out but to keep my true self locked away and unseen. I allow out only those qualities that people seem to like – the one who is good with words, the voice, the cook, the laughing and joyful one, the one who seems to have unwavering trust in God. These parts are accepted and even enjoyed, and so, they are mostly allow to stay outside the walls, (though, even they try to hide at times).

There are aspects of me very few get to see – the one who has a meltdown over fears which may never happen, the one who beats herself up over what she should have said or done differently, the one who forgets God’s promises, (or worse, chooses not to trust them), the one who has been known to sit at home in her pajamas eating junk food when she is struggling or feeling alone, the one who sometimes chooses to immerse herself in stories rather than talk to God about what is troubling her. These parts don’t fit my picture of acceptable behavior for a woman of God who teaches others about finding their identity and purpose, and so, they are hidden.

This may seem obvious to all of you, but I am only recently rediscovering that there is great freedom outside the confines of my self-made prison. The aspects of myself and my life that seem to me to hinder the message God has given me, sometimes make my story more relatable to those who need to hear it. I am not perfect. I have not arrived. I’m still walking the journey of learning to live boldly as the woman God made me to be.

The fear that if we are truly seen and known, we’ll be rejected and left alone is an insidious one. The truth is, I never feel more alone than when I’m locked behind the walls I build to protect me from being left on my own. It may be scary to step outside the confines of our “protective” prison and be known for who we truly are, but there is a freedom found on the outside that is well worth the risk.

We are already fully known and loved by God. He sees beyond our walls, and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows who we are created to be and how far we still have to go, and He loves us more than we can imagine. His love is all the “wall” we need to protect us from what others think of us. And, while there is a risk some people will reject us if we venture outside, there is also a chance that we will find a place of belonging, a place where we are greeted with the words: “Me too. Let’s walk this path together.”

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Living Open-Handed

Last week, the organization I work with had a retreat for all the staff on the island. It was a great few days away – despite the fact I wasn’t terribly excited to be there at the start. 

One of the things I felt I should do to get my attitude right and be able to hear all God wanted to say to me during the time was surrender everything I brought with me. So, Wednesday night, I spent time laying everything down before God – my book, singing, my life in Ireland, ministry opportunities, and other dreams and promises I felt He’d given me. I told Him I only wanted to bring home what He gave me back during the days of the retreat.

During the next two days, I struggled with some of the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the altar of surrender. There were items – like my book – which I expected to be returned and received back fairly quickly. I still don’t know how God will use Live Your Story to impact lives, but I believe He will bring Himself glory through the message. I trust Him with how that will look without specific expectations, so it was easy to accept that item back from God.

Other hopes and dreams were more difficult. One promise in particular kept finding its way back into my hands and heart. Each time I discovered I was holding it again, I would put it right back down on the altar. While I believe the fulfillment of this promise could bring God much glory, it is not so much a “ministry” promise as a personal one. Because of this dynamic, it was much easier to believe that I was picking it up again because of my own desire for it.

By Friday morning, as I spent time listening to God and writing in my journal, I felt God was saying, “Thank you for surrendering your desires and hopes, but you now have to be willing to receive back the gifts I want to give you.” I felt He was saying that He had been trying the whole time to give this promise back to me, but I was refusing to accept it because I was afraid of turning an “I wish” into a “God said.”

I realized once again that surrender really means living open-handed before God. Hands that are open release things, but they also receive. Just as I don’t know what future ministry opportunities will look like or the impact my book will have, I don’t know how the fulfillment of this particular promise will come about or what it will bring. But I have chosen to leave my hands open to receive all that God wants to give and surrender all that isn’t from Him; I have chosen to trust His faithfulness. He is a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. I may not feel worthy of the gift, but He gives based on His character – not mine.

What is God trying to give you today? Sometimes accepting and hoping for the gifts He offers requires courage because hope brings the risk of disappointment, but the hope He gives is always worth the risk. He is trustworthy. Open your hands.

Fighting for Peace

I wrote last week about how I believe the best is yet to come. Wednesday, I spent a good part of the day journaling and talking to God about everything going on in my life these days. I already believed what I’d written the day before, but I reached an even deeper place of peace and assurance that God truly has incredible things in store.

And then Thursday came. The potential disappointment I’d mentioned in last week’s post suddenly seemed like more of a probability than a possibility; I didn’t handle the thought well. The peace I had just a few hours before seemed nonexistent, and I became a bit of an emotional wreck for the afternoon.

As I pulled out my journal once again, the first lines I wrote were: “It’s amazing how often one must fight for peace… It seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true.” I have no idea where those words came from, but they’ve had me thinking ever since. So many times I think of peace as the absence of struggle, but often it seems like a war within to stay in a place of peace.

Jesus told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He is our source of peace no matter what is happening in the world, but it can be a battle to remain connected to that source when it seems the world is falling apart around us.

Paul encouraged the Philippians (4:4-8), “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is how we “fight” for peace. We take thoughts captive, every minute if necessary, and remind ourselves of truth. We rejoice always in Who our God is and the fact He is with us. We dwell in Him and fix our eyes on Him instead of on our circumstances. We present our needs and desires to Him and trust He will accomplish what concerns us, even if it isn’t in the way we expect.

I may have more emotional moments in the coming months as I wait to see what unfolds. But today, I’m in a place of peace. Tomorrow may bring a battle to stay there, but I know the weapons needed for the fight. I will rejoice in God and fix my thoughts on His truth, knowing wherever I am and whatever happens, the best is still ahead!

Living For Him

I’ve heard it said that we should “live for an audience of one.” I’m learning once again how much easier it is to say that little phrase than to actually live it.

Last week, I posted about my book coming out, and I’ve been busy working on setting up a website, learning about Paypal and pre-orders, and doing final edits on Live Your Story! In the midst of all the busyness, I found myself struggling with motivation to move forward on these tasks, and I couldn’t understand why.

On Friday night, I set aside some time with Jesus and my journal to figure out what was going on. The short answer was: FEAR. As exciting as it is to be nearly at the finish line of getting the message of Live Your Story out for people to read, it is also scary. This book is not a story, it’s my story. The sooner it is published, bought and read, the sooner my journey is on display to be reviewed, critiqued, and picked apart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read (or even posted) book reviews of Christian books, but some of them are brutal. If I’m honest, that scares me. Last week, without me even realizing it, the fear nearly prevented me from taking the next steps necessary to sell my book. I felt like I was busy working toward completing the tasks, but in reality, I was moving from one tab on my web browser to another, reading tidbits of information but getting nowhere with actually doing anything of value.

Since the weekend, I have begun to make (very slow) progress on finding the information I need to accomplish the tasks ahead of me. I am still on a steep learning curve, but I have begun asking for help from people more knowledgeable than I am on these jobs, and I am starting to move forward.

Am I still scared to put my life on display for those who read the book and open myself to whatever criticism people wish to offer? Absolutely! However, I have remembered they are not the reason I wrote Live Your Story; God is the One I wrote it for, and He is the One I want to please. I hope others’ lives are impacted by my willingness to share my story, but ultimately, that isn’t what matters. I have been obedient, and God can use the result in any way He chooses. This book was His dream before it was mine, and I trust that He will use it for His glory and my good.

I’ve probably asked this question on blog posts before, and I will likely ask it again: What dream has God given you that you need to act on? What’s stopping you? Today is a good day to start living for the audience of One, and take the next step no matter how scary it seems. Live to please Him alone, and He will always come through for you!

The Time Is Now

In previous posts I’ve mentioned I’m working on a book. I’ve been working on this book for nearly seven years, and on many occasions, I’ve wondered if I would ever complete it.

Last week, a good friend bought me a gift: a mug declaring in bold letters “THE TIME IS NOW.”

I doubt the publishing process is what she had in mind with the gift, but the message certainly fits. I signed a contract a month ago with a publisher. For a while, not much was required from me to move the project forward, and it was easy to forget all that’s happening. Today, I am completing my review of the first round of revisions from the publisher, and I’ve been in contact with him about cover designs and finalizing a title. Suddenly, the reality is sinking in: soon, I will be a published author!

After years of doubting whether I would finish the book (or have the courage to publish it), the time is now. I am excited. I am scared. I wonder who will read it and whether they will like it. I imagine criticisms I will receive, and sometimes, I think of positive comments I might receive. (Why is it always so easy to imagine the worst and forget to dream of the best outcomes?) If I allowed the onslaught of thoughts and feelings to overwhelm me, I’d never take the next step of the process; I wouldn’t have started the process in the first place!

The time is now to take a step. The book is one area of my life where the time has arrived. I may have to take steps in other areas in the near future. Sometimes, these steps feel like leaps off a ledge more than a small stride forward. Fear is a close companion in these times of uncertainty. “What if…?” can become a debilitating question if allowed. Thankfully, the One directing the steps can be trusted!

Could it be time for you to take a step? I would wager most of us have some place in our lives where God is waiting for us to move, but He won’t force us to take a step.  We get to choose whether and when we move forward. We don’t want to move ahead of God, so it’s essential to seek His wisdom and timing. However, if fear is what’s keeping us in the same place, waiting for it to pass will keep us stuck forever. Sometimes, we just have to take a deep breath and step into the unknown with God, believing He is with us no matter what the outcome!

For some of us, I’m sure:

MUG

On Faith and Doubt

I’ve shared a couple of times in recent weeks that God has asked me to have faith for some things that seem highly improbable. In a number of verses in the Bible (James 1:6-7, for example), it says to ask in faith, without doubt, and you will have what you ask for. I have been doing my best to live up to those instructions.

However, it seems no matter how hard I try, little questions often sneak into my mind. “Did God really promise…? What if you got it wrong? Do you seriously believe God can/will do THAT? For YOU?” Each time these thoughts come, they bring guilt and condemnation with them. The one thing God has asked me to do is to believe without doubting, and I can’t even get that right!

This past Sunday at church, we had a guest speaker. There were a lot of great points in the sermon, but one thing has been stuck in my mind for the past three days. He made the comment that faith is not the absence of doubts, but confidence in the face of them. He went on to say that uncertainty of the outcome of a given situation is what makes faith possible. If we were completely certain that what we hope for would happen, there would be no need for faith.

What a freeing thought! I am not a failure because questions come to mind on occasion. I only fail to have faith if I entertain those questions and dwell on them. If I give them more room in my mind than I give to the confidence that God “will accomplish what concerns me,” then I give in to doubt.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence and assurance in the face of uncertainty. We don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises yet, and it is normal that questions will arise. Every person mentioned in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – asked God questions on numerous occasions. Questions don’t equal sin or disqualify us from receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Some teachers might tell you that if you only had enough faith, life would be easy and God would have answered your prayers by now. That is a load of rubbish. God never promised an easy life to anyone who chose to follow Him. In fact, in many cases, it was the opposite. What He did promise was that He would be with us, that He would never stop loving us, and that His words are true no matter what! (There are many other promises in His Word, so go read the Bible to find more.)

Whatever it is you’re hoping and praying for today, have faith. Don’t choose to live with the doubts that try to fill your mind. Acknowledge them, remind them of the awesome power of the God Who loves you, and send them on their way.

Where’s God When I’m Scared?

I love Veggie Tales. I’ll admit it. When I was a teenager, I used babysitting as an excuse to own each new VHS/DVD as it was released. One of the first videos released was Where’s God When I’m S-Scared? I still get songs from that episode in my head. Once, I even rewrote the lyrics to “God is Bigger” to say “God is bigger than my bank account” instead of the “than the boogie-man.”

As I mentioned in the post last week, I’m doing some “foolish” things lately. If I let myself dwell on them or the potential for them to cause pain or make a fool out of me, I get scared. Thankfully, I know the answer to the question that the Veggie Tales title asked. When I’m scared, God is right there with me – and He is bigger than what scares me.

Today, as I was thinking about God’s faithfulness in times when I’ve been scared before, I remembered one of the scarier times I had while living in Central Asia. I had just crossed the border back into Afghanistan after a visit to Uzbekistan. Normally, women did not travel alone, but for some reason or other, I was not met at the border on this occasion. I had to hire a taxi for the (normally) four-hour trip back to my town.

I didn’t speak the language fluently, but knew enough to tell the driver where I wanted to go and arrange a price. Once I was settled in the back seat and we were under way, the driver started talking. From what I understood, we would be taking a slight detour to pick up his son along the way.

Okay, no reason to panic there. We go through part of that town anyway, so we’ll just take a different route through the city… No big deal.

Once the son was in the car, we were off again. Then, the driver began to tell me of the need for another detour. Apparently, a bridge on the road had been washed out and we would have to find another way around to the village where I lived.

At that point, he left the road and started making his way through the desert. What should have taken another two hours turned into approximately six hours of driving through the desert with no road, no other cars, no phone signal to text my team that I was alive, or anything else.

I will admit that as the hours wore on, I began to get anxious. I spent some quality time talking to God on that drive, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to reach “home.” But God was with me. He didn’t take the day off, and He wasn’t swept away with the bridge.

That was true then, and it is still the case with the things that scare me today. I don’t know what seems scary to you today, but God is with you right there in the middle of it.