Monday, September 30, 2013

How To PermanentlyTransform Your Life and Become Whole (Part 2)

(This post’s a little longer today, so grab a cup of tea or coffee and continue with me on this journey…)

            And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail again him, He touched the socket of his hip: and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
            But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
            So He said to him, “What is your name?”
            He said, “Jacob.”
            And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.
            Then Jacob asked saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
            And He said, “Why is it you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
            So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face-to-face, and my life is preserved.” Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. (Genesis 32:22032)

            So let me set the stage for this passage:
            Old Jacob is an unhappy, terrified man, which means he’s probably depressed too. (Everyone gets depressed to some degree when they think their life is out of control. Out of their control, anyway.)
            Twenty years earlier Jacob had deceived his father, “stole” his brother Esau’s birthright blessing and had to run for his life when Esau threatened to hunt him down and kill him. Jacob runs to his Uncle Laban’s and, to shorten a long story, has the tables turned on him when Laban pulls a bait-and-switch with the daughter Jacob was to marry.
            Uncle Laban continues to lie to and take advantage of Jacob, and, after twenty years, Jacob finally pulls up his tent stakes and flees town—and Uncle Laban—and heads back home.
            That means Jacob will have to confront Esau. And he’s terrified about it.
            Jacob has come to the end of his rope. He’s old, he’s tired. He’s run out of schemes. He’s got Esau in front of him and Uncle Laban behind him. He spent much of his life manipulating, deceiving and running, (and stealthily acquiring a vast assortment of tangible wealth), but now he’s spent— physically, emotionally. Spiritually.
            And there’s Someone who knows it. He’s been waiting years for Jacob to finally throw in the towel. And He’s right there when it happens.
            God’s been following Jacob. Wherever Jacob’s run, God’s been right behind him. Whatever Jacob’s done, God’s been watching.
            Jacob has finally run out of ideas and wits. He’s run out of self.
            And that’s when he struggles with God. And in his struggling, he finally gives in, relinquishes, and begs God for His blessing. He knows he can no longer live a double-minded life, and he’s determined to not go on this time without God. Oh sure, he’d praised God for God’s blessings plenty of times, even built a nice rock altar to God after a prophetic dream he had. But he’d never truly turned his heart and all of his life—and his future—over to God. He always stubbornly relied on his own brains and abilities.
            And God asked Jacob his name. Do you really think God didn’t know his name? He knew it. It means “supplanter,” and I think in making Jacob say his name aloud must have made Jacob think hard about what his name meant, and how he, sadly, had lived up to that moniker. His life had fulfilled the meaning. And it must have saddened him to say it aloud, to hear it ring back in his ears.
            But God doesn’t want to leave Jacob there. He wants to not only change Jacob’s heart but also change Jacob’s name, and in so doing, change Jacob’s life and legacy.
            But take note: In this turning over, Jacob’s permanently wounded. He walked and ran before; now he limps. It’s the mark of God on his life, a permanent reminder to whom he belongs and with Whom he’s been battling. He’ll never forget that day, that moment.

            So what does all of this have to do with me, with my story? With yours?
            I mentioned in my last post that I needed to return to the location of my Peniel—the place where it at least felt as though I’d wrestled with God and seen Him face-to-face. The place where I’d been injured and left with a permanent “scar,” physically and psychologically. Like Jacob, I was worn out, depleted, done, at the bottom. Self had run out, and I needed to admit it.
            So many years ago I’d abruptly averted my face after a real encounter with God and looked beyond His countenance, over His shoulder, to where the light wasn’t so bright and blinding. So exposing. Many times I’d swiftly pivoted and run from it. Now it was time to double-back and face its fullness. It was time to fully relinquish my heart to God and allow Him to take control of my life, without reservation. To hold on and beg for His blessing.
            I’d tasted what the world offered, and it only provided fleeting fun, shallow promises, repeated calamity, heartache, and a painful, destructive path. And Satan had been vociferously triumphant as he left parts of me strewn at intervals along that path. No more.
            The prodigal daughter wanted to go home.
            When I finally gathered courage to gaze fully into God’s presence, I met His perfect, holy brilliance, His unmistakable power and glory. And when that happens you, like Jacob, get a good look at yourself—at your life—in a mirror.
            I gaped in horror at my reflection. Everything about me lay exposed, including the prospects of a future without God. He wasn’t shocked by what He saw; He’d been watching my life play out for thirty-three years. I, however, was ashamed and repulsed by the vision. With trembling fear and helpless humility, I landed on my face—literally— before a Holy God.
            I knew I was on holy ground; and, yes, I was afraid.
            But lying on my face, feeling horrid and puny, wasn’t enough. Something else needed to happen. I needed to do something.
            That something happened immediately…


Do you feel directionless, as though your life is out of control? Have you been running from something, or someone? Are you terrified of the future? Do you feel as though you’re struggling with something and can’t get victory over it?    

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been struggling—wrestling—with God and didn’t know it. Maybe He’s following you around, trying to get your attention and you’re ignoring Him. Life will never get better until He’s got your attention. Oh, life might get a little better for a while, but it won’t get better permanently. You won’t have the transformation you want without Him.

God doesn’t want to leave you wrestling in an eternal power struggle with Him. He wants to change your heart, change your life and legacy. When you finally stand face-to-face with God, make sure you hang on and beg for Him to bless you. Don’t let go until He does.
But there’s a warning: When the sun rises you might find He’s left a limp-causing mark on you. But that’s okay because when you look at it, feel it, live everyday with it, the limp reminds you of Him and the day He touched you.

You’ll eventually regard that limp as a blessing instead of a curse.


NEXT WEEK: What I needed to do: to change my life, recover from my pain, and think clearly about my future and the possibility of another chance, another pregnancy. A baby. My next step in the transformation…

Until next week.

Thanks for joining me!



(Tuesday, October 1 is my one-year blogging anniversary. What a year it’s been! Thank you for joining me on this journey. May we all continue to grow and heal together through another year!)   

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Permanently Transform Your Life and Become Whole (Part 1)

Cease striving and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

            It’s amazing what happens when you stop running, stop avoiding, stop doing, stop resisting, stop hiding in the dark, and take a good, L-O-N-G, honest look at yourself. Really examine yourself, your goals…your life’s purpose.
            It’s tough, and often horribly uncomfortable.
            Yet so revealing and rewarding.  
            When Chris and I ceased striving, unexpected joys and revelations bloomed as we drew close and developed intimate friendships with church members.
            We recognized the need to communicate more with one another. That meant really listening to the other person’s hopes, concerns, and fears; to make a concerted effort to recognize their needs instead of concentrating so fiercely on our own.
            We admitted that there are so many things in life over which we have no control, that “having it all” is a big, destructive, worldly marketing myth. We realized—painfully—that there were so many aspects of our life together we’d neglected and failed to nourish.
            The harried life I’d eagerly ascribed to left me with little time to enjoy the many gifts the Creator had bestowed upon my family and me. Blindly, foolishly, we were fine-tuning the classic American, throw-away lifestyle. It wasn’t so much the material goods we acquired, then ignored when boredom set in. (Chris and I were proudly criss-crossing Southern California in two bare-bones vehicles, displaying a combined mileage/odometer total of 400,000 miles).
            It was human life we’d taken for granted.
            The insidious stress—much of it brought on by our arrogant, misguided decisions and poor choices—was killing us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and I’d had enough. The cost was too high, the rewards too few. (Because he’s the press ahead, make-it-happen now, visionary type, Chris took a little longer, and a few more years and deep disappointments to relent.)  
            I needed to stop, pry open my eyes, and acknowledge what God gave me for my pleasure and enjoyment simply because He’s good, it pleases Him to do it, and He loves me.  
            Nothing I could work twenty-four hours a day for would ever compare to the masterpieces God created and gave to me: my husband, my son, my family, my friends, Victoria. Precious people, inherently worthy and priceless simply because they were created in the miraculous image of God.
            They should have been inestimable to me, but I’d taken their value for granted. I’d miscalculated their shelf life when misused, disregarded, ignored, left unpolished or neglected. Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten, or dismissed, the value God Himself places on life. Even my own. I was jarred awake by our devastating loss; involuntarily driven head first into painful self-examination, and into making an honest relationship audit. The personal, self-analysis results shocked and disheartened me. There was a pile of dust on my very-important-people shelf—the ones I'd casually tucked away in my human china cabinet—and I needed to do some serious polishing!
            But in order to do a thorough, effective cleaning, I needed God’s help. I needed to abandon the arrogant self-sufficiency attitude. Trying to transform my life without Him would only land me right back where I started: floundering, in pain, lost. Minus the pressures of work and college classes, I was free to make the slow transition from a frazzled organism to a God-fearing woman of joy and purpose.
            Before that transformation could occur, it was necessary for me to return to the location of my Peniel, the place where you encounter God; where He confronts you. The place where He grabs hold of you, and the two of you wrestle. Where you finally give in, hang on, and BEG for Him to bless you. 
            But in order to go forward, I had to look back, to return to the place where God brought me in the hospital, when I first acknowledged my powerlessness without Him, first recognized how barren, frightening, confusing, chaotic and downright dull life is when you ignore, de-value, or reject God and go it alone.
            But just what would be different? I can’t remember when I didn’t believe that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, who was nailed to a cross until death and then resurrected bodily from the dead.
            What more did I need to know? Wasn’t that enough?
            Now that I was finally being honest with myself, I knew instinctively there was so much more to know, so much more to understand.
            There was so much more with which to fill my aching, dying soul.

~ ~ ~

            Have you ever been where I was? Are you there now? Are you stuck? Are you in so much emotional pain you don’t know where to turn? Do you think no one understands, that no one cares?
            Someone does and He stands ready and oh, so willing to lead you out of the abyss, to heal and fill your soul, and make you whole.


NEXT WEEK: The Transformation Continues: What I encountered when I finally stopped resisting and turned my face toward God... 

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



Monday, September 16, 2013

Rejecting Jehovah's Witness: Turning From Death and Choosing Life

…but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6b-9

            Unfortunately, I didn’t know the aforementioned Scripture and continued to happily, self-servingly entertain the Jehovah’s Witnesses in my home. I even took the next step of attending studies at their local kingdom hall. But they quickly became frustrated because they weren’t making any real progress with me.
            Yet, during this time I felt “the urge” to purchase my first study Bible and attend an evening Bible study at our church. (I still remember walking hesitantly into that Christian bookstore for the first time, thrilled to be there, trying to look as though I belonged, hoping no one I knew saw me perusing the shelves.) Unfortunately, the church study was cancelled during the summer, so I once again invited the Witnesses to return to my home for once-a-week “Bible study” while our boys played together.
            Frankly, the Bible intimidated me, but that attitude was merely an excuse. Keeping the Bible at a comfortable distance from my brain and heart served a purpose.
            I was hiding.
            No longer enjoying intimacy with God, and ignoring His blueprints for living, gave me an “excuse” for loving and serving the world. Turning up my nose and deliberately, willfully averting my face from truth, I arrogantly, stubbornly claimed ignorance and showed preference for a more “enlightened knowledge.” I turned to the secular world for easier, comfortable answers. That way I could accept what I liked—what was humanly pleasing—and discount the rest. It seemed so much simpler, more pleasant to listen to it on Sundays and live like the rest of the world—ignoring it, or outright rejecting it—the other six days of the week. 
            But I could no longer ignore the fact that my heart ached to know God in an intimate way. I, like everyone else, had a God-sized hole in my heart that called to Him; a hole I’d been attempting to fill up with everything but Him! I needed to get honest with myself and get to know—really know— Him; I needed to read and study that big love letter He’d written to the world. No excuses; no more relying on what others thought or said of Him; no awaiting a more convenient time. And no skipping the Old Testament!
            Being lovingly, firmly urged by God’s Spirit to search the Scriptures, I finally submitted. At that critical juncture, the Witness friends instantly recognized my decisive movement away from them and their teaching. The undeclared division was so strong and eerily palpable they sensed it, commented on it.
            Yet I’m grateful for the Witnesses’ first visit. They forced me to really taste God’s Word, and God’s Spirit caused me to be ravenous for His truth, to fill the gnawing void with Him and with answers to the questions. To take my lifeless existence and replace it with Life!
            God took a potentially deadly open door and worked it out for His own good and perfect purpose. He’d certainly kept his promise: He wouldn’t let me out of His hand. I’d been so arrogant, so foolish to wander from His sheepfold, believing I was strong enough, big enough, clever enough to confront the wolves on my own, or stupid enough to deny the existence of any wolves! As He promised, He’d persistently, diligently searched for His lost sheep, and now I was being gently carried home.  
            The Witnesses’ Watchtower books and pamphlets rapidly disappeared from my shelves because of the potent sense of evil they emitted. (I know, many of you just wrinkled up your nose, rolled your eyes and muttered, “Andrea, you’re nuts!” I assure you I’m not since I tend to be a cynic who rejects sensationalism.) Just seeing the Watchtower material occupy a place on my bookshelf next to my Bibles, new theology books and Bible study guides I’d begun to accumulate turned my blood icy and made me shiver in perceptible fear.
            The first thing I did was ask God to forgive me for allowing evil to gain such an insidious entry into my life.
            But the Witnesses forced an uncomfortable decision by initiating a smoldering clash between truth and deceit. Even though deceit doesn’t go down without a fight, and may initially gain some ground, it never wins the final victory when the Light of the world is the commander on the opposite side of the battle line. 
            Even in my weakened state, which rendered me vulnerable to making a foolish decision, the Lord used my otherwise self-destructive choice to further His good work in a very unusual way.


NEXT WEEK: Taking a good, hard look at myself—and my life—and beginning the transformation of becoming a woman of joy and purpose…

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!