Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

A Few Good Men

Have you ever realized something about yourself in a moment? Light shed on an attitude of mind in a sudden flash of self-awareness? I had a moment like that recently. This is not the first time this has happened to me, but I am always grateful when it does because I know it is the Holy Spirit guiding me into deeper truth. God exposes our “inner chatter”. He reveals us to ourselves, bringing in each revelation an opportunity for real growth and change.

My recent moment happened at church as I was listening to our Pastor deliver a sermon. It was an ordinary moment, listening to Randy preach like I have for many years now. Suddenly, I was filled with gratitude for his spiritual “fathering”. Father-like is how I would describe his teaching that day. Randy’s faithfulness in fathering the congregation swept over me, filling me with a tremendous sense of blessing in being one of the recipient’s of his ministry. I was able to receive what he offered like a child accepting instruction from her father. Then another feeling rushed over me. I would describe it as a sense of sadness or regret, even a little embarrassed. I suddenly could see how my attitudes about men had limited my ability to receive Randy’s teaching over the years. I was very aware of my “filters”, and how they had hindered me. I knew God was giving me a gift in what He was showing me about myself, and I was thankful for the changes in me. I am not the same girl I once was – by God’s grace. But my progress was bittersweet in this realization. 

I started to contemplate my attitudes about men in the days following. Unfortunately, I know my attitudes have been formed out of actual life experience. I had no good experiences with a father until God became my Father in my early thirties. He has been healing my heart, slowing but faithfully. I have also had a few bad relationships and a failed first marriage. My husband Chris and I have been married now for sixteen years. He has truly endured the brunt of the out working of my poor attitudes. Sadly, our past plays out in present relationships. I learned a new term for this phenomenon from the book, Wounded Heart. The author, Dan Allender, refers to that person as our “abuser-surrogate”. Like a surrogate mother carries a child for another set of parents, our abuser-surrogate carries the burden of our baggage as shown through our attitudes and actions in relationship to them. But God’s grace is greater! I praise God for His redeeming grace that is powerfully at work reshaping our minds, emotions, and relationships.

The other thing I know from experience is the deceptive, insidious quality of these poor attitudes. They hide out and disguise themselves as justifiable responses to unjust life circumstances. We can spend years locked in our attitudes, thinking they are perfectly appropriate and right. But I wonder if we are aware of what we might be losing in the meantime? What it might be costing us – and our families? Below, I have identified three attitudes that hinder our relationships with men. Ask God to show you if any of them are affecting your ability to receive from the men in your life.

Cynicism:  She denies the sincerity of people’s motives and actions. People are viewed with suspicion and mistrust. She may listen to the words being said, but she is always looking for the hidden meaning – the things unsaid. She has trouble taking people at face value and cannot give people the benefit of the doubt. She personalizes things that are not personal, and presumes to know the motives behind the words and actions of others.  Her assessments are often inaccurate, which only serves to further isolate her and reinforce her thinking.

Competitive: She has an unspoken rivalry with the men in her life. What was meant to be a complementary relationship, that works together to most fully reflect God’s image, becomes antagonistic. She has an agenda – to prove she is worthy, competent, as good as the men. She matches wits and maneuvers in ways to further her cause, and is unable to see how this attitude is limiting her. In fact, attempts to point out this truth are viewed as manipulative tactics to weaken or deceive her.

Controlling: She uses her emotions to manipulate the men in her life. She will escalate, and even go to extremes, when necessary to maintain control. She believes this way is the only “safe” way to ensure she is not harmed or taken advantage of. Her controlling ways are rooted in deep wounds from the past. She fears men, and believes she must operate this way for her own protection and good.

It is easy to see how these three attitudes operate together, feeding and reinforcing one another. It is also easy to see how they interfere and limit our relationships with the men in our lives (and people in general). I am sorry if my descriptions are brutally honest and painful to read. I am even more troubled because I know these attitudes are often formed out of real harm done to women by the men in their lives. My purpose is not to cause you additional pain, or for you to shrink in a sense of condemnation if you see theses attitudes in play in your life right now.

Just as God showed me, He desires for you to see – really see in truth. Not through the filters that are automatically there as part of these attitudes, but to see His grace working powerfully inside of you, and in your current relationships. To see what you are missing in all He has planned for you – in healing, blessing, and redeeming your relationships with the men He has placed in your life. Take this as an opportunity to evaluate your attitudes about men before God. This is important because your attitudes about men also affect your attitude and relationship with God – Your Heavenly Father. If you struggle with trust, control, or a heart divided after its own interests, you are missing out on intimacy with Your Father.

God is a Good Father who is faithful to heal and restore our hearts from the damage of broken, neglectful, or abusive relationships. There are good men left. Look around you. Who are the men in your life right now? Who has God blessed you with? Are you able to receive from them? Try to see these men as God sees them; to receive the blessings God has planned to come through them in your life. Don’t let Satan rob you of the blessing and benefit of their ministries. There is beauty in opening yourself to trust again. And there is freedom found in His amazing grace.

PS. I could write the same thing to the men about their attitudes toward women. There are certainly as many wrong attitudes toward women by men. But we are not the Holy Spirit. We can trust that God is faithful to root them out; to heal and restore them as well. Women: it is not our job to point out their flaws, overcompensate for their lack, or prove something to them about our womanhood. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). We need God’s grace to treat one another with the respect, dignity, and honor God expects.

 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

 

Skate, Swagger, and Roll

The kids and I went roller skating this weekend with some cousins. Chloe got skates last Christmas so she was very steady on her feet. But this was Jamie’s first time at the rink. He wanted to take his bicycle helmet. I tried to tell him that wasn’t necessary, but then decided against it. Maybe he had a point; a helmet might be a good idea.

I found out at the skate rental counter they can lock the wheels. Basically, Jamie could walk and call it “skating”. Why did I never know this before now? I’m thinking that would have been useful information when I was a kid. Yes, please lock his wheels.

We get out onto the rink, and Jamie is “skating” along the wall. About two minutes into it, he is angry. “I don’t like these skates, I want to go faster”, he says, and then plops down on the floor in heated protest. My, my…what have we here? I am surprised by such attitude from the newbie. I guess a quarter of the way around the rink, and he is an expert already. I help him to his feet and encourage him on. A few minutes later (still not all the way around the first lap), “I want skates like your skates. I don’t like these skates. These are no good” (as he plops down again). I am thinking this is going to be a long afternoon. Now, I am amused. Jamie really thinks he can skate even though he has never skated in his entire life. Alright, Jamie; let’s go ask the man to unlock your wheels.

Mister big-britches liked that idea and led the way back to the counter. It’s not that I enjoyed what we all know happened next, I just know my son. Jamie has to experience the pain of the hard way before he accepts instruction. He is not a natural-born believer in parental wisdom. He thinks he knows best. Well, let’s just say Jamie is a believer now. The helmet was definitely God-inspired wisdom. I watched silently as Bambi tried to find his legs, wondering how long this was going to take. He wobbled and flopped and fell again and again. Fortunately, it only took a few minutes for him to come to some important realizations. This skating thing is harder than I thought.  I can’t do this without some help. Maybe I do want those wheel locks after all. He plopped down again next to me; this time in humble admission. Jamie was finally ready to accept where he was, and move forward with the rest of our day.

As I watched Jamie, I had to admit I saw something else: myself. I saw a familiar pressure to be further ahead of where I truly am. It must be innate because I know I didn’t teach that to him. Well, at least not on purpose. It was somewhat funny to watch him. He was the only kid in the whole place wearing a bicycle helmet. He thought he was so cool. The kid actually had a swagger. I’ve never seen a swagger like that, especially on skates for the first time! His bravado astounded me. He clapped and bounced to the beat of the music. He waved at people and tried to make conversation with everyone. He was buzzing in the excitement of being part of the scene. He didn’t seem to notice, or care, when the older kids whizzed by without so much as even a glance in his direction. He really looked like he believed he belonged there. I spent the next two hours trying to keep Mick Swagger from being trampled to death in his unmerited pride.

There was a serious part in my reflection though. I wondered how Jamie’s drive would interfere with his ability to just be a child. I know firsthand how this pressure to be ahead can really be a cover up for not liking ourselves as we are. I’ve always felt I had to be better, faster, smarter, or stronger. It has been hard for me to give myself permission to just be where I am, and let go of all the expectations I have for myself.

I noticed something about Jamie after the wheel lock incident. Jamie was happier when he accepted himself honestly right where he was. His acceptance freed him to enjoy practicing, learning, and growing in his skating ability. There is a lesson here for all of us. Sometimes we don’t like where we are in life either. Sometimes it feels like the wheels are locked, and we are being held back from where we want to go, or think we should be. Sometimes hidden in all our pressure to be ahead is a deep-seated doubt that we will ever measure up. Relax. We are all so caught up in ourselves that we mostly don’t pay attention to each other, just like the older kids and Jamie.

We do have a Loving Father who takes notice of us in the crowded rink of life. He knows exactly where we are and what we need to move forward in perfect pace. He governs every move we make, but gives us the freedom of trial and error. He allows falls, bumps, and bruises. He waits to help us back up when we are ready to receive His wisdom and help. Our Father knows best when it is time to unlock the wheels. We would do well to recognize this truth, accepting where we are and turning our attention to trying our wheels in faith.

 “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:21).

The funny thing is, we find the belonging we always wanted when we learn to trust Him where we are. Our desire to fit in and be accepted is what causes all our impatience, frustration, and posturing in the first place. Being cool is having the humility to accept who you are; as you are, without the need to be someone you are not….yet. It is learning to walk before trying to skate. We grow by admitting our need and accepting the Father’s offer of help. We can approach Him in confidence of His love for us, and be freed from the prison of pretense to just be ourselves. 

And the helmet is definitely a good idea. If you are like Jamie and me, you’ll fall down often in learning this lesson.

 

 

A Father’s Love

We first learn about God through our fathers. We learn what a father is like – for better or worse. We also get our identity from our fathers. We determine our value and worth from the relationship we have with them. Our experience as children shapes who God is to us and who we believe we are.   It is easy to see why fatherlessness is such a crisis on so many levels. The devastation is deep and wide, both inside and out.

I was one of these nomadic children stumbling through life, trying to figure out who I was.  I don’t remember a time when my father lived with us. Recently, I was asked to think back to my childhood experiences; to notice how my relationship with my father influenced my life. The sad truth is that I can remember very little. I cannot recall a single memory when my dad asked me about my life – my interests, my dreams, my plans. I can’t remember one single time that my dad ever expressed interest in knowing me for me at all.

Fatherlessness also creates vulnerability within us. We are exposed in our human neediness. God made us with a deep desire to belong, to be known and loved for who we are. When this is not our experience, it triggers our inborn survival instincts. Psychologists call this our “flight or fight response”. We adapt, cope, and pursue ways to fulfill our God-given desires. We often look for love in all the wrong places.

This makes chameleon people who change colors to adapt and fit in without a well-formed sense of self. It is obvious why there is inherent danger in this and an array of not-so-positive developments in life. I tried on different personas and ended up with a dysfunctional mixed bag. I predominantly chose the “fight” approach. Like most people, this is the emotional equivalent of putting your best foot forward. The best offense is a good defense. But it is only a pretense, a cover up, a false self. Underneath, I had as many deep fears and insecurities about who I was as anyone else.

My favorite literary character as a child was Pippi Longstocking. I developed a sort of Pippi-persona. Let me explain. Pippi was a girl who won the admiration of the other children in the neighborhood through her ingenuity and acts of bravery. The children who lived next door to Pippi had a more typical upbringing. Tommy and Annika were “good children” who were “well brought up and obedient”. They had parents, rules, and a bedtime. The children were amazed by this odd, yet appealing, girl. She was “the most remarkable girl they had ever seen”. She was larger than life. Pippi had no rules. She walked with one foot on the sidewalk and one on the street. When asked why she did this, she said, “Isn’t it a free country?” and then told magnificent tales about people in Egypt walking that way. Pippi came across as free-spirited, exotic, and cultured.  She was said to be “stronger than a horse” and could lift a bully off his feet until he apologized. Boys respected Pippi. Everyone was enchanted by her. Her self-motto was “don’t worry about me, I always come out on top”. She was an irresistible girl whose daring feats were almost as captivating as her crazy red braids, and the shoes that were twice as big as her feet.

Pippi did have big shoes to fill in this image she had created. She didn’t know she was living a lie though. She was just trying to survive her circumstances. Pippi just wanted to be known and loved like everyone else, but don’t tell her that. She would have denied her need and probably put you up in a tree until you took it back. In truth, Pippi was alone and on her own. Her mother had died and her father had abandoned her. She told tall tales about her sea-captain father, but in truth she didn’t know if he was ever coming back for her. Pippi was really just a nine-year old child trying to determine who she was, and living in denial about her lonely searching through life.

The truth is that the personas we create in response to life do not liberate, but confine. They box us in, define us, and load us down with expectations. There’s no freedom found there. The only thing powerful enough to awaken us out of this mirage is the glorious love of God the Father. He is the Creator and Father of all. “To know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19) is to be set free from the personas and to become the person you were created by Him to be – A child of God who is known and loved just for who you are. Your Heavenly Father has interest in your deepest longings, your wildest dreams, and your every step forward in the big shoes you’ve created. In His love, we stand on solid ground with sure footing to move toward who we are becoming in Him. The Father is both loving and strong. He is a good Father. He fights for you and protects you. He holds you in His everlasting arms of love.

 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness…I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am [their] Father” (Jeremiah 31:3, 9).

I don’t know what kind of relationship you had with your father or how it shaped your view of God and yourself. But I know the God who is “a father to the fatherless” and who “sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing” (Psalm 68:5, 6).  I give thanks and glory to the Father for His miraculous, redemptive love. His love that changes us, heals us, and frees us from the big shoes we never had to fill in the first place. We are loved not because of our ingenuity or bravery. We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of His love, or earn it through impressive behavior.  We are loved because that’s who He is. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Father God sees through the Pippi-people we personify to the heart of the child He made and loves.

 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

 A true friend would blow Pippi’s cover. Who is the “Pippi” in your life?  It’s time to tell her the truth of who she really is. She has a Father who loves her, quirks and all. She can come to Him and share her heart. He is trustworthy with her deepest fears and desires. But don’t try to talk to your Pippi without first coming to the Father yourself. Pippi is perceptive. She can spot a fraud a mile away. It takes one to know one. God’s love must first do some work inside your own heart, deep below the surface of pretension. Where are you still boxed in, loaded with false things that you’ve let define you? We can only truly love because God has first loved us. Dare to let Him love you with His fierce Father love in the false places. I can’t think of anyone who would be more captivating to others. You just might become the most remarkable girl they’ve ever seen.

 

Photo credit: www.fanpop.com