Strongholds. If you think of them like a high-security prison, the four walls surrounding the person encased within would be fear, shame, powerlessness, and hopelessness. If you would have asked me last month what the biggest, most fortified walls in my strongholds are, I would have easily said fear and powerlessness. I don't make it much of a secret that I battle fear, and powerlessness is like a first cousin working to keep me subservient to fear. They held me in such tight bondage for more than thirty years that I now actively fight them when I see their evidence in my life. I don't do this perfectly, and sometimes I hesitate to step into battle with it. But most of the time, they don't win. Shame, on the other hand, stood silently by. It is still a suppressing force around me, but it went about its work much more quietly than fear. Much more stealthily than powerlessness. It hid in the shadows, casting its tentacles in subtle ways I dismissed and overlooked because the fight with fear was more prominent. Perhaps you easily see shame all around you, or perhaps, like me, its presence is more subdued. In either case, as speaker and author Christine Caine says, it's not the life God has for us. Keep reading to see my review of her book Unashamed: Drop Your Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny.
Once upon a time, there lived a great truth-teller. Have you heard this one? Growing up, I loved story. I would read all kinds of things, but I was particularly drawn to fiction. Books like Green Eggs and Ham and To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street captured my young imagination long after I'd put the book down. Some book lovers are die-hard fiction fans. Others are solidly non-fiction only readers. But both have value. Non-fiction relates through logic. It involves the brain and invites the reader to follow a path of argument or assumptions. It blatantly challenges us to learn and to change. Its value is easy to see. But fiction? Don't discount it so quickly. Even books written for pure entertainment can teach you something that you may not easily learn any other way.
My heart sank as I sat across a coffee shop table listening to a friend talk about her latest experience with church. Another set of flawed humans casting judgment based on another set of human traditions, and my friend was found wanting. In my travels all over America, I've seen a lot. Words casually used in one state are curse words in another. Different places have different rules for dancing, drinking, and playing card games. Even blue jeans or simple pants can cause a stir. While many Christians will readily admit that these kinds of topics are not critical elements of salvation, we can't blindly ignore them altogether. They cause problems among us, so we must wrestle with what the Bible says.
I have skeletons. I don't specifically talk about a lot of them, but it's not because they are hidden away in the proverbial closet. When God brings a lady to me that would benefit from hearing part of my story, I openly share those moments when life sucker punched me or I chose to act in a way that wasn't God's best. This is not something that came easily to me, and truthfully I still hesitate before I confess my failures and shortcomings. No one likes to look foolish. None of us wants to be thought of as less than. And I certainly don't jump at the chance to admit how out of control I sometimes get. So, what is the point of sharing? And how can we do so in a manner that glorifies God even when the choices we made do not?
A popular notion is finding its way around Christian circles today. Perhaps you've heard it or even said it. It sounds good, so maybe you've put faith in it. It goes something like this: Everyone needs a Timothy, and everyone needs a Paul. If you know anything about these two men from the New Testament, this sounds good on the surface. But something about it has always bothered me. I didn't realize what it was until my daughter came home from her small group recently. They've been reading a book together, and this concept came up. In our discussion about it, I realized that she was troubled by the exact same part that bugs me. And that sent me into prayer and deeper study, wondering as always: Is this popular notion biblical?
Many years ago, I took a broad stroke writing course that briefly talked about the various forms of writing: fiction and nonfiction, newspaper articles, screenwriting, and more. As part of this class, I had to do a couple of lessons on children's books. Not my thing. Well, that's not exactly true. I love to read children's books. When my kids were little, we'd visit the library almost every week, and we frequently walked out with thirty or more books between the four of us. The stories we read were fun. Poignant. The characters were sweet. Daring. Hilarious. But to combine character development and plot lines into a story that was largely communicated through pictures and keep it under 1,000 words (shorter than many of my blog posts) — that was not my kind of writing. However, a seed was planted in those writing lessons that wouldn't let go.
Does God answer prayer? Most of us don't struggle with that question too much. Hmmm. Maybe we don't struggle with that question quite enough. Most of my life, I've heard well-meaning Christians spout that God answers prayers in one of three ways: Yes, no, or not yet. That sounds good. It even sounds logical. But, is it biblical? And how much should this really matter to us anyway?
Nine years, nine months, and five days. That’s how long my husband logged in as an active-duty airman before his medical retirement. Nine years, nine months, and five days of all the uncertainty and fluctuations that military life brings. And then a fresh uncertainty took hold: Medical Retirement. We could move wherever we wanted to move, but we would have to do it ourselves or pay someone to do it. We could pick whatever job we wanted to go after, at least as soon as our DD Form 214 was in hand. Military service and medical retirement gave my husband an advantage in the hiring process for federal jobs, but did we really want to stay tied to the Department of Defense? Health insurance. Survivor benefits. Life insurance. Commissary and exchange privileges. GI Bill benefits. We had so many new rules to learn. Job-search strategies. Resume writing. Interview protocols. Salary negotiation. My husband had so many new skills to gain. When retirement looms, where do you start?
I try to have lunch or coffee with two or three different friends every month. I love these quiet times together, catching up on each other's lives without the distractions of responsibility around us. At one of these lunches recently, I sat down with a friend and mentor. As we quietly talked, she told me the revelation God had shown her. It was one of those earth-shattering, mind-changing realizations that take your breath away for a moment as you see the pervasiveness of a tiny lie you'd grabbed hold of. And in that moment, I realized how I too had grabbed hold of this lie and let it invade my life. I suspect you might also find this lie hiding out in your heart and mind. When I asked, this friend graciously agreed to write it out so that I could share it with you. I wanted you to hear it in her words without any commentary I might add. I pray that all of us would cease hiding in the baggage.
Whether we like it or not, God made us for relationship: with Him and with each other. If you’ve been hurt by others or are introverted and shy, you probably don’t like that God expects us to broaden our friendships outside the front doors of our comfort zones. That’s okay. I didn’t much like it either when I started figuring it out. Most people these days tend toward self-sufficiency, and we like to reinforce that with pop psychology. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Put on your big-girl panties. God helps those who help themselves. Common mantras, but is that really what the Bible teaches?