Dear Micky, Try being more inspiring and less indicting. Ouch!

Yesterday’s blog post was harsh. I totally lost my temper over some things that had been building for months (maybe even years) and I just popped! My poor husband came home as I was in the middle of typing out my rant and he calmly laid down on our bed and just let me yell and rave about all of the injustice shown to me during the day. I laid out my entire case before him as if I were in a court room about to nail someone to the metaphorical wall. Take that!

We laughed a bit over my outrage and I do believe there is a time and place for us to get things off our chest, but I think I could have framed my point with less finger pointing…if that makes sense.

Here’s my attempt at a reframe:

This last September, I experienced what I can only call a Nervous Breakdown. I was unable to handle the everyday stresses of life and fear swept over my physical body in debilitating ways. I had struggled with panic attacks since I was very small, so I knew the feeling of “fight or flight” all too well. In fact, I learned very early on what my triggers were and how to avoid them. When the fear came in September, it began with a few days of intense panic attacks back to back but eventually grew into a constant physical state. I woke up afraid and found no rest until I was asleep and even in my sleep, I frequently suffered from nightmares.

Being in this frame of mind, you quickly find yourself striving for normalcy. What drugs can I take, what supplements am I missing, and do I need to make any diet changes, were all things I was constantly exploring. I had test after test run until finally we realized that the fear must run its course. I had to concede to all of the emotional disruptions if I was ever going to heal.

What this meant was I had to slow life way down. I rarely left the house, my husband worked from home, and life was about cleaning, meals, and being together as a family. Routine became my best friend. I got up, took the kids to school, did my daily chores, welcomed kids home, dinner, family time, and bed. Anything extra would send me into a meltdown of fear and tears.

I cry as I type this because I think back to that person-that little girl inside me who couldn’t help herself. There were nights when the husband would suggest a campfire or bike ride out of the blue and because I wasn’t expecting it, I would freak out and we would save those excursions for another day. The word “anxiety” became a common word in my kids’ vocabulary. “My mom has anxiety” they would tell their teachers.

Since then, the process of recovery has been slow. I am so much better than I was. I am able to live a normal life with the occasional flare up and things like traveling, camping, and freeways seem less and less scary in thought all of the time. I am confident that I will be able to do all of those things down the road.

Slowing down, however, has given me some time to really reflect on fear. Fear finds its way in so many aspects of our lives. Oftentimes, we have become so accustomed to fear that we don’t even realize that we are living in it.

They say that the opposite of love is not hate. No, the opposite of love is fear. I tried to think on that in the different areas of my life where I would tend to use the word hate or dislike. I would replace those words with the word fear. How often our anger and our outbursts are due to our fears.

What are some things that make you fearful? I know that the thought of dying doesn’t sound particularly exciting to me. Suffering isn’t on my top list of “to-do’s” either. The funny thing is that when we find ourselves afraid, rather than calling it for what it is, we try to outsmart our worst fears.

Maybe getting cancer is a fear that you have. In order to avoid cancer, we follow all of the right things to prevent that terrible disease. We juice, eat veggies, exercise, meditate, take supplements. It’s as if we are saying, “oh no, you aren’t going to get me.” All well and good. Nobody is suggesting that instead, we run out and do everything we can to get cancer. Of course that would be ridiculous.

The point is what is driving you? Is it fear? Or is it love?

I had been hearing about the problems of meat and dairy for years. I remember reading studies about casein (milk protein) way back when I was pregnant with my firstborn. All of the evidence was pointing to milk products being harmful to the body. And this persuaded me somewhat. We have never really been huge milk drinkers in our family, so not buying milk very often wasn’t hard to do.

The point I am trying to make is that hearing about how to save myself from the evils of milk wasn’t particularly motivating. I just wasn’t afraid of milk.

The coin started falling in the slot for me a few years ago when I started reading about different church leaders throughout history who chose not to consume animal products. People like C. S. Lewis, St. Francis of Assisi, Leo Tolstoy. This made me wonder if as a culture, had the western church been overlooking some biblical truths.

My search led me to seeing Jesus’ commands for non-violence in new ways. It led me to understand that the garden of eden was our first picture of how life before sin was meant to be lived. Our first mandate, after all, was to take care of the earth and animal kingdom. Jesus said “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I say ‘love your enemies.’ ” The connection between non-violence and my relationship to others, animals, and the earth was starting to take on a more realistic meaning. Living counter-culturally, being set apart, being that third option which offered hope and unconditional love were how I was coming to understand the concept of bringing the Kingdom. These were truths that motivated me to take this season and begin a new path of no longer consuming animal products.

My point is not that everyone should “Go Vegan”. Not at all! My point is that everything we do, we should be motivated by love rather than fear. My love for animals and the planet, as well as starving nations who would be well fed if everyone stopped consuming meat, were the driving factors for my new found abstinence.

One of the most common arguments I get about my stance on non-violence is what about the holocaust? Or what about someone coming into your house and harming your kids? Or what about ISIS killing believers all over the world?

The problem with that line of thinking is it is always based on fear. Look, evil is evil. It is horrific and gruesome, and despicable. But Jesus didn’t come to defeat evil with evil. He didn’t come to show us how to live in our reactivity to fear. He showed us how to overcome evil with good. He came to defeat evil with the ultimate sacrifice of love. He came to rescue the ones who are being deceived by evil, not eradicate them.

The fact of the matter is that our calling to follow Jesus is a high calling. It comes with a cost. It is not for the timid, it is for the brave. It is not for the coward, but for the courageous. He called us to be willing to lose our lives for the sake of bringing His gospel to this broken and hurting world. His message wasn’t about loving that annoying person we see at the coffee shop everyday, although you should. His message wasn’t about loving that jerk of a neighbor who never mows his lawn or takes out his trash, although you should.

No, His message was radical because it was crazy for the Jews to love the Romans. Think about what He was telling them to do.

The Romans were doing horrific things to the Jewish people. Taxing them, starving them, physically harming them, punishing them to the death even and it was only going to get worse. Some of the Jewish religious leaders acted on their fear and linked arms with the Romans. They were basically trying to strike deals in order to save themselves while their own people continued being oppressed. Fear makes us do crazy things.

The Jewish people couldn’t wait for the Messiah. There had been others before Jesus, claiming they were the Son of God only to deceive and fail the people.

So here comes Jesus… He is washing feet, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. He is hanging out with people of scandal and offering hope to so many who had been hopeless for a very long time. Example after example we see this light of His spread into the hearts of so many.

But then He says something so counter intuitive of their time. He says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you-that you may be children of your father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5) Whew! There is a lot in those few words.

Love the Romans? Pray for them? So, you mean that you aren’t here to overthrow the bad guys? So what you are saying and what you are showing us is that you are going to let the bad guys win?

Yep.

The “bad guys”, the guys who were so corrupt they laughed as they witnessed the suffering of Jesus. They joked about this God He claimed to be the Son of and why wasn’t He rescuing Him?

See, the point isn’t that death and suffering are things to avoid or win by the world’s definitions. The point is that death and suffering (although terrible and unnatural) aren’t things we need to be afraid of. Prevent? Find remedies? Of course. Non-violence doesn’t mean to not do anything. Pain is our body’s natural way of letting us know when something unnatural is occurring. It’s saying, “hey, I need some help here”. But we don’t go after pain with violence. We go after pain with care and nurture. We protect the whole body, even the wounded, ugly parts if we can. We try to do everything we can to bring healing to those areas because we love them and need them… because as sick and infected as they may be, they still have value and worth and potential to do great things. And simply because they were created by God, for God. He loves all of His creation. He came to redeem ALL of creation. Redemption for the animals, for the planet, the natural disasters, disease, hunger, cows, pigs chickens…mosquitos… and even for our enemies.

In all honesty, I am still very much afraid. And I trust with my whole self that Jesus gets that. What He wants is for us to be honest with Him. We have to be honest with the things that scare us and let Him slowly work on our hearts, (and amygdalae) to help calm our fears. He wants to take us to the place where we follow Him with a willingness to love others more than we love ourselves. That means loving ISIS. That means learning about how our animal based foods get to our super markets and how they effect the environment (in so many aspects), it means getting to know your muslim neighbors, your gay neighbors. It means letting go of this need to be right and submitting it all to Jesus. It means waking up to the things that feel so normal and asking if “normal” is kingdom.

We can trust that God is good. We can trust that He is working in all things (even the not so good choices) for the good of those who love Him. (Romans)

The last point I want to make is this: When Jesus said to love our enemies, He said “that you may be children of your father in heaven”. Notice this: The distinctive attribute of a child of God is their ability to love and pray over their enemies. The distinctive attribute is not how often we win. We have to be willing to not waver in our call to be peacemakers, to love others, and be willing to lay down our lives. We must pray that Jesus would grow us deeper and deeper into this courageous calling. And we must never underestimate the saving power of Christ’s love. He gave us this power in the Holy Spirit. He prayed that the Church would be unified in this power (John 17). Let us live into those distinctives which He has demonstrated and is calling us to follow in. Let us be unified so that we may be in the Father as Jesus is in the Father. Let us be His children as we move forward.

Dear Church (a bit of a rant, but I hope/think it ends well),

I certainly have my days where violence takes over the heart. Today… has been one of those days.

I am a sinner just like everyone else. I have done all sorts of unloving things and I struggle with my own junk each and every day. I say this with as much humility as I am able to muster up and I pray that the Lord has mercy on me as I write this blog post.

As my husband and I have been introducing the kids to our new eating choices, my son asked me “why”. I tried to be as careful, but as honest as I could be as I talked about animal cruelty and the cost that comes with eating animal based products. As I was talking he said to me, “Mom, I really don’t need to know about that. I am fine with eating meat and not knowing all of that stuff.”

****Before you keep reading, please know that I am not trying to push a particular diet onto anyone here. What you choose to eat or not is none of my business. What I am wanting to address is something much bigger than dietary choices.****

My son…I LOVE that he is honest and brave enough to state the obvious. Ignorance is bliss. We all know this… but is ignorance Kingdom?

There is nothing that bothers me more right now than the complacency and hypocrisy of the Western Church. It is everywhere. I don’t say this because I want everyone to agree with me or my choices and methods for living out the Kingdom. I say this because of the lack of self-examination that the church is willing to do in order to bring about the Kingdom. We (my tribe) are missing it!

Do you know how often I have been labeled a “liberal” because of the views I hold to? That word has been thrown at me as if to put me in my place and shut me up so many times. It has been used as an insult, slander, swear word only to make me feel inferior, silly, and ashamed. I have been told that I spend too much time focusing on certain issues. I have been shut out, ignored, and when the questions have gotten too difficult, suddenly my “friends” become “preoccupied”.

I speak about loving the LGBT community, gender rolls in the church and family, women leadership, racial reconciliation, living simply in order to be more generous, the relationship between science and the Bible, animal cruelty, and non-violence- not because I belong to some political party. I speak about these things-these uncomfortable topics-because they are the issues of today! Do you read the news paper? Do you have a Facebook account? Millennials-people in my age group and younger- are leaving the church in droves. And when they tell the Church why, it comes down to the issues mentioned above. The Church has not been willing to make room or wrestle with the uncomfortable-and at times-contradicting messages of today’s day and age and with that unwillingness come casualties. We are losing spiritual battles all over the place.

The Church has foregone it’s first love (Jesus) and it instead has gotten in bed with things like capitalism, greed, politics, tightly held belief systems, and violence to solve problems. We have to separate (and I would even go as far as to say remove) the words conservative and liberal from what is Kingdom. I am neither conservative nor liberal as defined by the worlds definitions. I long to bring Jesus-to bring His Kingdom.

Church, the body that I continue to claim my belonging to, it is time to get uncomfortable. It is time to wrestle and to wonder and to wake up. We have been friends with complacency and/or closed-mindedness for far too long. Young people who are barely hanging on to their faith are begging for answers. They are aching to engage in conversations and wanting so desperately to understand this Jesus we claim to know and love. We have been acting as if we are on vacation when in fact we are supposed to be engaging in a spiritual war. When faced with difficult questions we turn a blind eye, stick our head in the sand, and plug our ears. We are so not prepared to do battle. There are people (brothers and sisters, since we all bear the imago dei) who have been deceived by the lies of the enemy and yet we sit in our McMansions, fattening up on our idols, and hope to God that something changes.

Listen, when someone challenges us and reality presents things that don’t make sense, we have not only the freedom (praise God!), but therefore the responsibility to examine these things. If we are afraid of the possibility of change, if things seem to rub us the wrong way or they just don’t seem to sit well with us, that feeling-that unwillingness to face our fears is pointing to one of the most talked about sins in all of scripture. The sin of Idolatry. You and I can measure if something is an idol for us is we choose comfort and ignorance over the courage to move forward. Idolatry is one of the sneakiest things. It is rampant in the Church.

The remedy-the only solution there has ever been for idolatry is repenting. We must turn from our own ways of doing life and turn to back to Jesus! Guys, we must fix our eyes on Jesus and the Kingdom He is wanting to bring to the world. If our eyes are focused on Him, then He will fill us with love and compassion for even our enemy, and He will take hold of our thoughts and conform us-molding us more and more into His image. Paul says to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This means we have to take these issues and think about them. Examine them. Seek our One True Example on them. And then follow.

Take comfort in the changes that may come. Do not cling to the person you were yesterday, but know that as you loosen the grip you have over politics, right doctrines, social issues, He is making you new. In Romans, Paul says that God is working in all things. Let Him in on these scary, controversial issues. Let Him show you new things. Let Him reveal more and more of Himself to you and do not for one minute think that you already have Him figured out. No, guys. This life is a journey and He is a blazing fire refining us for the day we meet Him face to face.

We have a mission to love our neighbors and enemies. That call is a call to action. Faith without deeds is dead and these deeds are going to change according to social climate. We are in the information age. Get informed. Don’t be afraid. His gospel won’t waver. He may call us to make some serious changes, but that is what it means to follow Christ. Constantly being in motion. Constantly being drawn in. Constantly growing more and more in our Christ-likeness.

Church, I love you! Let’s do this. Let’s face the scary. Praying for the conscious awareness of all my brothers and sisters. We can do hard things.

Peace.

Lent 2015

It’s 18 degrees outside. My house is surrounded by a vast, thick blanket of snow. Kentucky has declared a statewide emergency due to winter weather. The husband and kids have been home all week and defrost is beyond reach for now.

And all I can think to do is laugh. Of course Ash Wednesday would present itself under the most inconvenient of circumstances. Every year this day-this season comes and I am usually scrambling to quickly find meaning and purpose at the last minute. I choose some noble something or other to give up and I commit to spend the next 40+ days in prayer over the Lord’s suffering.

And I always fail somewhere along the way. But failure is part of the beauty of the Lenten season. It reminds us that grace abounds, the victory has already been won, and the suffering and failures of today are fertilizer for rebirth tomorrow.

This year I have grand plans for Lent. This year is special because suffering has become the unwelcome guest that has yet to leave. I have been learning so much about darkness, pain, and loss. But through it all, I am already seeing tiny buds of life springing up from the cold, frozen earth of the soul.

It is hard to think of the Kingdom without facing the evil taking place all over the world. From Chapel Hill, NC to the Middle East and everywhere in between, blood continues to spill. Lives are lost and hope seems so dim.

This season is going to be a time to reflect on the violence going on not just out there…but within my own heart and mind. My husband and I have been having conversations every night about how we can live out lives that demonstrate non-violence, freedom, and compassion. We long to do battle with the spiritual enemies by the choices we make in our every day lives. Choices to be uncomfortable, inconvenienced, sacrificial. Choices to be content, live simply, and beneath (not just within) our means.

“Live in increasing simplicity so that you can demonstrate to the world outrageous generosity.” -Greg Boyd

And so the story goes that my grand plans of giving up meat and dairy for lent have been met with challenges even before day 1. It’s hard to get to the store with 15 inches of snow on the ground and my vegetables are running low. But the point, as I am constantly being reminded, is not the success. The point is to embrace inconvenience. The point is to consciously decide to stop supporting violence of any kind and to think about the violence taking place within my own heart. The point is to run this race and endure whatever it is we need to endure and allow it to refine us as we head towards the finish line.

I got out of bed this morning, bundled my anxious self up, braved the snow and made it to the store…to stock up on veggies and to consciously pass over the meat and dairy sections. My prayer is that in some small way, as I invite the kingdom in on these areas of my life, that the peace loving power of Jesus would find a welcoming space in an otherwise enemy guarded territory. My prayer is that we would all find new areas to invite the Kingdom in on and that that power would spread all over this world…reaching ISIS, reaching the haters, reaching the lost, the hungry, the hopeless.

To partner with God means that in all of His power, He gave us free will. And what we do with that really does have an impact on the spiritual realm. In 1-2 Peter he urges believers to usher in the Kingdom in all sorts of ways. 2 Peter 3:11-12 “…what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along…”

As partners…we have some influence on the timing of the day of God. Don’t wait. It doesn’t matter if you choose to celebrate Lent. What matters is that we are inviting the Kingdom into every aspect of our lives.

May the Kingdom spread to the hearts of our enemies so that they might experience the unconditional love and grace of Jesus. Lord, may your Kingdom come.

marriage, vegans, non-violence and other crazy notions

Last weekend, my husband tied my hands and feet and sat me down in a chair and forced me to do the taxes! Okay, no he didn’t. I just hate taxes, and money, and math, and pretty much all numbers.

The hubby and I have been on a journey for the last 8 months. This journey has been one of healing, repairing, and rebuilding. Maybe you can relate to what I am about to say.

Have you found yourself living with your spouse side by side? Has the connection started to fade? Maybe he takes care of his departments and you take care of yours and you meet up at bedtime only to turn on your devices, put in the head phones until you’re about to drift off to sleep? You lean over to give each other a kiss goodnight and then start the whole thing all over again in the morning? That was us. We were disconnected and the valley between us was growing wider and wider. It began so subtly, but it didn’t take long before we realized we hardly knew each other anymore.

Last summer we decided to roll up our sleeves and put in the hard work it would take to get us back to being us. The first and most important decision we made was to be partners in this thing called life. Whatever things we needed to tackle, we would tackle them together. And it was really really hard at first. The arguments and the butting of heads, the long sleepless nights of trying to figure out how to make “us” work.

We knew where we needed to start. We had to start with our view of God. See, we had begun our marriage with a shared view of who God was and how we would walk in relation to/with Him. But over time and with the things life had thrown our way, our view of God began to shift.

For me it was dramatic. I had to know Him. I had to dismantle everything I thought I knew and I went through a season of about 4 years where everything was up in the air.

For my husband, he had been hurt and wanted to find safety. Safety meant shutting off the scary questions and it meant ignoring the hard parts about God.

We were a mess. And being a mess isn’t so bad, but our messes weren’t intertwined…they were separate. Which made life very confusing.

So the first order of business for us was to understand who God is and to decide as a couple how we would walk, serve, and teach others about this God of ours. This has framed everything we do now. We believe God has called us into lives that reflect His other-oriented, self-sacrificing love. This means being conscious of how our lives affect animals and the planet. It means being aware of the lies of consumerism and living in simpler ways. It means putting our hope and vision for the world in His Lordship and aligning our hearts and minds with His instead of political/governmental means.

It means simple acts of sitting down together and doing the taxes. It means opening our home up for friends to come in and share life with us.

The latest topic of discussion?? Veganism and other ways to live out a life of non-violence. I won’t go into all of the details about animal treatment in this country, but I will say that when you take on a life committed to non-violence, it changes how you see the world. Lives become so much more valued. Animal life becomes so much more appreciated; that God would create these beings for us to love, enjoy, and take care of.

I am not saying that we have completely crossed over or that we don’t have any questions, but I can say that understanding the cross has saved our marriage. Looking at the world as a place we want to make an impact on has brought us together. We get excited about purging the house and being creative with how we cook vegetables. We love discussing new ways to live out our mission and most importantly, we are learning to support each other through the discomforts of sacrificial living. We find joy in giving. We find joy in spending time with our kids and others. We find joy in living our life together with purpose. Longing to bring the Kingdom into the mundane parts of life.

How are you doing in your marriage these days? How is God bringing you and your spouse together? What ways is he calling you to serve Him as one flesh so that even when you are apart, you are still one?

Got a question for me? Or for the husband? Feel free to leave a comment and ask us! We more than likely wont have any perfect answers, but are always open for some conversation. xoxo

On Forgiveness

Last June I had my first panic attack… well, it wasn’t the first one I have ever had, but it was the first panic attack I had experienced due to some seriously unhealthy behaviors in my life. When all of this anxiety/fear and panic began, I thought it was the beginning of me losing my mind, but now I see that it was actually the beginning of me regaining my mind.

Up until that point and for the two years prior, I had been involved in some pretty destructive stuff. This isn’t the appropriate space to share all of the details of my junk, but it was affecting me, my friendships, and my family in some disastrous ways.

In order to cope, I started smoking and I found myself eating less and less. My weight was dropping, my emotions were all over the place, and I felt overwhelmed by my circumstances.

Life is hard. And messy. And sometimes it takes us to some pretty dark places.

I was skin and bones, addicted to cigarettes, failing in my marriage, and the only strength I could muster up was to say, “God, I need help”.

Shortly after that…the panic attacks began. If you have ever had a panic attack, you know that these are pretty terrifying. I felt like someone was putting a gun to my head. I saw my life flashing before me. I imagined losing all the people that mattered so much to me. I felt trapped and scared…as if death was waiting for me.

I am healing and the last 8 months have been necessary for me to grow in new ways, for me to understand sin in new ways, and for me to learn about God as revealed in Jesus in new ways. I look back at those first panic attacks and see them now as God intervening on my life. They were sort of like spiritual earthquakes, warning signals, nudges to help me stop the self destructive cycles I had been stuck in for so long. I am thankful for them. I don’t wish to experience one ever again, but the reality is that they may come and go. What I am learning better to do is how to listen to these warnings. What are they trying to tell me? What are they nudging me towards and/or pulling me away from?

Through my journey of healing and finding my center once again, I have been exploring the concepts of sin, grace, and forgiveness. I have been looking to the life of Jesus and have been imagining how He desires to speak to me…to my soul. We all know that Jesus freely offers forgiveness, but somehow that idea has become less personal among Christian circles. Sure we love to talk about His Grace, but how are we at practicing it?

The coin fell in the slot for me when I remembered this verse found in Ephesians:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

Sin is like an infection. We are all born sick and in need of healing. But the remedy to healing this infection is so unlike the ways of this world. The remedy isn’t punishment, it isn’t through violence and war, it isn’t through throwing stones. The remedy is love. Love casts out darkness, fear, and evil.

We are so used to retaliation. It seems and feels so normal to us. Look at all of the wars fought throughout history. Look at all of the ways revenge has been resorted to. And yet Jesus came and showed us the ultimate way to defeat evil in this world. He laid down his life. He allowed death to swallow him up. He became our sin and bore it.

I want to see others the way the Father sees them. Heck, I want to see myself the way the Father sees me. I am sick. My enemies are sick. We are all infected. But Jesus has the power to heal and He has given us that same power. Love and Forgiveness dissolve the powers of sin and death. Love looks at it’s enemy and reveals that it’s the infection which causes us to mess up our lives. And so by receiving this healing love, we now become conduits of this healing transforming love.

My heart is overwhelmed with compassion these days. Compassion for my brothers and sisters still walking around infected, not claiming the healing power of Love. But I also have the ability to bring some of that healing power into this world. I can bring the Kingdom by loving my neighbor as myself, by forgiving, and by doing spiritual battle with the powers of darkness. Love is not afraid. Perfect Love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). God is teaching me that to forgive is to truly walk in freedom. I am learning to forgive myself and I am learning to forgive those who have hurt me so deeply…I pray that the darkness falls away from each of us as Love moves in and heals us.

Today, look into the eyes of your enemies (or prayerfully imagine yourself doing this) and see them they way God sees them (and all of us…don’t forget that we are all walking around with giant logs hanging from our eyes). See the enemy having this stronghold and pray that God would pour His healing love over them, over you, and over all of our broken relationships. Do some serious spiritual battle today and love and pray for those who have harmed you.

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be children of your Father in Heaven…” Matthew 5:44-45

Notice in that verse that the distinction of the children of God is how we love and pray for our enemies. Walk in the Father’s love today. Be His children today.