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.”

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.

Growing Pains

I was stretched today. I know it’s normal to be uncomfortable when you’re taken outside of your comfort zone. (That’s the whole point of a “comfort zone” in the first place. ) Today, however, I was taken well beyond that zone. (I wish stretching outside our comfort zone resulted in being a bit taller and thinner, but alas, I am the same size as I was this morning.)

Nothing bad happened today. I was invited (read “volunteered”) to accompany a singer for a number of songs during an event in a local church. I play the guitar just enough to sing along and lead worship on occasion, and that’s fine most of time. Until today, I had never played accompaniment for someone else, and it was a stretching undertaking for a number of reasons which aren’t important. The point is, I was taken far outside my “zone”, and it was a very challenging experience.

I could have avoided the discomfort. There were a couple of instances during the process when I could have said “no.” No one forced me to pick up the guitar and strum it. I made the choice to say yes to a request.

As I have thought about the situation this evening, I have realized once again that it is most often in the uncomfortable places where growth occurs. When God told me my word for 2016 was “Growth,” I knew that on some level it would involve growing pains. Saying “yes” to God and other people often involves discomfort. Sometimes, it is momentary discomfort of playing a guitar in front of a group of people and feeling completely inadequate to the task. Other times it may involve saying goodbye to loved ones and moving far away or missing big moments in the lives of those we love.

Growing pains are not fun, but growth rarely happens without them. Yesterday, I celebrated two years of living in Ireland. It has been an amazing experience, and I would not trade the life I have today for anything.  I am not the same person who arrived here back then, but all of the growth that has occurred has brought a measure of discomfort and pain.

Still, pain isn’t something to be feared. It’s not a thing to be sought after for no reason, but growth and even healing require a certain amount of discomfort. If we avoid experiences that take us out of our comfort zone, we will never reach our potential or discover the new things God may want to do with us. I have no idea what might be coming around the corner in my life, but I pray that I have the courage to continue saying “yes” to opportunities no matter how uncomfortable they make me.

What are you avoiding that might take you beyond where you are comfortable? What might you need to say “yes” to today? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Winter is past.

Calry Tulips (2)

A friend of mine was praying for me a couple of weeks ago, and God gave her a picture of me walking through a field of tulips. In the picture, someone walking in front of me would occasionally pick a tulip and hand it to me, and this continued until I had a nice bouquet. She also heard the phrase, “the winter is past.”

This seemed significant to me because one of the verses hanging on the door of my wardrobe says that very thing. Song of Songs 2:10-12 says, “My Beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’”

I am ready for Spring, the season of new life and new beginnings! However, as we are nearing the celebration of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, I am reminded that this season of new life is dependent on the season before it. Just as Jesus had to die and be buried before we could celebrate His resurrection, the seeds have to fall and be buried before they can begin to grow and bring new life to the earth. The times of rain are necessary for the appearance of flowers on the earth.

Perhaps the past season of your life has been a difficult one filled with long, dark nights and with mourning buried dreams. Hold on. Winter is past. The time of singing has come! Perhaps it feels like you are just entering a “winter” season; maybe it seems like everything around you is falling to the ground and the night is growing darker and longer. Hold on. Winter will pass, and the time of singing will come again.

Whatever season of life you find yourself living in today, make the most of it. Be aware of the beauty that can be seen in every phase of life. Whether our lives are full of new growth, “burials”, or anything in between, there is beauty to be found if we will look for it. It may be easier to sing as the days get brighter, but the songs sung in the winter may be the most beautiful we ever sing.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:4-7.

I pray whatever season you’re in now, that God will open your eyes to the blessings and beauty surrounding you in the midst of it, that His love and grace will carry you through, and that your song will bring glory to Him and joy to many.

My Word for 2016

Once again this year, I have prayed about and chosen one word that will define my goals and focus for the year. The word for 2016 is “GROWTH,” and I am excited to see how God will bring growth in various areas of my life throughout the next 12 month!

Along with the word for the year, I also pray and ask for a verse to focus on. It usually goes along with the word, and this year is no different. The verses I got for this year are found in Isaiah 54:2-3. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”

As I prayed into what this verse means for me this year, I was reminded of the verse that God gave me before I moved to Ireland: Psalm 18:19 says, “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” I felt like God told me when I came here that He would plant me in a “broad place” where I would have room to grow. It seems that the time for that growth has come…

Over the last few days of processing this word with God (and with friends/family), it has become clear to me that in order to really grow or expand my dwelling here, I have to put down roots. I have been calling this place “home” for nearly two years, and I feel as though I’ve already settled here, but I feel like God is saying to take it a step further. At the moment, putting down roots means looking into opening a bank account in Ireland, and perhaps more significantly, beginning to gather information and start saving toward getting my license to drive in Ireland.

I have a feeling that as I put down these roots, however insignificant they seem to me, God is going to bring growth that I haven’t even imagined yet. I don’t know what my life will look like at the end of the year. I hope there will be ministry growth, with more opportunities to teach and even a published book! I believe there will be continued growth in relationships here, and I am excited to see what God does with the people He is connecting me with here. I hope there will be growth in the area of health (which oddly enough, will mean the opposite of growth in some things…)

My hopes and sense of expectancy for what God is going to do this year are high. I will admit that some of my hopes and dreams for this year are terrifying. They seem so big I don’t see how they can be possible, and yet, when I turn my focus back to the One holding those dreams, they seem pretty small after all. I’m sure there will be growing pains along the way, but I’m equally sure they will be worth it to see the promises of God fulfilled in my life for His glory.

Do you have a word for 2016? I’d love to know… Please share in the comments.

A Place For Me

A few years ago, in a prayer meeting, a couple was praying for me and felt that God spoke a passage from Psalm 18 in the Message. The passage was several verses, but I don’t remember what they were. I have it written down somewhere in a journal that has long since been filled and put on the shelf.

What I do know is that the passage included verse 19, “He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!” In another translation it reads, “He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (NASB)

The reason I remember that verse is that God has been speaking it again lately. He has pointed me there repeatedly over the past few weeks, and I think, I hope, I know the reason why.

I’m sure there was something going on in my life at the time that the verse applied to. I’m pretty sure that the couple praying for me even highlighted that verse at the time. I’m equally sure though, that now is the time for the fullness of that promise to come about in my life.

I think I mentioned previously that the past few years have been tough. I’ve done some cool things, and I’m pretty sure God has used me in some great ways too. I hope so, anyway! However, even with those seasons of feeling somewhat fruitful, I’ve felt more often than not that I was floundering, not sure I was really doing all I was meant to.

As I prepared for this move to Ireland, God began speaking Psalm 18:19 again. I mentioned in the last post that He told me that HE would not only open the door, but carry me across the threshold into this new place He had for me. I wrote of the sermon regarding Jesus preparing a place for us, and the hope it gave me for this earthly place as well. That hope has only gotten stronger during this first week in Ireland. (Yes, I arrived safe and sound! Stay tuned for photos…)

I’m currently looking for a place to call “home”. The people I’m working with here have been so welcoming, and I’m so grateful for all of their help in getting set up to do life and ministry here. However, I’m still a guess in their home. I know it isn’t my residence here in Ireland yet, and so I still feel unsettled. I haven’t unpacked because I have no idea when I will find a place and need to move again.

There are websites to look for rooms that are available, and I’m sure there are other avenues available to search too. But I don’t feel the need to run after every lead that comes my way. My host and I had even set up a time to look at a place, and just as I was asking God to make it very clear whether that was the house for me, she received a text that the woman wanted to wait and find someone who would go home at the weekends. (There are a lot of students here, so it’s very likely she’ll find someone.) I was almost relieved not because it fell through, but because God made it clear even before I saw the place. I know that God has a place for me here, and I’m confident that He will set me down right where I need to be.

Several weeks ago, I wrote these words, which I believe God spoke, in my journal: “I am carving out a place that will fit like a glove, but also allow room for growth. As I said yesterday, I will set you in a broad place – not so broad that you feel lost or alone, but enough that you can stretch, grow, and expand the place of your tent, [see Isaiah 54:2], broad enough to dream new (or old), big dreams and not have them squashed. It will be a place of freedom, joy, adventure and light!”

Obviously, this is about more than a roof over my head. I believe that is part of it, because He has promised to take care of every detail of this journey, but it’s so much bigger than that. It’s ministry, community, purpose, relationships and more!

I don’t know what all God has for me in Ireland. I have dreams and hopes. I have ideas and goals. I also have an understanding that He has all of those things too, and His are WAY bigger than mine. And so, for now, I’ll rest in His arms, expectant, knowing that He will set me exactly where I need to be in order to receive all that He has in store.

Me at the beach

Enjoying my first visit to the beach.

I’ll also spend this time exploring this new land I am in and enjoying the beauty that surrounds me. Here are a couple of photos so you can enjoy it with me…

A visit to the coast the day after I arrived in Ireland. Gorgeous!

A visit to the coast the day after I arrived in Ireland. Gorgeous!

Park at Belcoo, Northern Ireland

A park in Belcoo, Northern Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day

River path

A path along the river in the town where I now live. So pretty! I’m sure there will be many walks along this path in my future…